• Published 13th Mar 2012
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Inner Glory - Erindor


A utopian society cannot exist without the corpses of the revolutionaries.

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Chapter 56: Truth or Dare
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Chapter 56: Truth or Dare

Do you remember, Celestia? Is it all coming back now?

Celestia tried to ignore the telepathic jeers assaulting her. All that mattered was that she stayed ahead of him. If she could only get to Luna, the two of them would have the strength to overpower this mockery, this violent and unpredictable corruption of an alicorn, a relic of a forgotten time, a time better left unknown.

We went through so much together, protecting our perfect world from the dangers outside. But as hard as we tried to keep everything together, to make everything brilliant, we forgot one key aspect of the perfect society. Truth. Lies seep into every aspect, corrupting, decaying, and weakening. As much as you fear me for my physical strength, which you may overpower, you should fear me most for my knowledge, for my voice.

That will be much harder to silence.

{- - -}

The blast rocked the room, causing dust to fall from the ceiling. Luna looked up in disappointment. “Seems like the servants haven't been in here recently.”

“Can you blame them?” Quicksilver called. “It's not like Celestia ever uses it, and they had no warning from you. They're more concerned with the parts of the castle people actually see.”

The two of them were in an underground shelter made for spell testing. The entrance was a small shack tucked away in a corner of the castle grounds, providing both privacy and protection from any spells gone wrong.

“How's the book coming?” Luna asked, as she readied another shaped blast.

“Pretty well, actually, thanks to your help. And Celestia's.” Quicksilver looked up from his notebook. “I should be able to finish it up within the next week or so. I know I've said it a thousand times before, but you alicorns are absolutely fascinating.”

“Glad to be of assistance. How is Seren?”

“You know, he's been getting quieter and quieter lately. It's been like four weeks since I actually spoke with him.”

“That long?”

“He seems to be content to fade away, now.”

“Remind him we could bind him to a golem. And, just to double-check, he hasn't attempted to harm you?”

“Never.”

Luna shook her head. “I still don't trust him. Yes, he's helped us make several great advancements in magic, but I don't like that he's all clammed up about his origins.”

“You worry too much.”

“I say you don't worry enough.” Luna let her spell release. The small comet of magic flew to the end of the firing range, right between three training dummies. The magic exploded, once again shaking dust loose. The explosion swirled around two of the dummies, missing them entirely, the inferno scorching the third, intended target.

“Very well done. See, I don't think Seren's evil if he's teaching us how to avoid harming innocents with our spells.”

“Remember that he also taught how to maximize a spell's deadliness. It's a double-edge. But yes, I will admit; he's been informative.” She turned to prepare another spell. “Though not in areas I wish he were.”

{- - -}

In the Forgotten Realm, Luna was watching Gemini with interest. “How close is she?”

Thael's ears perked. She's about to experience Quicksilver's fall.

“She might need the whole picture. Can I add my own memories to the bubble?”

You know, I'm not sure. It's worth a try.

Luna closed her eyes, her breathing slowing considerably. With complete self-mastery, she extracted the memories she had recently regained, and poured the stream of consciousness into field of energy slowly rotating around Gemini's head. The memory bubble flared for a moment, but maintained its shape. It seemed that it had accepted the memories.

“And now, we wait?”

We wait. You've already waited a thousand years to confront Celestia, what's a few more minutes?

{- - -}

“Luna! I finished the book! Here it is, fresh off of the presses. A Study of Alicorns: Their Psychology and Physiology.” He stopped in his tracks. “What's wrong?”

“Nothing, sorry.” Luna composed herself, turning away from the mirror she’d been staring into. “Please, continue.”

Quicksilver raised a brow, knowing full well that something was off, but he continued regardless, respecting her desire for secrecy. “The information I was able to gather could be really useful for Equestria. It's all in here, and you probably already know some of it, since you helped write it, but, theoretically, we could raise an army of alicorns for the construction and protection of Equestria. Of course, they'd have to be already good at magic, and trusted by the state, but it's an idea to consider. Also, based on the experiments we conducted, I think I've found a way to make energy collection much more effective. We can take ambient energy from the otherwise wasted leftovers of a spell, recollect it, and use it for the next spell. That's the idea, anyway, the technique's a bit difficult. With far more efficient spell casting, we...” He stopped speaking. “I'm sorry, but you're not into this. Come on, what's up?”

“Celestia made a major, country-affecting decision without consulting me. You remember, of course, the recent attacks on Equestria? The farms in the south, burned by rogue dragons, and the caravans ransacked to the east, by the griffons?”

“Of course. Oh, there were meetings called about those, weren't there?” Quicksilver sobered even further. “Celestia didn't invite you?”

“No, she didn't. She spoke with the council, and decided to hold off retribution. She claims she’s waiting for the delegates from the other civilizations to arrive, but I feel there’s no need. Both events were declarations of war, no matter what the diplomats say. If Equestria backs down, they’ll take it as a sign of weakness, and the problem will only continue.”

“Have you tried talking to her?”

Luna sighed. “Yes, but she blew me off with some half-reared explanation. I'm not claiming that we need to go to war immediately, but once again, she's worried about the immediate future, not the long-term effects.”

“Maybe she is, though. Hostility is a fearful and costly situation for any nation to be in. Isn't it worth a shot to try to preserve peace?”

“You would think so.” Luna walked over to a wall, standing still for a moment. Suddenly with a terrible yell, she reared up and smashed into it with her hooves.

“By the skies, Luna, what are you doing?”

“Relieving stress!” Luna reared up once more, the second impact visibly damaging the structure. Then, she pulled back, giving a half-hearted kick in the wall's direction.

Quicksilver stayed where he was, frowning darkly. “Luna, I thought you had made an effort to overcome your outbursts.”

“I have!” Luna covered her mouth in realization. “I have,” she amended, under much more control. “Oh, Quicksilver, what am I supposed to do? Everything had been going so well, but then this happens. I was under the impression that Celestia had finally begun to trust me, but then she goes and does this!”

“Let's think about this logically. Why would she make an active effort to exclude you from the meetings, when, as we both know, she's been doing just the opposite recently?”

Luna grimaced. “I'm certain you have a few ideas.”

“I do. Perhaps she feels very strongly about giving people a second chance. Perhaps she realized that it might be factions of the respective kingdoms who made the attacks, not the whole. We can't deny that the other nations are frustratingly stubborn, but they haven't attacked us earlier, and why would they begin with such subversive means? Maybe Celestia is worried about your well being. She knows you well, as I've come to. You have a kind heart, but you can be a bit rash sometimes. Perhaps what justice needs to learn is patience?” Quicksilver stepped over to her side, watching her carefully. “Though, you know, if you feel so strongly about it, you could try to overthrow Celestia's position directly.”

Luna looked up in horror. “What? What are you even suggesting? You were just on her side!”

“I like to see both angles of a situation. Celestia got her turn, now it's time to look at yours. I think I agree with you. Taking no action, no initial aggressive stance is foolish. Celestia claims that you are her equal, but one pony making all the decisions is anything but equality. You both have a claim to the throne, but she's been hogging it all herself. If you want to be taken seriously, you're going to have to take a greater stand than just reacting every time Celestia does something you disagree with. Be proactive. Don't just do your duties; expand your powers.”

“You're saying I should betray my sister?”

“Hasn't she betrayed you?”

Luna shook her head, staring all the while directly into Quicksilver's eyes. Her face held no warmth. “I couldn't go that far. We have our odds, but Celestia is my sister, and my friend. Politics can never come between us. Honestly, Quicksilver, I'm a bit disappointed in you for even suggesting such a thing!”

Quicksilver looked shocked, and hurt. After his initial recovery, he bowed deeply. “My deepest apologies, Princess Luna. What I said was out of line. I'm sorry, I've had a terrible headache, and I'm not myself today. I care only for your well-being, and seeing as my earlier tactics weren't proving effective, I was simply trying another path.”

“As long as it doesn't happen again.” Luna shook her head softly. “I need to think. I should step away from the problem for a moment, to clear my head.” She turned to the damaged wall, which was quickly enveloped by her magical aura. The pieces pushed themselves out and bonded together, leaving no trace of the damage.

“I'm going for a walk through the woods surrounding the castle. There's no need to attend to me. Take the rest of the night off, Quicksilver. Get something done about that headache of yours.”

“Of course, my lady. Safe travels. May you find the guidance you're seeking.”

Luna stepped out of the room. After a few moments, Quicksilver stepped over to the mirror Luna had been looking at. “What's happened to us?”

“You've changed,” his reflection replied simply. “She's changed. In many ways, for the better. But if you treat people like they'll always be the same, you'll find yourself grasping at empty air.”

“All I want is for us to be happy.”

“That's all anybody wants. But the only way to reach happiness is to keep trying. Apologize to her when she returns home, and then help her make a decision that's hers, not yours.”

Quicksilver turned away from the mirror, sighing. “I suppose you're right.”

The reflection grinned. “Of course I am. I haven't led you wrong yet. Do you regret taking me in now, Quicksilver?”

“No Seren, I don't. I just wish I didn't have to lie to Luna.”

“A lie told to prevent pain is hardly a sin at all.”

“Yet it's still a sin.”

“Perhaps.”

“The headaches you cause don't help your case either.”

“I'll see what I can do about that.”

{- - -}

Luna kicked the stone in the path, watching it bounce a few feet before moving forward to kick it again. She felt trapped, she decided. It wasn't that she wasn't able to escape, but the only way to do so would be to hurt someone. Either Celestia, or herself.

It wasn't like what she was asking was wrong, was it? She just wanted her voice to be heard, for her opinions and reasoning to be taken seriously. That should be something any intelligent member of society could expect.

What to do with Celestia? Her sister's heart was in the right place, even if her mind wasn't. But that only made it harder to attack her.

And Quicksilver, what had happened with him? Luna had noticed a distinct change in his personality over the past couple of weeks. It was like he was becoming a different person. He was much more aggressive, not the meek and doting pony she had first known him as. Luna was all for taking a stand, but her beloved guard had become somewhat distant, much more interested in studying her than actually enjoying her company.

And now she had made the problem worse by telling him off. He really had stepped out of line, though.

Or had he?

Luna shook her head. No, that wasn't right. Sure, she might toy with the idea of having more influence in Equestria, but she wasn't so childish to think she could rule it by herself. Luna needed Celestia, and Celestia needed Luna, no matter how much either of them wanted to twist it.

And yet, at the same time, Luna couldn't help but begin to agree with Quicksilver's words. Her shoulders tensed up as she thought about it. Celestia's ideas worked, but only in the short term. That had proven itself as of late. It wasn't like Luna had any say in the matters that had led up to these simultaneous attacks. Why should she step in now, and save Celestia from herself?

Yes, that sounded like the proper way to go. Luna would be vocal on how bad of an idea it was to go soft on the aggressors, but she would do nothing to stop Celestia's silliness. Then, when everything came crashing down around her older sister, she'd simply swoop in, leading the charge, and claim the glory she deserved.

Luna stopped. As tantalizing as it was, the idea felt dirty. No matter how effective it might be, she hated the idea of using such backhanded methods to accomplish her goals, no matter how noble they might be.

Once again, she was back to where she had started. She either had to buckle down and let Celestia run the show, or she had to take a stand, hurting their relationship and her self-image, but for the greater good.

Or the greater good as she saw it. Luna was very aware that what she considered right could be cruel or even unspeakable for others. But that was what justice was, right? Doing what was right, no matter the consequences? She knew that her word wasn't quite law, that she might be too harsh in some cases or too lenient in others, but did that make her efforts any less valuable, when it seemed no one else cared?

All she wanted was for her existence to not be meaningless. If that meant making somebody else smile, or think, or feel that all was fair in the world, that was all that was needed. Even if it was only one other pony, it would all be worth it. But right now? Right now, she felt alone, once again.

All she wanted, she realized, was to be noticed.

In the distance, she felt a pulse of energy. Luna was pulled out of her trance-like state with a jolt. She looked around to get her bearings, but she was on a path unknown to her. She must have been wandering blindly during her musings. She could maybe fly up, but the trees were thick here. She could hardly see her moon from here, a disconcerting fact.

She focused on the pulse. She realized it wasn't just a single burst, but now a constant stream, a ripple in the fabric of reality, calling to her. It had a certain allure, as if it were actively attempting to call her to it.

She stood in place, listening intently. The forest around her was silent. Something was very off. She knew enough to not go chasing after strange explosions in the forest, and yet, she felt she needed to. She charged up a blast of magic in case she ran into something hostile, but after only a moment's deliberation, she set off towards the singularity.

As she moved, her mind worked even faster than it had before. Perhaps this was a trap, one of the other nations trying to take her out of the picture. Perhaps it was nothing, just an oddity of nature, a natural discharge of sorts.

Or maybe it was her chance. This could be the great discovery that would make her Celestia's true equal. Perhaps it was the means of protecting the kingdom indefinitely.

Or destroying it.

Or, she reminded herself, it could be absolutely nothing. Why was she getting her hopes up so much? Was she really that desperate for an answer?

Yes.

She was close, she could feel it. The trees obscured her vision. She felt cut off, without a direct line of sight to the source of her power. To say nothing of how overpowering the signal of this oddity was. It certainly wasn't nothing, but just what this something was was still undecided.

She had one last chance. She could turn back now, play it safe, never know what was around this last tree, and regret it for the rest of her life. Or, she could take a chance, perhaps pay the consequences, and have her curiosity and insatiable hunger satisfied.

She turned the corner slowly, checking the coast was clear. There wasn't anything but some stone stairs.

“You've got to be joking.”

Luna approached the stairs as if in a dream. She knew full well what these were. She had heard the stories, listened intently as her mother warned her of the dangers of the world. A fairy tale, nothing more.

And yet, here it was, staring her in the face. Not a fairy tale, but a reality.

The stairs disappeared into the canopy, preventing her from seeing the top. Just like in the stories. She knew, she knew she should go tell somebody else, perhaps run away screaming in terror, but with trepidation, she stepped forward. It was surreal, it was dangerous, it was possibly even stupid, but she couldn't pass up such a chance.

Each step was a beat of her heart. Each tap, tap, tap; a drip of sweat. Each rustle of the leaves a shaky breath, the growing hum her buzzing thoughts. She ascended the top of the stairs.

His appearance was just as she had imagined. Two uncaring and yet infinite, flaming eyes greeted her, a small yet dark smile beneath, accenting the danger of the situation.

Greetings, Princess Luna of Equestria. I have been expecting you for some time. Allow me to introduce myself. I am the Devil. It paused for a moment, gesturing towards a black, crystalline altar behind it a short distance. I believe I have an offer that just might interest you.

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