The three apprentices of Celestia took three small bottles filled with red liquid from their three bags.
Those three bottles contained one of the most useful potions they had packed for the journey. It was specially designed to alleviate muscle fatigue, which was a problem after long or intense periods of activity without rest.
They drank the potions, and talked while waiting for the effects to appear:
"Let's throw a rock at the castle. If it's big enough, we can crush a lot of wards and trip many traps early." Sunset proposed.
"The main problem with that is knowing where the guards would be, so that we don't hit any of them by mistake. Twilight, can one of your roaming eyes check for us?" Trixie asked.
"Sure." Twilight replied, conjuring a small blob with an eye and sending it towards the castle.
"What kind of combat spells do you think Sombra knows?" Sunset asked.
"Considering his obvious connection with the castle? He definitely has a lot of prepared traps and tons of ways to draw extra power from the envinronment. Not to mention the special jewels and food he receives. Safe to say, we won't be able to outlast him." Trixie answered.
"Remember that fighting him directly comes only after we rescue Princess Luna. Otherwise he would sacrifice her in an instant, the moment he felt himself to be in danger." Twilight said with her eyes narrowed.
The three of them kept discussing the possibilities of their final push for a few minutes.
The castle of Rongarde looked as peaceful as the castle of an evil sorcerer could ever look. It was still in the morning, which seemed to lighten the view of the threatening architeture, make the dead fields around it seem less wrong and prevented the eldritch lights from being seen.
But this relative peace was about to be broken, as an enourmous chunk of earth that had been ripped from the ground and compressed into an extremely heavy and dense sphere, flew through the air at high speed and hit the front entrance of the castle.
The impact was monumental. The shockwaves alone caused windows far away to break, and the part that was directly hit exploded in all directions, each of the pieces causing even more mayhem in their trajectories. Dozens of spells hit the projectile at once, many doing nothing due to being designed for use on living things, and many others having only a limited effect due to the sheer mass of the object in question.
Sunset shed a single tear, out of appreciation for the scene.
The guards started going to the blast zone, and that was when the three apprentices teleported in.
The guards quickly gathered to their full number and prepared for combat. Despite their mind-controlled states, they still had enough presence of mind to fight using the group formations and strategies they had used previously.
Sunset wasn't worried. The three had trained for this kind of thing.
Celestia decided that having the three fight an entire batallion of guards while under magic suppression was probably going a little hard on them, in hindsight.
Sunset immediately cast a barrier breaker blast at the middle of the formation to make the enemies scatter, and then the three apprentices ran into the confused ranks. Sunset used a combination of magic enhanced close combat techniques and medium range blasts of solar energy to deal with opponents trying to attack from a distance. Her shields were taking a beating, but they could take it. Twilight only made the battlefield more chaotic by randomly rearranging parts of it and animating others, to the point where some soldiers were attacked by giant mouths made of stone, she refused to stay in a single place for more than a moment. Trixie had the most refined fighting style, denying sight to her opponents via a cloud of mist and using countless visual and auditory illusions to make them attack each other.
And worst of all, at least in the perspective of the soldiers?
The three just would not. Stop. Talking.
"Blast, blast, blast! Special delivery!" She threw a guard at a group "Receive the might of the specialized close combat/magic hybrid style developed by me! Sunset Shimmer!" She bowled over a group of soldiers with an aura-covered, boosted onrush.
"And neither the days of suffering, nor the terrifying tests could prevent us from following in their footsteps! Because for every setback, we grew stronger! Every day moving forward a little bit more, in the hope of reaching this stage! And that is why..." Twilight kept going, her speech uninterrupted by all her spells and movements.
"Let me show you guys a trick! Now you can hear each other... Now you can't!" And a deafening sound drilled into the ears of the guards who had the misfortune of being in the area of effect of Trixie's spell.
To make a long story short, the guards were soon wishing things would just end already...
Twilight looked at the forty guards collapsed on the floor, groaning. Satisfied that they had gotten all of them, she reached into her bag and took out her copies of the spell papers and threw them at the guards. Letting the built-in similarity spells lead the right papers to the right guards.
In a matter of a few seconds, all the guards had been relieved of their mind control.
Them Twilight and Trixie ran forwards and started casting spells, as the castle itself started fighting them.
It couldn't be helped. The room they were in had no surveillance due to a combination of the effects of their projectile and the spells Trixie was using, but there was no way for them to prevent Sombra from noticing his mind control spells breaking.
Twilight animated parts of the wall and ground to shift into barriers, and saw that Trixie was hitting the very walls with her illusion spells, to confuse the targetting systems of the lasers, stone fists, flying blades, fireballs and all sorts of other attacks that were raining down on them from the less damaged sections of the hall.
Sunset wasn't helping, because she had another part to play at that moment.
"Magic Enhance: Adrenaline spike!" She cast, sending a wave of light to flow into the bodies of the guards.
All 40 guards blinked and got up, looking to the unicorns that had beat them up and freed them.
"Red Cosmos Company, you have new orders!" Sunset started, in a drill sergeant voice "Retreat to the town and escort the civilians out of the barrier!"
They looked at her without comprehending for a few seconds, so she gave another order:
"Now! The civilians are the priority! Go, go, go!" She shouted, and that finally got the guards moving and out of the castle.
Sunset looked at them for a moment and then went to help her partners in their endeavor.
"Nightmare Moon! Come to me!" Sombra demanded.
A few seconds later, the corrupted alicorn appeared.
"How have you not destroyed the intruders yet?!" He demanded.
"They are very good at evading me. They even managed to kill my avatars." She answered in a monotone.
Sombra snarled, then calmed down fractionally.
"I guess I'll just have to make sure they can't run away, right?" He nodded to himself "It's been long since the last time I've actually fought.”
The idea in Trixie's mind was simple. They needed to reduce the variables Sombra could use against them. That was why they sent the guards to escort the civillians to safety, taking away two sources of potential trouble all at once. For the same reasons, the three were moving slowly through the castle, with Sunset completely wrecking any structures with her destructive spells and Twilight making any traps and wards useless by spreading her chaos magic everywhere, turning every single surface and object into more chaotic constructs that were running wild.
That was why, when Sombra appeared together with Nightmare Moon right in front of them, he had to take two entire seconds to charge before dropping anti-teleportation stones all around the area (having had to seek power from the more distant, undamaged parts of the castle), instead of doing it instantly.
That was why Trixie had time to charge and attack the Nightmare with an attack of her own, which was innefective but sufficiently distracting.
That was why Sunset could blast Sombra with a spell that almost went through his automatic protections, given they were weakened by the mess his castle was becoming and that room already was.
That was why Twilight could get close enough to do her job.
"Chaos Magic: Sidestep!" She shouted, touching Sombra with one of her hooves.
Then, both her and Sombra disappeared.
It wasn't teleportation, not really, and it meant Sombra was out of the picture for the moment. It was time to do their second mission.
While Nightmare Moon was still in shock over the situation, Trixie extended a hoof to Sunset. This battle would require perfect coordination. She still remembered Sunset teaching them how to Dance.
5 Years Earlier
"And with this, you two should be good enough to deal with things in case the enemy challenges you to a dance-off." Sunset nodded, looking at her partners.
The two exhausted and disheveled unicorns splayed on the ground could only groan.
But even outside of a dance-off, this would still be useful in managing perfect coordination during an extended battle. The two fell into a practiced ballet routine, and started talking without stopping the dance, switching off speakers for every sentence.
"Princess Luna!" Flip and twist "For the sake of our master!" Spin "Your sister Princess Celestia!" Jump and catch "We will free you from this evil influence!" Stop, point at the Nightmare.
After all, introductions were important.
NM gaped "Are you well?" She asked, baffled (which was fast becoming a familiar feeling).
"I'm feeling pretty good, actually, thanks for asking." Sunset said casually, charging a spell.
"Likewise." Trixie said, doing the same.
"Duo Magic: Chasing Thunder!"
Sombra was getting more and more irritated. That purple unicorn had pulled him into a chaotic sub-dimension, isolated from most of his power. And she was evading every single spell he used with her chaotic teleportation. And even though he was already trying to unravel the magic powering that dimension, he wasn't having much luck, chaos magic was difficult to deal with even in the best of cases, and this was far from it. And the last source of anger?
The purple unicorn kept talking nonstop.
"And that is the nature of this world. The result of thousands of hours of effort in trying to mix spatial and chaos magic. But even with that, I wouldn't be able to fuel this world without having trained my magic capacity via..."
Even spells capable of hitting the entire limited space they were in didn't work. She just made the red matter of the walls flow over herself as a shield.
He just needed a little more time to finish a spell to prevent her teleportation from working. He knew enough about chaos magic to do it...
One of the most useful parts of the chaos magic was that, while effects needed to be paid in equivalent energy, she could choose which effect to pay for. As such, while dodging all of Sombra's varied spells and attacks would usually take a lot of energy, since she was only doing it to keep making her speech, without attacking or charging any other magic, the cost was pretty much non-existent, as it was following the effect of "continue making speech".
Considering how much mana it took just to keep her Sidestep going, this was a relief.
Still, Sombra was a centuries old threat and a masterful mage. She wasn't that surprised when he managed to stop her flashes.
She immediately stopped her speech (she had already said all she wanted, anyway) and focused in controlling the Red Matter. She sent a wave of sharp tendrils into the opponent, who, surprised by the sudden shift from defense into attack, almost didn't get his shields up in time. However, he then retaliated with a homing blast, that Twilight blocked by bringing up a barrier of Red Matter, then she started skating and surfing all around the space (even on the walls and ceiling) via a controlled wave of Red Matter. All while sending multiple types of attacks at Sombra from all directions.
Suddenly, she felt him creating a magic formation, and had to blast it with chaotic magic to prevent it from activating. Sombra was adapting, and she tried to channel Sunset, increasing the rate and power of her attacks to give Sombra less of an opening to counter. He also started teleporting around the space and using varied attacks, having adapted remarkably quickly to the unique conditions of the Sidestep.
The battle had gone 3D, and Twilight felt her careful control of the Red Matter start to slip, as the strain of so many spells in a draining situation took its toll on her. The Red Matter started acting more and more wildly, thrashing all around, while the tendrils, barriers and etc that Twilight created started taking on weirder and sharper forms, almost seeming to come alive. Even surprising the Unicorn Warlock.
Then Twilight realized, that since Sombra was the only pony in range, she didn't really have to restrain herself so much. She could indulge in some of her deeper urges...
Her manipulations lost all semblance of control, the whole small world seeming to become thousands of ever-changing creatures, some coating Twilight in a chimeric, shapeshifting barrier that ate all magic nearby, and some pursuing Sombra in a whirlwind of claws, teeth and weird appendages, seeking to rip him apart. As for Twilight herself?
"HAHAHAHAHAHA!" She cackled. Her eyes adopting a disturbing shine that seemed completely at home in this monstrous envinronment.
It had been a while since she had so much fun.
Sunset, Trixie admitted, was a really great dancer. That was why she could teach them, after all.
That was half of what allowed them to stay ahead of the incredible onslaught of attacks Nightmare Moon was sending their way. The other half being the amazing combinations of illusions and brute force attacks the two of them could use.
The battle moved all over the castle, and every part they went through was completely levelled. In fact, that was part of what they were trying to do in the battle as well, denying Sombra the magical resources he could get from the castle. It took a few minutes, but the battle managed to completely destroy the castle, with magic deflections, last-minute teleportations and convincing illusions all playing a part in causing Nightmare Moon's own attacks to cause the most damage to the envinronment.
And even with this, Trixie sighed in her head, the barrier was still standing. It looked like Sombra himself really was the anchor of the spell. So much for the easy solution of getting Celestia to come and help hold her sister down while they did their job.
It was all up to them.
She communicated the plan to Sunset with a long-suffering glance and was answered with an eager grin. She took over their defense completely, weaving complex illusions and telepoting at high speed as Sunset prepared the spell that would be the key to their strategy. And she had to purposedly allow NM to have a free shot that was only dodged by a hair, just to put her in the perfect position when Sunset finally unleashed her magic.
"Multiplicity Magic: Solar Chains!" And the sixteen magic circles she had set up in the last two minutes all glowed, forming an even bigger circle and releasing huge yellow-orange chains that actually managed to hold onto her.
Sunset immediately threw Trixie at the sky, and the showmare did two spells at high speed while the Nightmare was distracted, one to put an illusory version of herself at Sunset's side and one to hide her own body as she flew up into the air and over the alicorn.
Nightmare Moon exploded with power, managing to shatter the chains, but necessarily reducing her defenses to the minimum, which was when Sunset's prepared spell hit her, destroying the rest of her defenses and stunning her for a brief moment.
And at that moment, Trixie landed on her back an activated the prepared spell on her necklace, ready ever since two days before:
"NIRVANA REBIRTH!" And directed the spell precisely into Nightmare Moon's head.
Sombra had many preparations in case someone tried to free his servant, the worst of which were spells that would destroy her mind if it seemed she was being released.
Nirvana Rebirth got around and then broke those spells by the simple expedient of destroying Luna's mind first.
For a small, terrifying moment, Luna felt herself empty of all experiences and thoughts, but then the second part of the spell kicked in.
Feeling a call to her soul, Luna re-experienced her entire life. Somehow both at an accelerated pace and redoing every experience in full fidelity.
When she finally got to the present, Luna collapsed to the ground, her dark magic bleeding off of her in a fast stream.
Trixie wasn't completely surprised when Sombra exploded out of the empty space with a shout of rage, but she did relax slightly when Twilight shimmered into view beside her, looking somewhat wild eyed, but no worse for wear. Sombra grabbed the unconscious Luna with his telekinesis and made an ultimatum:
"Surrender, or I will kill her!" He said, with a voice full of anger.
The three shared a glance that communicated much. If their special glance-based languaged were to be translated, this glance would be found to contain the following conversation:
(Sunset: That's a bluff, isn't it?
Trixie: More or less. He seems angry enough to do it, but it's not that easy to kill even an weakened Alicorn, he's trying something else.
Twilight: He must be planning to use our hesitation as an opportunity to gather power.
Sunset: Then, we don't hesitate, let's save Luna and get him with a Twin Annihilation.
Trixie: He's mobile enough to be able to dodge it. So Twilight will need to hold him down for it.
Sunset: But then it won't be a real Twin Annihilation...
Twilight: I'll see what I can do. Let's show this bastard [untranslatable glance-based pun])
And Sunset took a step forwards and started charging a spell, attracting Sombra's attention.
Trixie used the distraction to quickly charge her own spell, and sent it camouflaged on the waves of the power Sunset was emitting. The spell exploded right next to Sombra's horn, distracting him from his telekinesis spell (but not harming him, a spell powerful enough to do that wouldn't be able to be camouflaged). Twilight did her part creating a hole right underneath Luna, who dropped inside it and ended up behind the three unicorns.
"You..." Sombra started, but Sunset choose that moment to let a small bit of power from her charging escape, distracting him again. Because she was really charging a lot of power.
Trixie used the distraction to charge up her own spell, which was quick since she hadn't used a lot of power on her spell.
"A perfect illusion fools the world itself..." She did her chant.
"Perfect Illusion: Magic Circle!" And casted her spell.
There are spells so complicated they can't be used without special preparations even by the most talented of mages. Magic circles are frequently used to cast those spells, since they can hold the "spell script" and even help gather the power needed from the envinronment.
Trixie's spell circle was good enough to hold such a spell script and gather magic from the world, even though it was just an illusion. It was a very special spell.
However, her spell circle couldn't complete the spell, since it wasn't real enough to serve as an anchor.
"OVERDRIVE!" Sunset didn't care about that.
Trixie released the thread of the spell, allowing Sunset to take it over.
"May the righteous fury of the sun descend...
"Magic Enhance: Solar Annihilation!"
In the instant before the spell would have failed due to the lack of an anchor, Sunset enhanced it, becoming that anchor.
That was a spell complicated and powerful enough that Sunset could not cast it normally.
It was enhanced further.
A mini-sun appeared in between them and Sombra. Even with Sunset directing most of the heat towards him, it was almost unbearable for the three. And the warlock made to teleport and evade the attack.
Twilight prepared to release the spell she was charging, but then Sombra was hit by a massive lightning bolt, courtesy of a pegasus that suddenly appeared in the sky.
Trixie smirked. The last of Luna's avatars, now just as free of corruption as her, and completely uninjured, had appeared. She had wondered about it when Nightmare Moon didn't call the avatar to herself during their battle.
Sombra's automatic defenses managed to keep him from frying, but he couldn't dodge as the sun was thrown at him.
That was when the extent of his preparation became apparent. He summoned countless jewels, and drew power from them and the land. He cast countless pre-prepared protection spells, and poured every scrap of power he could muster into them. Countless layers of defense manifested themselves in the moment before impact.
The shields resisted the power of the sun for one, two, three seconds.
But there was a limit to how much power he could draw on such short notice. The shields broke, and the rest of the power of the spell hit him.
And yet the warlock was still standing when the spell ran out. He raised his jewels, resolving to use everything to destroy his opponents.
But the fight was already over. Twin Annihilation was one of the ultimate combination attacks the three had worked out, one with each of them in the lead.
And Twilight could do her part in the attack, since she hadn't needed to waste her magic holding Sombra. She dropped the spell structure, while keeping the charged energy.
It was good, since the alternative would be Trixie and Twilight overdriving a lot more than recommended to defeat him before he overwhelmed them.
Speaking of that...
"OVERDRIVE!" Twilight did enough of an Overdrive to obtain the necessary energy fast enough that Sombra couldn't stop her.
"Cause and effect shift under my command...
"Causality Sign: Double Effect!" And Twilight performed the last spell of the fight.
And before Trixie's eyes, the ultimate form of Twilight's chaos magic was realized: Conceptual Manipulation. And Sombra was hit with the same amount of energy that went through his shields in the previous attack.
"AAAAARRRRRRGH!!!" His scream was deafening.
"COMBINATION ATTACK: TWIN ANNIHILATION!" The three announced as loud as they could.
Sombra's last resistance was broken and his body was utterly consumed by the solar flames.
This was confirmed by the barrier breaking and letting the sun shine down into that region with no hindrances for the first time in years.
Twilight and Sunset fell down unconscious.
Trixie watched as the pegasus avatar flew over to Luna, and helped her stand. Her attention was then taken by the appearance of Princess Celestia.
Trixie did a small head bow (she was too tired for anything else) and Celestia said:
"My faithful apprentice, it's good to see you've been sucessful. How are your partners?"
"They didn't Overdrive that much, so it's fine. Sunset should be waking up any moment now, and Twilight in two minutes. Now if you'll excuse me. I need to lay down for a bit."
And Trixie proceeded to do so. To the amusement of her teacher.
Celestia approached her sister with joy in her heart. But Luna spoke before she could.
"Sister... I'm sorry... The darkness... It's my fault..." She had tears in her eyes.
Celestia didn't let her go any further, and wrapped her in a hug.
"Enough, sister. You can think about that later. You can atone later. For now, I just want to enjoy having my sister back."
And Luna started to cry, hugging the sister she had been separated from for so long.