• Published 2nd Feb 2021
  • 1,345 Views, 58 Comments

The Long Eventide - SilverNotes

Following Luna's first Nightmare Night, a city-state with a millenium-long grudge against Equestria sends her their warmest regards.

  • ...


The earth pony trudged her way through the swampland, wishing desperately that she was of a species that could close its nose. Ears twitched this way and that, searching for sounds, but most of what she heard was the moist noises of her own hooves in the muck. Steely grey-blue mane stuck to her neck from the humidity, and her tail lashed at opportunistic flies, the long hairs looking more grey than blue in the moonlight that streamed through moss-covered tree branches.

Wetlands were an odd sort of place. So much of it was within her domain; there was life here, growing in the hoof-coating mud. The grasses, trees, and moss sustained a varied ecosystem, and it wasn't unheard of for herds of earth ponies to commune with such lands. But so much water led to an overlap with the pegasus domain as well. Often thought of as ponies of the sky, water didn't stop being theirs when it landed and soaked into the ground. There was an aspect of the swamp's magic that she would never feel, because the droplets could be guided by the earth, but not truly controlled. There were only two ponies who could feel the call of the earth and the water at once, and neither would dare set hoof in these lands.

But it wasn't those magics that the earth pony was focused on. There was something deeper, under its surface. A low, ominous note echoing in the undercurrents of an otherwise ordinary song, a wrongness that was woven so finely in that most could never detect it consciously, and instead feel it in fur standing up, a chill along the spine, a moment where they were certain they could see shadows in the corners of their eyes. Swamps were beautiful places where differing magics collided and coexisted, but this swamp held a foulness left to fester, one all the louder the farther she waded through it.

The things she did for her kin.

Movement in the water made her ears perk and head swivel, and she saw eyes peering at her from just above the surface. A head emerged as the beast surfaced, with narrow snout, round ears, and long tusks, followed by a neck where the fur of the head became thinner, forming a patchwork with fish-like scales, and it wasn't long before a hoofed-and-finned amalgamation was dragging itself onto the relatively solid land, hunger in its eyes.

The earth pony mare knew this creature. Water deer. True deer were sapient and could be reasoned with. These aquatic mockeries of the cervid form were nothing of the sort, and tended to use their tusk-teeth to grab anything they could find near the bodies of water they lurked in and drag it in to drown and eat. This one, however, found itself with more than it bargained for as the pony reared and planted a hoof in its face, sending it toppling back into the muddy water with a splash.

Iron shoes could weigh down a stroll through the mud, but they were useful all the same.

Ears turned backward at the sounds of more hooves on spindly legs pulling bodies out of water, and her similarly-shod back hooves struck out, catching another water deer's jaw with a resounding crack and splash. A toss of her head, which dislodged her sodden mane none, found her looking at dozens of those bright yet hollow eyes, the herd of water deer seeming more emboldened by their aggressive prey than deterred. A smile twitched at her lips at the sight, and she pawed the slick, sodden earth in challenge.

Hooves flew. They struck directly, flung chunks of earth, or took her the exact number of body lengths in any direction to slam into slender, scaly bodies or avoid snaps of long teeth. The deer let out high-pitched screeches as they went down, as if venting their outrage and spurring on the rest of the herd, and the sound rattled at the mare's eardrums. Yet, she never stopped smiling, even as more and more drew themselves out of the water, cutting off her exits as they surrounded her.

"Is this all of you, then?" she questioned creatures who could never understand her, pausing for an answer that would never come and chuckling when it didn't. "Good."

The earth pony reared. Shoes and hooves alike erupted into light, painting herself, the deer, and the swamp in a vibrant green. And then she slammed them down.

The screeching grew much louder as the water deer slammed into each other, forced backward by energy that pulsed and cackled as it rushed through earth, air, and water alike. Tusks gnashed at a danger solid enough to harm but not solid enough for them to harm back, and the noises and scent of blood told her that a few had bitten each other in their confusion as they were sent hurtling away in all directions. Cracking sounds of wood followed as they hit trees in their flight away from their target, battering the plant life and being battered in return.

And then, eventually, silence, save for residual crackles that danced up and down the mare's forelegs, along with a single snort. Good riddance.

The smile left her features as she looked up, however, noting how low the moon was in the sky, and the way the black of night was starting to turn to grey. The last of the green magic faded as she turned, the deer forgotten, her hooves now seeming to glide along the earth instead of sink as she took off at a gallop through the trees, back toward where she'd come.

Trying to outrun the sunrise.

The grand ballroom was just as extravagant as one would expect. Just taking the floor space into account, the nobility of the land could more than double in number, and there would be no need to expand to comfortably corral them. That was to say nothing of the ceiling, which was high enough to allow several lanes of flight traffic from winged guests and servants. The shape of the room had been designed with acoustics in mind, allowing the assembled musicians for the eve's festivities to be heard clearly no matter where an individual wandered, and the decorations, in line with the current style, involved a liberal application of silver, as well as an array of blue gemstones.

A unicorn stalked the ballroom floor, eyes and ears fixed on the crowd as the train of her gown shimmered behind her. So many had gathered here, but her mind was not on the assorted ladies and lords of long pedigree, nor the nouveau riche seeking a place among the aristocracy. Moving on silent hooves, eyes gliding over the assembled creatures, she was searching for the familiar presence of her own kin.

Her head raised. Her ears perked. Her gaze narrowed. She watched as a face of rusted red emerged from a cluster of laughing ponies, the rest of the distinctive coat having vanished under the grey suit, which complimented the steel blue mane far better than the pelt ever had. The smartly-dressed earth pony approached the unicorn, then bent slightly at the forelegs as she lowered her head in a bow. "Lady Masquerade."

"Gentlemare Honour Code," she responded with practiced pleasantness and a well-timed smile, tilting her head to allow her mane to fall just so. "A pleasure to see you on this night of nights."

Honour Code smiled back as she rose again, one just a bit too imperfect to be anything but genuine. "The night before the longest day, so they say." Her head bobbed toward the windows at the other end of the room, and the few guests milling about near them, looking out at the shining moon. "Though the significance is lost some in our corner of the map."

Masquerade followed her gaze briefly, than allowed a small shrug. "So it is, but significance or no, few will turn down an excuse to throw a party." She stepped forward, catching the faint scents of flowers and fresh soil from the pony before her as the size difference became all the more obvious with closeness; she was a small, slight thing, while the Honour Code was of taller, thicker-built stock, even by the standards of earth ponies. "Shall we dance, Gentlemare?"

That all-too-real smile came to her face again. "I would be delighted."

Taking to the dancefloor drew eyes from all corners, as was to be expected. Both were highly eligible ponies, and it was natural to find others taking curious, and envious, interest in their choosing to dance with one another. Few knew of their distant relation, and both would prefer to keep it that way; in a world where some would gladly meticulously plot out their entire family tree and recite it as justification for their sense of superiority, those of their blood would prefer to let their presence speak for itself.

And that presence did indeed speak. Sure-hoofed steps sent them gliding around the ballroom floor, not a single stumble to be seen, and eyes that had been drawn initially by curiosity became enraptured. They moved like a single pony, and Masquerade smiled a much more true smile as she laid her head against Honour Code's neck as a silent taunt to all those who had not had the pleasure of her doing so.

The scent was stronger with the closeness, that mix of floral aromas mixed with fresh-churned earth, and beneath, just barely perceptible, the smell of ashes. She felt the muscles of the neck against her face, felt Honour Code's pulse from where her horn lay, and all of it caused some of the tension she'd carried to unwind. Ponies were tactile creatures at heart, and contact like this helped reassure them they were safe, among the herd.

It was a comforting illusion that even Masquerade cared to indulge, now and then.

But illusions always shatter, and Honour Code's voice brought her back to reality. "Tell me, my lady, have you heard any news from our colleges in the Ebony Tower?" The words were soft, unlikely to be heard by any ears pointed in their direction. "They've seemed especially busy during this past year, and I've begun to worry for their health."

Masquerade held back the sigh at the true reason for their dance intruding upon the dance itself, and instead her whispered reply was slathered in faux scandal. "Gentlemare! What I am told, I am told in confidence. Do you see me as the sort of mare who would gossip about my dear friends that way?"

"Taking the proximity of your horn to my throat into account, I'll elect not to answer that question." The chuckle was far too mirthful, likely due to the fact that even if Masquerade had chosen to use such a natural weapon to her advantage, it wouldn't be nearly as effective as one would hope. "But you have been given news, then, of some sort?"

The dancing never lost a beat. It was flawlessly automatic, and left them able to continue the true dance with their words. "There is always news, Gentlemare." Masquerade flicked an ear out toward the crowd, briefly, then relaxed it again. "Such is the nature of life. There is always something new."

A snort was the response. "I'll take that as a yes."

"You don't trust our fellows?"

The two pulled back from each other as the music shifted, continuing their dance in a more distant style, circling each other as the notes twirled through the air. It allowed Masquerade to see Honour Code's face, and watch it morph through a number of expressions before settling on something more neutral. "I trust our chancellor."

And Masquerade knew that that was true. Which is why she pressed. "But not the others?"

There was a telling silence, filled only with music and the background murmur of other guests. "Do you trust me?"

Masquerade tittered, as if charmed by some witty remark. "I would, if you were not such a mare of integrity." She smiled her finest smile. "Those do make for unpredictable associates, you know."

Honour Code laughed, and the smile she gave afterward was just a bit too charming. "My apologies, then, my lady. I never meant to disturb your machinations with unpredictability. I'll be certain to keep my integrity in check when it comes to our dealings."

The music shifted again, and in turn, they stepped toward one another. Masquerade laid her head against Honour's neck again, enveloped in flowers, earth, and ash once more. "What a dear of you. Always so thoughtful."

The conversation lapsed, and it would be easy to assume that it had ended. Honour Code usually respected the deflections, danced the dance with her and accepted that Masquerade rarely gave a straight answer that she wasn't being paid for. This time, however, Masquerade could feel the tension in her distant kin, and in time, the words came again. "You feel it, though, don't you? There's a tension the air. I've been feeling it only grow stronger for moons."

Masquerade felt the fur along her withers stand up, and her tail give an involuntary lash, both hidden beneath the fabric of her dress. She gave another titter, one that dared to sound slightly forced instead of effortlessly false. "Perhaps your duties are taking their toll on you, Gentlemare. When is the last time you took a vacation?"


Ears involuntarily flattened at the sound of her name. Not many could get such a reaction, but there was something in Honour Code's voice that could make all manner of creatures pause like foals in the face of a stern schoolteacher. She forced her ears back into a relaxed posture, pretending it never happened. "Very well," she said evenly. "Yes. I've felt something. But I'm telling you the truth, Honour, when I say that I don't know what it's about."

She heard the intake of breath, the preparation to ask more questions that she likely wouldn't know the answer to either, when all words stopped. As if a cold wind had rushed through the ballroom, both gave an involuntary shiver that ran from ears to tails. Long-buried instincts rose to the surface, a fear unlike any that Masquerade had known, and as she jerked away from her dance partner, her horn lit up in vivid green in a bid to protect herself from an unknown foe.

Instead of a foe revealing itself, panicked cries emerged from the window, and both of their heads snapped up to look at the well-dressed pegasus backing away from it, every other creature that followed their gaze mimicking their terror. A glance was shared, and they moved toward the source of fear, Masquerade slipping through spaces in the crowd while Honour Code relied on the fact that other creatures tend to see an earth pony moving with intent and get out of their way.

Masquerade was the first of the two to see it, and she stopped in her tracks. She heard Honour Code similarly go still and gasp, but she didn't look back, transfixed on the sky. Since she was a filly, she'd spent much of her life looking up at the sky, spellbound by the sight. She'd found comfort in the moon, in particular; like many, she'd looked upon the craters that dotted its surface and picked out the shape of an equine face, with pointed horn, and had slept more easily with the Mare in the Moon looking down on her.

When she looked up now, the Mare was gone.

The room was candlelit. It did little for the shadows, walls of black stone seeming to absorb the light around the ponies at the table, but neither were bothered by the dim lighting. Two unicorns were arranged around a tea set, the elaborate patterns dancing along the pot and cups in all manner of colours, making it look as if they'd been drip-painted with rainbows, with a few flourishes added with gold or gemstones. An array of spicy scents wafted from their cups, one of several custom blends that had been commissioned specifically for the company entertained within this room.

Diamond Dust contemplated the mare before her, gently sipping at her spiced tea to try to make the observation look more casual. Lady Masquerade was a pony whose stock and trade was appearing harmless. She was small, especially for a unicorn of their blood, with slim legs and neck to make her seem all the more delicate, and she was pink, her coat firmly within the range of pastel and her mane and tail just a shade or two too dark to comfortably qualify. The only thing that stood out was her horn, which mirrored the style of Diamond Dust's own: long, thin, and unusually sharp.

If Masquerade noticed her fellow unicorn's scrutiny, she didn't show it. But then, Diamond Dust wouldn't expect her to show such things. Instead, she looked up at her host through her long lashes and spoke with a light, friendly voice. "Quite the curious news that's come from the capitol, hasn't it? From long exile, a princess returned."

Diamond Dust nodded, as green magic coiled around the teapot and poured more into her teacup. "Indeed. The second alicorn to surface within a single generation. Centuries with only Celestia, and now they seem to be coming out of the wordwork." A thin smirk worked its way onto her muzzle. "Much like termites."

A bout of giggling came from Masquerade. "Aren't they? We'll be overrun, at this rate." Her own magic took the teapot, pouring more for herself as well. "But in all seriousness, dear, you've seen the photographs from the Ponyville celebration, have you not? She's not quite what I expected from an ancient alicorn." Flicking three cubes of sugar into her cup, one after another, and seemingly entirely unaware of the irony, she added, "She better resembles an adolescent unicorn with set of wings. There is some extra height to her, but even Cadenza stands taller than she does, to say nothing of Celestia."

Recalling the photographs in question, Diamond Dust was about to speak, until an ear flicked toward the door and she fell silent. Her head turned, regarding the soot-coloured pony who'd entered, blending into the walls so easily save for bright yellow eyes. The servant froze, nearly dropping the biscuits carried in their magic, wilting instantly under Diamond Dust's stare. She then turned back to her cup, ignoring the other pony entirely, and remained completely silent until the treats were set down and they were hastily left to their privacy again.

Only when the tip of the dark grey tail vanished through the doorway did she speak. "There are rumours that the princess's..." Diamond Dust searched for an appropriate word, ears twitching. "Restoration... has stripped her of a significant portion of her power." Frustration set into her voice. "I have been unable to find more than rumours, however. She is being kept from the public eye. The single celebration and that is all."

Masquerade set her cup down, and leaned toward Diamond Dust, an intrigued gleam in her eyes. "How very mysterious. Not a hair or feather of her seen outside of the palace? Nothing at all?"

"Correct." Diamond Dust set down her own cup, but kept her own posture rigid. "And not for lack of searching. Not a single public appearance, not even at so much as a coffee shop or bookstore." A sigh escaped her. "What our eyes and ears in Canterlot have had plenty of is talk of the changes to the palace itself, and the laws. It would seem that Celestia is restructuring to make our new princess a full ruler, handing over entire sections of Equestrian law to her domain and giving her equal standing within many others."

Then, knowing that this particular news would intrigue her guest all the more, the smirk returned. "There has also been a mass hiring of staff who are unbothered by the thought of working from dusk to dawn."

Masquerade gave a single tap of each hoof against her chair in a show of excitement. "Is that so? What a wonderful opportunity for many ponies. I've heard that it's a dream of many to work in the palace."

Diamond Dust held back her snort of amusement. Dream of many indeed.

Her mirth faded, however, when Masquerade gained a new sort of gleam to her eyes, waving one of her hooves in the air as if to shoo away the current topic. "But enough about recent events. Regarding upcoming, have you decided what you're going to choose for your disguise for Nightmare Night?"

In an instant, Diamond Dust looked as if she'd taken a bite out of a lemon, and she fetched a biscuit, saying nothing.

"Oh don't look at me like that." Masquerade was giggling. "There's talk that this may be the last one, once the princess sees what the celebrations entail." She gave the tip-tap of excitement again. "And we both know that the result of that is that some of finest costume parties are going to be held."

Diamond Dust's face did not change expression. "If I must entertain that holiday a year longer, I will do so in my most spectacular gown, not some elaborate facsimile of another creature."

Masquerade pouted, then levitated one of the tea biscuits toward her mouth. "Suit yourself. I intend to look like an absolutely fetching ophiotaurus."

Four ponies stood below the moonlight that night, at the peak of the highest tower in the city. A bored-looking earth pony examined her front hooves, a pegasus practically pranced in place, a unicorn regarded them with a calm, stoic gaze, and lastly, a second pegasus sat staring up at the Mare-less moon, watching her companions out of the corner of her eye.

"It would seem that our princess has resurfaced." Diamond Dust's words were not news, but still turned every ear toward her, and two sets of eyes.

Penumbra, for her part, continued to gaze skyward, her face blank and wings twitching slightly with the urge to fly. "So I've heard," she said with a similar sort of calm. "Showing up to collect her 'tribute' at the Nightmare Night celebration at that. And playing with the foals."

"And transfiguring a set of toy spiders into genuine ones," Diamond Dust added, the light that flickered around her horn something that Penumbra felt, in the faint static dancing through the air, rather than saw.

"And looking a lot better!" Blackbird Song paused in her prancing to take off, hovering above the ground with a few beats of her dark wings. Penumbra felt the resulting breeze blow across her fur and tousle her mane. "You see the photos?" She gave an impressed whistle, drawing an ire-filled look from Diamond Dust that Penumbra didn't need to see to know was there. "Now that is a mane. Looks just like the storybooks now."

An irritated snort escaped the last of their number, and Brandywine stomped the hoof she'd been looking at. "Yeah, yeah, so she's a big grown-up princess now instead of a little squirt and prancing around in public speaking Early Modern Equestrian." Penumbra felt the expectant gaze against her head. "What does that mean for us?"

They all knew the answer. She knew they did. But she said it anyway, because that made it official. "It means that we move forward with our plan." She turned away from the moon, finally, to regard her kin. Her most trusted kin. "The three of you, make sure that the creatures under your domain know about upcoming guests. We all need to be prepared for their arrival."

"Are you certain that this is wise?" Diamond Dust's protest drew Penumbra's gaze to her, and when their eyes met, the mutual stare held steady. "Welcoming outsiders into the heart of Eventide could come with significant risks."

"If we're successful, they'll no longer be outsiders." Penumbra broke the staring match to look up again, scanning the stars above. She opened her wings, letting the light dance over each feather. "And it's overdue for the Umbral Society to have its moment in the sun. Don't you agree, Secretary?"

There was silence, for a time, until the next words came with no hint of emotion, as Diamond Dust bowed her head slightly. "By your will, Chancellor."

Celestia wished that she could go back in time and kick herself for ever having the idea for paperwork.

Much as some ponies seemed to believe it, the millennia-old princess did not predate the written word itself, but she had, most regrettably, been present for the rise of bureaucracy. Populations had boomed, settlements had grown larger and processes more formal, and systems to keep track of it all had followed suit. And while Celestia would never claim authority over nations not her own, ageless alicorn of the sun or no, Equestria tended to invite imitators when they had a system that seemed to work.

So, over centuries, Equestria had grown from a place where she could make a declaration from the balcony of the palace, and send out town criers to spread it elsewhere, to a place where she was subjected to the daily assault on the ears of quills scratching against parchment, a sound that frequently followed her into dreams to torment her there as well.

This day, however, the endless scratching was interrupted by a pop that perked her ears in surprise as a letter landed on her desk. She was no stranger to suddenly-appearing letters, but those tended to be scrolls that appeared with a fwoosh of dragonfire. They were always the highlight of her day, since those were the letters from her faithful student, detailing her new life in Ponyville. This, however, had been a flash of light, and an envelope.

Sunlight-yellow magic picked up the letter, and when she flipped it over, Celestia nearly dropped it again when she saw the seal. Having been pressed into rich green wax, the image was of the sun half-hidden behind the moon, with the moon still wearing the Nightmare's face.

So. They had come calling.

A sweep of a foreleg pushed her paperwork aside, and she levitated over blank piece of parchment. Even before breaking the seal, she knew this would be nothing good, and by the time she finished reading the letter, Celestia wasn't sure if she'd been proven right or wrong about that.

Either way, she knew one thing. She was going to need her sister.