I: Change, Anticipation, and Hints of Sarcasm
To my young and naïve successor:
If you are reading this, then I've most certainly died by now. I would appreciate it if you didn't start weeping and wailing about it; my death has been a long time in coming, and if anything I'm rather pleased at the fact that it's no longer taking its sweet time. That may be rather shocking to you, but in a few thousand years you will understand exactly what I mean.
You might be wondering why all of this destruction and tragedy has come to pass. You might be drying your eyes at this very moment, courtesy of some recent disaster or other. You are certainly miserable and disheartened by now, whether or not you have arrived at the threshold of your inevitable victory. But you must carry on. You absolutely cannot let your trials overcome you, for you are currently the world's only hope. That is why you are a Paragon, at least in part.
You probably blame all of this on your own ignorance, and undoubtedly you blame that ignorance on me. It is likely that now, in the chill that follows the bloodshed, you hate me more deeply than you could ever hope to express. If you do, I can hardly fault you for that. I have kept you in the dark all these years – but before you judge me too harshly, please understand that I never wanted any of you to get hurt. Fate can be a ravenous beast, and I felt that I should at least give the six of you a chance to enjoy your friendship and innocence before it snatched you in its grasping claws.
Before I launch into the convoluted explanation for these events, I wish to apologize for all of the unspeakable hardships you have endured. None of us from any generation wished to be pulled into this rotten scheme. None of us wanted to be the ones standing against the world's hidden tyrants. And none of us were unhappy in our places within the peaceful eras we lived in. Golden ages are the easiest times to believe that destiny will provide a happy ending for any of us.
I am so very sorry.
There once was a time of mild disorder in nature, in which the stars and clouds of the sky and the beasts of the earth followed their own silent and fluid laws. Yet there existed an oasis in this desert of chaos, a calm port in this sea of turmoil. The capital city of the Great Equestrian Empire, known simply and ironically as Everfree, was kept strictly under control by the ponies within on a day-to-day basis. Every day, the Empire's subjects would utilize their own special talents to organize clouds to the best of their ability, as well as till the earth, sweep the streets, and do whatever they could to form some semblance of order in the wake of recent wars.
But their hearts simply were not into it. They could not understand what aim they were striving for in this constant exercise, for they knew that the city could easily fall back into its state of disorder once they were dead and gone. The sun and moon themselves would move across the sky at whatever speed they pleased, and day and night were nebulous words at best. With even those celestial bodies proving to be inconstant watchers in the sky, the ponies of the Equestrian Empire desperately needed something to remind them of the spirit of the Empire. They needed a promise that their efforts would never go to waste in spite of the ever-looming threat of the dreaded chaos.
That promise would arrive sooner than they had expected.
It was on a particularly sudden morning when it happened. The moon sank out of sight barely six hours after its rising, and the sun cheerfully took its place. Ponies grumbled at another unexpectedly early awakening, preparing themselves to head up and down to their daily lives, when a small figure trotted up to the town square, a thick sheaf of flyers clamped in his mouth.
With a familiar hop, skip and jump, the little pale green pony soon stood on the raised platform that overlooked the town square, with its large bell hanging above it. Tossing his messy dark indigo mane out of his face, he let his similarly-colored eyes dart from pony to sleepy pony, all of whom were beginning to shuffle to some unseemly destination. Leaning back onto his hind legs, he seized the bell's thick rope in his forehooves and pulled down as hard as he could.
Clang! Clang! Clang!
"Hear ye, hear ye!" the little pony bellowed, startling everyone into attention; his stature and his voice were of quite different sizes. "Ehem. By order of the royal family, this day shall be the last of the uneven days. The princesses tonight shall show their godly talents as the raisers of sun and moon, in an event which everypony in the land is invited to attend. Tonight there shall be a marvelous festival, in which all shall gather to watch as her highness Celestia raises the sun and seize hold tomorrow morning; and it shall continue throughout the day to the evening, when her highness Luna takes governance over the moon. A celebration for the ages is at hoof!"
With a fierce beating of his small wings he scattered the stack of flyers; they naturally fluttered through the air towards the curious watching ponies, who curiously picked them up to examine their bold announcement. He watched rather eagerly as realization dawned on their faces.
"Today is the end of a new era, my fellow ponies. And tomorrow a new one shall begin!"
The sun had barely crawled across the sky (though this of course meant nothing) when a great cheer swelled within a homely schoolhouse at the edge of the city.
"No school tomorrow!" exclaimed a classroom full of foals, bouncing about excitedly as paper rained down on them from their overturned tables. "No school tomorrow, yeah!"
"Well, yes, there will be no school tomorrow," their young earth pony teacher agreed. She scuffed at the floor with a muted blue hoof, wondering how she was supposed to call order to the room. Surely such an announcement couldn't elicit an elated reaction. "Did anypony hear why there will be no school tomorrow?"
The fillies and colts paused at her question, frowning thoughtfully. They hadn't exactly heard much since the words "no school tomorrow" had passed through their alert ears.
"Um … because it's a holiday, Miss Wisp?" a colt asked tentatively, waving his hoof in the air for attention.
"In a way you are right, Spark," she said, causing him to beam at his admiring classmates. "Tomorrow there is going to be an event that will most likely begin a holiday. Do you all understand how the daytime and nighttime never seem to be the same?"
"Yeah, especially since that night last week that was only a couple hours long," a filly remembered with a pout. "I couldn't get any sleep at all."
"Well, tonight it is going to change," the teacher said, looking faintly gratified at how easily they were handling this concept. "The princesses are going to make the day and the night have the same length every time, all the time. So our entire understanding of time is going to be much easier, and we will all be able to create a steady sleep cycle and enjoy important tasks such as school a little more. And that is why we are having a holiday tomorrow."
"Oooh," the class chorused.
"Hey!" a spritely colt suddenly piped up. "Do you guys know what this means?"
"That you don't have to fall asleep in class all the time?" somepony else quipped. He stuck his tongue out at them.
"No, Sugar Lips, I do not think we know what it means," the teacher replied, suddenly slightly nervous about what he might have to say. "Maybe you could tell the class what you think it means?"
"Sure thing. It means—" he paused, puffing out his chest as he inhaled deeply, "it means every day's going to be a holiday! So no more school ever!"
"Yaaaay!" the class cheered, and they proceeded to bounce around the room again, sending more papers flying.
The teacher furrowed her brow a little as she registered this. Then she braced her head in her hooves as she hunkered down on her desk, letting her striped fuchsia mane fall into her face. "Oh dear," she mumbled, wondering how she was going to make them understand.
Within the barracks of the royal guards, a rather different scene was taking place.
"I'm giving you sons of asses the entirety of the Cronos-damned day to sleep!" the captain of the guard barked, pacing from one end of the sleeping quarters to the other in a tight march. His horn glowed briefly, telekinetically shoving a straggler out of his way. "You lot'll be up for tonight, tomorrow, and tomorrow night without a single wink of shut-eye! That is at least forty-eight hours of constant watch, and believe you me that you're going to damn well need it! We can expect at least half the empire to fly in for this with a flock of foreigners on the side; and if you colts think there won't be a single incident you might as well turn tail and head home to Mama's house and curl up in the cradle, 'cause there are sure as hell going to be problems!"
To the side, a young soldier unicorn stared up at the bunk above him, twisting his mouth in silent words of mockery when the captain's back was turned. He was pretty sure he wouldn't be able to fall asleep with that lanky old jackanapes strutting about the place with his blaring tone and insufferable swagger.
"Psst!" somebody to the side hissed. "Oi, Strike!"
Turning his head to the side, the red unicorn met the gaze of the pony in the bunk next to him. "Pipe down, Brick," he whispered sardonically back. "I'm trying to sleep over here."
"Aw, and let you keep all the dreams of hot mares to yourself?" Brick giggled at his own joke, visibly clapping his hooves together beneath his thin blanket. "You actually going to help with the celebration tonight?"
The unicorn snorted softly. "Like hell. It'll be the cards again, obviously."
"Sweet. Same time, same place?"
"Same old song."
"Guess I'll see you then."
"You'd better have that extra ace with you when you get there," he said, a bit of warning creeping into his tone. "I swear to the gods, if you don't bring it tonight you won't be feeling anything in your flank for three weeks. Three of the new weeks. And that's if I stop myself from grinding your face into a pile of—"
"PRIVATE DIAMOND STRIKE!" the captain hollered, suddenly looming over him in all of his disapproving, stiff-maned glory. "YOU HAD BETTER LAY DOWN AND SHUT UP! IF YOU SO MUCH AS BREATHE TOO LOUD WHILE COLTS ARE TRYING TO SLEEP, YOUR FACE WON'T THANK YOU FOR THAT!"
A few feeble snickers wormed through the air. The unicorn lowered himself further beneath his blanket, scowling at the use of his full name. "Eighteen more months," he mumbled, falling into the familiar mantra. "That's all you need, Strike. Just eighteen."
Close by, in a towering spire of their majestic castle, two of the princesses were having problems of their own.
"Confound this," the younger princess mumbled, pacing speedily back and forth quickly enough to be a deep blue blur. "This isn't going to go well. At all. It'll turn out that somehow you'll be the princess of the moon, and I'll have the sun … or that the ancestors are really wrong, and we turn out to just be in charge of directing bugs around or something. And everyone's going to be there! Everyone! I honestly wouldn't be all that surprised if we had a delegation from Draconia come in. Oh, I don't know the first thing about etiquette when dealing with dragons …"
"Luna," her sister said with a light chuckle, "you don't need to be so nervous about it. I'm sure we'll do absolutely fine." Her gaze drifted idly from the regalia she was examining, settling over to the arching window through which the terse orders of captains wafted through. "It's not as if Father and Mother could stand the idea of us negotiating with dragons yet."
"But Celestia, there'll be thousands of our subjects there! Maybe millions! I can't deal with millions of subjects! It'll make me think of this swarm of multicolored ants, and that's not how to think of subjects at all! Or maybe … maybe Helios and Selene aren't really fully dead. Maybe they're just mad! And that'd be why the sun and moon don't work properly, it's because they're not being raised properly or anything! Oh, that'd be so embarrassing, trying to take over their domain like we're all special and—"
"Luna. Please listen to me. Everything will turn out fine. Now please hold still for a minute."
"We haven't even had any practice! Oh, I don't want it all to fall to pieces when I'm bringing forth the night! That would simply be disastrous of me to do. And it certainly wouldn't give everyone a very good impression of the night, would it. Imagine the moon, simply falling from the sky and crushing everyone. Very messy business there, I don't believe I could stand the shame!"
The magic around her horn flared to life. "Luna, sit down."
With a yelp, the younger sister was forced to half-collapse onto a nearby cushion. "Tia! I don't have time for this choosing-a-proper-crown nonsense! I need to think of a proper way to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of disaster!"
"I'd have thought that you'd want to look your best," Celestia replied evenly, though a sly glint twinkled in her eye. "If this somehow does fail, then surely you at least want to be impressive."
Luna glanced away with a humph. "Very well. But you can't deny that something will undoubtedly go wrong at the festival, and it won't be a little spilled drink either. Some fiend is going to ruin it all, I know it! A rogue hydra, I don't doubt. Or some blasted draconequus that managed to survive the Wars somehow. Perhaps … sweet Cronos, there'll be an assassination attempt! I daresay a zebra will be behind it!"
Celestia sighed, turning her focus more fully towards the assortment of jeweled crowns before her. This was going to be a trial indeed.
Not far away from the city sprawled the Dragonback Mountains, which bordered the nearby trees like a sleeping dragon curled partially around the massive landscape. In a secluded cave within these mountains, a desperate request was being made concerning the upcoming event. There was a great deal of waving a pilfered flyer underneath the listener's nose, fluttering with the force of spouted reasoning that was mostly made up on the spot.
The listener snapped his fingers idly, causing the flyer to spontaneously combust. "I keep telling you why going to these gathering things is a terrible idea, son," he said, though a brief look of concern flashed across his intimidating features as the son stared down at the ashes in his claws with dismay. "Ponies took everything from us. The last thing I want is for them to take you from me, too."
Saying such, he proceeded to bury himself in his reading of a forbidden scroll.
"But … but think of the history!" the son exclaimed, hardly about to give up his case so easily. "They're actually going to control the sun and the moon! Really, the thought that somebody else could do it is just fascinating."
His father didn't grace that remark with a reply.
With a sigh, the son kicked at the ashes that had gathered on the floor. "Look. If you really want me to, I'll take a pony form, all right? It'd be better than turning invisible or something. Nobody to crash into me and cause a nation-wide panic then … as funny as that might be …"
"That'd depend on how convincing you looked as a pony," his father remarked, voice muffled behind the ancient parchment. "If you could promise me that you wouldn't cause any mayhem and just act like one of them convincingly, I mightlet you attend. I might."
The son's fuzzy ears perked up. Eagerly he snapped his fingers; there was a brief flash of light, and where he had once floated now stood a furry, adorable, bright-eyed, pastel-colored …
Peeking over the scroll at this, his father pinched the bridge of his nose and growled in disbelief. "Discord, you're not even trying, are you?"