• Published 25th Apr 2012
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Aurora - PonyholicsAnonymous

Celestia leaves on a trip, putting Luna and Twilight in charge. What could possibly go wrong?

  • ...

Chapter 3

The scene before Luna seemed almost unreal. The bright and shining Equestria her sister had created simply did not have a place in it for something like this. Even Discord's brief return had been nothing more than aberration, a fluke accident. This was something much more sinister, an attack from within rather than without.

“Wait downstairs,” she instructed the guards. “I need to investigate... this,” she said, waving her hoof in disgust. “You should go and wake your brother yourself,” she told Twilight, noticing that the little unicorn seemed pale and slightly nauseous. Twilight opened her mouth to protest, glanced at the dead pony, and quickly changed her mind. She nodded and hastily exited the room. Luna sighed. Disturbing as this was, it wasn't the worst thing she had ever seen. She couldn't imagine what it must be like for the other ponies. Shaking her head, she turned her attention to the room.

The first thing Luna examined were the weapons against the walls. A cursory glance told her that they were meant to be held by hooves, dispelling her small hope that something other than ponies had done this. She turned her attention to the pony himself. He was an earth pony with a hammer as his cutie mark, which would help to identify him. Luna guessed that he had been dead for a day or two, not long enough for the body to have started decomposing. There were no signs of restraint, which probably meant he had been held down by magic. The spear had been driven with incredible force, which meant that it had probably also been wielded with magic.

Frowning, Luna turned her attention to the marks on the floor. As far as she could tell, they were meaningless. Any unicorn filly knew that magic was something that came from within, not from runes or sigils. It was obvious that at least one powerful unicorn had been involved, so Luna couldn't understand what the purpose of the diagram had been. Still, something about it seemed odd, almost familiar. She looked closer.

Then, suddenly, she saw. But that's impossible, she thought. That doesn't even make sense! Only Celestia or I could have known how to draw that picture. We would have sensed it if anypony else had grasped the secret. Luna turned back to the shelves, yanking the books off of them. She held them around her, quickly skimming through. Several were theories on the nature of magic and the world, mostly wrong. One seemed to be a journal filled with crazed ramblings; she set it aside for more careful study later. The last was a small, loosely bound notebook. Opening it, Luna discovered a detailed replication of the picture on the floor, spread out over several pages. There were no notes or explanations of any kind.

Luna did a thorough search of the room, but she found nothing else. Sighing, she carefully lifted the dead pony to the side, removing the spear that had killed him. Then, she scoured the floor, erasing all traces of the drawing that had been there. She wasn't even sure what a mortal pony would be able to accomplish with it, but there was no point in taking chances. Taking the journal and the notebook with her, she made her way down the stairs to the guards waiting below.

The guards were huddled around in a loose circle, talking quietly. “Did you find anything, Princess?” asked the commander as she entered.

“More than I'd have liked,” said Luna. “I'll need to read this journal. With luck, it will let us track down the pony who did this.” She gave a deep sigh. “If you'd please, assign a couple of your men to recover the body. Tomorrow, we'll have to find his friends and family so he can have a decent funeral.”

“Yes, Princess,” said the commander sadly. It was a task nopony would envy.

“Commander,” said Luna, stopping him. “We will find the one responsible for this.” She looked every guard in the eye, then nodded briefly and exited the room.

Once outside, Luna wasted no time in flying back to the palace. After a moment of hesitation, she landed on the balcony outside her own room. It was quite similar to Celestia's, although decorated in darker colors, and the servants had kept it spotless even though she hadn't stayed there in months. With a quick burst of magic, Luna lit a fire in the hearth along with several candles. Tonight, she wanted the warm glow of real flames, rather than magical lamps. As an afterthought, she stuck her head out into the hallway, causing a passing servant to jump. “Please inform the commander of the guards and Twilight Sparkle that I am in my room, if they wish to find me,” she said.

With that done, she seated herself at her desk with the two books in front of her. First, she opened the journal. The writing was jumbled and haphazard, but it was clearly written in ink, which Luna was very thankful for.

The journal went on in the same manner for the next few pages. Luna had much more experience with madness than she would have liked, but the writing made even her shiver. She skipped ahead until she found what seemed to be a new entry.

The writing once again deteriorated into gibberish. Luna skipped ahead until she found a new section, when seemed to have been written in an even more agitated state.

The rest of the journal was blank. I guess he's not the literary, introspective type, thought Luna sardonically. So who did we find? Was it the writer, or “him”? Or just some poor, innocent pony? She sighed. Maybe they would find some answers once they'd discovered who the victim had been.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. “Come in,” she said absentmindedly. The door opened and Twilight entered. “Twilight. I'm glad you're here. There is something I believe you can help me with,” said Luna. She levitated the other book she had taken, sending it over to the unicorn. “Can you reproduce the figure in this book on a large piece of canvas? I know you're good with diagrams.”

“Oh. Y-Yes, I can do that for you, I think,” replied Twilight in a small voice.

Luna stopped and mentally kicked herself. Always the sensitive, caring friend, aren't you, Luna? No wonder everypony likes my sister better. “I'm sorry,” she said to Twilight, getting out of her chair and walking over to the smaller pony. “I'd gotten so wrapped up, I had forgotten how traumatic all this must be for you.” She kicked herself a second time for sounding so impersonal. “How are you feeling?” she finished lamely.

“I'm feeling better now. A bit,” replied Twilight. “I sat and talked with Cadence for a while after Shining Armor left. She always helps me feel better. It was... It was just horrible, wasn't it?”

“Yes. It was,” said Luna. “I've seen a lot of horrible things in my life. A side effect of immortality. It makes it easier, but sometimes I wish it didn't. You should never let yourself grow numb to that sort of thing.” There was a moment of silence. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked after a moment.

“No. No, I'll be alright,” said Twilight, shaking herself slightly. “Anyway, was there something you wanted me to do?”

“Yes,” said Luna. “This notebook contains the drawing that was on the floor beneath... Well, in the room. I erased the one we found, but I'd like you to copy the one in here, so I can study it in greater detail.”

“What is it?” asked Twilight, her curiosity starting to displace her lingering terror.

Luna frowned. “It is something they should not have been able to draw,” she said. “I would appreciate it if you would not share this with anypony else,” said Luna. “I don't see how it could be dangerous, but I'd prefer not to take any chances until I know exactly how they gained the knowledge to draw it.”

“Of course,” said Twilight.

Luna sat down next to the smaller pony with the notebook held in front of them. “This a depiction of the world as it really is,” she said. “Rather stylized in an unpleasant sort of way, but still entirely recognizable to someone who has seen it. That would be my sister and myself, or so I thought.”

“What do you mean, the world as it really is?” asked Twilight.

“Beneath the surface of the world, there are... mechanisms that keep the heavens turning,” began Luna. “I don't mean underground. They exist on a different plane of existence, if you will, from the world we see around us. Also, mechanism isn't quite the right word. They're not machine like in any way. It's almost closer to a living organism, although that's not quite right either.”

“But isn't it your job to keep the heavens turning?” asked Twilight.

“It is,” replied Luna, “But we do so with the mechanisms that already existed. We did not create them. We don't even fully understand them. I believe much more can be done with them than either myself or my sister is capable of. Still, the little we can do is more than any other pony has ever been able to, or any creature at all, for that matter.”

Twilight took several seconds to process this. She looked as though she were trying to decide which question to ask fist. After a moment, she decided on, “So, what does all this represent, then?”

“This circle in the middle is the world around us,” said Luna. “This symbol here that looks similar to my cutie mark is the moon, and the one opposite of it is the sun.”

“What's that symbol there mean?” asked Twilight. “It looks kind of like my cutie mark.”

“Actually, it would be more accurate to say that your cutie mark looks kind of like it,” said Luna. “That would be the Element of Magic. The other Elements of Harmony are here, too,” she said, point in a large circle around the drawing. “The Elements are part of the fundamental structure of the world. The necklaces you and your friends posses are just focal points. If they were ever destroyed, they would naturally reemerge in another form somewhere else.”

“These lines around the figure are what we call the deep currents,” she continued. “They allow my sister and I to travel great distances quickly. They also serve to transfer energy from one place in the world to another, although that's one of the things we've never entirely understood.”

“What about this place, here?” asked Twilight, pointing to a large patch that seemed almost like a defect, disrupting the rest of the figure.

“That is called the Breach,” said Luna. “It is the place where Discord first entered the world. My sister and I were never able to repair it. We sealed it off from the rest of the world and created Tartarus on top of it to discourage anything else from coming through.”

“Wait. If Discord didn't come from the world, then where did he come from? And what else is there aside from the world? And who created all this, anyway?”

Luna laughed at Twilight's exuberance. “There are a multitude of other worlds outside of this one,” she said. “Celestia and I visited some of them once, shortly after we gained our powers and defeated Discord. But between the worlds is a chaotic, shifting realm. That is where Discord comes from. As for your other question, a being we call Harmony created this world many eons ago by imposing order on the chaos between worlds. When Discord invaded, Harmony did not fight him, because the battle would have destroyed everything Harmony had created. Instead, Harmony infused all of it's power into the structure of the world, creating the Elements, in the hope that someone else would discover them and be able to defeat Discord without laying waste to everything. Discord was never able to use them, because they run counter to everything that he is.”

Twilight's mouth was hanging slightly open by the time Luna finished. “How come nopony's ever heard all this before?” she asked.

“When we first began ruling, Equestria was... not as kind a place as it is now. Celestia said that ponies needed someone to believe in. She said if they knew we didn't have any idea what we were doing half the time, it would shake their confidence. After that, it just never seemed appropriate to reveal it. Besides, they're comfortable with their own myths.”

Twilight seemed on the edge of responding, but then decided against it. Luna found herself feeling vaguely guilty anyway. Maybe she should talk with her sister about revealing the truth when she returned.

Luna snapped her attention back to what Twilight was saying. “What does all this have to do with the murder, though?” she asked, a trace of grimness coming back into her voice.

“I'm not sure, and that worries me,” said Luna. “This is just a drawing. As far as I know, there's nothing anypony could do with it. What worries me is how they could have drawn this, when no one but me or my sister can see the hidden mechanisms of the world. If anypony else had learned how to see them, I'd be able to sense them immediately. That's never happened, not once in two thousand years.”

“Why not?” asked Twilight.

“I'm not sure,” said Luna again. “I told you before that Celestia and I had tried to teach other ponies to see them, but we never could. I don't even know how to describe it. Seeing isn't even the right word. There's also an element of feeling to it. It's different from any other sense.”

“Well, how did you and Celestia do it?”

A shadow passed over Luna's face. “I don't like to talk about it,” she said. “Let me just say that it was under circumstances we would never inflict on another pony.”

Twilight didn't respond, and the mood in the room seemed to grow darker as both ponies remembered what had brought them there in the first place. After a minute of silence, Twilight said, “I'll start making that drawing for you.”

Luna nodded. “I'll have a large piece of canvas delivered,” she said. “I need to have some reports sent to me anyway.” She walked to the door and stuck her head out. Two guards had been posted there since she'd last looked. She gave her orders to one of them and retreated back inside. Sighing, she made her way over to one of the pillows by the fire and lay down. After a moment, Twilight lay down on the one opposite her.

Both ponies were silent for several minutes. Eventually, Twilight said, “Luna?”


“Would you stay here in Canterlot tomorrow? I'd feel better knowing you were nearby.”

Luna lowered her head, sighing. She opened her mouth to refuse, but instead found herself saying, “Alright. I will.”

“Thanks,” said Twilight. “I don't know how I'd be able to get to sleep otherwise. Of course, I probably won't be able to anyway, but it'll help.”

Luna's pondering on exactly why she had agreed to stay in Canterlot for Twilight were interrupted by a servant entering with the reports, and another two carrying a large piece of canvas between them. “Put it on the floor over there,” instructed Luna. “I'll take those.”

She settled herself once again at her desk with the reports in front of her. “Let me know if you need any help interpreting anything,” she told Twilight. The smaller pony yawned and nodded, then settled down in front of the canvas with the notebook.

Some of the reports she'd requested were just the usual business of the kingdom, but Luna set those aside for the moment. Instead, she opened the ones having to do with crimes, disappearances, and other odd occurrences. Most were clearly useless: petty theft, property damage, the occasional fight. Almost all the disappearances had a later note explaining what had happened to the pony in question. Sighing, Luna settled herself in for a long night.

It took her nearly an hour to find something that perked her interest. Around two years ago, a unicorn stallion named Midnight Dream had caused a major disturbance at an inn. He had been screaming and raving about visions, and had assaulted several patrons before being restrained. Luna skimmed through the report, looking for more incidents involving the pony. A few dozen pages on, she found another. It appeared he had been forming a cult of some sort, and had been trying to recruit young ponies. When the parents had found out, there had been an outrage. Midnight Dream had spent several days in the castle dungeon before being exiled from Canterlot. There had been another sighting, though, a couple of months after that. This time, he had been preaching apocalyptic prophesies in the town square of a nearby village, but he had managed to elude the guards. After that, there were no more records. Luna found a written description of the pony, along with a thorough sketch.

Excited, she turned to tell Twilight about her discoveries. The lavender unicorn, however, had fallen asleep on the cushion she was seated on, the partially completed diagram spread before her. Luna started to wake her, but then stopped herself. If Twilight had managed to fall asleep after the events of the night, Luna wasn't cruel enough to wake her and send her back to her room. Instead, she wove a spell around Twilight to help keep the worst of the dreams at bay. Then, she fetched a spare blanket from her closet and wrapped it around the sleeping pony. Luna looked down at Twilight for a few moments, smiling gently. Then, she left the room, bringing the report with her.

“Find the captain,” she told the guards outside. “Tell him I need to track down a pony named Midnight Dream. Here's the description. I believe we have a lead...”

* * *

Twilight slowly floated back to consciousness from a rather pleasant dream involving a certain dark blue alicorn. Yawning, she looked around, bemused. Where am I? She thought. Oh, right, I was working on the diagram for Luna- I FELL ASLEEP IN THE PRINCESS'S ROOM!? Jumping up from the pillow she had been sleeping on, she looked wildly around. The sun was visible out a window, and Twilight judged it to be sometime in the afternoon. I slept the whole day in Princess Luna's room!? What is she going to do to me when she finds out?

Twilight took a couple of deep breaths. Calm down, she told herself. Luna was here when you fell asleep, and she didn't wake you, so she must not have minded. In fact, now that Twilight thought about it, the fact that there had been a blanket over her meant that Luna couldn't have been angry. Where is she, anyway? Twilight gave the room a more thorough look, and this time noticed an alicorn sized lump in the bed.

Oh, she thought, walking over to the sleeping princess. Luna's mane still flowed around her perfectly in her sleep; Twilight wasn't sure she wanted to know what her own looked like. One of the benefits to being the immortal ruler of the night, I guess. In fact, looking down at the sleeping pony, Twilight couldn't help but notice how beautiful she was.

Now stop that, Twilight, she thought. Luna's the princess. Thinking about her that way just isn't appropriate. Twilight firmly forced herself to walk away, searching for a mirror and a brush. Besides, she probably doesn't even like mares. NO! Stop that!

Twilight abandoned her search, instead focusing her magic. With a flash of light, she was standing in her own tower. Spike was elsewhere, leaving the room unoccupied. Twilight quickly located her brush and got her hair into a semblance of order. Then she left the room, her mind falling back to the grim events of the night before. Since Luna was still asleep, she set off in search of her brother.

Shining Armor was fairly easy to track down after she'd asked a couple of guards. She found him talking to a pair of commanders in the offices of the main palace barracks. She stood by the doorway for a minute until he had finished, and then walked up to him.

“Oh, hey, Twi,” he said with little of his usual exuberance. Twilight noticed that he had dark shadows under his eyes. “How are you holding up?”

“I'm doing alright,” she said. “I managed to get some real sleep last night. Well, I guess most of it was actually this morning. You look like you could do with some yourself,” she told him.

“Yeah, Cadence said the same thing. I only managed to grab a few hours towards morning. I can't spare the time for more, though, with that psycho running around. Did the Princess tell you we have a lead?”

“No,” said Twilight, perking up. “I must have fallen asleep before then.”

“It's some pony named Midnight Dream,” he said. “He sounds like he could have written that journal the Princess found. If he's involved, he'll probably be hiding somewhere in the city, but we haven't had any luck finding him so far.”

“Listen,” said Twilight. “I'm the Princess's advisor. Why don't you let me organize the search, so you can get some rest?”

“You?” sputtered her brother. “No offense, Twi, but I couldn't possibly leave my duties like that. I know you mean well, but you just don't have the experience for this kind of thing.”

“On the contrary,” retorted Twilight. “Organizing things is what I'm best at. Why do you think I'm here in the first place? Give me a map of the city, and I can organize the most effective search patterns for the guards. Besides, you're not going to do much good if you're falling asleep on your feet, now are you?” she said, poking Shining Armor in the chest.

Her brother started to formulate a reply, but it was clear fatigue was slowing his mental wheels. “Do I need to go get Cadence?” asked Twilight mercilessly. “I can teleport and have her back here in a moment.”

Shining Armor seemed to deflate slightly. “Guess I need to admit that my little sister is all grown up,” he said. “I want to make sure you actually do know what you're doing first, though. Follow me.”

He led Twilight to an adjoining room, where a large map of the city had been laid out on the table. “Pay attention, because I'll only explain this once. I need to know you can handle this, so if you don't get it all the first time, I can't let you organize the search.” He waited to make sure Twilight understood, then continued. “These lines here represent the guard patrols. These shaded areas are the ones we've already searched, but we're not searching houses yet. We have checked at all the inns, so he's not staying there. Now, these symbols here represent...”

All in all, it took Twilight less than half an hour to work out the most efficient routes for the guards to walk. She also took into account that Midnight Dream might not have realized he'd been found out yet, and adjusted the routes to be less conspicuous. She also told her brother to make the guards around the building where they'd found the body less visible, which he admitted he probably would have thought of himself if he hadn't been so tired. After that, all there was left to do was chase him off to bed, although not before he'd extracted a promise from her to work on her combat magic if she was going to involve herself in this sort of thing.

Twilight was in a fairly good mood by the time she'd finished, all things considered. She paused outside of the barracks, considering what the next most important thing for her to do was. Before she could make up her mind, one of the day guards approached her.

“Lady Sparkle?” he said. “We've identified the body of the pony who was killed last night. A carpenter named Oakwood.”

Twilight's good mood vanished like a popped balloon. “Does he have a family?” she asked.

“Just a brother. He doesn't know yet,” said the guard, grimacing. “How would you like to handle it?”

Twilight had absolutely no idea how she wanted to handle it. Telling a pony his brother had been murdered hadn't exactly been on her list of things to study before coming to Canterlot. I need to do it myself, she thought. Nothing else would be appropriate. She opened her mouth to say so, but an image of the night before flashed through her mind, and the words stuck in her throat. She tried to picture herself doing it, and simply couldn't. The guard was still standing in front of Twilight, looking at her expectantly. Panicking, she said, “I'll let the Princess decide when she wakes.”

The guard nodded and gave a brief salute before walking away, leaving Twilight with nothing but a crushing load of guilt for company. Sure, Twilight. The first big responsibility that comes your way, and you dump it on Luna. What an outstanding advisor you are.

Twilight slunk off down the corridor, heading for her tower. Eventually, she'd have to visit Luna's room to retrieve the notebook and the canvas; at least she could fulfill that small responsibility. If she waited until the sun was down, Luna might already be gone, so she wouldn't have to confront her. But then Twilight remembered she'd promised to let Luna know about the dead pony's family herself, which meant she'd have to explain her failure in person. Her spirits sunk even lower as she imagined the look of disappointment on Luna's face.

When she reached her room, Twilight threw herself onto her bed in a manner that would have done Rarity proud. She lay there for the better part of an hour, watching the sun sink towards the horizon out the window, becoming more and more convinced that she had failed completely and utterly, and that she'd be lucky if Luna didn't dismiss her out of hand.

Twilight's brooding was interrupted by the sound of the door opening. She looked over to see Spike entering. “Twilight!” he said. “There you are. I've been looking all over for you. What's going on? I heard a rumor that somepony got killed!”

“It's true,” said Twilight distractedly. “I was there when they found the body.”

“That's horrible!” said Spike. “Do you know who did it?”

“The guards are looking for him now,” said Twilight. I probably screwed that up too, though, she thought to herself.

“Well, I'm sure you and Princess Luna will catch him in no time. Oh! Right, I'm supposed to tell you that the Princess is awake and she'd like to see you,” said Spike.

Here it comes. “Well, I'd better get going then,” she said out loud.

Despondently, Twilight started the walk down to Luna's room. She was dreading arriving too much to teleport, but in what seemed like no time at all, she was standing outside Luna's door. Sighing, she knocked to enter.

“Come in,” said Luna from the other side. She was sitting at her desk again, reading more reports. “Good evening, Twilight,” she said, looking up. “I hear that you took up your brother's duties, so he could rest. My sister clearly knew what she was doing when she selected you to be my advisor.”

Luna's praise made Twilight feel even worse. Taking a deep breath, she said, “There was something else. The guards found out who the dead pony was. His name was Oakwood, and he's got a brother who doesn't know yet. I... I was going to tell him myself, but I just couldn't. I'm sorry.” Twilight hung her head in shame.

“Sorry? What for?” said Luna. Twilight looked up to see Luna giving her a quizzical look. “Informing ponies of dead family members is certainly not a part of your duties as an advisor. I'll want to do that myself, of course.”

Twilight stared at the princess, uncomprehending. “But... But I'm your advisor! I'm supposed to take of things so you don't have to, and I failed!” Unable to help herself, Twilight collapsed into a miserable, weeping pile on the floor.

Instantly, Luna was at her side. “Don't worry,” she said softly, kneeling down beside Twilight. “You did fine. Everything's fine. You're an absolutely fantastic advisor.”

“What's wrong with me?” asked Twilight wretchedly.

“You're still in shock,” said Luna gently, stroking Twilight's mane. “It's a perfectly natural reaction to what you saw. You're suppressing the emotions, so they have to find another way out.”

Twilight huddled against Luna. A distant part of her mind told her she was behaving absolutely shamefully, but she didn't have the strength to listen to it. Now that Luna had named the source of her distress, she couldn't stop it from pouring out. “I could never have imagined something so horrible,” she said. “Even after Discord, I could never have imagined one pony doing that to another. What kind of pony would do something like that?”

“My sister has created a beautiful world, but even she can't make it perfect,” said Luna. “Be thankful these things are rare enough for you to see them for what they are.”

“How long will I be like this?” asked Twilight wiping her eyes. “I don't want to burst into tears at every trivial little thing!”

“Don't worry,” said Luna, “I don't think you'll have an episode quite like this again. The worst of it is probably over. It will take time for you heal completely, but I'm sure it will happen. You're a strong pony inside.”

Twilight nodded. She was starting to feel recovered enough to notice that Luna had wrapped a wing protectively around her, and that it felt rather good. With that realization, the nagging part of Twilight's mind informing her of how inappropriate she was being got considerably louder. Still, she could help but wait a few more moments before standing up. “I'm sorry about all that,” she said.

“Don't be,” said Luna. “Please, come and talk to me again if you need to.”

Twilight nodded. “Anyway, was there something you needed me to do?”

“I'd appreciate it if you could finish the diagram for me,” said Luna. “I'll need to go to night court soon, and I'd like to have a look at it when it's over, if you can finish it by then.”

“Won't you need me at court?” asked Twilight.

“I won't inflict that on you tonight,” said Luna. “This is more important. I'm cutting court to no longer than three hours anyway.”

“Alright. I'd better get started right away, then,” said Twilight, walking over to the canvas still lying on the floor. She settled herself on a pillow and propped the notebook open before her.

The task Luna had set for her was actually quite fascinating, and helped to calm Twilight's mind. Fortunately, she hadn't gotten a good look at the drawing in the room with the dead pony, so looking at it now didn't trigger any memories. The figure was intricate and beautiful, but something about it also seemed subtly wrong to Twilight, although she wasn't quite sure what. Maybe Luna would know what was bothering her when she finished. With that thought, she set to work.

Some time later, Luna stood up with a sigh. “Duty calls,” she said. “Hopefully it won't be too unpleasant tonight. I'll return in a few hours. Be sure to ask the guards if you need anything.”

Luna started towards the door. Before she'd taken more than a few steps towards it, though, there was an urgent knocking. “What is it?” said Luna as she walked the rest of the way and opened the door.

“Princess, you'd better come quick,” said the guard outside. “We've found Midnight Dream.”