• Published 29th Dec 2011
  • 44,137 Views, 2,078 Comments

Night's Favoured Child - Municipal Engines



With her new apprenticeship under Nightmare Moon, Empress of Equestria and Queen of the Eternal Night, the orphan filly Twilight Sparkle plunges head-first into the conspiracies, secrets and intrigues of the Empire.

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Filly at the Festival

Chapter Two:
Filly at the Festival

The pair waited until those who wanted to go to the Eclipse Festival had left to spring their plan. Miss Loch, as she did every year, had elected to stay behind. Twilight could never understand the mare’s problem with the Festival, but she figured that it was just another adult being a stick in the mud. Nevertheless, the building was almost empty with the staff out chaperoning the Festival-goers. It was perfect.

Orion, as it turned out, was remarkably adept at sneaking out of places. It showed in his preparation and execution of what they fondly titled ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’. A recorder had been set to play the sounds of Twilight snoring, the door had been locked and, as an extra precautionary measure, Orion had created some pillow-based effigies of the unicorn under her covers.

Twilight and he then lassoed a rope onto a nearby thick branch of an old oak tree. Making sure it was sturdy, Orion swung across to land on a lower branch. Helping Twilight do the same, they quickly scampered onto the ground. Now firmly entrenched on the soil, they scanned the area. Nopony was around, and the only lights on were coming from the foster home and the epicentre of the city. Orion motioned for Twilight to follow him.

They raced along the darkness-shrouded field that separated the orphanage from the rest of the city. Twilight kept close by Orion, who skulked along the ground as fast and stealthy as a Shadowbolt. She had a hard time keeping up. It the corner of her eye, she saw a mass of blurs and light. Realisation quickly came to her, and she called out to Orion in a frantic half-whisper.

“Orion, there’s some ponies coming this way!”

Orion skidded to a halt. He whipped around and grabbed Twilight. Silent to her still, he darted to the closest bush and motioned her behind it. Twilight saw from behind the leaves and twigs of the bush a light draw near to them. Orion turned around to face it calmly.

“Orion?” a familiar rural voice rang out.

“It’s me, Miss Apple Orchid.”

“Whatcha doin’ out here by yourself?” she asked, raising an eyebrow quizzically. “Alone, in the dark.”

“I’m just taking a mid-evening stroll,” the colt replied, flicking his eyes upwards towards the night sky. “The stars are really vivid tonight.”

“Ah take it you’re not gonna come with us to the Festival?”

“I don’t think so; I don’t really get along well in crowds,” he lied effortlessly. “I’d just like a quiet night alone.”

“Fair enough,” Apple Orchid smiled.

The counsellor then trotted away, bidding Orion a good night and joining her group of foals. As they resumed their previous course, Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. After several more minutes of patient – or, in Twilight’s case, impatient – waiting, the pair of young ponies resumed their own illicit escapade. Crossing the field, they arrived at the hub of city blocks that was Canterlot.

It was not long before the buildings became closer and closer together and larger too. The streets grew narrower as the pair of foals made their way to the square – though, keeping with Canterlot architecture, the roads were still quite spacious. Twilight couldn’t help but become slightly afraid at the hustle and bustle of the city. Despite the Festival occurring, there were plenty of ponies walking about, with carriages trundling up and down the centre of the road. An aloof and prideful noble glanced down at the pair with something like disdain. Bully, said her instincts. Don't draw attention.

The white colt’s own face was mirroring those of the other Canterlotians. However, his was a softer somehow more dignified look of withdrawal. It was a common look on the stoic colt. Orion, ever since he had moved into Twilight’s room, never showed much in the way of feelings, except whenever he became engrossed in a particular train of thought, or entrapped by one of the many pet projects he liked to do. Neither did he divulge much of his past to Twilight. He was a couple of years older than her, which had confused her at first; she'd expected a roommate her own age. Orion never spoke much about his life before the orphanage. From what Twilight had gathered, he came from a small town called Ponyville. All he would say about his family was their tradition of naming foals after star patterns. It sounded like he had lost his parents rather recently, but Twilight didn't press him to talk about it – sometimes she woke in the middle of the night to hear Orion crying quietly on the other side of the room, and that was explanation enough. She had never told him she knew.

Following Orion, Twilight turned the corner of a road and was faced with a sight that made her both excitedly giddy and irritatingly nauseous. Her stomach was full of butterflies intent on smashing their way out of her body, seeming to try and push through her throat. The unicorn forced the feeling of sickness down and focused on the scenery. Pavilions, gazebos, stalls and rides of all kinds stood in the square. A large ferris wheel caught her eyes, her eyes followed the motion of the ride for what seemed like many minutes, until a nudge from Orion set her straight. Shaking her head, Twilight followed the older colt as he started forward. Lights glared at her from all directions and the music was, while individually distinguishable at first, soon swirled into one blaring up-beat noise. A tent covered in stars was proudly displayed in an open space. Around it were slates that projected ghostly silhouetted images of ponies dancing wildly and luridly. While mesmerised by the display, Twilight soon found herself drawn to the constellations on the tent canvas – and how wrong they were. Orion’s Belt has three stars, not four, she bitterly noted. It took all of her willpower to not go over there and tell the owner of the tent how wrong they really were. As Orion continued to walk, she tore her eyes away from the tent. The crowds were even larger than what there was in the streets. It seemed that every unicorn, pegasus, and earth pony in Canterlot packed the square, and even more still poured in from the surrounding settlements.

The air was hot and heavy with the warmth and scents of close-packed bodies under the supernaturally bright moon. She could barely hear herself think over the noise. Music and chatter compacted into a constant buzz. She listened to scraps of conversation and songs as they came and went, lost in the sea of noise. Her concentration was broken by a nudge at her side.

“Stick with me,” Orion said, his soft voice somehow managing to carry through the ambiance of the Festival.

Twilight nodded her affirmation as he continued to lead her through the square. It was not long before Twilight heard her companion murmur something then veer off to the left. With the filly in tow, he stepped up to a small stall stacked with all sorts of treats. Stationed at it was a stallion with a coat that reminded Twilight of burnt oranges. He wore a brown, dusty Stetson hat that his cropped strawberry mane just managed to poke out of. He was gruff and large and Twilight couldn’t help but feel slightly intimidated by him. But her fear quickly evaporated when he gave them both a friendly grin.

“Howdy y’all.” The earth pony had an accent that sounded an awful lot like Miss Orchid’s. “What can ah get fer ya?”

“What do you have?” Orion’s tone was reserved but warm.

“Well, ah’ve got apple fritters, apple tarts, caramel apples, apple crumble,” his grin grew wider. “And o’ course, ah have some of the best darn, freshest, juiciest apples you’ll ever taste. Sweet Apple Acres specials, is what they are.”

The white colt cocked his head to Twilight. “What would you like, Twi?”

Scanning the stall, the filly’s eyes fell on a sticky and inviting treat.

“That caramel apple looks good,” she replied, pointing a hoof at the sweet.

“I think I’ll have that too,” Orion told the vendor.

The vendor retrieved the two caramel-drenched apples and gave them to Orion, who in turn handed over the necessary amount of bits. The orange earth pony beamed at them.

“Have a nice night, both o’ y’all,” he said, waving at them as they walked away. “An’ don’t forget t’ thank yer brother for buying y’all this, little miss!”

Twilight was about to correct the stallion, until Orion yelled back his thanks and gave her one of the apple treats. They stopped walking for a while, concentrating on the task of holding and eating their sweets. Twilight never tasted anything so sickeningly saccharine before, and nor did she eat anything so messy. The unicorn filly grunted in annoyance as the ichor coated her mouth. She tried licking around her mouth, but to no avail. Her growl of irritation was met by a chuckle from Orion.

“Here Twi,” he handed her a handkerchief, which she used diligently.

“What’s next Orion?” the filly asked, handing him back the newly caramel-encrusted cloth.

He looked around for a while before returning his gaze to Twilight. The elder pony broke out into a wide grin.

“Let’s go on some rides.”

Orion picked the first one. He chose the dodgems. Magically charged capsules ramming into one another at the will of their pony masters was, as it turned out, not as fun as Twilight first thought it would be. The little filly struggled to maintain control of her capsule, but she was being thrown around far too often for her liking. Orion, on the other hand, remained stable and let out a rare whimsical laugh whenever he smashed into another capsule and sent the pony lurching. Twilight noticed he would often come to her rescue, crashing into the side of a charging capsule driven by a particularly large and malicious-looking colt.

Staggering out of the ride, Twilight felt the world reeling. Her discombobulated senses barely picked up the mention of her name to her left. Orion walked up to her and held her steady, waiting for a while before repeating himself.

“Twilight, you okay?”

A vigorous shake of her head seemed to have a positive effect on Twilight.

“I’m fine,” she giggled. “Just a little dazed. It was kinda fun though.”

“Yeah, it was pretty rough for you. Sorry about that.”

“It’s fine, Orion. I had fun,” she reiterated.

Her eyes wandered the square, searching for a new opportunity for carnival fun. They fell on the tent she had seen earlier before. A small crowd had gathered around it, shuffling around with trepidation. Vibrant, neon colours crackled in the air as the phantom images of ponies continued their vivacious dance. From this angle, Twilight could now see the words of a sign that had been hung up over the entrance to the tent.

“‘The Wise and Wonderful Willow’?” Twilight read aloud, curiously, before narrowing her eyes to see the smaller text written beneath. “‘Fortune-teller, prophet and diviner of ancient secrets.’”

Orion snorted. “Sounds like a complete fraud if you ask me. Still, it might be entertaining to watch.”

After trotting over to the crowd, they found that it had already dispersed somewhat. This gave them ample room to squeeze their way to the front without stepping on too many hooves. Orion, being larger than most colts his age, drew many more irked glares than Twilight did. The lavender unicorn paid no attention to the reactions of the crowd, however, as her gaze was fixed curiously on a filly who seemed to be doing her best to attract the attention of the crowd.

“Each of you shall be awestruck with awe, for tonight!” the little azure unicorn stood as proud and tall as she could, letting the dramatic pause roll on for perhaps a little too long. “The stars and the ghosts of the world have come together for this sacred event. Witness, if you dare, the dive-nations–”

Twilight heard a hushed voice speak from within the tent. “That’s ‘divinations’, dear.”

“Witness the divinations,” The filly blushed slightly as she corrected herself. “of the Great, the All-knowing, the Mystical, the Magical, the–” There was the sound of the clearing of a throat and the filly blushed again, more pronounced this time. She bit her lip and continued, but much more hurriedly this time. “Presenting the Wise and Wonderful Willow!”

A flash of light blinded the audience for a moment, leaving a unicorn mare standing triumphantly on the wooden-tile stage in its wake. Her coat was a deep, velvety purple and her mane had been curled in an exotic fashion – its locks the same blue of the filly’s coat. The mare was dressed in satin that dripped off her back in stylised ruffles, although there was a parting on one of her flanks that proudly displayed her cutie mark – an azure eye superposed over a white star. Bangles and ribbons adorned her mane in a seemingly ramshackle, patternless display. The mare smiled sweetly at her audience.

“Greetings, everypony,” she cooed in a soft, whimsical voice. “The Wise and Wonderful Willow shall, on this most sacred of nights, consult with the spirits and peer into the world of dreams. She shall perform this hallowed rite all for you, mere mortals.”

Twilight’s attention was ripped away from the display when Orion sighed in contempt and turned to Twilight.

“Come on Twi,” he said, perhaps louder than was intended. “Let’s not waste our time here.”

“My, oh my,” the fortune-teller proclaimed. “It seems that we have a skeptic among us. Tell the Wise and Wonderful Willow, boy, why you take the words of the spirits so lightly.”

The stoic colt turned to her and answered plainly: “It’s not the ‘words of the spirits’ that you’re spouting, Miss Willow, it’s just some gibberish that you’re shoveling the crowd. I mean, do you really expect us to believe that, through all this pomp, you can actually see the future?”

The small blue unicorn next to Willow seemed just about ready to rebuke Orion, until the mare put a hoof on her shoulder to calm her down. She just smiled and stepped forward.

“Then Willow supposes you won’t mind coming inside for a vision of your future,” she said, wryly.

“I don’t have time for this, sorry,” the colt replied curtly, turning to leave until Twilight elbowed him.

“Come on Orion,” she said, enthusiasm creeping into her voice. “Let’s just see it. If it’s no good, then there’s no harm done.”

The snow-coated pony looked warily at Twilight, then to Willow, then back at Twilight before sighing.

“All right then,” he relented. “But if it’s no good, I want my bits back.”

“Willow is generous and accepts your conditions,” the mare agreed smugly. She turned to the rest of the audience. “The Wise and Wonderful Willow shall not be too long. If you would form an orderly queue, she would be happy to consult the spirits for you in due course.”

Twilight eagerly cantered into the tent, followed by a much less enthusiastic Orion. The unicorn mare and filly headed in after them before sealing the entrance shut. When the door-flap was closed, the hum of music and noise from the Festival ceased. Twilight could guess that it was some kind of sound-proofing spell. She looked around the tent. The floor was plain canvas cushioned with rugs, and in the centre was a circular table with seating cushions either side of it. The mare took her place, motioning for Orion to do the same.

“So, how is this supposed to work?” the colt asked once he placed himself on the cushion.

“The Wise and Wonderful Willow will, with her star-given gifts, parley with the spirits of the dream world and–"

“Can you drop the horse-radish?” Orion asked rhetorically. “You’re not fooling anyone here.”

It was the filly who was the first to answer. “How dare you use that tone here! You have no idea who you’re dealing with!”

“Beatrix, quiet!” Willow snapped, shutting the unicorn filly up almost immediately. She returned her attention to Orion and gave a defeated sigh. “Fine, since you’re obviously too cynical to be convinced of this, then I’ll admit that I don’t actually talk to dream-spirits.”

A victorious smile grew on Orion’s lips. “Knew it. There’s no prophecy here.”

“But,” the mare held up a hoof, somewhat irritated at his pre-emptive conclusion. “I do see your future, just not with ghosts. I got my cutie mark for a reason, young pony.”

“So it’s magic,” the colt nodded. “Prove it.”

“I’ll need a name first.”

“Orion.”

“Give me your hoof Orion,” she commanded.

Orion gingerly complied, reaching across the table and allowing the enchantress to take his hoof in both of hers. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Twilight took the opportunity of silence to look around the room. The blue filly had placed herself next to Twilight, and was staring at her with an excited expression. Twilight raised her eyebrow at the foal, who simply grinned back and turned to look at Orion and Willow.

“This is when it gets really cool,” she breathed, her eyes widening with glee.

Willow’s horn was now glowing, an aurora of sapphire blanketing it like a rippling piece of translucent silk. The mare opened her eyes, which now flashed with a shiny, magical film that looked like pools of silver. They darted all over, as if a dramatic scene was unfolding right then and there. After a short moment of this, a faint, invisible wave pulsed through the room, setting Twilight’s teeth on edge and signaling the end of the spell. The unicorn mare blinked – her eyes losing their misty quality – and pulled her hooves back from Orion.

Shivering, the colt opened his eyes and looked at the diviner with a dead-set stare.

“What did you see?”

“As usual, Mister Orion, only snippets,” she smiled. “And before you ask, for me to see a more complete sequence of events I would need instruments and several hours of meditation. You’ll have to pay me for that particular service though, and it will certainly be out of your price range.”

Orion nodded, but repeated the question: “What did you see?”

“I saw you and Twilight Sparkle here,” she indicated the now flabbergasted Twilight. We never told her my name, she shivered. “You hugged, and said goodbye. It seemed like it would be for a long time, from the looks of it. Then I saw you, alone in a darkened room. You were crying.”

Orion and Twilight flinched at once after she finished. Twilight’s heart caved in. Goodbye, for a long time? She forced the tears that began to form down, biting her lip. Beatrix, the unicorn filly sitting next to her, gave the purple foal a sympathetic look, lifting a hoof to console her, but quickly putting it back down. Twilight looked at Orion, who seemed to have retreated into his usual passive, emotionless demeanor.

“It’s not the sort of thing you wanted to hear, was it?” the Wise and Wonderful Willow asked, sorrow creeping into her soft voice. “You seemed to be the type who would prefer the truth to a trivial vision of a future fillyfriend, or an out-of-context look at some euphoric moment in your life. I take it that you’re dissatisfied?”

“No, you’ve just given me quite a lot to think about,” Orion murmured, before looking up at the mare with a neutral expression. “How much do I owe you?”

“Ten bits, for this one.”

Orion counted out the money and the unicorn scooped it up in a magical grasp. They bid their farewells as they left. Twilight walked closer to Orion than before, almost brushing up against him. She looked up at the large blue-maned colt with concern plastered over her face. He noticed her look and smiled down at her reassuringly.

“Come on Twi,” a cheery tone was very thick in his voice. “Let’s not worry about stuff that probably won’t even happen. I mean, even if it were true, then now that we know the future, we can change it. Right?”

The filly beamed. Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of that before?

“You’re right, Orion,” she chirped. “Let’s go and enjoy the rest of the night.”

They did just that. They visited more rides and stalls, from spinning teacups to water-squirting games. As she walked happily through the Festival, munching at a fluffy ball of cotton candy with Orion at her side, Twilight saw that ponies around her had begun to converge to the middle of the square.

“Is it time for the eclipse?” she asked Orion with barely contained excitement, who raised an eyebrow at her good-naturedly.

“I think so,” the colt replied. “Shall we get front-row seats?”

“You bet!” Twilight cried, her heart jumping at the thought of seeing the Empress up close for the first time.

Together they wormed and squeezed their way through a forest of legs, all the way to the core of the crowd. At the center, a crescent moon-emblazoned platform held aloft a contingent of the Honour Guard of the royal household, always emotionless and vigilant. They were dressed in armour more ornate than that of the average soldier, with silver plates polished to shine and immaculate plumes of cool colours. The crowd of ponies attracted more and more members until it developed into an overflowing throng of anticipating souls, all happy at their chance to see their ruler demonstrating such splendid feats of magic. The little lavender unicorn, however, was not happy. Her small stature prevented her from seeing over the adults in front of her. These were definitely not the front-row seats Orion promised.

Frustrated, she looked for gaps in which she could squeeze past audience members. Slipping away from Orion, she squirmed through the crowd, drawing annoyed glances from those who she pushed past. At last she found a suitable position to watch near the front of the crowd. By now, she could barely contain her excitement. However, Orion’s panicked calls for her drifted through the hum of discussion almost made her turn back to go to him. Until the Honour Guard blew on the trumpets.

At the fanfare, a hush fell onto the crowd. All eyes turned to the platform. Anticipation froze the spectators in place as if they had all suddenly been turned to ice. In the silence, a regal pony ascended the platform from the rear. Sporting a horn and a pair of large wings, she was unlike anything Twilight had ever seen. She was larger than life and too beautiful to be real. Twilight could only dream about having such a physique. Even Moondancer would have envied the Empress, and Moondancer was the prettiest filly Twilight had ever met. But no one would ever call the Empress ‘pretty’. ‘Beautiful’ seemed to fit better, along with ‘unearthly’ and ‘imposing’. Her face was so fine-boned and sharp-edged that Twilight couldn't shake the feeling that her touch would cut. Something deep in Twilight's soul told her this was a mare to be admired from a distance.

She had a coat that shimmered like polished obsidian, and a mane of deep violet ether. It was filled with the night sky – an infinite myriad of stars and constellations that floated about freely; the tresses danced as pure magic. Twilight was captivated by it, her pupils growing in wonder. The mare wore polished silver armour that gleamed in the moonlight. Her catlike eyes should have been terrifying in that exotic face, but their soft teal glow was somehow almost hypnotic.

Everypony bowed, as this was the immortal Empress of Equestria, Nightmare Moon, and respect for her was due. They were entranced; awed by her presence. “Rise, my subjects,” she commanded, her voice seemingly too low to reach beyond the front few rows, but it rippled and echoed clearly to every corner of the square.

Her horn sparkled with an aura of magic. The outline of energy grew more vibrant and shifted into a translucent sheen that covered the horn. As it grew more and more opaque, the sky reacted to Nightmare Moon’s will. The moon skimmed across the sky and dipped below the horizon. Then, she spread her wings and launched herself into the air, flapping higher and higher. The moon again rose from the horizon, coming from the same place in which it set, but this time it was shrouded in darkness with a light like fire dancing on its periphery. The unearthly contrast of pitch black and light fascinated Twilight; setting her imagination racing with ideas and fantasies of the image. The farther the Empress climbed in the air, the more the transformed moon rose. This continued, until at last the orb reached its zenith in the sky. For added effect, a flash of light erupted from the moon as it completed its ascent, and Nightmare Moon touched gracefully back down onto the platform. She smiled down at her subjects with a knowing look in her eyes.

A simultaneous gasp rippled through the crowd and, once their ruler was finished, a cheer. The eclipse would last for the rest of the night, the centrepiece of the festival until Nightmare Moon lowered it for the evening. Twilight didn't make a sound; instead, she stood agape in awe of the Empress while her mind struggled to comprehend what she had just experienced. It fascinated and enthralled her. The Empress bent reality to her will, but while doing so she made it an art form. This wasn’t the mundane force she saw used every night to lift things. It was… huge and terrifying and wondrous. The few scraps she could remember having read about magic suddenly snapped into focus in her mind like a puzzle assembling itself. Magic was both an extension of the self and an integral part of the world. Spells are not discrete objects, like a book on a shelf, but rather a process of projecting a pony’s will onto the world, in the same way that writing is the process of recording thought on paper. The words came into her head unbidden, as if she had pulled an epiphany straight out of the writings of Aristrotle. Twilight grinned in pride at the conclusion, silently thanking Orion for leaving his philosophy books around for her to pick up.

The Empress of Equestria struck the ground with a hoof, the sound echoing throughout the square, cutting through the jubilant voices. With silence and the undivided attention of all ponies, she gave a small speech commemorating the occasion and thanking them for their loyalty and admiration. It was a grandiose and eloquent benediction. The pitch black alicorn had such confidence that Twilight could not help but admire her. After this was finished, the Empress left the platform and the mob began to disperse. As the crowd thinned, Orion skidded around a knot of stragglers and spotted her at the same moment she saw him. His expression of relief lasted only a moment, though, before it collapsed into a stern glare. Coming from a colt his age, it would have usually looked out of place, but this earth pony was much more mature than Twilight was, and he pulled it off with the desirable effect.

“I’m sorry,” Twilight shrunk back, ears drooping in shame. “I just wanted to see her.”

“It’s all right, Twilight. I’m not angry. I was just worried you had got lost.” he smiled reassuringly at her.

Twilight simply nodded, lowering her head slightly. She felt him touch his neck to hers in an embrace. A smile graced her lips as she leaned into him.

“Thanks for bringing me here, Orion,” she said.

“Don’t mention it,” the earth pony replied, his smiling face soon dropping back into its usual passive mask. “We should go. We’re out in the open, and that means that we’re more likely to get cau–”

“Twilight Sparkle!”

The two foals whirled around to face the source of the shout. There, walking determinedly towards them was Apple Orchid. Behind her was a group of colts and fillies of all ages, looking inquisitively at the spectacle that was unfolding. The mare marched up to the pair, looking first at Orion, then to Twilight. She pierced the young unicorn with a frown only an authority figure like the teacher that she was could give to a foal.

“What’re you doin’ here?” she asked rhetorically. “Didn’t Loch Mare ground you for the destruction of Home property?”

The little filly was about to debate the latter question, until Orion stepped forward.

“I brought her here, ma’am. I knew she was grounded, though, and I accept the full blame for the situation.”

Shaking her head, the chaperone rejected his chivalrous offer: “That’ll be for Miss Loch to decide. But if it were up to me, ah’d ground your sorry flank for a couple o’ weeks! Now stay by my side, I don’t want to take my eyes of you two.

The two young ponies sidled up next to Apple Orchid remorsefully, but as the group began their walk back to the orphanage, Twilight’s head was ablaze in thought. The evening had been spectacular. First, that Willow pony’s display of mysticism had impressed her greatly, but the sheer beauty and grace of the Empress’ sorcerous performance had opened up a world of new possibilities for the filly. She craved the Home’s library now; she needed to understand everything about what she just witnessed. She wouldn’t care if she was grounded for a month. Twilight had plenty of reading to catch up on.

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Questions, Comments, Concerns and Criticisms are welcome!

Written by Municipal Engines, Assisted and Edited by LordOfTheWrongs