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

Dark Sun - ScreamingDoom



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

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3 Twisted Harmony

Chrysalis found herself uneasy. It wasn't just that she was walking through the depths of the Everfree Forest -- the reputation was fearsome, to be sure, but she was reasonably certain she could handle almost anything within its confines. It wasn't just that she was close to Canterlot and Ponyville, the seat of Equestrian power and the locale of the Elements of Harmony respectively -- she was reasonably certain her current guise and her companion could dissuade any problems on that front.

No, what bothered Chrysalis was the form she had been told to take while on this assignment; that of the Princess of the Night Luna.

When Chrysalis had usurped Princess Cadence, she had weeks to observe her quarry via her agents in the capital. Even with Princess Celestia, she had ample opportunity to watch. Luna however... had been different. Even when masquerading as Cadence, Chrysalis rarely saw the ancient alicorn. On the few occasions she did meet with the Princess of the Night, she had seemed standoffish and on her guard. Originally, Chrysalis had worried this was because Luna had seen through her disguise, but as the weeks passed and no reprisals suddenly decended on her, she had discounted this hypothesis. Even still, the nagging sensation of Luna watching her and knowing wouldn't go away.

All of that was irrelevant to her current feelings, however. No, what made her uneasy was that she had no idea how Luna truly acted. There was no baseline to run off of, no way to weave a convincing facismile. She was certain she could fool most ponies or casual aquaintences, but anyone who knew the Princess well might certianly be able to see through her. It led to the Queen of the Changelings feeling strangely vulnerable, a sensation she did not like at all.

"Are you certain I should not recall a few of my subjects to accompany us?" Chrysalis asked in Luna's voice to the alicorn beside her as they trudged through the thick and wild underbrush of the Everfree Forest, "It would be an easy thing for them to disguise themselves as a royal escort and be ready to aid should the need arise."

"Your brood is more useful in their current assignments," Celestia replied matter-of-factly, "They will be critical for the upcoming parts of my plan."

Chrysalis said no more; in her brief time in this alliance with Celestia, she had learned not to argue with the alicorn, a fact that irritated the Queen more than she let on. Still, it would be worth it if she could be relieved, even just a bit, from this damnable hunger constantly clawing at her insides.

The pair walked on through the Everfree forest in silence, the thick canopy blocking out most of the moon and starlight and their way lit by the bright yet somehow harsh white light glowing from Celestia's horn. The pale glow cast ghostly shadows over everything and more than a few of the denizens of the forest could be seen darting away from the light. After a while, they came on a small clearing in the dense forest, dominated by a gnarled old tree. The tree was festooned with vines and ropes from which hung corked bottles as well as a few tribal masks (Chrysalis sifted through her drone's memories and decided that the masks were of Zebra origin). Set in the front of the tree and seeming to be grown there were a pair of mishapen ovoid windows and a wooden door.

"This is our destination," Celestia said, "Do not speak unless directly spoken to and be ready to attack at a moments notice. Zacora is more cunning than she may seem at first."

This information did nothing to help Chrysalis' mood, but she kept silent.

Celestia walked up to the door and rapped a hoof against it. No answer came after a pregnant pause, so she rapped again.

This time noises could be heard inside and light began to stream through the windows. A few moments later and the door swung open slowly revealing a zebra with a slightly mussed mohawk and winking away sleep. She peered owlishly at the pair before her before canting her head to one side, "Quite late at night to be, wandering through the Forest of Everfree."

Celestia affected a kindly smile (Chrysalis was impressed by the change in demeanor; it was almost as good as a Changeling -- except for the eyes... the kindness never reached the eyes) and bowed her head to the zebra, "Greetings Zacora. We are terribly sorry to wake you, but a matter of immense importance has arisen. May we come inside?"

Chrysalis stiffened slightly as she noticed the zebra's eyes narrow slightly at Celestia, but relaxed again when Zacora pulled back and bade them enter -- likely, the narrowed eyes were trying to focus through a haze of sleep.

On entering the house, Chrysalis was mildly surprised at how spacious it was. She was further bemused by the sheer amount of odd bric-a-brac and pots and pans left lying around. If not for the tribal decor, it would not look out of place as a mad scientist's abode in a Derring Doo novel. In fact, the tribal decor might enhance that.

"Thank you very much, Zacora," Celestia said as she peered around the confines of the room, "I'll be brief: I fear there is a danger facing Equestria. I'm not sure as to its origin or nature, but I do believe I know the first target." Celestia focused her eyes on the zebra, "I understand that Twilight entrusted you with an ancient artifact of great power. The Alicorn Amulet?"

Zacora listened intently, head canted to one side and paused for a long time before replying. "The Alicorn Amulet is quite a powerful foe, as to if I have it... how would you know?"

Celestia smiled again, though Chrysalis noted with a small bout of schadenfrude that her mask betrayed a segment of irritation. "Twilight may not write to me regularly any longer, but the... incident... in question where the Amulet was revealed was made known to me." Her voice turned plaintive, "Please, Zacora, it's important that I take it from here and bring it back to Canterlot where it can be secured. I fear we may not have much time."

"If this enemy knew the Amulet was here, would it not be better if it just merely... disappeared?" Zacora asked, "Canterlot is a fortress, as safe as a locked book, but is also the first place one would look."

"Perhaps," Celestia consented, "But it is also the one place I can be sure to keep watch over it. I don't believe merely hiding it would work."

Zacora paused again, pursing her lips and staring intently first at Celestia then at Luna. Without another word, the zebra turned and moved towards one of the many shelves on the walls. She carefully pushed a few odds and ends away with a hoof then pulled out a small laquered box with a silver lock on the front. Zacora set the box down and stepped back, looking at the pair of supposed alicorns expectedly.

Silence reigned in the hollowed out tree for several beats before Celestia spoke. "It's in there?"

Zacora said nothing.

Chrysalis shuffled her hooves uncomfortably -- something she didn't quite understand was going on here and that made her discomfort even more manifest. Celestia slowly approached the box and circled the table it sat on, her eyes focusing on the item. After a complete circuit, the alicorn stopped and stared at the lock for a long moment before closing her eyes. Her horn began to glow with bright magic, filling the entire room with white, harsh light, so bright that Chrysalis had to shield her eyes. It only lasted for a few seconds before there was a loud clunk and click. Chrysalis opened her eyes and saw the lid of the box open, revealing...

Nothing. The box was empty.

Celestia turned around and faced Zacora, a beatific smile in her features. "I trust this has verified my person?"

Zacora paused again then smiled herself, bowing her head once, "To be sure, I had to be. The Alicorn Amulet is so very dangerous, you see." The zebra turned to a different corner of the tree and bent down to pull out a brown earthenware pot that she upended on the table. With a jingle and a thud, a carefully wrapped burlap cloth came tumbling out. Celestia's smile widened as her magic surrounded the bundle and pulled it up to examine, carefully unwrapping it. The red jewel and odd angular shape of the Alicorn Amulet greeted her and she nodded in satisfaction. "Thank you, Zecora," Celestia said to the zebra, bowing her head to her before immediately turning around and moving towards the door, "Now I must get this to safety as quickly as possible. Sleep well. Luna! We go."

Once back in the Everfree forest and safely out of earshot, Chrysalis finally spoke again. "You should've killed her after you got the amulet," she stated flatly, "Or at least allowed me to bring some of my Changelings to capture her. She's a loose end."

"Perhaps," Celestia allowed, though her eyes remained fixed on the bundle still held before her in the harsh white glow of her magic, "But a fight would've delayed us even more and I believe we are already being persued."

"Persued!" Chrysalis asked in alarm, "By whom?"

Celestia allowed her gaze to wander away from the bundle to her walking companion, a sardonic smile spreading on her features, "Oh, don't worry so. I have anticipated this."

"And what of the zebra?" Chrysalis asked ruefully, irritation at the smug visage of her companion rising again, "You're taking an awful risk she won't tell anyone about this."

"Oh, I'm sure she will," Celestia remarked matter-of-factly, "Quite soon, probably. You saw how suspicious she was. But even if she was suspicious, I doubt she will risk going through the Everfree at night. She will wait until first light before heading off."

Chrysalis grumbled to herself but said nothing more as they travelled through the forest. After a few moments more, however, the Changeling Queen spoke again, "Is not our business concluded in this wretched place? Why are we still here?"

"Our business is not yet concluded here," Celestia said brusquely, "There are a few more errands that must be done this night."

**

Through the clearing, Chrysalis saw the crumbling towers of the old Castle of the Two Sisters in the distance. At first, she had thought this was to be their destination, but Celestia had turned and lead them towards a deep canyon, away from the bridge across it and towards the crumbling edifice. Brambles and twisted foliage descended down the steep sides into a deep gloom below. Celestia's eyes scanned the crevasse, squinting slightly as she searched for something below.

"There," she said, pointing with one hoof, "We must go there."

Chrysalis peered into the darkness and could see nothing. Before she could say so, however, Celestia unfurled her wings and began to glide down into the murky shadows. After a moment's hesitation, Chrysalis followed.

Their hooves crunched on the strangely barren ground, surrounded on all sides by the steep slopes of the canyon and surprisingly thick foliage. The pair walked in silence for a while before Celestia suddenly stopped, holding out a hoof to prevent Chrysalis from continuing. "Here. This is it."

Again, Chrysalis saw nothing. Just more plants. "Here's what?"

"The Tree of Harmony," Celestia said, her lips curling in a thin, cold smile, staring straight at one of the trees here; a particularly healthy and thick specimen. It looked distinctly unremarkable to Chrysalis.

"A tree," Chrysalis said, deadpan, "We came all the way out here for a tree?"

A quiet chuckle raised from the Princess of the Sun as she shook her head, "It's no mere tree. It contains the Elements of Harmony."

Chrysalis blinked twice and took a step backwards, staring in alarm at the tree. "Impossible!" she said, "The Elements are in Canterlot."

"Your intelligence is outdated," Celestia replied dryly as she moved closer to the tree, the bundle containing the Alicorn Amulet slipping away and dropping unceremoniously on the floor as the amulet itself remained floating in place before her, before suddenly moving out of sight to the underbrush, "The Elements were placed her for... safe keeping, I suppose you could say."

"You mean Equestria is defenseless?!" Chrysalis exclaimed, internally annoyed that her spies had missed a critical weakness for so long.

"Not defenseless," Celestia replied with a shake of her head, "The Elements are merely tools. Means by which the inherent magic of their essences can be brought forth. There are other ways to do the same thing. Still, a tool unused is a waste." She glanced over at her changeling companion, a darkly amused smile spreading on her features, "Don't worry, you haven't wasted a great opportunity. If you had tried another invasion, you would've been crushed. There were some... special circumstances that even allowed you to get so far the last time."

Chrysalis was about to ask about these "special circumstances" when a quiet crunch behind them heralded the arrival of somepony new. Chrysalis whirled around and gasped, wide-eyed at what she saw; a second Celestia stood there, clad in a cloak and her wings unfurled out and horn glowing with radiant, warm yellow power. Momentarily stunned, Chrysalis looked between both alicorns.

"Ahh, there you are," Celestia -- the first Celestia -- replied to the interloper, the amused smile still playing on her features.

"Whatever it is you are planning, I won't allow it," the second Celestia stated, eyes warily moving between Chrysalis and her doppelganger. She snorted derisively, "Resorting to alliances with bugs? My you have fallen far."

Cold, trilling laughter -- a twisted parody of mirth -- echoed through the canyon. "Oh, Tia, you're not good at this at all, are you," the first Celestia replied with a shake of her head, "Not only is that not much of a taunt, trying to put a wedge between dear Chrysalis and myself by using a slur is just so obvious." She looked reproachfully at her other self, "Really, I thought I had taught you better than that."

The cloaked Celestia's eyes narrowed. "I am better."

"We shall see," replied the first Celestia, still smiling in cold amusement. Her eyes darted around the canyon for a moment before frowning faintly. "What, no Luna? Not your faithful student and her friends? Not even any guards? Tsk, tsk, Celestia. I didn't expect you to come alone."

"I don't need anyone else to put you back into your place," Celestia's eyes darted towards Chrysalis, "Or her."

"Unfortunate," the first Celestia said, still frowning, "Now I'll have to hunt them down individually once Equestria is won. Still. My timetable is not too adversely affected. A few weeks more before the final blow is landed hardly matter."

The second Celestia's horn flared and she reared up in a battle stance, "You won't get the chance for anything, demon!" A sudden blast of hot, yellow magic erupted from her horn, moving straight towards the pair. Chrysalis couldn't help it -- she flinched away from the beam. Even when she was energized by Shining Armor's love, she had not felt such power; had the Princess always been capable of such? If so, why did she allow herself to lose? Chrysalis felt a pang of regret that she'd never get the answer to those questions as she fully expected to be vaporized.

But that didn't happen.

Tentatively, Chrysalis opened her eyes and was greeted by an amazing sight. The yellow-hot beam of magical energy cast cloying shadows on the ground, yet it did not hit her. No, the entire thing seemed to be... drawn, sort of compressed to a point in front of the floating Alicorn Amulet that her Celestia held out in front of her like a shield. Cold, quiet confidence emanated from the white alicorn in the face of the overwhelming power in front of them, like she was merely presiding over some official function rather than facing down the energy of the sun itself. The glare meant that Chrysalis could not see beyond her immediate surroundings, but she heard a voice struggle to speak beyond the light: "What... are.... you doing?"

"Taking what is rightfully mine," Celestia replied, her voice a sibilant whisper. A few moments more passed before the cascade of magical energy suddenly stopped, leaving the darkness of the canyon even more repressive for the previous light. Chrysalis blinked several times to clear the spots in her eyes then squinted as she peered into the dark.

There lie the cloaked Celestia, collapsed on her side. Still conscious, but only able to weakly flail her limbs, gasping for breath.

Beside her, Chrysalis saw her Celestia staring at the Alicorn Amulet with barely restrained glee. The central crystal glowed red with power, pulsing like a heartbeat and sending a sickly crimson light around the area. "At last," Celestia whispered, her face a mask of sadistic triumph. The alicorn stared at the jewel for several moments before closing her eyes, her horn igniting with pure, cold white light that soon was drawn off and swirled around the amulet like a snake before being drawn into the center. The pulsing frequency increased, becoming more rapid until finally it shone with a steady, blood red light. With an affectation of ceremony, Celestia levitated the amulet over her head and let it hang around her neck before opening her eyes and letting out a sigh of contentment.

"The... Alicorn Amulet...?" the prone Celestia gasped, peering up at her double.

The first Celestia ignored her, instead turning towards the large tree that housed the Elements of Harmony. Again, she closed her eyes and began to murmur in an arcane, eldrich tongue as her horn glowed once more, an answering brightness registering in the gem of the amulet. The Tree of Harmony shook, its branches turning and twisting, becoming gnarled and withered. Six hollows (which Chrysalis was surprised not to have noticed until this point) began to glow in a rainbow of colors that quickly shifted to more sedated hues. Finally, six geometrical gems floated out from the tree, it's grey, withered bark cracking as they were removed from the hollows in which they sat.

A rumble of thunder registered in the sky.

"What... have you done?" the second Celestia gasped, horror in the face and voice.

"Begun the first step," Celestia replied, still not looking back at her counterpart, "To bringing true order to Equestria. My order." She smiled thinly, the six gems floating in front of her for a moment more before five slid into her saddle bags and the final one -- a sickly yellow amber color and circular in shape -- floated in front of Chrysalis. "I bestow upon you, Queen Chrysalis of the Changeling Swarms," Celestia intoned, "The title of Bearer for the Element of Intrigue. The first in the Elements of Tyranny."

Chrysalis had to stop herself from laughing at the names; something told her that to do so would be a very bad idea. To her surprise, the gem before her began to change shape, becoming a stylized changeling drone. It floated towards her, then pressed against her throat. Chrysalis felt searing pain for a moment, letting out a cry, but the feeling soon passed. What remained was astounding.

She had always had mental contact with her drones, but this was at a level that was beyond the pale. She could drill down to the very life-force of each of her brood, sense everything they sensed, and knew instinctively that she could give orders of such precision and complexity as to rival the most intricate clockwork. And she could do this effortlessly; it took no more mental concentration to do that than to move a hoof. It was like the swarm wasn't merely a collective of drones, but true pieces of her body. It was an intoxicating feeling.

Chrysalis marvelled for a moment at the sensations running through her before she looked down. The gem had fused with her barrel, integrating with the chitin as if it had always been there. The Changeling Queen frowned briefly, but then decided she didn't care. This power was worth the price.

"Summon some of your drones," Celestia stated, turning towards her still gasping and prone other self, "Have them carry her back to the Hive and secure her. Make certain that she is undamaged. I'm not through with her yet. We need to withdraw for the moment to prepare the next phase."

With that, Celestia unfurled her wings and took off to the air, heading in the direction of the Hive. Chrysalis watched her go with narrowed eyes before turning her attention to the prone clone. Briefly, she considered killing the Princess, but decided against it and exercised her new powers to bring an honor guard to do as her Celestia wished.

For now.