• Published 12th Nov 2012
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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 6

The stable briefing room was packed with Firebrand’s personal pegasi squadron. Uniformed in orange and red flight suits, leading edges of their wings bearing sheathed razor-sharp metal strips, the Brands laughed and joked amongst themselves, discussing the previous night’s scramble and their various misadventures. Shining Armor felt a bit overwhelmed; being the general’s aide might be a good posting, with enough action and paperwork to prepare him for any future ranking positions he might hold, but he hated having to appear alongside Firebrand when he addressed his personal followers. Being the only unicorn in a room full of pegasi happily discussing advanced aerial maneuvers may have contributed to his discomfort; he had no idea what a “reverse sidewinder” was, nor how to perform one, and that made him feel ignorant. He did not like feeling ignorant.

Firebrand cleared his throat, sounding unnecessarily loud to the white unicorn standing next to him, but likely barely audible to the assembled Air Guardsponies. They quieted quickly nonetheless, and the meeting was called to order.

“As many of you may have heard from idle chatter with my brother or Mr. Armor here, I have recently discovered certain information that indicates a major threat to the security of our Princess’s rule, and Equestria as a whole.” Firebrand spoke, his tone deadly serious. “While this information was located in an old book of prophecies – laugh if you want, it’s your prerogative – I have chosen to take this seriously, especially after seeing Celestia’s reaction to me confronting her with the information. The Princess has chosen to deliberately ignore this; her initial reaction to the prophecy has me convinced that she takes it as seriously as I, and yet she will remain inactive.”

“You sure you’re not just being paranoid, General?” A voice came from the back; Shining Armor couldn’t identify it.

“Positive, Firebolt, especially as this prediction pertains directly to the other major issue facing Equestria today: our continued shadow war with the Nighters.” Firebrand responded. “The prophecy predicts the return of the Nighter goddess Luna from the moon in four years’ time. With the security clearance I’ve given each and every pony here, I’m certain you are all aware that their cult is a bit more than just the insane ravings of their seers. There is an alicorn imprisoned on the moon, she did create those bastards, and her imprisonment is supposedly eternal. Well, it seems there might be a bit more to it than that. Mr. Armor, please bring in Doctor Astrolabe.”

The unicorn nodded and used his magic to open the door at the far side of the stable. On cue, in walked a unicorn of the Canterlot nobility, her coat the color of marzipan, with a mane like one of the Ponyville Amish mares – a straight, no-nonsense style that she carried well despite the incongruously light-hearted rose of her hair. The pegasi parted before her respectfully, sharing looks that indicated either disgust with her class or appreciation of her appearance. Shining Armor knew that the opinions likely were split purely according to sexual lines.

Astrolabe trotted up and stood to the left of Firebrand, smiling slightly at the effect she had had. “As the General here has certainly told you by now, I am Doctor Astrolabe, of the Canterlot Astronomical Society. My thesis was on the topic of links between magic and the stars; being pegasi, I am sure only one of those two interests you.” Slight laughter from the crowd; she continued.

“Stellar and planetary conjunctions have often been viewed as auspicious or portentous events since the time of paleoponies, especially amongst unicorns; these events are chiefly of magical note because they act as a powerful focus for the currents of power that run through the world – “ley lines” if you will. They amplify the magic present in the natural world and concentrate it. How is this related to this prophecy, you might ask? Well,” She paused to clear her throat, floating a small water bottle out of the saddlebag she wore and taking a sip. “In about four years’ time, there will be a rather rare conjunction of stars on the night of the Summer Sun celebration. This event is one of the more powerful ones, and during about an hour before dawn, a suitably skilled unicorn could conceivably perform the job of an alicorn – and a suitably powerful alicorn could likely completely undo the work of a certain sextet of magical artifacts and their alicorn wielder.”

“In plain Equestrian, on that day Luna could break the spell trapping her on the moon.” Firebrand summarized. “If she comes back, you can perhaps imagine how pissed she’ll be about the whole “banished to the moon for eternity” deal. The Nighters worship her; if Luna comes back, they’ll rally to her cause and we could have a new civil war on our hands.”

The room was silent. Tentatively, a golden pegasus mare raised a hoof. “How do we stop this?”

“It’s impossible to halt the conjunction itself.” Firebrand reluctantly admitted. “But what we can do is take out as many Nighters as we can in four years, and try to find the Elements of Harmony so we can send Luna back to her jail. They were lost shortly after the civil war ended; it’s up to us to find them.” The Brands nodded in solemn agreement; if the princess wouldn’t take this threat seriously, then they’d take care of the problem for her.

The rest of the meeting was centered on organizing and planning expeditions to crack down on Nighter population centers, as well as to locate the lost Elements, but Shining Armor wasn’t paying attention. They were directly defying Celestia’s will here, and it didn’t sit right with him.

When he had joined the Royal Guard, his colthood dream, he’d taken an oath to serve the Princess with his life. He could see where Firebrand was coming from – the oath could easily be interpreted to refer to Equestria in general – but he had sworn to serve the Princess specifically. He couldn’t just turn his back on that and undercut her!

But then…

He thought of what a Nighter revolt would mean for normal ponies. A thousand years of inquisitorial purges and hunting them down in the day would not be forgotten easily. Now, with Celestia backing them and the tacit support of the populace, they could just keep them down; with the support of a fully-fledged alicorn with a desire for revenge, he doubted Ponykind could hold them back. He thought of his parents, who would likely be put to the sword; of Cadence, whose life meant almost as much to him as his own, and who would likely be killed or exiled herself if Luna, the Nightmare in the Moon, came to power; of his little sister, who even now was likely dead or dying by Nighter hands.

Equestria deserves better. He decided.

When the general called for his aide to record the main points of their plan for the night, he was at his right side in a heartbeat.

It was surprisingly easy for Twilight to sleep through the day. After a whole day and night without sleep, any rest at all, regardless of the hour, was welcome; her internal clock, confused as it was, though, was telling her to get up. She cracked open her eyes a bit.

The room she was in was a warm, cheerful sort of place. There was a fireplace, surprisingly; within it glowed a deep bluish flame that provided light at comfortable levels for her new eyes. The walls were painted stone bricks, colored in patterns that shifted and stood out differently as the viewer’s angle changed. Right now she saw diagonal black stripes on a checkered background; a bit strange, after the monochromatic pastels of the Palace, but she was unable to see it as unpleasant. She lifted her head a bit to get a good look at the rest of the place.

“You’re up!” She heard somepony shout in surprise. “Luna’s light, you sleep a lot. It’s three hours past sunset already!” A pair of immense silver eyes imposed themselves on her field of vision, causing her to pull her head back in surprise.

“Don’t be afraid, Twilight! You’re with friends.” The face drew back and revealed the body it was attached to. The mare was an earth pony, apparently; grey coat, blue mane, cutie mark of a three-petaled white flower. She had glasses on, which explained the oversized eyes. Horsefeathers, what was her name? Surely, Arcturus hadn’t just left her with somepony without even introducing them!

“I’m Starshine!” The pony said cheerfully, putting on a wide smile. “Resident herbalist of Lower Canterlot. Your friend left you here last night with Midnight. Wow, your names are similar! Are you related?”

“Um…maybe?” Twilight frowned. She seemed to recall something about bloodlines being mentioned when she had arrived.

“Ooooh, like long-lost-sisters-maybe? Or bloodlines-maybe?”

“Bloodlines. Definitely bloodlines.”

“Wow!” Starshine exclaimed, dropping to the floor and propping her head up on her forehooves in interest. “How’d that happen? She’s so young!” The herbalist giggled a little. “So’re you! At least you’ll have a chance to get on your hooves before settling down with a job. What’s your cutie mark mean? You’ll need an apprenticeship soon; Trade Day is only a few weeks away!”

“Uh…” Twilight was thoroughly confused now. Trade Day? Apprenticeship? Bloodlines? Okay, she was a little familiar with the last one, but that was still only one out of three.

“Oh! Right, the Seers must not have given you your orientation yet. Sorry.” Starshine apologized. “Guess you’ll understand when you’re older – not much older, really, just a few nights or so. You’re okay, so I can’t just let you stay here forever, in case somepony else needs the bed – with the Brands flying patrols again, that’s almost a given – but you’ve got a solid night to explore the town before Moonie wants to speak with you.”

“Moonie?” Twilight seized on the name. Names were good; names were familiar.

“The head seer! I call her Moonie but her real name’s Moonwatcher. Sometimes Luna sends her messages through her mirror.” Starshine stated matter-of-factly.

“I’ll just get up then.” Twilight maneuvered herself to her hooves and rose from the bed.

“Oh! Time for breakfast.” The grey pony was gone and back in a flash, returning with a platter of roasted asparagus and a few slices of a strange blue fruit. “Always start the night with a full stomach!” She advised around the obstruction, and lead Twilight back into the other room, where a small folding table and two chairs were set up. She set the platter down as the lavender unicorn took a seat.

“I’d better go wake up Midnight.” Starshine said, trotting in the direction of a second door adjacent to the one to Twilight’s room. “Eat your fill; plenty more where that came from!”

Twilight took a tentative first bite of the asparagus, found it to be delicious, and dug in. She had finished the green plants when the black pegasus took the seat across from her, waiting expectantly for her own food. The unicorn noticed her bandaged snout and chest.

“You going to eat those Blast slices?” Midnight asked, pointing towards the blue fruit on Twilight’s plate.

“Is that what they’re called?” She asked, lifting one of the pieces with her magic. It looked sort of like a slice of a ham she’d seen a griffon eat once, except deep blue and with a decided lack of animal product.

“Yep. They’re called that because you’ve got to pick and shuck them quick, or the shells they grow in explode from the gas pressure.” She explained. “They’re good; we’re not going to poison you.”

Twilight bit into the fruit and was pleasantly surprised; it tasted sweet and crisp, like an apple, but a bit tarter. The slight heat made her tongue tingle a bit. “It’s good!”

“Didn’t I just say that?”

Starshine returned from her kitchen bearing a second platter of roasted asparagus and Blast slices. “Dig in!” She sang, and took a seat by a third door that probably led outside. The other two ponies each ate two plates of food in silence, famished as they were after hours of walking the night before. Their host seemed uncomfortable with the silence.

“Come on! Talk! Speak words!” She finally ordered in exasperation. “Honestly, I can’t stand a silent meal.”

“It’s too good to waste energy on speaking, Starshine.” Midnight smiled, revealing a few bits of green stuck to her teeth shamelessly. Twilight laughed a little.

“Flattery doesn’t work on friends, Midnight.” Starshine smiled. “They know each other too well. But if you won’t talk, I’ll have to, because I get few enough visitors here in the infirmary, and you know how taciturn Arcturus gets around me.” She looked to Twilight. “So, Twilight. How’ve you liked the Underground so far? Lots of nice, dark tunnels without those bright lights the Day ponies ruin theirs with.”

“I haven’t had a lot of problems with bright lights, actually.” Twilight answered after swallowing a mouthful of fruit.

“Just the ponies who use them on you, am I right?” The grey Night pony laughed. “Yeah, I figured. Lots of unicorns figure out some kind of spell to keep out bright light when they first turn, too. Well, so I’ve heard, because we don’t get a lot of new foals thanks to Firebrand making us live down here in our tunnels. Lower Canterlot’s nice, though. Been here a while.”

“You, or the city?” The lavender unicorn inquired.

“Both!” Starshine giggled. “I hope you like it. We carved it into the mountain and crystal caverns below the Upper City – you should go visit the crystal park some time! It’s pretty there.”

“Seeing as how I don’t have a lot else to do today – er, tonight – I might as well go now.” Twilight decided.

“You’re not going alone.” Midnight declared.

“You’re in no shape to be going anywhere, Midnight.” The herbalist told her. “You stay here and rest.”

“No! She’s from my bloodline and is my responsibility. Besides, if Luna checks things out through her eyes, I don’t want her to freak out. I’m going.” Midnight insisted.

“Fine.” Starshine surrendered quickly. “But don’t overexert yourself, okay? Not until you’ve had Regulus work on you.”

“Sure thing, Starry.” Midnight stood up and stretched her wings. “Stars, it’s cramped in here. Come on, Twilight, let’s get some fresh air.”

“Bye, Starshine.” The unicorn followed the pegasus out the door. “See you around.”

“Bye! It was nice seeing – “ The door slammed shut before the earth pony could finish her farewell.

“Night above, I thought we’d never escape that place.” Midnight griped as the two ponies trotted away. “Come on, time to show you around. Twilight?”

The unicorn was barely listening; she was too busy staring in wonder out across the vast chasm that dropped away on the other side of the cobblestone path’s low wall. As she looked around, she saw that the path wrapped around the entirety of the subterranean canyon, connecting dozens of doorways recessed into the spacious cavern’s wall. Were she a Day pony, it would seem to be just a huge, empty dark space; instead, her eyes amplified the ambient lighting produced by several large crystals in the chasm wall, allowing her to see the entire thing as if it were lit by a bright full moon. She could even pick out the cables running down into the depths from small wells built into the path’s protective wall; buckets suspended on them indicated that there was water down below.

“Oh, right. Well, we can start here I guess.” Midnight noticed her companion’s fascination. “This is the Cistern. See that big crack we built Lower Canterlot around? Down there’s water. A big, underground river. Doesn’t touch the surface anywhere along its length.”

“Wow…” The unicorn looked happily around. She could maybe get used to this.

“Yeah, it’s pretty impressive at first. Big enough for the pegasi to fly around in, too, which is why we built here.” Midnight pushed Twilight a bit to snap her out of her wonderment. “Come on, come on. Plenty to see.”

The two Night ponies made their way along the path bordering the chasm, Twilight still gazing in awe at the heart of Lower Canterlot as it came alive for the night. Ponies of every race and coat color emerged from their homes and began went about their business, many pouring through a large archway carved into the cavern’s end.

“What’s through there?” She asked the pegasus.

“The market district.” Midnight answered. “Night ponies from all over the place arrive there and peddle their wares; I think a delegation from the Storm Pillars arrived today. Should be a lot of old cloud sculptures and jarred aurorae.”

“Jarred aurorae?”

“Well, somepony has to manage those things. The Night pegasi and Day pegasi worked out an arrangement long ago on the subject; we take care of the aurorae, they take care of the rainbows. I think it’s worked out in our favor.”

“Can we go there next?”

“Sure.” They began threading their way through the continuously thickening crowds towards the archway; there had to be at least as many Night ponies here as there were Day ponies above! How had nopony ever discovered this place? She intended to ask Midnight this once they were in the market, but as they stepped through the arch the question slipped her mind completely.

Instead of roughly-hewn rock walls, the Marketplace cavern’s sides were covered in stone bricks and greenery. The same moss she had seen in the Garden room back at the palace hung from the ceiling and sides, buds open to reveal three-petaled white flowers with a cluster of black seeds in their hearts. They seemed to give off a faint luminescence that added to the ambient light produced by a large cluster of alabaster crystals set into the roof. Market stalls were set up haphazardly, crewed by ponies of every stripe, and even a few non-ponies as well. To Twilight’s surprise, she noticed a cluster of displays manned by equinoid insects, a second group staffed by a pair of bedraggled-looking griffons, and a whole row of stalls operated by pegasi with imposing batlike wings.

“There’s the Storm Pillar group!” Midnight pointed to the bat-ponies, shouting to be heard over the loud bustle of the crowd. “Come on, let’s see what they have!”

The lavender unicorn was overwhelmed by the variety of the goods on display in the Marketplace as they explored it that night. She saw exotic fruits that didn’t grow anywhere under the sun and in only a few places beneath the Moon, jars containing tiny glowing creatures that strongly resembled parasprites, jars containing actual parasprites, displays of vegetables, rare minerals, animals, even meats for those with more carnivorous tendencies. There were stalls holding strange herbal tea mixes that were marketed as giving a pony a new perspective on life, stalls selling bottled water purportedly from the Fountain of Youth, displays that consisted entirely of batteries of multicolored missiles, ponies dragging around carts of pies of questionable origin, minstrels and traveling bards holding miniature concerts in out-of-the-way corners of the cave; jugglers, fire-eaters, indoor aerial display teams of pegasi, fortune-tellers, even martial artists challenging passers-by to a sparring match; it was incredible! The place was huge; it was a wonder the mountain didn’t collapse in on it.

A few hours later, as the two ponies laughed and watched a pair of suave Day ponies declaring themselves and their odd juicing machine through song and dance, a familiar face pushed his way through the gathered crowd to them. “Enjoying yourself?” Arcturus asked.

“This place is amazing!” Twilight exclaimed, barely audible over the sudden applause of the onlookers as the salesponies ended their routine. “How has it not been discovered yet?”

“We’ve got our methods.” The red unicorn hinted. “Perhaps you’ll meet a few of those responsible on Trade Day.”

“I heard that from Starshine earlier. What’s Trade Day about?” The lavender unicorn asked. She assumed it was a holiday of some sort.

“Basically, the craftsponies of the city hold exhibitions of their work in the Marketplace. They usually formalize any new apprenticeships during the celebration, as well; it’s a good day to search for a job down here.” Arcturus explained. “With your magical skills and power reserve, I’d suggest one of the more thaumaturgical professions – medicine, herbalism, the Guard; maybe even see if Moonwatcher’s looking for somepony to train as a successor yet, though you might a bit of competition with that one.”

“Are there any libraries down here?” Twilight asked eagerly.

“Of course.” The other unicorn laughed.

“Ah, but where’d the challenge be in that?” A new pony imposed himself upon the conversation; a unicorn stallion, red of eye and with a coat the color of desert sand, gently pushed his way to the front of the dispersing crowd. His mark was a compass rose beneath a crescent moon; perhaps an adventurer, then, Twilight thought.

“Hello, Regulus. Didn’t think I’d see you here tonight.” Arcturus greeted the newcomer frostily.

“Why wouldn’t I be? So close to Trade Day, and with a newly-turned Night unicorn in town, of course I’d emerge from my humble abode and take stock of how Lower Canterlot has fared without my constant presence.” He bowed to Twilight and Midnight. “Good night to you fine mares. Midnight I recognize, but you I do not. Would I be incorrect to believe you to be new here?”

“You wouldn’t.” Twilight wasn’t sure if she liked this pony much at all.

“Splendid! Welcome to Lower Canterlot. My name is Regulus, resident magical tinkerer and explorer of the Underground.” The unicorn introduced himself. “It’s wonderful to see new faces around these parts – ones here to stay, and not liable to shift suddenly mid-conservation as the Changelings tend to do.”

“Why does the Underground need exploration if it was built by Night ponies?” Twilight asked, confused. “Shouldn’t there be a map?”

“You really must be new here.” Regulus laughed. “The Underground was found by the early Night ponies when the Princess stepped up her persecution of us after Luna was banished; it existed before us, and our expansion of its network of tunnels hasn’t occurred through the most methodical of means. Any maps you might find of it are solely the result of ponies like myself, risking life and limb on grand expeditions into the earth.”

“Interesting.” Twilight responded.

“Indeed. I’ve recently returned from a journey into some of the old magma tubes down below; I believe I actually have a souvenir of it here somewhere…” The stallion’s horn lit orange as he rummaged through the satchel he wore. “Ah! Here we are. A shard of fine obsidian I pried loose from a wall there.”

He floated out a large chip of obsidian, flecked with white snowflake-like patterns, about as large as Twilight’s hoof. It glittered slightly in the light of the flowers.

“It’s beautiful!” She lifted the piece out of the explorer’s magical grip.

“Keep it, please. I found plenty more, and plan to sell them for a tidy profit.” Regulus smiled. “Consider it a gift.”

“Thank you!” She slipped the gift into her own saddlebag as Regulus excused himself from the group. She, Midnight and Arcturus began walking to the archway out of the Marketplace.

“Enjoying your stay here so far, Twilight?” The red unicorn asked.

“Yes!” She grinned. Being a Night pony was turning out to be far more interesting than being a Day pony, student of the Princess or not.

“We should probably turn in for the day.” Midnight suggested. “It’s getting to be morning, I think.”

“Where will I stay?” The thought just occurred to Twilight then. She’d need somewhere to sleep, of course; she couldn’t just curl up in a corner somewhere like a vagrant.

“Oh! Oh! You can stay with me!” To the shock of all, Starshine dropped down in front of them from the archway top, hitting the ground and vibrating rapidly in place to expend the excess energy. Somehow, her glasses remained in place. “I’ve got extra beds! Nopony else showed up today, which I guess is good but I got lonely. So I went to try to find you guys, but the Marketplace was so full of herbs and spices and teas and other neat medicines! I even found a few Lotus leaves! See!” She stuck her head in her bag and pulled out three soft white flower petals. “These things are so rare! They come from Camelon way to the south, so I don’t see them up here often, but they’re really useful in anaesthesia and stuff. See!” She stuffed a petal in Midnight’s mouth before the stunned pegasus could react. In less than a second, she had fallen over, all sensation in her limbs gone.

“Oh…” Starshine’s ears flattened sheepishly. “Well, now I have only two petals. That should wear off in about an hour or so.” Arcturus sighed and muscled Midnight up on his back again.

“Well, there’s your accommodations taken care of, Twilight.” Arcturus said. “You have fun tonight. She’ll most likely kill you by the morning.”

As he trotted off, Twilight looked at the earth pony in bewilderment. “You just stuffed a potent anaesthetic in somepony’s mouth without warning them or getting their permission.”


“Did you know how it would have affected her?”

“Yep! I’ve given it to her before when she broke a wing and one of the medical unicorns had to do some bone work. That’s how I know she’ll be good in an hour!” Starshine answered as she began walking in the direction of the Infirmary again. “Now come on, let’s get a bed set up for you. Even if we can’t really see the sun down here, morning is still time to rest!”

The lavender unicorn followed the herbalist back to the Infirmary, wondering at the odd direction her life had taken.