• Published 12th Mar 2013
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The Twilight Struggle - Lapis-Lazuli and Stitch

As Twilight Sparkle enters her third year amongst her friends in Ponyville, she finds herself plagued with strange dreams of an unknown power whispering dark secrets to her. What is this voice, and what does it plan for the most faithful student?

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Chapter 11 - Dawn of the First Day

The Old Palace, Throne Room – Summer Sun Day, 7 hours after Sunrise

Twilight awoke.

She could feel her limbs crying out for movement, the warm stone of the floor below her seemed to be keeping them from cramping for now, but if she did not move soon that would not last. One hoof, then the other pressed into the floor and slowly stretched out, her back cracking faintly as she arched over the ground. The first thing she noticed was that she was a little bit taller. Not excessively so, but her form felt slimmer and more limber. Her eyes glanced over her fore hooves and confirmed their shapely curves and sleek form.

Her eyes were almost clinically examining her body when they caught a gleam of metal at her hooves. Before her, sat a familiar looking set of jewelry and armor. Hoofboots made from silver and topaz that would wrap up to her knees, a Torque of wrought silver and lacquered in a dark purple which now matched the new color of her coat. A chest-piece lacquered in the same color, with a dark violet sparkle and six shining silver stars at each point glimmering in the front. A helmet of wrought steel, perfectly shaped to encase her head and fit snugly over her horn.

There was more, but those pieces told the tale. They were the same kind of armor once worn by Nightmare Moon, neatly stacked and awaiting her to wear them. Pinned under the helmet was a squished scroll of parchment, bound with a black silk ribbon. Her horn felt incredibly alive as she filled it slowly with magic – as though she could power spells she had never before even considered trying to cast. Telekinesis was all but effortless, and the scroll was enshrouded in a dark purple sparkling aura in front of her eyes.

It took a moment to shake herself from the reverie and pull open the scroll, reading it silently in her head – surprisingly, in the same simple tones of the earth pony he had been at the end of his moments.

My dearest Twilight,

This armor and this scroll are my final gifts to you. The armor contains the last few wisps of my magic. It is my hope that you will never need this armor in true combat, but should a need arise – you will be prepared. On to business, now. Hidden beneath the throne on the main dais is a set of documents. Over the last few centuries, formal ownership of the Everfree Forest had become something of a joke amongst the nobility.

It was a place no one could do anything profitable with, but the nobility were easily amused by the gentle scandal and danger of the thought one might attempt such a thing. It floated from owner to owner until it came into the possession of a pony I had…dealings with. He thought he was getting one over on me. I indulged him in that belief.

You are now the full and formal owner of these lands, including the small city which exists not far from this palace, and all of the roadways which travel through the forest. Further, you have the tax rights to those roads, ensuring that you need never concern yourself with the earning of bits ever again.

I have given you this place as a refuge, Twilight. Somewhere that those parts of society who might look down upon you cannot bring you harm. Your arrival into the world will already have sounded a clarion call to those who move in the shadows as we do. They will come and build you a grand city, worthy of the defender of Equestria.

Some of them will be strange. Some of them will bring ways that may be far outside the norm for Equestrian culture. Yet they are still ponies, many of good heart. They are simply different from the way the world expects them to be. They deserve a good home, Twilight. Give it to them.

My words will soon fade from this document, just as my spirit fades from the world. I leave unto you Twilight one final request – Bury me in dignity, under my true name. I have always been fond of the great oak to the west of the palace gardens. It is a peaceful place, where I spent many a moon dancing amidst the trees with my Princess.

I also leave you one last gift. A gift I hesitate to give you, yet it may prove vital in the days that you will soon come to face. In the history of Equestria, only five beings have ever ascended to become an Alicorn. They all did so by virtue of taking the magic of all three pony tribes and merged them together within themselves, becoming a paragon of them all. Two of those tribes magic now lie in your hooves. Unicorn magic, and earth pony magic.
What you do with this knowledge, only you may decide.

Eternally yours,
Cabbage Leaf

Twilight held the letter up for another moment as the words faded one at a time into the ether, the ink magically dissipating into the air – leaving only the last sentence and the ending to the letter for her to read. “What you do with this, only you may decide.” She whispered softly into the silence.

Her eyes turned to the pile of armor and neatly lifted it over to the side of the throne. There would be time enough for legal matters later. For now, she had to know how monstrous she had become, and only one pony would possibly give her the time to explain herself before attacking. That could only mean one pony present, given how hysterical the girls were likely to be.

So she turned on her hooves and galloped over to Shining Armor laying on the ground, trying to gently awaken her courageous brother with a shove of her hooves. “Come on, big brother…I need you.” Her voice was still only the barest whisper – Well, if nothing else at least her voice still sounded the same to her.

Ponyville Crisis Post, 7 Hours after Sunrise.

Commander Spitfire was very nervous, but she was also incredibly relieved. An hour ago, word had reached her that both Princesses were en-route, and were going to be followed by numerous other military assets in the area. Far more important than all of that, she had been formally relieved of command of the situation by the order of Celestia herself. This was both good, and very bad. Good, in that she was no longer in charge of this clusterbuck that was undoubtedly going to get no small number of individuals a dressing down of legendary proportions. This was very bad, in that Princess bucking Celestia had personally ordered her to stand down and wait for her to arrive in order to personally debrief her on the situation.

Which led her to where she was now, standing in a full dress uniform of the Pegasus Air Corps, her medals, stripes and ribbons stiffly sticking out from her coat. She normally would take comfort in the formality of the uniform, but that didn’t mean that associating with both Princesses at the same time did not give her a small dose of the wing-twitches. Worse still, she knew she’d be called to account for abandoning her post without properly seeing it filled and of course, for losing track of not merely the Princesses prized unicorn student, but also the Prince of the bucking Crystal Empire! With no communication, no word, and no way to convince the bucking Guard commander to go into the forest and get some!

Ever since the column of magic earlier that morning, not a single one of the yellow-bellied cowards would go into the forest no matter what orders or threats were delivered their way. This was the business of the mages – and the Special Forces. Word had it that the Equestrian Intelligence Service was sending one of their Black Level threat-response teams to Ponyville with the utmost speed. That was pure speculation though, and her sharp eyes had caught the sight of the royal carriage coming in to range.

She was the only officer present – the rest of them were either sodden drunk in tearful fears of being cashiered or out actually doing their damn jobs. Spitfire no longer gave a buck. She would represent her unit with the pride and dignity as was befitting a Wonderbolt. So she snapped to attention and saluted as the two separate Carriages came down with precision upon the landing strip – the Night Guard and the Royal Guardsponies that accompanied them were few in number, and all of them were exhausted from the trip. Spitfire was sympathetic for them, right up to the point that two Alicorns descended from their carriages and advanced upon them.

She had thought in these last few hours how she would explain herself. It did not matter that nothing that had happened had been within her control. It did not matter that there was nothing she could have done to speed up the recovery effort. She had been the superior officer on the scene. She had taken command under the orders of Shining Armor. That made it HER responsibility, and nopony else. She waited until the princesses came within the military regulation thirty feet before snapping to attention and saluting again. “Commander Spitfire, your Majesties. As ordered.”

What else was there to say? She was professional, crisp and clean. They would not fault her in discipline, no sir. Celestia looked a little worn around the eyes, but her gentle smile was all Spitfire needed to see to know everything was about to come under control. It didn’t hurt that Luna looked ready to kick a fair bit of flank, given how she was scowling from one way to the other. “And where art thy other officers, Commander? I hath words I wish to share with them.” Princess Luna had gotten a rep for slipping back into Old Equestrian whenever she was nervous, or royally ticked off.

Spitfire fell into a relaxed stance, responding with the precise information she had, even though it took all of her willpower not to make a snarky joke about it. “Most of them will likely be found in the local taverns, your Majesty. Events this evening have not been conducive to maintaining proper military discipline I am very sorry to report.” She braced herself for the torrent then, Luna lacked anyone else to unleash the abuse upon – so it fell to her to absorb it.

Celestia simply raised her hoof and clamped it over Luna’s mouth just as she was about to get going – Luna, stifled by her own sister could only let off a stream of muffled invective that cause Celestia to sigh exasperatedly. “Sister, it is not her fault. They are scared, and with good reason. Spitfire, I think we need to know the exact sequence of events that have occurred this evening, starting with when Shining Armor contacted you from the train.” Her voice was as kindly as Spitfire had ever heard it, and sent a little chill of relaxation into her muscles – Perhaps she might get off this with just some boring public service duty after all!

So she told them, first to last. She left out no event, no possible interpretation of the facts. She delivered her report in that stifling uniform in that stifling heat for nearly an hour. She explained the exact shape of the magical spire and its colors. The discussion of which caused both sisters to look at each other in patent alarm. She plowed on to the end of the report, noting that there had been no activity in or around the forest since the magical incident.

Silence reigned between the three ponies for a moment. At the last, Luna sighed. “We do not blame thee for thy actions, Commander. Thou didst act as was proper, even though abandoning thy post was less than wise.” Luna’s smile was wry then, but no less a smile for that. “That twas not thy fault though. We will have to have stern words with Captain Shining Armor later. For now, thou may be at ease. My sister and I shall be traveling into yon forest to see what hath become of our subjects. We shall not require an escort.” She interjected at Spitfire’s next attempts to speak, which she clamped down on after the rebuke. Instead, she simply nodded tightly.

The Two Alicorns lifted into the air and swooped towards the Forest in the distance. Spitfire only sighed in relief. She was safe, at least for now. Going by the cheers of Ponyvilles citizens as their Princess rode out to meet the threat, there would not be much work for her to be doing. It was time to find a bar for herself, and wait for the word to come back to the town as to ultimately what had happened in that blasted forest.

The Old Palace, Throne Room – 8 Hours after Sunrise.

Shining armor began to stir, rough but familiar feeling hooves pressing into his back. A soft voice whimpered, and whispered in the background that he could almost not hear…till his ears picked up on that distinctive tone of voice, speaking distinctive words. “Shiny…please, wake up..” Twily. She was scared, and bad. Given the soreness of his muscles that was not entirely surprising, he had to have been out for a long while. He groaned out as best he could and a little startled squeak was followed by a gushing, much louder voice. “Oh Thank Celestia, Shiny you’re okay!”

The Hooves that grabbed him around the middle seemed a little off in color and shape, but that voice could be no one but Twilight. So in true big brother form, Shining Armor ignored his own pain to lever himself up and hug his little sister back just as tightly. “M’alright Twily…S’okay. Just too much magic In the air, I think. Knocked us all cold. You….okay?” His eyes were starting to adjust to the new light streaming in from the gorgeous crystal windows. “Oh no…Twily.” His voice broke a little on the word as he began to take in the myriad of changes to her. Dammit, he had been too late.

Twilight tried to turn away, but Shiny would not let her. His hooves grasped her closer, showering her in the uncomplicated love of a brother for his sister. Her heart broke, and tears flowed freely from her eyes. She wept into his shoulder, her words broken by sobs. “I had to..I had to..” was all she could seem to say, and she simply gave up saying it. Shiny would not leave her. She still had her B.B.B.F.F. and she always would.

“Twily, shh…It’s alright. It’s not your fault.” He wiped away the streams of tears with his hoof and gently tucked it under her chin. “Besides, it’s not all bad. Just think about how you and Cadence can go shopping together now!” The very thought was enough to startle a laugh out of Twilight. The laughter Cascaded into Shiny and the two of them collapsed up against each other, emotions running high from the insane things they had both been through in the last day or so. The so-sudden change of her emotions disturbed Twilight, but she would worry about that later.

Twilight turned then to her friends – her closest, dearest companions. Shiny gently squeezer her shoulder with his hoof and smiled broadly. “C’mon. Let’s get them off the floor.” But there was to be no time for that. A shuddering bang struck the outer doors of the Hall and the both of them spun to face it, horns instantly coming to life with a field of magic. “I think whatever was keeping the nasties away just wore off…” Shining armor muttered – he was still exhausted from the combat last night, but he would not leave his Sister alone to face whatever the heck this was.

Twilight nodded, her mind racing through all of the spells she knew so well, hoping to find something that might be of use against a determined foe. A Second bang shuddered the doors of the royal hallway once, and a wave of power seemed to cascade through the room…She blinked for a moment, her eyes adjusting to the magical signatures. “Wait, Shiny – that’s the Princ-“ The doors blew open with a thunderous roar, nearly smashing themselves to splinters against the walls.

Two Alicorns stood in the doorway, framed by the bright light of the morning sun streaming in behind them. Each wore shining gold and steel battle armor, each prepared obviously for the worst to be found before them. Luna’s voice thundered as loudly as Twilight had ever heard her speak – it seemed to echo from the very walls around them, even as Celestia’s implacable mien swept across the room, her horn blazing with the full and leashed power of the sun itself. Tremble, Foe of Equestria! You shall not harm Our People!” Shining armor dove in front of her, his hooves outstretched as the eyes of the two sisters fixed upon the pair of them.

They stared for a moment in shock, even as Shining Armor desperately tried to intercede “Celestia, Luna – Don’t, It’s Twili-“ He could not even finish his words as dark blue magic dragged him to one side, Luna fixing him with a glare that spoke of dark retribution if he continued to speak. Twilight for her part, had no time to react at all. Celestia was simply not there one moment, and there the next, bearing down on the slender purple unicorn with all of her power mantled about her shoulders.

She spoke softly, harshly. “Who are you?” A bright flash of light seemed to threaten to sear Twilight out of the world itself, a force of will so powerful she could not even continue standing beneath it’s crushing gaze. “Who ARE You?!” She was implacable, unassailable. Twilight winced, but held her ground against the sonic assault. She just had to believe, she had to…

Her voice was broken and rough, but she forced it into speaking again “P-Princess…It…It’s Me..I’m T-Twilight Sparkle..” she managed to stammer out, her irises reduced to tiny pinpricks in fear. Surely, Celestia would not simply try to obliterate her. Surely, she would show the same compassion that made her famous as a monarch of the people. Yet Celestia’s rage was palpable even now, and it blazed to even greater heights with her words.

“You are NOT My- “ Her shining golden horn touched Twilight's…and in a moment magic flashed between them, a hundred thousand images of teacher and student, a hundred thousand memories. Celestia stood shocked before her – her rage retreating as her voice slowed and reduced down to a whisper. “My…most faithful student…” Her eyes seemed to clear for a moment, and Twilight felt the first tentative smile reach her face as Luna’s shocked jaw dropped, and stayed there. Celestia lifted one hoof to brush back the dark violet and blue mane from her eyes in a gesture she had made so often before..

“Oh Sol…. Twilight…I am…Oh, goddess, forgive me..” Twilight embraced her teacher, who returned the embrace and the two simply stood in one anothers hooves. Illuminated by the morning sun they held one another, the fears and doubts of the last day washing away in one anothers presence. Luna however, slowly regained her faculties, her eyes taking in every detail of the new Twilight Sparkle’s look and appearance.

Luna turned to Shining armor and spoke quietly. “We must leave them. There will be much to discuss later with them, but for now you and I must speak in private. I fear the danger to her has far from passed.” Her eyes came up for a moment – Though she knew only she could see Twilight’s eyes were far, far different than before. She could see the pupils narrowed to the almond slits of a Dragon’s eye. She could feel in the room an old power, one she knew all too well. Shining armor nodded and trotted out next to her…stopping only at the door to stare at a Vase she had not noticed on her way in.

The vase was nothing special – a simple piece, made by simple hooves. Clay formed without much skill into a simple narrow necked vessel, fired in a kiln and painted by unpracticed hooves with moons and stars. Sitting within the vase was a single moon rose, a flower she had thought to be long extinct. It glowed gently with the pale luminescence of the full moon, and leaning against that flower was a scrap of parchment. Shining watched as she floated up the parchment and unfolded it – within written only a few words in graceful handwriting that began to fade into nothing at the first sight of the sun.

‘Fare thee well, my Moon Princess. With Love Eternal, Tantalus’