White on Black
Ch.01- "Save the nation"
"You are hereby invited to the wedding of her royal majesty Princess Celestia of Equestria." Twilight turned the letter around a few times, but sure enough the message didn't change. She checked the sigil that was used to seal the scroll, but Spike burping with post message nausea was already evidence enough that the princess herself had send the letter.
"Seriously, first my brother and now my mentor? Is there some sort of conspiracy going on to keep me out of the loop when it comes to weddings?" She asked, shaking her head.
"Don't be ridiculous. Why would anyone do that?" Spike said, chuckling awkwardly and quickly pocketing his own wedding band. Maybe now wasn't the best of times to tell her about his plans. "If it's any comfort, I didn't know about this either." He added.
"Strange. If the princess had a suitor it would have been all over the news, and you and I are probably the two people closest to her, except maybe for Luna. I can't believe she hasn't told us anything," Twilight said. Her mind raced as she tried to compile a list of possible suitors. "Who could possibly be close enough to her to form this kind of relationship?" she mumbled, more to herself than as a serious question.
"Maybe she met him during one of her diplomatic missions," Spike supplied. "I mean she spent an awful lot of time in Saddle Arabia recently, and not having to kneel to meet eyes is probably a big plus when it comes to romance."
Twilight shot her assistant an annoyed glare and said: "I think you've read too many of Rarity's romance novels... again. Celestia wouldn't fall for the whole mysterious desert prince angle."
"Well, we could always go to Canterlot and see for ourselves," Spike shot back, angry that his theory was denied so thoroughly.
The purple unicorn stopped her nervous cantering and pondered the idea for a moment. "Actually, yeah let's do that. Spike, go round up the girls I'll book the train tickets."
"Huh, really? No crazy plan? No panic attack?" Spike looked at his surrogate sister as if he had just witnessed a miracle.
"Don't be silly, when did I ever overreact like that?" Twilight asked, giggling softly.
"Last tuesday, when you thought that Nightmare Moon had returned because Luna had a sore throat." Spike droned instantly, as if he had memorized the answer beforehand.
Twilight's smile grew somewhat strained. "Don't you need to find the girls right now?" she hissed between her teeth.
Spike's survival instinct chose this moment to return from its holiday, and the little dragon darted out of the room.
When Twilight was sure that Spike had left, she drew an intricately carved key from under her mattress. She walked over to her desk, and opened the second drawer from the top. The noise of the key turning spoke of a more sophisticated lock than one would ordinarily expect on a drawer. One look and she could already feel the panic reclining.
"Aww Applejack whatever would I do without you?" she said, taking a long sip from the bottle. If only she had discovered this liquid miracle earlier, the whole Smarty Pants incident could have probably been avoided.
Twilight looked at the small crowd that had gathered on the train platform. Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy, were all present and accounted for. Her faithful assistant was standing right besides her. Like a drill marshal she paraded up and down in front of her friends for a while.
"My fellow friends, I have gathered you here for a very important mission." Twilight intonated, a solemn look on her face.
Rainbow Dash immediately rose into a fighting stance, shadow boxing against an invisible enemy. "Who is it this time? Sombra? Discord? Is Trixie back with another artifact of evil?" She bellowed.
Pinkie bounced around energetically, while she chimed: "Oooh, I bet Princess Celestia has gone mad with power and is about to bring eternal day and scorch the world with her uncontrollable rage, leaving only dried out corpses and a burned wasteland!"
Twilight looked perturbed at the pink party mare's big toothy grin. "No, why would she ever do that?" she said, quickly gathering herself and once again reminding herself that his was probably just a case of Pinkie being Pinkie. "The mission that I've called you here for is much more dangerous than any threat we have faced so far. When you come with me I cannot guarantee your mental or physical safety. So I give you one last chance to back out."
The five ponies gulped. Spike rolled his eyes but remained silent, when his sister was like this it was better to just let things play out, lest you wanted to be caught under the wheels.
"How about ya tell us what all this hooey is about first?" Applejack replied, a somewhat sceptical look on her face. She was far too familiar with her friend's tendency to blow things out of proportion to be worried.
Twilight sighed as if she was about to unleash a horrible truth on her friends. "I need you to find out who Princess Celestia is going to marry."
Silence fell over the group, then as if on cue all of them began to talk at once.
"Another wedding this is so AWESOME!!!! Not that I like this mushy stuff..." "Oh my, I just hope there'll be no changelings this time..." "Twilight my dear, you simply MUST convince Princess Celestia to let me make her dress..." "This calls for the biggest PARTY ever!" "How come she ain't told nobody 'bout this yet?"
"Girls. Girls!" Twilight shouted, trying to stop the torrent of questions that poured over her. "Don't you think it's strange, that she just suddenly has a suitor that nobody has heard about before? Doesn't this remind you of another wedding we had recently?"
This time the silence was more permanent and it was a full thirty seconds before Rainbow Dash broke it. "I doubt that the changelings would pull something like this again, not after we kicked their flanks like that last time." She said cockily, earning approving and somewhat relieved nods from her friends.
"Maybe not changelings, but you have to admit that the situation is strange." As Twilight spoke those words, concern was clearly visible in her features.
"Darling, don't you think that you're overreacting a bit?" Rarity chuckled uneasily; the words had a bitter aftertaste, considering the events during the last wedding.
"Rarity, since I moved here from Canterlot I have been beaten, burned, and struck by lightning. I've had to face an ancient goddess, the avatar of chaos, one of the largest beasts known to ponykind, a mad tyrant possessed by the power of darkness, a invasion of shapeshifters and Pinkie Pie... Just this once I'd like to stay on the safe side and risk overreacting a bit." When Twilight finished talking she was breathing heavily, the panic she had held back so far slowly surfacing.
Her friends looked at each other awkwardly. They all had spent most of their life in Ponyville, and while the closeness to the Everfree Forest had somewhat desensitized them about weird things happening, they had to admit that Twilight had a point.
Applejack took a step forward towards her purple friend and put a hoof on her shoulder. "I'm sorry Twi, ya're right. We'll help you."
Twilight relaxed visibly, feeling the approval of her friends as she was quickly drawn into a group hug. She took a moment smiling at them before she reached for her backpack and sat it down in front of her: "After what happened with Discord and during the wedding, Princess Celestia entrusted the Elements of Harmony with me for safekeeping." She took the necklaces out of the bag and handed them to their respective owners. "No use in having an artifact of ancient power if it's never there when you need it."
The Element-bearers donned their respective artifacts. Even with their friendship new and only freshly blooming, the Elements had proven powerful enough to rival Nightmare Moon. Now their friendship was a deep bond, tempered by time and shared adventures, and they could feel the trust they put into each other resonating with the crystals they wore. Even Spike, while not an element bearer himself, could feel the power that filled the air around his friends.
Invigorated by the experience and reassured that they always could depend on each other, the seven boarded the train to Canterlot.
During the trainride the girls -plus one- were engrossed in small talk. None of them wanted to think about what may await them in Canterlot and so they spent the time chatting away. When all their usual subjects were exhausted, they began the age old ritual of 'killing time'. Rarity discussed sewing techniques with Fluttershy; Rainbow Dash and Pinkie planned pranks; and Applejack, Spike and Twilight were playing cards.
"Go fish." Twilight was just about to say when the compartment door opened. A serious looking black Unicorn adorned in full Canterlot guards regalia, was standing outside.
"Lady Twilight and the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony?" He asked, his face the usual stoic expression that seemed to be a part of the whole guardspony package.
Twilight shot her companions a look that seemed to radiate the words "told you so!".
"That'd be us, yes. Can we help you?" she asked trying her best to remain calm.
By defying a few laws of reality the stallion somehow managed to straighten himself even more before announcing: "I'm sergeant Steel Aegis and I have been sent by her royal majesty Princess Celestia to escort you to Canterlot Castle."
"And what, pray tell, is the reason for this?" Rarity interjected. Rainbow Dash immediately followed up:"Yeah buster, what's the big idea?"
"I'm sorry ma'am," he nodded towards Rarity, "sir," he nodded towards Rainbow, "I'm just following orders."
While Applejack kept Rainbow Dash from strangling the oblivious unicorn stallion, the rest of the Element-bearers were giving each other puzzled looks. Sure, they all had saved Equestria from certain doom quite a few times now, but so far that had never influenced their normal lives. There had been a few small celebrations in their honour, another medal to collect dust in the trophy display, but the morning after things were usually back to normal.
"Girls, huddle!" Twilight exclaimed.
Steel Aegis looked at his charges as they formed a huddle. Had it not been for the hard training that every Guards-cadet went through to achieve absolute control over their facial features, he might have looked confused.
Quietly he stood outside the compartment, watching the group of six ponies and one dragon while they whispered to each other. Ever so often one of them looked up and glared at him. The cyan pegasus stallion in particular seemed to harbor some sort of Ill will towards him.
He didn't feel very comfortable in his position. When Shining Armor assumed his new role as prince of the Crystal Empire, a hole was left in the Canterlot Guard's command structure and as it is often the case in such situation that meant a chain of promotions. While most people welcomed this, Steel Aegis had been very happy with being a simple corporal.
In Steel Aegis' mind, corporal was the perfect job. You were just high enough to receive a nice paycheck, and just low enough to avoid any real responsibility. Now that he was a sergeant, he all too often found himself in situations that needed -he shuddered as he thought the despised words- personal initiative.
'Lady Twilight' as he remembered from the briefing, broke free from the circle and approached him.
"Just to be sure, when you say escort, you mean like an honour guard, and not like, for example, a prison escort?" the purple unicorn inquired looking demonstratively innocent.
"Ma'am?" Steel Aegis replied, already he could feel himself slipping on the thin ice of responsibility.
"Come on, you know what I mean, like when the villain invites the hero as 'guests'." the violet mare pressed on.
"I...I don't think so, ma'am." He said, his stoic expression threatening to falter. Maybe he should try to request a vice-sergeant, then he would have someone else to blame in this kind of situation.
Twilight returned back to the huddle and they resumed whispering among each other. Steel Aegis meanwhile was busy recounting the short conversation and checking for any sort of faux pas he might have committed towards "Princess Celestia's personal protégé".
Just when he was ready to resign himself to a lifetime of mopping the barack-toilets the purple unicorn approached him again, the other Element-bearers in tow.
"Lead the way." She said with a cheek to cheek grin on her face. Steel Aegis gulped.
When the Element-bearers left the train, flanked on either side by a battalion of unicorn guards, their jaws hit the floor.
Canterlot station, not the small station on the city's outskirts but the huge hall that encompassed several lines from all around equestria, was a sight to behold. All of the platforms were canopied by the single largest glass-roof one could imagine. The bare steel beams that lined all inner walls and the ceiling, gave the hall an archaic but grand appearance.
But it wasn't the architectural spectacle around them, which had them baffled, but the fact that the whole place was deserted. The normally bustling hub of Canterlot's infrastructure was empty, except for the startled Element-bearers and their protectors.
Twilight looked towards the sergeant asking: "What has happened here? Where are all the ponies?"
"Princess Celestia has ordered the building to be closed for your arrival." The burly stallion answered monotonously.
Twilight could feel all her fears resurfacing. Sending an escort? Maybe... but to close down Canterlots lifeline just for their arrival? There had to be something up. She wanted nothing more than to share her concerns with her friends, but in the presence of their 'protectors' she didn't dare more than a sideways glance.
They didn't talk while they walked through the empty building, the clinking and clanking of the guard's armor and the muffled clip-clop of hooves on stone the only thing to break through the silence.
"Do ya hear that?" Applejack asked, tilting her head sideways to amplify the sound that had caught her interest.
"Hmm?" Twilight replied, but now that Applejack mentioned it, there was something: It was less of a sound and more a feeling: As if her guts were vibrating.
And then they reached the front door.
The sergeant laid his hoof on the front door, and suddenly the world exploded into a cacophony of noise.
The streets outside the station were packed to the brim with ponies and all of them were looking at the Element bearers. When Twilight and her friends stepped out into the open, the crowd fell silent for a moment before erupting into cheers. People were holding banners and signs announcing their never ending devotion for the Element-bearers and even the occasional wish for marriage and/or children wasn't missing. The most prevalent however were signs praising their defeat of the changelings.
Before the six ponies could get their bearings, a motion went through the crowd as one by one they all picked up a chant: "OUR SAVIORS! OUR SAVIORS!"
Rainbow Dash looked at her friends, a wide grin plastered onto her face, as she exclaimed: "About time someone recognised how awesome we are."
The next hour turned into a haze. The walk from the station to the castle normally would have taken ten minute top, but with the cheering crowd following them every single step it was a miracle that they had reached the castle at all. The guardsponies had been busy keeping the crowd at bay, while the seven friends smiled and waved, trying to not show how nervous they all were.
When they had reached the castle, the crowd remained on the edge of the drawbridge but even now in the courtyard their cheers could still be heard.
Steel Aegis and his exhausted battalion had withdrawn, leaving the friends alone. Rarity was busy tending to Fluttershy who was close to catatonic after all the unwanted attention. Meanwhile Twilight was busy, making final 'battle preparations'.
"We don't know what to expect in there," she pointed at the entrance that lead to the throne room "So we need to be prepared for everything. If something has been done to the princess then it's most likely that she won't realize that we want to help her, so we need to operate with uttermost discretion."
Her friends nodded in agreement. When they had been hesitant about this whole ordeal at first, by now there were simply too many coincidences piling up to be ignored.
Twilight walked over to her other two friends. She looked at Fluttershy with concern. The yellow pegasus was trembling, her eyes were wide and bloodshot, all in all she could have been the cover girl for shear terror.
"Are you okay?" Twilight asked.
"I..I'm...fine... We n...n...need to help Celestia." The yellow mare barely managed to say. Twilight gave the frightened pegasus a gentle hug. She was aware how hard this had to be on her friend, but she also knew that she could count on her when it was important.
Touching the tiara on her head once again for reassurance, her gaze wandered towards the castle doors. It was time to face Celestia's fiancé.
Celestia was positively beaming. That was the first thing that Twilight noticed when they entered the throne room. In all the time she had spent with Celestia she had become used to the constant motherly smile, that normally adorned the princess' face, but now she was emitting happiness with the power of a stadium spotlight. For the first time, Twilight felt doubt about her theory.
"Ahh, Twilight I'm glad that you could make it so fast." Celestia said, while she descended from her throne, to greet her favourite student. There was a barely constrained spring in her step. Twilight had to fight the urge to just run up to her mentor and spill all her worries into the warm motherly hug that was sure to await her.
"You know that I would always come as soon as I can if you write me." While she had to hide her worries, her words were genuine. There was nothing that could stop her from rushing to her mentors side if she called.
"And I'm happy to see you as well, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. I hope that I haven't caused you any inconvenience." The monarch inquired.
"As if we could miss the royal wedding, not to mention the wedding of one of Twilights dear friends." Rarity replied.
"Ahh, yes I believe you have arrived just in time to meet my fiancé." Celestia exclaimed, looking at the door, were a page had taken his place. Accompanied by a blaring fanfare he announced: "Introducing, future spouse to the high seat of the sun, Queen Chrysalis of the Hive-mind."
Once again, the sound of seven jaws hitting the flaw could be heard, as the black Changeling Queen entered the throne room.
Twilight was the first to regain her composure. "Girls! Into formation!"