Suffer in Silence

by Pascoite

Chapter 1: Suffer in Silence

Princess Celestia gritted her teeth and poured every ounce of strength through her horn, into the stream of magic suspended between her and Tirek. She had to win, had to draw that power back, or—

If he’d gotten to Luna first and stolen her magic, he might have prevailed in this fight. He might have won, but Celestia had the upper hoof now. Only because Scorpan had warned her and taught her how to resist. It would not work if he had drained too many ponies, Scorpan had said. Get to him before it was too late, get to him now.

So she had gone hunting. She had found him rather quickly. Just follow the trail of destruction, which led straight for her anyway. He knew where to find the most potent magic. And find her he had.

Celestia tugged on that sinew of magic, part of her soul, dripping sparks of fire and lightning on the stone path of the castle’s gardens. Neither of them could spare the breath to speak, but no words need be said. Slowly but inexorably, the glowing cords drew back into her, away from that gruesome mouth that would devour it and put it to uses that would shame her forever. He would not control that magic.

It was never in question. Whether it had taken a minute or an hour or a day, she did not know, but the resolution came as surely as it must. The final wisp of magic flicked away from him, lashing like the end of a whip, and coiled around her horn. He shrunk back to his desiccated, withered form, bursts of light exploding from him and arcing through the city, over the countryside, across the nation to revitalize the ponies whose magic he had wrenched from them. The last bit of her own faded away, too, as it absorbed back into her.

Whole again. Warm. Steady.

But in that last instant of connection, a minuscule tongue of flame had dashed across that bridge of arcane power. A mere scrap of wild energy, she told herself. Nothing to concern herself with.

Celestia gasped for breath and staggered to her hooves from the mattress on her floor. That little flame! All last night before she’d collapsed in a heap on top of her sheets, all through taking reports from her Royal Guard to ensure everything had returned to normal, all during her talk with Luna, she couldn’t erase its image from her memory. And then it had haunted her dreams! Over and over, no matter what. A summer’s day in a grassy meadow, a battle with dark wraiths in the black of night, or resting in the cradle of her mother’s wings—every dream, with that small blaze sitting in the distance, consuming nothing, but watching, waiting.

She could have easily excused it as an afterimage from her battle, a bright glare lingering in her eye. But when she awoke with it still there…

Quickly, she dashed to the corner of the room to put it out, but it moved with her, eluded her grasp. Always on the edge of her vision—if she turned to face it, it only retreated further, until she closed her eyes and—

Still there. Still there, in the dark, in her head. She held her hooves to her temples and pressed. If only she could squeeze it out! Why did it burn there, never stopping, never leaving her in peace?

And then it spoke.

“Greetings, Princess.”

“Who is there?” Celestia coughed out, her heart missing a beat. But before she had even finished those few words, she had already recognized that feeble, wizened, horrible voice.

“Come now. Surely you know an old friend.”

“You—” She sucked in a breath and clenched her eyes shut tighter. He wanted a rise out of her, and he would not get one. “How are you doing this? I banished you to Tartarus.”

An odious little chuckle came in response. “Oh, you did, you did. No doubt I am languishing away, safely caged. You have no need to worry.”

Celestia opened her eyes and stared at the gray wall, the small fire rippling against the stone. “You did not answer my question.”

“I suppose I didn’t. But then I don’t think I can give you a satisfactory answer, either.”

“Try me.” Could he feel the hairs of her coat pricking up on her withers? He would goad her on for his own amusement as long as she let him. So she steeled herself for a provocative and unhelpful answer.

“I am not actually Tirek. I am you. Part of you, anyway.”

At least he had lived up to her expectations. She let out a heavy sigh. “Now you are toying with me. I will simply convene my council of magical experts and excise your worthless essence from my head.”

“Oh, no. No, you won’t.” She could practically hear his smirk and wringing hands. “You see, there are a few things I can control. Many things I cannot as well, but I can keep you from telling anyone about me. Go ahead and try, if you like. I am patient.”

Celestia waited a minute, but he said no more. And anything she could think of at the moment would only rise to his bait. So she took a deep breath. He was obviously waiting for this, and simply asking the question could not hurt. “What is it that you want?”

“Only the merest thing, Princess.” His voice practically dripped with an oily smile. “You will wonder why I ask such a pittance, but I will admit I don’t have a good bargaining position. As I said, there’s not much I can do to you. Perhaps just being rid of me will be enough for such a low price. And I promise, once you do as I ask, I will leave you alone forever.”

Not that Tirek was known for honoring promises, but when he spelled them out so explicitly, he always had before. “You mean you will die?”

Another chuckle sounded, like dry, grating bones. “Yes, but I told you I am not Tirek. I am not actually alive, so I lose nothing there. Wasting away into nothingness, but my purpose fulfilled. Ah, but you don’t care.”

Celestia drew several more long breaths. Yes, it could not hurt to hear him out. But already, her mind raced, examining every word he had said, searching out any possible loophole. However, she could still listen. “You still have not told me what you want.”

“A trifle, really. Such a small thing.” Tirek lapsed into silence again. But this time, Celestia would not indulge him. She headed for her washroom to prepare for her day, and almost immediately, a scowling grunt echoed in her head. “You will tell your sister that you have never loved her.”

“I will do no such thing!” Celestia blurted out immediately. From the hallway, the scraping sound of shifting armor carried. She held her breath, but the guards did not open the door or inquire. Good. She could not afford to involve them, not yet. “Why do you want this?” she hissed.

“No reason in particular. I just want to see if you will. When you will. A few simple words. That is all. And then I will be gone.” The first time she had encountered him, it had quickly struck her how he always wore a disgusting little grin. The image danced anew in her head.

“And what would stop me from telling her in the next breath that I love her dearly?”

“Thinking through it already, are we? Good. You may say what you wish to her afterward. I will consider the bargain complete as soon as you have uttered those words. But remember—you can never explain why you said them. No matter how much you express your love—” she almost felt him shudder just from speaking the word “—she will always wonder why you refuse to discuss it, attribute it to a misspoken thought, play it off as a poor joke, take it back… The seed planted, and it will grow according to how she tends it.”

Celestia resumed walking toward her washroom. “No.” In a far corner of her mind, a memory flickered. He claimed that he could prevent her from seeking help, but how? Even if he could, enduring his hateful prattle amounted to a trifling sacrifice for lying to her sister in a most distasteful way. Still, hadn’t she heard of a spell like this before? Long, long ago, in Equestria’s infancy, when they hadn’t yet established laws governing proper usage of—

That would mean…

“Ah, but I haven’t mentioned the consequences yet.”

She stopped and clenched her teeth. The last piece of the puzzle. Yes, a type of magic banned for ages. Not that Tirek would comply with any laws.

Why she could never communicate her predicament to anyone and what he could do to her until she met his demands. Except she’d never seen this magic in action. How bad did it get? Did she really want to find out?

“Surely you have heard of a ‘Thorn in the Flesh’ spell.”

Tirek gave her just enough time for a shock of frost to scour her nerves. Yes, she recalled now, from those old tomes of forbidden magic she had helped Star Swirl compile. And lock away.

“I will ask once each day, when you wake up, and if you decline, you will be punished. Since you have already done so for today, let’s get started on that, shall we?”

Celestia glanced down at her foreleg. A little sting there, like she had gotten a paper cut or a splinter. But upon inspecting it, she could find no mark or injury. She let out a heavy breath, her withers unknotting, and her skin practically buzzed. He could do no more than that? Ha! She had needlessly worried. Premonitions of ancient dark magic had cowed her into assuming the worst, but he could barely command the spell’s real power, let alone cobble an effective threat out of it.

Such a minor discomfort to endure for her sister’s sake. If Tirek—or whatever that thing was—had so little control that he could manage no more than that, then so be it. Her sister meant far more.

“Good morning, dear Sister!” Princess Luna said as she sat down at the breakfast table.

Celestia leaned over and squeezed a wing around Luna’s withers. “Good morning, Luna. I love you.” Their daily ritual, and Luna played her usual part. She used to ask why Celestia felt the need to say that every day, but after a few weeks, she had given up trying to figure it out and instead smiled back. Even if it had become routine to her, what a wonderful routine for a little sister, one who deserved it so much.

Yes, a few weeks. She had assumed quite a bit about what Tirek could do on that first day, and all her assumptions had proven wrong. She thought she would wake up with that ineffectual stinging gone, then Tirek would reiterate his demand and renew her pain. Maybe she would feign wincing at it in order to avoid provoking him into worse, if he was even capable. Or maybe she would call his bluff and attempt even harder to inform her staff about what he had done. If he had such paltry abilities, he could not prevent her for long, after all.

But she had awakened with the stinging intact, and when she had rebuffed Tirek again, it got worse.

“Did I see you limping when you went to bed last night?” Luna asked, cocking her head.

“I do not think so. If I did, then I assure you it was unintentional.” Not just a paper cut anymore, but an open wound, throbbing. Celestia had checked the sheets three times already to make sure she had not gotten blood on them. But as usual, her leg bore no sign of injury.

Luna only shrugged. “Good. Did you by any chance see the meteor shower last night?”

“I did,” Celestia replied with a nod. “I apologize that I could not stay up for the entire show, but it was beautifully colorful. Thank you for it.”

With a smile, Luna scooted her chair up closer and levitated her glass of orange juice over. The stars in her mane swirled around, minuscule galaxies forming, disbanding, gathering anew. Supernovae flashed and extinguished; new pinpricks of light formed and coalesced; entire worlds formed, flourished, and passed in mere seconds. She noticed Celestia staring.

“I am sorry. I just find you amazing, and I want you to know I love you.” Celestia gave a brief nod and selected a few slices of cinnamon toast from the tray. Even with no breeze flowing through the open window, her sister’s mane curled and waved, and Celestia’s eyes followed one particular tress on its journey through the heavens.

“So you said,” Luna replied. Still, she grinned. “What has brought this on?”

“Luna, I—” She tried to force the words out. I need your help! Tirek has… somehow invaded my mind, and he wants me to say something horrible, but I will not! I… I have held out, but if I ever fail, and I have to say it, please, please know that I do not mean it! Luna… My dear sister, I—

Her mouth only hung open, disobedient, useless.

“Are you sure you feel well?” Luna asked.

Celestia quickly nodded. She had tried for weeks now to tell somepony, anypony, but she had remained unable to speak even a syllable of it. Tirek had proven true to his word. He could prevent her from explaining through speech, writing… any means, and he could punish her for refusing to comply.

She’d even tried to medicate herself against it, but it left her mind dulled, which only invited a different set of unanswerable questions.

“Good. I am glad you enjoyed the meteors. You are one of the few who pay attention anymore.”

With a scrunch to her nose, Celestia said it again: “I love you, Luna.” Perhaps if she made that message clear, then Luna would understand. Her sister would understand if she… if she had no choice. Once. Just once. But once may well prove to be too much.

Celestia’s right eye felt like it might burst open at any moment. She had steeled herself against it, certain that she remembered it well enough to endure. But it had been too long. No memory can survive in that detail for a millennium.

The insidious laughter had sounded in her head that day, too, the day Luna had… had gone away.

There was no point in punishing her for that which she could not possibly accomplish, so Tirek had magnanimously granted her a thousand-year respite during her sister’s absence.

“You should have told her back then. You were about to banish her anyway. What more could it hurt?”

“No.” She pressed a hoof to her forehead and watched another meteor streak across the sky.

“You should have told her yesterday, then. At least you could claim you’d only said it to Nightmare Moon.”

“That would not make it any more true.” Years. The pain had built up over years, every day a new torture piled on the old. Then a thousand years of blissful comfort. She took a deep breath and savored the memory, but it served only to draw a shudder from her, the cracked ribs on her left flank protesting any slight disturbance. Cracked ribs that no physician could ever detect.

She had sent her student to oversee preparations, and… the possibilities had swirled in her mind for ages. To get her to make friends, to gain the abilities needed to heal her dear sister. And, truth be told, for Celestia to prepare herself for what must happen. Somehow, she’d seen the signs of Luna’s impending fall, even though she never would have suspected the depth of it. Still, she could never satisfy Tirek’s demands, not when it would have stoked the fires in Luna’s heart at precisely the wrong moment. But had Luna ever divined that Celestia harbored such a secret? Had it frayed the cords between them? No way to know, and even were it so, it wouldn’t be the only way in which Celestia had failed her sister.

But the pain. After so long, her memory of its full intensity had faded.

Another tremulous breath, and then hoofsteps sounded behind her. None of her guards would enter her room at this late hour, not without being summoned.

“You should have gone to bed at moonrise. It has been an… eventful day. But I am glad to see you, all the same.”

Celestia turned a broad smile on her sister. She let her mane cover that eye and the streak of tears that the throbbing had squeezed out of it. “And miss the first one of these in ages? Not a chance. Some things haven’t changed,” she said, whipping her head toward the sky again before that smile could rot into a grimace.

Another reddish line traced through the blackness overhead.

“I was saving a brilliant one until the end for you,” Luna said with a soft grin, “but if you must take your repose, I of course understand.”

Luna shouldn’t have to endure this, too. None of it was her fault. None of it. Only a few yards away sat the bed that beckoned to Celestia. A place to ease her sore muscles and seek the only refuge she ever had from the pain: sleep. She could last through one night, though. Not even a whole one—the shower would end by midnight.

“Not at all. I’ll stay up with you.” She wrapped a wing around Luna and leaned against her. For the first time in a millennium, she felt that warm coat next to her, smelled the moonflowers in Luna’s mane. Luna shifted this way and that, guiding the specks of glitter in the sky. Outside the window, a few voices sounded, oohing and aahing at the display. Maybe some of the castle night staff, maybe some citizens in the gardens. But it was wonderful that Luna could hear them. And if Celestia had happened to cast a small amplification spell on them, it wouldn’t hurt.

One other thing Luna needed to hear: “I love you.”

Too engrossed in her task, Luna didn’t respond, but she smiled a little bigger. And sure enough, just before midnight, a huge spark danced over the heavens.

“Thank you,” Celestia said, squeezing Luna’s shoulder.

“Off to bed with you, then,” her sister replied.

And Celestia gratefully followed orders as Luna left to keep watch from her own balcony. Celestia buried her tearing eye in her pillow and gingerly levitated the sheet over her tender ribs.

Celestia breathed in deeply as her magic flooded back into her. She almost vomited.

Even one day separated from it, half her soul torn from her, had left her trembling, struggling just to raise her head off the ground. In fact, like the banged knee that might make one forget about the small bruise on her side, she had completely overlooked the pain that—

Gone. The pain was gone. Did that mean—? “Luna, Tirek has—”

Her sister whirled around at her insistent tone, but it was only the first trickle that preceded the deluge. How? The pain had left her! For the first time in years, she inhaled without her bones feeling like they’d snapped, blinked without wishing she could claw her eye out, didn’t have to check for blood gushing from her leg. And she’d managed to start divulging her secret to Luna with nothing rising to impede her.

Twilight had defeated Tirek and returned everypony’s magic to them! Had that piece of him succumbed as well? But why would it? Celestia had defeated him, too, and it hadn’t stopped him a millennium ago. No, no, that didn’t work. But he had no reason to leave her alone now. What game was he playing?

Still, there Luna stood, waiting for the rest. And for once, she could say it. “Tirek has been harassing me for centuries, from inside my head, to say—I couldn’t, I just couldn’t, not to you, no matter what it cost me, and—”

Celestia’s eyes shot wide open, and Luna gaped at her. “I’m sorry. You always felt like something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell you why, and I know it was part of what made you resent me, back then. I-I will explain it all to you, later, tonight, I promise. But I have to go. I-I have to go.”

It followed the magic. Of course it followed the magic! When the last scrap of it had vacated Celestia’s body, it had no choice but to wash away in the current, but when the alicorns’ magic was restored, some would have… would have stayed behind!

She stumbled out of the throne room on trembling legs with her sister staring after her.

Celestia knocked on the door for the third time, but still she got no answer. “I’m coming in,” she said. She tried the knob, but the door was locked.

So Celestia teleported through it. An invasion of privacy she wouldn’t have condoned under all but the most severe of circumstances. This certainly qualified.

There on the bed lay her precious student, Twilight Sparkle, drenched in sweat and shaking. Her jaw clenched, Twilight stared at the wall. She didn’t bat an eye or twitch an ear. Celestia ran a hoof across her cheek. Poor Twilight. If Celestia had found a way to deal with this earlier, then her student wouldn’t have had to suffer needlessly. Her failure, and now Twilight had to bear it.

“I’m sorry,” Celestia whispered, and only then did Twilight roll an eye toward her. And Twilight jerked back as if from an electric shock. Was she delirious? Celestia reached for her, pulled her into a hug, but Twilight screamed, wriggled free, and huddled in the corner of her bed, brushing something off her hooves.

Celestia climbed onto the mattress beside her. She held up her hooves. “I’m sorry,” she said again. “Does it hurt when I touch you?”

Tears flowing from her eyes, Twilight could only stare back, her lip quivering. And Celestia couldn’t hold back anymore. She wiped tears from her own eyes, but each brush of her hoof only found more. It wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t stop!

“I apologize. It should have been my pain. It always was, and you did nothing to deserve this. I didn’t deserve it either, but it is my fault you had to, and I can never make it up to you.” She sniffled hard, her voice pinched through her constricted throat. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I could say it for years, but it would never be enough.”

“Twilight!” Spike shouted from the hallway. “Did you scream? Are you okay?”

Celestia held her sob back until her neck ached. “Please, Spike. Just wait a moment. Everything will be okay. I give you my word.”

“P-Princess Celestia?” The soft sound of his hand brushing down the door’s wooden surface echoed in the dark.

“Yes. Just a moment, please, I promise.” When he didn’t immediately respond, she turned back to Twilight and hissed in her ear. “I know, Twilight. I know all about it. You… you can’t tell, but I can, and—”

She reached a hoof out again, but Twilight shook her head and recoiled. The pain. The pain had to stop first, and then… then Celestia could ask for forgiveness later. She could beg, but the pain… Quickly. Quickly, now. “It followed my magic to you, but it didn’t come back. It should have. I can’t bear to see you suffer what should be mine,” Celestia erupted, the words spilling from her lips and pattering on the pillow with her tears. “I’m free. I can tell. I can explain it all. But you have to stop it, now. Tell him. Tell him, and I’ll explain.”

Only an anguished wail sounded, and Twilight pulled at her mane.

“Twilight!” Spike pounded a fist on the door.

“I can tell him. Stop wasting time! End it now!” Celestia leaned in closer.

“H-how do I know?” Twilight finally said. “You’re lying!”

“No,” Celestia said, burying her face in her hooves. “No. I couldn’t even say this much about it if he still controlled me. He wouldn’t allow it.”

But Twilight kept shaking her head. “No. You won’t do what you said. It’s a trick.”

“Please! Trust me!” Celestia gritted her teeth. She loved Twilight. She loved her so, so much, and if she couldn’t convince her dear student… She’d… she’d force the issue. Yes, yes. “I’ll take it back, please! There’s no time, I-I’ll take your magic! Yes, I’ll rip it from you if I have to, then you can tell Luna for me, we’ll both be free, I’ll return it to you, and—”

But Twilight pointed at the door. She’d gone deathly pale, and she swallowed hard, but she jabbed that hoof at the door over and over.

Of course. Level-headed Twilight. Dear logical, rational Twilight. Leave it to her to figure out the quickest way. Celestia could prove herself and stop all this in one move. Of course it would be Spike. The spell had wanted Celestia to hurt someone she loved dearly, someone for whom she felt responsible. It would do the same to Twilight. Celestia turned to face the door again.


“Y-yes?” The pounding ceased.

“Listen to me. Carefully. Hear every word. Do not doubt a single one of them. You must trust me on this. Do you understand?”

A little sniffle and hiccup, and then: “Y-yes. I-I understand.”

She spoke slowly and loudly. He had to listen and obey without faltering. “Spike. You are absolutely not to believe the next thing Twilight says to you. I will explain afterward, but we don’t have time right now. She is being compelled to say it, and it in no way should ever be taken as coming from her. She loves you very much, and she would never utter such a thing if it weren’t completely necessary. But you will not believe the first sentence she speaks! Do I make myself clear?”

Silence. Only Twilight’s labored breathing echoed in the crystal room.

“Yes, Princess,” he finally said. His voice sounded unnaturally low.

“Can you be brave for her?”

“Yes,” he answered, still in that oddly low tone, but with no delay this time.

“Very well.” Celestia lit her horn and unlocked the door. As soon as it clicked, he pushed it open, and harsh torchlight streamed in. He gasped at Twilight, all sweat-soaked, ashen, and cowering against the bedpost. But he trotted over, cast his glistening eyes up toward Celestia, and stuck his chest out. So Celestia turned to Twilight and nodded.

Twilight gulped and took a deep breath, fresh tears coursing down her face. “Spike…”

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