Frozen Heart: Corruption
Canterlot, this early in the morning, was covered in hovering mist and while spring was almost ready to take over and dispel most of the snow remaining on the slippery cobblestones it wasn't just there yet. Ponies with half-closed eyes rushed, or hobbled, to their jobs, all of them completely unaware that Morning Mist, the pony not the daily occurence, was walking through the city on a mission from her temporary 'boss'. As little as she liked leaving the north unattended she had to earn the Prophet's trust and he'd sent her to steal something apparently crucial to his success.
A book, or a set of books to be precise.
She'd been given only two instructions - to return back with the books and to not harm anypony and attract unnecessary attention - and an address of a house in Canterlot alongside a recommendation to break inside during the day. Mist, being trained in the art of burglary, decided that a weak scrying spell should give her the information she might need about somepony guarding the place. She changed her mind as soon as she found the address. It wasn't an official building or a treasury or anything. It was just an apartment building, one of the better sort to be found in Canterlot. That would explain the second part of the address - 2nd fl. 211.
Breaking into somepony's apartment just to steal some books felt more and more like an excuse to get rid of her and prepare a trap for her when she came back. Perhaps she was being watched? She couldn't feel any magic in particular but that didn't mean that a dark warlord ruling the north with an iron hoof didn't have the skill to mask his presence. Well, that meant she couldn't just go and visit Luna to give her all the details by herself. She'd just have to rely on pen and paper like before.
Mist hid in an alley next to the building and focused on weaving her magic. She wasn't much good in protective and offensive spells but illusions were her forte. A moment later her body slumped on the ground and disappeared, hidden by an invisibility enchantment. She hated using mental projection when she didn't have a good place to hide her physical body. Shrugging, her invisible magical form trotted out of the alley and entered the apartment building. The halls were narrow but clean, revealing the builders of this place had been instructed to make enough room for the tenants rather than wasting empty space on hallways. All in all, while this entire building looked as large as any other, there would be more space for anypony living there for the same price, ensuring a high demand.
All that flashed through Mist's head as she made it to the second floor and phased through the door of her target apartment. The magic she was using served just as a scouting tool as she had no ability to take anything away but the information that the apartment was empty was more than enough. She checked the two next door apartments as well and upon seeing that there would be nopony to bother her while picking the lock she stopped the spell and in few moments she was standing in front of the apartment again, this time for real. She quickly pondered teleportation since the apartment didn't seem protected from magic in any way but there might be alarms which were easy to hide and difficult to detect. The same went for spells crafted directly to open any non-magical lock. Fortunately, unicorns still had their mouths and could pick a lock just like any other pony. On top of that those with very sensitive telekinesis could explore the shape of the lock and open it from the inside. She was exactly that sort.
Still, the lock was of as high quality as the rest of this place so breaking inside was slightly more difficult than expected but to Mist it meant only about a minute more of standing in front of the door pretending to look out of the window into a gradually filling street. The door clicked and she was inside.
The apartment... was a mess. Whoever lived here had no desire to keep things in order. There were four rooms - a living room filled with random articles of clothing, female by the looks of it, a kitchen, the only place not looking as if an explosion had wrecked it seconds earlier, a bathroom, sparkling clean and leading to a definite conclusion of a mare living here, and a bedroom.
The bedroom smelled like a low-grade whorsehouse. Mist's guess was that the mare had overslept after a night with a partner and tried to mask the overpowering smell of sex by some sort of sweet scent. The overall effect made Mist's head spin.
"Bleh," she shivered, looking at the bed, "Talon marks. Was she screwing a griffon or something similar? Disgusting."
Thankfully for Mist, the owner of this place didn't seem to be as smitten with books as she was with music.
"Justin the Beaver?" Mist read one of the newer posters on the walls. She'd never been into forest metal but Fluttershy's trained animals were becoming a thing even in larger cities. If only she laid off the black and white makeup.
The only small bookshelf contained a cookbook which Mist understandably misread as a cockbook on the first attempt. The smell was making her warm and dizzy. She wanted to get out as quickly as possible. As she was reading the rest of the titles her hoof moved to her nethers without her permission. Mist grit her teeth and forced her legs into submission. Oh Celestia, now she was grinding her hind legs together. The last two things on the bookshelf weren't books but two black notebooks of the cheapest sort that could be found in any general store anywhere. The writing on the covers proved they were what she was looking for. Grabbing them, she rushed out of the room to take a breath of fresher air.
Magical aphrodisiac. The mare must have drugged both her poor partner and herself to go all night. Mist knew the aftereffects of magical potions lasted only short while but now she wasn't in a position to think clearly. Thankfully, the next-door apartments being empty meant nopony heard her scream from the bathroom. Several minutes later she emerged out of the bathroom, refreshed and furious at whoever made her lose self-control. Perhaps she could vandalize this place just a bit? No, she had more important things to do... like mastu-
Covering her nose, she ran out of the apartment and into the cold streets.
"Aaaah, much better," she slowly breathed in and out.
The chilly air swirling around her allowed her to regain her composure and she was ready to delve into the secrets of the notebooks during the train ride back to the Crystal Empire.
The journal of Blazing Light
She knew the name, most Equestrian Intelligence Service agents did. Despite Mist coming into contact with the unicorn's case only once he was a fascinating talk between gifted unicorn mages. Their nightmare, to be precise. A unicorn capable of bending magic against the user, seeing through illusions, and, as the rumors went, beating the crap out of princess Luna was something to be concerned about.
She read all about the rise of the young unicorn but nothing in the books gave her any idea why the Prophet would want it. There weren't any magical secrets to his power he could exploit, at least she couldn't find any.
When a day later she walked back to the mountain city and asked Darkhorn where the Prophet was so she could give him the books she was given the answer that the Prophet was in the mining zone. The mining zone was a place where only minotaurs were allowed to go but Mist now had a very good reason. The Prophet needed to hear about the result of her mission as soon as possible to continue his evil plans after all.
A duo of minotaurs outside of a mine shaft tried to stop her but showing the red crystal pendant Darkhorn also had and her growing reputation as the Prophet's assistant gave her word the weight she needed to get inside. Aside from minotaurs with pickaxes and mine carts here and there nothing felt out of place and a reason for ponies to be banned from coming here.
The mine shaft opened into an another crevice, smaller but filled with various gems flickering in the light of torches set in the walls and several large sources of light of Crystal Empire origin. This had to be the current vein the minotaurs were mining. The minotaurs around her looked at her questioningly. She flashed her pendant and nodded at them.
"Where's the boss?" she asked a minotaur resting nearby. He just pointed his hand further into the crevice.
Eventually a pony silouhette came to view and Mist coughed politely.
"Yes?" the Prophet turned around, "Ah, Evening Gloom. What are you doing here?"
"Brought you the books, sir," she answered chipperly, "If I may ask, why aren't ponies mining this stuff as well?"
"Several reasons," said the Prophet as Mist levitated the stolen journals to him, "Minotaur stamina gained through years of living in this harsh environment allows them to go for longer. The ponies here are barely used to this weather and have trouble even living inside the mountain. The main reason though is this."
One of the books opened in front of him and he flipped few pages, mumbled to himself, and shook his head.
Lights faded, a touch of cold chilled Mist to the bone, and her legs started shaking. A large black crystal tore the ground in front of the Prophet and the walls of the crevice darkened with the same substance.
In growing panic Mist tried to teleport away, tried to gather some sort of magic to help her get out. Nothing worked. She whimpered. How could have she even though about taking this mission? A small mare like her trying to outsmart a pony instilling fear into princess Luna and uniting the fiercest race of all Equus was like an ant laughing at a tsunami. She had no hope of succeeding. She should just run away and hide. It wouldn't help though. The darkness would come and take her.
There was no way to win.
She woke up in a bed with fire roaring somewhere close to her. Her head immediately started working out what had happened. Here and now it felt like a panic attack but she knew it had been something else. The Prophet had managed to get something out of the diaries, something that gave him the power to break one's will and imitate the power to wipe all magic out.
Mist was shaking inside. The alicorns weren't safe from the Prophet now. It was all up to her, she had to kill him before it came to fighting.
"Well, well, well, what have we here?" a rust-coloured unicorn smiled widely at a zebra shackled in the cell in front of him, "A zebra asking way too many questions for a simple mercenary."
The captured zebra was quickly spinning a believable lie in his head just like any good spy would and was nearly ready to confuse the living hell out of Holy Light when a hissing whisper from nowhere said:
Luna's agent. I can see into him.
"Oh, where are my manners?" Holy Light bowed overexaggeratedly, "Mister spy, this is the Nightmare, a god set on wiping this land clean and trying again. Nightmare, Luna's spy, as you said. What should we do with him?"
The zebra was fiddling with the chains holding him. This place was a cell in a city near the northern coast of Zebrica and as such the chains had little chance of holding a well-trained agent for long. If only he was able to persuade them to give him few more minutes without their attention he'd be out of this place and on his way back to Canterlot.
You will be on your way back soon enough.
"What?" the shocked agent looked at grinning Holy Light.
"You see, we could simply kill you right now but you are a valuable resource-"
"I'm not telling you anything!"
"Telling us?" dark mist swirled around Holy's horn and a black beam hit the agent's forehead, "Your name is Wideleaf, your parents came from Zebrica to Appleloosa twenty-one years ago while you were a young colt. During the bison threat to the city four years ago you were asked by the local sheriff to examine the situation. Following your assessment princess Celestia sent the Elements of Harmony there to defuse the situation, earning you a chance to join the EIS. You weren't too excited when the EIS leadership was given to princess Luna but you eventually got over it because you were a professional. Should I continue?"
Wideleaf shook his head. He had to get out and warn princess Luna that Holy Light drew information out of his head. Wideleaf wasn't sure how much Holy knew. Agents on dangerous assignments like him had protective spells place inside their heads in order to protect sensitive information.
"What would it change?" Holy asked, "It's not as if some details about the internal structure of the Intelligence Service would change our course of action. No, I think we have a more interesting use for you, mister agent. You will get out of here alive, you have my word for it."
Wideleaf looked suspiciously at Holy who just shrugged.
"If you don't believe me you just have to wait. I would like you to issue Celestia and Luna a challenge. It must have dawned on them that the point of this attack is to break the Pact of Harmony so I challenge them to pull everything they can to the Tree, gather all their allies, and face us. At least that way we won't have to hunt any stragglers down."
"You can't be serious," Wideleaf stuttered out, "No amount of forces will stand against the sisters."
"There are gods, below them there are alicorns, and then... waaaay down the ladder there are ponies like us. So, you see, the ultimate power is on my side. With the alicorns at least weakened the nearly half a million soldiers under my command will roll over what little amount you've managed to gather in past months. I'm telling you this only because I want to see your hope break when you see what's against you, to know you're resigned to your inescapable fate."
"Why? You are a pony, how can you want that?"
"Because life is not worth living when you have no control over it. You are nothing to the alicorns ruling over every aspect of your existence. There is no freedom, only an illusion. You can't create your fate. Try to stick out a little and you'll see how the ones above you fear the growing power and stomp you into the ground. Everything has to start over on an equal playing field. The gods now know they made the mistake of creating alicorns before allowing life to bloom and die on its own."
"You are insane."
Holy just waved his hoof.
"Anypony not thinking in the way they've been indoctrinated to is considered insane. That doesn't mean they are wrong. It only means that somepony up there doesn't want them to break the precious system enslaving the weak forever. Now, since I see my words have no value for you and that you're too far gone I'll do what I promised."
Holy's horn glowed and the cell door opened.
"Go and tell the corrupt diarchs what you've heard and seen. My army will soon march on the northern shipyards and start the preparations for the invasion. I dare the sisters to waste their forces trying to stop me."
Wideleaf considered using the unlocked shackles to try and choke Holy Light to death.
"Go, shoo!" Holy waved him off, "Steal a ship or something. I'm sure you are resourceful like that."
In a second the zebra was outside, planning his return to Canterlot.
That was unwise.
"Heck no. The message he'll deliver will be slightly different than he thinks. Our good old 'friend' Blazing Light, the insane one not the goody-goody one we killed in the desert, invented an anti-magic bomb with your help. I just turned the spell into a curse. The spell will go off and drain his life to fuel an explosion devouring magic to fuel itself further. It might be useless against Celestia but I think Luna will find it so delightful she'll melt on the spot."
You ponies are interesting creatures. Now I see why Discord enjoys just observing you.
"Observing is fine," Holy growled, "Being utterly helpless against a higher power is not. The Pact of Harmony is an abomination giving alicorns more power than the gods have. Discord SHOULD watch and play games from time to time. You, Nightmare, SHOULD exist to break the pony utopia and make them struggle. Harmony messed up in creating the Pact. That is the conflict of three gods two of which are now simply slaves to the Elements and the will of alicorns who can use all of them to subdue you and their own power to break any resistance from their 'little' ponies. Stupid euphemism."
The good old days. This time though it will be only two rightful gods. Life and Death, Creation and Destruction, Chaos and Order. Discord and Me.