• Published 11th Jun 2012
  • 4,240 Views, 180 Comments

Renaissance Pony - Dafaddah

In the late middle ages, Celestia foresees trouble for humanity and seeks help

  • ...


Renaissance Pony

Chapter 14: Relativity

by Dafaddah

Globe spanning editorial team: Microshazm and SecondLaw

"Mmmph, whaa...” Princess Luna struggled for awareness, sleep only reluctantly giving way to the persistent prodding of a hoof on her withers. The warmth of her blankets and the comfort of her bed called her back into their jealous embrace.

“Your majesty, please!” said a deep familiar voice. The urgency in the voice of her Thestral Guard Captain beckoned her from the embrace of Marepheus. Her eyes opened slowly, focusing on the midnight black stallion. A fierce countenance loomed over her: black and silver armour, split pupil eyes, a predator’s fangs, and leathery dragon’s wings. He stood next to her bed, the heavy drapes that encircled it drawn and letting in the light of day.

Luna smiled. “Captain Dusk. Is that the setting sun shining through yonder window?” She squinted into the unaccustomed brightness. Her sleep had been troubled in the past weeks; waking had become an arduous process. “It seems as if we’ve hardly slept at all.” Beyond the captain her maids waited anxiously for their mistress to rise. He offered her a raised hoof, a gallant gesture which brought another smile.

“It’s not yet noon, majesty. We have a situation that requires your immediate attention,” said Dusk. His wings were partially extended. This unusual display of emotion, even more than his words, caused her some alarm. Her grin faded, and she rubbed the sleep from her eyes.

“What is it? And is my sister aware of it as well?” Her chambermaid peeled back the blankets, and offered her a steaming towel to wipe her face. She stood as her dresser approached with her new regalia, designed upon the same model as her guard’s armour.

“A pegasus has just flown in from Ponyville. She reports that it is under attack from various creatures of Tartarus, including a hydra. Much of the town has been destroyed, and they need help to fight off the monster. There is also a counter-teleportation spell in the vicinity of the town. Oh, and nopony has seen her majesty Princess Celestia since you spoke with her shortly after dawn.”

“My sister must still be tracking down those mysterious usages of magic we detected in the Everfree last night.” Luna considered a moment, then her eyes narrowed.

“Captain Dusk, alert my guard and give them my apologies for waking them so early,” said Luna. “We will lead the operation ourselves. Advise the captain of the day guard.”

Dusk’s hooves clicked together as he stood at attention, “Your majesty's guard is mustered and awaits your orders in the courtyard. I will advise Captain Dawn and join you there presently.” He saluted and exited her quarters at a trot.

Luna looked on her departing guard captain with approval. “The new Thestral Guard surpass our expectations,” she remarked to her maids as they briskly finished polishing her regalia and brushing her mane and tail. She nodded to the mares, knowing her words would get back to the Captain and his ponies as well as the rest of the castle staff. Celestia had at first balked when Luna suggested a separate guard detachment for herself, but she had argued that the arrangement would provide an added degree of familiarity and better coordination in emergencies. She smiled. “And now we have occasion to show our sister what they can do!”

Feeling quite refreshed despite her foreshortened repose, Princess Luna left her quarters with a spring in her step.

Celestia peeked out from under a bush. The largest concentration of monsters she had ever seen milled about in the forest clearing, roughly divided by species. Something, or rather somepony was keeping them pacified and apart. There really was only one possibility, bitter as it was for Celestia to admit it: unicorns were herding the beasts. The real question was why? Nopony went to such effort without some gain in the enterprise, and Celestia was determined to find out what it was.

She had approached the area hidden by an invisibility spell. The bush gave a good vantage from which to spy out the ponies whilst keeping out of the traffic. At first she had hoped to listen-in on their conversations and thus gain intelligence on their purpose. An hour of patient waiting convinced her that the unicorns had been instructed to stay well apart and not engage in discussion. As her options were few, she resolved to grab one of the miscreants for interrogation. Since the unicorns kept at a certain distance apart she hoped to take one and have the time to get some answers before the others became aware of the absence.

There was a haughty looking light blue coated young mare wearing rather plain looking saddle bags who stood scowling a short distance to her right. She selected this one for capture and prepared an illusion to replace her. Celestia approached the mare from behind, and in a single cast both rendered her unsuspecting target invisible and caused the illusion to appear in her place. Then Celestia zapped the mare with a sleeping spell. She heard a muffled thud as the body dropped to the forest floor. Too bad Luna isn’t here, thought Celestia with a thin-lipped smile, she enjoys these clandestine activities so much more than I!

She started levitating the mare onto her back when she was interrupted by a loud whistle. It was immediately joined by many others. Uh oh. Celestia looked to the nearest of the monster herders. The stallion was blowing mightily on a whistle while looking at the illusion of the mare she had created. They must have a magical buddy watch implemented, and like a foal I triggered it! The stallion extracted a stone from his own identical saddle bags. He cast the stone to the ground and disappeared in a flash of light. The mare in her telekinetic grip was also suddenly gone.

Selective teleport keys! thought Celestia, These ponies must have been preparing this a for long time. It’s a most sophisticated...” Her ruminations were interrupted by a huge roar. It was followed by the sound of animals fighting in the clearing and many more crashing pell-mell through the forest. The handlers have abandoned the monsters! Celestia burst into the clearing, hoping to catch as many as possible before they escaped into the Everfree forest. Already many of the monsters had fled. With a spell she put to sleep the remaining ones.

She trotted into the center of the clearing, leaping over sleeping monsters. Blue fire coursed from her horn whenever a sound from the forest let her locate another, which would then levitate into the clearing to be added to the pile of sleeping denizens of Tartarus. A few minutes later there were no more sounds to be heard other than Celestia’s breathe through her clenched teeth.

Blue fire again burst from her horn as she levitated the entire monstrous collection of sleepers into the air. Her eyes glowed white as she opened a gate to Tartarus just below them and dropped the sleepers through it. Then it closed with a pop. Her eyes resumed their normal magenta appearance. She sat on her haunches, breathing hard.

Think Celestia, what could they do with all these beasts? she closed her eyes. Where could they drive them? The only settlement within hours is...! With fury in her heart, Celestia tried to teleport to Ponyville, and failed. Her ears drooped and her mouth gaped open. “Their target is Ponyville!” Celestia gritted her teeth and launched herself into the air. The trees at the edge of the clearing shook from the downdraft as she beat her mighty wings.

Luna flew fast through the sky at a thousand pony lengths in altitude. Her Thestral Guard followed her in perfect formation like some dark and forbidding flight of bat winged geese. The wind whistled through her ears. In the distance, she could see pillars of smoke rising from Ponyville, and the four swaying columns of the hydra’s heads as it slowly progressed through the town’s ruins. “You know what to do!” She called to her guards. On each side of her, two pairs of guards peeled off, forming up into four wings. The noonday sun glinted off bared scimitars clasped in their forehooves.

The Thestrals flew down to the hydra, each wing selecting one of the necks. They lined up and simultaneously passed by each head, one member of the wing on either side. At the last second they pulled in their bat wings and extended the scimitars towards the hydra. As soon as they were passed, they extended their wings and climbed rapidly. At first it appeared they had not been successful. Then red traces appeared on the hydra’s necks. It roared through four mouths, and one by one, its severed heads fell to ground.

“Well done!” shouted Luna. “Now quickly, the net, before it has time to generate new heads.” The hydra had stopped moving, as if the huge headless body was unsure of what to do. However, already the wounds at the top of its necks had stopped bleeding and the skin was closing over. One of the Thestral Guard passed below the others, dragging a dark mesh behind him. Each guard hooked a hoof onto the mesh. When all four wings were so linked, they once again descended onto the hydra, unfurling the net behind them. As they passed, all but the two guards at each end dropped the net. The ones still grasping the net looped around, winding the hydra tightly in its mesh. Already, a new head burst from the top of one the necks. The hydra again roared its frustration.

The entire guard detachment swooped in, each one grabbing onto loops of rope depending from the mesh. Luna watched in satisfaction as they laboured to haul the hydra into the sky in a magnificent display of Thestral power and coordination. They had instructions to dump the creature into the swamps in the middle of the Everfree forest. Nopony lived there, and as the creature was aquatic it would most likely stay put until Luna had time to send it back to Tartarus. For the moment, however, there were more important scores to settle. She winged down towards the lone standing edifice of the town.

Starswirl’s ears drooped. At his sides, Captain Dash and Clover looked away, unable to face the accusing gaze of the bright blue colt before them. Behind them hospital staff carried another bloodied pony into the hospital.

“How could you have left without her!” shouted Cornflower.

“I’m sorry, son,” said Starswirl. “We waited for Hydrangea as long as we could.” His words sounded lame in his own ears.

“For all we know she could be hurt, or even trapped in a burning house!” The colt stepped closer to Starswirl. “We have to go looking for her,” he begged.

“Nopony leaves the safety of the Hospital!” said Captain Dash. “There are not only monsters hunting ponies in town. It would be suicide!”

Starswirl put a hoof on Cornflower’s withers. “Lad, your sister...” he started, but words failed him.

“Hydrangea would tell you to keep your flank where it is,” said Clover.

Starswirl looked sharply to his left when help came from this unexpected quarter. These were the first words Clover had spoken since his argument with Starswirl on this very topic.

“She was made captain of the magic school’s militia for a reason,” continued Clover. “Anypony chasing after her would just get in her way.”

“Clover’s right, lad, please listen,” said Starswirl to Cornflower. His gaze shifted back to his student, glad that he was speaking again. His smile died on his lips when the young pony would not meet his gaze, choosing instead to walk away.

“Flyers at five o’clock!” shouted a voice. One of the pegasus defenders pointed to the sky. It looked like a flight of pitch black pegasi in military formation. Eight of them peeled off from the edges of the formation. “They’re attacking the hydra!” Several of the pegasi defenders took the air.

Starswirl stared at the lead pony of the formation. The sun glinted off familiar regalia. “It’s Princess Luna!” he called out, with a laugh. “Thank harmony.” He watched and cheered with the weary defenders as Princess Luna’s guard made short work of the hydra and then transported it away to the south. He waited patiently as her majesty slowly flew down to the Hospital and landed next to the group of defenders.

“Well met, Minister Starswirl,” said the Princess. “My Thestral Guard has prevailed and is securing the town as we speak. Tell me, what do you know of those who have done this crime?”

Starswirl bowed. “Almost nothing, majesty. We know only that our town was attacked by creatures from Tartarus, and that unicorns were seen somehow guiding them. Also, there is a spell over Ponyville preventing teleportation.”

“Your messenger told us as much. We’ll smoke out those involved and get to the bottom of this, you have our word.” There was a cold edge to Luna’s voice.

“Thank you, your majesty,” said Starswirl. He gulped. The princess also seemed to be avoiding looking him in the eyes.

Luna looked up to the sky. Starswirl followed her gaze. A Thestral guard arrived from the town and landed before the princess. His insignia indicated he was their captain. He saluted and waited for the Princess to acknowledge him.

“Speak!” said Luna.

“Majesty. When we landed there was a series of whistle calls, and several unicorns were seen deploying teleport keys. One of our guardponies grabbed onto a unicorn and was teleported away with him. Afterwards, the invading beasts went feral and began attacking anything that moved including each other. We are currently disposing of them in a sweep through town.”

Clover bowed. “Majesty. Several of the defenders are missing. Please have the guard keep an eye out for wounded or unconscious ponies.”

“You heard our good Clover, Captain. Please inform your ponies.” She focused inward as her horn glowed. “The teleport interdiction spell has dissipated. Prepare a squad for teleportation with me.”

The Captain saluted again and took off.

“Your majesty. Where do you propose to go?” asked Starswirl with a confused look. “We have no idea what was their destination.”

“Patience, Starswirl. We are confident our guard will provide.” Luna’s smile was predatory. “And then those responsible will taste the wrath of the Night.”

Many ponies cheered at the words. But Starswirl was quiet, and looked away from the princess.

The Captain and six of the Thestral Guard returned barely a minute later. They had just landed when a glow appeared over Princess Luna’s head. Bit by shining bit, it assembled itself into a scroll that dropped into her telekinetic grasp. She unfurled and read it. “Guards in transport formation,” she said. They lined up on either side of her, each guard clasping the one to its front, the first two placing a hoof on the princess’ partially extended wings.

“The guards in the town will tell you when it is safe to return.” Luna nodded once, and with her guards disappeared in a flash of light.

Starswirl decided to try speaking with Clover again, but even after several minutes of fruitless search the lad was nowhere to be seen. Where could he have gone? he thought. His eyes grew big as he realized the likely answer. He teleported.

Princess Platinum again heard the clip-clop of her approaching jailor and the grinding of the door’s hinges. “Well, this is turning out to be our most popular suite! As they say, Princess, two's company, three’s a herd!” There was the sound of another body falling to the ground.

Platinum squirmed and shimmied until she could touch the new arrival. Mane hair led her to the pony’s poll and horn. Another unicorn with a restraining ring firmly affixed.

The pony groaned. “Hey! Are you injured?” Platinum asked.

“My head hurts. And my horn!” The pony, a mare from her voice, struggled.

“Be still and save your strength, sister,” soothed the princess. “I have little to show for my own struggles other than chafes and cuts. Our captors are most vexingly efficient.”

“Princess Plantinum?” asked the pony.

“Yes, indeed.” Platinum smiled. “It would appear they have blindfolded you as well, miss...”

“Hydrangea Blue, your highness. We met yesterday.” The mare sighed. “It’s so hard to believe it was only yesterday.”

Platinum finally recognized the voice and recalled the pony to whom it belonged. “Oh, the mare who attended the Ministry of Science meeting with her brother.” She heard a movement against the floor, which she assumed was a nod. Something the mare had said sounded ominous. “What do you mean ‘only yesterday’, Miss Blue?”

“This morning I was in Ponyville when it was attacked by monsters from Tartarus. They were herded by unicorns, Princess. I was trying to take out the unicorns handling a hydra when I was myself captured.”

“A hydra?! But, that’s truly monstrous. How could any unicorn do such a thing?”

“It’s true,” said a shy voice. “I was there, I saw the monsters as well.”

“Our pegasus cell-mate is awake,” said the princess. “What is your name and how are you dear?”

“My name is Dawn Breeze, and I hurt all over,” she said.

“You’re Cornflower’s friend!” said Hydrangea. “So they captured you. No wonder the Princesses never came. Have they mistreated you?” she asked with indignation.

“They were waiting for any pegasus that tried to leave Ponyville in the direction of Everfree castle. They sent manticores after me, and I was struck in the sky. I blacked out even before I touched ground.” She paused and took a long trembling breath. “I’m surprised I’m still alive. Somepony must have caught me.” Then the little pegasus giggled.

“What’s so funny?” asked Hydrangea.

“Oh, just that Cornflower told me about you two.”

“What do you mean about us two?” asked Platinum.

“Well, that you both fancy that green colt, Clover the Clever. Is it true?” she asked shyly.

Neither Hydrangea nor Platinum said anything.

“Tee-hee! It’s true!” Dawn Breeze giggled again.

The cell was quiet a moment.

“Do you fancy him, your highness?” asked Hydrangea. “I mean, he and I haven’t kept company or anything. We just know each other from school, but I’ve always felt he was special, not just another colt.”

Platinum felt herself blush. She was glad the other mares were apparently also blindfolded. Even though embarrassing, it was nevertheless a good question, and so she searched her feelings. “You know, I hadn’t put much thought to it, really. But in retrospect, perhaps I was bit jealous when I saw how he reacted to you yesterday.” She smiled under her blindfold. “You know, when my father died he was the one pony who came to me in my grief.” She hesitated a moment. “I guess I do have a special place in my heart for him.” She snorted in a very un-princesslike manner. “And for a scholar he does have a fine flank!”

“Oo! You learn such juicy stuff in jail!” tittered Dawn. The other two mares chuckled along.

From high in the sky Celestia saw the columns of smoke rising on the horizon. She flew at high speed and in minutes was swooping down on Ponyville. She circled the hamlet once. The sight of the destruction broke her heart. Ponies were gathered at the one building left intact. As she landed before it several ponies trotted out to greet her.

“What happened here?” she asked the first pony to reach her, a cyan coloured pegasus who bowed and related the day’s events. Celestia listened patiently to the pony’s report. With relief she heard how her sister had arrived with troops and ended the incursion.

“And where is Starswirl now?” she asked Captain Dash.

“Nopony has seen him since he was asking for the whereabouts of his student Clover. They’ve both been missing for some twenty minutes, your majesty. We speculate Clover went to town to look for a missing pony and that Starswirl went to find him in turn.”

“I have my own ways of locating Starswirl, Captain.” She looked at the burning town. The fires were now quite extensive and she was quite worried. “I will go fetch our missing ponies. Thank you, Captain.” Celestia nodded and the Captain bowed.

The princess concentrated for a moment, and found herself in the town, surrounded by smoking ruins. She heard a cough and caught sight of Starswirl. His horn glowed as he levitated large segments of debris out of the way.

“Starswirl! Have you found him?” she called out.

The mage looked up with desperation, hope and streaks of soot staking equal claims to his visage. “Princess Celestia! No! I’ve been tearing away debris in case he has fallen unconscious in one of the houses. I am sure he went to look for Hydrangea, who went missing earlier today.” He coughed. “How did you find me, Princess? And can you also find Clover and Hydrangea?”

Celestia gingerly stepped over burning embers. “I created your pony body from a piece of my own, Starswirl. You and I share a special bond, one that I do not have with other ponies.” She saw the disappointment in his face. “But I have other ways to search for them. As they are unicorns, I can detect if either one uses magic. Let us search together and if...” Celestia halted mid-sentence and winked out of sight.

She reappeared a moment later with a soot covered Clover on her back. She also sported several dark smudges on her white coat. “Let us return to the Hospital, Starswirl. It’s much too dangerous to stay in this inferno!” she shouted. Starswirl nodded. They teleported and reappeared on the grass in front of the Hospital.

The relative silence was a great relief, as was the fresh air. Both she and Starswirl coughed repeatedly to get the smoke out of their lungs. He trotted up to her and the weight on her back was gone as he levitated Clover off of her back. A pony wearing a bloodstained white uniform galloped up to them as Starswirl held the colt suspended in the air.

At first Clover did not move. Then, with a gasp he started coughing. The nurse examined him briskly. “Did he breathe any smoke?” she asked, and placed her ear near the young mage’s mouth.

“I do not think so,” said Celestia, coughing again. “I found him under a dome of force. It was quite clever actually, as otherwise a burning wall would have fallen upon him. It trapped a bubble of cooler air beneath it which kept him alive until I was able to free him.”

Clover’s eyes suddenly opened wide. The nurse offered him a drink of water. “You can put him down now,” she instructed Starswirl with a gentle smile.

Starswirl gently levitated Clover to the grass. With a cough the lad got back onto all fours. He looked around and gave a weak smile. “Thank you majesty for pulling me out of there.” His gaze turned to Starswirl. “And thank you Maestro! That bubble shield spell kept me from dying of my own foalishness.”

Celestia nodded, noting how Starswirl suddenly looked as if a huge burden had passed from his withers. The old mage’s smile reminded her strongly of the Leonardo she had known so long ago, before she had pulled him into her world. The nurse turned to her, examining her scored coat. Luna dismissed the mare with a wave of a hoof. “Thank you miss, but I can attend to my own wounds.”

She was still cleaning up when Starswirl approached her with a scroll. Her expression hardened as she read the names listed therein. “Starswirl, do you wish to meet the perpetrators of this outrage?” She observed as several emotions washed over the scholar's face in quick succession. Finally, he nodded, looking grim.

“Yes, majesty. Your sister and her Thestral Guard have been there for some thirty minutes already. Do you think it safe to join them?”

“Worry not. My sister is generally quite expeditious, and she has worked intensively to train her guardponies in the last few weeks. They were competent before, they are no less so now.”

Starswirl raised an eyebrow. “The Thestral Guard was in existence before, then?”

Celestia’s laugh was dry. “I’m sorry if my comments mislead. The unit is new, as is the spell that gives the Thestral Guard their unique look. However, its members are for the most part former members of the Royal Pegasus Guard. Today’s events prove that perhaps there was wisdom in Luna’s suggestion to create a unit under her own command.” She offered a hoof to Starswirl. “Shall we go see the results of their labours?”

Starswirl nodded and placed a hoof on hers. She teleported them both to the mansion of Lord Beryl.

Hydrangea heard a ‘Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat’ sound as several ponies galloped down the corridor that led to their cell. There was the jangle of keys in the lock and the creak of the cell door opening.

A haughty voice spoke: “We are going to relocate you ladies. We will untie your legs and you will go where we direct you in all haste, or you will not survive the trip. Have I made myself clear?” When none of the mares responded, he laughed. “Hah! I’ll take that as a lack of objection for now.” Hydrangea felt the binds on her legs loosen, followed by the pain of restored circulation. She stumbled to a standing position. She heard the other two mares clumsily arise.

“Move! Now!” She blushed as she felt a rather un-gentlecoltly telekinetic prod. She started forward and was shepherded out of the cell, with the princess and Dawn close on her flanks. They had begun moving up the corridor when there was commotion ahead.

“Stop!” The three cell mates stumbled into each other as they did their best to comply. “Do not take another step!” shouted their captor from behind.

There was the sound of fighting ahead. Hydrangea felt a body move between her and the wall. She heard a whisper. “Keep between me and the guards.” It was the princess. She heard a ripping sound. And then a scrabbling sound of hoof on metal.

Further up in the corridor she heard a pony’s scream cut short by a gurgling sound.

Behind her in the corridor her captor cursed. “Where is the blasted thing? I had it in this bag! Blix - run ahead to give me time to find the key.”

She felt a pony gallop by her in the tight confines of the corridor.

“Success!” she heard Princess Platinum exclaim. Then her blindfold was ripped from her head and she could see. It took a moment for Hydrangea’s vision to adjust to the sudden light.

At the head of the corridor she could see three unicorns battling a pair of bat-winged ponies with swords. Somehow they seemed immune to the magic being cast at them. Already two unicorns lay bleeding on the ground near the corridor entrance. She turned her gaze to look back at the other end of the corridor and saw a unicorn desperately rooting through the contents of a saddle bag, with several more on the floor in front of him.

Next to her, Princess Platinum shot out towards the lone captor at their rear. Not only had she removed her blindfold but she had somehow even removed the iron ring from around her horn. “Surrender, foal!” she shouted.

With a shout of triumph, the unicorn with the saddlebags pulled a stone out from one of them. “Found it!”

“Too late!” shouted Platinum, as her horn began to glow.

The unicorn with the stone just smiled. “Is it now?” Something about his self-assurance set alarm bells ringing in Hydrangea’s head. The other captors! She turned her head just in time to see the unicorn named Blix cast a spell of dark purple fire directly at Platinum’s back.

Time seemed to slow down.

Hydrangea still had the iron ring on her horn. It made her head heavy but she moved it as fast as she could. She pushed off with her forelegs. As she began to shove forward, she thought of Clover and of Princess Platinum. He could do worse! The thought put a wry smile on her lips. She leaned into the space between the princess and the oncoming fireball. She had a moment to look at it as it approached. Such a pretty death spell! she thought. Then the fireball hit her squarely in the chest, and everything went dark.

Lamplight grinned when Blix threw the death spell at Princess Platinum. The stupid filly was finally getting what she so richly deserved. Then his eyes grew wide as the other traitorous unicorn mare stepped between it and its intended victim.

“Nooo!” shouted the pegasus mare, whose blindfold had no doubt also been removed by that troublesome princess.

Lamplight saw the princess turn her head at the mare’s shout. She was just in time to see as the fireball hit the blue mare and she crumpled into a lifeless heap. He felt a certain satisfaction as the princess let go a howl of agony. Beyond them, he saw Blix cut down from behind by a leather winged pegasus in night black armour.

Enchanted armour! he thought. It was probably what protected the pegasi from the unicorn’s spells. Well then. There’s no reason to dally. He threw the stone to the floor.

Starswirl sighed as Celestia teleported them both. Finally the princesses had arrived and were taking things in hoof. His eyes blinked closed with the flash of teleportation, and opened onto a new scene. Then he wished they hadn’t.

They stood in front of a mansion. Blood was everywhere, as were dead unicorns. Most had been felled by slashes to their necks. Some had obviously offered more resistance and had more extensive wounds. Starswirl fell to his knees and vomited.

From his vantage near the ground Starswirl observed Celestia’s frozen stance.

He heard a clip-clop sound and saw dark hooves clad in silver appear. He looked up at Princess Luna. Her pupils were dilated, and he could not read the expression in her face. “Justice is done, and we grow weary from our efforts,” she said. She approached her sister, who still hadn’t said a word. She turned her gaze to her Thestral Guard Captain who stood on her left. “Captain, as the Princess of the Day has arrived you and your guardponies are dismissed. You may fly back to the castle and retire to a well deserved rest.” She looked at Celestia. “Those who chose to surrender are grouped under a constraint spell over there.” She pointed to a group of some thirty ponies keeping down low beneath a glowing spell field. “Those who chose to resist are dead. Unfortunately this includes their ringleader, Lord Beryl. At least the state is spared the expense of a trial for that traitor.”

Starswirl looked into Luna’s eyes, searching for some sign of the vivacious princess he knew. He saw only darkness.

“Thank you for helping protect the inhabitants of Ponyville, sister. I will attend to matters here. You may also seek your rest,” said Celestia, her voice as coldly devoid of emotion as Starswirl had ever heard it.

Luna nodded and with a flash was gone. Celestia looked out over the scene of carnage.

“What is happening to Princess Luna?” asked Starswirl.

It was a long minute before Celestia spoke. “I do not know. You must understand something, Starswirl. After our war with Discord, Luna and I were forced to root out and destroy much of the evil that threatened this land. During those times we often had to impose... severe sanctions against evil-doers, including ponies. Luna was usually the one to undertake these less savoury aspect of our cause. I sometimes lacked the... resolve... to do what needed to be done. She did not.” Her glance in his direction showed embarrassment and held a world of pain. “I assure you these actions were necessary, and every time I am reminded of those days I recall that she chose to bear these stains on her soul not least because she wished to spare me the same.”

Starswirl stared at Celestia long and hard. “This isn’t justice, majesty. It’s slaughter. I would not have thought it within her character.”

“Our herd was under attack, Starswirl. And I wasn’t there to defend it. Luna was.” said Celestia with misery in her voice.

Starswirl could not think of a reply that would not further sadden the princess. He turned his head at the sound of several of Luna’s guardponies exiting the mansion. They were escorting two ponies, one, a unicorn, was carrying another pony on her back.

“Princess Platinum!” he shouted, recognizing the unicorn. He and Celestia trotted over. As he approached he could see the tears falling from Princess Platinum’s muzzle. The little yellow pegasus mare next to her was weeping as well. His eyes grew wide as he caught a glimpse of a familiar light blue leg dangling from Princess Platinum’s back. His voice caught in his throat.

“Is it Hydrangea?” he croaked.

Platinum nodded. “She saved me. She... saved me.” The princess lifted a foreleg to cover her eyes and wept.

Starswirl stood frozen in shock. He felt Celestia brush by him and embrace the weeping unicorn. Her horn began to glow as she tried to relieve Platinum of her burden.

“No! Please...” Platinum looked up into Celestia’s eyes. “I wish to bring her home to her family. This... this is what her family deserve. This is how I wish to honour her memory.”

Celestia nodded, and gently released Hydrangea’s body. “I will accompany you, Princess Platinum.” She looked back at Starswirl. “I saw her brother in Ponyville, Starswirl. Could you please see him to Canterlot?”

“Yes, of course your majesty.” Starswirl called to the pegasus. “Come Dawn. Cornflower is looking for you, and I suspect he will need your support.”

The little mare nodded and stepped closer to Starswirl. He offered her a hoof, and she placed hers in his. He took one last look at the area around the mansion, seeing the crying mares, the cringing prisoners, and the bloody dead. Were that this be the last time I ever see such a sight, he wished desperately.

He sighed, and teleported.

The stallion materialized in his hut in the Everfree forest.

He pondered his circumstances. So much for Lamplight. His horn glowed as Lamplight's features slowly faded to be replaced by his true appearance. He stretched his wings and sighed. That feels so good! But I can't be seen looking like this. His horn glowed again as he set about experimenting with various facial and body features.

He settled on a powerfully built stallion, with a grey coat and black mane and tail. A unicorn of course. What shall I call this one? He examined himself in a mirror hanging next to the door. What a dark fellow! he exclaimed to his reflection. That’s it! I think I’ll name you... Sombra!