• Published 29th Nov 2015
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To Serve In Hell - CoffeeMinion

Nightmare Moon has brought oppression and eternal darkness to Equestria, but Rarity and Rainbow Dash may yet risk prominent positions in her service to fight for a better world...

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Chapter 1: Dark Visitations

Rarity felt a renewed stab of craving as she strode the shadowed halls of Nightmare Moon's castle. The sounds of laughter echoed from behind, for the Mistress herself was taunting the new prey that had appeared.

Either an Alicorn or an untamed dragon would have been worthy specimens in their own right. But Rarity hoped that together, they might keep the Mistress entertained long enough to let her pay a visit that she’d been forced to postpone beyond what she could bear.

She took a turn that led her past the kitchens. It was only a few moments’ work to gather a small bag of oats, and to fill two vials full of oil and milk, respectively. She slipped them into discreet pockets that she'd sewn within her vest. None dared question her, though a few of the less savvy members of the kitchen staff made it clear that they had noticed.

Rarity made a mental note to deal with them later, and to prevail upon Redheart not to ask her to do this again—despite how greatly she longed to do it. But soon she was on her way.

Her stomach clenched with fear as she approached one of the castle's central intersections. Several bat-winged guards pranced nervously at each entrance to the high-ceilinged chamber, and a few began to tread in her direction. Not sure why they were so on-edge, and not wanting to linger to find out, she raised a hoof and removed the large, heavy, rune-carved keyring that normally stayed tucked within her vest. At the mere sight of it, the guards stepped back and dropped into a short bow, letting her pass. She turned left down one of the passageways, heading toward a section of the castle that she only entered on occasion.

Rarity lit her horn as she approached a heavy iron door flanked by another pair of bat-winged guards in full armor. They exchanged brief nods before Rarity selected one of the keys and slid it into the lock. There was an angry squeal of metal on metal as she turned the key. The door juddered and screeched as she fought to pull it open, and the guards winced at the sound.

The door had done the same thing the last time she'd been down there. Rarity frowned at the realization that nopony had heeded her orders to have the door oiled.

Behind the door was a spiral staircase, leading down. It was lit only by the occasional torch. Rarity began counting off each of the two hundred stone steps separating herself from the bottom.

The sense of urgency that clawed at her grew stronger with each step. By the time she reached the dirt floor of the subterranean passage at the bottom of the stairs, Rarity was panting, and not solely from exertion. She paused, set a hoof against the wall, and breathed.

Control yourself, she recited in her mind. You must be strong enough to face the darkness…

Her vision cleared after a time, revealing only gloom beyond the thin pool of light cast by the bottom-most torch. Rarity sighed, gripped the torch in her magic, and began the long walk down the umbral corridor.

It took effort not to focus on a sound of hooves against dirt to her left. It took greater effort to ignore a faint sound of clinking chains to her right. Gradually, more and more sounds lashed her with their tale of unmet needs: a cough, a gasp, a thin murmur in which the word “food” could be heard more than once. Yet still she plodded forward, heeding the insistent call of her own need.

Another heavy door awaited Rarity at the end of the long line of cells. She reached into her vest and brought out another key; this one was older and weightier, yet it was free from the heavy keyring. Rarity drew a long breath, steeling herself for what lay on the other side. Then shen thrust the key into the keyhole, and turned.

As always, this door opened with little more than a swish of air.

The room beyond was fetid and cramped. Rarity could hear faint drips of water and the sound of labored breathing. She raised the torch, casting a livid glow upon what seemed to be a mangy-coated, mane-less, living skeleton. It hung suspended from the ceiling by long chains that led to manacles around its forehooves. Its flesh was taut against its bones. The only sign of life it betrayed was the heavy rise and fall of breath within its torso.

Rarity stepped inside and slid the door closed. Still the creature hung in slumber.

“Zecora,” Rarity whispered.

Zecora’s head lolled slowly for a moment before her eyelids fluttered upward. She squinted, struggling to focus in the bright torchlight. Then her dry lips opened. “Hello… Seneschal Rarity,” she wheezed. “I'm glad… you've come… to visit me.”

Rarity's forehooves shook as she retrieved the vials and the bag of oats from her vest. “Redheart was sorry she couldn’t come sooner… as am I. It has been difficult to get away.”

Zecora made a sound that might have passed for chuckling. “Then you have not… found others… who can help? You must… leave comfort… and come down yourself?”

Rarity looked away from Zecora's sunken eyes. “I would not say this is a life of 'comfort.' I must remain useful, first and foremost.”

“I beg of you, forgive me, child. The pain and hunger… make me wild. But come, and lean your head in near; I’ll speak what you hunger to hear.”

Rarity took a steadying breath, then stepped close to Zecora. She shivered as dry lips brushed her ear.

“This world… is an anomaly,” the zebra breathed. “I know… it simply… shouldn't be.”

Rarity shuddered. “Tell me again… how can you be sure?”

“It’s something that… zebras can feel. But take heart, for my thoughts… are real. Foul Nightmare Moon should not control… our bodies, minds, or hearts, or souls.”

Rarity closed her eyes, feeling her pulse quicken as a sense of euphoric hope washed over her. “It still seems but a fantasy to think the world could be as it was again, before the Mistress came.”

She opened her eyes and found Zecora's face pressed uncomfortably close to her own. “It can be if you will take action, child… to fight to remake what she has defiled.”

Rarity stiffened. “I am just one pony. What can I do that whole armies, or the Wonderbolts, or even…” she paused, continuing in hushed tones: “the Princess could not?”

Zecora's limbs went slack again. “You must survive. I understand. You’ve made your place within this land. You share the things that pad your cell, but ask your heart…” She coughed, then took a heavy, ragged breath. “…if it should serve in heaven… or rule in hell?”

Rarity tightened her lips, then raised the bag of food and vials of liquid in her magic. She poured the oil into the oat bag, and proffered it to Zecora. “Hush now; I do not rule. Much as it might please the Mistress to allow me certain privileges, nothing that I have is my own.”

Zecora bent down and worked her muzzle into the oats. She spent long moments chewing. Rarity scratched at the ground as she waited, hoping that the Mistress would indeed stay busy dealing with the newcomers.

An Alicorn and a dragon, appearing out of nowhere. What could it mean?

At length, Zecora brought her face out of the bag. Rarity lowered it, then raised the vial of milk and held it steady as the zebra took slow sips.

When she was finished, Zecora almost seemed to relax. “Thank you for a bit more life, dear Rarity. I hope my words will give you clarity.”

Rarity hesitated. “And thank you for sharing your… vision of hope. Even if it is only a vision.”

“My vision can become reality. All that you need is great temerity.”

With a sigh, Rarity opened the door again. “Rest well, Zecora. I… will see you again, as soon as I am able.”

She stepped through the door, closed it, and locked it.

As she turned to set off toward the spiral staircase, Rarity stopped short. Far away, against the distant backdrop of dim light, she spotted a pony's silhouette.

“Well, well. Fancy meeting you here,” said the pony in a high but masculine voice.

Rarity swallowed. “H… hello,” she stammered, squinting, trying to make out who it was.

The figure shook its head, revealing the suggestion of a densely curled mane; but all their other details were obscured. “You’re playing a dangerous game here, sweetheart. Your mistress would be… most displeased.”

She raised the torch. “Who are you? In the Mistress’ name, I order you to—”

The pony laughed. It started slow and menacing, but soon grew high and manic before cutting off abruptly.

A chilling silence hung between them.

“Change is in the air,” the pony added, turning back toward the spiral staircase. “The Alicorn and dragon have not gone unnoticed.”

Rarity blinked. “What do you know about them?”

The pony—who Rarity felt increasingly sure was a stallion—shook his head and started up the stairs. “Better skedaddle; ol’ Moonbutt might get back before you know it. But think about what your friend there told you… and don’t forget to check your mail. You never know what fun things might turn up!”

She watched him ascend, and felt herself shiver in the underground air as she listened to his hooffalls on the stone stairs. But after a moment, they halted, as if he was awaiting her.

Or as if he'd simply disappeared.

Rarity’s shivering grew more pronounced as she waited. And yet, even amid the uncertainty that stabbed at her, she felt that its cause was more than simple fear, and certainly more than the dungeon’s perpetual chill.

She shivered, for she dared to feel that hope might once again be possible.

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