• Published 4th Oct 2013
  • 590 Views, 8 Comments

Ad Mortem, Ad Vitam - Lady Aubernon

Time runs out for all existence as Tirek emerges from oblivion to resume his eons-old vendetta against the Shepherd and her allies.

  • ...

Act I


The gentle golden light of the setting sun blanketed Canterlot and her inhabitants finishing their day. The city’s elite were on their way to a new art exhibit at the royal museum, while visitors from Appaloosa bartered with the numerous merchants in the open-air market, and Manehattanites mixed with locals at the finer restaurants near the city’s center.

Among them all stood a regal figure navigating her way through the crowds toward Canterlot Castle. In her satchel was a letter from Princess Celestia, asking her to come to the royal garden after sunset regarding an urgent matter.

Though outwardly calm to passersby, she felt an unease growing within. The letter was vague at best, and though it bore Celestia’s seal, the princess's penmanship did not have the distinctive flourishes found in other letters. Yet, she knew in her heart not to delay the meeting, no matter the outcome.

Upon arrival at the castle, two of Princess Luna’s bat pony guards escorted Celestia’s guest into the garden before returning to their posts. Cooling winds danced through the leaves of the few apple trees planted inside the walls before capturing her flowing mane and tail, forcing chills violently through her spine.

Above her, the silver light of the rising waning moon drew frightening shadows upon the ground as the sky shimmered in mirage-like waves, the stars sparkling to life one by one.

Moments passed with no sign of the celestial regent, nor of anypony coming to inform the guest as to when she would make her appearance.

Where could Celestia be, she thought. This isn’t normal for her to keep me waiting like this, especially in this unusually chilly air, drawing her wings closer to her body to keep warm. Does Celestia even know I’m here?

The dark sky responded with several shooting stars racing from the eastern horizon toward the setting sun. The celestial display filled her vivid heliotrope eyes with wonderment, especially when a cluster of four bluish-white stars caught her attention long enough to shatter her illusion of serenity... and the moon.

Dark, discordant laughter filled the solitary pony’s ears amid thunder rolling through the violet curtain. Several massive pieces of silver fell to the earth under a barrage of shooting stars slamming against the mountainside above Canterlot.

“Show yourself!” she demanded of the laughter.

“I’ve been waiting all of my life for you, Minerva,” the laughter replied. “I’ve been dead for so long.”

“… Tirek!” Minerva barely gasped.

“Equestria will shine no more. Ad vitam, ad mortem.

Fleur De Lis wandered a short distance from Fancy Pants toward the center of the museum, where a pendulum installation hung just beneath the massive skylight dome. Her eyes caught sight of the shattered moon, awestruck by the apocalyptic scene. Upper Crust appeared next to her in time to push the supermodel out of harm’s way as a shooting star smashed through the glass, setting the museum ablaze.

Out in the open market, a group of Appaloosans and vendors felt the earth rumble beneath their hooves. Sheriff Silverstar’s and Cherry Jubilee’s eyes followed three large silver fragments of the broken moon land a fatal blow upon Canterlot Castle, each spire and structure toppling like dominoes to the base of the mountain below.

Hoity Toity and Photo Finish were seated at one of the Canterlot’s outdoor cafés, neither comprehending the chaos unleashed upon the city. Both of them pulled off their glasses in terror when the museum fire spread from its confines, coalescing into a firestorm whose smoke tinted the sky an unnatural red.

The storm obscured from view a pair of stars descending into an abandoned mine shaft. Seconds later, a bright flash of bluish-white light flared violently from the opening, the fashionistas quickly pushing their glasses back upon their faces to save their sight.

It was all for naught.

Minerva stood frozen to her place in the royal garden. Tears of ice fell from her haunted eyes when she saw Celestia’s and Luna’s bodies crushed under the ivory and stone surrounding her, their alicorn magic forever extinguished.

Minerva called for her twin sister in desperation, only for the mocking laughter to return.

“You shall not pass!” she roared, turning to face the rising firewall behind her.

“This generation shall not pass,” Tirek calmly rebutted. “You are in a dying age, Minerva, and I am only the beginning.

The flames drew back to reveal a pair of glowing eyes belonging to the draconequus, now a metallic monster whose fur and scales were augmented by obsidian bones. The behemoth stepped out of the firewall, crushing underfoot a statue of a chimera whose facial expression matched the fear escalating in Minerva’s heart. Veins of purified liquid Etherium pulsed throughout his body, highlighting every plate of black stone against the remaining reptilian and equine flesh.

Open your eyes!” Tirek commanded, his mouth baring palladium razors in a sinister smile.

A dark rainbow erupted from the Hope Ruby embedded in his forehead. Minerva drew upon the remaining light of the sun and moon to counter his attack, yet too late to defend against her complete annihilation from all of existence.

* * * * * * * * *

Far away from the lights of Atlantis and The Citadel, the overhead waning moon and the ice planet Galloway bathed Argentum Tor in their collective celestial glow. Six silver Douglas-firs held an ethereal gleam upon the north-facing hill, yards away from where the last true Unicorn King landed ashore three millennia ago to be reunited with his daughter.

Enhanced by the astral spectacle was a palladium centerpiece depicting a phoenix rising from a four-pointed star whose southern point was made longer than the other three, a crescent moon laid upon its back placed just under the eastern and western arms of the star. The phoenix's wings were shaped so as to exalt Polaris, pointing would-be explorers toward the birthplace of Atlantis and Equestria were they to have an interest in venturing to the lost kingdom.

Below the shrine were nine markers, the closest two belonging to the founders and first rulers of Atlantis.

The next five, laid out in a half-circle pattern, were the resting places for the Unicorn King’s personal adviser and guards.

The last two, nary a mark upon them, were placed in alignment with the markers nearest to the rising lunar phoenix.

Minerva’s tired eyes focused upon the resting place of her grandfather.

“Min?” a warm voice called out to her.

“Dori,” Minerva quietly replied, holding her focus. “We have no time left.” Her voice shook. “Tirek has found his way into my domain.”

A metallic wing gently fell upon Minerva's back.

“Then we must make our final preparations,” Pandora replied, giving a slight backwards glance toward The Citadel.

Silence fell upon the hill, the rising tide breaking against the white sand and cold northerly winds brushing through the silver trees drowning out the noise in Minerva's heart.

“I wish it didn’t have to be this way,” Minerva quietly lamented.

* * * * * * * * *

“It didn’t have to be this way,” a weary, ancient voice spoke to no one in particular.

The sun set out upon its morning trek toward the upper reaches of the sky over the royal garden inside Canterlot Castle. Below its warming rays, Princess Celestia took a few moments from her duties to enjoy the sun roses and morning glories blooming around her and her pet phoenix Philomena. No guards. No advisors. Just the sound of songbirds filling the gentle breeze with their beautiful music.

Little did she know of the two guests who were taking in a certain statue just steps away.

“The chimera’s time will come, Chronos,” a calm voice returned. “Until then, in stone he must remain.”

“I was speaking of his master, Ana.”

Before the horrified visage of Discord stood a winged dragon no larger than the statue in front of him, his sapphire eyes framed by polished ivory scales. An alicorn no taller than the dragon stood off to his right, her fur and tightly styled mane and tail matching the varying shades of stonework within the garden walls.

“We tore his spirit out of his vessel, entombed his bitter darkness in a fire ruby, then cast him out into this world to be lost forever... all for nothing,” Lord Chronos lamented.

“It was always meant to be,” Lady Ananke replied with a distant look in her faded blue eyes. "All of this was always meant to be."

"Not every word and action need be carved in stone."

Ananke shook her head in contempt. "Everything happens for a reason, my l-- "

"Do not begin to lecture me about fate, Ana," Chronos said in a barely restrained tone. "It was our errors in judgement that have led to this moment, errors that could have easily been amended had you simply allowed them to be amended!"

"Calm thy tongue lest our successor hears us!" she hissed, glancing towards Celestia. "You know very well that I only intervene when necessary, and not a moment before or after."

"Then for your sake," Chronos darkly intoned, "pray that this world’s champions are meant to accomplish what we had so carelessly neglected to settle for ourselves eons ago."

“I needn’t pray, not when only a mere push shall suffice,” eyeing a certain wing named for Equestria’s greatest wizard.

“Ana, whatever you are thinking-- “

Ananke turned to trot toward her destination, pausing to face Chronos with an eerie grin framing the sinister gleam in her eyes.

“You can’t fight fate, my lord.”

She faded into the background, leaving him with Tirek’s calcified disciple.

“I would not be so certain, my lady,” he said, glancing upon her newest protégé briefly before vanishing from the garden.

Celestia looked up from a sun rose bush, scanning for the source of an anomaly that just appeared out of the corner of her eye. Her search would have to wait, however, as the low, whispering howl of Atlantean Royal Guard dragonflies approaching from the west caught her ear.

"Looks like it's going to be one of those days, huh Philomena?"

Philomena cooed in agreement.

* * * * * * * * *

"Why does it have to be one of those days," Twilight Sparkle groaned.

A day earlier, Twilight desperately looked for information about the Hope Ruby among the many books in the Golden Oak Library without much luck in her search.

On cue, Pinkie Pie bounced into the library.

"What'cha doin'?" she asked in her sing-song way.

"Pinkie, do you know anything about the Hope Ruby?"

"Other than the fact that it held a monster from another plane of existence, and that it was given to Star Swirl the Bearded to protect, only for him to give it to Princesses Pandora and Minerva to protect before his passing from this mortal coil to become Avalon's caretaker when Princess Pandora isn't around, but it was stolen by Princesses Celestia's and Luna's father so he could become more powerful, but only lost himself to the monster inside the ruby, which led to Princess Pandora becoming a cyborg alicorn and the monster being banished by Princess Minerva transforming into a nightmare, but now the monster is coming back to finish what he started a long, long, long, long time ago?" Pinkie rapidly spat out in a single breath.

"Um, yes?" Twilight asked with a slight bit of hesitation.

"Nope! I don't know anything at all!" Pinkie cheerily replied. Twilight groaned again in disappointment.

"I've looked through all of my books about Star Swirl, and there's hardly anything about that ruby! 'Where did it come from? Why was Tirek imprisoned inside the ruby? How did he get out? Can he be put back in?' Arrgh!"

"Twilight, you're wearing a groove into the floor. Again," Spike attempted to calm his friend.

"Oh Spike, if what Rainbow said is true-- "

"And it is!" Pinkie interjected, prompting a dejected frown from Twilight.

"Why not just go to Canterlot and look through Star Swirl's notes?" Spike suggested. "Something's bound to turn up about the Hope Ruby there, if nothing else."

"You're right, Spike! If I need to learn all about Tirek and the Hope Ruby, then I need to go straight to the source!"

"Are you sure you want to do that, Twilight?" Pinkie nervously laughed. "I mean, we could just ask Princess Pandora to bring you to Avalon instead of bonking your head with a frying pan. It won't hurt as much."

"What? Pinkie! No! We'll visit the Canterlot Archives and look in the Star Swirl the Bearded Wing for the answers," Twilight said. "Besides, I think Princess Pandora might be busy with equally important business."

"Okie-dokie-lokie!" Pinkie smiled, putting a frying pan back into a random hiding place between bookshelves.

"Just think! With all of Star Swirl's scrolls and books available in one place, it should take no time at all to find what we need!"

"This is taking longer than I thought," a tired Twilight said, dragging her hooves to another shelf of books and documents from the legendary wizard.

For the past few hours, the trio looked high and low for any shred of documentation regarding the Hope Ruby or Tirek. Random scrolls and books were strewn around the hourglass in the center of the wing, but with each one pulled, Twilight's enthusiasm increasingly dimmed. Spike and Pinkie did their best to help their friend, but while the latter remained optimistic that something would turn up, the former found himself reflecting Twilight's disappointment.

"Maybe we should take a break, Twilight. We haven't even had breakfast yet."

"We can't stop now, Spike. Star Swirl wrote a lot of spells and books in his long life; one of them is bound to be the one about the Hope Ruby."

"Found it!" Pinkie chimed.

"You found Star Swirl's notes on the Hope Ruby?" Twilight felt renewed by the potential good news.

"Nope! The Stopclock Spell! It can stop time for a short while, and can only be used once. This would have been perfect the last time we were here!" Pinkie innocently beamed.

Twilight facehoofed at the revelation, then collapsed from desperation.

"Why is it so hard to find information on something so important as the Hope Ruby?"

"Maybe not everything of Star Swirl's is here, Twilight," Spike said. "Didn't he create spells that drew upon dark magic, or were otherwise dangerous for inexperienced magic users to attempt?"

"But those are in the Dark Magic Wing of the Canterlot Archives! Only those with Princess Celestia's explicit permission may enter, and only through a written and sealed royal decree at that!"

"A decree such as this one, Twilight Sparkle," a low, mysterious voice asked.

"Who are you?"

Emerging from the shadows, a bluish-gray unicorn mare with short, bluish-lavender hair deliberately approached the trio. Purple eyeglasses framed dark blue eyes that were familiar to Pinkie Pie, though she couldn't put her hoof on why. The dark turquoise pearl necklace completed the unicorn's matronly appearance, though Spike and Pinkie both had an inkling something wasn't quite right about this pony.

"My name is Arcana Tarot," the mystery mare said. "I am in charge of the Dark Magic Wing."

"I highly doubt that," Spike sarcastically said under his breath, arms crossed with a piercing glare in his eyes.

"Spike!" Twilight swiftly admonished her assistant. "Ms. Tarot-- "

"Please, call me Arcana," she corrected through a gentle smile.

"Arcana, how were you-- "

"Princess Celestia learned of your search regarding the Hope Ruby this morning, and felt you were ready to learn everything about it. Thus, she personally instructed me to present this decree to you." Arcana presented the tightly rolled and sealed document before Twilight and her companions, her magic giving off a grayish-white aura as she held the document aloft.

"That's odd," Twilight proclaimed upon opening the scroll, noting the penmanship lacked certain flourishes Celestia's other letters possessed. "Was Princess Celestia in a hurry when she wrote this?"

"I presume as much," Arcana replied. "The Princess has a full day, as always."

"Hmm. That is Celestia's seal, though. No pony can forge that," Twilight confirmed, placing the scroll in her saddlebag.

"Follow me," Arcana beckoned.

The trio were escorted out of the Star Swirl wing, though not before their guide used her magic to re-shelve the books and scrolls back into their respective spaces within the room. As Arcana walked past her entourage, Twilight caught sight of a certain cutie mark upon the former's flank.

"Are you related to Star Swirl, Arcana?"

"Why do you ask, Twilight?"

"You have his cutie mark, which I didn't think was possible."

"Call it fate, if you like." Arcana's voice cooled.

Twilight nervously chuckled. "It's just that while some cutie marks may repeat, most have a slight variation or two. But yours is exactly like Star-Swirl's, right down to the, well, swirls!"

"Princess Pandora says cutie marks like his don't ever appear again, whether the pony is a part of the bloodline or not," Pinkie added, drawing some confused looks from her companions.

"Is that so?" Arcana questioned, calmly leading the trio of ancient ruby hunters to the forbidden wing of the archives.

"Now that I think about it, you seem a bit familiar, as if I've seen you somewhere before... "

"I don't believe we've met before this morning, Pinkamena."

The revelation froze Pinkie and Spike in their tracks, but before either could regain their composure, the group arrived at the locked door to the most dangerous knowledge ever bestowed upon ponykind.

"We have arrived," Arcana proclaimed.

"Are you sure this is a good idea, Twilight?" asked Spike. "There's something very strange about that pony, and not in a good way."

"Very strange," Pinkie emphasized with her eyeballs.

"Arcana might be odd... and a bit dark, but I'm sure it comes with being responsible for monitoring access to dangerous magic," Twilight reassured her friends. "Besides, if Princess Celestia thinks I'm ready to know all there is to know about the Hope Ruby, then there should be no problem."

"If you are finished, Twilight Sparkle," Arcana began, "I am ready to guide you toward the information you seek."

The door was magically unlocked and held open for Twilight. The same welcome would not be shared with all, however, as Arcana blocked the path for Spike and Pinkie.

"The decree is for Twilight only," she coldly stated, her stony glare enhancing every word.

As Arcana led Twilight into the Dark Magic Wing, Spike noticed the decree had fallen out of Twilight's bag. He called out to her and attempted to give chase, only to find the door magically slammed shut in front of him, bouncing the baby dragon onto the cold stone floor.

"I have a bad feeling about this, Pinkie." She nodded in agreement while rubbing his head and staring intensely at the door separating them from the two unicorns on the other side.

* * * * * * * * *

"I have a bad feeling about this, Dori. Are you sure this is something we both need to do, considering what little time we have left?"

A squadron of Atlantean Royal Guard dragonflies, whose bluish-white lights highlighted their obsidian armor and rotors, rushed toward Equestria as first light appeared in the east over the Sea of Hrímfaxi. Most of the mechanized dragon-insect hybrids were destined for Cloudsdale, carrying engineers and builders skilled in cloud building to aid in the city's reconstruction.

One, however, would continue to Canterlot.

"We did offer to help rebuild Cloudsdale so that weather patterns could be restored over their part of Equestria," Pandora reminded her sister.

"I meant the two of us leaving our citizens behind to meet with our goddaughters," Minerva replied.

"We've done it before with our city still intact upon our return."

"It's the last part of your statement that concerns me this time, Dori."

"Equestria Energy Boundary detected; ETA: Two minutes, Your Majesties," the dragonfly's unicorn pilot informed her passengers.

"Thank you, Star Tracer," Pandora said.

"You know, this will be the first time some of our people will see Equestria. If only-- "

A steel hoof and a gentle, knowing look prevented a distressed Minerva from saying anything more.

"All will be well when this is over," her sister reassured her. "Let us just enjoy what little time we do have before the chickens come home to roost."

A ghostly vibrating sound briefly filled the silence within the dragonfly's cabin.

"The view is gorgeous, isn't it," Minerva wistfully sighed, looking out into the shimmering horizon ahead.

"This view is gorgeous!" a unicorn pilot exclaimed.

"Just wait until you pass through the EEB, kid," her alicorn superior stated before turning to address her subordinates. "Hope you all brought your sunglasses, because the last thing I need are for my mares to be blinded by the sun when we cross through!"

"General Firestorm, is it true that the rulers of Equestria raise the sun and moon every day and night?" asked a pegasus guard.

"Indeed they do, Skybreaker," she replied. "Nearly everything behind that shimmering wall of magic over there is controlled by a pony of some kind, from the weather and the seasons, to the day and the night themselves."

"Nearly everything?" the dragonfly's pilot quizzically repeated.

"Only one place similar to back home, Radar Rose: The Everfree Forest, dead center in the heart of Equestria."

"That's where the Battle of Nightmare Moon happened, right ma'am?" Skybreaker asked.

"And before that, Operation Obsidian Order," Firestorm began. "The hardest mission I ever led, mainly because that crazy chimera Discord kept changing the darn playing field every five seconds when he wasn't showering us with chocolate rain or acid fire!"

"Thirty seconds to Equestria Energy Boundary, ma'am," Radar Rose warned.

"Come and sit on Mama's back, my little fillies, and be sure you have your sunblock and sunglasses on," ordered Firestorm, "for it's time to watch the magic happen!"

In a split second, the squadron's Etherium lighting was overpowered by the solar flares of the sun travelling across the morning sky above Las Pegasus. The pegasi below stopped what they were doing to ooh and awe over the fearsome sight racing above their cloud city.

Below in nearby Applewood, a great and powerful magician busking along Sunset Strip lost her audience briefly, none having seen or heard anything like the clan of dark behemoths with their ghostly howls.

"Somepony picked a good time to film an action movie during Trixie's great and powerful puppet show!" she bemoaned.

"ETA: Twenty minutes to Canterlot, Your Majesties," Star Tracer announced.

At that moment, an eerie, uneasy feeling struck at Pandora's heart.

"Star Tracer, please inform General Firestorm we are breaking off and moving forward to Canterlot immediately," Pandora ordered.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Is something wrong?" Minerva asked.

"Very much so."

A cold gleam appeared in the princess's eyes.

"Are you certain?" Firestorm asked.

"The order came straight from the pony's mouth, ma'am," Star Tracer confirmed.

"Crazy princesses!" she muttered to herself. "Very well, soldier. You are free to move ahead at their command."

The majority of the squadron followed Firestorm's dragonfly in tight formation, ascending rapidly to meet Cloudsdale. The dragonfly carrying the princesses charged forth on its own to Canterlot as quickly as its engines could push the craft.

"Well fillies, it looks like we're going to Cloudsdale by ourselves while the princesses go off on their little adventure time with Princess Celestia," Firestorm announced to her charges.

"Where is Cloudsdale, General?" Radar Rose asked.

"You can't miss it, kid. Just look for the big floating city exploding with rainbows, though I wouldn't recommend flying through any of 'em; might as well go down Neighagra Falls in a cider barrel if you wanted the same experience."

The Atlantean Royal Guard leader caught a glance of the lone dragonfly rushing her superiors to the gleaming ivory and gold towers of Canterlot Castle. Though unflappable on the outside, a worried look appeared in her grey eyes.

"The gods must be crazy this morning," Firestorm lamented quietly to herself.