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Note: This is, by all means, a long pasta. So please prepare accordingly.


Chapter One

Why? Why must I do this to myself? What makes him so interesting, and why am I unable to walk away? I know that this isn't right, I know that this place reeks of mischievous intent, and I know that I stand before a bastion of chaos. Order drives all things. Order has brought Equestria to peace for over five hundred years now. Order will win out, and erase the memory of the twisted fool before me, scattering his ideals and essence to the four winds.

…So why do I long for a taste of chaos? Why am I drawn here , night after night, to stand and stare at the statue of the only being I can honestly claim to hate? Why?

Celestia stood, as she had been doing so often lately, mere feet from the frozen form of Discord. The shroud of night concealed her presence from those who would approach her and show concern or trepidation at her secret meetings. The last thing that the princess needed was for somepony to find out about her increasingly frequent visits to the draconequus encased in stone, and assume that she was losing her grip. Tension among the nobles had reached an all-time high, and Celestia found it harder and harder to deal with as time went on. She needed a break, something new, something unexpected, something fun. And so she had come to him.

The princess made no movement, scowling at the hodgepodge body of the creature before her. I hate him. Even after all of this time, even after accepting everypony else on this planet with unfaltering love, I hate him.

"What were you thinking? What did you hope to accomplish? You must have known that you could not win, that your resistance made no sense when we gained control of the Elements of Harmony! You stood no chance, and yet you resisted! You were content to watch this world burn, claiming to rule it and doing nothing of the sort! Who do you think you are, Discord! What right did you have to control this land!"

The same right that you have now, my lovely little alicorn.

Celestia's eyes widened, and she backed away from the statue before her as his voice echoed inside of her head. Though her late night ranting in front of the statue had been going on for over a month, she had never before heard him reply. I must not be sleeping enough, he cannot talk to me from in there! It's bad enough that I feel the need to speak at him, hearing a reply is just… absolutely impossible. There's no way that he can respond…

Oh, you aren't hallucinating, if that's what you're thinking. I can hear you loud and clear, Little Tia. But where is Little Lulu? Someplace… safe?

The fur on the back of Celestia's neck bristled in anger. She was never one to lose her cool, with the exception of being in the presence of Discord. In the five centuries since his defeat, she had never been able to figure out why he was able to rile her in such a way, but she was keenly aware of his ability to do so. She took a step forward, aiming her horn forward and leveling it at the statue in an aggressive stance as her face twisted into a sneer.

"What do you know? How can I bring her back? Answer me!"

Ohohohoho! I know only what you tell me. Or do I?

Celestia stomped a hoof into the dirt angrily. "Enough! I will not play games with you, you wretch! If you know how to reverse the spell, reveal your secrets! Start making sense!"

Oh, but I do so love games. And what's the fun in making sense…

The alicorn's temper was rapidly reaching a boiling point, and she felt that she was seconds away from giving the statue an undignified buck and shattering it completely.

"Do not speak in circles to me! I know you well enough to know that you're hiding something! Why else would you talk now, after having been silent for so long? The four hundredth anniversary of her banishment is tonight, and I doubt that your actions are coincidence!"

Banishment? Am I correct in assuming this is your doing, then? Have you made another mistake, and now seek help from Daddy Discord? Oh, silly Celly, what toy did you break this time? Have you made a mess that you need an adult to clean up for you, dear?

Celestia completely lost control. She turned, and slammed her hind hooves into the statue as hard as she could, hoping to shatter the stone figure that dared mock her plight. The statue showed no damage for her efforts, and a sickening laugh resonated inside of her skull, causing her to drop to her knees as her entire head throbbed.

You didn't truly think it would be that easy, did you? After all, you of all ponies should know how… delightfully potent the magic of those cursed Elements can be…

The alicorn rose to her hooves and turned to face him again, snorting and shaking her mane angrily. "So I was correct! You ARE aware of what has happened! You knew what happened to Luna, and you know how to bring her back! TELL ME!"

If you want her so badly, why did you send her away to begin with? That doesn't make any sense at all. I love it.

Celestia closed her eyes, and took several deep breaths. Speaking with Discord was much more infuriating than she had remembered it to be, and her stomach turned at the realization of just how easily he could pull her strings. Remain in control. Play his little game. You've controlled a country through order and love, it should be no problem to control him. Rein in your emotions, and deal with this diplomatically. She opened her eyes, and stared up at his frozen face.

"I will admit, I made a mistake. I did not know that the Elements would send her to the moon, nor did I know that they would seal her inside of it for a thousand years. You were the previous master of the Elements, and though I loathe to admit it, I need your help. Please, tell me how to bring her back…"

Bring her back? Oh, but what of your precious order? Would unleashing Nightmare Moon upon Equestria once again not subvert every effort for peace that you have made thus far? As much as I'd like to see the skies rain orange juice and the ground torn asunder with geysers of shaving cream, I somehow think the particular brand of chaos that your possessed sister would bring wouldn't do much to help either of us. And do you really think I would help you without wanting something in return?

"Yes, actually, I do. Because that would make no sense at all, and that is your style."

Another long laugh resonated inside of her mind, and Celestia had to actively focus to stay standing.

Well, well, well. Perhaps you're starting to understand after all. Alright, I'll help you, because it will amuse me. Here's your tip: she can't come back before her time is up, and even if she could, it wouldn't be up to you to make it happen.

Celestia looked past him, taking in the fireflies that played among the hedges of her private gardens. She began to count them as she shook with rage and grief, trying her absolute best not to let herself explode at him again. Finally, with a quavering voice, she spoke.

"That… that is a lie. The Elements of Harmony can do anything. They defeated you, they defeated Nightmare Moon, and they now serve me. How can you say that they cannot bring her back?"

Simple. The Elements of Harmony aren't harmonious at all, unless they are used properly. When they're brought together by someone who cannot control them completely, the Elements themselves exert their own will, and become a force of unified chaos. You would have to be a fool to seek to control them alone. Why do you think I wanted them so badly?

Celestia snorted. "Because you're a fool."

Bingo. But not only that, I LOVE chaos. I knew that I couldn't control them, and that was fine with me. I was perfectly happy to watch them disturb the natural order under my lacking supervision. Nothing is more fun than not knowing, am I right? Even if you and I were on the same side, and we had Little Luna with us, I doubt that the three of us could control the Elements even if we took two each. You'd need six entities of pure heart, and even then, they'd have to possess unshakeable will to even think of using their Elements as intended. But since that sounds just about impossible, you'll have to hand them over to me again, and let me shuffle this world around like a puzzle with pieces that just don't fit together. C'mon, it'll be fun!

The princess couldn't believe what she was hearing. She sat down upon her haunches, and her mouth hung open. It took a long time for her to vocalize the words racing through her mind, but she finally found them.

"Are you… implying that the Elements of Harmony were responsible for the absolute chaos of your rule? That your tyranny wasn't even intentional, that you merely gathered the gems and let them run wild as you tapped their raw power alone for your own sick amusement?"

It sucks that I'm frozen in this pose, I feel like I should be checking off a score card. You're racking up major points tonight, friend. I'm surprised you're understanding this so well!

Celestia rose, her voice raising to volumes that she hadn't used since the sealing of the draconequus to begin with.

"YOU'RE LYING! THAT GOES AGAINST EVERYTHING MY FATHER TAUGHT ME! THE ELEMENTS CAN BE CONTROLLED, IT MERELY TAKES A STRONG WILL AND CALM MIND!"

His voice became deliberate and laced with venom, his speech pattern slowing to add the most gravity he could to his next statement.

Is that what your father told you? Funny, he wasn't nearly so articulate right before I stole his life.

"SHUT UP!" she roared, removing her crown and hurling it at his stone face. Discord merely laughed louder, before he stopped abruptly and his tone adopted an icy bite to it.

And you see, Celly, th-

"ADDRESS ME BY MY FULL NAME OR NOT AT ALL, YOU CRETIN! I WILL NOT PUT UP WITH YOUR DISRESPECT ANY LONGER!"

Celestia's demands devolved into a fully-fledged tantrum as she screamed at him, stomping the dirt and dislodging one of her golden shoes. She was breathing heavily, and her pastel mane hung in strands around her face as she began to sweat. She glared at the male, daring him to oppose her, but knowing all the same that if he did, she could do nothing to stop him.

Fine, fine, Princess Killjoy von Nofun. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted…

He paused to make a sound of clearing his throat in a wholly unnecessary display, simply to anger Celestia further.

The difference between you and I, is that we both understand nothing, yet I am willing to admit it, and you are not. I don't have the slightest clue how to bring Short Stuff back, but I guarantee you that if I could, I would. Well, provided I wasn't frozen here like some lawn ornament.

Her breathing leveled out, and she mentally cursed him as she began to cry tears of frustration and despair. The stress of ruling on her own had been getting to her lately, and Discord's taunting and doublespeech was only serving to break her down further.

"And why should I believe you?"

"You shouldn't."

"Then why bother talking at all?"

"How should I know? You came to me."

Celestia paused. The most infuriating thing about him was that sometimes, he was right.

"…Discord." She sniffled, wiping her eyes with a hoof. She hated to cry, in private or public, and couldn't believe she had gotten to that point in front of her hated rival. "Answer me one thing, honestly. Please, just… give me your real opinion. Just this once."

If I had control of my eyebrows, I would be raising them, my rather large pony. I like the unexpected though, so perhaps I'll indulge you, just this once. Ask away.

Celestia breathed deeply, and turned away from him. She spoke softly, her words carried to his imprisoned ears by the swirling night breeze.

"Was it… my fault?"

What, messing up the laws so badly with your totally incompetent rule, encasing me in stone, putting too much hay in your last sandwich, or sending Luna to the moon? Details, Princess.

"You know what I am asking. Do not make me repeat myself."

Fine, fine. You're really boring, you know. When I break out of here, we're going to have some fun, I can guarantee that. I didn't promise to answer your question honestly though. But I suppose since I didn't promise, I'll go ahead and do it.

She turned back toward him, gazing up at his spread arms and open jaw, sniffling.

No. It wasn't entirely your fault. Sure, you just wanted to send her away for a little while, but no one could have predicted that the Elements would banish her for a thousand years. There, are you happy?

"I… I don't know."

Excellent. I'd hate to be labeled as 'good' or 'evil'. Even 'helpful' would be insulting. Now, hurry up and free me, and let's run this place into the ground.

Celestia wasn't sure that she had heard him correctly. "Excuse me? You want me to free you? What reason could you possibly have to believe I would do such a thing?"

Pretend I'm sighing and shaking my head at you. Haven't you learned that I don't do reason? I figured it would be worth a shot. You never know, right?

Celestia laughed involuntarily before she caught herself and stopped. "You're hopeless."

And you aren't?

"Who are you to judge?"

Who am I, indeed. Join me, Celestia. Break me out of here with your magic, and rule at my side. You know that your vision of a perfect world is impossible, so why not stop clinging so desperately to rigid order and have a little fun…

"Join you? Ha!" Her anger began to resurface, and she felt the sensation of pins and needles rush across her entire body. "I have no desire to free you, let alone bend to your twisted theology."

Oh, I do not believe that is true. I can see your thoughts, oh Princess. I know that you long to experiment with a little bit of anarchy, that a small part of you wants to throw it all away and start anew without a plan. Ruling alone for so long must be stressful, so allow me to relieve some of that stress…

Celestia gathered her shoe, and slid her hoof back into it. Her tears had stopped, and anger was winning out in its battle against sadness as she began to fume at his words.

"You would seek to help me? I am the one in control, here. You are at my mercy, and you cannot escape without me. Do not act as though I need you!"

Oh, but I think you do. Why is it that you felt the need to return here, night after night, to scream and shout at me even though you believed I couldn't hear? Why do you feel slight comfort in my presence after venting your hatred and blaming all of your problems on me? Is it because it's easy? Because it makes sense? Or because you want something? I can feel your most secret bursts of emotion when you come here, you know. I can feel your sick longing, that little corner of your mind that wants to abandon responsibility and see if I'm right after all. I know that you want me, Celestia, and if you set me free, I would fulfill your every desire…

The sight of the sputtering alicorn before him was almost enough to make Discord burst out laughing. He knew he had caught her, and the blush upon her cheeks spread like wildfire. He continued his mental assault, letting his knowledge of her deepest secret flood her mind like a wave of disease.

That's right, I know that you've been… how would the layponies put it? 'Crushing' on me? Clearly it isn't an emotional connection, because I can feel your burning hatred as well. I like that, a love-hate sort of thing where you just want to play with my body, huh? Or maybe you DO want more, and you know that on some level, I'm right. Chaos runs this world. No matter how much you think you can control, the variables will always be there…

It wasn't his forwardness that bothered her, or even his reading of her thoughts in general. The problem was that he wasn't sugar-coating it, that he knew what he was talking about. Celestia did find him attractive, in a sick, disturbing way, a way that made her stomach grow cold and her mind scream at her heart with all of its might to stop its unhealthy obsession. She couldn't fight the attraction, and was well aware of how wrong it was. If she were to act upon those urges… if she gave in and stood at his side, both for the sake of lust and to try to understand him… the entire world would fall into disorder and ruin. She couldn't be that selfish. She couldn't allow herself to give in to such an embarrassing fantasy. She was stronger than that.

"N-no! I'm not… I-I don't… you have no idea what you're talking about!"

Hmm? Your heart cannot tell lies, oh obstinate one. Your curiosity drives you to desire what you know you cannot have. You're drawn to me like a moth to a flame, knowing the danger, but unable to escape. Come closer into my web, little fly, and let me tell you my sweetest lie…

Sheer panic began to overtake her as she shook her head at him. No, no, no, no, no! Why can he do this to me? The words of no other cause me to feel like this! How can he be so wrong, but so right…

"Stop. Just… stop. This conversation is over. I… I do not think I will be returning here. Enjoy your solitude, Discord, and I shall enjoy mine." She trotted to her crown, taking it in her mouth and levitating it back onto her head as she shivered in disgust at his words. With a final glance at his face, she turned, and began her lonely walk back to the palace.

I do not believe it does end here, Tia Dearest. My influence has an unlimited range, you know. I merely left you alone on a whim… until now. We will talk again soon, and dig deeper into that troubled mind of yours. I'll win in the end, whether it be your heart, mind, or contempt, it doesn't matter to me. After all, when you embrace the incongruity of life, you begin to realize it's all the same…

She closed her eyes as she walked and shook her head.

And that is why I can never allow you to rule. I see the issue of morality, I see the fact that things are different, that each object and situation on this planet needs to have context and be carefully considered. That is the burden of rule, and you are no more fit to rule than a jester. You may entertain for a time, but I cannot abide your craving for insanity. And that is why I hate you. You understand nothing. Perhaps you're right, and I do not either. But... at least I am willing to try to do so…

Touché, my little fangirl. When you're ready to give chaos a shot, I'll be waiting…

Celestia did not bother to respond immediately in her thoughts. If he couldn't save Luna, she would wait out the remaining centuries, doing the best she could on her own.

Then I hope you have the patience of a saint. You'll be waiting a long time.

Perhaps. But I have all the time in the world to let my poison consume you. We'll talk again soon, whether you want to or not. You can only shut me out for so long…

Can't wait. Good night, Discord.

Sleep well, and dream of me, my Darling.

While you can…

Chapter Two

Celestia stood completely still, staring out at her ruined land as she shook her head in disbelief. The sight was quite strange, especially due to the fact that she was looking at it through a castle wall, or rather, the open air where an ivory wall once had been. Every few seconds, the gap closed once again as the mass of white material returned to its place in the wall before sliding back out along the outside of the castle in random, looping patterns. The alicorn's mouth hung open, and her brows furrowed in confusion as she watched the errant stonework continue to fly in and out of her vision. With a shake of her head, she found that she had no words for the situation, save one: chaos.

They… failed. Twilight Sparkle, my most Faithful Student… was unable to stop him. It rains chocolate, the clouds are cotton candy, bison ballerinas dance in the streets, and my entire palace staff has been transformed into stone sculptures of themselves. How did it come to this… were the Elements of Harmony not enough? Did Twilight even manage to find them at all?

The alicorn Princess hung her head in defeat, and closed her eyes. Why… how could I have allowed this to happen… I should have kept the Elements more secure, I should have gone with Twilight instead of remaining here and making speeches to calm the people, I should have seen this coming! Now… now I don't know what's become of Twilight and her friends, I don't know if this can ever be reversed, I don't even know where Luna is! Twilight didn't fail… I did. This is… this is my fault…

She felt like crying, but no tears came. She felt like screaming, but her voice was lost. She felt like jumping through the gap in the wall and flying off, abandoning her duties and giving up on Equestria, but her legs would not obey her. It would be so much easier to run, to cover up her defeat, to pretend that her track record was perfect and that she was still the infallible monarch that her people believed her to be, but she could not.

Her light magenta eyes opened, and she turned away from the wall, taking in the hall before her. The ground was split unevenly, the ornate carpet rested over spiky protrusions in the ground, and the tapestries all moved with their pictures swirling of their own accord. Her private quarters had slid out into the hall, connecting to the passageway and sending her desk, her books, and her bed to lie scattered around the massive conglomerate of rooms that had replaced the upstairs corridor that once connected the bedchambers to the astronomy tower. Nothing made sense, no structural integrity remained, and by all means, the entire castle should have fallen by that point. But still, it remained standing.

I cannot believe that he has won. I cannot accept that he has won. I must do something… I fear that I am the only one capable of doing something, now. But… what?

The Sun Goddess began a worried canter, moving down the hall toward a destination unknown. She knew not where she was going, or even where she could go at that point, but details no longer mattered. The time for careful planning was over. She needed to act. Standing around and staring at the situation before her would do nothing to help her people, and her inaction had already cost her, and her country, greatly.

"Going somewhere, my lovely?"

Him.

…shit.

Celestia closed her eyes, once again. She never swore, even in her own mind, but the draconequus was very capable of making the impossible happen. Such situations of unpredictability were becoming increasingly common since his return, and though Celestia was not surprised that he had decided to come and gloat to her, she was still greatly disturbed by his appearance.

"What do you want? Don't tell me you just came here to declare victory. This isn't over."

The draconequus laughed his mirthful, condescending laugh, letting the cacophonous melody carry through the confines of Celestia's mind. She hadn't heard it in a while before that day, but the sound was easily among her least favorites in all of existence.

"Over? Of course not. It's o-"

"Only just beginning," the princess replied with a snort. "Save me the platitudes, Discord. I have to say them enough as a ruler just so that my people can take comfort in cliché, I do not need to hear them myself."

The pony sighed, and slowly turned toward her enemy while opening her eyes. The sight of the beast before her caused bile to rise in her throat, but she choked it back and narrowed her eyes while glaring at the smirking male.

"I will only ask you once again, before I throw caution to the wind and lose control. There is nopony around to watch, Discord, they are all now stone, as you once were. I am not afraid to show you how I really feel about your little stints of madness, so choose your words carefully, lest you incite me to rage." With a final, ragged sigh, Celestia flared her wings and bared her teeth as she dropped into a low stance. "What. Do. You. Want?"

Discord clapped as he walked toward her, bouncing from foot to foot in a mocking gesture. "Bravo, my elephantine pony. Breaking new ground, today, are we? It's nice to see you open your mind a bit, Tia."

"Do. Not. Call. Me. That." Her teeth clenched, and she lowered her horn toward the approaching chimera. He had just set a record for the amount of time it took to get her to reach her wit's end, and the snarling pony found herself in no mood to indulge his playful side. Too much was at stake. Too many lives could be ruined by his carelessness. Too much had already been undone…

"Oh, did I hit a nerve? Is that name for Little Luna alone?" He stopped hopping and clapping, and instead opted to float lazily in front of the fuming alicorn. "Where is she, anyway? You'd think that the Wonder Twins would be working together to combat my little… renovations, but it looks like the family ties are made of mere string." He brought two talons up from his eagle's claw, and closed them together in a motion mimicking that of closing scissors. "Snip."

Discord's red and yellow eyes widened, and he slithered through the air as quickly as he could, barely managing to avoid the bolt of flame that erupted from Celestia's horn.

"WHERE IS SHE? WHAT DID YOU DO? I SWEAR I'LL KILL YOU HERE AND NOW IF YOU SO MUCH AS LAID A TALON ON HER!"

Celestia ground her teeth against each other, her chest heaving with effort as her lungs burned. Too much energy had gone into the magical blast without proper preparation, and her vision became laced with black around the edges. She willed herself back from the brink of unconsciousness, running on fury alone. He will not win. I will get Luna back, I will FIX THIS. It is my responsibility, and I refuse to fail again!

Discord wagged a talon and smirked, doing his absolute best to contain a full smile. "Temper, temper, Little One. No wonder Luna isn't around, I'm almost scared of you right now. She always was a little skittish, if you ask me."

Celestia snorted and charged with unnatural speed, planning to gore the creature with her horn. Violence was something that she avoided if at all possible, but the infernal trickster before he had angered her one too many times. One way or another, it ended here.

"Face me! Stop running, Discord! You claim ignorance, you claim that your way is right, you claim that chaos trumps order, but you do nothing but run! If you feel so strongly, stand in front of me and state your case! I have no respect for those who fight from the sidelines!"

The quick snap jarred Celestia from her wandering glare, and her eyes widened and her head jerked back as he appeared right in front of her, his face inches from her own. The male rested a talon under his chin and began to stroke his goatee, considering the princess with thoughtful eyes as her furious breaths tickled his face.

"Hmm… you know, even chaos can become predictable, sometimes. Perhaps I should try things your way. Alright, you want me to tell you why I do what I do? Very well. You may not respect me, but I respect you." He blew her a mocking kiss, and she brought up a hoof to strike him across the face as he disappeared and reappeared mere feet from her.

"…it's fun."

Celestia blinked, waiting for him to continue. He stared at her. She stared at him. A winged sheep flew past the gap in the wall, and neither moved.

"It's fun? That's what excuses you? That's your justification for this… this… THIS!" She waved a hoof, sweeping it out in front of her, meaning to draw attention to the madness at large. A decretory vase hopped off of its pedestal, shattering against the ground before reassembling itself and returning to its point of origin, drawing a chuckle from the draconequus.

"Hmm… yes. Yes it is."

Celestia advanced on him, shaking with anger. She wanted to ready a spell, but found that she could not. She wanted to begin screaming, but she had other ideas. The pony raised a hoof to her head, and cast her crown aside with as much force as she could muster. Discord flinched as it clattered against the marble floor with an unpleasant noise. Celestia paused, and shuffled upon her hooves before stepping out of her golden shoes and bringing a hoof up to unclasp her jeweled necklace before discarding it upon the floor, completely uninterested in where it ended up.

The silent alicorn walked slowly, deliberately, up to Discord, her face completely unreadable. He looked almost nervous at her approach, and he watched as she pushed her mane back, revealing both of her expressionless magenta eyes to him. She spoke.

"There. I am not a Royal in this moment. I am merely Celestia. You watched me grow into what I am, you were once a dear friend to my family, you know me more than I know myself, based on some conversations… or mental invasions we've had. Discord," she said, as she brought a hoof up to the side of his face, "tell me what you're thinking. What you hope to accomplish. Abandon our past and our present. Speak to me. I want to understand. I think you are lost, and I wish to help you. No anger. No sarcasm. Just… be."

It was Discord's turn to blink. No one had ever approached him so directly, but then again, no one else would dare. He loved fun, he loved chaos, he loved abandoning sense and taking life in stride. A twisted smile broke out upon his face, and he moved himself closer to her ear, whispering words only for her.

"But I am just 'being', Celestia. You claim to have the answers, and you cannot accept anything but total control. I am your opposite, and I am your equal. I have watched you cry at night, over Luna, over the kingdom, over stress, and over what is expected of you. I have seen how you berate yourself for your lack of foresight, how you hate the past that you can hide, but not run from. You need to just let go. You need help, not me. Come, and rule this shattered land at my side. Give in. I only bother because I am deeply concerned."

He traced a talon under her chin, lifting her head and watching as she raised her beautiful, searching eyes to meet his mismatched, manipulative ones.

"When was the last time you had a little fun, Tia?"

And with a simple sentence, he had won.

…Father… forgive me.

She moved forward, catching him off guard. He pulled back, expecting her to lash out against his usual games and mocking approach in an attack with her horn that would be fatal at such range. Instead, he found her lips against his, her eyes closing, and her body shaking with what he could only assume to be a mixture of emotions.

Celestia pressed herself further into the kiss, closing her eyes and tilting her head sideways. Her heart was pounding furiously, and she brought a hoof up around his neck to draw him in further.

This… this is so wrong… what am I doing… why do I… why do I want it so badly…

Finally, Celestia pulled back, blinking rapidly and seeing his shocked expression. She backed away a few steps, and looked at him with worried eyes.

"…well. That was certainly a… nice surprise. I'm sure you'll regret it momentarily. Haven't you learned anything about what happens when you rush into things you do not understand?"

"Shut up. Shut up, and get over here."

She galloped at Discord and knocked him out of the air, pinning him to the floor with another kiss. The shivering pony ran her tongue over his snaggletooth, and let a hoof trail down his chest as she closed her eyes and let her instincts take control. She leaned into him even more, completely lost and consumed by lust as he returned the gesture, bringing their bodies closer together. Her mind shut down, and all morals went straight out the window. Discord claimed to understand her, and the comfort that his words had brought caused her to melt at his touch as he ran his talons through her mane.

Celestia moaned softly into his mouth, and began to cry tears of shame as she shuddered, still pressing her chest into his. She had lost. He had won. Chaos had indeed trumped order, and she was giving in to him. She could not believe how weak she had become, but nothing else mattered anymore other than her personal pleasure. Equestria as it was had been tainted and destroyed by his foul touch, and she found that it was a touch she couldn't get enough of.

Discord wriggled out from the press of her lips, and coiled himself around her body, squeezing her tightly enough to feel her heartbeat against his skin. She looked back at him in longing, and immediately her front legs buckled as she saw what he was doing. His serpentine tongue was pressed against her cutie mark, tracing it and causing Celestia to quake in ecstasy. Though it was a mystery as to how he knew her weakness, Celestia found that she was not at all surprised. She focused only upon how good it felt to have him pressed against the sensitive area, and let herself nearly black out, the side of her face pressed against the cold stone floor.

"E-enough. S-s-stop toying with m-me... please… just end it… just… please…"

Discord chuckled, snaking his body further around her and reorienting himself behind her. He understood her request perfectly, and was all too happy to oblige. Though he had never expected this moment to come, he could not say he wasn't pleased. After all, he had not been lying all of those times that he said she was attractive, and controlling her in such a way was one of his darkest personal fantasies. A fantasy that had just become a reality.

This is sick... This is wrong…

...and I no longer care.

It had been centuries since she had given herself to anyone, and it was a sensation that she sorely missed. Celestia had always tried to be moral. She had tried to play the role of wise, pure mentor, but in a world where everything else had been disrupted, she gave in to the last thing she had: herself. On some level, she knew that she had always wanted this, to feel his touch, to feel him, her opposite, the one thing she could never understand, becoming one with her. It had finally happened, and so she bent her front hooves, propping her upper body at a downward angle, breathing sharply and looking back as he moved into her.

His upper body was coiled around her as his lower body continued to work, and she found his face was right in front of her own again, wearing that satisfied and twisted smirk. The distraught princess brought her head forward to kiss him again, moving to his rhythm as they committed a sin that both had secretly longed for since as long as both could remember. Equestria could fall, for all that she cared. After this, she would be happy to rule as his second.

No… no, I'm not happy… my body is on fire, but I feel so hollow… Twilight… Luna... Father… everypony, I am so sorry…

The moment came, and her breathing quickened. She heard his panting match her own, and lowered her face in both involuntary pleasure and absolute shame. The release of his poison matched her climax in perfect sync, and as he finished his work, she began to shake involuntarily, from sickness or ecstasy, she did not know. It was done. There was no going back. She had made love to her greatest enemy, willingly approaching him and failing everything she had ever stood for. It was over, and she was but a weak, hollow shell of what the world thought her to be.

Celestia sobbed, her face against the floor and her eyes closed. She felt Discord leave her without a word, and quivered at the sensation of the cold floor against her warm body. Though she felt filled by him, her soul was empty, and the massive hole was one that she was not convinced could ever be repaired.

What have I become…

Celestia suddenly felt as though she was weightless, floating against the wind, a husk lacking all substance and purpose. Her eyes slowly opened, and she was surprised to find that she was indeed floating, out above the Royal Gardens, where the statue of her enemy had stood before he had escaped. Discord was nowhere to be seen, and with a sharp gasp, Celestia found that she was suspended in the air against her will, her wings and legs refusing to acquiesce to her panicking mind.

The same twisted laugh resonated from somewhere in the sky, and she heard a snap echo from his clawed hand. Her wings and horn disappeared, and Celestia looked up in horror, only to see him floating above her. He held three crosspieces of wood in his claws and tail with strings dangling from them, strings that were attached to her hooves, head, and neck.

Celestia wasn't looking up at him after all. He was making her look up at him.

"You said so long ago that you didn't need me, Little Tia. Let us see how you fare on your own…"

The strings vanished, and she fell, her long, multicolor mane rippling around her as she screamed and flailed, fighting futility against the certain death that awaited her upon impacting the ground. Her body twisted in air as she turned herself around, only to see the cobblestone path of the garden rising rapidly to meet her.

Celestia hit the ground, and her body broke with a thunderous series of sickening cracks.


The sweating alicorn awoke with a gasp, and she rolled to the side, straight out of her bed and onto the floor with a heavy thud. She immediately began crying, and lay on the ground in the darkness, shivering. With a frantic flailing of hooves, Celestia shuffled the blankets tangled around her off as quickly as she could, as the sensation of anything wrapped around her body was something she didn't want to feel for a long, long time. A wave of nausea flowed through her, and she sobbed quietly, feeling sick and shivering, her mind racing to replay her dream against her will.

A cold, deep laughter echoed in her head. There was no escaping him, and the sound caused her to sob even harder as she buried her face into her hooves, wanting nothing more than to disappear.

Enjoy yourself, Little Tia? I certainly know I did…

Celestia didn't respond, and instead whimpered, bringing her hooves up to cover her face even more. She felt so alone, so… violated. Even though it wasn't real, even if he had been manipulating her dreams, she couldn't deny that… she had loved it while it was going on. She didn't know who she was anymore, and wanted nothing more than to run. To run and never look back. To run away from him.

The sound of her door creaking open caused her to pause. Her back was to the door, and she refused to look up and meet his gaze. Discord was back, somehow she just knew that he had broken free once again. Twilight may have sealed him back in stone earlier in the week, but there truly was no escape. Celestia drew her limbs closer under herself, trying desperately to make herself smaller in a futile attempt to hide from his looming form in the doorway.

"…Tia? Tia, are you okay? I… I heard a noise…"

Soft hooffalls echoed against the marble, and Celestia buried herself deeper into her hooves, shifting her mane in front of her face as she cried. If it was a lie… if it wasn't really her sister and he was playing with her again… she had no idea what she might do…

"Tia? Please, you're… you're scaring me. I… I just want to help."

Celestia felt a hoof breach her mane and move under her chin, lifting her head. She wailed and gasped, pulling back as she met the concerned face of her sister Luna. The Moon Princess' eyes were swimming with worry, and Celestia shot herself forward to hug her around the neck, her body still pressed against the cold floor.

"Oh, Luna! It's… it's horrible! I… I-I just… I can't! I don't know what to do anymore! He… he won't leave me alone, even in sleep! P-please… PLEASE… you have to help me…"

Luna hugged her sister back fiercely, and felt blazing anger rise in her chest as she watched her sister break down in front of her. She knew it was him. Celestia hadn't been the same since he had returned, and the change was beginning to deeply disturb her. Something had to be done. She had never seen Celestia in such a state before, and it honestly scared her to watch the usually unshakeable alicorn crumble so easily. The smaller mare felt Celestia's tears against her midnight blue fur, and hugged her tighter, stroking her older sister's mane.

"Don't worry, Celestia. I'm here now. H-he... he can't hurt you..."

Luna bit her lower lip as she cried into Celestia's mane, wishing she was anywhere near as confident as she was trying to sound.

Something has to be done. I won't let him get away with this.

Chapter Three

A full hour had passed in silence as Celestia rested her head in Luna's lap, both content to stay upon the floor in each other's embrace. The younger princess continued to stroke her sister's mane with a comforting hoof, staring straight ahead as she was lost among her thoughts. She looked down to Celestia's face, finding her eyes closed and her breathing finally regulated. I've never seen her this… this disturbed by something before. What could she have seen… what dream could push her over the edge like this…

The elder princess continued to lay still, her face pressed up against Luna's warm body. Though the troubled mare was taking refuge in her sister's touch, Celestia was not at peace. She was nowhere near calm internally, and slowly, her protective barriers were beginning to break down. The large mare rose her head and opened her eyes, staring directly at Luna, completely silent as she pushed up off of her sister's lap and walked backward to put some distance between them.

After a long period of silent eye contact, broken only by muted sniffling, Luna was the first to speak. "Tia…I-I know that… it's only been a few months since I came back, but… I'm here for you. We overthrew him together once, and we can do it again. Please, just… tell me what's wrong…"

Celestia lowered her face from Luna's worried gaze, letting her mane fall down over one eye as it so often did. Her throat felt as if it was coated with ash, and she found it extremely difficult to force herself to speak. "I… I do not know if I should tell you. I can barely deal with it myself, it's just… he's been tormenting me for over six hundred years now, on and off, at his discretion. He comes and goes, forcing me to listen to his insane ranting and selfish outlook on life. I can't shut him out no matter how hard I try, and now… he…" Celestia dropped her gaze even lower and looked off to the side, avoiding Luna as the dark alicorn moved closer in an effort to reassure her sister.

Luna waited patiently for the elder pony to continue despite the questions at the tip of her tongue, and remained silent as she watched Celestia shift uncomfortably. When it became clear that the Sun Goddess was finished speaking, Luna let out a quiet sigh, and decided to voice her mind.

"When… when you say that he forces you to listen… you mean you can hear him? He… talks to you?"

Celestia shuddered as she ran a hoof through her mane. She was desperately trying to erase the memory of her dream, the final straw that had broken her iron will. However, the memories of his touch, his wicked smile, and her own calls of ecstasy would not leave her mind. A rising feeling of sudden sickness pulsed throughout her chest as she spoke again, and she shivered at the thought of finding pleasure in his twisted form. "Yes. Mentally. He also… shows me things, in dreams. He can see into my mind, he can pick through my thoughts as they surface, and he takes great delight in criticizing them and speaking uncomfortable truths. It's… unsettling, to say the least."

The deep blue alicorn considered her sister's words, trying to understand what it could feel like to be so tortured by another. While imprisoned within the moon for a thousand years, she had found herself often wishing to have somepony, anypony by her side, even if just in her mind. As she thought of the reality of another always being there, and being unable to make them leave, Luna began to be grateful for her solitude. Unending and unwanted chatter would have surely driven her mad, and an invasion of her private thoughts was something that the mare could never stand.

"That sounds… horrible… I can't even imagine what it must do to your mind…"

Celestia let out a heavy sigh. "There is more to it than that, Lulu. I just… I will tell you in time. I need to be alone. I can't even think straight right now. Please, pretend that this never happened. I will be fine."

The Princess of the Sun steeled herself and assumed her usual expression of confidence and loving consideration, but Luna saw straight through the ruse. After so much time together as fillies, Luna could read her elder sister like a book, and was greatly disturbed that the pages were beginning to yellow and fray at the edges.

The younger mare rose from her seated position and walked to Celestia's side, giving her a loving nuzzle by rubbing her neck with that of her sister. "I can't do that. You're not fooling me, Sissy. You need to get some sleep, an-"

The snow-white pony broke from Luna's touch, and quickly stepped backward to once again stand on her own. "No. I will not sleep. Not after… that." Celestia shook her head and sniffled again, hoping desperately that Luna would drop the subject still fresh in her mind. "Just… do whatever you were doing before you heard me fall. I'll find a way to make it through the day tomorrow. I can j-"

Luna immediately stomped a hoof, her diamond glass shoe clinking loudly against the marble floor and surprising the other alicorn. The younger sister's expression changed to one of anger, and she leaned her head forward, giving Celestia a harsh glare as she snorted in indignation. "No. Not this time. I won't let you do this to yourself anymore! I've seen you set aside your personal health for 'the good of the kingdom' one too many times, and I won't stand for it any longer!"

Luna's eyes widened as she realized her aggressiveness, and she sheepishly looked up to find that Celestia's expression matched her own. Never before had she stood up to her sister in such a way, and neither had seen it coming. The smaller mare quickly moved to put a hoof on Celestia's shoulder, and lowered her face out of sight from embarrassment.

"I-I… I know that I'm usually… shy… and that I tend to keep my opinions to myself, but… you're my sister, Tia. I can't just stand by and watch him play with you for his own amusement. I won't just sit here and do nothing while you're driven to tears. I'll fight for you, in any way that I can. You… you can't run Equestria in this state. You need a mental break, before your own mind breaks you."

Luna fixed Celestia with a serious, searching gaze, not at all liking the puffiness around her sister's tearful eyes and her unusually disheveled appearance. "Have you… ever taken a day off since I've been gone?"

Both knew the answer, but Celestia shook her head anyway to confirm it. "I don't have time for 'days off', Lulu. You know that. My people need me."

Luna snorted and shook her head, getting fed up with the predictable stubbornness of her sister, even in her time of greatest need. "Yes, your people need you, but they need thereal you. You're about to have a breakdown, I can see it in your eyes. I will hold court tomorrow, and for as many days as you need me to. You need to relax, and just… just think. There has to be some way to shut him out permanently, to disable his ability to encroach upon you. Perhaps the Elem-"

Celestia's face became a mask of fear immediately, and she backed up several steps across the marble floor. "No. We can never rely upon them again. Even with the proper Bearers in place, they were not enough to stop him fully. I cannot even say if they were used correctly, despite my student's efforts. If they are misused, they lead only to chaos…"

Luna sputtered, completely at a loss to understand what she was hearing. "Wha-… who told you that? Father said th-"

"I know what Father said. Father was wrong." Celestia stomped a hoof, and tears clouded the edges of her vision as she recalled the painful memory. "Discord was using the Elements the entire time he had them in his possession. He has warned me about trying to use them against him, about how they can drive those who wield them to madness if they are not carefully controlled, how th-"

"And you believe him? Celestia, those gems may be our best chance to subvert his hold over you! You don't even want to try?"

Celestia paused. Something in her heart told her that there was much more to the Elements of Harmony than even she and Luna knew, and the knowledge that they had never worked as intended to that very day raised an alarm. Her entire body felt cold, but she knew that it was her instinct, and not Discord's influence. Or rather, she hoped. Nothing was certain anymore, and Celestia found that she wasn't entirely sure if she could even trust herself.

"…no. No, I do not. This problem must be dealt with directly, in a controlled manner. There can be no variables, and you and I can no longer use the Elements anyway. I don't want Twilight and her friends involved. They cannot know what is going on, it would throw all of Equestria into a state of panic. To combat chaos, we must adhere to order, and the Elements are a wildcard that we cannot afford to play unless we absolutely need to. You know very well what happened to Mother when she took watch over Generosity without the strength to control it…"

The painful memory hit Luna like a fierce blow, causing her to shrink backward, her wings flying out to the sides at a downward angle in a submissive gesture as she answered in a shaky voice. "I-I do. Perhaps you're right. F-for now… we work together, alone. But first, you… you really do need rest. Do not stress yourself, and if you have another dream, I'll come running. Please, Sister. Try to get some sleep. I'll wake you to raise the sun, and then just… take tomorrow off. I missed you so much, Tia. I don't want to watch you fall apart from stress. Are you sure that you don't want to tell me what happened?

Celestia sighed and turned away. "I… I can't. Soon, perhaps. I appreciate your concern, Luna. Really, I do." The hollow feeling returned, and she felt distinctly unclean. Hiding things from her sister was not something that she was proud of, but she couldn't bring herself to discuss what had pushed her over the edge. For the moment, she felt like she could at least cope until sunrise, though she didn't intend to reattempt sleep at all. "I'll go back to bed. If I need you, I'll call. I promise."

Luna walked over to give Celestia one last nuzzle, before breaking the embrace and locking eyes with her sister. "You are the strongest, most secure pony I know. We will get through this, and we will stop him. I will never leave your side again, Celestia. You know that I wouldn't be so bold to any other, but… you empower me. In the short time that I've watched you rule from the sidelines since I returned, I have seen your conviction and love for everypony triumph over all adversity. You just need a little help to confront this particular demon, and I'll do everything in my power to give it to you." The mare backed away with a small bow, and turned to head for the door. "Goodnight, Tia."

Celestia gave a sad smile and dipped her head in return. If only she knew how insecure I truly feel...

"Goodnight, Luna."


One in the morning. There's still time for me to attempt a quick nap after this, but… I don't know if I should even try it…

Oh, I certainly wouldn't if I were you. Unless, of course, you're feeling particularly horny tonight. In that case, go right ahead. I'd love to play with that luscious flank of yours…

Celestia's heart sank and she felt ready to vomit as she thrust her head beneath the soothing water, hoping that the liquid would somehow disrupt his communications.

That won't work, you know. I love water. It's so unpredictable. Formless. Flowing where it wants to go, slowly overpowering anything it touches through subtle erosion. Somewhat like what I'm doing to your mind, Dearheart.

The alicorn surfaced immediately, and felt like crying all over again. She stared down at the surface of the water in her personal bath, watching as the rose petals floated away on the ripples caused by her rapid movements. Is there truly no escape? Can I not will him out of my head? How is he even doing this from within the stone statue?

As difficult as it was, Celestia did her best to ignore him, putting on a brave face as she slowly washed herself. Perhaps if I don't respond, I can bore him into thinking his taunting isn't worthwhile.

Hello? You are aware that I can read your thoughts, right? You and I have a special connection, Celestia. It allows me to see deep into your soul, to pry at the locks around your mind from within, slowly edging towards the moment when you'll finally accept me for what I am…

Celestia gave up on ignoring him immediately and dropped her sponge into the water with a sigh. She ran the scented shampoo and warm water through her mane, slowly cleaning the sparkling hair as she directed her thoughts back to him in an attempt to at least come to terms with the situation. Despite his malicious intent and the draining effect his words had upon her, at least 'talking' to him would give her something to do. He had, after all, proved to be an interesting conversationalist, no matter how much she never wanted to hear from him again.

What is that connection, Discord? Can you see into everypony's minds? And what exactly 'are you'? What is it that I'm supposed to be accepting?

Simple. The connection is our mutual interest in each other. I am fascinated by your willingness to bend and hide your true self to accommodate everyone you can, and you are baffled by my uncaring and 'selfish' desires for this life. I only bother with those who would amuse me, and I can only truly gain entry if their minds are open. Yours most certainly is. You doubt constantly whether you are right, and are so used to caring for everyone on this forsaken planet that you cannot effectively ignore my thoughts. Even if you tried to push me out and become completely introverted, it is far too late. The seeds have been sown, and you cannot uproot the creeping plants of my design.

Celestia continued to wash herself, trying to remove the tainted feeling that he had left her with in her dream. The words unsettled her, and made her feel even worse than she already had. Yet another thing to add to my long checklist of failures.

If you're so interested in me, then why go this route? Why not make your true motives known, and stop torturing me?

Where's the fun in that? I'd rather keep you guessing… assuming I have motives at all. Not only that, but your little misguided lust is greatly entertaining. I voice what you're thinking and yet cannot say, and I bask in the spontaneous and illogical while you hide behind the shield of careful planning and your precious books. You see me as a puzzle, Celestia, one that you cannot resist trying to solve. And so you are attracted to me, in a way that goes against all reason and makes you feel guilty. I am doing nothing to torture you, you're entirely responsible for that aspect of our relationship.

Celestia rose out of the bathwater and stretched her entire body before stepping from the gold-rimmed stone basin. With a simple burst of magic, she warmed herself dry, and stood staring at the wall of mirrors at the far end of the room. For the briefest second, she could have sworn she saw him floating behind her, but she knew that it was impossible, and upon turning quickly, she found only air. She collected her mane with a quick swish of magical wind, letting it fall back into its usual style before turning back to the mirrors and hoping for the best. Nothing was reflected but what would normally be in the room, and Celestia allowed herself a brief sigh of content.

That is not true. While I cannot deny that I am… attracted… or that it absolutely sickens me… it is not something that I can control. Though I long for freedom and to be released from the chains of responsibility, I believe that everypony feels the same way on the most basic level. Our willingness to sideline our animalistic wants is what allows us to function as a society, and as that society's leader, I am more than willing to sacrifice a little personal freedom for a unified and loving public. I love my subjects, and in return, they love me. I am perfectly content with myself, and I am not responsible for the pain you cause me.

They love you? When was the last time someone sat you down and asked to help you through your problems? When have you ever had anyone approach and ask if you were truly alright, or if something was troubling you without expecting an answer of 'no'? They don't care for you, you fool. They treat you nicely because they pity the position that you're in! And what of all of the protests against your rule, the accusations of tyranny that some radical thinkers throw your way, the conspiracy behind Nightmare Moon and the beginning of your solo rule?

The exhausted pony walked back into her bedroom, shaking her head as she walked to the large bed. She slowly climbed under the covers and closed her eyes, doing her best to regulate her breathing and forget the events of her previous dream.

They do not concern me. Nopony has ever tried to overthrow me, and the vast majority support my decisions. There are bound to be outliers, and I value their opinions as well. If I only listened to what I wanted to hear, I would become a true tyrant. So long as Equestria at large is happy, I too will be happy.

We both know that isn't true. For a thousand years now you've hidden your anger and depression, choosing to bottle up your feelings about Little Luna. Now that she has returned, you pace angrily behind closed doors, cursing the general public for being so judgmental of her. Very few know the truth behind what happened, and yet they are so quick to assume. Admit it, you want personal happiness just as I do, and the public is getting in the way of that by rejecting the one most dear to you. So long as Luna cannot leave the palace out of fear for her own safety, part of you will always loathe the ignorant masses.

I do not loathe them! They merely do not understand! In time, Luna will be free to walk the streets again and be accepted by my side! None of this is her fault, and they will come to see that!

Why haven't they already? Because you erased the records of what really occurred in a moment of extreme selfishness?

Celestia's eyes flew open and she sat up. Of course he would know…

Know? I watched you do it. I watched you burn the official records and declare the history of Nightmare Moon as 'missing'. I can see your every action, because I choose to. I may not be able to be everywhere at once, but I can shadow you, and have done so for quite some time. It isn't Luna's fault that she is so misunderstood. It's yours. I'll leave you to stew in your own self-pity now, and I shall not disturb you until you awaken. Sleep, and in the morning, I will set the wheels in motion for our reckoning. Perhaps I'll take revenge for both myself and poor Lulu… it sounds to me like she deserves it.

Silent tears flowed down Celestia's face as her heart sank. He was right yet again. Nopony knew the truth because of her. She had tried her best to mitigate the damage to her family's image caused by the incident of Luna's possession, but her plan had backfired, and turned Luna into a monster in the public eye. Over the centuries, rumor had outpaced truth, and Celestia was painted as a hero, while Luna became an eternal villain.

I… I only wanted to help… I wanted to clear her history and give her a chance at new life when she returned! I would never have done it had I known it would result in this!

Her thoughts were met with total silence as she cried in the darkness.

…Discord? D-don't abandon me… I… you're right… it is my fault… and that knowledge has eaten away at my sanity as I watched the rumors build. Luna deserves so much more.

…Discord?

Upon being met with nothing for a second time, Celestia climbed out of bed, feeling guiltier than she ever had before. She had damaged the one closest to her, fallen into a sick infatuation with her greatest enemy, and found that she could no longer trust herself. Without hesitation, she grabbed a sheaf of parchment and her quill from the long desk near her bed, and thought carefully about her next course of action. She desperately needed to talk to somepony friendly, to get herself back on stable ground and win back mental peace before she sunk further into depression.

…should I? Can I get her involved? Though I love Luna with all of my heart, she has been away for so long, and cannot know what my shortsightedness cost her. I know of only one other who could bring me comfort without added guilt…

With her mind made up, the princess sniffled before wiping her face with a hoof to dry her eyes. She sat down upon her haunches and scribbled a quick message, lacking her usual heading and rules of decorum. There was no time for formality, and she needed an answer as quickly as possible.

Twilight, are you still awake?

The message levitated into the air, unbound and floating freely. It slowly burnt up in an emerald flame before disappearing entirely, making its way to her most beloved student. She waited several long minutes for a reply, but none come. Her lip began to quiver as she felt completely alone, and she walked back to her bed, once again crying quietly as she climbed up onto it. How can I rule this country when I can no longer rule my own emotions…

The muted sound of a fire igniting above her caused her to look up, and a bounded scroll fell onto the blankets before her. She hastily unwrapped it with her magic before unrolling the parchment and reading.

Dear Princess Celestia,

Forgive me for taking so long to respond. I am still awake, studying the constellations for a report that I plan to send to you shortly. However, I had to wake Spike in order to send this message, and he was a bit of a grouch about it. Forgive me for being so informal, but are you alright? This message is quite unlike any other you have sent me, and I am worried. Has something happened?

Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle

Celestia gave a small laugh and wiped her tears away, feeling just a bit better. Even in a time like this, she clings to tradition and formality. Her eagerness to please me is adorable.

She hastily began scribbling her reply.

Please, Twilight, do not worry about formatting. I am well, and there is nothing urgent. I merely wish to ask you how your studies are going, and how your friends are. It is always wonderful to hear from you, Twilight. You have already helped to set my mind at ease more than you could ever know.

Celestia sent the message with a small smile, her heart just a bit lighter after receiving the initial reply. Merely knowing that her student was safe and willing to talk to her made her feel a bit better, and she pulled the covers up over herself, feeling as though she could sleep without fear. Another message fell onto the blankets, an unbound scroll that unrolled upon making contact with Celestia's covered form. She picked it up and hastily read.

Princess, you're scaring me. It's one thirty in the morning, and you're randomly sending me a message for a friendship update? Though of course I don't mind, and I hate to be so bold as to ask, what prompted this correspondence? If you need my help, please tell me. I'm very worried right now. Are you sure you're alright? I can gather my friends and be there as soon as possible if you need us.

Celestia shook her head, and her face sunk upon reading the words. Another pulse of fear climbed up her spine, and she shivered under the blankets before closing her eyes and swallowing hard. Of course she wants to help and is assuming the worst. This was a bad idea for momentary relief. She cannot come to Canterlot, it isn't safe…

Twilight, I can assure you that everything is fine. Please do not worry about my request, it is late, and I am sure you are very tired. Go to bed soon, and I shall do the same. Forgive me for bothering you. Do not respond to this message. I will be in contact again soon. Goodnight.

Another spiral of emerald flame flickered in the night air, speeding the message toward Ponyville. Celestia shook her head, and lowered her body, nuzzling into her pillows and closing her eyes. She lay still for several minutes, hoping against hope that Twilight would be placated, and that she had not made another terrible mistake. Despite her unease, she soon found sleep, and was able to escape the waking world for the following several hours. In her state of unconsciousness, she failed to notice the rolled parchment that fell onto the foot of her bed from a portal of dragon flame.


Luna felt extremely frazzled as she walked through the Royal Gardens, the midday sun shining intensely upon her dark coat. The sensation felt very foreign to her, as she had not left the palace itself since her return from imprisonment upon the moon. The weary princess shook her head, heaving a loaded sigh as her thoughts wandered through the events of the day. I cannot handle holding court effectively… how does Celestia do it so easily? All of those ponies staring at me, judging me silently and waiting for some sort of divine, perfect answer… regardless, it is my responsibility until Tia feels stable...

The alicorn continued her leisurely walk, avoiding her true destination in a display of cowardice. Though she would do absolutely anything to help her sister, coming face to face with Discord's statue was not an affair that she was looking forward to. If he can truly see into Tia's thoughts… if he can read mine as well… I do not understand how we can effectively fight him. Can we even fight him? He's encased in stone! This shouldn't even be a problem!

Luna shook her head, completely unable to comprehend how her hated foe was capable of doing what he was doing. No matter the reason, the alicorn knew that she had bring a stop to the madness by any means necessary. If Celestia is truly incapable of handling this on her own, I have no choice but to get involved. It took both of us to bring him down and save Equestria from absolute ruin, and we are stronger now than ever before. Though he may claim to know my sister, Discord knows nothing of me. Once I can figure out how to combat his influence directly, we can begin to turn this around and save Sister from his insanity...

As Luna turned the corner and looked at the path ahead, she froze in absolute shock at the sight before her. She had finally reached the statue garden, and could not believe her eyes. The shocked mare galloped forward as quickly as she could, skidding to a halt in front of the central display, completely at a loss for words. Her light blue eyes wandered upward, and her entire body went numb as she confirmed her greatest fear. The labeled stone podium that held Discord stood where it always had, but where his actual statue should have been, there was only air.

Chapter Four

Sunlight of her own creation played across Celestia's face as the overlarge star moved slowly across the heavens. The encroaching brightness roused the alicorn, causing her to blink rapidly and breathe in heavily as her head steadily rose off of her satin-sheathed pillows. The sensation of a migraine headache overcame her, and she raised a naked hoof to her forehead while closing her eyes and frowning. She blinked twice again, and slowly drew her entire body back up to a propped position, resting upon her elbow and letting the violet silken sheets slide down her frame and pool around her waist.

Welcome back to the waking world, my lovely. I can see you…

Celestia lowered her hoof and her eyes widened as she frantically looked about the room. She saw nopony else in the bedroom with her, and her fears quickly subsided. Discord was still encased in stone, Luna was covering for her to allow the weary princess a day off for the first time in over a thousand years, and Twilight Sparkle was safe. Though the most important things in her life were taken care of, Celestia couldn't help but feel a sense of grave danger and unease at Discord's comment, and the feeling compounded with her headache to make her feel nauseous and cold.

I left you alone, as promised. But now, you have raised your cursed orb, and I even allowed you the peace of returning to sleep for a while afterward. I grow impatient, Little Tia. It is time for our game to begin…

The Sun Goddess shook her head in response, drawing another deep breath as her tricolor mane cascaded down her shoulders and back. She slid her body out from underneath the smooth sheets and heavy blankets, allowing herself to step onto the ornate marble floor. Her head throbbed as she walked toward her vanity, and upon looking into the framed reflective surface atop its shelves, her heart stopped. Discord was standing directly behind her, projecting his thoughts to her as he gave her a cold glare.

Surprise. Miss me?

Celestia drew a shaky breath as the draconequus walked forward, closing the distance between them. Her eyes never left the mirror, and she focused entirely upon controlling her breathing. You aren't here. This is merely another illusion. You are still in the Royal Gardens, biding your time and pretending you have a plan. Just disappear already, you bothersome charlatan.

Discord 's reflection stopped next to her side, and her mouth opened, but produced no sound. She stared resolutely at the mirror as he reached an arm out toward her shoulder, her breath unmoving in her chest as she waited for the possibility of contact.

"A charlatan, am I?"

Celestia froze as his paw touched her while the words echoed about the empty room, and her insides felt as though they had solidified into a single, icy mass. Her expression changed to one of shock as her eyes widened, and she spun around immediately, coming face to face with only the air.

See something you didn't like? Perhaps you overslept. After all, there is no way I could be here… right?

Breathing heavily and with her heart pounding in her chest, Celestia slowly and cautiously walked around the room, staring into every corner, giving nervous glances toward the ceiling, and checking every hiding place she could think of. No. There's… there's no way that was real… I'm hallucinating…

Perhaps you are. You never should have gone back to bed, dear. Perhaps you would have had time to respond to the letter you missed last night if you had remained awake. Shame. Somehow, I think you would have preferred to reply after raising the sun, had you noticed it. Maybe then you would have had time to stop the events already in motion…

The princess spun in place, breathing hard and feeling as though her knees would buckle at any second. "Wh-what… what letter? I see nothing here…"

Foot of the bed, my Dear. You knocked it onto the floor with your disgraceful awakening. I fear it may be too late to stop her, Princess. It would appear that we have a new player in our little game…

Celestia froze, and stared at the scroll lying atop the tangled blankets at the base of the bed. Slowly, her horn became enveloped in a light purple glow, and the letter was surrounded in an aura much the same. The parchment floated toward her, the ribbon binding it falling to the floor as the alicorn brought the paper to her eye level and began to read.

Princess… forgive me. I have always trusted you and placed absolute faith in your instruction, and one of the most important lessons that you ever taught me was to follow my own heart above all logic. I fear that I have relied upon books and conventional knowledge to deal with stressful situations up until now, and that approach has failed me. You have always been right, and so, I am going to take your advice, and go against your orders.

I am leaving for Canterlot in the morning. It is clear to me that something has happened that you are trying to deal with on your own, and my heart is telling me that you need somepony there to help you through it. This was an incredibly difficult decision to come to, but I will not be swayed. I do not know what is troubling you, but I will not stand by and let something preventable occur if it is bringing you harm. I am coming to offer my hoof in aid, and even if you cannot tell me what is wrong, I want to be there for you as you have so often been there for me. If I am to be accused of disobeying a Royal order due to this, so be it. It is a risk that I am willing to take to ensure that I have done all that I can to assist you in your time of need. I am so sorry, but I feel like this is the correct course of action. You clearly need assistance, and I will do everything in my power to give it to you.

Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle

The letter fell to the floor as the glow around it faded all at once. Celestia hung her head, shaking it back and forth as she closed her eyes and felt tears sting at the edges, threatening to spill over at a moment's notice. No. No, she cannotcome here! It is no longer safe in Canterlot! She gazed out the window, taking in the afternoon sun with a worried breath. If she truly left in the morning… then it is already too late… if any harm befalls her…

What's to say none already has?

Celestia snorted and raised her head, glaring at the outside world through her window. She cast her eyes to the Royal Gardens, sending her most malicious stare to the hedges that blocked the statuary from her view. Your empty threats mean nothing, Discord. You said that you only have hold over me because I cannot shut you out due to my own interest. You have no sway over Twilight.

Is that how you interpreted my words? Your mind is enshrouded in carefully-constructed walls to lock in your emotions and keep your true self hidden. Necessary, perhaps, after going through so much pain and having no one to truly reveal yourself to for a thousand years. Your attraction to me put holes in those barriers, allowing me access to your thoughts and putting you on the same level of mental protection as a common laypony. Reading and influencing the mind of anypony that is not an alicorn would be a quite simple task. I could read Twilight like a book, if I so desired…and perhaps pen a few lines of my own onto her pages…

Tears were becoming an affair too common for Celestia's liking, and so she blinked them back, utilizing all of her willpower to prevent the display of weakness before her enemy. She turned away from the window, planning to dress quickly and begin the search for somepony who knew if Twilight had yet entered the palace grounds. As she stepped forward and began to levitate the dressings of the bed in order to make it, the door to her bedroom flew open, slamming against the wall with magical force as Luna galloped through it.

The distraught younger sister skidded to a halt mere feet from Celestia, panting and shaking as sweat dripped down her brow. She quickly raised her head to capture her sister's gaze, a sense of extreme urgency present within her own teal eyes. She spoke hurriedly between breaths, seeking an answer that she knew would not be to her liking.

"Celestia… Discord… his statue… has it been moved?"

The blankets dropped into a messy pile, and Celestia focused all of her efforts upon her trembling sibling. She placed a hoof upon the smaller alicorn's shoulder, and leaned her face in closer, features swimming with worry.

"Wh-… what do you mean? What has happened? I never gave the order for him to be moved!"

Luna sank to her knees, shaking her head and closing her eyes. "He's gone, Tia! The podium is there, but he isn't on it! H-he… he must have escaped!"

A deep, thunderous laugh echoed through the skulls of the alicorn sisters, and both staggered in shock at the sudden invasion of their mental silence. Discord began his resonating speech, projecting it to both of the alicorns and taking delight in their mutual sense of despair.

It looks like you have made an oversight, my dear, sweet little ponies. Do not bother searching the Gardens, you fools, for I am no longer there. Finally, I can drop the charade and move about of my own will, and I have no one but you both to thank for it! I wouldn't worry about the how and why if I were you, if you want any chance to stay in this game, you had better act now. I have taken a few steps across the board, and eagerly await my next turn. Your move.

Celestia stood, her fur bristling as her lips drew back in anger. "WHERE ARE YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? WHO HELPED YOU ESCAPE? ANSWER ME!"

I thought I told you not to obsess over the details. All will be revealed in time, Little Tia. All I can say is that I warned you about trying to use that which you do not understand against me. I have more knowledge of the Elements of Harmony than you or your protégé ever could. Now, I suggest the Queens mobilize before the King takes the Pawn. I don't like waiting, Tia, and may stop playing by the rules if you take too long…

Luna stood, shaking, and slowly backed away from her sister. "H-he… he isn't… he doesn't mean… Sissy, he… he's going after Twilight!"

Celestia experienced a flood of adrenaline moving through her, and the sensation caused her skin to tingle in sick worry and anticipation. "I know. We cannot allow that to happen, no matter the cost. Go and rally the Guard, have them put the entire Palace in lockdown until Twilight can be located. I will begin the search for her, and take a small contingent of the Royal Guard with me. We have no time to lose!"

The Moon Princess gave a sharp, determined nod, and galloped off through the door of Celestia's chambers. The larger alicorn followed, trailing behind her sister and parting to gallop in the opposite direction when the two passed through the doorway of their private study. Celestia's hooffalls echoed through the empty hallway as she ran at full speed, looking for a member of her elite soldiers to begin the search for her missing student.

Run, run, run, Little One. I do so enjoy watching your toned leg muscles stretching and contracting as your hooves pound into the floor. I suppose the hallways are a little tight for flying, but I'm certainly enjoying the show, so I can't complain. It's been so lonely being trapped in stone… perhaps now you and I can have some fun in the flesh once I make you see reason… or a lack thereof.

Celestia's heart fluttered involuntarily, and she silently cursed herself for even considering such things. She needed control and certainty in her life, and the inability to stop herself from experiencing such traitorous feelings only served to make her doubt her qualifications as a leader further. The princess shook her head and continued to run, banking tightly around a corner and pushing herself even harder to gain speed.

Drop your little Ruler act, and come to me. I could use someone like you, you know. You could certainly use someone like me. We're perfect for each other, Celestia. Chaos and Order, morality and animalism, love and hatred in equal measure. Abandon responsibility and give in to me, you cannot deny that the thought entertains you. It would save you so much pain to give up now, and just accept that you cannot fight me.

SHUT UP! I WILL NEVER GIVE IN! I DESPISE YOU! ALL THAT YOU'RE DOING IS MAKING ME HATE MYSELF AS WELL!

Then perhaps I can be content. I'll allow you to focus on running, and merely watch your sexy, rather large flanks as you go. Would be a shame if you were too late to find Twilight, I don't want to distract you…

Celestia's cheeks adopted a red tint, and she fought with all of her mental power to keep herself from thinking about his words. It had been so long since anyone had spoken to her and admitted their attraction to her, and despite how wrong it made her feel, his words were beginning to make the base of her tail tingle in arousal. After all, she had been lonely for quite some time as well.

What have you done with my Guard? Why is nopony here?

As she finished the thought and stormed through the doors separating the hallway from the guard tower, she found her personal bodyguard, Sol, leaning against the banister on the stairwell leading to the bedchambers. His golden armor clanked against itself as he lowered himself to the floor at his charge's arrival, and his expression changed from a stoic blank to one of worry as he beheld the approaching mare. Celestia galloped up to him, stopping and breathing hard from her sudden efforts as she regarded the white pegasus before her.

"My Princess, what is wrong? Shall I rally the Guard?"

Celestia shook her head and gasped for breath. She had not needed to exert herself so much without preparation in a long time, and the sudden need for sprinting had completely drained her.

"No. No, Luna is taking care of that. Have you seen Twilight Sparkle? I fear that she may have come to the palace, and if she is here, I need to find her immediately!"

Sol stepped forward and considered the alicorn as panic began to overtake him. He had never seen his Princess in such a state, and he knew that something big must have been happening to drive her to personally gallop about the palace in search of her student.

"I have. I was standing watch outside of your chambers when she arrived earlier. I've never seen you go back to sleep after raising the sun, nor have I seen you fail to hold court, so I told her you were not to be disturbed. What is going on, Your Majesty? Are you in need of assistance?"

Celestia finally managed to compose herself, and stood before him, trying to speak with her usual proud and confident air back in place. Her efforts failed her, and her voice instead came out panicked and laced with worry.

"Nevermind that! This isn't about me, I need to find Twilight Sparkle immediately. Do you have any idea where she may have gone?"

Sol shifted and tilted his head. "She… she said she would go to the Library Tower to read until you woke up. She didn't want to disturb you, and decided to wait there until you became available. Would you like me to go and look for her there?"

Celestia's eyes widened. The Library Tower, of course! She practically lived there! Why didn't I think to just head straight for there…

"No. I shall head there immediately. I want you to return to your post outside of the Royal Quarters. Let nopony in, regardless of their station or intent. I will find Twilight. If I do not return within the hour, send your division up to the tower after me. I fear that this may not end well."

The stallion's eyes widened and he tilted his head, but he quickly mastered his thoughts and gave a snort. "Of course, My Lady. Good luck! Do not put yourself in needless danger, no matter what may be happening. I shall await your return!"

Sol galloped past her, heading back down the hall the way she had come. Celestia turned as well, and began galloping once again, running on sheer adrenaline as she ascended the inclined hallway to the nearby spire. She began to hyperventilate from overexertion and worry, praying for her student's safety. The thought of Twilight being in danger gained priority over all else in her mind, and she pushed herself still harder to reach the unicorn mare before any further damage could be done.

No, no, no, no, no!

YES, YES, YES, YES, YES! You'd better gallop your pretty little rump off. I may be on my way up there as well right now. What if I didn't know where she was until you just asked? What if I'm faster than you? Can you afford to let me get there first? Or any I just toying with you as usual…

Celestia's lungs burned with effort as she burst through the door, never breaking pace as she began to ascend the spiral stairs. She mentally cursed the architect of the tower, despite it being of her own design. Yet another inconvenience I am to take responsibility for. Will this vicious cycle never end?

No, probably not. I am a vindictive bastard, after all. Keep running.

I didn't ask you.

Oh don't slow down! I love watching you sweat!

Listen, you perverted, twisted, pathetic creature. Stop your commentary, and leave me alone. I have no love for you, I care only for Twilight at the moment. Leave me be.

Fine, fine. Though you are fun when you're angry…

Celestia reached the top of the stairs and paused to catch her breath before opening the door. She did her absolute best to calm her mind and brace herself for what she might find. Slowly, she reached a hoof out, pushed open the door, and stepped inside.

Twilight Sparkle stood alone next to a wall, her back to the entrance of the room as she drew a book down from the highest shelf with her magic. Celestia's heart warmed ever so slightly at the sight, and she slowly cantered into the room, stopping to stand in the middle of the circular floor. She gave her student's back a loving gaze, and her panic slowly began to subside at the reassuring sight of her student safely reading.

"Oh, Twilight, I was so worried! I'm so happy to see you safe! Please, come with me, and we can discuss the current situation."

Twilight titled her head, continuing to read her book as it floated in front of her. "Hm? You aren't angry that I came to Canterlot against your direct orders?" Twilight flipped a page, her eyes shifting over to begin reading the new material as she continued to absorb her book.

Celestia froze and cocked her head to the side. A chill ran through her core, and she immediately found something about the situation to be… off. "I… no, I'm not angry. I merely did not wish to endanger you. Seeing you here safe sets my fears at ease, and I wish only to confide in you what is happening. Come, Twilight. May we speak in private?"

Another page flipped as Twilight continued to quietly read. After making her way through another line, the unicorn stopped and raised her head from the tome, still facing the bookshelves. The mare let out a disgusted sigh, and shook her head at the suggestion. "I don't know, Princess. I'm kinda busy right now. Could you come back later?"

A second chill passed across Celestia's body, and her heart sank. Never before had Twilight spoken to her in such a way, and she knew immediately that all was not well. "Twilight? Are you… are you alright?"

The violet unicorn lowered her head again, gazing into the book and beginning to read while she replied. "Oh, I'm fine, Princess. I just find this book rather interesting. It's about Nightmare Moon, and your history with her. I never knew most of this. Why would you hide it from me? I thought you trusted me? Or have I done something to warrant you distancing yourself from me?"

Celestia raised a hoof and bent it inward, her eyes shifting from side to side as she tried to process what was occurring. A sense of foreboding blanketed the room as an idea overtook her, and she cringed at the possibility. No… no, this cannot be… please don't let this be what I think it is…

"Twilight… turn around and face me, please. I only wish to speak with you."

The unicorn raised her head from the book once again and closed it with her magic, letting it drop to the floor with a heavy thud. There was a pause as Twilight didn't move, staring straight ahead at the rows of books before her as she spoke. "Alright."

Twilight's shoulders rose unnaturally, and her elbows were quick to follow, raising out to her sides as her forelegs hung loosely in the air. Her entire upper body became completely straight, and her back hooves left the floor briefly as she turned around in midair to face Celestia. As she fell, her head hung down limply while her hooves touched the ground again, before it rose suddenly and faced the horrified Princess. Suddenly, her lips pulled back in a quick, unnatural motion, and she spoke.

"Something wrong, Princess?"

Celestia almost collapsed at the sight before her as she realized her student was being controlled by invisible strings. She steeled herself, and her expression turned from one of terror to one of rage as she noticed the shimmering glint of the transparent wires hanging about in the air.

"LET HER GO! DO NOT INVOLVE HER IN THIS! DISCORD, YOU COWARD!"

Twilight tilted her head as she rose slightly from the floor, hovering and moving her head from side to side with the same unnatural smile stuck upon her face. Twilight slowly began to float to one side, circling around Celestia as Discord spoke through her mouth, letting his words come out in Twilight's voice.

"Aw, are you upset, Princess? I don't want to upset you! I've studied so hard to try to please you!"

Celestia began to shake with rage, her eyes following Twilight Sparkle's body as it floated around her in the air.

"THIS ISN'T FUNNY IN THE SLIGHTEST! UNHAND HER!"

"But Celestia… aren't you happy to see me anymore? You're going to make me cry!" Twilight's head bowed in a nodding motion as she kept her unnatural smile. "I'm very insecure, you know, no doubt due to how you shielded me from social interaction for so long!"

"DISCORD! STOP THIS IMMEDIATELY! YOUR ISSUES ARE WITH ME, NOT HER! I WILL NOT TOLERATE THIS!"

Twilight froze in midair, her hooves each settling at a different height. Discord's voice came from her lips, and the sudden change unnerved Celestia beyond anything else she had ever witnessed.

"Oh, but what are you going to do about it?"

The door to the stairs slammed as Twilight's horn began to glow. Her eyes turned a deep red, and she began to glare at Celestia, who backed away. The Princess's flank hit the door, and she gasped as Twilight began to advance upon her through the air with jerky motions. The unicorn's horn started to glow white, and a bolt of sheer magic flew forth from it, aimed directly for Celestia's head.

The princess dived out of the way, rolling upon the floor as the energy crackled through the air and exploded against the stone wall. Discord's insane, deep laughter flooded the chamber, and Twilight began to strafe around the edges of the circular room, twitching and convulsing as she floated. Her voice once again became her own, though it spoke against her will.

"Are you afraid? All this time I was looking up to you, and you can't even stand to face me? What a shame. What are you, some kind of foal who can't fight her own battles?"

Celestia quickly rose to her hooves, shaking her head and giving Twilight a hard glare. "I refuse to fight my own student, Discord. Show yourself!"

Oh, but where's the fun in that? I'm having the time of my life, here!

The sudden mental assault rattled Celestia and threw her off guard as Twilight hurled another bolt of magic directly at her. She was too slow to dodge, and the energy grazed her side, leaving a superficial burn upon her side as she stumbled sideways to try to avoid the majority of the impact. The alicorn stood fully once again, and began making a desperate bid to free her student.

"TWILIGHT! LISTEN TO ME! RESIST HIM! YOU NEED TO FIGHT YOUR WAY OUT OF HIS CONTROL!"

She won't be doing that. She isn't nearly strong enough. Though… it might be even more amusing if I give her back control of her mouth…

The creepy smile immediately ceased, and Twilight's lips drooped downward before her face began to adopt a more natural expression. Her eyes immediately changed back to their light violet hues and began to tear up while she started yelling, trying desperately to warn her mentor of the impending danger.

"PRINCESS! HE'S… HE'S DOING SOMETHING TO MY HORN! MOVE OUT OF THE WAY!"

Celestia's eyes widened at the warning, and she quickly jumped to the side as a torrent of wild blue flame erupted from Twilight's horn, spilling against the bookshelves behind Celestia and igniting them with magical fire. Celestia stared at the sight in horror as she stood once again, pleading with the angered draconequus to stop his madness.

"No! Discord, you don't know what you're doing! Please, stop! Centuries of history are going to be lost due to your personal vendetta! See reason and unhand her!"

Reason had its time, Celestia. All that remains for you is chaos and suffering. What is a little more lost history in the face of what you have already destroyed?

Twilight's horn unleashed another stream of iridescent blue flame, catching another wall of bookshelves on fire as she spun wildly in the air, screaming at the top of her lungs. Celestia brought forth a stream of water from her own horn in a desperate attempt to stop the magical fire, but her efforts were in vain. The flames continued to spread, eating through the stone walls and wooden shelves like a corrosive acid and slowly peeling away the sides of the room before the fire began to slowly implode in upon itself.

Celestia galloped forward and threw herself at the wailing unicorn, trying to grab her out of the air and hold her down. Twilight was dragged to the side in a violent jerking motion, causing the princess to fall and slide across the floor as Discord laughed at her efforts.

We're almost done here. The archives in this room will be lost, but I know you store the most important books in your personal study. Perhaps I shall head there next…

Celestia fell to her knees and cried, watching as Twilight hovered in place. She could no longer hold back her sobbing, and looked up to see the ceiling of the tower in the process of being eaten away, letting the light of her sun spread down through the room.

"Discord… please… I will give up everything for you to let her go. I will give you the kingdom, I will give you myself, anything you want, just… let Twilight Sparkle go…"

The unicorn's hooves stopped moving in rhythm, and her legs locked underneath her as Discord spoke in a commanding voice.

You can't have your toy back until I'm done playing with it. I'm almost finished, though. It was always so entertaining to watch you play with dolls when you were little, Tia. Perhaps I should give it a shot. I believe you used to do something like… this?

Twilight Sparkle's left forelimb began to bend forward in the wrong direction as she stared down at her rigid body in absolute shock. Tears clung to her face as she grit her teeth in pain and closed her eyes, trying to will her leg to obey as Celestia stood and tried to reach her. Twilight lost the fight for her body, and her lower leg was forced forward with a wet, sickening snap. The unicorn screamed in absolute agony as her limb broke, and she cried harder as she tried to speak through her sobbing while Celestia yelled out in shock.

"PRINCESS! HE'S NOT STOPPING! DO SOMETHING! I-I CAN'T FIGHT HIM!"

"STOP THIS! DISCORD, I WILL ERASE EVERY TRACE OF YOU FROM EXISTENCE WHEN I GET MY HOOVES ON YOU! IF YOUR ISSUE IS WITH ME, THEN ATTACK ME!"

Celestia galloped directly for Twilight to try to save her, but was thrown back by a sudden force. Her body impacted one of the few remaining stone walls, knocking the breath out of her as she fell to the floor.

You're breaking the rules, Celestia. I'm playing with Twilight right now, and you cannot help her. That's cheating, and cheaters get punished.

A web of indentations appeared on Twilight's side as invisible wires pressed into the side of her skin. Suddenly, the wires slid across her fur, ripping into the tender flesh beneath and carving deep wounds into the pony's side. Scarlet blood flowed down around her stomach and started dripping to the floor as the injured mare began wailing again, while Celestia rose and screamed in rage.

"STOP! ENOUGH! YOU'RE KILLING HER! I'LL GIVE MY LIFE IN EXCHANGE FOR HERS IF I MUST! JUST LET HER GO!"

Her eyes began darting around the room, trying to find some sign of him so that she could stop him directly and cease his control. She found nothing as she spun in the breeze flowing through the destroyed walls, and his laughter returned once again, causing her feelings of sickness and dread to double in intensity.

It is far too late for that, Tia. All that I want now is to watch you suffer in return for all of the suffering that you have caused me. It's about time you lose something dear to you again, don't you think? What will happen if I try contorting her a bit? Hmm…

Twilight's neck began to twist sideways as she let out a frightened scream, and Celestia found herself unable to move. She watched as Twilight's neck almost reached the point of breaking, when she suddenly caught sight of a distortion in the air against the background of fading cobalt flame. She immediately readied her own fire in a final gamble to save her student, and launched an arrow of crimson energy at the distortion, scoring a direct hit as she screamed her student's name.

The invisible strings immediately lost their hold as Discord's tail caught fire and his invisibility faded. He let out an enraged roar as Twilight fell to the ground in a bloody heap, her neck twisting back to a more natural orientation in midair. The draconequus flew off at great speed through the ruined roof, abandoning the two ponies to deal with their situation.

Celestia immediately ran to her fallen student, nudging her with the side of her face and praying that the mare was still alive. Sticky blood clung to her muzzle as it lazily oozed from Twilight's wounds, but she didn't care for anything other than the unicorn's safety. Slowly, the girl raised her head, still in tears, and sobbed heavily as she wrapped her unbroken forelimb around Celestia's neck.

"P-p-princess! I was so scared! I-I… I thought he was really going to…"

Celestia cried right along with her, and gave her an affectionate nuzzle. "I-I know, I… we got very, very lucky, my student. Let me see your leg."

Twilight shifted a little, sniffling as she shuddered from the shock of the trauma, and weakly did her best to extend the broken limb. Celestia picked it up with her magic and looked closely at it, doing the best she could to determine where the break was. As she considered the damage, the door to the stairwell burst open, admitting Princess Luna into the room.

"TIA! I SAW THE FIRE AND CAME RUNNING! WHAT H-"

Luna looked down at the blood-covered mess that was Twilight Sparkle with an expression of absolute shock. She immediately galloped forth and leaned down next to her sister and the unicorn, gasping in surprise as she caught sight of the limb hanging limply in the air.

"Tia… did he…"

"Yes. He… he nearly… " Celestia stopped her morbid train of thought, and instead tried to be rational and think of the best way to salvage the situation. "Luna, I need you to help Twilight walk down to the infirmary. She is in no condition to be flown. I will meet you there shortly. I need to rendezvous with Sol and reassign the Guard to place heavy security upon our quarters at all times. I'll send an entire unit to the infirmary as well to keep watch. Twilight, will you be alright with Luna for a time? I hate to abandon you, my student, but I promise I will come to you and stay by your side as soon as I am able."

Twilight Sparkle raised her head and gave her mentor a weak smile, coughing as she did so. "I-I'm alright. I… my entire body feels like it's on fire… but… I'll manage. I understand that… that other things need to be done. Please, take your time. I'll be safe with Princess Luna."

Luna helped Twilight to stand as the unicorn curled her broken limb under herself, doing her best to balance on three legs. Luna nuzzled her, and gave the mare a worried look.

"Can… can you walk? Lean into me."

Twilight did as instructed, and took a few steps gingerly before nodding. Celestia gave them both a reassuring smile, happy at the simple fact that her student was still breathing. She said a quick farewell and beat her massive wings, rising into the sky through the shattered roof with her ethereal mane flowing around her.

Discord… you have crossed the line. I will do everything in my power to stop you, and I will not let you harm those around me again. Our fight has become personal, and I will not stop my efforts until I see you imprisoned for good.

Funny. I don't plan on stopping until everything dear to you lies broken at your feet. Good luck with your nebulous goal, Celestia. You'll need it.

Chapter Five

She lay restless in bed, her breathing an uneven rhythm, her body far removed from that of her supposed lover. The sheets were pulled down, covering only her lower half as she stared at the ceiling, waiting for the moment when salvation would come through his mental prodding. Impatient to see him, she slowly rose out of the bed, casting a disgusted glance to the sleeping yellow alicorn stallion who remained unmoving beneath the sheets. She walked quickly and quietly, her hooves barely making a noise upon the stone floor as she left the Royal Chambers and stepped into the lavish hallway. The Queen of the Night picked up her pace as she got farther from the bedroom and swiftly exited the palace, hastily making her way out into the forest. Her head tilted back and she smiled as she looked skyward and breathed in the musky scent of the surrounding dusk. His voice came into her head, and her entire body convulsed in an involuntary response of forbidden pleasure. She began to gallop toward where he would be waiting, longing for his touch and his enticing words.

My dear, sweet Selena… sit upon the throne with me, not him… take your place as my Queen… cast aside your useless husband and your bothersome daughters…

Resisting his call had become harder and harder with each passing day, and the weary alicorn mare was finding her unforgivable lust becoming more and more beyond her control as he reached out to her with his mind. Each night after her husband, the King of Equestria, retired to bed, she found herself wandering through the Everfree forest outside of the palace grounds in search of the conspiring chimera. The light blue jewel around her neck pulsed, seemingly pulling her along and guiding her steps, giving her direction on her slow, descending road to madness and betrayal. The necklace tugged forward each time the jewel brightened, and she found herself sweating in anticipation at the thought of being able to see him once again as she continued to run.

Yes, good, come to me. Let your Element guide you. You've given them everything, you've poured your heart and soul into your craft, and still, nopony appreciates you. Not even your foolish husband can acknowledge what fine work you do. You give generously of yourself, expecting nothing in return. But to be ignored for so long… I can only imagine what it must do to you…

She galloped onward, heeding his summons and pushing her body in order to pick up her pace. He was right, after all. Nopony cared for her beautiful creations, nopony but him. His serpentine embrace had kept her warm on so many nights that her husband had failed to do so, and the sensation of him whispering sweet, traitorous words into her ear as they writhed together as one among the trees did much to ensure her nightly return. Their affair had been going for months, and it was not one that she intended to stop. She lived for his touch, his words, and his company. Though the Element around her neck represented Generosity, she had had enough with giving, only to be shunned by her people. It was time for Selfishness to reign, and her husband's advisor was more than willing to indulge her every desire.

He doesn't deserve you. All of the good that you do, ignored by the King himself and his pathetic subjects. Soon we shall make our move. Soon, this kingdom shall be ours, and you will rule at my side, free from your unappreciated responsibilities and your irksome family. Bring me to power, my love, and I will share that power with you. It is time to stop being content with living in King Lumon's shadow, it is time for you and I to shine more brightly than his worthless sun. You have given for so long... and now, it is time to take…

The words sent a chill up her spine. Some part of her still felt a cautious foreboding toward the silver-tongued hybrid, but the will of her corrupted Element was stronger than her waning sense of loyalty for her husband. The jewel's pulsations picked up in frequency, sending waves of jealously and envy through her mind. If she could not gain appreciation from the common ponies by following her assigned task and investing herself in it, then she would gain their respect by fear.

Come closer still, my love. I will send him a chilling dream, and lure him to our place of meeting. He will never see it coming. You know what we must do.

The black mare snorted and slowed to a canter as she reached the arch of trees that marked the place that they had so often broken her vows to King Lumon. Upon coming near to his form, the Element of Generosity stopped its reverberations, instead adopting a darkened glow. She walked closer to his floating body, and embraced him with an affectionate nuzzle.

The king dies tonight. By your hoof or my claws, it does not matter. It would be so much more poetic if you were responsible for his fall, though. A total eclipse, indeed.

She looked up at him, a twisted smile playing across her features as she nuzzled her head under his neck once more before drawing him into a deep, passionate kiss.


"You are sure? You only wish to summon a few of them? There is safety in numbers, my student."

Twilight Sparkle looked up from the letter as she signed her name and let the quill held by the purple glow fall down onto her blankets.

"I… I know, Princess. I just… I don't want everypony to get involved here. We need at least one capable fighter in Ponyville in case Discord tries something there out of spite. I want our anchor to have backup, just in case, and… I'm not sure that… bringing Pinkie into Canterlot would be a good idea. I trust her, but… when we were fighting Discord last time, she almost… she seemed to almost… sympathize with him a bit…"

Celestia grimaced and nodded, remembering how the pink mare had questioned her at the celebration dinner in honor of Discord's defeat. Though she hadn't taken it seriously at the time, Celestia did not want to leave anything to chance. After all, Discord had his hooks in her already. What was to say that the jubilant party pony couldn't become his loyal pawn on a whim?

"I understand. I believe that you have chosen well. How are your wounds?"

The princess rose from her sitting position at the side of the bed, and her horn began to glow as the blankets covering Twilight's side slowly began to rise.

"They're… a little better. It's been not even a full day, after all. But… they're starting to heal… I think…."

Celestia gingerly pulled back the gauze over the violet unicorn's side, revealing a spiderweb arrangement of deep, crimson gashes upon her skin. The pattern stretched from just behind her shoulder almost to her flank, and wrapped around under her body to cover half of her stomach with crusted-over red scars. The alicorn quickly recovered the wound at the sight, and dropped the blanket over the young mare's form once again before moving to nuzzle her affectionately.

"Twilight… I am so, so sorry. This… it never should have come to this. Had I not been so careless, so selfish, you would never have come into harm's way…"

Twilight immediately moved to sit up and wrapped her free leg around Celestia's neck. "No, don't think like that! It's hardly your fault! I went against your orders, and I ca-"

Celestia withdrew her head, looking away from her student and closing her eyes with an angry snort as she backed up from the bedside.

"No, Twilight. You do not understand. I should never have been so weak… I should never have come to you for comfort to begin with. My personal issues cannot be allowed to endanger the entire kingdom, and that is exactly what has happened due to my lapse in judgment. You almost lost your life earlier today because I buckled under pressure. You mean more to me than words could ever say, and yet I caused you to jump into the front lines out of concern for my well-being and alarm at my distrustful secrecy. Time and time again I have failed to protect the two most important ponies in my life, and yet I am expected to watch over all... I am not fit to rule…"

The unicorn sat up even further, going so far as to toss her blankets off and drop her back hooves to the pristine tile floor before Celestia was able to rush over and stop her.

"What are you doing? You cannot leave the bed! Your foreleg needs to set! Please, Twilight, lay still!"

Twilight resisted the alabaster hooves, pressing her chest into them angrily as she tried to move past Celestia.

"I'm not just going to lay here and listen to this! Y-you're… you're wrong!" Twilight's eyes shined with tears, and her face became rigid with determination as she stared pointedly at her mentor.

"You've given yourself to the ponies of Equestria every day for a thousand years or more, and you practically raised me from fillyhood! I've always trusted in you, and never doubted your words, but now… this isn't right, Princess! You can't just give up after a few days of… of… whatever is going on! You're stronger than that! I know you are! You'll only be unfit to rule if you give up now, when we need you most! We can fight him, together! The incident with Nightmare Moon was not your fault, and you have never failed me! Stop blaming yourself for everything that has ever gone wrong and see sense!"

Celestia's hooves slowly withdrew and sunk into the mattress at the unicorn's side, allowing Twilight to sit propped at the edge of the bed. She cast her eyes to the floor, and heaved a great sigh.

"I wish that I still had your optimism, my faithful student. I am responsible for more failures than you may ever come to know, and I..I fear that… this time, winning will not be so easy… and a loss would be potentially fatal to everypony in Equestria..."

Twilight threw the hoof not in traction up into the air as she snorted. "You and Luna are Goddesses! He may be the Spirit of Chaos, but he should stand no chance! Not only that, but you've got the entire Royal Guard and my friends with the Elements of Harmony backing you up! That's more of an advantage than you've ever had!"

Celestia let her hooves fall to the floor as her voice changed from its hopeless air of melancholy and adopted an icy and serious tone.

"Twilight… Luna and I are Goddesses in title only. It is an honorific name that was given to us long ago by the commoners, who saw us as infallible God-Queens simply because we brought an end to Discord's tyrannical rule. We are not invincible, nor are we perfect. Though alicorns may have the incredible gift of immortality and immunity to the withering of age and the effects of disease, we can be killed... and so can Discord... though I pray it does not need to come to that..."

Twilight began to sputter, taken completely aback at the words of her mentor. It was seemingly common knowledge that Celestia and Luna were eternal figures of divine grace, born to a family of alicorns bearing the same distinctions. To hear the truth from Celestia's own mouth shook the unicorn to her core, and the revelation that Celestia had kept the information from her made Twilight's tears begin to trickle down her face.

"W-what? Y-you mean… you're not…"

Celestia lowered her head and closed her eyes, unable to face her most trusted student. "No. There is nothing Divine about us. We are of this planet, just like all ponies. Alicorns have long been thought to be descended from the Creators, and while that may be true, I cannot say for sure, and nopony has ever provided concrete evidence to support that claim; it is based entirely in legend. However, I do know that we are not so invincible as we may appear to most, even if we can theoretically live forever. My parents ruled before Discord, and Discord... was responsible for bringing about their ends. Their names are lost to history to all but Luna and I, all records of their existence having been erased in a terrible accident, and all oral traditions about them having been slowly forgotten as the generations continued to pass onward. It is not public knowledge that they ever even existed, and that is not something that I would prefer most to know."

Celestia looked back up at Twilight, and moved to rest a hoof upon the trembling unicorn's shoulder. "If you resent me for hiding such crucial information, I will understand completely. However, I want you to know that there are reasons that it is kept hidden, and not just so that I stay in power unquestioned. You will find out in time, when you need to know, which may be... much sooner than I would like. Though it pains me greatly to withhold such knowledge from you, I ask that you remain patient and keep your faith in me. You are old enough now to begin learning the truth, though I cannot share it with you all at once. Never before have I trusted a student with such information, but I feel that you need to be made aware that not all is as it seems in regards to the Royal bloodline. If something is to happen to Luna or I, I need somepony that I know I can trust to be aware of the truth."

Twilight sniffled and rubbed her eyes as her lip trembled while she tried to find words. The sudden shock brought by Celestia's confessions unnerved her and made her begin to question what other knowledge she possessed might not have been entirely accurate. The Sun Princess leaned her face in closer to Twilight's before she could ask any questions, and she began to speak again.

"Twilight. There is one other thing I must tell you, in regards to your statement about our chances." Celestia moved her mane out of her eyes, revealing the one hidden by the multicolor strands of hair. She gazed her light magenta hues into Twilight's own, giving her a stern look to emphasize the importance of her words.

"What I am about to tell you is something that was told to me long ago, something that I ignored and had forgotten until very recently. The words still ring true, and though they may go against everything I have taught you, I need you to keep an open mind and listen to me here and now. Can you do that?"

Twilight swallowed hard and gave a shaky nod. She had never expected the Princess to share such personal, dangerous secrets with her, but she knew that the situation was an extreme case that called for the knowledge to be passed on. She leaned in closer to listen, and did her best to accept the information as truth, despite the pain that the already-revealed secrets had caused her.

"The Elements of Harmony… they can not be relied upon, especially now. After this most recent failing of them to function as intended in keeping Discord sealed, and considering the words spoken to me so long ago, which I chose to ignore… I cannot in good faith place trust in them. Keep them… where they are, and do not attempt to use them until I am able to ascertain their origins and true purpose. There is more to them than even I know, and I cannot help but feel as though they serve a different purpose from the one that tradition has told us. My parents told me exactly what I told you about them previously, and clearly... they were wrong..."

The violet mare sat silent, considering the words for a long time as Celestia continued searching her face. Twilight finally brought her gaze back up to Celestia's own, and she gave a determined nod.

"I… I don't understand, but… you would know far more than I. I hope that we do not regret forgoing the Elements, but… something is telling me that you may be right. I-I... I don't hold your secrecy against you, I understand that... that ruling necessitates... the obfuscation of truth, in some cases. You have been a wonderful, generous, and caring ruler, and even if... even if you have hidden things from us all... I... I will always support you."

Celestia gave a grim smile and returned the nod before giving Twilight a slow, comforting nuzzle. She sniffled, and kissed Twilight upon the cheek before pulling away.

"Thank you for trying to understand. Though the actual attributes that the Elements represent are wonderful and to be celebrated, I cannot help but feel that the gems themselves serve another purpose. A purpose that I do not yet understand. Discord… has said that he does understand them, even if he, too, cannot control them. Therefore, we cannot allow them to fall into his hands. As for my rulership... your support means more than that of anypony else, and I shall try to rally and be the Princess that everypony needs me to be."

Twilight smiled and leaned back into bed as Celestia utilized her magic to drape the blankets back over the weary unicorn. The sound of hoofsteps from the hallway drew the alicorn's attention, and she turned to the doorway to see Luna stepping into the room.

Luna tilted her head and gave a warm smile to the two as they looked over at her. "Greetings, Sister, Twilight. Are you both doing well?"

The two nodded and returned her smile, and Luna walked over to the side of the bed, choosing to sit atop a cushion laid on the floor beside the apparatus. "Tia, it is past sundown. I will be happy to keep watch over Twilight if you need to rest."

Celestia heaved a sigh and moved to nuzzle her sister before stepping back and giving a small bow of the head toward her injured student. "I… need to take care of some things before I retire, but the offer is appreciated and accepted all the same. Twilight, I trust that you will feel safe with Luna here?"

Twilight leaned forward a bit and smiled once again. "Of course!" She yawned heavily, the stress of the day's previous events finally beginning to weigh upon her mind. "I may be falling asleep soon, though. Will you come and visit in the morning?"

Celestia sighed, and gave the mare a crestfallen look in response to the question. "Twilight… Discord can… see into my mind and read my thoughts as though they were written out for him. I… after your friends arrive, I have ordered for you to be moved to a secure location. Though Discord may still be able to find you, relocating should keep you safe for a while, and my visiting you would only undermine the secrecy of where you are being moved to. I will try to come and see you in the morning, but after that… your friends and the guards will be keeping you safe, until I can afford to reunite with you and find another place in which you can stay hidden. Please understand."

The purple mare hesitated, wanting to cry out against her monarch's orders, but reconsidered and nodded. "I understand. If… if he does come for me, though…"

"Then I will come running. Luna has agreed to stay with you whenever she can, and I will know if something is amiss, either through her or Discord's own gloating. I will not let any more harm come to you, I promise. Your coming to Canterlot has woken me from passive resistance against Discord, and I know now that it is time to take action instead of reacting to his moves. He will be stopped, and you will be kept safe, at all costs. Luna, allow nopony into this room until morning."

Luna gave a firm nod. "I will protect her with my life if need be. Please, Tia, go and do what you need to do before getting some sleep. You need to rest if we are to begin formulating a plan of action in the morning. I will sleep here, and the guards will rouse me if anything happens. Please do not worry, Sister."

"I will do my best not to. Goodnight, and sleep well, both of you." Celestia's golden shoes clacked against the floor as she turned and exited the room, and Luna moved her eyes from her sister's retreating form to the prostrate unicorn as Celestia passed through the dividing curtain.

"Is there anything I can do for you to make you more comfortable?"

Twilight leaned back against the pillows and sighed, thinking honestly about the question. "I… don't think so. I just… I think I need to sleep."

Luna shifted and moved to lie down fully upon the plush crimson pillow beneath her. "I understand. You've been through a lot, and I'm sure the stress must be getting to you. If you wish to sleep immediately, I can assist you."

Twilight raised a brow, and looked quizzically at the midnight blue pony laying near her side. "You… can assist me?"

Luna rose to her hooves, stretched briefly, and placed her forelegs upon the rail of the bed. "How much do you know of me, in terms of my abilities? I'm guessing it's… difficult to find many records after so long…"

Twilight involuntarily shifted her body away from the princess, somewhat unnerved by her current proximity to the alicorn whom she had only met twice before. "I… I do not know much. You'll have to forgive me, it's been… impossible to find books that go into detail of what happened to you, and harder still to find anything about you before… you know…"

"I became possessed?" Luna gave a light laugh at the visible flinch of the mare before her. "I don't see the need to mince words. You did save me, after all. I owe you, and each of your friends, my freedom. I… I don't exactly understand how you broke the spell, but all the same, I am grateful."

>A sudden thought occurred to Twilight, and she titled her head at the strange notion. "We… we used the Elements of Harmony. But… but Princess Celestia just told me that… that it is no longer safe to rely upon them!"

Luna blinked. "She… did? Strange… though I agree that controlling them is exceedingly difficult, I do not know why Tia fears them at the moment. She mentioned to me that something about using them felt… off… but I cannot claim to understand. However… if I can believe in anything with absolute faith, it is Celestia. She has always been right when it comes to important things and matters of the heart, and I trust her more than a handful of representative gemstones."

"But… but they freed you! They saved your life!"

Luna sighed, and gave Twilight a sympathetic look. "While that may be true, they have caused an unintended outcome more often than not. Let's chalk my freedom up to being lucky until we can understand them fully, hm? I would rather not dwell on it."

Twilight moved to speak, but Luna raised a hoof to silence her. "Do not let it trouble you. Please. You need sleep, and I can provide that for you easily."

She leaned in slowly, and gently pushed Twilight back onto her arrangement of pillows. "The night is my domain. For as long as I was free, I heard the hopes and dreams of everypony who would wish upon the stars, and sympathized with them, doing my absolute best to make them come true where and when I could. I can control more than just the moon, Twilight. I can direct the stars, among other things, and I can entice you into sleep with but a song. It all comes with the honor of ruling over the night."

The unicorn mare titled her head in curiosity as she smiled. "Really?"

"Mm-hmm." Luna leaned in closer still, pushing her mane back behind her head with her hooves in a gesture that echoed her sister's movements as she rested her stomach over the railing. "Just close your eyes, and I will grant you rest."

Twilight did as she was told, and a soothing melody soon overtook her as the alicorn began to sing. The words of the princess were in a long-dead language, a language that Twilight had briefly attempted to study in her time at the School for Gifted Unicorns, but was never able to fully decipher. She was able to pick out a few choice words of Luna's song, but soon her mind became fuzzy, and after a few minutes, all tension melted away from her body, leaving her to fall into a peaceful, uncaring sleep.

Luna reached out a hoof to stroke Twilight's mane, whispering a hushed 'sleep well' into the mare's ear before she returned her hooves to the ground. She fluffed her own body pillow upon the floor a bit, before laying back down upon it and calming her mind with peaceful thoughts. Luna soon fell into a relaxed sleep as well, and all was quiet except for the steady beep of Twilight's heart monitor, a pulsing constant in the mysterious darkness.


Through shuttered windows, doors, and walls, the lord of madness deftly crawls. Though effort is made to keep him out, he revels in your screams and shouts. His hunger stirs from fear of death, and draws him toward your panicked breath. If filly or colt has not obeyed, then he shall bring their end of days…

Luna's head rose sharply from atop her hooves as her eyes opened from sleep upon hearing the familiar nursery rhyme, one that her mother had so often recited to get her to behave when she was but a foal. She quickly picked up upon the voice being inside of her head and immediately stood, surveying the room and looking for the source of the familiar voice that was projecting to her.

Do not bother to speak, we wouldn't want to wake your sister's star pupil from her beauty rest. Though I cannot read your mind like I can Tia's, if you think at me, that should be more than good enough.

Where are you? Why are you torturing Tia? What do you have to gain from this?

A twisted laugh moved through her mind, and the sensation only served to annoy Luna instead of unnerve her.

I am close, yet I am far, speaking from beyond the stars. See if you can figure it out… it's quite clever, if I do say so myself...

Luna's eyes adjusted to the darkness quickly as she spun around in the pitch-black room. Skip the riddles, Discord. I know you are here in this room somewhere, I can feel the taint of your presence in the air. I have issues with you, you twisted freak, and I will not tolerate you doing… whatever you're doing to my sister! Show yourself!

Slowly, a long, serpentine form rose from the other side of the hospital bed, the moonlight from the window reflecting off of his snaggletooth and his yellow and red eyes. He leaned over Twilight's sleeping form, and swept his clawed hand across where her flanks would be under the blankets while smirking. Discord glared at Luna and watched with twisted satisfaction as the alicorn before him backed away and fluffed out her wings in a gesture of warning.

Scared of me? But I thought you were willing to fight to save your precious sister…

Luna lowered her head and aimed her horn at his heart as her eyes narrowed with determination. I am. You'll find me more than ready for you, Spirit of Chaos. If you wish to fight, then I ask that we move this elsewhere. Twilight has gone through enough, and I will not let you hurt Tia even more by inflicting additional pain upon her student!

Discord gave a muted laugh, and bent low over the slumbering unicorn. He traced a talon under Twilight's chin, and moved to cup her face with a claw. Such a fragile little thing. She almost broke before… it seems that today's toys are simply not built to last...

Luna stepped forward immediately as he spoke through her mind, and her horn began to glow with a shadowy aura of rippling black mist. Do not touch her! Discord, if you so much as pinch her face I will not hold back!

He removed his hand from the mare's head and turned to look at her while stroking his short goatee with his claw. I'll need more incentive than that, my little moonlight enchantress. Do you seriously think that you are a threat to me? You were merely Tia's moral support and a conduit for the Elements the last time we fought. I am more powerful now than ever before, and you would think to stand against me? What is to stop me from extinguishing this mare's life here and now and sending Celestia further into depression for my own amusement?

Luna narrowed her eyes as she decided to make a desperate gamble in order to save Twilight. Would it not do more damage to kill me? If you come for me, I will resist you with all of my power, but you are certainly welcome to try. I will agree to a duel in a location of your choosing, so long as we leave Canterlot and Twilight behind. I will gladly grant you your chance to harm my sister through me, but please, do not harm Twilight Sparkle anymore. For once in your pathetic life, be reasonable.

Discord rose from his bent position and floated over the bed, stopping to land directly in front of the Moon Princess. He stepped forward, moving to place his leonine paw against the side of her face. She flinched and tried to draw back from his grasp, but he held her cheek firmly in his palm.

You sound so confident in mind, though your shaking body betrays your fear. I am intrigued by your willpower and protective nature, and I still find it fascinating how much stupidity and irrationality that 'love' can bring. You are so like your mother, Lulu, and she was a satisfying obstacle to break and bend to my will. I can only hope that you will prove just as much fun to toy with as she did.

Luna snarled into his palm, her eyes burning with hatred as she glared up at him. You sick, twisted fuck. I will be more than a match for you. For Tia, for Mother, for Father… I will see the end of you this night.

The draconequus chuckled, and gave Luna a light pat on the cheek. We shall see. Have you been obedient, Lulu? Or is tonight the night when I finally gain ownership of all that is the darkness?

Luna's teal eyes widened, and suddenly he gripped her cheek once again before he snapped his talons together. The two disappeared in a swirl of deep blue light, leaving the room devoid of life save for the sleeping unicorn upon the plain, white-sheeted bed.

Chapter Six

Luna kept her eyes shut tight and her limbs drawn in close to her body as she slowly spun, feeling like she was floating. She didn't dare breathe or move, knowing that wherever she was, she was in a dangerous place, and that Discord was there with her. A sense of tremendous pressure on all sides squeezed her body, and she felt as though her skin was about to cave in upon itself. Slowly, she opened her eyes, and a stinging sensation caused her to blink rapidly. She saw nothing but darkness, and as she tried to breathe in, salty water flooded her mouth, causing her to sputter as she realized where she was.

Thinking quickly, she cast a water-breathing spell, and her lungs and trachea were instantly sheathed in a magical, filtering shield. She took deep breaths and closed her eyes again before casting a similar protective membrane in front of them as well, allowing her to see through the blackened water without feeling the sting of the salty liquid. The Moon Princess was swirling, cold and alone, far beneath the surface of the ocean, beyond all hope for assistance.

Luna threw her hooves out to the sides, twisting and spinning in the abyss, trying to find which way was up. She squinted through the bubbles coming from her nose and mouth, but could still see nothing but total blackness. Her mane wrapped around her body in creeping strands, and the sensation unnerved her greatly. Suddenly, a melodious sound broke through the complete and total silence, freeing her from her disturbing sensory deprivation. Celestia's voice called mentally to her through the water, and she turned toward the source, eager to find her sister and make sure she was alright.

Lulu… help me…

Luna's eye widened as she saw a white form floating in the blackness, and she quickly began to swim toward it. She moved her legs in powerful strokes, thinking back to her sister and receiving no response. As she neared Celestia's body, she saw that her sister was unconscious, her form being dragged from side to side as the abyssal waters tossed her about with their strong currents. Luna stopped and hesitated several meters away, watching with a look of horror upon her face as her sister floated freely, her body like that of a rag doll as it was pushed and pulled about.

Celestia's body convulsed, and her tricolor mane whipped around her, wrapping her form in multicolor strands of hair as she spoke to Luna once again.

You wouldn't leave me here all alone, would you? Don't you love me? Why won't you come closer…

Luna swam to the side, trying to get a better view of Celestia's face. Something wasn't right, but she knew that it couldn't be a dream. The crushing pressure of the deep water was very real, and she began to have trouble breathing within it. Her movements became heavy, and she found herself wanting to close her eyes and attempt sleep. She shook her head, sending another trail of bubbles up in the direction of the surface. She knew that to give in to her urges was to die in this place, and she made a mental note of the direction that her respiration had traveled in case she needed to quickly flee.

Oh, well. I suppose you aren't interested in rescuing your only sister.

Celestia's body moved to the side again, her neck hanging at an odd angle. Luna's body went numb at the sight, and she immediately began to question whether her sister was alive at all.

I suppose I can just stay here with Discord. He isn't so bad, you know. I've already given myself to him, he and I no longer need you. I can be happy here. Happier than ever before. Happy like back when you were still on the moon, and I had no interruptions in my life.

Luna's heart began to beat faster, and she knew immediately that Discord was close, speaking through the lifeless form of Celestia. Luna knew that her sister would never say such things, and the tone of her voice was all wrong. The Moon Princess swam up close to Celestia's face and brushed the pony's mane out of the way with a careful gesture. She raised a hoof to her mouth in shock at what she found.

Where her eyes should have been, Celestia's face had only smooth continuations of her white flesh and fur. An eerie smile was permanently etched into her features, and her neck had no bones with which to hold itself up. It flopped limply in front of Luna, who swam backward, terrified by the sight of the smiling, featureless face before her. Anger quickly won out over fear, and Luna found herself thinking at Discord, trying to lure him out from wherever he was hiding.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE! WHERE'S THE REAL CELESTIA! WHERE ARE YOU? ANSWER ME!

Complete, deafening quiet was the reward earned for her questioning, and Luna breathed out purposely to watch her bubble trail again float in the direction that was upward. She watched carefully and reoriented herself to be able to swim in that direction, as she knew that trouble was soon to come. A deep voice, much louder than any Discord had ever used before, echoed inside of her skull, and the sensation was strong enough to make Luna grasp the sides of her head in pain.

Clever girl. I knew that my little fake Tia wouldn't fool you for long. However, she served her purpose, to draw you closer to me. There is no escaping me this time, Luna. Chaos has come to swallow you whole.

The poor imitation of Celestia suddenly froze, holding its position in the chilling water. Two gigantic, pupil-less, lamplike eyes of brightest yellow slowly opened behind her form, and Luna quickly began to swim backward away from them. Celestia's body began to pulse with light, each bright effusion becoming more intense than the last. The light began to flood outward, slowly revealing what was hiding in the darkness. Luna could do nothing but stare, her mouth hanging open, and her body frozen in shock as the fake Celestia's form glowed a final time before exploding in a shower of light, rendering the ocean water completely clear.

Before Luna floated a massive, pure black version of Discord's head, his eyes replaced with the penetrating yellow glow that had slowly revealed itself. His mismatched, angular horns curved backward over the top of his skull, giving him the appearance of a true demon. The titanic head rested atop a scaled, sheer black sea serpent's body as thick as a castle tower, complete with a ridge of spiked green fins running along his spine. Luna stopped moving, taking in the horrific sight before her with wide eyes. Discord's leathery lips pulled back, revealing two rows of needle-like teeth at least three times the size of Luna lining the inside of his jaw.

Boo.

Luna took off swimming as quickly as she could, desperately pawing her way through the water and toward the surface as the powerful movements of Discord's body caused an overpowering sound and wave of pressure to flow through the moving water. She spun in shock to see him rising beneath her, his mouth open and his eyes betraying his amusement. Luna managed to push herself to the side at the last second as Discord's jaws closed where she had previously been floating, and the severity of the situation occurred to her as she began to panic.

Oh, don't bother moving, you'll only die tired. What hope could a pony have so far under the sea, compared to this perfect form? I can see wherever you swim to, and I am faster than you could ever hope to be. Give in now, and perhaps I will offer you a position at my side instead of in my jaws.

Luna turned and swam sideways, trying her best to put distance between herself and her attacker as she watched him coil around himself, laughing in amusement at her efforts.

I can't die down here! Sister needs me! C'mon, Luna, think!

The unnatural clarity of the water after the imitation of Celestia burst afforded her a view all the way to the small pinprick of lighter water that must have been the surface, and Luna soon saw her only chance. A massive, black cliff coated in seaweed and algae stood from the ocean floor somewhere far below, and Luna began to swim directly for it while pumping her wings as hard as she could. Discord coiled himself around and shot forward after her, planning to pin her up against the rocks.

Oh, yes, please do corner yourself. I'd hate to have to put effort into disposing of you.

Luna breathed harder as her limbs and wings burned with effort, allowing her to barely reach the cliff and begin swimming upward before Discord looped around his own body against the rock and began to follow her once again. She prayed that she could find something, anything to help her, and she ran her hooves over the mossy rock as she swam, desperately searching for a crevasse or hole. Just as all hope appeared to have been snuffed out, her foreleg thrust into a large cave in the rock, and she hurriedly swam into it, watching in shock as Discord's fangs grazed her tail, managing to slice off a part of it as he rose behind her.

The alicorn scrambled backward while panting, sending trails of bubbles into the ceiling of the tight cave as she moved farther and farther into the hole. Sheer dread began to take hold of her as Discord's inverted face moved to block off the hole from which she entered, a single gleaming eye watching her every move.

There you are, Dear. I know this network of caves like the back of my… well, I don't have hands at the moment, do I? Shame. Well, the point is that I know it, and you do not. Every exit you could possibly find I can reach before you, and I am content to wait you out. Time means nothing to me, and eventually, keeping up your little filtering magic will exhaust you. Take your pick: drown, be ripped apart, or join me against Celestia. The choice is yours. It's not like you haven't fought her before.

Luna closed her eyes, trying to hide herself from the prying slit of glowing yellow before her. She placed a hoof against a jagged rock protruding from the floor of the cave and grounded herself as she began to think at him. She needed to stall for time, to come up with a plan, or surely, she would be killed.

As if that entire situation wasn't entirely your fault! I refuse to stand against my sister, so it looks like I'm either about to outsmart you or die. How are you even free? Twilight Sparkle and her friends sealed you in stone! It took you over a millennium and a half to escape last time! How can you have broken out so soon?

Another booming laugh echoed in her head, and Luna opened her eyes to find him removing himself from the cave entrance. He swam backward a fair distance, before turning himself and coiling into a tight spiral, his face and leering fangs lined up directly with the opening to the outside waters.

Care to try your luck in swimming past?

No.

Fine, fine. You're about to be removed from the game anyway, I suppose I can indulge your curiosity, for a time.

Luna straightened and leaned into her supportive rock, listening intently. Any knowledge I can glean from him, I can give to Tia later. I'll play his arrogance against him, and worry about getting out of here once I've got info. He's underestimating my ability to survive down here, I can last, I just need a plan…

Discord ran a long, black tongue over his fangs, before allowing it to hang useless out to the side between two of them. He laughed yet again, and began to speak.

It's quite simple, really. Who's to say I was trapped at all? Do you really think I wouldn't have taken precautions to protect myself from my own creations after what happened last time?

Luna momentarily stopped her breathing as her mind went blank. Your… creations… what are you implying, Discord?

Discord's smile widened, and his fangs almost seemed to glow in the shifting water. Implying? I'm not implying anything. I'm stating fact. The Elements of Harmony are of my own design, even if I cannot control them. They were made specifically to be agents of chaos, and drain the aspects they represent from those who would seek to bear them.

WHAT? Wh-what do you mean? The Elements are pure and good! I've read the histories, Discord!

And who wrote those histories, you foolish girl? Did it never strike you as odd that all of the tomes regarding the Elements had no author? I was your father's adviser and archivist, after all. Much of the things you think you know are likely from tomes that I personally penned. I have been around much, much longer than you know, Little Lulu. No matter how much you try to deny it, I have been manipulating your entire family for centuries on end.

Luna's nostrils flared in anger as she released another torrent of bubbles from her mouth. Though she hated to even consider his words, she couldn't deny that thus far, he was making sense. Luna had always assumed that her parents or further ancestors had written the histories of Equestria with which she was so familiar, and the notion that Discord's influence was so deeply rooted within the Royals made her feel sick.

Those six ignorant foals have held on to the Elements for so long that it was quite easy to completely corrupt them, at least before Tia managed to ruin my fun. They should have killed you instead of freeing you from Nightmare Moon's influence, but they had not been able to drain power from a host in so long that they became largely ineffectual. As for trapping me in stone… I counter-enchanted myself against such a possibility ahead of time. The statue form was but a ruse, one that I maintained for an entire week to allow you all to think you had won while I bided my time. Needless to say, it worked quite well.

Luna closed her eyes and shook her head. Should have known. What Celestia described was all too easy, there was no way her student could have won when it took me, her, the Elements, and countless lives to seal him originally.

The sudden inconsistency in her thoughts sprang into her mind immediately, and she projected her question to the sneering serpent before her.

Wait. If the Elements… if they're truly yours, how did they work against you the first time? Shouldn't they have been too weak to seal you initially?

Discord laughed yet again, and swam closer to the cave's entrance.

Oh, no. You two caught me by surprise, and the Elements were at full power. I placed each one in separate monuments scattered across Equestria during my period of rule, and they leeched their respective attributes from the citizens at large. You and Little Tia managed to collect them without my knowledge and use them against me in quite an impressive display, and there was simply nothing I could do to counter you on such short notice. Quite unexpected, really. Perhaps the only time you two have relied upon chaos to trump more chaos, whether you understood what you were doing at the time or not.

Luna shook her head again as the pressure of the water began to cause her skull to ache. She had more than enough useful information, and began to speak only to buy herself time as she mentally finalized her plan for a desperate escape.

... I'll ask you one last time. If this is all true… if you're seriously just using me to get at Tia… what's your goal in all of this? Do you want to rule? Is that it? Or do you just want petty revenge?

Luna's probing worked, and Discord immediately launched into a monologue as she made her move. She ignored his words, and used his recoiling upon himself as an opportunity to project a false image of her body out of the cave. The intangible alicorn galloped out into the open sea and began running down the cliff, catching Discord's attention and causing him to stop his speaking and pursue. Luna immediately shifted her body into the form of a deep black mist, and phased up through the cave wall, placing herself back in the open ocean as she swam desperately for the surface.

An enraged roar rose to her ears, followed by the sound of a large volume of water swirling below her. She didn't bother looking back, knowing that her shadowy clone had dissipated into the water and Discord had begun pursuing her with all of his speed.

Tricky wench. I like that. Perhaps I'll kill you slowly to show my appreciation…

Luna swam harder than she ever had before, and she could feel the heat of his breath upon her back. She knew that the end was nearing, and she was still too far from the surface to make it out alive. She closed her eyes, and put into action her final plan.

Her horn glowed with black light as her body temperature dropped, her skin beginning to freeze and her hooves becoming heavy as she glowed with an icy light. Luna whipped her neck to the side as she unleashed a bolt of light blue magic, which rose upward and exploded in a nova of forst. She used the last of her strength to shift back into a form of blackened mist, and rose upward as the entire body of water began to freeze around her.

Tendrils of creeping ice evolved into sheets, solidifying the liquid and creating a thick underwater glacier. The solidified block stretched far and wide before making its way downward, trapping Discord in mid bite while Luna continued to rise as an insubstantial cloud of darkness through the ice. As the block floated upward to the surface, Luna, too, rose out of the water, flying high up into the sky before regaining her usual body. She fell onto the ice, absolutely exhausted and panting heavily while staring down at the frozen serpent far below her.

Luna was too tired to celebrate her apparent victory, and she was immediately glad that she had not bothered as she saw the icy prison surrounding Discord begin to crack. His jaw closed far below, smashing the ice surrounding his face, and he began to thrash wildly, breaking a path upward to the surface as he slithered forth. Luna's adrenaline kicked in, and she quickly galloped along the ice floe, trying desperately to get away from where he was bound to surface.

Did you REALLY think it would be that easy?

Luna fell and tumbled over herself, sliding backwards as the ice fragmented and exploded upward around her enemy's rising form. His long, snakelike body protruded from the freezing ocean, separating the chunks of glacier and causing them to float and bump into each other haphazardly. The surface of the ice glowed in the moonlight, and silence once again reigned as Luna stared up at his gigantic form, waiting for his next move.

I suppose Celestia having power over the fires of the sun would indeed imply that you control the cold associated with the moon's embrace. You are indeed far more impressive than I gave you credit for, though your trickery will not help you now.

Luna gazed longingly up at her moon and stars, wondering inwardly if it would be the last time she ever saw them. Her heart sank as she realized her best efforts had failed her, and she slowly began to accept her defeat.

Tia… I did the best I could. You have to find some way to stop him…

Discord lowered his head to the floating land that Luna lay upon, and slowly slithered himself toward her. His fangs parted as his tongue once again left his mouth, flickering in the cool night air as he hissed. He stared her down as she stood shakily, flaring out her wings and lowering her head, ready to charge.

Oh, don't tell me you seriously think you can win in a physical fight! You are helpless, Luna! You've given me your best, and all of your efforts have failed!

Cold water dripped from Luna's coat as she stood her ground and narrowed her eyes at the approaching serpent. She breathed deeply, banishing all thoughts of failure from her mind as she leveled her horn directly at Discord's rapidly approaching face. She smiled wickedly as a final, desperate, idiotic plan came to her, and she quickly worked to enact it. No. It isn't over. I can stop him… I just need a distraction.

Luna raised her head once again and whipped her sopping mane out of her face as she yelled to him.

"DISCORD! IF YOU THINK THAT YOU'VE TRULY WON, THEN FIGHT ME IN YOUR TRUE FORM! IF I'M SO PATHETIC, WHY DO YOU NEED SUCH A BODY TO FINISH THE JOB?"

Discord stopped moving and coiled around himself, rattling his membranous tail as he narrowed his eyes at her.

Interesting choice of words. I don't think you mean my TRUE form, Darling. If you even knew what that was, you would never ask to engage it in combat.

Luna's face sunk as she realized her mistake, but she quickly steeled herself and began to cast what may have ended up becoming her final spell.

"You know perfectly well what I meant! Assume your typical twisted body, and let's do this with honor! If you really respect my abilities, you'll give a fair fight! Besides, you have nothing to fear, right?"

Discord laughed at her and lowered his head to the ice below.

I suppose you're right, for once. I have you on the ropes, my Dear. You cannot run, I can see your exhaustion. It would be so much fun to play with you properly before I toss you aside. Very well. Consider this your dying wish, and consider it granted.

The spiky fangs parted as Discord let out a hiss, and his normal form of a draconequus walked slowly out from inside of the larger body's throat. He emerged clapping before he floated over the fangs and let his mismatched feet fall to the ice as the larger body behind him disappeared into a swirling black portal.

"I really must say, you've put on an impressive show thus far. You've been much harder to subdue than your mother was, and it is looking like I'll have to actually remove you by force. Pity."

Luna gave him a confident smile, her horn still pulling magically with all of its might. Though she had never before drained herself in such a way, she continued to push her magic to and beyond its limits in a desperate attempt to save herself.

"Yes. Yes, you will. But it's not happening, not today. You may have my sister figured out, but you don't know the first thing about me."

Discord chuckled as he began walking toward her. "Oh? I've seen what you can do, and though I'll admit that I didn't think to watch you as you were trapped on the moon, I wouldn't have bothered if I had even thought of it. It must have been so boring, and your actions were not your own, anyway. I've observed more than enough of you as a child to know how you work, Luna."

Luna advanced on him, shaking her head and smiling. Inwardly she felt sick, knowing what she would have to do in order to buy herself the necessary time for her clandestine assault to continue. She took a deep breath, thankful that he could not read her mind, and began to sashay forward, watching in delight as he stopped his own advance with a confused look upon his face.

"Do you? You may have seen a fraction of my abilities thus far, but I was speaking more of my thought process. You think you understand me? What if I told you that I understand you?"

Discord crossed his arms and leaned back, stroking his goatee. He gave an amused snort, and watched with interest as Luna continued to walk slowly toward him.

"Oh? Well, this is certainly a twist. I won't lie, you have my attention, my Dear. You're quite good at stalling for time, if that's what you're doing. However, you are clearly of no threat to me. I can easily see how exhausted you are, so if you're trying to cover something up, I doubt it is anything substantial. Speak, oh Night Mother. Let Uncle Discord hear your oh-so-professional analysis."

Luna stopped feet from him, her horn still glowing. She trembled more and more, her insides turning to jelly and her confident expression faltering a bit as he called her bluff. She gave him a coquettish smirk as she tilted her head and resumed her act, hoping for the best and fully expecting him to strike at any moment. If he's stupid enough to play along, I'll keep it up, even if he knows something is off. Here's hoping it's convincing…

"I, too, was trapped alone for a long, long time. I know what it's like to feel loneliness, true loneliness, where nopony can reach you. I think you're torturing Celestia because she did to you what she did to me. She took everything from us both."

The traitorous, insincere words made her entire mind scream in protest against her, but she knew she had to try to feel as if she were speaking the truth in order to make it seem convincing. She tried her hardest to act as though she was truly feeling her sentiments as he looked at her with an amused expression upon his face.

"Hmm. Perhaps, in a sense. However, I have all the time in the word. All three of us are immortals, and though being trapped for so long was indeed irritating, in the end, it counts for nothing. I highly doubt you truly sympathize with such thoughts, though your attempts are certainly amusing. Anything else to say before we begin to play, Lulu?"

Luna shook her head as she grinned. It was a smile of shame and futility, but she hoped that it came off as one of guilt instead. "You misunderstand. Though I love my sister very much, she has indeed done more than enough for me to want her off the throne as well. Does that offer to rule at your side still stand? What if I told you I'd sooner follow in the footsteps of my mother than those of my sister?"

Discord uncrossed his arms and stepped toward her, regarding her with a possessive smile. "Then I would tell you that you cannot fool me with simple words, Luna, and I would need to see actions to back them up. Your assistance would indeed make the process of stealing back the crown quite a bit easier, but I can sense your insecurity and other intent. After all, your horn is still gl-"

Discord didn't get a chance to finish speaking as Luna leapt forward and captured his lips in her own, shuddering in disgust as she committed herself entirely to her sickening gambit. She thrust her tongue into his mouth, catching him completely off-guard as she pushed a hoof into his chest, forcing him down to the icy surface below. The two fell with a thud, and Luna poured more energy into her spell, trying her best to speed up the process so that she wouldn't have to take her charade much further.

She gave him a lustful smirk as she looked deep into his shocked eyes. "Now do you believe me?"

Discord craned his neck up and licked the side of her face, pulling her closer in to his body with a claw. "No, I do not in the slightest. But if I can get away with this and send you running back to Tia, I won't miss the opportunity. Change of plans, Darling. Come closer."

He reached his talons up to her flank and dug them into the alicorn's side, drawing blood as he forced her to buckle forward and fall into him. He bit her ear as Luna gasped in what he assumed to be pleasure, but what was truly pain. Luna leaned forward and pressed her chest to his, trying to squeeze his piercing arm off of her side with little success.

"D-discord… stop… if we're doing this… p-please stop hurting me…"

He laughed and wrapped his arm further around her, spinning along the ice as he snaked his upper body around her own. "Oh, but hurting you is the entire idea. I'll let you live after this, so that you can retreat back to Canterlot in shame. You've played with fire, Lulu, and now you're going to get burned."

Luna's teal eyes widened at his words while she felt his tongue on the back of her neck, and she momentarily broke the spell to instead change into a her mist form, sliding out from under him and reappearing a good distance away on the ice.

"N-no… I won't let you! Get away!"

Discord raised his bloody talon to his face, licking the substance off of it as he watched Luna's horn glow again while she panicked. The mare quickly turned and started to gallop away from him as the draconequus began to give chase, laughing all the while.

"You cannot escape me, Little One! You've made an offer, and there is no going back! Perhaps you're right, and I long for comfort in the arms of another. What happened to your proposal to help me relieve that tension?"

Luna ran as hard as she could before flapping her wings and trying to take off. Her feathers were still damp and quite heavy, and gaining altitude proved to be an incredible struggle. Blood still oozed from her right flank, and she found herself beginning to black out as she only managed to rise feet from the ground.

"There was no offer! G-get away!"

Discord took off after her, snaking through the sky and laughing madly. "Certainly not how I interpreted it. Come back to the ground, and let's finish what you started, lest I change my mind and take your life."

Luna looked behind her and past Discord, finding it hard to suppress her smile. She began to circle slowly before dropping out of the sky and onto the ice to wait for him. Just a few seconds more…

As she watched Discord land, she stood upon her hind legs, forcing herself to move in an enticing rhythm despite the pain and stress that she was undergoing. "You want it? Come and take it. If you'll truly let me go, then I'll offer up whatever you want. Just… just promise to leave Tia alone for a while."

Discord walked toward her with purpose, completely ignorant of what was going on behind him and taking Luna's smirk to mean she had finally accepted the idea of the pleasure that he could bring her. "Oh, I will. Stop dancing and ready yourself, my lovely little alicorn."

Luna dropped to her hooves and turned, smiling wide, knowing that she had him. She flicked her tail out of the way, giving him a full view of her backside as she turned her head and winked at him.

Discord stopped directly behind her, placing his lion paw upon her damaged flank and letting it trail down her side before giving her a spank, earning a flinch from his prey. "I take it back, Little Luna. You are nothing like your mother. The first few times, I had to take what I wanted from her, and here you offer it plainly. I suppose that makes you quite a bit smarter, doesn't it?"

Luna spun quickly, removing his access to her flanks before he could make another move and force himself upon her. She grinned wickedly at the distracted chimera, and the intensity of the aura surrounding her horn doubled as a loud roar of moving water nearly drowned out her words.

"YES, IT DOES!"

The seas rose in a giant, rolling hill of water that rapidly approached the pair as the moon itself floated mere hundreds of miles above the ocean. Luna beat her wings and flew up, dragging the orb directly over her and bringing the tides with it, causing the colossal chunks of ice to rise up and become a deadly rain of frozen projectiles. Discord gasped at the sight and had no time to move out of the way as the massive wave of ice and water collapsed on him while Luna changed herself to black mist yet again and flew even higher. She regained her alicorn body as she watched in absolute delight while Discord was buried, smiling as the clear water gained a slight red tint as he was crushed and sliced by the freezing splinters of the glacier.

Luna wasted no time as she forced her utterly exhausted body to fly off toward Canterlot, not bothering to check if he had survived. On some level, she knew that he had, but the thought barely dampened her spirits as she reveled in the fact that she had managed to escape with her life and her innocence. She allowed herself a light laugh as she flew and sent the moon to rise back to where it belonged, hoping that she hadn't caused any serious flooding or damage, but knowing that such a thing was inevitable. As the morbid thoughts crossed her mind, a familiar voice rose inside of her, and she closed her eyes and immediately felt like crying as he confirmed her worst fears.

I will admit… I have not felt pain in over two thousand years… I congratulate you on your ingenuity, Luna… you are far more creative than your sister… but now, this ceases to be a game…you had better plan carefully, as I will soon come to claim my rightful throne… be ready…

Luna shook the thought from her mind, doing her best to block it out as her chest heaved with effort. She continued to fly at top speed for close to half an hour before she reached the vicinity of the castle, every muscle in her body screaming for her to stop. She landed hard upon the cobblestone outside of the palace, trotting unsteadily as she came down and fell to the ground. Several guards immediately galloped over to her, lifting her soaked and bloody body up from the walkway.

"Princess! Are you alright? What has happened?"

Luna smiled weakly at the guard holding her, unable keep her eyes open any longer.

"G-get… Celestia… b-bring me… to…"

Luna collapsed into the stallion's forelegs, completely spent as sleep overtook her. The pegasus holding her looked to his partner and gave a nod as he watched his friend gallop off into the palace. He hoisted Luna's unconscious form as best he could, and followed carefully into the massive gate of Canterlot Palace.


Selena regarded her pathetic husband with extreme distaste as his limbs were held tightly by the invisible strings of her lover. A shrill cackle left her mouth as she sneered at him and whipped another tendril of star-covered blackness across his chest, drawing more blood from the helpless stallion as he screamed in protest.

"S-stop this madness! S-Selena! Discord! Y-you cannot… PLEASE!"

Lumon's red and orange mane hung down into his face, spilling over his blood-soaked chest as he breathed in shallowly, barely alive. He licked his lips as he fell forward to his knees, feeling the threads holding him up dissolve, leaving deep cuts around his wrists and ankles.

Discord's deep, characteristic laugh joined Selena's own, and Lumon watched through his one working eye as the chimera before him removed the crown from his head.

"I think you've ruled for plenty long enough. I tire of submitting to your useless rules and boring rhetoric. It seems that your wife agrees with me. Unfortunate that you lack the strength to stand against us."

He slashed a claw across the alicorn stallion's face, earning a laugh from his stolen lover. She spit into her husband's mane before giving him a hard kick to the side of the head, causing him to roll over along the ground.

"Indeed I do. It is over. Order is for the weak, and ruling through love and kindness has lost all meaning. Everypony loves you, but they do not appreciate me, nor do they care at all about the master archivist who has done more work than you ever did. The tables have turned, you pathetic fool, and now it is time for those who have truly earned it to take the crown."

Discord advanced upon the dying stallion, and lifted the alicorn's head with his claw so that their eyes could lock. "Don't worry, old friend. I'll take excellent care of your daughters for you."

Lumon gave him a menacing growl as Discord turned to Selena and nodded with a satisfied smile.

"Do it."

Selena raised her foreleg and stomped her armored hoof into Lumon's throat, earning a sickening crack and an intake of breath as he looked up at her in total shock. He tried to sputter final words, but only a shuddering gasp left him as the life drained from his eyes. After several seconds of muted struggle, the king was no more.

Discord moved to wrap his arm around his smiling love and gave her a quick kiss, spinning the bloody crown around his stained talons. He pulled back and gave Selena a possessive look, before speaking to her in a satisfied tone.

"Now that we are King and Queen, I think you need a new name. You know, leave the past behind, something harder and more fierce to fit with our iron rule."

Selena paused and considered before giving the chimera an affectionate nuzzle. "What would My Lord suggest?"

Discord stroked his goatee, arching a brow in amusement before he thought of the perfect name.

"How about… Nightmare Moon?"

Chapter Seven

Pathetic, disgusting foal.

The harsh noises to follow grated on Celestia's ears, and the automatic wince in reaction to the poor stallion's cries of pain was unavoidable. Again and again the sound of diamond glass thumping into flesh resounded throughout the throne room, and the alicorn girl found herself closing her eyes in response. Had her mother been watching, there would have been hell to pay. Thankfully, she was too occupied with her newest prey to notice.

"This again? So predictable," came the voice from beside the shuddering mare. She half-heartedly looked up at her father-in-law, who sat with one leg crossed atop the other and his chin resting in his eagle's claw. "Even I can safely say that this has gotten somewhat… old."

A final snapping noise caused both alicorn and draconequus to flinch, and one of the two to turn away in disgust. It was over. The muted screams and cries for mercy were no more, the only remaining evidence that the advisor had ever been there being a twisted mass of bleeding flesh. With heaves of effort, the disheveled black mare turned back to her two observers, eyes full of murderous intent. Celestia shook her head and moved behind the throne, watching through the pink strands of her mane as her mother approached the stone seat before her.

"Weak, deluded colts, every last one of them. You and I have all of the power, Discord. Why is this puppet council even necessary? They're beginning to bore me. If another cries out against my decisions again, they will meet a similar fate as this wretched waste of flesh."

Celestia's insides froze over at the laugh that her mother received in response. How many times had she heard that unsettling sound in response to an atrocity? Her cheeks dampened as she caught sight of the fallen pony upon the bloodstained carpet, and she tried desperately to fight back the tears. Nothing worked, save hiding her face behind her mane as she so often did. The pastel pink curtain did little to comfort her as she walked to the other side of the throne and watched the exchange with fearful interest. Something in the air seemed different, and Celestia's gut feelings were rarely inaccurate. She stopped moving and rested her side into the stone seat, closing her eyes and listening as the hybrid creature began to speak.

"My dearest Nightmare, don't you see? Without a pristine public face for the government, we couldn't get away with nearly as much debauchery and corruption as we do now. Our rule has been unchallenged not just due to our power, but also in part because of our network of puppets."

A second laugh rang clearly off of the stone walls, though it was much different from the first. The sharp, cacophonous melody held an arrogant air and feminine tone. Celestia closed her eyes once again and lowered herself to the ground, placing her hooves over her ears to drown out the noise. After several seconds of the piercing noise, she finally dared to lower her naked hooves back to the cold stone, and paused to listen to her mother's words. At first, nothing came, and she almost wondered if something had happened. Celestia rose from her prone position and trotted out from around the chair to get a better vantage point, and found Discord out of his throne with Nightmare Moon leaning up into his face, teeth bared and wings spread as far as they could go.

"You lie," she began. "Nopony can challenge us, no matter their numbers. What we do does not matter, and any foalish enough to make an attempt on the throne would be obliterated in seconds. What is your ulterior motive? Why do you object now, after so much bloodshed and thievery?"

The chimera was quick to reply, clearly having thought the situation through before. "Because, my love, ponies are starting to question. We have been in power barely a year, and the commoners are dangerously close to discovering the truth about your former mate. Suspicions are high, and I've told you once before, we need time for the Elements to collect as much energy as possible before we can drop the façade and stop working behind the scenes. Believe me, I would like for nothing more than to go wild on this land and reform it in my image, but the time is not yet right. Patience, my dearest Nightmare. We will soon have our victory secured."

"Our victory was secured the moment that the previous king breathed his last! This is pointless!" The wild snap of Nightmare Moon's neck to the side caused her mane of stars to whip violently around her shoulders, partially obscuring her snarling features from view. "I refuse to pretend that this ignorant body of commoners has any say in what we do! And as for reshaping this world," she spat, "be careful what words you use, Discord. It is not just your image, but mine as well."

"But of course." The light inclination of his head was all too quick, and his choice to close his eyes struck Celestia as odd. So many times before had this happened, and each time it did, it foretold of a lie or twisted intentions. The girl tensed and froze as Discord opened his golden eyes, their red irises locking directly onto her magenta ones with an unreadable and unblinking focus. His face was strangely calm as he spoke again, and Celestia's heart nearly stopped at the words.

"You seem quite obsessed with my speech lately, my love. Are you worried that I am not honest? I can assure you, I have been nothing but."

As he circled, his eyes never left Celestia, and hers remained trained upon him. Those last words were the signal. This was it. This was the beginning of the end, what she had chosen to ensure that Luna would be nowhere near. She watched in disbelief as the events unfolded before her, just as Discord had said that they would. Her cheeks became cold again as more tears spilled from her eyes, but in a moment, none of that would matter. She was almost free, if only he could rile her as he intended…

"Honest? Do not make me laugh, you lying snake." The acidic tone was not unfamiliar to either of the two others present for her words. Both knew what was coming, but only one knew the final outcome.

"For far too long have I followed your lead and let you string me along in your idiotic charade. This is unnecessary, and you know it! Either you dissolve this group of ingrates immediately, or I will take the throne for myself! You promised eternal night, and I have yet to see it due to this collection of foals sitting in their decorated chairs! End it!"

The moment had arrived, and Celestia sprang into action. Her part of the plan needed to be executed, and with carefully chosen words, she stepped from behind the throne and began to speak in a shaking voice.

"M-mother? Please… consider what he has to say. If… you bring about your beautiful gift now… everypony will panic. You have been planning for this carefully all along, a-and… the ponies are starting to trust you more. Please, listen to Discord, and give them more time to convince the public of the benefits to your rule."

Celestia immediately lowered her wings and neck in a submissive gesture as the larger pony approached her with haste. Nightmare Moon towered over her daughter, casting a deep shadow over the ivory coat of the smaller mare as Celestia descended to the floor, whimpering. With her dominance established, she began to speak with the same venomous tone as before.

"You, too? You have always been the more outspoken and insufferable daughter, thinking that you can incite change with your silver tongue. The both of you disgust me, and if this continues, I will be rid of you. If you speak again out of turn, daughter, I will send you to the gallows. Is that clear, you traitorous worm?"

"Yes, Mother. Forgive me."

Nightmare Moon snorted, and brought her hoof down inches from the smaller mare's face. Tiny droplets of blood jumped from the glassy material to Celestia's snout, but she dared not move for fear of incurring her mother's wrath.

"Good girl. Now… clearly, you two have been conspiring to delay my goals. Explain yourself, quickly, lest my next stomp find its target."

Celestia opened her mouth to speak, but a male tone from close proximity drowned out her quavering voice. She looked up to find Discord standing directly behind her mother, in a place that he would have been unable to reach without her distraction.

"I suggest that you leave little Tia alone. She has no part in this clash of interests, and is merely expressing her opinion. Don't you wish to hear what your own daughter has to say?"

Celestia rose as the Queen of Night spun to face her lover, and readied herself to attack. Thoughts of her betrayal raced through her mind, as did those of overwhelming guilt and her deceased father. She was convinced that this was the only way, and that Discord would keep his word to her. Nightmare Moon needed to be removed, quickly and quietly, and it would take both of them to subdue her without dealing a fatal blow. Celestia mouthed a quiet 'forgive me', hoping that her father would understand her actions. There was no more time to consider the prospect, as Discord nodded for her to make her move while Nightmare Moon was ranting angrily. The time was now. The end of all of the killings, the fighting, and the torture had arrived. Discord would be the sole ruler, and save Equestria from her mother's madness. With a final quick breath, Celestia dashed forward to begin the plan.

Nightmare Moon reared back in anger, and Celestia jumped in response to wrap a hoof around her exposed neck. Her mother's armor cut into her flesh as the larger pony shook her entire body, screaming in rage at the unexpected assault. Celestia's muscles burned with effort as she twisted hard, forcing the abomination that was once her mother to the ground with all of her might. The flapping wings and panicked biting into her fur slowed the process, but she managed to force Nightmare Moon to the floor with Discord's help. The ebony mare thrashed wildly, knocking Celestia from atop her as she tried to stand once again. Thin wires wrapped themselves around her flesh and forced her back to the ground, screaming in agony at the pain brought on by the harsh strings cutting into her fur.

"You traitors! I knew it! You cannot stand against me alone, and so you collaborate to kill me! I will not allow it! Release me!"

Celestia climbed back atop the struggling mare, remembering Discord's words. He was unable to explain his weakness, but had claimed that he could not hold Nightmare Moon alone. She would need to be pinned down while he worked, and his usual trick of strings would not suffice to contain the raging goddess for long. Celestia pinned down her mother's wings with her hooves, and did her best to reassure the crazed mare that soon, everything would be fixed under Discord's reign.

"Mother! We are not trying to kill you, please! Just… calm down! You have lost sight of everything you once stood for, and we just want to help! Stay still! Discord can fix everything!"

A wicked glint flashed across Discord's eyes, and it was followed quickly with a malicious grin. "She's right, my dear. I can."

A wet, squelching noise of flesh being pierced was met with a surprised gasp and followed shortly by a gurgle. The sudden noise caused Celestia to pause, and she immediately noticed that Nightmare Moon had stopped bucking into her side, and her wings had fallen limp with the sound. As Celestia crawled farther up her mother's side, her eyes widened in horror at the sight before her.

A portrait of gold, red, and black took the place of her mother's neck, and she watched in shock as Discord dug his talons further into Nightmare Moon's throat while the stunned pony gasped for air. Her efforts came out as shuddering gasps, and her entire body began to twitch as she sputtered, fighting desperately to form words.

"Y-you… will not… be free… of my reign… so easily. I… refuse to die… like this…"

"Oh? And what are you going to do about it, my love?" Discord spat the last word with as much disdain as possible, adding a chuckle for good measure. Celestia was too surprised to make any noise, and found her mouth opening and closing as yet more tears fell into the coat of the fallen pony below her. The sight was such a shock that all Celestia could do was stare on as the morbid scene played out, completely transfixed by the sight of her dying mother.

Nightmare Moon convulsed again, and choked out a ragged breath as Discord removed his talons in an upward ripping motion before flicked the blood off of the tips. The wound was massive, stretching from almost the base of her gullet to just below the chin. The crimson pool oozing forth from the wound could only spell oncoming death for the ambushed mare, and for precious seconds, nopony said a word.

"What did you do? WHAT DID YOU DO! D-DISCORD! YOU…"

Crimson orbs met magenta again, and the laugh and sneer returned in full force. Discord rose from his squatting position and began to advance on Celestia, grinning madly as she continued to yell at him while retreating.

"YOU SAID THAT WE COULD FIX THIS! YOU SAID THAT YOU COULD RESTORE HER FROM MADNESS! YOU SAID THAT ONCE YOU ROSE TO POWER, THE MURDERS WOULD STOP! Y-YOU…"

Celestia's panicked voice was cut off as she found stained eagle talons wrapped around her muzzle. Discord's hot breath played across her lips as he leaned in close, offering her a cold, calculating stare as he did so.

"I lied."

As he opened his mouth, Celestia's eyes were drawn to the spot behind him, where Nightmare Moon was slowly beginning to rise, still gasping for air. Upon hearing the shuffling noise, Discord turned as well, just in time to catch the brilliant purple glow surrounding the betrayed mare.

"I will… return. This… isn't over. And when… I do…" A sick gurgling sound interrupted the words, and Nightmare Moon feel to her knees in front of the pair before her. With the last energy she could afford to spare, the ebony mare raised her head and looked Discord straight in the eyes as she spoke. "…you're both dead."

Alicorn and draconequus both covered their eyes as a brilliant purple flash bathed the room in colored light. Upon looking back at the scene, Celestia found nothing visible other than Nightmare Moon's white silhouette against the pulsating darkness enshrouding her, and seconds after the spell had been cast, all was quiet, save for the clattering of diamond against the stone floor.

Nightmare Moon's helmet, the only trace left of her, rolled forward and stopped against Celestia's hoof. She quickly backed away in surprise, and Discord bent low to scoop it up into his lion paw before examining it with curiosity. Despite his calm demeanor, the chimera found himself jumping in surprise as a voice flooded his head, and he turned to catch Celestia shrinking back in a submissive bow as well, clearly hearing the same thing.

You cannot erase me, foals. Whosoever dons this armor shall become my vessel, and carry me back into this wretched world. Once I find a new body, I will stake my rightful claim as ruler, and remove you both before anything else. Remember me and despair, for from this night forth, you will never rest easy. I will be just over the horizon, waiting for a pony gullible enough to become my pawn. It is only a matter of time, and time is something that we three can afford. And you, Discord. You shall be the first to die.

Discord smirked and lifted the helmet to inspect it more closely, clearly amused by the unexpected turn of events. Seemingly having found what he was looking for, he brought the helm to his mouth and spoke directly into the central gem above the brow.

"I'll look forward to it."

After a gentle kiss, he sent the armor sailing through the air and into the far wall, where it impacted the stonework and bounced down to the floor. The helm rolled to a stop, and with its halted motion, the room was silent. Finally, Celestia spoke.

"We… we cannot destroy it, can we?"

The response was expected, but Celestia still found the shaking of Discord's head to be disheartening. Somehow, she knew that he was being honest, and that her mother would continue to be a threat despite her brush with death.

"You… this entire arrangement to dethrone her… all of your promises… they were lies. H-how could you do this, Discord? You were my father's closest friend, and you alone stepped up to rule after his murder by my mother. You were there to take charge when no one else would, and despite your questionable methods, I supported you… you said you could save her… you said… that the madness would stop…"

"Repeating it won't make it any more true, dear. And I did save her!" He pointed his claw to the floor, where the helmet rested serenely in the eerie moonlight. "Look, she's completely safe as a piece of headgear! Isn't that delightful?"

Celestia's face twisted into a sneer in response to his laugh, and she scuffed her hoof upon the floor, ready to charge. Discord laughed even harder, and went so far as to fall to the floor in mirth.

"And you! You think YOU can stop ME? I may not have been able to stand up to her, but I can absolutely take care of you." Discord stood and extended his claw in a threatening gesture, coupled with a serious and confident look. "I suggest you stand down, little Tia. You've always been a smart one, and you should know when you've encountered a battle that you just cannot win. You'll have your chance, one day, but tonight is not the night I lose the crown. Go back to your room and comfort little Luna. She must be worried sick over your absence."

"I'm not worried… n-not anymore. But… Tia… what is going on? Where is Mother? I-I heard noises of a struggle…"

As her little sister walked into the throne room, completely unaware of the situation, Celestia felt a pull in her chest, urging her to take action. She quickly trotted over to the smaller alicorn and steered her away from the blood-soaked carpet, eyes on Discord the entire time. Celestia shook her head at the draconequus, and he lowered his claw and put on a false smile, watching with great interest as the sisters moved to the far side of the room.

Celestia bent down to Luna's level, and brushed the azure strands of hair out of the girl's eyes with a hoof. The shimmering curiosity in Luna's expression broke Celestia's heart even more, but she knew what had to be done. She could not afford to risk Luna getting hurt or lashing out against Discord upon hearing the truth, and she knew that if they played along, Luna would be spared for the time being. And so, Celestia opened her mouth, and in her most reassuring tone, did the one thing that she had sworn never to do: lie.


Celestia shot upright in her bed, panting hard as she returned to the waking world. The dream had felt so real, and it had been of a scenario of which she had not thought of for centuries. So much time had passed since then, and the alicorn found herself burying her face into her hooves to try to clear her mind of the imagery. A sliver of moonlight peeked through the window and rapidly spread out across the cold stone floor, much faster than could be considered normal. Such a curious sight had only been seen once before in the history of Equestria, and the phenomenon caught Celestia's full attention.

A cold wind swirled through the room as the window upon the far wall flew open, allowing the essence of the icy night to breach the castle walls. The bitter cold was all-consuming, and only served to drive Celestia out of bed more quickly as she tossed the blankets from atop herself and descended from the lavish bed. Though the cold began to envelop her entire body, certain sections of her muzzle felt as though they had frozen over completely, and the sensation drew a shiver from the confused alicorn. With a horrified gasp, she looked down her muzzle, watching with fear as traces of crimson caught the rising moonlight. Her mother's blood, splattered across her snout in the shape of a claw, still clung to her face, seeping into her fur and spreading the unsettling coldness down into her skin like daggers of ice.

With a horrified scream, Celestia lost her balance and scrabbled her hooves along the stone, falling to the floor as she closed her eyes and breathed heavily. The chilling night air whistling through the window was joined by another sound as she panted, a sound that Celestia had hoped she would never have to hear again. Though the chuckle resonated off of the walls around her, she knew that the sound of laughter was one that she alone was privy to, and one that counted among the last things she wanted to hear at the moment. As her eyes snapped open in surprise, she noticed that the blood was gone, and the laugh steadily increased in volume as her breathing gradually slowed in kind.

Enjoy… my gift, dear Celestia? I… certainly enjoyed… giving it. I even… got Luna… a little something. She… did not seem… to enjoy it, though…

Another gust joined the first as Celestia rose from the floor and flapped her wings in a furious motion. The gesture was accompanied by a snarl, and she found her face heating with absolute rage at the words of the traitor that were riding the wind. With a powerful magic blast, she slammed the window shut and locked it, before storming out of her room and into the royal private study.

What did you do? Answer me! If you so much as touched her, I will hunt you down, Discord! I have had enough of your games, and harming Twilight was the last straw! I am beyond diplomacy at this point, and our struggle has become much more personal. Show yourself, you cowardly, wicked snake!

All at once, a series of cacophonous slamming noises rang throughout the room, and Celestia spun wildly to locate the origin. Every single window in the study flew open, smashing repeatedly against the stonework in a nearly deafening cascade of sound. A low growl rose from Celestia's throat, and she became steadily angrier as the noise level increased. How many centuries had this been going on? How much more torture would need to be endured before peace was even a farfetched hope? The alicorn found that she didn't know, and let out an anguished scream of sheer rage as she stomped into the lush carpet with all of her might.

A golden bubble of magic expanded out from her horn, instantly bringing to rest the rattling windows and ushering in complete calm. All was silent, save for Celestia herself, whose haggard breathing came out in raspy wheezes of effort. The nights of little sleep were finally catching up to her, and a blur of color began to form at the edges of her vision as she poured all of her effort into the spell. With a final strain, the magical bubble pushing against all walls of the room burst, and she fell to her knees, still gasping for breath as she thought furiously at her adversary.

FACE ME! STOP HIDING AND FIGHT! I HAVE HAD MORE THAN ENOUGH! THIS CEASES TO BE A TRIVIAL ANNOYANCE NOW THAT LUNA AND TWILIGHT ARE INVOLVED, AND WE NEED TO END THIS! DISCORD!

For once, the expected response was not initiated with a laugh. Tortured breathing to match Celestia's own sleepless exertion resounded in her skull briefly, followed by the expected male tone in a slightly lower volume than usual.

For once… I agree with you, dear Celestia. We will… bring an end to this, soon enough. All bets are off, as of now. Luna… actually did quite a number on me tonight… I'll be recovering for maybe even a few hours more. An impressive amount of damage, I must say. Go and sleep, Celestia. I want you at your prime when we dance the final steps of this private ball.

Celestia closed her eyes and listened to the words, all attention focused on what would soon become her prey. Her breathing slowed and she collected her thoughts, lest the only creature to have earned her hate come bursting into the room for a backhanded surprise attack. For several seconds, all was silent, but the quietude was quickly ended by the sound of the door to the hallway being flung open.

Celestia spun around, eyes locked upon the intruder and horn ablaze. A soft glow from the doorway barely allowed for the outline of a pegasus to be seen against the darkness, and Celestia continued to glare until the pony identified themselves. The intruder froze, his hooves digging into the carpet as he skidded to a halt and stared up at his enraged princess with worried eyes. The hard lines etched into her face by the twilight brought fear into his heart, and caused the alicorn to look more fierce than the old guard had ever remembered seeing her. Slowly, her features softened, and her horn lost its magical aura as her expression returned to its normal style and the malice left her eyes.

"…Sol? Has anything else happened in the palace since we last spoke? Is… he here? Where is Luna, and what he done to her?"

The breathless pony nodded, finally regaining a bit of his usual stoic composure. "Your Majesty, that's why I am here. Princess Luna has just returned, a-"

"Returned? But… what is going on?" Celestia asked with a shake of her head.

Sol shifted uneasily upon his hooves, his short mane falling into his face as he did so. The old stallion's furrowed brow and desperate expression added so much time to his already battle-worn features, and Celestia found the sight somewhat unsettling.

"She… we don't know. Two of my unit received her coming in low from… apparently some kind of battle. I suspect Discord's involvement. Everypony present also noted that the moon descended close to the earth about a half hour before her return just now, and several smaller towns near the borders of the sea are reporting major flooding. None of this makes sense, but your sister is wounded, and in the infirmary."

The words were trailed immediately by the sound of golden shoes clicking upon stone, and Sol turned in kind to follow his Princess out into the hallway. The two wasted no time as Celestia picked her pace up into a canter, and then a full-on gallop. Sol ran right alongside her, neither daring to speak a word. Whirlwinds of color passed their eyes as they ran, tapestries and stonework blending in an undefined portrait of speed. Both banked hard around an arcing corridor, their shoes digging into the lavish carpet and causing it to bunch up as it was dragged near to the wall. Had the situation been any different, Celestia would have laughed, but instead, she took off running, Sol right behind her.

After several minutes of hard running, the awkward pair arrived at the entrance to the infirmary and dashed through the doors. Celestia continued to gallop at full speed, confident that Luna was somewhere at the far end of the room, where several ponies in white outfits had gathered. As she ran, she spared a glance into the room where Twilight was previously being held, and found nothing behind the glass of the door. Satisfied that her student had been moved to safety at some point in the night, she strained to pick up her pace, and flared her wings to announce her presence.

The congregation of ponies all turned and began to move to the sides upon noticing the Princess, but soon found their movement assisted by a gentle golden nudge. With the crowd parted, Celestia kept her pace as she aimed for the door and redirected her magic to throw it open before running inside and sliding to a stop just in front of the patient within.

Upon the bed, unmoving atop the matted sheets, was Princess Luna. The deep blue alicorn was unconscious, but Celestia allowed herself a sigh as she noted the gentle rising and falling of the smaller mare's chest. The Sun Princess gently trotted to the bedside and sat heavily upon the cold floor, her eyes welling up as she did so. With an exasperated sigh that turned quickly into a sob, she turned to one of the few ponies around the bed, and spoke.

"…how is she? Where was she injured?"

The doctor standing next to the heart monitor looked up from his clipboard, and offered a small bow before responding to the inquiry. "Your Highness, her vitals are stable, but Princess Luna lost quite a bit of blood. The wounds are all to her right flank, and look like… claw marks, to be honest. Like a griffon… only bigger…"

Celestia's expression immediately soured, and she dipped her head in a polite thanks for the information. Even with the knowledge that Luna would pull through, the implications left her unsettled.

Discord. Lulu, if he touched you in any way more than a slash… I will never allow myself to rest again…

"Doctor, is there anything else that can, or needs to be done to her? Is there anything else you can do to alleviate the pain?"

The doctor shook his head solemnly, and adjusted his glasses as the rest of the ponies in the room secured the various tubes running to the slumbering alicorn before exiting the room to leave the Princesses alone.

"I'm afraid not, Princess. We've done everything we could to ensure a speedy recovery, and it looks like she may heal in as little as days. I'll keep watch over her through the night, but I humbly suggest that you move some guards to this area of the castle as a precaution."

"That will not be necessary. Please, take the night off. I will stay with Luna." Celestia returned the quick nod that she received before the pony left the room, and she followed him, content to leave the sleeping princess alone for a few seconds. Fortunately, she found the pony she was looking for waiting just outside the door, with a strained look of anticipation and uncertainty clear across his face.

"Sol, I wish for you to take the night off as well. Alert my adviser of the flooding situation, and have him request the Wonderbolts to send aid to the affected towns. It is time that they served their original purpose once again in this time of need. After that, please, go and rest, for we are going to need all of our strength combined for the coming fight. It may not be tomorrow, but then again… it may be. This situation must be taken seriously, and I need you at your best. You are the most capable soldier I have, and your experience will be invaluable against Discord when the time comes."

Sol opened his mouth to object, but thought better of it upon receiving a stern look. With a firm nod, he began to turn and leave, but halted his movement to ask a final question.

"Princess… is this… really it? We're about to take the fight to… Discord? The ancient Spirit of Chaos that, with all due respect… yourself and Princess Luna allegedly barely managed to overthrow millennia ago?"

Celestia's face twisted into a grim smile, and for a moment, Sol appeared worried that he had offended her. The tension was cut with a loaded sigh, and Celestia shook her head with a light, nonsensical laugh.

"Yes, Sol. We are going to fight, and we are going to end this, one way or another. I will be completely honest with you, I do not have a plan, but… given our enemy… that may be the best approach."

Sol titled his head and blinked rapidly, clearly lost by his charge's words. "Your Majesty? I do not understand."

Celestia turned and began to slowly walk back toward Luna's room, pulling the door open with a light shimmer of magic as she went. As she stepped through the doorway, she looked back to her personal bodyguard, and spoke softly.

"Neither do I, my friend. Neither do I."

The door closed with a soft creak, and the veteran pegasus was left to stand alone in the hallway, lost among his thoughts.


Black slowly faded to a deep red, and finally a mixture of yellow and crimson behind the eyelids of the sleeping unicorn. As the sun continued to rise and brighten the dark shades permitting her to sleep, Twilight Sparkle slowly opened her eyes with a muted groan, only to find her vision blocked by a patch of sky blue leaning into her field of vision.

"GUYS! SHE'S AWAKE! HURRY UP AND GET OVER HERE, TWILIGHT IS WAKING UP!"

The minor discomfort brought on by the creeping sunlight was immediately replaced with sharp pain as a smaller body climbed up the covers and impacted Twilight's exposed chest. With a shuddering gasp, she leaned forward to find a pair of tear-filled, bright green eyes staring up into her own.

"TWILIGHT! I was so worried when Rarity got your letter and please don't be mad at her I made her let me come I just couldn't stay at the library knowing you got hurt and I just…!"

Spike launched himself further up his big-sister-in-spirit and wrapped his tiny arms around her neck, crying softly as she stared down at him in disbelief. The baby dragon was the absolute last thing that Twilight had expected to see that morning, and the situation brought happiness, confusion, and a hint of anger to her mind immediately.

"Rarity," she began, "I told you specifically not to let Spike see the letter or come to Canterlot! It's too dangerous! This is serious! Spike was supposed to stay with Fluttershy while we sorted this whole mess out! Do you realize how much potential danger you've just put him in by bringing him here?"

Rarity shifted uncomfortably from her spot at the foot of the bed, her bright blue eyes wandering away from Twilight as she did so. The alabaster unicorn began to open her mouth, but was interrupted by yet another friend that Twilight had not been expecting to see.

"W-well… you see… um… it's not entirely Rarity's fault, Twilight. I-I'm here too, s-so… Spike is staying with me…"

Twilight shifted slightly to better sit up in her bed, wrapping a hoof around Spike's trembling form as she did so. She glared over to the source of the voice, and found Fluttershy smiling weakly from behind the overhead curtain surrounding the bed.

"Fluttershy? You're here, too? Oh, don't even tell me that Pinkie and Applejack both insisted on coming! I left specific instructions as to who should come to Canterlot and who should stay, and apparently everypony just decided to ignore them! We can't just have everypony come here! Ponyville could be in danger too, you know!"

Twilight's statement was met with a snort, and she looked to the opposite side of the bed to find Rainbow Dash hovering just over the rail.

"Settle down, Egghead. It's just me, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Spike. You might not have asked for the last two, but they came anyway to help. You should be happy that we're all here, especially if this is as serious as you say it is!"

Spike pulled back and regarded Twilight with a serious glare, followed by a sniffle. "She's right, Twilight. You shouldn't be angry, especially at Fluttershy. I was the one that pushed for both of us to come along, after Rarity let me see the letter. Aren't you happy to see me?"

A noise somewhere between a whine and a sigh escaped Twilight as she leaned forward and wrapped both forelegs around the diminutive dragon. "Yes, Spike, I'm happy to see you. But that doesn't change the fact that you being here is dangerous, and a liability. I don't want anything to happen to you, so… please. I want you and Fluttershy to go back to Ponyville, and just wait this out. I'll send updates nightly, I promise."

Spike unwrapped himself from the hug almost immediately, and rocked backward to sit atop Twilight's chest, arms crossed and glare in full effect. "And I don't want anything to happen to you. I'm staying, Twilight. I might not be able to help much, and I'll try to stay out of the way, but… you're my family. You and Celestia both. I'm not just going to sit in Ponyville and worry this entire time when the two most important ponies in my life are off fighting Discord!"

"Well, you don't have to worry about Twi going off to fight, kid."

All ponies present turned to regard Rainbow Dash as she spoke, still hovering over the bedrail with her forelegs crossed over her chest. "Didn't you say your leg got broken? It hasn't healed already, has it? That would just be crazy!" The pegasus punctuated her statement by twirling a hoof around her ear, earning a light chuckle from Rarity. Fluttershy silently trotted over to Twilight's side and began inspecting the bandages as the fashionista began to speak.

"Mm, Darling, I do have to agree. You need to be resting, not fighting. Rainbow and I will support Princess Celestia, while you, Spike, and Fluttershy remain in the castle. I may not be much of a fighter, but I can at least provide backup magic in your stead."

At Rarity's words, Fluttershy looked back in surprise. The thought of her closest friend on the front lines rattled the saffron pegasus, and she found herself lightly draping Twilight's limb back across the unicorn's chest to focus her attention on Rarity instead.

"R-rarity… y-you're… surely you don't mean… you're not really going t-to… to fight? W-what if… what if you get hurt? You're a dress maker, not a fighter! I-I… I know that you're capable with magic, b-but…"

Rainbow Dash landed and Twilight scooted back, propping herself up with a pillow so that she could see the entire room as Rarity trotted over to Fluttershy and offered an affectionate nuzzle. Everypony's attention was drawn to the two friends, and they waited with curiosity as to what would be said.

"Darling… I'll go where I am needed. I would prefer to stay in the castle with you and Spike, but… if Princess Celestia wants or needs me, I will get my hooves dirty. You all mean the world to me, and Discord is threatening all of Equestria at this point. I promise that I will not put myself in needless danger."

Twilight nodded her approval, and put her good hoof out to draw attention to herself as she started speaking. "This isn't a normal situation, girls. This is a serious, possible end of the world scenario if Discord is as powerful as the Princess says he is, a-"

Rainbow Dash interrupted the would-be speech with a loud yawn, and fluffed her wings slightly before letting them rest back at her sides. "Look, I know this is serious and whatnot, but we can figure this out as we go. We don't have to lay down rules and stuff, or at least, I don't. It's pretty early for me, so I'm gonna go and get some food to try to wake myself up. Anypony else want anything?"

All present shook their heads. Rainbow Dash shrugged her wings and blew her mane out of her face in response. "Alright. Back in a few, girls! If I don't get back in like fifteen minutes…Discord got me." Rainbow reared back on her hind legs and made spooky motions with her front hooves, puckering her face in an imitation of a storyteller. Nopony laughed, and she fell back to her the floor in disappointment with a sharp thud.

"Rainbow… that isn't funny. You don't even want to see what he did to my side, let alone my leg. Go and come back, and be careful."

Rainbow blinked and hiked a brow at Twilight's accusatory tone, slightly unsettled. "Whoa… I… alright. I was just… playin' around. I'll be back as soon as I can." With that, Rainbow trotted out of the room, and into the hallway, heading for the dining hall.

Geeze, I really didn't think that was all that bad. I mean, I know Twi got hurt… but can't they take a little joke?

My delightful little pegasus, I'm afraid that they cannot. It's a hard lesson to learn, but one that I'm very familiar with…

A scraping sound of hooves upon stone filled the hall as Rainbow jumped into the air defensively, her entire body shaking as her eyes shrunk to nearly just the pupil.

"What? Who was that? W-who's there!"

Oh, stop spinning in circles, "Dashie." I'm in your mind, not the hallway.

"W-well get out! I don't want anypony in my mind! Who are you? Come into this hallway, and I'll fix your wagon!" Rainbow hopped up onto her back legs, still shaking, and threw a few punches at the air while turning. No sign of anypony was visible, and she slowly threw one final punch, followed by a muted whimper.

How quickly we forgot! Do you not remember this voice? Surely your friends have warned you of my return?

"D-d-discord?" The question came out as a terrified squeak more than a statement, and Rainbow immediately dropped back to her hooves. With a snort, she flicked her tail and narrowed her eyes, still on the lookout for any signs of physical trouble.

"I'm not scared of you! Really!"

Oh? Perhaps you should be. Let me fill you in on one of Celestia's teachings, one of the few that I agree with: eliminate the biggest threat before all others. You're the only mare out of Twilight's friends that seems somewhat capable of fending for herself, and so, I think I'll choose to play with you first. Are you ready to begin our game, oh polychromatic one?

"NO!" Rainbow Dash's eyes widened as she bit her lip. The gravity of the situation was quickly sinking in, and her usual display of bravado was all but gone. Even so, she did her best to be strong, and with a snort, changed her mind.

"Yes! I-I'll… get through this somehow! I owe you for Cloudsdale anyway! Bring it on!"

As you wish, my dear.

As quickly as the thought ended, Rainbow's eyes rolled back, and she fell to the floor, unconscious.


"Ugh… w-where… am I…?"

Rainbow Dash slowly got to her hooves, pushing down into the nothingness below her as she slowly rose. Her heart leapt as she noted that all around her, floor and ceiling included, was darkness, with only hints of multicolor fog giving any sense of space. Hesitantly, she took a step forward, watching as the invisible floor rippled like the surface of water beneath her touch.

"H-hello? Is anypony there?"

Of course. I'm right here, waiting for you. Are you ready to begin?

Rainbow closed her eyes, her competitive nature and primal fear fighting with each other beneath the surface.

If this is as big of a deal as Twi says it is… and if there's a chance that I'm seriously about to die… I'm going to go down fighting. That's what Spitfire would do, and that's what I'm going to do. Rainbow Dash style!

"Bring it on, you mismatched… thing!"

Draconequus.

"Whatever!"

Rainbow flared her wings and steadily walked forward, a confident sneer upon her face and butterflies in her stomach.

Tell me, young one. What is it that you fear? Share something with me, and perhaps I'll consider letting you go. It would be so much fun to use it against you later…

"R-really?" Rainbow blushed furiously as her ears perked up. She mentally chided herself for sounding so eager, and did her best to sink back into her usual confrontational tone. "I mean… psh. Whatever."

The pegasus furrowed her brows, mulling over the situation in her head before giving her answer.

Well, if I do tell him something and he lets me go, I might have my friends with me when he uses it. If I don't tell him anything, the fight is on now, and… that might not be the best idea. I could lie…

My dear, perhaps I should make it clear that I can read your thoughts and emotions, and that lying to me will get you absolutely nowhere.

…horseapples. Truth it is, then…

"U-um… I'm… I… don't like spiders. At all."

How interesting… well, you told me something, little Rainbow. Allow me to tell you something in return.

Rainbow lifted her head and folded her wings in. She cocked her head to the side in interest, and heaved a loaded sigh as she closed her eyes in preparation for Discord's words.

"Oh yeah? Why's that?"

I lied.

As Rainbow opened her eyes and looked forward into the darkness, her breath caught in her throat and her heart momentarily stopped. Her shivering started again, and she watched with baited breath as a gigantic, orange and black striped foreleg, covered in bristly fur, extended forward from the darkness.

Chapter Eight

"…it… she is really in there? Sealed inside this… vault?"

"Yes, Lulu. I promise that as soon as you lock this door, you need never suffer another day without sleep. Nightmare Moon will be sealed for eternity, in a place that nobody but you and I are aware of."

A harsh sound met Celestia's ears as she watched her little sister awkwardly scuff her diamond-clad hoof upon the aged stone floor. Piercing echoes rang out through the underground room, enveloping the two ponies in an ocean of screeching sound that broke the momentary silence. The younger alicorn flinched, her wings rising in a startled gesture as she closed her eyes in response to the sound. The elder merely stood calmly, a wry smile upon her face as she watched the pony she had missed for so long fidget. Celestia knew well the things that Luna must have been feeling as she visibly tensed, doing her best to rally. After all, the Sun Princess was feeling similar emotions. She was just much more adapt at hiding them.

"…dearest Lulu," Celestia began, "I offer the honor to you for several reasons." The ivory alicorn bent low, giving her best reassuring nuzzle to the trembling mare before her. "Chief among them…Nightmare Moon… our… mother… you were the one that she used to attempt her vengeance, and you were made to suffer unfairly. It is only just that you have the satisfaction of ensuring that she never returns."

The speech was met with a faint sniffle, and the blinking back of several tears. "D-do you… not also wish to play a part in this? I-I… I remember that you told me that she… she swore to… to kill you, Tia, f-for… for what you and Discord did." Luna cleared her throat, and did her best to look Celestia in the eyes from her position lower to the ground. "You suffered by her hoof as well. She targeted you much more than I when she and Discord were still in power, a-and… I know some of the things that she did to you. Tia… it is only fair that you have the satisfaction of sealing her away as well."

Yes, Celestia, lie to her. Lie to your own sister, as you lied to me. As you lied to your mother. You do not suffer nearly enough guilt for my liking at the moment. Now that little Luna is back, you need something else to blame yourself for. Tell her that you do not wish to feel the catharsis of revenge. Tell her that you have moved on, that you are fine. Continue wearing your mask, Princess, as you have done for hundreds of years. Crumble beneath the surface while your shell remains pristine.

Celestia shook her head and closed her eyes, feeling the sting of every one of Discord's words. He knew her inclinations so well after being inside of the monarch's head for so long and watching her every thought with perverse glee. Daily rule required skirting the truth on occasion to keep her subjects happy, but an outright lie was something that the alicorn loathed. The pressure on the inside of her skull increased steadily as she ground her teeth, doing her best to resist the influence of her enemy.

Give in. You know it would be easier to tell her what she wants to hear, that her sister is perfect. You put on a flawless image for everypony else. Do you really wish to stress her on the first day after her return? Lie. You do not wish to have a lock of your own upon the ward because you do not feel any ill will for your late mother. Say it.

The air between the two alicorns hung silent as Celestia opened her eyes, mulling over her options. To lie once again to her little sister, while maintaining her composure and reassuring the fragile mare, or to speak the full truth and expose what she could not admit to anypony else?

"Sister… Nightmare Moon stole a thousand years from us both. I have not felt alive for a single day since I was forced to banish you, and as much as I would like to exact my personal revenge… as much as I still cannot forgive her for what she has done to both of us… the true unfairness would be denying you from being her official end. Do not forget that she used you, and the more emotion you put into the magic, the stronger the lock will be. You are one action away from being able to start a new life, and I will do everything in my power to make your innocence known. Please, finish it."

Luna nodded, and moved to embrace necks with the larger pony. "Thank you, Tia. I… do need this, after all that she has stolen from me, but… before I seal her, I must know… can you really not forgive her?"

Celestia paused, and lowered her eyes to the floor. "…I… ever since your return, I have been feeling… the grudge against her return. However, my feelings will fade in time, as they did during your absence. I am not perfect, Lulu, and I will admit that my heart is burdened with ill will toward the mare that was once our mother." Celestia looked up, and locked eyes with Luna to emphasize her point. "With you here, I will have somepony who can understand that is willing to listen. I will deal with my own demons in time, Lulu. It will certainly be enough pleasure for me at the moment to watch you seal off yours."

Oh, this is no fun at all. Don't even tell me that you're going to drop your streak of depression now that you reunited with your sister. If I am seriously going to have to deal with an attempted recovery from the brink of insanity from you, I will merely have to step up my efforts. Enjoy your little victory, Celestia, and remember that it is mine as well. In sealing off your dearest mother, you are permanently removing the only other being even close to my level of power. Once I am free, you and I are going to have a reckoning.

Celestia allowed herself a small smirk at the mental frustration that Discord had shared with her. Knowing that her happiness brought him anger only served to bolster her own emotions, and her smirk turned into a full smile as she watched Luna step toward the shimmering golden seal of magic hanging suspended in the air.

Luna's expression stood in stark contrast to Celestia's, and she let her tears fall freely as she stopped in front of her sister's magical barrier. The lone window high upon the opposite wall reflected moonlight perfectly onto the helmet beyond the ward, causing eerie beams of light to dance across the walls of the small chamber. Another sob echoed off of the tight walls, and was soon choked back as a warm hoof came to rest atop Luna's shoulder, while a large white wing wrapped over her back.

"I am here for you. This should be an uplifting and bright moment for us both, but try to draw your elation not from her suffering, but the knowledge that you are seconds from being truly free."

With a determined stomp, Luna leaned forward and placed her horn into the center of the ward, smiling through her tears as the golden aura began to glow brighter.

"I now do what Celestia was forced to so long ago. You have caused us both great pain, and your continued presence upon Equestria would only bring harm to all those around you. For your brutality, for all of your crimes against myself and Celestia, and for the good of all… I must lock you away. Goodbye… Mother."

With a brilliant flash of light, Luna moved her head backward and closed her eyes. A rushing of magical wind swirled in the place of the seal, and both alicorns stepped backward, away from the display. As the explosion of light ceased, an ornate stone door took the place of the vault's opening with a loud noise of emphasized finality. The magical glyph appeared scoured into the stone, and pulsed with cerulean energy that seemed to emanate from the single keyhole where Luna's horn had been. With a final dull hum, the pulsing faded, and Nightmare Moon was successfully sealed.

"It… it is over! Tia, we have won!"

Luna jumped at her sister, smiling happily as yet more tears fell to the floor below. Celestia caught her with a hoof and embraced the smaller alicorn tightly, smiling as she spun her sister back to the floor.

"Yes, Lulu. It is finally over." Celestia pulled her sister into a tighter embrace and closed her eyes, relishing the natural coldness of Luna's coat against her cheek.

"Sister, I am home! Nightmare Moon is safely sealed, Discord is encased in stone, and you and I are reunited! We can finally focus upon peaceful rule and making up for lost time! There are no major threats that remain!"

Celestia continued to nuzzle the smaller pony, and in the moment, focused her mind only upon the mare most important to her.

"You are correct. Nothing can stand in our way, Lulu. We have all the time in the world to live peacefully now, together."

…I knew you would lie. Or perhaps you are just forgetting something?

As her magenta eyes opened, a single tear slid through the fur upon Celestia's cheek, trailing downward to land in the midnight blue coat of her little sister.


"…how many, Tia? H-how many… were killed in the resulting floods?"

Celestia shifted uncomfortably upon her plush velvet pillow, avoiding eye contact with the injured alicorn before her. The uncomfortable topic was bound to come up sooner or later, and now that it had, neither mare was quite sure what to say. Luna's insistence upon knowing brought neither party any comfort, but the awkward silence seemed almost worse.

"…nearly… two hundred, with another fifty or so missing." Celestia watched with trepidation as Luna shifted slightly, expression unreadable. "…the burden of those lives is not yours to bear, Sister. The fault lies with Discord alone. You… did what you h-"

"Can we be sure of that, Celestia?"

The question came out as a quiet, tentative inquiry, the normally muted tone of the speaker even softer than usual. "What if… there was another way? One that would have come to me had I given the situation more thought? Perhaps I acted too brashly in my decision to use my responsibility as a weapon…"

Celestia rose from her seated position and made her way to the side of the bed. Her own unease did little to assuage Luna's guilt, but still she extended a hoof to rest upon her sister's shoulder.

"Luna… please, listen to me. Though any loss of life in warfare is tragic, it… is almost inevitable."

Luna leaned up from her propped-up position, her voice cracking as she nearly sobbed her words. "That is irrelevant, Tia! The dead in this case did not volunteer their lives! They were families and foals blindsided by a calamity that I produced, not soldiers willing to fight for a cause! I-I… I do not know how I will ever sleep again, knowing that my selfishness cost so many ponies everything!"

"Lulu, stop. Just… stop." Celestia shook her head, eyes closed and welling up despite her efforts to maintain her composure. Her naked hooves rested gingerly atop Luna's trembling body, doing all that they could to bring some measure of comfort to the mare. "I do not like it either, but you did not act selfishly. From what you told me, you had no idea how far out to sea you were or just how moving the moon so quickly would affect things."

Luna threw a hoof out to the side, clearly exasperated at her sister's attempts to rationalize the situation with her. "Ignorance is no excuse! I should have thought my actions through! How many families are now broken because of me?"

"I do not know. I just… do not know." Celestia opened her eyes, and let forth a heavy sigh. "Lulu… when this is all over, we will do something for the affected families, and construct a monument in their memory." Luna opened her mouth to object, but the snow-white hoof raised before her incited her back to silence. "You cannot be thinking like this right now. That is the best that we can do, especially with Discord still at large. The fact that you survived is what is important at the moment. As much as it tears my heart to pieces to let collateral damage stand… thus is the harsh reality of rule. We both know that. Please do not make this any more difficult than it already is, for either of us. You cannot afford to stress yourself right now, as it will only slow your recovery."

Luna sighed as well, and flopped heavily back into her pillows. "Tia, I… know that you are right, about the need to sideline all other concerns, but how can you say that my life is the most important? Who are we to judge the value of a pony's life, alicorn or otherwise?"

Celestia licked her lips, somewhat unsettled by the dry copper taste that met her senses. How long had it been since she had left Luna's side to go and drink? Or for that matter, sleep?

"It is a disturbingly easy judgment to make, in this case. You may well be the only pony on this earth that Discord cannot rifle through the mind of as though it were a filing cabinet. No matter how the coming confrontation plays out, there is a very good chance that the fate of Equestria's rule will depend solely upon you."

"What was that about not stressing myself, Tia?" Luna asked with a wry smile. "Though you may be correct, I… honestly do not see how I can face him, especially in this condition. I believe I can walk, but my movements will be slowed. Are we truly planning to take the fight to him shortly?"

"We are not planning anything, at the moment." Celestia had to catch herself before the laugh escaped her lips. Hearing the words in her own voice, coupled with Luna's expression in response, was almost enough to drive the Sun Princess to maniacal laughter, but she barely managed to refrain. "Given the nature of whom we are dealing with, I think it may be best to wait for the opportune moment to take action, and improvise as we go."

Luna nodded slowly, and furrowed her brow as she considered the situation. "I suppose I can see the sense in that approach. I can safely admit, though, that I would have never expected to hear such words from y-"

"Princess Luna! Princess Celestia! We require your assistance immediately!"

Both alicorns turned their attention to the door, where a unicorn and pegasus both stood gasping for breath. Rarity trotted into the room, her eyes shimmering, and Sol kept his place directly behind her, one hoof resting atop the sword secured at his side.

"Generosity? Miss… Rarity, is it? What seems to be the problem?" Luna leaned forward in bed, extremely anxious at the worried tone of the unicorn's voice.

Rarity gave a quick nod to confirm her name, and turned the action into a hurried bow. Her disheveled mane, slick with sweat, brushed across the floor as she stooped low, and amethyst strands clung tightly to her shivering face as she raised it once again.

"Rainbow Dash is unconscious in the hallway! She will not wake, from physical contact or magic! She's breathing quite hard, and is extremely cold to the touch! None of us have any idea what is going on, and we don't know if we should move her! Please, Princess Celestia, come and look her over! It may be Discord doing this to her!"

Celestia rose immediately, eyes narrowed and wings flared. She trotted straight to the doorway, and upon hearing the noise of shifting blankets behind her, whirled around to face her sister. Luna was sitting halfway out of bed with a single back leg upon the floor, clutching her hip with a spare hoof. She slowly touched her other foot to the floor, but found any further progress blocked by a shimmering golden wall.

"No. You need to rest, Lulu. You are in no condition to engage him, and from that description, it is very clear that he is involved. Sleep, and I will return as soon as the situation is taken care of."

Luna rolled her eyes and climbed back into bed, thoroughly unamused. Celestia spared the time for a quick nuzzle as the younger sister pulled the blankets back up over herself and released a snort of irritation.

"If you need me, send for me. I do not wish to see you get injured, Celestia. This could be the end."

Celestia nodded her agreement, and walked over to rejoin the trembling unicorn and unreadable pegasus. "Yes, Sister, it very well may be. I am prepared to do what I must, if it comes to that." With a look down at Rarity, Celestia spoke once again. "Bring me to her. We can reverse this, but we are going to need to engage Discord directly. There is no telling what we are about to encounter, so steel yourselves, and let us go."

Rarity whimpered in response as she nodded, desperately fighting to contain herself. She galloped out of the room at full tilt, the two ivory ponies right behind her, and the midnight blue alicorn left behind in the bed. Luna sighed and closed her eyes, hoping against hope that somehow, everything would work out.

Please, let Tia be safe. Let all of them be safe. Far too many have already been lost in this senseless war, and I cannot even bear the thought of losing Celestia…

As Luna looked about the room, no sound save for the beeping of her heart monitor served as a response.


What seems to be the problem, Dashie? Are you getting tired? Perhaps you should stop, and let me catch up? It would be so much easier for you. At this rate, all that you will accomplish is making sure that you die exhausted.

Rainbow Dash continued to flap as hard as she could, moving as quickly as her wings could carry her through the darkness. The swirling, colored fog would have been beautiful in any other context, but the pegasus found herself cursing its effectiveness at obscuring her surroundings. Yet another overlarge spider leg shot out of the darkness, searching for its prey and narrowly missing as Rainbow jerked herself to the side in a quick motion. Rivulets of sweat poured down her face as she coughed out a dry wheeze, her body starting to fail her. With a determined grunt, she pushed even harder, her wing muscles burning in protest as she flew still faster from her pursuer.

Oh, Loyalty. Do you not realize that I have done nothing to you yet? You have managed to tire yourself out rather nicely, and if you keep this up, you're going to injure your wings. It would suit my purposes nicely, as having to actively try to catch my prey really isn't my thing…

"Leave me the hell alone! Just… let me out of here! I haven't even done anything to you! Go away!"

And miss my private show with the self-proclaimed greatest flier in all of Equestria? Do you know what I paid for these tickets, my dear?

Rainbow continued her desperate flight, swerving yet again to avoid a hairy, jointed limb accompanied by an echoing scream. The logistics of the dive were overcalculated, and the pegasus plummeted out of the sky and onto the rippling floor below with a surprised gasp. She tumbled end over end, each rotation matched by a grunt of frustration and pain, before landing to sit in complete darkness as the colored fog around her cleared.

Finally wise up and decide to take a rest? A decision that I can personally endorse, little pegasus. After all, the fun is just beginning, and I want you to have some energy left to put up a fight once I cease playing with you.

"S-shut up!" Rainbow sat upon her haunches, panting hard as she ran a hoof through her matted mane. "This isn't a game, and you're seriously freaking me out! Since when do you try to kill ponies? Is that what you're even doing? Y-you're… you're coming after me to… to…"

Yes, and this is nothing new. I thought that my little reintroduction to Equestria would be a bit more… lighthearted and fun, to ease the populace in before things got... interesting. You saw for yourself just how much it irritated your precious Princess, my multicolored mare. She was so annoyed because she has seen what I can really do, and her annoyance was born from fear…

"Fear?" Rainbow stood, flaring her wings as she spat her words with as much venom as she could muster. "Princess Celestia doesn't fear anything! You mess with her, and you mess with me, Discord. I might not be able to take you down alone, but that won't stop me from trying! Besides, my friends will come for me!"

Will they, now? You seem so sure…

"They will! Once one of my friends notices I'm gone, they'll get Princess Celestia, and then you're really in trouble!"

A dark chuckle, coming from every direction at once, overpowered the silence in an all-encompassing blanket of sound.

Well, in that case, I suppose I should stop playing with my food, hm? Your vaunted ruler wouldn't approve, anyway. She was always such a prude…

Discord dropped from places unknown, his massive, hairy body blocking off the space in front of Rainbow Dash like an impenetrable wall. Her mouth dropped open as she beheld the unfamiliar form, watching his spindly limbs twitch and abdomen bounce to a silent rhythm. The pegasus screamed at the top of her lungs, and turned to begin running away as quickly as she could.


Twilight Sparkle remained hunched over Rainbow Dash's body, watching silently as her friend twitched and panted, eyes still closed. For all of her learning, nothing that she had read matched the frightening sight before her, and she found herself becoming more and more confused as she ran her good hoof across the pegasus' stomach. The skin was cold to the touch, almost to the point where contact was uncomfortable. Twilight shifted a bit, doing her best not to fall over onto her broken limb as she pushed her bangs out of her face, staring intently at Rainbow's quivering chest.

"My student! Have we arrived in time? What is her status?"

A breathless Celestia trotted up to the unicorn, offering a quick nuzzle before staring impatiently and awaiting an answer. The faintest smile graced Twilight's lips at the unexpected encounter with her mentor, but the seriousness of the situation soon caught up and served as a gateway to a grimace.

"I-I don't know, Princess Celestia. I've… never seen anything like this before. It's like she's… dreaming, but awake. It almost seems like she's hallucinating… is it D-"

"Discord. Yes." Celestia nodded curtly, her eyes flicking from Twilight to the suffering pegasus. "This is absolutely his work, and she is likely fighting for her life as we speak."

Rarity leaned in close, sitting down right next to Celestia as the princess pulled back Rainbow's eyelids. The pupils were dilated, and if not for the ragged breathing, the pegasus would have looked long dead.

"You are sure of this? There is no other explanation? C-can't there be any other possibility?" Rarity pushed her mane back out of her face, putting as much hope into her words as she could muster. "How do you know that he's involved just from looking?"

"Because he has done this to me, as well. More than once."

Celestia suddenly found all eyes on her, and quickly closed her own. "It is not pleasant. The things that he can do in dreams… if Rainbow Dash is being put through anything close to what I have experienced, we cannot waste any more time."

The shifting of metal plates grinding against each other rang out as Sol kneeled down beside Rarity, offering the terrified mare a wing for comfort. He kept his stern gaze upon the unconscious pony below him, and spoke in an even and cautious tone.

"Are you able to send us in there? To assist her? Surely if you and I can join in the fight, Discord can be pushed into backing out of her head?"

"I can, Sol." Celestia rose to stand, and heaved a sigh. "It is… forbidden magic, but we have no other option. I can get us in, as well as out. Twilight, you will stay here."

Twilight sniffled, but did nothing to protest the order. "Yes, Princess. I-I just… how is he even doing this? How can he be everywhere at once, knowing when and where to strike?"

Celestia opened her mouth to answer, but soon left it hanging. Realization swept over her, and her eyes widened. "What did you just say?"

Twilight blinked, her head moving backwards reflexively as she arched a brow. "I… Princess? That… I asked how he could possibly be doing this? How he can be everywhere at once?"

Celestia immediately thought back, and Discord's voice played once again in her mind. Memories of their conversation following her bath flooded her mind, and she found herself smiling wide as the pieces fell into place while the words replayed in her thoughts.

I can see your every action, because I choose to. I may not be able to be everywhere at once, but I can shadow you, and have done so for quite some time.

"That's it! This is our opportunity!" Celestia spun to face Sol, and everypony around her stared oddly at her sudden shift in mood. "Sol! Are you carrying parchment and a quill?"

Sol raised a brow, and popped open his saddlebags to retrieve the requested items. "Always, Your Highness. But… why? Surely, we should not be delaying our rescue efforts any longer?"

Celestia straightened the paper out in midair, and positioned the tip of the quill to the upper left of the paper. "Rarity, you are able to read magical runes?" The unicorn nodded slowly, clearly at a loss to explain her princess' strange behavior. "Then your rescue efforts with Sol begin now. I will not be participating."


A network of sticky webbing shot forth from the darkness, and Rainbow Dash skidded to a stop mere inches from the forming deathtrap. She moved her eyes skyward, watching in shock as the material extended around her into a cylindrical prison. With her escape route completely sealed, she turned slowly, shivering, and beheld the creature before her.

A massive, two-story spider's body, thick with orange and black fur, hung suspended from a line of thread, its limbs gesticulating in the air as it slowly swayed back and forth. An ashen-colored neck rose from where the spider's face would normally be, instead giving rise to Discord's own head, complete with eight gleaming red and yellow eyes. The blackened curved fangs protruding from his mouth glimmered with venom, the corrosive substance hissing as it dripped to the floor below and began to steam. Slowly, the abomination lowered itself to a horizontal orientation, coming to rest atop a web of strings not far above its prey.

Rainbow Dash fought back a scream, watching as Discord's limbs twitched in anticipation of her next attempt to flee. The two stared each other down, neither willing to make the first move.

"Well, well, well, little pegasus." Discord craned his neck forward, smiling as the network of webbing formed a closed ceiling to prevent escape from the large arena. "Would you like to try to escape, or will you submit like a good little fly? I've already caught seven others, and there's room for one more..."

With a shake of his limbs, deep red portals formed at the tips of his legs. Suspended upon strings, eyeless versions of each of Rainbow's friends, as well as both princesses, hung limply from seven of Discord's legs. Upon seeing the ponies hanging, threads wrapped tightly around their broken necks in the form of nooses, Rainbow began to cry and closed her eyes.

"T-this isn't real. None of this is real! It can't be! J-just stop! Leave me alone!"

"Problem, Rainbow Dash? Don't you want to see your friends? How about Fluttershy? Look at how lovely she looks today…"

The threads around the Fluttershy homunculus' neck tightened, and the imitation pony screamed in response as the color began to leave her pale face. Rainbow's eyes flew open, her fur standing on end as she dropped into a fighting stance with wings held high.

"You leave her alone! Never touch Fluttershy in front of me! Not even a fake, creepy version of her!"

The unoccupied limb extended forth, its clawed tip flexing outward to reach for the fuming pony's face. "Care to join her? Perhaps you could assist her from closer proximity…"

Rainbow extended her hoof and batted the large claw away, quickly shaking it off and shivering in disgust at the contact immediately afterward. "Cut the bullshit, Discord!" With a rough snort, Rainbow leapt forward, planting a hoof into the hybrid's throat before taking off for the webbed ceiling. "If you want me, come and get me! Your freaky tricks won't work against me!"

A round of screams shook Rainbow's resolve as the seven ponies below were dropped, flailing as they fell through the rippling floor and into the abyss. She looked back over her shoulder to see Discord climbing one of the walls, moving much faster than she had anticipated he would be able to.

"Very well. About time that you were ready to play."

"More than you know, jerkass." Rainbow narrowed her eyes, and flew straight for Discord's face, hoof extended and ready for impact.


"What? Princess, you're the best shot we have at fighting him off! If Rainbow is really in trouble, she needs you!"

Twilight Sparkle shifted, placing a hoof into Celestia's side both for stability and to get the alicorn's attention. Celestia continued writing upon the parchment, eyes briefly shifting to her pleading student as she did so. The quill continued scratching away magically as she finally turned to face the whimpering unicorn with a shake of her head.

"My Faithful Student, you must understand. Discord has made a fatal mistake in going after Rainbow Dash, one that he is not yet aware of. He told me himself that he is incapable of seeing all things at once, and can only focus upon his current target. He is not omniscient, and despite being able to read minds and invade our thoughts, if he is engaged in Rainbow Dash's nightmare, he is absolutely oblivious to the waking world for the duration. We need to take advantage of this, and therefore, draw out Rainbow's struggle as long as possible so that we may work without him knowing."

Sol stepped forward to interject, completely taken aback by Celestia's words. "My Princess! Surely you would not risk this poor mare's life on a desperate gamble? What can we possibly do before he manages to kill her that would make any sort of difference?"

Rarity repositioned herself as well, looking up to Celestia with a pained expression. "Do you… have some sort of plan? If… if you can do something meaningful in the amount of time that we could hold him off for, then… I agree that we should take advantage of this."

"Rarity!" Twilight stumbled upon her hooves, limping over to the blushing speaker. "How can you say that? We're playing with Rainbow's life at this point! We can't afford to take a risk like that!"

"My Student, without taking this gamble, we may have already lost. Please, trust in my judgment. Several lives have already been lost, and anything that we can do to prevent the deaths of more innocents must be pursued for the greater good."

"They… what? What is going on? Why don't I know any of this!"

Celestia shook her head, clearly uncomfortable at the prospect of hiding yet more information from her student. "I will explain as soon as we have a moment to breathe. Twilight, I am making some very, very difficult decisions, some of which I cannot detail. I ask that you trust in me as you always have, even if this seems wrong. I do not like it either, but I can assure you, Rainbow will survive so long as you let me work quickly."

Celestia finished writing and handed the scroll to Rarity, who regarded the script with extreme confusion.

"My little pony, how adept are you at learning new spells? That will allow you exit the nightmare realm, once things start getting dicey. The three of you stand no actual chance against Discord, especially if he decides to stop playing around and begins actually trying to injure you. Do your best to engage him in meaningless conversation, and keep yourselvessafe. Take no more risks than necessary. Get in, make sure Rainbow is alright, stall Discord for as long as you can while I work, and get out. Can you handle this?"

Rarity's dark blue eyes stopped reading the lines of the scroll, and she closed them briefly before giving a firm nod and handing the item to the pegasus beside her. "Yes. I'll do my best, and get us out as soon as things get out of control. Good luck, Princess." Rarity moved to nuzzle Twilight, who looked at her curiously. "Please, Darling, do not be angry with her. I don't like this and neither does she, but she is right. Even if we don't know fully what is going on, she does, and with Equestria at stake… we have no other option. I'll bring Rainbow back. I promise."

Twilight gave an uncomfortable nod, and returned the nuzzle with a sigh. "You have to. You just… have to. Good luck, you two."

Sol nodded his agreement as well, and gave Twilight an encouraging pat on the back with his hoof. "As much as I hate to admit it… they're right. I'll watch over your friends, and bring them back safely. You have my word."

Twilight nodded and stepped back as Celestia's horn began to glow with a deep, black aura. She touched the protrusion to Rainbow's side, and closed her eyes as she slowed her breathing to focus upon the spell. "Rarity, Sol, touch Rainbow's body, and prepare yourselves. Once I send you through, you're on your own."

Both ponies obliged, kneeling low and touching their hooves to Rainbow's shaking body as the pulsations from Celestia's horn enveloped them both. With a final pulse, Celestia's eyes opened, revealing deep, black, colorless orbs, and the unicorn and pegasus fell to the floor, unconscious. Cold fear shot through Celestia's body like a wave of ice, and she blinked rapidly, eyes returning to normal. Twilight only stared, unable to speak.

"Twilight… I am sorry that I must do so many questionable things in front of you as of late, but I promise you, this is all necessary. The realities of rule are harsh, and I wished never to expose you to some of my more… unsavory decisions."

"It's alright, Princess. I just…" Twilight looked to the floor, unsure of what to say. "…why do you know how to do that?"

Celestia turned away and folded in her wings as she dipped her head slightly in an apologetic gesture. "My past… is not as clean as some would have you believe. I have made many mistakes, my student, and my biggest was ever trusting Discord. He is the one who showed me how to invade the minds of others, though I have only done it but once before."

Twilight nodded hesitantly, her brows furrowed. "I… see." She rose slowly from her place upon the floor, and hobbled to Celestia's side, nuzzling the alicorn's leg as best she could without falling over. "Princess, no matter what you've had to hide from everypony, you're still the best ruler that Equestria could ever ask for, and I still have faith in you. Is there anything I can do while you're… doing whatever it is that you plan to while you're gone?"

"Yes. I need for you to hold still."

Celestia turned and touched her horn to Twilight's broken limb, earning a startled jump from the smaller pony. With a quick golden glow and snapping sound, tendrils of shimmering magic swirled around the purple foreleg, setting it back into place. A comforting rush of feeling surged through the limb, and Twilight began to unwrap the dressings around it, before being stopped by a snow-white hoof resting upon her other leg.

"No. I am sorry, Twilight. Your leg is healed, but you must tell nopony. Pretend that it is still broken, and go find a contingent of guards to watch over your friends here as they sleep. I need for you to return to bed, and act as if you have no knowledge of this incident."

Twilight tilted her head, but her eyes quickly lit up with understanding. "Wait. You… you could have done this before, but didn't want Discord to know? You… you were keeping me out of the fight intentionally? I thought that quick-healing magic was just a myth!"

Celestia gave a light laugh, and offered Twilight a final nuzzle. "It is… controlled information. Something that I need to reconsider after all of this blows over. I did indeed allow you to recover naturally in order to spare you from this conflict, but as things are now… I may need your help. Your magic is powerful, my student, and with everypony, Discord included, thinking that you are still sidelined, you can function as a trump card. I hate to use you like this, but… we need to stack the odds in our favor as much as possible."

Twilight shook her head and sighed. "You're not using me. I want to help, and even if you can't explain, and it's… frustrating, this plan is brilliant. I'll do my best when the time comes, and play my role until then. Now… go." The unicorn smirked, and gave her mentor a light nudge with the side of her head. "What else are you planning to do?"

Celestia smiled and began trotting down the hallway, turning her head back as her horn began to glow. "I have two more cards to add to my hoof. You will find out in time." With a quick golden flash, Celestia disappeared from the hallway, leaving behind only small yellow sparks in her wake.


Sol and Rarity blinked into existence, landing hard upon the transparent ground as a frustrated scream reached their ears.

"Rainbow!"

Rarity galloped forward, lighting her horn to prepare a magical net as her friend spiraled down out of the air. The pegasus impacted the green bubble and sunk into it before slowing to a surprised stop, after which she spun and smiled.

"Rarity? And… a guard? You guys are here to help? Sweet!"

"Yes, Miss Rarity and I are h-" Sol's eyes widened as he looked upward and caught sight of Discord for the first time, watching as he slowly descended from the webbed ceiling upon a thick thread. "Oh… sweet Celestia… Rarity, you might want to look up…"

The unicorn obliged, and immediately screamed. Discord sneered in response, and suddenly laughed at the group of ponies huddling together beneath him.

"What is this? Celestia sent more toys? I hope that they are more breakable than this rather resilient m-"

Another scream from Rarity cut off the words, and Discord allowed himself an amused chuckle at the sudden interruption.

"We need to leave! We need to get back, immediately! T-there's just no way th-"

"No." Sol drew his sword from its sheath, and placed it firmly into his mouth as he looked up at the transformed draconequus. With some difficulty, he spoke around the blade, eyes locked onto Discord's own. "Remember our mission. We're here for a reason, and we won't be leaving until we do all that we can to fulfill our objective."

"But he's a tarantula!" Rarity thrust her hoof into the air, pointing directly to Discord's twitching limbs as he smiled down at her. "Look at him! I… I can't…"

"Rarity, calm down." Rainbow put a bloody hoof out to touch Rarity, but quickly thought better of it, and instead sheepishly dropped it to the ground. "He's only managed to nick me with his claws so far, and believe me, he's been actively trying to catch me for the past half hour or so. We've got this!"

"You are indeed faster than I gave you credit for, little Rainbow. But eventually, you're going to slip up, and one of your two little friends appears to be permanently grounded. My chances of catching a pony tonight just skyrocketed. I believe it's time to capitalize on that advantage."

Discord dropped from his line, limbs spread and mouth open as he aimed directly for the cluster of ponies below him. Sol flipped the blade between his teeth and darted to the side, galloping hard to create some room between himself and his opponent as Discord adjusted his flight path to follow.

"So much for stalling him. Everypony scatter! Avoid direct conflict if you can!"

Rarity and Rainbow both ran in opposite directions as Discord fell, reaching out an arm to claw at the fleeing girls. Rarity barely managed to jump over it as she prepared a spell, and Rainbow took to the air and began to circle the giant arachnid.

"Here we go again! Keep him busy, guys!" With a quick hoofmotion to clear her sweaty mane out of her face, she dived again, aiming a kick for the back of Discord's head. "YEEHA!"


Luna continued to stare at the ceiling, lost in thought among the silence. Sleep had eluded her ever since her conversation with Celestia, despite her complete exhaustion. Time slowed to a crawl as her glassy eyes searched the tiles above, no goal in mind other than to occupy herself with something more than just thoughts of guilt as she lay alone atop the cold bed.

This is why I cannot do as Sister does. How she has managed to rule for so long in my absence without suffering a complete breakdown, I will never understand. Knowing her, she blames herself for every difficult situation, and now, this entire mess… Oh, Tia, how I wish I could do more to comfort you…

The silence was broken by a rush of wind and echoing spark shower as Celestia appeared within a magical flash. She coughed and sputtered as her hooves clattered to the floor, buckling at the knees in a moment of sudden weakness. The lack of sleep and stress of the situation began to catch up with her, and use of such demanding magic took an unexpected toll upon her aching body.

"Tia! You're back!"

Luna threw off the covers and jumped to the floor, completely ignoring the pain in her flank as she wrapped her hooves around Celestia's neck. "Did you stop him? Are they all safe?"

Celestia continued to pant and swallowed dryly as she returned the hug with a single hoof, leaning into it with her full body weight. "No. Nopony is safe right now, so we need to speak quickly." Celestia pulled back and raised her hoof in anticipation of Luna's protest. "No, Lulu. I need you to listen to me. There is no time for debate."

Luna closed her mouth and listened, dropping to sit upon her haunches with a wince as she did so. "Go ahead. I trust you."

"Thank you, Sister. I cannot stop to explain, as there is still one more thing that I must do before I can go back to check on the Bearers." Celestia coughed suddenly, and fell further downward to her knees and into Luna's waiting embrace.

"Tia?"

"I will be fine. We just… need to act quickly. As I was saying... Discord is unaware of our current activities, and so I need to speak with you before he can eavesdrop on us once again." The sisters locked eyes, and the importance of the coming words sunk in with an unspoken understanding. "I have an idea. A very, very dangerous idea, along with a plan. However, knowing Discord, the likelihood of it falling through is high. He cannot read your thoughts, Sister, and so… I am requesting that you attempt to come up with something as well. You are an enigma to him, and having you work parallel to me, we can easily double our odds. If you do have an idea as to how we can deal with him, do not tell me, or anypony else. In fact, when the final confrontation begins, I do not wish for you to come along, at first. Even if you can think of nothing, just show up midway into the fight and catch him off-guard. If I do not know what you are thinking, then he has no chance of knowing, either."

Luna hiked a brow, and helped Celestia to resume standing on her own with a gentle nudge. "You… want me to work separately from you?"

Celestia nodded and smiled, pleased that her sister had understood so quickly. "Exactly. Divide and conquer. He will never see it coming. Do your best to come up with a plan, and we will reconvene whenever it is most advantageous. Now, return to bed, Lulu. There is no telling when you may need to be at your best."

Luna found her eyes rolling skyward as she climbed back under the warm covers and made a show out of settling down into the mattress. "Yes, Celestia. I will make sure to get some rest, so long as you promise me that you will, too, after… whatever it is that you plan to do." Luna finished the statement by twirling her hoof out in front of her, earning a smile from Celestia.

"I promise. Once this situation is taken care of, I will rest. But first… I must make a trip to Ponyville."

"Ponyville? But… actually, do not tell me."

Celestia nodded, and her horn once again began to glimmer with magic. "I will return soon, provided I don't pass out upon arrival. Sleep well, Lulu."

"Stay awake, Tia." Luna grinned, and watched as Celestia vanished in a whirl of color. With another flop backward into her cluster of pillows, she began staring at the ceiling once again, all hope of sleep banished from her worried mind.


"Oh, for the love of- Rainbow Dash, be careful! You're already bleeding enough as it is!"

Rarity ducked under a swinging limb, freezing up in disgust as the protruding hairs brushed across her face. She countered by bucking upwards at the joint, only to receive a laugh in response.

"Little dressmaker, why are you even here? Do you seriously think you can make a difference against me?"

"I'm here to keep you distracted! Is it working?"

Rainbow Dash flew down as if on cue, delivering a hard kick to the back of Discord's head. The chimera rolled all of his eyes at once, and extended a limb to pin the pegasus against one of the walls with little effort as he turned his head to face her.

"I tire of this. Your pathetic attacks are nothing more than an annoyance, and this ceases to be amusing any longer. When I become bored, toys start getting broken."

Discord's massive body spun, his spindly legs shifting around and knocking into a surprised Rarity. The mare found herself tumbling to the floor, only to be caught by Sol's waiting forelegs and pushed back to a standing position.

"Get up. He's serious, now. Here." Sol bent his neck down, slicing the saddlebags off of his side in one clean motion as he mumbled around the blade. "Take the scroll, and work on getting us out of here. I'll free her, and you teleport us to safety."

Before Rarity had time to object, Sol sprang into action, flying low to the ground to weave between Discord's legs. As he reached the limb holding Rainbow Dash to the wall, he jerked his head in a quick motion, severing the entire leg with a clean cut, only to find himself pinned to the floor by another with a heavy downward impact.

"Idiotic, overconfident foal. But to be Celestia's personal pet, I suppose you would have to be."

Sol lifted his eyes to see Rainbow still stuck to the wall by the natural properties of the web, struggling desperately to free herself from the confining strands. He shook his head and tried to nick his blade against the limb holding him, only to find the pressure increasing by the second.

"Oh-ho-ho no, you're not going anywhere. Given that my favorite rainbow flier is hung up on something at the moment, I think I'll turn my attention to you instead…"

"Rarity!" Sol bellowed. "The spell! Now!"

The trio of ponies began to glow in a deep blue light, but the aura quickly faded, accompanied by a strained gasp from the casting mare.

"Rarity? What's wrong?"

"I… hold on!" Rarity closed her eyes and redoubled her efforts, pouring all of her magical strength into the casting. Each pony began to glow brightly once again and pulsed with magical power, only for the spell to fail after several seconds.

The pressure upon Sol's back lifted immediately, and he looked up to see Discord scurrying toward the panicking unicorn as quickly as he could go, fangs primed and eyes full of malice. Sol leapt up from the floor and flew at full speed after him, yelling as loudly as he was able.

"WHAT'S WRONG? WHY ISN'T IT WORKING?"

"IT'S… IT'S TOO DIFFICULT FOR ME! I-I CAN'T TELEPORT ALL THREE OF US AT ONCE!" Rarity screamed.

Sol cursed under his breath, and soon found Rainbow Dash at his side, flying lopsided and covered in sticky strands of trailing webbing.

"Don't let him get to her! We need to figure a way out of here, and Rarity isn't made for fighting!"

Sol nodded, entirely too aware of the desperation of their predicament. "I have a plan! Do what you do best!"

"Kick him in the back of the head?"

"Yes!"

Rainbow gave a firm nod and sped off to her project as Sol dived low after the shuffling spider. With a quick spin to orient the handle perpendicular to his jaw, he thrust his head sideways, impaling the blade into Discord's abdomen with as much force as he could.

Discord faltered slightly, and spun his neck only to receive a kick in the face courtesy of Rainbow Dash. The enraged monster bit at the air behind her, barely missing as she danced just out of his range, glowing once again with a third magical attempt from Rarity.

Sol ripped the blade up and outward, deepening the wound as best he could before once again taking to the air. He flew right past Rainbow, swerving out of the way and giving her an encouraging nod as Discord swiped at them both, missing by mere inches as Sol landed beside the sweating unicorn upon the ground. With a final strain, she opened her eyes, and looked to be on the verge of tears.

"I can't! I'm so sorry! I can feel it almost working, but it's… it's just too much!"

Sol narrowed his eyes and looked back behind him, watching with interest as Rainbow evaded Discord's attempts to catch her once again. "Get her out of here. You two go, and I'll keep him occupied for as long as I am able."

Rarity blinked in shock, completely unprepared for the command. "That's… no! We're not leaving you here!"

"Do it. That's an order, from Celestia's guard captain himself. Get going, and I'll… figure something out. If I die here, then it will be buying my Princess time to save this entire country, and that's more than enough for me. You were the only one sensible enough to see the necessity of Celestia's plan, so you should understand why it's essential for you to do this, as well. Either we all die, or at least two of us get out. Now move!"

Rarity choked back a sob and closed her eyes, focusing completely upon her spell. With a sudden flash, the two mares disappeared into thin air, leaving behind blue outlines of themselves as the only evidence of ever having been there at all.

"You."

Sol closed his eyes and slowly turned, ready to meet the towering monster behind him. He shifted his blade and bit down upon its hilt once again, making sure of his grip before lowering his body in preparation to spring forward. With a final snort, his eyes flew open and he steeled himself for the threat to come.

Discord took his time lowering all of his limbs back to the ground, sneering and letting translucent poison drip from his mouth as he began to walk slowly toward the pegasus. A strange bubbling began around the base of his missing limb, and slowly but surely, another began to emerge, twitching violently toward the floor as he began to speak.

"Solaris. Born to a noble father, son of a common street whore. Abandoned to those very streets in a cover-up, and taken in under Celestia's wing. You requested to join the military branch upon coming of age, and worked your way up from ground zero all the way to the top of the command line. Unfortunate that all of your efforts amount to nothing, now."

"You certainly know quite a bit about me, demon." Sol spat the words with disdain, pawing at the nothingness below as the spider took his time advancing.

"As if I haven't watched you from the moment that Celestia took you in. It would be folly to ignore one so close to the mare standing in my way, wouldn't you think?"

Sol breathed in sharply, mind racing to try to discern the best angle of attack. "You certainly seem intelligent, ancient one."

"Unfortunate that I cannot say the same for you. Leaving yourself here all alone? Surely you at least partially understand how outmatched you are?"

"I do." Sol flicked his tail and flared his wings, tensing his leg muscles as he prepared to lift off.

"Dying for a cause is not noble, colt, it is foolish. You become useless to your princess, and therefore, betray her. This is not a storybook for the common pony, where the aged stallion makes a final stand, sacrificing himself to save the rest of his traveling party. You have erred, and now, I will enact your punishment."

Discord lunged as Sol primed his blade and responded in kind, gasping with surprise as the sword was knocked out of his teeth and straight to the ground by one of Discord's many limbs. The stallion moved sideways to retrieve it, and immediately felt himself pulled backward, intense pain shooting through his left wing as he was dragged through the air.

Discord's fangs were sunk deep into the stallion's wing, and blood mixed with clear venom atop the wound in a gleaming pool. Sol jerked forward, doing his best to dislodge the limb from his enemy's grip, and tumbled sideways along the ground as the creature released him. He scrambled to get to his hooves, but fell sideways to the floor, breathing hard as his damaged wing began to spasm uncontrollably.

"It is over. In minutes, you will die, alone in this darkness. You have failed, and nopony will remember you in a matter of years. You will be replaced, just another guard that was killed in action as sacrifice for his useless ruler. Even if Celestia somehow finds a way to remove me, your story ends now, and I see not a single pony here for you in return for all that you have done for them. Where is your princess now, you overgrown foal?"

Sol coughed, watching as the bite wound at the tip of his wing throbbed. The skin around the missing feathers began to blacken, and the necrosis spread slowly, working its way down the wing in a spreading trail of decay.

"Wherever… she needs to be…" The stallion dragged himself along the floor, and finally managed to get back on his hooves as his vision began to blur. "Say what you will. I'm not dead yet, and... I won't stand for you insults to her... while I can still move..."

"Oh? And what do you plan to do, little soldier? How will you spend your final few breaths?"

"Doing only… what I have always done." Sol drew in a sharp breath, and wheezed as he exhaled, blowing strands of his mane from in front of his eyes. "Fighting... in Celestia's name."

With a quick burst of adrenaline, Sol galloped to his blade and wrenched it out of the ground, spinning it sideways as he turned back toward his enemy. Discord put his front legs in the air and moved to close the distance between them, and Sol jumped up, flapping hard to propel himself back and away from the assault before landing. The damaged wing sent him moving unevenly through the air, and he landed hard, noticing the spreading blackness had reached halfway down his feathered limb. With a desperate cry, he twisted his neck back, slicing straight through the bone and severing the dying wing from his body in a shower of crimson blood.

The black and white appendage sailed through the air, falling in time with the blade from his mouth as Sol bit down hard to suppress a scream. A pained noise escaped his lips, followed by several shuddering gasps as he began to bleed from his back. Discord howled with laughter, barely able to contain himself as he watched the pegasus clutch at the bloody stump where his wing had once been as he kneeled low to the cold floor.

"You utter waste! Now, your death will only be more painful as you bleed out! The poison would have killed you much more quickly, and now, you are unable even to flee. What were you thinking?"

Sol continued coughing, and felt bile rise in the back of his throat as he watched his severed wing twitch upon the ground. The limb turned almost completely black and stopped moving within seconds, and the pain intensified as Sol ground his teeth more to suppress the oncoming tears. With a shaky hoof, he reached for his sword, replacing it in his mouth as he stood once again, intending to do as much damage as he could before he fell unconscious. The blackness overtaking his vision was suddenly interrupted by a brilliant flash of gold and scarlet, and the burning sensation in his wing doubled in force, nearly causing him to fall completely to the ground as he dropped once again to his knees, biting the grip of his weapon as hard as he could. With a pained scream, he looked back to see that his wing had been cauterized with magical flame, and upon turning once again to face Discord, found his view blocked by the form of a massive white alicorn.

"Discord. Your crimes are unforgivable, and I am through standing idly by while you destroy everything precious to me out of spite. Our reckoning will be soon, very soon, and it will be at a time of my choosing. You may have had a small victory this day, but you will not evade the coming storm."

Discord bent low in a mocking bow, tipping his head to the princess while he lowered his eyes and replied with a grin. "Why not engage me right now, little Tia? Are you scared to face me alone, or are you planning something? Because if you're planning something… I'll soon know."

Celestia snorted and stomped her hoof, horn ablaze with swimming embers. "Perhaps. But my primary concern at the moment is getting Sol to safety. Until next we meet, traitorous snake."

With a practiced motion, Celestia whipped her mane and sent forth a nova of flame, igniting the entire cage of webbing around her. The strands were quick to burn, and several fell down in front of Discord, dangling close to his form and distracting him from all else. Another gout of flame burst forth from Celestia's horn, engulfing Discord entirely as he flailed in surprise at the unexpected assault. Celestia made no show out of her attack, and instead turned to pick up her fallen comrade with a swirl of magic before charging her horn to cast once again.

"Farewell, Discord. I will look forward to our next encounter. One of us will not be leaving alive." With a final flash, Celestia and Sol began to vanish, both watching as Discord reverted to his normal body within the flames. The draconequus reached out a burning claw to grab at the fleeing pair, but by the time he could touch them, only a faint golden outline of the two remained.


"What happened? W-why is his… Princess?"

Celestia blinked as she lifted herself off of the carpeted floor, and brought a hoof up to her head as the waking world came back into focus. She cracked her neck as she shakily got to her hooves, and immediately looked over to the speaker, finding a worried-looking saffron pegasus standing in front of her.

"Fluttershy? What are… you…"

Fluttershy watched with surprise as Celestia's eyes rolled back and she fell to the floor, unconscious from her exhaustion.

"O-oh my... somepony, help!"



Written by MEMJ0123
Content is available under CC-BY-SA

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