• Published 30th Aug 2012
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Guiding Light - archonix



Calamity befalls the royalty of Equestria and, in lieu of plans that took decades to create and moments to ruin, control of the cosmos is bequeathed to the only pony Celestia had time to empower.

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Day Court

Day Court

"Hear ye, hear ye, Day Court now stands in session. All rise for her Eternal Highness Princess De Raptura, Regent of the Sun and Moon, Carrier of the Solar Orb, Protector of the Realm, the Ever Undimmed!"

"Are we gonna have to go through that every day," a voice called from beyond the throne.

Heads turned. Mostly they turned to First Minister Alabast Star, standing to the side of the throne as temporary proxy for the Crown, his face as impassive as he could muster. Rumour had it he'd been present when the new Princess was invested by the now sadly departed Celestia and Luna, that he'd witnessed the entire thing, and that he had not been very happy.

Of course nobody could be happy today. Celestia was gone. Nobody knew why or how, or indeed where, but she was gone as if she'd never existed. At first some had said she'd been overthrown; others that she'd retired to Fancè or some other nice place with hot sun and hot mares, and that she'd taken Luna with her. Luna had been kidnapped and Celestia had given up the throne to save her. They'd been assassinated in a failed coup by the Elements of Harmony. They had turned into hideous beasts after releasing an ancient curse. Somepony had threatened to shoot one of the royal pets unless she left the country.

Anyone who had seen the sun falter in its course days earlier would have known that most of the idle chatter was the talk of fanciful idiots. When night fell early and the sun didn't rise the next morning all the talk ended. Celestia was gone. Luna was gone, Cadence was gone, a number of other senior members of the nobility were gone. Disappeared without a trace. Talk of secret plots fell apart when so many had simply... gone.

Then the rumours of replacement had begun to surface: that Celestia had taken a desperate measure to invest an heir with all her power before surrendering to whatever befell the diarchy. A normal pony elevated to godhood? It was too much! Speculation had naturally focussed on the protégé, Twilight Sparkle, but that rumour had been fairly comprehensively scotched by her still very unicorn-shaped presence around the castle, where she had continued haranguing the Court and generally acting out her role as the most senior of the Princess's advisors on the Privy Council. Close associates of the Archmage were quickly examined and dismissed as unlikely heirs, and soon the search was on for who it possibly could be.

When no suitable candidate could be identified, the nobles had started a restive campaign for their own elevation. Surely, with Celestia gone and the sun in hiding, there was a need to find an alternative solution? Rumours that the sun had been released to a completely natural orbit were scotched as soon as they began. Look at the stars, the naysayers would say, before countering the argument with one of their own. The sun had to be returned or crops would start to die, and ponies soon after. 'Restore the Unicorn Throne' became the cry of the nobility. Return to the stability of the old monarchies, bring back harmony through other means. If it meant kicking a few upstart earthers and featherheads out of Canterlot then that was a fair price for saving the entire world.

Apocalyptic cults and old religions thought long-dead resurfaced with a vengeance, their prophets and priests and evangelists screaming from every available street corner, demanding the return of the ancient ways, beseeching the populace to forgo their pride and humble their bodies to the old rituals of the gods. Riding the popular fear, the great noble houses proposed again and again for the restoration of the tribal system whilst their scholars sought to reestablish the cabals necessary to move the sun.

When the Last Proclamations had been read before Parliament, all had assumed that the apocalyptic fervour would die away. The nobility had quieted, content to rest and wait a short while to see how the tail would shake out, but amongst the general population, the end-of-the-world fervour had risen to fever pitch. The world was ending, they contended. The celestial throne had fallen and would never rise again. The gods had punished ponykind for its hubris in rejecting their dominion, and cast the world into the realm of Tempus Pater, there to end its days in ice and cold. Even now the distant yell of a street preacher pierced the throne room, proclaiming the end of all things.

Candles burned bright in every chandelier, and braziers glowed throughout the room, warding off the icy chill of the long night and hiding the great ceiling frescoes behind a pall of blue-grey smoke. The dark had reigned for four days.

Now the Court assembled to greet their new Princess, though her position would not be formal until her coronation a few days hence. As such the titles were meaningless, habitual remnants of the previous incumbent, a merely promised island of stability in the wine-dark sea of change.

Silence reigned in the throne room. The Proclamations had declared an unknown pegasus from an outlying provincial town as the new Princess, stripped one house of its rank, created another from whole cloth, and in the process completely overturned centuries of tradition and privilege. The nobility, though quiescent, were not happy. The First Minister, still standing at the foot of the Celestial Throne, was not happy. Archmage Twilight Sparkle, glaring out over the crowd with worn and bloodshot eyes, was most certainly not happy.

The Court waited as quiet hoofsteps echoed from beyond the throne. Necks craned as the the still-acting Captain of the Guard, dress uniform sparkling in the candlelight, circled the dais. He bowed to the empty throne and then to the Archmage, before turning to stare out over the crowd. If he was upset, his impassive face did not betray it.

Now would be the moment they'd see this De Raptura. A pegasus. A susurration filled the air, scandalised whispers rising as the idea of a commoner taking the throne became perceptibly real. No pegasus could move the sun or control the stars. What would she do, fly up and push? The whispers grew in strength, dark and angry, until a sharp glare from the Archmage silenced them.

Another pony stepped cautiously from behind the dais. She moved with grace and dignity, her wings spread with beneficent love for her people, naked except for a slender circlet and a ring on her horn that bore the Celestial Star. The golden tresses of her mane drifted against her sleek grey body, glowing bright in the light of a thousand candles. One side of her face was obscured by a vibrantly blond lock of her mane, but on the other her single, visible eye shone like a ring of molten copper.

The crowd sighed at the sight of the alicorn and began to relax. Perhaps things wouldn't be so—

She tripped. It was not a dignified trip, no mere stumble to signify the humility of her ascent to office. De Raptura went flying, hooves flung every which way as she fell against the throne. Then the throne fell from the back of the dais with a resounding crash, taking the Princess, First Minister and a large portion of the royal regalia with it. Several thumps echoed around the great hall as the flags of state toppled one by one into the pile.

A voice called out from beneath the fallen symbols of the nation. "My bad!"

The throne room was cleared for an hour while everything was put back in its rightful place. Once again the First Minister and the acting Captain Sure Stride stood at the side of the solar throne, once again the Archmage sat at the foot of the dais, ears folded back and face set as she surveyed the returning crowd.

The Royal Hoofcolt stepped forward, opened his mouth to speak and then seemed to think better of it. He had a simple job, not very demanding. All he had to do was say the line, but after that morning's performance his heart wasn't really in it. Maybe tomorrow.

De Raptura, Princess, deity, stepped forward with a beatific smile on her face. She ascended the throne without incident and seated herself before the assembly, one golden eye taking in the scene, the other still hidden behind the long curls of her mane. After a few moments her smile seemed to be straining. The crowd shuffled, waiting for something to happen, but the Princess simply sat and stared at them as if she didn't know what she was supposed to do.

Her ear twitched. She glanced at the First Minister, who rolled his eyes and sighed, not happy in the least. He leaned over to whisper in the ear of the new Princess, who nodded thoughtfully at his words and then seemed to assent to whatever proposal he had given. The hoofcolt was beckoned toward the throne as a three-way whispering match developed.

Such a breach of protocol was unheard of, as if the new Princess had not been trained—but of course, a mere commoner could hardly be expected to know how to behave in Court. A commoner, with not even a hint of any link to the nobility, ascending the Celestial Throne...

The steady gaze of the Archmage was all that kept the Court from erupting. Whatever trials the young unicorn had been through in the last few days had surely taken their toll, for she looked as if she'd aged several years overnight. Her expression as her gaze swung slowly back and forth across the assembled scions of Canterlot society spoke volumes. Don't play with me, it said. Don't tempt me to do something drastic and painful. One or two of the lesser nobles glanced toward the doors, perhaps planning an escape if anything started to go bad.

"Day Court shall be seated," bellowed the hoofcolt in a voice that brooked no disobedience. A hundred or more rumps slapped down on the scattered cushions and carpets of the throne room. Faces turned, attentive, as the Princess cleared her throat and looked around.

"M-My... loyal subjects... I come—we come before you... we..." She cleared her throat again. "I'm sorry. I'm really not good at this. A week ago I was a mailmare and all I had to worry about was feeding my two fillies and keeping dry on my route. I never wanted to be a princess, but when I was chosen by Celestia I couldn't say no. She needed my help and I couldn't turn her down even though it's meant giving up everything I had before."

She looked over the crowd again; her smile faltered at the hostility she saw there. De Raptura, Princess, swallowed and perhaps tried to think charitable thoughts about her silent interlocutors.

"I'm very sorry about the sun. Twilight is still teaching me how to use my magic and with her help I think I can do it, but—but I'm sorry. Now. Um..." She tapped her hoof and looked at the First Minister. The embattled stallion took a breath and closed his eyes, refusing to meet her gaze. "I guess—I guess that's it. Thank you, everypony."

None spoke in the tense silence that followed, broken only by an occasional cough from somewhere near the back of the hall as the Princess looked around their number, her eye darting back and forth. She was unable to hear the single thought that rang loud in the minds of the brightest of those before her.

Opportunity.

Celestia's grip on power had been absolute for millennia. Her unmoving presence and her ability to think and plan events decades, even centuries in advance in the never-ending battle of wits between the crown and the nobility had led to a stalemate that none had ever hoped or dared to overturn. She had tolerated a certain amount of corruption and graft, perhaps considering it the price worth paying for their continued loyalty. Yet, whilst their machinations had gone on and the disputes and feuds between the great houses had persisted over the centuries, they had always been tempered by Celestia's ability to stomp on them whenever she wished, from a very great distance, and often with events set in train years beforehand.

Suddenly that was all gone. Suddenly the great weight had been lifted from their collective withers, the yoke of feigned obedience to the eternal monarch soon to be but a distant memory. It was a blessing. No noble seated on that throne would have permitted anything other than the continuance of the status quo, with a few small favours tossed out here and there to cement her position, but this was not a noble. De Raptura was a neophyte, an unknown. A pony who appeared, delight of all delights, to be very simple and innocent.

She seemed surprised as the mood in the chamber lifted. Perhaps she thought they'd warmed to her. In a sense she would have been right, as the fires of greed glowed in the hearts of those nobles who saw the most to gain from what was otherwise an entirely regrettable series of events. A heaven of new opportunities beckoned. As one, the nobility rose to welcome their new ruler, hailing her health and wisdom, declaring their fealty even before the coronation. Long live the Princess, they cried. Long may she reign.

* * *

"I think that went quite well, don't you?"

Twilight Sparkle's tired smile faded as she saw the expressions of Sure Stride and the First Minister, both staring at her as if she'd sprouted a second horn. Sure Stride shook his head and stepped down from the throne to speak to a nearby guard. The First Minister, for his part, stood by with an discomforted frown.

"Archmage Sparkle, have you ever known the nobility to be of one voice on anything?"

"Well, n-no, I don't think I have, but maybe they can see a new era of peace and prosperity—why are you laughing?"

The First Minister crouched forward, almost losing his balance as his body was racked by his deep, booming laughter. Sure Stride and the guard he spoke to were staring at him. The Commander's eyes briefly locked onto Twilight's. He raised an eyebrow; she just stared back at him, unable to reply.

"First Minister?"

"Oh, Lady Twilight, please, for that taste of joy p-please call me Alabast. I am—oh!" He coughed and tried to make his face neutral. It almost worked. "I am so glad to see that your return to the Court has yet to take your innocence, my dear."

"But surely they—"

"Dear Lady, if the nobility ever present a united front, they're only after one thing."

The figure on the throne finally moved to look around Alabast's broad head. Princess De Raptura locked her eye on Twilight.

"The noble houses perceive an advantage, Lady Twilight," Minister Alabast continued, oblivious to the movement behind him. "The first advantage they have seen for centuries, perhaps, and they mean to exploit it."

"I don't understand," Twilight replied, returning her Princess's gaze. She was rewarded with a faint, strangely knowing smile.

"What mister Star means is that they think I'm an innocent moron." Princess De Raptura shifted in her seat and looked about the now empty chamber. "I know I'm not that smart but I'm not that dumb either. I was just nervous."

"We all have our off days, your Highness," Alabast said with what he presumably thought was a soothing voice. The Princess smiled and nodded, accepting the assumed wisdom of his words with equinamity and grace. She shifted on her seat again and cleared her throat.

"Am I going to have to spend the whole day here? It's not exactly warm."

"Only if you wish to, Highness," Alabast replied smoothly. "Whilst Celestia, gods and heavens bless her, chose to sit every day, in truth the Court sits at your convenience once enough petitions have been gathered, after which you are free to pursue whatever tasks you wish as long as they don't interfere with your other duties. Normally either the Duke of Canterlot or the Lord Steward would advise you on such matters, but the latter is somewhat busy at the moment and the former—"

"Disappeared with everyone else," the Princess finished. "And so you're stuck with me, and me with you. I'm very sorry if I upset you, mister Star."

"I... would prefer Alabast, if it please your Highness."

"And I'd prefer a glass of milk and a muffin, Alabast, but I'm—" she paused, a slight frown creasing her face. "Twilight?"

"Yes, Princess?"

"Can I get muffins here?"

Twilight paused, unsure of whether she was being asked to retrieve said muffin or merely explain how to get one. She rolled her ears back and forth, trying to ease a slight headache. "I don't see why not. You are the Princess, after all."

"Good!"

The great doors of the throne room clanked and groaned as they were pushed aside to admit a hoofcolt dressed in the new grey livery of De Raptura's personal servants. He bowed deeply before the throne before continuing his approach, then bowed again at the foot of the dais.

"Your Highness."

"Hello."

"Ah..." The hoofcolt glanced briefly at Twilight and then seemed to come to his senses and stood to address his princess. "The Lady Amethyst requests an audience, ma'am."

The Princess seemed quite fascinated by the hoofcolt's drawling manner of speech and smiled, fiercely, at the mention of her daughter's name. "Send her in!"

With another bow the hoofcolt retreated to the door, where he conferred with some hidden colleague outside. He stood to one side and raised his voice.

"The Lady Amethyst and the Lady Dinky!"

"D-Dinky?"

Twilight's eyes flew wide and turned to the Princess. The alicorn flung her wings aloft but remained frozen in place, panting for breath, her face twisted to a terrified rictus.

"Stall them." Twilight shoved the First Minister forward away from the throne. He looked back and forth between the two in confusion, but trotted down the dais to the throne room floor nevertheless, before moving toward the doors.

The Princess turned her panicked eye toward Twilight. "What if..."

"I don't know, Princess, but... but I think I can help. Luna once taught me a spell that can calm the mind. If you would permit me?" A faint glow sprang from Twilight's horn and she moved toward the Princess, waiting for a response. After a moment's thought De Raptura lowered her head, allowing Twilight to touch their horns together.

The throne room was briefly illuminated as magic flashed between their horns. De Raptura jumped, shocked at the power surging through her, so completely unaccustomed was she the sensation of magic moving with such force in her body. She took a breath and then sighed as her eyes lost their focus for a few moments.

"Thank you, Twilight." The Princess lowered her head and took another, calmer breath. Her face shone with an inner calm completely at odds with her actions a moment earlier. "Could this..."

"She's too young," Twilight replied as the hoofsteps of two fillies echoed through the throne room. "I'm sorry."

The Princess nodded sadly and looked away for a moment to compose herself. Twilight backed away and returned to her seat on the dais.

"Sparkler, wait up, I wanna see the Princess!"

"Dinky I said wait outside the door."

"Aww, I wanna see!"

Sparkler cantered through, accompanied by a rather bemused First Minister who seemed to be doing his best to engage the young mare in conversation and yet was failing miserably. Halfway to the throne he gave up and returned to the door, possibly hoping for some more engaging conversation.

"Sparkler, it's good to see you," the Princess said, smiling warmly. Sparkler slowed, surprised at the way her mother greeted her. She glanced at Twilight, suspicious for a moment, but curious at the same time. "How are you settling in?"

"Fine, mom. I wanted to—we need to talk about this duchess thing." She mounted the steps to the throne. A hoofcolt appeared as if from nowhere and deposited a small cushion for Sparkler to sit on.

"Of course, we can talk about it whenever you like. First though, how is Dinky?"

Sparkler shuffled in her cushion until she was comfortable. She looked around the throne room and, for just a moment, seemed to lose herself in the sheer awe of the place.

"She's—she's okay, mom. A little scared still, but I guess she's getting used to her room now. The maids keep leaving her sweets on her pillow. Honestly I think she might be getting spoiled."

De Raptura chuckled and gave her daughter another warm smile. "She's going through a lot, she deserves a little spoiling."

"Mom? Are you feeling okay? You seem a bit out of it."

The Princess's calm demeanour strained for a moment. She blinked and a brief look of panic swept across her features, but then it was gone again, replaced by the calm serenity of a moment earlier. De Raptura looked down at her daughter with loving eyes and smiled. "I'm fine, sweetie. Just a little tired, that's all."

"Sparkler! I gotta go potty!"

The Princess leaned forward in her seat, barely even paying attention to the voice at the far end of the hall. The action drew another confused look from Sparkler. "Is she still having bad dreams?"

Sparkler mumbled a non-committal reply. There was something going on, she suddenly decided, turning to stare at Twilight. The Archmage pointedly refused to look at her. Definitely something going on.

"I guess—I guess you had Court today?"

"Yes." The Princess's eyes lost their focus. She tapped her chin and frowned. "It was very odd."

Before either could say more there was a surprised yell from the far end of the throne room. Tiny hooves tramped on the stone floor as a little filly rocketed out of the reception. She saw Sparkler first, seated next to the Princess's throne, and ran toward her with a huge grin. Dinky wasn't surprised that her sister had made friends with the Princess, she'd always been smart and funny, and Dinky knew they could all be friends. Then her eyes settled on the alicorn seated on the throne.

Her legs locked stiff and she stumbled, squealing in terror, rolling head over tail twice before she landed on her rump. She looked up, tears welling in her eyes as the shock of what happened filtered through her mind. Dinky's wail turned to another terrified shriek as the alicorn stood up from her throne, wings flaring and mane floating around her head like an enveloping cloud of light.

"Twilight it's the scary mare! Sparkler! MOM!" Dinky scrabbled to her hooves and bolted for the nearest hiding place, behind a large wall hanging that very nearly reached the floor. She peeked out a moment later, squeaked and ducked back in again.

The Princess leaned toward her elder daughter. "Sparkler, take Dinky back to her room. I'll come and speak to you later."

With her head held high, the Princess stepped from her throne and descended the dais. She left the throne room without another word.

Sparkler and Twilight both made their way over to the still-shivering wall hanging and looked down at it for a little while.

"Twilight—"

"I didn't do anything! I just gave her a little enchantment to cope with the stress she was under," Twilight replied, her voice barely above a harsh whisper.

"You can't blame me for that."

The hanging shifted slightly as Dinky moved around behind it, her little legs trapping back and forth in the narrow gap between the hanging and the floor. She snuffled at a tear in the fabric and tentatively poked her muzzle through the gap.

"Why is the scary mare here," she whispered. Her voice quavered on the edge of tears.

"Dinky, that was mom—"

"NO!"

"Dink..."

"She's too bright! She's not mommy, she's too bright! I want mommy," the little filly cried. Sparkler stomped her hoof and was about to yell something until Twilight held up her hoof.

"Dinky, recite the first principles of magic."

The curtain twitched again. Sparkler frowned and turned to look at Twilight, ready to berate her for being so insensitive, but the mage held up her hoof once more for silence. A moment later Dinky tapped her forehoof on the floor.

"Um..." Sparkler's eyes went wide at the sound of Dinky's tentative reply. "The first principles of magic are... to do no harm, to—to seek knowledge and not power, and to maintain the—the harmony of... um... the harmony of nature?"

"Very good, Dinky! Can you remember the reason for each?"

"I-I think that... to use magic for harm destroys harmony, to get power without knowledge causes harm, and... and..." There was a long pause. Dinky shuffled her hooves and sat down, her little tail fanning out at the base of the hanging like a decorative tassel. She sniffed again. "Can't remember."

"That's okay, Dinky. To attack the harmony of nature destroys knowledge. Think you can remember that next time?" The little unicorn gave a snuffled affirmation. Twilight smiled. "Now Dinky, because you're so smart, I'd like you to come out and show your sister how an make a light. Can you do that?"

"I guess..."

Sparkler's eyes were wide as saucers as Twilight gently coaxed her sister out from behind the hanging. The filly looked around nervously as she poked her head out, then moved a little more confidently once she realised the 'scary mare' wasn't around any more. Twilight and the older sister both stepped back as Dinky conjured a little ball of light over her horn, casting a bright but fitful greyish light around her.

"I don't get it," Sparkler said as she watched her sister exploring around the nearby hangings with her new light. Twilight smiled and nodded. "It takes me ages to calm her down."

"She just needed a distraction. It was the first thing I could think of." Twilight scuffed a hoof on the floor and turned to watch Dinky as she ran back to Sparkler's side. She was still nervy, but much calmer now her apparent nemesis was gone. "Celestia used to do the same for me the first few weeks after I came to live here, when I was missing my mom and had a nightmare or something. I remembered one time, I'd woken up in the middle of the night after a really bad dream and she just walked in and started lecturing me on the history of the Unicorn Kingdoms. The maids thought she'd lost it."

Twilight smiled at the memory, but it appeared Sparkler didn't share the happy moment. She was scowling.

"Sparkler, why did you bring her here?"

"She followed me," Sparkler wrapped a protective foreleg around Dinky and pulled her into a quick hug. "I just wanted to talk to m—talk about this whole duchess thing. Guess that wasn't gonna happen."

Both ponies stared at the floor, neither wanting to carry on talking in case they said something wrong. The space between them seemed to have shrunk just a little though, especially when Dinky wriggled out of her sister's grasp and sat down in it. She put a hoof on each of their faces and grinned.

"You gonna be friends now?"

Sparkler refused to meet either pony's gaze. She put her foreleg around Dinky's back once again. "I'd better get you back to our room."

"And I should, uh... do magic things, I guess. See you later, Dinky," Twilight said. She nodded to Sparkler. "If you want to talk you know where I am."

Though still refusing to meet Twilight's eyes, Sparkler returned the nod. She led her sister away from the room, leaving Twilight alone with her thoughts. In the silence that followed the Archmage found her mind slipping back just a few days to the last time she'd stood before her Princess, in this very room. Probably in this very spot. They'd been talking about a new spell that she wanted to try, some sort of... she wasn't even sure what it was now, but it had excited her, and intrigued Celestia, which had felt like her biggest achievement that day. Now the research lay on her desk and might never be completed.

The hanging billowed slightly in cool current of air. Twilight looked down at the empty spot Dinky had occupied and smiled. If she was honest with herself, she'd had her eye on Dinky for a while. Her talent was showing up unusually strong for one so young, though nowhere near as strong as Twilight's own. Perhaps, in a year, Twilight might have to find time to take on a full-time student. She was fairly certain who that would be.

Was this how Celestia had once felt about her? Had she watched from afar as her future protégé struggled and strained at her basic magic, memorising the Prima Principia and the Elementary Codex, or had it only been the exercise of raw power that attracted the former Princess? She'd never thought to ask.

Twilight turned to contemplate the empty throne for a few minutes, before striding from the great throne room and into the dim corridors beyond.