Chapter One: The Madness Of Nightmare Moon
"The Age of Industry has come to Equestria. Though some call it 'The Age of Oppression.'
When freedom is nothing but a dream
it is time to make a stand. To lead a rebellion. To be a Hero.
Welcome to the city of the downtrodden, where those who dare to speak out are punished.
Where those who dare to hope
find nothing to hope for.
But true rebels fight against all odds. True rebels never give up. If they cannot triumph
The uprising has begun. But who will lead the revolution?"
The Canterlot Castle was as magnificent as it was imposing. Towering over the city of Canterlot like a watchful eye, it was everything the higher echelons of pony society dreamed of living in. With its fantastic spires, stained glass windows, opulent gardens, and elegant decorations, it was a beautiful sight. Throughout the day it was often packed to the brim with the nobles of the city, mingling and talking rather snootily about nothing in particular. They were mainly unicorns and pegasi the only earth ponies on the grounds were either soldiers or staff.
Within a small, relatively unassuming tower on the east wing of the castle, a young unicorn was going about her daily business with much reluctance. Oh, it wasn't that she wasn't proud to do her job; her parents had both served the illustrious Queen Celestia before her and she was honoured to be the personal assistant to the Princess, who was a delightful pony Smart, polite, and kind, if a bit socially inept. No, Rarity was proud to work for Twilight Sparkle (Though she would never tell it to her face, of course). The problem lay with
Shivering slightly, Rarity put such thoughts out of her mind and continued ascending the tower to the Princess' room. Other staff she passed would always stare at her for a few moments before looking away again. The colts would look at her longingly, while the mares were highly envious. Rarity was one of the most beautiful unicorns in all of Equestria, though she mainly remained indifferent on the subject. She was here to work, not have whirlwind affairs. Although, that Lord Blueblood was quite handsome
Pushing opening the doors to the princess' chambers, which was simply and sparsely decorated (though still clearly royal), she strode past the large bed, whose covers were pulled up over the body still snoring softly inside, and thrust open the curtains, letting light stream into the room.
"Oh, what a dreadfully sorry sight." She sighed. She was not exaggerating the grounds of the castle were splendid at all times of the day, but beyond their walls lay Canterlot itself, which was not quite so pleasing to the eye. The market district was pleasant enough, its clock tower happily chiming out the beginning of a new day, but looming in the distance was Canterlot Industrial. Thick clouds of smoke belched from the factories where the young foals worked, and the ramshackle, soot-coated houses looked on the edge of falling apart. Around the very edges of Canterlot was the Old Quarter, where the housing was in even worse state, being little better than shacks. Ponies of all sorts trudged cheerlessly about their daily lives, knowing what happened to those who dared to speak out.
"Such a beautiful day to waste in bed, don't you agree?" She said loudly, opening more curtains. She was given a sleepy grumble in response.
what?" The head of purple unicorn popped out of the covers, with long, dark lavender hair. This was Twilight Sparkle, Princess of Equestria. Though with sleep-gunk filled eyes, hair looking like a broken bird's nest and all the attentiveness of a zombie, she didn't look so regal. "Mmm
go away Rarity."
"Now that is hardly the response of a princess." Huffed her assistant. "I'm afraid it is time to rise." Glancing down at the second lump under the covers, she smirked. "With your permission, I shall awaken your sleeping companion." Whipping back the quilt, she exposed a young, small purple dragon with green spines happily sucking its thumb. The jostling movement of the bed sheets awakened him, and with a loud yelp he leapt nearly ten feet in the air before landing in an undignified heap on the ground.
what did you do that for, Twilight?" Spike said grumpily.
Twilight, resigned to the fact she was now awake, sat up and stretched, the muscles in her neck and back popping noisily, much to Rarity's distaste.
"Wasn't me, Spike. Ask her."
The young dragon turned and saw the beautiful unicorn standing before him. Blushing heavily, he stammered and mumbled incoherently as he pulled himself to his feet.
"Ah, Spike. One's heart soars before such, ah
regal bearing." Said Raity with a roll of her eyes. "I trust you both slept well you have a busy day ahead."
"Come on Spike, there isn't going to be any going back to sleep now anyway." Twilight said, getting out of bed with a yawn, using a quick spell to tame her bed hair and clean up her sleepy eyes.
Spike nodded absently, his eyes still fixed on Rarity.
What a pair, thought Rarity in mock dismay. The kingdom is doomed.
"Now ma'am, if you will follow me please, I have prepared some appropriate clothing for today's agenda." In the stuffy atmosphere of the royal castle, it was an unofficial requirement that you had to be decked out in your best finery, much to Twilight's dismay and Rarity's delight.
"You know you don't have to call me ma'am, Rarity. It's Twilight."
"Certainly ma'am. If you will step this way
Sighing in resignation, Twilight followed her to the wardrobe, and blanched at the
thing that her assistant pulled out of it.
It was a very frilly dress, white with a single blue stripe, dainty shoes that looked far too small for her hooves, and a ridiculous looking lacy bonnet. "Master Caramel is most eager to talk to you this morning, and I'm sure you want to look your best for him
Twilight gave a soft smile at the mention of Caramel. He was a childhood friend, and her betrothed. For a nobleman's son, he was very sweet and not at all like some of his snobbish relatives. Twilights mother had noticed their growing closeness and encouraged the relationship, signing the betrothal contract barely months before her illness claimed her. Twilight's heart gave a small, aching throb at the thought of her mother. She had been Twilights whole world; without her the cushy and regal lifestyle she lived in was as dark and bleak as the Old Quarter.
Shaking her head of those thoughts, Twilight focused on the present. Rarity was tapping the floor impatiently, waiting for her verdict on the dress.
"It's...err...very nice Rarity, but I was thinking of something a bit more
practical?" Twilight said politely through gritted teeth. She'd never hear the end of it from Caramel if she turned up looking like that.
Rarity tutted. "I was afraid you'd say that, so I also prepared this." The next item to come out of the wardrobe was a vast improvement, in Twilight's opinion. It was a simple white blouse and skirt that were both fairly plain, though of course they were still made from the finest cloth available. The superior quality stitching was clearly apparent, but Twilight could happily pass for the average pony citizen if she wanted to.
Rarity almost seemed sickened by the idea of such a simple and unassuming garment. "If you are absolutely sure dear, but don't come running to me if he suddenly finds an excuse to leave."
Twilight however, knew that Caramel would prefer this simple, more honest outfit to the other one.
"Well, you should probably head off to him now; he is waiting in the gardens." Twilight nodded and began to leave, though stopped when Spike tried to follow her.
"Err, maybe you should stay here Spike. I'm sure you don't want to sit around while me and Caramel talk."
"Oh, sure," he replied sarcastically. "Talking. That's what the two of you will be doing
Twilight flushed, and pretended she didn't hear the comment. She noticed Rarity had also smirked slightly at the young dragons jibe, and a devious plan formed in her mind.
"Say Spike," she began, trying to keep a straight face. "I'm sure Rarity has lots of stuff to do today
maybe you could lend her a hand for a few hours?"
Their reactions were priceless Spike's face lit up like Christmas had come early while Rarity looked like she'd been told fashion had been outlawed. Chuckling, Twilight dashed out of the room before Rarity could object.
Navigating the castle's maze-like hallways was almost second nature to Twilight, and she soon stepped out into the glorious sunshine. Inhaling deeply, she sighed sadly. The castle was beautiful, with everything she could ever want, and yet
Twilight giggled as she slipped in the rain, thick mud slopping all over her previously shimmering coat. Her mother had brought her along to an official meeting in the Canterlot Trade Office so that she could see the city, but the weather had turned foul apparently the head of the weather team had been napping all day. Bored of waiting for her mother to finish with the stuffy talks, she had sneakily slipped out into the wild streets. Most ponies were sheltering inside, so she had free reign to frolic to her heart's content.
"Princess! Oh my goodness, what are you DOING?" The young filly blanched as one of her mother's royal guards approached her, terrified. "You are getting filthy out there!"
"Oh! I, um
!" She nervously stammered. He looked mortified.
"Oh ponyfeathers, I'll lose my job if the Queen sees"
"If I see what?" With perfect timing, Queen Celestia trotted around the corner and into view. She was almost two heads taller than the guard, and despite her amiable expression she was quite imposing.
The guard gave a small whimper unbecoming of his size and strength, and Twilight began to regret her little diversion.
I can explain, Your Majesty"
"Mom, I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to" She surprised both of them by laughing.
"Oh Twilight, there is no need to be sorry. Your 'disappearance' gave me the perfect excuse to leave that awfully boring meeting. There is only a certain amount of time you can listen to some old stallion talk about the state of black market chicken feather dealings." She glanced kindly at the nervous guard. "What is your name?"
my name is Swiftsalt
Your Majesty! I'm a new recruit
"Swiftsalt," She interrupted with a smile. "I'm sure the others at the meeting are quite worried. You should go and tell them that everything is fine. I'll be along in a minute. I need to talk to my daughter."
Twilight grinned sheepishly as the recruit scurried away.
Twilight spluttered as she wiped the mud off her face, looking in disbelief at her mother, who was laughing uproariously, the magical glow around her horn fading. And she couldn't help but laugh back. Within minutes anypony who chanced upon that alley would have been treated to the bizarre sight of the illustrious Queen Celestia rough and tumbling with her young daughter. Soon her once shining finery was completely caked in mud as the 'war' continued.
Ten minutes later the two of them collapsed in a heap next to each other, giggling madly. They lay there for who knows how long, the rain highly refreshing on the exhausted pair.
"You are the best mom in the world." Twilight laughed, snuggling into her parent's mane. Celestia simply smiled softly. "Mom?"
"What was dad like?" There was a moments quiet.
"He was the most amazing pony I have ever had the honour of meeting." Celestia began quietly. "I may be Queen, but it was always him who gave me strength, who kept me going when everything seemed darkest." She nuzzled Twilight's face affectionately. "And I know that he loves you, and that he is proud of you, wherever he is." Her voice broke slightly. "I haven't done anything like this in a long time
just let go and had fun. After
after he passed away, I
" She looked down in shame. "I haven't been a very good mother, Twilight. I'm so sorry. I can barely remember another day I spent so much time with you." There were tears streaking down the illustrious ruler's face
or maybe it was just the rain.
The little foal simply looked up at her mother and smiled sadly. "You are the best mom in the world." A sudden bright light blinded them momentarily, and they had to shield their eyes with their hooves.
look." Gazing out after her eyes had adjusted, Twilights heart skipped a beat. The weather team leader had apparently woken up and started moving clouds, revealing the glorious sun behind. The light reflected of the droplets of rain, refracting and creating a glorious multi-coloured rainbow throughout the sky.
It was the most beautiful and happy moment of Twilight's life, lying there with her mother in the mud, and a rainbow lighting up the sky.
"But there are no rainbows anymore." Said Twilight quietly, gazing out of the smoky cloud that rested over Canterlot. "Mother
why did you have to go?" She stood there quietly before shaking herself and continuing on her path.
Making her way through the gardens, Twilight noticed that there were more people milling around than usual, and none of them seemed to be nobles. They seemed anxious about something. Putting it out of her mind, she spotted Caramel leaning on a railing near to the memorial statue of Celestia. Trying not to look at said statue, she approached her betrothed stealthily and mischievously.
"Gotcha!" She giggled, leaping on his back. Or at least, she attempted to. At the last second he sidestepped, and caught her before she fell to the ground. Twilight flushed in indignation. "Hey, that's not fair!"
He laughed good-naturedly. "Well then, I guess it's good that your knight in shining armour was there to catch you as you fell!" He jested, whipping his head around dramatically.
"I can take look after myself, you know."
"Really?" he asked with a smirk. "I'm afraid I'll have to see some proof." Blushing massively, Twilight glanced around to make sure no-one was watching. Shyly, she closed the gap between them and pressed their muzzles together in a soft, inexperienced kiss. Her heart was pounding in her chest. She was kissing him! Sure, they were due to be wed, but this was the first time they had had ever done anything like this, regardless of Spike's lewd comments. And to think she was the instigator she had barely anyone she ever talked to outside of Caramel, Spike, Rarity and Colter, and even then most of the time she was either reading or training.
It only lasted a couple of seconds, but when Twilight pulled away she felt giddy, like she could walk on air. Caramel looked shell-shocked. "How's that?" She answered coyly.
"Err brilliant." He said shakily, coming to terms with this change in their relationship. "I'm not sure how useful it would be in a fight though
" He trailed off in an attempt at humour to diffuse the tension. It worked, to a point Twilight's unladylike snort at the poor joke erased all embarrassment, for now at least.
what was it you wanted to talk to me about?" Twilight asked curiously.
"I can't simply want to spend time with my fiancé?" She could tell he was worried about something, though. She knew him too well for him to hide it.
"If that was the case, you would have simply come to find me, not put a meeting officially on Rarity's agenda. Did...something happen?" He sighed, and the joking, sweet moment seemed to have gone.
not sure. But everyone in the castle seems to be upset with your Aunt
more than usual, anyway."
Twilight shuddered briefly at the mention of her relative. Queen Nightmare Moon, as she called herself now, was someone she tried to avoid as much as possible. For the most part, she was successful anytime they crossed passing through corridors, the Queen would simply glance at her dismissively for a moment before continuing on, filing her only living blood relative as a mere footnote to her day.
Not to say that she didn't take an active role in Twilight's life. Thanks to her 'regulations', Twilight was not allowed outside of the castle grounds, nor was she encouraged to speak to any of the staff other than Rarity or Colter. Had it not already been set in motion for several years, Twilight suspected she would have annulled her engagement to Caramel and forbid them from seeing each other, just because she could.
"And it's even worse down in the city," Continued Caramel, glancing at the smoky backdrop behind them. "You hear such terrible stories
" He swallowed nervously. "Listen, they say a factory worker was
executed this morning."
Twilight's heart stopped momentarily. Executed? She knew that her aunt was a harsh and sometimes unsympathetic ruler, but
surely she wouldn't execute someone? There must have been some mistake!
Seeing the horrified look on her face, her fiancé continued hurriedly. "I'm certain it's only a rumour, but you can imagine how ponies are talking. The staff in the castle are anxious, I
" He shuffled his feet guiltily. "I kind of
told them you'd speak to them. Twilight jerked her head up in surprise. Her? Give a speech? What?
"W-what?" she stammered. "I mean, I want to help, really I do, but
what good will my voice do?"
"You have more power than you think, Twilight," he replied softly. "And I don't just mean your magic or your knowledge. People may have lost faith in their Queen
but they still trust in their Princess to do the right thing. I trust in her."
you're right," Twilight said decisively as she stood up straight, her tail flicking out anxiously. "I am a Princess
maybe now it's time I start making it clear to Moon that I can make decisions, too." She smiled gratefully at him. "Thank you, Caramel."
He said nothing, but gently reached out and nuzzled her cheek. Blushing madly, Twilight half-heartedly pushed him away.
With a smirk, he slowly trotted off in the direction of the kitchens. Twilight quickly caught up, and the pair walked side by side.
After a brief silence, Caramel spoke up again. "It must be just a rumour I can't believe your aunt, horrible as she is, would have someone executed like that." Twilight thought about for it a moment.
"I agree, but sometimes
it's more than her just being horrible. It's like there is something wrong with her. She has changed so much
" It was true: Twilight could still remember the confident and headstrong Princess Luna, her mother's sister, who held her gently after Celestia passed away from that accursed illness, barely able to hide her own tears. Twilight had been just nine when her mother left her, when Luna reluctantly took the crown in her sister's stead. But now
Caramel glanced at her. "I told Sir Colter about the speech. He'll be there to support you I don't know what the castle would be like without him."
Twilight nodded in agreement Sir Colter had been her instructor since she was little, and a close friend of her mother's. He was very gruff and slightly world-weary, being an ex-soldier, but he had a big heart.
"He'll probably want to continue my training today. He seems obsessed with combat lately
" Despite appearances, Twilight was just as skilled with a blade as with spells and books, though she had many years to go before she became a master, nor had she ever used one outside of training purposes, not that she ever planned to.
The kitchens were directly underneath the throne room with a back door opening on to the east corner of the gardens, so it took little time for them to reach it. Before entering, Twilight stopped and listened at the door.
"Well, I heard all he did was stand up for one of the poor foals working in the factory
"Who knows where it ends? Next thing you know it's one of us that's
"Quit your gossiping, the princess will be here any minute!" Twilight took a deep breath. Caramel looked at her worriedly.
"You don't have to do this, you know."
I want to do this. This is the least I can do." Opening the door with her magic, she stepped into the room, where the grubby kitchen ponies inclined their heads in respect. The head chef, an old unicorn with a grizzled face, stepped forward.
"Your Highness," He began cordially. "It is good to see you looking well." She nodded absently. What should she say? What if she messed up garbled her words, or said the wrong thing, or
No. She could do this.
good morning everypony" she began. "I understand that these are difficult times for all of us. Queen Moon is a very busy pony, and she has been too
preoccupied to properly attend to the welfare of all of Equestria's fine citizens. I can understand that this will cause a lot of upset. But please, I ask you to be cautious about any wild rumours that you hear if they have not been confirmed officially. I will be talking to my aunt about improving working and living conditions for both you and your families outside the castle later on today. Thank you for your time, and for the hard work I can see you put in every day." She ducked her sheepishly as she finished. Would that do? Her answer was a round of stamping hooves in applause. The staff seemed much more cheerful now.
"You call THAT a royal speech?" Interrupted a gruff voice from the stairwell leading to the dining room. Turning, Twilight and Caramel saw a very old, large and imposing earth pony looming on the bottom step. He was dark brown in colour, with almost comically large muscles, his body littered with scars. His mane was cropped short and a thick beard adorned his muzzle. He was garbed in an old and weatherworn military uniform a red and black parade jacket with thick black boots on each hoof. A large broadsword was strapped to his left flank. This was Sir Colter Buck, her mentor. Despite his fearsome appearance, he had a kindly air about him and a smile on his face. "You didn't shout, you didn't threaten, and you were far too reasonable." He gave a belly laugh. "It was marvellous!" He turned to Caramel. "Good to see you boy, but I'm afraid I'll have to borrow your beloved for today's training."
"Just so long as she's still in one piece later." Said her betrothed with a grin, which caused her to roll her eyes.
"I'll see you later." She said, and gave him a quick kiss, much to his delight. Colter looked on in bemusement, but said nothing as he turned around and trotted up the stairs. Twilight hurried to catch up with him.
Walking through the dining room, Colter glanced at her, all business now. "I suppose you've heard the rumours, then. Well I'm afraid they are quite true."
"W-what?" Said Twilight nervously. "That can't be
"It is. Who knows what your aunt will do next
" The princess didn't want to believe it
but if there was anyone in the world she trusted above all others, it was Colter. She knew he was telling the truth. Just how far had her aunt fallen?
"In the meantime the mood in the castle is getting more uneasy by the day."
Twilight had to agree the tension had been building for weeks, like everything was coming to some sort of a head. She hoped the results would not be too catastrophic.
"I think you have a knack for reaching out to people, you know." Startled at the sudden change in conversation, she glanced at him curiously. "They all really looked up to you back there." There was a strange glint in his eyes. "The way they look up to a leader
Feeling slightly unnerved, she was unprepared for the vast amount of people crowding in the entrance hall, chatting angrily to each other. There was a cordoned off section that prevented them entering the castle proper, and two of Nightmare Moon's elite guard ponies stood watch over them. Twilight shuddered; the new guards that the Queen had drafted gave her the chills. They were covered from muzzle to hoof in black cloth, their faces obscured by blank silver masks. They stood unnaturally still, watching for any law breaking eagerly. Twilight looked across the hall the training room was on the other side; they'd have to cross in plain view of everyone to get to it
"Sir Colter! Sir Colter! May I have a moment please?" The old solider looked startled to hear his name being called. A young unicorn was standing at the very edge of the cordon, waving a clipboard and quill with her magic wildly. The guards watched her menacingly, but took no action.
"Err, certainly." He replied stepping over, Twilight following just behind him.
"Would you care to sign my petition?" She said eagerly, indicating the clipboard. "I plan to present it to the Queen once I have enough support. We must eradicate poverty in Equestria too many are suffering, and she does nothing! She must be made to care!" The guards seemed very agitated now, but technically she had not broken any laws so they were forced to remain still.
"Very well," began Colter. "But I'm just an old soldier. I doubt my name would mean anything." The young mare seemed to deflate sadly. "But," he continued, looking at Twilight. "Perhaps the approval of the Princess might carry a bit more weight
"Oh!" Exclaimed the mare in surprise, noticing Twilight for the first time. "That
that would be wonderful, Your Majesty! It would be the greatest honour!"
Feeling extremely self-conscious with so many eyes on her, Twilight mustered up what she hoped was a kindly smile.
"I'd be happy to sign!" She said, and did so quickly, adding her signature to the woefully short list. The young unicorn seemed almost giddy with delight.
"Oh, thank you Princess! Your support will make all the difference, I'm sure of it!" Colter nudged the young royal softly.
"Come on, we have a busy schedule as it is." Nodding, she quickly bent her front legs in a bow to the people gathered in the hall, who all haphazardly responded in kind, nowhere near as elegant. The guards remained standing. She quickly trotted after Colter, who was storming ahead.
"That was a courageous move, though I doubt it will make much difference." He grumbled. Twilight sighed.
even with my support, it is ultimately Moon's decision as to whether or not anything will come of that petition. And I don't think she'll care for it much."
"Still, it serves its purpose. Perhaps now Moon will realise that you have a mind of your own." They had reached the end of yet another corridor, this one with large oak doors with a pair of crossed swords emblazoned on it. "Let's see you put it to use in the combat room, come on!"
The combat room was very spacious and less extravagantly decorated than the rest of the castle. Racks of all manner of blades and blunt instruments lined the walls, though they had all been safety-enchanted against dealing any serious injury. It was empty except for them this room was reserved for royals, nobles and instructors only. Average guards had their own training room in their barracks on the other side of the castle.
"Now, before we start the first spar," Began Colter, moving to the centre of the room. "I want you to summarise what you learned in your last theory session, make sure you've retained it all and all that malarkey. And I'm stressing the word summarise I know you, we'll be here for hours listening to you talk"
"Right." Interrupted Twilight, slipping into her 'Student' mode. "Let me see
last theory session was on
Basic Fighting Styles For Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi." She cleared her throat. "There are three basic styles of fighting with a close range melee weapon- one for each type of pony. Each style is directly related to that kind of pony's innate magical ability. Normally, a sword hilt would be far too difficult to be gripped between a pony's hooves, but since an Earth Pony's innate magic is focussed on creativity and hard work, making them naturally stronger and more adaptable than other ponies, over the years they have developed more joints in the legs and their hooves themselves are slightly jointed. This allows them better access to a wide variety of tools." She took a deep breath. Colter was looking slightly drowsy.
"This enables them to use the basic style of single hoofed combat. This style is most effective when a pony is raised on his or her hind legs, which Earth Ponies can maintain for longer than most, but not indefinitely. Using three legs to move and one to wield is less flexible, but more stable.
Unicorns have a more flexible style, as they can use magic to levitate one or more weapons around them without the need to grip them, the basic style of magically assisted combat. How many weapons, how long they can levitate them for, the complexity of the manoeuvres and whether or not any other spells can be cast while fighting all depends on the magical power of the unicorn in question. There are some disadvantages to this style, however. While levitating weapons allows for great range of attack, it also means it is very difficult to defend if a pony is facing multiple opponents at close quarters an earth pony actually gripping the sword would find it much easier to block other weapons. Unicorns using this style are advised to keep their weapons hovering close by their bodies and avoid extravagant attacks.
Pegasi, whose magic enables them to fly and physically interact with and manipulate weather, cannot properly grip a weapon or use magic to help them. For this reason, few Pegasi use conventional weapons. Instead, bladed armour plating is becoming prevalent, although this is highly expensive and difficult to master. Those who train in this basic style of aerial blade combat gain the vast advantage of being able to surround an enemy from all directions. Where earth ponies are built for strength and stamina and unicorns for precision and flexibility, Pegasi are focused on speed and power.
Normally, a unicorn such as myself would have to use the aforementioned magically assisted combat style. However, I am a rare case of the offspring of an Alicorn and an Earth Pony. Alicorns are only born as the offspring of two Alicorns, whereas the offspring of an Alicorn will be a cross between the non Alicorn and one of the three types of pony that an Alicorn is comprised of. That is, I am technically part Earth Pony from my father and part Unicorn from my Alicorn mother. This allows me to either grip the blade or levitate it. Gripping it would allow to cast more powerful spells in tandem with swordplay, since a portion of my reserves that would have been manipulating the weapons are now available"
alright, that's enough." Said Colter irritably, jerking Twilight out her monologue. "I thought I told you to summarise?"
"I did!" Twilight spluttered indignantly. "I missed out a lot of detail, and I was just about to"
"Enough with the theory. Let's spar."
Nodding, Twilight levitated a basic single hoofed sword from a nearby rack, and gripped it in her right hoof.
Colter, unable to use his broadsword as it was non safety-enchanted, opted for a large, wide blade that could be used for more powerful strikes, but sacrificed speed. "Begin. This is a no-magic spar. The first to twenty hits is the victor."
Nodding, Twilight charged forward, swinging in for an overhead strike. Colter blocked it almost casually and parried with a thrust to her chest. Undeterred, the princess rolled to the side and jabbed at his flank in one fluid motion, which he deftly blocked. They traded blows for several minutes, with Colter eventually scoring a point on Twilights left leg, which she had left exposed after an overextended lunge.
There was a brief lull in the fighting as the two circled each other, daring the other to move first and make a mistake.
Twilight. Do you remember the stories I'd tell you, when you were a foal?"
Twilight blinked in surprise. What did that have to do with anything? She barely had time to block as Colter swung his blade at her head. It seemed he wanted to talk and fight at the same time. "After your mother died, I would tell all those stories of her adventures before she became Queen. The stories of Celestia, the Great Hero of Equestria." He smiled sadly.
"You would never get tired of hearing those stories."
Twilight remembered. Even has she dodged a lunge and countered with a swift kick with her hind legs, earning a point, she could remember all of the fanciful stories Colter had told her. It had been exactly what she needed to cope with her mother's death- hearing all his incredible tales helped her feel like she understood her mother better, like she was still alive through the story.
"And after each one
do you remember what you would say?"
"Of course 'teach me to be a Hero." The Heroes were an old legend of Equestria. They were seemingly ordinary ponies blessed and cursed with great power. They were naturally stronger, faster, smarter and deadlier than other ponies, capable of feats any normal pony would not survive. It was said they had their own kind of magic known as Will, that was different from any other. Whereas unicorn magic was more about precise manipulation of objects, Will utilised the primal forces of nature itself. It was said Heroes who specialised in Will could summon vast infernos, lightning storms, slow time and even summon the dead.
It was very interesting, but Twilight had grown up since the days when she would eagerly read such tales. Even the rumours that her mother had once been a Hero before she became Queen were just that rumours that came about due to her huge popularity. She had been such a beloved Queen that people began attributing all kinds of otherworldly powers to her powers Twilight had certainly never seen her use. If Heroes had ever existed, it was hundreds of years ago there were none left now.
"Those are just stories, Colter." She said as she struck him on the flank when he didn't manage to roll away quite in time. "You know that. Why mention it now?"
He smiled, but did not say anything. Irritated, Twilight reared herself onto her hind legs and switched into a two hoofed grip. She could only maintain this stance for about five minutes or so, but it allowed her a wider range of movement and more powerful strikes.
Colter narrowed his eyes and copied her. With a jolt Twilight realised they had each racked up nineteen points each this one would decide the spar.
Gritting her teeth, she leapt forward, their blades meeting with an almighty clang. They pushed against each other in a lock for a few moments, but Twilight was slowly losing ground against Colter's superior strength. She quickly broke the lock and sidestepped, taking advantage of his momentary imbalance when his blade was suddenly pressing against thin air by raining a powerful blow down upon his back.
Not to be outdone, he quickly dropped and rolled back, putting distance between them. Panting and sweating, Twilight paused to catch her breath for a moment. He looked at her calculatingly.
"There is no doubt that you have improved vastly these past few weeks." He began. "But is that all you really have?" His eyes narrowed in a challenge. "Is that truly the extent of your strength?"
Twilight was starting to feel slightly angry. What was he playing at?
"Come on, Princess. Show me. Show me that you are not a helpless little filly anymore. Show me what you can really do, when you put that brilliant little mind of yours to work."
Twilight sped forward. "You want to see what I can do?" She shouted. "How about this!" As she violently swung her blade towards him, which he nonchalantly raised his own to block, she felt a strange sensation run throughout her body. It was like an intense pressure against her skin, starting in her chest and swiftly travelling through her forelegs to the hooves that brandished her sword, and for a split second at the very point of contact with Colter's blade Twilight felt the sword become a part of her, like it was an extension of her hoof, of her very being.
The severed pieces of Colter's sword clattered against the stone floor.
"Well, would you look at that!" He laughed. "You've only gone and broke it! Ha!"
Twilight dropped her weapon to the floor in shock, and she dropped back onto four legs. Had she really done that? She was stronger than most unicorns but there was no logical way that she would have had the raw physical power to do what she just did definitely not against an older, more experienced pony who was also a full earth pony, especially one of Colter's size.
how?" She managed to utter, shell shocked. Colter chuckled, and trotted over to her.
"You have more power than you think, Twilight Sparkle."
Twilight couldn't help but feel a sense of déjà vu Caramel had uttered those very words to her earlier, though he hadn't been talking about fighting.
" Colter looked nervous all of a sudden, as if he were about to say something completely outrageous. "There's something"
"Twilight! Sir Colter!" Caramel burst into the room, his mane ruffled and sweat pouring down his face. "You have to come quickly, both of you!"
"Caramel?" Said Twilight worriedly as she stepped forward to meet him, putting her strange feat and Colter's even stranger behaviour out of her mind for the time being.
"What's wrong? Did something happen?"
"Outside the castle doors," He panted. "It looks like there is some kind of demonstration or protest."
Twilight's eyes widened. A protest? It seemed things truly were getting out of hand. What would Queen Moon do? The three of them quickly rushed back into the main hall. The more peaceful citizens had vanished, and the guards were nowhere in sight. Looking out of the nearest window, Twilight could see a vast crowd of ponies brandishing signs and shouting angrily. She had never seen so many ponies in one place.
"This is not good," muttered Colter worriedly. "These ponies don't realise what Nightmare is capable of. This isn't going to end well." He turned from the window and sighed deeply. "It's been a long time since Moon listened to me
but I should find her." He glared sternly at both of the young ponies before him. "Stay here. There is something we still need to talk about."
The last part was addressed to Twilight alone. She nodded dumbly as he set off up the staircase. Oh, she hoped Rarity and Spike were alright
When he was out of earshot, Caramel turned to her. "I don't like this
look, there are no guards in the hall or in the corridors at the moment. We can't just stand here and do nothing we should follow Colter, see what Moon is going to do about this."
Twilight was very reluctant to disobey her mentor, but she would hate feeling helpless more. "They'll be in
" She swallowed. "The War Room. We should hurry, but be sure Colter doesn't catch us."
The two quickly followed the path Colter had travelled on not moments before. They passed the large double doors to the throne room and into a side chamber. On one side was the entrance to the War Room, its door slightly ajar. Muffled voices could be heard from within.
"We'll be able to eavesdrop through the keyholes." Caramel whispered.
Shaking, Twilight pressed an eye against the small gap, her betrothed copying her with the other.
Queen Nightmare Moon stood with her back to the door. Even facing away from them she was an intimidating sight. She held herself with the air of one who knew that within her domain, nothing could touch her. Across from her stood Colter, who, to his credit, was unfazed by her overwhelming aura.
"I implore you my Queen, think about what you are doing!" He protested.
Moon narrowed her eyes, her otherwise pretty face contorting into a scowl.
"I am protecting the interests of my people, soldier. Do not question me again." She turned away, considering the 'conversation' over, and spoke to someone outside of Twilights line of sight, presumably a guard. "You will aim to kill." Twilight had to stifle a gasp of horror surely she couldn't be serious? "Start with the ringleaders, and continue with the crowd until the message
sinks in." Twilight began to feel physically sick. How could anyone be so cruel?
"This is wrong!" Colter yelled. "You can't do this!"
Moon idly gestured with her wing and two guards swooped in, promptly kicking the ex-soldier in his gut. Gasping for breath, he collapsed to the ground. The Queen watched apathetically, and lowered her gaze to meet his.
"Never tell me what I can and cannot do." She stated, her expression blank.
Colter! Twilight screamed mentally. I have to do something!
"We can't let her kill all those ponies, we just can't!" Panicked Caramel. He turned, grasping her head between his hooves, fixing her with a piercing stare.
you're her niece. She has to listen to you!"
Twilight stood up, facing the door with a furious expression on her face. Her aunt had gone too far this time. Acting far braver than she actually felt, she opened the door with her magic, and stepped into the room.
Nightmare Moon glanced at her as if she were a mere annoyance. "What are you doing here? This is no place for a child. Leave."
Twilight stood her ground, but inside she was trembling. She felt Caramel place his hoof in hers, and she relaxed slightly.
"I'm here to try and reason with you." She stated calmly. "Please I ask you to reconsider there must be some way to resolve this without killing anypony! If you could just"
"Enough." The Queen cut her off sharply with a hiss. "Those who would so openly challenge my rule and organise themselves in such a fashion can only be one thing traitors who would seek to threaten the Equestria I have tasked myself with creating. The punishment for treason is death."
She's completely insane, thought Twilight in horror.
"But, ah yes, I see
you sympathise with them, do you not?" For the first time, Nightmare Moon smiled not a smile of happiness, but of sick, vindictive pleasure. "Perhaps you think that you should be that one making these decisions
perhaps from your very own throne? Very well
" She stomped her hoof, and two guards suddenly appeared behind Twilight and Caramel in a flash of light.
Oh, no, thought Twilight in horror. An invisibility spell! There really were guards all along the corridors after all!
"Escort my niece and her betrothed to the throne room." Ordered the ruler of Equestria. "We shall settle this dispute officially."
"No stop!" Cried Colter, but his call went answered.
As much as she struggled, Twilight knew it would be useless to try and escape. She and Caramel were led to the throne room, wondering what was going to happen.
The throne room was huge, with tall pillars reaching up to the ceiling high above, which was adorned with a highly detailed map of the night sky. At the very end lay two large, ornate thrones, one emblazoned with the image of the full moon, the other coated in a fine layer of dust, its symbol obscured it had not been used it some time. Behind them was a large window that took up the whole wall, opening out onto to private gardens.
"Move!" Shouted one of the guards roughly behind them.
"We're going, we're going
" Grumbled Caramel. Without warning, the guard violently shoved him, sending him sprawling to the ground. "Hey, what gives?"
"Leave him alone!" Twilight said angrily, helping him to his feet. "Don't worry," She whispered, "Whatever happens, we'll get through this together." Now she just had to convince herself
The guard behind them narrowed his eyes behind his helmet. "Keep walking." He snarled, and the two were marched into the centre of the room.
There was a swirl of dark energy near the base of the throne, and Nightmare Moon appeared in a surge of blue light. Taking her seat, she almost lazily tapped her hoof on the ornate chair's side, smirking.
"So, here comes the saviour of the people." She mocked. "Come closer, dear niece
Swallowing nervously, Twilight stepped forward, reluctantly leaving Caramel standing alone with the two guards.
"Today, you have disappointed me beyond measure. I have been betrayed by my own blood
" She turned sharply, fixing her steely gaze on Caramel. "
and a filthy spy."
"What?" Said Caramel incredulously. "We did nothing wrong!"
"Punishment must be apportioned where it belongs." Said the Queen harshly, ignoring his statement and rising out of her chair.
"Punish me, then!" Said Twilight angrily. "I'm the one who challenged you, not Caramel!" She was trying her best not to tremble; she had never been so scared in her life.
The monarch was silent for a moment. "You are no longer a child, and it is time I stopped treating you like one." She slowly stepped forward, until she was towering over her young niece. "You wish to defend those who have violently gathered inside the castle grounds?" She smiled cruelly. "Very well, you shall have your chance to save them."
At that moment, the doors burst open again as more guards came through, dragging a ragged group of about five ponies with them. They wore no clothes, their faces were dirty and bruised, and they were weeping softly. They had clearly been roughed up badly.
"Here are the leaders of the angry mob." Said Nightmare Moon in disgust, as if something slimy and venomous had been dragged into her halls. "I am going to give you a choice, Twilight." She murmured in a voice that made the young unicorn's hair stand on end. "Who will be punished these traitors, or your betrothed? The sentence
will be death!"
"WHAT?" Shouted Twilight in horror. "NO!" She turned to see Caramel be hit on the head brutally by one of the guards, and he was dragged kicking and yelling over to the group of would-be-revolutionaries. "Caramel!"
"Get off me, you can't do this! It's insane!" Caramel yelled, frantically trying to break free. Twilight felt her aunt's hoof on her shoulder.
"You are the Princess of Equestria." She pronounced. "It is your duty to decide such important matters
that's what you wanted, right?"
"No I won't do this!" She replied, defiant. The very thought of losing Caramel
it was too much. She couldn't lose someone else so important to her, not again. But those villagers had done nothing wrong she couldn't place the lives of five innocent people below that of another. This was madness!
The Queen's eyes narrowed. The dark aura of her mane seemed to intensify, and her wings spread imposingly. "I you do not decide, then I will. I trust you do not need me to tell you what my decision would be."
"Please," Twilight sobbed. "Don't make me do this!"
"I am giving you power over life and death!" Roared the Queen. "So tell me
what are you willing to sacrifice, to do the right thing?"
The group of villager ponies sobbed harder, certain they were about to die.
She turned and gazed across the room, straight into the eyes of her fiancé. The fear was gone from his face it was now set in a mask of determination.
Her heart stopped. "No."
it has to be me! You can't let these people suffer!"
I can't! I can't lose you!" She wailed, falling to a heap on the floor. Nightmare Moon watched impassively, unmoving. "I love you!" She hiccupped through her tears.
"I know." Caramel smiled grimly. "And I love you. The people of Equestria love you
and its time that you made a stand. That's why
it has to be me. They trust in you to do the right thing
just as I do."
"You have five seconds, Princess." Hissed Moon.
" Trembling, the Princess of Equestria shakily raised her hoof
and pointed at Caramel. "I'm sorry." She whispered hoarsely.
"The traitors live." The Queen stated dispassionately. "The boy dies. Guards!" The two that were grasping Caramel lifted him roughly to his feet.
its ok. I love you
"Take him to the courtyard to be executed, immediately."
I'm so sorry." Twilight stammered, reaching out to try and grab him as the guards walked past. Their hooves touched briefly, and then he was out of the chamber, the doors slamming with a resounding bang. Twilight stared at her hoof, trying to memorize the feeling of that touch, of the kiss they had shared, the years they had spent laughing with each other
A feeling unlike any other welled up inside her. It wasn't sadness. It wasn't pain. It was hatred pure, furious hatred for the individual who had turned her life into a living nightmare. Standing up slowly, she turned to face her aunt, the tears still streaming down her cheeks. "I will never forgive you for this." She stated coldly. Her aunt simply smiled.
"Good then you will never forget it." The Queen turned to the remaining guards. "Half of you, take the traitors back to their families with just a warning for now. The other half, escort my niece to her chambers. She is to remain there for the remainder of the day."
Twilight didn't even try to resist as she was dragged back up the tower staircase, or flung unceremoniously into her room. She said nothing when Rarity and Spike arrived and tried to discover what had happened, their worried questions being met with stony silence. Minutes turned into hours.
Spike helpfully bought her a cup of tea and a lettuce sandwich. They lay ignored.
Wordlessly, she stood up and moved to the window, where she had a clear view of the grounds. The mob was gone now, and a member of the cleaning staff was using his magic to clean the stonework.
Moving her gaze to the skyline, to the smoky backdrop of the Industrial Sector, Twilight watched as a flock of birds flew past overhead, oblivious to the world below. Free, without a care in the world
"I will never forgive you." she whispered, uncertain if she was talking to Nightmare Moon