• Published 14th Feb 2019
  • 826 Views, 49 Comments

Cadence of the Crystal Empire - Coyote de La Mancha

Two ancient evils from the Age of Chaos. The lost princess they desire. And between them, stands Celestia. Alone.

  • ...

2: Revelations.

Just once, Celestia thought, I would like to pay for my own mistakes.

The Princess of Day sat alone in the middle of the throne room floor, looking down at nothing. There was certainly little new to see; even after centuries of neglect, the Castle of the Two Sisters still clearly showed the scars of the final battle between sun and moon.

Upon materialization, Celestia had raced frantically throughout the old ruins and the overgrown lands outside, calling Mi Amore’s name. Useless, of course. After all, her trace spell had confirmed that, yes, this was where the time spell had concluded itself... but not three months earlier, as it should have.

Rather, Mi Amore Cadenza had somehow materialized four years ago, in that very room.

Obviously, some variable had interfered with the spell. Sombra’s magic? The Crystal Heart? It hardly mattered now. All that mattered was finding Mi Amore.

Now, sitting in the very monument of her failures, Celestia raised her eyes to the moon glaring down at her through the ruined ceiling.

Luna, she thought desperately. Beloved sister, if you can hear me in your slumber… what should I do? What would you say to me now, if you were here?

The chamber was silent. Not even insects stirred.

You would likely say that I have no time for self-recriminations, Celestia decided at last. That I must find her, and help her however I can. Yet, you would also remind me that I must not neglect my other responsibilities while I do so. Especially to those I care for.

She looked away from the moon’s reproachful stare. And you would be right. As always.

For a moment, her heart ached anew. But, only for a moment. Yes, no doubt Luna would have loved to meet the little unicorn Celestia was mentoring. But now was not the time for such thoughts.

Whatever happened, must have happened here, or nearby, she determined. So. She arrived at the throne room. Where did she wander from here?

The spell was a simple act of psychometry, amplified by her own power to pierce through the years. Sure enough, there was little Mi Amore, alone in a shadowy hall of webs and memories. She was more mature than when Celestia had seen her last, of course, though she still couldn’t have been older than Twilight was now. And as the filly spread her wings for balance, Celestia could see that they were quickly becoming the wings of a young lady.

Mi Amore had also gotten her cutie mark, apparently, before her family’s overthrow. A heart of flawless blue crystal, the very image of her empire’s ceremonial Crystal Heart.

Celestia stared, marveling at the implications. What kind of talent did the young pegasus have, to manifest a mark like that?

Hello? asked the image. Is… is anypony there?

Celestia watched the image of the young heir as she took a few steps one direction, then another. Then, lost and bereft, collapsed where she was and wept.

Her tears lasted for perhaps a minute.

Then, having given vent to her sorrows, the foal shook herself, picked herself up. Celestia had to smile as the little pink pegasus frowned with new determination, spread her wings, and took off, soaring through the empty skylight and out of sight.

Celestia followed the vision with ease as Mi Amore flew over the Everfree Forest. She flew high enough to see that she was nowhere she recognized, though she could not soar high enough to see any other signs of civilization. Exhausted, the filly landed by a river, drinking and bathing before continuing on. She was obviously looking for some kind of shelter, before the night fell.

As the foal continued to follow the river deeper into the Everfree, Celestia felt her heart grow cold with terrible premonition.

No, she thought.

The river had reached a fork.

Take the left fork, Celestia thought desperately. Cross over the water and take the left!

But Mi Amore’s image continued her journey, finding ways to enjoy the beauty around her despite her circumstance, following the river’s edge to the right.

Celestia raced ahead, speeding up the spell as she did so. Less than a mile later, where she knew there had once been a cavern in a hillside, centuries ago, now there was a great wall of ancient boulders. But their formation was different now than it should have been, as though they had been moved and then replaced, so as to once again block the cavernous entrance.

Celestia needed no enchantment to know that the two stone figures, once hidden deep in that cavern, were gone.

Sitting by the riverside, Mi Amore watched the water for a while. Then, she began to sing to raise her spirits. It was a song of love, of hope, of encouragement and finding a way. She had a beautiful voice, and the inhabitants of the forest paused to listen as she sang.

The spell didn’t show the creatures who surprised the young filly. Celestia saw her ear twitch as Mi Amore heard something behind her, and the startled turning of her head. Then, there was simply the sheer terror in her eyes when she espied what had emerged from the cavern behind her. She opened her mouth to scream…

Then, nothing. The foal simply vanished, concealed by her captors’ magic from even Celestia’s mystic sight.

“Abacus, cancel everything for the next four days. No, make it a week.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

All around her chambers, scrolls and papers circled rapidly through the air, held aloft by magic of a variety of different colors. Five Celestias, each a different color of the rainbow, were reading with blurring speed. There was also the blue, who was speaking to Abacus Plinth; and the red, who was writing frantically.

“Are you certain this is all the records of deaths for the last four years?” the blue demanded. “All of them, even accidents? Even missing ponies? Abandoned dwellings? Everything?”

“As certain as possible, Highness.”

“Very well. Now listen closely. When I return, I will give you a sign. I will say, ‘I rose the sun early today.’ You will say, ‘And the stars still shine, even in day.’ I will say, ‘Every mare and stallion is a star.’ If I do or say anything in deviation from that, or if I hesitate before replying, or if I don’t give you that first sign as soon as I see you… then you are dealing with an imposter. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

“I don’t expect that to happen. But just the same, I will leave a dossier of their known abilities before I go,” the blue Celestia went on, gesturing to her red self. “It will almost certainly be incomplete. These are ancient creatures, older than myself.”

“I see. Princess Celestia, how should I handle the matter, should there be such an… imposter?”

“Drink alcohol.”

His eyebrows arched. “Highness?”

“I’m serious, Abacus. Get drunk, as drunk as you can without blacking out.”

To his disbelieving stare, she went on, “Then, take a large bag I will prepare for you and go to a certain statue on the grounds. I’ve described it in the letter. Once there, read the scroll I’m enclosing with the instructions. It’s not strong enough to undo the Elements’ magic – not much can – but it should weaken it. Then, hit the statue with the bag as hard as you can, until the bag breaks open.”

“I… see. And what is in the bag, Your Highness?”


He blinked. “Dice?”

“Dice. Of every shape and color there is.”

He stared at her, completely at a loss. “I… why?”

“I’m sorry, Abacus, there’s no time. If you can think of something more chaotic than that, do that too, while you’re there. Play an instrument you don’t know. Start a quarrel with the guards. Whatever comes to mind, I don’t know. It could be ponykind’s last hope. Everybeing’s last hope.”

“And this… statue… will save Equestria?”

She shook her head. “No. Point of fact, he’ll almost certainly destroy it.”

The old stallion paled. “But, then why…?”

Even as the blue Celestia joined the others in their desperate accumulation of data, the red Celestia rolled up the letter she’d been writing and pressed it into his hooves.

“Because if they are able to overcome me, the world he creates will still be better than anything the Crimson Queen and her son would ever allow,” she said.

Just then, the door opened. A young voice, still half asleep, said, “Prin-cess C’lestia, I had a bad dream…”

Everything stopped.

Abacus Plinth stopped, scroll still in hoof. Seven Celestias froze, their various papers stopping in mid-flight. All of them stared at Twilight Sparkle, who in turn absorbed it all with huge violet eyes. Astonishment and wonder warred with one another within the face of the now very awake young unicorn, each being rapidly overshadowed by sheer excitement as she took in a long, delighted breath.

The Celestias looked at one another. The blue one cleared her throat, and began, “Now, Twilight, I need you to stay calm—”

“You have got to teach me that spell!”

“Yes, and we can talk about that later—”

“There are what, seven of you? Seven?” Twilight squeed, jumping up and down. “I could read seven times as fast? Study seven times as much at once?”




The filly jumped back, and was still, eyes wide.

“I’m sorry for startling you,” the green Celestia said quickly.

The blue went on, “Twilight, I’m getting ready to go on a very important journey—”


“—no, you can’t come with me, because it would be very dangerous, and no,” she interrupted again quickly, “bringing Spike along wouldn’t help. I should be back in a week or so, sooner if I can. Until then, I have a research project for you, shush,” she interrupted again, “and hear me out. I want you to research everything you can about spiders, and be ready to give me a presentation eight days after I get back. No sooner than that, though. I’ll need rest. Don’t even mention it to me until then. Alright?”

The filly nodded vigorously.

“Good. I’ll be by to tuck you in before I go, and I’ll tell you more then, but I’m leaving tonight. You can tell me about your dream before I go. Okay?”


The filly gave a quick bow, and zipped back the way she’d come, slamming the door behind her.

In an instant, the papers were orbiting again, and the various Celestias were reading as frantically as before.

The red Celestia spoke, nodding. “With that fresh in her mind, she might recognize what she’s dealing with, and stay away.”

“She’s clever enough,” said the violet. “And strong-willed.”

“It’s the best we can do,” mourned the orange, “should the worst occur.”

“Will there be anything else, Highness?” asked Abacus.

The green Celestia looked up. “Yes. In the unlikely event you need to go to the statue, take Twilight with you.”


The green shrugged. “She might put him in a good mood.”

The violet one shook her head as she studied, adding, “And besides, if a curious Twilight Sparkle can’t wake him up, nothing will.”

The dream wouldn’t have been very terrifying, in Celestia’s mind, to anypony but Twilight. It had been strange, hearing what had frightened her so, though the filly’s fears were certainly quite real. But that was alright. A few honest words of encouragement and some hugs, and the filly was already feeling much better.

Still. Of all the threats the world might offer, having nightmares of failing at exams, of being kicked out of the palace for not knowing enough…

Then again, Celestia had to admit, for all that her fears are unfounded, I suppose they’re not unreasonable in her position. Even after six months, everything must still seem so uncertain.

And within her own heart, a voice whispered, At least her fear of failure is unfounded…

“Princess Celestia, are you okay?”

The Princess put on her best courtly smile. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

Twilight frowned. “You seem worried. Like one time my mom was, when Shining Armor was late coming home. She had everypony out looking for him.”

Celestia opened her mouth to reassure her apprentice--

“She had that same smile, too.”

--and closed it with an almost audible snap.

It seems having a brilliant student is always a double-edged sword, she thought.

So, instead of answering immediately, Celestia took in a deep breath, and then let it go.

“To answer your question, yes, I’m alright,” she said. “It’s just that, well, I’m realizing I made a huge mistake, and I need to correct it as quickly as I can.” She paused, then added, “I think ponies have been hurt because of my mistake.” She looked away. “Actually, I know they have.”

In response, Twilight cuddled up into the mare’s lap, wrapping her arms around the mare’s waist.

“It’s not your fault,” she said.

“You can’t know that—” Celestia began.

“Yuh-huh,” Twilight insisted, looking up at her. “I know you. You wouldn’t hurt ponies if you could help it. You’re too good.”

For several moments, Celestia hugged her little apprentice very tightly, eyes closed.

“Thank you, Twilight,” she whispered at last.

Twilight snuggled into her embrace more.

“But listen,” Celestia went on, “I’m going away for the next week or so, because I need to find some monsters. And then I have to fight them. That’s why you can’t come along. And they’re a lot like spiders, which is why I want you to know all about spiders. Just in case they come here.”

She pulled back enough to look into her student’s eyes. Twilight looked up at her, eyes round, and nodded.

“Also, you should know what they can do,” Celestia went on. “They’re both powerful mages. The mother also makes illusions, better than any other creature I know of. The son is a mentalist, and very cunning. So, yes, you were right. I am worried.

“And I know it’s strange, telling somepony your age about all this. I’ll admit, I wasn’t planning to at first. But, I’ve decided that you have a right to know. Not just because you’re my apprentice, or because I was having to handle monsters when I was your age, or any of that.”

She put a gentle hoof on Twilight’s shoulder.

“But because I believe in you. Not because you’re intelligent, or because you have powerful magic – though both of those are true – but because you’re Twilight. And I know you’ll be okay knowing about it.”

Twilight stared at her.

Celestia considered the filly in her lap. Oh, dear, she thought, please tell me I didn’t just scar you for life…

Twilight continued staring at her mentor with a seriousness only possible in nine-year-olds. Then, “We should have a safety word.”

Celestia frowned in surprise. “A what?”

“You know, a safety word. So I know it’s you when you come back.”

“Oh,” Celestia nodded. “Yes. That kind of safety word.”

“For palace security,” the filly added intently. “It could be hyper-critical.”

“I think that’s a splendid idea, Twilight. Yes, let’s set up some countersigns, just in case.” Celestia stroked Twilight’s mane, feeling inexplicably proud. “Now then. What do you think they should be?”

Four years, Celestia raged at herself as she flew. She’s been dead four years! They found her, starving after their centuries of imprisonment, and drained her dry... There wouldn’t even be a husk left by this point... Damn it, I should have sensed them awakening! I never knew they could conceal themselves like that… No wonder my seeking spells turned up nothing all this time! And all because the spell sent her back early...

Forgive me, Radiance. You trusted your daughter to a fool.

Then, with effort, Celestia turned her mind back to the present problem.

Enough. Focus on what’s Now.

Whatever else her talents were, Mi Amore must have had a powerful heart… powerful enough to accidentally awaken them from their imprisonment. And four years ago, that powerful heart fell into the mouth of the Crimson Queen. It is, after all, what the monster does: feasting on love and love’s potential, until none remains.

And since that point, she’s been feeding at leisure.

Likewise, the Knight of Mirrors, she thought grimly. Like a carrion bird, he’ll have been following behind his dam in her travels. Draining all hope once love has been exhausted, breaking ponies’ spirits to better devour them.

They would have emerged weak as kittens, she realized. Of course, there are fewer natural hazards in modern times. So, they won’t have had to expend much strength, hiding through the intervening years. Which means that they’ve had the luxury of moving carefully, rebuilding their power. And they’ve had at least four years to regain their might.

Not to mention that as they get stronger, the radius of their feeding will just keep growing. As they themselves pointed out last time we fought, the world isn’t dividing itself into chaos realms anymore…

She shuddered. Left unchecked, their hunger might well encompass the world.

Just the same, Celestia reminded herself, by now, they must know I’m still alive. And if they thought they were ready, they would have already attacked. They have to know that Luna and the Elements are gone. So, they must not think they’re strong enough to face me again, even on my own.

Not yet.

So. On the one hoof, I don’t have the Elements anymore. And I don’t have Luna. And they’ve had years to learn and feast and grow powerful. That’s what they’ll be counting on.

But on the other hoof, while they’ve slept, I’ve had centuries to become what I am today. Plus, I have the advantage of surprise.

I can do this.

Her eyes narrowed in determination.

All that remains is to find them. And with the records Abacus brought to me, I have a good idea where to begin.

Keeping her eyes on the ground below, alert for any trace of her foes, Celestia flew as fast as she dared.

The fly struggled harder, entangling itself further in its panic. Its helpless buzzing took on a higher pitch, resembling nothing more than screams.

The web’s master, meanwhile, took its time. Slick and black as spilled oil, it journeyed with alien grace out onto its web slowly, luxuriously. It milked the moment, drinking in its prey’s terror. Then, in its own time, it attacked with a sudden, savage ferocity, sinking its fangs into the hapless insect’s body. Finally, filled with a predator’s contentment, it began to entomb its still-living prey, paralyzed and helpless, to await its final torments at its master’s leisure.

The Knight of Mirrors looked down at the spider with satisfaction. He knew exactly how it felt.

After all, why hunt one’s quarry when they would ultimately come to you?

And now, at long last, his rightful prey was seeking him out. Having been once denied this greatest of all feasts, he would not be denied again.

True, she had become sorely diminished in spirit over the years. Despair and guilt had ravaged her badly. And, while that ensured that the sun pony was as good as his, it also would also lessen the flavour. Which was a shame on both counts, really. He had been looking forward to the challenge as much as the feeding.

But despite it all, her soul still shone like a beacon to him, full of future’s bright promise.

He stepped down slowly, deliberately, extinguishing spider and fly both with a gradual, wet crunch beneath his armoured heel. There was a momentary, helpless, keening sound from the arachnid beneath his boot. Then, nothing.

There would be no future here.