Equestria from Dust

Celestia awakens to see an empty world, white sandstone stretching the horizon. She wanders the world as she builds it from her imagination, filling it with life, but as time passes, the world that she created begins to seem like little more than a lucid dream, conjured from the dust.

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8. Part 8: Faithful Student

Faithful Student

 

 

 

 

 

Equestria from Dust, by soundslikeponies

 

 

 

 

“Focus on the lightning in your wings. If your concentration slips, it will burn you.”

Electricity crackles at the tips of Storm Gale’s wings. A bead of sweat rolls down her forehead, before evaporating in a small spark. Her armor grows increasingly hot from the electricity in her wings, and slipping up for a moment means the lightning would no longer be isolated in her wings and it will instead run its normal course, frying her in the process. She looks over her shoulder at Celestia, a pleading look in her eyes.

“Release,” Celestia says with a nod.

Storm Gale turns back to face her front, crouching down and shooting a white bolt of lightning at the armored straw dummy in front of her. The electricity meets it with a bang and sends the dummy’s helmet flying, while the rest of the dummy is turned black. Storm cracks a grin, turning back to her mentor.

“I did it!” she exclaims, letting out a whopping laugh and performing a small backflip. “Woohoo!”

“A most wonderful job, Storm Gale,” Celestia acknowledges, smiling at her.

Storm Gale comes out of her backflip and puffs her chest up, putting on a stern frown and walking towards Celestia. “Fear me!” she says in a more baritone voice. “For I am Storm Gale! Commander of the wind and lightning! Haha!”

Celestia just sighs and shakes her head with a smile. “Sometimes I think you are my sister’s student more than mine.”

“Oh, come on, Princess. I’m only messing about.” Storm Gale grins, looking back at the obliterated training dummy.

“Yes, but remember that such power places a burden on you to use it correctly,” Celestia says with a stern stare down at her student.

“Yeah, I know,” Storm Gale says, grinning sheepishly. “Still! I can’t wait to show Rose Flame!”

Celestia frowns and gives her a flat look. “Using it for boasting is not using it correctly.”

“B-b-but she always shows up and does all these cool fire spells that Luna taught her!” Storm whines, giving the Princess pleading eyes.

“Well, then,” Celestia says, ruffling her wings. “I’ll be sure to talk to my sister about her student’s boastful behaviour.”

Storm Gale’s eyes widen. “Aw, no way! Then she’ll totally know I ratted her out!”

Celestia arches an eyebrow and looks at her student, measuring her. Storm Gale bites her lip, looking up at Celestia and clasping her hooves together in a pleading gesture. Celestia sighs.

“Fine. I won’t say anything.” Celestia leans down to her student’s level. “But only so long as your rivalry with Rose Flame stays healthy, and doesn’t become too competitive. You’re not a filly anymore, eventually you two will wind up working together just as me and my sister do.”

Storm Gale nods so fast Celestia’s worried her head may detach. “Yup, uh-huh, will do, Princess!” She flashes Celestia an ear-to-ear smile.

Celestia puts her hoof to her face and shakes her head. She glances across Everfree castle’s training grounds towards the sun. Its glow is fading to a dull orange as it sits half below the horizon. She turns back to Storm Gale. “Practice is done for the day. Run along now.”

Storm Gale nods and gives the princess a wave before turning and flying off over the castle towards her room’s balcony.

“It always surprises me how well you took to teaching her.”

Celestia turns around to the sound of Luna’s voice, seeing her walking back towards the castle with her own student in tow.

“Sister, I thought two were studying in the castle today,” Celestia says.

“It was a good day for practicing out in the field, so that is what we did. I would say we made great progress today,” Luna replies, Rose Flame nodding along with her. Luna catches Celestia’s eye and nudges Rose Flame forward. “Go clean up and meet me in the library. We’ll do some brief studying before you go to bed.”

Rose Flame quietly nods and sets off at a trot towards the castle.

Luna turns back to Celestia, her smile widening. “Now then, I take it by that foreboding look you wish to talk to me about something?”

“Foreboding? I—” Celestia shakes her head, glancing at the horizon. “No, sorry. There wasn’t anything, I was thinking about the past few years.”

“Oh?” Luna asks, raising an eyebrow.

Celestia turns to her, giving her a smile. “Things have been really peaceful. I’ve been thinking we could travel Equestria with our apprentices for a little while, leaving the castle to the steward.”

Luna returns her smile and turns to watch Flame Rose walk inside the castle, the large wooden doors closing behind her. “I hate politics,” she says, ruffling her wings. “A journey away from all this would probably do us as much good as it would do our students. We used to see the world. It has been centuries since the two of us have flown together.”

“I miss those days,” Celestia says in agreement. From nowhere, a wave of dizziness washes over her. The ground begins spinning beneath her and her head dips with a sudden weight.

Luna spots the way her hooves move to steady herself. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” Celestia says, reaching up a hoof to her head and clenching her teeth. “I think I just need to go lie down for a while. If you’ll excuse me.” She brushes past Luna, rushing towards the castle. Her head stings as she uses her magic to open the doors, and she begins sprinting down the hallways, not caring if anyone sees her.

The headache grows to a head-splitting migraine, the sensation like having a wedge driven through the top of her skull with a hammer. Reaching her room, she forgoes the use of magic in opening her doors, turning and bucking them wide open. The doors swing open and bang against the wall, with the room falling eerily silent afterwards.

Celestia stumbles across the room to her bed. Unable to balance herself any longer, she falls ungracefully onto the bed. The air fills her lungs with ash, making it hard to breathe, and her body burns with fever.

As Celestia closes her eyes, she hears the doors to her room slowly creak shut, their knock of fully closing the last sound she hears before she falls asleep.

 

 

 

Celestia opens her eyes to a wide plane of darkness. Black stretches further than she can see. The only thing she can see in the space is herself, and her hooves stand on a nothing that stretches towards nowhere in no direction.

But then, slowly, as if peeking into the plane, colors begin to appear in the darkness. Patterns of red, orange, and yellow appear at first, swirling and exploding like fireworks all around her. Once those colors are in full bloom, greens, blues, and purples begin to show up, appearing in streaks behind the more aggressive reds and yellows, which are still busy exploding and swirling.

Celestia watches the colors around her with amazement. The green slips down and covers the ground, rushing up beneath her hooves. Blues and purples fill the space above, painting a night sky that seems alive with its vibrant hues.

The yellows all gather into one bright orb, shining down on the green, which begins to take the form of grass. Celestia experimentally takes a step, feeling the still growing grass bend beneath her hoof, indistinguishable from the real thing.

Suddenly, the reds and oranges in the sky race down to the field, winding their way through the grass like snakes. They slither past Celestia’s hooves, and she turns around to follow them as they make a wide arc around her. Then, the red and orange streaks start to form beautiful flowers—tulips, poppies, and daisies—atop the longer stalks of grass.

A soft breeze blows through the newly formed field, and Celestia stands in the center of it, staring. Everything, right down to the wind blowing through her mane, feels real, despite the way the world looks like an oil painting.

“It’s... it’s beautiful,” Celestia can’t help but whisper, leaning down and smelling a tulip. It smells just like the ones in her garden, pungent and sweet.

The sound of hoofsteps come from behind her. Celestia turns around to see the apparition standing before her. There’s something off-setting about it, though. The area around the ashen copy of Luna is black, the colors seemingly shying away from its presence.

Celestia smiles upon seeing her, but then her expression hardens as a realization makes its way to the forefront of her mind. “Did you make me suddenly feel ill?”

The apparition turns its head, refusing to meet Celestia’s gaze.

Celestia stares at it, hoping her anger at it will make it face her. Eventually, she gives up. “What did you bring me here for?”

The ghost starts to walk away, its steps leaving a black void in the painted world. The ashen Luna pauses and looks over its shoulder at Celestia, motioning for her to follow.

Beating her wings, Celestia flies over to the Spirit’s side. She stares at the ground beneath her hooves, the black area left in the apparition’s wake looks as though it’s an endless hole for one to fall down. Walking on it sends a chill down Celestia’s spine and all the joy and beauty of the painted world is sucked into its abyss.

Gradually, as they walk, the area of emptiness left around the apparition grows. The painted world begins to bleed, as though without Celestia, it can no longer maintain itself. The green recedes, the blue and purple streaks across the sky fade, and the yellows and reds pop out of existence, leaving a depressing nothingness once more.

Celestia stops in her tracks, the apparition continuing ahead of her, and looks back, her eyes lingering in the direction where the last traces of the painted world faded. Shaking her head, she increases her pace to catch up to the apparition.

Just as Celestia reaches the copy of Luna, it stops, and a foreboding silence fills the area. The ashen copy of Luna turns to Celestia, its eyes glowing.

Celestia stares at it, feeling a tingle at the back of her own eyes. She sits down and tries to blink the feeling away, rubbing her eyes with her hooves.

When she opens her eyes, a massive sand-colored wall stretching to either end of the plane they’re in stands behind Luna’s phantom. She remembers it from her dreams, the mural of the world. All across it are paintings that hold every aspect of the world, all of them pointing inwards to a single image of Luna and her, flying around the earth along with the sun and the moon.

Something... something isn’t right about her. In the painting, there’s a black eight pointed star above her and Luna, and when she peers closely at it, she can see thorns and tendrils that stick off of its sides in incredible detail.

“That wasn’t there before...” she says faintly, lifting up a hoof and touching the black star.

The black star comes to life at her touch. Lines of shadow slither out from beneath her hoof, infecting it with a black poison that begins traveling up her leg. Celestia stares at her hoof, her eyes widening with panic before she notices movement out of the corner of her eye. On the mural, the shadows form a third alicorn that takes form above her and Luna, one whose coat is a dark and dusty grey and its eyes are absent of pupils and white.

Celestia cries out as she feels a sharp prick of pain in her infected hoof. She collapses to the ground, panting and watching the black substance travel up her leg. She looks up at the apparition, her eyes squinting in pain.

The slightly dusty copy of Luna looks down at her, then turns, and walks away.

“Wait!” Celestia shouts clutching her shoulder as the black poison reached past it. “You can’t leave me here!”

But the apparition continues to walk away, slowly dissolving into dust. Right before it fades away though, it looks back over its shoulder at Celestia, and Celestia sees the first emotion she has ever seen on its haunting visage.

A twisted grin.

 

 

 

Celestia sits up and gasps, panting and sweating as she sits up in bed. All around her, her room is still and quiet, the early morning sun filtering in through the open window, and the breeze blowing at the curtains.

She shuts her eyes. Her breath comes in short gasps. Focusing on that first, she takes a deep breath, then she works on trying to calm her rapidly beating heart and her nervous shaking.

Once she is calm, she lies back in her bed, staring up at the curtain canopy. Slowly, Celestia gets out of bed. The smell of fear and panic still clings to her, and she lets out a sigh as she walks towards the bath chamber adjoining her room to wash the sweat off.

Closing the bathroom door, she takes a seat on the marble floor next to a drain and levitates a bucket of cold, soapy water above her head, tipping it over so it splashes down onto her. The chill of the water helps snap her back to reality slightly, and her mind drifts to more stable things: her apprentice, Luna, affairs of the court.

Tipping a rinse bucket of water over her head, Celestia glances out the window of the bathroom, east of the city walls, where golden fields of hay blow in the wind. The slight breeze gives her an idea. Celestia stretches her wings, folding them at her sides and placing her hooves upon the window ledge and looking down at the long drop to the ground.

In one swift motion she leaps from the tower, stretching her wings and catching the wind in a glide. Water drips off her coat and mane as she tilts her wings, flying down into the courtyard of the castle.

She lands at a canter, tucking her wings away and walking back into the castle with her coat now dry.

“Celestia.”

Celestia turns at the sound of Luna’s voice, spotting her sister walking down the hall towards her.

“How have you been? I did not see you last night after you ran off to your room,” Luna says, approaching Celestia and staring deeply into her eyes. She lifts a hoof to Celestia’s forehead to feel her temperature.

“I am fine,” Celestia says, taking Luna’s hoof and putting it back down. “It was just the result of some magic experimentation not quite working the way I had planned.”

Luna stares intently at her. “Is it alright now?”

Celestia takes a moment before answering, taking a breath. “Yes.”

From the slight way Luna’s frowns as she says that, Celestia doesn’t think Luna believes her.

“Well,” Luna says, her voice taking on a far different tone. “Would you like to join us for breakfast in the dining hall? Your student managed to pull herself out of bed on time for once. We wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity.”

Celestia stifles a laugh, and follows as Luna turns and begins to walk to the dining hall. “That sounds wonderful.”

 

 

Storm Gale stands in Celestia’s personal study with her eyes closed and her wings outstretched, remaining perfectly still.

“Feel for the slight way the air flows, and search for the places where those flows meet,” Celestia says, sitting in front of her student and observing her practice.

“Mhmm,” Storm Gale says, her wings perking up slightly.

“Even the strongest winds start as a breeze. Look to make the wind push itself forward, rather than forcing it.” Celestia sees Storm’s wings pull back. “—Not in here!” she quickly adds, glancing back at the rows of first edition books in her library. “Just... visualize.”

Storm Gale rolls her eyes under her eyelids, going back to holding her wings stiffly pointed out from her sides.

Celestia waits a moment longer, watching the look of concentration on her student. “Now open your eyes.”

Storm opens them, quickly blinking and bringing up her hooves to rub at her eyes. “Ugh, what’s with all the meditation lessons lately? It’s so much better to practice the real thing!”

“The purpose of these lessons are to teach you discipline, perception, and—”

“Patience. Yeah, yeah, I know,” Storm Gale says, crossing her hooves in front of her chest.

Celestia gives Storm Gale a glare, shaking her head at her student. “I’m giving you these exercises to prepare you.”

“Prepare me for what?” Storm Gale asks. “Equestria’s united, and the kingdom has been at peace for almost three decades now. And honestly? It doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon with you around.”

Celestia’s lips tighten into a thin line.

Storm Gale steps back hesitantly. “I mean, I trust your judgement and all, Princess, but what makes you think something bad’s gonna happen?”

Celestia pauses, her prior annoyance with her student forgotten as she looks out the windows on the opposite side of the room. “I don’t know... just a feeling, I suppose.”

Storm’s lip curls up. “And this feeling... is it like a hunch? or a gut feeling? or one of those hairs standing on end kind of feeling?”

“Call it a ‘magic intuition feeling,’” Celestia says, turning back to her.

Storm Gale’s eyes travel up to Celestia’s horn for a moment, before descending back down to the Princess herself. “Okay... but do you know why you’re having this feeling?”

You don’t want to know. “I’m glad to see you still hold such a curious nature after all these years spent studying. But perhaps it’d be best suited towards your reading studies. I believe you were on the Claimant of Flight?”

Storm Gale gets Celestia’s message loud and clear and groans, turning to search the shelves.

“These books have a lot of effort put into them so that they may teach you what others have spent their whole lives learning.”

“I know. Doesn’t mean it’s not boring,” Storm mumbles. “I respect your wishes and all, Princess, but I mean, isn’t it bad to just act on an unexplained feeling?”

“Remember this lesson, Storm Gale. It’s better to be prepared needlessly than be needlessly unprepared. A bit of caution can save you a lot of trouble in the long run.”

Storm Gale stands at attention with a smile and gives her a salute. “Got it!”

Celestia glances up at one of the topmost shelves where Storm is searching, surrounding a book in her magic glow and bringing it down. “Claimant of Flight,” she says, handing it to Storm Gale.

“Hehe, right,” Storm says, taking it from her. She gestures to the bookshelf. “I knew it was somewhere on this shelf.”

Celestia smiles down at Storm Gale. “Next week is the week that you visit your father, correct?”

Setting the book down on the floor, Storm looks up at Celestia. “Uh, yeah...”

“Well, that’s wonderful. It’s been some time since you last saw each other.” Celestia walks over to her student. “That book is important to the next lesson I wish to teach you. I’d like you to finish reading it by then,” Celestia says, tapping the book she set down.

Storm Gale nods and looks down at the book beneath her hooves. “Um, Princess...”

“Yes?”

“You and Luna are sisters, right?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Did either of you know your father?”

Celestia stiffens ever so slightly before answering. “No, neither of us met him. I raised Luna myself.”

“Oh...” Storm Gale looks down at the ground, scratching the back of her head. “It must’ve been pretty lonely growing up with no parents.”

Sitting down next to Storm Gale, Celestia wraps a wing around Storm’s shoulder. “It was. But I had Luna and we had each other, and that was all we really needed.”

Storm Gale nods. She tilts her head back, yawning and slowly blinking. “I think I’m gonna go and read this as I go to bed.”

“Would you like me to read it to you? It’s been so long since I’ve told you a bedtime story,” Celestia teases.

A pink hue spreads across Storm Gale’s cheeks and she lets out another yawn. “Can I go now?”

Celestia retracts her wing from around her pupil, making a shooing motion. “Yes, yes, go on. We’ll start again tomorrow after breakfast.”

Storm Gale sleepily nods and picks up her book, tucking her assigned reading under her wing. “Good night, Princess,” she says, before trotting out of the study, leaving Celestia alone.

Celestia smiles, thinking of her student and knowing that she’ll have to bug her to actually have her to finish the book before visiting her father.

The smell of musty books fills the study, old tomes and coffee stained pages lining the shelves. Celestia starts to walk down an aisle, but stops as a blue and gold laced spine catches her eye. She pulls the book out. Sitting on the cover is a circle around which Luna chases the moon while Celestia chases the sun.

Celestia’s brow furrows. The illustration on the book looks almost like the mural that was on the wall in her dream, only the art is off and there is neither an eight pointed star nor a black alicorn.

An image flashes in her mind of the apparition, its lips curled back in a lifeless smile. Celestia drops the book and a sharp jolt of pain flickers through her head, causing her to stumble into one of the book shelves and send books and scrolls clattering to the ground on the other side of it.

On the floor, the book lies shut, cover facing up. Celestia’s eyes narrow at it. “Hmm...” She shakes her head and places the book back in its place upon the shelf.

The pain returns the second she tries to use her magic to lift the book. The white glow from her horn pulses with the pain, and Celestia realizes her horn isn’t pulsing on and off, but that her magic is shifting back and forth from white to black.

Celestia falls to her knees. Her throat runs dry and her pupils dilate into small dots, short, panicked breaths overtaking her. The world spins as she falls sideways, her body slamming against the marble floor and her eyes rolling up into the back of her head.

 

 

 

Mayhem.

Celestia starts to feel her body return to normal. She doesn’t feel like she’s going to throw up anymore, the world has stopped spinning, and her mind feels clearer than it has been in years.

The world is pitch black. Celestia waves a hoof in front of her face, but even then she can’t see it. Standing, she looks around for any hint of light, but finds none. Her last memories are of the Castle, and her Study. Her eyes widen in realization.

She glances around one last time. “I want to talk to you!” she shouts into the dark, trying to peer through it to spot the phantom she knows is lurking in it.

A sob answers her. Celestia’s ears twist to the direction of the sound, their lobes widening slightly. A second quiet sob lets her pinpoint the sound’s location.

She walks towards the location cautiously, the sound of crying growing louder as her steps echo through the dark. And when the crying grows close, she brings magic to her horn, lighting the area around her.

A young white unicorn with a pale mane lies at Celestia’s hooves, crying. Its form is long and slender, and Celestia tries to place where she has seen the unicorn before.

It opens its eyes and looks up at Celestia, its eyes a light shade of magenta, the same as Celestia’s own. It’s like looking in a mirror.

“You’re...” Celestia glances at the unicorn’s flank, checking to see if it had a cutie mark. It doesn’t. “You’re me,” Celestia says.

A light appears in the room, and Celestia turns to it, seeing a portal to a white and grey world, white sandstone stretching the horizon with a murky grey sky blanketing it.

The white unicorn at Celestia’s hooves rises, and begins slowly walking towards the portal.

Just when it’s about to walk through, Celestia spreads her wings and throws a hoof out. “Wait!”

The younger copy of her stops and looks back at her, its eyes still damp.

“You will be alone for a very long time,” Celestia says, staring down at her hooves. “But not forever.”

The white unicorn stares blankly at Celestia for a moment, but then slowly nods. Turning back to the portal, she steps through it, and it closes behind her.

A second light shines in the corner of Celestia’s eye. A darker one, one so black it barely creates light at all.

Celestia turns to it, seeing the apparition walking towards her. “Was that me?” Celestia asks, pointing at where the portal has sealed shut. “Was that a different me?”

The apparition stares blankly at her. Its dead eyes hold no answers.

Celestia begins pacing, her ears twitching in an irate tick. “You draw me here and show me things, while all the same you tell me nothing and only leave me with more questions. And I can’t tell if you seek to aid me or harm me.”

The apparition bows its head slightly, the only time it’s acted apologetic for anything.

Celestia looks away, drawing her lips into a tight line. “I don’t like these dreams. I don’t want to be brought here anymore.”

The apparition’s head snaps up, its eyes wide and startled, and it stares at Celestia with them. Shifting nervously, Celestia tilts her chin up and stares down her muzzle defiantly at it, unwilling to take back what she has said.

A low rumbling begins to echo through the dark room. It starts stealthily, growing steadily louder in volume as the Apparition glares at her with its ghostly white orbs and its ears pointed back. Its glare immediately makes Celestia think of death, and with its black coat and long, narrow face, its visage is almost that of a jackal’s.

The rumbling grows louder still, the room growing hot, and soon the ground begins to shake. Celestia brightens the magic at the tip of her horn, all the while looking about frantically. Widening her stance, she turns to the apparition, returning it’s death glare with a glare of her own.

“Leave!” she shouts, blowing hot air out her snout and stomping the ground. Black dust rises off the apparition, giving the appearance of billowing smoke, and a low growl begins to come from it.

Then, the dark room is engulfed in an inferno.

 

 

 

Celestia’s eyes snap awake. Pain and fever covers every inch of her body, sweat slickens her coat, and unable to contain it any longer, she lets out a bone-chilling scream.

Seconds or minutes pass before the door to her study flies open, Luna barging in with two guards at her side. All this only faintly registers in the back of Celestia’s mind. Her ear drums are filled with her own heartbeat, which feels like it’s beating a thousand times a minute, and all the blood rushes to her head, causing her thoughts to swim aimlessly. Luna is standing over her, shaking her and shouting something to the guards, but Celestia’s ears have gone deaf with a high pitch ringing noise and it feels so very hard to recognize any of the things happening around her.

What a part of her does recognize, though, is that a black pattern spread all over her body, swimming and shifting across her skin like a chameleon’s coat. The pattern travels up Celestia’s body, and her eyes track it up to her horn, where she only now notices an orb of black magic fixed at the tip of her horn and growing unstably.

Celestia tries to fight fatigue, staring up at her sister’s worried and panicked face, but in the end she succumbs to the pain and tire, and begins to drift off, faintly hearing Luna shouting her name as she closes her eyes.

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