• Published 1st Jan 2014
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Stormsinger - Airstream

After four hundred and fifty years of uneasy peace, the balance of power in Equestria has shifted.

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In Which The Aftermath Is Examined

“So you’ve decided to move her trip along?” Celestia asked, dunking a biscuit in the steaming cup in front of her, the light-form shimmering as she did so. The newly enhanced spells on the rooms they were using made their conversations all but unknowable, but they sacrificed a bit of verisimilitude.

“Yes,” Twilight said calmly. “Instead of leaving at the New Year, she’ll be heading out in a few weeks. Two, to be exact. Cadance, did you get the itinerary I sent you?”

Cadance nodded. “Yes, I did. Sending her by airship will be a bit conspicuous, are you sure you wanted it that way?”

“Trains are too easy to predict,” Luna chimed in, somewhat fuzzily. The spells were hardest from her end, and cost her resources dearly. “Airships are maneuverable, and can defend themselves ably. I honestly don’t see why you all still use those antiquated things.”

“Airships cost,” Twilight said, “But not too much that they outlive their usefulness.”

“Are you sure she’ll be alright to fly?” Cadance asked, “I mean, she hasn’t woken up yet. The poor thing has had a lot of strain.”

“Moving the ley lines will do that,” Celestia said calmly. “Speaking of, have you been able to analyze her? See why she can do that?”

Twilight sighed, exasperated. “No,” she said, her voice grim. “There’s no way she should be able to do that, in all honesty. It takes magic to use latent magic. I checked her reserves, and even gave her a bit of my own to help bolster her body during the healing process. It didn’t take. Just like always, it was in and out, like pouring magic into a sieve.”

“Radiant Zenith would know,” Luna said thoughtfully. “She made many a study into ley lines under my tutelage. She even used them once or twice.”

“Diamond Dogs,” Celestia said. She spat the name like it left a bad taste in her mouth. “I thought I’d never see their mangy hides again. Are you sure it was them?”

“There’s no way they were alone,” Twilight said. “I’m certain. There were tracks belonging to perhaps a dozen, and only two leading away. I picked up some residual magic where they left. Diamond Dogs can’t do magic, right?”

“They’re about as magical as an earthworm,” Celestia replied. “And as useful. So they had spellcasters with them.”

“Spellcasters powerful enough to sneak them into the Everfree Forest, subdue Radiant Zenith, and get them back out?” Cadance asked. “But who would do something like that? And where would Diamond Dogs get those kinds of Mages? Radiant Zenith could take each one of us on individually, so long as we were in her territory. Mortal mages would have plenty of difficulty just approaching her with bad intent.”

Celestia shook her head thoughtfully. “I do not know,” she said, “But I will check my Archives for mention of what sort of magic could be used.”

“The Archives won’t help,” Twilight said dismissively, “Didn’t you have most of the treatises on Breaking magic destroyed after Luna’s banishment? I’m sure you did the same with the stuff on older and more obscure magic.”

“I kept Starswirl’s magic, didn’t I?” Celestia asked, “Treacherous though it was. Besides,” she added almost as an afterthought, “I said I would check my Archives. Not the Archives.”

There was a beat of silence. Twilight’s eyelid twitched. “You’re saying you’ve kept those volumes hidden for Aether knows how long?” she demanded. “Even after we were supposed to be pooling our resources to fighting this damned Shadow?”

“I failed to see how Equestrian magic could defeat such a creature,” Celestia sniffed. “Frankly, I’m not sure how we’re supposed to do it ourselves. Aside from Luna’s admirably direct method of hitting it until it stops moving.”

“It could work!” Luna said defensively. “It showed pain and an aversion to damage when we last saw it!”

“The point is,” Celestia said, holding up a placating hoof, “That up until this moment, I saw no need to share this information with any of you. I truly did not see it as relevant until now. I shall of course have copies made and sent to you all at once. Four sets of eyes are better than one, after all. I simply ask that you limit exposure to these works to those you trust, and them alone.”

“Agreed,” Cadance said, “I can’t think of many ponies in my court who would be interested in that sort of thing.”

“What a surprise,” Twilight said. Cadance stuck her tongue out. “I agree to those terms, Celestia,” she said. “I do the same with all the potentially dangerous material until I’ve vetted it anyway.”

Luna shrugged, fuzzing out temporarily. “I agree,” she said, “But know that at least a sense of what they contain will be spread throughout my domain. It is difficult to keep secrets here.”

“Then expect them by the end of the month,” Celestia said. “That goes for all of you. Now, about the other one. Cobblestone. How is she?”

“Resting comfortably,” Twilight said, “However, there were some…complications…with the healing process. That fire was necromantic in nature, which makes it very resistant to healing.”

“Oh no,” Cadance said, her tone full of almost-motherly concern, “How bad is the scarring?”

“Minimal and healing,” Twilight said, “However, there were other issues. Cobblestone is temporarily blind in one eye, and the doctors think she might have lost some fine motor control. I happen to agree. Nothing debilitating, but she will need to be careful. She may have a limp as well.”

“I have Clerics available,” Celestia said, “Not as good as Cadance’s, mind, but if you’d like their services…”

“If they wish to come, they’re welcome,” Twilight said. “I don’t know how much good they’ll do. Libra and I both checked her over. There’s only so much we can do.”

“Is Cobblestone still going to be apprenticed to her?” Luna asked. “The trials of apprenticeship are very demanding. If she is to be crippled…”

“And what about Serale?” Cadance asked. “I’m assuming you’ll have her under Libra’s tutelage.”

Twilight nodded. “If Cobblestone wishes to continue under Libra, my Magus has said that she will be happy to have her. Serale won’t be able to study under me, so I’m going to entrust her education to Libra. She knows almost as much about ley line activity as I do, so she might be able to help her control it. I’ve also started designing a sort of prosthetic for Serale.”

“You mean Cobblestone?” Celestia asked.

“No,” Twilight replied. “If things go well, Serale will be able to regulate and use her magic just like any other unicorn. But it will take a great deal of focus and practice, which this prosthetic is made to help with.”

“I certainly hope it works,” Luna said. “She needs to learn control. Especially after what she did.”

“The ponies caught in the blast were already dead,” Twilight said, “No matter what others may think. I have it on good faith from the fighters who were down in the arena. None of them could have survived that blast.”

“And yet the rumor is that nearly a thousand perished,” Celestia said.

“It’s a rumor. They come and go,” Twilight said. “But still…”

“She needs to leave the capital while things cool down,” Cadance said. “I understand.”

“It’s all the help I can give her,” Twilight said, an edge of desperation in her voice. “I can’t afford to keep her here. Not with things the way they are. The trip and the prosthetic are all the help I can give.”

“Nopony is blaming you for this, Twilight,” Celestia said. “What happened was not your fault.”

“There was no way you could have prevented what happened,” Luna said.

“But what if there was?” Twilight asked, her voice catching, “If I hadn’t left the Regia…gods, I haven’t left the capital in nearly twenty years, and the first time I did…”

“Twilight Sparkle,” Cadance said firmly, “There was no way you could have known, and that sort of thinking is going to tear you apart if you let it. Trust me, I know. The attack would have happened. Lives would have been lost. Even if you were in the capital, all that you could have done is improve the situation a little by defending ponies still in the stadium, ponies who were outside when Serale used her magic. Nothing would have changed. So you need to stop, calm down, and be grateful things turned out as well as they did. You could have lost a daughter, Twilight. But you didn’t, and right now, that’s all that should matter to you.”

There was a moment of silence. “I think we should adjourn for the day,” Celestia said. “We can pick this back up in, say, two days? Unless there’s an emergency, of course.”

“Agreed,” Luna said. “Go, Twilight. Be with your daughter. You’ll want to be by her side when she wakes up.”

Twilight sniffed. “Okay,” she said. “And thank you. I’ll talk to you all in two days, same time.”

One by one, the lights in the room dimmed, leaving Twilight to stand alone with only her horn for company.

“You know,” a dry voice said, “I don’t usually agree with Celly on most things, but I have to say she’s right in this case.”

“Discord,” Twilight said without turning around. “What do you want?”

“I came to share some intelligence with you all,” he said. “However, your new defenses took me a while.”

“And what would that be?” Twilight asked.

“First, I want to ask a few questions,” he said. “About the thief.”

Twilight turned to face him. “I’m in no mood for games,” she said.

Discord’s face was uncharacteristically serious, even as he turned and twisted sinuously in midair. “Do I look to be in a gaming mood?” he asked icily. “You answer my questions, I answer yours. We’ll go one for one, if you like.”

“Deal,” Twilight said. “You start.”

“Do you know what you’ve done to Cobblestone by waking that latent power so early?” Discord asked.

“Drawn the attention of the archetypes of Death, Emotion, Strife, and Growth,” Twilight said. “Cobblestone needed her powers put into full effect if she were to survive.”

“I paid for that,” Discord said, coiling in on himself. “I had to make accessions to my power in order to guarantee her safety. Death in particular wanted her in his service. I told him he already had plenty of servants to look to. He didn’t take kindly to it.”

“My heart weeps,” Twilight said. “Where did Radiant Zenith go?”

“I don’t know particulars,” Discord said. “But I do know that the barrier around those islands opened four days ago, and closed again. I was going to try access, but I decided not to risk it. If she’s anywhere, it’s there.”

Twilight nodded. Discord pulled an apple out of nowhere and took a bite. “When the necromancer…what was her name? Hemlock?”

“Nightshade,” Twilight corrected.

“Right. When Nightlight attacked the arena, did you say that Cobblestone defended the box herself?” Discord asked, “And actually managed to hold her own?”

Twilight nodded.

“Impressive,” Discord murmured. “The child has more potential than I realized, even beside the power she possesses.”

“Why did you visit her?” Twilight asked.

“To warn her of the trouble she had gotten herself into,” Discord replied, stretching languidly. “And to reprimand her for her foolish use of that oath. Not that she knew what it meant, of course. I should have told you not to invoke those powers after the war ended.”

Twilight looked at Discord thoughtfully. “Interesting,” she said.

“My last question. What is your honest opinion for her recovery? Not the watered-down version you gave the others. What is she really like? I don’t have much of a head for medicine.”

“Well,” Twilight said slowly, “When we recovered her, she had sustained moderate to severe burns along her stomach, forelegs, neck, shoulders, and back. Scarring was prevented, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The spell Nightshade used targets the life inside a pony, so she is at increased risk of disease and other ailments until we can get her out of her induced coma and perform more controlled healing spells on her. Our Mender Clerics need her to be awake so they can use her consciousness to direct the flow of energy, but that should be safe in a day or two.”

“Also,” Twilight continued, “Cobblestone will likely suffer a bit of vision loss in one eye. And her horn sustained…damage.”

“What sort of damage?”

“Mostly cosmetic, from what we can tell,” Twilight said, “But her horn has burned black. It might heal over time, but that would take years. It shouldn’t interfere with her spell casting, I did all the necessary checks myself.”

“So she’ll be more or less able to function,” Discord said. “That’s good.”

“My turn,” Twilight asked. “When were you going to tell Cobblestone that she was your daughter?”

Discord’s constant movement halted altogether, and the pale brown of his face turned an ashen white. “What did you say?” he asked quietly.

“Cobblestone never knew her father,” Twilight said, “But you’ve taken on the role of a patrician to her. You’ve watched her grow up, made deals to keep her safe, and the first thing you do when interrogating me is ask about her. And there’s only one being I know in all of Equestria who can really work with the fabric of a pony’s soul.”

Discord was silent for a moment. A long moment. “If this were to get out,” he said, “It would wreck all I have done to aid her throughout her life. All the work I did to make her into what she is today would be for naught if it got out that Cobblestone was my daughter. You think she was hunted before? It would be nothing compared to who would be interested in her later. I would rather kill her myself at that point.”

“You condemned her mother to die alone, forced her into a life of poverty and addiction, and got her nearly killed more than once.”

“I did what I do with every pony in Equestria, and every being beyond,” Discord countered. “I made her self-reliant. I made sure that she picked up the skills she would need to survive the hard life she would have. I even went beyond that. I made sure she got acquainted with the stuff she needs to control her power, and made sure she saw what addiction did to her mother. I even provided her with an ally, for the times when I cannot be there myself.”

“You care for her,” Twilight said.

“She’s mortal,” Discord said adamantly. “She will get sick, and old, and probably die of something idiotic like a problem with her heart. She’s foolish and headstrong and will never be a tenth as clever as I am. And Mother help me, I’ve never loved anything more than her.”

“She’s life¸ Twilight Sparkle!” he said, “Not the piddly half-life that Celestia forced me to agree to back when she and Luna and I made everything. I always thought of you mortals as nothing more than clay vessels to put the stuff of souls in, the stuff I made, that beautiful fire. But she’s my vessel. And she can see my work, and she can use it just like I can. I have been alone for all of my existence, Twilight Sparkle.. But she’s something new. Something like me. I will cherish her for as long as I can.”

“And if I decide she’s too dangerous for the public to remain ignorant?” Twilight asked.

“Then you’re a bigger fool than I thought. I practically delivered her to you, the perfect counterpart to your own daughter, a pony to act like a sister to her. Young, impressionable, full of potential, and ready to be used. All I asked for in return was to be able to keep an eye on her. If you squander the opportunity I gave you, then we’re all of us doomed,” Discord said earnestly. He leaned back and folded his arms. “Or are you going to expose her anyway?”

Twilight deliberated. Cobblestone was more dangerous than she thought, and she wasn’t sure she liked the idea of the young mare learning all of the dark magic she had agreed to study. With the potential Discord said she had, she could become a powerful asset. Or a deadly enemy, depending on how she was raised.

“It makes little difference,” she said aloud. “Cobblestone was always going to be a formidable mage, whether friend or foe. We’ll just have to make sure she stays a friend.”

“And her…lineage?” Discord asked.

“I’ll leave that to you,” Twilight said. She frowned. “You said something about her being the ‘perfect counterpart’ to Serale. What exactly did you mean by that?”

Discord grinned, exposing the long curve of his fang. “You’re not the only one who has been tracking the genealogy of your friends, Twilight Sparkle,” he said.

Celestia paced the floor of her Archives, the hoofbeats echoing off of the high marble ceilings and inlaid mosaics of the walls. This room had once been part of the original Regia, but she had moved it after the war ended. It had been a small study then, and remained so now. Most of Canterlot’s architecture was patterned off of this single spire, white marble and brass, though this particular room was lined with gold.

Great bookshelves stretched upward, each of them packed to the brim with books upon books of forbidden knowledge and arcane theory she had deemed far too dangerous in the wake of her sister’s insanity and subsequent banishment. None of her servants were permitted near this room, and few of them even knew of its existence besides her, though they did not know what it contained.

Nor did they know where it led.

Celestia was stalling, she knew that much. She dreaded the climb down into the caves below, dreaded looking upon that room once more, which contained the ghastly evidence of her past indiscretions. She shuddered to think of what awaited her in the dark, but it need to be done. So she lit her horn, found the seal in the wall, not opened in nearly four hundred years, and a section of the wall simply dissolved away, revealing a passage down into the stygian deeps of the Celestial Mountain.

The climb down was a long one, made longer by dread, and so Celestia had a chance to reflect on her past sins, something she hated to do. The steady clicking of her shoes on rough stone matched the perfect in and out of her breaths, and she began to drift back.

She remembered the first soulbind she had ever completed, and the death of her lover in the process. It had taken her ages to get it right. She remembered each of the seven lovers she had taken in the past. She remembered watching her sister sculpt the first life out of fire and water and clay. She remembered feeling envious, and vowing that one day she would do the same, somehow.

She remembered the fight with her sister, the wounds still so fresh even now, and her eventual banishment, leaving her time to run things her own way. She remembered the plan she had concocted, the children that would need to be borne to help rule over Thought and Emotion, and the calculations. The endless nights of calculations, the mixing and mingling of family trees, timing it just right so when Nightmare Moon returned, she would be facing three Alicorns, and so be brought to her knees. She would have her sister back.

The first had been easy. She hadn’t needed to use the things down here, the copies of her sister’s work, born of clay and crystal and all of them eerily similar in appearance, to make sure Cadance was born. But the second alicorn had needed some nudging. The host was unable to find a suitable mate on her own. So Celestia had come down here, to the Crucible, to find one for her. Funnily enough, later on she had made one of her own, and called it daughter.

They were all of them extremely potent magic users. She had only selected the best and brightest to warm her tent in those halcyon days gone by. That had not been an issue. The issue had been control. There was almost too much life in them, they did not submit to her commands easily. They were filled with the old spirit, the spirit of the old days where ponies did not necessarily consider themselves subservient to her or Luna. It had taken effort.

Finally, she had settled upon the weakest of these creations. She named him, briefed him, and nearly raised him all on her own. She had fanned the flames of lust in his heart knowing they would keep him loyal. She had been foolish, too foolish by far. He was too weak. Too emotional. After he had been deployed, a war had started lasting four years. Her plans were for naught, and now Creation was at stake.

There were no spells in her books that could force Radiant Zenith to bend the knee. But she did know of ponies who could. Ponies with coats of white, and manes of red. Ponies with laughing green eyes and hearts as black as coal. Ponies who had the old connection with magic, unicorns who lived and breathed magic like they drank water and bathed in sunlight. Ponies that even she hesitated to loose, for fear that they would run rampant across the world.

She had arrived at the chamber door. The Crucible stood before her, waiting. She lit the second seal, waited for the door to open. With a rumble, it did. Her horn drove back the grasping darkness, lit the crystal cave all too well.

When last she left this place, one crystal sarcophagus had stood open and empty. Six slumbering forms had bid their brother farewell. Celestia began to tremble as she realized what the seven empty coffins portended. Her seven lovers, supposed to be sleeping endlessly under lock and key, were gone. She didn’t need to know what had taken them, or where they had gone. She knew all too well.

Quietly, in the dark, Celestia began to weep hot tears, fearful of what she now knew had been unleashed upon the world.

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