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Old 01-31-2012, 06:02 AM
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Default Strings (MLP:FiM)

AKA Totodile's 2011 NaNoWriMo, in which we watch six good friends meet, learn lessons, and eventually spiral towards a forgone conclusion. Fun stuff!

Rated T for violence and sexuality I guess.

~

I: Celebration, Anticipation, and Hints of Sarcasm

To my young and naïve successor:

If you are reading this, then I’ve most certainly died by now. I would appreciate it if you didn’t start weeping and wailing about it; my death has been a long time in coming, and if anything I’m rather pleased at the fact that it’s no longer taking its sweet time. That may be rather shocking to you, but in a few thousand years you will understand exactly what I mean.

You might be wondering why all of this destruction and tragedy has come to pass. You might be drying your eyes at this very moment, courtesy of some recent disaster or other. You are certainly miserable and disheartened by now, whether or not you have arrived at the threshold of your inevitable victory. But you must carry on. You absolutely cannot let your trials overcome you, for you are currently the world’s only hope. That is why you are a Paragon, at least in part.

You probably blame all of this on your own ignorance, and undoubtedly you blame that ignorance on me. It is likely that now, in the chill that follows the bloodshed, you hate me more deeply than you could ever hope to express. If you do, I can hardly fault you for that. I have kept you in the dark all these years – but before you judge me too harshly, please understand that I never wanted any of you to get hurt. Fate can be a ravenous beast, and I felt that I should at least give the six of you a chance to enjoy your friendship and innocence before it snatched you in its grasping claws.

Before I launch into the convoluted explanation for these events, I wish to apologize for all of the unspeakable hardships you have endured. None of us from any generation wished to be pulled into this rotten scheme. None of us wanted to be the ones standing against the world’s hidden tyrants. And none of us were unhappy in our places within the peaceful eras we lived in. Golden ages are the easiest times to believe that destiny will provide a happy ending for any of us.

I am so very sorry.


~

There once was a time of mild disorder in nature, in which the stars and clouds of the sky and the beasts of the earth followed their own silent and fluid laws. Yet there existed an oasis in this desert of chaos, a calm port in this sea of turmoil. The capital city of the Great Equestrian Empire, known simply and ironically as Everfree, was kept strictly under control by the ponies within on a day-to-day basis. Every day, the Empire’s subjects would utilize their own special talents to organize clouds to the best of their ability, as well as till the earth, sweep the streets, and do whatever they could to form some semblance of order in the wake of recent wars.

But their hearts simply were not into it. They could not understand what aim they were striving for in this constant exercise, for they knew that the city could easily fall back into its state of disorder once they were dead and gone. The sun and moon themselves would move across the sky at whatever speed they pleased, and day and night were nebulous words at best. With even those celestial bodies proving to be inconstant watchers in the sky, the ponies of the Equestrian Empire needed something to remind them of the spirit of the Empire. They needed a promise that their efforts would never go to waste in spite of the ever-looming threat of the dreaded chaos.

That promise would arrive sooner than they had expected.

It was on a particularly sudden morning when it happened. The moon sank out of sight barely six hours after its rising, and the sun cheerfully took its place. Ponies grumbled at another unexpectedly early awakening, preparing themselves to head up and down to their daily lives, when a small figure trotted up to the town square, a thick sheaf of flyers clamped in his mouth.

With a familiar hop, skip and jump, the little pale green pony soon stood on the raised platform that overlooked the town square, with its large bell hanging above it. Tossing his messy dark indigo mane out of his face, he let his similarly-colored eyes leap from pony to sleepy pony, all of whom were beginning to shuffle to some unseemly destination. Leaning back onto his hind legs, he seized the bell’s thick rope in his forehooves and pulled down as hard as he could.

Clang! Clang! Clang!

“Hear ye, hear ye!” the little pony bellowed, startling everyone into attention; his stature and his voice were of quite different sizes. “Ehem. By order of the royal family, this day shall be the last of the uneven days. The princesses tonight shall show their godly talents as the raisers of sun and moon, in an event which everypony in the land is invited to attend. Tonight there shall be a marvelous festival, in which all shall gather to watch as her highness Celestia raises the sun and seize hold tomorrow morning; and it shall continue throughout the day to the evening, when her highness Luna takes governance over the moon. A celebration for the ages is at hoof!”

With a fierce beating of his small wings he scattered the stack of flyers; they naturally fluttered through the air towards the curious watching ponies, who curiously picked them up to examine their bold announcement.

“Today is the end of a new era, my fellow ponies. And tomorrow a new one shall begin!”

~

The sun had barely crawled across the sky (though this of course meant nothing) when a great cheer swelled within a homely schoolhouse at the edge of the city.

“No school tomorrow!” exclaimed a classroom full of foals, bouncing about excitedly as paper rained down on them from their overturned tables. “No school tomorrow, yeah!”

“Well, yes, there will be no school tomorrow,” their young earth pony teacher agreed. She scuffed at the floor with a muted blue hoof, wondering how she was supposed to call order to the room. Surely such an announcement couldn’t elicit an elated reaction. “Did anypony hear why there will be no school tomorrow?”

The fillies and colts paused at her question, frowning thoughtfully. They hadn’t exactly heard much since the words “no school tomorrow” had passed through their alert ears.

“Um … because it’s a holiday, Miss Wisp?” a colt asked tentatively, waving his hoof in the air for attention.

“In a way you are right, Spark,” she said, causing him to beam at his admiring classmates. “Tomorrow there is going to be an event that will most likely begin a holiday. Do you all understand how the daytime and nighttime never seem to be the same?”

“Yeah, especially since that night last week that was only a couple hours long,” a filly remembered with a pout. “I couldn’t get any sleep at all.”

“Well, tonight it is going to change,” the teacher said, looking faintly gratified at how easily they were handling this concept. “The princesses are going to make the day and the night have the same length every time, all the time. So our entire understanding of time is going to be much easier, and we will all be able to create a steady sleep cycle and enjoy important tasks such as school a little more. And that is why we are having a holiday tomorrow.”

“Oooh,” the class chorused.

“Hey!” a spritely colt suddenly piped up. “Do you guys know what this means?”

“That you don’t have to fall asleep in class all the time?” somepony else quipped. He stuck his tongue out at them.

“No, Sugar Lips, I do not think we know what it means,” the teacher replied, suddenly slightly nervous about what he might have to say. “Maybe you could tell the class what you think it means?”

“Sure thing. It means—” he paused, puffing out his chest as he inhaled deeply, “it means every day’s going to be a holiday! So no more school ever!”

“Yaaaay!” the class cheered, and they proceeded to bounce around the room again, sending more papers flying.

The teacher furrowed her brow a little as she registered this. Then she braced her head in her hooves as she hunkered down on her desk, letting her striped fuchsia mane fall into her face. “Oh dear,” she mumbled, wondering how she was going to make them understand.

~

Within the barracks of the royal guards, a rather different scene was taking place.

“I’m giving you sons of asses the entirety of the Cronos-damned day to sleep!” the captain of the guard barked, pacing from one end of the sleeping quarters to the other in a tight march. His horn glowed briefly, telekinetically shoving a straggler out of his way. “You lot’ll be up for tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow night without a single wink of shut-eye! That is at least forty-eight hours of constant watch, and believe you me that you’re going to damn well need it! We can expect at least half the empire to fly in for this with a flock of foreigners on the side; and if you colts think there won’t be a single incident you might as well turn tail and head home to Mama’s house and curl up in the cradle, ‘cause there are sure as hell going to be problems!”

To the side, a young soldier unicorn stared up at the bunk above him, twisting his mouth in silent words of mockery when the captain’s back was turned. He was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to fall asleep with that lanky old jackanapes strutting about the place with his blaring tone and insufferable swagger.

“Psst!” somebody to the side hissed. “Oi, Strike!”

Turning his head to the side, the red unicorn met the gaze of the pony in the bunk next to him. “Pipe down, Brick,” he whispered sardonically back. “I’m trying to sleep over here.”

“Aw, and let you keep all the dreams of hot mares to yourself?” Brick giggled at his own joke, visibly clapping his hooves together beneath his thin blanket. “You actually going to help with the celebration tonight?”

The unicorn snorted softly. “Like hell. It’ll be the cards again, obviously.”

“Sweet. Same time, same place?”

“Same old song.”

“Guess I’ll see you then.”

“You’d better have that extra ace with you when you get there,” he said, a bit of warning creeping into his tone. “I swear to the gods, if you don’t bring it tonight you won’t be feeling anything in your flank for three weeks. Three of the new weeks. And that’s if I stop myself from grinding your face into a pile of—”

“PRIVATE DIAMOND STRIKE!” the captain hollered, suddenly looming over him in all of his disapproving, stiff-maned glory. “YOU HAD BETTER LAY DOWN AND SHUT UP! IF YOU SO MUCH AS BREATHE TOO LOUD WHILE COLTS ARE TRYING TO SLEEP, YOUR FACE WON’T THANK YOU FOR THAT!”

A few feeble snickers wormed through the air. The unicorn lowered himself further beneath his blanket, scowling at the use of his full name. “Eighteen more months,” he mumbled, falling into the familiar mantra. “That’s all you need, Strike. Just eighteen.”

~

Close by, in a towering spire of their majestic castle, two of the princesses were having problems of their own.

“Confound this,” the younger princess mumbled, pacing speedily back and forth quickly enough to be a deep blue blur. “This isn’t going to go well. At all. It’ll turn out that somehow you’ll be the princess of the moon, and I’ll have the sun … or that the ancestors are really wrong, and we turn out to just be in charge of directing bugs around or something. And everyone’s going to be there! Everyone! I honestly wouldn’t be all that surprised if we had a delegation from Draconia come in. Oh, I don’t know the first thing about etiquette when dealing with dragons …”

“Luna,” her sister said with a light chuckle, “you don’t need to be so nervous about it. I’m sure we’ll do absolutely fine.” Her gaze drifted idly from the regalia she was examining, settling over to the arching window through which the terse orders of captains wafted through. “It’s not as if Father and Mother could stand the idea of us negotiating with dragons yet.”

“But Celestia, there’ll be thousands of our subjects there! Maybe millions! I can’t deal with millions of subjects! It’ll make me think of this swarm of multicolored ants, and that’s not how to think of subjects at all! Or maybe … maybe Helios and Selene aren’t really fully dead. Maybe they’re just mad! And that’d be why the sun and moon don’t work properly, it’s because they’re not being raised properly or anything! Oh, that’d be so embarrassing, trying to take over their domain like we’re all special and—”

“Luna. Please listen to me. Everything will turn out fine. Now please hold still for a minute.”

“We haven’t even had any practice! Oh, I don’t want it all to fall to pieces when I’m bringing forth the night! That would simply be disastrous of me to do. And it certainly wouldn’t give everyone a very good impression of the night, would it. Imagine the moon, simply falling from the sky and crushing everyone. Very messy business there, I don’t believe I could stand the shame!”

The magic around her horn flared to life. “Luna, sit down.”

With a yelp, the younger sister was forced to half-collapse onto a nearby cushion. “Tia! I don’t have time for this choosing-a-proper-crown nonsense! I need to think of a proper way to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of disaster!”

“I’d have thought that you’d want to look your best,” Celestia replied evenly, though a sly glint twinkled in her eye. “If this somehow does fail, then surely you at least want to be impressive.”

Luna glanced away with a humph. “Very well. But you can’t deny that something will undoubtedly go wrong at the festival, and it won’t be a little spilled drink either. Some fiend is going to ruin it all, I know it! A rogue hydra, I don’t doubt. Or some blasted draconequus that managed to survive the Wars somehow. Perhaps … sweet Cronos, there’ll be an assassination attempt! I daresay a zebra will be behind it!”

Celestia sighed, turning her focus more fully towards the assortment of jeweled crowns before her. This was going to be a trial indeed.

~

Not far away from the city sprawled the Dragonback Mountains, which bordered the nearby trees like a sleeping dragon curled partially around the massive landscape. In a secluded cave within these mountains, a desperate request was being made concerning the upcoming event. There was a great deal of waving a pilfered flyer underneath the listener’s nose, fluttering with the force of spouted reasoning that was mostly made up on the spot.

The listener snapped his fingers idly, causing the flyer to spontaneously combust. “I keep telling you why going to these gathering things is a terrible idea, son,” he said, though a brief look of concern flashed across his intimidating features as the son stared down at the ashes in his claws with dismay. “Ponies took everything from us. The last thing I want is for them to take you from me, too.”

Saying such, he proceeded to bury himself in his reading of a forbidden scroll.

“But … but think of the history!” the son exclaimed, hardly about to give up his case so easily. “They’re actually going to control the sun and the moon! Really, the thought that somebody else could do it is just fascinating.”

His father didn’t grace that remark with a reply.

With a sigh, the son kicked at the ashes that had gathered on the floor. “Look. If you really want me to, I’ll take a pony form, all right? It’d be better than turning invisible or something. Nobody to crash into me and cause a nation-wide panic then … as funny as that might be …”

“That’d depend on how convincing you looked as a pony,” his father remarked, voice muffled behind the ancient parchment. “If you could promise me that you wouldn’t cause any mayhem and just act like one of them convincingly, I might let you attend. I might.”

The son’s fuzzy ears perked up. Eagerly he snapped his fingers; there was a brief flash of light, and where he had once floated now stood a furry, adorable, bright-eyed, pastel-colored …

Goat.

Peeking over the scroll at this, his father pinched the bridge of his nose and growled in disbelief. “Discord, you’re not even trying, are you?”
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Old 02-01-2012, 12:28 AM
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Zero Moment Zero Moment is offline
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This is amazing and I am glad that the title says "In Progress."
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Old 02-17-2012, 01:33 AM
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Totodile Totodile is offline
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Default Re: Strings (MLP:FiM)

Thanks! Though this may be In Progress for a while; I'm planning it to be pretty long. I'm not sure whether or not that's a good thing.

~

II: Silly Shenanigans and the Summer Sun

Our session began in much the same way yours did: attending an anticipated celebration of Equestria’s triumph over lawless insanity. You all gathered together with many others; you were barely even familiar with each other, though perhaps there was an exception or two. Regardless of that little detail, it was a grand time, at least relative to known history. The winds of change were only barely felt then, weren’t they? It was the same for us. It was all the same for us.

Sessions you ask? I’ll tell you, but all in good time. You must understand the simpler facts first, using them as a solid foundation that you can build the more rickety facets upon. If you are tempted to skim ahead and sacrifice wisdom for curiosity, pause for a moment and consider this: did you really think the striking similarity between our generations was merely a coincidence?


~

Night fell at an unpredictably late hour, as it sometimes did. As the sun drew its light away into the far north horizon, the crimson glow of the northern aurora Blood in the Sky flared in the heavens for a few brief minutes, adhering to its regular twilight schedule in a way that the sun and moon had failed to mimic; yet it was almost invisible against the light of a thousand lanterns that were already gently glowing to replace the daylight, filling the massive gardens outside the city with radiance almost as quickly as said gardens were filled with ponies. Scores of them filtered in through the ornately curved gates, trickling in like water through a reluctant dam. Occasionally some different creature would come by though, whether it was slinking cautiously or strolling through the temporarily astonished crowd as if without a care in the world.

“I swear to Cronos himself these featherbrains are coming just to scope us out,” Diamond Strike growled to nopony in particular, watching yet another griffon strut into his section of the gardens through narrowed eyes. “I’ll bet you none of the other squads have nearly as many of them shaking their feathery flanks all over the place.”

“C’mon, Strike,” his friend Brick said with a laugh, nudging him in the side. “Don’t start betting before we’re even holding the cards! ‘Sides, I’m pretty sure that roar we heard earlier was from an entire brood of dragons … I bet that’s in Livelong’s watch.”

Diamond Strike snorted. “Huh, that clown deserves it. Can you see the time?”

Stretching up onto the tips of his hooves, Brick strained over the hordes of guests to catch a glimpse of the tall stone clock tower that loomed over a thicket of roses. “Yep, half past nine,” he reported brightly. “We can probably manage to slip out of here in an hour at most.”

“Thank the gods.” He glared menacingly at a pair of diamond dogs lounging near a juggling act; they returned that glare quite willingly, one slightly lifting his lip into a snarl. “I don’t think I could stand much more of this screwing around.”

Here he broke into an impromptu rant about the ridiculousness of having the royal guards do so much when it was obvious that the oh-so-powerful royalty could take care of any problems quite easily. Brick nodded casually at his harsh words, occasionally turning his nods to a pretty mare walking by.

Willow Wisp smiled uncertainly as the buff gray unicorn guard nodded at her, unconsciously moving her hooves a little faster to put some distance between him and his angry red friend. “Now stay close to me, students,” she called over her shoulder, having to raise her voice a little over the noise of the growing crowds. “We do not want you to get lost here; what would your parents say to that?”

“That it’s ‘quite terrible,’” the three foals stated in deadpan unison.

“Although I think Mum and Stepdad would be kind of reli- … reli … would be kind of happy that I’m not there,” a pinto earth filly added thoughtfully. “Maybe it’s ‘cause I broke their wedding gift from Aunt Chocolate Cake, though.”

“Well, your mom sure seems happier to see me than you!” a yellow pegasus colt replied, sticking his tongue out at her.

She gasped at this. “No she doesn’t! She loves me more, you big meanie hooves! Now take that back!”

“Yeah-huh she does! She gave me the best hay last time I came over! And your stepdad taught me how to swim properly, too!”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Yeah-huh!”

“Nuh-uh!”

“Yeah-huh!”

“Miss Wisp?” said a tan unicorn colt, using his magic to clumsily push his wide-rimmed glasses further up his snout. “May I request retreating to the presence of my elder cousin over there? He seems to be quite despondent in his current loneliness, and in any case I believe I would prefer his mannerisms to those of present company.”

“If he really is your cousin, then you may go ahead, Alphabet,” Willow Wisp said a bit weakly.

He nodded gratefully and seriously before trotting off in the direction he had indicated.

With a sigh, the teacher turned to the two arguing foals beside her, who were now tussling on the ground and threatening to trip over innocent bystanders. “Pardon me,” she murmured, doing her best to steer them out of each pony’s way. “Pardon me, my apologies …”

A pair of cloaked ponies watched the blue earth pony move in that awkward fashion. After a few moments, they headed through the thick crowds again, cloth rustling against their bodies softly as they moved.

“I promise it wouldn’t cause a scene if we just came in with our entourage,” Celestia whispered, resisting the temptation to push her hood back and brush her long pink mane out of her eyes. Nopony had ever warned her about how hot and sweaty and uncomfortable it could get under there, especially not any of the romance novels she’d ever read. Excitement and practicality, it seemed, were simply and definitively polar opposites.

“But it would, Celestia! It most certainly would!” the other hissed back, sounding fearful. “And it would most certainly make the raising of the sun and moon much less impressive in comparison! If it doesn’t seem like we’re giving everypony our very best effort, we’ll be laughed off the stage!”

“Oh, they wouldn’t laugh at us,” Celestia said confidently, pretending she couldn’t feel the little worm of nervousness that her sister had infected her thoughts with. Laughed off the stage? In front of this dense crowd, with all its important nobles and attendees? “We’re their future rulers. And goddesses, if the lore is to be believed.”

“But it is!” Luna exclaimed dramatically. “And nothing has higher expectations attached to it than a god! Can you imagine if we don’t live up to those expectations? We’ll bring shame, Celestia, shame on the entire family! And we’ll spiral into ruin and poverty and eternal disorder—”

“Wasn’t Aether supposed to have been in charge of the entire sky?” Celestia said, musing into memories of mythological study through dusty scrolls on rainy days. “Record says she couldn’t shift the clouds at all. But nopony hated her for it.”

“But she wasn’t a really powerful queen, was she?” Luna asked, wringing her hooves. “Nopony respects a weak queen, and if nopony respects a weak queen, there’s nothing for them to believe in, and if there’s nothing for them to believe them, there’s no reason for them to keep order, oh, and if there’s no reason for them to keep order, the entire empire will fall into CHAOS and SUFFERING and OH THE HORROR …”

“Stop being such a ham,” Celestia said, shaking her head in disbelief. “You’re lucky you haven’t drawn everypony’s notice yet.”

“If we are going to be weak queens, I suppose we had better get used to that feeling,” the night-blue mare lamented, suddenly almost calm again. “Such is our sad fate.”

Sighing inwardly, Celestia let her gaze lift upwards to their gradually looming destination: the raised platform in the very center of the gardens. The thing had been constructed that very day, and specifically for this event. Visible from most viewpoints within the gardens, it shimmered with the royal violet and gold colors on gently fluttering flags. It was there that she would be tested, in ten hours’ time, in front of thousands of ponies, griffons, dragons, and the like.

For the first time, she began to feel some of Luna’s more troubling doubts nag at her mind. Would she be able to raise the sun properly? The entire empire was counting on her and her sister to leash some real order into Equestria, and if they succeeded this would likely be a day of happy remembrance and celebration in centuries to come. If they failed … well, if they failed, perhaps falling into obscurity might be the more preferable of her resulting options.

She had become so wrapped up in her thoughts that she failed to notice that she was swiftly approaching a stock-still unicorn until she crashed into him, sending them both flying ungracefully before they came crashing down to the grassy earth.

“OOF!” they exclaimed.

“Oh! Oh, please excuse me,” Celestia said hastily, fluttering back onto her hooves as gracefully as her dignity would allow. “I didn’t see you there. Are you all right?”

With astonishing speed the unicorn scrambled back onto his own hooves, transitioning from a sprawled heap to a standing position in barely a second of flailing legs. “Perfectly fine,” he said, as if this were all quite ordinary. “… That hasn’t happened to me in a while. Rather exciting, really.” His mouth twisted into a grin, and he giggled somewhat childishly.

“I am … pleased to hear that,” Celestia remarked cautiously, taking an automatic step backward.

A long moment of awkward silence ensued. Celestia had no idea what to make of the stallion: he seemed handsome enough, with his deep brown fur contrasting nicely with his pale blond mane, and at a glance she wouldn’t have taken him for the giggling type. But those small red eyes, darting about the place like a snake’s, seemed far too knowing for her comfort.

“Oh, hurry up,” Luna grumbled, seizing the hem of her sister’s cloak in her teeth and dragging her forcibly away. “We’re never going to get there and become properly prepared at this rate …”

As they clopped away, Celestia managed to get the briefest of glimpses of the strange unicorn’s cutie mark: a pale twisted shape like a limp puppet, almost uncannily lifelike. She suppressed a shiver, and let herself follow Luna’s rapid train of worried remarks once more.

Discord watched the hooded figure go, feeling the laughter fade in his throat. He tilted his head to the side in confusion. Strange … she and her sister had so many strings binding them to the rest of the world, creating a fluctuating web of relation that exceeded everything he’d seen aside from himself and his father. Naturally she had to be important, as only important people sneaked around in cloaks in public. But never mind that. What was her deal? Didn’t she think it was funny? It wasn’t every day that he just smacked into someone like that, especially considering that he was a draconequus. Balance was easy to handle when he could simply float; having to subject to gravity was another story altogether.

The chuckles had died away, but his grin remained as he resumed his session of pony-watching. He’d examined them before, of course, but it had been as an invisible state, or else from pulling a few strings to watch from a fair distance. He hadn’t been right in the middle of the action before, and certainly not in their likeness. The overwhelming scents of baked goods and aromatic flora tingling on his tongue, the hubbub of hustle and bustle throughout the throng of creatures, the blurs of excited colts and fillies rushing past and bobbing and weaving through their less active adults … this was quite the novelty. He hadn’t felt anywhere near this small in decades.

The fact that he actually liked this sensation was nothing short of amazing.

His eyes slid over to a nearby food stand, where its owner haggled with a mob of potential customers over his intended high prices. Feeling mischievous, the disguised draconequus twitched his hoof slightly, pulling on a few strings that connected his state of being with the baked goods on display. A brief shift in reality later, a scone ceased to exist with its fellows, springing into being instead just in front of Discord’s face with a small flash of light. With a grin he took a bite out of the floating pastry, letting its warm honey flavor seep into the slightly moist raspberries embedded within. He decided that he liked scones, and proceeded to snatch a few more for his own enjoyment, though he remembered in time to make his horn glow needlessly in order to maintain his disguise. The idea that thievery was typically frowned on failed to occur to him.

“’Evening, gentlecolts,” he called out to a delegation of zebras lazily, with his voice muffled due to a mouth full of food. Most of them naturally rolled their eyes and went on their way, due to a justified disdain of his lack of manners; but one, after glancing worriedly after his fellows, trotted up to him with a curious expression on his striped face.

“Mister, you speak our this tongue?” he asked in disbelief, using said tongue as he spoke. “It this is strange that … how do you that say … only one ponykind out of many and all commonfolk should be learned in such! I that was of the true belief that only the high royals of our this empire were knowing of it.”

“Oh, I guess I just pick up a few words here and there.” And of course by words he meant strings that he’d unconsciously pulled at. Apparently there was such a thing as trying too hard to blend in.

“It this is fascinating,” the zebra said in awe. “I this know that in Quaggaia nothing such happens under the Caesar’s rule. You these ponykind are quite lenient with foreign items and such, no?”

“I suppose they – I suppose we are,” Discord said, feeling suddenly highly conscious at the fact that he had been shoehorned into being a spokesperson for a race he didn’t belong to.

“Ha! No longer can you avoid the confession of your mysterious sins!”

A pale green shape smacked down between the two, crumpling into the ground from its speed. They glanced down at it in bemusement, discovering it to be a small pegasus with an unkempt indigo mane, groaning slightly as he rubbed his head. Several papers had been strapped to his back, and a few came loose upon impact, which he hastily gathered up before passersby could step on them.

“Hey! Listen, you!” the little pegasus exclaimed, looking up pointedly at Discord. “Yeah, talking to you over here. You can speak Quagg … Quagga … you speak their language? Where’ve you been hiding, I’ve been looking for somepony to translate their gibberish for me since hours ago!” Rummaging through his mane, he somehow retrieved a fluffy quill and an inkpot, which he hastily set down as he prepared to write something. “I’ve got a ton of questions to ask these zebra heathen!”

The zebra backed up with a little caution, mumbling something under his breath.

“Huh? What’d he say? Tell me what factoid he deigned to say!” the pegasus demanded, nudging Discord’s knee due to lack of ability to poke him anywhere higher.

“He said that he just can’t understand why foals your age are allowed to speak so boldly to elders without repercussion,” Discord lied smoothly.

The pegasus paused. “… You sure he said that?” he asked suspiciously, raising an eyebrow.

“Absolutely.”

The little pony still looked rather skeptical; but after a few more moments of scrutiny he turned back to the zebra and puffed out his chest before bellowing in an impressively and unexpectedly loud voice: “And YOU, sir, are an ASS! CLEARLY we ponies receive cutie marks as TINY COLTS, thereby reflecting our relative immaturity to your own more CIVILIZED ways. PERHAPS you should show some cultural SENSITIVITY, ESPECIALLY considering how GRACIOUSLY our empire has welcomed your RIDICULOUS AMBASSADOR and so deserves at least a little bit of CONSIDERATION AND RESPECT IN RETURN!”

Several ponies nearby fairly galloped away at his ridiculous volume, seeking a slightly calmer sea of insanity for refuge. Naturally this resulted in colliding with others, who looked rather annoyed at this sudden development for a few moments before allowing them to mingle at that new distance.

The zebra, naturally, ran for his life.

The pegasus blinked as he blankly watched the foreigner’s retreating rear for a moment, mouth forming a slight O-shape. Then he smacked his head into the ground repeatedly. “Ugh. Did it again. Why’d I do it again?”

Discord frowned. While he had expected chaos to ensue from the little pony’s rage, the subsequent self-punishment had been less than predictable. The ponies in this city were crazy.

“Ahaha … so sorry you had to see that,” the pegasus said, rubbing his head again. “At times I’m just too honest for my own good. Say … I don’t believe I’ve seen you in this fairest of cities before.”

Discord shrugged. “There’s about a million ponies in the city. It shouldn’t be so strange that you haven’t seen me.”

“Considering that I’m the town crier and announcer for everypony who enters and leaves Everfree, it is pretty strange.” The pegasus tapped his head knowingly. “Photographic memory. It has saved lives.”

“I came for the celebration just today,” the draconequus in disguise lied again. “Even you were probably too busy to notice me come in.”

“Hm. Fair point,” the pegasus conceded, though Discord caught a new hint of suspicion in his eyes just the same. “Still a funny thing, though. Borderline hilarious. Name’s Notice, by the way — Short Notice.”

He held out a hoof, which Discord shook readily.

“You see, I’m trying to compile a lot of information on our ‘visitors’ in order to take a decent report to Their Majesties,” he went on. “To see if their policies have relaxed, you know. Preventing spies and assassinations from becoming legal and destroying the entire world. Also taxes. It’s very busy work, oh yes, it’s very busy … still, somepony’s got to do it.”

“How do you have time for all of these duties?” Discord asked, intrigued by these seemingly impossible feats that such a little pony could accomplish all on his own.

“Ah … I don’t really know myself. Things just need to get done, so I stand up and go ahead and charge like a madpony and get them done! Fairly simple when you boil it down, but still glorious! What did you say your name was again?”

“I didn’t.” Discord cast his gaze about with seeming idleness, searching for inspiration. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the white shape on his own flank, which had automatically appeared upon transforming into a pony. He took note of its flailing shape, the uncanny smile stretching its apparently wooden face, and the thin threads connecting it to bars floating above, and quickly put together a decent enough lie. “I’m … Strings. Puppet Strings.”

Short Notice gave him a heavy-lidded grin. “Of course you are,” he drawled, before poking the unicorn in the leg. “You know, for a chronic liar you’re not all that bad of a guy.”

Discord felt a slight pang of dismay at having his bluff called so easily, though he also felt relieved that this little pony hadn’t asked the ridiculous question of whether he was really a unicorn. That would have been an awkward subject to dodge around. “Well, for a half-pint I guess you’re not all that bad, either.”

The pegasus rolled his eyes. “Oh, I am wounded! Though I guess I should be glad you didn’t straight up call me a colt.”

“Why would I?” Feeling mischievous as usual, “Puppet Strings” leaned down slightly with a leer. “… You’re not actually a colt, are you?”

Short Notice’s expression shifted almost instantly to a glare that perfectly reflected that old adage of looks that could kill. “I am most definitely not a colt,” he said flatly. “And by the graves of my illustrious ancestors, that is the truth.”

If he had been asking his question in earnest, Discord might have been affected by the fierceness of the answer. As it was, he simply grinned and nudged the other playfully, nearly knocking him over. “I guess that’s a small mercy, then.”

The fake scowl Short Notice put on at this quickly dissolved as both of them broke out into laughter. At that moment, perhaps, it all began … the bonds of friendship, beginning to form. It was only between two ponies then, but that was a fine beginning on its own.

Sometimes the most massive infernos begin with a single spark.

~

As the night wore on, the festival grew ever louder as the many guests grew rowdier with adrenaline, intoxication, or exhaustion. Once dignified dancing gave way into a livelier stomping around, many parents finally decided to give up and haul their foals home to avoid letting them get crushed to death by a few misplaced hooves. The stench of sweat and pheromones hung heavily in the air. Above it all, the clock tower indicated the lateness (or perhaps earliness) of the hour, its minute hand slowly making its way around the engraved circular face.

Willow Wisp sat nervously in the boughs of a looming oak tree, eyes darting about at the broiling scene below her. She wasn’t entirely sure how she had gotten up there, but at least she was safe from the domestic violence the night had wrought upon the gardens. For now, anyway.

Behind her, the faint snores of two sleeping foals were just audible. Tired out beyond anything they had ever been before, they were currently nestled up in a place where the tree’s branches grew particularly close together, their hooves drooping over thin air. Willow Wisp wasn’t quite sure how they had gotten this high up either; but as long as she could keep her eye on them for their parents, everything would be fine.

“Sleep well, Spark, Chocolate Ice,” she whispered for the fifteenth time. A tiny snore was her only reply.

A yawn escaped her soon after she had spoken; her eyelids, which had been drooping for quite some time, now fluttered as though resisting the great weights that metaphorically hung from them. She fought the urge to simply drop into blissful slumber; she still had to make sure the foals would be safe, after all. Then again, they were hardly about to get into trouble, were they? They had been even more tired than she was. And it was unlikely that somepony could hurt them in their current resting place, unless that pegasus couple kissing passionately beneath them randomly decided to rocket upwards and snap all the branches in their way.

Surely it could not hurt to doze off for just a few minutes, could it?

She let her eyes drift closed, casting her vision into darkness aside from the dancing afterimages of the thousand lantern lights—

BWONG …

With a sleepy sniff she jerked back to wakefulness, pink eyes blinking furiously as she sought out the source of the solemn sound. What had that terrible noise been?



Oh, of course. The clock tower, chiming the hour. But why was it being so insistently loud about it this time?

BWONG …

Some distance away, in the shadows of a dimly-lit pagoda, Diamond Strike twisted his head around to glare at wherever he thought it was. “Damn clock,” he swore. “Of course it’d do that right when it’s about to get good.” With a groan he pulled himself out of the embrace of the pretty pegasus he had been wooing, tossing his golden mane out of his face as he glanced around for his helmet.

“Where are you going?” she asked, staring at him with confusion and a bit of fearfulness.

“It’s time,” he explained, magically putting his helmet on again; his mane slithered into hiding as he did so, concealed by the uniform’s silvery crest. “All the guards have to be on duty when they start raising the sun. If I don’t get into place really quickly, I’ll be in some deep …” He paused briefly, remembering that he was speaking to a mare. “… some deep trouble.”

The noise within the pagoda, which had gradually grown quieter over the course of the small hours, turned raucous again as the gamblers within were shaken back to wakefulness. He tried to rub his throbbing temples, but as the helmet was in the way his efforts came to nothing.

BWONG …

“Oh.” She giggled, fluttering her eyelashes. “Will I be able to see you afterwards?”

“Sure thing.” He lifted a hoof to her neck, stroking down her mane and along her back, which elicited a shiver of pleasure from her. “We can get right back to where we left off.”

“You kidding, Strike? We still need to get to that rematch!”

“Brick!” the unicorn exclaimed, whirling around to face the pony who had shown up seemingly out of nowhere. “Can’t you see I’m wooing a lady?”

“Eh,” was the simple reply to the heartfelt question. “The cards are more fickle.” He shifted slightly, and the resulting sound from his saddlebags made it clear that they were full of them.

BWONG …

Rolling his eyes, Diamond Strike quickly kissed the mare goodbye and proceeded to trot with his friend back to their quadrant of the gardens. “You ruined the moment, Brick,” he growled, shooting a sharp frown at random bystanders here and there. “She was the one for me, I know it.”

“Oh yeah?” Brick snorted, grinning like an idiot. “Then what was her name?”

“… Shut up.”

BWONG …

Meanwhile, a violet curtain hanging above the raised platform at the center of the gardens concealed the frantic movements of a certain blue alicorn.

“Just calm down, Celestia! Do you need another drink? A pinch of salt, maybe? I know Father said we had to watch ourselves with that stuff, but maybe if you felt a little looser you’d be able to channel your magic more easily. Oh, here are those gold bracelets you were looking for! They’ll look great in the sunlight, all shining and everything. Don’t forget to breathe! But remember, don’t breathe too quickly either or you’ll faint, and fainting in front of the entire empire out there isn’t going to be a good thing!”

“Thank you, Luna, but I’m feeling perfectly calm,” Celestia told her sister serenely, shifting slightly on the golden cushion she was seated on.

Close by, a pale yellow unicorn yawned and snuggled deeper into her own violet cushion. She seemed perfectly oblivious to the surrounding noise, as well as to the tiara hanging down from her horn in front of her closed eyes.

BWONG …

“Oh Celestia, you don’t have to hide your feelings from me!” Luna panted, darting back and forth between servants and chests and baskets and all sorts of odd things lying about the area.

The white alicorn watched her younger sister zigzag around with bemusement. “Really, Luna, I’m fine,” she said with a slight laugh. “Just ask Galaxy. I’m not acting as though the world’s ending, am I?” she asked, turning slightly to face the older unicorn sitting beside her.

The addressee had been staring off blankly into space, but with a slight twitch she jerked back into reality as she met her younger sister’s gaze. “Hmm? Oh, I suppose not,” she said distractedly. She let her eyes fall downward, poking at her bronze-colored cushion with a pale purple hoof.

BWONG!

“See, Luna? The eldest sister knows best!” Celestia said with a bit of triumph, looking around at her with a grin.

“Well, I suppose,” Luna conceded, with her voice partially muffled from the salt she was now anxiously chewing. “But anything could happen out there, on the stage! And that was the last chime the clock made, just now! How can you not be the least bit worried?”

Her smile fading a bit, Celestia sighed. “Right now I’m thinking that if anypony here is worried, it’s you.” Her horn glowed, and a thick ball of slimy salt was wrenched out of a dismayed Luna’s mouth. She tossed it away with a flick of her head, letting it sail into a crowd of drunkenly disoriented ponies who immediately grew confused at the sudden “snowstorm” they found themselves in.

“Ah! But you’re—”

“Luna, could you please just come over here for a moment?”

More surprised than anything, the blue alicorn trotted obediently over, tail swishing behind her.

“Sit down,” she said kindly, gesturing to the silvery cushion on her other side. When Luna reluctantly did so, she placed a hoof on her shoulder and made a face upon feeling the tension knotting up the muscles there. “I want you to relax, all right? Just relax. Take a few deep breaths and try to enjoy yourself.”

“But I just … that is … I mean … everything has to be perfect,” Luna stammered. She lowered her head, letting some of her mane blot out the lantern lights. “I don’t want to let everypony down … and I don’t want to let myself fail. Or let you fail either.”

“Oh, Luna.” She pulled her younger sister into a hug, understandably startling her. “I know the feeling too. Believe me, I do. We can’t fail when everypony is counting on us … but that’s why we’ve been trained for this. Mother and Father have done their best to prepare for this day …” She paused, frowning slightly. “Or maybe this night? It’s hard to tell with time.”

Luna nodded a bit jerkily, and without warning leaned into her sister’s larger body. With a smile, Celestia draped a white wing over her, pulling the younger alicorn deep into a feathery embrace. She bent her head down and rested it against Luna’s, brushing the blue mane out of her face with a bit of magic.

Neither noticed a nearby attendant gently shake awake the pale yellow unicorn on Luna’s other side, which elicited a sleepy noise somewhere between a grunt and a sigh. Nor did they see Galaxy sitting stock still, staring down at the platform beneath her, with rose-colored eyes shining a bit wetly in the golden glow.

This stillness couldn’t last for long, of course. It had only been a few minutes before the clinking of hooves on iron drew the three sisters’ attention. With nervous hearts, they glanced up at the familiar newcomer.

“The time has come,” was the only thing their mother said. But that was all they needed to hear.

~

It was difficult to breathe.

If the hordes of ponies had been an overwhelming force before, it was nothing to how they now thronged together around the platform, crushing against each other in an attempt to draw closer to the place where they knew royalty stood at that very moment. Heat wafted from them in great waves that were visible even in the dim light (for the lanterns were finally beginning to burn out and die, most likely to emphasize the upcoming transition between night and day). Voices had dwindled to a million murmurs, rippling across the gardens and beyond into the city itself. The entire place was a powder keg of anticipation, and it would only take one spark – one tiny little seemingly insignificant spark – for all hell to break loose.

And Discord loved it. Oh, he knew quite well that he shouldn’t actually cause any such thing to happen – he couldn’t risk exposing that some draconequi still lived, after all. But his kind were meant to mold reality into whatever fanciful shapes they pleased, letting its components slip and slide through reality like a light breeze. And living creatures were the perfect catalysts for that sort of chaos … But he couldn’t, of course. Too much could go wrong if he did; and even if they destroyed each other over the course of wars that spanned centuries, they would simply rebuild and come to blame the draconequi. They always did.

So he simply stood in the midst of the thick tension in his unicorn disguise, grinning at how close they were to that scenario. Really, this was beautiful enough in itself. He hadn’t given much thought as to how much chaos could stem from the ponies’ rigid order. The daily bustling about of the city had only given the barest hint of this delicious anxiety.

“Whew,” Short Notice breathed as he fluttered beside him, fluffing out his stuffy indigo mane. He was scribbling something down hastily on an already messy-looking paper, looking up every now and then at a pair of griffons who seemed to be in the middle of a heated debate nearby. “Can’t wait for this to start already. I swear to the gods on high, this feels like the longest night ever!”

“Mm, indeed it does.” He made as if to paw at the ground with a hoof, pulling at a few strings to force a shiny red apple appear. It made a delightful crunching sound between his teeth. “Though I suppose we’ll be waiting just like this when they’re about to make night fall again.”

“True enough, I guess,” the little pegasus said distractedly, twitching an ear around to better hear what the griffons were lowering their voices about. “From what I’ve heard, it seems like half the empire has already been petitioning their own preferences about the relative lengths of day and night. This’ll probably be where it all comes off the paper and into the open.” He frowned, glancing up at the dark sky far above. “Hope they don’t have any trouble dealing with it all. That would be horrible and nasty. Anticlimactic too.”

Trouble?

Discord blinked, considering the word. Trouble, as opposed to pandemonium … a milder form of chaos, personal rather than widespread, and less likely to be blamed on a race most considered extinct. Perhaps if the royals did have some trouble, just to see how they dealt with it … just to see the looks on their faces … just for a little excitement. And amusement, of course. Amusement was always good.

Now that he thought about it, this would most likely be the last time he’d be allowed to play with the sun.

“Yes,” he remarked half to himself, feeling a smirk play about his mouth as his idea grew within his devious mind. “That would be simply awful, wouldn’t it.”

It was at that moment that a chorus of trumpets sounded from beneath the platform, with their players nestled in their own alcove of orchestration. Murmurs quieted slightly at this, only to die away completely in the face of a sudden wave of shushing.

Then, for the first time in history, the city was completely quiet.

With a dramatic rustling, the curtain drew apart to reveal a positively shimmering golden unicorn. A solid gold crown nestled on top of a thick mane of silver and dark gray, but from the way her bright purple eyes smiled down at the thousands of watchers beneath her. The scepter within a heart that was her cutie mark only served to underscore this detail.

To her side was a slightly taller unicorn with deep purple fur, striding forward on long legs. His golden mane shone and his green eyes glittered in the lantern light, and the silvery crown perched on his head matched the one pictured on his flank, aside from the emerald seven-point star decorating the latter.

The way they carried themselves, with their heads angled down just so to gaze at their massive audience, bespoke of their royal status in a way that mere words couldn’t convey, demanding respect with a simple hoofstep.

From somewhere nearby, perhaps from everywhere, the self-important voice of a crier rang out in service to the majestic unicorns: “All rise for Her Majesty, Empress Aurora the Soul of Equestria! All rise for His Majesty, Emperor Eclipse the Light of Equestria!”

Anyone in the audience not standing on their hooves, feet, or claws now hastened to do so, creating a slight wave of movement as everyone tried to stretch over each other’s shoulders for a glimpse of the mighty rulers … as well as the four princesses seated just behind them, straining to sit still and proper on their cushions.

The one second from the left caught Discord’s attention immediately.

She was obviously the pony he had collided with earlier – the way the strings bent around and through her made it obvious. If her mother’s golden fur had caught the light, then this alicorn’s white coat positively glowed in it. A pale pink mane fell gently along her neck and across her shoulders; similarly-colored eyes glinted as she turned her head slightly to examine the audience. No cloak served to conceal her thin limbs and feathery wings this time.

Discord stared at her with widening eyes. He had never seen anyone so … so …

So boring.

She didn’t even seem the tiniest bit amused at how overexcited everypony seemed to be! A little anxious, perhaps, though that was to be expected – but she wasn’t even on the verge of a nervous giggle! How gloomy she must be, day in and day out.

She didn’t have her cutie mark yet. He supposed that when she did, it would be a sun sporting an exaggerated frown.

With a sigh, he examined the sisters seated on beside side of her instead. The purple unicorn – Galaxy, was that her name? She seemed just as boring, if not more so. Too mopey for his tastes. The little pale yellow unicorn appeared to be on the verge of falling asleep, eyes drooping. Boring. The blue alicorn seemed slightly more interesting, though. The strings connecting her to the world positively hummed with worry, and therefore spelled chaos just waiting to happen. He grinned.

“Citizens of Equestria!” Aurora declared. Though her voice was not raised very much, the commanding timbre within it reverberated through the air for even the furthest pony in the gardens to hear. It was entirely possible that this effect was created through magic, but nobody really knew or even cared about whether this was the case. “You have gathered here tonight to see the change that shall soon place our great empire once again as a home of gods. Likewise, you visitors from Draconia, you from Quaggaia, from Canasia and all other nations of the wide world – you have come from far and wide to witness the beginning of a new age. Not since the days of Helios and Selene have the day and the night respected the natural order of things. Not since the wars with the foul draconequi have we had the level of order that we shall now renew, as we first set out to do upon their well deserved extinction.” Here she paused, faintly flicking a pointed ear as if it itched, before continuing with her speech as if nothing had happened. “This night shall become a morning as your princess, Celestia, proves to you once and for all that the blood of the gods runs through her veins. And when the sun must fall beneath the horizon again, your princess Luna shall show you the proof of her divinity as well. This shall be the day – and the night – which the entire world shall remember as the greatest of all days and nights. Remember this well, our friends. For history shall look back and remember this as the beginning of a grand new era!”

She stomped her hoof loudly to emphasize these last three words, but they were quickly drowned out by the storm of roaring cheers and clopping hooves that met her profound speech. All within the city who had a voice used it at the same time, again for the first time in history.

“It’s starting!” Short Notice fairly squealed, eyes shining and locked onto Their Majesties as they trotted off to their thrones at the side of the platform, switching places with the sun princess as she stepped forward. “It’s starting, Puppet Strings! This is just glorious!”

“I …” Discord couldn’t think of what he was supposed to say. Here was a crowd of thousands of ponies, zebras, dragons, griffons, diamond dogs, and all sorts of races … all of them surrounding him as though he were one of them, and all of them letting out heartfelt cheers upon a royal reminder of the death of his race and their adherence to the strings. These silly, friendly mortal species who had wiped out an entire race and could cheer about it without fetters. Suddenly his hearts felt leaden, unbearably heavy. He had wanted so desperately to witness this?

“Puppet Strings?” Short Notice fairly shouted over the ongoing noise of the crowd. He tilted his head as he examined the disguised draconequus, brow furrowed. “Are you feeling all right?”

Discord exhaled loudly through flared nostrils, eyes narrowing as he glared up at the royalty trotting about on their iron pedestal. “Oh yes, Short Notice,” he said tersely. “I most certainly am feeling all right.”

And he was. No longer did he have any qualms over messing with this sun princess. She was just one of them at the end of her day, after all.

Chaos would definitely come through this. Let them panic.

Up on the platform, Celestia stood right on the silvery edge as she gazed out at her subjects. Just the tiniest fraction of the empire that one day, by divine right, would become hers to rule … Luna’s pawing at her silvery cushion seemed oddly loud from her position. Oh, why did her silly sister have to go and put those worming doubts into her head? She had been perfectly at ease before; and though she knew she looked quite calm and serene she was starting to feel a little bit of a flutter speed her heartbeat.

Panic.

Taking a deep breath, she spread her wings, pushed down lightly, and gently lifted off into the air – feeling the weight of a million eyes trying to pull her down – feeling her feathers rustle in time to short breathing. Here we go. Now or never.

She raised her forelegs to either side of her, keeping an even balance with the beating of her wings as she closed her eyes. The watching crowd seemed to simply melt into the blackness beyond her lids. Smiling inwardly, she called silently for the latent magic within her soul, reaching for the reason that she and her sister were the divinity of the Equestrian Empire. As she grasped it, it naturally attempted to slip away, but she held firm, pulling at it to do her bidding. She felt the leylines of the plane of magic, that subtle dimension where everything held everything else together, and let the magic fly out from her and down those shimmering lines. It was a call to the sun, demanding it to hear and obey its new mistress the alicorn.

And the sun obeyed.

As she floated there in serene concentration, the audience stared in wonder at the faint traces of colors beginning to appear on the eastern horizon behind her. First a mere hint of orange, then a few smudges of pink and gold painted the upper echelons of the sky. The stars seemed to wink out, one by one, giving way to the ever strengthening light. As she ascended, ever so slightly, a brief speck of pure light appeared on the horizon, to bright to look at directly even in its relatively diminutive state. In response to the dawn light, Blood in the Sky faded into sight, its vague scarlet pony-shape cast across the heavens.

The sun drew slowly above the horizon, with Celestia rising just as slowly in response to the magic she was guiding. Even facing away from the eastern horizon with closed eyes, she could almost feel the blazing sun warming her back already. She was doing it! She was really doing it! Doubts or no doubts, she was still the alicorn goddess of the Equestrian Empire, and with the very sun at her command, there was nothing she could not accomplish.

The sun abruptly halted in its ascent, and so did she.

The corner of her mouth twitched downwards in a slight frown. She tugged lightly at the leylines, hoping to set the sun on its momentum again, but it simply refused to budge.

Her heartbeat began to speed up again, pounding against her chest frantically. No! she thought, feeling the worries and doubts rear their ugly heads within her mind. No, no! I can’t fail already! I’ve trained years for this final test, and it has to have its reward! And I cannot let these ponies down!

With these thoughts bolstering her will, she pulled at the leylines as hard as she could, letting the magic rage through her like a river in a storm. The sun remained resistant, although she thought that she could faintly, just faintly, feel it give slightly. Feeling a bit heartened at this, she continued to pull.

Within the audience, Short Notice stared up at the straining princess with a puzzled look on his face. “That’s weird,” he whispered, almost unwilling to break the spell of enraptured silence that seemed to have been cast upon the entire garden. “She was doing just magnificently with the sun before … what do you suppose is causing her trouble with it? Perhaps some foul draconequus is behind this!”

He was speaking mostly to himself, which was why he didn’t look around at his companion and notice the "unicorn’s" equally strained expression.

Discord hadn’t bothered lighting up his horn – there was no reason to make anypony realize he was the one manipulating the sun, after all. No need to pretend to be casting a magic spell when he was so wrapped up in his workings of chaos, tugging at all the right strings. The sun was actually a relatively easy thing to learn to control through chaos, in spite of any evidence to the contrary; objects tended to be easier or harder to manipulate depending on their connections to the rest of the world, via their strings, and the sun of course had a massive connection with the earth. Finding the strings for that scenario was quite simple. Though it was rather more complicated in practice, it had been little matter at all in days past to make the sun slide through the sky in looping spirals and figure eights. He should know; his father had taught him all about it.

As it was right now, though, it was taking all of his energy just to push the sun downward. He stifled a grunt that threatened to escape from his dry throat, setting his teeth in concentration. He’d heard of the alicorns and the widespread belief that they must be divine gods, but he’d always passed that off as a fantastic story. Even the great power he had felt emanating from the royalty earlier wasn’t exactly what he’d call divine. And yet there was that sun princess, stubbornly resisting his attempts to push the sun below the horizon again! This was ridiculous. She was just a pony. Ponies couldn’t be gods; the closest thing to that was being a draconequus, and just look at what had happened to them! … Wiped out by these fake pony gods …

As that thought crossed his mind, his efforts slipped in contemplation—

The sun shot up into the sky, transforming the world and lighting everything up with sudden majesty. Celestia burst up with it with a powerful stroke of her wings, high above the crowd for even the furthest observer to see quite easily. With flared wings, she fluttered quickly down to the platform again, gasping as if drowning in the sudden sea of cheers that swept over them. Her royal façade slipped as she touched down, head drooped and panting heavily, so that the brilliant flash at the edge of her vision barely registered. She had really done it! She had brought the sun into the sky!

“Celestia, you did it!” was all the warning she had before Luna barreled into her, practically knocking both of them over. “You’re really the sun princess … or sun goddess? Terminology is important here, of course. You have become the mighty sun goddess!” With an ecstatic laugh, Luna poked at one of her sister’s legs. “And a full grown mare to boot! You are pretty much the most important pony in the empire, aren’t you?”

Feeling puzzled, Celestia glanced behind her to see what Luna was going on about. There on her flank, which had once been as blank and white as the rest of her coat, was a brilliant insignia of a majestic golden sun, with rays shining outwards as if crackling with real flames. She couldn’t quite believe it. After all these years, with her true purpose in life still just out of reach, she had finally received what every pony looked forward to receiving: her very own cutie mark.

With a smile she gazed up at the real sun, triumphantly noting the similarities there in its glory. It wasn’t just beautiful, of course; it was a powerful symbol marking the dawn of a new age, her status as Empress-to-be, and her future duty in leading her little ponies to an even brighter future. Even the fact that it was the only thing in the morning sky was a sure—

She blinked. Aside from her magnificent charge, nothing broke the bright blueness of the day.

It had only just been sunrise, and yet Blood in the Sky was missing.

She was pulled back to reality as a pair of long, thin blue legs wrapped around her neck in a sudden hug. “This simply has to be the very greatest moment I have ever witnessed!” Luna was cheering, looking slightly unsteady on just two legs. Celestia paused for a moment to collect herself before returning the embrace, letting her confidence swarm back in full force. The missing aurora probably didn’t mean anything.

Even Galaxy, after simply watching them for a few moments, stepped forward to give her quiet congratulations. Though their parents had stepped to the front of the platform again, they barely saw them, wrapped up in Celestia’s own success as they were. Truly this had to be the best day ever!

“This,” grumbled Discord, “is positively the worst day ever.”

He had collapsed from the effort recoil and sheer exhaustion of his attempted feat, and though the ocean of cheering ponies failed to notice he had done so, he couldn’t help feeling extremely embarrassed. He had gone up against one of those little ponies, and he had failed. Miserably. It was like the whole world wanted to laugh in his face for thinking that he could make them feel foolish in their little delusions of gods and alicorns and whatever else they liked to believe in.

Another drop of sweat dripped down from his mane and splattered on his face. He sneezed violently, then rubbed his eyes with a trembling hoof and scowled. How could she have beaten him? He was decades more experienced than she was, and dealing with chaos on top of that!

Chaos always trumps magic, his father had told him repeatedly. That’s how we fell, in a way. We grew too arrogant to notice our doom approaching.

“Citizens of Equestria, Draconia, and all lands!” Empress Aurora exclaimed, quieting the raucous audience just slightly. “Your princess Celestia has accomplished what no other being present can accomplish, in raising the very sun itself! With your own eyes you have witnessed her bend those arcane magics to her whim, breaking from what vestiges of mortality she was born with and truly cementing her place as a goddess of Equestria! For this day, there will be nothing but celebration. All shall remember this day as the return to order in the skies: henceforth, we shall call it the Summer Sun Celebration!”

Discord moaned and buried his head in his hooves as the cheering around him intensified even more. At the risk of making an awful pun, this was most definitely not his day.
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Old 03-31-2012, 12:34 AM
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Default Re: Strings (MLP:FiM)

III. Winds of Destiny Smell Like Cheese

There were six of you gathered seemingly at random afterwards, but it was no accident. It had to be you, for it was literally impossible for anyone else to bear the Elements of Harmony at that time. Your very souls are marked – no, it’s true! Much the same way a pony’s cutie mark reveals their role, in fact, although souls remain the same long after bodies have withered and died. In the grand turning of time, one soul may take on many bodies, hundreds, thousands, without changing in the slightest. That’s all we can hope for.

But I’m wandering away from the point. Yes, there were six of you. There were six of us as well. There have always been six. That’s simply how it is.

And it always begins with the same faceless enemy, of course.


~

If the nighttime festivities had been noisy, the daytime festivities were nothing short of raucously chaotic. For once this failed to amuse Discord, an irony that most certainly was not lost on him as he sulked far from the bulk of the activity.

A quarter of a mile from where he was sulking, however, Celestia couldn’t help feeling a faint undercurrent of tension in spite of her comfortable lounging position on her cushion. She was certainly still satisfied from her success with the sparkling sun, yes, but the fact that she had had such problems with it seemed fairly ominous to her. She couldn’t remember having any similar troubles with her training, not counting the usual mishaps of early fillyhood. As far as she could tell, of all the ponies in the land only Luna was supposed to have power equal to hers. And she was quite certain that the blue alicorn hadn’t interfered in this; she had no reason to, and at any rate she had been too nervous to keep a stiff upper lip, much less cast such a powerful spell!

“So it’s you, then. That figures.”

Startled out of her reverie, she focused her attention on the stallion standing before her. He was quite tall, nearly as tall as she was, and from beneath his brown cloak she caught a glimpse of his hooves, which were scuffed up and a dull shade of grayish-purple. Aside from that, he was a perfectly mystery.

“How … how did you get past the guards?” she asked, glancing around to make sure the tough stallions surrounding the royal pavilion hadn’t suddenly keeled over and died. Granted, it wasn’t the most intelligent of conversation openers, but then again his sudden appearance didn’t warrant one of the usual greetings.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said gruffly. “Follow me.”

And with that he turned and walked briskly away.

Celestia’s jaw was by now practically touching the floor. Who did this odd pony think he was, ordering royalty around – and divine royalty, at that! She didn’t owe him anything. And she was still rather tired from her trial with the sun … her cushion suddenly felt even softer, as if compelling her to lay her head upon it and close her eyes. Well, she most certainly had deserved her rest.

“Get up.” He was back again, presumably glaring down at her.

She leered up at him, trying and failing to peek past the brown folds concealing his face. “Why should I?”

“Something dangerous is coming. I’ll explain on the way. For now, you just have to follow me.”

She nickered at that. “As if the princess of the Equestrian Empire has to follow a complete stranger who has done nothing at all to prove himself as a trustworthy pony. Somehow I doubt I’m going to follow you.”

The stranger was silent for a moment, as if he hadn’t considered that. “… Let me be honest, then,” he said after a moment. “Believe me when I say that it is literally impossible for me to lie to anypony, yourself included.”

“And how am I supposed to know that that isn’t a lie itself?”

“You’ll have to trust me. Trust is what makes honesty such a powerful thing.”

One of her ears twisted forward. Was that a note of pleading in his tone? “Well …” She put a hoof to her chin, considering this. If he really was telling the truth, then she had best accompany him to deal with this mysterious danger that he refused to talk about. If he wasn’t, then she could probably punish him sufficiently upon discovering the lie. She was an alicorn, after all. “I suppose I might as well trust you. For the moment. But believe me, stranger, that the second I discover any nefarious plots on your part, I will most certainly destroy you. It’s preferable to what my mother the Empress would put you through.”

“Fair enough,” he conceded with a nod. “I am glad it won’t come to such an extreme, then. Follow me.”

She stood, stretching the kinks out of her slender legs, and levitated her own cloak onto her body before she proceeded to trot after him. They slipped between a pair of the guards, who strangely didn’t seem to care that two mysterious ponies in disguise were sneaking out of the royal pavilion. Somepony did notice this, though.

“Now where are you off to, Celestia?” Luna mused mostly to herself, watching them disappear into the crowd outside with suspicious eyes. With a determined look, she seized her own cloak and fastened it on, speaking distractedly to her other older sister. “Galaxy, I believe some dreadful and exciting intrigue is ahoof. I shall deal with the matter directly. If we fail to return before night is supposed to fall, please tell Father and Mother of it – but only then. For now, it simply would not do to drive them into a perspiring panic.”

“Sure.” The unicorn sounded as if Luna had merely asked her to keep an eye on the crowd. She was staring down at the half-eaten rose in her hooves, eyes cast down.

“Marvelous!” Luna gushed, slipping the hood over her head. This would be quite an exciting venture! Perhaps there was a spy causing mischief, seeking to kidnap Celestia. Oh, that silly alicorn, always quick to put her trust anypony …

Convinced that she could employ an adequate amount of stealth, she proceeded to gallop past the guards, who were quite startled at the sudden movement. After a few moments of awkward silence, they decided that one of the princesses had had an argument with Their Majesties again, and simply let the matter be. She would come back when she felt ready to forgive them, the guards supposed, and proceeded to discuss the fabulous weather that Celestia’s sun had brought.

Luna grinned at their uncertain expressions, then frowned as she considered who she had just left behind. Maybe it wouldn’t be idea to confront a stranger all on her own …

Nearby, in the cool shade beside an elaborate flower bush, Diamond Strike waited for the mare whose name he didn’t know to show up. What with the entire empire being satisfied with the royalty’s reassertion over the sky, the absence of a few guards could easily go unnoticed. All the better to get some tail. Ah, what a day.

He tapped the ground with a polished hoof, scowling at the grass he was flattening down. Where was she? She’d said she would meet him here, didn’t she? Wherever she was, she was taking forever to get here. He wondered vaguely how many games his fellow gamblers had played by now …

“You! Soldier pony!”

Turning to see the source of the authoritative voice, Diamond Strike noted a tall dark blue mare standing over him, with a long horn poking at the top of her hooded black cloak and a pair of rustling protrusions at her back that hinted at partially unfurled wings. His eyes practically fell out of his head upon realizing that it was none other than Princess Luna herself. Why was she talking to him?

“You shall accompany me on an important mission,” she said, staring down pretty impressively for a pony who hadn’t even gotten her cutie mark yet. “With any luck we shall be back before I must usher in the night, so feel no worry at the possibility of vanishing for an extended period of time.”

The unicorn glanced about at the surrounding crowd. Princess or no Princess, his hot mare still hadn’t shown up, and he was getting antsy. “With all due respect, Your Highness, I have a situation of my own to resolve.”

“Soldier,” Luna said in a suddenly ominous tone, “that was not a request.”

She puffed out her chest dramatically, and though it didn’t do much for her physical form she suddenly seemed to blot out the entire sky with her black and blue form, casting him into a shadow that felt almost ravenously hungry.

He actually flinched. “I just … yes, your Highness.”

“Good.” She smiled winningly, and the world became perfectly normal again.

With a dark grumble, Diamond Strike proceeded to follow just behind the Princess as she trotted off in some direction through the masses of bodies. Sorry, my nameless mare, he thought, glancing back at the place of the would-be rendezvous. I guess the royalty comes first.

Over near a massive stone fountain, one that depicted an alicorn prancing upon an ocean surface, Short Notice practically swallowed a tangerine whole. “These … these are utterly wondrous and amazing!” he gushed after he had managed to choke up the pit. “I can’t believe I’ve never had the opportunity to sample such delights as these before. Oh, the wonders of the royal gardens …” He trailed off, frowning down at the unicorn pony sulking beneath him. “You’re still not cheering up, are you?”

“Of course I am,” Discord replied, perfectly deadpan. “I’m absolutely ecstatic. It’s a wonder I haven’t broken the sun from leaping about with joy.”

Grunting in disbelief, the green pegasus fluttered down to land on Discord’s muzzle. “Come on, Puppet Strings. This is a celebration we’re at! The entire point is to have fun, you know! A marvelous time!”

Discord rolled his eyes. The little pony couldn’t possibly know of the blow that had been dealt to his ego, but it was quite obvious that cheering up should be out of the question. Even though he had a point … festivals were typically for festivities, astonishingly enough. But he would have felt in a much more festive mood if he had managed to best that alicorn princess, as he was supposed to.

“Geez, you’re just ridiculous.” Short Notice shook his head, then froze as something caught his eye. “Say … those ponies over there sure look like they’re sneaking around, don’t they?”

Two tall cloaked ponies walked through the crowd almost as if it wasn’t there, slipping between the creatures with the utmost of ease. And one of them, from the way the strings bent around her, was clearly the sun princess! Discord couldn’t believe it; why did she have to practically swagger past them? If she’d realized their contest was just that, a contest, she probably would have gloated upon passing him. As it was, she was too busy sticking close behind her companion … who had quite a few interesting connections to the world himself. Emphasis on few; it was almost as though the strings were actively avoiding him.

“That’s interesting,” he said redundantly.

“I’ll say.” Short Notice hopped off of the unicorn’s muzzle and into the air, where he fluttered like a baby bird. “Especially considering the general openness of the rest of the ponies here. And griffons and whatever else, I suppose. It calls into question the security of the city, and of course it makes me wonder why they would go about wearing disguises out here, in broad daylight no less. Perhaps it’s an ADVENTURE … Hey, where are you going?”

For Discord had stood up and begun to walk away. “I’m following them, of course,” he called over his shoulder. “This is a mystery that would be quite satisfying to solve. Are you coming?”

A grin spread across the little pegasus’s face as he flapped over to join him. “You’d best believe it, my fearless friend.”

With that they began the task of navigating their way through the dense crowds, which was arduous even with Discord subtly nudging a few ponies out of the way.

Meanwhile, well outside the gardens and in view of the deserted streets, Willow Wisp slumped down against a faded brick wall from sheer exhaustion. At long last she had managed to find her students’ parents, reuniting them and sending them on her way. All she wanted now was to trot on home and fall fast asleep. She really was more of a morning pony, and that fact had most definitely taken its toll over the last several hours.

Just before her lids could droop shut, a brief movement caught her eye. Squinting down the street, she caught sight of a small green shape passing around a corner some distance away. Her expression shifted into a confused frown. What on earth was that little foal doing out here all on its own? Didn’t its parents need it to be back with them back at the festivities? Surely it should not be out in the middle of the sprawling streets of Everfree, where practically anything could happen to it. Falling into an open sewer … locking itself in an abandoned cellar … getting eaten by a horde of hungry griffons wandering about as if this was their city …

“Oh,” she said worriedly, urging her tired state of mind to give way to a concerned one. “Oh dear, he can hardly be out here by himself. I suppose I had better go help him, then.”

Stretching out her slightly wobbly legs, the blue earth pony began to walk in the direction that she had last seen the little pony vanish to, trying her hardest not to topple over or fall asleep on her feet. The wellbeing of the foal came before her own comfort, after all …

~

“You know,” Celestia remarked dryly, “the further we get from Everfree, the more your insistence on bringing me to whatever place this is seems … suspect.”

“I do not make my home in the city,” the stranger replied, not bothering to look around at her accusatory tone. “There is no reason to linger there.”

She raised an eyebrow. “So you’re bringing me to where you live, then.”

“'Live’ implies some measure of satisfaction,” he said, apparently missing her implication. “I am bringing you not to where I live, but where I linger. Simply existing for the present.”

Celestia found it hard to believe that he could “simply exist” in the mountains. For that was where they were headed as they trekked through broad seas of tall wheat dotted with fruit trees here and there: the vast range of the Dragonback Mountains, sprawling from east to west in the distance before them. As grand as Everfree was, the city simply couldn’t compare the vast green behemoths stretching towards the sky. It was a great and silent reminder that in spite of all the progress pony civilization had made, the forces of nature and chaos still held free reign in the endless wilderness. Even if the draconequui no longer lived there, it still housed a plethora of wild beasts, and even a few of the dragons themselves lurked in the stony caverns deep within. To say that danger thrived in those mountains was indeed an understatement.

“Maybe you should start explaining yourself right about now,” she suggested, thinking of the great scaly dragons still attending the celebration and considering how much wilder their cousins in Dragonback might be. “It’s not as if we’re going to lose any time getting wherever we’re going.”

“That is a fair point. But I would prefer to explain the situation only once, without repetition. So I will wait until you have all gathered before revealing anything.”

“We have all gathered …?” Celestia frowned. “Who else is coming?”

“I don’t know yet. I only know that they will come.”

“ … Then why did you decide to bring me specifically?”

“Because you are an alicorn,” the stranger stated simply. “While personally I doubt the fanciful claims of divinity surrounding the royalty, it is obvious that you have some of the most powerful magic, if not the most powerful magic, of all ponies in the Equestrian Empire. Such distinctions are what the Element of Magic requires for its bearer.”

She glanced off to the side as she puzzled over that information, casting her eyes on the stalks of wheat that swayed in a faint far-off breeze. A pony who didn’t hold faith in the divine creed? Well, her tutors had warned her about the skeptic minority, but that didn’t change its inherent strangeness. It was as if he’d said he didn’t believe she was an actual pony. And that other thing he’d mentioned … Magic, with a capital M that was almost audible. That would imply a particular sort of energy, most likely a very powerful one from the inclusion of the term Element. And that would explain why the stranger required her to accompany him.

But required for what …?

They trotted along the bank of the Butterfly River, with the sound of their hooves drowned out by its water rushing past them from its chilly mountain source. Celestia tried to look pensively down at it, only to hastily look away again from the glare of the sunlight reflecting off of it. It had to be close to noon by now, she thought, considering the squatness of their shadows. She hoped this wouldn’t take too long; she was going to have to get back to Everfree in time to lower the sun to make way for the moon. Luckily it could handle itself at the moment, thanks to the momentum she had given it; for the most part it seemed to be pushing it over the horizon that made it difficult to handle.

They had just gone past the place where the ground sloped upwards slightly and the rocks dotting the land grew larger and more numerous, when the stranger halted in place, holding up a hoof to stop the princess as well. “I believe we have moved off far enough,” he stated, turning to stare over her shoulder. “You may emerge from hiding, not that you ever needed to in the first place.”

Looking behind her, Celestia blinked upon seeing five ponies slink sheepishly out of the grass. While one remained concealed in a billowing black cloak, the other four – two unicorns, a pegasus and an earth pony – were as clear to read as her day, ranging a spectrum of expressions from anxious to almost bored. Strange how she hadn’t heard them striding through the fields behind them before. Who were these ponies? And why had they been following her, especially considering the Summer Sun Celebration being in full swing?

“Celestia!” the cloaked pony exclaimed, tossing off her hood to reveal a familiar blue alicorn with her mane slightly frazzled. “What in Cronos’ name do you think you are doing? You can’t just go wandering off with random strangers into the wilderness, it’s complete madness!”

Celestia shook her head in disbelief, sending her own hood falling to her shoulders. “Luna, why are you following me? I am pretty sure I can take care of myself. This pony is a stranger, admittedly, but he seems to be at least honest. I would have arrived back at the festival in time to help with the sunset, I promise.”

“But what if he had a band of thieves just waiting to pounce on you once you passed into those treacherous mountains?” Luna asked, her voice rising in volume and dramatic flair. “There could be unicorns even more experienced than we are! And none of us would ever see you again … I highly doubt I could run the Empire should the crown be passed onto me, after all. Not that I wouldn’t give it my best shot, but surely you understand that you would do a far more admirable job as an Empress!”

“Well, thank you for saying so,” Celestia said, trying to ignore the slight unease of the mental image Luna’s words had slipped into her brain. “I guess …”

Apparently the mortal newcomers hadn’t talked amongst each other much, considering the utterly astonished expressions on three of their faces as the princesses revealed their identities to the wilderness – the tiny pegasus actually snapped his bug-eyed gazes from one alicorn to the other, back and forth, with his jaw hanging open as he attempted to reconcile the sight before him with common sense.

The brown unicorn seemed completely unsurprised, however. He didn’t even seem to be paying much attention, keeping his eyes scanning the surrounding wilderness. As Celestia examined him curiously, she realized that it was the same one she had collided with earlier, the one who had giggled for apparently no reason. Odd how she could run into him twice in the same twenty-four hours. She only realized she had been looking at him for longer than was proper when his drifting gaze fell to meet hers; he seemed startled at this for a moment, then glanced off to the side again, scowling slightly.

This couldn’t really be the same unicorn as before, could it? Maybe he had a brother.

“As fascinating as your drama is,” the stranger said dryly, “we really do not have the time.”

Luna, who had been in the middle of a long-winded rant about politics and the importance of the Empire over the ruling family, froze for a moment at his words before closing her mouth, looking slightly abashed at his authoritative tone.

A sudden motion on the stranger’s back dislodged his cloak, sending it fluttering off into the grass. His wings refolded themselves onto his back as the six younger ponies took in his strange appearance: although there were plenty of dull-colored ponies as well as bright ones in Everfree, none of them could remember seeing anything resembling the stranger’s dusty grayish-purple fur, his wild blue-gray mane, or his oddly pointed ears. Beneath his set of tarnished armor and bulging pack, an impressive collection of scars crisscrossed his hide, ranging from tiny scratches that looked almost invisible from where they were standing to massive mound-like things that looked only the more grotesque for having become half-hidden beneath grown-in hair. Still, it couldn’t hide the spiky shape on his flank that was his cutie mark, resembling a menacing-looking mace.

“The six of you have gathered here for a reason of high importance,” the strange pegasus stated, and as he spoke they caught sight of an odd black mark on his tongue. “You are connected in ways that you cannot yet possibly fathom. To explain such bonds that already exist between you would take more time than we have, so let me simply say that you must utilize these bonds in your quest.”

His words were met with half a dozen blank stares.

“Our … quest?” Celestia repeated, unable to keep an inflection of incredulity out of her voice.

He turned to face her, and she couldn’t help but shiver a little at the unnatural chill in his pale silvery eyes. “Your quest, yes. You must find the Elements of Harmony and defeat the foe which you have so foalishly unleashed this morning.”

There was a long minute of silence. It seemed rather ominous as everypony noted that the birds had stopped singing a long while ago. Even the distant breeze had died down, leaving the scene in an eerie silence usually reserved for the dead of night.

“The Elements …?” one of them spoke up cautiously.

“What do you mean, the foe we unleashed?” another asked, trying and failing to sound as if he were in charge.

“Not all of you unleashed it,” the stranger corrected him. “Only two of you did so, in your stupid attempt to wrestle for control of the sun.”

Celestia felt a brief stab of surprise even as she cringed. So somepony had actively tried to prevent the sunrise. And he or she was standing beside her? She snuck a quick glance at the others; she couldn’t fathom who had done it, nor could she comprehend how or why.

Somepony else let out a quiet, dismayed “Ah,” but in spite of her quick scrutiny she failed to see who’d said it. At least they didn’t sound malicious, whoever they were.

“The conflict over the sun awakened the beast of the Blood in the Sky,” the stranger stated flatly. “The Bl—”

“Pardon me, sir,” the strange earth pony interrupted. “I do not mean to be rude, but … the Blood Knight is just a fairy tale. We only claim he exists to tell foals to go directly to sleep on Battleground Eve, or else he will ‘gobble them up in a big tasty stew.’” She shook her head in disbelief, twiddling at her fuchsia and pale pink mane with an idle hoof. “The Blood in the Sky is merely an aurora. Albeit very pretty one, to be sure.”

The stranger stared at her for a while. She gazed back mildly, not seeming to particularly care much for his intimidating appearance.

Then he laughed, a sharp barking sound that didn’t seem to be the sort of noise that should come from a pony’s throat. If they tried hard enough, they might have managed to believe it was a laugh of genuine mirth.

“You’re a teacher, aren’t you?” he stated, suddenly all humorless again. “You really believe what you’re saying.”

The earth pony’s ears flattened to the back of her head, but there was no need for fretting: he had turned to address the group as a whole again.

“The Blood Knight is real,” he said solemnly. “I should know. I fought him and sealed him in the sky with the Elements of Harmony – the only weapons that can really affect him when all is said and done. But on my own, their influence was still not as strong as they could have been, and Blood Knight’s prison has consequently managed to grow weak over time. He would have broken free eventually; your foalishness has simply hastened in a time of extreme trial.”

“But … that can hardly be right,” the little green pegasus spoke up, sounding as though he were struggling with some terrible truth. “Doesn’t legend say that … that he was defeated and sealed a thousand years ago? Because that would make you—”

“Much older than a thousand years, yes,” the stranger said dismissively, as though such an impressive lifespan were nothing to get excited over. “But enough of such trivial details. Blood Knight has descended again to the earth, and he is roaming about Equestria at this very moment in search of the weapons that stopped him before … and those who are destined to wield them.”

“Then why did you have us come out here in the first place?!” the pegasus bellowed, startling the other five with his sheer volume. “You just … you just lured us out here to get SLAUGHTERED by some ancient monster crawling with invulnerability, nay, even IMMORTALITY? What in the name of the darkest pit in Tartarus is wrong with you?”

“Look, kid, it’s all right,” the unicorn said tersely – not the strange brown one, but the scarlet royal guard lounging near Luna. “This idiot here is just spouting off random old mare’s tales. He’d probably do the same to anypony stupid enough to listen. Next thing you know there’ll be storm clouds brewing all over the place while he shouts psychotically at the sky or something.”

“No,” the little pegasus murmured, breathing hard as he glared at the stranger. “No, it’s not. It’s not an old mare’s tale. I don’t know how, but I can … I can feel that he’s telling the truth. That the Blood Knight actually exists, that only one weapon exists in the entire world that can defeat it, and that it wants to … it wants to slaughter us.” He swallowed, perhaps louder than necessary. “It shouldn’t be true. It would be an utter abomination if it were true. Yet somehow it is.”

The others stared at him a bit nervously. Celestia considered how she had decided the stranger was trustworthy before, giving him a chance in spite of his audacious demands … could it be that the little green pegasus felt the same thing?

To their astonishment, the stranger’s face broke out into a grin – a real, honest-to-the-gods genuine smile that positively lit up his face, making him look far younger than he had before. “From one to another, huh? Well, she did say we’d be able to tell,” he said, and chuckled softly. “Yes, you feel correctly. One of the greatest monsters of the age is unleashed, and you are all in very real danger.” He stepped forward, placing a scarred wing onto the smaller pegasus’s shoulder. “But … Short Notice, is it? You can also believe me when I say that the Elements of Harmony can stop them, and the six of you can wield them. All you need to do is work together to get that far.”

The green pegasus, Short Notice, furrowed his brow as he dropped his gaze thoughtfully.

“You’re still not making any sense,” the brown unicorn said, completely deadpan. “And considering how that’s coming from me, that’s a problem.”

The stranger opened his mouth to retort – but he was cut off before he could begin when a sudden wind picked up, howling across the wilderness as a mass of broiling clouds began to peek over from the north, looming ominously as they approached.

“I knew it!” the royal guard exclaimed over the din, even as everypony dug their hooves into the ground to prevent from getting tossed head over heels by the abruptly arriving gale. “I knew a ridiculous storm thing was going to show up! I just knew it!”

“He’s coming!” the stranger shouted, and even through the mane flapping against her face, Celestia was sure she could see a flicker of something almost like fear in his pale eyes. “You have to hurry! I shall stay to hold him off. You need time to reach the Elements of Harmony.”

“Well, telling us where they are would probably help!” Luna snapped, wincing as a few pebbles dislodged from the mountain far above smacked her in the face.

“There’s a cave behind the statue of the Skytorn Warmare,” the stranger called back, scowling at the quickly approaching clouds. “You’ll know it when you see it!”

“But what about you?” the earth pony asked, still looking oddly serene in spite of the sudden weather whipping her mane every which way. “Surely the Blood Knight will not hesitate to harm you?”

“Probably won’t be the worst beating I’ve ever had in my life,” the stranger replied dryly. One of his wings squirmed into the pack on his back, and emerged with an astonishingly long mace grasped in its curled feathers. With a jerking movement, the gauntlets on his hooves sprouted claw-like daggers of metal, gleaming defiantly in the brilliant light reflecting from the clouds swarming overhead. The visor on his helmet dropped down, concealing his upper face as the chain mail covering his neck slithered up to cover his muzzle. As spikes popped up across his armor, he glanced back at the six young ponies through glaring eye slits. “He won’t kill me outright, though. He doesn’t have a reason to. Probably.”

“But we—”

“I said go!”

Cringing at his sharp order, the ponies nodded almost in unison and galloped past the massive rocky formations that marked the beginning of the Dragonback Mountains.

The stranger waited until they had vanished from sight before facing northward again. As the clouds completely drew across the sky and began to grow darker, he transferred the mace into his forehooves, shifting his weight onto his hind legs as he caught them, fluttering his wings to keep his balance.

A horrible shriek sliced across the wilderness, bespeaking of violent urges and insatiable bloodlust. It put even the terror of the howling wind to shame, the way a hawk drowns out the noise of a distant stampede. The sound curdled the blood of all those who heard it, worming its way through their minds and neatly tapping into the shadowy pools of fear concealed there. Its owner clearly wanted nothing more than to destroy the living creatures it had once shared a kinship with, as brutally and painfully as possible. And it was coming on swift violently beating wings.

Behind his visor, the stranger’s eyes narrowed into an ironic smirk. “Long time no see, old friend.”

With that he took off into the broiling sky, ready to resume a long-dead clash.
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Old 08-10-2012, 09:22 PM
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Default Re: Strings (MLP:FiM)

IV: A Little Give, a Little Take

The enemy is a vicious creature, known alternately as the Nightmare or the Knight. It has no identity besides what its host provides it with, but it is quick to alter its host with their own desires. Afterwards, it will reflect those changes onto the entire world if left unchecked. These changes are always destructive at best, without regarding the inevitable death of billions.

The Nightmare does not reason. What it wants it gets, and damn the consequences.


~

The wind’s swift violence grew far less intense as the ragtag group trekked through a shallow valley, protected as they were by the towering violet-gray mountains on either side. It still shrieked like a banshee as it passed those rocky faces, though, and while it wasn’t enough to drown out all sound completely, its eerie noise still made their skins crawl.

The unicorn guard led the way, marching stiffly down the almost nonexistent path as rocks clacked beneath his iron shod hooves with a forced rhythm. He seemed to be at the head of the group as a matter of course, and at Luna’s insistence that he ward off any dangerous creatures that might be ahead. From the brief scowl that had crossed his face at this order, Celestia couldn’t quite understand how he had managed to get into the royal guard. Even though he did indeed follow the order with little more than some grumbling, surely his disrespect would have gotten him thrown out.

Luna trailed close behind him, giving him a word of thanks every now and then as she addressed him as “Private Diamond Strike.” Her cloak billowed impressively in the wind, making her look like a true princess and goddess of the night even at the middle of day. For a pony who didn’t seem to really believe what the stranger had been saying, the blue alicorn was certainly taking this mission in stride; with every brief spurt of rain the clouds brought on, she took a moment to lift her muzzle towards the heavens and embrace the weather, a small smile crossing her face and occasionally a contented sight passing through her lips.

Following the moon princess came the blue earth pony and Short Notice, the latter of whom fluttered close beside the former. He would constantly talk to her in a seemingly never-ending stream of chatter, which in spite of its rather annoying lack of cessation seemed to have done the trick somehow bringing the ghost of an exasperated smile to her lips. The guard was clearly irritated by the noise however, snapping at them indiscriminately every so often regardless of who was making any noise. As much as Celestia wanted to smack him with her wing for his annoying lack of patience and tact, she couldn’t help but agree with his sentiment a little. The constant noise kept echoing off of the mountain faces, and she felt a few twinges of unease at the idea that it was attracting the native beasts.

That was far from the only thing occupying her thoughts, of course. What with Luna and Diamond Strike leading the party, and the earth pony and Short Notice partially guarded at the center, Celestia herself was left trailing the group with that uncanny brown unicorn. He seemed to be trying to do his best not to look at her, but from the way he kept shooting glances in her direction it was obvious that he was failing miserably. Celestia, chewing on a strange idea that had been seeping her mind with suspicion, didn’t bother to look too much into whatever kept his eyes wandering. It was quite likely that he’d been surprised to figure out that she was his princess, considering the awkwardness of their first meeting.

Of course, there was also her quickly developing theory to consider.

As they passed a shallow drop where the mountain beside them ended and another began, the unicorn finally threw his hooves into the air. “Oh, all right,” he exclaimed, though due to the excitement continuing just ahead of them, only Celestia paid attention to his sudden outburst. “I guess—”

“So you’re the one who was fooling around with my sunrise,” she said, cutting him off smoothly. “Am I right?”

His mouth dropped open. Then it shut, as was the habit of those who belatedly realized that their flabbergasted expressions were ridiculous. Then it opened as he put on a determined expression, as if ready to launch into a self-righteous tirade. But he realized that he had no such tirade prepared at the forefront of his mind, and he grudgingly shut it again.

“Because it makes sense, logically,” she continued, trying and almost failing to fight the urge to smack him hard in the face with a wing. “Luna wouldn’t pull something like that. Diamond Strike is a guard, and even if he is rather insufferable his entrance to the force proves that he is at least trustworthy. Short Notice and the earth mare aren’t unicorns, so I think I can discount the idea that either of them did it even in the face of all these random occurrences that have happened today.”

The unicorn made a face and looked away. “Fine. You win. I guess I’ll just walk over here and sulk at the fact that one of the goddesses of Equestria could stand up to …”

He trailed off, still not facing her. Celestia’s ears pricked with curiosity. That was odd … it had sounded as if he had almost given something away there. Something important. But it probably wasn’t something that would really make any difference in the long run, so she set her curiosity aside.

They trotted without speaking for a while longer, letting Short Notice fill the silence with his constant declarations. As they approached a particularly windy trail through the jagged boulders, the sun slipped out of its noon position at the sky’s zenith and proceeded to begin crawling down to the western horizon. Celestia couldn’t help but look up at it nervously, hoping she could return in time to help it set … she didn’t want to think about what would happen if she were too late. On the other hand, the idea of failing to stop Blood Knight made her skin crawl. If only one weapon could stop them … she decided she really didn’t want to continue on that train of thought.

A sudden brief stab of pain jerked her out of her reverie. “Ack—!” she gasped, looking down at her leg. A small wound marked the place where she had struck out against a rock, taking a fair bit of skin with it. She hissed through her teeth, pausing to get a better look at it. It probably wasn’t particularly serious; she could heal it easily, in fact. That didn’t make the pain any better, though.

“Hm. Stumbled while blinded by the mists of dreamland, I see?”

Gritting her teeth, she prepared to whip around and snap at the unicorn for his childish comment – and then she paused, tilting her head in confusion at the sudden tingly sensation washing the pain from the wound. Within the span of just a few seconds, a scab formed over it, then turned lighter and more solid until it had healed completely. Even the hair that had been scraped off grew in as healthy as ever.

She began to start walking again automatically, mind momentarily blank over the sudden healing. “What …”

“Consider that my apology for almost ruining your morning.” The unicorn’s magical glow dwindled into nothing horn as he spoke with a smirk. “Wouldn’t want you to ruin your princessly image, after all. I don’t even know if princessly is an adjective, but does anyone really care about such trivial details as that?”

She gave him a flat-lidded stare. “So you want to make up for almost destroying the royal and divine reputations and unleashing one of the world’s foulest monsters by making a cut go away?”

“To be fair, Blood Knight is loose due to us, not just me,” the unicorn said with more than a hint of smugness.

“You’re insufferable.”

“I know.” He beamed at her disbelieving expression. “It’s just excellent, isn’t it?”

She sighed, refusing to honor that question with a response.

~

Discord paused for a moment, watching as the sun princess pulled just ahead of him. That conversation hadn’t gone quite the way he’d expected. She’d beaten him in an epic cosmic struggle worthy of the ages, and she was annoyed by it instead of smug and conceited? How was that even possible? It didn’t make any sense!

… Not that he disliked things that didn’t make sense. Hm. Was it normal to feel conflicted for hazily defined reasons that weren’t logical? And if not, was it fine anyway due to those reasons being illogical? He shook his head, deciding that this unexpected contemplation was only making his head hurt due to his attempt to deal with it with logic. Sometimes it was best to just accept things as they were and get over them.

“I’m Di— … I’m Puppet Strings, by the way.” He forced himself not to make a face at the near slipup. “We’re on a quest to save the world, so we might as well get to know each other. True companions and all that.”

“You make it sound as though we’re not going to go our separate ways after finishing this mission,” she replied a bit haughtily, barely deigning to look back at him.

“Well, I just …” He just what? What was he supposed to say to that? “I thought that—”

“Somepony should probably assist me in this predicament!”

The two stiffened at the sudden call, which had come from far ahead on the path. Without wasting any more time, they took off in the direction of the voice, doing their best to catch up to the group they had fallen behind from. Celestia even flapped her wings to gain a bit of speed; had she not pulled ahead of Discord, she might have noticed that his hooves were barely touching the ground. Levitation could be a hard habit to break.

Only a few seconds later they managed to reach the rest of the ponies, where they skidded to a stop as soon as they turned a particularly sharp corner. Just ahead of them towered an enormous statue of an unfamiliar battle-scarred mare, with a shaggy mane tossed over her air force pack and a nebulous ball of what might be lightning forming between her forehooves. The statue was worn down from sheer age, yet the determination in the mare’s snarl still struck a sense of awe into even the princesses. The fact that a tingling in the air of some ancient magic might have added to that feeling, of course.

Nearby, however, was the real call to attention. The earth pony had somehow managed to tumble off of a cliff some distance away, and she was now holding onto the edge for dear life. The other three ponies stood just above her, doing their best to lift her up onto solid ground again without making her fall to a very messy death. To her credit, she wasn’t panicking in the slightest.

“Private Diamond Strike,” the two latecomers heard Luna order as they trotted up, “Willow Wisp’s hind leg is caught in some thorns. On the count of two you will ease them away from her hoof while I levitate her up. I’d much prefer if this caused her as little harm as possible.”

“Count of two?” Diamond Strike muttered, snorting. “What the hell is wrong with three?”

Luna haughtily ignored that comment. “One! TWO!”

A sharp snapping noise and a rather bemused grunt followed her shout; then the blue earth pony – Willow Wisp – floated upwards in a cloud of blue alicorn magic. With a brief motion of her head, Luna set the mare onto the ground, where she stumbled for the briefest of moments before easily balancing herself onto her three good legs. She casually lifted the remaining limb to examine the thorn wounds there, which released a slow stream of blood droplets that splattered on the stone beneath her in tiny red bursts.

Luna pointed her horn at the deep scratches, and with a brief flash of magic they disappeared. “Try not to do that again, won’t you?” she asked, shaking her head as Willow Wisp put weight on her now healed leg with an anticipatory head tilt. “We don’t exactly have all the time in the world.”

“I’ll say,” Diamond Strike added; there was a jeering tone to his voice. “You really shouldn’t be so stupid as to bolt when you think you see a mountain cat up on a cliff.”

“My apologies.” Willow Wisp peered at her perfectly healed leg, more interested in the princess’ flawless work than the soldier’s sharp criticism. “I did not intend to fall—”

“You don’t need to be a bastard about it, you foul cretin!” Short Notice snapped, fluttering up to the earth pony’s side defensively. “The fair lady has likely never done anything like this before! Consider that before you snap violently.”

“Well, I haven’t done anything like this either,” Diamond Strike retorted, “but you don’t see me toppling down all over the place, do you?”

“Stop arguing!” Celestia shouted, drawing everyone’s attention. “Luna’s right, we really don’t have much time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Blood Knight dealt with the stranger already … he could be on our trail right now.”

There was an uncomfortable silence.

“… Perhaps we should see where the cave is that he mentioned,” Discord remarked after a sufficient amount of awkwardness. “I’m pretty sure that statue features the Skytorn Warmare.”

“Whoever the hell she is,” Diamond Strike snorted. “We’d better get this over with, at any rate.”

They trotted off to the cliff face a few feet behind the statue, not saying much aside from Short Notice’s mumbling. As they clopped along the sheer wall of rock, Discord wondered how they were supposed to find the entrance of the cave. The Skytorn Warmare wasn’t a frequently visited landmark, he knew, but enough ponies trekked out this way to pay their dues that the area wasn’t a completely mysterious one. Any secrets around here had probably been discovered for a while now.

… Well, of course they had. That stranger had known about it, after all.

But that was beside the point. Surely any of the little ponies who had come out here would have found it and spread word through Everfree about its existence. How were they supposed to find something that generations of pilgrimages had never come across in thousands of years …?

“Pardon me, everypony, but I believe I have found what we’re searching for.”

He blinked. Well, he certainly hadn’t expected that to happen so quickly.

The ponies gathered around the spot where Willow Wisp had indicated, with Diamond Strike naturally grumbling about her stumbling around where she shouldn’t be. Even his neigh-saying ceased, however, when they realized what she had found.

Directly behind the Skytorn Warmare gaped a hole. Not a particularly wide hole, but one that probably two ponies could stand in comfortably if it had a floor. Instead it had a long, winding staircase that clung to the long cylindrical wall, extending downwards as far as they could see – since its depths were hidden in shadow, there was no telling just how far down the passage went.

“Willow Wisp, I …” Celestia paused, trying not to sound too accusatory. “How did you even find this?”

“There was a sample of scribbles on the statue,” the earth pony explained, gesturing up at a piece of the graffiti that the stone figure had accumulated over the years. “It appeared to be written in a particularly old language, perhaps Sumareian. I had never heard of its presence here, even in my extensive study of the pilgrimages. There seems to be an area on the ground nearby that reveals the stairs …”

“Yeah, of course you’d go looking for more stupid things to get into instead of actually being helpful,” Diamond Strike said with a sneer.

“That’s enough, Private,” Luna said sternly, shutting him up.

The six of them peeked their heads over the hole, trying and failing to make their eyes pierce the darkness … well, five of them failed, anyway. Discord had just adjusted his eyes to the distant darkness below when a bright orb of light suddenly descended into it, partially blinding him. With a wince he staggered backward, eyes watering at the sudden brilliance. Even with the light, though, it was still far down enough that nobody could see the bottom properly.

“So … who wants to go first?” Short Notice asked, trying to sound as though he didn’t get picked for that dubious honor.

There was an awkward pause as they considered this.

“… I don’t think it really matters,” Celestia remarked, tilting her head and lowering it slightly as she examined the cracked stairs. “Not unless there’s a spell that kills mortal ponies or something along those lines. Which I doubt,” she added hastily, noting the sudden worry on the others’ faces. “After all, that stranger knew about this place, didn’t he? And he wasn’t an alicorn. It was just an example. Though I guess he wasn’t exactly mortal either.”

Another awkward pause.

“Fine,” she relented with a slight huff. “I’ll go first then, since I made you so worried …”

She set a tentative hoof on the topmost stair, gently pressing her weight on it in fear that it might suddenly crumble and fall away beneath her. When it didn’t, she inwardly sighed in relief. For a brief moment she’d actually worried that this mission might turn ugly.

At that moment a horrid shriek ripped across the mountain air, sending showers of pebbles clicking down steep cliff faces. Above them, the already dark clouds grew even closer to an ominous black, as if on cue.

Everyone stiffened in alarm, heads jerking in the direction of the sudden noise – or at least, in the direction they thought it was coming in. What with the echoes ricocheting off of the mountains, judging such a thing was difficult to tell. As such, there was much glancing about all around them, with their faces turning one way and then another.

“He’s coming,” Short Notice whispered, his indigo eyes wide and fearful.

Willow Wisp’s brow furrowed slightly and she smoothly sidestepped the others, somehow passing Celestia on the narrow staircase and swiftly slipping down the tight spiral. Without thinking, everypony quickly followed her example and practically trampled one another in their efforts to get underground; only the helpfully descending orb of magic light prevented them from tripping and falling messily to their deaths.

As soon as the trailing Luna, bringing up the rear, cleared the threshold and became swallowed by the earth, there was a faint rumbling above as the opening resealed itself, cutting off the fading light of the stormy afternoon with the covering of stone.

It felt as though they simply were flailing their hooves in their rapid descent, somehow managing not to trip with their clumsy hooffalls. What felt like a journey of half an hour, though, passed in about a couple of minutes in reality. The six of them set foot on a level stone floor before any of them had realized this transition.

“That was awfully close,” Discord remarked as everypony else panted for breath. Then he realized that he should probably be exhausted too, and so proceeded to enter a phase of over the top fake wheezing. Fortunately, nopony seemed to notice this slipup, not even Short Notice.

“What the …” Luna stared at the cave around them, drinking in what could be seen in the orb’s shining light. “What is this place?”

Nopony was quite sure what they had been expecting, but it probably hadn’t looked anything like this. Rather than a mere unremarkable hole in the ground, they were at the edge of an intricately carved chamber of solid gray stone – every inch of the walls and ceiling was shaped into some sort of shape, whether they were small delicate things resembling water droplets or large bas-reliefs of astronomical shapes. Every here and there were scattered a collection of sculptures of ponies rearing up on their hind legs, bucking at some invisible enemy with rocky hooves, standing in tense majesty with distantly staring eyes … But all wore the same militaristic outfit, cloth rippling motionlessly with the bold marking of a lightning bolt embroidered over the flank where the cutie mark would be.

“I have no clue,” Celestia replied, unable to recall anything from her history lessons that matched up with this silent scene. “But it certainly is eerie.”

A loud crash far above them caused panicked jumps to ensue. Even through a hundred feet of stone, they could hear the thundering of iron shod hooves clashing against the mountain terrain, and a frustrated scream that only marginally resembled any sound that could come from a pony’s throat.

“… We should probably head further in,” Celestia stated, as if there were any other course of action that would result in them still being alive.

Everypony nodded nervously, and with that they proceeded to trot into the far depths of the chamber. As they weaved around the statues in their path, the orb of light floated just ahead of them, casting the shadowy expanse before them into visibility. Though more pony statues stood deathly still before them, they caught sight of a few other creatures: a dozen or so griffons with outspread wings and bared claws; an adolescent dragon crouched here and there, snarling viciously; a few diamond dogs with weapons clutched in their paws, baring their teeth at the unknown foe … even a draconequus stood at the far side of the chamber, lunging at something with a determined scowl on her face. Celestia dimly noticed Puppet Strings startle slightly at the sight of something, but at the moment she was too busy considering how they were supposed to escape the creature above to pay much attention to such behavior. In the center of the chamber stood a massive mechanical thing, with shapes of creatures visible through “windows” that were too dim and undefined to make out fully. From the screaming pony in the range of one of its tubes sticking out of the top, it appeared to be a deadly contraption.

The far end of the chamber held a tall door set deeply in the stone, decorated only with a rusty handle that was embedded with a sparkling diamond. To either side of the door was the jagged scribble of several lines of an ancient text, which nopony present could decipher at a glance.

“Well, of course it would be locked,” Diamond Strike growled after failing to twist the handle. “Er… perhaps one of Your Highnesses could blast the door open with your divine alicorn magic?”

“Not necessarily,” Celestia said, biting her lip as she stared at the text with half squinted eyes. “There might be a trap set to go off if we do that. I doubt whoever made this cave would want just anyone stumbling into its innermost secrets, after all.”

Diamond Strike looked rather disappointed at that verdict.

“Hmm,” the sun princess said thinking aloud. “The section of writing left of the door seems to be some brief history remarks, we don’t need to look at those. I don’t know how to read Sumareian anyway. On the right of the door there are some readable instructions on how to enter. Apparently we need to prove that we really need to get what’s behind it with a … oh …” She trailed off, looking a bit sickened.

“Well? What is it?” Short Notice demanded.

“Oh, don’t leave us in such sordid suspense!” Discord said drolly.

“It says that one of us needs to spill some blood as a sacrifice,” Celestia continued, wrinkling her nose.

Discord swooned and collapsed to the floor. Nopony else noticed his distress, of course.

“I don’t want anypony here to injure themselves,” she said, biting her lip. “But I don’t think we have much of a choice. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but apparently there’s some old magic lingering here and … if we don’t give it the requirement, we will die, and—”

“Celestia, stop being so dramatic,” Luna interrupted, stepping forward unflinchingly. “I’ll give the blood sacrifice.”

The white alicorn blinked. “Luna … are you sure this is a good—”

“Look, I’m certain nopony including myself wants to do it, but that doesn’t matter.” Luna stood in front of the door, and without missing a beat she sliced her hoof on the jagged rock wall nearby, opening a shallow cut that dripped slightly onto the floor below. She smeared blood across the face of the door, forming a thin red line that began to dry almost as soon as it formed. “As a princess, it is my duty to make sacrifices for those in my charge.”

She stepped back, admiring her work proudly. The door failed to budge.

“Er … there’s more blood required than that,” Celestia said hesitantly. “Quite a bit more.”

“Hmph, that’s no trouble.” She smeared another line against the door, then a few more as it became clear that it was making no difference. “How much does it require exactly?”

“ … A lot,” Celestia murmured, casting her eyes down.

With a huff, Luna smashed her injured hoof into the protrusions of stone and dragged sharply down. There was a wet tearing noise as a thick slice of skin came loose, hanging limply from her leg. Everyone gasped at the sudden gore aside from Luna herself, who only allowed a wince to break her haughty self control. With a swift movement she covered the entire middle section of the door with broad swathes of blood, which dripped down into the lower parts with macabre slowness.

Still the way failed to make way for them.

With a frustrated growl, the moon princess cut her other foreleg, opening a gash from elbow to hoof that soon spurted blood all over the mocking door. Red spray bounced lightly backwards at the horrified onlookers, who quickly skipped back to avoid being splashed with it. Discord, who had just begun to come to, took one look at the snarling dark alicorn covered in blood and proceeded to faint again.

It was only when the fountain of blood emerging from her wound slowed to a slight trickle that the door grudgingly creaked open, moving inward on its own.

“Ugh, finally,” Luna muttered. Her eyelids drooped, and without warning she toppled to the floor.

“Luna!” Celestia exclaimed, rushing to her sister’s side, heedless of the puddles of blood she was stepping in. Hastily touching her horn to the cuts and gashes, she allowed a few small pulses of healing magic to flow into the injured alicorn, allowing the skin and muscles to flow into their unscarred state once again. “Luna, you stupid, stupid, stupid …”

“Ha … knew I could do it …” Luna said, chuckling for some bizarre reason. “Anything for you, eh Tia? And for those other ponies too, I guess.”

“Well … that was disturbing,” Diamond Strike said after a moment. “But Princess Celestia, shouldn’t we proceed inward? Blood Knight should be catching up to us soon.”

“Yes, of course.” Celestia levitated her sister a few feet, only grunting slightly as her full weight pushed down on her back. “Nobody is getting left behind, though. Especially not my stupid sister.” She sighed and twisted her head around to nuzzle the half-conscious Luna. “Would somebody get Puppet Strings?”

She walked carefully through the door, reluctant to let Luna fall through some careless movement.

The three mortal ponies looked at each other, then at the unicorn, then at each other again.

“I … don’t think I’d be very useful carrying him, considering everything,” Short Notice said after a pause, glancing down at himself to point out his short stature. Without waiting for the others to order him otherwise, he quickly turned and fluttered through the door as well.

Willow Wisp considered the situation. She speculated on what might happen if he should be startled while somepony were carrying him, noting how as a general rule a stallion tended to lash out more violently the more frightened he was. Then she reminded herself that she was in this situation through sheer coincidence, and that she had no obligation to cart around one of their damsels in distress. It would be a waste of strength on her part.

With that logical conclusion, she shrugged apologetically at the conscious unicorn and trotted after the others before any furious exclamation could rein her back.

Diamond Strike gritted his teeth. “What the hell. Of course the buff military stallion should deal with the swooning pony. That’s never been done.”

Glaring at nothing in particular, he levitated Discord onto his back similarly to how Celestia had done to Luna.

“It’s not like I couldn’t stand him or anything, of course not,” he grumbled as he walked and brought up the rear, scarcely aware of the bloody door closing noisily behind him. “This is exactly what we army guard royal ponies do. Take care of screaming mares and snot-nosed foals. Forget any actual peacekeeping and warmongering; this is where the military of the Equestrian Empire truly shines. It’s a glorious faction, I tell you.”

~

The “first ever” Summer Sun Celebration remained in full swing. In fact, the sights and sounds had only grown more raucous if anything; Shrieks of laughter punctuated an already deafening hubbub; brightly-colored ponies were made even more vivid with swathes of paint, decorated in shining gold and silver, red and blue. The royal family had long since departed from the high platform, but almost no one cared much about their absence — their only concern was for the immediate present.

An exception to this rule was currently trotting cheerfully past what appeared to be a vast forest of balloon animals. A juggling act caught the stallion’s eye, and he slowed briefly as he gazed in fascination at the sheer number of swords being flung into the air; but soon his legs carried him away from the sight, and he somehow shook himself back to his mission.

“Fairly soon, I’d imagine,” he mused, pulling an anachronistic pocket watch from one of the many pockets in his trenchcoat. He flipped it open casually, glanced up at the looming clock tower above, and looked back at the readings of his watch. Clicking his tongue and shaking his head, he stuck it back in its place and glanced about at his chaotic surroundings.

Everyone was so happy, he thought wistfully, rubbing a hoof through his shaggy mane. It was almost a shame that he’d have to crash the party beyond repair.
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Old 08-11-2012, 12:58 AM
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Zero Moment Zero Moment is offline
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Default Re: Strings (MLP:FiM)

Oh, I remember this!

I saw it on fimfiction, too.
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Baby jesus would hardly be offended by Lgbt people marrying after all he is .... baby jesus.
No. Baby Jesus will be very sad and he will cry. Do you want to make baby Jesus cry?
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