• Published 31st May 2014
  • 20,379 Views, 162 Comments

If You Came to Conquer - cleverpun



Nightmare Moon won. She defeated Celestia, broke the Elements, banished the sun. This all happened a very long time ago. So long ago, that she has had plenty of time to change her mind. Not that fixing it will be simple.

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1. Isolation

The moon looked beautiful. Not a single cloud or building blocked its surface, and the background of stars made its fullness and light that much more luxurious. The light was pure, bright white—the dry dirt looked like cracked glass, the stunted buildings like snow-capped mountains.

Princess Nightmare Moon walked along the path, towards the center of the “garden.” There was not a lot of flora or infrastructure left, and the dirt of the walkway was not very different from the dirt of the former hedges and blank planters. Still, some combination of habit and nostalgia kept her from taking a more direct route.

Eventually, she arrived at the statue garden. The statues themselves looked as pristine as always. Little weather remained to assault them. The bright stone stood out sharply against the empty dirt and flower pots that made up the rest of the scenery.

The statue she was interested in was near the center. Discord’s statue had always had a prominent place, even in the old castle. The dearth of foliage only made it that much more pronounced.

His statue had already begun to crack. He really should have broken free long ago—right after she took the throne, chaos had not been in short supply. If that had sped it, however, then it had not really mattered.

She sat staring at the statue for some time. The moon moved across the sky, reached the horizon, and then began to reverse. Finally, slowly, arduously, the crack lengthened and multiplied and grew. The stone began to flake off, and there was a flash of yellow claw and another of brown fur. Then the stone was gone, and Discord stood there, yawning theatrically.

“You know, I rather expected a more dramatic entrance from you,” the Princess said.

“Why, Princess Luna!” Discord took a bow. As he swept his arms down, a silk top hat appeared in his hand. “And here I thought nopony would bother to greet me when I woke up.”

“My name is not ‘Luna’ anymore. It is ‘Nightmare Moon.’ Although, knowing you, I doubt you will bother to get it right.”

Discord stood up, and there was a dramatic pop as his top hat vanished. “Oh my my. New name, new color scheme,” he waved a hand at the garden, “new décor! I feel a little left out of the loop!” He floated off the ground, and there was an exaggerated creak as he flapped his wings. A few yards off the ground, he shielded his brow and spun around. “To be perfectly honest, it’s a little dreary. Empty places, abandoned spaces—you really should have consulted me before this little remodel! I’ve been told I have very good taste in curtains.”

Discord had not changed. Everything he did was intended to incense her. He always started small and escalated. Oddly methodical, for the god of Chaos.

The Princess did not react. She had prepared for this; If she did not fuel his behavior, he would burn out eventually. Then they could get to the important part.

Discord ran a claw along the Princess’ back. “Now you, on the other hand. I really can’t complain about that.” He twisted around, his body circling the princess, his talons brushing her wings and his lips pressing near her ear. “You should try the gothic look more often. It suits you. The black coat really complements your features, and the darker mane is much more striking. And no silly armor or regalia to block the view.”

Typical. His first tactic had failed, so now he had switched to another. Nightmare’s head tilted to the side. Her eyes met Discord’s, but her expression remained neutral. “Are you quite done?” As bored as possible. Boredom had always been his weakness.

“That’s it?” One of Discord’s hands found its way into Nightmare’s mane, and the starry blue hair rippled softly across his claws. “Last time I did the fake come-on bit you got positively indignant… Unless you’re more interested this time, of course.” The sentence was a husky whisper, barely audible in the quiet night. His tail flicked about, passed across her neck. As it left, a collar briefly appeared on her, lingering just a moment before vanishing.

“I expected you to have more material after all this time,” The Princess said.

“Expectations! Of me! Oh, little Luna, as comedic as ever!” Discord smiled. “But if it’s new material you want…”

Discord bent over a statue. It was supposed to represent Perseverance—an earth pony standing atop a boulder. Even though he was no longer coiled around her body, Nightmare Moon didn’t relax her muscles. That’s just the sort of reaction he wanted.

Discord ran a claw along the statue’s leg. “I can certainly oblige you.”

There was a dull crack. Brief and subtle, like whisper cut off by wind. A piece of the statue flaked off, and another, the leg growing thinner and thinner.

“I always wondered about my neighbors. you know. Gets awfully lonely stuck in stone for so long. The mind wanders.” Another chip of stone fell off, bounced off the pedestal. “I suppose you would know about loneliness, wouldn’t you, Luna?” Another piece, and for a moment there was a flash of green among the grey rock.

The Princess’ ear flicked. New material, less comedic than usual. She took a deep breath. Couldn’t fall into his trap. “That’s all?”

Discord sat on his pedestal. A mauve cushion appeared on it, but otherwise it did not change. “When did you get so boring, little Luna? Last time I was here things were considerably more lively.” He smiled, his chin resting on his claw. “Where’s Celestia?”

“We…had a falling out.” Perfect. Now his needling had been replaced by curiosity. She just had to feed him a bit of sincere information, get him invested in it, then the rest would be easy.

“So tell me, how did you do it?” Discord asked. “Was it slow and painful? Was it one-sided? I bet she didn’t fight back at all. Just like Celestia not to fight her sister.”

The Princess glanced at the garden. They were in the center of Canterlot Castle, in the middle of its courtyard, and yet not a single living thing stood between her and the outer walls. Just blank trellis’ and empty planters. “Is it that obvious?”

Discord smiled, his chin still resting on his claws, one nail tapping at his goatee. “Well, I noticed it isn’t very sunny out. The decorations are not really to little Tia’s taste.”

“No, she did not fight back,” Princess Nightmare whispered.

“Did you enjoy it?” Discord leaned forward, a bag of popcorn clutched in his talons. “I always wondered what it would be like, finally breaking the two of you. Celestia especially. She was just so pristine, so immaculate. What did her face look like? What did yours? Did she cry?”

“Yes, she did.”

“Oh, if only I could have been there!” Discord let out a theatric sigh. It echoed slightly off the other statues. “You miss all the good stuff, sealed in stone.”

“Yes, at the time, I relished it as well. Or rather, part of me did. I suppose you would not understand that.”

“Oh no, of course not. How could I possibly understand conflicting with yourself at all.”

The Princess finally turned back to Discord. He had templed his fingers, and the gesture did not look right. The lion claws dwarfed the bird talons, the colors clashed. He smirked, and his unbalanced smile only made it worse.

“Forgive me. I suppose that is something you would be familiar with, after all,” she said.

“Why not tell me about it? That’s why you woke me, isn’t it?” Discord’s smile didn’t waver. “I’ll admit I was more than a little annoyed about being encased in stone, but we certainly have something in common now, don’t we?”

The Princess sighed. “It was so simple, at the time. There were two voices in my head, and one of them was so reassuring. Whispering about how much better things could be, cajoling about how unfair things were. So persuasive, and the other voice agreed.” The Princess looked to the ground. “But as the years dragged by, the voices stopped being so distinct. No arguments or fights or anything that explicitly dramatic. They just started to blur together. Then one day I woke up, and there were no voices, just me… I suppose that doesn't clarify anything.”

Discord chuckled. “Quite the contrary, I'm very familiar with disembodied voices. Why, back in my heyday, I provided quite a few of them.” Discord took a sip of tea. “Although by the looks of things, it seems your voices were more proactive.”

“I need to ask you a favor, Discord.” The Princess tore her gaze from the ground. “Something important.”

“Ah, finally! The point! I was wondering when you would get to it.” Discord leaned back in his chair, a plush recliner. He shoved a talon into his mouth, and a slurp echoed through the garden as he worked something free from his solitary fang. “Go on then, ask away.”

“I need you to send me back in time.”

Discord laughed. The sound filled the castle grounds in an instant, like oil spilling across an ocean.

“Oh, little Luna, that is rich!” His laugh refused to fade, bits of it leaking into his sentences. “Let me guess, let me guess…you want to go back in time and stop all this from ever happening, so that you can make up with your sister and live happily ever after? Maybe make a little plaque commemorating the battle that never happened? A castle just like this one, where you can frequent your favorite spots in all their vibrant glory? Oh how gorgeously cliché!”

His laugh reverberated off the walls and ground and even the castle. If she hadn’t known better, the Princess might have heard it echoing off the mountain itself. She had to force herself not to glance at the skeletal trellis and bench, or broken statues in the garden.

“Laugh all you like, Discord.” Luna’s voice was quiet, but she knew he was listening through his fake chortles. “But when you are done, you will help me.”

The laugh stopped. It was like the last drop of rain in an unexpected storm had fallen, sudden and silent. “Oh?” Discord’s nose pressed against the Princess’. “And why would I do that?" he asked softly.

“Because I know you, Discord.” The princess waved a hoof at the garden. “I may have freed you, but this isn't the playground you lusted after all those years ago. It is too sterile for your tastes. I doubt you want to spend the rest of eternity alone with only one plaything. Fixing things helps you as much as it helps me.”

“Oh, little Luna…you presume to know me? Who’s to say I couldn’t be happy here? After all, you already did the hard part and got rid of Celestia.” His voice dropped a little lower. “One can always make their own fun, with enough creativity. Toys are easy to create. Just because you lack finesse, doesn’t mean this world is a lost cause.”

“I suppose someone as volatile as you might be able to do that,” the Princess said. “But I can assure you that you would not be able to enjoy it with me here.”

Discord cackled. The loud mockery of his previous laugh had been replaced with veiled malice. “And what is little Luna going to do to me? Get out some eyeliner and give me a makeover?” He ran a finger along her chest. “I was only half-joking about your new look, you know. It really does suit you. I like my toys to look pretty.”

Discord jerked back, only slightly. The sound had been almost inaudible, like a quiet breath. His head felt unbalanced. He looked down, and something that looked like his left horn was laying in the dirt. One end was perfectly flat, the work of the finest knife.

“How did you…?”

“I have had a lot of time alone to study magic, Discord. Your powers may have greater scope, but I can assure you that mine are well-honed, just the same.”

Discord leaned back on his cushion, his horn back in place. “Well then, miss murder, why not just cast your own time travel spell then? A magical surgeon like yourself shouldn’t need any help cutting up time.”

“I tried. All the ones in the library have intrinsic limits placed on them. Limits on duration, limits on potency, limits on scope, limits on placement. I imagine that the writers wanted to avoid exactly this sort of use for them.”

“Hmph.” Discord took a slurp of coffee. His mug was the same worn white as the teacup, but had ‘#1 Dad’ scrawled across it. “And suppose I did agree with you? That fixing everything would somehow benefit me in the long run? Time travel is not simple, you know. History is immutable. Ordered chaos wrapped in cosmic balance with a crunchy stability coating. Changing it is an uphill battle, even for the likes of me.”

“I am aware.”

“Are you?” Discord took another slurp of coffee. “When you travel in time, your past self is your own worst enemy. No matter how close or far the travel point is, they want the opposite of what you want. They want things to stay the same, and you want it to change. And they never, ever cooperate.”

“Leave that to me."

Discord stared into his coffee for a long time. The moon ticked on in the background, his coffee grew tepid, his plate of biscotti remained untouched. It was not like him to stay still for so long, but the Princess remained quiet. She had waited plenty; leaving the draconequus to his devices was not a strain.

At least, not at first. Watching Discord was a chore. His tail flicked about at random. His chin rested on his hand, but didn’t move. Every now and then his legs shifted. His body language was at once boring and yet impossible to read.

Finally, she couldn’t take it anymore. She gambled. “Please, Discord. I waited a long time for your seal to break. You are my last hope.”

Discord sniggered. “You know, I didn’t think anypony would ever relate me with hope. Some delicious irony, I suppose. Loneliness certainly makes ponies do some questionable things.” Discord flung his mug aside, and it popped away as soon as it left his hand. “You know what, why not. I like a challenge.”

His arm draped across the Princess’ shoulder. “But I wasn’t lying or exaggerating about history, you know. Altering it has never been done before.”

“I will take my chances.”

“How bold! Not like the little Luna I used to know at all.”

“On the contrary, I have put a lot of thought into it.”

“Very well, little Luna. Where and when did you want to go?” Discord asked.

“Everfree Castle, one-thousand-forty-two years, seventeen days, and nine-point-five hours ago.” The Princess’ answer was immediate and calm.

“Then your wish is my command. A one-way ticket to the past coming right up.” Discord leaned in, his lips brushing against the Princess’ ear. “But when you arrive, remember that I warned you.”

Princess Nightmare Moon opened her mouth to reply, but no sound came. She took a breath, but no air answered. She tried to move, and her legs felt like a statue. Her body felt long, stretched, like ropes were pulling her in every possible direction. The feeling grew. Her vision clouded as the garden stretched and warped. She gagged as her taste buds bent and distorted. Everything felt leaden and slow and painful. She shut her eyes and tried to breathe or scream or gasp, but nothing happened.

Then it was over.

Her eyes snapped open. She recognized her old castle immediately. The stained glass looked wonderful in the bright sunlight. The carpet felt stiff and comfortable on her hooves. The stone was worn but well-maintained.

“You’re here!”

Princess Nightmare Moon turned around. Princess Luna was staring at her, an overenthusiastic smile plastered on her face.

“Hello, Luna.” Princess Nightmare tried to smile, but didn’t. She had practiced this so many times, and yet the shock wouldn’t abate.

“I knew you would show up. I already called Celestia. She’s waiting in the throne room,” Luna said. “You’re going to help me, right? You said you would. I did everything you told me, so you’re going to help me. Aren’t you?”

“Luna, wait. I don’t think you should confront Celestia.” The words spilled out. She had done this so many times in her head, and she couldn’t think of a gentler way to say it. Leading Discord had happened so naturally.

“But it was your idea. Remember?” Luna smiled. She looked so serene, so confident. “You told me that she was outshining me, that she wants the kingdom all to herself. You said that nopony loves me, that none of them respect me or like me or care about me. I remember everything. I can still hear everything you said. It’s quiet, but it’s still there. We’ll show them. All we have is each other. Just like you said. We’ll stop her and then we’ll be just us, ruling our loving subjects. You promised.”

“Luna—”

“I was worried it would not work. I was worried that you were lying to me.” Luna’s speech had gotten a little faster. “I put off summoning her for days. I didn’t want to, she’s my sister. But now you’re here, just like you said. You promised and it happened. So this must work. It has to, you wouldn’t lie to me.”

“Luna, you’re rambling. Just sit still for a moment and listen to yourself.”

“No, my head is perfectly clear. It wasn’t always, but then I started listening to you and now everything makes sense. Now we can go stop Celestia together and everything will be perfect.” Luna turned to the door. “Come on, we should go meet Celestia before she gets suspicious. She won’t know what hit her.”

“Luna, I did come here to help you.” Princess Nightmare Moon put a hoof on Luna’s shoulder. “But not to help you fight your sister. It’s too dangerous, and you aren’t thinking clearly. We need to calm down and just speak to her.”

The room was quiet. Princess Nightmare Moon had to resist the urge to examine her old room. Out the corner of her eye she could see her old desk, with the crescents and circles carved along the front. It had been a gift from Celestia, and the sudden memory sent a pang of guilt through her stomach. Out of the other corner she could see her bed, with the silk sheets and blue curtains. The smell had finally started to creep into her nose—old wood and sweat because she hadn’t left it in weeks, brooding alone.

“You’re not her…”

Princess Nightmare Moon’s ear flicked. “What?”

“You’re not her!” Luna swatted the hoof off her shoulder. “She wouldn’t change her mind like this. She’s been telling me for weeks how poisonous and evil and selfish Celestia is.”

“I’m just—”

Luna flared her wings. A few feathers shook loose as she did. “And she was right. Why else would nopony like me? Why else would they sleep during my night and ignore me during every royal procession? I helped defeat Discord, I shared the duty with my—with Celestia. She’s poisonous and I hate her!”

“That’s not true! I don’t hate her! I—” The words felt dry.

“She sent you, didn’t she? She heard that I finally found someone to encourage me and she couldn’t handle it, so she sent an imposter to undermine her!” Luna’s horn ignited, and her eyes began to glow.

“Luna, listen to me!” It was happening again. Every time Luna acted the same way and now she was simply adding another failure to her record.

A ribbon of magic lashed across Nightmare’s chest, and she could feel her coat dampen with blood. That was new.

“You don’t want to hurt anypony. Not me, and not your sister.” Nightmare Moon tried to stay calm. She could feel her voice waver as she patched the wound, magic binding the cut in an instant.

“Shut up!” Another spell cut across the room, bounced off Nightmare’s barrier. She briefly registered it hitting the desk, heard the crunch of wood and the simmer of magic.

Nightmare Moon lowered her shield. The bubble of blue magic was completely unscathed as it disappeared. “Princess Luna, this isn’t what you want. You have to believe me. The Nightmare was lying to you. Your sister isn’t your enemy.”

“She has been undermining me from the beginning. The palace staff hate me. Our subjects hate me. She has been feeding them lies and rumors from the beginning.” Another lash, and the bed split apart. “Has Celestia been spying on me? Did she dress up one of the guards to impersonate her? That’s what you are, isn’t it? An illusion she crafted to mock me!” Luna’s horn flashed, and a thin beam of blue light shot out of it. The sound was like bees and lightning and boiling water. It struck Nightmare Moon’s shield and splintered, the child beams slicing across Luna’s books and chairs and windows. The sound of rustling paper and splintering wood and shattering glass flooded the room.

There was a scream. The laser faded. When Nightmare Moon uncovered her eyes, she could feel her stomach lurch.

Luna was hunched on the ground, her breathing heavy. Her right wing was shorter: the tip had been cut clean off. Burnt feathers littered the ground around it, and the smell of ash and smoke hung in the air.

Princess Nightmare Moon turned her head, but she already knew what to expect. The crackle of fire was deafening in the sudden quiet. This room had been consumed by the Everfree long ago, but the sight of her possessions burning was still unpleasant.

“This…this isn’t over! I’m not going to be stopped by some guard in a costume! I just—” Luna coughed. “I just need to raise the moon, and she can help me. She always knows what to do, she can help me.”

“I’m sorry, Princess Luna.” Nightmare Moon tried to keep her voice even. “I didn’t want this. I wanted to show you how wrong you were, but not like this. I…”

“I always knew they hated me. I always knew she was right. I didn’t want to admit it. I tried to ignore her at first, I did. But…” Luna planted a hoof on the ground. “But I’ll show them. Go and get your precious monarch. I can ambush Celestia when she gets here. She’ll help me, she has to.”

Princess Nightmare Moon walked over and pushed Luna over. “Celestia died the same way, you know.”

“What?”

“That was the first thing we did. Cut off her wing with a fire spell so she couldn’t fly. She didn’t fight back anyway, but without her wing there was nothing she could have done.”

Princess Nightmare Moon leaned down, extended one of her forelegs. “I broke one of her legs, next.” Luna screamed, but the sound of fire and wind swallowed the snap of the bone. “She sounded a lot like that, yes. The Nightmare told me not to worry about it, that she deserved it. I believed her, so I just watched and listened.

“I enjoyed it. I relished it. Celestia’s death caused me elation like no other,” Nightmare Moon whispered. It was the truth, told in a tone she would never have dared use with Discord. A mixture of shame and nostalgia and reflected happiness.

“I wanted to tell you this, to convince you how poisonous she was,” Nightmare Moon said. “But every time, on every single trip, you would ignore me, and nothing would change. I would just have the memories afterward. The fleeting recollection of another mad delusion, a footnote in a series of insane ramblings.”

Luna’s horn lit up again, but the beam didn’t travel very far before it rebounded off Nightmare Moon’s bubble of magic, slicing into Luna’s other wing.

“I didn’t want it to be this way. I really didn’t.” Luna looked just like Celestia. The way her wings splayed out. The angle of her broken leg. Even her breathing. Nightmare Moon gulped, loudly and involuntarily. It has to be done.

Luna’s head flopped onto the ground. Her breathing sounded labored, and her eyes had started to tear up.

Nightmare Moon leaned down, her lips brushing against Luna’s ear. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I tried every permutation, every deterrent, every explanation I could think of. This was the last resort. The one I couldn’t bring myself to do.”

Luna didn’t reply.

“If it is any consolation, you would do the same thing I’m about to,” Nightmare Moon said softly.

Nightmare Moon’s horn flared up. There was no sound, no light show, no fanfare. She had taken many centuries to hone her magic, and it was nothing if not efficient. A simple cutting spell, without fireworks or embellishment. It was a lot like the one she had used on Celestia, just stronger and faster. And after it was cast the body was just as limp and lifeless as Celestia’s had been.

The Princess stepped over the body and walked out the door. The fire would take care of it. It was magically charged, so she didn’t need to worry about its potency. And after this was all over, it would be just another symptom of her madness. Destroying her room wouldn’t warrant any comment in light of every other event.

The Princess glanced down at her body. She focused her magic. There were hundreds of spells littering her organs and limbs, coating every blood vessel and bone and hair in order to let her live without food. She wouldn’t need them now. A disguise was more important for what she had to do. She had to make it convincing, had to convince everypony that she belonged there. Including herself. Especially herself.

After all, history was immutable. It demanded a fight—a fight that one princess won and that one princess lost.

The disguise settled into place. Her coat was royal blue, her mane duller and her cutie mark black and white. She had ground down her fangs long ago, but she still adjusted the shape of her face, reworked her tail and wings and size to be convincing.

She stopped in a bathroom on her way to the throne room to check a few details. After all, her performance had to be perfect. It was almost a shock to see Luna staring back at her, instead of Nightmare Moon. She took a deep breath, tried to force herself to calm down.

It was fine. It would be fine. It will be fine. As long as she restrained herself, nothing could go right.

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