The Return of Sunset Shimmer

by Never2muchpinkie


Chapter 13: The power of darkness

Twilight was panting. The explosive burst of power had all but faded. The large sphere of magic was much smaller, and her horn kept flickering like it might go out at any second. Her rampant emotions had settled somewhat, her power back under her control.

Sunset was hovering in the air, unharmed. She slowly shook her head. “Oh, Twilight. I expected so much more out of you. For all your posturing and grandstanding all you did was waste your precious energy. You were so lost in your emotions you just fired at random, not even thinking about where you were shooting. Had you been in control of your emotions and your powers you would have used other spells to try and assure you’d at least hit me once.

“I’m quite disappointed, actually. I was hoping to get a real challenge out of you, but I suppose this is all I get.” Turning so she was facing downward she raced to the ground, landing and kicking up a cloud of dust. Her amusement was gone, replaced by a determined frown. Her eyes narrowed. “It really is a shame about Spike, but I never intended for him to get involved in the first place. That was his choice.” Twilight growled. “You’ve exhausted yourself. You have nothing left. If you stop resisting right now I promise your friends and Ponyville will be safe. That’s my offer. Take it or leave it.”

Twilight did get angry at Sunset’s mention of Spike, but it was quickly drowned out by a sense of fear. Whether she wanted to admit it or not Sunset was right: She had exhausted herself and been reckless with her magic. Her stamina was almost all gone. And with Spike incapacitated or dead she had no way to get in touch with Princess Celestia. If she didn’t do something quick she was going to die.

She stared at Sunset for a short while, before closing her eyes. The aura from her horn faded. “Fine, then. Go ahead and do it.”

“What?” “No!” “Twilight, don’t!”

Her friends were calling out to her, but she ignored them. She couldn’t afford to get distracted. She still had enough magic for one good shot. Once she disappeared from sight because of Sunset’s own spell she would gather up every last bit of energy she had. At the last second she would summon something for Sunset to hit, as Sunset needed to believe she had hit her. When Sunset dropped her guard she would teleport right behind Sunset and blast her with every last bit of energy she could muster. Being honest, she had no idea whether that last bit would kill Sunset outright, but at this point she was out of options. There was also the possibility that Sunset would block or dodge her attack. If that happened then she was doomed, but she had to gamble for her future.

“Thank you, Twilight,” Sunset said genuinely, her horn exploding with power much like Twilight’s just had. “It will only hurt for a second. I’m using way more power than is necessary to ensure that.”

Twilight could feel her heart thumping loud in her chest. The tension in her body was so heavy. It was all-or-nothing. The next minute would determine her future… or lack thereof.

Rainbow unfurled her wings. She didn’t care what Twilight thought. She had already lost one of her friends today. She wasn’t going to lose another.

“Goodbye, Twilight!” Sunset tilted her head forward, ready to strike. All of a sudden there was a popping noise, and Celestia appeared between the two.

Her sudden appearance surprised all of them. Twilight opened her eyes, and her heart soared. The princess might know how to stop the Alicorn Amulet. She looked into her mentors concerned eyes, and tears began to come down them. “Princess Celestia,” she said warmly.

Sunset’s eyes went wide, and then they narrowed, rage flowing through her. “Princess Celestia!” Sunset said scathingly. “We end this NOW!” She fired the energy she had built up earlier.

Celestia turned her head at Sunset’s words, and shock went through her. “Sunset Shimmer?” She was so surprised that she was slow to react as Sunset fired at her.

Twilight teleported in front of Celestia, and fired the last bit of her magic right at the tip of Sunset’s spell. She knew she couldn’t match Sunset power for power in her tired state, so she made her blast in a triangle shape, splitting the magic harmlessly around the two of them.

She heard the cries of her friends to her side, and her heart jumped. Sunset’s spell hadn’t hit them directly, but it had crashed into the ground nearby, blowing them all away with the shockwave. They were all laid out on the ground, dazed. Rarity was still holding tightly to Spike. “You… you guys…” Twilight felt a dagger in her heart.

“Tsk!” Sunset fumed. “She got in the way. Hmm?” Twilight suddenly flopped to the ground, panting hard. Her head slumped a bit.

“Twilight’s exhausted,” Stardust said happily. “She had to have used up the last of her magic with that. Now you can fight Celestia without interruption.”

‘Sounds like a plan,’ Sunset thought.

Celestia was stunned, still trying to grasp what exactly was going on. Sunset had reappeared through the portal, and her magic was enormous. She had tried to attack her. It seemed obvious that Sunset was what Twilight had been firing at, but why? From what she had heard Sunset had turned over a new leaf. Why was Sunset fighting Twilight? Why go after her?

She got her answer when she spotted the Alicorn Amulet around Sunset’s neck. How had Sunset gotten a hold of it? She didn’t have time to ponder all the why’s of the situation. Sunset was out of control, and had to be stopped. The answers to her questions could wait until then.

“Sunset,” Celestia’s said impassively.

“That’s me!” she said smugly. “The student you left behind. I just schooled your star pupil. Look at her, exhausted and useless, while I stand fresh and ready for more.” Her horn began to glow again. “Would you like to play too? Well, even if you don’t you’re not going to have a choice. I’m going to knock you right off that bloody throne of yours, and avenge all those poor souls you’ve wronged.” Her joyous tone had faded entirely by the end, to be replaced with her anger. The jewel flashed. “This is the end for you, Celestia. I’m going to destroy you and rule Equestria the right way.”

Celestia stared at Sunset, her expression neutral. Sunset had been completely brainwashed by the Amulet.

Twilight was forcing herself up on her hooves, straining her body. “N-no!” she gasped out. “N-no… way! I won’t let that happen.” She was standing now, but her breathing was strained, sweat pouring down her face.

Sunset rolled her eyes. “Be a good girl, Twilight, and stay out of this. Your life is getting prolonged for now. You should enjoy the last hour of your existence.” With a quick flash of her horn and a wave of her hoof the ground under Twilight shifted and she fell back to the ground.

It made no difference to her. Twilight was pushing herself up again. “I… I’m going… to protect my friends!” An itsy-bitsy glow came from her horn, and then an almost invisible spark that traveled a few feet before fading.

Sunset let out a long breath, putting a hoof to her head. “How pathetic. You’re useless now. Don’t you get that? Now stay DOWN!”

Sunset slammed her hoof down, and Twilight felt a weight on her back knocking her back to the ground.

Twilight felt totally helpless. Sunset’s power was too great. She didn’t know if Celestia could take on Sunset alone. She had to do something. Anything! She strained herself with every fiber of her being until she was standing up again. “I need to protect them! I need to protect…”

Celestia put a hoof on Twilight’s back. “It’s alright, Twilight. You’ve done enough. Just take a break and-”

Twilight slapped her hoof away, ignoring her words. “My assistant!” Spike appeared in her mind. “My friends!” Then Rainbow and the rest. “My teacher!” And finally Celestia. “I… I won’t lose anymore! I’m going to protect everyone!” She strained herself to her utmost, but she could barely get a reaction from her horn. “I need more power! More power! Coooommee… oooonnnnn!”

“Twilight, that’s enough!” said Celestia firmly. “You’ll only-” She gasped, shaking. “No!”

“Huh?” Sunset said, confused. The air around Twilight was shimmering, much like a mirage in the heat. The red of her aura began to turn purple, mixed with black and green.

With a cry of rage and pain Twilight’s eyes began to glow a dark green, a purple aura coming out the sides of them. Power was flowing through her. Her anger grew stronger, and her other emotions of loss and grief faded. A sphere of magic swirled around her rapidly like a tornado of energy.

Everyone was staring at Twilight in shock.

“T-that’s…” Rainbow blinked, unable to believe it.

“That’s King Sombra’s dark magic,” Applejack said, her eyes wide.

“Oh, no!” said Fluttershy. “Does that mean Twilight’s gone evil?”

“No!” Pinkie Pie said a bit too quickly. “I… I mean, I don’t think so.”

Stardust heard the words Applejack said, and he was taken aback. “An alicorn… with dark magic?” He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it. “That Celestia’s prized student would lose herself in darkness…” It was almost too good to be true. It was hilariously ironic to him.

“Huh?” Sunset’s eyes went wide. Twilight had vanished. She heard the swish next to her, but was unable to react in time as Twilight socked her with a hoof, sending her flying. “WHAT?” She barely had a chance to recover before Twilight was on her again. Twilight treated her like a cue ball, hitting her repeatedly.

Sunset growled. “That’s enough!” She spread her hooves out, creating a shield around her. There was an impact as Twilight’s hoof made contact with the shield. They made eye contact. Twilight’s expression was cold and calculating, a far cry from her usual attitude, or even of just a few minutes ago. There was no trace of sadness or any emotion at all.

Sunset grimaced, an eye closing as the multiple impacts began to ache. “Darn you!”

Twilight’s horn burst with energy, firing it down toward her, sending her towards the ground.

“Grrrrr!” Sunset growled. She could hear a cracking sound. Her shield wasn’t going to last. As she reached the ground the spell shattered. She shielded herself with her wings as the blast created a deep crater in the ground.

“W-whoa!” There was no joy in Rainbow’s exclamation. She actually felt a little afraid. They had been there at the Crystal Empire. They had seen what Sombra was capable of. If Twilight was using that kind of magic herself there was no telling what she might do.

Celestia looked up mournfully at Twilight. The mare she knew would never exploit dark magic for her own ends. To her knowledge Twilight had not used it since the incident with King Sombra. She was in the dark about many things, and she needed answers.

***

Cadance was sitting on her throne, talking casually with Shining Armor. Six crystal ponies in armor were patrolling around her for security. Attention was drawn to the entrance as a stallion came running in.

“Princess Cadance!” he shouted.

The six guards quickly gathered around her. “Halt!” said one of them. “State your business!”

He panted for a bit, a bit of panic on his features. “We need you immediately, Princess Cadance! It’s an emergency!” After a few seconds he added, “Maybe. I don’t know.”

Cadance and Shining looked toward each other for a second, before turning back to him. “What do you mean maybe?” asked Cadance, hopping off the throne and walking toward him.

“Ponies are panicking. They… they believe King Sombra might have returned.”

The self-control of the guards broke at that announcement, their crystal coats getting a little less shiny. They quickly looked around them like he might break in at any moment.

Cadance stomped a hoof and said, “Compose yourselves!” To the stallion that had run in she asked, “Why do they believe that? Has he been spotted?”

He shook his head. “No, Princess. But the Crystal Heart is acting strangely. It seems like it’s glow is fading, and it’s far too early for the latest Crystal Fair to restore its magic. Although the Brave and Glorious Spike and alicorn princess Twilight helped us to retrieve the Crystal Heart, and we saw King Sombra’s end with our own eyes, there are many that believe that without the Crystal Heart he’d return again.”

Cadance looked behind her, a serious look on her face. “Shining, come on. We should go see this for ourselves.”

“Of course,” he replied with a nod.

Together the three of them headed toward the spot in the square where the Crystal Heart was kept for all to see, the six guards in tow. Along the way there several ponies approached her, and she could see their terror with her own eyes.

She could hardly blame them for their fear. They had been locked away for a thousand years, subjected to brutal mistreatment. That King Sombra might return at any moment had to be a fear that was present in every one of the crystal ponies.

She did her best to reassure them, but she couldn’t say anything with certainty until she saw things for herself.

As she reached the square she saw a crowd of ponies surrounding the Crystal Heart, and they all began to beseech her for information.

“Quiet, please!” she said gently but firmly. “I need to inspect the Heart myself to see if there is anything wrong with it.”

Though it grew silent in regards to words she could hear the moaning and whimpers of fear in the crowd. She knew she had to solve this issue as soon as possible before the crystal ponies lost heart.

Looking closely at the Heart she saw it indeed seemed to have lost some of its luster. She looked up into the sky, seeing the aurora lights heading off into the distance, spreading beauty through the sky. That seemed to be normal.

After a few minutes Shining said, “Well? Have you discovered the problem?”

Cadance backed up a step from the Heart, turning to face him. “I believe so.”

The attention of all the crystal ponies grew razor sharp.

“I can’t say whether or not it is King Sombra or some other entity, but there is a being with incredible dark magic out and about in Equestria.”

“What do you mean?” Shining asked, as much for himself as for the rest of their audience.

“The Crystal Heart is the Crystal Empire’s greatest means of defense. It’s not quite as powerful as the Elements of Harmony, but so long as the ponies in the empire have light and love in their hearts this Heart will not let dark forces of any kind through it. And yet the Crystal Heart is reacting to something regardless.”

Gesturing toward the sky she continued on. “All of you can see the rainbow trails spreading against the sky, showing that the Crystal Heart is still functioning as it should. The only thing that would stop the spreading of that is extremely strong dark magic. The Crystal Heart is funneling power into trying to squash that dark magic, but the source is so far away that it cannot do so.”

She stared thoughtfully at the Heart for a few moments more. “Shining Armor.”

“Yes, Cadance?” he replied.

“If the Crystal Heart is detecting dark magic of this level it must be dealt with quickly before it can spread.”

“Of course.” He nodded. “Where do we start, though?”

“If one wants to attempt to conquer Equestria the alicorns are the place to start. They’re not anywhere near the Crystal Empire, which leaves only Canterlot and Ponyville.”

Shining felt torn between duty and love. As the former captain of the Royal Guard in Canterlot he knew that Celestia was the central pillar for many ponies. She was the natural choice of those to be protected first. However…

Cadance walked up to him, giving him a nuzzle. “I know exactly what’s going through your mind, Shining. Looking at things from a logical perspective Canterlot would be the place we check first. I know also that, as her big brother, you’re concerned for the well-being of your sister.”

She gave him a kiss. “I’m more concerned for Twilight than Celestia. Don’t forget that Celestia is not the only alicorn in Canterlot. Luna is there too, and the two can fight together. They are also much older and more capable than her. So all in all, we should go to Ponyville first.”

Shining couldn’t stop himself letting out a sigh of relief, glad that Cadance had made the decision.

Cadance unfurled her wings. “Get on quickly. There’s no time to waste.”

Shining jumped up on her back, holding on to her neck. “Let’s go, honey. I’m worried about Twily too.”

Cadance addressed the crowd around them, slowly turning her head to look around at them. “Keep your hearts strong, my faithful subjects. So long as you keep light and joy in your hearts you’ll have nothing to fear from this threat. The protective magic of the Crystal Heart is absolute. Nothing with evil or malicious intentions will be able to pass through the barrier.”

Her own shield spell was based on a similar principle to the Crystal Heart. Shining Armor was more proficient at shield spells than her, but his spell could only block physical matter. On the other side she had to constantly keep her attention focused on the magic or else it would fade, while Shining’s shield could be put in a stand-by mode, only activating when it was necessary to do so.

She could tell the crystal ponies were still afraid, but they were less so than before. “I will return as soon as possible with the good news. Please do not be concerned. We will never allow King Sombra, or any dastardly creature, to conquer this world.”

She crouched slightly before jumping into the air and flapping her wings. When she was a hundred feet in the air she took a deep breath, and then took off in the direction of Ponyville. Shining used his magic to push her from behind, increasing her speed still further.

“Hold on, Twily, we’re coming!” Shining shouted.

***

Sunset was panting slightly at the bottom of the hole. She had to be down at least a hundred feet. Her wings were all but shattered. She had been able to dispel the magic around her, creating tunnels on either side of her.

“What… was that?” she said to herself, then she addressed Stardust. “Hey! Genius! I thought you said Twilight was exhausted. Where is all this power coming from? She was nothing like this before. There is only one of you, right?”

“Of course there’s only one of me, you stupid girl,” he replied angrily. “How many Starswirl the Bearded’s can there be?”

“So how did she suddenly get so much power? She has to have some kind of power amplifier like I do.”

“In a sense you’re right. What Twilight is using right now is dark magic, the same as the ancient unicorn king Sombra.”

“What?” she said in shock. “How would Twilight know that?”

“From what I gathered the two of them had a go at one another when he returned. Dark magic is fueled by anger and fear. The greater the emotions the greater the power one can muster.” He laughed mockingly. “Look what you’ve done. You pushed Twilight’s psyche to the edge, and now she’s even stronger than before. And because that dark magic is tempering and focusing her emotions it’s not like before where she was being reckless with her power.” He laughed again. “Now we’re at the worst-case scenario. Two full-powered alicorns against just one of you and what I can provide.

“You gonna run?”

She could hear the sickening smugness in his tone, and snorted angrily. “Of course not, you daft old coot! That prissy brat is nothing compared to me! I don’t care how strong she gets!” The jewel in the amulet flared brightly. “Anger? ANGER? What does she know of anger? What does she know of pain and despair and losing everything you once valued?”

Reforming her magic wings she gathered her magic, circling it around her as she exploded out of the ground with a yell. “Let’s go, Twilight! You’re finished now!”

Twilight looked back at her dispassionately, surrounding herself with magic as well. The two of them charged at each other, their magic spheres bouncing off one another.

Twilight shot a blast at her, and Sunset teleported out of the way, appearing on top of her, firing as well. Twilight jumped out of the way, shooting at Sunset again. Sunset slammed the attack away with her wing.

Celestia walked over to Twilight’s friends, surrounding them all in a shield. “Shield magic is not my specialty, but this should be enough for now.

“I need to know what’s going on. What caused all of this?”

Pinkie Pie said with a little groan, “Sunset came through the portal now that it’s open again. She returned because she felt bad about her past actions and wanted to make amends with you.”

Celestia’s eyes softened for a moment. “Sunset…” She looked to the side where Twilight and Sunset were still battling, then back to Pinkie. “Go on.”

“I know what it seems like, Princess,” said Applejack, taking her hat off, “but I promise she was being genuine. All of us saw her pain and regret.”

“She was so afraid you wouldn’t accept her she wouldn’t sleep where she thought she might run into you,” said Rainbow, “so we sent her to Zecora’s.”

“And that’s where she found the Alicorn Amulet,” said Fluttershy, hanging her head. “In the beginning of this battle Sunset still seemed like a good pony. She made shields for us so no one else would get hurt, but both her and Twilight changed when…” Her eyes clenched, a few tears coming down them.

“When what?” asked Celestia. None of them seemed to want to look at her, but finally Rainbow pointed toward Rarity. Her eyes turned to the pair, and Celestia’s composure broke. “Spike!” Her legs almost gave out, but she managed to stay upright. “No…”

Rarity gave Spike yet another hug. “Spike jumped in front of an attack meant for Twilight. Sunset’s been tricked into believing that you’re some evil despot and Twilight’s your brainwashed slave. She was trying to take Twilight out to liberate her from your control. Sunset seemed genuinely sorry up until Spike got in the way. Even since then she’s been indifferent to anything other than her goal. She’s mad with power, and Spikey-Wikey had to pay the price for it.” She squeezed tighter, her voice cracking. “Oh, Spikey!” She sniffed, crying over him.

Celestia let out a sigh, and then her face was a mask. You wouldn’t have guessed she had just shown any weakness. “Okay, next question: I notice the five of you are wearing your Elements. Where is Twilight's?”

“Sunset tricked Twilight,” Applejack replied. “She made a fake amulet and took it off when we threatened ta use the Elements against her. When Twilight dropped her guard Sunset took the Element and teleported it away somewhere.”

“That’s not good,” she said in a solemn tone. Sunset was an issue, of course, but not the only threat. She could not be allowed to hold onto the Element of Magic.

“What do we do, Princess?” asked Fluttershy, tugging on her mane.

Celestia was quiet for a short while. “For now, nothing.”

“Nothing?” asked Rainbow. “What do you mean, nothing?”

“Right now their powers are roughly equal, and neither seems able to hurt the other. The source of Sunset’s anger is with me, so if I interfere it will only make things more complicated.”

“Princess?” said Pinkie.

“Yes?” she replied.

“Is Twilight possessed or corrupted like Sunset is?”

Celestia gazed back toward the battling ponies for a few moments before replying, “No. Or rather, I’d say, not yet.”

“Not… YET?” Rainbow asked, unfurling her wings and flying right near Celestia’s face. “What do you mean by that? How does Twilight know this kind of dark magic anyway?”

Celestia sighed. “I was the one that taught it to her before your trip to the Crystal Empire.”

“WHAT?” Applejack said, shocked. “Why in the hay would ya know somethin’ like that, let alone teach it ta Twilight?”

“It was something she needed to see, in preparation for what she was going to be fighting. I thought it might also come in handy, and it did. Twilight needed to use it to get to the Crystal Heart. I never expected it to come to this, though.”

“How long do we have?” Fluttershy asked quietly. “You said she wasn’t corrupted yet.”

“I don’t believe there’s any cause to worry for the time being. Dark magic is fueled by anger and fear. The greater the emotions the greater the power one can muster. Twilight’s fear, Twilight’s anger… they both spring from the same source. I doubt I need to explain what.” All of them glanced toward Spike, then back to her, and nodded.

“Twilight was likely doing all she could to talk Sunset down. Ultimately, it was unsuccessful, and Spike got caught in the crossfire. When that happened Twilight’s emotions caused her magic to surge up much like the first day I met her.

“When that power was all used up Twilight was exhausted, and she used the last of it to protect me. The redirection caused all of you to get indirectly hurt. She realized how much of a threat Sunset is right now, and she wanted to help all of you as her friends. She strained and concentrated, searching everywhere inside her for a little extra strength to help all of you, and she found it.” She glanced at the pair again. “I do not believe that Twilight consciously decided to use dark magic. She’s not the kind of pony that would rely on such an art, even as a last resort.”

Celestia’s horn began to glow yellow, then it turned black and purple. Her eyes went green like Twilights. All of them unconsciously backed up a step. Rarity, who was sitting down, settled for backing her body up. “Dark magic is not inherently evil. Much like the night darkness can be a good thing. That’s why it’s not called evil magic. Dark magic, if used properly, can aid one in battle by shutting down unnecessary emotions and giving one a boost in power to conquer one’s foes.

“If used in short bursts, and only when absolutely necessary, the influence of dark magic will dispel over time. However, if used in excess it will begin to distort the mind. Things like sadness, empathy, and grief will become a thing of the past, and one becomes bitter, enraged, and cold.”

The aura faded, and Celestia let out a sigh. “It can be all too easy to become intoxicated with this power, and rely on your negative emotions to guide you. King Sombra was unable to control this power, and eventually became eternally lost to it.”

They understood better now. “So… what you’re saying is… Twilight is in danger?” Rarity asked.

“Not quite. A battle like this full of personal feelings and with casualties was bound to bring something unpleasant out of Twilight. She’s never experienced true loss before. However, by battle’s end she will drop that power, and her grief will overcome her anger. If Sunset is defeated by then I doubt Twilight will use it again unless in another case where she’s pushed to the edge emotionally. As I said earlier, if used sparingly and in short bursts, dark magic isn’t that dangerous to use.”

“Your Highness,” Fluttershy said, sounding very small, “do you think it will be possible… to save them both? I mean, I know what Sunset did to… to Spike… but she really did just want to make peace with you.”

“I’ll do what I can,” she said comfortingly. She draped a wing over Fluttershy. “I don’t want to lose Sunset either.”

“So, Princess, do ya know of a way to break the Alicorn Amulet’s magic?” Applejack asked.

“Unfortunately, no. The exact workings of the ownership enchantment are unknown to me. For now all I can do is observe. If it looks like one is about to overpower the other or things will become fatal I’ll do what I can to protect the one losing.”

Ten minutes passed, then twenty. Twilight and Sunset kept going back and forth, but neither could do a thing to the other. They were practically invisible the way they kept teleporting around, searching for that key moment of weakness of the other.

“Stop!” Sunset said suddenly.

Twilight complied, but kept a ready stance. “Why should I?”

“Because this is pointless.”

“After everything you’ve done today now you want to quit?” Twilight’s eyes narrowed to slits. “How dare you!”

Sunset shook her head. “No, you dolt. I intend to keep fighting. What I’m saying is that we’re at a stalemate. Attack, teleport, shield. It’s going nowhere. We’re teleporting all around and firing, but we teleport out of the way or put up a shield. And even IF we hit the shield the amount of power we can build up in a split-second is very minor, so there’s no chance of cracking it.”

Twilight didn’t respond.

“So what I’m saying is: let’s end this with one final attack, winner take all. No more tricks or trying to be clever. We both build up our power to its maximum, and whoever is stronger is the one that survives.”

“And… I’m supposed to believe you’re going to adhere to this?” Twilight spat out. “You can’t be trusted, you despicable monster!”

Somewhere deep inside that statement stung. “Hmph! Well, who needs your approval anyway? I’ve become stronger than I’ve ever dreamed. You think I need to rely on trickery when it comes to raw power?” Her horn’s aura grew larger and larger, the dark red casting its light around the area. “Well, Twilight? You game?”

Twilight stared at her for a while, before she glanced over towards her friends. Rarity was still cradling Spike. The crushing weight on her chest returned, and her anger flared. Her horn’s glow similarly grew in intensity, the blackness mixing with the green. “You’re on!”

Sunset smirked. “Excellent.”

All of the watchers looked back and forth between Sunset and Twilight.

Applejack gulped. “W-well, this is it.”

“Yeah,” said Pinkie. “If Sunset really isn’t going to pull any tricks now then the battle is going to end with the next attack.”

Fluttershy hugged Celestia’s leg. “P-Princess,” she started.

Celestia couldn’t afford to look away, but she did respond, “Yes?”

“Y-you really will be able to save them both?”

Celestia’s expression didn’t change, even though she sounded uncertain. “Perhaps. Hopefully this will cause the both of them to burn out their energy. I don’t know if the Alicorn Amulet has a limit to its powers, but the dark magic Twilight is using is tied directly to the amount of anger and hatred one feels in their heart. If both of them exhaust their magic here it will be far easier to resolve this with no more casualties.”

Rarity gave Spike a squeeze, keeping silent though she was burning to say something to the rest of them. She still felt it, the tiny little thump. Spike was still hanging on, likely by just a thread, but hanging on nonetheless. She had been whispering to him, keeping up a steady stream of encouragement. She didn’t know if he could actually hear her, but so long as there was the slightest chance that her efforts were keeping him alive she wouldn’t stop. As long as she could still feel that little beat under her hoof she wouldn’t give up hope.

Celestia looked between Sunset and Twilight. “I don’t know who is going to prevail in this contest, but I’ll do my best to shield the loser or get them out of harm’s way.”

“You ready?” Sunset asked, laughing. Twilight simply nodded. “Then let’s do it!”

As one they both released their blasts.

“Whoa!” Pinkie said, covering her face as she felt the wind whipping up around the attacks.

The two attacks converged, mixing with one another at the nexus.

“W-who do you think’s gonna win?” asked Fluttershy.

“I want to say Twilight,” started Rainbow Dash, “but there’s no way to tell. They look like they’re pretty even so far.”

Stardust was watching the contest, but he was distracted. He was intrigued by all of this, but there was one point of interest he couldn’t overlook. A new option was presenting itself to him. “An alicorn… with dark magic…”