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Fanfic / Just Before the Dawn

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Just Before the Dawn is a My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan fiction story by Drefsab.

A month after being forced to banish her sister to the moon, Princess Celestia is not doing well. Racked with despair over her actions and mistakes, and facing the prospect of having to rule her nation alone, she may be putting on a brave face for her subjects, but the once lively monarch is now a shadow of her normal self.

After the deer of Whitetail launch an attack on the significantly weakened Equestria, she finds herself drawn towards an unlikely figure: Tercio Krosus. A soldier, brother, and son. And Equestria's only human...

Just Before the Dawn contains examples of the following tropes:

  • A Mother to Her Men:
    • One of the reasons Tercio is so shocked to learn of Luna's corruption into Nightmare Moon is because of how willing she was to speak to him and his men.
    • Celestia clearly cares a great deal for her Praetorian Guard.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Seen several times, as you might expect from infantry combat within a Roman-esque setting.
  • Asshole Victim: Brother-General Felnaris is murdered by his underling working to a different agenda, but it's hard to deny he deserved it.
  • Badass Boast: Celestia gives us this one:
    Alinalyys: Do you know what they call you in my country, Celestia? Anafiir doeth fon'defaliin.
    Celestia: "One without conviction."
    Alinalyys: You know more deertongue than you let on.
    Celestia: They are wrong. Many have said the same of Equestria — of me — and they have always paid for it in the end.
  • Bad Boss: Brother-General Felnaris treats his men poorly, shows no regard for their well being, and has an arrogant and inflated sense of his commanding abilities (and no respect for his opponent's), which results in heavy casualties when General Phalanx outmaneuvers him.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Celestia would like you to know that kindness, love, and mercy does not make one helpless.
    Celestia: Do not mistake our kind nature for weakness, Emperor.
  • BFS: Lacertus Praxis has one, a gift from one of his successful assassination attempts.
  • Big Bad: Not any of the deer actually, but rather Nightmare Moon. The war was created by her followers so that the Equestrians and deer would wipe each other out (or at least reduce their numbers to a crippling point) so that she swoop in and take over both nations. However, it turns out that Nightmare Moon is actually Empress Elinwynn using a magical disguise, although she is doing it for much the same reason.
  • Blood Knight:
    • Battle-Master Gilias seems positively thrilled at being able to increase her kill count.
    • Alinalyys also qualifies, seemingly finding more pleasure in killing than in sex.
    Alinalyys: Do you know what it's like to plunge a quinn-blade through someone, to feel their very essence fading away? I have yet to meet a buck who can recreate such a thrill.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Tercio develops one for Celestia.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: All of the Royal Guard and Celestia's Praetorian Guard, though it's also clear that Celestia still genuinely needs the protection.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Deertongue is capable of inducing this in Tercio. See Unstoppable Rage.
  • The Captain: Tercio more or less, after being promoted from Decanus to Centurion.
  • Captain Obvious: While Gilias is training the Equestrians...
    Battle-Master Gilias: We managed to, uh, procure this armor from a fallen buck. Anyone have any observations about it?
    Random Guard: It's shiny?
  • Cartwright Curse: One of Celestia's hallucinations of Luna taunts her over this.
    "Luna": Your love is toxic. A venom that destroys all you touch from the inside.
  • Cassandra Truth: One Whitetail senator has Elinwynn figured out to a tee. Naturally he is ignored.
  • The Chessmaster: Empress Elinwynn.
  • Cliffhanger: All around the place, but the one at the end of Chapter 35 is one of the biggest.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Displayed by several characters. In particular, Tercio kills an assassin by ripping the attacker's throat out, and his brother Victus repeatedly hits a stallion in the groin before stabbing his downed opponent. Gilias also shows no problem attacking with the element of surprise on her side, or headbutting an attacker.
  • Commonality Connection: One of the things Celestia and Tercio manage to bond over is their feelings of isolation from the rest of Equestria, owing to their status as princess and Equestria's sole human respectively.
    Celestia: Maybe we're not so different, you and I. It's rare I meet someone who can share the feeling of being a stranger in their own land.
  • Darker and Edgier: Both compared to the franchise, as well as the author's previous work in the genre.
  • The Dead Have Names:
    • Seemingly averted with the random guard who gets hit by Nightmare Moon's spell in the opening, only for Tercio to mention his name — Strata — when recounting the event to his father in the following chapter.
    • Celestia explicitly points out that the death of her Praetorian, Decanus Venerin, weighs heavily on her mind.
  • Determinator: Tercio is appointed to Celestia's Praetorian Guard after she notices him displaying this.
    Celestia: You are not the fastest, or the strongest. You cannot fly or perform feats of magic. But you do not give up on something once you set your mind to it.
  • Dirty Coward: Chancellor Vinawyll refuses surrender purely out of self preservation (lest he find his throat slit by an assassin), regardless of the cost Whitetail has to pay. Brother-General Corvalix is secretly disgusted by such a cowardly and self serving attitude, but lets it slide consoling himself that the Chancellor will soon outlive his usefulness.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After constantly dealing with insults and barbs for months, Corvalix takes the opportunity to gain revenge on Felnaris, by murdering him using an Equestrian ballista bolt, after fulfilling his mission.
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": Tercio still has trouble breaking old habits after becoming a full fledged Praetorian.
    Stonewall: I thought I told you to knock off that 'sir' shit, Krosus.
    Tercio: And I thought you were supposed to address me by my first name now, sir.
  • Doorstopper: Currently at over 370K words, and no sign of stopping any time soon.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Averted. Sapphire drugging Tercio and raping him is portrayed and treated as a vile thing. While Tercio doesn't appear traumatised as such, he is rightly angry and upset by the experience, particularly at having his mind altered. Sapphire is also quickly held to account for her actions by the law, only being spared exile from Equestria at Tercio's request. Celestia's response upon finding out also has more than a hint of Reality Subtext.
  • The Dragon: Corvalix, for Nightmare Moon aka Empress Elinwynn.
  • Dramatic Irony: As the narrative switches between characters, this leads to plenty of cases where the reader is aware of events that the main cast are not.
  • Dual Wielding: Celestia learns how to do this as part of her swordsmanship training. Also Justified, since the standard sword/shield combo is not available to her as a shield is too bulky to be easily concealed, and for image reasons she can't openly carry weapons.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: A minor example, where after becoming a Praetorian, several of Tercio's new colleagues don't salute or use honorifics even though he outranks them. He isn't too fussed by this, since he recognizes that the Praetorian Guard do things a little differently.
  • Easily Forgiven: Tercio shows a great deal of mercy to Sapphire after she drugs and rapes him at a party. When he actually accepts her apology, even she is astounded. Lampshaded by Celestia later on when she finds out and chastises him for being too forgiving.
  • Empathic Weapon: Celestia and Luna each had one. Celestia loses hers during an attempt on her life, and later gifts Luna's old blade, Nocturne, to Tercio.
  • Enemy Mine: The Whitetail and Redtail deer ally themselves over their mutual enemy in Equestria. The former after being manipulated by the latter the entire time.
  • False Flag Operation:
    • One kicks off the war between Equestria and Whitetail, after mercenaries posting as Equestrians attack River Run and slaughter the deer inhabitants. While Celestia eventually manages to talk the Whitetail chancellor down by convincing him of this, any hope for peace is destroyed when Chancellor Artellus is assassinated under yet another false flag operation, provoking the deer into declaring war.
    • Corvalix sets up yet another one in Chapter 32, leading to the Redtail and Whitetail allying themselves with each other.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Saddle Arabia has apparently recently moved to this.
    Celestia: Did you know Saddle Arabian translators have their own caste system now? Of the twenty of his servants, six were translators, belonging to three different castes. So I would speak to one of them, and that translator would tell the next translator, and he would tell the next, before the final translator finally told the Saddle Arabian representative.
    Tercio: I...don't see how that's particularly useful. Or sane.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • A mild example. There is still some distrust between the pony tribes, which results in them usually being assigned within the military to squads of the same tribe, though the practice is beginning to die out.
    • The redtail and whitetail deer seem to hold this towards each other.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Set well before the time of the show, this version of Equestria takes a lot of influence from Ancient Rome.
  • First-Name Basis:
    • One of the perks of being in the Praetorian Guard is having this relationship with Celestia.
    • Praetorians ignore rank and title amongst full members, addressing them by name.
  • Glass Cannon: Bucks are stronger than pegasi, but not as strong as an earth pony, instead relying more on agility instead of strength in a fight.
  • The Good Chancellor: Chancellor Artellus comes across as one, even if he initially throws around some hasty accusations towards Celestia. Unfortunately this means he quickly finds himself at the wrong end of the assassin's knife...
  • Groin Attack: Victus resorts to this in Chapter 16, before stabbing his downed opponent though the chest.
  • Heal It With Fire: Done in Chapter 28 to prevent Tercio from bleeding out before he can receive proper medical care.
  • Heel Realization: Sapphire eventually comes to realise what she did to Tercio was wrong. While he is incredulous that she needed to be told that drugging and raping someone was morally reprehensible, he accepts her apology, much to her disbelief.
  • Heroic BSoD: Celestia ends up in one for an entire month after banishing Luna/Nightmare Moon.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Tercio tries for one in Chapter 35, impaling himself on Nocture in an effort to destroy the dark force inside him.
  • Heroic Willpower:
    • Tercio manages to snap out of a magically induced Unstoppable Rage though this alone.
    • Tercio again when frees himself from being mind controlled in Chapter 28.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Gilias demands Victus strike her, in order to pull off a convincing disguise in Chapter 16.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Lacertus tries to control Tercio through the Deertongue language, only to be slaughtered by a frenzied human after the assassin successfully inflicts a nasty wound on Celestia.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Luna seemed to take this view on Tercio, pre-banishment, due to her and Celestia's encounter with Secundus. Celestia vehemently disagreed.
  • I Call It "Vera": Luna called her old sword Nocturne. When Celestia gifts it to Tercio, he decides to keep the name, deeming it fitting.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: One of the unicorns in Chapter 16 is able to deflect the sword Victus attempts to throw to Gilias with a well aimed dagger.
  • In-Series Nickname: Sapphire is fond of calling Celestia "Tia". While Celestia secretly dislikes this since it reminds of her Luna, she can't bring herself to ban Sapphire from using it, until the younger mare abuses Tercio for her own ends.
  • Interspecies Adoption: Tercio is found at a very young age and adopted by a pony family. How he ended up in Equestria is still up in the air.
  • Interspecies Romance: It takes a long time, but Celestia and Tercio's relationship eventually develops from friendship into this.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: A deer soldier pulls this off in Chapter 6, before forcing the Equestrian commander into a Psychic-Assisted Suicide.
  • Love Confession: Tercio eventually confesses his feelings to Celestia. While she doesn't give a yes or a no before practically fleeing in terror, she later admits to returning his feelings, leading to their Relationship Upgrade.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: An unfortunate stallion gets reduced to this in the opening chapter, after being caught in the crossfire between Celestia and Nightmare Moon.
  • The Man Behind the Man: Nightmare Moon or, as it turns out, Elinwynn. See Big Bad for more information.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Elinwynn. Her brother also qualifies, but she's the one pulling his strings.
  • Master of Illusion: Does tend to be far more magically powerful than bucks, and particularly adept at illusion magic.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Discussed when Celestia contemplates a relationship with Tercio, and whether she can bear to go through with the pain of losing the one she loves to the sands of time again.
    Mended Heart:'s better to be left with fond memories than none at all.
  • The Mole: Baer'barisater. ...Sort of. While he is working for the Whitetail, the deer he's working for is an Only Sane Man who just wants the war to end peacefully.
  • New Meat: While Tercio has combat experience, he gets treated like this upon being reassigned to Celestia's Praetorian Guard, until he proves himself worthy of their respect.
  • Not So Stoic:
    • In a rare moment of rage, Celestia furiously crushes the pendant allowing her to converse with 'Nightmare Moon'.
    • Elinwynn kicks a hole in her wall after discovering Celestia is starting to put the pieces together.
  • Oblivious to Love: Celestia and Sapphire correctly determine Tercio's infatuation after noticing his repeated glances in their direction when they observe a training session, but both believe his interest lies in the latter, rather than the former. Celestia is also more than a little oblivious of her own growing feelings towards him.
  • Plausible Deniability: Officially Battle-Master Gilias is in Equestria as a neutral observer. In reality, the griffons have sent her to train the Equestrian army in fighting deer, under the guise of plausible deniablity.
  • Plot Threads: The story is mostly split into two threads. One being the war between Equestria and Whitetail, and another focusing on Tercio and Celestia.
  • Praetorian Guard: One of the major threads of the story is Tercio's life as one, after catching Celestia's eye and being assigned directly to her.
  • Primal Fear: Travelling by sky carriage does not go down well with Tercio.
    Tercio: If the gods had intended me to fly they would have given me wings!
  • Psychic-Assisted Suicide: A deer soldier uses his magic to force an Equestrian commander to slit his own throat. Despite valiantly attempting to resist the spell, it ultimately proves futile.
  • Puppet King: Chancellor Vinawyll decides to ally with the Cervidaen Hegemony out of self interest, not realising that he's being used as this... at least until he's no longer useful...
  • Purple Is Powerful: Praetorians are distinguished by their purple cloaks, with only full members being allowed to wear them; new recruits retain their old cloaks until they've been deemed worthy enough.
  • Rank Up: Tercio receives a promotion fairly early on, from Decanus to Centurion. This is roughly the equivalent of going from Sergeant to Captain.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Tercio delivers one to Sapphire, after she drugs and rapes him, having mistaken his glances at Celestia as interest in herself.
    Tercio: What kind of arrogance would possess you to assume that simply because I glance in your general direction that we are somehow meant to be together?
  • The Reveal: The end of Chapter 28 confirms that Elinwynn is involved with 'Nightmare Moon' in some way, though Celestia still remains a little in the dark on exactly what's going down.
  • Rotating Protagonist: While Tercio is the most prominent protagonist, his adoptive brother Victus also gets quite a bit of screentime. The story also sometimes follows more minor characters for a short while as well.
  • Royal Brat: Celestia privately considers Empress Elinwynn to be one. While from Celestia's account it runs in the family, she apparently belives Elinwynn to be one of the worst in recent generations.
  • Sanity Slippage: Celestia undergoes a mild one, where she begins to see Hallucinations of Luna and Nightmare Moon taunting her.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Red vs. Blue is referenced in an exchange between soldiers in the opening chapter.
    Soldier #1: I heard the decanus once found out that somepony wasn't listening to his commands, and the decanus shoved a sword through his ear.
    Soldier #2: It wasn't a sword, you idiot, it was his cock.
    Soldier #1: What? That doesn't seem physically possible.
    Soldier #2: That's what the poor sod kept screaming as his ear canal was violated.
    Stonewall: Hokey ancient magic is no match for a good blade at your side and the strength to drive it home, if you ask me.
    • Celestia jokingly references Galadriel's "All shall love me and despair" speech from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when discussing how intimidating some ponies view her as being.
    • The Cervidaen Hegemony was named after the Batarian Hegemony from Mass Effect.
    • In one chapter the Nine Hells are mentioned. Granted, they're not called Baator, but can you think of another work of fiction that uses that name?
      • Phyrexia from Magic the Gathering is also often refereed to as The Nine Hells.
  • Shown Their Work: Evidently the author has done a lot of research on the weapons, technology, and military of Ancient Rome.
  • Slipping a Mickey: Sapphire does it to Tercio as part of her goal of seducing him and convincing him to leave the legion and join her.
  • Sole Survivor:
    • Swift Strike is the only one in his unit who survived a False Flag Operation attack by bandits posing as Equestrian guards.
    • Cobalt is left as the only survivor in Chapter 6, in order to relay a message to the Equestrian army.
  • Spotting the Thread: Cultist Brother Validus is not at all convinced by Gilias' sob story in Chapter 16. After barraging her with questions, eventually she drops all pretenses and just kills him.
    Gilias: Fuck it.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Celestia was involved with Starswirl once, until a magical experiment gone wrong resulted in him rapidly ageing, and hiding himself away out of shame for the rest of his days.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: One legionary is not amused to find out he'll be receiving training on fighting deer from the decidedly female Battle-Master Gilias. She quickly demonstrates to him why this is an unwise stance to take.
  • "Take That!" Kiss: Tercio receives one after being captured by a doe in Chapter 28.
  • Taking You with Me: The Nightmare Moon cultists in Chapter 34 resort to this.
  • That Mare is Dead: Nightmare Moon makes it very clear to Celestia that Luna is gone, when the latter tries to convince her to stop.
    Nightmare Moon: There is no more Luna, my dear sister! You will address me as Nightmare Moon, or you shall suffer with them!
  • Think Nothing of It: Tercio's response to Celestia's gratitude after she thanks him for saving her life from an assassin.
    Tercio: Just doing my job, Princess.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The cultists Gilias tricks in Chapter 16 fall for her tale far too easily, Brother Validus being the sole exception.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Celestia starts training in swordsmanship, when her near-assassination makes her realise how lacking her combat skills are.
  • Tragic Monster: Secundus. He's done terrible things for a very long time,(the Whitetail saw to that) but he was a pitiable man nonetheless.
  • Underequipped Charge: At one point the Equestian army appears to make a suicidal charge, only to shock the deer with a pinpoint teleport to vulnerable parts of the enemy's lines.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Brother-Captain Corvalix dispatches of Brother-General Felnaris in this way by making him appear to be hit by an Equestrian missile. Partly for revenge over his poor treatment, and partly because he's working to a different agenda.
  • Unstoppable Rage:
    • For reasons yet to be fully explained, the Deertongue word Fal'naas (literally "destroy without mercy") is somehow able to trigger this in Tercio, leading to him losing control and being unable to distinguish between friend and foe.
    • The assassin Lacertus tries to induce this in Tercio yet again in Chapter 12. It backfires badly, when after Lacertus successfully wounds Celestia with his sword, Tercio is driven into a frenzy and rips Lacertus' throat out bare-handed in a rage, before regaining control of himself through willpower alone.
    • Tercio almost ends up in one again in Chapter 26, without being triggered by deertongue. He also suggests that there may well be some entity inside him responsible, but even the fact that it may not be his fault does little to comfort him. As it turns out, he was right.
  • Unwitting Pawn: The Whitetail deer and the Nightmare Moon cultists for Empress Elinwynn.
  • Use Your Head: Gilias resorts to this in Chapter 16, lacking a better weapon at that moment.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Tercio seems to have this sort of relationship with his adopted brother and father.
  • We Have Reserves: Brother-General Felnaris shows little concern for those under his command due to this.
    Brother-Captain Corvalix: Sir, why not deploy such a barrier among the front lines? Surely it would save many lives.
    Brother-General Felnaris: Because the rank-and-file are disposable. We can always recruit more.
  • We Need a Distraction: Gilias infiltrates a cultist camp under the guise of being an aspiring member in Chapter 16, and seems to have a lot of fun with her acting.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Celestia and Sapphire used to be friends, prior to the latter abusing Tercio.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Empress Elinwynn eventually does this with the Nightmare Moon cultists, having her soldiers wipe them all out. However, this backfires spectacularly when one cultist survives and tells Celestia what Empress Elinwynn has done. Cue Celestia going into Tranquil Fury It's Personal mode.