• 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 2: Betrayal

A strand of purple hair fell forward, diminishing Twilight Sparkle’s view before being brushed aside. Her strained eyes fell back to the parchments. A sudden quiet mutter broke the silence—though she knew the cause. Spike the Dragon, who’d fallen fast asleep, didn’t budge at the movement. Twilight had no intention of waking her number one assistant. It was late, and he was still young.

After levitating the small purple dragon to his bed in the corner of the spacious room, Twilight returned to the papers stretching across the crystal table. A thousand times they’d read the letters, but no answers came from the words. “How can she expect me to solve this? There’s nothing to go on. It seems like a joke.” She tapped the signature of Princess Celestia.

“Maybe she doesn’t expect you to solve this right away. The sun and moon still rise and fall,” Starlight Glimmer pointed out. The unicorn sat a few chairs over from Twilight, and looked just as fatigued. In her lilac-colored hooves sat the third letter they’d received from Celestia. “Please investigate, she says, but that doesn’t mean we need to burn ourselves out.”

“If they’re losing their magic, if the sun and moon will not obey them, then we have little time to waste,” Twilight replied with a low, hushed voice. “Imagine a week where the sun didn’t lower or the moon didn’t rise.”

Starlight put back down the letter, setting it with the other two they’d received. “But we can’t be sure they are losing their magic. The only thing we’ve established is that it’s not a prank by Princess Luna.” Slouching, Starlight reiterated her comment from when they first received the letters. “Getting Star Swirl involved is something neither of them would want to do for a joke. It’s not them, and he claims it’s not him.”

“I wish he were here. We three could solve it in a snap,” Twilight bemoaned. “Maybe you’re right, though. Maybe it’s not something urgent. Celestia didn’t get Star Swirl involved any more than sending him a letter. She didn’t suggest involving the Elements. But if I’m going to solve this then I need more to go on. It’s got to be a waning of their power. If we have to, Cadance and I can handle the sun and moon for a week. See if things settle down.”

Levitating the second letter from Celestia, Starlight brought it to her face. She then rose from her seat and trotted around the crystal table. “Magical fluctuations wouldn’t be the cause behind an eclipse, though,” she said, pointing to the wording. “If their power waned, they wouldn’t be able to raise or lower. But everything we’ve been told is that the power surges.”

Twilight took the letter without a word of response. Leaning in her seat, she arched her back and held the parchment in both hooves, staring at the contents. There was no obvious reason for the eclipse or the strangeness relating to the sun and moon. All the justifications they came up with had more holes than a woodpecker’s boat.

A sudden glass of water suspending in front of Twilight’s forehead drew her attention. “Come on. If you won’t give up and get some sleep, at least keep yourself hydrated. I’m going to call it soon. Spike’s got the right idea.”

“Thank you, Starlight.” A few gulps of the lukewarm water didn’t help her feel any refreshed for the task at hoof, but it did allow her mind to wander. A moment of memory snapped her away from the present problem. “You know, I hoped life would settle down after we dealt with the Pony of Shadows. That things might finally be normal. I guess that was too much to wish for.”

“Has anything ever been normal for you, Twilight?” Starlight asked, and smothered a laugh. “I mean, student to Princess Celestia, then bearer of the Element of Magic. Becoming an alicorn yourself, and this castle! Even dealing with, well, me. Your life has been nothing but chaotic, so this shouldn’t be anything new.”

Twilight nodded in agreement as the memories washed over her in waves. A library within a tree brought the corners of her lips up. A sudden realization then snapped her mood like a twig. The glass sailed from her magic and sent water all over the letters. “Chaos!” she yelled.

While Starlight glared at the spill, Twilight cried out the name she’d glossed over. “Discord! Discord! I know you can hear me!” She didn’t fear waking Spike with her screams, he could sleep through anything. Even when a gust of wind dried up the water and spun notes about the room did the dragon not wake.

“Calling on me in the odd hours of the night?” A voice rose from the gust as the papers settled. “Or is it early? Hard to tell nowadays, isn’t it? Quite the chaotic set of events.”

Parchment fluttered, and a scroll unraveled. Twilight looked for source of the voice while Starlight scanned the room. But the draconequus named Discord was a curious fellow; Twilight found an inked version of him dancing atop Celestia’s signature. He must have felt her eyes on him as his body burst from the paper, but got stuck halfway out. "Oh!" he gasped before grabbing the edges of the table. With a huff and a pull, he yanked so hard only his top half escaped. Without his legs he sat atop the table in front of Twilight, a toothy grin on his mismatched face.

Everything about Discord was unnatural. Every limb out of place. Pranks and jokes were his forte, and the overlooking of this creature made Twilight question herself. Of course he’d be the reason! “Discord, did you cause the eclipse the other day? Have you been messing with Princess Celestia and Luna?”

“So formal, straight to the point.” Discord tapped a finger against the tip of her nose. “Yes! It was me. I did it. I created an eclipse.” With his confession, he snapped his wrists together as if he expected handcuffs. “Of course, if I did, I’d have to have a reason, right?”

“He’s doing that thing again,” Starlight said.

“Thing?” Discord’s head turned to the unicorn, his limp white beard brushing a shoulder. “What thing?

Twilight agreed, “Yep. He knows something but only wants to give it up in riddles. It’s your shtick, Discord.”

In a defensive tizzy, the mismatched creature pushed himself up and his legs unraveled. He stood atop the only letter left on the table. With both claws on his hips, he upturned his nose at the mares. “I’m a one-trick stallion now, am I? Well, for your information, it’s not what I know, but what I know I don’t know.” His eyes snapped wide as his body became rigid. “That was a riddle, wasn’t it?” he muttered to himself.

Twilight pulled the letter out from under him. “If you’re going to have an identity crisis, please at least tell us if you caused the eclipse or not before you lose what remains of your wits," she said as she wrung out the water.

Discord regained his balance by sitting on his tail. With his legs crossed and his claws in his lap, he pouted as though it would make Twilight feel bad. It wouldn’t. She knew him too well, and saw through his charade. “You could at least play along. Fine, fine. I can tell you with impunity that the snooty sisters have not had a joke pulled on them. Nor does this have anything to do with chaos magic. In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s not an unusual magic at all.”

“Not unusual?” Starlight blinked and turned to Twilight who remained stoic. “That’s a new one. Is he saying it is ordinary magic? Are their powers really waning?”

Tapping her chin, Twilight asked, “If it’s not unusual, that means it’s only pony magic. Right, Discord?”

With a grin and a hop of his tail, the creature wrapped himself around Twilight like a snake. A low whisper held his next words. “That’s what I don’t know, don’t you see? I don’t know a thing about pony magic.”

“An eclipse. Midday, when neither Celestia nor Luna would be in mid-practice with their sun and moon.” Twilight, ignoring the slithering going on around her, lifted a stack of unused papers from the ground. “Discord, thank you for the help. If you don’t mind sticking around, we’ll need your help writing letters.”

“Letters?” he guffawed and released the snake-like grip. “You have an assistant for that.” He pointed to the snoring Spike. “Oh, fie. Well, unfortunately my handwriting is terrible!” He lifted a parchment into the air. Discord’s eagle claw replaced every character, each resembling an actual alphabetical letter.

“Why are we writing letters?” asked Starlight.

Discord transformed into a bottle of ink, his usual eyes staring at her from the black liquid. “A bit slow today, aren’t you, Starlight?” he mocked.

Twilight levitated a quill to the bottle, tickling Discord before striking the closest parchment. “I have to summon everyone of importance here, and then some. We need more eyes than ours. A pony out there has done what I would’ve considered impossible. They’ve moved the sun and moon. A pony who isn’t Celestia or Luna, Starlight. This is an unprecedented event of our lifetimes! I’m going to need help finding whoever this is.”

Mail is a funny thing to wait for. Most ponies would think nothing of a few envelopes arriving through the slit in their door. Moondancer wasn’t like other ponies—her silver insignia proved as much. On the day of the eclipse, the society said they would send out letters containing details for their next event, the when and where. Yet almost a week passed, and it was already sundown. News of the eclipse had spread across Equestria, like the Grandmaster said it would. And still no letter. Moondancer pined to know where they’d send her. Every day without a letter led to a night of tossing and turning.

When the postmare finally arrived, Moondancer lazily dozed at her desk. The knocking sent her skittering from her seat, blundering over the piles of unorganized books.

“L-letter!” huffed the grey pegasus, her back loaded with packages and envelopes. Moondancer levitated the sealed parchment, surprised by the society’s sophisticated style. “Whoa! Magic sure is handy!” the postmare stated.

“Thank you,” Moondancer replied, but as she went to close the door, the postmare handed off another letter. “Oh! Two? Well, this is a big day. Thanks again.” This time it was a white envelope marked with no return address.

“Have a good day!” The postmare saluted, continuing on to the next home, grunting under the weight of her load.

Leaving the door ajar, Moondancer examined both mailings. She chose the simple envelope first—the beautiful scroll was clearly from the society. Yet it was the opposite. The white envelope contained the details sending her east to the city of Manehattan. Her eyes lit up at the address, but her brows shot together. She turned to the scroll levitating beside her. “Then who is this?”

Moondancer broke the wax seal, undid the ribbon, and sloppily unraveled the letter to see the signature first. Princess Twilight Sparkle! The contents confused Moondancer. A summons to Ponyville, to Twilight’s castle. A meeting between ponies and creatures from all over! Her mind tried to comprehend the reasoning, but before the answer could click a knock came to her door.

“Moondancer?” Minuette called as she pushed into the opening. “I hope I’m not intruding.” Her eyes fixed on the two letters in the air. “You received them too, then?” Minuette asked.

“Twilight summoned you as well?”

“She asked the entire gang to come to Ponyville. Lemon Hearts is sick though, and Twinkleshine is taking care of her. Since they’re not part of the society, we’ll need to choose whether or not to attend,” Minuette replied after closing the door. She levitated her letter to Moondancer’s face. “They’re sending me to the Crystal Empire. There’s no way we can do both on the schedule they’ve given us. The society would have us leave tonight to get there in the morning.”

Moondancer compared her letter to Minuette’s. They were identical. A complete copy, aside from the names and places. “Why do you think Twilight requested us?”

“I don’t know. I hoped you might,” Minuette replied.

Minuette wasn’t wrong in her assumption. Moondancer did have a few ideas, though only one was the clearest. “It’s about the eclipse. The society. Twilight’s the smartest one out of all of us from our school days. She must know something. Is it any wonder that she became a princess?” Moondancer figured. She adjusted her glasses while staring blankly at Twilight’s signature. “She might know about our involvement in the society.”

“Then I guess we’ll have to find out. If she doesn’t, we need to make sure she won’t.”

“We’re not going to tell her? To invite her in?” Moondancer’s brows furrowed at the thought. “We’re her friends! It’s not right to… to not tell her.”

Minuette leaned away, almost scowling at Moondancer. “The society is meant to protect the princesses, Moondancer. Not only Celestia and Luna. Twilight too! If we let her in on our little secret, she’ll want names, information, charts, and details. What’s the point of being secret when a villain can look up our addresses in a book?” She snorted, a frown creasing her normally cheery cheeks.

Moondancer darted her gaze away from Minuette, pretending to clean her glasses. How could Minuette even think of lying to Twilight!? A preposterous idea! Their friendship had only recently rekindled. Did that mean nothing to Minuette?

“Why did you join the society, Moondancer? I invited you because both you and Twilight were always at the top of the class. I knew if we couldn’t have her, we should at least have someone interested in protecting her. But why did you accept?”

Moondancer struggled to find an answer, leaving the question to hang for a moment. “Being in school was one of the greatest parts of my life,” she eventually answered. “I figured I could relive some of those glory days with some new ponies. I hadn’t even thought about protecting Twilight until the Grandmaster’s lecture.”

Minuette stepped forward and placed a hoof on Moondancer's shoulder. “You and Twilight were the closest in our little group. I’m not sure why you never did stuff on your own, but I am glad you joined up with the society.” A smirk tugged her lips as she leaned in. “I mean, let’s face it. I’m not sure how I managed to get noticed before you, but I have no doubt you’ll be reaching the level of the Masters in no time. Just don’t forget your friend when you reach the top. Wouldn’t want another of our group leaving for Ponyville and never coming back.”

“Oh, stop,” Moondancer begged, hiding her face with a hoof. “You’re embarrassing me. I’m not sure I can do all that. But protecting Twilight? Now that’s a goal I want to keep!”

“Get some rest then. I’ll meet you at the train station. I’ve got to go let someone at the society know we won’t be able to make our destinations. We’ll do our best to try and make sure Twilight doesn’t find out. We’ll do it for her.”

Alone again, Moondancer stood in her foyer with the letters. Her chin dipped to her chest, slumping her posture and dragging her glasses down her snoot.

To lie to Twilight, straight to her face. Was Moondancer capable of that? Even for her old friend’s sake?

She forced herself to reignite the anger she’d felt when the alicorn was a unicorn. Twilight had run off to Ponyville, forgetting about Moondancer and her party. The anger built, but faded off. The grudge had died. The flames of anger washed away, and all Moondancer could think of was their friendship. If Twilight asked, Moondancer wouldn’t be able to lie. There was no doubt in her mind that it was that way. But she was thankful Minuette would also be going—she could do all the talking.

She returned to her bedroom and threw the letters on her bed. “Well if I’m not getting to go to Manehattan, I may as well put my stuff away.” She lifted the cloak and pin into the air, and then dropped them off into the laundry hamper by the door. She stared at it atop the sweaters and wondered what to do with the pin. Minuette’s words sprung up in her mind. What’s the point of being secret when any villain can look up our address?

Moondancer stuffed the cloak and pin into one of the sweaters and then balled it up. Once finished, she shoved it deep into the center of the other laundry. “There.” A lingering doubt held itself in her throat. “What am I doing? Nopony even knows me in the society. I just joined!” She reached in to remove the cloak and pin, but then groaned and gave up. “I’m already stressing over a meeting that isn’t until tomorrow!”

A night of anxiety meant a terrible lack of sleep. Moondancer packed and repacked everything she’d bring on her trip to Ponyville, before choosing to take nothing. Only the sweater on her back would accompany her. That and the haggard, tired look she wore. Minuette didn’t fail to notice the next morning. They’d arrived at the same time, the train departing shortly after. Neither talked about the society during their ride. Ponies eavesdropped, and they both were too excited about seeing their old friend. Instead, they discussed Twilight and the curious nature they both shared of her Castle of Friendship.

Moondancer didn’t expect the crystal castle to be so large, nor the amount of guests Twilight had called upon. In the mid-afternoon and last to arrive, she stepped into the foyer of the castle with Minuette. Their eyes fell on a familiar dragon. Spike hugged them both and his purple scales rubbed against their fur. He guided them along with several unfamiliar guests up halls and through entrances. The castle was a maze, but they eventually came to a room containing their old friend. Moondancer recognized the other bearers, and Starlight Glimmer was a familiar name even if her face was not.

Once everyone settled around the crystal table, Twilight made introductions.

She spoke of King Thorax first, the leader of the changelings. Beside him sat her brother, Shining Armor, and his magical advisor, Sunburst. Spike quickly rounded the table to be close by the three.

To Twilight’s left were the bearers, past them sat Starlight Glimmer and a blue pony. Twilight skimmed over the mare, but the blue pony refused the slight. She rose and made note of herself, stating her name to be Trixie. Starlight hushed the bold unicorn, which allowed Discord to make his own introduction. Of course, Twilight cut him off to introduce the final members.

“And my good friends from Canterlot, Moondancer and Minuette.” Twilight pointed to them, giving a big welcome. “Twinkleshine and Lemon Hearts couldn’t make it? Well, I’m sure you two are wondering why I’ve called you here. Involving you in this business isn’t something I’d like, but you’re really my only sources in Canterlot besides the princesses. It’s good to see you both.”

“What is this all for, Twilight?” Moondancer asked. “I mean, it’s good to see you too.”

“It’s about the eclipse.” Twilight scanned their faces. Moondancer made sure to feign surprise without exaggerating the expression. “But there’s more as of today. This morning, Manehattan and the Crystal Empire have been subject to a magical attack. A normally bright day for the empire turned into a thunderstorm. Crystal ponies were almost drowned. Vines and bramble racked Manehattan, coating every apartment and skyscraper. It’s going to take weeks to get the weeds cut down.”

“Attacks?” several ponies mumbled and whispered. Moondancer eyed Shining Armor and held her tongue. The white stallion wasn’t only Twilight’s brother but also husband to Princess Cadance. The two of them ruled over the Crystal Empire, though Cadance wasn’t part of this meeting. That must've meant she remained in the Crystal Empire with their daughter. Moondancer could only imagine how Shining Armor felt when he heard the news. Clenching her teeth, she struggled with the realization that she would’ve been part of the Manehattan project.

Discord slithered his way to the center of the table and pointed out his only piece of information. “Pony magic. That’s why we’re here.” He gave a toothy grin to a few. “I see how some of you look at me, thinking that I would be the cause. And you’d be right! Except I’m on holiday.” He sat back in an invisible chair with oversized sunglasses covering most of his face.

“Every day is a holiday when you’re not around,” Trixie chided.

“Discord is telling the truth. I believe him,” Twilight announced, a surprise to some, but not Discord. “My first assumption was that an alicorn, perhaps Flurry Heart, could’ve mistakenly created the eclipse. The flooding would’ve made sense too—but not the vines in Manehattan. I’ve also conferred with Thorax to say that no changeling tested their magic.” She paused, letting her words sink in.

She continued when the murmurs settled. “When Discord suggested pony magic, I thought it might be a single pony. After today, I am quite certain this is a group. Eyewitnesses speak of black cloaks entering the cities, vanishing after the messes. I’d consider these coincidences, but not when they’re a notable account from both cities.”

Sunburst raised a hoof. “That was today,” he spoke once he had permission. “You had some reasoning to invite us here before these attacks. The eclipse?”

With a shake of her head, Twilight pointed out the obvious. “Most of you at this table are unicorns. I’ve asked Discord and Thorax to keep their ears to the ground, but you all are my second option. I had thought for each of you to look about your cities to find the single cause. Now that’s changed. This group of unicorns, coordinated and powerful, are a problem. What they plan, I don’t believe it’s good for Equestria.”

Moondancer held her tongue as Twilight continued to talk of the rogue group of fanatics. The words were harsh, but Moondancer took them like a punch to her stomach. Twilight thought of them as evil! But vines and rain weren't anything more than tests of pegasus and earth pony magic. Couldn’t she see that? It was possible Twilight’s own pride in saving Equestria so often made her blind to the thought of others saving the day. Moondancer’s eyes drifted to Minuette who portrayed a stoicness in her expression that her trembling eyes did not share.

“We’ll be organizing a search with the guard to scour and root out these pranksters,” Shining Armor proclaimed. “The Crystal Empire will be safer without these ponies. It goes without saying that the Crystal Empire has suffered more than most under such terrible magic.”

“I can send some changelings to help search in Manehattan and Canterlot,” Thorax added. He held a proud, friendly face as his buggy eyes fell on Starlight, Discord, and Trixie. “After all, Equestria has sent heroes our way, the least we can do is share the spirit of harmony. If they want to cause terror, then they are much like Queen Chrysalis.”

Gripping the edges of her sweater, Moondancer felt torn. She held her tongue between her teeth and hoped Minuette would speak an end to these accusations.

“Minuette, Moondancer,” Twilight spoke directly to the two, a tenderness in her face. “I know it’s a lot to ask of you, but if you find any sort of connection to this mysterious group, please contact us. As I said, you’re all I have in Canterlot besides the princesses and my parents. The more eyes and ears we have on this, the better off we are in finding the head of this snake.”

Moondancer couldn’t bear the weight any longer. Her mouth swung open to speak on behalf of the society, but Minuette slammed her hoof over Moondancer’s lips. It was an action so swift and hard that the glasses on Moondancer’s nose flung forward off her face and struck the table.

Though not pained, only startled, Moondancer snapped to Minuette. She expected anger, but panic reflected in Minuette’s sapphire pupils. The hoof trembled against Moondancer’s mouth. “Minuette? What’s the matter? Moondancer?” Twilight called, rising from her seat at the sudden commotion. Others around the table stood as well.

Moondancer pulled down Minuette’s foreleg. “Minuette. Should we tell her?” she asked, whispering the question.

“Tell her!?” Minuette stood up with the speed of a lightning bolt. Sweat fell off her and landed on Moondancer’s foreleg. “You heard what they said, right!? And now you want to tell them all about our secret society? What about all the unicorns working hard to keep it hidden!?”

“Girls!” Twilight called out as the room grew in an uproar. “What are you saying? Do you two know about this? If you two had something to do with this, we can discuss it. We can work it out. I can help. We can draw up plans on proper protocol. I could even create spreadsheets of your members! It’d save you from scaring us half to death!”

Feeling a flush hit her face, Moondancer went silent.

Minuette gritted her teeth as she bore her eyes down on Moondancer. “It’s like I told you. A secret on a worksheet isn’t a secret. It’s words on paper for any monster to find.” Minuette threw both forelegs onto the table and stood bipedal. “We’re not evil, Twilight! We’re going to protect Equestria without your help. You’ve been doing it without ours, so it’s time we return the favor! So please, if you’re really our friend, you’ll stop searching for answers now. You’ll let us test our abilities!”

“That rainstorm ran into a floodplain! Crystal ponies are homeless! Their livelihood ruined!” Shining Armor battled, rising to stand bipedal as well. “If you were her friend, why would you side with a group of ponies who hide in secret?”

“What’s the point of being secret if a villain can just look up our address?” Moondancer asked, surprising the table, and Minuette especially.

“Why keep it secret?” Twilight countered. “A magical defense force—”

“Is just another royal guard,” Minuette interrupted, almost pleading. “We’re meant to be there when nopony else can be! You’ve fought countless villains. How nice would it be to have a surprise force against a Tirek, Chrysalis, or Sombra, who thought defeating you all would be enough?”

There was lots of whispering. Some ponies, even some of the bearers, nodded their head in agreement. Those siding with Shining Armor held stern looks, but they waited for Twilight to speak.

Moondancer lowered her head. The society was right, in her eyes, but she dared not go against Twilight. “Minuette. I can’t do this. The eclipse was the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, but that didn’t hurt anyone. Would you have been alright in flooding the Crystal Empire? I’m not sure I could’ve left the vines alone. I’d want to help cut them down. Why would the society leave after causing destruction? We’re supposed to protect Equestria.”

A flash of acceptance and anger boiled in Minuette’s eyes lasting for only a moment before simmering. “I’m returning to the society to warn them we’re compromised. Since I’m the one who invited you in, Moondancer, I’m now uninviting you. When another Tirek comes knocking, you’ll wish you sided with the ones who came to your party.”

“Minuette! Wait! We’re friends!” Twilight begged, but the cry came too late. The azure unicorn disappeared in a flash of magic to who knew where.

A silence fell over the crowded room. It broke when Trixie asked, “You’re just going to let her go? She'll tell her cohorts! That’s like, treason or something! She’s a criminal!” Starlight quickly hushed the unicorn with a magical zipper across her lips.

Moondancer took her glasses from the table and set them on her face. Her eyes met Twilight’s as the blurriness focused, only to see the streams flowing down Twilight’s cheeks. “She’s not a criminal. She’s my friend,” Twilight replied.

Author's Note:

Alternate Scene:
The postmare accidentally gives the wrong mail out. A random pony finds out about the society and exposes them to the world, ruining their secrecy. They disband, several members trailing off into the unknown, never to be seen again. The postal service was never fixed.