• Published 9th Feb 2013
  • 11,268 Views, 43 Comments

The Next Level Of Your Studies - cleversuggestion

Twilight Sparkle gets a letter from Celestia that sets her on a quest for knowledge which will transform her more deeply and completely than she ever imagined was possible.

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3. A Hidden Meeting

One Day AR

Deep Field shifted uncomfortably. His indigo robe had grown tighter over the years, now feeling like a second skin over his dark grey coat rather than the loose garment he had once hidden inside. Their cowled and masked robes were supposedly for anonymity, as if a sufficiently clever unicorn couldn't identify another one from their voice and the color of their magic. But at least the robes made the cold cellar somewhat more comfortable.

Soft hoofsteps, then the scrape of metal on metal announced the arrival of another. Deep Field listened carefully, hearing the chirp of the key's enchantment and the lock's enchantment recognizing each other. One of the doors to the cellar slowly clanked open.

Another cloaked and masked unicorn entered, silently nodding to Deep Field. From the height, it was probably Amaranthine, but could be Obsidian Sky. They stood together in the depths, listening in the silence for the hoofsteps of the others, Deep Field shifting uneasily. This meeting was unlike any of their previous meetings, and he had no idea how it would go.

They arrived, one by one, coming through different paths to different doors, sliding different keys into different locks. But they wore the same indigo robes, cloaks, and masks, hiding as many details about their identities as they could.

For good reason, Deep Field reflected. If their treason were discovered, they would be lucky if they were imprisoned for life; probably in a cell much like this cellar. But much more likely and poetic would be a one-way trip to the moon.

The fifth pony stepped into the cellar. They watched him lock the door behind him, deftly maneuvering his key with his pale yellow magic. Perry Pierce, Deep Field thought, anxiety surging as he waited for the last arrival to take his position. Every invitation Deep Field had received in his youth, or sent out once he became the Horn's Tip, had expressed the date in BR: before return. It has been one of their little quirks; a calendar that counted down, their excitement palpably increasing as the date approached the time of prophecy. Deep Field had not even been sure that he would survive to see the day, and now part of him wished he hadn't. The invitation for this meeting had to be sent in the usual way, and Deep Field had almost written "BR" instead of "AR" out of force of habit.

He steeled himself, then held up his right forehoof, the others mimicking his actions.

“The moon also rises,” they said together, their soft voices blending into one in the quiet gloom. They lowered their hooves back to the floor, setting them down carefully to minimize the sound.

“The stars were right,” a deep voice began. Deep Field was certain that was Obsidian Sky, one of the younger members of cabal at only forty. He was the newest member, and so spoke first. “The sun failed to rise, and it looked like Her plan was in place. We all had our parts to play, and by the dark of the new Moon, I did mine.”

He paused, but none of the others spoke, their eyes glinting through the slits in their masks.

“What happened?” he asked plaintively. “Why did we lose?”

Again, silence descended.

“My source in the palace,” began the mellifluous voice Deep Field knew was Perry Pierce's, “claims that Celestia fled as soon as Night Mare Moon landed in the Old Palace. I haven't been able to find out where she hid- no doubt she'll claim that she rushed to the Old Palace to fight Night Mare Moon.”

“Reports from Ponyville are scattered,” Amaranthine said. “It is certain that Night Mare Moon appeared in front of of the town, and then Celestia's pupil, Twilight Sparkle, followed her into the Everfree Forest. Beyond that is unclear.”

The fourth speaker was the only one of them that had successfully kept her identity secret from Deep Field, disguising her voice with a spell and deigning to use her mouth instead of her magic to manipulate objects. Deep Field had been in the cabal with her for twenty years, and yet his only clue to her identity was that she was a mare.

“It seems we will be learning the truth from the papers with the uninitiated.” Today, her modified voice sounded metallic, harsh. “Not only did we lose, we don't even know why.”

They all shifted, then, their unease feeding off each other. Deep Field knew that, as the most senior member, he would have to speak last. He had hoped he could say something resolute, something to turn this loss into a victory. But searching within himself, he could not find resolution; only a sad, lonely voice asking why he had ever expected this to work.

“Perhaps,” he said in his voice that crackled like old paper, “that is why we lost. We knew our parts of Night Mare Moon's plan, and we did them. But even with all our ears to the ground, we did not know Celestia's plan. We had the prison prepared to hold her once she was defeated- but then she fled instead of fought.”

The silence between their words now felt shocked, not just uneasy. He had to add something, he had to show them the way forward. But how could he when he hadn't found it yet?

“We will have to increase our infiltration of the palace, and determine a new way to overthrow Celestia.”

“Really?” the unknown mare burst out, breaking their protocol. “You're still trying? A goddess with a thousand year plan just failed to dethrone Celestia. Can't you read the writing on the wall?” It was so odd to hear such exasperated words in the clipped, neutral tone of her modified voice.

She looked at their masks, then, her expression hidden as much as theirs. She pulled her signalling gem out of a pocket in her cloak, setting it on the ground of the cellar. Deep Field felt sick- things were spiraling out of control and he had no idea what to do. It was clear she was walking out on them; that had never happened before.

They watched her retreat, unspeaking, and her hoofsteps echoed through the passages.

“We're stronger without her,” Obsidian Sky said scornfully. Deep Field bit back a scoff: it sounded like Obsidian Sky was saying that as much to reassure himself as to reassure the others. Even so, as their posture shifted, Deep Field noticed that it seemed to have helped.

“You know,” Perry Pierce said, “we all swore on our magic to never reveal the secrets of the Moon's Horn. She claimed to not use magic to hide her identity, but what if she had been a spy all this time, and is just leaving now because she thinks we're beaten?”

Again, Deep Field felt doubts rising through his mind. Would a unicorn really sacrifice her magic just to spy on them, and for decades? Did someone else cast the voice modulation spell on her, and monitor the signalling gem for her? He realized he could test that last bit by analyzing the magical residue of the gem, but he felt strangely uncompelled to put that belief to the test. The emotional possibility that she had been a spy froze the surface of his mind, trapping those doubts like air below ice.

“She was always too cautious, too passive,” Amaranthine began. “We could have used Night Mare Moon's return to cripple the Royal Guard and take the Palace- but instead we just secured resources to 'smooth the transition.' We are stronger without her.”

Deep Field nodded. “We won't let this setback stop us. We are Luna's Faithful, the Moon's Horn, and if we may not crown her then, by the stars, we shall avenge her. I will see all of you tomorrow,” he said, looking at the three remaining unicorns in turn. Each met his fierce gaze for an instant then nodded their agreement. They left the cellar, locking their doors behind themselves.

Deep Field remained in the cellar, staring at the gem that she had left behind.