• Published 25th Jan 2021
  • 2,356 Views, 60 Comments

Equestria at War: Solar Sacrifice - White Comet

This story takes place in the Equestria at War universe - When a certain thought to be dead Princess of the Night visits Sunrise Sparkle in her dreams, she begins to start doubting Daybreakers leadership. A decision that could decide her fate...

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Chapter 4: Discoveries

Sunrise trotted onto the balcony from her bedroom, looking up at the clear night sky. It was still surprisingly warm for midnight, not that she was complaining. The palace grounds beneath her were pretty much deserted save for a few guards. She leant against the guardrail, taking in the view of the crystal city from her rooftop. The street lights lit up the streets in a uniform manner.

She groaned slightly and lifted a forehoof to her right temple, feeling a headache coming on. The medicine she took earlier must be wearing off. It was late anyway, she could pop another pill before bed. As she pulled her hoof back, she felt the trembling return, seeing her forehoof shaking in front of her.

She sighed again and used her magic to pop open a compartment of the regalia around her neck, bringing up a carton of cigarettes and a lighter. Every logical part of her mind told her that smoking wouldn’t help her situation, but she overheard one of her guards mention that smoking took the jitters off, and she couldn’t resist trying it.

“Stupid crescent-assed old hag…” Sunrise continued to rattle off several obscenities about Luna while fiddling around with the lighter in her magic, eventually managing to light the cigarette and take a draw of the warm smoke.

Her mind drifted back to Luna. It had been two weeks now since their last encounter. Sunrise was standing her ground, but if she was being honest, she wasn’t sure how much more she could take. She wasn’t getting any restful sleep, and she was turning to other substances to comfort her. Her daily consumption of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine was probably enough to kill a mortal pony, and she was on the verge of looking for other drugs to help. She was pretty sure she could hear whispers about her beginning to form behind her back. Her shortened temper and attention span were surely noticeable by now. She could recall several times today where she lashed out at somepony. Not an unusual sight in itself, but she took note of how it was happening more often.

She tried to focus on the job at hoof, but there was no subtle way of putting it; she was struggling. She needed help. But she had nopony to turn to. She had resorted to getting a Ponish to Herzlandish dictionary and attempting to translate the book that was Grover's journal word-for-word. A tedious and mind-numbing task. It was working, but it was taking time. Time she wasn’t sure she had. She hadn’t even got anything of use out of it yet. Hell, she didn’t even know if she trusted it. She still took it with a pinch of salt, convinced that this was something in Luna’s master plan.

It was progress, but at the rate it was going… It would take her years, if not decades. She hated to admit it, but Luna was right. She needed help. But where would she get it? She heard rumours of double-agents in SMILE, perhaps there was a good place to start.

...But not tonight. She threw the finished butt of her cigarette over the balcony and trotted back into her living quarters to get ready for bed. For yet another futile attempt at getting some rest...

Sunrise arrived in a familiar setting, but she wasn’t expecting to be there. She was standing on thick cloud cover as far as the eye could see, full moon shining bright and illuminating the silver fluff under her hooves.

“Long time no see,” Sunrise snapped half-angrily half-sarcastically. She spun around on the spot, seeing Luna standing beside a few steps behind her. She looked serious but didn’t put on the tall intimidating display she normally wore. Which only made Sunrise think… If she had interrupted her regularly scheduled nightmare, what was this about?

“I know I said I’m a patient mare, but an opportunity has arisen that I can’t ignore,” Luna explained. She placed a forehoof one step forward, taking a firm stance. “I need you to do something tomorrow.”

“Fuck off,” Sunrise bluntly refused, turning to face away from Luna. “My regular nightmare please, why don’t you throw in a dash of PTSD while you’re at it,” She snapped. She couldn’t believe she actually preferred that option.

Luna huffed, remaining silent for a long time before releasing an exasperated sigh. “I hate stooping so low as to resort to blackmail, but you are leaving me with no other choice,” She stated, stepping forward.

“Just try it,” Sunrise spat back, raising an eyebrow. “If you think you can beat me,” Her horn began to glow in the red aura of her magic.

“Do you really think you’re in control here?” Luna questioned, expending a lot of effort to not say that smugly. Her own horn lit up in the blue aura of her magic.

Sunrise suddenly felt a shock around her horn and instinctively lurched her head back. “What the--” Her magic slowly fizzled away into nothing.

“The dream is my domain. I can command it as effortlessly as if it were an extension of my own body. You are outmatched, Sunrise Sparkle,” Luna spoke menacingly.

“No matter,” Sunrise suddenly spun around to face Luna, quickly pouncing up with her hooves at the same time. “I can take you on with my bare hoo--” Sunrise grunted as she twirled face-first into a magical shield, falling to her side on the cloud.

“You were saying?” Luna raised an eyebrow. She couldn’t help but act a little bit smug at that one.

“Aaaaugh!” Sunrise growled, then twisted her head and spat up at Luna, only to have her saliva plucked mid-flight by Luna’s magic and redirected at her own face, wincing as it landed on her left cheek.

“So this is it then?” Sunrise pulled herself up onto her haunches, giving her cheek a quick rub. “You’re going to kill me and free Twilight Sparkle?”

Luna shook her head. “I stated many times in our last encounter that I need you alive for now.”

“Then what do you intend to do? Give me more scary nightmares?” Sunrise asked sarcastically.

“Worse,” Luna replied, “I don’t think you realise how much control I have over your body when you’re asleep and dreaming…”

“Pfft,” Sunrise rolled her eyes, “What can you do to my SLEEPING body?” She asked bluntly. What could Luna do with her when she was asleep?

“Hmmm…” Luna bought a hoof to her chin, glancing away from Sunrise as she thought. “There’s so much I could do…” She felt a smug creep onto her face at the thought. “How about not being able to wake up to audio cues?”

Sunrise chuffed, almost laughing. “Right, so I wake up a little later. Do you really plan on minor inconveniencing me to death?” She asked sarcastically.

“Well if you were late for something, something important, what would happen?” Luna asked, raising an eyebrow. “My old castle staff would most certainly come looking for me if I were late for a meeting. Would yours?”

“Well...I…” Sunrise suddenly felt a tingle down her spine as she began to imagine where this was leading. “I suppose they would…”

“Do you trust them, Sunrise?” Luna asked again.

“Trust them to do what?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

“To keep a secret,” Luna elaborated, “Even an extremely powerful one that would make front-page news.”

“Y--…” Sunrise wanted to say yes, but the logical part of her brain kicked in. As much as she wanted to believe, she knew the answer would be no. The Solar Empire has ruled through fear, power and intimidation ever since its inception. She had no doubt that there was a long list of ponies wanting to get their revenge, even if it was just for a petty media scandal.

“Thought not,” Luna continued, “So what do you think would happen when one of your servants comes to find you, their fearsome and powerful leader, overslept?”

Sunrise shrugged, “So I overslept. It happens. Do you really think that would tarnish my reputation enough?”

“Probably not,” Luna agreed, then a smirk crawled onto her face. “But what if it keeps happening? And what if one day, that servant comes to check on you and finds that you’ve wet the bed like a little filly?”

Sunrise chuckled, “Okay, I don’t think you can make me do that.”

“Want to test that theory?” Luna asked, her horn igniting.

Sunrise gritted her teeth, feeling her mouth cringe as she recalled what happened last time she tested one of Luna’s theories. “No need, I believe you,” She admitted, feeling like she wanted to pound her head through the clouds after that submission.

“I’m glad,” The magic around Luna’s horn dissipated. “I can also use my magic to make you believe that your nightmares are real. You’ll become delusional.”

“I think I’m already delusional,” Sunrise groaned, her eyelids flattening.

“And when Daybreaker hears that her most loyal and powerful Grand Inquisitor has started hallucinating and wetting the bed, what do you think would happen?”

Sunrise couldn’t hold back a cringe at the thought. She would most definitely get ‘replaced’. She groaned and laid herself down onto her belly, resting her chin on her forehooves.

“Need I say more?” Luna taunted.

Sunrise huffed, flicking her head to look away as she thought about it. Not a single part of her trusted Luna. But at the same time, they were sort of working towards the same goal. Would Luna really be doing this if there wasn’t another way? It was clear that any progress she made wouldn’t come fast enough. And Luna wasn’t giving her much of a choice…

“...State your business…” Sunrise grumbled, looking up at Luna and bringing herself back up onto her haunches.

Luna smiled, “I’m glad you’re coming around,” She began, taking a step back. “I’ve been informed by other ponies I’ve been in contact with that a project is scheduled to commence tomorrow.”

“What kind of project?” Sunrise questioned.

“Daybreaker has ordered that the Castle of the Two Sisters is to be searched and gutted for any magical texts or artefacts in the name of the Empire. I doubt she will find anything of use, but we can still use this to our advantage…”

“So what do you want me to do?” Sunrise asked.

Luna turned to look at Sunrise. “The project begins tomorrow morning. Her own chief Marshal, Sunset Shimmer, is scheduled to be in charge. But I believe I can manipulate her dreams to make sure she is in no mental or physical state to work. Daybreaker will then call you as a backup.”

Sunrise nodded, raising an eyebrow. “So what do you want me to do exactly while I’m there?”

Luna smirked, “That part is simple. Daybreaker will give you very specific instructions. All you have to do is disobey her.”

“...Huh?” Sunrise raised her head back, looking very confused.

“It will make more sense once you get there,” Luna added, sitting down in front of Sunrise.

Sunrise felt her right eye twitch. “So after this whole song and dance I finally agree, but you still talk in riddles?!" She snapped angrily.

"Of course," Luna replied, rubbing her chin with her hoof. "I wouldn't want to give you too much information. Otherwise, you might try and use it against me."

Sunrise quietly huffed under her breath. That was EXACTLY what she was planning. But she couldn't deny she wasn't expecting such tactics from Luna. Being over a millennia old, she had no doubt that Luna had seen such tricks before.

Luna stood to her hooves. "Since I need you in peak condition tomorrow, I suppose I should let you get a good night's rest…" she turned and quickly flicked her head around to look away from Sunrise.

Sunrise tilted her neck over to catch a glimpse at the cheeky grin on Luna's face. It almost looked like she was trying to suppress laughter. "And how exactly do you plan on doing that?"

Luna kept as straight a face as she could and looked back at Sunrise. "Let's just say this was one of Twilight Sparkle's FAVOURITE dreams," she emphasized with a cheeky wink. Her horn began to glow and the dream began to fade. Luna started turning into a mirage. "Sweet dreams, Sunrise Sparkle…"

Sunrise wanted to protest before she realised that she was also fading, transitioning into whatever Luna had planned for her…

Sunrise felt pressure on her left side. She was...lying down? A soft fabric surface. Was she in bed?

She slowly opened her eyes and blinked a few times, still feeling a little disoriented from the sudden dream transition. If anything, at least she was still in the Crystal Castle. All the crystal decor proved that. But it wasn’t her room. At least that was proof that it was a dream.

She twitched her limbs a little, once again readjusting to their shortness compared to what she was used to. Luna did say that this was one of Twilight Sparkle’s favourite dreams, so it only made sense that she was in Twilight’s body. Or rather, her own body when she was younger.

“Hmm…” she hummed quietly, bringing her forehoof to rub her eyes. As she did, she felt something odd on her foreleg. As she rubbed her eyes, she felt some form of fabric under her hoof.

After rubbing her eyes, she pulled her hoof away to see what it was. She was wearing a sock. A white sock, travelling all the way up her leg and becoming translucent about an inch near the top, with a little blue bow tied around the top.

“Huh?” Sunrise rolled over, realising that while she was lying in bed, she wasn’t under the covers. She was wearing four of these socks on each of her legs. Coupled with a translucent nightgown of the same colour.

She went to push herself up, but her left forehoof failed to find a surface to push from. Glancing to her left, she realised that she was on the far side of the bed. Why would she be there? The only she could think of was if there was somepony…

“Hey, Twily…”

Sunrise turned her head to her right. Laying beside her was… her Chief Marshal. Except not him. Well, not the same one that she knew anyway. He was much younger, corresponding with Twilight’s approximate age at the rough time of the body Sunrise was currently in.

Younger and… attractive? Flash’s mane and tail were a full blue, gone of the grey streaks that otherwise plagued it in the real world. His face unscared, wrinkle-free and well-shaven. And his body…

Sunrise gasped, feeling her ears fold back instinctively. She suddenly copped why she was wearing the lingerie and realised what this dream was about. “Oh…”

Flash emitted a low chuckle. “I think somepony likes what she sees…” He rolled onto his back and threw out his left-wing, expertly tucking it under Sunrise.

Sunrise released an uncharacteristic eep as she was lifted by Flash’s powerful wing muscles and rolled on top of flash. Her hooves instinctively took her weight, but perhaps that wasn’t for the best. She ended up on top of Flash, their noses almost touching. She gazed into his lidded light blue eyes, feeling her own getting increasingly smaller as she felt a blush begin to form across her nose.

“Somepony’s oddly tense…” Flash spoke slow and confidently, lifting his right forehoof and pressing into Sunrise’s chest. “Wanna talk about it?” He asked as he began massaging her body with his hooves.

Sunrise looked down at his hoof on her chest, feeling her heartbeat racing against the pressure of his hoof. No doubt he could feel it too. Her eyes trailed off, taking in the eye candy that was Flash’s toned torso. She bit her lip as conflicting thoughts went through her head. It was clearly one of THOSE dreams, not what she was expecting from Luna. But at the same time, she couldn’t deny the sight in front of her was very therapeutic…

“Or we could let our actions do the talking,” Flash continued, suddenly craning his neck upwards and quickly planting hips square on Sunrise’s.

“Mmmph!--” Sunrise felt her body tense up, her wings quickly extended to their maximum length with a loud pomf. She couldn’t help but fixate her gaze on Flash’s now-closed eyes. Her own eyes were stuck wide open in the shock of what was happening. She felt the heat rising exponentially in her cheeks (amongst other places…) The shock was still catching up with her, but she wasn’t hating it…

Flash suddenly wrapped his forelegs around her barrel and used his body weight to twist Sunrise around in a roll. Without even breaking the kiss, he seamlessly switched positions with Sunrise. She was now laying on her back with him standing over her. He slowly lowered himself down, eventually letting his weight partially rest on her as he pressed his body into hers.

Sunrise felt his tongue make itself known on her lips, but she kept her mouth shut to prevent it from entering. Was this really happening? Was he really going for it? She could feel his forehooves exploring parts of her body that should really earn him a swift slap around the face. But as much as it made Sunrise cringe to admit, she hadn’t been this intimate with somepony in… well, ever. Even once all the wars were over and the resistance had been mostly silenced, things still never really stopped in the Solar Empire. Slowed down maybe, but Sunrise was always busy. She was never given a chance to humour the idea of a relationship. But had it been a possibility, she couldn’t deny that Flash Sentry was one fine example of the stallion. He even aged gracefully from what she had seen back in the real world. But to actually do it…

...Oh to hell with it. It had been ages, and she deserved to fantasize every once in a while.

Sunrise felt her throat involuntarily release a small moan as she opened her mouth, allowing access to Flash’s tongue which she greeted with her own. Their tongues danced around each other to a symphony of heavy breathing and occasional moans escaping their throats almost in perfect harmony.

Their lips eventually parted with a heavy breath, a string of saliva dangling between the two of them. Sunrise looked up to meet his eyes, but Flash was already moving on, lowering his head and placing his lips on Sunrise’s neck. Her eyes widened initially, then slowly lidded as she felt the soothing sensation of Flash’s teeth gently massaging her skin. He really wasn’t hanging around.

Sunrise hated to admit it, but… she liked it. She loved it. She wanted more. Lots more. She let her head fall backwards, her face bright red like a tomato. She felt herself smiling like an over-excited schoolfilly, but she didn’t care. “Fuck you, Luna,” She whispered up at the ceiling before igniting her horn. She could sense that Flash was having difficulty with a certain activity. A little magical guidance wouldn’t go amiss…

“Your majesty?”

Sunrise exhaled, blinking a few times to get her bearings. She was back in her own bedroom, the sunlight just beginning to creep through her curtains.

“Your majesty?” The voice said again.

Sunrise quickly realised it was coming from her intercom. She tried to roll over but felt something blocking her from doing so. Her own wing. It was fully extended and didn’t want to retract. Sunrise bit her lower lip as she recalled the subject of her dream, feeling the heat returning to her cheeks at the memories.

She shimmied along her bed until she was perched on the edge, giving her better access to her nightstand. She reached across with her hoof to the device and pressed the button. “What is it?” She asked.

“I’ve got Empress Daybreaker on the line for you.”

Sunrise’s eyes widened, immediately recalling the plan Luna spoke of. So far it was all going how Luna predicted. “Put her through,” Sunrise ordered.

The speaker made a short crackle at Sunrise’s command. “My loyal Inquisitor. Did I wake you early?” A normal-pitched but still slightly maniacal voice sounded at the other end.

“No, your majesty,” Sunrise promptly responded. “How can I serve you?”

“It’s short notice, but I need you to fill in for an assignment in Ponyville. Please leave immediately, and stop in Canterlot on your way through.”

“Right away, your Majesty,” Sunrise acknowledged. A crackle from the device indicated that the line had just been cut.

Sunrise quickly pressed a button on the intercom. “Yes, your highness?” The timid voice of her assistant answered.

“Have my train ready within the hour, Frost. Stops are Canterlot then Ponyville.”

“Of course, your Highness,” Frost acknowledged, followed by the crackling of the line disconnecting.

Sunrise rolled off the end of her bed onto her hooves, quickly trotting towards her bathroom to get ready for this assignment, all the while keeping Luna’s cryptic plan in mind. She still had no idea what she was looking for, but Luna said that it would be obvious when she saw it. Despite being hesitant at first, she was pleasantly surprised that Luna kept her end of the deal. She hadn’t slept that well in weeks, and she was feeling very refreshed and energized.

She opened her bathroom door only to get stopped by her wings bumping the doorway. Of course, they were still fully spread… At least she gave herself plenty of time to scratch that itch…

As her train screeched to a stop in the Canterlot main station, Sunrise was greeted by a detachment of guard ponies who opened her carriage doors. They saluted sharply as she gracefully departed the train onto the platform, the shoes she wore on her hooves making a slight metallic clink as she stepped across the platform.

The guards quickly escorted her from the station towards Canterlot castle. Sunrise glanced over her shoulder briefly to make sure the train was obeying her orders and staying put. Despite knowing the route like the back of her hoof, Sunrise was escorted through the castle by a couple of guard ponies. At least they were keeping up a reasonable pace. It wasn’t like Sunrise had any new decor to admire, it had hardly changed ever since the Solar Empire ascended. The tall walls were lined with red banners adorning the emblem of the Solar Empire. Several guards ponies made their way on various errands throughout the castle's hallways alongside several more civilian staff. It felt pretty much like her own castle back in the Crystal Empire, just without all the crystal.

As she approached the large golden door leading into Daybreakers throne room, she was halted by another guard standing by the door. He operated a wall-mounted intercom system briefly before nodding at Sunrise, giving her the go-ahead to enter.

Using her magic, Daybreaker entered the throne room. She could almost feel the temperature radiating out of the room. Mostly from the pyrotechnic features leading up to Daybreakers throne. Pillars of flame rising up to the ceiling laid in a perfect row leading up to the throne. The ambient crackling of the fire was all Sunrise could otherwise hear. She trotted gently but assertively across the orange carpet leading up to the throne. She could see Daybreaker sitting atop her throne, eyes down in some paperwork. Her regalia matched very similarly to Sunrise’s. It was a deep orange all over from the shoes she was wearing on her hooves up to her chest piece, that extended along her back to encompass the top of her wings. Her crown not only encircled the top of her head but also wrapped around her ears with the centre-piece being a bright red ruby.

Sunrise decided to simply keep walking until she caught Daybreakers attention, her head turning to view Sunrise approaching. Sunrise stopped as her own eyes met the glowing amber iris of Daybreakers eyes. She stopped in her tracks and prepared to bow. “Your Majesty--”

“Sunrise!” Daybreaker responded in an oddly cheerful voice. Sunrise blinked as she watched Daybreaker prance off her throne, dropping whatever she was working on using her wings to glide through the air. Her mane left graceful trails of flames as she slid through the air.

Her hooves tapped down on the floor mere inches away from Sunrise, the metallic bottom of her dark orange shoes making a clunk as they landed. “It’s always a pleasure to see my most competent and loyal grand inquisitor.”

Sunrise half-smiled, feeling slightly awkward at Daybreakers description of her. Competent, definitely. But loyal… She was about to test that.

Daybreakers horn suddenly lit up. “You’re just in time for tea!” Out of one of the flaming pillars, a pristine white teapot with matching teacups flew out in the red aura of Daybreakers magic. “Come sit down,” Daybreaker suddenly turned and began walking to a small coffee table with a few chairs dotted around it, the teapot and teacups following her.

Sunrise followed Daybreaker and took a seat on the plush dining chairs adorned with orange velvet. Daybreaker poured tea into the two teacups she carried in her magic before setting the teapot down on a red heat resistant mat on top of the dark oak wood coffee table.

Sunrise carefully levitated the teacup up to her lips, feeling the heat radiating from it even though it was still inches from her face. Luckily she had been familiar with how Daybreaker liked her tea for some time and knew a spell to cool it down while it was held in her magic.

“It’s been far too long since we’ve been able to catch up like this,” Daybreaker rambled, levitating her own teacup to her lips. “We should schedule a proper afternoon tea some time to have a real catch up.”

“Absolutely,” Sunrise feigned interested, “But I believe I’m here for your instructions.”

“Oh of course,” Daybreaker acknowledged, taking a generous slurp of her tea. Despite having seen her drink it like this for years, it still made Sunrise cringe internally. She could still see the liquid breaking into bubbles on the surface from it boiling. While it should be normal by now, she had been secretly questioning Daybreakers sanity for a while. She noticed that she seemed to be hoofing towards the edge and it seemed that she was on the verge of going off the deep end.

“So, the assignment I need you to take over is in Ponyville. It’s pretty mundane work, but somepony’s gotta do it. I’d do it myself, but I’ve already got something booked in…”

Sunrise watched the corners of Daybreakers lips slowly creep upwards before it slowly parted her lips into a grin. Eventually, she couldn’t help but start laughing. “Sorry, sorry,” She set the teacup down. “I’ve recently been told about something quite entertaining. Another misguided group of foolish ponies that want to see my power taken from me. But the way those delusional ponies are trying to do it is with some sort of ritual to the sun and moon.” Daybreaker couldn’t help but cackle at the ridiculousness of the idea. “And I’ve been bored recently, so I’ve decided I’m gonna watch their silly little song and dance from the shadows before I let my holy fire judge them for their crimes.”

At the last part of that sentence, Sunrise swore she could see small specks of fire spitting from Daybreakers mouth. Her amber eyes temporarily glowed more intensely for a brief moment before settling back down.

“Anyway, where was I?... Oh right,” Daybreaker leant back against her chair, picking up her teacup and collecting from where she left off. “The task is quite simple. The old Castle of the Two Sisters. We’re tearing it down. I’m quite certain that everything of value has already been taken from that place, but we just need to be absolutely certain before we level it. So the Solar Youth will be combing it out.”

Daybreaker very much predicted the flat expression Sunrise was returning to her. “I know, I know, I dragged you all the way from the Crystal Empire to foalsit. I originally had Sunset Shimmer doing it, but she’s...not well…”

Just like Luna said. “Is Sunset alright?” Sunrise asked with genuine concern.

“Pffft,” Daybreaker rolled her eyes, “Sounds like she’s just making excuses to get out of foalsitting duty if you ask me. When she called me she could barely speak, babbling like a little foal. Something about a nightmare and her worst fears come true, waaaah, WAAAAAH!” Daybreaker imitated the foalish cries while slamming her hoof on the coffee table.

Sunrise’s eyes widened, she almost flinched backwards at Daybreakers outburst. Despite being sarcastic, she could still be terrifying. She saw a crack in the wood of the coffee table from where Daybreakers hoof landed.

“Either way, I have just as much faith in you, Sunrise. You might even inspire them, make them even more dedicated to our cause! You never know with these kids, you might inspire the next great field marshal or admiral,” Daybreaker rattled on, rolling her hoof with her words.

Now there’s a thought. The gears in Sunrise’s head began turning, drawing inspiration for another plan in her mind. Although she still had some things to iron out, it might work as a backup plan. “I’ll depart immediately, they must be waiting,” Sunrise acknowledged, quickly finishing her tea before setting the mug back down and standing to her hooves.

“Of course,” Daybreaker agreed, also standing with Sunrise.

Sunrise bowed quickly before turning to make her leave.

“Oh, and Sunrise?”

Sunrise stopped in her tracks, turning on the spot to face back to Daybreaker. “Yes, my Empress?”

“I forgot to mention there’s this other magical artefact there that I need you to be careful of,” Daybreaker explained. Her tone sounded a lot more serious than before.

“Another artefact?” Sunrise raised an eyebrow.

Daybreaker nodded, “It’s quite dangerous, and I haven’t figured out how to control it yet. Once we do, we’ll decide what to do with it. But for now, I’ve had it sealed off. I just need you to make sure that you keep the kids safe, the last thing we want is parents up in arms about their little brats being injured or killed.”

“I understand perfectly,” Sunrise acknowledged, nodding. “I’ll make sure we stay safe.”

“I knew you would,” Daybreaker smiled, “Now carry on, I’ll catch up with you later.”

Sunrise resumed her journey out of the castle and back to her train. It didn’t take a genius to cross-reference Luna’s and Daybreaker’s words. Luna was obviously after whatever this artefact was. But if even Daybreaker wouldn’t step near it… just how dangerous was this thing? How was Luna expecting Sunrise to get it? Given the amount of time that place had spent abandoned, Sunrise found it surprising that it was still there. Perhaps it was so dangerous that it killed anypony that tried to take it…

Whatever it was, Sunrise would soon find out…

As her train doors opened on the platform in Ponyville, Sunrise stepped onto it and immediately found herself being greeted by a middle-aged earth pony stallion with a rust-coat and a dark blonde mane. He wore a grey shirt with an orange and yellow striped neckerchief around his neck. The trademark uniform of the Solar Youth.

“Your Majesty,” The stallion bowed on the platform, “The names’ Sandwood, I’m the leader of the Ponyville Solar Youth,” he introduced himself.

“At ease,” Sunrise replied. The stallion responded by bringing himself back up onto his hooves. “We’re running late, we should get moving.”

“Oh, y-yeah,” Sandwood quickly turned, walking down the platform with Sunrise flanking him. “Ya’ll have no idea how much it means for ya to come on such short notice, your Highness. I’ve been lookin’ for somepony that could give the students a proper teachin’ about magic. Seein’ that I’m an Earth Pony and all, I would have struggled with that. I’m glad ya stepped in.”

“It’s for the benefit of the nation,” Sunrise chimed off generically, her mind occupied elsewhere.

She was led to an area by the side of the train station where all the students were waiting, all dressed in the same grey uniform with the orange and yellow striped neckerchiefs. Of course, they were all very excited to see her. They all carried backpacks full of gear and camping equipment, along with some wagons full of other equipment. Some of the wagons were empty, obviously intending to bring back whatever they might find.

“My students, I’m pleased to present to ya’ll, Grand Inquisitor Sunrise Sparkle!” Sandwood extended a hoof to point at Sunrise. The students proceeded to bow towards Sunrise. “Since most of the things we're likely to find will be all ‘bout magic, she’s here to provide some much-needed expertise into it all. Ya won’t find anypony better on the continent.”

“I believe we’re behind schedule, Sandwood?” Sunrise reminded him, raising an eyebrow. As much as she loved hearing her praises being sung, she was very keen to get started.

“O-oh!” Sandwood bought out a pocket watch to check the time. “Ya right!” He looked back up at his students. “Now quickly, find yerselves a partner and buddy up two-by-two. The Everfree Forest can be a mighty dangerous place at times, so keep each other safe.”

While he sounded timid, Sunrise observed his students appeared to follow his instructions well. They couldn’t be any older than teenagers, a mix of middle and high schoolers. She walked around the lined formation of the young ponies with Sandwood.

“Now follow me!” Sandwood instructed, walking forward with Sunrise beside him. A symphony of hoofsteps followed behind them.

“Your students are well-disciplined,” Sunrise commented.

“Only the best this side of Canterlot if I do say so myself,” Sandwood replied with a wink.

Sunrise took in the sight as she walked the streets of Ponyville. Technology was still yet to fully catch up with this backwater little town. The locals seemed to have a mixed reaction to her visit. Some seemed delighted, while others scolded as she walked past. Something she really should have addressed, but she had way too much on her mind to care about such petty things right now. Off on the borders of town stood a tall structure made out of varying shades of blue crystal. A castle gifted to Sunset Shimmer, thanking her for her service at the end of the Great War. The castle had red banners with the emblem of the Solar Empire adorned under its windows, along with the Solar Empire flag flying atop its star-shaped spire. Two guard ponies in Solar Empire uniforms stood outside the main door. Sunrise was tempted to go see Sunset, but now wasn’t the time… maybe if she found time…

The group continued to march on to the Everfree Forest. Thankfully a sunny day shone through what would otherwise be a very dark forest, the light flickering through the leaves on tree branches. Aside from their melodic beat of their hoofsteps, Sunrise could hear the wildlife all around them. Various bugs creaking and birds chirping away. Fairly unthreatening, but she had been warned of the wildlife here before being unnatural and aggressive. She kept her wits about her.

The walk was long but uneventful, and soon enough the old Castle of the Two Sisters was in sight. For a building that was to be demolished, it hardly looked like it needed a demolition team at all. It looked like somepony could knock it down with their bare hooves. The roof was almost completely nonexistent save for a few areas, and the walls had more holes than windows. The dilapidated brickwork had let nature overrun it and it was probably creeping into the castle's interior by now. She could feel a headache coming on, another sign that a memory she wasn’t meant to have was trying to surface. But she clenched her jaw and did her best to ignore it.

Off to her right, Sunrise’s eyes were caught by something that stood out like a sore hoof. A no entry cross sign stuck on a post next to some stone stairs carved into the face of a cliff, leading down to a large open area. Underneath the no entry sign on the same pole was a yellow danger triangle. “What’s down there?” Sunrise asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Uhh… Wish I could tell ya myself your Highness, but that place has been closed off for years. Probably a dangerous animal or something… I dunno, all I know is that the Solar Guard were pretty quick to seal it off after the Great War started going in Equestria’s favour. And I ain’t the type of pony to question it.”

“I see,” Sunrise watched where she was going up to the castle, a bridge crossing over one of the ravines leading up to its main entrance. Something told her that whatever she was looking for was down the stairs in that clearing. But there was no way for her to sneak into it like this. Not without the risk of being seen by somepony. Plus she had no doubt that ponies would be looking for her throughout the day. She would have to wait until night…

She mentally sighed, preparing herself for a day of foalsitting. Maybe she wouldn’t have minded it so much if it weren’t for the bigger problems she had clouding her mind…

Sunrise slugged another book into the ever-growing pile of items that would be sent back to the Empire for further study. At least her visit wasn’t entirely wasteful. There was plenty of publications here from a time before the Solar Empire. Such blasphemous texts had no place in the Empire, so she had to make sure they made their way back to the right ponies in SMILE to ensure they were either correctly censored or destroyed. Luckily these teenagers weren’t even born back then, so Sunrise had no problem convincing them that they were simply myths and legends of an ancient time.

She took in her surroundings, the old building really showing its age. It’s a wonder that nopony was injured by falling brickwork during this visit. The night was setting in and given the building's age, none of the old-fashioned oil-fired lights worked. Sunrise was using her horn to light the way. The only natural light she got was in the uncovered sections of the castle, where the light from the moon shone brightly.

She made her way through the ancient hallways towards the exit, turning her horn off as she stepped out to not catch anyponys attention. Off in the distance, she could see the tents the students had made illuminated by the gentle orange glow of a campfire. Several ponies sat around it roasting marshmallows and conversing, but too far in the distance for Sunrise to hear what they were talking about.

Satisfied that there was nopony nearby to spot her, Sunrise trotted off at a reasonable pace back along the route they walked earlier. She wasn’t hanging around, but she also made sure not to run too fast in case somepony heard her hoofsteps and wondered why she was running.

Arriving at the clearing, Sunrise extended her wings and jumped off the edge, letting gravity pull her down into the ravine. She fluttered her wings just before touching down to take the weight off her landing, dampening the clack sound her hooves made when they touched down.

She looked around the area. A pretty bland clearing of dust and dirt. Nothing too special. Rocks of all shapes and sizes scattered around the edge. Just what was down here that warranted that sign?

Sunrise began walking forward, keeping her wits about her. Maybe Sandwood was right and a dangerous animal was living down here that she was about to disturb. She hoped that wasn’t the case, partly for her own safety, but mostly because that would mean a massive waste of her time. Not to mention a day worrying over nothing.

But as she walked forward, nothing obvious presented itself. She was half-tempted to ignite her horn to give herself more light but didn’t want to draw attention to herself. She just did her best using the natural light provided by the moon.

As she walked along towards the end of the ravine, she spotted a large oval opening on the side of the cliff. It wasn’t unusual to spot a cave in a place like this, but what she couldn’t ignore was the plastic strip curtain around it. Somepony didn’t want this to be found. Or it served as a warning to keep out.

Sunrise trotted towards it, stopping just short of the entrance. She double and triple checked all her surroundings to make sure nopony was watching her. She took a deep breath of the humid Everfree Forest air and turned back towards the entrance covered by the curtain. Her horn ignited in the red aura of her magic and she began gently caressing her magic over the curtain. Knowing that it could be a booby trap, she thoroughly probed the gate to make sure that she wasn’t going to trigger any spells. Luckily it all checked out. She wasn’t going to trigger any alarms or traps by going through. It seemed safe… But that sign definitely had a warning on it. Perhaps it was just a deterrent to stop somepony from finding it?

Feeling confident, Sunrise used her magic to create a divide in the solid black plastic curtains and stepped through, dropping her magic and hearing the plastic tap against itself as it fell back into place. But she wasn’t concentrating on that. She was more focused on the sight in front of her.

“A...tree?” Sunrise whispered to herself, raising an eyebrow. She was standing only a few meters away from what appeared to be a tree made out of crystal. The crystal was a similar shade of blue to the castle not too far away in Ponyville. Perhaps the two were connected somehow? It had grown very tall, at least thirty feet by Sunrise’s guess.

Sunrise groaned, feeling a headache coming on. But it was the familiar kind of headache. If what Luna told her was true, it was the feeling of Twilight Sparkle’s memories being suppressed. Daybreaker clearly didn’t want her to know about this.

“Did Luna really expect me to carry this thing to her?” Sunrise asked herself sarcastically. The logistics of that were well beyond a single pony. At a push, Sunrise might have been able to teleport it somewhere. But to get it any kind of distance intact would require several hops. It wasn’t something she could do discreetly.

But then again, if Luna knew it was a tree, she must have also known that trees were semi-permanent wherever they were planted. She wouldn’t expect Sunrise to move this by herself, surely?

Maybe she didn’t need to. Perhaps there was more to this than met the eye. Looking at the branches that extended out, they each housed a gem. Sunrise dismissed this when she first saw it, thinking it was part of the tree's design. But looking at it closer, she saw that it was holding the gems rather than housing them. Perhaps the gems were what Luna was after.

But before she could attempt taking them, Sunrise found herself distracted by the gem she spotted in the middle. A purple star-shaped gem. The spitting image of her cutie mark. Sunrise had to do a double-take, looking back and forth at her flank then back at the tree. Aside from the star on her cutie mark being yellow instead of purple, it was pretty much an exact copy. “What is this place?” Sunrise asked herself. She knew what it was, it was on the tip of her tongue. But the constant thumping headache whenever she tried to recall the memory stopped it from surfacing.

Not that it mattered. If she had to re-learn about this place, she would. It couldn’t be hard to do something she must have done before, right? Sunrise ignited her horn and wrapped her magic around the purple star gem in the middle.

The tree suddenly flashed white, startling Sunrise and causing her to jump back. Before she even had time to take in what just happened, she saw that the gems had all turned black and were releasing white contrails of magic.

“Oh no…” Sunrise’s eyes widened. Had she just triggered some kind of inbuilt security system?

She concentrated and fired off a magic beam at the tree, but it simply deflected off and slammed into the wall. Before she got a second chance, one of the white contrails grabbed her around her forelegs and pulled her into the air.

Sunrise gasped but quickly responded by forming a beam with her magic and attempted to slice through the contrails. Only to have her magic pass through them as if they were nothing. The remaining contrails began to wrap around her limbs and torso. “Nonononono…” Sunrise gritted her teeth. She was right all along. This must be a trap set by Luna. And she fell for it.

Her magic having no effect, she closed her eyes and concentrated. She could teleport away. Somewhere far enough away. The only place that immediately sprung to mind was inside the old castle. She concentrated hard, imagining one of the rooms and initiated the spell.

“AHH!” Sunrise screamed as she felt a shock on the back of her neck the same time she initiated the spell. She felt the teleportation complete as she stumbled to her hooves, but she felt a burning sensation on the back of her neck as if she had just been electrocuted. And the sensation wasn’t going away. The tree must have hit her with something just before she teleported away.

She opened her eyes while she caught her breath, feeling the stone floor beneath her hooves and seeing the dilapidated building that she was standing in earlier. She made it.

But the pain didn’t stop. She felt it spreading, a numbness slowly creeping through her body. “No…” she stumbled forward, “No, no NO!” She ran forward. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing, but instinct told her that she had to keep moving.

But she only made it a few steps before she began to stumble. Whatever the tree did to her, she could feel a numbness spreading through her body. It was currently travelling along her spine and making its way through her limbs.

With no sensory feedback, Sunrise found running very difficult and she soon tripped, falling onto the cold stone floor and sliding a few feet along it. “Augh, no!” She moaned, gasping for breath. She could feel a tightness in her chest, making it hard to breathe.

She twisted her neck around, looking down her body. She raised her left foreleg up as she felt the numbness creeping along it, keeping her wide eyes locked on it. “No…” Her eyes only grew wider and her pupils shrank as the stark reality of her situation began to dawn on her. Was she...dying?

“No no no…” She panicked, watching her foreleg drop to the floor as the numbness caught up with it. That was it. She couldn’t feel her body.

Out of options, Sunrise rested her head on the floor and concentrated, her horn ignited as she attempted another teleportation spell. This time her intended destination was the Canterlot Royal Hospital. But the distance between here and there was extremely far even under the best circumstances, and her magic was extremely stressed as it was. She thought about launching the spell half-baked but decided not to. She could end up anywhere between here and there if she screwed it up.

Out of options, and with nopony coming to rescue her anytime soon… Was this it? End of the line? Now that she was using what she believed were her dying moments, Sunrise had a moment to reflect. Luna had said plenty of times that she needed Sunrise alive. There’s no way she would have let Sunrise wander into something that might have killed her. So surely that’s not what's happening… right? Whatever it was, it was terrifying Sunrise. It was certainly what she imagined death to feel like.

She closed her eyes as the numbness began to creep into her head. Her horn fizzled out as her magic ceased functioning. Whatever was going on, she was about to find out on the other side…

Author's Note:

Now isn't that a cliffhanger and a half? :trollestia:

Sorry this took a little longer than usual, but I hope its length makes up for it. I wasn't initially planning on leaving this as a cliffhanger, but then I learned about EAW's writing contest and needed to free up some time for that. So instead of leaving you guys for over a month without an update, I decided to compromise and do this.

Now of course, the follow up chapter to this will be delayed slightly as from now I will be working on a story for that contest. But after that, I hope to quickly get back up to speed on this story.

Thanks for reading! :twilightsmile: