96w, 19mWriting Gold
61w, 9hThe GREAT and POWERFUL TRIXIE
88w, 5dDoubled Fun
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41w, 4d>that feel when... 19 comments · 664 views
51w, 16hRumors Of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated 13 comments · 544 views
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58w, 4dThe New One-Shot... 17 comments · 154 views
59w, 5dGood Stories You Are Probably Missing 12 comments · 121 views
78w, 4dAuthor's Notes And Stuff And Junk For The Moonstone Cup 10 comments · 253 views
84w, 4dSo, Kathleen Barr Voiced Chrysalis After All... 1 comments · 111 views
85w, 1dWhen in the Course of Pony Events... 7 comments · 107 views
86w, 21h>mfw 9 comments · 118 views
87w, 5dThe Great and Powerful Trixie's Secrets Revealed! 3 comments · 133 views
The award ceremony was just as formal an affair as the opening ceremony had been. A string quartet played what Twilight recognized as a Lapwing piece, the Stalliongrad-born pegasus composer being a favorite of Princess Celestia's. Unicorn waiters in suit and tie roamed the floor, taking drink orders and offering a choice of meals.
"No hay fries?" Rainbow Dash asked, in a pained voice.
The waiter's tone remained impressively even as he repeated himself for the third time. "No ma'am, the choices for this evening are gobi masala and hong shao qiezi."
Leaning over the table, Rainbow narrowed her eyes. "I don't know what those are," she said slowly, in a tone that suggested that what she really wanted to say was, "I challenge you to a race around the world."
Twilight sighed and gestured at the waiter. "Pardon my friend. She'll have the gobi masala."
"Very good, ma'am."
"Hey, wait-" Rainbow began, but the waiter seemed entirely ready to move on. She groaned and leaned over to Twilight as the waiter finally collected the rest of the group's orders. "So what did you order me?" she asked suspiciously.
With a giggle, Twilight leaned over and replied. "It's cauliflower in a tasty sauce. You'll like it."
"Oh!" Rainbow sat back, smiling in relief. "Okay, yeah, I like cauliflower. Why didn't he just say so?"
"Well," Twilight said, keeping her voice low as the waiter finished taking orders and walked off to the next table. "They're both pretty well known dishes, so it really just comes down to whether you're in the mood for Marwari food or Qilinese-"
Shaking her head and gesturing broadly with her forehooves, Rainbow cut Twilight off. "Wait, hold on. I eat Qilinese takeout all the time and I've never heard of either of those."
"That, Rainbow Dash," Rarity said off-hoofedly as she watched the string quartet, "is because there is no good Qilinese food to be found in Ponyville. Or Cloudsdale either, I would imagine." She turned and looked at Rainbow Dash mildly. "Let me guess, almond-fried turnip and chop suey?"
"Heck yeah!" Rainbow replied enthusiastically. "Oh, and fried dumplings."
Rarity rolled her eyes and gestured dramatically with her left forehoof. "Counsel rests."
Applejack chuckled. "Shoot, Rainbow, even I had Marwari food before."
Sulkily, Rainbow Dash sat down on her haunches and crossed her forelegs. Twilight giggled, then quickly stifled herself after a wry look from Spike. The little dragon gestured quietly to the side. Twilight turned to look in the direction he had pointed to see Trixie standing somewhat away from the table. She looked lost.
"Trixie?" Twilight asked tentatively. "What about you? What kind of food do you like?"
The blue unicorn started at her name, and turned to edge closer to the table. "Food?" she asked. "Oh, um... I ordered the eggplant. I haven't had good Qilinese food in quite a while."
"Are there any other kinds of food you like?" Fluttershy asked with a small smile.
"Oh, well," Trixie said, pushing her mane back and regaining her bearings. "Trixie has had the opportunity to eat at some of the finest restaurants in Equestria, and..." She trailed off and looked at the others standing around the table. Twilight watched as Trixie deflated once again.
"Actually," she said, her voice once again losing its crisp lilt. "I really just like nice fresh grass." She paused, looking a bit downcast. "Alfalfa cubes travel well so they're mostly what I eat when I'm on the road. Any fresh food is a treat."
Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie both made elaborate faces, and looks of sympathy appeared on the rest of the group.
"Alfalfa cubes? Eww!" Pinkie said. "Those are gross! You should try taking a few bags of concentrate pellets instead, they're waaaaaay tastier. I mean, I'd rather have cupcakes or even hay but cupcakes go stale pretty fast and you'd need somepony to help you haul hay bales since they'd take up your whole cart otherwise and..."
Twilight tuned out Pinkie's rambling as across the room the dais was approached by the trio behind the Moonstone Cup tournament. Their retinues took up position behind the dais, and Twilight watched them speaking softly amongst themselves. A sidelong glance from Princess Celestia that Twilight was obviously meant to notice told Twilight all she needed to know about the subject of the conversation. She grimaced and brought her attention back to the table.
"...and little dried fish!"
Noises of disgust came from the rest of the table and Twilight grimaced again.
"What?" Pinkie asked. "They're what gryphons used to use as field rations for their war expeditions!"
Trixie glared at Pinkie and spoke through clenched teeth. "Trixie is not a gryphon."
"I know that, silly! But if you were, you totally could eat little dried fish."
"Well," Rarity spoke up sharply. Twilight looked over to see that Rarity's white had gained a decidedly greenish tinge. "That is all very fascinating, Pinkie, and you have certainly helped me retain my girlish figure because I no longer have any appetite."
"Well, shoot, I'll have yours too, then. Wouldn't want good vittles to go to waste."
Rarity glared at Applejack, who simply grinned back.
"Honestly, do you two ever stop flirting?" Trixie fired off, archly. All eyes turned on Trixie, and for a moment silence reigned. That moment ended when Rainbow Dash collapsed in gales of laughter. Soon Pinkie began laughing as well, and then Twilight gave in. Even Fluttershy gave a small, embarrassed titter. Applejack and Rarity each made unimpressed noises and looked away from each other. Spike simply looked stricken.
"Oh man! You guys!" Rainbow said haltingly between laughs and gulps of air. "That's so perfect! Oh! You should see yourselves!" She went non-verbal again for a moment before continuing. "So... So, when's the wedding?" Rainbow once again collapsed in a fit of laughter, her head vanishing below the edge of the table.
Rarity made a single acidic remark.
The table went silent again at the comment, an utterly mortified Rainbow Dash sticking her head back up over the edge of the table.
"Is... Is that bad?" Fluttershy asked quietly, a red tinge rising on her cheeks.
Rainbow Dash sputtered at the small grins her other friends were hiding behind their hooves. "That's... That's not even... You can't say that!"
"I dunno, Rainbow," Applejack said, doing her best to hold back her own laughter. "I think she's got you pegged there."
Spike leaned over to Twilight, a perplexed look on his face. "Her hoof?" he whispered. "I don't get it."
The award ceremony itself was a dignified affair. Celestia led off with a short speech about the importance of magic in the world, to which Twilight paid rapt attention in spite of having heard much of it many times before. After she spoke, two of her guardponies levitated a series of small black velvet boxes to the dais, setting them down toward the front. Celestia gracefully stepped from the front of the dais as al-Dhi'b stepped up.
"Zlatan! Ludilo!" the old king boomed. "Step forward!"
The small dragon-like being that Twilight had thought looked like Zlatan stepped from his table and walked toward the dais. Of course, she thought, he shrank himself to fit inside. On the other side of the room a second dragon, a diminutive green creature that looked like a decrepit version of Spike, walked to the dais and took up position next to Zlatan.
One of the velvet boxes floated up from the dais in front of al-Dhi'b and the lid opened to reveal two shiny, yellow-white medallions. Al-Dhi'b reached inside and withdrew the two medallions. Zlatan and Ludilo bowed their heads, and Twilight watched as al-Dhi'b reverently looped the ribbons over the two dragons' necks.
"I present third place winners!" Al-Dhi'b thundered as the pair of dragons turned to face the crowd. "Well done, you both! Prize purse of two thousand bits also yours." They bowed their heads and polite but sincere applause came from the crowd. Twilight clapped her hooves together as well; if Ludilo was as strong as Zlatan, they both deserved significant respect.
After the applause faded the two returned to their tables. Twilight looked over to the side of the room where she had seen Amarok. The huge wolf sat on his haunches, idly scratching himself with a hindpaw. He pivoted his head slightly and grinned toothily across the room at Twilight. She smiled back a bit uncertainly, then turned her attention back to the dais.
"Amarok! Step forward!"
The wolf sauntered up to the dais as a second box levitated before al-Dhi'b. Some muttered words that Twilight couldn't hear passed between the two canine rulers, then the box opened and al-Dhi'b reached in and withdrew another shiny medallion, this one made of some greyish metal. Amarok sat up straight and a glow surrounded the medallion, which floated over and looped itself around his neck.
"Second place winner! Well done, King Amarok! Prize purse of five thousand bits also yours."
A brief burst of applause was cut off by loud laughter from the wolf. Twilight blinked as Amarok grinned over at her again. "I've been waiting for this!" he shouted, mirthfully. "It's about time." A second short and unsure spate of applause mixed with nervous laughter sounded as Amarok resumed his spot at the side of the ballroom.
A thrill of excitement ran up Twilight's spine. This was it. All of her friends - even Trixie! - were watching her expectantly, and she smiled nervously back.
"Twilight Sparkle! Step forward"
Twilight's knees felt like they had turned to jelly as she stepped away from the table and approached the dais. The look of approval and overwhelming pride on Princess Celestia's face would have been reward enough, and even the masked scowl worn by Najstariot was not enough to dampen Twilight's spirits.
She watched as the last of the velvet boxes floated into the air. It opened, revealing a small gold medallion with an inset cluster of rubies in the shape of a parrot. Around the outside of the medallion Twilight could make out the medallion's famous inscription, 'Scientia, aere perennius'.
"First," al-Dhi'b bellowed, "award for winner of young adult bracket. Mimic Medallion established after hundred and fiftieth tournament by pony wizard Mimic to inspire young magicians. For first time ever medallion go to winner of tournament!"
The applause was a thunderous roar as al-Dhi'b carefully slid the ribbon over Twilight's neck. Twilight felt herself flush with pride as the weight settled around her shoulders.
"Now... Friends, we present... Moonstone Cup!"
The space before Twilight's eyes seemed to split, a shimmering gap appearing between her and the dais, and she stepped back. The rent in space distorted, gaining depth and definition, and with a flash coalesced into the shape of the coveted Cup itself. Gasps and soft applause came from the crowd as the Cup appeared, floating in midair.
The Moonstone Cup was an elaborate affair. The trophy itself was a golden bowl on a thick stem, elaborate runes etched all over every surface. The 'base', such as it was, was a tall ziggurat-like pillar of golden rings, each larger than the last. Each ring had names etched on it; Twilight recognized many of the names as the winners of the previous tournaments. On the smallest ring at the very top the names were barely recognizable, etched in an ancient hand and in an alphabet that was centuries out of date. The bottom ring had the most recent names on it. Altogether, the entire trophy was somewhat taller than Twilight herself, and it shone as if it had been polished for hours.
Twilight watched, eyes wide, as next to the name of the previous year's winner a green glow rose on the surface of the bottom ring. She glanced up at the sound of a keening wail from Najstariot, whose eyes glowed the same green. After a moment, with a small flash a simple inscription was added to the litany of names on the Cup.
Deafening applause rose. Even over the din Twilight could hear Pinkie and Rainbow Dash crowing, and she turned to look at her friends. Her smile grew as she looked over to see that Princess Luna had joined their table. A loud "Huzzah!" was added to the general cacophony.
Twilight felt breath on her neck and she turned her head to see the Princess' beaming face next to hers.
"Well done, Twilight."
An hour passed, then another. Twilight enjoyed a delicious meal in the company of good friends. Even Trixie was congratulatory, more so after she had devoured her plate of red-cooked eggplant.
After eating, Twilight walked the floor, congratulating her fellow winners and greeting people she had met during the tournament. Gianna and Shahnaz were both eager to say hello, the former apologetic, the latter wanting to know what books she had written. She was approached by a number of unicorns who wanted to know if she was taking on students. One small unicorn filly very earnestly asked if she was a princess and was disappointed when she said no.
Eventually, as dinners were winding down and some had started to leave, she found herself shadowing Princess Celestia, who was making her own rounds. She had not forgotten Najstariot's ominous greeting and was grateful that the princess was nearby.
Particularly when the green and red 'pony' appeared, seemingly from nowhere, next to the duo.
"Twilight Sparkle," she said, flatly. "As I said earlier, I would like to speak with you in private."
"I-" Twilight began, but was quickly cut off as Celestia spoke up, evenly.
"Of course, cousin," Celestia said, winningly. "However, would you be so kind as to accompany me and my student to my quarters first?"
A dark look passed over Najstariot's face. "What are you doing?" she hissed, under her breath.
"We will speak about this in private," Celestia responded in an identical and slightly clipped tone. "Your majesty." In a louder voice, she said, "I think my sister should join us as well."
Twilight could see anger simmering behind Najstariot's eyes, but the dragon queen smiled. "Of course, cousin," she said in a saccharine tone. "Princess Luna?" she boomed. "Would you join us?"
A moment later, Luna walked up, having excused herself from a conversation with a knot of gryphons. "Cousin," she said evenly, bowing her head to Najstariot.
"Cousin," came the response. Najstariot's voice fairly dripped venom, and Luna narrowed her eyes.
"Everypony," Princess Celestia said loudly. "I apologize, but we must excuse ourselves for a moment. Please feel free to avail yourselves of our hospitality in the meantime. We will rejoin you as soon as possible."
Celestia's horn glowed. There was a flash of light, and when Twilight's vision cleared she saw that the four were standing in Celestia's private chambers.
"Alright, Celestia," Najstariot said, sharply. "What do you want?"
Celestia turned on Najstariot and Twilight saw an unfamiliar expression on her face: Anger. Her eyes were narrowed and her lips set into a thin little frown. "Najstariot, how dare you demand anything of my student?"
The other three in the room were taken aback. Twilight edged away from Najstariot and toward Celestia, who extended a protective wing over the unicorn.
"I have been patient, cousin," Celestia said, softly. "I have given you the latitude that is your right, both as my counterpart and as an official of this tournament. I have stood back and let you officiate as you saw fit because I trust Twilight Sparkle. You've abused my hospitality and I overlooked that because I want to keep the peace between our people. The tournament is over, Najstariot. You're now a foreign dignitary in my country. If you have something to say to Twilight, you can say it here."
"I-" Najstariot began. She paused and calmed herself, the anger washing out of her expression. "I apologize, your majesty," she said in a syrupy tone. "But I would prefer if I could speak to Twilight Sparkle at my embassy."
"Well, that won't be possible."
Breathing deeply, Twilight looked up at Princess Celestia. "Wait, princess. I should go. I want to get all of this cleared up."
Celestia looked back with a small, tired smile. "Are you sure, Twilight? You don't have to. I can accompany you, if you'd like."
"Prithee, wait," Luna said. Twilight and Celestia both looked over at the lunar princess. "I should like to accompany you, Twilight Sparkle. I, too, have things I should like to clear up with our royal cousin."
A moment passed, then Celestia looked over at Najstariot with a smile. "Would that be acceptable, cousin?"
The moon hung fat in the sky, casting silvery light over the mass of clouds that hung over Canterlot. Twilight blinked as her vision cleared, taking in the vast cloudscape illuminated in silvery reflections. Some of the clouds at the very edge of the cloud mass had been sculpted into small buildings but the vast majority of the expanse was a barren, greyish plain. Twilight could feel a tingle beneath her hooves, crawling up into her skeleton, and her horn throbbed. It was similar to what she had felt in the fire, but a thousand times more. Power. Vast amounts of power.
"Welcome to my embassy," Najstariot said. She paced slowly away from the edge of the cloud mass where the trio had appeared.
Out of the corner of her eye, Twilight saw Luna lift slightly into the air. "Very well, your majesty!" she boomed, directing the full force of the ‘Royal Canterlot voice’ at the transformed dragon. "What do you wish to say t-"
Najstariot spun in place and shrieked, a blast of green energy ripping from her mouth and washing over Luna. Twilight felt a slimy sensation crawl over her skin from the dragon queen's magic. The flash of light faded and Twilight gasped; a bubble of shimmering green energy now surrounded Luna. The alicorn within was clearly enraged, her shouting inaudible through the shield, her magic simply sloughing off the inside of the sphere.
"Princess!" Twilight cried out. She looked back at Najstariot fearfully.
"That should give us a few minutes to speak without interruption," the dragon queen said evenly. She walked back over to Twilight, looming over the smaller unicorn. "Now then: Who are you?"
"Who are you?" Najstariot asked again, her tone level.
Gritting her teeth, Twilight braced her hooves against the clouds. "What did you do to Princess Luna?" she demanded.
"A shield of my own design. It proved insufficient," Najstariot said, hissing, "to hold her completely the last time. But it lasted a precious few minutes. Now answer my question." Her inner eyelids blinked rapidly as she stared at Twilight.
"I'm... I'm just Twilight Sparkle!" Twilight replied, desperation in her voice. "I'm Princess Celestia's student and I bear the Element of Magic! That's it!"
"No!" Najstariot roared. Her skin rippled strangely, her hair taking on an appearance of scales and then reverting. "Who are you? Truthfully! Are you Nightmare Moon, reborn as this little unicorn?" she demanded. She leaned down into Twilight's face. "Are you just Luna's puppet? Or perhaps you have Discord's power within you? Perhaps you're the one using her." Her tongue flicked nervously. "Tell me. Now."
"None of those things are true!" Twilight retorted. She looked over at Luna, who had quit shouting and was battering at a single point of the shield with sharp lances of magical energy. Maybe I can teleport away and get the Princess, she thought. Her horn glowed for a moment, spitting sparks, then a sharp pain shot through her head.
Angrily, Najstariot reared. "Not until you answer my question, hatchling!"
"You're wrong!" Twilight shouted, angrily.
The anger washed away from Najstariot's face, leaving a neutral mask, nearly lifeless. "We'll see," she said, flatly.
Twilight once again felt the oily sensation of Najstariot's power wash through her. The ersatz earth pony's skin began to ripple once again, her mane freezing in place and beginning to change in shape. She slowly walked away from Twilight.
Twilight watched as the 'pony' started to grow rapidly. Muscles bulged freakishly outward, joints twisted and reset themselves at impossible angles. Najstariot's swishing tail lengthened, the strands weaving themselves together into a single limb, thick and strong. And she continued to grow. The transformation was rapid and unlike anything Twilight had ever seen. When it was over, she was confronted with a sight that defied comprehension.
There, before her on the cloud bank, stood Najstariot in all her millenias-old glory. The ancient dragon queen was enormous; not enormous in the way some of the other dragons Twilight had met were enormous, but enormous in the way a mountain or a city was. A single talon on the impossibly huge creature's front claw was larger than Twilight's library. Something deep inside Twilight insisted that what she was seeing was landscape and could not possibly be alive.
Looking up, Twilight took in the dragon. She was a horrific sight. Many of her scales were broken or missing; she had massive gems embedded between them and in the empty spaces, or sometimes plate metal that looked as though it had been haphazardly fused to the ragged edges of broken scales. Wherever her skin showed through it was crisscrossed with scar tissue. She bore scorch marks in a hundred places, had rents in her scales in a hundred more.
Even further up Twilight could see Najstariot's infamously injured wing. It was clearly crippled, the elbow joint fused into an ugly, bony mass, a massive sheet of scar tissue growing around it down into previously torn areas of the wing. It was obvious that the dragon queen couldn't open her wing and hadn't been able to in a long time; the tip of the wing was growing into her side, deformed scales engulfing it.
Finally, Twilight saw Najstariot's head. Her sinuous neck was just as damaged as the rest of her body, and at the end of it was an atrocity. Instead of the sharp, angular head Twilight had seen on other dragons, Najstariot's was a hideous rounded mass. The entire left side was grown over by deformed and damaged scales and scar tissue. Her eye wasn't even damaged, it was just gone, the eye socket itself 'healed' over. The right side bore signs of injury like the rest of her but was much closer to a recognizable face, one dominated by a massive emerald green eye that glared at Twilight angrily.
"Look!" the dragon queen boomed. "Look at what your princess and her last favorite did to me!" Her angry roar echoed in the distance.
"I... It's... She's changed, your majesty!" Twilight shouted up at the monster.
The massive head descended toward Twilight, whose stomach lurched as the air around her grew fetid with the monster's reeking breath. "Has she?" Najstariot asked softly, only barely louder than the boom of the 'Royal Canterlot voice'. "I think not. No pony has the power I've seen these last few days. Look at you." The mouth that dominated Twilight's entire field of vision curled in a sneer. "From the first trials you've been throwing your power in my face. That wing spell should have worn off by now, but I can see that even now it has several hours left. You've performed impossible feats. The power you've exhibited could only come from a bare few beings in this world. Gods!"
Twilight found herself gazing up into an eye that dwarfed Sugarcube Corner.
"You defeated Nightmare Moon," Najstariot said. "Bare months later, Discord returned and you defeated him too. You and your friends. Strange timing, wouldn't you say?"
"It... We only succeeded because of the Elements of Harmony!" Twilight shouted back.
"A god's weapons!" Najstariot roared, deafeningly. "Well," she said, her voice lowering again. "Show me, then. Show me how an ordinary unicorn uses this power." She reared back, raising her head to its full extension, far into the sky above Twilight. "Defend yourself!"
"Do it!" Najstariot thundered.
The dragon queen's eye shimmered as she looked down at Twilight. "Do it or you'll die," she hissed, and then rattled deep in her throat. Twilight watched in terror as the great beast's chest expanded impossibly, a dull glow from behind her rib cage showing the enormity of the flame she was drawing in.
Twilight, think! Her eyes watered as she attempted to raise a shield, pain ripping through her horn. She didn't have enough power. At her best she didn't think she'd be able to raise a shield that could protect her from what was coming without help. Even the thought of attempting to drain Najstariot sent a shudder of pain through her. What could she do?
A tingle in her hooves reminded her. The clouds.
Each cloud in the enormous bank had the potential of an entire storm within it. The weather squads had brought hundreds of these clouds together to create Najstariot's embassy, and Twilight could feel the power within each one surging beneath her hooves.
She closed her eyes, feeling the power beneath her. The energy in the clouds was unlike anything she had ever experienced. There was no mind, no will, just power. Pure. Relentless. Perfect. Gritting her teeth, Twilight reached out and touched the storm.
The sun hung fat and red in the sky, a livid bruise against a sickly purple background studded with faint, anemic stars. Next to it floated the moon, a matte grey disk decorated with its own ancient wounds. The two great rulers of the sky shed angry light, bathing the horrors below in crimson and white.
Luna and Celestia floated just beyond the edge of a great mass of clouds. Celestia had shed her ceremonial barding in favor of a suit of white and gold plate barding that had not been removed from its display stand for anything more than cleaning in centuries. It was a heavy suit made of articulated plates, designed to turn aside blades and arrows and enchanted to protect against the most brutal war magic. All that could be seen behind the solid metal champron that covered Celestia's head were two magenta eyes burning with rage.
Next to her was Luna. She, too, had abandoned her simple ceremonial garb. Instead, she wore a suit of bright blue barding that was much less covering than Celestia's plate, but all the more imposing for its history. Nightmare Moon's war armor was no less menacing on Luna than it had been on her twisted alter-ego, the enchanted steel conforming perfectly to her smaller body. Luna's eyes were cold, her face set in a grim, warlike mask.
Before the two sisters stood Najstariot, the cyclopean dragon staring down at them with undisguised malice. Just beyond her enormous claws was a gulf in the cloud mass where the clouds had been burnt away in a single, cataclysmic gout of dragon fire. A gout that had also consumed a solitary unicorn. Somewhere far below, a short rain of ash was falling, a silent testament to the final, sad fate of Twilight Sparkle.
Another vision. The scene was the same, a sickly sky dominated by the sun and moon, together. The alicorn sisters once again hovered in their barding, just beyond the edge of the enormous mass of dark clouds that had hung above Canterlot of late.
Instead of a dragon, however, a figure wreathed in flame was before them, floating a few feet above the clouds. A gap was behind the figure, a huge rent in the clouds where the impossibly massive and heavy body of the late dragon queen had plummeted through it. The magic that had made the enormous creature capable of standing on clouds had failed on her death, and Najstariot's corpse had fallen to earth. The massive body had crashed down directly into Canterlot, crushing the castle of the sisters and most of the city and its inhabitants under its lifeless bulk.
The flame-wreathed figure watched the sisters impassively. It had the rough shape of a unicorn floating with its back legs below it. A huge column of flame erupted from its forehead where its horn would be. Lightning from the clouds arced into the bottom of its fiery hooves, little tendrils of energy creeping up into the flames. Its eyes were blinding white discs, their searing light visible even through the flames.
There was no anger on the faces of the two sisters. Celestia's eyes were brimming with tears behind her champron as she looked at the fiery figure. Luna's expression was flat and dull and she wobbled unsteadily in the air.
Long moments passed silently before Celestia finally spoke.
The visions came faster. Images of the past, present and future ripped across Twilight's consciousness. Her friends struggling against unseen foes. Dragons laying waste to a dark and twisted castle in the middle of the Everfree. Herself, draped in elaborate caparisons and standing alone on Princess Celestia's throne dais. Chaos and death raging across Equestria while the princesses fought a draconequus that as much resembled the Discord Twilight knew as a puppy resembled Cerberus.
She watched foals grow up, have their own foals, grow old and then disappear in an endless cycle. She saw the sun and moon chasing each other across the sky. Seasons passed in the blink of an eye, decades in mere moments.
Twilight's eyes snapped open, and the world was engulfed in flames. Flitting fingers of red, yellow and white danced before her eyes. Beyond the flames, she could see an expanse of clouds with a dragon standing on them. The dragon watched her, eyes wide.
Twilight reached out with her will to the dragon. She was so small and so afraid. Her mind burned with ten thousand years of loss and pain, anger and regret. Scars on her bones, damage to her wings and scales that would never heal, injuries right down to her very cells, Twilight saw them all.
For each scar Twilight found on Najstariot's body, the dragon queen bore several on her mind and soul. She was tired and bitter, her mind dominated by fear, her sense of responsibility to her people and to the world worn down to an angry, self-important nub. She had her hoard, and her mask of nobility, and beyond that Twilight could only see terror and emptiness.
Najstariot's one good eye looked out over the cloud bank, and through it Twilight could see herself. She was a blazing effigy, a pony made of fire and wreathed in lightning, her magical wings long since burnt away by the raging inferno. Next to her she noted two other ponies, one white, the other dark blue. The princesses, she noted abstractly. They, too, were so very small. With a thought, she reached out and shattered the wall of force around Princess Luna.
Drawing away from Najstariot, Twilight's will reached out to explore these other ponies. They also bore scars. Some came from battle, some from their long lives. Some were self-inflicted, injuries to the body and soul that had been unnecessary but happened anyway. Fear and anger simmered in them, too, and uglier things. Inside Luna Twilight found old wounds, old resentments. Arguments that shouldn't have happened. Loneliness she never needed to feel. Twilight also found huge, dark expanses that had been healed and scarred over by the power of Harmony. Maybe she would open those later and see what was hidden behind them.
The princesses had surrounded Twilight with some sort of force bubble, and they and Najstariot were all shouting, but Twilight took no notice of the words. There was so much beyond this little dispute. Thousands of feet below her, she could feel the lives of thousands and tens of thousands. The little clear lights of ponies stood out against the muted glow of plants and small animals. Small fires burned in the souls of gryphons next to the rough incandescence of heated stone at the heart of the ghuls.
Reaching out further, away from Canterlot, Twilight found more lights, the distant stars of her fellow ponies and other creatures. She saw the small cluster of light that was Ponyville. It stood at the edge of a raging storm of fire and lightning, life run wild, life without constraint: The Everfree. In other directions she found the mountain aeries of the gryphons, the burning fires of their souls melding together into distant beacons of home and hearth. Far below them, toward the molten core of the earth she could see the glowing coals of the ghuls.
Further and further she reached. There were other lights now, other lives. The bitter, eye-searing colors of the beings imprisoned within Tartarus. The maddening, brilliant noise of Discord. Even beyond the world, beyond the moon, there were other lights, and Twilight reached out toward the stars...
Screams echoed around her and Twilight was momentarily confused. She drew her will back to her body and the world was once again cloaked in flame. Twilight saw the dragon before her, wrapped in twisting bolts of lightning that were coming from her own horn. She watched as Najstariot twisted and danced with her power.
"Hello, princess," Twilight said to the voice, dreamily. "Isn't it pretty?"
Twilight saw Princess Luna recoil as she spoke. Celestia, too, was stricken but did not to show it. Why would she lie to Twilight like that?
Twilight, you have to stop this, came Celestia's voice.
"Look how strong I've become. Aren't you proud?"
Yes, Twilight, I see, the voice said, softly. And I am very proud of how far you've come with your magic. But it's time to stop now.
"Why?" Twilight asked. Why indeed? It was so beautiful, the way the lightning coursed over Najstariot's scales. Soon her pain would be ended. Ten thousand years of suffering, washed away in such beauty.
Twilight, please. You mustn't do this.
"But I can," Twilight replied. "She's caused so much suffering."
So did my sister, Celestia replied. You helped her. Would we be better off if you had destroyed her instead?
Helped her. Yes, she had. She had felt it was her responsibility to fight Nightmare Moon. Now she had no responsibility, just power.
Please, Twilight. Don't do this. The Princess' voice was pleading now. You'll just prove her right again. I don't want to lose somepony else that I love because of her.
Twilight turned in the air to once again look into Princess Celestia. She was afraid. Afraid for Twilight, afraid for Najstariot, for her sister, for Equestria. She was afraid for everyone except herself. Within Celestia's mind, Twilight found thousands of years of loss and pain, anger and regret. Unlike within Najstariot, however, the injuries had healed, one after another, and had only strengthened the princess' armor of endless love and endless responsibility. It was beautiful, far more than the lightning had been. Beautiful. Indestructible.
Come back to us, Twilight. Please.
Barely a thought passed through Twilight's mind before the lightning bolts dissipated and Najstariot fell heavily to the cloud bank. Lightning and fire erupted from Twilight's horn, piercing the night sky as the unicorn screamed.
And then she fell.