• Published 12th Mar 2014
  • 346 Views, 28 Comments

The Tainted Renaissance - Red B



For centuries Equestria has existed as a beacon of order and harmony. However, not all things are meant to last. A storm of change is rising on the horizon. One that will shake the very foundations of Equestria.

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From Stars to Dust

A sudden jolt of pain made Twilight wake up. She slowly opened her eyes, but was unable to see anything because of the bright morning sun in her eyes. With a groan, she closed her eyes and tried to figure out what was going on, but her mind felt sluggish and unresponsive. At least until there was another dose of pain assaulting her nerves. Twilight took a quick breath, feeling her mind sharpen with every second. The pain was coming from her arm.

Her actions must have drawn somepony's attention because she heard something metallic being placed down and followed by a strange but familiar voice. “You're up. Good. I was worried about you.”

Twilight cracked one eye open and saw a pink pony standing next to her bed with a concerned look on her face. “Pinkie? Is that you?”

“Yes. I'm here. You're in your bed. We brought you back to the library. You've been out for several hours.” Pinkie replied while checking the tray of medicine on Twilight's nightstand. As she spoke, Twilight felt a sense of unease well up inside her, there was something wrong with Pinkie's voice. “I just changed the bandages on your arm. Sorry if that hurt. I've never done it before and it's not as easy as it sounds.”

All concern about Pinkie's voice vanished when Twilight recalled the last night's events. She sat up in her bed, her eyes wide open as she looked around her room before settling her gaze on Pinkie. “What happened to those strange ponies? Did we stop them? Last thing I recall is the town hall.” She reached up with her hoof. “Where is my Element?”

“It's downstairs, with the rest of them. Considering that after the light there were none of those ponies left, we brought them back.” Pinkie helped Twilight get out of the bed. She had to support her for a moment, when the sudden change of position made Twilight stumble a bit. “How do you feel?”

Twilight waited for the dizziness to pass before running a quick check on her body. “Fine, I think. My arm still hurts a bit, but it's much better now. Anyway, it doesn't matter now. Where is everypony else? What is going on? How long was I asleep or out?” Twilight rattled off several questions in quick order. “Where is Spike?”

Pinkie patiently waited for Twilight to finish before replying. “He is at Sugarcube Corner. He fell asleep after sending a letter to Canterlot and I didn't want to disturb him.”

“He sent a letter to Canterlot? Wonderful. That is good news.” Twilight could practically feel the tension leave her. “That is very good. It means everything is going to be fine.”

“No, Twilight. It won't be fine. It will never be.” Pinkie replied in a low, barely audible voice. Twilight looked at her and suddenly felt her entire world turn upside down as her eyes finally took in and registered all the details. The damp fur around Pinkie's bloodshot eyes. The emptiness inside them, further emphasized by her voice, which was drained of all emotion. The straight mane. The short, businesslike answers. The complete and unnatural calm surrounding her. It was all wrong.

Twilight swallowed slowly and reached out to place a hoof on Pinkie's shoulder. “P-Pinkie? Are you … alright?”

Pinkie didn't react to the touch, she merely continued to stare in Twilight's eyes in a way that was both unsettling and saddening. “That is a silly question, Twilight.” She smiled a humorless smile. “Of course I am not...” She closed her eyes and was quiet for a long time. Then she drew in a deep breath, opened her eyes and continued. “A lot of ponies got hurt. Many of them badly. Some of them are dead. Gone. I knew every single one of them. I tried to do something. I tried to cheer them up, but I couldn't … I couldn't make a single pony smile. Not after something like this... I failed to... Just like...” She was cut short when Twilight moved forward and pulled her friend into a tight hug.

“Don't say that, Pinkie. Don't even think about that. You haven't failed anything.” Twilight whispered while feeling Pinkie return the embrace. She also heard Pinkie open her mouth to say something, but cut her off by tightening the hug. “Please... Pinkie. You haven't failed. You haven't. It is not like then, with the farm. It's not because you weren't good enough. It's not your fault.”

“Then whose fault is it?” Pinkie said, her thoughts switching tracks slightly. “Who caused all this? Who would do such a thing? Why?”

“I don't know, Pinkie. I really have no idea. However, I think there is somepony who knows. Somepony who has the answers.” Twilight replied and slowly let Pinkie go. She was glad to see that the empty look in Pinkie's eyes wasn't as evident as before.

Pinkie wiped her eyes and sniffed. “You're talking about that pony they locked up in the town hall, aren't you? The one you found in the forest?”

Twilight replied with a nod and gave Pinkie an encouraging smile. “Yes. I am sure Stardust knows something about this. And this time I will make sure he answers my questions. Even if I have to...”

“Lecture him?” The joke was obvious and overused. Pinkie as well as everypony else had used Twilight's habit of lecturing others as a punchline for jokes for years. However, in that situation, both mares couldn't help but smile a little.

“Yes, Pinkie. But first, let's go and find Flash Sentry. I have to ask him a few things as well.” Twilight said and started moving towards the door. Before meeting Stardust, Twilight wanted to know more about the last night's aftermath.

xxxxx

Thirty two ponies. He had arrived to Ponyville yesterday with thirty two guardsponies under his command. A relatively small platoon, sure, but it was his platoon. His first real duty as a Lieutenant. A true, honest mission. A task he and the thirty two guardsponies under his command had been given to accomplish.

Flash Sentry glanced at the small bag in front of him and swallowed heavily when he saw a glimpse of metal from inside. He quickly pulled the string, closing the bag, gritting his teeth when he heard the metallic rattle. Once it was done, he turned his attention to the notebook next to it. Trying to avoid looking at the list of names, he closed it and tucked both items behind his armor, where they felt like two giant boulders against his chest.

Now he had just twelve. Out of thirty two, only twelve guardsponies had survived the night. It had been fourteen when the fighting had stopped, but two of his ponies had died from their wounds shortly afterwards. Flash didn't know when exactly. He had been busy at that time. Busy hiding in an alley and vomiting until it felt like his guts would fall out as that evening's events had fully sunk in and the adrenaline had worn off. The realization of all those deaths, not just his, but those of the Ponyville civilians, had struck him like a sledgehammer, leaving behind a frightened, uncertain colt.

It had taken him more than an hour to compose himself to a point where he could face other ponies and even then he felt an almost irresistible urge to run every time somepony had asked him a question. With Mayor Mare hurt in the attack and princess Twilight incapacitated, ponies had looked to him, as the representative of government, for answers. Well, not just him, because as soon as ponies had realized that they weren't under attack anymore, several mares had stepped forward to help deal with the aftermath. Together they had been able to restore order and start repairing the damage.

“There you go. You look like you need one.” A gentle voice from nearby startled him. Flash looked to the side and saw a gray pegasus mare standing next to the table under the canopy they had erected next to the town hall. The mare was looking at him, or rather, partially looking at him, since one of her eyes was looking in a completely different direction.

“Uh... can I help you ma'am?”

The mare smiled and pointed at a muffin she had placed on the table. “I brought you something, you look like you need one.”

Flash stared at the muffin and frowned. “A muffin? Why would you think I need that?”

“Because you look sad and muffins always make me feel better.”

Shifting his gaze from the muffin to the pegasus and back, Flash couldn't help a wave of annoyance rise inside him. He didn't have time to deal with this. Couldn't she understand that there were much bigger problems at hoof? Problems, a mere muffin could never hope to solve. He took in a deep breath. “Ma'am. I appreciate the gesture, but this does not in any way help me. Perhaps it works for you and your problems, but I am not like you. Just because...”

“We're both ponies, aren't we?” The mare gently pointed out, causing Flash to fall silent. He opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out when he realized the simple logic. Closing his mouth, Flash glanced at the muffin and decided to humor her.

He grabbed the muffin and took a large bite from it. The chocolate and oat muffin was a bit stale and had lost most of its moisture. That and he wasn't a big fan of chocolate either. This was far from the best muffin he had eaten. However, as he chewed, he met the mare's gaze and noticed the kind warmth she was practically radiating. And then he realized that ever since the last night, this was the first time he had experienced something positive, something kind. It was a small thing, a barely noticeable one, but it still reminded him that there wasn't just sadness and despair around him. He had seen countless examples of ponies help each other deal with the tragedy, but this was the first time somepony was helping him. Flash swallowed the muffin, noting the warm feeling it left behind, and took a deep breath. The tiny gesture of kindness had done wonders for him. Sure, things were still pretty grim and his problems were still there, but at least the situation wasn't hopeless. He was still there, other ponies were still there and they were doing their best to make things better.

“Thank you.” He said quietly, all the irritation in his voice gone. The mare didn't reply. She merely gave him a knowing smile and trotted off towards where a unicorn filly and an earth pony stallion were impatiently waiting for her. Flash watched them leave before returning his attention to the reports and notes in front of him. He was about to double check Blitzkrieg's report on the search for missing ponies when he spotted princess Twilight and Pinkie heading towards him.

Twilight opened her mouth in order to wish Flash a good morning, but the words died in her throat. There was nothing good about this morning. Instead, she decided to go for something simpler. “Hello, Flash. It is good to see you again.”

“Likewise, Princess Twilight, Miss Pie. I'm relieved to see that you're fine, Princess. All things considered. I have no doubt that you're eager to hear my report about the situation, correct? Please, take a seat.” He gestured at the bench on the other side of the table. As the two mares sat down, he quickly went over the information he had, trying to figure out where to begin. Apparently the dilemma had echoed on his face, since Twilight leaned closer with a deeply concerned look on her face.

“Is it bad?”

“Yes, Princess Twilight.” Flash replied automatically. He then decided to stop searching for a suitable explanation and just let it all flow. “Well, obviously, the attack is over. Ever since you used the Elements last night, there have been no sightings of those things. They are gone. Apart from the ones that were killed earlier that night, there are no other traces of them. Other than piles of ash scattered across the town. We've gathered all the bodies and stored them in a secure location so that we can send them to Canterlot for further examination. I hope that the Council of Mages will be able to shed some light on this.”

Twilight considered his words and nodded in agreement. Some form of magic was obviously responsible for creating those things. She wasn't aware of any creatures like that living in Equestria. She briefly considered the Changelings, but quickly dismissed the idea. After the wedding, no Changeling would be stupid enough to openly come that close to Canterlot. Furthermore, there were the strange brands on the dark ponies to consider. There had been magic at work. Evil, dark magic. There was no other possibility. Only the most vile forms of magic could create something so terrible and cause that much suffering. She shuddered. “I hope so too. I have studied lots of magic, and I can tell it for a fact that there was nothing natural about those ponies, so magic is the only explanation. However, my knowledge in that area is very limited, so the Council is the only thing that could figure out what's going on. They, or Princess Luna. She is quite familiar with the darker aspects of magic. Oh, and speaking of Luna, have we heard anything from her? Pinkie told me that Spike sent a letter to Canterlot.”

“No reply yet. But considering the situation, I am certain that help will arrive soon. Probably with the next train. If those things decide to come back, we'll be ready this time. If not, then, we'll have plenty of extra help to deal with the damage.”

“What about the … um, damage?” Twilight asked while throwing a worried look at Pinkie. “I was told that several ponies were badly hurt.”

Flash chewed his lip before answering. Like before, the tried to find the best way to answer the situation before deciding to tell things as they were. “It's true. We lost a lot of ponies.” He checked the stack of papers in front of him, pulling out a small note. “Twenty three ponies were … killed during last night. Four more died from their wounds shortly afterwards. More than thirty have been injured, at least six of them are in critical condition and we don't know if they'll survive. On top of that, I lost twenty guardsponies. That leaves just twelve ponies. Thirteen, including me. Some of the survivors are wounded, but it looks like they will recover.”

“Twenty three ponies?” Twilight stared at Flash with a horrified gaze, trying to wrap her thought around the number. No wonder Pinkie had lost her cheerful mood. It was a tragedy the likes of which Ponyville had never experienced. Considering that the population of Ponyville was just over three hundred ponies, losing that many ponies meant that everypony had lost somepony they knew. Not to mention the twenty guardsponies who had died fighting the attackers. Twilight found herself asking the same question Pinkie had asked her a while ago. Why would anypony do something like this? Why?

“Where is Stardust?” Twilight asked quietly. Flash felt shivers run down his spine when he hear her voice. The mare in front of him was determined to get some answers and there was no way anypony would prevent her from doing that. “Where is he? I believe he owes us an explanation.”

“He is at the clinic, right now. Some of those things from last night tried to pull him out through the bars, I don't know how they managed to bend them. Fortunately, you and your friends intervened before they could accomplish that, so he is not seriously hurt. Still, considering that he is our only clue in this mess, I figured it's better to be safe and had him sent to the clinic.”

Flash's reply caught Twilight off guard. “Wait, the only link? What happened to the other pony? The one at the clinic?”

“Gone. Somepony broke in, incapacitated the orderlies and the head nurse, and took him.” Flash explained with a grim voice. “The only positive thing is that the attacker wasn’t one of those ponies who attacked us. Nopony was killed, though some of the injuries are pretty bad and it leaves us with a shortage of trained medical personnel. Your friends volunteered to assist the doctors, but a helping hoof is not enough for the more severe cases.”

Pinkie made a strange nose, something between a sob and a choked cough when Flash said the last words, but Twilight didn’t hear it. Her thoughts were somewhere else. “They probably took him in order to prevent us from learning anything important. And from the looks of it, they tried to do the same thing with Stardust. Question is, who was their main target? Did they come after Stardust and also rescued one of their own? Or did they come after that earth pony and tried to rescue Stardust?”

“Considering how often Stardust mentioned that he was on the run, I am leaning towards the former. Then again, why not ask him? It is as you said, he owes us some answers.” Flash pointed out and stood up from the bench. “I'll go with you, I have to check up on my guardsponies.”

xxxxx

“Twilight! Pinkie! I am so glad to see you two.” Rarity’s voice reached Twilight the moment she entered the clinic. Twilight turned her attention in the direction of the voice and saw her friends. She couldn’t help, but notice how exhausted they all looked. Bags under their eyes, unkempt, or slightly unkempt in Rarity’s case, hair, bloodshot eyes and other signs of tiredness. However, all of them wore determined expressions on their faces. Neither one of them were willing to give into the exhaustion.

Twilight and Pinkie trotted over to them and exchanged a few friendly nuzzles and hugs. “Hi. I am happy to see you all as well. You look tired.”

“We are tired, sugarcube. We’ve been up all night lendin’ a hoof to the ponies working here. With so many ponies hurt, they needed a bit of help.” Applejack replied with a tired smile and nodded towards a small stack of medical supplies. “Livin’ on a farm taught me a lot on how to take care of injuries.”

“Farm for some, careless siblings, injured animals or first aid courses in Wonderbolts Academy for others. I’ll be honest and admit that we’re far from specialists, but every bit counts.” Rainbow added with a tired, but satisfied look on her face.

“Considering that it’s the little things that often count for so much, I think you all are selling yourselves short. Clean bandages or a kind word can do just as much good as any operation or medicine. You all did a fine job and I appreciate your help.” A white earth pony mare, known as nurse Redheart, said as she entered the reception area and caught he last part of the conversation. She returned their looked with a smile, or at least that was the idea before a sudden wave of lightheadedness forced her to hold on to a nearby chair while trying to fight off a throbbing headache at the same time. She noticed the concerned looks others were giving her and waved them off. “No worries, just feeling a bit lightheaded from the bump on the head I got last night. It’s nothing more than a mild headache after a wild night. It’ll pass.”

The concern in their eyes didn’t vanish, though the expression in Flash’s eyes turned into mild curiosity. “What exactly happened last night? All I heard was that somepony broke in and helped the pony we caught to escape. Out of all the ponies who were attacked, you’re the first to wake up, so I would appreciate if you could tell us what happened.”

The white mare groaned in frustration and gave Flash an exasperated glare. “There’s not much to tell. He smashed down the front doors.” She pointed at the recently repaired doors. “I asked the two orderlies who were with me to restrain him, we thought the guy was seriously drunk from the celebration, though that does not explain how he was able to break the doors so easily. Anyway, the two orderlies tried to tackle him, but he…” She paused a moment to take a deep breath as she recalled the unsettling events that had followed. “He took them both down in a matter of seconds. He knocked out one orderly with a single punch. Right to the face. The other orderly saw what was going on and bucked the guy in the face. But he just laughed it off, before he grabbed the orderly, slammed him to the ground like he was nothing more than a ragdoll and slashed his throat with his wings.”

“What do you mean, slashed his throat with his wings? Was he wearing a blade harness?”

“No blades. I didn’t see anything, not that I had much time to observe him, since he started moving towards the patient rooms. I tried to stop him, but he must have knocked me out since I don’t recall anything after that.”

“What did the guy look like? From what you told the guy was a pegasus stallion. What was the color of his coat? His mane? Did you see his Cutie Mark?” Rainbow asked suddenly, her eyes full of suspicion.

Redheart tapped her chin lightly as she tried to recall the details. “I didn’t see his Cutie Mark, but the color of his coat was light. Beige or something … Yes, beige, with a white mane.”

“Storm Chaser.” Rarity and Rainbow said in perfect unison. “He’s one of the ponies who were bothering us.” Rainbow added.

“Hmm, I do recall some rumors about suspicious ponies, going from house to house, bothering everypony.” Redheart said. She walked over to the reception desk and picked up a few folders. She transferred them to her hoof and looked at the group. “Anyway, I told you all I know about last night. As much as I would love to stay here and chat, I have patients to attend to. Is there anything else?”

“Yes, there is one more thing. We are here to talk to Stardust. The unicorn with the broken horn. He was brought here this morning. Where is he?” Twilight spoke up.

Redheart gestured at the corridor to their left. “That way, look for the room with a guardspony outside. And be sure to tell him if he doesn’t stop antagonizing everypony, I’ll toss him out on the street. Because of the whole suspect thing, he is occupying a whole room by himself, at a time when some ponies have to sleep in the corridor.”

“Umm, okay. We will. Thank you.” Twilight replied and turned towards her friends, only to see all of them already standing and looking at her expectantly.

“We're going with you. After everything that's happened, that guy has some explaining to do. And we won't let him talk his way out of this.” Rainbow said what the rest of them were thinking. “Oh, don't worry about that. We won't lay a hoof on him. At least not without a good reason. We'll let you do the talking. We're just concerned that you might decide to go easy on him and not push it when some pressure is needed.” Rainbow added when she saw Twilight's reaction to the potential meaning of her words.

With relief evident in her stance, Twilight let out a heavy sigh and smiled. She then heard Flash clearing his throat. “You all go ahead and talk to Stardust. I'll join you as soon as I see how my injured guardsponies are doing.”

Twilight nodded and started walking in the indicated direction, with her friends following close by. The trip was a short one, the clinic wasn't that big. However, in that short trip they saw more than enough injured ponies for Twilight to feel a surge of anger well up inside her. All of this could have been avoided if he had told them everything. I could have been more aggressive and forced him to talk. Perhaps even find some sort of spell that would make him talk? A sudden thought crossed her mind, forcing Twilight to shudder at the realization. She banished the thought immediately. No. I will not do something like that. That path leads to darkness. Magic cannot be used for something like that. She finished her thought just as they reached their destination. A guardspony mare, with thick bandages wrapped around her barrel, stood next to the door. She gave them a quick look, nodded and opened the door, so that they could enter. Inside there was another guardspony, a unicorn stallion. Unlike his colleague, he wasn't injured at all. This way he could focus all his attention on the room's other occupant.

Stardust was sporting several bandages on his arms as well as several treated bruises on his face. He had been sitting on the floor, staring out the window, but the moment the doors opened he turned his attention towards Twilight and her friends, studying them with an expressionless look. Twilight almost groaned when she saw it, that was the same look Stardust had sported when they had their precious unproductive conversation. She steeled her resolve, however, it didn't matter what happened last time. Today she will be walking out with answers. Proper answers. Once everypony was inside and the second guardspony had left the room, Twilight took a step forward.

“Hello, Stardust. It's good to see you're okay. All things considered.” Twilight began and couldn't suppress a spark of curiosity. “How did you get injured by the way? You should have been safe in that room. Those things couldn't get to you.”

Stardust lifted one hoof in front of his face and inspected it for a moment. “I thought so as well. Turns out we were both wrong. They bent the bars either by working together or..” He smiled. “Bashing their heads against them. They're not big on the whole self preservation thing. Three of them fractured their skulls and died before they managed to squeeze through. After that, they tried to push and pull me through the bars. Would have probably tore me in half if not.. well, you know what happened in the end.” He lowered his hoof and looked back at Twilight and her friends. “But you're not here because you feel bad for my condition. Aren't you?”

“No. We are not. We're here to ask some questions about what happened yesterday. We know this all happened because of you. What we want to know is why? And I would appreciate some answers.”

Stardust sighed and shrugged. “Beats me. I have absolutely no idea why... ugh” He didn't get to finish his sentence when Rainbow charged forward tackled him to the ground, pinning him to the floor.

“Don't fuck with me.” She growled. “You don't get to refuse this time. Twilight might be the diplomatic one and actually respects your rights, but I do not have her standards when it comes to ponies like you.” She slammed his head against the floor none too lightly, ignoring the protests from her friends. Stardust tried to struggle, but this time the situation was reversed. He was injured and Rainbow was in the superior position. “So I suggest that you start talking or I will simply beat the answers from you.”

“I don't know! I'm telling the truth! I really have no idea why that bastard organized all this.” Stardust said through clenched teeth even as he continued his ineffective struggle. “Let me...” His voice died down when Rainbow placed a hoof on his throat. A warning sign.

“Rainbow! You let him go this instant! No matter how much we want to hear the answers, there must be standards!” Rarity started walking towards Rainbow. “Let him go, so we can conduct this questioning in a civilized manner.”

“Rarity is right, Rainbow. Violence will not get us anywhere. Besides, what if he is telling the truth?” Twilight spoke up as well, slightly frustrated with Rainbow's impulsiveness. Then again, her approach had provided a clue.

Rainbow didn't reply, she continued to glare at Stardust for a while before letting him go and backing off, so that the stallion could get back on his hooves. She still continued to glare at him, as he stood up and coughed a few times to clear his throat. “Thank you.” He said to Rarity.

“Don't mention it. However, I do have to point out that Rainbow is correct. Granted, the execution was rather uncouth, but the point is perfectly valid. You were given the chance to answer these questions in a peaceful manner. Yet, you refused. In some ways, this makes you partially responsible for all that happened last night.” Rarity gave him a very brief smile, though it was obvious that she was being kind for the sake of politeness and that deep down, she was siding with Rainbow.

“Precisely. If you had cooperated, we might have managed to prevent, or at least prepare for the attack. Now we can't afford to be gentle if we want to avoid something like this happening in the future.” Twilight picked up from where Rarity had stopped. “You mentioned a specific pony. Who is he and what does he want?”

“Argent Blaze. His name is Argent Blaze. And, like I said, I have absolutely no idea what he wants from me.” Stardust replied while rubbing his throat and shooting occasional glares at Rainbow. “I only know that it's for something he has been planning for years. I've tried to find out what that plan is, but I've been unable to find out anything. And with my house destroyed, all my research is gone.” His gaze turned introspective. “Funny thing, I could have uncovered his plan, perhaps even become part of it, if only I hadn't refused his friendship.”

Twilight could feel her spirit dropping. Stardust wasn't lying. A quick look at Applejack confirmed it. Her friend was very good at sensing lies, despite being a horrible liar herself. However, it only upset her more, since Stardust didn't answer any of the important questions. They were stuck and had no clues to follow.

“What happened between you two? Why did you refuse?” Twilight heard Pinkie's voice, which was barely audible. Something that was completely unnatural for the cheerful pony. Pinkie was sitting on the floor, her eyes focused on the ground. At least Twilight thought she was looking at the floor, Pinkie's mane was obscuring her eyes, making it impossible for anypony to see her face. There was silence in the room, during which Pinkie was idly scraping her hoof against the floor in random patterns. “What did you do?” She asked in a whisper that sent shivers down everypony's spine and caused Fluttershy to whimper, and take several steps back.

Stardust was about to say something, Twilight saw him open his mouth, but at that moment, Pinkie tilted her head just slightly and out of all the ponies in the room, Stardust was the only one who saw the look in her eyes and what he saw killed every single objection in his mind. He didn't say a word and the silence stretched on for what felt like forever. In some ways there was magic in the air, an atmosphere so unsettling, yet demanding, that nopony dared to say anything, much less move.

Eventually, Stardust let out a long, defeated sigh and when he spoke; his voice carried the tone of long buried memories. “What I did was … it destroyed my life … it cost me everything I had … it cost me the most precious thing I had.” He pointed at the remains of his horn and fell silent again for several moments. “It is a complicated story. And forgive me if I go into unnecessary details, but I might as well tell everything. I hope it will make sense.”

“I don’t really know where to begin, since it’s hard to point out a specific thing that went wrong. Though in some ways, the problem was brewing since the day I was born and it was the expectations, legacy and the upbringing my family gave me that shaped me. I was born in Canterlot, to a family of nobles belonging to the house Platinum.”

Twilight’s eyes widened when she heard the name. The historian inside her perked up with great eagerness. “Platinum? You mean Princess Platinum? One of the founders of Equestria?”

“Yes. Princess Platinum was an ancestor of mine. When Equestria was created, she started the noble family I am part of. Or at least was part of, before I got disowned.” He added with a pained, humorless smile. “Thing is, if you have studied history, you will know that my family has always been known for their talent for magic. Archmages, members of the Council of Mages, powerful mages, well-known teachers of magic, talented scholars in the field of magic. My family tree is full of such ponies. It is the family pride and tradition to produce talented magicians. As a result, my future was already decided. I was to be schooled in the arts of magic.”

As he continued his story, Stardust’s gaze became distant. “I was really good at it. No surprise, since with so many magicians in the family they knew very well how to teach a unicorn cast all sorts of spells. I trained and studied, and cast spells. The best tutors my family could afford the finest schooling only nobility could provide. Nopony was surprised when I was accepted in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. After all, I belonged to a family with a strong legacy of magicians, why shouldn’t I be accepted? Not being accepted wasn’t even considered.” Twilight wanted to voice her surprise, but Stardust was on the roll now. Words, filled with emotion, flowed from him like a river.

“I soon became the best in my class. The teachers loved me, other students admired me. Yet it didn’t matter to me. All I wanted was to push myself, to keep pushing the boundaries with every single day. I didn’t want to be the best; I wanted to be THE best.” He gave a sigh that sounded almost dreamy. “For a while it looked like it would become true. But then, he arrived.”

“Argent was a talented pony. He was almost as good as me when it came to magic. He was also quite popular, but for reasons other than excellence. He was friendly, sociable, a pony you couldn’t help to like as a good friend. I, however, did not care about friends. I cared about magic and it did not require any friends. At least friends I considered to be worth my time. Friend is somepony you consider an equal. And to me, a friend was a pony who was my equal in magic. But with no equals among the other students…” He let the words hang in the air, the unspoken thought perfectly obvious to everypony in the room.

“At first, I didn’t care about him. To me, he was just another student. A talented student, yes, but nothing special. At least, that’s what I thought until I learned more about him. Turns out he was a misborn. He was the unicorn child of an earth pony father and a pegasus mother. Not only that, but there were no traces of any unicorns in his family line.” Stardust glanced around the room and noticed the confused looks some of the ponies were giving him.

“You see, some noble families place great importance on their ancestors, especially if there are many great ponies among them, it is an honor and a privilege to become part of that legacy. In order to keep it that way, the nobles pay great attention to what kind of ponies marry into the family. Some families favor money and don’t let anypony who isn’t wealthy enough to marry their children. Others want to see only talented artists become part of their families. My family was no different. For them, the history of talented mages stands above all. Not a single pegasus or an earth pony has ever married into my family. The legacy of house Platinum is the legacy of pureblood unicorns only. Anypony else was just dirt beneath our hooves, not worth the tiniest bit of attention, for they could not possibly comprehend what it meant to be a unicorn and use magic.” The confused looks were slowly turning into glares.

“That is the environment I grew up in. I was told every day that only a pureblood unicorn could properly wield magic and understand it. I was told every, single day that earth ponies and pegasi were nothing more than crude dirt crawlers and cloud humpers.” The looks Applejack and Rainbow were giving him were practically murderous. “And when you’re told something like that, you eventually start to believe it. And that is why I started to hate him. For me, to see a misborn become a talented mage, to be so successful, to be almost my equal… It was the most offensive thing. To think that a misborn, from an unknown commoner family, could walk the same halls as the nobles did. To be allowed under the same roof with us, who came from families of higher status and bloodlines… Disgusting. It demeaned everything I valued. And that was something I could not tolerate nor forgive. Especially when other ponies started hanging out with him.”

Rainbow shook her head and snorted. “This is what it was about? You hated somepony because your family is nothing more than a bunch of tribalists? Heh, I always knew those stuck up ponies at Canterlot were a useless bunch. Only they would make a fuss about something insignificant as bloodlines.”

“Rainbow, darling, as much as I agree with you, keep in mind that not all nobles are like that. Some of them are decent ponies. And Celestia has done her best to stamp out any signs of tribalism.” Rarity tried to be diplomatic. She really did, but it was hard. Just because a pony had different parents, did not make them worse than others. It wasn’t the parents that defined a pony.

“Besides, it is a well-known fact that parentage doesn’t provide a one hundred percent certainty in regards to what type their foal is going to be. Pony tribes have been interbreeding for so long that every family has a chance of their foal being the same type as their distant relatives.” Twilight pointed out. “It is wrong to ostracize somepony for something they cannot control. Especially in regards to such an insignificant detail.” She briefly thought about the Cake twins, a unicorn and pegasus foals, the most adorable bundles of joy, born to what was a solid earth pony family. “It is unreasonable.”

“Well, hate based on tribalism isn’t exactly a source of reason and rational thinking. Then again, I never said I was rational back then. All I had was the values and beliefs my family gave me and a pony who embodied everything said values stood against. Is it really surprising I reacted like that? ” As much as Twilight hated it, she had to admit, Stardust had a point.

She took a deep breath in order to focus. “Okay, so you didn’t like him because he wasn’t from a noble family. What happened then?”

“I tried to kill him.” Stardust’s brief reply left a shocked silence in the room.

“What!?”

“Oh, not immediately. At first I merely disliked him and hoped that he would drop out. However, as years went on and graduation approached, my hate started to fester and grow. You see, at first, I was able to fool myself, thinking that he would never make it to the graduation, that he lessons would become too difficult for him and he would drop out. How stupid of me.” There was that humorless laugh again. He continued talking, his voice slowly growing fiercer as raw emotions started flooding his voice. His eyes gazing in the distance at something nopony else could see. It was clear to them that Stardust was no longer with them. His memories had brought him back to the prestigious school at Canterlot.

“No matter how many students dropped out, he and his little group of friends, remained. With every exam, there was less and less doubt that he would graduate. And that was something I could not allow to happen, because if he were to receive his diploma, it would basically confirm my greatest fears, that a misborn could stand as my equal. That there was no difference between a commoner like him and a pony with noble and pure bloodline like me. Everything my family stood for would be undone if Argent graduated with scores almost equal to mine. I had to do something.”

“So you decided to kill him.” Twilight whispered, trying to comprehend what she was hearing. Her mind didn’t have trouble understanding the reasoning behind Stardust’s words. He had voiced his argument and the factors that had led to his decision. However, her heart did not understand it. It couldn’t. Everything Stardust was saying was wrong. So very wrong. There was no way it was enough to excuse attempting to kill a pony because of intolerance and spite.

As if sensing her inner turmoil, Stardust paused before answering. “Yes. Five years ago, with less than a month before graduation, I decided to take matters in my own hooves…”

xxxxx

The sound of hoofsteps echoed from the cold stone walls, drowning out the faint tapping of dripping water that usually reigned in the dark tunnels. Darkness, thicker than any night could ever be, was banished by the small, yet bright speck of light, riding on the very tip of a horn. The light not only revealed the walls, ceiling and floor of the ancient passage, but also a single unicorn, who was making his way through the tunnel with a determined look in his eyes.

He was forced to stop when the corridor suddenly split into two tunnels. He looked in both directions, looking for any sign that would indicate where he was supposed to go, but he couldn't find anything. He leaned closer to the ground, looking for tracks, while at the same time straining his hearing. Nothing. There was nothing he could see or hear, or even smell. For an ordinary pony, this would be the end of the road. However, he was a unicorn, and thus had access to tools far above the level of any earth pony or pegasus.

The light on his horn disappeared, only to be replaced by a faint, dark green glow as he forced the magic in it. At the same time, he focused the remaining part of his mind on his target, picturing every singly detail he knew. The snow-white coat, the slightly darker, silver mane, those golden-yellow eyes and that Cutie Mark, depicting a yellow-black sphere, with the yellow half burning with bright flames. “Argent Blaze. Where are you?” Stardust muttered and released the spell. A green sphere flashed outwards from the tip of the horn in every direction, bathing the surroundings in its light for a few seconds before it vanished and let the darkness consume everything once more. Everything except the barely noticeable hoofprints glowing on the floor.

The marks on the ground were very faint and were visible only for a few meters, however that was more than enough to tell Stardust where to go. He turned to the right, summoned the tiny flare again, used his magic to chip a small mark into the wall and continued moving forward. This time he was moving at a slightly faster pace. The tracking spell was difficult to pull off. The hoofprints of the target had to be at most one hour old, otherwise the spell wouldn't work. Considering how faint they were, even in the perfect darkness that reigned underground, Stardust was forced to pick up the pace or risk losing his target.

Several minutes later the tunnel split up again, this time into three additional tunnels that formed a perfect cross. However, like before, it took only a few seconds for him to find his path, leave a small mark and move on. He didn't have to walk for long. Only a dozen or so meters later, Stardust saw a large set of double doors emerge from the darkness at the end of the tunnel. He stopped in front of them and flashed his tracking spell, just to make sure. This was it, the hoofprints led straight for the doors. Slowly he reached out and was just about to touch them when a sudden thought crossed his mind. These are the first doors I have encountered in the last twenty minutes, he could have placed some sort of a ward or trap on them. Better make sure.

Stardust pulled back his hoof and reached out with magic. Unlike the previous one, this spell was almost unnoticeable. A barely visible tendril of magic weaved through the air and gently touched the surface of the doors. Immediately, Stardust felt a light tingling in his horn, which confirmed his suspicions. There was a spell in place. A recent one. He waited a few more moments in order to get a better feel for it. The spell turned out to be an interesting one. Argent had fused the doors together, so that it formed a single, solid wall, which became one with the walls, floor and ceiling around it. An effective way to lock the doors you did not want somepony to open easily or quickly.

Stardust canceled the spell and considered his options. He could blast the doors apart. However, that would alert Argent to his presence and Stardust didn't want that. Argent would probably run away and disappear into the tunnels, making the trip to the tunnels a waste of time. He could wait for the spell to end or try to find another way in, but he didn't have the patience for it. Besides, Argent wasn't that stupid to lock one entrance and leave others open. You could also turn back and leave him be. A strange thought crossed his mind. What was even stranger was how long he actually considered it. Don't do this! The tiny voice in his head cried. The tiny voice in his head died with a faint choke when Stardust shut it up. I cannot leave this be! He has no place here. His very presence taints everything. And is nopony is going to do anything about it, then I guess it's up to me, a unicorn of proper status, to take care of this problem. With all other choices crossed off, Stardust settled on the easiest one. What one unicorn could do, another one could undo. And there were few unicorns more talented at banishing spells than he was.

He reached out with his magic again, though this time he made his magic intertwine with Argent's spell. By using the magic as a medium, he directed his senses at the flow of the spell. He could feel the magic of the spell, flowing through the doors, maintaining the unnatural effect on them. He reached deeper until the magic felt like a collection of strands, woven tightly together in a complete whole. He examined the strands and then viciously tore into them, severing the flow of magic, causing it to dissipate, forcing it to change its course. The spell's magic mixed with his and, like water flowing through a previously made riverbed, trickled towards him. The now-unfocused, raw magic, sparkling in the air like hundreds of tiny stars, swirled around his horn for a few moments before it was unceremoniously discarded to the ground, where it instantly vanished. The whole process lasted for a few seconds and when Stardust canceled his magic with a deep exhale, he saw that the doors in front of him were back to normal. With a satisfied grin resting on his face, Stardust reached out, pushed to doors open and entered the room.

“Hmm, must have once been a library, or a storeroom.” Stardust muttered when he caught the first glance of the room's interior. The room was very big, more like a hall actually, and it was filled with rows and rows of shelves. Most shelves were empty, but some of them held small boxes and other things. However, a quick inspection of the nearby shelf told him that there was nothing else but junk and bits of scrap lying on the shelves. Nothing useful. He took a few steps forward, trying to figure out between which row he should go, when he heard something that might have sounded like a voice.

Immediately, the light on his horn disappeared and Stardust chided himself for being so careless. What if they had seen the light? What if they knew he was there? He listened for a while, listening for any hoofsteps or other signs that his position had been noticed, but there were none. Nopony shouted anything, nopony was moving in his direction. It seemed his small blunder had gone unnoticed. Good.

Now that his light source was gone, Stardust was able to spot a soft glow in the distance. With his eyes fixed on the target, he carefully made his way towards it. Making sure to walk slowly in order to avoid knocking something over or otherwise betray his presence. As he maneuvered between the bookshelves, the light became more intense and he could distinctively hear several voices. Eventually, he got close enough to fully see what was going on. Almost immediately, he felt his jaw tense up and his teeth grind against each other.

Surrounded by a circle of burning braziers, there were five unicorns. All of them were huddled around a wooden table, upon which various books and scrolls were piled. With their attention focused on a single book, Stardust was easily able to identify them.

His eyes first fell on the youngest member of the group. Sporting a light black fur and a pink mane, with a barely visible lotus flower Cutie Mark, was the Black Lotus. Though not anypony special, she was known for her excellent scores in psychology and psychiatry. She was also very good with healing as well as various protection spells, especially those that affected the mind.

Next to her stood a stallion with an indigo blue fur and a long, curly white mane was the Spell Scroll. His Cutie Mark, three scrolls tied together in the middle with a purple ribbon, proudly displayed his talent. He was considered one of the finest magic historians of this generation. Though only seventeen, he had already ensured that at least three spells would not be lost to the time due to him deciphering the ancient languages in which they were written.

With a loud laugh, the next stallion drew Stardust’s attention. Crimson Saddler as well as his sister, Life Weaver were the only siblings currently studying at the school. Just like his name said, Crimson Saddler sported a fiery crimson fur. His yellow-orange mane left the impression that the athletic unicorn was actually a pony shaped flame. It suited him, considering his aggressive nature.

His sister, looking somewhat fragile next to her brother, echoed his laugh with her own, while giving Argent an apologetic look. Even in his current mood, Stardust could not help but breathe just a little bit softer. Kind, funny and helpful, Life Weaver was one of the most desired mares in the school, especially since she was easy on the eyes. Her coat, bordering between red and pink, and complimented by a blond mane further accentuated her pleasing appearance. One point of interest was her Cutie Mark, a silver caduceus entwined by a pair of ropes. When compared to her brother’s rein and collar, made from a copper chain, they looked completely unrelated. However, Stardust knew that to be false. They both were interested in biology, especially concerning various creatures and life in general. Though whereas Life Weaver was fascinated by the numerous processes and workings of the body, Crimson Saddler was more skilled with training and dominating various creatures.

Lastly, there was Argent. The leader of the group and the source of all his frustration. The misborn unicorn who was considered among the school's finest students. Stardust had no idea what Argent's special talent was, apart from spitting in the face of what Stardust considered the established order and ancient traditions, but it was obvious to everypony that he was a talented unicorn with excellent marks in every subject. Stardust watched, with a scowl as Argent shook his head at what was probably a joke and, with a small smile, raised a forehoof in a request for silence. Almost immediately, the laughter died down and all four unicorns were watching him with anticipation.

“Okay, okay, I admit that there is some truth to that. We all have our little quirks. But please, there is no need to blow it out of proportion.” He paused to clear his throat before continuing in a more serious voice. “Jokes aside, there is a reason why I asked you all to come here. You see, Spell Scroll has made excellent progress with the translation and from what he told me, it won't take long until he's done.”

The indigo unicorn flashed a cocky grin and pointed his hoof at something Stardust couldn't see. “That's right, I've been working on this thing for ages and I think I am close to uncovering the entire knowledge this book contains.” He shifted his position slightly and Stardust saw a glimpse of the book in question. It was a thick tome, with pitch black covers, shielding pages that were also black as night. He quickly recognized the book. If Argent had any quirks, it was his obsession with that book. Stardust had only seen it a few times, but the distinctive appearance and the zealous protectiveness Argent displayed towards the book made it obvious that Argent treasured it greatly.

“And once that is done, we'll be ready.” Argent spoke up again, a small amount of excitement coloring his voice. “All that knowledge will serve us in our cause. We will be able to correct everything. All will change.”

Stardust couldn't hold back a laugh when he heard the determination in Argent's voice. He could not believe what he was hearing. Him? Correct everything? What a load of nonsense! He was aware that all five ponies were now looking in his direction, his laughs giving away is presence. But he didn't care. It didn't matter anyway. He was not here to spy on them. He was care to set things right. To do what should have been done a long time ago. To deal with this upstart once and for all.

He walked forward, still chuckling at the surprised looks on their faces until he entered the light cast by the braziers. The flash of recognition in their eyes made him chuckle again. They were clearly caught off guard. “Your cause? Change everything? Heh, looks like my suspicions were correct. Turns out you've been sneaking down here into these tunnels in order to start your own little cult. A cult which will “use powerful knowledge to change everything”.” He mocked Argent's voice with a sneer. He stopped some distance away from them and tilted his head. “And what are you exactly planning to do? Use that book to teach all the dirt farmers out there to read?”

“I thought I smelled shit from nearby. Turns out it was something worse. Piss off Stardust. You're not welcome here.” Spell Scroll took a few steps towards the gray unicorn. Next to him Crimson Saddler did the same, while both mares exchanged worried looks with Argent.

“Stardust, what are you doing here? How did you find us?” Argent quickly moved around the desk in order to stand between Stardust and his friends in order to prevent a confrontation. At least that's what he wanted to do, before Saddler stopped him with his hoof.

“I think the answer to your second question is quite obvious.” Stardust tapped his horn meaningfully, he ignored the petty insults. Those who rubbed shoulders with a misborn were no better themselves and, as such, were beneath his notice. Instead he replaced the sneer on his face with a glare and focused on his rival. “Anyway, misborn led literature clubs aside, I am here to deal with a problem that's been bothering me. You, Argent. I am here to deal with you.” Almost immediately, four unicorns had placed themselves between him and Stardust.

“Fuck off. We're not letting you do anything to him.” Saddler voiced the opinion of the entire group. Argent tried to say something, but was cut off by Life Weaver.

“Precisely. You have been nothing but a bully since the day he came to this school and you are starting to annoy us. I suggest you leave.”

Stardust glared at each of the unicorns. “How the mighty have fallen. Unicorns from noble families siding with a misborn. Pathetic.” He muttered, more to himself than to anypony else. He looked at Argent and took a deep breath. “Still, despite having to deal with somepony like you, I will be merciful. Leave, Argent. Go away from this school, leave Canterlot and never come back again.”

There was a long pause before Crimson Saddler broke out in laughter. One by one others joined in as well, laughing until they ran out of breath. Only Argent reacted differently. He stared back at Stardust and gave and apologetic shake of his head. “Sorry, but I can’t do that. I want to graduate alongside my friends.”

“Dude, you’re being too polite with this arrogant piece of shit.” Crimson Saddler wiped a small tear from the corner of his eye as he struggled to regain his breath. There was no reaction from Stardust, he merely continued to stare at Argent.

Spell Scroll, still chuckling lightly, shook his head. “Since you’re being so merciful, let me return the favor. Get the fuck lost before I decide to sodomize you with every phallic shaped object in a three kilometer radius.”

“Heh, fascinating ... Did you learn that from Argent when he was turning you into his bench?”

The grin on Spell Scroll’s face vanished instantly.“What did you say? You seem to have forgot that there’s nopony else here. You are all alone against us.” The tension was rising with every passing second.

“Spell Scroll, please don’t do that. We can solve this peacefully.” Argent tried to defuse the situation.

“Unlikely.” Crimson Saddler said, while keeping his eyes on Stardust. “Besides, he’s had it coming for a very long time.” Next to him Life Weaver nodded agreement.

Encouraged by the support of his friends, Spell Scroll started channeling magic through his horn. “Looks like you messed up coming here. Don’t worry; it will only hurt for a second.”

“Enough! Stop this immediately!” With a flash Argent teleported between Stardust and his friends. “Listen, I appreciate you all standing up for me, I really do. But this is going too far. I don’t want my friends get in trouble because they had to defend me. And you, Stardust.” He turned his attention to the glaring unicorn. “Please, just leave me alone. You’ve been bullying me for several years already. Enough is enough. I know you don’t like it that my family isn’t a noble one like yours, but can’t you just let it go? Please, I beg you, let’s put this petty hostility behind us and be done with it. There’s only one month left until graduation. So let us finish this school together and then go our separate ways. You are…”

His words died with a choke when a dark green aura surrounded his throat, cutting off all air. “Petty hostility? Graduate together?” Stardust whispered with a slightly unhinged edge to his voice. Argent tried to struggle, but to no avail. He was roughly yanked to the ground and then pulled towards Stardust until he was lying at the hooves of his rival. “You dare consider us equals or consider this bullying for petty reasons?” Argent didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He was barely able to breathe much less compose a reply.

“Don’t you dare do anything or I will snap his neck.” Stardust said when Spell Scroll and Black Lotus started moving to encircle him.

“You wouldn’t dare.” Life Weaver gasped as she started channeling magic through her horn.

“Would you like to find out?” Stardust lifted the captive Argent off the ground and shook him. “Are you willing to risk your beloved leader’s life for it?”

“He’s our friend and we’ll do everything we can to protect him from shits like you.” Crimson Saddler growled and fired a telekinetic blast at the grey unicorn, surprising him with the audacity, causing Stardust to stagger and lose his grip on Argent. Although the blast wasn't that strong and Stardust recovered almost instantly, the atmosphere in the room reached its boiling point. The anger inside Stardust roared into an uncontrollable inferno and demanded retaliation. Similarly, for Argent's friends, the sight of the white unicorn hitting the ground and coughing heavily, was the final drop. One could almost hear the sound with which the tension snapped and all hell broke loose.

Stardust only had a second or so to cast a protective sheath around him, causing his coat to shimmer with a faint green glow. Though it was of little use against spells, it was invaluable against telekinetic attacks. The sheath served as a layer of armor as well as a warning system, thus giving him time to react in case somepony tried to grab his horn or strangle him. Once the sheath was in place, Stardust had to duck and roll to the side in order to avoid a pair of searing beams of light that scorched the place where he had just been standing.

An invisible hand tried to grab him by his throat, but Stardust quickly reacted with his own telekinetic grip, pushing back against the pressure. At the same time, a large fireball, cast by Black Lotus came screaming at him. Instead of dodging, he locked his eyes on the projectile and lashed out with his own magic. The fireball exploded into hundreds of shimmering particles as Stardust ripped apart the spell that formed the magical projectile and transformed it into raw magic. The energy swirled in the air towards him, as he pulled it closer to him. Several more projectiles, made of raw magic, threatened to burn nasty holes in his body, were sent in his way, but were likewise intercepted and turned into a more unfocused form.

Stardust scooped a fair bit of magic from the energy surrounding him and used it to send a powerful telekinetic blow towards Spell Scroll and Black Lotus, forcing the two to dive out of the way and knocking over one of the braziers. A whirlwind of sparks and embers shot up as the burning coals spilled on the ground. They didn't stay there for long. Stardust grabbed more than half of them and hurled them at Life Weaver even as he used the remainder of the raw magic around him to empower his shield spell as he not just stopped but actually reflected a beam of light back at the Crimson Saddler.

With a loud crack, he teleported behind the recovering Black Lotus and lashed out with quick telekinetic strikes in rapid succession, forcing the mare on the defensive. She screamed in pain when one of Stardust's strikes, shaped into a sharp edge, opened a large gash along her side. However, before he could capitalize on it, Stardust had to divert his attention and prevent the brazier Spell Scroll had hurled at him from caving in his head. A telekinetic blow was enough to divert it to the side where it landed with a loud clang.

Infuriated with the sight of their friend being wounded, the three remaining unicorns unleashed a flurry of spells at Stardust. Blasts of raw magic, ice bolts, fireballs, beams of light converged on him, but not a single spell reached the target. The majority of the projectiles shattered into a shower of shimmering particles as Stardust broke down the spells and surrounded himself with a swirling dome of dazzling sparks. In some cases, the particles would leave the dome and make their way towards his horn to empower deflection spells whenever Stardust couldn't tear apart the magic forming some of the spells thrown at him.

Stardust grit his teeth as he felt sweat trickle down the side of his face. His breaths came sharp and short, his head was being pounded by intense headache and his horn was getting alarmingly hot. As talented as he was with breaking apart spells into raw magic and then using it to boost his own spells, he could not do it for long. Not against several opponents of such strength. Regardless of his opinion on them, his enemies were still among most skilled unicorns of that year. They didn't do weak spells. He had to finish this as soon as possible or else be overwhelmed and defeated.

A quick glance around provided him with a solution. The crumbling bookshelves and other pieces of ancient furniture would serve his purpose well. With a grunt of effort, he reached out in several directions at once, anchoring his grip on whatever object he came across. He didn't move them immediately, lest he give away his plan. A dull, throbbing pain started coming from his horn as the weight of all that spell casting threatened to overwhelm him, but he forced himself to remain in control and forced the magic to obey through a sheer effort of will.

“Watch out. He is reaching for the...” Somepony cried a warning, but it was too late. Determined not to give them a chance, Stardust attacked. He pulled all the objects towards him, creating a wall of furniture and broken bookshelves between him and his opponents. The barrier lasted only for a second before Stardust sent it flying towards Argent's group. He didn't just throw it, he used all the raw magic he had accumulated from the intercepted spells to fuel the throw. Every last drop was channeled through the horn and into the spell. The result was devastating. Some of the weaker pieces of furniture disintegrated into dust from the force of the throw, whereas the rest shot forward like cannonballs, shattering everything they impacted as well as shattering themselves.

Stardust himself almost collapsed to the floor as intense pain shot through his horn, forcing him to cry out in pain. He had never used so much magic at once before. The whole fight had lasted a bit less than two minutes. But in those minutes, the amount of strain that had been placed on him, was incredible. He opened his eyes and slowly rose to his hooves, one hoof pressed against his horn in a futile effort to ease the throbbing pain. It felt like a white-hot nail had been driven in his forehead. It made it hard to think.

Taking his hoof away from his horn, he brushed back wet strands of hair from his eyes and surveyed the destruction before him and, with a grim satisfaction, noted just how quiet everything was. It looks like the job is… He started thinking, but the thought was cut off by a pained moan from nearby. Stardust shook his head, thinking he had probably misheard that, but a second moan put those thoughts to rest. Somepony was still awake. Not only that, but he recognized the voice. Argent. He snarled viciously and started trotting in the direction of the moans. A thousand thoughts swirled through his head as he moved across the battlefield, some were screaming at him in horror, trying to make him realize what he had just done, but those thoughts had quiet voices and were easily dispelled by a single sentence. This was necessary in order to set things right, as they should be.

He passed the motionless form of Black Lotus. The mare was lying on her side with one puddle of blood forming around her barrel where the gash was and another, smaller one, around her head. Not far from her was Spell Scroll. The indigo unicorn hadn’t been lucky at all. One leg of a chair was sticking out from his side, with smaller pieces of jagged wood splinters embedded in several other locations of his body. That’s two traitors taken care of. Stardust thought and stepped over the remains of a broken desk, trampling several scrolls underneath his hooves. Somewhere in the distance, he could see the vague shapes of Life Weaver and Crimson Saddler. They were both motionless, but because of the limited light, cast by small piles of burning coal, scattered across the room, it was impossible to see the extent of their injuries. Oh well, I’ll take care of them later. Stardust made a mental note and stopped in front of a shattered bookshelf, underneath which he could see the unmistakable form of his rival. “Argent. Why am I not surprised to see that you’re still awake?”

Argent, trapped underneath the bookshelf, moaned again and opened his eyes. He was in a much better shape than Stardust had expected. Sure, there were lots of gashes and bruises, as well as plenty of easily noticeable bloodstains on his coat, but they weren’t life threatening. Debilitating and painful, sure, but not deadly. Lucker must have managed to cast a shield and avoid most of the impacts. Argent coughed several times, blinked and turned his attention to Stardust. “Why, Stardust? Why?” He croaked. “Why did you have to hurt my friends? Why do you hate me so much?” Tears welled up in his eyes as he caught a glimpse of Life Weaver.

“I hate you because you do not know your place. You walk the halls above us like you belong there. You come here to this school and have the arrogance to stand as equal with those far nobler than you. You ignore the established order and…” Stardust trailed off as a sudden realization struck him. “…break traditions that have stood for centuries.” He finished in a near whisper, his eyes wide from the shock. “You have changed things. I came here with the intention to make you leave the school. But I understand it now.” He looked around the room. “What was I thinking! This will not be over with just that. It is already too late. You have already broken EVERYTHING!” He yelled and locked his gaze back on Argent, who suddenly went very, very pale. “Even if I make you leave, it won’t change anything. Ponies know about you. They know who you are and what you can do. They have realized that a misborn can stand as an equal to a pureblood unicorn. And it won’t be long until they start thinking above their station. That they can challenge the inherent greatness of the nobles of Canterlot. The undisputed supremacy of unicorns, studying at this school. The natural order that has stood for generations will be challenged, questioned and shattered. All because you did not know your place. ALL BECAUSE OF YOU!” His pupils shrunk to the size of pinpricks as Stardust went over the edge. “ALL BECAUSE OF YOU, ARGENT! A FUCKING MISBORN!”

Argent swallowed nervously. “Stardust…” He began quietly but was cut off by a low chuckle that made his hair rise.

“But I will fix it, I will wash away the stain you’ve made. Water under the bridge, right? If you were to die, then so will your sins, right? I mean death is the ultimate purifier, right? It solves all problems, right? No pony, no problems, right? … Right … But I can’t just kill you like that. It wouldn’t be right.” Stardust was looking around as if searching for something. “Just like you crushed what I held dear, I think it’s only right to return the favor. Ah, there it is.” Stardust winced from the pain and levitated a black book towards them. As soon as Argent’s eyes fell upon the book, he became very still.

He took a sharp breath and spoke in a low and calm voice. “Okay, Stardust, you win. You win. I will do as you ask. I will leave this school. No, I will go to headmistress and tell them I quit. I’ll tell them I can’t handle this school, that it is too much for me and I will leave. You will never see me again.”

Stardust smiled and licked his lips when he heard the defeated tone in Argent’s voice. He glanced at the pitch black book, noting the silver letters on the cover. He couldn’t understand them, but a small note, with what he assumed was the translation, was added underneath. “The Grimoire of the Evening War.” He read out the title and then leafed through the pages. They were all black, covered with a silver ink in a language he did not understand. Numerous notes in Equestrian were sandwiched between the pages. Stardust paid them little attention. He just skimmed through the book before looking back at Argent with a sickeningly sweet smile. “Oh, my dear little pony, I am afraid it doesn’t work that way.” He cooed. “It is already too late. For you, for me, for everypony, for this book.”

“NO!” Argent cried when a flash of magic caused the book to burst into green flames. “NO! NO! NO! NO!” He cried and, with a sudden surge of strength, lifted the bookshelf off of him. He made a mad charge towards Stardust, but he didn’t take a single step before pain, unlike anything he had ever felt before, forced him to collapse to the ground, screaming in terrible agony.

Stardust let the charred book drop to the floor and focused his attention to the screaming unicorn. “You know … you’re not the only … only one with … se-secrets.” He fought the pain in his horn as he channeled more and more magic through it. “I have a few … of my own … spells, to be pre-precise … spells … they don’t … teach … to students … A family trick.” He added as he added more power to the spell, which caused intense pain to the victim by making every nerve feel like it was being slowly burned to a crisp. “Suffer, Argent! … Suffer! … Suffer!” The white unicorn trashed on the ground, screaming until his throat started to bleed and there was no air left in his lungs. Then he screamed some more. The stench of urine wafted in the air as Argent lost all bladder control. The added humiliation barely registered with Argent and only amused Stardust. “That’s right… know… know your … place … in the shit … With the rest … your kind.” Stardust chanted, fighting the immense pain from the overused horn. Just a little bit more. Just a few more seconds and the strain on Argent’s body would be too much to bear. Just a little bit more and he would be gone. Forever.

What if this is wrong?

That one thought, a single, tiny flicker of doubt, born somewhere deep inside of him. The tiny voice of conscience, a small whisper that made itself audible despite the furious screams of hate and fear. The gentle touch, that was felt through the layers of family instilled beliefs and values. The tiny spark that sailed against the tide of the raging inferno managed to get to the very surface of his thoughts and, for the briefest of instants, was the only thought in Stardust’s mind. However, like all small things occasionally do, it had the impact of a lightning bolt.

Stardust’s focus trembled, the flow of magic wavered and the spell collapsed. Usually, it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but for Stardust’s horn, the sudden surge of magic was the tipping point. Stardust managed to catch a glimpse of his horn before it exploded, sending chips of horn as well as pieces of tissue and drops of blood in all directions, leaving behind a charred stump.

Stardust screamed. He screamed like he had never screamed before. He couldn’t see anything; the pain was so intense, so immeasurable he lost all but one of his senses. Only pain remained, agonizing, searing pain that surged through the very essence of his being. The white-hot nail had been driven from his forehead directly into his brain and it didn’t stop there, it kept on going forward, deeper, causing more and more pain that seemed to go on forever. He trashed on the ground, both hooves pressed against the charred stump, crying, begging for the pain to end. He called out, screamed for help, but nothing happened. He was alone. All the hate and adrenaline that had fueled him just moments before was gone.

He had no idea how much time had passed before pain started receding, it could have been minutes, hours, days, but eventually Stardust was able to feel something other than pain. With tears still flowing from his eyes and pained whimpers escaping his lips, Stardust opened his eyes and looked around. The dimly lit room was in the same state as before. Broken pieces of furniture lying on the floor next to several still shapes he recognized as ponies. Ponies he had attacked and injured. Now that anger, the source of all his reasons that night was gone, a cold feeling of dread filled whatever gap pain would grant it. Dread and fear, which screamed with the voice of his conscience as the gravity of his deeds started to sink in.

You did this! The voice spoke to his through all the pain. Y did this. You did all of this. This is all your work. Your fault! Your fault! Your fault! The voice chanted in his mind. Stardust started hyperventilating. It had sounded so easy at first. Track Argent and his group. Force them to leave and that's it. It had sounded so simple. So easy. Unfortunately Argent's friends and his own temper had ruined such an easy plan. And now... Now you have hurt … no killed several ponies. Murderer! The accusation flashed through his mind, fully banishing the pain and thoughts about he destroyed horn. Like a surge, it shot through his body and he did the only thing that was left to do...

xxxxx

“So I ran. Blinded by pain, pushed to panic by fear, I ran. I didn't care where I was running, I only wanted to get as far away as possible, so I ran. It took me a long time until I managed to get out of the tunnels without any light or reasonable thoughts. But once I was outside, I felt like everypony I knew was chasing after me. I fled the school, the castle, I even fled Canterlot. Everything I had, everything I was, I left behind as I ran into the night, hounded by the realization of what I had done.” Stardust finished with a heavy sigh and hung his head.

The silence stretched on for minutes until he heard somepony clear their throat. “How could you do something like that?” The whisper made Stardust look up, his face drained of all emotion when he saw the looks he was receiving. Applejack and Rainbow Dash both looked disgusted, angry even. Twilight and Rarity looked more than a little sick, though in Twilight's case, her expression also sported a great deal of outrage. Fluttershy was horrified, but at the same time, there was a great amount of sorrow and even sympathy in her eyes. Pinkie was, well, he couldn't see Pinkie's face. She was taring at the floor again.

“Hate? Anger? Fear? Jealousy? I don't know which one exactly pushed me over the edge. As I mentioned, my actions weren't guided by reason.” Unable to identify who had asked the question, he moved his gaze from one mare to another. “It was an unreasonable rivalry that went way too far.”

“Was? It WAS a rivalry? If the yesterday's attack means anything I'd say the rivalry is still going strong. Now it just involves innocent ponies.” Rainbow shook her head, fighting, struggling, to keep from throwing herself at this … bully and beat his face into a pulp. Anypony who picked on others without reason or anypony who picked on others at all was lower than dirt. “I think we should simply throw you out of Ponyville and let him finish the job.”

Stardust shook his head in denial. “I already told you, yesterday has nothing to do with what happened between us. He has something else in mind. He told me himself about a year later when he found me...”

xxxxx

“I know what you're thinking, Stardust. Why haven't I killed you yet? After going through all the trouble to find you, to track you here, to this mansion where your family has allowed their disowned son to live, and beating you up. Why haven't I killed you yet?” Argent's voice reached him over the roar of fire as the mansion burned around him. Stardust tried to move his head in order to see the other unicorn, but couldn't muster the strength to do so. A white aura surrounded him, drawing a pained groan from him as Argent picked him up and brought him over to where he was standing next to the main entrance.

Argent lowered him so that he could look Stardust in the eyes. “That would seem appropriate, considering what you have done. Because of you Spell Scroll is dead and Black Lotus is...” He trailed off for a moment as he took a deep breath to compose himself. “You attacked and hurt my friends, destroyed almost everything I have worked for my entire life when you burnt that book. I'd say killing you does seem like an appropriate response.”

“Th-then … why?” Stardust managed. Every word felt like it was filling his insides with molten metal. Then again, that was to be expected after being slammed against several hard surfaces multiple times. It hadn't been a fight. Not even slightly. Not when he had no means of defending himself against a magic user like Argent.

“Because I understand you. We have known each other for years. Granted, we knew each other as rivals, but it did provide me with an understanding about you. I understand why you attacked me and, by extension, my friends.” He fell silent again and Stardust could see the sadness in his eyes. No anger, though, and that was what truly puzzled him. Argent wasn't angry at him. Further musings were cut short when Argent resumed talking. “And because of that, I understand how you are feeling right now, when you have lost everything, especially your horn. To some degree, no amount of physical pain I inflict, will ever match the emptiness inside you. One you yourself caused.”

“Still, I could not let your actions go unpunished and I would be lying if I told you that hurting you wasn't cathartic. And, I'll admit, setting this house on fire as well as killing all the servants was probably a bit too much ... Come now, let's get you outside. I wouldn't want you to burn to death.” Argent said and trotted outside, with Stardust held in his magical grip. “Besides, having your rival not only spare your life, but actually save you only adds to the suffering, don't you think?” Once outside, he dropped Stardust unceremoniously on the ground. “I could have done much more, you know. I could have killed your entire family since, they are the ones who raised you and influenced your beliefs. But that would be too much. It is not worth it.”

He watched Stardust struggle for breath. “Don't worry. You will be okay. At least as far as the physical part of your punishment is concerned. Whether or not you will be able to survive the emotional aspect, I cannot tell, though I would appreciate if you did. That way you will be able to witness the future and what it brings.” He cast a gaze at the moon, taking in the sight of the dark silhouette that graced its surface. “Marvelous isn't it? ... You know, there's a great change coming to Equestria. Whether it's through ancient prophecies or my own doing, but change is coming. Mark my words, Stardust. Things will change. I'll make sue of that.”

Even though he was more concerned about his condition, something in Agent's voice made Stardust focus his attention on the white unicorn. “What? … What do you mean?”

Argent smiled at him and turned to leave. “Exactly what I said. Change is coming. Soon everything will change.” He paused and looked back at him. “This is our last meeting, Stardust. I hope we will never meet again. Farewell.”

xxxxx

“Wait a minute. Something's not right. If he told you that everythin' between you is over, how come he's chasin' you right now?” Applejack narrowed her eyes suspiciously when she felt that Stardust was done with the story. “You told us that what happened yesterday was because this Argent guy is lookin' for you. Yet now you're sayin' that he's done with you? Somethin's not addin' up.”

“He changed his mind. A little over two years ago, he sent some of his goons to capture me. I got very lucky and escaped, and I also found out that Argent had sent them. I have absolutely no idea why he wants me, but I highly doubt it's something I would enjoy.”

“So why didn't you go to the authorities? Get some help? Tell them what's going on?” Twilight had to focus to keep her emotions in check. It was hard. Stardust's story of how he had assaulted his fellow students had been bad enough. But hearing that he had used magic to hurt and torture other ponies was beyond the pale. It offended her on almost every level. Magic was something wonderful and amazing. It allowed a unicorn to do great things, to help others and make life better for everypony. Not something that was used to torture others and inflict such senseless suffering. It was wrong. Twilight recalled hearing something about an incident, involving several students, when she was sixteen. However, her obsession with studies had prevented her from investigating the matter. “You could have told others.”

Stardust looked at her with a frown and shook his head. “I think you are missing an important detail. I attacked and, from what Argent told me, killed at least one student. I couldn't exactly go to the nearest guard station and ask for help. Besides, what would I tell them? A powerful unicorn is planning something big? That's not exactly a convincing argument, especially with no evidence. I would be no different from all the other doomsday nutjobs out there. And with my family having decided to disown me, I didn't couldn't pull any strings to get things done. All I had were his words. That's it.” He heaved a heavy sigh and winced when the action caused his tender sides to burn. “So I decided to find out on my own. I scavenged what remained from the wreckage and set out to learn about his plans. Specifically, I tried to learn something about a book called Grimoire of the Evening War, since that was the name of the book he used to carry with him all the time and was very important to him.”

His answer seemed like a logical one and did present a good point. However, Rainbow wasn't convinced that easily. Not when there was a major flaw to address. “Speaking of nutjobs, how can we be sure he's not one? He tells you that he is planning something and you immediately start investigating it, instead of crawling into the deepest, darkest hole and staying there? What makes you thing he was telling you the truth, not spouting some random crap. Like you said, there's all sorts of weirdos out there, claiming that they will change the world or some other stupid stuff. What makes you sure, he is any different?”

Stardust opened his mouth to answer, but no words came out. However, it was plain to see that it wasn't because Rainbow's question had raised a point he could not argue, but because he was searching for the right words. “You didn't hear the way he said it … Those weren't ramblings of a madpony. It was like … imagine one thing that you know for certain. Something that will never be any different, not matter what happens. Something that is absolute, the complete and total truth. Something that is destined to be the way it is … And then imagine the certainty you would have when talking about it to others … That is what I heard when he spoke about his plan. He wasn't rambling or lying. He was absolutely, one hundred percent certain of it. That I can guarantee. And even if you ignored everything I have said, last night's attack alone should tell you that something is coming. Something big, since nopony would dare do something like that this close to Canterlot.”

His final words remained hanging in the air, casting a feeling of dread around them as everypony considered the situation. Even if Stardust was lying or had been lied to, they could not deny the evidence before them. The nature of the attack was unlike anything they had ever witnessed before. Never before had they experienced such violence and cruelty. It was like waking up to find the world was completely different from what they had believed to be in their entire lives. Twilight's injured arm throbbed slightly as if to accentuate the point. And to think that something like that had happened so close to Canterlot, arguably the safest place in Equestria...

A loud knock on the door caused all of them to jump. The doors opened and a guardspony entered. She looked around the room, fixed her gaze on Twilight and bowed slightly. “My apologies for intruding, but I was asked to inform you that Princess Luna has arrived. She wishes to talk to you.” The mare nodded at everypony except Stardust.

For Twilight it was like a huge load had been lifted off her shoulders. She nodded agreement in reply and looked back at Stardust. Several thoughts and dozens of questions were surging through her mind, but she left them unspoken. She had heard enough from him for today. She needed some time to properly digest the information. But before that, she and her friends had to see Princess Luna and discuss the situation with her. Hopefully, with Luna's help, they will be able to figure out what to do and deal with this Argent Blaze.