• 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 3: Keys to the Kingdom

Rarity’s legs burned from exertion as she sprinted past the guards and back out into the castle’s twisting, turning halls. Sassy was well out of sight, but Rarity could hear her hooffalls—and Rarity felt a brief burst of elation that the tall mare evidently hadn’t alerted any other guards besides Rainbow Dash. But the urge to gloat about Sassy’s hubris was short-lived, as Rarity’s chest heaved with hot, ragged breath. She muttered a curse about the lack of regular exercise afforded by her station, even as fear spurred her on to all the speed she could muster.

Visions of what had been done to Zecora—or worse—played through her mind as she considered what the letter might contain. Sassy had said it contained proof of her involvement in something forbidden… but that still left a host of possibilities. Rarity clenched her jaw, and galloped harder. The relentless pounding of hooves on stone rendered her legs increasingly numb.

Sudden sounds from up ahead—a heavy impact, followed by clinking and loud groaning—threw off Rarity’s concentration. She slowed as she approached the corner where she’d last seen Sassy, then paused a moment before stepping around it.

Sassy Saddles lay upon the floor in a tangle of limbs. The letter lay next to her.

Rarity blinked as it dawned on her that the shadowy stallion might’ve had a hoof in taking Sassy down. She couldn't resist smiling as she lit her horn and started drawing the letter toward her. But Sassy grunted, lit her own horn, and used her magic to pull against Rarity’s.

“How dare you trip me!” Sassy lashed out with a whip of force, scoring a hit on Rarity’s cheek that made her hiss with pain and nearly lose her hornglow. “Is it not enough that you abuse your position with treasonous intent? Must you also fight with all the dignity of common gutter trash?!”

Rarity fought to maintain her concentration on the magical tug of war. “I did not trip you, and I have not abused my station!”

“Why lie now? It’s clear enough that those you consort with have found you a willing buyer for their illicit, sun-made foodstuffs!”

Rarity pressed forward. “It’s not a lie. And do you take me for a fool? Of course I’ve made illicit contacts! Precisely how do you think I keep this castle fed?!”

Sassy gave her a look of shock. “Then you admit your collusion with the Mistress' enemies?”

“Overseer, we must be practical; the Earth Ponies do their best, but crop yields are nowhere near sufficient!”

“I’ve heard enough,” Sassy said, struggling to her hooves. She flared her horn, and used the sudden burst of magic to thrust herself forward into a charge.

Rarity reversed her magic, pushing on Sassy instead of pulling on the letter; but the taller mare had built too much momentum. Sassy plowed headlong into Rarity, knocking her to the ground before leaping upon her in what became a snarling, cursing melee. Each struck the other with hooves and magic.

Seeing an opportunity, Rarity headbutted Sassy, dazing both of them. The sudden blow gave her enough of an advantage to clamber atop her opponent, trying to pin her down. But then Sassy roared and threw Rarity aside. She conjured a series of hot magical sparks that made Rarity flinch, before pressing a leg down hard onto her throat.

“That is for tripping me!”

Rarity’s eyes widened with shock. She lit her horn again, this time emitting a bright burst of light. Sassy blinked, shielding her face with a hoof; and Rarity jabbed her horn into Sassy’s chest, aiming to knock the wind out of her. The foreleg on Rarity’s throat lost its strength, and Rarity pressed upward, gasping for air as she pushed the larger mare off of her again. Rarity dragged herself up to her hooves and boxed Sassy’s face with a pair of heavy blows. Then she turned, pressed down on all fours, and threw her legs back in a harsh buck to Sassy’s jaw.

The Overseer sailed backwards like a sack full of apples, and hit the ground with every bit as much grace. As her hornglow flickered out, Rarity lit hers again, bringing the letter to her. She plucked it from the air, unfolded it, and set about reading.

Rarity’s brow furrowed. “Where did you get this?”

Sassy answered only with a groan.

“Overseer!” Rarity shouted, gripping the prone mare’s barrel-armor with her magic and giving it a few shakes. As Sassy’s eyes fluttered open, Rarity asked again: “Where did you find this letter?”

“In your chambers,” Sassy slurred.

A scowl crossed Rarity’s face as she thought back about the shadowy stallion’s words. “I would never be so amateurish as to leave incriminating evidence against myself lying unattended.”

“And yet…” Sassy trained an unsteady glare at her. “It bears Lord Rich’s seal. It names you.” She took a heavy breath. “And it mentions this… ‘underground sun.’”

Rarity looked closer. Her breath caught as she spotted herself on a list of “Known Sympathizers,” and as she absorbed the brief but accurate summary of the illicit food she’d purchased from her suppliers.

But then she spotted a mention of “sun” alongside the description of a cavernous crop-growing space that would be many times the size of the Mistress’ castle. She scanned the document for more details, but found only allusions to “the City” and a “Pair of Specialists” sent to work on it.

Rarity lowered the letter. “Growing crops with simulated light has been done before, but never on this scale…”

Sassy struggled to her hooves. And though she seemed to have difficulty focusing her eyes, there was unmistakable fire in her voice: “I will see you answer to the Mistress for this treason.”

“That m… may not be necessary,” Rarity stammered. “There are things that you haven’t been told… information that we felt you might not receive well. For though the Mistress values your thoroughness, she ultimately craves results, not your misguided ‘purity.’”

“I find that hard to believe. My duties involve the safety of the realm; yours are merely to mind the castle. What could the Mistress possibly wish to keep from her very right-hoof that she wouldn’t from a small, uncultured thing that crawled its way up from the ashes?”

“And I suppose your career in fashion taught you the value of flaunting advantages,” Rarity said, scoffing. “Were the shoe on the other hoof, Overseer, I would’ve simply shown the letter to the Mistress if I was going to.”

Sassy paused, pressing a hoof against her forehead, clearly trying to regain her focus. “I thought it only right to give you a chance to explain yourself. Though I suppose I should’ve known that worthless excuse of a Sergeant wouldn’t do her job, and I should’ve foreseen that you’d fight dirty… even trip me, if given half a chance.”

Rarity stamped her hoof. “I swear upon my life that I did no such thing!”

Sassy narrowed her eyes. “Then if it wasn’t you—”

There was a noise from a darkened side-passage. The pair turned and lit their horns. Standing in the dim pool of illumination was a solitary thestral who let out a hiss as she held a hoof up to her eyes.

“Sergeant Dash,” Rarity said, her tone icy.

Dash put her hoof down and grinned. “Don’t mind me; I just wanted to make sure ‘tall-dork-and-handsome’ here didn’t end up cutting off the good oats. Y’know, at least not before I could stock up.”

Sassy narrowed her eyes. “So you knew of Rarity’s connections, too? And now it seems you’ve both allied against me…”

“What?!” Dash scoffed. “Look, me and Rarity aren’t exactly close. And it’s not like I’d risk my neck to jump somepony from the shadows if I didn’t absolutely have to, Overseer Butterhooves.”

“That’s an alarming amount of disrespect from a pony of your position,” Sassy said, before reaching a hoof up into her chest-armor and producing an oblong metal object on a delicate chain. “Perhaps you both need a reminder that I cannot be so easily silenced?”

Rarity’s breath caught. She’d only seen the Hellshard a hoof-ful of times. It was a key that didn’t look much like a key; its shape was more like that of a coffin, and it bore the luster of obsidian. Yet it never failed to bring Rarity to perspiration when she did see it, for it was a key to someplace otherworldly, and darker even than a land without sun.

Dash cocked her head and took a step forward. “I mean, if we wanted to, I bet we could—”

Rarity held up a warning hoof. “Rainbow Dash! Sassy, I assure you, this situation seems much worse than its reality. There are things you should be told, but let us pause first, and take a few deep breaths…”

“You play with fire, Seneschal,” Sassy said. “As with your ring of keys, the Hellshard will alert Nightmare Moon if removed from its bearer.”

A long moment of silence stretched between them, ending only when Dash coughed and said: “No, seriously though, if I really wanted to, I probably could take her out by myself.”

Sassy flinched, breaking the chain.

A strand of Rarity’s mane flicked upward, carried by a wind that hadn’t been there a moment before. She looked down, seeing dust begin to swirl around her hooves.

Nearby windows bathed the corridor in brightness from a lightning-bolt, and a crack of thunder split the silence.

“You utter fools,” Sassy said, her lips drawing back in a rictus. “I gave you every chance to avoid this. But now she’s coming, and there’s not a thing that I can do to stop her!”

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