The Night Is Darkest
The forest surrounding the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters was almost perfectly still under the starry sky. With no wind to rustle the branches, leaves, or plants, it was eerily quiet as well. It was enough to make the Night Watch captain stir-crazy.
Orion normally loved his duty, especially the patrols. The chirping crickets, the sneaking raccoons, the hooting of the owls as they hunted for their midnight meal; he was fascinated at just how much activity there was during the night. But recently, there had been less and less of that every shift, and tonight there was almost nothing. He had a pretty strong feeling that the lifelessness of the forest was somehow connected to the fact that the moon had not moved for six days.
At least he thought it was six days, judging by how many times the Watch had changed shifts and how many times he had slept since he last saw daylight. Keeping track of the time was considerably more difficult considering the easiest method of doing so had been unquestionably disrupted.
For how shaken his convictions had become in the past week, he could only fathom what was happening to the dedication of his troops, or at least those who had not yet fallen under Luna's mysterious influence. The Princess of the Night had become increasingly reclusive, to the point where days passed without her being seen. Everything seemed to be on the verge of falling apart. But that was why he was out here. The soldier in him wouldn't let him stand idly by while disaster built up to inevitably spill over. So he left the castle grounds for a patrol, began heading north, and wasn't going to stop until-
Had it not been so silent, Orion probably would not have heard the snapping of a twig about twenty feet to his right. He stopped mid-step, making sure to keep his wings relaxed and folded. He didn't want to appear aggressive, but rather as if he had expected this to happen, which he had. He just didn't think it would be this soon. Based on how long it had been since he had left, and the slow, cautious pace he had taken, he would wager that he had not even come a mile yet.
“Identify yourself,” a voice ordered, not originating from his right, but from somewhere in front of him, thus Orion figured that there was a pretty good chance he had been surrounded.
“Captain Orion of Her Majesty's Night Watch. I am unarmed and alone.”
Several seconds passed in silence. Orion was willing to bet on the voice he heard, in an attempt to ease the tension between himself and the forces he had encountered.
“Is that you, Captain Eclipse?”
Orion called out the name of one of his friends from training. After enlisting, all cadets went to the same camps for basic training. Only when they were selected for Celestia's Solar Guard or Luna's Night Watch, were troops then split up for more advanced and specialized education. Another five seconds passed. The shadows of the trees seemed to waver, leading Orion to surmise that Solar Guard unicorns had slowly surrounded him under the cover of cloaking spells.
“Out here, alone and unarmed? What are your intentions, Captain?” the voice replied, not confirming or denying the Night Guard's assumption, but Orion was fairly confident of his ears. But regardless of who it was, this was the reason he had come out here.
“I seek an audience with an adviser of Princess Celestia, or at least somepony who has her ear,” Orion replied.
“For what purpose?”
“Information regarding the castle and reconnaissance of the standing forces defending it.”
“If you're suggesting defection, soldier, perhaps you'll settle for something a bit more direct.”
This voice was new and directly behind him. Female, gentle yet authoritative, and absolutely unexpected, as Orion took several sudden steps forward. His wings and ears sprung to an alert position and he turned around, his gaze rising to see the Princess of the Sun herself, standing nearly on top of where he had been. Quickly getting a hold of himself, he folded his wings back in at his sides, bent down, and dropped to a front knee, lowering his head to the ground in respect.
“Princess Celestia, your Highness” he acknowledged.
Celestia studied the soldier as he knelt before her. The charcoal-coat pegasus wore the traditional uniform of a high-ranking Night Watch officer; a simple gold-plated head piece was set on his forehead and went back to his ears; the plating opening for his slicked back lavender mohawk mane. His eyes were a rich teal, the feature that stood out the most in the forest night. The body of his armor consisted of a similar gold-plated chest piece, with navy blue leather underneath, ending with a slightly darker two-piece blue cloak draped over his hindquarters. As an aerial guard, he also had partial armor for his wings, though it generally only shrugged off glancing blows. Above his knees and hooves, he wore a total of eight silver leg bands with turquoise gems; these were primarily aesthetic, to show rank. Commanders had four, Lieutenants two. Lastly, he wore matching navy blue leather wraps on his back legs. At face value, he gave the appearance of a model soldier.
At face value.
“At ease, Captain.”
Orion rose and assumed a less rigid standing position in front of the Princess as her guards closed in from all sides, now more relaxed than when the encounter had begun.
“Explain yourself. I suggest you start with telling me why I should trust the captain of my sister's Night Watch.”
“Because my troops are innocent of this coup, your majesty. Your sister has lost her logic and reasoning. I do not know why Luna has done what she has done, but I am not a simple Pegasus. I know that eternal night would be a death sentence to every living thing in Equestria. The fact is that we cannot grow our food and crops without sunlight. If Luna no longer realizes this, something is clearly wrong. We knew you would not tolerate her actions for long. The fact that I didn't even get a mile into the forest before encountering your troops is proof enough that this will be over within a matter of hours. I am the vanguard of those who wish to keep casualties to a minimum, on both sides.”
“So what is the status of your forces? How many are defending the castle?”
“Approximately one hundred Night Watch troops are stationed at the castle. Since the coup, we've split up into three shifts; around thirty to forty per shift. But with how paranoid Luna has become, I'd say the chances of every soldier being ready to fight within minutes of an attack are pretty good. Is this all you have?”
“These Solar Knights are my personal bodyguards. I have approximately five hundred troops closing in on the castle from all sides, with a few other trump cards waiting for the signal to strike.”
Orion nodded in understanding, thanking fate that he had come out here when he did. Regardless of how well trained as his soldiers were, or as easy as the castle was to defend, this was a slaughter waiting to happen.
“What are their capabilities?”
“Formidable. Every Royal Guard knows the castle is in a very defensible area, and the best methods of defending it, even against superior numbers. But my troops never drilled on attacking the castle grounds, so I can only guess that yours haven't either. A few days ago, I would have guessed that an attack on the castle would have gone well, because the guards weren't sure what to make of this situation. Low morale has fallen even lower, and whatever has happened to Luna has started to affect them as well.”
“What do you mean?”
“They've become...distant. They're conversing less and becoming as paranoid and reclusive as Luna herself. That's why I left tonight. I made the decision before my mind became too clouded to think clearly.”
“Do you think it has impacted their abilities?” Captain Eclipse asked.
“No, I'm afraid not. It's just made them...fanatical. I truly believe they will defend the castle with their lives. Effectively too. But I also know these ponies. Most of them are level-headed soldiers. Luna's power is twisting them. If her influence is stopped, I'm pretty sure they'll snap out of it.”
“So incapacitating Luna, in one way or another, would cause your troops will surrender?” Celestia asked.
“Most, yes. Unfortunately, there are a few soldiers who probably don't need a lot of influence to look for a fight. Namely, my second-in-command, Commander Juno. To be honest, I find her to be the most bloodthirsty pony I have ever known. But a few stragglers shouldn't be a problem if Luna is removed.”
“And until that moment arrives, you are truly prepared to see this through? To fight against soldiers you have selected, trained, and worked with?” Celestia inquired.
“Yes, your Highness.”
“I am...unconvinced, Captain.”
Orion took a few moments to consider his next words carefully. As authority figures went, Celestia was a very empathetic being. Perhaps she would understand his innermost reason for coming out here. He glanced at the soldiers surrounding him and the Princess.
“I received a letter from my wife. She gave birth five days ago, which means our foal has not yet seen the sun. If every one of my soldiers have to fall; if the castle has to burn to ashes, to help Equestria avoid descending into civil war, so be it. Is that not why you are all out here tonight? To protect your loved ones from the potential fallout of this failure in leadership? I don't want my son growing up in the Second Tribal Era. So yes, your Highness, I am prepared to fight against, and even kill anypony who defends Luna's throne.”
Celestia gazed down silently at the determined soldier standing in front of her. It only took her a few seconds to conclude that his heart was pure.
“An acceptable answer, Captain. To be honest, even with how hard I've tried to reassure our subjects that we're going to deal with this, I'm shocked that legions of common ponies aren't knocking at the castle gates already.”
“I pray it does not come to that.”
Hoofsteps echoed up and down the spiral hallway as Night Watch Commander Juno ascended the staircase to the throne tower of the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. Torches hung on the cobblestone wall every twenty feet or so, the crackling flames and popping embers providing the only other ambient noise in the tower.
The second-in-command's violet coat was a few shades darker than her uniform. Her mane was as pitch black as the night sky. Most of it had been gathered back into a ponytail, but she allowed a forelock to drape down between her left eye and ear. Her eyes were a rich, deep blue, filled with the determination that had gotten her to this rank. It was no secret that troops would rather be disciplined by the captain than her.
She reached the top of the spiral staircase, which opened up and expanded into a large, open room. The pillars and walls were free of torches, but the room was not without adequate lighting, provided by the moonlight entering through the numerous archway windows. This was the highest point of the castle. From here, one could observe most of the castle grounds, and a decent amount of the forest's canopy. At the end of the room, was the throne, currently facing away from the staircase, facing the front window. The high back of the chair obstructed any view of it's occupant from behind. Juno took two paces from the stairs and stood at attention.
“You summoned me, your Majesty?” she announced herself.
The throne made no move to rotate. For the few seconds of silence, Juno thought that she may have actually been alone in the throne room.
“No. I sent for Captain Orion. But he isn't here,” a voice replied from the throne. It was bitter, paranoid, and accusing.
“He has not been seen in about an hour, your Highness. It is not uncommon for him to patrol the forest at the beginning of his shift. I did not want to keep you waiting any longer so I-”
“So you came here to tell me that the Captain of my Night Watch went off into the forest alone, when I gave specific orders for all troops to stay on the castle grounds.”
“Apologies, Princess. When he returns, I will send him to you immediately.” Juno turned to leave.
“No. You will not. Orion has disobeyed orders by leaving the grounds. The Night Watch is yours, Commander. Keep the troops alert. We are not alone.”
It was obvious that the Princess of the Night had changed, and Juno had very much taken a liking to it. She was now cold, calculating, and trusted nopony. A wise move, for someone who had just successfully usurped the Equestrian throne. It was foolish to think that Celestia would not retaliate. Juno was surprised that an attack had not come already. By her watch, it had been nearly six days.
“As you command, your highness.”
Juno turned and began to descend the staircase. She went over in her head what had just played out. An unexpected promotion in a matter of seconds. Normally, she wouldn't argue, but this was a delicate situation. It was becoming trickier to determine troop morale, and the last thing that needed to be added to the equation was the sudden removal of the Captain of the Watch. Orion was out of the picture and unless he came back, the guard didn't need to know. In his absence, she was in command anyways. If he did come back, hopefully she could quietly tell him he'd been relieved, and to take it up with the Princess. Luna was paranoid beyond measure but that was perfectly healthy, in Juno's opinion. The newly-promoted Night Watch Captain was itching for a fight as much as Luna was expecting one.
Her gut told her it would not be much longer.
Orion now found himself heading back towards the castle just as slowly and cautiously as he had left. He was escorted by two Solar Guards, one on each side, with Celestia and Captain Eclipse a short distance away. Celestia's forces moved slower than he had, so the return journey took about 40 minutes. They were about 50 feet from the clearing when Captain Eclipse held up a hoof, and all forward motions ceased immediately. From this distance, they could see the castle, along with the single wood-and-rope bridge that connected it to the forest across the chasm, which was 30 feet across all around. The chasm went down 200 feet, the product of centuries of erosion, and now served as the runoff for the castle's aqueducts, as well as a deterrent to attackers.
Eclipse, his horn barely glowing with magic, unsheathed a brass spyglass, extended it, and observed the activity on the castle grounds. From this far back in the forest, they were all but invisible to the Night Watch.
“I've got eyes on 14 Night Watch troops, give or take.” Eclipse said, lowering and collapsing the spyglass, returning it to his saddlebag.
“How long before the entire force can be deployed?” Celestia asked, turning to Orion.
“From the last time we drilled, approximately three to four minutes.”
“You'll have to strike fast, Captain, if we are to keep casualties to a minimum.” she told Eclipse.
“Your majesty, permission to arm myself?” the Night Watch captain asked. This request got Eclipse's attention as well. After exchanging glances with Celestia, they both nodded. His escorts allowed him to go back 20 feet to where four guards were carrying a large chest. They set it down, and Orion slowly and silently opened it. He expertly strapped on a set of saddlebags over his armor, and filled them with as much smoke and flash powder that he could carry and still remain agile in the air.
“So what do you intend to do?” Eclipse inquired.
“Disorient and distract as many of my troops as I can. Gives your forces more time to get to Luna. The more of my troops I can keep out of harms way, the better.”
The near-silence of the forest was shattered by a crackling of energy from the castle. A bright purple beam shot up from the throne room tower, rocketed up for about 100 feet, then exploded outward, and down, encompassing the castle in a magical shield bubble.
“She knows we're here.” Eclipse surmised.
“Not necessarily. Like I said, Luna has grown extremely paranoid. She gave explicit orders that no troops were to leave the castle grounds. It may very well be that when her Watch Captain went missing, she assumed the worst.” Orion countered.
Eclipse got his spyglass back out and observed the beam continuously emanating from the roof of the throne room tower.
“Well, aware of us or not, now we've got a shield to break through, most likely being sustained by Luna herself. It'll take time, and the moment we start hitting it, the entire Night Watch is alerted.”
“Options?” Celestia asked. Orion stepped forward.
“Your highness, you most likely still have the element of surprise. It'd be a shame to waste it just by hammering the shield until it goes down. A stealthier approach would work best in our favor.”
“Explain.” Eclipse demanded.
“I doubt that shield goes too far down through the ground. I'd bet the aqueducts in the wall of the chasm are still open. If you get a small team down there, like a couple Pegasi and a Unicorn, find a sewer grate, and fire a disruption spell from inside the shield, I'm sure that would be enough to break Luna's concentration.”
Celestia and her captain considered this.
“The idea is sound.” Eclipse admitted. Celestia nodded.
“Get two stealth fliers and your best mysticism caster, Captain. Put them down in the south aqueduct without being detected.”
“At once, your majesty,” Eclipse saluted, then retreated back into the forest, towards the rest of the Solar Guard. Meanwhile, Celestia approached Orion, who was staring through the shield as his troops continued to patrol the castle.
“I hope you are not fooling yourself. You are not going to be able to save them all.” she warned.
“I know. I'm only trying to save as many as I can. It's important that we remove Luna as quickly as possible. The first attack is crucial. If the Watch is able to dig themselves in, we will be here for hours, and the death toll will rise by the minute.”
“I have plans in place to ensure that fighting does not last for hours. I hope you realize that when the fighting starts, there will be little for my troops to tell you apart from the rest of the Watch.”
“I know the risks of what I'm doing. I didn't come out here to sit idly by and watch the battle be fought. Those are good, loyal ponies in there, and they don't deserve what we are about to do.”
Within minutes, Eclipse had returned with three other ponies. Two were Pegasi, clad in jet black flight suits, making them very hard to spot from a distance, and a unicorn, with a hooded black cloth robe draped over him.
“Good luck, you three. Lives are counting on you.” Celestia addressed them. They merely gave curt nods, then headed closer to the edge of the forest. Several more Solar unicorns aided their approach to the chasm with a camouflage spell. The moment they were nearly invisible to the naked eye, the two Pegasi lifted the unicorn up, and swiftly descended into the chasm.
Now it was a waiting game.
Juno had been on pins and needles ever since the shield had emanated from the throne tower. She had spent the last ten minutes scanning the treeline from side to side, but could see nothing but pitch black more than 20 feet in. The moon provided minimal lighting in the skies, so potential aerial threats would also be difficult to spot. Lieutenants began asking for orders, which she quickly gave out: all troops woken and prepared, weapons checked, and make sure they stay alert.
Earth pony troops were at the stationary weapons: catapults, ballistae, and the like. Unicorns began to meditate and channel their magical energy. Pegasi stretched their wings, and checked their weapons, which consisted of spears and small, throwable bags of smoke and flash powder.
Juno was virtually begging for an attack. The troops had drilled countless times, but nothing felt like the real thing. She was hoping that Luna had not gone from making paranoid decisions to stupid paranoid decisions. A false alarm could potentially harm their alertness.
Suddenly, she heard a soldier from a watch tower scream out, “Disruption Spell!!!”, and her eyes shot to the sky. Sure enough, a white sparkling bolt of energy was surging up from somewhere under the castle, closed in on the top of the shield dome, and exploded. The shield rippled as if a stone hit a calm pond. It ebbed for a few moments, and then shattered.
“To arms! To arms!!!” she yelled, as the shards of the energy shield dissipated. As her gaze came back down from the skies, she realized that there were glowing lights, spells being charged, from the edge of the forest, on all sides of the castle. When the last remnants of the shield vanished, the night erupted in a flurry of spells. A spectacular display of whites, pinks, purples, blues, and greens crisscrossed one another as the battle finally began.
The catapult closest to her launched its first volley, but the oil-filled urn was hit with a spell a split second after it left the sling, igniting it, and exploding prematurely, raining burning oil and shattered pieces of clay down on the immediate area, sending a few troops running for cover. A second catapult launched an urn, but as it hurled over the chasm, a Solar Guard unicorn took hold of it with telekinesis, and flung it back at the catapult that fired it. There were confused screams as the weapon emplacement burst into flames, and its operators dove for their lives. She began to hear sharp bangs as pegasi on both sides took to the skies, and immediately began throwing their bags of smoke and flash powder. The main shield encompassing the castle was down, but the defending unicorns had conjured multiple personal shields of their own, protecting them from many of the incoming spells.
Realizing they were surrounded, Juno ran at a full gallop toward the barracks. Their only chance was to hold the Solars off, slowly wearing them down and picking them off until they retreated. It was certainly possible; the castle was very easy to defend if done properly. She was certain the ground forces could hold their ground if hostile air forces didn't disrupt them, so she had to make sure every available Night Watch flier was in the air. Arriving at the staging area, she found the area nearly enveloped in smoke, with more bangs of flash powder. But she was relieved to see one lone Night Watch flier in the air.
Doing a double take, she realized who it was.
Orion made another pass over the barracks where he saw Night Watch troops getting prepared for battle. His first attack was a cluster of flash powder bags, to severely disorient troops just coming out of the barracks. Then he immediately followed up with a couple smoke bombs, so troops couldn't immediately regain their clarity. He was just coming around for a third pass when he heard a voice angrily scream.
He knew immediately who it was. Digging out another flash bag, he whipped around to see Juno flying up to him in a charge. In one move, he flung the bag of flash powder at his second-in-command and quickly gained speed by doing a downward dip in her direction, forcing her to correct her approach, too slowly, due to also having to avoid the flash bag. By the time she had turned around, the former Watch captain was already ascending again, and the chase was on, leaving their troops dazed and coughing in the barracks common area. As they exchanged lobs of powder bags, they finally got a view of the battle as a whole. The castle was under attack from all sides; the entire area was a fireworks display. Spells of all colors lit up the battlefield. Bangs and flashes filled the sky as the Pegasi forces of each faction went wing to wing with each other. The fighting seemed to be considerably heavier by the bridge, on which nopony had yet set foot.
“The Watch is mine, Orion. Tonight, you will die as I bring the troops to their full potential!”
Celestia stood with Captain Eclipse, who was surveying the opening minutes of the battle through his spyglass.
“Your Majesty, we are not making sufficient progress. The Watch is too deeply entrenched. It's a stalemate,” Eclipse informed the Princess.
“Then we have to break it. The longer this is drawn out, the more lives are wasted.”
“Shall I signal for them, your Highness?”
Celestia watched the front lines clash from the cover of the forest.
“Yes. I will lead the charge into the tower.”
“Luna is powerful, Captain. Only I can confront her. Signal for them.”
“As you command, Princess. They'll be here in three minutes after the signal.”
With that, Celestia stepped closer to the treeline.
“Solars, on me! To the front gates!”
As a dozen Solar unicorns fell in behind Celestia, Eclipse charged up his horn for several seconds, then fired a burning orange flare into the night sky. Celestia's wings flared out, and her eyes and horn glowed white. She leaped out of the cover of the trees, making her way to the bridge, her shining horn and wings becoming increasingly more intense. While her Solar Guard was seemingly unaffected, the Night Watch, accustomed to darkened skies, were blinded by the brilliance of the light. It was like staring directly into the sun, as Celestia galloped across the bridge, the Night Watch futilely firing off spells at her, which were either shielded, countered by her squad of unicorns, or missed completely. The opposition could do little but shield their eyes as the Princess of the Sun charged the throne tower's front doors. Nearly there, a new purple shield materialized in front of the large wood-and-iron double doors. The elder sister fired a burning white beam directly at the shield, and it was mere seconds before the shield melted away. She fired a second shot, and the doors burst open as her forces entered with her.
A small number of Night Watch were guarding the main hall, and were caught off guard that the enemy had broken through this early. Now inside, Celestia's glow had died down, and she merely focused on incapacitating the Night Watch that defended the stairway to the throne room. She fired off a sparking series of flares, which exploded in the defender's midst. As they shielded themselves, the dozen unicorns restrained them with magical bonds, and put them in a trance. Celestia alone approached the spiral stairwell, looking back at the entrance, and magically sealed the doors.
“No one gets in or up.” she ordered, and galloped up the cobblestone stairs.
Captain Eclipse had a new cause for concern, for as soon as Celestia entered the front gates, the top window of the throne room was suddenly alive with sickly pink-purple spells; glowing lances of energy fired in bursts, either up in the sky at the Pegasi forces, or down at the treeline of the forest. It seemed Luna was finally taking a personal hoof in the battle. But he couldn't worry about that right now. His primary concern was the flawless execution of Celestia's contingency plan.
“Solars! Markers in ten!”
Juno didn't lose an inch in her chase against her former Captain. Unfortunately, in the first minute of this chase, she hadn't gained an inch either. But Orion had exhausted his compliment of smoke and flash powder, either thrown back at her or down to Night Watch around the castle. He weaved left, right, up and down, and Juno stayed right with him.
“That's all you know how to do, Orion. Run away! You're a coward, never wanting to do what needs to be done! You never had that determination to go from push to shove when the situation calls for it. That's why you're afraid!”
Orion banked hard to the left, and came back around to the south side of the castle, where Night Watch had regrouped, and were continuing to fight for control of the bridge. Luna was now at the throne tower window, firing up and down at Solar forces.
“What about you, Commander? What you have in determination and zeal, you lack in patience and foresight. You would lead your troops to their deaths for nothing else than to fulfill your lust for blood!”
With that, Orion swiftly rolled upside down, and decelerated so quickly that Juno never saw it coming. Coming directly under her, he grabbed her with his front hooves, and rolled back right-side up.
“And I am not afraid,” and he delivered a hard blow to her stomach, knocking the wind out of her, and released her. Her body's reaction to the kick was to draw her wings in, and she plummeted to the ground.
The air around him suddenly grew hot, and before Orion knew anything was wrong, he felt a burning hot pain shoot through his neck, and left wing. He saw the pink energy lance exit his body, with droplets of his blood, as he began to spin out of control. With excruciating pain, he tried to flap his wings and correct his orientation. But the weight of his armor made it a fruitless endeavor. As he saw himself on approach with the single bridge connecting the castle to the forest, he made one last effort to pull up, but it was too little, too late, and he closed his eyes and braced himself as best he could...
Eclipse winced as he not so much saw the impact as he heard it. A Night Watch Pegasus had been hit by a lance from the throne room tower, and he spiraled down, tried to pull up too late, and plummeted through the far end of the bridge, severing the only connection to the castle, and collided with the chasm wall and fell out of sight. He had heard the impact and was certain that whoever it was, he had not survived the crash.
He saw more of his unicorns standing at the treeline, their horns glowing a constant green. He knew it wouldn't be much longer. He had also noticed the attacks from the throne room had stopped, and was silently hoping for his Princess' safety.
Celestia raced up the spiral staircase, eager to bring this bloodshed to an end, and finally reached the top, setting her hoof in the throne room, and saw her sister at the front window, her front hooves up on the stone sill.
“Have you forgotten the oath we took together, Luna?”
Her younger sister whipped her head around at the announcement of her presence, proceeding to dismount from the window, and turn to face her elder sibling.
Celestia took in how Luna's appearance had changed. Her coat was now pure jet black; her eyes a cold, icy blue; her pupils more like a dragon's than a pony's. She wore a helmet, chest, and horseshoes of elegant lavender armor. Lastly, her mane and tail were now flowing and alive, sparkling like the starry sky high above. The only semblance she had to what she looked like barely a week ago was her crescent moon cutie mark.
“No, dear sister. I have not, regardless of how much I would like to. Oh, how I would love to erase how blind and foolish I was...to agree to let you bask in the light of day, whilst our 'subjects' shunned and slept during my beautiful night. Well, no longer. I will not waste away for another millennium, alone, while you enjoy company in the sunlight.”
The words were spoken with jealousy and contempt. Celestia was beginning to doubt her ability to reason with her sister in her current...form.
“Your night is beautiful, Luna. You paint a peace and serenity that I never could in the daytime. That is why our subjects sleep so soundly.” Celestia partially agreed, attempting to calm her sister's fiery disposition.
“Yet here you are, attempting to retake what I took from you; what I should have had a share of in the first place.” the black Alicorn retorted.
“Because Equestria needs sunlight, Luna. Without it, plants and crops don't grow, life is not provided for, and we would have failed to uphold our promise.”
After what seemed like minutes, Luna took a step to the right, and Celestia mirrored her, as they began to circle the center of the throne room.
“Life...have you forgotten how well it adapts, sister? No longer will life rest and sleep during the night. No longer will they cower and seek shelter from the moon and stars. You'd be surprised what you can find in the dark after your eyes adjust. Surprises...secrets that selfish ponies like you would want to keep hidden. Secrets that are rightfully ours!”
The two Alicorns had completed half a rotation, and now stood opposite of where they had started.
“What has happened to you?” Celestia asked, the two of them coming back around to where they had started.
“What has happened is that the veil of your self-serving lies has been lifted from around me. Sombra showed me the truth!!!”
Celestia stopped dead in her tracks, taking in a whispered gasp and looked into her sisters leering, hateful eyes.
It had been barely a year since they had received word of the corrupt unicorn king who had enslaved his entire kingdom, the Crystal Empire. Sombra had become obsessed with the Arctic region's crystals and had somehow tapped the dark magic they contained, allowing him to shape-shift, and much more frighteningly, enter a pony’s thoughts and deceive their very soul. Only by using the fabled Elements of Harmony were the two sisters able to resist and overpower Sombra, locking his essence away in the ice shelves of the Arctic. But not before he placed a curse on his city and people, causing them to vanish without a trace.
Celestia immediately realized that this changed everything. Sombra was still imprisoned, but if during their battle...if he had managed to begin poisoning Luna's mind...
“Luna...stop this now. You're my sister, I can help you. Please, let me help you.”
“Luna...” the bitter sibling spat her name out with disgust, “...is gone. I am the mare of the night; the keeper of the moon. I am Nightmare Moon!”
'Nightmare Moon' reared up on her hind legs and brought her front hooves down to the stone with a sharp crack, causing the entire tower to jolt on its foundation, small amounts of dust and rubble falling away from the walls and ceiling. Celestia, stunned by her sister's shock wave, barely managed to dive out of the way of a follow-up spell of sickly pink energy. The line of sparkling magic hit the stone floor and shattered, leaving a black pockmark. Her back to the tower window, Nightmare quickly glanced out to the battle below, and saw that her Night Watch were slowly losing ground. The single rope-and-wood bridge connecting the castle to the forest had been severed, but Celestia's Solar Guard unicorns had conjured bridges of solid light and while they were currently being held at bay at the edge of the chasm, her troops were not able to push them back into the forest. She saw several Solar unicorns around the chasm cast a spell simultaneously, their horns igniting with glowing green orbs of light.
The seed of doubt that had entered her mind began to take root when she heard a dull, slowly increasing roar approaching from the forest sky...
Juno slowly came to, awoken by a soft roar from the forest, becoming more audible above the crackling flames and cries of battle. Even through her blurred vision, she could tell that she had crashed on the castle side of the chasm. The Night Watch was still fighting valiantly, but she saw more and more Solars gathering at the other side. Sooner or later, they were going to take the gorge and advance.
She tried to push herself up to her hooves, but when the back of her body wouldn't respond, she clumsily fell back down to the cobblestone. With the chaos all around her, she couldn't adequately get a diagnosis on herself and could only surmise that either her back legs had been broken in the fall, or worse, her spine had been severed. Plans for how to get help ran through her mind, but were quickly overtaken by the now-deafening roar as a formation of two dozen blazing fast Pegasi approached the castle's airspace. Almost a full second before they flew directly overhead, she saw objects leave the hooves of each Pegasus that almost instantly lit ablaze, becoming flaming projectiles. Each one of them was aimed at the castle grounds.
Juno's ears were assaulted with the sonic booms of the Pegasi passing over the castle, and her attempts to track the flaming ordinance was halted as she noticed one of them was set to hit her exact position. Not even once considering the sheer coincidence of being in this spot, the Night Watch commander reflected somberly on her life as it flashed before her eyes; her subconscious concluding that the incoming fireball was about to bestow a quick and painless death.
Orion was returned to the world of the conscious by a faint rumbling in the ground beneath him. The vibrations were quickly pushed out of his mind, however, as he tried to assess his situation. He could tell he was laying on his left side, he couldn't feel anything below his neck, and he tasted blood with every labored breath he took. As he noticed how sticky and wet the ground felt beneath him, the extent of his injuries was becoming clear. Still, he was amazed that he had even survived the impact, not to mention the fall down here, which had to be at least 250 feet. As the vibrating ceased, he could do nothing but stare up at the moon, which had not moved, and pray that Celestia would succeed, as he accepted that he only had a matter of time...
Both sisters in the throne room struggled to stay on their hooves as the very foundations of the castle were rocked by numerous explosions. Nightmare Moon grabbed the windowsill for balance, as she saw a battlement in the southeast corner of the castle collapse out towards the forest, the majority of the building falling into the chasm. The shaking ceased as much of the castle was now in flames, and Nightmare Moon turned back towards her sister.
“I had heard rumors about your elite 'Wonderbolt' fliers. But to use them against your own castle. You really would destroy everything we've built here just to reclaim the glory and power for yourself!”
“If it means returning daylight to our subjects so they may live, yes, I will destroy everything here. I am giving you one last chance, Luna. Stand down.”
The younger sister sneered.
“Let's see how well you make threats in the dark.”
With that, her horn glowed, and everything fell into darkness.
Out around the castle, the battlefield became ten times as chaotic, as the moon and stars vanished in an instant as the sky became pitch black, the only sources of light were the spells being cast across the chasm and the numerous fires now burning throughout the castle. Seconds passed and the fighting seemed to slow, as neither the Night Watch nor the Solar Guard were willing to recklessly fire spells off into the darkness. At long last, the Watch's line broke, and the Solars finally crossed the bridges of light they had conjured. Eclipse held back his enthusiasm, as he knew that any victory down here would mean nothing if Luna was victorious up in the throne room.
Nightmare Moon's silhouette was barely visible against the window, as the fires and battle continued outside.
“What do you see now, dear sister? Now my subjects will be begging for the return of the moon and stars! The night will last forever, as will my reign!”
Celestia closed her eyes as a single tear fell from her muzzle to the stone floor.
“So be it, sister.”
After the words left her mouth, her horn glowed with light once again, flooding the throne room with light. Six glowing stone spheres materialized around her, and for the very first time, Nightmare Moon gaped, frozen in disbelief.
“You would not dare.”
“You leave me no choice.”
The stone spheres began to emit white beams of light as Celestia channeled her magic through them.
“Charity, compassion, devotion, integrity, optimism, and most importantly leadership, are the attributes that our nation depends on to prosper, and it is these that you have so carelessly cast aside. So it is with them that I banish you, Nightmare Moon!”
The glow around the stone spheres slowly intensified, and the smirking confidence on Nightmare's face became replaced by uncertainty. Closing her eyes, she gathered all the magical energy she had within her, and began to form another shield around her, but this one was different. Instead of a pink shimmer, the bubble forming around Nightmare Moon was akin to a swirling patch of thunderstorm clouds, which encapsulated her completely as the light from the Elements became blinding.
The beams of light escaping from every window from the throne room illuminated the battlefield, and brought a complete pause to the fighting as all eyes went to the tower. The pitch black sky gave way to the moon, and an eruption of purple and black clouds shot out of the throne room, arcing over the chasm in all directions. Solar troops at the treeline attempted to take cover as the mysterious mass of clouds crashed into the ground and rushed into the trees, vanishing into the black forest without a trace. An instant later, a spectacular rainbow beam rocketed out of the throne room tower, surging towards the moon.
Orion knew his end was now here. He could feel the thumping in his chest grow weaker with every beat as his heart struggled to move less and less blood throughout his body. Cold, tired, and with heavy eyelids, he looked up and saw a change. The moon, having remained still for more than one hundred hours, had slowly begun to move. It looked a bit different, but it didn't matter to him.
Knowing that his foal would grow up in peace, the Night Watch captain managed a smile, as he closed his eyes and breathed his last.
Captain Eclipse watched in awe as the rainbow beam finally ceased, and the moon, now with a silhouette of a unicorn etched upon its surface, began to move. The fires in and around the castle still burned, but the fighting was now nonexistent. The battle had not even lasted twenty minutes, but to him, and to everyone around him, it had seemed like hours or days. Had it not been for Celestia's direct intervention, it very may well have turned into a standoff that had the potential to last weeks.
That last train of thought snapped Eclipse out of his daze. He crossed the nearest bridge of light, and found the nearest Lieutenant.
“Begin rounding everypony up. Treat injuries. You, you and you, with me. To the throne room!” he ordered. The trio of selected soldiers fell in behind him as they galloped into the main gates. He saw that the troops Celestia had stormed in with were guarding the staircase to the tower. The few Night Watch troops had been placed under a sleeping spell. Her bodyguards relinquished the stairs to their Captain, and he ascended as fast as he could without tripping. Coming to the top, he was shocked to see his Princess laying on the stone floor in front of the throne, motionless.
“Princess Celestia!” he exclaimed, rushing to her side. He found that she was still breathing but barely conscious. A touch of his hoof made her alert enough to open her eyes halfway and speak.
“Captain...” she began, the exhaustion apparent in her voice, “What...what is the situation outside?”
“Fighting has ceased, your Highness. All of the Night Watch are surrendering. Most of them seem confused and unsure of what has been happening.”
“Treat them fairly, Captain. Full quarter, understood?”
Celestia took a few moments to take in some more breaths.
“Search the entire area. Gather up everypony living, and evacuate the castle grounds. Return for the dead later.”
“Those are my orders. Make camp outside the other end of the forest. Take every precaution on your retreat, I'm afraid that explosion that scattered into the forest contained incredibly dark magic. There is no telling what is in there now. Begin immediately, Captain.”
“Your Highness, what about you?”
“I will remain here, while the moon continues towards the horizon. I must regain my strength to raise the sun in several hours. Go, Captain.”
It took considerable willpower for Eclipse to bow, turn away from the Princess and back to the stairs, leaving her in such a vulnerable state. But he did as instructed, beginning to gather up Solars and Night Watch alike, both well and wounded, and start evacuating.
When Celestia could no longer hear the hoofsteps descending the stairs, she allowed herself to relax completely. Tears flowed from her eyes as she silently wept over the fate she had just sentenced Luna to. Her sister or her subjects; an impossible choice, but one that had needed to be made. She heard the commotion outside slowly grow quieter as the wounded had their injuries tended to, and those not able to walk were loaded onto carts. As the post-battle evacuation effort exited it's fourth hour, the castle grounds had finally gone lifeless, save for the single grieving alicorn. Having fallen asleep several times over the evacuation, she finally had the strength to stand. Looking out the window, she watched the moon slowly dip below the treeline. Gathering all the strength she had restored, she closed her eyes and began to focus. Her horn glowed with a golden aura, and light began to pierce the opposite end of the horizon. The dark sky turned a deep pink, then yellow, then orange, as the sun was lifted above the horizon by the weary princess.
The raising complete, Celestia ceased her spell then turned and descended the stairs. Walking out of the front gate, she gazed sadly at the deceased troops that were scattered around the ground between the tower and the chasm. Off to the right was a collapsed ballista, and she had to do a double take as she saw a glowing pony standing in front of it.
She was clad in the colors of the Night Watch. The four bands on her legs meant she was a Commander. This must have been the second-in-command Orion spoke of before the battle. Her eyes were glowing in white light.
“On the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aid in her escape.”
The Commander’s voice was void of any emotion, and didn’t emanate from her mouth, but rather Celestia heard it in her head. She spoke succinctly, and as Celestia blinked, she vanished. In her place was a burnt corpse, not even recognizable.
The first thing to come to Celestia’s mind was worry and dread; that in a millennium, all of this would happen again. But then, reason began to take hold. She certainly had not intended to imprison her sister forever. She would research and find a way to break the hold Sombra's magic had on her mind. With that, she somberly crossed the last remaining light bridge, which dissipated once she had crossed.
Now on the other side, she looked back at what was once a magnificent castle, now a smoldering ruin. Columns of smoke rising from the dying fires tainted what was otherwise a beautiful sunrise. She figured this was for the best. She could never rule comfortably from here anymore, not after what had happened. Taking another deep breath, she turned towards the forest and walked away.
She did not look back again.
“My loyal subjects. It pains me greatly to have been forced to solve the tragedy that befell our nation. I do not know why Luna did what she did. Her motives defied all logic and reason, and she completely disregarded the well-being of this sovereign nation. It is because of this blatant disregard that I have banished her. Through whatever power she had obtained, she had also clouded the minds of the Night Watch. I am happy to report that once Luna was dealt with, the fighting ceased almost immediately. The Night Watch is not at fault and will continue their duty of keeping guard at night.
When my sister and I overthrew Discord, we knew we could not leave Equestria in the chaotic state it was in. So we took an oath to do everything in our power to heal, restore, and maintain harmony throughout Equestria. Through this restoration, we removed the burden of raising the sun and moon from entire villages of gifted unicorns. Luna abandoned her oath. I will not.
So from here on, it is from this beautiful city of Canterlot that I will rule and assume full and total responsibility for both day and night, raising both the sun and moon. You have my solemn vow that the lives lost in battle days ago will not be in vain. We will come out of this together, a stronger, more unified nation, as we take the first steps into a new era; the Solar Era. This is my promise to you.”