• Published 27th Mar 2015
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Dusk Falls - NorrisThePony



Celestia discovers an eldritch conspiracy in the small beach town of Dusk Falls. Luna fights back growing feelings of jealousy and isolation.

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Wish You Were Here (IX)

i

The palm trees were covered with a thin layer of snow and frost, which also coated the dying grass, lonely rooftops, and frozen beach sand. Hearth’s Warming Eve had come and gone, and the icy claws of winter knew no limits, not even amongst the beach town so blistering in the summer.

I believe I stated it once before, but for purpose of reiteration I should affirm that Dusk Falls is actually located further North than one might suspect, and as such it was cursed with the same three month winters as much of central Equestria. Much like how the icy grasp of winter slithers its way down from the mountains and into the untamed reaches of the Everfree Forest, the cool breeze that blew in from the ocean during the summer also intensified to a ferocious gale, pushing the palm tree’s large leaves to one side where they promptly froze that way for the duration of winter. And while the ocean water was still too warm to properly freeze, there were certainly no ponies swimming in its frigid midst.

The blood fog hadn’t stopped, though. In fact, it became a disturbingly typical sight as the year inched onwards. It had become so frequent and sizable that ponies other than myself began noticing it, perhaps because it began rising in places other than Harmony Bay. The sight of such a phenomenon would have been a great, extraordinary sight for tourists, but in the winter months they became a sight even more rare than the phenomenon itself.

But, while the blood fog and the sight of carefree ponies in Dusk Falls had become a gradual, rare occurrence, communication with Luna grinded to a near halt. Our promise of weekly communication was a laughable memory; during the winter months, I was lucky if I received any at all. When they did arrive, they were neither welcoming nor belligerent. They were cold statements of fact:

“I have implemented this bylaw in Canterville.” “This winter storm is scheduled for Western Equestria.” “Please review this trade negotiation and forward me your response.”

Personal responses were kept to brief sentences. Luna and I exchanged gifts for Hearth’s Warming Eve, but we did so through packages sent through the mail. With Luna’s warnings of the post office on my mind, I was slightly curious about whether she received her gift at all; the most I received was a letter which said “Thank you” and “Happy Hearth’s Warming Eve, sister.”

Sister.

Normally, it would have meant nothing. But given the state of our relationship, seeing it where my name had once been twisted it from innocence into an accursed, mocking insult. The one Luna loved to finish her sentences with as of late. With personal, face-to-face communication between Luna gone, it had been months since I had heard or read my name without ‘Her Majesty Princess’ quickly uttered before it, let alone any playful scribblings of Tia or Celly.

We had dealt a crippling blow to our relationship that fateful eve. That final petty, bickering argument had been the small gust of wind that had finally blown the house of cards that was our sisterhood down, and a refusal and inability to communicate with each other further had prevented it from being rebuilt for a very long time.

Luna did not ask about the state Dusk Falls nor of the Smooze, and I did not mention it. I knew she was greatly curious, but a stubborn refusal to apologize that we both carried meant that it was now a route of discussion that would only lead to argument and anger.

The state of Luna and my relationship wasn’t the only thing alarmingly different, however. Into the winter months, Dusk Falls had become a very, very different place, and I must confess I am solely responsible for making it so.

Luna may have given up on the town, but I was in no mood to. Not even a week after she had left, I came to the decision that secrecy and subtlety was a wishful fantasy, one which I would be foolish to believe still existed amongst the town. Any evil knew quite well why I was there and what I was trying to do, and I was accomplishing nothing by trying to get by alone.

By the end of summer, the town had become less a tourist destination and more a guard outpost. Signs bearing depictions of ponies gone missing covered every signpost and streetlamp on the boardwalk, some approaching a decade in age and others as recent as months prior. If the frigid nature of the winter would not have been enough to deter ponies from picking Dusk Falls for their vacation, the reputation it swiftly gained as the ‘Murder Capital of Equestria’ certainly would have been. Even though the town was crawling with guards, and nearly every visible surface bore a sad picture of a lost ponies face, the disappearances did not stop. Each one was like a fatal wound that drove my anger further and further until I felt as though I would become as mad as the captured cultists.

Yes, captured. I wish it was as significant a development as it sounded, but frankly not much changed with the literal reveal of what we all knew existed anyways.

At least a dozen ponies more versed in occult tradition than I were brought to my aid, and they came and left the town; some more successful than others. As knowledgeable as they were, I was dealing with something that had existed for more than a century. It was not something that would reveal itself with ease. Nevertheless, the occasional pony was found to be housing some sort of organized madness, and when this happened I was immediately contacted to speak with them. Most often, I could find nothing of use amongst their paranoid ramblings and promises of forthcoming despair. The most notable occasion occurred on the same day as the first snowfall in late November. As it had doubled as my Day Court before, I had ordered a room in the Town Hall to be converted into a temporary holding cell for such ponies, and it was here that I entered on that frigid day, with two guards by my side.

“Good morning,” I greeted the grimacing stallion with eyes opened wide in bizarre insanity. They somehow managed to widen further when he saw me, as his mouth twisted into a threatening snarl. My guards did not waver, and neither did I as I trotted into the tiny room which reeked of mold and waste.

“Yes. Fearsome.” I yawned. I’d seen it all before. “I have several questions, and no patience for anything but answers. Please, don’t waste my time.”

He attempted to spit at me, but I caught it and flung the saliva away with a lazy flare of magic as I narrowed my eyes.

“Don’t.” It was one mere word, but one spoken with enough force that the stallion instantly became still. “I know about the Smooze. I know ponies are going missing because they are being used to fuel it. Lastly, I know that ponies like you are too, forgive my rudeness, foolish, to be doing this on your own.”

He cast a terrified glance behind him, as if expecting to find something there besides the cold brick wall. I had been less than vocal about how much I knew, and more often than not when I conveyed it to these mad ponies their responses were ones of surprise and dread.

This one stallion had been completely silent, however, which was something that I had not observed until then. Typically they flung insults at me, some in a language I was quite certain did not exist outside of their destroyed minds. These were the ponies who had snapped into insanity, rare instances in a cult which seemed otherwise discreet and silent. I had no doubt they would have been silenced by their own cultist brethren if my guards and investigators had not discovered them first.

“So please tell me,” I continued, “What is guiding you all. I spoke with it once, and I know it can communicate through dreams. Tell me its name.”

Silence. The stallion did not so much as move or divert his wide eyed glare away from my own.

“Why are you helping it? What is in it for you?” I asked instead. It would have been too easy if I would’ve learned so simply anyways. Still, my next query was still met with no response.

“Need I remind you that if it’s allowed to form, the Smooze will decimate all life on Equestria in mere weeks? I know you’re not completely heartless. Nopony is. You have family, or friends...ponies who you don’t want to see in danger at your hooves. Why would you take the side of something that promises a terrible death to them all?”

Finally, he responded. I saw his lips move, but the words were spoken too quietly for me to hear. I politely asked him to repeat himself, and amazingly he complied.

“She...she promised that we would be spared. That we wouldn’t fall victim like everypony else.”

Already, I felt a rush of excitement at the first word he had uttered. She. When it had appeared in my dream, its voice had been feminine, but then again its form had been that of an alicorn and it had quite explicitly told me that it was not actually one. But, as excited as I was by this revelation, I knew that it was accidental on the stallions part, and I decided it would be wise not to bring attention to it.

“You were lied to,” I said.

“No, we weren’t!” he rose suddenly. The guards who had entered with me took a step forwards, but I stopped them with a raised hoof and took a step forwards myself.

“The Smooze is mindless,” I said. Under my approach, the stallion had visibly tensed, his previous conviction vanishing. I had sharpened my calmly spoken words with a nearly indistinguishable trace of confrontation, and he had most certainly detected it. “Do you think it has the capacity to discriminate you from everything else it will consume? No. They would all be killed. Anything that lives will die.”

I took a brief pause, gauging his reaction. It was one of growing dread. His mad mind was turning over my judgement of his decisions. I thought his dread was one fueled by guilt, and I decided to open the wound further.

“Mothers, fathers, fillies and foals, innocent ponies who have done no harm. They will all be quite literally torn to pieces by the very thing you are assisting with. Would you like me to show you what that would look like?” I asked, my horn flaring to life. I was casting a pathetic levitation spell, but the stallion had no way of knowing that. He shirked backwards in fear until his back hit the stone wall.

“No...please, no…”

“Surprisingly gutless for a pony accused of murder,” I drawled. “Give me a name then. Please. Help me to stop it.”

“You can’t stop it,” he replied, his voice and body shaking. “It’s already so strong…”

“The Smooze?”

He nodded quickly, squeezing his eyes shut.

“You would be surprised what I am capable of doing,” I responded. “You seem like you regret what you’ve done here. It might help your conscious if you assist me.”

“They’ll...they’ll kill me if I tell you.”

“There are many ponies willing to kill you if you don’t,” came my cold reply.

“It doesn’t matter,” he whispered. “Nothing can help you, even if I did tell you.”

“With or without your help, I’m going to keep this town safe, and I’m not going to let anything happen to my country.” I replied firmly.

“You don’t know what you’re dealing with,” he said it in a shaking voice. “All your power...it won’t make any difference.”

"I assure you that you are mistaken," I said, turning to leave. Before I did, I motioned at the cell with a hoof to the guards. "Please clean this disgrace up. I won't be having my subjects squabbling about in their own filth like the animals they pretend they are."

Needless to say, I returned home more unsettled than I had been when I had left that morning, even if my confident composure suggested the opposite to the stallion and to my guards. I started a fire and sat staring into the flames, lost in thought, for a long while, turning over what I had just seen and heard. The stallion had been guilt-ridden and mad, but this was undoubtedly a shadow of whatever the rest of his cult actually believed. He had been the first to show guilt, so many others had said through smiles that they would soon be “cheering at my broken body” or other taunting and foreboding remarks. I returned their threats with smiles and softly denied their predictions.

My quiet contemplative stature was broken when I heard a knock at my door, and I trotted over to open it. Outside two guards now stood vigil on my porch at practically all hours, now that there was no shortage of them. I opened the door to see Indigo, and I greeted her with a thin smile that most likely did not hide the stress behind it.

“Evening, Princess,” she said, shaking her back free from the freshly fallen snow. “Do you mind if I come in to have a word with you?”

“Not at all,” I opened the door wider and led the way inside. Together we sat by the fireplace, Indigo in the spot long vacated of Luna’s presence.

“I heard about what happened,” I said once we were settled. The Captain of the Royal Guard himself had sent me a formal notice, full of apologies on account of his ‘inept and insufficiently trained’ guards. I’d been tempted to respond with a letter asking for his resignation, too, but ultimately I knew he was only doing what he deemed to be correct, and most likely was correct according to the bureaucratic guidelines that my guards were required to comply with.

“I’m sorry, Indy. I can still ask them to reverse their decision.”

“Nah. It’s for the best, I think,” she said through a sigh. “Not like any more guards are needed here anyways. I’m just surprised it took them so long to make their decision.”

“Well, I’m sad to see you and Deepsy go,” I muttered, diverting my glance from the flames to meet her eyes. “Life in Dusk Falls is going to be a lot more cold without you.”

“Thanks, Your Majesty. I...I actually might stay though. I wanna see how things here shake out. Deepsy though...”

“Whatever they did to him, I’m in no mood to let it go unpunished,” I said firmly. Physically he had recovered fine, but it would seem that whatever had happened to drive him to unconsciousness for nearly a week had also taken its toll on the rest of his mental state. The vocal, duty-obliged stallion had fallen into a state of near perpetual silence, and had resigned from the Royal Guard the moment I began bringing in other guards that could have replaced him. He did so amongst a flurry of apologies, and returned to his home in Vanhoover before the summer had come to a close. I'd been sad to see him go, but I knew it was for the best.

I was more relieved to hear that Indigo had decided to stay then I let on, for with her gone I truly would have been alone.

Perhaps she sensed what I too was sensing. Some great change was coming to Dusk Falls, and it was closer than I was comfortable with. I knew not what it was or what it would bring about, but whether by intuition or by subconscious knowledge, I was not oblivious to the sensation of something great swiftly coming together at a rate my own personal ignorance bade me be terrified of.

I had offered her tea and she had accepted, but mere moments after we had both settled down at my table we were interrupted by a knock at my door.

In a vivid contrast to how I had received Indigo, I suspiciously opened the door a crack to see who it was. When I saw the Mayor standing on the porch, I was tempted to simply close it again, but instead I opened it further only to walk onto the porch to speak with him. I did not like him nor trust him, and I would have felt much more comfortable if he had not been in my house, and so I decided I wouldn’t grant him the pleasure.

“How can I help you?” I asked, not bothering to hide the irritation in my voice. I knew exactly why he was there and I already knew what my response would be.

“Uh…” he stuttered, taken aback by my tone but soldiering on anyways, “I was just wondering...after winter is over, you will be sending your guards home, right?”

“That depends...” I said. “...on whether or not there is or is not a present danger that this town is facing. If so, then certainly not.”

“It’s just...the missing pony signs, and the guards, and the papers have been calling us the Murder Capital of Equestria and such...it’s dreadfully bad for—”

“Please don’t finish that sentence with ‘business.’” I said, narrowing my eyes, “Frankly, I’m in no mood to be listening to this right now.”

“...I...I apologize,” he awkwardly looked to his hooves, clearly regretting having approached me, “I’m just trying to take care of my town.”

“Well, I’m trying to take care of my country.” I countered. “Now then, will that be all?”

“I believe it is,” he nodded vigorously, and swiftly started back down the steps and across my snow covered front lawn. Ignoring the two guards outside my door trying their best to suppress their laughter, I turned and returned to the warmth of my fire, slamming the wide round door behind me.

It would seem Indigo had heard, too, because she was giggling as she sipped her tea by time I returned.

“Princess, you truly are the voice of all the thoughts none of us are allowed to express.”

While I was earnestly entertained by her joke, I did not show it as I took a long and sombre drink of my tea.

“My sister's suspicions wasn’t unfounded. He is most certainly hiding something from us.” I said. “I’m willing to bet he is directly linked with the rest of Dusk Falls’ underground cult.”

“Really? He might seem weird and arrogant, but a killer?” she looked outside at the dark of my porch where he had been. “Forgive my boldness, Princess, but that’s a little presumptuous.”

“Yes, I know, but I merely meant to say that he is at least aware of its presence and is doing nothing about it.”

“Ah. That seems more likely. But I still don’t understand why. What would be the motive?”

“I don’t know. Perhaps you’re right.”

“I can always do a bit of digging if you want. I know you’ve got this place crawling with investigators, but if you need a bit more help I’m willing to give it.”

“Thanks, Indigo,” I said. “But I don’t want you putting yourself in danger, especially when it’s at no benefit to yourself.”

“Well, if the Smooze really is meant to destroy Equestria, that would be pretty problematic to those of us who live here,” she argued with cruel humour. “I consider not being dead beneficial. But you’re right.”

“I’ll certainly have somepony look into it.”

And ultimately, I did not forget the assurance I made that evening. Nor did I regret it, in the grand scheme of things. While it would be several days before it was a thread which turned up anything of note, it would eventually become yet another link in the network of conspiracy slowly unveiling before my eyes.

iii

It was nearly half a year since my first nightmare vision of the grotesque alicorn (and almost nine months total that I’d been in Dusk Falls,) before I was greeted by the otherworldly beast once again.

Like so many instances before, I had no idea that I was dreaming. I found myself on my beach, once again lost in the shadows of a starless night. The air was that of autumn, even though the winter months were coming to a close, and the beach stretched on for miles, uninterrupted by palm trees or rising sand dunes. Confused, I cautiously began walking down the beach, taking note of the unnatural stillness of the water. There were no tides or waves, and looking into the sky I could not see Luna’s moon even if there were no clouds to obscure it.

And once again, the same feeling of uncertainty and bewilderment settled into my brain. I turned my gaze at the ground beneath my slippered hooves. Slowly, and with no shortage of terror, the true nature of the night’s stillness dawned on me in one flourish of unnatural reasoning.

The night was still and quiet because nothing existed to make a sound. Littering the beach were bones and skulls of too many animals to identify, all picked clean by some means that looked grotesquely biological but impossibly precise. It was almost difficult to be shocked by the sight of them, because they did not look frightening beyond the implication of what they actually were. Bones in themselves were not sickening like blood and carnage could be, but the sight of so many without a soul of movement around filled me with fear of the most primal nature.

It travelled down my spine and brought my determined trot to a steady pace and then a sudden stop, as logic caught up with my confused mind.

When I had looked back I saw no trees or sand dunes, but instead an extension of my beach which stretched until the end of the earth. I realized why this was, as Luna’s foreboding words echoed in my ears.

The Smooze didn’t just destroy something. It destroyed everything. I had proven the same thing to an insane stallion a month earlier. Life itself had been the target, and life itself had been destroyed. Now, I was left alone to wander a plain, dead wasteland for eternity, even though the bitter reality was that I would most likely have been the first to fall if this had not been a nightmare forced into my sleeping mind.

As I realized this, my fear dissipated. Why should I be frightened? Especially if this was the intention of those who opposed me? I formed a thin smile as my eyes slowly rose to greet the sound of sand parting under heavy hooves.

Standing tall with her expression entirely untarnished by the signs of maddening emptiness around us, was the same creature from my dreams I'd thought had passed.

And yet she was quite certainly different.

Her appearance was hardly fearsome. In my memory her coat had been dark blue, I now saw that its colour had darkened to a deeper purple. It was a shade similar to the Smooze, but somehow it did not seem nearly as harsh as the near black sludge substance. Her mane was still blue, but with thin stripes of orange and gold, and pinpricks of shimmering ethereal qualities she had been lacking before. Her wings were gone, and her flesh no longer looked like it did not belong on her, and yet some part of me still knew that the creature in front of me was still not showing its true form.

All around her danced a strange aura of red fog, which seemed centralized around her eyes but billowed from her horn as well. It was almost indistinguishable from the blood fog I’d seen over Harmony Bay, clearly showing me where her power had come from and how many ponies had suffered for it. The way it rolled from her eyes and horn and into the air like smoke reminded me of when Luna had wielded dark magic to demonstrate the blood fog months ago. Perpetually, Sombra had possessed it, for his typical unicorn powers had been greatly twisted and corrupted into power so much greater and more vile than what could ever have been natural for a unicorn.

"Top of the evening, Princess Celestia," she said, turning a clean, snow white unicorn skull over and over in her magic. "How have you been?”

It was a disarming question, but the standard answer I gave her seemed equally as unexpected.

“Quite alright. Is this all your doing?" I calmly asked, bringing myself to look up at the beach...my beach, littered with corpses of every species.

"Not yet. But soon enough it will be, Celly," her grin grew further as I snarled. "Been awhile since you’ve been called that, huh? You and your sis really had quite the battle on the boardwalk. Forgive my rudeness, but it was great fun to watch.”

I tensed a little. So it had been on the boardwalk that morning, and it had more than likely been watching me in the flesh for some time.

“If you ask me,” she continued, “You probably should’ve let her attack that stupid Mayor. He’s more than what he says he is, you know. Did you know that he actually believes he’ll be spared when the time comes? Like I said, stupid.”

“Do you expect me to take your word to be truth?” I snapped, even if I was internally conflicted on whether to believe her or not. She did not sound to be lying, and I could not see any reason for her to anyways. Nevertheless, I kept my tone one of anger and my mind in a state of skepticism. "What the hell are you, anyways?!"

"My my! Such vulgar language from a perfect, pristine princess!"

"Answer me!"

She did not vocally provide any response, instead she passed me the unicorn skull in her magic. I refused to grab it myself, and it instead fell down into the sand. There it lied for the shadow of a moment, before sinking deeper and deeper into the sand and disappearing.

The rest of the bones quickly followed suit, fading into the sand and out of sight.

My hooves grew cold, and when I looked down at them I was shocked to see that they were no longer partially buried by the yellow sand, but instead by snow as white as my coat. The whole beach was now snow instead of sand, and the ocean itself was starting to freeze over. The ice stretched out for a distance of about two hundred feet, all along the Crimson Coast, as if the world had begun to freeze under a night that would never end now that the ponies who could have risen the sun had seemingly fallen.

For the first time I looked behind me and saw that Pink Sunset was no more, but its frame was still standing as a decomposed remnant of a long passed time. But no, upon closer examination, it did not look as though time itself had damaged it at all, it looked as though it had been picked clean in the same...biological fashion as the pony skulls littering the beach.

"Much more peaceful like this, don't you agree?" she said, motioning to the wasteland around her. "So quiet, not a single pony to bother us."

"You...plan on murdering them all." I heard myself mutter as if in a different world. I shook my head clear of morbid thoughts and confronted the unicorn beast with an assertive glare.

“Listen to me, please. I don’t know exactly what you are nor what it is you wish, but I assure you that this...” I motioned around us with a hoof, “...isn’t it. My sister and I aren’t monsters, and if only you could tell us what it is you hope to accomplish, we might be able to help you.”

I took a step towards her, for the first time not trying to radiate as much authority as I could and instead trying to accomplish quite the opposite.

By that point, I was willing to try anything.

“Ponies don’t have to die,” I said. “Please just tell me—”

“I consider myself pretty tolerant, Princess Celestia, but you just pissed me off. You can’t seriously be expecting this show of…” she paused, as if contemplating what exactly it was I was showing.

“Mercy.” I finished for her. My temporary foray into kindness ended abruptly as I narrowed my eyes. “I was showing you mercy. You seem to not want it. That’s fine, but to me you are nothing more that a creature of dreams who thinks she is something more than she is. You aren’t fearsome, you’re a coward that hides behind cults and corpses, and when I awake nothing will have changed.”

“You sound so sure of that, don’t you?” she sarcastically observed. I’d done my best to keep my voice firm, but it seemed I had failed.

The landscape around her suddenly twisted again, and I was now standing in the throne room in Luna's castle back in the Everfree. Once again, I was alone. It was difficult to tell whether it was night or day, for the featureless sky burned a fiery red with no celestial bodies to cast the light before me. I knew the significance behind this; with Luna and I dead in this nightmare vision, our respective celestial bodies would never rise, leaving Equestria’s skies in this motionless state forever.

A foolish instinct to call out my sister’s name came and went, and I looked further at the walls instead of at the red sky outside. The castle was in shambles, and the walls were not much more than a distant memory. The bricks still resembled their form on occasion, but for the most part it was clear that Luna’s castle had not been spared from the Smooze’s reach.

Ahead I could see another clump of bones lying near where my throne would have been. Something in me knew exactly what they were even before I was remotely close to it. It was a pony, an alicorn, although it was no more than a mere skeleton with bones picked clean. By what, I knew exactly. I had already seen the occasional trace of the stuff dotting the walls and floors of the castle, flinging and flailing about, too small to have a purpose now that its one purpose was done.

Even if it was a mere skeleton, I knew exactly who I was looking at, because draped across the white bones and skull were my golden regalia. They should have been consumed by the Smooze like everything else, but it would seem they had been left there so that I would bear witness to the macabre prediction without any doubts in my mind.

“Cute.” I eventually said.

"Oh Princess, don't be so glum!"

“Am I supposed to be unnerved by these visions? Because I’ve been more frightened from some of my sisters pranks.”

“Really? The sight of global extinction doesn’t unnerve you?”

“No, because I won’t let it happen. Especially not because of a formless dark purple sludge or a creature who has done nothing but harass me in my dreams.”

“Do you think I...have done nothing?” she rose an eyebrow.

“Your cult, your followers, certainly not. But you yourself? You’re a pathetic being that needs the power of others to be sacrificed to you in order to exist.”

“How about a demonstration then?” her malicious grin had returned. Before I could answer the dreamscape twisted and changed once again. I recognized where we were in a moment as the same star-filled sky manifested itself around and underneath my hooves. Luna had called it an aerial map which showed dreaming minds.

“Let’s see...right there,” she lazily pointed out a sleeping pony represented as a twinkling star. “She looks nice and healthy.”

She disappeared, leaving me alone again. I continued staring at the star, but for a while nothing happened. And then, after several minutes of waiting, it flickered and died completely, nothing but inky blackness where it had been.

“Did you…”

“Wanna see another pony die, Princess?” her voice echoed around me but I still could not see her. “I can do it easily.”

“No. You’ve proved your point,” I said coldly. Truly, I was disgusted and furious, but I knew that it was this reaction that she was thirsty to see and it would not be the reaction I would provide her. “That accomplished nothing.”

“Yes, but it was quite a lot of fun. Keep in mind: they’re all tombstones to me anyways.”

“No,” I said again. “I’m not going to let that happen.”

“You keep saying that, but you haven’t shown me anything to let me believe you’re not another tombstone yourself.”

“You’re going to regret asking me to prove myself,” I said, and this time it was my turn to smile mirthlessly. Whether or not she’d had a response, I did not wait to find out before forcing myself into wakefulness.

iv

I was composing a letter to Luna mere seconds after my mind awoke to my bedroom. It was brief, containing only information she needed to hear. Personal remarks, as starved for them as I was, had no place in the letter I would be sending her.

Dear Luna,

You were right about everything and I’m sorry.

I saw the creature in my dreams once more. I watched her kill a pony with ease just as a demonstration. Its form was a pony again but I still believe it has the ability to change into whatever it pleases. Its magic aura is impossible to ascertain; sometimes it’s changeling, sometimes it’s unicorn, and sometimes it’s another type I have never seen before. It seemed to be able to manipulate dreams with magic I thought only your horn possessed.

Something is coming to a close here. I can feel it. If what she showed me is to be believed, Dusk Falls isn’t all that is in danger. We are facing what you feared; the threat of global extinction.

It seems as though our days are numbered. While having many guards has led to the gradual unveiling of the existence of a cult bent on their apocalyptic goals, it has also led to said cult working twice as hard to bring these goals about.

I ask that you remain in Equestria until further developments are made, because it is only a matter of time before the terror that Dusk Falls’ innocent civilians face will begin to seep into the greater public. Word of the multitude of guards and missing ponies here has already spread and I imagine more fear shall come. Somepony needs to be there to ease that fear, and that pony needs to be you.

This being said, I must also ask that you are perpetually ready to come to my aid swiftly here in Dusk Falls if I need you.

It is as you said yourself. I’ve remained idle for too long.

— Celestia


Once I had sent the letter, I trotted onto the porch and shook my wings which had seldom seen flight in recent months. The guards who had been stationed outside had shifted as if to follow after me, but I shook my head and addressed them briefly before I flew off.

“I don’t wish to return to panic and discord, so please pass on the word that I’m going to be off the grid for several days,” I told them. “Understood?”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Thank you. Take good care of my home for me, please.”

They saluted, and without any further ado I took off into the cold midnight air, the specifics of my destination still turning over in my mind. Even in the dark of midnight I could feel the promise of spring in the air; the bitter, freezing days in which the only sound was the drone of the distant wind were now no more, and in several weeks I imagined the snow would finally begin to melt. But whether or not Dusk Falls remained to see another summer was the thought I focused on. Never before had I been confronted with something whose intentions were not to usurp my throne and reign over some organized chaotic reality, but to instead destroy everything without apparent discrimination.

Would Discord have murdered an innocent pony just to prove a purposeless point? Somehow, I had my doubts of that. And Sombra had simply wanted to continue on enslaving ponies and carrying on his destructive, tyrannical regime. Any thoughts of global decimation seemed outside of the bounds of what he deemed necessary.

Even if for a short while everypony reveled in your name, or appreciated what you were worth, why would anypony be willing to fling their entire world into darkness and despair in order to do so? It was a madness I could not fully understand.

At some point during my flight into Dusk Falls I must have settled on my destination subconsciously, and my wings carried me there without my mind fully catching up with why. I was functioning as if in a trance, but it was a trance not of drowsiness but of mute fury and determination.

I flew over the ocean, but only for a short distance, for my horn had begun glowing with an amount of energy that I did not want to discharge in proximity to the town. Instead I flew out over the eerie dark waves for about a mile, before my magic erupted in a glowing white orb and carried me a long distance away from Dusk Falls. The ocean did not disappear as my destination flashed into view, but I could feel the temperature shift a few degrees as my magic took me several hundred miles south.

My glide was taking me oceanwards, so I clipped the angle of my wings and my flight twisted into a full circle. My lonely torchlit house and the rest of the frozen and dead Crimson Coast were no longer there. Now before me was the vast metropolis that was Manehattan. Even in those days it was a city to behold, certainly one with a population that put Dusk Falls to shame and came close to matching that of Canterville. As I flew in the direction of the harbour which separated city from ocean, I half-jokingly told myself I would have been more at peace had I instead moved into this city rather than Dusk Falls.

How terrifyingly fortunate that I did not. I don’t often believe in a concept of preset fate or destiny, but what an amazing coincidence it was that of all places in Equestria I moved to, I picked the one with a century old conspiracy. I shuddered to think of the possible implications which existed if that postcard had not gotten mixed up with the rest of Luna’s tourism flyers.

In the shipyards late at night I could see silhouetted figures still at work looking up at me in surprise as I soared overhead. I didn’t stop, though. I flew over the streets and between the tall, five-story buildings, trying my best to recall where exactly in Manehattan my destination lay. Eventually I found it.

The Manehattan Public Library was, at the time, the biggest library in Equestria besides the Royal Archives in the Everfree. And while I had no personal prejudice one way or another, it just so happened Manehattan was much closer to Dusk Falls and conjuring a long-distance teleportation spell all the way back to the Everfree would be unnecessarily trying.

Besides, I wasn’t in the mood to accidentally run into Luna quite yet, either. Our castle was vast, but equally as vast was my misfortune and bad luck.

In the midnight hours I knew the library would not have been open. It would take many more hours before I could raise the sun and bring about morning, but I did not want to wait that long. The fires of determination were burning strong within me and I didn’t want to let them die down just yet. I landed in front of the proud stone building and quickly trotted up the set of steps , with tall white columns between the roof of the elevated entranceway. The glass doors were locked and the building lay dark. I remedied both of these problems with a flare of magic. The locks on the doors clicked and I pushed them open effortlessly, next shifting my magic back to my own horn and letting light magic flow through it.

If anypony had seen their supposedly serene and royal princess silently breaking into the Manehattan Public Library like some foolish delinquent, I did not hear of it after that night. I’d been in the large building only once but I efficiently navigated my way through it nonetheless, finding the particular section with ease even by the small light of my horn.

While I understood they were stored in the considerably smaller Dusk Falls Public Library, the records I was looking for would have been forwarded to the nearest library to the small town after about thirty years. This was done to keep the small building from becoming too chaotic and crowded, for if every single record detailing the politics of Dusk Falls remained in that town’s library it wouldn’t have taken long for it to have become a clustered and hideous mess.

There were many filing cabinets for the varying small towns close to Manehattan containing whatever political paperwork they no longer kept. Records of development, building construction, and the records I’d come looking for: election data and other documents detailing the political actions of the mayors of these small towns. These cabinets were locked too, but I repeated my earlier magic and flipped through them for several minutes as I searched for the specific town in question.

The amount of recorded information about Dusk Falls was sparse and pathetic, but not unexpected. I'd come into the library not looking for this information, but rather hoping not to find it. It would seem I had succeeded there. It hadn't been forwarded to Manehattan properly, which meant it had probably been destroyed, which meant the information that they contained was information which somepony did not want to be seen. It was like the fifth chapter of the bestiary but on a much larger scale.

It was delightfully suspicious. There was a small manila envelope which contained the small entirety of recorded mayoral history which had somehow managed to find its way from the tendrils of controlled destruction at the hooves of a conspiracy of both supernatural and seemingly political nature. I took out the entire envelope and closed the cabinets, removing any trace that I'd been snooping through them in the first place.

I sorted through the envelope while I trotted my way towards the spiral staircase snaking its way to all four floors of the library. The dry reference articles that most typical library-goers tend to ignore were all located on the topmost floor, and I’d flown the distance up, but I trotted down the metal steps to get to my next destination. The third floor had a great multitude of history books, encyclopedias, and other more accessible information. I spent at least three hours scouring that floor, my eyes scanning every reference book for the two words I was thirsty to see; Dusk Falls. Even with my intense determination, it felt like it was a fruitless search with so many books.

Normally when the town was mentioned, I was disappointed, for the information was hardly interesting and certainly not relevant to what I was hoping to see. I was ready to give up completely when one book caught my attention.

It was entitled “A Brief Maritime History of Eastern Coastal Equestria.” I learned that Dusk Falls had once been a heavily used rest-port for ships traveling between Manehattan and the Crystal Empire, but as interesting as this was it was hardly what caused my ensuing excitement.

It was mentioned by name only, and with no other description. The Sisyphys. For a short while, I racked my brain for a reason why the ship’s name was familiar to me. Had it been a ship I’d owned at one point?

And then I recalled what Kleos had told me.

“The ship most often cited as the catalyst of despair was called the Sisyphys, I believe.”

I nearly cried out in frustration, but I managed to keep my reaction to a quiet mumble beneath my breath.

“Celestia, you damnable fool…” I chided myself. “Of course. How could you have forgotten?”

Subconsciously, I must have simply disregarded the information Kleos had presented to me during that conversation, because I’d seen it as a simple means of easing the fear of the residents of his town. An excuse, for lack of a better word. And while I still had no proof to believe it to be anything more, it seemed there indeed was some fact to the story he’d told me.

Sisyphys turned up a depressingly few amount of results. The occasional book made mention of it (once again by name alone) whilst listing maritime disasters, but any concept of it being a near-mythical legend was reserved to what Kleos had told me. I still had no cause to believe it wasn’t something he’d made up. Fortunately, that thought vanished when I found mention of the ship within a recount of exceedingly insane proportions.

I sarcastically wondered if the author of the bestiary Indigo had discovered was in relation to the one who wrote of the wreck of the Sisyphys, for he certainly shared in the disturbingly graphic and overtly dramatized recounts of factual events.

I leafed through the book quickly until I found information I could actually process into comprehensive logic.

According to the book I had broken into the Manehattan Public Library in order to find, the Sisyphys was a cargo ship which, like most during their prime, almost exclusively ran from the Crystal Empire to the towns dotting the Crimson Coast. The arctic conditions of the Frozen North had made this a considerably dangerous journey, and as such many ships had been lost to the shifting wrath of the ice.

But not the Sisyphys, it seemed, for she ground up not in the ice but on the shores of where Dusk Falls would eventually be erected. There was no indication as to why, but there was frequent mention of the cargo the ship had been carrying. Crystals of magical property, which was to be expected, but also something else entirely.

I suppose it’s worthy to note that this happened during a dark period of Equestria’s time. A period when a certain unicorn tyrant was ruling over the Crystal Empire, a ruler with a particular fondness of dark magic of an...experimental variety. I didn’t find this information in the book, but I doubt my memory needs to be questioned for its validity. I tend to compulsively lie only when asked about my age or while trying foreign nation’s cuisine.

Where it had originally come from, I did not know, but it seemed as though some form of dark magic artifact was being transported by the ship when it had run afoul. Sombra had carried an odd fondness of magic crystals and mirrors, and it was an odd variation of the two that had gone down with the Sisyphys.

It wasn’t named nor was any information provided about it, but the text claimed that some sort of strange, magical device created by Sombra (one of three it claimed, as was the law of myths and fairy-tales) had joined the ranks of the dead at the bottom of the sea. Its design was like a mirror, which I'd seen from Sombra twice before, but its function carried a much darker purpose than mere reflection.

It seemed too strange and metaphysical to have any concrete merit, but I’d been dealing with the metaphysical for too long to disregard this lead.

A form of magic mirror created by Sombra? I’d already seen two. One could cross dimensions. The other merely showed them, or rather showed dimensions in which a less desirable alternative to a pony’s current situation was presented. Bluntly put, one allowed transportation between worlds, another showed a pony’s personal hell.

Horrified, my mind wandered towards the implications of some sort of combination of the two, which seemed to be what this final mirror had been intended for.

Apparently I hadn’t been the only pony to think such a thing to be less than desirable. After I’d scoured the books one final time for information on Sombra’s creations, I found an ancient recount of a Crystal Pony who claimed that the third mirror had been destroyed in order to protect Equestria from the horrors that could have lay beyond. Some being could have used it to travel from their world into ours…

It seemed as though this had already happened.

At the apex of Sombra’s rule, he had no subjects. Instead he’d had slaves, slaves who did not dare defy him. I knew this because I’d seen it. And this knowledge led me to question whether the claims that the mirror had actually been destroyed had any merit to them. It certainly made for a nice, feel-good fairy tale, but it did not clash well with the logic of what actually would have happened.

Besides, Luna had demonstrated it with a simple spell and a poetry book. Dark magic takes a little more than physical trauma to fade from the world completely.

I flew down to the ground floor of the library and trotted back into the streets. The time to raise the sun was creeping upon me, but I came to the decision that I would need at least another hour of night for where I was going next.

v

In the dwindling few hours of the early morning, when the sun was still below the horizon even if the time for it to be risen had passed, a lone white unicorn mare traveled through the swirling snow.

Obviously, this mare was myself, as I was in the process of using my magic to keep my mane’s colourful and ethereal qualities hidden and my height reduced to that of an ordinary young mare.

I was traveling through an...unpopular district of Manehattan, searching for a shop which I’d heard Luna make mention of several times. One which operated only at rare, random hours of the morning, and one which did not provide a service any lawful entity could have endorsed.

It wasn’t illegal to sell magic artifacts, even ones of a darker nature. Or, more accurately, it was illegal but it wasn’t anything we could have enforced. Every city had its slum, and every slum had one of these back-alley curio shops. Typically, the pony I would have gone to for information would have been my sister, but even with my apology finally being presented I still had my doubts she’d be willing to speak with me.

And so instead I diverted my inquiries to a pony whose trifling knowledge on the subject still outweighed my own.

The shop was...oddly typical considering its strange nature. Whatever one would imagine a macabre shop of cursed magic items would look like, they would be quite surprised by how accurate their imagination truly was. Strange potions, various artifacts, skulls and horns of varying creatures, the place truly was void of any sort of creative uniqueness.

It certainly wasn’t the sort of place a young unicorn would be seen entering, but I strode up to the counter confidently regardless. A old stallion was behind it, looking surprised by my presence. He didn’t look nearly as inherently evil as the wares he was selling, and I reminded myself this was more or less an occupation and not anything personal. Just because my sister dealt with nightmares did not make her one herself. The old stallion narrowed his eyes as I approached, but said nothing beyond a simple ‘Good evening.’

“Good evening yourself,” I returned. In my magic I still had the manila envelope I’d taken from the library, but I’d ripped out several pages from the history books and stuffed them into the envelope as well. Now, I opened it up and withdrew the document in question and passed it to him across the counter.

“The mirror mentioned here. What do you know of it?”

He blinked and tilted his head slightly.

“This is your profession, no?” I asked, sensing his confusion.

“It is,” he admit. “But...I’m afraid I don’t have such a thing…”

“I didn’t suspect you to have it,” I said. “It was destroyed long ago. I simply want information about it.”

“Ah, well, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you, young mare.” he said, shaking his head sadly.

I rose an eyebrow. Before speaking, I dropped my magic and in a flash of light I was back to my alicorn self. I’d donned it to avoid stirring controversy that would have been caused by somepony seeing me wander into the criminal underground of Manehattan. Now that I was alone with a pony who could have helped me, that was no longer a concern.

“You don’t know?” I asked, as my disguise slipped away and I took my first step forwards as an alicorn. “Or you’re unwilling to tell me?”

“Princess Celestia! I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

I held up a hoof and smiled.

“No need for apologies. This mirror has simply piqued my curiosity. I wish to know more about it. If you don’t have the knowledge then I certainly understand.”

“I haven’t heard of such a mirror before,” he admit after briefly reading the paper I had given him. “At best, I might be able to help you with regards to its nature.”

“I’m new with dark magic,” I admit with a sheepish smile. “So that would very much be appreciated.”

“Well, firstly, it says it was destroyed by the Crystal Ponies. That wouldn’t have been an easy feat for King Sombra, let alone some lone brave pony,” he explained. “And secondly, it’s a mirror. Shatter a mirror, and it still works. It just works less.”

“I suspected so,” I nodded slowly. My next question was considerably more subjective and personal. “Does it seem possible to you? A gateway to some...otherworldly evil?”

“Well, to otherworldly evil exclusively? Unlikely. But for otherworldly evil to potentially exploit? Certainly.”

I nodded again and broke my fixed gaze, straightening up and taking a step backwards from the counter. All the information I could possibly have gotten from this strange shop I now had, and I was left with nothing else to do but head back to Dusk Falls and see what I could do with it. I was left with a few interesting ideas, but still nothing concrete.

“Thank you for your time,” I said, and left the store into the snowy back alley streets. Despite its brevity, I felt quite satisfied with my visit into the store and indeed into Manehattan itself, and when I returned to Dusk Falls I imagined more progress would quickly follow suit. In the turbulence of the night I'd forgotten about my letter to Luna, but I recalled it again as I trotted through the snow. I imagined she would be quite interested by what I'd said, and perhaps the one letter would be enough to finally break out childish silence. The static rage that had been fueling my actions was gone, but the determination fortunately remained.

I flew skywards before teleporting once again, but before I could cast the spell I remembered the sun which I’d delayed for a few hours. Luna’s moon still hadn’t been lowered, which led me to believe that if she had taken notice of my neglect, she had chosen to ignore it, no doubt enjoying having her night pushed forwards a few more hours. I rose it when I was high above the waking city, and then in a flash my brief visit into Manehattan ended as I teleported home.

It did not feel like I had traveled anywhere as I teleported. Instead it looked like the entire world had shifted around me. Instantly the ground shifted from a sea of torches into a small cluster of them. I could see the lone light that was Pink Sunset, but I swirled down in a circular fashion towards the house of the Mayor of Dusk Falls. Now, with some information to back me up, I’d finally ask the questions whose answers I would be getting whether he was willing to tell them to me or not.

I noted with humour how Luna-like I’d become over the course of one night alone. I’d have to express another apology to her when I had the chance.

With this thought, I suddenly pulled up from my descent and twisted my flight back towards home. Kleos could wait until the next day. Luna had likely responded, and I was itching to read it. Besides, I had not actually looked at the files I’d stolen from the library, and it would probably be beneficial to do so before barging in with wicked accusations.

The same guards were still at my door, and I gave them a smile as I trotted into my home again.

Luna had written a response after all, but it was hardly the one I’d been hoping for. It was laying on my desk atop a small pile of ash, and I lit a torch and began to read;

Dear Sister,

I understand. Good luck, and keep me posted.

Luna.

It was every bit as brief and abrupt as every single other letter she had sent me as of late. I had apologized to her sincerely, admitted she was right, and practically begged her to forgive me. And yet her response was no more than two words, which merely said that she agreed with my assertion that I was wrong about everything. It was an unpleasant response to a letter that had been unpleasant for me to write in the first place.

In bitter frustration, I crumbled it up and tossed it into my fire as I trotted into my kitchen. My cupboards were predominantly empty and I had continuously forgotten to ask somepony to fill them. I found some canned soup and lazily poured it into a saucepan, more eager than ever to prove to Luna that my work in Dusk Falls was almost over and I would be back on my throne soon.

Whether that creature in my dreams liked it or not, my business with her was almost over, but she would find that out soon enough. As would Luna. I had assumed her assertions that I was deliberately pushing her and her advice away would reveal themselves as foolish to her with the dulling repetition of several month's time, but instead it seemed she was just as keen to distance herself from my affairs as she had been after the Summer Sun Celebration.

Whatever I’d expected would happen by moving to Dusk Falls, it hadn’t been at all beneficial to our relationship. Initially, our relationship had been the only purpose. Were it not for the presence of another, greater problem, I would have dismissed it as an option and flown home already, and it was only because I needed to be that I was still in Dusk Falls at all. I tried to rationalize that if I had simply been there on vacation like I'd intended, my relationship with Luna would not have worsened, but that was a petty excuse and I knew it. The fact that it existed at all and we still could not bear each other did not compliment our relationship, it spat on it and insulted it's worth with crippling honesty.

Soon, I'd be back in Equestria. I did not necessarily know what the next option would be after I was, but I was quite ready to stop wasting my time away from home.