• Published 20th Oct 2019
  • 1,357 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 8: Revenge

Somewhere in the distance, Sunset heard the pitter-patter of rain. It didn’t sound close, thankfully. Upon opening her eyes, she found darkness to be the only thing surrounding her. Nothing indicated of where anything was—including herself. The blanket around her shoulders and the lack of stars answered one question, but another arose in its place. Whose home or room was this? She hoped that upon lighting her horn she would find the bunk beds within the secret society. Instead, she found crystal.

Her cloak gone; she couldn’t hide. Without the garment to swallow up her identity, she felt unsure of leaving the room. But this had to be Twilight’s castle. She was certain of it.

At the sole door in the room, Sunset dimmed her light and snuck a peek. The castle halls were dark. Nothing suggested whether she was near the room with the mirror to another world or the front door. She had the choice to wait or go. To stay meant a longer explanation for the Masters, and she couldn't be sure what she could say. How did she get to Ponyville? She'd been in Cloudsdale, under attack by a few pegasi just moments ago. And there certainly wasn’t rain. But she could hear it as she meandered the maze of crystal corridors. No light but her own. Then, the entryway came into view. The loud drizzle of rain battered the windows, though night hid the droplets on the glass.

If she was here, then someone found her on the ground outside Cloudsdale. No doubt the guards would’ve brought her immediately to Twilight—she’d been the one to put out the warrant for all cloaked individuals. But where was the alicorn? Who else had the society lost? Was her cover blown? A thousand questions rattled off in Sunset’s mind. She could only be certain of one thing—she needed to spill everything while she had the chance.

The castle was large, but unique in its design. Most halls led round to one room in particular. One room, cracked and lit, with three mares. Twilight, Starlight, and Moondancer. Sunset peered in, examining the room carefully. They were alone. With a whistle garnering their attention, she asked, “Anyone else here?”

“Sunset! You’re awake!” Twilight rose, coming to offer a hug. “Cloudsdale found you, the Royal Guard brought you here. But you’ve been sleeping for a while now. What happened!? Cloudsdale—it sunk to the ground. The society’s work?”

“Not sunk. They brought it to the ground. Their final test,” Sunset explained. “There’s so much I’ve got to tell you.”

“Excuse me.” Moondancer rose too, though she didn't include a hug—a sour face in its place. “You were part of that? You helped bring Cloudsdale down? Ponies lost their homes! Businesses! And they still haven’t managed to bring it back into the air. We’re under a torrential downpour because so many clouds went shooting out from the city! What were you thinking!?”

Sunset stepped beside Twilight and put a hoof around her. “I had thought of keeping the charade up until I could learn who the Grandmaster is. If I didn’t participate, I couldn’t get to where I am in the society!”

“Where you are?” Starlight questioned. She didn’t stand—her tiredness written into the bags beneath her eyes. They all looked tired to Sunset. “That kinda sounds like you’ve joined them.”

“Which she apparently has since she’s doing their dirty work,” Moondancer added.

“Girls, both of you calm down,” Twilight commanded them. “Sunset, can you start from the beginning? You managed to get into the society, right? We’ve learned who one Master is. Did you find the identity of the Grandmaster?”

Sunset blinked, surprised by their success. “Really? No. I don’t know who the Grandmaster is yet. I’m this close though!” She held up her hoof as if to display the distance between her non-existent fingers. “I am a Master-in-Training, and I know two of the Masters. One is Suri Polomare and the other is Lightning Dust. Who did you discover?”

By the angered expression shifting through Twilight’s face, it became clear to Sunset that something clicked. “They are targeting us!” she snapped. “Suri Polomare, Lightning Dust, and Svengallop! These three have all had conflict with us bearers in some way. It’s not just personal—it’s revenge!”

Starlight raised a hoof. “Suri Polomare is in the journal, right? Who are the other two?”

“Yeah, fill us in, Twilight,” Sunset said.

A litany of groans erupted from the alicorn accompanied by strange faces. Struggling with the words, she said, “Where do I even begin?” Twilight levitated the friendship journal from the table and opened up to the Manehattan passage. “Suri is a conniving seamstress. We helped Rarity win against her in Manehattan during a dress competition—Suri lied and cheated, stealing Rarity’s idea. We gained a key from the thread given to Rarity by Miss Coco Pommel.

“She no doubt has resentment towards Rarity, and perhaps the rest of us, for succeeding despite Suri’s efforts. Lightning Dust is a different story and the oldest. From what I recall, Rainbow Dash teamed up with her in the Wonderbolts when she first started out. Lightning Dust endangered our lives and acted out too much. They kicked her out. Like Suri, I bet Lightning Dust blames Rainbow Dash, and all of us, for her own failure. If revenge is their goal, it makes sense they’d team up.”

“What about Svengallop? What’s his reasoning?” Moondancer asked.

“Svengallop is different. He is the former agent of Countess Coloratura from Manehattan. He controlled every portion of Coloratura’s life and used her fame to further his wealth and success. But he didn’t know Applejack was her friend from long ago. After Pinkie Pie, Applejack, and I helped expose his corruption, Coloratura refused to have him as her agent. From my understanding, she had been his most successful client. I’m not sure why he’d want revenge on all the bearers. If he was sour enough about it, I suppose it would make sense that these three formed a band against all of us.”

Sunset pointed out the obvious. “Does that mean the Grandmaster is someone else you’ve scorned? Is she even a unicorn?”

“I’ve seen her levitate. The only time I saw her, in fact. And she opened a vision to the outside when we performed the eclipse,” Moondancer answered. “Have you spurned any unicorns, Twilight?”

Sunset glanced at Starlight, and with a smug grin, she raised her hoof. Starlight mimicked the gesture, re-raising her hoof and giggling. “Very funny, girls,” Twilight said with a roll of her eyes and a slight smile. “So you haven’t met her, Sunset?”

“No, but I know what she wants. Their whole goal is to become alicorns,” Sunset replied. “That was their invitational spiel. Lightning Dust made a point to indicate it the last time I brought it up. It’s supposed to happen after the test—bringing down Cloudsdale.” She then let out a gasp. “That may mean they’re in the process right now!”

“Not likely.” Twilight shook her head. “We’ve got Svengallop locked up here. Unless they’d not give a hoot about including one of their founding members in this—what would you call it? A ritual? How would they even perform such a thing? They didn’t mention that, did they?”

“Well, no. But you have Svengallop? Problem solved!” Sunset cheered, clapping her hooves together. “Let me return with him to the society. Ritual starts, I teleport out, then back in with you guys. Give them the ol’ blindside wallop!”

Moondancer moved in between Sunset and Twilight, her furrowed look surprising to Sunset. “Give you Svengallop?” she said in a dismissive, and rather rude, tone. “Not a chance. He’s our only piece of information on the rest of the society.”

“Have you gotten anything from him?” Sunset curtly asked as she squinted at the pale unicorn.

“No. But that’s no reason we should just give up. He knows who the Grandmaster is,” Moondancer countered. Creating a magical, transparent whiteboard above her, she pointed to a set of faces. “The Masters all know who the Grandmaster is, and now we know who they all are. Let’s round them up, lock them away, and they’ll eventually tell us who the Grandmaster is.” The three faces became covered in tiny steel bars.

Starlight then edged into the conversation, though she still hadn’t moved from the table. “Not that I’m on either side of this fence yet, but that could take a while. Sunset’s plan of returning with Svengallop is a now idea, while that plan is a long time in waiting. In that time, the Grandmaster might go ahead with her ritual without the Masters. They’re not unicorns, she doesn’t need them. She needs the society’s members.”

“Exactly. So it’s decided,” Sunset said with a nod. “I’ll take Svengallop now, find out where this ritual is, and get you all there.” As she trotted to the closest door, Moondancer blocked her path.

“Twilight hasn’t agreed to that plan. She’s in charge here, not you,” Moondancer warned, nostrils flaring.

Sunset turned back to the alicorn, expecting Twilight to agree with her. “Of course she’s in charge, and she agrees with me. Right, Twilight? I mean, this would solve your problem.” Sunset marched toward Twilight. “I know the shoe is usually on the other foot—err, hoof. But it’s about time I pay you back for what you’ve done for me. What are friends for?”

“Sunset. I actually agree with Moondancer,” Twilight replied, hesitantly. “Ritual or not, I don’t believe the Grandmaster has that kind of power. If we wait, Svengallop will tell us. I’ll put a bulletin out on Suri and Dust. We’ll have them arrested and they can sit in a room until they grow bored. One of them will crack.”

“If you arrest them, the society will know it was me who told you. They already know I’m here, I don’t doubt it. If I return with Svengallop then there’s a chance to maintain my cover and meet with the Grandmaster. That’s the better option!”

Twilight’s brows arched together as her mouth went flat. “Sunset, you don’t need to return. You’ve done enough. You can help us interrogate Svengallop instead.”

“But Twilight—” Sunset started to speak, then stopped herself. How could Twilight not want the Grandmaster most of all? Sunset didn’t understand.

Then, Twilight asked a terrible question. “I don’t want to suggest anything, Sunset. But why are you so dead set on freeing Svengallop?”

A little hurt, Sunset took a step back. “I’m helping you, Twilight,” she said with a softness she hadn’t meant. “You’re not seeing this clearly. Maybe I haven’t been clear enough. This is the only way. Waiting around to see if the Grandmaster can or cannot perform the ritual isn’t an option. Look at Starlight. Look at me! We didn’t wait, Twilight. We found another way. I can’t let that happen now! I’m taking Svengallop, and I’ll stop this ritual no matter what.”

Once again, Moondancer stood in the way. “Twilight has the final say, and she said no.”

“And Twilight is wrong,” Sunset replied before gritting her teeth.

Excuse you!” Moondancer snarled.

“No. Excuse you, teacher’s pet,” Sunset snarled back. “I’ve seen magic out of control quite a few times now. There’s nothing worse than allowing it to fall in the wrong hands—hooves—whatever! Out of my way! I’m going to help Twilight, even if that means I have to go against her.”

“Sunset. That’s reassuring, but I insist.” Twilight teleported in between the two. “This has gone far enough. We can talk about this more, but I can’t allow you to take Svengallop. Tirek is locked up in a room nearby with Spike guarding the door. If Svengallop tries to escape, Spike’s got the authority to release Tirek. I cannot let Svengallop go. What the society has done, what it plans to do, it’s far worse than anything we’ve dealt with before. Even losing Tirek would be less worrisome!”

Sunset tilted her head and raised a brow as though she didn’t understand. But she did understand. She understood exactly what Twilight said—but she wanted to hear it straight. “Are you saying that if I release Svengallop, you’ll have Tirek take away my magic?”

“No? No!” Twilight stammered. “I mean—”

“No?” Moondancer repeated. “That’s absolutely what it means, Twilight! Someone from the society is here to rescue their Master. No matter who they are, we release Tirek.”

“That was more for some dunderheads like Flim or Flam,” Twilight argued. “Not a friend!”

Sunset countered, “What about Minuette?”

Both Moondancer and Twilight went silent. Their eyes suddenly pierced Sunset with resentment. “What did you just say?” Moondancer asked, almost growling the words. “You have no right! How dare you! Twilight! Twilight, are you really going to allow that!?”

No longer able to stay seated at the table, Starlight pushed herself in between the group. “Everypony calm down. If I have to be the naysayer, then so be it. Twilight’s been wrong before. She was wrong about the Pony of Shadows. She was blinded by her admiration for Star Swirl. Twilight, maybe bringing Sunset from beyond the mirror was your way of preventing a mistake like that.”

Twilight shook her head at Starlight but slowed to a stop. A hard line formed her mouth as she stepped out from between Sunset and Moondancer. “Maybe. I’m not sure. Both plans work. Letting Sunset take Svengallop is enticing. It’d give us a chance to end this now. But keeping him here, arresting Suri and Lightning Dust, that’s the less risky option. It would allow us time to gather more information. It would also allow the Grandmaster time to escape. To go into hiding—I can’t decide.”

“If Twilight brought Sunset in to prevent her mistake—then she brought me in to do the same thing!” Moondancer held her head high. “You said I'm needed. That I am strong. Here’s my strength. Svengallop is staying.” She stared down Sunset. “You’re not taking him anywhere.”

“Alright. Let’s take a vote,” Sunset replied. “All in favor of not letting the society perform a ritual to create an army of unqualified alicorns with extremely powerful magic, raise your hoof.” Everyone in the room raised their hoof. “Then it’s settled. I’ll be taking Svengallop and going.” As she walked past Moondancer, she felt an abrupt push back by a magical force.

“Nice try. Without Svengallop, no ritual.” Moondancer’s bushy brows pouted. “I’m beginning to think you want the society to succeed. Maybe you’re on board with the ritual and want to bring him back to get it started. How do we know you aren’t the Grandmaster? You kind of sound like her, and I’ve never heard Twilight talk about you before all this started.”

Sunset slammed her horn against Moondancer’s. “That makes two of us. Who exactly are you again? Because Twilight knows me pretty well. I’ve done the whole villain thing and, gotta say, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. But you on the other hoof. Well, the Grandmaster hasn’t shown up once for anything since I joined. Could it be that the Grandmaster has stayed by Twilight’s side this entire time?” She feigned a look of shock.

A wall of magic sprung up, blocking the two. “Girls! That is enough! I invited you both to help me, not fight each other. If I allow you to continue, the society wins no matter what. Sunset, take Svengallop and go,” commanded Twilight.

“But—” Moondancer tried to interject.

“Moondancer,” Twilight bellowed the name as if it were an order. “I need your help more than ever. If there is some ritual we don’t know about on becoming an alicorn, we have to figure out what it is and how to stop it. Even when Sunset finds out who the Grandmaster is, we might not have a chance to catch her. If she’s powerful, she may escape or fight back. We need to be more than ready. Thanks to Sunset, we now know that the time for that will be upon us shortly. You must be prepared. Starlight, wake the girls. This concerns us all.”

Sunset wanted to hug Twilight. “I knew you’d see it my way.” The scowl on the alicorn’s face sent Sunset reeling back. “Alright. That’s fair. Gloating isn’t cool. Now we know. You could at least tell Rainbow Dash that one of these days.”

With a sigh, Twilight pointed to a door. “Follow the halls until you come to the door with the lights on. He’s in there. For our sake, I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Got it. Thanks.” Sunset turned to the door, but not before meeting eyes with Moondancer. She debated giving a smug smile or a snarky grin, but this didn’t feel like a win. There was no singing, no happy dance at the success. Nothing but the uneasy feeling in the back of Sunset’s mind. The what if she failed. What if the Grandmaster didn’t actually care about Svengallop’s return, and refused to meet with Sunset?

Without another word, she trotted down the crystal halls. Rain echoed as she found a hall near the outside walls. One room on the inner side still had the lights on, and a sleeping Spike sat a few doors down in Sunset’s path. He didn’t stir at her presence, and she refused to make the same tail-tripping mistake twice.

She made it a point to open the door and enter rump first. She didn’t want to just barge in as if she knew Svengallop was inside. Of course, she did, but acting as though she didn’t would only help her charade. Spike didn’t even stir at the light, and she slowly closed the door without a sound. A voice called out. “Sunset Shimmer?” it questioned. She turned to see a white stallion with light pink hair. “What are you doing here?”

She squinted at him, playing up the façade. She had never seen him before, so it wasn’t hard to act as though she didn’t know he was Svengallop. “Do I know you?” she stammered.

“In a way, you do.” He rose from the single table in the room. There was no other furniture, perhaps to prevent him from using it against Twilight. “You already met two of the Masters, now you know the third. Svengallop,” he greeted with a hoof shake.

“You’re not a unicorn, so I guess that checks out. And you know who I am. But what is a Master doing here?”

With a gruff grunt, he rolled his eyes. “Those halfwits somehow figured out my inclusion in the society. I haven’t the foggiest idea how, but it doesn’t matter. They’ve got nothing out of me, and now that you’re here, they never will.” He then scanned her, looking up and down. “Wait. Why are you here?”

A sneer leapt past her cool demeanor. “That little blue apostate put a spell on me. Last thing I remember is falling asleep outside Cloudsdale after we brought down the city.” Placing a foreleg over her eyes, she pictured Minuette. She almost regretted not telling Twilight it had happened. Almost. “I guess the Cloudsdale citizens found me, or some guards. Since I wore a cloak, they must’ve had me brought here.” She then stomped a foreleg. “I was trying to find my insignia. I’m not even sure where we are,” she lied.

“It’s a good thing you found me. If you kept searching, you might have come across that terrible brute Lord Tirek,” Svengallop mentioned. “We need to get out of here before they’re aware you escaped.”

“I can’t leave without knowing no one else from the society is here,” Sunset replied, turning back to the door. “I’ve checked several rooms, you’re the first I’ve found.” She paused before putting her hoof on the knob.

He sidled in beside her. “It sounds like that friend of the traitor sought you out. You’re probably the only casualty, especially if you haven’t found anyone else. We’ve been careful to not leave anyone behind from these tests. And if the final one was a success, the Grandmaster will want to begin the ritual immediately. Don’t worry about anypony else. She’ll want you there.”

Hiding her grin, Sunset felt pride swim up her head. She knew this was the right choice. She’d meet the Grandmaster and learn her identity. It didn’t matter why the Grandmaster wanted her there. She wouldn’t allow it to be any other way. “Fine.” She turned back to him. “You’re lucky it was me. I can teleport us to Canterlot. If it had been anyone else from the society, you’d be in for a long walk in the rain.”

The ball of flame burst into existence out of thin air. Heat radiated from the creation as a kettle levitated atop the embers. No kindling kept the fire going, only the sheer magical power of the Grandmaster. She stood in front of the large rectangular mirror as the water boiled. With another burst of magic, she created a soundproof barrier along the walls and waited for the whistling.

A small pump organ in the corner of the room, tucked between limestone walls, bellowed a tune within the magically insulated room. It did not move on its own—the Grandmaster played the keys and the acoustics rang loud. In front of the mirror, she hovered six brushes against her mane as she listened to the deep tones of the instrument. She loved the echoing sound, especially when played by somepony as skilled as herself. Powerful, yet troubled at the same time.

The perfect music to hum along to as she let the brushes do their work. A simple spell of animate objects allowed her to focus. Not on the fire magic, or the levitation, or the soundproof barrier. She didn’t even have to focus on playing the organ.

Her main attention centered on the bright white smile reflecting in the mirror. As the brushes helped fluff her curly, deep-golden locks of hair, she made sure her smile remained pure. Nothing would be out of place for the ritual, not even a single strand of her pale yellow fur.

When she finished with her mane, she turned to a side view. She stared at her rump; at her cutie mark. She loved her cutie mark. Her long legs and skinny features brought the mark to the forefront of everypony’s vision. They’d wonder what the mark meant. They wondered what her talent could be. But she remained silent on the matter. Only her mother knew. As she stared at the mirror, she glanced to the pictures and notes strung about the frame.

Auburn Nest was one such photo, albeit younger, standing with a filly of golden hair. They didn’t look alike at all.

The kettle suddenly sounded off, and the Grandmaster levitated a teacup to the spout. The flame disappeared as the organ’s song petered out. She blew off the steam—the one thing she didn’t use magic for. She’d done it this way since she was young. And soon she’d stand atop the tallest balcony in Canterlot Castle, staring out over Equestria, with her favorite tea.

A knock came to the door. Lifting the sound barrier, the Grandmaster called, “Come in.” She didn’t need to know who. Only the Masters knew the entrance.

Suri Polomare entered with a bright smile, which she displayed by dropping her hood. The Grandmaster loved this. Seeing such a welcoming sight as the first thing in the morning meant the day would go well. A sign from all the magic in the world. “Good morning! What a good day it is!” Suri said, closing the door behind her. “Sunset Shimmer has returned with Svengallop, and the ritual can finally begin!”

The Grandmaster did not spill or spit out her tea. There was no need to be surprised, in fact. She knew Sunset Shimmer would return. She never had a doubt. And Suri was right—now the ritual could begin. “Very good. Wake the Evokers. Send them to the other capitals. Have them meet us in the destination. It doesn’t matter if they’re secretive or not.” The tea was still hot, but the Grandmaster downed it in one swift motion. She wanted to savor the taste, but there was no more time. Greatness was upon them. “And send her in,” she said, once finished.

Suri bowed, pulled on her hood, and exited. Only a few seconds passed before another knock—but that gave the Grandmaster plenty of time. She infused the room with a spell of her own creation. “Come in,” she once again called. The orange unicorn entered alone, just like she wanted, allowing them to speak informally. “There you are. Such a wonderful girl, so full of magic.” Coming close, the Grandmaster brought out her wide, cheery smile. “Greetings to you, Sunset Shimmer. I am the Grandmaster. But you may call me Faith.”

Author's Note:

Author's Commentary:
Doing a story from multiple perspectives is quite pleasing, in my opinion. Coming from The Worst of All Possible Worlds, where everything was from one character's viewpoint, this story is like a breath of fresh air for me. Being allowed to grant a viewpoint to a character that we'll only see their perspective once in the whole story is so fascinating. Celestia, Tirek, and now Faith all only get one section all to themselves. And they're wildly different. Celestia, humble to uncertain. Tirek, boredom to enthusiastic anger. But then there's Faith, who remains proud and confident the entirety of her perspective. With good reason, too.