• Published 12th Feb 2021
  • 599 Views, 37 Comments

When the Stars Sleep - Sea Gnash

Have you ever wondered what happens when the sun sets, but the moon doesn't rise to take its place?

  • ...

5. Failure

~*~ Chapter 5 ~*~


~*~ Failure ~*~


Twilight followed close behind the guard leading her and her friends through the castle halls. The castle was always kept bright and shiny, but the extra lights keeping the hallway lit made it all the more obvious. She was even able to see some of the courtyard below whenever she passed by a window.

Of course the castle would be given the largest priority when it came to being kept safe and lit, but that didn't do much to help her feel as secure as she should have. After the events that had taken place mere hours ago, she didn't know what to think anymore. All she had in her head were the same images of breaking down her old bedroom door and seeing something there before Fluttershy was able to wake up repeating over and over in the same loop.

Twilight's heart felt like a lump of solid lead each time her mind wandered back to Fluttershy. Though she had never left her side, Fluttershy remained just as silent as she had when she first awoke. Even when spoken to, Fluttershy would just turn her eyes towards the floor with the same saddened frown and not reply.

Not like Twilight could blame her. Now that they were in actual light, she was able to see not only the obvious bruising around Fluttershy's neck that turned her sunny yellow coat an uncomfortable dark blue-green. She had also managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of a bald patch in Fluttershy's mane. It was subtle, so she probably would have missed it in any other circumstance, but she couldn't ignore it now that she knew.

Oh Fluttershy, what happened to you in there? I thought it may have just been my mind playing tricks on me, but is there actually something lurking in those shadows? Twilight silently asked herself. The thought of such a sweet pony getting put through who knows what to end up in such a condition forced her to fight back tears. She could feel herself reaching her limit.

Hopefully they would finally be able to get some answers now that they were at the castle, find a book on whatever could be causing all of these events and drive it away before any more of her friends could have any experiences like those. She had left most of her other friends behind and even if they refused to come with her on their own accord, it didn't keep that regret from weighing on her.

“Here is where you three will be staying. I will alert the princesses of your arrival, Miss Sparkle,” stated the guard in a professional tone that spoke well of his training.

Twilight let the door get opened for her to reveal the usual guest bedroom for visitors. Despite all of the comforts that waited for her inside, she hesitated to step inside and take the offer. She had seen so many townsponies huddled inside the ballroom and other similar public spaces living like refugees, but instead she was being asked to stay in one of the guest rooms like nothing was wrong. Though she understood the reasons for keeping the mass public out of the spaces close to the princesses and other officials, especially when somepony were likely to panic and do something they wouldn't mean to, it still didn't sit right with her.

As the guard trotted away, Twilight could only sigh and accept it. The room was at least closer to the royal archives and a private room would make finding the quiet to do her research easier. She still couldn't shake all of those other ponies out of her mind despite that.

Spike had moved on ahead into the room the moment the door was open, but Fluttershy had instead continued to stick right up against her. Twilight wanted to know what was going on in her friend's head, but she knew any questions asked would just be met with the same silence. Instead, she simply cantered inside and only then did Fluttershy as well. It was like she had a yellow-colored shadow to replace the actual one all of the castle lights refused to let her have.

Using her magic to simultaneously remove both her and Fluttershy's bags from her back and close the double doors behind her, Twilight let out a heavy, tired sigh. She hadn't slept for more than a couple hours at a time in the past four days and only had a single slice of apple to eat since boarding the train in Ponyville. What sounded the best to her in that moment was climbing onto the awaiting bed and sleeping for half a day, but maybe just until the princesses were able to see her would suffice.

She knew heading right for the archives would be the best chance she had, but would she truly be able to focus with so much weighing on her? The longer she idled in the safety of the room, the more and more she felt all of the stress her body had been under ever since that fateful night. Especially the throbbing in her deeply bruised shoulder that her brain finally registered once more.

“I'm going to take a nap,” Twilight declared while letting her head hang low. She had been trying to keep rigid and confident for the sake of both Spike and Fluttershy, but her resolve was finally cracking and she no longer held the strength to keep her mask on. “I'm just, not in the right space to meet with Princess Celestia or Princess Luna right now. They deserve something closer to my best.”

No response came back from her words. Spike was already fast sleep again on a spare pillow in the corner of the room after getting woken up and rushed through the city a second time while Fluttershy continued to stare at the marble floor.

Twilight sighed and prepared the bed, noticing a sleeping mask provided on both pillows. As she picked the nearest one up in her magic, images of Rarity came into her mind for a brief moment. Maybe she was on to something this whole time.

The bed felt like what she imagined laying on a fresh cloud must be like for a pegasus. Though she had spent many nights in one of the rooms in the castle, it felt even softer than usual. She glanced over to Fluttershy one more time who had taken to simply standing awkwardly in the middle of the room.

“You can lay down if you want to, Fluttershy,” Twilight offered.

When the predictable silence came, she let a frown came to her face. She pulled the sleeping mask over her eyes and lay her head on the pillow, making sure to leave half of the bed open, just in case.

Twilight pulled the blanket up over her shoulders and let her body fall into as close to complete relaxation as it could manage. The mask over her eyes finally gave her something she had been hoping for: darkness that didn't feel like it was out to get her. She would need to remind herself to take one home when heading back to Ponyville.

Just before she fell all the way under sleep's spell, Twilight felt the bed shift slightly. A warm coat of soft fur gently pressed against her back and without a word, she turned herself over to hold Fluttershy in a gentle hug. She wasn't used to sharing a bed, but when that muzzle of her friend tucked up against her neck for the second time that night, she felt herself able to settle in that much more.

* * *

A knocking on the door made Twilight's ears twitch in attention. She didn't fully wake until another round came followed by the sound of the door creaking open. Rather than immediately sit up and disturb Fluttershy who was still clinging to her, she merely used a hint of her magic to nudge the sleeping mask off her eyes.

The same guard from before held his head just inside the room. “The princesses are able to see you now, Miss Sparkle.”

It took longer than Twilight would have liked for her mind to catch up with her, but she did eventually remember that she was in the castle waiting for a meeting. She glanced at a clock hung from the wall near the door. They had all been asleep for six hours. Well, she had been, Spike and Fluttershy were still sleeping peacefully.

“I'll be out in a few minutes. Thank you very much,” replied Twilight, glad that her words got the guard to close the door again.

She inched her way out of Fluttershy's grip as gently as she could and let out a sigh of relief when she hadn't woken her up. Fluttershy didn't need the stress of meeting with the princesses to weigh her down.

Twilight approached the room's vanity and took a brush in her magic to make herself presentable. As presentable as she could make herself with those bags under her eyes and a shoulder that looked nearly black from how dark her bruise had gotten. Maybe she should get that looked at to make sure she hadn't hurt herself more than she thought. That would be for later, though. What she needed right now was answers, and hopefully the princesses might know something about what could cause such a magical darkness.

Once ready, she trotted for the door but paused. She took a detour to the room's desk to make use of the provided pen and parchment. In case you wake up before I get back, I'm speaking to the princesses. I will be back as soon as I can.

Twilight gave a confident nod and returned to the doorway. She couldn't help but give a glance to Fluttershy before slipping out into the hallway to meet with the guard whose name she didn't know. Neither of them spoke and she simply followed along behind him after giving a nod.

Now that she was more alert, Twilight was able to take in more detail than the last time she had seen the halls. Not only were they kept as bright as possible, it almost appeared as if the marble that made up the walls and floor were kept as spotless as possible to reflect even more of the light. As little extra as that would actually provide.

Are they actually that concerned about it? Twilight thought to herself. She didn't know if she should feel relieved or concerned about that possibility.

Even though her guide kept them in the back hallways of the castle, she could hear the gathered ponies the closer they came to the first floor. Half of Canterlot must have been crammed into those converted rooms and it got her to start wondering about Ponyville again. Last she saw of it, most ponies there were trying their best to keep living as they always had. The ones who didn't outright leave that is.

Would they be all clustered into the town hall or Sweet Apple Acres when she, Spike and Fluttershy finally returned? That would make reconnecting with her friends a whole lot easier. Maybe she could actually convince them to help if she came home with some clue about how to fix everything.

As the oversized doors to the throne room were opened by the two unicorn guards standing on either side, a wall of sound crashed into Twilight at an almost deafening pitch. Inside, the usual peaceful nature of the wide open room had been replaced by organized chaos. Ponies from all sections of the government were gathered in all corners going through books and papers in what Twilight could only imagine was an effort to keep the country running during such unexpected events.

In the middle of it all sat Princess Celestia and Princess Luna on their thrones above all the others. They both looked just as stretched thin as all the other officials, but seeing them in such a state was much more worrying. Even in the hardest of times, Princess Celestia managed to keep her grace about her.

“Twilight! I am so glad to see you safe!” Princess Celestia's voice just barely made it to Twilight's ears over all of the other noise.

Twilight didn't waste a second. She rushed towards her teacher as quickly as she could, though nearly stumbled when a sharp pain in her shoulder screamed out to remind her of the injury. Holding her left hoof in the sore joint, she instead continued forward at a slower pace on her three other legs.

Celestia rose from her throne and met Twilight halfway upon seeing her hobble. “Oh my, Twilight, what happened?”

Twilight felt a weight in the pit of her stomach. Celestia and Luna already had so much they had to deal with and the last thing they needed was her piling on even more worry. “It's a long story, but I'm so happy to see you both are okay. When you didn't reply to any of my letters, I was worried something might have happened to you two. Not to mention the lack of sun and moon.”

Princess Celestia led Twilight to the back of the room where she sat back down on her throne to continue sorting through parchments while conversing. “I apologize for the lack of communication. You know you are always the first I send notice to, but it appears whatever is causing this phenomenon is also able to disrupt the flow of magic. Any letters sent via sending flames are either getting stuck or consumed once they leave the light.”

The news made Twilight pause. That wasn't a variable she had considered, but once she had, she could feel something slip into place. “If whatever is causing this is eating magic, then -”

“Yes, it is able to block even our connection to the sun and moon,” Celestia answered without needing to hear the actual question.

“Whatever is behind this must be extremely powerful to be able to hold your magic back like this.” Twilight felt her hope start to waver, but she wanted to keep her confidence that something could eventually pierce through what was starting to feel more and more like a solid sheet.

“We are under the suspicion that this is being caused by a sentient being of some sort, however. Rather than a simple magical phenomenon,” stated Princess Luna once she finished reading over the parchment held in her magic grasp.

The words sent a chill down Twilight's spine, much like the one she felt any time she had to spend any amount of time outside. The fleeting image of something above Fluttershy when she managed to break the door down. Could there be a chance that wasn't just her seeing things?

“It is only that for now, a suspicion. There haven't been any reports of ponies seeing something to that effect, but many of the ponies we are doing our best to house here in the castle all have reported the destruction of their lamps or other sources of light,” Princess Celestia clarified.

Luna pulled another parchment up to read. “The only remaining issue is there does not appear to be any known being capable of performing such magic. At least, without us being able to detect its source.”

“Then, maybe I can help you search for information,” stated Twilight without a moment's thought. “Part of the reason I came here to Canterlot, aside from making sure you two were alright, was to visit the archives in hopes of finding some answers.”

Princess Celestia looked up from a parchment she had just finished signing. “We have a couple ponies assigned to look through any texts that might appear relevant, but I don't see any harm in letting you assist them in their efforts. They would probably welcome it.”

Twilight lowered her head in a deep bow. “Thank you, Princess! I will make sure I don't miss a single word on a single page!”

Finally, something she could feel some sense of eagerness towards. If she could find even the tiniest lead to help push finding an actual answer, it would be more than enough for her to feel accomplished.

Twilight looked up at the princesses with the first genuine smile she had been able to put on her face in some time, even if it was hardly noticeable as one. “I won't let you down. Though, I should be getting back to my room and let you do your work. I don't want to leave Spike and Fluttershy alone for too long. They might start to worry.”

Princess Celestia could only give a faint smile in response before one of the many officials in the room stole her attention away. Twilight could tell it was forced, but she didn't mention it. Instead, she gave another bow of her head before trotting for those big double doors, at a pace her shoulder could actually handle that time.

* * *

Twilight sighed as she closed yet another book that held no useful information. Now she knew why the librarians looked exhausted when she arrived with Fluttershy and Spike in tow. There were more books than a single pony could probably read in their lifetime in the archives and so few were likely to be of help.

Between putting the previous book away and taking a new one off her stack, Twilight let her eyes wander over to her companions. Spike was currently busy looking through a book of his own, but Fluttershy simply sat with her eyes turned down towards the table, just as she had when she first sat down.

“Fluttershy,” said Twilight in a gentle voice, getting a hint of relief when the sound of her name got Fluttershy to slowly look up towards her. “The searching through all of these books can wait a little bit. Can you please tell me what happened in my parents' house last night?”

The question made Fluttershy flinch. At least it got a reaction out of her that time, even if it still wasn't an answer. She turned her head and hid her face from view behind her mane, which made Twilight sigh sadly.

“It's okay, you don't need to tell me if you're not ready for it. I'll quit asking,” Twilight relented, opening the new book placed on the table in front of her. “Just please understand that I want to be here for you, to help you through all of this. As a friend, as somepony who cares about you.”

Twilight's words didn't get Fluttershy to look back at her, but a shift in an ear towards her was enough to show that she was at least being listened to. She turned her eyes down to her latest book and blinked. Malicious Mythical Monsters. It was a copy of that book she had only been able to read the first entry of back in Ponyville before everything got upended.

I doubt a book specifically labeled as fake stories will be of any help. But maybe reading an entry or two would be a good way to take a break between searching actual books. Twilight thought to herself as she opened up the cover.

She skimmed through the table of contents for anything that might catch her eye. “Banshee, Pontianak, Dybbuk, Nuckelavee?”

“Rainbow Dash?”

Fluttershy's voice caused Twilight to snap her head up from the book. It even grabbed Spike's attention, though he was probably looking for any excuse to stop looking through all of the books.

Fluttershy had turned to look over Twilight's shoulder and into a shaded portion of the room. One of the librarians had turned off the lights in the room when she left out of habit the other day and somehow they weren't able to get everything entirely lit up again no matter how many lamps they brought in.

“No, I don't want to go with you!” Fluttershy suddenly yelled at the corner. What counted as yelling for her. “You're not my friend any more after what you did!”

“Fluttershy? Who are you...” Twilight let her words trail off into silence when something about that moment struck a familiar chord.

“Doesn't this seem a little familiar?” asked Spike who was now standing on the table.

Twilight nodded. She reached a hoof out across the table to gently place it on Fluttershy's. “Fluttershy, there's nopony there. I'm not sure what you're hearing, but I can't hear it. Remember when we first got to my parents' house?”

Fluttershy jumped, but luckily turned her attention back to Twilight instead. She once again looked down with an expression of mild shame. “She won't stop following me.”

Twilight blinked. “Who won't stop following you?”

“Rainbow Dash. She came by the window last night when I was in your room. She said she wanted to make sure we were okay and she felt bad for not coming with us,” answered Fluttershy in a tone so quiet, Twilight had to strain her ears just to understand her. “She told me to turn the light off, but when I said I was scared to, she got angry and broke it instead.”

Twilight sat in silence to process what she had just been told. “Rainbow Dash flew all the way here to Canterlot, by herself, just to apologize? That doesn't make any sense. Does she even know where my parents live?”

Fluttershy shrank down further into her seat. “It sounded like her, and I couldn't really see her because of how dark it is outside, but it might have looked like her before she broke the lamp.”

“And now you're saying she's been following you since – wait, are you saying that she's the one who did that to you?”

Fluttershy gave a meek nod of her head to answer.

“Why would she do that to you?” asked Twilight, trying to make some sense out of the distressing puzzle placed in front of her.

“You don't believe me,” Fluttershy stated softly as if it was a fact. “That's why I didn't want to say anything.”

Twilight shook her head. “I'm not saying that. Clearly something happened to you and I wouldn't dismiss that. I'm just trying to wrap my head around it.”

Fluttershy fell silent once again, forcing a heavy sigh out of Twilight and making her continue. “I think I'm starting to believe Princess Celestia's fears that there's something evil lurking outside of the light. It's just a work in progress theory, but what happened to you might not have been caused by the real Rainbow Dash. That just doesn't sound like something she would do.”

Fluttershy's eyes slowly turned up to look at Twilight again. “I'm sorry.”

Twilight rose from her seat and cantered around the table. She may not have been an expert at comforting ponies, but she had learned one thing: Fluttershy seemed to like hugs when she needed reassurance. As she wrapped her forelegs around Fluttershy, she felt the same being done to her. “It's okay. We'll find out who or what did that to you, and I will not let it happen again.”

As time ticked by, Twilight still couldn't find anything that felt even the tiniest bit helpful in her reading. Even with Fluttershy now taking some books as well, it felt like they were going to be there for a while. She set her latest book in the 'reject' stack before going for the next.

She paused as her eyes passed over the copy of Malicious Mythical Monsters. After her conversation with Fluttershy, she had gotten distracted from it. She pulled it closer to herself with curiosity about that one entry that had caught her eye and opened it back up to the table of contents to remember the proper page.

“So this is where you've been, darling! I've been searching all over for you and you've been here in Canterlot reading.”

Twilight paused and looked up from the book. A slow scan of the room didn't reveal anypony new; it was still just herself, Fluttershy, Spike and the two librarians. Taking a deep, calming breath, she didn't respond to what she had just heard and instead looked down to start flipping through the book.

“Come now, Twilight. It's inconsiderate to ignore somepony when she's speaking to you. I haven't seen you since this whole mess began and I've been worried sick!”

Twilight closed her eyes to try regaining her focus. Though she could easily recognize Rarity's voice, she didn't want to give in to the tugging she was feeling at her heart. With another breath, she opened her eyes and stared down at the page in her book.

“Darling, that book can wait just a little bit longer. We have so much catching up to do!”

Twilight had to squeeze her eyes closed tight. Even if she knew where the voice truly was coming from, it didn't make the feeling of ignoring the voice of a friend calling out to her any easier to bear. The others clearly weren't hearing her, so why did it feel so hard?


Twilight jumped and opened her eyes. From across the table from her Fluttershy and Spike both stared at her with concern. She could only give a nervous frown back at them.

“Is something wrong?” asked Fluttershy with a nervous shake in her voice.

Spike rose to his feet and stepped closer atop the table. “You're not hearing somepony again, are you?”

Twilight deflated. “I am. This time it sounds like Rarity trying to get my attention. I figured trying to ignore it would work, but it just feels like I'm trying to ignore the actual her.”

“What is she saying?” Fluttershy's gaze nervously turned down towards the table. “I hope she doesn't want to hurt you, too.”

“Oh, how uncouth, saying I'm not real!” scoffed the voice of Rarity echoing through Twilight's head. “Maybe I should show you just how real I truly arm, darling.”

Twilight sighed and turned her eyes back to the book sitting in front of her. “I'm not so sure on that one. But I just need to ignore it and it'll go away soon enough. Hopefully.”

“I'm surprised at you, Twilight! I never once thought you had the capacity to be so rude!”

All eyes turned up toward the lamp hanging from the ceiling above their table as it started to sway. Without warning, the whole thing came crashing down, the chain and wire holding it up snapping as if somepony had been pulling on it with all their might.

The deafening sound of thick glass shattering rang out through the room, and even as she dove out of her chair, Twilight could feel a few shards leave a few small cuts along the left side of her body. Bits and pieces embedded themselves into books and even the wood of the shelves and chairs like little pieces of shrapnel from an explosion.

The light around the table began to recede as if the other lamps in the room were losing strength without the help of their comrade. As the small area grew darker, Twilight could feel that tangible weight steadily creep over her.

“This way!” Twilight called to her friends without taking a moment to think. She couldn't afford to after that.

To her relief, both Spike and Fluttershy returned to the light soon after her. Both had received some small cuts from the glass, but seemed to be unharmed otherwise.

“Oh do come back, I merely wish to speak with you, darling!”

The rattling of chain caught Twilight's ears and she used her magic to scoop Spike up onto her back. Without a word, she galloped away from the tables as fast she could. To her relief, a glance to the side allowed her to see Fluttershy rushing along after her without needing to be told to.

Lamp after lamp crashed down to the tables behind them, darkening the room more and more with each one. She had to keep moving, even with Rarity's voice screaming at her from inside her head. Despite the deafening ringing in her ears caused by the constant destruction of glass, she could still hear her perfectly.

“Don't run from me, darling! Things will be so much better if you come with me! You must come! It's for your own good!”

The words pierced Twilight like an arrow, but she didn't allow herself to slow down. She nearly slipped on the smooth marble flooring during a turn around one of the many bookshelves between her and the exit, but managed to keep upright. A quick flare of her magic ensured Spike would stay on her back after the near fall.

To her relief, the librarians had already fled by the time she reached the front desk. Though, she found herself hoping that there weren't any other ponies caught up in the maze of shelves.

Without pause, Twilight dove through the open doorway and back out into the overbearingly bright halls of the castle. Fluttershy came out soon after, just as the final lamp inside the room came crashing down behind her. She had to catch her friend to keep her from sliding into the wall behind her.

Guards had already assembled in the area due to the commotion, but she had to use her magic to force them away from the entrance. One taller stallion pushed through the rest, a badge worn on his armor signifying his rank above the rest. Twilight recognized his face from her time living in the castle, but she couldn't recall a name.

“And just what in Equestria is all this?” asked the guard in an angered tone.

Twilight remained silent to catch her breath. She knew the archives are large, but nothing helps you get a sense of scale until you have to run for your life. At least, what felt like it.

“You probably wouldn't believe us if we told you,” Spike answered for the two ponies instead.

“Lower the bars to ensure nopony enters in there until we are able to launch a full-scale investigation! The rest of you, send a report to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna!” ordered the lieutenant.

Most of the guards hurried away while two remained to pull the security bars down over the archive's empty doorway with their magic. A heavy metallic thud rang through the halls, though the cage now between her and the wall of blackness didn't seem to help Twilight feel any more secure.

“And as for you, Miss Sparkle, I would like to see you and your friends for a complete statement of what happened in there. After you get that taken care of. I'll notify the castle's medical staff.”

Twilight blinked and watched the lieutenant trot off, flanked by the two remaining guards. She could feel something warm steadily running down her flank now that the danger had passed and her heart no longer felt like bursting out of her chest. A shard of glass roughly the size of her horn remained embedded right in the center of her left cutie mark. Once the injury registered with her brain, a burning pain settled into the area.

“Oh dear me, that looks awfully serious. It could have been avoided if you had merely listened to me, darling,” stated Rarity's voice in a matter of fact manner.

The voice Twilight heard this time sounded different than the one she had screaming at her minutes before. It still sounded like Rarity, but it almost felt like she was trying to speak through radio static or a heavy rain. A sound came along with every word she said, distorting it just enough to make her harder to understand.

Fluttershy flinched in Twilight's grasp and Spike's head turned towards the barred doorway. Could they actually hear her that time?

Twilight turned to focus her attention on the darkened archives and standing out as a stark contrast to the pitch around them shone a pair of small white spots of light. Soon after they were seen, the lights shrunk and disappeared, like a pair of eyes closing.

“I hope to see you darlings again soon. Maybe next time, you'll be a little more polite.”

Twilight did her best to ignore the words and instead leaned her sore and tired body against the wall. She resigned herself to waiting for a nurse to arrive, not wanting to walk and definitely not wanting to force Fluttershy to carry her.

“So, what do we do now?” asked Spike with a worry clear in his voice despite his efforts to keep a brave face.

Twilight took in a deep breath. “We need to head back to Ponyville.”

“Ponyville? It was so scary just to get here. I don't want to go outside again,” replied Fluttershy who began to shake at the mere thought.

“I know, but whatever that was clearly doesn't want me to read that book. Our one answer might be in there and the only other copy I know of is sitting on my desk at home.”

As Twilight closed her eyes to wait as patiently as she could with the burning in her left flank only getting worse, she repeated the same word over and over in her head. The name she had read in that book right before the impostors began to speak up.