• Published 27th Feb 2015
  • 489 Views, 39 Comments

Dark Sun - ScreamingDoom



Twilight must delve into Celestia's past to save the future of Equestria.

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1 Unexpected Visitors

One of the most difficult things to do while in the midst of a prank is to keep a straight face. After centuries of practice, however, Princess Celestia was extremely good at that. She watched with just the right mix of calm stoicism and mild befuddlement as the three ministers hurried up to the throne, each of them waving a shelf of paper work.

"Princess Celestia!" a yellow coated and red maned unicorn with a stylized wax seal for a cutie mark named Red Tape proclaimed loudly, "This is intolerable! Why were these triplicate forms detailing the need for triplicate forms sent back yesterday without being signed?!"

"To say nothing of these documents," an officious blue earth-pony with a white mane muscled in, waving another shelf of papers in her hoof, "How is the government to document the creation of documents if the document allowing documentation to be created isn't signed?"

"I say, Your Highness," Stuffed Shirt, a brown earth-pony with a grey mane that melded into bristly mutton chops, "It is positively inconceivable that this proposal for a new wing to the Proposal Ministry was sent back also unsigned. It is almost as if Her Highness discounted the importance of more space for the Proposal Ministry, what what!" Stuffed Shirt punctuated the sentence with a cascade of flummoxed huffing that always sounded to Celestia like a mix between a steam locomotive and a cat hawking up a hairball.

All three of the ministers looked to Celestia expectantly, their comically intense gazes nearly causing the alicorn's elegantly passive facade to crack. Nearly. Instead, she motioned to the three aggravated ponies to bring her the affronted paperwork.

With practiced, methodical calm, Celestia made a show of going over each shelf of paper in turn. Here was the important part, where the true part of the prank happened -- Celestia imparted some earth-pony magic into each of the sheets, sending the signal to the ink. Earth-pony magic was critical in this; if she used her horn, then its glow might alert the prankees to her con; perhaps not the specifics, but at least they would know something was up. Celestia affected a confused frown, looking to the three indignant ministers, "I think you are all mistaken. These papers are all properly signed."

"What?!"

"Impossible!"

"Inconceivable!"

"See for yourself," Celestia replied to the trio, unable to keep from cracking a smile as she floated each of the papers back to their respective attendants.

Each of the ministers tore into the paperwork, scrutinizing each page for the needed signatures. They were, of course, right where they were supposed to be. The three ponies glanced at each other in perplexed confusion before each shifted into contrite embarrassment.

"Forgive us, Princess," Red Tape said with a obsequious bow of his head, "It... it seems we were, um, mistaken."

"Yes," the blue pony -- Round File was her name -- added, "Do accept our most humble apologies for wasting both your and the court's time."

"I certainly don't know how this bloody could've happened," Stuffed Shirt finished, "I was sure the signatures were not there previously."

Celestia couldn't hold it any more. She let out a string of coquettish titters that soon expanded into full on laughter -- which further confused the three poor ministers -- then slowly faded to hissing snickers. Once recovered from her fit of laughter, the white alicorn flashed a beatific smile at the trio and winked. "Gotcha!" Her horn glowed with a soft, yellow, warm light and an inkwell floated from behind the throne -- she had stored it there specifically for this reveal.

The inkwell itself looked like any other standard inkwell; a stubby, short dark jar. On the label, however, was written: "Pratfall Pranks and Jokes - Disappearing-Reappearing Ink! Just add earth-pony magic!" A picture of a cherry red stallion with a wild bright yellow mane winking at the viewer was printed beside the label.

For a moment, the three ministers stared flatly, Round File's mouth slightly agape. The stunned silence lasted long enough to start to become uncomfortable and Celestia began to worry if she had gone too far with her gentle prank. Fortunately, however, Stuffed Shirt began to laugh -- a rough, raucous sound that filled the throne room. Soon after, Red Tape also began to chortle, followed soon by a series of airy titters from Round File.

"Oh, jolly good prank, Princess," Stuffed Shirt said, his muttonchops bristling as he smiled, "Jolly good, indeed."

"Yes, very funny!" Round File agreed, stamping her hooves on the ground in applause.

"You really had us going there, Princess," Red Tape said with a smirk before his face fell, "But, in all seriousness, Princess Celestia. We need those forms."

Her fun over, Celestia sighed and nodded, motioning to the papers, "As you saw, they're all already signed. And don't worry, the disappearing-reappearing ink only can be used once. They're now permanently signed."

The three ministers nodded with approval, bowed to the Princess, and then left to file their precious paperwork. Celestia watched as another supplicant came to her with a scroll and she sighed again. She had needed that little break in the tedium that was holding court, but it was over now and she had to get back to work.

***

Deepening, elongated shadows moved across the land as the last orange rays of the sun slipped over the horizon. Celestia sat at the large window in her suite overlooking Equestria from the tower in Canterlot, her horn glowing a soft, pale gold watching as she lowered the sun. Most of the time she didn't bother; she was so used to this chore by now that she mostly did it nearly on automatic. Today, however, she did indeed watch the sun sink and the corresponding rise of the moon.

Part of it had been her desire to escape from the throne room; she had played a little prank today with the never-ending paperwork that always demanded her attention and she knew that the rest of the court who had seen it would now be checking their own signed documents for any pranking done. She hadn't, but there were always false positives from some of the more paranoid bureaucrats and she didn't want to end the day by spending a half hour assuring ponies that, yes, she really did sign in proper ink today. It was an exasperating consequence of her pranks in court, but she still considered the jokes worth it.

Celestia could hardly suppress a grin when she remembered the look on those minister's faces when they realized that the signatures were there. It had been quite amusing and a welcome respite from the plain drudgery that was her normal day of ruling the kingdom. Using the one-use disappearing-reappearing ink had been a great idea. She didn't even need to resign the documents; they were immediately taken back to be stamped, copied, and filed by the bureaucratic machine that was the government.

The other reason she decided to retreat to her suite to watch the sunset she brought about was a bit more somber; it was the anniversary (as near as she could figure it) of when she first raised the sun all those centuries ago. It gave her that quiet sense of bittersweet nostalgia that she kept mostly hidden; only her sister and her Most Faithful Student had ever seen that part of her and hadn't yet passed beyond the veil. Any others were long gone.

Celestia turned her eyes away from Luna's lovely moon and night sky (even after all this time, Celestia thought it was wondrous; much more so than the flaming ball of plasma she controlled) and towards the far wall with its myriad of portraits and pictures. She let her gaze slip easily from one to the other like water along well-worn river stones.

Princess Celestia suddenly felt very tired.

With a yawn that she stifled with a hoof, the white alicorn moved over to her bed and settled down on it, quickly drifting off to sleep.

***

Having a mental link with all of one's subjects was normally a distinct advantage. One could issue orders and have immediate feedback as to how successfully those orders had been carried out. One could gain immediate information from a throng of spies spread throughout any target. One could adjust to circumstances far more quickly than one's enemies.

But for a certain Changeling Queen Chrysalis, that advantage had turned double-edged. While muted, she still felt the hunger of her throng. And with a brood as big as hers, all those muted hungers added together gave rise to a much more pressing need in her.

She was hungry. No, more than that, she was starving. So distracting was this ache that she initially missed the tingling sensation that was one of those little mental lights buzzing out. Then another. And another.

Chrysalis frowned, but never lifted her gaze from the round map of Equestria dominating what served as her throne room. Lit by a sickly green glow of magic, the sticky walls oozed with moisture that dripped to the floor, the entire room a cavernous example of the kind of biological engineering her species was capable of.

It had taken her months to call back her scattered brood and to build a new secret seat of power -- her old one had no doubt been destroyed by those hateful ponies -- but love reserves were running low and every Changeling excursion out into Equestria proper for more had the risk of discovery. Her position was precarious and she needed to be cautious. But that accursed hunger continued to gnaw at her belly, doggedly insisting she be more bold, however much such action would be folly.

Another light in her mind fizzled out and the Changeling Queen began to focus on this new problem. Occasionally, one of her subjects may be outed or caught, but never so many in such quick succession. Where was the problem area? Her eyes narrowed as they flickered across the map of Equestria, seeking it. Another tingle of fizzling allowed her to pinpoint the area... but wait, that was right outside the Hive!

Panic momentarily clouded Chrysalis' mind; had the ponies discovered her location and now sought to lay the final blow? But how? If any of her subjects had been caught, they would've rather died than talk. They couldn't even speak the pony language in their natural form. Had they been magically coerced to change into a form capable of speech, then further compelled to tell the location of her hive? There were only a scarce few ponies she knew of that could do the former and fewer still that could also do the latter.

Chrysalis forced the dread and despair from her mind. If this was to be her end, then she would make it such an end! She sent a mental rallying cry out to the Changeling guard, telling them to converge on the interlopers.

Interloper. Singular.

That couldn't be right... the subjects whose lights fell from her senses should've survived long enough to send a warning or a picture to their Queen. Even if they were taken out stealthily -- an idea which Chrysalis considered laughable; who could possibly sneak up on a Changeling? -- her species was hardy. Even after being victim to very powerful spells, her subjects should've survived for a second or two before expiring. Long enough to send a warning at the very least. Who could possibly wield such power that her only warning was that tingle as their lives were snuffed out?

As the figure stepped closer and the Changeling guard could see who it was, Chrysalis had her answer. She grimaced her muzzle and hissed as a wave of hate welled up inside her, the actions repeated by her subjects standing in front of the figure. Chrysalis readied her subjects for a suicidal charge while she prepared to escape. With luck, she would be long gone and far past tracking by the time her subjects had all been defeated.

Before she could issue the order, however, the figure spoke. The voice was... odd. Clearly recognizable as belonging to its proper owner, but lacking... something. Chrysalis mulled over the voice for a moment, trying to piece together what was so off about it. It then hit her: it lacked the sickening sense of warmth she was used to.

"Changeling Queen," the cold voice said, "I come not to destroy you, but to parlay. I have a... proposition to discuss with you. Shall we meet?"

Chrysalis was honestly at a loss. It seemed extremely unlikely that a deal of any stripe could be cut. It would also be dangerous to allow her into striking distance. On the other hand, even if Chrysalis escaped, she wasn't sure she would have the resources needed to rebuild yet again. The situation was dire and extinction beckoned either way.

Eventually, she ordered the line of guard Changelings to let the figure inside. Risky, yes, but the chance that this wasn't some kind of trick was worth taking. Also, Chrysalis had to admit, her curiosity was gnawing at her even more so than her hunger. By any token, this was a strange move for her opponent to take and Chrysalis needed to know why.

As the figure was led deep into the network of sticky tunnels of the hive (flanked, of course, by a cadre of Changeling guards -- Chrysalis was curious, not stupid), the Changeling Queen noted that the figure carried along with her a brown sack, held in the air behind her by magic. She could see the sack move as it was effortlessly floated along -- clearly something alive was inside.

The large double chitinous doors to the throne room swung open, the parting of the two letting out a squelching noise as lines of mucus linking the doors pulled taut and snapped wetly against the ground, bidding entry to the figure. Still flanked by the guard, the figure stopped a respectable distance away and surveyed her surroundings before settling her gaze on Chrysalis. It was imperious and impassive and infuriated the Changeling Queen as she glared back.

"What do you want?" Chrysalis asked flatly. She wasn't about to waste pleasantries on this 'guest'.

"As I said," the figure replied, "I wish to parlay." When Chrysalis just continued to glare silently, the figure continued. "You are starving, Queen Chrysalis. Your brood is in danger of extinction. I wish to help you."

"Help me?" Chrysalis asked incredulously before bursting out in sardonic laughter, "Oh, you do have a sense of humor. Like you 'helped' my subjects just a moment ago?"

A small, smug little smirk appeared on the figure's face which set Chrysalis' blood boiling in anger. "But I was helping you. After all, with a few less mouths to feed, surely what little reserves you have will stretch just a little while longer, yes?" Before Chrysalis could launch into a enraged retort, the figure continued, "How would you like to have all the love of ponykind to feed you and your brood?"

Chrysalis blinked twice. "You can't be serious."

"I am serious," the figure said, "Deadly serious. Join me and neither you nor your subjects will ever go hungry again."

"Join you in what?" Chrysalis asked with suspicion.

"Isn't it obvious? Join me in taking over Equestria. I need an army and I need intelligence. You will provide both. Do this, and you may sup at all the love therein."

Again, Chrysalis was thrown for a loop and she desperately tried to process what had just transpired. "Why should I believe you?"

"Because you will starve to death without clutching this one last hope," the figure replied matter-of-factly, "Because you can always betray me later if you feel the deal is not to your liking or suspect I may not follow through on my end." A small, cold smile slowly spread across the figure's features and Chrysalis was uncomfortably reminded of a dagger being unsheathed, "And because I brought a gift, to prove my honesty and goodwill."

The sack floated towards the Changeling Queen, stopping halfway between her and the figure. It then turned in midair and unceremoniously dumped the contents out onto the chitinous floor. It was a pony, male, clad in what was clearly the night Royal Guard armor, minus the helmet. His legs were hogtied together and his muzzle held closed with rope. Wide, orange eyes darted around the room and he wiggled in his bonds as dawning fear began to show on his features.

"This one," the figure stated coolly, "Happened upon me as I made my way here. I believe he was meeting a young mare for a midnight tryst." The figure clucked her tongue and shook her head at the pony, "For shame, skirting your duties for a little romantic interlude? Whatever would my dear sister say to such a treasonous act?" The figure turned her attention to Chrysalis who stared at the bound pony with a salivating mouth. "I'm sure he would prove quite... plump... with love. Go ahead. Satiate yourself, if we have a deal."

The pony guard's eyes shifted wildly between Chrysalis and the figure, making muffled noises and continuing to struggle futily in his bonds. After a long pause, Chrysalis let out a short laugh that soon grew into a loud peal. She grinned viciously and turned her attention to the figure, "A most interesting proposal. I think, for now, we have a deal... Princess Celestia."

Princess Celestia smiled thinly, the expression lacking any of the normal beatific warmth as Queen Chrysalis advanced on the helpless, bound pony, her eyes and horn glowing a sickly green as she prepared to feed.

His screams echoed throughout the hive.

***

Princess Twilight Sparkle was aware of the banging in her head. Where was it coming from? Why won't it stop and just let her sleep?

The purple alicorn's eyes snapped open and she found herself staring at the ceiling in her new palace bedchamber. Was the banging a dream? No, she heard it again, louder this time. Insistent. Desperate, even.

With a groan of frustration, Twilight rolled out of bed, her horn glowing as she used her magic to smooth down her frizzy hair. Spike was blissfully undisturbed by the now loud banging, the little dragon snoring faintly in his box by Twilight's bed (despite there being plenty of other bedrooms in the new castle, he had insisted on sleeping in her room in that old box of his). Twilight couldn't help but smile as she walked past the sleeping dragon and moved out of the room.

The source of the banging was the front door. Twilight felt a twinge of annoyance rise up inside her. "Who in Equestria would be knocking this late at night?" she asked rhetorically as she used her magic to open the door. Whoever she might've mused would be there, Twilight had to agree that this was likely one of her last guesses.

"Princess Celestia?" Twilight asked hesitantly, "It's rather late... is something wrong?"

The larger alicorn stepped through the crystalline doors into the palace proper, her cloak flowing behind her. "Twilight," Celestia said, casting a furtive look around the room, "You're all right?"

"Yes," Twilight replied, her brows furrowing with concern, "Uh... why wouldn't I be?"

An expression of relief spread over Celestia's features for a moment before they set again. "I'm sorry, Twilight, but I don't have time to explain. I need you to do something for me."

"Anything, Princess Celestia," Twilight said immediately as she watched her mentor nuzzle open a saddlebag and pull out a book. Twilight's eyes widened, though her gaze flickered curiously towards Celestia and then to her horn; the lack of magic use was noted by the astute young mare, though why that would be she could not guess. The older alicorn set the book carefully down at Twilight's feet.

"You need to read this, Twilight," Celestia said even as Twilight's magic flowed over the tome and lifted it off the floor, "If I should fail, it will explain everything. Perhaps you can find a way."

"Find a way?" Twilight asked, turning her gaze from the ornate cover of the book (no title, though -- hmm, curious) back to her former teacher, "What is this, Princess Celestia?"

"It is... a journal," the other alicorn replied after a bit of hesitation.

Twilight tilted her head to one side, "A journal? Like the one you wrote with Luna?"

Celestia shook her head, "No, this is my personal journal. My sister knows not its contents." Celestia hesitated before her head dropped, a frown marring her features, "That isn't accurate. It is more like... my confession."

"Confession?" Twilight asked with sudden alarm, "Confession of what?"

"You'll have to read it, Twilight," Celestia stated evasively before her ears suddenly perked and she looked behind her. She stared through the still-open door of the castle as a rumble of thunder could be heard.

Odd, mused Twilight idly, the thought bubbling up from the worry and questions already in her mind, I don't remember there being any storms scheduled today. Certainly not this late at night.

"I have to go, Twilight," Celestia stated as she turned back to her former pupil, "Read the book. It has the answers you need. Also... ask my sister to investigate the possible disappearance of one of the night time Royal Guard. I don't know who it might be, but look for a stallion with orange eyes. Earth pony."

Twilight frowned in worry, but nodded her assent.

Celestia hesitated as she peered down at her former student. Suddenly, the larger alicorn moved towards the smaller and wrapped her in a surprisingly fierce, but still gentle, hug. "No matter what happens, Twilight, I want you to know... I'm very, very proud of you. If you believe nothing else from me, believe that."

Conflicting emotions of worry and unease dueled with the satisfaction and happiness in Twilight's mind and she found herself at a bit of a loss. She hugged her mentor back and replied softly, "I'll... I'll believe that. Thank you, Princess Celestia."

The older alicorn held Twilight for a moment more before releasing her and stepping back, her eyes shining with tears. "I must go. Good bye, Twilight." Rain had begun to pour down outside and lightening flashed before the crack of thunder, silhouetting Celestia starkly for a moment. She hesitated then looked over her shoulder at Twilight, "And tell my sister... I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry." With that, the Princess of the Sun slipped out into the dark and stormy night.

Worry clawed at Twilight's psyche as she watched her mentor disappear, closing the door as her focus switched to the book. "Well, I suppose I should read you," she said to the inanimate object before turning around and heading back upstairs.

One of the very nice things about the new castle was how well appointed the study was. Twilight settled down on a plush couch underneath a bright reading light and opened the book, her eyes scanning the page as more thunder rumbled outside.

"Dear diary, today was our birthday..."

Author's Note:

Rev 01 -- 04/25/2016

Just a note that I revised the prologue a little bit. This review of the prologue by Smaug the Golden pointed out how the prologue might be off-putting as it seems like Celestia is evil out of no where and there's no context for why anyone would care. In addition, it does seem like a bait-and-switch, considering the dual nature of Celestia in the fic; the audience is only introduced to the one Celestia and not the other.

To address these concerns, I added a bit at the beginning that should illustrate the status-quo of the world and introduce Normal!Celestia. I am a bit concerned over the word count, as it has made the prologue a bit more beefy than I would like, but I hope it's not too overbearing.

Rev 02 -- 04/28/2016

So I completely rewrote the beginning. I wasn't happy with it at all; it was too telly, too short, and spoke of things happening in the future which confused the narrative. The goal was to show how the world of Equestria (and Celestia in specific) was normal, then introduce the problem. It just wasn't working before, but now I think it's much better. In addition, I merged the second chapter with this one; I feel this flows better and it sets the word count to be more consistent with the rest of the fic. Of course, it ceased being a prologue at this point, and the title was no longer appropriate. So, I changed that, too.

The one downside to all these things is that I completely blew my word budget for the first chapter. I was hoping to keep it between 1500 and 2000 words. Oh well. I think the end result is better now. I just hope readers will find the opening intriguing enough to read the entire thing.