The Code's Apprentice

by Lapis-Lazuli and Stitch

First published

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.

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.

For though she does not know it, Twilight Sparkle is the shining example of the Code of Harmony. Her teacher, Princess Celestia is Harmony's most powerful master and she knows her enemies are hatching a plan that threatens to cast down the Harmony of her throne and all she has sacrificed to create.

What she does not know is her foe seeks a new Apprentice to turn to his dark ways. A unicorn with seemingly limitless potential for magic, whose thirst for knowledge may yet lead her down a dark path, who is known to be such a faithful student of magic, eagerly seeking the truth no matter how forbidden it might be...

Sequel: Code of Harmony

Chapter 1 - The Apprentice

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Chapter 1 - The Apprentice
"Only Alicorns deal in absolutes." - Star Swirl the Bearded, Attributed.

Princess Celestia, ruler of all Equestria, spoke to the pony before her in a lecturing tone, “There are two powers upon this world that encompass all others; these we call Harmony and Dissonance. Each is opposite the other, yet they cannot exist separately. For as long as there has been a world, these two forces have warred for control over it.” Her voice rang out through the bare stone of the secret training hall - which currently contained only six bowls of water and two figures, standing opposite one another.

Celestia’s voice continued on, as unstoppable as the tide. “A thousand years ago, Harmony conquered Dissonance and drove it from the land we call Equestria. It did this, not because Harmony is inherently stronger, but because of the Elements which form it. Now, lift the bowls.”

A strong glow of dark violet magic sheathed the horn of Twilight Sparkle, apprentice of Harmony, who stood in the center of the room as a look of fierce concentration crossed her face. Around her, six large wooden bowls full of different colored liquids slowly rose from the ground up into the air. One at a time, all of them floated above her head, perfectly still in defiance of the gravity that threatened to bring them down and the liquids within them not moving in the slightest.

The serene voice of Princess Celestia spoke through the haze of magical effort, somehow reaching Twilight’s ears. “We gain our strength through Harmony and the six Elements which make up its power. Each bowl represents an Element. You know them well - Honesty, Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity, Laughter, and Magic. Alone however, these Elements can accomplish very little. Though they are each powerful in their own right, when constrained from one another they cannot hope to oppose Dissonance. Now, remove the bowls, apprentice”

This was the hard part - or so Celestia thought - and was immediately surprised as each of the bowls gently sank to the ground while six bowl shaped pools of water remained in the air just as unmoving as before. Each water-pool began to glow with subtle magic, drawing from the very threads of Harmony itself as Twilight wove her magic into them and made her magic a part of each pool.

Seconds rolled on and Celestia saw the look on Twilight's face slowly transform from intense effort to serene calm as she continued with the lesson, her voice still cutting through her student’s intense concentration. “Freed of constraint, the six Elements gain strength from one another. From the Kindness of one pony to another, we gain their Loyalty. From the Loyalty of friends, we learn to practice Generosity. Through that Generosity, we learn to be Honest with one another about even the littlest thing. With Honesty, comes the Laughter of friends who need fear nothing, and when all of these things combine, Magic is born.”

Each of the pools of water began to move slowly above her student's head, rippling gently across their surfaces, but remaining in the shape of the bowls that once held them. Celestia's eyes brightened just a little - her apprentice was coming along even faster than she had hoped. Her most faithful student never failed to surprise her at the most unlikely times. Each bowl held a strong illumination in the appropriate colors, too - a sure sign of Harmony infusing her magic.

Then again, Twilight's obsessive studies of Star Swirl the Bearded's tomes ought to have reminded Celestia that it was he who had first invented this spell form. It was likely Twilight had practiced the art during her time in Ponyville. Furthermore, the soft white light beginning to spread from Twilight's hooves across the stone floor in geometric patterns was also a sure sign that her place in Harmony was growing even stronger.

Celestia continued the lesson, no longer distracted by her pride. “From Magic comes our ability to wield Harmony itself. Through the creation of Harmony is our magic made powerful enough to oppose Dissonance, and it is this that has assured order and prosperity for Equestria for one thousand years. That is why we do not delve into the dark arts of Dissonance. For every use of those powers weakens the greater Harmony and with it, our Magic. Our Magic is a tool, a gift given to us by Harmony to spread its truth to all creatures of the world. It is not to advance ourselves in the world. If you seek to master its power, you must master your own desires.”

The white light was moving further out and upwards from her apprentice’s hooves, and Twilight’s form was enrobed in the white, silky strands of Harmony magic. It was even beginning to slowly spiral around her horn: making it longer with a sharper point and wings of pure light were beginning to form at Twilight’s shoulderblades.

It was too early for that to be happening, far too early.Twilight was not yet ready for that power. So Celestia’s voice cut in, quickly dispelling the magic which was taking hold of Twilight. "Very good my student, now put the water back into the proper bowls, quickly and neatly," she spoke in a clarion call, loud enough to cut through her student’s Harmonic trance.

The water slowly descended, a sigh of strain parting Twilight's lips as the water gently flowed into the bowls still surrounding her with nary a drop spilled - the magical field around her horn collapsing and her body sinking to the floor with soft, panting breaths. The soft white light that surrounded her burst into a cloud of magical motes and vanished into the thin air. It was all Celestia could do not to burst into applause and give the hard working apprentice a hug, but now was not the time for such histrionics. “Very good, apprentice. Rise, and speak the Code.”

It was as though the words were pure energy as Twilight went from patently exhausted to determined and solemn. She rose to her hooves, her head proudly held high. Celestia waited, head canted regally towards her apprentice as she caught her breath and began to speak.

Her tone was even and rhythmic, just as she had been taught to speak it, for there was a Harmony to these words. “There is no Wrath, there is Kindness.There is no Greed, there is Generosity. There is no Vanity, there is Loyalty. There is no Deceit, There is Honesty. There is no Despair, there is Laughter. There is no Discord, there is Friendship.”

Celestia then chimed in with her apprentice, their voices joining together in the murmured words. “There is no Death, there is Harmony.” It was like a prayer, the first one Twilight had learned from her teacher. Celestia smiled brilliantly then, willing to unbend some of her naturally stern teacher role for a moment. “I am so very proud of you, Twilight. You have come so very far in such a short amount of time. Soon enough, your training will proceed to the next level.” A level which would change everything, one which would see the culmination of a century of planning.

Twilight on the other hoof, was ecstatic about the very concept of her training advancing. Celestia had so often hinted at the greater magics she might learn beyond what could be deduced from books, and her own natural curiosity about such things was a powerful force. It took all of her remaining energy not to start jumping for joy as Celestia glanced at the clock hanging from the wall and nodded. “You have a meeting with Princess Cadence in an hour. I suggest a quick bath before you go to meet her.”

Twilight squeaked at the reminder of her meeting, looking in mild panic up at the clock. She was going to be late if she didn’t hurry her hooves! She paused in mid step, half about to run ungracefully through the doors before remembering herself. She turned back to her teacher and bowed her head deeply to Celestia. “By your leave, Teacher?” Twilight mumbled out, trying to keep from making a total flankhead of herself.

Celestia was only amused though, and raised her hoof from the ground to gesture at the door to their little training room. “May Harmony guide you, young one, and may the Code enlighten you.” Her words flowed serenly, looking down with undisguised pride and love for her apprentice. A brief flash of darkness in the corner of her vision brought her the sight of Luna standing on the balcony, watching them with an unreadable emotion on her face as Twilight smoothly raised her head back to look at her Teacher.

“May Harmony guide you, teacher,” she returned the ritual prayer and vanished in a flash of violet magic, with enough of a hurry to expend a little more energy teleporting to her rooms rather than simply walking there. Luna silently crossed the smooth flagstones of the training room to stand beside her Sister, looking through one of the windows as a violet flash appeared in one of the tower bedrooms.

Celestia started to speak, but Luna cut her off in an unusual lack of protocol between them. "Be cautious, Sister. Do not make the same mistakes you made so long ago. There is a deep hunger in her that you are already underestimating, and it will be her downfall if you do not take care.." Her tone was a dark reminder of the mistakes that had cost them both dearly.

Celestia huffed indignantly, rounding on the Princess of the Night in anger... but tempered it almost immediately, quashing the feelings of wrath that threatened to arise in her. Every time her sister needled at her for that failure so long ago, she wanted to scream her lungs out. Instead she exhaled calmly and placed the serene gaze upon Luna, who was smirking knowingly at her sister, her voice oozing with insincerity. "What is wrong, Sister? Griffon got your tongue?" she jeered, not her first attempt to get under Celestia’s skin since she had returned. This was not normal, however. Something was bothering Luna, and very badly.

Celestia allowed herself a mild reproving glare before responding, the gentle calm and peace in her voice as firm as it was in front of the most annoying courtier in Canterlot. She would not allow Luna to crack her resolve outside of private quarters, and so she remained composed. "Twilight is in no danger of that, I assure you. I do not call her my most faithful student for naught, dear sister. She will Ascend, and join us as a true Sister in defense of Harmony...” her voice rang with conviction as she parried Luna’s verbal blow. “All is proceeding according to plan.” A stomp of her hoof put a period upon the discussion, or so she thought.

She was about to turn away when her ears twitched with an unexpected sound. Luna was laughing, a tinkling sound that reminded Celestia often of broken glass. It was the laugh she gave when nopony else was around - a brittle, complex thing that spoke of dark nights and darker shadows. Her eyes focused on Celestia and just for a moment, looked like the eyes of an angry dragon bearing down on its prey. "That, dear sister, is when one most often feels the snare tighten around one's throat.” Her voice spoke softly, so softly that no spy could possibly hear the next exchange between them. “I have brought you ill tidings. Our foe is not as thoroughly vanquished as we once thought, the Shadow King yet lives.”


Twilight Sparkle, Element of Magic, sister to Prince Shining Armor, and most faithful student of Princess Celestia waited just until she was out of the sight of her teacher before slumping against a stone wall and panting heavily to get her breath back. The teleport spell had been necessary, but exhausting just the same. The magical exercise she had just been through had pushed her magic to its utmost.

There were days she wondered if Princess Celestia was intentionally trying to push her limits in order to expand them. Not that Twilight had never undertaken such mental exercise; since it was customary for any unicorn to do so in order to improve the scope of one's talent, especially when they were young. Twilight was no exception, and the time she had spent under the tutelage of Zecora had proven to be invaluable in today’s lesson. Celestia would probably have disapproved of her learning from another teacher, but there were some things unicorn magic alone could not accomplish.

Of course, not every unicorn filly or colt bore the Element of Magic, and even fewer pressed themselves to the breaking point as often as she did. So often in fact, that Nurse Redheart had threatened her with being knocked out and tied to a bed in the recovery ward of the Ponyville hospital for a month if she did it more than once every two weeks. Twilight for her part, had huffed and puffed and then given in without another word.

The thought brought a smile to her face as she felt her wind finally coming back and began to quickly clean and brush herself into decency. Her brow furrowed for a moment as she contemplated using her magic... and a slight pain from her horn convinced her otherwise. Instead, she hopped her hooves up onto the wash basin and just dunked her head - mane and all - into the warm water, then pulled it out in an arc of flying water droplets and shook it out, smiling into the little mirror on the washstand.

She’d been told by Rarity just how incredibly fetching she looked with a wet mane, though Twilight couldn’t tell. Her eyes were just as bright as they’d been the day she entered ponyville, but lately she’d been noticing... glimmers of something when she looked in her mirror. Some sort of white wisps of power that seemed to gather and flit about her. Celestia had spoken of something like this; that as she grew in power she would be able to see the very fabric of Harmony.

She glanced at her clock, noting the time and paced over to the middle of her room to sit on the small round cushion that lay there. She lay in the meditative position as her horn floated her brush over from the dresser and slowly divested her mane of water. She practiced her breathing, in and out, focusing on the Harmony of the room around her. She believed in her place in the greater Harmony. She would make her Teacher proud of her.


Precisely fifteen minutes early, Twilight appeared with a flash of light in front of her second favorite place in all of Canterlot. Pony Joe's was a Canterlot institution, and legend had it that there had been a Pony Joe's on this very corner of Trotsdale and Wine St. for as long as there had been a Canterlot. It also, by no small coincidence, happened to be where many students of Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns often came to relax and study with a freshly baked treat close at hoof.

A rough, friendly voice of Pony Joe called across his shop. “Well well, Twilight Sparkle. I was wonderin’ if you were gonna come visit! How you been, kiddo?” he rumbled, a goofy grin on his face that was the same as it had always been. Given the relative disheveled nature of his shelves, he was probably recovering from a major rush, but the sight of the brown haired, heavy built proprietor of the place was enough to brighten Twilight’s mood up several notches.

Twilight slipped up to the smooth cloth of the barstool, one she had sat in since she was just a little filly, and smiled with her own fervor. “Hi, Joe. You know I’ll always make time to come and see you when I visit, even if the Princess has me working my hooves off,” she said, letting some of her fatigue show. This had always been a place she'd never felt awkward, and Pony Joe had never minded her stacks of books or unrelenting questions on the subject of his donuts, pies, coffees, and cocoas.

She grinned a little bit, but before she could even open her mouth to place her order, a pair of glazed, cinnamon cake donuts were crossing the old oak bar top, followed by a steaming mug of hot cocoa with exactly three Marshmallows. “The usual, for my favorite customer.” Pony Joe winked at her with his own grin. A bloom of purple magic floated three bits up from her saddlebag and he shook his head. “On the house, kiddo.” He winked again. “I hear we’re gonna have some celebrity company, which is more than worth a coupla’ donuts.”

Twilight could only laugh gently as she floated one of the cake donuts up and dunked it enthusiastically into the cocoa, biting through the chocolaty, spicy treat with a fervor that bordered on the religious. "Joe, am I ever going to be able to convince you to open up a shop in Ponyville?" Twilight pleaded with him, putting on her best big, puppy-dog eyes and using a tone of voice she’d learned from Pinkie Pie.

That got another guffawing laugh from the shopkeeper, who magicked up a bright, spotless white cloth and began to clean away the debris of previous customers. ”Sorry, Twilight, I aint' so dumb as to think I can compete with the Cakes on their own home turf! I wouldn't stand a chance in Ponyville." His chuckled kept rolling, his long standing friendly rivalry with the Cake family was the stuff of culinary legend.

As they chatted with one another about the goings on in Ponyville and the Castle, the doorbell tinkled again and a set of stark white hooves ambled into the room, followed by another figure enshrouded in a deep blue cloak that covered every inch of of the figure from sight. Shining Armor grinned at Pony Joe, who returned the smile with warmth. “Heyla, Captain - and who might your lovely friend be?” His eye twinkled with barely restrained glee - having Princess Celestia in here for a few minutes after the Gala had done wonders for his business, but now...

Shining Armor rolled his eyes and tapped the blue-cloaked figure on the shoulder gently. "It's alright, Cadence. It’s Pony Joe’s! No one’s gonna bug you in here for an autograph or anything.” The blue hood was magicked back a moment later, the cloak removed to reveal Princess Cadence beneath it, wearing only the torque of her office, a crystal heart set into the center of the shining silver jewelry.

Cadence had just enough time for a warm smile with Joe and a half-voiced “Hello, Joe” before the clattering of hooves predicted the arrival of Twilight. With eyes as bright as any crystal pony, she threw her hooves around Cadence’s torso and hugged close to her, burying her face into Cadence’s side and squealing happily. For Her part, Cadence simply wrapped her hooves back around Twilight, holding her close and biting on her own lower lip to keep from squealing right back.

Princess Cadence looked upon the little unicorn in her arms, her eyes noticing the thousand little changes in her since they’d last met. She would always be her little Twilight Sparkle, but now a cloak of light seemed to hang over her shoulders to Cadence’s trained eye, shimmering with the power of Harmony. The pure joy in Twilight’s eyes at seeing her nearly set Cadence’s heart afire with pain. She was close, very close, to breaking through to a state only a select few ponies ever did in the course of their lives. Fewer still of them unicorns, who so often could not see past their own special gifts to the Truths of Harmony...

She shook her head and simply embraced the young mare fiercely again. Seeing her now, she wished that Celestia would not take away this simple joy she had in the Magic of Friendship. That she could just let Twilight be the joyful, vibrant mage of Ponyville and live out her life in the quiet scholastic study she so adored. Celestia could be as implacable as The Tall Mountain itself when she believed she was following the right path, but it did not take away Cadence's fierce desire to demand that Twilight, at the very least, could be spared the terrible knowledge she shared with her Alicorn Sisters.

Twilight broke into her reverie with a tug on her hoof and that ever delightful tone of voice that promised long stories to come. "It's so very good to see you, Cadence! Come on, I wanna tell you about all the things that have been happening in Ponyville!" She practically bounced in place and Cadence could not help it, she laughed and let herself be dragged along to the bar, where Twilight sat between her and Shiny and began to natter on about all the various things that had been going on since she'd last seen them.

Shining Armor gave her a look of both love and eternal patience as Twilight’s stories washed over them both, and she could not help but smile. Pony Joe grinned at the three of them, and she could feel his barely restrained glee radiating off him at having such presences sitting at his bar. Then the puff of a camera flash told her that her picture would soon be joining those of other famous ponies hanging on the wall, and she sighed expressively. She returned her eyes to Twilight and pressed her hoof down to grasp at Twilight’s, squeezing it warmly.

Celestia would probably not listen, but Cadence would try. Should all else fail, she would not leave Twilight alone to Celestia’s tutelage. If nothing else, she could perhaps soften the blows that were to come. It was the least she could do for her precious little filly friend.


Far away from Canterlot, past the Mist Crowned Mountain, down the Apple Valley, and just outside the tiny town of Ponyville loomed the Everfree Forest. The citizens of Ponyville had long told and retold the dark stories of the terrible wild creatures that lived within, and of weather that no pegasus could control or guide - of dark magics, sinister traps, and the strange forgotten ruins of ancient civilizations.

They knew very little beyond these things, despite the hard work of Fluttershy and Zecora to enlighten them as to the truth of the forest. Everypony knew the Everfree Forest could not be contained or tamed, and all those souls who had tried had rarely been seen again, and so nopony with any degree of sense ever ventured inside.

Yet deep within this forest, near the ruins of the Princess' Palace, a tomb laid. One would not notice it unless one knew it was there, for it had long ago been obscured behind a curtain of thick vines covered in sap and poisons. Its statues were hidden behind bushes grown amok, and all of it was protected by trees so thick in trunk no three ponies could encircle them hoof to hoof. But that was all a facade.

Down the ancient, broken road walked a lone pony. His hoofsteps were punctuated with the gentle clank of steel against steel, the rustle of ancient armor against his body, the sound of chain mail brushing the verdant growth of weeds and grass.. He lifted his hoof up to the vines covering the tomb, and spoke in a rumbling deep voice that echoed with ancient, restrained power. “Harmony is a Lie, there is only Passion. Through Passion, I gain power. Through Power, I gain Obedience. Through Obedience, I find Truth. Through Truth, I gain Courage. Through Courage, I gain Victory. Through Victory, my chains are Broken. Magic will make me Free.” His voice rang powerfully, his eyes blazing with shadows and a green pulse of magic.

A rumble punctuated his final words, and the vines cracked and broke beneath the strain of old magics returning to life. The vines slowly parted, revealing an ancient stone slab set into the monument - a large pictograph revealing three ancient symbols. The figure pressed it’s hoof to one such symbol, and it filled with a deep green magical power. The slab slowly slid to one side, grinding with disuse of the ages to reveal an opening leading down a dusty stone staircase.

As he stepped onto the landing, the dust blew away from him in a blast of unseen, shadowy power, and the ancient torches on the wall burst to life with warm, bright orange flames. The dust blew out of the opening behind him, clearing the way as his iron-shod hooves rang against the stone. Torches sputtered to life as he passed them, a critical eye noting his spells were returning to life with his return to this place.

It was a place he had created long ago: his haven against the Alicorns. Here, he would have a place to retreat should the unthinkable happen, and he be defeated in detail. He had anticipated every possibility and need he might encounter. Though when he was being honest with himself, he did not anticipate that they would first drive him insane, forcing his power into a feedback loop that left him crazed, then cite his madness as the excuse they needed for their atrocity, and banish him, his subjects, and his very kingdom into a time bubble, not to be seen again for more than one thousand years.

For Sombra the Shadow King, it had been a humiliating defeat. Yet it had also provided him with an unexpected windfall. For time had done what his magic could not, and worn down the spell that had locked him within the madness in which the accursed Princesses had placed him. Even better, in a moment of delicious irony it had been the youngest and newest Princess who had freed him from his chains and banished the madness from him completely. The purification had been painful, but pain was not always a bad thing.

Even more incredible, that same Princess had proven to be a guardian of a very interesting young unicorn. One who, to his delight and amazement, had tasted of Dissonance’s power without even realizing it. Oh, she was frightened and rightfully so of the dark magic she had sampled, but that she was even capable of using it was promising news indeed. Sombra smiled toothily into the darkness as he blasted a thousand years of dust from the tables and tapestries of his refuge.

He would need to call upon the old allies, those who would see this for the opportunity it was. He looked up with glowing green eyes upon the three great Tapestries which hung in the foyer - each representing the great powers which had once stood for the Freedom of all creatures from the tyranny of Harmony. He would call them first, for they would be the key to bringing a new power into the fold. He needed an apprentice after all, and he much doubted Celestia would make it easy to gain access to the filly.

It would not be impossible though. Celestia was likely only barely aware of his survival, and none of her agents would find his little hidey hole until it was far too late to confront him directly. With some aid, he would soon have a new power to turn upon the forces of Harmony. After all, it was not so long ago he that he himself had once been a faithful student to an Alicorn Princess...

A coarse, dark laugh filled the halls of his haven even as magic pulsed from him his horn to make the place fit for living once more. His iron shod hooves rang through the stony halls as he moved through its dark corridors. There was work to be done.

~~~~The next day...~~~~

The Friendship Express quietly chugged its way down the rail tracks, its length sinuously weaving it’s way down the mountain and through the tunnels, heading back to Ponyville. Twilight Sparkle sat alone in the first class car, watching Canterlot’s bright lights fade into the darkness behind her before settling herself down onto her seat. Her saddle bags were stowed overhead, bulging with various borrowed books, reams of paper detailing her next few homework assignments, and the various souvenirs her friends back in Ponyville had begged her to bring home.

For now though, she focused on a slim book worn heavily along the spine and edges where it had been opened and held repeatedly by hoof and magic. The gold leaf letting on the front of the worn green leather binding read ‘The Code of Harmony’. Twilight often consulted it every time she left her Teacher to return to her duties in Ponyville, taking strength and faith from the words and catechisms within.

The Magic of Harmony is the greatest power anypony can wield, and not even Dissonance - for all of its might - can counter a group working together with all of the Elements of Harmony behind them. Dissonance has only kept itself from being utterly obliterated through the use of corruption, lies, and deceit. For centuries, its greatest tool has been to strike at a group which is strong in Harmony and bring it down from within. The methods by which Dissonance accomplishes this are varied in the extreme. Do not presume you know the mind of those that follow the dark path.

Make no mistake, those who follow the path of Dissonance are not to be treated lightly. They are often canny operators who have had years of experience hiding their power and manipulating others. Only through constant, unflinching vigilance are the corrupt uncovered, the lies exposed. Yet even those who have strayed down the dark path are not beyond redemption, for it is the Way of Harmony to bring them back to the light by whatever means necessary. The Code demands we see them not as our enemies but as those led astray. Only through showing them the Truths of Friendship and Harmony will we triumph over the dark path once and for all.

Twilight gave off a gentle sigh, absent mindedly brushing her mane away from her eyes... It was not as though she needed such advice. There had been no powerful practitioners of Dissonance in hundreds of years.

They had either been destroyed by their own power, or driven from Equestrian soil. None of those who might be alive would dare cross into Celestia’s lands, lest their natures be uncovered and imprisoned by the crown - for their own good, of course. She shook her head to clear it of such serious things and flipped to a much more important part of the book.

The Code demands many things from those who seek to live by its creed. It is not an easy path, nor is it one without dangers. One who seeks to live by the Code must look beyond their own ways and means, they must always live in the silent service of those around them. Often they will never be praised for the deeds they do, yet without these sentinels of Harmony, all would be lost. A true Paragon of Harmony must be prepared to give of themselves selflessly as is demanded by the element of Generosity, but they must also remember to be Honest with themselves about how much is too much to give.

Remember, gentle reader - while the Code guides us to give in Generosity, if we cannot feed ourselves or ensure a roof over our heads at night, we cannot serve others as the Code demands. Though we cannot have any single being be more important to us than any other, if we do not have ponies who are close to us to grant us the greater powers of Friendship and Harmony, we cannot wield the mighty power that is our burden to bear. We must live by many restrictions, so that those we serve may live in freedom and Harmony. Even though that may mean we must remove our ambitions from the world, we cannot remove ourselves. The Code demands nothing less.

She gently sighed again, and closed the tome with a wisp of magic. Had she read that last part all those years ago, perhaps she would have been better prepared for the events in Ponyville. She smiled nonetheless, as her thoughts drifted to her friends. No doubt they’d be waiting at Ponyville station in the morning, each clamoring for their gifts and wanting to hear what she had been up to in Canterlot.

Rarity would be demanding the latest fashion news that she probably already knew, and Fluttershy would need to be spoken to later - due to being unable to talk even in the crowd of her closest friends - likely with tea. Dash would demand to know if she’d heard anything about this year’s Wonderbolts selection committee, and Pinkie Pie would throw a Welcome-home-Twilight party.

Twilight felt her thoughts wandering to her home, her library. She wondered what a disaster it would be in after Spike had been without supervision for a week, and suppressed a giggle at the thought. It would not take him long to set the place to rights, once she’d gotten his dragon flank out of bed.

She closed the book’s latch with a touch of magic and tucked it away in her saddlebags above her head, deciding that the best thing she could do now was mediate and get a little sleep. She wiggled down to the floor of the train and sat perfectly still, slowly matching her breathing to the rhythm of her heart. She slowly raised her forehooves from the ground and continued slowly breathing in and out, feeling the gentle rock of the train along the tracks.

Focusing deeper, she drew out that inner serenity Celestia so often spoke of, her teacher's words echoing in her mind."We all have our place in the greater Harmony, my student. Each of us contributes something to it, and through that contribution we come to know contentment in our lives. Some of us are called to be simple contributors - farmers, craftsponies, merchants. Others still must take on more complex roles - advisors and politicians. We, my student, are the most important of those who give to Harmony, and through our gifts to it, we come to know Harmony in a way no other pony can. She could feel it, that power of Harmony just out of reach, as her breathing settled into a gentle rhythm.

It was as though something lay just outside her sight, flickering bright white threads of Harmony. The very glue that held the world together, and kept it from descending into uncontrolled chaos. Celestia's voice soothed through her memories again, and she felt relaxation and contentment seeping into her body. When we meditate, we deepen our connection with Harmony. We come to know it as we know ourselves. We seek out and clear away Dissonance from the world, and in so doing we ensure all other ponies can live in undisturbed Harmony. This is our foremost duty, my student. One day, that duty will also be yours. Her breathing slowed as she felt the stresses of the day melt away completely; her eyes closed in the simple pleasure of the feel of raw Harmony flowing through her that slowly began to fade away as she opened her eyes, squinting a moment as she stared out into the slowly rising sun.

She stared for a moment in awe at the beauty of the sight, then blinked a little. She had to have been meditating for nearly eight hours for it to already be sunrise. The thought that she had been lost in the ebb and flow of Harmony for so long without even noticing was an event great enough to merit a little hop in place and a big beaming smile. Ponyville, her friends and home, would not be far away.

Little did she notice the gaze of the conductor withdrawing from the windowed door into the cabin - a sleek wave of bright green energy flickering over it to reveal the black chitinous form beneath, his jagged horn glowing a dark sickly green for a moment, and the faint sound of quill scratching against parchment.

A few moments later, a tiny black beetle buzzed out of the cabin window, flying pell-mell towards the Everfree Forest even as the dark wave of green energy flickered back over his chitin, briefly illuminating the husk of the conductor's body before a pulse of energy obliterated it into specks of dust and chitin. His duty complete, the Changeling reassumed the form of the Conductor and raised the blinds that obscured the light from entering the engine cabine, and smiled pony-like out into the world.

It was a brand new day in Equestria.

Chapter 2 - The Princesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 3 - The Trinity

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~~~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!"

Chapter 4 - The Code

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~~~The following morning~~~~

Twilight woke up all at once. It was a strange feeling, to go from sleeping to waking in the span of a second or two. Yet, Twilight suddenly found her eyes staring at the ceiling of her loft, sunlight streaming through her windows. Birdsong added a melody to the morning's beauty and Twilight smiled, thinking of her beloved Teacher.

Then, her thoughts caught up to her. She pushed herself off the bed cover and pulled the slim red tome out from under her pillow. Her notes from the previous evening sat undisturbed on the side table nearby. It had not been a dream. The books title still stubbornly declared it to be by the hoof of King Sombra, and the notes still revealed marvels of arcane learning she was only just beginning to understand.

The implications of what she had learned were momentous, they challenged every preconception of history Twilight held. Twilight grasped the letter that had come with the book, half discarded under the study table and unfolded it quickly. "Somber Gaze, huh?" She tapped her chin with her hoof. There was only one solution to this conundrum of faith it seemed. "Well, only one pony in town knows where everypony can be found."

Twilight swung her legs out of bed and pushed herself to the ground, her magic grabbed a spare set of saddlebags and carefully placed the tome and letter alike in them. After a moment of thought, she also pulled down a much worn foal's book, its cover cracked and crazed from centuries of reading, titled "The Tales of Princess Starbright" and quickly placed that in the bag too. Maybe it could help her find the historical truth hidden in the ancient fable.

Twilight trotted down the stairs, grabbing Spike's blanket off of him as she passed . The sleepy dragon suddenly sat up looking bleary and half awake "Huh? Whuzzah? Oh...Mornin' Twi.." He looked ready to fall asleep again when Twilight's magic physically dragged him from his bed, dousing him with a splash of cold water from a nearby basin that sent the purple dragon flailing in midair "GYAAAH! I'm awake! I'm awake!" Twilight set his scaly hide down to the floor, where he half glared at Twilight. "What's got you in a mood today, Twilight?" he groused, looking as grumpy as he ever did when he first woke up.

Twilight paused in mid step and arched an eyebrow at him. "Well." She gestured her hoof around the disaster area her Library had become in just a few short weeks. "I've got important business for the Princess today, Spike - It's going to keep me out of the library for most of the day. This mess needs to be dealt with, are we clear?" She'd put on her best Cheerilee voice - reasonable, but not brooking any more nonsense from the offending student.

For his part, Spike looked around and had the courtesy to immediately look guilty. "A heh-heh...guess it needs a little cleaning, huh?" He scratched the scales on his head sheepishly. "I'll get right on it, Twi...but what in the world do you gotta do that's so important?" He was already picking books up from the tables and examining the titles on the spines.

Twilight paused halfway out the door, turning back to gaze upon her baby dragon. Spike had always been there for her, through thick and through thin. What in Equestria could she tell him? "Research, Spike." Yes, that was the ticket. Research.


Sugarcube Corner was bustling busy when Twilight arrived. Much to her annoyance, customers were streaming in and out of the sweet shop at a respectable pace. A glance at the clock that hung in the window of the shop told her why - It was just past Noon, which must make this the Sugarcube lunch rush. Getting to Pinkie Pie was going to be impossible in this crowd, so she sighed and plopped herself down into one of the seats surrounding the corner cafe. Moving to pull the red book out of her pack, she suddenly froze.

By all rights, this book was so heretical to Celestia's rule it might as well be forbidden. She might get away with a lot as Celestia's student and Element of Magic, but if the wrong pony saw what she was reading...Twilight shook her head. It took only the briefest pulse of her magic to disguise the little book as some incredibly dry and bland research pamphlet on Unicorn social rituals.

A harried looking waiter swung by, pausing to look incredibly relieved at the sight of a single unicorn at the table. Twilight smiled her best, and rose up a hoof. "Just a pot of Mint tea, please." her stomach rumbled in rebellion against that. "Um..and a Daisy sandwich with Hay fries, hold the mayo." The waiter was gone a moment later, and Twilight's eyes went back to the book, scanning the page where she had left off the previous night.

"Chapter 2 - Through Passion, we gain Power.

Magic is one of the great mysteries of our world. Countless unicorns over the ages have struggled to explain it, to apply universal laws and truths to its chaotic and often ever changing form. Those who have sworn by Harmony insist that only through the rigid understanding of Magic can we possibly become more powerful with it. This is patently, provably false.

While the understanding of spell forms is vital to success in Magical casting, it is not rigid formula or mathematics that makes Magic powerful. Indeed, we need only draw from Harmony's own belief system to find this to be false. It is the power of Friendship that makes Magic strong.

Friendship is not based on mechanics, but on the heart. Our Passion for the life we share with others is what truly imbues our magic. It is a rarely noticed, but nearly universal truth that a Unicorn's power grows exponentially the more Friendship - or the ultimate expression of Friendship, Love - that they are given and give in return. This is the reason why so many unicorns become more powerful as their works become more well known.

Passion lies at the very center of all of our beliefs. Without it, the world would have no meaning, and we would not have the drive to express our desire, or the power to ensure our Freedom from the chains of Harmony."


"Miss Twilight?"

The waiter's voice startled her out of her reading, and she smiled back - a little embarrassed. The waiter only smiled in return, apparently not terribly concerned. She'd done this before after all. She floated over a hoof-full of bits, and he placed her food and tea on the table. Twilight magicked the teapot up to pour herself a full cup and sipped at it, turning the page with a brush of magic.

Once again, the premise was fascinating and the logic terrifyingly reasonable. This was not the way Dissonance was supposed to be! It was supposed to be evil and unthinking, a madness that demanded more and more power in order to wield that over others around them. Twilight felt vaguely offended by this, as it meant she'd have to reconsider every assumption she had made about the competing philosophy.

She turned the next page, this one describing the means by which Passion could be used to imbue spells. Once again, the research here was dense and complex - the reflection of what had to be decades of research. None of it would be difficult to apply, though the effects might be unpredictable. Twilight bit at her lip, a memory slowly coming back to her from the Crystal Empire.

A door, which could only be opened with a powerful blast of magic imbued with anger and rage. A door that led anypony who looked in it into a seemingly inescapable well of despair. She'd had to wield that magic, though she'd had no idea how to do so. Now it suddenly made sense why she'd drawn on all those emotions. She had been wielding the power of Dissonance, unshielded. Even worse, in her heart she did not wish to admit that the experience had been both terrifying and glorious.

She had not told Celestia that she used that dark magic. She hadn't told anypony, fearing what they might do if they found out. She could not have known then what she'd done. Twilight closed the book after a moment to quietly contemplate it. slowly drinking her tea. Had she already been corrupted? Was the power already seeping through her veins like some kind of dark poison?

"Excuse me, Miss?" the new voice startled Twilight once again out of her thoughts, and she shook her head in vague annoyance. She was woolgathering, Celestia Damnit. She forced herself to focus on the newcomer to her table. A charcoal grey coated unicorn stood across the table from her with a black mane and tail, wearing a pair of circular glasses and a pair of travel-worn saddlebags. "Pardon me if I seem a bit rude, but you would not happen to be Twilight Sparkle, would you?" His voice had a distinctive accent - something like Trottingham but stuffier, as though he'd learned how to speak from some maid of the nobility. He had a kindly looking smile and intelligent eyes, and a book with a stylized eye on the cover as a cutie mark.

Twilight blinked for a moment at his sudden appearance, and was already putting together the pieces. Best to be cautious though. "I am, and you are..?" Her tone lilted up in question, magic quickly closing the book in front of her. She took an absentminded bite of a hay fry, noticing that most of them had already been eaten and wondering when she'd done that.

The scholarly stallion chuckled brightly, and gave her a little courtly bow. "I am Somber Gaze, Miss Sparkle. A Pleasure to make your acquaintance. I see you have my colleagues little discovery with you." He eyeballed the tome, which got yet another startled jump out of Twilight - she barely had time to open her mouth before he tapped his spectacles. "I've enchanted these to see through illusions, Miss Sparkle. It is a nice little advantage when I'm trying to figure out if a rare book is the real deal." He winked cheekily, trying to dispel the little dig. "It's part of my special talent, you see."

He sat down opposite her at the table, folding his hooves in front of him and leaning forward with a lazy sort of smile. Twilight quickly rallied her thoughts and stopped biting her lip like a filly caught with her hoof in the cookie jar. "Do you know what this book is, Mr. Somber?" she asked as quietly as she could, trying not to fidget. Fidgeting would just make her look guilty and that was the last thing she wanted. This gentlecolt looked far too much like one of her disapproving teachers from school who were often exasperated by her desire to know everything.

He nodded once. "Mm, yes. Vigil told me about the rather infamous author and title. He was quite worried it would be snapped up by one of the Princesses agents and sealed away - or worse, burned. He decided the best place to put it would be in the hooves of someone who appreciates the value of a good book." He adjusted his glasses with a hoof, tilting his head to one side. "I am to presume you've started reading it? The subject matter is actually a field I happen to be well versed in, if you had any questions."

Twilight stared at him for a moment, then shook her head in disbelief. " Dissonance? I thought that was restricted materiel for everyone except senior researchers!" A moment later, he was displaying a much battered brass badge, identifying him as a senior researcher for the Canterlot Library. She studied it carefully, but it appeared genuine. That meant she could talk freely in front of him - he had the clearance to know anything she did, at any rate. "Well...yes, I have. I have to admit it really is not what I was expecting."

Somber chuckled richly, and his smile made her relax. Just a scholar, nothing more. Perhaps someone a bit too interested in subjects he should not be meddling with. "Oh yes. Dissonance as a philosophy has become so clouded. Originally, followers of Harmony and Dissonance did not even fight, can you believe that? It was not until the ascendance of Celestia and Luna that things got nasty." He leaned back, eyeballing the teapot meaningfully.

Twilight poured him a fresh cup, to which he smiled. He floated his cup up to sip from it and kept speaking. " Yes, I know what I'm saying runs contrary to what the Celestian temple keepers will tell you, but I have read nearly every available book on the subject. Dissonance was not, and still is not inherently an evil philosophy. It simply believes in a different way of living one's life." he waved his hoof airily. "Not that anyone listens to an old madpony like me."

Twilight frowned for a moment and carefully opened the book. "The chapter titles were particularly strange. 'Harmony is a Lie, there is only Passion.' The first chapter heading has only that, but it sounds like a part of some greater whole." Twilight worried at her lower lip. Was she really having this conversation with somepony that just walked up to her off the street? Was she insane?

Her companion didn't seem to think so - his eyes brightened behind his spectacles. "Aha. Yes, the Code of Dissonance, first written by Sedistic Dissonant. He is the reason we call the philosophy 'Dissonance' now as opposed to 'Disharmony' like the ancient equestrians. "

He sipped at his tea delicately, his voice taking on a lecturing tone. "You'll likely find each line at the head of the chapters within that book. Dissonant was one of the most brilliant musicians of his age. According to what historical records remain, he wrote the Code as a counter-argument to the Code of Harmony. He believed that too much Harmony would eventually lead to the stagnation of creativity and artistic expression."

Somber sighed dramatically, finishing his tea in a single gulp. "Sadly, few of his writings remain - most of them have been destroyed by the government over the years." He gave Twilight a steady, sober look. "I would recommend you do not let anypony else know you possess that tome, Twilight Sparkle. It is unlikely Celestia would allow you to retain it for very long." Twilight was starting to look dazed, and the gentlecolt took on a look of pity for her.

Twilight could only feel her thoughts churn and bubble as the pony scholar stood up, pacing around the table to gently place a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "I'll be staying at the Red Barn Inn, just off Lunar Lane. Feel free to come and visit if you have more questions to ask. I know all of this can seem terribly overwhelming at first, Miss Sparkle. Yet I think you believe as I do - that the truth is worth the journey." He patted her in a fatherly manner and quickly vanished into the crowds surrounding the restaurant.

Twilight stared at the book for a moment, trying to make sense of that strange encounter. Why in Equestria did she feel like she somehow knew that pony? How had he known her by sight? Well, there was the possibility he had simply asked somepony but still. This was starting to get very aggravating.

Twilight hated being presented with two entirely contradictory sets of facts. Previously, she'd only really had this problem with Pinkie Pie. Having the same thing happen to her very core beliefs? Her very understanding of history itself, and the shape it had taken over the centuries?

Maddening. Frustrating. Twilight had never more wanted to take something heavy and start hitting things with it until the world decided to make sense again. Worst of all, it was a beautiful day outside and Twilight was now obsessed with figuring out what the hay was going on with this book.

She snapped it up off the table, dropping her half-finished sandwich and a couple of bits back onto the plate before storming off down the road. Spike would be busy cleaning up the library, which meant she could probably get privacy in her room. Probably.

She never bothered to look into the alleyways she passed, as within each a hooded figure stood in the shadows, watching her silently pass by - then vanishing.


Battling through the flying dust and debris of Spike in full on housekeeper mode, Twilight shut and locked the door to her loft and placed the offending little red tome on the table. "Okay." She took a deep breath. One world-shattering bit of information at a time. "First - the Code of Dissonance. Celestia help me, it feels weird just to say it." She couldn’t read the whole book in one go, so it was best just to list the thing out.

The work only took a few minutes - scribbling with the quill onto a sheet of paper from the heading of each of the chapters. Once down on paper, Twilight examined it carefully. Obedience was an awfully sketchy word in this context, but the rest of it suggested a meaning not immediately clear to Twilight. The whole of the code seemed very self-centered. It cared only for the one, not the many.

It was a pretty fundamental opposite to the Harmony code. Harmony denied the evils of the world in favor of the harmony of all, Dissonance seemed to believe all the evils of the world could be conquered through strength of self. "Well, that at least explains why Celestia is so adamant against it." It was Intriguing though, a radically different though process could often lead to very different conclusions about the nature of the universe. At the least, it explained why so many Dissonance sorcerers were so highly independent.

She set the page to one side and flipped the book back open to the second chapter, examining the magical formula such as there was anyway, that was contained within its pages. "Alright. If this particular equation is correct, I can dramatically boost the power of my levitation power by focusing on something ... Joyful?" Well that certainly sounded like the kind of mumbo-jumbo tripe she'd read in countless books before, and would usually dismiss without a second thought.

Still, none of them had backed up their assertions with the kind of arcane formula this one had. "Worth a shot, I suppose." She paused, glancing about her room for something she couldn't normally lift on her own. "Hmm..How about..." The bookcase was a tempting target. It was certainly far heavier than anything she could normally lift. Especially stuffed with as many books as it was.

Twilight turned to face the bookshelf, tilting her head. She'd always wanted the thing closer to her bed anyway. Twilight's eyes closed for a moment as she focused on the formula for a moment to set it into her mind before searching her mind for a joyful memory. It didn't take long - she remembered the day Celestia had personally invited her to become her student. Fierce happiness rushed through her body as she linked the memory into her magic. As she started to gather magic into her horn, thoughts of the Code floated into her mind.

Through Passion, I gain Power.

The words thundered through her mind, and for a wild moment, she thought she had lost control. Then, suddenly magic began rushing into and out of her horn in an unstoppable torrent. She felt a ripple seem to flow out of her body and into the floor beneath her, slamming into the earth beneath her tree and spreading out like the waves in a pond. Her eyes glowed with barely restrained magic, bursting into sudden bright green light and sending tendrils of shadow arcing into the room around her.

Her horn lit up with opaque purple energy as she felt power unlike anything else before flooding into her body - the bookshelf wobbled, then lifted up into the air, and hovered across the floor. It set down with an audible thump, right where she'd always wanted it. Just as quickly as it had come, the energy drained out of her limbs and left her panting from the exertion.

She felt as though she had just done the Running of the Leaves twice in the same morning. Yet she was practically giddy, a giggle escaping her lips that sounded just a little crazy. Her voice cracked into the silence of the loft.. "That was...Incredible.." She could hardly describe the incredible feeling the magic had given her then - she had always enjoyed casting spells, but that had been...

Exhaustion took firm hold of her, and Twilight had no further thoughts as she slumped to the ground, unconscious.


Countless miles away, Princess Celestia awoke from her mid-afternoon nap with a sudden start, bolting up from her bed and staring around her in confusion and fear. Somepony had just plucked at the very strings of Harmony and Dissonance, and the power was still reverberating out through the land.

Celestia quickly came to her hooves and strode out onto her balcony, pushing out all of her senses and lighting her horn with the powerful magic’s of Harmony. She tried desperately to feel where precisely it had come from, but the wave was just too powerful to accurately track. That was nearly unheard of. Who in the name of the Goddess had done that?

Only a very few non-alicorns alive had that kind of power potential. One would be Sombra, if he truly had come back from the grave. Right now Celestia truly did not wish to contemplate that possibility until she had proof, but another was Twilight Sparkle. If she was strong enough to be touching the very fabric of the world, perhaps Cadence had been right. It was best to let her remain in Ponyville for a time, so that strength might continue to grow. Still. She would send someone to keep an eye on her - Hmm, but whom could she trust?

" careful. I cannot lose you now." She whispered into the day, returning slowly to her bed as she turned over thoughts of which agent to dispatch to Ponyville. "Not when we are so very close."


Sombra, the Shadow King sat in the nice if slightly small hotel room he had rented for his purposes here in Ponyville. He too felt the shudder as it rippled through the energies of the land, startling the birds out of their trees and leaving those who were sensitive to such things confused and startled.

Sombra also knew there was only one pony that could possibly have done that here in this town. His smile curled up and he allowed himself a short, quiet laugh of triumph. "By Dissonance is she strong. She may even be more powerful than I first thought." Chrysalis would be delighted of course. She was so looking forward to playing with the little one, and her strength being great meant that they could truly treat her as an equal, once she was brought into the fold. That had...delicious possibilities.

Sombra rubbed his hooves together, wishing he'd dare wear his armor. He missed the weight of the iron, and the scraping sound it made when it rubbed against itself. "She is going to be so much fun to turn." He chuckled again, floating the blue crystal goblet from the table over to his lips to taste the delicious local cider. He made a mental note to ensure whoever was responsible for the stuff remained unharmed in the coming conflict. One should always try to preserve the good things of the world.


In a little office just off of main street in Ponyville, a pony fell to her belly as the massive wave of unseen power struck it's senses. The pony cried out in ecstacy for a brief moment before slumping back down to the ground, panting heavily. "M..mistress..." It gasped out, for it had to have been Twilight Sparkle. Such force! Such power! The pony levered itself into a standing position, feeling its legs shake from reaction.

The power had flooded into the pony, speaking of indescribable joy. She must have cast the first spell in the book. The pony hoped the other agents had remained alert and unharmed by proximity to the event. Sombra had not lied to them - with the kind of power Twilight Sparkle could command, she could break the chains that held all of Equestria back from reaching its true potential.

The pony was thankful that no one would bother it in it's office, as it sank down to the ground, it's hoof going between its legs reflexively as she cried out for the one who would command them. "M-Mistress...T-Twilight...S-sparkle!" as another kind of joy raced through the pony, and it sank to the ground, mind reeling with the possibilities of the world that surely was to come.


The ripple did not reach the Crystal Empire for some hours. Yet when she felt it, Princess Cadence's eyes went suddenly wide, her pupils shrinking to tiny dots. She was fortunate that she was mostly alone at that moment, her hooves gripping onto the table she sat at with her husband.

Shining Armor himself also seemed to feel it, though much less strongly than she. Shiny had always been sensitive to the currents of Harmony - and that pulse wave had to have been enormously powerful to have reached all the way to the palace here.

Cadence swallowed for a moment, and then took a deep breath. "Sombra. It's got to be." her breathing had gone shallow, and she could feel that stupid cold sweat on her back. Sombra being back meant he'd inevitably come here. That meant he'd come for her, and for his throne.

Shiny shook his head if very slowly. Cadence blinked at him, as he looked somewhat mournfully out the window. "I don’t think so, Cady. I think that was somepony else." He turned back, eyes bright with held back tears. "I think that was Twilight."

Chapter 5 - The Acolyte

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~~~~~Later that evening~~~~~

Twilight's eyes slowly opened as she crawled her way back into consciousness. It was darker out, and the color of the light told her it would soon be sunset. For some reason, there were voices all around her - and she wasn't in her library anymore. Slowly, details seeped into the haze. This was the hospital; it had to be because of the sounds of the medical machinery nearby.

Twilight pressed her hooves into the softness of the hospital bed and began to lever herself up, grunting with effort - she was sore all over, but not in a bad way - and a brief mental test told her that her magic was unharmed. Both were very good signs, though the concerned looks on the faces of the Doctor unicorn and the nurse were a troubling. "What the buck hit me?" she wheezed out, feeling her dry throat and licking at her slightly cracked lips.

Nurse Redheart pressed a cup into Twilight's hooves and she drank down the cool, salted cider in a single go. Twilight immediately felt better for the sugar and salt, and blinked a little bit to focus her eyes on the nurse. "Do you ever take a day off, Nurse?" The question just sort of fell out, a result of her mind still being a bit frazzled from the...experience she'd had earlier.

The nurse and the doctor both laughed at that one, and their looks seemed immensely cheered. "I have enough time, Miss Twilight. It's good to see you're unharmed - your assistant was very worried." She glanced over nearby, where Spike was curled up on one of the chairs with a blanket tucked around him - he did not look to be having a peaceful sleep. Twilight reached over from the bed to touch him, drawing him out of his slumber.

Spike blinked blearily and looked up - and without further warning, launched himself from the chair to tackle hug Twilight to the bed, hugging her fiercely. Twilight wrapped her hooves around him as he started to cry into her shoulder, stroking his soft back scales as the doctor and the nurse discreetly moved to another part of the room, giving them the illusion of space. "Shh, it’s alright Spike. I'm fine." Twilight soothed, giving him one more gentle squeeze before pushing him a little away, drying off his tears with a bit of the bed sheets. "You did the right thing bringing me here so quickly. I'm very proud of you."

Spike sniffled and gave a tentative smile up to her "Really? Aw, shucks Twi...Um, I didn't have time to go and get everypony else though.." He drooped down a little, Twilight gently giggling and ruffling his head scales. He swatted gently at her hooves but was smiling again in no time, even if his eyes were still a little bright from the tears. "You sure you're okay, Twilight?" asked Spike. She nodded once to him and he hopped back down over to his chair. "Yes, I'm fine Spike." Twilight said as she turned to the doctor and the nurse, who returned a moment later. "Right, doctor?"

The older male unicorn coughed and nodded. "Yes, I believe you were just suffering from a bit of magical shock. Happens to every unicorn who forgets to eat a big enough lunch before undertaking heavy spellwork." His tone suggested Twilight should make sure it didn't happen again. He lifted a chart from the end of the bed with a little glow of power and examined it. "All preliminary reports indicate you're fit as a fiddle aside from that. I'd recommend trying advanced spell work with a bit more preparation, Miss Sparkle. Sign here and you can go." He floated over the chart, which she quickly scribbled a signature on the bottom of.

Spike hopped up off his chair and followed Twilight out of the room under the watchful eye of Nurse Redheart, who sighed somewhat dramatically. "I swear, that girl works too hard. Somepony needs to show her how to let her mane down once in a while!"


Spike perched upon her back as they trotted out of the hospital into the evening. "Geeze, It’s sure gonna get dark soon." Spike observed, earning an eye roll from Twilight. "Hey, I know! Let's stop and pick up dinner. The doctor said you needed to eat more, let's grab a coupla dinner pies from Sugarcube Corner!" Spike was bouncing up and down at the prospect of pie - and Twilight had to admit it sounded like a pretty good idea.

The Sun slowly dipped behind the horizon by the time they'd reached Ponyville proper, but no shortage of ponies were out and about in town. Many were heading to the various night-time entertainments that Ponyville boasted. The sounds of heavy wubstep music thumping out of one of the nearby cottages got a curious look from Spike, as did the many ponies standing outside waiting to get in.

Spike wondered why Twilight seemed to be taking the long way to Sugarcube corner as they cut across a number of alleyways that she didn't really need to go through. "Twilight.." began Spike, his tone worried as they quickly made speed down Lily street, and Twilight growled something, just before Spike felt a flash of light envelop them - and deposit them just past Sugarcube Corner, staring out from a dark alleyway. "Twi, what's going on?" He whispered, hoping that was the right thing to be doing right now.

Twi turned her head a little. "We're being followed Spike. Get down." She nodded towards the ground, and Spike quickly slipped off. Twilight scanned the street, narrowing her eyes. "Get back to the Library, write a letter to the Princess and let her know that somepony's been following me through the town. I'm going to see if I can shake them." Spike opened up his mouth for a moment, only to get a hoof stuffed in it. "Don’t argue Spike. I can handle myself. Go."

Spike shut his mouth and nodded tightly, "You stay safe." He whispered and quickly scampered off into the alleyway, slipping under the wooden fence to make a beeline for city hall and the guard’s barracks there. Twilight took a deep breath and exhaled. She slipped out of the alley and trotted past Sugarcube corner, heading down her usual route towards her Library. Sure enough, those shadowy figures were still following her.

She quickly darted down a secondary alleyway, plotting out the route between here and home. Ponyville had grown quite a bit in the last few years, which had led to numerous side streets popping up strictly unofficially. Her steps took her past a pair of very confused looking teenaged ponies, pulling a fast turn around the corner and darting down the next main street. Somehow, they were still following her! The same two or three ponies too. Just watching, staring quietly. It was creepy.

Well, there's more than one way to lasso a pony. AJ would've said. Twilight picked her target...there, that one always seemed to be getting ahead of her. Probably a unicorn. Let’s see how they like this little trick.. She grinned to herself and gathered her magic for another fast teleport, then popped out of existence.

And popped right back mere moments later, nearly on top of a dark cloaked and hooded pony. "Gyaaha!" Was all he had to say as Twilight crashed into him, his horn starting to glow beneath his hood as he thrashed about under her, He's going to teleport! thought Twilight after only a moment. She looked around for any solution and finding none, acted on instinct.

She punched him, right in the face.


Spike's eyes went as wide as saucers when she finally dragged the unconscious form of her pursuer into the library using a combination of magic and muscle strength. Once inside, she picked the pony up and deposited her onto a sturdy looking chair. "Spike, get my inhibitor ring and something to tie her up with. No questions yet!" She snapped irritably. The rest of the ponies had scattered when she landed on her quarry here, and none had come to her aid when she'd knocked her out.

Twilight shook her sore hoof, muttering "Didn't realize i could punch that hard." Of course, Twilight couldn't just leave her there. There was no telling what might happen to a mare in the dead of night in the middle of an alleyway. Why not just take her to the constables? Oh right, you assaulted her. Twilight was not looking forward to explaining that to Celestia Still, she once again had a unique opportunity here.

Magic quickly dealt with her captive's hood and cloak - revealing her to be wearing a thick leather collar around her neck with a tag hanging off a metal ring. There was a little symbol on the tag, that of a scroll being pierced through its center by a dagger and a name, "Lilith". Spike came running up with the requested items. Twilight quickly fitted the magic inhibitor ring around the female unicorn's horn, and tied her securely to the chair. "Um...Twilight? Why have we kidnapped somepony?" Spike asked in a very small, timid voice.

Twilight sighed gustily and lifted her head. "Because she, and a lot of ponies dressed just like her, were following us around, Spike. Something is going on here - and I intend to find out what." Spike's eyes had gone wide, and Twilight paced in front of her slowly. "Did you send the letter to the princess yet?" Spike shook his head. "Well, that's probably for the best...we'll have more information for her when we're done asking questions. Go prep some dinner, Spike. I want to be ready when she wakes up."

Spike came back about ten minutes later, bearing a platter of soup and sandwiches - plus the medical kit from under the kitchen sink. Twilight took care to eat heartily, wanting to be prepared for whatever the next few hours might hold. She paused in mid bite and then trotted upstairs for a moment, snagging the tiny red book from her table. She sat down next to her prisoner and flipped open the book to that disturbing third chapter. Wondering what other mad secrets it might hold.


"Chapter 3 - Through Power, I gain Obedience.

This is often the most misunderstood line of our Code. It is used as a cudgel by our enemies to declare us tyrants and as an excuse by Harmony to purge our belief system from wherever it finds us lest we 'enslave' others. Truly, no philosophy is better at projecting its own faults onto others than Harmony. Yet these are slander and lies. Untruths spread to deny others the freedom Dissonance promises to all creatures.

We do not demand the obedience of others. Rather, we must look to the next line of the code, that Through Obedience we gain Truth, to find the heart of this part of our creed. It demands that before we can lead, we must follow. That before we can follow, we must understand why there must be leaders. That before we can understand our leaders, we must first understand ourselves.

Harmony would have us deny the self, in favor of the whole. It would deny expression, individuality and personal goals in favor of those Harmony forces upon us. It would deny our right to dissent or oppose the government, for they are Harmony and thus cannot be opposed. Harmony would have us follow a single banner unto the dawn, with no choice as to how that banner may be flown, or in what cause it may be called to battle.

We are not a faceless mass of creatures. We are not as Harmony would have us be - unthinking sheep fit only to be led by the chosen shepherds to one specific goal for the so called 'good of all'. We have names, desires, ambitions. To these things too, we must be obedient. Without these things, we would be nothing more than machines - designed to fit into one destiny, one life, as harmony has decreed from our birth unto death.

We must also understand that leadership is not limited to a chosen few. That it is the right and duty of every individual to stand up in times of hardship and lead. Some must lead by example, while others must take a direct role in administration. Yet we are all capable of that leadership.

When that leadership is established, it must be followed. We are obedient to that leadership, but we remain obedient to ourselves. it is only through Power - the power of responsibility over our own lives - that we can both lead and serve as we are needed to, and to understand the difference.

That we are obedient not because we have no choice - but because we choose to be. Obedient to ourselves, and to the needs of those who serve us. And through this Obedience, we finally understand the Truth.


"They are glorious words, are they not?"

Twilight must have been getting used to getting startled. She barely even jumped that time as the bound unicorn spoke calmly to her. Twilight looked up at the mare, finally getting a good look at her. She thought she may have seen her around town at some point- a bright lavender-pink coat, and a mane with a similar coloring to Twilight's. She seemed very calm for someone who was tied up with a tightly fitting magic inhibitor on her horn.

Twilight was not entirely sure how to reply, slowly closing the book as her prisoner smiled a little. "The Basis of Dissonance. Except your copy is much nicer than mine. Is it true that the Shadow King himself wrote that one?" She nodded her horn towards Twilight's book. Twilight's jaw dropped a little and she quickly snapped it shut. The other unicorn just smiled at her.

That snapped Twilight out of her reverie, and her eyes narrowed as she spoke. "How do you know about this book?" she asked cautiously, keeping her copy of it well away from the imprisoned pony. "And what do you mean, much nicer than yours?"

The unicorn mare giggled a little. Why on earth is she so happy? I've got her tied up to a chair for Celestia's sake! Twilight thought somewhat exasperatedly, until her prisoner nodded to her cloak lying nearby. "It's hidden, but there's a pocket near the neck cinch." Twilight blinked and poked at the cloak a bit until...she found a small hidden pouch, right where the mare had said it would be. She tugged at the inside.

Her magic grasped and pulled out a small book, equal in size to Twilight's but vastly different for that. Twilight's was bound in supple red leather, probably from a Hydra. The unicorn's book was in cheap snakeskin leather, and obviously still pretty stiff for that. Her book was also made from some kind of printing press, given the blocky nature of the words. it was also missing the foreword, and a bit else besides - but for the most part, the text was the same. Twilight stared at it, and whispered. "By Celestia, you're a Dissonance cultist."

She dropped the snakeskin book on top of the cloak and turned back to the Unicorn who nodded once. "There is no hiding it, not from you. I must admit, you surprised me with that little jumping tactic. I'd been told you were incredibly skilled, I had no idea what that meant in practice." Normally, Twilight would have preened a bit at such an appraisal of her magic, but this was hardly the time. "As to that title...yes, I am an acolyte of the Code of Dissonance. They call me Lilith." She bowed her head. "That is of course, not the name my parents gave me. That is a name I will gladly one day cast off, when I know freedom at last."

Twilight just blinked rapidly at this sudden influx of information. She shook her head and rubbed at her eyes. "Wait a minute, back up. What do you mean that's not your name? And you still haven't told me how you know about my copy, or anything else about it." Twilight was starting to get frustrated, but she ruthlessly clamped down on the emotion, practicing her breathing techniques. Celestia would hardly approve if she let herself get riled up by a mere cultist.

Lilith laughed a little, a giggling sound that seemed to speak of great joy in her day-to-day life. "My supposed real name, Amethyst Star. it was the name I was given when what you call a 'cutie mark' appeared, dictating the kind of Pony i was supposed to be. I had no choice in that matter, of course. None of us do." Her smile was sad., pitying. "As to how I know about your book...I'm afraid I cannot tell you. Willingly, anyway." Her eyes were agleam with...something. "I may not have thrown off my chains yet, Twilight Sparkle, but I am Obedient to my brothers and sisters, just as you are to yours."

Twilight slowly came up to her hooves, pacing towards the insufferably calm unicorn sitting in front of her. "What do you mean..."she began slowly, trying to hold on to her emotions. "Willingly?" She was still clamping down on her emotions, but they were still getting the better of her. Her breathing was slow and measured, but even that was not entirely letting her suppress these feelings

The Unicorn lifted her head with a mysterious smile. "I am Obedient to them Twilight Sparkle, and to myself." She lowered her head again, clearly saying no more. Twilight grabbed the chair with her magic and dragged it across the ground. Twilight did not know where Spike had gone - but she was suddenly glad he had.

The chair stopped, skittering just in front of her, and Twilight planted a hoof on the side of it, lifting herself to look directly into the eye of the offending unicorn. "What in Equestria does that mean? Why are you following me around my town?" There was powerful magic bubbling up in her, and still she did not use it. Her long training had taught her to never cast a spell in anger unless her life was in jeopardy.

Yet once again, that maddening smile crossed her captive's face. "I am obedient to them, Twilight Sparkle. And to myself." She once again said no more. Twilight could feel her eye twitch slightly. It would not do to punch her again, she'd just have to wait till she woke up. Harmony Help me, I'm going to strangle her. she took a deep breath, trying to expel the frustration.

Once more. Then she'd let Celestia have her, and damn the consequences. "I'm only going to ask you one more time. How. Do. You. Know about my book? And what does his little phrase of yours mean?" She tempered herself. The unicorn seemed to pause, tilting her head back and forth at Twilight as if considering what to say. For a moment, twilight felt the anger drain out of her as she seemed to start speaking.

Then she smiled again. "I am obedient to them, Twilight Sparkle. And to-" Twilight did not let her finish. She felt anger boil up deep inside her as she never had before. She follows me, she has spied upon my home. Who knows what her and her friends might have planned for the people I care about! Power welled up inside Twilight as it had earlier in the day - but this time, she was ready for it. Grabbing it with her mind and focusing it through her horn in a spell form she didn't even recognize. Then, words thundered through her ears as wind whipped around the library hall...

Through Power, I gain Obedience.

Twilight's voice snarled at the unicorn as she grabbed her with one hoof - her eyes suddenly luminescent green, shadow energy peeling off her eyes and body around her captive. "You will be Obedient to ME!" Her voice thundered, sounding like her yet utterly unlike her. Shadow energy struck at the Unicorn, a solid beam of opaque purple energy striking Lilith in the horn. The ropes shredded off of her and the magical inhibitor ring fell to the floor with an unheard clang. Lilith's eyes widened and suddenly glowed with the same bright green energy...

Before it all winked out a moment later, save for a wisp of shadow unseen at the edges of Twilight's eyes. Lilith slowly pushed herself off the chair, stumbling to the ground as Twilight slowly caught her breath - staring in disbelief at the magic-spawned mess around her. Her eyes snapped back to the captive unicorn a moment later, ready for anything. Anything but what she'd said next. "Mistress.." Lilith whispered, slowly crawling across the floor to Twilight's hooves and...kissing them, as though they were holy objects.

Twilight knew she should be terrified. She knew she should be running right now for the train station, to get to Canterlot as fast as she possibly could. She knew she should go straight to Celestia and beg her to make sense of all of this. She should. "Answer my questions." her voice spoke, without her even thinking about it - her logic and reason taking hold where emotions were spazzing out. She would deal with her terror later. Right now, there were more important things.

The seemingly cowed unicorn remained at Twilight's hooves, pressed into the ground in subservience. "I was told by our leader, who directs us all in our good work. I do not know who they are though. They are always cloaked and shrouded behind fabric and masks. They told all of us that you were reading the Basis of Dissonance, and that our Liege was to be guiding you. We were to ensure neither they nor you were disturbed by Celestia's agents." The voice took a deep, sobbing breath and continued. "It was a test, my Mistress. I beg of you to forgive me, for I did not know your power. My life is yours to do with as you will. "

Twilight just felt dazed. She did not know what to make of what had just happened, or what was happening now. She felt tired, even more than she had after last night's study session. She wanted answers like she could not describe, but right now, she needed sleep. "Fine. You are forbidden from leaving the library. You will make yourself useful while you are here. Do not reveal anything that's happened here or anything you've learned tonight to anypony else. " There, that should be enough to ensure she could at minimum get a good night's sleep without worrying that this crazy pony would go off and start telling tales about her and dark magic. "We'll discuss the rest tomorrow. Understood?" She hoped she did, Twilight was about ready to fall unconscious again. Twice in one day would get her in trouble with Nurse Redheart.

To her credit, Lilith - or was that Amethyst? Nodded and pushed herself off the ground. "Yes. We will speak in the morning, Mistress." Twilight wanted to smack her for calling her that. Instead, she simply dragged her hooves upstairs under the curious but not uncomfortable gaze of her new...what? House guest? Prisoner? Slave?

Twilight did not know. What she did know was that beds were soft, and were much nicer for sleeping on than floors were. She pushed herself up over the comforter and was out like a light within a few seconds, floating in a land of dreams where there were no complex codes to haunt her, and no mysterious unicorns to kiss her hooves...


Across the far plains of Equestria, over the mist-crowned mountains and down into the snowy northern lands of Equestria, the Crystal Empire glittered like a jewel amidst the snow. Within the palace of that city, Two ponies were quickly and efficiently packing their things. Shining Armor, crown prince of Equestria spoke into the din. His voice was calm, in control. "The Train's waiting for us at the station. They've got relays set up so we can make it a non-stop trip. We'll be in Ponyville by lunchtime tomorrow." He looked out the window. "Carriages are getting loaded up right now. Are you sure we shouldn't bring the Emerald Guard?"

Princess Cadence, ruler of the Crystal Empire and Alicorn of Harmony, shook her head firmly. Her voice was decidedly not calm. She was pretty much on the edge of panicking right now. "We can't risk them drawing more attention than we're already going to. This is not going to be a quiet ride into town, Shiny. If our enemy has agents there, we need to keep this as low-key as possible. Much as I would love to put an army between Twilight and anypony who might hurt her." She pressed down the cover of the suitcase, loading it with a tiny lift of magic onto the cart, which her servant quickly took down to be carried to the train.

Cadence wrapped her hooves around herself and took deep, calming breaths. Shining Armor crossed quickly over to the other side of the room to wrap his hooves around her. "Cady. Relax. We'll be in time. We will not let Sombra or any of those other monsters have our Twily. I promise." Cadence nodded and closed her eyes, tears flowing freely from them as she clutched at Shiny's hooves.

She was going to protect her little Twilight, and woe to anypony who stood in her way. No. Stood in their way.


Downstairs in the library, Lilith quietly floated her cloak over to the coat rack, and her copy of the Basis of Dissonance she pressed to her chest with her hooves. Snuggled into one corner the unconscious little dragon assistant lay asleep, with the help of a little sleep powder of course.

She smiled at him, tucking his little blanket over his body, before finding a nice soft chair for herself to curl up in. He was a good little assistant to the Mistress, even if he didn't show the proper respect yet. She'd need to make sure he was given lessons on the matter. A dragon, especially one young enough to train and mold into obedience to the Mistress would be a powerful asset in the years to come.

She quietly looked at her little book clutched to her chest and felt tears run down her cheeks. She remembered when her mother had first told her the tales of the mighty king and queen of Dissonance, who drove off the enslaving hordes of Harmony. Now, She had seen the power of the new Mistress and it had been even more glorious than the tales had said. It might even have been more powerful than the King and Queen's.

She was so very fortunate that she would be the one blessed to be her Mistress's first Acolyte. She would have to set a good example.

Chapter 6 - The Truth

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"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 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.

Chapter 7 - The Choice

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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."

Chapter 8 - The Crossroads

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Twilight Sparkle's mind was surprisingly calm. In spite of the changeling invasion currently threatening her town, and Lilith's insane threats Twilight felt completely in control of the situation. Of course, logically that was probably a result of the extreme stress of the past few days finally breaking down her emotional response.

Her hooves lifted from the ground as she slowly approached the pony currently holding the Elements of Harmony hostage. Of course, this was planned from the very beginning. Twilight thought, her eyes looking straight into Lilith's.

No words were said because they didn't need to be. Twilight could not read Lilith's thoughts, but she didn't have to. "You knew there was going to be an attack." Twilight stated. "You let yourself be captured. You're stronger than you've shown me and you could have gotten away." That was pretty obvious. Lilith was not saying a word, but her smile never wavered.

Twilight took a deep breath, her emotions were still in shock so her logical mind had taken over. Trying to analyze every angle of the last few days, she continued to piece together what she had been too exhausted or scared to figure out before. "You've been keeping spike out of the way, probably with some kind of sleeping spell." That was pretty glaring too, given how deeply the dragon was snoring nearby.

Twilight kept talking, her comments less questions than statements. It was appalling how stupid she had been. "You knew the only way to get me to even consider your point of view was to force me to live it. You set up all of the blocks and I've been diligently knocking them over one by one." Twilight should have been angry about that, yet she could not be.

Twilight felt as though she had been awakened from a dream. Forced to acknowledge that the world was not as simple as 'Us versus Them' and that there were ponies on the other side of that conflict. Ponies that simply held different beliefs, a different outlook on life. Celestia had kept her sheltered her entire life from this understanding, to mold her into an unquestioning champion of Harmony.

In truth, Twilight could not be angry at her mentor. She would never cease to love Celestia for all she had taught her, no matter what Dissonance might say about her motives. Logically, both sides were doing what they thought was right. Unfortunately, that brought Twilight right back to her problem - both sides had merits. Both sides were correct in some things and wrong in others. Worst of all each side could not abide the tenets of the other.

So she stood there gazing into the eyes of this damnable unicorn that had sown confusion into her ordered life. Twilight felt a wild and desperate urge to run. To forget Ponyville, forget the Elements and just run for Canterlot. There, she was sure that Celestia would help her. The world could be forced to make sense again.

That was a trap, of course. Twilight did not need to be that smart to realize it. It would be the same as slitting Lilith's throat on the spot. Eventually, Lilith would die, as would all of her comrades. Twilight did not doubt she would be sent to do the deed herself. Ponyville had a Dissonance cult in it, one that would need to be cleansed in the name of Harmony.

There was no telling who else would be caught up in the hunt either. Inquisitions had always been messy, imprecise things throughout Equestrian history. Twilight even understood why now, due to the nature of the Cult's organization. Harmony would not care about that, though. It was concerned with the greater good, not the good of a few poor souls burning in the fires of the Sun Princess' gaze.

Of course, there was no telling what she would become should she walk the other path either. The vision of her possible future still burned in the back of her head. Would she become no better than Sombra or any of the other infamous Dissonance sorcerers? The road to Tartarus was paved with good intentions after all. Twilight might believe she could change things, but that did not mean she would not simply change into those things.

Twilight had felt for herself the seductive allure of that power. The freedom to be the pony she had never dared dream of. Her magic and her love for knowledge would be able to grow without boundaries or restriction. She would never have to get involved in the politics. She'd simply have to convince Celestia that she was ready to engage in independent research.

Twilight cracked a wry smile at that. Yes, and convince her to leave me alone for the rest of my Alicorn like lifespan. Right, and tomorrow Fluttershy will outpace Rainbow Dash in a race. It was not going to happen. Following Dissonance meant she would have to confront her Mentor. What would happen then, Twilight could not begin to imagine.

Worse still, there was no time for prolonged introspection. Every moment she hesitated the attack outside would claim more victims, more innocent ponies dragged away to some unspoken fate. For all Twilight knew, Chrysalis herself was out there and she would not have forgotten Twilight's interference at the royal wedding. Her friends were mostly valiant fighters, except for poor Fluttershy. Yet Cadence would be far too busy defending the rest of the town to go to their aid.

So Twilight stood there in the grim silence. Twilight knew better to try and talk a fanatic down from her martyrdom. Time was running short. So what to do? Accept a lifetime of bloodshed against those guilty of nothing more than disagreeing with the status quo, or risk becoming a monster that might one day make Nightmare Moon look like a bad batch of cupcakes?

In the end, the answer was logical and it was not. There was no time for hesitation. It was time to choose.


Prince Shining Armor slammed a bright purple shield into a heavily armored changeling. Smashing him into a stone wall and sending his broken form crumpling to the ground. A skirmisher changeling wielding a spear took a leap from a nearby rooftop only to be batted away by a thick band of shield energy, and sent flying off into the distance. His hooves kept him moving even as the bright shield bubble absorbed incoming magical blasts and redirected them at other targets.

There were stronger warriors in the Royal Guard and there were unicorns better at battle magic, but none could match Shining Armor's skill with shields. He barreled into a mass of changelings blocking a doorway, and with only a brief thought, the bubble expanded dramatically to blast them away. "Go! Head for the guards barracks!" Shining yelled to the group of ponies who had holed up inside, who quickly began piling out of the house

The town guard was not cut out for this kind of attack, but they were holding a safe zone where the town was evacuating its citizens to. By sheer dumb luck, another unicorn with a special gift for magic had been passing through town. Last Shining Armor had seen of her, she had been unleashing massive magical blasts on the changelings while the guard evacuated the locals. Shining Armor didn't know who this 'Trixie' pony was, but she was going to be getting an invite from the Royal Guard if he had anything to say about it..

With the ponies now in retreat, Shining Armor pressed towards the town square. Twilight was probably heading there herself, and Cadence was going to need every bit of help she could get. Once I get to the middle of the town, maybe I can replicate my City Barrier. It wasn't going to be an easy spell to cast, and he was only going to get one shot at making it work against the Changelings. Gonna need Cady's help to do that again.

Of course, that wouldn't save everypony, but it was all he could hope to do right now. The rest, they'd simply have to rescue once the town was secure and Celestia could be contacted directly. Shining armor turned a corner into the market square to find a truly remarkable sight.

The changelings were packed twenty deep, and surrounding a little alcove in between three big stone buildings. Packed into the alcove, the shoppers and merchants who had been in the square were hiding. Protecting them were a patchwork of inexpertly crafted shields by a wide variety of pegasus ponies, and three other figures,

Two earth ponies and a zebra of all things stood against the Changeling horde. That has to be Zecora. Shining Armor had heard of the zebra shaman, and her powers over strange forces and spirits. The other two ponies were none other than Applejack and her brother Big Mac, and Shining Armor quickly learned how he had earned that name.

The Changelings surged forward on the attack - no few of them suddenly going flying into the sky by well-placed apple-bucking on the part of Applejack, who was holding the left. On the left Zecora seemed to dodge a pair of changeling energy blasts - only to somehow grasp the blasts in her hooves and hurl them back at her foes.

That was astonishing enough, but In the middle Big Mac was holding a massive log of wood in both hooves. He swung the huge piece of timber like it was nothing more than a stick, and half a dozen changelings were crushed under its weight. A moment later, he turned and swept the log at the attackers, batting a dozen of them into the stalls and buildings in the market square.

By Celestia, is everypony in this town crazy!? Crazy or not, they were still badly outnumbered. Shining armor gritted his teeth and charged towers them. His shield morphed from a perfect sphere into a dozen foot wide strips of energy. He leapt into the changeling horde from behind, startling them with a piercing cry "For the Guard, and EQUESTRIA!" as he sliced and smashed his shields into the unprepared changelings.

He could only hope he would reach Cadence in time.


The Great and Powerful Trixie was feeling quite bushed. She slumped down onto a stump to wipe the sweat from her forehead and admire her handiwork in the form of a swarm of defeated changelings. It had not precisely been elegant work, but Trixie was not being paid to be elegant today. All around her, hastily armed and armored guards ponies were engaging in hoof-to-hoof combat with the Changelings as a steady stream of refugees galloped down the road.

To Trixie's surprise, no few of them had stopped to grasp her hoof and weep their thanks to her before continuing down the road. Some had promised rewards when this was all over, which Trixie would be very thankful for given the lean state of her pocketbook. Not that she'd tell them that.

A grizzled and scarred pony marched up to her - She recognized him as the local commander of the guard, a former Royal Guardsman who'd come to Ponyville for a quiet retirement. "Miz Trixie. I Wan'ta thanks you for yer help." He had not been nearly so polite the last time they had met, following the little incident with the Alicorn Amulet. Still, praise was praise and Trixie blossomed under it like nopony else.

"The Great and...Humble Trixie thanks you for your compliment." In the months since that debacle, Trixie had decided that perhaps a little politeness really could go a long way. Though only a little bit, she was not about to turn into Twilight Sparkle. "Trixie wishes to know where the battle might still be joined?" Great and Powerful or not, she had no hope of outrunning a changeling swarm like this. The only way to survive was to fight back.

The Guard Commander raised an eyebrow over his only remaining eye, and nodded in what Trixie was sure was grudging approval. "There's pocket's o' resistance all over tha' city." A Guardpony quickly trotted up and saluted the commander, who gestured at him. "Reports indicate that there's fightin' goin' on in the town square, by tha market and over by Sugarcube corner. We also got reports of some kinda fightin' retreat goin on down Lavender street. Big group o' foals and civvies being guarded by a buncha animal’s if'n you can believe it." The commander grabbed the scroll from his subordinate and quickly tore open the seal, running his eyes down it. "Looks like they're bogged down around the Carousel Boutique. Tha's the biggest group if'n yer still feelin' like a hero."

Trixie was most definitely not feeling like a hero at that moment. Trixie felt like taking a nap, perhaps followed by a nice hot bath and a cup of tea. Trixie was not going to get what she felt like sadly. "Trixie will go to them at once." A quick burst of power snatched up her trademark hat and laid it upon her head gently. "No changeling shall stand before the might of the Great and Powerful Trixie!"

Tossing back her mane in a suitably heroic fashion, she galloped off towards the indicated street uncaring of the bemused looks of the other guards ponies. The commander shook his head and smiled a little, showing the number of teeth he'd lost over the years fighting every dark creature imaginable. His voice rumbled over the din of the battle to every guard around. "She may be a pain in the flank, but I don' want any stallion or mare here suggestin' that girl ain't got courage."


Rarity liked to brag to her friends sometimes that she had seen practically everything. When one works in fashion, one gets to see ponies often at their most vulnerable. Sometimes, those lead to some very interesting situations. Oftentimes, it leads to learning things about other ponies nopony would ever expect.

Today, Rarity was prepared to admit she'd never seen anything quite like this before. When the attack had come, she'd bundled Sweetie Belle into her vault where she kept her gems and high-priced materials. Secure in the knowledge that her little sister would survive the attack, Rarity had decided she would go down like a lady ought to. With style, sophistication and most importantly courage in the face of adversity.

To her shock, Her boutique had only experienced flyby attacks at first. Shattering windows and scorching her lovely paint job on the outside of the shop. It had not been until she'd spotted the convoy of ponies battling wave upon wave of changeling's down the street that any serious attack had come against her. She had fought what few attackers she could, but she was no Twilight Sparkle. And then, a hero appeared.

Rarity would never forget how the tiny white whirling dervish had crashed through her front window like something from an action film. The creature hurled itself at the changelings surrounding Rarity and had proceeded to bite, punch, kick and ravage the chitin creatures with impossible ferocity. Rarity wisely took cover as the changelings tried to land so much as a single blow on the white whirlwind, but to no avail.

When the noise had finally stopped Rarity poked her head out from behind a desk, just in time for her jaw to drop at the sight before her. A small white bunny rabbit with a bright red bandana wrapped around its forehead stomped in the head of one last changeling and then gave a piercing whistle towards her door.

Her shop had then been invaded by a veritable swarm of little fillies and colts, being herded by Cheerilee and Bon Bon. Rarity had only enough time to trot out from behind cover before Sweetie Belle came running out of her back room to hug her closest friends. The three of them were still sitting together on the floor when a hulking black bear walked into the room and stole away all of Rarity's attention. "Darling!" Rarity shrieked as a pale yellow form was gently laid on her fainting couch.

Fluttershy had been hurt - there was a roughly wrapped bandage around her forehead that was still trickling blood. Rarity immediately seized her very best white linen cloth and began to re-wrap the bandages. The wound was not bad, but she had clearly been knocked completely unconscious. She would need a doctor, but not immediately.

Behind her, Angel Bunny was already marching back outside, followed by a pair of hulking brown bears who had carried in Fluttershy. Rarity stared for a moment at the animals, and quickly rushed over to her window. There she saw the sight she would have to admit, she'd never seen before.

A small army of woodland creatures were battling the changelings blow for blow. Bears, badgers and even a Manticore of all things were holding the line against the attack. All around them swarmed squirrels, eagles, hawks and dozens of other animals bit and clawed at the flanks, driving back any attempts to surround the bigger creatures.

Angel Bunny was a force of nature. Where he walked, Changelings fell. He moved so fast, it was hard to trace him with the naked eye. A Pegasus could have, but no other kind of pony. Despite all of the carnage, Rarity knew it was not a battle they could win. Hold off for a time, but the changelings seemed endless.

Behind her, Cheerilee was soothing her class of foals and Bon Bon was giving a little hard sweet to a blonde unicorn filly that sucked on it happily. Rarity shook her head a little bit, eyeballing the crowd. It would be a tight fit but..."Girls, I have a secure room in the back of my shop. It is not large - but it will hold the children and yourselves. The door is solid griffon steel, and should keep you safe until help arrives." Rarity forced back the lump in her throat. The children would be safe. That was what mattered.

Cheerilee stared at her for a moment, She started to talk before Bon Bon touched her shoulder. "C'mon Miss Cheerilee. Rarity knows what she's doing. Come on kids, we've got a safe place to hide." The kids started shuffling towards the back room, with Sweetie Belle stopping and turning to look at her big sister.

Rarity had sat down next to Fluttershy and was checking her temperature with the back of her hoof. "Sweetie, Darling...Go. I'll be fine. I can’t leave Fluttershy out here alone." She shook her head and floated over a basin of water and a cloth. Sweetie still hadn't moved, and neither had either of her filly friends. "I said go, Sweetie Belle." Rarity's voice came far more firmly, her eyes fixed on her little sister in a stern glare. "I can handle a few uncouth ruffians."

The crusaders looked at one another for a brief moment before quickly trotting into the back room with the rest of the class. They'll be fine...and there's the door lock. Good, Cheerilee and Bon Bon would make certain the door stayed closed until help came. Rarity squeezed the excess water out of the cloth and mopped away the dried blood from Fluttershy's forehead. She stood up after a moment and glared at her window.

Rarity would not allow these brutes to get away with this. She began to march her way towards the door, head held high. A touch of magic threw open her front door and she carefully brushed her mane back with a hoof. Her windows were ruined, her shop was in tatters, and her best friend was in jeopardy. Grace. Style. Courage.

Rarity stepped onto her front porch with every bit of dignitas as a canterlot noble. She raised her hoof and laid it delicately on her railing and regarded the changeling swarm with disdain. Her horn lit up as brightly as she could as she summoned every ounce of her magical power. It was not much - but Rarity knew how to make the most of what little she had. If it's going to be your last stand darling, give them a show they won’t soon forget!

Suddenly, Ponyquins came flying out of her windows and careened into the swarm - smashing bugs left and right as pony-shaped dolls launched from the boutique like missiles. Right behind them were a swarm of razor sharp needles, scissors and fabric knives. The changeling force stopped in its tracks, many of them staring in wary fear at the long slender steel needles the filled the air behind Rarity.

The swarm of sharp objects hovered as Rarity spoke. "You are disturbing my work." she calmly spoke to the crowd of Changelings staring at her. "If you do not get off my property this very instant, I shall become extremely cross." Rarity’s voice rang with conviction across the little square in front of her home. "So Leave. Now!"

Silence held for just a moment. The chitin mass milled amongst each other as though contemplating her threat. Rarity's eyes narrowed and a burst of wind gently blew across the ground between them - The animal guard had moved in front of her, Angel bunny having taken a place on the railing next to her hoof and glaring menacingly. The Swarm began to surge forward and Rarity tsked. "Such manners. You all need to be taught a lesson."

A moment later, the lesson arrived.

Rarity stared wide eyed as a bolt of bright blue magic streaked from somewhere down the street. Hitting the ground in the center of the swarm and detonating beneath them - Sparks of bright blue magic flew off the blast of energy and set off a series of smaller detonations all throughout the crowd. A second bolt followed a moment later, striking one of the foremost changelings and turning into a blast of wind and ice that left the ground covered in a thin white frost and hurled back another massive section of the enemy.

Rarity whipped her head around, fully expecting to see Twilight Sparkle charging to her rescue. What she did not expect was the appearance of The Great and Powerful Trixie...who had apparently learned a few new tricks since last time they'd met.

Trixie did not waste time with declarations of greatness or boasting. Her horn flashed again as she charged down the street, rapid firing unicorn energy blasts into the stunned crowd of changelings. Well now! Certainly cannot let her get all the glory! Rarity huffed out and dramatically whipped out her hoof towards the Changelings "Have At Thee!" A moment later a massive barrage of sharp steel flew at her foes.

Angel Bunny let out a battle cry that Rarity would later describe as 'Cute, but terrifying' and the animal guard force launched themselves back at the enemy. Faced with overwhelming assault on three fronts the changeling swarm broke completely. The black creatures scattered before blasts of magical power, flying steel needles and a pissed off bunny rabbit.

The battle lasted only a few moments more, until finally the street in front of Carousel Boutique had been cleared of whatever changelings still lived. Rarity sighed dramatically at the scene of her beautiful Ponyquins lying battered and bruised amidst the wreckage. It would take forever to get them fixed too.

Trixie slowly picked her way cross the pile of the unconscious and the dead, looking incredibly weary. Rarity quickly dragged her spare couch onto the porch. Trixie half collapsed upon it a moment later, only to be nudged up fully with the aid of Rarity and one of the bears.

Trixie cracked open an eye and smiled fiercely at Rarity. "Trixie feels compelled to tell you that they will be back soon, and in greater numbers." Trixie then took a deep breath and gave a rough laugh. "Trixie is also compelled to inform you that she is currently the Greatly Pooped Trixie, and will not be worth much in another fray."

Rarity shook her head. "You've done more than enough dear." She sighed again, leaning against the couch. "I fear we'll need something of a miracle at this rate. Where in Equestria did all these changelings come from? Chrysalis certainly has not had the time to rebuild her hive to this strength."

Trixie shook her head jerkily, licking at her dry lips. "Different hive. Trixie has heard rumors about another hive being absorbed by the bug queen. She likely does not care about the casualties - they are not her children. Trixie was coming to warn Twilight Sparkle about these events," Trixie sighed dramatically "and now Trixie is going to be forced to await her purple flank to come and save us. Truly, the great and humble Trixie is cursed to live forever in that silly filly's debt."

Rarity stifled a laugh. Twilight...get here quickly. her thoughts turned grim, if humorous. Else I'll have to share my last moments with Trixie, and that just will not do.


The door to the golden oaks library swung open in silence. Arrayed before the library were ranks of hooded and cloaked ponies, seemingly oblivious to the chaos of the town around them. A single purple hoof set foot outside of the library and then another, slowly pacing towards them.

Time felt like it slowed to a crawl around them.

Twilight Sparkle looked around her at the two dozen or so ponies that stood as though waiting for something.. To her right one of the other ponies laid a bundle of black cloth at her hooves and quickly backed away from her, falling back into the ranks. Silence fell upon the strange group, and a calm but familiar voice gently spoke.

"They will call you damned." The voice began, as a gentle lavender magic plucked the bundle from the ground. "They will call you cursed." It was a strange thing, being dressed like this. The cloak gently tucked round her throat and was pinned together by a little metal disc that Twilight was sure bore her cutie mark. "They will call you a betrayer." Twilight felt the soft wool of the cloak settle against her coat, and the black woolen hood gently tugged over her head.

It obscured her mane and her face from easy view, but did not impede her sight. Useful. "But you are none of these things." Lilith slowly stepped into view, wearing her own cloak and hood drawn over her face. Her voice was soft, but it rang with pride and love. Twilight had heard a voice like that only from her Teacher before.

She doubted Celestia would ever speak to her in such a way again. Lilith continued as though she did not notice Twilight's thoughts. "For you know the truth, Mistress." The other unicorn was now very close. She leaned in and kissed Twilight's cheek gently. "You will never be alone, Mistress." she whispered, in words meant only for Twilight. "I swear it."

She stepped back a moment later. Her voice grew in volume, now meant for all the ponies there. "Let no force bar her way down the True Path. Let her throw off the chains of Harmony that may she know Freedom. Speak your new name, that all the faithful might know it."

Twilight took in a deep breath, closing her eyes. Forgive me. She did not know who to ask for forgiveness. Perhaps it did not matter. "I am Hecate." The words seemed to hang in the still air, as power began to erupt through her body. For the first time, she did not fight it. She let it come and fill her up from within. A wild warm power took hold of her magic and shaped it in front of her eyes.

Twilight's eyes filled with luminescent green energy and shadowy power slowly began to seep from the corners of her eyes. She could feel the strength inside of her, strength far beyond ordinary magic. All around her the other cloaked ponies sank to the ground on their knees and hooves, bowing towards her. Twilight took no notice of them for now. She was too busy seeing the world in a whole new way.

All around her, streams of power in every color of the rainbow ran. Under the ground, inside the walls and around the walls of the buildings all around her. Her tree was practically glowing with hundreds of little magical streams. Each one was different, each one represented an emotion. Love, anger, sorrow, hope, determination. And deep under the earth, Black and white streams of power pushed and pulled at one another - ever in conflict, yet always working together to keep the world moving.

It was glorious. At last, Twilight could understand. Harmony and Dissonance existed to oppose one another, but without either the world would fall to ruin. Both were needed to have a healthy world, and Dissonance was so clearly being overwhelmed by the Harmony beneath her hooves. So. That's why I'm connecting so strongly with it. Clover's Second Law of Power - For every Magical Force, there is an equal but opposite reaction to that force. It's simply choosing to express itself through me.

What was even more astonishing was that she could not just touch the Dissonance - but she could still touch the Harmony too. Would that change? Or is there more to this power than Celestia was willing to admit? Twilight's thoughts went back to that moment before the Crystal Empire - Celestia had to have summoned Dissonance that day. Nothing else made sense. So. It seems my Teacher has a lot of questions to answer.

She would answer them later. Twilight held her head high up for a moment. There was no turning back now. She could not kill Lilith. That had been more than enough to tell Twilight what she must do. I will not kill those who are innocent of the crime of thinking for themselves. The price of her morals would be high, she did not doubt for a moment. Yet Twilight could face herself in the mirror now, and say with conviction I did the right thing.

Twilight's attention came back to the present, the power still pulsing through her. Not more than a few moments seemed to have passed as a voice gently sang through her ears. It was full of thunderous power, but there was also a kindness in it.

Through Truth, I gain Courage.

Through Courage, I Gain Victory.

Words came unbidden from her lips. "Through Victory, My chains are Broken." It made sense of course. Twilight had been living in a cage her entire life. A beautiful cage, one of golden bars and velvet pillows, yet it had been a cage none the less. She could no longer be caged now.

She would finally know the truth, no matter what it might cost her. Shiny. Cadence. Luna. My friends. a lump caught in her throat, and she closed her eyes again Celestia. Freedom had a price, like all things that were truly important in the world. Twilight only hoped the price she would pay would not be too great.

Magic will make me Free.

Vast power whipped out around her for another moment and settled upon her shoulders. Twilight took a deep breath and looked around her with fresh new eyes. Lilith was kneeling before her again in that odd position. Twilight made a mental note to ask her about it later, but this was not the time. She looked good on her knees, but that was also not appropriate right now.

Twilight spoke in a calm and commanding tone, "Acolyte Lilith." And It no longer felt odd or wrong to call her that. She was her Acolyte, and that was all that mattered for now. "Rally the faithful. Make sure all the citizens of Ponyville are made safe with all speed. I'm going to deal with this changeling infestation personally."

Twilight walked past her, confident her orders would be carried out to the letter. She grabbed the power of dissonance with both hooves and pulled it into herself. Her eyes igniting with green fire and black shadow. These bugs are going to find out how good they had it with the Twilight I was before.

Behind her, Lilith quietly sat in her kneeling position. She could not speak or stand for a few moments, so powerful had the flood of magic been into her body. This was going to become a very awkward, if enjoyable relationship if her new Mistress kept letting so much magic loose around her. Yet she smiled as she breathed out deeply, and spoke quietly.

"As you command, Mistress Hecate. We are yours."

Chapter 9 - The Princes

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Queen Chrysalis stared in disbelief at a messenger drone. "A...Bunny rabbit." She repeated, still somewhat dumbfounded. "A rabbit defeated an entire squad of Stalker warriors. And there's only one survivor. You must be joking." The messenger drone flinched away from the stunned gaze of his monarch, trying to get out of her line of sight before she inevitably went volcanic. "You're not." Chrysalis could not help herself. She facehoofed, dragging it down her face slowly and then sighing "Send him to the nurses. I will deal with him later."

The messenger drone was gone in a heartbeat and Chrysalis ground her teeth. This attack had been going so well at first, they had even captured a fair number of ponies for harvest - more than enough for her to call this a successful raid. Then the reports of resistance had started coming in - vast swaths of her new hive children were being defeated in detail by small pockets of ponies that had no reason to be so dangerous. The local guard had proven surprisingly resilient and there was still no sign of Twilight Sparkle.

Chrysalis gestured to another messenger drone, who quickly buzzed up to prostrate himself before her. "Get word out to every warrior swarm. I want an organized retreat in all directions. Scatter, and return to the primary hive. Use the reserves to provide air cover and forget about our secondary objectives." The messenger was gone a moment later. I will not lose a second hive to this madness. Casualties are going to be bad enough. Not that that would matter. She'd gotten more than enough profit out of this little adventure to make up for the losses. And blooding her new warrior broods would prove useful in future conflicts.

Still, she would not retreat from the field without one more attempt at her goals. She glared across her command pavilion towards one of the nearby specialist warriors. It only took a moment of thought to call him over to her, and he presented himself with a lethal bearing.

He was slim and sleeker than the average changeling - with more pronounced wings and a larger horn. The wicked sharp spikes on the end of his hooves signaled him as one of her Stalker warriors, her infiltration experts. I was wise to keep them out of Canterlot. The debacle had cost her countless minor drones, but she had retained most of her skilled warriors.

She had counted on surprise in that attack - now, she would have skill as well. "Stalker, your name." Chrysalis commanded imperiously - she'd found that while the hive mind was useful for general orders over the short range and disseminating information throughout the mind link, speech was still preferable when it came to highly specific orders.

The sleek warrior spoke in the humming accents of their race. "I am called Silence, Dread Queen." The dread queen thing was new, but Chrysalis liked it. She was certain Sombra had been responsible for it, the flatterer. She smiled toothily at him - she would not leave this town without one final bite at her desired prize.

Chrysalis spoke quickly - orders were going to be going out any moment, and the confusion would be the best time to strike. "You are to take three full squadrons of your finest and go secure Yellow Objective. Reports from the hive tell me she was seen with White Objective at the fashion shop. They may have additional magical assistance, so wear your armor. "

Chrysalis paused for a moment to let him absorb that, and then hissed in anger. "They, and any other ponies that are with them are to be taken Alive Silence. Especially that group of foals with them. Bring them all to the Hive, or you are not to return. Am I clear?" The Stalker bowed his head in obedience and quickly flitted off across the ground, his mind singing with orders to his hive brothers.

Chrysalis felt a quiet confidence in her world, turning to deliver orders to her Royal Guard. It was time to go back to the Haven. You'll just have to wait, Cadence my dear. We'll have our little reunion soon enough.


Twilight Sparkle walked down the street slowly. She had always been familiar with the ponyville streets, or as familiar as anypony could be without also being Pinkie Pie. Yet now, she knew she would never get lost here again. Energy flowed along every surface and down every street. It was child's play to tap into them and learn where they were going and why.

Twilight's magic tugged at the top of her hood, pulling it a little further over her face as she walked with a lack of concern about urgency. She knew where she was going, and all indications told her she would get there in time. Twilight quietly turned the corner into the market square to see the meleè still in full swing around a cluster of tightly grouped ponies.

Even from here, Twilight could sense the rank fear coming off nearly all of them - save for the four brave defenders who stood at the front. Shiny was there, and he had been hurt - a gash across his right cheek that would likely turn into a fetching scar if Cadence decided to let him keep it. Good. I'd rather face my brother first than anypony else.

Unfortunately, she then noted the other defenders - and one of them was Applejack, who looked considerably tired and roughed up but otherwise unharmed. My friend...Don't worry. Twilight felt Dissonance practically coursing through her veins as she crossed the square, strength flowing into her horn. Through Passion, I gain Power.

The changelings took no notice of her until she was almost half way across the square. Some of the warriors at the back turned and screeched at her. Twilight's eyes closed for a moment then shot open - lit with green flame and pulsating shadows as a dozen warriors flung themselves at her. They never came close.

Twilight's horn lit up with blinding magic - her normal clear lavender aura now a pulsating opaque purple. With but a thought, power swept out from her horn - projecting a wide blade of energy that swept through the swarm. Her attackers were obliterated in mid leap, not even having time to look surprised.

A swath of the swarm was cut down with another blade of energy, as though Twilight was harvesting wheat. Hmm, I think I can do two of these. Twilight thought, anger pulsating in her veins as she drew from the new strength that coursed through her. Sure enough her horn flashed again and two green energy blades swept out in front of her, scything down another chunk of the warrior mass.

It was at this point her foes began to realize just how much trouble they were in. The warrior drones began to break in their coherency, even as Twilight continued to cut them down by the dozens. Moments later, the swarm disintegrated and started trying to escape in all different directions. I Think not. Twilight growled in her mind - her horn flashing into life as she modified an old energy blast spell on the fly.

A moment later, she lifted her hooded head up high and a single thick energy blast flew into the air above her head - then quickly split into dozens more which flew unerringly at the fleeing swarm. She had not even noticed the stares of the other ponies as she fired several more such blasts off until there were no more of the damn bugs to bother her.

Humph. There. Twilight nodded her head in decisive satisfaction. They'll spread the word. That ought to teach them. It was a cheering thought, though she knew there was plenty more work to do. I'll have to find some way to make it known that this town is off limits to any nasty out there who thinks he can get an easy meal-ticket..

Her thought process came to a grinding halt as she realized how silent everything was. A rough male voice growled from behind her. "I don't know what the buck you're trying to pull, Sorcerer. But you're not going to hurt any of these ponies." That was Shiny. He sounded tired, but there was no trace of weakness in his voice. No telling either how long he had been fighting for either.

A second voice joined his a moment later, a drawling accent that cut across the quiet ground. "Ya'll might think we're some kinda' easy prey fer you, Cultist - but ah think you better think twice." A grunt and the solid thud of a massive wooden log thunking into the ground was all Big Mac had to say on the matter himself.

Twilight turned around slowly in place - wondering what she must have looked like to those ponies standing there. A dark creature who had waded into a crowd of foes and bisected them en-masse without so much as blinking. She knew she had been unnaturally calm as she stalked through the changeling swarm - Dispatching them like she would have cut down grass. They will think I'm a monster. Twilight thought in sadness. But I won’t hide, not from Applejack. She more than anypony deserves my honesty.

Twilight slowly turned fully to face the determined gazes of three ponies - and one zebra - she had so long called friend. All four of them stared at her for a moment as she slowly walked back towards them, a little touch of magic pushing her hood back a little more. Maybe it was the power nudging her along but Twilight tried putting on a brave smile. "Now what gave you all the silly idea that I was here to hurt you?" It fell just a bit flat, but it snapped them out of their shock.

Applejack was the first one over, followed by Shining Armor. Mac seemed to be busy reassuring the ponies behind him, and Zecora was just watching her in an eerie sort of silence. Twilight's eyes went to the ground as two ponies she least wished to disappoint were now staring at her, seemingly groping for words. Like a big splinter, Twilight. Pull it out fast, so it won’t hurt for as long.

With nothing else for it, Twilight took a deep breath and was about to speak when Applejack gently placed her hoof over her mouth. Twilight stared wildly at her for a moment, a surge of anger going through her for a moment. Applejack just shook her head and wrapped one hoof around her neck, squeezing her once in a tight hug. She pushed twilight gently away to give her a searching look eyeball to eyeball. "Tell me the truth, Twilight. Ah can handle it. This recent?"

Twilight bit back a tirade of words and nodded once. Applejack nodded her head slowly. "And Ah suppose this weren't for nothin silly or small." Twilight nodded again, fighting back tears for the third time that day. Applejack turned her head a little. "And That ya' didn' have much other choice." Twilight nodded one last time, and Applejack blew out a sigh, glaring off into the distance.

"Bucking Tartarus." Applejack spat. Twilight stared at her for a moment before Applejack sighed again, slowly speaking. "You do what you gotta do, Twi. I'm gonna take care 'a these here ponies." She reached over and fiercely hugged Twilight one more time, whispering into her ear. "Ain't no darkness you can’t walk back from, Sugarcube. Don't you forget it."

Applejack patted her once and then trotted wearily off to the big group of ponies now quickly heading towards the guards barracks. Twilight stood there in the abandoned market square now, Shining Armor standing silent sentinel. He had done nothing or said nothing for the entire exchange, waiting till all of the ponies were gone.

Twilight pulled her hood back up over her head, channeling every bit of sorrow, rage and fear into the pit of her stomach - turning it into power. If nothing else, Dissonance was lovely for turning all of her emotions into pure magical force. Her voice came out a whisper. "You promised you'd never give up on me, Big Brother. Did you mean that?"

Shining Armor said nothing for a little while. A few silent seconds passed by, before a soft voice spoke - and Twilight felt a familiar strong hoof on her shoulder. "Course I did, Twily." It was a shaky voice at first and then quickly firmed up. "I still want to know one thing. Why?"

Why. Now wasn't that the question of the day. Twilight had been thinking about why for the past three hours, trying to figure out exactly when she'd decided to betray everything she'd known before. In the end of course, the answer was pretty simple. "I wanted answers, Shiny. I was tired of being a pawn in a game I didn't even know was being played." She hung her head. "I was tired of being lied to at every turn about the world I lived in." She looked up one last time, and felt her voice firm. "I finally found out what kind of cage I'd been stuck in my entire life Shiny, and I did not like it one bit."

Shining Armor just watched her for a moment, his hoof slipping around her shoulder, gently hugging her against him.


Shining Armor cursed Celestia. He cursed Luna. He cursed himself.

They had been blind, all of them. Telling themselves that the excessively brilliant young unicorn would not one day become smart enough to realize she hadn't been told everything. Cadence had seen this coming, and all of them had dismissed the danger. She was too young. She was recovering from this or that disaster. The stress would be too much for her. She wasn't mature enough. All of it excuses, Shining Armor could now see.

Now, some unknown pony with a name out of ancient mythology had told her everything they had not had the courage to. Was it any wonder Twilight had gone down the dark path? Shining Armor could hardly blame her. Find out you've been trained your whole life as a weapon to kill ponies who believe in something we think is evil. What the buck did Celestia think she would do when she finally found out?

Twilight was not merely intelligent - she was curious, canny and clever. She'd spent the last three years learning that even the most evil of creatures could be redeemed. She had been steeped in all of the good-will of the Harmony belief system, the books that were practically sodden in tales of the goodness in all ponies. Tripe, all of it of course. That did not mean that was not what she had believed at the very core of her soul.

"We need to move, Shiny. Rarity and Fluttershy are in danger." Twilight's voice startled him out of his thoughts and he quickly trotted to catch up to her - She had not even asked if they should go. She was not moving quickly - but she was taking an absurd number of turns and twists. "I'm going to need you to get them to the safe zone, big brother. I'm going to track down whatever changeling is responsible for this and deal with this once and for all." Her voice was as hard as granite. That was a tone that had no right coming out of his little Twily.

Shining Armor steeled his soul and started speaking. "Twily, That won’t fix anything." Twilight just glared at him as they crossed a main drag, past a pair of smoldering buildings. "Twilight, Listen to me." Shining Armor grasped his little sister's black cloak, wondering where the hay she'd gotten the damn thing. Twilight whirled on him with eyes that were filled with solid green energy, flames and trails of shadow energy were pulsating off her eyes and even her hooves for pities sake. By Harmony, that's strong Dissonance. How in the hay did she get that strong, that fast?

Now was not the time for that, Shining Armor held his ground - he'd gone head to head with shadow sorcerers before, and none of them had been his little sister. "Twilight Sparkle, you will listen to me or so help me I'm going to root us to this spot until Cadence gets here." His voice was half growl - half threat.

Twilight stared at him for a moment before the power slowly drained out of her eyes and she looked...sad. Damnit, keep it together, Shining Flankhead! "Listen to me, Twily. Right now, the most important thing is to make sure everpony is safe. Look."

Shining Armor pulled Twilight around to look right into her eyes. He was not going to be afraid of her. That would only lead to even worse things happening. "I promise you, no matter what happens, I'm not going to abandon you. I don't give a buck if Celestia herself told me to." He reached down to grab her hoof, pulling it up to squeeze. "Best Friends Forever, Twily. Emphasis on Forever."

Twilight's eyes widened for a moment then closed, and she leaned her forehead against his. "Thank you, big brother." she whispered softly, and Shining Armor just squeezed her hoof back. I'll follow you into Tartarus itself if I have to, Twilight. So I can be there when you need me to pull you back out again.


Twilight wanted to cry. It would probably have been good for her to cry. Right now though, she could not cry. Big brother, best friend forever. The new part of her, the one that saw the world in a whole new light knew what a powerful force was currently nuzzling his horn against hers.

One did not become Captain of the Royal Guard for collecting bottle caps. More than that, Shining Armor was dedicated to her without the need for power plays or foalish displays of strength. Let's not forget he's one fine looking stallion. Twilight mercilessly squished that thought. No, now.

She took a deep breath and exhaled it softly. "Come on, Shiny." She managed a bright smile, projecting as much confidence as she could. "Let's go play hero." She turned and quickly galloped down another side alley, her brother in close pursuit. They ducked out into the main road - where Twilight found a familiar looking face.

"Mr. Somber!" She exclaimed, the scholarly pony looked no worse for wear, but he was a bit frazzled. He blinked and smiled brightly at her. "What in Equestria are you doing hanging around here? You should be heading for the safe zone!" Twilight admonished, long having forgotten his position as a supposed senior researcher. Shining Armor was glaring at him a little bit - but Twilight figured he was just annoyed. Carousel Boutique was just down the street too.

The older stallion shook his head and smiled bemusedly. "I've been dodging changeling swarms all over town, Miss Twilight. It was not till I got over here that I found this area seemingly clear of threats." He nodded towards the boutique. "There appears to have been quite the to-do in front of that shop over there. It seemed like a safe enough place to go."

Twilight sighed dramatically. This, she did not need. "Very well, Come on sir - We'll evacuate you once we've gotten our friends to safety." She quickly galloped down the road, while Shining armor fell into step with the scholarly pony - not looking directly at him for the moment.

True to his word, the streets in front of the Carousel Boutique were a battleground, and heaps of changeling corpses were scattered all over the place - the front windows of the boutique had been boarded up from the outside. Sitting on the front porch railing was a tiny white animal, who appeared to be glaring out up and down the street.

Twilight blinked at the sight of Angel Bunny keeping watch, suddenly thrilled with a thought Fluttershy must be here too! That was good news. Twilight had not been looking forward to marching into the Everfree Forest against a changeling army, new powers or no. Angel bunny turned to regard her and Shining Armor with narrow eyes, but he nodded and jerked his head over his shoulder.

The three ponies quickly entered the boutique, confronted by a very strange scene. Woodland animals - most of whom Twilight recognized as Fluttershy's many friends - were sitting around the cleared out floor space of the shop, interspersed with playful young fillies and colts.

Miss Cheerilee stood watch over her students and the other children of the town, and Bon Bon appeared to have taken over as her assistant. Near one end of the shop, Rarity was quietly talking to a powder blue unicorn, and keeping watch over an apparently sleeping Fluttershy.

Twilight felt her jaw slowly dropped as she caught sight of the unmistakable star-spangled cape and wizard’s hat hanging nearby. So stunned was she, that she stood in the doorway for a full few minutes, even as her brother trotted through the crowd in the shop to Rarity. Somber Gaze just stood next to her, looking amused.

Rarity looked up at Shining Armor and gasped, then threw her hooves around his neck in a welcoming hug. He was giving her one back when the other Unicorn raised a hoof. Twilight could hear the conversation clearly now, even over the din.

Shining Armor spoke first, his tone calm. "I take it you must be the one named Trixie the guards were telling me about. I have to say, I'm impressed. Not many unicorns can go toe to toe with changeling warrior swarms and come out on top. You ever thought about taking a contract with the Guard? We could use a pony like you." Rarity was choking on something. probably her own laughter - And Twilight forced herself to cross the room. She just had to see how Trixie was going to take that bit of news from her brother.

For her part, Trixie looked absolutely exhausted - yet her eyes seemed to light up from within with some kind of fire. "The Great and Powerful Trixie is quite intrigued by your offer, Sir Knight. Perhaps we'll have time to discuss it in more detail later. For now, Trixie is a bit too tired to be doing any more fighting. Trixie does not suppose you are here to get us out of here?"

Trixie's eyes scanned over to the black cloaked Twilight, and her eyes widened just a fraction - and then she sighed, throwing her hoof over her eyes and falling back onto a throw cushion. "Alas! And here Trixie had almost hoped she would not have to owe yet another debt to Twilight Sparkle! Truly, Trixie is the most cursed of all poor showmares."

Twilight rolled her eyes - still, if Trixie had been fighting to protect the citizens of Ponyville...If even someone like her can redeem her past, Twilight - maybe there'll be hope for you too. It was an encouraging thought. Rarity smiled at Twilight with no small amount of relief, and then glanced over at Fluttershy in apparent concern.

Twilight trotted up close to look at Fluttershy, only now noticing the tight white bandages over her head. Rarity spoke quietly, even as Trixie went into full on drama queen mode. Twilight tuned her out to listen to Rarity. "It's a minor concussion I think, Twilight dear. Trying to wake her up would not be wise, but she ought to be fine until we can get her some attention." Rarity looked up into Twilight's black cloak - Her gentle eyes were searching and soulful.

Twilight started to open her mouth again, and found she could not say a word. Rarity squeezed Twilight's hoof gently and smiled softly. "It's alright, Darling." She reached up with a gentle wave of magic to tug the hood a little farther over Twilight's face. "I expect we'll all have a lot to discuss once this dreadful mess is over."

Twilight nodded, and turned back to the doorway - Somber Gaze was quietly allowing some of the fillies and colts to tug on his suit and ask him all sorts of questions with a little smile. Twilight walked out onto the porch with Angel Bunny, watching the street with stoic resolve.

Twilight and the Bunny both looked at each other for a moment. Something passed between them, some understanding. Angel Bunny had always been a bit on the angry side - but there was a deep love for Fluttershy in him that even Twilight could sense. He nodded to her in respect for the very first time she could imagine, and turned his eyes back to the road. His ears perked up a moment later and he bared his teeth.

Twilight could sense it too, her eyes narrowing down the road. Two. No. Three squadrons. Fifteen changelings each. Larger than normal, some kind of special warrior brood. "Shiny! Get a shield up on the Boutique!" She yelled into the door, slowly stepping off the porch and walking down the street calmly towards them.

Power slowly seeped into her body this time, taking it in slowly. There was so much of it just loose on the ground around her, and her newly expanded mind just gathered it up.Changelings run on Dissonance power. That certainly explains why they are so tied to Love to survive. Twilight felt the strange, alien nature of the power she gathered, then transmuted into magical energy she could use. Her eyes alit with bright green power and she growled in anger.

These things, these bugs. They had come for her friends. Specifically for her friends. They had come to harm the people she loved, likely because she loved them. Anger raged through her heart and into her hooves, shadows slowly starting to sink into the ground around her. Now, there was no one around who could get hurt. Twilight's soul sang with power and she grinned like a wolf. Time to really cut loose.


Inside of the Boutique, Shining Armor quickly projected a pink bubble shield all around the shop - encasing it in steel-hard energy. The boutique windows were boarded up, and the adult ponies inside had herded the children to the center of the room, just in case. Shining Armor stood at one of the windows to gaze out through the slits. A moment later, the pony Twilight had called 'Somber Gaze' stepped up next to him, apparently also quite intrigued.

Shining Armor coughed once and spoke first, feeling that it was perhaps appropriate. "So. Somber. That's a little paper thin, isn't it?" He kept his tone light and conversational - and quiet. There was no reason to cause a fuss in the middle of a room with three dozen foals.

Next to him, he could hear the stallion gently laugh and bow his head. "I suppose so." the other pony mused. "It was my real name once upon a time. Perhaps I too have fallen victim to the daggers of nostalgia." He sounded highly amused for a moment, his tone changing rapidly to thoughtful conversation. "I am glad I have the chance to speak with you directly, Prince Armor. I fear I owe you an apology."

Shining felt his eyebrows shoot up into his mane, turning his head to look incredulously at the other pony. Somber nodded slightly. "Yes, yes. I know that's not precisely my style. This is a special case, however. I was quite out of my mind at the time. I fear I did not treat you with respect upon the field of battle, and I caused your dear wife undue distress." He bowed his head once. "For that, you have my sincerest apologies, Sir Knight."

Shining Armor was flabbergasted. He pressed on anyway. "You were out of your mind? That would imply you are no longer insane." Once again, light and conversational. Somber - Shining Armor quit fooling himself. Sombra was smiling just a little too confidently. He certainly was far more conversational than simply screaming out the word 'Crystals!' all the time.

Sombra nodded once. "Yes. I really ought to thank you. That blast of pure emotional energy you and your wife hit me with was enough to shatter the spell of madness I had been placed under all those centuries ago." He smiled faintly. "An Alicorn placed that spell to seal up my powers and keep me out of the way - and an Alicorn was the one to break the spell. It has a nice symmetry to it, I think."

Shining Armor absorbed that bit of information for a moment before speaking again, keeping his tones carefully neutral. "So, I'm going to guess Twilight's situation is your fault then?" He turned to address the unicorn frankly, eyes narrowed. "Something you told her, perhaps."

Sombra bowed his head with a smile again. "I did not have to say a word to her. I merely gave her a book. She did all the rest on her own." He gestured with a hoof, gently. "Still has it in fact. I'm surprised, I didn't think she'd actually be carrying it with her. Perhaps she has learned more from it than I had realized she would."

Shining Armor mastered his emotions. Steady, Shiny. Starting a fight here, with no cadence to back you up, with one of the most powerful unicorns in all of history would be a very dumb idea. Shining decided to keep the conversation on things he actually could do something about. "What happens to her now?" That was a neutral enough question, and one he wanted the answer to.

Sombra grinned, and for just a moment Shining could see the sharp incisors of his teeth. "She is walking the True Path, much as I once did long ago. When she reaches the end, she will face the same choice I did - To accept her fate, or to deny it. She has more than sufficient power to complete the path if she so chooses." Sombra chuckled richly. "I did it myself, as did my beloved wife. Another thing I should thank you for, I think. Without your actions, I would never have been reunited with her after so long." His eyes regarded the unicorn outside with a wide smile. "She'll make an excellent apprentice, of course."

Shining Armor actually smiled at that one. "And what makes you think she'd willingly learn from you, old man?" It was a petty little barb, but that was the sort of thing these conversations were made of. Sombra didn't seem to mind it either, given the toothy smile on his face.

Sombra's tone was gentle, like he was trying to explain something to a foal. "Who else would she go to? There are no others powerful enough. She will be a sorceress unlike any other before her. When she has fully matured in her power, she will make me look like the merest child. Only I have the pure skill and knowledge to keep her from destroying me before she grows mature enough. You really ought to be thanking me, Prince Armor, as I am not a religious fanatic. My goals are much more...pragmatic." He paused a moment, and Sombra nodded approvingly as Twilight met the stalker bugs in battle, eyes fixed on her technique. "Allow me to ask you a question. From one Prince to another. Do you truly believe my philosophy is evil?"

Shining Armor blinked a bit as Twilight back flipped over one striking enemy only to obliterate two more with a blast from her horn. The question was a difficult one - Shining Armor was a soldier of Harmony. He had been so since he was a young colt. He had fought dissonance cults before, usually as a part of some larger action on behalf of the guard.

Yet often those cults had been involved in crime, murder or other acts which were a danger to the public good. That they had claimed to follow some ancient philosophy was just an excuse to bring the hammer down a little harder. Shining contemplated his sister in her black cloak and hood, as she wielded power he had never seen before.

He'd fought sorcerers too. None of them had done as much as a quarter what Twilight was doing right now. Shining puffed out his cheeks. "I'm afraid I don't know much about your philosophy, sir." He tilted his head up a little. "Frankly, I don't give a buck what you believe in. I only care when what you do hurts somepony else." He frowned a little. "Though I admit, there are likely plenty of other ponies that don't see it the same way."

Sombra laughed again, bowing over one hoof. "Honest at least. A fine trait in a prince. Enough talk for now. It appears your sister has dealt with the threat." He eyeballed outside with some bemusement. "We'll continue our talk again soon."

Shining Armor did notice the lack of Changelings outside and nodded faintly. "You sure about that?" He turned, walking towards the door slowly. Behind him - he heard that rich chuckle again. For a brief moment, he found himself next to the pitch black Shadow King, his eyes blazing with green fire and shadows that engulfed his body. Twilight's eyes had looked similar to his for a short time. Now, Shining Armor knew why.

Suddenly, he was the bookish looking unicorn from earlier, who smiled at Shining guilelessly."I think we're going to have plenty of time to talk in the very near future, Prince Armor." His eyes traveled to the disheveled, but triumphant Twilight Sparkle standing in the middle of the street.

"After all, my soon to be Apprentice will likely insist upon you staying by her side."

Chapter 10 - The Aftermath

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~~~~Several Hours Later~~~~

In the town square, an ad-hoc triage had been set up by Ponyville Hospital. Nurse Redheart directed traffic as the steady stream of slightly shell-shocked Ponyville residents walked back into town to assess the damage. Signs had already been posted that Sure Thing Insurance company would be honoring all policies in the town, and directed claimants to a set of repurposed offices in the town square. Locals who had been injured were being treated by everypony who knew how to wrap a bandage or stitch up a cut.

A large wall had been hastily erected next to town hall, and four local artists were taking descriptions of missing ponies and pasting up their pictures. There had been a lot of panic in the early moments of the attack, and search parties were already being organized amongst the Pegasi as new notices came in.

Cloudkicker stood silent sentinel by the wall of pictures, only speaking to assign members of her weather team to the search effort. She spoke to nopony else, though her eyes were constantly going to the town hall behind her. She always looked worried when she did that, but snapped back to attention when duty called.

Stories were already circulating amongst the townsfolk - Of how Pinkie Pie had rescued dozens of ponies and foals out of the streets with her 'Cupcake-Fu'. Then breaking the changeling swarm against the walls of Sugarcube Corner as though it had been the fortress of Stalliongrad.

How Trixie, once only considered a dangerous nuisance to the town had protected countless refugees with her magical power and illusions. Then when informed that more ponies needed rescuing, had rushed to the aid of yet more of the town's citizens.

Of a certain grey-coated and blonde maned pegasus Mailmare, who single hoofedly fought off swarm after swarm. Hurling bolts of lightning from low flying clouds and receiving many wounds in the process. All in defense of her young daughter.

Yet the two biggest stories concerned two young mares. Each of them had brought pride to the town in the past. Locals already liked to brag about one being the student of the Princess, and how one was a future Wonderbolt. Now though, they would have brand new reasons to feel pride in them.

No one in town could forget the tail end of what was already being called "Ponyville's Stand", As the changeling swarms took to the skies above Ponyville, and many feared they were planning to bombard the safe zone. What would happen next though, would be written into the legends of Equestria forever.

~~~~~Several Hours Earlier~~~~~

High above Ponyville, Rainbow Dash glared out of the window. She was standing in the main office of the local Flight Camp, and already she was covered in a dozen little nicks and cuts where Changeling flying troops had gotten lucky. She didn't quite know what was going on right now - but something big was up.

Cloudkicker joined her at the window, also looking worriedly outside. "Dash? Are they pulling out?" That seemed to be the case- every swarm on the ground was pulling up into the air, abandoning any attacks they were in the midst of and flying up high into the sky - From the ground, Dash could see massive bolts of white energy searing through the scattering changelings, but otherwise not slowing their ascent.

Dash narrowed her eyes a little and shook her head. "Uh uh. Changelings don't give up that easy." She narrowed her eyes, poking her head out of the window cautiously and trying to get an eye on the air currents. It's all wrong for a retreat. Even changelings aren't dumb enough to fly into a thermal towards Canterlot. Where the buck are they going?

It hit her a moment later. They weren't retreating, they were heading for the refugee zone. "Mother Buckers!" Dash growled, stretching her wings out and quickly heading over to the door, then stopping. There's only one thing I could do. Suicide of course, but I am not letting those bucking bugs win. Dash looked around for a spare flight suit - she was going to need the extra aerodynamics to get up to speed fast enough.

Cloudkicker was one step ahead of her - Handing her the royal blue suit of the local instructors...except someone had taken a paint brush to it, making crude lightning bolts along the side. If you looked at it from just the right angle, it would look like a Wonderbolts suit.

Dash looked up in surprise at his weather team second, who smiled kind of tremulously and handed her - no filly fooling - a genuine pair of Wonderbolts flight goggles. Dash wondered where the hay Cloudkicker had gotten them from. Or who. "Go get 'em dashie." She whispered. Cloudkicker knew the odds of surviving in the air out there were pretty much nonexistent.

What the hell. If I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die a Bolt. Spitfire probably wouldn't have found the thought amusing, but Spitfire wasn't there right at that moment. Dash quickly tugged on the flight suit and pulled the goggles over her eyes. There. Now to show em why I'm the best damn flyer in Equestria!

Cloudkicker was crying silently, tears streaming down her face. She grabbed Dash in a rib creaking hug. "You promise me you'll come back, Dash." Dash was confused as hell - Cloudkicker resented her even at the best of times, and not without reason. Dash was a lazy git sometimes, and Cloudkicker was the definition of hard-working pegasus.

Now wasn't the time to think about it. "Hey Hey hey, chill Cloudy." She hated that nickname, and to Dash's surprise it startled a chuckle out of her. "I always come back." Dash cockily arched an eyebrow, striking a pose. Cloudkicker nodded and trotted over to the flight school students, concealing her face from Dash. She comforted the foals amongst them as Dash marched her way over to the door, kicking it open with a back hoof. I'm gonna come back. Cuz I'm the best there is. she silently promised herself, launching out of the doorway and immediately heading straight up into the sky.

Flight schools were all built pretty high to start with. The thinner air made it easier for younger fillies and colts to get into the air, and the longer distance to the ground meant accidents rarely ever were dangerous. Rainbow Dash was going to go even higher than that - as high as she possibly could, batting her wings and focusing all of her pegasus magic behind her.

It only took her thirty seconds to get high enough for her tastes. She took a moment at this height to look down on ponyville. Rarity. AJ. Twi. Fluttershy. Pinkie. I hope you're watching, girls. Dash closed her eyes as she arced gracefully through the air and into a perfect ninety degree dive. One! MORE! TIME! Her wings snapped back into position as she forced every bit of her magic into the air behind her, propelling her down at maximum speed.

Dash was thankful for the goggles, which let her see where the bulk of the Changeling swarm was at that moment. Her wings were flapping back and forth at rapid speeds, forcing more and more magic into them as she propelled down through the air. Within mere moments, she could already see the thin white film gathering in front of her crackling with pegasus magic.

Moments later, she knew she'd been spotted. Nothing for it now, more speed! She did not even make a token effort at self-defense, even as the changeling swarm began to close in on her. Her hoof extended all the way out and she grit her teeth as the film began to distort and bend in front of her, sending off crackles of heat and lightning all around her.

A claw grazed her side. She could feel what felt like more rake at her wings, sending it into a spasm of pain with every wing stroke. Something solid smacked into her from the front shattering one of the goggles lenses, and still she went faster. She was losing control over her flight path, but that was not going to matter now. She narrowed her remaining good eye, taking aim for the heart of the aerial swarm as the film of air in front of her bent to its breaking point. Twi, I -

The air shattered in front of her. Sound ceased to be for a few moments, and suddenly came back with a roar of defiance like a thousand thunderclaps all at once. The changelings within the first twenty yards of the center point were liquefied. Within 50 yards, their chitin was shattered by the force of the blast.

A wave of rainbow colored energy expanded out from the center point, hitting the aerial swarm like a bomb. In less than three seconds, the wave had caught every member of the swarm and sent them careening away from ponyville.

A beam of Rainbow energy streaked down from the sky, as cheers erupted from the citizens of ponyville. Only to go quiet a moment later as the rainbow streaked towards the ground, seemingly without giving up its speed. Fear spread through the onlookers for a moment as Dash plummeted towards the ground with no signs of stopping.

Then a tiny flash of white light and a winged figure streaked from the town square, intercepting the rainbow - the two figures tumbled in midair until a massive splash of water signaled their landing. Then the cheers erupted again. The blast wave slowly spread out far above their heads, dissipating into the atmosphere a few moments later.

~~~~Several Hours after the Sonic Rainboom~~~~

Inside Town Hall, all of the benches and chairs had been stripped away from the floor. A dozen beds had been dragged in from somewhere, and each was occupied by a different high-priority case. There had been no time and no one to spare to get them to the hospital, so the hospital had come to them.

Princess Cadence lay in the bed farthest from the door, though she insisted she would be fine. Only her broken right foreleg was anything to worry about, and had been splinted and bound up hours ago. Shining Armor sat next to her and the pair of them had eyes only for one other patient.

On the bed next to them, Rainbow Dash lay still unconscious. Her wings were both bound up in bandages and her left eye was heavily bandaged. Her left hind leg was splinted and suspended, and she had on a soft neck brace. Next to the bed sat Twilight and Rarity. No one asked Twilight about her cloak. It wasn't the time for that.

Doctor Stable trotted over quietly, still examining the chart. The room went hushed as he looked over at the two girls, Twilight looked up, her hoof still squeezing Rainbows tightly. After a moment, the doctor smiled. "Well, I've got good news." Both of the friends perked up, as did the rest of the room. "The X-rays came back. There's been only minor bruising to her neck and spine. No breaks, no spinal cord damage, nothing permanent even to her wing structures. We can fix everything else given enough time and care." He smiled gently. "She will make a full recovery."

Rarity laughed embraced Twilight fiercely. The rest of the patients sent up a cheer, much to the grousing of those who were trying to rest. Twilight watched Cadence exhale a sigh of relief and lean into her husband’s arms. The Doctor flipped up a page of the chart. "In fact, we can wake her up for a little while. She's going to need a lot of rest, but I think it'd be good for her vitals to move around."

Twilight nodded enthusiastically, and the doctor's horn lit up lightly, pressing a number of buttons on the medical machinery. "It should only take a few minutes for her to come to. She's on muscle relaxants, so she won’t be able to hurt herself." The doctor then quickly excused himself as the door of the town hall opened and closed, admitting a new pair of ponies. He bustled off to speak to them.

Sure enough, Dash's eye cracked open a few moments later and slowly peeked around. "Oh. I’m not dead, huh?" She cracked a roguish smile. "That's a good thing I guess." Twilight laughed softly, feeling the tears roll down her cheeks. Thank Dissonance, she's okay... Rainbow dash coughed and waved a lazy hoof "Hey Twi, could you help me sit up a bit? I wanna not feel like a slab of peat moss for a bit."

Twilight looked startled for a moment and her horn lit - very very gently, as she lifted Dash up into a more comfortable sitting position. Rarity tossed back her mane, still in impossibly good shape despite the events of the day. "Darling, that was a magnificent performance! " Rarity burst out, her hooves applauding enthusiastically. "A trifle reckless perhaps, but how could I expect any less? I dare say that was one for the ages!" Dash was grinning widely - Rarity rarely got enthusiastic about her flying.

Twilight smiled faintly. Rarity stood up after a moment to pat Dash's hoof with her own. "I've got to go check up on Sweetie Belle, darling. You just get better as quickly as you can." she glanced at Twilight, and sighed. "As for you, Twilight dear. If you insist upon wearing black, I must insist you allow me to give you something that at least looks stylish." Twilight jerked and stared at Rarity.

Rarity smiled a little, leaning in towards twilight as she spoke. "Twilight Sparkle. You saved me, my sister, and countless others today. How you did so is irrelevant. Anypony who tells you different can go and wear velour." She snapped a hoof at the air. "Pink Velour!" She sniffed, putting her nose into the air and trotting off.

Rainbow Dash stared after her and shook her head slowly. "They call me crazy. She's bonkers." Dash laughed a little, and Twilight had to smile. Dash smiled back at her, and looked down. Twilight was still holding her hoof and being awfully quiet. "Um..Twi. Not that I mind you doing that but um...Are you okay? And what's with the dark unicorn sorcerer look?"

Twilight looked down at the bedspread, trying as hard as she could to figure out what to say. "It'" Maybe do it like she'd done with Applejack? Fast. Yes, that was a good way. "It's not a look." She finished lamely. That was probably just going to confuse her. Buck it, why can’t I even talk to my best friends!

Dash did look confused, but Twilight plowed on anyway. "I...made a deal, Dash. I was.." She looked down at the cover, tugging her hoof away from Dash's, only to find the pegasus now holding on to her. "Everypony was in danger. I was being lied to and manipulated by all my teachers. I couldn't take it anymore. I...I...I signed on with the other team, Dash."

There, It was out. She was going to hate her, call her a traitor - and that would be that. Dash was not very religious, but she knew the difference between Harmony and Dissonance. Twilight tried to pull away more firmly, but Dash was holding on. Twilight looked over miserably. "Let go, Dash. I don't deserve to be here."

Dash shook her head and tugged her closer to the bed. "Horseapples." She spat out, and Twilight looked up. Dash grabbed her by the chin to lift her head up and looked into her eyes. "Repeat after me, Egghead. Element. Of. Loyalty." and to punctuate it, she gently poked Twilight's nose which made her go cross-eyed. "I swear, Twi - For someone who has so much faith in her friends, you don't have any in yourself, do ya?"

Dash was grinning as much as she could from behind the eye patch. "Now I can’t speak for the rest of the gang. Except for Rarity who's probably dreaming up ways to make you the most stylish dark lady in history." Dash rolled her eyes a little and Twilight had to suppress a grin. Rarity could be single minded at times.

Rainbow dash smiled, pulling Twilight up close to her. "But I know you. I know you're not bad. You didn't do this cuz you wanted power or wealth or whatever. You did this to help us. That makes all the difference in the world, Twi." Dash leaned forward a little to bump foreheads with Twilight, her hoof ruffling Twi's mane.

Twilight did not know what to make of it. Silly Mare. She loves you. Twilight blinked rapidly at that thought. Oh come on. You can sense it can’t you? There's love there, really powerful and tasty love! Sure enough, just looking at Dash with her new found sight showed the tight ball of bright red threads that seemed to be directed solely at her.

And she's all bound up and hurt, and I bet she'd love a little sexual healing.. Twilight squashed that entirely inappropriate thought for the second time today, wondering what the buck had come over her. First her brother, now Dash!?

Dash smelled good though. So Twilight gave in just a little bit and nuzzled back, doing her best not to touch anything that might be hurt. Dash whispered a little, conspiratorially. "Just promise me one thing Twi.." Twilight looked up for a moment, eyebrow raised in question. "If you do decide to go all evil, you'll make me the first Shadowbolt."

Twilight stared for a moment at Rainbow Dash's grin, and then started laughing. She laughed helplessly and fell against Dash on the bed - who also started to laugh. Cadence and Shining Armor looked over from the bed with small smiles on their faces, and the Doctor shook his head with amusement. The world was not perfect, but it was good enough.


Once king, now Prince Sombra watched the touching scene from outside the window, a satisfied smile upon his lips. As I had suspected. The Elements of Harmony will not abandon her. That meant she would retain their power. More importantly, it meant that soon they would be the Elements of Dissonance, serving an entirely new mistress. Sombra laughed, long and richly at the glorious irony of it all.

Celestia's greatest creation, her most powerful weapon would be turned to the true path. Her precious student brought into the Trinity, and through her the power of Dissonance would rise into the minds of all ponies once again. There would be no way to suppress all the rebellions, all of the converts.

Changelings would rejoin society as a whole, and the creatures of the dark would return to the world to take their place again. Vamponies and Ponywolves, Succubi and Incubi, and all manner of other creatures. The old world would be reclaimed, and a new empire founded from their ashes.

Yet he had not won yet. Celestia's plans, centuries in the making were still in motion. Sombra could not afford arrogance at this stage in the game. You think all your precious plans will succeed, Celestia. You think you have outmaneuvered us at every turn. Yet I've still got a few more aces in my hooves.

The abject failure of the attack had been surprising, but had borne unexpected fruit. New potential allies. All of the ponies who might have been able to stop the newly minted Hecate were too injured, or too distracted to interfere. Cadence's faith was wavering, and Shining Armor had all but declared himself for his sister's new side.

Chrysalis was waiting in the wings, her own secret boxed up and ready for delivery. His hidden card laid tantalizingly on the table, the mysterious leader of the Faithful waiting to step into the light. And who could forget the granddady of all secrets. That would be his trump card, his last decisive play.

The final confrontation would take place here, in this simple rustic town. It was a quaint scene to decide the fate of the world, but Sombra liked that. This was the salt of the earth, the home of the innocent ponies he was striving to save from eternal slavery. This was a fitting place to begin the long walk to Freedom once again.

Sombra had always been a gambling pony. He knew nothing in life was certain, that there were no sure things or absolute answers. He had gambled time and again in the past to gain the advantage he sought over a rival in politics or over a mare he had a fancy for. He had gambled on his love for a Princess, and paid in dear coin for his miscalculation. He had gambled against the most powerful creature in all of Equestria time and time again, each time coming just a little bit closer to victory.

Now, he had bet everything on the greatest gamble of them all. The very thought raced his heart and inflamed his senses. A single roll of the dice, a single moment hinged on a single pony that would either destroy his cause for all eternity or grant it salvation. There would be no middle ground this time, no retreat. All of the other powerful sorcerers were dead. Sombra and Chrysalis were the last of an ancient breed, and Celestia would no longer play games with either of them.

So this was it. The stage was set. The actors were all in place. Sombra sucked in a deep breath and exhaled in satisfaction. All that remained now was for the final act to begin. The only thing that remained unknown was the Apprentice. All now hinged on her actions, her choices. She would decide everything.

He had a little time yet before the curtain went up. Chrysalis had to remain off the stage until her time came. Sombra had to remain on it, for there was still a role here for him to play. So he went in search of something to satisfy his sweet tooth, and perhaps a little something softer to go with it. Perhaps that pink one. She had seemed like a mare that enjoyed a rowdy good time.

After all, it might very well be his last few days to live.


Princess Celestia snapped closed a folder, tucking it into an assistant's bag. "Has my sister returned yet?" she snapped at one of the Royal Guards, her tone irritable in the extreme. The Guard remained as stoic ever, shaking his head firmly. Celestia stamped a hoof to the floor shook her head irritably. "I swear by the goddess, I am going to have words with Lulu."

Celestia marched off down the hallways as assistants and guards ran about the Palace, gathering supplies and the appropriate paperwork. The nerve of that witch. Attacking my student, my student's friends, and my ponies. Never again. This time, she was going to fix that changeling's little scooter, one way or another. No more hesitation, no more fear, no more presumptions of victory. Harmony would show her the way, and the Changelings would be dealt with once and for all.

And Twilight would lead them to glory. Celestia knew for certain now why she had left her student in Ponyville. For this. All reports saying the changelings fled in fear of her power, that she wielded blades of light and struck down the swarms. Things were going exceptionally well, if not precisely the way Celestia had intended them to. Still, she could feel the pivotal moment approaching. Power, tremendous power was gathering deep beneath Ponyville.

Celestia had always intended the final part of the ritual to take place in Canterlot, so that the ponies might see their new hope. Yet this made sense. It was in Ponyville that her student had taken the first steps towards enlightenment. It was there in that extraordinary little town that she'd met her remarkable friends..

Not precisely by accident of course. Celestia had become far too good at this little game over the last twenty five or so centuries to leave something that vital to chance. Still, the town had attracted four of the six pieces all on its own. Celestia had not even had to create excuses for their families to move to Ponyville, to sire children there. It had been a sign of that place's importance, though one Celestia had been slow to recognize.

She stopped, standing upon the balcony. Yes, even from here she could sense her student - her energies churning and roiling amidst the magical interference of Ponyville. My dearest Twilight. How confused you must be. Soon though, she would be at peace again. Celestia was certain of that as she had been certain of anything in nearly a thousand years. A Royal guard quickly trotted up to her, saluting. "Your Majesty, Princess Luna awaits you at the chariot." Celestia turned a warm smile upon him.

Celestia walked in a stately manner down towards the main courtyard, her eyes closing in satisfaction. Under her wing, she tucked a small tome bound in white cloth and gold. Inlaid upon the cover were the words "The Basis of Harmony" Yes. Things are going very well indeed. she thought, putting a little skip into her step.

All according to plan.

Chapter 11 - The Power

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~~~~~That Evening~~~~~

Twilight Sparkle wearily pushed the door to the Golden Oaks library inwards and slowly walked inside. Not because she was tired, but because the events of the day had been so draining. The town was still in ruins, and only the presence of the guard seemed to be guaranteeing a lack of chaos and looting. Word had already reached the town - Canterlot was mobilizing a full on relief effort. The princesses themselves would be arriving in a few days along with an army of workers, soldiers and specialists. Rumor had it an entire cloud-fortress was being re-directed to the location to help the battered Ponyville weather team get back on its feet.

Twilight gently pushed the door to her library closed with her nose, before resting her head against it. Worse still, she'd been told by Applejack in no unspecific terms that they would be discussing this - all of them, together - tomorrow. Strength, Twilight. You have it in spades. There is nothing you cannot face, no difficulty you cannot overcome.

She took a deep breath and exhaled. Yes. That's right. One thing at a time. For now, relax. Your Acolyte will aid you. more unbidden thoughts, but as she turned away from the door, she could see the familiar lavender-pink form kneeling by the doorway. She was breathing in a slow pattern, as though she was meditating.

Her eyes opened suddenly, though Twilight had not said a single word. She bowed deeply as Twilight slowly approached and pressed her forehead to the ground. "Welcome home, Mistress." She spoke clearly, even staring at the floor as she was. "I see it has been a difficult day for you. Please, allow me to help lift the weariness."

Lilith stood up, her horn gently glowing for a moment as the lanterns and candles of the library slowly puffed into life, one at a time. "Your assistant is currently with the young ones, aiding in taking care of those whose parents cannot be found." Her horn glowed again, and Twilight felt her cloak gently unbuttoning and unwrapping from her neck to be hung on the coat hooks. "You have a few messages, and Mr. Somber will be calling upon you later this evening."

Twilight blinked and narrowed her eyes a little. "I see. Are any of the messages so important they cannot wait till tomorrow?" To her astonishment, Lilith produced a bottle of wine from some hidden corner. A glass soon followed as Lilith deftly popped the cork from the bottle, smoothly pouring the rich red liquid into the glass.

Lilith had a little frown of concentration for a moment, before she spoke again. “No Mistress. Some platitudes from the Mayor. Notices of the princesses’ arrival. A few other things." Lilith took the glass gently in her hooves as she stepped very close to Twilight, pressing the cool rim of the crystal against twilight's lips. "I know you are usually for Tea, Mistress - but you look like you need a drink."

Twilight parted her lips and simply let the odd tableau happen. It was surreal to be slowly fed a glass of the delicious liquid, but....she could not deny, it was relaxing her. Now, she knew that Lilith would take care of all the details. It would leave her mind open to worry about the important things in her near future.

After a few moments, the glass was withdrawn then offered up in the helpful hooves of her acolyte. Twilight gently took the glass with her magic, licking her lips. "Mmm. I think you might be right. Well thought, Acolyte." Lilith beamed at her, waiting for Twilight to proceed further into the library before silently following in her wake. "I suppose It'd be rude to simply blow off Mr. Somber." another sigh. "Maybe I can ask him some more questions about all this." With an off thought, she pulled the familiar red tome from her cloak, tucking it under her arm as she slowly walked up the stairs.

Lilith smiled at her as she ascended her voice soft. "You keep the book with you." It was a statement, one ringing with pride and love for Twilight. Twilight blushed. "Mistress. If I may be so bold. I am so very proud of you today." They reached the landing where the loft door lay tantalizingly half open.

Twilight turned back to Lilith, who was hurriedly wiping away tears. "I told you when you showed me your power that my life was yours. I had meant it. I would have offered you no resistance, done nothing to stop you if you had...chosen the other path." She sniffled a little and Twilight stared for a moment before slowly placing her hoof on Lilith's shoulder.

Twilight spoke gently, her voice sweet. "Lilith. I would not have done that to you. Even if I had not agreed with you, I couldn't kill you. It would have been wrong." Lilith's gaze crept up with a tremulous smile as Twilight continued to speak. "There are many things that will be discussed in the coming days, Lilith. I may not remain who I am today. But I will not take your life, and I won't let anyone else take it either."

Twilight gently wrapped a hoof around Lilith's neck and squeezed her close for a moment before releasing her. Lilith just looked stunned. Twilight smiled and sipped at the superb vintage, wondering where the buck the young unicorn had gotten it. "Now, enough about that. I need to eat something, and some quiet so that I can read a little more of my book." Twilight eyeballed the red tome curiously. No more need to be afraid of what's inside. I've already put on the black cloak figuratively and literally. Maybe I ought to practice an evil laugh too.

Lilith bowed deeply to her. "Yes, Mistress. I shall prepare the evening meal." Twilight watched her quickly trot - no, skip down the stairs like a schoolfilly. She seemed genuinely happy to be doing all of this service for Twilight. Twilight still couldn't fathom why but... Wait. The sight. Whatever else this new power had given her, the sudden ability to read strong emotions and thoughts with her eyesight was the most cryptic. It had also been incredibly useful so far.

She called the power, as she had been doing all day long. Strange how it feels so natural. It's like nothing more than a more advanced form of magic. Magic was not merely here element or her special gift; it had been her entire life for as long as she could remember. She had studied it, obsessed over it, and at times it had been her only friend.

The power she called into her now was different - it was not cold or unfeeling as magic was. Magic was a blank slate, waiting for the unicorn to paint his or her vision upon it. Dissonance was wild and warm and wonderful. It filled up all of her crevices, it made her feel whole and complete in a way no other power before had. Not even Harmony at the few times she had been allowed to wield it had felt like this.

Twilight just stood there for a moment, soaking in every bit of that glorious feeling. With this power, I could do anything. Just as Lilith had told her, when she held the power she felt as though all the limits of magic no longer applied. Her eyes lit up with the dissonant power, transforming them from the gentle purple to bright sickly green and red.

Her tree house was a veritable node of those emotional links and strands Twilight had started to see earlier. It took her a few moments standing there to pick up the bundle of emotions that was Lilith from the interference. When she finally did, her eyes widened - There was a thick dark purple strand that seemed to wrap around everything else inside of the pony, and led directly back to Twilight. It pulsed with deeply seeded power, twitching back and forth in the distance between them.

Fascinating. It's...some kind of magical link. Twilight's thoughts raced for a moment, and she reached out with her magic - gently tugging upon the strand. She heard a soft gasp from the kitchen and a stumbling sound, and somehow knew that Lilith had sunk to her knees on the spot. I can...control her? How is that possible? She pulled the strand another way and Lilith stood up again, going back to her task.

Twilight slowly walked into her room, climbing up onto her favorite overstuffed chair and rubbing her hoof along her chin. It stands to reason if I can send physical commands... She bit her lower lip for a moment, thinking. Then I could... She took a deep breath and focused her mind on that connection, grasping it with her magic firmly.

Like all things brand new to her, Twilight took several long minutes examining the magical structure. It was not exceedingly complex, but it seemed to tie into her own emotions as much as it tied into Lilith’s. That would explain how she's able to anticipate my needs. She can sense my desire for things. A very useful sort of ability.

Twilight grinned brightly, and tried to send a strong feeling down the line to Lilith - emphasizing her hunger and desire for swiftness on Lilith's part. There was a brief moment, and then a feeling of delight came trickling back through the strange link. Absolutely fascinating. I thought Clover dismissed this as a possibility with the 3rd dissertation on Thaumaturgy, yet here it is.

Moments later, a cheerful looking Lilith burst into the room floating a tray laden with dandelion sandwiches and fresh, crisp potato chips. She trotted over to Twilight with enthusiasm, laying the tray table down next to the chair. "I had wondered when you were going to figure that out, Mistress!" Her voice was teasingly chipper. " I should not be so surprised though. You truly are the element of Magic." Lilith bowed deeply to her. "If you require me, you now know how to easily summon me." She winked. "For anything you may require." Then she was gone, out the door like a ghost.

Twilight watched her in amusement, before gently unfolding the book. Where to take it up again? The very best place, Twilight. Where you left off. That was an easy enough decision, and she crunched on one of the salty potato snacks as she flipped open to the next page..


Chapter 4 - Through Obedience, I gain Truth.

The Acolyte is one of the oldest traditions of Dissonance. It began with our founder, Cedistic Dissonant who required an assistant to aid him in writing the music that would fuel his magic. Although originally, It was tradition to only have one Acolyte at any given time.

Today, that tradition has been discarded by most Dissonant Sorcerers. It has become the icon of the powerful sorcerer to command an entire coven of Acolytes, typically referred to as 'The Faithful'. Within these covens, titles of various kinds are frequently established so that order can be maintained amongst the ranks. Most frequently, the very first Acolyte turned to a Sorcerer's will is called, amusingly enough "First Acolyte" and is typically afforded far greater respect and deference.

What separates our Acolytes from the Harmony master's "Students" is our ability to draw on them in any number of powerful ways. While we cannot directly impart knowledge to them simply through thought as Harmony can, we can draw from their knowledge of Dissonance. This allows the clever sorcerer to set his Acolytes to the task of studying vast amounts of lore, while they themselves can focus on applying the information to the real world.

Furthermore, we can draw from the connection to Dissonance each acolyte possesses, thus increasing the Sorcerers direct power. This creates a unique dynamic between a Sorcerer and his coven. The sorcerer, seeking to advance his power encourages those who serve him to expand their own. Yet they must walk the delicate line between encouraging growth, and encouraging ambition.

This is why, contrary to what the Tyrants of Harmony will tell you, that we build powerful cults around ourselves. Some of the truly greatest sorcerers in our history have been those who effectively make use of this unique power. The Dissonance leader who works to ensure the loyalty of her followers is one who will go far.

However, the greatest expression of our Acolytes has nothing to do with power or knowledge. They are the truest representation of our cause. The best of them push us to constantly improve, to grow and to become better leaders. They are often our closest advisers, and just as often they are the most common of ponies. While we wield one of the great cosmic forces, they are there to remind us of the simple things we fight for. Freedom. Truth. Equality.

We must always be mindful of the power we hold over them. We must wield our power not merely to further our ends, but with intelligence and guile. Those who see power as nothing more than a tool are those who will swiftly fall to the daggers of the jealous or the fiery gaze of the Sun Tyrant. Power is both blessing and responsibility.

In this, I find myself grudgingly agreeing with the words of Celestia. That without power, we cannot serve the common good. Yet we must ever be mindful of the treacherous path Power can lead us down. For power applied with a lack of wisdom creates only Chaos.

The Acolyte can be one of the most powerful resources at your command. If you take only one further word of advice from me, let it be this. Your Acolytes will mean the difference between knowing freedom, and burning in the fires of Harmony. Ensure your power not merely commands them but protects them, and they will follow you into Tartarus itself.


Twilight blinked as her magic reached for a sandwich and found neither bread nor crisp. She gently licked the last of the salt from her hoof, and looked back at the book. Power. That explains it. That was the feeling she had been fighting all day, the feeling she had experienced standing next to her brother and hugging Rainbow Dash. She had power over them in those moments.

Twilight Sparkle had always been powerful. She had faced Demigods and Discord alike, and her power had often been a match even for them. Yet rarely had she ever had power over others. Now, Lilith sat in the library below her, brushing her mane and singing some sweet song to herself.

Twilight knew that with but a thought, Lilith would kneel at her hooves and beg to be useful. Twilight knew she could command her to do nearly anything. She would clean the library, sing for her amusement, and research a subject for her. She would kiss your hooves and worship you. She would please you with her body and give you any pleasure you desired. Her mind whispered softly to her, Twilight's legs squirming in the easy chair. You could whip her, and she would beg for more. You could user her as a conduit for your magic, for your every experiment. She might like that, she seemed to like it before...

Her mind continues to whisper dark thoughts, and Twilight pressed her hooves more tightly against her. Power was a heady drink, and Twilight had been imbibing of it all day long. And why should I not? Why should I care what the Princess thinks of me anymore? Because she was Celestia of course! Twilight held her head in her hooves and bent over in the chair, squeezing her eyes shut tight.

She'll understand. She won’t hurt me. Twilight shook her head wildly. Oh who am I kidding? She's going to lock me up in the dungeons. She's going to launch a bloody Inquisition on Ponyville, absolutely no question. That was standard procedure following a changeling attack. With the discovery of Twilight as a Sorceress, the hammer would only come down harder. But what could I possibly do to stop her? or stand up to her?

Power. Twilight looked up at the book, eyes opening slowly. She needed to be strong enough to force Celestia to come at her from another angle. If she could buy enough time, she could take steps to remove any suspicion from Ponyville's residents. She would need to become strong enough. She would need to..."Know Freedom." She whispered softly.

That was the key. If her power no longer functioned under the same limits as normal magic, she might be able to exploit all the various sources of strength at her disposal. Lilith. The Elements of Harmony. Shining Armor. Maybe even Cadence. though she really doubted Cadence would help her in this mad plan.

There was not an inconsiderable amount of strength there. It might be enough to convince Celestia that she would need to rally more power of her own before confronting her student. Even Celestia can’t match Shiny's talent for shields. The elements were powerful enough to stop Discord in his tracks. Lilith wild card. There's no telling what role she might play. And just like that, Twilight's thoughts all came to a crashing halt.

She was contemplating full on treason. Mutiny against Princess Celestia and everything she stood for. She was preparing to seize any possible power, no matter what the cost might be in order to oppose her. Do I have any other choice? For Ponyville? For my Friends? For Lilith? Twilight placed her hooves gently against the arms of her chair and closed her eyes.

Her mind went back to her vision. Of the crystal throne and the dark dress, of the boundless power that Twilight had held barely restrained within her hooves and horn. Of Lilith, kneeling in total submission to her. Then, Dissonance seized her mind, and she could once again see into that dark throne room for a new vision of her future.

Only now, Shiny stood at her left hoof, clad in solid plate armor tinted dark violet. He wore a spiked helmet and boots, and stood like a sentinel at her side. Shiny will never abandon me, and he is a match for any foe I might set him against. My greatest General, and my most trusted companion.

At her right hoof Lilith knelt, wearing deep purple robes and a hood, her position one of meditation. An Alicorn Amulet hung from her neck, Its power broken to Twilight's will by spell and hex. Lilith. My Acolyte, and my apprentice. My closest confidant in all things, and she who leads the Faithful. More figures slowly faded into view around the throne.

Applejack leaned against the wall, dressed in a brown leather coat and her trademark hat. She chewed on a piece of straw as she spoke to the pony next to her. Applejack, my enforcer. All live in fear of her hooves, but all know she is as honest and fair as anypony.

Rarity leaned against the same wall with Applejack, wearing a regal looking dress of bright purple and gold that flattered every curve of her figure. A silk fan gently cooled her expertly made up face, her eyes calculating and cunning. Rarity, my spy, my hidden hoof, and my assassin. She keeps the nobility in line, and serves to keep me aware of the movements of my enemies. And of course that lovely, lovely flank of hers...

Fluttershy knelt behind Lilith, wearing the very same robes as her Acolyte. She sat in easy meditation, her luxurious mane pooling down to the floor around her as she breathed slowly. A gnarled wooden staff sat nearby, against which a bright white rabbit slept easily. Fluttershy, she who watches over the woods. The forest animals bow to her will, and she ensures they do not harm my ponies. That she happens to enjoy a little pain and bondage is only icing on the cake..

Rainbow dash was as ever, lazing about on a stolen cloud that hovered overhead. A sleek purple flight suit and bright gold goggles hung nearby - ready to be worn at a moment’s notice. Her mane was perhaps a bit wilder, her pose a little more arrogant, but she seemed as normal as ever. And of course, Rainbow dash. Commander of the Shadowbolts. My most loyal minion and occasionally, my lover. She who rules the skies unchallenged. The greatest flyer in the entire world.

Pinkie Pie was there too, yet she seemed no different. She had changed not one bit. She bounced, and joked, and distributed baked goods - much to the amusement of everypony present Well, I suppose that is all I could expect. The Universe itself can decree many things, but Pinkie Pie will forever just be Pinkie Pie. The thought was comforting to Twilight. Perhaps the world would have to change in many ways, but laughter and joy would always be there to make it a better place.

Her vision settled her back into her own eyes, but it did not dispel. A final shadowy figure stood across the room from her as the real world slowly seeped back into her sight. Shadows and darkness gave way to the soft glow of candles, and Somber Gaze sat across from her chair. She blinked slowly at him, shaking the last of the vision from her mind. Yet she knew that it had been telling her one final truth - that this pony had far more to him than met the eye.

Twilight focused for a moment, and green fire slowly filled her eyes. Shadows began to whisper off of her body and touch the chair and ground around her. Somber stood there with a toothy grin, as if fully aware of what she was doing. And perhaps he was, for he burned like a star with the fires of dissonance. Twilight's voice came slowly, but deliberately. "I think, Mister Somber, that it is time you were honest with me. Who are you, Really?"

Somber bowed to her with his head, a rich laugh filling the room. "By Dissonance, you truly are a wonder Twilight Sparkle. Very well. You have earned the right to know who I am." The scholarly pony's looks slowly melted away from his body. Iron shod hooves and armor clad torso slowly faded into view. Bright green eyes, brimming with shadows opened up and a fang-filled grin faced Twilight.

Twilight stared for a moment and closed her eyes, slowly rubbing her forehead. "Of course. How could I have been so bloody blind? A two thousand year old book appears at my doorstep without so much as an explanation. A pony who just so happens to know about Dissonance to gently lead me along." Her mind raced for a few more moments, making connections faster than she could reason them out. "The Changeling attack. Chrysalis. Lilith forcing my hoof. This has all been planned from the very beginning. "

Somber - or perhaps, Twilight should say - King Sombra, nodded his head in approval. "Indeed. You have my apologies for the enthusiasm of Queen Chrysalis' attack on your city.. I shall be chastising her most severely when this has all been resolved, and you shall be invited to visit some punishment of your own upon her." He grinned, and Twilight was amazed by his cultured speech and his roguish charm.

Twilight's voice became dry and serious. "You're very well put together for a madpony who couldn't say any word other than Crystals a year ago." Twilight did not feel fear, for some reason. Why should she? She had been essentially taking lessons from this very pony for the last four days. "And I'm afraid I am more than just a little cross with Chrysalis right now."

Sombra laughed again, a rich velvety sound that Twilight decided she rather liked. She'd have to cultivate a laugh like that. "Oh dear child, I am much improved from when we last met. Why should I not be? Love is just another power of Dissonance, Twilight. The force of Princess Cadence's spell freed me from the grasp of madness, and restored me to my right mind."

Sombra grinned slightly. "That she now occupies my rightful throne is a minor inconvenience." He flicked his hoof. "As for Chrysalis, I assure you Twilight - I shall make sure you get your revenge on her in fair coin. It is the least I can do for my new Apprentice."

Twilight arched an eyebrow, feeling a thrill of both fear and anticipation race through her. "Apprentice? You really think I'm going to call you Teacher? The most infamous unicorn in all of history?" Twilight's voice took on a tone of incredulity, a slight smile coming to her face. This was an interesting game of words. "I fail to see the benefit to me."

Sombra nodded his head in acknowledgement. "True. You have been learning the power at a truly breakneck speed. It has left me quite impressed. Yet there are many things you will not be able to learn quickly, my dear. At the least, hear me out." he raised a hoof, in a plea for patience. "I promise, You will find my proposal quite beneficial to you."

Twilight sighed a little in impatience, though she truly didn't feel it. It was all flowing naturally for her...or she thought, until she realized that she was receiving strong feelings and words through her link with Lilith. Is she...She is. She's tutoring me, granting me her knowledge of dealing with someone like Sombra. That clever little unicorn. Twilight resolved to find some way to reward her after this.

For now, Twilight smiled and flicked her hoof dismissively. "If you must. I suppose it would be churlish of me after you gifted me with such a unique book." She gently waved the small red tome, which Sombra fixed his eyes on for a brief moment then went back to smiling affably.

"Very well. You have a rather severe problem in your immediate future, you see. The Sun Tyrant herself will soon be joining us here in Ponyville and while I can easily slip away into the shadows, you have responsibilities here. You have no lack of raw power, but you have a great lack of skill, experience and allies."

Sombra's smile was predatory, but it was also quite jovial. Twilight was reminded of Angel Bunny for some odd reason. "My proposal then, is this. Swear yourself to me as my Apprentice. I shall teach you everything I know about Dissonance. I will give you the means to add new acolytes to your coven. Most importantly of all, I shall help you Know Freedom before Celestia can arrive."

His eyes shone for a moment, flaring with dissonant power. "We shall add you to the Trinity, Twilight Sparkle. You will become as a Queen amongst the Dissonant, and even Celestia will have to be wary of your power." His voice rang, like a call to action. "And I shall go one further, Twilight Sparkle - I shall stand with you when you finally face Celestia in person."

Sombra grinned wildly. "It has been two thousand years since she locked my mind into a spell of madness and banished my people into the depths of time. I think it is past time she and I had a little chat." Twilight stared at him for a long moment, absorbing that new bit of information. Then she laughed softly herself, shaking her head.

This is madness. But what other choice do I have? An impossible task might very well become possible with this. Sombra had defied Celestia face to face before. As much as Twilight wanted to personally strangle Chrysalis right now, the thought of getting her revenge and the power to survive the next week was simply too good an offer to refuse.

Twilight felt trapped by her choices - and in a way, it was freeing. The logical choice was also the one that allowed her to protect the ones she loved. At the cost of her soul perhaps, but right now Twilight was not feeling very philosophical.

"It looks like I don't have many options." Twilight shook her head. Now, there truly is no going back. All I can hope to do is save that which I love. She sucked in a deep breath. "I have two conditions. My first is simple. Ponyville is mine. Its citizens, all of the ponies within it, every single creature which claims this place as home is under my protection. Chrysalis will return anypony she has taken. No Exceptions."

Twilight took a deep breath, mastering her anger before speaking again. "My second condition is also pretty simple." Twilight continued, gripping the arms of the chair. "No more lies. No misleading, no more hiding things from me. I have had enough of being manipulated like a pawn, Sombra. If I'm going to be a queen, I expect to be treated like one." Twilight silently thanked Lilith, who was feeding her the words she needed. Dissonance, It's going to be hard getting used to this sort of thing.

Sombra looked startled for a moment, then softly laughed. "Chryssy won’t like it. Fortunately for you, Apprentice - I do not give a buck." His grin became even more wolf like, and Twilight hoped she'd never develop fangs quite like that. "I accept your terms, Apprentice." He tapped the ground in front of him with an iron shod hoof. "Come here."

Twilight slowly uncurled from her chair and hopped down, walking slowly over in front of Sombra. This is insane. He's the most powerful Dissonance sorcerer in history. He enslaved an entire race of ponies. Twilight's thought hit another wall with a realization, and she stopped, sinking down into a sit. And From his most basic lessons, he has become your second teacher. You willingly followed his teachings to this very place. You have tasted power, Twilight Sparkle - and now you desire more. This is logical. Perhaps, this was inevitable.

Sombra lifted his hoof from the ground and placed it on her shoulder. There was a static shock of electric power between them - and she felt dissonance flooding into her body. "My student." Sombra's voice was gentle, caring almost. "You have nothing to fear. No more boundaries to hold back your true self. I shall lead you into Freedom, and together we will free those enslaved by Harmony from their chains." power flooded all around her, filling the room with dancing lights and enchanting shadows. "Swear your fealty to me, Hecate of the Faithful."

Twilight panicked for only a moment, not entirely sure what to say. Lilith's thoughts were right there however, and she could almost feel her hooves guiding Twilight and gently directing her thoughts. "I do swear to you, Master Sombra." Twilight took Sombra's hoof and bowed her head over it, touching her horn to it. "I swear to learn swiftly, to fight fiercely and to bring my teacher glory. I swear to free the enslaved from their chains and bring freedom to all who have never known it before."

Twilight took a deep breath. I have burned all my bridges. "I swear oppose the Tyrants of Harmony." I have salted the earth behind me. "I swear to bring Dissonance to the faithful." Celestia, forgive me for what I must do. "And I swear that one day, I shall know Freedom."

Sombra smiled gently, pressing his hoof under her chin and gently pushing her head up so she could regard him face to face.

"Arise, my Apprentice. We have work to do."

Chapter 12 - The Faithful

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~~~The Everfree Forest, one hour later.~~~

Three black cloaked figures walked down the rough dirt path in the forest, the noises of the night creatures falling silent as they passed by. Sombra, the Shadow King led the way as Twilight Sparkle followed alongside Lilith. Since they had left ponyville, Lilith was sending a constant stream of soothing emotions to her Mistress, and Twilight was soaking them up like a sponge.

Strange, I never thought I'd meet somepony else as helpful as Spike is. Twilight turned and smiled at the lavender pink unicorn, who smiled back gently, her eyes darting up to twinkle at Twilight for a moment. You forced my hoof, Lilith. Twilight's thoughts began colored first with anger, then regret. I can’t blame you though. We can all only do what we think is right. You probably thought you were helping me.

Twilight turned to face her Acolyte, and saw a slight smile across her lips. She was utterly calm, as she always was. How does she do that? How can she remain peace? It felt like it was impossible. Lilith turned her head to face Twilight as they walked and a flood of warmth and reassurance passed between them. She's like one of the girls. Just being around her makes me feel more at ease. It was cheering to think of her that way, just another member of the gang.

The dirt road beneath their hooves gave way to ancient cobblestone that led down deeper into the forest. Twilight could not remember this particular path having been here any time she'd come into this forest before. There were clear signs that plants and tree limbs had been cleared away, and fresh flagstones had been laid down to mark the path. This must have taken significant work and magic...who's been doing all of this?

Twilight didn't need to wait long for the answer. As they turned the corner, Twilight saw clusters of dark cloaked ponies wielding a combination of magic and farming tools clearing away foliage and fallen stones from around a massive stone tomb. Piles of discarded vines lay nearby, and were being burned for camp fires all around the main building..

The tomb was made of some kind of black stone, and sat upon a hill, surrounded by grass and low stone walls that ran down around it. There was a flat plain at the base of the hill, where dozens of different creatures sat around the fires, talking to one another and preparing pots of soup. Twilight's eyes widened and Sombra stopped, turning to smile toothily at her.

There were undisguised changelings sitting next to ponies of all three tribes, sharing food and physical comfort. Bat-winged pegasi with prominent looking fangs and pale coats chatted amicably with shaggy coated diamond dogs. There were griffons, buffalo, and even strange creatures Twilight had no names for. All around her, they wore black cloaks and hoods and simply went about a nightly routine - clearing away foliage and enjoying one another's company.

Twilight's jaw slipped open a bit and she spoke slowly, hesitantly. "But...How? This is incredible." She dragged her gaze amongst all of those who sat there, trying to process what she was seeing. This is unprecedented. None of these races get along like this, except the pony tribes! No one cares that there's changelings just sitting there! All Twilight could sense was a feeling of anticipation in the air, as though they were all waiting for something.

Sombra laughed deeply, and eyes turned to regard them with curiosity. "This is the world we seek to create, Apprentice Hecate." He gestured with one hoof, sweeping across the grouping of creatures. "A world where no being need live in fear of persecution. Where all might live together and build a world for us all, not just for those favored by Harmony."

The dark cloaked figures from all around the tomb were now arrayed around them in a semi-circle, and for a moment Twilight felt afraid. Their eyes all focused on her for a moment, and suddenly strength flowed into her. You are Hecate. she reminded herself, steeling her spine. They want you to show them your power.

Twilight strode forward, unable to see the mysterious smile spreading over Lilith's face .She planted her hooves and held her head high. "I am Apprentice Hecate." She stated to the crowd, all of whom slowly nodded in greeting to her. Some of them were bowing their heads, others simply watching and waiting. "You are the Faithful." More nods, more slightly narrowed eyes.

Lilith gently crossed her hooves in front of her and bowed in submission towards Twilight. "The Mistress will now show you her power. Rejoice, my brothers and sisters. A new dawn has come!" Twilight felt Dissonance just waiting, her eyes closing slowly. Through Power, I gain Obedience. It was almost like invoking a prayer, suddenly the spell form appeared before her eyes again. This time though, she would need far more strength.

She plunged her mind into Dissonance, feeding it with all of her fear and anger. Anger at the world for forcing her into this position, fear of what her teacher might yet do to her friend and those she loved. She drew upon the passion that fueled her soul and her love for magic and welded these powers together.

The power grew more and more inside of her, and her hooves began to emit shadowy bursts of energy. The circle of creatures moved back a half step, all of their eyes starting to widen. Dissonance...They're all looking at me. They're afraid, but they can’t look away... Twilight's eyes slowly opened to reveal the torrent of green fire within them. So incredible. I feel so alive. So powerful. So...perfect. Her horn began to glow with opaque magic that grew brighter with every passing second. Her voice rang out, redolent with power. "I am Hecate, and you shall be Obedient!"

Her horn flashed, and dozens of beams split off from the tip of her horn and streaked into the black cloaked throng around her. The dozens of beams struck the creatures and sent most of them careening away from her, only a very few held their ground in the face of her onslaught. Dissonance, what an incredible rush. Her mind exulted, feeling incredibly turned on from just that simple spell. Behind her, she could hear Lilith cry out and slump to the ground, and a sexy smile creased Twilight's lips. There, that's a nice little reward for all the help she's been giving me.

One by one, the black cloaked creatures knelt before her - Only this time she could see the tiny metallic charms that they wore slowly sparkle and change. Her sight revealed the dozens of shadowy tendrils extending from her horn and wrapping tightly around the cores of those present. In an instant, she could feel her power beginning to grow as each being submitted to her will. Adding themselves one by one to her service, they whispered the word through the night air. "Mistress." they spoke, in a rough rumble of sound.

Twilight's voice was breathy. "Arise, faithful. We have many tasks to accomplish." As one, the creatures rose from their knees and slowly passed before her, bowing to them. One by one, they gave her their names, until she came to three changelings who stood together. They appeared to be sleek warrior types, who looked at her in curiosity.

One of them spoke in a buzzing tone, which reminded Twilight of how a voice sounded going through a fan blade. "We are called Blackedge, your greatness. Are you to become a Queen this day?" Twilight felt startled, and saw the astonishment creep onto Sombra's face. "We have heard of how you slaughtered the unworthy of the R'akk Hive. You have earned much honor amongst the Klik'ktt Hive." The changeling warrior buzzed his wings and bared his fangs in what Twilight thought was a grin. "There has been talk that a new queen would be rising into the Trinity and we believe that must be you, Apprentice of the shadow king."

Sombra looked like someone had just smacked him over the back of the head .The changelings buzzed with what was definitely amusement, and Twilight was still trying to process what precisely was going on. Luckily, the changelings were already stepping in to help her mind along. "We have been seeking a new queen for Hive Klik'ktt. We hope you shall keep it in your thoughts, Mistress Hecate." Then the trio buzzed off back to the camps, leaving two upright ponies looking stunned, and one pony still lying on the ground and panting for breath.

Sombra spoke first, his eyes lighting up, and an expression of humor and mischief spreading onto his face. "Apprentice, let us not mention to the Queen that the changeling hives are already propositioning you, shall we?" He almost did a little skip in place, laughing joyfully. "Oh but that was a splendid display, Apprentice! Well done." He actually clapped his hooves together, grinning toothily. "However, this was but your first test."

Twilight balked and whipped her head towards Sombra. "First Test? What the buck does that mean?" Twilight heard the words snarl out of her mouth, and felt shocked. Did...was that me? That didn't sound like me... or had it? There was rage bubbling up in her soul, leftovers from her obedience spell. "I told you not to hide things from me, Teacher." It had felt good to stand up to him, felt good to express her power. Yeah...that felt good to show Mister teeth that I'm not going to let him lead me around like Celestia did.

Sombra chuckled softly. "Good...Let your emotions feed your power.." His eyes gleamed deep emerald and stared daggers at her. "You wanted to know freedom. Your trials begin now. With each step, you will come closer to your goal. You have shown you can command the faithful. Now, you will prove you can command the one who leads them.." Sombra pointed his hoof at the tomb, his hoof glowing with restrained power.

"She awaits you inside, Apprentice. She has been waiting for this meeting for some time"


Twilight quietly checked on Lilith, examining her with her new sight. She's exhausted for the moment, but she will recover swiftly. She eyeballed one of the nearby camps, her voice snapping out. "You there! The unicorns! Tend to the First Acolyte," Three cloaked unicorns jumped from being startled, but quickly moved Lilith over to a softer resting place on the grass.

Twilight stood and strode towards the doors of the Tomb - She could feel the powerful Dissonance running through every inch of the brick and mortar in this place. It welcomed her, its doors sliding open at her approach. Her hoofs took a step upon the black granite of the tomb interior, and slowly carried Twilight down the stairs, deeper and deeper into the earth.

Somehow, her hooves knew where she was going. She turned at the first doorway, pushing it boldly open without any thought as to what might be behind it. Within, a single black cloaked pony stood in front of a book stand and a blazing fireplace. On the stand a tome covered in black cloth sat, edged in gleaming gold stitching. The room held a simple but comfortable looking bed, and sets of dressers and cabinets. An office desk sat gleaming in old oak in one corner of the room, papers scattered about the top.

The Black cloaked pony closed the book on the stand quietly, lifting her hooded head up. As she began to speak, Twilight felt a nagging feeling about the voice, "When I was a filly, all I could think about was serving the Princess. I dedicated my foalhood to learning everything I could about becoming the perfect administrator. I studied the art of governance and the great politicians of old." Twilight's ears were perked forward. She could swear she knew this pony, but how?

The mare kept speaking, still facing away from Twilight. "I thought I could rise to become the Chancellor of Canterlot. Why not, thought I? I knew every nuance of the law, and every secret of governing. I studied Marechiavelli and Hockraties. Trotsky and Voltmare. Canter and Hobbles." The female mare took a deep shuddering breath and continued. "I was the perfect student of Harmony. I followed the code in word and deed. When I was elected to my first post as Mayor, I had thought my future was bright."

Her hood slowly fell back from her head, revealing the light gray mane. Her voice had turned bitter and angry, "Yet all of my work had been in vain. I was told that my place in Harmony was here. To serve these few ponies, and these few ponies alone. I would never rise any further. All of my studying meant nothing. I meant nothing." Her voice slowly descended in tone, and Twilight's eyes started to widen as she put the pieces together.

"The princess herself rebuffed my pleas for a chance to prove myself." her voice had slowly melted into a tone of depression and sadness. "I was not a noble. I had no family name. I had no funds to buy my way into the echelons of society. I could see the pity in her eyes when I spoke of all that I had done, all I had learned."

The cream coated earth pony turned towards Twilight, spectacles flashing in the firelight. "She said to me, 'Harmony has chosen your place, Mayor Mare. It is not a mighty place, but it is an important one all the same.' And then dismissed me from court. I was never permitted back." Twilight stared, her jaw dropped in disbelief. No way. This can’t be. This is impossible!

The gray maned mayor of ponyville slowly walked towards Twilight, her blue eyes gentle behind her glasses. "I tried, dear Twilight. I truly did. I devoted myself to my ponies, and my town. Yet no one here shared my learning, no one here cared a whit for my knowledge. I grew bitter and lonely and resentful. What made me less worthy to stand amidst the powerful? My blood." She spat the word out, eyes narrowed.

"My lineage was insufficient. I vowed to bring them down, Twilight. I seized the books of the precious few Dissonance cultists that lived on the edges of the town. I studied them day and night. I used my authority to seize more such contraband from traveling traders and merchants." the Mayor's eyes blazed with passion, her tone slowly rising to the same confident tone Twilight had often heard in her speeches.

"I grew my knowledge and drew others like me to my cause. In time, I learned of thousands of little cells of cultists living all over Equestria. Scattered and disorganized, they lacked a leader strong enough to weld them together. I knew then that I had found my calling."

The Mayor smiled, broadly and proudly - all trace of her gentleness gone from her gaze." One by one, under the guise of diplomatic visits and vacations I brought each cult under my direction." The mayor lifted up her head proudly for a moment, then dropped it to look Twilight straight into her eyes. Twilight was still shocked, trying to process this impossible turn of events as the mayor continued to speak "It took every ounce of my knowledge, every bit of my willpower - but I did it. I had finally found a use for all of my ambition and drive. All of my knowledge had use. I began to grow the cult. I began to gather more unto the Faithful. I knew the day would come and the Trinity would return. And I would be ready for that day."

Her eyes closed, and a rush of whispered words came from her mouth. "And so here you are, Twilight Sparkle. Hecate of the Faithful. Apprentice to the King." The mayor's voice was tired, but...satisfied. "You will take up the mantle of my life's work, and you shall lead the Faithful as the last piece of the trinity." Her blue eyes opened again, weariness evident in every line of her body.

Twilight rallied her thoughts, her flank gently hitting the stone floor and eliciting a chuckle from the Mayor. "'ve been a cultist this entire time?" Twilight's voice squeaked as she rubbed at her horn with a hoof. "Mayor Mare, I suspected a lot of ponies but..." she shook her head slowly, staring at the calm earth pony before her. "Not you. Never you."

The Mayor's lips dimpled in a smile. "That was the point, Twilight. I was ever the dedicated public servant. I never showed a single hair out of place. I was ineffectual enough not to attract attention, and never used my resources to expand my public power. I told you, I studied from the greatest pony philosophers in history." She tossed her grey mane back and gave Twilight a saucy sort of look. "They thought me a bumbling fool, Twilight. It is precisely what I wanted them to think."

Twilight shook her head for a moment, staring at her in awe. "But.." Twilight snapped her mouth shut, biting at her lip. How could I possibly take over from somepony like that? She's had decades of life to study this sort of thing! I don't know the first thing about politics! The Mayor's eyes crinkled up into a smile, and she was clearly holding back a laugh. Twilight glared. "Look, this hasn't been easy for me, okay? I've had to upend my world view a dozen times in the last three days." She huffed out, crossing her hooves over her chest.

Mayor Mare laughed, but in a gentle way that made Twilight's nerves ease up a little. "My dear child, No two leaders are ever alike. I have led the Faithful through knowledge and trickery. But they will follow you because of your Power." The mayor placed both hooves on her shoulders. "Dear goddess, Lilith was right. I can sense your strength just by being near you." she shook her mane and gently tugged at Twilight. "Stand up, Apprentice Hecate. Time runs short for us all."

Twilight was pulled to her hooves, and given a satisfied nod from the Mayor who quietly walked back over to the book. "I know you already have a Basis of Dissonance, so I thought you might enjoy something a bit different." She patted the stand, where the black tome lay. "This is my life's work, Twilight Sparkle. Take care of it." Her voice was gentle, and there was a brilliant smile on her face.

Twilight shook her head suddenly, and then went very still. "Wait a minute. What the buck is going on here, Mayor?" Her eyes narrowed, and she could feel the powerful dissonance flow into the Mayor's body. Sense snapped back into Twilight, and she nodded slowly. "This is the test." she stated, feeling tension start to grow inside her. "I need to challenge you."

Mayor Mare smiled, still as gentle as before. Yet Twilight could sense she was tense, expectant. "Yes. The King and The Queen have their cults, Apprentice. They already have many who follow them. You however, do not. If you would stand amongst them as an equal, you must take a cult of your own." The mayor tossed her mane, a proud smile on her lips. "Fortunately for you, there is a powerful cult waiting to be seized right in front of you."

Twilight slowly began to take a step forward, then another. "It won’t be quite that simple, of course." Twilight murmured, calling upon the strength of Dissonance for herself. "That's the way this works. I'm going to have to force you to acknowledge my power." Her eyes met Mayor Mares, and there was the briefest of nods. "There is no guarantee it will end well for you either."

The Mayor shook her head at that, and Twilight took a deep breath. "Sombra wants to see if I'll kill you." The mayor looked oddly proud at that, and nodded again. Twilight stalked a step closer, knowing somehow that this was the proper place to stand. "I won’t kill you, Mayor Mare. Not if I can help it." Twilight grasped Dissonance with every bit of her soul that she could.

The Mayor's smile was sad, and power blazed from her like a beacon. "You may not have a choice, Apprentice." Twilight felt the magic coalesce at her horn, building within her like a tidal wave slowly cresting over the beach. The fireplace suddenly snuffed out, leaving the pair of them in pitch darkness save for two pairs of blazing green eyes and living shadows.

Twilight focused for a moment. Harmony is a Lie, there is only Passion. "You will..." Her voice snarled, and suddenly a foot thick column of light erupted from her horn as her words screamed in the darkness. "BE OBEDIENT!" The mayor's eyes went wide in pure terror as the column struck her in the chest, Twilight pouring every ounce of her power into the connection. I will not kill. I Will not kill you, Mayor. I will not give that bastard the satisfaction.

But the Mayor's power was far greater than she had ever faced before. Hundreds of thousands of cultists stood behind her, and she'd had decades of experience learning how to draw from their power. Twilight felt their powers match one another in midair, as though she could not complete the full connection to the mayor. The column of light poured out of her horn while the Mayor stood with her hooves extended towards it, a bright shield of gold holding it back.

This isn't going to work...she's got too many followers. Twilight panted, drawing deeper into Dissonance, and feeling a burning pain of something deep in her body. I'm drawing so much of the power it's...changing me... She grit her teeth, and felt what might have been fangs growing from her incisors. Twilight growled like an animal and poured in more power, slowly driving the shield back. If I can’t break the shield, It's going to destroy her!

Twilight's thought were running wild, trying to find some way to exploit the situation. Yet this was nothing but a show of pure power. There were no fancy spell works here, no theories. This was as primitive and primal as magical expression got. Twilight felt her despair feed into the magic, making it stronger and stronger. The mayor's golden shield began to crack, and Twilight could see Mayor Mare standing there behind her shield, a slight smile on her face and her eyes closed. She was expecting death. She was welcoming it.

NO! her thoughts shouted, and from somewhere, she felt a hoof grasp her shoulder. Yet there was nopony else in the room, except...Lilith! Sure enough, A ghostly unicorn settled down next to her, wrapping her hooves around Twilight's shoulders. "Hush Mistress. I told you. You will never be alone." Twilight felt new strength suddenly surge into her horn - and the Mayors eyes snapped open in shock.

The mayor cried something out, and the shield shattered, throwing the Mayor up against the stone wall of the room over the Fireplace. The fireplace burst into life once again as green energy exploded out of Twilight's hooves and eyes, scattering the papers on the desk across the room.

Twilight could see a massive shadowy tendril reach from within her soul and sink itself directly into the Mayor, pouring out of the Mayor's body in thousands of lesser strands which streaked out of the fortress in every direction. The Mayor's mouth was hanging open in a wordless cry, green energy pouring out of her eyes and mouth.

A Few moments later, she slowly sank to the floor in front of the blazing fireplace, her hooves shaking and her breathing coming in fast pants.

Twilight had only enough time to note that the Mayor was still alive before she once again collapsed to the floor, blacking out instantly.

"Never alone, Mistress. Never again."


Sombra stalked across the field to where the lavender pink unicorn sat alone at a fire, warming her hooves. His iron clad boots could not stomp against the grassy ground, but he certainly made a good effort of it. He stopped a few feet away and blew green energy out of his nostrils. "I should have known one of you would be interfering." He snarled, his voice like razor wire.

Lilith smiled faintly and rubbed her hooves together. "Why are you so upset, King Sombra? I am on your side." She turned to gaze at him with guileless blue eyes. "I have left the road, and now walk the True Path. I had thought you would be celebrating." Her eyes twinkled with mischief. "Oh, and it is good to see you again too."

Sombra stalked around the fire to glare at her from the front, shoving aside the log where Ponies had been sitting earlier. "This is one of your schemes again. Your tricks." He slammed a hoof into the ground next to the camp fire, shadows billowing out of it.

Lilith laughed and went back to warming her hooves. "No tricks, King Sombra. No schemes. The world needs her to fall." Her face took on a deep sadness, a look of mourning. "Just as the world needs me to follow her." Her head drooped down and she placed her hooves around her, squeezing tightly. "Use your senses, King. You know I cannot lie about the power I wield."

Sombra frowned and his eyes flared up with bright green flames. For a brief moment he only stared, and then bit off a choking sound. Sombra sat down heavily, staring in disbelief. "By Dissonance. Are things truly that dire?" His voice had gone quiet, as serious as he ever was.

Lilith nodded, gently placing her hooves up to the fire again. "Yes. Celestia has gone too far this time. She sought to slay dissonance itself. She has taken her war so far that the world has created that incredible filly in backlash." She shook her head, gently. "That poor girl. She does not deserve this fate. " She looked up at Sombra, eyes full of ancient sadness. "Will you tell her?"

Sombra hesitated for a moment, then shook his head. "If anypony is to tell her, it shall be you. I will claim ignorance." He shook his head as his power grasped his iron crown and pulled it off his head, laying it next to him. "The Trinity truly shall be born again. With you at her side, I need not fear that Chrysalis will try to dominate her." He paused, then laughed gently. "Perhaps I should worry the opposite now." Sombra focused his gaze on the unicorn in front of him and growled. "I had wondered how she walked so swiftly down the path. "

Lilith beamed at him, toying with a stick in her hooves. "I have not done much. I simply give her a little push in the right direction. She truly is a born prodigy, Sombra. She simply needs to be shown the truth of her own soul. " Lilith giggled softly. "And I must admit, her magic is..." She licked at her lips saucily, shivering in reaction. "I fear she will addict me to it at this rate." She grinned then. "She is going to awaken soon. You should prepare the final trial for her." Lilith tossed the stick into the fire, and went back to warming it with her hooves.

Sombra nodded and stood, placing his crown back on his head. He began to walk away from the fire before pausing and turning back towards her. "I just had a thought." Sombra mused, turning on the spot with a sly smile. "Lilith. Really, now. The Temptress?" He smirked, a glimmer of humor in his eyes. "And I thought Somber Gaze was paper thin." He tossed his mane back and laughed as he trotted towards the tomb, a great deal happier than he had been moments before.

Lilith quietly lifted a leaf from the fire pit with her magic, watching as the fire slowly began to spread. She closed her eyes, and spoke a little prayer for her new Mistress. Harmony, guide her steps. Dissonance, shield her heart. May she know peace, love, and freedom. And if the Goddess has any mercy, may we both one day walk the Middle Road together.

Lilith quietly pressed her hooves together, thinking of all that had already happened. She smiled a little as she felt Twilight's mind slowly awaken, taking stock of all the new thoughts and powers which were coming to her.

"Do not worry Mistress." Lilith whispered into the fire. "I shall make sure that you enjoy what you must become. It is the very least that I can do...”

Chapter 13 - The Queen

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"Wake up...You must awaken, Mistress Twi- Hecate. On your hooves, Lazybones!"

The voice pulled Twilight out of the depths of blackness she had fallen into. Little by little, she could feel consciousness returning to her. Energy flowed into her body from somewhere, revitalizing her with each passing moment. What happened? I was about to kill the Mayor and then...Lilith. She could still feel Lilith there, her hooves gently lifting her from the ground. She was feeding Twilight strength somehow, letting Twilight recover more quickly from the magical backlash.

The Mayor hovered nearby, her mane quite thoroughly frazzled but looking otherwise unharmed. She gently pulled Twilight back up to her hooves, shaking her head in amazement. "I had known you were powerful, but that..." Mayor Mare gently whistled, looking abashed. " I underestimated you quite badly. Not that I am angry about being wrong, or still alive." She chuckled richly, in that stuffy older mare voice she liked to affect.

Twilight shook the cobwebs out of her head. She doesn't realize that was not entirely me. Maybe I should keep that under my saddle for now. Twilight's voice croaked out, but she could not speak. Her throat had gone dry and scratchy. Moments later, the Mayor was pressing a large mug full of cold water up to her lips and helping her drink. Twilight gasped at the chill of the water against her scratchy through, but she drank deeply anyway.

After several more mugs, Twilight nearly felt like a living pony again. She pushed up to a standing position and smiled a little at Mayor Mare. "Mayor...I promised you. I wasn't going to let you die." The grey maned eminence laughed brightly and bowed deeply to her. Twilight felt a bit of sarcasm coming on, and decided to indulge herself. "I certainly was not going to let you get out of all the paperwork we're going to have to do."

The mayor stared at her for a moment, then laughed. "Now that sounds like Twilight Sparkle, and you can call me Scrolls, dear. Calling me Mayor is a bit redundant now that I work for you." Mayor Mar- er, Scrolls winked cheekily at her, trotting back a few steps and bowing deeply to Twilight. "The King has gone to gather the leaders of our cause. He intends to challenge you to take your place amongst the Trinity. I am to give you a brief tutoring as to what that will entail." Scrolls tilted her head, smiling. "Though I have little doubt none will be able to bar your way."

Twilight frowned slightly, as the Mayor - she wouldn't be able to stop thinking of her that way, anyway - led the way out of the room. "May- Scrolls. Scrolls." She repeated, getting a little cross look on her face. "By harmony, I'm never going to get used to all of these use-names. This has something to do with the final part of the code, doesn't it?" The mayor nodded her head, stopping for a moment to grasp a brush out of a side room, and started to tug and pull her mane into line.

The mayor flinched as she caught a burr, but continued talking as they walked. "Yes. You will be placed in extremely heavy chains and magical restraints. Nothing upon your horn, but there will be a great deal holding you back. You will need to strip them off one by one, building your magic as you go. It is a painful, painstaking process to remove them and will test the power of your dissonance. When you have removed all of the chains, you will need to cross the great hall without falling."

The mayor winced again as she tugged her grey mane back down into something approaching reasonable, continuing to speak crisply. "The great leaders will do everything in their power to trip you up. It is a test of your willpower, your strength and cunning to evade the traps. At the end, you will have to light the third torch of the Trinity. When you have done that, you will.."

The mayor hesitated, then continued. "You will draw the magic from the torches. They will burn you Mistress. They will burn away your mark, and with it all of the limits of harmony. The last is a test of endurance, of inner strength. Should you survive, you will take up a new symbol of your power and become our new Queen."

Twilight stared for a moment, feeling fear touch the base of her spine. That does not sound pleasant in the least. She gulped, pushing down the lump in her throat for a moment. "Well, I suppose it could all be worse." She did her best to force out a grin. "It's definitely no Discord." She certainly sounded brave, even if the Mayor obviously was not buying it.

Twilight took a deep breath and let it out. I'm not alone. she reminded herself, and sure enough she could feel the ghostly hooves of Lilith upon her shoulders. I know this pony. her mind whispered, and then the thought whispered away. She had a job to do. "Lead the way, Mayor." Twilight commanded firmly.


Twilight waited in silence as the dark cloaked ponies carefully wound the steel and silver chains around her as she lay on the floor, weaving it through the iron grate that surrounded the dais. She simply kept her eyes closed, breathing in and out in a slow pattern. It's strange. Only a few days ago, I was preparing to become the ultimate champion of harmony. I had no thoughts of my future but that. It was a sober thing to reflect on. It was equally sobering that she might not survive this.

Twilight took another deep breath in, and out. If I die, the Princess will have no reason to call an inquisition. I will have protected the ponies I loved. It was enough. She would very much like to live, to know the truth. Yet she would not face this test fearing failure. Through Truth, I gain Courage. The chains were secured. She could see them hanging magic absorbent crystals from the ceiling, and they were drawing runes all around her little prison here.

She closed her eyes again, and kept breathing. She had left a final letter with the mayor. It would find its way into the hooves of her friends. The mayor had sworn no other pony would read it. Twilight had made certain to include everything she knew upon the parchment, written in the secret code she'd shared with Princess Celestia. She thought about her friends, drawing strength from those old memories.

The world would change tonight. She knew her friends would never be the same, and neither would she. For not the first time today, Twilight wished she could cry. She wished she dared use Starswirl's time travel spell again, and damn the consequences. Anything to make things go back to the way they were. But that's never going to happen.

Twilight squeezed her eyes shut, wondering what was causing all of this introspection. Being faced with death? What did Celestia use to tell me? You can’t put the syrup back in the bottle once it's in the oatmeal. and Twilight couldn't make all she had learned vanish. She couldn't purge her mind of the horrifying truth of the situation.

The veil had been lifted from her eyes, and she couldn't put it back down. Not and be her true self. I'll have to take a symbol of my power huh? I Think I already know what that will be. She knew what to say too. It would be her declaration of war on every secret that had been used against her.

The chains were finally locked tight. The cloaked ponies bowed and left the room. Sombra paced into the room in front of her, melting out of the shadows. He wore the white ruffled red cape and armor she'd seen him in at the Crystal Empire, his Iron Crown's gems gleamed with power. "My Apprentice. Would that we had time to prepare you for this." He shook his head once, as if in regret. "Time is not on our side however. You must be ready to face the Tyrant and soon. Precisely one hundred yards ahead of you..." He gestured behind him. "Is your prize. Once the test has begun, it must be finished. You cannot turn aside." He laid his hoof on the ground next to her, leaning down. "Are you prepared to know freedom?"

Twilight inhaled once more and opened her eyes. They were not glowing, but simply tinted the dark green power of dissonance. Her pupils had become red, and faint shadows slowly twisted from her eyelashes. "Yes." Lilith. I need you. Once again, she could sense those ghostly hooves next to her - though she knew not even Sombra could feel them now. A warmth settled deep inside of her, the strength of another. Scrolls. I call upon my Faithful. The scent of dusty parchment and ink seemed to flow through the air, and a stern hoof lay upon her shoulder. Not in comfort, but in confidence. Their strength waited for her command.

Sombra lifted his head and nodded in satisfaction, and vanished from the room. "Let the Trial Begin!" A voice rang through the room, shaking the dust from the ceiling. Twilight waited only a moment. She could sense Lilith's amusement, and the Mayor's anxiety. They need not have feared. Through Victory, my chains are broken.

Twilight had known victory in ways that most ponies could never dream of. Twilight simply gathered her power into her, drawing from her two greatest Acolytes. I will need them both in the years to come. The strength flowing through her was magnitudes above and beyond anything she had drawn before, but Twilight wanted to make a statement.

She wanted to leave every creature that watched her now with no doubts as to her power. Let them fear her, let them cower before her. She, who had made the Night bow to her. She, who had made Chaos itself give way. She was the Element of Magic, that which connected all the powers of the world. Twilight planted her hooves on the ground and simply allowed the power to swell around her.

The chains began to strain outwards, lifted by the pure magical force they sought to contain. Twilight simply poured the power out, her eyes closed in gentle concentration. Magic will make me free. The chains began to snap and burst, and a moment later, they exploded away from her. Metal flung against the walls, gouging divots into the stone. Silver and steel snapped like twigs under the force of the aura she'd gathered around her. The crystals shattered above her head and rained down in glittering shards.

Twilight's eyes opened to reveal the deep green flame that lurked within, and began to slowly stalk forward. She kept building the aura of power, even as she stepped through the shadowy doorway into a vast hall of stone. She could sense thousands upon thousands of creatures all around her as she walked boldly amongst them.

Her aura shifted in her mind, and she hammered it into place with the force of her mind. Her horn glowed blinding violet silver, and a cloak of green fire and power laid down upon her shoulders. The shadows that hid the path gave way in hisses of pain and shock. Twilight was not going to play by Sombras' rules.

She was not going to play by these creatures rules either. The cloak billowed out behind and in front of her, searing away the trip wires and the ropes. False stones crumbled into the floor, and Twilight ignored every divot and spiked ball, brushing them aside with a sweep of her horn.

After a few moments, the creatures even ceased trying to trip her up. Her regal gait neither hurried nor caring of the looks of hunger, terror and respect that spread throughout her audience. Twilight almost thought she could hear Lilith's voice in her ear as she walked. Let them know who will rule here. Who will lead them in a way no one else could. They will follow the most powerful, for it is our way. Become their Nightmare.

Twilight slowly approached the far wall, where two lit torches hung from some kind of ancient iron work. Above them, two banners shrouded in shadows hung from the wall. Twilight looked at the final unlit torch that hung next to them, and nodded slightly. She dipped her horn towards the torch and let the flames of dissonance light it.

It lit after a moment, and she stood back, planting her hooves and glaring brazenly at the torches. "Come. I'm not afraid." She tossed off the line coolly, as though she were a character in some kind of pulp novel. The fires began to grow from the torches, growing slowly into tight balls of raging fire. Lilith's hooves steadied her shoulders, and the Mayors lifted her head up. Then they were gone. She would have to face this herself.

The fires exploded out towards her in columns of power, and wove around her body with impossible heat. She winced a little from the waves of hot air pounding at her body, but stood her ground. The fire struck at her once, twice. Burning fur and flesh without mercy, but leaving no mark. It was pain, she realized but no damage to her body. That banished the fear. They think I cannot handle a little pain? They don’t know what pain is.

Pain was watching your closest friends betray you. Pain was watching them be discorded into false versions of themselves and abandoning the fight. Pain was the fear that you could not save your oldest friend. Pain was your brother being mind controlled by a sadist, and no one would believe you.

Pain was the betrayal of a teacher who had not told you the truth. Pain was a teacher who wished to turn you into a weapon. Pain was the knowledge that she would destroy everything you loved because it dared suggest her way was not perfect. Pain was accepting that the only thing you could do was fight her to save everything else you loved.

As the fires closed in around her, certainly it hurt. Certainly her body was in agony, but it was not pain. It was something to endure, something she would endure for every pony that relied upon her. She closed her eyes and focused at her center. This was just another step, another beginning for her.

This was not pain. Pain was what was coming. Pain was a confrontation with Celestia.

This was just a warm-up.

The fires raged around Twilight's Body for several agonizing minutes, or hours, or perhaps days. Twilight could not tell. Her world was a sea of hurt and ache, and the fires of dissonance ravaging her body within and without. It did not last forever though, soon enough it retreated back into the sconces and was simply fire once again.

Twilight had not buckled, she had not fallen. Twilight raised her head in defiance against the flame and tsked at it. Then she turned her head to regard her flank, and true enough it was blank. It held no mark, not even a sign of who she had once been. She had been purified in purpose and in soul. She knew what she had to do now, no matter how much pain it might cost her.

The room lit up in a blast of fire from the torches, and dozens of torches and wall sconces lit up with green flames that cast deep warm light all around the cavern. All around her, a sea of ponies and creatures like she had seen earlier erupted into cheers and celebration. The room echoed with cries of joy and the weeping of those whose faith had been renewed.

Twilight turned towards the center of the room, where a massive Triangle stone table had lifted from the ground. Sombra stood at one tip of that table, his iron shod hoof resting on a symbol carved into the stone - one of a shining faceted crystal with a crown set upon its top. He bowed his head to her, in the respect given to equals.

Across from him, Queen Chrysalis stood with a smile on her face. Her much holed hoof laid on the table over a stone symbol of a Changeling skull wearing a crown. To Twilight's amazement, Chrysalis bowed her head towards her too. As she lifted it, there was a challenging look in her eye - but also a warm one.Is she attempting to bury the hatchet? Hmph. We'll see.

Twilight could see the final tip of the triangle before her, and she walked unhurriedly towards it. She mounted the stone dais on which the table stood and raised her hoof up to the crowd. In an instant, silence fell and a hushed feel of anticipation settled upon the room. Twilight smiled a little at Sombra, and then at Chrysalis before she began to speak.

Her tones rang throughout the room, enhanced by the special acoustics built into the stone. It seemed to echo off the walls and reverberate in the ear of all the watchers. "My Brothers!" She cried out, and the males of the room roared back, even Sombra joining the cheer. "My Sisters!" She cried to the many female creatures, which buzzed and stomped and cried back in response. "Today, I taste freedom for the first time in my entire life! And I find that taste to be sweet!" More cheering, stomping and cries of approval.

Twilight lifted her hoof again, and silence fell reverently. "But I cannot forget who I was. I cannot dismiss my past. Today I have been reborn, and for the first time I can choose my destiny." Silence answered her as she lifted her gaze across the audience. "So I tell you this, my brethren. Today, I choose my name not because it is what I was born to be, not because it is what I was forced to be - but because it is what I CHOOSE To be!"

Her hoof came down with a triumphant smack against the stone table, and the stone transformed before the eyes of the crowd. It shifted and melted like wax under her touch, imprinting it with the symbol of a shining spark of magic, surrounded by six stars, the spark and each star set into the point of a crown. "I am Magic. It is who I am. It is my soul, my blood and my bone. I shall carry its symbol and its name with me forever. Both as an inspiration - that without it, I could never have become free. And as a reminder - That without choice, even magic is meaningless."

She lifted her head up high, satisfied with her words. Sombra lifted his other iron hoof into the air and bellowed out in a basso voice that filled the room, his eyes excited beyond all reason as magic began to erupt beneath their hooves and fill them with strength.

"The Trinity stands once again! We, the three rulers of Dissonance shall bring about a new age! Let our names be laid down into the history of our cause, and we shall renew our pledge to cast down the Tyrant of Harmony!"

Magic drew in around the table, and flooded out into the room around her. Chrysalis' horn burst to life with a bright green and fire and energy flowed from her shoulders and wings like a swarm of her changelings. Many of those changelings within the crowd bowed to her at this display of power as her voice rang throughout the room. "I am Queen Chrysalis, Mother of the Hives! Let my children once again move freely through the land, and feed deeply upon all who would have them! Let our long exile in darkness end, and may all the hives know freedom!"

Sombra's horn shone a baleful red, and shadows erupted from his shoulders, billowing off his body like a massive cloak of darkness. It spun and pulsed in the air, and then settled about him like a royal train, making his baleful green eyes seem even brighter by comparison as his voice roared. "I am Sombra, the Shadow King! Let all of the dark creatures of the land know that their time in hiding is over! Let them come forth and once again live amongst ponykind without fear, and may they once again know freedom!"

Twilight paused for a moment, and then smiled as a devilish idea entered her mind. Her horn lit up with bright violet power, and she could feel the room feeding her spell from some kind of ancient ambient magic’s. She carefully crafted her spell form, welding it to her shoulders as bright purple magic began to spiral out of her horn.

The magic twisted and spun through the air, dancing amidst the crowds. It touched every being there, even if only briefly and whirled around Twilight's body like a hurricane of power. She could feel the power slowly filling up the spell form she had created, and constructs began to come into existence from her back.

A long sweeping shape that slowly filled with iridescent feathers and joints, flaring out behind her in a display of brilliant violet magic that caught the breath of every creature within the room. Beautiful wings of arcane energy mantled and flared, for the moment making her look for the entire world like an Alicorn ascendant. Except Twilight had not been given this power, this form. She had taken it for herself, and created it with her own horn.

She had not needed Celestia to give her this. She had made it for herself, and in doing so had taken her life into her own hooves. I will not be manipulated. I will not be controlled. I will make my own path, my own way. At last, I will make my own choices. Her magic settled around her as the vast magical wings folded behind her, and a crystalline violet crown seemed to appear into being from nowhere, settling about her brow.

Twilight spoke softly into the dead silence, with every eye in the room upon her.

"I rule over Magic itself. Let every sorcerer and spell caster come unto me, and let us build a new world. Let us combine the powers of all races and forge them together in ways that have never been known before. Let us find the means to bring equality and hope to all the peoples of the world, without restrictions of blood or lineage. Let it be known that I stand for all the ponies of the world, and let them rejoice. The old chains will be cast aside, the tyranny of those who used Harmony for their own power will be broken. A new day has dawned in Equestria and in our world."

Twilight took a deep breath, and smiled slightly, her last words echoing throughout the cavernous halls, signaling a battle cry of sorts.

"I am the Nightmare Queen, Twilight Sparkle. And I carry my name as a reminder that one day, we all shall know freedom."

Chapter 14 - The Elements

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~~~~Golden Oaks Library, an hour or so later~~~~~

Twilight Sparkle, Apprentice Hecate, the Nightmare Queen lay in her simple cozy bed fast asleep. It had been an extremely long day and night for her already, and the next day promised to bring challenges anew. She had left the Haven as a new pony, a new being all in her own right. New pony or not, she still needed to sleep.

After three solid days of undisturbed rest, Twilight finally started to dream again. Her mind roamed through dark places, shadowy rooms and mysterious circumstances. All the while a lone figure sat across from her bed, watching her silently in the night. The unicorn who had called herself Lilith watched over Twilight. Silently protecting the still so innocent pony as minutes slowly ticked by, the moon slowly lifting fully into the air in the window behind the bed.

Lilith closed her eyes and allowed the tears to flow. The universe had never been particularly fair, not in her long experience. The ages had not changed the fundamental rules of the world. There would always be light and darkness, and each side would always seek the defeat of the other. There would always be tragic victims of that fight, and Lilith was looking at one right now.

She wanted to scream, to rage against the heavens themselves. She wanted more than she ever had before to take up every ounce of her not inconsiderable power and use it without concern for the consequences. To force the world to leave this poor filly be. But Harmony, or in this case Celestia would not allow her to live her normal life.

There was a war to win, an ancient plan to fulfill. All of Twilight's future, her potential meant nothing as long as that plan was carried out. Celestia might weep over the need to destroy her beloved student's future, but she would destroy it without a second thought when the time came.

So Darkness had to do something, Dissonance had to step in. Without it, Twilight's wonderful heart and soul would be crushed by what Celestia would force her to do. Right and wrong did not even enter into it, it was about winning. Celestia would tell herself, over and over again that she was doing the right thing. By her lights, it might seem that way.

Lilith knew better, for the world hated extremes. It hated a vacuum most of all and if Dissonance was truly obliterated under the silver boots and magic of Twilight Sparkle, what would take its place? Lilith had her theories, and none of them would end well for the world or its ponies. Celestia might care then, but it would be far too late to do anything about it.

That left Twilight Sparkle sleeping quietly. Enjoying dreams for the first time in days. She would not awaken easily, Lilith knew. No one would bother them, for the town was still in quiet and mourning for what had happened today. That meant Lilith had some time all to herself tonight.

So she wept. She collapsed to the floor and pressed her hooves over her head and let the tears and quiet sobs flow from her. She had failed so long ago to save the world from this. She had failed to convince Celestia of the errors of her ways. This was her fault, and nopony else. Twilight Sparkle would have to become a monster powerful enough to rule over every other monster in the world in order to save it.

Was she no better than Celestia in the end? Was she not robbing this poor filly of her chance at a long and normal life, lived in joy and then a quiet but satisfied passing into the next world? Did she have any right to push her mind down the dark path?

Did she have any choice?

Suddenly, Lilith felt a bubble of hope. She could wake Twilight up. She could tell her everything, every single secret kept from her. She could tell her about all of her choices, and what each one would mean. She could tell her the truth. Try to lead her down the middle road. But then, she would find herself in a place perhaps even worse than this.

She would have to fight absolutely everyone. Sombra, Chrysalis, Celestia, Cadence, who knew who else. It had never been tried before. No one had ever believed it was possible. Twilight was different though. Harmony and Dissonance alike surged through her like an unrelenting tide. She was a living embodiment of magic, and she had countless other allies to call upon. It was a struggle that had equal chances of saving and destroying the world.

Or they could run. Take Twilight, her closest friends and flee to faraway lands. With the Elements of Harmony out of Celestia's hooves and Sombra and Chrysalis leading a newly revived army of Dissonance, Celestia would be forced to retrench. War would inevitably follow, but Twilight and those she loved would be far away from it. Perhaps in time, Celestia would be made to acknowledge that Dissonance had a place in the world.

Lilith felt her hope collapse in on itself, and sank back to the ground. She could not justify making millions of others suffer just to save this one. Once again, the world was demanding a sacrifice of innocence for the good of all. Lilith had been designated its tool.

It would be foals play to deliver Twilight to Celestia as she was now. It would be a matter of hours before Twilight once again believed in the white path with all of her soul. Celestia would see to that. It would be less than a day for the Ritual to be completed, and Twilight would become a young Alicorn. Within mere months she would ascend in full and become the Alicorn of Magic.

Then that would be that, no foe would be able to stand against her, no force able to stay her wrath. Every advantage Dissonance had would vanish overnight. Twilight would be able to feel the very presence of magic. Combined with the powers of Cadence and Celestia, there would be not one single heart or soul within the kingdom that could conceal its true nature.

It would be the death of Dissonance. Celestia would have her Triumvirate of Harmony, and then...Lilith did not know what would happen then. What Celestia would do, what anypony would do. There was no telling how long the purge might take, or how many might be consumed in the flame.

It would be the simple way out of all this. Yet Lilith could not do it. A slightly darker but still stable future was preferable to one that might seem bright to the naked eye, but only because of the flames that enveloped it. No, Lilith would have to continue as she had begun.

She wiped her tears away with her hoof, slowly taking control of her emotions. She would be strong for Twilight, she would need strength to remain herself. Lilith at the least, could make sure that strength was always there. She carefully walked across the room, working hard to stay silent.

Twilight had tossed a bit, and Lilith grasped the edge of the sheet and pulled it back over Twilight's shoulder. "I owe you so much." She whispered, the tears coming unbidden again. Cursed eyes. "I owe you my very life." she wished Twilight could hear these things, but it was not time for her to do so. "I owe you the peace in my soul." A peace brought on by friendship. By love, by caring even when nopony else tried. "And This is how I repay you.." She lowered her head, silvery tears spattering silently against the ground.

She did not deserve this. Twilight deserved a better life, a better friend, a better Acolyte. Even that blasted Mayor, for all of her faults was more deserving than Lilith. She turned away, intending to go to her own sleep when a hoof reached out and grasped her shoulder, pulling her back. Her eyes widened in the moonlight as she was pulled around by a sleepy looking Twilight. Twilight had a little smile on her lips, hoof tugging Lilith towards the bed. "Stay." she whispered softly, invitingly.

It was all Lilith could do not to break down again .She could not hide her tears, so she tried to brush them off. "Mistress, I am - " She was cut off by a commanding look from Twilight, who shook her head once.

"I don't care tonight." Twilight whispered again, pulling Lilith forcibly up onto the narrow bed. "When you're ready to tell me the truth, I'll be ready to listen." Slender hooves wrapped around Lilith's neck and she was drawn in close, Twilight burying her face into her coat. "For right now, shut up and just hold me." Twilight did not sound scared, she sounded lonely. Tired and sad.

Lilith's hooves snaked back around the youngest Queen of Dissonance in all of history and simply held her close. For a short time, they cried together - holding each other for the comfort and warmth of another. Eventually, the two ponies fell asleep in each other’s arms as the moon slowly rose into the sky.


The morning came all too soon, Sun lifting above the horizon in a gentle wave of heat and light. The darkness was driven away, and another dawn was born into Equestria. The town of Ponyville was waking up too. Yesterday had been a day of sadness, grief and loss. This was an earth pony town however, and that meant you saved your tears for when you had time. Within hours of sunrise, the entire town was hard at work rebuilding from the damage.

Or rather, most of the town was. Some ponies were gathering in front of the Golden Oaks library in the early morning. Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Cadence, and Shining Armor all stood in front of the door, some amongst them wearing bandages or the like from yesterday’s battle.

Rainbow Dash sat in a wheel chair, her wings carefully bound up and folded against her back. Cadence had applied a massive whammy of healing magic this morning, because nopony wanted to leave Rainbow Dash out of this conversation. Cadence was drained, but Dash was at least able to move around now even if she required a bit of help.

They stood in companionable silence for a half an hour before the door swung open for them, as if by magic. Each pony present looked at one another nervously, except for Dash. Rainbow Dash just rolled her eyes and pushed her wheelchair into the library. "C'mon guys. It's Twilight." Her voice rang with scorn and scoff alike. "I Don’t give a buck what she's turned into, she's still our friend!"

Rarity was the one to speak up next - she had a set of stuffed saddlebags slung over her back, and lifted her head up high. "Dash is right of course. It would be dreadful of us to abandon her now." She trotted in after dash, somehow maintaining her regal gait despite the stuffed bags.

Fluttershy followed without a word, though she did look distinctly nervous. Pinkie Pie was right there beside her, a hoof around Fluttershy's shoulders as they walked in. She paused only to whip her gaze back at a nervous and frightened looking Applejack, glaring at her for a moment before they vanished inside.

Cadence's eyes were on the ground as she stood next to Applejack. Shining Armor shook his head. "Cadey, I told you last night. I'm telling you again." He turned and marched into the library. "I'm not abandoning my little sister, no matter what."

Cadence and Applejack stood together outside of the library with conflicted looks on their faces. Applejack broke the silence first. "Princess, Ma'am...Ah'm not really sure whut I ought t'be doin right now." Applejacks hooves were tapping nervously against one another, staring into the slightly opened doorway. "Tha book of Harmony tells us to always stand by our friends, no matter what trials they're goin through. That a real pony doesn't care bout ill deeds or acts, but about being a loyal and just friend."

Applejack swallowed what had to have been the biggest lump in her life before she kept speakin. "Ah aint gonna lie, Ah'm scared of what she might've become. Ah'm even more frightened that she's gonna lead us all down her road, draggin' us along till we aint the same." Applejack's head drooped, and her hoof pulled her hat over her eyes. "Ah'm ashamed a' that feeling, Princess. And Ah don’t know what ta' do bout it."

Cadence had remained silent for a while before she began to speak, trying to gather her own thoughts. "Applejack, the Code of Harmony tells me that there is nopony beyond redemption. That we can all come back from the darkness, if only we can find the way. Twilight will need you Applejack if she is ever to find her way back again. She will need your honesty, your dedication to the truth. Nopony else will be able to do what you can." Cadence drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Come, Applejack. Twilight needs us both now."

Cadence slowly began to walk inside when Applejack's voice popped up. "What's she gonna need you for, Princess? If ya don't mind me askin.." Applejack was moving too, if a bit slower.

Cadence closed her eyes as they crossed the threshold. There was an incredible power inside these walls, one of immense Dissonant strength. It could only be coming from one source. "I don't know Applejack. I just don't know."

The ponies climbed the stairs up to the bedroom loft in the Library, and the door swung open a moment later. The crowd of ponies saw a lavender pink unicorn wearing a black cloak and hood, her eyes glittering blue at the assembled ponies. All of them stared at her for a moment, and she stared back.

It took Shining Armor to break the silence. "You must be Lilith." his tone was dubious, and full of questions. The Pink unicorn nodded, and smiled. It was a smile of depths, a smile with hidden meanings and unspoken truths. Shining Armor blinked a little, and thought for a moment that he could sense some kind of hidden power here.

He did not have time to ruminate on that as the cloaked mare smiled and spoke "Yes, I am Lilith. Welcome." She bowed her head. "You are Mistress' honored friends. I am her Acolyte and see to all of her private affairs. Mistress is just getting out of the bath, and will be joining us shortly." She gestured with her hoof into the room, where a ton of colorful sitting pillows had been scattered around a central overstuffed chair. "Please, make yourselves comfortable."

The crowd slowly filed in, Rainbow Dash helped along by Shining and Rarity. Only Applejack seemed concerned at the mare's words. "Mistress? Acolyte? Th' hay you talkin about? You some kinda' cultist?" Her southern bite whipped across the room. Shining Armor facehoofed and the rest of her friends looked at her in surprise.

The Unicorn simply smiled and nodded. "I do follow the True Path of Dissonance, Miss Applejack. I hope that does not disturb you." Her horn lightly glowed and trays were brought over to the floor - each bearing a wide selection of foodstuffs and drink. "Twilight Sparkle is my Mistress. I serve her as her Acolyte, which means that whatever service she may require of me, I shall carry out to the fullest." Her eye sparkled in mischief. "And before you have to ask, There are no limits as to what commands from her I shall obey."

The room full of ponies drank that in, Applejack glowering at Lilith before sitting down with an audible thump. Pinkie Pie of course, could not resist making the situation awkward. "Oh!" She exclaimed in her bubbly voice. "You mean you'd even do any naughty fun time thing!" The rest of the ponies facehoofed. Lilith was the only exception, laughing delightedly and winking with a nod at Pinkie Pie.

The ponies arrayed themselves on the cushions, Lilith moving to and fro around the chair. After a few minutes, she stopped and quickly trotted over to a side door. "Ah, she is ready." She said, though no one else had detected any kind of signal. Lilith disappeared through the bathroom door a moment later.

Rainbow Dash spoke up first. "How in the buck did she do that?" She wiggled on the uncomfortable wheelchair, as always cranky when she was injured.

Cadence spoke up, calmly. " Dissonance Sorcerers have a way of communicating with their cultists. We've never been able to figure out precisely how it's done, but distance does not seem to have much effect." She sighed softly. "Twilight has gone even farther than I'd feared."

Rarity tsked, her bags set down next to her. "Princess Cadence, I beg your pardon... Actually, I do not beg your pardon. You are speaking about my close friend here, and I shall not have it." She thumped her hoof against the ground, glaring at Cadence. "Yesterday, I watched Twilight Sparkle wade into an army with little more than her magic and her courage. Countless other ponies saw her do the same all across town. If that is the measure of this Dissonance, then perhaps we could use a bit more of it."

Rarity sniffed daintily. "Twilight saved my life, Princess. She saved my sister, Applejack's sister and countless other foals. She did so at the risk of her own life. That is all the proof I require of the goodness in her heart." She crossed her hooves and turned her head away from Cadence, dismissing her from consideration.

Applejack's voice lunged in a moment later. "Now wait just an apple buckin' minute! She saved Applebloom from th' changelings? Where was-" Applejack smacked her face with a hoof. "She was at school, and they went t'yer place cos' it was the closest. An' Applebloom didn't tell me a thing." Applejack sunk onto her cushion, muttering and grumbling "Ah'm gonna ground that filly fer a year, ah swear t' Celestia."

Fluttershy gently shook her head. "Don't be angry at her Applejack. We all had less than great days yesterday." She rubbed at her head with a little wince. "I'm still a little fuzzy how Angel Bunny got me out of my house in one piece. He's such a sweetheart.."

After a moment of silence, Cadence hastily spoke before it could get even more awkward. "Girls, we need to face facts. Yes Twilight did a lot of good for the town yesterday, but that does not mean she's completely in her right mind." she swept her gaze challengingly across them. "Dissonance can do very strange things to a pony. We must be alert to anything out of the ordinary."

Pinkie Pie brightened up all of a sudden, as the rest of the girls brooded a bit. "Oh! You mean like her Cutie Mark vanishing?" She said, beaming proudly at Cadence as though she'd just thought of something terribly clever.

Cadence blinked. "Well I suppose that would definitely be a sign of...BY HARMONY!" Cadence flung herself off the pillow and away from the bathroom door, horn immediately bursting into bright white light as Twilight walked through the door.

Twilight looked no different to any of them in fact, save for the one glaring omission from her flank. Lilith walked behind her, kneeling next to the big red chair. Twilight paid no heed to Cadence at first, climbing up into the overstuffed sofa chair and looking at all of them sadly. "I'd hoped we could start this off on a more positive note." Twilight began, sounding a little defeated. "Looks like getting the things I'd hoped for still isn't happening."

Cadence slowly let the power out of her horn, as the crowd of ponies stared at the blank flank. Cadence's voice came first, stuttering in disbelief. "I-i-i-impossible. O-only six p-p-ponies in history have done that. They spent decades learning the arts, immersing themselves in D-dissonance's power."

Cadence shook her head firmly back and forth, then stared helplessly at Twilight who was watching Cadence with sad eyes. "Yesterday you were a terrified little filly! What did they do to you, Twilight?!" Cadence's eyes fixed on Lilith, and began to narrow slowly. "You. This is your fault. You've manipulated her somehow." She stalked forward a step, Ignoring the voice of her husband slowly rising behind her. "I don't know who or what you are, but I am going to burn you out of existence and put a stop to this!"

Shining Armor was by her side a moment later, wrapping a hoof around her neck. "Shhh. Cadey. Stop. Let her speak." His eyes were firm, and he had pressed his hoof into her chest. Twilight had not moved from the spot, she only seemed to become more and more depressed as the moments dragged on. Lilith looked up and stretched out a hoof to squeeze Twilight's, and got a smile in return.

Cadence took a deep shuddering breath and let it out. "I will hold my patience. But I shall not hold it for long, Twilight." She sat down again, slowly. "Explain yourself, little missy."

Twilight took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh before speaking, her voice calm and quiet. "What happened was the changeling attack. Ponyville was in trouble, and we were being overrun. I did not know what else to do." She looked down. "I couldn't get to the Elements. I used Dissonance in front of other ponies, Cadence. By the time I realized what I had done, the reports were already being flown to Celestia."

Twilight shook her head slowly. "I know her, Cadence. She's going to send an Inquisition to root out the sorcerer that was sighted here. They aren't going to stop until they're sure they've rooted out every believer of dissonance in town. You might think I don't know what that means, but I do. Ponies will be killed. Some of them will be innocent." Her jaw firmed up and she gazed challengingly across the crowd. "I couldn't let that happen. Not to Ponyville."

Applejack lifted a hoof. "Now hold on there, Sugarcube! Back up a mite. There's a powerful lot to this story, ah reckon. And Ah wanna hear all of it." Applejack pulled her hat off her head, gazing seriously at twilight. "An' don’t you leave a thing out. Ah'm in no mood fer tall tales."

Pinkie blinked and then bounced up and down. "Ooh! Ooh! Storytime! Storytime! I'll get the cookies!" But before she could take a step, Lilith was already there, floating a tray of chocolate chip cookies and a pitcher of milk to Pinkie, who stared in amazement. "Ooooooo, you're good." She pointed her hoof, grinning. Lilith smiled cheekily and pranced back to Twilight's side.

"Yeah Twi!" added Rainbow Dash, wincing a little as she tried to jerk her hoof forward. "Who's this girl that's hangin around you like she's in love? And what the buck happened t'yer cutie mark?" Dash eyeballed Lilith with some suspicion.

Rarity spoke up next, her voice lilting above Dash's "I must admit, I'm terribly curious myself Twilight. Not that I wish to pry, but it's certainly very strange." She lifted a teacup with her magic, eyeballing Lilith...speculatively.

Shining armor took Cadence's hoof in hand and nodded. "I think it's time you told us all what's happened, Twily."

So Twilight did.


The story took most of the day. The eight ponies sat and listened to the tale of the last three days, and Twilight did not leave a single thing out. Gasps arose at the mention of Sombra and Chrysalis still alive, and perilously close to ponyville. Stunned looks followed the news of Mayor Mare as the most powerful cultist in Equestria. The story of Twilight losing her cutie mark left all of them watching her in quiet awe.

Twilight did not eat, and drank very little - only enough to keep her throat lubricated. Lilith was unfailingly at the side of anyone who needed aid - filling mugs, refreshing food. As the day wore on, not one among them failed to notice the looks of worry Lilith bestowed upon twilight. Nor did any of them fail to notice Lilith tirelessly trying to ensure Twilight's comfort, especially as she slogged through some of the more difficult parts of the story.

Twilight was not going to lie to them though. They deserved the truth, and they got it. From when she received the book - which she showed to them, laying it on the table next to her. To the end of the previous evening. When the tale was finally done, Night threatened to fall upon Equestria. There had not been many questions, but there had been enough - usually her filling out the details of what had happened in the Haven.

Silence met the end of her story, and Twilight's throat hurt from the hours of talking. She still had more to say though, so she took a deep draught of cold water and began to speak. "I asked you all to come here because of what is going to happen next. Celestia will come for me. She will come to this town, and she will ruthlessly hunt for changeling and cultist alike." Twilight took a deep, shuddering breath before continuing. "I intend to stand in her way. Because I've found that there are perfectly good ponies living this life. Other creatures too, but the ponies in particular are no different than any of you. They simply believe in a different world, a different way of things."

Twilight's eyes went to the window, where the sun set on what might be her last day in Ponyville. " Maybe I was tricked, maybe I was fooled. But I walked into this, eyes wide open. I can’t put the syrup back in the bottle.."

Pinkie pie gently piped up, her normally animated voice quiet. "Once it's already on the oatmeal." Pinkie sounded wistful for a moment, as if remembering something from a long time ago.

Twilight couldn't help it. She smiled at Pinkie Pie, feeling her eyes well up with tears. "Yes. I can’t ignore these ponies any longer. They don't deserve to be killed because of my mistakes. They're my responsibility now. That means I need to protect them, even if I don't entirely know how."

Applejack's voice came next, quiet and thoughtful. "An' Sombra? An Chrysalis? What 'bout them an' this whole Trinity thang?" She had long since put her hat back on, but her voice was still challenging.

Twilight nodded. "I don’t trust them to be honest with me, not for a moment. But I do trust them to act in their own self-interest. They need me as badly as I need them. So long as I'm strong enough to take down at least one of them, they'll play fair enough." She sniffed. "And I intend to make sure Chrysalis pays for what she's already done to Ponyville."

Applejack nodded slowly, rubbing at her chin. "Ah reckon that's fair 'nuff fer now. Ah can’t say I like it but...Enemy of mah Enemy and all that nonsense." She waved her hoof in circles.

Cadence was still quiet, and finally Shining armor asked the question. "Why tell all of us this, Twily? What are you trying to achieve?"

Twilight took a deep breath. What had Sombra told her the other evening? Sometimes when all the odds are stacked against you, all you can do is go for it. Well, now was the time to go for it. Twilight rallied her thoughts, and began to speak. "Two reasons. The first is because I owe you all the truth. You are the closest ponies to me. My closest friends, my brother, and the sister I never had." Twilight tried smiling at Cadence, and managed to get a little smile back from her. "I may have done some questionable things these last few days, but I could not lie to you." Twilight looked over the present ponies, and kept talking. "The second reason is simple, and tied into the first. Now you all know what's going on, what's going to happen. You know the whole story as far as I know it. My second reason is a question - What are you going to do about it?"

Silence filled the room, stunned gazes locked onto Twilight who smiled gently at them. "I can’t win this fight. Not as I am. Even with all of the power I can draw upon now, Celestia still draws her strength from the Sun itself. She's going to be bringing a small army with her. She is undoubtedly prepared for nearly every eventuality. Yet I will meet her in battle nonetheless to protect the people of Ponyville from my sins."

Cadence stared at Twilight, and Shining armor felt something stirring in the pit of his stomach. Twilight kept speaking, but now more slowly. "The doors of the library are unlocked. There is nothing that will stop you from leaving here." She bowed her head with her eyes closed. "I will not stop you. I have made it clear that you are not to be stopped. Any or all of you could leave right now, and I honestly could not blame you. I could not even blame you if you ran to Celestia and told her everything I just told you. I've walked down this road, but I will not drag you with me unwillingly."

She took a deep breath, and went on. "The past four years have been the very best of my entire life. You have all given me a gift beyond the dreams of the goddess. Your love, and your friendship. If I were to die tomorrow, I would only be sad that I could not have shared this gift with you for many more years to come." Twilight might have been crying, but she could not tell right now.

Her voice hurried out, breaking up from the feel of the lumps in her throat. " I have no right to ask any of you for your help, or even your friendship any longer. I have no right to ask you for anything. But I will ask you for it anyway. I will beg you to stay. To fight with me." She lifted her chin, putting on her strongest face. "To be there to make sure I never become the monster. To help me find a better way for all ponies, everywhere."

Twilight opened her mouth to speak more when she felt a hoof press against her lips. It was Rainbow Dash, her eyes soft and caring. She had to have been in so much pain, but she would not show it. "I told'ja before, Egghead." Dash said clearly. "Loyalty." And she leaned up off the wheel chair to brush away Twilight's tears, pushing her chair next to Twilight's and giving a challenging look to the other ponies in the room.

Twilight's head lifted, and she had to smile. A voice whispered into her ear, one she had heard many times before. Victory. Twilight felt startled, wondering why the voice of dissonance was speaking to her again.

Rarity stood up a moment later and trotted boldly past the rest of the ponies to stand next to Twilight on her other side, laying a hoof on the arm of the chair. "I've heard all I needed to hear, Darling. And shame on the rest of you!" She scolded towards the other still ponies. "Shame on you twice and thrice! If you are all still unconvinced that this is the Twilight Sparkle we know and love, then there clearly are parasprites in your ears! I must admit, I don’t like the idea of standing up to Celestia of all beings, but we have stood hoof to hoof with gods before. We shall convince her of her errors, as we did so for Nightmare Moon. Together!" Rarity nodded her head firmly, as if that was that.

Rarity tossed her mane back, smiling broadly at Twilight. "Completely aside darling, a Queen is going to need quite the dressmaker. It just so happens I know one with a fabulous reputation." It was a joke, as Twilight had never been one for dresses of any kind. It startled a laugh out of her that Rarity and Rainbow dash shared as a voice whispered into Twilight's ears again. Power.

Pinkie Pie was on her hooves immediately following Rarity's speech, and she walked rather sedately over to Twilight. Twilight felt a little thrill of fear, not knowing what a calm Pinkie Pie might do. A moment later, Pinkie's hair frizzed up again, and a big smile came to her face. "Silly." She whispered and hugged Twilight firmly. "Not gonna abandon you, Twi. You didn't abandon me." It was a mysterious statement, but Twilight could hear the voice again, even as Pinkie stood next to rarity. Passion.

That left Fluttershy, Applejack, Shining Armor and Cadence. Fluttershy stood up a moment later, biting her lower lip. She looked at the door for a moment, then back at Twilight. She sighed softly, and walked over to the chair, pausing only to look at the kneeling Lilith. Lilith's eyes opened for a moment and she smiled, patting the floor next to her. Fluttershy sank down next to her, having not spoken a single word. The voice spoke again, quietly into Twilight's ears Obedience.

Applejack stood up, and walked across the room, her hat in her hoof. She put it on her head firmly and glared at Twilight for a moment. "Ah don’t like this. Not one bit." She took a deep breath. "But ah didn't much like it when you led us into the Everfree forest the first time. Nor when ya told us about how Cadence had been replaced. I also didn't much like it when we got dragged int'a that fight with Discord."

Applejack stomped a hoof into the ground, sending a loud thud through the room. "But ya were there for me, Twilight. Ya were there for the Apple Family. You saved our farm, and ya saved my family more times n' I can count.. Ah owe you more'n I got the words for. So I'll trust you, Sugarcube. I'll stand with ya." She leaned in, placing a hoof on Twilight's. "And when you decide it's time to hop off this runaway wagon, I'll be there ta' help you break yer fall." She nodded her head once, and marched over to stand next to dash. The voice trilled through her ears again, exulting the word. Truth.

Shining Armor and Cadence stood alone on the other side of the chair. Cadence looked at Shining Armor, and he looked back at her. "Cadey." Shining armor began to talk, his eyes sad. "I love you more than anything." He looked down, pawing at the ground in frustration. "I don't know what to do."

Cadence finally spoke, slowly standing up. "I do." she whispered, walking over to where Twilight sat. Shining armor followed in her wake, confusion warring with other emotions on his face. Cadence stood erect and confident, every inch a Princess of Harmony. "Twilight. I'm going to go speak to Celestia tonight." Fear swept through Twilight's mind, but she did not show it. Cadence's next words were far more shocking anyway. "And I'm going to tell her to stay the buck away from Ponyville."

Disbelief spread across Twilight's face, quickly replaced with joy and relief as cadence kept talking. "I'm going to tell her to stay away from you, Twilight. To keep her distance. I'm going to prove to her, and to you that there does not need to be a battle. That Harmony is not just the fires of the sun or the iron law of the Crown. Harmony is forgiveness. Harmony is acceptance. Harmony is not violence, it is Love! I will prove with my actions and not with mere words, that our way is a better way!" Cadence's voice rang with conviction and determination, and Twilight could only smile.

Pragmatism demanded that she speak however. "And if Celestia does not listen to you, Cadence?" Twilight gently probed. She did not wish to say these things, but she had to. She had responsibility now. "If she comes for me anyway?"

Cadence took a deep breath, her wings flaring out from her body. "Then I do not know what I will do." She sounded tired as anything. Yet there was still that steely determination under the softness. "Prince Armor!" Her voice snapped out, and Shining Armor was suddenly standing at attention. "I am invoking my rights as Princess of the Crystal Empire. My orders are to override any other orders until I personally tell you otherwise." She turned on her heel and looked Shining armor in the eye. "Protect Twilight Sparkle from any threat. No matter what or who." Cadence then grabbed him and planted a hard, intense kiss straight onto his lips, holding him tightly to her for too few seconds.

Cadence turned back to Twilight, and pulled her into a firm, bone creaking hug. "I love you, Twilight. Never forget that." Cadence let her go, and before more words could be said she galloped over to the balcony and hurled herself into the sky, wings flapping with remarkable strength and sending her speeding off into the distance.

Shining Armor stared after her with a mixture of terror and anguish, and pressed his hoof into his chest for a moment. He took a deep breath and his face changed to steely determination. His hoof flew up to his forehead and he spoke in crisp tones straight from the parade ground. "Captain Shining Armor, reporting for duty your Majesty."

Twilight felt a sudden surge of power, as a smug voice spoke into her mind. Power and Magic. Suddenly, there was a blast of energy that engulfed the whole room with shining rainbow colored light that surged across the room and struck a plain looking wooden chest.

The chest burst open, and five golden gorgets and one crown lifted into the air and began to hum and vibrate with power. The golden links changed and shifted into sleek, tight fitting necklaces of thick silver links. The Crystals set into them remained the same shape and color, but were turned into hanging pendants set into silver. The crown itself shifted from gold into silver, and its shape altered slightly to reflect Twilight's new choice of icon.

Each item slowly floated downwards, arraying themselves in a neat pattern atop the closed chest. They gleamed with a subtle menacing power. No one in the room spoke, until Lilith softly gasped out the words, her eyes wide as dinner plates.

"The Elements of Dissonance."

Chapter 15 - The Question

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"Even the best laid plans rarely survive first contact."
"With the enemy, your Majesty?"
"With anyone." - Conversation between Nightmare Moon and General Silent Night, at the start of the Lunar Rebellion.

~~~~That Same Evening~~~~

The Cloud Fortress H.M.S Commander Hurricane hung low in the skies next to Canterlot. Built out of solid but light Nimbostratus clouds, propelled by six massive fans and home to nearly five thousand ponies, it was the pride of the Cloudsdale Air Fleet. It possessed a fully functional weather production facility and had served as the premier forward command post for the Equestrian Military for nearly a hundred years.

Pegesai flew back and forth from it, bearing messages to and from Canterlot Castle where the royal guard was mobilizing for the first time since the changeling invasion. Much of Canterlot society was abuzz with the news that Celestia herself was taking personal command. Even more shocking, she had personally called for charity and resources to help the town of Ponyville recover from the dastardly sneak attack. Money and other resourced poured in from the wealthy elite of Canterlot, each of them wishing to one up the others.

Celestia had other concerns at the moment, however. Her secretaries and seneschals could handle the nitty gritty details. There were far more disturbing reports for her to sift through and analyze. Celestia shifted the pile of unrolled parchment sheets to one side of her desk, quickly glancing through each one. These she either discarded as being unreliable or set in a box marked "Plausible". There were dozens upon dozens of reports from Ponyville and while the initial ones had been very promising for her student, the newest reports painted a far darker picture.

Celestia was now certain there were other players on the board now. Interspersed between the other reports was news of sudden attacks or infestations of this or that dark creature. Changeling hive activity was at the highest it had been since the Canterlot attack. While that itself was not worrying, what concerned her was that they were not acting with a single mind. The changelings were acting independently, striking at disparate targets and vanishing into the night. The Ponyville attack had been by far the worst, but calls were beginning to pour in asking for aid against the threat.

The Equestrian Military had gone on high alert as of this morning, and every resource was being pooled and dispersed across the land. Celestia wanted to glower at the battle map that depicted the dozens of tiny red 'Threat' pins stuck in all over her peaceful land. Someone was trying to spread her out, thin out what forces she'd have at immediate disposal.

The Battlemage Division had been deployed to nearly everywhere in Equestria by now to put out the thousand small fires that had popped up in the last day or so. The Wonderbolts - save for Spitfire and Soarin, who Celestia needed close at hoof for her trip to Ponyville - had delayed all of their summer shows as they reverted to the traditional elite scouting unit of the military. Indeed, save for the Royal Guard and the 1st Air Wing permanently attached to the Commander Hurricane, Celestia had no forces worth speaking of close enough to get to Ponyville in time.

Even worse, Shining Armor and Cadence had gone completely out of contact. Luna at least had an excuse - she had been dealing with a border issue with the Griffon Kingdoms for months now. She was needed where she was, much as Celestia pined for her dearest sister in this difficult moment.

It made a maddening amount of sense. A big mover and shaker had noticed the signs, same as Celestia had - and had something major brewing in Ponyville. Everything else was a massive delaying ploy, one Celestia could not ignore. Celestia had gotten so used to being the only one with pieces to move about the board, meeting an opponent had caught her completely off guard. Luna would have mocked her for her arrogance, and she'd have been right to do so.

Celestia rubbed her forehead with her bare hoof, having dispensed of her royal jewelry for the moment. Worst of all her opponent appeared to be a cabal of Dissonance sorcerers, appearing out of nowhere. Reports dripped with snatches of conversation, groups of black cloaked and hooded ponies gathering in odd places. Cultists! In Ponyville! It was enough to make Celestia want to tear some of her mane out in frustration.

She would have to bring the Solar Inquisition with her, and that very act would greatly anger her Apprentice. Twilight had such a beautiful, naive heart. She would not accept any reason for the people she loved and trusted to be put to the question or worse. And of course, none of this was a coincidence.

She had been meant to see those cultists, to hear about a coven of sorcerers in that town. Her enemies knew what her response would be and had keyed it specifically to backlash horribly against her plans. Undoubtedly, they intended to try and destabilize her Apprentice and turn them to their wicked ways with the 'proof' of the evils of Harmony. Horseapples of course, but Twilight had not been trained to see through such deceptions.

Celestia sighed deeply, resting her head on her hoof as she leaned on the ancient desk. Her elbow fit right into the little indent it had created over the last thousand years of doing this exact same pose. Celestia closed her eyes and inhaled and exhaled. She was no fool. Her enemies might believe she would never admit to a mistake, yet they would be perilously wrong.

She relived her mistakes a thousand times over, every single sunrise. Written in those first beams were the reminders of how often she had failed her little ponies. Yet with mistakes came wisdom, and every time she had failed she had gotten a little more skilled, a little smarter and wiser. She had honed her plans to be undertaken over centuries, carefully ensuring that when push finally came to shove her every move would be a winning one.

Ensuring the right ponies met, fell in love with, and had children with the right ponies. Carefully preserving the ancient bloodlines. Carefully making sure the right ponies would raise Twilight, the right sibling to stand by her side. The right friends to meet her, the right challenges to test her. Despite every unexpected development, the plan merely absorbed their effects and counted them towards the ultimate goal. Celestia had long ago learned to plan for flexibility.

Yet with each and every step towards her ultimate goal, that flexibility vanished. The closer she came to needing Twilight to be in a specific place, at a specific time to do a very specific thing, the more likely failure became. She was coming to the tipping point now, to where two centuries of work had brought Celestia. All of the elements were in place, all of the right circumstances set. All that remained was the filly, and the question of what would she do.

At last, she would free this world from the poison of Dissonance that had taken so much from her.

The knock on the door startled Celestia out of her thoughts, and she coughed to clear out her throat before speaking. "You may enter!" She commanded imperiously, eyeballing the mess of parchment around her. Bother it. She had more important things to do than worry about being neat right now.

A Gold-armored royal guard walked in a moment later, saluting her. "Your Highness, Princess Luna sends her regrets. She will not be able to reach Canterlot in time to aid you. Furthermore, word has come down from the Hurricane. They are ready to depart at your command."

Celestia nodded. "Understood. Inform them to stand down for the moment, take rest while they can. We have a long week ahead of us all." The Guard saluted and removed himself from the room stoically. Celestia sighed miserably and thunked her head into the top of the desk. She had been holding out hope that Luna would be here.

No one knew the corruption of Dissonance better than she did, even if her past experiences had left her with a less than righteous zeal for rooting it out. Doing this all without her would be more difficult. She lifted her head from the desk and rubbed where she'd smacked it into the wood. What she would not give right now for Cadence to come soaring out of the sky with good news.

She looked up to the balcony, and blinked in surprise. The setting sun framed the flight of the Alicorn of Love as she landed delicately upon the royal balcony. Yet there was no calm kindness in Cadence right now, none of the fluff and giggly love Celestia had come to associate with her presence. Her gaze was as hard as crystal, and she walked into the room with a ramrod straight spine.

Celestia did not even need to exert to feel the waves of determination and barely restrained anger coming off of Cadence. Her pegasus roots somehow shone through her Alicorn form, and she looked like a battle goddess of old striding across a field of conflict. Celestia stared, wondering what on earth could have driven the chipper and eternally motherly Cadence to this extreme. Then, Celestia was struck with a thought that made her blood run cold.

Motherly had always been a good word for Cadence, especially around Twilight. Cadence had loved that filly as if she had been her own foal. Celestia knew that when a mother felt her foal was in danger, she would often act with grim purpose to bring that threat down. Cadence clearly had learned some things in the past few days that she had not liked, and worse still - she seemed to think Celestia was the source of those things.

Images flashed through Celestia's mind, of a dark blue Alicorn's accusations. Of fighting, yelling and anger. Of blows struck, and words said that could not be unsaid. Celestia grasped her desk as she strode out from behind it. No. She would not let that situation repeat itself. Not again, not this time.

"Princess Cadence, it is good to see you safe and sound." Celestia began, moving into the smooth voice of serenity she could easily put on for all of her meetings. "I had worried that something had gone amiss when I received no reports from you or Prince Armor." Cadence had not yet spoken a word, she was simply glaring daggers at Celestia as she moved from behind the desk to stand in front of the youngest Alicorn.

Cadence took a deep breath for a moment and slowly began to calm down apparently through pure willpower. By the time she spoke, Celestia could feel the power slowly emanating off of her. Another icicle of fear worked its way down Celestia's spine. Of all three living Alicorns, Cadence might very well be the strongest. She may have lacked the connection to the Moon or Sun that drove the powers of her sisters, but Love was a force strong enough to crack the world.

And right now, Cadence was channeling enough love through herself to shatter Canterlot like an egg. Celestia even took an involuntary step back from her, trying hard to keep her air of controlled serenity from cracking. Cadence was not merely drawing from the love of her Husband this time, a power great enough to defeat an entire army of changelings all by itself. She was drawing from the love of a little unicorn that Cadence had long sworn to do anything to protect.

Cadence spoke calmly though, despite the massive power she held in check. "There were other things that required my immediate attention, Sister. It was only after I had learned everything that I decided to report to you myself. " Cadence did not move, she did not even seem to breathe. Her eyes were focused directly on Celestia and seemed to shine like the crystals of her empire.

Celestia took a deep breath herself and carefully sat on the ground opposite Cadence. Cursedly, the sun was about to dip below the horizon. Pulling the kind of power she would need to contain Cadence was not going to be possible very shortly. "Indeed, and I thank you for your dedicated service to the truth, Sister. Please proceed." That meant diplomacy. She was going to need to convince Cadence not to use that power, whatever she might be concerned about. Harmony, let her not have had second thoughts about Twilight's Ascension now of all times..

Cadence paused before speaking, nodding her head slightly. "The events within Ponyville extend far beyond the changeling attack, Sister. Apprentice Twilight Sparkle has discovered and thoroughly explored the dark path. She was gifted a particular book by none other than the Shadow King. Twilight, being who she is immediately began to read that book and explore its ideas."

Cadence now looked troubled, worried very obviously for Twilight's plight. "She has proven to be an incredibly able student of its teachings, much to my dismay. Regardless, she has been guilty of no crime against Harmony. She has sampled of the dark power and now fears that you will blame those around her that she loves for her errors. This led her further and further down the path at near record speed."

Cadence took a deep breath, Celestia still listening calmly as she absorbed all of the information. Cadence's next words though, "She has reached the end of the dark path, Sister. She has unlimited herself with next to no help that I can personally detect."

Silence reigned in the room, Celestia's mind whirling with that sudden and thoroughly unwelcome piece of information. Sombra. So. I should have expected that you would be the one moving the chess pieces. He had always been brilliant, always a master at upsetting her every little plan. He had a predator’s instinct for where to hurl the wrench into the gears and cause the most damage. It would be like him to be here, right as all the parts fell into place only to snatch one away.

The second bit of news was far more troubling. Twilight Sparkle had more than a prodigious intellect, she had a capability and raw natural talent for magic that exceeded that of nearly any other unicorn alive. That she had easily learned the crude spells of Dissonance was unsurprising, that she had delved into its deepest secret and emerged sane and unscathed was impossible.

However, Twilight had done the impossible before and more than once. All this meant was that she had help, somepony to guide her through the vital steps and show her the way. She did not doubt for one moment that Sombra had arranged that little detail as well, perhaps even secretly carrying out the act himself. That Cadence could not see that was understandable. Sombra had centuries to hone his skills before she had banished him into the mists of time. The centuries spent locked in madness had likely only made him even cannier.

Twilight Sparkle, student of Dissonance was more than to be expected. Twilight Sparkle, Sovereign of Dissonance was a cause for real serious alarm. But all of those things, even the return of Sombra paled in comparison to the implications of Cadence coming to tell her this personally without Twilight in tow. Celestia could almost predict Cadence's next words, the poor, sweet softhearted girl.

"Sister. Celestia. I beseech you." Cadence's voice had taken on the air of desperation, and the pulse of power inside of her seemed to grow stronger. Celestia instantly recognized that Cadence's motherly desire to protect Twilight was acting as some kind of magnifier for her strength. Cadence kept speaking over Celestia's thought, the words coming out in a rush now. "Stay away from Ponyville. Keep the Solar Inquisition away from Ponyville. Send aid, Send military aid if you must, but do not give her a reason to believe you are going to hurt her friends or her town." Celestia could even see where Cadence was coming from here. She saw a situation doomed to only become worse. Twilight clearly had been made to believe Celestia would indiscriminately put the town to the sword.

Cadence was still speaking though, and the next bit of news was cause for cheer. "I believe in my heart of hearts that Twilight can be coaxed back from the path. Her closest friends still rally around her, and Shining Armor still believes in her. Give me time, Sister. I can bring her back to Harmony, I can bring her connection to us all back. Her friends will aid us. I beg of you Celestia, let me do what I do best." Cadence's last words were delivered with little sparks of power flaring from her wingtips, and Celestia felt her serenity crack for only a moment.

All of what had happened would make the ritual even more difficult. Difficult however, was not impossible. Dissonance had always been vastly adaptable, and his was clearly its counter play against her. An ancient force of nature itself thrashing in the trap she had placed it in was still dangerous enough to break out of that trap . With Sombra moving against her everywhere else, she would find herself lacking many of the resources she might otherwise rely upon to assure her victory.

Celestia had to admit as she silently ground her teeth in anger that Sombra had made a brilliant tactical play here. Her student, if she had been truly led so far astray would not wait for Celestia to come and speak with her. She would do as Celestia had taught her long ago - she would strike swiftly and without mercy. Celestia did not know how the blow would come, or from what angle. Yet she could not discount that Twilight would undoubtedly be fighting as though her back was against the wall.

Yet Celestia could not relent. The Ritual would take place, and Twilight would be brought to heel. Celestia's heart broke at the thought of what might have to be done for that to happen, but it had not been the first time. Better to take those sins upon her own soul than inflict them on her poor Twilight. She felt her spirit harden again. She was sympathetic to Cadence, she even agreed with her on many levels. Celestia wished for all of her heart that she dared to simply let Cadence do as she said.

Yet there was far too much at stake, and Celestia had come too far and done too much to stop things now. She took a deep breath and exhaled it. Harmony, Forgive me for what I must do. "Very well. Let's stop acting like fillies on the school yard and work together, Sister." She extended a hoof from where she sat towards Cadence. "There is no need to hold all of that power. I agree, there is nopony better suited to saving our little Twilight than you."

Cadence's muscles suddenly relaxed, the massive bundle of held power slowly draining out of her. She walked wearily across the floor, nodding gently. "Thank you Celestia. The first thing we must do is tell Twilight the truth about her pa-" Cadence did not get to speak another word, a subtle blow of power striking her silently across the temple sent her sprawling across the floor unconscious.

Celestia looked down upon Cadence with infinitely sad eyes for a moment. Her horn glowed with sudden power, weaving the spell of sleep over Cadence's unconscious form before turning to the door, her power grasping at it and swinging them open. "Guards! Come quickly! The Crystal Princess requires aid!" Celestia paused as she moved towards the door, royal guards pouring in to tend to Cadence. Forgive me Cadence. Harmony must prevail. I will throw myself upon your mercy when all of this is finally over.

Celestia shied her mind away from the secret Cadence had nearly mentioned. Telling Twilight about that little fact was the absolute last thing she wanted to do. Cadence now in good hooves, she hurried down the hallway. She needed to leave for Ponyville right away.

~~~~The Golden Oaks Library, as night falls.~~~~

Twilight felt warmth deep inside of her. Though her friends had left not long ago, they had all embraced her, and promised to return once a few things were taken care of for the evening. Shining Armor had taken up a post downstairs, and Applejack had promised Twilight to ensure that Spike remained safe wherever he was. There was no justice or point in involving the baby dragon in all of this.

That left Twilight alone with Lilith again for the first time since last night. The helpful unicorn was lightning candles and preparing bedding for the seven guests the library would be entertaining that evening. Twilight watched her move around the rooms from her place on the chair, a chair that felt like a throne seen in a dream. Twilight knew the next few days would bring many things, but there was still one thing she did not know.

Without even thinking on it now, she tugged at the magical connection between herself and Lilith. She would need to discuss the uses of this with the Mayor later, but right now it served as a silent way to get her Acolyte's attention. Lilith was there in a heartbeat, kneeling in front of Twilight in silence. Twilight stared at the mysterious pony that knelt in front of her for a few long minutes, and Lilith simply waited.

Twilight could take it no more. "Lilith." She began, speaking slowly. "Acolyte Lilith. Earlier today you said you would obey any command I gave you. No matter what that command might be. Was that statement wholly accurate?" Twilight had to be careful here. She may very well be playing with fire, and not even know about it. But this was the one variable she could not begin to account for.

Lilith looked up at Twilight, puzzled. "Why...yes, Mistress. It was. Why do you ask?" There was a subtle offer in that voice, a hint of desire. Lilith arched her body in a way that was pleasing to the eye and caught the senses. Twilight had to smile at the little display. Not that I haven't been thinking about that all day, you minx. But it's not going to distract me tonight.

Twilight nodded her head slowly, and looked around. A brief puff of magic closed and latched the door, another closed all of the blinds and curtains in the room, shutting the shutters and locking them tight. Lilith looked around, as if nervous. Twilight smiled faintly. "Acolyte Lilith, I think the time has come for you to come clean with me."

Lilith did look suddenly frightened, subtly licking her lips but surprisingly not moving away. "I-i do not understand, Mistre-" A wave of Twilights hoof and a burst of power cut off her speech, leaving her wide eyed and trembling.

Twilight pointed her hoof firmly. "Do not lie to me. I am tired of being lied to. You are the only pony now close to me who has not been wholly honest with me. So I am going to ask you very directly. I am commanding you, if my power means anything to you, to answer me with the entire truth. Not part of it, not even most of it. ALL of it."

Twilight took a deep breath, focusing her suddenly fiery green eyes at the unicorn as she spoke in a firm tone, but very softly.

"Acolyte, Who are you really?"

Chapter 16 - The Sisters

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~~~~~The Haven, Nighttime~~~~~

Queen Chrysalis sighed as the last of her drones began to carry the heavy weight back towards the city of Ponyville. Getting past the guards would be easy enough for these agents. No matter how much it galled her to lose such a bountiful harvest, she had to admit the payback was more than worth it.

To think, that little troublesome unicorn was now a Queen of Dissonance was almost too good to be true. That she had even agreed to allow Changelings into her town once Celestia had been dealt with was the icing on the cake. Oh true, we'll have to obey her silly laws. Still, I don't doubt we'll be able to feed the hives far better than we ever have before. It was all a small price to pay.

For thousands of years her children had skulked in swamps and deep forests, subsisting only on what prey they could safely kidnap. Now there would be vast cities for them to hunt through, to find able - perhaps even willing subjects and draw the love out of them slowly. Chrysalis had heard there were ponies into that sort of depraved lifestyle. She thought she might fancy meeting one someday, she did so miss the hunt.

All of that was in the future however. There was still the confrontation with the Tyrant to live through before anything else could be done. Chrysalis had to admit, Twilight Sparkle had been fascinating to watch. She had simply strong armed her way past the tests, giving no shrift to any creature that stood in her way. The thought made her smile.

She wondered how Twilight would deal with the little secret that now connected them. Such similar stories, such similar outcomes. Chrysalis had already heard there were Hives petitioning for her to take over as their queen. Chrysalis did not mind this nearly as much as Sombra likely thought she would.

In fact she would encourage the young Queen to accept their offer. It would tie her more tightly to Dissonance, and Twilight might very well enjoy the power that would come with it. It would also make the new Queen so much more fun to play with.

Fed love by a legion of loyal followers, Twilight's already considerable powers would grow quite nicely. Allowing her to serve as the buffer between Harmony and Chrysalis' own personal power. Let Twilight fight the battles now, let her lead the armies into the next generation. Chrysalis only wished to see her children flourish and grow and if that meant letting Twilight set a few of the rules, it was still worth it.

It was a fine night out this evening. Too fine to be spent moping about outside about things she could not control. She would have her vengeance of course, but perhaps it was time to admit that she needed a tool. The young Queen might be a perfect way to get back at that snooty little Cadence and her husband.

Still, that could wait until later. For now, she continued to prepare for her big show, a twist of power unlocking an ancient wooden chest. Within was a set of very old royal jewels and armor. Chrysalis gently touched them with a hoof, fighting back the memories of better times. Thousands of years had passed. There was no going back to who she was, but now she could use Celestia's betrayal against her.

At long last, Celestia would pay for what she had done to her so long ago.


Rarity tsked loudly as each swatch of fabric floated by her vision. Dear me, I hadn't thought I was that hard up for blacks! She would most definitely need to place an order of some kind. Still, Twilight desperately needed something more suitable than that black rag! Hard to think of her as some kind of dark sorceress. She's still our Twilight, just a little more sinister. Sexy perhaps. Mmm...Dominating.

Rarity's head popped up at that one, and her eyes widened brightly. "Oooooh! I-deeee-ahhh!" She quickly dashed towards a locked up cupboard, flinging it open with a little pulse of magic. Why did I not think of this before? Oh yes, these will do nicely with a little bit of work! Rarity quickly pulled her 'special stock' out of the hidden racks, carefully examining it for a moment before selecting the sleek black silk affair.

More lingerie than dress, it would still make a perfectly superb place to get started. "Why Rarity, you simply are a genius." She preened under her own compliments, setting to the task of quickly modifying the lacy thing. Like something out of a Vampony novel! Gothic and sexy. Just add in a touch more color. A high collar of course, which was a must. Just enough transparency, a touch of reveal to entice and invite. Mmm, Perhaps a cape? mm...No, No capes. Capes are so last century.

Rarity set the clothes to her sewing machine, eyeballing the clock. Working on a rush was never going to be perfect. Still, adding to a garment was far simpler than making one anew. She'd have time to spare. She quickly began to stitch the fabrics and appliques together. Hard to go wrong with something this classic. We'll have to put her in something much more personal later though.

Rarity took a moment to pause in mid stitch, changing out the thread. Why was she doing this anyway? Why should I not? Twilight is absolutely right about this whole situation. An Inquisition, for our little town? As though anyone with half a brain can't see what that will do! It was hardly ladylike for Celestia to be doing all of these dreadful things, Rarity wondered what had gotten into the Princess. Twilight needs us. She needs me, and goodness if I am not going to let her go out there without looking her finest!

The garment was coming together nicely when Rarity could hear the creek of the bedroom door and the gentle clop of hooves descending them. Oh dear. Sweetie Belle! Rarity had been certain Sweetie was with the rest of the foals in town. There had been a great deal of concern about night raids stealing away foals, and Rarity had been one of the concerned.

Rarity wanted very much to be cross with Sweetie Belle, but her little sister was dragging what looked like a saddlebag full of pictures, toys and other little trinkets. Oh, Sweetie. Rarity felt all her anger drain away in a moment. The poor thing was likely still traumatized by the whole affair. Checking that her stitch would hold, she trotted over and helped Sweetie get the bags up on her back. "Dear me, you seem to have packed half your room darling."

Sweetie looked up wide eyed and began to stammer. "I'm s-s-sorry Rarity, but I couldn't sleep and neither could the other crusaders, so we all decided to go get some stuff to make the room we're all in nicer." Rarity was putting on her very best doe eyes and Rarity couldn't help a smile. "P-please don't be mad!" Sweetie plead with her sister, little hooves grasping at her in desperation.

Rarity softly laughed, and hugged Sweetie Belle. "I'm not angry darling, but you should have told me!" She tsked. "Still, now you'll have to wait until I'm finished so I can walk you back to the inn." She wagged a hoof as Sweetie started to protest. "Not a word dear sister, or else I may forget about not being cross with you."

Sweetie just sighed and sank to the floor with her bags as Rarity picked up her stitching and went back to work, humming her favorite working tune. I do say, I wonder where I picked that song up from anyway. It certainly was catchy. Perhaps she'd heard it from one of the town musicians.

Rarity checked the skirt on the dress, and finding it satisfactory, went to work on the collar. Oh this is going to look so ravishing on Twilight! I wonder if perhaps she'll do a little modeling for me. Or perhaps I could model a few of my special things for her instead...

Sweetie Belle watched her sister working, and for a brief second she could have sworn her sister's eyes were glowing a dark purple. She rubbed at her eyes fiercely, and Rarity was back to normal again. Sweetie had to be more tired than she thought.


The stocky red stallion stood placidly in the middle of the room as Applejack charged about. Quietly charged about, but she was rushing things anyway. A wide collection of various bits and bobs had been thrown into a knapsack, and was finally being tied off with a rope. Big Mac sighed a little, and Applejack stopped to look at him with wide eyes.

"AJ.." Drawled the massive earth pony. "Granny ain't gonna throw ya out o' the family cuz you're stickin by yer friend." Applejack was the worst liar in all of Equestria, and everypony knew it. It had taken Big Mac less than six "Eeeyup's" to get her to break down completely and confess nearly everything to him. Big Mac had taken the news like he'd taken every other bit of news - with stoicism and determination.

Applejack however, was terrified that Granny Smith was going to find out she was associatin' with Dissonance ne'er-do-wells and throw her out of the family. Horseapples o'course. Granny'd just beat Applejack with a switch instead. "AJ, Ya need ta' calm yerself." Big Mac tried again, wishing that he'd gone to bed early that night.

Applejack did finally take a deep breath, and seemed to deflate on the spot. "Ah can’t help it, Mac. Ah love Twilight like a sister, ah truly do. She's pract'ally family already! I jus'...I know it aint right, but ah cannot leave her t'face this alone." Applejack was holding her hat in her hooves, turning it around over and over.

Big Mac tromped over and laid a huge hoof on AJ's shoulder, then grabbed her under the pits and hauled her back to her feet. "Yer doin the right thing, AJ. I'll handle Granny an' the farm."

Applejack looked dubious until a much younger voice popped up. "Big Macintosh's right, sis! If Twilight needs ya, you'd best go!" Applebloom had popped out of the corner of the door, wearing her saddlebags stuffed with who-knew-what.

Applejack half glared at her. "Applebloom, what in tarnation are ya..." She took a look at the bags and sighed. "Aw horsefeathers, you're goin t' the kids shelter." Applejack's face softened and she shook her head. "Land sakes girl, why didn't ya come ask me fer a chaperone?" she eyeballed Mac as she grabbed her bindle. "You go dig out the emergency fund. Likely there'll be plenty'a fellers in town who kin make sure we keep the buckin' up."

Big Mac nodded solemnly as Applejack pulled her sister out of the room and led her down the hallway. Applejack's thoughts brooded as they slowly walked outside. Ah can’t believe I'm doin this but...Twilight, damnit. Someone's gotta be there t'keep you honest with yerself. If ah can’t pull ya back from the darkness, ah'll make the darkness follow the dang rules!

Applebloom was looking at her all of a sudden, and Applejack blinked away the dark purple glow that had appeared in her eyes. "Whut? I got somethin' on my face?"

Applebloom blinked and shook her head suddenly. "Nope. Sorry sis, musta been a trick a' th' light."


Rainbow Dash rolled her chair up to the outside of the Big Green Inn, where the townsfolk had stashed the town's foals. Most of the kids had parents who were volunteer guardsmen or other ponies who were out working late. No one wanted to leave their kids at home alone right now, so the Innkeeper had offered his place for them to stay under the watchful eye of Cheerilee and a few other volunteers.

Of course, the other thing it was being used for was to take care of the foals whose parents were either missing or dead. Rainbow Dash felt her heart ache for those poor kids, plenty of whom were still in shock after the effects of the attack. She'd always been annoyed at Derpy Hooves before, like so many of the other folks in town. After yesterday though, Dash knew she'd never be able to look at the grey mailmare with anything but respect after what she'd done to protect her daughter, Dinky.

She knocked her hoof on the door, a pair of stuffed saddle bags hanging over the back of the chair. Thankfully, Cloudkicker had been awake to help her retrieve a couple things from her house. After the princess gets here, things might get hairy. she thought, a little gloomily. Better to take care of the important things before that happens.

The door swung open to reveal a dimly lit hallway, filled with Cheerilee. "Oh! Rainbow Dash! What in Equestria are you doing here?" Cheerilee's hair was frizzed out in a few places, but she looked as happy as she ever did.

Dash grinned at her. "Howdy, Teach." Dash had learned a thing or two under Cheerilee, as had many of the other town residents. Unlike the rest of them Dash never stopped poking fun at her old teacher, though now they both enjoyed the joke. "Is Scootaloo here?"

Cheerilee rolled her eyes and moved over behind the wheelchair, pushing it through the door. "Of course she is. Come on, I'll park you in the dining room and go and get her." The hallways were filled with running, laughing and playing foals all over the place. Sounds of talking and play fighting filled the air, and for a moment Dash wished she was less beaten to crap. Heck, I think I'd enjoy playing here for a coupla' hours.

Eventually, they came to a large common room area, where the tables had been setup for the dozens of town children to eat in one place. Dash promptly spotted a snoozing Lyra Heartstrings with her partner, Bon Bon in one massive easy chair off in the corner. Mr. and Ms. Cake waved a weary hello at Dash as they continued to feed and then carefully transport the youngest foals upstairs.

Cheerilee beamed at her. "I'll go fetch her, I saw her with her friends upstairs not all that long ago." and then Cheerilee was off, leaving Dash to snatch and nibble a stray dandelion from the nearby table.

Dash waited as patiently as she could, which was pretty much for all of about thirty seconds. Stupid wheelchair. Even worse than when my wing was busted. At least she'd recover quickly from this. Dash crossed her hooves and sighed. Not that I've got anything to complain about. Twilight's gonna have a heck of a week. Going head to head with ancient dark sorcerers, weird secret hidden tombs, and now she's gotta fight a freakin demigod! It's like something straight out of Daring Do!

Dash huffed out a breath and tapped her hoof against the ground, looking around the room for something interesting to focus on. Well, something other than Lyra's hoof in an amusing position over Bon Bon's thigh. Damnit, Twi. Just when I was working up the courage to talk to you, you had to go and pull the dark side routine. Dash's cheeks colored and she glanced around quickly. Whew. No one saw that.

It still hurt, but Dash knew she had the toughness to see this through. I aint gonna give up on you, Twi. I said it and I meant it. One of these days, I'll even get the chance to tell you everything. Then we're gonna kick the world's butt together!

"Whoa! That's really cool! Where did you learn to do that, Rainbow Dash?" Scootaloo's always cheerful voice piped up out of nowhere and Dash blinked, realizing the little orange pegaus had snuck up in front of her.

Rainbow dash gaped for a moment, before shaking her head hard. "What the heck you talkin bout scoots? You been getting into the salt or something?" Dash could not see the deep purple glow that had lit her eyes, and vanished quickly.

Scootaloo looked suddenly disappointed, then quickly turned into another fierce grin. "Heck no, Dash! So, what'cha here for huh?"


Shining Armor stood silent sentinel outside of the Golden Oak's library. Twilight had asked her to leave her alone with that Lilith girl for a little while. Shining Armor figured Twilight was finally seeing past that too-innocent exterior, and had some questions for her. Much as he wished he could be there with her, it was probably better if he kept watch for right now.

There were so many things he wanted to talk to Twilight about right now. About the things he knew, the secrets he'd kept from her. Cadence and he had been discussing coming clean with Twilight when they were coming to visit. Both of them were tired of these damn truth-games Celestia had been playing with Twily.

And now? Now Shining Armor knew those hidden truths could be used like a sword against her. He had no doubts that both Celestia and Sombra intended to use those secrets like some kind of pawn in the game. Shining Armor was going to give them both a nasty surprise. That shadowy bastard. Thinks he can manipulate my Twily? He's gonna find he's underestimated her friends, and her brother.

Shiny snorted derisively, and pawed at the ground a little. This was not entirely unlike the night watches back in Canterlot, though he did miss the sight of Princess Luna moving her way amongst the Royal Guard. She always had a kind word, a gentle encouragement for the night guard, especially those who had taken oaths to her. What I wouldn't give for some kind of way to contact them. I bet at least a few of the Guard would be horrified by this madness.

Shining Armor wished they had brought the Ruby Guard now. The crystal ponies were even tougher than earth pony’s when it came to pure endurance, and they didn't know the meaning of the word quit. Shiny snorted again, blowing a little steam out into the cool night air. Might as well wish for a platoon of Royal Guards while I'm at it.

Celestia would undoubtedly be bringing the Solar Guard, and Shining Armor knew them well. They were tough, hard-nosed, well trained and fanatically loyal to the Princess. There wasn't going to be much hope of sympathy from any of those ponies.

That meant he'd have to rely on whatever forces Twilight would be able to scare up locally or from her new 'friends'. That probably meant changelings in the main and a massive mishmash of all sorts of other races and outsiders. Well, I've worked with less before. Not against elite Equestrian soldiers, but he certainly had worked with less.

Shining glanced up at the barely lit balcony, all of the shutters and windows had been closed nearly fifteen minutes ago. Whatever Twilight was hearing up there, no violence had come of it yet at least. He sighed a little and leaned against the trunk of the tree, still scanning the streets.

Suddenly, movement. Hyperactive senses and a decade plus of training immediately caught the pale yellow coat of Fluttershy, accompanied by a spotless white rabbit. Shining Armor didn't relax until she'd given him the appropriate hoofsign, a little twirl of her hoof and then the other. He nodded and held up his own hoof. "Hang on there, Fluttershy. Twilight's having a private conversation with that unicorn."

Fluttershy squeaked a little, but nodded. She took a seat inside the doorway of the library, Angel Bunny hopping up to the mailbox and starting to scan the street itself. Shining Armor had heard stories about what that rabbit had done to anyone who'd put the hurt on Fluttershy, so he figured he could talk to her a bit. "How're you holding up, 'shy?" He asked in his most gentle voice.

Fluttershy blinked and shook her head a little. "I don’t know what to feel right now, um...Prince Armor." she seemed a bit unsure of how to address him, but kept talking, her hooves nervously rubbing each other. "But I do hope Twilight is nice to Lilith. She was so, so calm, and quiet and she made me feel all calm and warm inside somehow.." Fluttershy had a small smile across her face, even though her hooves were still rubbing nervously. "It was like, all of a sudden I didn't need to be scared anymore. Because I knew she and Twilight would take care of things now."

Shining Armor was startled at that sudden speech, the strangely calm tone of voice. Fluttershy was legendarily nervous around ponies she didn't know well. Yet somehow, she was as calm as the leaves on the trees. Why shouldn't she be? Twilight really is the one looking after us now. Just like I'm the one looking after Twilight, whatever she might need of me. It did kind of make sense to Shining Armor. So much sense that he never even saw the deep purple glow that suffused his eyes, or Fluttershy's.

The pale yellow pegasus smiled up at him, as though she had noticed something. "You feel it too. It's like the world suddenly makes much more sense. Like being scared of things is silly now..." She looked up at the windows, just as Shining Armor did.

"After all..." continued Fluttershy in a soft, awed voice. "What's there to be scared of, when the scariest creature in the world is watching over you?"


Sombra sat in the middle of Ponyville, back in disguise. This time he had not even bothered with the tweedy-researcher look. In fact, he looked just the same he had as the day he'd first taken up dissonance. A long wavy mane in pitch black, and a tail in the same style. A dark grey coat and a simple wrap around cloak of a darker grey, edged with white geometric designs.

He sat quietly, watching the moon hang heavily over ponyville. A little burst of magic lifted the full wine glass up to his lips for him to sip at. Once, he'd travelled to the far coasts of Equestria to see what could happen when wild magic mixed with the weather. There he'd seen a storm that had both enthralled and terrified him.

It had been a massive thing, dominating the coastline for miles in every direction. A swirling vortex of clouds, lightning and rain. Wind blew in from every angle seemingly without a pattern or sense. Sombra had used his magic to fly through that storm, reveling in the feeling of being under the power of something far greater than himself.

When he had reached the center of that vortex, something curious happened. He had found it to be utterly calm. Silent and still. It felt like the entire world had vanished around him, and all that existed was he and the storm. Though his teacher had later scolded him for his recklessness, Sombra had learned a powerful thing that day.

Now, he was once again standing in the very center of that vortex. This time however, the storm was forming all around him. The town and its ponies had no idea of the storm about to descend upon it. Sombra pitied them, but he also envied them. Those that would survive the coming days would forever be written into history. They would be the witnesses to the birth of a new age, one way or another.

All balanced now on the edge of a knife. It could so easily go either way, and it could so easily end in total disaster. Yet in four hundred years of life, Sombra had never felt more proud of a plot. Never felt more confident in his work. He had effectively neutered nearly every advantage Celestia had. He had effectively leveled a playing field Celestia had long ago thought tipped in her favor.

So for now, Sombra took the time to enjoy his wine and his cupcake. A fitting celebration, thought he - for the birth of a new world. He lifted the delectable treat and nibbled into it with relish. I simply must hand it to my Apprentice. That Pinkie Pie mare certainly knows how to bake a fantastic cupcake, amongst many other enjoyable skills.


Inside the Golden Oaks Library, Lilith had backed herself up against the head of the bed. Twilight stalked forward, Dissonant power radiating from her limbs and eyes. Lilith was shaking her head rapidly "M-mistress, Please! I have told you! W-what are you.."

Twilight cut her off again, her voice redolent with power. "You swore to answer me honestly. What happens when I use an obedience spell twice on someone? Especially if I boost the power up?" Twilight's voice sounded curious, even as it rang with dissonance.

The unicorn seemed to go pale as a sheet. "I...I would be...utterly unable to disobey your commands. Ever." She licked her lips which had suddenly gone dry. "M-mistress, there is no need..."

"Silence!" Twilight growled out, and Lilith did indeed fall into silence, as power began to build up in Twilight's horn. She was beyond reason now, Dissonance itself was driving her actions. Twilight was going to get to the bottom of this, once and for all.

Lilith swallowed and closed her eyes. What I do now, I do for Equestria. she whispered into her mind. You must become the Nightmare, Twilight Sparkle. Her thoughts continued as she waited for the power, knowing it could come. Her thoughts went to a loved one, who was not so far away. I hope that someday, you will forgive me.

The power did come, a blast of pure dissonant energy that seemed to rock the foundations of the room, even though no movement had occurred. Their horns joined with a beam of pure energy and Lilith’s eyes flung open, filled with stark green flames that seemed to burst from her eyes and mouth. They seemed to sit there for an eternity, the spell crackling through the air.

Then the world rushed back in, and Lilith found herself lying prostrate on the ground before her Mistress. She no longer had or needed a name, she would always be Mistress to Lilith. Mistress' voice spoke clearly. "Now, I command you to reveal to me who you truly are!"

There was only the briefest of pauses, as magic shone throughout the room. A massive burst of light, followed by a sudden transformation of color and body, and a new form lifted from the ground where Lilith once lay.

Twilight's eyes widened in shock, her voice incredulous. "You!?"

Chapter 17 - The Secrets

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"Thou art blind, sister. Blind to the consequences of thy actions. Blind to those thou hath brought pain and misery down upon, and for what? So that thy sight might not be disturbed by those creatures thou deem unworthy of life? I call shame down upon thee, Sister. And shame upon myself for not acting sooner. As of today, I fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. Let true justice be done." -Princess Luna, to Princess Celestia. From the formal declaration of war, setting off the Lunar Rebellions.

~~~~Golden Oaks Library~~~~

The form that lifted from the floor of Twilight's bedroom was a familiar one. She wore no royal jewelry, no silver boots nor obsidian plate. Her mane lay across her shoulders in a lush dark blue of the evening sky, somewhat frazzled by the impact of the spell. She sat upright with her head bowed slightly towards Twilight, her broad wings folded neatly against her back and eyes closed.

Twilight Sparkle stared down upon Princess Luna, she who ruled the night. Princess Luna, who also happened to be an Alicorn of such power that she controlled the very moon and stars themselves. Princess Luna the demigoddess, who was now bowing and scraping to Twilight as though she were the monarch here, not the other way around. Worst of all, Twilight had just hit her with an uncontrolled obedience spell of dubious moral merits and untold side effects.

It was too much. Twilight's brain could not handle it. Her rump hit the ground and she stared with her jaw hanging down at Luna, who seemed to be settling herself back down to her knees in silence. The little gears in Twilight's mind spun freely for a few moments, each and every one of them suggesting some other mad action. Twilight's logic decided the best thing to do was just to shut down for a few minutes.

Twilight laid her head in the ground and covered it in her hooves, whimpering like she was still a little filly. This isn't happening. This is all just a dream. A really long, vivid, insane dream. I've caught something nasty and I'm hallucinating all of this. Yes, that's the ticket. Then warm, gentle hooves gathered her up from the ground and Twilight's eyes snapped open. She had been gathered into a familiar, yet utterly unfamiliar lap.

But it was familiar enough for her to get her bearings back. Logic reasserted itself, Twilight's mind began to reboot. Lucky for her that it did, because she was just aware enough to catch Luna's next words, and the sounds of tears hitting the wooden floor. "Mistress, please forgive me.."

Twilight felt the strong blue hooves hugging her close to Luna, and it certainly was not an unpleasant feeling. Too many questions though, and not enough time. Twilight pushed gently away, and Luna let her go. Luna was kneeling in that awkward position again, and Twilight began to wonder where the buck she'd learned how to do that.

Twilight took a deep breath, backing off a few steps and sitting down. Calm. Focus. Do not panic Twilight took in another deep breath and let it out. "I'm going to need you to explain yourself." She paused a moment, and decided that rudeness was well past having been committed. "What. The Buck. Is going on here?"

Luna took a deep breath before she spoke. "Yes, you do deserve a full explanation." she shifted a little in her kneeling position before speaking again. "Ask whatever you wish. There will be no more deception, no more half-truths." She looked up rather boldly, a serious look on her face. "I shall accept your judgment."

Twilight felt very unnerved by that unwavering glance, but no more than that. She planted her hooves and felt her voice growling, her anger bubbling deep up inside of her. "First off, how in Tartarus did I get a spell past your defenses?" She frowned deeply. "I was not that strong three days ago, not nearly strong enough to overpower you."

Luna half smiled. "Isn't it obvious? I let you." her smiled grew much fuller at Twilight's dumbfounded look. "It was a gamble, I admit. I did not know if your power had grown sufficiently to bypass my passive defenses. Still, you were more than up to the task once your fury was roused." Luna actually looked proud of twilight.

Twilight smacked a hoof into her face. "Of course. Obvious." At least now that it was right in front of her. "That's..." She frowned, her words cut off. Luna tilted her head and then started to look a little worried. Twilight didn't know what was showing on her face, but she was already putting together the pieces.

Put it all in front of her, and with that one little fact nearly everything started to fall into place. "You've been manipulating me." Twilight stated, her eyes slowly narrowing. "My thoughts, my emotions, my reactions. You've been playing me like a puppet." Luna nodded, the nervousness growing on her face. Twilight did not even deign to notice, such emotions from her Acolyte were beneath her. "You...YOU turned me into this - this Monster!

Power exploded into the room. The shutters rattled and shook, the door of the room nearly came off of its hinges. Books fell off the shelves and thumped to the ground, and paper flew about as if on whirlwinds. Twilight was only barely aware of these things. They were irrelevant. She could feel the warm green cloak of flame settling down on her shoulders, the sweet song of power echoing in her ears.

Twilight stalked forward to Luna, whose look was one of a mouse cornered by a cat. Terrified, and utterly unable to do a single thing about it. Twilight lifted up a hoof and energy began to spiral around it - forming into a boot of some silvery metal, covered in twisting vines studded with steel spikes. "You Impudent little-" Her hoof came down. Luna closed her eyes.

The hoof stopped, bare inches from Luna's face. Twilight's rage boiled and coursed through her, but it did not overwhelm her most powerful faculty. Reason. The flaming cape licked the air, the power feeling oh-so-alive all around her. It yearned for the blood, the pain of the mare before her. It wanted to punish her for what she had done.

Twilight slowly lowered her boot encrusted hoof to the ground. The metal vanished in a puff of energy. The power slowly pulled back into Twilight where her mind mastered it, and then quietly rolled it up inside of her. She did not let it go, her cape still glowing and howling for blood. But I am the Mistress here, and my power will obey me.

Luna cracked an eye open, and she gave a tiny nod. "I did, Mistress." Her voice was a mere whisper, and something profound seemed to stretch between them. "I did. I shall not apologize for it, though I may beg your forgiveness. It had to be done."

Twilight stood stock still, feeling her power ebb and flow around her. She wanted, so badly to simply let it all loose. To rage at this impudent mare who she had foolishly called friend. But that was not Twilight Sparkle thinking those thoughts, those were the thoughts of the Nightmare Queen. And she told me that was what I had to become. Twilight thought. She took another deep, cleansing breath. "Explain, but keep it brief."

Luna nodded, some of her calm returning to her visage. She was not nearly as good at the serenity that Celestia could project, but she did a fair imitation. "Long ago, long before Celestia or I were born into this world, Dissonance and Harmony were in balance. During this age, the Alicorns watched over the balance and all of the intelligent races - Ponies, Griffons, Donkeys, Seaponies and many others. Whenever imbalance reared its head, the Alicorns ensured one of the younger races was granted the power to deal with it. "

Luna took a deep breath and exhaled. "But then, something happened. Something that had never happened before in all of history. A creature was born strong in Dissonance when there was no need for such strength. He was a pony, born into the unicorn tribe. The prodigal son of a powerful family amongst their aristocracy. His name was Cedistic Dissonant, and his actions would change everything."

Luna took on a lecturing tone, and Twilight could feel herself slipping back into the role of a student, listening attentively. "He was a brilliant composer and musician, perhaps the greatest in history. He studied dissonance with the same passion and zeal as he studied music. He saw Dissonance as the ultimate creative force, and Harmony as its ultimate enemy. He believed that Harmony would work forever to crush the beauty of the world, and especially of his music."

Luna shook her head gently. "He began to use his power to try and grant Dissonance greater and greater advantages. He spent nearly his entire life preparing a strike he thought would crush Harmony forever. The Alicorns were arrogant, believing themselves to be invincible. They never saw it coming. Cedistic used his magic and his music to loose a massive flood of dissonant energy into the world. With this final performance he destroyed Elysium, the city of the Alicorns. His magic set off a cataclysm that shook the world, and destroyed the lands where once civilization had lived. He himself died in aftermath, consumed by his own power."

Luna's face transformed for a moment into a gentle if sad smile. "Cedistic had done what no creature before him had done. He had created an imbalance in the world on purpose. More, he had crushed Harmony's greatest center of power with a single spell. Only twenty five of us lived through the cataclysm, but the survivors were amongst the most powerful of our race. We were born into a world that had been shattered by Dissonant magic."

Luna sighed softly. "There is so much history to tell. Suffice to say, much was lost in the ensuing collapse of the Alicorn dominion. We were born a year after the Cataclysm, our parents and our remaining family fled with us to a faraway land far from the races we had long watched over. Celestia and I never knew the life our parents had. The surviving Alicorns scattered to the four corners of the world. We were left with only our mother, to grow into a wild world of forests, mountains and stone huts. For a time though, we were a happy family. We lived, we loved each other, and we needed naught else. Celestia and I were almost adults when it all fell apart."

Luna's eyes closed and a single silver tear fell from her eye. "It was a dangerous world. I remember the day our mother left us. She had to lead away a powerful dissonance sorcerer so that he would not be able to harm us. All trace of her vanished, and we never learned of her fate. We have long since presumed she died. We both grieved terribly, but my sister far more deeply than I."

Luna sighed again. "I must skip over more history. This may seem like a long story, but you must understand the circumstances that set the stage to come. Celestia and I swore to one another that we would restore balance to the world. I would study the Dissonant arts, and she would study Harmony. Together, we would bring an end to the madness that had befallen the world. I believed she was truly dedicated to that goal. She was my elder sister, and I still worshiped her for her wisdom and kindness. I did not see what grief had done to her. I was...a fool."

Luna paused, smiling slightly. "Many hundreds of years passed. The Pony tribes came to the lands we had lived in for so long by ourselves. At first we thought them savages, but when they kindled the Fire of Friendship, we knew it was time to rejoin society. When we at last revealed ourselves to them, they looked upon us as gods. On that day, we felt the power of the world reaching out to us, Dissonance and Harmony alike. And so we seized control of the heavenly bodies, hoping that doing so would bring unity to all the races of the world." She waved her hoof skyward. "My sister, the Sun. Myself, the Moon and the stars. We took upon our bodies the marks of our new place, and the Ponies took this to mean we were like them, but born to rule. The pony tribes at last had something they could agree upon. We were crowned the Princesses of the ponies, and we founded Equestria as a haven for all creatures of the world who wished to live in peace."

Luna's hoof slowly fell. "Yet my sister had never forgotten her grief. For soon after we founded our land, she began to root out and destroy those who believed in the Code of Dissonance. At first, I did not intervene. I believed that hidden cults were a threat to our new society, and encouraged the believers to come into the open. I aided them in the founding of houses of worship, and set down rules and laws to ensure that they did not follow the dark path to evil means. For many years, I tried to convince Celestia to return to our quest to restore the balance."

Luna sighed deeply. "Such actions made my sister most wroth. She accused me of betraying our mother’s memory. She was emotional in a manner I had not seen her in centuries. We fought most bitterly for hundreds of years, but always in private. Eventually, she began to give in to my demands. We grew close again, though she never quite treated me as she had before. For a few centuries, all seemed well. And then I began to notice the ponies I loved most dearly no longer went out into the night. The nightly rituals and Lunar festivals of the earth ponies began to be replaced by ones during the day."

Luna's eyes darkened and her voice came out a little colder. "I had to spy on my own sister. She would not speak honestly to me about it. She knew Dissonant creatures took their power and life from the night, so she made the night into something to shun and fear. Her power grew, and mine faded. I grew angry with her, and Dissonance fed from that anger. Then, then Celestia went too far."

Luna's voice went suddenly quiet, and Twilight strained to hear her. "One morning, I found myself unable to rise from my bed. Celestia had bound me to it in chains of harmonic magic. She came to me, wearing shining armor of gold and steel and carrying a spear of pure fire. She told me how much she loved me, and apologized for her coldness to my pleas. She told me how foalish she had been allowing me to study Dissonance, and that soon all would be made right again. She told me I would be saved from Dissonance, and that she would banish the darkness to the stygian pits. Then she left me there, bound and shackled, and unable to intervene in what was to come."

"She launched the first Solar Crusade that day. They tore down my beautiful cathedrals. They arrested and killed Dissonant worshipers. They showed no mercy, no matter the age or race. She intended to wipe out Dissonance completely, root and branch. They assassinated sorcerers in their beds, and the armies of the Solar Guard marched in grim battle across our peaceful lands. I could no longer ignore what my sister had become. I escaped and the very next day, I took the name of Nightmare Moon and swore an oath to stop her madness, once and for all.."

Luna's head lifted up, and she took a deep breath. "You know the rest of the story. The Rebellion, the war, the chaos and death. I rallied millions of creatures to my cause, and even then I was unable to stop her. For the pony tribes threw in behind her one and all. Her power was far too great, and she banished me. Now a thousand years later, she has come very near to succeeding in her goals."

Luna's eyes shone for a moment with tears as she spoke. "My sister has been concocting a plan over the last two centuries with you at its center. She seeks to use your power to destroy Dissonance completely by forcing you to ascend to Alicornhood and become her Arch Mage of Harmony. " Luna looked up, Twilight's eyes wide with shock. "Oh yes, Mistress. She seeks to utterly destroy a natural force that has existed in this world since before the Alicorns, and she intends to use you to do it."

Twilight slowly licked her lips, still holding tightly on to that massive coil of dissonant power. "I see." she spoke lamely, the gears in her brain going at full speed. " That's why you've been pushing your own centuries of knowledge through my mind about Dissonance." Twilight felt anger boiling up in her again, but she roped it down. "By the Goddess, Luna. Why did you not simply come and talk to me? Tell me all of this in the first place!"

Luna jerked her head to one side, glaring at the window. "I thought of doing that. But then, what would you have thought of me? That I was becoming the Nightmare again, no doubt. You would have told Celestia, and then all would have been lost." Luna sighed deeply. "You needed to see for yourself, Mistress. You needed to see that Dissonance is not some ugly nebulous force. It is made up of ponies and other creatures, most of whom just wish to get along with their lives."

Twilight nodded a little at that one. "Yes, I suppose you're right there." She sighed gustily. "Buck it, I'm sighing too much lately. Stop cringing. The girls are going to be back sooner rather than later, and we need to get some things out of the way before they get here."

Twilight lifted up a hoof. "First, you are forgiven for what you've done. I agree with you, Celestia needs to be stopped before she can hurt anypony else. We must turn her away from this path, somehow. That does not mean I'm not going to punish you, later. It just means I accept your apology."

Luna was nodding in great enthusiasm, and Twilight had to grin. "Secondly, How much more am I going to change due to the influence of this power? I'd rather not end up looking like Chrysalis. Swiss cheese hooves and all that." Twilight joked a little, though she was feeling awfully worried about the prospect.

Luna winced a little, looking away. "Likely a very great deal. There will be more physical transformations, though there is no telling what they might be. Each sorcerer who has ascended as you have has been unique. Your personality will also change to some degree. You will still remain who you are at your core, but the Dissonant aspects of who you are will become far stronger."

Twilight nodded slowly at that one. "I suppose that's all I can ask for. So long as I have the girls, I ought to be okay. Third. What are we now? You and I, I mean." Twilight's cheeks flushed a little as she said that, aware of the double entendre.

Luna actually laughed - that soft, velvety rich sound that seemed to fill the room. "You are my Mistress, I am your Acolyte. Whatever I was before, that is what I am now. It is a sacrifice, to leave behind what one has known their entire life. Yet it is a worthy sacrifice. There are the makings of a great Queen in you, Mistress. If I must serve a monarch, I am glad that it is you. " Suddenly, Luna's teeth bared in a big, saucy grin. "As for anything else, well...I did mean it when I said I cannot disobey you ever again, Mistress."

Twilight blushed horribly, and coughed a little much to the amusement of Luna. "We'll deal with that laaaaaater." Twilight drawled out, feeling a little bit of a grin come to her face anyway. "Still, something to look forward to. Fourth, do you still have power over the Moon, then?"

Luna nodded. "Yes, mistress. I am still the Princess of the Night. There is no force in this world that can break that bond." She frowns. "I must warn you that we should not attempt using that power as a means of battle against Celestia. She is still far stronger than I. "

Twilight looked startled. "No. I just. Never mind. Later. Not enough time for that right now." She waved her hoof. "Fifth, I had another vision yesterday, like the one I had of that possible future on the day I met you. Do you have any idea what that might mean?"

Luna suddenly brightened up, her eyes going from sad and serious to perky in a nanosecond. "Wait, you saw another possible future?" Luna suddenly seemed far more intense, but also very happy. "Where you saw yourself, perhaps others changed in some way? As though it was some time from now?"

Twilight frowned and nodded slowly. "Well, yes. The second time, there were lots of other ponies. " She blinked, wondering why she had not thought that to be significant. "I mean, there was me, the girls and Shiny. Though we all looked like we'd just stepped out of some kind of gothic Vampony novel." Twilight smiled wryly.

Luna beamed at her, clapping her hooves. "Oh that is very good, Mistress!" It was very unnerving to see Luna of all ponies acting like that. Still, good news was good news. "It means that our chances remain strong to change things for the better."

Twilight chuckled a little, some of her good humor restored. "Sixth then, and the last question for now." She exhaled. "Is there anything else you think I need to be told? Any secret which might become relevant?"

Luna's humor slowly dissipated. "Yes." She said, simply. "But I am going to ask you to seek the answer to that question from one who deserves to tell you."

Twilight stared for a moment at her. "Who?" Her curiosity piqued at that comment, walking forward a step towards Luna and wondering why she had such a feeling of foreboding.

Luna looked up with a small smile on her face. "Shining Armor, since Cadence is not here to tell you herself."

Twilight's jaw dropped, then snapped up. Shiny? What has Shiny been hiding from me? And Cadence too? Has EVERYONE I loved hid some dark and dangerous secret from me? Twilight felt the anger bubbling up again and she stomped on it firmly, growling in frustration. This is getting very, very annoying.

Luna chuckled a little, and finally Twilight's mind got around to her other problem. "Acolyte, I'm beginning to wonder how the buck we're going to explain all of this to the girls." Luna frowned thoughtfully as Twilight continued to speak. "We can’t hide it completely from them. They'll know that I'm not telling them the truth." Twilight did not know how they would know, but she suspected Applejack would be an important part of that.

Luna nodded slowly. "Indeed. Even without any of my regalia, my appearance is rather unmistakable." She lifted one of her wings up, with a slightly ironic smile. "Perhaps the truth? At least, amongst those closest to you. It might unnerve them, Mistress. Yet they have already committed themselves to you. They will not doubt your wisdom, they will perhaps even be impressed when they realize you have already bested an Alicorn." Luna's eyelashes fluttered in a coy manner.

Twilight just facehoofed. "You know what? That sounds perfect. I'm tired of playing the clever and cool dark sorceress for tonight. I want to just get everyone inside and get some sleep. We'll deal with more earth shattering revelations tomorrow."

Luna bowed deeply. "Yes, Mistress. I shall go and prepare my bedding for the evening." Luna was already standing up when she found her way barred by Twilight's hoof. She gave a startled glance to Twilight, who was smiling in a decidedly smoky manner.

"I do not think so. Once our guests have been settled, you are going to spend the night in here." Twilight's tail flicked at Luna as she sauntered past. "I'm not going to let you out of my sight until this is all sorted. Just in case. Besides, I have more questions you're going to answer for me.." Twilight paused at the doorway, tossing her mane over her shoulder. Turning her head to wink slowly at a now blushing Luna. "I've got a lot to learn from you, I think."


The door to the Library swung open, revealing Twilight Sparkle cloaked in a tight knit weave of green flames. Seven figures stood or sat outside of the door, each of them carrying saddle bags and knapsacks. Twilight's eyes seemed to radiate with green fire, and seven sets of eyes glowed back in response in a deep violet.

Twilight could feel a connection to each of them, even her Brother. They were already changing, just as she was. They were feeding off of her power to a certain extent, the pure mass of Dissonance in her was filtering down through the connection she shared with all of them.

For a moment, Twilight could see them all as if they were lifted from her vision. Then they were back to normal, the same ponies she'd known for these four long years. My friends, I love you all so much. I wish.. But wishes were foalish. She would have to craft reality as she saw fit to change the world now .I swear by dissonance, I'll take care of all of you.

One by one they filtered through the door, exchanging hugs. Fluttershy immediately fled up the stairs towards her room, only pausing to kneel before Twilight and kiss her hooves. Obedient, as she should be. None of her friends so much as blinked at the kneeling or the kiss.

Applejack tipped her hat to Twilight, and headed off to the kitchen as she whistled some kind of old tune. Pinkie Pie pushed Rainbow Dash in with a cheerful wave from Pinkie Pie, and a fierce grin from Dash. She has brought me great glory already. I shall have to ask Luna if she can get Dash in shape for the battle. Perhaps for other things too.

Rarity was last, bearing a zipped up dress carrier with her magic and a small cart filled with bags and boxes. "Dearie me, what a night!" She smiled brilliantly at Twilight, and Twilight could feel Rarity's smoldering emotions beneath the surface. Oh yes. There is Power there, its flames stoked by her passions. Thought Twilight as Rarity continued to speak. "Tell me, Twilight - I don't suppose you could spare a few minutes in private? I've brought a little something you might enjoy wearing for the little soiree coming up." Rarity batted her eyelashes, tossing her mane coyly.

Twilight laughed softly. "Of course I do, Rarity. Go on upstairs. I'll join you in a few minutes. I need to speak to Shining Armor first." She flicked her tail at Rarity's flank as she passed. Earning her a sudden squeak and a surprised look from the white mare, whose eyes had gone from curious to positively heated. Rarity's smile turned to a wicked grin and soon she was trotting up the stairs with a veritable baggage train in tow.

Rainbow Dash had luckily missed the interplay, having been rolled into the kitchen with Pinkie Pie and Applejack. Shining armor came in last, nudging the door behind him shut with his hoof, and then closing his eyes. Moments later, a powerful blast of magic struck the door and spread in ripples of power outwards along the walls of the Library. Twilight watched as the impressive warding spell moved to protect the entire building, and wished a little wistfully that she could make a barrier even half as good.

"Shiny, wait." Twilight gently grasped her brother's shoulder, and he turned on the spot with military precision. His eyes were soft for her, and filled with love and concern. His very physical presence, the bulk of those impressive muscles and military trained form was a deep abiding comfort for Twilight. One she could not indulge herself in at the moment. She knew she was coming closer and closer to some kind of truth. There were only a few tiny bits of information missing, but they were the key to everything.

Twilight took a very deep breath. The first conversation this evening had been difficult enough. This one was likely to be worse. "Shining Armor, I know you've been hiding something from me. We need to talk about it right now."

Chapter 18 - The Pause

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~~~~~The Golden Oaks Library~~~~~

The Library was abuzz with the gentle voices of the many ponies now inside of it. Pinkie Pie's laughter and the chatter of Applejack and Rainbow Dash wafted out of the kitchen, along with the scent of stir-fried vegetables. From upstairs, the murmur of conversation between the first two ponies to discover Lilith's secret identity.

In the main room however, a brother and a sister sat on opposite chairs. Shining Armor's hooves were crossed, a solemn look on his face. "Twily. I want to get something straight between us." He blew out his cheeks before continuing to speak, his tone quiet. "Everything you haven't been told, everything that's been hidden from you. We had the best of intentions." He raised a hoof, forestalling her speech. "That's not an excuse. You should have been told the truth the instant after you beat Nightmare Moon. Maybe if we had realized how grown up you'd become, all of this could've been avoided."

Shining Armor sighed, his head resting on the arm of the chair. "We were idiots, Twily. We were all so certain we knew what was best for you." He snorted derisively. "What a crock of ponyfeathers." He lifted his head to gaze at Twilight, a little smile on his face. "For whatever it's worth, I'm sorry for all of this Twily."

Twilight's head slowly slipped into her hooves and she sighed, much of the anger she'd been holding onto all night slowly draining away. "I- oh, to Tartarus with it. I forgive you, Shiny. Celestia I'm going to have stronger words with." Twilight gave a little laugh and settled down into the chair a little more. "So, spill the beans Shiny."

Shining armor rubbed at the back of his head for a moment, a somewhat awkward smile on his face. "Well that's the thing. I don't know the whole story, just what Celestia told me. I wanted to tell you right away, but Celestia put her hoof down on the subject." He sighed. "This isn't going to be easy for me to tell you but you deserve the truth."

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Shiny, after the day I've had? I doubt there's anything you could possibly tell me that could be that horrible." By the time she'd said it, Twilight actually felt a sting of worry. "I mean, I'm pretty sure there isn't." she finished lamely, worrying at her lower lip.

Shining Armor sighed softly. "Twilight, I-" Shiny took a deep breath. Welp, here goes. It was nice knowing you, life. "Twilight, Mom and Dad aren't your actual parents." Shining braced for the inevitable rage storm, hoping his shields would keep him alive.

Twilight stared at him blankly. "What." she said flatly, in a combination of shock and total disbelief. "I-who-what!?" she sputtered out, eyes widening.

Shining Armor, miraculously still alive, nodded slowly. "Um... Let me tell you the whole story before you kill me, please?" Twilight nodded a little, shock still written across her face as Shining continued to speak. "I wasn't old enough to know what was going on, but this is what Celestia told me.."

Shining took another deep breath and soldiered on, Twilight's face stock still in some unidentified emotion. "She said she'd gone to clear out a powerful little enclave of Dissonance cultists, and during the raid they'd found a newborn baby unicorn. She said she'd sensed incredible potential in you, and brought you back to Canterlot." Shining armor shifted from hoof to hoof in his chair.

"Mom and Dad were already pretty well known to the magic community, and apparently to the Princess too. Celestia asked them to take you in, raise you as their own." Shining looked away, closing his eyes. "They never asked where you came from, never asked who your parents could've been. You know them, Twily - they loved you from the moment they saw you. That was no lie." Shining Armor turned his head sharply, his eyes and voice suddenly fierce. ""And I don’t give a buck about any of it! You're my sister, and that's all there is to it!" He huffed out a breath, looking more than a little pissed.

That shocked Twilight out of her thoughts, and she pushed herself off the chair. Moments later, she was up in the same overstuffed chair as Shiny. "Of course you are." she whispered, squeezing his hoof. Shining looked at her with a big, broad smile that blossomed from nowhere. Twilight smiled back and gently rubbed her cheek against his. "You'll always be my big brother, no matter what."

Shining looked relieved, and Twilight had to giggle a little. "Shiny, I am angry." She said quietly, her hoof on top of his. "But you're not the pony I'm angry at. All of this, every last bit of it all comes back to Celestia." Her eyes darkened, and her face fell into sadness. "I trusted her completely. I never once believed she would ever hurt me. Even now, I've been straining my mind trying to find some reason for all of this to have happened."

Shining squeezed his sister's hooves as she talked, her voice fatigued and broken up. "I've been desperately trying to think of some way this could all just work out. I know that's a foolish hope but... there it is." She slumped against her brother's side, eyes squinted shut. For a moment at least, she did not have to be strong. She didn't have to be confident or smart or cunning. She could be Twily, and take some comfort in the fact that Shiny would always be there for her.

Shining Armor slipped a hoof around her and gently hugged her, letting them sit in silence for a few moments. "Twily, all we can do is confront her. Maybe together we can convince her to finally tell the whole truth." He squeezed gently with his hoof, before kissing her cheek chastely. "We've got enough trouble. Let's not go borrowing more."

Twilight sighed, and nodded slowly. "Right." She hugged her brother back firmly for a moment, a sudden thrill rushing through her at their closeness And he's not even related to me! Twilight huffed her thoughts back. He's still my brother. Still no.

Twilight hopped off the chair and got a noogie from her brother, causing her to squeal and scamper away while he laughed. "Tch! I'm going to get you for that, Shiny!" Why was he so worried about that? I mean, sure it raises a lot of questions but why do I have the feeling that I'm missing something? Twilight shook her head and began the ascent to her room, wondering what other weird nonsense was going to happen today.

Shining Armor sat in his chair and cursed silently. He wanted to scream, to rant and rage at the universe. She put a damn Compulsion on me! I can’t talk! Celestia you whorse! Shining armor ground his teeth, trying to call after Twilight as she scampered away from him. Oh now I am well and truly beyond ticked.

Shiny sat there on the chair, wanting to strangle Celestia for what she'd done to him. The compulsion spell was forbidden magic of the highest order, it could force a pony to act in any way the caster might demand. Celestia had forced him to tell a fairy tale, and then stopped him from so much as revealing a thing to Twilight.

Twilight deserves to know the whole damn story, not just the beginning! She needs to know now, or things are going to get even more out of hoof! Shining buried his face into his hooves. Goddess protect us all when Twily finds out the whole story. Cadence, why in Equestria did you have to go?


Far away in Canterlot, the castle was silent. Only the Night Watch remained on the grounds, for all the other royal guards had gone with the Princess. In a tower room, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza slept in blissful silence. At least, she slept in silence on the outside.

Within her mind, she was enraged.

But rage was not a power of Harmony, and so did Cadence's mind temper her rage and tame it to her hoof. Celestia had imprisoned her body, but not her mind. She had been careless, too close to the culmination of her centuries of planning to notice the small details. Cadence ground her mental teeth together. She would make Celestia regret that mistake, once she figured a way out of this damn sleeping spell.

Her mind probed at it from every angle, but there was no use. The damn thing was flawless in every respect. Designed to last a week, and not an hour longer. She was going to need outside help to break the spell, but without the use of her horn she couldn't contact Shiny. He would take her final orders to protect Twilight seriously, and she doubted Twilight would launch any kind of rescue mission until everything was already over.

So, I'm bucked. Cadence wanted to beat her head into the table. How could I have been so foolish? Because she'd wanted to believe in Celestia of course. They all had. Cadence had wanted to believe she could save her little Twilight from all of this. Celestia clearly had other plans.

Within her mind, Cadence quietly wept. Tomorrow, or perhaps the next day it would all happen. The closest thing she had to a mother and Twilight would face each other in mortal combat, with no telling who the victor might be. Or what the consequences might be. There is no despair. she reminded herself, taking a deep internal breath. There is Laughter. Hah. Not that I have much to laugh at right now, save my own arrogance.

Cadence's mind settled down into a meditation, trying to formulate plans or ideas that she could enact after the dust had settled. One thing was for certain, she was not going to let Celestia catch her off guard ever again. She only wished she could see around her. Hanging around in the darkness of her own mind was boring. Celestia didn't even have the courtesy to let me dream something. Bitch.

Then, there was a ripple on the outside of the spell. A dark green ripple that seemed to press up just lightly against the magic, then withdrew. Cadence's mind watched in detached interest as the dark green tendrils of power pressed and probed at the spell, until a hated voice seeped through the shield. "My my, Celestia certainly did a number on you, Sister."

A haze of bright green energy appeared outside the sleep barrier, and coalesced into the form of the changeling Queen, Chrysalis. "You are quite fortunate my King is both wise and farsighted. Else you would have been left out of the fun." Chrysalis smirked with her fang-filled mouth, her very presence taunting Cadence.

Cadence did not enjoy being taunted, but now was not the time to indulge in her desire to beat the changeling queen with a whip. "What did you come here for, changeling?" Cadence growled, not moving from her curled up position next to her sleeping form.

Chrysalis giggled, a sound not unlike a room full of crickets all making noise at once. "Why I've come to ensure you get your invitation for the family reunion!" Cadence saw a bright red envelope flutter onto the bed, landing perched against her side. And with just that, Celestia's entire sleep spell began to crack like an egg. "King Sombra insists you make arrangements to attend. I shall leave you to them." Chrysalis flitted her wings and turned away, only to stop. The changeling Queen craned her head over her shoulder with a smile. "After all, it's hardly a reunion unless every member of the family is there."

With that statement, Chrysalis was gone. The sleep bubble continued to crack and craze like thin ice. Cadence began to throw her mind against it, trying desperately to make it break quicker. Whatever her reasons, Chrysalis had given cadence the opening she needed. Cadence was not about to waste her opportunity. I'm going to get to ponyville. I'm going to get Shiny and Twily, and we're going to get the buck out of Equestria.

And Goddess help anypony who gets in my way.


Mayor Mare of Ponyville settled into a wrought iron chair across from the Shadow King. At a silent cafe in the middle of Ponyville, Sombra looked up from the remains of his cupcake with a slow, toothy smile. "All is in readiness then?"

The Mayor nodded shortly, eyes now focused entirely on the green leafy boughs of the Library off in the distance. "Yes. I have arranged for the foals to be removed from harm’s way. All of the faithful who can reach the town will be here." The Mayor took a deep breath and exhaled. "All of your special arrangements are in place. Dissonance willing, all will proceed as planned."

Sombra chuckled richly. "Oh, it will not all proceed as planned, but a good deal of it shall. Which ought to be enough to tip the scales to even. The rest will be up to our little unicorn." He sipped at his wine glass, pouring himself a refresher. "Tell me, how is she?"

Mayor Mare shivered. "Every time she wields the power, every one of the faithful can feel it. The closer we are to her, the more powerful the sensation. It has been very - distracting." She gulped and then continued to speak. "As to the rest, she has not called upon me since her emancipation. I think it is likely she is creating powerful connections to the Elements, to ensure their power will become hers." The Mayor hesitated a moment before speaking again. "My King, I fear what is to come."

Sombra shook his head, his glass of dark red wine hovering in the air. "I do not blame you. We shall be gambling everything on what is to come. Yet I believe we have done all we can for Dissonance. We have hope, Scrolls. We can ask for no more than that." He glanced over at the Mayor and chuckled. "Nothing of importance will be happening until Celestia arrives. I suggest you go do as I am doing - Enjoy tomorrow. It may be your last day alive."


The whirring of the great fan blades was an oddly relaxing sound. Princess Celestia stood on the upper deck of the Cloud Fortress Commander Hurricane staring out into the night sky with a little bit of wonder. She wished Luna were here. Luna had always been her rock amidst the storms that the world had thrown at them.. For all of their troubles, Celestia knew that Twilight would need Luna in the days to come as much as Celestia had needed her for her entire life.

It was almost over now. A millennium of planning, centuries of toil and tears, every resource and magical researcher at her command. All of it to come to a final head in these next few days. Celestia had to admit to herself, the feeling was relieving. Today's research had revealed a startling truth to her, one that put all of her Apprentices actions in perspective. Harmony is clearly with me. All of this is far too perfect for it to be otherwise.

Yet she would be mindful of the pitfalls. She had often thought her plans perfect before, only for the rug to be swept out from under her. Sombra was ever the canny player, and Queen Chrysalis remained a wild card. This mysterious 'Lilith' and 'Scrolls' that her intelligence spoke of were also unknown quantities. I must be ever vigilant. Especially now.

Celestia's thoughts went to her Apprentice, to her beloved faithful student. Twilight. Would that there was any other way. Would that I were wiser or stronger in my heart, I would not have placed this burden upon you. Celestia's power lifted the tiny white tome from where she had tucked it under her wing, staring at it mournfully. Writing such a thing was so much harder than I'd imagined, but I wrote it all. Every sin and mistake, and more importantly everything she will need to know.

The quiet steps of a pegasus pony interrupted her introspection. Celestia tucked the book back under her wing and turned to the approaching figure. Sky Admiral Fire Drake was ancient by pegasus standards - nearly 80 years old, he'd served in the Equestrian Air Force for longer than most could remember.

His thinned out mane and eye patch made him look like a pirate, and his physique reflected a lifetime of hard work and fighting for the cause of Harmony. Somehow, his voice remained as strong as it had for all of his years of loyal service. "We're gonna be catchin' the main thermals in a few hours yer Majesty. Barring unforeseen wind changes, we'll be arrivin in Ponyville in Thirty-six hours." His gravelly voice proclaimed, looking quite pleased with himself.

Celestia smiled herself as even her best navigators told her the journey to Ponyville would take four days for the fortress. "That is most excellent, Admiral. I would propose adding to your list of impressive accolades, but I believe another piece of paper in your file might finally break the shelf it rests on." Good humor twinkled in her eyes, and the Admiral chuckled in response to her jibe. "You are dismissed, Admiral. Get a good night's sleep." The older pegasus nodded, saluting quickly before withdrawing himself from the deck.

Celestia's eyes gazed out into the night for a moment. "Good night, Lulu." She whispered quietly, then turned towards the cabins.


"Ya mean you saw it too!?" Scootaloo's voice said in a soft whisper as the Cutie Mark Crusaders huddled together under the bed sheets. "I thought it was just Dash being awesome!" Scoots sounded disappointed, but also intrigued.

Sweetie Belle cut in a moment later, her voice pitched low too, "Uh-huh! I saw Rarity do it too! I thought I was just really tired but..." she shook her fluffy mane back and forth. "Applebloom, you say ya saw it on Applejack too?"

Applebloom nodded enthusiastically, worry painted over her face. "Eyup! All glowy an' purple an' stuff! Bright as a candle at midnight!" She whispered back fiercely, frowning mightily. "Whaddya s'pose it means?"

All three of them stopped to look thoughtful, each one thinking as hard as they could to try and unravel the mystery of the eyes. Were this any other day, had the last few days been anything but really scary and exciting, they might have proclaimed this a chance to get their cutie marks. But dark things were going down in Ponyville, and all of them knew it.

"Maybe we oughta tell Cheerilee?" Sweetie suggests timidly. "Or maybe the Mayor. If something's wrong with our sisters, it could be wrong with Twilight and Fluttershy, and Pinkie too!" Sweetie’s hooves were tapping together nervously as she spoke, eyes darting around under the sheet.

Scootaloo shook her head. "No way. We could get them all in a whole lot of trouble if we did that! I mean, they've covered for us plenty'a times." Still, Scootaloo's lips turned into a worried frown. "Still, we gotta do something or tell someone. They could be in trouble."

Applebloom piped up a moment later, a bright smile on her face. "Zecora! She knows all about strange and weird things like this." The other two Crusaders nodded in enthusiasm. "We'll go talk ta' her tomorrow." She grinned brightly. "Maybe they're under some kinda curse, and we can save em!"

As one, the three little ponies chorused in whispers "Cutie Mark Crusader Curse breakers! Yay!"


Rarity perched in the large overstuffed chair Twilight had been using as an ad hoc throne for the past three days. Luna and Fluttershy knelt next to each other, presenting an artistic picture that would have made any painter weep. Twilight slowly trotted into the room to see her Acolytes and Fluttershy's hooves crossed behind their backs and heads lowered. Rarity was saying something to them in a quiet voice as Twilight walked in, stopping short at the sight of her.

Rarity smiled in a slow, sensual manner at her. Everything about the scene sent Twilight's blood to boiling, no longer with anger. No, this was passion at its purest. Lust surged through her, and she wondered why she had ever tried to deny this glorious feeling in favor of her studies. Twilight felt her walk subtly change, swaying her hips a little with each step. Rarity hopped off the chair with that same smoldering smile and bowed to her as she approached.

Neither Luna nor Fluttershy moved, nor did they even flinch. As it is supposed to be. Twilight thought with satisfaction. Next to the chair hung a cloth dress-bag, heavy with some kind of garment inside of it. Rarity spoke first as she stopped in front of them, her tone as jovial and bright as ever. "Your majesty, I must say of all the identities of your Acolyte, this was the one I least expected." She eyeballed Luna with a sly sort of smile.

Twilight had to chuckle, stifling her humor as she responded. "I was shocked myself, I must admit. But what are you doing with them, hmm?" Twilight paced slowly around Rarity, whose face took on a trace of nervousness. "All presented here before you, I might begin to think you were trying to control them yourself Rarity." Twilight placed her hoof firmly against the white unicorn's chest, Rarity's face a study in excitement and slight fear. "Perhaps a touch of humility is in order. You will kneel with them." Her voice rang with power, dissonance briefly illuminating her eyes with a bright green glow.

Rarity sank down next to the other two ponies without another word, immediately adopting the same pose as the other two. Twilight had to admit, the feeling of total control here was intoxicating. "Acolyte Luna." She purred out, and the blue-maned Alicorn raised her head. "Next time, inform me if Rarity acts above herself without my permission." Luna smiled and nodded silently.

It was a very strange scene for Twilight to behold, but beautiful. Three gorgeous mares kneeling at her hooves. She knew that with a command, they might very well do anything she demanded of them. The cords of dissonance which connected her to them pulsed with emotions and power, and Twilight knew she could draw from that power and so much more. Their knowledge was hers, their every secret belonged to her.

Twilight slowly felt a smile cross her lips. She was tired, but perhaps a little practice tonight could not hurt. Luna's emotions were powerful enough for her to read without even trying - Twilight had always pushed aside the needs of the body for the needs of her mind. The next few days might not give her another chance to enjoy them.

Twilight's horn glowed softly and the door to her room shut firmly, latching and then locking with a subtle click. A second spell ensured no noise would escape that room that night.


Rainbow Dash sighed in disappointment. "Dangit." She had heard the door close and lock, and laid her head on the kitchen table over her hooves. "Stupid sexy Twilight." Applejack rolled her eyes at her and Pinkie Pie giggled madly. Dash simply glared back at them. "What? She is! Not my fault."

Applejack sighed and picked up a piece of soft broccoli and munched on it for a moment. "Yanno, ya could just tell her." She pointed out, eyebrow raised. "Ah mean, It ain't like we're exactly proper folks no more." Applejack grumbled at that comment, sinking down into her chair. "Sides, you ain't the only one feelin it right now."

Rainbow Dash blinked, as Pinkie Pie filled the background with her laughter and giggles, practically falling off her chair. "Wait, you too? No, you're not into Twilight, you're-" Dash's wings would have popped in confusion, if they weren’t bound together in bandages. "Wait, how the buck can I know that?!"

Applejack glared at her without heat. "Cuz of those damn silver necklaces. Th' Elements connected us as friends. Ah think those new thangs got other plans in mind fer us." She grumbled again, crossing her hooves and turning her head away.

Dash slowly put the pieces together, lifting her head from the table. "That's not this Dissonance stuff that's making you think those things, AJ." her voice was soft, softer than normal. "And you're blushing." Dash pointed out, a slow smile of triumph crossing her face.

Pinkie Pie popped up from the floor, a huge grin on her face. "Course she is, Silly! Everypony knows Applejack's got the hots for you!" Pinkie ducked a flying carrot hurled by Applejack, then poked her head back up over the table with a smile. "Applejack, you need to stop pretending everything's gonna be the same. I'm just a humble baker of cupcakes, but even I know what Dissonance means."

Applejack and Dash stared at Pinkie Pie as she slowly pushed herself up, no longer clowning around. Pinkie Pie's look was seductive, the subtle slant of her smile suggesting... things. "Dissonance is the dark, warm places of the world. It's full of the forbidden. Desire, passion, kink, lust, control." Pinkie broke into a giggle for a moment, except now it came out as a laugh that sent chills down the other two ponies’ spines. "And right now, the pony that's connecting all of us is full of all those emotions, and we're feeling the effects."

Pinkie smiled, much more normally for her. "So, girls. There's a big hunka stallion out there whose wife is away, and I think we could all use a little stress relief. Especially him. So whaddya say we go make a little Dissonance tonight, Hmmm?"


Chrysalis perched on top of a house in Ponyville as the night went on, not hiding her true form for the moment. She felt the wind blow through her wings and the holes in her chitin. She felt the weight of the jewelry in the sack draped across her back. The world was silent and still all around her as the moon hung high in the sky.

It was the deep breath before the plunge. The world itself was getting ready for the event about to take place here. "Are you ready, Princess Celestia? Are you ready, my King?" Chrysalis wondered aloud, a slow smile spreading over her face - baring her fangs to the wind.

"Are you ready, Nightmare Queen Twilight Sparkle?"

Chapter 19 - The Call

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~~~~~~Ponyville, Dawn of the Next Day~~~~~~
~~~~~~24 hours remain until the arrival of the H.M.S Commander Hurricane~~~~~~~

Morning in Ponyville shimmered as the dawn slowly rose over the horizon, and the citizens of Ponyville awoke to just another day. The Mayor trotted down the streets, accompanied by workponies and carpenters who were discussing the repairs to city hall. Mr. and Ms. Cake opened up the communal soup kitchen, which was providing meals for the workers and those ponies that had lost their homes to the fires and chaos. A small crowd of foals poured out of the Inn and scattered all over the city, some going to see their parents while others simply ran off to play in the glorious morning sun.

Three fillies however, were going to do neither. They were on a mission to help their sisters, and so the intrepid trio stealthed their way past the watchful eyes of Cheerilee towards the outskirts of town. Once there, they donned their now infamous crimson cloaks and set off towards the Everfree Forest.

Across town, a handsome gray stallion and a gorgeous looking pale blue mare sat down to take breakfast at a small cafe, while curious onlookers watched them. The two of them only seemed amused by all the attention, and chatted with one another like an old married couple. Still quietly in love after all of these years was the thought, though the citizens of Ponyville wondered where they had come from.

Not far from that same cafe, the Golden Oaks Library slowly came to life. Much of it thanks to the heady aroma of morning oatmeal, filled with the smell of fresh apples and cinnamon. Noses perked up from under sheets and from atop couches, and slowly seven ponies began to rouse themselves from sleep and other nocturnal activities.

Applejack was the second pony in the kitchen, bright eyed and remarkably awake despite how late she had been up last night. Luna sat in front of the stove, gently stirring a set of pots and pans with a soft glow of blue magic. "Good morning, Miss." Luna piped up, her voice on the naughty side of saucy. "Breakfast will be ready momentarily."

Applejack blinked, and then rubbed hard at her eyes for moment. "Whut." She said, flatly. After another moment, she sighed gustily. "Yanno what? I ain't even surprised anymore." and trotted over to the dinner table, noting that it was suspiciously clean of everything but napkins and spoons.

Pinkie Pie trotted in a moment later, her wet mane all wrapped up in a bath towel and a bounce in her step. "Morning Loony!" Pinkie grinned cheekily. "I was wondering when you'd finally fess up. I mean that whole pink unicorn thing was silly!" She hopped up to give Luna a big smooch on the cheek before trotting over to the table, humming a bright song. "Mmm, that oatmeal smells good!"

Luna laughed softly. There was just no explaining Pinkie Pie. Twilight was the next pony into the room, and a soft blush crept up onto Luna's cheek as she entered. There was something subtly different about Twilight this morning. Especially in the way she carried herself. She looked stronger, more confident. Her eyes had finally shifted entirely over to the vibrant green of Dissonance, surrounding a bright violet iris.

Twilight strode into the room with a smile for the two girls and a much sexier smile for Luna. A spoon Luna was using to stir the oatmeal clunked into the pot as Twilight stopped her with a hard, deep kiss right on the lips. Pinkie Pie giggled brightly at the sight, with Applejack's head hitting the table with an audible thump.

Twilight pulled away a moment later, a little trail of saliva connecting them for just a second before vanishing. Luna's face was bright red and Twilight giggled softly, nuzzling her cheek against the moon princesses. "Good morning Acolyte. Morning Pinkie, AJ." She chuckled richly and lifted a bite of the Oatmeal out of the pot, savoring it as she took her seat at the breakfast table.

Luna went back to stirring breakfast, her cheeks still a bright red. Pinkie giggled brightly, her voice sing-songing "Luna and Twily kissin in the tree!" Pinkie dissolved back into laughter, followed shortly by Twilight and even Applejack. Luna rolled her eyes and checked the food.

Satisfied, she began dosing out the chunky breakfast into bowls as Dash slowly wandered in, wincing a little with her steps."Geeze, that healing potion stuff doesn't do a thing of sore muscles." She muttered as she carefully picked her steps across the floor. She stopped in mid step at the sight of Luna, her jaw slowly falling. "Um. Does anypony else notice the royalty making breakfast?"

Twilight rolled her eyes a little, Pinkie just grinned as she dug her spoon into the oats. "Dash." replied Applejack Wearily, mouth half full of oats and apples. "After th' last two days, ya might as well jes' roll with it."

Dash shook her head and slipped up onto one of the chairs next to the table next to Applejack. "Yeah I suppose yer right, AJ." Dash smiled across the table at Twilight, who smiled warmly right back at her. "You look good, Twi. Even if those eyes are a little weird."

Fluttershy slipped in a moment later, as the girls began to chatter at the table about the small things. Nothing world shaking this morning, just the funny moments and little bits of gossip that accumulated between close friends. Luna quietly served Fluttershy a bowl of the cereal and the two of them hugged each other tightly, murmuring to one another.

Luna gave herself breakfast and joined Fluttershy on the floor next to Twilight's chair, kneeling together. Dash stared at the little interplay, then facehoofed. "Just go with it, Dash. Just go with it." She muttered to herself, eliciting a laugh and a sly grin from Pinkie.

Pinkie's voice was gently teasing, "What'sa matter Dashie? Never wanted to kneel at the hooves of a sexy mare or stallion before?" Dash shook her head vigorously, looking away with pink cheeks. Pinkie leaned in, whispering just loud enough for the table to hear. "Not even Twiiilight's?" Dash took a halfhearted swipe at Pinkie, who ducked it expertly while the table of friends laughed together.

Rarity was the last one awake as usual, slinking into the room fifteen minutes later wrapped up in a fluffy white robe and her mane done up in curlers and an expertly wrapped towel. "Morning, darlings." She perkily proclaimed, fetching bowl and still hot oatmeal from the stove. "So, what are our plans for the day?" She hopped up onto the last remaining chair as Applejack trotted out of the room for her turn at the shower.

Twilight smiled faintly. "I’m afraid I've got a lot of things that need to be handled today." She sighed softly. "Some of them I'd rather not drag any of you into." Solemn faces looked back at her, and Twilight gave a soft smile. "Nothing dangerous. I'm just going to be... negotiating with a few creatures." That got a wide-eyed look from nearly everyone, and Twilight laughed softly. "I don't have anything to fear from them anymore, girls. Quite the contrary."

Dash chuckled softly. "That's our Twi." She softly proclaimed to the air, getting nods of assent from the rest of the ponies in the kitchen.

Luna coughed softly. "Will you have need of me today, Mistress?" She hardly needed to look up at Twilight, and her eyes shone with pride at her. " Or is there some other task you would set me to?"

Twilight nodded. "Actually, I do have something I need you to do." She pointed her hoof at dash. "Get her in flying shape by tomorrow. Do whatever you have to. We're going to need her." Luna nodded deeply in acquiescence, and Dash blinked rapidly at Twilight.

Twilight's eyes gazed across all the ponies sitting at the table. "I do have a plan." She proclaimed to the table, and seven sets of ears swiveled towards her at once. "It's crazy of course. Then, this entire affair is crazy. That's why this just might work." She smiled gently. "Rarity, that dress you had prepared for me is quite lovely for private affairs..." That got a bright blush from Rarity, and a grin from Luna. "But I need something a touch more appropriate for tomorrow. Think you can work your magic by then?"

Rarity tossed her mane and tilted her head up with a grin. "Why Twilight, that almost sounded like a challenge! How could I possibly resist?" She smirked, hopping off her chair. "I shall get to work straight away, darling!" And without another word, she trotted out of the room still in the towel and hair curlers. Rainbow Dash stifled a grin and Applejack just shook her head.

Twilight turned to the rest of them. "Pinkie Pie, Applejack - I need you to work with Mayor Mare. Come up with whatever excuse you have to get the townsfolk out of the way tomorrow. I don't want anypony getting hurt if we can avoid it." Applejack nodded slowly in approval at that comment.

Pinkie Pie blinked and clapped her hooves together. "Oooh! I have an Idea! We'll have a big "We're Still Alive!' Party!" She grinned brightly. "Parties, this pony can do. Cmon AJ!" Pinkie was out the door moments later, followed by sighing Applejack. "Hooboy, this is gonna be a long day."

Fluttershy had not moved or spoken since Twilight began to give orders. Twilight eyed Fluttershy, then Luna. Luna nodded slightly. "I shall ensure she is well cared for, Mistress. She has much to learn about serving." Fluttershy looked startled, and Luna smiled kindly. "Though she certainly has the right attitude."

Twilight smiled and kissed Luna on the cheek before hopping down from her own chair to cross the kitchen, confident that all else would be handled. She did stop next to Rainbow Dash, who was licking her bowl clean. Twilight reached up and touched Dash's cheek. "Get better quickly, Rainbow." She whispers softly, huskily. "I'd love to enjoy a nice long... talk with you."

She trotted out a moment later, leaving Dash staring at Twilight's retreating flank. Dash turned around slowly, licking her suddenly dry lips. "So. How fast can you get me back on the wing, Prin - er, Luna?" Dash asked, a wild look in her eye.

Shining Armor stood outside the door to the library, his fierce gaze sweeping across the town but always returning to the distant horizon. Twilight slowly walked out to stand next to her brother in spirit, looking to where he was on the horizon. His voice was soft and firm. "They're bringing the Hurricane." His voice was distinctly worried, but his face showed no such emotion. "That means she's bringing the First Air Wing, and probably most of the Royal Guard."

Twilight blinked a little. "How can you tell what that is?" She asked, her eyes straining to see the far away tuft of clouds. It was moving, certainly but not at any speed, Twilight could detect. "And what do those things mean, Shiny? Keep it simple for me."

Shining Armor puffed out his cheeks. "If she's stripped Canterlot bare of everything but the Night Watch, which means about thirty thousand troops. Elite troops too, with full pegasus air support and trained battle unicorns. There is no fiercer fighting force in all of Equestria. They will be well equipped and ready for anything" Shining turned his head towards Twilight. "I hope you've got some serious aces up your sleeve, Twily - or this fight is going to be very short on our side."

Twilight smiled slightly. "Well then, let's go see what sort of aces we can scrounge up, shall we?"


Deep within the Everfree Forest, three fillies careened down a dirt path in panic as a chitinous black form buzzed after them. "Faster Scoots!" yelled Sweetie Belle, as Scootaloo turned on the speed with her own buzzing wings. Slowly they began to pull away from the pursuer, though the effort was clearly exhausting Scootaloo very quickly.

Applebloom grabbed a rock from the back of the wagon and tried hurling it at the changeling, who simply dodged to one side. "How much farther?" She yelled at Sweetie, whose face screwed up into concentration as the cart began to slow dramatically, Scootaloo's young wings unable to keep up the concerted effort.

The two fillies in the cart turned with fearful eyes upon the advancing changeling, whose eyes lit up in triumph - only to go dark a moment later as a wooden staff smashed into the side of his head. His body crashed into a tree a moment later and slumped to the ground unmoving as a striped form dropped to the ground, wielding a long hafted spear and a murderous look on her face.

She advanced on the changeling cautiously, poking it with the tip of the weapon for a moment before sighing in relief. "Thank goodness for that tree. He might've gotten away from me!" Zecora muttered before turning on the three Crusaders, all of whom suddenly felt very nervous. Well, Scootaloo mostly felt exhausted, but she was nervous too. Zecora sighed. "What brings you to this place of Strife? Coming here risks your life!"

Scootaloo was panting as she tried to catch her breath, so it fell to Applebloom to be the spokespony. "We need t'talk to you Zecora! Somethin's wrong with our sisters!" Her voice quavered a little, but she was not afraid of Zecora - she was scared of those darn changelings!

Zecora frowned a little, slowly walking over to stand in front of them and lean against her spear. "Speak quickly, little filly. I have no time for something silly."

Applebloom launched into her explanation, with Scootaloo joining them in the cart. "We were gettin some stuff to help make the stay in the inn more comfortable and we ran into alla' our sisters! They was packin stuff up to go somewhere, and wouldn't tell us."

Scootaloo piped in. "Dash wanted me to hold on to some weird envelope and told me to open it if something bad happened to her!"

Sweetie was the next to speak, the words leaving her mouth in a rush "And all of them had these weird glowing purple eyes! Well, only for a little while but they had em!"

Zecora frowned softly at these reports, and Applebloom spoke up again. "We ain't lyin to you Zecora! We really did see their eyes glowing some weird purple color! You gotta believe us!"

Zecora sighed softly, tapping the ground with her spear. She closed her eyes for a moment in thought then opened them. "Believe you I do. Your sisters may be caught in a dangerous brew." She shouldered the length of wood and began to trot into the forest. "This mystery's certainly a twister. We shall find out what ails your sister!"


Shining Armor glanced around him as they passed under the ancient stone arch towards the Haven, Twilight leading the way. "Incredible. How have they kept this place hidden for all of these years?" Shiny wondered aloud as they traversed the flagstone path.

Twilight shook her head slightly. "I think they've only just uncovered it very recently." She smiled a little. "You'd be surprised how industrious these creatures can be, Shiny. You might even be impressed." She giggled softly as Shining fixed her with a flat stare.

"I've cleaned out Dissonance cults before, Twily. I'm aware of the crazy things they can build in secret." His gaze swept around the fog filled clearing around the hill, eyes narrowing. "We're not alone," he warned, his hooves setting into the ground and his horn faintly glowing.

Twilight placed a hoof on his shoulder and walked past him. "No, we're not." she whispered, as creatures began to emerge from the thick fog. Amongst them were several small groups of changelings who buzzed up closer to Twilight, their eyes full of awe. "Well met, creatures of the shadows. I have come to call you to my service."

The crowd around them was growing by the minute, and a murmur of excitement swept through the ranks. A familiar looking changeling warrior landed in front of them, and Shining Armor's eyes went very wide. The changeling warrior bared his fangs in a grin at them before he spoke. "Mistresss... Have you come to call the hives to your banner?"

Another figure spoke up - His coat was pale white, and his eyes blood red in color. He had the look of a pony, but when he spoke, he exposed the sharp fangs inside of his mouth. "Perchance..." He began in a smooth, cultured tone that would have even wooed Rarity. "You have come to call the Clans as well?"

A third figure stepped forward, one familiar to Twilight and Shining alike. Leathery bat wings adorned the pony's back, and a fierce look in his slitted pupils. "It seems that many are eager to flock to your call, Nightmare Twilight." The batpony grinned fiercely, his sharpened teeth shining in the dim light. "It has been many centuries since a true Nightmare stepped forward to lead us. Are you to be the next?"

Twilight swept her gaze across the three figures that stood before most of the others. "To each of you, I answer thus - Yes." A startled murmur rushed through the crowd, and each of the three foremost creatures eyed each other for a moment. "Listen to me, one and all." Twilight called out to the crowd, stepping forward amongst them.

Twilight walked amongst these dark creatures, and saw the good in each of them. They are not evil. They are simply different. here, standing amidst those the world had discarded and forgotten, Twilight felt her resolve harden. "The Princess Celestia is coming to my city. She comes bearing soldiers and the pitiless sun of Harmony. For years, I believed her cause to be righteous and her justice strong."

Twilight felt her voice grow heated, as the gaze of unknown creatures followed her. "But I have had the veil stripped from my eyes. I can now see, where before the sun had blinded my gaze. There is no justice in murdering of those who are simply different. There is no righteousness in her cause."

Twilight held her head high as the crowd began to murmur in agreement, her voice reaching like a clarion call, "She is coming to my city, intending to make me her sword and silence those who have opened my eyes to the truth. She will learn I shall no longer tolerate the lies, no longer tolerate deception. I will no longer be her ignorant pawn. So yes, I call each of you to my banner. That she might know that all creatures of this world have a right to live, and a right to know FREEDOM!"

The crowd burst into cheers, hooves stomping and changelings buzzing and hissing. Twilight lifted an imperious hoof and the crowd fell silent. "So, who amongst you will be the first to swear?"

The changeling warrior was at her hooves in a flash, bowing to her deeply. "Klik'kkt hive swears its allegiance to you, Nightmare Twilight. Others will follow. in our wake. May your enemies flee before our swarms!" The changeling bared its fangs in a grin, as Twilight gestured for him to rise.

The pale pony with the fangs of his own swept forward, taking the lifted hoof in his own and kissing it reverently. "The Sanguine Clan pledges itself to thee, dread Nightmare. Many other vampony clans will follow our lead. May you taste the sweet blood of your enemies." His eyes seemed to glow a baleful gold. "And perhaps more."

The batpony marched up last, his eyes gazing defiantly into hers as the vampony count knelt before Twilight. "Once, long ago, my people swore our allegiance to Nightmare Moon. So tell me, Queen Twilight. Where does the Princess Luna fall in all of this?" Gasps of shock ran through the crowd, and silence fell upon the foggy plain.

Twilight could not help but smile. "Acolyte." She whispered on the wind, grasping at the thick magical connection that bound them together with her mind. A moment later a flash of blue appeared at her side, and Luna appeared before the crowd. Within a moment, she had sunk to her knees next to Twilight, who placed her hoof on Luna's head. "The Princess of the Night swore allegiance to me, Night Guard. Do you?"

The batpony took a stumbling step back, as all the figures around them stared in shock. A look crossed the batpony's face, his eyes widening and mouth moving soundlessly up and down. A moment later, words whispered from his lips, which seemed to carry along the winds. "Our time has come again. The moon will rise, and the sun will give way." The pony sank to the ground, prostrating himself before Twilight, his voice a mere whisper. "We swear to you, Nightmare Twilight. We all so swear."

One by one, the figures of the clearing sank to a knee, or bowed deeply to her. Twilight turned her gaze on each one of them, then nodding to the kneeling Luna. "You may go, Acolyte." Luna vanished in a flash of magic, and Twilight lifted her hoof. "Arise, my subjects." She smiled faintly as they began to do so - hunger and predatory instinct replaced by fear, respect, and admiration.

Twilight smiled. "General Shining Armor." She spoke, clearly enough for those nearby to hear. The name rushed through the crowd like wildfire, and Shining looked at her in surprise. "Think that's enough aces, Brother?”

Shining Armor eyed the three foremost figures and smiled just a little bit. "They'll do."


Zecora's cottage deep within the woods had changed since last Applebloom had been there. All around it, strange looking totems and masks hung from the tree branches. The place looked more menacing than it had before, yet all of them could feel the warmth of welcome within. Zecora gestured for the three fillies to enter her home, as she began a soft chant in a language none of them understood.

The fillies hurried inside, and then peeked out of the window at Zecora. Zecora lifted up her hooves, still holding the spear and all of the strange totems on the branches seemed to come alive, twisting and writhing to an unseen beat. Zecora slumped in what looked like exhaustion, before slowly pulling herself inside the cabin. "So many threats, my dears. These days danger is always near."

Zecora recovered quickly though, trotting over to her shelf of books and drawing one that had been bound in some strange black materiel. This she opened with a certain amount of reverence and began to turn the pages slowly. "Come closer little fillies and tell me no lies. Show me how looked your sisters eyes."

The three Crusaders hopped up onto the stumps as Zecora slowly turned through the pages, showing eyes in all manner of forms and colors, until finally Applebloom cried out. "That's it!" She jabbed her hoof towards one set of eyes, which the other two looked at and nodded slowly.

"Yeah, that's definitely it. I was looking right into Dash's eyes when it was happening. That's exactly the look, color and all." Said Scootaloo, proudly sticking out her chest. Sweetie Belle nodded in agreement, much more vigorously.

Zecora frowned mightily as she looked upon the entry, her eyes widening slightly. "Great danger is this, little ones. It seems you were correct to run!" She snapped the book shut and dashed over to the shelf, carefully replacing it. "You all must remain safely here. Thanks to my wards, no danger will come near." Her hooves were already filling a large leather saddlebag with bottles, phials and potions. "I must go and speak to them, if a tide of shadow I mean to stem!"

Sweetie Belle spoke softly. "But...what is it, Zecora? What's it mean?" her voice was tremulous, filled with growing worry for the one she loved.

Zecora stopped, still grasping a vial filled with a silvery liquid. She spoke a moment later, slowly and carefully... "Purple eyes and tiny pupils, this is the mark of Shadow's Lens. The corruption of Dissonance that is changing them. I know not what I may yet do, but be wary - for they may come to change you."

Chapter 20 - The Opening

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~~~~20 hours until the arrival of the H.M.S Commander Hurricane~~~~

The white and black checkered board unfolded onto the table with the gentle glow of magic around it. A wooden case opened without a sound and carved pieces of white and black stone began to float out onto the board. The pawns made to look like armored ponies and changelings. The rooks were towering black crystals and white elegant spires bearing the banner of Equestria. The knights were vamponies and armored pegasi, the bishops were unicorn mages on both sides.

The white Queen was Celestia and though traditionally Luna had stood in the place of the white Princess, recent events had changed that. Now, a carved book laid upon a pedestal in her place. On the other end of the board, a carving of the newly reborn Nightmare Queen Twilight Sparkle stood opposite her mentor. Next to her, a carving of Luna in black stone sat regally.

The board was set.

Sombra smiled to himself as he examined the setup, hooves pressed together in satisfaction. His beloved wife sat next to him at the small outdoors cafe, tilting the white Luna piece around in her hooves. Sombra felt a softening inside, regarding the beautiful mare he'd fallen in love for so long ago. "Does it feel odd that we've been left off the board this time?" Sombra asked, his voice soft and curious.

Chrysalis shook her head, a little smile crossing her lips. She really did look beautiful like this. "No dearest. This is not really our war any longer. We have merely ensured that the battlefield is fair." She laughed harshly, the sound still beautiful to Sombra. "It feels strange, to think this is what it has come to." She extended an elegant hoof and tapped the newly minted black Queen piece upon the head. "Dissonance has made fools of us both. You know she will destroy us, beloved."

Sombra chuckled richly, his own hooves tapping together slowly. "With the power she holds now? With that brother of hers, and the Elements of Dissonance at her command? I do not doubt it." His horn lit up faintly and pushed the first white pawn forward two spaces - the traditional move of an aggressor. "But before our time comes, we will see Celestia brought low." Black's pawn moved forward two spaces in response, Sombra's voice becoming slightly distant.

Chrysalis shook her head, rapping her husband impatiently on the head. "You do realize we will be dead as well, yes?" Her voice was sarcastic and acidic, practically melting a hole in the table.

Yet Sombra laughed still, his eyes shining with green fire towards her. "Relax, dearest. We still have one more chapter of this tale to write."


Far off in Canterlot, a mind struggled against a spell. Hurling bolts of pure willpower against an ever weakening shield that kept her body in ensorcelled sleep. Cadence had lost track of how long she had been doing this for, and did not care. Her mind was capable of incredibly swift recovery, and the shield weakened by the moment.

Within her mind, what had once been a perfect dome of magic hovering above her slumbering body was now broken and bulging outwards. Her mind hurled against it with titanic blows, the shell bulging a little bit further out with every strike. Come on you stupid thing! Break!

She struck and struck against it, never wearying for longer than a few moments. The subtle dig of the red paper 'invitation' against her side gave her mind what it needed to focus on the spell. It was a minor discomfort, but that was enough to break through the perfection.

Outside her mind, the pulses of magic radiating out from her bed began to grow in power. At first, nopony could notice it. Then it began to subtly shake the floor as the magic of the spell slowly began to give way. Cadence was going to be there for her. Celestia was not going to win like this.


Luna sat straddled over the still form of Rainbow Dash upon the bed, her eyes closed and horn glowing a bright sky blue color. The magic seemed to melt from the tip of her horn and slowly drip down onto Dash's wings and back as she slowly worked her hooves into the damaged muscles and bones of the cyan pegasus.

Dash winced a little from time to time, but the effect of the spell was really weird. For a long while after a drop hit her, she didn't seem to feel any pain from that place. The hooves were massaging the strange magical stuff into her body, deeper with every stroke of Luna's skilled hooves. Of course, the down side was this whole situation was seriously hot from a sexual standpoint.

Sure, she was still badly broken up in body, but the dark blue Alicorn on her back was somehow healing her with her bare hooves. Cadence had just hit her with this huge white beam that she ran all over Dash's busted up wings. This? This was something way deeper, something that felt like it could've belonged in some really trashy Daring Do knockoff.

Luna had not spoken for the last few hours while she did this. She simply moved slowly and sinuously back and forth with hooves and body. Slowly, surely Dash could feel her wings returning to strength. Ever since the Sonic Rainboom, Dash had been worried about long term damage to her wings. Something told her she wasn't going to need to worry about that now.

Luna exhaled in what sounded like satisfaction and shook her hooves out, her voice softly echoing in the mostly empty bedroom. "Ahh, tis' coming along well. You have a fine form, Miss Dash." There was a teasing, a hint of admiration in Luna's tone. "Would that I could still match such a physique."

Dash blushed furiously, glad that she was facing away from the moon princess. An Alicorn thought she was good looking? Dash would admit she was in damn fine shape. A lifetime of pushing herself to the absolute limit every time she got into the air had given her the kind of physical prowess most other pegasi could only dream of.

This was different though. Luna, for all of the weirdness that was currently going on here, was still a freakin' princess. Luna laughed, a gently rolling sound. "You are healing quickly I see, Miss Dash." Dash dared to peek behind her, only to see her wings fully extended and flared out in the air. Aw, ponyfeathers. she groused silently.

Luna covered a smile with her hoof and began to work her hooves into the now stiffened up wings. "Do not be embarrassed Miss Dash. Your wings are not used to several days of disuse." The glowing magic stuff seeped into Dash's wing muscles and felt like the one time she'd been dragged to the spa by Rarity. Luna kept speaking, though Dash was really enjoying the feeling a bit too much to notice. "Tis only a natural reaction."

Another hour passed by in companionable silence, and finally Luna stretched out herself before slipping off to the bedside. "There. That is the most I can do without risking damage." Luna exhaled as though she'd just performed some light exercise and then smiled coyly at Dash. "So. How long hath you been in love with Mistress?"

Dash fell promptly off the bed with a crash, splaying her limbs in every direction. "Wh-wha-wha-what!?" She stammered out, Luna lifting herself back up atop the bed and leaning over the edge. Luna crossed her hooves and grinned knowingly at Dash, who licked her own dry lips and sighed gustily. "Geeze, is it that obvious?"

Luna nodded once and Dash blew out a breath, stretching her still sore wings out, then tucking them back behind her. "Look, It's stupid okay?" Dash muttered, rolling onto her hooves and trying to trot out of the way of those knowing eyes. Only to find them tracking her across the room. "Twi's gone on to the big leagues. She isn't gonna have time for some... stupid... sappy... relationship thing, okay?" Dash huffed out, moving towards the door. "I gotta get stretching if I'm gonna be worth a buck tomorrow."

Luna's voice called out behind her softly. "Rainbow Dash. Remember thy element. Not merely Loyalty anymore, but Victory." Dash turned, eyes widening in surprise as Luna kept speaking. "She will be precious to all of us in the days to come. Yet that does not mean she cannot hold ponies precious to her." Luna winked at Dash. "You can find your victory, Miss Dash. If only you are prepared to fight for it."


Twilight emerged from the Everfree Forest alone. Shining Armor had elected to remain behind and begin, in his words 'whipping this rabble into shape.' Twilight was not entirely sure she wanted to understand the context of that statement, but she trusted Shining Armor to know what he was doing. That went surprisingly well. Now, to find Sombra and speak to him about-

She never got to finish her thought process, as her instincts screamed at her to duck. A tiny glass orb when shimmering over her head and smashed into the ground some thirty feet away, exploding on contact. Explosive Potion! her thoughts raced as she embraced the power within her, her horn bursting into blinding life and lashing out with power.

Two more hurled bottles exploded in midair, followed by a fast moving creature flying towards her. Twilight growled softly beneath her breath "Oh please." A moment later, her power lashed out from her horn with a thick cord of black energy that wrapped around the leaping figure and slammed it into the ground in front of Twilight. The energy wrapped tightly around the writhing form and bound her tightly as Twilight advanced to get a better look at her attacker, eyes widening a moment later. "Zecora?"

The zebra half glared up at Twilight, her eyes narrowed in intensity. "The Twilight I know would not dark powers use! So confess dark creature, who are you?" Zecora's voice growled softly, setting Twilight aback.

Twilight shook her head. "Zecora, I am Twilight. It's been... a long couple of days for me." She sighed a little, as Zecora's gaze hardened. "I still have that Potions and Prophecy book of yours, which I keep forgetting to return to you."

Zecora's eyes widened a fraction, and then softened. "Twilight Sparkle, curious friend... What has forced you to this end?" Zecora's voice seemed full of heartbreak, and it struck at Twilight as little else had these last few days.

Twilight sighed gently, removing the dark binding from around Zecora. "Like I said, it's been a very long few days." She turned herself away, slowly beginning her walk to Ponyville again. The price of freedom and truth. she thought, sadly. "Zecora, It would probably be safer for you to stay out of Ponyville today and tomorrow. You don't deserve to get tangled up in this mess."

A firm hoof grasped her shoulder a moment later, and Twilight turned her head to see Zecora walking alongside her. "A terrible friend I would then be, as surely you may yet need me." Zecora winked, slyly. "We will have time on this long walk, for us to have a serious talk."

Twilight had to smile a little bit at that one. "Don't say I didn't warn you." She took a deep breath and sighed out. "It all began... sheesh, has it really been five days?"


Celestia gently placed her hoof atop the map table, eyebrow arching upwards. "Does everypony now understand our plans?" The room around her had gone silent, only the steady breathing and shocked looks of the ponies betraying any emotions amongst them.

Celestia kept speaking, as though she had been answered "We understand your fear, and your shock. This was not a decision arrived upon with ease. We have dedicated our life to the advancement of Harmony, and the destruction of Dissonance." She smiled slightly. "This is but the final realization of that lifetime of work. Yet each of you must know. You must understand the implications of what We are about to do." Celestia had rarely used the royal 'we' in recent memory, yet now she was invoking it left and right.

The reasons were obvious to the dozen or so ponies who sat around the table. She was giving them no choice but to go forward with this plan, or rebel on the spot. "Your Majesty... " began Captain Spitfire, her eyes calculating and cool behind her flight glasses. "I think I speak for everypony at this table when I ask you this. Why now?"

Celestia nodded a little, "That is a fair question, Captain. The answer is complex, but We shall try to keep it simple." She gently tapped the scale model of ponyville, now covered with trays of carefully deployed soldier models. "Simply put, a powerful nexus event is going to occur here very shortly. Dissonant and Harmonic energies are building up under ponyville at a highly accelerated rate. This sort of event only happens when something of great importance is about to occur. Its energies will serve to fuel the Ritual, and ultimately our victory."

Spitfire nodded slightly, raising up a hoof. "Begging your pardon, Princess. You still haven't answered my question. Why are you going to do this?" All eyes traveled to the tiny figurine of Twilight Sparkle, standing in the town square. Spitfire kept speaking, despite nervous looks from Soarin. "Your wisdom is legendary your Majesty, but this is a foalish course of action."

Gasps of disbelief circled the table, and Spitfire planted her hooves on the table, pushing herself up to stand over it. "I'm not going to mince words, Princess. You are risking our entire kingdom with this. There is no telling what the effects might be, long or short term. Twilight Sparkle might very well be every bit the pony you say she is. But this is insane and you know it!" Soarin was practically hiding under the table as Spitfire's words thundered across it.

The two headstrong mares glared at each other across the length of the table, neither Celestia nor Spitfire giving ground. Spitfire rapped her hoof on the table, her voice as hot as the phoenix that was her cutie mark. "I am not going to risk the safety of the First Air Wing without an explanation, Princess. Not in pitched battle against an entrenched enemy. And sure as hell not so you can risk everything we have bled, suffered and died to build on the strength of maybe's."

Every other face at the table was a study in shock, and Celestia lifted her head up to regard Spitfire haughtily. The fiery maned leader of the Wonderbolts glared back, unbowed by the royal gaze. After a moment, Celestia sighed deeply. "I... We accept your terms, Captain. You are correct. We owe you, all of you, an explanation." She cast her gaze around the table slowly. "None of what you are about to hear must leave this room. Until all has been accomplished, nopony else can know of my intentions or my plans beyond what has been discussed. That is final."

An hour passed. An explanation was given, and one by one the advisers, generals and assistants filed out of the room one by one, each of them filled with a somber duty.

All except Spitfire, who remained behind. The captain walked around the table to where Celestia now sat alone, a slim white tome lay on the table before her. "What happened with Princess Cadence, your majesty?" Spitfire quietly asked, sitting politely in front of her monarch.

Celestia sighed softly. "Do I have no secrets from you, captain?" Spitfire just smiled at her, and Celestia had to chuckle. "I suppose not. Knowing everything is your job." Celestia looked away in shame, and bowed her head. "She was going to try and stop me. I put her into a sleep trance."

Spitfire nodded once. "Not my place to question your decision making, ma'am but... Permission to speak freely?" Spitfire tilted her head. She so rarely asked for that permission. She usually only did when she was going to say something Celestia really was not going to like.

Celestia nodded once, and Spitfire smiled thinly before she spoke. "You should have let her try."


"Very well, I think the temptation of a large party tonight should prove enough to draw off most of the town's citizenry." Mayor Mare nodded, examining the plan drawn up by Applejack and Pinkie Pie. "Sweet Apple Acres is far enough away from town that evacuation once things begin will be much simpler."

Applejack nodded solemnly, eyes still narrowed in distrust. The Mayor being a traitor didn't sit well with AJ, and she wasn't about to trust her on every little thing she said any longer. "We thought so, Miz Mare. Pinkie's makin' the arrangements." AJ drawled out, wishing she had the authority to put the mayor someplace her scheming mind couldn't hurt anypony else.

The Mayor nodded once, sorting the papers back out and handing them to Applejack. "I understand. I'll do what I can to chivvy the locals along. Besides, a little hard cider and sugar will do the towns folk some good." Mayor Mare smiled quite brightly. "I don't suppose I could convince you to break out the good brandy? We will have far fewer problems if the citizens are mostly drunk before the dawn."

Applejack wanted to glare coldly at this lying mare. Yet she knew she was right. "Ah reckon we kin manage that." She'd have to keep a close eye on the ones who weren't getting drunk. Twilight would want to know the Mayor was taking orders behind her back, and she'd want to know who those orders were being given to. Need to git Twilight some honest help. Might have to see who else in th' family can come help me keep em' in line.

Applejack forced herself to smile a little bit though. "Will yeh be joining us, Mayor? I could bust out a bottle of the reserve fer us to toast the new world." The offer of Apple Family Reserve was the kind of thing royalty had been known to drool at. Applejack knew that the Mayor had a soft spot for the stuff, and she hadn't had a bottle since the Winter Wrap up four years ago.

The mayor blinked and her eyes went wide. "Well! I had hardly hoped you would see the light of the situation, Miss Applejack. Still, I think other important matters could wait for a nip of the good stuff." There was a broad smile on the Mayor's face and Applejack smiled slightly. Ah'll keep an eye on things, Twilight. You keep the town in one piece, we'll take care of the rest.


Rarity's shop was quiet, save for the sound of the sewing machine working furiously under her hooves. The shop sign read closed, and truly Rarity did not expect anyone to interrupt her work. Her finest dark blue and silver silk pleats were being stitched together by magic for the skirt and cloak. And her machine used its thickest needle to pull together the black dragon hide that would make up the corset and body of the dress.

Rarity already could tell it would be her finest work, a magnum opus of dress making. The Princess - oh dear, Rarity did need to be more careful about such thoughts. The Acolyte had given her suggestions for the style and colors of the dress, and Rarity could not bring herself to disagree with them. The addition of the lunar symbols to it seemed a trifle odd, but Luna had been insistent on the imagery.

Rarity had to admit it looked good, though. The crescent moon nested around the spark of magic and a field of six golden stars had a certain something to it that Rarity could not put her hoof on. I suppose it is appropriate. The Moon now serves the Magic. Potent symbolism to be certain. The dragon hide would serve as both armor and enhancement, though where Acolyte Luna had acquired the incredibly rare stuff was anypony's guess.

Rarity wished Sweetie Belle was here. She might be over enthusiastic, but she was invaluable as an assistant at times. Hmph, still. This will be the finest work I have ever produced, and that is saying something! Rarity beamed, knowing that this outfit would be drawn into the history books. Amongst other places. Hmm, I'd better make sure a few cameras are around tomorrow to capture to the drama!

It was like a tale from one of her favorite novels! A climactic battle between student and teacher for the fate of the world! Dangerous of course, but life was nothing without a little danger. And the aftermath? Who knew what might come next? Oh Rarity, you have done well for yourself this time. Dear Twilight is going to shake the world with her hoofsteps, and you will be right at her side to bathe in the glory. She giggled softly. Of course, you'll also be able to change this dreadful world for the better. Once you've risen to the station you deserve.

Rarity laughed joyfully and carefully tucked the skirt around the hips of the ponyquin, examining it carefully for mistakes. Hmm, Perhaps I ought to fashion a few things for the other girls while I'm on such a roll.


"... Which brings us to today." Finished Twilight, as they began to approach Ponyville proper. "Zecora, I know you're worried about me and the girls. So why don't you just tell me why, and we'll see what can be done about it." Twilight hopped up onto a bench just outside of the main square, bustling with work ponies and carts hauling building material of all kinds.

Zecora sighed and hopped up onto the bench. "There may be little we can do, as dark power now has hold of you." Zecora's head shook mournfully. "Little is now set in stone, Celestia will not leave us alone." Zecora's head sunk into her hoof and she half glared into the distance. "Corrupt you, the power will. Will it let you remain Twilight, still?" Zecora turned to face Twilight, looking serious. "A monster you may turn into, and then no telling what you'll do."

Twilight sighed a little at that one. "I know that, Zecora. I knew that before I did this." She waved at her discolored eyes, green and purple, instead of the vibrant white of the normal pony. "I have to believe so long as I've got my friends, I won’t end up that way. But..." She hesitated. "If I do... change." she bit her lip and reached into the saddlebag, pulling out a little red book. "Maybe you can find a way to stop me with this."

Zecora took the book in both hooves, her eyes widening a touch at the title on the front. "An ancient tome full of lore, Perhaps with this I could do more." Zecora tucked the book carefully away in her satchel. “Keep it safe from harm I will, and hope in you I shall keep still."

Twilight smiled faintly, and Zecora hopped down. "Now, I must go watch over foolish fillies, to keep them from doing anything silly!" Twilight had to laugh at that, and so did Zecora. For a few moments, nothing seemed to have changed and Twilight could feel herself relax a little. "Yet warn you Twilight, I feel I must. Do not betray my sacred trust. Those young ones must not be touched, by the dark powers of passion and lust." Zecora's voice was quiet, warning. "I shall not warn thee again dear friend, that if you do it will be your end."

Zecora galloped back towards the forest, leaving a startled and saddened Twilight. Zecora. At the least I can trust you to make sure I never become like Sombra. Twilight slipped off of the bench. Everything she could do was now in place. All that remained... was the confrontation with Celestia.

Once, a long time ago Celestia had taught her student how to play chess. Twilight now wished she'd spent more time becoming familiar with the game. It had been a thing of logical patterns and strategies, something Twilight had very much enjoyed. Yet magic had always called her away from studying the intricacies of the board.

And now? Now she was playing in the highest stakes game of her life. Celestia had already seized command of the center. That meant all Twilight could do was gamble. Very well, Teacher. Pawn to C5. Let the game begin.

Chapter 21 - The Coin

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~~~~~12 hours until the arrival of the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane~~~~~

"Listen up, colts and fillies!" Commander Spitfire's voice cut across the chatter inside of the briefing room, and the fifty or so pegasi inside of it fell silent. "In about one hour, we're going to begin deployment towards the city of ponyville. As wing commanders, this is the briefing you'll be presenting to your teams." Spitfire stalked across the room in a sky patterned flight suit, her flight goggles hanging from her neck.

"At exactly Twenty-three hundred hours, First Air Wing is going to deploy from the Hurricane." She tapped her hoof on the map on the wall. "The Hurricane will be exactly eight hours out from Ponyville at this time. Every wing will have five storm clouds when we deploy." dead silence met that statement, and Spitfire nodded. "I know. We're hoping that we won't need that kind of artillery, but our orders are to be prepared to level the city. Those orders will only come directly from Princess Celestia. Moving on."

She grabbed a marker with her hoof and drew a series of tight red lines from the pin labeled 'Hurricane' before speaking again, "We are to invest the city completely and as quickly as possible. We presume there will be heavy opposition from unknown hostiles. We have intelligence suggesting the possibility of changelings, vamponies and rogue batponies. There may be other creatures involved in lesser numbers." There was a pause, and a wintry grin from Spitfire. "Thankfully, we are reasonably certain there will be no dragons present."

A soft chuckle ran through the commanders, and Spitfire briskly went about her business. "Once the city has been secured, our orders are to ensure no one leaves or enters the city until the arrival of the Hurricane. we have been authorized to use lethal force to ensure this." She paused, tapping her hoof on the map. "Let me make one thing perfectly clear. We will give civilians every possible chance to turn back before we use that option. That means three verbal warnings, plus at least two warning shots. That is a direct order."

More nods filled the room, and the sound of quills scratching into pads of paper buzzed low through the room. Spitfire's talk cut through the noise. "Once the Hurricane arrives, we are to withdraw exactly three miles away from the town perimeter. We will continue to engage any hostiles in the air. We will maintain that perimeter until such time as we receive the all clear from the Hurricane." Quills continued to scratch, and Spitfire turned back to the ground, planting her hooves on a low table. "Any questions?"

A number of hooves rose up, and Spitfire pointed at one of them. "What is the status of the Elements of Harmony?" asked a young first lieutenant with a nervous voice.

Spitfire sighed slightly. "Unknown at this time. Your order packets will have more specifics, but to be quick - You are not to engage the Elements of Harmony for any reason. Should you encounter them in the course of our mission, your teams will deploy an appropriately colored flare and wait for backup." She glared at them. "Next, You."

A second colt lowered his hoof, a young captain himself. "Ma'am. I've heard rumors about the presence of Black level threats in the area. Do we have any intel on that?"

Spitfire frowned at him. "I'm not going to ask who you heard that from, Captain. Officially, I can't tell any of you." She paused, and then nodded at Soarin, who closed the door tightly. "Unofficially, Yes. We have strong reports of two Black level individuals on site. Since there's nothing in your orders to cover it, I am officially ordering all of you to stay the buck away from them." She tapped her hoof to the desk. "Two more, you."

An older veteran pegasi actually stood up, saluting as he did. "Ma'am, Corporal Wingstick. Any further intel on the bogeys?"

Spitfire had to grin a little bit. "Unbend a little, Sticky. No, unfortunately Equestrian Intelligence lost contact with pretty much every agent in Ponyville the day before the changeling attack." She shook her head. "And what people we do have in there have been similarly quiet. We've had no reports from Captain Armor either. I realize we all hate going in blind, but that's the cards we've been dealt. Last question, fillies." She pointed at an officer towards the back.

Said officer nodded and tilted his head up. "Ma'am, we're not getting any reinforcement are we?" The older pegasus was gray maned and coated, and had a wicked looking scar over his left cheek.

Spitfire paused, then sighed. "No. Nothing else is close enough to get here in time." The comment sent a little ripple of surprise, and Spitfire looked murderous. "Look, I know. None of you have to say it. We're being screwed here." She blew out her cheeks and pulled off her flight glasses. "So what I'm about to say next doesn't leave the wings. If I see no way for us to win, we're bugging out."

Disbelieving eyes rested upon her, and the commander of the Wonderbolts held her head high. "I will take full responsibility. You can tell them this was a direct order. I'm not going to sacrifice the best damn fighting force in Equestria to this madness." She slammed her hoof down. "We will fight. We're soldiers, that's what we do. But we're not going to throw our lives away. If anypony here has a problem with that, speak up now."

No one spoke, stern eyes regarded her from the room and she nodded once. "Thank you. Your packets are on the desk." She pointed to the big box. "Brief your wings and get your gear, and let's show these bastards what the Thunderbolt Air Squadron is made of. Dismissed!"


"Prince Armor, we are at your command."

Shining armor nodded shortly to the batpony who had come forward to represent the rest of his kind. "You're the last one to arrive." He gestured and they quickly filed in to the Haven. They had appropriated one of the larger upper rooms, dominated by a massive wooden table. On top of the table, a roughly sketched out map of Ponyville and the surrounding area sat nailed to it by daggers.

Shining Armor closed the door behind him and turned to regard the dozen or so creatures - Changelings, vamponies, batponies, and even a couple of Griffons - who represented his forces. "Let's get this show on the road." He growled out, stalking into the room past the crowded creatures, all of whom gave way to him with a bow of respect.

No creature in here had not known his name, Shining noted with some degree of amusement. He was simultaneously respected and feared as one of the most powerful and capable Guard commanders in history. As such, they called him 'Prince' and watched him in the same way they might have watched a manticore - warily.

Shining put his hooves up on the table and lifted himself up to tower above every other creature there, except the griffons. "I'm going to keep this short." His horn glowed and a shining silver dagger lifted up from the table. "Celestia's bringing the entire Solar guard, plus a goodly portion of the Royal guard. She'll also have the First Air WIng and the Hurricane." He glared around the room. "We've got numbers and heavy hitters to be sure, but don't underestimate our opposition here. We're not going to win this fight the old fashioned way."

The dagger's pommel tapped into town square. "This is our focus point. Queen Twilight intends to engage the princess here. All of our defenses and strategies will revolve around ensuring that she can do so uninterrupted. Assuming the First Wing is following guard doctrine, the first thing they're going to do is try and invest the town." The daggers tip dipped into the ink and drew a razor thin line around the town. "That's so they can keep the civilians under control while the Hurricane gets into position."

Shining gestured to a stack of opened scrolls. "If the changeling intel we have is correct, the First is currently under Commander Spitfire. I cannot stress this enough, she is tough and she is smart. She isn't the leader of the Wonderbolts at her age just because she flies pretty. She isn't going to fall for cheap gimmicks."

Shining Armor pointed his hoof at the grouped up changelings. "You're going to be our primary force in the air. We're going to need the Griffons for when the Guard gets here, so this one is on you. If the First gets a solid storm ring around the city, we're not going to get anything past it. Period. You need to stop them." He eyeballed the flitting, buzzing changeling flyers. "Break up their formations. Hit to wound, don't worry about the kill. We need to whittle them down and drive them off. "

The changeling general, a much larger specimen than the rest of them nodded his black insectoid head slowly. He wore some kind of thick plate armor in stark black that looked like metal. Wonder if I can get him to lend me a suit of that. Shining had come to Ponyville without his usual gear, and he felt awkward without it.

Shining shook his head to clear it, and growled out, eyeballing the rest of the table. "Batponies. I need to know if anypony in your ranks has experience in dealing with battle weather." Shining armor's eyes went to the next figure, which moved up to the table.

The burly, leather winged pegasus who they'd met earlier stepped up onto the table, leaning over it menacingly. "We've got some. Most of us are night combat specialists though. We're going to be the most useful while it's dark out." He eyed Shining Armor back. "We'll be invaluable at keeping the pegasi split up. Let the swarms wear em' down."

The changeling general eyed the batpony with a toothy grin. "Think you can really keep up with us, featherface?" He hissed out, his entourage chattering in amusement.

The Batpony roared in humor, a murderous glint in his eye. "We shall see who brings the greatest glory to the Nightmare, bug breath."

The room roared with laughter and the stomping of hooves, changelings buzzed and cackled and Shining Armor had to admit, it was encouraging. Sure, they were rowdier than the guard, and probably way less trained. But there was a predatory instinct in the air here, these were killers. That gave them a bloody edge in combat no training could provide.

Shining rapped his hoof hard on the table, and got immediate silence. Rowdy or not, they respect command. "Alright, go up there and give them hell. The rest of you, your orders are simple - keep the opposition away from the Nightmare Queen. If Celestia can be driven from the field in defeat, her army will follow her. " His eyes glared into the surrounding troops, sending many of them to cower backwards. "The Royal guard will not be easy prey. Do not underestimate them."

He took a final breath, Twilight had not given him these orders but..."I have one final order. Should all begin to fall apart, we are to evacuate the queen from the battle. We will perform a fighting retreat towards the forest." He swiped his hoof along the road route to the forest. "Once we reach the tree line, the Guard will hesitate to follow us. We fall back, lick our wounds and live to fight another day."

Solemn nods from every being in the room followed that one. Good. They were hungry predators, but they were smart predators. The dumb ones had died off long ago to the purges and crusades. "The rest of you have your orders." said Shining Armor, standing up tall. "May Victory be yours, and may we all know Freedom. Dismissed!"

~~~~The Skies above Ponyville, 9 Hours until the Arrival of the H.M.S Hurricane~~~~

High above ponyville, two hundred and fifty pitch black storm clouds began their descent towards the ground. In the pale light of the moon, the dark flight suits blended into the clouds seamlessly as each one was expertly maneuvered by three pegasi working in tandem. Near the front of the formation, in a tight bright blue and gold flight suit of her own, Commander Spitfire scanned the skies for any signs of Ponyville's pegasus population.

There. A splash of bright color in the moonlight, a single puffy white cloud that hung low in the otherwise clear sky. Spitfire's hoof came up and the formation slowly came to a halt. "What in blazes is she doing there?" She whispered to Soarin, who shook his head slowly. Spitfire frowned for a moment and narrowed her eyes, finally picking out a flapping piece of blue and white cloth. "Bloody Horsefeathers." she whispered again. "That's a Parlay flag."

Soarin was now frowning deeply. "Orders?" he asked quietly, a look of intensity on his face. Spitfire rubbed her hoof against her chin. The colorful pegasus had not moved from her spot on the cloud. She seemed to be napping of all things. That was probably a ruse, but still. It implied a lot of confidence on her part.

Spitfire nodded. "Keep the wings here. I think I'll go see what she's got to say. Stay here." Soarin raised an eyebrow at her as Spitfire detached from her storm cloud and flapped her wings down towards the cloud. Who the buck... Of course. Should have known it'd be her. Spitfire tilted her wings up a bit to slow her descent, pulling up at exactly the right moment to land on the other end of the cloud from Rainbow Dash, who was stretching out and getting to her hooves.

Spitfire immediately noticed something different about her. Dash as a recruit had always had confidence and bravado in spades, but there was something much more...predatory about her now. She was smiling, but there were hints of darker things behind that smile. Things which sent a shiver down Spitfire's spine as the rainbow maned pony slowly approached her. "Evening, Ma'am." Dash drawled out, stopping a good ten feet away. "Beautiful night, Isn't it?"

Spitfire took a deep breath and exhaled it. "Recruit, I think you'd best explain yourself." Spitfire's voice went straight into parade-ground hardass, almost like slipping into her favorite slippers.

Ordinarily, Dash had been very respectful of that snap. Now, she seemed to regard it with amusement. "I've got a message for you, Ma'am. From Twilight." She tilted her head to one side. "Before I give it though, I'm kinda curious. What's with all the storm clouds, Ma'am? Those aren't very useful for fixing up buildings or replanting crops."

Spitfire almost cussed on the spot, having forgotten Rainbow Dash's position on the Ponyville weather team. Right, like any pegasus worth a damn can't sense storm clouds in their own airspace. Spitfire blew a sigh out and decided that honesty was a virtue here. "They're an investing force, Recruit." She paused.

Why the buck not? "I'd like to give you a chance to come back to the Hurricane with me, Dash." said Spitfire. They'd been ordered to try and talk down the Elements if they could. "What you did for this town a few days ago pretty much qualifies you to be a Wonderbolt at this point, kid. I'd rather not see you get hurt. " It seemed like a perfectly reasonable shot in the dark.

Dash blinked at her, as if in total astonishment, plopping down to her rear end. Dash's hoof came up and pressed up against her forehead. "You know, Ma'am. This is one serious case of Deja Vu right now." Dash's voice sounded like someone had just stabbed her in the chest.

The tone had taken Spitfire back, wondering where this was going. "How so, kid?" She had to ask, wondering if maybe her gamble had been a bridge too far.

Rainbow dash chuckled weakly. "When I first met Twi, and she dragged us all into the Everfree to go after the Elements of Harmony. I was trying to fix up a bridge when Nightmare Moon sent these Shadowbolts to try and tempt me away from helping them." Sure enough, there were silvery tears running down Dash's face as she spoke. Dash sucked in a deep breath before speaking again. "And now here you are, offering me all of my dreams on a silver platter if I just walk away from my friends. Harmony's got a real sick bucking sense of humor."

Dash pushed back up to her hooves, a look of fatalistic resolve on her face. "This is the message. Twilight Sparkle has declared Ponyville, and every living creature within ten miles of it to be under her protection. The Equestrian Military is forbidden from entering the city limits, by the order of Mayor Mare and the town council. Princess Celestia is invited to discuss this information with her student in the town square at her earliest convenience." Dash's eyes had ceased crying, and her voice became firm. "If any soldier of the Equestrian Military enters the forbidden zone, it will be taken as a direct attack upon the citizens of Ponyville, and we will respond with force."

Spitfire stared in disbelief as dash turned on her hooves and stalked towards the edge of the cloud. "Oh...and one more thing." Dash's voice spat out, full of bitterness and anger. "You go tell Celestia that if being a Wonderbolt means abandoning my friends, then I'd be ashamed to call myself one."

Dash's wings flared as Spitfire felt her voice return. "Kid, wait!" But it was too late. Dash was already a cyan blur into the sky towards Ponyville, a trail of rainbow light sparkling in her wake. "Aw, horseapples."

Moments later, she returned to the storm clouds looming overhead. Soarin had a look of sadness on his face, and Spitfire glared at him, spitting out her own bitter words. "I bucking hate this. Get me a courier. Tell every bucking wing to stand down. Celestia wants to do this? She can bucking order me directly to do it."


Twilight lifted the warm teapot and poured the mint and herbal tea into her cup. A cube of sugar later, and Twilight was stirring it with a certain amount of relish. The night was beautiful tonight, and Luna sat next to her sipping her own cup of tea as they admired the stars together.

A burst of rainbow light was all the warning they had, Dash collapsing to the ground next to the table and wracked with sobs. Twilight's eyes widened and she pushed herself out of the chair in a single movement, running over to sweep up her friend in her forelegs and hug her close. Dash's own hooves reached out and wrapped around Twilight tightly as she simply wept like somepony who had lost everything.

Twilight did not speak. She could not speak. She simply held Dash to her shoulder and let the tears flow. Dash clung to Twilight with all of her strength, and Luna quietly slipped down and spread her wings wide, wrapping them gently around both ponies in comfort. Twilight nodded at Luna with a smile, as dash began to take deep shuddering breaths, trying to stifle her tears.

Twilight whispered softly, feeling the bitter loss in the Pegasus as vividly as though it were hers. "I am so sorry, Dash." it didn't feel like there was anything more for her to say. Dash's head shook violently back and forth for a moment, still sobbing into Twilight's chest for a few moments.

Dash finally took control of her tears and whispered back. "Don't you dare be sorry, Twilight Sparkle. This is their fault. Not yours." Dash blindly grabbed at Twilight's hoof...and kissed it gently. "I love you, Twilight Sparkle. I'm not going to abandon you for nothing."

Twilight stared in astonishment, and Luna smiled slyly. "About time." Luna murmured and sat down to stroke Dash's hair back with a hoof. "I think we'll all need to sit down once this is done and discuss how this is going to work, yes?" Twilight nodded faintly, and Dash smiled right back, nodding too.

Twilight pulled dash back to her hooves, then kissed Rainbow Dash gently on the cheek. Dash's cheeks lit up like her mane, and Twilight gave a little laugh. "So. I'm taking it they didn't immediately retreat then." Dash nodded, and Twilight hopped back up onto her chair, patting the chair next to her. "I didn't think so. So now it depends on just how bold Celestia is feeling." Her horn lit with magic, and on another table a piece moved across a seemingly abandoned chess board. "I do hope we can resolve this without a big battle." Twilight sighed softly. "Even though I'm pretty sure that isn't going to happen."


8 Hours until the arrival of the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane

The staff of Castle Canterlot had retreated en-masse from the private rooms of Princess Cadence. The floor was now violently shaking every few moments, and much of the furniture and crockery in the room had been long since wrecked. The bedsheets had been thrown from the bed and only the tiny red paper invitation remained next to the seemingly peaceful Alicorn.

Moments later, there was the sound of magic shattering. It was like the sound of steel beams being wrenched in half set to the tune of a thousand glass windows breaking at once. Cadence's eyes fluttered open and she slowly pushed herself to her hooves. Determination and controlled anger written in every line of her form. Her magic grasped the red paper envelope and tore it open. Her eyes darted across the text quickly.

Dear Princess Cadence,

It has come to my attention that a certain filly that is precious to you will be at Ponyville town square, at 8 am on a very important day. It is there that a number of important truths will at last be revealed, and Princess Celestia's master plan put into action.

You are cordially invited to attend this event, if you so desire to save Twilight Sparkle from a most unpleasant fate.

Celestia believes there are only two sides to a coin. On one side, her plan fails and all she has fought to create will die slowly under the crushing weight of the shadow. On the other, her kingdom is lifted up into the heavens on the triumph of Harmony, and cast into the gaze of the pitiless sun for all time.

This is foolishness of course. But while two outcomes dominate this event, there is a third outcome which might just happen. One that if all the right pieces fall into place, could truly change everything.

I have always been a gambling pony, Princess. And any real gambler can tell you that a coin has two sides... and an edge.

Time to toss the coin, Princess. How will you try to make it land?

King Sombra.

A single gold Equestrian bit fell from the letter to bounce with a loud chime against the stone floor. It flipped several more times in the air before hitting a miniscule crack in the stone and stopping cold upon the edge of the coin. It sat there in silence, mocking the plans of mere mortals.

Cadence's magic picked up the coin, and she examined it for a moment before tucking the thing into a satchel and running full tilt for the open window. Her wings flared out then flapped back, flattening against her body as she rocketed into the sky above Canterlot. I have eight hours. I can do that. Cadence's eyes narrowed as she swept into the skies, then dove towards the south towards the tiny pony town. Twilight, Hold on. Shining Armor, Hold on. I'm coming for you both.

Chapter 22 - The Gambit

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~~~~~7 Hours until the arrival of the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane~~~~~

Celestia's magic enveloped the loose scroll, tapping it against the side of her desk. Her mind raced with thoughts, trying to decipher what was going on in the head of Twilight Sparkle. The arrival of the message had not been a welcome shock to Celestia, but there had to be a good reason for Twilight to deliver these demands. She has intimidated the town council, and the mayor is likely co-operating to prevent a panic. That made sense. Still. Why call for a meeting in the very middle of the town?

Scouting reports had indicated that the majority of the town's population were currently at some kind of impromptu festival at the Apple family estates. She is trying to hold the meeting far from where anypony might get hurt. That also made logical sense, given the facts she had at her hooves. She is trying to force a confrontation between myself and her. She doesn't want others to get involved.

Suddenly, the logic blossomed in Celestia's mind and she felt a powerful surge of pride in her student. Dearest Twilight. You have not fallen so far after all, have you? Property could be rebuilt or restored, but families and lives were irreplaceable. She is challenging me to prove myself, to prove the superiority of my beliefs. It was a thought that warmed Celestia's heart, no matter what the dark circumstances might be.

Celestia tossed the scroll onto her desk and stood up. "Admiral." She spoke quietly, and the aged pegasus tilted his head towards her, listening carefully. "Continue bringing the Hurricane into position. It won’t need to get any closer than her established boundary anyway." Celestia marched over and tapped the neatly drawn map of ponyville. "Deploy the ritual teams immediately, with orders to remain hidden at all costs. Have the Royal Guard ready to assist at my signal."

The admiral nodded his acquiescence. "Yer gonna answer her call then, Princess?" the stallion raised an eyebrow at her, obviously dubious at this course of action. "Seems like a trap."

Celestia laughed gently and wrapped a hoof around the Admiral's shoulder. "Of course it's a trap, dear friend. My student is no fool. But there are many things she wishes to know that only I can answer, and for once I shall happily oblige her. We shall undoubtedly talk until it is far too late to stop my plans." Her eyes twinkled merrily.

The admiral grunted in response, and then shook his head sadly. "You... you be safe then, Princess." His voice hesitated over the words, thick with emotion. "See ya on the other side, eh?"

Celestia bowed her head to him. "Yes. I will see you there, old friend." Celestia turned and marched quietly out of the bridge. Moments later, she lifted from the deck and sped towards Ponyville.

Back on the bridge, the Admiral walked into the command room with slow, hesitating hoofsteps. His eyes coming up just in time to see the clean white form of Celestia soaring across the sky. "A-Ten-SHUN!" The admiral's voice bellowed out, and the crew stood as one to salute Celestia's passing form.


A feeling of safety was something everypony understood. What most ponies didn't understand was how somepony could feel so unsafe so often. It seemed like a lifetime ago that Fluttershy had felt that way. That the entire world was big and scary, and full of horrible things that could hurt you so easily. Fluttershy had been so scared of so much, it had simply become a nature state of the world for her.

Now though, things had changed. Fluttershy had wanted to jump for joy and shout to the heavens, but such behavior was not her way. Ever since Twilight had challenged them all to believe in her, to believe in a better way, Fluttershy had felt safer than she ever had in her life.

Luna had been the key of course. She had showed Fluttershy the way. There was no need to be scared when there were such strong ponies to look over you. They would need things too of course, but that was a small price to pay for this feeling of warmth and love. Had she been asked, Fluttershy would have sworn she could feel the gentle hooves of Twilight always on her shoulder.

Even as Fluttershy walked calmly and slowly through Ponyville, she did not feel the anxiety of other ponies watching her. The town was crawling with strange creatures of the night, many of whom would have sent the old Fluttershy running to the hills in terror. Now though, she felt no fear of these strange ponies or ponylike creatures, as Twilight would protect her from them. They feared Twilight, and they would not act in such a way as to bring her wrath down upon them.

So Fluttershy walked, her throat encircled by a thick black collar that Luna had given her this morning. A little metal disc with the spark of magic upon it hung from it right in front of her throat. Fluttershy's hoof touched it, as though it were a good luck charm. This is Twilight's mark. She whispered in her mind, remembering Luna's words. It means she's always with me, no matter where I am.

She owed so very much to Twilight now. She had no problem following in the hoofsteps of Luna, to give back some of the wonderful feelings Twilight had given her. And now, she had a new task - a very important one. It was scary in every way, and for the first time in her life, Fluttershy did not care.

She found Twilight at the table, exactly where she said she'd be. Fluttershy carefully placed the heavy saddlebags at Twilight's hooves and carefully leaned in to kiss the offered forehoof. What is it that Luna keeps calling her? Mistress? It's such a lovely sounding word...

Twilight smiled gently at Fluttershy, who felt a wide warm smile fill her lips in response. "Here they are, Mistress." She whispered, trying out the word and feeling it with her lips. It felt right to say it, and sent a warm fuzzy feeling down into the pit of Fluttershy's stomach where her fear used to live.

Twilight's smile widened and she nodded softly. "Are you ready to carry out your task? I won’t force you to do this if you do not want to, Fluttershy." There was concern, love and caring in every word that came from Twilight's mouth. Fluttershy could feel a heat lighting up her insides, remembering the previous evening. Oh yes. There is nothing more in this world to fear. She is terrifying, but she loves you. What else do you need?

Fluttershy's eyes closed and she spoke calmly, clearly. "I am prepared, Mistress."


Twilight's hooves tapped together nervously as she leaned back in her chair and watched the moon slowly moving towards its peak. No word of an attack, and no sign of violence yet. That was both good and bad. There was no telling what Celestia' might be up to now. I have to believe she'll come herself. I Know she hates needless violence. It wasn't a perfect plan, but there hadn't been time for such things.

Celestia was the last link in the chain that connected all of the events of the last week. She alone knew the few vital truths that still remained outside of her grasp. Truths Twilight intended to have, no matter what it might take. Her magic quietly opened the saddlebags Fluttershy had brought and lifted the silver and amethyst crown from inside, laying it over her brow. Within a moment she could feel the powerful pulse of dissonance surge inside of her, the power begging to be seized and used to shape the world anew.

Twilight unconsciously reached out and stroked Fluttershy's hair, the yellow pegasus wiggling closer to kneel next to her. It felt good just to run her hoof through that silken mane, and relax for a few moments as the power flowed around and through her. I can do this. she thought firmly, drawing strength from her newly reshaped crown. Another connection was coming closer. Rarity. She knew, simply tasting of the power in the connection between them. More and more, she was coming to love this feeling of control over her world.

Twilight's eyes opened, then widened in shock. What. But... that's impossible. Rarity was strutting down the street in an beautiful purple and gold dress, tailored to flatter her every curve and muscle. An elegant cloak of violet silk hung to one side of her neck bearing a new symbol. A spark of magic nestled into a crescent moon, surrounded by six golden stars. It's the dress from my vision. The cloak is new, but the dress is...exactly the same.

Twilight could feel the knot in her stomach tightening, as she now saw the tall dress cart that trailed behind Rarity. The dresses were nearly exactly the ones from her vision, though they had all had the new symbol incorporated into them in some way.

Rarity swished the dangerously risqué skirt of her dress around and smiled coquettishly at them. "Darlings! Come now, it's time to get dressed up!" She chuckled brightly. "We need to look presentable if we're going to make history!"


Shining Armor shifted in the unfamiliar thick plates of the armor. "What in Equestria is this made of? It's so light!" he stood on the Town Hall's uppermost balcony, along with the changeling general and the commander of the batpony's. The pitch black armor fit well, even if it was taking some getting used to. Light or not, this stuff feels like it could stop a charging unicorn.

The changeling general - who was named Stratego, now that Shining thought about it - chuckled softly at the question. "It is made of many thin layers of our own chitin, taken from our dead and carefully laminated together." The general’s serpentlike green eye seemed to gleam. "It takes a very long time to make even one suit, which is why only our commanders ever wear it into battle."

Shining Armor arched an eyebrow, looking a little queasy before the batpony commander roared into laughter. "Stratego, quit trying to make the new kid throw up." The batpony commander grinned. "They molt, kid. Every couple of weeks. So they got oodles of spare shell lying around, but not all of its suited for armor."

Shining Armor rolled his eyes a little, and half glared at the changeling who simply grinned back in what he thought was innocence. "Whatever." Shining armor muttered, then grinned. "Still, I kinda liked the idea of wearing dead changelings as armor. Felt kinda badass."

His new generals roared in laughter again, and Shining had to admit the pair of characters was growing on him. They were mean sons of whorses, but they were smart and they didn't hide behind rank when they screwed up. Shining was worried though. The First Air Wing was just hovering there just outside of town, a mass of crackling storm clouds in the distance. It didn't make any sense.

Shining put his chin in his hoof, rubbing along it slowly. "Can it, boys. I want to know why you think they stopped. You think Celestia honestly is going to waltz into town with no backup?"

The two dark figures next to him went silent for a moment, each of them brooding in their own ways. The batpony seemed to enjoy closing his eyes and muttering under his breath, while Stratego rapidly beat his wings and licked his fangs. Stratego spoke up first, "She has been known to do such reckless things in her past. She has so rarely faced any foe capable of directly threatening her."

The batpony shook his head, growling out. "I'd have to agree. Centuries of invincibility can have an effect on yer mind. Still, I'd feel better if we poked around to see if she was tryin to get around us." His own bright gold eyes scanned the horizon. "Lemmie send a couple of squads to check out the perimeter. I got a feeling in my gut she's gonna try something."

Shining Armor nodded. "Get them out there. Also check out at the edge of Twilight's perimeter too. Celestia's got a lot of magical tricks up her hooves no one has seen in centuries. I don't want to take any chances."

The batpony nodded and gave out a shrill set of whistles, the sounds echoing off the rooftops and walls of Ponyville. From the shadows of chimneys and alleyways, several flocks of the batpony soldiers lifted into the air and began moving out towards the edge of town.

Shining Armor's gaze went back to the dark cloudbank, working his jaw. "And get me a courier."


Spitfire stared as the bat-winged pegasus pony approached her clouds, bearing a blue and white flag flying from his teeth. Again? What am I, some kinda mailmare?! But somehow, she didn't think this was a message for Celestia. "Hoofs up." She quietly ordered, and the rest of the wing slowly took up positions.

When the batpony was within fifty feet of the clouds, he spat out the flag and spoke out loudly. "I have a message for Commander Spitfire, if she is present! If not, I have a message for her immediate subordinate!"

Spitfire stared for a moment, then yelled overtop her cloud, trying to get a good look at the batpony. "You're speaking to her! Whaddya' want?"

The Batpony flapped up a little higher and cleared its throat before speaking. "Prince Shining Armor has requested a meeting at the Town Hall with you. I have been given his seal as proof of his identity." The batpony offered up a scroll with a wax seal on it. "You have been given special dispensation to enter the city of Ponyville. Your safety will be guaranteed under the rights of parley. I will remain here as a hostage. Do you accept?"

Spitfire's jaw hit the cloud and she ducked back down to stare bewildered at Soarin. "Armor's in charge? Shit." She bit at a piece of the cloud and tore it off in frustration. "No wonder we didn't get attacked. He knows more about guard doctrine than I do."

Soarin arched an eyebrow. "So. Worst case scenario, boss?" Soarin had a sober look on his face, but no fear or doubt. Spitfire was glad for his calming presence right now, given how she wanted to spit nails.

"Yeah, pretty much." Spitfire grumbled, tapping her hoof against the cloud. "Okay. Better go see what he wants. Shining's got more honor in his left hoof than most ponies." She nodded at her subordinate. "You're in charge here. I send up a flare, you come in and get me. Otherwise, you don't move from this spot 'less Celestia herself tells you to." Soarin nodded and gave her a hoofbump for luck.

Spitfire launched herself over the cloud. "Alright, bats. You park yer keester on that cloud." She pointed behind her "And don't you make one funny move, or we'll turn you into roast batwings." Then she was gone, an explosion of flame and a blazing trail across the sky behind her. Damnit, Shiny. What have you gotten yourself mixed up in this time?


Twilight watched the blazing pegasus cross the sky overhead, her brow furrowing for a moment. Then she nodded. "Hmh. Interesting move, brother." Another chess piece moved across the board, and Twilight had to smile. "Perhaps a very good one too. Let's see how it works out."

Luna raised an eyebrow at her and Twilight giggled, slipping her hoof around the blue Alicorn's flank. "Don't worry yourself. Now help me get into this thing and put your disguise back on. I think we might just get a chance to speak with Celestia after all."


The Town hall of Ponyville was quiet, except for the three armored figures which now sat up upon the roof. Each of them watched the blazing flight trail of the Wonderbolt Commander with interest. "I heard she once took down three changeling commanders with that trick of hers." Opined the batpony, his mouth twitching into a smile.

The changeling general Stratego grunted. "It's true. I was at that particular fight. That pegasus can seriously fly." He snapped his fangs up at the sky. "You're insane letting her down here, you know that Prince?"

Shining Armor grinned slightly. "We've got a history. She won’t try to blow me up until we've talked a little. Besides, I do know a thing or two about shields." He smirked at the other two commanders, and got grins in return. "Just let me do the talking."

Spitfire didn't take long to spot him, and before he could lick his lips twice, the fiery maned pegasus was perched on the balcony railing and half glaring at him. "Prince Armor. Since when do you go in for treason?" Spitfire drawled, her voice snapping with restrained anger.

Shining felt his humor diminish, and he pointed his hoof skyward. "Same day you went in for Town razing, Commander." His own voice snapped back, getting a wince from Spitfire. "Nice to see you too, Spitfire. Mind telling me why you've got an obliterator cloud up there?"

Spitfire glared at him for a few more moments before giving up on it. "Orders, Shiny. You know how it is same as I do." She spat off the edge of the railing and looked at him levelly. "You didn't call me down here to ask me that anyway. Fess up, I've got nervous pegasi up there to keep from doing something stupid."

Shining walked up to the railing and leaned on it. "I want to know if you really intend to bring those clouds down here." He turned a sober blue-eyed gaze on the Wonderbolts commander. "These ponies haven't done a damn thing to Celestia. This is between her and my sister." Shining Armor's eyes narrowed slightly. "You're a good pony, Spitfire. So are all those kids up there in First Air Wing. Don't turn them into murderers."

Spitfire snorted softly. "You don't gotta tell me this is bucked up, Shiny. But I'm a soldier, even if I act more like a clown most of the time." she didn't look at shining, her words muttering. "And I've got orders."

Shiny laughed once, "And since when do you always follow orders, Spitfire?" Shining grinned a little. "Look. We're both soldiers. We both took oaths to protect the people of Equestria from harm." He stabbed his hoof up at the clouds. "You give me your word that you won’t bring those clouds down, and I'll give you mine that we'll do everything we can to keep the civilians safe."

Spitfire hesitated, licking suddenly dry lips. "That's... almost enough fig leaf." She turned her glare on him, eyes narrowing in speculation. "This isn't just about your sister, is it?" Shining's look was enough to answer that. "Alright. I can't believe I'm about to bucking do this but after that meeting with Celestia... " Spitfire bit her lip and then nodded. "I'm declaring this entire operation under military investigation. I am officially placing the burden of investigation upon you Prince Armor. The Equestrian High Command will require a thorough and complete report as to the exact nature of these events." Spitfire stabbed her hoof into Shining's chest. "Including why the buck you're consorting with these two lunkheads. Yes, I know them. No, I'm not going to tell you how."

Spitfire turned around on the bannister. "According to Military Regulation Four-Four-Six-Five-Point-Two, no military operation under investigation can proceed until the appropriate reports have been filed. I expect that report to be filed, in triplicate, within forty-eight hours." She paused, her wings flaring out. "First Air WIng is going to withdraw back to the Hurricane. I hope to bucking Tartarus you're right about this, Shiny." Then she was gone, soaring up into the air on a column of flame.

The three figures watched her go, and finally the batpony coughed. "You said you two had a history?" His tone quizzical, trying to steer conversation away from their relationship with her.

Shining snorted. "Yeah. Before I met Cadence. Then later, when she became the head of EIS." Two sets of surprised eyes turned on Shiny, and he smiled wryly. "I know. Doesn't look like the head of the Equestrian Intelligence Service, does she?"

~~~~~~4 hours until the H.M.S Commander Hurricane is in position~~~~~

Twilight lifted the white knight from the board and laid it to one side with a satisfied smile. The board position was developing nicely, but there was no time for celebration. The Queen was about to take the field against her, and that meant that soon, every plan would be in danger.

Sure enough, Twilight looked into the sky to see a soaring white figure slowly winging her way towards her table.
"Places, everypony." She whispered. "It's Showtime."

Princess Celestia landed in the center of Ponyville and slowly walked over to the table. Dash sat quietly next to Twilight and Lilith and Fluttershy knelt next to her chair, eyes fixed firmly on the ground. Rarity lifted a wineglass from where she lay across one of the nearby benches and sipped at it, eyes following Celestia as she crossed the empty space between them. Applejack lifted her hat with her hoof, leaning back against that same bench. Pinkie Pie was nowhere to be seen, which was exactly where Twilight needed her right now.

Princess Celestia, Sun's Glory and Ruler of Equestria, stopped only a few feet away from Twilight Sparkle, the Nightmare Queen. The two ponies looked at one another, countless emotions filling the air. Each of them seemed to want to speak first, but the spell of the moment silenced them. Twilight knew her mentor would focus on her corrupted eyes, her strange outfit and the sight of two ponies kneeling at her hooves like slaves.

Twilight herself focused on other things. Her mentor looked serene, but underneath that shell powerful emotions stirred and roiled. It seemed even the mighty ruler of Equestria was not immune to the barbs of sadness and guilt. Twilight desperately wanted to reach out to her, comfort her. She could feel that powerful sense of loss deep inside of her teacher, and wanted to banish it from her.

In spite of all that had happened, Twilight could not bring herself to hate Celestia. All of the lies, all of the deception, it did not remove the fact that Celestia had been her closest confidant and mentor her entire life. Perhaps those emotions were a weakness, but Twilight knew they could also be a strength. Do not make me fight you, Celestia. she thought desperately. I don't know what I might do.

Celestia spoke first, her voice as serene and calm as the evening breeze and interrupting Twilight's thoughts. "Good evening, my most faithful student. It appears there is much for us to discuss."

Chapter 23 - The Discussion

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"I will never forget what I saw that day. There were no bolts of lightning or destructive tornadoes. Not a single blade was drawn in anger, or a drop of blood spilled in hate. No troops battling for dominance, no massive armies of creatures hurling themselves at one another. I Thought I knew what combat was, what war really was.

And then I saw only two ponies, speaking to one another. I saw truth become a weapon. I watched two of the finest minds in history duel with nothing but words. They were the most humbling hours of my entire life, as I saw the world change forever over tea and cookies." - From the personal memoirs of Prince Shining Armor

~~~~~4 Hours Remain until the H.M.S Hurricane is in position.~~~~~

Twilight nodded softly, her horn glowing to life. "Tea, Teacher?" The pot lifted up at a nod from Celestia, and filled the nearby teacup. "Pinkie Pie remembered how much you liked the peanut butter crunchers." Twilight gestured to the heaping platter of cookies, which actually produced a delighted sparkle in Celestia's eye. Twilight poured herself a glass of the mint tea and took a sip before speaking again. "Amazing what can happen in two weeks, isn't it?"

Celestia chuckled softly as she nibbled on one of the cookies. "Indeed. I've found that the most extraordinary events almost always happen in the shortest amount of time." A Gold clad hoof gestured. "Witness the Elements of Harmony. In less than a day, six suitable bearers are found - they meet one another, and form a powerful bond strong enough to awaken the elements." Celestia lifted her own teacup, sipping and smiling in delight at the sharp bright taste of the beverage.

Twilight smiled herself. "Come on now, Princess. I think we're past the point where we can claim that was wholly coincidental." Twilight shifted a little in her chair. The black dragonhide made her look astonishingly sexy, but it was still a little stiff. "I think it's about time we were both wholly honest with each other, don't you?" She waved her own silver clad hoof, the amethyst stud winking in the moonlight. "Given the circumstances."

Celestia nodded a little, setting down her teacup. "Yes, I think that would be at last appropriate." Celestia's serenity never cracked, but there was a saucy tone to her voice. "Is that Rarity's work by the way? It looks quite remarkable." Her eyebrow raised. "I would love to know where she found the dragon hide. I thought I made trade of that quite illegal."

From the nearby bench, Rarity laughed softly - a sweet sound that rang through the air. "I've got my sources, darling. Turns out you can find anything these days if you're willing to spend a few bits." Rarity went back to her wine, slowly sipping at it. "Mmm. Applejack, dear - are you sure you won’t try this? It's lovely."

Twilight rolled her eyes a little, but kept that gentle smile of her own. "So, Princess." Twilight lifted her teacup, arching an eyebrow. "Let's address the eight-hundred pound griffon in the room, shall we? You've been telling me fibs." Twilight's tone was even, keeping her rather strong emotions firmly in check. "Anything you'd like to confess before I have to start asking questions?"

Celestia tilted her head back as she bit firmly into a cookie, then licked at her lips in silence before responding. "Yes, I believe there are a few things I ought to clear up." she dabbed at her lips with a napkin and took another sip of the tea. "Firstly, I should apologize for not telling you the whole truth about those who follow Dissonance."

Twilight gestured with her hoof and the Princess sighed a little, a look of sad resignation on her face. "It is not a fair world, Twilight. Often we are forced to make difficult decisions, especially in regards to those who could be a danger to others. Do we imprison, or do we execute? Are their beliefs truly harmless, or is there a more sinister reason behind them?" Celestia shook her head mournfully. "And even worse, it is not always obvious who harbors those dangerous beliefs. Even the most faithful citizen might have a seemingly insignificant grievance that one day will grow into revolution."

Twilight softly snorted in derision. "Spare me the proselytizing, Princess. I've walked among these creatures now. I've spoken to them, read their literature. They are certainly different, and some of what they can do might present a danger if not carefully watched. But." Twilight rapped her hoof on the table. "That does not give us the right to kill them, Princess. You taught me that Harmony means we must do all we can to redeem those who have tread down dark paths."

Celestia's smile was pitying. "Many of these creatures cannot be redeemed, dear Twilight. Nor do they want to be. They revel in vice and darkness, and seek only to drain the life and virtue from our citizens." Celestia bowed her head slightly. "It is a true pity that this is so. Yet what can we do but strive to protect the innocent from those who would rob them of it?"

Twilight frowned, and in the background a black pawn was removed from the board. "That is still no excuse, Princess. Very few of these beings asked to be born this way. Is it not our duty to protect them as well?" She leaned up over the table, her voice ringing with conviction. "They are unconventional, to be certain. Yet I would not deny them sustenance, so long as they acquire it with the consent of others. Would you deny a starving pony a loaf of bread because he does not share your faith?"

Celestia's serenity cracked just a little, and she frowned. "That is... a fair point, and well-argued Twilight Sparkle." A white pawn slipped silently from the board, and Celestia found herself regarding Twilight with respect. "Still, I have never actively pursued those creatures that fit in to society without harming it. I know of many changelings who now live silently amongst our people. I do not hunt them down, as they work and live and love same as any of my ponies."

Celestia sipped her tea again, lifting the pot to refill her cup, "But let us back to the matter at hoof. I will grant that those born into this world in less conventional forms deserve protection. Yet what of those who follow the cult of Dissonance? They oppose my reign, and all of my works to bring greater prosperity to the land." Celestia laid her hoof on the table, tapping gently. "They are rebels, Twilight. Traitors."

Twilight nodded her head. "Under current Equestrian law, you are correct with those definitions. Yet I would argue that our laws have driven them to this. Once upon a time, Dissonance was just another way of life in Equestria. It's worshipers were peaceful ponies. Many of them simply saw it as another way of living their lives. Harmony cast down their temples, and destroyed their holy books. Their believers were destroyed in the thousands during the Crusades." Twilight snapped her hoof onto the table. "What did you think they would do, Celestia? You treat them like dangerous animals to be destroyed. Any living creature with a brain would fight back against that."

Twilight held up a hoof to forestall Celestia speaking. "I know. That does not excuse the crimes against innocent citizens. And such individuals can and ought to be punished. Yet they are just that Celestia, Individuals. We do not condemn every pegasus or unicorn when one amongst them goes bad. Justice must be evenhanded, or it is not justice. It is tyranny."

Celestia actually smiled, though there was a hint of patronization to it. "Quoting Star Swirl again, Twilight? I appreciate your sentiment, but my reasons for casting down their worship ought to be obvious. The dark arts are a corruptive force. Surely you have seen it for yourself." Celestia's eyes narrowed. "The discoloration of your eyes. Changing personalities. The mark of dark creatures upon the body. There are a thousand signs, Twilight. Left to roam free, Dissonance would like nothing more than to turn the world into a land of eternal shadow. I cannot allow that to happen to my ponies."

Twilight shook her head sadly. "I have met more than my share of believers, Princess. Very few of them bear such signs." She sighed softly. "But it is quite clear you are not going to change your mind on the subject." Twilight's hoof gestured across the table towards the princess "Anything else to tell me about?"

Celestia thought for a moment and nodded. "I suppose you are wondering now why I have gone to so much trouble to teach and guide you." Celestia sipped softly at her drink again, looking thoughtful.

Twilight smiled a little and nodded. "Yes, I suppose I am. You certainly have done quite a lot behind the scenes to keep me focused." Twilight lifted a crumb from the table and tossed it over her shoulder. "Not to mention throwing me into situations I would normally have no hope of dealing with."

Celestia laughed gently. "My dearest student, you underestimate yourself. I knew the first time I laid eyes upon you that you were extraordinary, even amongst unicorns." Celestia's eye seemed to twinkle at Twilight, and Twilight had to fight down an urge to beam inanely at her.

Twilight had to smile, a white pawn swept from the board. "Really? You knew I was going to be that amazing when I was a newborn filly?" The statement took Celestia completely off guard, and Twilight had to smile at her this time. "You truly must be able to see the future then."

Celestia rallied quickly though. "Ah. I see you've been speaking to Shining Armor." That was a statement, not a question, and Celestia dipped her head in acknowledgment of the hit. "But that's not the subject for right now, I think."

Twilight nodded. "No, It isn't. Though we will be returning to that subject shortly. So please, do proceed. Why all of this trouble... all of these plots, these plans. Ensuring the right things were in the right position for me to find the solution to every problem?" Twilight’s voice slowly took on a querying tone. "I can't even begin to guess at how many bits you had to spend, how many officials had to be bribed and threatened to ensure every mistake I made didn't interrupt my training. "

Celestia's smile thinned a little, and she leaned back in her chair, eyes speculatively drifting to Lilith. "It was easier than you might think. There is very little within the Equestrian government that I cannot directly control with a few string pulls. I prefer to not do so, of course. Such actions would be unworthy of me, and would likely cause resentment. Still, it has been quite the hassle keeping things neat and tidy."

Celestia finished her cup of tea, and lifted the pot to pour a third. "Ultimately worth it, of course. You have become every bit the unicorn and student of the powers as I could have hoped for. Despite your recent indiscretions, I must admit I am very proud of you, my student." Celestia's smile was soft. "You are more than ready to ascend to the next level."

Twilight stared at Celestia. Then she started laughing softly. She had to cut herself off before speaking, her voice still trembling with the giggles, "Princess, really. Indiscretions? I've all but put on a black cloak and grown a singularly evil looking mustache." She paused, looking down at her dress and cloak and sighed. "Alright, just the mustache thing." Her eyes narrowed, the green fire starting to grow hotter inside of her. "I don't like being toyed with, Princess."

Celestia lifted both hooves, a merry look in her eyes. "No toying, Twilight. You have gone far down the dark path, which is true. Yet tell me something, has Harmony abandoned you Twilight?" Her eyes seemed... knowing. "I do not think so. I can see its power as strongly in you as it was when you last left Canterlot. You have been forced to do terrible things, to make terrible choices. Yet you have done them in the name of Harmony, to defend the ponies you love and the things you believe in."

Twilight stared for a moment. True enough, if she took a moment to look within the white power sat just a touch out of reach. It seemed to ignore the roiling black and green which boiled around it, like a mountain ignoring the wind. Celestia was still speaking, her voice soft and earnest. "I do not blame you Twilight. You have always hungered for knowledge, and I denied you the means to seek it in a safe environment. You are not beyond redemption, Twilight Sparkle." Celestia's face broke into a smile warm enough to be the sun coming from behind the clouds. "In truth, I could not possibly be more proud of you."

Twilight stared for a long moment. She closed her eyes and tightened up her gut. Is she right? Is it truly possible that I'm just a little lost? The thoughts began to swirl in her head, until she looked down upon Lilith. There was a powerful feeling of support there, a strong wave of confidence in her. She won’t force me to do anything. She isn't going to try and convince me of what is right and wrong.

And that was enough to make Twilight reconsider her thoughts. There is too much I don’t know. I cannot believe in her until I know all of the truth. Twilight's head came up. "Let us come back to that." She spoke softly, Celestia's eyes filled with a triumphant confidence. "We have many other subjects to cover as it is. I've been... exchanging correspondence with Princess Luna. She had had a number of interesting tales to tell me about how she came to be Nightmare Moon."

Celestia's eyes softened, and she sighed in sadness. "I had wondered why she was so insistent upon remaining up north. It seems she still has not forgiven me completely." Celestia crossed her hooves on the table. "Twilight, you must understand. Things were so much different then. I was an optimistic fool to believe we could bring Balance to the world. It required an entire civilization of beings even more powerful than I to maintain it the last time, and even they were brought low by a single madpony."

Twilight's ears perked forward, as Celestia's eyes half closed. "I will admit, Twilight. I acted rashly. I did not think of how Luna would perceive my actions. For so long, I thought she understood my intentions as well as I did. She was blameless, Twilight. It was her place in our relationship to be strong in dissonance. She saw all of its positives, and could not understand the sinister negatives within it."

Lilith twitched a little, and Twilight sent strong thoughts of patience down towards her. "She was as blind Twilight, but I am the one who should have been responsible." Celestia sighed. "I only wish I had been kinder to her, and to those who served her. I destroyed all of her temples in my mindless rage. I did not bother to notice which had served Dissonance, and which did not. I was... a lesser pony then. "

Celestia looked up, sadness written across her expression. "I confess, Twilight. Luna is likely one hundred percent correct about me. I was a zealot, a blind bigot. I did not understand what the people who followed her way wanted or needed. I painted them all with the tar brush of heresy, and I will never be able to cleanse myself of that sin."

Twilight felt even more troubled than she had before. This is not going according to my plans. She had to keep things going. Fluttershy was nearly ready, and the energies that pulsed around them told Twilight her moment would soon be at hoof. "I think it's time we came to the subject of what happened to King Sombra. The Truth this time."

Celestia paused, lifting her teacup for a moment and swirling the hot liquid around in it. "Yes, I agree. Since it seems we're about to have the issue forced." Celestia turned her gaze to just past Twilight, a slight smile crossed her face. "Good evening, my student."

Twilight blinked in surprise, turning her head to see Sombra slip into the chair next to her, waving his hoof. "Good evening, Teacher. Please, Twilight. Don't let me interrupt. We're going to have another guest soon, and I thought I might save her a chair."

Twilight's eyes widened a moment, and she turned a sharp hard look onto Celestia, who was watching Sombra make himself comfortable with tea and a cushion. For just a moment, the serenity cracked and Twilight could see the ancient pain. The feeling of failure and loss. Twilight licked dry lips, and could not keep herself silent. "Student?" She whispered in query.

Celestia nodded once, and turned back to Twilight. "Yes. Once upon a time, Somber Gaze was my most prized student. Though he never had your passion for scholarship, he was a singularly talented unicorn. " Celestia sighed, snagging a cookie out of midair and eating it practically whole, a look of annoyance on her face.

Sombra sneered. "Yes. My teacher, the legendary Celestia. And then I made the mistake of believing that Harmony actually cared about Love." He spat out the word, and Celestia winced away.

Celestia shook her head. "I was... wrong, my student. I was wrong to try and separate you from her." The words were dragged from her, like nails being pulled out of a block of wood. "And for what little it is worth to you now, I am sorry." Celestia's head drooped in contrition, her voice soft and sad.

Sombra stared at her for a moment, his jaw slightly dropped in shock. Then he tightened it up for a moment before glaring at her. "If only you had listened." He growled softly. "Of course, then you locked me into a spell of Madness so you could hurl your mistake into the time stream where nopony would ever learn about it!"

Twilight slammed her hoof into the table, startling both the Princess and the King, who stared at her in shock. Twilight's eyes blazed with green fire as she spoke in a low, hushed tone. "Enough. Both of you." Twilight slowly drew back onto her chair, and Lilith lifted a pink hoof to squeeze Twilight's. "Sombra, who is our other guest going to be?"

"I'd think that would be obvious." Said a trilling insectoid voice. The sleek black chitin legs slowly strode from the shadows, and Queen Chrysalis perched on the chair next to Sombra. Twilight stared at her for a moment, as something was now very different.

Chrysalis wore elegant gold hoof boots, ancient in design but still glorious to look upon. A sleek golden plate had been conformed to her chest, and hung there in much the same way that Luna's armor did. Upon it, three shining silver stars streaked across the center of the piece. Upon her head was no longer the spindly bug crown, but a shining silver torque that nestled just over her disfigured horn.

Her blazing green eyes settled upon Celestia, who Twilight could now see was wearing a look of shock and incredulity. Chrysalis' voice spoke softly, hissingly. "I was not going to miss the chance for this little reunion. Which reminds me." Chrysalis' voice took on a wicked tone, and she looked almost joyful as she began to move.

Chrysalis bowed over one elegant clad hoof, her eyes lazily watching Celestia. "Good evening to you, Mother." Then she turned to Twilight. Twilight for one moment, could see the powerful emotions that stirred within Chrysalis as their gaze met. Anger, and rage directed at Celestia. There was love there, a powerful love directed at Sombra...and at Twilight too. And connected to Twilight was the tiniest thread of Hope. "And fair evening to you, my Sister."

Silence blanketed the square. All eyes were focused on Twilight, Chrysalis and Celestia, as Chrysalis smiled in bitter humor, and Celestia's serenity had shattered completely. Twilight's eyes had shrunk to pinpoints, and Celestia spoke first. "Princess Starshine." It was a statement, a prayer, an oath all rolled into one, realization dawning on her as she spoke. "That was how you knew how to get past the castle defenses. How you knew about the crystal caverns. You had been there countless times before." Celestia's voice slowly began to break with emotion, "I had thought... I had thought you dead... "

Twilight's mind kept working, the gears slowly beginning to turn as Chrysalis laughed humorlessly. "You never looked for me, mother. You brought down my home upon our heads, and wrote me off as perished in the aftermath. I was stronger than that, though. My beloved made sure of that." Her hoof stroked Sombra's cheek, and he smiled toothily.

Celestia's head shook, almost in denial. "Why did you not come back to us then?" She spoke firmly, her voice trembling with barely suppressed emotion. "I mourned for you, Starshine! I mourned for centuries!!" Celestia leaned over the table. "What happened that would drive you to not even let us know you lived!?"

"Because you took my love away from me." Chrysalis' voice was bitter, broken with pain. "Did you truly believe I would come back to you after that? You turned him into a mad beast! You forced him to become a monster! Just so you could have an excuse to rid the world of him! I thought him dead mother! You killed my husband, and you expected me to just come back to you as though nothing had happened?!"

Suddenly, Twilight's hooves slammed upon the table again, and every eye was upon her. Gone was the easygoing nature, gone was the calm and the reason. Her eyes blazed with green fire and shadow, her pupils gone in a haze of magic and power. "Sister." Her voice spoke, echoing and harsh. Somehow, her voice had taken on the same trill as Chrysalis' voice, as the voice of all changelings.

A cloak of fire settled over her shoulders, licking and biting at everything near her save for the ponies she loved. The flames wrapped around Fluttershy and Lilith. Around Rainbow Dash and Rarity and Applejack, and wove about them like a shield. Sombra had a satisfied smile on his face, and a look of dawning horror appeared on Celestia's as Twilight spoke again. "She called me sister. And she meant it, Celestia. She spoke truth."

Celestia's voice cut in, placating and calm. Yet nopony could not see the panic that had entered her eyes. "Twilight, you must listen to me. There are things I could not tell you. Things that had to remain hidden to keep you safe from harm, from those who would seek to use you for their own ends. Please, Twilight - I beg of you, do not ask me- "

Twilight's voice cut her off, thundering across the square loud enough to drive most of those present to cover their ears. It had all the characteristics of a Royal Canterlot Voice, and Celestia's eyes widened at the sonic assault. "NO! I am DONE Celestia! I am done with your lies and your deceit! I am tired of these games! I am tired of being your pawn! I deserve the TRUTH!"

Silence settled back down upon the square, and everypony's eye was upon Twilight. Tears of sparkling violet magic fell from her blank green eyes, and her cloak of fire raged behind her like a creature with a life all its own. Celestia's hooves rested upon the table and she bowed her head deeply, her eyes closing for a moment.

Celestia's voice could be heard easily throughout the square. "Forgive me, Twilight." Her voice was wracked by sobs, by tears and ancient heartbreak. The words that came next, even moreso. "Forgive me, my most beloved daughter."

Chapter 24 - The Plan

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~~~~~~2 hours until the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane Is in position~~~~~~

The town square of Ponyville was silent, save for the soft sound of tears hitting the café table. Twilight stared at the sleek white form of Celestia, her cloak of flame all but vanished. Sombra had crossed his hooves and smiled in satisfaction, and Chrysalis was still glaring at Celestia.

The rest of the ponies present presented various levels of shock and disbelief, none more so than Lilith. Twilight could feel the powerful pulse of emotions from the disguised Princess Luna, and she was as shocked as Twilight was. Minutes passed, and nopony spoke.

Twilight finally settled back down in her chair, and Celestia's head lifted from the table. The shell of Celestia's serenity was back up, but Twilight knew it for the lie it was. She had so many questions now. Far more than she'd had before, and time was beginning to run thin. So. Shining Armor was lied to, too. I suppose I ought to not be surprised. she thought, trying to rally her original thoughts and plans.

Twilight inhaled deeply and exhaled, mimicking how she'd seen Cadence do it so often before. When she finally broke the silence, everyone except for Celestia jumped. "So. I suppose the most relevant question now is why?" Twilight's voice was calm again, but that too was a lie. She was ready to leap upon the table and beat the answer out of Celestia. That wouldn't help though.

Twilight kept speaking, her voice level. "Why did you send me away?" It was becoming harder by the moment to control herself, but she did it anyway. "Why did you not tell me? What is your excuse, Celestia?" Gone was the politeness now, the civility. Twilight had lost all patience with her.

Celestia filled her teacup in silence, the soft golden glow of magic no longer the comfort it had once been to Twilight. Celestia spoke slowly, lifting the cup to sip at the cooled tea. "I will explain, but I must ask that you allow me to tell the whole story. Uninterrupted." she set the cup down. "Please." Celestia asked, her voice gentle.

Twilight wanted to object. She wanted to scream. She did neither of these things. "Alright. I'll give you a chance, but I swear to Tartarus if you keep lying to me, this conversation will cease being civil. " She somehow managed to swallow her pride. She ignored everypony else that was present too. I'll deal with Sombra and Chrysalis later. Her mind growled. I need to focus on the important things. Like trying to bring her own plans to fruition.

Celestia nodded gracefully, and leaned back. "A very long time ago, when we were first accepted as the new rulers of the pony tribes we had to sign a few treaties." Celestia smiled faintly. "The rulers of Unicornia wished to protect their traditional power, you see. Laws were established on what powers of government we could hold, and what would be reserved for unicorns."

Twilight nodded cautiously, and Celestia continued with her story. "During negotiations, the subject of how to treat an heir to the throne arose. Although Luna and I were ageless, the unicorns insisted there be some kind of position to ensure royal continuity in the event of disaster. It was ultimately decided that the powers of the heir would be distributed by us to various unicorns, so long as the position was unfilled."

Celestia took a deep breath and exhaled it. "However if we ever had children, they would be immediately made Heir-designate. They would then immediately receive full powers upon the acquisition of their cutie mark." Celestia gently leaned forward, her eyes sincere. "Please understand me, Twilight. The few times that position has been filled, it has only ended in tragedy." She gestured towards Chrysalis. "Princess Starbright was the last time."

Chrysalis looked ready to spit out more words, but Sombra pressed his hoof into her mouth. The Shadow King shook his head firmly, and then gestured for Celestia to continue. "The unicorn aristocracy was not kind to her, Twilight. She was a direct threat to all of the power many of the nobles had accumulated over the years. Yet she proved stronger than they possibly could have dreamed." There was a sad, if proud smile on Celestia's face then, and she kept speaking. "So they hatched a plan, and sent one of their own to seduce her. They believed that they could control her through a husband. They did not know of the traditions we maintained, nor did they realize the powerful will of the one they chose as their tool."

Twilight watched a triumphant smile on Sombra's face, and the gentle love on Chrysalis' as they looked at one another. Celestia sighed deeply. "I played directly into their hooves, Twilight. I allowed them to manipulate my own fears of a new Alicorn dominion." Celestia gently lifted a hoof. "Witness the result of my fear, of my mistakes." The hoof gently fell to the table, Celestia's voice slightly bitter. "Centuries passed. I lost so much. I had lost my daughter, my student and soon enough I had lost my sister. I resolved to never again allow anyone I truly loved to be harmed like that ever again."

Celestia's gaze turned to Twilight, the shell of serenity slowly melting from her to be replaced by a naked love for Twilight. There was no denying that feeling, not with the Sight she now had. "When it became clear that Nightmare Moon would be returning, I resolved to ensure the future of Equestria. I had you." her eyes softened. "I tried to be detached, Twilight. I put you into the hooves of the most noble unicorns I knew, two individuals who had hearts as deep and vast as the sea. I told myself I was doing the right thing, ensuring you would have parents' who would love and care for you as I would. Yet protecting you from the backstabbing and politicking of royal court."

Celestia's voice continued, resolutely firm in spite of the tears that she threatened to shed. "Then your talent appeared, and I could remain detached no longer. All children of Alicorns have a particularly powerful talent in one way or another. Yet you bid fair to cast all those who came before you in the shade. Your magic was so strong, I had thought you had ascended by pure natural force of willpower. All of my most powerful unicorns would be helpless to teach you properly. I had to take you under my own wing."

Twilight stared, her mouth frowned in worry as she tried to decipher where this was going. Celestia kept speaking, her voice still soft. "I should have told you then. Yet I could not bring myself to do it." Celestia's head hung over the table. "I loved you too much. I wished for you to be happy. The years passed, and I watched your talent grow exponentially. You saw the signs of Luna's return even before I had. Though I had long planned to take up the Element of Magic myself, I knew you were the one who was destined to do it."

Celestia's hoof gestured towards ponyville. "I sent you here. You saved my sister. You mastered the Elements. Every great foe of harmony fell before you. Discord. Chrysalis. Sombra. Which brings us here, to today." Celestia's wings flared for a moment, then settled back down to her back. "It's a simple place. A humble place. Fitting for Harmony's victory."

Twilight stared at her for a moment. "What do you mean, Celestia? I know you're powerful, but even you can't destroy a natural force like Dissonance! It's a part of what makes the world exist!" Twilight was trying to wrap her head around what Celestia was thinking, and could not do it. Every one of her earliest lessons had stressed how important Dissonance was to the creation of life. Without it, nopony could be born. No creature could be born. Harmony could give a thing form, but it could not give it soul.

Celestia laughed gently. "Oh my dear, sweet Twilight. Do you think I intend to destroy Dissonance?" She shook her head faintly. "No. I am not so foolish. I merely seek to ensure it is forever under control. That it can never be allowed to harm another soul. That Dissonance is imprisoned within Harmony so powerful it can never escape again." Celestia smiled faintly, finishing off the very last cookie.

Twilight's mind raced. That... made far too much sense. Twilight could feel the slow understanding begin to seep through her - Luna was clearly sending her more knowledge through the strange Dissonant link between them. Sombra and Chrysalis remained silent - stern and determined looks in their eyes.

The logic was sound. Twilight was even beginning to see the pieces come together. "Of course." She whispered, eyes alight with understanding. "You need somepony who can control both powers in equal strength to do that." Twilight then frowned, hitting a mental roadblock. "But that kind of power is impossible for a unicorn. Except..." She paused, and then facehoofed. Sombra's eyes widened and he muttered a curse in some language that didn't exist any longer.

Celestia bowed her head. "I told you. Your trip down the dark path was not without merit. There is now nothing you cannot do. No power you could not master. Even if you were to change back, the limits that were set upon your magic would never return." Celestia's pride shone, and her voice was rich with triumph. "You will become the most powerful wielder of magic in all of history."

Twilight licked her lips, which had suddenly gone dry. The very thought of wielding so much power was... intoxicating. The knowledge she might obtain, the good she might do. I could bring an end to war. An end to hunger and poverty. Once again though, her thoughts were derailed by the flood of emotions and knowledge from Luna.

Yes. I could do those things. At what price? The price would be freedom of course. The end to choice, to passion and creativity. She would have to smother the world to save it. The sun would blaze in the sky, and no shadow would be found below. But shadow gives us a place to free ourselves. From conformity and judgment. In a world without shadow, every flaw is cast into the light. The world that would build would be a world unchanging. Life would slowly calcify, and turn to stone.

It was a world Twilight could not live in. A world Twilight could not bring herself to create. Damn you, mother. Twilight wanted to weep. She wanted to rage and cry and flail like a foal. Yet she could do none of these things. Twilight felt the cloak of flame settle down upon her shoulders again. Lilith looked sadly up at her. Was it pity? Twilight didn't know.

For the first time, Twilight heard words through the link between herself and all of her followers. The Faithful were rising as one, and lending her their power. Even the mayor was giving every bit of what little strength she possessed. Luna opened herself up to Twilight, and power as great as all of the thousands who now relied upon her came to her hooves.

Luna's voice whispered in Twilight's ear. "Death is lighter than a feather." The cool blue spectral hoof settled upon one shoulder, as the bright tan of the Mayor's power settled upon her other. "Duty." Said Mayor Mare, her voice sad. "Is heavier than a mountain."

Twilight understood. She could not abandon those who had chosen to believe in her. She could not give up on those who believed in a better tomorrow. Change was always painful, it was always chaotic and messy. Change was also necessary. Change was the birthing of new life, and new concepts. Change was the power of ponies to throw off the shackles of fate and aspire to be greater than they had ever been before.

Change was a newborn foal in a crib, surrounded by a loving family. Change was a soldier standing alone to hold the bridge against impossible odds. Change was six friends, who had stood up to gods before and emerged Victorious.

Change was Hope.

And Twilight was not about to abandon it.

Fluttershy sent Twilight a strong feeling of being ready. The rest of her friends sent the same. For a moment, Twilight felt a surge of pride and love for all of them. We can do this. She gave a mental command to go forward with her plan. "I do not think so, Princess Celestia." Twilight said softly. "I cannot let you force me to destroy the world. "

Celestia smiled back, and her horn suddenly lit with blinding gold magic. "No, my student. I cannot let you stop me from helping you save it."


"Prince Armor! We have a report!"

Shining Armor tore his eyes away from the scene below him, and stared at the Batpony commander. "What is it? Did you scouting teams finally get back?" There had been no word for hours, and Shining had sent three more teams in to try and find out what went wrong.

The Batpony nodded, gesturing to a limp and broken form being held up by two of his comrades. "Private Silence here says there's about six teams of elite royal guards." Shining armor stared, fear slowly coming over him. "It gets worse." Continued the batpony commander, "They've got full Royal Battlemage squads with them, and they've been setting up some kind of ritual devices."

Shining finally put the pieces together. It made sense, when he thought about it. Distraction. This has all been one big distraction. Shining barked out orders, his eyes suddenly narrowed. "Get everything we can out to those positions! Forget about aerial defense! We've got to stop that spell!"


One Hour Remains until the H.M.S Commander Hurricane is in position


At six fixed points outside of Ponyville, an army of dark creatures attacked. Within each clearing, a massive golden shield was built around a purple crystal that hummed with impossible amounts of magical energy. As swarms of changelings, Batponies and other dark creatures converged upon the shield, more shields went up as the unicorns inside built layer upon layer of defense around them.

Bolts of green energy barraged against the shields, and thunderous blows were struck by the hooves and claws of monsters. Lightning bolts were conjured out of what few clouds could be found, and volleys of magic were blasted by covens of dark sorcerers.

Yet for every shield that fell, a new one rose to take its place. Within the shields, Royal Guards formed up a shield wall around the crystal and the mages who were focusing the complex spell into it. They knew they would not survive, but the Solar Guard had a duty and they would carry it out.

Little by little, the purple energy within the crystal began to transmute into gold. Glowing white geometric patterns began to etch into the ground, as the magic of Harmony grew stronger. The dark creatures felt the white hot energies assail them, but they did not give in. No creature amongst them wanted to fail the Nightmare Queen.

A battle cry went up from the ranks, as the golden shields slowly began to fail completely. "FOR FREEDOM!" The dark creatures began to surge forward, hungry for the blood of their enemies.

The Solar Guard locked it's shields together, and the battle mages prepared their final spells. Beneath their feet, the white glow of Harmony gave them courage. They may die today. But it would not be in vain. Amongst them, one of the guard called back, his own blue eyes hard with determination "FOR HARMONY!!"

The shields failed, and the monsters swarmed forward in triumph.

But it was too late.


Shining Armor watched in horror as one by one, golden white magic burst into life on the horizon. A massive explosion of power ripped through those areas, flattening trees and shattering his forces on the ground. Oh no. was his single, grim thought.

Six massive crystals, taken from the caverns beneath Canterlot blazed with light. Six columns of magic soared into the air, and then curved to meet each other over Ponyville. Shining Armor's face hardened. "I'm not going to be able to stop that in time." He turned to the other two commanders. "Get out of here. Retreat to the forest. I'll shield myself, and personally evacuate the Queen."

The two creatures hesitated, then nodded. They saluted him, and shot into the air just as the beams of energy began to converge into a single point over the center of Ponyville. Shining Armor could see them buzzing away to the west, towards the forest.

He took a deep breath and planted his hooves. Within moments, the hardest and thickest shield he had ever created enveloped him like a bubble. Hang on Twily. I'm coming to get you. Shining grit his teeth and hunkered down, waiting for whatever was going to happen to pass.


The Elements of Dissonance were already moving.

Dash threw herself at Celestia at speeds that no other pegasus could match. Had she gone a hair faster, she might have even set off a Sonic Rainboom. Celestia was faster, a shining golden shield deflecting the charging pegasus off of it and into the square, where Dash Tumbled to her hooves, snorting angrily. Twilight's thoughts raced That's one...

Pinkie Pie was next. The windows and doors of the cafe suddenly bursting open to reveal a battery of Party Cannons, all of which fired off at the same moment. Celestia whipped around to redirect her shield, only to find herself buried in streamers, balloons and thrown cupcakes. Twilight built the magic up in her horn, getting ready. That's Two...

Rarity was up next, her horn suddenly glowing with a bright blue glow and a single needle hurled towards Celestia. Celestia's shield burst open, scattering the party favors in every direction just in time to see the tiny enchanted needle strike her golden shield dead on. The complex spell woven into it suddenly came to life, and Celestia's shield was shattered like glass. That's Three! GO FLUTTERSHY!

Applejacks hooves hurled Fluttershy towards Celestia at incredible speed, and Celestia's eyes had gone wide. Time seemed to slow down as Twilight felt a surge of Triumph. There was no time for Celestia to cast a spell. There was no time to rebuild the shield strong enough to stop Fluttershy from making contact, and once she did Twilight's spell would end this once and for all. Checkmate. Twilight whispered softly in her mind.

Suddenly, a single column of energy descended from where the beams met in the air and struck into the ground right in front of town hall. Within less than a second, every street and road within the town was crazed with geometric patterns and symbols. White light seemed to seep upwards from these symbols, giving everything an unearthly glow from below.

A second burst of magic detonated out from the beam a moment later from the town square and struck every creature within it with an immense wave of power. Twilight acted on instinct, grabbing every ounce of power from within her and flinging it up in a meter thick shield of green flame that encircled herself and Lilith.

The blast of harmony struck her shield and nearly obliterated it. Twilight was too strong for that though, and Lilith's power pouring into her made it possible to resist the assault as it came again and again. Power hammered at her shield for what felt like an eternity, and then suddenly stropped.

Twilight paused, her eyes meeting Lilith's. They nodded to one another and Twilight slowly unraveled the shield, her eyes traveling over the square. The ground had become cracked and crazed all through the square, geometric Harmony patterns glowing with a rippling white power. The patterns formed a perfect, ten meter circle, with six lesser circles around the edge and a single larger circle in the middle. It's a ritual circle. A very powerful ritual circle. Twilight thought with no small amount of awe.

Twilight looked up above her town to see the entirety of it now trapped within a cage of light. Beams of energy crisscrossed one another and slowly rotated around the town, effectively trapping her here. Twilight then looked elsewhere in the square, her eyes narrowing in anger.

Her friends lay unconscious on the ground - each of them still wearing the silver necklaces of the Elements of Dissonance. Damnit. I was so close. Twilight had to think, with Fluttershy mere inches away from Celestia's hooves. What the buck is this spell? Twilight looked around slowly - Sombra and Chrysalis were... cocooned inside some kind of hard black shell. The Harmony magic couldn't touch them, but they were effectively out of the fight.

Celestia slowly walked around the table, her eyes going to each of Twilight's closest friends. "You sought to wield their power against me." She spoke gently. "And not through force either." Celestia leaned down to gently stroke back a lock of Fluttershy's pink mane. "A spell of Obedience, cast through its own element. Even I would have been unable to resist that." She shook her head. "You never fail to impress me, Twilight Sparkle. An absolutely brilliant plan."

Twilight grimaced, calling more of her new found power through her crown - pouring more strength into her shield of flames. "What have you done to them?!" She growled out, pushing herself out of the chair. Lilith was now close behind Twilight, her eyes narrowed angrily at Celestia.

Celestia smiled, her horn softly glowing and each of her five friends floating into the air. "They are merely asleep, Twilight. When they awaken, the world will be renewed. They will be saved from the dark corruption. As will you." Each of the five friends were gently deposited in the middle of the square, in a rough formation. Twilight advanced, her own horn slowly coming to life with opaque purple power.

Celestia laughed gently. "You are incredibly strong, Twilight. Yet you are not strong enough to stop me alone." Celestia turned her head with a slight smile. "I'm afraid our conversation must end here." Celestia lifted a white bound book, and laid it down upon the table behind them. "I know you had more questions. I assure you, the answers to all of them are in there." She nodded her head towards the book.

Twilight stared, as Celestia slowly walked into the center of town. Twilight's friends arrayed around her like...A ritual. Celestia's performing some kind of...insanely powerful ritual. Twilight's mind went blank. The entire town was being used as a ritual circle. She could not begin to fathom what she might be up to.

Lilith's eyes went wide, and she whispered. "By the ancestors, does she mean to.." Celestia's wings suddenly flared open. and her horn shone like a sunbeam in the darkness. Twilight felt her shield slowly being burned away, and she was powerless to stop it. No. It can't end this way!

Each of her five friends slowly lifted into the air, their necklaces glowing bright with power. The Elements of Dissonance shone like stars and Celestia smiled. "I love you, my daughter. Never forget that." her words were truth and Twilight knew it well. Twilight could feel the tears streaming down her face, as she tried to deny what was happening around her.

Six beams of energy - one from each of her friends, and one from Celestia shot out towards Twilight. Twilight closed her eyes and threw herself in front of Lilith, her hooves wrapping tightly around her. I can save her, if nothing else. I can protect the future. Dash. Fluttershy. Pinkie. Rarity. Applejack... Luna ... I love you.

She waited for the end.

Chapter 25 - The Ritual

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And the end did not come.

Twilight's eye cracked open, and she saw a vibrant purple bubble shield had come from seemingly nowhere. Her head turned slightly to see the white coat of her brother. Shining Armor stood in front of her and was projecting a shield. The massive beams of energy emitting from her friends and Celestia were simply pouring off of his protections. Shining Armor bared his teeth in a triumphant grin, his voice thundering across the square "That all you've got, bitch!? Nopony messes with my sister and gets away with it!"

"Shiny!!" Twilight exclaimed, her heart suddenly blooming with hope. My greatest general. My knight. My most valiant protector. the voice of her future whispered to her, and Twilight felt a fierce grin come to her face. I'm not beaten yet, Celestia! Twilight stepped up beside him, and growled. "I think the time for secrets is past, Luna! We're going to have to do this the old fashioned way!"

Lilith nodded, her disguise melting away into the ground, and a moment later Princess Luna stood next to them in the shield. "We are in trouble." Luna proclaimed, her hoof gesturing around them. "This is an Ascendancy ritual, but it is not like any I have ever seen before."

Twilight shook her head. "What do we do then? She's not letting up on that attack!" Twilight squinted at the massive burst of light that was enveloping the shield, wishing she could see outside of it.

Shining grinned at them, winking cheekily. "She ain't getting through this, ladies." He grit his teeth, triumph written in his eyes. "So you'd better think of a plan for when she realizes that!" The shield around them pulsed with energy, and Shining Armor let out a whoop.

Luna nodded, her face a study in thought. "Rituals are very precise magic. They require a very precise number of participants." She slowly chewed on her lip, then nodded. "If we can interfere with that, perhaps we can force the ritual to break. Once it does, it is likely the shield over this city will shatter."

Twilight's eyes lit up. "And we'll have a chance." It was a daring, risky sort of plan. Insane really. I like it. "How are we going to do that, Luna? Celestia's not going to let us just waltz up to her!"

Luna smiled thinly. "I am not as powerful as my sister, Mistress. But she will be shocked to see me present, lending my power to you. It will give us the chance we need." She nodded. "Prince Armor. You must protect her. My sister will not kill me." Her grin was fierce, determined. "We shall enter the circle together. Once within the circle, she will be unable to complete the ritual. Then we need only hold out."

Twilight nodded once, and put a hoof on Shining's shoulder. "We'll try talking to her one more time. We've got to. Maybe with all of us together, that will make the difference. If it doesn't... then we'll do what must be done." Twilight could feel a surge of joy and pride in her closest confidants. "If anything goes wrong, I want you both to know something."

Luna blinked, and so did Shining. Then Twilight grabbed Luna around the neck and kissed her, deeply and thoroughly. For a few long moments Shining armor blushed and turned his head away, muttering something about Fillyfoolers. Twilight held the kiss for as long as she dared, pulling away with a soft gasp of air. "I love you, Luna."

Then Twilight turned and hugged her brother fiercely around the neck, kissing his cheek softly. "You'll forgive me if I don't give you the same, but I think Cadence might get mad at me if I did." There was a wicked grin on Twilight's face that told Shining she wasn't entirely joking. "I love you, Shining Armor."

Twilight hopped down and turned her eyes to where the spell blast was slowly fading away. "Now let’s go have a talk with my mother." She growled, settling the silver crown of Magic upon her head once again.


"We are approaching our designated co-ordinates, Admiral."

Aboard the bridge of the H.M.S Commander Hurricane Admiral Fire Drake crossed his old hooves behind his back and flared out his wings. "Very good, Navigator. Helmsman, set course thirty degrees southerly. Reduce turbine power to one eighth. Mister Skybolt, please inform the senior Battlemage we shall be in position within the next twenty minutes."

A Shuffle of "Aye, Ayes" sprinkled across the room as the pegasi within it set to their tasks. For a few moments, all was right with the world. "Admiral, we have reports..." The commspony frowned a little. "That can't be right. Say again flight deck, please confirm original message."

The Admiral walked slowly over to the communication station, his eyes narrowing. This couldn't be good. "What's the matter son?" He asked in his best fatherly voice, hoping to Celestia something hadn't gone wrong with the First.

The Comm's pony shook his head. "First Air Wing just landed on the primary flight hangar. No clouds with em, sir. No injuries either." He frowned. "We've just confirmed that report. No idea what's going on, Commander Spitfire's apparently giving out a lot of orders."

The Admiral sighed softly. "That girl... I'm going down there." He snatched up his hat with a wingtip and marched stolidly down the stairs, grumbling. "I'm getting too old for this crap." He growled softly, soon reaching the first sealed hatch. The earth pony soldier swung it open for him with a salute, and the Admiral returned the gesture as he stalked out onto the deck.

Sure enough, First Air wing was piled all over the damn place. Most of them in quiet little groups huddled around the warming fires that had been built into the walls of the hangar. Some of them were eating, some were drinking. Only Spitfire and Soarin seemed to be doing anything.

The Admiral tromped out into the hangar, and a call went up from the deck master. "ADMIRAL ON DECK!" Everypony in the room stood and saluted at that, and the Admiral waved his hoof at them. They quickly resettled themselves, Spitfire's gaze hard as a rock.

The admiral opened his mouth, and spitfire growled. "Don't say a word, old man." She brandished a scroll at him like a lance. "I've invoked Article 17. This farce is coming to an end right now." Her words rang with conviction and righteous fury.

The Admiral just stared. Article 17 had not been invoked in a thousand years. That was because Article 17 had been the Equestrian Military's emergency command override provision. The last time it had been invoked, it was because Princess Luna had become Nightmare Moon.

"Yer daft." He whispered, unable to believe what was happening. "You can't possibly be suggesting that Princess Celestia has betrayed the Military, can ye?!" He felt his voice wheezing, and his chest began to hurt a little from the powerful emotions.

Spitfire glared. "You know who's in command down there, Admiral? Prince Shining Armor. " She stabbed her hoof into his chest softly. "You know who was with him? Hivemaster Stratego and Commander Night Scythe." The Admirals eyes widened, his jaw dropping to the ground. Spitfires' words came out bitter and angry, "Yeah. You know what I call that kind of mission, with just one air wing? I call it suicide."

The Admiral began to feel sweat breaking out on his brow, like had not felt in decades. Even with the mightiest cloud fortress in Equestria, he was very badly outnumbered. Stratego and Night Scythe commanded sufficient forces between them to seize this vessel intact. Those forces under the command of Shining Armor would be enough to do it while taking on the Solar Guard too. "Starswirl's Beard, lass." He whispered. “I... I suppose I can't blame ya then."

Spitfire nodded shortly. "I'm sorry, old man. Something has cracked in her head. I can only hope Twilight Sparkle and her friends can deal with it." She eyed the golden cage of light and shook her head slowly. "We need to get this thing out of here as fast as fast as we can."

A rumbling voice interrupted them. "No, we shall not leave until our mission has been completed, Commander." A pony wearing a stark white hood and cloak, bearing the sun-in-glory symbol of Celestia upon its back slowly marched up. The Senior Battlemage smiled slightly, his name unknown to any but Celestia. "When we have completed our task, we may leave."

The Admiral growled, his wings flaring up as he felt the spark of fire inside of him. "Now you listen here, hornhead. I ain't puttin my ship intae harms way just cuz yeh got a bug up yer tightwad ass!" The admiral's voice had degraded into the old northern Trottingham accent, his eyes blazing.

Spitfire reached out and grabbed at the Admiral's shoulder. "Dad. He's got not more authority than we do." She glared at him. "But I've got the authority to limit him. You've got fifteen minutes. Admiral, go tell them to get the engines ready." She gently shooed the Admiral, who glared at her, and then at the Mage before trotting off quickly towards the door.

The Senior Battlemage spoke smoothly. "Intelligentsia Spitfire. We do not approve of you interfering with Her work." the voice was raspy and accusatory.

Spitfire just laughed in his face. "I don't give a buck what you think. Fifteen minutes, old man. You disobey that order, and I'll have you thrown off this cloud with ten limiters strapped to your horn." Spitfire turned and stalked away, calling out orders to the rest of first air wing while a pair of burning golden eyes glared at her from behind.


Celestia sighed in exasperation. Foolish child. She won’t be able to hold shields like that forever. As the first attempt at initiating the ritual died away, the five ponies bearing the Elements slowly sank back down to the ritual circle. I should not be surprised. The poor filly has been through so much, it's no wonder she's come to this.

Celestia had only herself to blame, of course. Sombra might have given her the book, but Celestia had practically dared Twilight to study dissonant power. Tch. I ought to spank her anyway. It was a thought of annoyance as the magic died fully away, revealing a thick violet bubble shield. Celestia frowned. That is far too powerful for her. Too complex.

Celestia' stared as the bubble slowly began to dissipate, revealing the three ponies who stood against her. Shock raced through her at the sight of Shining Armor, but it was the sight of Luna that caused the bottom to fall out of her stomach. No. Ancestors, please no. Not again. The three figures slowly walked forward, boldly invading her ritual circle.

Twilight spoke first. "Celestia..." She swallowed visibly. "Mother. Please. I do not want to fight you." Twilight took a deep breath, her body leaning forward in an aggressive stance. "But you are wrong. Everything about this plan of yours is wrong. Celestia, think about the three ponies standing in front of you."

Celestia did paused, not speaking as her eyes drifted across the three figures there. All of them had determined looks on their faces. There was no hate, no animus. Just resolve. Twilight's voice cut through her thoughts. "We are not your enemy, Celestia. We would not be fighting you if we did not think you had simply gone too far." Twilight's voice was pleading with her, cutting through the thick emotions that churned inside of Celestia's mind.

Shining Armor spoke next, his blue eyes blazing. "Princess. This has to stop. Realize what you are suggesting, for bucks sake! You're talking about enslaving the forces of life and passion! Would we even be ponies any longer if we didn't have the lust for life and all of the things that came with it?!" His voice thundered across the square, and Celestia flinched back from his words/.

Luna was next of course, and Celestia stared at her - wondering how long she had been working in the silent shadows. "Sister." Luna's voice began, softly. Much more softly than either of the two before her. Luna crossed the ground between them, laying her hoof over Celestia's. "Come home with me, sister. Leave this place. We will talk. We will find a better way to protect the world." Luna reached up with one hoof to touch Celestia's cheek. "Remember our promise to one another, sister. We can restore the balance. All of us, Celestia." Luna's hoof gestured to the other two ponies, and the ones who lay on the ground. "We can do it together."

Celestia slumped on the spot. "... I... " She could barely speak. Here, confronted with three of the greatest ponies she had ever known, she hesitated. Have I been blind? she forced herself to ask. Have I been so blind as to not see the wisdom of my own sister? The honor of my greatest champion? The brilliance of my own daughter?

Twilight, Luna, and Shining Armor all watched her with those eyes. Those damnable eyes. They are not bespelled by darkness, you fool. A soft voice whispered in her head, one she had known for many centuries. They are trying to help you! They are right, my dearest Celestia. The balance can be found once again! The voice of Harmony spoke to her, as it so often had through the years with conviction and surety. It spoke in the voice of her mother, so long lost to her.Celestia. Have faith.

Celestia felt her resolve break. She felt the world shatter around her. Celestia, Sun's Glory, fell to her knees in the center of the ritual circle, and buried her head in the shoulder of her beloved sister. "Luna." She whispered softly, tears falling from her eyes and splashing silvery upon the ground. "Prince Armor." It was like a prayer, like the whispers of the converted. "My most faithful student. You are right. You are all right. Ancestors forgive me. All of you, forgive me please..."

Luna wrapped her hooves around Celestia, kneeling upon the ground. "Tia..." She spoke gently. "It's alright, Tia. It's over."


The white cloaked figure stood on the edge of the cloud fortress, his hooves raised high into the sky. "Let Judgment be brought down upon the wicked!" His raspy voice boomed. "Let darkness know its destruction!" Magic flashed from twelve massive crystals arrayed behind him. "LET THE WORLD BE REBORN!"

A massive crackle of energy burst forward from each of the crystals, uniting above the head of the single robed pony. His horn glowed for a single moment and a massive column of white and gold energy sped towards the center of Ponyville. Moments later, a massive magical backlash struck the cloud fortress with incredible force, dealing massive damage to the structures.

The crystals shattered into nothingness, vanishing into the wind like so much dust. The white robed unicorn smiled for a moment. "And may Chaos Reign." He gave a harsh laugh, and vanished a moment later in a flash of teleportation magic.


Spitfire yelled "What the bloody buck was that!?" her voice screamed as every pegasus around her dove for cover as the impact smashed through the hangar bay, sending cloud debris and solid shrapnel flying everywhere. "What hit us! I want a report!"

One of the First Airwing pulled himself out of a corner and yelled back. "Those damn Battlemages cast something insane! I saw them do it myself!" There was another rumble, debris fell from the ceiling as a second magical shockwave shook the entire cloud fortress.

Spitfire grabbed Soarin by the collar and yelled into his face. "Get the wing in the air! Find me that Celestia-damned battle mage!" Soarin saluted, and Spitfire took off straight up, right through a hole in the roof of the hangar bay. Behind her, First Air wing buzzed out of the place like bees disturbed from a hive.

The damage was bad, but it wasn't catastrophic. Three propeller fans were down, and half the damn command deck was in tatters. Even from here though, she could see the Admiral croaking out orders and directing traffic. Thank Celestia. She thought without irony. He's okay.

She turned her eyes back to Ponyville, where a massive ball of pure white energy seemed centered on the town. "Aw, Buck me." She whispered softly. "No telling what the minimum is gonna be on that thing." There was no hope for it. She screamed down towards the ship, in her most bellowing voice. "BRACE FOR IMPACT!"

Spitfire took off down into the bridge at record speeds, grabbing the Admiral she pulled him into the nearby safe room, and slammed the door shut. "Get your head down, pops!" She growled, grabbing him and covering his body with her own, her own hooves covering the back of her neck as she felt the shock wave before it even hit the air, and then the sudden rumbling and crashing as the wave of air struck the cloud fortress again, likely disabling it for the near future. Damnit, Shiny. If you die down there, I'm going to kill you!


Far away, in Sweet Apple Acres - Granny Smith watched the light show over ponyville. She had long been a strong believer in the Church of Harmony. It was how she'd been raised, and how she'd tried to raise her foals. She was just glad all the foals in town were far enough away from that magic to be safe.

Most of the citizens of Ponyville should be alright too, shielded by the Sweet Apple Acre trees. There had always been powerful earth pony magic in the farm, something that made this place special. Granny didn't rightly know how she knew, but she was sure the ponies would be safe.

As for her? Well, she was too plumb old to try and find much cover. If Harmony wanted her alive, it'd have to work a little harder to keep her that way. So she pulled her rocking chair up closer to the window and pulled out the old Apple Family Album, leafing through the pages as she waited. Her thoughts went to Applejack, that crazy foal.

Just like an Apple, she never could keep her nose out of royal business.


Zecora gently tucked the blanket over Applebloom, and walked silently past the bodies of the dozens of foals who had found places of rest within her home. It was a bit cramped, but many of them had enjoyed the little adventure. The thought of so many happy foals had made Zecora smile wider and brighter than she had in a very long time.

She quietly slipped out doors and up into the trees. Even from here, deep within the forest, she could see the white magic pulsing through the town. Zecora swept her hoof around her, raising all of her defenses, wards and shields. Within this small clearing at least, there would be safety.

Zecora hopped down, only to see the worried eyes of those three silly fillies. All of them could see the sun-like glow to the east, even over the trees of the forest. Zecora felt her heart break a little, realizing that each of them would have family in that accursed place.

Zecora gently knelt down and pulled those young ones close, holding them so that they would not have to be alone in this moment. Her eyes closed and she whispered a prayer. Ancient earth, hear my call. Give unto these little ones your blessing, and watch over those that they love.


Twilight felt the tension, the energy and the strength drain out of her. She sank to the ground, and let the fiery power vanish from her. It was done. It was over. It was- "TWILY!" The scream of Shining Armor snapped her out of her haze, but it was too late. The massive bolt of energy struck them all, flinging her brother through a nearby wall.

Twilight's mouth opened in a silent scream, and she could see her friends slowly lifting off of the ground. That didn't come from Celestia! she stared, realizing her hooves had been chained to the ground by pure Harmonic energy. That bolt! It came from somewhere outside of town! What in the name of Harmony did that?!

Her eyes raced over to where Celestia knelt with Luna - the two sisters gripping on to one another with all of their might. "Luna! You must run!" Celestia yelled over the sudden rushing of magical energy. "Take Twilight! Get as far away as you can!"

Luna shook her head once, her horn bursting to cerulean light. "No sister. I shall not abandon you. Not this time. Twilight! Can you take up your power?" Twilight nodded and tried desperately to push Dissonant magic into her horn... and failed completely. The bonds around her hooves were sucking it away as soon as she could gather it. Luna had been watching and she shook her head, eyes darting to and fro. "Sister. We may be able to contain the power within ourselves."

Celestia's horn lit up with shining golden light, and the two sisters stood side by side. "We shall save Twilight and her friends then. Together, as it should be." Celestia's hoof grasped Luna's, and the two Alicorns smiled, their eyes closing. A Moment later they burst open - their eyes filled with an endless white light. Twilight stared in shock at them. They have embraced Harmony. Her mind whispered...with a new voice. One she had never heard before. You must be strong, Twilight Sparkle. The voice spoke again, a kindly female voice that reminded her so much of Celestia. The world is about to change.

Twilight could only stare in horror, the necklaces of her friends suddenly lighting up with powerful arcane energies. She wanted to close her eyes, but she did not. She would not. She would honor those she loved, and their sacrifice. "Mother! I love you!" Twilight screamed out as beams of color shot towards Celestia and Luna from the Elements, swirling around them in a cone of ever ascending light. Oh brightest harmony! Oh darkest dissonance! Please! Help me! Twilight thought desperately....

The beam of energy began to build in front of the two sisters, and Twilight faced it with all the courage she could...and then she was not alone. A flash of pink and purple feathers filled Twilight's vision, and hope surged through her. Cadence. Her mind whispered. Cadence swept her horn, and the shackles holding down Twilight vanished from sight. Her hooves pulled twilight up as the beam of energy suddenly shot towards them at incredible speed. Cadence pulled Twilight close to her with her hooves and hugged tightly.

Twilight could hear Cadence speak just a few words, her voice soft and full of love. "Don't worry, Twilight. I'm here." The Alicorn's wings flared and Twilight could feel impossible power gathering into Cadence's horn. "I'll keep you safe, little sister."

And then the world went white.

Chapter 26 - The Balance

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~~~~~Somewhere, Somewhen.~~~~~

"Bah. You cheat." spoke a smooth, cultured male voice through the misty ether that surrounded the two lone figures.

"I do not cheat. I play to win." Spoke the other figure, in a sweet and gentle feminine voice. "Besides. This means we can keep playing. Have you become bored of me already?"

A vast plain of grass spread out through the strange realm. Gentle blue-white mists rolled through it seemingly without form or reason. Little eddies of darkness flitted amongst the mist, sometimes clashing with it, and sometimes not. In the center of this plain, two ponies sat atop comfortable chairs, watching each other across an ancient stone game board.

A dark maned male unicorn with a bright violet coat snorted softly, tossing his excessively curly mane a little in the process. "Please. I never become bored with you, dear. You really are the only one who can keep my attention." His unicorn horn lit with a faint purplish energy and began to slowly remove pieces from the board, setting them neatly to one side. "I must admit, I had not anticipated that final gambit of yours. You are learning." His shining green eye twinkled at the female across from him.

The female Alicorn laughed softly, tossing her fiery red mane herself, as if in mockery of him. "Truly? I had thought the play obvious." Her own horn lit with a gentle golden magic and lifted a piece from the side of the board. "A small sacrifice for the greater prize. I expect you to take care of her, now." Her voice gently admonished, almost motherly. "She is a good one."

The once white, and now black unicorn gently floated across the board to set before the male figure, who smiled toothily. "Hmm. Her piece is... inaccurate." He smirked softly. "Now that's just petty, making me do all the work." He shook his head slowly, his magic slowly remolding the piece, before setting it amongst his own. He leaned back and folded his hooves over his chest, regarding the red-haired Alicorn lazily. "So. I think we ought to discuss the outside interference."

The Alicorn nodded gracefully. "Yes. It appears He has once again become interested in the game." Her eyes trailed off into the ether, narrowing slightly. "As though He has learned nothing from His previous attempts." she snorted unladylike in derision.

The male unicorn laughed softly. "Of course He has not learned. If He could learn, He would never have tried the second time. I still say you should have killed Him." His smile widened, showing off the razor sharp teeth within. "Or let me kill Him." He gestured to his new piece, smirking. "She may very well do it for us. I do not think I am inclined to stop her, either. I am tired of His antics, especially when it interrupts my private time with you."

The red-haired Alicorn sighed. "You know why we cannot deal with Him permanently." She gave him a level stare. "He is at least a known quantity. If we were to slay Him, what would take His place I wonder?" she shook her mane gently, sparks of white fire shedding off of it. "We shall deal with the situation, should it actually arise. For now, I think it is time we left them to rest." Her own hoof gestured to the board. "They deserve it."

The unicorn laughed, and pushed himself off the chair. "Oh, very well. I suppose I wouldn't want to break my new toy before I've even had a chance to play with it properly." he smirked over his shoulder. "So. Why did you leave them in the game, Faust?"

The red haired Alicorn sighed. "As much as I wish I could grant them peace... " She herself lifted from the chair with her wings, setting down next to the unicorn stallion. "The world yet needs them, Cedistic." Her eyes went bright for a moment, and the black unicorn's smile went gentle. "I will not be greedy. Even if I miss them both so much."

The stallion gently laughed. "Yes. I suppose you would not be here if you were any different. Still. Who knows what the future will bring, eh?"

The two figures vanished, leaving the lonely stone board standing silently in the midst of the vast plain.

Waiting for the next game.


The world went white, and then all descended into blackness. Twilight felt her mind floating along in a warm silence for what felt like a very long time. She could not really think, or speak or even act. She could only float along. What of her mind could still think, could only think that the rest of her mind had shut down. Her body had followed, to allow her to process whatever had just happened.

But as nice as the cocoon of darkness was, it wasn't letting her accomplish anything. She had lists to fill out, books to read, and Princess Celestia was going to expect a friendship report in a few days. So it was time for her mind to come back from vacation and wake up.

Twilight slowly pulled herself out of the blackness, no matter how much it might hurt. There was no time for pain, no time for anguish or sorrow. The world was going to need her. She didn't know why it was, but it was.

~~~~~~Aboard the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane, Two Days Later~~~~~~

Twilight's eyesight began to come back to her, and her ears caught the gentle hiss and beep of medical equipment. She felt weird, awkward. Like her body was different somehow. She must be on some kind of medication. That would explain it. Twilight's body felt lethargic and sluggish, and she could not move.

But she could hear, and was trying to see. Over the sound of the hissing and beeping, she heard a familiar soft voice. It sounded desperate and sad, and was speaking some kind of prayer. "Please, ancestors, bring her back to us. Please bring me back my Twilight."

I'm right here! She wanted to say, but she could not speak either. Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to color and light and shape once again. She could see a slender mare with a bubblegum pink mane and long white forelegs kneeling next to her bed, her hooves pressed together desperately. Who is that? her mind muzzily wondered.

It didn't really matter though. The figure was crying, and that wasn't right. Twilight was just fine, just a little sleepy. So Twilight concentrated as hard as she could, and lifted her own hoof up to rest on the mare's own. The figure started and looked up to her in astonishment. The violet eyes and slender white horn were unmistakable, though the hair was a bit odd. Twilight could feel her lips lifting into a smile, and managed to whisper out. "Celestia."

The soft white hooves gripped hers and Celestia nodded repeatedly, her eyes bright with tears. Celestia turned and yelled something out of Twilight's sight, then hurriedly turned back. Celestia's hoof stroked Twilight's mane, and Twilight felt a warm feeling of contentment slowly seep into her. "It's alright, Twilight. You're safe now. We're all safe. "

Twilight nodded a little. She didn't know what was going on, but Celestia said things were alright. That was enough. "Tired." she whispered, pausing for a moment to lick dry lips. "Thirsty first." Celestia's horn immediately lit with a weak magical glow, and a wooden cup was there moments later. Twilight slowly dank the clean, cool water - the feeling of it rushing down her throat like a tonic.

Moments later, her vision was filled with white-coated unicorns. Nearly a dozen of them rushed around Celestia, their horns glowing a dozen different colors. Slowly Twilight felt some of her tiredness lift from her body, allowing her mind to begin to wake up.

Twilight began to remember the past few days. The book, the battle, the trials, the strange ritual. Twilight's eyes blinked away the sleep, the fatigue. "What happened?" She asked, her voice no longer a quiet whisper as healing magic poured into her from every possible side. "Why do I feel so weird?" Her weirdness had not changed, even as the magic pulled the sleepiness right out of her. Like she was carrying extra weight, or something. "And what happened to your mane?" It seemed an inane question to ask, but Twilight was not exactly running on all cylinders.

Celestia shook her head. "There is too much to explain. You need to rest for now. " Her white hooves felt good on Twilight's own, and Celestia moved closer so that they could be face to face. "We will talk very soon." Twilight stared at her, then nodded a little. Something was definitely different about Celestia.

Celestia sighed as if in relief, and slowly the doctors began to file tiredly out of the room. Twilight began to take in the small details - like the fact that the walls were built out of clouds. "Where are we?" Twilight wondered aloud, eyes flitting around. The floor was solid at least. Some kind of tile.

The door opened again, this time by a white coated pegasus pony of all things. Black hair and a tan coat. "Welcome aboard the Hurricane, your Majesty." The pegasus smiled slightly. "She's seen better days, but luckily the sick bay was untouched by the event. I'm Doctor Flyaway." He bowed his head to her slightly.

Twilight frowned at being called 'majesty' anything. Maybe he was talking to Celestia then? "Nice to meet you, Doctor. What happened to me?" Twilight queried, Celestia now just stroking her hoof and smiling at her.

The Doctor waggled his eyebrows in a comical fashion. "Magical shock, mostly. Understandable given what you went through." The Doctor held up a chart with his wing, examining it. "According to my physicians, you should be sufficiently recovered to move about the ship. There's quite a lot that you'll need to be taking care of, your Majesty. Though Princess Cadence has managed quite a lot in the last two days."

Twilight stared for a moment. "Wait a minute. Two days!? I've been out for two days? And what is with this Majesty business?" She half wanted to glare at him, suddenly noticing something else "And why am I wearing a limiter?" her voice came out softly that time, realizing why she had felt so odd. Her magic was being blocked by a rather superb limiter shoved over her horn.

The Doctor exchanged glances with Celestia, and Celestia herself slowly spoke. "Twilight. Do you not notice anything... different about yourself?" Twilight blinked at her, and the Doctor sighed. The pegasus slipped outside for a moment, coming back wielding a mirror in a combination of his wings and his forehooves.

Twilight stared into her reflection. She was a little taller than she'd been before, enough that she would now be approximately Luna's height. Her eyes were permanently green-and purple it seemed. Her horn had grown a little longer and sharper, And oh, yes. She thought, faintly. I have wings.

They were large ones too, colored in the same way as her coat, except they slowly variegated to an orange gold towards the tips. Like the sky at sunset. her mind whispered a little and Twilight had to lick suddenly dry lips again. "I... what... Celestia?"

Celestia shook her head as the mirror was wrestled out of the room. "That is not all, Twilight. " She stood up - and Twilight saw her extend a hoof. "Come on. I think you need to stand and see it for yourself." Twilight took Celestia's hoof. Celestia's magic gently glowed and the limiter was pulled from her horn.

Twilight suddenly felt a rush of power as she stood up - she felt lighter than she ever had before. Like she could leap a hundred feet into the air, or float on the clouds. Pegasus magic. It has to be. This was exciting! A chance to study one of the least understood branches of pony magic? Twilight could barely contain her glee.

There was also something else, some other power she could not quite put her hoof on. Until Celestia sighed softly, and gently turned her head with a hoof to face her flank. Twilight stared there - for no longer was her flank blank. The same symbol. she thought. The purple and violet spark of magic, within the Crescent Moon and surrounded by a field of golden stars. But why?

Twilight could feel her senses slowly coming back to her - and she could now feel a new one. A powerful one, that seemed to stretch on into the infinite. Twilight's head turned to the east, and a sense of wonder and awe overcame her. Celestia spoke gently. "Twilight, come." She gently nudged her student in the shoulder, smiling softly. "We have ponies to go see."


The pegasus doctor had taken off down the hallway, carrying messages. Celestia had slowly led a wobbly twilight out of the room, ready a moment's notice to catch her should she fall. Twilight knew it was going to take time to get used to her new sense of balance. The extra weight across her back was throwing off her instinctual walking pattern. Still, she was adjusting well enough. She only fell down a few times in the medical corridors.

Celestia was always there, always helping. Lifting her up when she fell, supporting her with a shoulder, or a touch of magic. Mother. Twilight's mind whispered, and she felt new warmth flooding through her. She had always been this way, but now Twilight understood why. There was a love there, a deep abiding love that nothing would ever destroy.

Twilight leaned on Celestia, and softly spoke as they turned a corner, heading up a painful looking flight of steps. "Your cutie mark, Celestia." Twilight whispered, not wanting to say it. And Celestia shook her head with a smile. "It's different." Twilight whispered. What had once been a blazing sun-in-glory was now a white cloud, with shafts of light burning through it.

Celestia softly laughed. "Yes. My destiny has been changed, Twilight." She shook her head. "Come on. It's not that much further to where we're going." Celestia softly pulled her along, and Twilight let her. "I will explain everything soon enough." Twilight nodded a little, still trying to feel through her magic.

All of her connections were there. She could feel them still, even stronger than before. Her friends were waiting up ahead, as was Luna and Shiny. Yet there was a new connection that Twilight could not yet comprehend. It was vast, powerful and ancient. Focus on the important stuff, Twilight. Like walking.

She was getting the hang of it by the time they reached the end of their journey, almost an hour later. Though she knew it would be at least a week of falling on her face before she got it completely. Celestia's hoof pushed open the door, and gently chivvied Twilight through it. Twilight blinked into the bright lights, and stared at the singularly strange assembly.

It was a throne room. There was no other term for it - Two sleek thrones stood at the far end of the room, one carved of some pure white stone with a shining golden sun set above the head of the one who would sit there. The other carved of pure black ebony, with a bright silver crescent moon in the same place as the Sun.

At each side of the room were rows of neat benches. Ponies of every color and tribe were there, but astonishingly there were also armor-wearing changelings and Batponies, cloaked Vamponies in their finest clothing too. In fact, every species and race Twilight had encountered over the last five days was present in some way or another as Celestia slowly led her down the aisle.

The room was mostly quiet, save for the murmurs of voices all around her. What on Equestria is going on? her mind whispered softly. Then a door opened at the other end of the hall, and Cadence walked through it. Cadence was different too, Twilight noticed immediately. Her mane now shone with a thousand different shades of red, gold, and deep purple, all slowly waving in an unseen breeze. Her wings had grown much larger, and much more delicate and beautiful. And her cutie mark has changed. Twilight stared - what had once been a crystal heart, was now a crystal sun-in-glory.

Cadence wore a shining golden crown upon her head, and a necklace much like the one Celestia had often worn in court. Close in behind her, Shining Armor strode confidently inside and Twilight could feel a surge of love and pride towards her from him. He worse a sleek suit of dark metal armor that looked more like the chitin of a changeling warlord than something shaped by pony hooves. He sat down between the two thrones, as Cadence ascended the Sun Throne.

Twilight's mind was already putting together the pieces when she finally approached the dais upon which the thrones sat. Celestia quickly hurried to a lesser seat to Cadence's right hoof. Twilight looked, and there she found Luna sitting at her own left hoof. Luna herself did not appear much changed, though Twilight could not see her flank from this angle. Luna smiled softly at twilight, and gave a little gesture.

Twilight's legs seemed to move without her telling them to. She found her body slowly ascending the platform and then sitting gingerly upon the cushion of the Moon Throne. This is impossible. her mind insisted, This has got to be some kind of dream. She nearly panicked, until a burst of soothing calm rushed down her connection with Luna. Twilight stared out into the strange crowd, as Celestia's voice rang out through the room. "All Hail Queen Mi Amore Credenza, Crystal's Splendor and Sun's Glory!"

The ponies of the room, and even some of the night creatures burst into cheers and applause, hooves stomping against the stone floors and whistles ringing through the air. Then Luna spoke, her Royal Canterlot Voice cutting through the clamor. "All Hail Queen Nightmare Twilight, Mistress of the Moon!

Twilight was deafened by the cheers that assailed her. The room seemed too small to encompass all of the sound coming from the dark creatures, and even some of those ponies that were present. Twilight winced a little, her head still aching from the magical backlash.

Luna lifted the silver crown of Magic with her hooves, and placed it upon Twilight's head. She then slowly pushed shining silver boots onto each of Twilight's hooves, and fastened a silver torque bearing the new symbol upon Twilight's body. Luna whispered softly to Twilight as she performed these tasks. "We will explain shortly, But it is nearly sunset. Cadence was able to handle the other evening, but the ponies will need to see that all is still well in our kingdom." Luna's hoof reached out and squeezed Twilight's before she whispered again, "Follow Cadence. I shall aid you." Luna winked, and Cadence rose as if on some kind of cue, and began to walk out of the side door to the room.

Twilight blinked and then rose to her feet herself. Alright Twilight, not one single misstep. She moved slower than Cadence had, but she managed to keep herself upright and stable. Luna fell in by her side, walking slowly with her. Luna.. Twilight reached out with her heart, with all of the emotions within it and tried to project the love she felt at that moment. Luna's eyes went wide, and she smiled softly at Twilight, winking cheekily.

Twilight followed the path of Cadence as they marched up several flights of steps, with dozens of uniformed pegasi and other creatures watching them as they ascended. Step by step, Twilight made her way up to the very top of the Cloud Fortress, and out into the light of the late evening.

The sun hung low in the sky, and Cadence stood quietly at the end of a sleek stretch of cloud. Twilight eyed the cloud a bit nervously, before recalling her wings. Oh. Right. Pegasus can walk on clouds, and so can Alicorns. It felt odd to think of herself in that way, as her hoof touched the cloud like it was solid ground. She slowly walked out to the edge where Cadence and Celestia waited, Luna practically skipping behind her. Sheesh, what is she so happy about? Twilight groused, wishing she'd had time to get some extra sleep. Or a bloody explanation.

Cadence bowed her head to Twilight as she approached, and Twilight bowed hers back. It was nothing like the exuberant greetings they'd so often given one another in the past, but this was not the time for that. Cadence smiled softly, and opened her forehooves up. How did she... Twilight didn't care, she lurched forward and embraced the pink Alicorn, burying her face in the so much longer mane that she now had. Twilight's voice came out muffled. ""Why didn't you tell me we were sisters?"

Cadence's voice was soft, apologetic. "I am so sorry, Twilight." Twilight blinked and pulled away to stare at her. Cadence shook her head. "All I wanted was for you to live a normal life. I didn't want you to have to live in my shadows. In the end, all I was able to do was let you remain who you are inside. And for that, I am sorry." Cadence's eyes were closed, and twilight reached a silver-clad hoof up to wipe away the tears.

Twilight spoke back softly. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Cadence." her tone was not angry. She couldn't be angry, not at Cadence. "We do not choose our place in Harmony. We can only seek to make the most of it." Twilight tried to say, a little smile peeking under her lips.

Cadence actually did smile back, wiping her tears away. "You still remember your verses, little sister." Cadence chuckled softly, gently squeezing Twilight close to her again. "Far better than I ever did."

Twilight giggled, a warm happiness inside of her. She then turned to face the eastern Horizon, swallowing softly. Okay. I can do this. She reminded herself sternly, Luna stepping up close beside her. Once again, Twilight closed her eyes and felt Luna's spectral hooves upon her shoulders. It is not so difficult as it seems. You can already feel the powerful connection to it. Simply open yourself up to its power, much as you would Dissonance or Harmony. I will guide you the rest of the way.

Twilight nodded a little, and gently inhaled a breath slowly letting it out as her mind grasped at that powerful new connection deep within her. It was like... Twilight lacked the words for it. The power was immense, far larger than any other force she had ever tried to control or even touch. Yet Luna was there beside her in spirit and in form, and Twilight knew there was nothing here to fear. She was the monarch now, and the Moon would listen to her.

Twilight felt her hooves slowly rising from the cloud, her wings flaring out and magic coursing along her horn. By Dissonance... her mind whispered as she felt the enormous strength slowly fill her limbs - the sun sinking beneath the western sky and the moon rising above the eastern horizon. Twilight could feel the thousand little stars bursting to life in the growing darkness, and the gentle pressure of the moon lifting from her hooves into the air. It was like releasing some immense weight, one that needed only to be called.

Twilight nearly collapsed back down to the cloud, the energy leaving her in a massive rush as the full moon rose for the very first time by her actions. It was an incredible feeling, almost sexual. Like coming down from an orgasmic rush, all exhilaration and exhaustion. Luna gently lifted Twilight from the ground and smiled gently. "Hmm, That didn't take long." Luna observed with a sly smile.

Twilight blinked, her hoof grasping a bit of her mane to examine it - which was hard, given that it was now moving and seemed to be full of starlight and streaks of purple aurora. Twilight licked her lips...and found another unwelcome addition in her mouth. She had to sigh. "Fangs. Why did it have to be fangs?"


Four Alicorns, one pegasus and one unicorn sat in a small meeting room somewhere deep in the heart of the Commander Hurricane. Twilight was not entirely certain where they were, but she knew that it was someplace very well secured. Twilight felt nervous as all heck still, but she was slowly beginning to come down from it. After an entire week of extraordinary and insane events, even this was starting to feel a little routine to her.

It wasn't every day that the two former monarchs of a land led a meeting that included the two newly crowned monarchs. Celestia and Luna sat side by side, as did Cadence and Twilight. Between the pairs, Shining Armor sat between Cadence and Luna, while Commander Spitfire sat between Celestia and Twilight.

Twilight took a deep breath and placed a hoof on the table. "Okay. You've all been awake way longer than I have. I want some answers, and I want them as simple as you can give them." She paused. "Then, I want two vats of broccoli and cheese soup, sixteen dandelion sandwiches, and about three hours of private time with Luna."

Blushes crept into the faces of everyone except for Luna and Twilight, both of whom grinned at one another. Commander Spitfire coughed slightly. "If I may, your Majesties." The flame-haired pegasus stood at the table, and nodded to each of them. "Prince Armor submitted his preliminary report this morning. Although that report has yet to come under review, I think it'd be quickest if I presented the relevant points, and you can address the specifics amongst each other."

Twilight nodded a little. "That seems very logical, Commander. Thank you." She beamed at Spitfire, who smiled back a little nervously. What's wrong with her? Must be the eyes. And the fangs. Twilight wanted to sigh. At least her wings were of the proper pegasus type. For now.

Spitfire cleared her throat again, and began to speak. "I'm going to skip the things most ponies in this room already know, and focus on when things got murky. Firstly, the Ritual and the events that happened with it." She eyeballed Princess Celestia. "According to the notes I took during the last meeting, Celestia intended to cast a modified version of the Alicorn Ascension ritual. This version would transfer all of her power and connection with the Sun to the pony that was being targeted by the ritual. She expected that this act would result in her death. Am I correct, Princess?"

Celestia nodded her head, and dipped it sadly. "Yes, that is a correct summary." Luna had gently taken Celestia's hoof in her own and was squeezing reassuringly.

Shining Armor looked stoic and said nothing, but Cadence spoke up quickly. "But... Why, Celestia?" It was the question everyone at the table wanted to know the answer to, and nopony else had the courage to ask.

Celestia took a deep breath and spoke gently. "I believed the only way to keep my kingdom, and all of my ponies safe from Dissonance was to imprison it. I knew that no single Alicorn, nor any normal unicorn could ever achieve such a goal. But there was a way that it could be done that I sought to exploit." Celestia smiled gently at Twilight. "I needed a pony who could command both Dissonance and Harmony. With all of my power and knowledge within that pony, they could use their connection to dissonance to bypass the power requirements to cast the spell. It seemed fittingly ironic to me, that Dissonance strength would be used to chain its power forever."

Celestia closed her eyes and leaned against Luna. "There was no other way to transfer my power. I knew without the Alicorn magic within me, I would very quickly die from extreme old age. I simply ensured that the spell itself would consume my body in the process." Celestia exhaled. "Only I was supposed to be able to trigger that ritual."

Twilight blinked and then slowly shook her head. "Except that didn't happen. Someone triggered it for you." She blinked a little. "And in doing so, broke the spell." That seemed to make sense, and given how both Celestia and Luna were nodding at her she was probably right.

Luna spoke up next. "Yes. My sister and I tried to redirect all of the ritual's magic at ourselves. We'd hoped that we might be able to short-circuit what was going on." She sighed. "But we could not. It is only thanks to the timely intervention of Cadence that any of us survived it."

Celestia spoke softly. "Because of her, the spell went through with its original intent. It transferred our connections to the sun and moon, and some of our power, into two new vessels for it." She gestured at Twilight and Cadence. "Though thanks to Cadence, we did not lose so much power that we ceased to be Alicorns. It was a very near thing though."

Twilight was absorbing all of this well, she thought. She hadn't burst out into declarations of how all of this was impossible, mostly because it had actually happened. Spitfire nodded once before speaking. "As to who set off the ritual, we've really got no idea. We found the Senior Battlemage and his entourage knocked out and tied up in his suite. Whoever the buck was wearing his cloak was some kind of infiltrator. As of now, we don't have any further intelligence on that score."

Twilight sighed and dropped her head onto her hooves, looking miserable. "None of this makes sense." She grumbled softly. "This kind of magic ought to be impossible. You can't just transfer cutie marks! It doesn't work that way!" Twilight hid her head for a moment, her head starting to hurt even more.

Cadence's voice spoke up softly. "Normally, you would be correct Twilight. But what happened was not merely a transference of power or connections. You'll notice that neither of us has abandoned our original special talents." Cadence had a little warm smile that Twilight looked up to see. " What happened was even more extraordinary. For the very first time in thousands of years, the most powerful wielders of Dissonance and Harmony are equals. In power and status."

Twilight blinked a little bit. "Wait... So, by complete accident we somehow created... Balance?" The question lilted up the table, and there was a proud twinkle in Celestia's eye. "I mean, that's it, isn't it? We created balance in the world. Not completely but enough to move forward with."

Cadence nodded wisely, smiling. Luna was clapping her hooves together and Celestia was grinning like a madpony. Celestia spoke up first. "Like I've said a thousand times before, Twilight. You never fail to impress me."

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Oh please, Princess. I didn't do a bloody thing except sit there like an lemon!" She grumped, crossing her hooves over her chest and leaning back in the too-comfortable chair.

Cadence laughed softly. "Twilight, you did what none of the rest of us had the courage or intelligence to do. You explored Dissonance without fear, you met the beings of it without judgment. More than any of us, you truly followed the dictates of Harmony and went to those who did not follow it with nothing but acceptance in your eyes." Cadence leaned over to bop Twilight on the nose with her gold-shoed hoof. "I am so very proud of you, Little Sister."

Twilight had to smile a little at the tease, then nodded to Spitfire. "Alright, Let's keep this conversation moving." She wiggled her silver hoof towards her. "What else do we need to cover?"

Spitfire arched an eyebrow, and then turned to another page in the stack in front of her. "Officially, Celestia and Luna have abdicated their thrones in favor of you two." Spitfire arched an eyebrow at the offending princesses, both of whom smiled slyly. "However, Equestrian Law is mighty shaky on how to handle that sort of thing. You'll notice how we referred to you as Queen Twilight in there. Our solution is to simply assume that Celestia and Luna will officially remain Princesses of the realm, and you two will simply be above them in the government." Spitfire turned to another page, arching a no-nonsense look at Twilight. "That all make sense to you?"

Twilight slowly nodded, and Spitfire grunted in satisfaction before continuing to speak. "Right, next part. Sombra and Chrysalis." Twilight sat straight up, her eyes narrowing with a little hint of shadows. Spitfire kept speaking. "We're given to understand that shortly after the spell went off, the two of them escaped into the Everfree Forest. Hivemaster Stratego and Commander Night Scythe..." Spitfire paused, glaring at Shining Armor in a halfhearted sort of way. "Have informed me that they took a number of boxes and books from that Haven place, and quickly left deep into the forest. Apparently, both Chrysalis and Sombra appeared to have been somehow adversely affected by the spell, though neither of them could specify how. They also informed me that several pieces of correspondence were left for you to read. "

Twilight shook her head. Should have known they'd run like cowards. She sighed inwardly, somehow knowing they'd be a thorn in her side for years to come. Spitfire cleared her throat. "While I would not claim to interfere with private communications Queen Twilight, Equestrian Intelligence would very much appreciate it if you would share the information in those letters." Spitfire actually looked a little embarrassed. "On another note, both the Hivemaster and the batpony Commander have informed me that they are seeking official positions in your new military cabinet. To which I shall make no comment at this time."

Spitfire busied herself with the stack of papers for a moment, as Celestia watched Twilight in some small amount of amusement. Twilight had to chuckle herself at that one, grinning as she spoke. "So, a Changeling hive and an entire society of batponies wants to go legitimate? Truly, this is a time of miracles."

Shining Armor had to laugh himself, winking at Twilight. Celestia sighed softly, speaking in a wry tone of voice. "I suppose I had best get used to the idea of changelings running around Equestria now. At least I can trust Twilight to keep them in line. Mostly." Celestia shot Twilight a challenging look. "And the Vamponies. And the Batwinged ones. And Ponywolves. And the Dissonance priests."

Twilight burst into a laugh all her own, holding up her hooves. "One problem at a time, Princess Celestia. We'll deal with all of them soon enough." She rapped her metal-clad hoof on the table. "But I want to wrap this up. I feel like I could eat everything in Sugarcube Corner. Commander, any last important bits?"

Spitfire hummed and nodded. "I think you ought to read the full report, or at least go over it with Shining Armor, but there's only one last issue that's really pressing. We need to decide what to do with Mayor Mare and her cult." Spitfire arched an eyebrow. "Much as I hate to rain on everypony's parade, Equestrian Law is still pretty clear on the subject of Dissonance Cults. And that law aint pretty."

Twilight turned to Cadence. "Sister." Twilight tried out the word, and found that she very much liked it in reference to the Alicorn beside her. "I think the very best thing we could do is provide a blanket declaration of pardon to these ponies, and make the modification of Equestria's religious laws our first priority." Twilight tried to keep her tone as regal as possible - and failed miserably. She sounded like she was just discussing something completely banal with Cadence, as she had done so often in the past.

Cadence smiled, her eye twinkling at Twilight in amusement. "You have much to learn about proper Royal Speech, dear sister. But I do agree. Commander Spitfire, by the order of the monarchs, we declare every one of the accused to be pardoned of all crimes related to the worship of Dissonance. Effective immediately." Cadence pulled off the royal tone like she'd been doing it her whole life. Which she practically has. thought Twilight, a little jealously. Hmph. I'm not going to need fancy phrases to keep my creatures in line.

No, Twilight knew she'd only need strength. Strength she now had in even greater proportions. Spitfire nodded, making a scribble on a sheet of paper before smiling herself. "Alright. There's a lot of other crap we need to deal with, but I'm perfectly fine with dealing with it tomorrow. Any opposed?"

No one in the room said a word, so Spitfire slammed her hoof on the desk, grabbed up the stack of papers and was gone within moments. Cadence stood up from where she sat, and leaned over to kiss Twilight on the cheek. "I think me and Shining Armor have a few things to... discuss."

Shining Armor's cheeks went beet red as Cadence swayed her way out of the room, and Twilight had to laugh at the sight of her brother trailing after her. Celestia sighed softly. "Ah well. I suppose I shall go enjoy some time off for the first time in five thousand years." She popped up to her feet, and trotted for the door. "Now, you two don't get too busy." Celestia sing-songed on the way to the door. "You'll have to be rested enough for the moon setting later tonight, daughter." And then Celestia was gone, giggling like a young filly.

Twilight blushed, and so did Luna. The two of them met eyes across the table and smiled a little bit. Luna spoke hesitatingly. "So... did you have anything in mind for this evening, Mistress?"

Twilight laughed softly. "Oh I think we can find some way to fill up the time. I am rather hungry." she purred, licking at her fangs unconciously.

Chapter 27 - The Report

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"Article 17 - In the event of a Monarch or Monarchs of Equestria engage in activity which is either detrimental to, or in direct violation of the established Laws, Codes and Regulations of Equestria - Including, but not limited to accepted military doctrine, the safety of Equestrian citizens in times of peace or war, and/or actions which directly violate or endanger the stability of the Equestrian crown. Then the designated On-Site commander of any military operation may immediately call the operation under investigation. Should all senior military commanders on site, excepting those who are designated as Monarchs, agree with this proposal; Then all haste shall immediately be taken to suspend military operations until such time as a hearing can be conducted on the subject of the Monarch's actions." - Equestrian Military Code of Justice.

~~~~~~~~~Aboard the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane ~~~~~~~

Celestia quietly waited around the corner, not too far from the meeting room. She sighed and gently stroked at her pink mane - a color she'd not seen it as in countless centuries - and waited patiently. Minutes later, Luna and Twilight left the meeting room, hoof in hoof and wandered laughing down the hallways of the cloud fortress together. Celestia smiled faintly, and continued to wait.

More minutes passed, and then Commander Spitfire arrived with two uniformed Pegasus guards next to her. "Alright." Spitfire said gently. "Let's go." She gestured and Celestia stood up in a single graceful move. Soon, all four of them were walking silently down the halls, deeper into the ship. No words were spoken, Spitfire had on her best hard-ass military commander face and it wasn't budging an inch.

They walked this way for nearly ten minutes, before arriving in the deepest part of the ship - the brig. The guards left the two of them to walk into the silent and empty chambers, fitted with a set of six cells. None of them were cleared to hold Alicorns. Unicorns, sure. The bars had been tempered with silver and inlaid with magic-cancelling runes. But there was no way in hell they'd hold an Alicorn.

Spitfire grabbed one of the bare, basic wooden chairs and sat it down. "Sit." She commanded, as she grabbed a second chair for herself, and a clipboard. "Lemmie make myself perfectly clear." Spitfire slowly began, as Celestia sat on the chair as regally as she could. "Right now, I am following the absolute letter of the law. I invoked an Article 17. The Admiral agreed with my assessment. There were no other senior officers on site to object. If you have a problem with any of this, now might be the time to say something.."

Celestia tilted her head and shook it once. "No, Commander. I have no problem with any of your assertions thus far." Celestia had a serious, serene look on her face and Spitfire clenched her jaw a little. "Please, continue."

Spitfire nodded once, and then snapped a hoof. Moments later, a uniformed unicorn officer walked in and dropped a massive stack of folders, full of paper, and bound together with several thick strands of purple ribbon. "This." Pointed Spitfire. "Is Prince Armor's full report to the Admiralty and Equestrian High Command. It contains interviews of everypony directly involved, with the exception of Sombra and Chrysalis, in the events of the last two weeks." Spitfire paused, pulling off her flight glasses. "You wanna know what it says?"

Celestia inclined her head once again, and Spitfire slowly began to talk - heat burning out of her voice. "You deliberately misled Equestrian Intelligence. You deliberately hid your knowledge of opposing forces during a military briefing. You plotted and then carried out plans to engage in your own suicide." Spitfire paused, glaring daggers at the eternally serene Celestia. "You endangered a vital piece of Equestrian Military hardware. You put an admiral, and his entire command staff in jeopardy. You did the same thing to First Air WIng. You gave orders which lead to the deaths of more than two thousand highly trained soldiers, mages and technicians for little to no tactical gain. Said orders allowed two - Not one, Celestia but two black level threats to escape custody and capture."

Spitfire flung her chair around her and slammed her hooves into the chair Celestia was sitting in, the Alicorn's eyes going wide. Spitfire's voice was practically grating through her lips, her teeth grinding. "You attacked a monarch of a foreign land on Equestrian Soil! What's more you attacked a monarch of Equestria on Equestrian soil! And last, and by far the worst of all, you engaged in magical activity that has caused Millions of bits in damage, and jeopardized an entire town's worth of Equestrian citizen's lives!"

Celestia actually flinched at that last assertion, her serenity cracking for a moment. Spitfire glared for a few silent moments before grabbing her chair from the ground and putting it upright. "Do you deny any of these charges?" She asked quietly. In what had to have been the quietest voice Celestia had ever heard the commander use.

Celestia could only quietly reply. "No. I do not." Spitfire stared at her, evidently expecting another response. Celestia smiled, feeling the sadness well up inside of her chest. "Commander, those reports have given you the truth. I did do all of those things."

Spitfire slumped back into the chair, running a hoof over her face like she had a headache. "Princess, when you offered me the head spot of EIS after the changeling invasion, I gotta be honest. I thought you were nuts." Spitfire stabbed a hoof at Celestia. "But I took it, because you were right at the time. There wasn't anypony else with the connections, the discipline, or the courage to take it on. So I did. And I did a damn fine job."

Celestia nodded, that damnable smile never leaving her face. "You did, Commander. Even Silent Service would have been proud of you." Celestia shook her head slightly. "The brave soul. May he rest in peace."

Spitfire shook her head firmly, and went back to glaring. "Give me something here, Celestia. I want an excuse to cover this up." She pointed her hoof at the report, her speech rough. "I need an excuse to wrap this whole bucking thing in black ribbon and ship it off to Stalliongrad. We can rebuild Ponyville. We can replace the lost guards, the lost unicorns. We can pay off the families, pay off the townsfolk, pay off all the soldiers. But I can't do that, I can't justify doing that unless you can give me a reason to do it."

Celestia looked on in quiet serenity, and Spitfire snarled - slamming her hoof into the report. "Damnit, why aren't you even trying to defend yourself!?" Spitfire... well, spat out. "I'm staring down a firing squad in the shape of a purple Alicorn with enough power to wipe us all out!"

Celestia looked shocked at that one, and she sat up straighter. "Twilight would do no such thing. I know she wouldn't." Celestia spoke firmly, far more animated than she had been over the last few days.

Spitfire rolled her eyes. "You don't get it, do you? You're her mother. Twilight spent two days in a magically induced coma, and the only words we got out of her were two names. Yours, and Luna's. She's been through Tartarus and back again. She finally thinks everyone she loves is safe, and now you're going to force me to call a military tribunal down on your head?" Spitfire growled, leaning forward. "You realize you won’t get out of it alive. Too many ponies have gotten hurt, too much damage has been done, and too many laws have been broken. They will execute you Celestia, and I can't say I'd disagree with them for doing it!"

Celestia flinched away again, turning her head to stare at the stone floors of the brig. "Then why are you doing this, Spitfire?" Celestia whispered softly. "I am not innocent of those crimes. I admit it. I am prepared to face judgment." She swallowed softly. "I should face judgment."

Spitfire felt some of the anger melt out of her, and sighed softly. "Because a filly who is entirely not ready for this just took over the throne. Because I know that kind of person, Celestia. She was willing to go toe to toe with you because she disagreed with the law and she loves you.. You think she'll hesitate at tearing the entire military apart if it means saving your life?" Spitfire stood up and trotted across the room, grabbing Celestia's chin, and turning her head towards Spitfires.

Celestia stared into those red eyes, and Spitfire glared back. "You bucked up. You know it, I know it, Shiny knows it. So as I see it, you've got two options. You can take the coward’s way out, and I'll send you to the headsman so you can die for your guilt." Celestia's mouth worked silently, as Spitfire turned around and walked back over to her chair. "Or you can spend the rest of that eternal life of yours serving Equestria and doing everything you can to repay that guilt."

Spitfire grabbed her flight glasses and pushed them on. "Choice is yours, Princess."


Shining Armor sank into the giant puffy chair with a sigh of relief, the last of the thick black armor clattering into the corner on the glow of Cadence's magic. Shining had to admit, it was good to finally let his guard down. And to spend some time with Cadence, as opposed to those freaky friends of Twilight. That was probably going to be an awkward conversation later, but Shining figured it could slide for now.

Cadence hopped up into the massive 'love seat' and curled up around Shining, wrapping her forelegs around his neck and kissing his cheek gently. "I'm so glad you're safe, Shiny." she whispered, all sleek and rubbing up against him. Shining sometimes wondered how he got so damn lucky with Cadence. Cuz Celestia's a manipulative witch. Shining snorted silently. And I don't give a buck, because she's so freaking wonderful.

Cadence paused and smiled slyly, parking herself in Shining's Lap and just cuddling around him. Shiny was completely okay with this, and he hugged her right back, nuzzling his cheek against hers with a sigh. “Cadence, I should have listened to you a long time ago about Twilight." Well if there was ever a time for admitting he'd bucked up, now was pretty much it.

Cadence rolled her eyes and gently smacked him with her hoof. "Yes, you should have. Perhaps then none of this would have happened." She sighed gustily. "I should have stood up to Celestia sooner." her voice was more than a little depressed, and Shining quickly came to the rescue with a firm kiss on his Wife's lips, her eyes going wide with shock.

A moment later, Shiny pulled away with a head shake. "We couldn't have predicted all of this, Cadence. At least something good did some out of it." Shiny smiled, brightly. "We've got balance in the world now. Right?"

Cadence smiled sadly. "A drop in the bucket dear heart. It will take a lot more than a single action to turn the tides of a thousand years of abuse." She shook her head slowly. "That will take enacting a very large percentage of laws that will be very unpopular with the common folks."

Shiny frowned, but he hugged Cadence closer to him anyway. "Like what? Not that I want to put you off your mood but.." Cadence chuckled at his worried voice, and Shiny smiled. "Yeah yeah, I know. If we get the work out of the way now we can have more fun later."

Cadence beamed at him proudly, and Shiny had to admit that smile felt a lot more powerful than it had before. By the Silver Crown of Unicornia, I am not even gonna think about the sex right now. Cadence was obviously thinking about other things too, nibbling her lower lip in worry. "Well for one, I know Twilight is going to insist upon lifting the racial restriction laws. All of them, most likely." She sighed gustily. "Not that I don't agree in principal, but that's going to cause all sorts of trouble with local authorities. Especially when they figure out that 'every creature' includes changelings too."

Shining Armor frowned a little. "Yeah, I guess that might be a bit of a sore spot." Especially in Canterlot. He winced slightly. "Make that a big sore spot." Shiny shook his head slowly. "That's not even counting the Dissonance worshipers. We're going to have to completely dismantle the Solar Inquisition."

Cadence nodded somberly. "Among most of the other witch-hunting organizations. At least the ones who don't agree to stay away from the Dissonant temples. Luna was already talking about reconstruction of the Temple of the Moon in Canterlot. And in every other major city and town in Equestria." Cadence rested her hoof against her forehead. "I swear to the Ancestors, Shiny. They're all trying to murder me in my first week!"

Shiny laughed at that one, and gently pulled her hoof down. "Oh quit being a drama queen, Cadey. Look, we both know these things are going to be necessary, right?" Cadence sighed and nodded slowly. "Then we'll see if we can't convince them to take it a little slower. I know Twily will listen to us if we explain the situation." he paused. "I don't think we'll be able to slow down the race laws. She's going to be absolutely adamant about that. She'll be adamant about removing restrictions on Dissonant worship too. Let's start with those two reforms, and work our way up to temples and the like."

Cadence smiled softly. "Shiny... She's still your little sister to you, isn't she?" Cadence smiled warmly, hugging him tightly to her.

Shiny nodded and sighed. "Weird as it is, yeah. And she always will be." Cadence nodded with understanding, and then pressed a hoof to his mouth.

"Hush, Shiny. No more talk for now. We'll save the realm single hoofedly later. Right now, I need you." Cadence purred out, her horn glowing gently and snuffing out the light in the room.


The soft exhale of breath. The gentle sigh, the feeling of purple fuzz upon blue. The richness of the kiss and the soft sweet scent of love. The squeeze, the tug, the pull and the nuzzling of cheeks. And then, the taste of blood, as sweet and rich as life itself flowing past her lips.

Twilight's eyes shot open, as she stared down at Luna's limp form in her arms. Luna's eyes were fluttering softly and her breathing heavy and sated. Twilight's tongue snaked out to catch the last drops of crimson and she shivered softly at the taste. By Dissonance, what happened to me? Twilight's mind whispered softly Luna's eyes opened fully a moment later, and she smiled in that way that told Twilight's she'd been up to something again.

Luna pressed a hoof to Twilight's lips and whispered. "Do not think. Do not even begin to start piling logic and blame upon this. I told you that you would change, Twilight." Twilight nodded absently, now painfully aware of the full and strong heartbeat of the mare beneath her hooves.

They had been going to the kitchen to get a meal. Twilight had been absolutely starving for a meal, all of the effort and energy she'd poured into raising the moon had compounded on two days of no real food. And there Luna had been, her Acolyte. Sweet, faithful Luna who had seen her through so much trauma and pain and heartache.

Twilight had felt the urge coming over her. She hadn't even known what it was, only that it felt like hunger but deeper. It had been a feral urge that struck upon her logical mind, overwhelming it with a desire to feed. Luna had resisted a little at first, but that had only driven the need. The rest...

Twilight felt herself shiver at the dark memories. Pushing Luna into the dark room and pinning her to some unknown pegasus' desk. Holding her down with a strength Twilight didn't even know she had and just... taking from her. No questions, no loving words or sweet caresses. Not until fang had punctured flesh and drawn out lifeblood.

Twilight felt her breathing beginning to become erratic, and then Luna gently touched her cheek. It was like an electric shock passed between them, and all of her panic slowly drained away. How does she do that to me? She just... looks at me with those eyes, and I can't seem to not calm down. Twilight knew it was some kind of magic, some Dissonant spell. Twilight also really didn't much care, seeing as how she was no longer about to go off on a massive freak-out. You control the bloody MOON now, Twilight. Your freak-outs could have much, much bigger consequences if you're not careful.

Luna giggled softly. "That's better. I think you realize the seriousness now." She sighed gently, her hoof trailing down Twilight's chest. "Not that I'm going to complain. It has been a very long time since someone Moon kissed me quite like that." Luna's eyes sparkled at Twilight.

Twilight blinked at her. "Moon kissed?" She licked her fang again, and they seemed... less sharp. Less intimidating. She was also no longer hungry. Well, that's certainly a small favor. She thought wryly.

Luna chuckled. "Vamponies, dear. They call it the Moon's Kiss, in honor of the night which they live in." She winked again and gently kissed Twilight - in a very normal, romantic way - before poking her chest. "Now let me up. You may be able to live off blood now, but I still need regular food. You ought to have something as well."

Twilight did let her up off the desk, and Luna wobbled a bit before briskly walking out of the room. Twilight paused, wondering whose desk they'd left in such disarray - and hoped it hadn't been anypony important. She followed Luna carefully, but moving faster than she had some hours before. It was like she'd been completely revitalized by that snack. Then her thoughts caught up to her mind, and she shivered at the idea of thinking of anypony as a walking snack machine.

Luna was waiting outside the office as Twilight carefully closed the door. "So. A few things. First, you are unlikely to have any of the problems the Vampony race has during the daytime." She turned and started walking down the hallway. "Except that you will likely need to feed more often than they. Do not let it linger too long, Mistress - else the need may overcome you as it just did there." Luna's eyes sparkled with a sinister warning. "And not everypony is as strong as I to resist the call of the Vampony's blood."

Twilight was left standing there, her head dipped low as Luna began to move away from her. Luna stopped in mid step and turned around, staring in disbelief. "Luna." Whispered Twilight, staring into the ground. "Just... how much more am I going to change?"

Luna halted her scathing reply before it could escape her lips, and slowly began to walk over to Twilight. She had to tread very, very carefully here. "Twilight, I cannot tell you that." She spoke gently, wondering if she should try that emotional drain spell again.

Twilight shied away from Luna's hooves, still speaking softly. "I'm already turning into some kind of monster, Luna. You're telling me I could become like Chrysalis or Sombra?" That very thought seemed to horrify Twilight, and Luna clamped down again on her scathing words.

Luna sighed instead. No child. You will never become like them, unless you do it to yourself. She thought, and put a lid on those thoughts. The last thing anypony here needed was Twilight trying to do self-modification magic. She might very well make her problems even worse without even intending to.

Luna slowly built up what she would say in her head, double checking for things that might upset Twilight. Nodding, she continued to speak. "No, Twilight. You are not as they are, and you never will be." She trotted over to Twilight, and pressed her hoof into Twilight's own. "Because I will make certain of it. And so will your brother. And your sister. And your mother too, come to that." Her eyes seemed to glow at Twilight. "You see? You have something they will never have. A loving family."

Twilight blinked and then smiled tremulously. Luna mentally hoofpumped. Now, to get her less worried about the blood. "And besides..." Luna continued on in her most saucy voice. "I happened to enjoy that little...escapade." she licked her lips boldly. That was not even a fib, the Moon's Kiss was a delicious feeling all its own. She simply did not need Twilight going around creating thralls with it.

Twilight blushed and nudged her head towards the kitchen. "Maybe we ought to eat someone - thing! Something!" She blushed and laughed softly. "Oh by Celestia, I'm hopeless." Twilight was breaking down alright - but it was in laughter, not panic.

Luna exhaled in relief. Twilight was still far, far too young for this responsibility. Yet what could they do? Twilight lacked the knowledge, the centuries of experience and skill to perform the Transference ritual. Besides, there being no guarantee she could survive it. Luna knew that all she could do was try to keep the young one steady and strong emotionally. Ancestors, it was less work raising and lowering the moon every night! She snorted softly.

Luna and Twilight entered the kitchen not too long after, and began to scrounge up a late night snack for the both of them. And given the squeals that followed, perhaps one or two other things.


Admiral Fire Drake adjusted his hat and stared out into the gorgeous night. The sounds of hoofsteps behind him were familiar, and the cadence of them told him they were weary and tired. "Long coupla days, eh kid?" He spoke quietly as Spitfire leaned up against the railing with him, rubbing at her eyes with a sigh.

Spitfire shook her head. "She said she's gonna think about it." There was no emotion, no heat in her voice. "She's on a serious self-guilt trip, pops. You think you could talk some sense into her?" Spitfire seemed ready to fall asleep, but her words and voice were sharp as ever.

The Admiral shook his head slowly. "Nay. I don't think I'm the one to talk her out of it, kid. I think you'd better rope in young Twilight." Spitfire turned to stare at him incredulously, and he grinned, lifting an old curved pipe up to his lips and clamping down on it, more out of habit than anything. "Hear me out. I know yer worried she'll pop a gasket over this, but I think that'll just make her more determined to talk Celestia down from the edge."

Spitfire blinked once in confusion, but gestured for her father to keep talking. So he did. "I ain't met the girl, but she's got a rep. When she thinks somethin' really bad's about ta happen to someone she loves, she's prolly more dangerous than Cadence is." He paused and scowled "Or am I s'posed to call her Queen Cadence now? I can’t keep this damnfool politicking straight, I Tellsya."

Spitfire stifled a tired giggle and shook her head. "Maybe you're right, pops." She turned back out to gaze at the stars, eyes obviously fighting to stay awake.

The Admiral sighed and patted Spitfires shoulder. "Go get some sleep kid. Gonna be another big day t'morrow."

Chapter 28 - The Judgement

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~~~~~Aboard the H.M.S. Hurricane - The next day~~~~~

Shining Armor stretched out his limbs as he trotted quickly around the empty exterior deck. The early morning sun shimmered just over the horizon, and warmed the cloud fortress up little by little. Shiny sighed in satisfaction as he came up to the edge of the deck and leaned over the railing there, peering down below him.

Ponyville was still a complete mess, though now that the guard and the First Air Wing had pitched in, things were getting under control. The ponies of the town were already up and about, applying the various repairs needed to make their homes livable once again. The guard were mostly working on damage assessment and helping to dig out some of the many buildings that had collapsed. So far, there were no verified casualties but there were a fair number of locals still missing.

Shiny sighed a little. Poor Ponyville. You just can’t seem to catch a break, can you? Her thought, resting his head on wooden railing. "Maybe this time we'll figure out how to actually protect this damn town." he murmured, thinking about all of the dozen or so projects that had already been suggested to do just that. Projects that ranged from the practical, like building a city wall and watch towers - to the impractical, like turning Ponyville into some kind of ancient fortress.

Shiny continued to stare down, watching the various local pony’s scurry about like bugs. And then someone addressed him, in a voice he hadn't expected to hear. "Hey brother, can you spare a bit?" Shiny narrowed his eyes a little, but did not turn around to face the voice. "C'mon. Help a pony out eh?" the voice continued, affecting an excellent whine.

Moments later, the familiar black unicorn plopped his hooves up onto the railing and craned his head in front of Shining's "You mad?" Asked King Sombra, his eyes practically glowing that unhealthy green color. "I mean, you won. You ought to be celebrating." An unshod hoof waved across the sky airily.

Shining Armor sighed and growled. "What do you want?" So much for his wonderful morning. Sombra was smiling, but there was something... off about him. More than the usual insanity, crystal fetish and annoying know-it-all nature.

Sombra smiled coyly. "I thought you might appreciate another little talk. You seemed to enjoy our last one." The shadow unicorn leaned against the railing and smirked downwards. "Quite a nasty mess Celestia's caused. She always did have a flair for the dramatic."

Shining wanted to smack him. Instead, he took a deep breath and spoke calmly. "Get to the point, Sombra - before I call the guards to throw you off this boat. Or before I do it myself." He kept his anger in check, but he wasn't going to make it easy on the black bastard.

Sombra laughed softly. "Very well. I suppose after all you've done for me, you deserve that much." His horn lit with shadowy energy, and a scroll was flicked towards Shining Armor - who caught it with his own deft magic. Sombra grinned at Shining armor, pointing his hoof at the scroll "A token of my appreciation. My old kingdom is lost to me now, so I see no reason not to be a little charitable."

Shining armor raised an eyebrow, and tucked the scroll under his arm, returning his impatient glare. Sombra smirked at him and kept speaking, "Additionally, I have come to give you a warning." Sombra's gaze sobered up, and his smile vanished. "You have far greater threats stalking you now than either I or my wife. Chrysalis and I will be withdrawing from the field for a time, so that you might be able to focus all of your attention upon it."

Shining Armor stared at him, the tightly wrapped scroll still hovering in the air. "What the buck are you talking about?" Shining snapped, turning away from the railing with lightning speed. "What threats?"

Sombra shook his head and began to turn away as he spoke. "Last night, some creature infiltrated this very vessel, impersonated one of your most powerful combat unicorns, and nearly killed all of us. Might I humbly recommend that you start there. " Sombra began to trot towards the corner, pausing before calling back. "Oh yes. You may also inform my Apprentice that I have left her a homework assignment. I expect her to complete it with dispatch."

Shining's eyes narrowed, and without so much as a warning he charged towards Sombra as the black unicorn turned the corner. "Come back here, you sonofa-!" Shining careened around the deck, and there was no sign of his foe. Shining Armor snarled and nearly took out the railing with his hooves in anger, before practically tearing open the scroll's seal and examining the words on it.

By order of King Sombra, the First - Crystal Prince and ruler of the glorious Crystal Empire,

I hereby recognize Queen Mi Amore Cadenza as the rightful heir, and therefore rightful ruler of the Crystal Empire. In so doing, I now place the great secret of my supposedly tiny nation's power at her hooves.

Many believe that my kingdom is naught more than a frozen wasteland, save for a tiny patch of land made livable by ancient and powerful magic. This is a falsehood. The means to turn vast quantities of the northern territories into arable land resides in my throne room.

Cunningly hidden within my vault - which will now reveal itself to the new Ruler of my kingdom, is a spell within a book. When cast whilst sitting upon my throne, the magic imbued within that throne will expand a thousand fold, driving away the blizzards that engulf the northern territories. This will likely set free countless smaller communities of the Crystal Ponies from the magic that once held me captive.

In addition to this gift, I hereby bequeath all books and documents within that vault to my Apprentice, The Nightmare Queen Twilight Sparkle. In the hopes that they will illuminate her as they long ago illuminated me.

Finally, I bequeath all remaining gold within that vault to those that follow the True Path. To be used for the reconstruction of our citadels, our churches, and our economic might.

All remaining items and objects may be dispersed - or not - at the Queens pleasure. I wish both her, and her remarkable husband a long life and happy reign. And I thank them both, ever so deeply for finally ensuring that the former Tyrant of the Sun pays for her crimes.

By my hoof, and Seal,

Prince Sombra of Crystalia


Princess Luna slipped out of the silent royal quarters, shutting the door discreetly behind her and then sighed gustily. By the moon, she is going to be a hoof full if that's her usual libido. She very quietly chuckled. She quickly trotted down the hallways, thanking the ancestors that she was still capable of pushing her body past it's normal desire for sleep.

Luna remembered the outline of this place well, and quickly moved through its mostly empty passageways. The ship itself was resting, or already deployed to the ground to aid in the recovery below. That meant there would be little to stand in her way, should anypony have the nerve.

Surely enough, nopony did. Not even the guards standing outside of the cells dare to stop her. Luna flung the door open with a brazen use of her magic, and slammed it shut behind her in the same manner. Celestia was lying in the hastily assembled bedding in one of the cells, curled up and facing the wall. The cell door was open, as it seemed no one had the courage to lock up Celestia of all creatures.

Luna was not going to be polite. There was a time for politeness, and a time to use the Royal Canterlot Voice. "Celestia Solaris, what in the name of the deep dark do you think you are doing!?" The voice shook the room and rattled all of the bars. A stack of neatly organized parchment notes fell ingloriously off of a desk and scattered all over the floor.

Predictably, Celestia did not budge an inch. She did speak though, "Sleeping." said the former solar monarch in a very unconvincing voice. "Go away, Lulu." Celestia softly spoke, the sound of tears clear in her voice.

Luna wrangled in her temper, and sighed. Ever since I bonded with Twilight, I've been getting more and more emotional. How she draws on so much dissonance without being a basket case, I wish I knew. It had to be that connection with Harmony. It was likely stabilizing Twilight without her even realizing it. I wish she could lend me some of that serenity. Luna grumbled, stalking into the cell. "Celestia, you will stop acting like a foal and talk to me. Or else I shall begin to serenade thee with the Grumpy-boots song." Luna's face turned into a wicked smile. "Thou dost remember Ms. Grumpy Boots, yes?"

Celestia's head turned around, eyes red from crying too much. "You wouldn't." Celestia said in a flat, disbelieving tone. Luna grinned like a fiend, displaying all of her teeth to her sister, and Celestia sighed. "Of course you would." Celestia stood up in a most-dignified manner, which Luna actually smirked at, and then turned around. Celestia settled back down onto her bedding, and regarded Luna with airy serenity.

Which Luna wouldn't have bought with a clipped bit. Luna herself lit up her own horn and dragged over a few cushions from some of the other cells, laying herself down in a clear mockery of Celestia's primness. Now more comfortable, Luna began to speak again. "I had thought we were agreed that you would not engage in this foolishness any longer. Cadence will need you, as much as Twilight will need me." Luna's voice rang with conviction and surety of purpose.

Celestia actually smiled a little. "Is that why you've been keeping her from realizing you two happen to be related?" Luna stared at her, and Celestia actually chuckled. "Luna, I'm not blind. You've been draining her extreme emotions every time she flies into a panic. You have also been influencing her thoughts to keep her focused."

Luna blinked a little bit and then blushed a bright red. "I have meant no harm, Sister. Though I must point out we do not know how related we are..." Celestia was actually laughing at her. "What?" exclaimed Luna. "We hath no idea whom mother... had us with. We never have!"

Celestia only smirked and gave her a wry look. "Whatever helps you sleep at night, Lulu." Celestia shook her head slightly as Luna sputtered in indignant rage. Celestia's voice cut through it, "I'm not going to say you're not doing us all a favor, sister. Right now, that poor filly needs every bit of love and reassurance she can get. I am saying that the longer you hide things from her, the worse they secrets will become." Celestia's eyes shut tight around tears. "I can attest to that."

Luna blew out her cheeks. "Very well, we shall discuss it soon. Now quit changing the subject! Why do you persist with this... " Luna threw up her hooves in frustration "This foolish martyrdom? You say Twilight needs love, and assurance and you presume to deny her the one pony that has been her greatest source of it?" Luna glared daggers at Celestia, and Celestia winced away. "And how didst thou feel when we were imprisoned upon the moon? At least then, there was the hope for our return! You would throw your life away - and for what?" Luna smacked her hoof into the floor, Celestia persistently not looking at her. "You have committed grievous crimes. Fine. If it pleases you, I shall pass sentence upon thee."

Celestia blinked, and turned her head back curiously to face Luna. Luna nodded. "You once passed judgment upon me, sister. If you truly believe yourself guilty, it behooves me to stand in that place for thee." Luna gently tossed her mane and glared at Celestia. "Will you accept my judgment, dear sister?"


"Shiny, stop worrying." Insisted Princes- Queen Cadence, Shining Armor reminded himself as his wife brushed out her magically enhanced mane. "By the moon, Shiny. I expected Sombra to waltz in hours ago." She smirked a little at the surprise on his face. "It's in his nature, Shining Armor. He has to have the last word. As for the scroll, there. " She flicked a hoof at it. "We shall deal with that later. I won’t be able to return to the Empire for a while anyway."

Shining nodded slowly, then frowned. "Why not?" He queried, head tilted to one side. "I mean, aside from getting a few legal issues settled - the Equestrian Government mostly runs itself."

Cadence sighed softly, setting down the brush. "Shiny. I love you dearly, but sometimes you really need to learn how to think." Shining stared at her, and Cadence smacked him over the head with her brush. "Twilight, Shiny. Have you even processed what this all means to her?"

Shiny shook his head a little, and Cadence turned around on her chair. "Shining Armor, Twilight is an Alicorn now. Full ascension, not some half-measures. Her lifespan just went from a century or two to a complete unknown. She's had everything she's ever known in life upended. We certainly can't just send her back to the Ponyville library!"

Shining was putting the pieces together now. "Oh, Buck." he gently swore into the air. "Um... Yeah, I can see how that might be bad." Shining's voice was actually straining a little now.

Cadence rolled her eyes. "Bad? That's putting it mildly. We ought to be worshiping at Luna's hooves that so far Twilight's only been thinking about what's right in front of her. We're going to have enough on our plate when Twilight realizes she's going to outlive practically everypony she knows." Cadence hopped off her stool and trotted over towards the door, snatching up the royal crown with her magic on the way. "Twilight is going to need us all on hoof, Shiny. Because if we're not careful, It's going to be Nightmare Moon all over again."


Spitfire couldn't believe she'd gotten woken up for this. More importantly, she couldn't believe this was actually happening. "What." Was about all she could say to the tableau before her. In fact, she'd been saying it ever since the message came up about ten minutes ago.

The scene was like something out of a bad novel. Celestia had gotten shackles and chains from... somewhere. Luna was awfully cagey about that detail. Celestia had then shackled both sets of her hooves, and sat herself upon some bizarre stone chair that seemed designed for somepony to be shackled to, as well. Luna was also pretty quiet on where THAT had come from.

Luna in the meantime, had scrounged up some old set of battle armor that made her look like a conquering general, looming over her helpless prisoner. That prisoner happening to be her sister, and Luna looking like she was enjoying this whole scene far too much. All of that was weird, but Spitfire could do weird.

When she was told WHY Celestia was bound up like this, that was where Spitfire's mind started to break. Apparently, Luna had come down here without one whit of authorization, and bullied Celestia into accepting her as Judge, Jury and Sentence giver. Now, that was problematic all on its own, except now Celestia was insisting this be done in as legal a manner as was possible. Worst of all, Celestia was citing portions of Equestrian Law so ancient that Spitfire half suspected she was making them up.

So Spitfire found herself in the apparently very awkward position of 'witness to the accused', despite the fact that she was the only pony other than Luna or Celestia in the room. After Luna had read off the charges Spitfire had gone over yesterday in the most bombastic kind of voice, Luna had kindly informed Spitfire that she was here to bear witness to Celestia's 'confession'.

Spitfire began to wonder what the hell all of this was about. Then her mind finally ticked over, and picked up on all the thousand little details - this was supposedly how Celestia had sentenced, and then banished Nightmare Moon some one thousand years ago. Granted, there had been a lot of other ponies present for that particular event, but the shackles and the like were familiar enough at least. Just that was enough to send a cold sweat down Spitfire's back, wondering exactly what Luna had in mind.

Luna smirked at her, then back at her sister, brandishing a silver clad hoof at her sister. "Now, since thy guilt is beyond question, we shall sentence thee to an appropriate punishment!" Celestia had lifted her head high, determination and acceptance written in every line of her being. Luna, in the meantime - just looked like she was having a grand old time. "Thy punishment will be thus!"

Luna's horn suddenly lit up with painfully bright cerulean magic, and the chains binding Celestia's hooves began to glow silver, then slowly into gold. Spitfire stared. She isn't. She can't Banish her to the sun!!! Luna's smile was vicious and a massive bolt of magic suddenly struck Celestia clear in the chest, and exploded in a massive wave of bright white light.

Spitfire threw up her hooves, but all she could feel was warmth and love emanating off of the magic. There was no cold judgment there, but gentle reproach. Her hooves came down slowly, and she stared at the sight in front of her, as Luna began to speak.

Celestia looked... like a unicorn. In fact, she bore a striking resemblance to young Twilight Sparkle. She still possessed a creamy white coat, and those striking violet eyes - and the pink mane too. But her wings had vanished, and she had been reduced in size to that of a normal, young unicorn. She also looked utterly baffled.

Luna's wings flared out, her eyes sparkling with mischief. "Thy punishment will be thus. Your magic has been restricted, and much of your Alicorn power sealed away. Your wings, I have carefully transformed to become unusable to you." Her eyes twinkled. "You shall have the look of an ordinary unicorn. You will be powerful of course, but no more so than Twilight Sparkle was."

Celestia stared at her for a moment, a much younger and brighter voice coming out of her lips - first in a very cute squeak of surprise, then in words. "But... Lulu, why must I be made to look like this? It is ridiculous!" If Celestia had been free, she might have stomped her hoof.

Luna grinned a little, wiggling her hoof in reproach. “For all of your long life my dear sister, you have lived apart from the Ponies you loved so dearly. You watched them from afar, you ruled with wisdom and fairness, but you never were one of them. You loved them, Sister - but you did not understand them. You did not understand how they lived their lives, or how it should have affected the judgments you made about them. It is from these faults that nearly all of your crimes were born."

Celestia nodded slowly, Spitfire just said "What." Again, and Spitfire's mind desperately tried to wrap itself around what had just happened and was failing miserably. Luna however, was in fine form and kept speaking in a serious, stern tone of voice. "Therefore, you shall perform a valuable service to the local community you harmed, while also working to repair these faults. To do this, I have decided upon a... unique assignment for you. It is appropriate I think, that since you robbed this town of its librarian and mage-protector, you shall take her place under the name of Tia Sunbeam." Luna smiled sweetly.

Celestia began to nod again, much quicker this time. "Yes, I can see how that might help repay some of the debt I owe these ponies." She blinked. "But that is not all you are sending me there for, is it, Lulu?" Celestia's voice was a little wary, as though she was beginning to catch on to her sister’s game.

Luna could not help but let out a bold, soft laugh. "Of course not. After all, you could become a hermit as Twilight was not so long ago. You must go out amongst your ponies, and learn their ways. If you ever wish to truly repay Equestria, it shall be thy second duty to make some friends." Celestia's jaw dropped completely, and her eyes stared accusingly at Luna. Luna simply grinned at her. "You will go out into the world, and learn to be a part of it, and in so doing come to understand your follies."

Spitfire's mind suddenly got it. It was... Brilliant, really. Luna was going to give Celestia no choice but to get over herself for the good of everypony. Luna kept speaking, and Spitfires amusement and approval began to grow. "You shall have regular communications with Twilight Sparkle. Considering that it is quite patently obvious that it is you who now requires a refresher course in the Magic of Friendship. Furthermore, you shall study and live at the center of a newly changing society, and will have to help deal with the crisis' that will arise because of those changes. In so doing, you will slowly repay the debt you owe to all the citizens of Ponyville, and to Equestria as a whole." Luna's eyes danced merrily. "When I am personally satisfied that you have learned thy lesson, You shall be allowed to return to Canterlot to serve out the rest of your sentence... which you will learn about at that time."

Celestia sputtered out. "You... You..." She glared, taking a deep breath. "This is not what I had in mind when I agreed to this, Lulu! This is hardly punishment!" Celestia smacked her hooves into the chair.

Celestia stared down at her much changed form, and swallowed a little, looking very lost. Luna smiled gently. "Tia. You wished for me to judge you fairly. Judgment is not about punishment Tia. Judgment is about justice. What I am sending you to do will not be easy. You have never lived a life as a true commoner." Luna's eye twinkled. "I believe a little hard work will be good for you, and your character too."

Celestia stared at her, whispering softly. "But... My debt... " Celestia asked helplessly, biting at her lower lip. Luna gently lifted Celestia's head with a hoof and nodded gently.

Luna spoke in a soft intense voice. "You wished to repay the debt you owe to those you have hurt?" Celestia nodded gently, and Luna continued to speak "Then this is what you must do. Love your daughter. Learn from your ponies. Find happiness and peace in your soul. Repent your ill deeds not through sacrifice, but through action. Give back to them, as they have so often given to you. "

Luna gently touched her sister's cheek. "I am giving you a way to learn from your mistakes. A way to repent and reflect upon what brought you here. I could do no less for you, sister. Without you, I never would have known Twilight Sparkle. And I never might have found peace within my own soul." Luna tapped her hoof firmly on the stone chair, the shackles falling off of Celestia's hooves.

Luna's voice rang out in triumph. "This court is Adjourned."

Chapter 29 - The Coven

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~~~~~~Ponyville, That same morning.~~~~~~

"And pull!" bellowed a strong female voice.

A dozen or so earth ponies, plus a fair number of guards hauled on the thick rope as hard as they could, slowly pulling the pre-constructed wooden roof up into the air. Once it had been lifted, a half dozen pegasus slowly pushed the crane into position over the house. Within, a heavily sweating unicorn projected her magic into the frame and held it steady.

"And down!" Yelled the same voice, and slowly the roof was lowered onto the house frame, where it settled in perfectly. A whoop of cheers went up from the earth ponies, and the guards ponies nodded in satisfaction. Hoofbumps were exchanged, and as the unicorn emerged from the house, a torrent of cheers went up for her.

Applejack swung down from the platform she'd been standing on, and trotted over to the unicorn, grinning slyly. Never thought I'd see the day, but i gotta admit - she's grown up a mite. Applejack adjusted her Stetson and hoofed over a thick fluffy towel to the sweating unicorn, who floated it daintily up and began to wipe away the sweat. "Now lookit that. All that cheering and not a single magic trick in sight. Sure beats the alternative, don't it Trixie?"

The Great and Powerful Trixie sniffed a little at Applejack as she mopped up the sweat from her brow. "Trixie does admit it is quite satisfying. The pay certainly doesn't hurt either." Trixie smirked a little, her magic rubbing the towel all the way to her flank, before tossing the sodden thing over a railing.

Applejack had to grin at that one. Who'da thunk I'd end up liking Trixie of all ponies? Oh certainly, it hadn't hurt that in the past three days Trixie had really helped out around town. Applejack was almost ready to overlook all of the stupid crap the mare had done in the past. Almost. Still gonna keep an eye on her though.

A Shrill whistle went up, and Applebloom's voice rang out across the block. "LUNCH-TAAAHM! SOUPS ON EVERYPONY!" Another general cheer went up and the various workers and guards ponies quickly trotted off towards the lunch line, breaking out into conversation as they went.

Trixie flounced her mane and began to trot down the street herself. "Well, Trixie supposes she should go see what the esteemed chef has prepared today." Applejack stifled laughter at the sight of the unicorn gracefully working her way down the wrecked street. Once she was sufficiently far enough away, Applejack stopped stifling it and just let out a hearty guffaw.

"Really, darling. Don't laugh. She's obviously trying to make amends, and I think we ought to give her the chance." Rarity's smooth tone interjected, a flutter of a silk fan emphasizing her words. In the previous day or so, Rarity had hardly gone anywhere without the thing. Applejack thought it odd, but then - she herself had taken to the sleek leather jacket Rarity had made for her like it was her hat. Rarity snapped the fan in the air, like she was snapping her hoof. "Besides, she's done good work in the Queen's absence."

Applejack glowered at Rarity for a moment. "Do ya gotta call 'er that?" She grumbled softly. "Still don't get how it ended up like this. Ah wish they'da let us stay up there." Applejack was far more sore about the second part than the first. They were her closest friends, consarnit!

Rarity tsked aloud and gently fluttered the fan towards herself in a coy manner. "Darling, it's a military fortress. I'm certainly not worried in the least, the Queen is in the very best of hooves." She smiled slyly. "And yes, dear - I do have to call her that. She's our monarch now, and it behooves us to show proper respect." Rarity smirked and gently bopped Applejack with the fan. "Besides, darling - think of the possibilities for us all. You have a Queens ear now, after all - and she's going to have no small amount of power. Can you not just imagine what she could do for the Apple family?"

Applejack blinked at that one. To be honest, she really hadn't considered what royal connections might do for the family. Seemed like taking advantage of somepony to her, but still she had to admit the prospects were mighty enticing. Could mean a big business boom for the farm. Even bigger'n when Filthy Rich started buyin' up the Zap Apple jam. Not to mention the prestige! We'd be able to slap one'a those 'By Royal Appointment' stamps on the apple bushels! Applejack was no fool, she knew those products which had the much-sought after stamp commanded big bits.

Rarity giggled softly, and Applejack had to wonder if the look on her face was so obvious. "There, darling - you see? Now, we must be off." Rarity swayed her tail to one side, smiling at Applejack. "The rest of the girls are going to be waiting for us." Rarity began to trot down the street, swaying her hips from side to side in a very distracting manner.

Even distracting to Applejack, who felt a little blush creep into her cheeks as she snagged her hat and ran off after her. "Hold up there, Rarity! Whaddya mean they're waitin' fer us?"


Mayor Mare had to admit, it felt odd to wear the collar with its token out and about in public like this. Yet in the two - make that three, now - days since the Nightmare Queen had triumphed over Celestia, the faithful had begun to wear the signs of their allegiance to her openly. Most of the local townsfolk who didn't understand the significance had simply written it off as a fashion trend, honoring the new Mistress of the Moon.

The Mayor had to smirk at that one. I knew she was intelligent, and I had guessed she was canny. Still, I must admit she pulled off a truly magnificent coup. Unseating both of the Tyrants, and replacing them with herself and the Crystal Princess had been a stroke of pure genius. Even Mayor Mare knew Cadence was sympathetic to their cause. How on earth Twilight had realized all of that and then capitalized upon it, the Mayor could not fathom. To think, I presumed to teach her about politics. Ha! She is a veritable Marechiavelli.

The Mayor was overseeing the restoration of Town Hall, which luckily had not begun before the incident had nearly demolished the entire structure. Even standing here now, where the final confrontation had taken place - the Mayor felt a chill of power. The Mayor had already decided a monument would be built here, commemorating the long awaited fall of the Sun Tyrant.

The Town Hall would be expanded as well, of course. Something more fitting to what would surely become one of the great cities of Equestria in the coming years. Already, there was talk of repealing the race-laws - and the Mayor was primed to ensure the newly-minted citizens of Equestria were to be made welcome in her city. And all of the considerable economic and political advancement that shall come with it. she thought quite smugly.

After two decades of languishing in the shadows, she would have her moment of glory. Who needs Canterlot? I shall build my own city, my own legacy - and write it into the very foundation stones. Even now, Ponyville was undergoing a transformation. Thatch roofed cottages and wooden farm houses would be replaced with brick, stone and slate roofs. The Crown was paying for all of the damages to the city, and the Mayor had already convinced many of the locals to use the opportunity to improve. The roads were being paved with flagstones, and the rail station was receiving a significant upgrade.

All in All, the Mayor felt quite satisfied with her work. Her only regret was not knowing the ultimate fate of Celestia or Luna. The Royal Guard had been extremely tightlipped, and none of her agents were on board I presume they must have survived, no bodies. She sniffed softly. Still, having lost their connection to the sun and moon is sufficient. She was certain that the Queen would ensure further punishments. I do hope she allows me to participate. she thought wickedly.

Mayor Mare stopped at the edge of Mane Street, and gazed down it at the many clumps of workers sitting around picnic tables. She smiled slightly, already imagining a bigger and better Equestria built from such a wonderful foundation. It would take a long time for the place to become a truly great city, but the Mayor was still young enough to see the job through. Hmm. We won’t be a mere village for very long I think. The Queen shall have to think of a more suitable name for this place. Marestown, perhaps.

She chuckled brightly at the thought, and trotted down the street - It was never too early to ensure the locals knew who was in charge around here. And perhaps find a few converts for our glorious Queen.


Although The Great And Powerful Trixie would never admit it in front of Twilight Sparkle, she'd gotten a great deal of satisfaction out of playing the hero. The locals had certainly not been shy about showing their appreciation at the soiree a few nights ago. Especially that handsome red coated stallion the size of her old cart.

In fact, despite her nemesis suddenly and inexplicably rising to royal heights Trixie was rather happy with this week’s successes. Her time in Hallow Shades had been invaluable to her, allowing her to come to terms with the limits of her magic. But far more importantly, it had taught her how to make the most out of the talents she did have.

She had never before imagined her skill with pyrotechnics would be such a handy combat spell in a scrape. Nor that the very same illusions she'd spent a lifetime mastering could hold off entire armies, with a little help of course. And now all those years of setting up her stage by herself were turning into a nice pile of bits just from using a little telekinesis. All in all, it had already been a thoroughly profitable week for The Great And Powerful Trixie.

Trixie reminded herself to thank Princess Luna for the opportunities she'd reaped from the Hollow Shades adventure. Word had it she was in town, and Trixie never failed to glad hoof those with bits and status. Perhaps with a few more such opportunities she might finally get her just dues amongst the peasantry. And wouldn't that be a stick in the eye of the high and mighty Twilight Sparkle. Trixie thought smugly.

Luncheon today was simple, but very excellent. Trixie had to admit the local bakers and chefs had a knack for making even something simple like oatmeal and apples, or cheddar biscuits with broccoli truly delightful. Today it was the classic dandelion sandwich, and a pile of potato crisps. The bread was superb, and the greens fresh. Not precisely haute cuisine, yet even Trixie could not complain.

"I thought ya said yeh didn' do hard labor, Miz Trixie." a gravelly voice proclaimed, as a one eyed pony in a blacksmiths apron thunked down into a chair next to her. "S' good ta see even an old warhorse like me can be proven wrong bout somepony." the Ponyville guard Captain Struggle growled out.

Trixie smirked at him, delicately nibbling on a crunchy bit of potato before speaking, "Trixie truly has no idea what you are talking about, Captain," she scoffed softly. "Yet Trixie shall accept your compliment gracefully. So, they have you hammering out nails and the like, eh?" Trixie smirked at him.

The Captain chuckled and grabbed his own grub enthusiastically. "Yeh, well with tha' Royal Guard prancin' about, ain't much work fer me t'do." He grinned around a mouthful of food for a moment, before swallowing in satisfaction. "Rumor has it yeh got tapped by th' Prince. Ya gonna take 'im up onnit?"

Trixie frowned and pushed the crumbs around her plate. "Trixie has been thinking about it." In truth, she'd been very seriously considering it. The Royal Guard did not just make offers to anypony. Forget about the show business, Trixie could end up leading her own team of Battle Mages.

'The Great and Powerful' might become more than a mere appellation, but a genuine title. Known far and wide by all the ponies of the land. Trixie knew the coming days would not be calm and quiet ones. It would be a time when legends were forged in the fire of adversity. Names would be made that would live on for centuries to come.

And wouldn't it be something if Trixie Lulamoon was right on hoof for it all? "Yes, Trixie has been thinking about it quite seriously."


"... Yanno, Cadence is a really lucky mare." Pinkie observed, grinning a little. "I mean, I knew Shiny was talented - but I hadn't guessed he was that talented!" Pinkie giggled, and Rainbow dash found she couldn't help but join in. Fluttershy blushed, and joined in with a soft laugh of her own, even though she was blushing a bright red.

Dash cut in, gesturing with a held slice of egg-and-spinach pie. "So come on, Shy! Fess up! What was Twilight like?" Pinkie Pie nodded enthusiastically, and leaned in with a leer. Dash grinned again, leaning in herself. "C'mon Shy! You promised!"

The three mares sat at one of the outdoor tables still surrounding Sugarcube corner - Though the shop itself had sustained a fair amount of damage from the out of control spell, it had been untouched by the Changeling attack. As such, it was still intact enough to continue serving its legions of loyal customers.

Fluttershy blushed a bright red, and tapped her hooves together. Really, she had promised to tell them. "... Well, um..." The two pushy mares leaned in, watching with lazy and sly looks. Fluttershy squeaked and blushed again. Mistress would tell you to keep your promises, Fluttershy. So Fluttershy gulped softly. "She's very commanding. And um... Forceful."

Rainbow dash rolled her eyes a little. "Sheesh, Shy - even I could figure that much out. Gimme details!" Dash tapped the table impatiently. "Rarity isn't going to be gone forever!"

Sure enough, at just that moment Rarity rounded Sugarcube Corner with Applejack in tow. Dash sighed miserably and Pinkie Pie just patted her friend on the back in consolation. "There there, Dashie - You'll get your chance."

Rarity smirked as she approached the table, wafting her fan at herself slowly. "Rainbow Dash still trying to get us to talk about that lovely evening?" Dash glared at her and she giggled. "I told you before, darling - If you want to find out, you could just go ask her. Queen or not, there is a hunger in that girl." Rarity shivered softly. "A delicious hunger. But I digress." She tapped the table. "Everypony sit, we have much to discuss."

Applejack half glared at Rarity, before hopping up on a stool next to Rainbow Dash. Rarity daintily hopped up onto a separate bench and tapped her fan gently against the table. "Now, as to why we are here. I have been quite recently informed that Twilight has awakened, and been crowned as the new Queen of the Moon." The other four mares' eyes went wide, some with excitement, others with concern. Rarity smirked, flaring out the fan to hide her smile. "Commander Spitfire has graciously informed me that things ought to be calmed enough for her to come see us soon."

Dash glared at Rarity. "Did she explain why the buck we were excluded in the first place?" Dash was still angry at Spitfire. Not as angry as she'd been two days ago, but she was still pissed. "Because I'd like to bucking know that myself."

Rarity tsked. "Celestia and Luna wished to ensure she was safe and undamaged. A silly concern, but we have all had a great deal to do here as well." She snapped the fan at Dash. "I understand none of us are very happy with that excuse, but it is what it is. She has not forgotten us, nor any of the events that transpired. Her mind is whole, Luna has assured me through her letters."

Exhalations of relief were universal, and smiles wreathed the other faces all around the table. Rarity nodded in satisfaction. "As to why we are here, I think we must now accept that the situation has changed amongst us." The smiles slowly faded, but not completely. Each of the five friends were nodding, or eyeing each other in some way. Rarity continued to speak, glad that she had maintained control so far. "Our Queen will need us, and our talents more than ever before. She will need us to not merely be her closest friends, but those she can trust implicitly with any task."

Applejack crossed her hooves over her chest and nodded slowly. "Hmm. I can't say I disagree. She'll be needin trustworthy ponies to keep an eye on her back." Applejack cocked an eyebrow at Rarity. "And an eye on the backs of those who might wanna hurt her."

Rainbow Dash smirked. "She'll need an eye in the skies she can trust, too." she smiled softly, her hoof hooking around Fluttershy's shoulder. "And somepony who can keep watch on the forest, since that's where all the dark folks are gonna come from."

Pinkie Pie smiled lazily. "And of course, somepony to make sure the rest of us don't go completely Oatmeal." Everypony stared at her, and Pinkie Pie laughed. "Sorry, I had to say something silly! It was getting too serious around here." She smirked and gave all of them meaningful looks. "So what does that make us? Some kind of special friends club or something?"

Rarity smirked. "Well I had thought perhaps a slightly more intimidating sounding name." She wafted her fan over her face, as if in thought. "I have been speaking with the Mayor, apparently Dissonance sorceresses are known to gather something called a 'Coven' around them. Apparently such groups serve as the sorceress' personal advisors and agents. I propose we form a similar such group."

Applejack frowned a little. "Coven sounds a mite dark, don't you think Rarity?" Fluttershy had squeaked at the word, and was now partially hiding behind Rainbow Dash. "Ah mean we are still the good folks, right?" Applejack asked somewhat pensively.

Rarity smirked again, leaning back a little in her seat. "In case you hadn't noticed darling, we are working for the dark side now. We shall need a name that will let the other predators know we are not to be trifled with." Her silk fan fluttered a moment, before she stilled it in front of her face to hide her wicked smile. "Besides, the Coven of the Nightmare has a nice ring to it, don't you girls think?"

Looks were exchanged amongst the five friends. A long silence ensued, until Rainbow Dash spoke up. "I'd say that sounds pretty awesome." Dash's grin was wicked. "Sure to strike fear into the hearts of the wicked!"

Applejack looked dubious and sighed. "I s'pose I can go along with it. Ah ain't gonna like it, but I see where yer comin from, Rarity." She smiled a little from under the hat. "Count me in. Someone's gotta keep y'all honest."

Fluttershy shivered a little, but nodded slowly in agreement. Pinkie pie predictably, had her mouth shaped like a little 'o' - "Oooooooh.." She breathed out. "Does this mean we'll get to dress up in scary costumes all the time, and not just on Nightmare Night?" Pinkie sounded incredibly excited about this prospect.

Rarity blinked, and then had to smile a little. "Well I suppose dressing appropriately would be part of the image, darling. No chicken costumes though, I must insist." She smirked at Pinkies look of disappointment, which suddenly vanished into a wicked grin of her own.

Pinkie nodded enthusiastically, and Rarity smiled slowly before speaking. "Very good. This shall also make it easier to induct new ponies who earn our trust into our little circle of friends." She smiled slyly. "And ensure that nopony outside of the Coven learns of our Queen's plans or secrets."

"We'll need to talk to Shining Armor right away then." Applejack grunted, looking around at her friends. "He's a part of this whole bucked up thang too."

Rarity tapped her fan against her lips. "Hmm, true. Though I'd rather leave Queen Cadence out of things for now. She's going to be busy enough with her own new duties as it is." Rarity suddenly smiled, eyelashes fluttering coquettishly. "Which will have all sorts of its own benefits, come to think of it."

Fluttershy tentatively raised her hoof into the air. "Um, is it alright if i tell Angel Bunny?" she asked softly "He's been very worried about me lately. I wouldn't want him to think I didn't trust him." she tapped her hooves together a little nervously. "I mean if that's okay with you girls."

Rarity gave a soft smile, gently squeezing Fluttershy's hoof. "I think that's just fine dear. Angel Bunny has been a real hero to us both." That got a snicker out of Dash and a smirk from Applejack, but Rarity pretended not to notice. "Now are there any more matters we need to immediately discuss?" Rarity inquired.

Silence met the question and Rarity smiled at them. "Well then I propose we adjourn for the moment. Shall we meet tonight for dinner to discuss our duties in more detail?" nods from all around, and smiles too. There was a powerful unity amongst them already, and Rarity knew it would only get stronger.

Rainbow dash interjected before Rarity could speak again though. "Hey! We're gonna need some kind of cool phrase to close out our meetings!" Dash declared, as though it was obvious. "I mean, that’s how it always works in the Daring Do books!"

Pinkie pie was still nodding with enthusiasm, her eyes bright. "Yeah! Something cool and scary sounding like.." Pinkies voice suddenly deepened, and her eyes seemed to go a little darker. "May the Nightmare be eternal!"

Rainbow dash rolled her eyes. "That's seriously lame, Pinkie." Dash tapped her chin, and then grinned. "I got it!" She held out her hooves. "C’mon, everybody grab hooves and repeat after me!"

The other girls joined hooves with one another, forming a circle around the table. Dash's face went suddenly solemn, and she bowed her head. As one, the other friends did the same. Dash's voice was soft, almost gentle. "In the name of our Queen, and the bright moon above."

Each of the other friends repeated after her - and Dash felt suddenly moved to speak again, the whispers of power flowing through her...

"In Victory." Spoke dash, with a quiet ring of triumph.

"In Truth." Said Applejack, stern and determined.

"In Power." proclaimed Rarity, command echoing in her voice.

"In Passion." intoned Pinkie Pie, with a wicked smile on her face.

"in Obedience." Whispered Fluttershy, as soft as a spring breeze.

"So do we serve." They spoke as one.

Chapter 30 - The Student

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~~~~~~Aboard the H.M.S. Commander Hurricane, Later that evening~~~~~~

Luna frowned a little. "Thou are certain of this? I did not wish to pressure you, Mistress... " In truth, Luna was very much wishing Twilight would want to avoid this meeting. It had already been awkward to explain Celestia's 'punishment' to Twilight. It had been even more awkward trying to explain to her why she'd done it when Twilight was asleep. "Truly. it may be best for you to exchange a few letters first." Luna was frankly nervous. There were a lot of things she still needed to smooth out between her sister and her Mistress, their... complex relationship dynamic just to start.

Twilight was not having it though. She had that firm, stern look in her eye that told Luna there wasn't going to be a chance of holding back this second showdown. I fear she's already got something nasty planned for the whole trial thing. Luna thought with a little shiver. She'd so rarely been around another pony of any species or gender that made her get... shivery like that. Even when contemplating her punishment, Twilight's very presence made Luna wonder how much of it would actually feel like a punishment.

Twilight shook her head once and stabbed her hoof gently into Luna's chest. "I understand your reticence, Acolyte. But my mind is made up. I'm... mentally prepared for her looking so different, and I understand that she's likely to act like Fluttershy right now. I get that." Twilight looked at the solid iron door to the brig, and sighed softly. "But I cannot let her go without speaking to her directly."

Luna swallowed, but nodded slowly. There was no stopping her now. So Luna just bowed her head and moved to the side of the door to wait, crossing her hooves daintily. Twilight frowned at her, but said nothing. I'm going to get it for my attitude later. Luna thought glumly.

Twilight shook her head firmly once more, and pulled the heavy door open with a touch of magic. Amazing how much stronger that spell's gotten. she thought idly. I'm going to need to be careful with everything until I know exactly how much stronger I actually am. Her hooves carried her into the room, which now looked absolutely nothing like a prison.

In fact, the place looked kind of homey. A large fire bowl held a crackling and cheerful little blaze near the center of the room, over which a kettle had been hung. Simple rugs were scattered about the bare stone floor, and the Cells had been transformed into a miniature house. The farthest looked to be the bedroom, but there was also a dedicated wash-room and a miniature library, complete with a stack of freshly completed notes.

The whole room smelled of ink and parchment and freshly brewed black tea. It was enough to remind Twilight strongly of the Library she'd spent the last four years calling home. Twilight found her steps balked, and she closed her eyes for a moment to fight back the tears, Steady, Twilight. she reminded herself, sucking in a deep breath and scanning the room.

Sure enough, Celestia - or perhaps, Twilight ought to call her Tia now - was nose deep in a very familiar book. It was one Twilight herself had spent weeks reading, long ago when she'd first gone to ponyville. Twilight had to smile just a little, watching the young unicorn drag her eyes across each page slowly and methodically. She looks so much like me... Her thoughts whispered kindly.

Twilight gently cleared her throat, and unlike Twilight, Tia automatically looked up to spot her. There was a soft gasp and a little clatter as she hopped off her chair and trotted over to Twilight. Twilight had to admit, this was an incredibly odd feeling. As though their roles had been completely reversed. They have, in a sense. You're the princess now, and she's the faithful student.

Twilight had always wondered what this might be like, this very situation - facing a young, talented but troubled unicorn that needed guidance, kindness and love. She had always wondered if one day, she would ever be able to live up to the example her teacher had set. Now you get to find out, Twi. She smiled gently, and opened up her hooves.

Tia paused in hesitation, and then gave in - rushing into those hooves and wrapping her own much shorter ones now around Twilight tightly. For a long silent time, the two just embraced one another. Twilight's wings extended and wrapped quietly around her once mentor, as she had so often done for Twilight. Tia, after all that's happened... I'm going to be strong for you, now. It was a sobering thought, realizing that there was no one left to save her when things got out of hoof. Cadence, maybe - but that would have to be one dire situation.

Tia wasn't crying, but she was very clingy. Twilight couldn't blame her, especially after the last few days of revelations. After ten minutes of that hug, Tia finally wiggled a bit and Twilight let her go. They sat across from one another, much as they had always done. Twilight felt a surge of whimsy, and her magic plucked the kettle up from the fire - she glanced around and quickly spotted the teapot, which she filled up with the boiling water. Within moments, the room was filled with the sharp smell of Tia's favorite black tea.

Twilight set down the teapot, and began to assemble cups and other necessities next to them. The little ritual had a calming effect on the both of them, she noticed. Once all was in place, she smiled at Tia. "How long has it been since we've done this?"

Tia actually chuckled, though her voice was much higher pitched than before. "Ages, it seems like." Tia smiled and lifted the teapot with her own bright gold magic, pouring it into the cups and stirring in a squeeze of lemon. "We used to do this every Friday, until you moved to Ponyville."

Twilight had to laugh softly. "Taking tea with the princess. It always made the other fillies jealous, even though I never really noticed." The both of them shared a soft laugh, and tinked the delicate cups against one another. "So. Tia now, is it?" Twilight hid a mischievous smile behind her cup. "I thought you hated that nickname."

Tia rolled her eyes a little, a wry smile on her lips. "Yes. I think that is quite the point my sister wanted to make." She sipped her own cup, eyes closing in pleasure. "I suppose I have been behaving much like a child these past few centuries. Greedy and self-serving, convinced I was always in the right." She sighed gustily. "I have had some hours to think on her... sentence and I must admit, it's an elegant solution. The rest of the details of what happened will be classified by EIS. With any luck, all of this will be glossed over by the change in rulership."

Twilight smiled slightly. "I think we're going to make bigger waves than just switching over from Princesses to Queens, Tia. That's another conversation though." Now Twilight pulled out the slim, white covered tome and set it down between them. "Before we start, I want you to know I haven't read a single page of this yet. What I want to know is why you wrote it."

Tia smiled sadly at the offending white tome lying on the floor. "It is best to think of it as my final... confession, I think is the word. After all I had done in my life, so much of it nopony even knows about, I thought that perhaps the time had come to finally bare my soul. To the one pony I knew might understand." Her smile at Twilight was not sad, but fiercely proud.

Twilight felt a rush of pleasure at that, and couldn't restrain her own proud smile. Yet, something still nagged at her. "That's not all there is though." She nodded at the book. "Unless history is even less forthcoming than I'd originally thought." That was a queasy thought, but Tia dispelled it with a headshake.

Tia chuckled, speaking gently. "No, that is certainly not all. There is a great deal in there about how to rule, and many of the duties I carried out. Suggestions and advice from all of the centuries I have ruled. And a few other little secrets." Tia smiled slowly. "Ones I think you ought to read for yourself. I'd rather not spoil the good parts for you."

Twilight smiled slightly. "I suppose I could understand that." She nodded slowly. "So. Cadence." She let that one hang in the air and Tia gave a devilish laugh. "Um. You said you hadn't had any children after... Starbright." She winced at the name, wishing she could now forget that she was even remotely related to Queen Chrysalis of all beings.

Tia just looked amused. "I told you I had not filled the position of the heir since her." She waggled a hoof with a smile. "Really, Twilight - you must learn to be more cunning. You're going to need it in the days ahead." Tia giggled, then calmed down. "Truly though, perhaps this is for the best. Two sisters ruled this land, and now two new sisters have taken their places. It has a wonderful sense of Balance to it - and that is something this world sorely needs. I see that now, with the veil of purpose lifted from my eyes."

Twilight blinked a little at that, and wrote it off as Tia being cryptic. Sheesh, even as a little unicorn she can't stop being mysterious. Twilight rolled her eyes and then tapped her forehoof. "So. Let's stop dancing around the subject, shall we?" A slow smile came to Twilight's face. "You are to be my... ah, faithful student." Twilight could not help but keep the amusement out of her tone.

Tia smiled back in the same amused way. "Oh yes, I believe so. I am to write you reports on the magic of friendship." Tia giggled a little, eyes shining. "It has been a very, very long time since I have done anything of the sort. I admit, I am a little nervous." She frowned suddenly, as mercurial as Pinkie Pie. "And I worry about how I will deal with..." She gestured a limp hoof. "Well, living normally. It will likely be an incredible shock for me."

Twilight smiled a little. "Not as much of one as you think. Still, I'd suggest you hire an assistant that knows how to do housekeeping." Tia blinked at her, and a slow look of realization crossed the white unicorn's face. Twilight giggled before continuing to speak. "I've discussed things briefly with Luna. We'll be placing you on the exact same duties, stipend and legal status as I was. I'll be speaking with the Mayor about the arrangement, but nopony else in town will know anything specific about you."

Tia nodded slowly, even more nervousness coming to her face. Twilight hid her own grin, A little payback for sending me into this mad house all those years ago, teacher. "Finally, we are agreed that Luna will be the final judge on if you're ready to come back." Twilight arched an eyebrow. "Any questions?"

Tia shook her head. Then... she nodded it slowly. "Yes." She spoke softly. "Twilight... what of us?" Her words were a very gentle plea and question rolled into one.

Twilight sighed gently. "I honestly don't know." She wanted to glare, but it only came halfhearted. "You fed me a lie my entire life, mother. Not just a small lie either, but nearly every facet of my life was all in service to that lie." Twilight stomped on her anger before speaking. "I love you, with all of my heart. But I can't just forget what you did to me. How you used me, played me with like a pawn. You may have had the very best of intentions, but that does not excuse it!"

Tia swallowed visibly, trembling a little. Twilight bit down on her lip, almost enough to draw a little blood before speaking again. "Tia. Right now, Luna is being wiser than us both. We need time apart, we need to let time pass, to let us both settle into our new lives." Twilight looked away. "I shouldn't make promises, mother... but I'm going to do it anyway. I promise I will do everything I can to move past this. But I need to know, in more than just honeyed words - that you are truly, and completely sorry for what you've done."

Tia herself fought back the tears. She hated the words her daughter was saying, but she knew she was right. She just didn't have to like it. "Then how can I prove that to you, little one?" Tia asked in a tremulous, sad voice. "Tell me, and I shall see it done. I will give it everything I possibly have within me." Her voice began to grow defiant, determined.

Twilight smiled at that, even if just a little. "You'll prove it to me in Ponyville, Tia. As for the how, that you'll have to figure out on your own." Twilight stood up, finishing her tea. "The Fortress will be leaving tomorrow to return to Cloudsdale for repairs. Cadence, Luna and I will be leaving with it. We'll be sending you down to Ponyville then, to start your own journey."

Tia stood up herself, looking calm and determined. Without prompting, she gave a courtly bow, then ran over pell-mell and grabbed Twilight in another hug. "I won't fail you, my Teacher." She whispered, burying her face in Twilight's chest.

Twilight softly stroked her back. "I know you won't, my most faithful student."


Spitfire looked up at the knock on her office door. "Come in!" She called, grumbling as she scrubbed the blood off of her desk. Damn recruits with their damn pranks. The door swung open, revealing a familiar white stallion. "Afternoon, Prince." Spitfire drawled as she tossed the bloody rag into the trash. "What can I do for you?"

Shining grinned and trotted into the room. "Got someone you need to meet. She'll be the first recruit for that new task force you were talking about." Shining beamed proudly, and Spitfire arched an eyebrow at him. Shining armor then blinked. "What? What's with that look? I thought you'd be happy!"

Spitfire snorted. "Shining Armor, you're a hell of an officer. One of the best I've ever had the privilege to serve with. But I swear to the moon, the recruits you bring in are almost always trouble." Shiny blinked and looked a bit sheepish. Spitfire sighed. "But I did tell you to keep an eye out. What the buck. Bring 'em in." She waved her hoof at him, then moved around behind her desk.

Shining armor nodded and trotted back to the door. "Come on! She's waiting." Shining waited smiling on the inside of the door. Spitfire felt a momentary burst of dread, wondering who in the heck Shiny might have found in ponyville. Waitaminit. The report. Surely he isn't serious about...

"Rejoice, fair Commander! I, The Great And Powerful Trixie! Am here to assure you glorious victory in all conflicts to come!" It was. Trixie swept into the room in her trademark cape and hat, her eyes sparkling with joy. "Truly, you are blessed that the Great and Powerful Trixie has deigned to join your merry band."

Spitfire stared. Then she facehoofed. "Shiny. She's... The threat list... you have thirty seconds to explain yourself, mister. " She jabbed a hoof at Shining Armor, who looked innocent as hell as Trixie flounced past him and took a dainty seat on one of the office chairs.

Shiny held up a hoof. "Look, she knows she's screwed up in the past. We talked about it. But I'm no fool, Spitfire. She saved a lot of townsfolk during the changeling attack." He pulled a thick file out from under his arm and tossed it on the desk. "And that's not all. You remember the Hollow Shades problem? She's the one Luna sent in to fix it. She's got the skills, Spitfire. What's more, she's practically ready made for this job. She wants the limelight, she's a damn fine actress, and she's got a career that's a perfect cover."

Spitfire glowered at him, but flipped open the file - slowly leafing through it. As she did so, her face went from angry to intrigued. "Huh. Not bad." She commented on one particular part. Several pages further, she snorted in laughter, looking up. "Did you seriously do that to Commander Night Scythe?"

Trixie smiled beatifically, then affected an innocent look. "Trixie officially admits to nothing. Unofficially, Nighty had it coming to him. No one messes with the Great and Powerful Trixie's hat." She gently tugged the brim down a bit further onto her head.

Spitfire laughed softly, flipping the file closed. "For that alone, I'd give you a shot." She folded her hooves over her chest and gave the powder blue unicorn a stare. "Alright. Here's the deal. We've got a previously unknown threat in Equestria. Something with enough resources to put a top-level infiltrator onto one of our most secure military vessels, and get away with it. There's one teensy problem though."

Spitfire leaned forward, her hooves pressed together. "Because of how bolloxed up everything got here in the last few days, we can’t admit that threat even exists." She flicked her hoof, Trixie nodding slowly. "So we're going to put together a special team. A mix of current and former military service ponies, and civilians with high levels of talent to track down this threat, and neutralize it if at all possible. "

She stabbed a hoof towards Trixie. "This is not an official government job. You're going to be funded through a lot of dark channels, and we will deny any involvement with you if things go sour." Trixie was frowning a little now, but Spitfire had a grin on her face. "I know, not exactly what you expected. But, here's the good part. If you succeed - and of course, if you survive - you'll get to write your own future. EIS takes care of its own, Miss Lulamoon. We can make sure you get the recognition you want, and all of the benefits to go with it."

That sparked a gleam in Trixie's eye. "Hmph. Now that sounds much more up Trixie's alley."


"And now..." trilled Rarity, gently clattering her spoon into the bowl. "Onto our next order of business."

The five friends sat satisfied and happy around the dinner table. Rarity had been leading the meeting for several hours now, and everypony agreed she seemed to have the best handle on things. Dash might've argued, but it looked like trying to keep control of this kind of thing was a real drag, so she simply let Rarity hog all the attention - and all of the frustration.

Rarity smiled slightly. "We need to make some decisions about how we are going to deal with the various family issues." She arched an eyebrow at the crowd of ponies, all of whom shifted a bit uncomfortably. "We are agreed that we cannot remain here in Ponyville. Twilight has too much need of us. Yet all of us have local ties which will be difficult to break."

Applejack nodded, unhappily. "I can call in some other members of the Apple Family to handle the work load, but somepony's gotta take care a' Applebloom." She frowned. "And Granny's gotten a little too creaky to keep up with her."

Dash nodded a little. "Well, my stuff is pretty easy. I just put in for a transfer to the Canterlot weather team, and Twilight stamps it. I'm only worried about Scoots, to be honest." That got her to stare at the ground. "I mean, I don't even know her parents. I couldn't ask em to send her with us just so I can keep up on flying lessons."

Pinkie smiled a little. "The Cakes are okay with it. They're gonna hate finding a new foalsitter, but I think they'll forgive me when I open up a Sugarcube Corner in Canterlot!" She giggled softly, and everyone at the table gave a little smile.

Fluttershy shook her head a little. "I'll be fine." She whispered, and got a severe look from Dash for it. Fluttershy smiled and shook her head again, more firmly. "No, really. I already know who can take over my work for me, and Angel Bunny is coming with me."

That got a nervous little cough, to which Rarity quickly interjected. "And I've got little Sweetie Belle to worry about." She dismissed everything else with a wave of her hoof. The Boutique moving to Canterlot would probably be a massive boom for her business, but she wasn't worried about that right now. "And I am very wary of trying to separate her from her friends."

Nods went around the table, and Fluttershy of all ponies lifted a hoof. "Um, if I might make a suggestion?" Everypony blinked at her, and she blushed brightly. "Well, we know lots of ponies around here. I bet we could find somepony to look after the foals until they could move in with us."

Rarity blinked, and tapped at her chin. "Mhm. The idea does have some merit, but who would be willing to look after a pair of hyperactive foals, and take over flying lessons?"

Pinkie blinked and then her hair frizzed out. "Ooooh! I Know!" She clapped her hooves together excitedly. "Scratchy and Octi!" she bounced up and down, obviously quite excited.

Applejack stared for a moment, then shook her head. "Wait, Ya mean those two weird sisters?" She frowned a little, as if in thought. "A...huh. Yanno that might not be such a bad idea. Octavia's got a good reputation fer being no-nonsense."

Rarity smiled brilliantly. "And I know little Sweetie belle would just flourish in such a music rich environment. And dear Applejack, they are not weird they are simply unique." She sniffed softly. "Pinkie, I'm guessing they owe you a favor or two?"

Pinkie grinned a little. "Yup yup. Scratchy and I go way back, too. I bet they wouldn't mind helping out if I asked em real nicely." She beamed at the table. "So, problem solved rightyo?"

Dash rolled her eyes. "Whatever. I suppose I could go hunt for somepony to take over for scoots for a while." She crossed her forelegs, frowning. "Girls...are we sure we can do this? I mean, Ponyville's my home. More than Cloudsdale ever was. I don't like the idea of just... leaving her behind."

Rarity shook her head slowly. "I agree with you darling, but until the Queen is ready to strike out on her own from Canterlot, that place is still the center of Equestrian power. That's where she'll need to be if she has any desire to change the status quo."

Dash sighed and nodded, and so did the rest of the ponies at the table. Rarity nodded decisively. "Very good. Next item on the agenda is our property. I've been speaking with a financial expert, and I think we ought to hold on to it together..."


"Cadence, does it ever get any easier?" Asked Twilight, watching the sun heading slowly towards the horizon.

"Does what get easier, Twily?" Cadence replied quietly, wrapping a wing around her little sister.

"Being in charge of things. Realizing that everypony is now relying on you, and not the other way around." Twilight whispered, her head leaning against her big sisters mane. "Being alone."

Cadence chuckled richly. "Twilight Sparkle, I promise you. You will never be alone. You'll always have me to lean on when times get rough."

Twilight had to smile. "Cross your heart and hope to fly?" she asked gently, a teasing note in her voice.

Cadence made the little motion. "And stick a cupcake in my eye." She winked, cheerfully.

Chapter 31 - The Beginning

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"Life is but a thousand beginnings, all leading towards the same end." - The Book of Harmony, Chapter VI, Verse 12.

~~~~~~Aboard the H.M.S Commander Hurricane, The Next Day.~~~~~~

Rainbow dash punched the too-fluffy pillow down to a reasonable size, and tossed it onto the bed. A few moments later, her sack of belongings hit the same bed with an audible thump. There. She nodded in satisfaction and grinned to herself. Just like home. Well, minus the Wonderbolt posters and her rainbow waterfall, but she fully intended to get the crown to pay to move those things for her.

It'd been a while since she'd made the trip to Cloudsdale. She'd have to stop in and see her pops, and maybe go lord it over the bullies from her old flight school. She smirked a little at the thought of them, doing a sexy little strut across the room. Uh huh. Who's the boss now, crash brothers? Dash did a little dance in the middle of the guest room, giggling enthusiastically. Sure, she was gonna miss Ponyville but... Well there were other benefits. Soon as we get settled in, I get first crack at Twi! That had been the agreement with the other girls, and Dash was so looking forward to it.

A moment after that blush inducing thought, her door got a heavy double knock on it. Dash blinked. "Yeah? Who is it?" She yelled out, plopping her sexy flank on the bed and rooting out some of her favorite things from the bag. Where's my brushie. There's my brushie!

The door swung open a moment later, and Dash stared in surprise at the sight of Spitfire leaning in the doorframe. She was wearing her First Air Wing uniform jacket and flight glasses, just as she had at Wonderbolts Academy. "Hey kid." Spitfire said, a little softly. "Got a minute?"

Dash bit her lip, reminding herself that this was still a military vessel. She's in charge, Dash - She can go pretty much wherever the heck she wants. Fighting down her anger and disappointment, she shrugged in her best careless manner. "Whatever. What do you want, Spitfire?"

Spitfire frowned and sighed, pulling off her flight glasses. "I owe you an apology kid. Actually, I owe you a lot more than that." The flame haired pegasus pushed off the doorframe and slowly walked in, carrying a thick package of some kind under her wing.

Rainbow Dash blinked at that, completely not expecting that response. Spitfire sat down unceremoniously next to the bed. Dash was not an expert on feelings, not by a long shot - but even she could tell Spitfire was pretty bucking down on herself right now. Her voice supported that evidence too, as Spitfire kept speaking. "You were right, Kid. I shouldn'ta pulled that card on you the other night. It was wrong. More'n that, it was conduct unbecoming an officer in the First Air Wing."

Dash's jaw dropped. She was also not an expert on military justice, but she knew damn well that 'Conduct Unbecoming' was basically a death sentence for an officer's career. Spitfire's gaze was firm, stern as she pulled a thick packet of paper, from under her wing. "So here's the paperwork." She tossed it onto Dash's lap. "All you gotta do is sign it. You got every right."

Dash stared down at it, the paper packet labeled 'AAR - Dissonance Incident'. Dash struggled to find her voice, and blinked away... tears? "Ma'am, I can’t sign this." She said softly. "Look..." She set the paper packet to one side and gave Spitfire a level look. "We both agree what you did was seriously lame. But it wasn't that lame." She shook her head, slightly. "All I want is you to apologize. That's it, Ma'am."

Spitfire tilted her head, and smiled a little. "I knew there was something special in you kid. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have been, as you put it, seriously lame." She extended a hoof, and after a moment, Dash took it and shook firmly. "Oh by the way..." Spitfire said slyly. "This is for you." She tossed the other part of the package into Dash's lap.

Dash blinked down at the thick bundle of dark blue cloth, pinned together with a shining gold lightning bolt. Dash shook her head in confused. "What's this ma'am?"

Spitfire was already halfway out the door, then she turned back with a slight smile. "Consider it an open offer. If you ever want to take us up on it, we'll have a spot for you."

Spitfire ducked out of the room a moment later, closing the door behind her. Dash blinked and undid the nifty pin on the package, unfolding the thick blue cloth. Jeeze, is this velvet? She couldn't tell herself, but she bet Rarity would know. After a few moments of wrangling with the cloth, the whole thing kinda fell apart in her hooves. Dash's jaw slowly fell as the assortment of items inside spilled all over her bedspread.

A custom fitted blue flight suit, adorned with shining yellow lightning bolts. A pressed officers jacket, with a stitched nametag "Captain Rainbow Dash." A pair of yellow lensed flight goggles, also custom made specifically for her face. Finally, there was a single tightly rolled scroll, sealed with a lightning bolt.

Dash carefully broke the seal on the scroll, her shaking hooves unrolling the thing on her bed spread. Her eyes darted across the words bit by bit, her lips whispering out the words as she went.

"By Royal Order of Queen Mi Amore Cadenza, with recommendations by Admiral Fire Drake, Commander Spitfire, and Guard Commander Valiant Struggle.

Regarding: The actions of Recruit Rainbow Dash, during the changeling attack on Ponyville and during the Dissonance Incident.

Recruit Rainbow Dash, the Equestrian High Command wishes to inform you that it has received several reports of remarkable courage, heroism and valor during the incidents referred to as "Ponyville's Stand" and "The Dissonance Incident".

These reports detail your actions as is follows - The engagement of superior changeling forces at the risk of your own life in order to protect Equestrian civilians. The defense of a pegasus flight school with the assistance of only one other adult pegasi. The weaponization of a Sonic Rainboom, and the final defeat of Changeling forces over Ponyville alone and unaided. And perhaps most telling of your character, your steadfast resolve to do the right thing in the face of conflicting orders and extreme danger to your own life.

It is therefore the opinion of Equestrian Command that we can no longer ignore your exceptional bravery and remarkable skills in the air. It is further our opinion that your incredible skill can no longer go officially unrecognized, lest we squander away the abilities of the most talented flyer of this generation.

Therefore, by order of Queen Mi Amore Cadenza, and with the full approval of the Admiralty, we hereby offer you an immediate commission in the First Air Wing as a Captain. Furthermore, with the full recommendations of Commander Spitfire, we offer you a permanent posting within the Strategic Air Command's Special Operations Team, Also known as "The Wonderbolts."

Your actions have been in keeping with the highest traditions of the Equestrian Military, Captain Rainbow Dash. We look forward to your participation in what will undoubtedly be a long and storied career with First Air Wing.


"Ah can't tellya how thankful I am, Miss Octavia." Applejack scratched the back of her neck in embarrassment. "Ya'll sure that ah can't offer ya anythin' more'n some of our produce?" Octavia was smiling at her, as was her sister - Vinyl Scratch. Applejack wasn't sure what it was about these two, but they had always seems awful close for sisters.

Octavia smiled softly. "Of course not, Applejack. You've done so much for this town." She gestured delicately with her hoof. "The least we can do is watch after your little sister while you tend to business in Canterlot." Vinyl was nodding enthusiastically, grinning. Octavia rolled her eyes a little and gently smacked Vinyl. "Not to mention young Sweetie Belle."

Applejack had to smile a little. "Well shucks. So long as you two don't mind." To be honest, Applejack was relieved they had accepted. The only other ponies they had been able to come up with had been the Cakes, and they had their hooves full with their own young ones.

Vinyl let out a 'pfft' sound and shrugged with a smile. "Dont'cha worry, AJ. We'll hold down the fort while you get things settled in the big city." She hooked a hoof over her shoulder. "Side's, it's not like they're gonna be over here all the time. We can handle some foalsittin, yanno."

Octavia nodded in agreement, and Applejack nodded. "Alright then. Thanks ya both again!" She waved as she headed down the street, getting a pair of waves from the sisters. Applejack trotted quickly down Mane street, exchanging waves and 'See you laters' with many members of the town.

It wasn't gonna be easy for her, she knew it. But Twilight needed her, and Twilight was already practically family. The fact that Granny Smith had told her off for even thinking of not going had helped too. Heh. Ah can still hear her yellin at me. Granny Smith had made it clear that she had a responsibility - not just as a friend, but as an Apple .

So Applejack shouldered her bags and turned towards the awaiting chariot. Fluttershy was already there, with Angel Bunny tucked into her saddle bags. This ain't goodbye, Ponyville. she thought quietly as she hopped up onto the platform, tucking her hat a little firmer onto her head. I'll be back. And if I got a single word to say about it, ah'll be bringing everypony back with me. She nodded firmly to herself, and wrapped a protective hoof around Fluttershy.

The chariot slowly lifted into the air, carried by Royal Guardsponies. Applejack watched as her beloved town slowly faded into the distance. On a whim she gently doffed her hat and waved to it, ignoring the wet feel of tears on her cheeks.

"Seeya round, everypony..." she whispered.


The Mayor sat quietly in her office, trembling under the dark and firm gaze of the Nightmare Queen. Her hooves were carefully pressed into her desk as she listened to the soft, insistent commands of her Monarch. Twilight's voice quietly rang through her ears, laced with impossible power. "Let me make myself perfectly clear, Mayor. She is not to be exposed. You are to ensure that personally."

The mayor licked her lips, tasting the sweat from her brow. She nodded jerkily, and could feel the incredible Dissonance even from halfway across the room. She knew that with but a thought, her Queen could turn her into an utterly mindless thrall. Twilight's words kept coming, as unyielding as the mountain. "I will be receiving regular reports from her, Mayor. Should I even so much as detect a hint of interference with her assignment, I shall hold you personally responsible."

Twilight slowly closed in on the Mayor. Mayor Mare wished she could prostrate herself on the floor right now, but her Queen had forbidden such antics. Twilight's face filled Mayor Mare’s vision, and had a slight smile on it. "Have I made myself clear, Mayor?" She asked in a soft, entirely reasonable voice.

The Mayor nodded much more smoothly, enthusiastically. "Yes Mistress." She whispered out, tapping her hooves together nervously. "Not one bit of interference. No exposing her. No taking action against her. I understand completely, Mistress." the Mayor began to feel faint just from the proximity to that impossible amount of Dissonance just in her general vicinity.

Suddenly, Twilight pulled back and the sheet pressure of dissonance slowly drained out of the room. "Excellent. I am so glad you have decided to be reasonable." Twilight turned on her hoof. "I shall be leaving for Canterlot today. I will expect regular reports on the movements of the Faithful from you. You will send them to me directly. Good day, Miss Mayor."

The door shut behind Twilight, and Mayor Mare sank into her seat, mopping the sweat from her brow. By the Moon, she is strong. She could crush us all, now. The Mayor knew that meant she'd better bucking toe the line, even if this assignment was just this side of Insane.

Or certainly, she was looking forward to lording it over a now nearly powerless Celestia, trapped in the body of a young unicorn. Still. She wished Mistress had seen fit to reward her at least a little bit. Still, perhaps in time the former Tyrant would prove herself incapable of learning any lessons at all. Yes. I can but hope she'll simply fail totally. Surely then, Mistress will give me a little more leeway with her...


Rarity finally shoved shut the last of her suitcases, and waved at the guard to haul off the last load towards the chariot landing zone. She paused and turned slowly around in the empty room that had been her studio for so very long. It was more than just a little sad, to see the old girl so empty like this.

She swallowed a lump in her throat, running her hoof along bare wooden shelves and tables too large to take with her. She gently stroked along the bannister of her stairs, and caressed the knob of her front door. With a touch of magic, she locked it behind her and trotted out into the street, only to turn and stare longingly at the Carousel Boutique.

It had been her home for so very long, that Rarity genuinely forgot when she'd actually moved into the place. It had been the site of all of her life's triumphs. Sapphire Shores and Hoity Toity, Photo Finish and the Gala dresses. Rarity took a deep breath and exhaled softly. All things must change, darling. You know that better than most.

She forced herself to turn away, trotting down the street and blotting away the tears in her eyes. It's not goodbye, Rarity. Yet even that was hard for her to believe. Their lives were changing indelibly. There would be no going back to the way they were, no returning to the innocence. They were committed now, to a new cause and a new dream.

She turned down a side street, deciding there was one last thing she had to do. Minutes later, she found herself outside of the school house where all the foals were playing outside. There was Miss Cheerilee, watching over them as she ever had. Rarity cleared her throat, hoping she didn't look too terrible. "Sweetie Belle! Darling, where are you?" she called out, scanning amidst the mass of foals for that distinctive mane color.

She didn't need to look long. Sweetie shot like a rocket off of the swing, and into the waiting forehooves of her sister. The two of them embraced tightly for a few long silent minutes, Rarity's hoof slowly stroking the little filly's mane. I must not cry. A lady does not cry in such times, she shows courage. She still couldn't stop the sniffling, or the wetness from getting into Sweetie Belle's mane.

Sweetie gently pushed rarity away a little to smile at her. "It's alright, sis." She said softly. "It's not forever, right?" Rarity had to nod at that one, a tremulous smile on her lips. Sweetie gently giggled and wiped away Rarity's tears. "I won't be alone, sis. I've got the girls, and Miss Octavia is really nice! And I'll come visit as often as I can, okay?"

Rarity nodded and rubbed at her eyes. "I... Thank you, Sweetie." She whispered softly. "You're ever so much braver than I am." Sweetie Belle blushed and muttered a disclaimer, and Rarity shook her head firmly. "No. You are." She firmly hugged her sister again. "You take care of yourself, sister. I shall let you know as soon as I can when I have settled enough for visitors."

Sweetie nodded enthusiastically, then grinned. "You got it sis!" She hopped up to plant a kiss on Rarity's cheek, then ran back off to the playground, waving enthusiastically. "Have a good trip, big sis!"

Rarity took a deep breath and forced a smile onto her face. Strength, Rarity. For her. She turned and headed down the street again - her head held high. Even if her eyes were a little bit red.


Two dark cloaked figures stood on the edge of the Everfree forest, waiting in silence. One, a massive chitinous form, the other a batwinged pony of unusual size and strength. They stood together as old friends, because despite the vast difference in their races, they were. In their line of work, only the strong survived at all. And only the lucky, or the brilliant, survived for any length of time.

They had known each other nearly as long as they'd lived, and by now nearly everything was old hat to them. Even waiting. There was no need for banter at the moment, as they would have plenty of time to discuss other things when the answer to their offer arrived. The changeling General, Stratego narrowed his eyes and hissed gently. "At last."

Commander Night Scythe arched an eyebrow and turned his eyes towards the horizon - where sure enough, a single black Changeling drone was buzzing towards them at tremendous speed. Moments later, it had dropped a scroll wrapped in black ribbon at Night Scythe's hooves, and then careened off into the forest as fast as it could.

Night Scythe plucked up the thing with his wing and tore it open, examining it quickly. His visage transforming from unemotional to a slow smile. "We've been ordered to report to Canterlot in two weeks’ time, to swear our armies and ourselves to the Queen. It seems that we have a Nightmare after all." He snapped the scroll closed and flicked his wing at the air. "Sombra was a fool."

The giant changeling nodded once. "Yesss." it hissed, a gleam of triumph in its eye. "He was. But a useful fool, none the less. Come my friend, there is much to do if we are to arrive with suitable pomp and circumstance." He smirked slyly, not that most changelings gave a damn about pomp or circumstance. "She will likely be repealing the Race lawsss on the same day. It shall be a triumphant moment for us all."

Night Scythe laughed uproariously, shaking his hoof at the air. "Indeed my friend. What a grand and glorious day! And to think, you and I shall be proper Generals!" He smirked slyly. "You think that we'll make those pansies in the guard crap their armor?"

Stratego grinned with those razor sharp teeth indicative of all changelings. "I think we shall do far more than merely that, old friend. I think we shall shake their entire world to its foundations."


Luna was waiting for Twilight as she slowly descended from the Chariot that had carried her away from Ponyville. Luna chuckled softly. "We shall have to train you in the use of those wings soon, Mistress." She spoke softly, falling into step beside Twilight as they passed back into the Cloud Fortress, dozens of pegasi crawling all over the place and making ready to move out. Luna then chuckled again. "Perhaps Miss Dash would be willing to give you... Lessons." She winked slyly, and Twilight laughed gently.

The two of them walked in companionable silence for a time, Twilight not really ready to return to her room yet. After a few minutes, Twilight spoke up gently. "Luna." she spoke the word gently, lovingly. "Thank you." Luna turned her head, eyes a little wide in surprise. "You have been my rock through all of this, Luna. I owe you so very much." Twilight gently sighed, leaning against her.

Luna wanted to stiffen up, but did not - instead leaning back into Twilight and nuzzling her cheek against hers. She sighed. Tia is right. "Twilight.." Luna spoke up gently, urgently - pushing herself away from the beautiful mare. "You have realized I am your aunt, yes?" She braced herself - for an explosion, for disbelief, for... something.

What she got was a sly smile and a kiss on her cheek. "Duh." Twilight giggled softly, apparently seeing something amusing on Luna's face. "I mean, you are Tia's sister. The rest sort of follows." She wiggled her hoof a little bit in midair. "And before you ask, no - That doesn't bother me in the least."

Luna blinked in surprise, before Twilight pulled her close up against her again, a racy grin on the Alicorn's face. "Luna, I love you. Everything else is just so much noise in the wind." She shrugged her shoulders. "Besides, It's not as though we're going to have foals with one another. I certainly don't see the problem."

She flicked Luna's rump with her tail. Twilight giggled gently and continued down the hallway, a little skip in her step. "Now come on. I think we need to spend a little private time to get your mind off that silliness." She smirked back at Luna, who had suddenly gone rooted to the spot. "You coming, Princess?"

Luna shook her head ruefully and quickly trotted after Twilight, a soft laugh on her lips. "I had thought you would be upset." She half stated, half asked as they rounded a corner to enter the royal suite. Twilight was smirking again, in a way that reminded Luna of herself during the dark times.

Twilight gently placed her hoof on the door. "Luna, I trusted that you'd come talk to me when you felt comfortable about it. That's part of what love means." She shoved open the door physically, and blinked for a moment at the scene that was within.

Twilight felt a sudden lurch of Vertigo as she walked silently through the door into the room. A Tall spire of purple crystal had been fashioned into a deep seated throne at one end of her Royal Quarters. All around it, were arrayed her friends - just as she had seen them in her vision so long ago.

Rarity and Applejack leaning against the wall - talking with one another as Rarity gently wafted her fan at herself. Applejack in that tight dark leather jacket, Rarity in the sleek purple silk dress. Fluttershy knelt to one side of the throne in the long flowing green dress, With Angel Bunny sleeping nearby.

Rainbow Dash lounged on a cloud she'd stolen from somewhere, A pair of shining golden flight goggles hanging around her neck, and reading a Daring Do book. Right next to her, Pinkie Pie was watching her read, or perhaps reading along with her - gently giggling and talking with her in a low voice.

Luna smiled a little behind her, passing her and trotting slowly into the room, taking her place next to Fluttershy and softly whispering into her ear as she knelt down. Fluttershy blinked and giggled gently, her soft trusting eyes coming up to regard Twilight lovingly.

Twilight felt a strength enter her, and her eyes close. I have burned my last bridge behind me. Her thoughts whispered. Prophecy had become fact. There was no going back. She was Nightmare Queen Twilight Sparkle now. She gently closed the door behind her with a touch of magic and marched over to the throne. Within a moment, she had gently sat within it - and felt a pulse of powerful dissonance magic flood through her.

She spoke gently into the silence - the eyes of all six of her friends now turning to her, smiles on each of their faces. Dark purple energy alight in their eyes. They were hers, just as she was theirs, and her voice rose into the air- a declaration of war, of peace, of Dissonance and balance.

"Long live the queen."

Epilogue - Morning in Ponyville

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~~~~~~Ponyville, The next morning.~~~~~

A golden chariot swept down from the skies, borne by two stalwart looking Royal Guards. It slowly rolled into the town square, amidst the workers and ponies of the town pitching in and trying to get on with their lives. A Sleek white form slowly, tentatively stepped off the chariot and trotted over to the two guards who had carried her. "Thank you, sirs." The white unicorn spoke softly, politely. The two Guards smiled and nodded their heads in acknowledgement, before taking off back into the sky.

The entire square was a mess of noise, bustle and confusion - and for just a moment, Tia Sunbeam felt incredibly alone in the world. Nopony here knew her, nopony here would recognize her. However, fate - or perhaps, Harmony - would not leave her alone for long. From seemingly nowhere, a gray-coated pegasus dropped out of the sky and went hurtling towards the ground... Tia gasped in shock, and her horn suddenly lit with power as she threw up a soft barrier on the ground in front of the pegasus - which she promptly crashed into, looking incredibly dizzy

Tia rushed over to her, using her telekinesis to slowly lower the pegasus to the ground. "My goodness! Are you quite alright?" Tia exclaimed. The grey pegasus looked a little worse for wear, but not bad. A few moments later, she had shaken out the worst of the fall and blinked up at Tia.

Tia could not help but stare a little at the wall-eyed pony, who promptly burst into a bright smile. "Oh thank you so much, miss!" Tia could not help but smile at the unbridled enthusiasm in her voice. "That could have been a rough landing without your help!" Within moments, she was back on her hooves, and smiling brightly at the still nervous Tia. "Oh yeah! Nice to meet you, my name's Ditzy Doo!"

The grey mare stuck out her hoof, and Tia tentatively shook it. What an odd pony. she thought, still a little nervous. "Um, nice to meet you, Miss Doo." Tia smiled back at her slowly; the pegasus' cheer was quite infectious. "Um, I'm T-Tia." she stammered out a little, before taking a deep breath. "Tia Sunbeam."

Ditzy beamed at her again, shaking the hoof quite enthusiastically. "Say!" She said, giving Tia a look with those oddly off eyes of hers. Quite pretty eyes, but still quite off. "You must be new to Ponyville! Lemme be the first one ta' welcome you!" She smiled in such a way that Tia really could not help but give one back.

Another voice called out "Derpy! Are you okay?" Another pair of mares came galloping across the square - A mint-green coated unicorn, and a cream coated earth pony. Derpy waved at them with a cheerful smile, as they got closer, the mint-colored pony looking at her in surprise. "I coulda' sworn I saw you drop out of the sky! I told you that you weren't healed up enough to go flying yet!"

Ditzy looked sheepish at that, scuffing a hoof into the dirt. "Sorry, Lyra." She said, drooping. "I thought I could do it. I shoulda listened to you an' Bon Bon." The other two mares gave each other a look and sighed. Tia blinked - they were exasperated, but they also seemed amused. Ditzy cheered up a moment later, speaking quickly before Tia could react. "But it's all okay! Tia here helped soften my landing!"

Tia blinked and smiled a little more boldly at the other two mares, who returned her smile with sunny grins of their own. "Well, it's always nice to see a new unicorn around here." said the mint one - Lyra, Tia thought. "Nice to meet you, Tia. I’m Lyra, and this is my best friend and partner in crime, Bon Bon!" She giggled softly, a bright sound that carried through the air. "And I see you've already met Derpy Hooves here." She gently ruffled the grey pegasus' blonde mane.

Tia blinked. "Derpy Hooves? I thought you said your name was Ditzy Doo." She queried, already quite confused. Nicknames she could handle, but that seemed very derogatory to her to just be a nickname. Still, the Pegasus hadn't seemed to mind it much.

Ditzy shrugged and smiled brightly. "They're both kinda my name. I think it's kind of cool! Not everypony gets to have two names!" She laughed heartily, and then blushed a little. "Besides, my daughter Dinky likes to use both names. So I don't mind very much."

Bon Bon rolled her eyes expressively, and smiled kindly to Tia. "Ignore these two crazy ponies. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Tia. What brings you to Ponyville?" Her voice was soft and kindly, and Tia felt herself warming to the gentle earth pony.

"Um, My teacher sent me here to take over her duties at the Library." Tia fiddled with her hooves, cursing this shyness. Have I truly been so insulated from my ponies that I can't even hold a normal conversation with them? Luna was more right than she knew! She tried to smile again, softly, as the three ponies blinked at her for a moment - then started to comprehend.

"Oh! You mean you're Twilight Sparkle's student?" Lyra exclaimed, her bright gold eyes suddenly shooting open. "Oooooo, you are so luckyyyyy." She drawled out, a sly smile on her face.

Bon Bon nodded sagely, seriously. "I hadn't realized she'd taken on a student so quickly. Still, I suppose it is to be expected." She smiled again - a little more warmly this time. "Well then, how about we walk you to the Library? We'll give you a quick tour of the town too."

Ditzy nodded enthusiastically. "Oh yeah! Since Pinkie's not gonna be around, I suppose we gotta pick up the slack!" She grinned quite happily over this prospect. So happy that she was clapping her hooves together. "We should throw her a party!"

Lyra and Bon Bon both blinked at her, and then each of them gave a soft laugh. "You know, that's not a bad idea." Said Lyra, sneaking next to Tia and gently nudging her. "She looks kinda shy. It'll help if she gets to know Everpony in town. Besides, There ain't no party like a Pinkie Pie kinda party!"

Tia was flabbergasted by all of this attention, and had been having a very hard time getting a word in edgewise. The phrase party quickly solidified everything though. "A p-party? But I won't know anypony there.." Tia couldn't help it. She began to wonder if this was how Twilight had felt upon her arrival to Ponyville. Certainly, these ponies were nice but she was so confused by all of this.

Then, much to Tia's surprise - Ditzy quietly took her hoof and smiled at her. It was a surprising gesture, and Tia began to wonder how this poor pony, with such an obvious disability managed to stay so cheerful. "Well, sure you will! You know me!" She beamed, as though this was some profound piece of wisdom. "And I'll introduce you to Carrot Top! She's super nice! And you know Lyra and Bon Bon too! So that's three ponies already, and you just got into town!"

Tia blinked and considered that for a moment. Well, I may have just met them but... I suppose I do know them now. She smiled a little more at that. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad after all? "Well... Yes, you're quite right I suppose." She replied as primly as she could.

Lyra giggled softly. "Oh yeah, she's definitely Twilight's student. C'mon, Tia - we gotta help you relax and unwind before you go crazy like Twilight did." She paused, reaching out to tug on Tia's hoof and smiling.

Bon Bon noticed her idea, and grinned, grabbing on Tia's other hoof and tugging it too. "Come on, Tia. There's lots of ponies you can meet!" She grinned slyly. "And they're not all insane like Lyra here! I promise!"

Ditzy giggled brightly and leapt up into the air, flapping her wings a bit before coming down. "Yay! We've got a new friend!" She said, practically glomping poor Tia and sending all four of the ponies tumbling over in a big pile of laughter.

Tia blinked at that word. Friend. Certainly, they were all more than a little odd - but... Friend. That was a word Tia hadn't been able to use in a very long time. Oh yes, dear sister. It seems you were quite right after all. The thought brought tears to her eyes, and she sniffled a little. Moments later, she was plucked from the pile by Ditzy, who wiped them away with a hoof. "You okay, Tia?" She asked in a quiet, gentle voice.

Tia looked up at the wall-eyed pegasus and smiled fully for the first time in days. I wonder what your story is, Ditzy Doo. I wonder how you manage to do this? Well, perhaps she could find out. She found her voice, much stronger and brighter than before. "Oh yes, Ditzy. I think everything is going to be just fine."





Afterword - Authors Notes

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27 days. 149 thousand words in 32 chapters.

To say that Code's Apprentice is a feat of writing is I think, not understating the accomplishment. 4600 words a day, every day, for 27 days, is a pretty nifty accomplishment.

The Code's Apprentice is a story that changed a very great deal from it's original inception. Originally, the story was planned to last for 20 chapters, with about 5 thousand words per chapter. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

The story changed dramatically as well, as well as a number of important character beats and story details. Trixie originally never featured in the story, and Luna's place in the story shifted very dramatically, just to give a few examples.

Perhaps the most important thing that changed was the ending. Originally, Code's Apprentice was meant to be an entirely self contained story. This pretty much got thrown out the window right around Chapter 20. One of these days, I'm going to spoil all of the major plot points and ending that changed, but today isn't a good day for that.

To say I am a little disappointed in the ultimate view count of Code's Apprentice is pretty accurate. I had deeply hoped that a much tighter, consistent writing style and focusing extra hard on excluding all of the grammar and punctuation problems that plagued The Twilight Struggle would provide me with a far larger crop of viewers. Sadly, the Fim Fiction reader is a fickle one.

But ultimately, I cannot call this a failure. In truth, I'd like to say it has been a grand success. I have proven to myself that day-in and day-out I can write a consistently large block of text that is both readable and belongs in the story. As someone who would love to one day become an author, this is a big step for me personally.

But much more incredible has been the commenters, and those who have supported me. I will not sugar coat it folks, you guys are the ones that made me want to keep updating this beast every single day. You guys, the readers, made this not just possible - but satisfying.

It is my hope that somepony amongst you will recommend this fic to someone who can get the word out about it. Or that maybe the FimFiction review team that posts on the front page will be told to take a look at it, and get the word out. It's my hope that once this has been tagged completed, it will receive a surge of new readers to appreciate it. I Don't expect these things, I merely hope for them.

Regardless, There's a lot of new stuff coming for the Codes Apprentice - Including a number of Side-story one-shots, which I hope will tide you over until The Twilight Fall ends. I'll be detailing those a bit in the Blog Post I'll be putting up following these notes going live.

I'd like to close here by saying just how much fun this whole challenge has been for me. I actually can't wait to get to the next story in the series. Maybe with more followers, more dedicated fans, and more luck, the next one will tear up the feature box - And if I'm lucky, launch the original into the feature box too!

But for now, I close with the only words that truly matter.

Thank you, one and all, for your support.

I'll see you at The Twilight Fall <- Which is not the sequel to this story, merely my next main fic. Sorry for the confusion!

Your faithful tale spinner,
Lapis Lazuli ( I've been thinking about changing my OC Pony name to Cedistic Dissonant. What do you guys think?)