• 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 3 - The Trinity

~~~One Week Later~~~~~

In the very center of the complex beneath the roots of the Everfree Forest, a meeting hall stood. It was dominated by a single circular table emblazoned with three distinct symbols set into three pie-shaped wedges upon the stone surface. Three dark figures stood at this table, surrounded by innumerable creatures of the night - Thestrals and changelings, manticores and shadow drakes, Griffons in exile and Zebras from far away lands.

There were ponies too - practitioners of dark magic, Moon cultists, anarchists, rebels against the throne, and criminals alike. More creatures that sat in the dark corners and watched with balefully glowing eyes at the three who stood in the middle, as they had in the olden days - before the Empire, before Celestia.

"Harmony is a Lie," proclaimed Sombra, the Shadow King. He stood as proud and powerful as all the tales had promised. There is only Passion, responded the throng of creatures around him, echoing in a thousand different voices: some rough, some smooth. They remembered the old oaths, even if few of them had kept to them over the centuries.

A second voice took up the chant - her rich, dark voice hissing out as she too placed a hoof on the table. "Through Passion…" Queen Chrysalis richly intoned, her smokey green eyes on none but Sombra as the crowd rumbled back, We gain power. That was especially true of the throng of Changelings who had come to pledge themselves to the newly ascendant Changeling Queen. They had heard the old powers were rising again and had come to pledge themselves to she that would prove herself the strongest of their kind once again.

A third voice then joined them, that of a pony muffled behind a black mask. "Through Power..." The voice was female, this they knew. Yet none could place it. The dark creatures knew better than to challenge anything with the power to seize the third slice of the table and responded back with the same enthusiasm they had before. We gain Obedience.

Each of the three figures spoke the next lines of the Code in turn while eyes of every color in the rainbow watched them with carefully guarded respect and responded to each line as one; until they reached the last of those lines and spoke them together Magic will make us Free. There was a silent moment before roars of approval and cheers echoed throughout the chamber, hoof and claw stomped into the stone for a time.

Sombra struck the table once again with his hoof, the sound echoing for a moment as silence quickly descended upon the room. He lifted his head up proudly and began to speak. "We are Dissonance. We are that which frees every being from the ordinary and the mundane. We free them from the shackles of Harmony, that they might live their lives as they would, not as a Tyrant tells them to. We are the final hope of the world against eternal stagnation."

His iron hoof swept towards the great map on the far wall, depicting the lands within Equestria and beyond. "They force the unwilling into 'their place' so that others might profit. They force the misfit and the strange into the darkness and shadow, that we might not 'upset' the Harmony of the great and powerful. They say we are fallen, that we are unclean and seek only dominance for our own power. Yet we know that Harmony is nothing more than the chains with which they would enslave the world to their one will!"

The iron shod hoof struck the stone table, the resounding sound of metal on stone crashing throughout the crowded chamber. There was anger there, oh yes. Yet anger could be turned to power so very easily. Sombra knew that well - but it needed to be focused, tempered before it could be allowed to run wild and free.

His gaze swept across the assembled as he spoke again. "Two thousand years, my brothers and sisters. Two thousand years you have hidden in the shadows, keeping to the old ways. Keeping the Code strong though the world struck at you in every way that it could. I could not be more proud of you, one and all."

His voice rang with that pride, and the words kindled a flame amongst those that stood around them as he continued to speak. "We have experienced our share of defeats, my friends. We have had more than our share of setbacks. Yet here you have come to my call, as though the Crystal Empire still stood as a bastion against Harmony, and together we ruled lands equal the size and power of Equestria itself!"

His glowing green gaze swept over the assembled for a moment before settling back on the dark-clad pony who stood at the third edge of the table, smiling slightly. "Some of you have managed even to live our creed directly under the nose of the hated Tyrant. We are not as we once were, my brothers and sisters. Yet we are stronger than we have ever been before!"

The room again erupted into cheers and the stomping of hooves. Chrysalis beamed at him across the table, and Sombra allowed himself a toothy grin. He stuck his hoof once more upon the table, and this time there was total silence. The eyes of the creatures around him were filled with hunger and ambition.

They were ready to execute his plan. "We have work for each and every one of you. Soon, we shall gather the means to strike a deadly blow against the hated Tyrant where she is at her most vulnerable, and when we have succeeded in our task, we shall welcome a new power to our number." Silence followed that, as each amongst them digested those words.

The King was seeking an Apprentice, and that could only mean one thing: he intended to reopen Dissonance's struggle against Harmony at the earliest possible opportunity. A hot breath swept through the assemblage, each of them feeding off the desire of the others. This was more than a simple call to action - it was a call to war.

Sombra knew he had a powerful weapon in that desire and intended to wield it as he had any other blade - with precision and skill. "You will be each given your separate assignments by one of the Trinity. I expect you will carry them out with speed. Good luck, my brothers. May Dissonance grant you strength." He bowed his head to the table, and as the Trinity did the same, they all spoke together.

And may we all live Free.

~~~~~~

It did not take long for the hall to empty. The monsters with the intelligence to serve them were eager to get about their various assignments though few of them were going to find those assignments particularly enjoyable. Sombra watched impassively as the last group of changelings took their orders from Chrysalis and flitted off up through the hollow tree above their heads. A moment later, they were alone save for the third figure, still swathed in a dark cloak and mask. Sombra inclined his head to the pony, gesturing a moment later to a side room.

There, a much smaller, more intimate table sat. Made of age darkened wood, it was also carefully divided into three parts - each bearing the faint bas-relief of a symbol that would mean very little to anyone but those sitting there. "I have to admit, you were not what I was expecting," he admitted, still somewhat amused by the pony's insistence to remain concealed behind the dark cloth. "Still, the fact that you have maintained your position despite Celestia's routine inquisitions is an impressive feat."

The dark figured raised its head and chuckled in a muffled but rich voice. "I am humbled, King Sombra. It has not been easy keeping the ranks full and motivated over the last few centuries, but recent events have brought our recruitment up significantly. The attacks by Your Majesties and the brief incident with Discord has shaken the faith of many in Celestia's control over her land. Though I doubt such would ever occur to her."

The voice even sounded like it was smirking then. "As in the old days we stand ready to serve, My Liege. I shall lead the faithful until such time as your Apprentice is ready to take my place. I must admit, I am surprised you would select her from amongst all the possible candidates. A bold choice, to be sure. Yet I worry that it will draw Celestia's attention down upon us." The head canted upward, her tone inquisitive.

Chrysalis laughed, pressing herself up against the cool iron of Sombra's armor for a moment, purring out her words. "She will be too busy to notice our works. By the time Celestia will have the freedom to check upon her, she will already be on her way down the True Path. Of course, we will be relying on you to ensure that we have no local trouble." Chrysalis' hoof had slipped around Sombra to gently stroke at the shadow-like mane, watching the dark-clad pony intensely.

The pony did not seem to notice Chrysalis' gaze, and nodded slowly. "We have already brought the local constables into our fold. Those that do not swear to us will not live long enough to tell tales. You shall have free reign in Ponyville, save for what attention you may attract from the Elements of Harmony. Them I can do little about save through indirect means. " The dark clad pony raised its head once again. "By your leave, My King, My Queen?"

Sombra and Chrysalis nodded together, and the cloaked pony left the room swiftly and silently, vanishing into the shadow filled halls of their haven. Chrysalis turned her head toward Sombra, leaning in to nuzzle her cheek against his. "My dearest shadow, who was that?" she murmured, sharp teeth finding a sensitive ear to nibble upon. Sombra leaned into the attention, but only smiled a moment in response. "Shadow King..." Her tone took on a warning quality. "You know I dislike it when you hide things from me."

Sombra laughed, a sound which never failed to send chills of desire through Chrysalis. Such power restrained behind that laugh, and a reminder of how his mind was once again whole. "Oh I know, dear Chryssy." She hated that nickname. She made a silent promise to make him pay for it later. "But this must remain secret for now. I promise you, love. When the time is right, I shall have that pony reveal itself. It will be a very interesting moment to see how our future Apprentice will react."

He smirked - and before she could further question him, his lips were fastened upon hers again as a strong force of magic lifted and pinned her upon the table. Sombra loomed over her sleek black form with barely restrained passion blazing in his pose. "But enough talk. We shall begin soon, and I wish to taste of my love again before we become too busy."

Moments later, screams of delight and passion echoed throughout the chambers, loud enough that the dark clad figure could hear them before the doors to the sanctuary shut behind it. It smiled behind its mask as it began to divest itself of the cloak and mask, stowing them within a false tree stump. There was work to be done.

~~~~

Twilight sighed a little as the door to her library shut behind her, mentally and physically exhausted. Although it was never unpleasant to spend time amongst her closest friends, sometimes they could all be just a bit crazy. The thought of describing her friends as crazy brought a little smile to her face. That had been the very first word she'd used to describe them. Of course, she'd later added words like "wonderful" and "irreplaceable" to that. Her horn lit weakly in the dim light of the library, all of the candles long since burned out around her.

Twilight halfheartedly glared at the stacks of books needing to be re-filed and the candle wax that needed to be cleaned and replaced with fresh sticks. She was not even going to get started on the dust. Spike was going to have a devil of a week ahead of him. As much as she wanted to lay into this mess right now, she hadn't the energy to so much as go at the lot with a duster.

For once, Twilight decided to revel in the mess a bit, dumping her saddlebags by the door and doing a quick check of her mail, which lay in an untidy pile on one of the side tables. "Let’s see here. Junk, junk, bill for quills, junk, subscription to Unicorn Monthly, community junk, and… huh?" Twilight blinked at the last bit of mail: an oblong package wrapped tightly in paper and twine. Obviously it was a book, but her normal shipments came in crates, not wrapped up like journals in a Daring Do book.

Tossing the mail onto her desk, she wearily trotted up the stairs to her loft, the book still floating along beside her. No return address, just her address and name neatly printed on the front in tight Equestrian script. Twilight laid the thing down on her bed and carefully let off a little burst of magic to light her bedside lantern, bathing the room in a warm glow.

A few more magical tugs later and the package was open, spilling a small red leather book and a much folded bit of parchment onto the bed. "Alright, if this is one of Dash's tricks again…" she muttered, unfolding the parchment. As she read from the paper, her irritation quickly began to disintegrate.

To Twilight Sparkle,

Ms.Sparkle, I am a professional researcher for the Canterlot Library and come to you with a unique opportunity. I have recently uncovered a fascinating little book during my work in Saddle Arabia. Given your reputation as being one of the finest students of the Code of Harmony, I thought you might enjoy the rare opportunity this book provides.

I shall let the book speak for itself, given your history with its author. Should you find the subject illuminating, speak to my colleague, Somber Gaze. He is currently staying in Ponyville while writing a research paper on the Everfree Forest.

Yours in Illumination,
Midnight Vigil

Twilight blinked at the letter for a moment, then floated the blank tome up to her eyes while she carefully pulled herself up and into the softness of her own bed. Opening to the front page of the book, she noted its title was hand-written, marking it as being of considerable age. The worn leather was supple smooth and obviously much read. Twilight's eyes gazed over to the words, suddenly widening in pure terror.

The Basis of Dissonance - By King Sombra the 1st

Twilight very nearly flung the tome across the room. She shoved herself back from it, all the way to the head of her bed as it fell down neatly onto her sheets, the cover remaining just a little bit open. In the space of seconds, she had already constructed half a dozen magical barriers which sang with power. She waited, tensed against any possible threat or assault from the offending tome.

Seconds passed, then minutes. A full fifteen went by before Twilight slowly began taking down her shields, one by one. Thirty more had passed before she picked the book up again, gazing solemnly at the hand-written title page. It was after all, just a book - written by one of the most famous madponies in all of history perhaps - but still just a book. Given the coherency of the script, it must have been written before he went insane with power.

Perhaps reading it would finally allow her some insight into the minds of those poor souls who swore themselves to Dissonance. Celestia had thus far refused to teach her anything but vague platitudes about her supposedly immortal enemy, and that just would not do for Twilight Sparkle. If she was going to fight them, then knowing her enemy would be the first and most vital step.

Steeling her resolve against terror, she turned to the very first page, her eyes quickly scanning across the text, wondering just what this book was supposed to illuminate her about...

~~~~~

Dissonance and Harmony are the fundamental forces of nature which drive the entire world. Anyone can tell you this, but what they cannot tell you is why this is an important distinction from those who would hold that Harmony alone is required to make the world come alive.

Harmony provides the world with order and structure. From Harmony flows the rules and laws which govern the beasts of nature and the means by which the pegasus tribes rule over the weather. It is also from which magic gains its ability to take specific shapes, and the means by which the unicorns can achieve astounding feats of architecture.

Dissonance provides the world with energy and willpower. Though a beast may live by the laws of Harmony, it gets its very soul from Dissonance. Though a pegasus may use Harmony to shape the weather into a pleasing form, it is from Dissonance that they draw the passion with which they live their lives. Though any unicorn can create great feats of magic with Harmony alone, without Dissonance their creations are soulless, lifeless, and dead.

From this we can deduce that all life does not come forth from Harmony, as many would have you believe, but from the pure forces of Dissonance. A pony can exist without drive or desire, but is that a life worth living? Or is that merely the cold mechanical forces of a body going through the motions, day in and day out?

I have seen this force in action with my own eyes, for I have gazed upon the beauty of Harmony, and she gazed back at me. There, I found Love and I dared defy the perfection of Harmony for it. I did so, claiming that it alone could never make for a perfect world if it could not allow for so wonderful a thing as Love. So I married that mare, and damn the consequences.

And consequences there were. I was cast out by the very teacher that swore to protect me. And so I turned to that which had granted me the greatest joy in all of my life, and with her we began our march into the forbidden. Here, within this tome, I have written all I and the one I love have learned about Dissonance. They say we are fallen, but I know the truth. It is they who have forgotten what makes life worth living.

Once, I believed as they did. It is my hope, whoever you may be, that you do not make the same mistake.

Read, learn, and believe.

May Dissonance grant you Freedom.

Chapter 1 - Harmony is a Lie, there is only Passion

~~~~~~

It was nearly dawn by the time Twilight had slowly worked her way through that first, brain-aching chapter. There had been information in there that left her gaping in disbelief, information that had sent her to making notes. She had re-read the chapter five times over, which was insane even for her. It would have been easy if this had just been some ideological creed against Celestia. It would have been simple if it had just been the rantings of a deranged madpony going on about how to dominate his lessers.

Yet everything in the first fifty pages had been terrifyingly logical. It had read like a treatise on magical theory. She didn't even have to work that hard to see how she already used Dissonance in her day to day magic! Testing the theories had been maddeningly simple - she'd been able to perform all of the little spells without so much as a whiff of corruptive magic, not even using that much power. By Celestia, she was half convinced that she had finally stumbled upon the first piece of the puzzle to explaining Pinkie Pie!

Although that could just be the sleep deprivation talking.

Sombra might have eventually lost his mind, but what a mind it had been! Fifty pages of some of the most dense magical research she'd ever put her horn to, and that had barely been the first chapter. He'd barely even touched upon Dissonance as a path or a way of life. Certainly he had scathing criticisms of Harmony. Some of them had been perfectly valid, from his own perspective at least. Yet there was nothing here that even hinted at the madpony he would become legendary for being. What had happened to him?

Of course, of all of the information that left her staring at the neat inch thick pile of notes, it had been that foreword that troubled her the most. Sombra had been in love? He'd married? Was that what had ultimately driven him to madness, the loss of the one he loved? It was an incredible historical proposition, one that ran contrary to nearly every other book she'd read on the subject. Yet this seemed to come from his own hooves, and what purpose would it serve to lie about such a thing?

Who had he been in love with? There was nothing within the text that so much as hinted at a name. Unless... With a weak push of magic, she flipped all the way to the very back of the tome, and sure enough a scrawl sat on the very last page - this one shakier than much of the other text she'd read so far. Was it loss that had driven Sombra mad? Or...

Dedicated to my one true love, Princess Starbright. May Dissonance protect you when I am gone.

She dropped the book from her magic, this time the cover snapping closed. Princess Starbright was a legend, a myth. She did not - could not - have actually existed. Every single history book of that era, every single paper and reference she had ever studied under Celestia's guidance, had said so. She'd even had countless fairy tales written about her, describing her as an impossible beauty and the very soul of kindness.

She remembered reading about her as a young filly, Celestia guiding her through the tale word by word. She was an allegory, meant to tell a morality tale about what happened when your emotions overwhelmed your reason. She was not a real, flesh and blood, true to life historical figure.

Or was she?

For the first time in her entire life, Twilight Sparkle was confronted with an impossible truth. That Celestia had not told her everything, or been one hundred percent honest with her. Twilight had always been taught one side to the story, the side of Celestia and Harmony. Never before had Twilight questioned that side, or the motives it might have for the stories it might tell her.

Now, a tiny tome sent to her by somepony she had never heard of, filled with arcane knowledge that she could scarce believe was some sort of fraud, told her an entirely different story. A story about two ponies - one whose existence history did not admit; the other whom history had denounced as a pitiless tyrant. Two ponies who had fallen in love and paid some unspoken price for their crime.

Twilight carefully tucked the tome under her pillow and laid her head down upon it, eyes slowly falling shut from pure exhaustion. One thing was absolutely certain - she was going to find out what the truth was. Celestia would undoubtedly try to forbid her from doing so, so she would not gain any help there. Perhaps that name in the letter would help?

Thoughts melted away and turned to sound sleep, and Twilight Sparkle rested upon the knowledge she had gained - and the disturbing doors that knowledge had opened.

~~~~~

A hooded figure stood in the center of a hidden room, surrounded by lit candles and a dozen other ponies of various races and skills. This figure lifted its head imperiously and stamped a hoof into the center of the symbol that was laid into the floor - that of a slender dagger pierced through the center of a tightly wound scroll. The hooded and cloaked figures that stood around this figure watched in rapt attention as its voice rang out through and amongst them.

"My friends, our time is coming once again! You know your places and have your assignments. We are to ensure our King and Queen can work without interruption or interference. We shall carry out this task with the same skill we did in Canterlot, and this time we shall not fail!"

The dark figure swept a hoof around her, pointing at each pony in turn before striking down on the center of the floor again. Each of the other ponies stomped in response to hers and silence settled upon them again.

"Go forward, Children of the Dissonant. Let none stand in our way. At long last, we shall know Freedom!"