• Published 12th Nov 2012
  • 1,549 Views, 11 Comments

Rising Night - StLeibowitz

A meeting with a dark pegasus in the Archives thrusts Twilight into a world she never knew existed.

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Chapter 4

Twilight is missing.

That one thought kept repeating itself in Spike’s head as he wandered the palace in search of Celestia. The Princess would know what to do, he told himself; find Celestia, and he would find Twilight. It was probably just a late-running practice session, anyways; nothing to be so worked up about. Nevertheless, he felt that something was amiss. The bite wound from earlier, maybe? He shook his head; he’d bandaged and disinfected that himself earlier; it couldn’t be the reason for her absence so long past both their bedtimes.

The baby dragon folded his hands nervously as he walked through the imposing hallways of the Palace at midnight. The flow of aides, secretaries and nobles that ran through them like blood cells in an artery network during the day was missing completely, leaving only sporadic groupings of idle Royal Guards, huddled in the light of torches. As he passed a pair playing poker behind a pillar outside Celestia’s private office, he heard voices coming from within. Curious, he paused outside to listen.

“…they’re gathering in numbers again, Princess! Just say the word, and the Brand will burn once more.” Spike didn’t recognize the voice, though it was definitely a stallion, probably middle-aged.

“I cannot condone this kind of preemptive action, general. If they were actively rebelling, I would send your ponies without a qualm, but this…” he heard a hoof thump on a stack of papers. “This is hardly enough to warrant local constabulary.” That was the Princess alright. Spike smiled; he’d just wait until they were done speaking before heading in.

“Ma’am, with all due respect, you are too soft-hearted. The Nighters are a threat – them and their weird cult. My advice, as always, is to stamp them out soon and thoroughly, before we get another incident like the one in AL 647.”

“Your soldiers will stay in the stables until I order it, Firebrand.” Celestia’s voice filled with authority. “And not a moment sooner. The Night ponies are not a threat. Their cult is not a threat. Your activities recently have caused more harm than good.”

“Princess, I – “

“You are dismissed, general.”

“I – “

Dismissed.” Her tone left no room for dissent. Spike heard hooves on marble as the General marched out of the office. Spike made himself very small as a tall, orange-coated pegasus stallion with a crimson and yellow mane in full battle armor trotted past. He debated if speaking with the Princess now would be a good idea; surely, Twilight wasn’t here. She must have returned to their quarters by now…

“You can come in now, Spike.” Celestia called out wearily. Horsefeathers; now he had to tell her.

“Hello, Princess.” The baby dragon edged nervously into the room’s doorway giving him a good look at the interior. The office walls were painted a warm yellow and left bare, except for a fireplace roaring merrily to his left and a low bookshelf behind Celestia. It was surprisingly spartan for the office of a ruler.

The white alicorn at the desk laughed a little. “Come in, please. It will be good to speak with my student’s assistant for a little.” A concerned look flashed across her face. “How is Twilight, by the way? She retired to her room earlier with a headache. Will she be out for lessons tomorrow?”

“Um…actually, Princess Celestia, ma’am…” Spike cleared his throat nervously. She would not like this at all. “I came to ask about her, actually.”

“Yes?” the alicorn seemed to realize something was amiss.

“Well, she…neveractuallycamebacktoherroomtoday.” The words forced themselves out in a jumbled rush; best to get it over with, his tongue explained itself to his brain. “I haven't seen her since she left this morning.”

Celestia froze. “Perhaps she has merely teleported herself somewhere and fallen asleep? She was experiencing a rather potent magical migraine, after all.”

“Maybe…” As Spike said that, the general from before galloped to a halt behind him, followed quickly thereafter by a young guardspony.

“Princess Celestia, this guard reports witnessing a bright flare of light from the back room of the Archives earlier tonight.” The general’s tone was businesslike, a far cry from the angry familiarity he had expressed earlier. “He says he investigated the source of the flash and found signs of a struggle.”

“Alert the Royal Guard. Have teams comb the castle hallways regularly, and dispatch patrols throughout the city to locate my student.” Celestia stood from her seat abruptly. “Gather five of your best ponies and meet me in the Archives in thirty minutes. I need some time to perform a track on Twilight.”

“Your student is missing?” Firebrand asked.

“Evidently, she never arrived in her room after leaving her tutoring session with me earlier today.” Celestia answered. Spike slowly edged away from the scene; a quick escape was not out of the question, if he left before he got roped into this mess. It was midnight, after all…

“Then we can only assume that these events are related.” The pegasus concluded, omitting his theory on who the perpetrators were. “I’ll scramble the Brands and Wonderbolts to comb the streets. We’ll find your apprentice, ma’am, don’t worry.”

“I have complete faith in you, general.” The Princess pushed past him and galloped towards her quarters and the runic circle contained inside. “Don’t let me down.”

Fact: She was being held captive by an angry black pegasus and a red unicorn.

Fact: She was in a tunnel under the Old City district of Canterlot.

Fact: She was probably going to be taken to a commune and be assimilated, brainwashed, or otherwise forced to stay there against her will.

Fact: She had no idea what the red unicorn wanted to show her.

Fact: Lists are calming. Never underestimate the calming power of a list.

Back from the brink of panic, Twilight Sparkle glanced disinterestedly around at her surroundings. The tunnel was uninspiring as tunnels went – no plant life, no insect life, no wall decorations; it was a purely utilitarian design. It offered nothing in the way of diversion, nor did her traveling companions and captors – the unicorn merely answered her requests for information on their destination with an enigmatic “You’ll see” and it was glaringly obvious that the pegasus wanted to kill her.

They had been traveling for what felt like hours, but even at their speed Canterlot wasn’t big enough to take that long to traverse, so she assumed her internal clock was either very wrong or they had left the city entirely and she should have changed one of her facts to an assumption. Of course, when she asked Arcturus where they were she got:

“You’ll find out eventually.”

From who, though? Midnight hated her, and she was the only other pony around.

At long last, they reached another trapdoor. Arcturus swung it open and lifted a suddenly teary-eyed Midnight out. He turned to Twilight.

“Don’t talk to her until she speaks with you. This was her parents’ house.” He told her solemnly.

Was? Twilight, curious, pulled herself out of the tunnel and found herself in the charred remains of a house.

It had been a nice house, she could tell; standing proudly on a hilltop outside of the capital, made primarily of brick and wood, surrounded by acres of forest. Several of the brick walls even remained standing, their surfaces covered in a layer of ash where overhanging debris sheltered them from the elements in the intervening years. The ground was covered in shattered bricks and smashed tiles, crunching under hoof as she silently picked her way across the dark ruins. The moonlight would have been barely enough to see by a few days ago; now, she could make out every detail, even in the darkest of shadows. It was like somepony had taken a silvery light and shone it everywhere.

The three ponies spread out from the trapdoor, which had been situated in the only area of the ruin not covered in debris; Arcturus stationed himself by the front doorway as the black pegasus began shifting chunks of stone away from the adjacent wall. Passing through an archway formed by the sagging upper story and a surviving wall, Twilight almost slipped on a book cover, sending up a small cloud of dust and ash as the dragonskin was disturbed. It was a sad sight, yes, but how did this prove that Celestia was a monster?

“They left him.” Midnight’s voice broke the quiet that had settled after she ceased scrambling through the rubble. “They burnt his house and stabbed him and they didn’t even have enough decency to dig a shallow grave.”

Twilight galloped over to where the pegasus had sank to the ground, struggling to hold back tears. She slowed as she glimpsed what lay under the pile Midnight had disturbed; grinning skeletally up at her was a unicorn’s skull, horn snapped in half, top caved in by a chunk of rock. Gently levitating other pieces of debris out of the way, Twilight disinterred the rest of the skeleton, shattered almost beyond recognition.

“Who was – “

“My father, Orion.” Midnight answered miserably. “Why did you make me come back here, Arcturus?”

“Because you needed to see this.” The unicorn answered simply. “Both of you, but you especially, Midnight. Nothing good comes from ignoring things like this – and Twilight provided the perfect opportunity.”

“I don’t understand.” Twilight turned her uncomprehending gaze towards him. “How does this prove your point? Who killed him?”

She did.” Midnight hissed. She rose to her hooves and motioned for the lavender unicorn to follow her to the front of the house.

There, scorched into a tall oak tree that stood proudly by the granite walk up to the house, was an eight-rayed sun – Twilight immediately recognized it as Celestia’s cutie mark, but something was off; the rays looked a bit more like lightning bolts than fire, more jagged than rounded.

“More accurately, her Brands did.” Arcturus spoke up from behind them. “With her blessing, General Firebrand and his pegasus squadron hit the place in an attempt to defuse rumblings of discontent at her treatment of Night ponies in general – ironically, Firebrand’s actions being the main source of our mistreatment. She knows what he has done, and yet keeps him in command of Equestria’s air guard.”

“They both deserve death.” Midnight declared. “Firebrand for killing them – both of my parents – and Celestia for ordering their deaths.”

“No!” Twilight shook her head, pressing on before Midnight could stop her. “I know the Princess, and I know she wouldn’t order something like this to happen. If Firebrand did it, he did it on his own.”

“He’s Celestia’s personal attack dragon.” Midnight spat. “He had orders! If anything, the bastard is less guilty than the Princess! Celestia is the one who ordered them dead!”

“Quiet!” Arcturus forced his friend to the ground with an insistent hoof, motioning for Twilight to drop down as well. Twilight watched as his horn glowed and wove a dome of ruby lines over them all. “Pegasi up in the sky to the east; full body armor, moving in a sunrise search pattern. Keep down and keep quiet, and be ready to move when I say so.” The two mares nodded. Twilight watched as the patrol flew overhead, wondering why she didn’t just jump out of the concealment Arcturus had woven and reveal herself. It would be easy enough to explain things to them; as Celestia’s personal student, she might even be able to get Midnight and Arcturus excused and released!

Seeming to sense that Twilight was about to give them away, Midnight wrapped her in a headlock for the second time that night, locking eyes with her and shaking her head slowly as she tapped the unicorn’s horn with her hoof. She got the message; not a word, if she wanted to keep her magic.

Arcturus motioned for them to start crawling back towards the house and trapdoor; despite the weight of the pegasus on top of her, Twilight made good progress, remaining inside the concealment. They were about three lengths from the door to the house when the pegasi landed.

“It’s just a skeleton, Firebolt.” The lead pegasus, a mare in a black-edged orange flight suit, bent over Orion’s skeleton. “Not a pony.”

“It used to be a pony.” A second responded, in a similar suit. Two more pegasi laughed as they hit the ground with loud thumps.

“I could have sworn I saw something else down here.” A smaller pegasus mare spoke up. “Not there, out in the front; a little flash of red or something.”

“You’re certain?”

“Dead certain.”

The leader nodded. “Fan out and search the place. Watch for ghosts.” More laughter; the squadron began to disperse out in an arc, sweeping their feet through the tall grass.

“Horseapples.” Arcturus breathed. Twilight could see the sweat beading up on his forehead as he struggled to maintain the spell for three ponies. “If they break the edge of this web, the whole thing breaks down and we’re out in the open for all to see.”

“They’re Day ponies.” Midnight whispered. “We could probably drop the spell and jump them before they even knew what hit them.”

“The moon isn’t that dim tonight.” Twilight pointed out. “And I doubt you could take out five military pegasi, even given the element of surprise.”

“And what do you suggest we do, o mighty warlock?” Midnight retorted. “Surrender?”

“Girls…” Arcturus tried to quiet them.

“I’m Celestia’s personal student! I can get them to let you guys go.”

“They’d kill us on the spot. One word aimed at them, and I snap your horn.”

“Girls…” The strain was evident in the unicorn’s voice as he poured more energy into the spell to mask their raising voices.

“Do that, and see how loud I scream.”


“Midnight and Twilight!” Arcturus winced at how loud his voice sounded as it rebounded off the concealment. “Shut up! I can’t maintain this much longer, so get ready to come out swinging!”

“Get off me if you want to avoid being hacked to pieces by their wingblades.” Twilight lit her horn as Midnight released her headlock. With a moment’s hesitation, seeing her chance to escape dwindle to nothingness, she touched her horn to Arcturus’s and allowed him to draw upon her own store of magic. Combined with their silence, it was enough to considerably ease the strain on the red unicorn and maintain the spell.

“They’ve moved past us.” Midnight announced. Twilight and Arcturus sighed in relief.

“Start moving again.” Arcturus instructed. “Let’s get to the trapdoor before they circle around.”

Those thirty feet to the hatch were the tensest thirty feet Twilight had ever traveled. She could hear the pegasi guards searching the premises; she knew any dislodged bit of rubble could draw their attention and possibly get her companions killed – something she could not allow in good conscience. She stifled a yawn as they drew within range of the short drop back into the tunnel, and followed Midnight in as Arcturus sealed the trap door and dropped the concealment.

“Are you seriously getting tired already?” Midnight looked at Twilight with something approaching disgust. “The Night’s just getting started! It’s only around midnight or something – we’ve still got hours until daybreak!”

“She’s only been a Night pony for a day or so, Midnight.” Arcturus reminded her. “She hasn’t gotten into the sleeping pattern yet.”

“And she never will if we let her sleep now.” The pegasus turned to the lavender unicorn. “Come on! March!”

And so they did, Twilight feeling the exertion of their trip fully with every step she took now that the danger had passed. Something in her mind had decided that these two were good company and unlikely to slit her throat in her sleep, and now all she wanted was a quick nap. It would be easy to just lay down against the tunnel wall, close her…eyes…and…drift…

“Nope!” Twilight felt her breath explode out of her lungs as the pegasus bucked her midsection. “Walk! Come on, we’ve got to make the Cistern by daybreak.”