• Published 14th Oct 2013
  • 3,772 Views, 229 Comments

Alpha Centauri - StLeibowitz



Twilight is kidnapped by a sun and told she used to be one too. Rainbow Dash is fighting phantoms of past lives as she tries to rescue her. Powerful alien beings intend to exploit the chaos to further their own ends...

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Chapter 8: Diplomacy Fails Once More

“Nothing’s wrong with my eyes!” Rainbow Dash grimaced and held a hoof between her eyes and the annoyingly bright werelight the doctor – “chirurgeon” as Luna had called him, though he assured her that he did, in fact, possess a modern, relevant and generally accepted medical degree – insisted on shining into them. “Stop that!”

The light snapped off, blinking out of existence and finally giving her a moment’s rest. Reflex tests, thaumatoaural scans, blood tests, a urine test – she hadn’t had a free minute since the doctor had arrived with reinforcements from the Day Guard at dawn! It was noon now, and she was thoroughly sick of the repetitive and exhaustive battery. It didn’t help that Ghealach had not dematerialized at all during it, and even now stood in the far corner of her living room, watching with a cool gaze that revealed nothing about her thoughts.

“And would you say something, already?” she asked irritably, looking at the Dust Sentinel. The doctor glanced in that direction, before seeming to recall whatever briefing he’d been given on her “hallucinations” and returning his attention to the smooth, enchanted stone tablet that held long strings of numbers that were probably medically relevant somehow, even if Dash couldn’t interpret them. “You’ve just been staring at me all morning! Do you have a plan yet?”

“If I did, I would not be discussing it in the presence of this…pony,” she replied slowly. “When it must be executed, it must be executed quickly, and with a minimum of interference from your well-meaning jailers.”

“They already think I’m crazy.”

“But a plan of escape composed by a madmare is still a plan of escape,” she pointed out. “One does not run a lunatic asylum by ignoring the patients’ attempts to break out.”

She had a point. “When can you tell me, then?”

“Once you are alone, or nearly so,” she said. “I am allowing for the fact that you may have questions on the particulars that could reveal them to eavesdroppers, otherwise a direct mind-to-mind connection would be a secure enough medium for sharing it.”

“If this guy keeps testing me, we’re probably not going to get a better chance to talk.” She glared at the doctor for a moment. He tried to ignore her; it was obvious that he was uncomfortable. “I think Luna sent him to spy on me.”

“It is quite possible,” Ghealach agreed. “At the very least, she was considerate enough of your mental faculties not to send a psychoanalyst. Medical professionals used in espionage applications may be obvious, but it is difficult to get more blatant than that.”

The doctor cleared his throat. “Well, I think I’ve done just about enough here.”

“Great.” She rolled her eyes. “So, am I healthy enough to go try finding Twilight again?”

“If you were permitted by the Princess, I would say mostly,” he answered. “Your reflexes are within pegasus normals, your eyesight is normal, blood test doesn’t reveal anything imminently worrying. In terms of your aura, I did find something worrying there, as well as an anomaly in its composition…”

His horn flickered, and a blue sphere coalesced in the air next to him. Another pulse of magic, and the sphere updated – it became marbled silver and sky blue, swirls of grey intermingling and fading into streaks of blue, with a single large dimple deforming one side of it. Ribbons of white also were evident, flowing like milk in a globe of seawater. It was fascinating to watch, its surface constantly shifting and changing, and from the short period of time she observed it Rainbow Dash thought she noticed the proportion of silver increasing slightly.

“This is a representation of your aura,” the doctor explained. He held the tablet closer to his head for a second, his eyes tracking across the symbols, before making the dimple on the sphere deeper. “The worrying thing I found was this dimple. I believe I can easily link that to the reason I was called here – your magic is being drained by phoenix beak powder, am I correct?”

“She didn’t tell you before you came?”

He smiled wanly. “I was awoken at three AM by a pair of burly pegasi with bat wings, told the Princess had requisitioned my services to deal with the case of an insane and important pegasus in a discreet fashion, and shuttled here before I could have my morning coffee. I was given a short briefing on the way, and was half asleep for most of it.”

“Yeah, it’s that stuff – which I already knew.” She frowned at the sphere. “What’s that silver stuff?”

“That is the anomaly,” he answered. “Normally, in these representations, pegasus magic is shown in blue. Ideally, your aura would register nothing but pure blue – which is a gross oversimplification, as every individual’s magical signature is unique, and everypony’s aura is contaminated with trace amounts of foreign magic throughout the day that is subsequently purged by autonomic processes before it can – “

Dash yawned.

The doctor nodded sheepishly. “Anyways, I wouldn’t be too concerned with surface contamination of this kind – the white is unicorn magic, and could indicate something as simple as being magically manhandled by a unicorn recently; I’m not sure what the silver is, but it’s not black, so it is known to us – but, well…”

The sphere split in half, revealing that the marbling went deeper than the surface – far deeper. Tendrils of foreign magic stretched all the way from the exterior of the orb to its painfully blue core, suspended like ink dropped in clear water. She winced, sensing that this probably wasn’t a good thing.

“It’s deep contamination. Extremely deep,” he continued. “And the majority of it is by a spectrum of magic I don’t recognize. It isn’t too severe yet – otherwise, you’d actually be exhibiting symptoms of the contamination…which, the primary contaminant being unknown, are impossible to predict.”

Ghealach’s eyes lit up. “He is detecting my magical aid to you.”

“What kind of symptoms might happen?” Dash asked.

“Well, if it were a known spectrum, I could tell you, but…” He shrugged helplessly.

“If it was unicorn magic? You said some of that’s there.”

“Not nearly enough to be worrying,” he clarified, “but if it was the primary contaminant, rudimentary ability with telekinetic magic might be possible, as well as an impairment in flight ability.”

“Basically, it would turn me into a unicorn,” she summarized.

“A gross oversimplification, again, but in essence that is correct.” He chuckled unsurely. “I suppose we could figure out what the silver magic indicates by draining your native magic and letting the contaminant take over, but that might have some detrimental effects.”

The front door opened to admit Princess Luna and a pair of Day guards. She looked like she’d just eaten something particularly foul, but her face smoothed quickly. “Chirurgeon, thy report?”

“See for yourself, Princess,” he answered, dipping into a shallow bow. Luna trotted over to the aura representation, her eyes already widening in shock as she spotted the silver intrusions. She cast an appraising eye over Rainbow Dash before turning to the doctor again.

“Is her body holding out well against the powder’s effects?”

“If you hadn’t told me she was lethally poisoned, I would never have guessed it,” he said. “I did avoid physical contact as you had advised, though, despite my observations.”

“Good. Thou art dismissed. Guards – prithee, escort him home.”

The longma waited for the doctor to pack his small assortment of equipment – he’d known enough diagnostic spells that he could travel light – before ushering him towards the door. Luna waited until they’d shut it, and she was alone with Rainbow Dash – so she believed – before casting a visualizer spell herself and summoning a pair of orbs into existence. One sphere was Dash’s – silver and blue and white – but the other was both larger and of different colors, shimmering gold and silver in equal amounts. Dash assumed that one was Luna’s.

“We are no fool, Rainbow Dash,” Luna began. “No mortal pegasus could withstand Caelum’s fury alone. We had believed thine Element protected thee, but it seems thou hadst other help.”

“Does she always speak as if she were raised in the Anteastral era?” Ghealach asked.

“What?”

“From what I can glean from your memories, your equivalent would be the Classical Period,” she explained patiently.

“She was,” Dash answered simply. Ghealach nodded.

“Focus upon me,” Luna ordered sternly. Black shadows seemed to surround them until all that Dash could see was the alicorn and a thin strip of cloudy floor between them – and Ghealach, who remained unobscured by the darkness, smiling smugly; Luna showed no sign of noticing. “We know thou didst not seize on our own Moon for life. We would have felt it. And yet, thine aura is deeply laced with lunar magic – thou hast a link with a lunar body, somewhere, and thus we can conclude thou didst not return immediately home to Equestria after Caelum scattered thee.”

“Do not answer,” Ghealach countermanded. “She cannot know.”

“She’s Princess – “

“She. Cannot. Know,” she repeated, with unnecessary slowness. “There are too many unknowns centered around her for us.”

Us?

“You are bonded to me until such time as we agree to separate,” Ghealach reiterated. “You are an agent. An appendage. Yes, us.

“An appendage – “

“Focus,” Luna hissed. “In what other matters didst thou involve thyself, knowingly or unknowingly?”

“Nothing!” she shouted. “I didn’t involve myself in any other matters. I woke up and someone healed me so I could get home. She answered a few questions about Twilight and where she was. That’s it!”

“I hope you aren’t trying to weasel out of your side of the deal,” Ghealach said warningly.

“I’m not! I never agreed to anything – you – “

“Silence,” she interrupted. “Do not acknowledge me. She will grow suspicious of your ‘insane ranting’ if it seems too much on topic.”

“Then stop – “

Luna closed her eyes and counted silently to ten.

------

The spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, on a diplomatic mission. Ridiculous!

Discord adjusted the cuff links on his vest and straightened slightly, ensuring that his head was firmly planted on the dirt and he was forming a perfect ninety degree angle with the ground outside the front door of Castle Cahair's surface portion. His shifting seemed to function as some sort of signal for the array of ballista-kelpies manning the walls above the gatehouse; a fusillade of clicks filled the air, as if he’d hurled that infernal rabbit of Fluttershy’s into a room full of mousetraps again, while the siege operators drew the strings of their weapons back by mechanical means. Ordinarily he wouldn’t have stood for such a hostile welcome, and would have probably magicked their scorpions into a different type of scorpion altogether – something that glowed in the dark and stung, probably – but now he was supposed to be “pleasant” or some such nonsense.

The nerve! he thought once more. Sending a spirit of Chaos on a diplomatic mission! And after Rainbow Dash did such a good job of explaining how it was all my fault she failed with Caelum, probably. Ridiculous!

Granted, it was not the first time he’d been sent on such a menial task. Old Sun-Butt had dispatched him to patch things up with a berserk Gryphonian warlord and a tribe of ornery zebras not last week, and by the time he’d been through with them they were a promising a cappella group with designs on the Inharness Musical Cup! Listeners had described their sound as “unique” and “horrendously discordant”, and yet despite the bright future they had ahead of them thanks to his help, he hadn’t been allowed to continue on with them.

He sighed. If the Elements of Boredom hadn’t been on-call as a stick big enough to not need a carrot to be dangled before him, he’d probably have just ignored Celly’s orders to return to Canterlot, and would have taken them to fame and fortune as the vanguard of a daring new musical style, but no. Instead of training singers, he was forced to re-forge his own ball and chain! Ridiculous! And yet, he had to admit, it was a masterful bit of vengeance on the part of Lulu…if she could pull it off. And since pulling it off depended entirely on the cooperation of the scheme’s victim in a knowledgeable way, Discord estimated its chance of success to be about equal to a snowball’s chance in a habanero-pepper-soufflé.

He yawned and checked his pocket sundial. Half past thirteen – as auspicious a time as any to negotiate with a deranged acquaintance for the return of the being she believed to be her sister. If only she’d open her door, they could conclude the inevitable shouting match before breakfast.

He spotted a new face appear on the battlements overhead, framed nicely by his legs and silhouetted by the low gray cloud cover. It looked like some kind of robotic chicken, frankly, the way its feathers glinted in the cloud-scattered daylight. A scar ran down the left side of its face, tracing a bald line from the top of its crested head to the tip of its beak and detouring through what had once been an eye.

“I am Thunderclaw Rookwind, of the Domhanane Royal Guard,” he introduced himself in a voice that sounded remarkably like gravel in a woodchipper. “State your name and business.”

“Mention to your illustrious sticky leader the Day of Candy-Striped Sun!” Discord called back up. “I believe she’ll know who I am.”

“Oh, she knows who you are,” Thunderclaw clarified. “I, however, do not.”

“Puzzling. With a voice like yours, I’d have expected you to be interviewing with me for a spot in the Halfbreed Howlers.” The bird cocked an eyebrow – its only eyebrow, really – at that.

“Primarily, I would like to know who it is I am about to order my artillerybeings to fill full of four-meter shafts of splintery metal-tipped wood,” he said. “I consider it rude to not know the name of the foe I order the death of. I have a photo album somewhere around here with pictures I took with every criminal put to death in the last three decades…all of them signed, too, even if some of the signatures aren’t particularly nice.”

“You seem to be a pleasant enough fellow to hang with, though I regrettably lack the time,” Discord replied diplomatically. “I am an envoy from the world of Equestria, here to meet with her gluelikeness, Beta Centauri of the dreary world of Domhan.”

“Do all the folk of your world have such an indecent manner of sitting?”

“Not typically, no. We are in the southern hemisphere, though.”

Thunderclaw patiently waited for an explanation. When none was forthcoming, he grunted and hopped away from the crenellations, with much rattling and banging. Discord had forgotten how noisy Domhan could be. “You may fire when ready, soldiers.”

“There is no need,” Beta Centauri said, pulling the front gate inwards and stepping outside. “I will deal with him myself.”

“Beta Centauri! It’s been a long time,” Discord boomed, teleporting behind her and draping an arm across her back. He steered her back towards the inside of the castle as he tried to continue speaking. “Three millennia? Four millennia? I’ve never been much of a ‘dates’ immortal – “

The world shifted, and he found himself inside a rather impressive throne room – or it would have been impressive, for a pony. He’d been there before, tasted all the walls, left poorly-drawn stick figures on all the columns; it had ceased to awe him even before he’d arrived the first time. Light left constantly fluctuating patterns across the floor at the end of the room across from the throne where Beta sat. He was directly in front of the star, still suspended upside-down in midair, though his lion arm remained draped gently around Beta’s shoulders.

“What do you want, Discord?” Beta asked wearily. Why, from the sound of her voice, Discord almost thought she wasn’t happy to see him! “I have important issues to deal with. Make this quick, please.”

“What, no time to catch up on history?” he retorted, disappointment practically dripping from his words, which is to say that none of it stuck to the words themselves and made them sound quite offended. “The Day of Candy-Striped Sun? Those hip-hop dancing lessons I gave Proxi and Alpha? I’m sure Alpha would have loved to see me again – we hit it off so well last time, after all!”

Alpha doesn’t want anything to do with you!” she snapped, leaping to her hooves. “I thought she made that clear after that tangled mess of blunders and poor judgment that got you forcibly expelled from the Stellar Court!”

“It was all in good fun!” he protested. “Everyone enjoyed it right up to the end – which, I’ll admit, was probably poorly timed.”

“Poorly timed?” she repeated disbelievingly. “There is never a right time to try to get my younger sister into bed with you!”

“You say it as if it weren’t meant figuratively!”

“It certainly wasn’t figurative when you asked Caelum, too!”

“She’d seemed amenable,” he offered in way of defense.

“She – “

“I will admit, I was a bit of a wild child in those days.” In a flash of light, Discord was suddenly seated in an exceedingly comfortable recliner next to a roaring fireplace, a monocle over his eye, a top hat on his head and a cup of warm tea in his claw, which he sipped from distinguishedly (careful to not get any stuck in his drooping white walrus moustache). “But, dear Beta Centauri, I have reformed! I’ve given up my life of random escapades for a slightly less random life of random escapades, settled down with a mare – “

Another?

“ – and achieved a respectable position of trust and authority in the government.”

“Not my government!”

“Politicians are all the same,” he responded dismissively, his disembodied arm waving her protest away. “I’m so incredibly reformed, so deeply, thoroughly, and unrecognizably changed, the bureaucrats around Canterlot didn’t even realize my first day on the job was satire! I think some of them are still half-hoping I’ll arrive in a suit and tie and start filling out paperwork again.”

Beta rubbed at her temples, seemingly trying to ignore the fuzzy lion’s foreleg around her neck. “Why are you here, Discord? Why are you here, really?

The chair vanished, and Discord was dressed in the uniform of a Canterlot constabulary officer – though he kept the top hat and monocle to add a touch of incongruent class to the ensemble. “I have been dispatched by her Majesty, her Grace, her exceeding Beauty, her ever-just Imperial – “

“Get on with it.”

“ – Princess Moony-Butt of Equestria, to retrieve the pony known as Twilight Sparkle, who hereafter shall be referred to as “Sparkle-Butt” – “

“Can we not?”

“ – from the terrible clutches of the Sticky Queens of Domhan,” he frowned thoughtfully at the empty thrones to Beta’s right and left, seeming to just now notice them. He amended, “Though there seems to be only one of those around. Should I wait?”

“You know precisely why there is only one of us here. Let’s get this over with,” Beta sighed. “I know of no such pony in my court or in my dungeons. There are, in fact, no ponies whatsoever on Domhan at all.”

“Beta, I am a master of governmental satire. Do not attempt to play legalese with me,” he said scornfully. “She is here on this world, and we of the Equestrian Diplomatic Corps – I’m fairly sure Celly made that up in a futile attempt to placate us – “

“Why the sudden shift to the royal ‘we’?”

“No, no – by ‘we’ I mean myself and my arm around your shoulders.” The arm saluted proudly. Discord conjured up a badge for it for its troubles. “I, personally, had reservations about his appointment, but even if he was a bit of an armful at first he pulls his own weight and more now, and I must admit him lending a hand at crucial moments is what allows me to create my best work.”

Beta’s hoof migrated from her temple to the bridge of her nose. “There is no one by the name of ‘Twilight Sparkle’ here in my castle.”

“Ah, but is there anyone by the name of Alpha Centauri here?”

Beta’s mane flared. “I believe I already said that Alpha doesn’t want anything to do with you!”

Discord teleported to the Queen’s side and rejoined his arm. “Come now, Beta, surely Alpha’s a big girl now and can make her own decisions on who she wants to see? If Twilight truly is her, then certainly a little time to visit with her old friends wouldn’t be enough to make her stay in Equestria now – not after tasting power and the perks of being a star once more?”

“It is too soon,” Beta countered. “She’s only just got here. Too much could go wrong by letting her return to Equestria.”

“I understand.” He nodded sagely. “You’re feeling a bit – overprotective, shall we say, of your older sister, especially after two thousand years of separation. You seem to have some kind of self-esteem issue and don’t think she would willingly choose Domhan over the life you kidnapped her from – or, more relevantly, you over said past life. You’re eager to restore a sense of normalcy that has been absent for too long, and is just now starting to return, hm?”

She sighed. “Perhaps you are right, Discord…which is a sentence I never believed I would say on a serious matter. She is my sister, and perhaps simple exposure will be enough to return her memory and cement her return - but she hasn't put down enough roots yet! In a year's time, maybe. I…I will consider it then, if Alpha is amenable. Tell Luna I will – “

She leaned back, and the air was filled with the ear-splitting sound of air escaping a whoopie cushion.

------

Rainbow Dash’s heated argument with herself, and Luna’s impatient waiting for it to end, were both interrupted by the sound of ripping air as space-time deformed violently. Trailing smoke, a large mass flew out of the heart of the spatial distortion and bowled them both over, pinning Luna to the wall and knocking Rainbow Dash aside like a bowling pin. Splayed out on the cloudy barrier, the shape was now easily recognizable as Discord, covered in soot and smelling faintly of sardines. Luna peeled him off the wall with magic, freeing herself and dropping him to the floor.

“Well?” she said. “Hast thou made any headway, Discord?”

The draconequus picked himself up off the floor. One horn was still on fire slightly; he pinched it out before opening his mouth and letting out a burst of smoke with a wheezing cough. Luna gave him an unamused look.

“Diplomacy,” Discord declared solemnly, smoke escaping his mouth with every word, “has failed us.” And then he crumbled away into a pile of black ash.

“What dost thou mean, ‘diplomacy has failed us’?” Luna demanded. “Thou didst seem most competent in defusing the border dispute Celestia had thou solvest within the last fortnight!”

A mouth formed itself out of the ash, accompanied by a pair of eyes and a miniature rendition of Canterlot Castle. “Well, this time it didn’t work. She’s being quite unreasonable, as my current condition indicates.”

“Thy current condition is of thine own choice and is as indicative of Beta’s mood as the price of antiquated mathematical equipment in Neighpon is of the weather within thy castle,” Luna deadpanned, though her shock still found room to edge around her cool exterior and make its presence known. “What has happened?”

“I presented your case reasonably and eloquently, and forsooth I was shot dead,” he answered brusquely. “I honestly cannot tell why her temper – and her mane, for that matter – flared up like that. Disgraceful really.”

“Yes. Truly.” She hummed thoughtfully.

“Can I give it a shot?” Rainbow Dash asked hopefully. “I knew Discord wouldn’t work out!”

“The issue is no longer of thy concern,” the alicorn replied irritably. “Thou art in no state to negotiate for the release of Twilight Sparkle.”

“The doctor said – “

“The chirurgeon was mistaken,” she interrupted. “And Beta will not be made more amenable to reason through aggression and harsh demands. We must consult with our sister on how to pursue this further – do not attempt to leave. The guards will remain.”

When the flash of light from her departure had faded, Dash glared angrily at Discord. “This is your fault, isn’t it?”

“Why, Rainbow Dash, what ever do you mean?” he asked innocently. “Are – are you suggesting I sabotaged the negotiations? Why would I do such a thing? I am, after all” – the ash flowed up and sculpted itself back into the draconequus’s familiar form, taking on the hue and texture of living flesh once more – “reformed!”

“You said it before! Since Twilight’s gone, you don’t have to do anything they say!”

“You actually listened?” he gasped. “Be cautious, Rainbow Dash – in your madness you are straying dangerously close to becoming decent.”

Dash made a sound of frustration. “You purposefully sabotaged it!”

“I’m quite certain I have no idea what you mean,” he yawned. “Beta Centauri’s reaction to a juvenile prank is nothing I could have affected.”

“It’s something you could have started!”

He shrugged. “Fair enough. Her thin skin, though, is absolutely not one of my problems. I have far loftier goals and concerns – such as how, exactly, you plan to make a fool of yourself this time.”

“What?”

“Perhaps I was mistaken,” he said. “But, if I were you – I’m not, or at least, not right now – and my friend was missing, and I knew where she was and how to get there, and I had already attempted to brutalize the mare responsible for the creation of the heavens to get her back, I wouldn’t hesitate to plan my escape and eventual rescue of said friend.” He grinned and shot down through the floor, vanishing in a puff of cloud save for his mouth, which seemed to have gotten stuck.

“Just a thought,” his mouth added slyly, before it too vanished. Rainbow Dash stared thoughtfully at his point of exit for a few moments before turning to Ghealach.

“So, do you have a plan yet, or am I going to have to come up with one?” she asked impatiently. Ghealach shook her head.

“There is no need for you to do that,” she answered. “Of course I have one ready. It does, of course, rely heavily on your ability to secure more ground phoenix beak.”

Dash sighed. “What do I have to do?”

Author's Note:

Apologies for the delay, minor writer's block combined with major calculus test to extend the wait. I'm not incredibly ecstatic about this chapter, but I couldn't think of how to improve it too much and so published it with the working assumption that it was simply a case of procrastination. Edits possible (unlikely in absence of negative critical feedback), suggestions welcome.

Thanks for the favorites and such in the interim!