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Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries,
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth,
To me for justice and rough chastisement;
-William Shakespeare’s ‘Richard II’
It was a mixed group of ponies that greeted Shining Armor as he stepped onto the deck of The Abundance. There were happy tears and joyful cries as foals, fillies and colts rushed over and leapt into their parents' forelegs, hugging them tightly and jabbering about what had happened to them. They told stories of flying earth ponies and stallions with wings made of silver glass who called upon storms to aid him in fighting dark knights built of gold. Those little ones that didn't have parents to welcome them were not forgotten and quickly found some pony to nuzzle. It warmed Shining's heart to see every pony actually smiling and felt that this moment was worth all the pain of the last few weeks. They had won… not the war, perhaps, but at least one battle.
And yet it wasn't all happiness on the great airship. There were pegasi that seemed to be walking about in a daze, their eyes blank and their stares hollow. Most troubled was Rainbow Dash, who seemed nearly as bad as Derpy had been. Scootaloo, who was receiving some dark stares from members of the rebellion, was always at her side, her wings fluttering as she constantly asked Rainbow what she needed and rushed to provide it.
Shining glanced over at the bubbly gray mare, who was chatting away with Dinky and the Doctor. At least that was one happy ending... for now.
The ponies that were clearly in charge of The Abundance glanced at him with measuring glazes, like they were studying him and looking to see if he would meet their standards. They gave many members of the rebellion a wide berth, a clear division forming between the former prisoners and the ponies that fought against the queens. The ponies that had gone with Twilight seemed to have no problem with this, shooting back wicked glares of their own.
Something had happened that much was clear... and Shining didn't like being left in the dark.
"Twilight!" Shining called out, spotting his sister making her way below deck. He hurried after her, bobbing and weaving through the throng of ponies on the deck before slipping downstairs. His horn glowed and he used a bit of magic to track down his wayward sister. The alicorn of the stars had selected an empty room of her own and was furiously pacing back and forth, muttering under her breath. Spike was seated on the bed, nibbling on some purple stone Shining couldn't identify. The baby dragon motioned for Shining to come closer and the unicorn sidestepped his sister, who showed no sign of having noticed him enter the room. "What is going on?"
"She's losing it."
"What now?" Shining practically moaned, wondering what little issue could have driven his sister nutty.
"Faith blew up Cloudsdale."
Spike sighed. "His brother, Loyalty, really did a number on us. Loyalty had the ability to turn ponies into puppets... literally puppets, with strings and everything. Would have been cool, if not for the whole brainwashing evil mastermind thing. From what I was able to gather, Twilight was having some problems with him until Faith showed up in this totally cool airship," Spike grinned wide, looking about the cabin in glee, "I mean, look at it!"
"Spike, about Cloudsdale going boom?"
"Right, sorry." The drake blushed. "Anyway, Faith showed up and him and Twilight fought Loyalty. I arrived at the end and delivered the killing blow, but hey, that's just Spike being Spike!" The purple dragon puffed out his chest and the stallion rolled his eyes, motioning for him to continue. "Ok, so we all managed to give Loyalty a mortal wound and we came here... only..."
"Only what?" Shining pressed.
"Only Faith decided to blow up Cloudsdale!" Twilight snapped, whipping around and glaring at her brother. "Boom! Just blew it up! Just like that! Didn't matter if I told him not too..." Twilight lowered her head, hissing under her breath, "but TRIXIE asked him I bet her would have been dancing around asking what to do next…”
Shining's right eyebrow shot up and he glanced once more at Spike, silently asking for some clarification.
"Seems that when Faith was captured he ended up with Trixie… she’s a magician that-“
“I know who Trixie is,” Shining said simply, leaving it at that.
“Oh. Well, Faith ended up with her, that Iron Will guy, Flim's brother and a punch of other ponies. They staged a jail break and apparently they are now pretty close."
“I’m not surprised,” Shining stated. “As horrible as it is to say, being in prison is much like being in the military… it becomes a second family.”
"Pretty close," Twilight grumbled. "I'm surprised Trixie isn't picking out china patterns yet." She began to pace again, rattling off of the issues she had with the silver alicorn. "He ran off without tell me where he was going, and then when he does pop up he had the nerve to tell me to leave and let him take on Loyalty? Ha! Like I was going to let him out of my sight for a moment! Good thing too; who knows what horrors he would have committed if I weren't there." She grit her teeth together, grinding them so hard it was a wonder they weren't turned to powder. "He didn't care... that was a city... home to pegasi… it has existed for thousands of years and is a beacon of hope and light in Equestria and he just destroyed it, like it was nothing!"
"But Twilight, what about Loyalty?" Spike asked. When Twilight whipped around to level him with a cold stare the baby dragon leaned back nervously. "Just... saying that Loyalty was bonding with Cloudsdale and if Faith hadn't ordered it destroy he might have come back..."
"There were other ways, Spike. Who gave Faith the power to do what he did?"
Shining sighed. "Twilight, take a breath, ok?" The alicorn's jaw twitched but she did as asked. "I get why you are angry... Faith overreacted."
"Exactly," Twilight said.
"You were facing a monster that could take over ponies and force them to turn against everypony they knew. That got him angry, of course, but that is no excuse for what he did."
"Right," Twilight said, stewing in her own frustrations.
"And when Faith attacked the changeling queen, he let his emotions get the better of him and he overreacted."
"Yeah, that he-" Twilight blinked. "Wait, what-"
"Did I say changeling queen?" Shining said with mock surprise. "I meant to say abstract. I mean, they are so different from each other... it’s not like Loyalty disguised himself as a pony you knew and trusted." Twilight pursed her lips, readying to tear into her brother, but he just steamrolled ahead. "And it isn't like he had mind control abilities that could make ponies like... well, me... into their slaves." He narrowed his eyes. "Of course Faith should get a tongue lashing for going overboard... the proper response would have been to brutally beat Loyalty in the middle of a wedding until he was an inch from death… then he should have attacked a bunch of doctors and gone to a nightclub." The unicorn turned to Spike. "Should we be expecting Faith to begin chatting with a black-flanked alicorn with mirror wings?"
Twilight leapt forward, getting in her brother's face. "That was different! Don't you dare make what I did to be anything like what Faith did."
"You are right... Faith was justified."
"What are you-"
"THIS IS WAR!" Shining roared in fury. Twilight stumbled back, eyes wide and legs trembling. All at once she felt like a small foal once more, her big brother towering over her. It was silly, of course, as Shining was now an inch or so smaller than her... and yet she felt like the little one. "Did you forget that, Twiley? Did you forget what the abstracts have done? They have brainwashed this country... they kidnapped foals and they imprisoned innocent ponies just because they refused to give up their own beliefs! One of those damn abstracts was trying to take over Cloudsdale… he bastardized it and destroyed it. Get that through your head right now… Cloudsdale was no longer Cloudsdale… it was Loyalty. Faith mercy killed that great city so it wouldn’t be turned into a weapon against the ponies that loved it.” Shining shook his head in disgust. “And if you honestly think Faith enjoyed doing that then you are a fool.”
“I barely know Faith but I can tell you, from what I have seen, that abstract is nothing like his brothers and sisters. He actually cares for us and he works constantly to avoid hurting any of us… and you.”
“He did say sorry,” Spike pointed out softly. “And… he didn’t look to happy doing it.”
Shining turned his back on his sister. “Faith did what you were to scared to do. And his reward for actions is your hate… the hate of his truest friend. By Celestia, if he is anything like you then we are truly doomed… last thing we need is him to go dark again.” Twilight winced at that. “If you want to be mad at Faith for destroying Cloudsdale, go right ahead. I understand that. But be mad for the right reasons… be mad because he didn’t consult you or take your objections seriously. But don’t stand on a soap box and pretend you are better than him. If this war has taught me anything… it is that all of us are a bit lower than we thought.”
And with that Shining left Twilight, Spiking hurrying quickly after him.
“That was kinda harsh,” Spike stated.
“Twilight has gotten away with a lot lately, Spike,” Shining stated. “Maybe it is time she got a taste of harsh.”
“I… I suppose this should have been done with more pomp and circumstance, but I am afraid this will have to do, Princess.”
Celestia smiled softly, fluttering her wings as if she were a filly, trying to learn to fly. She looked down at Faith and smiled as the silver glow from Faith’s horn faded, the magic receding to reveal Luna returned to her former glory. The alicorn sisters, restored so that they could once again claim the title, took several moments to inspect one another, examining each others’ returned forms. Luna had remained almost completely unchanged and if one had missed the events of the last few months they would believe nothing had happened to her. The same could not be said of Celestia; while she was the largest of the alicorns much of her impressive height was gone, leaving her only a few inches taller than Luna and Faith.
“It will take time, I’m afraid, for you to be restored to your full power. You will be strong, of course, but I fear not strong enough to tackle one of my sisters or my brother on your own.” Faith turned, swaying as he made his way over to his bed. Celestia and Luna hurried over, helping to prop him up. It was clear that the alicorn spell had drained him and it was a wonder he had not collapsed after performing the first one. He put up a brave front, but his imprisonment and stabbing had weakened him greatly and though he had seemed to return to full strength to battle Loyalty now he appeared quick feeble, as if all his magic had been drained from him. “Don’t mind me, Princesses, don’t mind me… seems my age has caught to me at long last.”
“None of that,” Celestia said, using her magic to help ease the silver alicorn onto his bed. The main cabin of The Abundance was fit for a queen… quite literally, as it was clear that it had been designed to house whichever of the queens were to command it at the time of battle. A massive bed like those in Canterlot Castle dominated the room, but there was also a writing desk and a small sitting area for guests. There were no windows, for the queens’ protection, but instead veins of enchanted gems ran along the ceiling, allowing light to spill in. There had once been a mural depicting the five queens, but the crew had seen to destroying and defacing it. “You are barely older than I am, so saying that makes me feel quite ancient.”
Luna nodded. “And stop with the Princess nonsense. You have had no problem calling us by our names in the past.”
Faith sighed. “I suppose I have been beaten down recently and it has left me reeling. Not quite sure where I stand in this world right now.”
Celestia smiled sadly. “Yes, we heard about some of your troubles… are you alright, Faith?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Faith said, a bit more brashly than one would have expected. His voice held a fake sugariness to it that set one’s teeth on edge. “I mean, of course I have only been Faith for 3 months, having spent 2000 years as a dark alicorn who enjoyed using ponies like chess pieces, but there is no time to truly get settled in, not when I am helping a new alicorn and a baby dragon grow strong. And when I returned from the vacation that was suppose to help myself and Twilight relax and discover ourselves, I discover that her friends… ponies that she cares about and thus I care for… have been brainwashed by my family.
“My family… my brothers and sisters… now there is a shocker. I… I spent 2000 years searching for some hint of them, trying to remember their names and faces and now that I have found them we are opposite sides. The last memory I have of them, before Discord and all that, is us being happy. We spent so much time together, working together to spread joy and friendship and harmony, yes harmony, to this entire world. I can hear my sisters’ laughter and remember the games my brothers and I played. I… I can see it… when I close my eyes…”
Faith’s head twitched violently, as if he were going through a seizure. Luna stepped forward but leapt back and a tendril of dark magic lashed out, nearly striking her. Faith didn’t notice, lost in thought. Magic poured out his horn and thrashed about in agitation.
“And… and then I hear my brother Loyalty’s cruel words… he, of all my family, is unable to forgive me. He hated me, till the ever end. I searched for him and I missed him and he hated me. So I killed him… I killed him to save Equestria and to stop this madness and I killed him to save him from himself because the Loyalty I remember would never have wanted to be like that but I wonder if I knew him at all. He wasn’t like me, when I was Doubt… I was changed but he seemed to be more distilled, stripped away. That’s… that’s why I had to do it, don’t you see?” he turned wide, panicked eyes towards Celesta and Luna and the alicorns swallowed nervously. He looked all at once so utterly desperate and broken. “You understand that, right? You understand why I had to kill him?”
“Yes,” Celestia whispered softly. “Yes we do.”
“Good… at least some pony does. The rest of them… they look at me like it was easy. They scorn me and hate me all because of that… or cheer and slap me on the back and call me the abstract killer…. when I didn’t even want to do it! How could they think I…” Faith’s wings fluttered in agitation. “Twilight hates me… she hates me and it is worse than when Doubt stabbed me. I want to talk to her… I want her to listen and to understand but she’ll only scream. She’s the only one I want to talk to, the only one that understands… no, I thought she would understand. She doesn’t, she just loathes me…” The abstract slammed his hoof against the mattress. “And now Trixie and the rest of them have put me on some damn pedestal and that was never what I wanted! I am their king… what bloody foolishness! I want to be their friend, not their master! I don’t want to rule, I don’t want to be some warlord or commander… but how the hell am I suppose to tell them that? How do I keep from breaking their hearts and spirits? Tell me that. How do I go on when all the world hates me and Fate conspires to force me to continue on this horrible mission and all I see is my brother’s face right before I killed him! I… I’ve tried so hard… so very hard and it all just keeps turning to ashes and I don’t know what to do and then I see my brother’s face and… oh Loyalty…oh…”
The silver abstract turned, red rimmed eyes locking with the sisters, drawing them in.
“Am I alright?” His voice was utterly quiet, like the morning air on a grave. “No… I’m not alright at all.”
And with that he broke down. Luna moved in, wrapping him up in her forelegs, murmuring as he sobbed against her shoulder. Celestia stood beside them, hugging them both as the lord of the gray cried, 2000 years of pain coming to a head. His body shook and his tears fell like a thunderstorm and for a moment the alicorn sisters thought he might disintegrate into dust and ash. Every once and a while he would whisper “Loyalty” and begin to sob again. He cried till there were no more tears to cry and still he found the power to cry some more.
Finally Faith fell it an exhausted sleep and the mares extracted themselves.
“What do we do now?” Luna whispered, her heart breaking at the sight of that noble stallion lying in such terrible ruin.
Celestia sighed. “I will go find Twilight… you find the other one… Trixie. They need to know about this and they need to make this right.” Luna nodded and the two left the room, gently shutting the door behind them.
“Oh Faith,” a deep, rumbling voice whispered sadly, emerging from the shadows. If Faith had been awake, he might have died of shock at seeing just who it was that had come to sit at his bedside. “I am sorry… this is all my fault.” He leaned down, gently kissing Faith’s forehead.
Faith opened his eyes. “Honesty?”