• Published 10th Dec 2020
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No Longer Alone - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving shipping! Postage paid! The gruff captain put a certain pegasus professor to the test and learned that she just couldn’t quit. Now come the hard parts: an actual relationship and maybe a villain or two.

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Chapter 31 - The Line of the Drecht

Tail strode with purpose towards Celestia and Luna’s estate. This time around, the guards only greeted her with polite nods as she moved up the stairs and through the doors with enough speed to make her lab coat flutter in her wake. In her mind, the words of Aislynn Caliber echoed, their message anchored long after she had returned to the realm of the woken.

That book you’re reading, Ms. Tail, perhaps you should finish it.

The clapping of her hooves against the marble floors reverberated off the hallway walls while she maintained her brisk pace. Upon reaching the library, Tail yanked open one of the doors, slid inside the grand chamber, and took the direct line to Section W. Once she had corralled Dr. Secret’s notebook with her foreleg, she flapped her wings and propped her back up against the nearest wall. It was time for a good read.

Would a subsection title such as ‘With Eyes Towards the Future’ be appropriate here? I kind of feel like it would be, or maybe, ‘With Eyes Towards the Ends of Time’? That one might be more accurate. My latest ponder gave me quite the bother. The expressions I’ve included in this manuscript — I think they work, but on that same vein of things left untouched, there’s stuff that I think is just missing. Nowhere in these expressions does an explanation for corruption just pop into existence. There’s no on-switch that suddenly generates the madness that users of the Alicorn Amulet experienced. There’s nothing that highlights why the Tree of Harmony is special, why the Elements do what they do, or how magic becomes dark. There’s no obvious solution to what happened in The North. Why did the Crystal Heart have a curse to begin with? Why did Sombra’s activation of it turn him into a mad king, and why did Callie, Luna, Amore, and Aislynn have to create the Temporal Drecht? Why was it the only way out at the time?

Everything up until this point explores the consequences of unifying our standard of magic with a U(1) gauge symmetry, but there’s obviously more. Princess Cadance has the power of love, and Queen Chrysalis can bend emotions. Discord has chaos and disorder. Twiggles and Company have the magic of friendship. Maybe they all draw symmetries of their own. Maybe they all highlight different directions. Perhaps there’s something else to tap into, and I’m going to take a shot in the dark here, Callie, that you already know and you’re just playing coy. How many times in your thousand-plus years of life has a scholar come along and scratched the surface of something that is already natural to you? Hmm? Maybe one day you’ll let me in on the game, but then again, I take over the E.I.S. tomorrow — so I guess I’m already in it. Anyhoo, see ya at bedrock, Sunbutt.

“See you at bedrock? Take over the E.I.S.?” Tail exclaimed. She slammed the notebook shut and plopped it onto the shelf before she dropped onto all fours. Her widened eyes shifted, casting her gaze aimlessly over the floor while the puzzle pieces collected in her mind. She imagined the door to her laboratory and the inscription that had been etched upon it. Out of the shadows, find resolve. Aislynn, the lab, the book, Trigger’s… Tail’s breath hitched. “Holy crap, Dr. Secret is Wing.”

The physicist scrambled back towards the door once she settled on her decision. Today, her visit to the library would be a short one, for the time had come for her to meet her sneakiest benefactor. At least, that’s what the plan was up until Luna and Barrier crossed the threshold before Tail made her exit.

Barrier’s drooping eyelids and slouching demeanor froze Tail mid-step. The poor stallion looked like he could flop over at any given moment, and Tail’s countenance quickly bore the hallmark quirks of concern.

“Sorry,” he spoke sheepishly, “I know you wanted to do some metalwork today, but I didn’t really sleep well. My dream last night— Our dreams last night—” Barrier strained as he moved one of his legs towards his marefriend. “It was Ember, and...”

Tail gasped after his voice trailed off. The orange sparkle, the one who knew his name, an ally whose dreams had stretched across time—that mare had been Ember. Tail didn’t wait for the exhausted colt to close the distance between them. Opening her wings, she shuffled up to his side and draped her feathers over his withers and barrel. The pegasus didn’t need Barrier to explain it any further. She didn’t really expect him to say anything else either—at least, not in front of Princess Luna.

“Come here, you sweet boy,” she whispered, pressing down with her wing as she slowly marched him to the library bed. Tail guided him atop the spirals of violet and gold that covered the quilt, and through some careful positioning, she sat on the mattress in a manner that turned her thighs into the perfect pillows for his head.

With the lower parts of her hind legs dangling off the side of the bed, Tail brushed Barrier’s mane with one of her forehooves. “I think Luna will agree that I can take a vacation day. Get all the rest you need. I’ll be here.”

Tail continued to comb Barrier’s mane even after she was certain that the stallion had fallen asleep. His gentle breaths raked the fur on her thigh and offered some reassurance that her coltfriend was receiving a needed reprieve.

“I am relieved that we found you,” Luna said quietly from her bedside post. “Last night’s events proved troubling in more ways than you know. Barrier is quite capable of keeping his mind secured from me. Even on nights when a nightmare plagued his thoughts, he would succeed in locking me out. Yet, those blocks crumbled before this morning’s light. The disturbances that struck both of your fabrics were palpable, and when I sensed that his defenses were down, I went to his fabric first—and there she was. I don’t think he has seen her in some time, but this one was obviously different. It’s just not a wound that I am qualified to heal.”

“It’s hard to grasp what I saw and heard in my dream,” Tail commented, resting her hoof on the back of Barrier’s neck as her idle gaze drifted. “I watched a beautiful world start to die. I heard terrible things. I met Trigger’s Mom, and it’s honestly all so incredible. Still, I can’t deny that I heard a mare call out to Barrier, and I heard her call out to me.”

Tail squinted as a shocking pain clutched her chest. Anxiety and sorrow contorted her muzzle and cheeks while memories of departed family flickered in her mind. It took several deliberate breaths for the scientist to steel herself and regain composure. “To still love somepony who’s gone, but whose dream remains alive, that has to be hard on him. Loss is hard on just about anyone, but here we are, right? You found him when he needed you—just like I’ve found him now.”

Luna’s blue wings splayed, and she tightly pursed her lips to fashion a pout. The tense expression loitered on her countenance for several seconds until a dramatic sigh heralded a wave of relaxation. “As the princess in the chamber, shouldn’t spirited words and advice be coming from me? Why must subjects lay claim to this most important of royal duties?”

Watching a lopsided smirk form on the alicorn’s muzzle, Tail stifled a chortle. “Well, if you want to get technical, you did essentially arrange for me to meet Barrier. If that’s not enough to satisfy your princessly urges, you could engage in a royal duty by pointing me to Wing’s office. Seeing how those notes I’ve been reading are his, and considering the overlap in our research interests, I think it’s time that we met.”

“Oh,” the Princess of the Night chirped. She tucked her wings against her sides and replanted her forehooves to sit higher. “I would be happy to give you those directions, but I should warn you that you won’t find him there. As a precaution, he’s gone north to monitor the environment for any recent changes. After speaking to both Lady Aislynn and my sister, we fear that the dark aura that infringed upon your dreamscape is tied to Captain Sombra.”

“Captain Sombra,” Tail methodically punctuated the rank and name. She glanced downward to check on Barrier’s tranquility, and she resumed her careful brushing of his mane. Once the pegasus gained confidence that the noise hadn’t perturbed the stallion’s slumber, she turned her attention back to the regal sister and continued, “I thought Sombra was defeated. The Crystal Empire was destroyed in the battle, and the Heart was lost. How could he be a threat? Unless—”

“The Crystal Empire was not destroyed.” A stern composition flattened Luna’s features. “It was sealed away using a powerful spell that required my sister, Princess Amore, Lady Aislynn, and me to create. At the time, we viewed it as the best option for the tragedy, but there are enough signs that indicate it will fail in your lifetime.”

“The Temporal Drecht?” Tail interrupted, drawing a curt nod from the Princess of the Night with her soft-spoken voice.

Luna exhaled. “Indeed, that is what we called it. Times were not good back then. The war with Griffonia was nearing its end, but tensions were still high. So much loss had happened, and none of us could even point to why anymore. The griffons hated us. We hated them, and all it did was spill blood. Celestia had started talks with Gallant the Third, but there were enough doubters in the courts to make us think that there was one last thread ready to snap.

“Sombra went north, as we learned, to manipulate the Crystal Heart into pacifying the griffon army. He didn’t take the ‘no’ from Amore lightly. He viewed the arcane magic as an easy way to win the peace, but all the Heart did was take his love and make him lust for war. There weren’t enough troops to manage a second front. Even the executor squads had suffered heavily by this point, and the risk of a self-anointed King Sombra rejuvenating Griffonia’s exhausted legions was too great. Celestia and I travelled to the Empire with the full intent to end the life of the pony we trusted most.”

Day -365747 — The Line of the Drecht

Luna crawled through the blizzard that battered her armored frame. The air whistled as it bit against the sharp contours of her spiked, gunmetal kit, and her eyes burned as she peered out through the grill at the visible landscape.

The once vibrant spire that stood at the center of the Crystal Empire emerged from the driving snow darker than Luna’s darkest nights. Like a knife of obsidian, the structure sliced into the sky, dispelled the light of the world, and draped everything in the dreariest of greys.

“We need to find Amore, Sister,” Celestia called from her position on the right flank. The Princess of the Sun, clad in armor like that of her younger counterpart, lurched forward as she carried a trunk on her back. “We need to find her and set this right.”

Bitter cold drilled through the protective plates and gnawed on Luna’s flesh. Even with the golden glow of her sister’s magic washing over them both, she could still feel the sting of the icy wind. However, neither storm nor windigo’s breath could prepare the Princess of the Night for what she saw at the edge of the capital city.

Jagged black crystals had erupted from the ground just beyond where the glassy streets came to an end. At first, Luna mistook the imposing quartzes to simply be a new bulwark, but when her teal sights landed upon the base of the wall, she quickly learned how wrong she was.

The horrified faces of crystal ponies frozen in mid-flight stared back at her. Some were missing limbs. Others had their jaws brutally torn from their heads, their screams forever silenced by bulging eyes and solid icefalls of blood. Their bodies crippled and shattered by a galaxy of crystalline morningstars, these frightened, fleeing souls had been executed in mass and left behind for any trespasser to see.

Her stride halted, Luna trembled. She’d seen combat. She’d seen and commanded terrible things, but this? This was beyond— “Amore’s dead,” she answered Celestia. “She would never let anything like this happen to her ponies. She’d never let anything do this to them!”

Heavy armor rattled from atop one of the quartz pikes, and both princesses snapped their heads to glare at the disturbance. There, Sombra stood, no longer wearing the issue of an Equestrian captain—but wearing the robes, regalia, and gear of a tyrant. “The price one pays for defying her king is the death of all those who would run on her behalf.”

Sucking in a breath, Luna quaked at the ghastly grit that emerged from Sombra’s throat. Anger pooled in her mind, and the inferno that brewed in the core of her horn grew more irritating with every second that she took in his dark-grey visage. He looked nothing like the captain she trusted. His horn had transformed into a red, curving crescent, and the crimson bloodlust in his irides bathed in hideous tendrils of drifting, ethereal umbrum magic.

The Princess of the Night could not hold it in any longer. The cry of Tia telling her to wait fell on deaf ears. Her cobalt-blue volley had already leapt from the tip of her horn and rocketed towards the unwavering Sombra.

Raising his iron-plated foreleg, the stallion wore an indifferent expression as Luna’s attack collided with his limb. Cracks of vermillion and onyx lightning ensnared the magical strike, and it simply vanished from existence. For several seconds, Sombra held his pose until a subtle twitching under his left eye became ever more noticeable.

Finally, he craned his neck and looked away from the alicorn as a hissing wind flooded his lungs. “We did this for you, you ungrateful bitch!” he wailed through a spittle-spewing snarl. He snapped his focus back to Luna and bared his fangs. “You want to impress your sister? You’re already the lesser light! You hope Amore is alive? You hope to see her again instead of your executor!? Here! Let me show her to you!”

Sombra slammed his hoof into the curved metal bands that protected his neck and chest. With his own raw strength, the tainted king ripped open the silvery plates to reveal a lurking dread as a cacophonous symphony of screeching iron pierced the gales. Blood stained his dark-grey coat in a chaotic splotch that surrounded a self-inflicted wound, and the princesses gasped when they peered at its center.

A dim reddish glow pulsed through the Crystal Heart as it sat implanted onto the stallion’s body. “There she is, girls! The Heart, her heart, is mine! Those who bowed before their true king now serve as my soldiers, and my slaves obey! I fought for you, and you betrayed me! They died for you, and who will remember them? I will give you one chance to bow before me now, and if you do not, I will take my army and march on Griffonia. I will take Gallant’s head and put it on a fucking pike. I will march on Equestria, and those who do not give me their unconditional love will suffer the same fate.”

The lid of the trunk that Celestia carried swung open at the behest of her magic. From the crate’s confines, six gemstones of various colors emerged—with the centerpiece being a rosy six-pointed star. “You do not have to do this, Sombra. The war is coming to an end. Stand down, and come home. You are not a king. You are our honorable captain.” The Elements of Harmony spread out in front of the sisters once both began to pour their auguric energies into the gems.

Another roar burst from Sombra’s muzzle. The globs of dribble that flung from his mouth froze before they plinked against the crystal barricade. “You ask me to stand down, and yet you raise your ace against me? It is truly outstanding that after all of your ordeals, and with all of your so-called leadership, that you are both primed for incompetence. Harmony is useless in war!”

Luna’s coat bristled in the wake of Sombra’s words. She dumped more of her power into the Elements of Harmony, and she could feel Celestia do the same. The air around the ancient artifacts scintillated in response to the cosmic energy they absorbed, and after several seconds of being steadily fed, the gemstones started to orbit around the pony princesses at a blistering speed.

Enveloped in a warm, swirling sphere of heavenly light, the sisters tapped the tips of their horns together. Erupting from the shell of the occult cast, a rainbow beam sliced over the gloomy tundra, cut through the blustering snow, and barreled into the prismatic Crystal Heart.

The green hue that had ensnared Sombra’s eyes brightened once the colorful assault disappeared into the domain of his hatred. The purple wisps that swept out from his head darkened and expanded as he took a step forward and grinned at the stunned royals. “I told you. Your harmony has no purpose here.”

Sombra cackled as he thrust a foreleg towards the princesses. A flash appeared from the Heart, and a thumping rush of wind flew from the stallion. The gust whipped through the elemental defenses and collided with Equestrian armor while darkness collected around Sombra’s chest.

The air rocked to a dissonant wail when a greyscale ray exploded from the crystal. In an instant, the Elements of Harmony stopped moving. The rebounded attack tore through the alicorns’ spell, and one-by-one, the pieces of Equestria’s greatest defense dropped into the snow.

Arcs of various shades, ripping through the decaying bubble, shocked the princesses. Cries of pain fled their lungs while a strange, black ooze crept along their limbs and ate away their armor. Luna’s agonizing screams echoed through the city. The parts of her body that the substance touched must have felt as though they were dying. Burning spikes set her nerves ablaze, and no amount of adrenaline could set her free. She dared not look at her sister with the cat-like slits that briefly infected her visage, but she knew from the tones that captured Celestia’s throat that they were enduring the same demise.

“See!? The seeds of your distrust have already been sown. Incompetence and false grandeur! How many lives did you feed to the wastes of your ambitions? No more. You wouldn’t bow to me before, but now you’ll bow to me in death. I’ll save Equestria from itself. Like Amore, your gifts, your love, belong to me—”

Luna and Celestia gulped down deep breaths when the pain abruptly subsided. In front of them, a cloaked thestral mare with an ethereal argent mane appeared from the nothingness. With one flap of her wings, she erased Sombra’s spell and banished the marks of a tantibus.

Still recovering from the shock, the alicorns collapsed into the snow behind Aislynn Caliber. The Princess of the Night, unwilling to surrender in the presence of both her sister and mentor, struggled to push herself up. “Tia,” she practically wept, though no tears showed on her scrunched face, “how is this possible? How could they fail?”

“I, I don’t know, Sister,” Celestia answered as she, too, fought to regain her footing upon the icy expanse. “Maybe we can try again. Maybe we can try something else!”

Meanwhile, Aislynn homed in on Sombra with her red-ochre gaze. A silvery mist partially shrouded her imposing form, and she held her towering posture like that of the Reaper surveying its prey. “Amore, your will?” she asked after a single thread of light connected the Grand Matriarch of Reverie to the Crystal Heart.

“This isn’t for you to decide! I am the king here!” Sombra raged at the dismissal, but his attempt to march forth was halted once he spotted the lines of light that stretched out from Aislynn’s hooves.

“The Elements won’t work on him as long as his body is attached to the Heart. He is too far gone for friendship now, and you cannot further jeopardize the love in your own magics. Amore is doing her best to keep the brunt at bay, but there isn’t time. Without a spell to erase the curse—”

“There is no spell to remove the curse! That’s why we needed her!” Luna shouted, stumbling to the ground. The snow caked her chin, and the alicorn coughed as she squinted up at the thestral.

Aislynn pressed a fang against her lower lip and nodded. “I know, Child. That’s why this is the only way. I ask that you lend me your strengths and trust me with the fate of the Woken World. It is all I can do for my own friend and my favorite student.”

Shining through the snow, the bright-blue bands of Aislynn’s magic encircled the entire capital. The thread that connected her to the Crystal Heart briefly appeared more luminescent as her wings unfurled to their full span. The mare’s cloak fluttered in the wind, and she glared at her trembling combatant. “Take it to the heart you cast aside, even shadows dream. Amorous art…”

Luna dug her hind hooves into the crunching snow and slid across the ground far enough to wrap one of her forelegs around Aislynn’s limb. “Lūminis art…”

Doing the same as her younger sister, Celestia grunted. Tears welled in her magenta eyes while she clung to Aislynn’s free hind leg. “Sōlāris art…”

The mist that hovered around Aislynn grew brighter and brighter. Engulfed by its light, the darkness began to retreat from the quartzes of the Crystal Empire. Even the spire showed signs of improvement before the thestral completed her grand design. “Dreamshell art, Temporal Drecht.”

Luna rubbed her stained cheeks with her fetlock. “We watched as he screamed, cursed us to death, and faded away. We watched as the Crystal Empire—and all of its surviving inhabitants—vanished from the flow of time like they were nothing more than the remnants of an emptied hourglass. All we had was the tundra, one another, and the mission to be ready.” She snorted. “And I couldn’t even be around for a thousand years of that. I should have been there to ensure that others remembered the sacrifices.”

Initially, Tail sat still atop the mattress, but when the silence lingered for far too long, her feathers began to flutter. A mounting strain of anxiety tugged on her chest and stretched her countenance into a grimace. “So, how do you know that the spell will break in my lifetime? And what has been done to make the outcome different when it happens?”

“My little pony, the worry plastered on your face makes me believe that you already know the answers to those, but I shall indulge your curiosity with some questions of my own. What spell do you think Princess Mi Amore Cadenza completed to ascend? And from where do you think your grant money came?”

Author's Note:

We're in the endgame now. :3c

Happy Tuesday, everyone! For those in the States, I hope you enjoyed your Fourth holiday. For those elsewhere, I hope your weekends were great as well. Thanks for your continued time and readership, and of course, I love the continued convos. I have been waiting for this one for a long time.

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