In Search of the Sun
Twilight's eyes fluttered open as the delightful scent of breakfast swam into her senses. Brushing her mane from her eyes, she sat up in bed, stretching off the dense relaxation of heavy slumber. "Morning, Spike," she yawned out. Hearing no response, she peeked over the foot of her bed. Spike's basket was empty, and with the aroma of eggs and pancakes coming from downstairs, she could only assume he was busy cooking the early meal.
She glanced out the window, prepared to meet gaze with her mentor's golden sun as usual, but was instead met with the night's darkness. Odd, she thought, even for the early Spring months. A quick eye at her alarm, however, revealed the hour to be earlier than she thought: just after 5.
"Why in Equestria is Spike up this early?" she asked herself as she stood from the bed. The dragon was no early riser, more often sleeping in well past sunrise. She even remembered that once in the past winter, when she let him have the day off, he had slept the entire day! It must be a cold-blooded thing, she thought as she reset her blankets properly.
She cycled through her morning rituals. She walked to the mirror across the room, combed her mane into place by her reflection, then brushed her teeth in the small bathroom connected to her bedroom. She looked herself over again, her magic casting light in place of the morning's rays, until she felt she looked ready for her day. She wasn't much for glamor, but she wasn't against admiring her own appearance either. "Looking good, Twilight!" She giggled as she spoke to herself. Too much time around Rarity, perhaps.
As if on cue, she heard a small voice call from below: "Breakfast is served!"
As she descended the stairs, the smell of the fresh meal grew more powerful. Being in a library, the small personal kitchen had never seen much use before, but with Spike's growing interest in cooking, it was quickly catching up to its years of being left idle.
Twilight sat at a small study table as Spike busily poured two glasses of milk. "Good morning, Spike. I'm surprised to see you awake this early." She looked over to Owlowiscious' small perch, seeing it empty as well. The owl must still be out for his nightly foraging, she thought.
"Morning, Twilight!" the dragon answered. He retreated back into the small kitchen with the still half-filled milk carton, only to quickly return with two full plates, one balanced on each hand. "I woke up early, so I just decided to cook breakfast!" He placed the two plates before Twilight, returning back to grab his own plates afterwards. Finally taking his own seat, he gave a final concern of his aspirations. "Hope you like it!"
Twilight looked over the meal. The dragon's first few attempts at cooking had resulted in less than savory servings. Once, he had tried to cook milk using his fiery breath, resulting in a solid milk-goo. Another time, he had baked tea cakes, but neglected to mention the gemstone filling until Twilight had taken a rather painful bite of quartz. These failings corrected and a few cookbooks later, however, and Spike was becoming quite the chef. On one plate sat two stacked pancakes, topped with a slice of butter and drizzled with maple syrup and honey. On the other, two sunny-side up eggs were connected by the whites, and a lightly buttered piece of toast was laid to the side.
The unicorn finished admiring the lovingly prepared breakfast, taking her fork with her magic. "It looks wonderful, Spike!" She cut off a small section of the pancakes, piercing the stacked, fluffy triangles through with the fork. Taking a bite, she quickly found the food tasted even better than it looked. "Mmm! If you were a pony, I'd say your cutie mark would be for cooking!"
Spike shoveled in his own serving with haste, hardly savoring his own creation. He paused only to respond. "Hey, I'm an assistant first; chef second!"
Twilight giggled to herself at the serious, yet food covered face of the dragon. He had somehow managed to get the butter slice stuck to his forehead. "And a wonderful assistant you are." She answered, using her magic to clean his face from across the table with his napkin.
The two ate in silence on the first floor of the library. Today, Twilight planned to visit a curios shop on the far side of Ponyville which she had heard about from Zecora. Supposedly, this place had a small collection of unusual books and magical assortments. The usefulness of this venture was debatable, but it would make for an interesting letter to the Princess none-the-less. Princess Celestia, she corrected in her head. She had been so used to knowing only one Princess that it had become second nature to call her "the" Princess. Princess Luna had since retaken her duty as the Moon Bearer, and now both Princesses together ruled Equestria. On occasion, Twilight had wondered if now she was the apprentice of both Princesses, or if she was still under the wing of just the Sun Bearer. Perhaps she would have to ask that in the letter as well. In any case, she would love the opportunity to study under Princess Luna, even if only for a temporary time. Even Twilight's name reflected her love of the night, stars, planets, and further cosmos visible only after the sun's setting. It'd be a wonderful chance to study under the mare that governed that very sky.
She glanced out the window again. Darkness still loomed over the brisk morning. She turned back to her meal, taking a small bite of her toast.
Her eyes flashed to attention. "Wait a minute..." She looked over to the clock. It was now just past 6. "What in Equestria?"
Spike looked up from his meal, face again a mess. "What's up, Twilight? Something wrong with the food? I made sure not to put any gems in yours this time."
Twilight walked over to the small window, a hint of concern in her voice. "It's not the food, Spike. Have you noticed how dark it is outside?"
Spike hopped from his seat, wiping his own face clean this time. He moved beside the unicorn. "Well, yeah. It's really early."
"Wouldn't we at least see the sun starting to rise? Some light over the horizon or something?" she asked, staring out over the blackened silhouettes of Ponyville.
Spike tapped a claw to his chin. "Yeah, I guess. Maybe our clocks are wr-HRRP!" Fire shot from the small dragon as a burp of magic came unexpectedly. Twilight's years of living with the dragon had heightened her reaction time to these transactions, and she nimbly ducked the burst. A rolled scroll fell to the floor with a dull rattle of paper.
"A letter?" Twilight inquired.
Spike recomposed himself. "Isn't it a bit early?"
Twilight shifted on her hooves, staring out into the darkness. "I have a bad feeling about this, Spike."
Spike picked up the rolled parchment before noting an anomaly. "Hey, Twilight, this letter doesn't look like the usual ones."
Twilight looked back to the dragon. Sure enough, the parchment he held was not the typical yellow scrolls of Princess Celestia. This scroll was a pale indigo color, with deep purple trim and glossy, black rollers. "I don't like this. What does it say?"
Spike unrolled the scroll, reading each line as written.
You and your fellow Elements of Harmony are urgently needed at Canterlot Palace. Gather your companions at once! Within the hour, a chariot will arrive to collect your party.
The message was brief, but impacting. Something was wrong, indeed.
"What do you think it means?" Spike asked, rereading the letter to himself.
Twilight didn't waste time explaining her thoughts on the matter. "No time!" she ordered, rushing to the door. "You fetch Pinkie and Rarity. I'll go get Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Fluttershy. Tell them to meet at the library immediately!" With no further words, Twilight bolted from the building, off to find her friends.
"G-gotcha!" Spike quickly answered to the charging unicorn. Jumping to attention, he headed off as well.
The six ponies, with dragon along as well, rode in an unsettling silence. Two pegasus Night Guards had arrived as told, Princess Luna's cart in tow, to provide a quick trip to Canterlot. It was just around 7 now, yet darkness still hung heavy over the land.
Spike had found Pinkie and Rarity easy enough at their homes. Pinkie instantly shot into vibrancy when awakened, but Rarity took longer to coax. She insisted to get ready before any such appearances outside, and was, when she eventually showed, the last to arrive at the library just before the Guards, wrapped in a white coat and lavender scarf.
Twilight had had a bit more luck with the others. Applejack was already awake when she arrived at the farm, preparing an apple cart for the market. Applejack had agreed to get Fluttershy, leaving Twilight with the task of fetching Rainbow Dash. Though lazy-natured, when she was truly needed, Dash would always be ready to go, and proved so again after only a few words.
Twilight read the distressing note to her friends, punctuating the emergency in her tone.
"Wha'dya think it means, Twi?" Applejack asked, staring worriedly out the window to the ground below. She wasn't comfortable with traveling by air, despite all of Dash's reassurances of it being "the best way to go".
Twilight looked down to her hooves. "I don't know, AJ. But, I know it can't be good."
Rainbow Dash relaxed in her seat, sunglasses needlessly covering her eyes. "Eh, probably just some bad guy we have to rough up. The usual."
"I certainly hope it's nothing too serious," Rarity fretted, adjusting her ornate bonnet. "This is cutting into my beauty sleep."
Spike sat beside the posh pony, leaning far too close to her side of the cart. "You're beautiful even without it," he fawned, hearts flashing in his eyes.
His compliment was quickly ignored as Applejack gave her own comment to the unicorn. "Don't ya think yer overdressed jus' a bit, Rarity?"
Rarity feigned a mock horror. "Dearest Applejack, I most certainly am not! I am merely dressing for the conditions. The coat and scarf are for warmth, but that doesn't mean they can't also be stylish!"
"An' th' hat?" Applejack asked cynically.
"It's a bonnet," Rarity answered flatly. "And you have no room to talk, darling," she added, pointing to Applejack's own headwear.
"Girls! Girls!" Pinkie interjected. "Let's not fight. Besides! Isn't it obvious? We've been invited to a party!"
"A party?" the others asked in unison.
"Well, duh!" Pinkie began. "Why else would Princess Luna send us a letter this early? It must be a surprise party!"
Twilight rubbed her temples. "Pinkie, I really don't think it's a party..."
Fluttershy had remained quiet for most of the trip so far. "Um, girls? Did anypony else see the sun rise this morning? I mean, at all?"
"That's what I'm worried about, Fluttershy," Twilight answered, looking up to the crescent moon hovering listlessly above in the sky. "It shouldn't still be this dark out."
"We are arriving at Canterlot," one of the guards bellowed back in a royal tone. Magic torches lined the walls of the dark palace ahead in faint blue light. The shadowed spires of Canterlot loomed forebodingly in the distance as the chariot descended. Hastily, the group departed, led by the guards.
At the doors before the throne room, Luna paced uneasily. At the approach of the elements, she ceased this nervous repetition, and turned to face the gang. "Twilight Sparkle! It is most favorable to see thou hast arrived!" In her excitement, she had reverted to her old manners, speaking in a booming voice and ancient dialect. She shook her head to calm herself. "And it's good to see you found your friends as well."
Twilight and company stopped before the Princess, each bowing in respect. Twilight was the first to speak. "Princess Luna! What's the matter? Why hasn't the sun risen?"
Luna sighed heavily. "You are most astute. I assure thee, one has had no such hoof in this affair. Thou-" Luna shook her head again, trying to keep her dialect consistent. "You! You must help me!"
Twilight could sense the frantic emotions fighting the Night Princess. Her eyes grew wide. "Something's happened. Is Princess Celestia okay?"
Luna looked away, unable to meet the unicorn's eyes. "She is not, Twilight. She has fallen ill."
Gasps escaped from the group at the news. Fluttershy stepped forward. "Ill? She's sick?"
Luna only nodded grimly.
"With what?" Twilight quickly inquired.
"Does she need medicine?" Fluttershy followed.
"Maybe a nice soup'll do th' trick." Applejack nervously answered.
"Everypony," Luna interjected. "You will see for yourselves..."
Turning from the group, her magic pressed open the large double doors to the throne. Across the long, torch lit room, a tall figure lay still. It was undoubtedly Princess Celestia.
Twilight charged across the room to her mentor. "Princess!" The others soon reached their friend, seeing the stricken ruler better in the low light. Her coat was paler than normal, and the color had faded from her mane, leaving it striped in grey tones. The magic that normally kept her mane and tail adrift on phantom winds now let the hair drape freely across the floor and steps of the throne dais. Her eyes were closed near-full, only leaving the smallest sliver of space at the bottom agap. Everypony in the room felt a sick twisting in their gut as they saw their once powerful protector lying helplessly in her throne.
Twilight continued trying to stir her mentor. "Princess Celestia! It's me, Twilight! Princess?" She gently shook the alicorn, her soft motions turning frantic with each lack of response. Tears began to form in Twilight's eyes. "Princess? Please! Please, Celestia!"
"She cannot hear you." Luna spoke softly, her own eyes wet with welling tears. "It is the illness that has her now."
Twilight tried a few more times to rouse the downed Princess, before retiring her efforts. She looked to Luna. "What happened?"
"A sickness that can only befall our kind," Luna answered. She moved beside Twilight, placing a hoof gently over the forehead of her weakened sister. "In the millennium of my absence, she has over-used her magic. This debt has been catching up to her. Without rest, our kind grows weaker, and if we press ourselves too far... "
"She did this to herself?" Twilight asked, pained by the implications.
Luna looked away from the inquisitive unicorn. "She must have known. I hoped retaking my duties would let her recuperate, but I was too weak. My powers are still weak from my absence. I can barely maintain the moon, much less the sun!" A tear shimmered in the pale light as it fell from the Lunar Princess' cheek. "I've seen the signs for months now. I tried to help, but she kept insisting she was fine..."
Fluttershy stepped beside the Night Princess. "There has to be something we can do."
Luna let a frail smile show across her tear-streaked face. "There is. There is a cure for what ails her. However, it lies outside of our Kingdom of Equestria."
Fluttershy cowered beneath her mane. "O-outside of Equestria?"
Rainbow Dash was not as daunted by this message. "Where is it? We'll have it back in no time!"
"That, my little ponies, is the problem," Luna responded, lying down in the throne beside her ailing sister. "It is... far outside of Equestria. Even outside of this world's realm."
"Er, beg yer pardon, Princess," Applejack interjected, cocking a brow, "but wha'dya mean by 'outside'a this realm'?"
"I must explain," Luna began. "We alicorns are not from this realm. We are not from this world as you ponies are. We come from a place far beyond. A place called the Eternal Realm. That is where you'll find the cure: the Panacea of Eternity."
This did not dampen Twilight's resolve. "How do we reach the Eternal Realm?"
"You cannot on your own," the Night Princess replied. "You will need the guidance of an immortal."
"Is there any other way?" Rarity asked, a nervous look on her face.
Luna sighed. "No. And if she does not receive this cure, I'm afraid..." Tears again formed in the Princess' eyes.
Twilight moved to nuzzle the powerful mare. "We'll get this cure. I promise." She turned towards her friends. "Right, girls?"
"Right!" the group answered, Spike included.
Luna smiled weakly to the ponies. "Thank you. I cannot raise the sun for you. I am not yet strong enough. But I can keep the moon at its fullest for your journey."
The mare stood, letting her powerful magic swirl around her fluted horn. Her eyes opened, revealing a shining magical light within. A low noise filled the palace as the night's sky brightened in a weak glow. Twilight looked up through the glass ceiling of the throne room, watching as the moon's radiance slowly expanded to it's fullest.
The act complete, there was only one last thing to do. "Come with me. There is one more unpleasantry that must come before you depart."
Twilight followed with her friends close behind as they exited the throne room. "What do you mean, Princess?"
"I told you, Twilight Sparkle; you will need a guide to find the realm."
"But, Princess," the purple unicorn asked. "You said we needed to be guided by an immortal. Doesn't that mean you?"
Luna shook her head. "No. With my sister in this condition, I must act as sole ruler in her place, and I refuse to leave her as she is." She gave a nod to the royal guards by the doors. "Allow nopony in. Use whatever force is needed," she ordered.
Both guards stiffened in place, understanding the severity of the situation. "Understood, your Majesty."
Rarity stepped forward. "Then, Princess, who else is there to lead us?"
Luna sighed weakly. "That is the unpleasantry..."
The group continued their walk in confused silence. The dark corridors echoed with each hoofstep of their journey. Several turns through the dim palace had led them to a large spiral staircase, surrounded by guards of unicorn, pegasus, and stout earth pony type. The stairs descended into a sunless blackness for what seemed like miles, reaching deep into the mountain of Canterlot. At the bottom, the party was led past many doors, all heavily protected by palace guards, both of Celestia's and Luna's ranks. As the hallway opened, they found themselves outside of the final gate. Two large, metal doors sat before them, latches lined with dozens of keyholes, and a runed chain wrapped around its handles.
Luna lifted the strange chain from the latches with magic, placing it on Twilight like a necklace. "Do not remove this, Twilight Sparkle. You will know why soon."
The Princess turned to the final set of guards. "Open the door."
Both guards gulped at the order, but obeyed. Several seconds passed as the guards cycled each keyhole, placing respective keys loosely in the spaces. When all were set, they looked back to the Princess, confirming their task. Luna completed the act with her magic, turning all keys at once with a large metallic clank. The guards then grabbed the handles of the doors, opening the small cell.
The room inside was swallowed in inky blackness, but the group could tell something was moving within the dark confines.
A deep voice rose out of the shadows. "Lookie, lookie..."
"Cookie, cookie!" Pinkie shouted in giggling excitement, unfazed by the eerie setting.
"Ah, Pinkie," the voice called. "I have missed that about you; always laughing."
Stepping out of the darkness, the figure became visible to the group. Long, serpentine body; mismatched limbs; horned crown and winged back; one oversized fang.
Twilight reeled back, shocked anger on her face. "Discord!"
"BINGO!" the draconequus shouted. "Did you miss me?"
"Do not be afraid," Luna spoke sternly. "His magic has been bound to the runes Twilight wears. He is powerless."
Discord fanned a dismissive talon at the mare. "Oh, go and spoil all the fun. You know, I thought you'd be a bit more lively than your sister, but noooo."
"Why is he free? I thought we turned him back to stone!" Rainbow Dash shouted, poised defensively towards the strange being.
Luna's gaze never left Discord. "I turned him back, but not before binding his magic. You'll need an immortal to reach the Eternal Realm. And as much as I dislike it, Discord is the only other immortal."
"What?!" Applejack shouted indignantly to the alicorn. "Yer sayin' we gotta travel with this snake in th' grass? After all he put us through!"
Twilight quickly moved in front of her friend. "Applejack!" she whispered, hinting. "This is a Princess! You can't talk that way to a Princess!"
"Sure you can!" Discord answered, overhearing the quiet words. "Nothing special about a Princess. Hay, if there was, they wouldn't need to rely on you six so often!" He leaned over, turning his upper body almost fully upside down to see Spike. "Well, make that seven."
"I assure you," Luna spoke up, "there is no reason to fear him. Without his magic, he is no match for you. He cannot touch the runes that hold him, nor distance himself too far from them. He is nothing more than a guide."
Fluttershy looked out from her hiding spot behind Rarity. "I-I'm still a l-little scared of him."
The Princess turned to Twilight. "There is no other way, I am sorry."
Twilight looked to the draconequus. He stood on his rear legs, curled over where the ceiling limited his stance. Without magic, he really wasn't the terrible monster from before. He was like any other creature that lurked in the forests and mountains outside pony civilization. If this was what it took to save Princess Celestia, she had to accept it. "Do you promise to behave?"
Discord smiled wryly. His red eyes burned into her as he lowered his face to her level. "I promise to be on my very best behavior. Scout's honor."
She gave one final glance to Luna. She couldn't trust Discord, but the pleading look on the Princess' face spoke louder than the venomous words of the draconequus. "Okay. We'll take him."
"Oh, Twilight!" Discord shouted in a joyous tone. "We're just going to be the very bestest of buddies!" He picked up the unicorn in a hug, swinging her around the room as he spun. As his neck contacted the runes she wore, a bright light flashed, launching him painfully away from the pony and back into his cell. "Owwie."
The group stood at the gates of Canterlot Palace, the artificially full moon beaming down from above. Twilight was fitted with a saddlebag containing various provisions and rations for the journey.
Luna bowed before the group, setting aside her rank in this moment. "Please, be swift, my little ponies. All of Equestria depends on you. I depend on you." As she rose, she added, "I will send the palace's own to take care of your personal affairs while you are away, and to inform your families of this mission."
"Thank ya, Princess," Applejack praised.
"We'll do our best," Rarity added.
"We'll do better than our best," Twilight resolved.
"We'll be back before you can say 'sun shine!'" Pinkie joined.
"Oh, joy," Discord added drolly.
Goodbyes said, Princess Luna returned to rule beside her ill sister.
Twilight turned back to her friends. "Okay, first off- hey, where'd Discord go!"
He was gone. Everypony jumped to attention, frantically searching around for the missing immortal.
"There he is!" Rainbow Dash called, pointing to a large horse-head statue by the gate. Discord was curled at the top of it, sitting in a relaxed pose with arms crossed behind his head.
Twilight walked up to the statue. "So, where do we start?"
"We don't," the immortal answered without stirring.
"What?" Twilight snarled, glaring daggers at the draconequus.
"Whatever makes you ponies think I would ever want to help your Princess get better?"
Fluttershy rose a quiet protest. "But, you promised."
Discord leapt from his stony seat, landing before the timid pegasus. His face drew close to her own. "Um, hello? I'm chaos incarnate! I follow nopony's rules, not even my own! What do I care about promises?"
Fluttershy jumped in fear away from the immortal as Applejack stepped forward, holding a fierce gaze. "Princess Luna'd be mighty upset hearin' ya talk like that, Discord. Might wanna watch yer tongue..."
"Or what?" Discord scoffed. "What will the Big Bad Luna do to me?"
"She'll banish you to the moon!" Pinkie yelled to the beast.
"Big deal, there's plenty of fun to be had up there."
"She'll turn ya back t' stone!" Applejack replied.
"We both know she's going to do that anyway, so what does it matter? Besides, being a statue isn't so bad! It's like when your foot falls asleep, really." He leaned against the horse-head statue, paw and talon crossed over themselves.
They were getting nowhere fast, and Celestia was in no condition to be left waiting. Twilight had to think of something to break this stalemate. Racking her mind, she finally found her leverage. "She wouldn't do anything."
This visibly caught Discord off guard. "Come again."
"She'd take your powers, and let you go free."
Discord tapped his clawed paw to his bearded chin. "Free?" he laughed. "Some punishment, huh?"
Twilight knew she could win this match. "For us; no. But for you? Freedom to a life without chaos!"
The realization sank in at once as a small flutter of panic flushed over Discord's features. "Oh, that throws some oatmeal in the recipe, doesn't it?"
"Free!" Twilight continued, walking menacingly towards the immortal. "To an eternity of mornings, and noons, and nights." She moved closer, pressing Discord futher against the statue. "And neighbors and meetings and shopping and sleeping and living a happy, dandy, wonderful NORMAL LIFE!"
"STOP! STOP!" Discord shouted, holding his hands out defensively. "I can't bear anymore! Fine! Being a statue isn't as bad as that!"
Twilight smiled at her victory. "Then where do we start?"
Discord walked past Twilight and the group, paying little attention to their presence. "Everfree. We have to pass through the Everfree Forest first. That will take us to the edge of Equestria."
"Now, hold on, Discord!" Applejack called, jumping in front of the immortal. "Wha'dya mean by th' edge'a Equestria? Ya better not be tryin' t' pull th' wool over our eyes!"
Discord chuckled at her stern position. "Celestia sure has you brainwashed, doesn't she? Just beyond the Forest is the edge of Equestria: the Outer Ridge. Those two bumbling sisters don't rule everything, you know. And surprisingly, Ponyville is closer to the border than you would think. Now, are we going? I'm already tired of walking everywhere."
Reluctantly, the group followed their de facto guide. Their journey was now underhoof.
At the edge of the courtyard, their chariot waited. One guard spoke forward. "We have been advised to take you as far as the Everfree Forest."
"Good," Twilight answered. "We need to make a stop in Ponyville first to drop off Spike."
This caught the dragon's attention. "W-what! But I want to go!" Spike protested.
Rainbow Dash flew past the group to the chariot. "Sorry, kid, but you're just too young for something like this."
"Traveling through the Everfree Forest is... dangerous," Fluttershy added, scaring herself a little with the same words.
"I can handle it!" Spike insisted. "C'mon, Twilight! I want to help!"
Twilight sighed. He was a determined little dragon. Twilight herself had frequently passed through the Everfree Forest, and knew it wasn't as dangerous as others made claim. Still, she didn't know just how far they were going beyond.
She looked back to the dragon. He stared up at her with huge, watery eyes. "Please, Twilight!"
She couldn't resist that look. Besides, having Spike around meant a direct line to Princess Luna if ever needed. "All right. But I want you to stay in the group at all times!"
A huge smile brimmed fin to fin across Spike's face. "Yes!" He bounded into the cart, taking the reins at the helm. "To Everfree! YAH!" He snapped the small strap, quickly being met with the frustrated faces of the two guards at the front. "Oh, sorry."
Discord leaned back in his seat. "We're doomed."