Celestia's Descent (Prologue)
Today, she felt, something was wrong. She had never been so uneasy during the day. Whatever was wrong, she told herself, it was still the day, and the day is of course hers; so she would fix it. Princess Celestia's mind smoldered with these thoughts as she sat at the top of the cathedral stage, still wearing a placid smile. There was no reason to let it be known that something was out of place.
As the robed choirs on either side of the hall closed their chant, she approached the podium and spread her wings. She filled up the glowing image in the stained glass behind her as the sun dropped into the top of the westward window, just as it was meant to. The teleprompter above the camera still had not updated. Equestria would have to wait as she basked in her glory a few seconds longer than usual. In the face of the day's foreboding, she had demanded that new policies would be enacted today, a week ahead of schedule.
Finally the hastily prepared speech appeared on the monitor. "Greetings, my devoted citizens. I have blessed you with another day."
"You have, and we are grateful," the choirs automatically proclaimed.
"This day is a special blessing," she said, noting idly that special blessings had become rather frequent. "I have heard your prayers, and I have granted them. Today, my Solar Empire, I shall make you stronger. The new laws I give you today will increase your ability to serve. This will bring new responsibility, and those who allow me to increase their faithfulness will surely be rewarded with an increase in my special protections upon them. Your service will increase the prosperity and security of the Empire, and hasten the day when I allow you to be used of me to draw into the Empire those who are unenlightened. Then you will never again fear the darkness, and my light will fill the whole earth."
The singers struck up a chorus of "It Will Be as You Say". They continued untiring into "How Shall We Praise Thee," singing "For what shall we praise thee? For thy power on the earth? For thy power in the heavens?" There was really no problem at all, she concluded, just another day of success; an epic win just for being Celestia.
Right on an in-breath in the song and a second's pause in the music, a single worshipper choked, "No—" and collapsed out of the ranks and into the aisle, dead. All fell into a hush.
The pony on the camera moved to turn it off, but Celestia sneakily swatted his hoof away with an almost imperceptible burst of magic. This was no way to end a live broadcast. The goddess rose vertically from the stage and, holding out her hooves, levitated the limp figure into her grasp. "My faithful worshiper, you have praised me until your passing," she declared. As she rose towards the setting sun, her voice rose to a near-thunder. "For this I will gather your soul to myself to partake of my holy immortality!" With the last word, there was a great flash as she met the sun.
She emerged in a dark and smoky facility in the industrial district on the windward side of the mountain from Canterlot. She perched on the rim of an unmonitored garbage smasher and dropped the warm body into it. The robes flowed behind the corpse as it plunged out of view and added a dull thud to the staccato soundscape of progress. This wasn't supposed to happen. She was master of life and death in her realm. She told herself that she was immortal, and she decided who would live and who would die—but she hadn't decided the singer would die. Shrouded in gloom, the usually radiant Princess stretched out her breast with a hoof. She removed a slight magic distortion on her skin to reveal the scar left by a terrific gash. That wasn't supposed to happen either; officially, it hadn't. She took one last look into the compactor and remembered the singer's final word. Did he utter, "No", in fear of death, or had it been an answer to the verses of the choir?
She hid the wound again and teleported to the palace grounds where she would customarily go after the sunset ceremonies. A goat in a suit awaited her and commented, "I didn't know you gathered souls. That was a nice touch."
The Princess gave him a glare. His expression was unmoved but he changed the subject quickly. "There were a few details about the new policies that haven't been addressed. When we increase the production demands on the cities they are sure to use their new powers of eminent domain to seize non-contributing business as intended. How can we appear benevolent when ponies are dispossessed, though?" he asked stroking his beaded beard.
"Don't be stupid. Who will pay attention to that?" she stated. "The monopolies will help quell discontent as they take over. And the middle class is too invested in the companies to watch out for each other."
"Still," he alerted, "there might be demonstrations, and with how high the new demands are, city leaders might be frustrated enough to let some bad press loose. Some additional measures could be added to smooth things over."
"If we pretended to give the city governments what they needed, it would be their fault. When they use their powers to tap the economy, it will be the greed of certain mortal ponies staining the implementation of the immortal's perfectly imparted law," she concluded, with some satisfaction.
She asked, on afterthought, "How do you say that, 'give them fake money'?"
"We could issue growth funds backed by Imperial vouchers," he bleated out habitually.
"I knew there was a reason I keep you around," she patronized, "Why, it would take me a whole day to replace you." As the sun set, she turned and departed unexpectedly. He had more to discuss, but it was unwise to harass her when she was not in the mood for matters of state.
A feeling of unfulfillment snuck through the halls behind her as she retreated towards the pleasures of the inner palace. Seeing a jet-black colt in a black suit, she stopped to inquire, "What about Nightmare Moon? What is she doing?" Whatever was going on, it simply had to be her doing.
The agent answered through thick sunshades, "Unknown. Her presence has not been detected on this side of the border."
That was not the answer she needed. "How did she react to the plague we encouraged in Cimareoon?" she demanded.
"She has sent in NLR military medical corps to assist local hospitals with containment and treatment. There are unconfirmed reports that she is spreading a wellness spell over the area," he answered dryly.
"What?" she protested, "Medics? Wellness? Where is her retaliation?"
"That is unknown, apart from increased screening at the border."
"She can't keep this shit up forever!" she exclaimed vehemently. "I'll break her in the end. She has to fight back at some point."
With that she resumed her determined march to solace. She would have to make one last appointment before she could be rid of pony presence. What was that in their eyes? She couldn't stand it anymore. There was an emptiness forming within her chest. She tried talking herself out of it, then tried hating it. All the hatred she sent out slipped into an awful unfamiliar mist with no return. Her first reaction had been right, she concluded. This thing should be drowned with vices; when had that ever failed?
She turned and entered a small dark room where two security guards monitored the palace grounds projected in gray on the wall in front of them from a faintly glowing crystal ball. They remained still and apparently focused on the image. She waved her greaved hoof over the crystal ball, which flickered in response and changed the display on the wall from the approaches to the palace grounds to back alleys and inner city slums on the south side of Canterlot. The guards did not react. The abject poverty of this quarter was the glorious capitol's most obvious and best-kept secret, hidden from the upper classes by carefully directed roads, social barriers, and indifference. She scanned the rusting and crumbling, cramped landscape and watched those stragglers who had failed to reach the safety of their squalid dwellings before nightfall.
A lone filly trotted down a poorly lit alley, dancing through debris instinctively in the low light. Her mane and tail were neatly arranged but very dirty from a day's work. As she carried her small saddlebag she hung her head and looked into every shadow with fear as if she were in the Everfree forest. The young one's slender body bounced and her hips swayed as she navigated the cracked street.
No detail escaped the appraising mind of her observer. Celestia's wings rose slightly without her command, and stiffened slightly at the base. She raised her hoof and almost spoke, but she hesitated. The filly peeked around a corner before taking the turn and disappearing out of sight. "Why did I let her get away?" the stalking ruler wondered. With a simple adjustment the orb could have continued to track the young one, but it remained untouched. Celestia had let her hope slip away too easily. It was not like her.
The predatory glint returned to her eyes and she resumed, eager to set aside this uncharacteristic uncertainty. A young and handsome colt also picked his way through her city's night. With only a cursory examination she pointed and said softly, "That one." Without turning the guards nodded. The ruler turned to leave for her chambers and finally cut herself off from the frustrations and fears of this uncooperative world.
As she slipped out of the security room back into the brightly lit hall, she noticed another well-dressed politician waiting for her. Did he know? Correction: what did she care? She assumed a rapid gait as she headed straight for the tall double-doors where she sought shelter. "Your majesty, there are urgent matters that—" he started to say as she passed by quickly. He pursued but did not exert himself enough to catch her or she would have kicked him. Reaching her objective at last, she threw the great doors open, entered, and slammed them behind her. The fixtures in the chamber rattled and a picture fell off its hook and smashed on the floor. She studied it where it lay face down in its own broken glass. She knew it was a picture of herself, like most of them were.
She left it there and moved through her private residence to the far end of a pointlessly long table. It wasn't as if she had guests tonight. After a successful day's rule she always had quite an appetite and was always greeted with a banquet of Equestria's finest delicacies. She sat down and began to eat slowly. After a while she started to eat faster and faster, devouring arrangements of lilies and an unfamiliar stew greedily. She picked up an apple pie messily in her hoof, shoved half of it in her mouth, and swallowed without chewing. Suddenly she stopped and dropped it. She pushed it away from her and returned the crumbs and slimy residue on her hooves into the pie with her magic.
She glanced over to the empty space on the wall where the portrait had hung. A shot of dope potion beckoned and it was soon emptied.
The radiant alicorn stole into her bedchamber and extinguished the lights. She pulled supple sheets around herself and lay back, drifting away from the world into the chemical experience. After a while, however, the buzz and rush of hallucinogenic flight was joined by a piercing ring in her ears and splitting headache. The small spasms became more painful than pleasurable. After an hour of half-consciously refusing the fact, she admitted that she wasn't enjoying it. When she willed away the effects of the potion, some of the unexpected side effects still lingered.
Her head jerked up from the bed. She had not meant to fall asleep and she could not remember the content of her troubling dreams. It was still night but she could feel the morning coming. More than that she felt hungry, so hungry, but not for food. Celestia rose and considered the lights but decided, somewhat against her nature, to remain shrouded in the dark. She still wore her gold crown, necklace, and greaves, which had left pulsing indentations in her skin where she had slept on them. Indulging in stealth, she slipped quietly down the hall. She had learned how to deprive her hooffalls of sound when she wanted to.
She approached an unremarkable side door, creeping with a malevolent smile as if cornering her prey. She sniffed under the door. Her tissues became flush with hot blood and her wings stiffened again. She willed the door open and let it give an artful creak while remaining silent herself. In the middle of the room, the handsome colt she had indicated earlier sat tied to a chair. He had been taken off the street, but since the proper preparations had been made, his mane was neatly arranged and he smelled sweet under his new suit. Dim red lights slowly turned on in response to the door opening. She salivated and her pupils dilated narrower in expectation. The colt turned his head to the door but only saw it close; the huge hunting figure had already melted into the shadow on the other wall, thrilled in her cruel foreplay.
Some time later she emerged frustrated. She had not done as much to him as she expected. Her pupils remained small on her large eyes, refusing to adjust to the darkness. She blinked repeatedly, but it was not put off. To her bewilderment the hunger was still with her. With only a little while until the new day, she had merely to distract herself from these untoward sensations a bit longer.
She headed towards the couch in front of the royal entertainment system but for some reason kept going past it until she was looking out the window of her tower. Close by in the center of the view stood another graceful tower. It was designed to house a second royal resident. Instead of being demolished it had been partially repurposed but still seemed unfulfilled. A window in the opposite tower contained nothing. As she strained her gaze at it, ancient memories floated out of that internal haze. A familiar blue face implanted itself from memory into the window. She blinked and sadly it was still empty.
What was this insidious foolishness? It had to be tamed. Why should she care that her sister wasn't there? A dash of private hate crossed her all-beautiful face and burned crimson across this encroaching mist. Luna! "I shouldn't have signed that treaty! I should have crushed her!" she cried out to the empty halls. "I can raise the moon anyway! Who needs her alive!?" The arches and banisters echoed mockingly, "Who needs her alive!?" She gritted her teeth and choked back a reply. She growled and then moaned as her hatred moaned flatly within her. She didn't want her sister, but she needed her. She needed Canterlot, she needed Equestria.
Glaring, murmuring soldiers surrounded her mind. Their faded and torn battle colors issued a faltering pledge of loyalty to her. They advanced on broken legs through a windswept valley in her memory, madly twisting their faces in garish caricatures of their ill breeding. They had said they would die for her—was it theirs to say if she enjoyed it? A bugle player, shot through the throat, gurgled "Solar Victory", as if to answer her idle query as to whether they were strong enough to take the fortifications across the river. She needed them back. Now. They toppled backwards away from her, finally releasing their pent-up blood. She sprang spasmodically across the marble floor as if to catch them.
The vision dissipated and she screeched to a halt on the edges of her gold-clad hoofs. Throwing her side against the wall she pressed her head against the inside of an archway. Some ponies had disappeared for uttering such defamations in the street, but she couldn't stop thinking these things. With eyes tightly shut, she pushed harder, as if to crush that stupid anguish. Now it was in her head and spreading throughout her body, which heaved and shuddered as if allergic to itself. Her ears rang with pressure as if her emptiness was finally imploding.
A stone broke away under her strength so that she fell forward after it. She regained her hooves and glanced this way and that down a side hall and towards the locked door, which still kept its peace. She reared up on her hind legs and brandished her hooves to face some phantasmagorical attacker, but none came. In a show of strength, royal hooves slammed down into the stone, sending crunched bits skittering across the gilded chamber.
She picked up a hoof to admire her hoofwork. Rough circles were impressed into the stone which was puny beneath her; it was just as easy as smashing an unsatisfying filly's ass. "How's that for a cutie mark?" the milky apparition of herself in the polished floor seemed to say, and smirked. "Why, it was downright poetic, a vague suggestion of infinity filling with the blood of a being who would rejoin the infinite within moments," continued the suave self-spectre. Splitting pain tore through her chest and played in and out of her gasping heart. She chased the pieces from the floor back into place with desperate swipes. They refused to align and to cover up the blight. With her magic she switched them, turned them over and jammed them into the hole repeatedly, but the damage could not be undone. She nervously cast her gaze over her maned shoulder, ashamed to be seen despite her splendor. No one remained nearby to investigate the commotion, even if they dared.
She could stand no more of this. Whoever had sent these tormenting spirits would be sorely disappointed. Who cares? Everypony else could, but not the great Celestia. She didn't give more than a fuck for fillies, or soldiers or cities. "Celestia is better than everything else," she screamed in her mind, gritting her teeth. "Celestia is all." Perhaps she would remember her pride if she raised the sun. It was earlier than usual, but why put up with any more of that awful moon? It was hers to bring the dawn. Hers, only, to give life to this world, so didn't she have the right to take it away? They should all be grateful. But they weren't and she wasn't. She wanted more and she wanted to throw it all away.
The windowed doors to the balcony flung open at her approach. She was greeted with mournful wails and haunting strains from Octavia's window somewhere below. "That's not what you're supposed to play," she thought, "when I raise the glorious sun!"
She planted herself firmly and reached out desperately with all her power. The darkness rolled back like a flood. The sun exploded over the horizon, pouring orange light upon the eastern faces of the city below. Mountains, plains, and civilizations awakened with a start at her will.
Still the dirge rose louder and more desolate. The air grew heavier around her as if the haunting presence was unimpressed with her display. To her the sun was an extension of her glorious self, but now she remembered it had been there before her and was given to her. The light rushed to her and the balcony gleamed. She felt something terrible in it, but could not look away. No use! It was worse out here. She strained to hold on to her mind, but that scraping emptiness consumed more and more. All the power, the vices were lacking, and floating away. Her pupils shrank further to tiny specks as the conceit, hatred, and lust stretched out over nothing. The pain grew and told her of her shame, her loneliness. She could feel her evil deeds boiling riotously in her veins. A huge, piercing beam was now between her and the sun. Her horn glowed with heat instead of magic and the mark of the sun seethed on her flank. The music struck harmony with the gnawing within and the scalding without. Her pupils, her windows to the world, were now like pinpricks on the vacuous expanse of her eyes as they were pulled down to what little was left inside.
She screamed aloud as the totality of her afflictions burst into the physical world. The ill-fitting beauty of the tyrant-Princess lapsed into disease and accuracy. She threw open her wings, which dripped feathers like rain around her. The strains of the violin rose, now shrill and wrathful, the sun steamed on her hide, and her scream attempted to tear its way out of every part of her body. Her features stretched as skin became like melting porcelain. It disgorged itself in viscous globs and splattered on the stone, sizzling louder and merging its noise to her continuing scream. The magnificent mane bleached and fell out or sank into the slime. Her flesh, black under the white veneer, reeked of death and excrement as it rolled off of her. Her horn disintegrated into something like rust and soon was no more. Her cry fell as her throat clogged with the dead matter, and the sun crashed back into the horizon as the balcony dripped and sizzled in the darkness.