• Published 8th Sep 2012
  • 2,990 Views, 343 Comments

Starlit Knights - BlackRoseRaven

Darkness has come to Equestria, and the world is threatened with destruction. Can Luna stop it?

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What A Tangled Web We Weave

Chapter Four: What A Tangled Web We Weave

Spike walked quietly alongside Luna and Scrivener Blooms as they headed towards town hall, the dragon rubbing at his chest awkwardly before he said embarrassedly: “Listen, I… I’m really sorry I didn’t do more to help out before, against those minotaurs. I stood back, staring, while you guys did all the work… while everyone got hurt. And I’m sorry.”

“Oh, stop apologizing, little one, thou art but a young dragon yet. ‘Tis no failing on thy part that thou wert unable to stand up to behemoths many times thy strength and experience.” Luna said quietly, glancing over at him with a bit of a smile as Spike looked lamely towards them. “And thou shall have time yet to prove thy mettle. Thou art to be a Starlit Knight with us, art thou not?”

“You sure that I’m really going to be a knight, not just around to… you know, send letters and be an assistant to Twilight?” Spike asked nervously, and Luna laughed and shook her head as Scrivener smiled slightly over his shoulder, making the dragon blush a little. “Well, come on! I mean… Scrivy, you must know what this is like for me, going from… writer guy to warrior guy like you have.”

“I’m still a writer guy first and a warrior guy second, Spike, my emblem hasn’t changed from a quill to a sword or anything.” Scrivener smiled slightly, glancing back at his own flank for a moment before he added softly: “But yeah. I can appreciate how difficult it is. We all can, in one way or another… Luna’s just… trying to be encouraging. She’s just not very good at it.”

“Oh, shush, thy tongue is good for nothing but telling lies.” She paused, then grinned widely at him and began to open her mouth, but Scrivy cleared his throat and gestured with his head towards Spike as the dragon looked thoughtfully up at the sky, and Luna muttered under her breath before she glanced ahead towards the pillars of city hall, adding in a grumble: “I suppose we have arrived at our destination in any event. Now tell me again, Spike, why art thou here?”

“She means she wants to thank you for coming with us, but you don’t have to come inside if you don’t want to.” Scrivener said mildly, and then he wheezed when Luna smacked him firmly with a hoof as they paused outside the steps leading up to the building. Spike snorted in amusement at this as Scrivy rubbed at his side, glaring at her as she pouted in return. “You’re just mean sometimes.”

She grunted, likely in agreement, and then Spike held up a hand and added cheerfully: “Actually, since I’m Twilight’s number one assistant and all, they made me an honorary scribe for Ponyville, just like you were at Canterlot, Scrivy! So I get access to all the law records and everything… I figured that while you were talking to the mayor, I could dig up any of the documents relating to whatever Sol Seraph is doing… you know, deals, money trails, properties they’ve bought or… stuff like that.”

Luna nodded thoughtfully at this, and then she started up the steps towards the double doors leading into city hall, saying easily over her shoulder. “’Tis not a bad idea, in reality… go ahead, young Spike, I approve of this course of action. And Scrivener Blooms, hurry onwards, I require the aid of thy dry, calm, monotonous personality.”

“Thank you, Luna, dear, I’ll be right up.” Scrivy grumbled, climbing the steps towards her as Spike snorted in amusement, hurrying after the pony as he sighed a little as Luna kicked the door open and almost knocked down a pony on the other side. “Do try and exercise maybe a smidge of caution, though, huh?”

“And I see not where the fun is in such a thing.” Luna retorted imperiously, tilting her head confidently upwards as she strode into the building, and Scrivener let the harried-looking pony pass before entering with Spike afterwards, as Luna peered moodily back and forth and muttered: “I dislike places such as this, Scrivener Blooms. ‘Tis stuffy. Like Canterlot. Like Celestia.”

“Uh… well, I’m going to go over to the records room, and the mayor’s office is upstairs, even though you guys should probably-” But then the dragon winced, breaking off as Luna turned towards the nearest staircase and strode towards it, a pony security guard only staring dumbly at her and obviously not knowing what to do as she began to stride up the spiraled steps, and Scrivener winced and offered a lame grin as he ran after her, Spike clearing his throat and waving as he called awkwardly: “I’ll… meet you two outside afterwards, okay?”

Luna, meanwhile, had already almost reached the top of the steps, looking moodily back and forth before she frowned a bit as she saw an engraved redwood door blocked by two earth ponies in black uniforms and sunglasses, metal cusps covering their shoulders and round helmets over their heads… and Scrivener grimaced a bit as the winged unicorn approached them.

To their credit, at first the guards placed on either side of the door managed to continue looking serious and professional for almost ten seconds before Luna slowly loomed forwards, and their eyes turned to her as one swallowed thickly. They stared at her as she leaned over them moodily, glaring slowly from one to the other, before she asked darkly: “Do thee know who I am? Are thee aware of who stands before thee?”

Slowly, the two ponies quailed downwards, before one of them hesitantly rose a hoof and said weakly: “We… we were told that… you weren’t going to hurt us?”

“No, no, no, children, I would never kill you.” Luna said almost kindly, and the two ponies leaned up a bit… before Luna grinned widely, her teeth sharp fangs, her eyes glowing white, starlight mane swirling violently in a storm behind her as she shouted gleefully: “But that doesn’t mean I’d never hurt, maim, or torture you!”

And then she threw her head back and laughed as both ponies yelled and shot off in either direction, before looking ridiculously pleased with herself as the glow faded from her eyes and her teeth returned to normal. “Oh, I do so enjoy such games, Scrivy! Come, thou should play it with me more often, ‘tis fun!”

“You’re… fun.” Scrivener said moodily, and Luna huffed before the male stepped forwards and knocked twice on the door, saying clearly: “Pardon me, mayor, but Lady Luna requests a meeting with you, on matters of some urgency.”

There was silence from inside… and Luna and Scrivener exchanged a look before Luna hammered firmly on the door, then closed her eyes and muttered: “Yes, yes… oh, yes. Just like the nobles in the past.”

And with that, Luna flicked her head forwards as her horn glowed, and the lock snapped as the door was sent flying open, revealing the ugly, small office beyond and startling the mayor awake from where she had been passed out on her desk, gasping and flailing wildly. It knocked over the bottle of whisky beside her, spilling amber liquid out over the desk and the mess of papers that cluttered it, and she winced before squeaking as Luna and Scrivener entered, the winged unicorn cracking her neck and saying dryly: “I hope we are not disturbing matters of great importance. For if we are, I fear what thou considers to be ‘serious and important’ business.”

“We… uh… it’s been a long week.” The mayor grinned weakly up at them, fidgeting and clearing her throat as she sat back nervously in her leather chair, eyeing the two apprehensively. She absently played at her puffy green cravat as she leaned back a little, the white collar around her neck splotched with liquor as she gazed at the two with obvious concern in her eyes as Luna’s irises narrowed slowly. “I… I have to say, it’s unusual that… you appear so… openly… Lady Luna…”

“Well, ‘tis strange to see Ponyville under the hoof of oppression, ‘tis all.” Luna paused meditatively, then she flicked her horn to the side, and the bottle of whisky flew off the table even as the mayor grabbed at it with a wince, this floating in front of the winged unicorn as she inspected it meditatively. “My. Thou must have quite a tolerance for such a little pony. Then again, considering the state we found thee in…”

“Like I said, it’s… been a hard week.” Mayor Mare replied finally, and then she sighed a little and slumped a bit, brushing at her soggy papers miserably and mumbling: “This is getting worse by the moment. Ponyville is… infested… with minotaurs and ponies in black uniform from the so-called security company, and that awful Sol Seraph is walking around, ruining my pretty little village… she posted two guards at my door as a ‘safety measure’ but I see you’ve taken care of that for me, at least…”

“Yes, they are still only mortal ponies, and ponies are easily terrified by Nightmare Moon. Or rather, most are… Sol Seraph seems to have intimate knowledge of myself and Scrivener Blooms, and I wish to know if thou hast sold us out to that accursed abomination.” Luna said bluntly, her cyan eyes glowing as she looked across at the mayor, who looked dumbly up at her. “I would suggest the truth. I have not yet beaten anything today and my hooves itch.”

Mayor Mare winced, but then she shook her head vehemently, saying quickly: “No, no, no, you have it all wrong! I understand why you’d think that, Luna, but… she knew from the very start about you. She knew you lived in the Everfree Forest, knew you visited regularly, even knew about how you’d helped out around Ponyville… for all her… nastiness, she’s very, very well connected.”

Luna frowned at this, Scrivener glancing towards the winged unicorn nervously, and she looked back after a moment before nodding slightly and asking quietly: “Did she have any vested interests, mayor? Be they small or large… did she express a desire for anything?”

The mayor, however, only gave an ill laugh at this, shaking her head slowly and muttering: “She wanted to… go hunting in the Everfree Forest, as I recall. And apart from that? She wanted to meet Twilight Sparkle, but… she seemed to have an ulterior motive to wishing to meet our town’s little librarian celebrity.” She halted, then rubbed at her face slowly, adding moodily: “I don’t remember much else of the meeting, just a lot of contracts and duplicates. She kept saying she was giving us a good deal. That we didn’t know how lucky we were.”

Luna and Scrivener looked at each other again, then the mayor sighed a little before smiling weakly and holding up a hoof, asking awkwardly: “Can I have my bottle back now? I’d… like to go back to sleep.”

“There will be time for sleep when thou art dead.” Luna said distastefully, and when the mayor only winced, she sighed and grumbled, flicking her horn to toss the bottle of whisky to the female, who caught it against her body in a tight hug with a wince before the winged unicorn looked at her meditatively. “Thou reminds me greatly of the old days, mayor. Perhaps thou aren’t as power-hungry or wicked as those who rose up after the crown in the past… but thou still art just as useless.”

And with that, Luna turned on her hoof and stormed out, and Scrivener winced, offered a lame grin of apology, then turned and followed quickly as the mayor watched them, then sighed and took a deep drink from her bottle before sprawling out over her desk with a loud thunk.

Luna was already making her way back down the stairs, looking disgusted as Scrivener followed, able to clearly hear her thoughts and sense her emotions before she muttered: “Yes, Scrivy, I am extremely concerned indeed. None of this bodes well for us… and worse still is the fact that this awful creature knew the secrets of our existence before she arrived in Ponyville. I imagine not that Fluttershy would have shared such truths with her, and ‘tis difficult to believe even the most naïve in Ponyville would place any trust or friendship in such a monster. We must investigate this further.”

“We have a lot to think about already.” Scrivener murmured softly, and Luna grimaced and nodded slowly as they made their way to the doors leading out of city hall, the winged unicorn shoving through these and Scrivener following, but both sitting quietly to patiently wait for Spike, as the male sighed a little and glanced nervously over at Luna. “How are we going to organize all this at once?”

“Simple. We do not.” Luna smiled a little after a moment as Scrivy looked towards her curiously, and she lowered her head forwards and said softly: “There is indeed much to be done, Scrivener Blooms, and much to worry for in the future. But we shall trust in our allies… particularly in Twilight Sparkle’s skills of scheduling and organization… and permit them to aid us in this endeavor as much as possible.

“Nay, what we must focus on at this juncture is one thing, and one thing alone: Sol Seraph. She is the immediate threat, and the immediate problem.” Luna said musingly, and then she looked thoughtfully towards Scrivener Blooms, adding quietly: “The mayor will obviously be of no help to us. She is terrified, and I do not blame her. This does not mean, however, we are giving up… we need merely find the flaw in Sol Seraph’s armor. If Spike is able to retrieve documents for us, ‘twill give us something we can pull back and study. We must not act with haste, much as I wish to rush back up to the mayor’s office and prove I can be as intimidating as Sol Seraph.”

She halted, then looked down meditatively… and after a moment, Scrivy couldn’t help but glance up and ask finally: “Have you ever eaten meat?”

Luna looked up with a grin, but when the male gave her a flat look, she rolled her eyes and muttered: “Oh, thou art such a prude. But as a matter of fact, I have. In the old days, ‘twas more common, Scrivener Blooms; Equestria was not mainly a land of ponies, ‘twas many different races throughout it. And furthermore, we did not…”

She frowned a bit, then stepped forwards and gazed into Scrivy’s eyes, as she would whenever she found something hard to explain, and the male looked back… and memories filled his mind a moment later, making him flinch a little and his brain give a pulse as it always did when their memories mixed. Memories of loud music halls, and strong warriors, laughing together; of drinking and great celebrations and special occasions; of ponies who trained and domesticated animals that lacked the intelligence and passivity of today’s, that had been bred into them over countless generations of peace and the fact that so long ago in the past now, ponies had begun to establish ultimate rule over nature under Celestia’s guidance.

And he felt some of his own memories passing back to her, Luna smiling a little… then closing her eyes and bowing her head forwards, the two silently nuzzling one-another before she stepped back and murmured softly: “Yes, now thou can see. Often, I wonder what possessed my sister to do this to the world… stealing almost every bit of wild and chaos away from it, controlling nature in so many senses of the word. She very nearly became a symbol of what overwhelming light will do if permitted to spread, unwavering, over the land… her awful righteousness almost burned Equestria, and worse, almost turned the country into nothing but a defenseless prison.

“Still, though, I understand her intentions were noble… and that, perhaps, is what bothers me most of all.” Luna looked silently to the side, out over the streets, as ponies walked quietly by along their own business and clouds rolled slowly through the blue skies overhead. “Sol Seraph also believes her intentions are noble, that she is… somehow a force of ‘good.’ And yet I… am Nightmare Moon, am the darkness, acknowledge that in this world, I must be a force in many ways opposite to Celestia, to provide balance to Equestria. And more and more, I fear what that means I will have to do…”

“You don’t have to do or be anything you don’t want to, Luna.” Scrivy said softly, and he stepped forwards and kissed her cheek gently, making her smile slightly at him before he sat beside her and winked, nudging her gently. “Besides. You’re the one always talking about how Celestia kills or petrifies pretty much everything that gets in her way. If we really have to do the opposite, I guess that means we ‘evil’ people have to be the ones trying to save everyone, huh?”

“Thou art silly.” Luna said kindly, and Scrivy threw his head back and laughed, shaking it slowly before he gazed at her affectionately, and she leaned against him, smiling softly and burying her face against the side of his neck as she murmured softly: “But yes. We are evil, and very misunderstood. We should have t-shirts, and perhaps hats, like that silly fan-club that still follows Rainbow Dash around. I would like that.”

Scrivener gazed warmly down at her at this thought, shaking his head slowly… and then they both looked up as Spike dashed out of the main doors, wincing a little and carrying a large stack of folders as a black-uniformed Pegasus chased after him… then almost tripped over its own hooves, staggering down the steps awkwardly as Spike ran behind Luna and Scrivener and they both fixed the Pegasus with a sour glare.

The pony stared at them from behind its large sunglasses, and then Luna leaned forwards and asked moodily: “Art thou the volunteer for today’s beating?”

“I… I was just going to… apologize to the dragon.” the Pegasus said lamely, shrinking a little, and then he grinned weakly as Spike poked his head out from behind the two and then blew a loud raspberry at him. “Uh. Right. No hard feelings.”

“Wait, knave, I have a question for thee.” Luna leaned forwards, her eyes narrowing slightly, and the Pegasus whimpered a little and lowered itself to the ground, staring up at her like a terrified puppy. “Were thee and thy kind informed of my presence here by thy superior, Sol Seraph?”

The Pegasus nodded rapidly, wheezing a little before he stuttered: “Y-Yes, ma’am! She… she said that you… not to believe the rumors about you, that… that you were working with C-C-Celestia on some secret project but… but…”

“Oh, yes, we all know how much I adore my sister Celestia, ‘twas exactly why I knocked her from the sky.” Luna said drolly, flicking her starlight mane back absently, and the Pegasus whimpered a little before the winged unicorn leaned forwards and said quietly: “Know this, little creature, and tell all thy friends as well. Ponyville is not part of the sunlit kingdom of Celestia. ‘Tis part of my domain, blessed and watched over by the ivory moon. Disturb the peace in this small but important place, and come nightfall, not minotaurs, not dragons, not Sol Seraph will save thee from my wrath, am I understood?”

“Ma’am!” the Pegasus squeaked, and then Luna growled at him, and the male turned and skittered quickly away with a yelp, half-tripping all over his own hooves as he stumbled up the steps and through the doors into the safety of the building.

Luna rolled her eyes as she leaned back, and Spike let out a sigh of relief, saying awkwardly: “You know, this might sound funny… but I’m kind of really glad that everyone thinks you and Scrivy are evil and all that. Everyone seems to know that Twilight won’t hurt them unless she’s really mad but you guys can just glare at people and they back right off.”

“Well, Luna can. People are less nervous around me. Usually.” Scrivy said mildly, smiling slightly over at the female, and she sniffed disdainfully before turning down the road and striding towards the library, Scrivener falling into step behind her and the dragon walking quickly after them, hugging the stack of files against his lithe chest. “So what did you find, Spike?”

“Oh! Uh… transaction records, contract copies, lots of stuff. Sol Seraph apparently works for… Helios Mutual Holdings, which is based mostly out of Hoofston… really weird they’d come all the way up here, even weirder because…” Spike grumbled a bit, then he shuffled quickly through the files, Scrivener smiling despite himself at the familiarity the dragon showed with the task. “Here it is. Yeah, she’s offering a lot of security services for minimum payment… minimum future payment, at that. And, weirder yet, she purchased some old property on the outskirts of Ponyville, too.”

Luna looked curiously over her shoulder at this, and Scrivener glanced up at her, saying quietly: “It’s weird because she should have been able to requisition it from the mayor. You know, like soldiers took over property in your old days, Luna. But to flat-out buy it… means she probably wants privacy, and she wanted to bypass all the paperwork. What are we talking about?”

“Uh… near Sweet Apple Acres, the abandoned farmhouse across the road.” Spike said after a moment of flipping through files, and then he nodded a little and muttered: “I may still be a kid in dragon years but even I know this is some pretty damn weird stuff. Hopefully Twilight can tell us more… I might be picking up more of this stuff but she’s the one with all the real smarts.”

Scrivener grunted, and Luna snorted in amusement, looking ahead towards the library and saying amusedly: “Jealousy, ‘tis a color that actually suits thee, Scrivy. Thou art always so cute when thou gets jealous of Twilight Sparkle, whatever the reason.”

“Oh, shut up, Luna. Horses of Heaven, I swear sometimes the real reason you married me is because you thrive off anything that makes me the slightest bit miserable.” Scrivener said dryly, and Luna shrugged agreeably as Spike snorted in amusement… and then Luna suddenly halted, and Scrivener frowned and looked up, following her gaze as Spike almost walked into them, wincing and clutching at the files as he staggered quickly to the side.

The three gazed towards two minotaurs that were striding through the streets, ponies looking worriedly at these giants in their black and red kilts… and the heavy weapons they both carried, one with a thick, ugly-looking sword with a handle of bone in a rough rawhide sheath over its back, the other carrying a massive, dangerous-looking war-hammer made from black steel. They stormed moodily through town, likely on the pretense of some patrol… but a moment later, Scrivy realized it wasn’t anger or even irritation that radiated from Luna despite her sharp gaze… it was pity.

His eyes travelled upwards, and he realized why: one of the minotaurs had its tall horns sawed off near the base of the skull, and without having to ask, Luna explained quietly: “’Tis a mark of shame, or at least ‘twas in the past, and by the way the creature carries itself and hangs its head so bitterly, I think that such a tradition has not changed.”

She stopped for a moment, then shook her head, muttering: “I dislike this, Scrivy. I dislike when I am faced with an enemy I cannot outright hate, but must instead pity. I doubt not we will become embattled with these creatures again… but I would much prefer to cut off this serpent’s poisonous head than blindly crush its helpless coils.”

She stomped a few times against the ground, then continued forwards, shaking her head grimly as Spike grimaced and Scrivener nodded slowly, the dragon saying quietly: “I know that I still don’t always get all the terms everyone throws around, that some things… you have to experience to understand, but I am… I kind of see why no one wants to really make a move against Sol yet. Not just because she’s scary, but… this HMH company, it seems like it’s really rising in popularity right now thanks to what’s going on in Equestria, and Sol Seraph seems to have written up most of these papers herself. I’m guessing that actually going after her…”

“Aye. Even if she gives us reason to, it may still hurt Ponyville, it may still cause backlash. And what worries me more is her knowledge, of myself and my presence here.” Luna said quietly, shaking her head slowly with a slight grimace. “We must tread warily.”

Spike nodded, and then Luna sighed as they headed towards the library, flicking her horn to the side to send the door open… and smiling a little as they walked inside and found Twilight quietly studying at a desk, the unicorn glancing up with a small smile as she said quietly: “Fluttershy is taking a nap right now… but I sent a letter to Applejack, and apparently she’ll be glad to take those minotaurs you mentioned earlier onto the farm. Rainbow Dash isn’t too thrilled about it but honestly? I think that just makes AJ all the happier.”

“I enjoy their relationship. ‘Tis reminiscent of mine own.” Luna said comfortably, and Scrivy rolled his eyes as the door closed behind him before Spike approached Twilight with the files, dropping them on her desk with a wheeze. Immediately, the unicorn frowned a bit, and Luna said in a more serious voice: “The creature’s paper trail. Young Spike had the idea to trace its path this way, but we could use thy aid with deciphering the meanings here… and I have also a favor to ask thou, Twilight Sparkle, if you will allow me.”

Twilight only smiled softly, however, bowing her head forwards quietly… and it made the crescent stud in her ear glint, Luna immediately softening before the unicorn said quietly: “You know I want to help any way I can. In fact, I’d be insulted if you didn’t ask more from me… considering what you and Scrivener have done for Ponyville. For me.”

She stopped and blushed a little, then glared at Spike when he made a gagging sound before the dragon yelped when a rolled up piece of parchment smacked him, dashing away from her as Twilight said sourly: “Go put on some tea, Spike. Then come back here, I’ll need both you and Scrivy to help me sort through these papers… but what else did you want me to do, Luna?”

“The events at hoof are what will require my attentions most, Twilight Sparkle, but we must also prepare for the road ahead. I require thy services to organize the Starlit Knights and help prepare Ponyville’s defenses when thou can find the time. I may not be able to train them personally, but I can trust in thee… and I will offer what help I can, where I can, but I fear discovering Sol Seraph’s secrets may steal from me much of my time.” Luna paused, then looked over at Scrivener, asking curiously: “Two or three hours?”

“Closer to three.” Scrivy confirmed, and then he smiled awkwardly over at Twilight when she looked at them blankly. “Sorry, we… forget sometimes. It’s how long Luna and I can be apart for before we start to weaken. Luna wants to do some sleuthing, but… it’ll be safer for her if she does it on her own, using her magic.”

Luna nodded, saying quietly: “The distance is not so great that I will weaken faster, anyhow. I will be fast all the same, though… ‘tis not the feelings of weakness that bother me. ‘Tis being apart from thee for so long.”

“Okay, I second Spike’s sound of disgust right about now. Will you two stop that?” Twilight asked grouchily, and Luna and Scrivener exchanged a grin before they both cocked their head at the same time with the same entertained look on their faces, making Twilight wince back and then cover her eyes, waving her other hoof at them. “God, how many times do I have to ask you two not to do that, it’s creepy!”

“Oh, thou art just jealous thou canst not do it with us.” Luna scoffed, then she shook her head and smiled slightly over at Scrivener, saying quietly: “I shall return shortly, daydreamer.”

With that, Luna kissed his cheek quickly, then turned and headed back outside, closing the door behind her… and pausing for a moment, taking a slow breath as she stood beneath the sun, alone. The library was to her back, Scrivener Blooms still only a few feet away, and yet already… and she couldn’t help but smile a little, saying quietly: “Stop playing the part of young filly, Luna. Thou art older in years than most can count, even if thou prefers to act younger than thy looks.”

She smiled a little, then strode through the town, shaking her head slowly as she forced herself to focus on her objective. Her eyes roved back and forth as she strode through town, forcing herself to keep to a slow pace, her starlight mane flickering softly as it swayed backwards with her glowing tail as she said quietly: “’Tis different.”

It wasn’t just the fact that now there was a surprising amount of minotaurs loitering throughout the town – many of them armed with dangerous, deadly-looking weapons – or the fact that there were ponies of all shape and size in black, spotless, crestless uniforms. It was something else, something in the air… and Luna paused as she glanced to the side to see not only several black-uniformed Pegasi, but two earth ponies in gray outfits as well, toolkits beside them as they worked on some strange-looking cubical device at the side of the road. Luna frowned a bit at this, then she grinned slightly to herself as she clicked her tongue… and in a flicker, she became almost completely invisible, nothing but an indistinct shape of bent and trembling light.

She silently strode in a wide crescent around the little group, inspecting the device as her eyes narrowed: it had what looked like a camera of some kind, a device Luna at least knew the basics of, built into it, and the workers were installing some kind of power source… but Luna felt a certain maliciousness about this machinery, her warrior instincts telling her this was not all that different from the traps that had guarded the lairs and castles of mages and lords of the past.

“So you’re sure this thing will like… it won’t target us?” asked one of the security soldiers hesitantly, and one of the engineers looked up with a snort and a sour look. “Hey, you guys are only here for like, a few days, we’re supposed to settle in here for as long as Sol Seraph is here, doing her business.”

“What’s up with that, anyway? She seemed real eager to get out here, didn’t she?” asked another one of the soldiers, and when he received baleful glares from the others, he winced back a little and said nervously: “Just… off the record talk, guys, chill…”

“Yeah, well, you ain’t obviously come from prison.” a Pegasus muttered, and he shook his head grouchily. “Sol Seraph says don’t talk none unless you gotta. I ain’t doing nothing to piss her off after what I saw her do to those dwarves.”

This got a round of shudders, and then one of the mechanics looked up and said dryly: “Then you guys do your job, we’ll do ours. When these turrets are operational, they’ll target what they’re programmed to, and leave you guys alone. Unicorns back in Hoofston programmed everything into the ‘brains’ themselves. Our job is pretty much just to plug ‘em in and turn ‘em on. Got thirty of these babies around Ponyville, should do a lot to keep this cruddy little mudhole under control.”

The others nodded, and Luna grimaced darkly before she turned and made her way carefully onwards, shaking her head slowly as she strode towards the gates leading down the road to Sweet Apple Acres and faded gradually back into reality. The guards at the gates looked up as she approached, and Luna couldn’t help but smile amusedly: two from Ponyville’s volunteer infantry by their vests, and a minotaur that was greedily gobbling cookies from a bag. “Strange times make for strange allies… I must say, for such large-headed lugs, thou seems to have made a better impression on the ponies of the town than their own kin.”

The minotaur looked meditatively down at her, and one of the volunteers shrugged, smiling awkwardly as he said finally: “They seem to have a real sweet tooth, Lady Luna. Besides, poor fellas are pretty much slaves to those security jerks.”

“We do not have such sweets where I am from. This is problem. I enjoy these cook-keys very much.” the minotaur stated in a firm, accented voice after a moment, and Luna couldn’t help but smile wryly as he looked down at her thoughtfully. “You are four-hoof that boss-lady warn us about. Is not nice things that are said about you. Is to be considered dangerous.”

“This sounds correct.” Luna said agreeably, nodding after a moment as she looked thoughtfully up at the minotaur. “Tell me, large cousin of us little four-hoofs, why do thee and thy kindred serve Sol Seraph?”

“We do not talk of this. This is bad luck.” the minotaur said brusquely, then he grumbled a bit when he upended the empty paper bag over his muzzle, getting a few last crumbs… before looking down meditatively as a pony offered a cupcake up to him, hesitating for a moment… then tossing the bag away and picking the cupcake up.

For a moment, he inspected it thoughtfully, then carefully peeled the wrapping off the bottom and looking at this. He began to raise it to his mouth, and one of the ponies cleared his throat and shook his head quickly, the minotaur nodding after a moment and instead tossing the wrapper way before he paused and studied the frosted treat.

Then he smiled a little down at Luna, saying quietly: “Is like, as we say in my country, v dome poveshennovo ne govorat o veryovke. Is bad manners, is bad luck. She is volk, four-hoof. Wolf. She first brought rope to our sad mother-country, and now she brings rope to her own.”

And with that, he took a bite out of the cupcake, then smiled at the ponies even as they looked up at the minotaur nervously. “Is good. And is good to find good, even with volk prowling close.”

Luna nodded slowly, then she silently strode forwards, walking through the open gates with a grimace as she murmured quietly to herself: “Then I shall find a way to force this wolf to hang itself, whatever the cost may run.”

The winged unicorn picked up the pace along the dirt road, not letting herself fall into brooding as she looked warily back and forth for any signs of ambush. But although there were signs of heavy travel along the dusty path, the most she saw were a few minotaurs, camped out in a field and looking at her as suspiciously as she gazed at them. There were no visible guards yet, though… but from the security presence already in Ponyville, Luna knew that it wouldn’t be long before things were locked down one way or another.

As she began to near the property that Sol Seraph had apparently eagerly purchased, she flicked her mane and took a long breath… then clenched her eyes shut as her horn glowed brightly for a moment before her body steamed rapidly and then burst apart into semisolid blue mist, which immediately twisted itself upwards, then swirled violently and became almost invisible. The only sign of her passage was a faint sparkling through the air as she twisted forwards, shivering a little at the lack of a physical body, no longer breathing, seeing in wild and alien, too-bright colors in a too-wide view. It was a strange, exotic, and a slightly-awful feeling… the opposite of claustrophobia, like she was in a space too big, too infinite, too wide.

She twisted forwards, an ethereal serpent that lashed through the air, weightless, all but invisible as she shot over the ground and made the grasses beneath her ripple with her passage… and then she sailed upwards into the sky, moving on instinct, not letting her mind think as she gazed down at a farmhouse surrounded by a bustle of activity. In this form, her eyes could see things that normally weren’t so clear to her… the body heat of living creatures, for example, that made them all-but-glow, as well as sparking arcs where magic had been concentrated.

Sol Seraph was fortifying this barn, and several large carriages and transport wagons around it pulsed with magical essence, likely containing enchanted artifacts and other things that gave off such distinct energy. Luna felt distaste coil through her being as she slipped downwards until she was sliding effortlessly through the enormous camp that had been set up around the exterior of the barn, looking back and forth as ponies in black uniforms and grey coveralls worked alongside minotaurs, and then she felt her disgust worsen into something like horror as she curled upwards once she reached the back of the barn.

The fields had been flattened out here, and countless enormous green tents had been set up: it was worse than the occupation of the Pegasus Guards had been, and it seemed like the numbers were far greater as well. And all around the massive camp, fencing was being raised and those magical traps like in Ponyville were being built… and Luna felt grimness ripple through her being before she snapped backwards and twisted around to pass formlessly through the walls of the barn.

The interior was under as much construction as the exterior, however… and even as Luna passed silently through the area, feeling, knowing this was a hub, this was… important, somehow… she knew that Sol Seraph wasn’t here. The Pegasus gave off a tangible malice… something that her augmented senses would have quickly picked up on if the monster in pony’s clothing had been present.

The barn was being completely remodeled, however, the interior in the process of being gutted, what looked almost like a tower of some kind being built literally inside the building, and Luna shook her head, not knowing if she wanted to understand what was going on here. Sol Seraph obviously had long-standing plans… but instead of trying to pursue any further, Luna snapped suddenly, quickly upwards, formless body whipping by several unicorns without them being any the wiser and passing through the cracks in the old, slowly-being-repaired rooftop, shooting up high into the sky before her misty outline became clearer, solidifying into the shape of the winged unicorn as she shot through the air, gazing silently down at the ground below as she breathed slowly in and out through her mouth.

Her body ached a little, as it always did when she formed back from the ether… and she gritted her teeth a bit before dropping herself into a steep dive, disliking the feeling of being so distant and high above the world as she curved away from the barn, then landed easily on the road, skidding to a stop. She grimaced, shaking her head quickly out as her mane and tail snapped back around her, and then she looked up coldly as she heard a loud rumbling, spotting the enormous black carriage in the distance being pulled quickly along by harnessed and chained minotaurs.

They had their heads bowed silently, running forwards, muscles bulging as they dragged the heavy cart behind them… and somehow, Luna knew that Sol Seraph was staring out at her behind the veil of the dark-tinted window as she glared at the carriage as it passed. Every instinct in her body called out to her to simply attack, break open the carriage and then break open Sol Seraph’s skull and make her spill all her secrets, from what she was doing here to how she knew about her… and then she forced herself instead to look forwards, striding silently down the road as the carriage rumbled onwards.

The walk back to the library was a long one, Luna feeling her moodiness increasing as she kept her head low, her eyes closed. Inside, she could feel her instincts and her Nightmare Moon self warring with her knowledge of the need to take this slowly, knowing that one way or another, Sol Seraph had a purpose to serve here, and that simply lunging into the attack could end badly for a multitude of reasons.

Luna muttered under her breath as she made her way through the square in front of the library… then silently dropped to her haunches in front of the door for a moment, looking quietly at the wide tree-building, breathing quietly in and out as she tested her hooves slowly against the ground. She hated feeling like this… not just at war with herself, but knowing that either way, whether she gave in to her darker instincts or followed through with her sense of justice, something awful was going to happen. Like, for all her power, prestige, and skill… she was useless to those she cared about most.

For a few long moments, she only continued to gaze quietly at the door… and then she sighed a little and shook her head slowly before glancing up in surprise as it swung open, and Scrivener Blooms gazed out at her, saying softly: “Now come on, Luna. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Come on inside. Spike kept your tea warm for you.”

She gazed at him for a few moments as he looked back, her cyan irises meeting his chestnut ones… and then a faint smile quirked at her mouth as she said quietly: “Thou art always so meddlesome, poet. And what, perchance, if I feel not like tea?”

“Then I’ll put on some coffee for you, just like you like.” Scrivy replied with a bit of a smile, then he turned with a tilt of his head, saying quietly: “Come on, Luna. Being miserable is my job and you don’t do it half as well as me.”

“Perhaps, but I am far cuter at it than thou art.” Luna replied mildly, and she strode in after him before flicking her head to the side, the door closing behind her as she visibly warmed some in the presence of the other ponies, gazing quietly towards where Twilight was still resting at her desk and Spike was sprawled over the floor with all manner of folder and file around him. “Have thee had any luck in acquiring information we may use against Sol Seraph?”

Twilight only smiled at her softly, however, slipping quietly away from her desk to stride over and gently pat her on the shoulder, saying quietly: “We can deal with that in time, Luna. Come on, why don’t you talk to us about what happened, first.”

Luna only grumbled, however, then she sighed a little as Twilight looked at her insistently, saying moodily: “Very well, Twilight Sparkle, I shall… attempt to relax as I speak to thee of what I discovered myself.”

She pouted a little all the same, even as Twilight glanced to the side and a large pillow floated over, and Luna flopped grumpily down on this as the unicorn returned to her desk despite the sour look the female shot her. Spike, however, was still reading quickly through files, and Luna’s eyes roved to the adolescent dragon for a few moments, asking curiously: “Something of particular note, young Spike?”

“I…” Spike glanced up, then winced at the look Twilight shot him, grinning lamely at her before he said carefully: “Maybe, but… like Twilight said, you should go ahead and tell your side of the story first.”

The winged unicorn huffed a bit, tossing the violet pony a sour look before she nodded slowly and muttered: “Very well, very well, if thou art so insistent. I shall tell thee of what transpired, although ‘tis very little of worthy note.”

As Scrivener came back with a mug of coffee he set gently down in front of her, Luna recounted the turret device she had come across, Scrivy only needing to translate a few words for her for Twilight to understand what she was describing. She then spoke of the minotaur, and her suspicions that they were slaves: how it had happened, she was unable to guess, because there wasn’t anything she would quite put past the terrible, coldhearted Pegasus.

She talked only a little about their encampment, noting that it was vast and near Sweet Apple Acres, on the opposite side of the road, and admitted that she had no idea what they were doing there… but for now, the important thing seemed to get across how many ponies and minotaurs had been there, toiling away at the abandoned farmhouse with that vast camp behind them… and when Luna finished, resting quietly against Scrivener, Twilight shook her head slowly and said quietly: “According to the records we’ve gone through, she’s invested a lot of money into things out here. I don’t know whose pockets it’s all coming out of, whether it’s her own or the company’s… but either way, there’s enough of an investment to show that she’s definitely after something. Something she probably has a personal interest in…

“That worries me a lot. Especially because Fluttershy’s here…” Twilight quieted, gazing up silently towards her room, and then she shook her head a little and continued softly: “I’m worried about how all this could be connected, especially considering her knowledge about you… and the estimates she provided, they’re staggering, but they sound less and less like overestimation and more and more like counted fact when you describe the kind of place she’s set up out there. Why would she bring an army to Ponyville, though? Why set up expensive, dangerous defense turrets inside the town? There has to be a greater agenda at work here.”

“’Tis indeed true, Twilight, but we know all too little about our enemy… and I fear not even Fluttershy would be able to tell us any information that we yet need to know about our opponent.” Luna replied quietly, glancing up now as well in the direction of the pony’s room, and then she smiled faintly, shaking her head slowly. “It pains me to say that we must continue to be patient, but I fear we must. Spike, thou had found something of interest though, did thee not?”

Spike nodded a few times, picking through the papers in front of him before he held up a piece of parchment, reading: “‘A non-refundable down payment of fifty thousand is required before fortifications can commence. This payment has been marked ‘paid in full’ by the co-contributor to Ponyville’s defense proceedings, heretofore known as ‘Party B.’’ And then there’s a signature that I can’t make out on the bottom of the page, where it says ‘co-contributor…’ it looks like… B… something.”

“Let me see that.” Twilight frowned a bit, the parchment glowing quietly as it was pulled through the air to her, and the unicorn studied the signature for a moment before her eyes widened, and she gritted her teeth, shaking her head and muttering: “Bucephalus. It says Bucephalus…”

“But the fool is jailed!” Luna exclaimed, looking up with shock, and then she gritted her teeth and shook her head, muttering: “Oh, how wonderful, the plot thickens all the more. And to make matters even worse, such a turn of events requires us now to contact Celestia and discover how such a transaction could occur. I am now leaning once more towards simply pummeling Sol Seraph and leaving her for a hydra to gobble down in the bog, what say thee to this idea?”

“I’d like to second that, Luna, but you know that we have reasons for not pummeling her quite yet.” Scrivener Blooms pointed out, and the winged unicorn grumbled a little and nodded to herself before she grimaced when the male added quietly: “And well… a legal transaction is a legal transaction. If Bucephalus had the money and could convince someone to meet with him or more likely, a proxy who had access to his accounts…”

“Aye, I see then. ‘Tis disgusting all the same.” Luna muttered, shaking her head slowly before she glanced towards Twilight Sparkle, asking quietly: “What does thou suggest, Twilight? Thou art more knowledgeable of the workings of Ponyville than we are. Is there any way to stopper this beast before she grows even more out of hoof?”

“I’m assuming Mayor Mare wasn’t much help, and past that… I don’t really know. She’s moved incredibly fast, Luna… it’s been half a day since her arrival and she’s already spread security forces throughout Ponyville, established a base of operations, ruined Fluttershy’s life, and now she’s building advanced ‘defense’ systems that I’m scared are going to be programmed to shoot at us, not at invading monsters.”

“Pleasant thoughts.” Luna muttered, nodding slowly and sitting back with a grumpy look on her face. “No wonder the monster is named after Celestia’s legendary pseudonym. We must keep track of this fast-moving plague-beast before it worsens the situation further.”

Twilight nodded slowly, glancing nervously towards Spike before she said quietly: “I’m going to send a letter over to Sweet Apple Acres, and then get in touch with Princess Celestia, then. Then I’ll talk to the other Starlit Knights… hold a meeting here, organize everypony who’s supposed to be helping us out. You two have already done a lot today, believe it or not… why don’t you both go home and rest, take the day off and plan? Besides, Celestia will probably want to get in contact with you both at some point about this, all things considered.”

Luna looked hesitantly at Scrivy, who grimaced a little… and then Twilight smiled faintly, leaning forwards and saying quietly: “If anything happens, you know I’ll let you know. I care about you both very much, and I care about Ponyville. You both look… tired, though. Like you could use a little relaxation… and if something does happen, you’ll need to both be in top form.”

Luna sighed after a moment, then she nodded grouchily and turned towards Scrivy, burying her face against the side of his neck and muttering: “Our wishes-she-was wife is throwing us out of town, Scrivener Blooms. I am deeply hurt, even if I understand.”

“Now, now, Luna, only for today. We’ll come back tomorrow, when things are in better order.” Scrivy smiled a little despite himself as Twilight rolled her eyes and smiled faintly as well, before the male glanced towards the shelves, asking curiously: “Can I borrow your copy of Heuristic Strategy?”

“What? Oh, sure, no problem, Scrivy.” Twilight smiled again as she glanced towards Spike, the dragon brightening and leaping to his feet as he ran quickly over to find it amidst the shelves. “What are you researching?”

“I need some bedtime stories for Luna.” Scrivener replied easily, and then he winced when she headbutted him firmly, making him stumble a bit as she huffed. “Oh, don’t be so touchy, dearest.”

The winged unicorn grumbled a bit as Spike returned with the book and a warm smile on his face, holding it out, and Luna looked up and flicked her horn as it gave a faint pulse of light. A moment later, the book burst apart into blue mist that swirled through the air, then vanished, and the two nodded to Twilight before the violet unicorn said softly: “Take care of yourselves, huh?” She paused, then added in a moodier voice: “And take care of my books too, Scrivy. You’re a writer and everything, you’re supposed to return them in better shape than they usually get back to me.”

“I have never destroyed any of your books. Water, fire, and other damages are not entirely my fault.” Scrivener said flatly, giving Luna a look, but the winged unicorn only glanced innocently away as she pawed a hoof at the floor before turning and heading for the door, Scrivener Blooms shaking his head a bit, then nodding to Spike and Twilight as they both gazed after him. “Take care of yourselves. And… be careful.”

“We will.” Twilight said softly, and Scrivener hesitated only a moment longer before he turned to follow Luna outside, stepping out of the library and beneath the sunshine… and grimacing a little as he saw another group of ponies working studiously at a gray, ugly cube.

Luna, however, only shook her head slowly now, murmuring: “Come, Scrivener Blooms. ‘Tis no more reason to dilly or dally here. Let us instead make our way out of this town… I fear… I fear that we are placed against a foe more dangerous than I wish to believe.”

Scrivener nodded slowly, lowering his head a bit, and he fell into pace beside her with a quiet sigh as they began to make their way back towards the gates leading out of town in silence. Yet it wasn’t until they had actually passed by the nervous volunteers and out onto the road leading back to the Everfree Forest that Scrivy finally glanced up and asked quietly: “Why does she scare you so much, Luna? You scared… well… that scares me more than a lot of things.”

Luna, however, only smiled wryly in return, glancing towards him and saying quietly: “Because, Scrivener Blooms. This foe that we face is not merely one that I can simply go and bludgeon upon the battlefield. She is ruthless, cunning, and we must not underestimate her: she is guided by purpose, and by goals as yet veiled in shadow. All that I know for sure is that it will not be long before she makes her move against us… and we must be ready to deal to counterattack her the very moment she does. And we must not be hasty… she is protected by law and reputation and her security company: to act too quickly will only result in possible backlash upon the very things we wish to protect.

“I fear her.” Luna murmured quietly, and Scrivener looked at her sharply as the winged unicorn shook her head slowly, whispering: “For a mother to be so callous to her child… for a pony to have become a predator… for a monster such as this to exist, and in dark times like these, be looked towards as almost an idol… we have truly lost our path if this is what will be required to save our fair Equestria, Scrivener Blooms.”

“No, Luna, you’re what’s needed to save Equestria. You, and Twilight Sparkle, and the ponies like those in Ponyville.” Scrivener said empathetically, and the winged unicorn gazed across at him softly as they halted in front of the entrance to the forest, their eyes meeting. “Sol Seraph is a parasite, as much a symptom of the disease of darkness across Equestria as… as Veliuona was, as Ignominious was, as the other monsters that have crawled out of the depths and tunnels are. And you’ll stop her. I know you will.”

Luna smiled a little at this, then she looked ahead into the Everfree Forest for a few moments before giving a short nod, saying quietly: “I only hope thou art correct, Scrivener Blooms. For I would rather have her as enemy than ally… and I fear that in the days ahead we shall be forced to taste her as both.”

Scrivener grimaced at this thought… and then he turned slowly and silently followed Luna into the forest as she strode down the path, lowering her head in apprehensive thought as the two walked side-by-side into their wild domain.