• Published 12th Mar 2013
  • 16,756 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 13 - The Dead Letter

Ponyville, Town Hall, one hour later.

A hoof struck the table with impossible force fit to shatter it, then extended in accusatory anger. "Damnit Celestia, she has the right to know!" Cadence rarely swore. She did so even less where ponies other than Shining Armor could see her, and never in front of 'Auntie Celestia'. Yet here they were, and Shining Armor was bodily holding back his slim and trim Wife, who was digging her heels into the wooden paneled floor to try and get into Celestia's inscrutable face.

Cadence kept going, even as Shining held onto her for dear life she spat out her words "I spied for you, Celestia. I watched that little filly grow up while telling you everything, and then forced myself to vanish so you could 'guide' her. I kept my mouth shut when you set her up against Discord! Twice! I kept my mouth shut when you sent HER of all ponies to help me fix the Crystal Empire!" Cadence was beyond furious now, it had probably not been a terribly good idea to remind herself of the terror she had felt for poor Twilight those days.

Shining Armor had her stubbornly nailed to the floor while her tirade continued ""I did everything you asked of me, Celestia! Even when it put that little filly in danger, even when it went against every fiber of my being I trusted you! You had a plan, and now that plan lies in shattered pieces all over the floor...and you propose that we tell her Nothing!?" Cadence finally let Shiny dissuide her from flying up to Celestia and planting her hoof right in that smug face, even as Celestia continued looking so insultingly unruffled, so utterly calm!

Had she totally ignored what that damnable demon had said!?

Ponyville, Town Hall, one hour earlier

Celestia reacted quickly, as befit a monarch with her experience. "Spitfire, Soarin - Find that courier. He wont have had time to get far. Detain him by whatever means necessary. Go." Both Wonderbolts knew better than to argue, and were out the door in a crash of lightning and flame, leaving the outer doors hanging off of their hinges. Before Mayor Mare could even so much as wince, Celestia's voice was already snapping out again. "Hex, I need to know that package isn't going to explode. Silent, I want absolutely everything you can find out about where this scroll came from." The delivery slip and paperwork were already in Silent Service's teeth even as he galloped out of the room.

Celestia scanned the room for a moment, and nodded. "My apologies, Mayor. I'm going to need to ask you and everyone in your staff to leave the building right now:" Her tone brooked no disagreement. Mayor Mare's jaw dropped for a moment...and she might have argued, had Luna not been looking ready to do her best Nightmare Moon impression at that moment.

Knowing she was outmanuevered, the mayor nodded once and quickly turned to chivvy out her various aides and assistants outside. Celestia turned to another pony at the table "You too, Dewy. I need you to get back to the Archives and find out how in Tartarus someone removed EIS documents without my personal approval. Take the Royal Chariot, I fear we shall be in Ponyville a bit longer than originally intended." Dewy did not look happy, but Star Sapphire gently placed a hoof on the old stallions shoulder and whispered something to him.

Dewy stiffened for a moment with just a hint of red blush into his aging cheeks before quickly bowing to Celestia and making his own way outside with a surprising turn of speed.. Next to the table, Hex was poking and prodding the case with a variety of instruments taken from the many pouches he wore. After several minutes of this, he shook his head. "Package is clean, your Majesty. I can tell it's magic, but it looks like it's some kinda illusion magic. Communication scroll, ya think?" The bright red eyes of the demon hunter were unsettling to look upon, but Celestia nodded.

Celestia gently paced over to the scroll case, gesturing with her hooves for the rest to come in closer. "Well...shall we see what our friend here was prepared to risk so much to send us?" Her tone was curious, and her horn lit with a gentle glow of gold magic. Hex sat down next to Shining, and Sapphire tucked herself in next to Luna as the small group focused on the scroll case. Celestia twisted the end open and deposited the contents onto the table - what appeared to be a small blue gem, faceted into a tetrahedral shape that rolled out of the message flask and lit up with a subtle glow of power.

Luna blinked in amazement, eyes narrowing. "Now, that is certainly not something one sees every day.." She whispers a little as the tip of the gem lit up and projected an image into the air above it - that of a pitch black Pony with glowing golden eyes and a slight bemused smile upon his face. His ruffled mane seemed to move in some kind of unseen wind as a deep rich voice began to speak.

The voice emenated from the gems sides, vibrating to create the illusion of voice in the air. "Greetings and Salutations to you, Princess Celestia - Sun's Glory, Ruler of Equestria, Chosen of the Goddess..." The voice dripped sarcasm, and promptly descended into barely repressed rage, ~"..Tyrant of the Sun, Crown Princess of the 4th Unicorn Empire. I bid you a fine Summer's Sun day, may it be your last."~ The voice paused, descending into something more tolerantly amused. ~"Though it is likely this may be a day or two late. Should it be so, my apologies."~

The Dark pony stalked forward a few steps and then bowed in a pose suitable for any formal courtier, then sat on its hindquarters, looking gently aloof.~"If you are watching this, it means that I have passed from this world to the next, but not before undertaking one last act. The finest action I have undertaken in a hundred lifetimes of service to the people of Equestria."~ His eyes seemed to brighten for a moment, a touch of moisture about them dashed away by a hoof before continuing. ~"As you are likely already aware, Twilight Sparkle is not the mare she once was. I ought to thank you, Celestia. you made all of this possible. After all, it is in the nature of every Tyrant to sow the seed of their own destruction.."~

Celestia frowned as the voice merrily rattled on ~"I wont tell you precisely how you have done so, of course. I'd rather keep your precious sycophants guessing at my purpose, though I already know of your purposes, false Princess.."~ The dark pony's eyes gleamed. ~"I am fully aware of your little plans for Twilght Sparkle, she who was to be the youngest Unicorn to Ascend in all of history. I am aware of a lifetime of manipulation of her life to your own perverse ends. Yet now, you will never control or manipulate her again, Celestia. My shadows will see to that. "~

The dark pony looked to the left and right for a moment, seeming to gain more confidence by the moment. ~"I wonder if she is already starting to listen to them, don't you Celestia? It will not take that brilliant mind of hers long to realize she is one step away from Ascending herself with no help needed from one such as you. It will not take long for her to see the world as it truly is, as opposed to those blinkers you forced upon her for her entire life. She will be free. "~

The dark pony sneered for a moment. ~"What will you do, I wonder? Will you banish her to the moon, as you did your sister when she strays from your pre-determined path?" His voice became more animated, angrier. ~"Will you abandon her, as you did the earth ponies of Stalliongrad? Or the Crystal Empire? Or the Radish Clan, or any of the thousands of other sacrificed in the name of so-called Harmony?" His hoof invisibly stomped into something outisde of the projection, punctuating his words.

He visably tried to calm himself, failing to do so as his words turned into acidic bites, ~"I could speak a litany of your crimes, Celestia. I have been there to watch them all - from your usurpation of power at the last Parliament all the way up to the present day, allowing the war-criminal Discord to walk free after all he has done. Time and again you have sold out the common pony to preserve your precious Kingdom, and keep your beloved Unicorn Aristocracy's hooves firmly on the neck of all ponydom."~

Tantalus visibly calmed himself, became more quiet, a smile of viciousness spread over his face. ~"But now, It will end, and in that most supreme of all victories, it will end at the hooves of your most faithful student. She will grow, Celestia. In time, her power will come to rival even your own, for the Shadows which now obey her will make sure of that. She will come to know your Tyranny for what it truly is.."~ The voice descended into laughter, filling the room with dark mirth.

The laughter stopped a moment later, a smile spread over his lips. ~"I have died, Princess. I may have been utterly crushed - by you, by Twilight herself, or by some other set of ponies, and none of it will matter. Fifteen hundred years ago, I sold my soul to become the hidden defender of the Republic that you destroyed.. So I give my life so that one day, I will watch from my chains in Tartarus as that Republic rises again.."~

The message began to fade as Tantalus swept back a hoof and bowed. ~"Until that grand day, when I greet you at the gates of Tartarus, I shall remain ever humbly yours, Tantalus."~ The message winked out of existence, and the tiny gem shattered into a thousand spell motes, glittering on the dark wood of the table like so many crystal sugar sprinkles.

Silence settled over the room for a few moments, before Shining Armor's voice cut through it, a look of confusion on his face. "Fourth Unicorn Empire? Weren't there only three of those?" He turned to Cadence, obviously looking for some historical guidance - He was a pretty smart fellow as Unicorn stallions went, but sometimes he missed things. Surprisingly, his answer came from Luna, who spoke very quietly.

So quietly, in fact that the room had to strain to hear her. "I am the source of that quote. I once described the government in that way during the Rebellion. I called Equestria nothing more than a 4th Empire for the Unicorn elite. Of course, I was not precisely myself at the time." No one spoke for a few moments after that. Luna continued on in the silence. "The Radish clan is also a rather obscure reference. They were a small family of earth ponies who were wiped out by Discord, turned irreversibly into various kinds of vegetables. We could not devise a cure, even after we had sealed him away in stone. Yet he blames Celestia for this?"

Celestia just shook her head faintly, obviously not intending to speak. Cadence looked over to her and spoke quietly. "We need to tell Twilight all of this. If we are honest and up front with her, we will be able to prevent her from making any rash assumptions should she learn of things we would rather she did not learn in whatever madness this thing left behind. We must come clean about everything, Celestia. If we do so, right now, we may be able to save this situation. " Cadence's eyes were pleading. Celestia had to see that her usual policy of tell-nothing would not work here. Twilight had to be brought up to speed, she had to be informed.

Celestia simply said, "No, Cadence. We cannot." and that was when the screaming began.

Ponyville Town Hall, 1 hour and 30 minutes after the Message

Cadence was sitting quietly in her chair again, her hooves wrapped up in Shining Armors. Celestia was still stone silent, staring at the tiny pile of magical gem-dust that sat on the table accusingly. Star Sapphire tilted her spectacles at the dust for a moment before nodding. "Yes, a Dead Letter. Very old spell, usually used for extremely important final communications between family members. Made to play precisely once and never again. Clever of him. Whatever we might say, no one outside this room will believe any such message existed." her tone was quietly authoritative.

Luna gusted out a sigh. "How doth this creature vex us so. Were he not already dead, I would be forced to rearrange parts of him until his attitude was more pleasing to me. Perhaps that is the point, Sister. He seeks to terrify and infuriate us with his demented visions of a future that may never be." She laid a silver-clad hoof on Celestia's shoulder, clearly startling her out of some internal reverie. "We must not fear. He hath overplayed his hand, methinks, and does not understand young Twilight Sparkle at her core." Luna's smile broke like a full moon in the night, quietly shedding light into the darkness. "Do not despair. I did swear to you that we would make things aright, and we shall. Thou didst save me, After all."

Celestia sucked in a deep breath and then expelled it quietly, nodding with her eyes closed to block out the tears. Star Sapphire turned and adjusted her spectacles again, even as Hex Hunter moved in to sit beside her. Hex got his words out first, much to Sapphire's annoyance. "Ma'am, I've more than a couple hundred successful exorcisms under my belt, an' I gotta tellya we ain't gonna have much time on this."

He pulled off his thick leather hat with one hoof and ran his other through a stark white and frizzled mane. "If this power is as potent as I think it is, we got maybe a month before she starts feedin' off it in a serious way. Less time if he's got somethin set up to teach her how to tap into it . " He scratched at his chin with a hoof, hat still off his head. "Once she starts feedin from the power, It's gonna affect her thinking, make her see the world in new ways. All power from this kinda source does. She'll start usin' that power on people close t'her to make 'em more like she is. Given who is the closest t'her...that could turn into a real serious disaster, If ya catch me." He replaced the hat and settled back on his haunches, apparently satisfied that he'd said his piece.

Star Sapphire glared at him for a moment before sighing and nodding. "I would give it longer before it starts to have real psychological effects on her - Twilight Sparkle is nothing if not strong in willpower, but we will need a solution and very soon. She is a brilliant experimenter, and it will not take her long to tap into whatever new power she might possess. I further support Princess Cadence's insistence that we speak to Twilight about what we have learned here. Perhaps not everything but I think disclosure will be vital."

Celestia opened her mouth again, only to be forestalled by Sapphire raising a hoof for patience. "Princess Celestia, I hold you in the highest regard and trust your judgement to be sound. Yet mark my words, if you exclude Twilight Sparkle from this knowledge she will eventually learn all of what has been discussed here. She is simply too clever and too intelligent not to, and when she does her reaction will be based solely on how forthright we were with her in the beginning. "

Celestia waited for a few moments while they all fell to silence before speaking - Her tone intense, but soft. "Dear sisters, Sapphire, Hex. I thank you all for your words. I am not precisely thinking at my finest at the moment for worry over my student and the future of Equestria. You are all correct, Twilight will learn what has been said here, but it will not be today." Cadence felt her words stifled as Shining Armor grasped her hooves and shook his head.

Celestia took no notice of them, her words slowly growing more firm, "She has just gone through a horrifying ordeal which I cannot imagine will have left her in the best of states. She needs time to rest with her friends, to find her center again, and we need time to find hope of some way to shake this dark enchantment from her permanently. I will not set my student on the path to madness for fear that she will betray me. I will trust in her, as she has so often placed her trust in me." She inhaled for a moment then exhaled.

Celestia's tone filled with authority, taking on the mantle of Sun's Glory, Chosen of Equestria. "My hoof is firmly down, Cadence. We will not destroy the fragile psyche of my student by accusing her of willingly working alongside the dark powers. These portents will not leave this room. Am I made perfectly clear?" Her eyes swept across the assembled - each of whom nodded to her one by one. Celestia simply accepted the list of emotions that accompanied being forced to do something one did not like.

Her tone became more brisk as she flared out her wings. "Good. I am going to check on the progress of Soarin and Spitfire. This meeting is closed until such time as we are better informed as to our enemy. Harmony be with you all." Celestia turned and practically marched out of the room, holding back her own tidal wave of emotions. They would have to wait, she had a nation to serve, and an enemy's plots to foil. She would not fail her student...or herself..

Ponyville Hospital, Later that evening

The sun was setting over the horizon even as Twilight Sparkle. watched quietly from her much brighter and more cheerful room. The place had experienced what might be described as a Pinkiesplosion. Bright colorful balloons festooned with 'Get Well Soon!" signs painted on them, piles of colorful bright streamers and the detritus of various treats and punch bottles carefully swept and bagged into the corners for the trash-carriers. The party had been a wonderful moment, a chance to tear her mind away from the doubts and difficulites of the last few days.

Something still nagged at her though. The last letter had indicated Tantalus had sent for people to live in her strange little town. Yet, Twilight was perfectly aware that could not be the be-all end-all of his preperations. What else had he prepared for her, that he had not spoken of? There was a nagging little voice in her head it seemed, one that offered a much darker version of the world for her to see and live in. One that seemed to be promising she would very soon not be alone in her dark moments.

It came quickly, but she somehow knew it would. Day turned into the twilight of the evening, and with it a sudden surge of strength within her - shadows were at the ir strongest at this strange witching hour Her widows flung open unbidden, a rush of cool night air sending her tail and mane artfully billowing for a moment. Worst of all, none of this surprised her. That should have been terrifying, she should have been panicked or afraid. Yet she was not. She was going to have visitors, and somehow the shadow power was ensuring she would be able to properly greet them.

Three pegasi glided in through her windows, landing next to one another in a neat flight pattern that looked heavily practiced. Each wore a dark purple and black flight suit, bisected by dark golden jagged lightning and a set of dark yellow and black flying goggles.. Where their cutie-marks might be, pony-skull and wing emblems were emblazoned upon the uniforms. The foremost amongst them by virtue of how she had landed a few paces ahead of the others had wings of a dark azure blue. She smiled at her in a way that seemed...well, friendly and warm. Despite her macabre dress.

She stepped forward another pace and flared out her wings- her comrades, colored in similar purple and blue shades in wing and face, followed suit. As one, they knelt one knee to the ground and spread their wings down before them, bowing to her in a deeply subserviant manner. Once again, Twilight ought to have been terrified. Yet the shadows now within her stilled that terror, replacing it with a sense of rightness, a feeling of everything being in its proper place.

Yet even her new powers could not still her fear at the words the foremost pegasus mare spoke - her voice was bright and musical in quality, and she spoke with a warmth and enthusiasm that belied the terror the words inspired in Twilight Sparkle, who could only look down upon the three pegasi in shock at what next she heard.

"We have come to you, my newly born Queen. I am Captain Winterlight, and the Shadowbolts are yours to command."

Author's Note:

Because cliffhangers are awesome, and so is things getting steadily more out of control for poor Twilight.