• Published 14th Feb 2020
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Imperial Revision - The Sound of Loneliness

What would you do if you already had everything? Or everything you wanted. Her Majesty Nightmare Moon has recently discovered there is more to life than war, intrigues and edicts. Luna is trying to be helpful. She has no choice.

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The Truth In Deep

“Blood?” Nightmare Moon asked, musingly stirring her tea.

“It says: ‘Blood of a relative,’ Your Majesty,” Twilight patiently repeated the words written in her own report, now spread before her on the table.

“Are you suggesting my own, Twilight?” Nightmare Moon sipped on her tea.

“No, Your Majesty. Even if we run all imaginable tests and they all show you being related to Princess Luna, the potion might still not work. Changeling alchemy is a poorly understood field.” Seeing her Empress frown, Twilight swiftly added:
“But Princess Celestia’s blood should suffice. And she already gave it to me.”

“That was thoughtful of her,” Nightmare Moon dryly commented.

“O-oh… I-I am sorry, Your Majesty, I should have reported first. I was just having a breakthrough when she came to me asking-”

“Twilight,” Nightmare Moon interrupted. “Focus.”

“...Ah. ...Y-yes. Your Majesty, I have to voice my concerns. It is unwise to apply without testing.
Your Majesty, the ingredients do not make sense for a cure for anything! It’s poison! If any pony drank that, they would be dead within a minute!”

“Then, it is good that no pony alive will drink it,” Nightmare Moon coldly countered.

“Your Majesty, we don’t know what it does! And blood in the ingredients is never-”

“Have you brewed it correctly?”

“I think so, at least I see no way I cou-”

“Then we do know what it does.” Nightmare Moon made it clear that the argument was over, “Do you have the concoction with you?”

“Your Majesty, for the sake of Luna I have to object! We know next to no-”

Twilight!” Nightmare Moon sharply gnashed. The young Princess fell completely silent, petrified under the Empress’ burning glare.
“Do. You. Have. The. Potion?” Nightmare Moon deliberately reiterated. Twilight swallowed, “Answer the question!”

“Y-yes, I have it on me.”

“Good. Take your report.” Nightmare Moon stood up and walked around the table slowly, to give Twilight time to pack her papers in her bags. Still, the young Princess struggled with fitting everything in, so the Empress was forced to stand still for a moment, a moment to think. Something needed to be said.

Eventually, she heard Twilight placing her bags onto her back, walking up to her from behind. The sovereign lowered her shoulder, giving Twilight an apologetic look from one eye.
“Twilight, I...” Nightmare Moon started as softly as she could. “I am sorry.”

“I understand, Your Majesty. We all do, even Rainbow does. We all want to see her again just as much as you do.” Twilight offered a comforting smile. Nightmare Moon smiled gratefully back at her.

Encouraged, Twilight trotted even closer and stopped at a forelegs' length to lift her eyes up at Her Majesty. Nightmare Moon, understanding the silent question, nodded, sitting down to allow her access. Twilight proceeded to cautiously extend her hooves, wrapping herself around her Empress’ grand frame.

“We have no way of testing, Twilight,” Nightmare Moon proceeded to explain. “The only way is to try it on a deceased. And if it works? What then? Do we let the supposedly dead pony walk free?”

“Why not? Won’t it be great for them to go back to their family?” Twilight finally let go and drew away.

“It isn’t that simple, Twilight. Imagine what is going to happen as soon as rumor gets out about us unlocking the secret of immortality. Every creature in this world would want a share. We would have each and every army the world has to offer knocking on our gates. Not to mention our own subjects. That would be a catastrophe.” Twilight nodded in understanding.

“Why not simply share it? Why...” Twilight hesitated, deciding if the question was appropriate.
The question made the Empress turn her eyes away.
“You don’t have to answer if you don’t...” Nightmare Moon firmly gestured for Twilight to stop, her expression becoming sternly determined, drawing Twilight’s attention.

“There is no other way,” the Empress earnestly stated. “There are… things that ponies would be happier never knowing.
“No pony needs to know what happened to Luna, even less so they need to know the true nature of their Empress.”

“There is no other way,” the Empress earnestly stated. “There are… things that ponies would be happier never knowing.
No pony needs to know what happened to Luna, even less so they need to know the true nature of their Empress,” Nightmare Moon elaborated, keeping her voice down to ensure no pony could listen in.
“Ruling a land is a great responsibility, Twilight. My every decision, even the smallest one, influences much more than just my own fate and the fate of my court. My mere word is a difference between prosperity and doom for thousands. I am not the one who will be paying for my mistakes, it is always other ponies, Twilight.
“Risks are unacceptable, everything has to be calculated and ensured. Nothing can be left to a chance when so many ponies depend on us.”

“I understand, Your Majesty,” Twilight said, mimicking Nightmare Moon’s hushed tone. “But what of the recipe? Can’t we simply publish it?”

“No. It is like you said, we don’t know what it does. Imagine if it only works properly for changelings and backfires for ponies. My Shadow cannot help us in this matter and there are no other reliable changelings in the Empire. Declassifying it now would be extremely dangerous.
“Twilight, you have to understand — all of our secrets are extremely dangerous for our ponies. This is why they MUST remain secrets. Ponies will die if we allow leaks. And their deaths will be on our hooves.”

“I… Y-yes, Your Majesty.” Twilight began to nod repeatedly.

“I… Y-yes, Your Majesty.” Twilight nodded repeatedly.
“Good, Twilight.” Nightmare Moon nodded slowly in return, “Good. Do not ever forget this.
“Twilight, for better or for worse, you are a Princess. Powerful individuals are like stones thrown into a pound, whatever you are doing, it always has repercussions for a great number of others. Your responsibility is to ensure these repercussions are positive. Princess Celestia believed in you, do not prove her wrong.”
Twilight didn’t answer for a whole minute.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” she finally said. Nightmare Moon nodded to her once more.

“Now, let us go. We have something else to take care of this night.” Nightmare Moon continued her way to the door.

“Should I call Rarity?” Twilight readily queried.

She is already here.” Nightmare Moon reached out to the door handle with her magic, sharply swinging it open. Rarity was caught behind the door, still pushing her ear to where it just was. Her cheeks were already going red.

“How…?” Twilight looked at her Empress with a mixture of bewilderment and awe. The onyx mare didn’t answer, only smiled mysteriously.

“Rarity,” she addressed the shamed advisor. “Join us.”

Nightmare Moon gracefully moved out of the tea room and turned her eyes to a thestral mare Guard stationed outside — Wavy Shadow was her name.

“Bring my sister to the catacombs,” she instructed, already returning to the usual chilly and disinterested tone she used for issuing orders. “You will find her in Rarity’s quarters. Do not let my sister get sidetracked,” the Empress finished. The bat-winged mare saluted and swiftly trotted away.

“Your Majesty...” Rarity asked as soon as the Honor Guard left sight.

“Do not quail, my sister is… searching for inspiration. She will not be disruptive to your work. In fact, it seems like you have a new admirer to your design. Consider this her way of complimenting it. Now, shall we proceed?”

“I took the liberty to station unessential Guards outside and dismissed most staff members for tonight.” Nightmare Moon nodded to her advisor.
Nightmare Moon continued down the corridor, Twilight and Rarity exchanged short, greeting looks and promptly followed.

The Empress didn’t speak to them during their way, allowing Twilight one more chance to run through her conclusions. If the mysterious benefactor was correct in their translation, the potion had to be right. She didn’t dare to sip, but everything else was right. She triple-checked before coming to the Empress.

But what if the translation wasn’t right? This potion made no sense. The recipe had no description. She never even heard of such a potion existing, not even of the way it could be made possible. There simply was no way it could work, it made no sense.

There was one more thing though, the blood. Her Alchemical Theory classes did mention blood being an ingredient in some medications, healthy blood was supposed to strengthen the body, but why did it have to be a relative? Compatibility issues, perhaps? Well, Celestia’s blood should’ve worked, unless Nightmare Moon’s sister changed the biology as a side effect of her taking over the Princess body.

Twilight was dragged out of her thoughts by the returning thestral Guard leading her Empress’ sister. The creature abruptly bowed and went to take her place at the end of their procession, curiously, not bearing her usual smile.
She noticed Twilight’s stare and met it. Twilight knew she was giving up information, doing exactly what Her Majesty had just warned her against, but Twilight didn’t care, this creature held hostage someone she loved, she would smile at her no longer.
By the way her adversary narrowed Celestia’s eyes, Twilight knew the creature understood her. For both of them, the masquerade was now over.

Her Majesty, who paid no attention to their silent bicker, lead the procession to the noticeable, armored door leading to the catacomb stairway. After Rainbow simply walked straight into the palace through the crystal caves connected to the catacombs, the security was amped up a few notches. ...More than a few notches.

Rarity approached the door, taking out a large keyring from the folds of her dress. Apparently, she’d outdone herself in secret pocket placement this time.
With practiced dexterity, Rarity quickly found the key she needed and slipped it into the lock. The door quietly creaked open.

Saying no word, Nightmare Moon ventured forth into the darkness. Rarity lit a tiny spark on the end of her horn and followed her Empress. Twilight went next, sticking closer to Rarity so that she could avoid having to light her own way. Too much light would hurt Empress’ eyes.
Nightmare Moon’s sister was next in line and the Guard went the last.

In trying to keep up with Rarity, Twilight narrowly avoided falling on her face. The stairs, abruptly starting from directly behind the door, were very steep and narrow.

Although Twilight had long since finished her transition to the nocturnal way of life, the lighting too was still an issue. In the palace the problem of light was mostly resolved with the strange, glowing stone it was constructed with; the light it gave of was dim, but enough to see where she was going and who she was talking to. Reading was harder, but still doable, even if her eyes were quick to start hurting.
Down here, in the catacombs, she could only see what little of the way Rarity lit up for her with magic. Not stumbling over and breaking her neck proved to be challenging.

The further they went, the drier and frowsy the air became. Twilight, with no small measure of worry, discovered that this air had nothing to do with the caves she once led Cadance out of. If her calculations were correct, they should have already passed them.

Finally, the stairs concluded and Twilight stepped on the flat floor, immensely glad to feel a stable surface again. Taking only a tiny breather, she trotted forward, as Rarity was already breaking away from her.

With a chance presenting itself, Twilight returned to her concerns regarding the potion. She felt the blood was the key. But there was still poison, maybe changelings were resistant? Could be, though Twilight didn’t imagine why they would. Shadow had never mentioned it, maybe she didn’t think it was relevant? She didn’t know what the potion was for, after all… or did she? Twilight felt herself overloading, there were too many possibilities and indications to account for. Far too many to make sense of now.

Twilight took a deep breath, resetting her thought train. What could make this potion work?

Twilight heard a loud stone skirr, likely another entrance, no matter. She only had to follow the light on Rarity’s horn.

Well, maybe the ingredients, if delicately dosed, made something other when combined with blood? No… Even then it was still a poison.

Rarity audibly whimpered ahead. Her light illuminated a bone protruding from an alcove, the space of which the surrounding walls were dotted with. Each one they passed had bones displayed together with jewelry.
Rarity was right to be afraid. No pony would ever find them if they happened to be trapped here. But Twilight shook off the grim thought, there was no time.

If it wasn’t the dosages, maybe it was by design? Yes, that made sense. Poison can’t harm what is already dead. But how could it “cure death?” Twilight felt herself hitting the dead end.

The walls suddenly disappeared and Twilight found herself surrounded by total darkness. It must have been some sort of a large opening. Twilight dared to light her own horn, but it did little to break the darkness. Twilight increased the brightness and heard a grunt of pain from behind herself, coupled with a curse. Must have been too much for the thestral Guard with them.
Luckily, it was enough. Twilight’s light suddenly pulled from the darkness a smooth cone on the ceiling. It wasn’t stone… more like glass, or maybe crystal.
As soon as the light hit it, it itself began to glow. First, dimly, then brighter. As soon as it became comparable to Rarity’s light ahead, Twilight heard a rumbling click and
the room abruptly lit up with a bright, pale light.

“AGHHH!” Twilight heard Wavy’s pained scream behind her. The Guard was shaking with her entire body, covering her eyes with hooves. Twilight herself felt her eyes hurting after such a sudden change, but unlike the poor thestral, her eyes weren’t this sensitive.
The Guard’s entire body was shaking, eyes covered with her hooves. Twilight herself felt her eyes hurting after such a sudden change, but unlike the poor thestral, she wasn’t so sensitive.
Squinting, Twilight searched for the Empress and found her in only marginally better shape than her Guard.
With a loud, aggravated snarl, the Empress lit up her horn. The few remaining shadows began to grow, eventually covering the entire room. Rarity produced another terrified whimper as the further effects of the spell began to manifest. The shadows, suddenly, began stretching from the walls and floor, covering with themselves over the entire space of the room, finally, dimming the light. What a fascinating display!

The Empress’ breathing was heavy and she still squinted, but she was able to proceed, heading to the far side of the hall.
There stood a pair of inscribed, stone sarcophagi, one with the symbol of the sun and one with the symbol of the Moon. Were the sisters preparing for their eventual deaths or were these merely relics? Perhaps a hint?

Wavy rushed to assist Her Empress in lifting the cover of the moon sarcophagus. Even thought the mighty alicorn effortlessly slid the cover aside, hardly needing help, the Guard did not allow herself to be dismayed, dutifully standing across the stone tomb, ready to receive the Empress’ word.

Twilight knew this was her last chance to figure this out. There was no point on thinking how it worked, instead Twilight focused on what it was supposed to do. How could it “cure death?” What do you need to be to defy death?

“Twilight,” a firm call came. Twilight responded with the surprised look.
“Twilight, the potion,” the Empress repeated impatiently. Ah… yes. Twilight looked down at the bags on her back, then opened the right one and lifted a vial out of it. This vial contained four months of her life and she didn’t even know what it did.
Not waiting for Twilight to snap out of her stupor, Nightmare Moon grasped the vial with her own magic.

There were a few creatures Twilight knew of that could avoid death. Liches, zombies… The poison added up, it was a part of the ritual to the lichdom, but this wasn’t a ritual. Ghost? No… Required a spell, not a potion. Only worse options remained.
Ghoul? The creature that required flesh and blood of the living. Almost alive, to a point. No, needed a spell, not a… Blood! What creature needed blood to live?

As the realization washed over her, Twilight felt complete, total, animalistic horror overtaking her. She opened her mouth to warn the Empress, but it was too late. Nightmare Moon had already thrown the empty vial away, its shattering sounded like a knell for them. If the old bestiaries were right, Twilight wasn’t sure if a whole company of Imperial Guards could help them now!

But she was a Princess, she had responsibilities. She couldn’t afford to quiver in fear, ponies were going to die.
Twilight took a deep breath. The transformation wasn’t instant. There still was time left, she had to convince Her Majesty to leave now, seal the door and never come back, otherwise, this place may become their tomb as well.
First, Twilight swiftly trotted over to Rarity. She had to be got out of the way first, as the most defenseless one of them.

“Rarity,” she quietly whispered, not daring to speak in full voice. She feared to wake the creature she had helped to create.
“Rarity, I just figured it out! We are in grave danger! We gotta-”

“I know, Twilight,” Rarity stunned her with the response.

“What? ...You do?”

Rarity nodded, her eyes beginning to water,
“Twilight, darling… I am sorry it came to this, but there wasn’t any other way. We went too far this time!”

“Are you plotting treason?!” a hushed accusation arrived directly into her ear.

Ignoring the fake Celestia’s interruption, Rarity continued:
“Twilight, please, try to understand. We cannot allow our Empress to sacrifice the whole of Equestria for her own personal agenda! It has to be this way!”

An obscenely loud click was heard from the space behind them. A split second later, a tiny, cylindrical-shaped object hit the floor right before them. Twilight stared in confusion at the passageway they’d arrived from, trying to discern who could have followed them. Then her brain pieced the whole picture together.

“Grenade!” Twilight managed to shout out, diving away from the device and covering her head with hooves. She saw Her Majesty’s head swing sharply to her direction and tried to shout out the warning again, but the mad device far outpaced her.

In the next moment, the room was filled with the brightest light and loudest sound Twilight had ever experienced. Now she knew how the poor thestrals felt every time somepony lit a torch!
Her ears rang, her vision blurred, and her very brain hurt from sensory overload. She moaned in pain—or at least she thought she did, she couldn’t hear herself.

Pushing herself to the ground, Twilight saw familiar, characteristic flashes dancing on the walls -- gunshots. The response didn’t take long, soon the walls lit up with white and blue flashes of lightning bolts, joined by the glowing yellow of sunrays.

Twilight was no use in a fight, even if she could remember her spells right now - her head was trying to recover from the stun grenade the attackers gifted her with. Instead of standing up again only to get shot, Twilight rolled to the wall to wait it out.

Once safely out of the firing arc, Twilight dared to take a look in who was attacking them, but the rifle flashes were far to brief to illuminate them. On the other side of the hall, the story was different. It was brightly illuminated, with numerous combat spells the sisters kept casting. Both still had to find cover, magical barriers and wards were no use against fast-moving bullets.

It was that light that allowed her to notice a cloud of black smoke lingering over Luna's sarcophagus. The smoke rapidly descended down, engulfing the coffin, then suddenly dispersed again. The sarcophagus wasn't there. Twilight had little time to ponder as a piece stone ricocheted off the wall, almost hitting her horn.

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