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The Eversleep


        The pale moon hung high over Equestria. Nestled in the sea of stars, it cast a cool glow upon the sleeping city below. Stores and homes were dark, and the streets were empty save for the few who called the night their own. Royal guards roamed the city ensuring the city of Canterlot was safe and secure. But the torches they carried were not the only lights within the city that night. Light spilled forth from one of the rooms within the castle, built into the mountains above the city.

The room belonged to Princess Celestia, the regal and undisputed ruler of Equestria. She looked out over the city through her window, her mane flowing behind her in a river of colors. Her body felt sluggish, and her breath came slowly. Her form was that of an alicorn: a regal pony with the wings of a pegasus - albeit larger - and the horn of a unicorn - though far longer and more deadly. Her white coat shone in the light, but it looked unkempt and ragged. On her flank, the sun still shone its full color.

At least Celestia knew what was happening. She had known since winter came to the kingdom she shared with her sister, Princess Luna. The sun was becoming harder to raise over the land; to fill the land with its light. She knew Luna had an idea of her condition, but her worry was still bottled within her. That would change tonight.

The royal princess lit her horn with magic, sliding her bed to the corner of the room. In its place was a previously hidden door which she pulled open. Inside was a full set of battle armor placed around a model of her figure. She slid the model into the center of the room, breathing heavily from the exertion. Celestia attempted to place on the armor, shoulder pads first, pulling with her teeth to secure the straps. The exhaustion crept up on her, and the grip she had slipped. Struggling with it for a moment did no good, and she was forced to let go of the ties she had in her mouth. The armor sagged for a moment before sliding off and clattering to the floor. The other parts jingled as she bumped into the armor on the model to lift the fallen piece from the door.

A soft knock on the door resounded in the room. It was followed with the voice of a trained stallion, “Is everything all right Princess Celestia?”

She sniffled, trying to stifle tears from forcing their way out. Her composure returned slowly.

“Princess?” The voice came once more, with more urgency than before.

“Yes.” Her voice wavered for a moment, before it came clear as day, “I’m quite alright; however I require your assistance this evening.”

The pegasus guard that once protected the chamber entered to see his ruler standing in the center of the room. Her armor glinted in the torch light and she moved her head towards its direction. “I have not been accustomed to wearing armor. Perhaps you would be able to show me how it is supposed to be secured?”

“Of course, your majesty,” he replied. His coat was grey and tough, but his eyes were a soft brown. He grabbed a piece of the armor in his teeth, and began to strap on the body first. His hooves were gentle, but firm. The guard pulled slowly, testing the tightness of the strap, before retrieving a new piece of armor.

“What is your name?” She asked curiously.

He pulled the cord on another piece taut, and let it drop from his teeth, “My name is Sky Shroud, your majesty.”

She nodded. Another piece was firmly tightened into its place. Her mind drifted away from the loyal guard attending to her, gravitating to the Throne Room where she held court during the day. Her thoughts flowed towards the one mind in the room, one which did not hesitate to accept them in kind upon feeling them.

Celly? Luna’s thoughts were rampant with surprise and concern. The voice she projected was that of a worried and curious sister. Its still very early for you to be awake, are you-

Luna’s thoughts ground to a halt when she paid attention to Celestia’s emotions. Sadness, courage, and... fear seeped through Celestia’s heart and mind into their mental bond. Luna, I need to speak with you.

No. No, no, no, no, no... Luna’s fear was bleeding into her thoughts. With each mental “no” Celestia could almost feel tears upon her sister’s face, and she fought to keep them from her own.

Luna. It is inevitable. It’s... Celestia took a moment to reign in her emotions, it’s the way it has to be.

Don’t leave me here...

I will be down in a moment.

“Your armor is secure your majesty.”

She opened her eyes and made her way to the mirror. Plates of gold armored her neck and chest. It wrapped around her legs and strung along her body. Her flank plates glowed brightly with crystals that bathed the cutie mark below in purple light. Crystals orbited her horn and adorned her shoulder plates.

“Thank you Sky Shroud. You may accompany me this evening.”

“As you wish, your highness.”

Celestia made her way from the tower, her iron hooves clopping hard against the stone. Sky Shroud followed at first behind her, and then accompanied her by her side. They walked in silence down the stairs and hallways towards the Throne Room. The torch light dimmed as she past, as if to mimic her own fading light. If Sky Shroud had noticed, he said nothing.

She was feeling her body drain more of her magic away as she walked into the throne room, where Luna sat, quietly crying in the dimly lit room. Celestia moved over to Luna’s side with great pain feeling it pulse in her side every time she took another step. She wrapped one armored wing over her sister’s shoulder, and Luna turned inwards to sob into Celestia’s body.

“No, no, no, no, no...” Luna spoke briefly, but it slowly devolved back into incomprehensible sorrow. Celestia smiled and held her close for hours, comforting and coddling the younger alicorn. As dawn began to approach the moon settled down towards the far horizon.

“It is time, Luna.” She said softly.

Luna looked up at her older sister, who had conjured several scrolls, as well as one in which she began to write in. Sweat soaked Celestia’s head as she strained to conserve her magical reserves.

Luna nodded sheepishly. Her horn began to glow softly and she levitated the quill from her sister. She signed the scrolls one by one and floated them down to the guard, who still stood at attention.

“Sky Shroud. As my last decree,” she paused. Sky Shroud turned to look at her, shock filling his face, “you shall complete the following tasks. Ensure that the first part of my will is followed. You are also hereby promoted to be Luna’s protector. Guard her with your life if necessary. Know that what is happening is not anypony else’s fault, and that I want the best for everypony, both here now, and still to come. You are the sole witness to my last hours, other than Luna.” She stopped to catch her breath. It came in laboured gulps now, “Lastly, ensure that this letter is delivered personally to my student Twilight Sparkle, and that she doesn’t do anything foalish. She will protect you both if it comes to it.”

“Y..yes, your majesty.” He managed the words at barely a whisper.

“Luna. My only sister. I hope that you will continue to cherish what you have.” She kissed the top of her sister’s head, hugging her tightly with one wing.

Luna began to cry softly once more, as Celestia broke the embrace to march towards the horizon. The moon disappeared below its resting place and Celestia began to well the power in her once more, calling on the sun, the body of warmth to rise and fill the world with happiness, and joy. A single tear streamed down her cheek as her iron hooves cracked the ground. Magic rippled from the ground an the air, joining into the light surrounding light.

“CELLY DON’T LEAVE ME! PLEASE!” Luna screamed, barely keeping herself understandable. Sky Shroud held onto the Princess of the Night, unable to truly comprehend the words she was saying.

Celestia cried as she gathered the memories of all of the people she had met; the young, the old, and those who were gone as well as the ones she loved and held dear to her heart. Twilight: her faithful student who was becoming a wonderful young mare in her own right. She called upon her studies to help her power one last spell.

She felt the warm light of her sun upon her face, even though it hadn’t risen quite yet. With a pained sigh, she released all of the magic at once. The sun rose over the horizon, and she turned to face Luna.

“I love you Luna, please don’t forget me.” She whispered.

Her eyes closed, and she fell to the floor.

“NOOO!!!” Sky Shroud could no longer contain the young alicorn, as she fled to her sister’s side. She wept over her body, shaking with each heave and heavy choked breath. Sky Shroud walked slowly over to the Princess’s body, his own tears splashing on the floor. He knelt down to Luna’s side and coaxed her off. With a tender grip he used every muscle to lift the Princess of the Sun into his hooves, beating furiously with his wings to keep steady. He flew slowly to the center of the room, and lay her upon her seat. He walked to the doors and slipped through them.

“FETCH THE CAPTAIN!” He called, flying from the doors.

Inside Luna crawled her way over to her sister’s body, still heaving from the tears that still came freely. She nuzzled her sister lovingly, feeling the cold plates around her sister’s body. “Please... don’t leave me alone...”


The bells in the tower rang, slowly bringing its toll upon the city. Clouds gathered in the sky as the weather patrol shirked their duties for the procession, and the news that accompanied it. Everypony seemed to be out on the street waiting for the gates to open, so they could see that smiling face one last time. The news spread like a plague among the city and out into the far reaches of Equestria.

The great monarch, the bringer of the sun, their dear Princess Celestia was dead.

Somewhere within the crowd, a group of musicians played a slow requiem as the procession opened the gates from the palace into the city. The lead figures marched to guard those others behind them, carrying the coffin of their leader. The clear crystal coffin allowed the crowd to see their beloved leader. It was wrapped in a golden frame encrusted with amethysts. It was built so that the light could reflect the color onto their beloved leader and be rebounded off of her armor.

Ponies around them cried or stared in shock and disbelief. Some young fillies tossed roses from baskets they carried, mixing red with the beginnings of a snow shower falling from the clouds above. Unicorns around them took the same lead and used their magic to change some of the falling snow to rose petals. All of the guards fell to one knee, and as the procession past they rose and followed closely behind Princess Celestia’s favorite chariot.

Luna was inconsolable. Sky Shroud sat beside her, as she still tried to weep, even after all of her tears had left her. She felt as if another hole had been torn within her, right where her heart should be. Though she knew it would be a long time until things were set right, Celestia had to bear it as well. She sobbed silently with the knowledge that she had to watch it happen twice.

The procession continued down the street until it was on the main road to the countryside. While the procession continued towards Ponyville, Sky Shroud left Luna to her grief to accomplish the tasks Celestia had given. At any cost.

Within a few hours, a group had been summoned to the grand throne room in the castle. The wind still howled against the windows and walls, battering it as a reminder of the tone of Celestia’s peace. It was barely such within the room. A large table was set up in the center of the room, with eleven distinguished ponies around it. Only one was a pegasus, the rest were unicorns.

Unicorns of the highest magical potential from around the kingdom of Equestria had been summoned by the final Will of Princess Celestia.

Sky Shroud sat at the head of the table, reading from the scroll, “... for the betterment of Equestria. You who have been chosen are to form a council of advisers and supporters to the kingdom. Under the rule of my sister, Princess Luna, you shall assist her in both governance and in her magical duties of raising both sun and moon. Henceforth, you shall be named the Council of Sun and Moon. These duties shall end upon the disbandment of council during the future time of Rebirth. Humbly, and graciously, Princess Celestia.”

A long pause followed, as Sky Shroud wrapped up the scroll, passing it over to the Captain of the Guard. Some of the unicorns shifted nervously in their seats, and others looked deep in thought.

A light blue coated unicorn cleared his throat, “I for one, shall accept the new responsibilities that have been requested of me. I am not particularly fond of... how this has come upon us all, but it would be disastrous without the necessary talent.”

“I agree,” concurred another, with a thick accent, most noticeably from Stalliongrad. He was a deep grey unicorn, with a rough white mane. He was built like a workhorse with thirty years of hard labor deeply rooted into his form. He had red-orange eyes that seemed to burn when he spoke, “Professor Yorsets is right to accept a most gracious offer. Princess Luna is most certainly capable, but is in need of good, strong hooves.”

“While I concur in the fact that the dear ‘Princess’ needs assistance, I am not confident that she can perform these duties at all. She grieves as we all do, but there may not be a chance for her to fully recover.” This unicorn was wearing a fine business suit over his beige coat, stifling his green mane from being let out. It was slicked back with an unnecessary amount of hair gel.

One other spoke up, his deep voice smoothly seeping over the table, “It brings her dangerously close to becoming a beast once more. If she isn’t already her.” The unicorn had a violet body with steaks of silver and gold in his blue mane. His eyes were a deep red, and they slid across the table towards Sky Shroud.

Sky Shroud was losing composure, “Dying of natural causes seems out of order with what you imply, Starfall. I would be careful with your foalish misconceptions.”

Several of the unicorns shifted uneasily in their seats once more.

“What proof do you have that it wasn’t an act to make foals of us? As I recall, you have no training in Magical Arts, while I have a better idea of such possibilities. I am the headmaster of Princess Celestia’s foremost school in magic.” He began to raise his voice, “If Luna has allowed herself to become Nightmare Moon once more, and hide her appearance, she would go unnoticed. She is an alicorn, and one who has proven to be unstable and unsuited for sole ruler-ship!”

Sky Shroud slammed his hoof into the table, “Nonsense! Nopony who was as vengeful or spiteful as Nightmare Moon was would stand to act in the same manner. If you do not wish to believe this true, then you can decline the will of the leader you served so loyally!”

The room was silent. It was minutes before Starfall began once more, “I will consider this when I form my answer.” The words dropped the room by a couple of degrees. Sky Shroud backed away from the table, “You have until tomorrow morning to accept or decline. Luna will return by then, and will be coronated as the leader of Equestria, so that she can at least preside over her sister’s funeral.” Sky Shroud stormed out of the doors of the Throne Room, and set off for Ponyville to deliver a particular letter.

When the doors closed, the other guards exited the room.

“Fillies and Gentlecolts,” Starfall began. “It appears that we have much to discuss, and more to fear than before...”


Twilight Sparkle sat dumbstruck in the Ponyville library which she called home. Her hooves shook as though she had nearly died, moments ago. What she had seen...

Nopony else was in the library. Even Spike was absent, and Twilight hadn’t the faintest idea of where he was. She had spent hours pulling books off of the library searching for anything that would disprove what she had seen - something that would burn away her memory as if it had only been a nightmare. Her teacher, the Princess of the Day couldn’t possibly be... But she had seen her. It haunted her thoughts, and kept her awake and numb.

A soft knock at the door did nothing to change how she felt. There was no movement from her. The knock came once more, but she still stayed seated.

“Twilight Sparkle. I have something important for you. A final letter from-”

She snapped back into her own world. Of course! A letter from Princess Celestia, proof she was still alive. Everything was just a horrible dream. She trotted over to the door and opened it. In the doorway, a fully armored pegasus stallion held a scroll in his teeth. He was being bombarded with snow flakes, whipped around by the wind outside.

She levitated the letter to herself, uttering a, “Thank you,” before closing the door.

She ripped off the seal and opened the letter. As she read her reality crumbled around her. She was dragged back to the urgency of the letter’s contents, and the sliver of hope it promised. It was all she needed to start digging through the shelves of the library.

The Eversleep


        The group of unicorns summoned by Celestia’s will was still gathered in the throne room. It was sometime after dusk, and although the orange and pink colors of the setting sun still provided light, the majority came from the torches in the room.

        Starfall watched several of the unicorns were shuffling out, but a few remained. Bastion, a fellow teacher of his was one of them. A red pony with a mane like the embers of a fire- Dynasty- also remained.

As for the others? He had forgotten their names by now, and didn’t quite care to recall them. They were here, so it seemed as though he had their attention. As expected.

        The hours before hand had been filled with debate on how to run Equestria in Celestia’s stead. While their first words were heated, they managed to simmer to a less excited debate. They had been told that they were powerful enough as a group to raise the sun and the moon, provided enough time to recover between such magic. In Luna’s obvious state of mourning, they were to assist her by raising both sun and moon. In time, they would relinquish the moon to her, and later still, the sun. Starfall disagreed with that.

        They further talked about the affairs of the Kingdom. To ensure Luna would be able to fulfill her duties as sole ruler, she would be advised by their same council. They would start by taking care of the normal decisions of governance and teach Luna these tasks so she would eventually take over. Despite this wish, Starfall was vehemently opposed to letting somepony take over without many years of experience, and as far as he was concerned, Luna had none.

        Protection of the kingdom had also fallen to them. Many strange and dangerous creatures still roamed unchecked in the wild parts of the world. While these areas were regularly patrolled, one thousand years of harmony seemed a thing of the past, and that it would not continue in Celestia’s absence without new guards and a more prepared force of ponies. Starfall agreed, but was concerned that while this was the council’s job, it could be taken back by the princess.

        Which made him think, what was this council even for? There were almost no duties that they would retain after a year’s worth of training the foalish Princess, and then years more of blunder and disaster from her under their watchful eyes. Not to mention, the failure in leadership after they were dismissed would destroy everything they would slave to fix. Plus, her past spoke poorly of her acceptance by the world at large. Who could trust a Princess who once wished to be their tyrant? Not even a thousand years on the moon would change his mind. No, something needed to be done, and these were the foals who were smart enough to join him.

“Starfall, perhaps it would be a good time to become acquainted with each other?”

        “Indeed,” he replied, “I do believe I was quite open about my opinions and goals during the meeting, but I have not learned nearly as much from any of you. Except Bastion, of course.” Bastion lowered his head at the praise, “and your name was...?”

        “Guiding Light.” The mare bowed before Starfall, “I am from Germaney. Although I do not have much input, I do agree with your concerns. As do the rest of us gathered here.” There were some nods.

        Starfall smiled casually. Not only had he won over a group of Unicorns, he had inspired them to begin forming on their own. He looked around the room. The rest of the guard was gone, as well as the other ponies that were present. “Oh?” He tried.

        Bastion stepped forward, adjusting his coat, “We are willing to assist you in taking action. Princess Luna is not entitled to the throne. It would be as if Nightmare Moon had won long ago, if the Princess turned back into her now.”

        “There is no way to take action quite yet. We may be displeased with our current situation, but it is the only one on short notice,” Starfall argued.

        “Perhaps not,” Guiding Light countered.

Starfall raised his eyebrow in apprehension - and worry. He had wanted action, but he would have preferred to have it happen subtly. Not so openly and so soon. Though on the other hand, the longer they waited, the more likely Nightmare Moon would come and destroy their plans.

        Conflicted, he watched as the red mare, Dynasty, opened the doors to the chamber. In walked in one of the guards, bowing his head to her before entering. She closed the door and followed close behind the guard until he stopped in front of Guiding Light.

        “May I present to you the second in command of the Royal Guard. Lieutenant Storm Chaser.”

        The guard bowed, “Lieutenant is sufficient.” Starfall acknowledged him with a nod.

        “The Lieutenant’s brother was in Ponyville during Nightmare Moon’s return. He was with those that tried to apprehend her.”

        “He died a week later because of her.” Lieutenant snorted, “That haughty princess must not be allowed to have the throne. My brother died to protect us from her alter-ego. Allowing Princess Luna to have that throne would betray all that he died for.”

        Starfall looked on with confusion, “You are but one of the guard. The others will-”

        “Only a few respect Princess Celestia’s decision. I can convince most of them to join us. I have done so with the captains already.”

        Starfall bit his tongue. This was too well orchestrated, nopony could have pulled this off in a few hours. “See what you can do,” he started cautiously. Control was key, “We will meet before dawn, to assist Luna with the sun. I will decide on how and when to strike.”

        The other ponies nodded and each took a bow before him. As they left the chamber through their respective exits, a wicked smile played on his face. The alicorn would suffer for her sins... and he had an idea on how.


        The moon could barely be seen behind the clouds that plagued the sky. A gloom hung over Canterlot following behind a lone figure in the clouds. Princess Luna sat above the haze, staring into the stars above. Her light colored hair flowed behind her, underlining the crescent moon in the center of the sky. The wind that carried it ruffled her coat, trying to stab at her with the cold winter air.

        She stretched her body out onto the cloud and buried her head in her hooves. While she was still wrought with grief, she had no tears left to shed for her sister.

        Why? She thought, Why did you have to leave now, of all times? Couldn’t you have pushed it back for a few hundred years? Luna shook her head. She know that the Eversleep was never predictable. You knew when the time came, that it was upon you. She would know.

        “Princess?” came a voice from behind her. Luna felt a soft landing on the cloud behind her, accompanied by the jingling of pieces of armor.

        “Yes, Sky Shroud?” She asked. Her hooves dug into the cloud as she lifted herself to look at him.

        “I wanted to let you know that the time for the Coronation has been set. After dawn you will be required to sit in the throne to accept the crown.”

        A long pause passed between the two of them. Luna’s gaze passed to the moon above her, which was slowly inching its way towards the horizon. Sky Shroud shifted in place, a bit nervous, and paranoid from the conversation after Celestia’s will. He had been preoccupied with it all day, fulfilling requests and duties within the will. He had to go all around Canterlot for supplies and services, and even out to other towns just to complete specific requests. The more free time he had between mindless tasks, the worse his anxiousness became.

        “Is there something else, Sky Shroud?” Luna spoke again, moving her eyes to lock with his. Pain was reflected in her eyes. She couldn’t handle another betrayal, not even from somepony she barely knew.

        Sky Shroud trotted to her side, “I am... uncomfortable with the council. I fear that they will simply use their new powers to enhance their personal goals and desires.”

        Luna rested her head against his side. “It will be fine.” She didn’t quite believe that herself, but she was willing to trust her sister. Celestia only wanted the best for her, even if her banishment was a blemish on that record. “I trust my sister’s decision.”

        Sky Shroud nodded. “Yes, Princess.”

        Luna giggled a little. Sky Shroud was still too formal for her tastes but she found it amusing. She spread her wings and walked to the edge of the cloud she was on. “Please accompany me to the castle Sky Shroud.” She lifted off of the cloud, “And thank you.”

        “As you wish, your highness.” He trotted to the edge and took to the sky, side by side with Princess Luna.

        The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. There was a nervous air among the denizens of the castle as dawn began to show its beautiful colors on the horizon. The castle’s many cooks walked from their homes to the kitchen in the castle, filling the air with the scents of fresh fruit. The newly appointed advisors began to move through their guest chambers to the throne room. All throughout, Sky Shroud guarded the Princess as she roamed the halls for her coronation and burial rites for her sister.

        He was nervous - clearly so. Not once did he pay attention to anything but Princess Luna and her safety. A few pots fell in the kitchens and he rushed to her side like a foal. Anypony else would have looked first. The princess just giggled at his actions, but he thought very little of it.

        Eventually they made their way to the throne room, standing outside the doors until the appropriate time that they would enter in procession.

        “Princess? Where is your crown?” Sky Shroud whispered.

        “Oh. It was needed for the coronation ceremony, so I had to relinquish it. Only for a little while.” She smiled sheepishly. Sky Shroud could tell she was barely holding it together.

        He nodded in understanding. But that made him paranoid. Who had her crown? Would it be enchanted with evil magic?

        The doors opened and he was jarred from his thoughts by the procession of trumpets that ushered them into the room. Guards stood on either end of the red carpet that they walked upon, each with a crossbow in hoof. Before Sky Shroud was able to react, the guards moved their crossbows into a firing position aimed above Princess Luna's head. They fired, and as the bolts got closer burst in to showers of rose petals that fell all around them. Surrounding the throne was the Council of Sun and Moon, all dressed in their finest clothes. Sky Shroud eased a little as the guards reloaded once more. When Luna reached the front, she sat in the chair. The council shuffled around to stand before her, Starfall in the front. The guards behind Luna aimed high in the air and fired.

There was a loud bang as the bolts turned into fireworks, spreading light into the chamber. Sky Shroud watched them reload and then turn to attention. He didn't like that, though he assumed it was for afterwards.

Starfall stepped to the front of the hall. "Fillies and gentlecolts. We are gathered here on a somber day, for a wonderful and joy filled celebration. As the last alicorn in all the land, Princess Luna, you are the only heir to the Kingdom of Equestria. As such, you will be required to take on all of the duties that the title entails. Are you willing to take Celestia's place, which she has left for you?"

Luna smiled, "I am."

He looked to the left of Luna. Standing there was a guard in silver and black armor adorned with trinkets of gold, bearing the royal seal of Equestria. His mane and tail were a brilliant golden yellow, and his coat a light silver-gray.

"And do you, Captain Ironhoof, Commander of those sworn to protect the leaders of Equestria, and the country they serve, pledge to continue serving until blade, bane, or old age take you."

“I do." The captains voice was rough and rolled over the room like passing thunder.

"Then by the power vested in the council by Princess Celestia, reaffirm your crown, unless any pony wishes a challenge." He lowered the crown onto Luna's head with his magic, adjusting it slowly. He readied his magic to be cut loose, "as representative of the peoples will, I hold peace... No longer."

Luna was immediately assailed by pain emanating from the crowd closing her eyes and falling to the floor. She quickly filled the crown with her magic, causing it to explode. Before her eyes opened, she was able to hear several soft thuds from in front of her.

Sky Shroud stood valiantly with more than ten different crossbow bolts lodged in his body. Dizziness began to take hold, blood leaking from each wound. A few guards rushed in fron of him to protect Luna, blocking or taking another volley of bolts. Captain Ironhoof moved towards Starfall, drawing a knife from beneath the armor  hanging above his neck. It left him exposed and the Leutenant filled the gap with a bladed wing, cutting across the Captain's neck.

"Nightmare Moon will never rise again to threaten Equestria! Destroy Luna! Destroy the betrayer!" Starfall shouted.

Sky Shroud felt the adrenaline kick in and grant him strength despite the loss of blood. He nudged Luna to wards the windows, the other guards fighting for the retreat, or clearing a path for the escape.

"No!" The husky unicorn shouted. He popped in front of Luna and Sky Shroud gathering magic around the remaining protectors. Another unicorn popped into the group binding her magic to the group and hurling spells at the attackers. She was overwhelmed by the forces she controlled and a perfect shot dropped her to the ground.

The room exploded with arcane energy shattering support beams and sending floor tiles into the attackers. Dust billowed into the room covering the sunshine and commotion from any kind of observation.

"Clear the hall!" Starfall shouted. Angry fervor consumed him from those who did not support his mission.

Wings beat furiously to push the smoke out into the clouded sky. The other council members used their magic to increase the speed the guards were beating their wings.

Eventually the dust billowed from the room leaving behind the bodies of fallen combatants and the stains of blood from the melee. Only one of those bodies belonged to a unicorn.

Starfall screamed in frustration using his magic to hurl some of the tiles at the corpses.

"Perhaps we should clean this now so we can induct the true ruling council?" Lieutenant offered.

Starfall eased slightly. "By noon," he said.

"Yes, sir."


The storm over Ponyville picked up it's fervor dropping snow and ice onto the town. With the weather patrol just doing their best just to keep the storm from getting worse, there was no one able to keep up to with the snow on the ground and the houses.

Most ponies were simply trying to enjoy a day at home with their families. Mothers and fathers played with board games with their fillies or colts, trying to forget the events of yesterday. But in the library, Twilight had fallen asleep face first in a book sprawled out on the floor. Ink was spilled out all over the floor, partially dried on the wood and on some of the table nearby.

A muffled snap startled her from her unintentional sleep, and she looked around mumbling incoherently. She noticed the ink on the floor and groaned. Magic covered her horn and cleaning supplies flew into the room from the kitchen.

Outside, the source of the noise was surrounded by a newly scorched hole in the snow. The hot dirt sizzled, bellowing steam into the air. In the center stood Luna, Sky Shroud, the assisting unicorn, and two guards, each with a bloodied weapon in their teeth.

“We must hurry Princess,” the unicorn stallion panted. It was clear that a spell like that was not one he could repeat without rest. Sweat beaded on his coat started to freeze in the temperatures. With the guards on either end he lifted Sky Shroud and began a careful trot to the nearest building.

Luna flew ahead pounding her hooves on the door, “Please help! We need help!” Her voice wavered between bursting into tears.

Twilight shot up into the air at the unexpected noise and bolted across the room to the door. She yanked it open, “What’s happ- Princess Luna?

Without a second thought she entered, “No time. Get whatever medical material you can get your hooves on.”

“Why, wha- oh Celestia.” Luna’s other companions entered the room with Sky Shroud, blood dripping all over the floor.

Twilight flung what ever books were around to the farthest corner of the room and trotted into the bathroom. In the meantime, Luna used her magic to remove the armor around Sky Shroud’s body, placing it to one side. Sky Shroud began coughing.

“Stay with us, comrade.” The grey unicorn said softly. He had retrieved a wet washcloth from the kitchen. It dabbed at the area around the crossbow bolts wiping the dried blood from his coat.

“Stormbreaker... Luna... It’s too late for me now,” he managed speech in soft tones. His body was losing feeling fast. Darkness began to shade his eyes.

“Sky Shroud...” Luna began. Even in his last moments he could see the pain of betrayal in her eyes; the doubt, the second guessing... it was all leading to tragedy.

“Do not lose heart, your majesty.” Sky Shroud used whatever energy he had left to keep clear words, “If you do, you will prove Starfall right. That wouldn’t be who... I died... to save...” His eyes closed fully now, and his last breaths came slower. He opened them slightly, raising one hoof to Luna’s own. He could see Twilight working whatever magic she had into the wounds. Luna was crying now, but he smiled and looked her in the eye. “You wouldn’t be... the one... I fell in love... with...”

Luna continued supporting Twilight with her own magic, but it wasn’t helping. She screamed in her head knowing that she had let down a friend... a friend who had loved her. She grabbed his hand. “Sky Shroud... don’t leave me. Please...”

His eyes closed once more, and he slipped from the world into eternal sleep.

Everypony watched her sob in silence, each lowering their gaze to their fallen friend. Twilight was the first to move, sitting besides the princess. Unsure, she tried to comfort her, placing her neck underneath Luna’s. For a moment nothing happened, and Twilight was scared she had done something wrong. But Luna lowered her head onto her shoulder, burying her face in Twilight’s mane.

The tension eased slightly, and the guards went about cleaning the mess of blood and fur on the floor. It was a slow process as much of the damage had soaked into the wooden floor. A clean white sheet slowly materialized above the body from the magic Stormbreaker weaved. With Stormbreaker exhausted and Princess Luna barely active, they took frequent breaks so that he could recover.

By the tine they had finished preparing his body it was already dusk. The storm outside had finally been cleared. Through the clear skies, the bells of far off Canterlot rang, signaling the new leadership had taken their place. Outside the weather patrol was already cleaning snow off of the roofs having them fall in heavy loads below.

Rainbow Dash was on her last stop before going home to sleep: Twilight's House. She had gone first to Fluttershy's cabin, knowing that she was too far out of the way for normal snow control. It didn't take too long to clear the snow off which allowed her a chance to try to find Applejack. There was no need to worry as she and Big Mac were plowing the road into town.

When her feet touched down outside of the library, she immediately regretted not going there first. The ground behind the library was absolutely destroyed. A solid trail of red stained the snow leading to the front door. Her mind went into overdrive: Was somepony hurt? Did Twilight get hurt doing magic? Did somepony else try to hurt Twilight?

She sped around the library and plowed down the front door. "Twilight are you- ok...?"

Just entering the room was Twilight, a towel being shuffled around her mane. She stared at the pegasus for a moment, then turned her gaze at the door beneath her feet. "Uh, Rainbow Dash?

Her words spurred the rainbow pegasus into action, lifting the door back onto it's hinges, closing it quietly. "You're not hurt? But what about the trail of blood outside, and the crazy magical duel you had?"

"Rainbow, you're starting to sound like Pinkie. There was no fight, at least not here anyway." Her ears flattened to her head.

"So... what about the crater outside?"

"Look, I'll explain later. Now's really not a good time. Especially after what happened."

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow at that. Twilight was practically bawling louder than Luna was yesterday when... "I dunno Twilight. You were practically gone after the procession yesterday."

Twilight had no reasonable way out of that explanation. The letter was very specific about her silence. "I cant really explain why. I'm sorry."

There was a brief silence between them. The emptiness of the room was a huge contrast to half an hour ago. A light knock at the door broke the silence. The door swung open, and Rainbow turned to leave.

"Princess Luna?" she said in bewilderment.

She looked at her for a moment in confusion. “You’re the Element of Loyalty. Your name was..”

“Rainbow Dash,” the violet mare butted in. “Listen Rainbow, the Princess and I need to discuss something in private. Celestia wrote a letter to me before she died and judging by what’s going on, its imperative that I get information from her.”

Luna looked at the two of them, wincing at the mention of her sister.

“Oh, and you don’t think any of us are important enough to know what you’re up to? Or that we aren’t nearly as hurt as you are by what happened?!”

Luna bit her lip and backed into the wall by the door, “Celly’s not... she’s still...”

The words bit deep into Twilight. Her rage began to boil over, “You have no idea what I’m going through! You weren’t practically raised by her, or even taught like her! I LOVED HER LIKE MY OWN MOTHER!”

Twilight lunged at Rainbow, slamming her into the door. Rainbow beat her wings and kicked off of the door sending Twilight flying into the bookcase. She zoomed across the room, but Twilight was expecting it. The only thing Rainbow saw was a blur of violet before two hooves connected with her chest. While the pegasus was trying to recover, Twilight leaped on top of her, pinning her to the floor.

“Stop.” Luna said with very little conviction. Her mind was racing. Using magic to break the fight might hurt one of them. But she had to do something. The two ponies rolled into the writing desk, knocking the contents all over the floor beside them.

“STOP THIS!” Luna shouted.

The two of them stopped. They panted heavily, and Twilight was close to crying again. Twilight looked horrified at what she had done and backed up into the wall. “Oh no. I didn’t... no, but...” she babbled on.

Rainbow stood shakily a similar expression of shock on her face. “Its... its ok, Twilight. I’m sorry.”

“No, no. It’s not okay... I just hit you. I wanted to h.... No, no, no, Celestia no.”

Luna walked across the room to Twilight as she stood paralyzed. A sound crack resided in the room, and Twilight slumped to the floor. “Snap out of it, Twilight Sparkle. At least twenty other ponies lost their lives today over Celestia’s foalish thought that anyone would trust me like she did. If I could wake her up, I would do it now, but she’ll be sleeping for the next thousand years.”

The hoof mark glowed a bright red under Twilight’s coat. She teared up and shied away from Luna, fearing another blow was coming. Instead, the alicorn simply kneeled in front of her and nuzzled her in apology. Twilight accepted it in kind, crying into her shoulder softly.

Rainbow Dash looked at Luna for a moment.

“She’s not really dead Rainbow Dash,” the Princess said once more, “She’s fallen into the Eversleep.”

The Eversleep


"Like I told you Twilight, there's no written information here in Ponyville. I doubt that there's any information in the castle on The Eversleep." Luna walked carefully, avoiding the books piled to the ceiling. Once or twice she came close to knocking  one over, but she managed to keep it intact with her magic.

Twilight sighed. She had spent days looking through the library for any information. If she hadn't read every book in the library before, she certainly had now.

Twilight walked over to the barren bookshelves and placed the book in it's place. "You're right. There's nothing here. Celestia said there was a book for it at home in her letter, but you said the castle doesn't have one. And you don't really know how the whole process works. Not how or when it happens to an alicorn, nor how to predict when it happens."

Luna frowned at that. She had combed through the archives when she to figure out what happened after she was sent to the moon. There was nothing there. In fact there was a whole three year gap in between what she remembered and the written history.

It dawned on her. Home. "Oh! Oh..."

"What? Do you know what Celestia meant?" Twilight looked at her eagerly.

Luna nodded, "Where we were born. But only ruins still exist."

"Well, then we'll have to pack for it. I'll let Rainbow Dash know so she can join us.”

Luna winced. Anxiety filled her mind and her body reacted by shaking a little. “I don’t know Twilight... it’s not a place I... I really don’t think its a good idea.”

Twilight sighed, “But it’s the only place that could help! Don’t you want your sister back?”

Luna hesitated. She was visibly torn. Go back to... that place and save her sister, or allow a full blown war to rage. A war where a few unicorns had enough magic to kill her outright.

“How do we get there Luna?” She repeated.

Sweat dripped down Luna’s head. Her will wavered, still indecisive.

Twilight looked desperate. “Please?”

Luna’s will shattered. She lowered her head and spoke very quietly, "through the castle ruins where you saved me..."

"We'll leave tomorrow then. I'll bring something to eat on my way back. Hopefully Spike will be ok with whatever he and Rarity are working on today."


"Lastly, the city of Fillydelphia pledges it's loyalty to the Council." Bastion Yorets rolled up the scroll he was reading from. Magic guided it to one of the guards who bowed, took it into his teeth and walked out of the hall.

Starfall sat in the throne with a light blue set of armor accenting his features. He held one front hoof to his chin, while the other tapped lightly on the ground. A round table sat in front of him with a pile of scrolls scattered about in front of him. A map of Equestria with several figurines placed on certain cities sat in the center of the table.

Bastion summoned another figurine of an shining sun and moon, and placed it on the city of Fillydelphia. "Several cities prefer neutrality at the moment, as do a few select towns." He summoned several new figurines, each depicting a grey banner with black stripes. "But..."

Bastion looked to Starfall who nodded to continue. Several figurines featuring a crescent moon eclipsing the sun appeared. He used his magic to place them on several cities and towns, joining those already present.

"There are cities who are in open rebellion. Their leaders call themselves the Kingdoms of Equestria. They recognize Princess Luna as the ruler of Equestria. They are also referring to themselves as the 'Keepers of Celestia's Will'."

Several of the unicorns snickered at the phrase, "Keepers of Nightmare Moon is more like it."

There were some laughs around the table. Starfall raised a hoof to quiet them.

"The main leadership is in Manehatten, which is as I understand it gearing up for major defenses. Stalliongrad is also ready for a major fight, and is the new Capitol." Bastion levitated a glass of water from the table in front of him, taking a sip. "Of course it is possible that they are moving the leadership out there to keep them safer."

"And that is all, fillies and gentlecolts. I propose that we begin to rally every stallion and mare to our cause. It has been hundreds of years since Equestria had needed an army. But in order to unite pony kind we must call upon it's citizens to realize the dangers of the chaos those foals are creating!"

"Perhaps we should start with Cloudsdale or Manehatten." Bastion said. The room got suddenly quiet. A scroll was now open in front of the stallion's face. "Cloudsdale had rejected our sovereignty, and the city is moving away from here towards the edges of the Everfree Forest."

Starfall stood up. He walked around the table to the captain of the guard, Lieutenant. "Prepare the training fields for a large class. Bastion, take a scroll."

Bastion nodded, levitating a scroll and an ink pen in front of him.

"By the decree of the Council of Sun and Moon, every able stallion and mare must join the armed forces for a period of two years, or until peacetime befalls this country..."

The Council members quickly added phrases and changes to the manifesto that Starfall laid before them. As it quickly evolved into a declaration of power and hope, he smiled. They would love this council, no, this nation. The foalish public would be willing to die for it.

Or they would die for disobeying.


"By a unanimous vote by the ruling council, each able mare and stallion are to be recruited for a Republic army. Please comply by coming to the town square for examination." The guards were going all around Ponyville shouting this same phrase in different variations.

The mayor stood in the center of the city, trying to shrug off her restrainers: two large pegasi. They each wore a redesign of the royal guard's armour to include the council's new insignia.

"We're a free village! You can't come in here and take people for some ridiculous cause!"

One of them hit her in the back of the head, knocking her unconscious. The two holding her let go, and her body slumped to the ground.

"Put her in chains and lock her in her home," came a voice from the side. A young pegasus in red robes walked out from the crowds of people. A hat adorned his head, with a tightly woven gold mane hanging to one side. The guards nodded and complied with his order. He smiled and looked down the streets.

Parents from each household said goodbye to each other as they left their homes. Young ponies cried or wished them luck in the days they would be gone. Some of them were given a memento of home, but most went with a hope and a promise.

Bit by bit, they gathered in the main square in Ponyville. Many were nervous, and some were outright scared of what was happening. Each of them had saddlebags packed for several days journey, mainly food and water. The pony dressed in red approached the podium, clearing his throat.

“Residents of Ponyville, I would like to humbly welcome you here today. My name is Oath, and I am the newly elected Mayor of Ponyville.” The gathered crowd spoke in whispers, but Oath raised a hoof to silence them.

“For those of you that are confused about this change, it was made because the previous mayor endangered the lives of your entire town. You see, a large group of Equestrians have broken away from the council that Celestia appointed to begin a transition to an age of self-rulership. In her last hours, our beloved Princess commanded that a Republic be created!

“These... rebels believe that rulership under one pony is the way to continue forward. The way of tyranny! For nopony can replace the love and care that Celestia had for all ponies. Without her unbiased leadership, there will always be corruption and leadership under one, single pony. They would defy the last act of love that Celestia brought to Equestria!

“It is for this reason that you have been inducted into the armed forces. To reunite everypony under the guidance of the Equestrian Republic. You will be the greatest force the world has ever seen assembled.

“We will win. And when we do, your foals will remember the great sacrifices we all made to bring pony kind together, united under one banner!”

The crowd stomped their hooves in agreement, slowly growing into cheers and shouts of unity.

War was coming, and they were blind enough to embrace it.


        “How deep into the Everfree Forest is this place?” Twilight asked. They had already trekked a good way into the forest. They had passed the castle ruins an hour ago, before they began traveling along the edge of the cliffs. Every once in a while, Twilight gave a peek over the edge but couldn’t see past the mist.

        “Not much farther. But the road there is a long one. We may not make it there until after nightfall, which means we’ll have to camp for the night.” Luna replied. Her horn was aglow in magic pulling them gently along the edge of the woods, “At least Rainbow Dash didn’t take any of the tent stakes she was carrying.”

        Twilight nodded, but sighed. At the edge of the forest they had run into several pegasi ponies. They were apparently scouting out a new location for Cloudsdale to set down since they had essentially declared war on the council. They offered for Luna to stay and rule from the city, but she declined in lieu of the mission they were on. Rainbow Dash volunteered to take her place instead, and Luna allowed it for a little while. It was mainly to humor her, but she did need someone to find out what was happening in the coming conflict. She had also given Twilight and Rainbow each a necklace so that they could communicate over the long distances by thought.

        Rainbow? How is it out there? Twilight tested. Hopefully it was like one of the spells she had tried before.

        Huh? Oh! Right, Twilight. It’s exciting! The weather factory is designing tornadoes, and the whole city is building a huge storm below it. From what it sounds like, we’re moving further away from Ponyville towards the mountains. Apparently its better hidden back there.

        Why are you making tornadoes and giant storm clouds?

        I don’t know. But they’re so cool!

        Twilight wasn’t sure that was the kind of news she wanted to hear from Rainbow. It wasn’t so much that she thought dangerous weather was cool, especially since she expected Rainbow to enjoy stuff like that. The problem in her mind was that making weather into a weapon was possible, and - more specifically - that it was being done.  She didn’t feel comfortable with those dangerous things being in the same place as her friend, let alone the population of Cloudsdale.

        “Hey, Princess Luna?” Twilight sped up to catch up with her companion.

        “You can just call me Luna,” she smiled, “I’m not a princess anymore.”

        “Yes pr-, er, Luna. I was just wondering why Cloudsdale is moving towards the Everfree Forest. It doesn’t make sense. Even more confusing is that Rainbow says they’re making huge storms for fighting.”

        Luna’s smile faded back into a frown, “Yes, well... There will probably be a lot of fighting from now on. Starfall seems to want to preserve a united world, but with denying me the right to the throne, some places didn’t agree with him. They’ll be fighting to either put me in power, or keep me from it.”

        “Well, I hope you can go back to being a princess.”

        “I don’t.”

        Twilight stopped. “Why? Didn’t Celestia want you to rule while she was... gone?”

        She nodded, “Yes, but nopony wants me to be what Celestia was. They only want Celestia.”

        “I wouldn’t mind if you were in charge.”

        Luna flushed red in her cheeks, and turned her head to the side, “Th-thanks.”

        They walked in silence after that. Unlike the previous parts of the Everfree Forest, this one was blooming with all kinds of wild flowers. The trees here looked like they used to be regularly maintained, not wild like the rest of the forest. The color was more vibrant here in shades of green, blue, red, yellow, pink, and so many others Twilight had to slow down to take it all in. But it was strange that these colors were only close to the edges of the cliffs.

        “Luna, this place is beautiful. Is this still the Everfree Forest?”

        She nodded once more, “This is the southern edge of the forest. Here comes the tricky part.” Luna adjusted herself into a more grounded posture, magic emanating from her horn, “I call upon the founding makers of Equestria: Earth, Sky, Water, and Fire. Ones who have transcended the cycle of the great sleep, you have pledged your loyalty to the Kingdom of Equestria and its citizens. One of royal blood calls on you now to reveal the pain you are so burdened with. A pain so horrible that even through survival, I was used as a tool in it’s destruction.” Magic flared around her pushing her deeper into the ground. Four colored magic shimmered over the cliff.

        “Princess Luna. The youngest of the Royal Line. Your inconsolable sadness allowed the jealousy of your sister to grow, and be taken by foul Nightmare. We have not forgotten the cries you shouted in moments of control to bring the Great Sleep early upon you.”

        Twilight was confused. Nightmare? Didn’t they mean Nightmare Moon? Wasn’t Nightmare Moon simply a creation by Luna to plunge the world into eternal night?

        “We will allow you to share in our burden, Princess Luna. We will also open the eyes of the world that has forgotten, starting with young Twilight Sparkle.”

        Twilight flinched. Who was in that magical light? Why did they know her name?

        The ground beneath began to shake. Earth heaved at the edges of the cliff expanding it beyond its normal size. Old fenced paths rose from beneath the mist, melding softly back into the cliff. The temperature increased making the mist disappear into the sky above. Wind came and cooled the land as it shifted. Twilight lost her footing, and fell into Luna’s side. She wrapped her hooves around one of Luna’s clinging on for dear life. As suddenly as it began, it stopped.

        It was eerily quiet, but Luna could hear the echoes of swords and screams in her head. Her panting filled the air mixing with the sounds of soldiers. She looked from side to side watching for a sword or javelin to come flying at her. The wind rustled the trees and she jumped forward carrying a huge weight with her on her back leg.

        “Luna!” Twilight cried as she was lifted into the air, before falling promptly on her flanks, “What’s the matter?”

        Luna shook her head to the sides. The sounds were gone, leaving her in silence. She floated back down to the ground, and helped Twilight to her hooves. “Nothing. Old memories that are best left forgotten.”

        Twilight walked onto the path and looked over the railing. Her eyes went wide and she held her breath, “What... what is this place?”

        Luna spread her wings and hopped in the air, landing softly beside Twilight. She felt as though her heart was going to break once more, “The city where Celly and I were born.”

Twilight’s eyes stared at the city below. Ocean waves could be seen lapping at the shore in the distance. Many of the buildings were smashed or shattered by something large, or burned black if not to its foundations. Above the city she could see across from her the castle of the royal pony sisters. From this angle she could see that there was far more of it built into the cliff. Once intact, tower skeletons climbed up the cliff walls. A central castle jutted out from the cliff into the city below, with smaller ones spreading out from it. The setting sun cast a foreboding glow on the land.

The two ponies walked down the path towards the city below. Luna stopped once to raise the moon, but was promptly stopped when another force took hold of it and dragged it into the sky.

Twilight asked a few questions here and there but they weren’t substantial. She didn’t want to upset Luna further. From the way the princess walked, it was apparent that she was very upset by just being here. They stopped at the bottom of the trails, now within the confines of the city. Twilight used her magic to pull out her tent from her bag, setting it up quickly.

“Do you mind if I make a fire? It is still winter after all.”

Luna shook her head, “I’ll get some dry wood from the forest.”

It took a short while for Twilight to get the campfire ring right, thumbing through a copy of Camping is for Everypony that she had borrowed from the library. She smiled in triumph and placed her saddlebags on the ground. After a moment of digging she found the logs she had taken from the library’s supply and hovered them into the center of the ring.

Luna touched down on the other side, placing the twigs she found onto the fire. With a tap of Luna’s magic, the kindling was wreathed in flames. The fire slowly grew until it encompassed all of the logs. They sat outside for a few minutes before Twilight pulled a small pot from her bag. It hovered over to settle on the fire. A few packs of nearby snow hovered over the pot and fell right into it.

“Want some soup when it’s ready?” Twilight asked.

“Sure!” Luna said. She was hungry from all the walking and the magic she performed.

The pot slowly bubbled over the fire. Twilight went about her work, adding small packets of powder into the pot. It smelled delicious.

“What are those?” Luna pointed her hoof at the empty packets by Twilight’s side.

“Oh these? Instant soup mix. Just add hot water and it makes a delicious onion soup broth.” She chirped. Her magic grabbed hold of something in her saddlebags. The fresh vegetables were coaxed out and dropped into the pot. “I like adding a little something to it though. Spike taught me how to make this when we went camping on the roof of the castle in Canterlot.”

Luna licked her lips in anticipation. Instant soup sounded funny, but it smelled good, especially with the vegetables thrown in. The pot hovered off of the fire and poured itself into two bowls that had slid out of her other saddle bag. Luna hovered the soup over to her and took a sip.

“Delicious!” Luna said joyfully. She quickly drank down the contents of the bowl letting the tangy liquid dance on her taste buds. The warmth settled down in her stomach, and she patted it with one hoof.

Twilight giggled at Luna’s antics and drank more of her soup. When she finally did, she put the bowls in the pot and boiled more melted snow to clean them. Eventually they were done, and she poured the water into the dirt and repacked the pot and bowls into one saddlebag.

“I’m going to get some sleep for tomorrow.” Twilight said, “I brought an extra sleeping bag so you could use it.”

Luna nodded and followed Twilight into the tent, letting the fire burn out on its own. She tucked herself away in the extra sleeping bag, settled behind Twilight.

“Good night, Luna,” Twilight whispered.

“Good night, Twilight,” Luna responded in kind.

As Twilight fell asleep, Luna was overcome by the feelings she had been holding back. A single tear left Luna’s eyes, and she sniffled. I’m home Celly. I’m... Luna cried softly into her sleeping bag. The fire outside turned to smoldering ash, and the moon took its place above the city, covering it in a fresh layer of sorrow.

The Eversleep


        The sun was peeking over the horizon when Luna rose from her sleeping bag. It was rare that she slept through her own creations passing, but she was overwhelmed by the situation she was in. The sound of breathing filled the tent, coming from her right. She looked down at the violet pony sleeping in relative peace. Twilight had no idea on what this place held, nor what it meant to her and Celestia. She needed time to clear her thoughts, so she walked out of the tent and into the cold morning air.

One of the first things she noticed was the sound of the ocean, which seemed to fill the whole city with tranquil sound, soft enough that it didn’t wake her. The back and forth of the tide hid the rising sun, which spread beautiful oranges and pinks across the sky. She watched the giant ball rise up over the waves, basking the city in light. It was too bright, however, and she raised her hooves to shield her eyes.

"Mmm... Luna?" came a voice from behind her.

Twilight was half out of the tent, with her mane sticking out in all directions. Luna snorted, and stuffed her hoof into her mouth.

"What?" Twilight said groggily.

Luna pointed at Twilight's head. Twilight reacted by summoning a brush from inside and going over her hair several times, until it straightened out.

"Better?" Twilight kept her facial features flat.

Luna giggled a bit, but nodded.

Twilight grabbed what was left of the vegetables for breakfast, and split them between her and Luna. She didn't bother with the mind link with Rainbow Dash. Knowing that silly filly, she was still sleeping in whatever place she found.

“OK. Princess Celestia said that whatever answer we needed is in the city. But where do we start?” Twilight asked.

Luna floated up into the air to get a better look around. She didn’t know where exactly to start, but she had an idea. “If there’s anything left of the library we can start there. But it might take a couple of days to search the whole city.” Twilight raised an eyebrow at her. Luna continued regardless, “We’ll probably have an answer before we get to that point.”

“Where’s the library?”

“By the castle. It should be one of the marble buildings in front of the main gates.” Luna replied.

Twilight floated her saddlebags to her back, tightening them in one fluid motion. “Let’s go.”

It took an hour of walking for Twilight to get a feel for how massive the city actually was. By ancient standards she had read, this city was comparable to the size of Manehatten. Without running everywhere, it could take hours to go from one end of the city to the other. She was starting to realize that the path they took was really the long way around.

The buildings for the most part weren’t very tall, mainly keeping a one to two story height. Most of them were made from stone or brick, and many were a simple combination of the two. Some holes abounded in the ruined structures, likely for wood support beams. Unfortunately time had gotten the better of the average structure. Without support many of the buildings had fallen in on themselves or were plain ruins.

The more disturbing structures were the ones with damage done to them. Some of the ruined buildings had huge holes through them with singe marks or discolorations from strain. Other structures were just completely absent. It was almost like someone laid the foundation for a new house and simply forgot to build it. There was one they passed where Twilight stopped to shuffle through the rubble and found part of a doll, made from some tattered cloth. Half of its face was missing or intentionally sewn that way. Its single eye seemed to look at an odd angle as it bulged from the cloth.

Twilight was starting to feel sick, but her curiosity got the better of her. She cleared a little more of the rubble away until she hit something metal. Her hooves dug around it slowly removing the rubble before her stomach pulled her to the side. There, under the rubble was a rusted crib and the... the...

Twilight lost whatever she had eaten for breakfast to the floor outside. Her sickness turned to grief, and confusion.

“Twilight! Are you alright?” Luna flew over to her. She glanced inside the building and looked at the doll on the floor.

“Look father, a present!”

A young filly carried a doll with half a unicorn as its body. Her eyes were big and red, with only slits for irises.

“No... She’s taken her too...”

Luna gripped her head as it swam with visions. Her head felt as though it was going to burst from sudden pain. She fell to her haunches and grabbed her head with both hooves.

The door was ripped from its hinges as more dragon-eyed ponies brandished weapons or even kitchen pots and wooden spoons.

“The young one wishes another doll?” One of the ponies asked, turning to face the filly with his neck at an awkward angle.

“Mama Nightmare says I can have Daddy be just like this one.” She held up the doll in her hands.

The sound of distant screams and fire filled the air, joined shortly by those of her loving father being hacked apart.

Twilight was crying as Luna’s vision returned to the present. Her whole body shook as she rose clumsily to her feet. She put a wing around Twilight and nudged her back onto the road.

“Why? Why would a foal be here like that? I don’t understand!” She managed through her cries.

Luna calmed herself as best she could, “Its not something you want to know. Just try to calm down.”

They walked on towards the library. Luna eventually soothed Twilight to the point that she could walk on her own again. But after the discovery of the doll, it was a bit different. Twilight never looked inside a single building as they passed.


        “As requested, we have brought winter to a close today. The first official day of spring will occur tomorrow as scheduled. The fields are ready for training, however.”

        Starfall poured tea for himself and Bastion. They were seated in one of the private halls in the castle. The room was plush with comfortable furniture ranging from the one pony seats they were in, to a beautiful red sofa with an engraving of the sun on each arm. There was a small table between the two of them made of hard wood that was clearly old and refurbished. The carvings running along the base were hand crafted and followed all the way down to the feet of the table. Several windows flooded the room with afternoon light.

        Starfall yawned softly. Raising the sun for the council was difficult and downright exhausting when only half of the council was present. His only saving grace was his protege, Bastion Yorsets. When he headed Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, Bastion was his right hand stallion, and his partner in many of his research studies. It was good that the relationship traveled into politics.

        “How would you like the forces to be set up?” Bastion asked, raising his teacup to his mouth.

        Starfall lifted his own cup and drank some of its contents. The cup settled back in place, and he cleared his throat, “I would like to see the division along the lines of each type of pony. A ground unit of earth ponies, an air unit of pegasi, and a separate unit for unicorns. I would like the ground and air units to be trained in hand to hand and ranged combat. The unicorns however will be a division focused through a few select individuals. I’m thinking of applying our research on weaving spells to this division.”

        Bastion raised an eyebrow, “The ritual for weaving is fairly simple, but with as much magic as you’re thinking of using it could become completely unstable.”

        “That’s why I want you to head this division. You are the most experienced unicorn in the Republic besides myself on the ritual. I trust you above all else in this matter as well. Without fully understanding the others, I simply cannot trust them with possibly some of the most powerful magic in the world.”

        Bastion’s eyes lit up with pride. His former teacher and respected leader was entrusting him with leading their army. “I accept. I am honored that you think of me so highly. I will make them the greatest force ever seen.” He stood, bowed, and trotted happily to the fields below.

        Starfall stayed in the room for a while longer. The warm tea was good in the lingering cold weather. He walked to one of the windows and peered down below. The new army he had fashioned for his empire was starting their training. Soon they would be able to bring down the rebellion looking to keep Luna’s leadership.

But, still he worried. After the death of Remedy Rose, her followers in Paris were itching to get revenge. Stormbreaker witnessed it first hand and had swayed them to his cause. With his fellow ponies in Stalliongrad, he had thousands of hardened ponies ready to fight for his cause.

He drank what was left of his tea and called for one of the maids to tidy up the chamber, before returning to the throne room, to plan his strategies.


        The life of a politician was boring. There was no flying, no pranks, no excitement. Rainbow Dash wanted nothing but out of the politician’s seat. Plus, her parents had already moved out of Cloudsdale after she took the job on the weather patrol in Ponyville, so there was nothing really to do. Except get into trouble.

        Trouble she seemed to narrowly avoid as the rest of the city was not focused on her antics, nor on other minor trouble making from some of the fillies in town. A huge storm was brewing beneath them, tended to day and night by almost anyone the city could spare. The weather factory had stopped delivering any new storms to Canterlot, or the surrounding cities and towns. They had allowed a bit of sympathy to her town by rangling wild storms over the Everfree Forest in Ponyville’s direction. With winter wrap-up underway, it was well needed rain that would be coming its way.

        She was concerned that there were classes on fighting taking place. Pegasi carrying truckloads of armor and weapons had started to come in big time from Manehatten. Though she was curious why they only came in from along the tree-line.

        Today, her only mischief was to find out exactly what was going on. To do that, she’d have to sneak into the important meeting with Stalliongrad’s diplomats, and more importantly, not get caught. The pegasi that came as diplomats were bulkier than Big Macintosh, and she did not want to be on their bad side.

Fortunately, one of Cloudsdale's diplomats found her poking outside the hall and dragged her inside the room for the meeting. She was a short pony, but boy was she witty. Not a single prank slipped by her, and Rainbow was becoming bored with trying. The mare was a lavender pegasus with a paper and ink quill on her flank. Her hair was a deep blue, but cropped short to her head.

 Unfortunately she was stuck between Cloudsdale's worry-wart of a mayor, and the burly pegasi she didn't want to be near.

"Who is this?" one of the pegasi diplomats said. His accent was thick, and Rainbow fought the urge to giggle.

"Princess Luna's representative. She has direct contact with the princess," replied the mare who dragged her in. The two pegasi looked at Rainbow with awe.

That's what I thought, Rainbow mused.

"I am Peace Bloom, official representative of Cloudsdale. I'm pleased our invitation reached you so quickly," the mare continued. “As you can see we are building defences as best as we can. Though the storm is a big deterrent. We were wondering if you might be able to spare some forces to train our militia. We also have almost no weapons, save for what we can make.”

One of the representatives from Stalliongrad stepped forward, “I can try to get weapons for you, but we believe that Starfall is looking towards Manehatten as his first target.”

Peace Bloom shook her head. “We’re going to be starving his fields of the rain they need. Do you think someone who overthrew Princess Luna and took over Canterlot in a mere day would ignore such a threat to his nation? He’ll take this place without support!”

The representative who spoke looked at his companion who simply nodded once. He turned away from his comrade and sighed, “We will do our best to get something for you Miss Bloom. Troops or weapons or both - though the chances of the last occurring is very slim.”

Peace Bloom smiled. “We appreciate your support. If he turns to Manehatten, we will send troops to support you in kind, as well as some other... fun things.”

The burly ponies grinned. “Until next time, Peace Bloom. Miss Dash.” They bowed in respect to both Peace Bloom and Rainbow Dash before exiting the room.

Rainbow wasn’t quite sure what to make of the meeting. It was a shorter conversation than she had expected to happen. She looked to Peace Bloom for any explination.

“Well?” Peace Bloom said.

Rainbow looked at her quizzically, “What?”

“What does Princess Luna think of the discussion. You were filling her in, right?”

Rainbow Dash laughed nervously, “Of course I was! I wouldn’t forget something like that. She’s just a little busy where she is.” Her mind went to the necklace and she started to think... hard. TWILIGHT. DOES LUNA THINK THAT STARFALL WILL GO AFTER CLOUDS-

Rainbow! Don’t think that you’re screaming! Think that you’re talking normally! The response from the other end sounded pained and irritated.

Oops. My bad. Let me explain what happened in the meeting I’m at.


        Luna and Twilight returned to the tent sometime after the moon rose over the horizon. This time, Twilight built the fire without Luna’s help, and threw the pot on to make more soup. Their supply of snow was dwindling, so she made a point to fill a water bottle with some melted snow after she cleaned the pot.

        Twilight didn’t focus on the pot as much as she did on the tome they had found. Luna was reading the contents as quickly as possible, flipping the pages in almost a steady rhythm. She hadn’t forgotten how they found it, nor the magic that hid it.

        Luna had sensed the magic as soon as they left the library. A warm breeze blew the strong scent of sunflowers across her path. They were her sister’s favorite. It was also the scent of her sister’s magic. She took off after the smell, barreling down the streets towards the castle.

        “Luna! Wait for me!” Twilight tried her best to keep up with the princess, barely managing to keep her pace.

        They passed through what was left of the front gardens first. The plants here were overgrown, and had dug into the stone path, overgrowing much of the rubble it created. Vines stretched over many of the garden walls and paths, leading to the growth covering the main hall ahead of her. Luna slowed to a walk as she entered the hall before her. Twilight caught up to her and walked over to her side.

        The central hall was filled with paintings all over the ceiling and the walls. What was left of the roof depicted what the city may have looked like in its glory days. Sprawling streets filled with carts of food and merchandise was very different from the buildings in Canterlot. Homes held lines hanging over the streets filled with clothes out to dry. Above the city, the trees produced all kinds of fruits, being carried by alicorn and pegasus alike. High in the center was the sun shining down on the city. Below it was a moon mosaic, followed by the floor designed as a nightly reflection of the the ceiling mural. The walls were of fights she had never heard of, and of coronations she had never seen.

        Luna made a beeline for the moon in the center. She could feel the magic coming from the floor below her. Carefully she tapped the floor with her hoof, listening for the hollow response. It was there. Her horn lit up with magic and the magic below her responded immediately.

        Use this well, Luna. Her face lost some of its color. It was Celestia’s voice, but it sounded... young, pained, and inexperienced. How long had this been here?

        Twilight backed up from the center. Luna rose into the air as the tiles spun around in a spiral pattern lifting gradually from its place. The moon was torn up by the magic and the tiles hovered around the Princess of the Moon. They began to snap back into place, forming a crescent moon, instead of a full moon like before. In the empty space, a small book lay in wait, filled with paper sticking out at odd angles. It was as if the book was used yesterday.

        Luna floated back down to the ground and hovered the book into her waiting jaws. They left the castle shortly after that.

        The two of them ate the soup before any part of the book was discussed. Even so, they stayed silent around the campfire for a while after eating. The sound of the ocean echoed off of the cliff walls keeping the silence from truly intruding.

        Luna began first, “This book contains research that was conducted by my sister, shortly after a plague hit our city. The research focusses solely on the plague for a while and is discontinued after a certain point. Around the same time, my sister began to study the Eversleep.

“According to her notes, the Eversleep is a phenomenon only affecting alicorns,” Luna began. “It is a part of the life cycle of their immortality, just like a Phoenix. When the Phoenix bursts into flames, it rises immediately from the ashes to be reborn. When an alicorn enters the Eversleep, they “die” and rise again a thousand years later. It may happen many times during their lifetime, but each time their body is vulnerable. If their body is destroyed during the Eversleep, they cannot return after their sleep. But they can become something else.”

“Like what?” Twilight asked, trying to take in all the information at once.

“They can become the embodiment of their special talent and use it to serve the lands of Equestria. Remember the voices at the top of the cliff?”

Twilight nodded.

“Those were the combined voices of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Sky. They are the oldest known alicorns to have grown beyond their Eversleep. They embody the elements they are named after.”

Twilight nodded slowly. She understood that... sort of. “Why doesn’t anypony else know about them?”

“Nopony else can summon them. Only those of royal blood can. With Celestia asleep, I’m the only one left in all Equestria who can.”

Twilight was silent for a while. She was intrigued by all this information, but it didn’t make sense why Celestia had studied all of this. Maybe a school project? She stood up and sat down next to Luna.

“So, was there anything in there about bringing someone back early from this... sleep?”

“Yes. Its simple, but difficult. It requires a lot of magic to perform and it will take some time to complete. More importantly, I’m the one who has to cast it.”

“Why is that a problem?”

“If Starfall catches up to me and stops the spell, we’d have to start all over again. Every day for a month, I must tie together the hours that everypony and every creature sleeps. Once I have enough sleep gathered, I can tie it to Celestia’s time asleep. It would be as if she had slept those hours herself. It could take a little longer or shorter to gather all the time needed to make that spell occur, but I can force the number of hours to multiply.”

“Well, great! I was about to say that one month was not nearly enough to make up for one thousand years of sleeping.”

“There is the possibility that I might die from the amount of magic required to power the spell.”


Luna nodded, “Which is why there was one more thing that I wanted to ask you.”

“Anything you need, I’ll try to help.”

The Eversleep


Starfall was visibly upset. That usually meant that someone had delivered bad news, or had blundered something important. This time, he didn’t even need to hear the bad news, he already knew what was coming.

He held up a hoof to silence the earth pony who was requesting more water. A small sigh escaped him, "I am well aware of the crisis, but as I’m sure you know, the city of Cloudsdale has rebelled againt the republic. We do not have the capacity to assist you further, but be assured you will have rain within the next few days."

The earth pony motioned to protest, but revised that course of action. Instead he bowed, "Thank you for your time. I pray they will reconsider their actions and join Celestia's council in building this great republic." With that he walked out of the doors.

"Starfall, it has been a week since Celestia's death, and the melted snows are all that have been feeding the crops. We need to do something!" Guiding Light yelled.

The room was relatively cool, but without the rain, the heat was becoming excessive. Lakes and rivers they depended on were drying up, leaving very little water. The councils unicorns were starting to get cranky.

Starfall held a level head through it all. The army was disciplined enough for the time being. The special unicorn division was also coming along nicely, assisting the drought with magically summoned water. Still, he was unsure of whether or not to take military action on Cloudsdale. Why? With Stormbreaker reinforcing Manehatten and pushing his forces to the contested border between Republic lands and those of the rebels any forces he would send would be unprepared. But his internal debate had left him with a reasonable solution. What was left was to test the faith of his ‘loyal’ council members. He bit down on his tongue hard and took in a deep breath.

“I have thought very hard these past few days on the matters at hoof. I have come to a kind of conclusion on the matter. Allow me to explain.”

He summoned the map of Equestria to the table once more, using his magic to drag the pieces into their places. Several of the military figures sat around Cloudsdale’s flag.

“You’re intending to fight Cloudsdale? That seems like a waste of resources, considering that Stormbreaker is breathing down our manes.” Another of the unicorns responded. Starfall glared at him. The unicorn sat down immediately and stayed quiet.

“We have a very large military force, in comparison to Stormbreaker’s. Therefore, we can deceive him into thinking we are responding with force to his move in Manehatten.” Several flags slid across the map, passing through Fillydelphia. A blue glow of magic highlighted the trail the forces would take. Four smaller flags remained.

“However,” he continued, "this would make it seem as if we are ignoring the threat of famine with a short term look at winning the war as quickly as possible. Many history books deep in the archives prove that ample food keeps morale high in long fights.

“This allows us to sneak several units through the Everfree Forest to attack and overwhelm Cloudsdale,” Starfall slid three of the flags on a path through the Everfree Forest to the mountains near the city. “They will be more likely to send troops and arms to their allies in Manehatten, leaving them vulnerable and catching them off guard.” He tipped the flag on Cloudsdale’s position onto its side. “It will allow us to cut off any additional air forces or weather fronts.”

Many of the unicorns nodded in agreement with this plan. Starfall smiled widely. They were won over easily enough, and it further enforced his leadership in the military aspect as well.

Good, Starfall thought.

“Do you have a plan for rainclouds after the city falls to us? Surely the weather factory will not be in working condition.” Guiding Light chimed in.

“If we have to rebuild or repair the factory, we can wrangle the remnants of whatever clouds they’ve been building. We can also take advantage of the storms they’ve let run wild in the Everfree Forest. It should not be a problem.”

Guiding Light seemed satisfied with that and nodded her consent.

“I would like to bring it to a vote. All those in favor of this military plan?”

All of the unicorns in the room raised their hooves. Excellent, Starfall mused.

“The plan will take effect immediately. Bastion, you will head the forces in the attack on Cloudsdale. Dynasty will accompany you as the leader for our ground forces. The attack will occur as soon as you arrive. Since it is still early, you should have enough time to reach your staging area by nightfall. If you’re ready, you can attack them. They’re guaranteeing blue skies.”

Bastion and Dynasty nodded and bowed. They then left the room to their posts.

“The remainder of our forces will fall to Guiding Light and Lieutenant. Follow the path through Fillydelphia. You will be greeted hospitably, and it may force Stormbreaker’s forces to retreat to Manehatten. If that occurs, don’t push too much farther. I will join you in a few day’s time in Bastion’s place. The rest of you will assume the duties of court and council. You will also be responsible for raising and setting both Sun and Moon. Conserve yourselves.”

All of the unicorns stood and bowed to Starfall, who in return bowed to them.

“Make them regret their misplaced trust,” he said.

Permanently, his mind whispered to him.


        Rainbow Dash woke up to another warm evening in Cloudsdale. The bed she lay in floated in the center of the guest room. Three of the walls in the rounded room held open windows, allowing a cool breeze to float gently through her feathers. It also allowed the sounds of an unusually busy city to drag her from a nap. She hovered over to the window to see what all the fuss was about.

        Many of the guards that had been sent to train and equip the militia were scrambling to pass out equipment and packs to the waiting hooves of the troops. These troops fanned out into the city, kissing their wives and children farewell before lifting off. From what she could see, they were headed out of the city, in the path that those diplomats had come.

        “That’s weird,” she said aloud.

Her curiosity took over her laziness. Diving from the window, she flew down to the main part of the city hall. It was a large open building built into the clouds to separate two whole tiers of the city. Above it was the school she had attended in her youth, as well as the arena where she had performed her Sonic Rainboom at the Young Fliers Competition. The entrance was on the housing tier, where much of the clouds had been broken down into many different buildings, each housing many families, and a few small businesses.

        The hall itself was simple, with few furnishings, save for a lavish carpet in the center, and tables spread across the room. In the back, at the end of the carpet no less, were several desks and a door into the room holding the mayor. On each side was an entrance to a large meeting room, one of which she was frequently in to listen to diplomatic talks. That was her first stop.

        She entered the room and found Peace Bloom busy writing on a scroll, while looking at a board with many different pieces on it. The burly diplomats from earlier in the week had returned and were adjusting different pieces on the same board.

        Peace Bloom glanced up and beckoned Rainbow over to her.

        “Rainbow, this is important. You need to get in contact with Twilight and the Princess immediately. Starfall has made his move towards Manehatten.”

        Twilight! I need to talk with Luna, like, right now, Rainbow said, the anxiety bleeding through the connection.

        OK. Hold on, came the response. There was silence for a moment.

        Finally, Luna’s voice chimed in her head, Yes Miss Dash?

        Peace Bloom, that’s the diplomat from Cloudsdale, wants you to know that Starfall - I think that’s his name - is sending armed ponies towards Manehatten. From the looks of it, Cloudsdale is sending almost everyone there to defend it.

        Luna’s response faltered. Rainbow could feel the fear in her voice. They’re leaving... to go to war?

Yeah. I mean it’ll be like that time in Appaloosa when the settler ponies used pies to subdue the Buffalo there.

        Luna’s voice was confused, Pies? Rainbow Dash, be serious please. When ponies go to war, they kill each other. Its no joking matter.

        Luna said something else, but Rainbow Dash wasn’t paying attention. Her whole body shook slightly just like she was during Celestia’s funeral march. War was never really explained to her very well in school, nor did she pay attention much even if it was taught. The only war that she had ever heard of was the Reunification War of Equestria almost 900 years ago, and it was because Twilight found it in some old book she wanted to study.

        Where are you two? She managed to think.

        In a city below the castle where you freed me from Nightmare Moon. For now, stay there. If anything happens, come find us here. Don’t put yourself in danger. I would never forgive myself if you got hurt. Neither would Twilight...

        Ok. Rainbow lost her concentration on the connection.

        “Is there anyone staying behind?” One of the Stalliongrad diplomats looked concerned. Rainbow was unaware of what conversation she missed, but her mind was just barely able to catch the conversation now.

        “Yes. A small defensive force is here. Any who can will fight if it comes to it. We have already set up an evacuation plan.” Peace Bloom was sweating from anxiety. She wiped it off with her hoof.

        “Good. Ensure that the tornadoes are ready to be sent tomorrow. If we can keep luring his forces forward to Manehatten, any tornado from behind will send his troops into a panic. It will be quick, and then we can take back Canterlot.”

        She saluted them, and they returned in kind. “Just make sure the stallions and mares come home.”

        “Stay vigilant Peace Bloom. May Celestia’s spirit protect you.”

        “And you. All of you.”


The morning sun glinted over the corner of the mountains on the edge of the Everfree Forest. An army of pegasi and unicorns marched through the mountain paths, hiding behind its relative safety from the city of Cloudsdale. Their armor lightly jingled on the stone from the many soldiers lying in wait. Unicorns began to channel their magic, slowly weaving their spell together. Bastion trotted to the peak of the mountain, in plain sight of the city and sat down. His own magic began to surround him flowing behind his eyes to see far into the city.

Pegasi sat behind their clouds with crossbows and swords as best as they could make. Some of the leaders looked concerned at the lone unicorn, scrambling to get pegasi into positions all along the storm clouds that the city was brewing. The weather factory was barely containing the tornadoes they had put together, reigning it in with any tools they could use to adjust its ferocity. Bastion outright laughed.

Their weaponized weather would be the death of them.

His magic reached out into the weave behind them and drew himself as its guiding needles. The magic flowed around his own giving him full control over the weave. He tested their strength, tugging slightly on the sources of the magic. The unicorns made no noise, or movement, so he finished preparing the weave’s ruthlessness to unleash upon the poor foals in Cloudsdale.

Starfall looked towards the sky, feeling the wind on his face through the throne room in Canterlot. He could see the far mountains and the storm that brewed beyond it.

The weave is ready Starfall, came Bastion’s voice.

A smile played on Starfall’s lips, slowly pushing him into a wicked grin. Wipe Cloudsdale from the map.

Of course.

        The screams from the Republic’s army rattled the front lines of Cloudsdale, and woke Rainbow from her sleep. She rushed to the window only to witness pegasi pouring over the mountains. They flooded the sky with their feathers, pushing the air out of the way as they charged the city. A strange magical force followed slowly behind them. Like a tsunami, the ocean-blue magic poured over the mountains reaching into the sky. The clear skies gave way to the darkness, the wave consuming whatever lies she was trying to tell herself.

It was real.

        “FIRE!” Yelled one of the Cloudsdale defenders below.

        A volley of crossbow bolts flung themselves skywards at the charging pegasi. The magic wave reacted first, pouring in around the attackers and burning the crossbow bolts as they touched it. Not all were spared from the meager defenses, as ponies fell from the sky into the storm clouds below. Screams of pain and fear mingled as the wave closed in on the city. Clouds evaporated at it’s touch, taking apart any defenses that Rainbow had watched the city build night and day.

        “Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh,” she began yelling, frantically trying to fly into the tier with all of Cloudsdale’s homes. “WE’RE UNDER ATTACK! HELP!”

        Ponies scrambled from their homes to look at the commotion outside. Panic gripped families who tried to leave with anything they could put their hooves on. Young foals and fillies could be heard crying among the confusion as scared parents tried to flee with them in their hooves.

        The militia also left their homes and took to the sky, flying to the battle, drawing their weapons as they flew. The wave advanced upon the city. Just as it was about to crash right into it, the Republic’s pegasi broke from behind it.

        Pegasus fought pegasus as they collided with one another in mid-flight. Loosely gripped swords clanged against expertly trained Repulic wingblades. Mare and stallion fell through the clouds to their doom below or dying as they fell. Hatred fumed through the ranks of hundreds of soldiers. The rough militia of Cloudsdale gave as many inches as possible to preserve whatever lives they had to protect. Any families still in the city did their best to escape the encroaching melee.

        That's when Bastion began to truly weave the magic at his command. An expert at large magical spells, he began to coax the threads from each pony he had under his command. He worked out each individual string from the weave, letting the strands hang loose over the city. Then with a grunt, he dove each strand into the clouds, spider-webbing the different layers throughout. He could feel the clouds giving way slowly to the heat, allowing the storm clouds to rise through the gaps.

The storms burst through the clouds in random locations, spraying the soft platforms with fresh rain and ice. Lightining struck through homes and buildings, tearing up the battlefield. With the magic guiding the path of chaos and destruction, it worked its way into the weather factory. The walls cracked and heaved under the pressure of the storms within, without, and the magic piercing it from below. The ponies inside tried to stop the storms they had so carefully created, but they broke free of their constraints, smashing the walls into nothingness.

Rainbow couldn’t believe what was happening to the city. Before she knew it, she was caught within the melee. Blades danced around her, flinging sparks or blood into the air. Her body was knocked around as she tried desperately to weave in and out of danger’s way. One of the enemy soldiers swung wildly at her, and she reacted on instinct, rolling left and bucking him right in the head. The crunch was sickening and the stallion dropped through the clouds below.

Screams could be heard from all over the city as the magic worked their way into the sky. Anypony it touched started to lose their ability to fly, and fell into the storms below. Her instincts hit her full force now, and she bolted from the city, plowing through anything in the way except for the weapons she avoided. One slashed into her side and clipped her wing, but she spun to keep her momentum steady. The tendrils of magic rose around her like columns of water, which she launched herself around.

Just at the outskirts, she was grazed by one. Her wings locked in place and she started plummeting towards the forest beyond. Instead of fighting to stay up, she pushed herself to move faster diving full on. The air began to tighten around her body, and her breathing became weaker.

 Bastion signaled to his counterpart at the base of the mountains by releasing her magic from the weave. The red mare licked her lips. The earth ponies behind her stood ready, but nervous. But that was alright, not that it mattered.

She would break them.

Do it, Dynasty. Bastion’s voice was strained, but clear in her head. She wanted blood.

“CHAAAAAAAARGEE!” She cried, leading forward into the valley below. Fire burst from her horn surrounding her body as she ran into the rampant storms. The ponies behind her echoed her cry, raising the banner of the Republic of Sun and Moon and charging in after her. Swords sung from their sheaths as they entered the storm.

The air pulled into a tight cone, ripping through the air like an arrow. The ground came ever closer as Rainbow tried to push harder. She only had one shot at this.

The first thing that surprised her was the army of ponies waiting for her. Unicorns in the formerly hidden group lifted their veil revealing a small force of soaked earth ponies waiting to meet them. Dynasty burst into hysterical laughter, pulling her magic to her and forcing it into the ground below. She stopped in place allowing the earth ponies to charge past her. Her body strained to rip the molten core from deep below the battlefield, pulling hard on her magic to force it towards the surface.

Your weave begins now Dynasty. Don’t overdo it.

She could feel Bastion’s magic intertwine with hers, weaving more of their loyal unicorns’ magic into hers. Her eyes went wide, and her smile deepened into insanity. Swords met somplace beyond her, where the armies fought.

Stormbreaker’s unicorns were desperate to destroy the red pony. They sent up flares of magic, weaving their might together before unleashing it into the sky. Lightning struck at the pony, but her magic was already around her. The rain fled from her as the heat increased around her. Bodies of dead or dying pegasi rained down from the city below fueling her excitement and glee. It was all so perfect. She couldn’t contain herself any longer.

Dynasty’s laughter pierced the air as the earth ruptured beneath the enemy. Columns of lava burst from the broken earth, consuming the dirt that once held it. Her magic teased them into column sized whips, lashing out at the lines below. Ponies were flung skyward, as the clouds above lifted higher.

But her magic ended abruptly when a huge boom thundered from up above, sending a huge rainbow blast across the skies. Bastion also felt the magic ripped from him.

Fortunately, the magic had done its work. Whatever was being held by the weave fell into nothing. blast wiped whatever was left of the cloud city into a growing crescent shape on its edge. The storm cloud was ripped to pieces, clearing whatever advantage those forces had. Those remaining numbered less than a few hundred, and they knew there was no hope for a counter attack. Their weapons dropped to the ground, and they surrendered.

        Rainbow felt her body flying low to the ground, and she pulled up, loosing her supersonic speed immediately, and flinging her skywards. The trail dissipated behind her leaving her sore and helpless. Eventually she slowed down to a stop, and fell back down to the river below. Her eyes shut from the pressure, and she flared her wings out. The air whipped around her slowing her descent into a slower dive, breaking her already injured wing. The pain was more than she could take, and as she fell into the water, her consciousness slipped away.

        Whatever ponies remained from Cloudsdale’s defenders, Bastion and Dynasty rounded them up and brought them into the muddy fields below. They stood side by side, surrounded by the Republic’s forces. He looked them up and down.

        They were worn, and afraid. Some were crying softly to themselves, while others were simply too shocked to react. They each stared down at the ground as Bastion walked by, accompanied by a whimper or too.

        Bastion reached out with his mind to the council chambers. The mind he seeked readily grabbed hold. Starfall, we are victorious, he thought, pride filling his mind.

        What of the city?

        Wiped from the map.

        Starfall laughed out loud, filling the chamber with dark laughter. Excellent.

        What shall we do with the prisoners?

        Starfall went to answer, but instead cut the connection for a moment. He hadn’t planned for prisoners, nor did he have space for them. The best thing would be to use them to rebuild the factory, but if they could be freed, it would be a problem.

        A though slowly whispered its way to the front of his mind. Kill them, it said. His smile grew wider. That would solve most of the possible problems from keeping them. He could always have other pegasi rebuild Cloudsdale.

        He re-established the connection to Bastion.

        Starfall? Bastion’s voice sounded almost immediately.

        There weren’t any prisoners.


        When the future hears of this battle, there will be no prisoners from the first battle of the war. There were no soldiers that survived. It is a complete and utter victory.

        Bastion hesitated and swallowed hard. Yes sir.

        He looked at the ragged soldiers who were only protecting their home, and steeled himself.

        “All forces begin the march northward! We go to Fillydelphia.”

        Cheers went up in the crowd, and they happily complied, setting off at a brisk pace beside him. He nodded to two unicorns to stay.


        Yes, Bastion?

        Let them believe they will be prisoners, but wait until we leave.

        Then what?

        Bastion could feel the excitement and anticipation bubbling through her thoughts. He steeled himself not to look back as his group passed over a hill. His gut screamed at him not to do what he was ordered. He bit down on his tongue and grated it along his teeth before gathering the will to give the command:

        Kill them.


        Rainbow coughed as hard as she could, expelling the water and mud from her mouth. Pain wracked her body all over. At least one of her wings was broken, but amazingly, she wasn’t more hurt than she should have been. Especially after her sonic rainboom right near the ground. Incredible luck must have been with her for the water she landed on rather than the solid ground.

        She mustered enough strength to lift herself to her hooves. Her body wobbled as she tested one hoof, then the other. Once she found that she could walk again, she set off through the woods, doing her best to find her way out of the forest.

        Twilight... Twi...? She tried desperately to reach out for a connection somewhere.

        Rainbow Dash? Is everything alright?

        No. Nothing is ok, except for hearing your voice. Cloudsdale... She hesitated. The images flooded her mind, going by over and over.

        Rainbow? What about Cloudsdale?

        I... I don’t know... I’m lost in the forest somewhere, and I’m bleeding I think. I can’t fly and there was so much blood.

        Rainbow?! Oh Celestia, I’ll try to find you, just keep going south if you can manage it.

        It hurts so bad, Twilight. I can’t feel the ground or my wing. How long have I been unconscious?

        I don’t know Rainbow, just keep going.

        At the campsite, Twilight was frantic. She had no idea what was going on with her friend, but it was clear that she was traumatized to no end. Luna was resting in the tent, and she had just started the fire for that evening. All of those duties left her mind as she opened the tent flaps.

        “Luna! Something’s happened to Rainbow Dash!” she yelled.

        Luna shot straight up from her sleeping bag, “Wha- what?”

        “Rainbow Dash is in the forest somewhere! She’s hurt and trying to say something about Cloudsdale, but I can’t understand her.”

        Luna took the necklace from Twilight’s neck and poured her magic into it. She felt a tug from it, trying to return to its other half. “I’ll go find her.” Her wings beat the air beneath her, and she took to the skies.

        Rainbow Dash? This is Luna. I’m coming to find you.

        Luna? Oh Celestia, please. I’m so scared. They killed everypony... Why? The pain... it hurts so bad.

        Luna darted through the forest, speeding past the trees, following the tug of the necklace guide her. She felt the pull increase and she slowed down, walking quickly forward. Before long, she found the light blue pony, who collapsed into tears.

        “Luna, they killed...” she bawled into her hooves.

Rainbow Dash looked horrible. Her entire body had bruises and cuts all over it. Her mane and coat were disheveled, stained with mud and blood from her wounds. The pony simply leaned into Luna’s coat as she lifted her onto her back, crying the whole way back to the campsite.

        Twilight had paced for almost an hour until Luna returned, landing and taking off towards the sea.

        “Rainbow Dash!” she cried, and chased after her.

        They spent a good amount of time at the beach cleaning the blood and dirt out of her coat and mane. All the while, Luna worked magic on her to help ease the pain, and reset her broken bone. Rainbow’s thoughts began to settle, slowly at first, but then quicker as sleep started to take her. When they brought her into the warmth of the fire, Rainbow Dash lay her head on Twilight’s leg, and fell soundly asleep.

        The three ponies stayed by the fire for a long time. Twilight and Luna watched the fire dance into the night. Its flames slowly grew tired, and the wood shrank to coals. Finally, when the moon was high overhead, the flames dropped to become a mere embers. The wind blew the heat into the air, warming them as they sat.

        “I saw what happened.” Luna whispered, “I looked into her thoughts and watched them destroy everything.”

        Twilight looked up at her, tearing.

        “No one was spared. It was... haunting.”

        “Is Rainbow... going to be ok?”

        Luna hesitated, then sighed. “She won’t be the same again, but she will be alright. Maybe not right now, but soon.”

        Twilight was silent. It was a few moments before she piped up, “This will continue the longer we take.”

        “Yes.” Luna’s eyes cast to the ground.

        “Then I would like to do what you asked of me.”

        Luna blushed, and stammered over her words, “B-but I thought... you said...”

        Twilight looked more determined now. She slid Rainbow’s head off of her lap, gently lowering it to the ground. She walked over and sat in front of Luna, staring right at her. “I don’t know if I’m ready, nor if this is the right thing to do when the world is falling apart around us. But... I trust you. If it will save everything we know, then its worth it. Not just for us, but for every foal and filly now and in the future.”

        Luna smiled sheepishly. Twilight returned the smile, blushing in the process. She nuzzled into Luna’s neck, before pulling away.

        “You know that I won’t force you into such danger.” Luna finally mustered the guts to look her in the eyes.

        “I’m volunteering. Whatever happens, everything will be ok.”

        The two ponies closed their eyes. Magic burst from their horns, sheathing them in their own magic. They focused more magic into their horns, Luna’s glowing ever brighter beneath the moon. Twilight opened her eyes first, waiting for Luna to do the same. When she did, they locked their gazes in place and their horns touched.

        The magic blended together, creating a beautiful array of dark colors like blue, purple, and every hue or shade in-between. It coalesced together causing a single bubble of magic to encompass the two ponies shimmering a deep blue into the night.


The Eversleep


Fillydelphia was aglow with festivities taking place throughout the city. Just two days after Cloudsdale's defeat, every pony in the republic was spending their time partying the night away in celebration. Hungry soldiers crowded bars and restaurants bringing in huge amounts of bits for their businesses.

Of course, Starfall knew that would eventually lead to more money to fund the war. The light taxes on the cities that Celestia had placed were raised before he left the city. Although it wasn’t much higher, the small increase over many purchases would make a huge difference. He had a feeling that wherever a soldier would go, they would spend more money. His thoughts were spot on.

The evening of the battle, he had taken over command of the victorious forces. They marched on well deserved rest before reaching Fillydelphia this afternoon, with spirits high and booming stories. Between the soldiers’ tales and the propaganda coming from the new, republic-loyal mayors the cities were ripe with tales of heroic battles won by the troops at large. Nopony else thought it any different from other stories they were used to.

But there was an air of apprehension behind all of the partying. The road ahead would put them into enemy territory. The road all the way into Manehatten was well defended, and Starfall knew full well that Stormbreaker would not give him the chance to charge right in. His opponent was smarter than that. The journey alone would foster many casualties, with only more waiting for the Republic forces within the city itself.

Starfall walked around the city towards the park area, where the soldiers would be sleeping that evening. Only a small group of them remained in the park commons, each on their own or with a small group. Those in the groups were talking with one another, bonding regardless of the circumstances they had been thrust into.

Before long he arrived at the largest of the tents in the park. This was the central command of the whole military. Within the tent several Captains mulled about, as well as Dynasty and the Lieutenant. They were seated at a table sharing a pot of tea.

To the other side of the pot was a map of the roads north of the city. Several figurines were positioned all over the map, with colored lines floating behind them.

"Good evening," Starfall began, "How are the plans coming along?"

Lieutenant looked up at him, "Poorly. Our scout reports say that the enemy's positions are going to be difficult to deal with." He pointed to the map in front of him, "Stormbreaker has spread his forces out all over the country side. To make matters worse, his troops are being moved erratically. Most of these reports will be garbage in the morning."

Starfall felt his frustration starting to creep in on him. "Their constant movement means they will be tired on the battlefield when we arrive."

"Some will. Others will sleep and then move. It's impossible to know which ones."

Starfall chewed gingerly on his tongue. His options were limited if he wanted to preserve his forces. But, the opportunity to strike hard and fast was waning. He was counting on that advantage.

"Wrangle the troops back here. The most sober divisions will have four hours to sleep, and then prep to ship out. The others will wake up in six. In order to keep as much of Stormbreaker’s forces unaware, we have to be quick. It's the best advantage we have. They'll be thinking we've just hit Cloudsdale."

Lieutenant nodded to the captains, who dropped what they were working on and left the tent.

"When the first group is ready, wake me." Starfall walked out of the tent and set off towards his own.

        Not even an hour after they had left, Starfall’s group found enemy soldiers. The road they were traveling was well built and wide enough to march in ranks. There was no activity on the road, and it looked as if it hadn’t been traveled since the Republic had risen from the ashes of the Kingdom of Equestria. The only other tell were the border guards that Stormbreaker had set up in the road. A small fortification rose around that part of the road, but it was incapable of withstanding an attack. Everywhere else was flatlands has far as the eye could see. No army to oppose them.

        Starfall led the army forward, signalling to the captains to stand ready.

        The guards in the checkpoint scrambled to their posts, cowering behind their meager defenses. Starfall gathered his magic and flung the barricades to the sides leaving the ponies removed from their protection. He looked the two over. One was an earth pony, shaking in his armor, while the other was a unicorn, standing firmly in place with magic brimming from his horn.

        Kill them, he whispered. “Fire.”

        Two of the crossbows sounded, each bolt hitting home, interrupting the magic that the unicorn was casting. The earth pony fell immediately to the ground, dead. As the unicorn slumped to the ground, magic accumulated around his horn. Starfall moved up to the dying unicorn and crushed his horn under his hoof, kicking his neck with the other. The resounding snap was all he needed to hear.

        “Check the skies, Lieutenant.”

        The pegasus signalled two of his fliers into the sky. They wore no armor, and glided in the night sky, silent as the wind. In a few moments, they returned shaking their heads.

        “Clear, sir,” one spoke softly.

        Starfall signaled them forward. His advance went unhindered for at least another hour before he began to worry. No fighters were even in sight other than those two they killed. There wasn’t even a sign that they had been moving as their reports had said. Campfires they came across had been out for at least a day, and there was no trace of the direction they went to.

        He bit down hard on his tongue. They were out here. Somewhere. It wasn’t until dawn that Starfall found Stormbreaker and his army. In fact, they were waiting for him.

        Stormbreaker stood above the walls set out along the hills surrounding Manehatten. From where Starfall could see, it was a downward slope all the way to the city below. All the rebels had in Starfall’s way was the defences they had built.

        His troops were tired by now. They had spent all night with no fighting, and Starfall’s paranoia had kept him pushing forward, just like Stormbreaker had planned. Now, he would pay for his mistakes.

        A hail of crossbow bolts streaked down from the skies above. Starfall screamed for defenses, and scrambled under the protection of his magic. The unicorns behind him did their best to begin the weave, but the darts caught them first.

Ponies in all of his divisions were hit hard, with the unluckiest of them dying instantly from a well placed shot. Others scraped by with a hit to a non-vital part of their body. Luckier still were those with just a scratch.

Starfall seethed with anger. He drove his magic into the unicorns behind him, pulling their individual strands of magic from them. The sudden expenditure of magic shocked some of them, knocking a few unconscious, but the others stayed standing. The weave twisted and turned in his hooves, molding into a single nexus above him. He reared back, and sent forth lightning into the sky, picking out the clouds above. Several screams filled the air above, as Stormbreaker’s hidden forces were slammed by the lightning. A shout went up among the pegasi behind him and they charged skyward into the rain of dead soldiers from above.

Stormbreaker didn’t seemed phased by this. In front of him were legions of ponies all standing in their ranks. They stood silent to the charge above them. Waiting for a signal. Stormbreaker raised his hoof. All of them stood ready to charge. He brought it across his chest and the ready ponies gave a battle cry.

Stormbreaker smiled.

Stormbreaker. Must. Die. Starfall’s mind spoke firmly, and his actions followed its intent.

Earth ponies charged up the hill from Stormbreaker’s lines, and Lieutenant signalled their troops to do the same, charging down the hill. Starfall pushed his will into the magic, forcing it to change shape. The clouds above the wall darkened at his whim and he pushed more of the weave into it. He brought down his hooves and released his spell.

Behind the walls, burning stones poured down from the sky, raining down upon Stormbreaker’s defences. Magic flared up from behind the wall covering it from the burning stones. The burly unicorn lifted himself onto his back hooves, and swept his hooves across his body.

The ground below the Republic’s earth ponies exploded outwards. With so much momentum behind them, the ranks behind them didn’t have enough time to slow down before the gash left in the earth. The front ranks barreled over the dirt and fell prone. The ranks behind them trampled them underfoot in their attempt to slow down, unprepared for the ponies charging up the hill. Confusion and chaos reigned as Stormbreaker’s forces fell upon them, hacking the Republic’s legions to pieces.

The air forces were the only ones who were prevailing. With Starfall’s initial blast, most of the hidden enemies had no chance to move out of the way, and were falling to the ground below. The remainder of their forces could not match the training passed down by the former royal guards. More of them fell into the chaos below as spells ricocheted from one side to the other.

Stormbreaker’s pegasi retreated. Lieutenant swept the slowest to the ground as he lead a counter-charge into the earth ponies below. Without warning, many of them were shot from the charge, their corpses falling like rain into the melee on the hill. The walls had hidden a huge reserve of Stormbreaker’s forces, who were now shooting over the top into the skies.

Starfall lost his temper. This battle should have been won! He had calculated every move, just as he had in his victory in Cloudsdale. He called within the deepest part of him for his own magic, drawing on it to take revenge. Unicorns fell out of the weave as he ripped the magic from them into his reserves. But it wouldn’t be enough. Not for this.

Use me, came the whisper, the day is lost, but I can win you the war!

Blinded by his anger and frustration, he didn’t even give it a second thought.

The magic that built up above him began to turn an inky black color, permeating its glow like paint hitting water. Screams filled his mind from the pain it must be causing the unicorns still involved. But the power, the sheer raw magic... it was exhilarating. It was...


The black energy funneled through his hooves and arced across the sky. The black lightning tore the wall apart, ripping through the measly magical barrier Stormbreaker threw in front of it. Anypony it touched cried in agony before drying up and turning to ash in seconds. The grass died where it passed, and it burned away the air, choking those around it. Some went mad at the sight... others screamed in terror and abandoned the battlefield.

Although the power was monumental in scope, it was short lived. Starfall was completely spent, leaning into the side of one of his body guards.

“Order... a retreat...” he panted. All of his muscles were sore, and he limped as he walked back towards Fillydelphia, “Send a runner... tell Dynasty to... prepare a defense. They’ll come for us.” One of the guards took to the sky and bolted towards Fillydelphia.

Starfall bit down on his tongue again, chewing harder than usual, When they do... I will kill them all.


        At least they haven’t put me in chains, mused the former Mayor of Ponyville. It would be impossible to do anything!

        Her home was modestly sized, furnished with older wooden tables. Unlike her desk at work, she kept everything in the room neat and tidy. Keeping her house neat was the only thing keeping her company now. With the new ‘Mayor’ in charge, she had no one to say hello to, except for those designated to bring her food.

        But after the Battle of Manehatten resulted in horrific failure, she had another visitor. That visitor was not confined by a simple door. A small popping noise accented that fact. The source of the noise was a tired looking violet pony, Celestia’s former student, Twilight sparkle. She had a basket of food within her teeth, as well as a few odd items in the bunch.

        One was a newspaper - something the Mayor was grateful for receiving from her every time she came in. But she also carried a necklace in the bag. A necklace that matched the one she had seen her wearing the first time she came into her house.

        Twilight walked over to one of the tables and set down the basket, “Good morning, Mayor.”

        The Mayor was pulling the curtains closed on the large windows in the room, “Hello, Twilight. How is everything?”

        “Good. I had to refill our food supply, we were running low. I also picked up a couple of other things. Luna hasn’t been feeling very well.”

        “Well from what she’s told me, it doesn’t surprise me,” she said. The Mayor had only been visited once by Luna, but they had spent a great deal of the night talking. Plus, she was all part of the plan to pull the rug out beneath those ponies that took the town from her. “I’m no unicorn, but magic like what she’s doing every couple of hours is downright dangerous. If she wasn’t a Princess...”

        Twilight cringed slightly. The Mayor had no idea of how close Luna was from entering that danger zone. It felt more like they were playing with fire than with sleep. They were doing everything they could just to keep Luna healthy and happy - though the latter was easier.

        “How is Rainbow Dash, by the way? It’s been almost two weeks now since Cloudsdale.”

        Twilight smiled, “A lot better. Her wing will heal in about another week or so. She’s also been able to put some of her memories to bed. But... she has some pretty bad nightmares.”

        “I see.” The mayor sat down on one of the chairs in the room, and invited Twilight to sit as well, “Now I read the note you brought from Luna last time you were here. I have spoken with the guards that I wish to ‘repent’. Oath was pleased. It seems that he needs somepony that every pony knows to reassure the town.”

        Twilight nodded.

        “He will be re-instating me later this afternoon. After that I will be waiting for your signal.”

        Twilight pulled the necklace out and fastened it around the mayor’s neck. She tapped it with her horn, placing magic all over the device. The mayor was confused for a moment.

        “What did you do?” She asked quizzically.

        “Nopony but you can see it, as long as you don’t take it off of your neck. Luna taught me how to use the spell. It should last for a while.” Twilight stood, “I’ll try to talk to you when I can, but I’ll keep it short. I have to get back. I’m cooking again tonight.”

        “Aren’t you always?”

        “All but one time. Rainbow Dash isn’t allowed to cook anymore.”

        The Mayor raised an eyebrow.

        “You don’t wan to know.” Twilight bent down and picked up the basket. A small popping noise was all that was left of Twilight’s presence, and it faded into the carpeted floors.

        The Mayor didn’t have time to mourn the loss of her friend’s presence, as a knock on the door jarred her from her thoughts. She walked to the door and opened it. There in all of his pride and glory was Oath, dressed in a white shirt and a loosely fitting suit jacket.

        “Good evening Mayor. I’m so glad to hear that you have come to your senses. I would like to offer you a job as... an assistant mayor for now. Of course when the council deems it time, I will be transferred and you will have Ponyvill all to yourself again.”

        “That sounds wonderful. I regret having doubted the leadership of the council, and I will do anything to earn back their trust.” Her words were fluid as always. But she was still wary of his ‘good mood’.

        “Excellent. Now that we can release you from house arrest, perhaps I can discuss a few things with you? Over dinner perhaps.”

        “Uh, yes. Of course.” She tried her best to keep cool.

        “Now, now, I know it’s sudden but its only business. Regardless of the news you may have heard from those you’ve seen, there is quite a lot you need catching up on. I’ll return at 7:00?”

        She hesitated.

        “Good. I look forward to seeing you this evening.”


        The flat-lands north of Fillydelphia were nothing but a memory. If you asked anypony in the city they would tell you the fields had been gone since the day the Republic started losing. Weeks of small battles forced Starfall’s army to dig in, forming trenches all along the outskirts of the city. While Starfall’s pegasi dominated the sky, his ground forces were forced to take cover from the hails of crossbow bolts and magic spells. Occasionally, Stormbreaker would charge his forces over land, forcing the Republic back. Then the Pegasi would respond with their crossbows, and they would be forced to slide back or to the side to try and surround them.

        Overall? The Republic was losing. So many of his forces had died trying to push forward or pull back that Starfall lost count. His temper became as wild as his magical whims. His skills as a leader were strong as ever, but fell prey to strange bouts of madness. His frustrations were numerous, but as of late, he was becoming less stable in his decisions. This correlated well with the advance on Fillydelphia coming ever closer.

        “We can’t hold them out of the city for much longer! There’s nothing left, and fresh troops won’t be ready to go for days!” The voice belonged to Lieutenant who was screaming over the magic exploding in the vicinity. He, Guiding Light and Starfall were running along one of the supply lines back into the city’s makeshift headquarters.

        “Then we must leave the city to their hooves. Risking the civilian population further is unreasonable!” Guiding Light yelled.

        They reached the building they were looking for and went inside. The room was filled with doctors and messengers sprinting from room to room. Some were in a hurry, but some were generally in a panic. Starfall lead them to the back room nodding to the soldiers who saluted them as they passed by. The door swung shut and the silence that hung in the air was eerie, rather than relieving.

        “Lieutenant, Dynasty, Guiding Light. Are you willing to do what is necessary to win this war?”

        “Of course sir.” Lieutenant replied. Dynasty nodded in agreement.

        Guiding Light hesitated, “Yes, Starfall.”

        “Then we are leaving this city. Dynasty and Lieutenant you will be leading the pull back. Retreat until you pass the wheat fields. Guiding Light, you will be given a group to evacuate the town immediately.” Starfall summoned a scroll and pen, scratching down a few lines. It hovered over to Guiding Light. “Those are the smallest divisions left. They will be your legion.”

        She saluted to him, “Thank you, Starfall.” The mare sprinted out of the room to her assignment.

        She won’t do what is necessary to win.

        “I have to be frank with you both. I’m afraid that Guiding Light will be removed from active service. She lacks a certain willingness to do what you have done for me. I don’t believe she would agree with my plan of action.

        “After she clears out the civilians, her division will cover our retreat. She will draw them into the center of the city. Since many of Stormbreaker’s forces are bound to the earth, we will use this to trap them in the city. Then, we will burn it all. Every building, every single home, business, hospital. Every single piece of wood and stone will be burned to ash, and with it will be Stormbreaker and his remaining forces. Do you understand?”

        Lieutenant nodded. Dynasty seemed beyond pleased.

        “Oh yes, Dynasty. You will have first pick on the job of lighting it.”

        The red mare licked her lips in anticipation, a wild bloodlust growing in her eyes, “My pleasure, Starfall.”

        She will do nicely. Starfall thought.

        Keep her close. His mind responded.


        “Get out of the city! Go west or south for safety! Bring only what you can carry!” Guiding Light screamed.

        Ponies sprinted as fast as their legs could carry them from the city. It had been hours since the order was given to clear out the city, and it was only because so many had left before the fighting had arrived. Buildings shattered around her from the force of magical strikes. Guiding Light did her best to avoid the stone falling from the collapsing buildings as she sprinted to the north entrance to the city. It was almost entirely empty, save for the other forces zooming past her to the south.

        She was close.

        The skies screamed once more as the unicorns behind her launched their own magic across the sky towards some unlucky soldiers trying to get in. Fire filled the sky,w hailing down upon the northern gates where she could see her new division fighting valiantly.

        “WITH ME!” She yelled, beckoning them back into the city, firing her own bursts of light into the sky. Her group ran around her, taking cover behind buildings and bits of rubble to ambush and control the flow of the battle. It was only stalling for time, however.

        They passed over the center of the city, hiding in the brush of the city’s park. She was having doubts about Starfall’s leadership. While she believed that Luna would be a poor fit for the leadership, she had only wanted her to be banished. She let the attack slide, as a necessary evil. But the war was a whole other thing. Her services were mainly medical and she had not once taken the life of another soldier if forced to fight. Every attack was non-vital, or just something to stun the poor pony who got in the way. She looked back towards the city entrance, focusing her magic to see far enough that the smile on Starfall’s face was... twisted.

        “Surrender now, and you will be spared your lives!”

        Stormbreaker stood in the center of the park, surrounded by unicorns and earth ponies. A glowing magical shield swirled around his entourage. Guiding light turned to look at the troops she had. They were tired of this fighting. Their eyes held questions she had no answers to herself. One struck home among all of them: What were they fighting for?

        She looked back and stared in horror at Starfall. He and Dynasty stood at the edge, pouring fire into the city, burning down anything they could catch aflame. More importantly, sealing them in. Guiding Light knew what was happening. He knew she didn’t want to continue. So he was ending the war, and taking her with it.

        “I... I surrender.”

        Like wildfire the magic egged the flames all around them, whipping them across the city as fast as they possibly could. Stormbreaker looked around unfazed. He dropped the magic shield and walked over to the fallen unicorn.

        Stormbreaker held out a hoof, “Be glad he didn’t corrupt you like he did so many others.” His quiet voice brought tears to her eyes. She took it in kind, and lifted herself to her hooves. “All of you, prepare for a teleportation spell. We’re not on the beach, eh?”

        “NO!” Starfall roared, pouring the magic into the flames. He knew it was too late, but he didn’t care. He would not suffer traitors.

        “Dynasty. Burn it all! Every field, every home, every bucking village until they can see nothing but ashes for miles!” Starfall was raving mad, black streaks of color bleeding into his mane like molasses.

        I will not suffer traitors. I will not lose this war, no... he paused. We will not lose this war.

        I have faith in you, Starfall. We will not lose this war. It has only begun.

The Eversleep


        The road was a quiet one for Starfall. He had left the Lieutenant in charge of the fight, telling their forces to push forward while Stormbreaker was vulnerable. The only remnants of the battle at hand were the clouds that hung over the road and nearby Canterlot. Small drops of rain fell from the clouds onto his coat. Beside him, Dynasty was silent, looking over the rolling hills they walked through.

        He missed his former student. From what he’d heard, Bastion was handling the Republic’s affairs quite nicely. The entire process of reviving the crops was well underway, and with minor magical assistance, it was promising to be a bountiful year. Negotiations with neutral cities was bringing new territories into the Republic. That meant new soldiers and fresh supplies for their ailing war effort.

        While he was proud of all his successes, it was curious that he hadn’t already sent the fresh troops being trained in Canterlot meant for the push back to Manehatten. By all reports, they should have been finished training, equipped, and sent today. He didn’t see a single soldier on the road.

Within an hour they reached the castle. The guards bowed in respect as they passed through the hallways towards the throne room - long since, their council chamber. The doors were already open when they reached the entrance. Two of the other council members were walking towards them from within.

“Good afternoon, Starfall, Dynasty. We’ve heard about your exploits in the war, and are pleased with your tactics. Has Guiding Light stayed at the front? There are some matters that she needs to attend to.”

Starfall felt anger start to simmer beneath his thoughts. But he controlled it, and shook his head, “No. She has been captured, and is probably dead.” The two unicorns stared open mouthed. Starfall eyed them sternly. Were these foals really going to waste his time? “Whatever you need, Dynasty can fulfill that role.” Starfall nodded to Dynasty.

She smiled at the two unicorns.

“Yes, Starfall. Thank you.” Dynasty accompanied the two unicorns back down the hallway they entered from, with their quiet conversation fading quickly from his hearing. Starfall entered the room signaling to the guards to close the doors behind him. They slid back into their places, closing with a quiet click.

        He’s going to kill you, came the whisper. Starfall shook his head, casting the thoughts aside.

        Taking a quick glance around the room, he noticed that there were a few changes made to it. Their symbol hung from tapestries along the far wall and were also newly worked into the stone of the chamber. The table was replaced by a row of thrones, set in the shape of a horseshoe at the end of the carpeted path from the door. Each of them were raised above the floor at the end, allowing any who came to speak the ability to see all of them at once. More importantly, all of the council could see their guest. Hanging from each raised tier was a tapestry with a replica of their cutie mark directly in the center. Below it was their name.

        Bastion was the only one present in the chambers, as well as the only pony in the room. He sat in the chair beside Starfall’s watching him as he approached.

        “Bastion. My former student.” Starfall spoke, coming to a stop in the center of the horseshoe, “It has been quite a while. I very much enjoy the changes that you have made.”

        Bastion rose from his seat and stood at the edge of his raised platform, “I’m pleased that it suits you. I enjoy what you’ve done to Stormbreaker’s lands. He won’t be using them for a while.”

        His words have bite.

        He wouldn’t dare, Starfall told the voice.

        “We have much to discuss, especially on battle plans for the invasion of Manehatten while Stormbreaker is still stunned,” Starfall continued.

        Bastion hopped down to the floor below, “Much to discuss indeed.”

        Without a word, Bastion’s magic covered his horn, and it lashed out into Starfall’s body, sending him skidding off the rug and onto the marble floors. The light blue unicorn walked after his former teacher. He pulled on his magic once more, throwing lightning down on him. Starfall was prepared this time, however, and they reflected into the ceiling above. Stone and debris poured down onto the floor.

        Starfall lifted himself from the ground. Pain throbbed all along his side where he was hit. He moved a hoof to check on it, and came up with blood.

        “You have made a grave mistake, foal.” Starfall growled.

        “I have? I have made a mistake?! You massacred an entire city, and then forced us to murder those who had willingly surrendered!” Bastion’s yellow eyes widened with rage. He lashed out again with his magic, sending flames across the room. Starfall twisted the flames around his body and into the air behind him. “You set miles of homes, fields and cities ablaze just to make a point to Stormbreaker about how far you would go to control Equestria!”

        “I did what was necessary to win!” Starfall shouted.

        “We trusted you to be better than what Luna would have become! Instead you’ve committed unspeakable acts of murder on the grandest of scales!” He lowered his voice to normal levels, “You’re not the teacher I once knew. What madness has taken hold of you?”

        Starfall raised his horn, and the magic flowed around it. “Equestria needs a ruler who is willing to do anything for her people. By any means necessary. Luna was weak, and Nightmare Moon was dangerous. With our power we keep her at bay. With my power I keep the council under control. I rule this land because I am smart enough to control it without deviating from Celestia’s wishes.

        “Don’t you see? Every decision I make leads all ponies to the perfect future. A future where I will rule it!” Starfall laughed. “You’re just too weak to understand. Guiding Light was the same way. Perhaps I should burn you down with a city like I did to her.”

        Bastion charged forward, screaming and firing magic at his teacher. Starfall did his best to move around the shots, while delivering his own magic back at his student. It was no use.

        Bastion slammed into Starfall’s shoulder with his horn, impaling him. His magic reinforced his neck muscles and he flung the helpless unicorn through the chairs in the horseshoe.

        Did I not warn you? Are you so apprehensive to trust me? The voice was becoming more concerned, and saddened.

        I only want what is mine. Starfall tried to rise, from the ground but the pain was unbearable. He was losing a lot of blood.

        Then let me deliver it to you.

        I... I... His will wavered.

        Perhaps a demonstration? I will humor you.

        “What’s wrong, Master? Have you lost the will to fight for an insane cause?” Bastion jumped onto the tier above Starfall. A wave of confusion began to wash over him.

        Starfall stood up. His normally violet coat darkened considerably to a deep purple color. His mane became less tangible, turning a deep black that seemed to suck the light away from the room. When his eyes opened, they were a lighter red, glowing faintly regardless of the lighting. More importantly, they were the eyes of a dragon.

        “My cause is far from insane, my dear little colt.” Starfall’s mane lashed out and gripped Bastion’s head. His screaming was immediate and unbearable for anypony to listen too. Except for his teacher, who’s voice was low, and most peculiarly, that of a mare. “Insanity to you ponies is a relative term. If you ever wake from your situation, then you will know what I mean.”

        Starfall walked around Bastion’s writhing body. He seemed to be taking in the room as if it was his first time in the chamber. “I’m so happy that you mastered a spell to negate sound in a room this size at such a young age. No wonder the guards outside never heard a thing. Wait... no, they still can’t hear you. How...” he licked his lips, savoring the screams, “...delicious.”

        Dark magic emanated from his horn, creating a glass coffin, not unlike Celestia’s. It swept underneath the writhing pony and dumped him into the box. It sealed shut, locking out the screams.

Starfall pouted, “I was enjoying our time together. But don’t worry. The agony will stop when your body dies of old age. Then you’ll be free of your punishment.” The casket disappeared.

Magic once again reached out and repaired the room, sealing the roof, clearing debris, and even wiping away the blood from existence. Starfall levitated up to his seat and sat down in it. The magic subsided, finishing the repairs on the raised chairs that had been destroyed.

        “I can’t wait to discuss the proposition I mentioned with you. But that will come later. You have guests coming.” Starfall laughed quietly to himself as his mane settled to normal, and his new dark coat dulled in color.

        The doors opened once more, and Dynasty entered the chamber. She walked into the hall standing in the center of the horseshoe. “Where’s Bastion?”

        Starfall looked down at her, “He stepped out. I believe he mentioned that he needed to rest and gather his thoughts on some of the issues in the Republic.” He pointed at the chair on his side, “Please, come sit. This chair was designed for you. Besides, we will be having an open chamber soon.”


        A whole month. It had been a whole month since Celestia had disappeared, and Twilight and Luna were finally finished with the spell. What a spell it had been, with more than its fair share of complications. They found that they couldn’t tie any time sleeping from any animal but a pony, and on top of that, they couldn’t take more than a few seconds from each pony every day to tie to the spell.

While it wasn’t noticeable, it was straining Luna to the point of serious harm. Twilight was forced to help contribute magic almost every night as time progressed. After she started keeping up with the news on the war, they had to leave the soldiers alone, just in case. Luna wouldn’t have it any other way, regardless of how insignificant a few seconds seemed. That being the case, it was relieving for Twilight to see Luna excited, albeit exhausted when they finished that afternoon.

The pot bubbled merrily over the fire they'd been using over the last few weeks, using the city as a refuge from possible discovery. Rainbow Dash had stayed with them since she had arrived. Her wing was almost back to normal, but Twilight had convinced her that she would have trouble explaining the injuries she recieved from the fight over Cloudsdale. It was a one way ticket to being arrested.

Rainbow never complained about having to stay behind. During the day, whil Luna slept, she and Twilight fixed up one of the buildings near the entrance. There was nothing inside, so they simply build a roof onto it and brought the sleeping bag and tent inside. Other than the sleeping materials, there was an enormous amount of books and old tomes that Twilight took from the library. Stories and history even some lost tales from the times when the city was vibrant with life. She was more lucky, as Luna had explained to her, that the building still had it's old magical wards that refreshed the books as they sat on the shelf.  Magic that Celestia had shown her how to maintain in the castle library.

"Looks like it's ready!" Twilight chimed as she poured the thick soup into three bowls. Her saddlebags opened, and a loaf of bread hovered out, "I managed to get a hold of some bread too. Zecora was nice enough to pick one up for me yesterday."

"Yes! I've been dying for some bread," Rainbow cheered. While Twilight's cooking skills were excellent, weeks of rotating between soup and salads was getting boring.

"I also managed to get some apples too. But those are for desert." Twilight looked on with pride as Rainbow and Luna went through the soup, sighing in happiness as the munched on the bread. She managed to start eating her own, whn Luna refilled her own bowl with seconds. Using magic does exhaust most ponies.

"Geez, Twilight. Pretty soon both of us are gonna gain too much weight to fly around. You need to stop making it taste so good," Rainbow teased.

"I'll let you cook then, if that's how you feel."

Luna swallowed what she was eating and stared at Twilight, "But that was beyond inedible! Rainbow even caught the stuff in the pot on fire," she pointed a hoof at Rainbow Dash.

"Hey, it was my first time cooking. Give me a break."

Silence passed over them. Most of it was exhaustion, but the pressure of implementing the spell was starting to creep in. Luna finished her second bowl and set it on the ground. She stood up, and used her magic to snuff out the fire.

“Before you need to leave, we should go over the plan one more time,” Luna said. Her voice was a mix of concern and apprehension.

Twilight and Rainbow Dash nodded. They could see that Luna did not want to do what they had spent so much time planning. Twilight knew that it was more than that. Neither wanted Twilight to be the bait.

“Twilight. You will go into Ponyville. Once you arrive, you will knock out the Mayor, as planned, and kill Oath. He won’t give you a second chance if you hesitate. That pony had training from the Royal Guard before he lost his wings.

“Once you do that, you will have to cast the illusion that you learned to get the guards to go after it. That will lighten up the guard, but then the hard part begins. I will begin to cast through you so it appears that you are casting the spell. Since we’ve shared magic in creating it, you can use whatever you have to keep the guards from hitting you. It will attract a lot of attention.

“My main concern is when Starfall shows himself. He won’t sit around and let a huge spell he doesn’t know about just happen. When that happens, I will stop casting through you. You need to leave as quickly as possible, so be ready to teleport away.

“Rainbow Dash. You need to be ready and waiting at the other end of her teleportation spell. Pick a spot to meet beforehand. If she’s used up her magic, run. Drag her along with you if you must. If you’re followed split up to try and throw them off. We’ll meet back here. The spell will start when the moon is at the top of the sky.”


        The offices of the mayors were occupied that night. While the rest of the citizens of Ponyville slept, the former mayor and the appointed mayor, Oath, were deep within stacks of paperwork. While both of them had been toiling away since the afternoon, it appeared as though they would be there well into the night.

        “I still don’t understand how these silly things are all so urgently needed.” Oath had been complaining sporadically on some of the items that crossed his desk. “I guess it can’t be helped. The post office in this town has been such a mess this past week. I’ve received mail that comes early, mail that comes late, even sometimes not at all. But almost nothing on time.”

        Because I made it that way, the mayor sang in her mind. As part of the plan, she had deliberately ‘not received’ mail, received mail late, or downright hidden it away in plain sight. Luna had told her when they had met that it needed to be evening when the two mayors were together. What better way than a last minute pile of paperwork. She had the misfortune of being bogged down in a similar amount of work once or twice before, so she knew how to make it look natural.

        “Maybe its the new wave of recruits?” She offered, “We are asking those who work the mail to help on the front lines.”

        “I suppose that is possible.”

        Oath was silent once more, scribbling away with his quill.

        Get ready. Twilight’s voice chimed in her head.

        “Do you want more coffee?” She asked.

        Oath gave her his cup, “Please. Leave it black if you can. The bitter taste keeps me awake longer.”

        The mayor nodded and walked to the other side of the room. She grabbed hold of the pot, and poured it into Oath’s cup.

        Ready, the mayor thought.

        There was a soft popping noise in the room, followed by a muffled scream. The mayor turned around to see Twilight with her horn through his shoulders. Oath was unconscious and loosing a lot of blood. She removed her hoof from his mouth and threw him to the floor.

        “Go,” the Mayor said.

        Twilight popped out of the room, leaving behind an illusion of herself. It shifted its coat to a deep red, followed by a yellow and gold mane. It’s eyes were a light purple. The illusion pushed her into the door, knocking it over and barrelling into the street.

        “That pony just tried to murder Oath! Stop him!”

        The guards outside of the door were already on their hooves, taking to the skies and chasing after it. Others in the town rallied and poured out from the town. Those that were left surrounded the Mayor, and accompanied her back inside the room.

        “Secure the room, get the other guards and tell them to patrol this area. Somepony obviously wants both of us dead.”

        One of the guards nodded and left the room.


        Twilight moved as fast as her hooves would take her, barrelling down the road to the center of town. She flipped herself into the fountain, and ducked down inside of it. The sound of wings flew past her, as well as several voices.

        “Half of you to the Mayor’s! There’s an assassin on the loose. The rest of you, patrol the outer city for signs of more assailants. Be thorough.” A soft fluttering of wings filled the air, and slowly faded away into silence.

        She stayed crouched for a minute, before popping here head up. The streets were barren and quiet. Above her, the skies were clear, not a single cloud obscuring the full moon which was almost at the top of the sky.        She hopped out of the fountain and walked a few paces from it.

        Magic began to glow at the tip of her horn, and she felt Luna’s magic reach out to her. The magic connected, and huge amounts of energy began to engulf her, flowing through every part of her being. Moonlight surrounded her and shot straight up towards the moon. It stopped its motion in the sky above, tied to the pillar of light that glowed in the sky.

        “Starfall! Look outside!”        Dynasty barged into his private chambers. In his groggy state, the clear state of panic on Dynasty’s face worked like cold water. Dynasty was never afraid of anything.

        The pillar of light cast a huge light over the entire valley and the mountains that surrounded it. That included Canterlot. Starfall immediately got out of his bed sprinting to the open door. Dynasty let him pass, only to run behind him.

        “What happened?” He yelled.

        “We lost control over the moon, and then the pillar of light appeared! The moon doesn’t seem to be moving anywhere, but it has only been a few minutes,” she replied. “We can be on top of Ponyville shortly if we go by chariot.”

        “Prepare two, one for each of us. I believe that Luna has revealed herself, and I will not let another chance to destroy her pass me by.”

        The first wave of guards were stunned by the display of magic, that Twilight was able to perform. None of them moved to engage her, and in fact, a few tried to scurry away. But Twilight wasn’t taking any chances. A shield formed around her, held steady by her own magic. The pony in charge drew his crossbow, firing one shot right at her. Her magic grabbed hold of the crossbow bolt, flinging it back the way it came. It landed in the guards shoulder, and he yelled in pain.

        The others around him drew their wings out, revealing the blades along the edges. They screamed and charged forward. Twilight twisted the shield to harden, blocking the blades as they tried to get closer. One of those spots she forced to explode, launching the pegasi back. More magic poured into the shield, replacing the gaping hole in the shield. Her mind molded it into new shapes, creating walls of swords and hand shields.

        Just in time, too. A second wave of guards jointed the first, charging forward to stop her magic. The weapons responded in kind, battling each pegasus as they crashed upon her defences. Stray crossbow shots were deflected by her idle weapons. Blows reigned down on the guards, none of them particularly lethal in their own right, but enough to disable them. Their forms limped away, trying to recover, while their compatriots tried desperately to stop her.

        She pushed the magic further, drawing on a little bit of Luna’s extra magic, using it to fire magic arrows from the shields. Ponies were knocked back from the attack allowing her time to recover some of the unused energy. Lightning arced across the sky landing all around her, ripping up the ground and battering off of her weapons. One grazed her, sending shocks through her body. She managed to hold on to the spells, and the connection. She couldn’t let this be the end of her fight.

        Two unicorns dropped down at the end of the plaza in front of her. The mare, started accumulating magic, while the stallion, still fully coated in magic, launched another series of lightning bolts at her. Twilight molded her magic into the bubble once more, absorbing the lightning as it rammed into it. The other unicorn followed with a pillar of flames. The bubble absorbed the fire, letting it coat the area around it, but Twilight was forced to put more of her magic into it.

        “Good evening, Twilight Sparkle. I see that Celestia chose her student well,” the stallion said.

        “Who are you?” She yelled back.

        “My, my. Don’t you read? I’m Councilor Starfall, of course.”

        The pillar of light cast an odd glow on him. A huge swath of space in front of him seemed to be killing the light where it touched, as was the shadow it should have cast. Something was seriously wrong with this pony, and Twilight didn’t want to find out what it was.

        I’m almost finished. Get ready to run. Luna whispered in Twilight’s mind.

        “I apologize. I don’t usually talk to ponies who try to kill their intended leaders.”

        Starfall sighed, “Have you spoken to Luna? That’s a shame. Nightmare Moon always loves to twist the words that come from her counterpart’s mouth.”

        “You murdered her bodyguard.”

        “A pittance for saving Equestria, I feel.”

        The pillar of light began to fade. Twilight twisted her magic into a new spell, finding the new location in her mind.

        “Destroying Equestria is what you mean. I intend to save it.”

        Her magic went off, the teleportation pulling her to her new destination. But she never left the square, instead feeling pain shoot through her body, as black lightning tied her to the ground.

        “I am really tired of you ponies trying to leave while I’m in the middle of talking.” Starfall’s eye twitched. Twilight screamed from the pain. “That noise is also irritating.”

        The lightning flared, coursing through her body. Twilight passed out from the pain. Starfall nodded to two of the guards, who hefted her body onto one of the chariots. The unicorn stallion smiled, delighting in his perfect catch.

        “Luna will watch you die tomorrow, Miss Sparkle, as will all of Canterlot. They will learn that I do not suffer traitors, once and for all.” His face contorted into one of frustration. He turned to those guards carrying the chariot, “Place her in the dungeons.”

        The chariot took off towards Canterlot. Starfall stared into the direction of the Everfree Forest, smelling the subtle scent of rain in the night air.

        “What will you do now, little Luna?” The mare’s deep voice whispered into the wind through Starfall’s lips, “I think its time for a reunion.”

        Dynasty put a hoof on Starfall’s shoulder, “Starfall?”

        He looked at her and smiled, “Dynasty, would you be a dear and bring the Elements of Harmony to me? Take them by force when you have to. The show tomorrow is starring their best friend after all.”


        It was only an hour before the morning sun would rise into the sky. Only an hour until Starfall made an example of that foalish mare. But he had something more important to discuss. He walked to the mirror and began to brush his hair.

        “I am indeed pleased by your sheer magical power.”

        “It is much stronger with you, than when I was forced into Luna’s body.” The mirror reflected back the image of an alicorn. A deep purple coat which seemed to glow in the darkened room covered her body. Her eyes were the colors of the rainbow, but were darkened substantially, while giving off an otherworldly glow. Her mane was a fluid black, sucking the rest of the light out of the room save from her coat and eyes.

        Starfall chuckled to himself, “Her selfish intentions made her dangerous. My desires to rule will make your power used for the good of Equestria.”

        The alicorn smiled and nodded, “Of course they will. I can bring you the throne, you know.”

        “Of course you can. I have spent a lot of time thinking about your offer, and I know it to be true.”

        She raised an eyebrow, “You have made a decision then?”

        He put the brush down on the table. “It has always been important that rulers have a counterpart to their actions. Celestia spent a millennium taking on different students, each to balance her decisions and actions. When Luna returned, her current student was sent away, so the two princesses ruled together.”

        “In the time before, their parents ruled together as King and Queen,” the alicorn added. She was pleased to know where his logic was taking him.

        “As you say. While the council is an excellent counterpart, it is merely a pawn in my hand. I intend to rule over it and all of Equestria. But doing so alone will let everything crumble. So...” He looked her in the eye, “It appears that I am in need of a Queen.”

        “If it pleases you, I would be more than happy to fulfill that role.”

        “It does.”

        “Pledge your faithfulness to me, and I will give you the world.”

        “And pledge I will. Just not now. It would be best to do so during the pleasantries so all can see.”

        The alicorn looked giddy with delight, “Until later then?”

        “Until the dawn rises, my queen.”

        In his joy, he never heard the whisper fading into the back of his mind, When darkness will rise, and cover this land. Forever.


        Deep within the castle, light began to cascade upon the stones within the burial chamber belonging to Princess Celestia. The sun filled the solemn place with warmth, glinting off of the coffin’s crystal casing. Unaffected by the warmth, the body of Princess Celestia lay in wait, glowing like the moon had the night before.

        The sunlight inched over her body, causing the glow to fade from her form, showing the white coat new life in the light. Her mane shone in the new sunlight, letting all of the colors refresh Celestia’s millennial prison with color. But as the light shone on, the crystal melted away, revealing her to the fresh breeze of spring. The wind ruffled her feathers in her wings, and tossed her mane and tail to the side.

        Celestia’s eyelids slowly slid open.

The Eversleep


        “Get up.”

        Twilight could feel the blunt end of something being jabbed hard into her side. She forced her eyelids to move apart and look at her surroundings.

        The first thing she saw was the cold stone floor of the dungeon that she was thrown into. The only light came from the guards torch, which cast deep shadows within her cell. There was no seat in the room, and the walls appeared to be nothing more than a natural cave with bars hammered into the stone. An easy place to escape with magic.

        But that was the problem: she didn’t have any. Starfall had made sure that her magic was locked away from her. The magical clamp around her horn stifled even the smallest use of magic on it. The only way to get it off was with a key. Unfortunately for Twilight, the guard didn’t have that key. That would be too easy.

        As she rose, she was able to take in more of the dungeons. The stone was almost all natural, save for the worked floors and the staircase leading up into the chambers above. Her guard carried a spear in his teeth, and was accompanied by another who held a sword at his side.

        “Move.” He said more forcefully, jabbing her again in the side.

Twilight winced but moved out of the cage. The other guard posted outside the door, moved in front of her. He produced a muzzle and placed it around her snout, pulling tight on the straps to secure it. The guard moved to her other side and they prodded her to walk up the stairs.

When they neared the top, she could vaguely hear the sounds of a large crowd outside, and one voice booming above it. The guard to her right pushed open the door, while the other shoved her through it.

“... a traitor who once learned under our beloved Celestia, has turned to destroying all that she had created!” somepony was saying. She recognized it immediately as Starfall’s voice. The crowd went wild, jeering and shouting at his statement.

She was brought to a set of double doors. Her guards stood behind her waiting for something.

“Perhaps, we should show her what it means to be a traitor!” Starfall shouted.

The doors swung open, the sunlight blinding her momentarily. She tried to lift her hoof to block the light, but it was chained to the others. Her sense of balance went awry and she fell face forward into the light. The guards pulled her up by her stomach and pushed her forward.

Crowds for as far as she could see were all focused on her, screaming at her. Some of the ponies threw things at her as she passed, or spit in her direction.

“TRAITOR!” They screamed sporadically, jeering at her.

Twilight hung her head low, as she was lead onto the main part of the stage, where she was chained up to a wall. Her eyes welled with tears when she saw who else was in the same predicament. Beside her were all of her friends. Everyone that she had tried to protect. Even Rainbow Dash had been taken, still fighting in her restraints. That foal must have gone after her in the middle of the night.

Pinkie Pie was crying, and her mane no longer had a poof in it. Rarity was horrified, trying to get loose. Fluttershy, was silent, staring down at the floor. Applejack - who was beside her - looked confused and worried. She had good reason to.

In front of the stage were at least thirty different guards, all faced away from them. In their hooves were crossbows, fully loaded, waiting for a command to fire.

“May I present to you the Elements of Harmony. Those who locked Nightmare Moon deep into Luna’s heart. Waiting for the perfect time to let her come back. But, we won’t give them that chance.”

The crowd went wild, calling for their blood, itching to see them pay for Starfall’s clever lies. A tear fell from Twilight’s eyes.

She had failed. Starfall had won.


        “Celly, you need to wake up now!”

        Celestia moved slowly, taking in the place she had been sleeping. The stone walls were only lit by the sunlight that poured into the room. But it felt cold, and full of despair. Something terrible had happened.

        Luna stood above her, desperately trying to lift Celestia from her coffin to her hooves. She wobbled a bit.

        “Oh Luna, I’ve missed you so much. I’m so sorry that I left you for so long.”

        “Celly, your spell worked! It’s only been a month, but something terrible has happened.”

        Celestia looked at her quizzically. “A month?”

        “Yes! Twilight and I found your notes, and woke you up but, now she’s been taken by Starfall!”

        Celestia steadied her footing, feeling all of her muscles responding to her, slowly recovering from her sleep, “Luna, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Starfall shouldn’t be bringing her onto the council yet. She’s too-”

        “Celestia!” Luna grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, “He’s going to execute her and all of the elements of harmony if you don’t come right now and stop them!”

        The words hit her like a slap in the face. Her adrenaline kicked in, shooting her mind into overdrive. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Starfall? Her former student, and Twilight’s former headmaster, was going to execute six ponies?

        “What? That doesn’t make any sense-”

        “He even tried to kill me! Come on, we’re running out of time!” Luna was frantic at this point. Tears were flowing freely from her face. I can’t lose her, Luna thought, I can’t. Celestia had her doubts, but she followed her sister out through the upper windows and into the air above.

        The first thing she heard was the crowd, long before she ever saw it. Ponies were screaming as one pony addressed the crowds below. Luna flew up to the roof of the castle and landed on top of it. It was empty save for one guard who turned on her with his weapon. Celestia came up behind her landing softly on the stones. The guard dropped his weapon in fear, his wings locking tightly to his sides. Luna swiftly reared back and kicked him in the head. His body slumped to the ground, but Celestia said nothing. No pony had ever raised a weapon to her sister except when she was Nightmare Moon.

        Her worst fears were confirmed when she looked over the opposite ledge at the proceedings below her.

        “As my last act, I would like to pronounce that I have found a wonderful addition to the council. She is a strong hearted mare, one who is both well versed in the ways of magic, and is very dear to my heart. Before you all, I want to pledge, as was tradition in the times before, an oath to express my solidarity with her in friendship, and in love. To she who captivates my heart, I beseech thee my pledge of bonding. In heart I will not waver.”

        The crowd cheered, but Celestia knew exactly what was happening. She nodded to Luna and bolted down to the crowd below, trying to stop Starfall before he finished.

        “In soul, I will forever hold your name...”

        The crowd started to cheer, but gasped when their beloved Princess soared above.

        “STOP!” She screamed.

        Starfall looked up, his eye twitching and mouth hanging open.

        “You...” His voice echoed across the crowd.

        Celestia stared at the stage. All six of the elements were chained to the stage.

        “Luna, take them down from there.” Luna nodded and flew onto the stage. Celestia stared at Starfall, “How dare you violate the trust I placed in the council? You have gone and done something unthinkable in my presence, merely because I disappeared for a short time. Citizens of Canterlot,” she addressed the crowd, “Do you actually approve of this act? What have these six done, but liberate my sister from a terrible entity?”

        “How dare you demand to know what you yourself orchestrated! You used these six to hide Nightmare Moon for a time of your choosing, yet you lie about it to your loyal subjects?” Murmurs filled the crowd, slowly turning into hesitant agreement. “By trying to place her in your stead, you allowed her the chance to rule over Equestria unrestricted! You left us divided so that your appointed council had to ask many ponies to sacrifice their lives just to reunite without you. Only to find that you weren’t even dead!?”

        Angry shouts consumed the crowd, egged on by his words. His eyes gleamed in satisfaction, turning slightly so he could check on Luna. She was preoccupied with undoing some of the binds on Twilight’s legs.

        He ripped a crossbow out of a nearby guards hooves and hefted it skyward. The guards responded in kind lifting them in the air. Celestia’s horn glowed with magic, as a shield formed around her body.

        “Celestia, princess of all ponies, daughter of Sol, and eldest of the royal line. I hereby accuse you of betraying your duties to the ponies of Equestria and being the cause of many innocent deaths.”

        Celestia was taken aback. No pony besides her sister had any knowledge of the old kingdom. There wasn’t even a written record of their family line available to anypony in the world.

        “I judge that the proper punishment,” he turned and aimed the crossbow at Luna’s back, who was slowly turning around to stare directly the crossbow’s deadly load, “Is death.”

        The guards fired at Luna, who had no time to respond, closed her eyes desperately summoning the magic to shield herself. But it was too late. The arrows struck flesh and bone, making many dull thuds as they stopped suddenly.

        Even so, Luna was unharmed.

        “TWILIGHT!” Celestia screamed.

        Luna opened her eyes, to see Twilight’s body slump to the ground in front of her.

        Starfall raised his own weapon to his head saying the words loud and clear, “In body, I serve until death take me. This I pledge.” He pulled the trigger.

        Black fire burned his body and the stage he stood on as Celestia took up a position in front of her sister, who was weeping over Twilight’s body. Muffled screams came from the other ponies, who rattled their chains, desperately trying to get free.

        The flames subsided, and in Starfall’s place stood another alicorn. Her fluid black mane dulled the sunlight around her, choking any warmth that it brought to the ponies around her. She spread her wings over the stage, and flared her magic into the sky. Blackened clouds formed overhead, blotting out the sun, leaving only light from the dying torches left over from the night watch. Laughter ripped the air to shreds, frightening some of the ponies watching the terrifying event unfold.

        “Hello Celestia. My precious, little, sister.”

        Celestia went pale, and her magic increased, “You’re nothing but a mistake. A younger half-sister that should never have been.”

        “Perhaps. But here I am, more mature, and far more... sophisticated than you ever were.” She walked along the stage, pacing towards Celestia. The princess took a step back, “What? Don’t you want to greet me with open hooves? Or was banishing both of your sisters too much to handle?”

        “Silence, Nightmare. You controlled her. You made her feel neglected.”

        “Of course. You were too busy getting ready to take over to let her have any attention. That’s why I was allowed in the castle, so she would have a friend.”

        “So you could use her to take the throne!” Celestia roared.

        “Semantics.” Nightmare stared her down, summoning her own magic around her. It spread into the crowd, touching Starfall’s eager followers with her mind. The color of their eyes turned a light red and their irises changed to those of a dragon, “If a thousand years ago I had known how much more willing Starfall would be, I would have waited. He massacred far more ponies than you did. An excellent step up the ladder, I would say.” She clapped her hooves together slowly, looking behind her, “Although, if you want, I can take our little sister’s body too.”

        Celestia began to summon more magic to her, “I call upon the great Elements of Harmony to heed my call.”

        “Magic’s host is dead. She won’t come to you now.” Black lightning arced over her head into Celestia’s shield, bouncing out into the crowd behind her.

        “Alicorns of greatest stature, my need is great. Equestria needs your presence.” She winced again, as another bolt of lightning arced off of her shield once more. The castle wall behind her exploded with its touch. Celestia ignored her crazed sister’s laughter, “I Celestia, eldest daughter of the royal line, order your presence be forthcoming.”

        The last bolt of lightning stopped in front of Celestia, dying immediately. Nightmare stepped back.

        Light glowed from each of the remaining ponies behind her, breaking their chains as they changed. Their glowing forms walked forward, taking their place by Celestia’s side. Luna too stood and joined them, a luminescence coming from her, starting from her midsection, slowly encompassing her. Celestia stared wide eyed at her sister’s new form, brimming with raw energy.

        “No. NO. That’s impossible! A wielder can only pass down their element to family!” Nightmare gawked, comprehension turning her frustration to horror.

        “Princess Celestia, your need is indeed dire.” The voice seemed to giggle as it left one of the glowing figures.

        “It comes to you once more to decide how to handle this decision. We will trust your judgement, as you see our warnings were sound those many years ago.”

        Celestia swallowed, “By the power vested within the line of Time himself, I banish you, Nightmare to never claim your eternal purpose. You shall spend eternity in nothingness, you poor foal. May your eternal damnation be your eternal nightmare. Those you have corrupted will be saved by death. But you will never have the chance.”

        The six ponies nodded and glowed brighter, “The right decisions are never the easy ones. Your father taught you well.”

        The elements stepped back and began to glow brighter. Color began to usher from their being, flowing out to the sides covering the ground, stretching as far as the eye could see.

        “You cannot do this to me! I AM ROYALTY BY BIRTH!”

        The glow overpowered Nightmare, forcing her to her knees. She covered her eyes with her hooves, shaking in pain from the light.

“Not anymore.”

        Nightmare screeched as the six ponies shot across the stage, engulfing her and the entire crowd with light. Celestia was forced to listen to the screams of those who had fallen for Starfall’s lies, those who had willingly followed and stayed blind to her words. But she knew the truth.

        Death was their only escape.

Celestia walked over to Twilight’s prone form, and laid her head on her student’s neck. The clouds parted, and bathed the ground in warmth and light, but the presence of sorrow and pain persisted. There were no sounds, save her cries of anguish – cries for everything that had been lost, for everything that had been destroyed. There was no bright future for Celestia’s star pupil to look forward to, no chance for her to see the fruits of her courage. Celestia cried for Twilight, for while the violet pony had helped usher in a new age for all of Equestria, she had died in the darkness before the light could shine again.


Time’s Cliff

1000 Years Ago

        The sun was only briefly involved in lighting the ground while clouds were left unattended. Even the rainclouds among them looked withered and dry, struggling to cling to the last bit of existence they had.

        There, in a once beautiful capital, the princess of the day, Princess Celestia, walked along the cobblestone streets. She did her best to avoid the debris, and tried to muster the strength to see what her sister had cost her. She watched as a few survivors scoured the homes, looking for any signs of the plague. Almost everypony she saw was crying. It took everything she had to not do the same.

Two Pegasus guards slowly made their way to her and her royal guard. They looked bedraggled with most of their armor damaged or even broken clean off.

“Princess Celestia, your use of the Elements of Harmony appears to have worked. There is no sign of your sister, or her victims.

“I see... Thank you, Captain. I would like you and your partner to search for survivors, and begin evacuating them through the forest. I will meet you in Canterlot.”

The captain saluted, and took to the air with his companion following in suit. Celestia watched them for a few moments before walking to the main hall of the palace.

The stones here were intact, but littered with scraps of tapestries once loved and admired. She smiled, thankful that this place was as intact as she hoped it would be. Her magic came to her, hovering a few books from her saddlebags, knowing perfectly well that they would be needed in the future. A pen and scroll accompanied the books, hovering in the air in front of her. She wrote a very short letter, signing and sealing it, before packing it into her bag.

Then, using her magic once more, she flooded the floor below her with magic. The tiles floated up into the air, and her magic pressed down a small area in the stone floor below it. The books nestled themselves into place, and she spoke into the spell.

“Use this well, Luna.” Her voice was slowly brought into the spell, as she settled the tiles once more in their places.

She took flight then, aiming herself for the entrance to the city. The Everfree Forest was beautiful this time of year, teeming with flowers and apple trees bearing their first harvest. One of her guards stood by the ramp, moving aside so she would have enough room to land.

The pegasus bowed, “Everyone has left, Celestia.”

“Thank you, Clear Sky. Can you stay with me?”

“Of course little one.” He rubbed his wing on her head.

She frowned, but nuzzled into his side, “Thank you. I’m so sorry for-”

“Don’t apologize,” he interrupted. His eyes were solemn, but he smiled down at her, “You made a hard decision that few would be able to make. But it was for the best. Now,” the aged pegasus took a step back, “Do what you must.”

“I, Princess Celestia, last of the alicorns, call upon the founding makers of Equestria: Earth, Sky, Water, and Fire. Ones who have transcended the cycle of the great sleep, you have pledged your loyalty to the Kingdom of Equestria and its citizens. I call on you to hide the destruction that has befallen us. Until the time when you are called upon once more by royal blood, shall you change this place forever.

A voice responded, airy and light, “It comes at a price. This land must be set free.”

She swallowed hard, “If that is what must be done, so be it.”

The voice hesitated. After a moment it chimed back, “Then it shall be done. No longer shall this place remain seen, and no longer shall ponies need tend to this forest. Until we speak again, Princess.”

The cliff road sank into the ground below, a thick fog rolling in to obscure its fall into the city below. The fog spilled over the cliffs into the forest, slowly creeping into the trees.

“Let’s go, Sky.”

Clear Sky chuckled, “You have to learn to be more formal, Princess.”

She pouted, “But I don’t have to be now.”

He smiled, “I know. You have plenty of time to learn. Then when your sister comes back, you can save her from herself.” The pegasus walked along the path towards Canterlot, taking flight.

Celestia stayed for a moment. No one would know of what truly happened here. She made sure of that. But she would pay for it when her time to sleep came.

It would destroy Equestria.

“Are you coming?” Clear Sky called.

Celestia took one look back and took to the sky. She would worry about it one day. But for now, she had time to live and prosper in what was left behind. Her goal was clear.

She would make Equestria shine as bright as the sun.

The Eversleep


        It had been a year and a half and not a single day had gone by since she hadn’t thought of Twilight. Rainbow Dash missed her something fierce. She wasn’t the only one. In honor of her service, Celestia and Luna had a memorial built in the center of Ponyville, a statue commemorating her bravery, as well as those who had died in the war.

Rainbow remembered the war all too well. The fighting in Cloudsdale haunted her dreams: the sounds of dying screams, or innocent ponies fleeing for safety as the city fell apart. Even Twilight’s death haunted her. Watching her launch herself in front of Princess Luna, and getting riddled with crossbow bolts played over in her head many times. Although as time had gone by, they had become less frequent.

        She flew through the air, bucking away the clouds over Ponyville. Her thoughts were easily lulled into her mind by the steady thud of connecting with a cloud. The weather patrol had been dropped to only a few ponies after the soldiers came back to the town.

        There had still been fighting going on after Celestia woke up from the Eversleep. It took her months to solidify peace between the two sides, still blindly egged on by their hatred for one another. That peace was still relatively uneasy. Even now there had been reports of squabbles in the streets over simple misconceptions, and anger at the aftermath.

        The cities and towns that lost the most citizens saw the most turmoil. While Celestia focused on the cities that had been destroyed or damaged in the war, it did nothing to heal the communities that were now mostly empty. For the first time in modern Equestrian history there were hundreds of young ponies who had nowhere to go. Families that were destroyed in the fighting left behind colts and fillies that were eventually brought into orphanages. Most families were more than happy to have another addition to their home, but some were still left alone.

        Celestia was under the most scrutiny of all. Accusations flared about her involvement in the plot, and that she knowingly released her other sister into the world. They even blamed her of setting up the war for some sick pleasure.

Rainbow thought it was completely undeserved. Celestia released many different private documents about alicorn anatomy and life-cycles. They were irrelevant to all ponies but herself and Luna. For the most part, they were released in her defense. She noted in many different addresses that she wanted to spare the world from attempted overthrows during her one thousand years of rule. Her rhetoric over her sister’s innocence in the affairs was just about the only thing that anypony talked about.

While they recognized that Nightmare could control a pony if she wished, the proof was undeniable from the execution - some were wary to believe that she was blameless.

It was commonly accepted that regardless of Luna’s innocence or guilt, Twilight Sparkle had been one of the bravest ponies in the world. Her actions to save Luna’s life were the only rationalization that anypony had to continue trusting the princesses. No pony as smart as she was would throw her life away so irrationally.

But, Rainbow Dash thought that there was something else involved. She had spent the last month of Twilight’s life with her and Luna in the ruins. They were quite close to each other for only spending a few days alone. But that closeness seemed to grow as the time went by. She could have sworn she had seen them holding hooves at one point, but she was busy stuffing her face with vegetables at the time.

There was something more curious than that. Luna had been gone for several months. Celestia said she was continuing research in private on the effects of the Eversleep, should it ever become a problem again. While both princesses were fully rested from their first sleep - Rainbow Dash assumed this was the case - it would not occur again in Rainbow’s lifetime. She did however, receive a letter from Princess Luna.

It was sitting just inside her house by the front door. Princess Luna had requested that they meet in the afternoon by the lake outside of town. Her hooves met open air, and it snapped her out of her thoughts. For as far as she could see, she had cleared the sky of all of its clouds.

Great. Glad that’s over with, she thought. Her wings angled downwards and she glided out of town to the lake. I guess I’ll just wait for her since I’m done.

Rainbow touched down on the sand. There was no sign of the princess yet. Instead she sat down on the shore. A slight summer breeze rippled over the water, blowing grass gently from side to side. A mother duck with her newborns swam across the water, gliding on its surface. Short quacks filled the air as she listened to the sounds of early summer. The hot sun beat down on the ground, warming her coat, forcing her to spread her wings to catch the breeze.

“Hello, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow Dash was startled for a moment, but she turned to look at the voice. Just behind her, Princess Luna was walking about with two young fillies playing around her legs. Neither of them seemed to speak, but they giggled as they chased each other around.

Luna didn’t seem used to it in the least. Her mane was a mess, ruffled from running around, most likely from chasing the two foals. Her crown was missing from her head, and her wings were loose against her body, moving slightly to catch the wind. One of the foals ran underneath her and she lifted her midsection so the other could chase her.

“Sorry about them. They’re always so riled up.”

Rainbow Dash looked at her quizzically, but failed to form any words in her mind.

“Come on!” Luna called sweetly, walking by Rainbow.

The two fillies responded by running towards the princess, who was walking into the lake. They ran straight past Rainbow Dash, plowing into the water. It was enough for Rainbow Dash to confirm something about them:

They were both alicorns.

Her mouth dropped, silence echoing around her, contrasted only by the two foals thrashing around in the water. Luna smiled wide, keeping them close to the shore. Occasionally they would jump out of the water, only to crash back into it.

One of the two looked up at Rainbow Dash and bolted over to her, shaking water all over the blue pony. Rainbow Dash finally got a good look at the foal. She had a beautiful indigo coat, accented by a deep blue mane, that slowly brightened to the color of a morning sky at the the tip. Her tail was the same, but the colors were lighter, and seemed to contrast her coat, rather than blend in. It was the eyes that really stood out. They had a soft glow behind them, a fluid orange and yellow color, like the rising sun.

The foal nuzzled up alongside Rainbow’s hooves pushing her gently in the direction of the water. Rainbow looked at Luna.

The princess giggled, “She wants you to come play, Rainbow Dash.”

Rainbow Dash smiled and rose from the sand. The young foal laughed and giggled as she charged back into the water, drifting into Luna’s open hooves. Luna let her go and she started splashing around in the water.

Rainbow flew over the lake and dropped into the water. She immediately regretted that decision, feeling the colder than expected water against her coat. Her head broke the surface and she swam back over to the shoreline where the foal splashed right over to her. The little pony raised her front hooves in the air, smiling, as she did so. Rainbow picked her up, the blue foal giggling in delight, and plopped her right on top of her back. The foal had planned for this, as she climbed up the rainbow mane, until she was staring over Rainbow’s head.

The other foal seemed to shy away when Rainbow approached, blushing and hiding behind her mother’s legs. She looked exactly like the foal she was playing with, but with subtle differences in color. Her mane and tail started a little darker than her coat, but instead of lightening, it darkened into a deep blue, ending in the purple of a night sky. Her eyes were a cooler color, a light red mixing with all kinds of shades of purple. They were far more complex than her sister’s, but they still held that familiar glow, hers just like moonlight.

“It’s ok. This is Rainbow Dash. She’s helped mommy many times.”

The foal was hesitant, but with some guidance she floated over to Rainbow Dash. The light blue pony sat down in the water, lowering her head, so that the foal could see her sister riding the rainbow colored mane. The shy foal smiled and splashed her way back over to Luna, who used her magic to float her onto her neck.

Rainbow was having trouble forming the words to say, managing a sheepish smile as the little one pulled at her mane, giggling all the way.

Luna sensed the questions Rainbow might have had, “They’re twins. The one you have on your neck is Dawn.” The little one squealed in joy in hearing her mother’s voice, “This is her sister, Dusk.” Dusk smiled, and hid her face in Luna’s mane. The princess walked out of the water, Dusk sliding onto her back.

Rainbow followed her. Dawn copied her sister’s readjustment and giggled to her sister when they were side by side. “Twins are really rare. Who’s the lucky stallion?”

Luna blushed. “That’s... complicated. Its actually why I brought them to you first.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “Why me?”

“Because, I figured you’d have a better idea of who the other parent is, without me telling you.”

Rainbow’s face drained of it’s color as her brain clicked. All of those nights that they stayed up talking, or when Twilight was always concerned when Luna wasn’t doing well. She put herself in harms way for more than Celestia, and even Luna. She died to save her foals.

Their foals.

“Twilight...?” Rainbow Dash managed to say.

Luna smiled and nodded. She lead them onto the road back to Ponyville, taking a leisurely pace. “I asked her if she would be the other parent for a foal. It was more a precaution on my part, because I knew I would die without the extra boost of magic that comes with an alicorn’s pregnancy.”

Rainbow looked confused.

“I don’t expect you to understand that part of it. I was more open to the idea since I had kind of fallen for her after I had arrived in Ponyville. When she comforted me over Sky Shroud’s death... I was happy. The more time I spent with her, the more she grew on me. Even after I had asked her, I was still unsure about my decision. It worked out because she initially refused my request. But,” Luna blushed. “The more time we spent alone those days before you arrived, she and I became more intimate.

“Then that night you came, after you had fallen asleep, she decided to go ahead with it. That specific type of spell we used allowed us to see everything about each other. Our feelings, or doubts, even our memories. It is called a “sharing”. Only an alicorn can perform it, and it was used for ponies who wanted children, but didn’t want to or couldn’t... you know.”

Rainbow blushed.

“There were many alicorns in the old days that performed the spell. But it took a while to figure it out, since it’s been lost for many years. When we did...” Luna looked at the two fillies, using her magic to levitate Dusk to the ground. Dawn hopped off of Rainbow Dash, using her wings to slow down. They walked along in between the two mares occasionally skipping a little ways ahead.

Luna sniffled a little bit. Rainbow was concerned for the princess, who was visibly crying. She stopped and put a hoof around Luna, “You ok?”

The two foals stopped their running, and walked back over to their mother, nuzzling against her hooves. Luna nodded to Rainbow Dash, nuzzling her foals. “When we figured it out, these two were the result. I love them more than anything in the world. I’m sure Twilight would have wanted to see them.” She used her magic to prod them on their way, smiling and laughing through her tears.

The twins smiled back and jumped ahead towards a candy covered building. Rainbow Dash didn’t even notice that they had even arrived back in Ponyville. She was also thankful that no one was around to notice them.

Luna started walking towards the building, the two foals skipping back to their mother. Her horn glowed and the were scooped up onto her back. Dawn climbed on top of her sister to get a better look at Sugar Cube Corner.

“Thank you Rainbow Dash. I hope everypony else will be as accepting of all of this.”

Rainbow smiled. “I’m sure Pinkie Pie will have a fit over how cute they are. Or she’ll pull some crazy party for them. She’s so random sometimes.”

“Only one way to find out.” Luna said. She pushed open the door to Sugar Cube corner and walked inside.



A light summer breeze passed through branches of the great library in Ponyville. The hollow tree inched to the left and right, reaching towards the last light of the setting sun. All of the windows were open, with the sounds of excited ponies escaping into the air. Shortly following yells of delight was the voice of another, much more tired pony.

                “You can’t catch me!”

                “Nuh, uh!”

                “Girls! Settle down!”

                A light blue pegasus darted around the library, ducking flying books and pillows as they soared through the air. Her body spun through the air, soaring through the room, landing in front of the door to the kitchen. One of the fillies careened out of the way, skidding into the wall, while the other trotted over laughing, tapping her with her hoof.

                “Gotcha.” She announced. Her darker mane fell to the side, showing a wide grin. The soft glow behind her red and purple eyes brightened and faded with each laugh.

                The other filly pouted, “Aw...” Her yellow-orange eyes stared up at the pegasus.

                “Ok, girls. Why don’t you get ready for bed? I’ll read you a story.”

                The two of them smiled and darted up the stairs. Those fillies were a handful, but they were great to have around. It kept her mind off of the past. Plus, Princess Luna had requested her to watch them while they went to school in Ponyville – something about being away from politicians.

                “Auntie Rainbow! Can I borrow your hair brush?”

                Rainbow Dash smiled weakly at the gesture. She had to admit; getting used to being called “Aunt” anything wasn’t easy. “That’s fine,” she answered back. The cyan pegasus trotted around the room, picking up a couple of books with her teeth. She tucked them into the crook of her wing, loading as much as she could before putting them back on the shelves.

A small smile played on her lips. Many times she had crashed unceremoniously into the same shelves that she was now meticulously fixing. Twilight was always upset when she did that, and as usual, Rainbow was reminded why.

The two fillies that made the mess were the last part of Twilight Sparkle’s memory in Ponyville, other than the library. They were twins – rare in Equestria and made rarer still because they were alicorns. Twilight and Princess Luna had performed a particular spell called a “sharing” which allowed Luna to carry their fillies. They had also inherited the Element of Magic from Twilight. All before…

Rainbow’s emotions threatened her level head once more. She forced them back into her state of calm. It had only been a few years since Twilight was killed, and she was still inconsolable at times. The twins had been the biggest factor in helping her move on. They had grown on her significantly since she had met them; she felt as though she were as much of a mother to them as Luna was.

“We’re ready!” The two twins shouted in unison.

Rainbow smiled and lifted herself off of the floor, flying up the stairs into their room. The decorations were exactly the same as when Twilight had lived in the library, save for Spike’s bed. After Twilight… died, Celestia took over for caring for him. Nopony had seen him since, but the light blue Pegasus didn’t question it. She hadn’t gone back to Canterlot since.

                Rainbow shook her head slightly to get the thoughts out of her head. Her teeth closed around a small book she had read to them many times before. Turning around, she hovered over to their bed – Twilight’s old bed.

                “Um, Aunt Rainbow?” The lightly spoken voice came from Dusk. While the twins had the same indigo coat, their eyes set them apart. Her eyes were a light red-purple, and her mane – which used to fade darker at the ends – was now a deep blue, with cyan streaks. She kept it long, spending tons of time brushing it before bed, and after she woke up. Rarity practically fawned over it the last time she saw her. “We wanted to hear about our other mom, Twilight Sparkle.”

                Rainbow looked at her quizzically for a moment. In all the time she had taken care of them, they had never asked to hear more about Twilight. She knew Luna had told them plenty about what had happened that night, and Celestia had told them stories about Twilight’s childhood. She put the book on the floor and looked back at the two of them. Hesitantly she began, “Well… what do you want to know?”

                “The story of how she saved Aunt Celly!” Her excitement boiled over at the end of every word.

                “It must have been totally cool!” The other twin was nearly bouncing up and down in excitement. Her name was Dawn, and she was the more active and friendly of the two fillies. While her sister took after her parents, becoming a studious young filly who loved books, Dawn wanted to be more like Rainbow Dash. Her mane and tail was the opposite of Dusk’s – light blue, like the sky, with darker strands spread throughout. It was unkempt, and stuck out all over the place, occasionally spiking upwards. Her eyes were a bright red-orange, much like the rising sun.

                “I… I don’t know,” Rainbow stuttered. “It has some cool parts, but… I’m not sure you’re old enough to hear it.”

                “Please!?” They both moved as close as they could towards Rainbow, giving her a look like Winona begging for a treat after a trick. Needless to say, she couldn’t resist that face – the twins knew it too.

“Fine,” she said. They both cheered, clapping their hooves together. Rainbow held up a hoof to quiet them down, “But just remember: you can’t tell your mom I told you.”

The twins nodded.

Rainbow cleared her throat, “It all began on a cold winter day. I was trying to keep the snow light so that there wouldn’t be a blizzard that day. Up in the clouds, I noticed that the Princess’ chariot was slowly coming down the road. Naturally, I thought it was an unexpected visit from the Princess, so I went to tell Twilight.

“When we went outside to see what it was… it wasn’t what we expected. The princess had fallen into a deep sleep. I didn’t find out until the next day, after she had helped protect your other mom from a pony named Starfall.”

“Wasn’t he the bad pony who took mommy’s place?” Dusk asked.

Rainbow nodded, “Yup. I see your mom already talked about it.” Dusk nodded. Rainbow continued, “Well, he tried to capture your mom, but her brave guard-”

“Sky Shroud! The bravest royal guard ever!” Dawn interrupted.

“Yes, Sky Shroud. He protected her from Starfall’s evil minions until they could escape. That’s when they found safety in this library.

“That night was when Twilight and I found out that Princess Celestia was asleep. So we created a plan to wake her up. We zoomed out of Ponyville the next day, and while I went to Cloudsdale, Twilight went with Luna to the ruins of an ancient city.

“They searched and searched until they found the spell they needed to wake up Celestia. They worked every day to build that spell, adding magic when they had the strength, just so that they could save Equestria.

“But it wasn’t as fast as it needed to be. Not even a week after Celestia fell asleep, Starfall came to take away Cloudsdale. Brave pegasi flew to the sky trying to stop them. But then, POOF!” The two alicorns jumped, “They used their magic to make Cloudsdale vanish forever. I was flying away so fast, that I lost my balance, and fell.

“But that’s when Luna came to save me. I was wandering around, tired and lost in the Everfree Forest, barely able to stand or walk.”


Screams ripped through the air from all directions. Pegasi clashed with one another above the cloud city, firing indiscriminately on the fleeing citizens below. Black magic spread through the clouds paralyzing anypony it touched and sending them falling to the ground below.


“But Luna flew me back to the ruins, where Twilight helped her fix me up. They bandaged my wings so I they could rest while I was there. But, even though I couldn’t fly, I could help them with their big plan to save Celestia.”

“Ooo,” the twins said.

“What did Twilight do?” Dawn asked.

“She volunteered herself for the most dangerous part of the plan. She snuck into Ponyville and acted as though she was casting the big spell. That’s when the guards showed up. Twilight needed to stop them from finding out that Luna was casting the waking spell. Her magic was her defense.”

“BAM! Her magic stopped one of Starfall’s minions, sending him onto his flanks. They fired nets at her, and she flung them away. They used their muscles to try and stop her, but she used her magic, blocking each and every one of them.” Rainbow was up on her hooves, swinging her hooves around as if she were Twilight. “Everything was going perfect until he showed up.

“Starfall came with his sidekick, Dynasty, and hurled spells at her shield. But Twilight didn’t give up. She kept blocking and absorbing every hit, even flinging her own magic back.” Rainbow reared onto her back hooves and pretended to direct magic. Dawn and Dusk were completely locked into what she was doing.

“Then the spell ended, and Twilight managed to zip part of the way to me. But Starfall’s evil magic caught her. He dragged her back to the castle. One by one, his other followers grabbed the rest of her friends – including me while I was trying to run – and brought us to be locked up too.”

To be executed, she thought.


Rainbow struggled against her restraints, struggling to get free. They weren’t supposed to be here, everything should have gone according to plan. She was safe!

One of the guards kicked her tender wings, a resounding crunch ensuring it stayed broken. She screamed in pain as tears fell from her eyes. Another swift kick knocked the wind out of her, silencing her agony.

“It’ll be dawn soon, mule. Save your screaming for the show,” the guard snickered.


“Twilight was brought in front of the crowd. They screamed at her, and called her a traitor. The whole crowd was filled with Starfall’s minions. But as he was chanting his winning speech…” Dawn and Dusk were now just hanging on her words, waiting for the stunning conclusion. She smiled, “CELESTIA APPEARED!”

“YAY!” The two fillies shouted. They started bouncing up and down in their bed.

“She stopped Starfall from his speech, and Luna set Twilight free!” Her momentary happiness fell from her. Rainbow faked a smile, “That is how Celestia saved the day from the evil pony, Starfall.”

“That was soo cool! Is there more to the story?” Dawn bounced up and down, giddy with excitement.

“Not that I remember,” Dash lied.

Starfall was far from finished, she remembered. He aimed his entire squad to aim their weapons at Celestia.


Crossbows hefted skyward, the tip of every crossbow bolt itching for royal blood.

“Celestia, princess of all ponies, daughter of Sol, and eldest of the royal line. I hereby accuse you of betraying your duties to the ponies of Equestria and being the cause of many innocent deaths.”

Luna loosened the bonds on Rainbow’s front hooves, letting her move a little. Twilight was rubbing her leg with one hoof, and walking over to Luna.

“I judge the proper punishment…” Starfall paused, shifting his eyes to stare at Luna and Rainbow, aiming at Luna’s unwavering focus. A smile played on his lips, and his eyes gleamed with an unnatural glow.

At the last second, he turned his aim to Luna.

The crossbows turned to face Luna’s back. Rainbow’s eyes went wide. “…” she managed to speak over her cracked ribs. She pointed with one hoof at the crossbows.

“…is death,” Starfall finished.

Twilight looked at Rainbow, smiling briefly. A small tear fell from her eye, as she mouthed the word: Goodbye.


Rainbow could barely contain her emotions any further. Tears welled in her eyes. She felt just as she did when she saw it happen: dead and hollow – like something was ripped out of her life, that she had grown so attached to.

But her sadness ebbed away when the two twins nuzzled up to her sides.

“Aunt Rainbow?” Dusk was staring at her, “Are you ok?”

Rainbow wiped her eyes with her forehoof. A genuine smile broke over her lips.

“Just something in my eyes. It must be from the late-season flowers. Now it’s time for bed. You both have school tomorrow.”

The twins nodded and snuggled into their blankets, smiling as Rainbow ensured that they were nice and warm. She gave them each a kiss on the top of their head.

“Good night Aunt Rainbow,” Dawn responded.

“We love you,” Dusk said, hugging Rainbow’s arm.

Rainbow nuzzled against the two of them. Her leftover tears pressed into their manes, “I love you both very much. Don’t ever forget that.” She broke her embrace and walked to the door, “Good night girls.” Her hoof flicked the light switch, and she closed the door.

The charade she had been holding the whole time fell away, and she stumbled down the stairs, before collapsing against a bookcase. Her body slid to the floor, as her body shook with each silent sob. There was so much more to her feelings that she simply couldn’t or wouldn’t try to make sense of. Time had only made it worse for her… and that was the problem.

All she had was time.




                Luna was out on her evening rounds, flying over Equestria to watch its citizens enjoy the warm summer night. She was exactly where she wanted to be, enjoying time to think and fly.

                It was exactly where Celestia wanted her to be. The older princess milled about the castle, walking slowly through each hallway unaccompanied by guards. Those that she passed offered to join her, but she politely refused. Tonight she needed to be alone.

Magic brimmed from her horn, adjusting pictures on the wall, and straightening sagging tapestries. She hummed while she walked among the artwork from all of the centuries she had ruled. It was chronological at least, covering the two main hallways of the castle. The one closest to her destination went back the farthest, leading to the days after she had banished Luna and her… baggage… to the moon.

The early days held a lot of fighting. Several wars to unite the great pony City-States of Canterlot, Cloudsdale, and Trotitsyn – renamed to Stalliongrad many years afterwards. It was peaceful for a long time – nearly four hundred years until the recent civil war.

She grimaced. While she never expected it to occur, she was partly to blame. Everypony had believed her dead when she fell into her Eversleep – a natural millennia-long sleep every alicorn went through to ensure their longevity. The ponies she had appointed to help Luna run the kingdom had brought war over Luna’s past transgressions, namely, her time as Nightmare Moon.

Of course, that wasn’t the real reason why. There was another player involved, and she had killed her prized pupil – and friend. No amount of suffering would atone for the crime Celestia felt she had committed against Twilight Sparkle, and the rest of Equestria. Not until now, at least.

She exited the hall through the door leading into the garden. Moonlight poured over the land, spilling its light onto the late summer flowers. Owls and other creatures moved quietly in the garden as she passed through the trees. A smile spread on her face as she felt the wind pick up behind her. A pleasant sigh escaped her as she turned to look at the newcomer.

“Welcome back. I trust the other dragons are keeping you well?” She asked.

A small purple dragon, roughly the size of a full-grown pony sat on its haunches, folding its wings against its sides. Green spikes protruded from its scales, and smoke billowed from his nose. The dragon smiled, “They are. But it’s better to be back home.”

Celestia smiled, “I’m glad you’re back Spike. Will you be staying here for good?”

He frowned and shook his head, “Not yet. I have to return for a few more lessons before I’m allowed to roam about. Part of that agreement you made…”

Celestia nodded. Her smile slowly faded from her face. She looked at the faded pack tucked into his scales, “I suppose that’s the reason you came back early? To drop off the exchange?”

Spike nodded. “It took the grand master years to find that book. He never told me what he went through to get it, but… I’m not really sure I want to know.”

She nodded. Magic surrounded the book inside the package, and it floated down to the ground in front of her. It was a fairly simple tome, but it shimmered all sorts of cold colors in the moonlight. They all played on the surface of the book, enticing anypony to have a look inside.

“Is it… safe?” Spike still had a concerned look on his face.

Celestia smiled, “It will be. I made a promise to you Spike; the same promise I made to myself. Every year since that war I have been searching for the answer, just as you have. I will never stop until I find the answer.” As the last words left her lips, her face became more stubborn than Spike had ever seen. It was as though a fire burned within her, threatening to consume everything.

“Just be safe. Equestria can’t lose you again. I can’t lose you again.” Spike placed a clawed hand on her shoulder. “You saved me from a horrific future. Without you, I’ll… I’ll be doomed to what it could have been.”

Celestia relaxed and looked up at the young dragon. The smile returned to her face, “I will be.”

“Then I’ll see you soon. I’ll send another letter before I come back.”

Spike took to the air, silently flapping his wings against the night sky. Celestia watched him fade into the night, heading high over the mountains. He passed into the mountain range, and dipped below a nearby peak, vanishing from sight.

Celestia’s smile turned to a determined scowl as she lifted the book into the air once more. There was much more work to be done until she was sure that it would work. Everything had to be perfect. If she destroyed the opportunity she had, it would be years until she could try again. But that would put important lives at risk. She couldn’t have that happen so soon after a war.

She turned down the hallway and headed back to her room, waving the guards to the sides. Her smile returned to her face, “No disturbances until morning. I have urgent work to attend to before tomorrow morning’s court.”

“Yes, your highness.” One of them bowed.

“Thank you, Granite, Nightwind.”

She entered the room, returning her focus to the book, leaving the two guards outside speechless and open-mouthed. Tomorrow she would work on peace.

But tonight, peace was the furthest thing from her mind.



                Rainbow Dash woke in a cold sweat on the floor of the library. The cool morning air filled the room, sending chills through her body. She knew she was still prone to nightmares, but… she never really knew when they would happen.

                Her muscles were stiff and sore from sleeping on the floor all night. The dull pain shot through her legs as she pushed herself up against the wall. She used the wall to lift herself from the floor and when she was finally steady, she began the slow trudge into the kitchen.

                It was earlier than usual. She looked at the clock hanging on the wall. A small sigh accompanied the number: 6:25. In a little while, the twins would be bouncing out of their bed to get ready for school. That was when she preferred to wake up, if she was lucky.

                “You know you don’t have to push yourself so hard, Rainbow.”

                Rainbow looked up to see Twilight sitting at the table. The hallucinations were early today.

                “I know,” Rainbow responded. She opened the fridge with her front hoof, and chomped down on the end of a bottle of apple juice.

                Twilight gave her a look of disbelief. Rainbow rolled her eyes, and kicked the door to the fridge closed. She trotted over to the table and sat down. The apple juice bottle touched down on the surface, and she let go of the top.

                “You know that no one blames you for what happened. I don’t.”

                “I should have been able to knock Luna out of the way.”

                “Rainbow Dash!” She looked upset, “You know better than anyone that you could barely stand when she unlocked your chains.”

                Rainbow frowned, and turned away from Twilight’s gaze. Regardless of Twilight being a figment of her imagination, she still knew how to make her upset. She hated this conversation.

                “It’s not your fault. The more that you keep thinking it is, the farther apart everyone else will become.”

                “It’s… complicated.”

                “You’re just making it complicated.”

                “Twilight.” Rainbow’s face hardened, “I left a lot of things unsaid. Things I needed to say, but never knew I wanted to say them.”

                Twilight raised an eyebrow.

                “Yeah, that might have been a little confusing…” She took a sip of the apple juice. It stung her throat a little as it went down, which made her cough to clear her throat, “There were things I didn’t realize until it was too late. I can’t tell anypony about them, either. Too many things happened.”

                “You can always tell me. I’m not going anywhere.”

                “Who are you talking to, Aunt Rainbow?” Dusk walked in groggily, making a wobbly trail to the fridge. Rainbow looked at her, and instinctively went over and opened the fridge for her. When she looked back at the table, Twilight was gone.

                “No one, Dusk. What did you want for lunch?” Rainbow pushed the nozzle for the faucet, while squirting soap onto her hooves.

                “ A daffodil and daisy sandwich please,” she replied. The filly sat down at the table with an apple hanging gingerly in her teeth.

                “I want peanut butter and raspberry jelly!” Dawn ran into the room, sliding on the floor, until she came to a stop in front of the open refrigerator, “Do we have any carrots left?” Her head was shoved into the fridge, while she shuffled things around on the shelves with her front hooves.

                Rainbow sighed, “Dawn, let me get it for you, so you don’t break anything.”

                Dawn hopped back from the fridge, knocking a glass jar over on the way out. Dash zoomed in the short distance, saving it from smashing all over the floor. She immediately regretted it, as every muscle in her body lashed out in protest.

                Dawn smiled sheepishly, “Heh, heh…”

                Rainbow sighed. She put the jar back into its place, and grabbed some carrots by their leaves, placing them on the counter. Magic covered one of them, and it flew over to the table, straight into Dawn’s head. Dusk giggled at her sister’s lack of control.

                “Be careful!” Rainbow frowned, “You don’t want to hurt yourself with a carrot, do you?”

                Dawn shook her head, and chewed the carrot in her mouth, “I wuhn’t,” she said through a mouthful of carrot.

                Rainbow smiled, laughing to herself. She went back to preparing food for the two twins, who ate in silence, occasionally giggling at some thought silently passed between them. Her hoof shot out behind her, pushing the refrigerator open once more, so she could return the left over food to its place.

                “When you’re all done, go get your saddle bags. Make sure your homework is in the bag this time, Dawn. I can’t keep coming back to the house to bring it to school because you left it here.”

                “Ugh, fine…” Dawn groaned as she went into the main part of the library. Dusk picked up the crumbs Dawn left behind onto her plate with the apple core. She dumped everything on the plate in the garbage and then set the plate on the counter next to Rainbow Dash.

                “Thanks, Dusk.” Rainbow ruffled her hair. Dusk smiled wide and trotted off into the library.

                “Thanks for looking after them. I wish that I could.”

                Rainbow glanced back at the table. Twilight was sitting with a cup of tea hovering in front of her. Tears welled her eyes, as the cup settled back onto the table.

                “Aunt Rainbow? I think I broke the strap,” called one of the twins.

                Rainbow smiled at Twilight before scooping up their respective sandwiches and trotting out of the kitchen.




                It wasn’t a long walk to the schoolhouse from the library, but their path went through the center of Ponyville’s market. During the fall and spring of each school year, Rainbow Dash and the twins made it a point to leave earlier so that they could stop by Applejack’s stand.

                The cart was in much better shape than before the war thanks to Apple Bloom’s special talent. In the aftermath, the Apple family spent a lot of time rebuilding nearby towns destroyed by the fighting. It took some doing until she figured it out on her own, but Apple Bloom had a particular knack for building things. Her woodwork had been contracted several times for buildings in Canterlot, and even in Manehatten.

                But when she wasn’t working for somepony else, she helped out on the farm. Shortly after the twins came to Ponyville for school, Granny Smith passed on. It was horrible for

Applejack and Apple Bloom, but it paled in comparison to what Big Mac had to go through. All of a sudden, everything was dumped onto the stallion. He had to be the strongest of the three of them while both harvesting the apples on the farm, and taking care of the expenses. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but with Sweet Apple Acres being practically the only food source for the other local towns, he couldn’t slow down his pace. He broke under the pressure, leaving Applejack in charge for a few weeks.

                It was a rough time, but she remembered that something wonderful came out of it. In the midst of Mac’s grieving, Fluttershy had approached him to try and console him. But that eventually turned into more than friendship, and almost half a year later, they got hitched. It was good for business and the party was the biggest one in Ponyville history to boot. Shortly afterwards, Mac went back to work as an apple harvester, and Applejack took over Sweet Apple Acres.

                This morning, Applejack was running the stand, setting out fresh apples in the front and opening up two barrels filled with bottles of fresh squeezed juice. Her skilled hooves went from her cart to her stand, filling it up with expert speed.

                “Morning AJ,” Rainbow said, touching down in front of the stand. The twins swarmed around the stand to greet her.

                “Hey Applejack!” Dusk hopped up onto the cart, smiling down at the farmer pony.

                “Hey AJ! Anything new today? Huh?” Dawn bounced up and down, looking through everything on the stand, and peeking into the cart.

                “Now, now, settle down, y’all.” Applejack offered to the girls, “You know I ain’t got no specialties this time o’ year.”

                Rainbow chuckled at her predicament, “Come on AJ. They’re always excited to see you on the first day of school.”

                “I know, I know,” she chuckled, “What can I do you for, Dash?”

                Rainbow picked out two ice-cold bottles of juice and placed them on the ground. “Just these today. I only had one left in the fridge after breakfast this morning.” She reached into her saddlebags and placed a few bits on the stand.

                Applejack scooped them up and placed them inside of the stand. “Ya need any more, I got plenty here today,” she said, turning her attention to the girls. “Now, I know it’s been a while since Apple Bloom graduated, but don’t you girls have school?”

                They nodded, and went back to the other side of the stand, picking up the bottles Dash had just bought, sticking them in their saddlebags.

                “If ya see Fluttershy, tell her Big Mac’s off early tonight.”

                Rainbow nodded, prodding the twins down the street to the schoolhouse.

                “Bye Applejack!” Dawn called back, walking backwards to wave. She turned around and ran back to Rainbow’s side.




                In a few minutes, they reached the other side of Ponyville, as many other fillies and colts were being brought to their first day of school. Rainbow hugged them both.

                “Now don’t cause any trouble this year. I don’t want a repeat of the ‘smoothie’ incident.”

                The twins cringed, a mortified look on their faces.

                “I know it was Pinkie Pie’s idea, and that it was an… accident, but I still have to say it.”

                They nodded, slowly returning to their former excited mood.

                “Alright. Now have a good first day at school, okay?”

                They nodded and hopped off, waving to her as they met with the other students.

                “Oh. Hello, Rainbow Dash.”

                Rainbow looked behind her. Fluttershy walked up with a small pegasus filly in tow that Dash recognized has Fluttershy’s daughter. Unlike her mother, her coat was a dull sandy-yellow, accompanied by a deep red mane and tail. Freckles dotted her face, and her eyes were a beautiful deep forest green.

                “Hey, Fluttershy.” Her filly came around her mother to sit in front of Rainbow Dash. “Hello to you too, Early Blaze.”

                “Hi Dash,” she said. “Are Dawn and Dusk here?”

                “They just went inside, wh-”

                “Thanks!” Blaze jumped to her hooves, running towards the school.

                “Wait! Be careful dear, please- oh…” Fluttershy was filled with concern, but she was having trouble voicing them, as usual.

                “She’ll be fine. They’ll have a lot of fun together this year.” Rainbow smiled, starting to walk towards the center of town, “Lets go get something from Sugar Cube Corner. I’m sure Pinkie Pie wants to talk about the sleepover.”

                “O-okay,” she managed, walking alongside Rainbow. Fluttershy glanced back at the schoolhouse, hesitating for a moment, before catching up to walk beside her.




                 The doors to the throne room closed shut, leaving Princess Celestia, her guards, and her sister alone inside. Celestia sat lazily on the throne, sighing as she adjusted her position to get comfortable. Hours of court always made her tired and sore, her flanks in particular. Sitting all day was never comfortable.

                But that was only part of the problem today. The book that she had gotten from Spike the night previous held mountains of information that she needed - particularly in certain less-documented forms of magic. Without the books from the library in the City of the Alicorns, she was limited to the studies done by Unicorns in this city. She also knew better than to believe either unicorns or alicorns would have shared much expertise in the ways of this kind of magic.

                Regardless of that fact, she had spent years in Canterlot’s archives scouring for anything that might be of any use. There were a few spells that she had experimented with, but they were all small-scale. None of them had helped her work, no matter how much magic she added to the spell, except for one thing. She kept that under lock and key, never to be opened by anyone other than herself, lest anypony ruin all of her work.

                “Celly?” Luna waved her hoof in front of her. Celestia had been staring past her, deep in thought for a long while. “Is everything ok?”

                Celestia nodded, “I’m sorry, Luna. I’ve been preoccupied with the archives. They still need quite a bit of preparation before we can bring in the books from home.”

                Luna giggled, “Its fine. Though you’ve been working a lot harder lately to get the archives downstairs ready. Do you need some help?”

                Celestia shook her head. “No, that’s quite alright. You still have a lot of history to catch up on to understand the way I’ve been organizing.” Her eye twitched momentarily, as she danced around the subject of her work. “Besides, there are books in there that are less than… ‘Appropriate’ for your young ones.”

                Luna thought about it for a moment, blushing upon realizing what might be in the basement archives.

                “Speaking of Dawn and Dusk,” she continued excitedly, “They just went back to school today, right? That means that the big sleepover is coming up.”

                Luna nodded excitedly, “Yes! I’m looking forward to another one of Pinkie Pie’s incredible sleepovers!” Luna clopped her hooves together. “She always has tons of extra games that she never gets to use in her other spectacular parties. It’s wonderful to catch up with all of Twilight’s old friends.”

                Celestia smiled. She knew that losing Twilight was still a bit touchy for Luna, but she had shown a lot of progress in overcoming such a loss. After a thousand years of students coming and going, Celestia was more apt to let her life continue. But… despite all of that, she couldn’t move on from losing her faithful student, Twilight Sparkle.

                The frown that played on her lips was replaced by a smile, “I’m glad that you’re excited for it. Of course, after the sleepover, you have a few days off to spend time with those wonderful fillies. Will you give the twins a big hug for me when you see them?”

                “Oh, of course!” Luna smiled, jumping into the air, “Just don’t overwork yourself. You can always ask me for help if you need it.”

                Celestia kept her smile steady, “Of course, sister. I’ll see you in the morning.”

                Luna took to the sky outside, leaving Celestia alone with her guards. Magic shimmered at the end of her horn, stretching her will far above her. She felt the warmth of the sun fill her body, the tickle of sunbeams ruffling her coat. Slowly, the sun descended below the horizon, until its glow faded into twilight.

                The magic ended, and she felt the warmth turn to fire within her. Her determination flooded her with adrenaline as she rose from her perch. She walked to the doors, her guards leading the way. They opened the doors for her.

                “Thank you, gentlecolts. You may have the rest of the night to yourselves.”

                “Yes, your highness,” one responded.

                She walked through the doors, watching as the two bodyguards took to the air, disappearing through the front doors of the castle. The smile faded from her face.

                Within minutes she was at the end of one of the hallways, two doors before her. One was the door she passed through the night before which lead out into the garden. The other, was where she stored the book Spike had brought her. She looked down the hallway. It was completely empty.

                Her horn lit with magic once more, sliding the complicated lock out of its protective position. Before opening the door, she glanced down the hallway once more. Satisfied that nopony was watching, she entered, locking the door behind her.

                Complete darkness surrounded her. She took a few steps forward, remembering each step as it came beneath her hooves. Torches flared to life along the walls, coming alive as she passed them. Minutes went by, each step downwards becoming colder and darker. Each hoof step echoed up the stairs behind her, filling the staircase with hollow sound. Finally she reached the end: a small landing with a stone door, sealing the contents behind it from the rest of the castle.

                Celestia glared at the door, forcing the stone locks to slide open. She turned her gaze up the staircase. A slight smile played on her lips. The torches in the hallway went out, letting the darkness swallow everything once more. In front of her, the stone door slid away.

                There was work to be done.



                “That’s all for today. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

                The sound of chairs sliding along the floor filled the classroom in the Ponyville schoolhouse. Young fillies and colts scrambled to gather their bags from the cubbies in the back of the room, talking excitedly to one another.

                Dawn and Dusk rose from their desks, talking to Early Blaze as they walked towards the back of the room.

                “What do you think of school so far?” Dusk grabbed her bags with her teeth, and slung them onto her back.

                Blaze smiled excitedly, “I like it a lot! There’s so much stuff to learn, it’s amazing!”

                Dawn rolled her eyes, “Try reading through the whole library like she has.” She pointed a free hoof at her sister, “At least class is more interesting than all those books.”

                Dusk frowned, “Well if you had read anything, you would be able to control your magic. Remember what happened last year?”

                Dawn kept her facial features flat, restraining from giving her sister the pleasure of a response. Blaze looked confusedly between the two of them, “What happened last year?”

                “Nothing,” the twins responded simultaneously.

                “Ok…” Blaze shrugged, “Bye Cheerilee!” She waved her hoof as she left the classroom with the twins.

                The sun was hovering just past the top of the sky, warming the air outside. Blaze breathed the air in deeply, feeling a sense of calm wash over her. It was immediately replaced by the excitement practically beaming from Dawn.

                “Can you believe the big sleepover is tomorrow?” Dawn hopped up and down as the others walked, “I mean, it’s going to be so cool. Mom is going to come down from Canterlot, and Aunt Rainbow is going to give us flying lessons!”

                “Ooo,” Blaze said.

                “And Rarity is coming back from Canterlot! She’ll be teaching us how to refine our magic,” Dusk beamed. “Of course mom is going to teach us the actual spells.”

                “Wow,” Blaze added.

                “But the best part is that your mom and dad are bringing you too, Blaze! We’re going to have a blast!” Dawn hopped around her friend, giddy with excitement.

                Blaze’s eyes lit up, “Really?”

                “Yeah, didn’t they tell you yet?”

                “Well…” the red maned filly looked to the sky in thought, “I think she said something about it, but I was reading some of my mom’s books.”

                Dawn rolled her eyes. Dusk lit up like a torch, “Ooo! Which book?”

                Dawn sighed, tuning out their rapid conversation. As they walked through Ponyville, she gazed at the sky in thought. A gray streak went from cloud to cloud, knocking them lazily from the sky.

Dawn loved watching other pegasi fly. Even more than that, she loved the skies and everything that they held: stars, clouds, rain, snow, and Aunt Tia’s sun. She would never willingly admit to reading about the sky to anyone but Aunt Rainbow and only then because she had been caught reading late one night after her sister had drifted to sleep.

She mused on that thought, as she lowered her gaze to the market, which was unusually crowded. Slowly the sounds around her began to trickle back to her ears.

                “…I don’t know. I never read that far into the book-”

                “Hey Dusk, is there something special planned for today?” Dawn interrupted.

                Dusk jumped a little, surprised that her sister was still there. She never noticed when she got carried away. “Uh…” The young alicorn racked her brain, trying to remember the list of local holidays, “Not that I remember.”

                “Hmm. I wonder why there’s such a large crowd?”

                A voice among the crowd shouted, “Darlings!”

                They immediately recognized the pony attached to that voice.

                A white unicorn barreled her way through the crowd, knocking down several unfortunate ponies in the process. Her well-groomed mane bounced along as she trotted over to the three fillies. The unicorn was wearing a deep blue dress lined with sapphires and amethysts, which sparkled in the late afternoon sun.

                The white unicorn wrapped her forelegs around the twins, squeezing them tight, “My stars, have you grown! I’ve missed you so much these past months. You simply must tell me what you did over the summer.”

                “We missed you too… Rarity,” Dawn managed. She found that it was becoming difficult to talk, let alone breathe.

                Blaze grinned slyly at their ordeal, snickering under her breath.

                “Oh, and Early Blaze!” Rarity removed her vice like grip from the twins, turning her attention towards the red-maned filly. Blaze’s smile dropped, a small whimper escaping her before she was engulfed in the mare’s grasp, “You should come with Fluttershy and I to the spa this weekend. It would do wonders for that marvelous mane of yours.”


                Rarity let go of Blaze, “Why don’t I walk you home, Blaze? I want to hear about everything you’ve been doing since I last visited. Ponyville is so much livelier than Canterlot – city life is far too predictable.”

                Rarity prodded Blaze forward, leaving her no say in the matter at all. Journalist pegasi floated above her, taking pictures or scribbling away on their notepads.

                “Let’s go before those journalists come after us too,” Dusk whispered.

                Dawn looked at her quizzically for a moment, before nodding and following her into the nearest building: Sugarcube Corner.

Pinkie Pie was hard at work in the bakery, mixing tough batter in her favorite mixing bowl. A look of excitement and concentration on Pinkie’s face was all the twins needed to know that she was making something new. They waited patiently for Pinkie to finish, looking instead at all of the delicious treats in the case.

                Inside were cupcakes with all different types of frosting smothered over them. Slices of cake lay on plates in different patterns, like rainbows, hearts, and flowers. Cookies filled the top of the case all in neat little rows, with a pair of tongs sitting next to each tray. The fillies, however, were far more interested with the bottom of the case.

                In the bottom of the case was a large hollow area Pinkie made to store candy. It was more than enough to satisfy the sweet tooth of every pony in Ponyville including Pinkie.

                “Hi girls!” Pinkie chirped. Her voice was followed by a heavy thud on the counter.

                The fillies jumped, turning their focus on the multicolored ball on the counter.

                “Whoooa,” Dawn stared in awe, “what is it?”

                “Its my newest flavored taffy: Rainbow Fruit Punch! I made the flavor myself. I liked it so much that I just had to think of something to use it on. Then I remembered that the bestest, most fantastic flavor had to go in the chewiest, gummiest thing I could make. So I thought for a while, but couldn’t think of anything and then I got hungry so I went down to the kitchen to have a snack, which was taffy and it made me hungrier for taffy. That’s when I figured out that I wanted taffy with my favoritist flavor ever. Try it!”

Pinkie used the mixing spoon to cut two pieces of taffy, handing one to each of the fillies. Dawn shoved it into her mouth, chewing momentarily before swallowing. Her sister on the other hand decided to chew the taffy slowly, resulting in a very confused look on her face.

“So what do you think?” Pinkie asked.

“I like it!” Dawn said, hopping up and down.

“What do you think Dusk?”

Dusk had stopped chewing altogether, her brows now narrowed in frustration.

“You know you’re supposed to swallow it, right?” Dawn said.

Dusk swallowed what was left of the taffy. She chewed absent-mindedly, still trying to figure out the flavors. Finally, she looked up incredulously at Pinkie, “Did you mix together every flavor you had in the kitchen?”

“No. I mixed every flavor I had in the kitchen and I went into the party catalog and ordered all the flavors that I didn’t have. I even went into my personal party supplies for the ones that are super-duper hard to get. Then I mixed them all together.”

Dusk simply couldn’t comprehend what Aunt Dash referred to as ‘Pinkie Pie being Pinkie Pie,’ but she had a suspicion this was one of those times.

“You should totally bring that to the sleepover tomorrow!” Dawn chimed in. “I bet everyone would love to try some.”

“That’s a fantastic idea! I’ll make sure to make more for tomorrow,” Pinkie rambled. “But I have to cut this taffy before I can make more. Hey! I just had the bestest idea ever! You could help me make some more taffy!”

“Sure!” Dawn giggled.

“Uh… No thanks. I’ll tell Aunt Rainbow that you’re helping Pinkie Pie, Dawn. Just… try not to use magic this time,” Dusk said.

“You know I won’t,” Dawn retorted. You know I can’t, she thought bittely.

 “Good,” Dusk snickered to herself. “Maybe after the sleepover you can try baking with magic.”

“I will, and I’ll prove it.”

“We’ll see.”

Oblivious to the argument, Pinkie Pie bounced to the front door. “C’mon Dawn, we have to make more Rainbow Fruit Juice! You can even taste it before we mix it in.” Pinkie flipped the sign on the door to read ‘Closed’ and hopped her way into the kitchen. Dawn watched her sister leave the shop before dropping her mask of confidence. She looked up at her horn with disdain.

“I wish you would just work. Stupid horn…”

Pinkie Pie stuck her head out of the kitchen, “Dawn?”

Dawn perked up, plastering a smile on her face. “Coming,” she said, trotting into the kitchen.




                Rainbow Dash went about the library’s kitchen, picking through the stack of books she had laid out on the table. Most of them she had already read – they covered the basics of one of the most complicated things she’d ever done:


                Not that it was terribly difficult for her to boil some water and stick some powdered soup, or macaroni and cheese mix in. No, the real challenge came when she was first asked to watch the girls during their first school year – she had to cook real food. Well, healthy food was what everypony else had called it. Too much grain wasn’t ok for growing young fillies, and neither was a lot of dairy. So the name of the game became balancing what kind of food they were going to eat.

                But, even after years of learning how to cook, she still had trouble figuring out what to cook. That’s what the new books were for. A brand new set of books had arrived the day before, including a book on French Cuisine. Looking through it, she had found an interesting recipe, one that required several ingredients she had never heard of. So, she decided to improvise.

                She stirred the pot on the stove. A sweet scent of lavender bubbled up into the air from the syrup she was making – one of Pinkies recipes she had borrowed. On the counter were several thin slices of pastry dough from Sugarcube Corner… and several burnt attempts at making the dough herself.

                “Ok, I’m ready,” said a blue alicorn mare, entering into the kitchen. The princess of the moon, Luna, had completely removed her royal attire, exchanging it instead for a simple white cooking apron.

                “Cool. Now, what I need you to do is to get a bunch of those violets from the fridge. The lavender syrup is almost ready,” Dash said, pointing a free hoof at the fridge.

                Rainbow still thought it was a little weird to see the princess without her royal armor. But when it came to Luna’s family, Dash knew more than most. Visits in the summer consisted of quick dips in the lake, followed by fireworks every Summer Sun Celebration weekend. Regardless of where the yearly celebration took place, the family would always come to Ponyville for a big cookout. Rainbow was almost always on alfalfa burger duty while the rest of her friends would gather to partake in the results. Despite Luna’s position, she enjoyed being treated as any other pony; the apron simply added to that today.

Magic shimmered over her horn, gently prying the door open. A good-sized container hovered out and over to the counter, settling into place.

Dash took the pan off of the stove, flicking the power off as she turned.

“Luna, could you grab those pastries?”

“Sure.” The plates containing the pastries floated over, landing on the counter in front of her. Rainbow moved some of the flowers into the center of each with a free hoof and with the other drizzled the hot syrup over the flowers and exposed pastry dough. She placed the pot back on the stove and turned back to the counter.

“Wow, Rainbow. You’ve become quite the chef,” Luna said, watching her roll up each pastry.

“I guess. It takes a lot of work though,” she said. She produced a pan from one of the drawers and placed it on the counter, “I’ve practically read every cookbook in the library. This is my attempt at making ‘Crepes’. It’s a French dish.”

The oven door closed on the pastries. Rainbow set the timer and turned to Luna, “All set. I have to take a shower, but I’ll be back down before the timer finishes. I have to put a storm together for tonight so it’ll be clear for the sleepover tomorrow. The girls usually stop by Sugarcube Corner on the way home, but they should be here soon.”

“I’ll be here. Celly let me leave Canterlot today so I could surprise them.” A big smile filled the mare’s face, “They’ll be so happy.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow smiled. “Thanks again for the help.”

“Anytime,” Luna said.




                The castle sat quietly in the evening storm, as thunder boomed in the air above. Rain pounded into the stone, causing a constant rumble within the castle interior. Further underground in the dungeons, storerooms, and all the other nooks and crannies below, that rumble died down to a low hum. It was fitting to have a planned storm over the valley. It mirrored her mood: tired, sad, frustrated, and most of all, ready to unleash her fury upon anything at the slightest provocation. That fury fueled her determination ever since Spike had brought her that book – the only book with the answers she desired.

                The sound of grinding stone filled the underground chamber as the large stone door slid shut. Torches flared to life all around the room, revealing empty bookcases and broken tables. It appeared as though it hadn’t been used in ages. Except, that is, for one particular bookshelf.

                Celestia made her way across the room, using her magic to begin the process of dusting the room. As the clouds of dirt and grime were tossed in the air, the princess’ magic gathered it up into a ball. Her magic branched out further to the broken tables, binding the wood together. Fire poured out of her horn, filling the room with more light than it had ever been exposed to. The roaring noise from the flames became unbearable and the light began to white out the features.

                The magic cut off abruptly, the room becoming immediately quiet and still. Celestia looked around at her work – the room was spotless. More importantly, unless one knew where it was, the secret entrance to her… private study… was well hidden. The telltale glow of magic enveloped her horn once more, loosening the seal on the floor, allowing the bookcase to slide downward out of sight. The torches behind her dimmed as she passed through the new entrance in the wall, extinguishing once the shelves rose back into place.

                The new room was small, lit only by a single torch over a desk. The book she had studied over the whole week was propped up against the wall, with candles, salts, and other miscellaneous items around it. On the other end of the room, the back wall was completely shrouded in darkness. A wall of iron bars sealed off the darker part of the room, doing nothing to hide the smell of mold and rotting books coming from it.

                However, this space had been perfect for privacy and security. Before the room became an archive, it served as a dungeon for prisoners in Equestria’s first civil war. Those with enemy intelligence were left here below until they broke, or died.

                The sound of chains scraping together filled the room with a hollow metallic ring.  From the darkness came a bead of red, then, another. Each of them winked once, before becoming clear red orbs, with a slit of black in the center of each.

                “Good evening, Princess,” came a voice behind her. It came slow, sweet, and dripping with malice, “I’m surprised to see you so soon.”

                The princess hovered several of the salts onto the desk, mixing one into another. One of the pages turned. The sound of movement behind her did nothing to break her concentration.

                “I suppose more research tonight as well? Surely its not an interrogation, as your techniques have gotten… rusty over time.” The red eyes disappeared for a moment, “It’s to be expected really, a monthly visit to my humbled existence lessens the blow of even the best techniques.”

                The door to the archive room opened. The various materials lying around the book hovered out through the door. Celestia began rummaging through whatever was hidden in the desk drawers. Each new material was flung in the air hovering past the imprisoned pony before disappearing: dragon scales, leaves of poison joke, different colored candles, and several jars with things he couldn’t quite put his forehoof on. He heard two items land on the desk in front of her, but was having trouble seeing exactly what they were.

                “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bother you while you’ve been so busy. Are you moving us down a level? I think it would be cooler. Its always so hot in here.”

                Celestia glared in the direction of the cage. He always tried to get a rise out of her. But she wasn’t having it tonight. A sharp magical burst from her horn slammed into the bars of the cage. Electricity arced from the bars, slamming the prisoner to the ground.

                He laughed. It started slow at first, soft chuckles like the ticking of a clock. But it grew. Simple laughter turned to mad hysterics that echoed from every direction – a chorus of insanity on all sides. Another burst of magic did nothing to stop him from continuing.

                Celestia frowned and moved out of the room.

                “Priceless! I was waiting for you to show me something new. How… refreshing!” Crazed giggles filled the room with whispered echoes.  “That’s the teacher I remember.”

                Celestia spun around and stormed back towards the cell. Her horn glowed as bright as the sun, pouring magic into the cage. The bars ignited blasting the inside with waves of searing heat. The prisoner dove under the cot in the corner. The smell of singed hair came from his smoldering, blue mane.

                The fire died down until the flames stood only at the base of the cage.

                “Is that sufficient for you? Have you had your fun, my traitorous, conniving, disgrace of a student!?” Celestia’s voice boomed throughout the room and the ground quivered as she spoke. “You destroyed cities and marred the trust of everypony in this country! On top of that, you fake your death to give your body to that… that half-blooded brat. To this world you are dead! If you weren’t necessary I would have killed you WHERE YOU STAND!”

                There was silence. Then a smile crept onto the prisoner’s face. He walked forward, his violet coat dulled and matted with grime. His blue mane had strands of silver and gold weaved throughout. The stallion stopped just behind the bars, “How long have you been fighting her, Celestia?”

                Celestia snorted, slowly losing will to continue her rage. “What was that, mule?”

                “Nightmare’s left her mark. You’ve fought it well.”

                Celestia stopped short. A mirror sped into the room, hovering in front of the princess’ face. There, in plain view was something… unusual. One of her eyes had become that of a dragon, a red glow coming from behind it. She closed that eye immediately.

                “It seems it was destiny for me to survive,” he egged on, now as close to the bars as he would dare. “Your greatest student to ever live.”

                “Not for much longer, Starfall,” she responded with a smile.



"Ready?" Luna asked. She was firmly planted in the center of the library with a series of objects floating next to her: a few books, a candle, and a glass of tea. On the floor in front of her were several more books taken from the library's shelves and just beyond those, both of her fillies.

Every time they were with Luna, their mother took the time to teach them something about magic. While this was something Dusk readily looked forward to, Dawn dreaded it. She felt as though the whole ordeal was another chance for her sister to outdo her. Today was no exception.

"Ready," Dusk chimed.

Dawn simply swallowed and stayed silent.

"Go!" Luna called.

The two twins focused in concentration. Almost immediately their horns were aglow with magic. Several books lifted from the floor, floating around Dusk albeit a little wobbly. One of the remaining books floated uncertainly upwards, shaking and shuddering the whole way.

Dusk looked triumphantly at Luna, beaming at her own accomplishment. Meanwhile, Dawn was struggling to keep her single wobbly book up in the air in front of her. The steady glow of magic around her horn showed signs of strain as another book lifted a few inches off of the floor. The light blue glow rippled before simply winking out with an audible pop. Both of the books fell back to the floor.

"Good job, Dawn! That was much longer than last time," Luna said, nuzzling her daughter. Dawn faked a smile, holding back her sense of failure. Her breaths still came ragged as sweat seeped through her coat.

“Did you see me?” Dusk asked, hopping up and down. The books she had held now firmly on the floor.

Rainbow smiled, watching them from the window. The smell of grilled alfalfa filled the air, wafted from the grill set up behind the library.

“They’re learning so quickly,” She muttered to herself, turning back to the food.

“Aren’t they?” An image of Twilight Sparkle walked over to stand in front of the grill. “But don’t sell yourself short, Dash. You could have had a chef’s hat for your cutie mark. This looks delicious.”

“Thanks Twi’, but, it’s just a hobby.”

Twilight looked into the window, her hooves placed on the windowsill. She stared longingly at the magic lesson. Rainbow knew Twilight wanted to be in Luna’s place more than anything in the world. But… it was impossible.

She looked up. Big Mac had set up a stake for horseshoes and he and his sister were going arguing over who was better. A rouge toss flew straight over Rarity’s head, which prompted a swift retort about Applejack’s poor aim and ‘brutish’ methods.

Rarity didn’t follow her words with any kind of action, simply turning in the lawn chair she had brought for herself. Beside her, Fluttershy was trying to continue the conversation, occasionally glancing at the game to ensure there weren’t any loose horseshoes coming back in her direction.

Rainbow laughed as Early Blaze tried to toss one of the horseshoes, coming up quite short. She looked back down at the grill and flipped over a few of the alfalfa burgers.

“Do you think I would have been a good mom?” Twilight turned away from the window, sitting down next to the grill.

Dash let the spatula rest loosely in her grip. Her chest tightened and she looked straight down at the ground. She often wondered what it would have been like if things had gone differently. It brought up several painful memories, which she fought into the back of her mind. She turned to look at Twilight. “I certainly think so.”

Tears welled in Twilight’s eyes, a soft smile the only response to Dash’s answer. She nodded her head, wiping away her tears.

“It’s alright. Go get some tea. It’ll help,” Dash offered. Twilight simply nodded and walked around the library, disappearing from sight. She stopped for a moment, reconsidering what she had said – more importantly who she had said it to.

“Rainbow Dash, those burgers smell simply fantastic.” Rainbow glanced up at Rarity, who was hovering a plate in front of her. She had neatly separated several condiments onto her plate and had sliced the bun with a knife to make small bite-sized pieces. Noticing the odd glance Rainbow was giving her, she explained, “They’re much better once you cut them into smaller pieces. It releases the flavor of the seasonings.”

Rainbow placed one of the ready burgers onto the plate, while moving the others onto a serving tray.

“Food’s ready!” She called out, trotting over to the others with the tray of food.




                Starfall grunted in pain as Celestia secured the bindings on his hooves. “Easy,” he whispered under his breath. The bounds were yanked tighter, bringing another whine from the stallion.

                Celestia looked down at her prisoner. Each of his hooves was firmly secured in the center of the archive room. Around them were magically reinforced straps holding them in place. On his horn was the same magic-inhibiting lock he had placed on Twilight. Over his back were several of the same chains recovered from that day, painstakingly placed together for this very moment.

                Celestia felt satisfied with her work thus far. She had hoof-picked everything in order to have this happen on her terms.

It was well-crafted revenge.

Celestia went about her work sifting through the materials she had laid out the night before. Several containers hovered out of the pile to settle down beside her. She went around in a circle leaving a sickly green trail of powder behind her.

Starfall began to shift in his restraints. He didn’t like what she was doing.

“So tell me,” Starfall began. “How did you manage to keep Nightmare from taking over your mind?” He needed to distract her from whatever she was doing. A mistake would give him time to figure it out.

Celestia looked up at him, answering with a stern glare… or so he thought. “Training? Sheer force of will? It doesn’t matter, Starfall.”

Starfall tried to form another question but it faltered on his tongue. Not but a few hours ago, she had completely lost it. Yet here she was being civil – relatively so. He tried again, “But for a thousand years? There must have been some moments when you couldn’t control the taint?”

“It was a plague, Starfall. Recurrences of that plague mean nothing to me.”

Blocked. He tried to think of something else to ask, tossing one idea after another at his brain. “Might I remind you that you still have symptoms?”

Celestia simply stared at him, facial features flat. She was not amused. He averted his eyes, letting her win once more. Once she started moving again, his body tensed up and he swallowed hard. It was time to gamble.

“Luna probably thinks you’re losing it,” he began. “Is it really a good idea to prove her right?”

Celestia simply blinked once and laughed. “Oh please,” she said, levitating something over the table. “She’s merely concerned that I’m… overworking myself. Let me tell you a little something about Nightmare.”

Please do, he thought.

“Nightmare made sure everypony was infected with that plague. But she didn’t really make it. My foalish half-sister used Discord’s magic to make it ‘original’, but it ended with Discord controlling her, even while trapped in that stone prison of his. He had complete control of her mind before she even considered the possibility. You see, unlike me, she had no experience with that manic. I’ve known him far longer than Nightmare ever had and I know how to fight his madness.”

Starfall raised an eyebrow, “Discord? …That Discord?”

Celestia simply smiled and turned back to her work. He wasn’t getting anything else out of her.

The tome she was reading hovered over to the circle, now peppered with odd symbols Starfall didn’t recognize. Celestia turned a page with her magic and turned slowly to face Starfall.

His heart started to pound in his chest. Sweat began to bead in his dirty mane as she went around the circle, sprinkling salt on his coat. The symbols flared to life with each dose glowing a blood red. Suddenly, he could now guess what was going on, with horrifying clarity.

Celestia’s smile widened as Starfall began to visibly panic. He tried to escape his bindings but did nothing except tighten them further, eliciting more pained whines. Before long, he was swinging his head back and forth trying desperately to scrape the symbols away.

She had planned for that to happen. Starfall came up decidedly short, shaking as hard as he could to wriggle out of his predicament. He looked right up at her as she completed the circle, wide-eyed and baffled.

“HAVE YOU GONE MAD?” he screamed. He noticed that one of her eyes had resumed that sickening red glow. “HAS SHE DRIVEN YOU TO INSANITY?”

“No. This is simply the best solution to two of my most pressing problems,” she replied calmly. The symbols began to rise into the air, taking shape before spinning slowly around his body. A sickly green hue replaced the previous color of the symbols.

“Besides,” Celestia continued, flipping to the right page in her book, “if I can’t embrace chaos, I can’t bring back the proper order of things. More specifically, I need the proper student roaming Equestria. Not you.”

She began to read from the text, focusing on the intricacies in each word and phrase. It had to be recited properly, or she’d have to start over.

Starfall watched as an inky black film began to seep through the stone floor, painting over the walls and furniture in the room. It blotted Celestia from his view, leaving only her dismembered voice chanting in the darkness, while black hooves reached down from the ceiling above him.

He screamed, attempting to free himself from the assault on his mind. If he failed… he knew full well what the consequences would be. The screams became shriller as the hooves stretched closer to him. As a last resort, he lowered himself as close to the ground as possible to avoid their grasp. That’s when the green glow he had taken for granted started to go out.

“Nononononono…” he muttered to himself, refocusing his efforts on keeping the eerie symbols from going out. But it was no use.

The viscous black hooves grazed his mane. He trembled at the ice-cold touch, frantically staring at the symbols around him. All at once they went out.

Outside the stone doors the eerie silence choked out his screams.




                The sleepover devolved into a ruckus of party games, relatively quickly. It was one of the few ways to keep the fillies entertained. At the moment, Applejack and Pinkie Pie were facing off in a heated game of charades.

                “Uh... Work horse! Mac’s Plow! Aw, horse feathers.” Applejack was completely lost by Dawn’s circular and erratic motions. Dawn was getting frustrated as well, glancing over at her sister to see how she was doing.

                Dusk was having an easier time, spinning a pencil around her head with magic. She tried to help it along with wide round gestures, visibly losing her patience with her partner.

                “A balloon! Cotton Candy! A spinning top!” Pinkie Pie bounced along throwing out whatever came to mind first, “Oh, I know! A ball!”

                Rainbow sat with Luna, Fluttershy, and Rarity in the upper part of the library, watching the game over the banister.

                Rarity levitated her teacup over to her, “Anyways. Business has been fairly good lately with the new fall fashions. I’ve been working on my winter line since then. It’s going to be fabulous.”

                “That sounds wonderful, Rarity,” Fluttershy said.

                “It will be. I even took the liberty of designing one for you, Rainbow.”

                Dash looked at her, confused. “What could you possibly have designed after me? The gala dress was the only thing you ever designed with me in mind.” Rainbow sighed, “Besides, you have more important clientele than a member of the weather patrol.”

                Rarity ignored Dash’s attitude, “I designed it with you in mind because you’re my friend. You know I don’t need another reason. Everyone else had one designed after them too.”

                Dash was a little lost now. The only reason she had ever worn a dress was for the Grand Galloping Gala and the fashion show for Hoity Toity.

                “Rarity… I haven’t mentioned it to her yet,” Luna spoke quietly.

                “No? Well now’s a perfect time to give it to her.”

                Luna nodded, “I suppose so.”

                “Give me what?” Dash asked.

                A set of silver tickets popped into existence, settling down in front of her. “The new head of the School for Gifted Unicorns was poking around the archives and found a mention of the Lunar Ball that I held on the longest night of the year. He convinced me to start doing it again. I’m inviting all of you to the ball, I just hadn’t gotten a chance to give you your tickets yet.”

                “This isn’t going to be like the gala, is it?” Dash said, mildly concerned.

                “No. I’ve already asked Pinkie Pie if she wanted to re-invent my celebration event. I have the utmost confidence that this won’t be like the last time.” Luna smiled.


                Rarity continued with her discussion on the Lunar Ball, while Rainbow tuned her out. She looked to her right where Twilight was seated, taking in the conversation but adding nothing to it. By this point, Rainbow had all but forgotten that Twilight was a figment of her imagination. She rubbed her eye with a hoof. One day she’d have to start remembering that.

                “Speaking of the ball, isn’t it time?” Rarity questioned.

                Luna looked out the window at the setting sun, still hovering over the horizon, “It certainly is.” She rose from where she sat to lean over the railing. She called down to the others; “It’s time for sunset!”

                The next few minutes of chaos jarred Rainbow from her spot, trying to get everyone over to the balcony. Somehow, in the confusion, Pinkie Pie and Applejack ended up on the treetop, bringing along all three of the fillies and “much protest from Fluttershy”. Big Mac and Rarity stayed on the balcony, neither of them wanting to climb up the Library’s branches. Luna took off into the sky to lower the sun as part of her planned display.

                Rainbow went back inside to grab a few of the snacks. She floated down to the library floor, trotting into the kitchen. On the table she found the various bowls of hay chips and candied flowers still relatively full. She balanced them both on her back clearing the empty plates and a small blue teacup.

                Rainbow looked at the teacup on the table, mildly bewildered. She couldn’t recall anyone using that one during the party. She didn’t have much time to question it, as the sunlight began to fade from the kitchen window. Leaving the teacup on the table, she flew back through the library and out onto the balcony.

                The sky was bathed in colors of all kinds, starting with a dramatic orange-red color and melting into an inky blue. Slowly, the dark blue crept over the sky, heralding the moon as it rose from its bed in the eastern horizon.

                Dawn and Dusk watched as the sky began to light up with bright stars. The sense of pride they felt in their mother’s work left them speechless. When Rainbow offered them food, her words didn’t even register with them. Applejack shrugged, and took the hay chips from Rainbow, popping a few in her mouth. Rainbow took a seat next to the twins, keeping her eyes focused on the night sky.




                Rainbow closed the bedroom door softly behind her. She was always surprised how long the girls managed to evade her efforts to go to bed at a reasonable time. With Early Blaze helping them it was darn near impossible. She glided down to the bottom floor of the library, where everyone else was seated, talking to one another in a hushed tones.

                Dash settled down next to Applejack, “Coast is clear. They’re asleep.”

                Almost everyone else gave a sigh of relief.

                “Excellent. Thank you for being so kind as to putting them to sleep,” Rarity said.

                “No problem. Any more of those chips left for me?” Rainbow eyed the bowl as Big Mac passed it over, “Thanks. I’m starving.”

                A small lapse of silence passed between them, filled with the soft sounds of chewing and the occasion crackle from the fireplace. Every year they had avoided the topic until later in the evening. It looked like it would be the same thing this year.

                “Five years,” Applejack started. “Can you believe it’s been that long?”

                “Not really,” Rarity replied. There was a pause. “Do you ever wonder what really happened on the front?”

                “Nope,” Big Mac said, “glad I was tending apples. Family that came back still ain’t the same.”

                Applejack shifted in place uncomfortably. Rainbow had stopped eating and put the bowl to the side. She looked across the room at the kitchen. Twilight stood in the doorway, frowning in anticipation.

                “It hasn’t really ended.” Everyone looked at Luna in bewilderment.

                “Don’t be so hard on yourself Luna,” Rarity tried to comfort the princess of the night, “most of those foals don’t really know anything about what happened.”

                “No, really, you don’t understand,” Luna continued nervously. “There’s a reason I send the girls to school here instead of in Canterlot. Remember the riots that happened a few days before they came here?”

                Everypony else nodded.

                “It started with a fight between Dusk and a student whose parents disagreed with my co-rule. The headmaster at the School for Gifted Unicorns then was known for being very hands-off. When he didn’t interfere, the student’s parents stormed in with a few of the local radicals.

                “Luckily one of the teachers, Bright Light, shielded the classrooms and students from the attack until Celestia and I arrived. He spent weeks in the hospital recovering.

                “After that, I simply couldn’t let them go back. Bright Light was disappointed, but he has helped with remedial classes over the summers. Even so, there are still… incidents.”

                Applejack looked dumbfounded. Fluttershy had her head buried in Big Mac’s shoulder, who comforted her with a light nuzzle. Rarity’s eye twitched uncontrollably.

“Incidents?” Rarity asked. Her voice started to grow in volume, “Somepony would dare continue?”

“Calm down Rarity. The little ‘uns are sleeping,” Applejack soothed.

“Please. Nothing major has happened in years,” Luna added.

Rainbow had lost her nerve to continue listening. She knew that was mostly true, except for the ‘major incidents’ part. It was part of the reason Rainbow never picked up the twins. She could recall bringing them back from winter break in Canterlot, and the hours they spent under the castle.

Some crazy pony – a follower of Starfall, when he was alive – was able to sneak in a group of unicorns that tore the palace apart. They went on a rampage looking for the twins, while one of the guards tried to hide them in the lower levels. They caught up to them in the tunnels, just as Celestia came to help. They were apprehended but it was all very hush-hush. Only a few other ponies knew about the incident because of how high profile it was.

Rainbow felt helpless about the whole thing. Luna visited her to apologize personally. The twins had nightmares for a week. Even so, Dash couldn’t imagine how Twilight felt without the details, despite the horrified look on her face from hearing that something happened at all. The only thing Rainbow could pick up was her talking to herself over and over.

“It’s all my fault… I couldn’t do anything…”

Rainbow tuned back in as the room fell silent, with everypony looking down at the ground.

“If only I was there. I could protect them.”  Twilight said, hanging her head low while she walked into the kitchen.

“Did you say something, Fluttershy?” Rarity said.

Rainbow looked at her quizzically. “I didn’t hear her say anything.”

Something fell in the kitchen, breaking the sudden silence in the room. Rainbow flew up to the bedroom door and peeked inside. The three fillies were still fast asleep. She settled down on the ground in front of the kitchen door. On the floor, several apples lay next to a nearly full barrel. Otherwise the room was empty.

This time, she was hallucinating something fierce.

“What fell?” Pinkie Pie asked, glad for a chance to shift the mood.

“Just a few apples,” Dash replied. “They must have been loose the whole time.”

“Aunt Rainbow? Mom?”

Everypony looked at the top step. Dawn’s head peeked out groggily, “I can’t sleep. It sounds like there’s a thunderstorm coming.”

Luna floated up to console her, “Its ok. Aunt Rainbow cleared the skies for the whole weekend. A few apples fell in the kitchen.”

Rainbow floated up to the balcony, opened the doors and stepped outside. A low rumble echoed softly in the room. “What the hay?”

Everyone else rose to their hooves and went outside to see what all the commotion was about. A storm was brewing above Canterlot, pouring out from behind the mountain like smoke. Lightning danced across the clouds like fireworks. As the moon passed into the center of the sky, a blood-red hue trickled over its surface. Luna went pale, and fell to her knees on the staircase.

“Mom?” Dawn asked, visibly upset.

“Its ok, stay with me. Mommy’s alright,” Luna said, scooping her up with her hooves.

Rainbow flew back into the house, darting around looking frantically for her goggles. She tossed books onto the floor, pushing aside party favors and sleeping bags.

“What in tarnation is going on?” Applejack said as she ran inside.

“I dunno AJ. Put another log on the fire in case we need it later.” Dash sped into the kitchen, narrowly avoiding falling on the spilled apples.

“Rainbow… I feel funny…”

She looked to her right. Twilight was walking dizzily around the room, trying in vain to find something to hold on to. Something was wrapping itself around Twilight. No, she thought, it’s a hallucination.

Twilight’s colors seemed to be flickering brighter and dimmer with each step, until she fell to her stomach. Rainbow was fighting herself in confusion. Something wasn’t adding up, even while her rational mind was telling her it wasn’t real.

A sudden yank sent Twilight hurtling across the room screaming, “HEELP! RAINBOW, HELP ME!”

Her body passed through the wall.

Rainbow lost any train of thought she had. Goggle-less, she flew around the kitchen door and came to a dead stop in the living room.

“Applejack! Quick, you have to come with me, NOW.”

Applejack began to protest.

“NOW!” Rainbow stomped her hoof.

Applejack pulled her hat tight around her head and nodded. Rainbow launched herself through the door towards the middle of town, with Applejack hot on her hooves.



The halls of the royal palace shook from each bout of thunder. The rain hammered down on the stone over and over again. The freak storm was causing all kinds of trouble for the staff, who ran frantically to fix any of the electrical upgrades – namely the new lighting. Guards on patrol re-lit the torches in the hall as they passed by.

They had long since repaired the hallway that lead to the underground archives room when Princess Celestia passed through the door, locking it firmly behind her. It wasn’t the comforting lighting she was hoping for, but she was simply too tired to complain. It took every bit of composure she had just to stifle the joy of her revenge.

Her hoof steps echoed throughout the hall as she passed the same historical tapestries for the final time that week. She paid no mind to the torchlight, as it seemed to bow in fear as she passed.

She reached the main hall in a few minutes, only to be overwhelmed by the noises of frantic castle workers sprinting through the main hall. Each of them paid their respects as they passed her, some nearly falling over from the sudden stop to bow.

On the other hoof, her personal guards still stood stoically outside the doors of the throne room. They were unmoved by the storm and continued watching the room for any sign of trouble. Celestia strode up the stairs to the doors.

One of the guards turned to her, bowing lightly. “Excuse me, your highness. Headmaster Bright Light is requesting an audience with you.”

Celestia looked the guard over. His name was Granite: a strong pegasus who she had handpicked to serve as one of her personal guard. Despite his bright white coat, he was a smith by trade. Raised in the castle all his life, he had spent much of his time crafting armor for new guards until she had selected him for the job. His coat still gave off the smell of the forge.

“Is it about the storm?” Celestia asked.

Granite nodded.

She sighed. Keeping up appearances was more important than reveling in her victory. Though admittedly, it was quite difficult. She gave him a warm smile, "Alright. Give me a moment to settle in and then you may send him here."

He bowed, "Yes, your highness."

She watched the pegasus take to the air and dart down the opposite hallway. A curt nod to the other guard had him accompanying her into the throne room.

It was quiet for a while. She knew the trip to the school would be more complicated with the storm. But... there was always this apprehension whenever one of the guards took a while. It was why she always had at least one with her.

That other guard was Nightwind. He was a quiet pegasus, more so than the other denizens of the castle, including the elusive gardener. Many of the staff were wary of approaching him and fewer still had ever heard him utter a single word. Nevertheless Princess Celestia had taken time in making her choice. She always had somepony vouch for her wardens. With Granite, his upbringing in the castle and his sabotage of Starfall, before joining Stormbreaker in Manehatten, spoke volumes of his trustworthiness. Careful observation of Nightwind and his work, and a confirmation of trust from Bright Light’s magic was all she needed to be sure.

A gentle breeze flowed through the room, sending ripples across the carpet before a light pop announced her new guest. He was a tan pony with a grey mane and tail that settled as the breeze died down. Water dripped from his coat, which was thoroughly soaked. Celestia giggled to herself - Bright Light hated wearing clothing. He was always particularly quirky about it, preferring to fully experience the wrath of nature - for science, of course.

“Good evening, Bright Light,” she said. “I see that the rain hasn’t been particularly kind to you this evening.”

“Not in particular,” he responded. He bowed in respect as his horn brimmed with magic. The water sizzled from his coat and evaporated into the air. “We at the School weren’t aware that a storm was planed for this evening.”

“I was under the impression that it would be clear skies.”

Bright light nodded. His hazel eyes brimmed with knowledge, “Ah. Well, of course we assumed as such. You always keep us well informed.” He walked closer to the throne, before taking a small area in front of it to pace. “We did take the initiative to find out where it came from. In the meantime, I suppose you would like to know that we have begun to dissipate the storm. It is slow going however.”

She nodded once, “How slowly?”

“Quite. It seems that was the intention of the particular craft of storm. That’s not all.”

Celestia shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

“It seems as though it corresponded with a mistimed lunar eclipse. Perhaps these are connected?”

She raised an eyebrow, “Perhaps it was my sister?”

“We have no reason to believe that she would able to do that without coordination. It does require your sun to perform, in addition to her moon.”

An awkward silence passed between them. Celestia looked to her guard, “Nightwind, please leave us.”

The white pegasus nodded, flying across the room and exiting through the doors.

“What are you suggesting, Bright Light?”

He looked at her, genuinely concerned. His former confidence deflated, “I... don’t know. It’s quite odd, in fact rather disturbing. The kind of magic it suggests is quite...” The headmaster swallowed hard, “...dark. Even a large group of unicorns would have trouble with such a spell.”

Celestia felt that same pressure pushing on the back of her mind. Feelings of panic and joy flooded her mind. On the one hand, there would be too many questions about the incident and her planned excuses were looking flimsy with the storm. On the other hand, she was filled with glee that everypony who found out would fear her unrivaled power to revive the dead.

However, her face showed no evidence of this internal conflict. She simply frowned in concern, “That is deeply troubling. I will have to think about this. It will likely mean that you will need to reconvene with more of your colleagues. I would like you to send a letter as soon as you can. I have a few specific names for your list…” Her speech quickly droned into a list of contacts to cover up her charade.


Celestia looked up. Bright Light had calmly taken a seat on the floor where previously he had been pacing, “Yes Bright Light?”

“Did you leave her enough air?”

Celestia blinked at the question, completely confused. She failed to recover her thoughts in time as stone spikes rose from the floor and jutted out from the ceiling, trapping her within. A thick piece of iron dropped from the ceiling and clamped down on her horn, eliciting screams of pain from the white alicorn. The stone ceiling became more malleable as she struggled in vain to fly away from the stone spikes that surrounded her. It wrapped around her torso locking her wings to her side as it slowly encompassed her lower body.

Bright Light smiled wickedly as a pair of wings slowly pulled themselves from under his coat. The bones slid back into place popping and cracking as he flexed his new appendages. His new form forced a stifled scream from the princess.

“YOU!” She yelled.


“It… can’t be... You should still be locked in stone! You and all of Discord’s mad assistants!”

The other pony laughed. He now stood a full couple of inches taller than Celestia. His coat had dulled to a light grey and his mane to a stark, bone white. He flapped his wings a few times, letting them stretch to their full length. “Nightmare had Starfall loosen my bonds a little – something about ‘starting over her reign’. I figured that I’d at least humor her delusions.”

“How long...” she stammered. Everything but her head was now fully encased in stone. Her breathing came in short rasps. “How long have you been Bright Light?”

“I waited a year before I became him. I needed some way to earn your trust, other than being some nopony watching every move your precious subjects have made. Watching you was the important part.” Magic poured from his horn once more and the stone spikes melted back into the floor and ceiling. He repaired the damage to anything else he had broken as an afterthought. “You’ve been quite the busy mare, Celestia.”

Princess Celestia to you, Cunning.”

He considered her words for a moment, “How did you get a hold of such a rare book? Was the library insufficient? Perhaps my school is too good at archeology.”

She gawked at him.

“Yes, Celeste. I ‘found’ the book for the dragons. Your young dragon sure has some gusto giving away his precious childhood. What was his name? Spike, was it?”

Celestia broke one of her hooves free of the stone. He responded by creating a thicker layer. She was livid, struggling as hard as she could to get free.

“You didn’t think I had a hand in returning your faithful student? I almost forgot the best part!” His eyes glowed a deep red, the colors slowly spinning into the center of his eyes, “That spell requires a certain kind of darkness: Nightmare’s darkness, no… MY darkness.”

Sudden realization made Celestia sick and her heart dropped into the pit of her stomach. “You did this... you did that to Nightmare! YOU CORRUPTED DISCORD!” Old wounds bled together, pushing those feelings of vengeance to the front of her mind. She tried desperately to push back.

“It wasn’t hard. You did break their hearts: one after the other. I consider myself a teacher. If you hadn’t been so close to Discord, I would’ve controlled everything. Your half-sister Nightmare gave me two chances to fix that.”

Celestia’s eyes started changing color once more. She started crying, unable to restrain the wild emotions any longer. She was losing control, and there was nothing she could do about it, “You stupid blank-flank... why... jealousy?” Her words slipped away into incoherent babbling, before tapering off into silence.

Cunning growled at her commentary. Indeed, his flank was blank. It had always been. He had no true special talent in the world. All he could do was take somepony else’s... by becoming them. He had a talent for lies, deceit, and for being someone he was not. But it all paid off today.


She let out another burst of strength cracking the stone in several places. Magic shimmered at the end of his horn. The stone seemed to stretch and ripple as she howled in pain. The screaming died to whimpers before she went silent once more. He waited a moment, ensuring she was completely subdued.

“Celestia.” Magic covered his horn once more, evaporating her stone prison. She stood, her red, dragon-like eyes staring blankly back, “Be a dear and go sit down. You look terrible.”

She followed the command obediently, walking back to her seat and lowering herself onto the cushions.

“Now, you and I will talk every once in a while. I will leave the sound nullification magic intact, just for those times. Do you understand?”

Celestia nodded, “Yes, Cunning.”

“Good. You will not remember this conversation, nor be aware of my presence. This disturbance is likely the work of Nightmare’s minions. You will probably have to scour the world for them. Am I right?”

“Of course.” Her voice was flat, without a single emotion behind it.

“You will remember nothing of trying to resurrect your most precious student. Those memories were spent mourning in the basement. However... if she returns to this world, you’ll know that it was at the hands of Starfall’s followers. She must be sent to the dragons. They will be able to remove any taint from her. After all, Spike was sent there just for this very real possibility.”

She hesitated on this. A burst of magic surrounded her head. She twitched for a few moments, before she gave a submissive nod.

“Split up the twins if she comes back. Dusk is quite the asset to the family but Dawn needs some time abroad. It’ll be just like Nightmare’s time abroad. Though I sincerely hope something doesn’t come between the two of them,” he chuckled. “Besides, Rainbow Dash can keep her and Twilight Sparkle in line.”

She nodded once more, “How?”

He raised an eyebrow. “You’re a smart girl. You can figure it out. Besides, do you really want to let her have any idea of what you’ve actually been doing?”

She shook her head.

“Good.” A few moments longer and he returned to his form as Bright Light. Cunning closed his eyes, melding back into character, “You may resume your duties at the end of three clicks.”

Click. Click. Click.


She looked up alarmed by the sound of another voice in the room. Her mind eased at the sight of the headmaster’s concerned face.

“Are you alright? You nodded off for a moment there,” Bright Light said.

Celestia could distinctly remember the list of people she had to contact to figure out what was going on. A freaky storm? A blood red moon? What did it all mean? Something in the back of her mind hovered around Starfall’s followers. Surely they hadn’t been acting up again? She tried to recall the last time this had happened but... it was a little hazy. She could only truly remember the attacks on Dusk and Dawn.

“I... I’m fine. Perhaps I’ve spent too long in the basement again.”

Bright Light raised an eyebrow, “About the storm...?”

“I trust that you can break it up. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time I’ll need to call on your help.”

“Of course, your majesty. I am always here to assist you,” he bowed. He looked up into her now normal eyes, “If you’ll excuse me. There is work to be done.”

“Thank you, Bright Light.”

He turned away from her, a maniacal grin spreading over his face before vanishing with a light popping noise. She lifted herself from her throne, putting a hoof to her head.

I’ve gotten too used to sleeping, these nights, she thought. Her wings propelled her to the throne room doors, and she exited for the night.


The rain whipped at Rainbow and Applejack as they tried to power their way through the storm. Not even a minute after they had left the library, Rainbow was sent hurtling out of control.

“AJ!” She yelled. The wind sent her flying sideways, tumbling through the air. She fought hard to stay airborne, careening through an alleyway just to get back on track.

Applejack was struggling to stay upright in the gale force wind, let alone try to run through town in it. She looked around frantically for a way to bring Rainbow to the ground while trying to follow her erratic flight pattern.

“Dang it, Rainbow,” she cursed under her breath. Panic was starting to settle in, as she started to fly ever closer to the buildings. Another strike of lightning narrowly missed the pegasus, slamming into a nearby tree. The branch came crashing down in front of AJ, forcing her into a full stop.

It was helpful, however. Right outside one of the stores was a cart tied to the side. In moments, she found herself undoing the rope as quickly as she could, whipping her head up every few moments to check on Rainbow. Even so, there was no way to tell how well she was holding up.

“Cuhm uhn,” she said with the rope firmly between her teeth. The knots were really tight, and the water was not helping her predicament.

Up above, Rainbow was losing energy. The buckets of rain and biting wind were making her very, very cold. Every muscle in her body was telling her to stop fighting and get to the ground. But her mind was alive with adrenaline, focusing on getting to the center of town. She was losing that fight and eventually the wind started to take control.

Thunder pierced through the sounds of the storm, shaking the ground below Applejack’s feet. She had the rope tied off in a lasso, spinning it furiously with her tail. Her panic deepened when she saw Rainbow suddenly and sharply drop in height. The wind launched Rainbow over her head like a rag doll, sending her in a direct collision course with a nearby building. Applejack took good aim: she only had one shot at this.

Rainbow gave a scream as she spun closer to the building. Applejack let the rope go.

Rainbow felt a sharp stop just inches from her collision course as the rope tightened around her waist. With the wind under her wings, she was nothing more than a kite. A grateful, panicked kite. Applejack heaved, pulling her down bit-by-bit, trying not to let the wind take her into any other precarious obstacle.

When Rainbow was firmly on the ground, Applejack loosened up the ropes. Rainbow was shivering fiercely even with her wings snapped tight against her sides. Applejack was a little warmer, but she wouldn’t be for much longer.

“Dash! We have to go back!” Even when screaming at the top of her lungs, Applejack’s voice barely registered with the pegasus.

“We can’t! Twilight’s in serious trouble!”

Applejack’s eyes went wide, “Are y’all SERIOUS!?” She felt livid. “You ran out into this storm because of another hallucination? I ain’t said nothin’ to nopony else, but Dash, I think you need serious help!”

Rainbow pleaded with her, “I am serious, AJ! I think she’s alive! I can’t explain it, but I have to check!”

“OUR LIVES ARE AT STAKE HERE!” Applejack was hollering something fierce. Anypony would have backed down from that, but Rainbow stood firm.

“I’m serious AJ! If I’m wrong, I’ll tell everyone what I’ve been seeing. But right now, I have to be sure!”

Applejack stared hard at her friend. Out of all the foolishness she had ever put up with, this was by far the stupidest train of thought she had ever heard come out of the pegasus’ mouth. Dash getting caught in the fall of Cloudsdale was one thing she had no control over. But this? This was suicidal. She seriously thought that Rainbow Dash had gone off of the deep end. It hurt her to know that she was crazy enough to believe Twilight could come back to life. It was impossible.

Even so, her friend was just so sure…

“I’m out of mah mind too,” she muttered to herself. “Where to?” She yelled.

Rainbow smiled, taking off towards the center of Ponyville. They whipped through the side streets to avoid the wind, weaving their way across town. Lighting continued to arc over the town, illuminating the dark streets. They rounded a corner into the main square, where they were immediately assaulted by the wind once more.

There in the center was the statue. Celestia put up the statue to honor Twilight’s sacrifice all those years ago. Rainbow remembered the funeral when Twilight was buried underneath it in a crystal coffin. That was Celestia’s last gift for her - to last forever untouched by time. She dreaded what she would find.

They made it to the statue, where Rainbow immediately put her ear to the bottom of the stone. Nothing.

“Rainbow! There ain’t nothin’ here!” Applejack yelled.

Come on, Rainbow thought. She has to be...

“RAINBOW!” Applejack yelled again.

That’s when she heard it, muffled below. “Help! Somepony please!”

“Help me move this!” Rainbow yelled. She rammed herself up against the statue. It wasn’t budging.

“Nuh-uh sugar cube! We ain’t raiding her grave!” Applejack chomped down on Rainbow’s tail.

Rainbow responded by grabbing the orange pony into a headlock and jamming her ear against the stone, consequently freeing her tail. Applejack struggled against her grip, “DASH LET GO OF-” The farmer pony went pale.

“NOW DO YOU BELIEVE ME?” Dash screamed. She slammed herself against the stone, trying to make it move even an inch. Her eyes winced in pain every time she hit into it. Applejack slowly backed away from the statue.

“AJ! Help me!” Dash was getting sleepier by the second as the cold started to set in again.

Applejack staggered back on her hooves. She was in shock. Rainbow trotted right up to her and brought her hoof across her face. “PLEASE!” Rainbow begged. At this point she was crying from a mix of pain and desperation.

Applejack nodded sheepishly stepping back into a charging position. She put all the speed she could muster behind her and bucked the statue as hard as she could. It slid back a few inches. Rainbow joined her bucking as hard as she could in unison with Applejack. The screams for help got louder as they uncovered the steel grating underneath it. It was as if somepony had planned for there to be some kind of air below it.

“HELP! I’M DOWN HERE!” Twilight’s voice came loud and clear this time.

“Twilight, watch your head!” Rainbow called down. She nodded to Applejack and they kicked at the floor.



On the third kick it gave way, clattering onto the partially melted crystal coffin below. Rainbow dove down into the pit and landed in front of Twilight.

“Rainbow Dash?” She said with a gasp. The ceremonial clothing was strewn about in the coffin. Twilight was breathing heavily. Her coat was pale and she looked sick. Her coat was getting soaked in the rain that fell down the hole. But she was alive.

“Twilight... I... you’re... alive!”

“I just had the strangest dream...” Twilight swayed back and forth. Her legs gave out and she collapsed into Rainbow’s hooves.

“It wasn’t a dream Twilight. It wasn’t a dream.”



                The library rocked back and forth under the unrelenting winds while rain hammered away at the tree, filling the whole library with a constant hum. Whatever power the library had previously was clearly gone. Candles were the alternative tonight, filling each room with a dim glow.

                A fire crackled softly in the lone fireplace. Everypony in the house huddled close to the fire to receive its warmth before it dissipated in the cooler air. Early Blaze was nestled in Fluttershy’s forelegs as they slept in one of the sleeping bags. Macintosh sat to her left, still awake with worry. To his left, Pinkie Pie and Luna slept in the semi-circle, exhausted from trying to console Dusk and Dawn. The fillies slept quietly under one of her wings.

                Rarity was the only other pony still awake, sandwiched between Luna and the wall. She glanced up at the clock. It was 1:30 in the morning. Applejack and Rainbow Dash had been gone for over an hour, and the storm hadn’t let up in the slightest. She exchanged a glance with the red stallion.

                “They’re alright,” he replied quietly.

                “It’s been over an hour Macintosh,” Rarity fidgeted in place. “I’m just about to go find them myself.”

                Mac opened up one of his saddlebags and pulled out a sprig of hay. He chewed on the thin end thoughtfully, “You wouldn’t last one minute in that storm.”


                “They can take care of themselves just fine. Just get some shut eye.”

                Rarity opened her mouth to push the point a little further. A calm look from the older stallion silenced her, and she laid her head on her pillow. Despite her complaints, she was asleep in minutes.

                Big Mac lost himself in thought, absent-mindedly tossing another log into the fire. He was confident in his words, but the situation really bugged him. Rainbow was all in a tiff about something, and he had to admit, he thought he heard somepony screaming before he came inside. It sounded a lot like the former librarian.

                He snorted. Despite his more laid-back nature, he was smarter than others gave him credit for. Though knowledge of the supernatural was out of his expertise, he was raised to always trust his gut. Applejack had confided in him that Rainbow was having “hallucinations”, and pretty vivid ones at that. She almost went to fetch Nurse Redheart when it started getting bad. That added to his sense of unease.

                He looked up at the clock: 1:51. Everypony looked fast asleep. He rose to his feet, walking quietly to the front windows. Lightning filled the sky, illuminating the empty streets. He waited for another, and another.

                Luna lifted her head from her place, staring at the worried stallion.

                “I s’ppose you want to stop me from goin’ out there?” Mac’s voice was quiet. Every word seemed well thought out and meticulously chosen.

                Luna shook her head, “There’s nothing I can say. You’ve already made up your mind.”

                Mac never turned to look back at the princess. He opened the door, struggling to keep it from slamming into the wall. The sudden sound made some of the other ponies stir, but he grabbed hold of the door with his teeth and dragged it shut.

                The wind tried its best to blow the stallion over, whipping water into his coat. Lighting pounded at the ground in the distance, lighting the paths once more. He took off down the road. Every time he came to another side street he would poke his head around the corner. Nothing. There was nopony out in this damn storm, not even his sister.

                Mac slowly rounded another corner, making his way towards the center of town. A wave of relief fell over him when he saw his sister stubbornly tugging away on a rope. He shook the water out of his eyes as he started running towards her.

                Her eyes lit up when she saw her brother. “Macintosh! Ah need you’re help!” She yelled.

                He looked down the hole. He recoiled immediately and the color drained from his face, “AJ! Is this what I think it is!?” He started moving towards her.

                She backed into the statue, eyes wide. Even though the yelling was necessary, she was terrified whenever he did yell. “Mac, she’s alive!”

                He scrunched up his face, confusion and anger filling his head.

                “Ah don’t know how, just grab hold of that damn rope!” She barked, before grabbing the rope in her teeth once more and tugging like a mare possessed.

                His anger slowly subsided. She was passionate about her friends, he knew. But he worried that she had finally lost it - just like Dash. The quickest way to find out was to pull. He grabbed hold of the rope just in front of her, giving it everything he had.

                It was tough going. Part of the road had already started to wash away. Mac had to dig his hooves into the slippery mud for every inch of rope he gained. Applejack was coated in a mixture of mud and sweat. Already chilled to the bone, she was starting to lose her concentration.

Just as Rainbow’s hoof grasped onto the edge, Applejack collapsed into the mud, panting heavily. Mac gave the hardest tug he could manage, dragging the cyan pegasus and a shivering purple unicorn onto solid ground.

                Macintosh spit the rope out of his mouth and yanked his sister up by the scruff of her neck. She shook herself off and staggered over to Rainbow Dash and Twilight. Mac followed close behind her.

                Twilight was out cold from the ordeal and Rainbow was still barely hanging on to what traces of energy she had left. Carefully, Dash balanced the purple unicorn on her back, taking a few steps to make sure she could handle the extra weight. Twilight was warm, but Rainbow was worried that she wouldn’t be for long.

                Applejack tucked herself underneath Twilight as well splitting her weight with Dash. She smiled at the pegasus, who returned a weak smile. Big Mac pushed the statue back into place, covering the hole back up.

                He led the way back through the storm, staying just far enough ahead to have some time to think to himself.


                Big Macintosh had been gone for almost a half an hour. Luna had risen from her bed and had been pacing for quite a while now. The storm was brutal... almost deliberately so. The fact that it hadn’t died down even now put her on edge. What could be taking Bright Light and his school so long?

                The answer to her silent question was almost immediate. The room filled with light, bright enough that the princess of the night was forced to shield her eyes. She could feel the familiar warmth of the sun as the light faded away, letting the walls bleed back into her field of vision.

Standing in the center of the room was Princess Celestia, a deep look of concern on her face. The magic dissipated into the air. Celestia rushed forward, grabbing Luna in a tight embrace.

Celestia sighed, “Oh, Luna! Thank goodness you’re all right.”

Luna nuzzled warmly against her sister, finally feeling a little more relaxed. “I was worried about you Celly,” she said.  Her voice picked up in speed, fueled by her concerns, “What is going on? Did you find Bright Light? Is Canterlot alright? What-”

Celestia pulled her closer, “Shh... It’s alright. Bright Light is working on clearing the storm. It should dissipate soon.”

Luna calmed herself. She glanced over at everypony else, ensuring that her excitement hadn’t woken them.

“Did anything happen?” Celestia’s voice still wavered in concern. There were several empty sleeping bags lying on the floor, “Where is everypony else?”

“I don’t know. Rainbow Dash seemed pretty worked up about something. She even dragged Applejack outside with her.” Luna swallowed, trying to shuffle through her mind for the right words, “And... Big Macintosh left a half an hour ago to find them. They haven’t returned yet.”

Celestia frowned, staring at the front door. Her sister should have stopped Applejack from following Rainbow Dash, as she had no way to help break up the storm. Further, Luna should have stopped Big Macintosh from going out to find them, especially since Celestia was certain that they had been gone for quite a time before the stallion felt it was necessary to brave such a dangerous storm. It was almost intentional.

She gazed at Luna, who was fixing the covers for her young fillies.

It didn’t add up. Luna had become strong friends with every one of Twilight’s friends. Over the last four years she and the twins had become like family to these ponies. Celestia had to admit, she and Luna certainly felt the same way about them.

Still, that didn’t compare to keeping Luna’s little ones safe. With all the minor and major incidents, she wouldn’t want to drag any of the others into the same situation by leaving her foals and Fluttershy’s daughter in the midst of a dangerous storm.

The conflict tore at Celestia’s attention, but she managed to shove it into the back of her mind. Luna wouldn’t do anything to destroy everything she had gained.

“Do you think they’re alright?” Luna asked.

Celestia smiled, “I’m sure they’re fine. Although it is quite the storm.”

Luna nodded. Silence washed over the room. Celestia lifted another log with her magic, placing it neatly on the fire. The embers piped up into the chimney, glowing for a few moments before disappearing from sight.

Suddenly the door slammed open, nearly falling off of its hinges. Wind whipped the water across the floor with thunder booming in the background. Macintosh was panting heavily, his hooves planted firmly on the floor

“P-p-princesses.” Mac stammered, taken aback by the unexpected appearance of Princess Celestia. He gave a quick bow before sprinting over to the fireplace. “We need to get to Nurse Redheart’s, now.

The cacophony of sound had long since awakened Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and all of the fillies. Luna was doing their best to calm the three young ones, holding them close to her as Applejack strained to drag two unconscious ponies into the library.

“What happened to Rainbow Dash?” Pinkie Pie shouted, running over to help her. She never made it the whole way. Silence followed as almost every pony in the room stared at the unconscious purple unicorn.

“Mom? Who is that?” Dusk asked, pointing a hoof at the stranger.

Luna had been too busy fussing over the three of them to get more than a glimpse at the unconscious ponies. She turned to look as well, causing the color to drain from her face. A mix of confusion, horror, and excitement flooded her brain.

“Twilight...” she whispered under her breath.

Celestia stared on, filled to the brim with questions. Is she real? Is she alive? But the most prevalent of them all worried her the most:

Is she a threat?

She couldn’t take that chance lightly, not with all the disturbing occurrences that had happened tonight. Everything seemed connected... and tonight had “danger” written all over it.

“Twilight?” Fluttershy peeped, stepping forward first. She put a hoof to her neck and jerked it back in surprise when she felt a pulse. Her previous apprehension melted away. She put her hooves on both Rainbow’s and Twilight’s foreheads.

“Oh my goodness!” She cried, turning on the group, “We need to go right away! They’re both far too cold.”

Nopony moved.

“Please!” She yelled, getting more upset by the second.

Applejack came up from behind her, stopping short in front of Princess Celestia, “Princess! It’d be mighty helpful if you could use your magic to help us. I dunno if we can make it in time.”

Princess Celestia hesitated for a moment. She couldn’t destroy her subject’s trust, even if it was a trap. She would have to risk it.

“Very well. I will take them both by magic.” Her horn started glowing, raising Dash and Twilight into the air. She turned to Luna, “Luna. Take everypony else with you and meet me there as soon as you can.”

Light began to envelop Celestia and the other two ponies, erasing their outlines as it grew brighter. Then, just as suddenly as it grew bright, it disappeared. So did Princess Celestia and her burden.

Luna turned to look at the other girls who still stood in various states of shock. Pinkie Pie was mumbling off a list of party favors while talking to herself, worried that they wouldn’t be alright. Fluttershy had hovered over to Luna’s side, embracing her daughter and whispering in her ear. Rarity decided this was the appropriate time to collapse onto the floor, out cold.

Applejack turned to look at Luna, “When are we gonna follow?”


                Twilight lay sleeping peacefully in her hospital bed. Wires were strung all over her coat, connected to all different types of machines. A steady beeping synchronized with her heartbeat. The clock on the wall read 3:40.

                Throughout the room were several chairs, each of them empty. Right beside her, Rainbow Dash lay in the other hospital bed. She had her own slew of wires and connectors, complete with a similar heart monitor that chirped in harmony with the other.

                The only other noise in the room came from the murmurs outside the door, where Princesses Celestia and Luna stood alone, talking quietly to one another.

                “Are the girls alright?” Celestia asked.

                Luna looked down the hallway. She could see them sleeping next to Applejack in the waiting area, “They’re fine for now. I haven’t even figured out how to tell them what’s happened. I’m not even sure if I can without upsetting them.”

                Celestia frowned slightly, “I know. It’s better that you haven’t yet.”

                A moment of silence passed between them. Luna looked up at her sister, “It is really her... right?”

                Celestia looked in through the window at her former student. Not even an hour ago she had thought the same thing. Nurse Redheart had set up the space in the clinic without hesitation; much less cautious as Celestia had been in bringing her here. With all of her tests and machines, she seemed so absolutely convinced that it was really Twilight. That was enough for Luna, but Celestia took a moment to verify it with her magic.

                “Without a doubt. But...” Celestia trailed off. She couldn’t help being apprehensive about her resurrection being without motive. Too many coincidences pointed at her being dangerous. Or being controlled. Silence filled the hallway once more.

                Luna’s heart sank in her chest, dreading the words Celestia had on her mind. She had never truly stopped missing her closest friend and - although it was purely circumstance - her mate. Her daughters never new Twilight as she did: smart, brave, and passionate about the stars and her friends, and the list went on.

“Luna... I think she was brought back to hurt us,” Celestia said. It hurt to say it. Twilight was family to them both, more than ever before. The thought of her being used against them... Celestia felt sick.

                Luna felt as though a dagger was being shoved into her heart. She simply gawked for a moment, struggling to form the words to respond. She looked back at Applejack, knowing that every one of Twilight’ friends would have turned on Celestia right then and there. It took a lot of composure not to do the same.

                “How... how could you say something like that?” Luna asked.

                Celestia cast her eyes to the floor.

                “She saved my life.” Luna found herself raising her voice, “She saved you! She saved all of Equestria!”


        “Celly, I love her!” she pleaded as she started to cry.

        It nearly broke Celestia’s heart to see Luna crying.

                “She would never...” Luna slumped down against the wall, “she would never...”

        Luna cried softly to herself. She couldn’t bear to be torn away from the one she cared about. It would be more painful than before, when she believed Twilight was gone forever.

But, as blunt as her sister’s words were, they held truth. The feeling of the moon being yanked away from her control had made her physically ill in the Library. Whatever or whoever was doing this had her nervous and scared. Not just for her safety, but for the safety of Dawn and Dusk.

Luna flinched when Celestia lay her neck across her own, but after a moment she buried herself in her sister’s mane. She poured all of her confusion into her sobs, unable to think straight or do anything else.

At least ten minutes passed. Celestia held up her calm demeanor to sooth her sister. But it was flimsy. It was there for Luna, just as much as it was for herself.

Everything she had ever done to protect the ones she loved ended up hurting them in the end. She had always struggled to find ways around that curse, but it was what it was: a curse. Tonight was just another reminder of that.

“You know I don’t want anything to happen to Twilight... right?” Celestia whispered.

Luna slowly stopped her crying to listen. She leaned more of her weight on her sister’s shoulder.

“Twilight is family to me. I watched her grow up into a brilliant mare. She fell in love with you, even when the world fell apart around you - when I was helpless and unable to hear your thoughts.” Celestia swallowed. She paused to find the words to say, “... she sacrificed everything for you to be happy.”

Luna nodded.

“So we need to make sure that she can’t get hurt again.”

Luna was quiet. She looked hesitantly at her sister.

                Say it, a voice in the back of Celestia’s mind egged on. “Just listen to me. I have an idea.” Celestia placed a hoof on her shoulder, “Spike has been studying with the dragons for quite some time. Remember when we said goodbye?”

                Luna nodded again.

                “He has some excellent teachers. Teachers that could make sure nopony can hurt Twilight, or let her be used by anypony else.”

                Luna nodded once more, hesitating for a moment before doing so.

                “Then she could come back here without any harm done to you or anypony else. Am I right?”

                Luna looked away from her. It would probably hurt their friends more than anyone else. She hated to admit it, but... Celestia was right. Luna still needed time to explain to her fillies. She also needed time to think about what to say.

                “I...” Luna tried her best to act calmly. She didn’t want Celestia to ever find out her feelings, “I don’t know.”

                “Take a little time to think about it. The sun will be up in a few hours, and you know I can’t stay here after that.” Celestia embraced her sister once more, draping her head over her neck. She was finding it hard to continue her solid composure, “I don’t want to be right, but think about what would happen if I am.”

                Luna nodded and broke away from her sister, walking down the hall and into the waiting area, disappearing from Celestia’s view. She walked through the doors and out into the evening air. The heavy rain clouds had finally been tamed by Canterlot’s unicorns, leaving the moon to cast its pale glow over the drenched ground. She spread her wings, kicking off into the night air. There wasn’t much time for her to figure things out.



        “I truly hope you’ve reconsidered, Luna.” Celestia was sitting on the floor of the library. Her fore-hooves were crossed, paired with an exasperated look on her face.

Luna had gotten away without giving her a straight answer yesterday. On top of that, she added a condition that Twilight be allowed to meet her fillies, before she made a decision on sending Twilight to the dragons.

Celestia thought it was reckless - what would be the point in sending Twilight away for their safety, if Luna was going to put her fillies in possible danger now. Even with certain precautions, like inhibiting Twilight’s magic, she had no guarantee that somepony controlling her wouldn’t remove it from afar.

“Celly, how can you seriously ask me to hide her from them? There is only a small risk. Plus, I’ll be there to protect them if something goes wrong.” Luna continued her pacing around the room.

“Luna, that’s just asking for trouble!” Celestia frowned, “Are you willing to have that small risk happen. They could be hurt! Or worse...”

Luna stopped her pacing. An uneasy silence passed between them. Luna walked over to her sister, curling up beside her.

Celestia stared at the ground, “We’ve been mourning her for so long... it’s hard to even consider any of this.”

Luna looked up at her sister. She sounded hurt, vulnerable. It was very rare that she let down her emotional guard. Luna nuzzled against her shoulder, resting her neck over her sister’s.

“But...” Tears fell from her eyes, “It’s harder still to think of life without you, or Dusk, or Dawn. If I lost you... I... I don’t know...”

“Celly...” Luna whispered.

Luna’s fillies deserved to meet Twilight. Hiding her from them was painful and felt... wrong. All their life they had never known her and until now, they never would have. How long would that opportunity last? Luna feared above all else that she would lose her mate once more.

But she was torn. Here was her sister - her stead-found support when she was lost or sad - struggling not to bawl her eyes out. It nearly broke her heart to know that it was her selfish desire to have some sense of family with Twilight that sent her sister over the edge. Celestia was always there for her, through good times and bad. But here she was, pushing Celestia to the background just to see her fillies meet Twilight, endangering her and them.

Pushing her sister away was just as bad.

“Alright,” Luna whispered. “I’ll do it for you, Celly. Just... promise me that she’ll come back.”

Celestia nuzzled her sister, “I swear that no one will keep her from you. Any who so much as dare to harm or use her will rue the day they came into this world.”

Luna lifter her head from her sister’s staring deep into her eyes. If the fire behind her sister’s eyes was real, her tears would turn to steam.

“And I won’t stop until whoever is using her and any pony who assists him, suffers a far greater fate that what I have ever done.”

Luna’s hooves started to shake from the force of her sister’s words. She was a mare of her word above all else. Her conviction had no end. Once she started, it would take the entire world to stop her. It made her smile, that Celestia would go so far to make her happy.

“Thank you Celly,” Luna whispered. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Celestia spoke. She kissed her sister’s forehead, “I would give anything to keep you safe.”

The two alicorns leaned against one another for a while. Celestia’s mind was focused now - no one would stand in the way of making sure Twilight came home safe and sound. Nopony would harm her family or friends. She would find whoever did this and remove them from the face of the earth.

Indeed. The voice echoed from the recesses of her mind, Nothing will be too far for her. Not even bringing the world to its knees.


        Light flooded in from the window, covering the two sleeping figures in the room. The steady beep of the heart monitors filled the room with a lingering hum. The seats were still empty, but the room was decorated with flowers and balloons. Get well cards and sugary treats sat on each of the side tables, wrapped neatly in the same color of their intended pony.

One of the figures stirred and flipped onto her back. She sat up straight, groaning in pain.

Rainbow Dash felt as if she had failed one of her high altitude tricks. Her muscles were sore, but not entirely out of commission. She stretched her wings, met with even more sore muscles. They were far more painful than any of the others, causing her to fold them tightly against her sides. She winced, waiting for the pain to subside.

Fighting the storm was a terrible idea in retrospect. It would have been a lot easier - and faster - if she had simply stayed on the ground, instead of flinging herself headlong into the winds. She did know better, especially after all of her experience with dangerous storms. But she had a reason. She glanced over at the other hospital bed.

Twilight lay fast asleep in her bed facing away from her. Braving the storm on a hunch turned out to be one of the best things she had ever done. Of course, she'd still get an earful from Applejack. It didn't matter.

Rainbow smiled. She didn't really know what she'd say to Twilight when she woke up, but just being there was fine.

The door quietly slid open, followed shortly by Nurse Redheart carrying a tray of food on her back. There was a look of surprise on the nurse's face when she saw Rainbow sitting up in her bed. The white mare closed the door and walked over to the pegasus, setting the tray down at the end of the bed.

"Good morning, Rainbow Dash. I'm glad you're finally awake."

Rainbow looked at her confused, "Finally?"

"Yes. You've been unconcious for two whole days. Well, today would be the second day," she said, walking around the bed to the bedside table. She moved the gifts to the end of the bed and placed the tray on the table. "Your friends have been in to see you two every minute of visiting hours. They'll be back in a few hours."

Rainbow nodded. Nurse Redheart helped Rainbow adjust to a more comfortable position, adding a few pillows to prop her up. The nurse poured her a cup of tea and handed it to her. Rainbow smiled in thanks, taking a sip of the hot liquid. She hadn't realized how thirsty and hungry she was until now. Her stomach growled.

Nurse Redheart smiled, "There's soup over here on the tray if you're hungry. I do believe Pinkie Pie left some cakes and sweets for you as well."

"Thanks," Rainbow said.

The nurse smiled and walked to the door, "Just pull on the cord if you need anything." She opened the door and walked out of the room.

Rainbow took a moment to lift the bowl with her fore-hooves, before devouring the whole thing in a few big gulps. It was better than she had expected for hospital food. Then she stretched her hoof over to the treats Pinkie brought, dragging it closer to her. In a moment she had the packages wide open with their contents in her stomach.

Finally satisfied, she looked over the card. In typical Pinkie Pie fashion, it was vibrant with colors and glitter all over. When she managed to get it open confetti shot out all over her face.

"Ugh..." Twilight muttered, turning over to face Rainbow.

Rainbow smiled from ear to ear, "Twilight! You're awake?"

"Now I am. What was that noise?" Twilight sat up in her bed, rubbing her head.

Twilight still looked awful. She wasn't as pale as when Rainbow and Applejack found her, but her coat was still dulled. Dash however snorted, covering her mouth with a hoof to stifle a laugh. After all these years without Twilight, her bed mane still made the pegasus laugh.

Rainbow gained some composure, lifting the get well card.

"Pinkie Pie?" Twilight lifted an eyebrow.


Twilight looked over at her own bedside table, being careful not to remove the wires from her front legs. A similar package sat neatly wrapped in a pile of various gifts and flowers. Though a little slower than Rainbow, she followed the same motions in tearing apart her package, eating the treats inside. She looked around for something to wash it down with, but came up short.

"Here," Rainbow said. She offered Twilight the cup of tea Nurse Redheart had poured for her. "You must be a lot thirstier than I am."

Twilight smiled in thanks. She put her will into her horn trying to levitate the cup over. Nothing happened. She put as much effort as she could to bring it over to her, but ended up with the same results. Her heart sank.

"Can you bring it a little closer? I... think I need more rest before I can use magic again." Twilight blushed in a mix of embarrassment and worry. Why couldn't she use her magic?

Rainbow nodded, shifting her body so she was sitting facing Twilight. She passed the tea over to Twilight, who swallowed the whole thing in one gulp. Seemingly satisfied, Rainbow shifted herself back against the pillows set up for her.

"Thank you," Twilight said softly. "For everything."

Rainbow turned her head so her gaze met Twilight's. She smiled, finding a response difficult to formulate in her mind. Fortunately, she was saved having to come up with an answer.

The door to the room opened. But it wasn't Nurse Redheart that entered.

"Princess Celestia!" Twilight managed to raise her voice to a soft shout. Her body responded with a few stray coughs.

The Princess walked up to Twilight, cautiously nuzzling into her. She was tense, ready for anything out of the ordinary. Twilight didn't seem to notice.

The Princess' voice was soft and sincere, "My faithful student. I've missed you so much."

Tears fell from Twilight's eyes. It felt like it had been a few days since she'd seen Celestia last. But from what Rainbow said about her 'dreams', it had actually been years.

Applejack spit the rope out of her mouth, leaning her head over the hole. The rain battered the top of her  head.

“I’m gonna see if I can find a better way to hoist ya both up!” she yelled down.

Rainbow Dash still had Twilight in her arms. The unicorn was still taking in shallow breaths. She wasn’t sure how long Twilight would last down here, let alone in the storm above.

“Don’t take too long!” Rainbow called back up. Her voice echoed in the chamber as she spoke.

Applejack nodded and disappeared back over the ledge, leaving Rainbow and Twilight alone.

“Hey, Rainbow Dash?”

Rainbow looked down at the unicorn, who shifted position to carry more of her weight. She had a concerned look on her face.

“How long have I been asleep?” Twilight coughed a couple of times. She was shaking from the cold water pooling on the floor.

Rainbow looked at the floor, still a little shocked from her reappearance. The question made her a little queasy. There was usually no way to tell another pony they were dead for a while, “Five years.”

Twilight was shocked, nearly falling over, “Five years? I’ve been asleep for five years?”

“No, Twi’. You were... dead for five years.” Rainbow winced at her own words. Painfull memories started to resurface again, but she shoved them back into the recesses of her thoughts.

Twilight stood dumbfounded. Her mouth hung open, stuttering and coughing to try and make a coherent train of thought. “But...” she managed. “I... Luna and I... Starfall...”

“Starfall is gone, Twilight.” Rainbow looked at her, “You saved Luna’s life when he tried to kill her. You also saved the lives of your fillies.”

Her cheeks burned red, “So we really do have... twins?”

Rainbow nodded. “Everything you probably dreamed, was you as a ghost or something. I admit, I thought I was going crazy. But... I guess you proved me wrong this time.”

Even under normal circumstances Twilight would have trouble figuring out how it was possible that she was returned to the world of the living, but right now, she didn't want to think about it. She was just glad to be alive.

"Princess. Rainbow told me I've been gone for five years. Is that...?"

"True?" Celestia finished. She pulled her neck away from her student, backing up into a more comfortable distance. "Yes. You... died, saving Luna. Do you... remember that?”

How could she forget? The memory was still vibrant in her mind.

Time slowed down. At least all her friends would be able to live... and Luna... She would never get to see her foals grow up - take their first step, say their first words, or start learning magic.

Twilight heard the whistling get closer.

        She kept her smile as she stared at Rainbow Dash, realization now twisting her sky blue face in a mix of horror and... something else. The purple unicorn turned her head away.

        Please, she thought. Don’t hate me...

        Twilight doubled over in pain, writhing under the covers. Her stomach felt filled with cold steel and pain hammered into her chest. She couldn’t breathe or make a sound. The beat of her heart filled her ears, pounding on her skull.

        Rainbow tried to rush to her, instead falling out of the hospital bed. The IV ripped out of her fore leg, its stand clattering to the floor. Rainbow’s heart monitor flat-lined once the readers disconnected, while Twilight’s sped up, hammering at the calm silence beforehand.

        Celestia backed into the far corner, only the slightest hint of magic starting to cover her horn.

        The door slammed open. Nurse Redheart and two others stormed into the room in a panic. Nurse Redheart helped Rainbow Dash up off of the floor, while the other two swarmed around Twilight, trying to get her to talk.

        “Where does it hurt, Miss Sparkle?”

        “Can you breathe?”

        “Get me a dose of-”

        Twilight’s hearing tapered off into a a muffled hum. She felt sick to her stomach as the memory played over and over again in her mind. Her vision blurred, becoming a series of lights flashing on and off, shadows flowing like water before her. Figures became blended in the vision, fading into black.

        “Twilight?” Celestia asked.

        Twilight’s senses slowly faded back into place. The pain in her head was gone, but the room looked like it was from a nightmare.

        The closest wall was nearly blasted clean outwards. Chairs had been flung through the door and one stuck through the far wall. The bed she was laying in lay in a mangled heap behind her, along with her monitoring machines. Celestia had a shield in front of her and Rainbow, consequently saving that part of the room from any substantial damage.

        Twilight shakily rose to her hooves, looking up at her mentor. She saw the three hospital ponies poke their heads up from behind Rainbow’s bed. Celestia had a concerned look on her face. Twilight looked confusedly at her.

        “What... what just happened?” Twilight asked, wobbling as she walked.

        “Your magic just went crazy!” Rainbow said, still in shock.

        “Crazy?” Twilight asked, a little panicked.

        Celestia feigned a smile, “Not unlike a certain entrance exam, if I recall correctly.”

        Twilight flushed red in embarrassment, turning her gaze to the floor.

        Celestia put the shield down against her better judgement. While the two incidents were similar, this had proved slightly more dangerous. She hadn’t been expecting the sudden burst of magic. The fact that it hit the opposite wall first was quite lucky for everyone in the room. By the second burst of magic, Celestia had everyone well protected.

        “What the hay was... that...”

        Twilight looked towards the source of the noise. Applejack had stuck her head through the hospital door, but was now gawking at the damage to the room. Behind her followed Rarity and Pinkie Pie who were also left speechless by the state of the room.

        “It appears we have something to discuss,” Celestia began. Her magic began repairing the damage as she crossed the room towards the orange earth pony, “Perhaps we should take that discussion somewhere more private.”


        The sun was slowly falling towards the mountains that held Canterlot’s castle. Ponies who had been hard at work all day, slowly trickled back into their homes, or into Ponyville’s market to shop for ingredients to make a late dinner. Sweet Apple Acres was relatively quiet, the apple bucking quite finished for the day.

        Things were far from quiet in the library, however.

        “What do ya mean, ‘she needs to leave?’ Beggin’ your pardon yer majesty, but isn’t there something you can do?” Applejack was pacing frantically in the main floor.

        “Yeah! You’re the princess! You can use your super duper powerful magic to fix anything!” Pinkie Pie added, her face in a pout.

        Celestia dropped her smile into a frown. If she had been truly able to fix anything she would’ve prevented the entire civil war by magicking away the need for her eversleep. Instead, she left all of her work for Twilight and Luna to complete and forced them to wake her up. She would pay for that later, she was sure of it.

        “I cannot fix everything, Pinkie Pie.” Celestia walked over to one of the pillows on the floor and sat down, “There are things in this world in which I have no control over. While a great amount of magic is one of those things I can fix, this is a different situation.

        “We don’t know anything about resurrection. I don’t know anything about it for sure. It was forbidden in olden times and that taboo has continued today. It’s dangerous. Any cruel pony could bring back somepony's loved ones just to hurt them.”

        “But Twilight wouldn’t hurt any of us,” Applejack said, raising her voice.

        “True. But somepony controlling her would.”

        “She would’ve done it already!” Rainbow cried. She stood closest to Twilight and the Princess.

Twilight had long since gone quiet, deep in thought. Rainbow couldn’t accept that Celestia thought someone was controlling Twilight. Sure, she had no knowledge or experience in magic, but she had a good feeling about her being safe. The fiasco in the hospital was probably a side effect from being woken up. Twilight had control over her magic again, although it was still pretty weak.

“Plus, she just got back and now you want to sent her away?” Dash was freely venting her anger now, “Don’t you care about how we feel?”

Rainbow’s comment was just another slap in the face for the princess. Of course she didn’t want to send Twilight away. But the frightening display of magic paired with the strange occurrences was more than compelling enough.

“Did you not see what happened in the hospital?” Celestia said calmly.

Dash went to continue her verbal barrage, but couldn't form the words. Twilight put a hoof in front of Rainbow’s chest. Her anger simmered down. She lowered herself onto her haunches, wincing at the pain as it returned full force.

“Girls,” Twilight turned her back to the princess. “I actually agree with the princess.”

The other five mares’ jaws dropped. Their eyes were fixed on the lavender unicorn, silence filling the room. Twilight cleared her throat.

“Considering what happened in the hospital without me noticing, or even remembering any of it, I think that the princess has a point. I have no idea if I’m being controlled, or watched, or whatever could be going on. The last thing I’d want to do after five years is to get anyone hurt...”

“Well... that’s might noble of ya’...” Applejack started, “But... I dunno Twilight. What if we lose you again? It was never the same without you here.”

The group of ponies lowered their gazes to the floor.

“I’m going with you.”

Twilight looked up. Rainbow Dash walked over to Twilight, staring at the princess. She raised an eyebrow at Dash.

“What? I’m not letting her go alone. I don’t care what the risk is, I’ll stick it out.”

Twilight smiled.

Applejack stepped forward as well, “I’m comin’ too.”

The others each stepped forward in kind, surrounding their long lost friend. Twilight grinned even wider than before, tears welling in her eyes.

“I... can’t have you all come along. You all have lives now. I mean, Fluttershy, you have Big Mac and Early Blaze to take care of.” She looked at Rarity, “Rarity, you have a business to run in Canterlot. Pinkie Pie, you have Sugar Cube Corn-”

Applejack shoved a hoof in her mouth, “Even so, they can help what they can. Now that you know what we’re up to, you’ve forgotten about what we’ll do for our friendship with you.”

“You can discuss in what degree you will assist Twilight in a moment,” Celestia butted in. They all turned their attention to her, “But the fact of the matter is that Twilight has agreed to leave. You will have an hour to decide. After that, pack your things for Canterlot.”

She walked to the door, opening it with her magic. Two guards walked into the room, before she shut the door behind her.


At the base of the far tower, Luna was leading Dusk and Dawn out from the stairwell after having spent the afternoon studying in the observatory. They had returned to Canterlot together after leaving some get well cards with the nurse to give to Rainbow and the stranger. Something important had happened, though the twins didn’t really know what.

Dawn frowned. She didn't question what their mother did for them, but she wanted was to know whatever was really going on.

On many occasions she let curiosity get the better of her. Consequently, that caused a certain amount of trouble for her. Rainbow was far more lenient about her adventurous nature than her mother was, for while Rainbow let her have more room to explore, Luna kept her close by her side. That was why she hadn't bothered asking her mom who the mysterious purple unicorn was. She wouldn't get an answer.

"Ah, Princess Luna," a unicorn said in the hallway, bowing deeply.

Dawn examined him for a moment, unable to remember who was speaking to them. After a moment, she recognized him as their former teacher, Bright Light.

"Master Bright Light!" Dusk yelled, running up to him and giving him a big hug.

"My, my, haven't you grown!" He returned the embrace warmly, ruffling her mane with a hoof.

"Headmaster Bright Light. I take it you received my message?" Luna smiled.

He let Dusk go and rose to his hooves, "Of course! I am always pleased to serve the royal house."

Dusk and Dawn looked up at Luna, Dusk far more enthusiasticly than her sister.

"Girls, Aunt Rainbow isn't feeling very well after that night in the rain. The nurse says that she'll need some bed rest, which means she won't be able to look after you for a little while. So I asked if Headmaster Bright Light would like to help with your schooling." Luna paused for a breath, "It's only temporary, just until Aunt Rainbow is better."

Dusk squealed in delight, jumping up and down. Dawn rolled her eyes, turning her gaze to the floor. Luna gave her a reassuring nuzzle.

"Bright Light is an excellent teacher. He has many stories from his travels abroad. Don't you remember?"

"No..." Dawn mumbled.

Luna gave the twins a gentle push towards the stallion, while flagging down one of the guards on patrol. The guard trotted up to the princess, stopping in front of her.

"Princess?" The mare stood at attention, barely shaking her armor as she did so. Bright Light looked up, raising an eyebrow at the guard.

"Cloud Skimmer, will you take these three to the practice room? My sister wishes to speak with me shortly."

"Of course." Cloud Skimmer walked around Bright Light, "If you'd follow me."

Luna watched them walk down the hall, ensuring that they disappeared around the corner. She let out a sigh, walking slowly down a different hallway towards the throne room.


"Excellent work, Dusk. I see that you have been practicing magic." Bright Light stood between Dawn and Dusk. Each of them was tasked with hovering a small glass ball as high as they could manage without it wobbling.

To Bright Light's surprise, Dusk was much farther along than he had imagined for her age. Of course, from a future Princess this level of aptitude seemed correct. Her orb was at least three or four feet off of the ground, holding steadily above her.

Her sister was trying hard, but she was only achieving levels reserved for second graders and younger. Bright Light watched the orb stay steady perhaps a few inches off of the ground. It was a tad disappointing. But his expectations were set... differently for her.

"Good, Dawn. Keep focusing. Try thinking that the orb is the moon and that you are helping your mother lift it to the sky," Bright Light added. The little bit of encouragement helped slightly, as the orb rose about a foot off the ground. It held for a moment before wavering and clattering to the floor.

The stallion frowned. Dawn simply didn't have the stamina for drawn out magical exercises. He would have to try a different approach with her.

"I believe that's enough for now. Why don't you go get something to eat for lunch and take a walk in the garden? The leaves are turning such lovely colors this time of year."

Dawn nodded, while Dusk pouted.

"After lunch, I'd like to work on magic with you individually. After all, you have different interests."

The twins bounded out of the room into the hallway. Dusk ran down the hall towards the kitchens, while Dawn slowed down, stopping short at the juncture in the hallway. Seeing no sign of her sister returning, Dawn took off towards the throne room. She still hadn't shaken her curiosity about the lavender unicorn and she was now more determined than ever to find out.

She ducked down a hallway near the throne room. A group of guards walked down the main hall, passing the side hallway without a second glance. The sounds of their armor plates banging together dulled, until it was silent once more. Dawn dug her face into her wing, biting down on a little metal key and drawing it from its hiding place.

She snickered to herself for swiping the key off of the groundskeeper over the summer. Since she hadn't been caught with it yet, Dawn had used it to explore many of the hidden rooms and chambers the castle workers used on a regular basis. Some places were just for storage, mainly filled with books and odd tools she saw them using.

The room she was standing in front of was much cooler. She inserted the key and unlocked the door. She slipped inside, making sure that the door shut without a sound.

Inside hung a set of poles with large, claw-like ends. A few boxes were piled in the back corner, but had long since been emptied. The most interesting part of the room, however, was a steep staircase which led into the crawl space above the throne room's red carpet.

As she trudged along the wide tunnel, she did her best to shield her eyes from the hanging lights. The tunnel was designed for earth ponies to replace those lights, but it also allowed her to listen in on "royal business".

She tucked herself into the end of the crawlspace, which hovered above the carpeted circle, just before the actual throne. Some of the lights here were still broken, making it easier for her to see the floor below.

"Are you sure its alright to let her go?" Dawn recognized that as her mother's voice almost immediately. She was addressing two ponies who were unfortunately obscured by the light fixture. Dawn did her best to get into a better position, but she still couldn't see.

"Of course." That voice belonged to Celestia, "I wouldn't want her to go alone or with a stallion she doesn't know."

"Relax Luna," a blue pegasus walked into the forefront. Dawn shoved a hoof into her mouth to stop from shouting. Aunt Rainbow was standing in the throne room. She didn't even look sick, as her mother had claimed. "Me and Twilight will be fine. We'll be back before you know it. If you're so worried, we can bring AJ along for the ride. She’s already offered to come with us."

Dawn’s breathing stopped cold. Wasn't her other mom's name Twilight? She had read plenty about her in books. Even Rainbow's story was as fresh in her mind as the day she heard it. She leaned her head over the edge of the tunnel in a last ditch effort to get a good look at the other pony.

It paid off. The lavender unicorn stepped into Dawn's view, smiling despite the obvious restraint on her horn. "As long as this is on to stop any more of those crazy bursts of magic, I'm sure we'll be fine. Besides, I'd just like to see our fillies."

"I’m afraid you will have to wait a little longer.." Celestia’s spoke once more. She sounded sad, "I'll have the wagon ready for you by this evening. If Applejack wishes to join you, she'll have to be here by midnight. You'll leave then."

"Thank you, Princess," Twilight said.

"Be safe, my faithful student."

One of Celestia's guards led Twilight and Rainbow Dash from the room. Dawn crawled along the tunnel, trying to get another glimpse of the unicorn before she reached the doors. She was entranced by her new found parent, but conflicted by her mother's lies. Why would her mother lie to her about something so important? More importantly, what else had she lied about?


Bright Light entered the practice room for the last time that evening. His session with Dusk had been very fruitful. There were so many questions that she had about magic, he had trouble getting her to agree to learning the basics. She was without a doubt one of the most curious fillies he had ever taught in his career at the School for Gifted Unicorns. It was simply a matter of time before she would be pleading to stay in Canterlot.

Dawn was sitting on the floor, rolling the glass orb back and forth between her hooves. He wasn't sure it was possible to see a struggling student who was less excited about studying magic.

"Dawn? Are you ready to start?"

"Uh-huh..." Dawn muttered absent mindedly. She stopped the orb between her fore-hooves.

"We won't be doing anything with the orb this evening. You can set that aside for now." Bright Light hovered a few books over to one of the tables in the room. He walked over to the table, beckoning her to follow.

Reluctantly, she rose to her hooves and trudged over to the table. Spread out were several different books, each with a different kind of magic outlined in the title. She glanced at each title, rejecting them almost as soon as they registered with her brain.

"These books detail the most important schools of magic: Illusion, Telekinesis, Alteration, and Elemental. Each of them function very differently from one another, yet at the heart of each school, they are connected. That is why everypony has the potential to learn more than one school of magic. Is there one in particular you would like to start with? One that catches your interest perhaps?" Bright Light looked down at his pupil. She was completely removed from whatever he was trying to say.

"None of these interest me," she replied. Her expression stayed flat.

The books flew back to their appropriate place on the shelves, "Then perhaps you would like to tell me what you are interested in. Is something on your mind?"

Dawn nodded.

The magic glow faded from his horn. "Would you like to talk about it?"

She shook her head.

"Why not?"

"I'll get in trouble if mom finds out."

Bright Light looked at her quizzically, "Finds out about what?"


Bright Light sat down on the floor next to Dawn. He placed a reassuring hoof on her shoulder, "As your teacher, I have a lot of knowledge that might be able to help you. I won't tell Princess Luna if it makes you feel better."

A moment of silence passed between them. Deep inside the facade of Bright Light, Cunning was itching for a new opportunity to expand his control. He knew that the twins would be the easiest to manipulate. It was simple and best of all, it didn't even require magic.

"... Do you promise?"

"Of course."

She hesitated for a moment before she began, "I saw my mom today."

"Did you have a fight with your mother?"

"No. I mean... I saw Twilight Sparkle, my other mom."

Bright Light looked taken aback, going into deep thought on about this revelation.

"They're sending her far away tonight, but they all sounded so sad about doing it."

"Who sounded sad?"

She leaned to the side, "Mom, Aunt Celestia, and Aunt Rainbow. But what was confusing was that mom said Aunt Rainbow was sick. That’s why you're here to teach us."

Bright Light nodded.

"Does mommy not want us to see Twilight? All the books we read say she died. But... I definitely saw her."

Bright Light gazed into the far wall of the room, pretending to run through his thoughts. Deep down, there was only one solution for this opportunity.

"There is a story that I know that may help. Would you like to hear it?"

Dawn nodded.

"Once upon a time, many years before Equestria, there were two fair princesses and their baby sister. They lived in a grand castle with the King and Queen, who ruled their land with a just hoof.

"Now these princesses were friends with the sons of another King. Both of these brothers longed for the eldest sister, but she could not decide which brother she loved more. So the king asked the two of them to do something very special for her."

"Go to the King of the Dragons, Thereweil, and become his students. Learn all the magic you can before you come of age and when you return, show me what you have learned." Celestia stood in the corridor of her castle, her pink mane blowing in the wind.

Before her stood two alicorn stallions each bowing low. They rose simultaneously smiling with pride.

"I will not disappoint you, love of my heart," one said.

"Nor will I, my sweet," spoke the other.

She smiled at both of them, "Just remember that I care for you both, no matter what comes of this challenge. If I had the choice I would have you both. But..."

Each of the brothers put a hoof around her neck.

"It is not easy for us either. Right, Cunning?"

"Not at all, Discord," Cunning replied. "But we would brave any challenge to show our love for you, even if nothing comes of it."

"But we are willing to take that chance. We have always won at games of chance." Discord smiled and let go of her shoulder.

"Each of the brothers went to the King of the Dragons, to learn some magic to win over the princess' heart. The first brother asked for the power to change things around him to whatever he willed. The king told him that it would change the way he looked, but the prince claimed he would do anything to use that power for his love."

"Celestia will love me no matter what I look like. I will happily trade, King Thereweil." Discord stood regal before the king, bowing in respect for the king's kindness.

"So be it." The king boomed.

"The other brother asked for the power to do anything anyone else could do."

"Hmm." The King clawed at his neck, scraping along his scales, "I can teach you that power, but... it comes with a higher cost."

"Anything is worth it, your majesty." Cunning bowed low.

"Indeed? The cost is your cutie mark. You will never be able to earn your special talent."

"But in trade? A special talent where I can utilize any power or talent in the world. It is a fair trade in my eyes."

"So be it."

"They spent several years studying for the princess. When the time came they returned to show her their gifts. The first brother used his magic to turn a field of dirt and muck into rolling hills filled with wild flowers and roses.

"The second brother used the power of her father, the king, to fill the sky with clouds, drawing the symbols of his love.

"Of course the princess loved each of their displays equally. But it was not her choice. While the king thought both feats of magic were indeed impressive, he chose the first brother.

"This confused the second brother, who asked why he did not win the challenge with a larger feat of magic. The king replied that rather than study power for himself, the second brother had chosen to study how to become someone else."

Silence passed through the room. Dawn looked up at Bright Light, a little bit of confusion still on her face.

"Did the story not help?" Bright Light asked.

"I'm not sure what the brothers have to do with what I heard."

"Your sister studies hard, Dawn. But she is very willing to be told what to learn and to do what others have done, rather than to create something new.

"You, on the other hoof, explore new things in order to discover the things that make you happy," he poked her playfully on the nose. She giggled a little. "Perhaps all you need to do is explore a little by yourself. Or in the words of the first brother, 'Add a little chaos', Dawn."

She smiled, "Ok."

"Good. Now I'm going to let you go early, but I want to hear what new and exciting things you have done. Ok?"

She didn't nod. Instead she hugged the older stallion, "Thank you, Bright Light." She let go and ran out of the practice room into the hallway.

A wicked smile shot across Bright Light's face. This was going to be interesting.


The garden was filled with the sounds of insects singing their songs of autumn. The night sky was filled with clouds, blocking much of the light from the full moon. The light that did manage to escape flowed down from the sky, piercing the night with pillars of pale white. The gardener was whistling into in the cool air as he put away his tools to go home for the night. But while he believed that there was nopony in the gardens, something stirred within the fields of green.

Tonight there was a visitor.

Far from the castle, deep within the labyrinth, a soft popping noise was muffled by the high walls. He spread his wings as the magic subsided from his horn. Cunning had memorized this place: a location covered with vines, complete with four small braziers and a gazebo. Everything he needed for this evening was here. Plus, it was the perfect spot to go unnoticed.

He summoned his magic once more, lifting the braziers over to him. Three of them caught fire, illuminating the dark space, while the other simply settled down before him. From under his wing, he produced a small pouch, filled with a few small strands of blue hair. He dropped them in the unlit brazier.

A quiet guttural hissing ushered from his mouth. It grew to short, unintelligible syllables with far more force and volume than his other persona. The liquid in the last bowl burst into flames, shifting from a normal color into a sickly green.

“O’ dragon hunters high with eagle’s vision, narrow my sight upon my prey,” Cunning growled.

The oil rose from its vessel, spinning wildly in front of the alicorn. As it spun, the liquid spread itself to its limits, becoming almost as thin as a scroll. The green flames siphoned off to the sides to form a circular border around the mirror-like surface. An image flickered to life on the surface.

An image of Dawn, pressed up against a wall came into view.

“And what might you be doing, Dawn?” He whispered to himself.

The blue filly looked around the corner.

She was staring into one of the lower entrances to Canterlot’s streets. The archway had one guard on either end of the opening. The room itself was no more than an empty stone chamber that looked very old and probably poorly maintained. Probably.

The only other item of interest was a small carriage, built to hold two or three ponies inside. It had an extension for luggage on the back that was more than large enough to hide in. She looked around again – there were no other guards.

Her wings unfolded from her sides. She flapped them furiously, lifting herself a few inches off of the ground. Slowly, she pushed herself across the hallway, pulling her hooves up as far from the floor as possible. Sweat began to bead all over her coat. The lessons on flying from Aunt Rainbow were paying off today.

When she touched down behind the carriage, voices began to echo from where she came. Panicking, she opened one of the flaps for luggage and dove inside. The pouch she had chosen was filled with scrolls, which she pulled from beneath her as best she could so she was covered.

“I still don’t see why I can’t pull this here wagon,” Dawn recognized Applejack’s voice. She was in deep trouble if she got caught now, “Won’t three of us be too much for you ta pull?”

“Not at all, Miss Applejack.” Dawn knew the voice, but couldn’t place a name to it. He was one of the guards, that much she knew.

“Well, alright. Just holler if you need a hand, sugar cube,” Applejack replied.

One by one, she felt three ponies entering the carriage above her. After about a minute or so, the cart lurched forward and drove out into the night.


“How deliciously predictable, Dawn,” Cunning laughed. His voice had returned to normal after the spell. The oil mirror faded to nothing and the green flames went out. “It appears that you’ve done my work for me. As expected, of course.”

His horn glowed once more and the other fires went out. He replaced the braziers in their proper locations, before passing through the nearest hedge. The stallion moved like a ghost towards the castle, passing through walls like mist while he mused to himself.

Eventually he arrived outside of the Labyrinth, staring at the line of statues. A smile worked its way across his lips, “Ah the games we play, my dear Celestia. With one hoof you protect your kingdom,” he raised his fore-hoof. “But with your horn you crush dissension.”

His horn suddenly burst with light, releasing a huge amount of power into the night air. The statues shook imperceptibly at first, then more violently as the magic increased. The earth rumbled and vibrated under the influence of the magic. The light became blinding as Cunning’s magic filled the air. It engulfed the entire garden, glowing as bright as the sun.

Then, it was over.

Cunning was gone… and so were the statues.


        Celestia shot upright in her bed. The cool air coming through her window ruffled her curtains, competing with her panting to be the dominant sound in the room.

At first she thought she had just experienced another one of her nightmares. Discord and his followers had escaped from their prison, stealing away into the world to take revenge on her. She visibly shuddered. Slowly, he had turned the world against her, turning her beloved country into a wasteland of chaos and war.

Celestia pressed a hoof to her head and wiped away the sweat. For a late summer evening, the breeze was unusually warm. She tossed the covers to one side and rose from her bed. On nights when she didn’t sleep well, she found that flying soothed her mind. Tonight was one of those nights.

As Celestia prepared to jump out of her window, the whole floor begin to shake. Magic burst from her horn, shielding her from whatever danger had caught her off guard. But instead of finding an attack, the vibrations increased, knocking her off balance. She stumbled around for a few moments before steadying herself against the wall. Light poured through her window, growing in intensity.

Before it even disappeared, she was running full force down the hallway towards the astronomy tower. She needed to check on the twins. Luna would never make it in time from the throne room if somepony had broken in. She rounded the corner and kicked off the ground hard, soaring up the tower. Taking the stairs would waste time.

As soon as she touched down on the landing she ripped the door from its hinges with her magic, tossing it haphazardly behind her. The occupants of one of the beds squeaked loudly, diving under the covers. The princess of the sun let out a sigh of relief.

“Aunt Celly?”

Celestia watched Dusk poke her head out of the covers. The filly’s eyes were wide open. Underneath the covers she was shaking in fear - from the sudden earthquake and from the loss of the bedroom door.

“It’s ok Dusk. I’m just making sure you and Dawn are alright. Right, Dawn?” Celestia walked over to the other bed, gently nuzzling the form under the other blanket. A shiver went down her spine. She pulled the blankets off of the bed. Underneath was a large pile of pillows, neatly moved into a position to mimic a sleeping filly. Her heart started to thump out of her chest.

“Dawn?” She called. Her magic reached out to the closet door, pulling it open. No luck. “DAWN!?” Celestia was in a full on panic.

“She’s probably running around the castle again, Aunt Celly.” Dusk said, climbing up onto her sister’s bed. She shifted one of the pillows around but stopped short.

“Celly...?” Dusk backed away from the headboard.

The princess turned around from her search watching the filly starting to shake. Her eyes never moved from the headboard. Celestia grabbed her under her wing, softly trying to calm her.

The words etched into the wood told a different story. Slowly the wood began to change. Inch by inch the wood began to turn to stone, permanently engraving the phrase into her memory.

Decide through truth, Through Trust, through Brawn,

Then Sun and Moon will have their dawn.

The elder sister began breathing through her teeth, only hiding her rage for the sake of the now crying filly under her wing. Only one pony had the gall to leave such a message. The only pony powerful enough to take Dawn without being seen or even leaving so much of a trace: Discord.

A hard landing outside of the room made Celestia throw up a defensive shield. Her magic bent to her will, forming enough magic for an immediate counter attack.


Celestia dropped the shield immediately, “Luna! Discord is-”

“Free. I know. I tried getting here as quickly as I could through the chaos. Where are the girls?” Luna was speaking frantically, sweeping the room with her eyes, over and over. Celestia gently lifted her wing and Dusk lept from it into her mother’s open hooves.

“Mommy!” Dusk cried, sobbing into her blue coat.

“It’s ok, Dusk. Mommy’s here,” Luna cooed, stroking the filly’s mane. She looked up, panic still playing on her features, “Where’s Dawn?”

Celestia stayed quiet, casting her gaze to the headboard. After a moment she began to whisper angrily, “I’ll ensure he suffers the worst fate I can imagine...”

Luna couldn’t make heads or tails of the headboard. It was cryptic, yes and the implications...

“Where is she Celestia?” Luna’s voice began to crack and her eyes began to fill with tears.

“...he’ll wish that he was encased in stone when I’m through.”

“No... please tell me he didn’t...”

Celestia could feel Luna’s heart breaking from across the room. The rage she was containing began to spill over into her magic. The stone bed shattered crumbling to the floor, only leaving the headboard intact. The window shattered behind her and the floor began to crack. As the cracks wound their way up the wall, the guards that accompanied Luna backed away in sheer terror, unable to leave their princesses, but wanting to put as much distance between them as possible.

Luna sobbed lightly into her forehooves, bringing Dusk into a tighter embrace. Celestia was only able to manage one coherent word in her rage:



        Cunning was dancing. His hysterical laughter filled Bright Light’s large office, as he hopped to and fro.

        The office was quite cozy - it was a perfect place to do research and for certain conversations. The room had long since been sound-proofed. As an added bonus, he had taken the liberty of preventing scrying within the room’s confines. Well... it really only prevented somepony else from scrying on him.

        Behind the desk, settled on the wall between two large windows was a mirror which at the moment held the fury Princess Celestia was experiencing on the news that his brother was wide awake. A large wooden desk sat a few feet in front of that, scattered with notes and alchemy materials. Bookshelves covered the side walls from the floor to the ceiling, filled with books on various topics that held his fleeting interest.

        In front of the doors stood five interesting figures, each staring forward and unmoving. Their eyes were a light glowing red, completely under Cunning’s control. He bounced over to them, giggling as he did so.

        “Oh what a wonderful day this is!” He spoke, chuckling to himself. “Not only do I get a reunion with my friends and compatriots, I get to see my brother for the first time in years! How has the stone been treating you?”

        “It’s been a rocky experience,” one of the figures replied, devoid of emotion or feeling. The creature stood on his two different hind legs, his serpentine tail motionless behind him. His head was that of a pony, with an antler on one side and a rams horn on the other. His forearms were at his sides.

        Cunning laughed, pretending his brothers voice matched the display of wit, “I suppose it has, brother. But it hasn’t crumbled your wit in the least. I suppose that’s good for me in the long run.”

        His brother nodded.

        “Especially now that my dear Celeste thinks her former beloved, Discord, Prince of Chaos has stolen away little Dawn.” Cunning slowed his dancing to a trot, walking straight up to his brother, “So I suppose for my sake you’ll be happy to play along?”

        Discord nodded.

        “Good.” He trotted back to the desk. One of the most surprising discoveries he had made since his plan unfolded, was how strong his control still was. Of course, he had spent the last hour reinforcing his magical hold on them, but he was giddy at the thought that Celestia’s use of the Elements of Harmony had preserved his clever spell. It was priceless, to say the least.

        Cunning turned around, leaning his flank into the table, “Listen closely. Princess Celestia is starting to tip over the edge into darker water. With Princess Luna now suitably broken, she will either back down, or join her sister’s witch hunt. In order for... us, to control the whole world, we must avoid war between other kingdoms unless absolutely necessary.

“Therefore, you are all tasked with stirring up Starfall’s insistent rabble in Equestria.. Create a commotion in other lands with their rebels and dissidents. Have the world unite under the princess and then crush every resistance we create.  For when fear looms, the Princess will be their guiding light. A light that I hold in my hand.”

Discord and the four ponies bowed at once to Cunning.

“Brother, you will need to stay for a moment. The rest of you may leave unseen.”

One of the four ponies’ horns glowed. Shadows stretched down from the walls and wrapped itself around the other three. As soon as it seemed to envelop their bodies, the shadows and the ponies disappeared without a sound.

“I have a special task for you, brother. One of the new Elements of Harmony is being sent to our old master. I want you to make your way to the dragon kingdom as well. But you must not be seen and you cannot arrive before she does.” He tossed a picture across the room, using his magic to hover it in front of Discord, “She is the purple unicorn in the picture. You may take it for reference.”

Discord nodded, snapping his fingers to make it disappear.

“When you arrive, you will be unconscious for three days. You will remember nothing of my control over you, nor of the events which led you to be banished. They will be... cloudy. Eventually they will return, but not for many years. It is the least I can do for you, brother.”

Discord nodded once more, his eyes still blank.


Cunning’s brother snapped his fingers and vanished. The silence hung in the room for a few moments, before Cunning let out another burst of laughter. He had let go of his brother, only to have him not know why Celestia no longer loved him. It was a fitting end, since Discord had her love to himself all those years ago. Love that Cunning believed he deserved, even if he had to control her to get it.

He most certainly wasn’t going to share her with anypony else.


        Dawn groaned as she turned over in the little carrying compartment she stowed away in. She could hear the wheels of the carriage floating over the cobblestone streets through the muffled sounds of whatever place they were in. She shifted some of the scrolls to the side, reaching up with her hooves to grab hold of the top, tossing the flap over her head to looked outside.

        The city was full of ponies of all colors and talents. Pegasi flew about the sky, tossing papers every which way. Vendors stood on the street corner, competing to sell their food. A newsstand was surrounded by ponies in gray and black suits, carrying professional-looking saddlebags. The pegasus in the center of the crowd hoisted a paper over his head shouting some of the daily news.

        She looked towards the sky. Just beyond some of the buildings the sun poured its rays over the city streets. But it was dwarfed by massive structures, reaching high into the skies. In all her life, she had only ever seen the castle towers in Canterlot. These must have been several times bigger, maybe more. As they glinted in the morning sunlight and she realized most of these buildings were made from metal and glass. To the side, she watched earth ponies walking treacherously across steel beams high in the sky. They were working with other pegasi, but from this distance, they looked like ants.

        She gaped in sheer amazement. Distracted, she barely noticed the nearest carriage pass hers, cutting them off. Their carriage stopped short, causing her to tumble back into the bag. There was a bit of yelling, accompanied by a few words she had never heard before. The driver of her carriage let out a few of the same words. She’d have to ask Twilight what they meant later.

        Dawn frowned, looking at the back of the carriage. Through the back window, she noticed Applejack sleeping against the side of the carriage. She hadn’t even considered how to tell them she had stowed away in their cart. Aunt Rainbow would likely be furious with her. The guard Aunt Celestia sent would probably insist on turning the whole cart around to bring her home.

        She slid back down into the cart. The first thing she needed now was a plan. There had to be some possible way to stay with them. A sigh escaped her lips. If she could figure out whoever it was Celestia sent, she might be able to worm her way out of being brought back home. Especially if it was one of the guards she had caught doing something weird with the other staff. Like that time she had caught Just Desserts kissing Thunder Cloud, when she was alone in the kitchen. Or the time Stormy Sea changed the locks on all of the guard lockers.

        The carriage continued down the lane, as she settled deeper into the confines of the scroll pouch.

        Inside, Applejack began to stir. It had been a long night of travel from Canterlot. With the guard flying the carriage, they had cut their time significantly. Early on, Rainbow hooked into the reigns and helped fly it across the country fields.

She remembered passing over the ruins of Fillydelphia before nodding off to sleep. After the civil war, the road that went through the city was never really repaired. For almost four years the ruins from the battle deteriorated, with nopony returning to rebuild. Within the last year ponies began to return in droves to start over. But they had barely started repairs on the road, since Celestia had a new road built between Canterlot and Manehatten to avoid passing through the ruins.

It didn’t matter though. Whatever effort the two ponies had done together had been enough to get them here very quickly. This was just one day in the long journey that lay ahead of them.

Across from her, both Twilight and Rainbow Dash were fast asleep. She hadn’t expected differently. Rainbow had pulled for as long as she had been awake to watch the scenery go by and Twilight was still recovering from her... ordeal. She shook the thought from her head. This was no time to dwell on the past, especially since that had all already changed. Instead, she opened the door to the carriage and lifted herself onto the seat in the front, closing the door behind her.

“I ain’t seen Manehatten fer a while and its as if I’d never been,” she said to herself, taking in the sights.

“Miss Applejack?” The guard turned to face her.

“Mornin’... uh...” Her train of thought fizzled out. She had already forgotten his name.

“Thunder Cloud, Miss.”

“Of course. Sorry ‘bout that.”

He nodded shortly, turning his attention back to the road. Manehatten drivers were some of the worst in Equestria.

“So, uh... where exactly are we heading off to?” She asked.

He worked his way around a stopped taxi carriage, “To Grand Central station. Canterlot’s train line is still shut down by the storm, otherwise we would have taken the train instead.”

“Is it gonna be one of them sleeper trains, like the one to Appleloosa?”

He nodded.

She chuckled to herself, “We’ll try not ta keep you up.”

It didn’t take much longer until they reached the station. Applejack woke up Rainbow and Twilight, while Thunder Cloud walked around back to unload the bags. Twilight shifted slightly in her position, while Rainbow Dash grunted, rubbing her eyes.

“We’re here,” Applejack said. Thunder Cloud tossed a few articles of clothing at Applejack, which she caught in her teeth. “Y’uhll ‘eed da but dis on,” she spoke.

Twilight squinted at Applejack, trying to understand her words between the clothes in her mouth and the lack of restful sleep she received. The iron clamp still on her horn didn’t help the sleeping part much.

Applejack tossed them each one of the cloths, throwing one over herself.

“Twilight, yours is a hooded sweater and Rainbow, that’s a jacket o’ some sort. Rarity made them for each of ya. She said it’d help ya fit in here and they’ll keep ya warm up north. They ain’t no frou frou fashions, but they’ll help us blend in. Especially you Twilight.”

They nodded, although Rainbow Dash was far less enthusiastic about the new dress. Applejack pulled on a green sweater, before going into the back to help Thunder Cloud. He was struggling to lift the some of the compartments out of their holsters.

“Need a hand?” She asked, sliding one of the detached bags over.

“Yeah. I can’t seem to get these untied,” he pointed at one of the still hanging bags. “The other bag is a lot heavier than I imagined it to be, but I cant get that one untied either.”

“Consider yerself lucky, I’m here. I know my way ‘round knots.”

Applejack waited for Thunder Cloud to grab hold of the bag, before she clamped on the first knot with her teeth. It was a delicate process, but after years running around on the farm it was as good as untied. A sudden grunt from the guard confirmed the bag falling freely into his hooves.

She moved onto the next bag, working her teeth around the knot. It came loose as well, but the guard fumbled with the catch. It fell to the ground.

Dawn stifled a grunt as she hit the ground.

“Yer sure you don’t have more than maps in here? Like those fancy travel books?” Applejack was unprepared for the actual weight of the bag, but she lifted it with her mouth to place it on the sidewalk.

“Perhaps. Some of the books are more accurate than the scrolls,” the stallion shrugged. He waved over an attendant who brought out a large cart from inside the building.

“I also asked for a few books to read on the trip,” Twilight said, appearing from the other side of the carriage. The navy-blue hooded sweater fit snugly over her body, covering her cutie mark and - as intended - the clamp on her horn. Her saddlebags were a plain gray color, seemingly filled to the brim with books. “I figured I needed to see what I’ve missed. I have the ones I want to read now in my saddlebags.”

Rainbow hovered onto the sidewalk, wearing a thin denim jacket and a pair of shades on her head, “That shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll just pile them onto the cart for the train.” She lifted the bag with the maps - and Dawn - preparing to put it on the cart.

“That bag goes last, Ms. Dash.” Thunder Cloud and Applejack took a few moments to unload the carriage of the other small bags, placing the other large sack neatly in the corner of the cart. The stallion motioned to Rainbow Dash, who placed the map bag on top.

“This way, officer,” the attendant spoke, pushing the cart down one of the side entrances to the station.

They followed the side hallway until it opened up into a fairly large shopping area. Stores lined the hall selling an assortment of souvenirs, food, even clothing for the unprepared traveler. They rounded the corner past a Star Buck’s before arriving at a series of elevators. The bag attendant pressed the button to call an elevator car.

“How long is the train ride going to be?” Rainbow asked, breaking the lingering silence.

“About 10 days. If the lines need to be cleared from fall snow, it could take a few more,” Thunder Cloud said.

Applejack shook her head and stared at the guard, “Ten days? I thought you said that this was like a the ride ta Appaloosa?”

“In terms of comfort? Yes. However, our destination isn’t nearly as close as Appaloosa. Where we’re going is several thousand miles from home. Plus some distance we’ll have to cover by hoof.”

“But we’ve seen a dragon before, just outside of Ponyville! They can’t possibly be that far from home.” Rainbow looked clearly irritated with the stallion.

The elevator doors opened. Each of the ponies clambered into the elevator, but Thunder Cloud continued, “Indeed you have. I believe Miss Sparkle knows much more than I do on the matter of why they live so far away.”

“Their ancestral home has always been in the Far North. But a few decide to inhabit other free places where the environment isn’t regulated by pony kind. The tradition of territory is still very strong in their culture - space in the ancestral homeland sometimes isn’t enough.” Twilight beamed at her quick recollection of Dragon history. It had been ages since she last picked up the book it was in even before she had moved to Ponyville.

Dawn couldn’t help but be impressed. She had lay as motionless as possible to avoid raising suspicion. But that didn’t stop her from listening to where they were going. It would be important to plan ahead so she could force them to let her tag along on the rest of the trip. The whole point after all was to meet her mother.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she was lifted once more into the air before being set down on something hard and hollow. She heard the other bags landing somewhere below her.

Outside the attendant was walking away, while one of the conductor stallions began closing up the baggage car. “You’ll be able to have someone retrieve your luggage during the ride. As you saw each bag has a tag attached to it with a number corresponding to your train ticket.” The conductor smiled at them, “Enjoy your trip.”


        The doors to the throne room opened. From the hallway a short unicorn was ushered onto the red carpet, where the guards left her to walk on alone. She stared at them pleadingly, but they simply closed the doors behind her.

        Born in the castle, the unicorn - Quick Wit - was currently employed in the royal archives. Her mane was a mess of fire-red curls. It clashed vividly with her light-brown coat which was dotted with darker spots.

She was about the same age as Celestia’s former student, Twilight Sparkle, having attended the same school for a short period of time. After magic kindergarten she was frequently the flank of the joke - Twilight had learned her first spell long before she did. Her talents in magic progressed slowly and while her cutie mark showed an aptitude for magic - a fireball chasing and chased by a ball of water - it was more specific to the chaotic nature in which she performed it. In laypony’s terms, she couldn’t do magic “by the book”.

        Quick Wit did have a talent for speed, however. The spells she could just throw together were faster than any other pony. As an archive worker she could copy hundreds of pages an hour - very useful for those tomes that were falling apart and needing to be sealed away for their own good.

        She was terrified. In all her years in the castle, she had never once been reprimanded for her work and she preferred not to be rewarded. But moments ago, Celestia’s personal guards grabbed her from the royal library on the princess’ orders. Knowing full well what the princess did to her private quarters last night, she could only pray that she would be fired instead of mangled.

        The unicorn walked forward, keeping her head low, casting her eyes to the ground. When she thought she had approached close enough she bowed deeply.

        “Rise, Quick Wit,” Celestia spoke.

        Quick Wit did as she was told, keeping her gaze towards the floor. Her heart was pounding in her chest.

        “I’m sure you’re wondering why I called you.”

        She nodded.

        Celestia’s horn glowed, lifting something from beneath her chair, settling it in front of the terrified unicorn, “As you know, certain events have led me to summon leaders from all over Equestria to Canterlot.”

        Quick Wit nodded. Late last evening, she had guards physically drag Headmaster Bright Light into the castle, just to have him summon all of his constituents, when she could have done the same thing herself. She had heard the princess shouting every time the throne room doors were open. Despite the now calmer atmosphere, she still had no clue what Celestia wanted from her.

        “This is a problem Equestria cannot handle on its own,” Celestia continued. “Those who awoke last night and took my niece away once brought the world to its knees. The kingdoms of the world were lucky that someone was brave enough to make a stand. That won’t happen a second time.”

        Celestia rose from her chair. She walked down to the trembling figure until they were only a foot from one another, “The world needs to unite against this evil. It is high time I invited them for a meeting. Which brings me to why you are here.”

        Quick Wit looked up, daring to meet the princess’ gaze.

        “I require someone that can write quickly and adapt to the fast-paced nature of diplomacy. There will be much work to be done.”

        The unicorn could barely move, let alone form a response.

        “I would like to appoint you as the Kingdom’s Head Diplomat.”

        “I... I am honored, your majesty,” Quick Wit manged, bowing low. “Although, I lack experience in diplomatic matters. Moreover, I wouldn’t want that to project the wrong image-”

        Celestia held up a hoof. “Experience comes with time, Quick Wit. I need someone with a fresh mind to work with the circumstances at hoof. Most of my diplomats are too stuck in the past five years to adapt quickly enough.”

        Quick Wit nodded.

        “Now, I believe the leaders from all over Equestria should arrive in a few days. In the meantime, we have much to discuss.”


        “STUPID DAWN!”

        Dusk hurled her sister’s practice orb across the room with her magic, smashing it right into the far wall. It dented the wall before landing with a soft thud on the floor.


        Her magic lashed out once more, grabbing hold of the pedestal that held her own practice orb. She hurled it a foot from her, before collapsing to the ground. She took deep breaths, gasping every time she tried to speak.

        “Stupid... Discord...”

In her tantrum, she had used up almost all of her magic in a wild, uncontrolled frenzy. Books were scattered all over the room, some were even in pieces. Ink wells lay where they landed leaving pools of black ink all around the bottle.

Despite feeling superficially better from destroying the room, it rang hollow. Tears flowed freely from her eyes. She started sobbing into the floor, too tired to cover her face with her hooves. Nothing she did could fill the hole in her heart that her sister left behind.

It wasn’t just her either. Luna hadn’t stirred from her room to raise the moon in almost three days. The only reason she still ate any food was because Dusk brought it to her. Even then, she barely touched it.

Celestia was the complete opposite. Her court bustled with activity since the incident, leaving her completely isolated from her family members.

But she wasn’t alone. Guards stood at the entrance to every room she was in, even posting themselves outside each window to cover the entrance. Bright Light’s colleagues at the school came in and cast spells to protect her room and several others. It was like she was living in a fortress.

The door to the practice room opened. Her teacher, poked his head around the corner, finding it relatively darker than the last time he had entered.

“Dusk?” Bright Light closed the door behind him. He used his magic to pick up one of the lamps from the ground and turning it back on. The mess in the room was much clearer now, stopping him from entering any further. Bright Light closed his eyes. Cunning expected a reaction like this from Dusk much earlier, but he brushed the concern aside, returning into his assumed persona, “Are you alright?”

Dusk shook her head, still unable to stop from crying.

The papers floated up into the air combining into a neat pile. Bright Light willed them over to the desk in the back, turning his attention to the ink spills, “Do you want to tell me why the room is such a mess?”

The filly shook her head once more.

Her teacher sighed, “It was about Dawn, wasn’t it?”

She hesitated for a moment before nodding her head.

“I... I wish I was there to help.” Bright Light frowned, “But I wasn’t. What matters now is that I’m helping to get her back.”

Dusk’s initial rage returned. She started yelling again, “ITS NOT FAIR!” Her voice was hoarse with emotion, slowly quieting, “Why did he take my sister?”

Bright Light lifted Dusk onto his back, hovering the books back to the shelves one by one. It wasn’t going to be easy to explain something so complicated to the young filly. But he had to try.

“There are many different kinds of ponies in this world. Most of them are good ponies - ponies who don’t want any harm to come to anypony else. But-” He paused for a moment, “there are some ponies who only want people to be sad. They might even want to see ponies get hurt. Do you understand?”

She nodded. “Does he want to hurt Dawn?”

He closed his eyes, “I don’t know. Out of all of the bad ponies, Discord is one of the worst. He wants nothing more than to see ponies hurt and confused, even convincing friends to hurt one another.

“But more than anything else, he wants to hurt Princess Celestia in any way he can. I know losing Dawn caused you and your mother so much pain. But it hurts Princess Celestia far more to see you both heartbroken and that she could have been awake to protect all of you.”

Dusk nodded wiping the remaining tears from her eyes.

“He hurt you by taking your sister away. Crying just shows him how hurt you are. Do you want him to be happy from taking Dawn away?” Bright Light set the filly down on the ground.

Her face hardened. A look of determination came over her features. “No,” she growled.

“Are you going to be tough?” Her teacher asked.

“Better than that,” she walked to the center of the room, lifting her practice orb with whatever magic she had recovered and smashing it onto the ground, “I’m going to get her back.”

Bright Light beamed at her student, “How can you do that if you spend all of your magic throwing books all over the room?”

“Discord made me sad, but he’ll never do it again. I’ll study and study until I can bring her back!”

“Then I guess we have some work to do.” Bright Light hovered Dawn’s orb over to the desk, “Are you ready to start learning?”

“Yes. For Dawn.”


        “Fillies, Gentlecolts, I’m quite pleased you were all able to make it in such short time,” Celestia spoke. She sat at the end of a long table lined with unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies, as well as Zebras and Gryphons. In just three days, nearly every leader - Equestrian or not - on this side of the ocean had gathered. Those leaders that could not be present made their appearance known through diplomats in the city.

        “We came as quickly as we could, your majesty,” a unicorn spoke. His mane was a deep gray, falling loosely over his tan coat. There was a deep wisdom behind his twinkling green eyest, “The Royal Province of the Southern Reaches has always been loyal to the crown. I, Duke Desert Wind, am honored to be of service.”

        Celestia smiled politely. Desert Wind was always overly formal, even when she paid a strictly non-royal visit to their beautiful beaches, “I trust the journey didn’t tire you too greatly?”

        The unicorn shook his head, “The magics of the wind are as effortless for myself as they have always been. It was not a problem.”

        The princess nodded. Desert Wind had been a magic teacher many years ago. His special talent was the uncanny knack for wind and teleportation spells. He once traversed the entire Equestrian coast in a little over a week, without perishing from overuse of magic. A feat unrivaled by anypony in the last 30 years.

        She turned her head to the pegasus mare, neatly re-adjusting her papers on the desk, “And Peace Bloom.” The pegasus looked up and smiled, leaving her hooves together, “It has been a long time since we last spoke. How was your journey?”

        The diplomat readjusted her seating, shifting into a more comfortable position, “Short.” The lavender pegasus moved a strand of her deep blue mane out of her eye, “I happened to be bringing a report from Skymount when your messenger caught me in midflight.”

        Skymount was rather far west, on the far reaches of the mountains before the Buffalo Plains. The combination of lakes, rivers, and mountains in that area made the hills plush and green. It was an ideal location for weather production and was far away from what most pegasi now considered ‘tainted skies’. Instead of rebuilding Cloudsdale after the war, the remaining survivors, their families, and many pegasi living abroad made an exodus for the great mountain. There were numerous reasons for rebuilding in that particular location, but most were not important to the rest of the inhabitants of Equestria.

        Their participation was crucial - especially since many pegasi had been killed in the short civil war.

        “I appreciate you staying longer, despite the missions your city set for you.”

        The guards at the front of the room closed the doors. Any of the ponies who had been mingling with other diplomats made their way back to their seats.

        “Thank you all for coming. It is of utmost importance that you understand the peril this world is in.” She stood up, looking down each of the leaders before continuing, “Three nights ago, one of the world’s oldest evils - Discord, Prince of Chaos - awoke and foalnapped my niece, Dawn.”

        The ponies in the room froze in place. Several of the other races diplomats spoke quietly with one another.

        Celestia held up a hoof to quiet them, “I know that for some of you, this doesn’t seem especially concerning. Historically, he has only been concerned with Equestria. I suspect this is no longer the case. His advisors have joined him in his awakening. No doubt, he will start influencing uprisings across the world to fit his need for utter chaos.”

        “Princess Celestia, I hardly see how this should be a concern for the Ryalik Empire. We are quite capable of defending our lands from bandits, thugs, and even armed invasions - not to say our relationship has or will ever fall to that point,” one of the gryphon diplomats spoke. He crossed his arms.

        “We are in a similar quandry,” spoke the Zebra diplomat. “Our people are scattered across our lands and there is little food and water beyond what it used to feed us.”

        “At the moment, your kingdoms are safe. But if he is not stopped as quickly as possible, Discord will expand his efforts to encompass your homes.” Celestia’s gaze softened, “I have no doubt he is enlisting Starfall’s former followers to promote his violent agenda. Unlike a disciplined army, they will not care about who or where they attack. They are also not concerned with resources - just control through chaos.”

        “You have my condolences for your loss, Princess. We will speak to the leaders of the Empire, but I expect these warnings will be unnecessary, as we are already well prepared. Expect contact in the upcoming days,” the gryphon bowed. Celestia nodded in return. The gryphon ambassadors left the room, leaving an awkward silence to linger in the air.

        “We will assist you as we are able. Although we may not fully understand the threat you speak of, we still have a duty to protect ourselves and our friends. We will send word when we reach the Elder Council. May you find what you seek, Princess Celestia.” The zebras also stepped out of the room, speaking in an unintelligible tongue.

        When the doors closed again, the Princess let out a sigh, “I truly hope that you are all ready for the unexpected. You may garner a militia if absolutely necessary, but I pray it won’t come to more violence.” She looked around the table at the extra space on the other end. After the civil war, three of the provinces split away from Equestria, claiming a need to self govern. Each province had its own personal reasoning, which was just a cover for their complicated political situations.

        “Princess?” Peace Bloom offered.

        “How ready are we overseas?” Celestia asked one of the other pegasi.

        He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, “We’re used to fighting monsters in the mountains, but nothing more than that. Starfall was too far away to affect us, so we don’t see any of his followers in the towns and cities.”

        “That just leaves the former provinces,” Peace Bloom said. “They were hit hard by the Civil War in terms of casualties. There is still a lot of discontent over some of the decisions made then. Which is why they left the kingdom. No doubt, there are plenty of ponies who are willing to fight with Discord.”

        “I agree. However, our first priority is to find Dawn. Destroying Discord is secondary,” Desert Wind hovered a glass of water to his lips.

        Nods of agreement passed around the table. Celestia closed her eyes, “Quick Wit, take a letter.”

        The unicorn stepped in front of

        “I, Princess Celestia, Ruler of Equestria, issue the following decree:

“Equestria’s greatest evil, Discord, Prince of Chaos, has been released, along with his advisors Cunning, Victory, Vengeance, and Darkest Hour. Each are wanted for high crimes against the Kingdom of Equestria, including murder, treason, and kidnapping.

“Any pony who sees these criminals must report them to the nearest guard or royal barracks. Any pony found to be assisting any of the aforementioned criminals are to be regarded with the same caution and held under the same accusations.

“If deemed necessary, guards and authorized individuals in all cities have permission to use lethal force against hostile individuals fitting this description. However, use extreme caution, as Discord and his compatriots may attempt to use hostages.

“The fate of Equestria hangs in the balance once more. I know you will do what is necessary to protect the Kingdom, and the world, from this looming darkness.”


Dawn slowly crawled along the metal surface, moving as carefully as possible as to not attract any attention. It would be very hard to explain why a filly - let alone a princess - was crawling along the air ducts.

Avoiding getting caught was precisely the reason why she was up there in the first place. She wasn't supposed to be on this adventure at all.. That aside, after being on a train for a full week, she had learned a lot - which included adding a few new stealth tricks to practice in the castle kitchens.

She peered down through the grate above the refrigerator. In the kitchen car, there were only two ponies - both were there to serve late night snacks. One was preparing a trolley cart with a few bottles of juice and some other bottle she vaguely recognized as being used to cook with. The other was devouring a croissant from the fridge.

"Jeez, isn't that the second one you've stuffed your face with? We've only been working for an hour!" The mare with the trolley cart gave the other a stern look.

The stallion peered back from the fridge, "Bud um hungur-"

"Ew! Don't talk with your mouth full. I shouldn't have to remind you of how disgusting that is-"

The stallion swallowed, "You do it too!"

"No I don't! I'm a lady, not a pig.  Secondly, if you had woken up on time you'd have been able to have dinner like the rest of the night shift. Now grab your cart. I don't want to be reprimanded for being lazy."

The stallion shut the fridge and opened one of the doors next to the sink. From within it, Dawn watched the other cart emerge, fully loaded.

The mare below snorted, "Actually, I'm amazed at how quickly you restock that thing."

The two ponies continued their chat as they slipped through the door into their sleeping quarters. Dawn waited until she heard the noise of the train on the tracks grew and then immediately faded. She let out a sigh of relief.

The grate swung open and the alicorn filly hopped out on top of the fridge. She swung open the door to the fridge and took a deep breath; climbing down was the hardest part. Using the various shelves on the door, she slowly lowered herself to the ground, careful not to knock over any of the bottles that sat near her hooves.

When she touched onto the ground, she bounded over to the nearest cabinet. Inside was an array of vegetables and fruits, neatly stacked on top of one another. She immediately reached for a carrot, sticking it right into her mouth. She flipped open the saddlebags she had "borrowed" from one of the packed bags. Anything she found to her liking she stuck in the bag: apples, oranges, celery, and of course, a bag of cookies. Since they refilled the food stores yesterday at the last station, there were so many of her favorite foods in her bags. It would even last her two whole days - something that was difficult to manage during the trip.

Dawn pushed the cabinets closed, humming happily to herself. She opened the fridge and began to lift herself and the bags towards the grate.

That's when she heard the sounds of muffled voices draw near once again. She scrambled up the shelves, nearly sending several glass bottles to their doom on the floor below. The bag made it into the air duct first, followed quickly by the young filly.

The door opened, with the mare storming inside first, "For Celestia's sake, how hard is it to just serve somepony without trying to hit on them!"

"I was not hitting on that mare! We were having polite conversation about fine wine-"

"Until you asked her if her parents were wine makers because she was 'so fine'."

Dawn raised her eyebrow in the air duct. Why would anypony assume somepony’s family made wine?

The stallion blushed and turned away, “It happens when I get nervous. You of all ponies know that.”

The mare sighed. She seemed to know all too well, but that didn’t stop her from being completely annoyed with him. As she pushed the cart towards the pantry, she ran right into the open refrigerator door. The waitress let out an exasperated sigh.

“How many times have I told you to make sure the refrigerator is closed? It doesn’t always shut if you try to kick it closed on the way out.”

The stallion muttered something under his breath, igniting a fresh round of bickering and nagging. It was the perfect cover for Dawn to crawl quietly down the air duct to the bathroom - right from where she came. It was at the very end of the car, closest to the baggage car where she’d been hiding out for a whole week. She dropped down onto the bathroom counter. With her teeth, she placed the hat she left behind - a brown and grey cabby hat she had found left loose in her train car. Whenever she had chanced being discovered, she donned the hat to cover up her horn, letting her walk by unnoticed - at least, that was the hope.

She pushed the door open a crack. The tight little hallway to the stewards’ bedroom was empty but filled with the noise of the train coming from the door around the corner. With out another moment of hesitation, she darted around the corner and slipped through the door into the baggage car. Dawn licked her lips.

Time for dinner.


Dawn lay on her back, patting her now filled stomach. She had devoured all of the carrots she had taken from the pantry, which was preceded by a few of the cookies as an early dessert. It didn't take long for her to fall into the state of bliss she was enjoying. She'd never be able to eat like this in the castle. "Proper" food portions never made her feel full and tired.

The filly dragged over a moving blanket from beside her, draping it over herself to keep warm. Despite the hot air blowing from the engine through all of the cars, being in the final car meant it was cold. Not as cold as outside, of course - but still cold enough to need one.

As she turned her head to stare at the ceiling, thoughts and questions flooded her brain. Much of her decision making had made perfect sense at the time. Now, however, she was terribly lonely.

It wasn't surprising, considering she had hid away in a baggage car for a whole week. She did find - and read - some of the books Twilight had packed away in her bag. She understood a good amount of the material, as it was mostly recent history. Without her sister around, she was able to read in peace without anypony finding out. The last thing she wanted was to be called a bookworm like her sister.

But there was one book that confused her out of all of the ones in the bag: a children's book. Twilight wasn’t a little filly any longer so she certainly had no need for it. It was also almost in perfect condition. She decided that it was finally time to take a look at the book.

Dawn rolled onto her stomach and reached forward into the bag. After fishing around for a moment, she pulled out the book and opened the front cover.

Realization hit her like a brick. There on the front cover was an early signature by none other than Twilight Sparkle. Just above that was a small slip of paper taped to the inside of the book:

To my wonderful daughters,

I hope you enjoy this book as much as I once did!

-Twilight Sparkle

        It was a gift. A gift to two ponies she hadn’t even met. Dawn was having trouble processing how to handle the situation. Her sister probably would have consulted a book about it, but she didn’t have a library with her on the train - even though Twilight seemed to pack one.

        Dawn shoved everything else back into the bag - food, books, anything she had taken out of the bag. She threw her saddlebags over her back and carefully packed her book inside. Adding the hat she wore earlier, she quietly moved into the food car.

        Instead of climbing into the air ducts, she tiphoofed her way into the steward’s bedroom. It was pretty easy to hear the two servers arguing again in the back room... again. She took that as an opportunity to dash across the room and slip into the next car.

        She had not explored this far during the entire week. It was risky to sneak out too far - she would be sent home if she was caught. Even with the hat, she would have a very difficult time trying to prove she was somepony else. But if by any luck, the cars were set up in a similar way, she figured it would be easy to get to the air ducts through the bathroom.

        When she entered the bathroom, she was relieved to find her hunch was correct. Up above her was another air duct similar to the one in the food car. Just as before, she used the soap and paper towel dispensers to reach the entrance. She grabbed hold of the grates and tugged as hard as she could. A low squeal responded as the grate swung down on its hinges.

        As she started crawling around inside, she noticed one major difference between the cars - this one had a whole lot more exits. Each room in the car seemed to have its own duct access in case they needed extra fresh air, making it a lot harder to find her destination.

        She spent her time moving down each of the exits, finding either empty rooms or sleeping ponies she didn’t recognize. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. Unfortunately, after about 15 minutes, she discovered that her target was not in this car.

        “Ponyfeathers,” she whispered.

        Dawn crawled back to the bathroom she entered from and snuck her way down the hallway - at a full gallop. There was no other way to get to the next car without being caught in the process. As she slid to a stop at the other end, she heard the door to the food car open. She flung the door open and crossed into the other car.

        She fled into the nearest bathroom - which was thankfully not occupied at this hour - and scrambled hurriedly into the duct system. She closed the grate and stayed still. The door opened below.

        “I told you. You’re just seeing things again. Now just focus on the rooms we need to serve, alright? It’s late and I want to be in bed soon.”

        The door closed. Dawn stayed put for a little while longer. Her heart was pounding from the adrenaline and fear of getting discovered. Gradually her breathing eased back to normal. Once she was sure the pony wasn’t coming back in, she let out a sigh of relief and continued down the ducts.

        The first couple of rooms in this car were a complete bust. In the first room, there were several extra blankets and pillows stacked on the bed, but nothing else. The second and third cars were neatly prepared for the next guests to use. The fourth room was also empty, but from there, she could hear snoring from the next room. Quietly she slid her way to the edge and peered inside.

        Below, covered in an apple-patterned blanket, was Applejack. She was sleeping peacefully in her bed, both hooves tucked neatly beneath her. Her hat hung on the rack at the edge of the bed. Her mane was already becoming a tangled mess as she turned to face the wall.

        Dawn crawled over to the room opposite Applejack’s. Her Aunt Rainbow was sprawled out on her back, snoring. The blanket was already half on the floor and the pillow was squat on top of her face. It did nothing to quiet the snoring, however. Dawn giggled a little bit before moving to the next room.

        She was surprised to find Thunder Cloud still wearing part of his uniform as he slept. His shoes and helmet were neatly set up at the foot of the bed on top of the provided footlocker. She had a feeling she knew who was in the next room.

        When she peered through the next grate, she found Twilight still wide awake on her bed, reading to herself by candlelight. Rather, that’s what she saw at first glance. Twilight placed the book in the drawer and lay her head down on the pillow. Now that she faced towards Dawn, it was clear she had not been reading.

        Tears streamed down the mare’s face. She looked exhausted - as if she hadn’t slept in days. The purple unicorn pulled the covers over her head and faced the opposite wall in an attempt to muffle her sobs.

        Dawn wanted desperately to comfort her mother. She hated when anypony was upset, let alone a family member. Sure, she didn’t know her like she did Luna, but Twilight was still her mother. But Dawn hesitated. She was torn between watching Twilight in agony or revealing herself and getting sent home at the next stop.

        The filly buried her head in her hooves, trying not to listen to Twilight cry herself to sleep.


        “How sad.”

        Cunning leaned back in Bright Light’s office chair, watching the young filly doing her best not to cry. Dawn was his favorite to watch on these late evenings. So was Twilight, although watching a pony read a book for ten hours straight was enough to make him want to turn himself in to Celestia - almost.

        This particular night just happened to be important to him. He glanced over at the map spread out on the desk. Several routes of travel had been marked with different colored ink, most of which were in the northern end of the map. Little known to Twilight and her companions, they had recently crossed the border into the now autonomous Northern Provinces. Essentially they had passed the point of no return.

        This wouldn’t have been the case if the diplomats had listened to reason. Had the Northern Provinces heeded Celestia’s warnings, they would be all too prepared to observe any Equestrian transportation or merchant caravan.

        “Darkest Hour?”

        A dark gray Unicorn’s face appeared on the surface of the water in Cunning’s scrying bowl. His mane was a stark white, neatly slicked back into a tight braid. He also had a short beard with speckles of light gray mixed in with the white.

        “Yes, Cunning,” the unicorn responded.

        “I believe the cultists are getting restless?”

        The unicorn nodded.

        “Excellent. I believe its time for you to stop a train. Celestia expects Miss Sparkle to approach the dragons through pony lands. I need her to take much longer.”

        “As you wish.”

        His face disappeared from the bowl.

        “Vengeance. Victory.”

        Two images floated to the surface. In both there was a clear crowd in their area. It would be strange if they talked to no one in particular.

        “Vengeance, bring Manehatten to its knees.” Her image disappeared from the bowl, “Victory, I don’t have to tell you how upset Gryffons get when their territory is raided. Don’t get too close - yet.”

        Cunning waved a hoof over the water, stifling the magic within it. He gave a quaint yawn, before walking towards Bright Light’s quarters. He would have wonderful dreams tonight.


        Dawn awoke with a start. She wasn’t sure when she had fallen asleep, nor for how long. Judging by the pitch black sky showing through the window below, she assumed it hadn’t been long. Below, Twilight was fast asleep. No evidence remained of her crying just a few hours ago. That didn’t stop Dawn from wanting to comfort her mother.

        As quietly as she could, Dawn lowered the grate from the air duct, letting it swing slightly on its hinges. Using whatever was available for hoofholds, she made her way down to the floor. She opened the hoof

locker at the end of the bed.

        Inside the hooflocker, she rummaged around for Twilight’s saddlebags. She slipped the book out of and placed in her mother’s saddlebags. A smile crept up on her face. Hopefully that would cheer her up since she still couldn’t do that just yet.

        Dawn got ready to climb back into the ducts but stopped herself. She walked over to the bed and raised herself onto her tiphooves. She gently kissed Twilight on the cheek.

“Feel better mommy,” she whispered.

        Twilight shifted a little under the blankets, freezing Dawn in place. A smile formed on Twilight’s face. Dawn turned away from the bed and walked back to where she climbed down.

        The train shook violently to the side. Dawn was tossed haphazardly at the bed, slamming her head into the wood. Twilight was similarly flung into the nearest wall from the force, before landing roughly on the mattress. Dawn recovered slowly, crawling under the bed in a last ditch attempt to hide.

        The unicorn landed right on the floor beside her, face down on the carpet.

        “Ugh...” Twilight muttered to herself, rubbing her head. Her vision swam, focusing in and out as she righted herself. It was a futile attempt, however, as the train slammed on its brakes. She slid to the far end of the room, hitting her side against the wall with a dull thud.

        Dawn rolled out from under the bed. She grabbed onto the leg of the bed to keep herself from plowing into the unicorn.

        Twilight screamed. She hadn’t noticed anyone enter the room before she had gone to sleep. Her first reaction to the filly brought her to the image of a burglar or some destitute orphan like in Olive Twist. She tried to raise defensive magic, but a swift shock from her horn restraints reminded her that she was.

        The filly lost her grip and tumbled across the floor as her hat flew off of her head.

        A horn? Twilight thought. Only alicorns have horns, but there are only four and two are-

        She shook her head back and forth, trying to clear the image from her mind. It had to be a hallucination - there were only two alicorn fillies in Equestria and they were both hers. Besides, she would know if the filly was hers - hopefully.

Her head throbbed once more. The pain in her head seemed to be contributing to her hallucinations. She felts something tap against her leg. When she opened her eyes, the filly had rolled to a complete stop against her hooves.        

        When she opened her eyes, she noticed the blood in the filly’s mane and her rational mind dove out the window. Her forelegs wrapped around the filly’s body, bringing her into a gentle embrace. All she could focus on was keeping this filly- no, her daughter safe. The very sight of the injury pained her greatly, forcing the adrenaline to pour into her system.

        The train was slammed into again knocking Twilight and her foal through the door and into the hallway. Sounds from the brakes suddenly stopped. Twilight had a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach as she felt the train start to roll off of the tracks. She squeezed Dawn as tightly as she could while the train began its reckless rolling down the slope beside the track.

        It vaguely reminded Twilight of a washing machine. Except in this case, she had the utmost displeasure of being the clothing inside. The irony of the thought wasn’t lost on her as she rolled along with the train.

        Mercifully, it only took a few seconds for the train to stop rolling around and come to a definitive halt. Twilight lay against the wall opposite her room, holding tightly onto her filly, who had long since passed out in her forelegs. The door beside her burst open. Applejack hauled herself out of her room into the now sideways hall.

        “Twi’? You alri-” Applejack’s face went pale. Dawn was certainly not supposed to be here. A derailed train was probably one of the worst possible things that could have happened on the trip in pony lands. There were much worse things that could happen out in the field. She swallowed, still a little shocked, “Issat... Dawn?”

        “I don’t know! She’s... she’s barely breathing and she’s bleeding all over the place and I don’t know what to do!” Twilight screamed. She was in a full on panic mode, trying desperately to think of something.

        “Oh, sweet Celestia are we in it deep.”

        The door to Rainbow Dash’s room opened, hanging by its hinges. Rainbow Dash touched down on the opposite wall, “What the hay are you talking about, AJ? Dawn is in Canterlot, not-” she stared at Twilight, then at the filly in her arms, “totally here in the middle of a train wreck.”

        Applejack looked at Rainbow with concern.

        Rainbow sighed, “You’re right AJ. We’re bucked.”

        “Find the spy! The ‘Princess’ will rue the day she thought she could pull the clouds over our eyes. Kill everypony else. Their blood is on her hands!”

        Thunder Cloud barrelled through the door of his room, his armor gleaming in the dim emergency lights. He landed by the frantic unicorn, eyeing the young princess with mix of worry and exasperation. The sounds of screams filled the air, mixed by the distinctive thud of hooves on to of the train.

        “They likely have us surrounded,” Thunder Cloud announced. “You need to hide, now.

        “Where? In case you haven’t noticed, there aren’t any hiding spaces on a tipped over train!” Rainbow said, raising her voice.

        The window in Twilight’s room shattered, as a unicorn dropped down into the hallway. Thunder Cloud moved swiftly, using his wings to slide across the hall until he was right in front of the intruder. With one swipe of his wing, the unicorn swayed and slumped over, dead.

        The three of them stared at the guard, who tossed a key which landed in front of Twilight, “My priority is the safety of the princess above all else. For lack of any better option, I am releasing you to heal her and protect her as only a mother can.” He held a faint smile on his face, “Hide. I will give you the chance to go unnoticed. I’m sorry I won’t be able to come with you.”

        “Thunder Cloud...” Rainbow knew that look on his face. Everypony in Cloudsdale had that look on their face just before they were forced into battle. It was the look of a pony who knew he was going to die, but was determined to make it mean something.

        “May Celestia’s light shine upon me, her wrath blind my enemies, for in the name of the three tribes we are destined to fight together or fall to blind hatred...” He took flight through the broken window.

        The three ponies just stared after him, almost entranced by the determination behind his words. Applejack slumped against the wall, sliding down onto her rump. She was badly shaken by Thunder Cloud’s actions - specifically the speed at which he took the cultist’s life.

Rainbow didn’t hesitate any longer. She took the key in her teeth and fumbled around the restraint to find the lock. Only Twilight could heal Dawn and get them out of this mess.

With a dull thud, the restraint fell to the floor, startling Applejack from her stupor. She watched the magic flow freely from Twilight’s horn, slowly encompassing her daughter and filling the hallway with light. Tendrils of magic spread outward still, reaching out for Rainbow and herself. Applejack’s heart sank into her stomach.

Oh, Celestia no, Applejack thought. The earth pony did her best to back up from what she thought was her worst fear - something controlling Twilight Sparkle. She was engulfed anyway and she let out a small whimper before closing her eyes.


        The room was still dark when Twilight awoke, huddled neatly beneath a blanket. To either side of her were Rainbow Dash and Applejack and her daughter Dawn rested peacefully in her hooves. During the night they moved into one of the empty rooms towards the center of the train. Her invisibility illusion managed to ward off any suspicion that they were on the train.

        But it made Applejack nervous. Twilight frowned at the thought, looking over at the farm pony.

        Applejack had never been comfortable with her wild displays of magic before - the incident during winter wrap up, the aftermath of the parasprite infestation, and - although she never voiced it - Twilight suspected her timely removal of the Ursa Minor made her friend a little uneasy.

        But this time, it was more apparent than ever. The suspicion was well founded, of course - coming back from the dead doesn’t usually happen. Being paired off with frequent attacks and plots by loyal followers of Starfall didn’t help, nor did blowing up a hospital room. In general, any magical outburst or use of magic made Applejack nervous.

        Last night she lost some of her well trained control because of a very unexpected stowaway.

        Almost as if on cue, Dawn shifted in her sleep, nestling against her coat. The purple unicorn sighed, a nervous frown forming on her features.

        A rare occurrence in her life, Twilight had absolutely no clue what to do. Her first approach at the topic of being a mother was through books. Most of the ones she had taken out of the library were pretty basic - there were no deep explanations on what parenting would really be like. Just a bunch of rough guidelines meant for somepony who was ready. Well, more ready than her, at least.

The later volumes included far more in depth looks at parents in separated situations. It was the closest thing she could really find to her own problem. Its not everyday a pony dies and comes back a few years later like nothing had even happened. Needless to say, these books were almost as useless as the first.

Her second approach was to reflect on her parents during her own childhood. Looking back, she was a relatively tame and studious child. Her parents were always supportive of her and as every parent does, gave her a high level of care and attention.

The purple mare rolled her eyes. Those are the obvious expectations, she thought. Still... Her eyes drifted back down to the filly in her hooves.

Dawn slept soundly, her breathing steady and quiet. She was as close as she could possibly get to Twilight without becoming permanently attached. It gave her peace of mind to see Dawn safe and sound.

She blushed. Was this part of that feeling of being a mom?

A loud snore broke her thoughts, as Rainbow turned over on her side, now facing Twilight. She couldn’t help but giggle a little at her friend. Dash’s snoring would rival Spike’s any day of the week.

Spike... she thought solemnly. Princess Celestia had been rather brief about how Spike had moved on, or rather, if he moved on at all. In all respects, he was like her little brother. She couldn’t imagine how badly her death had hurt him. With so much distance still between them, every time she thought about him stung her even more.

Twilight shifted a little to get more comfortable. All she knew is that she desperately needed more sleep. She let herself slip back into her dreams.


        The fireplace crackled in the moonlight in the ancient city. Luna had her wing neatly wrapped around Twilight’s body, shielding her from the cold behind her. It was the night before they ended this war. Twilight slid closer into Luna’s embrace.

        There were a lot of things on her mind. Would their plan work? How would the rest of Equestria accept a Princess with another mare? What about her foals - their foals?

        Luna must have caught wind of her nervousness because she pulled tighter with her open wing. She placed her head on Twilight’s, “Everything will turn out fine, Twilight.”

        Before she could stop herself, Twilight blurted out, “But what if it doesn’t? I don’t know if I can even last against guards, let alone other Unicorns.”

        Luna closed her eyes, “I believe in you. I know you can do it. You know we don’t have any other choice.”

        “How can you be so- Oh,” Twilight’s mind flicked back to their Sharing. Her cheeks flushed and she shied away a little, “Right.”

        A small silence passed between them. Both ponies watched the fire burn, shifting in a gentle breeze.

        “You have questions,” Luna said.

        Twilight nodded.

        “My sister re-wrote history for a reason, Twilight. I know far less of the story than I feel comfortable with even now, but I trust her judgement. I’m sure she will tell you. But I have nothing else I can add. You’ve seen it.”

        Twilight gave a weak smile. She had seen it, but they came in her sleep - nightmares from an age long forgotten. She hoped she would get more sleep tonight, but she doubted it.


The storm picked up in its ferocity as they continued onwards. They had been walking for hours away from the wreck. Originally they had intended to walk back to a spot further up the tracks, but the low visibility had them completely lost.

"Twilight, isn't there some spell you can use to get us out of the storm?" Rainbow asked. She had already tried to knock it down a couple of notches, but it seemed that the weather was left to be natural in Celestia's absence. Her attempts were obviously less than successful in subduing the storm

"I can barely use my magic, Rainbow. I could probably do it if we had a chance to rest first. But-" Twilight looked around. Through the white of the storm, she couldn't even make out any landscapes. It was just an endless set of white.

Rainbow frowned. Twilight was pushing herself really hard just to keep them safe. Her cheeks flushed red and she shied her head away. There was no reason her expectations should be so high. But Twilight always had a magical answer to everything. That's part of why she liked the unicorn.

        Dash shoved that thought as deep into the back of her head as possible. This was not the time or place to be thinking about things like that. It completely undermined any alertness she needed to display. She needed to watch out for anything that could just pop out of the snowstorm without warning. Her eyes scanned the horizon, but it did no good. It was like staring at blank paper no matter where she looked.

        “Is it just me, or does it seem to be getting worse?” Rainbow asked.

        Applejack nodded, “Sure does seem that way. Hold up, girls.” She rummaged through her bags, producing a rope. She looped it around Rainbow’s waist, giving it a good yank to make sure it was tight, “Now, in case we can’t see each other, this here rope will connect us all together. Got it?”

        The others nodded. Applejack tightened the knots around herself and the other ponies, before nodding. Twilight smiled sheepishly, before continuing on through the storm.

        It didn’t take long until they couldn’t see a thing in front of them. The snow shrouded everything to five feet in front, then three, then eventually none. At its worst, they couldn’t see the tips of their noses.

But that wasn’t Rainbow’s biggest concern. She was shivering from the cold - the snow had completely soaked through her jacket and into her coat. It was pretty much useless in this kind of weather.

        They pushed on for what seemed like hours. Every step that they took the storm howled against them. Wind whipped at their faces as they marched, while snow piled so quickly they would get stuck if they stopped moving.

        Rainbow Dash was starting to lose consciousness. She stumbled forward as she trudged on through the storm, occasionally swaying to the side. Once, she almost fell to the ground. The only thing stopping her was pure will. There was no way that she would simply lay down and die because of a storm. What would her friends do without her? What would Twilight do? What about the twins?

        She felt the snow and wind stop quite suddenly. Through her blurred vision, she noticed a small cottage sitting in the snow before her. Muffled noise filled her ears, accompanied by a large purple blur that entered her vision from the side. She assumed it was Twilight. All she really cared about was how tired she was. Sleep gently dragged her away from the world of ice, bringing her to a sunny ocean shore.


        Cunning leaned back in Bright Light’s office chair. His features reflected a sense of deep concentration. Though he paid little attention to the scrying bowl on the desk, his mind was focused on its most recent discovery.

        His ace in the hole for throwing off and elongating the young Twilight Sparkle’s journey was a bit more paranoid than he expected. Cunning had planned for his attempts at secrecy - wrangling a storm using his unicorn magic and using a magnet spell to draw the unsuspecting travelers in - but he had not planned for a complex spell that blocked any attempts to scry on anypony within a certain area. His new little pawn, Stormbreaker, must have been in more trouble than he thought.

        Trouble was always exploitable.

        While he was well researched in current events in Equestria, outer provinces had been difficult to get to. Leaving to go to a former state would have been suspicious in his new ponysona. Even with gaining Celestia’s trust in the last several years, it wouldn’t be enough to warrant a leave of absence. Getting researchers and insiders was even harder. Most of them were already dead.

        The thing he did know was that the political situation tended to change frequently, usually ending in the violent and suspiciously unquestioned deaths of the former leaders. This seemed like the best reasoning for the unicorn’s solitude. Since Stormbreaker was a war hero, the government couldn’t just kill him - thus his cottage in exile.

        Cunning relaxed a bit in the chair. Forcing them out of pony lands would be quite simple. Assuming that his pawn had been long out of politics from the war, the general public had forgotten his existence. Thus any attempt on his life would now go unnoticed.

        He began to gather his magic, focusing on the bowl. But he didn’t get far.

        There was a knock on the door.

        With expert precision, he changed the course of his spell, transforming himself back into the Headmaster. A pair of glasses floated onto the bridge of his snout, as he adjusted a few papers with his hooves. He continued, removing the sound proofing spell from the walls and the door.

        “Come in,” he called. The doors opened. Two of Celestia’s personal guards entered the room, one of which was carrying a scroll under his wing. Bright Light gingerly rose from his desk, “How may I be of service, Sirs?”

        The guard pulled the scroll from the crook of his wing. Despite his feigned innocence, Bright Light knew exactly why they were here. It ensured that the guards still had a job to do, other than fly around aimlessly.

        “Princess Celestia requests your presence this afternoon on a matter most important. She would like you to arrive promptly at 3:00 in the Throne Room,” the guard spoke. He rolled the scroll back up and walked forward to Bright Light’s desk, “Included is a message for your eyes only, Headmaster.”

        Bright Light raised an eyebrow. It was quite unusual for the Princess to send private letters, though certainly not unheard of in certain instances of history. Cunning restrained from smiling in his disguise, floating the letter onto his desk for later. History was being written today. Something big was going to happen.

        “Thank you, sirs. You may tell the Princess that I graciously accept her invitation. I am looking forward to it.”

        Especially the part where I write history.


        The throne room doors opened as Bright Light was led into the room. Celestia was sitting in her chair speaking quietly to Quick Wit and Desert Wind. Quick Wit was hastily writing on her scroll, occasionally scratching out whole sections of her work. The look of frustration on her face was clouded by the stress she was clearly under.

        Desert Wind seemed to be discussing something with the Princess - quite informally. Bright Light raised an eyebrow, masking the slightest bit of concern Cunning had for that interaction. Still, it was nothing to be worried about.

        Celestia noticed Bright Light as he ended his approach to the throne. He bowed deeply, which Celestia returned with a smile.

        “Thank you gentlecolts. You may leave,” Celestia said. The guards bowed before they walked out of the room and shut the door. “There’s no need for formalities today Bright Light. We can’t afford them. There is a much bigger problem at hoof.”

        Bright Light was a little taken aback at the worried, even paranoid, look on her face. Her voice wavered from some kind of stress she was under. He almost let out a knowing smile, but instead hovered a small glass vial of thick blue liquid onto the ground in front of him.

        “Does that have to do with why you requested a fresh brew of scrying liquid from me?” Bright Light asked. He also removed his own personal scrying bowl, placing it beside the vial.

        “Quite,” Desert Wind nodded. “We have both tried finding the locale of the Princess’ student, as well as the location of her daughter, but have been so far unsuccessful. It seems that the serum was sabotaged. When I went back to get some of my own, I found my home to be ransacked and the city on high alert.”

        Well done, Vengeance, Cunning thought. He knew that Celestia would immediately try to find her niece. When he was dragged out of bed in the early hours of the morning to assist the Princess, she forced him to scry her location. Of course it was Dawn in a burlap bag, but when Celestia insisted on widening the search, he pushed in Discord’s image before poisoning the liquid’s potency.

        Instead of going to him for more, she asked Desert Wind. At first, he was concerned he would have to intervene and subdue her once more, as his control was far from complete. But to his surprise, she sent guards to protect him, concerned Discord was trying to kill him to weaken her. He played his role expertly - accepting the gracious concern but emphasizing he wasn’t in any danger. She insisted rather forcefully, so he played the part of the submissive Headmaster and backed off. In the meantime, he had sent Vengeance far south before she made her way back to cause havoc on the Equestrian borders.

        “Is the city safe?” Bright Light asked.

        “For now,” Desert Wind sighed, furrowing his brow. “Discord’s ability to be everywhere at once through Starfall’s followers  is making it rather difficult-”

        “I understand,” Bright Light interrupted. “However, you are underestimating the problem. Starfall has long been dead. His followers are now Discord’s minions. In not recognizing that, you are still stuck to tried and true ways to fight a completely different monster.”

        Desert Wind tried to return his sharp assessment, but Bright Light held up a hoof.

        “I meant no offense, Desert Wind. We can discuss how to solve that another time. But for now, we have a more important task.”

        The elder unicorn nodded, “Later, then. Princess?”

        Celestia still hovered the vial  in front of her, thoroughly inspecting it with her magic. Her eyes opened and she let out a sigh of relief. With a curt nod, Bright Light and Desert Wind took up positions on opposite sides of the room.

        “Quick Wit,” Celestia said. The unicorn nearly jumped out of her skin, but managed to regain her composure enough to listen. “Stand by the doors. You will need to lend some of your magic to them,” Celestia’s face hardened, solidifying a look of angry determination. “I will not be hindered again.”

        Bright Light and Desert Wind winced a little. The steel in the Princess’ voice was... unsettling. Desert shuffled his hooves uncomfortably. Bright Light shied away from her gaze. Cunning was smiling as wide as he could manage in his mind. Paranoia and determination made a great combination.

        Fortunately, neither of them were in Quick Wit’s horseshoes. She half walked, half ran to the doors, desperate to get away from Celestia’s potential wrath. Her eyes stayed fixed on the floor.

        “You may begin.”

        The floor rumbled and peeled away at the slightest touch of Celestia’s magic. Tiles slid underneath one another, packing neatly away under each new layer. A golden bowl rose to meet the new opening sliding tightly into place. It was completely empty, leaving it to shine in the brightly lit room.

        At the same time, the three unicorns poured their magic around them, shaping it to cover themselves and the princess. It grew, slowly taking shape as one great dome. Quick Wit was already feeling the strain from the initial shaping. Sweat beaded on her forehead and she could feel her muscles strain against the invisible weight the enormous spell had created. When it solidified, she felt the weight lessen as the two others shared the weight.

        Celestia poured the liquid over the bowl. As the liquid reached the height of the rim, it spread out as though the tiled floor was still present. It swirled around into a tight disc, hovering just above its new container.

        “O’ clear skies, with Gryphon’s sight, reveal to me the one I seek,” Celestia spoke. Her voice was sweet but determined. The sound reverberated from the pool, sending ripples out from the center. “Show me Dawn, Daughter of Luna, Princess of Equestria.”

        The water changed color to become a solid white. The unicorns looked on, waiting for the Princess’ reaction.

        Celestia’s eyebrow twitched, showing the only break in her questionable composure, “Discord seems to have better planning this time. Scrying will do nothing now for Dawn.”

        Cunning could see the look of frantic confusion in her eyes. While on the outside she was still just as strong, she was mentally beating herself up for some hurt her former love had caused. Bright Light’s lips moved into the slightest of frowns. Anger was welling up behind his own facade.

        She couldn’t possibly... he thought.

        “What about your former student?” Desert Wind asked, trying to break the growing silence.

        Celestia seemed to move back to a state of calm. She took a deep breath before responding, “She still is my student. Returning from death doesn’t stop me from picking up where I left off. But that isn’t the answer you are looking for.”

        Desert Wind swallowed hard, “No-”

Cunning sensed his opportunity and pounced on it. While the elder unicorn was stumbing with his words, Bright Light cleared his throat, “If I may?” Desert Wind nodded and stayed silent. “Thunder Cloud accompanied the elements of Honesty, Loyalty, and Magic on their journey. Considering the current circumstances and the concerns you originally had, I believe I speak for us both when we express some concern in their well being. It is highly likely that Discord will have discovered their trip from his new minions that resurrected her.”

Celestia’s face scrunched up in confusion for a few moments, before her features fell flat. Color drained from her face as realization sunk in.

She sent two of the Elements of Harmony into Discord’s playing field.

“Show me the unicorn Twilight Sparkle, student of Princess Celestia.” The water rippled once more, but its surface stayed a stark white, “Show me Applejack, Element of Honesty. Show me Rainbow Dash Element of Loyalty! SHOW ME THUNDER CLOUD!!”

The last command sent the white surface awash with dull colors. The scene was rather mundane - the center street of some small border town. It moved with one particular pony, trying very hard not to be seen, or rather, not to draw unusual attention to himself. He slipped down an alleyway, moving as silently as he could.

The four of them continued to watch as he made his way a little way out of town before hopping onto a passing train.

“Desert Wind? Are those the colors of the North-South Equestria Grand Line?” Bright Light asked. He knew the answer, long before the elder unicorn responded.

“No,” Desert Wind replied.

“I’m assuming he has no intention of coming back.”


Celestia stared at the three other unicorns, before focusing her gaze on Desert Wind. “Bring Thunder Cloud to me. Alive.”


        The clock on the wall softly clicked out the seconds in the small room. Along the back wall was a stone fireplace sending heat to the cottage. Pictures, degrees, even trophies hung on the wall, or stayed pristine on the shelves in the room. A small mirror hung in the center just above the fireplace.

        The other walls in the room had a few bits and pieces of artwork hanging as decoration, but compared to the wall of fame, it was barren. A table occupied the center of the room with four chairs tightly fit around it. Three doorways marked the only ways out of the room - a bedroom, a bathroom, and a small room encompassing the front door. That entryway was covered by a long pair of blankets to keep the heat in of the central room.

        Needless to say, the house was not meant for more than two or three ponies. Now, much to the owner’s dismay, there were six, including a young princess.

        Two of these ponies sat across from each other in complete silence. Twilight was on one end, wrapped tightly in a spare blanket. She floated up her rather strong cup of tea and took another big swig before setting it back on its saucer.

        It was one of the more peculiar situations she had been thrust into lately - though not nearly the strangest. The owner of the cottage she had met once - Stormbreaker - one of the most famed unicorns before and during the war for his feats of magical stamina. He had graciously taken them into his home - after checking if she was, in fact, Twilight Sparkle. But she had never expected to be once again face to face with none other than Trixie.

        The blue unicorn drank from her own cup of tea, absentmindedly stirring the contents around while she seemed to stare off at nowhere. Her hat and cape were absent, letting her long mane hang around her neck.

        Perfect for the weather, Twilight thought.

        She heard somepony coming up the stairs in the other room. Stormbreker appeared from inside, hovering a large cauldron to hang over the fireplace.

        “It’s been a while since we’ve had guests. I had plenty of food for some potato and onion stew. It’ll be ready in about an hour,” he said, smiling.

        “Thank you,” Twilight said. She was starving.

        Stormbreaker nodded, before going back into his room and down the stairs.

        The former silence dominated the room once more. Twilight lazily stirred the remains of her teacup before swallowing the rest of it. A light blue aura took hold of the tea kettle by the fireplace, floating it to the table.

        “I don’t intend to be rude,” Trixie began. She poured some fresh tea into Twilight’s cup before topping off her own. The kettle set back down in its former holster, “But I never thought I would see you again. I was pretty convinced you were dead.”

        Twilight was a little baffled at her politeness - though the blunt approach to the topic at first, very much screamed ‘Trixie’. She dropped two cubes of sugar into her tea, “I was.”

        Trixie looked more confused than apprehensive, “I see...” She raised the tea cup to her lips, drinking the whole thing at once. “I’m sure you weren’t expecting me to be here.”

        “No,” Twilight answered immediately. She cringed, realizing her faux pas far too late to correct it. Silence passed between them for a moment, both hesitating to continue. Twilight was first to do so. “What happened to your... uhm...”

        “Attire?” Trixe guessed. She sighed, setting her cup down on the table, “In my trunk downstairs with all my other old performance materials.”

        Twilight raised an eyebrow. “All of them?”

        Trixie shifted a little uncomfortably in her chair. A small pause passed between them, as she pursed her lips together, finding the best way to answer her. She cleared her throat, “It’s a long story... but I suppose we have time.” Her eyes looked over at the pot of soup hanging over the fire.

        Twilight moved around in the chair to get more comfortable.

        Trixie waked over to the pot of soup. The cover lifted into the air, allowing the spoon to stir the contents underneath. “After the incident with the Ursa Minor, I went on with my career as an entertainer out west. By the end of the winter, I ended up in Seaddle with no money and no career. The Great and Powerful Trixie ceased to be.”

        Twilight felt the weight of the words begin to weigh on her shoulders. Trixie noticed her change in mood, “It wasn’t your fault. The show had been going downhill for a while.” She took her seat once more, hovering the tea kettle over to refresh their cups.

        “So...” Twilight started. “What did you do?”

        “I went back to Hoofington. I stayed there until spring when my friends couldn’t afford to put me up any longer. I spent the summer wandering the northern cities before ending up in Stalliongrad. I took whatever was left of my savings and went back to school. I harbored quite a grudge towards you.

        “But as I studied, I became more consumed by it. I became isolated and angry. My grades started to slip, the more I continued on like that. I was desperate to return more powerful than before. It was selfish and rather stupid of me.

        “Things changed with the war. I enlisted almost immediately, still hungry for power. I was on the frontlines outside of Manehatten, when I witnessed what I was becoming first hoof.”

Trixie went silent once more, a pained expression on her face. Twilight had an idea of what she was talking about. She had witnessed Starfall’s power before. A chill ran down her spine. There was no way she could imagine it being worse.

The cup in front of Trixie floated up to her lips, shaking a bit as it did so. It settled back into its saucer without a problem and Trixie continued, “Then... you died.

“Everything I was working towards fell apart around me. What was the point? I was only studying to show you up and publicly, at that. My purpose in life had become a quest for revenge. I would never have that.

“But in that loss of purpose, I was given a second chance. Stormbreaker offered to become my teacher after he returned to Stalliongrad, since I saved his hide once or twice. I’ve been his student since. Well...” Trixie rubbed the back of her head with her hoof. A blush rose on her cheeks and she turned away, “A little more than that.”

Twilight blushed a little as well, knowing quite clearly her meaning. She looked back over into her host’s bedroom, remembering her own daughter was sleeping soundly downstairs with the others. “Do you two...”

“One on the way,” Trixie smiled. “Only found out a week ago.”

“Congratulations!” Twilight replied happily.

Trixie beamed with pride, “Thank you. We waited for a long time to get passes to go back south before making the leap. Still, we have to go through Gryphon lands to get across the border. Immigrating is almost impossible now.”

Twilight looked at her quizzically. They had almost no problem crossing the border, minus the train crash. She assumed it was not the same going the other way around.

Stormbreaker walked back through the door, knocking lightly before entering, “Sorry to interrupt ladies, but I think the soup should be ready. Hungry?”

The two unicorns smiled at one another. Twilight looked up at Stormbreaker, “Quite.”



        A small blast of magic knocked a bottle off of the table it was neatly placed on top of. Several others were placed in a row beside it, each in the path of a new student.


        Another bottle flew off the table in a shower of sparks.


        The next bottle didn’t fall off so easily.


        The bottle barely made it off of the table.


        This time, the magic only managed to slide it back an inch or two, before dissipating.

        In tandem with the last strike, Dusk collapsed onto the floor, absolutely exhausted. She was only a week into her training with Bright Light and she had poured her all into whatever came at her.

        Every day, they went for a light jog in the gardens to improve their physical stamina. They increased their pace twice since then, turning into a run rather than a jog. While the activity was still fresh in their muscles, he would have her float as many objects as possible, without dropping them. She had added a book or two to her previous best, but she couldn’t hold it for more than a minute before her magic reached its limit.

        Without letting up, he taught her some of the very basics of magic - how it was used, how unicorns manipulated it, and even how other ponies used magic. She had already read much on basic magic before, but was startled to learn that pegasi and earth ponies used magic too. The explanation took the whole week to actually get across. So unfortunately, she hadn’t learned much she didn’t already know.

        Usually, that was when she would have lunch. Under his watchful gaze they ate in the garden. Once or twice Celestia joined them for a few minutes, before returning to her court. Dusk really enjoyed being able to see her aunt, since it was still painful to pay visits to her mother. Luna was now seen walking about the castle on a regular basis, but she was a former shell of what she once was. She was a broken mare. One of her lunches ended early when she was forced to console another of Luna’s breakdowns, leading her back to her room. Needless to say, she didn’t continue onto the last half of her studies.

        Otherwise, Bright Light had the task of teaching her what she would be learning in Ponyville - Math, Science, History, and of course, Equestrian Language. She was already quite a bit ahead of her former classmates due to her reading, but with Bright Light in charge, she was swallowing information at mindblowing speeds... except for Equestrian Language. Her hoof writing was quite terrible, usually unreadable. On several occasions, Brght Light had to visit her former teacher, Cheerilee, just to get her to translate what Dusk had written. He still wasn’t completely used to it and to his dismay, she wasn’t getting much better.

        It was a relief that her last task was magic control. Unlike the endurance tests in the morning, she was learning how to project her magic and give it shape. All she could manage at the moment were short bursts of raw magic - nothing like a spell at all, which disappointed her. However, Bright Light explained that it would measure how efficient she could release that energy by lowering the amount she used, but still being able to knock the bottles off of the table.

        She could still only manage five light, empty bottles. Maybe one full one if she focused very hard.

        “Only... five...?” Dusk panted.

        Bright Light nodded, “Yes, Dusk. But you were very close to six today! Its quite astonishing how fast your abilities are progressing. You should be proud.”

        The filly managed to rise to a sitting position. She was breathing more normally now, “But... It was only five!”

        Bright Light smiled at her, “Now, Dusk. You know that these things take time. Nopony expects you to be a master of everything in a week. Not even you,” he said, poking her cheek with a hoof for emphasis.

        She pouted, puffing her cheeks in distaste.

        “You have done wonderfully today. Why don’t we finish early?” Bright Light asked. He began to clean up some of the loose papers and diagrams he had brought for the day, stuffing them into his saddlebags.

        “Ok,” she agreed. Dusk wobbled over to her desk, doing her best to clean up the messy notes she had taken in Equestrian Language. The door to the room opened followed quickly by two guard ponies. She recognized one of them as Granite, one of Celestia’s guards.

        “Princess Dusk? Your presence is requested by Princess Celestia in the gardens,” he spoke. His voice was quiet, but firm. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

        She looked back up at Bright Light who nodded for her to go, “I’ll finish cleaning up.”

        Dusk hesitated for a moment, looking back at her desk.

        “Go,” Bright Light said cheerfully.

        They exited the room, Granite speaking to Dusk in a low whisper, before the door shut out the noise. His face dropped to a frown.

        “If Luna doesn’t shape up soon, Dusk will be too distracted to proceed as planned,” he muttered to himself. The Princess of the Night was becoming a problem. But there was nothing he could do, without rousing some suspicion among those in the castle.

        Cunning snorted in distaste. He would have to work around the distraction Luna was becoming, as much as he detested it. He hovered over the last of his texts, and shoved it forcefully into the saddlebags before disappearing with a slight popping noise.


        Thunder Cloud shuddered in front of the small fire in the barrel before him. Another snowstorm had moved in by nightfall and was slowly pounding away on the border town. The alley was empty of its usual inhabitants, but it didn’t faze him. Only the cold did.

        At this point, his ratty cloak was doing very little to keep the wind from rushing through his coat. It felt like he had been doing high altitude flying for hours with no break. Few pegasi could handle that without severe wing damage.

        He shoved another box into the fire. It flared up quickly, sending a few waves of warmth through him, before dying down again to a more reasonable height. Unfortunately, that meant it wasn’t keeping him warm. So he did what any other smart pony would do - find something substantial to burn.

        There were plenty of options here. The dumpster was relatively full, having not been emptied in several days. He rummaged through some of the cleaner materials before coming out with a broken chair.

        Success! he cheered in his head.

        The chair snapped into smaller pieces with relative ease, the fire growing a little hotter with each piece. He went over to the dumpster again, but found only a few more burnable scraps. His dignity didn’t let him dig any deeper through the trash.

        When he turned to walk back to the fire, his path was blocked by a guard clad in fur and plate armor, the wing blades gleaming in the firelight.

        “Can I help ya?” Thunder Cloud managed his best northern accent. He almost snickered at how good it sounded.

        “Thunder Cloud, Royal Guardian of Canterlot, you are under being placed under arrest for treason,” the guard spoke quietly. Thunder Cloud recognized him by his voice immediately.

        “Nightwind? What the hay are you doing out here? More importantly, what treason have I committed?” His voice was getting louder with anger. In his frustration, he barely had time to react when Nightwind appeared beside him, wingblade pressed firmly against his neck.

        “You have betrayed the task which the princess entrusted you to complete. Where are your charges?” Nightwind didn’t skip a beat. His eyes glowed blue in the dim light of the alley.

        “I was captured by Discord’s minions trying to protect them! I have no idea where they are-”

        The blade pressed harder into his throat, “Don’t raise your voice.” Nightwind practically growled the words, “Understand?”

        Thunder Cloud nodded.

        “Good.” Nightwind cleared his throat, leaning in close to his ear, “Something - or somepony - is inside the castle, manipulating the Princess’ moves. I don’t know who and neither does Granite, but we have orders to investigate. We will try to get you into the dungeons, but you have to promise to tell me everything you did with the other Elements.”

        “Are you joking?” Thunder Cloud hissed. “You have a blade against my throat-”

        “If you don’t want to die the second you enter Canterlot Castle, promise me now.”

        Thunder Cloud swallowed as best as he could without pushing his neck against the blade. What choice did he have? He sighed, “Fine.”

        Nightwind spun Thunder Cloud to the ground, forcing their eyes to lock. Thunder Cloud shuddered violently, as Nightwind pretended he was struggling to put on his restraints. After a few moments Thunder Cloud passed out, allowing Nightwind to take a shot at his head - albeit lighter than he made it sound. He closed his eyes for a moment, raising his hoof in the air.

        A faint white aura surrounded him, stopping him in place. “You knocked him out the first time, Nightwind!” came a voice from behind him. Desert Wind released his magical hold on him, walking around to stand in front. “At least he’s still breathing. Make sure those restraints are tight. Teleporting is not an easy job anymore and now that there’s three of us it will set us back several days.”

He snorted in distaste. “Let’s get back to the outpost barracks. I can’t keep the cold away from my coat for much longer.”


        The first thing Twilight felt was somepony lightly shaking her. There was a brief pause before it started once more.

        “Mmph... five more minutes...” she muttered, rolling over.

        She slowly drifted back to sleep, before it started again, this time from the other side of the bed.

        Now thoroughly irritated, she sat up in bed ready to verbally assault the offender. But when she opened her eyes, her will crumpled. Instead her face took on a genuinely shocked expression.

        “Morning!” Dawn chirped, sitting on the other end of the bed. In front of her was a tray of food - toast with apple jam spread unevenly on the surface, a small plate of hay fries, and a very pretty bouquet of flowers and grass, made to look like a miniature hill. Besides that, there was a teapot on her nightstand still steaming, “I wanted to thank you for everything.” She glanced back at the open door, wincing as Rainbow Dash glared right back, “...and to apologize for sneaking onto the train.”

        “I... I uh...” Twilight tried, but she was still lost for words. On the one hand, her daughter had just brought her breakfast in bed - a daughter she hardy knew. On the other hand her social awkwardness and complete lack of knowledge on how to be a mother made it hard to think of what to say.

        “I made it myself,” she said proudly. Rainbow raised an eyebrow before walking away. “Rainbow helped make sure I didn’t burn the kitchen down like the last time.”

        “Thank y- Wait, what?!” Twilight switched gears almost immediately from her calculated response to wild concern, flailing her forelegs for emphasis. This was followed by a yelp as she connected her foreleg with the scalding hot metal of the tea kettle. She grumbled some choice words for her luck.

        “Are you ok?” Dawn asked, wincing a little after witnessing her reaction and subsequent injury.

        Twilight regained her composure, “Yes. Just fine. Thank you for making me breakfast in bed. It looks- tasty.” She wasn’t entirely sure that was the case.

        Dawn beamed at her, practically glowing with joy. Twilight’s magic grabbed the piece of toast, floating it up to her mouth, before taking a big bite. Her eyes widened in surprise. She practically swallowed the whole thing.

        “That’s not bad,” Twilight added, picking up another slice.

        “I hope so. I’d be really upset if I messed up toast.” Dawn leaned over the bed and picked up her own plate, chowing down on another miniature hill.

        Twilight took a piece of her own bouquet and popped it into her mouth. She was taken aback at the complexity of the food. In between the grass, stalks of lavender and chamomile had been weaved. A hint of lemon juice and oil made the piece moist, and most importantly, delicious.

        “Where did you learn to make that?”

        “Oh. Rainbow taught me how to prepare it. But I have trouble wrapping it together, so she did that part.”

        Rainbow walked into the room, carrying a teacup in her teeth. She set it down on the nightstand, “You forgot the cup, Dawn. Morning, Twilight.”

        “When did you get so good at cooking?” Twilight asked, baffled. “More importantly, since when have you been up this early?”

        “Both took a lot of practice. But, when you’ve got two fillies that have to go to class, it gets easier.” She ruffled Dawn’s mane, who giggled in response.

        Twilight still had a jumble of emotions surrounding her friend being forced to take care of her fillies. If things were different...

        Twilight went quiet, trying very hard to cap her emotions while trying to find something to change the subject. She didn’t notice Dawn reaching over the bed for something, nor Rainbow’s long-winded explanation of her cooking experiences.

        “Hello? Twilight, Dawn has something for you.” Rainbow waved a hoof in front of her face, knocking her out of her trance.

        “Huh?” Twilight said.

        Dawn pulled the book from her hiding place, placing it gently on the bed. It was as pristine as it was when she found it. The only thing in her bag that didn’t get crushed or left behind in the crash.

        Twilight’s eyes began to water, “What.... how... my book?”

        Dawn nodded.

        Twilight was lost for words. She hesitated to find something to say, but instead drew Dawn into a hug. Her grip was tight, though gentle, treating Dawn with the same care and love she had treated her books, her family - even her friends.

        Rainbow smiled, backing out of the room and shutting the door.

        “Good Morning... uh, Rainbow Dash, was it?”

        The pegasus mare turned to face the voice directed at her. The other unicorn in the house - Stormbreaker - stood in the hallway with a towel over his head. His coat and mane looked wet.

        He must have come from the bath, she thought. Rainbow nodded at his question, “Morning.”

        “How are you feeling? I was afraid you had gone into hypothermia when you arrived.”

        She waved a hoof in front of her face, “Nah. It was like the times I’ve flown too high. Pegasi are built for the cold.”

        He raised an eyebrow questioning her logic. But, his face softened into a genuine smile, “Right. Just don’t try to tackle storms up here like that. That wasn’t even close to what we call a blizzard.”

        Now it was Rainbow’s turn to look questioningly at him, “But we make the weather. That was a grade A blizzard Skymount must have sent.”

        He chuckled, “No. It was a regular snowstorm. But up here near the mountains, pegasi lose control over the weather. Kind of like when storms accidentally pass over the Everfree Forest.”

        He did have a point. Outside of Equestria, it had long been observed that places without ponies had wilder weather. Other races weren’t able to manipulate the land as well - some didn’t even bother. She shuddered at the thought.

        “I understand you’re on a journey with Miss Sparkle?”

        Rainbow nodded.

        “She filled me in on your... situation,” he hesitated, trying to ensure he was careful about his word choice. “As it so happens, we will be travelling in the same direction for a short while. I’m sure you would love to have some extra company.”

        “Oh. Well, I guess that’s alright.”

        “Excellent. I believe Miss Applejack is still sleeping, so if you would like, the bath is all yours.”

        Rainbow perked up at the thought of a hot bath. Sweet Celestia, she’d been dying for one since she found out the one in the train car was ice cold. She nodded happily at the offer.

        “Upstairs. Its the door to the right of the fireplace.”


        “Are ya’ sure its safe to be usin’ that kinda magic? Especially when the Princess thinks somepony’s tryin’ to control ya?” Applejack was standing by the front door, putting on her clothes for the journey outside.

        Stormbreaker pulled a scarf around his neck, using his magic to zip up his own winter coat. He furrowed his brow. “While that is rather concerning coming from the Princess, rest assured that if anypony was trying to control her, it would be completely useless in here. Not only does this shield us from the wind, it shields us from malevolent magic. Spying and controlling magic gets nullified. Of course, you could just walk right in the door.”

        Twilight adjusted the freshly conjured coat on Dawn’s body, ensuring that it did in fact fit. While she was fussing with some of the buttons, she listened intently on the end of the conversation. There wasn’t any mention of this kind of structure already having those protections up.

That must have meant he put them up himself... But that would take an enormous amount of magic to sustain! I mean, he should be unconci-

“Too tight!” Dawn squeaked, snapping Twilight out of her thoughts.

She had used the wrong button, tightening the clothes significantly more than intended. The button came undone along with all the others, as they were magically rearranged into their rightful places. “Sorry,” Twilight apologized. “Stormbreaker?”

“Mmm,” he mumbled.

“How can you maintain all of those wards without collapsing? Magically speaking you should be-”

“In a coma? Yes. That would be the case if I was holding up the wards. But I’m not, and neither is Trixie.”

A voice shouted from the other room, “What about ‘Trixie’?”

“Nothing, love,” Stormbreaker shouted back, “It’s an artifact passed through my family from the time of the three tribes. We have had no need to make anything like it, simply because there is no war - ‘till recently of course. My ancestors used this in their travels to protect themselves from being followed, or looted by bandits looking for earth pony grown food.

“It only takes a little bit of magic to unpack or pack the entire house, including the basement. Nothing gets shifted around or squished or anything like that. We can’t stay inside when we close it though - its not meant to be a prison.”

Applejack and Twilight gawked at him. The farmer was first to react, “So... this is like some sorta glorified tent?”

“Essentially, yes. It even has running water and storage space for food. Its very complicated, not to mention, one of a kind.”

Twilight cleared her throat, “Can it... break?”

“Oh yes, I’m sure it can. It would be difficult to do so. It’s certainly not burglar-proof and while it does give the illusion that the house isn’t there, ponies can stumble upon it rather easily.”

“How do ya pack up a whole house?” Applejack asked.

“You get some boxes and call a mover, AJ,” Rainbow added, passing through the hanging blankets to enter the hallway. “That’s what the music shop did when they found a bigger place in Canterlot.”

“That’s not what she means, Miss Dash,” Stormbreaker sighed. “This house packs into a very small necklace - easily worn.”

Rainbow looked like she was about to say something, before she sighed in defeat. She gave a shrug and rolled her eyes, “Y’know, there was a time when something like that would have freaked me out or made me drool with how cool it sounded.”

Twilight and Applejack giggled, Applejack’s more nervous than at Rainbow’s expense.

If Rainbow noticed, she didn’t let it show. Her face turned into a pout, “What? It’s true.”

“So is the fact that we’re wasting precious daylight. We can’t just appear in a Gryffon city,” Trixie said as she further crowded the small hallway. She wore a light grey jacket, accompanied by a deep blue scarf, tinged with white stripes. “Are we ready?”

        “Just about,” Twilight said, giving Dawn a once over before opening the door.

        Needless to say, it was cold. But instead of a storm, they stared out into an open blue sky. The sun shined brighter than they expected, reflected off of the crisp white snow in every direction. Twilight shielded her eyes with a fore hoof, waiting for her eyes to adjust. The other ponies walked out behind her while Rainbow flew overhead.

        It felt good to feel the wind in her face once more - being cramped in a small space was a bit unsettling for a pegasus. Luckily, she had practice and it helped that she was unconscious for the majority of the time.

        When she set back down, Trixie herded them into a small circle which Twilight etched into the snow with her nose. Three other circles were evenly placed along that one, big enough to hold one unicorn. With a finishing touch, a larger circle was used to surround everything they had drawn.

        “Stormbreaker?” Trixie asked. The stallion stood in front of the cottage, gathering a small amount of magic around his hoof.

        “Home is where the heart is,” he muttered, closing his eyes and pushing his hoof through the wall. The cottage flickered and contorted, slowly being dragged towards his missing hoof. The image shattered, turning to a burst of snow. Hanging around his hoof was a silver chain, a seven-pointed star dangling above the ground.

        “We’re burning daylight, dear,” Trixie said, tapping her hoof impatiently.

        “Coming,” he said flatly, tossing the chain around his neck.

The grey stallion took his place in one of the circles, matching Twilight and Trixie’s stance. Magic burst from their horns, coalescing above the center of the circle. Trixie and Stormbreaker took the lead, guiding the magic to cover them, wrapping around them like a domed blanket. Twilight looked on as the dome displayed memories of different places in time.

There was some sort of college setting with a very young Stormbreaker practicing spells on some clay figures. He looked proud as they took on the desired effects. Another was of a young filly - probably Trixie - jumping for joy for some other stage performer in Canterlot Castle.

But one specifically caught her eye. It was the image of her and Princess Luna by the fire, covered in each other’s magic. Their horns closely crossed and their eyes closed. Her breathing slowed with theirs in the image. The memory was as fresh as day.

“Twilight! Focus,” Trixie snapped.

The memory faded from the dome above her. Trixie’s faded as well, allowing Stormbreaker’s memories to flow into place.

“There, off center,” Trixie pointed to one in particular.

        The image portrayed the two of them outside the cottage in the middle of a field. In the distance a city peered above the hills, the air above them occasionally occupied by a Gryffon overhead. They spoke with two other Gryffons, which lounged on the ground, drinking from a coconut.

        “Too far. That’s on the western coast. Even three of us putting in all of our magic, we can't cross half the world,” Stormbreaker said. He tossed that memory aside, digging deeper into his own memories.

        The tiles began to disappear, as a singular image occupied the dome. Stormbreaker as a colt with a filly that was probably his sister, as well as an older stallion in a park. While the two young ones played, the stallion spoke to a Gryffon. Both were dressed in regal clothing.

        “The park? Isn’t that a bit noticeable?” Trixie asked.

        “Its either the park or a week of walking through snowstorms.”

        Trixie sighed, “Park it is.”

        The memory shaped around them, slowly removing the ponies and Gryffons in the picture. Leaves turned red and orange on the trees, occasionally falling onto the ground below. The mid-day sun shone brightly over the the scene, ushering in feelings of tranquility.

        The pattern in the snow glowed brightly for a moment before they disappeared from sight, leaving behind a crash of thunder.

        Silence settled over the peaceful snow covered hills, a gentle breeze flowing down from the mountain. A cloud floated overhead, casting a shadow over the ground. A serpent’s tail flicked back and forth - just visible from the ground. That too vanished with a soft snap of fingers.


Dusk couldn't sleep. She lay in her bed, tossing and turning for hours to no avail. The moonlight spread across her bedsheets. She stared at the offending orb in frustration, hoping it would tone down its pale glow. It ignored her completely.

“Don't make me get my Aunt to dim you, moon. I want to go to sleep.”

She flushed hotly. Talking to the moon was an utterly stupid thing to do and she knew it. But as reluctant as she was to admit it, she was easily angered and quick to be frustrated.

“Last chance, rock.”

The few clouds out in the sky moved away from the moon, releasing its full light onto the land below. It also ensured that Dusk's room was well lit, as some snide act of taunting.

Dusk imagined its general statement to be something along the lines of, “Make me.”

She promptly threw the covers off, slid out of the bed, and stormed off in a huff. “Stupid moon being a jerk...” she mumbled to herself.

The door swung open as quietly as she could manage. Her head poked out from behind the door, giving a thorough inspection to the balcony. The upwards stairs leading to the observatory  were clear, as were the stairs leading down into the castle. In the center of the balcony was a chair occupied by one of the guards. Luckily, her guardian was facing the opposite direction, looking down the central space to the lower floor below.

Satisfied with her chances of going unnoticed, she tiphooved over to the stairs, carefully avoiding getting close to the chair.

“Princess Dusk.”

The little alicorn froze in place, eyes wide in shock. She was baffled that she was heard at all.

“Can I help you with something? Perhaps a story to help you sleep?” The pegasus mare walked over to the now deflated looking Princess, putting her hoof gently on her shoulder.

“I... I, uhm...”


“I wanted to go talk to Aunt Celestia. I've been having trouble getting to sleep.”

The guard sighed, “Princess Celestia is busy with her evening schedule. I don't know if-”

“Please, Cloud Skimmer?”

Dusk gave the best pout she could manage; since she was scolded for forcing another guard to go shopping with her once, she wasn't allowed to 'give orders' any more. Which was fine, especially since the face usually worked better.

Cloud Skimmer cracked under the pressure, “I will ask. If she is too busy, we're coming straight back, understand?”

Dusk nodded happily.

The guard led the way down the spiral staircase, making the usual turn at the bottom towards the main hallway. The lights were dim, with only torches being lit for illumination. Dusk looked up and down the hallway, but there was no one else in the halls. She was getting nervous walking through the halls.

She moved her body closer to the guard. “Is it normally this quiet?” She asked.

The guard shook her head, “No.”

Cloud Skimmer’s wings slowly stretched to their fullest length, dwarfing the alicorn filly, who cowered into the mare’s hind legs. The blades on her wings gleamed in the torch light. The mare blocked out the sounds of the filly’s raspy breaths.




She whipped around the corner, preparing to dodge and strike her foe. But nopony occupied the hallway. Only the shadows ruled over the hall, ending in the door leading outside. She turned to look down the other end of the hallway - but it was also empty, save for the guards patrolling the main entrance.

She pulled her wings back into place, forcing the blades back into their sheaths before stretching her wings once more.

“Dusk?” she looked back at the filly. The little princess sat on the cold floor, trembling uncontrollably, her eyes transfixed on Cloud Skimmer’s wings. Her freakishly long wings. “It’s ok. No one is here to hurt you.”

Dusk didn’t move. She didn’t even blink.

Cloud Skimmer gently nudged her with her nose, “Don’t you still want to see your Aunt?”

She nodded slightly, averting her gaze to the floor.

“Here,” She picked up Dusk by the crook of her neck, placing her on her back. The princess eyed her wings cautiously.

“They won’t hurt you when they’re covered. The covers only open when I want them to.”

Dusk hesitantly put a hoof on the smooth metal coverings, before relaxing. Out of all of the guards in the castle, Cloud Skimmer had the largest wingspan - thus the biggest weapons. She was a master at using them as well. It was intimidating, even without her armor on, when she opened her wings.

“Alright. Let’s go!” Cloud Skimmer whispered, breaking off into a trot. She varied her movements, bouncing Dusk up and down like see-saw. Dusk hung on tight, slowly regaining her former state of happiness. She even let out a giggle when Cloud Skimmer launched herself toward the main hall.

The ruckus nearly gave the guards a heart attack as Dusk and Cloud Skimmer barrelled into the chamber without so much as an announcement. A few of them glared at Cloud Skimmer, causing the mare to deadpan and blush simultaneously.

“What?” She asked.

A few of them rolled their eyes and went back to their former focus. Granite, standing guard in front of the throne room, facehoofed.

“Princess Dusk would like an audience with Princess Celestia,” she began. “Is she available?”

“Of course she is. Night court ended at midnight. You know: four hours after Princess Dusk’s bedtime.” He pointed at Dusk for further emphasis.

“I can’t fall asleep,” Dusk said, quietly. “That’s why I’m here.”

Granite sighed, nodding to the other guard reluctantly. They opened to doors to the throne room and let them inside.

A small table was set up by the throne room, with figurines dotting its surface, barely poking out from beneath the heaps of scrolls. Standing on one end of the table was Celestia, reading through a scroll while she placed more figurines onto the table. On the other end was a neat pile of read scrolls.

Cloud Skimmer cleared her throat. “Your majesty.”

Celestia nearly jumped in place. She moved her eyes from the scroll she was reading to the newcomers. “Good evening Cloud Skimmer. May I ask why Dusk is with you and not in bed?”

Dusk hopped off of the guards back and sprinted over to Celestia. The princess smiled and bent down to nuzzle her niece, all the while using her magic to cover the table with some of the used scrolls.

“She was having trouble sleeping and-”

“I wanted to come see you, because I thought maybe you could help,” Dawn interjected. She decided the moon could be spared - just this once.

“Have you tried drinking a glass of water?”

“Three! I even drank one upside down and another while laying down sideways.”

Celestia giggled a little, “Have you been reading Cures That Ail and Turn You Pale?”

“Yes, wait- how do you know that?”

“That’s an old joke remedy book a former student of mine wrote. Its a classic. But unfortunately none of the cures are real. Just pranks.”

Dusk hung her head, “I was wondering why it told me to sleep on books...”

“Why don’t you go back and think about an island - far, far away from here. A place with beautiful beaches. The place where the cooks get starfruit from.”

A big smile formed on Dusk’s face. She loved starfruit - its shape, taste, even the whole exotic mystery of how it was discovered. All the books on the subject were in her room for a full month before she was forced to bring them back. Dusk nodded.

“Good night Dusk-” Celestia lowered her head to nuzzle Dusk. But she snapped her head up to the sound of the doors in the main hall slamming open. There were several shouts from outside the doors.

Dusk started to back up towards the throne. Celestia put a hoof on her head, “I need you to follow Cloud Skimmer back to your room and I will come to tuck you in a little later. Can you do that for me?”

Dusk nodded, her eyes still focused on the front doors.

        “Cloud Skimmer. If you would?”

        The pegasus nodded curtly, lifting Dawn onto her back before taking off through a side exit.


        The screams echoed through the hallways. Dusk clung tighter to Cloud Skimmer, practically digging her hooves into the space between her armor. The sound of the royal doors shutting echoed through the halls, followed by a dead silence.

        Cloud Skimmer carried a terrified Dusk back up the tower stairs, slipping into her room. She lay the filly on the bed, covering her with her blanket.

        The moonlight had dimmed significantly from the new cloud cover. Must be a storm coming, Cloud Skimmer thought. “If you need anything, I’ll be outside.”

        Dusk nodded, turning her back to the window. Cloud Skimmer walked back over to the door, opening it wide enough to pass through to the other side.

        “Wait,” Dusk whispered. Cloud Skimmer turned to look at the young princess. “Can you stay here with me?”

        The pegasus closed the door and sat down beside her charge, placing a gentle hoof through her mane. She removed her helmet and set it at the end of the bed.

        “Is my mommy going to be ok?”

        The question caught Cloud Skimmer off guard. There were many aspects of that she would rather not talk about. Princess Luna’s catatonic walk around the castle garden every night at the exact same time. Spouts of muttering or anguish at random intervals in the day. A constant watch was needed to stay over her, to ensure she stayed in the castle. Yet-

        “I wish Dawn was still here,” Dusk sniffled, suddenly overcome with her own loneliness. “Mom is gone, Aunt Celestia is almost always gone or busy looking for Dawn, and I still don’t know about anything!”

        Cloud Skimmer gently pulled her close. She knew it was hard for Dusk to be thrust into the middle of this... this- There were no words she could use to describe what was happening. She bit her lip, trying to think of something to say. Ultimately there was nothing. Nothing that could help ease the pain of loss.

        “I want Dawn back! I want my mommy!”

        Dusk’s words lost coherency, replaced by heaving sobs. All the while Cloud Skimmer gently stroked her mane, doing her best to show her some compassion. Slowly but surely, her crying slowed, replaced by the steady rise and fall of her breathing under the blankets.

        Cloud Skimmer stayed for a while, watching over her. There was a light knock on the door.

        The mare looked up from the bed as the door opened just enough to reveal Nightwind, waiting patiently outside. She rose quietly from the bed and slipped out into the hallway, leaving the young princess to her dreams.


        Dusk found herself sitting on the shore of the ocean. She couldn’t remember how she got here, or even when she got here. The last thing she remembered was... something. Whatever it was barely registered in her mind.

        She rose to her hooves, brushing off the sand now thoroughly embedded in her coat. Glancing around, she noticed it wasn’t just the shore - she was on a small island. It was thin - she was definitely able to see to the other side. But the island also stretched for quite a while. One round hill sat in the center, complete with a little shack and a few trees, filled with-

        “Starfruit!” Dusk exclaimed, pounding up the hill towards one of the smaller trees. She jumped up to try and grab one of the fruits and soundlessly landed flat on her face. Her eyes narrowed. Magic enveloped her horn, sending a bolt of magic at the fruit. It snapped off under the force of the blow, arcing into the air, and landing in the ocean. Her eye twitched involuntarily.

        “Good evening, Princess Dusk.”

        The filly whipped around. The voice had come from the other side of the shack. A unicorn with a bronze colored coat and deep brown mane popped her head around the corner.

"Hungry?" The unicorn asked.

Dusk hesitantly walked over to the other side of the shack, readying more raw magic, just in case. On the other side were several hammocks set up between a few trees. There was also a small fire pit with a spit hanging above it. Several fruit shish kebabs rotated over the flames while the juice bubbled and sizzled.

The unicorn stood inside what she had mistaken for a shack - it was really more of a lean-to. Dusk had read about those in a camping book, before. She also recognized several different tools mentioned in the same book - a walking stick, retractable bit-knife, even a small fire starter kit.

"I think they're just about ready," she said again trotting back to the fire. One of he shish kebabs floated over to her waiting mouth. Her eyes closed in delight. "Perfect!"

The rest of the food floated onto a polished stone plate. Dusk eyed the food hungrily.

"Dig in! Don't be shy."

Dusk obliged her wishes, cleaning one off in record speed before tossing the used stick into the fire. "Who are you? Where are we?"

The unicorn smiled, picking the next piece of fruit off of the stick. "Lik'tria," she spoke in a strange accent.

Dusk looked a little taken aback. "Licktree?"

The unicorn snorted, trying to hold back her laughter, "If only Ylldrid heard that. She'd be rolling on the floor for a week." She calmed herself down, taking deep breaths. "That is my true name. It means 'Master of Magic.' But ponykind knows me only as the Element of Magic."

Dusk dropped the shish kebab she was about to eat.

"You cried out for me in your anguish, so I helped you here - your dream world."

The filly struggled to put her thoughts into coherent speech. "So... you are a pony."


"And in real life, you're a tiara."

"Correct! It’s much better than being a rock," Magic beamed happily.

Dusk facehooved. Hard. "But you're the hidden element! Shouldn't I have to, find you or something?"

Magic frowned slightly, "That... was different. Its a long story - one which is probably gone. The elements, myself included, are now intertwined with families. You share my power with your sister."

Dusk looked at the ground, making circles with her back hoof.

"You want to see her again, don't you?"

She nodded.

Magic smiled. "Lucky for us she's also asleep."

There was an audible snap as a tiny blur of dark blue whipped across the campsite, slamming into the water. The resulting splash nearly put out the fire. Dusk sprinted down the hill towards the shore, just as her sister was dragging herself out of the water.

"That is the last time I ever try to do that trick, right Aunt-"

Dawn never had the chance to finish her thought, as Dusk slammed into her chest, knocking them both into the water.

"Dawn! I'm so happy to see you! Ever since Discord took you-"

Dawn looked at her awkwardly, "Discord? I wasn't foalnapped. I left. Didn't you find that note I left you?"

Dusk stared at her sister, "You WHAT? You LEFT?"

"Give me a chance to explain-"


Both of the fillies were lifted into the air, as zippers shut their mouths. Magic lowered the two to the ground, both still glaring hotly at one another. "I believe it’s time we had a talk. Since I already know both sides of the argument from watching over the two of you, I have a feeling I know what is going on. It’s nothing good either."


"Did she kill him?"

Nightwind let out a deep breath and shook his head. "No. He's still alive."

Cloud Skimmer let out a sigh of relief. They were both still standing outside of Dusk's room, speaking in whispers. She peered over the edge of the railing, setting her fine tuned ears to work listening  for any movement at all. After a few moments she was satisfied and ensured that they were alone.

"I was terrified when you left. The way she's been acting since they found Thunder Cloud made me think she would really kill him. What happened to get him separated?"

"No specifics yet. I will be interrogating him starting tomorrow. We made sure the..." he swallowed hard. The very fact Celestia asked for someone like him was a cruel reminder that she had gone overboard. "The torturer has been cleared. By us."

Cloud Skimmer shivered and grew quiet. "She asked for what?"

He bit his lower lip, "Don't make me say it again. The point is, that we cleared him. He's with us now. Any pain will be simulated."

Thunder Cloud was a good pony and an excellent guard. The way he was about to be treated made her sick. But she knew it was essential to their plan. It would take a while to expose the source of control over Celestia. They needed to be patient.

"He is of little concern to us, now that he is safe. There is something much worse about to happen."

Cloud Skimmer deadpanned, "What? Did Starfall crawl out of his grave to join Discord and company?"

"Might as well have."

Cloud Skimmer was taken aback, "I was being sarcastic. You knew that, right?"

Nightwind grimaced.

"Oh Celestia, no."

"He's still dead, Cloud. But his war might have just been sleeping."

She looked at him at horror.

"Celestia found out Discord was running loose in the North. While I was gone, she was working with Bright Light to pin down his location. Apparently, he has control of the whole government. They've been talking to the Gryffons too."

"But, they've offered extra guards for the palace and the border towns. No group has attacked along the border since."

"It’s only a concern. They pulled their ambassador yesterday, according to our spies." Nightwind wiped the sweat from his brow. "Since she confirmed the attack was coordinated by a Discord-controlled country, she sent them an ultimatum."

"No." Cloud Skimmer sat down on the floor. "After everything that was done to bring her back to stop the war? She's going to start one?"

"The North has 24 hours to surrender and rejoin Equestria. After that... we’ll probably go to war."

Nightwind looked down at the trembling guard. The last war had almost taken her whole family. Her parents died fighting in Cloudsdale, and her older brother died on the frontlines outside Fillydelphia, trying to take the city.

Nightwind wrapped his forelegs around her neck as he gingerly kissed the top of her head.

"They'll send me away like they did to Star Gazer. Then you'll be left without a sister."

"If they send you away, I'll leave with you. Either we stay here and protect the Princesses, or we go to war together."


        "But I don’t get it," Dusk said, staring into the sky. "Why would somepony force us apart, just so we’d fight?"

        The island was shrouded in fog - so much so, they could no longer see the ocean. Instead, Magic hovered over the fire, shrouded in her aura. On the fog, she displayed moving pictures of their collective memories, noting the differing accounts of certain events.

        "Why wouldn’t mom tell us about Twilight? That’s why I left in the first place, on advice from Bright Light." Dawn said.

        "Ugh!" Dusk threw up her forehooves in frustration. She sighed and stared at the pictures again. "Ok. So basically, Twilight - our other mom - comes back alive. Celestia sends her away for her to be safe?"

        Dawn nodded.

        "They send her in the middle of the night so I don’t find out. But you do. Instead of asking Luna, Bright Light tells you to basically jump into the cart."

        "Pretty much. It was really good advice."

        Dusk deadpanned.

        "What? It was!"

        "Anyway- Then some statues mysteriously disappear as soon as you leave and some freaky magic stuff replaces your note with a creepy message on your bed."

        "Wait, what? ON MY BED?"

        "Not, the point, Dawn."


        Dusk glared at her sister, who shied away with a nervous smile.

        "Then I wake up and Celestia tells me Discord took you away. Then Bright Light starts teaching me more about magic. She encourages me to do it to save you."

        Dawn frowned, "Something’s definitely fishy about this. I can’t put my hoof on it."

        "It’s somepony close. That’s for sure."

        Magic lowered herself back onto one of the benches around the fire. The memories disappeared, allowing the fog to disperse back into a sunny day.

        "What do you think, Magic?" Dawn asked.

        "I cannot say for certain. But what I can say, is that from now on, you need to be careful. I can bring you here while you sleep, but I cannot protect you when you’re awake."

        The sun began to speed its way across the horizon, dropping quickly from noon to nearly sundown.

        "It’s almost time for you to wake," Magic said.

        Dusk and Dawn looked at each other. Dusk dragged her into a big hug, which Dawn returned.

        "I love you," Dusk whispered.

        "I love you, too."

        The sun went down over the horizon and the darkness surrounded them, bringing them back to the waking world.


        Princess Celestia paced back and forth in the throne room. Last night was the deadline for the ultimatum and she had heard nothing. Not a peep from her spies or Bright Light’s network of colleagues. Beads of sweat dotted her forehead, taking her seat.

The doors in the front opened. The two guards on duty entered the room and bowed. "Desert Wind requests an audience."

She paused in her pacing to process the request. Perhaps he had a response from the north. Bright Light probably corresponded with him first. But that might mean they were plotting against her just like-

"Princess?" One of the guards asked.

She snapped herself out of her trance. It didn't do her any good to let her fragile state push her most trusted advisors away. Any overreaction on her part would put her ability to rule in question.

Taking a deep breath, she returned to her throne. "Send him in," she replied as she tried to get comfortable.

The two guards retreated back into the hallway, allowing the aging unicorn to enter the room. He slowly made his way over to the throne, swaying slightly to the sides.

A look of concern washed over Celestia's face. Desert Wind had always given the impression that he was always in good health despite his age. From time to time she suspected otherwise, but didn't truly know to what extent his age would affect it.

He bowed deeply. "Your Majesty."

She hovered a chair over from the table with all of the figurines. There was time to discuss that later. "Please, Desert Wind. There's no need for formalities. We have been friends for years."

He relaxed a bit, taking the chair gratefully. The wood creaked under his added weight.

"Have you heard anything from the message runners?"

Desert Wind shook his head. "Nothing. The scouts on the border have reported nothing out of the ordinary. I came to check on you."

She smiled warmly, "I'm fine, Desert, I'm fine. You don't need to worry about me."

"Princess," he said softly. Their eyes were locked for a moment before he closed them and let out a sigh. "You have been the sturdiest pony in the castle through everything that has happened in the last three weeks. But even the strongest of us have trouble. I just want you to know, I'm here if you need somepony to talk to."

Celestia's smile turned to that of a mischievous smirk, "I can remember a time when that would never come out of your mouth."

Desert Wind rolled his eyes. "You should be glad that ever came out of my mouth."

A small silence passed between them until they simultaneously burst out laughing. Celestia was the first to recover. "Oh, the things you put me through. You were quite the hoofful as my student."

"I always preferred 'Protege', if I remember correctly. A lowly orphan from the desert with immense magical potential had obtained one of the most coveted positions: being a student under your wing. I dare say the Canterlot elite were furious with your choice."

"You made sure to keep them that way." She stifled another giggle, "Though I must say, spiking the punch at not one, but two Grand Galloping Galas was quite the achievement."

"I was so rough around the edges then. I still don't understand how I became so proper." He leaned back in the chair, running a hoof through his mane. "I suppose it becomes second nature after seventy years."

She sighed, frowning a bit. "Has it really been that long?"

"Indeed. If it weren't for such leaps and bounds in medicine and magical remedies, I would have been dead and gone years ago. Such wonders science and magic can make together. It's interesting that our ancestors only lived to 40 or 50, and rarely at that.  They became adults so young too: at 6 or 7 years of age. Ponies don't become mares or stallions until years later now. You didn't send me out into the world until I was 12."

“For good reason, Desert. The world couldn't handle a younger you.”

“True. Although historically students have always studied to a certain age. In fact, the college in Stalliongrad-” He stopped abruptly, clearing his throat. “I'm sure you don't need a lesson in history or pony evolution.”

“No. But your passion for the past is endearing, much like another student of mine.” Her smile dulled.

Desert Wind placed a hoof on her shoulder, “She’ll be fine. Twilight Sparkle is your greatest student in seventy years, perhaps longer if I lose my talents.”

She giggled and gave a small smile. Her previous paranoia abandoned her thoughts. For the first time through the whole crisis she was relieved of some of her stress. While the ultimatum weighed heavily on her mind, she was able to approach it with a level head.

“Thank you, Desert. I needed that.”

“Of course, Princess.”

She stood from her chair, gently lifting the table, figurines, and empty scrolls from the previous night with her magic. “Now that I’m feeling rather refreshed, there are some important matters I would like to discuss. Care to accompany me, Duke Desert Wind?”

“Indeed I would, your majesty,” he replied, moving back into his style of formality. “I would offer to lead the way, but alas - I have only an idea of our destination.”

Celestia giggled, “How you manage to switch so quickly to being formal is beyond me.”

“Years of practice and a teacher with high expectations, your majesty. Also the looming threat of a lecture and a spanking.”


        Bright Light knocked on the door to one of the smaller studies in the castle. This one in particular had an excellent view of the maze and royal gardens. It also had a view of the training grounds used by the castle guards, although it still had not returned to its original size from before the war.

        “Come in,” a muffled voice called from inside. Bright Light opened the door and stepped inside.

        The first thing he noticed was the sheer number of ponies the room could comfortably fit. He originally expected room for three, perhaps four ponies at most, but instead there were eight, including himself. Celestia and her two personal guards, Desert Wind, Peace Bloom, Quick Wit, and the Captain of the Guard, Whirlwind.

        There was also a good sized table in the center of the room with figurines dotting its surface. Miniature clouds and weather effects hovered over the table as well. Small cities were set up on various places on the map.

        Important locations, Bright Light observed.

        “Now that everyone has gathered, it is time to begin. Quick Wit, if you would please.”

        Quick Wit nodded, looking around nervously at the other leaders. She was never very good at public speaking, so working at the library was a more suitable job. Still, she needed to try. It was part of her newer job.

        “Oh, um, yes. Let’s see. According to our scouts, there is absolutely no military movement along the borders. There are also no border guards although the crossings are closed in their border towns. We have many ponies trying to cross into Equestria from the Northern Province, but we have no way to support them all.”

        “About how many are there?” Desert Wind asked.

        Quick Wit looked through some of the scrolls, “Uh...” She tossed the ones that weren’t helpful. Bright Light rolled his eyes.

        Celestia put a light hoof on her shoulder, giving her pause in her search. Quick Wit sunk back into her seat and pulled out her scroll and quill. One of the reports floated out of the pile, before settling onto the table. “There are about four million ponies that live in the northern cities - Hoofington, Stalliongrad, Marelin - and countryside. Forty thousand of those citizens are asking us for support. Ten thousand have fled to Gryffon territories. We cannot continue to block these citizens from re-entering Equestria.”

        There were nods from around the table. Peace Bloom was the first to actually speak. “What kind of resources are needed to bring in the refugees? How quickly can we put up camps or some sort of place for them to live?”

        Quick Wit added, “There are many still rebuilding Fillydelphia. Perhaps if we direct them to the city we could-”

        “No,” Bright Light interjected. The others looked at him quizzically, while Quick Wit winced. “If we place them at Fillydelphia, it will be like a punishment. Those who helped liberate and reunite the kingdom will be faced with a ruined city, one they may believe was their fault for destroying.”

        It took the others a moment for the realization to sink in. Of course that was a problem. But where else would these people be encouraged to settle inside of their borders? Celestia looked back at the map.

        “Why not set them here?” She pointed with a hoof on the new road from Canterlot to Manehatten. Much of the terrain was mountainous and colder than the temperate zone below. Winters would be milder, especially with September coming to a close in under a week.

        Some of them nodded their heads. “It would make another trade stop - there are plenty of jewels and exotic flowers in those mountains,” Bright Light muttered.

        “Are we in agreement?” Celestia asked.

        The others hesitated, but all nodded in agreement.

        “We will need builders, volunteers, and perhaps ask some of the refugees to assist in its construction. Would the school lend a hoof?”

        “Of course,” Bright Light nodded. “There are several ponies that want to do some hooves-on work who I trust not to make things worse. Some of the teachers will lend a hoof as well.”

        “Excellent,” Celestia smiled. She looked back to the map, her smile quickly fading to a frown. “There is one last piece of business left to discuss: The safety of Equestria, including the safe passage of our refugees.

        “As you all know, I sent out an ultimatum to the North. A letter requiring their surrender and reintegration to Equestria, or suffer dire consequences. I fear I did so in the midst of my anger.”

        Bright Light fought back a look of horror. Cunning was practically floored. WHAT?!  he thought.

        “Although we are constantly patrolling for attacks within our state, I don’t believe it is a good idea to start a war without the consent of Equestrian citizens. Starfall was able to sway them with a sharp tongue all because of the monumental change my eversleep brought about. He used their fear and anger to fuel a war effort for full control of Equestria.

        “I am not Starfall. The protection of my subjects is more important than chasing down a beast of chaos. That doesn’t mean I won’t do it from the background.”

        Cunning was seeing red. It took everything he had to keep a straight face at the meeting. His simple command to shift blame to his brother should have done the trick. The whispers in her mind should be bending her to his will. But here she was - choosing to stay her hoof when she should be forced into war.

        His hoof went into his forehead. He was too specific with the complicated princess. ‘Scour the world’ for Starfall’s minions was his command. A slip of the tongue he never corrected. Once Discord came into the picture, she was practically removed from his control.

        “Bright Light? Are you alright?”

        He looked up at the group, who stared back with concern. His hoof dropped back to the floor and he drooped his head. “No,” he began slowly, “I’ve been feeling a bit ill since this morning.”

        Celestia’s face softened, “Why don’t you go back to your study then? Quick Wit will deliver the last part of the conversation to you.”

        “This is more important. I can take a nap la-”

        Celestia held a hoof up to stop him, “Please, Bright Light. For your own safety. Running yourself ragged will make you a bigger target in a war. You’re too important for me to lose.”

        Cunning nearly blushed, before he realized she was talking to Bright Light, not him. His anger simmered down long enough to bow and leave the meeting.

        “Now then,” Celestia turned her attention back to the table. “What would you recommend we should do to prepare, Captain?”


        Cunning paced up and down Bright Light’s office with a vice grip on the papers suspended in his magic’s grasp. The battle plans were conservative at best - a strict defensive line across the border to the northern province and gryffon territories, checkpoints in each border town for refugees and travelers, and a greater troop presence in major cities. Her boldest part of the plan was to call all of the volunteers to active duty. He snorted. All her plan did was spend her reserves. Wasteful.

        But it served the purpose of avoiding a declaration of war. The citizens would not support the war without some just cause. Most of the leaders that fought on behalf of the Princesses were unpopular after Celestia’s return. Any that had any power beforehoof were forced to step down. Mothers and wives forced their sons or husbands in the guard to retire early, fearing another conflict would take their loved ones away, though luckily, the inspired recruits more than made up for their numbers if not their quality. It would take a devastating strike against the kingdom for her subjects to support another war. But waiting for ponies to be murdered in cold blood surely wasn’t part of her plan.

        Cunning stopped his pacing, letting the note drop onto the desk. If Celestia only prepared a defense for an attack, it left her a few viable situations to get the other side to attack first.

Option one: wait until the public forces her to weaken the extra guard, allowing an attack similar to a massacre. Not only would their blood be on her hooves, but the public would question why she didn’t have the foresight to stop it.

        Option number two: put herself in danger by approaching crowds to convince them that hostile action may be the best course of action. Even if she’s not attacked on the trip, she gains support to rally extra troops for a conflict. She does leave Dusk and Luna wide open to attack with her absence.

        Third and most viable would be to begin covert actions to prevent the war all together. Secret strikes and missions into enemy territory would eventually stir the other side to collapse or discover her attempts at provocation, thus starting conflict. With a limited number of trained soldiers, she would need to send her most valued troops behind enemy lines. Definitely dangerous, but she accomplishes her goal without risking harm to her sister and niece.

        “What are you planning, Celestia?” He whispered to himself. “How did you rid yourself so easily of my control?”

        Anger started to boil inside of him once more. Her reluctance to be involved in conflict surely wasn’t just about protecting her citizens. He couldn’t shake her hesitance to chase after the Prince of Chaos. There was always a mask of anger covering some mixed emotion swirling inside of her head.

        He morphed his body back into Bright Light, before exiting his study for the hallway. The guards outside the door saluted him as he passed.

        “At ease. I’m feeling a little better than earlier. I’m just heading to the library.”

        The two nodded and resumed their former positions.

        The halls in the school were decorated with many items of historical value; tapestries, sculptures and artwork lined its halls. Most of the items were relatively new - originating within the last three hundred years, when the school was revitalized to its current form of magical prowess. But some dated back to its founding - the first school established by the three tribes, meant for all ponies to attend. The original three dormitories had the ancient flags first placed on Equestrian soil, hanging above the entrances.

        As if they were able to govern themselves, Cunning thought as he passed them. A few minutes later, he was in the library proper.

        It was small in comparison to the royal archives and functioned more as a museum than an actual library. Almost all of the books in the library were recent texts: required modern studies, as well as recent revisions of Equestrian history. But it was the cases throughout the room that were the most interesting things to see: Commander Hurricane’s armor, the garb and crown of Queen Platinum, and Chancellor Puddinghead’s... hat. Ancient tools, weapons - several eras of clothing, all genuinely donated by their owners centuries ago - why students bothered to come here for books, he couldn’t understand. Everything they needed was right in front of them, if only they bothered to look-

        Bright Light gasped quietly. It was so clear. Whenever Discord was mentioned in a meeting, there was something - a twitch, the bat of an eye, or some visible cue on Celestia’s face. The more stress on the princess, the more noticeable it was.

        What was it? Think... he pondered.

        He could see the look of frantic confusion in her eyes. While on the outside she was still just as strong, she was mentally beating herself up for some hurt her former love had caused. A twinkle behind her eyes that made them look that much more terrified. It was a plea. She had no clue how to handle it. How to handle his brother.

It was that look. The look she had once given them both, before... before her father was involved. Afterward, only his brother got to gaze upon. Hope. Love.

Anger began to consume him. Yes... that was why he was doing this. He swallowed before growling to himself, “She still loves him.”

He trotted over to the window and stared out at the gathering clouds over Canterlot Castle. smile cracked across his face. That throne was rightfully his; so was his beloved Celestia.

“Misguided foal,” he whispered, licking his lips. “You choose my brother... for now.”


        The storm came slowly across the sky, gradually spreading over the city of Canterlot. Rain poured down as if the weather ponies were squeezing the clouds for everything they had. The sound of rain on stone caused the whole castle to have an otherworldly hum.

As Nightwind led Cloud Skimmer down the hall, he noticed her cringe when the noises grew in intensity. She had never been in this part of the castle, where both Princesses had their respective rooms. They usually kept the windows open through Nightmare Night to keep cool, but it had the unintended effect of a whistling breeze. On stormy nights it was... unsettling at best.

"Don't mind the noises, it's just the wind," he said.

She nodded, walking beside him down the rest of the corridor. "If you don't mind me asking, am I being reassigned to look after Princess Luna?"

He continued to stare straight ahead. After a moment, he spoke, "I'm sorry, sis. I'm not allowed to say."

Her cheeks reddened from anger and embarrassment. The fact that they were family was far from secret in the castle. She didn't want to be called 'sis' or 'sister' while on duty. That didn't stop him from pushing her buttons when they were alone.

A smirk played across his face. "My hooves are tied. Princess's orders."

Cloud Skimmer rolled her eyes as Nightwind opened the door to Princess Luna's room. She hesitated for a moment, debating whether or not to continue. He nodded his head towards the open door.

"Well?" He whispered. His face had grown completely serious, as if he was steeling himself for what was to come. Eventually, she worked up the resolve to enter the room.

The room stole her breath away. Each of the walls was painstakingly painted to look like the night sky - almost like a planetarium. But the dotted stars along the room twinkled with magic, showing their relative positions in the night sky. The bed sat in the center of the room, along with her wardrobe and collection of books. Each piece of furniture was painstakingly designed to be low to the ground, functioning both as chairs and as an unobstructed view of her canvas.

Princess Luna wasn't alone in the room, either. Granite shuffled around the bed, straightening the sheets. Her eyes were only partially glazed over, watching him with half-hearted intent.

"Cold..." she whispered. Her magic pulled the covers tight around her body, muffling the slight click of the door as it shut.

But Cloud Skimmer heard it. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Her rational mind started running through all the possibilities.

Granite pulled the shade down over the window. The canvas cover seemed to melt into the wall, completing that area of the faux night sky.

The princess' glazed look suddenly became clear and focused. In Cloud Skimmers mind, this happened only before a major outburst of crying and mourning. She was floored when her voice rang clear and strong.

"Were you followed?" Princess Luna asked. She sat up in her bed adjusting her pillows for a more comfortable position.

Cloud Skimmer looked frantically between the Princess and her brother. He bowed before her, "No, Princess."

Her eyes began to glow a light blue in the darkness. That same color in all the paintings on the castle walls, the history books, and depictions of their ancient foe.

"Nightmare... Moon..."

She looked to the others for some kind of guidance. Perhaps a preemptive strike while she gathered her power, anything to stop her from becoming that monster. Her heart sank when both pegasi looked at her with the same light blue glow in their eyes.

She sprinted for the door but instead slammed into the Princess's magic. Her whole body lifted from the ground. She tried to scream for help but no sound came out. Again and again she tried, but there was no use.

"Cloud Skimmer. I am not Nightmare Moon. We would not be having this conversation right now if I was." The princess lowered her onto one of the chairs and released the magic from everywhere but her mouth. "I cannot have you screaming at the top of your lungs either. It is too soon to play my cards even as I fear that time is closing in on us."

The magic slowly removed itself from her mouth. Cloud Skimmer barely breathed, taking in the wild contrast of her daily routine - now clearly a show - to her more stern personality.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I brought you here?"

Cloud Skimmer only managed to nod.

"One of Discord's agents is in the castle. But it's not just any agent - it has to be one of his advisors.

"Before you ask how I know this, be aware that I don't know which one is hidden among us, nor who he or she is parading around as. But I am not easily fooled. I felt the traces of Nightmare's magic begin to shift when the statues were released. For a long while I cursed the fact that this reaction slowed me from saving my Dawn. As it turns out she doesn't need saving at all. It was a distraction."

Nightwind nodded and turned to his sister. "Right before Thunder Cloud fought off a group of Discord's followers, he found that Dawn had followed them onto the train. He intentionally abandoned his duty to protect Princess Dawn and the others. Their whereabouts are still unknown, but Twilight is protecting her."

Cloud Skimmer had a lot of trouble taking this all in. Why didn't she tell Celestia if she knew Dawn was fine? There was no need to escalate the threat of war if the facts were clear.

"You have questions, I assume." Luna leaned back on her pillows.

“How am I supposed to believe any of this?! You’ve been unresponsive since this all began!” Her voice began to raise in volume.

“Like I said, it is merely a ruse.”

“A ruse you feel is so necessary that you are willing to emotionally destroy your daughter? Or even worse, if what you say is correct, leave her wide open to this ‘spy’?” Cloud Skimmer immediately regretted those words. A long silence passed between the two.

“Do you think its easy to make that sacrifice?” Luna asked quietly. “I forced my own sister to banish me to the moon for a thousand years because of my own lack of judgement. My lack of trust. I forced my sister to lock me up in the moon and lie about why I was sent there. I became a monster of legend so that she could still live in this world.”

        Cloud Skimmer was dead silent. Watching the Princess bear her soul like that made her think twice about questioning her. She had practically brought Luna to tears.

        “Do you still question my motives? Must I prove myself to you like I tried before? Or will you stab me in the back and throw me for dead?”

        “I... I’m sorry... Princess.”

        Luna took a few minutes to gather her composure. “That’s alright. I did practically throw this all on you.”

        Cloud Skimmer gave a small smile.

        “Now, questions?”

Cloud Skimmer nodded. "Why haven't you told Celestia, yet?"

"Because she is being controlled. Nothing I can say would change her mind, because she doesn't have a choice. She may hide her wounds well, but when I saw her eyes the night Dawn disappeared, I knew."

"Can't you break the spell?" Cloud Skimmer asked.

Luna clammed up. There was obviously something left unsaid, which neither of the guards were willing to share. "The only release is death. Either she dies, or the pony who cast it on her does. I'm working towards the second option."

Cloud Skimmer just stared at her. A spell that lasted as long as the caster lived? The thought terrified her. Pair that with a long since forgotten ancient enemy and it spelled disaster. She didn’t need to be a unicorn to envision the repercussions.

“That is why I called you here tonight. More than likely you three will be forced to leave the castle, in an attempt to weaken my sister. When that happens, I need eyes in the field so we can stop the war for as long as physically possible. Nightwind and Granite have already agreed to, but I would like you to do so as well.”


“Because you’re the only one that can watch over my daughter. I must act as I have been to minimize suspicion. She would be the first target if our enemy figures us out and I will not lose her like I almost lost Dawn.”

Cloud Skimmer lowered her head. The responsibility of watching over Dusk was tough on her at times - it seemed like an attack was always there, waiting. Letting Dusk out of her sight put her in a panic. She had frightened Dusk more than once already.

“I can understand that you have fulfilled this responsibility thus far. I’m only asking you to allow me to watch over the two of you. The spell allows you to call me to you in times of dire need.”

Cloud Skimmer nodded. Her protection of Dusk wouldn’t be enough if things fell to chaos. Besides, what harm could it do? “I’ll do it.”

“Thank you. It means so much to me that you are willing to do so.” She beckoned Cloud Skimmer over to the side of the bed. Cloud Skimmer obeyed without hesitation.

“Repeat after me:

“I Cloud Skimmer, do strengthen my loyalty to the crown and the protection of The Kingdom of Equestria. In the name of ponykind, under the guiding hooves of Chronos the First, and the ponies who descended to bring us harmony - Lik'tria, Malthus, Vreil, Kalignut, Ylldrid, and Nerites - shall I defend us till the end of all things.”

Cloud Skimmer hesitated before pronouncing some of the names, but found that when she read them, the words sounded as if she had known them all of her life. She felt a power resonate inside her, one she had never known before. When her voice finally became silent, the other ponies in the room nodded to her.

“Welcome to the Long Watch.”


Screaming. So much screaming.

"I'm so sorry, please! PLEASE!"

The black cloud began to freeze over into small rigid crystal patterns. The laughter rang through the small chamber, echoing off of the stone walls. Her laughter, like she enjoyed this poor pony being frozen over and picked apart like a miner would do to precious stones: gently, piece by piece, slowly extracting the valuable parts.

"YOU DESERVE THIS, FOAL!" she boomed. But that couldn't be her. She was enjoying this - horrid torture.

Blood trickled across the stone floors, pooling in front of her. She looked down at her reflection.

Nightmare stared back with a wild, wicked smile on her face. "You do me proud, Celly."

Celestia screamed as she tumbled off the side of her bed, landing roughly on her shoulder. The doors to her room snapped open, as her personal guards charged into her chambers. Granite skidded to a halt beside the princess, while Nightwind shot through the window.

"Princess? Are you alright?"

She rose shakily to her hooves, leaning on Granite for support. All she could manage was a simple nod. Nightwind returned through the window, moving quickly to help support the princess.

"What happened?" Granite asked.

"It... was..." she paused to slow her breathing. The guards stared at her in anticipation. She hadn't scared them like this in quite a long time. They were clearly unsettled and now completely on edge. "It was a... very real dream. One I don't wish to revisit tonight."

She looked out the window. The night sky was slowly peeling away it's dark layers, revealing lines of orange and red on the horizon. It was almost time to raise the sun.

"Although it appears I don't have to," she giggled a little, lightening the mood in the room. The other guards relaxed, laughing nervously at their overreaction to the scene. They smiled at her, but the one she returned was far from genuine. One thought lingered in her mind:

Was it a dream? Was it real? What have I done? Mother, please... what have I done?

What have I done?


        Dawn’s eyes fluttered open as she suddenly realized she was quite unable to move from her current position. On either side, both Rainbow and Twilight had managed to move in around her. It was a rather interesting predicament to say the least. Carefully, she squirmed her way out from their vice grip and nearly fell to the floor on the other end of the bed.

        They had booked a small room at a overcrowded bed and breakfast. Even with their last teleport, there was no way to avoid the hundreds of ponies dragging their possessions through the land. It had luckily gotten much warmer as they traveled into the valleys in the west - more like the temperatures of Canterlot this time of year.

        There was one bed in the room and a small sofa, on which Applejack was sleeping peacefully. Dawn was still confused about why they even needed to book a room when they had Stormbreaker’s fancy hut. Twilight said something about them needing a night to themselves, even though Trixie and Stormbreaker had their own room.

        Adults are weird, she thought. She grabbed her hat off of the nightstand, tossed it onto her head, and slipped into the hallway.

        Down in the dining room, a couple of gryffons were seen hurrying in and out, setting out trays of food - mostly vegetables and fresh bread. Just the smell of the feast made Dawn’s mouth water. Only a few ponies were up this early, eating their fill of the meal.

        “I for one don’t think that Celestia is doing enough to end the long lines at the border,” one of the stallions said, before swallowing a chunk of bread. “The fact that we have to go all the way to the crossing at Seaddle just to avoid the lines is brutal. I mean, gryffons don’t need trains - they can fly anywhere they want to go.”

        One of the workers came in and placed a small tin of margarine on the table.

        “Thank you,” he said, before continuing. “Pegasi can fly, but that leaves us earth ponies and unicorns stuck in the dust.”

        “At least she wouldn’t raise taxes through the roof and draft new guards on a whim,” one of the mares said. “We would have been much better off if she had apologized and paid reparations. Instead we got stuck with a new government a month.”

        Reparations? Dawn thought with a confused look. What is she talking about?

        “Most ponies back home would look at you funny for that. ‘One bad apple spoils the cider,’ Flora. She just happened to pick a bad pony for her council. That’s why I fought in the war.”

        An uneasy silence settled over the table. Dawn took that opportunity to sit in one of the chairs. She grabbed some carrots and a slice of bread, stacking them neatly onto her plate. Once she was certain it was enough, she waved over the gryffon before she left the room.

        The gryffon was frazzled, but kind. “What can I do for you, little filly?”

        “Can I take this to my room?” Dawn asked.

        “Of course. Just try not to spill anything on the floor, okay?”

        Dawn nodded to her back as the gryffon sped back into the kitchen. She hefted the plate from its place and trotted back up the stairs keeping it firmly between her teeth. Unfortunately, she had to struggle with the door, just to get it open.

        Too bad I don’t have claws, she thought as she squeezed through the doorway. This would be much, much-


        Dawn nearly lost her balance as the door opened wide enough for her to pass inside. The food slid to the edge of the plate, but didn’t fall off. She breathed a sigh of relief, before setting the food on one of the tables.

        Twilight was already awake in bed, leaning against the headboard so she could read. A soft purple glow enveloped the book as it hovered in front of her.

        “Morning, mom,” Dawn said, chewing on a carrot.

        “Good morning to you too. I see you’ve already gotten breakfast.”

        Dawn nodded, munching happily on a carrot. “I was gonna eat it downstairs but there were ponies down there already. They were talking about Aunt Celestia, but they were using words I've never heard of before. What does ‘reparations’ mean?”

        Twilight raised an eyebrow in confusion. They hadn’t walked for very long before encountering crowds of ponies on the roads, all fleeing the Northern Province. Every time they asked what was going on, they were never given a straight answer. That made the mention of the Princess far more interesting. “What does the princess have to do with the herds of ponies in gryffon lands?”

        Dawn swallowed her carrot. She looked deep in concentration for a moment, before clearing her thoat - almost like preparation for a speech. “‘There is somepony in the castle who is a bad pony, controlling every move Aunt Celly makes and is intentionally trying to keep me and Dusk apart. We can only assume that this pony is actively trying to move into taking back the northern provinces, as well as nearby countries. Thus, leading to total control over the world.’”

Twilight blinked, still too confused to speak.

        Dawn took another deep breath, clearly winded from her initial explanation. “At least that’s what Magic said. She also said that me and Dusk are ‘two pieces of the whole picture.’ She can see everything through two pairs of eyes. I think that would be painful.”


        “Yeah. She said you should remember who she is.”


        “Twilight Sparkle. You and I should not be speaking so soon.”

        Twilight was standing in the center of an endless library, stacked impossibly high and with paths leading in all directions. The central area had a large desk, with several quills hard at work, recording tomes worth of paper. These papers were quickly bound into books or wrapped as scrolls, before floating effortlessly through the maze to their destinations. There was also a large cushion in the center occupied by a bronze coated unicorn. She ran a hoof through her brown mane, before standing up.

        “I am Magic. The element, of course.”

        Twilight walked slowly to the cushion, “Where am I?”

        “At the center of your soul. You are participating in a sharing, are you not?”

        Twilight blushed.

        “Then I will be quick. The nature of the elements of harmony has changed. We have bound to you in a hereditary way - meaning you and I are about to part ways. This is not how things should be. There is still much that you and I should be accomplishing with the other five elements, yet they lay useless because this spell will force me to pass on to your foals. Even so, one day you will be needed again. Fate demands it.”

        “I don’t understand.”

        “You will when the time comes. Time can only bend the rules so far.”


        Twilight rolled over onto her side, slowly coming to.

        Did I black out? She thought.

        “How did she end up on the floor?”

        Rainbow, she noted. I must have been out for a few minutes at least.

        Twilight lifted herself from the floor, wobbling slightly. Rainbow Dash was there in an instant, adding some much needed support.

        “You okay?” Applejack asked. She sat on one side of Twilight, placing a hoof on her shoulder. “When you collapsed, Dawn started shaking us awake, yelling her lungs out. Good thing the walls are so thick.”

        Rainbow led Twilight to the bed, where she promptly leaned up against it, before collapsing to the floor. “I... I think it’s time we all had a talk. And Dawn?”

        Dawn looked up at Twilight.

        “You need to tell me everything that happened.”


"Here we are: Quebeak. The last city before the trade road goes south. This is the oldest city in the Riyalik Empire as well as their capital. From here on out, you four will be hoofing it up north." Stormbreaker let his saddlebags slip to the ground, as he leaned against one of the buildings.

Teleporting just twice in the last five days was all they could manage without collapsing from over-exertion. Trixie was long since out of stamina, forcing Twilight and Stormbreaker to make the last jump by themselves.

Twilight looked a little pale, but she smiled at the other two, "I suppose it's paid travel from here on out?"

Stormbreaker nodded. "For us, yes. We cannot teleport again - the princess prefers old fashioned guard posts. Though if Dawn is right, I have no idea what to expect."

Dawn scraped her hoof along the sidewalk. Telling them that somepony might be controlling the capital whipped Twilight and her friends into a frenzy. Had they not been roughing it that day, they would have practically stormed back through the borders.

She was lucky the stallion could talk some kind of sense into her. After all, if somepony was controlling the castle, he or she would have Twilight and the others branded as enemies for 'taking' Dawn.  In retrospect, she should have listened to Magic after the reaction that realization produced.

In the end, they figured that the dragons could also offer some guidance on what to do. With newfound direction, it was impossible to conceal Twilight's enthusiasm. Rainbow still hadn't stopped threatening the... thing wreaking havoc behind the scenes.

The obsession with Discord's return was rather bothersome as well. Newspapers were flooded with political squabbling over the growing crisis - refugees, claimed attacks, even calls for war on the Princesses and on the Northern Province. They left the last city after riots broke out over the refugees overcrowding the farmlands.

Dawn looked around the city streets. Things were a lot calmer here. There were more sophisticated places of business - a pony-run cafe was across the street from them, with many gryffons having very animated conversations. The populace bowed or saluted to the Emperor's  Guard as they passed in the streets in small patrols. There were very few other ponies in the streets, most of which had very fancy styles of dress.

"I've never seen so many ponies here before. Perhaps that's just the nature of the delicate situation at hoof," Stormbreaker added. "But, again, now that things have changed all of us have very little time to spare." Stormbreaker gave Twilight a hug, patting her on the back, "Be safe."

"You too," she said.

Trixie shook hooves with Applejack. The farm pony smiled warmly at her. "If you're lookin' for a spot to rest your head, stop on by Ponyville. So much has changed, I doubt it'll be a problem."

Rainbow Dash plucked a feather from her wing and placed in Trixie's bag. "Just in case they give you a hard time," she added.

Stormbreaker rummaged in his own bags for a moment, before producing a small bag. He hovered it over to Twilight, who grasped it in her teeth. "Wath dith?"

"I have an old friend a little further north named Sven Firebeak. He and I have been friends since my days in Academia. Should you need any help, give him the bag. He'll understand."

Twilight tucked it away in her bag. "Thanks. If you stop by Ponyville-"

Trixie interrupted, "I'll let them know you're alright. They won't have any problem recognizing me."

The mares shared a laugh, with Stormbreaker raising an eyebrow in confusion. He shrugged and hefted his bags onto his back.

They waved as they continued on into the city before they rounded a corner and disappeared from sight. Twilight sighed, looking down at Dawn. She was still wearing Twilight's scarf around her neck, complete with a cabby hat to hide her horn. A big smile was still plastered all over her face. Sweet Celestia, that smile was contagious.

"I can't wait to see them again," Dawn said while walking in front of Twilight. "She said she could show me some magic tricks!"

Applejack rolled her eyes. "As long as you don't drag an Ursa Minor into town, that sounds like fun."

"An Ursa Minor?" Dawn asked.

"A very large creature found in the Everfree Forest. Somepony brought it into Ponyville once-"

"And Twilight used her magic to put it right back where it belonged!" Rainbow added.

"Whoa! Really?" Dawn said excitedly.

"Well... something along those lines,” Twilight said, hiding a smile.

"Ooh! Or you could tell the story-"

Rainbow slammed straight into one of the Royal Guards as that patrol rounded the corner. She landed on her back rather roughly. The guard she bumped into fell flat on her back, causing the others to move into a more defensive stance.

The captain glared at Rainbow. "Watch where you're going, feather brain! I could have you arrested for assaulting my subordinates!"

"Sorry," Rainbow scrambled to her hooves and gave the group much more space than necessary. She kept her eyes averted from the captain.

Twilight watched as the captain did a small double take. A wicked grin spread across the gryffon's face. She started walking towards them very slowly. Her eyes were locked on Rainbow Dash.

Applejack tried to reason with her. "We're terribly sorry miss, but, um, we-"

"Quiet, unless you want to be arrested as an accomplice!" The captain yelled. She stared hard at the rest of the group, winking at Twilight.

Rainbow was running low on options. She could fly away and shadow Twilight until she could safely land, but that ran the risk of them getting arrested. The other option was jail time. She could imagine a cell deep underground, far from the open skies. Her own private death chamber - she'd go mad if she was grounded.

The captain marched right up to the pegasus. She leaned in close, so they were eye to eye. "Get up, Dash. You're embarrassing yourself."

It took a moment for it to click in Rainbow's mind. She rose to her hooves, brushing herself off. "Gilda?"

Gilda removed her helmet and tucked it under her arm. "The one and only. What in the Emperor's name are you doing here? Last time you sent me a letter, you were babysitting the royal's kids."

"It's a long story."

Gilda nodded as she wiped the sweat from her brow. "I get off duty at four. Swing by my place later. We'll catch up."

She quickly scribbled down her address and passed it to Rainbow. With a quick nod to the other guards, they resumed their march, with Gilda following behind.

"Why is her note blank?" Dawn asked, leaning over Rainbow's shoulder.

The pegasus placed it on the ground. She sighed in frustration, "Why would she give me a note with no address or anything?"

The note lifted off the ground, hovering over in front of Twilight. She looked it over once and knew at once what it was. "Invisible Ink. Nothing a little magic can't fix."

The spell shifted ever so slightly, but the only noticeable change came from the glowing paper. The light on the paper dimmed.

"Got it!" Twilight said excitedly. Her happy smile faded almost immediately. She held the note in front of Rainbow Dash and Applejack.

Somebirdy has been tracking you - I can smell it. They won't enter the city for some reason, so sit tight. Go straight to my place. The address is below.


        Gilda opened the door to her home. She passed through the threshold, practically exhausted, before removing her helmet and kicking the door shut. She sighed.

“Is there ever a day when something weird doesn’t happen?” She muttered. These past few weeks had been beyond stressful for her. Not only had she already served her mandatory two years like everybirdy else, she was being forced to ‘volunteer’ some of her job hunting time. Then again, who would say no to a general? Especially if that general was-


Gilda looked up at the imposing voice, belonging to none other than her father. It was deep and rough on the ears, which almost reflected how he looked. His feathers were well preened, but jutted out like small spikes, giving him the look of a rocky mountain. He had a permanent patch over his right eye while the left eye held a globe of orange, like a wildfire.

“Hey,” she said cooly. The helmet readjusted under her wing. He looked at her in a rather accusing manner, but said nothing. She seemed to take the hint. “They’re friends of mine. I ran into them this morning.”

“The unicorn, Twilight, said it was for their safety. Care to explain?”

“Your senses are getting dull, buzzard.” Gilda had a big smirk on her face.

“Still better trained than yours, little chick. Do you have any idea what or who you’re dealing with?”

“No. I was helping a friend. That’s all.” She quickly passed her father, making a beeline for the family armory. The suit was stifling after being in it all morning. She unlatched some of the buckles on her torso armor, before peeling it off of her damp and matted fur. As each latch came undone, she sighed in relief.

The general stood at the door as Gilda finished hanging her armor. “Gilda.”

She rolled her eyes, “Can I have a few minutes to relax? I just got back from patrol and-” Two of the royal guards stood by his sides, each armed with a spear. Behind him, the Emperor himself stood proudly on his hind legs.

Gilda dropped to the floor, bowing deeply.


Gilda did as she was ordered, keeping her eyes plastered to the floors.

“Thank you for bringing your friends to your home for safekeeping. It is more than we could ever hope for. Three elements of harmony and a pony princess? You do your family name proud, Captain Gilda Razortalon,” The Emperor spoke clearly, as he paced into the room. “Although from the sounds of your testimony, you had no idea what you were even doing. A friend in need happens to be quite the friend indeed.”

Gilda swallowed hard and said nothing. She knew her place. Speaking out while in the presence of the emperor was a good way to be killed, or at best exiled.

“Tell me, Captain. Are you even mildly aware of the conflict that threatens to plunge the whole world into war? Do you pay attention to the Generals and Lords who squabble like hens on what action should be taken?”

“Yes,” she said. Her voice wavered slightly.

“Then why would you hide the most important bargaining chip in the world from me as if it didn’t even matter?”

Gilda’s heart was racing. “I wasn’t aware of their importance, my Emperor.”

“That is because you are still naive and ill informed!” Gilda cringed under his voice, “If you even had the sense to think, the thought would have crossed your mind. Or perhaps your loyalties lie elsewhere?”

“N-no, my Emperor. I would never dare act against you!”

The Emperor drew his sword. “So you say. However... let fate decide how much truth there is to your words.”

Gilda bowed her head. This was it. Everything in her life came down to an old magic sword. She didn’t care as much for the empire, but it never crossed her mind at every decision to hold what was best for the Emperor. And now, she would pay for it.

What a stupid way to die, she thought.

The room filled with the dull thud of the sword. Her father still had his eyes closed, standing at full attention.

“Interesting,” the emperor whispered.

Gilda’s dad opened his eyes, momentarily shocked at the revelation. “Indeed.”

Gilda opened her eyes and immediately noticed the sword dug into the stone floor on her right. I’m not... dead?

“Take her into custody. General? I expect to see you in three hours,” the emperor spoke, rubbing his temples with his claw. “I must meditate on this further...”



Gilda had the comfort of knowing her friends weren’t mad at her - if only after she was thrown in the dungeon. But a rather awkward silence had settled over the room for the past few hours. A word or two would be passed between two of the prisoners, but the attempt at conversation died almost as quickly as it started.

        “I’m sorry,” Gilda said, trying to break the silence.

        “Gilda, you have nothing to be sorry about,” Twilight added. “How would you know your father would turn us in?”

        She sat on the stone floor and looked back at the iron door. “I didn’t. That’s why I sent you to my house. He was supposed to be on duty.”

        “I suppose you weren’t expecting to be in here as well?”

        “No. I was expecting to be dead.”

        The ponies just stared at Gilda, open mouthed. Rainbow blinked a couple of times. “You knew you would be killed for this?”

        “No, that's not what I-” Gilda stopped mid-sentence and groaned. “The Emperor and my father have been close since they were chicks. When he found you, his loyalty to the crown came before my safety. The Emperor passed judgement on me.”


        “It's a complicated thing to explain.”

        “Isn’t Judgement the name of the Emperor’s sword?” Twilight asked.

        Gilda was taken aback. Ponies without experience in the Emperor’s circle usually didn’t know stuff like that. “How do you know that?”

        “Canterlot Archives. I did a project on cultural differences for the princess when I was studying in Canterlot. I remember because it's the only relic to pre-date the Empire.”

        “That’s all fine and good Twi’, but what’s that got ta’ do with anything?” Applejack asked.

        Gilda sighed and rose from her spot. “When our ancestors first built civilization, the world was free with magic. But the fledgling unicorns were the only ponies able to shape it and wield it as their own. Legends say that the dragons took pity on those without magic. The pony tribes were given the Elements of Harmony - to create peace and friendship. The gryffons received the gift to shape the magic in the air. Whatever we built, magic flowed through it. In some of the oldest ruins and cities, that magic can still be felt through some sign - a shiver of the spine, a warmth in our claws.

        “But over time, our ancestors turned on one another. Magic was ripped from the air and forced into our blades. We fought beak and claw to become the rulers of our race. Out of these wars came a simple farmer named Lorius Ironfeather. Everything had been taken from him in a single battle. Rather than take revenge, he poured his anguish into a single blade - a blade that would create unity rather than war. It is said that the magic made his piece of scrap metal into a true sword, which he called Vagnyyrd - ‘Justice’ in the old tongue. Under his blade the innocents were spared, as if the blade knew their life in the moment before the final blow..

        “Eventually he managed to bring peace to tribes and established the empire to avoid any further infighting. Near the end of the Emperor’s life, he reforged the blade, spending a full month shaping and folding his creation into a tool of peace. When it was finished, the sword chose a new master - one it judged would continue keeping peace in our lands. Some say Lorius poured his soul into the sword. But that’s a bunch of folklore. At least I thought it was.

        “The Emperor used Justice to kill me. Justice intentionally missed.”

        “Hold on,” Applejack said, rubbing her head with her hooves. “You’re sayin’ some magical sword decided not to kill ya’? Wouldn’t that just be considered bad aim?”

        Gilda eyed Applejack very seriously. “No. The Emperor has never missed. Ever.”

        Twilight gently stroked Dusk’s mane, ensuring the filly stayed asleep. She cleared her throat. “So doesn’t that mean you’re innocent? I mean, that was its original purpose, the only other thing it could mean is you’re the new Empress.”

        Gilda started shaking. She slowly lowered herself into one of the corners in the room, flicking her eyes from left to right.

        “That’s a good thing, right?” Twilight asked.

        “No. It’s bad luck.”

        “Bad luck? Don’t be silly, there’s no such thing.”

        “There’s an old prophecy written by Lorius before he died. He said the day an Empress wields the sword, is the day the Empire dies.”

        “Again, superstition,” Twilight said, rolling her eyes. “Your Empire pre-dates the conflicts of the Three Tribes. You must have had at least one Empress.”

        “There have been two hundred fifty-three Emperors since Lorius. Not one Empress. I don’t know about you, but with the rest of the world on the edge, I’d prefer not to test my superstitions.”

        The door opened, with one lone gryffon at the door. His eyes were glazed over, and his claws held onto the door frame for support. Gilda’s face turned to one of horror as she noticed Justice, glowing blue in his grip. “What if you have no choice, Gilda Razortalon?”


        Gilda had gotten funny looks many times during the course of her life, but none of them had ever come with an immediate threat of death. That's why she stared at the ground in front of her while she assisted the exhausted Emperor up the stairs. The other guards on patrol were watching her with weapons drawn, waiting for a gesture from the aging leader to use them.

Yeah, yeah, no funny business. Got it, she thought.

Behind her the four ponies followed uncomfortably close. When they weren’t watching Gilda practically drag the Emperor through the halls, they had a keen eye on Twilight's horn. It made her severely uncomfortable, although it gave her solace that they weren't glaring at Dawn. Needless to say, it was a long walk.

Finally, they reached their destination - the throne room. The guards opened the doors to let them inside, moving to follow them.

"No." The Emperor glared at the two guards, who backed off a little. "Beyond these doors, none but a general may enter. Is that clear?"

They bowed briefly before returning to their posts. The doors closed shortly after that.

Dawn was captivated by how different it was from home. The room was circular in shape with several large windows sporting thick glass panes. At the far end of the room the stone was raised higher, carved into the shape of steps, leading to the cushion, in which she assumed he sat in. It even had a circular stone enclosure, lined with gold. Behind that, two bookshelves were positioned on either side of a fireplace, inside of which a fire was already prepared. A round table was built into the center of the room with a brazier burning bright with hot coals featured in the center. The chairs were all unoccupied - they were alone.

She watched Gilda bring the Emperor to his cushion, where he settled into a comfortable sitting position. He placed his sword in his lap and motioned for them to sit.

"I apologize for forcing you all into that prison cell. It was necessary to ensure I could keep you safe," he began.

Twilight and Rainbow looked at one another confused. They turned to Applejack who just shrugged in response. Twilight looked back at the Emperor, "Keep us safe from what?"

"Prying eyes. As a group of ponies none of you stand out in these troubling times, except for you," he said, pointing a claw at Twilight. "You, stick out like a sore claw. We honor great warriors, regardless of if they are gryffons or not. Twilight Sparkle happens to be one of those we respect. Any scholar would pick you out for who you are, or as a very good impostor."

Twilight averted her gaze, trying to hide her embarrassment. She hadn’t had nearly enough time to come to terms with the amount of “honors” she had earned, nor did she have enough time to know the scope of it. Being honored by gryffons for being a warrior definitely wasn’t helping.

“Why Celestia has claimed your death for five years is rather peculiar. Moreso to those who were at the funeral.

“But that is a different time. One that has clearly been re-written by magic. Old magic. It lingers on you like a cloud of lavender and ash.”

Applejack’s eyes grew wide and she shifted away from Twilight.

“If you are concerned about this, Element of Honesty, know that it lingers but has no grip. Unicorns don’t worry about lingering spells, so they know nothing about them. Only old magic casts echoes.”

Applejack looked confused.

Gilda piped up, “It's kind of like garlic - it’s quick to eat, but the smell lingers on your breath. Gryffons can ‘smell’ magic or magic creatures. Gryffons, ponies, dragons - you name it. Its our other kind of magic.”

“Just like pegasi have flight and control over the weather, earth ponies can make the land lush and green, and unicorns can bend magic to their will after long hours of practice,” the Emperor spoke. “We all have some way of interacting with magic. So when I say Twilight Sparkle is very much herself - minus the time lapse of course - she is indeed herself.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Applejack said. Her sense of unease settled and she sat back on the chair.

“But there is something else that follows you - as old and wild as the Princesses. It will not enter the city, but I cannot rely on it to simply stay put. So I cannot keep you here for very long. But... I can send somebirdy with you.” He eyed Gilda, a small frown on his face.

“Wait,” Rainbow said. “Didn’t you say she was the next Empress or something?”

He smiled slightly. “That can wait. She is the only one who can safely lead you further north. However, tonight you will stay in the castle. Do not hesitate to ask if there is something you need. Captain Icewing will show you to your rooms."

He nodded to Gilda, who quietly ushered the ponies from the room and back out into the hallway. The Emperor waited for the door to shut, before moving into a position of meditation. Justice lifted itself into the air, passing its way to the bookshelf. Another sword was dragged off of the wall, following it until they settled in front of him.


Both swords lifted out of their protective cases. The leather began to unwind from each handle, floating into the air like thread. The metal of each sword began to glow red hot.

“Beacons of hope, of might, of harrow,

Forever to walk a path so narrow,

Shall have the aid of the Empress lest,

The world fall to darkness before their quest.

But when our Empress leaves for lands of ice,

Her journey will need sacrifice.

So whilst she delves the eternal maw,

her empire crumbles beneath her claw.”

The light and heat faded away until the two swords looked almost identical, save for the different runes inscribed on each. The Emperor began to wheeze, "Resheathe, born anew."

The swords returned to their cases, before settling on the ground. He looked them over once more. It would last long enough. A heavy sigh filled the air and a frown played on his face. "I'm so sorry, Gilda. This is how it must be. Be glad you will not be here to see us fall to ruin."


        The moon slowly descended towards the horizon, casting a faint glow through the window over Rainbow’s bed. Normally, she would have gotten irate and rolled over but she hadn’t slept a wink all night. Something wasn’t sitting well with her. While it was... nice to see Gilda again, the stark contrast between the gryphon from flight camp and her “volunteer” position as a guard was making it hard to adjust.

        Sure they spoke for a while - talking until at least midnight - but it was filled with awkward pauses and long periods of silence.

        A light snore interrupted her thoughts. At least someone got to sleep.

        She heard a light click at the door. Her heart started racing. A thief? An assassin? Her legs shifted under the blankets, slowly preparing to go airborne.

        Her facade nearly collapsed when she watched the emperor slip into the room, closing the door quietly behind him. What is he doing here?

        The emperor crossed the room, casting shadows on the wall as he passed the fireplace that made it clear he was armed. Rainbow swallowed hard, thinking of all of the nasty ways she could be punished for striking the Emperor.

        Instead, he gently shook Gilda, rousing her from her slumber. “Gilda,” he whispered.

        “Ugh. Dash, it's not even light ou-” She stifled a scream, nearly jumping out of the bed. “My Emperor, I- I ap-”

        He raised a claw to her lips. “Please. Withhold the formalities. They are unnecessary this evening.”

        “Yes, my-”


        Gilda cleared her throat. “Yes, Emerus.”

        He smiled genuinely for the first time in ages. “I have something for you,” he said. Emerus reached behind him, undoing the fasteners on the blade strapped to his back. It fell to the bed, still waiting in its sheath.

        “Every Emperor that has been chosen has been a master craftsman and an expert in combat. Thus, we ensure Justice lives on through our skill. We reforge the blade with our greatest masterpiece. It prints a part of our skill, our magic within. So it never breaks and never grows dull.”

        Gilda stared wide-eyed at the blade as if it were a death warrant. There was nothing more tempting than flying straight through the window and away from this place forever. But the sword held her frozen in fear.

        “You know what it means to reforge Justice.”

        The words cut into her. Of course she knew. It was the curse of the Emperor - the price of peace.

        “You have a month to live.”

        The emperor closed his eyes. “Yes.”

        Gilda looked on the verge of tears. Rainbow tried to look away, but she was so transfixed on the conversation, she couldn’t. Gilda never cried. Ever.

        “Why me?” Gilda asked. Anger started to well within her, “Out of all the gryffons in the world, why did it pick me?! I never asked to become Empress!”

        He gave her a hard stare, forcing her to shrink back into the covers. “The Emperor is always chosen to avoid power struggles. No family has ever had the position passed down from generation to generation. Gryffons of all different trades and backgrounds have become Emperor, not because they want to, but because they were chosen. They have potential. Don’t even think for a minute that I wanted this position. I was happy enough to be a blacksmith, but then I was chosen.”

        Emerus paused, lowering his voice and softening his gaze. “Lorius created a weapon to bring peace and to keep peace. So we may never need to hold a weapon again. A simple farmer who lost everything has given us peace for thousands of years.

        “His prophecy was a warning that peace could not be enforced forever. That there will be a time when it shall be necessary to make sacrifices to keep us safe in our homes. He knew that you would bring peace to these troubled times.”

        Gilda looked down at the sword once more. “How do you know?”

        He smiled again and chuckled to himself. “Magic, Gilda. It guides us gryphons more than you know.” Emerus took a deep breath, “Now. Take the blade. It is your destiny.”

        She reached out her claw, hesitating a moment, before closing her fingers over it. A pale glow permeated the space around her, weaving around her limbs and torso, before fading into nothing.

“The blade is yours, my Empress. May it strike true on your journey as I will hold for as long as I must, until you return.”

Emerus rose from the bed and bowed respectfully.

“How will they think you’re still the emperor?”

He raised his own sword - showing the same hilt as Justice. “So long as I don’t need to use force, we will be fine. You leave in two hours.”

He walked to the door, opening it halfway before pausing. A small silence settled over the room. “Don’t look back.”


        The streets of Canterlot were full of controversy. News had leaked to the general public about Discord’s apparent control over the government. Refugees that managed to get through the border crossing spread their own experiences of the hesitant approach their princess was taking to the crisis, as well as what it was doing to the home they left behind. Eventually these tales spawned more rumors - most of which with little fact involved - and eventually, fired up debate.

        The majority of citizens applauded her peaceful use of the Equestrian Guard to increase security along the border and in major cities. But there were many veterans of the Civil War that were highly critical of her actions. Pulling on experience, they would’ve rather seen a strike on the northern capital, Stalliongrad, immediately retaking the territory and pushing Discord out.

        Unfortunately some ponies were migrating south towards Zebra territory, trying to get as far away from the seemingly impending conflict as possible. It was jamming all kinds of transportation, which earth ponies and unicorns needed to use to go north. Celestia was forced to go to other cities to calm the panic, which settled in rather quickly. She was starting to become ragged from adding long distance travelling to her duties in raising both sun and moon. The nightmares made it worse.

        Cunning ran a hoof through his mane in thought. At the moment, he was an ill-disposed Bright Light, quarantined to his office. Being “sick” from the stress was rather convenient for completing his newest plan - one he was still adjusting from being a thrown together pile of manure.

        The back of the room had a new arrangement which was a bit simple for the task at hoof. Four small orbs had been set up in the form of a perfect square, accompanied and surrounded by intricate drawings that curved around the floor. A chain hung from the ceiling, slowly rocking back in forth under the weight of the restrained pony - or more appropriately, the restrained corpse.

        “I’m so glad I kept you around. You provide me with... inspiration,” he said coyly.

        Cunning stared into the mirror, looking at the modifications made to his persona.

        “It seems I’ve put on some weight. Either that, or you’ve been on a rigorous diet. Have you started rotting?”

        A spout of magic poked and prodded the cadaver, inspecting it for any damage or signs of decay. It swung in a different direction with each test. Eventually it came to a slow stop.

Cunning was not happy with his inspection. The legs were practically destroyed from recent aging, the tail hairs would need to be regrown, and the heart... that was non-existent. It was good that the brain, at least, was intact, kept active - if mindless - by magic alone. That saved a lot of time.

He sighed, “It’s such a shame I can’t just kill somepony to bring you back. But, I can’t risk stealing the book from Celestia’s quarters, lest I bring her running back home. Walking in on this mess would most certainly blow any cover I have.”

        There was a knock at the door. Cunning reached out with his magic, gently probing the mind of the pony intruding on his thoughts. It was met immediately with a familiar sense of subservience. One of his weak-minded guards, come to bring some sort of meal.

        The door opened, allowing the guard to step inside, before Cunning made sure it was shut properly. “Dinner, my lord.”

        “Nine o’clock already? It seems like minutes since you last came in. Set it down on the desk.”

        The guard nodded. His glazed-over eyes stared towards his destination. He set the plate on the table before bowing and leaving the room.

        The warm smell of fresh tomatoes filled the room. He patted the cadaver on the back. “If you don’t mind, I’m feeling rather peckish. Perhaps in a week, you’ll be bringing my dinner to me. If I work quickly, it’ll be even sooner.”

        Cunning sat down on the other end of the table facing the pony corpse. It was still swinging back and forth from his touch. He pulled over a bowl of hot water to wash his hooves, before trading the bowl for his dinner. He lifted the sandwich with his magic.

        “In fact, I expect you to be ready far before the princess returns at the end of the week. You’ll get to meet her, I’m sure. But after that, I have a feeling she’ll be taking an extended vacation. I hear she likes exploring caves and... small spaces.”


        The Manehatten skyline brightly glowed under the full moon. The magnificent pillars of stone and steel acted as street lamps for the delivery pegasi that still worked deep into the night. Ponies crowded the streets, retreating to nightly jobs or various forms of entertainment - movies, bars, even late night operas. Even without the light of day, these skyscrapers seemed to keep the city alive.

        No wonder why they call it the city that never sleeps, Celestia thought, looking out through her hotel window.

        Sleep was not forthcoming tonight. It wasn’t a fear of attack - no, she had many guards patrolling the halls and the skies. The whole hotel floor had been reserved by the Captain to ensure any potential invader would have to find which room she was in before he - or she - was overwhelmed.

        Unfortunately, it was the nightmares keeping her up into the wee hours of the night. Grueling, terrible nightmares that had her screaming in her sleep and waking in a cold sweat. They were almost real, tangible - as if she were there in that moment before being ripped back to the peaceful world she desperately tried to maintain.

        Her anxiety welled in the pit of her stomach. Peace. It was becoming a much harder concept to grasp. The more she tried to remove their concerns, the more worried the populus became. As they worried more, some panicked and fled south. Zebra diplomats were already reporting a massive influx of ponies entering their lands, which was slowly moving towards a dangerous loss in food stores. As droughts were common, losing built-up supplies could result in mass starvation. That would eventually lead to a conflict in the south.

There was a short knock on the door.

“Come in,” she called.

The door opened and closed behind her, followed by a set of light hoofsteps on the floor. The smell of ink and paper seemed to permeate the air, followed by a rather pleasant hint of lavender.

Quick Wit, she thought.

“I’m sorry to disturb you Princess, I only wanted to drop off a few scrolls,” Quick Wit said tentatively.

Celestia smiled as she turned to face her scribe, “I was just taking a look at the town. Quite busy in the evenings, as usual. Yet still, I seem to underestimate just how alive the city is at night.” She enveloped the scrolls with her magic, guiding them onto the desk by the window, before setting them down. “Have you been to Manehatten before?”

“Well, on Tuesday we stopped by-”

The princess rolled her eyes playfully. “Before you were my scribe.”

Quick Wit fumbled with a few half-shaped words as she blushed. She took a deep breath before responding. “Once. My family wanted to take a trip to see the Statue of Harmony, Central Park, and Broadneigh. We got caught in the middle of a rainstorm before getting too far into the park - Dad was always terrible with directions.”

“That is still rather amusing after all these years. He could never fix the stove after one of his mishaps.” Celestia smiled. “I’m still surprised I hired a head chef that couldn’t read a recipe.”

Quick Wit looked mortified. “You knew he didn’t follow the directions?”

“Well, after that mishap with the Pistachio-Pickle Bunt Cake, I figured it out.”

The scribe looked like she was going to faint, throw up, or both.

“It turned out that he couldn’t properly read some letters - simple dyslexia. I believe that was the result of your mother’s first prank on him. I would say it’s the oddest mishap I’ve seen make two ponies fall in love, but I’d be lying.” Celestia stifled a giggle at her rather confused reaction. “You should ask them sometime.”

Celestia thought she heard Quick Wit mutter something like, “not on a full stomach”, but ignored it. “So. You were saying something about a rainstorm?”

“Huh? Oh, right.” Quick Wit sat on one of the small cushions in the room, “We ended up seeing a play on Broadneigh - Into the Wood, by Song Time. I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember the spectacular sunset after the play.

“The rain was already finished, so we hoofed it to the park. The way it passed behind the buildings was indescribably beautiful - almost like taking a comb to the sky and making small lines of light.”

Celestia smiled and nodded. Dusk and Dawn were just like Quick Wit as a filly - amazed by all of the simple things in the world. A sunset, buildings made by pony hooves, even art, regardless of whether they understood its meaning.

Her smile faded. In one night that was taken away from them. Dawn had been gone for almost three weeks, while Dusk was forced to watch her family and world come crashing down. Nothing outside the city seemed safe for her, except, perhaps, for Ponyville. All she could do was study and wander around Canterlot. At least she could see Rarity from time to time. But she needed more.

“Quick Wit?”

She looked up from her hooves. “Yes, Princess?”

“Can you dictate something for me?”

“My quills are in my room. I can go get them if you’d like.”

Celestia waved a hoof, “No need for that. Just write a letter to Cloud Skimmer. I would like her to accompany Dusk and myself to Ponyville, where I will be re-enrolling her in school. Especially since we have increased the guard in Ponyville substantially. If I am not able to appear home at the end of the week, she should do so at night, along with Granite and Nightwind. She is not to tell anypony else of the decision. I will inform Bright Light of the changes.”

“Of course, Princess. But... why the sudden change?”

Celestia rubbed her chin with a hoof, “She deserves some time with her friends. I’m sure they will be happy to see her again.”

“I see. Is that all?”

“Yes. Thank you for spending some time with me. It was a nice break from all these speeches and war-room discussions.”

“It was my pleasure. You should try to get some rest, Princess.”

“I will.”

Quick Wit left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. Celestia returned to the window, her smile slowly fading from her face. There was more to her decision, but it was... personal.

She needed the childhood Celestia barely had.


        “The only reason you should be walking through my door, Vengeance, is to tell me you are ready. If not, walk right back through that door and get your flank back onto the streets. This must be flawless,” Cunning spoke. He was slowly levitating a unicorn back down to the office floor.

        Vengeance stared forward blankly. Her dull brown coat was rather plain, even with the streaks of dirt plainly obvious. It appeared as though she hadn’t brushed her fiery-red mane in weeks, making it look more like a wildfire than hair. A long green cloak that had seen better days was wrapped around her. There were rips and tears along the sides and hood from trekking through brush.

        Cunning looked back up from his work, satisfied with its current position. He gave her a hard stare. “I’m assuming the answer is yes?”

        “Correct,” she said flatly.

        “What about the Northern Government?”

        “Those that oppose First Strike’s administration are prepared to remove her. The keyword is ‘cleanup’, as you requested.” Vengeance bowed respectfully.

        “Good, good.” He walked over to to the unicorn mare, nuzzling her neck. She shuddered at his touch.

        Loosening his control over her helped to keep her sharp. They had an... understanding, once. It was a time when he was so deep in despair that he tried to move on from his heartbreak. All he found was another willing victim for his grand scheme.

        “Where is Victory now?” He whispered.

        She shied away from him, blushing hotly. “In gryffon territory. Darkest Hour has already infiltrated their defenses and, ah- is in their ranks. The Emperor hasn’t noticed-”

        He nipped at her neck, causing her to lose her train of thought. "Celestia will return at the end of the week. You and your forces will wait for my signal to attack. Eliminate as many of the guard as possible on your way to the castle."

He walked away from her. She stifled a whine, trying to gather her thoughts again. "What about Luna?"

"She is too broken to join the fight, unless it involves Dusk. Ignore her. Remember who is 'leading' the attack."

They looked over at the cold corpse sprawled out on the floor. Cunning's magic crawled back over the corpse, returning to the task at hoof.

Vengeance shifted in her spot. Watching Cunning at work was refreshing - a change of pace from all of the violence in the field. But it was more than that. Watching him work his magic was like watching an inventor slowly build a new machine. Every detail was planned, checked, and then checked again.

He glanced sideways at Vengeance, smiling ever so slightly. Love was a powerful form of control. But it required a much stronger facade - one which just happened to keep them each satisfied.


Vengeance felt her heart skip a beat. It had been a long time since he called her by her real name - one she replaced when Discord truly came to power.

"My horn needs a rest and I would like to wash the stink of corpses from my hooves."

Cunning's magic faded from the corpse. He walked away from his work, stopping in front of Hearth. Their lips met briefly, before he walked slowly towards the bathroom.

"Would you like to join me, my love?"


Rarity hurried through her room, scattering clothes around with her magic. Several open bags, suitcases, and boxes lay open on her bed. Clothes were hastily folded and placed in the various cases.

"Oh, Opal. I do hope I remembered to pack that dress- No, no, no, that won't do. Oh dear..."

Opal rolled her eyes. She sat on the nearby windowsill, basking in the afternoon sunshine. As Rarity continued to fuss over her clothes, she rolled over to take a nap.

Rarity fought with one of her bags to close, until she heard a few knocks on the door downstairs. She used her magic to force the cases shut and carried them down the stairs.

The knocking came again from the front door. Rarity sighed, letting her cases gently settle on the floor. She crossed the room and lifted the shade from the front door window. One of the Royal Guards waited patiently on the sidewalk in front of the door. She nodded a greeting as Rarity opened the door.

"Can I help you, miss?"

"Hi, Rarity!" Dusk popped out from behind Cloud Skimmer, giving an excited wave.

"Dusk! What a pleasant surprise," she smiled, looking nervously down the street. "Come inside, please!" She ushered the two ponies entered the shop, before shutting the door.

Dusk had only visited Rarity's boutique in Ponyville a few times, but this was huge in comparison. All along the walls her newest fashions were on full display. Accessories hung from small hooks beside the clothes, adding a bit of neutral color to the vibrant fashions. There were racks of dresses on the main floor, as well as a small counter with a bit machine. Fitting rooms were on the right, along with a small door marked "Adults Only". Alongside the adult-sized clothing was a small fillies line - gem studded clothes with a simple, but elegant touch.

"You make stallion clothing now?" Cloud Skimmer asked.

Rarity nodded, "Starting next week, yes." A few of her new designs were still on the counter from her late night design session, before she got the letter. "And you are...?"

Cloud Skimmer blushed and removed her helmet. "Forgive me. My name is Cloud Skimmer. I'm Dusk's personal guard."

"Of course, of course." She dismissed the latter sentence with a hoof. Everypony knew how bad things looked, especially those ponies in Canterlot. She had gotten an earful of chatter about this and that from clients. But she was particularly distraught about Dusk. This couldn't be so easy on the little filly. "What brings you to my boutique?"

Dusk balanced a top hat on her head, but it was slowly swallowing her like a train entering a tunnel. "Since Master Bright Light has been sick, I wanted to come see you. It's boring at home."

Boring? Rarity kept a straight face, although her head was filled with concern. That filly has an appetite for books like her mother. There shouldn’t be a thing in the world making her- oh.

A sharp pang of hurt filled her gut. That whole mess with Twilight coming back, only to leave again - it didn’t rest well with her.

"What's with all these bags?"

Rarity shoved those thoughts deep into the back of her mind. "Well, it seems that both Fluttershy and Early Blaze have come down with a nasty cold. Big Macintosh sent me a letter asking me to come by and spend some time with them. Not a problem of course. Besides, I need time to finish the Gentlecolt line."

Dusk looked worried. "Will they be alright?"

She nodded and smiled. "Its nothing a bit of medicine and warm soup won't fix." Rarity glanced up at the clock. She had fifteen minutes to get to the train station. "Unfortunately, I must be going. I have a train to catch."

Cloud Skimmer grabbed several of the bags. Before Rarity could protest, she held up a hoof. "It's a short walk."

Rarity relented, lifting the remaining bags with her magic.

The walk to the train station was relatively uneventful. Most of those they passed were guards, while the others were too focused on their task to notice the young princess. The guards watched Dusk very closely as she entered the station. Some of them shifted closer to the train, taking up a small patrol for the platform.

"Thank you very much for assisting with these bags, Miss Skimmer."

"Not a problem."

"And you, little miss," Rarity dragged Dusk into a long embrace. "Promise me you'll stay out of trouble?"

"Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye- Ow!"

Rarity ruffled her mane before boarding the train.

“Tell them that I hope they feel better!” Dusk called. She walked parallel to the train, before it picked up speed. She watched Rarity nod in affirmative. As the train pulled away from the station, they waved goodbye, until the train disappeared down the track.


The sounds of the sea filled the air, drifting lazily into the beachside cafe along with the scent of sea salt. Ponies sat around several tables, each chatting away. Most of them were concerned with the incoming storms the weather ponies were building over the ocean. Others were concerned with the brewing conflict overseas.

"Don't be stupid, North," said one of the unicorn stallions. He shook his glass, swirling the ice in his passion fruit juice. "Things like this have happened before. They'll ignore this place like they did in the last war, even though they stayed loyal to the princesses. It's almost as if they're self-governed here."

True North sat across from him, drinking from a coconut shell. His white coat reflected the sunlight, sharply in contrast with his ocean blue mane. His wings stayed tightly tucked into his sides. "You felt another join us, didn't you?"

The unicorn flicked his eyes left and right. "This isn't the place to talk about that."

"But she's so green!" he groaned. "Barely any training, yet she's pulling double duty."

The unicorn shook his head. "We were posted out here as a first line of defense against threats coming over the ocean. It's like a permanent vacation."

"Ocean Breeze. I'm serious. We should pay attention to what's going on over there. It looks awful."

"We are. You read the paper and freak out and I keep you calm. I still have a job here. You just live off your uncanny fortune, riding around on your boat. Or air-boat if it suits your fancy."

North set down his empty coconut, glaring daggers at Breeze. Even during the last conflict he was relaxed, almost uncaring during his downtime. He loved being a lifeguard, even though he was trained for the Watch.

Fillies, gentlecolts... Soldiers.

Ocean Breeze made a complete change in attitude. His face turned far more serious than before and his glass slowly settled on the table.

The time has come to ask of you the service which you have humbly offered.

True North looked at Ocean Breeze. The unicorn nodded. North grabbed both of the glasses back to the counter, pulling out some bits to pay their tab.

Cloud Skimmer stood out in the garden, her helmet still absent from her head. Dusk bounded across from her, bouncing a ball back over to Cloud. The pegasus shifted over to get underneath it, before sending it sailing back. But she was only barely focusing on the game.

Something dark spreads over the land, causing chaos and destruction in its wake. But it is not the culprit my sister seeks, for he has left Equestria to pick up the pieces. It is someone close - someone in this very castle who pretends to be someone they are not. I fear the worst has yet to befall us.

The midday sun shone over the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres. It was nearly apple-bucking season and without Applejack on the farm, Big Mac had his hooves full. Hopefully Rarity was able to take time off to help with Fluttershy. He sighed deeply. Even though his cousins offered to pick up as much of the slack he would leave behind, he still had to assist for a few hours. It was excruciating to be away from his family in their time of need.

His legs struck home on another trunk, shaking the apples into the barrels he had set up. It was unfortunate something new was ready to take him from his normal duties.

Therefore, I am summoning the entire watch to the town of Ponyville. The remainder of the elements of harmony have gone unprotected all this time. There is no doubt in my mind that they will be targeted - it is only a matter of when. Ensure that you are prepared: Equestria still hangs on the brink of war. I cannot guarantee that anypony - even my own sister - can stop it from happening.

Luna slowly shuffled through the handful of minds in the watch. They were nervous, to say the least. Most of them were on their own, but a few had families. They had more to lose than the others. She would never willingly wish the pain of losing family on anypony - not even the clueless wife and children or concerned parents.

So go to your homes. Kiss your loved ones good night as if each night would be your last. Tell your family how much you care for them, for you may not get the chance again. For soon you may be the shield of Equestria against the harrowing darkness that presses in.

Pray. Pray for everypony that the darkness never comes. Pray that we never falter. And above all, pray that we will all see tomorrow come again.


The cold winter wind blew gently over the fields, kicking up early snowflakes. They hovered through the air, dancing with one another, before settling somewhere new. The nearby peaks shielded the white panorama from the sunlight, casting a blanket of clouds over the lands below.

Several figures trudged through the snow, leaving a wide set of tracks behind them. The wind slowly removed the blemish on the landscape. It was as if they had never passed through the area.

Twilight used her magic to pull her coat tighter against her body. Rainbow hovered above her, riding on the thermals. Her down coat seemed to be working better than the clothes she had on. She turned her attention instead to the filly riding on her back.

"You okay back there, Dawn?"

Dawn nodded, hugging onto Twilight's neck.

She turned her attention to Applejack and Gilda, "How about you two?"

"I could use a cup o' cider 'bout now, but I've been through colder than this," Applejack said. She pulled her Stetson tighter onto her head.

Gilda just shrugged.

Rainbow began to descend, making sure to pick a spot ahead of the group. As she touched down, she quickly adjusted to their walking pace.

"See anything?" Twilight asked.

Rainbow nodded. "Big city up ahead. It doesn't look like there's anyone home though..."

Twilight mulled it over for a moment. An empty city was rather unusual. Perhaps it was abandoned?

"Those must be the ruins of Olympia." Gilda adjusted her winter armor as she spoke. "The city has been abandoned since the early days of the empire. Nobirdy has been there for centuries. At least during the winter - it's a big archeological dig in the summer."

As they approached the crest of the hill, the city came into view.

Tall ruined structures - mainly columns and supporting walls - still stood tall in the snow. Small piles of rubble littered the area, indicating that stone structures of some sort existed once. Within the confines of the main street, Twilight could just barely make out the forms of old statues.

A light chill passed through her spine. She pulled the jacket tighter, shoving her concern to the winds. Nopony in their right mind would be here during winter.

Except for us, Twilight mused.

In order not to slide down the hill, they were forced to take it easy - each step needed to be calculated and observed. They began passing stray bits of debris - a piece of a building or wall here and there, or even some sort of decorative ruin. As they drew closer to the main entrance, the amount of broken stone increased, then suddenly stopped. Twilight was a little unnerved by that, but she paid it no heed, leading the group onto the road.

Up close, the statues were far more intimidating. Perhaps sixty or seventy feet tall, they were built nearly identical to one another. Most had only sustained minor damage over time, which made Twilight jittery the closer she was forced to get.

"Mom," Dawn whispered, shrinking into Twilight's jacket. "I don't like it here."

"I know. We'll be leaving soon-"

A loud crash echoed through the town, making the group jump and turn towards the noise of falling rock. Gilda even drew her weapon, preparing to defend herself. Applejack stood near one of the crumbled statues, it's loosely piled remnants now spilled all over the main road. Her cheeks reddened with embarrassment.

"Sorry y'all," she said.

As she moved to rejoin the group, Dawn took another look at the other statues. They stood proud, towering above them, guarding the ancient city. She hadn't noticed before, but she could now see the remnants of some kind of wall up ahead. She tightened her grip on Twilight's neck. Her heartbeat started to quicken, as she looked back at the ones in the front.

They looked like they were staring at her. Her eyes went wide and her body began to shake, as the other statues silently turned their heads to stare. A strange liquid began to drop from their weapons, if they had one in hand.

Dawn's ears flattened against her head. "Mom..."

"I know you're scared Dawn, but everything will be fine."

"Then t-t-turn around," she squeaked.

Twilight slowly turned to stare at the hulking monsters. Each of the statues moved their right claw to the swords on their side, drawing them to the ready. The sound of stone grinding together, echoing into the town.


Gilda took up a position between the statues and the other ponies, waving Rainbow and the others on towards the city. Twilight hesitated. "What are those... things?"

Gilda's eyes narrowed. "Constructs. Gryffons created them to protect their cities, parks, and homes in ancient times. It's been a lost art for centuries."

"Why are they talking about the Princess?" Rainbow whispered. She backed up into a crouch, ready to spring into a fight.

Gilda looked concerned, but only gave a slight shrug in response.

Applejack continued to back away. Her coat was damp with sweat, and everything in her mind screamed at her to back off. A manticore was one thing, but these statues were huge. If she could relate it to anything, they'd be about half the size of a dragon.

While her mind tried to decide whether to run or stand her ground, she crossed the threshold of where the ruined gate used to stand, its remaining structure casting a shadow over the entrance.

The stone eye sockets of the statues burst into flame. The stone creaked and stretched before crumbling, releasing them from their pedestals.

"THE QUEEN INVADES! THE QUEEN INVADES!" A strange green liquid began to coat the edge of their swords as they shuffled forward. The closest one swung its blade down onto the road. Had Gilda not rolled to the side, she'd be in two pieces.

"RUN!" Twilight screamed. She leapt into a full on sprint, passing Applejack as she struggled to move from the sight.

Gilda took to the air, spinning around the first statue. Its compatriot tried to knock her from the air, but she dodged around it. The second statue connected with the head of the first and it collapsed. Dust billowed into the air and pieces of shattered stone scattered all over the road. She choked on the dust, causing her to narrowly avoid another sword swing, but the shield it was carrying connected with her body, launching her into one of the nearby buildings. It collapsed under the sudden weight.

"Gilda!" Twilight screamed. She slowed to a stop before whipping around to try and help.

Applejack cowered in the road, her mind still stuck processing the situation. She slid back , but the statues were closing in on her. One of them ripped down the remainder of the wall, tossing the stone behind them.

Rainbow Dash, who had taken to the air as soon as the fighting picked up, dived down to scoop the earth pony up in her hooves. A stone paw came down moments later, shattering the cobblestone street.

One of the statues opened its beak. Crossbow bolts started to pierce the air. She dived left and right, hearing them whizz by her.

Steel clashed upon steel. The thick scent of blood filled the air, mixed with the catastrophic storm barely contained below them.

"Come on you foals! Come on!" screamed one of the soldiers.

Rainbow watched Twilight launch pieces of the rubble at the statues. One was outright decapitated. It swung wildly, before collapsing to the ground in a heap. Another blocked with its shield, before swiping at the ground. The sword lifted the stone into the air, launching it in the unicorn's direction. She blasted it to pieces.

The Pegasus weaved in and out of the buildings, while the bolts embedded themselves in the walls. She shook Applejack, "AJ! Come on AJ, snap out of it!"

The orange mare slowly began to recover, her heart pumping blood as fast as she'd ever remembered.

They're in danger, Applejack thought. They're in danger.

Rainbow dove through one of the ruined windows, dipping downwards to avoid a huge stone blasting through the wall. She needed to get to Twilight. She needed to make sure Gilda was alive. And Dawn...


Gilda lifted herself from the loosened stone, using Twilight's hoof for support. Dawn hopped onto the ground and grabbed onto Gilda's sleeve with her teeth.

She cast her eyes around the area.

Rainbow had most of the statues occupied, but there were still two coming at them. Gilda cursed under her breath. Her sword was lodged in the stone wall not too far away. Everything in her body throbbed in pain. There wasn't much her armor could do to protect her from flying through a wall.

Figures, Gilda thought bitterly.

Magic surrounded Twilight's horn, before producing a raw burst of energy. It ripped off the shield arm of one of the approaching statues. Another shot was barely blocked by its sword.

Gilda crawled over the loose wreckage to recover Justice while Dawn took cover behind the building. The little filly was panting heavily, her eyes still wide with fear. She could feel the adrenaline burning in her veins, keeping her alert and awake. Rainbow zoomed past her, followed by arrows. One of them stuck into the ground at her hooves.

"Dawn!" Twilight yelled. Another blast flew out from behind the wall. It slammed into one of the constructs firing arrows, knocking it to the ground.

Dawn sprinted down the main street. She needed to get as far away as she could from the assailants. Her attempt was shortly interrupted by more arrows, this time directed at her attempt to flee. She jumped into one of the side streets. Her hooves slipped on the layer of snow and she landed shoulder first on the ground. The stains of red in the snow only contributed to her fear. Without even thinking, she took off like a bullet, switching roads to avoid her pursuer.

Gilda removed her sword from yet another statue. Rainbow swooped in behind her, letting Applejack drop to the ground. "Where's Dawn?!"

Twilight took off down the main road after the last few guardians. She watched in horror as they leveled entire buildings with their gait.

Rainbow took off after her, easily rushing past the unicorn within seconds. She swerved past the statue's heads with ease, hoping to take their attention off of the filly. They didn't take the bait.

Dawn tumbled out of the alley, slipping through the snow. Up ahead, barren trees and bushes lined the center of her view. The road split and surrounded the area, creating what she thought would be some kind of park.

"HELP!" She screamed. "MOM! RAINBOW! APPLEJACK!"

Rainbow dove to the ground, sweeping her up much like she did with Applejack. It was short lived, however, as one of the bolts finally tore through one of her wings. She grit her teeth, holding in the pain. They were dropping in altitude and fast.

Twilight started to panic. No, no, no, no, no, not like this. Not like this! Her face was losing color and her breath came ragged. There was very little magic left in her. But she had to do something.

She watched the statue build up its swing, prepared to cleave both ponies in two. There was no way around it.


Her mind shaped the spell, forming the magic in front of her. It twisted around her body and burned the air in her lungs. She exhaled.

Leaping forward, her magic took the lead. She felt the strange stretching feeling, closing the two points into one. Like an elastic band, she appeared at full speed in midair, slamming into the two falling ponies, before pulling herself back into her spell.

As Gilda and Applejack reached the park, Twilight's spell opened up, dumping the three ponies onto the street beside them. Rainbow coughed a few times, before spitting out a mouthful of blood. Her wing was practically soaked in it.

"Oh, Celestia... Rainbow!" Applejack yelled, running over to the pegasus' side. Twilight rose to help Dawn up.

Suddenly, she was lifted into the air, as a sword slammed into the building beside her. Applejack and Rainbow were tossed aside as the flat end of the sword erupted from the ground.

Dawn tried to lift herself, to crawl away, but immediately collapsed. She could feel the stinging pain in her side and the warm blood melting the snow underneath her. Her breathing was slow and raspy. She dragged a hoof along her side. It was soaked in blood and that strange green liquid.

Her eyes floated to Twilight. She was already sprinting over to her, screaming at the top of her lungs.


She was so tired. Her hoof dropped back to her chest as her muscles began to relax. The sounds began to grow softer and softer.

Mom... I love... you...

Twilight watched her eyes closing.

The arrows sailed through the air, honing in on her flesh. She watched her life flash by her eyes. Studying under the princess' guidance, meeting her best friends in Ponyville - sitting with Luna the night before they woke up her mentor. But most of all, she thought of Luna. Her smile, the warmth of her touch. She stated into the very heart of the goddess and found love. But also so much regret.

She looked back at Luna. Her foals... They were far from being born, but... She would protect them with her life. Lastly, she stared at Rainbow. She had seen so much war, so much pain in such a short period of time.

"I'm sorry. I'm-"

White light poured from Twilight's eyes. Her mane coalesced together, practically catching aflame. The others had to look away as she screamed - a horrible gut-wrenching scream that seemed to make the earth shake.

No, Rainbow thought as she shielded her eyes. The ground was shaking - perhaps in fear at the awesome power she wielded. They could all feel her emotions - anguish, torment, anger. They weighed down on them, pressing them towards the earth.

For the first time since the war, Rainbow was completely terrified. She wanted to run, but even if she was able, her body wouldn't respond. The horrifying thought dawned on her. Right now, Twilight could practically kill anypony she wanted with a simple thought.

Twilight stood her ground, aiming her horn at the closest statue. It disintegrated. Not a single trace of its existence remained in the world. But the other one suffered a far more horrendous fate. Piece by piece she ripped it apart. The fact that it felt nothing made her more angry. It wasn't enough just to remove her attackers.

No, she wouldn't be satisfied until this whole city burned. The white glow began to turn red. Her angry cries tore apart the earth. Buildings were flattened under her magic. Others just ceased to be. The whole city was engulfed in her rage. As her friends cowered below her, helpless, they watched the city start to burn and melt away.

Two purple claws surrounded her horn, cutting off the flow of magic. With the pressure suddenly lifted, Rainbow noticed the huge purple dragon towering over her, whispering something to himself. The red glow turned back to white. He waved his free claw through the air, pulling back the wild magic and dragging the spell back into her body. The others hung onto the ground for dear life, as the pressure began to pull them towards the unicorn and dragon.

Rainbow's ears popped, the pressure finally stabilizing. She felt woozy - from loss of blood and from the spell. Her hooves barely supported her bid to stand.

The dragon set the unconscious unicorn on the ground. "Check to make sure the Princess is breathing," he whispered. It sounded more like a rumble of thunder.

Rainbow placed an ear to Dawn's chest. She could hear her heartbeat and could feel her chest rising and falling.

Gilda stood, sword still at the ready. "Who the hell are you?"

He ignored her. "AJ. Grab Dawn and hop on my back."

She was confused for a moment. They had never met a purple dragon with green... scales...

"Spike?" she whispered.

He nodded. "I'll explain later. But we need to hurry. Neither of them have much time left."


The council chamber was perhaps one of the most spacious buildings in the entire empire. It was said that before it housed the council, it was used as a stage for combat, plays, and musical performances. Its vaulted ceilings allowed for the sounds of the older generals to carry throughout the room. But such was the design that outbursts by angry generals would not shatter the eardrums of everybirdy in the room. Its white marble columns were surrounded by the different military councilors present for yet another emergency meeting.

Emperor Emerus sat on his cushion at the end of the room, only seated slightly above the other councilmen. He traced circles on his inner thigh with a claw - more of the uninteresting panic of overcrowding.

If the other council would think as calmly as they did while in the service, they would notice the clear facts.

Yes, overcrowding would cause a problem - food shortages, water shortages, land overuse. That is, if they truly planned to stay on a more permanent basis. With all respect due to the Princess, he knew she had never intended her subjects to fall prey to a second war. They were reluctant to commit acts of  violence by nature, but easily swayed to do acts in her interests, if not her name.

These refugees were only seeking temporary shelter - most would never consider living exclusively with gryffons for the rest of their lives. As for food, the harvests were good as usual. It was more beneficial that these ponies brought much of their own food with them as well - a fact easily looked over in a panic. Besides, there had long since been a source of food storage within the empire - enough to last two years of poor harvest. He was still hesitant to reach into that storage, especially with a new empress roaming through the mountains.

The councilor on the floor of the chamber looked back up at the emperor. Emerus nodded.

"Fellow Councilors. Please cast your support in favor, or not in favor of allowing additional smiths to assist the military forces of Princess Celestia, of Equestria."

The former emperor shifted on his cushion, adjusting his sword so it would no longer be jabbing into his ribs. Out on the floor, the councilors voted narrowly in favor of the proposed order - many didn't vote at all. The gryffon on the floor looked back at him.

"I, Emperor Emerus, 253rd Emperor of our bountiful empire, do support and decree the proposed measure."

The other gryffon turned around to readdress the chamber, but the emperor removed himself from the proceedings. He could see the setting sun begin to settle behind the mountains in the west. Storm clouds could be seen passing over them, like a shroud of smoke.

Empress... He thought, returning his gaze to the councilor.

"Is there any further business to attend to?"

The emperor returned his gaze to the chamber floor. Through the crowd several gryffons stood from their places before flying down to the podium.

"I wish to address the council, as well as The Emperor, should it be acceptable."

General Farreach? Emperor Emerus thought. He had been curious about the affairs of the eastern front for quite some time, but the general was quite tight lipped about the situation. Several times he had assured the council that everything was under control. The emperor smiled and nodded for him to proceed.

"I bring tidings from my province. As we are all aware, the main concentration of refugees must cross the border under my control to continue traveling west. Their numbers have been dwindling for some time, which has helped ease problems elsewhere in the empire. However - I fear that the border will not hold for much longer. The influx of refugees has stopped altogether. I fear an imminent attack. I request for more troops to be stationed along the border to prevent such an event."

Several of the councilors in the upper rises murmured to one another. Some were concerned while others waved off the presentation.

"General Redcrest," the emperor said. The general on his right bowed before the assembly. "How many troops are available to redistribute, discounting those being used to ensure no assailants have entered the country."

"Perhaps four or five hundred are combat ready and available for reassignment. There are another thousand in reserve, but they will take time to equip and mobilize to the border."

The emperor looked back at Farreach. "From our collective reports over the past five years, we are certain they can amass a force of about five thousand troops within a few days. If they have been mobilizing while the others have fled, they may be closer to seven thousand." He stopped to breathe and recollect his thoughts. This was an unexpected turn of events. "However your reports from the beginning of this crisis have noted a movement of troops towards the southern border with Equestria. Given the terrain and the difficulty these ponies have had without regulated weather - they will be at least a week or two away from posing a serious threat warranting such a show of force."

Farreach looked offended. He seemed to stagger for a moment.

"Unless you have further proof to the contrary?"

"No, my emperor-"

"Then, I'm afraid I cannot honor that request. I have a duty to protect the citizens of this empire from real threats, much like the thousands of ponies traveling across nearly three quarters of this Empire."

Farreach's eyes narrowed. "Then I suppose should we be attacked, the loss of my citizens will be a sacrifice you're willing to make?"

The temperature in the room seemed to drop almost ten degrees. No one dared speak.

The Emperor stood from his cushion. "I cannot protect everyone, Farreach. Should you be attacked, it will only be due to your own incompetence. In which case you will die for the loss of my citizen's lives and I will find someone whose head isn't stuffed like a mattress!"

"On the contrary, my lord - disregarding any viable threat is an oversight that any general that lives, has never made. You still have the power to call on any who have had training, of which all of those of age have had!"

"Forcing a recall to duty? For what? Nothing! I will not force families apart just to play in the snow. I will not force some territories to meager rations to fuel an army marching up and down a road. And at the cusp of winter? Do you think me incompetent?"

Silence filled the chamber. He looked up at the emperor, "I do. In fact, if I am right, your leadership has already passed on to somebirdy else."

The Emperor's eyes filled with rage. He leapt from his place, settling harshly on the chamber floor.

"Where is Justice, Emerus? Where is our emperor?"

Emerus drew his sword from its sheath. Flames billowed from the end of the sword, scorching the chamber floor.

"Justice is with the new Emperor, who has journeyed to save this world from those who wish to take it. I am his steward to make all decisions in his wake. You have challenged my honor and questioned my right to rule, therefore questioning Lorien's heir. Single combat is my right, chick."

"Then defend yourself and your emperor. Or..." A slight gasp of revelation left Farreach's mouth. "Perhaps you wish to defend your Empress!"

Emerus sped forwards, slamming his shoulder into Farreach's chest. The unsuspecting gryffon flew backwards into the wooden stands. He shouldered his blade and began to spin. Each strike that passed through the air sent a wave a flame at the disabled Farreach. But Farreach's sword blocked the strikes, allowing him to roll out of the way.

Panic over the duel sent the other councilors in all directions. Some of them tried to flee through the windows, while others flooded down to the floor to try to defend either the general or the Emperor. Swords left their sheaths, dragging the two sides into battle around the pair.

Magic filled the air as every new strike brought some kind of calamity on gryffon and wall alike.

"Emperor!" Redcrest screamed. He was fighting his way towards Emerus, pushing through the crowd. He ducked under an enemy sword, swinging his claw up to grasp the sword arm. With a single motion, he slid into the enemy's chest. The other gryffon dropped to the floor.

Emerus was having trouble keeping up with Farreach - his degeneration was causing him to slow down. Farreach had no such problem and it showed. His sword bit into the Emperor's side. The emperor countered with a blast of flame, causing Farrreach to scream and cover his eyes.

But the scorch marks were only on his chest. The Emperor hesitated for a moment, confused.

A shallow thud sounded from his chest. He looked down, only to see the hilt of the sword which found its mark. Farreach had taken the opportunity to charge him while he had hesitated.


"How, Emerus?" Farreach leaned in and whispered in his ear, "Because peace dulls your senses. You should have let the Empress wander before giving her the sword. A foalish mistake."

As the Emperor's sight began to fade, so did the perceived illusion. A unicorn stood within the confines of the illusion, glaring with his one good eye. The fire had burned away much of the coat on the other side of his face and had forced his eye closed. Magic continued to feed into the illusion and the eye, but beads of sweat all over the pony's body showed he could barely accomplish that.

Emerus fell to his knees as the illusion pulled the sword from his chest. Both blood and bile forced their way from his mouth. He collapsed forward onto the chamber floor. As his eyes closed for the last time, he watched General Redcrest's blade slice through the unicorn's head. A smile played on his lips.

"Long live... Empress... Gilda..."


Luna felt the moon begin to rise on the horizon. Even though her sister was lifting her celestial body into the sky, it brought about her mental clarity. The land of dreams began to open to her thoughts to those who wished - perhaps foolishly - on the first star in the sky.

But as of late, while she slept she watched over the members of the Long Watch. Few members had arrived at their intended destination - Granite had requested leave time a few days ago to visit his cousin, as she was close to bringing another foal into the world. Ponyville General was the closest hospital to their northern town - albeit by train. Luckily that had worked to put him in place.

Nightwind and his sister Cloud Skimmer were still forced to work in the castle for the foreseeable future.

Other than that, only the interesting duo of True North and Ocean Breeze had arrived. It was a rather flashy entrance to speak of - the citizens were wary of the "search for a winter vacation home", as North had put it. Ocean Breeze was forced to pretend that he was family. Of course the citizens never knew better, but she was concerned that he could be easily seen as a potential threat, should they dig a little deeper.

The only pony she skipped over was Big Macintosh. He volunteered shortly after Twilight's funeral, as a way to protect his sister from harms way. His humiliation of being beaten unconscious by Starfall's guards left a permanent scar. He could certainly hold his own now.

Slowly, she pulled her mind away from the watch, forcing her to return to reality. It was only then she noticed that she wasn't alone.

Her eyes opened just enough to get a glimpse of her sister's flowing mane as well as the stone floor that had engulfed her own body. Luna’s eyes went wide, and she tried to move out of it, but it held tight around her. It covered everything but her eyes and her nose.

"Trying to make noise will only make it harder on you, dear Luna."

She looked back over to the window, but it wasn't her sister standing there. It was Bright Light.

"I suppose you're wondering why you're in such a vulnerable position? Of course, you should remember when I sapped your foalish sister of her magic. Unlike last time, you do not share the elements of harmony. Instead they are scattered to the winds - far too distant to help you."

Luna's panic grew and she tried to further struggle against the stone. Her energy melted away as the stone crept further up her muzzle. She was completely confused by the whole situation. How could she not have noticed?

Cunning shifted form once more, reverting back into his old self. Luna's eyes went wide.

"I suppose this is a sort of reunion. Your gift to me was your precious little Dusk, and mine is to seal you away for another thousand years. It's much darker than being on the moon, but I assure you that it is much warmer."

Blind rage filled her mind and her eyes began to glow. The light faded immediately as pain seized every muscle and bone - every possible nerve in her body.

"Now, now," Cunning shook his head. "Killing yourself over failing to protect your fillies and your sister just wouldn't give me quite the satisfaction I require. Not even bringing every other country to its knees in a single night is enough, unless you are here to listen to the wishes that come from the devastation."

He shifted his form into that of a pegasus colt and hopped onto her stone prison. "I wish my dad would come home." He shifted into an earth pony filly, "Why did my husband need to fight in that war? Now my little stallion is stationed in Canterlot."

Luna began to cry, a mix of regret and bitter hatred fueling her emotional outburst. Finally, he shifted into the form of Dawn. Her coat and mane were unkempt, with scratches barely visible underneath. The stone began dragging her down into the floor below. Before her head dipped below the surface, she saw a single tear fall from Cunning's eye.

"Why didn't you come save me?"

Luna disappeared into the floor. Cunning began to laugh - a high pitched, twisted giggle. A laugh that would haunt Luna for the rest of her life, if he had the time to break her mind. Instead he stood, shifting back into Bright Light. The princess would be arriving any moment. He paid no heed to the piles of ash on either side of the door.

With his magic, he reached out with his mind hunting for Vengeance. Within seconds he made contact, finding her waiting at a local cafe. The abundant amount of minds in the area indicated that the nightlife was picking up.

Hearth. It's time.

Yes, my love.


An uncomfortable silence blanketed the city of Canterlot. It was a rather clear night, as the scheduled rain had been pushed back due to a shortage in Manehatten. The half-moon shed much less light over the mountains, even as the clock approached midnight.

Fewer ponies were on the street than usual. But, several of the usual events still affirmed some kind of life in the city - The Canterlot Philharmonic Orchestra was performing with the Royal Choir, and the lights from the downtown clubs still shone into the night.

Celestia shifted uncomfortably in her seat as the chariot began its silent descent into the darkened courtyard. Something wasn't right. She could feel it.


The princess looked up at one of the pegasi leading the chariot. He nodded his head towards the ground.

Three ponies stood by her intended landing zone, speaking very quietly with one another. One she knew was Captain Whirlwind - one next to him must have been a guard, as he turned and flew off into the night. The other was without any recognizable decorum.

The chariot landed with a soft thud, coming to a halt in front of the two ponies.

"Good evening, your highness." Captain Whirlwind dropped to his front knees.

"Princess," said the other in a somewhat scratchy voice.

She smiled, slightly relieved. "Captain Whirlwind, Bright Light - what a pleasure to see you. I'm surprised that you came to see to my arrival."

"Since much of the guard is trying to pretend you're still in Manehatten, I wanted to ensure your safety." Captain Whirlwind rose to his hooves. "Master Bright Light was willing to assist, since his cold has subsided."

Bright Light cleared his throat as softly as he could manage. He sounded awful. "Almost, Captain. Not quite yet. However my magic should be in full force to assist."

Celestia smiled. "All you'll need to do is protect me from your cold. I'm here to take Dusk to Ponyville, as I mentioned in my scroll."

Captain Whirlwind nodded, "Allow me to inform Cloud Skimmer of your arrival."

"Of course," Celestia replied. The Pegasus bowed and walked through the door. Bright Light sneezed.

Celestia opened the door with her magic, holding it open for the ailing unicorn. "Perhaps being inside would assist your swift recovery?"

He nodded, passing through the open door. Celestia entered shortly after him, moving to his side. "Fall is rather agonizing if it strikes me first. I haven't felt this awful since I was a child."

Celestia nodded. "I don't think I've ever seen you this sick before."

Bright Light smiled weakly. "Normally I apply a suppression spell when the leaves start to color and grow moldy on the ground. With events as they have been, I haven't had such time."

The pair rounded a corner, continuing towards the throne room. The guards shuffled by, giving a respectful nod to the princess as she passed by.

"You should have stayed in bed, Bright Light. Resting is important-"

"With all due respect Princess, protecting you is more important than a silly cold. In fact, it is our duty to protect you, your sister, and all ponies in Equestria. Of course, teaching your subjects the art of magic is my true contribution. But a favor to Captain Whirlwind can be accommodated for you."

The light yellow and gray magics of the unicorn guard pressed open the throne room doors for the two. As they walked towards her seat of power, the doors closed soundly behind them. It was followed by a slight jingling noise.

Celestia was too lost in thought to turn around, instead focusing her attention on the Captain waiting at her throne.

"Where is Dusk?" She asked.

"On her way, your highness. They'll be coming through the door any moment." He bowed respectfully.

"Good." Celestia looked back to the door, sighing. It was cut short with a gasp. There hanging from the door was the Captain Whirlwind’s skeleton, still in his armor.

"Princess!" Bright Light yelled. He leapt from his spot, slamming her to the ground. Fire filled the space she had been standing moments before, filling the air with acrid smoke. Another gout of flame flew through the air from Whirlwind's wings. Bright Light was on his hooves first, tossing up a shield. The impact tore through his barrier, burning through his coat down to his skin.

The Princess was back on her hooves, but she only watched as Bright Light began to pour magic into the air. His shield reappeared and Celestia felt her hair stand on end as electricity built in the air.

When the flames shot across the room again, the headmaster was ready. The fire was sucked into his shield, converted quickly back into raw magic. He unleashed his spell, snaring Whirlwinds legs and wings in it, snapping him up from the ground and slamming him back onto the floor. The tiles shattered under his weight and the assailant fell into the scraping pool below. The doors slammed open as the guards just outside poured into the room, weapons brandished.

The would-be assassin shot out of the pool and stared down at the guards. "Well, well, well. A unicorn with some fight in him. How unusual."

Celestia gawked at the hovering figure. "Cunning...?"

"Surprise." The floor morphed and shifted under the guards’ hooves, before surrounding them like an open mouth. They were dragged down into the stone, which returned to normal a moment later - as if they'd never been there at all. "Did you miss me while I was your garden decoration?"

Celestia flinched at his words, even as Bright Light's shield held strong. She firmed her facial features. "I put you there for a reason, Cunning."

He settled down on the ground, tucking his wings against his sides. "Because you didn't have the heart to kill your friend. You're weak, Celeste." His form shifted and changed, taking a more regal stature. The orange-red coat seemed to be wreathed in flame and his yellow eyes narrowed.

Rage began to tug on her features. "How dare you..." Her mane slowly stopped moving, a yellow aura replacing the normal blue of her magic. The moonlight coming through the windows began to shift, growing darker as her power grew. "HOW DARE YOU!"

"I particularly like being your father. The most powerful alicorn to have ever lived?  He was called The Second Sun for a reason Celestia." Fire began to brim from his horn. It smelled as though his magic was on fire. "Discord has decided that, rather than wait for you to come around, he'll just kill you!"

Bright Light was practically thrown to the ground from the the unleashing of their magic. He could vaguely see additional guards try to enter the room, but they were immediately blinded by the light.

It was clear that Celestia was on the winning side of this battle. While the castle walls, floors, and supports were crumbling under the crushing weight of channelling the sun - presumably - the rest of the room was held in place by the raw magic. As the room grew brighter still, Bright Light crawled behind the princess, his tail slowly talking on a flowing multicolored hue, and his coat changing into a brilliant white. The stone floors could be seen snaking around her legs, as he whispered in her ear.



Vengeance walked through the crowd pouring out of the philharmonic orchestra. The time was ripe for her to cull these Celestia-loving masses. Her master was clear - once the signal was set, Canterlot would be a war-zone.

She hovered the remains of a donut in the air, taking another bite. Perhaps I'll save the baker that made these... "Donuts".

The castle grew very bright over the town as ponies began to turn and look in horror. They started murmuring to one another and pointing in its direction. She could see guards abandoning their posts for the castle.

High above the castle, the moon had reached its peak, slowly turning a deep crimson.

The eclipse was the first sign. She began to redirect her magic, snaking it into the ground beneath her. It spread like a web, slowly encasing her prey. The donut fell to the ground, lost in her change of focus.

Poor foals. You make it so easy sometimes... She lamented.

The castle grew brighter still until a huge explosion rocked the city. One of the walls fell away from the mountain into the valley below, as smoke and fire billowed from her seat of power.



Dusk raced through the corridors of the castle, fleeing the falling tower where her room once was. In the confusion she had somehow lost both Cloud Skimmer and Nightwind. From the sound of metal smashing against metal outside the windows, she could only assume they were caught in the battle below.

Another stone column fell away from the wall behind her, followed quickly by the wall it was meant to contain.. There was very little time until this whole place collapsed. She rounded a corner, only to fall down into the rubble caused by that huge explosion.

"Ow..." she muttered, rising to her hooves.

She found herself in the remains of the throne room - the whole back of the room had fallen away from the castle down into the valley below. The roof had partially collapsed - most of it was what she would have to climb over.  Out in the main hallway, she could see a few guards lying prostrate against the wall, their limbs in the wrong direction-

She promptly lost her dinner. Keeping her head deliberately to the ground, she began the gruesome task of climbing towards the main doors.

Why is this happening?

She passed out of the main doors and into the hallway, keeping her eyes deliberately cast away from the bodies. Her heart was racing and she couldn't manage to keep her mouth moist. Panic was slowly setting in as she barrelled down the hallway. Up ahead she heard another loud crash. She slowed to a stop and poked her head around the corner.

A strange alicorn stood at the end of the hallway, the archive door wide open. The stone floor was bubbling like hot soup. She was about to turn away when she saw a white muzzle poking through the floor. Her mouth fell agape, as her aunt's body slowly rose into the air. The whole time the other alicorn was watching her intently, looking over her white body like she was a delicate vase. As the floor settled back to normal he levitated her into the hallway, laughing to himself as he followed.

Her legs pulled her far from that scene, barrelling back down the hallway and out the shattered front doors. The cacophony of battle filled her ears as an army of plain clothed soldiers pushed back the meager guard.

“Stand your ground! Push them out from this city!” Came one of the shouts. She saw Nightwind at the front of the line, swinging away with his wings while landing a few solid bucks. Those on his left and right seemed to hold back the endless line of assailants. Another huge explosion rocked the castle, knocking one of the other towers over the mountain and out of sight.

The force was very quickly pushed back to the door, swallowing Dusk in the endless sea of bodies. She dodged through swords and magical bursts, trying desperately to get somewhere safe from the fighting. They spilled back into the main hall of the castle, allowing her to break off down a different side hall.

The stone underneath her lifted, flinging her forward through the air. Dusk landed roughly on the carpet, before rolling to a stop.

“Hello little Princess.” Vengeance smiled, walking slowly towards the stunned alicorn. “What are you doing out here all alone?”

Dusk stared at the sword hanging in the air beside her. She was wearing a deep green cloak that hid most of her face. But her eyes - they alone made every fiber of Dusk’s being want to run as far as possible. She swallowed, trying to settle the adrenaline pumping through her veins. “I-I’m not scared of y-you.”

Vengeance laughed, tossing the hood back. Her red mane seemed to make the filly flinch. “Oh? Then why are you practically shaking?”

Dusk, spread her legs apart, holding her ground. “I’m... cold.”

Vengeance nodded. “Perhaps a nice fire for her royal highness?” Her horn glowed a soft red as the tapestries caught ablaze. The carpet followed, but Dusk was already sprinting down the hallway towards the training grounds. If there were soldiers fighting there, she could lose her in the combat - maybe even hide in the storage building.

But another explosion to her right showed the unicorn hot on her tail. “YOU CAN’T RUN FROM ME!” Vengeance screamed, laughing maniacally.

She rounded the corner and slammed into another pile of rubble blocking the way to the barracks.

“CLOUD SKIMMER! HELP!” Dusk screamed. Vengeance slowed to a walk, standing between her and the inferno.

“No way out Princess.”

Dusk rose to her hooves, leaning down as if to begin a charge.

“Don’t make me laugh. A runt like you challenging me?”

Dusk’s horn began to glow. Vengeance lifted an eyebrow. The raw magic fired from her horn, hitting Vengeance straight in the face. She rubbed at her eyes, howling in pain.


Another shot landed square in the chest barreling her over. A third went high smashing through one of the windows.

Vengeance rolled out of the way of another shot but was knocked back on her rump by a fifth. She was shouting curses as she rose to her feet. “When I get my hooves on you...”

Her vision was blurred by the first shot, but she could see the filly practically passed out. At least she thought so. She walked in her direction, swaying a bit to the left and right.

Dusk took aim one more time, praying that her training would afford her one last attempt to save herself. The nearly-blind Vengeance began to build up her own reserve of magic. Dusk let go of her spell. It flew true, nearly as powerful as the first back into the eyes of the unicorn. She slammed herself into the wall, trying to shake the burning feeling from her eyes. The window just beside her blew wide open, as Cloud Skimmer fell upon Vengeance like a hawk. They tumbled over one another before Cloud kicked her towards the open flame.

“Dusk! Close your eyes!” Cloud yelled, rolling to her hooves. The filly turned her back to the melee as best as she could.

Vengeance righted herself, preparing a spell for the interfering pony, but the wing blade struck almost immediately, going clean through her neck. Cloud Skimmer kept her wings away from her body, if only to shield Dusk from the gruesome mess behind her.

Dusk began to cry quietly, taking short breaths between sobs.

"I'm here, Dusk. I'm here," she cooed, lifting the filly with her forehooves and pulling her tightly against her chest. She took flight through the window, diving under the castle as to not be seen. After a short while, she dipped to the side, angling herself towards Ponyville, leaving the city to burn in the night.


"I think I found her!"

Cunning looked up through the rubble, barely getting so much as a hint of starlight. By now, the lunar eclipse was over - Celestia's gamble for extra power now fading into the night. She had been so blinded, she didn't question the situation at hoof. The simplicity of the "assassination attempt" was believable enough for her to even consider the obvious illusion for what it was. Had she done so, she would have noticed his perfect pawn: Bright Light's body.

It wasn't fully capable of sustaining false life for more than a night, but it served as a perfect distraction. He disguised it perfectly as the captain - his magical throw allowed him to change the illusion after he fell into the pit, into one of himself. The shield let him secretly channel his own magic for the fake, though going hoof-to-hoof with Celestia was not his best decision. Despite his nearly exhausted magic supply, his plan had proved perfect:

He was now Princess Celestia, Goddess of the Sun.

Cunning had to contain his giddy excitement from breaking his ruse. The guards above him had already found where he was buried - as the Princess, of course - but the best part of his plan was yet to come! When they found Bright Light’s body, those simple minded fools wouldn’t even question that he tried to save the princess. Bright Light would be declared a hero and any suspicion he may have aroused while impersonating him would be dropped.

He heard the heavy stones being shoved to the left and right. They were frantic in their search. Most importantly, these guards had no magic left, if they even had magic at all.

"Princess!" one of them shouted, tossing one of the rocks to the side. Some of the others shifted and pressed down heavily on Celestia's shoulder.

Cunning cursed in his head, fouling his good mood. He didn't need more bruises than the ones he already made himself.

"Ugh," Celestia moaned in pain, shifting out of the way of the rock. It didn't help much.

"I found another one over here!" Another guard called.

"Leave the dead for last - we need to secure the princess."

Celestia smiled weakly. She recognized that voice - Nightwind. At least he was still alive. She needed a bodyguard who she trusted explicitly. Someone who would tell her everything.

Perfect, Cunning thought.

"Night... wind..." Celestia's whisper barely floated through the rubble.

The first piece of rubble between her and the surface moved away, nearly blinding her with torchlight. Fires, Cunning thought. No, a single fire.

The city was burning. Canterlot was becoming nothing more than ash. Were he in private, Cunning would have outright screamed at his own failure to address the necessity of leaving the city intact. He suppressed his urge to frown at the bright light, squinting to see through it. It was unlike him to miss that minor detail.

"Princess?" Nightwind came into her field of vision, a look of concern plastered to his features.

She tried to lift herself, but she was still securely held in the pit of rubble. Several tendrils of magic closed in around her, lifting her gently from the pit, onto the small clearing above.

Doctors were sprinting back and forth from several field tables. The screams of the suffering and dying filled the air, as did the thick scent of blood. The majority of the heavy stones were being rebuilt as makeshift walls to enclose the throne room. Another explosion rocked the castle.

"Can somepony put out the damn fire already? We don't want the whole castle sliding down the mountain!" Nightwind barked. A few pegasi carried the dented scrying pool out of the clearing, filling it with clouds as they disappeared over the wall.

Cunning nearly laughed from satisfaction. Canterlot was less prepared than he originally thought - which meant there would be far fewer survivors. It was a much more believable attack to begin drafting troops against his brother, or, whoever he could manipulate the public into thinking was helping him. He would get absolute control.

Celestia coughed, clearing some of the dust from her mouth and lungs. Nightwind helped her to her hooves, leading her slowly to the only cushion in the clearing. Part of her bed, Cunning thought.

Celestia eased her injured body onto the cushion. "What... What has happened?"

"As soon as your fight with that impostor concluded, the magic in the throne room went haywire and blew up the whole central part of the castle. Shortly after, several huge explosions rocked the town. It was a well planned trap which tore us apart. They wiped out the majority of the guard. Most of the fighters in the fray are volunteer citizens and unicorns from the school under the leadership of a... Shining Armor. Twilight Sparkle's brother, I believe."

Cunning passed that thought back and forth through his brain for a while. He wasn't aware she had any siblings. But with her out of the picture for now, Twilight's brother could be an asset.

Shouts of joy started to echo faintly from below. The bubble was going down. Celestia tried to take off, but Nightwind put a hoof on her shoulder.

"We've won." he said relieved.

"At what cost, Nightwind?" Celestia whispered. It was time for Cunning to play it up. "I should have stayed in Manehatten, where I was supposed to be. It's my fault this city is aflame."

Nightwind looked up to her. "Somepony set this trap up for you. It didn't matter when you returned - you would have had to eventually."

Celestia nodded, closing her eyes. "Where have Luna and Dusk gone?"

"Dusk has been taken to Ponyville," Nightwind began carefully. "Luna is missing."

Nightwind watched the color drain from her face. She looked physically sick and began to tremble. He'd seen that look in her eyes before... in Luna's

"Princess. Please. I know it's difficult, but-"

"Difficult?" Celestia screamed. “Difficult is sending your sister to the moon for a thousand years! Difficult is falling asleep for what you think will be another thousand years, only to be brought back to witness my half-sister murder my beloved student! Then I lose her to the loss of her child, and now..." She was practically choking on her words, when she calmed herself, centering her focus once more. Her last thoughts were barely audible. "At least she was still here when Dawn was taken."

Nightwind had taken several steps back, as did many of the other guards. The memory of the night Dawn was taken still burned into their brains - none of them wanted to be the target of her wrath. But now, Nightwind approached her. He whispered, "You're right. I don't understand. But you can't leave us like your sister did. Equestria still needs you, starting with the survivors of Canterlot."

She nodded. Finding some sort of resolve, she motioned to one of the other guards. "Find me a quill and ink. I have a message for all of Equestria to hear."


Big Macintosh had finally exhausted his daughter’s fever, spending hours tending to both her and his wife with a wet cloth. Sometime earlier, Fluttershy's fever went down, which allowed him more focus on Early Blaze.

He squeezed the water out of the warm towel before tossing it into the wash bucket by the sink. He was too tired to deal with cleaning it now.

He rose from his chair and walked to the front door. A bit of fresh air wouldn't hurt. Besides, it would give him time to assess the damage. There was a reason Luna went silent.

The fires lit the mountain up as if it were a torch. Smoke rose into the sky, covering the mountaintops and spreading out like ash from a volcano. It was a mess. He gaped at the sight of the distant destruction, speechless.

He walked through the orchard to get a better look, but even so, it wasn't less gruesome, or less horrid to look at. It was like watching the start of the end of the world. Since Luna was silent, it might as well have been. Except, he could still feel the magic she granted to him.

"Big Mac, I presume?"

The red earth pony looked back down from the burning city. Two of the newcomers to town were walking up the hill to join him. He was a bit confused, "Eeyup..."

"True North and Ocean Breeze. We’re new in town. Looking for a winter locale away from home-" Ocean Breeze began, before receiving a quick elbow to his ribs.

True North rolled his eyes. "The night is long with darkness nigh-"

Big Mac smiled, "But with these hooves the darkness dies. Evenin' boys."

True North trotted over to the stallion, shaking his outstretched hoof. “We've been looking for you - one of our own is on the way from Canterlot, but she's apparently hurt bad."

Big Macintosh raised an eyebrow. "Y'all have enough magic to lift her?" They nodded. "I can prepare a room if that's what you're asking."

"We need you to come with us. Princess Dusk only knows you."


"The south orchard, but-"

Big Mac was off immediately, tearing through the trees on the farm. He could barely hear the other stallions as they slowly caught up to the workhorse.

"Through here!" Mac shouted, leaping over the fences that confined the road that ran through the two fields. He felt the sizzle of magic and cast a glance back to see the remnants of a teleportation spell.

Within minutes, he found what he was looking for, as well as a wingblade pressed against his neck.

"The night is long, with darkness nigh..." Big Mac whispered, trying to keep his throat from pressing up into the blade.

The terrifyingly huge wing slowly lowered to the ground. He was so transfixed with the blade, that he didn't notice how wounded she actually was.

Arrows hung pierced through her wings, each of which was missing several tufts of feathers. Her armor was torn to pieces in along her sides and along her legs; some of the plates were just plain missing. It was hard to distinguish her white coat through all of the blood and soot that was caked in her fur.

Just under her body was Dusk, shielding her eyes from the perceived conflict. Big Mac leaned down until he was near her normal eye level. "Miss Dusk?"

The frightened filly peeked her head over her hooves. Big Macintosh smiled back. Instead of saying anything she pounced one of his legs, giving him a big hug. Mac stroked her mane, loosening some of the dirt and embers. Some of it was singed in places. Once he loosened his grip she quickly went back to Cloud Skimmer. She leaned up against one of her legs in an attempt to keep her standing. In a few moments, Ocean Breeze moved in to take over, while True North's magic began to examine her wounds.

"Early Blaze's been home sick from school. If you'd like, you can stay at our house for a while. I'm sure she'd love to see you in the morning."

Dusk nodded quietly. Big Mac gently guided her away from Cloud Skimmer, only to have her push against him. She looked back worriedly at the white pegasus, who looked close to collapsing.

"Don't you worry none about her. They'll fix her up and bring her to the house in a little bit."

Finally, Dusk relented, following the gentle stallion back towards his home.


Rainbow slowly lowered her wings to her sides, wincing in unbelievable amounts of pain. She had never flown over such long intervals before - absolutely never for an entire day. But since the night Twilight returned, words like “ordinary”, “normal”, or “usual” had been thrown to the winds.

She snorted, she may have set records and not even known it. A small jet of green flames poured onto the small campfire, causing her to shy away.

"Sorry," Spike apologized.

Rainbow shrugged, more than happy for the extra warmth. "How much l-longer is it gonna t-take?"

"Almost done. Cover your ears again."

Rainbow complied, forcing her teeth to stop chattering. Through her hooves she could still hear his claws scraping through the ruby on the ground. The cacophony of noise finally ended and Rainbow rubbed her ears as if to further stifle the long-gone screeching.

"Is that really necessary?" Rainbow asked.

"For now. When I get better at these symbols, I won't have to use gems as a medium for magic." Spike lay the crystal on Twilight's forehead, speaking a few words under his breath. The ruby glowed a deep red, illuminating that part of the cave. "I don't even know if this will help."

Rainbow nodded. They never had time to press him for an explanation as to why his magic may not work. Part of her didn't even want to know why, for fear of losing Twilight again. Another sacrifice she could never return... she would never be the same.

"I hope that gem o' yours works. Otherwise that fire will go out and we'll freeze to death," Applejack called, as she re-entered the cave. Her coat was frosted over in places. She muttered something about it still being October, as she crossed the short distance to the fire. The frozen sticks neatly bundled on her back were unceremoniously dumped on the stone floor by the fire. "This is all we're getting out of those dead trees."

Spike blew another gout of flames into the fire, giving it a little extra life. "I haven't started that one. It took a little longer to make the ones for Dawn and Twilight."

Applejack lay down next to Rainbow, huddling her frozen coat as close to the fire as she dared. Spike reached into his pack - of which, Rainbow had only noticed an hour ago - and produced a small opal. Etched on its surface were three small rings, connected in pairs by four simple lines. He tossed it into the fire and closed his eyes.

Ha’ari,” Spike growled.

The fire slowly shrank down to a small blue flame, before bursting and wreathing the whole makeshift fireplace in flames. The two ponies shielded their eyes from the sudden brightness, but it gradually faded back to normal.

It was noticeably warmer in the cave, perhaps even worth calling comfortable. “Whoo-ee. Whatever that was, it definitely did the trick. I feel almost as fit as a fiddle,” Applejack sighed.

“What was that thing that you said?” Rainbow asked, intrigued.


Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Ok- What does it mean?”

“Oh,” Spike said, scratching his head. “There’s not really a good word for it.”

Applejack brushed some of the melted water from her coat. “Well it’s certainly warmer in here. I guess it means ‘warm’ or ‘hot’.”

“Well... yes and no.” Spike seemed to toy with the idea for a moment, tapping his claws on the stone floor. “The word is kind of like a chapter in a book. I imagine being back in the library sipping on hot cocoa next to the fireplace. The house is all warm and Twilight is curled up with a good book.” His speech slowed as soon as he reached the unicorn’s name. His features fell.

The other ponies looked back at the the mother and daughter, bundled up in whatever clothes they could find. Their bodies were neatly tucked beside Spike’s massive body, filling up on the warmth from his scales.

“Will they be ok?” Rainbow whispered. She almost smacked herself for it.

“Twilight will. But... I don’t know if we can help Dawn.”

The filly was taking shallow, wispy breaths. Her coat was dull, almost losing its color. The scratches were nearly invisible now - but they knew it was that green liquid from the statues.

“I’ve never heard of a poison that lasts centuries, let alone millenia. That stuff might be so old, we don’t have a written cure anymore.” Spike stroked the filly’s mane with the back of his claw, while eyeing the emerald hanging loosely around her neck. It was starting to crack along the edge in a few places. Not a good sign. “I don’t know how long this spell will work - but I don’t have any emeralds to make another one. It’ll keep the poison at bay until we reach the city.”

“How far are we?” Applejack asked.

“Three days. The second you passed out of Gryffon territories, you set off all sorts of spells. The King has always been wary of the Empire moving back to their old cities. I’m not sure why,” Spike shrugged.

“Probably what still exists in there,” Gilda landed in the entrance to the cave, brushing off the few icicles that accumulated on her cold weather uniform. She hefted her pack to the fire before setting it down on the ground. “I found enough Icefire bushes to make a meal of berries. Except for you Spike. There’s probably only enough to constitute a snack.”

He shrugged, popping a gem into his mouth, smiling. “I’ll manage.”


        The small stone cell was a pegasus’ worst nightmare. It was a small cramped space with no view of the open sky. Worst of all, the guards made sure there was only just enough light so they could see a prison break. It was the perfect place to crush a pegasus’ will.

        Not only was Thunder Cloud still trapped in this nightmare, he was the only prisoner in the dungeon. If not for significant training, he’d be a babbling, screaming mental case - the exact opposite of what the Princess wanted. She wanted information - specifically, false accounts of his ‘working’ with Discord.

        Thunder Cloud snored lightly, turning over on the cold stone floor. At least, that's what he expected to feel. Instead, he was on his hooves in an instant, backing into the corner defensively. But his immediate fears were fruitless. He had rolled over the remains of the cell door and almost into a small saddlebag sitting right on top.

        He blinked a few times, still unsure of whether or not he was still dreaming. Surely he would have heard the door clattering to the ground. But just as he was certain of the dream, cold reality was there to reassure him.

        A loud snap sent him diving to the ground, as the thunderous roar of collapsing stone blasted the dungeon with sound.  It echoed over and over, as if it was trying to smash the walls like a wine glass. Thunder Cloud desperately tried to block out the noise as the grinding of stone and metal sent chills down his spine.

        He wasn’t sure how long he stayed in that position - huddled on the ground, covering his ears with his hooves - when he finally, carefully, removed one of his hooves from his ear. Nothing. No guards, no destruction - there was nothing at all. The dull tap of his hooves on stone sent his adrenaline pumping through his body. The silence was unnatural.

        As he poked his head out of his room. The wide swath of destruction was impossible to miss. It appeared as though the castle barracks had collapsed through the tons of rock above, easily crushing the other prison cells. He swallowed hard. The only way up had been blocked off in the collapse. He darted across the narrow hallway to the only remaining torch, pulling it out of its holster. As he did so, he noticed the small opening at the bottom of the rubble pile.

        His heart leapt into his throat and he bounced into his cell. With a quick motion he threw on the saddlebags and floated down to the hole. Holding the torch between his teeth, he stuck his head through and dropped it.

        The sheer amount of gemstones lining the cavern had him floored. The simple torch easily turned the whole cavern into a wild light show. Every color of the rainbow bounced off one another until it disappeared deeper into the mountain. It wasn’t until he floated down onto the cave floor that it really sunk in.

        Many of the crystals were the size of horse-drawn carts or carriages, with flat mirrored surfaces. But the few that really kept him in awe were those that were as big as train cars, or even the size of houses. Their surfaces lay unblemished and unaffected by time. He dragged a hoof along one of the crystals, feeling the faint hum of magic beneath.

        “What is this place?” He whispered.

        Picking up the torch once more, he caught a glimpse of the letter sticking out of his bags in the mirror-like surface of the walls. He carefully placed the torch into the dirt floor and placed the letter on the ground.

        In this bag you’ll find enough rations for three days. Make your way to Ponyville via Luna’s last order.

Trust nopony. We are alone. Burn this after reading.

        Thunder Cloud touched the paper with the torch, engulfing it in flames almost immediately. He had no idea what he was missing, but something horrible had happened. The frequent telepathic spell with the princess had become the saving grace for his sanity. Before he went to sleep, he felt her vanish. It kept him awake for a while, eating up the true silence of the dungeon. The guards scrambled up the steps shortly afterwards, but he huddled in the corner, desperate to survive the night by any means necessary from whatever the calamity was. He only fell asleep when he could no longer hear the screaming.

        Thunder Cloud walked for hours through the caves. The main cave was well marked by old mine shafts, abandoned hundreds of years ago as evidence from the remains of old mining carts. The tracks were crude, suggesting this was an early implementation of modern mining.

He rolled his eyes. Finally, something Granite said comes in handy, he thought. Granite loved telling stories passed down from his grandfather - a cave explorer and owner of several mines outside Manehatten. The ownership passed down to his sister, who moved to Ponyville on those royalties after selling the mines. He knew Granite was still irate that it took so long to get his share of the bits - not like it was the running topic during their off-duty time.

        His hoof caught on one of the old tracks and he stumbled a bit. “Stupid tracks.”

        He stopped short, however, saving him from a rather nasty drop. The cave opened out over a wide chasm, where the remains of the bridge had long since been destroyed. With a few pumps of his wings, he was airborne, soaring over the chasm below. The rock here was almost solid crystal and much to his horror, he could see something - rather, many shadows, swirling beneath the surface. They were practically swimming towards the fading light of his torch. As he settled on the other side, he backed away from the edge as the shadowy creatures started to phase through the crystal.

        He bolted deeper into the caves, his hooves clicking loudly on the crystal floor. The screech of the creatures behind him sounded alien - a deep burst of sound that made him wet the floors beneath him as he ran for his life. One of the creatures slid into reality in front of him and he rolled underneath it. An apple flew out of his bag and passed through the creature. It aged, rotted, and turn to dust in the blink of an eye.

        This time he launched himself into full flight, clipping his wings in the narrow corridor on the walls and ceiling. All thought had left his mind and his animalistic tendencies took over. Flight was the only response to their horrible wails, as his vision swam from the sudden feeling of claustrophobia pressing onto his subconsciousness.

        Turn. Turn! TURN! His mind was screaming for him to avoid the sudden wall before him. He spun to the left and stumbled over a sudden change in elevation. He tried as best as he could to keep upright, but eventually he ended up slamming face first into the crystal floors. The momentum from his sprint caused him to become airborne for a few moments before the second impact knocked him out cold.

        There was no way to tell how long he’d been out for, but when he came to, he felt a surge of relief flooding through him - he wasn’t dead. But the very notion of being alive began to confuse him. Pain wracked every inch of his body. He smelled unpleasant at best and he desperately wanted a bath, or at least a hose. These were trivial concerns, of that he was aware, but they consumed his mind, trying to block out the sight before him.

        There sealed in crystal before him, was Princess Luna.


        “Do I look alright?” Discord asked. He was still the same relative size of his former self. But getting a hoof-stiched order to fit was proving to be an issue. Many times, she had altered his clothing before a public event.

        “Well, if you were still gray all over, I wouldn’t be able to tell,” Celestia giggled.

        The two ponies stood side by side in her room - soon to be theirs. After the announcement of their engagement, her father had started wild preparations for the event. Of course, Luna would be the best mare, and Cunning would be right up there as the stallion of honor.

She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, before straightening his  buttons.

"I thought you were saving that until afterwards, Celeste."

She whipped her head around to the door, only to smile wide with anticipation. "And you know not to be in here while royalty is getting ready, Cunning."

The plain brown coated stallion closed the door behind him, crossing the room towards the armoire. He ran his hoof along the dark surface, eyeing the bed covers haphazardly tossed on the floor, "Couldn't sleep?"

Her smile dropped as she shook her head. Discord ran a paw through her beautiful pink mane, digging in his claws along her neck. She gasped and put a hoof to her mouth.

"Awake now?" He said with a smirk.

She hit him playfully with a hoof, sauntering over to his brother. "Maybe I should marry your brother instead and have you on the side."

The three of them laughed, albeit a little nervously. They all knew what they were getting themselves into. Her father was a force to be reckoned with. If they were caught, one or both of them might end up dead. But... she didn't want to live without either of them.

She kissed Cunning deeply, nuzzling his neck before returning to her future husband. Another short kiss was shared between the "couple" before she eyed the door.

"It will work. One day, the three of us will be together. I promised you both."

"As we promised you," Discord said.

"Neither of us can live without you," Cunning added.

"Nor I without you." Celestia nuzzled against both of her friends - her lovers. They would be together forever.

The sound of the heavy stone door pulled her back from her dreams. Her memories were nothing like the harsh reality they created. As the room began to glow brighter, she stared hard at someone she thought she loved.

No, she corrected. That Cunning doesn't exist anymore.

"Ah! My love, you're awake." Cunning seemed to have a skip in his step as he crossed the room to the table. "We have much to discuss this morning."

He levitated a few loaves of bread to the table, as well as some fruit and a teapot with cups. She watched him from behind the prison bars, as if he was lost in his own world. Cunning pushed an apple towards the end of the table pressed up against the bars of her cell. She eyed it hungrily.

"It appears that the attackers were completely wiped out in last night's defense. One where I took the lead in defending your subjects." He took a big bite of the apple, savoring the light sweetness lingering in its juices.

She continued to stare at him, but the hunger continued to pull on her focus. Lean meals for a week had proved to be a much poorer choice than she intended.

"Of course, if my brother was any easier to fool, I'd have walked through the front door."

The anger that was bubbling under the surface of her composure began to boil over. "What do you want?" she hissed through gritted teeth.

Cunning raised an eyebrow, "I just want to spend time with you. Like we promised."

Celestia tightened her features. "I haven't forgotten how you manipulated your brother."

He put down the remainder of his apple. "Just as I haven't forgotten how you went back on your word." Cunning's eyes slowly drained of the red color. A light silver glow permeated his irises. The candle flickered and grew dim. "Your father didn't have sway on you any longer."

"You changed for the worst."

"I changed to secure our future!" The sudden jump in volume caused Celestia to cringe. "Once wasn't enough to prove myself to you! I worked and changed who I was to ensure the three of us could live comfortably!"

Celestia bowed her head and backed away.

"I came back during a war, which I helped you win! We nearly had control over the entire world, but it still wasn't enough."

"My Cunning left for the north, but he never came back. Instead I got you. Someone who connives and plots for things he desires. The stallion I waited for used his wit to help all ponies. Just like his father did," Celestia shot back.

"I AM TEN TIMES THE PONY MY FATHER WAS!" The room shook with his outburst. He launched the table across the room, which shattered upon hitting the far wall. His eye twitched, his barely contained rage momentarily sated. "I had truly hoped I would have convinced you of my genuine intent. But it appears as though the only thing you understand is violence.” He smashed one of the bottles against the wall, forcing the liquid to spin into a thin disc.

The surface shimmered for a moment before revealing a softly lit cave made of crystal. In the center was a small pillar, with Princess Luna sealed within. "Let her go!"

"No. You will stay here while she sleeps for the next thousand years. Perhaps a millennia in a cage will teach you to respect your promises."

She kicked at the cage, but the metal bars didn't budge. Her magic came to her quickly and painfully, but the cage immediately responded with electricity. She screamed in pain, losing the spell to the cage.

Cunning laughed and re-lit the candle, carving a small rune into the wax. It glowed for a moment before returning to normal.

Celestia began to cry softly as the door sealed her and the candle into the room, to stand the test of time.


        Celestia stood before the remains of Canterlot Castle and did her best to keep a straight face. On the castle grounds before her, were hundreds - no, thousands of cedar coffins, lined in a row. They were situated so their heads faced the morning sun. The small pedestal usually reserved for the Summer Sun Celebration was out in its full glory, as was she. Instead of her formal dress, she was gilded in new golden armor, which reflected the sun into the colors of her mane. A line of spear ponies stood at attention behind her, while the Pegasus Guard stood in the ruined towers.

        Along the grass before her were the survivors - stallions, mares, fillies and colts. All of them had witnessed the terrible destruction Discord had wrought on the city. Each of them gave a part of themselves to defend it, but to no avail. They were ponies without a home, but not without a country.

        News had spread of the fall of Canterlot - so damaged was the city, it threatened to slide down into the valley below at any moment. Even with the repairs, the city would be lost to inhabitants for years until it was safe once more. Ponies from all over the nation had risen up to the task, bringing food, water, and temporary shelter to their capital. They helped to empty the grand history from the college and castle - archives which spanned over a millenia of study. Soon Manehatten would carry these artifacts and treasures through these dark times.

        But more so than ever in the past week, Celestia had been preparing for her official speech to address the nation at large. Many hours of planning and review had consumed her time in the lower archives as she prepared to speak to her subjects. All of her other time had been spent studying the northern fronts - troop movements, refugee patterns - for anything that would help her find Discord.

        But in reality, Cunning couldn’t be anything more than frustrated. Vengeance had been unexpectedly killed in her attack on the castle - a horrid blow to his plans. It was only after receiving word of her failure in ousting First Strike that his tensions eased. Whoever stayed behind to fight Celestia in the north had already sent their taunting letters to him. The guard was furious. The survivors were ready to take arms and march north and his leak to the press sent the nation howling for action. Of course there were some - like Desert Wind - who wanted to avoid direct conflict, but the support was already there. Ponies were leaving their homes to join the Royal Army, or sending specialists to prepare armor and weapons for the coming storm.

        Little did they know the storm had come and gone. It was a matter of principle to Cunning, that he should follow up on his promises. He would take the world to bring Celestia’s love. But it wouldn’t end there. He would enslave it. Nopony would escape his grasp, lest they be crushed underhoof.

        “Princess? We’re ready.” Whispered Nightwind.

        Cunning slipped back into his assumed persona, looking over the crowd. They were speaking in hushed tones, or grieving silently for some lost loved one. The pain they felt was palpable. It was... exhilarating.

        Celestia nodded to her guards. The thrum of magic slowly spread out over the crowd, reaching out to every corner of the country. Phonographs, speakers, even film reels began to move on their own in homes and businesses. Ponies in Times Square stopped to listen to the voice hover into the city. Casinos in Las Pegasus honed in on gambler and owner alike, turning them from their games and their livings.

        “Attention citizens of Equestria. This is a live broadcast from Canterlot Castle. Please listen carefully to the following address from Her Majesty, Princess Celestia.”

        A short pause followed the initial address. The unicorn nodded to the Princess, who took her place on the podium

Time to forge a nation, Cunning thought.

"My loyal subjects. It is with a heavy heart that I speak to you now. One week ago, at the hour of midnight, this city - the symbol of our great Kingdom, was subject to the most brutal attack seen in pony history.

“For hours, both guard and citizen alike battled to keep the forces of chaos at bay... and while they finally prevailed, it was a bitter victory. Canterlot is no more.

“But these citizens knew from the moment they picked up a weapon to defend this city, there was more at stake. While it was a slim hope that the city could be saved, they fought for the survival of our nation - the survival of harmony.

“It is for this reason they fought. It is for this reason, I am taking a stand."

Celestia paused for a moment to catch her breath. But her words held conviction now - the ferocity of the Goddess of the Sun was slowly being poured into her speech.

"We have come to a point where we must decide whether to keep our nation, or let it be destroyed. Countless families have been shaken and many more have been torn apart.

 “Five years ago, many loyal ponies died because their fear was manipulated and molded into a terrible weapon. Even while they fought, the very pony leading our country’s destruction was no more than a puppet. The one behind the strings knew it would fail, and expected it to do so.

“While it pains me to open old wounds on a day of mourning, it must be said that the Civil War was just a test - a trial for the conflict to come, so that rather than fight, we would fall apart at the seams. Just to make sure that we were still vulnerable, Discord expertly sent Starfall’s former minions to strike at the very fears used to control us.

“Once more we have lost families on a scale as grand as Clousdale. We have lost Canterlot - its stallions, mares, even foals-" She choked on the word, fighting back the urge to scream. "And I... I have lost as well. My sister. My niece. My subjects. My home.

"Though Discord sought to divide us through loss, we now stand on equal ground.

"My loyal subjects... It is time to fight back.

“No longer shall we watch our cities burn and our love ones be taken from us. We will not sit here and wait for chaos to consume the rest of our lives, and the lives of generations to come.

“From this day forward, any pony seen to be assisting or associating with Discord or his forces, shall be considered a threat to this very nation; no, the world.

“Finally, I hereby declare that a state of war shall exist with any nation that finds it within its interests to side with this monster, so that the world will be safe once more."


        After days of hard flying through the freezing north, it came as a surprise when the temperature shot up to that of a warm spring day in a matter of hours. The mountains, which had gotten much taller as they flew, gradually tapered off into bright green hills dotted in wildflowers. Small geysers blasted the air with steam right around the transition area, making for a little bit of a rougher flight. At least, that was what she expected - after all, years of weather training told her that sudden changes in temperature were rough on flyers.

        Instead, she felt nothing - the change over into the thermals was gradual, flawlessly smooth even. That’s when she noticed the other creatures flying around the deepening valley and her jaw dropped.

        Watching the birds gave her a distinct overview of the common flight trails - each of them was neatly organized, allowing for hundreds of birds to pass over one another without slamming into each other all while coasting on the hot air. It was as if something had designed these flight paths, or manipulated existing ones to flow as they did. To her knowledge, very few weather ponies could even do that sort of thing, albeit on a very small scale. Here... this was beyond her imagination.

        “You’re gonna be swallowing flies if you don’t close your mouth, Rainbow!” Applejack called. It was barely audible through the wind, but Rainbow did as she was suggested. She gave a small frown at the farmer, who looked like she was laughing. Though at this speed, anything short of yelling was drowned out.

        Applejack held on tight to the big dragon while ensuring Twilight and Dawn weren’t going to fall off. If only he had a saddle, she thought. It immediately brought up an image of Rarity strapping him in, fussing over the details. She laughed even harder as Spike banked to the right for a descent. He pointed down to a small mountain, right in the center of the valley. Gilda and Rainbow flanked him on either side before they began to land.

        The mountain itself was rather hollow - only noticeable as they approached. Every bit of it was worked stone, featuring murals, decorative pieces, landing areas, and small gardens. Waterfalls poured out from the sides of the mountains, while streams of lava poured into open bowls, dug out of the stone. As they drew closer to one such landing area, Gilda noticed the lava was being channelled into the mountain by small pipes.

        The moment they landed, two other dragons appeared from inside. Rainbow swallowed. They did not look happy to see them. It didn’t help that they were plated in steel, carrying halberds reaching nearly as high as the roof of sugarcube corner. Being with Spike didn’t help either. They were two or three times his size at least. Considering he could barely carry three ponies, these dragons were much, much older.

        “Shiikah.” They spoke in unison, bowing.

        “I have an emergency. Bring us to the king,” he said.

        They eyed the Gryffon warily, until they noticed the sword she was carrying. Their eyes went wide.

“The end times have truly come!” One spoke, his voice wavering.

“Quiet, Vrak,” the other spoke. His voice was deep and smooth, devoid of the low growl Rainbow and Applejack expected. “Do not be rude to the Empress or the Bearers of Order.” He stepped aside, motioning with his claw, “This way, esteemed guests, Shiikah.”

The halls were adorned with more of the artwork Rainbow had seen outside - mainly murals and decorative molding. But this time, the pictures told a different story. Grand armies stood on either side of the hall, with their leaders standing on the high ground. By where they entered, several unicorns, backed by a gryffon, an alicorn, and some strange serpentine creature stood on the walls of a city. Above them it appeared as though some ponylike creature - almost an alicorn - hovered over the battle.

As they progressed, they witnessed those on the front lines of the battle - all sorts of creatures fighting one another. Flags lay trampled on the ground, with no discernible symbols or markings to identify the nations. But as they approached the throne room, they spotted two recognizable figures immediately:

“The Princesses...” Applejack whispered. “What the hay are they doin’ on a mural way up north?”

Spike stayed silent and stared ahead, gingerly carrying Twilight and Dawn in his arms.

“Spike? What’s this all about?”

“It’s complicated,” he said shortly. It was clear he wasn’t saying anything else on the subject. Applejack tried to push the issue as they entered the central hall, but very quickly retracted any such thought on the matter at hoof.

The king was one of the largest dragons both Rainbow or Applejack had ever seen. The dragon the six of them had dealt with taking a nap all those years ago was about as big as these guards. The king dwarfed them in size.

His scales were a deep crimson-gold which reflected the torch light throughout the main hall. The spines were each a brilliant silver, but honed like curved steel blades. He turned his head to the newcomers, opening his glossy blue eyes to the room.

“My student. You return with guests,” he spoke. His voice rumbled through the hall like thunder. “My meditation revealed their identities after you began your journey back. I am glad I dispatched you on the errand of observation. I expected no less than action.”

Spike bowed before the King.

The King laughed softly, “A student does not bow to his teacher, for he can never learn when he believes he is lower. Rise, Spike.”

Spike rose, blushing from embarrassment. The others, who had bowed in kind, did not dare to rise in kind.

“You may rise, my guests. I am King Thereweil, Grand Master of Runes and most ancient amongst Dragon-kind. Dark times have brought you to my doorstep. I’m sure you are aware.”

He rose to his full height, which unnerved the guards ever so slightly, although enough that the animal part of Gilda’s brain was ready to flee from the room. She silenced it as best as she could but stayed stock still.

        He waved his hand over the room and the walls slid away and into the floor. Hidden behind them was a library to rival the one in Canterlot Castle. A soft blue glow covered the books, emanating from a giant sapphire fixed at the top of each shelving unit. “My personal library. Of the many tomes within it, one holds the knowledge you seek. He picked a huge green tome from the shelf and placed it on the floor.

        It was the size of a pony, bound together with roots and vines. The covers seemed alive. Plant life grew on the book - flowers, grasses, and small bulbs had long since taken root. He opened the book and with his free claw began to accumulate magic. It glowed with golden light, almost like a unicorn’s horn.

        “Bring me the young Princess,” He said softly.

        Spike gingerly lowered Dawn to the floor before his master. The elder dragon summoned a pillow from his throne and slid it underneath the young filly. He removed his claw from the book, and pressed one against the nearly shattered emerald. The other, shrouded in magic, was brought to rest over the tome.

        The book seemed to convulse and wiggle out of the way. But instead, the pages flared wildly, flipping deep into the center of the book. Just as suddenly as it began, the book stopped and lay frozen.

        “Ah... I should have guessed,” he whispered. his brow furrowed in concern. “Vrak. Fetch me a bowl of geyser water. Ferid, bring me another emerald. Move quickly!”

        They nodded and scrambled into the halls.

        “Twilight Sparkle will have to wait. Draining a bit of one’s life magic won’t kill. Death’s Vein however, will bring a most agonizing death - one I would never wish on a child.”

        Rainbow looked horrified, and screamed, “What do you mean death? They both almost died?!”

        The King looked hard at the pegasus, causing her to shrink back. “I know it is in your nature, Loyalty, but you must calm yourself. I can heal the young Princess. My student has already saved her mother from a similar fate. Had he not arrived, she may have fixed the poison herself - but at a cost of her own life once more.”

        Rainbow gawked at him and Applejack flopped onto the floor from the shock. Spike lowered his eyes to the floor.

        “I know the pain you must feel at my words. I know you will take no solace to hear that her outburst was to protect you - her friends - and her child. It is rare that any being can access the energy of the body - rarer still that she can shape a spell with it.”

        Rainbow quickly turned around and bolted from the Grand Hall.

        “Rainbow!” Applejack yelled, giving chase. It was fruitless, she knew - but it was dangerous to go out by herself.

        Gilda watched the two disappear down the hall, before bowing to the King and following afterwards.

        The King looked down at the little filly, using his free claw to brush back her mane. “How the sins of family bind those who are innocent to their punishment. Yet, you still have your part to play.”



The purple unicorn rolled onto her side. Something was wrong, but she couldn't place it. Last thing she remembered was the ruins...

"Dawn!" She rolled onto her hooves and moved into a defensive stance. Her eyes widened in fear.

Books lined the walls of the room she was in, ever reaching into the sky, with no end in sight. But the shelves were covered in dust and it appeared as though many of the books had been scattered all over the floor.

She tried to lift a few with her magic, but they didn't budge; more specifically, her magic didn't work.

"Hello?" she called out. Her voice echoed in the room, traveling upwards into the sky. No response.

Hesitantly, she walked over to one of the shelves. She jumped back when the wood wilted and peeled away, like the flaps of a tent. Behind it, was a replica of her bedroom at the library, with a new view of the ocean.

My first trip to the beach, she thought.

As she walked over to the window she could see herself and her brother playing in the sand, while her mother and father basked in the sun. Hundreds of other ponies played on the beach or in the water, seemingly ignorant to the happy family.

"Twily! Heads up!" her brother shouted.

The young colt passed a beach ball to her, which she ducked underneath and passed back. As he launched it back over, her filly-self disappeared from the memory. The three ponies looked around frantically for her, as Twilight finally pounded on the window.

"I'm up here!"

The ponies in the memory started to cry, holding one another for comfort. They were older now - at her funeral. She could see her brother in his decorations as a soldier. Her parents were sobbing uncontrollably.

Twilight screamed over and over, slamming her hooves into the glass. She was crying now. Not from watching her own funeral, but from the fact that it already happened. How could she explain her sudden appearance? Would they welcome her back? Would they talk to her?

She turned around and bucked the window as hard as she could. The glass shattered under the weight of the blow, but so did the floor, the room and her surroundings. Everything was black and she was falling - falling into nothing.

She never even saw the ground when she finally slammed into it. A barely audible cry was all she could manage - the pain was overwhelming. The little weight she put on her hooves, wasn't enough to lift her from the ground.

In the dark, Twilight could hear hoof steps closing in on her position.

"Hello?" she cried weakly.

"I'm here for you my love," the voice responded.

Out of the inky blackness, Luna slowly came into view. With her magic, she lifted Twilight to her hooves and moved in to help her stand. Twilight put her weight on Luna's side leaning into her for balance. "Luna... Where am I?"

Luna began to summon her magic once more. "The place where all dreams intersect: The Void, as some have carelessly called it. Its true name is unknown to us,  but it has special properties."

As soon as the spell dissipated, the void slowly warped around them, morphing into a small white room with a single door. Luna pushed it open, letting fresh sunlight pour into the room. Twilight hesitated, but eventually went through the door.

She found herself in a field of flowers with the light scent of lavender carried on the summer breeze. The forest swayed back and forth; the trees sighed as their branches bent under the added strain. They were on a field overlooking the city of the alicorns... and it was alive.

"Time and place are meaningless here, Twilight. This is what the land truly is - the spirits of those who have passed continue to embody their elements. Their children - the three types of ponies - each have a piece of their element.  They too go here when they die."

Twilight's blood ran cold. "Am I...?"

Luna realized her mistake immediately. "No, no, no. Of course not. You are here as my guest.  In the real world, you slumber to recover from your injuries."

"Oh, good," Twilight sighed in relief.

Luna frowned. "Twilight... I, um..." The princess shuffled her hooves back and forth. "I wish to confess something."

Twilight raised an eyebrow.

"I brought you here so that you could visit me... as I won't be able to see you again."

Twilight's mouth went dry. "But you said I wasn't dead? Oh, no. Am I not going to wake up? What about Dawn?!"

Luna pressed a hoof to Twilight's lips. "I have been forced into the Eversleep."

"Wha- what?" Twilight gasped.

"Cunning suffocated my body by sealing it in stone and leaving it without sufficient air. Thus I am forced to sleep until I am free."

Twilight fell into a sitting position. Her mind was racing at high speeds, jumping from problem to problem. The twins, Celestia, Equestria, them.

Twilight stopped herself short. What were they? She had never quite stopped to think much on it. They were parents, albeit from necessity.


She looked back up at Luna, running right into her waiting lips. The kiss knocked any verbal response right out of her brain. The goddess of the moon broke away, tenderly nuzzling her mane. "I know I can't ask you to wait for me... but at least during the evenings while you sleep, we can be together."

Luna put a hoof to her chest and pushed her gently into the air. Twilight flailed, trying to get back to the ground.

"Please, come back to me!" Luna cried, as Twilight was pulled back into the dark.

Twilight slowly opened her eyes. Her head was pounding so hard she thought it would burst. Consequently, she could barely make out the fact that a huge purple dragon was resting its head on her makeshift bed. It opened one eye, making her freeze in place.

Does it see me? She thought.

"Twilight!" the dragon boomed. "You're awake!"

Before she had enough time to react, the dragon picked her up into his arms, squeezing the air from her. Her mind was swimming from the combination of headache and lack of air.

"I'm so happy to see you again. I knew Princess Celestia would figure it out!"

She looked confusedly at the purple scales coming into sharper focus, before she was placed back onto her hooves. Her body swayed back and forth until she found the edge of the bed. A small gasp escaped her lips. "Spike?"

He smiled. She tried to form words, but she was speechless. Instead she started to cry as she rushed into his waiting embrace. They said nothing for a long time, simply enjoying the touch, the feel of one another. It was enough for them.


Redcrest had been sitting at his desk for hours. Since the complete dissolution of the senate due to the attack, he had to return to his own district to assume a leadership position. That meant sitting at that very desk, listening to every possible problem to come his way.

The one main problem was the return to small states - one of the most pressing problems he had to deal with. Several attempts to recreate a senate fell short. Some, fearing they had witnessed the beginning of the end times, had declared themselves sovereign to avoid becoming involved. Several others who were survivors of the battle and had witnessed the unicorn fall dead, allied themselves among two factions. His own - which understood the warning, but were wary of the actions of the princess - especially as they seemed out of character since the attack. The other was adamant of allying or even becoming part of Equestria. They felt the Princess was their only safe haven since the emperor was dead. Some states of opposing thoughts had already begun small border clashes. His reports on the Princess’ most recent announcement did not help his cause.

He looked out the window, watching the first snowflakes begin to fall on his northern state. Gryffons were quickly clearing the street to put up large tents for the market.

Is it already morning? He thought, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand. He had hoped the amount of diplomatic mail he needed to sort through would leave him with more time for sleep. That was not going to be the case, however, because of the most recent speech from Princess Celestia. Equestria had postured itself so it was ready to take down the world. The scary part was not that they could, but that they probably would.

Redcrest leaned back in his chair, hoping that sleep would take him from his work. He didn't want to continuously explain to the Equestrian diplomats that they were allies, just not on friendly terms with the other side of the issue. In his opinion, the princess needed to stay out of their affairs as she had always promised to do - as she still promised to do, regardless of those states trying to become part of her country.

For now all he had to worry about were his own allies and his smaller version of the senate - a simple council of ten composed of himself and the other generals who still took his side. They still flew the flag of the empire and followed its rules, but still had no steward for the supposed empress Emerus mentioned with his dying breath.

"Gilda Razortalon," he whispered.

A soft knock on the door stopped his thoughts from wandering further. "Come in," he called.

The door swung open allowing one of the interns to shuffle into the room. A small mail bag hung around her neck, as did a pair of high altitude goggles. She had snow white feathers and a light gray fur coat - a northerner. Her height was a dead giveaway that she was perhaps in her first year learning how to be a good politician.

"Stuck with mail duty, eh?"

The intern nodded.

"Bring it over here."

She produced several scrolls from the pouch and placed them neatly on his desk. He opened the first one, scanning through the document.

"All but the last one are from the state. The other one is from Equestria, since the diplomats went back home a few days ago," she said, pointing at the scroll.

He eyed her carefully, before nodding curtly. "Thank you. Please let the day staff know that I am delaying any hearings until this afternoon."

The intern nodded again and left the room. After a moment or two, he rose from his desk and pulled the curtains shut. He slid through the only other door in the room, entering his bedroom. With much relief, he locked the door and slid into the bed, getting some much needed sleep.


        Rainbow hadn’t cooled off from her outburst yesterday. She had disappeared for hours into the thermals, exploring every cave, home, garden and outcropping they were linked to. Anger blinded her so badly that she was only just realizing something notable about the place - it was almost completely abandoned.

        Out of the dragons she had seen in the building, she could count them all on her primary feathers with a few to spare. Five dragons in a city that could probably accommodate thousands - it didn’t sit very well with her. Every bit of it seemed like a trap, but they were safe. Dawn was resting from the King’s life-saving magic, Spike was watching over Twilight-

        She kicked her back hoof into the nearest rock, chipping a few pieces of it. Her breath came in loud snorts. “That... that...” she let out an exasperated growl. The words were barely forming in her head before her mouth rattled them off into the open air. Finally, she shook her head and dove headfirst into the lake.

        The cool refreshing water shocked her system immediately forcing her to shiver from the rapid change in temperature. Her anger had been replaced by a familiar sense of panic that she was running out of air, but as she broke the surface it faded to the back of her mind. Now, there was silence - peace, even in her troubled mind. The problems seemed to slide from her coat like the weeks of dirt she’d cleaned the night before. All she needed now was a nice preening and she’d be in heaven.

        It seemed like hours passed by as she relaxed in the cool water, or on the warm grass, basking in the sun. Her thoughts drifted with the gentle breeze. What happened to the dragons? she wondered. It seems so strange... if only Twilight was awake, I’d...

        She sighed. No. If I want to talk to that egghead, I’m going to give her a piece of my mind. Almost killing herself? AGAIN? It was bad enough that she died once - saving our flanks - but she would do it again? “Why would she leave me alone?”

        “Why would who do what?”

        Rainbow looked up from her spot on the shore. Applejack was completely soaked and half submerged in the lake. Her long mane and tail were undone and floating in the water, glistening in the sunlight.

        “Nothing,” Rainbow said. She closed her eyes, laying her head back on the grass.

        “Sure don’t sound like nothin’.” Applejack sloshed her way out of the lake, picking up her mane-ties and stetson in her teeth. She slowly trotted over to the pegasus and lay down next to her.

        After a while, Rainbow opened an eye to the hard stare Applejack was giving her. She had already tossed the stetson and mane-ties aside. “What?”

        “Why don’t you talk to me? I’ve been here for you through this whole mess a whole lot longer than when Twi’ came back,” she said. “You look as torn up as a field after a good weedin’. Actually, I ain’t seen you like this in a long time.”

        Rainbow looked away from the orange mare.

        “Talk to me, sugar cube. What’s goin’ on?”


        “Please, Rainbow?”

        “I’m so angry with Twilight right now. I mean she comes back and we go on this crazy adventure and while everything is falling apart around us, she tries to fix something and almost sends herself back under that statue!” Rainbow rose to her hooves, pacing along the grass. “She has everything back - her friends, her fillies, Luna...” She nearly choked on the word. Her insides tightened at the thought of their coming reunion. “I just don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to tell her.”

        Applejack closed her eyes and leaned back against the grass.. “You could go talk to her. I heard Gilda sayin’ she was already awake before I came down here.” A rush of air forced Applejack to rise. She squinted in the light only to notice that Rainbow was gone.


"Prince Discord! You need rise, lest we be overrun!"

The serpentine prince lifted himself from the ground as plates from his armor fell to useless scraps. He was spent after having to fight off wave after wave of combatants. They were so close to their final victory, but they had lost so much.

Celestia's father, King Solus, had caved into the demand of their subjects: to reclaim the lands of the three tribes. For a long time it had lay abandoned, slowly thawing from the windigos' storms of ice and snow. If they returned, it would all be for naught.

The main army marched forth in the previous year - the summer of the rose if he recalled correctly. Spirits were high as they were able to move in uncontested for a long while. But the further they ventured in, the more wary the king became. The changelings were ready for them and they struck from within - revealing their deep entrenchment in the army. They planned it around the cold winter - trapping the remainder in the snows. It wasn't until spring that he and Celestia marched north with additional reinforcements. By then, the King's army was well entrenched as well as almost routed.

Now they faced the last hurdle - retaking Trotsyn, capital of the Unicorns almost two hundred years ago. But it was the fiercest resistance they had ever faced. Both sides were wild in their fervor and too stubborn to back down. It would be a fight to the death for sure.

He snapped his fingers hoping to do something of use. The road they were on grew teeth, swallowing some of the diving changelings, before they could change course.

His guard, Noble Victory was practically dragging him back towards the market district, away from the fiercest part of the battle.

"It's a scratch, Victory. No need to rush," Discord muttered.

"Nonsense. You know perfectly well that is not a scratch," he countered. "You're about as well off as a pincushion that's been storage for the kitchen knife. By Solus, the Princess will have my head if you go to sleep. Mainly because-"

"I don't know if I can. Of course..." Discord said. His voice echoed through the empty stone hallway as he dragged himself along the wall. His eyes were clouded over, the mind control magic slowly falling off in a mist behind him. It smelled of lemon, but sizzled the floor like acid before disappearing for good. The serpentine figure slowly rounded the corner, leading upwards to the main hall above.

"Besides," Noble Victory continued, "You're my best friend. It was the least I could do."

They were safe and sound within a small building being used as a forward command post. Celestia paraded around the room in her suit of armor, checking her spear for damage by banging it into the wooden floors.

"Is he still in there?" Discord asked, nodding to the closed door.

Celestia nodded, her face grim. They both knew what would happen to Cunning if he showed his face again. But at the apex of the battle, he decided to appear, helping to push the changeling King back into the central keep. It was only a matter of time until Equestrian forces breached the walls.

The doors swung wide open, followed by the intimidating figure of King Solus. His hooves crunched into the wood, leaving clear hoof marks where he stepped. He shot a small glare back at the newcomer Prince, before walking from the building, armored guard in tow.

"A duel," Cunning said. His voice was raspy, as if all the water he had drank had left his body. "Your father is issuing a challenge."

"It's a death trap... He's a changeling!" Discord yelled. He was nearing the throne room, practically crawling along the wall to move onwards. He needed to see. He needed to see the duel.

The two guards whipped around, as the doors slammed open. Discord's stepped inside. He cast his gaze past the hunched form of the dragon king, still concentrating on the new gem around Dawn's neck.

"FATHER!" Celestia screamed at the top of her lungs.

King Solus had managed to defeat the King of the changelings. But the 'mourning' Queen took the opportunity to return the favor by requesting a moment to see him. A solid spear through the neck quelled King Solus' consciousness, but the explosion soon after ended him for good. No alicorn lived after something like that.

The battle turned bloody as ponies lost all sense of decency from such treachery. Changelings had rigged the city to burn. The only saving grace was the few who had the sense to disable as many of the magical traps as possible. The enemy constantly added to the chaos by shifting shapes and attacking. Through the thick smoke they disappeared to attack again.

Discord and Cunning were back to back now, fending off attackers as they appeared while healing those they could reach. The brief rest before the duel gave them some of their depleted magic, but it was almost gone now.

"Brother!" Discord shouted. He forced the last of the magic he had into a small shield, encompassing the two of them. Attacks rebounded from the shifting light, but it was clear each strike was taking a toll, bringing the serpent down to his knees. "Do something!"

Cunning took out seven gems from his pouch and lifted them into the air with his magic. They slowly crushed into one another, melting together, reseating, and falling inwards once again.  His voice came as a whisper, but it echoed throughout the battlefield. "Vuund."

A cold chill ran through Discord's spine as he felt his magic cease. The wave of light hit the rest of the battlefield, pushing the smoke from the city. Fires burnt out and those changelings disguised as ponies immediately lost their disguises. Every being caught within the spell moved as if they were swimming through quicksand. Cunning's eyes glowed a bright white as the magical fuel was sucked from his body.

The steady stream of the magic flowing from Cunning stopped with a wave of his hoof. Dropping his halberd from the other he began to guide the bright white void to newer victims. Discord watched, mortified, as it sucked the life out of the nearest changeling, turning its body to ash. Then another.

And another.

And Another.

Discord fell to the floor of the main hall and screamed in terror as all the memories began to flood into his brain: the aftermath, taking the throne, and - oh goddesses - causing his own beloved to flee. But it wasn't him.


The dust cleared from the spell as he watched the changelings fleeing from the battle. Ponies all around gave a victorious shout. The air seemed painfully cold, as if the elements of nature were scared to breath life back into this place, lest it be utterly destroyed.

Discord pushed himself up from the ground, slowly turning his head to face his brother. He looked like he'd been through Tartarus and back.

Cuts and scratches lined every part of his body and his grey coat looked looked pale. That is, the parts that weren't soaked in his blood. The red liquid was slowly dripping off of him, even out of his mouth as he panted helplessly. That spell should have killed him.

"I hope... I did enough to heal... your wounds, brother," Cunning managed to say. The crystal dropped to the ground and turned to dust upon impact. He offered a hoof to his brother. "I suppose I'll be sleeping for a few days."

Discord reached up and grasped his hoof. The whole scene around him froze.

"Just as you have been sleeping for more than a thousand years," Cunning smiled. He lifted his brother from the ground, freezing him in a standing position. "I thought it would be appropriate to show you where everything you've just remembered began."

Discord continued to stare wide eyed at the alicorn as he paced back and forth. Finally he stopped and pointed at the dusty remains of the crystal.

"Vuun. The spell long forgotten in the archives of the great dragon city. A forbidden spell. Unlimited power for a price - your life. That is... Until I modified it. It just goes to show how powerful dragon runes really are. Change a syllable, and the spell changes with it."

Discord tried hard to move from the confines of the spell that had overcome him. He thought he was remembering a certain memory - not dreaming of a nightmare.

"Complete control. Do you know how that feels?" Cunning chuckled, "Of course you don't really know - you only had some semblance of power while I did all the work. All the prodding in your brain, giving you the suggestions you needed to lead. Destroying your relationship piece by piece so I could take the throne in your place. But it was reckless that I didn't plan as far ahead as I have now. I've waited more than a thousand years, but all the pieces are finally falling into place. Equestria is mine, the griffons fall in line because they fear you - the puppet."

Discord managed to make a slight scowl as Cunning laughed to himself. He almost fell to the floor from his wild laughs.

"They fear a puppet!" he snorted. Gradually, his laughter slowed and his breathing returned to a steady pace. His smile dropped as he stared into Discord’s eyes. "This is how betrayal feels, brother. We made a promise but you brushed me off as if it were nothing. Now that I've turned the world against you, I will simply do the same. Perhaps I can find the heart to forgive you in a thousand years. Or not. It depends on if I feel generous enough to let you continue to keep your life."

Discord slowly fell backwards towards the floor. He struggled to stay upright, but he was bound tightly to the air.

Discord gasped and opened his eyes. He nearly shot up from the floor, but found the edge of a sword against his neck... as well as one next to his head, embedded in the floor.

"How could that be!?"

Discord flicked his eyes to the wielder of the embedded blade. A female gryffon was screaming at the King of dragons. He winced, fearing the customary beating the poor diplomat would receive before being sent back to her kingdoms to be dealt with appropriately.

The King just bowed his head, returning to his work over... a filly? An alicorn nonetheless, he thought.

"I told you, Empress Gilda. He is not the monster you think him to be. Merely a puppet for some other pony to commit his crimes."

The dragon guardian above him removed the sword from his neck.

"Who in this world would that be?!"

Discord rose to his feet, brushing the dust of the floor from his body. "My brother."


Cloud Skimmer flipped the page of her newspaper - the latest copy of The New Yoke Times. The usual celebrity nonsense - new Wonderbolt performances for the massive training effort - and  the new order of things were the headlines:

The Princess's coffers were nearly dry after the declaration she made several days ago, an article on the new location for the Running of the Leaves in commemoration of those lost in the attack; they'd be starting in Canterlot Park, one of the few places that had escaped a good amount of damage, and the first session of the Equestrian Senate.

Cloud Skimmer snorted. After the small council of unicorns she gathered the last time, she thought the idea would have been turned down. This time, it was a council with representation from all types of ponies. Based on the size of each city, they would be allowed a certain number of seats.

Normally the nobles would be outraged at such a move. But  the remainder of the aristocracy were rather quiet. Few had come out in favor of the idea, to ensure security. If they lost her, nobles would squabble over the right to rule. It would play right into Discord's plan.

"Over here, Storm Surge!"


Cloud Skimmer looked up from her paper. Out in the yard, Dusk, Early Blaze, and their other friend - a young colt named Storm Surge - were hastily donning their costumes for Nightmare Night. Of course it was a day early, but they were eager to try them on. Storm Surge had on a miniature Wonderbolts uniform, complete with a pair of training goggles. His dark grey mane was nearly swept back over his back and his oddly-colored eyes - navy blue for his left, and forest green for his right - shone against the light blue costume.

Early Blaze had decided to dress up as a rabbit, but was having trouble keeping the ears from flopping on top of her eyes. She kept blowing on them to try to get them out of the way, but she eventually had to move them by hoof, letting them drape down her neck.

Dusk's was by far the most complicated looking one - it almost appeared as though she was wearing armor. Two bandoliers were draped over her back, one on each side, filled with small glass bottles - each a different color from one another.

"Wow! You look like Batmare or something, Dusk," Storm Surge said.

"Thanks, but that's not who I'm being for nightmare night." Dusk removed a potion from the bandolier and placed it on the ground. "I'm being Clover the Clever! Royal Mage of the three tribes. I found out that she was the first royal mage when I was reading about the first settlers of Equestria."

"Oh. Well that's cool too."

"Yeah. Oh! Why don't we show Cheerilee our costumes?" Early Blaze said excitedly.

"Yeah!" the others cheered. They ran into the house, returning some semblance of silence to the backyard.

She sighed and leaned back in her chair. Dusk had been surprisingly calm for the while they had spent in Ponyville. Suspiciously so, all things considered. She asked one of the doctors - Nurse Redheart - to take a look at her to make sure she was physically ok, as well as mentally. Her best guess was that she was repressing the memory, or had an impenetrable will. The latter was less likely, but she couldn't shake the feeling that Dusk was hiding something more than mental trauma.

On more than one occasion she heard the filly cry herself to sleep, with alarming frequency as time had gone on. If she had indeed built herself a little world to forget all the bad things, it was fragile. Very fragile.

The door opened once more as Ocean Breeze walked out with a towel around his neck. Big Macintosh followed shortly afterwards, carrying a tray of juice on his back.

"I'm gonna go train for the Running of the Leaves for a bit. Be back in a few hours," Ocean Breeze said, stretching his forelegs in the yard. Big Mac nodded, sending him into a full trot towards the nearby forest.

Big Mac set the tray down on the table. "How're you feelin'?"

"Better. Sore," Cloud Skimmer sighed. "I'd love to slip back into my armor and get back to training, but..."

"You'll reopen that nice gash you got tusslin' with that unicorn."

She looked down at the bandages wrapped around her lower body, careful not to agitate the wound.

"Though I reckon it won't open again since you've been tearing at it all week."

She looked taken aback, blushing almost on reflex. Despite the regular treatments of magic and instructions to take it easy, she had been sneaking out late in the night to practice anyway. The spot she had chosen was a secluded part of the farm with nothing but dead oaks she had chopped to bits with her wings. She kept it close to the Everfree Forest to ensure she could find a stray rain cloud to wash away all the blood from her injuries. The fact that he knew... was unsettling, to say the least.

"My lips are sealed, no need worryin' over that," he continued. She breathed a sigh of relief. "I wanted to let you know True North is awake."

"He's finally out of that trance?" she asked. He had spent the last week trying to get in touch with Thunder Cloud - or find him if he was gone.

"Thunder Cloud's gone. Got trapped in a cave somewhere."

Cloud Skimmer bowed her head. She didn't know him as well as Granite did, but it hurt her deep down to know. Losing anypony right now was bad, no matter who it was.

"But there's something else. It looks like wherever he ended up, that's where Luna is being imprisoned."

She gasped.

"Which means we'll have to keep searching while protectin' everypony. Goes without sayin', but not a word to anypony but us."

She nodded, "Especially not to the Princess."

He nodded in agreement. Something was off about her, that much they all knew. She never came to take Dusk back - reasonably so, considering the circumstances. But the fact that in so many days, she had not once come to visit Dusk. One simple letter instructing her to keep her safe was all they received.  On top of Dusk's suspicious behavior, she had been on high alert for a while. Alarm bells were going off in her head, but she couldn't find the answers to make them settle down. Something awful was happening, but she couldn't anticipate it. They were in the dark, without a clue, and in the midst of the end of the world.

What could possibly be going on? She thought.