• Published 19th Aug 2017
  • 6,434 Views, 201 Comments

Enemy of Mine - Ice Star

A few years after Luna's return it seems that Equestria will finally know an era of peace and appears to be on the verge of a new renaissance. Ponies are happy. Luna is recovering. Celestia is miserable.

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Chapter 1: Problem of Mine

Celestia closed the door quietly behind her, so she would not cause even the slightest disturbance in the truly silent night. Her golden aura was thin, and weak, but not by her doing. Her chest ached with the dreadful sensation of something being forcibly constricted inside until only a poisonous ache resonated through her body. The world seemed to buzz with heavy pinpricks she did not know, acting up when she passed the door that was woven with enough magic to fry any hostile who would even dream of entering and inlaid with even more powerful, subtler shields. Yet when she passed by and probed the balcony door with her own magic, her body burned from within, making every nerve feel feverish. Her head throbs worse than any hangover.

And then, it all passed. She swallowed dryly as she slunk out into the dark, almost limping as her muscles ached and her head pulsed with something ugly. Something ugly had been grating up against her insides for some time now. Ten years, she thinks, as a new stab of pain resonates in her mind, outward. Her next swallow is pained, but they all are. She thinks it has been ten years, and that is surprisingly, partially true, but Celestia doesn't dwell on it.

Celestia's legs wobble with nopony around to see, as though she were a wind-up toy experiencing... imperfections.

The last word leaves a sourness blooming in her, the foulness spreading through the prickling of her coat, mostly along her back and neck. Chills from the dark and everything anything else tickled her body cruelly. She wanted warmth and light more than ever; she needed for nothing to hurt. If she could curl up inside herself and whimper for a bit of sunshine, she would. Whatever it took to make everything kind again, Celestia would try and do that.

Instead, she tried to keep up her limping gait and force it into a regal stride that she never thought twice about. She didn't try to recall the last time the sun's warmth had touched because she didn't think it was much of a problem anymore. No, she just felt every muscle, nerve, and the deepest flesh of her divine skin and blood ache like a knotted string would feel, all tangled up in itself. Her head throbbed and her heart lurched. She teetered on her legs, and her gold shoes made a creaking noise, shaking with her, though she still attempted to maintain stiff perfection. Large wings hung like tattered, feathered weights at her sides. They only looked tattered because of how ruffled they were. She always preened them. She always looked perfect, even when she hurt. Especially when she hurt.

She had for the past ten years. Eleven years. One thousand years. Two thousand.

Celestia kept her ill breathing concealed with forced tranquility, so that attempting to make it sound like she was relaxed only highlighted how ragged the sound was.

Clouds drifted across the sky in trails. Each was organically shaped, wispy trails acting as streams between a brilliant array of stars flashing between all the shadows of the sky. Celestia had never thought of it as anything but black and cold. Nights were always cold to the sun goddess. She stopped and craned her head up so she could see the only light the night had to offer. Moonlight rained down upon her, something she still found alien despite managing her sister's celestial body for a millennium, but she did not feel the moonlight itself. It washed over her: a face that was very pallid in places with unusual fatigue. She had packed everything away under the perfect amount of cosmetics. Lots of it. And, of course, it hadn't been attributed to the true problem worming through her — why would it ever be?

Her ears hung limp too. Her mane only flowed sluggishly when she'd let it, her tail too, and so it was now that they did.

She closed her eyes, yearning to see anything other than darkness. Not being a filly any longer did not stop something about it from frightening a primal part of her.

Celestia thought of years wandering the wilds as a foal, stepping on a fresh world whose foundation was built from ashes. Meanwhile, her sister had thought nothing of her abandonment. Instead, Luna had mastered magic and flight long before the grip of adolescence only sharpened those abilities. Luna had run singing through the night because her flight made no sound while Celestia's wings had been too big for her even then, and her legs were always too gangly. Thus, she was the clumsy one for some time. She was afraid and clung to the edges of campfires, always. She slept early.

She watched dear Luna.

She tried. Luna ran wild. Her mane was short, her heart lighter than her unearthly grace, moving as though she were in tune with a wild world, and yet all attention flowed to her. Luna played with wolves. Luna hunted for their young when they were too weak. Luna tracked and came to know all the secrets of the wild. Luna fought — as a game, then — the beasts that Celestia could never trust. They bothered her not, something Celestia could never understand. The light of her little star's big, toothy smile and soft-spoken ways split a dark night more than any racket ever could.

Celestia's forehooves found the golden balcony of the spire of Canterlot castle that did not belong to her. It was just as a flurry of images cut themselves from a memory that was rich with divinity's blessing bombarded her. Every part that she always wanted to remember could be recalled with absolute clarity — and so could everything she only wished that she could forget.

The wilds changed, and her own mind pushed her and had her plunge into brutal recollection. She was teetering at an edge that was choices, murky and dark. Oh, and a physical edge too, but that meant little. Falling would only break her body. It wouldn't kill Celestia. Nothing would.

But that only made so many more choices far direr for her. Her life really was flashing before her eyes — and it hurt. There was nothing but a horridness to that; Celestia always believed she had a life filled with optimism and heroism. She told herself that she was ignoring certain parts: the Tribal Era that she didn't allow herself to acknowledge any longer. Among those were the brief reign of her first friend and now-lover who she once warred against, and the window of time before...

Celestia squeezed her eyes shut and the trickle of tears welling up beneath her eyes felt as foreign as oil. Although alone, she refused to shed them, and a painful presence shifted itself in her mind, like it was trying to crush something. Of all the memories to be forced to the surface on this occasion, the uncomfortable sense of shifting of it in her mind was stirring up something... peculiar. The thought of this moment playing behind her now-open eyes was not nearly as haunting as everything else. She personally considered the experience to have been a great failure on her part.

It was when Luna — her dear, resourceful, near-silent companion — had ceased her personal fight with King Sombra. Now, that name would never cease to be anything but venom to her, Celestia loathed speaking it. Celestia knew enough of the story. In her own fight, she had been tricked into charging a door... a door that showed her something that then, she held nothing but contempt for...

A gasp startled Celestia, and she realized it was her own. She had been clutching the ornate gold rail of the balcony too tightly, so that the pain managed to briefly rise above everything else. Before she could stop herself, a sigh, heavy as could be, tumbled out of her. It felt like it had forcibly fallen from her throat.

Luna, who had one hundred years til her fall back then, had pulled her out of that trance, somehow. The kin she then... despised... and barely acknowledged — much to her own disgust now, centuries later — had prevented her from staring into her worst fear for. Well, Celestia hadn't the faintest clue to what would have become of her, other than something involving the fathomless cruelty of the stallion who called himself king. Even now, she shuddered a little at what could have been.

Then — Celestia only remembered the wail that came from no creature that rung in her ears. Their terrible sound that shook her very bones, and whose echoes still hummed within her in the moments after the long call had died. That was what her senses had awakened to when she found herself with the freezing feeling of the floor under her and her kin, a dark shadow of silence in the dreary Empire. Something had come with the noise, following that echo she recalled a peculiar, ticklish sensation in her chest, a flutter of her heart — a startled one, in her mind — before she had blinked and found herself staring only at a wall.

Saving the crystal ponies and ending the life and reign of the tyrant king did not go as planned. She was younger and wanted only to sweep the lonely land of the crystal ponies into an Equestrian embrace. Technically, she wasn't even the ruler of Equestria then, nor was Luna. 'Princess' was something that they were called, but both of them hadn't been much more than honorary nobility. She, the elder was the epitome of social radiance, groomed by the Unicorn Court, and a battle ax-toting charger who gleamed as she fought in battle as the ideal paladin. Her fire scorched any who dared step outside of the lines she drew.

Luna had been the silent 'other one' with all her passions stifled, her eyes on the stars, always a spell on her horn, philosophy in her mind, and the blood of a seasoned world-walker and all the skills that came with it. Ponies were scared of her and the things she said. Celestia swore that her kin was afraid of ponies then, even though Luna accepted the reality of the goddess identity that... well, Celestia was more selective about which traits she embraced there. She preferred her power to be political, and she still did. Luna embraced magical arts, conventional or otherwise.

But all that was a long time ago, no matter how clear it was in Celestia's mind.

Now — she had always thought that fluttering sensation was an omen. Why wouldn't it be? They lived in a world of omens and prophecies, of the adventures Celestia was careful to never go. Most of all, they lived in a world ruled by magic above all else. That feeling was the start of something new, in the midst of her first great failure, she was going to continue on. Celestia was going to spread ideals of goodness and kindness. Harmony was not to be contained. History chugged on like the trains of the present, always aiming for the forest and ignoring every tree, favoring the destinations that meant to much over the journeys that meant so little to her. Celestia had plenty of reason to dislike those wandering, imperfect endeavors.

It took many more beginnings. Equestria started after Discord's rule once more. Both Equestria and her had to begin again after...

On that balcony, she sucked in a breath and forced the neatest recollection of the moon's once-marred surface into her mind momentarily.

...After that. And yet, there was always more to come. In the name of her attempt at catharsis in the harrowing aftermath of something so unpredictable, unfathomable, and hollowing, she flew north again to begin... something.

Equestria was a land of endless beginnings for the good ponies who deserved it. There were so many chances. There were so little failures. There were so many beginnings. It was destined — so it must be! Celestia kept beginning, changing as much as she could. She had to loosen her grip on that gold rail again. She had wrapped her forelegs around the gilded rail so tightly and desperately, clutching at it with all she had until parts of her immaculate white coat had been rubbed raw and dribbles of blood marked her scuffed coat and angry, raw skin.

Falling backward in silent, but uncharacteristic clumsiness, she realized that she hadn't been paying attention to if she had been standing or sitting. Did it matter? She dismissed the question easily, as she settled down. The wind stung her raw wounds. Celestia's mind swarmed with a pained static composed of a disgustingly messy swarm of entangled ideas, thoughts, and emotions that had never been so grossly disorganized. That wasn't even the half of it. She did not go poking in any darker reaches she might have, she shined a light in them and called them solved. She did not dwell on herself. She had a nation to rule.

And somehow, this had all crept up on her, hadn't it?

Celestia felt herself nod numbly to her own thoughts. She wondered for a short moment when she decided to do that — to have her head bob up in a silent agreement with something and listen to the faint stirring of her heavy mane swishing. There was no wind, but she felt the coat along her spine prickle with another presence. She had not realized that she still held her large wings rather stiffly, like a statue, and let them fall down to meet the rest of her.

A small bit of thought — a pinprick among everything else — told herself that she looked very undignified and not even remotely respectable in this position that was just short of being clumsily slumped. She could do casual, but this? The first hint of a tiny scowl twitched in the corner of her lips, but did not break her impassive facade.

Really, she was just glad that the voice was her own.

Celestia's throat tightened abruptly, and she liked to pretend that she anticipated it.

For one thousand years everything had been... blithe. Largely predictable. Safe. Cheery. She could plan almost anything with ease. The other gods of this world — the remaining ones — acknowledged her. Over the course of those ten centuries, ten stallions called themselves her lover, but she did not wed, she still hadn't. She had Faithful Students to offer companionship to her aside from her lovers. Hundreds of friends kept her company and more acquaintances. Why, even if she were no princess-goddess, she would be a socialite! She certainly had large enough wings to be an ideal social butterfly, and that she was! Galas often knew her presence beyond the ones she hosted in Canterlot. Summer Sun Celebrations were glorious for her subjects. Nightmare Nights were something she would grin and bear. Personally, she fought in no wars, but when her southern allies needed her aid throughout the ages, she helped them. It was both part of her duty as a friend and as a princess would dictate.

She smiled. She delegated. She chatted. She laughed. She cried. She ruled. She frowned. She scheduled. She killed time quite nicely. She wasn't unhappy. She wasn't upset. She told herself that even though she was missing somepony dearly, she was just fine. Celestia believed herself with ease, and batted no eyelashes over the matter for nearly a thousand years. Her suitors would be the ponies who saw that sight, and other party-goers that found themselves at Canterlot festivities. While nopony knew anything, she planned as much as she could. Laughing to herself, she often wished she could plan everything! She planned weddings, funerals, celebrations, galas that always seemed to lack something if she dwelt on it too much, and anything and everything.

Well, she thought, those were the plans that ponies knew about.

Her ear flicked once before she stopped herself. Behind every closed door and drawn curtain, she worked tirelessly behind a smile that never truly faltered, but was exchanged for something else as needed. She tested ponies, but only her Faithful Students knew that she did... but she did not just test them academically. So much more had to be done. It was three students before Sunset Shimmer — a stallion named Skipping Stone who was among the most powerful of geomancers — that she began to consider the words from a fortune teller ages and ages ago. Then, the Faithful Student became a little bit more than a sorrowful consolation 'prize' for the sister that might not be coming back at all.

She planned anyway, trying to find a promising candidate to groom into being the perfect Element Bearer — which Element they would be, she could only hope that for the sake of her plans they would be the Spark of Magic. With no Bearers, she had to try and shape a Student into the perfect pawn. The young mare or stallion — she rarely got her hooves on anypony that wasn't already a teenager — would be her most perfect template. The potential their minds had to be molded into what they must be was beyond the comprehension of most ponies.

She had no proof then that a mortal could even be an Element of Harmony — Luna and she had been able to wield three Elements each; more than any previous gods had — but she wasn't even sure if a mortal was capable of managing even one, and even if they were...

The soft sigh that escaped Celestia was odd. Had she heard herself right? Was that the correct sound her ears picked up on this painfully silent night? Something in her mind stirred uncomfortably again. How much time did she have left? The flat stretch of silence, internal and external, that followed was chilling, and Celestia was unable to resist a shudder.

...Even if she knew they were capable then, if she didn't have control over that pony... there was no telling what could have happened.

Celestia was presented with a haunting sign in the form of what had to be the most fragile, eager, impressionable, and entirely unsuspecting young filly's cutie mark. Twilight Sparkle sealed the deal. She was the last Faithful Student. She was the magnum opus of her teachings, the key she needed in an array of bent copper sticks. Had she not been a goddess herself, she would have called the sweet little filly a godsend.

The Second Longest Night should have been the 'happily ever after' that Celestia had waited so long for. Luna and she had promised to be better family to one another. They had cried an uncountable amount of tears. Harmony was restored. Twilight had even made friends! Everything had been so picturesque and perfect. It was supposed to be a completely tidy wrap on their story, one where nothing remarkable would ever happen again. But something dark still lingered, so Celestia dismissed any thought of it. She was going to be the sister she used to be and now Luna was back. She was overjoyed. Delighted. In control. Her smile was lopsided and she cried in earnest so much and then—

Discord happened. She hid how much that confrontation hurt and did what she could, carefully predicting Twilight's moves and doing her duty when she could. Changelings followed. That... she did not wish to review that one, but as always, she thought with the first tingle of being pleased that she had felt in quite a few years, good had won. That was just as things were supposed to be.

Sombra had been the hairline fracture upon her perfect life, its start, and present. While he was her greatest failure, she was young when she faced him. Young and rather misguided in some ways. So much had changed since then. She told herself that, and of course, she believed it, her behavior, her nation — there was so much more proof. No longer was she what she was then, in terms of magical ability, nor was her kin. Reclaiming the Crystal Empire and facing magic that was no longer alien to them would have been easy... Luna certainly argued that. But Celestia had Cadance, and saw a heart of crystal upon her flank... and wondered if it meant something at last.

She sent Twilight to face true evil, and Twilight did not succumb. She had taught Twilight the smallest dribble of a dark power that felt too natural coming from her, the sun goddess and—

Twilight demonstrated perfect humility. She defeated Sombra, and everything was as it should be. When Twilight Sparkle, still a filly at heart, managed to finish a spell so advanced and... She did it all before she was twenty. Celestia found herself facing a second lesser alicorn — technically a demigod — with only slightly less bewilderment than before, not that she let it show. She had stared at Twilight Sparkle and thought of Luna. She thought of Luna, who couldn't be anything but lonely, who surely hadn't really meant to turn down Twilight's advances after Luna's first Nightmare Night, who was too isolated for her own good, and whose lack of romantic interest in stallions spoke to Celestia about something she should've spotted long ago.

Twilight Sparkle and Luna became something else for her to plan, in the whole background of everything. It was a possibility she wished to arrange. Oh, how she just wanted to clap her hooves like a breezie godmother and simply hoof over to Luna a tangible 'happily ever after' and all it entailed: a family who loved her, a lovely young unicorn-turned-demigod just waiting for her to admit her feelings, and how everypony was a friend that Luna hadn't met. Yes, Celestia was struggling at the time about Discord's then-new reformation and their bond. While good once again triumphed over Tirek, there was bound to be a little more stirring, at least for now. This wasn't her quiet solo reign anymore, as much as she longed for normalcy to fall upon Equestria.

Celestia muffled a small cough politely with her forehoof. Her chest ached for the optimism and control that she had in those years that felt as far as possible from that brief, idyllic time. It was like she had simply blinked one day... and it vanished. Where had it started? Even though it only stirred her aching head more, Celestia shook her head almost gingerly, and winced as a jolt of dizziness shot through her while she sat in the dark.

That was a very easy answer. All these changes that should never be, all began with one thing.

That last word sent a trickle of satisfaction coursing through Celestia, but it subsided quickly, and she was forced to lean her head upon the railing by propping herself sloppily with a shaky forehoof. She inhaled more shakily and forcefully than she meant to and felt her stomach churn bitterly. Her fluttering eyes almost triggered whatever slippery slope of recollection she teetered on. Whatever part of her that wasn't pained or numbed was vividly recalling this and that while her body was chilled by the night atmosphere, and maybe something more.

Shortly before Twilight Sparkle, now the official Princess of Friendship and a Lesser Princess of the three mares who ruled Equestria, ever encountered a mare that Celestia had only heard of through her former student — a very troubled Neo-Trotskyite cultist named Starlight Glimmer — Celestia was faced with the news that was downright startling. King Sombra had resurrected himself. That alone almost had her spit her morning tea. Teatime, an orderly and peaceful affair had been spoiled by what was undoubtedly the news of a disaster. She didn't want it to get any worse that day, but it had.

How had she heard? From a stallion by the name of Platinum Laurel, who was a member of the New Crystal Militia organized by Shining Armor. The previous had been slaughtered by King Sombra, as much of the populace had been during his eight-year reign. Not even foals had been spared his bloodlust. To Celestia, there was little lower than foal-killers, and that wasn't even all he had done. She had written books on the subject back in the day — books that had become very popular and frequently distributed in modern Equestria, with all kinds of updates and revisions.

News of King Sombra being found alive near the Gemheart Mountains that bordered the Empire came to Celestia in distant Canterlot through a letter and the promise of a meeting with important members of the NCM who wished to offer advice on what to do. Worse was still to come. When Cadance, her sweet and dutiful social butterfly of a niece, was interrogating Sombra, of all things, she had somehow been convinced by something he had said. What followed was her helping him sneak into the Canterlot Archives right under the muzzle of her and Luna, and was preparing to whisk her off to the Arctic.

Celestia had sharply swallowed hot tea and vividly felt the phantom impression of the illusory burn in the present, even on this surprisingly tranquil winter night so soon after the new year.

A whirlwind of things happened next: a large explosion in said Archives. In the aftermath of that catastrophe, where thankfully nopony had been killed, when Celestia had sent a tracker after her dear niece while she had been swept up dealing with her poor, frightened subjects, Cadance was already missing. Only Sombra could be blamed. The days that followed were a disaster in themselves. Soon, it seemed as if the world suddenly spun faster and had left Celestia in a stupor where she was only truly certain of a timeline: the Crystal Heart was snatched, Sombra and Cadance were sighted near the Empire, a fatal train wreck was discovered, and once again Cadance and Sombra disappeared to the harsh Arctic that even Celestia did not dare venture into. Even now, over a decade later, she didn't even appear at any kind of event held on Yakyakistanian soil... er, permafrost. She found it to be too close to old memories she wanted to seal and wipe away forever.

Cadance returned whole, restored the Heart, and with Sombra... who she was convinced needed a chance. The revolting stallion who had his effigy burned shortly after the ponies he terrorized were freed, somehow, had acted, as the Crystalline citizens would say 'like a keener' in order to win the trust of her niece, who believed in love most of all. She ended up defending somemonster who knew nothing of it.

For Cadance's sake, Celestia had allowed it.

With all that done, Celestia resumed her duties and waited for the twilight of all these unruly adventures to fade into the prosperity that should be.

Her hooves were shaking where she had positioned themselves again, but she remained passive.

She wished that had been the last of Sombra. A mortal being sealed inside the barren Arctic in non-physical form was not something that could be without consequences. Time displacement would have killed him, just as it would have if Discord had been a mortal and any other creature placed in similar circumstances. Instead, he was able to use his magic to keep himself alive — a feat Celestia would have deemed impressive if it weren't unnatural and were done by somepony worthy of any acknowledgment at all — for just a short while longer. Celestia didn't really care why, it never excused his crimes. Nothing did.

He disappeared into the wilds, where the few spies she sent could not track him, and lived a horribly isolated life... or so she guessed. To this day, many of his actions are a little bit of a blind spot to her. Her spies in SMILE returned with too little every time.

Twilight Sparkle wrote her a letter then, all those years back — as though it had been a long time at all! — before she was wed, or the princess she was now, writing all sorts of papers about how great Harmony and friendship were. Most importantly, Twilight Sparkle wrote of the reasons why they should be readily embraced by everypony to this day.

Her letter detailed something that sent her on an Arctic journey of her own — one with a shining destination in her mind. And part of the arrangement was King Sombra accompanying her, as arranged by Celestia herself. If anypony could manage King Sombra, Twilight could, or so went the thoughts of the princess. Except, Twilight didn't. She hadn't come close to being able to control him at all. Princess Celestia thought of the hospital room that had followed. Celestia's chest tightened with a sudden clench of pain that wrenched her back into an agonizing second of lucidity.

Gasping, she willed it away, and wished that the sound didn't sound like thunder to her, and that nopony would wake, even if they always felt too far away now. Then as it ebbed away and her heart continued shaking in her chest, she wanted to weep for sound again. She did not find anything but her emotions made into some kind of weird frizzy feeling that put the image of curling up into a ball in her head and made it hard to tell if she was cold or not anymore.

She wanted to tear her voice from her throat and scatter the sound, but she was afraid to speak.

She sank into recollection, and for a little while longer, let herself disappear there. Where everything unfolding behind her tired eyes had already happened and she could not be surprised. There was the memory of when she saw King Sombra after that and he was one of the few beings that she could say she truly hated in some fashion. He ended up walking out of that encounter, as smug as ever and immortal, with the potential for divinity on the horizon.

Celestia found herself somewhat surprised by her own lucidity. Lately, much of life had felt like it was not accessible to her and hidden behind a haze in her mind, through which only so much was able to show through. To have memory pour so freely — and overwhelm her anyway — was almost relieving. She thought it might be a sign that there was still self control in her, and that she still had time to make this awful, awful choice while something inside her stirred... and with it, she felt her body scream out in pain again, a dreadful thing that only she knew... and masked too well. It was something worse than any simple fever. Her mind and every aching part of her was slammed with dizzying, pained sensations. It was like something in her was ripping. She didn't need that many guesses to what it was, either.

So she let the memories pour forth and allowed them to run their course, pretending that she still had a choice in the matter and that this wasn't a positively immobilizing experience.

Those years ago, a magical catastrophe had almost fallen upon the entire world — one that was rooted in ugly knots of emotion all twisted up behind Celestia's pretty face. She hadn't expected to see an immortal Sombra gathered among all gods who were infinitely more respectable when compared to him. He shouldn't have been there. He didn't know the spell to bring him to the Pantheon, where all gods met, and where unaltered mortals must die to glimpse it. She learned later, that it had been her dear niece that had aided Sombra yet again. The stab of betrayal from that had not healed. Celestia had covered it up, put on her best act, and only let so much show, filtering her emotions spectacularly — and why wouldn't she? Celestia had the experience. Celestia had the time. Celestia had the reasons. Celestia was scared enough. Celestia knew better.

But then, she might have gotten just a little something wrong. Instead of hiding Luna from news that would upset her, she ended up allowing Luna to be exposed to negativity. When Luna left, she thought her sister was retreating somewhere quiet, and into the unhealthy isolation Celestia swore was Luna's addiction and her bane. Learning that Luna had run off to avert a catastrophe was shocking. Learning Luna up and stole an airship to do it had hurt. The pain from knowing that Luna had managed to acquire Sombra as a companion to do so was almost unimaginable, and had ensured that all the politicking, bickering, putting on reassuring airs, and managing a nation in a world that might not have made it — at least at the time — while hiding all but the iceberg's tip of what was really occurring. The feeling was not one she liked dwelling upon after experiencing it. She really hadn't believed that any worse thing could come at the time, and she certainly couldn't believe that had happened.

Seeing the way Luna looked at Sombra upon their return had sent Celestia's heart warring as she heard words that should never be true: Luna did not love Sombra, now a rogue god, Luna should not love Sombra, Luna could not love Sombra. That mantra replayed in her head over and over again. That had been the worst pain she had felt since...

The lump in Celestia's throat felt brutally convenient, and she dared not look at the sky.

...The light of the stars was a slim comfort. It usually was — for her, any light was usually a good one.

She wished she could have stopped Luna. Through all the internal wars going on between those white ears of hers, and all the little whispers that had evolved into brief, noisy battle cries that has all sorts of things to say about the subject... that was one of the loudest. Or the simplest, and Celestia loved simple things. It was probably both. She wished the talk she had with Luna afterward, the one filtered through innumerable layers of sugar, matronly concern, shreds of worry, and all sorts of things so sickly-sweet while whispers kept ringing in her ears like they hadn't in a long, long time — she wished that talk had convinced Luna to pursue a good relationship, one that Celestia could approve of.

To this day, Celestia had no trust for Sombra, and no compassion. Any emotion she had towards the stallion who undoubtedly stole her Luna from her was justified, of course, but unpleasant.

She wished it hadn't continued the way she wished that it had never started.

She wished it hadn't gone as far as it had.

She wanted Luna to be able to be that effervescent around everypony but him and put all her private habits behind her.

She wished that Luna could give that terribly earnest smile to anypony else.

She wished that she could pinpoint the last time she had even seen Luna smile like she did when she saw Sombra.

Ah, and there was the shaking of her legs again. They felt stiff with pain and very cold. She tried to concentrate on that numbness, gently pressing herself against any cold surface in hopes that she could absorb some of it and the burning pains that she hid for so long would cease. But at this point, she'd settle for numbness, too.

She hated the silence of a sleeping world that left her all alone. It managed to slip a strange bit of thought into her head: the thought that things could — or at least they could feel like they could — consume her. Thoughts after sunset were toxic, ugly things. Musings that should not be. Seeds of doubt that should not have bloomed. Cruel nagging in the back of her mind. Bleak things that she waited to fade into the mostly dreamless slumbers that she had. These thoughts and worries that were not, could not, and would not be her own always vanished within the bland normalcy of her personal dreams, which was something she welcomed.

The thought of all who lived in Equestria asleep at this hour filled her mind briefly. Her ear twitched to acknowledge a sound that wasn't there. Twilight Sparkle and her friends and family lay in Ponyville. To the north, Cadance, Shining Armor, and Skyla would be asleep under the aurora of the Empire.

A sound between a faint wheezing breath and a sigh escaped Celestia, startling her heart into racing as she froze up, dreading another presence —
and then resenting herself for ever thinking that something as treasured as company could ever be so feared. Only then did she realized it was her who made the sound.

This year, her young daughter was staying with her father in Ponyville too. Royal duties cast a surprisingly big divide between Celestia, her partner, and the little kirin filly who adored her 'Auntie' Fluttershy and had to fake sleeping through magic lessons she stumbled through, taught by none other than 'Aunt' Twilight while her father was off turning apples into oranges and making rose petals into chicken wings. Celestia would see her next year, and maybe next year her daughter would cease to age normally. So far, the little immortal had gone through her first eleven years normally, gleefully crowing about how wonderful it was to have a birthday the night before Nightmare Night while Celestia just bit her lip ever so slightly and wondered how much candy she was going to have to help the little filly count.

Celestia would be lying if she didn't think of Discord and Qilin hadn't come to mind and made guilt clench in her chest and a tear or two stings at the corner of her eyes just a little.

Celestia told herself just that. It was the kinder thing to do.

She hated that Luna loved Sombra, and that he slept in the castle that was the unspoken homecoming gift to Luna, who badly needed one not so long ago... almost sixteen years ago, or at least, that is the estimate Celestia's tired mind summons. She'd never forget, but it was hard to remember when she was in this state... and so weary, as well.

Forcing thoughts of 'stay' and 'go' away with an almost emotionless feat of mental professionalism in an attempt to create the illusion of being unburdened, Celestia collapsed onto the balcony. Well, 'collapsing' was not a good word for it. Crumpling fit better.

A haze of memory with all the feeling of an intense fever worked its way to the forefront of Celestia's mind as she lay in an inelegant heap on the ground with a small sheen of sweat forming under her mane.

She remembered when Canterlot, as ponies knew it today, was first completed, castle and all. The castle had come first, like a great tree, with construction having started not that long after Luna's banishment — in fact, it began almost immediately after. Not long after, the city began to be built, in the same style as the new castle. The old stone streets, buildings, and crystal caves of a city known as Canterlote were whitewashed by something new and strange. Celestia had tossed aside the styles that were popular at the time and actually presented knowledge of Old World architecture, albeit in pieces, to her little mortals building it. It was the most advanced city at the time, and was still one of the greatest and most beautiful today.

She didn't know Luna was coming back, but she built her a home anyway. She had wished that the scars on the moon could see it even if Luna couldn't. Canterlote was eventually flattened. It was the hidden city beneath the city that less than ten individuals, including Celestia herself, knew about and she intended to keep it that way... though she was sure that a criminal or two knew of the under-city. But before it was flattened, and before Celestia flew north, she was presented with the plans for a new palace. It was to be domineering and gilded. Sun icons would be everywhere, placed there by ponies who wanted to pay tribute to the only goddess they ever loved of the two of them. They would not even try to hide it, how could they when they had sung it in the streets? They were overjoyed that their princess had 'slain' the moon!

It was to be built by serfs, and to be always lit. No luxury was to be spared. Parties were to have their sound ring in the halls. Every bit of the place was something only an elitist, spoiled, and admittedly classist sort would find the utmost appreciation for. The one who ruled from such a castle would be worshipped in almost every way imaginable. This was not the home of a wise god, nor a warrior god, even if Celestia's conquests were to be made known in golden murals, and this was not the home of a god who could be called kind beyond vanity's sake. Only the vainest god could live here, and one who craved the attention of their subjects. Here was the reward for winning their popularity contest — the one that had resulted in Nightmare Moon.

A younger Celestia had loved it with all her heart, and the Celestia crumpled upon a Canterlot balcony had an aching nostalgia for much of what that design had offered, with some obvious exceptions. The notion of serfs disgusted her now. But, such a castle had certainly suited her tastes! It had been one of the most tantalizing things that Celestia had ever been faced with. If it had been proper for her to drool then, she would likely have done so.

So she had refused it and presented her idea: a city in a style that none of them would ever remember, and was more advanced than anything those ponies would have ever hoped to see in their lives. An Old World-esque place even though she detested what that world stood for. She wanted it to be built by paid, skilled craftsponies. Her blueprints had needed some work too, she was hardly capable of drawing much more than nice flower sketches and stick-ponies, even then. It was unconventional, and that meant un-Celestia. She had seen that they hated it, and were baffled by her actions, but they would never question her, even if she was flying north. She was their goddess.

So Canterlot was built — everypony knew that.

For Luna — only Celestia and Luna knew that.

Celestia remembered it because in the one thousand years of her rule, there had been so many suitors, and it was popular to proclaim the goddess that was their princess to be living in a city as divine as she was. They said that Canterlot would not fall until Celestia did, and she was called the Crown Jewel of Canterlot by some and greater than any jewel by others. She had been presented with many sonnets and sonnet attempts — she didn't need to be Luna to spot the worst of poetry and poetry attempts, even if she treated the two like they were the same — that had compared Canterlot's walls to the white of her coat. Celestia was not a city, but right now, she felt like she was crumbling. Her mane twitched faintly, as if responding, and Celestia drew in a deep breath while the balcony's cold touched her back. Inside and out, it felt like there were fractures running through her. She knew there were fractures running through her. Had this all been some deadly waiting game? Just sitting by until she—

As heavy as Celestia felt she was, her great wings flared and circled her. She felt these fractures; she knew that they were in her — and fractures were imperfections!

Pain flared in her, like her guts were being twisted and knotted up. Feverish heat gripped her insides. If Celestia's flesh was a string, then it felt like something was attempting to unravel her, yanking her apart so very slowly. What was salt in a wound compared to this? Her legs were stiff stalks she planted on the ground, unmoving beams supporting a body that felt like... she felt like she just ought to fall. Her breathes came in deep, choked inhales and her eyes were wide as they searched the darkness, fearful over something they would never find.

Everything external of her was so hauntingly silent that she felt like the silence was squeezing at her, and it was maddening.

She got it in her head to create a small werelight, just to shoo the shadows away. The way they moved and wavered disturbed her mind greatly. Her horn ached like no physical pain she had ever felt before. Horns did not bend. Horns did not break... at least, not through anything a pony or Alicorn could do in their everyday life. It took dark experiments and immense divine power to break a horn — the latter mostly applying to Alicorns — and they did not grow back. In mortals, such a break would be lethal — it had been for Clover the Clever.

Celestia's horn almost felt like it moved. She didn't feel the tear trickling down her cheek. Her body exploded with nothing short of pure agony. Combat wounds were nothing compared to this tidal wave of misery. She swayed with the unnatural movements of clockwork toys. There was a scream — a long one — working its way through her throat, like some kind of large, disgusting spider trying to crawl out. Celestia found it difficult to breathe, but didn't have time to wonder if it was possible to choke on a scream. It felt like her nerves were on fire, and not the fire that one would see every day. This was not a candle, a torch, or a conjured flame. It was her own natural magic. It was sunfire; her fire.

And it was hungry.

With it was her goddess nature — her as she should be — locked away behind it all. She was the pyromancer of pyromancers.

Celestia was terrified of this. The burning feeling sweeping through her, the raw hunger wracking her body worse than starvation... it was all the magic that she had been trying to seal away. Celestia's mouth opened and a small whimpering sound managed to escape her windpipe while she looked on at nothing in the distance of the currently desolate — at least to her — scene of Canterlot that was spread out below her. She hated her magic so much. She would raise and lower the sun. She would allow herself advanced magics, of course — raising the sun was some of that, and as an Alicorn, she could never get by with even a demigod's level of magic.

But she hated that fire desperately. This was her nature, and there was something greedy about it. Parts of her she lied about loved it, but this power, this identity, was something she could not stand. The hurt that came from her powers, the ugly truth of it all, there was so much about it that she thought wrong, and she had no way to get rid of it.

Since she was young, she refrained from using her magic as much as she could. It was Luna who was magically inclined anyway. Celestia had started feeling herself... grow, and become more. She was scared of herself... but hadn't she always been? Simply not using magic was not enough. It ate at her. She was starving herself of something. Living, maybe. To Celestia, this was no kind of living she wanted, if it was living at all. When she found ponies, and she and Luna got their cutie marks, she saw how so many ponies called her a monster for the power they displayed... and she agreed with them. So many ponies were not going to be wrong, too. Even the Unicorn Tribe barely used magic!

It was horrifying how Luna argued against this, and how magic was more a part of them than it could be for any unicorn. She saw the nature of her younger kin, and how she tried to embrace... all of it.

But Celestia would not. This could not be her, not at all. Her kin studied magic, but Celestia had different studies. As a young mare, she certainly wasn't able to access a real wealth of knowledge among the tribal ponies, but they had enough. Luna was making her own experiments and delving into magic on her own, weaving her own enchantments and applying what she had learned. From what Luna told Celestia years later, she did more than Celestia ever really wanted to know.

When she was young though, Celestia had a plan. She picked through advanced books, scrolls, and anything to offer her what she needed. She siphoned some of her power to experiment with, but always with restriction and normalcy above all else. It was not normal to have this much power, it was monstrous. Rulers could not be monsters. So, Celestia had started doing sewing of the most peculiar variety. She crafted networks of seals, internal wards, special barriers, and anything and everything that she could use to stitch her magic up. That is exactly what she had done! She really had stitched and sealed and tucked everything away. Everything was perfectly repressed.

Once, she allowed herself to break a good number of the layers of magical networks smothering her, and that was at the Crystal Empire when she first fought King Sombra. After that, she cleaned up and sealed up everything. There was nopony who would ever know she did this, and all the ways that she hobbled herself. Nopony at all would glimpse her wild power. Maybe Sombra, through his dark trickery, found a way to find out just a little.

And now, those stitches were frayed, because lately, it seems that she had been holding something else back, and she... oh, now when she was like this it was hard to recall how everything started... and...

There was the railing again. Celestia steadied herself by leaning against some of it. The chilly night air stung her throat, which felt raw. The ghost of a flare of golden aura hung on her horn, but it was still flickering weakly. She stared at it with eyes both hungry and terrified. Still, it felt like she was not the only one looking at what was lying before her, on her aching horn. It truly felt like something else was peering at her horn through her own rose eyes... and she would not be wrong to guess that at all. There was the presence in her head stirring again, and the unmistakable sinister feeling that it brought. For flaring on her horn, brighter than the golden aura, but not so much that it would really be 'bright' on its own was different magic... and familiar all the same.

Magenta smoke hung around black and—

Peeking through her rosy eyes, stinging more than tears ever did, was the same magenta smoke, with little wisps of it curling through — all in all, barely enough to be detected.

Fighting through, something clearly in vain, Celestia tried to will the gold brighter, and stitch herself back up. Her chest felt constricted again. Her magic faltered entirely, and the near-fully fledged dark magic with it. That was hardly the 'amateur' — as amateur as dark magic could be — little glimpse she showed an unaltered Twilight Sparkle over ten years ago. This was more mature.

With the light of her horn gone, she was left in the dark once more.

This was back before everything began.

Author's Note:

This is the start of the second major story arc in the Iceverse. The first is right here, and while the first is not required reading it helps to give it a try instead of rely solely on re-tellings that are presented here, as they contain major spoilers for the first arc, as well as being presented from a biased character. Expect there to be alternate lore that comes with being a 'verse that's already had multiple story arcs, major and minor. Feel free to ask questions, but beware spoilers in the comments!

Other than that, I'll be glad if you stick around! The rest of the story isn't going to be told in the exact same way this chapter is, so please bear with me here if it was simply the format/presentation you didn't like. If it was something else, I'd love to hear why via comment or PM, just please be sure to be specific about whatever it is that bothered you and remember that, if you're new to this continuity, it's been going on for a while, so whatever you might want to know could already have and answer, etc.


[Revised for print on 12/12/2020]