Torches rattled in their sconces on the wall as the entire castle shook, the wood dancing between the rings of metal with a clang each time it struck, as if about to jump out and fall upon the floor. Ancient mortar turned to dust before gently cascading onto the ponies below, the gentle vibrations not going unnoticed by the conspiring mares and baby dragon standing in front of the thick, iron door.
“What the Hells is that?” Dinky Hooves asked. She gently rubbed the lower reaches of her leg with a hoof, for it had been tightly clasped in iron not more than a minute before.
“I think that was Vinyl Scratch blowing up the Cor Magi,” Pinkie Pie spoke with surprising clarity of mind. “But... if she blew it up, then that means...” she gasped, “Twilight’s in trouble! Come on, everypony, we have to go help her!” Dinky had her doubts, understandably, since she had not known Pinkie to be anything other than a duplicitous traitor. She was not about to charge forward blindly just because she had a ‘funny feeling.’
Her jaw dropped visibly when Spike, Trixie and even JADE, of all the ponies she knew, quickly broke into a gallop and left her standing dumbstruck in her cell. “Hey, wait up for me!” She chased after the others.
“Wait! Where are we going, Rarity!?” Sweetie Bell cried out as the Crusaders followed the older mares past the felled door and up the stairs. “How are we going to stand up to Eos if even TWILIGHT needs help?”
“If anything, we can stall Eos and then call upon the Elements of Harmony once we are sure Twilight is safe,” the older white unicorn called back.
“The Elements of Harmony? But without Rainbow Dash, they’re useless,” Dinky questioned as they turned into the labyrinthine halls of the basement.
“That’s where I come in,” Spike got out between panting breaths. “The others agreed that I would be a good substitute.”
“What about Sweetie? I happen to KNOW that she is pretty damn loyal herself; even more loyal than Spike, since she didn’t BETRAY anypony. She stuck with us despite knowing we did not trust her when she easily could have gone with either one of you, or right to the queen herself and be with Rarity, whom she stuck by too.”
“Wow... thanks Dinky, I’m touched,” Sweetie Belle gasped, surprised by her friends’ confidence in her.
Before the others could get the opportunity to argue over the prospect of who would be the new Element of Loyalty, a door down the hall opened before a stream of at least a dozen guards ran out of it. “There’s some! Get them!” one of them cried before the whole group charged forward, brandishing their weapons and their magic. Despite the oncoming wall of bodies and metal, the mares did not relent or change course, drawing their own weapons instead.
Battle cries echoed through the hall before the opposing forces clashed, the purplish unicorn losing sight of friends and foes between the tangle of bodies and armour. If it was white and had a hint of gold, she bucked or brought what magic she could to bear. She smiled as a masculine scream filled the air when she zapped the pony immediately ahead with an electricity spell. “Don’t you DARE attack my sister!” Rarity shouted over the din, followed by a sharp yell and thud upon the floor.
The wet sound of swords cleaving flesh in twain screeched just inches from her ears, filtered only by the occasional clank of metal on metal or cry of pain. In the struggle, she felt something trace along her flank, but was too caught up in the moment to give it any real attention. The last guard fell with an anguished, gurgled cry as two blades from Applejack and Trixie pierced his chest through holes in his armour. With a buck to free their blades, he crumpled into a heap and expired.
“Dinky!? Are you okay!?” Scootaloo panted, sporting a razor-thin cut above her brow where a sword had strayed. Looking to her flank, the unicorn could see a trail of blood dripping down her side, masking her hard-earned cutie mark with crimson trails.
“I didn’t really feel it, so yeah,” she replied looking over the others as they began their marathon sprint once more. Although they had taken a few scrapes and cuts, they had all fared well against the supposedly elite soldiers of the realm. I suddenly feel like a big damn hero, Dinky thought to herself with a soundless giggle. Of course, she would never actually say that out loud: it would just be silly.
Doing their best to backtrack along the route they came, the group of mares soon found themselves at the top of the stairs leading down into the lower levels. The occasional soldier would come across their path, but a burst of magic from one of the unicorns of the group would quickly end any threat they posed. Rarity had stepped up to the plate and dispatched the last guard with a violent toss of telekinesis, crumpling his armor against the wall, not that any pony was complaining. Nonetheless, they all made mental notes not to piss her off again.
At the end of the hall the wooden door that had barred them entry lay upon the floor, allowing the dim light of the stalled sunset to shine orange in their faces. It was the literal light at the end of the tunnel, for soon they would be by Twilight’s side and ready to do their part in the fight against the tyrant pony, even if they were to die in the process.
Blood stained the grass, pools of crimson contrasted against a sea of emerald and the pastel coloured bodies from where it leaked. Small columns of smoke rose into the sky where the Pegasus ponies flew, weaving between towers and under bridges. Alabaster stones littered the ground, crushing bushes, flowers, and the odd body or two as the unicorns and earth ponies fought below for control of the castle.
“Oh, please stop!” sounded a familiar, gentle voice from the din and chaos of the battlefield. Fluttershy flew over a pair of stallions locked in combat, both with swords clenched in their teeth. “I know we’re not on the best terms, but that doesn’t mean you have to hurt each other! Surely the queen has hurt your feelings too, hasn’t she, sir?” The guard ignored her and countered the rebel, knocking him onto his back.
“No!” But before she could say another word, the deed was done. The guard had been distracted by her for just a split second: a second the rebel used to swing his sword and nearly decapitate the soldier. He got up and ran off to his next battle while the yellow pony paled and fell to the ground with a small squeak when she landed next to the body of the guard.
“Fluttershy, darling,” Rarity called out, running to the head of the pack. “Are you okay?” Gentle sobs escaping from the buttery Pegasus told them all that she was not okay in the least.
“Oh, come on!” Trixie shouted and pushed herself ahead. “Suck it up, Fluttershy! If you didn’t want to see struggle or death, then you should have stayed behind!”
“Trixie, be nice,” Pinkie popped up from behind, giving the yellow mare a big hug. “You know as well as I do that yelling at her isn’t going to make anything better. Come on Flutters... let’s take our minds off of it. We need to help Twilight now, so we need you to be strong for us. Can you be strong for us?” The yellow pony nodded her head, although tears continued to spill from her eyes.
“Good, now all we need ta do is figure out where Twi and Eos ar-” Applejack started before she was cut off by a burst of light and blast of sound that shook the ground they stood on, making them quake in their own hooves. Less sturdy ponies toppled down stairs or onto the ground where they were injured or humiliated at best. “Never mind, ah think ah know where they might be.”
“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Sweetie Belle chirped. With some prodding from Trixie and Pinkie, they managed to get Fluttershy onto her hooves, which was a feat considering the situation. It only took just a little bit more to startle her into running with the rest of the group, who were already a considerable distance ahead. They wove between more personal skirmishes, gaining some attention from the guards who were free from combat at that moment.
“You girls go on ahead while I help distract them,” Jade offered before running head first into a guard of her own volition. The others slammed their hooves in the dirt to skid to a stop, not willing to leave her behind. However, the Crusaders kept going forward, rushing past them.
“Don’t worry about Jade!” Dinky cried back. “She knows what she’s doing! Right now, we have to help Twilight!” Reluctantly, they resumed their sprint, easily catching up with the weakened younger mares despite keeping an eye on the green unicorn, who had just bucked a guard’s teeth out.
More guards pounced at them from every angle, recognizing the wanted mares from their posters. Thankfully by then, the gentle Pegasus had her brain snap into motion, meaning that she ran with them as opposed to being dragged. Scootaloo, while still weak and weary, took to the skies nonetheless to provide air support while the three unicorns blasted away those few soldiers foolish enough to get in their way. Ponies in their army also saw the soldiers try to gang up on their leaders and leapt into the fray, distracting many of them so that they did not have to worry about the little pains and focus on the one big royal pain in everypony’s flank.
Applejack, being the most physically fit of the group, naturally took the lead in their flight back to the large entrance that lead into the foyer. The remains of two great wooden doors remained attached to the frame by rusting hinges and crumbling mortar. Each had a large, blackened semi-circular hole from where Twilight’s spell had blasted through. Chunks of charred wood littered the floor between hunks of hardened clay and bodies of dead guards.
A wheezing breath, like a pony blowing through a metal pipe, clattered between the sounds of heavy hoof steps upon the solid marble floors. The eight ponies and young dragon stiffened, ready to jump the heavily armoured guard coming down the hall and end him like his brethren. However, it was not a guard that joined them in the hall, but a pony... or rather, a golem that looked like a pony.
Governor Ironhead had looked better: his suit torn and dirty with blood and dust. A part of his left ear was missing and one of his back hooves had cracked, lending to a noticeable limp in his stride. “Well, you girls fared better than I,” he spoke in his typical emotionless monotone. “I must say, I am glad to see you alive, Miss Dinky, Miss Sweetie, and Miss Scootaloo.”
The three mentioned mares, however, did not look anywhere near pleased to see him. “What are you all doing? He’s with the queen! Get him!” Scootaloo cried. Yet, the others remained unmoved by her plight. “What the hay are you doing!? We have to end him NOW!”
“Your anger is justified,” he replied calmly. “Nonetheless, I apologize if I had made your lives a little harder than intended, but I was fulfilling my duty to be loyal to my creator. However, my loyalties now lie with Twilight Sparkle: the mare doing battle against herself. She is more like my creator than the queen has become and thus holds my allegiance. I understand your distrust, but from what I have gathered, she needs our assistance and we are wasting time.”
“I don’t care if you think you’re sorry, GOLEM,” Dinky spat. “I will never forgive you for what you have done. You arrested my MOTHER and she DIED because of you! I HATE YOU!!” She charged her horn with the most powerful spell she knew, ready to blow the animated pile of rock to smithereens now that she was given the chance.
“My weak point is my chest. If you are to destroy me, aim there to ensure that I cannot be repaired.”
“STOP BEING SO CALM ALL THE TIME, YOU ARTIFICIAL JACKASS!!”
“Dinky, calm down,” Scootaloo soothed, touching her gently where her back and neck met. “Save your anger for Eos. We can kill HIM later. Twilight needs us right NOW.” A loud crash and feminine cry rocked the entrance hall, the vibrations making the marble floor crack just enough to be noticeable. The young unicorn dispelled the magic gathered and grunted in acknowledgement of her friend.
Wasting no further time, the mares, dragon and golem all ran up the stairs leading into the throne room and over to the source of the noise when it became obvious that the doors would not budge. Having been to the castle before, they knew that wings on either side of the throne had windows into a small courtyard that they could smash and use to get into the room, but the point was moot after seeing a large hole blown in the passage, exposing it to the gardens a storey below.
Just shaking off an attack was the alicorn queen, covered in dusty rubble from the freshly-collapsed section of the castle. Standing across from her was another alicorn, looking at her with contempt. Eos’s crown and other vestments were destroyed in the blast that had torn the large hole into the castle, making it unclear as to which alicorn was the queen, and which their saviour. “Twilight!?” the former Cutie Mark Crusaders gasped at the second alicorn.
“Which one’s which?” Sweetie asked. “They both look the same to me.” Feeling a tug from one of the others, the curious unicorn was pulled back from the brink as the others jogged back into the entrance hall. Their way had been blocked, and they did not like the possibility of having to go past the queen to get to Twilight.
“The one that crashed into the castle was the queen,” Ironhead explained as he struggled to keep up on his cracked hind leg. “You can tell by their marks. Twilight’s remained the same while the queen has a sun and moon in place of the larger star.” The girls nodded in understanding as they exited the gardens, past the soldiers and militia ponies as they fled from the fight between the goddess and the alicorn.
Twilight and Eos rounded each other like predators fighting for dominance, their hooves not discriminating between grass or flaming shrubbery as they remained focused on their target. Both horns were alight with magic, one a warm and rosy red while the other was a cold sky-blue trimmed with shimmering gold. Taking pause, they both fired a spell simultaneously, causing an explosion where the conflicting magic met. Dirt flew into the air as the land was scorched.
“Well, well, well,” the alicorn with the mark of sun and moon spoke. “What have we here: your weak little friends and a traitorous golem for the picking? How foalish of you to expose yourselves so.” A wicked smile crept over her face, exposing her teeth as a murderous fire burned in her purple eyes.
“Leave them out of this, Eos!” Twilight growled fiercely. “This fight is between you and me! I swear to Celestia, if you drag them in...”
“NEVER speak that horse’s name in front of ME, whelp! I shall do what I please, for I am a goddess and queen of all that you see!” Before any pony could make a move, the tyrant’s horn flashed, teleporting the group to the side of the battlefield. A series of complicated runes burned into the ground, setting the grass aflame in a tight circle around them, trapping them between the hot tongues. Twilight could see from the design that it was a copy of the sealing spell she had used on the queen just a dozen or so minutes before.
“I see your plan now, Twilight. Though it was clever of you, it was foolish. I know how the Elements of Harmony work quite well, having once borne the Element of Magic.” That evil, calculating look remained affixed to her face, causing a shiver to run down Twilight’s spine. Could she look that scary when she was upset or angry? Another shudder ran down her spine at the very thought.
“No! What’s going on!? Help!” Fluttershy cried out as she was lifted from the circle and brought before the queen. Trixie collapsed to the ground, horn aglow as she muttered to herself, barely visible out of the corner of Twilight’s eye as they remained fixed on the Pegasus.
“It’s amazing how powerful, yet how fragile the elements are,” the queen cooed as she nuzzled the pony in her magical grip. Fluttershy looked as if she were about to pass out, cringing into as tight a ball as her spine would allow. “Get rid of one of the bearers, and without a ready replacement, they’re useless.” A surge of magic filled the gardens with a shrill, piercing scream that echoed through the entire castle for its volume and pitch.
“FLUTTERSHY!” Everypony but the queen and Trixie cried out as the Pegasus was wreathed in blue flames. She fell to the ground kicking and screaming, trying to roll and extinguish the magical flames as they burned her feathers and fur away. All the poor, gentle Pegasus could do was cry, roll and scream as every pony watched on with shock. Even Ironhead never expected the queen to use the slow-burning blue fire on any of her victims, making even his jaw drop just a little.
“LET HER GO!” Trixie screamed. A blast of magic erupted from her horn, shattering the barrier around her and the others. Eos turned around just in time to have the beam of white magic smack her in the face and send her flying back into the castle, screaming through the crumbling wall. The sudden flash snapped Twilight out of her stupor, causing her and the others to gallop over to Fluttershy’s aid.
With a flash of her horn, the blue fires abated, but the damage had already been done. The Pegasus lay upon the ground; weeping and still as even the presence of air made her burn in pain and shed more tears. Her once yellow coat was gone, replaced by the smouldering black and crispy skin underneath. If they had not seen it happen, they would not have recognized her as Fluttershy, for her mane had burned away as well. “Twilight... why...?” she spoke softly before her stiff legs collapsed, her teal eyes fading in warmth and becoming unfocused.
Tears welled up in Twilight’s eyes as she realized that Fluttershy was dead... that her other self had killed one of her best friends in cold blood like the monster she was! “AHHH! TWILIGHT!!” Another scream echoed in her ears, making her wrench her eyes from the burned corpse in front of her.
“How DARE you attack me, you little FOAL!?” Eos yelled back, holding Trixie aloft in her magic. Her front and back legs extended out as if she were lying flat on an invisible bed, but the panic that was held in those purple eyes told Twilight that she was not just being held in place. The occasional gasp or louder moan of pain would escape the blue unicorn’s mouth, each making the queen smile wider and wider.
“I never thought I would EVER hate a smile,” Pinkie whimpered behind her alicorn friend, still weeping for her loss. Twilight took a step forward, but Trixie screamed in pain, making her stop.
“If you want me to kill her faster, then by all MEANS come closer,” the queen jeered. “The same goes for any spell casting you might try.”
“TWILIGHT!” Trixie screamed through the pain. “She’s going to kill me anyway! Do it! Attack her! Make her bleed! KILL HER!!”
“Okay, that is ENOUGH from you, oh Great and Powerful Trixie.” With a grunt of powerful magic, another shrill scream filled the castle of Canterlot as the unicorn was quite gruesomely ripped in half just from the sheer force being exerted on her. The ground below became a large pool of spreading blood as the screams became fainter the further the two halves of her body were separated. Twilight could only watch in horror as her body parts were dropped unceremoniously onto the floor, a look of extreme pain still on the blue mare’s face.
Hot tears welled up in the alicorn’s face, anger that she had not felt in ages burning inside her as the spark of life finally faded from Trixie’s eyes. The ground shook and cracked at her hoofsteps, causing her friends to wisely back away. Never before in her life had she wanted to kill more than at that moment, not even when she thought that Celestia saw her as nothing but a tool to die for her own ends.
“You... killed... our... sister,” she fumed, voice cracking as tears spilled unabated. “YOU KILLED OUR LITTLE SISTER!!” Her mane and tail erupted into raging torrent of pure solar flare, her eyes burning with all the heat of the sun as she glared at the alicorn before her. Even the Eos inside her mind raged with her, indignant at the inexcusable actions of their counterpart. The grass around them flashed into ash from the extreme heat radiating from her body.
Without any warning, Twilight bounded forth at unprecedented speed, her hooves burning the grass where they landed. Eos had no time to react before she felt her reflection’s horn gore her in the chest again, burrowing deep into her stomach as the charging pony cried in rage. The queen grunted and went flying, streaming blood from her wound before crashing through one of the castle walls and onto a desk in an office.
“YOU MONSTER!” Twilight screamed as she slowly approached the reeling monarch. Eos pushed herself off the pile of junk and limped out of the hole in the wall, the painkillers for her leg having worn off. “I thought you had a chance at redemption! But do you know what you are, Eos? You are a MONSTER! An IRREDEEMABLE, CRUEL MONSTER! You are a DEMON in pony flesh and I’m sending you back to the Hells the HARD WAY!”
“Not if I kill you first!” Eos yelled back, charging her horn with a magical spell. However, before she could finish, she could feel the tingle of magic on her withers and was suddenly picked up, breaking her concentration. “Let me go, cretin!” The queen cried out as she was brought close, dangling over her head before being violently spun in place like a flail. Her vision blurred as the flaming mare twirled her around, making her yell in primal fear before being released.
She could only see the subtle play of colours upon the twilight sky as she flew through the air, mind still reeling from the sudden attacks and anger of her opponent . Maybe it was not such a good idea to kill her friends after all? Her thought was cut short by her back slamming through the shingled roof, splintering eaves in the attic before falling down into a bathtub with a groan.
As soon as she had let go of the tyrant, Twilight took to the skies for the first time since changing her shape. She missed her armour, since it had sloughed off when she blasted the queen out of the castle, but it was holding her back. Eos had her chance to end this all and cooperate, but she had spit in her face and now she had to deal with the consequences: namely, her head being mounted on a pike.
A trail of smoke from her burning mane and tail was left in her wake as she flew, her target smashing into the roof of the staff apartments with a royal thud. Twilight gave quick pursuit, slamming into her just seconds after she had fallen into the tub. Porcelain, wood and stone flew in their faces as the impact forced them both through the floor and down into a bedroom below.
The bed caught on fire beneath them, as did most of the wooden furniture in the room just from exposure to the heat of her raging flame. Eos growled and shoved her off with all the force she could muster, sending Twilight through the wall and into the hall. The stone floor began to melt as she picked herself up, the odd piece of furniture or picture combusting.
Fixtures in the ceiling that had not melted rattled as the ground shook, a pillar of dust rising as parts of the castle began to collapse around them. The ferocity of their battle was not helping to keep the rapidly aging structure sound as a piece of ceiling down the hall collapsed and fell onto a couch and potted plant. How long would it be before bigger structures, or even whole wings, began to collapse? The two alicorns stared at each other for only a second, but it felt more like an hour.
Twilight grabbed hold of Eos with her magic and ran down the hall, pulling her with her through stone, wood, anything that happened to be in the way, while her foe struggled to break free. “How could you do that!?” she shouted in anger as shattering ceramic and splashing water echoed across the room. “How could you have killed our sister and one of our best friends so easily!? Have you forgotten EVERYTHING about friendship!? Tell me, Eos! TELL ME!!”
With a mighty smash, she shoved the queen right through the floor and down another couple of stories into the basement. Twilight followed, mercilessly slamming her hooves into the heap of tangled limbs and wet lavender, making her cry out in muffled pain. The raging pony stepped off of her double, still burning in anger. “ANSWER ME,” she demanded of the goddess.
Eos pulled herself up on her front hooves, shards of ceramic embedded into her face that created streams of blood which dripped off of her wet muzzle. Her once regal and well groomed mane flapped in the ethereal breeze in tangles, the once orderly fading of day to night disorganized and frayed. Her wings were badly ruffled and her horn had a tiny hairline crack in it that made her head throb in pain. “They... betrayed me,” she panted when she finally got onto four hooves.
“HOW?” Twilight questioned. “How could they have POSSIBLY betrayed you?”
“They tried to rebel against me and ATTACKED ME!” she shouted in anger. Twilight had no time to recognize that her doppelganger had disappeared before she grabbed her shadow and started to attack it. She grunted and reeled from each strike, as if the queen were hitting her with her own hooves. Thinking through the pain, the rebellious alicorn called upon roots from the still living flora outside, making them wrap around and restrain the concentrating queen.
Eos opened her eyes and choked as one of the roots wrapped tightly around her neck, causing her to break concentration from her spell. “It’s because you’re a TYRANT!” Twilight shouted to the struggling monarch as more roots wrapped around her like a chrysalis. “You stole your powers, claimed the title of Queen, and made every pony suffer because you were too proud to accept any help!”
The roots caught on fire once the magic making them grow faded, but they had served their purpose. Eos looked at her with a mix of disbelief and anger, though not as much as her own. Even if she felt sorry now, Twilight did not care. So the queen made her care.
With her strong telekinesis, the older mare grabbed Twilight Sparkle and tossed her up into the air, taking wing right after her. However, as soon as she cleared the hole leading out, she was met by a wall of red magical fire that clung to her skin like a blanket. She cried out and rolled on the floor screaming into a group of ponies still fighting. “Your majesty!” cried out one of the guards as he felled a member of the militia.
Before he could be of any aid to the queen, Twilight burst through the ceiling between her and the Pegasus, landing on the floor forcefully, cracking it beneath her hooves. He cried out in fear at the sight of the second alicorn and bolted out of the window before he burst into flames, taking flight over the valley below. She paid him no mind, keeping her sights focused solely on the writhing tyrant in front of her.
But she had tired of her screams of pain, channeling magic into her horn once more. Queen Eos shivered as she felt her body become encased in a thick blanket of ice, unable to move or concentrate on magic though the bone-chilling cold that crept upon her soul. She tried to flex her muscles to break free of the thin layer of ice, but before she had the chance, her body was surrounded by the familiar glow of purplish-red magic. Ponyfeathers.
Eos landed upon the ground with a resounding smash, shattering the ice that clung to her. “Damn, that mare packs a punch,” she groaned as she struggled to get back onto her hooves. Somehow, she was being beaten, and not just because of her anger. A particularly annoying little voice in her mind nagged at her to stop fighting and accept her fate: that she was right and that they needed to die. Said voice was promptly vanquished, and not a moment too soon.
The queen cried out again as the irksome mare landed on her, shoving her face into the dirt from the force of the impact. She moaned into the ground as the question of how she got so powerful wafted back into her waking mind. However, she would not be afforded time to dwell on the thought as a pair of hooves grabbed her roughly so that she could see the raging face of Twilight.
Grunting with every strike, her eyes streamed hot tears as she remembered the looks on her friends’ faces as they died and how the mare under her hoof smiled. “WHO’S SMILING NOW!?” she screamed in rage as the queen’s face slowly became a bloody pulp. Sobs escaped Twilights’ muzzle as the force of her strikes lessened, sniffing and blinking until she felt her anger dissipate completely. Her mane and tail puffed, turning from raw plasma back into enchanted strands of hair.
Using the moment of weakness, the queen kicked her assailant off hard with her rear hooves, sending her flying into a once handsome bush. She breathed heavily, blood streaming out of her nose and mouth. One of her eyes was black and she sported several cuts and bruises all over her body. But the one thing that hurt more than anything else was her pride. Once an untouchable queen-goddess, she looked like a tattered shadow of her former glory.
She stood up as several cracks sounded from her joints, making her groan as waves of pain washed across her body. Eos shook her head to be rid of a buzzing noise in her ear, probably from when her face was being stamped into the dirt. Twilight had pushed herself up from the bush and was on her hooves too, unaware that the remaining Elements of Harmony were still watching the fight from a safe hiding place.
The two ponies began to circle around each other like Timberwolves fighting for dominance over the pack. Never once did they take their eyes off of the other, wholly focused on their opponent. Using some of her magic, Twilight recreated her blade of pure mana, expecting a close-range confrontation while their magic pools replenished. The queen followed in kind, summoning two instead to try and intimidate her opponent.
Is the reason she’s using two JUST to double her offensive capabilities? Twilight wondered as they continued to stalk one another. Then again, considering all the tactical mistakes she had made during their fight, she would not put it past the tyrannical alicorn to think that way about her fighting style. After all, until she had come around, the queen was the most powerful single creature in the world.
They charged, cutting into each other’s swords at the same time to create a rippling crack as raw magic clashed together, sending off sparks of mana from the raw force of impact. Eos growled and pushed back with all of her might, forcing her double back a step. She was not smiling anymore, her face in a tight grimace of concentration and spite as she fought tooth and hoof, now that she knew she could be hurt quite easily by Twilight.
Meanwhile, in the bushes on the side of the battlefield, the remaining Crusaders, Elements of Harmony, Spike and Ironhead watched as the two alicorns clashed. Quarters were cramped, and all of them were ready to flee at a moment’s notice. The occasional sniff or snob would echo from the once happy party pony,who continued to mourn over the death of one of her best friends. In fact, she did not even register one of her premonitory twitches occurring.
“Pinkie! Keep your tail out of my face,” Rarity bemoaned as her friends puffy tail kept smacking her muzzle. “It’s twitching all over the pla-” A look of horror suddenly flashed upon her features as she remembered what that meant. One never forgot what one of her weird twitches meant, especially if it were her tail. “We have to move. NOW!” The ground began to groan and rumble the instant she finished speaking, large gaping cracks cutting into the stone behind them.
Seeing the source of the drama, the other mares gasped and grabbed the distraught pink pony, dragging her out from behind the bushes and quickly past the line of sight of the two warring mares, who gave the crumbling structure no mind. A blast like cannon-fire echoed across the mountain as a shower of debris exploded from the base of the library tower, raining down upon the goddesses and other ponies. Shouts and cries of warning could be heard through the courtyards and gardens of the palace.
Glass shattered and stones fell from high above, the very ground at the base of the structure heaving as the foundations of the castle wing gave way. As it succumbed to gravity, a billowing cloud of ashy gray smoke erupted from the base. The basement under the wing collapsed under the intense strain, causing the tower to list to the side, toppling over towards a group of ponies struggling to get away.
The remaining elements screamed as they ran under the looming shade of death, the doomed tower casting its final shadow upon them. Ironhead limped behind the rest of the herd, his damaged leg beginning to chip and crumble away. By the time they were through, he was only half way across. There would not be enough time. He stopped his flight and twisted his head to see the instrument of his destruction. He sighed, then furrowed his brows in concentration. “...I believe the expression for this is... ‘Oh shit.’” And then he smiled defiantly until his fate ended him.
“You do realize that was the Library, don’t you?” Twilight jeered, having not seen the valiant golem fail to escape the destruction. Ponies of both sides took the large structural collapse as a cue to take their fighting somewhere else, if the now constant shaking of the ground was not hint enough.
“I don’t care! It can be rebuilt once your blood stains the ground!” the queen grunted in effort as she tried to push her back again. The other mare stood her ground, unmoving as the mountain to her opponent’s howling winds. Large, winding cracks began to spread in the ground and walls of the castle as sections collapsed into a heap. Eos snarled as she slowly began to realize that maybe things would not be quite so simple once the battle was over.
Flapping her ruffled, lavender wings, the queen took to the air with a sneer. “You may have toppled Canterlot, but you will never topple me!” she cried out. With great thrusts, she propelled herself further into the sky, gathering as much magic and power as she could from the stalled sun which waited on the horizon for her push like an obedient dog.
Twilight kicked off with all the force she could muster, cratering the ground beneath her and shot off like a bullet towards the queen. Cursing her lack of time to charge, the monarch fired her spell anyway: a torrent of pure solar corona that was like unto lightning, turning the air around it into plasma. The other alicorn rolled out of the way in mid flight to avoid the superheated beam as it cut into the ground below and down a swath of land as the queen moved her head to catch her in it.
Her opponent grunted and gave a mighty lurch with her wings, slamming head-first into the queen’s underside, eliciting a cry of pain as she struck her freshly healed wounds. A quick blast of magic sent her flying higher into the air, allowing her to dive bomb the inexperienced flier. The two of them collided with a mighty thud and remained entangled with each other during the long descent, hooves striking blows on various wounds and other weak points.
The two of them crashed right through a tower, causing it to crumble and collapsed behind them before Twilight managed to buck Eos off and stop her from plunging them into the river below. What would make this tyrant stop? No matter how hard she bucked or what spell she threw at her, the goddess would not receive anything more major than a moderate wound. It was beginning to wear her down, for under her dust-covered coat she was sweating and beginning to feel the strain of using so much magic at once.
A smirk made itself known across the queen’s battered and bloodied face as she surveyed her counterpart. Her increased breathing told her that she was being worn down slowly. She may have had an edge when her rage was controlling her, but she burned up a lot of magic and energy at the same time while she still had plenty left to spare before she even broke a sweat. “Feeling the burn already, Twilight Sparkle?” she taunted. “I have not had a workout like this in sometime, but I have just barely finished warming up. Then again, I DO have the power of TWO gods.”
Before she could come up with a witty reply, there sounded an almighty crash as the mountain itself groaned in despair. Eos’ jaw dropped at the sight, making Twilight think she was trying to fake her out, but the multitude of screams that sounded behind her caused her curiosity to get the better of her. She turned around to watch, flying more to the side of the queen in case of a sneak attack. What she saw made her jaw drop as well.
Large sections of the castle’s support structure crumbled away, sending dirt and stone flying into the air as large chunks dropped into the valley below. Streams of water shot out of large gashes in the castle’s side as towers and buildings collapsed onto each other. The very foundations of the castle crumbled and slid down the side of the mountain in a great rumbling growl akin to a snoring dragon. Birds and animals for miles around took flight as huge chunks of stone fell to the valley below, one after another.
Towers fell towards the mountain face as the base divorced itself from the side, deteriorating with every passing second as ponies screamed in terror and pain. However, it suddenly found itself wedged on an outcropping of rock and slid no further. The weight of the structures up top made it tilt forward towards the two alicorns, groaning and crumbling before it toppled over a ledge like a tower of toy blocks writ large. The air itself shuddered and shook as the remains of the castle crumbled into a heap of soiled alabaster in the valley below.
How many ponies had just died, or were now trapped in the twisted tangle of stone, wood and marble? What would it take to get Eos to stop!? Grabbing her in her telekinetic hold, Twilight cried out in anger and threw her with all the force she could muster into the side of the mountain where hundreds of ponies had congregated in their escape of the doomed castle.
The queen was winded as her chest slammed into the hard rock, vision swimming before her eyes as she hugged the boulder jammed into her gut. Before she could even register what happened, a sea of lavender filled her vision as a hoof bucked her in the face, sending her careening into the crowd below. Ponies gasped and dispersed as Eos pulled herself up once more, getting really irritated at being constantly tossed to the ground like so much trash.
But Twilight had other plans, jumping onto the still recovering alicorn and pinning her to the ground with a look of raw hatred on her features. With a wave of magic, her ethereal sword burst into existence, the blade placed right against her throat, drawing blood slightly, but no further. For the second time in her life, Twilight Sparkle stood perched upon a defeated monarch. “Do you yield, Eos?”
“Never!” she literally spat. “I am immortal, you stupid twit! So you have me pinned? I’ll just buck you off and we’ll be back to square one. The world will fall much like Canterlot itself before I meet my end, and there is nothing you can do about it, Twilight Sparkle!”
Every pony around them gasped as a string of white magic touched the alicorn’s head. A look of wild fear coming into the queen’s eyes as the familiar sensation of the spell washed over her. “No!” she cried out before realizing that it was not her counterpart casting the spell. “... But who...?” The queen rolled her eyes into her sockets, looking behind to see a purplish-grey unicorn with her horn encased in the warm glow of white magic.
“Dinky!” Twilight cried. “What are you doing!? Stop it!”
“Sorry, Twilight,” she shook her head. “It... It needs to be done.”
“You can’t!” Sweetie Belle cried, forcing her way through the crowd with the help of Scootaloo. “If you do that... if you go through with it, you’ll...”
“It has to be me,” she smiled, “since I am the only one with nothing to lose. Sweetie, you have your sister to think about, and Scootaloo has her own family. There’s nopony left for me.”
“But you have us: your friends!” the orange Pegasus pleaded. “If you don’t have a family, we can be your family! Just please, don’t leave us!”
“No other pony knows the spell except Twilight and nopony else I can teach it to can be trusted. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. What better than to give it to somepony who doesn’t want anything to do with any of that? Besides... it’s not goodbye. I’ll see you girls every day at every sunrise and sunset.” Tears started cresting upon her eyes as the light spread over her body. “I love you all.”
Eos gasped in horror as the light overtook her shortly after, crying out in faint hope that someone would deliver her from her fate. Twilight stood above her and looked her in the eye, even as her illuminated silhouette began to shrink and lose its wings. She breathed a sigh of relief that the nightmare was finally going to be over... unless the young unicorn had an ulterior motive in mind. What did she mean about seeing her friends at sunset and sunrise?
Looking up from the felled queen, the lavender alicorn gasped with the rest of the crowd at the emerging alicorn. Her figure shot up into the air, horn lengthening and wings spreading under the white energy of the spell. The beam between her and the old queen thinned before snapping from existence, the white of the spell fading to reveal the newly minted goddess.
Her grey coat sparkled in the late evening sun, mane and tail flowing in the solar breeze; streaks of black night mixed with yellow sun, creating an aurora of colours in between. Silver shoes gleamed like gentle starlight while her silver crown shined like the sun, dazzling the ponies with their beauty and raw clout. “From this evening forward,” she spoke, her voice as calm as a mother’s tones but strong as thunder, “the sun and moon shall move of their own accord.”
“Please... Dinky...” Twilight tried one last time.
“Good luck to you, Twilight.” Her horn blazed in power, her body surrounded by golden light spreading outward. The energy whirled, hinting at the power behind it as her form vanished, transforming into a ball of energy. In a breath’s time, it shot up into the sky, leaving a trail of yellow plasma. Once it got far enough into the air, it exploded like a Sonic Rainboom, radiating out and over the canopy of the skies, leaving the atmosphere sparkling in its wake as the new mistress of the heavens took the eternal throne.
Soft sobs echoed in Twilight’s ears, reminding her that there was still a necessary task at hoof, and ponies that needed to be avenged for a decade’s worth of brutal rule. The once regal Queen Eos laid low as a second Twilight Sparkle, her eyes glistening as tears rolled down her cheeks. They widened the instant she realized that her shadow was looking back and recoiled slightly at her gaze.
Ponies took a step forward, her remaining friends at the forefront as they kept their distance, most surprised, to say the least, by this turn of events. “Wait... so there are TWO Twilight Sparkles... and one of them was the queen!?” one of them shouted, setting the crowd off into a murmur. Twilight was afraid something like this would happen, but thankfully her friends stepped in for her.
“Yeah, but so what?” Applejack shouted over the din. “At least we know the pony that LOOKS like Eos is the one that’s gonna kill her once and for all!”
“Kill the queen! Kill the queen! Kill the queen!” the crowd chanted repeatedly as they eyed the alicorn standing over the defeated monarch. Eos cringed slightly as the blade of Twilight’s magical sword was brought back to her throat, ready to behead her as promised.
“What are you waiting for?” the former ruler of Equestria choked. “Kill me! R-release me from the pain of guilt, so that I may go to the Hells. I... It’s the best that I can hope for.” Was that... remorse? Did she really feel sorry for everything that she had done, or was she simply saying it to make herself feel better about dying? Nonetheless, before the final curtain, before the last verse had been sung, Twilight needed to know one thing.
“I have one thing to ask before I kill you, Queen Eos: why did you kill Celestia and Luna?”
Tears stopped flowing from her eyes, a look of burning anger, though restrained, flaring up inside. She bared her teeth, as if she had just heard the worst insult ever. “You want to know why I killed them?” she hissed. “I killed them because they planned to USE me! Celestia made me to DIE for Luna’s sake! BUT, she changed her stupid plan and then, more or less, DUMPED ME because I had outlived my USEFULNESS! So I took her HEAD!”
“Why did you take her head, instead of sending her to eternal torment on the sun like we planned!?” Twilight stamped her hoof into the ground next to her ear.
“That... that...” Tears welled up in Eos’ eyes once more though her acidic gaze. “That bitch said she LOVED ME!! SHE LIED TO MY FACE, EVEN IN HER FINAL MOMENTS!!” Twilight had to lean her head back in order to not be deafened by her crying roar of primal fury. But through the ringing in her ears, her mind went to work, putting the pieces together. Celestia said she loved her in her final moments? But when... Her mind flashed back to that horrible day.
"Twilight," the former princess spoke in barely more than a whisper. Her voice was much higher then she remembered. "No, don't do this. I.."
"My name," Twilight replied, her voice booming and commanding to all who should hear it. "Is Eos now. 'Her Royal Highness, Princess Eos of Equestria, Regent of the Sun.' Do not forget that, CELESTIA."
"Don't kill me, Twi- I mean, Eos. I know I did some horrible things, but PLEASE, don't destroy the pony that I've grown to respect so much!"
"Oh, I'm not going to kill you," Eos replied. "I'm simply going to banish you to what you have misused for so long. Enjoy an ETERNITY on the sun!" Her royal horn dazzled in light as she finished her sentence, quickly wrapping the bleeding mare under her in a blanket of light.
"No! Twilight! Don't! I love..." However, before Celestia could utter that last word, she vanished from the face of Equestria. Eos cackled in triumph as she kicked at the pooled blood under her hoof.
It was in that moment that an epiphany washed over her mind: the only thing separating her from the Twilight upon the ground was A SINGLE WORD.
She felt as if a bucket of cold water had been dumped upon her back. Oh, my stars! If... If Celestia had finished that ‘I love you’... I would have been FURIOUS. I would have turned into HER! Her eyes once again found the other Twilight crying as the sword of mana pressed into her throat. Bitter tears ran down Twilight’s cheeks as she saw nopony in those puffy, purple eyes but herself. Against her better judgement, she stepped off of the battered pony, to the shock of the crowd.
“What are you doing, Twilight!? KILL HER!” Rarity cried. “She’s EVIL! Remember how she killed Fluttershy and Trixie? She probably did just as bad, if not WORSE to Derpy, Zecora, and a whole HOST of others!” The mob shouted in agreement, angered cries of revenge sounding against the mountain.
“NO, SHE ISN’T!” The crowd gasped and took a step back. “Eos isn’t evil! Not... Not on her own, at least. I once let my anger and pain get the better of me. I... I said I had learned from my mistakes, but I obviously have not. Instead of accepting what I had done and taking it in stride, I... let somepony else take the blame because I was more comfortable dealing with it by saying that it was someone else’s mistake the whole time: that I could never do something like that unless there was something ELSE that was evil and controlling me.
“But that is NOT true. I was in control: I let myself fall prey to murderous rage, because I could not handle the pain. All Queen Eos... and I... are guilty of is not LEARNING from our mistakes. We’ve done some pretty horrible things, I will admit... and she does feel genuine remorse: enough to offer her life to me for her sins. But does she deserve to die? Death doesn’t solve anything. Sure, I could kill her, but what would that do?”
The question hung in the air for some time, letting the ponies mull on the implications of what they were asking her to do. “KILL HER!!” somepony shouted, re-igniting the chorus screaming for her death. Twilight’s heart fell out of her stomach when she saw all of her friends baying for her blood to be spilled. Slowly, the crowd began to draw closer to the pair, the de-powered Eos clutching in fright to one of her hind legs, sobbing.
“If you want to kill her, you will have to kill me too!” Twilight called out, forming her swords of magic. The ponies stopped dead in their tracks, giving her a calculating look as if boring into her soul. And then, they did something quite unexpected: they clapped! Hooves pounded the dirt as they cheered, hats and helmets alike being thrown into the air in celebration.
“What the Hells is going o-” However, before she could finish her thought, her voice caught in her throat. That sensation of cold swept across her entire body, squeezing the air out of her lungs and making her head spin. She fell to the floor, her legs becoming transparent. She wanted to scream; to cry out in aid to the cheering ponies around her, but none came to her aid. The last thing she knew was her face rushing up to meet the ground.
“Do you have any threes?” a familiar voice spoke in the cold, crushing darkness.
“Go fish,” an unfamiliar, masculine one replied.
Twilight felt as if she were in a vacuum where the temperature did not stray much above negative one. No matter how much she shivered and quaked, heat refused to be generated by her body. The pressure was overwhelming at first, but beginning to taper off the more she focused on it. Unlike last time she had felt this way, she felt... whole... complete even. She could even smell something similar to moss and moisture. There was no real way to describe the other sensation she felt until the pressure relented, allowing her to take a deep, gasping breath.
Her eyes opened, darkness blurring together with light to create a sick mixture of the two that made her head swim even more. A moan escaped her lips as she struggled to move, managing to raise her front and drag herself up a slight slope before giving in to gravity. A dull thud filled the room as her body impacted the smooth stone, joined by the first voice. “It would seem that she has awakened. This will have to be our last round, Night Ranger.”
“It’s just as well, your majesty. You owe me fifty bits.”
“Oh, hush,” the feminine voice replied. Twilight squinted and blinked her eyes. With each time, the out of focus images came back sharper and brighter than the one previous. The blurs on the opposite side of the room twisted and changed to become Princess Luna and some unknown Pegasus stallion in a black and purple flight suit. “It is about time you woke, Twilight Sparkle. I was becoming quite bored.”
A million questions raced in her skull, each more urgent and important than the last. Her majesty’s teal eyes looked at her with a mixture of irritation and relief as she sat at a magically conjured table on a chair made of shadows and smoke. The most pressing question, she decided, could be answered with her own eyes. She took a breath and twisted her neck to look at her back: there was nothing there. Nothing that is, except for the Pool of Midnight, gently swirling in its ethereal, silvery glow.
With that mystery solved, the next one barged its way into her waking mind. “What happened!?” She pushed herself onto her hooves and swayed weakly, struggling to maintain her balance.
“I told you not to touch that pool, and what was the FIRST thing you do? Really, Twilight, I thought you had more restraint than that.”
“But! But I was in a world set ten years after I attacked you and Celestia! I... in that world, I had killed you and taken over the nation! My friends betrayed me and did horrible, HORRIBLE things to me!” She could not stop the tears coming forward from her eyes as it all came out: all the pain and suffering she had endured. It all returned to her like a runaway train had smashed into her.
“Relax. Breathe, Twilight. It’s okay. It was all just inside of your head, like a dream, or a really bad nightmare,” Luna soothed. “But it is over now and we may resume the work we set out to complete last night.”
“Wait... you’re telling me that... that it was a DREAM!?” the purple mare shouted, uncaring that her heated words were towards a living goddess. “Do you know what I went through!? I had my friends BETRAY ME! They HURT me! Made me BLEED! Hells, one of them even had me TORTURED MERCILESSLY FOR DAYS ON END!! Yet you have the NERVE to tell me that it was all a DREAM? That none of it MATTERS!? GO FUCK YOURSELF, LUNA!!”
The princess of the moon felt her jaw drop in shock at what had just occurred. Of all the things she had heard of Twilight Sparkle, the one she never expected was to hear her actually swear at a pony. However, instead of getting mad, her millennia of experience tempered her response as she stole a glance at the unicorn’s head, leading to a curt smile that graced her royal lips. “I never said it was a dream, Twilight Sparkle. I said it was all in your head. Your body was submerged in the pool and never left. Your MIND, however, was given purchase elsewhere.”
“What do you mean?” the mare replied in a more even tone.
“I am saying that it DID matter, but the best way to deal with it is to think of it as a dream. Celestia too has gone into the pool, and had an experience like yours. To her, it was quite real. I trust her judgment.”
“So... what happened exactly? Was I shown a different timeline? Maybe, perhaps, I experienced an alternate reality?” Although her pain still throbbed, her academic mind wheeled into action, subconsciously cataloguing the experience for future use.
“That, I cannot say,” Luna spoke in a whisper as the stallion, table, and chairs all vanished in a wisp of darkness. “I did not make the pool, so I have no clue how it works. I am simply its guardian and keeper. At best, I can conjecture that you MIGHT have been shown a reality dependent upon your actions, but I KNOW that what happened in that pool was real. Look upon your head for the reason.”
Now that she mentioned it, Twilight did feel a slight weight upon her head. Using her magic, she pulled the object off, which was sitting just behind her horn. “Hmm. Your magic has changed colour and feeling. That is a little unusual,” the midnight alicorn commented. The librarian did not really hear her, since she was stunned into focus. A large crown had sat atop her head, gleaming in gold and onyx despite the low levels of sunlight seeping in through the crack in the ceiling. It was her crown: Queen Eos’ crown.
“Ahhh!” Twilight screamed as she flung the offensive object against the wall, making it clatter loudly against the solid stone. Yet, it did not break despite how hard she had thrown it. Tears of confusion slipped down her face, and she curled up into a ball on the cold stone floor, her body rocking with sobs, as her mind struggled to process what she had just been through.
“Shhh,” Luna whispered, grabbing her with her hooves in a gentle hug. “It is over, Twilight. Be at peace. If you must speak your feelings, do so to Celestia when we return to Canterlot. She would understand what has happened to you far better than I. For now, I ask you be strong, since I cannot move the pool without you. Can you be strong for me?”
Twilight nodded her head despite her streaming tears, forcing them down so they could be properly released. Luna was right; they had come here to do a job. She just had to hang on a little while longer, and soon they could be free of the traumatic experience. An indigo blue glow of magic surrounded the abandoned crown, sending it off to parts unknown in what she imagined to be a gesture of good faith. The unicorn nodded her head and stood, ready to finish the job they had started.
Clicking hooves upon hard marble echoed through the cavernous halls and passages of Canterlot. Twilight looked around nervously, as if expecting the majestic castle to collapse at any moment and plunge her back into that world of darkness. A sniff would accompany the sound of her steps sometimes as she fought to keep her composure on her way to the royal apartments. It was a struggle to hold everything back, and she could tell some of the guards who knew her felt something was wrong, but once she could, it would feel all the better.
Finally, the grand doors of Celestia’s bedchamber became visible. Golden decorations adorned the alabaster doors, wrapping them in a delicate embrace that featured the likeliness of the sun and other celestial bodies upon them. She did not care much for formalities as she trotted up to the guards, giving them no more than a nod, for fear of sobbing if she were to open her mouth.
Her distress must have been obvious, since neither guard asked her to state her business with the solar monarch. Instead, they nodded their heads in kind and took a step to the side. Twilight gave her usual knock before twisting the handles in her new aura, not waiting on a reply before casting the doors open. She trotted inside as properly as possible before shutting the door quickly, feeling the burning of tears on the corners of her eyes.
The fresh, familiar scent of morning dew upon blades of lush grass wafted over her muzzle as she drank in her mentor’s room; not a hair of it had changed since the last time she had been inside, except for the atmosphere of fear and regret. Large royal red curtains were pulled aside, letting the afternoon sun shine in with all of its brilliance and power. The hearth of the fireplace was empty and so were the pillows in front of it.
“Just a second,” called out a melodious voice from deeper inside the apartment. “Please, make yourself comfortable.” The gentle patter of water registered in the unicorn’s ears, making her blush as she realized that she had interrupted her mentor’s afternoon shower before she would attend court. She could not bring herself to sit on those velvet cushions that exuded her scent, for she was dirty with failure and wanting of worth.
She stood there for what seemed like ages, trying to hold back the raging torrent of swirling emotions despite being alone with one of the two mares she could trust with anything. What would it say of her if Celestia came out and saw her weeping on the floor? Twilight bit her lips at the idea of bringing her disappointment, but took deep breaths to calm herself down for fear of flying off the handle once more.
“Oh, it is you, Twilight,” the princess of the sun spoke as she poked her head out of the door to her bedroom. She held a towel aloft in her golden aura, rubbing down her mane and giving her ears a good cleaning. The white cloth looked gray next to her sparkling snow-white coat. At first, it struck the unicorn that she was seeing her mentor naked, her vestments glimmering on stands in her bedroom, but she did not care.
Twilight bolted toward her, the tears having finally crested in her eyes. “Mommy!” she cried out, losing all notion of composure. She ran head-first into the alicorn’s chest, making her grunt as the wind was knocked from her lungs. The purple filly openly sobbed as she buried her muzzle into her coat.
Celestia was surprised, to say the least, but immediately bowed her head and rested it upon the unicorn’s back, gently rubbing her with her chin to soothe her heaving frame. “It’s okay, Twilight,” she crooned. Her daughter cried a little harder at the sound of her voice, making her heart ache in sympathy. The pair stayed like that for minutes, simply embracing each other and inhaling their respective scents of lavender and morning dew.
Eventually, the tears stopped flowing and the unicorn’s sobs faded into gentle sniffles against the pearly white pony. Sensing that her crying fit had come to an end, the alicorn reluctantly broke off their hug and looked into her filly’s tear-stained eyes. She led the small pony to lie with her on her bed. “Please, tell me what is wrong, my little pony,” the solar mare spoke as the unicorn shifted beside her to get comfortable.
Seeing her smiling face and genuine concern sparkling in her eyes, Twilight quickly opened up, recounting every detail of her trip with Princess Luna and her misadventure within the Pool of Midnight itself. Tears would escape every once in a while and her voice would break on occasion. But each time, she would be met by her mother’s gentle nuzzle, urging her to continue.
“And so I defended her, even after all the wrong she caused and ponies she hurt. Then, they all started clapping and... and I woke up beside Luna,” she concluded her tale with another sniff. During her recounting, she had failed to notice just how close they had become. In the beginning, they were on either side of the bed, but now she was pressed into the princess’s soft wing, leaning against it for support.
“My, my, it sounds like you had quite the harrowing adventure, Twilight! I am so proud of you; not once did you intentionally murder a pony, despite all of the darkness and voices telling you that you could. Even Genesis said so, but you retained your values. Already, you have proven yourself the better mare of the two of us. I cannot describe my joy!” Craning her neck around, the alicorn gave her another affectionate nuzzle to the cheek.
“How can you be proud of me? I... I didn’t learn from my mistakes. I did not learn the most important lesson from that day. I... I failed you, Celestia. I failed you again! Not to mention how I am wasting your valuable time with my petty problems. You should be in court. Heck, you should be setting the sun by now, not listening to me reveal how badly I disappointed you!”
“Twilight Sparkle,” she spoke firmly, making said unicorn shiver a little. “You and Luna are the two most important ponies to me and I would GLADLY stop everything to help you. Court can wait, and Luna can handle both the sun and moon. Right now, you NEED me and you will NOT leave my side until I am sure that you are feeling better. You did not fail me. In fact, you proved just how grown up you are by ADMITTING your mistake: that you had not learned from a previous mistake.”
“No buts, young lady. Remember how I told you that I was not always the kind mare that I am now? That was because I too failed to learn from my past. It took me a trip to the pool to discover for myself how cruel and heartless I had been to my subjects. I would recount the tale for you, but it is, I daresay, more lengthy than yours. It will have to wait for another day. However, maybe you can tell me the story behind this...” Celestia trailed off, using her magic to pull the gold and onyx head decoration off of the top of her wardrobe. The purple pony gasped as it was laid in front of her
“I thought Luna teleported it away after I threw it! I guess it came here, or she sent it to you on purpose. That was Queen Eos’s crown, but I have no idea why the pool gave it to me: I’m no princess. I’m not even a pony! I don’t deserve it, or the responsibility that it represents. You can have it, Princess, maybe even as a relic to remember me by when I pass on.”
“Sometimes the pool bestows gifts to ponies who might need a reminder of the lessons they learned. Twilight, my blood runs through your veins. You ARE royalty, regardless of legal status. Golem or not, you deserve this crown. I know you are too humble to admit it, but you are a leader and not by my design either. Think about it: Element of Magic, All-team Coordinator for Ponyville’s Winter Wrap-up. Those are positions of leadership and trust. I would happily march downstairs this moment and proclaim to the nation that you are my daughter, and that I am so VERY proud to have you in my life.”
“Please, no!” Twilight pleaded, looking into the princess’ eyes as if she were to burst into tears. “I... I don’t...”
“You have not told them yet,” she correctly guessed. The lavender unicorn nodded in affirmation. “I think I understand why: you don’t want ponies to treat you differently. I will respect your wishes, Twilight, but know that, no matter what, your friends will always treat you the same. They love you for who YOU are, not WHAT you are. Luna and I can never claim to have friends like that, since we have always had the crown on our heads.”
The sun had set behind them, casting the room in darkness before the candles and fairy lights ignited on their own. Twilight and Celestia said nothing, simply lying together contently in a silence that stretched on for a long time. It only then became apparent to the unicorn just how tired she truly was: the months of mental activity spent in the other world had taken their toll. “Would you care to sleep here?” the regent of the sun offered.
“I would love to,” the unicorn replied without a second thought. They shuffled in the bed as the covers were pulled away and settled their heads on the large pillows, plenty of room for the two of them. Once Twilight was comfortable, Celestia nestled down around her, pulling the covers over their bodies to stave off the chill of the night. The lights were then blown out, plunging the room into darkness.
“Good night, sweetie,” the princess said softly, as she gently kissed the back of her head.
“Good night, Mom.” Twilight closed her eyes and felt a squirm of movement from under the covers. Something soft draped over her side from under the blankets, causing her to wonder what it was before she felt the tickle of a feather on her thigh. Princess Celestia fanned out a wing over the unicorn protectively, possibly out of instinct as she had already fallen asleep, but maybe as a deliberate act. Either way, she snuggled in a little closer to the alicorn, having not felt so safe or so warm in a very long time.
The wisps of sleep took hold of Twilight, blessing her with wonderful, happy dreams now that she was free of the nightmare. Other adventures would have to wait.