The Quiet Place

by Aynine

Chapter 24: Avatar of Silence

The Quiet Place

By: Aynine

[Disclaimer: I own nothing of the MLP franchise and all rights are reserved by Hasbro and the respective parties involved.]

Chapter 24: Avatar of Silence

        Twilight nearly stumbled, again, as she headed for the throne room, her hasty walk compelled by an urgency in her steps. She had donned a plain black cloak, much to Trixie's protest, and the edges of it fluttered by her hooves, always taunting her to trip and fall. The cloak seemed like a large shadow over her already darkened fur, and some of the castle staff gave her nervous looks as she walked by, appearing almost as if she had come from the black shadow of her cloak. She hardly acknowledged them, her thoughts consumed by the idea of speaking to Nightmare once more. The idea almost made it feel like a prize for dueling Luna. Almost. The castle staff and royal guards seemed to blur into the walls of the corridors as she focused only on the path to the throne room.

        She skidded to a stop when she realized something was missing. "Trixie?" she asked, spinning around to find that the magician had fallen far behind her.

        The light blue mare had broken into a gallop to catch up to her. "Slow down, Twilight. It's not a race!"

        "Sorry. I'm just so... anxious to talk to Nightmare... and to spar with Luna," she finished begrudgingly. "It feels wrong to fight her." She continued at a normal walking pace when Trixie had caught up to her.

        "It does seem weird. I've never seen Princess Luna fight before, and then she challenges you out of the blue—literally—after Telos put those glyphs on you? Are you sure you want to go through with this?"

        Twilight stopped and the magician nearly crashed into her, instead stumbling to standing beside her. She looked to the floor with concern, rubbing a hoof softly against it. "Yes. It's probably a good idea to test my strength. I haven't used my magic for anything but picking up books and quills since I woke up, and I haven't even started on training to use astral projection. This is a good way to keep my skills sharp."

        "Twilight, please don't go through with this," Trixie said worriedly. "You're going to get hurt," she reminded.

        "I can handle a few scrapes and bruises, Trixie. Besides, I've got you to nurse me back to health." She smiled and leaned over, planting a kiss on the other mare's cheek. "It's a duel, not a death match."

        Trixie followed behind Twilight as she continued on to the throne room. "Oh, yeah? And when was the last time you heard of an archmage getting just a few scrapes and bruises in a duel, huh?" she grumbled.

        Twilight rounded a corner and found Dash leaning against a windowsill and staring out of the window. She held a distant stare as she casually brushed a hoof across the window a few times, sighing all the while. It wasn't until Twilight had moved to stand just behind her that Dash became aware of her presence.

        The knight did a double take, nearly sliding against the windowsill and falling. "Hey! Don't sneak up on me like that!"

        "Sorry, Rainbow. I didn't want to bother you while you were... doing whatever it was you were doing," apologized Twilight as she stifled a giggle.

        "I was just... thinking about somepony is all." She glanced at the floor with disappointment before brightening her disposition. "So, what's up?"

        "I'm on my way to spar with Luna. Do you—"

        "Whoa, really? I gotta see this," exclaimed Dash as she dropped down to walk beside her.

        Twilight frowned. "I guess," she said hesitantly. "Well, come on. We're meeting her in the throne room." Before she could move, another voice called out to her and she turned around to find the source. "Spike?"

        The dragon's steps were so energetic he was almost bounding towards her. "Hey, I just heard about your fight with Luna," he said breathlessly. "How could... you agree... to that?"

        "How did you even—Nevermind. It's not fight. We're just having a friendly duel," Twilight said as she rolled her eyes. "I don't need an entire audience worrying about us while I spar with one of my best friends and mentors. It will be fine." She loosed an exasperated sigh, then adjusted her cloak.

        "This is a bad idea, Twilight," the dragon added after regaining his breath.

        "Look, I have my own doubts about this, but Luna was the one who suggested it," she said.

        "Then don't go through with this."

        She stopped and flexed a foreleg out, holding her hoof up and staring at it. "No, I should do this, and I've already made up my mind. I need to get back on my hooves with my magic. Aurelius is getting his strength back, and so should I."

        The dragon gazed at her with frustrated worry. "I've got a bad feeling about this."

        Twilight glanced to him, one corner of her mouth pulling up. "You aren't the only one. She turned her head back to Trixie, then continued leading the way to throne.


        "Has the staff been reforged," asked Luna as she descended the stairs of the throne, "I do not wish to delay beyond this evening if it can be helped."

        Telos tilted his head back and yawned loudly, following with a shake of his head and a smack of his lips. He rustled his robe before procuring the staff wrapped in a blue cloth from the depths of his garment. He tossed it onto the carpet at Luna's hooves and yawned again. "Forgive me, Your Majesty. I... did not sleep well. Terrible nightmares followed the evening that I bound the new spire." He held a steaming mug between his hooves, hovering over it as he gently blew on the top of it.

        "Is that so..." Luna's eyes trailed from the sage's baggy, tired ones and down to the wrapped staff. "Perhaps Nightmare Moon has an influence beyond her new confinement." She stared at the wrapping scornfully before stepping over it. "I require you to allay my personal fears, Telos."

        "Oh?" he said, looking up and managing more attention. "And what personal fears might those be?"

        Luna stared at the staff from the throne stairs. "Tell me, will the gemstone spire imprison Nightmare Moon eternally, or must I live every night wondering when a time will come when she may be able to free herself?"

        The sage stared at her confusedly. "I did not design this one as a prison, princess. If she so wills it she could break free, but to what end, hm? Unless she can bind her soul to another, as she once did to you, and inadvertently did to Archmage Sparkle, she will, to non-magical beings, die." His look evened and he sat his mug down. "But something tells me that this is not ideal for you."

        "Hm." Luna pivoted and took the wrapping in a sidelong glance. "Were it not for Twilight I would wish to see the shadow haunting my past dead at the gallows." Her eyes narrowed with contempt. "A hasty, painless death is more than she deserves."

        "Do not dwell on the past if it can no longer defile the present, princess."

        Luna growled. "You know nothing of my past!"

        "I know a great deal about your past," he replied simply. Luna's eyes widened and she appeared as if she might start yelling. "As do you know much of mine. I am the past, princess, and I am burdened by it until either I die, or Aurelius lies dead at my hooves. However, you have been free of Nightmare Moon's influence for many years. I understand that her renewed presence rattles you, but she has made no effort harm to harm you now."

        "You will never—"

        "You do not understand." Telos stood up and moved to the wrapping. In one swift motion, he pulled an end of the cloth and the staff rolled out, immediately springing into levitating upright. Luna tensed and fixated on the spire intensely. "Your shadow is not here to pain you. Embrace that your past is the past, and that the present has allowed you to be here now instead of sealed once more as Aurelius had planned. Embrace this fact, Princess Luna, for it is more than I can have."

        "No more, Telos. I am warning you."

        "Perhaps fate had written this scenario, or perhaps it is time to forgive. If not her, then yourself."

        Luna glowered at both the staff and the sage. "This conversation is over."

        "Then I will begin a new one."

        "Do not test me, Telos."

        The sage narrowed his accusingly. "Why are you keeping this little duel from your sister's knowledge? She cares deeply for you and Twilight."

        Luna met his eyes with a heavy stare for a while, but finally broke the silence with a short, aggravated snort. "I merely wish to understand some things is all."

        "And what do Twilight, Nightmare and I have to do with your need to... understand these things?" The sage's look shifted to incredulity and he paced back and forth, his gaze still resting on the princess.

        "A dual purpose each shall serve, and I am by my word of the spar's intent. Twilight's capabilities must be gauged, and her skills must not wane to idling with Aurelius's impending assault. That is all you need to know."

        The sage watched her as she turned and sat back on a cushion at the throne. "I suppose that is enough for now," he said as picked up his mug and took a sip. The cloth on the floor levitated and wrapped the staff again.


        The atmosphere inside of the throne room felt tense to Twilight, despite the casual air Luna and Telos maintained in her presence. The princess seemed completely unbothered by the idea of dueling her student-turned-archmage, even as she was likely still more powerful than her. The princess seemed almost excited to spar, though her candid demeanor was little more than a faint smile, upright posture, and bright tone.

        "Is that... her?" Twilight asked, peering to the wrapping on Telos's back.

        The sage nodded and began unfolding it. "Indeed it is."

        Her eyes widened in hopeful expectation as the staff rolled out of the cloth slowly. Her heart sank as the staff appeared, a dull grey instead of the usual platinum sheen, but her spirits were lifted again as it sprang to life, just as it had done when she first saw it. She hesitated before taking steps towards it, fixating on the dark gem in the spire. It wasn't like the colorless gem of before that reacted to whatever magic she channeled through it. Reaching a hoof up to it, she stopped and swallowed, hard, her foreleg pulling away slightly. She peered past and to the sage and he nodded.

        Her hoof touched the shaft and it flashed into its platinum sheen again, but the gem of the spire remained black, instead pulsating with a blue glow. A sense of power and majesty flowed through her, and with it came the nostalgia of having the staff's augmenting properties empowering her. She pulled it closer and investigated the new spire. Within the blackness of the gem were two orbs, one of a starry blue, and the other a vibrant purple. She blinked and the purple was gone, the blue having grown larger within.

        Twilight... is that you?

        Her hooves trembled as the staff slid down to the floor in her grasp, eyes still wide, staring into her reflection on the shaft. Yes, Nightmare. It's me. I'm here... she thought, her mind's voice reflecting her shakiness, her happiness. "I'm right here," she whispered, tears welling in her eyes. So, you're—

        Yes. I'm the new soul within your staff. I... I know this isn't the way you wanted it to be, but... but at least now I can protect you.

        Twilight sniffled and wiped her eyes, a smile brightening her face. No, it's fine. I'm just glad you're alright. I'm so happy that you're here again.

        "Twilight, we must be going," Luna spoke, interrupting her.

        She nodded and allowed the staff to perch on her back once more. "Thank you for this, Telos—for everything that you've done for us, for the kingdom, and for me. I'm in your debt."

        The sage bowed and smiled. "It is my pleasure to right the wrongs of Aurelius, and I would do anything to see his end. However, Her Majesty is right. We must be going." He took the last sip from his mug and released it. The cup fell slowly before fading into the air and vanishing.

        Twilight motioned to her and everyone gathered around. "Where are we going, Luna?"

        The princess eyed the staff suspiciously before answering. "To the field where Aurelius fell. It is an appropriate area and it suits our need for seclusion." With a nod, everyone vanished in a large flash of light.


        The first thing Twilight opened her eyes to was the rusted lance, the anchor point for her teleport, and the shadow it cast over her from the moonlight. She tensed as the magical tax hit her, but even after it faded she still stared at the monolith remaining from the battle. The night made it seem like it a grim ward, scaring away any signs of life. A cool breeze rolled through the fields, sweeping the grass and chilling her. She tugged part of her cloak down and shivered, finally prying her eyes from the lance.

        I don't like this, said Nightmare. Anywhere but here...

        I know. This place gives me a bad feeling, but it's a good place to spar. She glanced up to the moon, partly obscured by clouds, and shivered again. I wish it was somewhere else.

        "Construct the barriers, Telos. Use the lance as the nexus for the space and do not expend your magic upon a full enclosure. We shall duel here," Luna commanded. She turned and walked closer to the ruined weapon. Overhead, dark clouds swam across the moon and its light dimmed on the area, slowly growing darker as time went on. The princess almost seemed to blur into the night the further she moved away, her spectral mane all but vanishing with her.

        "Come, everyone. Let us give them some room," said Telos. Everyone moved back and the sage crouched down, muttering to himself.

        "Luna, why are we sparring at night if we're not using the moon?" Twilight asked, her eyes drifting from where the moon was.

        The princess took flight and landed atop the lance, peering around as Telos's barriers formed. They surrounded them with a light distortion and a blue tint, but they did not stop the wind from passing through. "Do not worry, Twilight. The moon will not be imbuing your powers for this duel, but as the princess of the moon they shall forever augment my own, even if it is hidden from me." The last of the moonlight faded in a circle around Twilight before the moon was swallowed by completely dark clouds.

        She is limiting your power, Nightmare remarked, and the wind picked up as a light drizzle began.

        The princess stood on her hind legs, balancing deftly against the rapidly strengthening winds, and twirled her hooves as she raised her head to the sky. The light drizzle quickly into a heavy downpour, the cascade of water growing into a powerful ambiance. Puddles formed like shallow lakes and the grassy land soon became a flooded marsh. Twilight's cloak clung to her body like a sopping mat, and the chill of the rain seeped into her flesh.

        Thunder exploded from the skies, punctuated by the crack of lightning, its light beating back the night in flashes. Luna's shadow cast harshly over everyone as the bolts struck in the distance behind her. Finally, the wind's strength culminated into blasting gales, and Twilight found it difficult to see as the rain sprayed her face and her cowl beat against her brow. Another thunderclap overhead and she held a hoof over her eyes, squinting to see the princess. The chill from her saturated cloak grew distracting and with a grunt she tugged it off and allowed the wind to carry it to Trixie.

        "These are the conditions in which we shall duel, Twilight. Prepare yourself. This storm has only begun."

        Be careful. She's not holding back, Nightmare cautioned.

        A part of me was hoping she wouldn't, mused Twilight. Lightning split the sky between her and Luna, reaching down and blasting the ground. She went prone and covered her eyes as the wind whipped the dirt and mud her way. And neither will I. Nightmare floated beside her giving off a weak blue glow.

        The princess dropped from the lance, gliding through the tumultuous winds effortlessly and vanishing from sight with the rage of the storm. The wind seemed to flow where she wanted to go, and the directional shift of the rain helped mask where she was.

        Maybe I can use the wind to locate her, Twilight thought, straining her eyes to scan the sky.

        Her horn ignited as she prepared a spell, but a gale splashed icy water into her face and she instinctively turned away to rub her eyes. In that moment, another bolt of lightning came down, striking Twilight before she could recover. Burning, shooting pain raced through her body, stunning her briefly and leaving her muscles aching. The smoke and smell from her singed fur and flesh was blown away in the wind, and she moaned before recovering completely.

        She found Luna had perched atop the lance again. Lighting her horn again, she slammed her forehooves down, Nightmare mirroring her by tilting and the spire cutting to the ground. A crescent wave of light ripped forth, illuminating the area and refracting its emanation off of the rain drops. The princess swung on the lance and the wave slid past her before exploding in the sky, dispersing some of the clouds for a few seconds.

        Twilight beat her wings, but the princess's horn shined with a dull glow, a hoof directing her focus at the violet alicorn below. Twilight had gained significant altitude before Luna's spell took effect, immediately slamming her into the ground with crushing force. She grunted, the only thing she could manage as her lungs were left empty from the crash. Gasping breaths quickly put air back in her lungs.

        "It's going... to take more than... that!" Twilight shouted over the storm. She grunted and growled as she pushed herself off of the muddy ground and raised her head to the princess. It was a difficult battle just to stand, but she managed to keep herself from collapsing again.

        Stop the gravity spell first, said Nightmare.

        I'm going to shoot her off of her higher ground.

        Nightmare moved into Twilight's hooves, and she crouched down to prevent herself from slipping and falling. Three streams of energy gathered in the spire, and she rolled onto her back with the staff in her hooves, exerting different magic against the gravity bearing down on her. A ball of energy formed from the spire and moved between her hooves. For a moment, it hung there, slowly vibrating. Suddenly, it shot at high speed through the storm towards Luna.

        The princess had little time to dodge and fell from the staff as the sphere rocketed by, exploding into a brilliant light, bathing everything in white and black. The clouds parted briefly and rays of moonlight spilled through for a moment, but were swallowed soon after.

        The gravity spell ended and Twilight stood up again, pushing her mane out of her face and allowing the rain to wash away the mud. She shivered, the chill draining her sense of feeling. She looked up and Luna was gone. She examined the skies quickly, but could not find her in the chaos of the downpour and shifting winds. A bolt of energy struck her in the side and she cried out as she reeled sideways. Her horn shined and she swung Telos blindly into the direction of the attack, a wave of magic sweeping the area.

        Behind you!

        Nightmare's warning came too late; Twilight turned in time to see Luna's hoof crash into her with magic behind it. She choked on her breath as she was toppled backwards and crushed into the ground, Nightmare fumbling to the ground. An energy pulsed from her body and she rolled over, trembling from the pain. When she collected herself, Twilight found that the princess was already perched on the lance again. She pressed one hoof against the wound on her abdomen while the other clutched the side of her face. The flesh was sensitive, but the internal pain was almost crippling. The pressure on the wounds helped alleviate some of the pain. What did she hit me with?

        You cannot rely on your vision for this fight, Twilight. Our separation has left you without my ability to sense through the veil of darkness.

        The pain spiked and she collapsed into the mud moaning in agony. Then how do I get it back? This is like phantom limb for me. I know she's there, but I just... can't pinpoint her.

        Take me into your hooves again, then let me back into your mind. It will not be the same as the last time, but I will link us again. Quickly! urged Nightmare.

        Luna moved her hooves in syntax, her horn glowing bright as she weaved multiple spells together. Twilight reached for Nightmare, but a small bolt struck the ground between her hoof and the staff. She spread her wings and allowed the wind to catch her, pulling her up into the air. She struggled to stay balanced while battling her way through the harsh winds and back to the staff.

        A large jolt of lightning split the sky before her, touching down to the ground and splitting, webbing across it in a growing pattern. She went into a dive towards the staff, but abruptly, the lightning flowed from the ground and arced to the sky, striking and surging into her. She screamed as the pain rippled through her body, paralyzing her muscles and leaving them aching with a burning sensation. Falling back to the ground, she clamped her eyes as she writhed in pain, the cold rain feeling like hot drops to her cold body.

        "She's going to kill her!" cried Spike to Trixie and Telos.

        "You have to stop this, Telos!" added the magician.

        "Princess Luna will not kill her," the sage said coolly. "Nor will she hold back against her."

        "I'm going to stop this." Trixie started to move to the barrier's edge, but Telos put a foreleg out and stopped her.

        Dash moved to stand behind Telos. "Listen, old timer. We're not going to watch as our friend gets put in the hospital over a sparring match."

        "Get out of my, Telos," warned Trixie.

        "Neither of you will interrupt this duel. Should the need arise, I can intervene, but I assure you your princess will not fatally injure her."

        "And you're okay with watching this?" Trixie shrieked, pointing to the battered form of her lover ahead.

        "I do not enjoy the violence any more than you do, Archmage Lulamoon, but this is a duel that I will respect."

        Trixie moved forward and planted her hooves against the barrier, her horn beginning to glow. "This isn't a sparring match, it's a—"

        "It is still no more than what it is. Sit down and allow your master to finish, Archmage Lulamoon," Telos said sternly.

        Trixie gave him a dour look, but she turned her head back to Twilight and replaced it with a regretful, worried one. "You had better be right."

        Twilight shuddered as the pain passed and she could move again, but the fiery aching of her body protested every action. She crawled through the mud and water towards the staff, the coolness of the liquid soothing some of her subsiding pain, and reached for it. It sprang back to life and moved into her hooves, and she dug it into the ground and climbed back to standing.

        After a few heaving breaths, she swung the staff out, curving the motion up and raising the spire. The spire burned red and flames erupted around the lance, growing, reaching up the prongs and to the end of the shaft where the princess perched. The wind whipped the inferno around and the light cast shadows that danced across the puddles on the ground. More... power! She roared and the flames turned black, engulfing the entirety of the lance.

        Her heart pounded in her chest and the pain in her body became distracting again. She slid back to the ground in a muddy splash, keeping herself propped up with Nightmare. The flames on the lance were quickly extinguished by the rain and wind as the spell was no longer maintained. She glanced up and scowled, as best she could, when she could glimpse a dark blue sphere of light emanating from the lance.

        Luna's barrier faded around her, revealing her latching to the staff with labored breathing. She hung her head momentarily before looking back to Twilight. "Let us end this," she called down. Spreading her wings, she released her hold on the lance and flew back, higher from it. She tilted her head back and her horn shined against the darkness, growing in brightness until it distorted her face. Lightning exploded in the skies behind her, illuminating the clouds and ripping pieces of the ground out in bellowing flashes.

        Did she really regain all of her magic? Twilight stood up and tried to form a barrier, but only a weak layer appeared over her form. As she watched the princess, a strain pushed her down into the mud again. I can't... focus my magic. Her lightning... I can't... she thought grimly.

        Luna clapped her hooves and lightning rained down and around her foe, explosions of light and sound overloading the sensory of their observers. They shielded their eyes as everything went white for a moment, and Telos grunted as his barrier was tested. After a moment, the haze of debris and smoke cleared, and the observers' vision returned.

        "I-Impossible!" Luna blurted.

        A dark shroud of energy enveloped Twilight's form, a violent, shifting layer of magic. She slowly rose back up, the staff anchored to her back, and the shroud took the shape of Nightmare Moon, swallowing the staff and hiding Twilight. Luna's eyes went wide as she hovered in the air, fear sinking into her.

        Nightmare glanced up and smirked. "She and I are connected, and I will protect her with all of my power."

        The Id's voice was a ghastly, distorted one, and it chilled the princess to the bone. She landed atop the lance again and prepared to form a barrier against the coming reprisal, shaking nervously as she moved her hooves.

        Nightmare's shroud lightened and energy coalesced in her horn, and she fired a burst of dark energy shot towards the princess. It completely missed her, sailing past and detonating in the sky behind. The area lit up from the explosion, but a lingering light prompted Luna to turn around, horror painting her face. The moon shone through the hole in the clouds, directly onto the violet alicorn.

        Twilight could feel her magic growing stronger in the light, and she glanced up to the princess, the moon overshadowing her like a monument. "I'm sorry, Luna."

        The princess turned back to Twilight, but it was already too late. She howled out her final spell and a titanic bolt of lightning split the night. Luna's eyes were wide as it struck the lance, splitting and forking across the ground. The thunderclap deafened them as the electricity seared and blackened the ground around its impact point.

        When the light faded, so to did Nightmare's shroud, and the wind stopped making it easier to see through the rain. Luna's metal shoes fused to the lance, holding her aloft for a moment, but she went limp and fell, her shoes ripping from her flesh as she tumbled to the ground, crashing with a thud and a splash. Telos's barriers faded and the others came running up beside Twilight. She waited a few moments before walking towards the fallen princess as fast as her achy body would allow, stumbling a few times and ultimately falling, crawling the last few meters. Nightmare fell from her back and laid silently in the marshy grass beside her. A boom sounded in the distance, and Twilight's horn glowed on instinct, but it faded a few seconds later, her magic and body giving out.

        "THAT IS ENOUGH!" Celestia bellowed, reeling high on hind legs. With a grunt, she stamped her forehooves and there was another boom, a pulse echoing from her impact that expanded, fading away as it reached the sky. The rain ceased, and the darkness of the storm had been replaced by a grey haze as the dark clouds moved on. The only evidence of the storm that lingered was a light breeze that soon died out.

        "Celestia," said Twilight through clenched teeth. She tried to say the name with distaste, but the burning in her throat and chest took the strength of her voice away.

        The princess scanned the area with such a dominating stare that even Telos could not meet her eyes. It wasn't until she looked over everyone else that she finally glanced down. "What do you—" She shrieked as she caught Luna, her eyes widening and her jaw quivering at the sight of her battered sister. She crouched down, eyes darting across the wounds and then to the violet alicorn, still shocked. "Wh-what.. wh-why...?"

        Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but Luna moaned and managed to roll over and face them. "Do not be cross with her, sister. This is... my own doing." She gave a light cough before slipping into a fit of groans and laying her head down.

        Celestia stood in an instant, anger and indignation shaking her form. "How could you be so foolish, so reckless, Luna? Did you truly believe I wouldn't notice something like... this!?" She motioned all around and to the sky. She held her anger for a moment, but it withered away into confusion. "Why, my sister? Why did you do this behind my back?"

        "I requested a duel with Twilight, sister, but it was not without reason," Luna said.

        "And you," Celestia snapped, "how could you agree to something like this?"

        Twilight stood up on trembling hooves, unsure if they might buckle at any moment. "Don't, don't you dare start with me—about what I can and cannot do! I had no idea she set this up without you knowing," she said with a weak, shaky voice. She glanced over her shoulder as the others moved closer, each of them soaked by the rain and watching her with worry. Not here, she thought. Not in front of them.

        They glared at each other for a few moments before Celestia next directed her anger to Telos. "You of all ponies would help them?" she barked.

        The sage met her eyes guiltily and then stared at the ground. "Forgive me, Your Majesty. I only did what was asked of me by Her Majesty, Princess Luna. Whatever affairs are going on between you two, it is not my place to involve myself. I am sorry." He bowed and maintained it until Celestia removed her gaze.

        "Why...? Why would all of you keep this from me?" she asked softly. She looked around to everyone slowly this time, pain etched into her face.

        "Because I asked them not to," replied Luna plainly. Celestia turned to her, her eyes begging for answers. "You have been holding back to me, sister. I am not daft, Celestia. You know more about what has been going on than you have shared." The sun princess's jaw hung open as she studied her. "You gave Twilight more of your power than I, but that is not all."

        Celestia looked away, deep thought leaving her silent for a while. She broke the silence by stepping beside Luna and crouching down to her and laying her forehooves gently onto her abdomen. "A part of me is afraid," she said, barely above a whisper.

        "There is only one way you could have known Aurelius's identity," Luna continued, looking her sister in the eyes, her powerful, even stare piercing into Celestia's soft, guilty gaze. She asked as softly as Celestia had spoken, but her collected voice seemed almost frightening. "Does Astra still live?"

        "Why... do you ask?" she replied defensively, but without any willpower behind it.

        "You can heal with the power holy magic; you knew of Telos and his legacy within the staff; you knew of Aurelius's true identity; you knew of his relation to Astra. And then there is the matter of Twilight's death in Draconis."

        Luna tensed and coughed several times, blood spattering onto the grass. She wiped her mouth with her wrist and groaned. Celestia shook her head and began to heal her, the soft light flowing out from her hooves and onto her body. Her eyes fixated on her sister's bloody, mangled hooves where her shoes had once been. She shivered before focusing elsewhere, maintaining her silence.

        Luna moaned and stilled after a while, but she still lacked the strength to move. "I know you have learned much in the time I was locked upon the moon, but I cannot delude myself into believing that all knowledge you have of the current events could have been gained during that millennium, and there are things that would be deemed lost to us. I knew many unicorns in the time before my banishment, and there were those among the pontiffs whom believed an ancient ruler—I now presume to be Soothsayer Astra—still existed in some incorporeal form. Must I ask again?"

        Celestia remained silent.

        "Answer the question, Princess Celestia," commanded Telos as he stepped closer, a desperate sternness surfacing. "Is Queen Astra alive?"

        She turned towards him, staring at his hooves for a while. Finally, she met his gaze, her guilt showing more than ever before. "Yes," she confessed simply. "I asked her to watch over Twilight during these dark times." The sage trembled as he watched her, his mouth hanging open with a hundred unasked questions.

        The violent alicorn snapped her head to her, her eyes moistening. "What... what do you mean watch over me?" she choked out.

        Celestia focused back to healing Luna and allowed her mane to obscure her face from everyone else. "I mean exactly what I said."