A full hour had passed in silence as Celestia rested her head in Luna's lap, both content to stay upon the floor in each other's embrace. The younger princess continued to stroke her sister's mane with a comforting hoof, staring straight ahead as she was lost among her thoughts. She looked down to Celestia's face, finding her eyes closed and her breathing finally regulated. </span>I've never seen her this… this disturbed by something before. What could she have seen… what dream could push her over the edge like this…

The elder princess continued to lay still, her face pressed up against Luna's warm body. Though the troubled mare was taking refuge in her sister's touch, Celestia was not at peace. She was nowhere near calm internally, and slowly, her protective barriers were beginning to break down. The large mare rose her head and opened her eyes, staring directly at Luna, completely silent as she pushed up off of her sister's lap and walked backward to put some distance between them.

After a long period of silent eye contact, broken only by muted sniffling, Luna was the first to speak. "Tia…I-I know that… it's only been a few months since I came back, but… I'm here for you. We overthrew him together once, and we can do it again. Please, just… tell me what's wrong…"

Celestia lowered her face from Luna's worried gaze, letting her mane fall down over one eye as it so often did. Her throat felt as if it was coated with ash, and she found it extremely difficult to force herself to speak. "I… I do not know if I should tell you. I can barely deal with it myself, it's just… he's been tormenting me for over six hundred years now, on and off, at his discretion. He comes and goes, forcing me to listen to his insane ranting and selfish outlook on life. I can't shut him out no matter how hard I try, and now… he…" Celestia dropped her gaze even lower and looked off to the side, avoiding Luna as the dark alicorn moved closer in an effort to reassure her sister.

Luna waited patiently for the elder pony to continue despite the questions at the tip of her tongue, and remained silent as she watched Celestia shift uncomfortably. When it became clear that the Sun Goddess was finished speaking, Luna let out a quiet sigh, and decided to voice her mind.

"When… when you say that he forces you to listen… you mean you can hear him? He… talks to you?"

Celestia shuddered as she ran a hoof through her mane. She was desperately trying to erase the memory of her dream, the final straw that had broken her iron will. However, the memories of his touch, his wicked smile, and her own calls of ecstasy would not leave her mind. A rising feeling of sudden sickness pulsed throughout her chest as she spoke again, and she shivered at the thought of finding pleasure in his twisted form. "Yes. Mentally. He also… shows me things, in dreams. He can see into my mind, he can pick through my thoughts as they surface, and he takes great delight in criticizing them and speaking uncomfortable truths. It's… unsettling, to say the least."

The deep blue alicorn considered her sister's words, trying to understand what it could feel like to be so tortured by another. While imprisoned within the moon for a thousand years, she had found herself often wishing to have somepony, anypony by her side, even if just in her mind. As she thought of the reality of another always being there, and being unable to make them leave, Luna began to be grateful for her solitude. Unending and unwanted chatter would have surely driven her mad, and an invasion of her private thoughts was something that the mare could never stand.

"That sounds… horrible… I can't even imagine what it must do to your mind…"

Celestia let out a heavy sigh. "There is more to it than that, Lulu. I just… I will tell you in time. I need to be alone. I can't even think straight right now. Please, pretend that this never happened. I will be fine."

The Princess of the Sun steeled herself and assumed her usual expression of confidence and loving consideration, but Luna saw straight through the ruse. After so much time together as fillies, Luna could read her elder sister like a book, and was greatly disturbed that the pages were beginning to yellow and fray at the edges.

The younger mare rose from her seated position and walked to Celestia's side, giving her a loving nuzzle by rubbing her neck with that of her sister. "I can't do that. You're not fooling me, Sissy. You need to get some sleep, an-"

The snow-white pony broke from Luna's touch, and quickly stepped backward to once again stand on her own. "No. I will not sleep. Not after… that." Celestia shook her head and sniffled again, hoping desperately that Luna would drop the subject still fresh in her mind. "Just… do whatever you were doing before you heard me fall. I'll find a way to make it through the day tomorrow. I can j-"

Luna immediately stomped a hoof, her diamond glass shoe clinking loudly against the marble floor and surprising the other alicorn. The younger sister's expression changed to one of anger, and she leaned her head forward, giving Celestia a harsh glare as she snorted in indignation. "No. Not this time. I won't let you do this to yourself anymore! I've seen you set aside your personal health for 'the good of the kingdom' one too many times, and I won't stand for it any longer!"

Luna's eyes widened as she realized her aggressiveness, and she sheepishly looked up to find that Celestia's expression matched her own. Never before had she stood up to her sister in such a way, and neither had seen it coming. The smaller mare quickly moved to put a hoof on Celestia's shoulder, and lowered her face out of sight from embarrassment.

"I-I… I know that I'm usually… shy… and that I tend to keep my opinions to myself, but… you're my sister, Tia. I can't just stand by and watch him play with you for his own amusement. I won't just sit here and do nothing while you're driven to tears. I'll fight for you, in any way that I can. You… you can't run Equestria in this state. You need a mental break, before your own mind breaks you."

Luna fixed Celestia with a serious, searching gaze, not at all liking the puffiness around her sister's tearful eyes and her unusually disheveled appearance. "Have you… ever taken a day off since I've been gone?"

Both knew the answer, but Celestia shook her head anyway to confirm it. "I don't have time for 'days off', Lulu. You know that. My people need me."

Luna snorted and shook her head, getting fed up with the predictable stubbornness of her sister, even in her time of greatest need. "Yes, your people need you, but they need thereal you. You're about to have a breakdown, I can see it in your eyes. I will hold court tomorrow, and for as many days as you need me to. You need to relax, and just… just think. There has to be some way to shut him out permanently, to disable his ability to encroach upon you. Perhaps the Elem-"

Celestia's face became a mask of fear immediately, and she backed up several steps across the marble floor. "No. We can never rely upon them again. Even with the proper Bearers in place, they were not enough to stop him fully. I cannot even say if they were used correctly, despite my student's efforts. If they are misused, they lead only to chaos…"

Luna sputtered, completely at a loss to understand what she was hearing. "Wha-… who told you that? Father said th-"

"I know what Father said. Father was wrong." Celestia stomped a hoof, and tears clouded the edges of her vision as she recalled the painful memory. "Discord was using the Elements the entire time he had them in his possession. He has warned me about trying to use them against him, about how they can drive those who wield them to madness if they are not carefully controlled, how th-"

"And you believe him? Celestia, those gems may be our best chance to subvert his hold over you! You don't even want to try?"

Celestia paused. Something in her heart told her that there was much more to the Elements of Harmony than even she and Luna knew, and the knowledge that they had never worked as intended to that very day raised an alarm. Her entire body felt cold, but she knew that it was her instinct, and not Discord's influence. Or rather, she hoped. Nothing was certain anymore, and Celestia found that she wasn't entirely sure if she could even trust herself.

"…no. No, I do not. This problem must be dealt with directly, in a controlled manner. There can be no variables, and you and I can no longer use the Elements anyway. I don't want Twilight and her friends involved. They cannot know what is going on, it would throw all of Equestria into a state of panic. To combat chaos, we must adhere to order, and the Elements are a wildcard that we cannot afford to play unless we absolutely need to. You know very well what happened to Mother when she took watch over Generosity without the strength to control it…"

The painful memory hit Luna like a fierce blow, causing her to shrink backward, her wings flying out to the sides at a downward angle in a submissive gesture as she answered in a shaky voice. "I-I do. Perhaps you're right. F-for now… we work together, alone. But first, you… you really do need rest. Do not stress yourself, and if you have another dream, I'll come running. Please, Sister. Try to get some sleep. I'll wake you to raise the sun, and then just… take tomorrow off. I missed you so much, Tia. I don't want to watch you fall apart from stress. Are you sure that you don't want to tell me what happened?

Celestia sighed and turned away. "I… I can't. Soon, perhaps. I appreciate your concern, Luna. Really, I do." The hollow feeling returned, and she felt distinctly unclean. Hiding things from her sister was not something that she was proud of, but she couldn't bring herself to discuss what had pushed her over the edge. For the moment, she felt like she could at least cope until sunrise, though she didn't intend to reattempt sleep at all. "I'll go back to bed. If I need you, I'll call. I promise."

Luna walked over to give Celestia one last nuzzle, before breaking the embrace and locking eyes with her sister. "You are the strongest, most secure pony I know. We will get through this, and we will stop him. I will never leave your side again, Celestia. You know that I wouldn't be so bold to any other, but… you empower me. In the short time that I've watched you rule from the sidelines since I returned, I have seen your conviction and love for everypony triumph over all adversity. You just need a little help to confront this particular demon, and I'll do everything in my power to give it to you." The mare backed away with a small bow, and turned to head for the door. "Goodnight, Tia."

Celestia gave a sad smile and dipped her head in return. If only she knew how insecure I truly feel...

"Goodnight, Luna."

One in the morning. There's still time for me to attempt a quick nap after this, but… I don't know if I should even try it…

Oh, I certainly wouldn't if I were you. Unless, of course, you're feeling particularly horny tonight. In that case, go right ahead. I'd love to play with that luscious flank of yours…

Celestia's heart sank and she felt ready to vomit as she thrust her head beneath the soothing water, hoping that the liquid would somehow disrupt his communications.

That won't work, you know. I love water. It's so unpredictable. Formless. Flowing where it wants to go, slowly overpowering anything it touches through subtle erosion. Somewhat like what I'm doing to your mind, Dearheart.

The alicorn surfaced immediately, and felt like crying all over again. She stared down at the surface of the water in her personal bath, watching as the rose petals floated away on the ripples caused by her rapid movements. Is there truly no escape? Can I not will him out of my head? How is he even doing this from within the stone statue?

As difficult as it was, Celestia did her best to ignore him, putting on a brave face as she slowly washed herself. Perhaps if I don't respond, I can bore him into thinking his taunting isn't worthwhile.

Hello? You are aware that I can read your thoughts, right? You and I have a special connection, Celestia. It allows me to see deep into your soul, to pry at the locks around your mind from within, slowly edging towards the moment when you'll finally accept me for what I am…

Celestia gave up on ignoring him immediately and dropped her sponge into the water with a sigh. She ran the scented shampoo and warm water through her mane, slowly cleaning the sparkling hair as she directed her thoughts back to him in an attempt to at least come to terms with the situation. Despite his malicious intent and the draining effect his words had upon her, at least 'talking' to him would give her something to do. He had, after all, proved to be an interesting conversationalist, no matter how much she never wanted to hear from him again.

What is that connection, Discord? Can you see into everypony's minds? And what exactly 'are you'? What is it that I'm supposed to be accepting?

Simple. The connection is our mutual interest in each other. I am fascinated by your willingness to bend and hide your true self to accommodate everyone you can, and you are baffled by my uncaring and 'selfish' desires for this life. I only bother with those who would amuse me, and I can only truly gain entry if their minds are open. Yours most certainly is. You doubt constantly whether you are right, and are so used to caring for everyone on this forsaken planet that you cannot effectively ignore my thoughts. Even if you tried to push me out and become completely introverted, it is far too late. The seeds have been sown, and you cannot uproot the creeping plants of my design.

Celestia continued to wash herself, trying to remove the tainted feeling that he had left her with in her dream. The words unsettled her, and made her feel even worse than she already had. Yet another thing to add to my long checklist of failures.

If you're so interested in me, then why go this route? Why not make your true motives known, and stop torturing me?

Where's the fun in that? I'd rather keep you guessing… assuming I have motives at all. Not only that, but your little misguided lust is greatly entertaining. I voice what you're thinking and yet cannot say, and I bask in the spontaneous and illogical while you hide behind the shield of careful planning and your precious books. You see me as a puzzle, Celestia, one that you cannot resist trying to solve. And so you are attracted to me, in a way that goes against all reason and makes you feel guilty. I am doing nothing to torture you, you're entirely responsible for that aspect of our relationship.

Celestia rose out of the bathwater and stretched her entire body before stepping from the gold-rimmed stone basin. With a simple burst of magic, she warmed herself dry, and stood staring at the wall of mirrors at the far end of the room. For the briefest second, she could have sworn she saw him floating behind her, but she knew that it was impossible, and upon turning quickly, she found only air. She collected her mane with a quick swish of magical wind, letting it fall back into its usual style before turning back to the mirrors and hoping for the best. Nothing was reflected but what would normally be in the room, and Celestia allowed herself a brief sigh of content.

That is not true. While I cannot deny that I am… attracted… or that it absolutely sickens me… it is not something that I can control. Though I long for freedom and to be released from the chains of responsibility, I believe that everypony feels the same way on the most basic level. Our willingness to sideline our animalistic wants is what allows us to function as a society, and as that society's leader, I am more than willing to sacrifice a little personal freedom for a unified and loving public. I love my subjects, and in return, they love me. I am perfectly content with myself, and I am not responsible for the pain you cause me.

They love you? When was the last time someone sat you down and asked to help you through your problems? When have you ever had anyone approach and ask if you were truly alright, or if something was troubling you without expecting an answer of 'no'? They don't care for you, you fool. They treat you nicely because they pity the position that you're in! And what of all of the protests against your rule, the accusations of tyranny that some radical thinkers throw your way, the conspiracy behind Nightmare Moon and the beginning of your solo rule?

The exhausted pony walked back into her bedroom, shaking her head as she walked to the large bed. She slowly climbed under the covers and closed her eyes, doing her best to regulate her breathing and forget the events of her previous dream.

They do not concern me. Nopony has ever tried to overthrow me, and the vast majority support my decisions. There are bound to be outliers, and I value their opinions as well. If I only listened to what I wanted to hear, I would become a true tyrant. So long as Equestria at large is happy, I too will be happy.

We both know that isn't true. For a thousand years now you've hidden your anger and depression, choosing to bottle up your feelings about Little Luna. Now that she has returned, you pace angrily behind closed doors, cursing the general public for being so judgmental of her. Very few know the truth behind what happened, and yet they are so quick to assume. Admit it, you want personal happiness just as I do, and the public is getting in the way of that by rejecting the one most dear to you. So long as Luna cannot leave the palace out of fear for her own safety, part of you will always loathe the ignorant masses.

I do not loathe them! They merely do not understand! In time, Luna will be free to walk the streets again and be accepted by my side! None of this is her fault, and they will come to see that!

Why haven't they already? Because you erased the records of what really occurred in a moment of extreme selfishness?

Celestia's eyes flew open and she sat up. Of course he would know…

Know? I watched you do it. I watched you burn the official records and declare the history of Nightmare Moon as 'missing'. I can see your every action, because I choose to. I may not be able to be everywhere at once, but I can shadow you, and have done so for quite some time. It isn't Luna's fault that she is so misunderstood. It's yours. I'll leave you to stew in your own self-pity now, and I shall not disturb you until you awaken. Sleep, and in the morning, I will set the wheels in motion for our reckoning. Perhaps I'll take revenge for both myself and poor Lulu… it sounds to me like she deserves it.

Silent tears flowed down Celestia's face as her heart sank. He was right yet again. Nopony knew the truth because of her. She had tried her best to mitigate the damage to her family's image caused by the incident of Luna's possession, but her plan had backfired, and turned Luna into a monster in the public eye. Over the centuries, rumor had outpaced truth, and Celestia was painted as a hero, while Luna became an eternal villain.

I… I only wanted to help… I wanted to clear her history and give her a chance at new life when she returned! I would never have done it had I known it would result in this!

Her thoughts were met with total silence as she cried in the darkness.

…Discord? D-don't abandon me… I… you're right… it is my fault… and that knowledge has eaten away at my sanity as I watched the rumors build. Luna deserves so much more.


Upon being met with nothing for a second time, Celestia climbed out of bed, feeling guiltier than she ever had before. She had damaged the one closest to her, fallen into a sick infatuation with her greatest enemy, and found that she could no longer trust herself. Without hesitation, she grabbed a sheaf of parchment and her quill from the long desk near her bed, and thought carefully about her next course of action. She desperately needed to talk to somepony friendly, to get herself back on stable ground and win back mental peace before she sunk further into depression.

…should I? Can I get her involved? Though I love Luna with all of my heart, she has been away for so long, and cannot know what my shortsightedness cost her. I know of only one other who could bring me comfort without added guilt…

With her mind made up, the princess sniffled before wiping her face with a hoof to dry her eyes. She sat down upon her haunches and scribbled a quick message, lacking her usual heading and rules of decorum. There was no time for formality, and she needed an answer as quickly as possible.

Twilight, are you still awake?

The message levitated into the air, unbound and floating freely. It slowly burnt up in an emerald flame before disappearing entirely, making its way to her most beloved student. She waited several long minutes for a reply, but none come. Her lip began to quiver as she felt completely alone, and she walked back to her bed, once again crying quietly as she climbed up onto it. How can I rule this country when I can no longer rule my own emotions…

The muted sound of a fire igniting above her caused her to look up, and a bounded scroll fell onto the blankets before her. She hastily unwrapped it with her magic before unrolling the parchment and reading.

Dear Princess Celestia,

Forgive me for taking so long to respond. I am still awake, studying the constellations for a report that I plan to send to you shortly. However, I had to wake Spike in order to send this message, and he was a bit of a grouch about it. Forgive me for being so informal, but are you alright? This message is quite unlike any other you have sent me, and I am worried. Has something happened?

Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle

Celestia gave a small laugh and wiped her tears away, feeling just a bit better. Even in a time like this, she clings to tradition and formality. Her eagerness to please me is adorable.

She hastily began scribbling her reply.

Please, Twilight, do not worry about formatting. I am well, and there is nothing urgent. I merely wish to ask you how your studies are going, and how your friends are. It is always wonderful to hear from you, Twilight. You have already helped to set my mind at ease more than you could ever know.

Celestia sent the message with a small smile, her heart just a bit lighter after receiving the initial reply. Merely knowing that her student was safe and willing to talk to her made her feel a bit better, and she pulled the covers up over herself, feeling as though she could sleep without fear. Another message fell onto the blankets, an unbound scroll that unrolled upon making contact with Celestia's covered form. She picked it up and hastily read.

Princess, you're scaring me. It's one thirty in the morning, and you're randomly sending me a message for a friendship update? Though of course I don't mind, and I hate to be so bold as to ask, what prompted this correspondence? If you need my help, please tell me. I'm very worried right now. Are you sure you're alright? I can gather my friends and be there as soon as possible if you need us.

Celestia shook her head, and her face sunk upon reading the words. Another pulse of fear climbed up her spine, and she shivered under the blankets before closing her eyes and swallowing hard. Of course she wants to help and is assuming the worst. This was a bad idea for momentary relief. She cannot come to Canterlot, it isn't safe…

Twilight, I can assure you that everything is fine. Please do not worry about my request, it is late, and I am sure you are very tired. Go to bed soon, and I shall do the same. Forgive me for bothering you. Do not respond to this message. I will be in contact again soon. Goodnight.

Another spiral of emerald flame flickered in the night air, speeding the message toward Ponyville. Celestia shook her head, and lowered her body, nuzzling into her pillows and closing her eyes. She lay still for several minutes, hoping against hope that Twilight would be placated, and that she had not made another terrible mistake. Despite her unease, she soon found sleep, and was able to escape the waking world for the following several hours. In her state of unconsciousness, she failed to notice the rolled parchment that fell onto the foot of her bed from a portal of dragon flame.

Luna felt extremely frazzled as she walked through the Royal Gardens, the midday sun shining intensely upon her dark coat. The sensation felt very foreign to her, as she had not left the palace itself since her return from imprisonment upon the moon. The weary princess shook her head, heaving a loaded sigh as her thoughts wandered through the events of the day. I cannot handle holding court effectively… how does Celestia do it so easily? All of those ponies staring at me, judging me silently and waiting for some sort of divine, perfect answer… regardless, it is my responsibility until Tia feels stable...

The alicorn continued her leisurely walk, avoiding her true destination in a display of cowardice. Though she would do absolutely anything to help her sister, coming face to face with Discord's statue was not an affair that she was looking forward to. If he can truly see into Tia's thoughts… if he can read mine as well… I do not understand how we can effectively fight him. Can we even fight him? He's encased in stone! This shouldn't even be a problem!

Luna shook her head, completely unable to comprehend how her hated foe was capable of doing what he was doing. No matter the reason, the alicorn knew that she had bring a stop to the madness by any means necessary. If Celestia is truly incapable of handling this on her own, I have no choice but to get involved. It took both of us to bring him down and save Equestria from absolute ruin, and we are stronger now than ever before. Though he may claim to know my sister, Discord knows nothing of me. Once I can figure out how to combat his influence directly, we can begin to turn this around and save Sister from his insanity...

As Luna turned the corner and looked at the path ahead, she froze in absolute shock at the sight before her. She had finally reached the statue garden, and could not believe her eyes. The shocked mare galloped forward as quickly as she could, skidding to a halt in front of the central display, completely at a loss for words. Her light blue eyes wandered upward, and her entire body went numb as she confirmed her greatest fear. The labeled stone podium that held Discord stood where it always had, but where his actual statue should have been, there was only air.

Scented Venom Chapter 4.

Credits go to Cadenceofrain.

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