• 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 6 - The Truth

"History is written by the victors." - Commander Hurricane

"The Truth is recorded by the vanquished." - Clover the Clever, Responding to Hurricane

~~~~The Next Day, Morning~~~~~

Twilight was getting tired of waking up all of a sudden like this. It was a strange thing to miss, the slow waking from sleep. Normally, she'd have been irritated at her mind being so sluggish until she'd had a hot shower and a big breakfast. Now she was waking fully with no stops in between, and for some perverse reason this annoyed her. As she pushed her way out of bed, her mood took a left turn onto astonished lane.

Lilith was kneeling right next to the doorway inside of her room, with her forehooves pressed into the front of her thighs looking completely serene. Next to the bed stood a large food tray, the kind she liked to use when there was a new Daring Do book to read and she couldn't be bothered to leave her room to eat. It was stacked with a still steaming bowl of fresh leek soup, two dandelion sandwiches, a brightly frosted cupcake and a freshly brewed pot of her favorite black tea.

It was the kind of breakfast Spike might have made her if he was angling for a particularly scrumptious looking Gem from Rarity's. The sight made her quickly scan her room for other oddities, and found them in plenty. Every shelf in her room had been dusted spotless, and the stack of research books neatly bookmarked and sorted onto her desk. There was a fresh stack or parchment and quills waiting on her writing desk, and there by the doorway a sleek coated unicorn with a little knowing smile on her lips.

Spike could be incredibly diligent when he wanted something, but this was beyond ridiculous. Her new house-guest had to have been the one who did all of this. Twilight opened her mouth...and felt her stomach rumble loudly in protest. She felt her cheeks blush furiously, and decided perhaps breakfast would be the best way to approach the bizarre morning she'd awoken to.

She quickly polished off all of the food, even the sugary-sweet cupcake before even so much as thinking about what the hay was going on. She clinked down the spoon into the empty bowl and gazed silently across the room - the unicorn was still kneeling in the same exact position she had been thirty minutes ago, with no signs of discomfort. Twilight cleared her throat, having had enough of the silence. "Lilith, come over here."

Without so much as a word, the pinkish unicorn moved smoothly to her hooves, her eyes fixed firmly on the ground. She quietly crossed the room without so much as a whisper until she was directly in front of Twilight, almost uncomfortably close. She paused and bowed her head deeply to her once, before slipping back into that awkward looking kneeling position. "Mistress, good morning. I trust you found your meal satisfying?"

Twilight licked her lips experimentally. The soup had been good, and the dandelions fresh and well spiced. The tea had also been spot on perfect - something even Spike didn't always get right. "Yes. I did. Why are you calling me Mistress, Lilith?" Twilight was curious - she certainly had not asked to be called that. She'd been calling her that ever since the...spell.

Lilith smiled slightly, and lifted her head a little so that the sleek collar around her neck would be more visible. Twilight was all but certain it had been black as the night sky the previous evening, and now it was an attractive shade of purple that matched her coat. The little tag on it had also changed - from the scroll and dagger, to a picture perfect copy of her cutie mark. "You claimed me, Mistress. When you revealed your power to me. I am honored to be called your first acolyte." Her voice rang with pride and happiness as she bowed her head again, returning her eyes to the floor.

Twilight bit her lip for a brief moment, then took a deep breath. Relax, Twilight. Don't panic. You've only just cast an incredibly dark spell that you've never seen before. Then used it to somehow brainwash a pony who follows a philosophy your Teacher is famous for hunting down the adherents of and throwing them into prison forever. And that you are apparently coming dangerously close to having sympathies with that same philosophy. Well that thought process hadn't helped, so she took another deep calming breath. "Lilith, I need you to answer some very important questions for me. I need you to be completely honest with me with the answers. Do you understand?"

Her acolyte- no, wait. Her guest nodded her head adjusting herself where she knelt and waited in silence. Twilight puffed out her cheeks. "Okay, Important stuff in order. First, How in the name of Celestia's flank did I cast a spell last night I've never studied or even heard of before? Second, what the hay did I cast and why does it contradict the book?" Twilight saw her guest worry at her lip for a moment before speaking, obviously carefully putting together what she was about to say.

Lilith took a deep breath before speaking. "Well, both questions are linked, Mistress. To put it in the simplest terms I can, you are walking the True Path of Dissonance. With each step on the path, you come to more intimately understand a line of the Code. Each line of the code is associated with a primal spell. When you have demonstrated enough understanding of that line, the spell is cast through you by the pure force of Dissonance."

She grimaced a moment, rubbing her chin with her hoof. "This is all terribly simplified of course. You were supposed to read through the entire chapter and meditate upon it before even being capable of casting the spell. Your connection to Harmony and Dissonance must be so powerful that you can simply make intuitive leaps in understanding. It is..." She shook her head - and looked up at Twilight with something approaching awe. "Incredible."

Twilight shifted uncomfortably under that adoring gaze, Lilith quietly returning her eyes to the ground to keep speaking. "As to the spell - It is the spell of Obedience. You project your power against someone, and force them to acknowledge your strength if it is superior to theirs." Lilith took another slow breath, sounding like one of Twilight's earliest tutors, a gentle mare who every filly and colt loved for her kind nature.

Lilith kept speaking, keeping her tone serene. "Those of us who abide by the Code know it to be a rite of passage. The strongest of us rise up, while those with little direct power serve them. In time, the weak may become stronger and may rise up to a newer position. We are led by the strongest amongst us, those who most deserve to lead." She smiled faintly. "We do not bow to those who lead because they were born to that position. They must earn the right."

Twilight wanted to smack her, to shake her shoulders and demand why the hay they followed such an insane system. Once again though, she could see the terrifying logic of it all. The strong led and the weak followed, the strong having proven they could bear the weight of responsibility.

It explained the incredible resiliency of the Dissonance cults. It was why no matter how many low level cultists were captured, the only way to effectively snuff out a cult was to kill or capture its leaders, all of whom were often too wily and capable to be caught without intense effort. And if a leader was strong, but foolish? One of strength and intelligence could rise from the ranks to unseat him or her.

Twilight wanted to take notes, her hooves itched to take quill in hand and as she began to reach for her magic, Lilith's horn quietly glowed to life, lifting quill and ink, and several sheaf’s of parchment over to the side table, neatly laying them out for her. Twilight gaped for a moment. "How did..." She shook her head. "How did you know?"

The kneeling unicorn gave off a little laugh - it was a pretty sound, something Twilight could grow to like. "I would be a very poor acolyte if I could not anticipate your needs, Mistress." She was grinning, even if she was refusing to look directly at Twilight. "Just as I know you have more questions for me, and I shall answer them."

Twilight snatched a bit of parchment into the air and was already offhandedly scribbling thoughts down onto it. "Well, since you're being so helpful." Twilight smiled wryly. "You call yourself Lilith - but your name isn't that. Why? Some kind of secrecy thing?"

Lilith shook her head. "It is very simple, Mistress. When we are born, Harmony has already decided our place in life. Our name becomes a symbol of our so-called special talent, and we are marked with Harmony's stamp." She gestured to her cutie mark, a set of shining crystalline gems. "With that, our fates are sealed. Our ability to grow, to choose our own path and become something else is forever denied to us. When we have walked the True Path for the first time, we take a new name as the symbol of our defiance against Harmony. That it so happens to serve as a way to hide us from easy identification is merely a bonus."

Twilight nearly spat out the quill she was nibbling upon. "W-what?! But...That's Insane." Once again, it was also logical when looked at from their perspective. "Your cutie mark is who you are! It's a symbol of what makes you unique and different! Isn't that in keeping with Dissonance?" But Lilith was already shaking her head slowly.

"That is an easy mistake to make, Mistress. Our mark does not make us unique. It is what traps us into a single role for the rest of our lives." She looked back again, the naked disgust she had for her own cutie mark was jarring in the extreme. "That is why we have the final step in the path."

Twilight blinked for a moment, remembering the lines of the code. That last line, she had been curious about. "Magic will make me Free." She stated, which got a beaming smile from Lilith. "What does that mean?" Twilight picked up a new sheet of parchment, writing practically nonstop now.

Twilight watched Lilith raise her eyes up for only the second time, her expression sincere and hopeful. "When you walk the final step in the path, if your power is great enough - you can throw off the shackles of harmony, and become Free." Twilight stared at her blankly for a moment, trying to process that. Lilith smiled slightly. "The mark of harmony is erased from your body. You are no longer limited by Harmony, and your power can grow beyond that of even the Alicorns." Her voice took on an awed tone, not unlike the one often used to describe Celestia or Luna by some of their more fanatical followers.

Twilight was too busy thinking to notice though. Harmony help me. she thought, her hooves rubbing nervously together. She thinks I'm going to turn into some kind of demi-goddess. By getting rid of my Cutie Mark! Twilight had spent the last three days in a state of fascination about the Dissonance philosophy. Now she was being confronted with its ultimate end. It makes sense of course. Perverse, impossible sense. Wait a minute. Lilith's last words finally broke through the reverie, and Twilight's head came up sharply. "What do you mean, I'd no longer be limited by Harmony?"

Lilith's smile came again, and Twilight was seriously beginning to think she was being manipulated here. "Let me answer that with a question - Who was the most powerful unicorn in history?" Lilith said as her head leaned to one side - she hadn't taken that uncomfortable gaze off of Twilight yet either.

Twilight was taken a bit aback at that one, but the answer was easy enough. "Well, Star Swirl the Bearded of course. Everypony knows that. Even his student, Clover the Clever never reached the same level he had." That was all recorded history of course. Although at this point, Twilight was ready to admit History did not always record everything.

Lilith nodded again, that same maddening smile still on her lips. "Correct. As recorded by history, anyway. Yet even he never reached the level of power that Celestia or Luna wielded. For all of his brilliance and his power, he could not do a tenth of what they could." She bobbed her head to the other side, eyes twinkling with mischief. "That was because he was limited by Harmony."

She shifted on her knees a bit and took on that lecturing tone again - Twilight was getting a little annoyed with it, but it did make it easier to absorb the information. "Think of every other unicorn in Equestria. Unless magic is their special gift, their powers rarely ever increase once they've mastered their special talent. Even those whose gift Is magic rarely reach any significant amount of power themselves, limited to exploiting loopholes in magic." she paused, licking her lips faintly.

"Star Swirl was a genius, a savant at such exploits. He knew and understood the forces of magic better than any pony who has lived before or since," her eyes bored in on Twilight, the next words coming slowly and deliberately, "and he could not come close to matching their power. Why?"

That was it then, the question Twilight had been avoiding. She herself was particularly adept at exploiting the loopholes of magical theory. It had been how she'd mastered spells far beyond her level at such a young age. Much of her knowledge had come from studying Star Swirl's methods. Yet she was supposed to be the Element of Magic, the very embodiment of the concept in Equestria. So why did She accept without so much as a question that she would never aspire to the heights of power wielded by Celestia, Luna or Cadence?

The answer was obvious of course. "Because if everypony could wield that power..." Twilight began slowly, the thought still forming in her head. "Then it would be impossible for Harmony to be maintained." her words ended in a whisper, as she felt a swell of magic building up in her body. Oh Celestia, not again! But this time no spell was cast - instead the power welled up inside of her, filling her with itself. It was like being made of light - painful and pleasurable all at the same time.

Lilith watched on silently as the power surged through Twilight's hooves and horn. Twilight suddenly felt a jarring shift, her sight twisting from her own perspective to a new one. She suddenly felt disembodied, looking at Lilith kneeling before her as she sat upon the edge of her bed. Suddenly, the world changed around her, and she saw a new reality take form.

Her bed became a throne made of deep purple crystals and plush cushion. Twilight's eyes were glowing with a familiar bright green power, shadows slowly streaming off of her hooves and from the corners of her eyes. She wore some kind of shiny black dress, and her hooves were shod in boots of silver and amethyst. Lilith's forehooves were bound up and behind her head with some kind of straps, and she bowed in total submission to Twilight. The terrifying scene was held for only a moment, and then words thundered through her ears.

Through Obedience, I gain Truth.

Suddenly Twilight was pitched back into her own head, rocking her back against the bed sheets for a dazed moment. She quickly shoved herself back to a sitting up position to stare disbelievingly at Lilith. Lilith was still kneeling - but now she had adopted that same position and was breathing heavily, as though she had just been exercising. There was a sharp tang in the air, a smell Twilight took a moment to identify - and then blushed a bright red. "Acolyte Lilith, what in the name of Harmony just happened?!"

Twilight froze as the words spilled out of her mouth, unbidden. Lilith's eyes were fixed on the floor again, her chest heaving with breath, and her cheeks flushed an equally bright red. I called her Acolyte. Why did I call her that? Harmony help me, what is happening to me?! Lilith gulped down air for a few more moments before answering, her words striking into Twilight's heart with terror. "You understood the Truth of Harmony, Mistress. Dissonance then granted you a vision of a possible future, one in which you have walked the true path and become Free." Her eyes closed and she shivered on the spot. "As I was a part of that future, and I am your Acolyte - I was blessed to feel the power of your magic coursing through me once again. As you can already tell Mistress, it is a very ... pleasant experience for me."

Twilight pushed herself off the bed, landing all too close to Lilith - and now she could smell that distinct odor even more strongly. I need to get out of here...anywhere but here. she thought wildly. "I need to...go speak with somepony, Lilith. Do not let anyone become aware of your presence here, that's an order." Twilight quickly ran for the door, swinging it open with a half-trained burst of her magic and bolting down the stairs.

Behind her, Lilith lips curved into a wide smile. She lifted herself gently off of the floor once Mistress had exited the room - and lifted herself up to the edge of the bed, pressing her nose into the sheets she inhaled deeply. "Ah, yes...there it is." Twilight had not even noticed her own excitement, but the nose knows. Even when the mare is in denial.

Lilith giggled brightly, clapping her hooves together. "Things are going so well! I shall have to redouble my efforts with that dragon...and prepare Mistress a proper greeting for when she returns." She set to the task, invigorated with the thoughts of how she would serve her once she had walked the path. Such a beautiful day it was going to be!

~~~~~~

Twilight did not know where she was going as she flew out the door of her library. Her speed attracted the occasional odd look but little more, she was so often over-reacting about things. Twilight simply ran flat out, her mind racing with thoughts of where she could possibly go for sanctuary. Applejack? She's been a Harmony worshiper since she was a foal, and I couldn't lie to her about what's been happening. Rainbow Dash? No way to figure out where she is right now. Fluttershy? Tempting, but if there is anypony I don't want to dump this on, it's her.. Rarit- Her thought was interrupted as she nearly collided with the bright white unicorn. Twilight teleported at the last moment to the other side of Rarity, crashing into the ground in a tumble instead.

Twilight felt dazed, but not damaged. She shook the feeling from her head just in time for Rarity to pop into her vision, looking concerned. "Darling! Are you alright, Twilight? Where on earth were you going so quickly?" She tilted her head to one side, smiling as she offered Twilight a hoof. "Had you already heard the news?"

Rarity's Manehatten socialite accent was particularly thick today, giving Twilight the excuse to look a little confused. "News? What news?" Twilight was frequently behind the times in Ponyville, but usually Spike would leave her notes if anything important was happening that day.

Rarity brightened up as she pulled Twilight back to her hooves. "Why, Princess Cadence is stopping in town! Along with your brother, or so I've been told. They're going to Canterlot for some kind of meeting next week, and decided to stop into town on the way. If you're quite alright darling, I do need to get back to the shop. The Princess is looking for a new dress design and I shan't allow Hoity Toity to get the jump on me this time!" Twilight stammered out assurances of her health and Rarity trotted off with a spring in her step.

Twilight stared after her for just a moment, her terror replaced with a fierce joy. Cadence. Shiny. She whispered the words like a prayer. "Harmony guide my steps.." if there were two ponies in the world that could protect her and help her, it was those two. She had a place to go now. She turned down the street and ran like lightning, feeling the fear slowly ebbing away. They'll understand. They can help me.

~~~~~~

The door to a room in the Red Barn Inn swung open, and sleek figure in a fetching mint green cloak and vest swung through the door. King Sombra looked over at the long limbed pony that swayed into the room, gently pushing the door closed behind her with a delicate flick of her hoof.

She was just as beautiful as the day they had met all those centuries ago - fine boned features, deep soulful blue eyes and a flank that could drive a stallion mad with desire. Come to think of it, it had driven him mad with desire. Of course, her natural form looked much differently these days - but since no one recognized Princess Starshine anymore, she liked to wear her old skin from time to time.

"We have a small complication, Beloved." Her voice was its natural musical self, a soft soprano with just a hint of that old Trottingham charm. "It appears that Princess Cadence and her handsome husband are arriving this morning to spend a few days in town." She hopped up onto the bed and curled up on it, her piercing eyes watching Sombra slowly rub his hooves together in the big easy-chair. "We may have to limit our movements until they leave."

For his part, Sombra just sighed heavily. "She was coming along so quickly too, and we cannot count on them not noticing the changes." He frowned, softly stroking a hoof tip against the chair's arms. "We'll need to do something." He tapped his hooves together slowly, brooding. "All of my creatures are ensuring Celestia's attention is drawn from here." He turned to his Queen, and smiled toothily. "Hm...The best solution to a problem is to apply it to another problem. Ready to take the stage, dear?"

There was a sudden flash of green fire, and Queen Chrysalis licked her lips in anticipation. "I thought you would never ask, my King." she craned her head back. "I've been looking forward to an opportunity for a little payback."

~~~~~~~~~

The Friendship Express quietly came to a slow stop in front of the station, and the conductor hopped out of his compartment to swing open the royal cabin door. The two distinguished guests inside slowly walked out, each of them carrying a set of bags surrounded by the faint aura of magic. Setting them down on a nearby baggage cart, Cadence lifted her head into the slight breeze and closed her eyes - calling Harmony into her soul, she opened them slowly to scan the town.

Sure enough, the entire place was faintly dusted with Dissonance magic. All of it was recent, and seemed to blanket every surface of the city. It was going to take a long time before this much power cleared up on its own. She sighed, foreseeing complications in her immediate future. "Well, something powerful was definately casting Dissonant spells here." She tried to look deeper, but the dark magic was nothing more than a stubborn neon green, betraying no sign of who had cast the spell.

Shiny shook his head again, his own eyes running across the quiet town. "Cadence, do you feel that? Something's coming." Shining Armor did not have Cadence's powers of empathy, but he had a sixth sense of his own. A decade of working as Captain of the Royal Guard had left him with what he liked to call his 'Murphy Sense', in that it only started ticking off when bad things were about to happen.

Cadence tuned out the Dissonance to focus on the emotions of the city around her - and sure enough there was a tight ball of anxiety, fear and dissonant energy traveling quickly towards the train station. She snapped a look at Shiny who nodded, his magic summoning up into his horn, faintly glowing with held power. Cadence planted her hooves into the planks of the station and exhaled a deep breath.

"There is no death, there is only Harmony." the words invoked her power, geometric lines of white energy etching into the wood underneath her hooves as she gathered her strength - ready for whatever might come running around the corner. Ready for anything but Twilight Sparkle.

Her aura had gone completely out of whack. A mass of white Harmony power battled with an equal sized mass of green Dissonance. Even worse, her power had grown exponentially in just a single week - When Harmony was winning, it gathered around her like a suit of armor and cloak, giving her the appearance of a battle wizard of old. When Dissonance had the upper hand, she was clad in a skintight bodysuit of black energy, and her eyes glowed in a disturbingly familiar manner.

Cadence dropped her Sight in total shock at the sight - only to notice Twilight grasping at her around her chest with her hooves, holding herself tightly to Cadence as though she were the only port in a storm. Twilight's voice came softly, resonant with power and fear. "Cadence ...Shiny ...help me."

Shining Armor's eyes went wide at the sight - as suddenly her eyes flashed with luminescent green power, shadows trailing from them like tears. Then suddenly, the power vanished, leaving Twilight's eyes widening for a moment before she slumped to the ground at Cadence's hooves, the pair staring at her in stunned shock.

Shining armor acted first. He quickly lifted his sister over his shoulders and gave Cadence a hard look. "Come on, Cady. We can help her properly when we're in our rooms." then he was off, galloping down the road to the special inn they had rented for the week. They had just seen Twilight suffused with Dissonance magic strong enough to be felt from the Crystal Empire. Yet, Shining Armor had not so much as hesitated. Cadence was left staring after them for a moment.

She shook her head firmly. They will not have you, Twilight. Neither of them. I won’t let them. She galloped after Shining a moment later, a trail of white sparks flying from her hooves as she gathered in the strength of Harmony to support her.

Her filly was going to need her to be strong, now more than ever.