• Published 12th Mar 2013
  • 16,751 Views, 186 Comments

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 12 - The Council Convenes

Ponyville Town Hall, Two days Later.

Luna’s voice rang out throughout the tiny room. “We call this meeting to order.” Her voice boomed in her Royal Voice, silencing what little chatter there was. “We have called this meeting in order to discuss the actions that this government and its agents will undertake in response to the events that occurred during the Summer Sun Celebration. This Council has been assembled in order to advise us on what actions will be most appropriate.” Next to her, Princess Celestia was the very vision of calm and control under pressure. Princess Cadence was nervous, but much of that could be attributed to worry over the topic at hoof.

Silent Service, a dark red pegasus with slicked back brown hair and a magnificent mustache was working overtime to keep his wings under control. As the Director of Equestrian Intelligence he believed the security for this meeting was woefully inadequate given the subjects about to be discussed here and the impressive array of ponies who had been brought here from Canterlot and beyond. One well-placed magical strike would be disastrous and Service had heard stories of some grey Pegasus who had a knack for causing disasters around the general vicinity of this building.

Luna’s eyes swept the room of the strange assortment of Ponies who had been called to this meeting – Commander Spitfire sat opposite the Princesses at the table, and Commander Soarin was right there with her- both were wearing their dress blues and neither looked terribly happy to be representing the Military’s interests. Mayor Mare of Ponyville was also on hand, to represent her constituents given that Twilight Sparkle was formally a citizen of her city, and it was pretty clear she was working very hard to maintain her professionalism amidst the movers and shakers around her.

Further down the table, a bright blue maned unicorn named Star Sapphire sat in the formal robes of her office and quietly shuffling through her notes with a magical glow that matched her name. She was head magical researcher for the School for Gifted Unicorns, along with the grey coated and balding earth pony Dewy Decimal, who curated the Canterlot Library. They had long been partners in the vast work that was magical research, and were at ease with meetings of this nature – but neither seemed very happy about what the notes they brought with them had to say.

Opposite the magical experts was Hex Hunter, Equestrian Intelligence's top Demon expert, and specialist in possessions and magical corruption. Hex was the only one at the table not wearing formal clothes of any sort – he had instead come to the meeting in his ‘Mission Gear’ – or so he called it, a fully obscuring black coat bound tightly to his form by what seemed like one too many belts, all of which held a pouch of one kind or another. His face and mane were obscured under a thick wrapping of white bandages, allowing only his bright red eyes to show anything about his physical form.

To the right of Cadence, Shining Armor sat in a well-padded chair, still recovering from the Magical poisoning he had suffered as a result of his battle. He was the only one at the table aside from Celestia who appeared perfectly calm in spite of all the things that had happened – though it had taken a very stern look from Celestia to put a stop to the Lovey-dovey show that he and Cadence were putting on. Celestia raised her hoof and rapped it against the smooth wooden table. “This council calls upon Commander Spitfire to report on the subject of the Equestrian Military’s…response to the event.”

Spitfire blew out her cheeks and stood up from her chair, irritably waving Soarin back down to sit. She had to admit, he was as loyal as a puppy sometimes – but right now wasn’t the time for sticking up for his boss. “Yes Ma’am.” She began, placing both forehooves on the table and leaning forward assertively. “At the Princess’ behest, we’ve conducted a crashing fast investigation into the military paralysis we experienced on Summer Sun’s Eve. The Cloud-Fortress Hurricane’s displacement was the easiest to figure out, given that the perpetrator is currently on the run. First Wing-lieutenant Screaming Eagle was found missing from his post yesterday morning shortly after word started filtering down through the ranks of the incident.”

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a moment. This was going to be the hard part. “We found documents left behind in a secret compartment under his bunk indicating that he had been in contact with the…entity believed responsible for the kidnapping of Twilight Sparkle. The documents detailed some kind of agreement in which a previously unknown daughter of the lieutenant would be provided with an extremely expensive medical procedure for her congenital wing disorder, in exchange for ensuring that the Fortress would be too far away to reach Ponyville in the event of an emergency on Summer Sun night.” Spitfire had to hold her eyes firmly closed, to fight back the tears she wanted to shed for the pegasus. No one had known Eagle’d had a foal and certainly no one had known she had been born with the much feared brittle-wing disorder. She wanted to hate him, she wanted to scream and hate him for his betrayal – but she could not bring herself to do so.

So Spitfire inhaled deeply and plowed on, “As to the other issues – the Wonderbolts were tested shortly after the incident by Canterlot physicians. They discovered traces of a rare flower called the Gotchya Bloom had been mixed into their evening dinner and beers. Even if we’d have been able to wake them up from the stupor the flower put them into, they would not have been able to fly very far – the plant renders the eater incapable of performing any strenuous physical activities for six to eight hours. “ Soarin was growling and she shot him a hard look. Now was not the time to get vengeance on the brain. She would save that for AFTER they dealt with…well, the elephant in the room. She cleared her throat and kept speaking. “Our investigation is ongoing as to how this occurred.”

Silence reigned and spitfire waited. The very idea that someone had managed to infiltrate Wonderbolt HQ of all places in the world and poison the entire ranks was terrifying. The implication was that it had been an inside job, as evidenced by what had happened to the Hurricane. Spitfire could only grimace at that thought, not wanting to even think about what she may have to do in the coming days to root out the truth.

Her voice picked up the thread again, “A similar set of events occurred with the emergency Battle-mage squad, except they had also been distracted by…some selectively hired mares’ of the evening who had worked them all into a state of physical and mental exhaustion over the course of the day.” She let that thought hang – Star Sapphire was blushing very faintly and shaking her head quietly. Spitfire knew she too had been compromised that night…but given that she did not fall under the aegis of the military, had decided to omit that fact.

The table was now dead silent of other talk as Spitifre slowly came to the last items on her list, “As to the unspoken donkey in the room and with the full permission of Princess Celestia, we have placed every individual who was familiar with Twilight Sparkle’s security detail who lacks a reasonable alibi under arrest, and we are beginning to pick through their lives and belongings to try and discover which, if any of them had been involved. That concludes my report for now, but the investigations are ongoing in all other matters.” Spitfire put her flank back in her seat and tried not to shuffle her papers. There was a quiet in the room that set her teeth on edge, even if Soarin’s presence helped her not to yell at them to try and appreciate the seriousness of the situation.

Luna raised her hoof after a few moments of very awkward silence. “Pray, Commander Spitfire – What of our other defenses? Is there any evidence of further corruption within the ranks?” Spitfire had wished she wouldn’t ask that. There was going to be hell to pay after all this, she just knew it. Inter-service rivalries were expected, but the Army generals were not going to like what she was next going to report.

Spitfire exhaled deeply, speaking without standing again, “Yes Ma’am, but at this time I’m unwilling to cast doubts or aspirations on anypony specifically. Such is a part of our ongoing investigations, and believe me, Ma'am - no one is more determined to root out the traitors more than I.” More silence. When this was all over, Spitfire was going to track down that crazy DJ everyone talked about around here and have her make sure there was no silence around Spitfire for a few days while she worked.

Luna smacked her hoof into the table and looked over to her sister, who nodded lightly. “Which brings us…” Celestia began as everypony else in the room slowly felt their muscles tense somewhere just below their shoulders. “To the primary reason for us being here – namely, the kidnapping, enchantment and subsequent changes inflicted on Twilight Sparkle, Element of Magic. “ It was as though she’d dropped a rotting fish in the middle of the table and demanded discussion over it. No one leapt to the fray, no one attempted to make an excuse.

Celestia merely arched a delicate eyebrow and continued onwards, obviously not intending to let this one fester, “We have all read Shining Armor’s preliminary report. We now call upon Star Sapphire to inform us s to what her research teams have managed to dredge up.” She inclined her head to the robed Unicorn who lifted herself to her hooves with a surprising grace for someone of her advanced age. She floated a pair of spectacles out of a small case sitting on the table and perched the lenses upon her nose.

Sapphire shuffled her surprisingly small pile of notes and spoke in the tones of a born lecturer addressing a classroom of students, “With the permission of the Princesses to access the restricted archives, the entire research team has been working nonstop for the last two days. Over this time period, we have come to the following set of conclusions based on Shining Armor’s report.” A little wisp of magic adjusted the lenses as she turned to the second page of notes.

“Firstly, the Canterlot Archives contain the most extensive collections of genealogical information in the world, with records dating back to before the fall of the Unicorn Empire. We can confirm that an earth pony by the name of Cabbage Leaf was in fact born right around the onset of the so called ‘Cold Times’ to the Leafy Green family just outside what was then Trotsburg. We can further confirm that while this pony was pronounced dead two days after what is commonly accepted to be the first Hearths Warming celebration, the cause of death was not recorded.” Her horn glowed and a glass of water floated over, from which she sipped.

Star Sapphire was not nervous. She had given reports of this kind a thousand times before, but the scarcity of information had been nigh on terrifying given the legendary nature of the Cantelrlot Library, and what she had found had only made that scarcity worse. “We can further confirm that around this time legends began to circulate in books and pamphlets of Pony mythology and lore about a ‘Pony born of Shadow’ whom ruled over the ancient forests and watched over the good little fillies and colts of the tribes, and punished the wicked. “ She gave a little shrug of her shoulders, the water glass still hovering in midair, “Of course, such legends were common around those times, and we cannot confirm that this creature was in any way associated with them save by his own design.”

Shining Armor tried – and failed – to haul himself out of his chair and smack his hooves against the table, mostly because Cadence basically shoved him back down and gave him the most threatening look she’d ever given him in his entire life. So he settled for growling ominously and cutting into Sapphires monologue tones “What about his name? Any records of that?” Star sapphire glared at him disapprovingly, but then sighed. It was to be expected. His little sister was the one whose life was on the line here today.

Sapphire picked up the report quickly, “I was getting to that, Prince Armor. The name ‘Tantalus’ has been one of the most elusive subjects we have tried to research, yet we have managed to unearth at least some information.” Her papers shifted and so did her tone – her previously dry voice became more animated, even if there was a trace of nerves, “Once again, drawing information from within the restricted sections of the library has been vital to our efforts. The name ‘Tantalus’ we believe refers to an old earth-pony myth about a trickster deity who would tempt ponies with promises of power, wealth and prestige only to provide those things in such a way as to end poorly for the deal-maker. Star Swirl’s personal journals also make reference to a creature he refers to as ‘Tantalus’ right around the times indicated by the…personal story he relayed to Prince Armor. “

Her voice became a bit more uncertain, more wary, “Although his journals do not indicate what sort of being it was, nor his relation to it in any direct sense. The only other piece of information we have obtained is an intelligence report from around the time of the Lunar Rebellion.” Luna glanced sharply at the researcher, but Sapphire simply kept going – she wanted to get this bit of information quickly out of the way.

“The report was filed by Spymaster Eternal Vigilance, and comprised of a list of potentially powerful beings that were thought to have been consorting with or actively supporting Prin- Nightmare Moon’s active rebellion against the crown; this list included the name ‘Tantalus, of the Shade.’ And referenced to a much more extensive document on all intelligence gathered on the subject.” She bit her lower lip, the last words coming in a rush as though trying desperately to expel the terrifying information.

“A document that, by all accounts no longer exists anywhere within the Canterlot Archives.”

Moments later, all Tartarus broke loose in the meeting hall as incredulous voices began to fill the air.

Ponyville Hospital, Room 401

The room was much quieter than Twilight seemed to remember from her previous visits. There was no room-mate, for one – a rarity in the small hospital that provided services both for Ponyville and much of the surrounding farm-land. There were never enough beds to handle the myriad sicknesses and injuries that plagued a rural population who often lacked access to higher-end care facilities. There was also none of the magitech medical equipment that normally festooned such rooms, Twilight having no need for anything beyond a soft bed and attention.

But Twilight knew why it was so quiet, and it had nothing to do with equipment, or roommates, or even her own thoughts running in gleeful little circles around her head. The other ponies were afraid of her. So were the patients. She couldn’t blame them, really – two days ago she’d been a cheerful little unicorn still in the prime of her youth. Today, she had looks that would put the vainest Canterlot socialite to shame, with the colors of her coat and mane changed into dark tones which she had over-heard one doctor describing as ‘Seductive’.

The word ‘Succubus’ and ‘Demon’ had been bandied about by the more superstitious ponies of the rural farmsteads. It had in fact been impossible to not hear them, her new-found power seemed to include a radically enhanced sense of hearing that caught every mean spirited conversation to pass by her door. It would have been enough to make her burst into tears had she not been emotionally exhausted by the whole ordeal.

Celestia had sworn she would find a way to restore her. Shining Armor had made a similar oath, and added on a promise to see to it that anyone who bothered here would have their flanks summarily pounded into the dirt. It had made her smile, even if only briefly until she thought of her five closest friends, who apparently had to be treated for magical shock. They had not come to visit her yet, and she feared she knew why.

They saw in her the same foe they had defeated so long ago, and yet now their best friend had become one of ‘them’. An Other, a creature not to be associated with lest one be consumed by the forces of evil. She would lose them soon enough, driven from Ponyville to the dark forest that was now the only place she could make her home…

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sharp knock on the door, followed rapidly by it being booted open. A short purple magical glow brought flicked the lights next to the bed to illumination and caused Twilight to scowl a bit at it. “Toldja!” Said a oh-so-confident voice, attached to a cyan Pegasus who was smirking as though she’d just predicted the Fillydelphia 500 winner. “Toldja she’d be moping about in here. This place just is no good for a Mare of action, I tellya.”

Rainbow Dash grinned unrepentantly at Twilight, followed by Rarity and Applejack in close tow. All of them were smiling at her without the least amount of fear traced in their faces. All of them were wearing hospital gowns, and true to form Rarity had already put her hooves to the simple garment with a few elegant tucks and stitches, giving the plain medical garment a certain classic beauty, accessorized with a fetching scarf the same color of her Mane. “Really, Darling. It wasn’t that hard to deduce when she’s been haunting this room like a ghost since the Princess left her here two days ago. Tsk, and they call me a drama queen.“ Rarity sniffed, but there was a twinkle of mischief in her eye at the words.

Applejack just glared at the both of them. “Now you two quit shellackin’ her! She’s been dragged flank first through Tartarus, an’ come out in one piece, so stuff an apple in it!” She tossed her blonde pony-tail hair over her shoulder and marched across the room. Twilight was only just beginning to rally words when Applejack stuffed her hoof into Twilight’s gob and gave her a look so severe Twilight wanted to ask if she was going to be grounded. “An’ you too, Missy. You’ve been wallowin’ in yer mope for one day too many. Don’t you give me no horseapples about you bein all different either.” Applejacks hoof poked her firmly In the middle of the chest, driving the breath Twilight had drawn in to object right out of her lungs. “Yer Family, or close to it as makes no nevermind. You try an’ tell an Apple she ain’t supposed t’ care ‘bout her family, and she’ll buck you into the lake. Don’t think I won’t!”

Applejacks hooves went around Twilight and squeezed her with that same rib-crunching firmness she always did. Twilight for once in her life, gave a hug of the same strength and fierceness right back, surprising a little squeak out of Applejack…who responded to the challenge by just squeezing back harder. Somehow, the whole thing felt incredibly natural to Twilight – Earth ponies often showed their affection for one another through displays of personal strength. Twilight couldn’t help but smile even as she felt the tears coming out of Applejack, hidden in the bearlike nature of their hug. “Don’t think I won’ buck you into the next county, Twilight Sparkle if’n you ever scare us like that again.”

Twilight soon felt two more sets of hooves wrap around her. Sure, Pinkie Pie wasn’t there to squish them all into oblivion, but the hug was as pure and true between friends as anything could be. Twilight decided not to try talking very much, letting the embrace last on the now overcrowded hospital bed until Rainbow Dash gave in and noogied her much longer and elegant mane, intentionally mussing it up and causing Twilight to giggle – her first laughter in three days.

As if by the very act, the laugh seemed to summon the pink wonder from nowhere who promptly leapt onto the bed and crashed hooves first into the group, sending them all tumbling off the bed in fits of laughter and cries of mild panic. “Ohmigoshohmigosh, Twilight LOOOK AT YOU!” Pinkie pie squealed with delight, bouncing around the prone Unicorn with a boundless enthusiasm. “Your mane is so PRETTY! And you got all thin and sleek and curvy, there isn’t gonna be a stallion in Ponyville who’s gonna be able to stop lookin’ at you now! And your horn got all pointier, and does that hurt? I thought that horn being all slim like that might be uncomfortable, I mean it seems too thin for someone as sturdy and awesome as you are and it kinda looks like the Princesses horn now-“ Pinkie rambled off into incoherency for a few moments, bouncing around the bemused pile of friends, all of whom were happy that rain, shine or shadow monsters – Pinkie Pie was always Pinkie Pie.

Being Pinkie Pie, it took her exactly 64 seconds to leap into the air with a scream of Delight “Ohmygosh!! I haven’t even started to plan a Twilight-got-her-sexy-back party! Ohmygosh, I need more balloons!” And she was gone just like that, shooting towards the window and flinging herself out of it like a rocket to bounce on down the road, excitedly chattering to nopony in particular. Twilight just facehoofed.

Rarity stifled her giggles, then gave Twilight a most severe looking eyeball. “Stand up darling for me, would you?” Twilight was as confused as always by Rarity’s sense of priorities, but she did so even as Rarity’s magic brushed her mane back into its sleek form. The bright white Unicorn did a little prance of her own around the newly sleek Twilight for a moment before sighing dramatically. “I’m going to have to do SO much work to refit that dress to you now, dear Twilight. Still, you look positively ravishing, Darling. I daresay Fleur De Lis herself is not as striking as you are now.”

She tsked and took a more delicate seat on the bedside, gently tapping next to her with a hoof. “Now get your flank up here, young lady – I think it’s about time we had a talk between friends.” Twilight did just that, joined by a rambunctious Applejack and Dash, who were jostling for who got to sit next to her. “Now Twilight, first thing is first – Fluttershy is fine, but she’s very delicate as you know. The magical shock was a bit harder on her than the rest of us – When nurse Redheart has given her the go ahead, we’ll bring her up here to see you too. “

That was one weight of Twilight’s mind, who sighed and leaned into her friends. Applejack grabbed her left hoof, and Rarity her right. Rainbowdash…hung around her neck with a dorky looking grin on her face as she gently reproved her, “Relax, egghead.” Dash stuck her tongue out at Twilight. “We ain’t gonna leave you hangin. We stick together, remember?”

The Town Hall, Ponyville

“Order! Order I say!” Celestia slammed a hoof into the table with sufficient force to cause a burst of heat to smack into the faces of everypony else present. Arguments of consternation died away instantly. Celestia looked about ready to pronounce judgment on them all. “We will not have wild speculation run rampant in this council. We will take a brief break in the hopes that cooler heads will begin to prevail. Archivist Sapphire, a word in private – please.”

The members of the meeting moved off to the various refreshments being offered nearby – Mayor Mare began an intense, but quiet conversation with one of her aids while Celestia gestured for Star Sapphire to come in closer. Celestia spoke in gentle but firm tones, “You are certain?” her eyes were still intense, but the Archivist had seen Celestia in far worse moods than this.

She nodded firmly and once, her voice having regained some of her former confidence. “Yes, Princess. I myself triple checked every single one of the archives, including the Sealed archive just in case some zealous former Archivist had it buried with the idea that it was somehow profane. Every single copy of Eternal Vigilance’s Dark Book report is nowhere to be found in the entirety of the Archives. “ She took a deep breath and pressed on “Somepony removed that report intentionally.”

Celestia opened her mouth for a moment to speak and then clamped it shut as Mayor Mare came bustling over with a clerk in tow. “I beg your pardon, your Majesties…but something extremely disturbing has just occured.” She gestured to the thin young unicorn aide, who pulled out a dark red message tube from a saddlebag and floated it to the table.

“This arrived just a few minutes ago by a courier in a very strange manner. The courier wore some kind of black purple and dark blue uniform and flight goggles, and said this had to be delivered directly to the Princesses.” Mayor mare held out a slim slip of paper, seemingly utterly innocuous.

“This is the Delivery receipt. The name on the sender column is ‘Tantalus.”

Author's Note: