Twilight could see Cadance was struggling hard, slowly being pushed back. Cadance was surely going to give out soon. If it was coming to that, then it meant her time was up. She was too exhausted to use her regular magic, and dark magic was out of the question. Even if she was at full strength she still wouldn’t have the means to stop the Amulet as long as it was immune to physical attacks.
The light of hope, something that had always burned within her no matter how badly things got, was fading quickly. The only means of survival they had now would result in her death.
She didn’t feel prepared for it. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to leave her friends. She didn’t want them to bear the burden of loss, especially with what had happened to Spike and Sunset.
There wasn’t much time left, and she wanted to spend it saying her goodbyes. Her heart burned, beating rapidly in her chest. She felt like she was going to break down, her spirit cracking. How had things turned out like this?
As the last dot of light was fading from her heart there was a sudden popping noise and a flash of energy in front of her. An object fell to the ground with a metallic thud. Twilight looked down, and her eyes opened wide in shock. It couldn’t be, but it was! It was the Element of Magic. Confusion assaulted her. How had it got there? Was it another of the Amulet’s tricks, to give her false hope?
A series of images popped into her head, her mind working rapidly: Sunset taking the Element from her and teleporting it away, the injured Sunset teleporting away, Sunset returning carrying something, the Amulet’s sudden change in attitude and attack, and finally Sunset jumping into the air to protect the object from the blow.
Comprehension dawned on her. Sunset hadn’t run away to try and escape punishment, but to retrieve the Element she had stolen earlier to give them the power to win. Sunset had been badly injured before at the end of their clash, and then took another big attack. And yet, she hadn’t died. She still lived on, using the last of her strength to protect them all.
A sob escaped from her as tears blurred her vision. She gulped, saying emotionally, “Sunset!”
Celestia had heard the noise before, but had still been trying to think of some plan she could use. Something about Twilight’s voice caught her attention, believing there was some connection between the sound and Twilight saying Sunset’s name. After all, she had noticed Sunset’s actions too, returning with something she seemed to think would help.
When she spotted the Element on the ground she quietly gasped, realizing as well what it must have cost Sunset to go that far. “Twilight!” she whispered sharply, quickly turning her head forwards again so as not to draw attention, “I understand your feelings on the matter, but if you do not act now Sunset’s sacrifice will only go to waste. Cadance is about to lose. If you truly wish to honor what she gave her life for then defeat Stardust now.”
Twilight looked up at her mentor, letting out a small, “Oh.” She shook her head. Now was not the time to get emotional. She felt strength returning to her, finally feeling a real sense of hope again. She lifted the Element of Magic in her aura, drawing it toward her. She was glad her friends were obstructing his view.
Twilight’s focus broke as the Element sat on her head. A burst of emotions that weren’t hers assaulted her. She could feel immense regret, as well as a sense of joy and love. She was sure these were Sunset’s feelings. Sunset’s heart had been left with it.
Maybe it was just wishful thinking on her part, but she believed that Sunset was encouraging her even now. Her feelings were laid bare, stored in the Element. It was another friend’s spirit beside her, lending her power.
Twilight refused to let Sunset down. She stood up, hope and purpose blazing inside of her, wiping out her exhaustion. She put a hoof to her heart. She was not going to let Sunset die for nothing.
Cadance felt despair starting to eat away at her. Stardust was so close. He had gotten to her emotionally, and she hadn’t been able to bounce back. The fear and doubt inside her had weakened her, exactly as he had intended.
Was this really where it all ended? She thought she could grab Twilight and run, but knew it was a dangerous option no matter what. Stardust would just pick a different host, maybe even Celestia herself. He could also make good on his threat to wipe out Ponyville, but if he got the body of an alicorn under his control the suffering of everyone would be just as great regardless.
“Cadance!” Twilight called out behind her, sounding unusually chipper. “It’s alright now. Just let it go.”
Stardust laughed. “You see? Even your own sister-in-law has accepted her fate. You should do the same.”
Cadance turned to look at Twilight, tears starting to form in her eyes. Shock appeared on her face as she saw Twilight wielding her Element. Twilight didn’t have it before, or she would have used it earlier.
She quickly realized the ‘why’ was unimportant. They now had the means to defeat him. She could get the details later. “Very well,” she said serenely, dropping her shield spell.
“At last!” Stardust said triumphantly, soaring toward Twilight.
Twilight wasn’t afraid anymore. Her friends surrounding her, Sunset’s feelings in her heart… truly, what did she have to fear now? Her horn glowed, a small shield surrounding her.
“You fool! What do you think that will do? I’ll just phase through it like your brother’s spell. You’re just wasting your-”
Twilight’s eyes glowed white with power, and, with a shout, she expanded the shield.
Stardust howled in surprise as he was knocked back. He was confused. He had been in Twilight’s head, and he had a grasp on her variety of spells. He knew for a fact her shield spell was just like her brothers. It would repel anything physical, but not incorporeal things. Cadance was the only one capable of making a shield that blocked anything with malicious intent, solid or not.
“Surprised?” Twilight said with a smirk. “In the end you underestimated friendship, as well as Sunset.”
Stardust glared at her. He had seen Twilight was a quick study, occasionally picking up spells she had only seen once. Had she really learned Cadance’s spell in the nick of time, or was it-
His train of thought stopped, and cold dread filled every fiber of his being. For the first time he was truly afraid. He had finally noticed the Element on Twilight’s head. “N-no! Impossible!” He had blasted Sunset full force while she was already badly injured. He could understand the will to protect someone you cared about, but there were limits even to that amount of inner strength. Sunset couldn’t have survived his attack, and yet the proof was right in front of him that she had, and had even mustered the strength to teleport the Element to Twilight so he wouldn’t notice.
“For someone so evil you really should have been more thorough. If you were going to betray someone that knew the only secret that could stop you then you really should have made sure she was finished earlier. Now you must face the consequences of Sunset’s final act of courage!”
He backed up a step. He hadn’t accounted for this. He had no chance of winning now. Twilight’s shield was protecting the other two alicorns and her brother. There were no other bodies nearby to take. He would have to retreat for the time being and wait for another opportunity to strike. They wouldn’t keep their guards up forever.
In response to Stardust’s step back Twilight took one forward, her smug look turning to hurt and anger. “You took away two things I really cared about. You’re not going to get away with it. Your evil acts end here!” Twilight’s body began to float as she channeled the power of the Elements, after-images of the six Elements pouring out of them.
Stardust thought of threatening Ponyville, or actually destroying it, but that would only infuriate Twilight more. He needed them to get to a point where they’d relax and start going about their daily lives. All he had to do is what he did before, and pick off just one of the Elements wielders. Then it wouldn’t matter what Twilight did. Without the magic of the Elements powering her up Twilight would be nothing.
He turned around and took to the air, using his levitation magic to increase his speed.
“Ah!” cried out Fluttershy. “He’s running!”
“That’s fine!” Twilight said in a relaxed voice. “We don’t need to attack him.”
Despite himself Stardust looked behind him to see what Twilight was talking about.
“His essence may be free to roam beyond the confines of that jewel, but he’s still firmly attached to it.” A rainbow emerged from their bodies, connecting the six of them. “Attack the jewel! All his energy is inside it. Without it he’s powerless.”
Stardust’s eyes opened in horror as the rainbow light headed straight for his housing. “NO!” He turned around, zooming toward the jewel. In his panic he didn’t even think to just teleport the jewel to him.
He grabbed the jewel, taking off again, but he was too late. He screamed as he was engulfed in the rainbow light. He couldn’t get away, and his essence slowly disappeared toward the jewel. As the rainbow light faded the jewel fell to the ground. Cracking sounds came from it, and then it shattered completely.
Twilight slowly landed. She took the Element off her head, sitting down and hugging it close to her. “Sunset!” It was truly over now. Stardust was gone completely. She broke down crying. “Spike!”
Shining, Cadance, and the rest of Twilight’s friends surrounded her, hugging her and crying as well. They were now free to mourn.
Celestia walked over to Sunset, standing over her fallen pupil. Sunset had made so many mistakes in her life, but in the end it seemed she had got it right. She knelt down, pushing Sunset onto her back. It was highly unlikely, but maybe, just maybe…
She put a hoof on Sunset’s chest, and for a moment that took an eternity she waited. She could feel a heartbeat. Sunset’s chest was slowly going up and down. She was badly injured, but Sunset was still alive.
Tears came down her eyes. “Sunset is still alive!” she said contentedly.
Twilight immediately looked up. “Are you sure, Princess?”
“Yes! Her heartbeat is faint, but she’s not dead.”
She was gratified to hear that. “Thank goodness.”
Rarity pulled away from their group hug. “Applejack, can you come with me for a moment?”
Applejack pulled away too. “What for?”
“Please!” she said desperately.
“Okay, then,” she said, confused, following Rarity towards the body of Spike.
Applejack looked mournfully down at him. “So what is it, Rarity? Hey!”
She grabbed Applejack in her magic, pulling her closer and lifting her hoof. She set Applejack’s hoof on Spike’s chest. “Please!” she said in a broken voice. “Please tell me I’m not crazy! Please tell me you hear it too! I need to know I’m not the only one!”
Applejack was too freaked at first to listen, thinking Rarity was forcing her to touch a corpse. As Rarity’s words sank in she stopped struggling, hoping it meant what she thought it did. Focusing all her attention she could feel a gentle thump against her hoof.
She felt like she was going to melt, her legs getting weak. “I… I can feel it!” Tears brimmed in her eyes. “I can feel it too!”
Rarity almost fell on Applejack as she hugged her friend. “Thank goodness!”
The two of them hugged, but they knew they couldn’t keep the good news secret forever.
“Twilight! Twilight!” Applejack screamed.
Twilight looked behind her. “What is it?” she asked, seeing their unusually happy expressions.
“Spike’s not dead, either!”
Twilight almost fainted, feeling like a small breeze would be enough to knock her over. She got up, running over to him. She grabbed his body, and she felt it for herself, the beating of his heart and the slow breaths making his chest go up and down.
“He… he really is alive!” she sobbed out, crying uncontrollably.
All of them looked around at each other with tired grins.
“So no one is dead, after all,” said Fluttershy. “What a relief.”
Sunset let out a little groan, starting to regain consciousness.
Sunset could hear something, her body being gently shaken, parts of words as if from a far distance from a badly tuned radio.
As she regained consciousness the soreness in her body became apparent again. She forced her eyes open a little, everything looking blurry.
As her vision began to clear she found herself looking into the face of Princess Celestia, bent over with concern on her face.
Waking up more and more, the memories returned. The worry in Celestia’s eyes made Sunset feel terrible. Why did Celestia still care about her? This was twice now she had been consumed by darkness. She had killed Spike. Tried to kill Twilight. Tried to kill her! And yet… and yet… Celestia was still looking down at her with love and compassion. Why? Why?
The words of the Alicorn Amulet came back to her. Without its influence his accusations felt so ridiculous. She knew Celestia was good all along. It was only her silly pride that had been weighing her down all this time.
She didn’t know what was going to happen next, whether she would be imprisoned or banished or executed or tortured. No matter what the future held she didn’t want to hold back anymore.
“P-P-Princess?” she said, her voice coming out raspy.
“Good, you’re awake,” Celestia said, sounding relieved.
Tears began to stream down her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” She began sobbing, almost gasping for breath, but still she kept repeating the words, feeling so freeing.
Celestia was momentarily stunned at Sunset’s rush of emotions, before getting a sense of déjà vu. She thought of her sister, and how wonderful it felt to get her back.
“That will do, Sunset.” Using her wings she lifted Sunset up, hugging her to herself. “Welcome home, Sunset. I’ve missed you so much!”
Sunset saw the joyful tears coming down Celestia’s eyes and lost all control, bawling her eyes out as she held tight to her former mentor, all pain forgotten.
Twilight paused in her crying for a moment. It had been terribly difficult to get to that point, but Sunset and Celestia were finally reunited properly. The two were embracing one another. Sunset was seeing how silly all her fears and worries had been.
“Way to go, Sunset,” she said joyfully. Just knowing that Spike was still alive was enough to allow her to fully appreciate the magnitude of that reconciliation.