• Published 25th Aug 2018
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Sol Dilemma - Andromidus



They all say we have a destiny among the stars. Sometimes, some destinies are just more literal than others.

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Chapter 6 - "In Deep Water"

Sol Dilemma - Chapter 6

“In Deep Water”

Valia sighed, angling the flight stick down. She rested a hand on a switch and slowly pulled towards her, killing power to the forward thrusters. A ratty forest slowly cascaded around the glass canopy. Her body jolted as the landing gear came into contact with the sandy ground of the clearing. She closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath.

The Phosphorous hummed as its stealth engines died down.

She eased the grip on the controls and leaned into the seat. Through her countless months of research, she had gone through multiple codexes and logs, analyzing years of information; all in the search for a simple retreat that could offer a reprieve from everything.

Most spots that she had discovered in her travels that were suitable candidates were often not of Earth. That was too much of a hassle already to deal with. So the warlock went through what little she could scrounge to find spots on the home planet that were peaceful enough to relax in. It was also preferable that they were unsullied, but that in itself was nothing but a myth.

She had been hopeful for the first year of searching. That enthusiasm, however, began to wane as she began going through her list faster than she even predicted. Crossing off names and places two or three at a time. A pattern sprung up fairly quickly; something that each of the locations had in common… none of them happened to exist anymore. Once grand mountains, ravines, and canyons reduced to hollow shells of stone. Forests and jungles burnt to a crisp as the forces of darkness made their conquests across Earth. Lakes, seas, and oceans turned to sludge, robbed of their crystalline beauty.

So after countless hours of venturing to places that no longer stood on Earth’s surface, a certain level of sluggishness set in. What point was there to continue a fruitless search? Her time could be better spent elsewhere, studying and searching for lost relics. The only thing that was left driving her was the want for peace.

It was relative in the Last City. Perhaps peace was ensured solely out of the fact that people were in dire straits. What good would it do to hurt your fellow neighbor while the darkness hung over your back like a silent executioner? But then, could it really be called peace…? If you call living behind a set of walls waiting with bated breath for the ax to fall… peace… that would be depressing.

Even the walls couldn’t protect everyone when the Red Legion arrived. She huffed and allowed her body to lay further slacked against the chair.

That’s what their situation was. Depressing. Hopeless. It manifested into a low lying cloud. It was invisible to the naked eye, but to those who could see it, it was unbearable. It was smothering every thought. Valia wanted out.

It didn’t help that she spent considerable lengths of time wallowing in it after she was placed under watch and house arrest.

Certain Guardians had been known to do… rash things after traumatic events. A suicide watch of some sorts. She probably waltzed into their radar shortly after her talk with the Speaker, spouting about guilt and death, radiating enough anger to manifest her powers. Any normal person would’ve realized the red flags and set up the necessary safety nets. He would probably be the direct reason why she had been placed into it. There weren’t any hard feelings between them. All he really was doing was trying to help. There shouldn’t be any. Holding grudges against the dead and against someone like him. She clenched her fist. Now he’s gone. Couldn’t even help him when he needed it most. And we call ourselves Guardians. Pathetic. Valia glanced at a part of the wall.

There was no sign of the damage that had been originally inflicted on it, but she knew what she had done. It was hard not to forget. In a fit of rage, she had held her palm flat against the metal and ripped it apart with sheer concussive force, punching a hole and sending superheated shrapnel careening through the air. And why had she done such a thing? She had freaked out all because she had a passing memory of Caz, and being in his personal jumpship hadn’t helped.

She gripped her wrist tightly and exhaled.

Her patience had been reduced to a hair-trigger during that time, lashing out anyone trying to approach her and proving to be a general danger to those around her. So the Vanguard had done the smart thing and made sure she stayed in her room, electing her ghost as the warden. They attributed it to a “stage of grieving,” apparently something everyone could experience, seasoned warrior or not. She had once passed a glance at it in a medical journal but dismissed it out of irrelevancy. What good would that be for an untouchable immortal such as herself? I wouldn’t know whether or not to laugh or feel sorry for myself. I suppose we are not as invincible as we appear.

Data had also done the smart thing and bottlenecked the amount of light she was receiving; enough to get by but not enough to cause any significant fluctuations outside of making someone feel toasty.

The feeling of powerlessness, however, had its negative consequences. The nightmares returned without any mercy, harassing her in her sleep. The small mental resistance she had begun to build up c-crumbled… a-and… and…

A flash of Caz’s face frozen in eternal agony. Haven’s mangled form, laying against a steel case.

I’m… I’m str-stronger than this… she feebly reassured herself. But deep down, in the recesses of her mind, she thought otherwise. Almost subconsciously believing it so.

Her failure to stop the three witches was the biggest proof of that.

She gulped, her breathing picking up like a rolling snowball. The warlock’s heart began drumming a song that drowned out any other noise. It started getting harder and harder to breathe. Which was strange, as the air pressure hadn’t changed and the helmet hadn’t suffered any critical malfunctions in a long time. However, it was still getting harder to breathe, for reasons simply unknown. The world swirled around her as lines and colors blurred in a nauseating pitch.

Valia tumbled to the floor, collapsing to her knees. She gasped and shot out her arms to catch herself before she could hit the floor, her gloved hands meeting the steel floor of the transport.

Raising a shaking hand, she scratched at the sides of her helmet, desperately searching for the emergency release switch. Her gloved finger found purchase in the groove and she pulled down. A hiss of air and the locks disengaged, releasing the seal on her head. Without a moment’s reprieve, she slipped it off and tossed it into an adjacent chair, hitting the seat with an audible poomf. Despite her attempt at freeing her from her “confines,” and attempting to delay it, nothing changed in the slightest. The walls twisted and screeched in an impossible manner, inching ever closer.

It looked like it was inevitable that she would have to leave the ship early.

“D… Data,” she wheezed, “t-transmat us outside! Please!”

The feeling of the shifting state of matter and watching the process happen was torture to her own eyes. How cruel was it so that a device crucial in a everyday life had transformed itself into a constant reminder of her inadequacies as a Guardian. Despite that, there was no way she was going to be able to make it outside in this state. And to give up something that made life infinitesimally simpler? Her old mentors would’ve kicked her in the shins for that line of thinking.

She collapsed into the detritus, clutching her sides as the transmat finished and dumped her outside. A concerned ghost darted out not moments later.

“Valia! Valia, hey, you’re alright. You’re alright,” Data reassured, watching her shivering form. At this moment, he wished he had appendages for physical consolement. “Deep breaths, Val. You’re okay out here.”

The trees rustled as a gust blew through them. Leaves gently fluttered to the ground and the world continued to spin. The warlock clenched her eyes and slowly, but surely, steadied her breaths to an almost normal level. She laid there, simply breathing.

“I am most certainly… n-not. I’m… I’m broken, Data. I’m a shell of my former self. I can’t even look at a Hive wizard without having a breakdown, real or fake. I now have hair triggers that render me a quivering mess. I used to command respect with my very presence. N-Now? I don’t know. I thought I was getting better but... I’m not.”

The ghost continued to float there, seemingly at a loss for words. The wind blew again and his single blue eye danced. “You’re only human, Valia.”

She lifted her head, ragged clumps of hair trailing along. “What is that supposed to mean? Am I not good enough to be a damn Guardian?” she replied, crushing the dirt beneath her fingers as she flexed them in, small amounts of solar energy began baking the earth. But as soon as the flare of anger appeared, it washed away almost immediately. She collapsed back into the ground, jostling the decaying plant matter. “Maybe… maybe you’re right. What good would a broken warlock be? Maybe I should just stay here and sleep forever.”

“Val. This isn’t you. C’mon.” He floated closer and stared her down. “Where’s the strong, analytical woman I fought together with from all those centuries ago? The swordswoman who struck fear in the decaying hearts of her foes? The no-nonsense researcher and archivist?”

“I don’t... know. I’m beginning to consider the fact that she was left behind in that mission, alongside her partners,” she whispered.

Data looked appalled. “Val, no…”

“Your hesitation tells me I’m correct. Why don’t you just leave me and find a better Guardian? There are dozens out there that could… work better than I am now.”

In the best way he could, despite the lack of facial muscles, he looked rightly offended. “I would never do that! We’re bound for life and destined to die together. We’ve fought through the thickest and the thin and you want me to go!? I would never turn my back on you, just as I know you would never turn your back on me! I spent years dodging bullets and running from the darkness to find my Guardian! To find you! And for you to say such a thing… Val, that hurts. Has our time together meant nothing?”

Valia made no attempt to respond to his question. She could feel the guilt clawing at her heart and mind, howling at her very soul. He deserves better.

“Fine. What about Caz and Haven? Don’t you want to avenge them? What happened back at the tower? Was that all just a farce?”

“I do not know anymore.”

“Stand back up; finish this for them, if not for me.” He spun around to face deeper into the trees. A path curved around the overgrown foliage, just barely visible. The occasional reflective sheen shot back as Data’s eye made contact. “We made it this far. Don’t you want to see it end?”

Yet again, the warlock made no reply as she laid curled in the dirt, her breathing almost a sleeping lull. Her once strictly-made hairdo undone and cascading beside her like liquid copper. I owe it to them that much, don’t I? Where’s your fire, Valia? She gulped and shook the dirt out of her gloves as best as she could. Running a hand through her hair, she righted herself on her knees at a steady pace. She carefully lifted her cloak as to not let it catch and felt the golden wings resting on her back unfurl.

She placed her hands on her lap and took a hearty inhale. The air here tasted fresher but was tinged with a hint of… something. It felt wrong to breathe it in. But one couldn’t exactly be picky anymore. It was of much better quality than what someone could get in the Last City. So it already had that running for it.

Valia gently creased her eyes open, finally getting a real look at her surroundings.

This place was one of the last locations she had listed in her studies. It was a fairly remote dollop of land sitting in a vast, gray ocean. A quick glance and a person could easily dismiss the thing. Small, unassuming and in all honesty, the plainest looking island one could describe. She could recall the day she saw this in vivid detail. The scowl that ran along her face showed her absolute disgust. Data had convinced her not to skip this choice, noting how something may not always be what it seems.

How correct he happened to be was beyond astonishing. Past the underwhelming exterior and further into its relatively small forest was a hidden gem of beauty. Valia and Data had only seen things like that recorded in aged documentaries. It was nothing but legend.

Yet here they were, standing in what was basically myth. In her wildest dreams, even she could’ve never expected this. There was no place in their solar system, known to anyone, that looked as awe-inspiring as this picturesque landscape.

Then it shattered everything when they saw a decrepit jumpship and contrasting elegant shack—which looked to be cobbled together from intricately melted stone and metal. I wasn’t the first one there. Someone beat me to the punch. Sitting calmly beside all of that was an awoken, cross-legged atop a fairly large boulder, calmly sipping from a cup of tea.

Yet by chance, she had found a boon. Shaw Gayle. A man who knew all that transpired with the H… Hive. H-He’s the one who’s going to let me end this.

Deep breaths. Calm yourself. She cracked her knuckles and snapped back to reality.

Valia pushed herself up with a bit of her light, causing her garments to flutter as if they had been touched by the wind. In a sense, they had. She brushed the last of the dirt clinging to her clothes and joined Data in staring at the path.

“You alright now?”

“Perhaps. Let’s get my answers. Maybe then I can finally rest. Maybe then...” she answered wistfully.

If everything was relatively fine before, it certainly got worse from here.

I wheezed. The shouting, whatever Princess Luna had yelled to me, only served to worsen the headache that pulsed through my head. I clutched my head in pain and scooted backward until I felt my rump meet resistance with something. That’s probably a bookcase… at least, I think it is… Considering I had just woken up, that also didn’t really help my case.

My thoughts and senses were too numbed to act properly right away, a consequence stemming from the fitful nights of rests I had been subjected to for months on end; I could barely even register it as higher-level cognitive function after just waking up! In fact, I only managed to move around through sheer willpower and the muscle memory embedded through slogging through my daily routine. Disappointing the princess also happened to be high on that list as well. And being truthful to myself, regardless of the current company, I really wanted to go back and crawl into bed.

Five more minutes sounded really nice.

I rubbed my glazed eyes and blearily looked into the towering frames of the two ponies before me. I was lucky to have even responded to them earlier in words that could’ve been comprehended! Now here I was getting shouted at, early in the morning with an intensifying headache that made it harder to think, accompanied the dregs of sleep clinging to my being.

I really hoped my automatic reply hadn’t been one that angered either of them. Although I was pretty sure the response probably did, considering that Princess Luna looked absolutely livid. I gasped as I felt myself scooped up in an aura, sharply levitated to face the alicorn herself eye-to-eye.

Weightlessness notwithstanding, the very sound of her magical grasp sounded so much clearer… and all the more deafening. Each ripple of mana flowing through the simple levitation spell was like a clap of thunder and every minute movement a crackle of fireworks. Altogether, it was a veritable symphony of loud noises, tailored specifically for me.

“What are your plans here!?”

And the shouting.

I hissed in pain and doubled over, collapsing onto my side as best one could locked in the air. The spark that blossomed in my skull had incapacitated me with a single burst. Perhaps even if rational thought was beyond me at the moment, I knew this was the worst I had ever experienced the headache to be. In all the previous mornings, in all the previous coming-to’s, in comparison, never were this debilitating.

I writhed and thrashed in the air, teeth clenched in agony.

Please… please let me down. It hurts so much. Please. I tried to say. I wanted to say. I wanted to beg. Stars danced in my vision and an inky blackness snaked its way around the edges. I could see the world in focusing and feel almost as if my eyes were glazing over from shock. Stop, please. I don’t want this. Please let me go. Pleasepleasepleaseplease. No more! No more!

In my state of agony, I thought I heard something. A voice. It was a voice! It said something… something… something. What did it say?

Was it from either of the princesses? But that… that would be impossible. I couldn’t even hear anything above the cacophony. Maybe it had come from them and I simply hadn’t realized it. Maybe… maybe… maybe?

Their mouths hadn’t even moved a muscle.

Who had said it…?

Then who? Who spoke? Who whispered into my ear? I stopped moving for a moment as it dawned on me. And I can think again. The pain isn’t as bad as before. This… this… what is this? The voice sounded so familiar. I heard it somewhere and once before. Somewhere… but where? Who am I thinking about? It sounded like an old friend. Comforting and pleasant to be around. A feeling of nostalgia!

But that doesn’t make sense. I don’t have any old friends to think about. The only two I ever had were Dapper and Maverick! That can’t be possible. Yet it was. Somehow. And also… what made me so okay with this voice in my head? Telling me things and whispering sweet honeyed words?

It was like a whisper on the wind, so silent that a breath might just blow it away, but audible enough to make out the words.

That… that sounded…

It spoke, filling my head with ideas.

That was my voice.

Something in me absolutely demanded that this state of weakness was wrong, that it should never be. It whispered how it was unbecoming, that it was not part of who I was as… as something. It spoke ever so resolutely that I needed to get up and defend myself and my honor. But from what? I wasn’t in any inherent danger. But that didn’t matter now. A fire in my very soul licked at my heart, spurring everything else into motion.

It spread like any flame would, except this one proliferated as if its very life-force could be extinguished at any moment. Maybe it wasn’t wrong. Maybe my life could very well be in such mortal peril, such to the point I wouldn’t even realize it.

But what was happening to me at this very moment, having myself flayed open and laid out for the whole world to see, was so inherently wrong. I knew it was wrong. Something needed to happen, now or never, to defend everything… I… believed in?

No matter. I didn’t want to be seen in such a fragile state.

Tears dripped from eyes, turning everything I could see into a blurry mess. I just wanted the pain to stop. I… I wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to be seen like this!

I had to do something to protect my integrity.

I just had to.

No rhyme or reason.

It was a must.

I screamed as I could feel the ever familiar energy roar to life around me, burning in a protective bubble of energy. Solar energy whipped out in long lancing tentacles, threatening to raze anything alive in the room. It felt so liberating to unleash such pent-up strength, to feel the power flowing through me was almost as if this was my natural state.

Everything felt so right. For a moment, at least.

I could feel something prodding at the back of my brain, letting words and definitions trickle in. They were simple and fairly out-of-context, rendering themselves utterly useless. What is that? What… does it want? I couldn’t sense any outward malicious intent, nor anything else that would intend harm.

And just like the blazing fire… this felt even more… right. Like it belonged with me. Perhaps, it wouldn’t hurt if I opened the proverbial floodgates.

I gasped as I felt it crash through. Concepts and ideas I had never even known about began to shape themselves, offering so much knowledge. Whispers in the wind carried images of places and creatures… Objects and scribbled lines suddenly had context, strings falling into place to link everything together… or most of them did. Some strings fell short or simply withered away without anything to connect with.

It was fragmented.

Broken.

It was only a single piece of a larger puzzle.

I wanted more. So much more. I wanted to feel it complete. Whole. But to ask for something like that… to want for more… it felt like greed. Was it greed? Was it okay to want more? I didn’t know.

I would find myself content with what it readily offered. Not to mention as it was a momentary reprieve from the intense headache, something else also followed. A feeling of nostalgia stemming from somewhere, almost like wiping the dust off of a book that you read so much after finding it tucked away, hidden and growing old. Almost suddenly, it’s no longer about cowering. I feel so light, so dainty that the slightest gust may just take me with it.

It feels… so… nice.

I blinked and I’m greeted back to the waking world, white energy hanging at the ends of my vision. I can see the superficial damage left by the solar outburst, several wards that had been invisible glowing with the same power they absorbed.

My head started hurting again. I frowned as I hoped to escape that. I tapped my hooves on the ground, blinking in confusion as to why I’m back here. It’s getting harder… to th-think.

Princess Luna snorted, her demeanor almost devolving into laughter. It seemed she found whatever happened, hilarious. “Well. That certainly worked spectacularly for you, didn’t it? What shall be your next move, I wonder?” Th-That last bit sounded like mocking.

“W… What…? What happened? Princess… princesses!?”

“Do not tell me you plan on falling back into this routine. I am not as so weak-willed as to succumb to such a thing.” She placed a hoof forward menacingly. “I certainly enjoyed it when you tried something… far more rash.”

For the first time in a while, Celestia sighed and spoke up. “Please. I believe it is not too much to ask for your simple cooperation, Valia. We are not your enemies here, nor would we ever wish to be,” the solar diarch finished. She sounded so… tired. However, her approach was far calmer and reassuring then what Princess Luna had been leading with. What are they trying to do?

“Princess… I don’t understand what’s going on.”

“All we want to know is why you have lied to countless individuals over the course of five years and chose to hide among us here –” She waved a golden-clad hoof in the direction of the rest of Canterlot “– in Equestria. Perhaps, I could understand wanting to run. The horrors in your homeland certainly are not something to take lightly. But what are your goals? What do you wish from us? Why did you bring those things with you?”

“I don’t—huh? Lying? Hiding? Things?” I gave her the best confused look I could muster, hoping to bridge my point across. “Is… is this a prank, Y-Your Highnesses? It-It really isn’t funny!”

“You think this is a joke?” The lunar diarch barked out a laugh. “So it seems we do have to continue this in a difficult manner! Very well. I shall enjoy every moment until you decide to collaborate.” She advanced. Each hoofstep she made in closing in seemingly caused the light to flee from the room, gradually plunging everything into darkness.

I reciprocated each one by moving back, distancing myself from her approaching form. Then I gasped as I felt something brush against the furs on my flank and felt a solid surface.

My behind smacked into a bookshelf. I have nowhere to go… I looked to the dark alicorn, who wore a wicked smile. She looked ready to smite me where I stood. And she’s coming closer! I don’t want to d-die! I shot glances to both of my sides, distressed to see that to get to the exit, I had to attempt to go past Princess Celestia. Even if could make it—impossible in its own right—where would I go? What would I do? I whimpered a low whine that conveyed my emotions. I had no more choices; out of options. I curled up into a ball, shut my eyes and covered my ears. When I first saw the royalty, they were like pillars, strong, and beacons of hope! But now, everything had become a twisted mockery. I had never seen Princess Luna like this before! She had turned from a pony into something else; a wolf, almost.

If a wolf could wield immeasurable power to shift the cycle of day and night.

From behind my eyelids, everything got a lot darker. I cracked an eye open to see what was going on. The lunar princess had lowered her head, flush with my own, her own eye staring back at mine. “What did I just say?” she whispered, voice low and an edge of danger permeating every syllable.

I yelped and smacked into the furniture behind me. “P-Please… p-princess…! I… I really don’t kn-know what you’re t-talking about!”

“What did I just say!?” she roared. “My sister and I have meticulously crafted a safe haven for the creatures under the Equestrian banner, promising protection for all those who pledge to us! I take the safety of my subjects very seriously and as of now, you are a possible threat to that safety! You’re more than well equipped to do harm and from what I’ve gleaned, a dangerous individual! You clearly aren’t from around here, so I won’t hesitate; either you drop your pathetic act masquerading as a foal or I will resort to much more violent methods! Tell me why you are here! What are your goals involving the country of Equestria!?”

“I… I don’t know! Y-You’re frightening me, P-Princess!” I looked to my mentor with tears streaking down my face, hoping for a way out of the madness. “Princess C-Celestia?” She only stared back with a blank look, impassive as a statue. I yelped as a hoof harshly gripped my snout, turning me back to face the furious pony in front of me.

“I am speaking to you! Do not think you can weasel your way out of this one!”

“I… I r-really d-don’t know what you want!”

“My patience is thin, Valia Nore! No more games!” she bellowed, stomping a hoof. Valia N-Nore? Why does that sound so familiar…? “Why do you choose to dance around this? Have you no fear for your wellbeing!?”

“Princes—”

I didn’t get to finish whatever I had planned to say as agony lanced through my jaw. I didn’t even react as I bounced off the floor and smacked into a table. My mouth was wide open and my heart beated in my ears. My snout hurts… I tentatively raised my foreleg and placed it on the area in question. I could feel a warm liquid trickling down my face and the taste of something metallic. I brought it up to look at what had found itself on my hoof.

My pupils dilated as I registered what it is.

Blood.

My blood.

I… I…

I’ve seen blood before, small dots that came from scrapes and when from when I brushed my teeth… but…

I’ve never been struck before on purpose and had blood come out.

The realization was sobering as adrenaline ran through my veins and my fur stood on end. I looked back to Princess Luna with the hoof hanging in the air. She looked shocked, surprised that she had even done such a thing, but that quickly wiped itself away and her snarl returned.

“I know you’re not a foal, Valia Nore. I know that you’ve faced far worse than that. I know you took down a monstrosity the size of a tower,” she growled. “Now drop the act.”

The lunar diarch growled, a noise I don’t think I would’ve ever expected to come from her, and something I would never want to hear again. But that wasn’t what I had focused upon, no. It was something else entirely.

Almost as if after Princess Luna had uttered those very words, all the sound from the world had been sucked out. It was the words she had spoken, all two of which glaring at me with the strength of the sun. It had the power to render me frozen in shock like a foal caught sticking their hoof into a cookie jar. Even the pain, the sore spots—possibly bruised areas—on my back, and the red mark on my cheek that beat with my every thump of my heart. They screamed at me to respond, to do anything but stand there, frozen. But that pain was so easy to ignore, it was so negligible in comparison to what revelation arrived at the forefront of my mind, that I could simply brush it aside and consider it later.

The dark alicorn spoke of something I kept tucked away whilst I slept, accessible only to me.

She mentioned the hyoo-mans. She mentioned the dream memories. She mentioned the name, Valia Nore. I can’t believe I missed all of this.

She knew.

They both knew. One of my deepest secrets—something I’ve planned on keeping to myself for a very long time—had been blown straight into the spotlight, I dragged alongside it.

I wanted to ask how much they knew. But that would be confirming, wouldn’t it? What did they want from me, anyway? What did they want to know about the dreams?

How long had they known I’ve been having them?

My mouth hung open and I looked to their waiting stares. Standing in front of me were both of the regal sisters, Princess Celestia, my mentor, and her sister, Princess Luna. Two of the most important ponies to have ever existed stood in front of me. Two paragons of society. Two ponies who moved the celestial bodies of our planet as daily jobs. Two sisters who quested together and struck down countless villains, oh, so long ago.

And both of them happened to be in my room.

My messy, messy room.

Asking me questions and demanding answers about a secret that should’ve never even slipped out.

All the while as my broken nose bled.

“Do you plan on answering, Valia Nore? Or must I accept your silence as a resignation of sorts?” Princess Luna asked, twirling her hoof and idly staring at it. That was the one she struck me with.

I just… couldn’t take it anymore. I wasn’t the warrior they were claiming me to be. I wasn’t trained to handle pressure like my mom or to have the steeled nerves like the hyoo-man from the dreams. I was just… me.

A silly little filly who had yet to turn six. Who enjoyed reading books and staying inside. Who had no motivation regarding

So I did what any reasonable foal my age would do when presented with mass amounts of pressure, stress, and frightened by things completely out of their control. Repeating my first action, I whimpered, laid down, covered my eyes, and began sobbing.

It was a steady stream of tears at first before it transformed into a flood.

I let out my grievances, pouring all my sorrow and stress.

“D-Do you think this will deter me!? Such a pathetic thing to do! Where is the honor I witnessed, Valia Nore?” she murmured, sounding as if she was appalled. “Pretending to be a weak, helpless foal. Hiding behind the mask of fear and tears. Absolutely despicable.”

Tears continued to streak down and mat the fur on my face.

It was easy to hear the spell being powered up above me. That only caused the stream to fall faster. I don’t know what I did to deserve such treatment. I woke up today, thinking it would be a great day to talk to my friends and do some studying, maybe, even read a book. I was nice to everypony who deserved it and helped around the house!

Instead, I’m crying and bleeding on the floor, threatened by the ponies who I held such high regards for.

“Luna, that’s enough,” Princess Celestia called out. “I can’t stand by and watch this go down.”

The spell being cast sputtered out as the mana flow was cut off. “S-Sister! What is the meaning of this!?”

“I suppose I am the weaker pony, Luna. Perhaps it is wrong for me to succumb to such a thing…” She paused. “...but my bleeding heart can’t take such a sight. I can’t watch you beat up a crying filly who doesn’t even lift a hoof to do anything in retaliation.”

“Don’t you realize this is what she wants? This is nothing more than a ruse!” Princess Luna shouted. “Now let go and let me finish what I’ve started, sister.”

“Luna, violence hasn’t been our answer for millennia,” she murmured. “And actions fueled by such intents lead nowhere for any of us. Believe me, I should know.”

“Then what do you expect me to do? Attempt to make her talk simply by shouting empty threats!? What have I been doing this entire time if not backing up my claims!?” she yelled. She stopped to briefly consider something. “And if you suggest mind magic, I will strike you as well!”

“Yes, that thought has crossed my mind, but I am well aware of the inefficiencies it accompanies.” She rubbed her temple with her fetlock. “Have you already forgotten the new procedures I had you remember that we’ve put into place since your banishment?”

There was silence. “I… perhaps… hmm,” she mumbled out, slowly coming to realize something. At that moment, just a single moment, I dared to look. It was hard to see as I shivered, sniffled, and sobbed, trying to form a coherent image through the tears, but I barely managed to catch the lunar princess in deep contemplation. Or at the very least, she no longer looked like she was going to banish me to the moon.

“It seems the simpler method had slipped both of our minds. Would you like to remedy this oversight?” she asked.

“It would certainly make this easier,” Princess Luna sneered. “I’ll get right on setting it up… and I may just know the perfect pony for the job. Don’t take too long, sister.”

I watched her storm out the door, slamming the door upon her exit. I yelped in fright from the sudden loud noise, burying my head further into my hooves. I took a shuddering breath as I peeked out from behind my hiding place as another shadow cast itself over me. A brief flash of Princess Luna stood in the forefront of my mind. This time, however, it was the calm visage of my mentor, who calmly picked me up in her forelegs.

She cradled me and affectionately nuzzled the crick of my neck.

“I have lived for a long time, Sol Dilemma, a very long time. I have seen many things in that long life. Good things. Terrible things. Some… some things that still haunt me to this day,” she whispered. “However, in that long life, I’ve learned and expanded my repertoire of knowledge in leaps and bounds. Do you want to know something, my student?”

She used my name! Not… not Valia… I gulped and sniffled. “W-What w-would that be, y-your Highness?” My voice sounds funny. Was it because of my nose?

“How difficult it is to fake the tears of a foal,” she said, smiling. “I believe you. You’re just a little filly caught in the crossfire of something grand. Bigger than all of us, it seems.”

Twilight grabbed the tablet with a hoof, staring at the piece of hardware which shouldn’t have even been here. Considering the fact how old it must be—going off the deduction of five years if Dilemma was to be believed, as old as the filly herself—then this very thing, sitting in her grasp, simply could not have existed. Sunset standing right next to her could attest to that.

Even what was displayed right in front of her was unbelievable. A crisp display of a three-dimensional object suspended above the computer screen. To have magic replicate such a feat required a sharp mind and hours of work to whittle down the details. Yet, she could sense not a fraction of magic flowing through the thing, already supporting the fact that it ran and operated on other sources.

She shook her head and stared at the supposed gibberish present.

Five years ago, the mirror portal hadn’t even been open properly for something like this to slip through. Perhaps if it was a year and a half younger, then maybe, just maybe, it would make sense.

But as of now?

She wasn’t even sure how far this diamond dog burrow went! What were lies and what wasn’t!? Deep breaths, Sparkle. Deep breaths! Y-You can think this out rationally! Just start listing things. Listing is good. She took a deep inhale and nodded to herself.

F-First of all, they had been given a crystal with such intricate spellwork and design that took three of Equestria’s greatest minds to break! One of them even happened to have training from a completely different reality! There was nothing here that could even pull off the level of mastery required to weave such a thing!

Second, there was the unanswered question of how Dilemma could’ve come across such a thing! Were they really recovered in the crash as she said? Or was there something else at play?

Then… then, there was the spell that Dilemma first cast at her own congratulatory party! It was common for unicorns to reflexively cast spells when frightened, that was something she could attest to. They often were spells that they used often or one that was so easy to remember that it could be done with a clap of a hoof. But to reflexively pull off a spell like that!? That was—

A soothing wave cascaded over her very being, almost as if she had fallen into the softest pegasi downy, surrounded by the balanced aroma of vanilla. The calming sound of a candle crackling late at night, with the occasional turn of the page, played in her ear. The toasty feeling of laying by the fireplace, curled up so snugly in a blanket, comforted her senses. This, wherever she was, had to be heaven.

“Sunset, you overdid the spell.”

“I did not! I checked the modifier and…! Oh, she’s drooling. Yeah, ah… okay. I probably did overdo that part.” Sunset delivered a weak jab to the side of the downed alicorn’s belly. To which, she only received mumbling and slurred whispers. “She’s down for the count.” The unicorn sighed and shot an apologetic look to her compatriot. “Alright. Sorry. Didn’t mean to make her comatose. I guess I just overcompensated for her alicorn constitution.”

“You certainly did,” Starlight mumbled. She made a face as she stepped over the growing puddle coming from their friend’s mouth. “Her brain is probably flooded with magic stimulation. She’s dead to the world. Completely. She’ll probably be up in ten minutes, though.”

“But we don’t want to wait that long now, do we?” Sunset sighed and rolled her shoulders. “Resuscitation spell?”

“Resuscitation spell.”

Starlight hummed as she began to cast the spell. Lowering her head, she zapped the twitching alicorn and watched green sparks dance along her fur. As she waited for the spell to bypass the natural wards, she turned to face the only other conscious pony in the room.

“So, I’d like to ask what those numbers you added were about.”

Sunset blinked. “Oh, that? It’s a spell sequence that I’ve been working on in my spare time. I had to swap out a couple of things to make sure it didn’t interfere with what we had set up, however,” she replied. Starlight raised her brow in response. “Just because I don’t have magic on the other side doesn’t mean I can’t experiment. I may or may not have considered how cool it would be if I could create the ultimate hacking device. So that led to one thing, and another, and another…” she trailed off. “What brought this on, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Well, it’s mostly from how strange the weave looks, far more angular and blocky then what I’m used to. Has the spell you were building worked out for you?”

“Yes and no, that’s the thing. It’s strange, to say the least. Magic and the modern form of coding don’t seem to mix as effectively if I were to use the archaic format of ones and zeros. Something of which I don’t understand why it’s receptive to this but not that. It’s also been an arduous process of trial and error, piecing together and learning what can and doesn’t work,” she noted. “And I can’t say I’m too pleased about it, either. I haven’t exactly studied the stuff since it’s mostly irrelevant.”

“So what purpose does it serve?”

“Those –” Sunset pointed to three different sets of brackets, “– are all different sets of encryption and decryption methods, all condensed for usage in a thaumic system. I thought it would’ve been wise to give the cantrip a sense of direct—”

“AHHH!” Twilight screamed out, breathing heavily and looking around with wide eyes. “W-What happened? Why is my face so sticky… and why am I laying in a pile of drool!?”

“You were having a breakdown down, so I… took the liberty in sending a calming spell your way…”

“She overdid the modifier and practically flooded your senses.” She craned her neck to look over her friend. “And I’m fifty-percent certain some of that isn’t just saliva.”

The alicorn blinked as she realized the implication her friend was suggesting. Twilight screeched and burned red, her horn flaring in a brilliant purple-white. Not a second passed before the mess on the floor and her matted fur vanished without a trace. One look at the room and somepony could say nothing had happened. She took a breath and looked up. “Can we agree to never speak about this?”

“I don’t have any qualms,” Sunset quickly responded.

Starlight coughed. “Neither do I.”

“Then it’s settled,” Twilight said, “we forget this incident ever happened.”

All of the ponies nodded as a hush took hold of them and they exchanged awkward glances. A minute passed as they all stood to face each other still choosing to remain quiet. Sunset was the first to break the silence. “So, about that tablet,” she blurted out, levitating the device to hover in the middle of all three of them. “It’s… impossible for it to be here, right? Are we sure something didn’t slip through the portal without us noticing?”

“Yes. Celestia made sure to keep the portal under constant supervision, with both automated and actual guards to watch over it. The only reason I can assume why you managed to even get as far as you did before was that it still happened to be in transit. Most of the regular surveillance units were still transferring,” she said, shaking her head. “I checked over that list after I came back the first time and there weren’t any instances of recorded travel or anything coming through.” Twilight glanced at the floating object. “Tablet or otherwise.”

“This doesn’t explain anything then,” Starlight pouted, inspecting the tablet up close. “No other recorded race in the history of Equus has ever come close to rivaling the level of technology displayed by the humans. And Sunset, you told me what happened when you tried bringing technology through the portal, right?”

“Right, yeah.” The unicorn nodded. “The laptop short-circuited itself and practically exploded. I tested a couple of cheap stuff after that to make sure it wasn’t a fluke,” she said. “That PC wasn’t cheap…” she silently added right after.

“That’s another mystery then. From what I’ve gathered and from what I can assume from all of this, I have two theories; one, there’s secretly a race of ancients lost within the annals of time. Advanced enough to understand things like this and build it in turn. Or two—as much as it pains me to say it—we’re not alone in this universe as we think.” She bit her lip. “I know that makes me sound crazy conspiracist, but it’s the only two that make logical sense.”

Sunset looked perturbed. “Glimglam, you’re suggesting that aliens are real. Actual alien-aliens. From outer space.” She shuddered. “Out of everyone I know, you have to be the last one I would’ve ever expected to say something like that!”

The unicorn shrugged. “As I said, it’s the only viable explanation. Unknown language, unknown make, and unknown origin. Besides… what is that supposed to be?” she said, looking at the spaceship. “You can’t tell me you think it looks like something else entirely.”

“That’s absurd! Starlight, I’m sure it may look like that right now, but we can’t start jumping to conclusions and assuming something like that! Certainly, it may look like that due to the strange writing, but I’m sure that can be explained,” Twilight cut in hotly. “And, and...! Just because all of those variables are unknown doesn’t mean that can be the only deduction we could make.” She trotted over to a crystal with a carving of Spike’s face on it. She tapped it once and it hummed. “Spike, could you please go and get me the language book? You should know which one I’m talking about.”

There was a scrabbling of claws and something falling. “Uh, yeah, sure thing, Twi. I’ll be there shortly!”

“Okay, I accept that it may just be a language I’ve never heard about, but how do you explain the design?” She shot a hoof out. “How can you explain the material that it’s made of? What about how it was built? Can you explain to me why it does what it does? I’m sure it’s meant to be something more than just a simple three-dimensional model of a spaceship.”

A brief spark of the alicorn’s horn ran an analysis spell over the tablet, picking out exactly what it consisted of. A book slid out of a nearby shelf, grasped in the Twilight’s aura. It flipped open and rapidly blazed through pages, briefly stopping at some before continuing onto others. As the last page turned, Twilight’s face took a frantic appearance. She flipped back before pausing somewhere in the middle, hovering on a couple words as her eyes flicked to compare with the device.

She slammed it shut and the alicorn wore a wordless look. “I… I can’t accept that. The metals might j-just be undiscovered! I won’t accept the theory of aliens until we have solid evidence, not… not these possibilities.”

“Twilight. Have you ever considered Cookie’s cutter option? Sometimes—”

A pattering of paws against a crystal floor interrupted her as Spike came down carrying a stack of books. He gasped and teetered for a moment before righting himself. “H-Here you go, Twilight! All volumes of the Comprehensive Guide to Equus’s Languages!”

The alicorn gawked and rushed over to help him. “Spike, how did you carry all these!?”

“With... hah... much difficulty!” he replied, out of breath. He sighed in relief as the weight was lifted from him and he bent over to catch his breath.

She looked them over. “The abridged version would’ve been fine, Spike.”

Annoyance flashed on his exhausted face. “Seriously? Ugh. Well, if you need me, I’m going to go lounge on the couch,” he responded, sluggishly stumbling up the steps. “...maybe pass out, too.”

Twilight, without missing a beat, cast another spell. All three books simultaneously lifted into the air, repeating the same thing she performed on the book prior. The reaction remained the same as well, copying the first one down to the flipping of a page.

It ended in a similar fashion with a frustrated shout from the princess of friendship. “It… I just… no! I refuse!” she screeched. “I am a mare of magic and science, and I vehemently refuse to believe that!”

“So what do we do?”

Twilight looked down. “Confront the only ponies who may know something about this. We need to pack up our findings and record what we have because we’re heading back to Canterlot. We need to report this to Celestia and Luna… and quite possibly Dilemma.”

I watched the world go by atop Princess Celestia’s back, staring back at the various maids and butlers who all sent concerned looks my way. My eyelids drooped and I yawned. I had mostly gotten over the prior event involving Princess Luna with some words of consolation from Princess Celestia, promising to make sure nothing else would happen to me. I took each word with great weight; I trusted her after all. So if she said I would be okay, I would be okay.

I rubbed at the itchy spot on my nose, hidden under gauze and bandages. After our uplifting chat, she opened up first aid kit stashed away in one of my room’s drawers and began tending to my wounds like Mom would. I told that to her and her smile grew wider. That made my smile grow, too.

We passed the first guard checkpoint.

I… I remember this. It had been a while since that day, but it was certainly a memorable one. Mostly because that had been the day I met my first friend, Maverick. We’re heading to the guard section? Why are we heading there?

Regiments of guards trotted past us, either in armor or not, running exercises and drills. Passing ponies saluted and continued with their day.

“C’mon stallions! Put your backs into it! My nan could do this all faster than you sorry lot!” A passing sergeant shouted. I watched them carry away logs while marching.

We stopped in front of another guard checkpoint, this time, there were far more than just a pair of guards, and instead of a pronged gate, it was a shimmering white opaque barrier. Heavily armored ponies patrolled the upper levels, all holding a mix of ranged weaponry. They noticed our arrival and everypony turned their attention towards us. I peeked out from behind her mane to gaze at the threatening entrance to the building.

“Princess Celestia, your sister is already inside. But, as I’m sure you already know, we must check both of you before you’re allowed to proceed,” a plume-topped guard said, approaching. “Protocol and all that. Shouldn’t take long.” I could hear armor shifting and several bolts being loaded into crossbows. I shrunk back reflexively. Just where are we going that requires this much security?

“I understand. I was the one who instated them, after all,” the princess replied with a layer of mirth. “You may begin.”

My vision was awash with a rainbow of colors, magic flowing all around me. Some of it remained fairly superficial, brushing against my fur, but some were far more invasive. Some pricked against my skin, while others sent chills down my spine. It ended with the final spell coaxing out the princess’s and my own primal magic, the solar-infused element crackling in the air.

The ball of raw magic dissipated shortly.

The ponies standing on the battlements eased their stances and lowered their weapons. There was some quiet scribbling of a pencil as our arrival was most likely recorded. “You’re cleared. Have a good day, Princess,” the same guard called out. “You as well, Dilemma.”

“I wish you the same, Brisk,” Princess Celestia said. “If you would, Sergeant.”

The barrier fizzled out and dropped. A steel gate lowered itself and we entered the interior. It was decorated sparsely with banners and barred windows. Gleaming eyes bobbed around in the dark, most likely the thestral guards roaming the compound. The aura that this place generated… I couldn’t help but shiver at how… dark everything felt. Maybe it was because of the choice of how the lighting fixtures were placed on the walls, spaced far apart and scantily available.

It looked like the kind of place they would send a bad pony. Are these the dungeons!? I thought the princess said she abolished them?

A thestral guard trotted up to us and saluted, before beckoning to follow. Not even bothering to wait or to see if we got the message, he slipped into the darkness, his form occasionally highlighted by the flames. The solar diarch was unfazed and kept a healthy walking pace behind the pony. We turned down a hallway and I tightened my grip as the princess was led down a flight of stairs.

I brought my head to see Princess Celestia stop in front of two lunar guards. They gave us an idle glance and pushed the door open for her to enter. As she stepped in, the doors immediately shut with a shuddering boom. Several glyphs started humming in unison, hovering above the door. Those were anti-magic runes of the highest order, with several other reinforcement runes… what was this place…?

“Ah, I think that’s your sister, your highness,” a voice I never expected to hear, said. “Is that you, your grace?”

“Yes, it is. I’ve brought the pony in question along as well.”

A unicorn stepped out of the only open door. Her helmet was off and I could clearly see the bored look of professionalism masking her emotions. I knew who it was. Cascade Barrier, with her swirling sea hairstyle, and aquamarine coat, stood right in front of us.

Better known as my mother.

My mom’s expression cracked immediately as she laid eyes on me or to be specific, my bandaged snout. She rushed over and plucked me off of Princess Celestia’s back—who looked amused and… sad, much to my confusion. She brought me close to her chest and hugged me tightly.

“Dilemma, are you alright!? What happened!?” she cried in alarm. “Is that why I’m here? To interrogate the pony who did this to you? I’ll show them Tartarus for this!”

“I’m okay, really,” I whispered, “It’s not a problem.”

“It’s my problem! Some pony out there hurt my child and I—”

“I did it, Guard Cascade,” Princess Luna interrupted. “I struck your daughter.”

Mom looked woefully conflicted and confused. “You were the one to hit Dilemma? But why…? Was it because this was a training incident? Why would Dilemma be here then? My line of work is not something foals should be eagerly prancing around, daughter or not.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “No. It was no incident. I did it on purpose.”

If her face was any confirmation, mom only continued to spiral into confusion. She couldn’t put two-and-two together as to why her liege would ever consider smacking a foal. “To discipline her? Why—”

“None of the sorts,” the lunar diarch declared. “Interrogator Cascade, meet your interrogatee. I hope you can remain collected and professional during the session.”

“I’m… being interrogated…?” I asked aloud, eyes wide. “...by Mom…?”

“I’m interrogating my daughter!? What for!?” she yelled. “Excuse my language your highness, but this is my daughter we’re speaking about! This is a tier two interrogation you’ve asked me to conduct on a foal! What could she have done to warrant something like this?”

“I asked myself such a thing,” Princess Celestia said. Princess Luna sent her a harsh glare but said nothing in response.

The dark alicorn turned back to face my mother and I. “And conduct a tier two interrogation you shall. My orders are final and this is no joke,” she said, coated with an air of finality. “We’ll be joining you in the room to ensure Valia tries nothing.”

“Valia?” Mom asked.

“Something I hope will be explained shortly, either by myself… or your daughter.” Princess Luna straightened out her regalia. “I trust everything has already been prepared?”

“Yes,” Mom replied through gritted teeth.

“Then we may begin,” she said. “Please step inside the interrogation room.”

Mom tugged on my mane as lightly as she could. “C’mon. I’ll… I’ll try to be fair. Whatever you did to get yourself here…”

“It’s okay, Mom. I know you won’t r-really mean all this,” I said, trying to reassure her. She gave me a kiss on the forehead instead of saying anything, however.

The second door was opened and I was situated on an uncomfortable steel chair, placed in front of a wide, spotless steel desk. Three identical boxes had already been laid on the table, each one emanating a different magical signature. Mom took a seat directly in front of me, while both of the princesses chose to sit on both of her flanks.

It made for a very intimidating atmosphere as I was stared down by three different ponies.

Mom reached under the desk and pulled out several items. I could feel my forehooves forcefully brought onto the top of my desk by magic. They were laid straight out and a pair of cuffs locked them into place. I winced out how tight they felt. Then something slipped itself on my horn.

I cringed in pain as my flow of magic was abruptly cut off. I coughed and choked on the air as the shock pulsed throughout my body. I nearly collapsed and slammed my head onto the table, but that most likely didn’t happen due to how I was sitting. I struggled to even look up. I gasped as another opaque barrier cut across the room, dividing the space between us. A small window remained open for me to see them.

“At three-twenty-six PM, the interrogation has begun, conducted by Interrogator Cascade Barrier, supported by Princesses Celestia and Luna, against Sol Dilemma for an unknown crime,” Mom droned out, but in her eyes, I could see conflict warring within her. “By accordance of protocol five-eight-one, we are required to ask preliminary questions to ensure all equipment is in working order.”

Princess Luna cleared her throat. “First question, what is your name?”

“S-Sol Dilemma…” I managed.

I heard a soft click and glow of three green lights. The princess scowled.

“How old are you?”

“F-Five, your highness.”

Click, green lights.

“What species are you?”

“Uh-uhm, p-pony…” I paused to think. “Unicorn.”

Click, green lights.

“Are these defective?”

Mom shook her head. “I had them swapped out for new crystals and checked the enchantments.”

Click, green lights.

“Very well,” she muttered, “we can start the actual interrogation.” The princess slid Mom a stack of papers. It was quiet as her eyes darted across the papers. I could hear the paper being flipped as she finished reading. This repeated until she looked back up.

“Each and every question asked is monitored by a lie-detection system. Answer truthfully. In the case the system performs inadequately, I am trained sufficiently to act in its place.” She tapped the paper stack on the desk and met my gaze. “What does the name, ‘Valia Nore,’ mean to you?”

“It’s… It’s a hyoo-man…”

Whir, yellow lights.

“Unsatisfactory answer. You’re hiding something,” Mom pressed.

I gulped. The princesses already know. Mom might as well. But… should I really? I promised to myself that this would be my burden and my burden alone. However… everything is coming apart at the seams. What do I have to lose? “Uh-uhm… s-so… for the past two months, I’ve been having dreams. It started ever since my first outburst. Each dream I have… it’s about this hyoo-man named Valia,” I said with difficulty. “E-Each one doesn’t really seem to be connected in any way aside from sharing the fact they all center around the hyoo-man. It-It’s sort of like reading a b-book, except somepony flipped all the pages and chapters around.”

Click, green lights. “...”

“They’re always centered around her. No other hyoo-man. S-Some of them a-are really scary,” I said, a memory of gore and viscera surfacing to my head. “Th-They can be really graphic. It-It’s sort of why I’m hesitant to do certain things now. I don’t want the Hive to come crawling out of the shadows to… to get me. S-So really, I’m much more scared when I’m awake. Since I can’t h-have nightmares anyway.”

Click, green lights. “So—”

“A-And, they happen each and every night, no matter what I do. I even t-took advice from Princess L-Luna’s books to try some methods to get rid of them… but those d-didn’t work either,” I whispered. “I wake up with painful headaches that make my mornings miserable a-and every time Mom asks about the headaches I lie to her about it and say it’s just the after effects of the surge and I keep telling myself that I don’t have to worry Mom about it and… and… because it’s my problem I have to keep it to myself… and—”

I felt my head tucked into a bone-crushing hug as I descended into a sobbing mess.

Click, green lights.

“Sh-sh-sh, Mommy’s here,” she calmly said. “Just let it out.”

So I did.

I cried my heart out.

I cried until it hurt.

All while Mom held me close.

Soon enough, I had stopped and just let her hold me. It was quiet now, nopony dared to breathe.

“Why?” Mom asked, breaking the silence.

“W-Why what?”

“Why did you say it was your problem? Why did decide that you would face this by yourself?”

“I… I was left with it… and I’ve gotta sh-shoulder it all on my own… that’s what you always say… at least.”

Click, green lights.

Mom snorted. “That’s not what I meant. This is something else entirely.” She poked me in the ribs. “You’re just five years old. No filly should ever have to carry the burden of something this bad. If you think I would disown you because you’re experiencing these things without reprieve, you’re still far too immature to understand. But what I am is angry.”

I looked away.

“I’m your mother, and I’ll be here to help you every step of the way. I’m an adult. I can’t claim that I know everything, but I know much more than you do in real-life experience.” She stroked my head. “And I’ll be here to protect you. Scary invasive nightmare dreams or not.”

Click, green lights.

“So, Luna, is that enough for you?” Celestia asked, her eyes flicking very briefly to her sister. “I checked everything, just so you know. Everything here is working in perfect condition and there were no defensive spells to tamper with any of the devices.”

“...”

“Luna?” Celestia tried again. She moved to completely face her now. The diarch lowered her head level with her sister’s own. She examined her features. The alicorn in question looked... lost.

Rather, aloof, seemed to be the better word for it. Reflected so clearly in her eyes, she could see the gears turning in her sister’s head as she worked to understand something. Regret was most likely bubbling its way up into the surface of her mind, gnawing so heavily on something within her. Gnawing at the mistake she made...

Teasing her right now would appear to be in bad taste.

Celestia sighed. It’s all damage control now. She had allowed herself to make such a mess of things, barely before she and Dilemma could even form a proper bond as mentor and mentee. She took a knife and drove it taught between them. Her actions hadn’t been so bad, however, her student—if she still wished to call herself that after today’s events—would never look at her the same way again. The foal would most likely remember her participation... or lack thereof during this... traumatic event.

She could only imagine what Dilemma must’ve been thinking as she towered over the foal, almost as if she was judging her soul to allow ascension into the fields of Elysium.

The alicorn was not entirely in the right mind during so, she realized that much, but, there was no denying she should’ve been on guard. She had been alive longer than most modern civilizations and confronted scenarios that numbered in the tens of thousands! I should’ve realized when the fabric had been pulled and the ice in my heart had begun flowing. Celestia shook her head. Somehow, she had spectacularly failed, worse than her performance with Sunset.

She befouled what was supposed to be an innocent relationship.

It had already been too late to have stopped Luna from abusing the poor filly, as she had only shaken the fear once she realized genuine tears began flowing... but to let the interrogation continue without intervention? How foalishly wrong and dense could she have been? Immensly, it seems.

And with that, her last thought petered off. It was unnervingly quiet now, aside from the rise and fall of their breaths. She closed her eyes.

There happened to be quite a bit of could, should and would have in her thoughts. The diarch t’sked. One cannot traverse an ocean merely by glaring at its waters.

How was she to fix this...?

“Princess Celestia, Princess Sparkle has arrived and is requesting to see you. She’s being quite adamant about it, despite our claims that you are quite preoccupied. Mages Sunset Shimmer and Starlight Glimmer have accompanied her as well,” a voice reported over a spell-crystal. “I’m not sure what to do. I can’t exactly turn her away like I would a noble.”

Strange. What could Twilight want? “Let her in. Escort her party to us. If she has made her way from Ponyville to speak to us face-to-face, then it must be important. Twilight Sparkle is not one to take things of great magnitude lightly.”

“Very well,” the voice answered. “Let ‘er in! Get them an escort to interrogation block A!”

It wasn’t long until the doors began unlocking and three mares stepped in, confused as to why they had to come here. Starlight looked the most upset as her ears flicked and her tail was taut. Behind them was a cart full of neatly stacked briefcases and boxes arranged to fit perfectly into the grooves.

As they moved and pushed their belongings in, the exit slammed closed. Each of the ponies, well versed in magic, stared warily at the glyphs.

“P—er, Celestia… what are we doing in an interrogation cell?” She looked to the lunar diarch sitting on her haunches. “An interrogation cell that has both ruling princesses present?”

“We were conducting what Luna considered something very important, although recent events have proven that belief otherwise,” she informed her. “We were just finishing up.”

“Oh, well I hope we didn’t cause any trouble.”

“No, you did not.” Celestia raised a brow as she stared at their cargo. “Although, Twilight, may I ask what brings you here so urgently… with such things?”

“Oh, uh, you see,” she said, pulling out a tablet, “We found this in the crystal Dilemma had given us to crack.” She turned it on and the display generated the holographic image. “We were wondering if you had any clues of an abandoned or long forgotten race that could’ve achieved technological advancement of this scale. Considering you and Luna have been around for quite some time, I hoped you had seen something in your long life to help us out. We even brought our research for you to analyze.” She sheepishly turned to look at it. “We tried to condense it as much as possible, haha…”

Luna stared, momentarily breaking her statuesque appearance, before returning back to eagerly staring at the floor. Celestia sent her a pitying look, and decidedly took up the responsibility of observing the strange, quite possibly alien artifact. She rotated it and scrutinized each detail before moving away.

Eventually, the alicorn shook her head. “No, I cannot remember anything in regards to this. A race that could pull off something such as that? I have never met any in my travels. This kind of thing may be beyond what Equus could accomplish… and from what I have witnessed today, I am certainly far more open to things than I have been ever before.”

The lunar diarch tilted her head but still remained silent. She seemingly looked worse off than from before.

“Did you say you received this from Dilemma? She tasked you three with opening a crystal?” Celestia asked.

Starlight nodded. “Yes. I believe Twilight took it out of scientific curiosity and challenge. Safe to say it was far more a challenge than anticipated.”

“A new puzzle piece reveals itself and several more slots open up…” Celestia muttered.

At that moment, a certain pair of unicorns chose to leave, Cascade trotted out of the interrogation room with Dilemma on her back. “She’s awfully tired, been through a lot today it seems. I’d like to tuck her in if that isn’t a big deal. And I’m expecting an apology, your Highness. Even you’re not above smacking foals so hard you break their noses.” The filly atop her back yawned. The guard noticed the small congregation and stammered. “Er, ah, your highness! And, uh, friends.”

From the corner of her eye, she could see her sister slinking away, shadows slowly wrapping around her form as Luna moved into a vacant room. She watched as her sister settled into the embrace of the darkness, all left of her presence being a pair of eyes. Dilemma and Cascade never noticed the sudden absence, however, two of the three newcomers had. Her most recent ex-student was not one of them.

“Oh, there’s no need to bow, guard! I don’t really care for frivolities like that,” Twilight spoke, waving her hoof.

Cascade bowed despite that. “Well, sorry, I do. Part of my job and all that.”

Sunset raised her hoof in the air. “Are we just going to ignore that she mentioned that Princess Luna assaulted a foal?” Starlight shrugged and looked to the offender. Even shrouded, Celestia could see her visibly wilt as she fell under both of the mare’s gazes. It’s getting to her more than I thought it would.

Twilight frowned. “I suppose I can’t stop you. Anyway… wait. Is that Dilemma?”

“Yes?” Cascade questioned. The filly peeked her head out. The three friends eyed the injury and the stained bandages.

“Oh, P-Princess Twilight! H-Hello!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“Actually, my friends and I came here to talk with the other princesses, but I suppose this involves you too. Princess Celestia?”

The alicorn snapped out of her thoughts. “Oh, yes, here.”

The princesses exchanged the device and hoofed it to Dilemma for her to examine.

“This is what we found inside that crystal of yours,” Twilight said. “I never really intended to show you since… well, please don’t be offended, but I didn’t think you could help with our investigation considering this was from when you were barely an hour old. But it looks like we hit a dead end and you’re here already, so we might as well just show you.” She sighed and her posture slumped. “I honestly don’t want to accept what Starlight offered as a theory, but…”

The filly gasped. Dilemma gingerly grabbed the object in her hooves and stared at it. She began whispering things as she looked at the screen and the text written on the sides. She ran it along her foreleg to feel for the material. “This… I know what this is!”

Every pony aside from her looked surprised at what she had just announced. None more than the research trio. “You do!?”

“Y-Yeah. I saw it in one of my dreams. Valia was using it once.” She pointed to the “bottom” portion of the console. “This right here says ‘SOL DILEMMA CONTROL PAD,’ and the flashing text says, ‘TRACKING BEACON ENGAGED.’”

Sunset blinked. “You’re a robot?”

Comments ( 9 )

Love how blunt Sunset is.

Love the last line

Eh, I have to say that it's been a while since I read this, and the beginning seems rather out of character. What's more important is that your characters are consistent within the story, I know, but having the princesses interrogate and hit a foal would be considered abusive and traumatic on any other normal pony. Plus, they'd said earlier that dream evidence is unreliable and hardly inconclusive, didn't they? So why does it seem like they're taking the dreams as cold hard fact? If memories can be manipulated by magic they can be artifically implanted too, no?

Honestly, in my opinion the beatings didn't really serve a purpose to assuage the alicorn's fears that the lie detector scene couldn't do either. Part of it is because of how they are in the show, such direct and aggressive action just isn't how Celestia and Luna are. Suspicion, sure, but just because it's a foal that means they feel free to treat her like Cozy Glow? Over a hunch? I'd think the rulers of Equestria to be more experienced and shrewd than that. Sol Dilemma is Celestia's student. If there's anything she wouldn't do to Twilight or any other past protegee she wouldn't do it to her either. Going by how earlier chapters presented her, she'd ask first, and Dilemma would lie, but she'd move towards some magical lie detection or other passive method instead of aggression of a direct confrontation. At least certainly not yelling "WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS" and only backing down once the tears flow.

True, Luna was the one that went overboard, and good that you're acknowledging it, but so far...well it's like everyone's glossing over it. Like literally

Sunset raised her hoof in the air. “Are we just going to ignore that she mentioned that Princess Luna assaulted a foal?” Starlight shrugged and looked to the offender. Princess Luna visibly wilted as she fell under both of the mare’s gazes.

Twilight frowned. “I suppose I can’t stop you.

Point is, you've done a big thing here, a defining moment in the character's lives. Especially the filly who's seemingly had nothing worse happen to her before. I hope you'll keep in mind that the experience will shape them for better or worse.

9326107
Yeah, it is fairly OOC of Celestia and Luna to have done such things, that, I can agree with. Thank you for pointing that out, as I nearly overlooked that initially. I guess I've just been reading too many wicked/cruel princess FFs I sort of slipped into a certain mindset when I wrote this.

Whoops.

But, the princesses aren't doing this nonsensically or for the hell of it. I plan on elaborating on their actions in the following chapter.

9330025
Oh, I'm sure they have their reasons. It's just jarring because you nailed the regular princesses' characterisation quite well in earlier chapters. More in line with the show.

Good that you're going to elaborate more though, I'm just concerned with how Sol will internalize this. She was given her apprenticeship under Celestia as that one golden chance of a sense of belonging and true value and identity. She put a lot of faith and trust in her, and now it's broken by being complicit in her interrogation. Unless she's already developed some very quick onset Stockholm syndrome, Sol Dilemma shouldn't be still so trusting after such a personal attack on her character. (doubt Valia would go along with it either) Least to me.

What happened to this brilliant story?

9871368
Apologies for the late response. As for what happened? A mix of a couple of things. A majority of which is made up of life. Specifically, school.

9882557
When do you think you will continue?

Interesting story, hope to see it continue.

I will say though, I really hope there’s a lot more fallout for Luna torturing a five year old who has been suffering from nightmares and massive headaches while said foal crying and Celestia did nothing but watch until Luna was about to kill her after accusing her of lying, then dragging her to be interrogated by her mom. At the very least, I hope there’s a large enough Fallout between Sol and Celestia that she can’t trust Celestia enough, hopefully to the point where she stops being her student (we do have three ultra talented ponies available to teach her, ones who don’t trick ponies into multi week torture camps in retaliation for a prank). It’s surprisingly in character for Twilight to brush off anything Celestia does, but getting only a gag from Sunset and basically nothing from Starlight was weird as well.

Also, would be nice to see the Valia part of Sol return the favor to Luna if she ever awakens. Either beat the shit out of her or leave her to think she’s about to die before saving her at the last possible second. Or maybe go for a more psychological attack.

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