• 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 7 - The Choice

The Hay House was a small cottage near the Ponyville train station. The Solar government had purchased it shortly after the restoration of the Crystal Empire, To serve as a place for Canterlot notables to stay on their way to and from the snowy north. Most of the time, it had been used by Princess Cadence and her husband on their short visits with Twilight Sparkle. Today, they were being used for just that purpose, though the visit was far from normal.

Twilight lay on the overstuffed couch in the living room, resting quietly. She was still unconscious but did not seem to be in any immediate danger. Cadence quietly shut the door behind the baggage porters and walked over to Shining Armor, who sat on the floor, holding Twilight's hoof. Cadence broke his focus with a gentle cough, speaking to him quietly. "Shiny..I need you to put that horn of yours to work. I want a ward shield on every inch of this house. Every door, every window, even the floor and basement." Shiny nodded distractedly, and Cadence took his chin in her hooves, lifting his head to speak again, "Get them up, Shiny. I will take care of our Twily, okay?"

Shining armor took a deep breath and nodded. He stood up and quickly trotted upstairs. Bless his heart, Harmony. He understands that I may not like what I am about to see. Cadence lay down next to the couch, watching the silent Twilight. I should not have left you alone, Twilight. I should have known they would aim their sights at you. She cursed her duties, and she cursed Princess Celestia for pushing her little Twily so hard. Magic slowly flared into her horn. Okay. Time to see just how bad this is.

Cadence took a deep breath and placed her horn gently against Twilight's chest. A thousand tiny threads of harmony unraveled from the tip and slowly twisted and shaped over Twilight's body, measuring the energies inside of her - measuring what had happened to her soul, even if Cadence did not know what had happened in her mind. She has taken steps down the dark path. Oh Twilight, why? Cadence had to hold back tears as she slowly withdrew the power, taking in a deep shuddering breath. She is not irredeemable. There is harmony in her heart, and her soul. She has learned things she cannot unlearn though. This is not going to be easy.

Cadence had hoped she could simply make a judgment right now, but she could not. Twilight would need to be awoken and spoken to. Wait for Shiny. She'll feel more comfortable if he's here. So cadence waited, feeling the magic slowly build up in the floor above from her husband. She reached out and curled her hoof around Twilights, feeling tears streaming down her face. Cadence closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against Twilights, Please, great Harmony. Guide her steps, bring her back to the light. Do not punish her for the sins of her teachers...

"Cadence...why are you crying?" Twilight's voice startled Cadence out of her prayer - Her eyes were back to normal, and so was her aura. It was not the overwhelming Harmony of a few days ago, but it clung to her shoulders in quiet power. Cadence cursed her emotions for a moment, wiping away the tears and forcing a smile onto her face. She would be strong for her now.

Cadence gently squeezed Twilight's hoof, and felt a squeeze back - a tentative smile coming to Twilight's face. Cadence smiled right back, projecting confidence with all of her might. "Just worried about my little Twily." She gently nuzzled her cheek against Twilight's, enough to get a faint giggle out of her. "I need you to tell me what's been happening, Twilight. Everything." She settled back on her haunches and watched Twilight bite her lower lip, anxiety coming off her in thick waves. "Twilight.." Cadence began speaking in her best soothing tone. "I do not care what you may have done. I will not abandon you, no matter what."

Twilight's eyes went wide for a moment, and her mouth started to move before Cadence shook her head. "Not even if Celestia told me to." Her emotions had been plain as day on her face, and Twilight's were shifting wildly from fear to doubt. Finally they broke through to relief and she wrapped her hooves around Cadence. They embraced for a few long minutes as a sudden sheath of bright blue energy encased the entire house from top to bottom, then spread across every wall and surface.

Twilight looked a bit startled, and then smiled as she pulled away. "Shiny is here." She stated, getting a nod from Cadence. Twilight sighed, her relief obvious to Cadence. "Then I'm safe. Thank Harmony." Cadence felt her heart soar. She's going to be alright. Now to find out what the hay happened. Cadence smiled at Shining Armor as he trotted wearily down the steps. Catching her eye, he smiled back at the sight of her looking so relieved.

"Hey Twily." Shining walked around the couch and gently ruffled his little sister’s hair. She giggled at it and batted at his hooves, pushing herself up to sit a little more normally. "You look like someone stole Mr. Smarty Pants from you kiddo. What happened?" Shiny had always been exceptional at getting his sister to calm down and focus on the problems.

Cadence knew it was best to let him take the lead for now, so she just kept holding Twilight's hoof and sat down next to her on the couch, continuing to project support and love for the little filly. Damn you, Celestia. No more. I'll perform your damn ritual myself if it means you'll leave her alone. Cadence squelched the angry thoughts - now was not the time for them.

~~~~~~

Twilight took a deep breath again, for the first time since she'd found that book she felt calm and safe. Her brother and Cadence were radiating Harmony where they sat next to her, and she grasped onto it fiercely. "Twily..." Shining armor said again, his solid sturdiness leaning against her like a great tree. She'd always have somewhere to shelter while she had him. "We aren't going to judge you Twilight. We just need to know what happened." Twilight looked up at her big brother and felt a tug. There is no deceit, there is Honesty. she whispered in her mind, taking comfort from it.

So she told them everything. For the next three hours she talked nearly nonstop, pausing only for sips of water that Cadence brought over to the couch. She told them about the book and its author, and about the mysterious researcher who'd told her about it. She told them about the cloaked ponies following her, and about Lilith. She wanted to hide that shame but she told them about the spells, and about what she had done to Lilith.

She told them about the Code of Dissonance, and what she had learned about its followers. By the time she was done, she felt like a great weight had lifted off of her shoulders. Shining Armor had not once given her any look of doubt. He had held her hoof when she needed it. Twilight could not read minds, but the implication was clear - He didn't care that she'd made mistakes. He loved her all the same.

Cadence still looked as serene as ever. There was sadness and pity there, but she had not spoken of the corruption of Dissonance or any other philosophical musing. After a few moments of Twilight's silence, she spoke up. "Twilight...where is this book, and this Lilith creature now?" She was very calm, almost too calm. Twilight felt a little fear creep back into her, this time of what might happen to Lilith.

Cadence gave her a very sharp, narrow eyed look as Twilight turned her head away. "Promise me you won’t hurt her, Cadence. Please. She isn't a bad pony." Twilight's tone was reduced to a whisper, hoping she had not doomed the poor mare to some grisly end.

Shining armor shot a look at Cadence, his eyes narrowed in warning. Cadence half glared back at him over Twilight's head. "Twilight," Cadence slowly began with her tone very patient, "she is not likely to come quietly with a Princess of Harmony if she is as dedicated a cultist as you say."

Twilight wasn't going to have that though. She's my responsibility now, even if I don't like it. I cast that spell on her, which means it’s my job to make sure she’s not hurt. It did not matter that the loyalty was forced. Twilight would not, could not call herself a champion of Harmony if she did not return loyalty in kind. "Then I'll come with you, Cadence. We'll bring her back here together. Between all of us, perhaps we can talk some sense into her." Twilight was already getting to her hooves, eager to be doing something about her problems instead of just whining about them.

Cadence pressed her hoof into Twilight's chest and shook her head. "No, Twilight. We cannot risk you leaving this house. Behind these wards and shields, Shiny can make sure whoever has been manipulating you cannot touch you. Out there, there is no telling what might happen." Cadence gently pushed Twilight back down to the couch, sadness in her eyes. "Please Twilight. I promise you I will do everything I can to bring her back unharmed."

Twilight's mouth opened for a moment, and then she shut it. There wasn't going to be any convincing Cadence, not with that look on her face. She was going to need to try another tactic. "Fine. They're both in the Library. The books on my study table, and Lilith will be somewhere inside. You'll have to look for her though, I told her to stay hidden." Twilight folded her hooves over her chest, trying her best not to look sulky.

She could wait till Cadence was gone. With luck, she'd be able to catch up before anything drastic could occur.

~~~~~

Cadence quietly shut the door behind her. She'd forsaken her jewelry and badges of office in favor of a simple hair band. She flared out her wings and took to the skies - not wanting to risk being seen on the ground by any possible agents. Above ponyville, the sprawling little suburb looked to be teeming with life. The town had been getting larger ever since the Elements of Harmony had taken up residence here, and Cadence did not doubt the two facts were intimately linked.

She banked around a set of clouds being wrangled by the local weather team - some of whom stopped working to gawk at her as she flew by. Even so many years after her Ascension, flying was still the greatest joy she had. She had often wished that Shiny could be given a pair of his own wings, so that she might show him a thing or two about how pegasi mated. The thought produced a moment of giggle inducing humor as she spotted the distinct shape of the Golden Oak library.

Shuttering down the laughter, she slowly called her power to bear. She was just preparing to land when a shriek split the air of Ponyville. Cadence pivoted in midair, focusing her powerful sight on the source. There, near the edge of the town closest to the Forest there was some kind of attack. Oh Perfect. Just what I needed right now. Cadence thought with a sigh...but there was a strong feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach.

The source of that became clear all too soon. A small swarm of chitin clad black creatures came buzzing out of the Everfree Forest and were quickly spreading out through the town. Cadence's blood went cold at the sight of the all too familiar foe. Changelings! she thought desperately, casting her eyes around quickly...

Sure enough, in the very center of a large group of particularly beefy looking changelings was a tall slender figure. Her horn leveling blasts of green magic at fleeing ponies, sending them stunned to the ground. Chrysalis. She had to be the source of all of this. It would make sense of course, she would see the corruption of Twilight Sparkle as the perfect revenge for her foiled plans.

Cadence's horn lit up with fierce white light. Now was not the time for subtlety. Her mind reached out across the city, past the bright blue wards to the mind of her husband. It shone like a star in the sky to her, and she spoke with her power to him. "Shiny, It's Queen Chrysalis! Keep Twilight off the streets! I'm going to teach that bitch another lesson!" Cadence spun upwards and folded her wings tightly against her body - her eyes suddenly glowing bright white as she fully embraced the power of Harmony.

Vast threads of white power spun out from the edges of her wings as she fell like a meteor towards the earth - her wingtips adjusting her flight path. At the very last moment, she flared out her wings and a dozen massive shafts of Harmonic power struck through a group of Changelings. The force obliterated them into black dust as her hooves touched the ground, sending geometric designs of white power into the ground for twenty yards in every direction.

The horde began to converge upon her, as her lips parted in a fierce smile. "For Harmony!" she cried out as her power whirled around her in a vortex of white light and magical power.

~~~~~

Twilight could hear the screams outside the house. She was on her hooves before Shiny could stop her and running up to the window to look outside. "By Celestia! Shiny, we need to get out there!" Shiny shook his head firmly, his teeth grabbing onto her mane and dragging her away from the window. Twilight's eyes were wide. "B-but Shiny! There are ponies in danger! In my town! I can't just sit here!"

Shining armor stubbornly shook his head again. "No. Cady is taking care of it." He took a deep breath and blew it out - Twilight could not see it, but he could see the massive shockwaves of Harmonic energy going off in the town square. "We need to trust her. We can't let them get their hooves on you."

Twilight stared at Shining Armor, and his discomfort was clear. He too wanted to be out there, but somehow Cadence had spoken to him. Suddenly, a black chitin form went buzzing past the windows and Twilight's jaw dropped. "Oh no. Changelings! Shiny, they're going to go after my friends!"

Shining armor looked away, his expression unreadable even as Twilight kept talking, "You know they are! Cadence can protect the town, but specific ponies? There's too many of them! Damnit, Shining Armor!" her tone became desperate and pleading. Still, her brother did nothing.

Twilight stomped a hoof. Shining armor was not moving, and neither was his shield. Fine. Let him try to stop me. She quickly teleported to the upstairs landing, prompting a startled look from Shining armor. She quickly ran over to one of the windows. "Twily! Stop!" He cried out to her even as he charged up the stairs.

Sorry big brother. I'm not going to let these bugs hurt my friends or my town! Twilight thought angrily, hooves shoving open one of the upstairs windows and snapping the shield spell on it. With a window open before her, Twilight quickly teleported to the next roof over, then down to the streets, taking off at a run as she heard her brother yelling behind her.

First thing was first, she needed to rally her friends and get to the Elements. Elements first. Gotta get Lilith to safety too. Hang on girls, I'm coming! Twilight raced around a corner, dodging through attacking waves of Changelings all seemingly headed to the town square. Must be where Cadence is. Twilight guessed, spotting her library ahead of her.

She leapt over a collapsed changeling and past Sugarcube corner. To Twilight's astonishment every window was now stuffed with a Party Cannon, making the place look like some kind of gingerbread warship. The store was surrounded by heaps of dazed and unconscious changelings and what looked like a small mountain of streamers, balloons and confetti.

In the top window of the store, an eye-patch and pirate hat wearing pinkie pie brandished what looked like a genuine sword at the attacking creatures. "Arr Ya scurvy dogs! Ye'll not be takin the HMS Sugarcube without a fight! Fire Tha' cannons, Lieutenant Pipsqueak! Pinkie pie yelled from her position as another barrage of colorful streamers, flying party debris and what looked distinctly like a solid brass punchbowl hammered into the changeling attack.

Twilight could only shake her head as she kept on towards the library. At least Pinkie Pie can handle herself for the moment. It was a little weight off her mind. Her library seemed to be untouched, another relief. "Spike!" She started yelling as she shouldered her way through the door.

In the middle of the room, a familiar unicorn sat atop an ornate wooden chest. She pressed her hoof to her mouth. "Shh. He's sleeping." She gestured over to where the baby dragon was indeed taking his nap. Twilight opened her mouth then shut it. Lilith smiled gently at her, wiggling her legs from atop the chest. "You're wondering why I'm sitting on the Elements of Harmony, of course. Simple. I can't let you take them, Mistress."

Twilight slowly moved into the library proper, closing the door behind her. There was a weight to her words. Twilight carefully stepped closer to the mare. "What do you mean you can’t let me take them, Lilith?" Twilight's words came slowly. The air was thick with something, some nebulous feeling that Twilight could not put her hoof on. Something important was happening here, something incredibly vital.

Lilith bowed her head gently. "Forgive me, Mistress. You cannot take them." Her tone was wistful as she continued to speak. "You may feel free to punish me later for my impudence - but what I do now, I do for your own good. You do not need these.." she flicked her hoof at the chest, disdainfully. "These things to save your town. You have all the power you need already at your hooves." Lilith lifted her chin and smiled again, sadness written in her eyes.

Twilight stopped right in front of her, planting her hooves on the ground. "Acolyte, I order you to get off that chest right this moment." Twilight felt the hairs on the back of her neck start to rise, making her even more nervous. "I'm going to take the elements and put a stop to this attack with my friends the right way."

Lilith shook her head gently. "Again, my deepest apologies Mistress. But I cannot allow you to use these crutches any longer. You must rise to your hooves on your own. I am not a talented unicorn, Mistress.." Her voice slowly stated, and Twilight knew she was not going to like what she heard next.

"Yet I am powerful enough in dissonance to stop you from opening the chest." Lilith's eyes were bright, and she was crying. Tears streamed down her cheeks, as the last terrifying words slipped from her lips. "You will have to kill me if you wish to claim your precious Elements."

Twilight felt as though the floor had dropped out from under her. Lilith quietly wept from her perch atop the chest. Twilight could see the strands of dark green power attaching her hooves to the top of the chest, and binding the whole thing closed. She was not joking - she had woven her life force into the spell. It could be recovered if she wished, but breaking it would require Twilight to break the strands of her life. It would be a shock she would not survive.

Twilight grasped for the words, the heavy and expectant feeling in the air growing denser by the moment. "But. Why? Lilith, I need to save my friends and my city! I cannot do that without..." Her voice trailed off for a moment. Here, in this place, she could not be dishonest with herself. "I can do that, can't I? That's the whole point of all of this. You're forcing me to choose."

Lilith’s head nodded again, the tears still slowly flowing. Somehow it didn't seem to affect her voice as she spoke. "You stand at a crossroads, Twilight Sparkle. Down one path lies Harmony, and my death. Down another lies Dissonance, and my salvation."

Lilith's voice caught for a moment, and kept speaking. "We all have a choice, Mistress. We can choose to accept the fate the world has given to us, or we can choose to deny it. I cannot force you to make the choice I wish, but I can make you understand the consequences of your choice."

Lilith took a deep breath and kept speaking, her voice slowly losing its serenity to desperation. "Down the path of Harmony, you will be forced to kill. The Sun Tyrant will not allow you to do any less in the service of Harmony. You shall become her shining sword against the shadow, and she will wield you without pity. The creatures of the dark and the ponies who oppose her will die by the thousands at your hooves. And in time, you will banish all darkness from the world - and with it, any hope of freedom from the tyranny of Harmony."

Lilith closed her eyes for a moment, her voice turning now to a tone of desperate hope. "Down the path of Dissonance, you will cast away the chains of Harmony, and finally uncover the truth behind all that has happened to you. There will be few indeed who will be able to match your power. No longer limited by Harmony, you will have the power to do whatever you see fit, to change the world as you will. What you do then will be up to you."

Lilith's eyes opened, her voice calm now. "Your choice is simple, Mistress. Will you walk the path of the righteous, and accept the fate that has been woven for you as the Paragon of Harmony? Or will you deny your fate, deny the manipulations and claim your life as your own? Will you walk the True Path, and finally know Freedom?" Lilith's eyes met Twilights, and she smiled from beneath her tears - a shining glimmer of some emotion so powerful it drove the air from Twilight's lungs. Lilith's lips moved slowly with just a few more words...

"Choose wisely, Mistress. This is the point of no return."