• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 22: Eclipse Ascendant

Chapter 22:

Eclipse Ascendant

“Have you been in combat, Captain?”

Luna wore an indigo robe that swished about her adolescent body as she paced back and forth in her apartment. Her traditional regalia had been swapped for a set of fine chainmail, and her wings had been outfitted with metallic, bladed braces. Perigee and Apogee glinted as they hung at her sides, and her eyes were cold and steady as she addressed Shining Armor, who stood watch at the top of the stairs.

“I have.” Shining was clad in a violet robe much the same as Luna's, except that a glowing six-pointed star was etched in the chest of his garb. A longsword of his own hung at his side, and a vivid blue heart-shaped gem orbited around his head like an ioun stone. “I've escorted Cadance to the northern boundaries of the Crystal Empire several times, where the glaciers are infested with shadowy phantoms that prey on the living. We've barely escaped with our lives each time.”

Luna knew all about Cetus, of course. It'd be hard for her not to, as Nightmare Moon had created the Echo and placed it in the Element of Magic in the first place. It'd been an experiment during the last days of the war, and she hadn't thought much of it at the time. Then again, both she and Nightmare Moon tended to adopt a laser-like focus when it came to their goals.

“A great evil festers beneath that ice,” Luna said with a sigh. “One that would've been vanquished long ago if I'd had my way. Alas, Celestia insisted we show mercy, and I can only wonder how many lives have been lost as a result. I've always tolerated Sister's zealous obsession with the sanctity of life, but now I fear it's doomed us all.”

Luna had abstained from confronting the Bearers for two reasons. The first was that both she and Celestia suspected the Echo would try to free Nightmare Moon, but they didn't know how. Offering Luna to her on a silver platter didn't seem like the wisest idea, even if she was much more acquainted with Cetus' ways. It was decided that she should stay in her quarters under heavy guard, with Shining Armor himself assigned to her detail.

Shining exhaled out his nose. His eyes flickered over to the stairwell before staring back straight ahead. He said nothing, but his posture was tense, and his tail swished from side to side.

Luna stopped her pacing and met his eyes. She'd enjoyed the captain's company over the last few days, his intelligent, yet goofy personality an amicable compliment to her analytical tendencies and blunt mannerisms. She'd asked that he treat her as a peer rather than a superior, and the result of their camaraderie was that she'd learned enough of his body language to recognize when something was bothering him.

“Distraction breeds hesitation, Captain,” Luna said. “If you've something on your mind, now's the time to speak.”

Shining bit his lip. “Permission to speak freely, your Majesty.”

“Permission granted.”

Shining's voice was tight and restrained. “Everypony has reasons for doing the things they do. Personally, my actions are dictated through reasoning and logic, and I've never been one to second guess my choices. A soldier's duty is to follow the orders of their commanding officer, and for ten years that's exactly what I've done. I've gone above and beyond the call of duty, exceeded every expectation put before me, and placed the needs of the many before my own. I know what it means to sacrifice for the greater good, and I'll do what's necessary to protect our country.”

Luna nodded gravely. She knew where he was going with this, but allowed him to finish.

“I'll follow your orders without question,” Shining continued, “and you needn't worry about hesitation on my part, but your decision to disregard the safety of Cetus' host is going to be devastating for Twily, and when she finds out that I was involved—”

Shining gulped. “It's not going to be pretty.”

The second reason Luna stayed hidden was because she wanted to kill whichever Bearer Cetus was in. She regretted it, but Cetus was a foe that required no less than their full strength. One life wasn't worth more than the safety of the entire country, and holding back would put them at a massive disadvantage. Celestia refused to concede the point though, giving her old 'murder never solves anything' speech as justification for her rationale. Luna had relented, much to her chagrin, and was now kicking herself for letting Celestia's soft-hearted ways make a further mess of things once again.

Luna hung her head. “I hear your pledge, and I don't doubt your capabilities, but I don't want to cause a rift between you and your sister. If you wish to remove yourself from this situation, I'll understand.”

Shining raised his chin. “I may be mortal, but I'm not without my talents. You said yourself you can't take her alone, and while I know I'm out of my league here, I might be able to give you an opening, at least.”

Luna suppressed a cringe. She wasn't anywhere near full strength, and she knew she didn't stand much of a chance against Cetus if Celestia had already fallen to her. She might be able to hold her own if she could somehow siphon away the rest of her magic back from Nightmare Moon, but such a thing was impossible.

“And what do I say to Twilight Sparkle in the off-chance that not only is one of her best friends slain, but the life of her brother is also lost?”

“Me? Die?” Shining gave a goofy grin. “Not a chance. Do you have any idea what Cadance would do to me if I got killed?”

A small smile escaped Luna as she eyed the small heart-shaped stone circling around the captain's head. “I think I'd rather not know.”

Shining was about to reply when there was a shout from the guards at the bottom of the stairwell.

“Halt! Who goes—”

The guard's voice was cut short by a roar of rushing wind, followed by a loud sizzling. The walls of the stairwell brightened with the colors of searing flame, and a great draft of heat rose up from below. There was a deathly silence, followed by the pattering of a mare's hoofsteps coming up the stairs.

Luna drew her blades. “Cast your spells now, Captain.”

Shining nodded and cantered over to Luna. He took a deep breath, and focused on the entrance to the stairwell. A shimmering haze formed around the edges, slowly spreading outward to cover the entire entranceway. All the colors of the rainbow flashed in a hypnotic pattern as the haze coalesced, thickening into a see-through wall. Shining exhaled as his spell was completed, but his horn continued to glow.

Cetus came into view a few seconds later, holding Nova before her in a dark aura. She stopped as she beheld the forcefield in front of her, sighing with exasperation as she glanced over at Shining.

“A Prismatic Wall? Really?”

“Touch it,” Shining said with a dark grin. “I dare you.”

Cetus ignored him. She took in the apartment's furnishings before rolling her eyes and addressing Luna.

“You didn't change ANYTHING? For heavens sake, have you any idea what changes there have been to the fashion industry in our absence?!”

Luna spoke in an even tone. “It's been a while, my Echo.”

“It has, hasn't it?” Cetus smiled, showing off her glittering fangs. “Do you like my latest additions? I figured the new body should have some similarities to the old one, and I must say Rarity looks positively fabulous in a darker motif.”

Luna focused her attention on Nova. “What've you done with Celestia?”

Cetus blasted the wall with a wave of Freezing magic, and the red colors on the wall washed away. “I'm afraid dearest Tia isn't coming to your rescue anytime soon, darling... unless she can figure out how to help you while her lifeforce is fused with the sun.”

Shining's gasp was like a hiss through his clenched teeth. Cetus reveled in his expression while assailing the wall with a magical gust of wind. The orange light flickered and died.

Luna's mind was spinning. Everything suddenly made perfect, terrifying sense—why Cetus had chosen Rarity, what she intended, even everything the Echo must've planned out to get to this point. It was inspiring in a way, but the sickening realization mostly wanted to make her vomit.

“So that's what you're planning.” Luna's mouth was flooded with the sour taste of bile. “I'd call you insane, but I don't like reiterating known facts.”

Cetus raised an eyebrow at Luna. “Figured it out already? I'm impressed... then again, we do have something of a commonality between us, don't we?”

“Figure what out?” Shining whispered to Luna.

“Is the mortal confused?” Cetus fired a green ray, which disintegrated the yellow portion of the wall. “How cute. May as well explain it while I'm taking apart your little obstruction here.”

“The Era of Eternal Night.” Luna spat out the words like a vile curse. “Nightmare Moon wanted to forcibly expose the world to the fruits of our efforts, thinking it would somehow make ponies love and appreciate us. She initially wanted to destroy the sun, but such a thing is far beyond our power, so she came up with a way to conceal it instead.”

Shining's jaw dropped. “By using... the moon?”

Luna closed her eyes. “As long as there's no outside interference, I can synchronize the orbits of the heavenly bodies to create an everlasting solar eclipse. However, the moon isn't quite big enough to fully cover up all of the sun's light, and bringing the moon closer to the planet will cause them to collide. Nightmare Moon theorized that making the moon bigger might work, and knew that the Elements of Harmony could, and still can, be used to accomplish such a goal.”

“What?!” Shining's voice rose. “How?! I thought the Elements can only be used to correct imbalance!”

“Correct,” Luna said.

“Then how—”

Cetus suddenly broke out into bitter, manic laughter. “Poor, simple foal!” Her horn glowed with an unseen spell, and the wall's green light faded away. “Nopony knows the weight of responsibility we carry, for nopony truly knows what happened on the accursed day we used the Elements of Harmony on Discord! For millennia we've slaved away in the responsibilities he forced upon us, all for the purpose of keeping this pathetic little rock going, and not once have we received so much as a sliver of appreciation or gratitude! NO MORE! We gave the races of the world a chance to see the beautiful majesty of the night on their own, but all they care about is Celestia's giant ball of gas! I hate it, revile it, despise it with every fiber of my being! I want it GONE, but all I can do is cover it up because it's too damned BIG!”

"You're going to turn the planet into a barren rock,” Luna said flatly. “Fancy yourself whatever you like—Princess, Queen, Empress, God... titles don't matter when all you rule over is dust.”

“At least dust doesn't snub you and call you a monster.” Cetus raised her hoof, and a bolt of energy shot into the wall. The blue light faded away. “You once considered yourself to be the shadow that lurked behind the sun. If that's true, what does that make me? The shadow of a shadow? I know my inception was an afterthought, and I've long since shed any notions of obligation to anypony but myself. I've my own goals and agendas now, and while I've enjoyed this little chat, I didn't come here to see you.

Luna scratched the side of her face, and Shining flicked his right ear in reply. “I know why you're here... rather, who you've come to retrieve. You honestly think you're going to get away with it?”

“You honestly think you can stop me?” Cetus retorted. The stairwell brightened with blinding light, and the indigo light vanished. Only the violet light of the wall remained. “I offer you one chance at redemption, Luna. Join me, and rule alongside me for eternity in my new empire. Celestia has fallen, the return of my undying army is imminent, the Elements can't be used while Rarity is under my sway, and anypony who opposes me will fall like wheat before the scythe. Equestria will be reborn in darkness, and we'll finally receive the love and respect we deserve. I offer you everything you've ever wanted... all you have to do is pledge yourself to me.”

Luna rolled her eyes. “Spare me. Even if I were interested, we both know you've no intention of sharing power. You'll stab me in the back and throw me out a window the first chance you get. ”

“Defenestration always was one of my favorite methods of execution,” Cetus said with a chuckle. “The best part is hearing their screams fade away.”

Luna raised Perigee and Apogee. “It's time to settle this.”

“I didn't actually think you'd be stupid enough to accept my offer, anyways.” Cetus' horn glowed with a silver light, and the violet wall receded at the edges. “I hate you almost as much as Celestia, and I'd rather slit my own throat than rule beside you for five minutes, let alone eternity. Even Nightmare Moon disgusts me, but at least she has her uses. You're nothing more than an obstacle on my path to godhood, and once I've gotten rid of you...”

The Prismatic Wall dissipated. Cetus stepped into Luna's apartment, her eyes alight with triumph.

“...the night will truly last forev—”

Cetus stopped as she noticed something wrong with the apartment. The buzz of magic in the air was audible, and Luna and Shining had made no move to engage her. Cetus squinted at the two, and saw that their outlines were fuzzy and blurred. Shining shifted, and his entire body flickered before coming back into focus.

Cetus' eyes went wide. “What—”

“NOW, CAPTAIN!” Luna's image yelled.

The illusion faded, and the stairwell vanished behind a wall of stone. Cetus now saw that the ceiling, floor, and walls of the apartment were covered in fiery red runes that pulsed with a dangerous light. Every square inch of the room was etched with engravings, and the hue of the magic turned Cetus' pristine white coat a deep sanguine.

Cetus blinked as the runes activated all at once.

“Oh.”

Luna's tower detonated with a thunderous boom, spewing out a massive fireball that shot out pieces of flaming debris like bullets in all directions. The concussive force took out the foundations, and the structure shuddered once before collapsing on itself. The surrounding castle windows were shattered as the the tower fell away from the castle into the Equius Valley below, and the shockwave was heard and felt across the entirety of Canterlot.

The real Luna and Shining observed the explosion a safe distance away from a narrow mountain shelf, wincing as the blast resonated in their eardrums and made their teeth rattle. Luna tightened her grip on Perigee and Apogee, the enchanted blades sucking in the light of the noonday sun.

“I admit I like your style, Captain,” Luna said. “Reckless, simplistic, yet efficient in design and execution. Perhaps a bit extreme in terms of property damage, but it's hard to argue with results. It's easy to see why you've risen so quickly in the ranks.”

Shining shrugged. “Towers and possessions can be replaced. Lives can't. Explosive Runes are easy enough to make, and Illusion spells are a dime a dozen. The Prismatic Wall wasn't strictly necessary, but I thought it best to delay her to get whatever information we could. Corpses are somewhat difficult to interrogate, after all.”

“And modest, to boot.” Luna took in Shining with approval, her eyes again drawn to the ioun stone circling around his head. “Yes... I think you'll do.”

Shining's attention was on the wreckage disappearing into a dust cloud below. “Think we got her?”

“Doubtful.” Luna readied her stance as she scanned the skies. “One doesn't plan for a millennium to fall for such a common trick.”

As if to confirm her statement, a black, coiling mass flew out from the wreckage. It zoomed up to hover above Canterlot Castle, and Luna and Shining felt a tendril of magic touch their minds that felt like a bee sting.

“That didn't take long.” Shining readied his blade.

Cetus shot towards them with alarming speed. As she came into view, they saw that she hadn't escaped the trap unscathed. Her coat was singed, her tail was gone, rivulets of blood oozed out of her ears, and one of her forehooves was sticking out at an odd angle. The black mass around her was the source of her flight, and it coiled and snapped around her like a mass of whips as it held her aloft.

Shining acted first. He concentrated on Cetus' innards as she got in range, intending on forming a forcefield inside her body. Cetus met his eyes with a sneer, and released a horrid, bone-chilling wail that ripped and tore away at his lifeforce. Shining staggered, but the sapphire stone around his head glowed, and the scream was drowned out by a clear, musical note.

Cetus narrowed her eyes as Shining shook off her death spell. She noticed the crystal heart, but didn't have time to do anything about it as Luna divebombed her from above and behind, swinging Perigee and Apogee from opposite sides. Cetus rolled to avoid being sliced into thirds, and brought Nova around in a riposte. Luna parried and raised a glowing hoof at Cetus' chest, but the Echo was too quick. A green ray went wide and struck the side of the mountain, causing a ten foot chunk of stone to disintegrate into fine powder.

“Playing for keeps, are we?!” Cetus jeered. “Are you sure you're not Nightmare Moon?”

“Shut up and die." The temperature dropped as Perigee and Apogee became coated in shadow. A low sustained hum resonated in the air as Luna turned the swords into deadly cyclones and shot them at Cetus.

Cetus snickered as she dodged the icy blades. “I suppose it wouldn't be so bad to fall before such legendary relics. Comprised of the very metal of the moon itself, forged in the heart of the planet and tempered with the blood of thousands... oh! Speaking of which, I saw the scars on Celestia's chest. Did you two have a falling out already?”

Luna let loose a scream of rage. Her horn glowed for another spell, but Cetus beat her to the punch, striking her with a silver ray. Luna froze as the spell took hold, and she felt weakened and sluggish, as if all of her energy had just been stolen away. She tried to raise her swords, but Cetus delivered her a cruel strike across her face that sent her crashing to the ground.

Cetus was about to swoop down after her, but before she could, she was struck in the side by a salvo of magical bolts that exploded in quick, sparking bursts. She whirled, and saw that Shining was standing with his back to the mountain and already firing another wave at her. Cetus dodged the incoming missiles, but they turned mid-flight and continued to chase after her. She ignored them and charged straight at Shining, her horn glowing as she closed. Shining stood motionless—he didn't dodge, didn’t flinch, didn’t even blink. He simply stood there, patiently waiting for her wrath.

It was a second too late that Cetus realized something was up. She got within ten feet of Shining, then encountered a brutal wave of force that took her own momentum and reversed it, repelling her away like she'd been shot out of a cannon. Cetus sailed out and away from the mountain shelf, being struck in the back by the homing missiles as she did. She managed to come to a stop and regain herself few hundred feet away, but the increased velocity had caused Shining's magical bolts to do great damage to Rarity's body.

Cetus reined in her temper as she hovered in midair. She hadn't counted on outside interference from somepony with this kind of tactical ability, and she'd taken a pounding as a result. She doubted Rarity was going to last much longer at this rate, especially with her opponents shooting to kill like this. She needed to end this now, or everything she'd worked for up to this point would be for nothing.

“Don't go dying on me, darling,” Cetus whispered to her comatose host. She concentrated, and at her command, a tiny black cloud appeared above the shelf. The cloud grew in seconds, stretching out to hover ominously over the mountainside, then all of Canterlot Castle. Peals of lightning burned themselves into Shining's eyes, and the crashing of thunder that followed caused him to cry out as he fell to his knees, jamming his hooves in his ears. Luna wasn't much better off, she tried to get to her hooves, but she was still weakened from Cetus' attack. Her voice was lost to the wind, which was rapidly picking up speed, and all she could do was put up a forcefield around herself, looking desperately around for Cetus to try and interrupt her spell.

Fat, heavy raindrops began to fall from the magical storm, first in a drizzle, then a shower, then a mighty deluge as massive sheets of water mercilessly pounded down on Shining and Luna. Shining managed to erect a shield of his own, but the thunder had dizzied him, and the rain was so heavy that he couldn't tell where Luna was.

“Princess!” Shining couldn't even hear his own voice over the din. Fumbling about or teleporting blindly wasn't advisable, as one wrong move would send him careening down the mountainside. Besides, he was barely managing to hold his own as the storm intensified around him. Round hail pellets the size of grapes pummeled their shields, chipping away at both Shining and Luna's magical fonts and depleting their stamina. The wind rose into a gale, and they felt themselves being tugged every which way as they fought to stay in one place.

Cetus coughed as she watched her creation batter her foes. She noted that she'd just spat up a good deal of blood, and realized the time was now or never. She reached into the storm, gathered the energies inside, and instantly, the rain, hail and winds ceased. An eerie silence filled the air, and Shining and Luna looked once at each other, then up at the clouds.

Cetus gleefully watched as the horror slowly dawned in their faces. She declared her judgment in a whisper that inserted itself in both Shining and Luna's ears.

“Vengeance comes from on high.”

There was no time to plan or mount a defense. Luna and Shining couldn't even scream as two jagged bolts of electricity surged down at half the speed of light to lance through their conductive bodies. Their wards were overloaded, their personal shields winked out, and Shining's ioun stone was destroyed as both of them were knocked unconscious and fell to the ground.

Cetus wasted no time. The storm dispersed, and she flew over to land beside Luna's unconscious form with a clatter upon the slippery stones. Celestia's body appeared with a 'pop' out of the pocket dimension she'd been storing it in, and she hovered it to rest beside Luna. The body's innate regenerative abilities had finally overcome Cetus' dark spell, and it didn't look any worse for the wear. Cetus gave both alicorns a look of utmost loathing before reaching deep into Rarity's psyche, locating the Element of Generosity and forcing it to activate using the reserves she'd stolen from the Element of Magic. Her eyes became fully filled with silver light, and the blood-red Soul Tether slithered out of her chest.

Cetus knew whatever the Elements had done to Nightmare Moon would be difficult to bypass, and while she figured she could break whatever it was with sheer force, her reserves would be vastly depleted and Rarity would be killed in the process. She suspected there might be a more economic method when she'd heard Luna was 'recovering', as that meant magic was somehow being transferred between the divided minds, and as a being of magic, Cetus could take advantage of it.

Cetus roughly wrapped the ghostly Soul Tether around Luna, and immediately encountered the barrier made by Rarity and the others on the Summer Sun Celebration. It was even stronger than she'd anticipated—the six elements were tightly woven together like a tapestry, and each individual strand of magic drew upon the strengths of the others to compensate for their weaknesses. It was flawless, a sublime piece of work, an elegant masterpiece that would last for eons if left undisturbed.

Realizing that trying to break the formidable barrier wasn't an option, Cetus continued her inspection, and found that her suspicions were confirmed. While the barrier had separated Nightmare Moon's consciousness and lifeforce, she still shared a magical font with Luna, and judging from the mismatched levels of magic that looked like locks on a canal, a transfer had indeed been occurring.

Grinning, Cetus unwound the Soul Tether around Luna's body, and instead, placed it on her horn. She felt their fonts become linked, and after taking a moment to match the new energy signature, immersed herself in Luna's magic. It didn't take her long to get to the barrier, as Luna's font wasn't so much wide as it was unbelievably deep. She was glad Rarity wasn't bathophobic, else she'd have gone into conniptions from looking into the seemingly endless abyss.

Cetus passed through the harmonic barrier and emerged on the other side to behold Nightmare Moon's psyche, which was an inert, swirling mist. She threw the Soul Tether like a lasso, where it spread out to encapsulate all of Nightmare Moon. With her prize in tow, Cetus yanked back with all her might, and a foul darkness seeped out of Luna's horn. It coiled around Rarity's body as Cetus loosened her hold and extended herself to Celestia.

Shining awoke with a tingling numbness in his extremities and a ringing in his ears. He tried to stand, but his limbs wouldn't obey him. He looked to his right, and his eyes bulged as he watched Cetus finish performing the transfer. Two separate clouds of black mist entered the bodies of Rarity and Celestia, the former of which was convulsing on the ground. The mist fully dissipated, and Rarity gagged once before going still.

All was silent, save for the steady dripping of the rainwater as it ran off the side of the shelf. The magical storm cloud above still concealed the sun, covering the mountain in unnatural shadow. There was a sound like tinkling glass, and Shining watched in awe as Rarity's body underwent a transformation. Her wounds closed of their own accord, her broken leg reset itself with a snap, her horn grew longer and sharper, and her coat regained its sheen. Her styled mane and tail grew back and developed a faint ethereal quality, and if one looked hard enough, they could make out faint glittering dots of light like stars in the night sky.

There was a low moan as the new occupant of Rarity's body slowly sat up and opened her reptilian eyes, which were now a lighter, icier shade of blue. She gasped as she saw Luna and Celestia beside her, then quickly looked down at herself. A slow smile crept up on her lips, which turned a chuckle, then a cruel, maniacal laugh that became magically amplified for all of Canterlot to hear.

Nightmare Moon had returned.

Shining tried to rise again, but his nerves were still scrambled. Realizing he wasn't in any shape to fight, he shoved aside his feelings of dread and failure and pretended to still be knocked out, watching events unfold through a crack in his left eye.

“Keep it down, idiot.”

Nightmare Moon jerked at the source of the voice. Cetus, now in Celestia's body, had come to and was scowling at her.

“You're back for all of ten seconds, and the first thing you do is broadcast your return to the entire military? Are you really that stupid, or is the Chaos magic messing with you that badly?”

Nightmare Moon cocked her head. “Thou art not Celestia.”

“So it's the Chaos magic then.” Cetus unsteadily got to her hooves, flaring out her wings to steady herself. “Heavens above, this body's got some long legs.”

Something seemed to click for Nightmare Moon. Her lips parted as she spoke in an unsure tone.

“Cetus?”

“Bingo,” Cetus said with a wink.

“Accursed Echo!” Nightmare Moon's eyes glittered with dark fury. “Thy harebrained scheme caused me to be defeated by a gaggle of mewling foals! Why didst thou not assist me when I was overwhelmed by the new Bearers?!”

“Because you didn't do what I told you,” Cetus replied. “I said not to smash the Elements until they were fully activated, and you did it at half. Even if I'd gone ahead and stolen all their magic at that point like we'd planned, it wouldn't have been enough to use on the moon.”

Nightmare Moon flattened her ears. “I thought they WERE fully activated. I did not think they could be activated to any greater extent, especially not by a group of complacent mortals!”

“You underestimated them, in other words.” Cetus brushed her mane out of her face. “Be happy I managed to think fast enough to compensate for your idiocy.”

“DO NOT MOCK ME!” Nightmare Moon struck Cetus in the chest with a bolt of lightning. “I am thy creator, thine elder, thy master, and thou shalt treat me with resp—”

Nightmare Moon's voice was cut off as she was surrounded by a dark aura. Cetus slowly pushed down on her with the force of an avalanche, forcing Nightmare Moon into a kneeling position. The rocks below her cracked under the force of the magic.

“Master, huh?” Cetus' eyes were pure gold as she loomed over Nightmare Moon, her entire body ablaze with sinister light. “If you're the master, how come you're bowing before me like a simpering peasant?”

Nightmare Moon's voice was shaking with rage. “How... dare... thee...”

“Let's get one thing straight.” Cetus spread her wings, and the storm cloud instantly dispersed to reveal the blinding sun above. “You were never master over me. The only reason I played the obedient little Echo at the Summer Sun Celebration was so you'd make your moves out in the open while I stayed in the shadows. I was more powerful than you then, I'm much more powerful than you now, and I only pulled you out of Luna because you're still useful to me.”

Nightmare Moon flared her nostrils. “I... serve... nopony...”

“I figured you'd be difficult about this.” Cetus' horn flared, and the temperature of the air rose several degrees. “Let me put this in a way you'll understand. Not only can I jettison you out into deep space any time I feel like it, I can also aim you wherever I please. Want to know what anoxia feels like? How about being burned alive by solar radiation? Maybe I can find a nice black hole for you to get sucked into! Does that sound like fun?”

“Empty threats,” Nightmare Moon spat. “I know... who this mortal is... thou wilt... not risk... her safety.”

“You thought I'd stick you in such a valuable vessel without any way to get you out?” Cetus produced a silver hook, holding it up for Nightmare Moon to see. “Celestia tried to use this nasty piece of work on me. It was originally attuned to pull out Echoes, but I've modified it to pull out lifeforce instead. I haven't tested it yet, but I'm confident it'll do the trick.”

Nightmare Moon clenched her jaw. “Damn thee...”

“Oh, don't be a drama queen.” Cetus chuckled at her private joke. “My goals are the same as yours, and if you want to get technical, you're not serving anypony but yourself. I can keep Rarity alive and under control through other ways if need be, but it's easier to have you do it. All you have to do is follow everything I say without hesitation or question, and we'll be ruling the world before you know it.”

Nightmare Moon said nothing for a time, her gaze flicking back and forth. She couldn't overpower Cetus as she was now, and it was clear how much of a disadvantage she was currently in. She could play the obedient lapdog for now, but she'd have to act before Cetus decided she'd outlived her usefulness, and the Echo would be watching for signs of betrayal. Still, it's hard to do much of anything if you're dead, so the immediate choice was obvious.

Nightmare Moon lowered her head, murmuring out her words of defeat. “I will do thy bidding... Master.

“Much better.” Cetus released her hold on Nightmare Moon. “Now, for starters, go through Rarity's consciousness and get caught up on modern grammar and current events. Once you've done that, I want you to travel to Ponyville and apprehend the Bearers of Honesty and Laughter. DO NOT HARM THEM. Anypony else is fair game, but the Bearers are too important to be treated roughly. If I see so much as a bruise on either of them, we'll find out how well immortality holds up against nuclear fusion.”

Nightmare Moon swallowed hard. “What of the other three?”

“Kindness and Loyalty are here in Canterlot. I'll handle them.” Cetus looked to the north. “The Bearer of Magic is off wandering somewhere in the wilds, and it'll take some time to locate her. Her powers maybe prove to be problematic, so I plan on saving her for last.”

“Shall I bring Honesty and Laughter back to Canterlot?”

“No, I'll come to you when I've taken care of things here.” Cetus snickered. “I've the more effective means of travel, after all."

“I must say, being wingless is a rather irritating inconvenience.“ Nightmare Moon glanced back at her unadorned shoulders with a curled lip. “T'will take time for me to reach Ponyville in this body, even with the Nightmist spell.”

“I'll teleport you once you're up to speed,” Cetus said, “and take a closer look at Rarity's body. Have you forgotten that she and the other Bearers have already used the Elements once before?”

Nightmare Moon blinked several times. She did an internal check, and discovered what Cetus was referring to. She lifted up a hoof and examined it thoughtfully.

“I did not expect the changes to happen so soon. The process took ten years for us, as I recall.”

“We didn't have the Elements residing directly in our bodies,” Cetus reminded her. “Rarity's second bloodline was awakened when she recovered the full use of her powers. I suspect she'll fully ascend upon using the Element of Generosity with her necklace.”

Nightmare Moon glowered. “Tis bad enough I must play foalsitter for a nascent fledgling, but I am also to be stuck in this state of transition until all the Bearers are recovered? What other humiliations wouldst thou have me suffer through?”

Cetus raised a hoof to her chin.

“I jest!” Nightmare Moon said quickly. “I meant not to giveth thee ideas!”

“Watch your mouth, then.” Cetus lowered her hoof and continued her explanation. “Each of the Bearers has two guards—Echoes of the accursed Order of the Zodiac. Their host is acting as a Gate that imprisons our army in Tartarus. Kill them if you must, but save them for me if you can... I’ve a very special way to dispose of them.”

“Understood.” Nightmare Moon closed her eyes and began to go through Rarity's memories.

“Oh, and one more thing.”

Nightmare Moon stopped and looked up at Cetus.

“The name 'Nightmare Moon' may be a title associated with fear and terror, but it's also tainted with failure, and that's something I won't tolerate.” Cetus straightened to her full, impressive height. “I hereby give you a new name—one that celebrates your rebirth, is a combination of you and your host, and is a harbinger of the glorious gift we're going to present to the world.”

Cetus grinned with devilish delight. “I name you Eclipse.”

Eclipse raised her chin as she repeated the new name a few times. “Appropriate, I suppose. Would that be all, then?”

Cetus nodded. “Be thorough in going through Rarity's mind. And while you're doing that—” she looked over at Shining, who'd had heard the entire exchange as he was still pretending to be knocked out. “—I'll tie off this little loose end.”

Shining felt himself being lifted up by the neck. He forced himself to remain limp, and heard the clattering of her hoofsteps as Cetus approached. Judging from her body heat, he guessed she was only inches away from him, though he didn't dare find out for sure.

“Such a waste.” Cetus licked her lips as she examined Shining's body. “I'm sure I could find some use for an able-bodied specimen as this. At the very least, I imagine he's quite vir—“

Shining stuck out his hoof, and shot Cetus in the face with a vivid cone of clashing colors. She screamed and released him from her grip, and before either she or Eclipse could react, he sprinted to Luna, grabbed her, and disappeared from the shelf in a violet flash.

Eclipse stared dumbly at where Luna had been. She glanced over at Cetus, who'd been blinded by Shining's potshot and was cursing like a sailor.

“Dost thou wish for me to give chase?” Eclipse asked hesitantly.

“NO!” Cetus vigorously rubbed at her eyes. “That impudent little gnat is MINE! I'm going to watch him writhe in agony as I boil his insides!”

“Shall I then proceed to Ponyville?”

“I'll send you there now, just use Rarity's memories to find your way around the town and locate the Bearers!” Cetus snapped. “Now get out of my sight!”

Eclipse vanished in a golden flash, and Cetus was left alone on the mountainside as her vision slowly returned. She cast another Tracking spell, but found no lingering tendrils of Shining's magic. He must've wiped out any traces of his spellwork with a Blanking spell, and with no clear idea of where he might've gone there was no easy way to locate him. The blasted stallion was cunning, that much she admitted, and she wouldn't be surprised if he was taking additional measures to conceal himself from her. There was also a high chance he'd left a few surprises behind, if the mishap in the tower was any indication of how he operated. That he'd escaped with Luna was an annoyance, to be sure, but it didn't derail her plans by any considerable means.

Cetus noted there were now several squadrons of pegasi flying around the castle now that her magical storm had cleared. After taking a moment to compose herself, she spread her new wings, and flew out to meet them. There was a yell upon seeing her, and an entire flock of guards came soaring in her direction.

Rebellion was an obvious eventuality, but Cetus saw no reason to reveal herself as long as nopony discovered what'd happened to Celestia. A plausible explanation was easy enough to come up with, and voluntary cooperation was considerably easier to manage and plan around. If Cetus could take advantage of the resources of the Equestrian government, she certainly would, and she could continue her plans to a certain degree while staying in character. While her mannerisms changed as she flitted between bodies, one quality that stayed the same was her eternal patience, and now that Celestia's immortal body was hers, she had all the time in the world.

“Princess Celestia!” A pegasi guard yelled out to her as he got in range. “Are you all right? What happened?”

Cetus cleared her throat, and spoke in Celestia's soothing voice.

“There was an intruder...”

Luna's head was pounding as she came to. It felt like there was a red-hot poker where her horn should be, and there was an unpleasant buzzing in her ears. She opened her eyes, expecting to still be on the mountain shelf, and was quite surprised to find herself instead on the forest floor. She lay on a bed of broken leaves and branches with bits and pieces of familiar objects surrounding her, all crushed and shattered. The air was thick with dust, and she sneezed as she looked up to see Canterlot Castle high, high above.

Luna's throat went dry. She looked down and saw Shining nursing a nosebleed as he sat a few feet away from her.

“Are we—”

“Yeah,” Shining said. “I figured it was the last place she'd look. Took almost everything I had to get us here, though.”

“I see that.” Luna took in Shining's condition. He was physically whole, but his ioun stone was gone, he was breathing heavily, and his movements were slow and pained as he stemmed his nosebleed with his robe. She herself was fine—her own pain was ebbing due to her regenerative abilities, and she'd barely cast any magic in the battle.

“I imagine you feel horrid,” Luna said, “but I need to know what happened.”

Shining lowered his robe from his face. “In a nutshell? Nothing good.” He told her how Cetus had pulled Nightmare Moon out through her horn, and the conversation that followed.

Luna's face was grim as Shining finished. She checked the harmonic barrier inside her psyche, and sure enough, Nightmare Moon was gone, along with her portion of their magic. The natural transfer meant Luna still had control over the moon, though if Rarity's magic was now combined with Nightmare Moon's, the difference in overall magical ability might be negligible.

“You said Cetus sent Nightm—Eclipse, to Ponyville to collect the two Bearers there?” Luna asked.

Shining nodded as he swayed back and forth. He was barely managing to stay on his hooves.

“And you're certain her orders were not to harm them in any way?”

“Mmhmm.”

Luna sucked on her teeth. “I need to get back up to the castle.”

Shining's eyes went wide, but his voice was weak. “Your Highness—”

Luna held up a hoof. “Your acts weren't fruitless, Captain. Quite the contrary, in fact. The information you've acquired presents a grand opportunity—one that I fully intend to take advantage of. I need to act quickly though, for if Cetus gets to Canterlot Tower before me, all will be lost.”

“Canterlot Tower?” Shining echoed. His eyelids fluttered as he fought to stay awake.

Luna put a hoof on Shining's chest, gently lowering him to the ground. She met his eyes with a comforting smile. “Captain Shining Armor, do you trust your Princess?”

“Yes,” Shining murmured as he closed his eyes.

“Then rest,” Luna whispered. “You're going to need it, for your sister's going to have a lot of questions for you.”

“That's it!” Rainbow yelled. “I'm sick of sitting around!”

Rainbow, Fluttershy and their guards were still in the hospital room. They'd finally been left alone by the doctors, and the nausea and dizziness from Celestia’s spell had finally worn off. Spike had regained consciousness and had come to their room, but Elo was still out from Esra's punch. They'd moved him to Rainbow's bed, and she'd taken to hovering back and forth in the far corner of the room. She'd never liked hospitals, and even with Fluttershy and the others’ insistence it was best for them to stay put for now, she couldn't take it anymore.

“What do you think you can do?” Esra asked. The question was equal parts challenge and curiosity. “You just gonna start flying around the castle looking for the Princess? You'll be attacked by the guards before you can explain yourself, and your distraction might provide an opportunity for the real enemies to escape.”

“What makes you think I'd go alone?” Rainbow landed and slowly advanced on him, her voice fierce with intensity. “You can't hide it from me, Esra—I know you want to get out there as much as me. You're probably right that if I go alone I'll be attacked, but not if all of you and the others are with me in your Royal Guard getups.”

Esra pursed his lips. She was right, of course. He was as desperate to get out there as her, especially after that explosion they'd heard. Problem was that leaving Rainbow alone was against his orders, and after whatever had happened to Grovi, separation was dangerous. If they all went together, though...

“What about Fluttershy and Spike?” Tastar asked, motioning to them with a jerk of his head. “Would they come with us, too?”

Fluttershy had been tending to Elo, and Spike was sitting on the other bed. They looked up and turned to each other, their faces marred with apprehension.

“I do want to find Rarity,” Fluttershy admitted. “The range of my Telepathy doesn't cover the whole castle, so maybe I can find her or the Princess if we move around.”

“I'm up for it,” Spike said. “Long as we take it easy, anyway.”

“Is your link to the Princess' font still acting weird?” Megnii asked.

“It's not 'acting weird', it's gone.” Spike picked up a blank scroll from the end table and went to the window, holding it out and bathing it in a jet of emerald fire. The paper crinkled at the edges, but was otherwise unaffected. “Being linked to the Princess was awesome. It made my font super-warm like a hot tub, and now my magic feels cold and empty. My head's still all fuzzy because of it.”

“Sudden Font-Link Severance Syndrome.” Tastar's voice picked up speed. “The magic of an Amethyst and their font-partner becomes intermingled over time, and the partner with the larger font becomes dominant in the relationship. Magic isn't the only thing that can be mixed, though—personality traits and mannerisms can also be shared, even to the point of physical change, but that's a gradual process that takes place over the course of decades. This process can be sped up if the two parties share a particularly strong bond, say, that of a parent and child, but the drawback is it also strengthens the symptoms of withdrawal if the link is ever cut. The Princess knew this, and while she did express a desire to develop a stronger relationship with Spike, I counselled such a deeply-forged bond over the course of centuries, possibly even millennia would lead to insanity upon severance. Which is nothing to say of the effects such a tie would have on both their bodies at that point. Her Majesty agreed it was best that she distance herself during Spike's Wyrmling years to prevent irreversible imprinting, and was planning on developing a peer-to-peer relationship with him in a century or so.”

Everypony in the room stared at Tastar, save for Esra, who'd put a hoof over his mouth to stifle his laughter.

“There goes the motor-mouth,” Rainbow said with a grin.

“Uh,” Spike said dumbly. “All that stuff you just said? I didn't understand any of it.”

“Didn't you get your fix when the doctors called you over to examine him earlier?” Esra asked.

Tastar snorted. “They're lucky something wasn't seriously wrong with him. Half of them couldn't decide whether he was endothermic or ectothermic, and the other half thought his alar cleidomastoids were vestigial. I was almost waiting for one of them to say his bones were hollow.”

Spike stared at him with blank eyes.

“You're warm-blooded, all your wing muscles are normal for your age, and that old myth has been disproved so many times it's a joke among Dragoons,” Tastar translated. “Dragon bones look hollow, but they're actually comprised of thick walls of sturdy connective tissue that are like small chambers of concentric circles staggered together like brickwork. Blood vessels run in between the layers, and—”

“Tastar,” Esra interrupted. “Remember the rule?”

Tastar clicked his teeth. “Ten words or less...” He turned back to Spike. “Your S.F.L.S. symptoms are mild. They'll go away.”

“Oh.” Spike brightened. “That's good at least.”

Esra rested a hoof on Tastar's shoulder. “Was that so hard?”

Tastar looked like he was about to explode. He made a guttural hissing noise that sounded like he was choking.

“No Draconic,” Esra scolded. “You got something to say, use Equestrian like the rest of us.”

While Rainbow was glad to hear that Spike was okay, she didn't want to get distracted from the topic at hoof. “We good, then?”

“What about Elo?” Fluttershy asked. “We can't just leave him here.”

Rainbow facehooved. She'd forgotten about him. “I guess we can't... how long do you think until he wakes up?”

“I didn't hit him that hard.” Esra looked over at Elo's unconscious form. “He should be up soon.”

“Good!” Rainbow stretched her limbs. “We'll go when he wakes up, and then—”

“Ahem.”

Everypony looked to see a new guard at the door. He glanced once at his fellow guards before turning to address Rainbow and Fluttershy.

“Princess Celestia has been found. You're to meet her at the Chariot Runways. There she'll travel with you to the town of Ponyville.”

“They found her?!” Spesci shot to his hooves. “Is she all right? Where was she?”

“The Princess is in perfect health, but the events of her disappearance are classified until further notice,” the guard replied.

“Why Ponyville?” Rainbow asked.

“Her Majesty didn't say,” the guard replied. “She merely sent me to collect you.”

Fluttershy spoke up. “Did... she say anything about Rarity?”

“I've already delivered the only message she gave me,” the guard said patiently. “Your belongings have already been gathered, so if you're ready, we'll be on our way.”

Rainbow bit her lip as she turned to the others. “What do we do about Elo?”

Tastar lowered his gaze. “I don't like leaving him, but if the Princess wants us to come now, we don't have much choice.”

Rainbow swished her tail. She didn't know Elo very well, but just leaving him behind didn't sit right with her. She needed to make a decision, but when she really thought about it, it wasn't a decision at all.

“I'll carry him.”

“You don't need—” Esra began.

“Can it.” Rainbow walked over to Elo's bed, using a wing for leverage to hoist him onto her back. Her knees sank under the unfamiliar weight, but it wasn't beyond her capabilities. “The Princess will understand when we tell her what happened to Grovi.”

“You're gonna get funny looks,” Tastar warned.

“I get funny looks all the time.” Rainbow gave him a cocky grin over her shoulder as she walked out the door. “It's one of the side-effects of being amazing.”