"Ughh…Rainbow Dash! It is the middle of the night!"
"Sorry, Rarity, but Twilight needs to see everypony at the library. Right now. It's important."
Rainbow Dash was at the door of Rarity's boutique. She was hovering in the air to emphasize the urgency of the situation. On the other side of the door stood a tired Rarity with a sleeping mask resting above her horn. Somehow, her mane was still picture-perfect.
"Can't it wait until tomorrow? I need my beauty sleep," Rarity moaned.
"Beauty Sleep? I think you already have plenty of that. Now come on! This is really important."
Rarity groaned in deep frustration. "Fine," she said, dragging out the word, "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Good." Rainbow Dash didn't hesitate for a second before she turned and flew away, kicking up a back draft. Rarity's mane was no longer picture-perfect.
Seconds later, Rainbow Dash returned to the library and entered. Twilight was pacing in the main sitting area. "Are they all coming?"
"Yeah," Dash replied, "They'll be here soon."
"I'm guessing none of them were pleased about having to get up at this hour."
"Well, most of them were upset, yeah, but…"
The two turned their heads to the front door, which was now occupied by a completely energized Pinkie Pie. She showed absolutely no signs of fatigue.
"I'm heeeeere!" she sang out, "So what're we doing? Huh? Is this some super-special midnight party? Oh, hey Twilight! I haven't seen you in forever! Ooh! Is this a 'Welcome back Twilight' party? Well, I guess not, since she was never really gone. But it is taking place in the library, so I'm guessing the party has something to do with her."
"Pinkie…" Twilight tried to interject.
"Ooh! I saw the balloon out back, too! Are we going flying in it? OOH! Is this some kind of party in the sky? That's so awesome! Twilight, you've come up with a better party idea than me! That's amazing. I didn't think anything like that was possible. But it's okay. I know I can't have the best ideas all of the time. That wouldn't be fair."
"Pinkie!!" Twilight shouted more forcefully. Pinkie fell silent.
"This isn't a party, Pinkie," Dash informed her hyperactive friend.
"Oh…" Pinkie replied, "Okee Dokee Lokee!"
Dash could only shake her head.
Moments later, Applejack arrived. "All ri', I'm here Dash. Wha'd y'all want?" Applejack was tired, but was used to getting up at early hours, so it didn't seem to affect her as much.
"Let's just let everypony else show up first," Twilight responded.
Applejack turned her head and noticed Twilight for the first time. "Oh! Howdy Twilight! Fancy seein' you up and about."
Twilight smiled at her friend. Moments later, a tired Fluttershy hovered slowly through the door, half asleep. She landed on the floor in a sitting position and gave a small yawn.
"Mmm…" she groaned, "I'm here."
"Great. Thanks for showing up, Fluttershy," Dash replied.
Fluttershy nodded and rubbed her eyes.
"I'm sorry we got you up so early," Twilight said.
Fluttershy perked her head up. "Oh! Twilight! You're here too! Oh, it's wonderful to see you!"
Twilight smiled. "Thanks, Fluttershy. It's great to see you too."
The group waited in relative silence for a few minutes more before Rarity finally arrived. She was clearly tired, but was being kept awake by her frustration at having been roused from slumber.
"All right, I'm here. What is so important, Rainbow Dash?" she said in a huff.
"Excellent, everypony's here," Twilight observed, "so I guess I should tell you what this is all about."
Rarity also took notice of Twilight for the first time and it abated her frustration. "Oh my goodness, it really is Twilight."
"Well, of course it's me. This is my home, isn't it?"
"Well, yes, but…"
"I thought Dash was calling us over here for some kind of intervention," Fluttershy said.
"I kinda thought-a that too, sugar," Applejack replied.
"Intervention? What?" Twilight said, confused.
"I, um…I thought we'd all be going down into the basement to, um, drag you out," Fluttershy said quietly.
This remark sent Applejack, Dash and Pinkie into fits of giggles. Fluttershy blushed and hid behind her mane.
"Ah ha ha…Now don't get me wrong," Applejack said, "I'm glad it didn't havta come to that, but…shucks, that woulda been a lotta fun! Ha!"
Pinkie giggled louder. "Twilight would've been like, I'm still working, and we'd be all like, Come outside, silly filly! and it'd be like one big party game!"
Dash was in stitches on the floor. Twilight simply stared.
"Well," Rarity chimed in, "I'm certainly glad I didn't have to participate in such a ruffian event."
"Aw, c'mon Rarity," Applejack responded, "Ya woulda had fun. Trust me."
"I hardly think so."
"Hee hee, yeah!" Pinkie laughed, "But it doesn't matter, 'cus Twilight's up and she wanted to see us all!"
"I know, Pinkie," Applejack agreed, "It's good ta see 'er. We missed ya, Twi."
"Um, yeah, Twilight." Fluttershy said, "It really is great to see you."
"Er…thanks," Twilight said, feeling a little off-balance from the direction the conversation had steered off into. She held up her hoof. "Sorry everypony, but can I get back to why I asked you all here?"
The four ponies on the floor all returned their gazes to her. "Of course, Twilight," Rarity said, "Go right ahead."
Twilight sighed. "Thank you. That is kinda the reason I called everypony here tonight." A few glances were shared. "I know I've kind of been hiding myself away and being all mysterious, so I'm sorry if I worried anypony."
"Aww, it's okay Twilight!" Pinkie replied, "As long as everything's better now."
Twilight chuckled dryly. "Well, I wouldn't say that. Let me start from the beginning. When I saw the story on the news this morning, the one about the ghosts…"
"Oh, you saw that, Twilight?" Rarity interrupted, "Isn't it just terrible?"
"Yeah, sure," Twilight said, miffed at having been interrupted again, "But when I was watching it, I noticed something really strange. It kinda went with everything I had been studying, too. Then I showed it to Rainbow Dash, and she noticed it too. Actually, I'm surprised nopony else noticed it, to be honest."
The group turned to look at Dash. "Wha'd y'all see?" Applejack asked.
Dash shook her head. "No, no, it's what we didn't see."
There was a collective, surprised murmuring from the four ponies.
"She wasn't there? Are you sure?" Rarity could be heard asking.
"Here, I printed a picture," Twilight said, picking up a piece of paper with her magic and giving it to Rarity. Fluttershy, Applejack and Pinkie gathered around.
"I watched the footage maybe 20 times," Dash informed the group, "Trust me. She wasn't there."
The four spent a few moments scrutinizing the picture and trying to find a trace of Luna, but came up empty.
"My goodness, she really isn't there. How did I not notice that?" Rarity said in surprise.
"Are y'all sure?" Applejack said, grabbing the picture. "There's a lot o' ghost things there. Ya coulda missed 'er."
"It was much clearer on the video footage," Twilight said, "I'd show that to you, but we don't really have time to move everypony to the basement to watch it. There was definitely no Luna ghost."
"But…why?" Fluttershy asked.
"Well, that's why Rainbow Dash and I took the hot-air balloon up to Canterlot to investigate."
Instantly all eyes were on Twilight. "You did what?" Rarity exclaimed.
"Y'all went all the way to Canterlot and back in a few hours?!" Applejack asked, incredulous.
"Hey! I take that as an insult!" Dash said, raising her voice, "I towed that balloon there in no time."
"What did you do in Canterlot?" Fluttershy asked, addressing Twilight.
"Well," Twilight replied, rubbing the back of her neck. This was the part of the story she had been worried about sharing. She was anxious about what her friends' reactions would be. "We, uh…we needed to find out, um…"
"We snuck into the graveyard," Dash stated simply.
Four jaws dropped. "You what?!" They all exclaimed simultaneously.
Twilight recoiled. "Well, we had to. They weren't going to let us in after the ghost incident and we needed to find out what was going on."
"Twilight, I can't believe ya'd do somethin' so stupid," Applejack scolded, "I mean what's worse than breakin' into a cemetery?!"
Twilight broke eye contact with her friends and stared at the walls while awkwardly shuffling her hooves.
"Oh, no…" Applejack groaned, "What did you two do?"
"Umm…" Twilight faltered, "Well, we had to find out, um…exactly what we were dealing with and, uh…"
"We went inside Luna's tomb," Dash said, once again plainly stating the fact.
There was dead silence for many seconds. This was followed by a dull thump as Rarity fell to the floor.
"Rarity? Are you okay?" Twilight called out in concern.
She held a hoof to her face. "I feel faint," she moaned.
"Twi, what the hay were you two thinkin'?!" Applejack exclaimed, "Y'all coulda gotten inta a lot o' trouble! An' for what?!"
"Well, that's where the story gets interesting," Twilight continued, "Obviously, I wouldn't do something that crazy just on a hunch. I'd been studying video footage of the funeral, as you probably know. There was something off about Princess Luna, which is what led me to investigate.
"We got into the tomb and, using my magic, I was able to find and get rid of a spell that had been cast on the body. You won't believe it, but…"
"It wasn't really her!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed.
She was met with four blank stares. "Beg pardon?" Applejack said.
"The body at the funeral and the one they laid to rest in the cemetery wasn't Princess Luna," Twilight continued, "It was another unicorn mare that we didn't recognize. But it wasn't Princess Luna's body. Somepony had cast a spell on it to fool everypony else."
The four listening mares held incredulous expressions. They looked to each other in disbelief.
"Twi, just what kinda crazy stuff's comin' outta yer mouth now?" Applejack asked, regarding Twilight with a sceptical expression.
"It sounds crazy, but it's true! I saw it too!" Dash responded insistently.
Applejack turned to look at the pegasus. "That there's a pretty tall tale for me ta believe."
"You're saying Luna wasn't at the funeral? But we all saw her!" Pinkie exclaimed.
Twilight nodded. "The spell was pretty powerful. It fooled us all."
"I can't believe it…" Fluttershy muttered.
"I don't believe it," Applejack retorted, still in utter disbelief, "Ya can't honestly tell me that thousands o' ponies were there at Canterlot, not ta mention the ponies who had ta actually handle the body…and none o' them could tell that it was a fake. It's impossible!"
"Applejack, I saw it with my own eyes!" Dash countered, stepping up to the orange pony, "I couldn't believe it either, but it's true!"
The two stared at each other for a moment. "Do you guys believe us?" Dash then said, addressing the other three.
"Well of course I believe you!" Pinkie piped up, "What kind of meanie pants would make up something like that? And I know you're not a meanie pants, Dash. And definitely not you, Twilight."
Fluttershy nodded. "If Dash saw it too, then it must be true."
Rarity finally sat herself up, still holding her head. "Dear me…" she muttered, "This is a lot to take in."
Applejack looked at each of her friends before finally looking to Twilight. The unicorn stared right back with an expression of pure honesty. "Well…" Applejack muttered, "Then I guess I believe ya too, Twilight."
The unicorn smiled.
"But what does that mean? That's crazy!" Pinkie suddenly exclaimed, "Princess Luna's not in her coffin? Then where is she?"
"I don't know," Twilight responded.
"Does…does that mean…?" Fluttershy said in a hushed voice.
"I know what you're going to ask, Fluttershy, but I really can't say for sure. I don't want to jump to any conclusions, and you four shouldn't either."
Fluttershy deflated and stared sadly at the ground.
"I'm sorry, Fluttershy," Twilight said in a soothing voice, "but we just can't be sure of anything."
She nodded. "I know, Twilight. I shouldn't get my hopes up."
Pinkie patted her on the back. "Don't worry, Fluttershy," she said to the pegasus, who nodded slowly.
"Listen, girls," Twilight said, recapturing their attention, "the six of us need to come up with some kind of plan. We have to do something about all of this, but I'm not sure what."
"Well, obviously we have to tell the authorities!" Rarity said, having gotten over her dizzy spell, "Or the Princess herself! She must be told!".
Twilight fidgeted. "I don't know, Rarity. I really think that would be a bad idea."
"Now why ever would you think that?!" Rarity responded, taken aback.
"I just don't think they'd respond well to it. The police would definitely get the wrong idea. We broke into the tomb so, in their eyes, we could've planted the body ourselves. And I really think that the whole thing would just upset Celestia even more." Twilight sighed and looked down. "She's been through so much already. I don't want to put her through even more."
Rarity fell silent and the others muttered in agreement.
"Tellin' anypony else that ya broke into the Princess' tomb would be a terrible idea," Applejack agreed, "but I honestly can't think of another one."
"There has to be something we can do," Twilight said.
"Why…why would somepony do something like this?" Fluttershy asked, "This is just awful!"
"I know, right?" Pinkie responded, "It's crazy! There's so many questions!"
"Exactly Pinkie," Twilight said, "That's what we have too many of right now: questions. Why would anypony do this? When did the 'switch' take place? What's happened to Luna? Does anypony else know of this?"
The six sat in silence on the library floor, considering their options.
"This is really screwed up," Dash said, repeating herself from earlier.
"Yer tellin' me?" Applejack responded dryly.
"Dear me," Rarity muttered, "What have we stumbled upon?"
"That's an excellent question, Rarity," Twilight responded, "I'd love to get an answer…"
"What do we do…?" Fluttershy muttered.
There was more silence as the mares tried to formulate a plan.
"What we need to do," Applejack said, thinking carefully, "is to find 'er."
Twilight was about to speak, but Applejack held up her hoof. "I know Twilight. I know that we don't know what…state she'll be in," she responded, carefully choosing her words, "but the fact remains that we still need to find 'er."
Twilight nodded slowly. "You're right…She might not be," she paused and glanced at Fluttershy, "okay if we find her, but we should still try to find where she is."
Fluttershy hung her head, clearly seeing through the euphemisms.
"The question is: how do we find 'er?" Applejack stated.
Another moment of silence reigned. Then, the sound of an exhausted yawn reached everypony's ears.
"What're you all doing?"
Twilight and her friends turned to look at the stairs leading up to her bedroom. Spike was standing at the top, rubbing his eyes.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Spike. Did we wake you up?" Twilight said apologetically.
"Mhm…" Spike mumbled before yawning again. A thin wisp of green flame escaped from his jaw as he did.
Twilight stared at her assistant for a moment. "What?" he asked in confusion. A smile spread across her face.
"Girls, I have an idea!"
Somewhere within the vast, expansive halls of Canterlot Castle stood two guards, positioned along an otherwise not noteworthy corridor. The two unicorns stood rigid and statuesque, infallibly performing their duty. Seconds, minutes and hours ticked by and, unless somepony required their attention, they never moved.
The sun had made its way across the sky and would set soon. As dimming light began to find its way through the palace's windows, two more unicorns approached the two guards.
The two newcomers saluted the guards, who saluted in return. The replacements then swapped positions with the two, relieving them of their duty. With a sigh of relief, they began to make their way to the guard house, exhausted after a long day's work.
"It's a tough job, isn't it?" one of the guards said, a blue unicorn.
The other, who was coloured a pale grey, nodded in response. "It's for tough ponies."
The blue unicorn chuckled. "I guess that's us then, eh Comet?"
Comet only nodded.
The blue pony gave a miffed expression. "You know, we're off the clock now. You don't have to be all serious any more."
Comet rolled his eyes. "You'll have to forgive me, RD. I suppose I'm a serious pony."
RD shook his head. "Whatever…"
They made their way to the guard house, entered, and took off their heavy armour. Comet stretched his aching limbs and moaned in relief. His cutie mark of a comet with a shimmering tail was now plainly visible.
"I feel like I've done two shifts in a row," RD muttered. Comet didn't reply.
They walked over to a large board near the entrance that was filled with punch cards. Using their magic, they lifted two particular cards and inserted them into the device, recording the termination of their shift. One was marked with "Comet Tail, Unicorn Division", while the other said "Radiant Dawn, Unicorn Division".
The workday completed, the two exited the guard house and made their way out of the palace proper.
"Well, I guess I'll see you soon," RD said to his companion.
"Goodbye," Comet replied.
RD sighed. "You know, Comet. I'm trying to be nice to you. We work together for so many hours during the day. I'd like to get to know you."
Comet paused and looked over his shoulder. RD wore a frustrated but imploring expression. Comet shrugged. "There isn't much to know. And if you're trying to be friends with me, well sorry. You aren't really…my type."
Without awaiting a response, Comet began to walk towards the Canterlot train station. The town was bustling around him as ponies performed their last few errands of the day. The sun would be setting soon and the town would fall asleep before long.
Shortly after, he arrived at the train station. He sat on a bench and waited for his train to pull into the station, which wouldn't take long as long as there were no delays. He sighed. It was a relief to get on the train after working so hard.
Comet had an unusual timetable for his employment. Since his residence was so far from Canterlot, he had a room in the guard house. He worked three days straight in Canterlot, staying in this room, and then left Canterlot for the remaining four days of the week. It was unorthodox, but it worked.
Not long after, Comet was riding the train as it snaked its way down the massive mountain. The various passengers on the train were mostly silent, save for the two foals at the opposite end of the cabin. Comet sank into his seat and sighed, thinking about everything he was going to do once he reached the house.
I hope I'm not going to be late…
There were two main train lines that connected with Canterlot station. One line went to Ponyville, while the one he was currently riding went in the opposite direction to Trottingham. Comet did not live in Trottingham, but it was the closest train station to the house.
The train finally reached the bottom of the mountain and followed the straight tracks across the fields towards the city in the distance. Now that it was on flat ground, the train could pick up speed. Comet looked out the window and watched the passing landscape.
The brilliant light of Celestia's sun was still bathing the countryside in the last few hours before it disappeared beneath the horizon. The sunlight had not yet shifted into the purples and oranges of sunset. Instead, the land seemed to be bathed in golden light.
About 20 monotonous minutes later, the train finally pulled into Trottingham station. A full spectrum of colourful manes and coats disembarked and headed off in various directions. Lost in the sea of colours was the grey unicorn as he made his way towards the edge of town swiftly.
Damn it. I am going to be late.
Trottingham was situated on the exact opposite side of the Everfree Forest from where Ponyville was located. It was quite a distance from the forest however, unlike Ponyville, which rested right on the edge.
A path led away from the town, cutting through the rolling fields of grass. Comet began to follow it. Behind him, the sun began to set and bathe the land in beautiful colours. The landscape was appealing to the eye, but repetitive.
Comet walked along the path as it made its way parallel to the forest to his right. After ten minutes of walking, a structure could finally be seen in the distance. It was small; only one storey tall and maybe 20 or 30 meters squared. It stood alone off to the side of the path about halfway between it and the forest's edge. The house was an unusual and seemingly random structure placed in the field.
Before long, he had approached the house. He stretched his limbs, sighing after the fairly long journey, and stepped up to the door. He knocked three times, loudly and evenly.
After a few moments of silence, there was a voice on the other side of the door. "Who is it?" The voice was commanding and powerful.
"Comet Tail. Password is Saturday and another."
The door inched open slightly. An orange unicorn with a brown mane looked through the crack in the doorway at the monochromatic pony that waited outside. After he confirmed the identity of the visitor, he opened the door fully.
Comet glanced at the orange unicorn as he entered the house. His mane and tail were scruffy, but he was well built and appeared quite strong. His cutie mark seemed to be a beam of light.
"Ray," Comet said simply, in greeting, "I can't help it if I get slowed down on my way here. Things happen. The train runs slowly, or my relief arrives late."
Ray regarded him with distain. "Fine," he said gruffly, before turning towards the door.
Comet glanced at the house's interior. It was extremely simple and contained very little furniture. There were three seats and a couch, a television and radio, and a kitchen with a stove, oven and fridge. Sitting on one of the seats was a third unicorn. This pony was a dirty yellow in colour, nearly brown, with a deep brown mane. His cutie mark was a clock's face.
"Hey, High," Comet greeted him casually. The yellow unicorn only raised a hoof in acknowledgement.
Ray stopped, halfway out the door, and turned to look at the other two unicorns. "You two are far too laid-back," he said accusingly.
Comet returned Ray's gaze with his own displeased expression. "Well pardon me. We aren't all high ranking officials like you are. Some of us are just soldiers."
Ray snorted. "Take your job seriously. This is extremely important and failure is not an option."
Comet sighed in exasperation. "I do take my job seriously, thank you very much. However, I simply deal with stress and demand in a way that is different than yours. It's not my fault that you're stuck up all the time. You should try relaxing."
"Is that insubordination?!"
"Ray! Caaaaalm," Comet said in a slow, soothing voice.
"Comet Tail, if we should fail and your," Ray paused, "laziness is to blame, then it's your head."
Comet rolled his eyes and turned towards the kitchen. "Whatever. Your shift is over, so get out."
The was a loud sound as Ray stomped his hoof angrily on the floor. "Watch your tongue!"
"Hey!" a third voice broke in over the two arguing stallions, "Both of you! Stop arguing!"
Comet and Ray turned to look at the yellow unicorn on the seat. He was looking at them, not amused. "You two are arguing like little foals. Stop it. What you're arguing about doesn't really matter. We need to work together as a team if we're ever going to get through this. We don't need arguments to tear us apart. That'll just be the end of us."
Ray returned his gaze to Comet and mulled over what High had said. Comet returned his stare.
"Just…try not to be late," Ray said simply before turning and heading out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
Comet rolled his eyes.
"Don't worry about him, Comet."
Comet then busied himself in the kitchen, preparing himself a large sandwich. He was absolutely famished after a long day in Canterlot.
"So! Four days of Comet!" High said conversationally.
"Mhm…" Comet muttered.
"I prefer your company. Ray doesn't talk at all."
Comet was rubbing his temples as he chewed on his sandwich. "Please, High. It's been a long day and a long commute. I have a splitting headache…"
"You won't be compromised, will you?"
Comet shook his head to clear his mind. "Ugh. No, I'll be fine. Don't worry."
"Ray was right about one thing. Failure isn't an option."
"I know that."
"We're all alone in this, so we need everypony to give their best."
Comet stretched his legs and exhaled a sigh. "Ohhh, man…" he groaned.
"Your schedule is still the same, correct? You work three days, then stay here for four?" High enquired.
"It's just a good thing that your schedule works with Ray's so well."
"Well…" Comet intoned, "I don't think that's just a coincidence."
High shrugged. "I just can't believe you guys are still holding jobs while you're doing this."
"With you, it's fine, but if all of us sit around here with no jobs, ponies would ask questions. Especially if Ray and I suddenly quit our jobs."
"I suppose so."
Comet finished eating his sandwich and sighed in content. "So, I trust there were no problems while I was away?"
"Not at all."
"Good, good…" Comet muttered. He glanced at his surroundings before chuckling. "It feels a little strange, doesn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"Everything we're doing here is so important and so…dangerous, and yet we're always so relaxed. This house is even, dare I say, quaint."
High also chuckled. "I guess so. But it's just because everything's been going so flawlessly."
"And we can all be thankful for that."
Comet stretched his legs again, groaning. "Uggghh, I'm still worn out. Working in Canterlot and that long commute are stressing me out." He turned and walked through a doorway leading to a room in the back.
"What are you doing?" High called after him, concerned.
"I'm going in the back," Comet replied from the doorway, "You know what helps me when I'm stressed."
High rolled his eyes and gave a wry smile. "You're crazy. You know that?"
"Ah, shaddup," Comet retorted playfully, "I'm not half as crazy as most of the ponies who live in this country."
High returned to his earlier, laid-back position on the seat as Comet turned and disappeared into the doorway.
The room before him was cloaked in absolute darkness. Reaching out with his magic, he telekinetically gripped the light switch and flicked it on. A single bulb, hanging from the roof, feebly illuminated the small room. There was absolutely no furniture. The only thing occupying the room was a rug on the floor. The rug was the same colour as the carpet it rested on, making it blend in when the room was darkened.
Comet made sure the door was shut behind him; precautions had to be taken. When it was, he reached out with his magic and gripped the rug, flipping it back. A wooden cellar door was revealed underneath it. Attached was a small brass loop that could be used to open it.
Comet used his magic to lift open the door, revealing a stone staircase leading into near-darkness. The stairs were weathered with age and were chipped in most places. The passageway was extremely narrow and with a low ceiling. Comet had to duck as he stepped down and descended the stairs slowly.
The stone walls around him were strong and had lasted decades. Dirt was seeping through some small cracks, but the old structure held firm, built to last. Comet reached the bottom of the stairs and opened the door, regarding the room beyond it.
It was barely illuminated by a single, small light bulb hanging near the center. A straight hallway was spread out before him. It was perhaps 20 meters long and built out of the same, sturdy stone, even the ceiling.
On both sides of the hallway were several smaller alcoves placed at regular intervals. The hallway contained eight, four on each side. Each alcove was separated from the hallway by a wall of ruined and lopsided metal bars.
These relics of the prison had been here for a long time. Neither Comet nor his acquaintances were sure of exactly what had happened, but the assumption was that a prison had been demolished and this particular block of underground cells had accidentally been covered up and forgotten, rather than destroyed.
It had been easy to build a house over the entrance they had discovered.
Comet made his way past the broken bars of the old cells. Time had been unkind to them, and none could properly contain a pony any more. The bars were too feeble and easily broken, not to mention the gaping holes where some bars were simply missing.
Except for the cell at the end of the hallway. The light from the bulb barely made it to the hall's edge, and even less light found its way inside the cell. Unlike the others, this cell had brand new, pristine steel bars blocking its exit. The walls around the edge had been reinforced to prevent them from crumbling, which would've allowed the bars to slip.
The clopping of Comet's hooves echoed loudly in the hallway as he approached the one operable cell. It sounded like the heavy hoof falls of a giant pony walking through the dark, cramped corridor.
Finally, he reached the bars of the good cell. The inside was mostly concealed by darkness. A simple bed could barely be seen. The back wall was completely invisible, giving the cell the eerie illusion that it went on forever.
Comet sighed. "It's too bad Princess Luna had to die…" he muttered aloud, "She was a good pony. Her sister is going through so much pain, and there isn't much I can do. Her death has impacted us all…"
There was a light shuffling from inside the cell.
"I can hear you in there. Stop hiding," he said in a louder voice, "What? Are you upset that Princess Luna is dead too? Well, I'm sorry, but that's what's happened. It's in the past now and we can't change it."
The bulb's feeble light was dimly reflected by two eyes from within the cell. The eyes seemed to be floating in the darkness.
"Good evening! There you are!" Comet greeted to the pony behind the bars.
There was no response.
"I guess I was right. Princess Luna's passing is upsetting you. Well, I'm terribly sorry. Certain things in this world are simply unavoidable."
The room fell silent, except for the breathing of its two occupants. The eyes continued to stare at Comet, glaring.
"Is that not it?" Comet continued, a touch of playfulness in his voice, "Is that thing around your horn uncomfortable? Well, I can't help you with that. We can't have you using magic, now can we?"
Comet's eyes widened. "Oh! So you are going to talk tonight. What did you say? Release you?" He then proceeded to break into uproarious laughter. "Oh, you crack me up. Really, now. You expect us to release you? After all you've done?
"You deserve to be in there," Comet continued, a hint of loathing seeping into his voice. "It gives me no greater pleasure than to see you in chains and locked up like this. If I had my way, you'd already be dead, but there's nothing I can do about that. So consider yourself lucky that you're still alive. For now."
"You will pay for this."
"I hardly think so, my friend. You're the criminal here, and we're the lawful ones."
"That is an outrageous delusion."
"Right, right. We're the deluded ones. That's a good one." Comet chuckled and then sighed. "Well, I'll be out of your mane then. I've got better things to do than sit here and talk to you."
Comet turned and began to leave the cell behind him.
"Come back here!"
The outburst was followed by the sounds of chains reaching their limits, becoming taut, and yanking their captive back suddenly. There was a cry of pain.
"Don't be stupid," Comet said while continuing to walk away, "You know you can't break those chains without your magic. Don't hurt yourself."
There was a groan of pain, followed by, "Damn you…Can't you see…?"
Comet stopped, turned around, and returned his gaze to the interior of the cell. The dark blue pony lay on the ground, trying to catch her breath after the chain on her neck had knocked it out of her. Her blue mane was messy and fell across her face. Her deep blue horn was encased in a strange, metallic disc. She was tattered, bruised, and extremely thin, and glared at Comet with a look of unmatched rage.
"No…" Comet said quietly, "You may not have jet black fur or a star field mane anymore, and you might've convinced everypony else that you're Luna now, but we can see right through you. Damn you, Nightmare Moon."