• Published 20th Oct 2019
  • 1,356 Views, 31 Comments

The Alicorn Problem - TheTimeSword

Do you want to be part of a secret magical society to help Equestria? The idea sounded good to Moondancer. That is, until the society started endangering ponies for their "tests". And just who is the mysterious Grandmaster?

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Problem 1: Eclipse

Words are, by definition, meant to convey meaning. Letters, sentences, paragraphs, syllables, punctuation. All these complex tools bring forth images in one’s mind. Life, for example, is four simple letters used to convey an individual’s existence. The term death brings the opposite picture into frame. Words share this duality. They receive life through meaning, and then die when a shorter version comes along. And sometimes, like a snake eating its own tail to survive, are they given new life, revitalizing their use. These unite as one to create the balanced, harmonic goal of understanding meaning.

Princess Celestia had no thoughts on words or snakes or the renewal process this night. Her mind focused on her sister outside the sitting room. This was their ritual every night and morning. Her snow-white face reflected in the glass that shielded her from the dark world.

This wasn’t anything but routine for Celestia, who parted the entrance for her younger sister. Princess Luna’s exhausted eyes blinked as way of greeting Celestia before she continued on to her day of rest.

While the moon had the night, the sun celebrated life in its day. Princess Celestia’s duty, as designated by the cutie mark on her flank, was to raise the sun on Equestria. Her sister being the opposite, held sway over the moon. When one lowered, the other rose. A simple balance, never a chore, and supposedly endless. Day and night would exist in harmony, no matter the cost, for so long as Celestia could bear.

But though she commanded the sun, Celestia enjoyed the night too. With her tall frame against the balcony railing, Celestia stared out at the majesty. Canterlot stood before her. Gold and purple roofs reflected the stars of the sky like a still lake. It brought peace. Serenity. Daytime would break such calm by fetching the noisy hustle and bustle from living, working ponies.

Only few received such a view, and Celestia appreciated it more than most would. The thousands of years she’d performed the feat made no difference. A thousand more would pass and she’d still admire the sight. But night wasn’t forever.

The long, slender white horn protruding from her forehead lit with golden glow. She felt the sun beyond the veil of night. Celestia lifted the ball of heat into the sky and broke the dark with a cast of orange hues sailing over green forests. It struck the purple and gold roofs, and the stars leapt from the sky disappearing all at once.

Celestia savored the moment like the first bite of a honey apple. The breathtaking rays dripped down her chin. The chill of morning dew settled across her back and along her wings. Another wonderful day was upon them, bringing a smile to her face. Yet it fell. Not only her smile, but the sun! She blinked, not understanding. Upon reopening her eyes within that split second, she found the sun in the correct placement. Was it a mirage? A mishap?

Yes, a trick of the eyes, she assumed, shrugging it off. She need not concern herself more than that. And so she tossed the incident into the far recesses of her mind, gone and forgotten. There were other chores for a princess to attend to. Her mind would not sit by while nostalgia and awe had their way with her eyes.

When night came round again, Celestia stood first on the balcony. Luna second, the nodding of her head was the only thing keeping her awake. Her groggy eyes pierced through Celestia as she waited for the sun to lower. Celestia snickered internally at the disheveled sight of her sister. Luna’d forgotten her crown again, the poor thing.

Though raising the sun remained a stunning feat after all this time, it was also repetitive. Even absent-mindedly, Celestia could lower the sun while her mind muddled in her sister’s haphazard form. To which it did, leaving the sky dark. The moment passed.

Celestia entrusted her younger to the task and headed back inside to the sitting room. Halfway to the door, Celestia’s steps ceased at a mutter of concern from her sister. “Luna?” she questioned, casting a look over her shoulder. The moon sat on the horizon with rays of light striking Luna’s dark blue mane. Nothing about the pale sphere stood out of the ordinary.

“It’s nothing,” Luna mumbled before a yawn overtook her words. “Sleep well, Sister.”

The earlier occurrence with her sun remained in the back of Celestia’s mind, while the forefront focused too much on her sister. The memory kept quiet. And so she did as Luna suggested. She went to bed. Her mind lay within a wondrous slumber. Deep sleep graced her body, and even brought her to an awakened state earlier than usual. Most would relish in the extra hours of sleep, but not Celestia. The thought of being up early excited her. It brought renewed meaning to the day. It even allowed for some morning tea, accompanied by a rectangular soft-baked sugar cookie.

Glorious hues of white marble and blue sky intertwined with the gold and purple roofs. Celestia breathed, and the city shifted against the steam of her tea, or so it looked. A shudder of cold and awe trembled down her spine.

“You’re up early.”

The voice didn’t spook Celestia, but she did throw an instinctive glance to the door. “Sometimes getting up early to see your beautiful night is worth sacrificing a few hours of sleep,” Celestia answered. She gulped down some tea to hide the coy smile beneath.

Luna shifted in the doorway, a brow rising above the knowing grin. “Is that why you’re up early? Planning out your compliments again?” Luna balked, a small giggle breaking the exhaustion that wrinkled her face. “I would say I’d stay awake and hark a sonnet of flattery to outdo you, but—” her horn lit, and her moon lowered behind the curvature of the world “—I think I’ll steal those hours of sleep from you instead.”

Celestia replied, “Sleep well, then.”

Alone with the stars, Celestia’s sight skittered across the reflective roofs. Levitating the teacup to her mouth, she began raising the sun at the same time. Her legendary magical prowess made levitating any object at the same time as her sun seem like child’s play. Coming above the horizon, the orange hue stole the stars. Even the ones within her tea were quickly whisked away.

In a sudden jerk of power, Celestia lost grasp of her cup. The sun shot double the height intended, then lowered itself back to her desired location, yet she hadn’t been the cause. Celestia blinked, shook her head, and took a step back. Warm tea wrapped around her golden shoe and flooded the emptiness once she retreated. The broken ceramic, the shattered bits of cookie, and the warm brown puddle lay before her. Dumbfounded, her mind tried to reason and deduce what had happened, yet the cause remained a mystery.

The morning rolled into motion after Celestia cleaned the shards and mess. Her thoughts were on the incident all throughout the day. She had no explanation. The only thing she understood was that her sun spasmed upward, then downward, and her tea fell from the shock. Reliving the moment in her mind didn’t help.

The idea of her magic waning never troubled Celestia before, but now it compelled her to return to the balcony early that night. She wondered if she’d reached her limit. The place of the fallen teacup brought no peace, and the stain had since washed away by castle staff. Celestia remembered the previous morning. The memory no longer lost in her mind’s subconscious. The sudden blink of the sun. Connecting the two brought even more worries on her limitations, some of which churned her stomach.

“You’re here early again, Sister. Another compliment, I assume? I’ve been working on a few myself, but none are ready,” Luna said as she sidled next to Celestia, appearing almost as a ghost. Her jovial expression evaporated upon meeting Celestia’s face.

“No, nothing like that,” Celestia answered. For a moment, she debated telling Luna of the strange occurrence. But upon lowering the sun, she felt no surge or snap. Nothing stopped Celestia or intruded on the process, and so she kept silent. An uneventful evening, much like every night prior. Without anything more to add, she turned to the doors and trotted across the balcony in silence.

“Is this a joke?” Luna asked, hostility in the words.

“What?” Celestia held the door open and glanced back. Her brows pulled tight at the sight of the angered face. The word jealousy ran parallel down from the center of Luna’s eyes to between her nostrils.

With a grunt of harshness in her tone, Luna came close to Celestia. “A bit rude of a prank, Sister. No need to be in such a tizzy due to a lack of praise.” She then passed by, her nose haughtily tilted in the air. Even when Celestia beckoned, Luna refused an answer, leaving the words like smoke, wafting and dissipating.

When Celestia retired to her chamber, her comforter to her chin, she felt no desire to sleep. Her mind trembled at the provocation. It added to the strange bout of sun and tea earlier in the day, creating a wave of anxiety at the mystery. Not a wink brushed her eyes or eased her worry, and when it was time to rise, she found no reason to smile.

Celestia dragged herself to the balcony once again. Every step felt as though she carried dumbbells on her wings. Her tired eyes fell on the moonlit city. Not even the beauty of the reflecting stars could lighten her terrible mood.

Luna arrived shortly after, a snippiness to her attitude retained from the previous encounter. “Have you more flattery, or will we trade insults today?” When her younger sister looked up and met Celestia’s downtrodden eyes, she gasped. “Have you been awake all night, Sister?” Luna’s voice trembled. “I did not mean such hostility. I only meant to scold. The moon is mine to possess, you know I am defensive!”

But Celestia shook her head. When she went to speak, her eyes landed on the darkness of Luna’s face, and she fell silent. The dark blue grew brighter, an orange hue striking Luna’s muzzle and revealing the beautiful eyes. Celestia’s head twisted in an instant, and then her mouth fell to the sight. “The sun?” she whispered to herself. Absent-mindedly, so focused on Luna, Celestia would’ve raised the sun without thinking just as she’d previously done. But not today. Not when the moon still sat in the sky.

“Celestia. I understand you might be hurt, but there’s no need to lower the moon yourself,” chided Luna, her snippy attitude returning.

But she ignored Luna. Celestia scanned the sky in a panic, switching between cardinal directions. She glanced over the sun twice before landing on Luna’s confused and offended face. “I did not lower your moon,” she told Luna before her teeth clenched.

“Really?” Luna’s inflection dripped with satire. “Next you’re going to tell me you didn’t raise the sun.” But Celestia’s appalled expression spoke when she did not. Her sister’s sudden wide-eyed stupor told Celestia that Luna now understood. Someone else had moved the sun and moon.

With no oxygen, the flame suffocated around the wick and created a grey ball of smoke. Moondancer released the magical bubble surrounding the candle as her eyes settled in the darkness. She could smell the little waft of smoke in the pitch-black room. It soothed her as she waited for sleep. And just like her bubble, so too did sleep pop for the unicorn. Out like a light, then in like a wrecking ball. The shutters of her bedroom window only stifled the golden rays of morning.

Most days, Moondancer would relish the idea of sleeping in. This was especially true after a long session of studying like last night. Today, however, was a red-letter day for Moondancer, and for ponykind. Waking early was not only beneficial but necessary. She stifled a yawn and rose from her fitted sheets. To her closet she went, trampling over dirty sweaters strung about the floor like a lawn of leaves in autumn. All the same color, all the same fabric. Nopony could say Moondancer was anything but conformative to her slovenly lifestyle.

Even her closet, though filled to the brim with the same style of sweater, remained chaotic in its clutter. But on this morning, with a new air about her, Moondancer chose to levitate the sweaters off the ground. She placed them in an unused hamper near her bedroom door. From her closet, she took a new garment, one given to her by a society of like-minded individuals. Today, she would don this cloak and participate in her first scientific gathering. Her induction a few days prior left her more than a little excited.

She marveled at the sleek, dark grey silk contouring and shrouding to her shape. From head to hoof, the garment hid her pale beige fur and amaranth mane, but the hood obstructed her vision. Her glasses, square and large, did not appreciate the fabric covering the lenses. After tossing the hood back, she adjusted her glasses in a mirror and decided to walk without the hindrance.

Her face glistened in the early morning sun as she traveled against its rise. Canterlot stirred little in this young hour, allowing Moondancer time to traverse the city streets unquestioned.

She made her way down marble streets and trotted up to an old, abandoned home. Decay and the lack of maintenance tore down this two-story residence. The sun’s bleaching rays replaced the chipped paint. Someone had taped the front door shut, and planks covered windows. A short picket fence surrounding the property appeared to be the newest addition. But even its wood peeled and splintered, and a small portion had fallen forward. Weeds now grew in between the gaps. This is where Moondancer made her way to the backyard.

An unlucky home. It was one of few who had the displeasure of sitting against a bordering wall—a divider for another section of Canterlot, which sat higher. Perhaps the terrible view of a stone wall in one’s backyard was the reason it remained abandoned. Whoever contracted the design for such a home had no qualms of such a view, but their time had long since passed. Tangled green vines hung and clung in the cracks of the stone wall. Some had even crossed the weed-ridden ground, wrapping the limestone water well that sat in the middle of the backyard.

Moondancer traipsed through the unkempt yard, fidgeting nervously with her hood. Though none of the vines looked out of place, she’d seen the entrance during her induction and could tell where the cracks formed. But she alone could not enter. No amount of prying or blasting would’ve broken the magical seal.

Her wait wasn’t long, though.

An azure blue unicorn and friend to Moondancer appeared. Minuette bellowed with laughter upon seeing the cloaked mare. She pointed to Moondancer’s unbound hood. “You know you weren’t supposed to wear that until you got here, right? Your hood isn’t even up!” Minuette wore saddlebags, of which she undid one strap, levitating out her own dark grey cloak. As Minuette put it on, Moondancer watched as the mare’s features disappeared within the shadows of the cloak. Even her mouth kept a dull grey to others.

“I figured it would be early enough no one would care,” Moondancer defended herself. But internally she kicked her lack of foresight. Of course the neighbors would see her enter! Of course they’d know something was amiss!

“Well, it’s not like anypony of the society will have seen you. They’re inside.” Before Moondancer could ask how they’d get in, Minuette produced a small golden insignia. With nothing more than a glance, Moondancer could not see the terrific design. “I got mine early.” Minuette shot a grin. “Don’t worry, everyone is getting theirs today. You will too!” She pressed the insignia to a brick on the well, and a click of gears sounded off just before the wall opened.

Only a few yards off the ground, the unfazed vines clung to the stone. A stunning tan wooden door sat on the other side. In the middle, painted in gold, was a long, slender, limbless creature chasing its tail. The doorway opened as Minuette pulled Moondancer’s hood down, becoming twins.

Sconces of blue fire lit the inside of the large gathering room. Paintings, plush seats, potted plants, a spacious burgundy rug, and a chandelier in the center filled the room with finery. Refinement of all types fit the stereotypical society of Canterlot. The sight undoubtedly pleased the nobles, and unicorn nobles were the hardest to please. Ponies gathered around the furniture, each with their own bodies and faces concealed. Large double doors sat opposite the entrance. All the ponies here waited on them to open, chatting amongst themselves to ease their boredom.

As Moondancer and Minuette strutted into the room, the double doors opened, and they flooded in with the other members. Moondancer’s prior introduction to this area was with four others. Now, several scores of ponies filled the room. Moondancer jostled to the front and got a good look at the podium she’d seen. Unused before, now the Grandmaster rose bipedal against it. The three Masters stood as barriers between the podium and crowd. All four wore the same cloaks as the members surrounding Moondancer.

When the doors closed and the unicorns situated themselves, the Grandmaster’s voice bellowed for all to hear. “Greetings, everypony, and thank you all for coming!” Moondancer, being an initiate, had met the mysterious Masters upon her induction. Their features and names were not announced, but they knew hers. The Grandmaster had been absent, however.

Questions riddled Moondancer’s mind when she first joined. But seeing the Grandmaster, listening to her speak, it soothed her heart. The charismatic words spoken filled her body with glee as though she were a filly again with Hearth’s Warming right around the corner. “First off, I would like to thank everyone for joining the Society of Secret Sorcery! I know our introduction phase made many of you quite anxious and curious of the secrecy, but we thank you for your patience.”

The Masters unveiled silver platters with dozens of the same metal insignia Minuette bore. “To thank you initiates, we will be bestowing our pin of entrance to you! Evokers have already received their own marks, but now you initiates will have yours! Those of you from Manehattan, the Crystal Empire, or anywhere else, should be pleased to know these insignias work on all our bases of operation. Wherever you come from, and wherever you visit, you will have your own personal key to our little homes!”

As a Master placed the pin on her lapel, Moondancer got a better look. There was one key difference between her own and Minuette’s. While Moondancer’s was silver, the higher ranks were gold. An eyeless, smiling unicorn as the logo, her insignia only had one horn. Minuette’s golden insignia had two, and the Master’s had three. An unnatural sight—a unicorn with more than one horn.

The Grandmaster’s insignia differed incredibly. She put it on as the Masters went around with their platters. Instead of another horn, it reverted to one, and wings accompanied the singular horn. An alicorn.

With the pin placed on her, Moondancer puffed out her chest. A smile peered out from the shadow of the hood. Others shared in her enthusiasm, and Minuette quietly spoke a congratulatory word.

The Masters finished, returning to their seats at the side of the podium. “You all have shown some form of magical talent. That very reason is why we are all here. Never in our lifetimes have so many powerful unicorns gathered at once. We here in Canterlot have been practicing our attempts to raise and lower the sun and moon. But today, with everypony helping, we will show Equestria we mean business!”

Murmurs questioned their secrecy, though the Grandmaster settled such worries once she continued. “Do not fret. Though who we are need be kept secret, our work mustn’t! Equestria will not know our names, but they will see our actions. Never again will we fear and wait for a princess to save us. We will take it upon ourselves to stop whatever nightmare comes to claim our magic, or worse, our lives!” An uproar of cheering and stomping ceased as quickly as it began. A view of the sun came into existence before the crowd.

Though only a reflective image of the world above them, the bright ball of fire lit the room far brighter than any sconce. “In the coming time, we will be practicing our group magic in other areas. Today will be our test of levitation!” the Grandmaster said. “We will create an eclipse. Should the royal sisters ever go missing, Equestria will survive! We unicorns will pick up the torch!”

Swept up in the majesty of the moment, Moondancer exerted her concentration with the group. Every unicorn channeled their energy. Her mind filled with thoughts of magic, her horn erupting with power. A surge of energy forced shut her eyes, and then when a cry of glee rang out, she opened them. The view of a blackened sun would’ve blinded her had the hood not shadowed her eyes. They’d done what most believed to be a Hearth’s Warming fairy tale. Something reserved strictly for the alicorns of this age. “We’ve actually done it,” Moondancer said.

Author's Note:

Alternate Scene:
Minuette places her insignia against the stone of the well, expecting a door to open. When it doesn't, she and Moondancer ritualistically attempt each stone until their world darkens. "An eclipse!" Moondancer shouts with glee, while Minuette attempts turning the insignia on and off again.