• Published 12th Nov 2012
  • 1,545 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 5

The Palace Archives were a depressing place at night, in Firebrand’s opinion. While he had always preferred burning books to reading them, he accepted that some knowledge needed storage outside of the fragile minds of ponies.

Still. He thought, his eyes probing the darkness beyond the range of his companion’s light spell. They could have lit it better.

The condition of the library’s lighting was abysmal; almost literally so. Firebrand had stared deep into abysses in the Crystal Caverns below the Old City during the Hunting Years, as he called them, and the lighting in those great crevices was only a few shades darker than this place at night.

“Where is that alicorn?” He muttered under his breath. “A half hour she said. Be ready immediately, she orders. What does she do then? She’s probably up in her damned quarters preening.”

“She did say she was going to perform a Track, sir.” The white unicorn stallion that accompanied Firebrand, little more than a recruit, pointed out. “That’s a complicated procedure. A half-hour was an optimistic estimate.”

“Stick to your shields, Shining Armor.” Firebrand growled. “And correcting a superior officer while he’s in a foul mood is no way to advance in my Guard.”

“We serve the Princess.” He responded. Was that a trace of defiance Firebrand heard in his tone?

“We serve Equestria, colt, and don’t forget that.” The orange pegasus turned his attention back to the shadows surrounding them. “And sometimes, that duty transcends our loyalties to the Princess, however involved with our family she may be. Am I understood?”

Perplexed, Shining Armor, Sergeant in the Canterlot Royal Guard, nodded. Firebrand could see that the stallion thought he was a bit off his rocker, but he could live with that. Generals didn’t have to worry about the opinions of those with such a lowly rank.

He saw something move in the dark. “Identify yourself!” He barked, hearing chuckles coming from ahead. Another unicorn’s light flared into being.

“Told you you couldn’t sneak up on the General, Spectrum.” Flare laughed. The grey pegasus Brand stepped around the bookshelf to the general’s right. “He’s got eyes like the Nighters themselves, and is twice as on edge.”

“Careful with your words, private.” Firebrand reprimanded him sternly, smiling on the inside. “Ponies have been court-martialed for less.”

“I’m a Brand, one of the best fliers in Equestria, and on top of that your younger brother.” Flare countered. “The courts wouldn’t touch me with a five-length pole.”

“Maybe not.” He conceded. “But show a little respect, please. I may be your brother, but I’m your superior by several tens of pay grades.”

“Aye aye, general.” Flare saluted, about facing to march back to his posting humorously but succeeding in slamming his head on the shelf with enough force to shake a few scrolls and books loose. Firebrand felt a heavy tome slam into his head and had to blink the stars out of his vision.

“Careful, private. Try to be a bit more serious, please.” The general glanced down to see what had hit him; by the words printed in the top center of the right page, it was an old copy of “Predictions and Prophecies.” Snorting, he prepared to buck the bound stack of hogwash into the shadows, but the heading at the top of the left page caught his eye. Curious, he gestured to Shining. The book hovered up to eye level as he scanned the text.

Does the Princess know about this? Was Firebrand’s first thought. No; no, she couldn’t .You would have to be a fool to ignore this kind of information.

Perhaps it will be time to dust off the old wing blades? A predatory grin crept onto his face. He would inform Celestia immediately, of course! This could be the spur he needed to get the alicorn mare to see things his way for once. No more waffling on the Nighter issue; just harsh, decisive action.

“I apologize for the delay.” Firebrand heard the clopping of hooves on the Archive floor as the Princess herself appeared out of the darkness. Speak of the devil. He turned to her.

“Ma’am, I believe I may have discovered a potentially grave threat to national security.” Firebrand had Shining Armor float the open tome in front of Celestia. “One that could force a re-evaluation of the Nighter threat; we know they have seers. It would be irresponsible to think they do not have a similar prediction.”

“You shouldn’t place so much faith in old prophecies, General.” Celestia laughed, pushing the book away with her hoof. “I had thought you better than this.”

“Princess Celestia, this is a potential threat to Day pony sovereignty, your rule, and Equestria’s security as a whole.” Firebrand pressed. “We would have to be foals to discount it out of hand.”

“I’ll put a team on it, Firebrand, but for now, let us focus on the issue of my lost student and a potential threat to Palace security.” The alicorn’s voice left no room for debate. Firebrand gritted his teeth.

“Yes, ma’am.”

As Celestia trotted out of earshot to meet with the rest of his gathered Guards, he glanced at his aide.

“You saw that, didn’t you?” Shining nodded; the Princess had looked worried for a moment, before laughing and dismissing the General’s concerns. “Something isn’t right.”

“She has no intention of putting anypony on this, of course.” Firebrand growled to himself. “I was stupid for assuming she knew.”

“Sir, we should catch up…”

“I will not be able to help in this endeavor, Shining, and I never intended to. I’ll head out and join the rest of the Brands in flying overwatch.” Firebrand prevaricated. He had things to do. “Good luck finding your sister, colt. I have a feeling you’ll need it. Don’t put darkness at your back and for the love of Celestia, if it attacks, kill it. That’ll save your life.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Go, catch up. Shields will be needed for this op.” Firebrand trotted over to a window and pushed it open. With a powerful beat of his wings, he jumped out and caught the thermal he knew was there.

If Celestia wouldn’t take action to protect her nation, then Firebrand would do it for her. It seemed to him that he was doing that more and more often these days.

“How long are these tunnels, anyways?” Twilight complained after yet another hour spent in the subterranean tube. “We’ve been walking for hours.”

“We’ve got quite the network down below Canterlot.” Arcturus answered. “We’re about a half hour out from the Cistern.”

“Thank Luna.” Midnight exclaimed. “I’m sick of walking. My hooves are sore and my wings are cramping.”

“What is the Cistern?” Twilight stifled yet another yawn. She’d thought that after a certain point, she’d just stop feeling the fatigue and get a second wind to carry her forth, but it seemed that only happened after too little sleep – not no sleep at all. “You keep talking about it, but you’ve never actually told me what it is.”

“Well…it’s a Cistern.” Arcturus laughed at the young mare’s look of disapproval. “You’ll see soon. Big open space underground, large supply of spring-fed water in the center. It’s our home, especially when the Brands are on the hunt.”

She nodded, placated. She had long since given up on creating escape plans; the tunnels were just too narrow for any dodging or decent duel, and she had no illusions as to what Midnight would do to her horn when they subdued her again. Life as an earth pony was not something she wanted to consider at this junction.

Oh, look. They had arrived a T in the tunnel. A junction.

“Which way?” She asked tiredly. Somehow, she had outpaced both Night ponies and was now at the head of their little group.

“Right turn.” Midnight answered. “Should be straight on to the Cistern from here.”

Twilight noticed an odd glow on the tunnel walls. She was casting a shadow now, too. Eyes widening, she realized what was going on an instant before her friends (she paused mentally. Friends?) stepped into the junction as well. She leapt at them and tackled them back in the opposite direction. “Light spell! Ponies! Hide!”

“Who’s up there?” She heard a stallion call out from the direction of the light. “Show yourself!”

“Horsefeathers.” Arcturus lit his horn, preparing a concealment for them. Twilight prepared to lend him any power he might need.

“Let’s check it out.” A second voice spoke. The lavender unicorn heard hooves on stone as the Guards galloped forwards.

“No time!” Midnight whispered frantically. “Combat spells! Hurry!” She positioned herself to pounce at the guards when they appeared around the corner. Arcturus stood again and funneled more energy into his horn as Twilight cast her blinding spell. The tunnel dropped into darkness again, lit intermittently by the approaching Day ponies’ spell – hopefully, she’d be protected if they tried a flare. The three waited.

The first guard around the corner did indeed light his horn with a flare, dazzling Twilight’s vision despite her spell and causing Midnight to shriek mid-pounce. She still connected, wrapping the unicorn’s head in a headlock that he was unable to dislodge; the helmet didn’t protect his horn, and the black pegasus snapped it before dropping to the ground and losing her footing. The unicorn’s shout alerted his companion, a white pegasus with extended wings edged by razor-sharp pieces of steel. The pegasus dodged Arcturus’s spell, which buried itself in the wall behind him and reduced it to sand. The unicorn bucked Midnight in the chest, folding the blinded Night pegasus over and leaving her gasping for air. Twilight realized that if she didn’t help soon, her friends would be overwhelmed and likely killed.

The thunder from her lightning bolt stunned the combatants, and the violet-white shaft of electricity grounded itself firmly in the pegasus’ unprotected wing, blasting him backwards and convulsing him as the magic coursed through his body. He collapsed to the floor, unconscious, with smoke rising in streams from his scorched feathers. The injured unicorn delivered another kick to Midnight’s face before turning his attention to Twilight. He gasped in surprise.

“Lady Sparkle, what are you doing? We’re here to rescue you!” He erected a glowing teal shield in the air between them. Twilight saw that Midnight was on the wrong side of the shield, her unconscious form sprawled on the floor carelessly. She had no doubt in her mind that if she died, the Guards would leave her body behind just like they had for her father.

“You hurt my friends.” Twilight stated simply. Her horn glowed as she gathered power for a second bolt.

“Friends?” The unicorn guard sneered. “These are Night ponies! Please, come with me and we’ll get you out of these damned tunnels.”

“Will my friends be left alone?” She asked. If she went with him, maybe he’d leave them alive.

Arcturus stood beside Twilight. “He won’t.” the red unicorn said. “I know this pony. He’s one of Firebrand’s creatures.”

“Quiet, Nighter.” The unicorn snapped. “You’re lucky I didn’t kill you last time we met. I won’t be so careless if you interfere this time.” He turned to Twilight. “Please, Lady Sparkle. Let’s get you back up to civilization.”

She froze with indecision, weighing the situation carefully in her mind. She could leave her friends, return to Celestia, and resume her studies at the palace. She’d need to maintain her illusion spell essentially indefinitely, but at least the two Night ponies would be okay; some traitorous part of her mind reminded her that Celestia supported Firebrand’s actions, though – and he was as far from a pleasant pony as could be, from what she knew. She’d also likely see straight through her spell, leaving her in an even worse situation. Or, she could choose to stay with Arcturus, Midnight, and whomever else lived in the commune thing that they were taking her to, remaining with the only friends who weren’t her brother that she had ever had, and joining what seemed to be the less morally objectionable side.

Well, might as well get it over with. She dropped her blinding spell, letting the tunnel brighten back to what it had been before the battle and locked eyes with the Guard.

“I like it down here.” A direct lie, but dramatic. The bookworm part of her mind stamped it with a seal of approval. “Leave, please. Tell the Princess to leave us alone.”

“Wrong answer.” The unicorn lit the snapped stub of his horn, gritting his teeth in pain as the magic began jumping off the ruined horn and falling in streaks of sparkles to the ground. Twilight released the charge, sending another crack of thunder and bolt of lightning roaring forth into the world.

The bolt speared through the Guard’s shield, slamming into his breastplate and breaking his concentration as the electricity skittered across his armor. To Twilight’s surprise, instead of stunning or injuring him, the magical lightning faded as several sapphire gems set into the metal glowed brightly.

The guard smiled. “Thank you for your donation.” He whirled around and kicked at her with both legs. Twilight dodged, but only barely; the kick send cracks spiderwebbing over the tunnel wall and loosed a shower of dust from the ceiling. Arcturus’s own bolt of black fire simply vanished a hand from the unicorn’s skin, and the gems only glowed brighter.

“Run!” Twilight shouted, grabbing Midnight telekinetically and galloping down the tunnel they had come from, Arcturus close behind. She heard the guard’s hooves break free from the wall.

“You can’t get away! This armor is specially designed to absorb hostile spells and amplify the wearer’s physical abilities! It is the perfect tool for fighting mages!” He shouted. “Just give up!”

Twilight glanced behind her and saw the unicorn begin galloping in pursuit. They’d never get away! He’d follow them until they ran out of energy and then he’d kill her friends and probably her –

“Twilight!” Arcturus interrupted her panic before it spiraled into a full-blown nervous breakdown. “Turn coming up. He’s a Day pony, remember?”

Realizing what her friend was getting at, Twilight ran faster. When she got to the turn, she hurled Midnight in front of her and doused her horn’s glow. Sure enough, in another second she heard, felt and saw the guard slam head first at thirty miles an hour into the bend, buckling his armor; the lavender unicorn heard bones snap. He wouldn’t be getting up anytime soon, at least, if he survived at all. She collapsed to the floor in relief. She wasn’t going to die!

Midnight, on the other hand, didn’t look nearly as good. She had taken a beating from the Guard, and her snout was smashed and leaking blood. Going from the force the unicorn had used in his attack, she’d probably broken a rib as well. Sadly, she remained conscious, and moaned in pain when she hit the floor.

“Sorry.” Twilight winced sympathetically. “Arcturus, is there a doctor of some sort in the Cistern?”

“Not in the Cistern itself, but yeah, we’ve got healers.” He trotted over to the black pegasus’s prone form. “I’ll carry her to Starshine. She’ll be able to fix this. And Twilight?”


“Thanks.” Arcturus smiled and shouldered Midnight onto his back in much the same way he had lifted Twilight earlier that night. “Now let’s get to the Cistern before any more guards show up. I’m assuming they’re after you?” Twilight nodded. “And you’ve chosen to stay with us, and attacked members of the Royal Guard, and are a Night pony. Something tells me that they aren’t going to be taking you back without a fight.”

“Not until I know both sides of this…what? War?”

“It’s basically a very long, drawn-out, well-hidden war.” Arcturus agreed. “Most Day ponies don’t even know we exist, but we’re still fighting. Ever since Luna was banished at Everfree Palace, the Day has been encroaching on us. Ever heard of Luna’s Light?”

“No.” Twilight answered, trotting alongside him as they reached the tunnel junction again and turned right. “But who’s Luna? I keep hearing that from you ponies, but I’ve never heard of her before.”

Arcturus facehooved. “If you weren’t a Day pony just two days ago, I’d personally skin and tan your hide for that.” He sighed. “Luna was Celestia’s sister, Princess of the Night and amongst the most innovative mages ever to have walked Equestria. The Day ponies never appreciated her, but for a comparatively few.”

“Celestia had a sister?” Twilight gasped. How had she never read anything about this?

“You’re her student, as you pointed out often enough.” Arcturus responded. “Shouldn’t that have been the least surprising thing you’ve learned tonight?”

“She never mentioned her.”

“Hm.” The red unicorn looked skeptical, but continued. “Luna felt underappreciated and jealous of her older sister, who ruled over the Day and kept the sun burning. Crops grew because of her; Ponies loved basking in her charge’s warmth. The younger alicorn turned to her finest mages and scientists to even the edge; working with Luna, they developed plants that grew only in moonlight, beautiful flowers and delicious fruits. She began to attract a larger following, as for all the sun’s warmth, the Day is otherwise a bit uninspiring, wouldn’t you say?” Recalling her nights spent stargazing as a filly, Twilight nodded in agreement.

“Eventually, though, the Day court passed a law forbidding the tampering with life through both magical and mundane means. Luna was bound by this law, as both the Day and Night courts’ edicts were equally binding, but she resented it with all her heart. It took less than a year for her to break it, when she developed a new spell, one that would alter ponies permanently and bring them closer to her Night by making the sunlight intolerable. She was no monster, though; jealous as she was, she only cast the spell on volunteers – her own followers. A full third of Equestria went with her when she cast the spell that created the Night ponies on herself and her subjects; it was viewed as a major betrayal by Celestia and the Day ponies. There was a war, which we were holding our own in until Luna was surrounded by Celestia’s personal guard at Everfree and banished to the Moon for eternity.”

“That’s…horrible.” She tried to imagine banishing her brother to somewhere until the end of time; what could drive a pony to do that? Surely, there had to be more to the story than this.

“She’s still conscious, up there.” Arcturus concluded. “Watching over us, speaking with us through the seers; she’ll even occasionally grant a boon to those she favors. There’s an old prophecy involved as well, but I think I’ll leave Midnight or Cassiopeia something to explain.”

The two ponies stopped in front of a large oaken door recessed into the side of the tunnel. Twilight had felt the concealment spell snap into place a few lengths down the tunnel, likely projecting an image of a rock wall to those on the other side. She braced her shoulder against the wood and prepared to push; she felt that, at this point, there was no turning back.