• Published 28th Mar 2013
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The Code's Apprentice - Lapis-Lazuli and Stitch



For a thousand years, the Code of Harmony has ruled Equestria, and the Code of Dissonance has sabotaged its works at every turn. Now the war for control over the land will come to a head, and one unicorn's decision may decide the fate of all.

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Chapter 2 - The Princesses

I am Princess Celestia Solaris. Daughter of Sun Spot and Star Bright, sister to Luna, and this is the truth that dare not speak its name.

If Harmony wills it, one day you will lay eyes on these words, my dearest apprentice, and you will at last know the truth of my life. I shall make no excuses for my acts, or for what I have done in the name of Harmony so that my little ponies could live free of sorrow and pain. For I have done all in the hopes that one day, the world might know true peace from war and from strife. That Dissonance might at last be defeated in detail, and a golden age brought upon the beings of the world.

I pray when at last you learn the truth, that your heart does not harden against your teacher. That in the end, I shall have redeemed myself through you and the pure heart that beats within your body. You are my greatest student, Twilight Sparkle, the finest I have ever taught in all of my lifetimes. You will exceed me in every way that truly matters, and one day you shall tread where I never could, and on that day you will not merely exceed my power - but succeed me.

A gentle knock on the door of her study startled Celestia out of her moment of focus. A touch of magic cleaned up the spattered ink and reset the quill into its well. A second brush of magic dried the ink and closed the small tome as she turned to her study door and called out brightly, "Yes, what is it?" The door swung open a moment later to reveal Princess Cadence with a gentle glow of blue magic sheathed around her horn. There was her usual smile of pleasure at seeing Celestia, but there was also worry there as well.

Cadence picked her away across the study to one of the many throw pillows that surrounded the desk, taking a seat on one of the smaller ones and bowing her head to her aunt, who returned the gesture gracefully. "Harmony guide you, Celestia..." Cadence's voice was a match for her name, musical and bright. Her aura was suffused with the energy of Love, likely from the not inconsiderable time she and Shining Armor spent re-devoting themselves to one another.

The thought was enough to give Celestia a bit of a playful smile and brightened her mood considerably. "And may the Code enlighten you, Cadence. What can I do for you, Sister?" By agreement between herself and Luna, Cadence had become their Sister upon her Ascension. She would not be looked down upon, but be seen as an equal to them. Though new to her strength, she possessed an insight into the power of Harmony that dwarfed even Celestia's. Her keen instincts were to be listened to carefully, yet Celestia could not help but be concerned at her Sister’s next words.

Cadence took a deep breath before pressing on - determined to hold her ground this time against her formidable older Sister. "I wish to speak on the matter of Twilight Sparkle's training, Sister." She felt the beginnings of a cold sweat travelling down her back. Soldiering on in what Shiny called 'Do or die' mode, she continued, "Namely, that I believe she is far too young to be pressing along the Harmonic Path as quickly as she is. Should we not be advising her to come to the revelation slowly?" There, that struck a nice balance. She was not outright saying Twilight should not be forced along the Ascension path, merely that perhaps a bit of caution was to be called for.

Celestia frowned mightily, giving her youngest Sister a stern sort of look. There was not even the merest trace of Dissonance around Cadence's form, nor any sign of manipulation. "Why do you say this, Sister? Do you not have faith in Twilight's willpower or commitment to Harmony?" Celestia could not imagine why Cadence would broach this subject now of all times. Perhaps some insight had come to her that had eluded Celestia, or perhaps in her meeting she had sensed some hidden weakness in Twilight's Harmony that needed to be quickly addressed.

Cadence held on to her emotions with nothing short of iron willpower. She had Celestia's attention, now she simply needed to divert it into an appropriate direction. "Of course not, dear Sister. She is as strong in those things as she was when you first sent me to teach her as a filly. I fear that she is not yet ready to face the eternal battle, Sister. That she needs more time to absorb the Magic of her friends and Friendship, to take more experiences into her so that she will have a well of strength to draw upon even in dark times. They mean so much to her, Sister, and she will not have them forever. Would it not be best to ensure that she has them for as long as we can possibly arrange?" Cadence hesitated at the end, fearing that she had overplayed her hoof and let her emotions get the better of her. Celestia was not a creature of potent emotional attachment, and sometimes seemed to be ignorant of those feelings and how they could affect the judgment and actions of the everypony.

Celestia's frown deepened for a moment before clearing up. "Ah! I think I see, Cadence. You fear she does not yet possess a deep enough understanding of her Harmony, though she possesses great skill at expressing it. Mm... I can see where those concerns might trouble you, given her not inconsiderable power. We do not wish a repeat of... past events." That had not been the point, of course, but Cadence was not going to look a gift bird in the beak. "Hmm... What course of action would you suggest then, Sister? You Ascended so recently, perhaps you have some insight?"

Cadence felt her blood race - this was her chance. "I would suggest we take steps to ensure that she can spend quality time with the other Element bearers without interruption. Let her seep herself in the joy of her Magic so that she might deepen her connection with Harmony." There, just enough silly proselytizing and suggestions of power expansion to keep Celestia happy and more than enough room for her to try to save Twilight from this fate.

Thankfully, Celestia clearly had her mind on other things. She waved a gold-clad hoof airily. "Yes, that is a fine idea. Well done, Cadence. I had worried you had lost your commitment to our cause. See to the details, if you would." She was already opening the tiny book and gently filling her quill tip with ink with a slight haze of golden magic. "Harmony guide your steps, Cadence." She was already starting to write again.

Cadence wondered what now demanded her attention so, but opted to take her victory while she still could. "And the Code enlighten your path, Celestia." She quickly turned and beat a retreat out of the room, waiting until she had closed the door behind her before looking around her immediate vicinity. Finding it empty, she allowed herself a brief hoof-pump, her expression one of triumph. "The first step down the path of the righteous is always the most difficult," she said softly into the quiet hallway, and quickened her steps into a trot.

Only to find as she turned the corner the dark blue form of Luna, leaning against the stone wall with an expression of amusement. Cadence stopped in mid step, face frozen into an expression of surprise. "You look awfully cheerful, littlest Sister. Did my older sister have fine words for thee?" Luna’s eyebrow arched up just a touch, and Cadence felt that cold sweat down her back again. Celestia might have her head in the clouds from time to time, but Luna was nothing if not practical.

Cadence swallowed her concerns and gave her best bright and winning smile. "Our Sister has decided, in her wisdom, to allow Twilight some time to get back to simply enjoying her Magic for a time so that she might deepen her - " Luna waved a hoof preemptively, cutting off Cadence's explanation. She was smiling though, which was possibly a very good thing.

Luna chuckled softly, a smile creasing her face. "Thou hast convinced my sister to do very little, beyond perhaps granting you time to contrive a reason to end Twilight's training." Her eyes hardened for a moment, her smile turning to a more serious grimace. "Mind, I do not disagree with you in principal. She is far too young for these responsibilities to be laid upon her yet. She has not known the sweet taste of Love or the bitter pill of loss."

Luna shook her head, and Cadence thought she could feel a flash of sorrow from the Moon princess, a feeling of... remembrance. "She requires further tempering, yet my sister would fashion her into a blade to wield against Dissonance. No, I will say naught to her, Cadence. Yet caution I advise - she sees Twilight as her inevitable successor, and she will not give that dream up lightly. I shall say no more for now. Harmony guide you Cadence." Luna pushed herself from the wall even while Cadence was gaping in amazement at her and vanished into a nearby corridor.

~~~~~~

Celestia paused, wondering if she had perhaps been a bit too harsh with Cadence there - the poor dear had seemed far too eager to remove herself from her presence. Perhaps the poor girl needed a little time off herself. She made a note to ensure Cadence got more time to spend with her onetime ward and Shining Armor. It would be good for all involved.

Content that her world was shaping up into its proper form, Celestia dipped her quill once again into the ink and continued to scribble at the small book. She had not come up with a title for it, but she thought "Celestial Harmony" had a nice ring to it. She had written many small tomes like this over the years as her students approached the final tests that she would give them, yet she could already feel this one would be very special indeed.

Throughout the millennia of my life, few ponies indeed have touched my soul in the way you have. Fewer still have shocked and amazed me with the talents they brought to bear in the service of Harmony. Only three have ever met every challenge I turned them against.

There is so much I wish I could tell you right now, Twilight. So much that I wish I could confess to you, the only pony I know I could trust to hear all that I have to say and yet still love me as powerfully as I have always loved you...

~~~~~~

Princess Luna felt the cool air of the evening sweeping along her body as she wheeled and turned amidst the puffy white decorative clouds that hung eternally around her tower. Flying through one of them left a cool mist wetting her coat until she spun a tight spiral and sent the offending water droplets spinning off into the air around her. Her ancient eyes spotted a thermal and she smiled fiercely, tucking her wings in against her body and diving into the warm current of air and riding it down toward the city below her - her wingtips enacting the thousand minor adjustments to keep her flight stable as her speed built and built.

The cloud cover shattered beneath her as the thermal stream of air began to sweep up. Luna snapped open her wings and felt her chest tighten against the powerful wind-forces pressing against her as she executed a 90 degree turn, obliterating a dozen tiny clouds as she blew through them with blinding speed.

There were times, like right now, that she dared emulate young Rainbow Dash. It had been centuries since an Alicorn had last performed a Sonic Rainboom, and Luna wondered if she was even still capable. Celestia no longer could after years of neglecting her pegasus magic, and Cadence was still too young to have attempted it.

Yet at these times, as she looked down to the thousands of feet of air between her and the ground, she wondered if she still had it in her. Her body crested gently as the thermal gust lost its power, and she felt weightless in that moment. Fierce pride overtook Luna, and she felt her wings flare open at the peak of her ascent. She twisted her body to form a tight, arrow-like shape towards the ground and felt her seize control over the air and weather around her body just as her wings snapped back, sending her rocketing downwards towards the earth below.

Her hooves extended outwards, projecting the powerful pegasus magic that thinned out the air in front of her, reducing the drag on her body. Her wings vibrated with magic and muscle power as she swept them back and forth with powerful strokes to build up the momentum. Her eyes were narrowed to squinting as she felt the very air begin to bend around her body, magic crackling through the air around her as her speed seemed to stretch out her body as she strained to break through the barrier of pure wind magic that stretched before her.

For a brief moment, she was sure she'd had it. The magic began to focus into a point before her, the world seemed to go silent save for the rushing of the wind around her body. She nearly reached that vital point, and found it to be just a hair's breadth out of reach - the wind did not take kindly to being strained that way. The force rebounded upon her like a massive elastic band, sending her flying back upwards into the sky in an uncontrollable spin, her body wracked with temporary pain as a small explosion of magical force where she had been dissipated into naught.

Luna's eyes glowed solid, bright white for a moment as her horn gave off a burst of midnight blue magic, correcting her flight path and allowing her to pull out of the death spin. He wings flared painfully until she was hovering in midair, panting heavily from the exertion. "Damn it!" she swore, and then began to swear more in tones neither of her Sisters would have approved. "Thou art out of shape, Princess of the Night. Thou shalt stop eating so many sweets!" she groused to herself, giving her magic a moment to recover from the exertion before pirouetting towards her tower again, this time at a much more reasonable speed.

A few moments later she landed upon her balcony, and a small burst of bluish magic swung open the doors as she slowly walked inside, not deigning to acknowledge the fact that she had perhaps pushed herself a wee bit too far. She sank into a comfortable plush divan next to her bookshelf and laid her head down upon it.

There were times that Luna wished she was still the youngest Sister of the family. Now with Cadence about, it was not nearly so simple. Striking a balance between the implacable Celestia and the open-hearted but often unsure Cadence was mentally exhausting. Never mind that she had her own thoughts and desires aimed at that little purple unicorn who seemed to throw the lives of her monarchs into disarray at every turn. Such behaviors were unseemly, and no one seemed inclined to inform poor Twilight as to what she was doing.

Still, Luna had to admit that Celestia was being even more fanatical than usual on this subject, and she could not fathom why. Twilight was certainly a powerful and capable student, and she had absorbed the lessons of Harmony faster than nearly anypony before her. That did not mean she possessed the maturity to bear the weight of the power and responsibility a fully inducted Sister needed to have.

Luna blew out a sigh of frustration and magically pulled a tome from the bookshelf, determined to not let her evening be ruined by these macabre thoughts. Twilight would have time to gain some perspective perhaps. With fortune, she would see for herself the perils she was putting herself into and would sensibly withdraw from them until she was ready. Luna cracked open the book, flipping to her saved page and wiggling her sleek form into a more comfortable position on the divan.

She could only hope that Twilight would do the sensible thing. She was far from ready to face the Shadow King.

~~~~

Far away from Canterlot, a black form swept low over the treetops of the Everfree forest. It had taken nearly all of her not inconsiderable cunning to wing her way here unnoticed. She had lost twenty members of her retinue distracting that damnably inconvenient border patrol, and a further ten to lay a false trail for that too-inquisitive mage.

Had this call come in any other manner, from any other possible place in Equestria, she would have dismissed it out of hoof and went about the hard work that was her day-to-day routine ever since the disaster. Yet this call she could not ignore. Not from Him, not when all of the legends of her people spoke of Him in much the same awed tones that ponies reserved for Celestia or Luna. Not when she had not seen Him in more than one thousand years.

The old hollow tree was still there - or rather, if it had ever been gone, it was there again. Likely from His power shaping the forest around him again. The foalish ponies of this region supposed the forest was suffused with dark magic because of some action Luna had taken during the rebellions. Little did they know how much of Dissonance's power ran through the veins of this land. If they did, or if Celestia suspected how much it affected the day to day lives of the ponies of this region, she had no doubt they all would have long ago been 'purified'.

She gently banked, the gentle buzz of her remaining six royal guards hummed in close around her as she pivoted in midair and swept down into the hollow tree, following its ancient root deep into the earth. Her memory was still good - she'd dodged all of the usual traps and misleading paths of the place, and her Guard were sticking close to her, though not a one of them had the age to remember when she had once come to this place nearly every month.

Her black body twisted and turned, and finally came out into a vast circular chamber dominated by a central table which bore an ancient map of the lands surrounding and within Equestria. The place was suspiciously spotless of dust and grime, and a thin film of Dissonance hung over the entire hall. Her hooves landed soundlessly, and she walked with graceful step over to the wall farthest from the chamber's door, placing her jagged horn against a torch set under a massive black and green banner.

Magic sputtered for a moment, then flooded through her horn, lighting the ancient flame with her inner Dissonance. It was a bit crude, but she was still recovering from that brawl with Celestia and that damnable Cadence. She did not have time to revel in her thoughts though - as the clink of plate armor upon chain, and chain rustling against firm muscle - drew her gaze to her right where a dark red, curved horn touched another torch, setting it alight with a pulse of Dissonant power that seemed to hang deliciously in the air around Him.

His eyes have not changed... she thought faintly as he turned to face her straight on. The madness is gone from them. He is truly Himself once again. It was a thought she never believed she could think. She had long since given up hope that He would ever return to himself, and when word had reached her of His supposed death at the hands of that same damnable new Alicorn, what little hope she'd had shattered seemingly forever. Yet, there He was, with that slight smirk on his face and His eyes still flaring with barely restrained Dissonant power and shadow - a testament to the name he had earned in battle long ago.

His voice rumbled, still basso-deep and strong. He bowed his head only slightly, his eyes fixed on hers in return. "Queen Chrysalis...." He rumbled, purring the words out as though He was tasting them. His voice deepened for a moment as an iron shod hoof rose to touch her cheek, brushing at it with flesh warmed metal. "My Queen... It has been far, far too long." His eyes were shining with an emotion somewhere between lust and love as His words slowly reduced in volume to a whisper.

Queen Chrysalis, the changeling queen stood there for a moment stock still... until her own hoof, holed but delicate, lifted to touch her opposite's cheek. Her own tone a hissing whisper, sibilant with the buzz of her race, she said, "Shadow King... Sombra, my love." She choked up, feeling her throat tighten. "I had... thought you lost forever, my King..." His eyes brightened again with luminescent green, a fierce smile on his face that raced her heart.

"I am not so easy to destroy, dread Queen." He winked cheekily at her then. That startled a chuckle out of her... which he took advantage of and pressed himself hard up against her, pinning her form to the wall with his vastly superior weight and forcing his lips upon hers.

It was a kiss a millennium in the waiting. His hooves pinned her against the wall to the astonished glances of her still hovering royal guard. Chrysalis could not find it in her to resist him, his breath hot upon her lips and his body weight like an old blanket of warmth and power, memories flooding back into her of the old days. Given how his hooves were moving, Sombra was thinking the very same thing, trailing down her sleek form and exploring her body as he did of old, reminding himself of her every sleek curve and valley. Their horns touched for a moment as he broke away from the torrid kiss and a pulse of pleasure set her every nerve alight with power and the heady taste of powerful Love flooding into her system. She had not had sustenance like this since the Disaster, and it revitalized parts of her she had long forgotten.

Yet this was not yet the time. She pressed her hoof into his chest and pushed him away a little, her own breathing coming out in heaves. Her body cried out to her to simply give in to their mutual desire and enjoy a mating they had been denied for so very long, but there was business that needed tending to before they did. "Hold, my King..." she panted out, feeling her tongue lick over his fangs but forcing herself to stop, biting down firmly on her lower lip. "Much as I am... looking forward to your weight upon me again, my King, we need to summon the third of us to this place first."

Sombra looked momentarily mutinous but chuckled anyway. "Thou art correct, my Queen, but you shall pay sweetly for making me deny my desires in favor of work." From the tone in his voice, Chrysalis could only dimly imagine what sort of perversions he had in mind, and she loved every implication that his eyes seemed to promise her. Oh goodness, but it certainly had been a very long time she had indulged herself for anything other than breeding.

She smiled toothily, flicking her mane over her shoulder and swaying toward the doors. "Come then, my Shadow King. We have much work if we are to summon these allies to our cause again. It will take not inconsiderable strength to call them back to our service." She threw an extra sway into her hips, carefully placing her hooves one in front of the other as she walked to maximize the effect. She could feel his gaze hot upon her form, enough to send a shiver down her spine. It brought back memories of the first time she'd felt that gaze so many hundreds of years ago.

She had been a Princess of Harmony. He had been the most powerful unicorn since Star Swirl the Bearded and a prince besides... They had worked together, fought together, and they had fallen in love together. She had thought it to be the greatest day of her life, until her pride-filled Sisters had refused to recognize the Love they held for one another. They had forbidden her from seeing him - worse, they had tried to actively separate the two of them permanently with the use of Harmonic magic, to ensure their purpose could remain 'pure'.

She would never forget the sad look on Celestia's face as the Alicorn Sisters sat in Judgment against her when she rebelled against that decision. She would never forget her pitiless gaze, nor would she forget the moment she had been told in no uncertain terms that there would be no negotiation. She remembered denouncing Celestia and the entire Sisterhood in that room. Days later, Princess Starbright had forsaken the power of Harmony. She had sought out her beloved unicorn, and they had unearthed the ancient texts which described the powers of Dissonance.

Together, they fell from the graces of Harmony down into the deepest blackness of Dissonance. Had her Sisters known the two of them would forge an entirely new race of creatures that thrived on the power of Dissonance, perhaps they might have been kinder to her Love for him. Even worse, fifteen centuries after her fall, Celestia had quietly approved of another Alicorn and her deep abiding love for the prince Shining Armor. Few of her hive had realized that it was not merely dominance over the ponies that she desired, but revenge for her betrayal all those years ago. Revenge she would yet have, by Dissonance.

Now was not the time for such thoughts. Sombra and she walked silently down the ancient stone hallways - one last ally needed to be called upon before they would once again be the Trinity of Dissonance. Sombra smiled as they passed a dark stone gate deep within the complex. "So, my Queen... let me tell you of our new plans." And as she listened, Chrysalis could not help but laugh with unrestrained joy.

Oh yes, her King truly had returned, and wicked vengeance would be theirs at last. Of course, there were other things to look forward to as they shut the door silently behind them, sealing the Ritual Chamber they would use to call the last of their old allies to this place, and perhaps some other things once the work was done.

~~~~~

The quill scratched into the book, lit only by the dim light of a hundred candles scattered about her study. A tray with food lay untouched, left by servants who had come and gone without a word. Celestia would need to eat, but right now she had to get these thoughts onto the paper before her courage to do so ran dry.

I have made so very many mistakes. More than anypony should ever be permitted to commit without punishment. I remained silent when I often should have spoken, and spoken harshly when I should have remained silent. I have spent a thousand lifetimes making errors - errors which led those I have loved to their ends. I will never be free of the debt I owe to them, Twilight. Nor the debt I owe to you.

Celestia's quill faltered for a moment as she lowered her head. Here in the dark of the night, with Luna busy and Cadence far away, she allowed herself a few tears. Gently falling from her face, crystal drops of water struck the floor with what sounded like the force of hammers. The quill returned to its writing, though shakily...

Were it within my power, dearest Twilight. Were it only within my power to save you from this terrible burden, to let you live your life as a normal pony. To know nothing but the simple joys of Magic, research, and the love of your friends. Were this world so kind that I could shelter you from the storm eternally, and watch you grow into the beautiful, kind hearted pony you surely would become.

But... there is no pony else for me to turn to now, Twilight. Harmony does not care for my wishes or my will. It cares only for the preservation of itself, and so I must offer my most precious possession in all of the world up to it as one last sacrifice, so that all that I have built may yet continue to stand.... For this, Twilight Sparkle, I owe you a debt I will never ever be able to repay. And for that, I am sorry.