Luna kept looking for a sign of the last clone, her trepidation mounting by the minute as she imagined increasingly desperate scenarios that the brave young pony could have got caught up in. With no trace in the immediate area of the city she landed on a cloud to think, then it struck her - Nyx had found her hiding place in the Badlands by homing in on her livery collar, so should it not work for her also?
Luna called out to the moon with her magic as Nyx had done before and found it both welcoming and receptive to her request. Heartened, Luna took to the air and flew a much larger track around the outskirts of the city and after a few minutes felt her livery collar begin to glow softly. Her heart sank. She was flying over the waterfalls, from where the drop was so high it could kill or at the very least seriously injure any ponies that went over the edge. She dived lower and her livery collar grew warmer, a good thing because she would not have considered this as one of the prime areas to search, but equally she grew increasingly concerned for Nyx’s safety.
She skimmed along the side if the river continuing her search. She seemed to remember doing something very similar with Nyx not long ago, but couldn’t make out if that had been a dream or reality, or even a premonition. Her heart was racing now, desperate to find her gifted young deputy, increasingly fearful of what she may find.
Banking round a bend in the river she saw a black form on the riverbank. It looked so bedraggled, that at first she dismissed it could even be a pony, but her livery collar was telling her she had found her goal, so she set down next to it, just to see.
Luna looked down and put a forehoof to her mouth – it was Nyx; she had found the last of the clones, but … was she even still alive? She wrestled to keep her guilt under control, but knew she was only a short step away from blaming herself for anything that may have happened, even though she had been powerless to fight against the curse herself.
“Please …” she whispered gently, reaching out with her forehoof, “Be alive …”
She struggled to find a pulse, gently pushing and prodding where she knew it ought to be. Finally she found something very weak and felt overjoyed, but the feeling of initial elation was short lived as this pony was clearly seriously injured. Quickly, she lit her horn and a light blue aura wrapped itself around the limp frame preventing her condition from worsening but unable to make her any better.
Luna levitated the weakened body carefully and rested it as best she could on her back, holding it in place with a spell before beating her massive wings and lifting into the air. The flight back to the castle was short and ignoring the window that had been the entrance of choice for the others, chose instead the main entrance. She approached and saw her sister tending to the guards who had suffered the wrath of Queen Chrysalis’ direct frontal attack earlier and landed beside her.
“Sister, please would you look at Nyx, she is in a bad way and beyond my restorative magic.”
The injured guard Celestia was treating nodded and she turned away to look at the sad form her sister was levitating from her back. She put a forehoof to her mouth to see the pitiful state Nyx was in and felt a tide of guilt wash over her for having misjudged her so badly when she was a filly. She quickly recovered her composure and emitted a yellow aura to set about examining her.
“Serious chest injuries, broken ribs, punctured lung, internal bleeding, water in the lung …” she reeled off, “She must have hit something very hard; you were lucky to find her, another half hour and she would be gone for sure.”
“She probably went over the waterfall and landed badly” postulated Luna.
“Yes – that would have done it” replied Celestia without looking up, as she continued her examination and started to repair the shattered body in front of her.
Luna looked up at her sister and saw fresh tear streaks on her muzzle. Yes, the life of this clone hung in the balance, but this was the first genuine expression of remorse she had seen Celestia show towards Nyx that couldn’t be attributed to glib expressions from a consummate politician. She knew that Nyx would have to rejoin together soon and that any injuries in this clone would become compounded with the other injuries suffered by all the others. Whilst this would be serious, she had no ideas what the consequences would be if this clone died.
Celestia worked tirelessly with her magic and was interrupted only by a professional male voice beside her. One of the guards who had witnessed Nyx’s bravery had gone to find Sir John General, the Royal Physician and dragged him back to look at this most important of patients. There was a brief discussion, and then a second magical aura appeared on the ailing body, both working together as time started to run out.
“Princess” remarked Sir John, “She has lost a lot of blood, we will need a donor.”
“Me” volunteered Luna without a second thought.
“Your Majesty?” he enquired quizzically.
“Her body was fashioned after mine. We are identical.”
He looked up at her questioningly.
“Without further delay, if you please” replied Luna assertively.
Quickly, he reached into his bag and pulled out a needle and a length of flexible pipe.
“This may hurt a little” he warned.
“I have faced worse” replied Luna becoming noticeably testy, “And far worse will befall her if we do not hurry.”
Chastened, he applied a tourniquet to her foreleg and set up the life-giving connection between the two alicorns, buying valuable time.
A respectful crowd formed around the scene, amongst whom was a concerned looking black alicorn who had come from the throne room. She said nothing, but went back to tell the other clones that they could expect a bumpy ride when they all rejoined. In a flash, Twilight ran out of the throne room and out to the main entrance where she pushed her way through the crowd to catch Luna’s sympathetic eye.
“Make way for Princess Twilight Sparkle!” she announced, and the way parted in front of her. She looked at Nyx and her world went into tunnel vision, just seeing the helpless form being worked on by two of the most respected ponies in all of Equestria. She felt her knees buckle as she knelt to stroke her daughters soft muzzle, and although she tried to resist the flood of tears building up behind her eyes, a lump rose in her throat and a choke turned into a sob as she cradled her head, willing her eyes to open and see that familiar smile. If Twilight had been called upon to say anything, that would have been enough to cause the tears to burst forth. Celestia looked up briefly and could read her clearly, comforting her with a gentle smile before resuming her work.
Finally Sir John turned to Celestia and gave her an update that everypony present listened intently to hear. Twilight was desperate to know too, but equally did not want to know if the news was bad, and steeled herself as best she could, that lump in her throat growing bigger by the second.
“We’ve done what we can” he announced, addressing the three Princesses, “Her chances are good, but recovery will take some time.”
“But we don’t have time” protested Twilight.
“Ah yes” he responded, “Her unique physiology. These injuries will be carried forward when she rejoins her clones together. I suggest Nyx performs this task in the operating theatre surrounded by our best medical staff as nopony can predict what may happen.”
He got up and clamped the flexible pipe joining Nyx to her donor and then withdrew it from Luna’s foreleg offering her the most grateful thanks and warning her to be careful as she had given a lot of blood. Celestia levitated Nyx and followed Sir John to the medical facilities. Luna placed a forehoof forward to follow them and lost her balance, only being saved by Twilight’s quick reactions in securing her with a fixing spell.
“I … I am sorry …” she muttered apologetically, ”I have become weaker than I anticipated.”
“Here, allow me, Luna” said Twilight moving alongside to offer her support, “Even heroes need a little help sometimes.”
“I am hardly a hero, Twilight Sparkle …”
“Oh yes you are” replied Twilight, giving her a friendly nuzzle, “You brought back my daughter.”
They made their way through the medical facilities and into the operating theatre, the troupe of Nyxes squeezing into the limited space as best they could.
“If we could leave this for even just a day, then the patient would be so much stronger; she may even be conscious by then too. I am worried that the shock of going through the rejoining process could kill her” pleaded Sir John, “And then I dare not think what could happen to the rest of you.”
“The dividing spell can only last so long” replied the spokespony of the Nyxes, “We can’t wait any longer, and a whole day is definitely out of the question.”
“Very well” replied Sir John, “But I can assure you we have all the facilities here to give you the best chance of recovering from whatever is wrong with you when you’re back together again.”
“Before we start” pronounced Celestia, “I want to say thank you to you, Nyx. I know we got off on the wrong hoof, and I will never forgive myself for the mistakes I made, but I just want you to know how grateful I am, in fact, how grateful we all are for what you have done and I hope in time you may grow to look upon me as a favourite aunt rather than a tyrant.”
“Thank you Princess Celestia” said Nyx, extending her muzzle up to meet Celestia’s leaning down to her.
The white mare wanted to say something more, but a lump rose in her throat and Twilight stepped in instead, “We all love you Nyx.”
Nyx looked to Sir John.
“Now?” she asked.
“If you’re ready” he confirmed.
There was a flash and suddenly the room was a lot less crowded.
Even before their eyes had adjusted, they all heard a deep groan and the one remaining Nyx fell to the floor clutching her chest. A nurse standing by with a sedative moved forward and gave her a shot which made her relax. Quickly, Sir John levitated the black pony onto the operating table where he examined her again. He knew where to look and as expected found that while the injuries were present, they were now less serious, but on the other hoof there were also a lot of other minor injuries from the other clones that had been treated by other members of his medical team earlier.
“How is she?” asked Twilight, twiddling her forehooves anxiously.
“It will take time, but her signs are strong. I suggest close observation for at least the next day.”
Immediately all three Princesses volunteered.
“I’ll take the first shift” said Twilight, “Don’t you two have a sun to lower and a moon to raise?”
The Royal sisters looked at each other as realisation dawned on them; Equestria had been in a state of perpetual dusk for days already.
“Very well” concurred Luna, “But I shall take second watch as it falls during the night.”
The night passed without incident and Celestia came down to the infirmary early next morning to see Nyx on a recovery bed, the operating theatre having been needed for the treatment of other patients.
“Good morning Lulu, how is she?”
“Greetings, Tia. She has turned a few times in her sleep, but is clearly in pain from her chest injuries. Other than that, all is well.”
“Good, I shall stay here while you lower the moon.”
Luna leaned over the sleeping Nyx and gave her a gentle kiss before going to attend to her duties, leaving her and her sister together.
“Nyx” whispered Celestia, giving her a kiss, “I love you. Please get well soon.”
These were words she had to say, but had somehow never been able to before now. She stayed leaned over the young mare’s peaceful form and a few overdue tears spilled onto her jet black fur.
A smile formed on Nyx’s face and she cracked an eye open.
“I love you too, Princess.”