• 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 2: The Letter

The door let out another horrid squeal as Rarity emerged from the dungeons below. She paused, glancing at the pair of armored thestrals standing guard on either side.

The guards eyed her warily.

Despite her apprehension, Rarity felt a strong desire to be sure. “Did anypony follow me down into the dungeon?”

The guards looked at each other, then at Rarity. “No, Madam Seneschal.”

Rarity frowned. She knew it should be impossible to open the door without drawing attention. And she’d already used her magic to delve for signs of life as she ascended the stairs. Her horn lit again, and she tried delving instead for any lingering signatures of teleportation magic, but none were apparent.

“Of course not,” she said, before affecting a demure smile. “My apologies; I fear sometimes I still get jumpy in the dark.”

The guards murmured noncommittally, and Rarity breathed a sigh of relief. The shadowy stallion hadn’t been careful about who might’ve heard his words, and it was all too easy for Rarity to fear the rise of intrigue among guards and prisoners alike.

But the guards made no moves to stop her, and indeed seemed preoccupied with something else. Rarity feigned taking a moment to ensure her mane was still in an orderly bun. Meanwhile, she kept her eyes fixed on the frowning, occasionally wincing faces of the guards. Though she had little practical knowledge of the rumored link between thestrals and the Mistress who had remade them, she pondered whether the facial tics might be caused by some sort of sympathetic feedback.

That, in turn, brought forth new apprehension at the stallion’s words: don’t forget to check your mail. The place where she most commonly received mail was her office. She kept it locked when she was away, as there were indeed times when her correspondence was of an illicit nature. She felt her hackles rise at the prospect of having to answer questions about what he might’ve left, if somepony else got to it first.

And so she set off toward her chambers with a practiced stride that allowed for maximum speed without betraying the appearance of haste. As she walked, she fought to keep her pulse steady by dwelling on the purely mundane things that ought otherwise be keeping her occupied: “Check on the order from Lord Rich,” she muttered quietly. “Review the new freight contract from the Governor.” She paused to frown at a ragged tapestry hanging between a pair of high-set windows. “Ugh. Replace the decor in the southeast wing…”

Her gaze drifted past one of the windows, where the moon hung languid in the long night’s sky.

An old, familiar discomfort gnawed at her, and she allowed herself a moment of base envy for ponies who’d adapted to life without the cycle of night and day. Many would steal sleep whenever possible, and most seemed willing to accept the time as being whatever the castle’s clocks told them.

“This world is an anomaly,” she whispered, echoing Zecora.

As if in reply, she heard the distant sounds of heavy hooffalls and clinking metal armor. Rarity moved off to the side of the corridor, giving a wide berth to the cluster of guards who came trotting by. Again her heart leapt in her throat as she considered that they might be looking for some kind of interloper, which might ultimately reflect back on her. But again, none made a move toward her, hostile or otherwise.

Much as the desire to reach her chambers still stabbed at her, Rarity felt a growing curiosity about the thestrals’ movement. And about the tension that seemed evident in the faces of the guards from earlier.

Fortunately, she knew one thestral who might be willing to speak openly about it.

Rarity took another corner and set off toward the barracks, which wasn’t far from the dungeons. Twice again along her way, though, she found herself compelled to press against the wall as yet more armored thestrals clomped and clanked their way past her.

Soon, she approached the barracks’ heavy wooden door. A small group of guards milled about, engaging in hushed conversation. They gave Rarity only cursory glances as she passed.

The room beyond was large, open, and quite sparsely populated—likely due to all the troops being on the move elsewhere. Tall windows bathed the room’s many weapon racks, armor stands, and practice dummies in pale moonlight. Long perches hung suspended from the ceiling, for while thestrals didn’t need sleep, some did indulge in it regardless. At least, those who didn’t use the high vantage points to keep tabs on training regimens of potential rivals.

“Where are you hiding?” Rarity muttered, seeing only a few ponies perched above. She at least was one who still favored sleep…

Rarity’s eyes drifted down to another possibility: a set of doors off to one side of the great room. She tisked, then headed toward an unadorned desk just in front of the doors. Ordinarily it was staffed by a humorless log-keeper who maintained order among those reserving space for more private activities, but even he was absent. Rarity craned her neck to have a look at the open logbook’s most recent entries, expecting to find…

“R.D., number four,” she muttered, frowning at the closed door nearest her. She paused, and listened, hating herself for the indiscretion, but wanting to be certain her quarry was unaccompanied.

After several moments of silence, Rarity cleared her throat and knocked. “Sergeant Dash?”

Rarity heard a scratchy voice from the other side of the door: “Aw, c’mon, Rares! I’m trying to relax in here!“

Rarity stiffened. “It might behoove us to address each other by our titles, Sergeant.”

“All right, Sene-scharity.” She heard hooves moving across the floor, then the sound of a chain-lock being undone. Finally the door creaked open a few hoof-lengths, revealing Rainbow Dash’s bright cerise eyes and the faint outline of her bat-winged frame. “Look, can we get on with this? You probably wanna know where everypony’s going, right?”

“I do,” Rarity breathed. “I trust it has something to do with today’s visitors?”

Dash sighed. “Look, I wouldn’t do this for most ponies, but for old times’ sake, I’ll give you a heads-up: you might want to make yourself scarce for a while. The Mistress isn’t happy.”

Rarity felt a strong jolt of adrenaline at Dash’s warning. She all but trembled with concern about the nature of the Mistress’ displeasure. “Well, I honestly can’t think of the last time that I saw her happy, per se…”

“Yeah, but this time’s different. That Alicorn and dragon she took out into the ruins of Ponyville? They got away.”

An odd admixture of feelings roiled in Rarity’s gut. On the one hoof, she felt immediate relief at not being the clear focus of the Mistress’ ire. But on the other hoof, she knew Dash better than to think she’d yet heard the complete story. “What do you mean, Sergeant? What else aren’t you telling me?”

The thestral rolled her eyes. “I’m not gonna pretend to understand everything that happened out there, but the Alicorn cast some kinda spell. I think the Mistress thought they’d teleported far away, and she got pretty mad… but then we ran into some ponies who swore up one side and down the other that they’d spotted them fleeing toward the northwestern hills.”

“I see.” Rarity swallowed, uncertain where to begin asking questions. “And now she’s summoning her forces to go after them?”

Dash shrugged a membranous bat-wing. “Yeah, probably. I mean, once she started cracking heads, I kinda pulled rank, dumped most of the blame on the newer guys, and got my butt outta there.”

Rarity tut-tutted. “How unbecoming of a loyal soldier.”

“Yeah, well, sometimes things don’t go the way you think they will! But I was out there; I saw what that Alicorn could do. The Mistress might think it’s a good idea to send everypony out to search for her, but I think I’m better off here on the home front.”

Rarity bit her lip as she recalled the figure in the dungeon. “Sergeant, these intruders… are you certain there were only two of them?”

“I guess. I mean, you only saw the two of them, right?”

Before Rarity could answer, a high, sophisticated mare’s voice from behind caused her blood to freeze: “Why, pins and poisons, if it isn’t the castle’s Seneschal, fraternizing with a mere guardspony? I would’ve thought it beneath a pony of your station to engage in such impropriety, were I not already sure that you were up to no good.”

Rarity turned to see Sassy Saddles move into a pool of moonlight from the window above. She was a willowy unicorn of pale greyish-blue, with a long horn, orange eyes, and a cascading amber mane. She was bedecked in an elegant yet menacing suit of black studded-leather armor.

Genuine leather.

As always, Rarity struggled to tear her eyes away from it. “To what do I owe the pleasure, Overseer Saddles?”

Sassy gave her an imperious gaze beneath an upturned eyebrow. “Seneschal, I take no ‘pleasure’ in what must be done now. I would rather have been wrong about you. I want you to know this… need you to know this. But I fear that I was right all along, and I must now fulfill my sworn duty.”

Rarity fought down a growing dread at the implications in Sassy’s words. “Overseer, I assure you, any appearance of impropriety by my being alone with Sergeant Dash is much more sensational than its reality.”

Sassy wrinkled her muzzle, and her horn began to glow pale yellow. She levitated a small white envelope out from a gap in her armor. “That specific impropriety is dwarfed by what I’ve found. Now, is there anything that you wish to confess before I do what must be done with this?”

The pumping of Rarity’s blood grew fast and intense as she noted the envelope’s broken wax seal. Her mind leapt back to the shadowy stallion’s insinuation that she might have received some kind of message…

“What does it contain?” Rarity asked in hushed tones.

The Overseer bristled. “As if you’re not aware? As if now, with proof-positive of your connections to these sun-worshippers in my very hooves, you would still think to deflect my inquiries?”

Rarity made a small choking sound. She eyed the letter’s seal amid her best affectation of nonchalance, though her true purpose was to suss out whether it bore the seal of somepony she corresponded with.

Sassy’s eyes narrowed further. “Why, garrotes and garters, Seneschal; you look as if somepony has trotted over your grave.”

“I’m simply disturbed to hear there is another offender.” Rarity took a breath. “I assure you, it is not me. However, if somepony was trying to contact me anonymously… perhaps this information will point us toward the true offender? Given my position as Seneschal, it would be appropriate for you to include me in your investigation.”

“Rest assured, you will be included, though perhaps not in your preferred capacity.” Sassy shook her head. “I’ve waited for this moment ever since the beginning. And now at last, after years of suspicions and prancing-about, I finally have proof of the cancer that you represent. To think, the Mistress’s own ‘master of the castle’ and ‘keeper of all keys but one’ would be a traitor of the lowest sort!”

Rarity hesitated. “Sassy, please…”

“The time for you to beg is coming!” Sassy turned her gaze toward the door. “Sergeant Rainbow Dash, I have need of your services!”

After a moment filled with grumbling, Rainbow Dash threw the door open wide. Rarity noted that her already close-cropped mane looked mussed, and that she had lines by the corners of her eyes that could’ve come from being pressed together tightly, or—improbably—from tears. “What do you want, Sassy?”

“You will keep the Seneschal here while I take this to our mistress, understood?” Without waiting for a reply, Sassy turned and set off at a gallop. “I didn’t want this, Rarity, but you have brought this on yourself!”

Rarity watched Sassy disappear into the castle’s gloom. She gnashed her teeth, agonizing over the uncertainty of what the letter might contain.

She forced a swallow down her suddenly dry throat.

“Sergeant, please—”

“I don’t wanna deal with any of this,” Dash said, slamming the door shut.

“Yes, but if I may prevail upon your flying speed—”

“Not my problem,” came the muffled response through the door.

Rarity huffed. “What of loyalty to old friends?”

There was a pause. Then: “Lots of things have changed since Ponyville, Rares.”

Throwing decorum to the wind, Rarity turned and galloped after Sassy Saddles.

Her life, and quite possibly the lives of others, depended on her recovering that envelope.

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