• Published 6th Dec 2012
  • 2,239 Views, 29 Comments

Starfall: Dominion of the Night, Part I - AuroraScribe

The course of time has been changed... and as the war of the sisters begins, will Star Swirl's involvement change things for the better, or has the mage doomed Equestria to an even more terrible fate?

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Chapter Four: Dark Tidings

Hours earlier...

As a hot breeze scattered dust and whipped about Princess Luna’s long, dark mane, it brought with it a sickeningly sweet stench that smelled of decayed fruit and sulfur that hung heavily on the musky air. Repulsed by the incredibly pungent scent, the princess slowly raised her foreleg to cover her nose but kept her gaze upon the cloudless amber sky and the cause of its unusual coloration – the eclipsed sun.

Wide-eyed and still trying to make sense of what was happening, she found herself exhaling in disbelief as she glanced from the spectacle above to view her surroundings. Before her stretched a charred and desolate landscape, where there were once trees only blackened husks remained and what used to be lakes and rivers were nothing but empty scars upon the land. She looked once more to the eclipse and wondered if the moon had been trying to shield the world, possibly from the intense heat of the sun. Not that it matters, she thought. There is nothing left to protect.

Another strong breeze whirled by and as she covered her face to deflect the spray of sand and dirt, she tilted her head curiously as she noticed gray snow floating lazily through the air. That cannot be... it is far too hot, she thought and slowly brought a leg forward and watched as a speck landed on her hoof. “Ash…" She said flatly and with a heavy sigh tilted her hoof to watch the tiny speck drift away.

“Have I entered a dream of sort, or is this something else? What... is this place?” She said but found it odd her voice didn’t carry, muffled almost as if her mouth were covered. Clearing her throat, she suddenly felt a strange presence, as if something nearby were listening and watching. Nervously she looked about but found only jutting rocks and scorched tree stumps, no sign of life anywhere. More annoyed than afraid, she took a step forward, her ornamented hooves sinking deep into blackened earth. “Say something, please! I only want to know where I am… I do not understand what is happening!”

“Don't you?” A feminine and vaguely familiar voice retorted.

Luna’s eyes widened – the voice sounded right next to her. She spun frantically looking for its source but spotted nothing but rocky landscape. “I am in no mood for games!” She shouted loudly but couldn’t hide the tremble in her voice.

“Oh, my dear princess, you never are. It’s an admirable quality.”

Luna’s horn flared bright purple as she turned, positive the source of the voice was now behind her, but again finds no one.

“Yet, flustered so easily… quite unbecoming of royalty.”

“What would you know of it?” Luna growled.

“I know your heart quickens at the slightest gesture of appreciation. I know you value what you’ve given to Equestria more than anything your sister has ever done, and rightfully so. I know everything about you, princess of the night.”

“Enough of this! Tell me where I am! Do so this instant!”

“Where you are?” The strange voice said then gave a wicked laugh. “Why dear princess, you’re in your chambers.”

Luna snarled in anger but as she blinked the voice was right, she now stood in the center of her chambers in Canterlot castle. Confused, her voice hung in her throat as she quickly looked about the darkened room; only the light of her glowing horn softly illuminated the area around her in a purple haze. She opened her mouth to protest but was quickly interrupted.

“You’ve forgotten who you are. It’s time you remembered.”

Hearing the voice so close once again, Luna gave a sigh. “Who… I am?” She slowly turned expecting not to find anyone but instead found herself looking into her large dressing mirror, yet it was not her reflection she saw. A mare in dark blue and purple armor stared back with fierce, intensely glowing teal eyes. Luna peered at the strange reflection as if waiting for it to explain itself, but it remained motionless, its expression seemingly frozen in a scowl. Annoyed, Luna tilted her head to say something but cut short when the reflection matched her movements. She narrowed her eyes in disbelief and the reflection narrowed its eyes as well.

“Yes, dear Luna… I am you. I’m that which you’ve kept locked away for such a very long time, a part of your very being you’ve tried to forget. But… I am no petty memory. You have doubts. And you have ambition. And, most importantly, you have desire; to be more than you are now… So, like a winter seedling slowly taking root, your misguided need to ignore your true feelings is finally coming to an end. Soon… very soon… you will embrace what you truly are, and night’s eternal reign will begin at last.”

Luna shook her head and looked away as she clenched her eyes painfully shut. She wanted to scream, to throw something and smash the mirror but it felt like something was covering her face and she couldn’t breathe.

The princess flailed her legs as she awoke only to throw her pillows and the thick blanket she had sunk her face into from her bed. With a loud gasp and tears sparkling at the corner of her eyes, she quickly glanced from the bed items now draped across the floor to the mirror of her nightstand, but stopped from looking further as she caught sight of the element of harmony glowing softly on its silver wall display.

“The nightmares... they are getting worse…” She panted and with beads of sweat forming on her brow, she brushed a trembling hoof through her mane. After a moment she glanced from her element to the mirror then - knowing she only had the darkness of her room to bring her any real comfort - shifted to sit upright in her bed and covered her face with her forelegs.

* * * * * * * *

Princess Luna closed her eyes as she slowly rose from the honey-scented water of her bath, her sopped mane clinging to her shoulders and forelegs in dark waves and glistening softly from the various candles lit within the large tiled chamber. Her ears tilted back as she lifted her head and listened to the tiny beads of water dripping from her body into the pool of warm water, letting the soothing ambiance slowly clear her mind.

Still unmoving, her horn slowly began to glow brighter and brighter, the luminance on the reflective pool turning the entire chamber a soft purple hue. In response to her magic, the bath water rippled and splashed until she finished the spell and lowered her head, returning the chamber to the dim flickering glow of candlelight. With a tiny sigh she slowly made her way from the comforting warmth of the water and out of the bath.

“I should meet with my sister… tell her of these dreams…” Luna winced as a vision of fierce, terrifying eyes and an eclipsed sun pulsed through her memory, briefly forcing her to relive the nightmare of earlier. She stood for a long moment to suppress the growing fear until finally speaking aloud what she believed she needed to hear. “I should… tell her everything.” She softly spoke the comforting lie, knowing all too well she had decided long ago to keep the problems of her past a secret.

She magically lifted a thick gray towel from an ornate stool then floated it through the air to herself. As she began drying off she couldn’t help but think of the downside of telling Celestia; she concluded if anything, telling her sister would only widen the already large rift between them. “Would she forgive me?” She said as she began to wrap the towel around her mane. “I am uncertain… but, does she have the right to pass judgment?”

Luna had long lived with a sense that she was adrift, floating aimlessly like her beautiful moon in a sea of stars – unique but alone. She gives a small sigh at the sudden reminder of her loneliness and admits to herself it would be much worse without her sister’s support in this world. I have no need of her approval, or forgiveness, she thought. Even so, should she ever learn the truth, my sister's heart would never heal from what I have done.

Disappointed, she made her way from the bath chamber into her massive bedroom, then nervously stepped in front of her nightstand and peeked into the mirror. There she was – not the terrifying reflection from the nightmare, but the princess she knew. She weakly smiled and let the towel magically slide from her damp mane, an idea coming to her.

“There is still time before the sun is set…” she began as she magically lifted a brush from the nightstand and stretched her wings to let her feathers dry. “I could meet with my sister; speak of other things… perhaps of the coming festival.” She knew it wouldn’t be the same as expressing her problems, but they had grown so far apart, this could at least be a step to strengthen their friendship once more.

As she gently began to run the brush through her hair she smiled and looked to the wall painting of her sister’s cutie mark she had made long ago and concluded she would head to the grand hall.

* * * * * * * *

Princess Celestia looked over the parchment letter once again as it magically floated in the air before her. She reread every word twice, then three times, and still dissatisfied, floated the letter closer to examine the imprinted seal and signature of the gryphon hierarch, King Silverbeak. With a worried expression, she looked to the zebra named Zaira next to her then to the silver armored white gryphon named Gwyneth standing in the center of the grand hall. Trying to mask her concern, she closed her eyes for a moment and sighed.

“Then, if it is true… there may be little we can do.” Zaira spoke quietly then glanced at the gryphon.

Gwyneth shifted uneasily then tapped her front claws on the elaborately tiled floor, loudly expressing her nervousness. “Um, uh… your highness? Or is that highnesses?”

Celestia looked to Zaira and broke a tiny smile. “Zaira is my confidant and leads the magic order within Canterlot. She may not hold the title of royalty…” she paused to nod respectfully to the zebra next to her. “But she is every bit as important.”

“Well alright... but I uh, I just wanted to be sure you understood everything,” Gwyneth pointed a talon at the letter still floating in the air. “My king apologized he couldn't be here to tell you himself, but what's written on there is his decree.”

“I understand that much…” Celestia began then allowed her magic to roll the scroll up then floated it to Zaira for safekeeping. “But I spoke with your king just weeks ago, and he made no mention of this.”

Gwyneth’s claws stopped tapping then tightened together into a ball, the bladed edges creating a light screech as they slid over tile. “It’s been on his mind for a long time, I know that much.”

“To no longer defend the borders north?" Zaira asked then gave a tiny shake of her head making her long braided ponytail bounce on her striped shoulder.

Celestia stepped forward, her colorful mane flowing like liquid even from the small motion. “Centuries have passed since the white gryphons of Highnest gave their pact to guard the northern passage in return for open trade within Equestria... what he asks will isolate his kingdom, is this really what your king wants? ”

“Look, I'm just here to deliver the message, but I can tell you this - it’s not that he doesn’t want to stay on good terms… But your highness, it’s gotten so dangerous. And…” Gwyneth paused as if unsure if she wanted to say more then took a deep breath and focused on Celestia. “You’ve already had-”

She's interrupted as the massive doors of the grand hall slide open and two dark pegasus with bat-like wings step inside and stand at attention. Following behind them, Princess Luna steps inside then nods to her escorts and they quickly move to step outside and quickly seal the doors once again.

“Luna?” Celestia asked, genuinely surprised at her sister's attendance.

Gwyneth turned and gave an unimpressed look. “Is this the other princess?”

Luna stopped and tilted her head to the side, sizing up the gryphon. “The other princess? Is that how royalty is addressed these days?”

“Oh, I uh… I didn’t mean any disrespect.” Quickly Gwyneth gave a curtly bow.

“Think nothing of it.” Luna stepped passed Gwyneth and flicked her tail in the gryphon's direction then moved to stand near Celestia and Zaira at the center of the room. “I… apologize, for my interruption. Please, continue.”

Uncertain, Celestia eyed Luna for a moment then reluctantly nodded to Gwyneth. “Please, as she said, continue.”

“Well, I was just saying… like it or not… everybird knows about the Crystal Empire. You had an entire city up and disappear, and if you can’t protect your own lands, how are you going to help us?”

Luna stepped forward, her eyes gleaming with anger. “The one responsible was harshly dealt with, but the loss of the kingdom was something we could not prevent! We never once gave up on them!”

Surprised at her enthusiasm Celestia looked to Luna and nodded. “We had many friends there…. If anything, its loss should be a clear reminder on why it’s so important we work together.”

Gwyneth sighed and sat back on her haunches, her lion tail flicking about. “Look, I understand, but this is my king's orders…”

Luna huffed then looked to her sister.

Celestia, surprised at her sister's restraint, turned to Zaira and gave a look of uncertainty. “Because winter helps heal and renew the land, it is an incredibly important period of time for the world. It is, however, also a very dangerous time for those that live here, and we've taken steps to safeguard them. Over the next two days we will have a large portion of our military moving across Equestria, going from village to village to give aid wherever needed. Because of this, Canterlot’s defenses will be greatly diminished… and if your king will no longer help defend the northern passage it could spell disaster.”

Gwyneth shook her head. “I can see where this is heading, but I’m not here to bargain, your highness.”

“Two days, Gwyneth. For now, that is all we would need…" Zaira spoke up.

Celestia nodded. "After that, I’m certain I can speak with your king and resolve this matter.”

Gwyneth’s claws ticked on the tile once again. “There are… things… in the north. I’m not certain I’m allowed to even speak of it, but… word is, they can take the form of other beings. Whatever they are, they've really got everybody I know pretty scared.”

Zaira, Luna, and Celestia all looked at one another then back to Gwyneth.

“Look, nevermind what I just said. The king might allow a small group to help out but he’d never agree to around the clock defense… but, ya know, I wanna help… so I’ll take up a wing and we’ll have day watch on the north for the next couple days. That’s the best I can do.”

Celestia’s shoulders slump, she didn’t even want to look at Luna. “Only during the day?”

“I’d never be able to get more to help at night… sorry, princess.” Gwyneth shrugged, apparently not caring one way or the other.

Luna stepped in front of Zaira, her eyes narrowed and focused on Celestia. “The city will be the most vulnerable at night; that is when the solstice festival is held.”

Celestia couldn’t hold her sister’s gaze. “We will have to do whatever’s necessary to keep everypony safe. We can discuss this later…” she looked to Gwyneth and pursed her lips. “Tell your king I expect to speak with him soon.”

Gwyneth bowed. “Then if that’s all, I have a long and cold flight ahead of me…” She begins but a loud single knock makes her pause and turn to look at the doors of the grand hall.

“Thank you, Gwyneth. I wish your visit could have been on better terms, but your help is still greatly appreciated. Please have a safe flight.” Celestia says as her horn glows bright yellow, opening the doors.

“You only tell me we will discuss something later when you know it will be something I do not wish to hear,” Luna angrily whispered. “Speak your intent, sister.”

Zaira cleared her throat and nodded to a gray unicorn royal guard that had entered as Gwyneth had left. He now stood at full attention, apparently awaiting someone to acknowledge him. "It appears there is another matter, but since it has grown late, I shall also take my absence. Excuse me, highnesses.”

Luna stepped back and gave Zaira a look of frustration as she moved passed, then with a heavy sigh she turned and nodded to the royal guard that had entered. “We have much to discuss, what is it you need?”

The royal guard looked nervously from princess to princess as Zaira stepped out of the grand hall and closed the doors behind her. "I am sorry, but... there’s an elder gentleman at the main gate that has requested the audience of Princess Luna and Princess Celestia.”

Luna gave an almost sinister smirk. “And this message made it here? He must be of great importance indeed.”

The royal guard stayed at attention but Celestia noticed his gaze shift to the floor. “The commanding officer on watch, Scarlet Blossom, had originally refused the request, but he insisted… and since he was being escorted by another officer…”

Celestia stepped forward. “It’s alright, there’s no harm done. Please tell us the message.” She said comfortingly.

“That... was the strange part, your highness. He only asked that I say his name and said that you would understand.”

Luna glanced at Celestia then tilted her head and cocked an eyebrow. “And whose name would be so important?”

The guard somehow managed to stand up even straighter. “Your highness, he said his name is... Star Swirl,” he cleared his throat, realizing he had forgotten to add the stranger's title. “Star Swirl the Bearded!”