Chapter 9 - The Fall of Dragons
The trek back to the surface took three days of utter silence, with the party stopping only to rest and eat. None among the Wardens held the will to say anything, leaving only Sparky to take the lead and navigate the labyrinthine Dark Tunnels. Twilight and the others did not sense any ponyspawn around them as well, which proved beneficial for both sides. It meant the Wardens traversed the Tunnels without being harassed, and it meant the ponyspawn would not be culled where they stood by an angry group.
Twilight remained up front behind Sparky, walking with stoic purpose so as to not further demoralize the others. However, she kept her helm firmly on her head with the visor down. The others did not need to see her bloodshot eyes, due to sleepless nights of silent weeping and of the nightmares the Fade gave to her. Conscious in the Fade, Twilight felt her psyche continually assaulted by the fiery demons of rage and the icy windigo demons of hatred. She resisted the frostfire only because her training demanded it; a part of her wanted to use the demonic power to wipe whole scores of ponyspawn from the earth.
Daisy remained draped on her back as they marched through the tunnels. Twilight used her bedroll as a makeshift shroud. She chose not to use magic to carry Daisy’s body. The Wardens were Twilight’s burden to bear, and she would carry their victories and defeats on her back, literally if need be.
With sleep being difficult to obtain, Twilight focused on sensing for ponyspawn, though she also reached out with her arcane senses. She tried to focus on the shard, yet still could not get a reading. By itself it appeared only a shard of glass much like the one she received from the mysterious ABF. Twilight scowled at the glass; she knew she felt a compulsion she could not combat, and thanks to it, Daisy was dead.
As expected, Twilight did not sense anything from Oghren. Being a donkey, he did not carry a Fade presence. She was a bit jealous of this. Oghren could sleep all night and not be bothered by dreams or nightmares or demons from the Fade. A night of unsullied sleep; it seemed like a pipe-dream to Twilight.
Surprisingly, Sparky felt just as magically empty as Oghren. She did not have any trace of magical energy in her or radiating from her, something Twilight only estimated on. Twilight then wondered if the donkeys knew of this similarity, but that would be unlikely. Since donkeys did not use magic or experience the Fade, they cared very little about either, save for how lucrative the lyrium trading, and therefore smuggling, business was to the surface.
Lyra, on the other hoof, gave Twilight nothing but pause and concern. As far as Twilight knew, Lyra refused to sleep, the bags under her eyes acting as proof of such. The magical energy from the battlemage sparked off in a multitude of directions. Her mind frayed, Lyra never looked at the body of Daisy directly, nor did she make eye contact with anypony. When Twilight focused closer, she saw the burning rage festering inside Lyra, only this time instead of being a blazing inferno, the flame dwindled having cooled by the winds of despair and hatred.
She held hatred for the ponyspawn, of course, but also hatred at herself. Twilight wondered what this meant, if maybe Lyra blamed herself for Daisy’s death. They were all too spent after the battle with Titanus to deal with the sudden attack by Iron Will properly. Lyra wasn’t to blame. They could not do anything to stop Iron Will.
At least, that was the line Twilight told herself. She killed him after all. With blood magic, something else that ate at Twilight in the dark corners of her mind. The ultimate taboo in all magical theory and ethical practice, and Twilight broke it in a fit of fury. She thought she had better control than that. She thought she had enough magical aptitude and knowledge to never resort to such spellcraft. Obviously, she thought wrong.
Twilight did not think she would be considered a maleficar, as the only other among them to recognize blood magic was Lyra and she did not seem the type to get the templars after her. However, Twilight did feel immense disappointment with herself. Not only did she cast blood magic, but she enjoyed every moment of it. When she cut her foreleg with her sword, the rush she felt when her blood spilt felt good compared to losing blood in battle. She felt the intoxicating power of the magic in her spilled blood and her horn working in unison. She delighted in the suffering of Iron Will. The worst part? She wanted more. A part of her demanded that ponyspawn attack her and her group just so she could feel the rush of blood magic again.
This scared Twilight more than any archdemon.
Their silent march led them back to the pit that Iron Will sent them plunging through. One more day of walking and they would be back in Brightstone and Sparky would be reunited with her pack. They still needed to form the defensive shield to prevent the ponyspawn from using the tunnel again. Once they had set up their last camp in the Dark Tunnels, Twilight approached Lyra.
The battlemage looked like a wreck with her messy hair and ruined makeup and while she did not speak, she did nod in agreement that now was a good enough time as ever to set up the wards and barriers. The two worked in concert together, merging barrier lattices into one complex and intricate pattern that Twilight knew would give even the strongest ornlocks difficulty in breaching. They also cast powerful ward spells that would link with sister wards back in Brightstone. Should the barrier be breached, the wards would alert Brightstone of an imminent attack.
After a short rest, the party left the wards and continued the walk back to Brightstone. As they neared the tunnel they first arrived in, Sparky stopped to sniff the air, her lips curling into the first smile any of the group showed since the battle. She dashed off ahead of the group, her barks echoing throughout the tunnel. Twilight gave Sparky a small smile; it lightened her heart to know Sparky returned to the ones she loved.
Sparky’s barks received a reply in kind, and soon several diamond dogs ran towards her, equally happy. They literally dogpiled on top of their shadowhound, each cheering in the diamond dogs guttural language. Sparky hugged her brethren close to her until Twilight and the others caught up to them. At the sight of Twilight, Sparky hushed and urged the others to be silent as well in respect for Daisy. Twilight’s stomach lurched; she did not want to ruin the celebration.
Sparky approached Twilight and sat on all fours. “Sparky happy to meet Tilite,” she said. Twilight smiled at the diamond dog and scratched her behind the ears. It seemed like something one would not do to a sentient dog, but since mabari hounds enjoyed it, Twilight guessed diamond dogs did as well. Sparky seemed to enjoy the scratching.
“I’m glad to have met you too,” Twilight replied, “I’m sorry we had to close the way. We can help you find another entrance to the Dark Tunnels if you’d like.”
As she finished, Twilight got an idea. “Wait, Sparky. You fought valiantly by our side despite everything. I’d like to offer you…” Twilight coughed. She remembered she needed to speak Equestrian in a manner Sparky would understand. “Sparky, you fight good. You good friend. Twilight happy to meet you. Twilight ask big question. Sparky and pack can stay with Twilight and Twilight pack. One big pack. You like?”
Sparky looked surprised by the offer. “Need talk to alphas,” she said, “Me just shadow, but me try to talk.” Twilight nodded and watched Sparky join the alpha diamond dogs in the pack. They spoke in hushed tones, though Twilight could not decipher the language as being little more than barks, growls, and yips.
The conversation did not last long as Sparky backpawed an alpha across the face. This seemed to be the way the diamond dogs made decisions as Sparky returned to the party. “Pack trusts Tilite. One say no, say go back to Dark, but he stupid. Diamond dog not be on land of moon and sun since time of Luna. Pack return. Need safety. Your pack give?”
Twilight nodded. “My pack give.”
Sparky barked something to the other diamond dogs, with an equal reply barked back by the entire group. Twilight did not expect the entire pack to sit on all fours, their eyes solely focused on her. Some blinked, but otherwise stood still. Sparky joined them.
“Sparky pack and Tilite pack. One,” she said, “You alpha. They listen.”
Oghren whistled. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said, “never thought I’d see the day when diamond dogs behaved like decent folk.”
“They are decent folk,” Twilight corrected, “we just need to show them a little friendship. Come on, everypony… and everydog. Let’s go home.”
Twilight and Lyra worked together to form the magical disc that would carry them back to Brightstone. Despite initial hesitation, the dogs clamoured onto the disc, waiting to be carried away. With a flick of her horn, the disc began to move with Twilight focused on their ascension while Lyra took care of the stability.
The short ride ended with the surprised look of two Brightstone sentries. They looked onto the disc and the dogs that arrived with Twilight, unsure of what to make of them. They did help Twilight, the Wardens, and the others off the disc though. After all, she was still their arlessa.
“Go get Silverstar,” Twilight said. The guards gave her a sharp salute and galloped off to fulfill her command. She took a deep breath and with her friends by her side, made her way into the undercroft of Brightstone to the courtyard. She knew her first priority with her return.
Daisy needed to be laid in Brightstone’s chantry.
Twilight emerged from Brightstone with Silverstar waiting to greet her. “My Lady,” he said with a bow, only to stop when he saw the body she carried. His eyes went wide until he then saw the diamond dogs behind her.
Silverstar shook his head. “Are you alright? What in tarnation happened down there? What are all these things?”
“You’ll get my report soon enough,” Twilight replied, “for now, I just need to bring Daisy to the Chantry until… until I know how she wanted to be laid to rest. As for the diamond dogs… they are denizens of the Dark Tunnels and are now refugees of Brightstone under my protection. They are to be treated no differently from any other pony.”
“By your will, Arlessa.” Silverstar repeated her command to the officers, who galloped away to do the same to the soldiers under their command. With a path cleared, Twilight walked to the Chantry. Only now did she notice the clear night sky with the fading moon hanging overhead. The stars shone bright, yet what comfort their light used to give Twilight did nothing now.
The Chantry sisters opened the large doors allowing Twilight entry. With their aid, Twilight laid Daisy’s body on a stone slab in the basement of the house of worship. “She need’s proper rites,” Twilight said to the priestesses, “Everything you can do, please do for her. She was very brave. Ponies loved her.”
“Celestia and Luna loved her as well,” the Reverend Mother said to Twilight. “We will treat her with the utmost respect and discover how she wanted to be laid to rest. It is custom for soldiers of the military to include such instructions in their last will and testaments. They should be in the archives. Light of Sun and Moon guide your path, my Lady.”
With Daisy taken care of, Twilight left the Chantry and for the first time in what felt like a week allowed her body to ease up and get rid of some tension. She wanted out of her armour and soiled robes as quickly as possible. When she exited the building, she told one of her messengers to inform Silverstar that she would retire for the evening and that she was not to be disturbed unless an emergency came up. Silverstar would understand.
As she returned to the keep, Twilight saw Oghren rejoin his various cousins who both cheered at his return and spoke in hushed tones whenever they saw a diamond dog. Oghren, for his part, tried to reassure his extended family that these dogs were friendly, but to the skeptics among the donkeys, he laid down Twilight’s law that they were to be treated well. They all decided to go to the tavern and drink the rest of the night away. Twilight understood that after an excursion to the Dark Tunnels, maybe a little imbibing of spirits needed to happen. Not one for drinking herself, Twilight did want something to take the edge off.
Unfortunately, Lyra all but disappeared from sight. Twilight guessed she went back to the Warden quarters, though with how morose Lyra was, she wondered if Lyra would finally get some sleep. Twilight, however, headed straight to her private quarters, her desire for solitude and isolation overruling all other desires.
On her way she asked for some hot water to be brought up to her room and Brightstone’s servants made haste to complete her request. Once in her quarters and alone, Twilight began to unhook and remove her armour piece by piece with her hooves. Her own horn sickened her as the residue of blood magic remained like a stain one could not hope to clean. If she did not need to use magic, she would not do so.
“Magic is my special talent,” Twilight told herself, “But magic is dangerous. I’m dangerous. If I don’t practice control, I can lose myself in my own power. I’m scared of my magic. I’m scared of my magic. I don’t know what to do.”
Twilight doubted her magic at times, about the power she possessed. She slew a high dragon and an archdemon for Celestia’s sake. She stopped a donkey’s heart with magical force. It was within her power to raze castles and annihilate ponies within moments. The fear of unicorns seemed more warranted after Twilight’s particular display. She just took the smallest taste of blood magic’s power and could only imagine how Maleficars felt with prolonged exposure.
With her armour and robes removed and in a heap in her quarters, Twilight grabbed her sword in her mouth and tossed it with the others. She could not bear to even look at Sophia right now. The arcane warrior’s sword took its name from an ancient word for “wisdom.” She did not feel very wise at this moment. She did not feel worthy of her title as the last arcane warrior.
Twilight pulled on a simple dressing gown when she heard a knock on her door. The servants arrived with the hot water and quickly filled her wooden tub. They did not linger any longer than needed, though they did ask their arlessa if she wanted anything to eat or drink. Wine and real food sounded good to Twilight, so she made her request politely, if without her usual smile. The servants departed, and Twilight, now alone, began to strip to have her bath.
The sudden shake from her treasure chest stopped her in her tracks. Twilight spun around to see both the chest and her saddle bags shaking violently. She approached both cautiously until she felt the same compulsion spell used on her just as it did in the Dark Tunnels, only now the force pulled on her with even greater strength. Her frustrations now at a high, Twilight opened her saddle bag to see the glass shard Iron Will sought to be the culprit. She opened her treasure chest and found the other glass shard doing the same.
“What in the world…” Twilight trailed off as the two shards began to glow with radiant white light. She shielded her eyes as the light engulfed the room, her retinas burning despite her efforts. She felt herself getting pulled into the very floor, yet also she felt her very being pulled in every direction. Twilight wanted to scream but only silence escaped her as the white light engulfed her.
When the light finally faded, Twilight looked around in complete shock. She was no longer in her quarters, but instead, in a grey wasteland filled with shattered mirrors. Instead of her dressing gown, Twilight wore her armour again, though she did not remember putting her raiment back on.
Twilight looked about the grey expanse with trepidation. She did not feel anything here at all and nothing disconcerted her more. There was no cool wind against her face, nor did she even feel her heartbeat inside her chest. An attempt at a spell also revealed that magic did not exist in this strange realm.
“Hello?” Twilight called out, “Is anypony here?”
A shadow stepped out from behind one of the shattered mirrors wearing a black robe. “Twilight Sparkle, so it’s true. I’ve waited long to see you.”
The robed figure approached Twilight and threw back her hood, revealing a familiar face. “Zecora!” she said, thankful to see a friendly face in this dead zone. “I can’t believe it! I thought I would never see you again! You just disappeared after the Battle of Trotterim! How are you? What are you doing here? Where is here?”
“Seeing you is always a delight, she who walks both the day and night.” Zecora smiled at Twilight as the two hugged. “The battle was not where I will die. Answer your questions, I will try. After the battle that raged so long, I passed out from the Ursa’s death song. My health is fine, but time is short, there is much to learn in this grey port.”
“Port?” Twilight looked around for a ship, but saw none. “I don’t understand, Zecora. What is this place?”
“This is a place lost in time, a remnant of an evil crime.” Zecora held up a shard of glass with her hoof towards Twilight. “You know these shards, Commander of the Grey, for they are why the ponyspawn slay. This shards belong to a mirror bright, the Eluvian, an object of pegasus might.”
Twilight recalled the Eluvian from when she joined her horn with the arcane warrior’s phylactery. From time lost to the Imperial Age a wise unicorn wizard, Starswirl the Bearded, used the Eluvian to travel. She still remembered the look of despair on the old wizard’s eyes as he emerged from the mirror and caught his breath.
“Canterlot has fallen. Celestia and Luna are gone.”
She also remembered seeing Starswirl obliterated by one of the Old Ones, Lianari the Dragon of Grace. She would become the first Archdemon, the bringer of Destruction. Twilight shuddered as she recalled the twisted envy Lianari showed in her face when Starswirl rebuked her. How such a beautiful creature could be capable of such cruelty and brutality was beyond Twilight.
“The Eluvian was an artifact the Arcane Warrior showed me in a vision of the past,” Twilight said to Zecora. “Starswirl destroyed it so it would not fall under the control of the Old Ones. Could it be repaired and used by the ponyspawn?”
Zecora did not reply, instead turning around and walking off towards one of the mirrors in the grey world. Twilight wordlessly followed. She felt a chill run down her spine as she walked among the plains of shattered glass. The lifelessness of this place gave her a sense of incredible dread. Twilight thought that she saw shadows hopping between the ruined uprights of the hundreds if not thousands of Eluvians, only to blink and see nothing was there.
They passed an Eluvian that was mostly whole, though lined with cracks and gaps in the glass. Twilight stopped and looked into the mirror despite it’s ruined state and felt shocked that the reflection of herself was when she was just a little filly. Twilight could not help but laugh at the sight of herself when she was young. So eager to learn anything and everything about magic. How long ago had it truly been when her curiosity and desire for knowledge trumped anything else? Her instructors gave her warnings that even though her mind hungered for the arcane; she still needed to sate her body’s hunger for real food.
Twilight gasped as she saw herself begin to grow rapidly. Soon the reflection resembled her teenage years, with long gangly legs and a face lined with pimples. Those days Twilight secluded herself in the Tower’s library. While other students focused on relationships thanks to growing hormones, Twilight focused all of her studies on her Harrowing.
The reflection continued to grow until Twilight saw herself as she was after the Harrowing. An adult mare in her prime, Twilight looked at the image of herself with a sense of sadness. While she did not concentrate on her looks like her friend Rarity, she did try her best to appear presentable, and she did admit when she saw her younger self that she looked pretty and vibrant. Bright violet eyes stared back at her, with immaculately cut hair and those different coloured streaks Twilight could not help but adore. The reflection even showed her staff when she finally became a full-fledged unicorn mage before it was destroyed.
Once again the reflection aged rapidly, until Twilight knew it now reflected her present self. The young mare vanished before her eyes it seemed. She gazed upon her true reflection saw the heavy bags under her eyes from sleepless nights, the scars from the claws and blades of the ponyspawn, and the simple haggard appearance from constant battle and strain. The white streak on her main caused by molten lyrium clashed with her other colours and acted as a constant reminder of the Dark Tunnels.
“Sometimes I don’t know who you are,” Twilight whispered to her reflection. “Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choices, or if I had a choice to begin with. I look into the mirror and don’t know the pony I’m looking at. Who am I?”
“You are Twilight Sparkle,” the reflection said, much to Twilight’s shock. “You are the world’s most powerful unicorn. Ponies fear you. The ponyspawn hate you. You can make nations bend their knees to you. You can single hoofedly raise the Imperium back to glory as Imperator. You can bring order to a world drenched in chaos. All you need to do is accept this.”
Twilight recoiled in horror from her reflection as it shifted once more, only this time revealing a Twilight Sparkle adorned in the robes of the Imperator of the Unicorn Imperium. Resplendent crimson robes adorned her body made of the finest silk while also being protected by armour crafted from the scales of a high dragon. A mighty crown sat on her head made of platinum and blood rubies. A sword of incredible power hung by her side, and while she did not wield it herself, Twilight somehow knew its name: Dominus, sword of Imperator.
“No,” Twilight said to the reflection, “I’m not you. Power is not for power’s sake. I’m afraid of my power! I don’t want to give in! I won’t give in! I won’t!”
Acting on impulse, Twilight smashed a hoof into her own reflection, shattering the mirror. She took a deep breath as she watched the shards scatter about, until she felt a soft hoof on her shoulder. Twilight looked to see Zecora holding her steady; she only realized now she trembled out of fright.
“What…” Twilight breathed out. “What did I see?”
“What you saw was what is true,” Zecora replied, “You saw the potential of you. These mirrors see all within their sight, from days long past to who we are at night. Fear not the reflections or what they show. With me now, for there is a place we must go.”
Twilight resumed following Zecora until she came upon another Eluvian. Unlike the others, this mirror only had a single gap on the surface, though otherwise remained whole. As she looked the Eluvian over, Twilight noticed that Zecora’s eyes were filled with tears.
“What’s wrong?” Twilight asked. Zecora held Twilight’s hoof in hers and shook her head.
“A choice is made to you now, for the choice will act like a vow. Place the shard into the mirror, and knowledge will make your quest clearer. If you do this, countless will be saved, but you Twilight, in pain you will be bathed. The suffering you will endure I would not wish on my greatest foe, but the burden must be taken and yours to know. Chose to turn away instead and many will perish in dread. Look into the mirror and the other shards you will need. You must confront the Architect and stop his quest for his own greed.”
“What need?” Twilight asked, her mind abuzz of questions needing answers. “Zecora, why are you here? What is going on? What do you mind that I have to carry the burden?”
Zecora only shook her head and offered Twilight the shard. “You must now choose, or else it will not be the ponyspawn who lose.”
Twilight looked down on the shard. Another burden was being thrust onto her. Was not being a Grey Warden enough? Was not living a life of constant battle not enough for Celestia and Luna to throw against her? Why did she need to suffer? Why did she need to endure the slings and arrows against her fortitude which even now felt like it began to crack from the constant strife.
Her ears perked up at the sound of the voice. It was the same one she heard in Onagon’s foundry. It came from within the shard. Twilight cursed herself…
She had to do it. She had to take up the burden, simply because she was Twilight Sparkle, and she used her power to help others. She was a Grey Warden.
Twilight levitated the shard and held it close. She then placed it into the Eluvian and watched as the entire artifact began to glow with the white light as the shards did in her quarters. Twilight looked back on Zecora who simply raised her hood and walked away.
“Whatever the Eluvian shows me, Zecora, I’m not afraid!” Twilight shouted to the retreating zebra.
“You will be,” Zecora replied, her voice heavy with remorse. “You will be.”
When the white light faded, Twilight found that she now stood in the middle of a barren field. Scorch marks stained the very ground, while thousands of rusty weapons and bleached bones of ponies littered the area. Above her head, the sky rumbled with thunder as bolts of lightning flashed all around her. She tasted the very ashes of fires that still raged in the distance.
“A battlefield,” Twilight said as she walked forward. “What is the Eluvian trying to show me?”
An earsplitting roar shook the battlefield more than any catapult or lyrium mine ever could and Twilight quickly raised her sword and shield on reflex. She turned to face the origin of the roar, only to have her very bones shaken from another roar, then another, until all her pounding eardrums heard was a continuous cry of multiple dragons.
Five dragons even larger than the high dragon Twilight fought on Luna’s Temple flew over the mountains in her direction. She cursed as they swooped low to the ground; she trusted Zecora or the being who took her form and now she was being fed to five impossibly large dragons. Ready for the end, Twilight raised her sword high only to stop.
She looked closer at the dragons with a spell that allowed her to see with eyes of an eagle. One of the dragons looked eerily familiar. While its scales were white as snow, it bore a bronze plate covering its left eye.
“Uthemiel…” Twilight felt her anger contort her face at the Dragon of Mirth that would become the Archdemon of Despair. However, as the dragons flew over her without paying Twilight any heed, she realized that either she was not their intended target, or that she did not exist.
The past, Twilight thought, I must be seeing images of the past. Zecora did say the Eluvians saw all. She galloped hard across the ruined battlefield in an effort to follow the dragons. Twilight only recognized Uthemiel, but she knew the identities of the others due to her and one missing dragon amongst the five.
Lianari the green, Dragon of Grace. She would be the Archdemon of Destruction.
Galonomei the black, Dragon of Charity. He would be the Archdemon of Avarice.
Mezzerak and Palakesh the twin blues, the Dragons of Zeal and Virtue. They would become the Archdemons of Deception and Betrayal.
However, Twilight noticed the most powerful member of the Imperium Hexumvirate missing. Asha’Bellanar the red, Dragon of Victory, did not fly with her family. With this notable missing element, Twilight followed the Old Ones as they flew, thankful that she did not have to deal with five of the most powerful beings the world ever knew on her own.
She did not run far. Once Twilight crested over a hill, she saw a massive army of ponies in pitch black armour waiting for the Old Ones. They numbered in the tens of thousands, each wielding swords and spears of shining steel. Their weapons looked like stars amongst the night sky.
Twilight’s eyes went wide as the leader of the army step forward. Standing taller than any pony she ever saw, an alicorn in indigo armour and fur of pitch black stood in front of her army. Impossible as it may seem, Twilight knew who she bore witness too. She of the Night. The Lady of the Stars. Sister of Celestia.
Twilight shook her head. Not Luna. Nightmare Moon. The Temple of Luna told her in its carvings that Luna could not defeat the Hexumvirate without the power of the Fade. Without the power of darkness itself. The power corrupted her and turned her into the evil Nightmare Moon.
But what if the ancient ponies were wrong…?
“Galonomei. Palakesh. Mezzerak. Lianari. Uthemiel. How wonderful of you all to join me on this fine evening.” Nightmare Moon laughed. It froze Twilight to her soul. “Where is big sister Asha’Bellanar? I was hoping to deal with you all at once. It would be much more convenient.”
The dragons leaned their great maws closer to Nightmare Moon, who seemed almost bored at the display of might. “Much to our surprise, our sister betrayed us,” said Palakesh, “She kept babbling about making peace with you and your sister.”
“She sought to deceive the deceivers, but we were ready for Asha’Bellanar.” Mezzerak chuckled. “Now we are five, but all the more united to stand against you.”
Galonomei reared on his haunches and stretched his mighty black wings. “This world is ours to do with as we see fit, alicorn. We took this world from the grip of chaos and made it in our image. The sun shines because it is our will that allows it. The moon is no different.”
“Lay yourself at our talons, Luna, and we may be merciful to you and to your followers.” Lianari rumbled, almost as if a massive cat purred. “We could have so much together. There need not be any more bloodshed. I’ll make a special room in my harem just for you.”
Uthemiel loomed close to Nightmare Moon. “Your power is great. It is not too late for you. Ignore Lianari and her lustful ways, and join us in the Hexumvirate. With Asha’Bellanar gone, there is a place ready for you. Rule this world with us. Celestia will not accept you as you are now. We will. Together we can usher in an Age of complete order and dominion over the world.”
Nightmare moon seemed to think about Uthemiel’s proposal. She started to smile, only for her smile to turn wicked. She then began to cackle and then laugh as if they just told her an impossibly funny joke. Twilight felt a cold chill run down her spine at the sight.
Every one of Nightmare Moon’s soldiers dropped their weapons, yet their mistress continued her hysterics. As spears and swords fell, a dark aura surrounded them. They began to float into the air while Nightmare Moon regained her composure. Twilight looked up behind Nightmare Moon and saw thousands of weapons floating behind her. The dragons noticed the wall of blades pointed in their direction as well. They roared in anger and spread out so as to attack Nightmare Moon from all directions.
“Did you really think after everything I’ve done, after everypony I’ve sacrificed to gain this power, that I would give up to you worms simply because you told me to?” Nightmare Moon’s smile quickly reversed. She now seethed with fury. “After your betrayal, Celestia disappeared on me as well! The Fade is ruled by demons, remnants of the Discordant Age and where is Celestia? Gone. It was not your magisters who chased her away from Canterlot. She never sat on the Sun Throne to begin with!”
If Twilight felt cold before, she now became utterly frozen. Twilight knew the Chant of Sun and Moon down to the last verse, yet here, now, the Eluvian revealed something that could destroy the Chantry. Luna, sister to Celestia, did not know where she was. That Celestia was missing at the same moment that Canterlot fell. That she did not defend her most sacred of cities from the magisters of the Unicorn Imperium.
Then there was the fact that walked and talked in front of her, of Luna’s corruption into Nightmare Moon. Twilight started to hyperventilated as she sat on her haunches in a vain attempt to anchor herself. Did the Chantry even know all of this? If they did, they damned themselves for lying to an entire world and giving ponies false faith. If they did not, then who perpetrated such a massive, centuries long cover-up and power grabs?
“This… this is the truth?” Twilight breathed out as she watched the much smaller Nightmare Moon stalk toward the five dragons with her wave of weapons behind her. Each pointed their edge directly at Nightmare Moon’s enemies, eager to slice and tear into the scales of dragons.
Only Lianari and Galonomei stepped forward to meet Nightmare Moon in battle, while Mezzerak, Palakesh, and Uthemiel appeared much more apprehensive. “Beware,” Uthemiel said, “those weapons are made of moonsteel.”
“How perceptive,” Nightmare Moon gloated, “this metal is infused with my very essence, created for one specific purpose: to slay my enemies.”
“Enough talk!” Lianari roared, “If you will not serve the true masters of this world, then you will be reduced to cinders!
The Dragon of Grace bellowed a bestial epitaph before unleashing a torrent of black flame towards Nightmare Moon. Twilight yelped at the intense heat of the flame. She continued to watch, however, and soon was struck numb as Nightmare Moon not only did not dodge, but smiled as the fire slammed into her.
Twilight gasped as the black fire completely consumed Nightmare Moon. She recognized the fire and knew its destructive properties well. The resurging Asha’Bellanar and the Archdemon Uthemiel used the unholy flame against her and her friends. She could only barely hold a shield against such an attack, and only for a few moments. Yet Lianari kept up her attack for several minutes, with no sign of Nightmare Moon amidst the fires.
Nightmare Moon’s soldiers did not fare well against the shadowflame. Whoever did not get obliterated by the incredible force of Lianari, soon melted from the heat of the fire. Those who did manage to escape did so with foul burns across their bodies. Many screamed and cried out as fire reduced them to ash or their very armour melted into the skin. Twilight only watched in horror; everything she saw already happened, and no amount of screaming for the dragon to stop would save those ponies now.
As the flames finally abated, the wicked laughter of Nightmare Moon echoed in the barren battlefield. Lianari visibly recoiled as her foe stepped out of the black flames unscathed. Nightmare Moon carried a long sword in her magical grip, paying more attention to it than she did the Old Ones in front of her.
“How droll,” Nightmare Moon said, nonchalantly inspecting her sword. “If that is the best the gods of the Imperium can muster, I will end this quickly, if only because I shan’t be dying of doldrums. Now then… I believe the next move is mine to make.”
Nightmare Moon blinked and her sword sliced through the air faster than anything Twilight ever saw. Lianari readied another desperate breath of shadowflame, only to have the sword slip inside her waiting maw. She clutched her chest with her talons and began to cough violently, with rivers of blood pouring from her mouth.
Lianari fell as she continued to cough. She reached up to her brother Galonomei with desperation in her draconic eyes that Twilight never imagined such a being to have. “Galo…” Lianari breathed out. “Help me… please…”
The Dragon of Charity could do nothing but watch as his sister fell dead, her inner organs likely torn to ribbons by Nightmare Moon’s blade. The sword cut its way through Lianari’s hide and returned to its mistress’s side. Incensed, Galonomei turned his red eyes to Nightmare Moon.
“No pony has ever slain a dragon… until now.” Galonomei rumbled, “Your insolence shall be paid for in the lives of your people. For time everlasting our broods will fly through the blackened skies of this world and no pony shall ever be safe again. Their lives are little more to us as the ants beneath their hooves. This is the end of our Imperial Age, for now a new Dragon Age dawns. You shall be the first to offer the Dragon Age the blood it demands!”
Mezzerak and Palakesh joined their brother as Galonomei began to cast a great sigil on the ground where Nightmare Moon stood. A great black symbol of arcane potency twisted the very ley lines of magic in both the ground and the Fade itself. Magic distorted itself around Nightmare Moon, the very notion of which baffled Twilight. The other two dragons flew circles around their enemy, breathing great billows of ebon frost at Nightmare Moon, encasing her in a tomb of black ice.
“This world is mine, pony,” Galonomei snarled, “with Asha’Bellanar weakened, I take dominion over this world. I shall remake it as a world for dragons, with myself as the most powerful of our kind. We will be gods who hold this world in our talons. Ponies will be slaves or morsels, nothing more. I shall delight in breaking their spirits, just as I shall revel in your painful demise. Where is Celestia now to save you, Luna?”
Galonomei turned to Uthemiel who, despite her brothers’ successful attack, continued to reel back. “Brother,” she said, her voice shaking in terror. “Luna… she’s stealing your magic!”
“What?!” Galonomei turned to see his sigil shrinking with every passing second. Twilight felt Nightmare Moon’s already massive arcane power grow exponentially until the black ice glacier the twin blue dragons created to jail her began to crack. Not waiting for Nightmare Moon to be free, Galonomei opened his jaws, the crackle of electricity echoing throughout the battlefield.
The black ice burst open, revealing an even more powerful Nightmare Moon cackling like a madmare. As she took a single hoofstep forward, Galonomei unleashed his own breath attack in the form of a massive bolt of black lightning. Unlike Lianari’s shadowflame, the lightning struck Nightmare Moon square in the chest, knocking her backwards. Galonomei smiled with his reptilian lips at striking a blow on his foe.
However, only Nightmare Moon’s chest plate took the damage caused by the black lightning. The metal peeled away to reveal a blood red substance beneath. Twilight thought that perhaps Nightmare Moon took a wound, but the shine revealed it to be red metal. For reasons Twilight found difficult to describe, she found herself both drawn and repulsed by the red metal in equal measure.
Now it was Galonomei’s turn to recoil in horror. “It cannot be…” he rumbled, “You truly are mad!”
“And you are dead.” Nightmare Moon’s eyes began to glow a dark crimson while a small yet incredibly potent orb of magic formed on the tip of her large horn. With little more than a thought, the orb fired into a small, single beam, no bigger in width than Nightmare Moon’s horn. The beam struck Galonomei under his jaw, only to pierce out of the other side of his skull.
Galonomei fell soon after without a single word or roar, his body twitched only for a moment before it stilled. Nightmare Moon’s smile shifted as she stared into the sky where Palakesh and Mezzerak hovered.
“Five hundred years have I waited for this night,” Nightmare Moon said, her voice dripping with malice as venom does a snake’s fang. “Five hundred years since the end of the Discordant Age, when the mighty dragons betrayed the sun and the moon! Those who gave themselves to the Fade to stop its encroachment onto the world of ponies! And then those ponies we swore to protect worshipped you! False gods who claimed dominion over this world! No longer! There will never be a Dragon Age, for I will hunt your kind down to the last egg and crush them all beneath my hooves. The Imperial Age is over! The Age of Night begins now! The Night will last forever!”
Twilight knew that Palakesh and Mezzerak never stood a chance. Rage fueled Nightmare Moon as she took to the skies with her thousands of moonsteel weapons, all pointed at the twin dragon brothers. The pair roared in defiance and let loose another blizzard of impossibly cold black ice, yet all this seemed to do was incense Nightmare Moon further.
“I called out Celestia’s name into the Fade, but did my dear sister answer?!” Nightmare Moon cried out. “No! When your magisters corrupted Canterlot, did my sister return to defend her throne? No! When demons poured into the Fade, did my sister do anything to stop them? NO!”
“Only I had the will to do anything. Only I have the power to bring true order to this world, and only I have the right to begin this tapestry anew. And you, foul dragons, shall provide the paint with your blood!”
As she shouted, the thousands of blade flung themselves towards Mezzerak and Palakesh. The moonsteel blades tore through the dragons’ hides with frightening ease. They first tore apart their wings, causing them to lose altitude and crash to the ground. As they lay bleeding and hobbled, more blades spun around them before pinning the tail and legs to the ground.
The two blue dragons struggled against their impaling bonds, only to have the weapons sink into them deeper. Palakesh tried to turn his great head towards Uthemiel, who continued to slink away from the lopsided battle.
“Sister!” he cried out, “We need you! Please!”
Yet Uthemiel did not stand to fight or raise a talon to help her brothers. “I cannot,” she said a voice shaking with terror and filled with shame. “I cannot stop her! She slew Lianari and Galonomei! I… I must find Asha! She can… I’m sorry!”
Uthemiel turned around from her brothers and took flight, sailing through the air as quickly as her wings could carry her. Nightmare Moon laughed again as she brought her thousands of moonsteel weapons to bear against the Old Ones. Palakesh and Mezzerak continued to fight against their bonds, yet Twilight knew that escape was impossible.
Nightmare Moon watched as Uthemiel flew off, shaking her head while she composed herself. “How adorable. She thinks she can escape. Might as well put a stop to that. I’ll deal with her next.”
Both Nightmare Moon’s horn and the red metal chestplate began to glow in unison. With little more than a smirk, Nightmare Moon fired the same crimson pinpoint beam she used to slay Galonomei. The beam seared through the air until it collided with Uthemiel’s wing, ripping the appendage clean off and forcing the dragon to crash into the earth with a thunderous smash.
With that deed done, the Lady of the Night turned her turquoise gaze towards the defeated Palakesh and Mezzerak. “Now then…” Nightmare Moon mused on how to dispatch her fallen foes. “I know. I gave Lianari and Galonomei rather quick reprieve. For you two I have decided that will not be the case.”
The thousands of moonsteel blades moved all at once, stabbing into the twin blues with rapid strikes. Their edges tore into them like hot steel through butter, spilling rivers of blood into the very ground. Both dragons screamed and shouted draconic curses, but that only drove Nightmare Moon to stab them with greater brutality.
Twilight only watched in horror. This was supposed to be Luna, the bringer of the Chant of Sun and Moon that told ponies how to live a good life. This was supposed to be a goddess sent down to deliver ponies from the throes of the Imperium, not a butcher who took sickening delight of her killings. This was supposed to be a beacon of light in pitch black night sky, a symbol of guidance, yet all that stood before Twilight was a creature hell-bent on the destruction of her enemies and the establishment of her own empire.
She felt her very faith shatter before her eyes. Was this to be the burden Zecora told her she would bear? The truth about Luna? The truth about Celestia?
Palakesh and Mezzerak lay dead at last, with hundreds of blades jutting out of their torn and ruined flesh. Four proud dragons came to Luna with the intent to kill her and to protect their Imperium. Now four lay slain, their bodies already melting away leaving only bones while the fifth lay crippled and bleeding.
Nightmare looked to the still hundreds of weapons floating above her head. “Gwayffon Y Nos,” Nightmare Moon called out, “Come to me. We end this.”
A long, heavy spear floated to Nightmare Moon’s side. Twilight marveled at the weapon with its intricate designs, yet could not read the runes that lined the haft even with magically enhanced sight. As far as she knew, they did not exist in her time.
Nightmare Moon flared her wings and took to the skies with a great leap, flying with incredibly speeds that would put Rainbow Dash to shame. Twilight galloped on hoof to catch up, thankful that this monster who wore Luna’s skin delighted in playing with her fallen prey. Thankful, but not by much.
Uthemiel’s body started to glow with a pale red light, her form shrinking from that of a dragon to a unicorn. Twilight remembered this form vividly, as she encountered the spirit of the Archdemon in such a form in her dreams. Uncorrupted, Uthemiel could have been called beautiful. She was lithe and tall with a mane of rich blonde hair that draped over her body. Covering her left eye was a plate of brass bolted onto her face, a remnant of an injury that even a dragon could not heal.
She wore a suit of white armour with accompanying robes and gave off an image of purity that baffled Twilight. Uthemiel was just as much a tyrant as her siblings. She killed Spike. However, as Uthemiel desperately tried to escape Nightmare Moon, Twilight felt a pang of pity to her former enemy. She saw in the dragon’s good eye the same sight she beheld in ponies across her travel. She saw it in the faces of her friends. She saw it in herself.
Uthemiel was terrified and knew the hour of her death had come. The worst part was that she could do nothing to prevent it.
“Please… please!” Uthemiel cried as tears fell from her uncovered eye. “Mercy, Nightmare Moon, mercy! You have slain my siblings and you know I cannot stand against you! Please spare me your wrath! You’ve won! I’ll exile myself to the Frost Wastes! I’ll serve you! I’ll do anything! Anything!”
Nightmare Moon said nothing, only thrusting the tip of Gwayffon Y Nos until it was mere inches from Uthemiel’s throat. The dragon yelped and continued to cry though she did not once let her sight leave the point of the spear.
The spear moved quickly and Twilight forced herself to watch. Uthemiel screamed as the spear ripped the brass plate from face. Blood splattered against Nightmare Moon as Uthemiel’s ruined eye moved every which way, held on only by a few tendons. Twilight recalled the sight of the eye on Uthemiel’s Archdemon form. That memory seared itself into her mind.
“This was the work of Asha’Bellanar, was it not?” Nightmare Moon looked at the terrible wound with disgust while Uthemiel sobbed. “I can feel her very essence in the flesh. You angered her, did you not?”
Uthemiel did not answer Nightmare Moon, but cried, “Asha! Asha! Kor’kallon mar teelus! Asha’Bellanar!”
Nightmare Moon’s face twisted with fury. “That will be the last thing your foul tongue ever utters! This is justice for your betrayal!”
She thrust her spear into the twisted eye of Uthemiel, who merely gurgled and shook in convulsion. The Dragon of Mirth died quickly and collapsed at her hooves. Nightmare Moon’s magic pulled Gwayffon Y Nos out of the dead dragon while the remains of her army gathered around her.
A thunderous roar of cheers from Nightmare Moon’s soldiers shook the land. Uthemiel’s body rapidly decomposed in front of Twilight’s eyes as she tried to stomach the sight she beheld. As she walked away, she felt her body being pulled by unseen yet powerful magical forces. The Eluvian showed Twilight what she was meant to see. Twilight closed her eyes and allowed the magic to bring her anywhere, so long as it was far away from here.
When Twilight reopened her eyes, she found herself back in her quarters within Brightstone. Twilight rubbed her horn, her head pounding from the events long since passed and how exactly she would deal with this newfound knowledge. She looked to the Eluvian shards for answers, but they appeared little more than ordinary pieces of glass.
Twilight placed the two shards into her magically locked chest and looked around her quarters. She recalled that she called for some hot water for a bath and walked over to the wooden tub, expecting the water to have long cooled. However, the water still held some heat as she dipped her hoof in.
However, the rather sobering experience from the Eluvian shards drove Twilight away from her bath. She did not feel like relaxing or cleaning up. Instead, Twilight slipped a simple dress over her head as well as a heavy cloak and made her way to the parapets of Brightstone. She wanted time alone to think and to pray.
As she emerged from within the keep, however, Twilight looked up at the clear night sky with the fading moon hanging over head and recoiled at the sight. What once gave her comfort now filled her with disgust. Luna did not win the war against the Imperium through the Chant of Sun and Moon, through mercy and conviction, but with brutality that rivalled her draconic enemies.
What other lies did the Chantry cover up?
Twilight kept her head low as she mulled such a terrible revelation when she heard the sound of harp music in the distance. She followed her ears to find Lyra sitting along near the edge of one of the parapets with her staff floating by her side, her magic plucking the strings in tune with a sorrowful melody. Twilight appreciated such songs, but wished they didn’t choke her up as much as they did. Twilight wiped away her tears. She turned around as she did not want to disturb Lyra’s way of coping.
“Twilight.” Lyra’s voice stopped Twilight in mid-step. “You can stay, if you like. I wouldn’t mind the company.”
Twilight took a deep breath. While Lyra did not mind her presence, Twilight wondered if she could be around anypony right now. With the Dark Tunnels and the vision together, her mind felt frazzled and frayed. She just wanted some time in peace.
She sat on her legs next to Lyra, though her gaze drifted to the courtyard below. “May I just listen to your music?” Twilight asked. Wordlessly, Lyra nodded and continued to play. As the mournful song carried into the night, Twilight felt the cold night wind across her tear-streamed face. She closed her eyes and let herself drift into her thoughts of friends and faith now lost forever.