Twilight Sparkle stirred in her slumber, her nightmares already starting to fade away as she neared consciousness. In time she opened her eyes and sat up with a yawn. She groggily rubbed the sleep from her eyes with the backs of her forefeet.
An unfamiliar bubbly voice called out from another room, "Rise and shine, buddy! You're the first one up, aside from me, of course. I'll bet you're really hungry and stuff; want some breakfast?"
Twilight was wide awake now. Who the hay was that? She surveyed her surroundings: cupboards filled with antique dishware lined the walls of the room. Warm late-morning sun filtered in through the windows, dappled by the trees outside. To her left were her friends Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie, each sleeping on the floor with a pillow and a blanket like the ones she had. To her right laid her fellow unicorn, Rarity, who had apparently been given the special privilege of sleeping on the couch.
This was obviously not Twilight's house, nor any house she recognized, for that matter. The purple pony whipped her blanket off and jumped to her hooves, recoiling at the soreness that permeated her every muscle.
"Hello? Did I mess up? I thought I heard somepony awake in there?" A cream-colored Earth pony stuck her head through the doorway, frowning: her orange-and-pink-streaked pigtails hung down as she craned her neck.
Twilight Sparkle jumped back in surprise. "Yaah! Who are you? And what are we doing here?" She thought back on what happened before she had fallen unconscious: the encounter with the Princess' army…the panic when they realized they were hopelessly outmatched…the desperate escape…seeing Rainbow Dash and her assailant tumble down from the air…being forced to jump in the ravine after them…
Twilight's thoughts were interrupted when the other pony stepped into the room and spoke: "Oh, I've been wanting to ask you the same thing ever since I saved everypony from...oh yeah, Inferno Corona's guys," she smiled, "Why don't we talk over breakfast?"
"Shouldn't we wake the others? I'm sure they—"
The taller earth pony cut her off, holding up a hoof: "Oh, nononono! They're all sleeping off injuries. Did you even see how badly you all were hurt? I mean all of you have cuts and bruises and stuff, but half of you are even more injured: your rainbow-colored friend's back legs are swollen, and the yellow pegasus has a broken wing. And…I hate to break it to you, but it looks like the white unicorn has a pretty serious head injury; for all I know she could be in a coma or something. I mean, all of you were knocked out cold when I got to you, but…"
Twilight's mind wandered when she heard the news. All of her friends were injured? Rarity in a coma? And who was this pony that said she rescued all of them? Twilight wasn't sure which question to start with.
"Wait, where's Spike?" she asked suddenly.
The other pony looked a little offended at being interrupted, then tilted her head, asking, "Wait, is he the little dragon, or the pegasus dude that was chasing you?"
Twilight was alarmed now. "Hold on, you saved Captain Cold Snap, the head of the pegasus troops? He was trying to kill us!"
The earth pony stared at her with her golden eyes, her cheery demeanor suddenly gone. "Hey, he had a ton of cracked ribs! I wasn't gonna leave him there, any more than I'd've left any of you guys. You're all strangers to me, but that doesn't mean I'm not gonna help someone out if they're hurt and need a place to stay."
Twilight's ears flattened against her skull. "Oh, I didn't realize…" she trailed off, unsure of how to answer that.
Twilight's host smiled again. "It's okay, I guess. You just gotta remember to be kind to everyone, even if they aren't so nice to you. But yeah, they're both in the bedroom, if you wanna see 'em. Anywho, where are my manners? I'm Oatmeal Sunrise!" Grinning, she happily stuck out a hoof and held it there, obviously expecting a shake.
The purple unicorn reached out and rather weakly shook the outstretched hoof. "I'm Twilight Sparkle."
"Hey, cool name! Mind if I call you Sparkle? For some reason I like nicknames like that. You can call me Sunrise if you want."
"Well..." Twilight's attention waned again as she suddenly remembered her companions' conditions. "Wait, I need to heal my friends!" She rushed over to Rarity, now noticing the stained bandage on her head. "I'm sure I've got a healing spell…" she clenched her eyes shut as she tried to remember the words she'd need to silently incant. As she recalled the procedure, purple energy sprang forth from her horn and surrounded the wounded area on her friend's head. With all her might she pushed her power into the spell, reciting the arcane words in her mind; however, she could feel her strength slowly ebbing. Too tired to stand, she collapsed, and the magic disappeared. "Ooohh..." The purple unicorn felt tired now, despite having just woken up.
Immediately Oatmeal was at the magical mare's side. "You okay?" she offered her leg and helped Twilight to stand.
"Yeah, I'm all right…I think," Twilight responded through a haze of fatigue.
"You really shouldn't try stuff like that; you're healing, too, right? You need to get your strength back before you use magic like that. C'mon and follow me, and I'll get you some breakfast."
Feeling drained, and with no real choice, Twilight slowly followed the other pony into the next room.
- - -
"You say you're good with healing magic?" The cream-colored pony queried as she prepared breakfast.
Twilight patiently sat at the table and sipped her orange juice while she waited. She could already feel a little of her strength returning now that she had at least something in her stomach. "Actually, I'm proficient with all kinds of magic: it's my special talent." She couldn't help but feel proud showing off her cutie mark, angling her flank so the cook could see it. "The large, bright star represents my unbounded magical potential."
The other mare turned, looked, and gave an amazed whistle. "That's pretty nifty! Me, I'm good at helping ponies and caring for them and stuff. One day I wanna open up a bed and breakfast. See my cutie mark? The heart and rising sun show how I like to nurture others and put warmth in their hearts." However, the aforementioned icon wasn't visible, as it was covered by the earth pony's overalls. "Whoops, my bad! I guess I'll hafta show you later—"
"No, that's all right." For some reason the thought of the other pony removing her clothes made Twilight feel uneasy, even though clothes were not mandatory in pony society, and she herself was presently naked.
"Ah, here we are!" Oatmeal exclaimed, "Come and get it! Well, actually, I'll get it to you. Hang on." She took the pot she was tending to in her mouth and poured a generous helping of oatmeal into a waiting bowl on the counter. Setting the pot back on the stove, she then added some cinnamon and sugar to her guest's breakfast before bringing the meal over to her. "Eat up! It's my signature dish: I call it my 'Oatmeal Sunrise.' I've got a zillion recipes, but this one is my all-time favorite," she proclaimed with a satisfied grin.
Twilight was about to comment on the oddity of naming a dish after oneself when she took in the smell of the meal, causing her mouth to water. She didn't realize how hungry she had been until she stared down at the steaming bowl before her.
"Hey, you okay, Sparkle? Don't you like oatmeal? I didn't spit in it or anything."
This roused the unicorn. "What? No, it looks and smells delicious. I was just lost in thought." She magically lifted the spoon provided and happily began to eat. After swallowing a couple of mouthfuls, she said, "Mm, this is good! You know, my friend Applejack is a talented cook as well."
"She's gotta be the orange gal with the apples, right?"
Twilight nodded. This pony had a really loose and casual way of speaking, but the unicorn tried not to let it annoy her; she was, after all, letting them stay in her home.
"Say, I've been meaning to ask you: how'd you get here? What in the world were you doing running around the woods with a buncha guys on your tails?" Oatmeal returned to the stove and started making some more food.
"Well, the last thing I remember is fleeing Cold Snap and his stallions, then all of us falling into a deep ravine," the unicorn said between spoonfuls of oatmeal.
"And that's when Boartha and I found all you guys just lying there and carried you back to my place," the other pony chirped as she busily tended to an omelet.
"Boartha?" asked Twilight, raising an eyebrow.
"Boartha. She's my pet pig. See?" The cheery pony gave a call, and into the room rushed a small, hairy pig that immediately snooted and sniffed the purple mare's legs. The unicorn pulled back with a cry. "Eh-hehe, lovely…" She then looked at her host again with wide eyes, "Wait, you two carried all of us back by yourselves?"
Oatmeal Sunrise nodded, then shook her head. "Well, not all at once; I had to take you guys two at a time."
"That's pretty impressive," Twilight said as she sipped her orange juice, "I wouldn't be able to do that, at least not without magic."
"That's one of the great things about being an earth pony, I guess: we get to be all strong and everything." The cream pony turned from the stove with the frying pan in her mouth and tipped it, dropping the omelet onto her guest's plate. "There you—" there was a sudden and sharp clatter as the pan dropped out of the pony's mouth and onto the floor. Both ponies winced at the racket. "My bad." Oatmeal shooed her pet away from the fallen dish, quickly picked the item up, and deposited it into the sink. "Sorry 'bout that. Anywho, what were all you guys doing running from the princess' dudes?"
"Well, it's a long story, but I guess we're not going anywhere anytime soon…" Twilight settled in her chair and began her tale.
Chapter 1: Dark Sunrise
Twilight Sparkle was worried. Why wasn't Princess Celestia responding to her letters? The purple unicorn hadn't received any communication from her mentor in at least a week.
"What's going on, Spike? Did something happen to her?" She screamed in anxiety and frustration as she paced the main floor of her library.
Spike turned from the books he was dusting and responded for what seemed the umpteenth time that week with, "Calm down, Twilight! How many times do I have to tell you? Princess Celestia has probably just been really bu-"
Before the little purple dragon could finish his sentence, however, there was a sudden and heavy knocking on the door. "Open up!" commanded a gruff voice on the other side.
Twilight opened the door and was very surprised to see a large, middle-aged stallion decked in armor standing before her. Behind him were several other earth ponies, each one bearing armor emblazoned with a stylized depiction of the sun - the Royal Crest. Twilight went from surprised to nervous in a heartbeat. What were Princess Celestia's troops doing here? Was this connected to her recent lack of response? "Can I help you with anything?"
"I am General Stone of the Equestrian Royal Army. You are Twilight Sparkle, student of the Princess; is this correct?" the slate blue-haired soldier questioned in a deep voice.
"Yes, why?" The mare had difficulty keeping the shakiness out of her voice.
"We have orders from Inferno Corona to take you to Canterlot immediately."
"Inferno...Who?" She raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"Princess Inferno Corona. The former Princess Celestia has declared that from now on she shall be known by that name."
Twilight's heart beat even faster now. "Uh...why? What's going on?"
The brown-eyed general looked the mare in the eyes. "That is not your concern, I am afraid. All I know is the Princess wants all of her subjects under careful watch, and for you to appear before her in Canterlot."
"Careful...watch?" What in the world would cause the kind, caring princess to suddenly start scrutinzing her subjects? Was there some kind of national threat?
"Are you deaf, child?" The stone-grey stallion snorted, then turned away. "You have fifteen minutes to prepare before you are escorted to the capitol."
Twilight gave an uneasy nod, then closed the door. Whatever was happening, she would have to get to the bottom of it.
"What was that all about?" Spiked asked as he ambled up to the unicorn's side.
"Spike, something's definitely up."
Twilight Sparkle ran around the library, occasionally stopping to pull a book off its shelf and tuck it into one of her saddlebags.
"Geeze, do we really need all this stuff?" whined Spike as he balanced a rather large amount of food and canteens, "We're only going up to see the Princess."
"I told you: I think there's something threatening her. I want to be prepared for anything, especially if it comes down to fighting whatever this threat is."
"But all of the stuff you have here isn't going to fit," the dragon dropped the heap next to stacks of books and warm clothes.
"That's why I'm going to use...magic!!" With a flourish the young mare whisked out a book and thumbed through it with her unicorn powers until she reached the desired page. "A-ha! Stand back, Spike, this could be-"
"I know, I know, dangerous," the dragon rolled his eyes and did as he was told.
The unicorn closed her eyes and concentrated. A purple glow emanated from her horn and enveloped her saddlebags. In her mind she read the runes before her, pushing as much power as she could into the spell. Within a moment the weight on her back lifted, and the bags appeared empty. Finished, Twilight cut off power to the spell and sat down.
"Whoo, that was tiring," she panted.
"Uh...what exactly did you do?"
"I cast a 'Bag of Holding' spell. My saddlebags can now hold a nearly infinite amount of items." Though she was exhausted, the mare couldn't help but feel proud of herself for not only casting the spell, but finding it in the first place.
After a moment's rest, the purple pony stood up. "Okay, Spike, let's finish packing."
The dragon eyed the bags as he asked, "Wait, those bags can hold everything, but...won't they be really heavy?"
Twilight shook her head, "Oh, no. That's part of the spell: you see, when the supplies are put into the bag, the magic-"
"Forget it, I don't want to hear how it works; all your scientific talk usually makes my head hurt, anyway."
"Hmph, some assistant you are. Fine, just help me finish packing, then."
At last the purple unicorn and her assistant arrived before the double doors to the Princess' throne room, escorted by two guards on each side.
"Halt." commanded one of the guards in front of the door. He pointed to Spike, "You, wait out here; the Princess wishes to speak only with her student."
"Remove your saddlebags," commanded the other one.
"What's with the tight security around here?" grumbled Spike as he hopped off Twilight Sparkle's back.
The lavender unicorn removed her bags and levitated them to her dragon. "I really don't like what's going on, but you wait out here and watch this for me until I come back."
"Like I even have a choice. Fine, you go on and have your talk with the Princess," the baby dragon sighed in resignation.
"Thank you," responded Twilight as she headed through the slowly opening doors. She looked around her in awe: the throne room was gigantic, spanning the length of at least a hoofball field. Even as a student in Canterlot she had only rarely been afforded the privilege of seeing Celestia's audience chamber.
As the doors closed behind the young mare she slowly walked through the room, taking in its delicate beauty. The marble floor was tiled in a black-and-white checkerboard pattern whose polished surface captured everything above in ebony and ivory hues. On the ceiling danced a dazzling orange sun and pristine white clouds against an azure backdrop in what the unicorn would say was the most beautiful mosaic she had ever seen. The astoundingly tall marble support pillars were gilded and crowned with exquisitely carved Corinthian capitals. At the far end of the chamber rose a wide set of low steps leading up to a throne, itself intricately inlaid with images of celestial objects.
As Twilight fast approached the throne she came to her senses, shook her head, and said rather loudly to herself, "Now, it's time to see what's going on with...Princess Celestia?"
This couldn't be right at all! The figure sitting before her didn't exactly match the image of the monarch she knew and loved, but there was no mistaking it. The princess was a dazzling white, her coat somehow purer than it normally was. Her mane and tail looked like living flames, flowing and flickering with the occasional crackle. The alicorn seemed to simply radiate heat and light like the sun itself. For all the warmth she emitted, however, the ruler commanded a cold tone, sounding strict and devoid of any emotion.
"Do not call me by that name any longer, child, for I am no more the weak and feeble ruler I once was."
Twilight reconsidered. This could not possibly be Celestia; everything was...off. Whoever this was, she had to be a fake. Or something. "Who are you," Twilight feebly croaked, "and...what happened to the real Princess?" She tried to stand tall, even though she was very much intimidated by the form before her.
"Why, my faithful student, whatever gave you the notion I was not who I said I was? I thought you of all ponies would recognize her close teacher. Her ruler. I was indeed Princess Celestia, when I was weaker. But no longer. Twilight Sparkle, I will forgive you for your unfounded accusations, but do not let it happen again. If you are to inherit my empire you must show utmost obedience and loyalty."
"You want me...to be your heir?"
Corona stood up, speaking louder, "That is why I have called you here: you are to be the heir to my kingdom and my power. You will be my right hoof and carry out my will."
Twilight's head was swimming now. "Wait! First, I want to understand what's going on. Your soldiers said something about you wanting to keep a close eye on everypony. Why did I need to be escorted by guards? Is there some sort of crisis? She looked over the alicorn again. "And why did you...change?"
"My child..." the solar deity closed her eyes and shook her head, "Some changes are necessary for keeping peace. Indeed, just the other day there was an...incident here at the castle; an attempt on my life. It made me realize how careless I had been with how I run my kingdom. With my new appearance comes new power, and a new order. With strict surveillance and harsher penalties for breaking the law, there will be peace and order."
Twilight's eyes widened. "Someone tried to assassinate you?"
"Yes...he has been executed."
Something was very wrong here: even if somepony had tried to kill her, Twilight could never see the fair, loving ruler of Equestria do something of this magnitude.
"He...he was executed?! What happened to everything about love, trust, and friendship you've taught me? Don't you trust your people? Don't you trust me?"
"Twilight, Twilight, Twilight...what I taught you was wrong. There is no need for any of that foalishness when you have control, and the power to back it up. Now, enough of this idle talk. Step forward, and receive the blessing of Inferno Corona!"
She had said the wrong words. Now Twilight was dead certain this wasn't the real princess. "I won't."
"What?" The ruler's eyes widened as she looked down at the smaller unicorn.
"I don't know what happened, but something has definitely changed. You're not the Princess Celestia I love; you're a monster and a tyrant, and I'll never side with you!"
Anger seethed in the monarch's rapidly-rising voice, replacing the unfeeling tone she held only seconds ago. "You dare question my authority? You have the gall to spurn my gifts? I have given you your chance; if you will not side with us, then you will disappear off the face of this planet!" With that her purple eyes became glowing red orbs that looked almost as if they were on fire. The alicorn's mane and tail doubled in size. With a flick of the goddess' glowing horn, white flames erupted where Twilight Sparkle had been standing only moments before.
"You-you think you can get rid of me that easily?" the purple mare called out a few feet from the flickering fire. Her heart pounded in her ears as she thought of what to do next. What had she gotten herself into? This not-Princess-Celestia was trying to kill her!
Inferno Corona fired another blast of white heat from her horn: Twilight just barely dodged out of the way, hitting the ground and rolling. She scrambled to her feet as the alicorn approached, her searing gaze pointed directly at the smaller pony.
"Twilight Sparkle, prepare for your punishment!"
With a flash of magic the unicorn quickly winked out from where she was, reappearing by the enormous doors to the throne room. Wasting no time she concentrated her magic on the heavy doors, willing them open. Magic sparked from her horn but quickly fizzled out as the mare lost focus. The Princess was gaining on her! She tried to shove that thought out of her mind and try to open the-
Suddenly the doors burst open as a dozen guards charged in with lances held in their mouths. Just as the lavender pony jumped back the soldiers burst into pure white flames; within moments they were gone without a trace.
She'd attack without caring if she'd hit her own troops? Twilight thought to herself. What did she do? Nothing's left of them; there aren't any scorch marks on the floor, nor even any lingering heat! She didn't have time to dwell on this, however, as the ruler was fast approaching. With all the speed she could muster the little unicorn charged through the door, over the remarkably cool tile.
"Spike, we gotta get out of here!" Twilight Sparkle yelled as she in one fell swoop scooped up the baby dragon and the bag of supplies onto her back. She hurriedly galloped down the ornate corridors in search of the exit.
"What'd you do? Is that Princess Celestia chasing us?!" Spike yelled in the pony's ear as he clutched her mane for dear life.
Twilight tried to ignore the pain the dragon was causing her and concentrate on running; barreling down the passage was Inferno Corona, a fiery aura surrounding her and a look of unadulterated rage twisting her face. "That's not Princess Celestia!" she called back to her friend, " I don't know who she is, but we need to escape her NOW!"
"It's probably a bit late to be asking this, but do you happen to have any spells that will let you outrun a goddess?!"
"I don't know anything I can use right now; I never anticipated fighting a princess."
Twilight nimbly turned a corner, hugging the inside of the bend. The Princess still followed.
"What about Princess Luna? What'd you do to defeat her?"
"I used the Rainbow of Light, but that was with my friends! In case you haven't noticed, we're kind of alone here."
"Then I got nothing. You're the smart one: you think of something!"
Twilight tried to think as she blindly scrambled through the vast corridors, ducking down a side path whenever she could.
"Is she still following us?" the unicorn asked as she turned down what felt like the hundredth hallway.
"Hey, I think she's- wuh-oh!"
"'Wuh-oh? What does that-"
"What? There isn't any opening up ah-" Twilight's eyes widened as she realized what he meant and quickly moved; no sooner had she done so than a white fireball splashed next to her, grazing her coat. "Horse apples! She's firing at us now?"
Twilight dodged another white fireball and tried to maintain her speed. She was glad the passages where relatively clear, but even without having to avoid obstacles she couldn't hope to outrun Inferno Corona forever. She looked ahead: she was rapidly approaching an open window. She'd be able to escape the castle! "Hang on, Spike, we're going to have to-"
Suddenly a golden sheen of magic materialized between the unicorn and the window with a loud hum.
At the noise Spike turned and exclaimed, "Is that a barrier? Stop or we'll splat into that thing. Or worse, it could disintegrate us!"
Though this was probably an inappropriate time to be thinking this, the little pony couldn't help but feel a tinge of pride for her assistant for picking up such a big word from her. She quickly focused back to the situation at hoof. "Too late; we have no choice now. Hang on tight!" Pushing every leg muscle as hard as she could she increased speed.
"Twilight, what are you doing!?"
Just before the magical mare would touch the barrier her horn glowed, and she encased herself and her rider in a lavender aura. As the pair made contact with the wall time seemed to slow down. Golden and purple magic crackled around them as they struggled to push through. Twilight felt like she was swimming through dough, as if Pinkie Pie had dropped her into a bowl of unbaked bread.
With all her might the unicorn forced her way through, resisting the barrier both magically and physically. After what seemed like an eternity the pair emerged on the other side; no longer slowed down by the force field they rocketed out the window, sailing down to the hillside far below.
"Twilight, do something, anything! Do your wink-out thing!" shouted Spike as air screamed around Twilight's ears.
The mare tried to ignore the rapidly-approaching ground as she grasped for a spell that could save them. "I've never teleported to anywhere I couldn't reach without the help of magic!"
"Well, if you don't do something soon, we're gonna reach the ground without the help of magic!"
"Here goes..." Once more the unicorn concentrated as hard as she could and called upon her powers. With a magical crackle and the smell of ozone, the pair disappeared.
End Chapter 1
Story by: The Lovely Penguin
"My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" and all characters are copyright Hasbro.
Special thanks to all my pre-readers:
-It's The Whiney Guys
-The Hero of Time.