Chapter 3 - Execution
The sound of a crow woke Twilight up. Honestly, if it weren't for the fact that she hadn't really slept (more rather laid on her straw-sack bed with her eyes shut hoping she'd actually get some sleep), she would have missed it. There was a dull, cloud-filtered light coming through the window, only making her feel colder.
"Hey, murderer." A brutish guard growled through the door. "You've got visitors."
Twilight was then ushured to a stone-lined booth with a pane of glass bisecting it, a series of little holes around mouth level. She was sat on a comfortable (comparatively) seat, and had to wait for five minutes before the door on the other side opened, five ponies entering; a prison warden, looking sternly at Twilight; Rainbow Dash, her face twisting in a mixture of emotions; Applejack, who looked surprisingly normal; Rarity, her eyes puffy and red; and Pinkie Pie, flat-maned and unhappy.
"Girls!" Twilight shouted as happily as she could muster; her voice reverberated in her section of the chamber. "You came to visit!"
"Shoot, Twi, of course we did." Applejack replied. Her voice sounded tinny coming from the little holes in the pane, but she could tell she was genuinely there for her. She hoped.
"So, you've heard, then..." Twilight continued hopelessly.
"Yeah." Dash abruptly blurted. She looked as if she wanted to say something more, but her face scowled as she looked away.
"Darling!" Rarity cried, her voice a little cracked. "You look like a mess!"
Twilight moved her focus to the reflection in the glass; Rarity was right, she did look like a mess. Her mane and fur was matted, she had bags under her eyes and red etching the sides of her eyes. "Yeah... I noticed."
"I'd have given you the cake I made, but they don't allow food from outside..." Pinkie muttered. "That, and it went ding in that doorway."
"What in tarnation did you put in that cake?!" Applejack asked, confused.
"A whole lot of spoons." She said matter-of-factly. Catching the stares (and glares) of the others around her, she added "I kept dropping them in while making it."
"Where's Fluttershy?" Twilight asked, a little heartbroken that her butter-coloured friend didn't appear to be there.
Rarity sighed. "She's scared of prisons." After a moment, "plus she's been in her cottage crying ever since you were taken from us."
Twilight looked down, sadly. "I see. Well, tell her I say hi."
Dash scoffed. "You sound like you're not gonna be killed."
Pinkie brightened up a little. "Oooh! I've got a brilliant idea!" She ducked down, only for the sound of electricity to fill the chambers. She stood up, smiling sheepishly. "I forgot about the anti-magic barriers."
"Pinkie..." Rarity said, noticing the harsh glare of the guard on her bubblegum-coated companion.
"So... what do you think?" Twilight asked, dreading the possible responses.
"About what, darling?" Rarity politely asked.
"About whether or not I did it."
"You ain't guilty of nothin', Ah reckon." Applejack said. "Sounds awful fishy t'me, this whole thing."
"You're one of my bestest best friends, Twilight!" Pinkie chirped. "I know you'd never do something so mean to somepony!"
Rarity sniffed. "I agree. I can't simply imagine you doing something that... vulgar."
Dash remained silent. Everyone looked at her, and she growled. "Man... I wanna kick somepony in the head... I just don't know who.
I wanna hit Twilight for getting into this mess, but I also wanna get the jerk who did this to her..." She gripped her head in frustration. "I am not a clever pony."
Twilight smiled. "Well, when I get out of this, I guess..."
"Pinkie here's been doin' some snoopin' and askin' around." Applejack added, surprisingly confident. "Turns out the evidence was faked."
Twilight just blinked. "So I didn't do it?"
"No, of course not!" Pinkie replied. "But somepony with really good magic did."
"But it's too late to stop alla this." Applejack continued, her confidence wavering. "Luna said so."
"Celestia just winked at me..." Rarity muttered. "I wonder what that could mean?"
Twilight smiled, tears forming in her eyes. "It means there's still hope."
She had talked about everything from Spike (who was busy cleaning up and doing jobs for other ponies) to birthdays to how the town was without her. Turns out that nearly everyone was in the same basket as her friends; they knew Twilight wasn't guilty. The infamous brown stallion with the hourglass cutie mark sounded absolutely sure of it, too. Must be a Trottingham thing.
Now she sat alone in her cell, again. It was an hour until she'd be executed. For some reason, she felt... resigned. She knew it was going to happen, she couldn't stop it, she could only let things pass. Despite her fatalism, the sound of golden-booted hooves trotting down the hallway filled her heart with a warmth she hadn't felt in ages... until she remembered the face that went with the pony.
The door slid open and Greylance let Princess Celestia into her cell. She easily took up a quarter of it, her magestic form radiating the warmth of the morning sun Twilight had recently begun to miss. "Princess Celestia!"
Celestia nodded to the door, and it slid shut. She turned to Twilight, then smiled. "You're not guilty."
"I know... I've had everyone say that except the ones who are going to be executing me."
"That's because it's true." She trotted closer, looking down with a motherly smile. "So I'm going to help you."
Twilight felt that warmth again. "How?"
"When you're up there, you'll be wearing an arcane limiter. It means you won't be able to do any magic when up there." She pointed to the right side of her neck. "This is where the crystal is. Hit your hoof there and it'll shatter."
Celestia closed her eyes. "Then look into my eyes. Keep looking. I'll tell you what to do next."
Twilight blinked. "But, Princess..."
"I know I have a lot to explain, but don't worry. When you're free, I'll find you and I'll tell you everything."
Twilight suddenly grabbed Celestia in a tight hug. "Thank you, Princess."
"Have faith, Twilight."
This was it.
Twilight was led up onto the wooden, raised platform in the centre of the courtyard. The pegasi had schedualed some rain in Canterlot that day, and the first drops of water were already hitting her muzzle. Greylance was one of the guards leading her up; the fact that he would be this close was heartbreaking.
She scratched, or tried to, at the flesh under the ring of cold iron around her neck. The thing was uncomfortable and tight. Not chokingly so, but it was irritating. She glanced down at a puddle of pooled water; she looked worse than yesterday. The rain started to increase, the water soaked into her mane and coat and crawled under the anti-magic device around her neck.
Luna, as expected, gave a little speech about how murder was bad and that those responsible would be punished in kind. Twilight still wondered why Luna, the introverted monarch she met at Nightmare Night, was so... enthusiastic about this. Perhaps her sense of law and order overwrote her compassion for ponies. Maybe she wanted to seek approval from the ponies of Equestia by removing a source of terror. Who knows.
As she was speaking, she felt a rope being placed around her throat, under the anti-magic device. Twilight recollected the fact that hangings hadn't been used in around 800 years. The most recent execution was by a volley of magic arrows, and that had reportedly been a pain to clean up. Then it hit her; she was going to die, and all she could think about was facts she read in a book. She wasn't sure she was humored or disturbed by that, but it certainly felt weird.
Celestia was seated next to Luna, her pale pink form much larger but equally magestic as her younger sister's. She was looking at Twilight, and she winked. That alone was enough for her to feel slightly better. Slightly.
Luna raised her hoof. "On my signal, drop her down." She looked at her sister, who nodded solemnly. She threw her hoof down. "Now."
Something clicked below Twilight and she felt herself falling, jerked to a stop by the rope. The noose constricted around her neck, nearly crushing her windpipe. Aside from utter panic, she felt relieved and a little unimpressed. If they did it right, they'd have snapped my neck from the force.
Flailing, she almost forgot to swing her hoof at something. She slammed the right side of the anti-magic device, and she heard a little crystal shatter inside. She then looked at Celestia, struggling to get air in or out of her throat.
"Listen to me, Twilight." Celestia's voice echoed in her mind. "I want you to teleport out of here. Not Canterlot or Ponyville. You'll be found too easily. Imagine a safe place you can go."
Like thinking was even possible with her head swimming and lungs burning. She thought of all the places she felt safe. The library? No. The Canterlot library? Of course not. Fluttershy's? Maybe, but even so. The library? No- wait, didn't I already think that? The rope was clouding her mind, and her eyes rolled up.
She began focusing on the next best thing: teleporting out of there. She fought between keeping alive, which became increasingly harder, and getting magic to her horn. She felt like fire was building up in her throat, and her limbs involuntarily swung around aimlessly.
"She's using magic!" the guard who was not Greylance shouted. Or maybe it was Greylance. Or was it Luna?
"Stop her!" Luna bellowed. Only Luna could be that loud.
Twilight closed her eyes, spending what little energy she had left on her magic. She could hear hoofsteps above her. Somepony shouted her name. The hiss of steel on leather. The rope relaxing. Her falling. And the sickening jolt of her being magically transported from where she was to somewhere else... but no idea where.