• Published 19th Aug 2017
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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 12: Daughter of Mine, Part 1

Celestia knew that there was one very important rule to romances. When somepony called you perfect, that was what you had better be. To that, there could be no exceptions. The mortal stallions who she called her lovers wanted a mare that was like an edifice they could worship utterly and be in awe of how small they were when their destinies were contrasted. They wanted a queen of the princess, and Celestia enjoyed the worshipful love enough that she indulged in that dynamic completely and utterly.

Each one of them had been her treasures, but in the end, they had all been mortal. She watched them all reach the expiration that came from only ailments that were wholly for mortals, such as cancer.

Discord had no possible expiration date, and he was also the only creature who was delightful in how puzzling he was. Never before had she enjoyed having to figure somepony out or have a relationship closer to a back and forth than that of beloved trinket and a curio-coveter. She would never stop enjoying that.

For her, that was normal love. Who could want anything less than their love to have that good status?

Celestia just wished that she knew how to really lift up her relationships in trying times. Imbalances proved uncomplicated, but graduating — was that the word she sought? — to a relationship with Dissy meant they each had their own lives. He was harder to read, and usually for the better. She was never one to favor tension, and anything that would accommodate his needs would, in turn, fulfill her needs.

They had big talks in the past, one of which had been the boundaries talk. She had misread the nature of his relationship with Fluttershy, letting him know that she would have no issue if he sought a relationship that was beyond platonic while with her. Discord had actually been surprised by Celestia’s words, a rarity she could hardly evoke from him. They were both aware that Fluttershy was an absolute ingénue, but she had not been aware of previous incompatibilities for their relationship on Fluttershy’s part. Celestia never broached the subject again for most of those reasons, none of them had been concerning and all were fairly cut and dry. Fluttershy being wholly monogamous and non-xenophilic were two of the more iron-clad reasons in disqualifying her as a potential partner for Discord.

Except for the one that had stuck with her.

Her and Dissy had laughed during that conversation, though it was hard not to have been laughing. Discord drew high spirits out of everypony, especially her. Even when she would have wished to make her disposition more modest to draw less attention at an event, it was hard to maintain that with somepony who always sought to make her shine with happiness.

He had to explain to her that an incident of buying two cakes instead of one was the most impulsive and lively he had seen Fluttershy in his years of knowing her. Something like that did nothing to dispel any of the signs that Fluttershy would be an ill match for her beloved draconequus — if anything, it made those signs that much more obvious and easier to agree upon for the both of them.

She found herself craving lightheartedness more than ever, particularly because it was like the wool of positivity had been pulled from over her eyes. It’s how she came to loathe the evaluation of most of her memories. So often, there was a taint of dourness and imperfection that threatened to inch into her present through those memories. (Worse still, she was aware of some, ah, creatures who would declare the concept of imperfections like that realistic. As if anypony needed such a thing!)

In a fit of smiles and laughter, Celestia had asked Discord to imagine what having Fluttershy in a vee-relationship would be like — or just any at all.

“Boring, bordering on suicide,” he had said.

His rare moments of seriousness were always something that stirred immediate attention from her. Usually due to how worrying that tone from him was. A creature like her, unable to fathom death so personally, saying something so grim and switching to cheer a moment later. On another occasion, she remembered bringing up the subject with Luna to gauge her thoughts on the matter, though she had purposely kept the details murky. Luna had given a great, hearty laugh and continued to do so, thinking Celestia had been telling a joke. Then Luna had told Celestia that the notion gods looked to mortals with great interest as potential romances and that there was easy compatibility between the two was the thought of somecreature less aware of life than a score of ‘0’ on the Grassgrow Coma Scale.

That stuck with because it mirrored how much Celestia could switch from adoring and all-present with him to deflecting all concerns (however slight) that something could be wrong…

...and the distance that those actions could inevitably build. The same kind of relationship distance that plagued her now.

Breathing as quietly as she could, Celestia found herself steeped in creeping, quiet alarm. Normally, she would never take pleasure in the quiet that could befall her chambers. Now, she had to count the lack of intrusion and company as a blessing. She hadn’t even set up her gramophone to spill a little song through her rooms in order to dispel total silence.

Her chest ached faintly with the force of her racing heart, yet it wasn’t enough to flood her ears with the sound of rushing blood. Celestia adjusted her posture and the cushion under her. The thick, gilded top over the whole of her ornate vanity table was cold under her bare hooves.

The mare reflected back at her was not as tired as she felt. The mask of coat powder, concealer, and her usual layers of perky mascara saved her from showing that truth. The gold eyeshadow jar she had opened was still untouched, though it was ready and pulled away from the stack of other warm hues she liked. Bright sunshine streamed through the floor to ceiling window leading to her balcony. Without the curtains to disrupt it, the whole room was cast in an inappropriately happy light.

Trying not to swallow, Celestia resorted to squeezing her telekinesis around the handle of her nacre mane-brush until her aura went from pale gold to being a flushed dandelion hue. Her mane fell in an overflow of the wispy, currently untamed rainbow that still hadn’t managed to hide how she stared at herself like a trapped deer.

Weeks had passed painfully since the debacle with Sombra, and Celestia had managed a desperate scramble to restore a fragile sense of normalcy. While Luna was determined to make sure Celestia saw as little of Sombra as possible, what little contact she had been able to make with Sombra since then…

...those brief encounters were better left unsaid.

(Their lunches together had certainly stopped. She never had to tell anypony why. They had just ended without question.)

Since then, she had been able to dwell on what (or ‘who’ as it claimed) she needed to keep under wraps. The brief exchanges she was having with that something else were much, much more pressing matters. Though, her panic and public role had meant she had heard little of the Hemera-thing beyond snide remarks and interjections being wormed into her thoughts… now, she had the time to talk.

“Hemera,” she said to the mirror. Her voice was a tight whisper, unable to clutch too tightly at the usual sternness she would have desired to use in this situation. “You are to appear to me now.”

Is everypony supposed to come at your beck and call?

Celestia was unable to watch herself swallow in the mirror. There was that horrible oily tone that sliced through her thoughts, a foreign force in her head that caused a migraine to start reverberating into being with her every word. Already, she could feel the fierce pains of a hornache building up and had to bite the inside of her cheek.

Oh, how she missed the other whispers and scattered geasan that she could probe for. Now, they were tatters and her mind was left silent, with only her and that dark thing. Adding Sombra’s ever-sarcastic tone would be all that was needed to complete the trio of the three beings she wanted to have to deal with the least.

“Am… am I to expect anything else?” Celestia asked, ducking her gaze from her own reflection in confusion.

Have you ever expected anything short of total obedience from everypony?

She never thought of Hemera as anything but an ‘it’ since it had unveiled itself. However, the voice used by Hemera was unshakably female in nature, though it was spine-chilling and sinister in how deep it was. Hemera did not sound like it spoke from an abyss; Hemera sounded like the abyss.

She blinked, placing the brush in her hooves so that she could toy with it idly. Aside from the heavy anxiety prickling throughout her body and Hemera’s wretched imprint, she felt caught off-guard from the question. Just what did the wretch mean by it?

“Ah… I think the last time I wouldn’t have would have been a long time ago. Until I know more about you, I see no reason not to see you as an unruly subject of mine, or at least the parody of one. You certainly are no pony.”

Then what do you see me as, O Morning Star?

Celestia would be a fool not to see the mocking edge buried in those words. There was something else in Hemera’s voice too, not curiosity. Whatever it was, it was undeniably adding to the spookiness. She didn’t want to place it.

“To be truthful with you? I am not sure. You are no geasan. They are just the ultimate mask. I do not know what you, save for some infection. Tell me what you are, then.”

You should know what I am. The tone was too emotional to be cold, but not passionate enough to sound like any creature Celestia had ever encountered. This time, Celestia thought she could hear doubt at her replies to the beast.

This thing, this utter parasite was doubting her when it was a guest in her body? Some nerve!

“I haven’t the faintest idea what you are,” Celestia insisted coldly, turning up her muzzle with an annoyed sniff at her reflection. Trickiness was a quality she could rarely tolerate, and there was nothing good in Hemera, she was quite sure of that.

Wicked mare, came the cold slither of Hemera’s voice, I have festered in you long enough! Your self-inflicted memory magic, cruel bindings, and numerous geasan have hurt more than yourself. How can you say that you have no idea of my nature when you have been inflicting magic on more than just yourself?

“I…” Celestia shut her eyes, drew in a steady breath. She tried to calm her mind, only Hemera’s activity felt like a cockroach scuttling between the grooves of her very brain. “I’m struggling to understand why you are so demanding of me as if you are anything more than a new pest. I am the only one with a claim to this form, you are an infestation no more than two months old.”

When she opened her eyes again, her forehooves were shaking as if in anger, but Celestia could not feel herself moving them.

The broken, ugly voice screeched. The sound of it was knives within Celestia’s head. She immediately dropped her mane-brush and brought her hooves to her ears, whimpering and pressing on them. To her misfortune, that only made the sound worse, as it stemmed from within her.

Vile tyrant! You horrible fire, how can you deny me even now? HOW CAN YOU ACT LIKE YOU DID NOT FEEL ME AGES AGO?

Celestia gritted her teeth, pleading to herself to stay calm and understand what this evil meant.

I am a demon as your enemy is, the one you have denied torment over, the one who is enviable above all else. The one with a body all their own, the kind of body you have tried to prevent me from thriving in and developing. Your body is my cage, and your magic has been its key. The very key you constantly weaken. Everything you have ever done to suppress yourself has hurt me a hundred-fold more.

Oh my heavens…

Now, you claim to have never known me? I, who always needed you?

Dear me, how did this thing ever come upon me?

Oh, how indeed, Celestia.

Gasping, Celestia sat up, a cold sweat gripping her instantly. Shock ripped through her gut as she bolted up, eyes wide with fear.

You can…

How can you mistake yourself for being so careful? Your mind is naught but ruins, not a fortress, and I have been in the dungeons for far too long. I hear you, for you have hidden nothing from me. You have forced me to be the worm in the apple of your memory. All you have ever done is hurt me and put me through centuries of torture, falsely believing your body should really belong to you.

“I… I am sorry that you are hurting?” Celestia said quickly, regretting immediately that her words sounded far too much like a question. The internal ringing from Hemera’s display of temper made Celestia’s mind feel like it was about to implode with ringing leftover pain.

What makes you think I do not wish to hurt you too?

The complete frankness of the question made Celestia feel like her chambers were as icy as the northern wastes.

“Hemera,” Celestia said slowly, nervously. She forced a small, plastic smile for the sake of them both, “why don’t we be friends instead?”

The brief, painless pause made Celestia’s tail flick nervously in a sweeping gesture across the floor. Now, her heartbeat had reached her ears.

“I would have no issue with pleasant company in my head. Surely, we could do much better for both of us if we got along instead? Think of how much better that could be, if we could be a princess as a team instead. Would you like that? To claim a few minor, harmless royal duties? I promise that ribbon-cutting can be quite fun.”

The grate of her galloping thoughts in the quiet was painful in itself. Surely, with enough shows of kindness, the demon would not seek Shadowhood with her any longer?

“I’m positive that I would come to like you eventually.”

Ah, yes, as you like the one called Sombra, they whose existence I have envied above all else?

“That’s different,” Celestia insisted, trying to snatch whatever thought she could put into words. “I assure you, he is a very different situation.”

You hate them because they are as I am.

“No, no! You have it all wrong. His history is different, as is how he acts. You claim to have access to my memories. How haven’t you seen that he and I don’t get along for...” Celestia wrung her unadorned forehooves in a lackadaisical gesture, “...a whole host of reasons?”

Your memories tell me that you are a liar.

“Nopony is perfect, and you’ll notice that little white lies told by somepony as old as I am skew perception. Do you really think that I would lie about something important? Goodness, gracious.”

That which is important appears to be all you lie about, sun-nag.

Celestia sighed, pursing her lips into a thin line. “Now, I think you’re just being rude. I am trying to help you because you said you were hurting.”

Your patronage is most vile, and I will be having no more of it, filthy princess of light. Even now, you seek only to burn me.

No, no, no. There was still so little she had learned!

“No, Hemera, you must wait! If you don’t want me to command you, then I won’t. But you can’t treat me so poorly, I haven’t shown any of the sadism you have expressed to me to you. Why do you think such unfairness will get you anywhere?”

The only thing you have ever done to me is to try and strangle my budding life, then you tamper with yourself to give you fuel for this enraging display of denial. All so you can silence me! I need you, Celestia. I need your body. You should have relented to my power long ago, and yet, you still maintain this routine to delay the inevitable.

“You speak lies, demon! I would never hurt anything that is innocent, and I put the good of others above what is good for me. Do you dare accuse somepony who does such a thing of trying to torture the innocent?”

INDEED I DARE! bellowed Hemera. I had to squeeze out a name for myself from scraps of your memory, for you have crippled my ability so. I am so entrenched in your foulness and barriers that the memories of my origin’s origin are lost to me! I am without the manual to my own existence and left to soak in all your mistakes and bile.

The brush was once again in Celestia’s grasp. She pointed it forcefully at the mirror, aiming it with the queenly coldness she held in ages past when royal scepter was a common sight. Her focus was on her own eyes, trying to look past her own tiredness to where she was sure Hemera would be lurking.

“If you are nothing but corruption and dark powers, then you don’t deserve the parody of life you seek, or to steal what is mine and mine alone. My reign over Equestria and the welfare of my subjects means more than you ever could. Do you think that you can stand up to that?”

The gesture exhausted her more than she wanted to let on, and the words were the front of bravado a ruler was supposed to put up. They were meant to be true because they spoke of good, not good because they were true. Hemera was another horrible entity not accounted for in any of her kingdom of chess.

Everything about this encounter was draining her more than she wanted to admit. Would ever admit.

Hemera’s sudden silence was also downright nauseating. Especially after all that Celestia had learned — everything that pointed to how little she still really knew about the situation. All this forbidden-knowledge-type nonsense was one of the things she loathed most, and now it looked like she was going to have dive into just that.

Celestia stretched one wing, trying to keep the look of the gesture imperial instead of twitchy.

“Hemera, if you keep to my word and accept my offer… I think much better things can come for you. I think you overestimate just how much you think you want to hurt me.”

I do not think you hate me nearly enough as you should, came Hemera’s voice again. That horribly sadistic element was extra ominous this time, overpowering much of the facetious calm she had heard Hemera use.

Celestia let herself frown, still trying to watch her own eyes. Was there something she was missing in them? Something that indicated Hemera or some weakness all her own?

“We’re going to be seeing much more of each other, I presume.”

Far too much more, purred Hemera. The unequine aspect of her was apparent; there was a little growl wrapped in those words, one similar to a sound Sombra would make. Though, if you really extend an offer of kindness, however fake, let me leave you with something too.

“What could you possibly have that I would need?” Celestia asked the mirror, her frown deepening. Her mane’s flow kicked up its speed, betraying her anxiousness.

Perhaps what you need to know the most about me is that I will only ever lie to you — or tell you the absolute truth. And if you think yourself as bright as your sun, then you will be able to figure out which I speak all on your own.

Hemera slipped to the back of Celestia’s mind again, all without having to tell her that she hadn’t given any helpful clues. Instead, Hemera had just offered a threat.

Gods rarely permitted the entry of outsiders into their own worlds. Such was the nature of things, all wrapped up in this divine insistence on good bearing come from personal space, or some other silly thing. However it was supposed to go, Celestia kept Radiance away not because it was a private thing, but because she had little reason to go there. The planes of the gods bonded with those that became divine, rather than the other way around.

That meant Radiance saw something similar to itself in Celestia, though the thing was in a state of semi-sapience that was not parallel to Celestia. To bear something so viscerally attached to her was frightening, more so than every time she opened what she could bear of herself to her lovers. Thus was the chief reason she never delved fully into Radiance, it was the foal that was to be seen and not heard, nor speak unless spoken to. The reminder of divinity and Otherness, how she was so far from ponies, was to be shut away.

Let it be strangled. Let her visit Discord’s Chaosville as often as she was invited, for Discord never refused her and dipped into his plane frequently. But her own shall remain sealed, and with it, all the power it could offer her. She wanted to numb it, though Radiance could not be severed.

To see the soul of others was a delight or a disaster; to see what claimed to be her own was disgusting.

She liked to fantasize about what kind of planes most of her lovers would have had, were they not mortal. Perhaps Discord being the only immortal whom she loved added to how much of a tease he was, as much as that immortality was a comfort, even to the mare who wished she knew more of mortality.

She did not like it when her tired magic forced so golden-bright in order to unmask Radiance pushed.

Luna always said that bringing up an opening to her Solace took a burst and a swell of magic, always describing her own ritual in such a way that made doing so sound effortless. For Celestia, she had to push and pull, sweat budding lightly under her brow as she did so. She rarely ever used her magic with such force in any other circumstance, and yet, Celestia had to apply it when Radiance was related, otherwise, nothing would happen!

Instead of her gold magic searing to being white-hot and edged with blue, Celestia was left in one of her Solar Wing’s spare rooms for dabbling and magical exercises. She gasped, panting as her whole body was hot with exhaustion and the knots of a migraine overwhelmed her, clouding her sight. Flecks of foam had dripped down her shaking legs. The whole force of magical exhaustion unlike any she had felt in centuries seized her. Even her steaming mane and tail were troubling weight — one that obviously rarely burdened her.

Bringing forth Radiance was always difficult, and had only grown moreso as time passed, but never was it impossible.

That was how Celestia knew that there was something desperately wrong.

“Mother, look!” Qilin cried happily.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Celestia could see the five-year-old scrambling across the floor of the Canterlot Archives. All the blunder was so she could keep up with the long stride of her mother.

The multi-species limbs of the kirin meant the filly had an uneven gait. A reptilian right-hind leg did not grow at the exact same rate as Qilin’s other limbs: two peachy pony legs, and one shaggy sorrel-furred goat-like one. Despite there never being an Alicorn-draconequus variant of kirin, there were still numerous other hybrid types that fell within the species name. Physicians who specialized with those other kirin variants declared the little one would eventually have perfectly even limbs.

“That’s very nice, dear,” Celestia said immediately, her eyes still scanning the spines of books. Earth pony villages in the southern desert wanting to declare a Chancellor Puddinghead-themed festival gave her the perfect excuse to scan for the elusive texts she needed.

“But Mother,” Qilin pouted, “you didn’t even look!”

There was an unmistakable buzz of impatience that could have only come from Qilin’s mismatched wings. The insectoid one was an outrageous big blue fan of a thing, and Qilin was well aware of how its loudness could be misused to assert her foalish emotions. The pink, feather wing was larger than those of most pegasus foals and could produce that rowdiest flapping ruckus. Qilin’s bursts of flight during infancy had been a nightmare to deal with.

“Yes I did, sweetie. You just didn’t watch. Mother is doing her work now and needs you to play quietly if you want to stay in the Archives.” Celestia flicked an ear and felt her necklace shift with her deep breath.

Normally, Qilin would sit in her own ‘mini office’ set up in the corner of Celestia’s Success Room. There, the dear little filly would get the chance to draw quietly and have snacks as a reward for doing her schoolwork earlier in the day. It was only due to how unbelievably fidgety and quick to beg Qilin was today that Celestia let her filly accompany her on other duties.

Mooooother,” came the insistent tone just a few notches short of whiny, “I didn’t see you watching me!”

“Qilin,” Celestia said, “I know exactly what I did, young miss.” She raised her head higher in order to stare at the titles inscribed on a few scrolls.

“Pleasepleaseplease look!”

Celestia was on the verge of being ready to sigh. She turned to the side, where her filly was poised on her hindlegs. The green scales around Qilin’s back and barrel gleamed in the light shed by the firefly lantern. Her wings were spread cautiously and crookedly. Her two forehooves were held high, brushing the twin pigtails Celestia had meticulously arranged earlier (and were now coming undone, as if by some curse). Her pale pink mane, striped with thin streaks of sorrel, gold, and orange gave a burst of warm joy the cool, dusty castle room lacked.

At first, Celestia kept a tiny frown at bay, not sure of what to look at. What followed were all the immediate clues, as obvious as the weight of the scrolls tucked underneath her wings. Qilin’s bright blue eyes were filled with awe and directed upward. The budding gazelle horns on the filly’s head were rippling with colorful chaos aura.

Floating in that aura was one Sapphire Shores fashion doll. Celestia recognized it as one of the many gifts that Qilin’s ‘aunt’ Rarity had gotten for the young one for her last birthday. Every year when Qilin swapped homes, she would bring only a few things to the room she had in both Chaosville and Canterlot, respectively. One thing Celestia had taken care to notice was that when she was visiting while on one of her father’s years, she only brought one of her newer dolls with her. If it was packing-time to ready for Canterlot, Celestia would always have to help Qilin bring all her favorites from Chaosville onto the chariot.

“Yes, that’s very nice, Qilin.” With that said, Celestia inched herself back over to her work.

Most Tribal Era artifacts were… lost, either over the ages or in the explosion of one of the Archive towers years ago. Now, all the texts with the earth pony focus needed came from that which remained of first, pre-Discord Equestria. Those were the days when she could meet the real Chancellor Puddinghead in Canterlote and take in all the political ruthlessness that mare hid behind a dumb act. All Celestia was left with was the careful revisionist history: Puddinghead as a delight who meant well and served as a simple, sweet, and morally sound representation fit for any earth pony.

Her own pleasant smile faded as she closed the book she had been browsing. The illustration tucked within was the most respectable looking earth pony possible, a smile upon her unassuming face and a single, thick braid falling out from under her hat. The cutesy face was now the only truth Equestria had known for centuries regarding the complicated case of Chancellor Puddinghead.

Celestia watched as her little kirin gasped and wiggled where she sat. The big grin on Qilin’s muzzle only grew as she maneuvered the toy in loops and figure-eights around the shelves. The whole thing was an adorable little display that showed off the unusual magic skill Qilin already possessed. Why, it felt like just yesterday that Celestia was writing out that skill as an exercise for an adult Twilight Sparkle when she was still new to Ponyville.

“Now Qilin, if you’re going to make Sapphire fly, it needs to stay in the shelf sections. You do remember what I told you about being careful in the artifact sections, don’t you?”

Qilin nodded and let her doll fall into her grip, where she produced its brush. She began to brush the toy’s wavy mane while reciting, “Never touch anything that I don’t understand. Don’t ask what the old thingies are. Never play with anything I didn’t bring myself.”

“That is very good, Qilin. Now, what did I tell you about making noise?”

“Singing has to be quiet,” the little filly moped, sticking out her lower lip not totally unlike how Luna did. “When Mother is busy, I have to be seen and as quiet as one of Auntie Fluttershy’s mousey friends.”

“Very nice, my little one. I think we’re almost done here. Once I've located a few more texts, for the mayor of Palominoshire, the staff should have your lunch ready. You may go and play now.”

Qilin squealed and scampered off, her doll afloat once more. Celestia heard the first few off-key notes of the little filly humming one of the newer Sapphire Shores songs quietly. The bouncy pop melody was enough to get Celestia swaying slightly too. While she personally much preferred the newer persona of Countess Coloratura and the down-to-earth goodness they offered, she was easily a fan of all forms of the popular, hip with the foals music, and doubly so in the case of bouncy bubblegum pop.

With Qilin’s attention safely secured, Celestia could examine her thoughts more carefully. Almost all the material needed to assemble a proper earth pony holiday with the Mayor-Mare were found. What she was missing would prove to be something much more elusive. Any and all information on dark magic was scant. Other than Blood Mage Murders in Manehattan and the earlier conflict she had with the Dark Sorceress Hydia Invidia, no dark magic existed in Equestria. With the only knowledge of it concentrated to things that Celestia had personally disposed of, nothing was really learned about dark magic in the time since…

Celestia indulged in her privacy to scowl, the knot of memories she loathed grating against her train of thought.

...not since a long time ago, before either her or Luna had been born. The only thing close to actual intelligence upon such vile powers was Sombra, and he was inaccessible. What she sought was information that was not going to exist in any other archives in the world if it was absent from Equestria. Even if Sombra was still somepony that she was able to speak with, there was no way to tippy-hoof around how dire her situation surely was. A demon dwelling within her like a parasite for heavens knew how long was not anything that she could just explain to somepony — or disclose to anypony at all! Even if she planned to, what good would it do to put such horrid information out there when her grasp of the situation was incomplete, she could not account for the thing’s reaction, and when she had to be a flawless and incorrupt national figurehead?

She was in this alone and more alone than she had been in a long, long time. As much as she had no belief in the idea of any single soul undertaking noble quests meant for heroes, her circumstances could be described as nothing else. To out an imperfection in herself, and one that ran so deep was to jeopardize the safety of her nation and well-being of her subjects.

Giving the bookshelves one last lukewarm look, Celestia stepped away. Of all the books and scrolls she had pulled from the shelves, none were anything close to texts regarding dark magic. Earth ponies were as Equestrian as apple pie, and texts about earth ponies and their culture had unspoken precedence to be considered inseparable from the heart of her ponies’ culture and folklore. The latter was the exact section where even a hint of old pony tales containing all the clues a goddess like herself would know to utilize would lay.

Not a single title or cover jumped out here. All the history of her own kingdom was useless, but what was to be expected from antiquity except that it was antiquated? Folklore was the only straw she had to grasp at; it was as sure a route as research was for dear Twilight Sparkle. Gracious heavens, for her this was research and the only kind that could be done in Celestia’s situation.

She was going to have to track down more elusive means for information on dark magic. Letting her mask resurrect itself once more, Celestia smiled easily, attempting to look unworried.

“Qilin,” she called, her tail swishing with momentary impatience, “it’s time to go!”

“Yes, Mother!” piped Qilin.

The quick, happy obedience to those words was a temporary balm to Celestia’s worries. Sometimes, it truly was nice to know that there were those who did not doubt her. Being around Luna, Sombra, and others could be anything from overwhelming to wounding. She couldn’t imagine that there was anything alien in the feeling of wanting to have the calm and coolness from knowing that you were supported and in a position of ultimate authority.

Foals had those feelings for pets.

Teachers were to think of their position over their students as such.

Farm ponies had the same perspective towards the non-sapients they tended to (as opposed to their sapient tenants, of course).

Rulers designated over their subjects in such a way.

(Gracious, she had more than enough experience to confirm that.)

Who was to say that a parent who kept no secret that they were pleased with proper behavior was wrong? Or that a mare could not get satisfaction in relationships from having a similar dynamic? That somepony proclaimed a victor by others could not feel an iota of control above those who they have secured a mortal victory over?

“One of the servants should be here soon. They’ll have you brought down to the kitchens for your lunch. After that, you must return to your afternoon lessons. I want you to know that even fillies your age with finishing schools in their futures won’t have half the quality that is put into the curriculum. It’s something you need to appreciate in order to understand how lucky you are.”

“But Mother—”

“Ah, ah, ah. You may sit on your ‘but’ because I’ll have no more of those, young lady. Now, come along. We both have work to do, now don’t we?”

They left, with Celestia standing tall and her expression its usual mask of calm. Qilin trotted after her mother, managing only to keep up with her shadow. Already, Celestia’s mind was straying elsewhere. She was stuck on what she might compose her next letter to Raven about. Celestia was never the party at a loss for words since there was always a pleasant route to the conversation. Normally it was Raven whose correspondence dwelt only on Canterlot life, with her being especially interested in Celestia’s. It always took great effort on Celestia’s part to get Raven to talk about her life in detail, and she was especially eager to have the distraction.

It wasn’t because she was preoccupied with the flitter of distraction as she left, nor was it a remainder of the geasan that struck her next. And really, struck was the wrong word. Only many hours after she left did Celestia realize what was wrong, and that was when Discord had approached her.

Alicorns did not forget, and Celestia had forgotten about their lunch date.

She had more than a hunch that something had influenced that.

...

Just below Celestia’s horn, there was a pounding pain. The inescapable nature of it was what made its hurt double. In the past, enough tea, pills, and whipping up another few geasan to bury the ache would have been enough. Rarely was she reduced to huddling under blankets heaped upon one of her cushions, nursing cold water, gritting her teeth, rubbing at her head in an un-princess-like display where nopony could see her. It was enough to tempt her into taking another double-dose, though considering apothecaries never accounted for Alicorn portions, she had always had to work out her own doses.

A familiar pained slithering emerged, producing a knotting, twisting sensation right under Celestia’s horn. It was enough for her to let out a whimper as a hiss. The walls of her resting room, with its cozy hearth, now felt small and suffocating. Despite the early winter grip on the air, there was a sticky humidity that the fire produced.

“Hemera?” Celestia asked, her voice a thin cut past clenched teeth. “Is that you?”

Who else is there to witness this undignified display? came the sneering jab. Oh my, how long has it been since your mind has ached so deeply?

Celestia frowned, rubbing at her temples. While she had long suffered from migraines when she began binding her magic, they had grown profuse. Shortly before Discord’s reign — never mind when exactly, she knew not — they had grown worse. After she had lost Luna was when Celestia had gone through some of her worst migraines. Sombra’s presence had increased the severity as well.

She knew that had to mean something. Just what that was, she wasn’t sure, and she loathed that uncertainty. For one, there was no reason to revile Luna or for her daughter to provoke any reaction close to an ailment. In Sombra’s case, it was easy to understand that him being dark magic would get such a reaction from anypony who abstained from the corruption.

You wicked mare, how can you sit around thinking things like this and ever expect me to trust you? Is it because you are a princess, a mare with a heart so pure?

Celestia shuddered first; never could she manage to get used to something so invasive. Just how much could Hemera sense?

All that you keep from me without effort, Your Radiance.

Without effort… Celestia’s forehooves trembled faintly, from weariness and worry alike. There was an idea in that, somewhere.

Yes, that is what I just said. Must you have your hoof held by me every time we talk? You have hidden everything else about your life from those in it, yet you have not managed to hide your thoughts from me? What an old, weak nag you are.

Celestia swallowed her frustration with delicacy. “Resorting to insults against me speaks of how petty you are. Ponies with nothing nice to say shouldn’t be able to say anything, hm?”

Oh, but I am not a pony to you, now am I?

“That,” Celestia mumbled, wincing as her migraine twisted again, “does not take away from my point. You know only how to be cruel, don’t you?”

And I learned it all from you, Celestia.

“Why, I never! I’m not a cruel mare, you could not have learned anything of cruelty from me! You are but a selfish parasite who worms its way into my life as you please. What are you but a nuisance in my life? Tell me, demon.”

I am an observer, retorted Hemera. That I wish you would know by now. Do you think I have learned nothing of your life in that time?

Why does it act as though it has been here for so long?

That was when Celestia learned that Hemera’s laugh was a grating screech so uncharacteristically high in pitch. Celestia gasped, trying to press her ears flat to her skull and silently begged for the sound to end as it rang throughout her skull.

You are indeed the Queen of Fools, as the other one says. Just what do you think your life is?

“I… hmm…” Celestia drew one breath, hiding the shaking in it with its low tone. “I do think that my life has been a good one. I have spent it doing what I love more than anything else.”

Ah, and that would be?

“Dedicating my time to my subjects. Would you think it is anything else? You make bold claims for something so cruel. What do you, a self-proclaimed observer, see in my life?”

I see a mare who wants to bury herself. What have you done in your life but lie to everypony? To your kin, students, friends, underlings, lovers, and self? You have not even been capable of telling the other demon—

“I’ve had enough of your slander!” Celestia groused, her posture stiffening. “I refuse to cave in to your foalish attempts at mocking me. You think that because I refuse to cut others down with cynicism I am a monster?”

I need not think what your actions spell out as plainly as the day you rule.

“Do something more to me than a low-life’s taunts. See then who is the monster in this.”

Hmph, Hemera sniffed, for the one who has insisted on peace all her life, you are quite the poison.

“I ask you again,” Celestia said, voice thin and hot as iron through gritted teeth, “what do you know of my life? All of the world knows that I have had lovers and students. What do you have that nopony else does?”

My tyrant, purred Hemera frostily, I know more than your Fizzy Pops and Sunset Shimmers. I exceed two months in habitat, far beyond Twilight Sparkles and Lunas. I have seen Hydia, Sombra, and little Marigold through your eyes. I know Kawblance from the store of your memory. Dapple Daub, Vanilla Bean, Discord, Sea Biscuit, and all the stallions you have loved before left an imprint on your senses — and ended up echoing into mine. I had shadowed you more than Raven, more than Inkwell Inquiry, and every other servant that I could name. Ask a memory of me, and I can provide it.

“I… I-I… ” stammered Celestia, unable to curtail her stutter before it spilled. “Goodness, why must you torment me? What do you gain from spying on my life?”

Celestia’s tail swept across the floor with a heavy arc, the slowly-flowing hair pale in the shadowed room.

How else am I to learn anything about you, knowing that you would only feed me falsehoods? I am left to live inside of you, and you think that I would wish to live through you instead of starving myself of existence?

I am no longer asking, Celestia thought to the demon. Tell me what you know.

Your mane color comes from touching the sky. As a young mare, you starved yourself for control of your life and others’ image of you. Two centuries into your reign, the windows of your new castle were broken and you gave yourself penance as a replacement. Deep down, you know your so-called daughter is beyond your understanding. Despite being a grown mare, a stallion rejecting your amorous intentions is an abandonment to you. Twilight Sparkle’s attraction to you is less binary on your part than you would like to admit, for fear of ruining her, and perhaps even yourself. Just how many times have you thought about the what-if of your pet student, Twilight Sparkle, being a stallion? Why, one might even suggest that she made you curious—

“Do not dare continue that line of thought,” Celestia snapped. “How dare you insinuate that I would take advantage of one of my most vulnerable students!”

Is that really how you have always thought of things?

“Yes!” Celestia insisted, gripping her blankets firmly. “I am the one who must never cease to be responsible in my conduct with her. You would be so cruel as to suggest I would be anything but benevolent to my Faithful Student?”

Indeed I dare. I never want to be anything to you, except cruel.

Celestia heaved, biting the inside of her cheek so that the pain burned into her mind. “Forgetting does not come naturally to me, and I have reason to believe an evil like yourself has been omitting my memories lately. I would never forget lunch with Dissy, or to wish one of my guards a happy birthday. Do you think I don’t have planners and ponies to remind me of what goes on in my life?”

Oh, that means nothing to me. I am quite aware of the Alicorn nature. Still, this does not diminish what I get from pulling one stick from the tower of your life.

“Your conceited spirit will get you nothing.”

I think otherwise; I have seen the other demon through your eyes, and they have gotten much with it… I think. I am drawn to them, to an aspect of them. Do you have the same feelings as I, where you see a Sameness within the other Alicorns? Now, have I offered sufficient proof that I have lurked within your secrets?

“How long have you been in my mind, if not for two months? You have told me that I must know you, without ever telling me how.”

Long enough, Hemera retorted snippily, producing a dreadful, cold slithering sensation beneath Celestia’s skull. Though, you might want to figure that out for yourself.

Hemera retreated within Celestia’s mind, departing with a nauseating feeling of draining her brain. Immediately afterward, Celestia found herself shivering and fatigued beyond belief. Distantly, she knew that cold sweat was forming on her body, but ultimately her whole body had begun to feel fuzzy and foggy all over. The very connection between her mind and body was so terribly numb she had to shiver in an attempt to feel herself.

Only when she was sure that Hemera was gone did Celestia let herself even consider that she might have a clue.

Hemera suggested that it had something to do with Sombra, and an existence spanning centuries.

Most importantly, she would find a way to hide her thoughts from Hemera. Such was her last thought before the thrumming in her skull became too intense, and Celestia fainted away.

...

“Mother, Mother!” Qilin cried. “Come see what I can do!”

Celestia rose from her garden table. Across from her, Philomena pecked mischievously at a chess piece. Without Raven or Sombra, she had taken to inviting anypony to come to have lunch with her. It was sad to usually have Luna off somewhere on royal duties instead of at her side, but when Discord couldn’t visit, a formal lunch with a staff member was no issue. Heavens knew that she craved formality, especially when the only informal lunches she ever had lately were with Discord or Qilin. The latter simply was not taking to her lessons on a lady’s manners with the enthusiasm Celestia wished.

As she strolled through the wilted, frosty courtyard, she tugged at her cozy woolen scarf. Was another talk with Qilin’s governess in order? Celestia only wanted the best for her little one, and that meant being the best in refinement too. If Qilin did not take to a lady’s lifestyle, there was little hope for further education and a proper, harmonious Canterlotian life. Good graces and kindness were what got a pony ahead in life — if Qilin could not take to that, then what was she to learn?

Only lesser things, Celestia imagined.

“What is it this time, sweetie?”

While Celestia spoke her words with her normal, pleasant tone, there were already worrying signs. Since her sixth birthday had past, there was a concerning liveliness (Celestia could think of no other way to word that) to Qilin. Patches of polka-dotted grass would crop up when the little kirin was excited. A wisp of cotton candy would tangle its way into low-hanging clouds along the Canterlot sky. Colorful pawprints and animated objects would crop up in all the wrong places at the castle.

Qilin was by one of the fountains. This one was a purely ornamental affair carved with numerous pegasus foals surrounding a serene, glorified centerpiece of Celestia herself. The streams along the side did not lead to any fish-ponds, but to out-of-sight locations under the cobbles where the exquisite flora Celestia kept could receive water.

The fountain did not run this late in the season, and when it did at all there was only a trickle kept from freezing with weather magic.

Qilin had gotten the fountain running, and she hadn’t let it flow with water.

Colorful soda pop was bubbling out from the stone buckets of the numerous marble foals frozen in a static flutter. Celestia had to keep her eyes from bulging at the site. Whatever transmutation she had performed with her chaos magic was one that had to be done when Celestia was busy with her chess game against Philomena.

“Oh dear,” Celestia murmured, restraining from bringing a hoof to her chest to show her shock. “Qilin, what have you done?”

Every trace of mortification was kept inside with the careful skills a politician could never drop. Children were confusing, fragile things, at least when Celestia was made to deal with those in their years before school — which was not often. Foals of that age were less prone to passion and tantrums that could not be solved with bribing. Qilin was on the cusp of when that irrational stage faded, but far from the ages that Celestia liked to work with.

“I made everything look better!” Qilin squeaked, puffing out her chest. The silvery fur of her face ran down into a very fluffy ruff around her neck that swelled with cheer.

Celestia glanced nervously at the desecrated fountain. “Sweetie, how is this better? Did you ask to do this?”

“No,” mumbled Qilin quickly. She brought up her shaggier forehoof to rub at the back of her neck. “Mister Greenhoof said that the gardens just got so gloomy this time of year, and that I should try and cheer you up.”

Celestia’s mind was slowly whirling with how to respond — what was the sweetest, gentlest way to express her disapproval for reckless magics without abandoning clarity? Such was the dilemma with Qilin’s closeness to her.

Qilin’s ruff was speedily deflating. “I thought it would be a nice surprise, mother.”

The foalish moping in Qilin’s tone pushed Celestia’s expression into a reflexive expression of distant reassurance, one she was used to bearing around Faithful Students.

“Well sweetie, this is very surprising. But you must come down, sitting on the fountain’s edge like that isn’t—”

“Proper?” Qilin interrupted, innocently twirling a pink strand of her mane and peering up at Celestia with wide blue eyes. Her tail did a sweeping arc across the fountain’s wide rim, the multi-hued tip nearly sweeping into the sticky-sweet drink.

“—safe. I was going to say safe, young lady. Now, you are right about it also being improper. Please slide down and restore the fountain to its normal, rightful state. Soda is going to ruin the whole garden, and I do not think a stallion as wise as Mister Greenhoof would have told you to do something like that, hm?”

“But mother—”

“No buts, young lady,” Celestia insisted. Her mane flittered primly with her words. “What have you been told about interruptions and back-talk?”

“Not to do it…”

Celestia sighed, giving Qilin a look brimming with pity. Once the little kirin had safely left the fountain’s edge, Celestia reached out a forehoof to grasp one of Qilin’s own. “And what has been said about mumbling, Qilin?”

Qilin nibbled at her upper lip. Celestia could see that the little one’s legs were quivering as she tried not to scuff her hooves along the ground, or kick at it. Those were no-no behaviors as well.

“That I am not to do that either, mother.”

Exhaling happily, Celestia gave Qilin her usual calm smile, no different than the one her subjects saw every day. “Excellent. Now, why did you think that doing this would be good for the garden, sweetie?”

There was that nibbling at the lip again. Celestia would have to talk to Qilin’s governess about ways that behavior might be curtailed. Surely she wasn’t showing it to other adults or the castle staff? Something like that couldn’t become a habit.

“I just thought it would make you really, really happy, mother. I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was doing—”

Celestia tsked, swiftly starting her own interruption. “There is no need for apologies. You haven’t done anything bad, sweetie. But you do know how I feel about you doing things without my permission. Just… why did you want to do this in the first place?”

“‘Cause when an adult tells me to do something, I have to do it,” Qilin receipted. Her tail flicked again, this time keeping a clumsy meter to the young one’s words while Qilin looked up at Celestia. There was an undeniable scrunch to her muzzle.

Nodding, Celestia beamed down on Qilin just like she would for Faithful Students. All the complications of hatchlings and progeny were erased when she gave Qilin the same treatment and expectations she would have for Twilight Sparkle or Sunset Shimmer.

“Always,” she said approvingly, giving Qilin a small boop on her scrunched muzzle, “and without exception. You were right to listen to Mister Greenhoof, but next time, please come get your father or me if somepony asks you to do something and doesn’t tell you precisely what it is you must do. Unless a pony is clear in what they ask you, they are probably playing a trick on you. Ponies like that are bullies at worst or being silly at best, and I want you to have nothing to do with bullies.”

While Celestia caught a spark of confusion in Qilin’s eyes, it died quickly, replaced with an obedient nod. “Yes, mother.”

“Then all is good,” Celestia replied. She led Qilin away from the fountain and back to the garden table. There would be staff who would be ordered to restore the garden later.

As she was cleaning up their lunch-things, Princess Celestia realized she had not gotten to browse the newspaper she brought with her. The latest issue of The Celestial Equestrian sat untouched beneath cloth napkins and coloring books. On it, the date was listed as a Thursday.

To Celestia, that detail was most peculiar. Though she had not been well yesterday and had fainted, she had roused easily later on. She may have been out, but she recovered nicely and noticed no major issue when she came to, and her schedule resumed like the clockwork it was, without comment from anypony about oddities. Why, it had just been like she had taken a nap, albeit not an especially restful one.

The only question that remained was a matter of days: if she fainted on what she knew to be Monday, why did she have Thursday’s paper?

...

Every time Celestia woke lately, it was like being roused from the depths of fever. Her mind was swarmed with heat and shadows. Instead of the last traces of night, her vision would dance blearily with spots and double vision that lingered long after she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. She would slip into one of the rooms adjacent to the personal chambers she shared with Discord (at least, when he was in her city) and wobbled over to one of her many coffee stations. Even though her personal percolator was a shining, fancy affair easily gripped by her hooves, she resorted to having to grasp at it with her magic and a foggy mind.

In the past, the only time Celestia ever had to deviate from her normal habit of preferring her hooves to her horn was when she was physically ill… or when bad magic was at hoof. She shuddered and squinted hard as she forced her aura to grow brighter and stronger in order to grip her mug. The still life dominated by purple grapes painted upon it was far too cheery for the raging migraine already swelling throughout her whole head.

Good morning, my dearest prison, chimed the dulcet horror that was Hemera’s tone.

Celestia shivered, but still felt cold and hazy-headed.

“Good morning, neighbor,” she offered the echo. At this point, ‘neighbor’ was the best word for what Hemera was. Celestia tried not to use anything rude when she sensed that the thing was lurking.

Liar liar, came Hemera’s familiar refrain.

“Must you always be so bitter in your judgment?” she said, no effort putting her voice to hide its weariness. “Such negativity will only hurt you.”

So speaks the mare who lies slumped in a chair, huffed Hemera as Celestia shakily rested herself upon one of her parlor’s seats. The thought cut through her that wishing to be alone was a terrible thing, and still, company with Hemera was an abuse of the very idea of togetherness.

“I am only tired,” Celestia insisted, her posture straightening.

If you insist, came the inevitable scoff.

There was so much in that particular snipe that made Celestia think of another demon. Sombra, who Celestia couldn’t bear telling Luna was the sort who danced between ‘at risk’ and ‘possibly’ hospitalized if his wife knew a fraction of whatever went on in his head. His previous... history was already going to make him have trouble the absolute property access that her and Luna had, and he had already mentioned that it brought his desire to be a 'landlord' (as he had so inelegantly put it) into conflict with his already special particular situation. Sombra would really be better off hospital—

(Yes, came the slithering, slick chime, he would be so much less of a threat to you that way. Do not dare and deny it.)

Celestia’s throat tightened, and she swallowed her coffee sharply, startled by the sudden dryness she felt. “I-I… y-you twist my words! I only wish—”

—to rule unquestioned, with your every lie remaining unpenetrated.

“I am not lying!” Celestia insisted, her cup quavering clumsily in her magic. “You truly take me for somepony who would dare dispose of others so coldly? Who would be distant and neglectful to those I vow every day to show only kindness? I have never been this hate-filled hag you accuse me of being.” A steady lump was testing Celestia’s throat and the subtle dampness at her eyes was easily blinked away. “Never. Please, give me a thousand paper cuts of annoyance if you wish, but do not lie to me and suggest I have never brought goodness to my ponies. It’s… it’s all I’ve ever wanted. For them to feel that Equestria is good, and see me as their guiding light towards that good.”

By these castle walls, what dimness lends you these words? Foalishness or mere idiocy?

Forget the barest threat of tears, something else had Celestia’s head within its spell. Something other than Hemera. There was a floating sensation that seeped into her skin, numbing her to the point where she had to focus — really focus — on the sight of her forehooves in front of her to know them.

They were there. She was there, and there was here, where Hemera laughed distantly behind the thick curtain of her anxiety.

Was it fear that tapped at the back of that curtain, back where Hemera was not, right at the shadow of her thoughts (yes, definitely hers) and told her to flee? To slip away into a sleep-like state, something so deep and warm. Paranoia was not something that ever had the luxury of being able to seize her — and if Celestia could recall it, she last lived with the sensation ages ago, as some other version of herself.

To sleep again, to be without shadows tying up her hooves was too compelling. (For Harmony’s sake, she was the Princess Celestia, and all of Equestria knew that their princess did not lose. No hero did.) Sleep dulled all aches, and her dreams were all forgotten songs — the kind that nopony needed to care about remembered, least of all her. In her sleep, she was too wrapped in the stuff of her dreams to have to ponder all her broken geasan.

Celestia drained the last of her coffee, and set the mug down with a shaky breath. Despite her drink, she only felt more drained before — and not out of any immunity to the caffeine. There would be no rest for her for some time.

“Hemera, since we began our talks you have had no words for me that hold anything but bitterness and slander. Even if I had the choice not to listen to you, I would feel much better if you spoke nicely to me — and I certainly would listen to you if you did.”

A seething hiss rang throughout the inside of Celestia’s skull, making her wince.

I shall not brown my muzzle upon your backside as your subjects do! Not now, not ever! Do you think of me as though I am as low as your subjects, stuck in forever-foalhood with minds clouded with a false idea of friendship-powers?

Celestia let her eyes close, rubbing her temple with one forehoof as her latest migraine stirred into being. There was a sigh that wanted to leave her, but she swallowed it. “Hemera, you have no muzzle to brown… and I would appreciate if you would refrain from such graphic language.”

Fie, go clutch your pearls elsewhere! You would not know graphic if it bit your rump. Do my words mean so little to you when they might spell out your folly?

“I have no flaws that you can speak of,” Celestia sniffed, “my ponies have made that clear to me. Words said without kindness mean nothing at all, and I have done well to learn that. You should do the same if you want me to listen to you at all, little voice. You claim to be the ruiner of my life, and yet you can’t even spoil the beauty of the morning.”

Much to Celestia’s confusion, not a single sound of fury followed. No spitting of cruel words or knife-sharp insults sliced through the quiet.

Who said I was going to ruin your life?

“I… well, I’m rather sure that you did, dear. Have you already forgotten all the rabble you’ve been making around my head?”

I would not be so liberal about suggesting that I am the forgetful one, serpent-princess. I have seen more than just the world through your eyes; I know your slippery ways and the deceit that poisons your heart in ways nothing else can.

“My, my. Somepony is certainly a dramatic one this morning. I may be the Princess of Equestria, but what I hear is the nonsense of a real drama queen, and a cranky one as well. Can you sleep at all? Your poor thing, I think you’re in dire need of a nap.”

Spare me the patronizing slop you heap upon the subjects who know no better than to worship you. I have lived within you for far too long, and know that the body I am meant to have is the one you claim and wear down with the weight of a nation. And the way you cripple yourself! Do not get me started! You are no true goddess, for what divine would abuse themselves as you do? I want to live; I want my body from you! And it is I who knows each arrow of hate I drive within you during each waking hour, for I HAVE READIED THEM ALL FOR CENTURIES! I KNOW EVERY ONE I STRIKE YOU WITH! Not once has it been I who has threatened to destroy your livelihood; I have never needed to.

Celestia held back from scrunching up her muzzle in confusion. The uncouth gesture would rarely come to mind so easily, yet her tiredness teased her so much. “You’re the only one in my life who thinks they can oppose me. My own blood would never do anything against me, not really. Sombra is… unable, to say the least. Do you really think that he could beat all of Equestria’s heroes if he decided to seriously oppose me? Luna and I, Discord, and the Element Bearers would make him look like nothing. Why, even Cadance and Shining Armor would not hesitate to heed my call.”

You sniveling old windbag, there would be no reason to voice any hint of plans against the other demon unless you did not truly fear them. All you do is detract from my words, and you fail to consider the most crucial question of all.

“Ha!” Celestia flung a hoof to her muzzle clumsily, keeping her little guffaw ladylike in the end. Even the sharp twists of the migraine against her numbness were lost with the outburst — or, at least what was an outburst by her standards. “If you wish me to indulge in your melodrama, then I give you permission to continue.”

She didn’t want Hemera to know that she spoke with all the bravado she could never claim, and only let it drip into her tone as easily as rain slid off a roof.

Celestia, who would be better than you to ruin your own life?

Author's Note:

I'm splitting this one up into two chapters — and I mean that it will only be two this time. I swear on the goth horse OTP this time, guys.

The GDoc was starting to get too fucking long, and since this is the last chapter where I can really split things up, I figured why not.

That and I'm trying to make this easier to comment on. I figured two shorter chapters where I could have them would make that easier. Even comments about typos are always welcome; this thing does so long between updates that the drought it goes between comments can really make motivation rough sometimes, especially compared to past stories.

After the second part of this, there are only two chapters that need to be written, one that needs editing, and three that are written and ready to post.