• 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 State of Contingencies

Twilight dropped her head on the table with an exasperated groan, her beakers jiggled a tune. The stupid formula had bested her again. Twilight was ordered to start months ago, but the ludicrous brew stubbornly resisted her.
Sometimes the color was wrong, at other times it ended up too thick, otherwise it had lumps. There also was supposed to be a specific taste, but Twilight never dared to sip. Considering how many of the ingredients were an outright poison, Twilight struggled to imagine how it could make a cure for anything whatsoever, let alone for death. Twilight didn’t even get how a potion could cure death in the first place, but her Empress was adamant she needed it.
And since when had Her Majesty become this scared to die? Nightmare Moon always was a bit paranoid -it was natural, given her position and nature- but this was getting over the top!
Well, no matter, Her Majesty wouldn’t listen to her protests anyway. If she wanted this stupidly complicated potion, then she must need it.

Twilight emptied the cauldron again and opened the recipe on the first page. Ok… Step 1: slice -or is it dice?- mandrake root and grind it to the powdery consistency. Grinded mandrake root made paste, not powder.
Twilight sighed. On top of being complicated, the recipe also was written in changeling runes, which not even changelings themselves could read fluently anymore. Shadow graciously offered to help Twilight with translation, as much as she could anyway, but there wasn’t much she could do. Twilight was still glad to have her, it gave the changeling a way to follow her chosen purpose. In this way, she could continue serving her beloved Mistress, even if their sovereign no longer wanted her service.

Twilight was glad to help the changeling in her transition into a more peaceful life after her discharge, but poor Shadow, obviously, had nothing to do in Ponyville. Twilight offered to find her somewhere more fun, but she won’t have it. It seemed she still couldn’t take being away from the palace. Maybe this was why Nightmare Moon suddenly decided to send her away...
Twilight noted, with a measure of content, that the changeling at least took a liking to her library back home. Spike wouldn’t be handling the whole Castle alone anymore.

Twilight fished out Shadow’s charts from the paper pile on the table and began, for the thousandth time, to compare the symbols. They matched, again. Twilight banged the paper back on the table in bitter frustration.

Being tired from looking into the stupid recipe book for days straight, Twilight looked away from her table and went to get another one. Twilight had no idea where Nightmare Moon found the changeling magic books for her, they certainly were not from the hive, but Twilight was completely captivated by them. Except for this horrendous recipe book, Twilight scowled.
Thank Celestia, changelings went to adopt the alphabet some six hundred years ago, so most of their books were, actually, readable.

With a heavy sigh, Twilight made a mental note to give the archivists a piece of her mind. Someone moved the book from the shelf again; if they had to insist on archiving her research material, at least they could tell her where they were going to put them! In recent weeks this archive felt like it had a ghost moved in. Books were going missing all the time. It drove Twilight nuts, she was already itching to get this place in order herself. But for now: books. Now, if she was a ghost, where would she put the books that this Princess needed?

Twilight proceeded to search the archives for a dozen more minutes, finding nothing. Well, there was also plan B.
Twilight went to the archivist’s table to look if the staff, in a blast of incompetence, had shipped them somewhere. It wasn’t likely, but as good a guess as any.

And it paid off! The archivist had one of the books right on his table. Twilight suddenly regretted her adopted habit of chasing all staff out of the archive while she was working. One of them could’ve told her something useful. Hopefully, this is the correct one too, though knowing her luck…

Twilight concluded that she lifted her hope a bit too early. This wasn’t one of the books she was looking for. Twilight didn’t even need to open it to know: the cover was wrong. The only one of her issued books that had a brownish colour was the recipe book.
Though, after thinking about it, this book looked awfully familiar.

Twilight sprang the book open, finding the familiar runes. The Princess confusedly blinked. This wasn’t right, there was only one book like this.
Twilight rubbed her eyes, the runes did not disappear. Twilight, then, took the book and quickly went back to her own table. If she was losing her mind, she might as well double-check.
The Princess of Books broke into sweat, as she found no books at her workplace. She licked her, suddenly dry, lips and proceeded to open the book again. The runes were still there. Twilight nervously looked around, searching for any clues on who could’ve moved it.

“Anyone here?” Twilight called.

With no response arriving, Twilight continued flipping the pages. The book was fine, nopony damaged it. Well… this wasn’t the first inexplicable thing Twilight saw in her life. Better not to think about it and get back to work.

Twilight put the book back on the table and flipped it to the page she needed. Twilight eyebrows sharply went upwards. Each rune of the resurrecting concoction now was carefully signed. Someone just translated the whole passage for her.

“Eh… Thank you?” Twilight looked around again, finding nopony, “Okay , then...” Twilight tried her best to avoid thinking on how this could happen. Instead, Twilight dived into the translated recipe.

It wasn’t Mandrake after all, it was Mandrake seeds… crap. Another week of waiting, Her Majesty wouldn’t be pleased. Better find those books, she needed something to do anyhow.
Maybe not right now, though. This Princess could use a break. Twilight went ahead to write down the ingredients the ghost signed for her and ventured out to find Rarity. She needed to see her anyway sometime soon to get the ingredients she was suddenly in need of, why not now?

Twilight rarely found herself leaving the palace halls for long. The palace was sort of a research centre now. Nightmare Moon, obviously, had little interest in researchers, but the heads of her government and the remaining patrons, usually, were at least curious. Meaning you could get funding for more or less anything these days, not for free though. But it was only fair for the benefactor to be the first to reap the rewards of the science they paid for from their own pockets.

Twilight, to her own surprise, discovered that she was enjoying the palace a lot more now than she used to under Princess Celestia. Now she could literally stroll down the hallway and have a chat with the best and brightest scientists in Equestria!
The Princess did not approve the militaristic approach of their ruler, but at least the Guards didn’t allow just anypony to sneak around the palace as they used to. Twilight smiled at the memory, good old days.

She had to admit: the new Guards really looked like they could protect something. Heavily armed and picked from the most decorated veterans of the Imperial Army, they took their duty very seriously. Twilight always took care to carry her ID around at all times and so did every other staff member. That was a good sign.
They also became a lot less pushy since Captain Thunder dropped his practice of arming the Guards on the inside along with the external ones. The young alicorn was immeasurably grateful to Rarity for going all the way with this. Weapons only made everypony even more nervous than they were, soldiers already tended to be edgy enough.

Twilight, having left behind the administration wing, now entered the large ballroom; which in turn was connected to the throne room. Twilight decided to enjoy her walk for a moment more before she would enter the Imperial sanctum, where Rarity was most likely to stand at her Empress’ side.

This palace always had something to see, even if you did walk through every room ten times a day on guard duty.
The murals, for one, were dazzling. To the Empress’ credit, she wasn’t vain enough to have everything painted with just the moon and stars, those only took up the ceiling. The pictures painted on the walls were different in every room.
The ballroom, for instance, was devoted to the theme of the ocean. Here, islands brimming with greenery, with birds nesting on their cliffs, bordered a whale jumping out of the water. And on another side of the hall was a dreamy crescent moon rising from the horizon, silvering the waters beneath it, and dazzling the passing ship.
Twilight often found even Nightmare Moon herself musingly looking at the walls of her palace, marvelling at its beauty.

“Oh, there you are, darling!” Rarity called out to Twilight, coming from the same hallway the Princess left behind a few minutes ago, it seems Rarity was looking for her too. She was carrying a package in an Imperial envelope. Looks like Nightmare Moon found her a new book.

“Hi, Rarity, I’ve been just searching for you!” Twilight greeted Rarity with a smile.

“Oh, whatever can I do for you, sweety?” Rarity smiled back, though Twilight noticed she didn’t quite feel like smiling.

“I need you to find something for me again,” Rarity’s smile immediately soured.

“Oh, Twilight! Don’t tell me you need another crate of those pesky reagents again!” Twilight gave Rarity an apologizing look, Rarity hopelessly sighed,
“Alright then, let me see.” Twilight passed her list to Rarity. The unicorn mare looked through the list giving out a dreary sigh, “I would have to mail some friends, but this looks doable, darling.”

“You are the best, Rarity!”

“Was there any doubt?” Rarity chuckled. “Oh, I almost forgot! These are for you,” Rarity presented her the package and a small, partially burned, letter with the envelope.

“Eh, thanks.” Twilight took the mail, curiously eyeing the burned piece, “What happened to it?”

“I had to take it out of a fireplace, darling.” Rarity looked around to ensure nopony was listening, before whispering her explanation:
“I ran into Her Majesty while I was looking for you. She took the letter, ripped it open and, after giving it a single look, went to throw it into the fire. After that, she told me to forget I saw it. The letter is to you,” Twilight checked the envelope. The letter was from Princess Cadance.

“Didn’t she wait for it to burn?” Twilight asked, bewildered.

“She intended to, but Princess Celestia called her off. Twilight, I don’t like this. None of this,” Rarity radiated fear.

“Okay, let’s see it then...” Rarity stopped her before she could read it.

“Twilight, I don’t want to know!” Rarity bluntly told her. “Just… read it privately, alright? If Her Majesty finds out I took it out from the fire...” Rarity began shivering.

“Rarity, Rarity! Shhh...” Twilight tried to calm her friend down, “I swear to Celestia, I’ll burn it myself after I see it! Nopony will know!”

“Twilight, I know Her Majesty isn’t evil and, in her own way, she just wants us to be happy. But...she is just so horribly scary! Every time I have to interrupt her to report something, she looks at me like she wants to roll my head!” Rarity illustrated her point by drawing her hoof across her neck, “Twilight, I remember that look! I didn’t want to see it ever again!”

“Rarity, don’t panic!” Twilight pleaded. “Breath in, breath out.” Rarity took the offered advice.

“Her Highness scares me too, Twilight,” Rarity continued. Twilight threw in an understanding nod.

“You told me about Dreamy.”

“It’s not just about that. Oh, I wish it was!” Twilight crocked her eyebrow.

“What could Celestia, for the love of her, do to scare you this much?”

“It’s the look in her eyes, Twilight!” Rarity peered right into Twilight's eyes,
“I catch her sometimes watching other ponies from afar. It’s not the way I remember her watching anypony before. Twilight, she is studying us! Searching for weak spots to use!” Rarity had to take a breath again,
“When she notices me looking, she just winks at me and walks away as if nothing happened!” Rarity grabbed the Princess by the shoulders,
“Twilight, it feels like a nightmare I can’t wake up from! How things were before… it’s all gone! There’s no harmony anymore! Nopony can go where they want to, nopony is allowed to speak up! I feel like we are not even allowed to think what we will now! I can’t stop thinking about how it used to be. I know we can’t go back, but… why aren’t we allowed to dream about it at least?”

Twilight had nothing to say in response. Rarity was totally right. The atmosphere of perpetual paranoia and oppression was something everypony took notice by this moment. Even Nightmare Moon felt it and, judging by her condition, she felt it the most acutely.

“Nopony tells us anything anymore! We are only told what we need to know to do what’s required from us! Otherwise, we are just lied to! Where did we go wrong?” Rarity continued her lament.
“I don’t recognize anypony anymore! Twilight, it’s like everypony around was replaced by someone else playing their role! Like everypony is wearing a mask, and what I see through the holes chills me to the bone! Even Princess Celestia is not herself anymore! Twilight, how much time do we have before we too change beyond recognition?”

Twilight, took her terrified friend into a hug, softly hushing her. Twilight didn’t doubt Rarity’s perception, she always proved it to be sharp. But it seems that paranoia finally got to her too.

“Okay, Rarity. Tell you what. You think you have a few hours before she sends for you again?”

“There… there should be a little time, yes. Her Majesty is having her supper now.”

“Let’s talk to her, Rarity,” Twilight casually suggested. “Get Fluttershy. If someone can get Her Majesty to soften, it’s her.” Rarity considered the suggestion for a few heartbeats before nodding in agreement.

“Yes, yes. You are right, Twilight, just like you always are.” It was flattering to hear, but the Princess knew that Rarity was trying to convince herself more than anyone else,
“Her Majesty is intimidating at times, but she’s still our friend. There simply has to be something that bothers her, that she needs to get out of her chest. I’ll bring Fluttershy. I am sure we can talk it over with a little of her tea like we always did before.”

“That’s the spirit, Rarity!” Twilight smiled at her encouragingly. “We’ll figure it all up in no time, you just wait!”

“Of course we will!” Rarity smiled back. “I’ll be back in a little while, darling!” Twilight smiled and nodded again, sending Rarity off.

The unicorn enthusiastically trotted away, towards the courtyard. Leaving Twilight alone with her letter. The Princess lifted up the burned letter once again. She still had tasks left at hoof.
It caused Twilight to immediately raise her brows, the hoofwriting wasn’t Cadance’s. It was written by Nightmare Moon’s hoof and clearly addressed Princess Cadance. Could she have sent Twilight the wrong letter?

Twilight flipped the paper to the other side, finding several lines of Cadane’s writing:

'Dear Twilight
Your eyes do not deceive you. This letter is not meant for you. Her Majesty wrote it to be seen by my eyes and my eyes only as part of a contingency. It was delivered discreetly to my desk on the night of her and Princess Celestia’s arrival. I apologise for putting you in danger by sending you this, but I see it as even more dangerous to keep you in the dark. Trust nopony with what you will now learn and burn the letter after you’ve read it.

Always love you,

Twilight, with a chill running down her spine, flipped the paper back and peered into the calligraphic letters written in blue ink:

'Princess Mi Amore
I must stress the necessity for utter and complete secrecy. What you will be reading in a moment can and WILL lead to far-reaching consequences if made public. I trust you will understand as much.
Your dear aunt, Princess Celestia, conceals a very dangerous secret that you must be made aware of in case of an emergency. You must be able to tell Princess Celestia apart from my own kin residing in her body...'

Twilight incinerated the letter on the spot a minute later, provoking a glare from a tired unicorn janitor.

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