The Quiet Place
[Disclaimer: I own nothing of the MLP franchise and all rights are reserved by Hasbro and the respective parties involved.]
Chapter 33: Manufactured Paradigms
Twilight's body wrenched and jerked as she moved through darkness. It undulated, pulsing as if alive, but she couldn't tell if she was moving at all. Slowly, it applied pressure to her, until finally she could feel a part of her break and the darkness seep in. After a moment, it broke away to a dim light, illuminating a small area on a plane below. The world seemed familiar as she felt herself drift down, landing with little more than a tap of her hooves. She threw her head around as the dark offered nostalgia that threatened to twist her stomach.
"Is anyone there?" she called to nothing.
Large eyes opened up before her, unmoving. At first they seemed far, but they expanded until they were much larger than herself. Blank irises gazed at her with a sinister glow before gaining a purplish hue that darkened. Twilight didn't know how to react, so she merely gazed back, equal parts cautious and fearful. Her spine bristled when they blinked, but the eyes shrank down to the size of another pony's, matching her height.
"Who are you?" Twilight growled as she took on a defensive stance.
A body to the pony formed as it stepped forward out of the shadows themselves. There was no mane, no tail; merely a clear slate without features; blank eyes, no horn, no wings; a frightening amalgamation of unknown. There was not even a mouth. The creature, as she likened it to, circled her like an observant predator, stopping before her once again, only to stare further.
"Who are you?" repeated Twilight as fear started to rise.
The creature closed its eyes, only to open them once more. The left was now red and the right was now blue, and a crest of light began to appear on the creature's head. Fear stabbed Twilight's nerves and her body recoiled from the sudden changes, her body offering a cold sweat. The creature's fur took color in the dim lighting, matching Twilight's own. Before the crest could fully form into something recognizable, she turned and bolted into the infinite void.
You cannot run from me.
Twilight could not open her eyes as she slammed into something. Hard. She could feel her joints creak in protest as they settled, her muscles swimming harshly within her container. She tried to push herself up from the surface, only to find her body unresponsive and weak.
I can't move! she thought, laying in a timeless darkness, unable to even open her eyes.
"Is that her?" a voice called in a hushed shout after Twilight had long lost track of time. It was a mare. "It's... I don't believe it. It's really her! Quickly, grab her. We need to get out of here. The Lords are already in the city."
That voice! It came familiar, but she could not place its owner. It seemed unusual in the way that it presented itself.
"By Celestia. It really is Twilight!" another voice cried.
Twilight... is that me? She could feel her leaden body lifted up and draped over someone, followed by a cloth laid over her.
"Shh! If it's really her, we can't be spotted now. The loyalists will turn her in if they find her."
"You're right. I'm sorry."
It was a bumpy ride as her two saviors dashed out of the city. Occasionally, they slowed down and spoke to each other in whispers. She couldn't follow their conversation very well, but she heard a few words.
"We must get through the plaza," her identifier said quietly.
"No, there's too many guards on patrol. I can't let you get caught either," the one carrying her protested.
"Then we'll fight our way out," said the identifier.
Twilight's carrier flinched as she heard the other move. "You're forgetting who trained you. I'm more than a match for a few city guards with a blade."
"You're too sick and weak!"
There was a moment of silence for a while before the identifier moved back to stand beside the carrier. "You're right. Pull your hoods low and blend in with the crowd. If we cause a commotion, one of the Lords could catch up to us."
As they pressed forward, Twilight's consciousness waned, but the last thing she heard was a relieved sigh, then a voice in her mind.
You cannot run from me.
Light shone onto Twilight's face. She clenched her eyes and turned her head, her body moving at last, if weakly. Her eyes slowly opened to a wooden ceiling, her vision blurry. She kicked herself up against a wall, propping up as while her eyes slowly adjusted. With a gentle rub and several blinks, her vision focused to view sparse wooden walls and a single, paned window with sickly light rays pouring through a layer of grime. Even the sheet and blanket covering her held dust stains.
Where am I?
She could hear others talking just outside her room. It was the same two that found her.
"We can't stay here for long," she could hear the carrier say with urgency.
"We'll stay as long as it takes for her to recover," the identifier said.
Twilight twisted to place her hind legs over the edge of the bed, opening her mouth. Her body protested and she let loose a squeak as she fell to the floor in a thump.
The other two rushed into the room, and her view quickly shifted from the dirty floor to the ceiling as they lifted her back onto the bed.
"Are you okay, Twilight?" the identifier asked. Twilight turned to finally face the two that had moved her.
"I'll get you some water," the other said, leaving the room.
When the other returned with water, Twilight quickly downed it.
"Are you... Luna?" she asked hoarsely, blinking away lingering blurs.
"Yes," she replied, pulling off a grey hood.
Twilight expected to see the princess's dark blue coat, her living mane of stars and constellations, but what she saw was far worse than she could have imagined. The once dark blue fur had faded into a chalky light blue, and her proud, stout body showed signs of emaciation. Her mane appeared brackish and unkempt, a loosely tamed mess framing a now-gaunt face.
"W-what happened to you, Luna?" Twilight choked out. "Why... are we here?"
The moon princess gave her a confused look. "What do you mean, Twilight?"
"I was..." Her memories crashed into each other from her last night in Canterlot, and she blinked several times trying to organize them. "We were in Canterlot only a few hours ago, when Aurelius attacked. What happened?"
Luna's eyes widened as she spoke. "Twilight," she said softly, her mouth twisting in discomfort as she cocked her head away. "That was over four years ago."
"Wh-what!? That... that can't be right."
Luna nodded slowly. "I'm sorry, Twilight, but Canterlot fell to Aurelius eight months after that."
Twilight petrified at the news, her chest tightening as it was processed. She was... off¸ she thought. She glanced around. "Where is everyone?"
"I don't know," Luna replied sadly. "Some were captured, others have been missing for years."
"We're the only ones that escaped the fall of Canterlot," said the other.
Derpy¸ she identified her carrier. The paladin appeared better for wear than Luna, but her fur appeared thin in places, a strip of gauze wrapping her head just under her mane. "What about Rainbow Dash, and the other Celestial Knights?"
Luna answered in Derpy's stead. "They stayed behind to fight. Aurelius controls them now."
Twilight's stomach turned into a knot. "Wh-where is Nightmare Moon! Did she...?" she said quickly, unable to finish the question.
Luna shook her head, relieving her slightly. "No one has seen her since the weeks after you disappeared. I'm afraid I don't know what happened to her."
"So, she's still out there?" Hope filled her again and she was standing before she realized it, but her legs buckled and she slumped onto the frail princess. Luna sat her back on the bed before her weight tested the frail princess's strength. "I'm sorry. I just... I have to find her."
"I know, and I'm sorry I don't know more. Everything since Canterlot's fall has been... difficult."
"If you and Derpy are here, where is Celestia?"
The two exchanged glances and the knight spoke instead. "We should take a walk, Luna. We'll know if the Dragon Lords have caught up to us."
Twilight noted that they avoided the question, and it was only now that she noticed Luna in a robe and Derpy with a cloak over her. They left the room and Twilight followed after. As she followed the knight to the door, Luna stopped her. "Here," she said, handing her a dusty brown cloak. "We need to be careful."
The time-lost alicorn shot her a confused look, but complied nonetheless. "It's not as comfortable as duskweave," she found herself joking.
Luna snorted. "Such a wondrous item would be most fortunate to have."
"Princess!" Derpy called.
"I... am sorry."
Twilight watched them step out the front door, and she nervously stopped before the light hit her. It's been over four years? How long was I... really gone for? How much could have changed?
She squinted as the light hit her face, burning her eyes to blindness for a moment. Rubbing them, she stopped and hung her head in the shade of her cowl. After a moment, she looked up to see only Luna waiting for her.
"Where did D—"
Luna raised a hoof to Twilight's mouth, shaking her head curtly. "She is my traveling companion out here. Don't use her real name."
Twilight looked at her incredulously for a moment before it dawned on her. "Where did she go?"
Luna motioned closer and they started to walk together. "She is scouting," she whispered. "She will never be too far, but it is best she keeps a watchful distance."
Twilight's eyes darted towards rooftops, between ponies, to balconies, anywhere the paladin might be. She nearly walked into another pony before she realized where she was. Everywhere around her ponies filed by, clad in worn cloaks, frayed robes, or tattered shirts. She fidgeted and took a step back, her eyes jumping from face to face, from grey cowl to brown hood. Where is Luna? her mind raced. Taking several more steps back, she stumbled and fell into another pony.
"Calm down," Luna said in a hushed whisper as she caught her and lifted her back to balance.
Twilight stared at her for a moment as her heartbeat slowed. "I'm sorry. I just... I don't like it here." Her eyes drifted to the faces of other ponies as they passed her. Listless, haggard faces with purposeless gaits carrying them to destinations unknown. The dirt streets were messy and ill-maintained. Everything appeared to hold a layer of disarray over it.
"It's safe, my lady," said Derpy as she appeared beside her. Twilight blinked and they began moving together with the knight taking the rear, a distance of several ponies behind them.
"We shouldn't get separated," the princess said. "There's more at stake now than ever before."
"What do you mean?"
Luna nodded towards the wall of one of the buildings and they moved through the flow of traffic to look at it. Twilight stared in shock at a poster. She tried to tear it from the wall with her magic, but it would not heed her call. She quickly swiped it with her hooves and held it up to her face, trembling as she scanned it.
"Though you're believed to have died before the fall of Canterlot, Aurelius has put a price on your head just in case. It seems his paranoia was right," Luna explained.
The price on her head was enormous, more than she could have ever seen Celestia or Luna offering as a reward for someone. There was a moment of pride as she saw a picture of her face staring back to her with the bounty attached, but it quickly faded into a mixture of anger and indignity. The image of her was with her violet coat, devoid of Nightmare's darkening features. Somehow, that made her angrier.
Twilight balled the poster up and discarded it, slumping to the wall as her stomach churned. "That bastard," she muttered.
Twilight ignored her and straightened up. "What now with all of this secrecy?"
Derpy regrouped and chimed in. "I heard a couple whispers, my lady. They might search this town. We need to leave."
"They?" Twilight asked.
"They are the Dragon Lords, Aurelius's personal lieutenants. They are a mockery of the Celestial Knights," she sneered.
"My lady!" Derpy blurted.
"I... am sorry. It's hard for me," she said.
"Your speech..." Twilight trailed off.
"I'll do whatever it takes to survive. Sometimes that means sacrificing something, even a part of myself." Luna offered a bittersweet smile. "Besides, I've been modernizing my speech for years."
"The Dragon Lords, my lady," the knight reminded with urgency.
"Alright. Twilight, just stay close to us, and try to keep your head down," Luna instructed.
She did as she was told, keeping her head low with her cowl tugged down, but enough to see in front of her. They moved at the same pace as other ponies, blending in perfectly with the bland, tired crowd. She followed behind Luna with Derpy somewhere around—she couldn't be sure where—as they headed for a larger area. The street opened into a bazaar of sorts with peddlers and carts along the outer walls, though much of the center area was left for traffic.
Twilight observed the vicinity as she and Luna were forced to a snail's pace from the congestion of carts and ponies in the bazaar. Time slowed to a crawl, everything seeming as if it moved in slow motion. Her throat tightened painfully as the atmosphere came bearing down. Suddenly, amidst all of the discomfort and strangeness, she felt something familiar. She looked ahead, her eyes just barely peeking out from beneath the edge of her cowl and glimpsed four ponies standing ahead, their heads swaying back and forth as they surveyed the ponies.
She couldn't see them very well from the distance, but the one standing in front was clad in scarlet and white cloth, a white mask with a red crest on it hiding their face. As Twilight stopped and gazed, she struggled to breath. The masked pony looked her way and her blood turned cold, her body tensing. She could not peel her eyes away, and after a few moments the masked pony swayed their gaze elsewhere.
Twilight found herself loosing a relived breath, but her tension was raised again as she was pulled to the side and shoved against a wall. A hoof was pressed firmly over her mouth as Luna occupied her vision.
"They are the Dragon Lords, Aurelius's lieutenants." The princess removed her hoof, and Twilight sucked in as much air as she could.
"The one... in the mask..." she panted.
"No one knows. It could be an archmage, a rogue sorcerer, or perhaps even a warrior from another land. When Canterlot fell, the fate of the remaining archmagi was left unknown. For all we know, it could very well be an alicorn." Luna looked off to the plaza. "Strange... There are no dragons with them this time."
Twilight raised an eyebrow and chanced another look at the ponies ahead. She couldn't see any wings, but they could've been hidden under their attire and cloak, but the masked pony did not appear to be pudgy as if wings were under there. She thought back to when she wore the duskweave and how normal she appeared with that. Could it be an alicorn?
"What now?" Twilight asked.
"We need to leave," said Derpy. "I'll create a distraction to draw the Dragon Lords away, and then you two escape." Luna turned and opened her mouth to protest. "Don't worry about me. I'll catch up to you."
"If you don't, I will find you when my magic has recovered." The two mares nodded to each other and Derpy shuffled back into the crowd behind them. "Now we wait," the princess said.
Twilight and Luna sat against the wall in silence, but it was far from quiet with the appearance of the Dragon Lords. Word of their presence rapidly spread through the city and the townsponies were whipped into a frenzy, moving and running about. The plaza with the Dragon Lords cleared around them, and they eventually moved on.
Ten minutes passed, by Twilight's estimate, before a loud explosion came from the distance. The roar of the crowd and the sound bouncing off of the walls made it difficult to discern where exactly it came from. In an instant, Twilight was lifted to her hooves.
"That's our cue!" Luna shouted over the cries of the crowd. "Come on, let's go!"
They broke into a run towards the city exit across the plaza, pushing by ponies that got in their way. Luna stumbled several times, and Twilight struggled to keep up, but suddenly the princess halted.
"Teleport out, now!" the princess roared, turning to her with a fierce look.
Not thinking about it, the violet alicorn vanished in a flash of light. Unfamiliar with the surroundings, she appeared back in alley before the plaza, the only place that popped into her immediate memory. Despite ponies cramming by her, she looked out to the plaza to see that Luna was gone, the central area clear once more.
A light, smoky fog filled the area, obscuring her view beyond the plaza. A tap on the shoulder caused Twilight to jump, whirling around to find Derpy.
"Where's Princess Luna? You two were supposed to get out of here."
"She told me to teleport away. I didn't know where to go, so I came back here."
"Damn it. Alright, wait here. I'll come back for you while the Dragon Lords are investigating the explosion." With that, the knight disappeared back into the crowd of ponies.
Once again, Twilight was left to wait in the alley. She sat back against the wall, tugging her hood down and pulling herself closer. Her mind wandered, tuning out the uproar from the crowd.
Who was that pony? Was it a unicorn? Or what if it's an alicorn? She drew the masked Dragon Lord's image from memory, trying to scrutinize any details from it she could to identify them. The red crest on the mask wasn't anything she had seen before, but it could've been Aurelius's. The white and red scheme gave nothing away, but there was one detail that stood out to her. The folds of the cloak by their neck. Why does that seem familiar? She dwelled on it for a moment longer before allowing herself to analyze the familiarity of the masked pony's presence. She could not determine anything else other than she had felt it before. It seems so long ago, she thought.
Be wary, Twilight Sparkle, you walk with two shadows, even when you are surrounded by light, Astra's voice played in her mind.
Is she one of the shadows? Before she could ponder it further, Derpy and Luna returned.
"Sorry to keep you waiting. I got a bad feeling as we fled, and it turned out right. There was a Dragon Lord close by when I told you to teleport."
"They're all on high alert now," Derpy said. "I don't think we're all getting out of this city."
"What do you propose we do now?" asked Twilight.
"We're going to need a bigger distraction," the princess replied.
Twilight shifted nervously "Like what?"
Derpy bowed to Luna and placed a hoof on the hilt of her sword. "Forgive me for what I'm about to do, Your Majesty," she whispered.
"Do not call me that in public!" Luna said in a hushed voice, looking around nervously. "What are you planning to do?"
"Blend in with the crowd and you'll make it out of here," Derpy whispered before flying over the ponies in the alleyway.
Luna and Twilight were left to watch as Derpy landed in the plaza and began marching towards the exit. One of the Dragon Lords appeared and stood in front of her, prompting the paladin to halt. Another Dragon Lord appeared from the side alley and closed in. The fog swirled and any ponies in the plaza quickly abandoned their intent and rushed to the edges or down the other streets.
"What, no one-on-one this time, Colgate?" Derpy said as she drew a very chipped and dull Glance Reviver.
Colgate stepped closer, her red armor contrasting her blue fur. "You've been branded a heretic and a traitor by King Aurelius. Come quietly and you won't be hurt, Derpy Hooves."
"I'm not going anywhere with you." The former Celestial Knight's eyes were crimson, and Derpy drew a cracked and deneted heater shield from beneath her cloak.
"Then I'll break your wings and drag you back to Canterlot myself."
Derpy smirked. "I'd love to see you try."
The unicorn knight fired a blast of magic from her horn at Derpy. The paladin evaded, the ground turning to ice where the attack struck. As she moved to the side, there was a crack as the other Dragon Lord's hoof collided with her breastplate. Derpy let out a painful squeal as she was knocked back towards the center. Coughing and heaving, she rose back up.
"You're getting slow, Derpy," Berry said as she stepped out from the outer edges of the fog.
The earth knight charged her, swinging wide. Derpy pulled back for the first punch as Berry continued to charge. The flash of her crimson eyes made the paladin uncomfortable. She set down and thrust, attempting to strike one of the earth knight's hind legs. She missed as Berry spun, striking a readied shield. The impact of the counterattack rippled through Derpy's body, and the earlier punch caused her body to go frail for a moment. She collapsed under the blocked strike, but allowed her wings to pull her away.
"You're the traitors!" Derpy shouted, attempting to fly away into the depths of the city. Before she could get far, a burst of magic engulfed the area and she slowed down. "What the—" she cried, glancing around as everything around her slowed inside a tint bronze.
A blast of magic struck her, wrapping her torso and encasing her wings in ice. The time distortion ended and she crashed into the ground, crying out and relinquishing her sword and shield. The ice holding her wings shattered on impact, but they went limp from the pain. She spat blood from and stood back up, retrieving her sword and shield as the Dragon Lords closed in.
"Surrender, Derpy. You haven't even recovered from the last time we cornered you. You're not escaping this time," said Colgate.
"I'll die by my sword before I let you take me to be executed in Canterlot," the paladin growled. She charged the unicorn knight, but Berry blocked her path.
Too tired and injured, Derpy couldn't force her body to dodge Berry's next blow. It struck her in the stomach and she was lifted off the ground and tossed back. As she landed, she rolled several times, her dusty cloak wrapping around her as blood ran down her mouth and neck. She shuddered several times and swept her hooves on the ground for her sword. After a moment of disorientation, she wheezed and collapsed.
"We have to do something!" Twilight cried, preparing to run out ahead.
Luna barred her path. "No! You can't be seen!" she said in a hush.
"But they're going to kill her!" shouted Twilight.
Luna forced her up against the wall. "Don't you think I know that?" Tears ran down her cheeks. She held Twilight for a while before releasing her and relaxing. "Stay... here." She put her back to the violet alicorn and hung her head. "If they capture me, go to the west. Far to the west. There is a desert. There's rumors of a resistance army forming outside of Aurelius's reach. Make contact with them. See if you can overthrow him with that."
"L-Luna, wait!" It was too late.
The princess dashed into the plaza, taking up Glance Reviver, much to the surprise of the Dragon Lords. She threw off her hood, revealing her pale, but determined face. She stood in front of Derpy's body as she pointed the blade at her attackers.
"I will not allow you to take her!" she roared to them.
The two Dragon Lords backed off and exchanged worried glances.
Are they actually afraid of her?
"Just come quietly, Princess Luna, and you will not be harmed," said Colgate softly.
"Watch your tongue, traitorous knight! Do not forget where you came from," Luna shouted back. "Have you forgotten who trained the two of you? I made you the very Celestial Knights you are and I will just as easily break you!" The Dragon Lords took a few more steps back. "Leave now and it is you who will not be held to the guillotine!"
Colgate frowned. "You think you can stop both of us?"
"I know I can," sneered Luna, a grin forming on her face. "Do you dare try?" She took a combative stance, but oddly held a hoof towards Derpy.
The fog thickened to the point of obscurity, drawing into the center of the plaza. It whirled around for a moment before blasting away. The masked pony appeared at the center, prompting Colgate and Berry to immediately kneel in their presence.
"Lord Vibe!" they cried in unison. The masked pony glanced at them, then to Luna, regarding the unfaltering princess for a moment. "What do you command us to do?" added Colgate.
A deep, rumbling voice akin to a dragon filled the air. "We have been summoned by King Aurelius. They are no longer our concern at this time."
"But we can capture them here and now, Lord Vibe!" Colgate protested. Vibe turned to her and she coiled down with silence.
"When the King summons us, there is nothing of more importance. These two are no longer a priority. We are leaving at once." The others obeyed and galloped away.
"Are you not going to try your hoof at capturing us here and now?" Luna called to the masked pony.
Vibe gazed at her in silence before turning to walk away, but he stopped halfway. Luna tightened her grip on Glance Reviver and never took her eyes off of the masked pony.
"You should be thankful that there is someone, or something, looking out for you. Farewell for now, Princess." Vibe walked away, disappearing into the fog and out of sight entirely.
Luna held her ground for a minute longer before her body shook and she collapsed, dropping the sword. She panted as she held herself from off the ground. With danger gone, Twilight ran out to her and helped her back to standing.
"The others... they called him Lord Vibe. The other Dragon Lords answer to him, but it seems this Lord Vibe answers directly to King Aurelius," said Luna.
"Do you know who he is?"
Luna shook her head. "I don't know any ponies of importance with that name. If he's Aurelius's number two, then it has to be a pony with power at the level of an archmage or a celestial knight."
"You said it could be a rogue sorcerer."
Luna shot Twilight a grim look. "He hasn't used any distinguishing magic, yet. I'll keep trying to find out who he is. I'll be fine. Help Derpy."
Twilight crouched down to the unconscious paladin. As she pulled off pieces of her armor she cringed at the sight of bruises where the blows had struck her. Holding her hooves over her torso, she called on her healing magic. The white glow was distinct in the fog, and she glanced up to curious watchers from the crowds, but they continued to keep their distance. The bruises faded and the paladin moaned in her sleep, but didn't wake up.
Twilight's magic felt strange to her. Healing Derpy did not give her the same sensations as healing other ponies in the past, and she felt as if she might lose her ability to use her magic at any second. The feeling of foreignness passed after a few moments, but it made her feel no less awkward. She stopped healing after a while, only to discover it had only accomplished triage.
Luna gathered up her sword and pieces of armor while Twilight threw Derpy on her back. She found her to be surprisingly light as they walked back to the house they were staying in. When they returned, Twilight laid the knight on the bed while Luna cleaned her face and stripped her of the rest of her armor.
"This is bad," Luna said quietly. "They could have captured us right then."
"Colgate and Berry were afraid of you," reminded Twilight. "It's a good thing they didn't call your bluff."
The princess shot her a shocked look. "You... knew?"
Twilight gave her a thoughtful stare. "I could sense it, but I wasn't sure until I saw you. You have almost no magic left."
"My magic began to wane just over a year ago. In the more recent months, I am no different from an earth pony. Sometimes I can use telekinesis. Other times, I am stricken with malaise for merely trying." She turned to Twilight with a hollow look. "I feel as if I am carrying a great sickness. It is much like my magic has been utterly depleted, but never recovers. It... shows," she finished, holding up a hoof from under her cloak. Her skinny, pale leg meshed in with the dreary room before she set it down and allowed her cloak to hide it.
"I'm sorry, Luna."
"It is not your fault. Come," she said, heading into the kitchen, or what there was of one. Twilight found a table with two chairs and took a seat. Luna brought them each a cup of water. "The Dragon Lords know we are here, but have backed off for now. Derpy can't leave until she has recovered, and she is my bodyguard."
"What are you going to do after she recovers?"
Luna sighed. "We will continue to the desert, chasing the rumors of the resistance. If that does not work, we must appeal to the Gryphon Empire."
Twilight crinkled her brow in curiosity. "Why the Gryphon Empire?"
Luna gave her a confused look, but it faded into acknowledgement. "Forgive me. I had forgotten you were unaware of the current political state." She shook her head. "The gryphons have escaped Aurelius's alliance. Currently, the Crystal Empire and the Brood have some sort of alliance with him, but the Gryphon Empire has distanced itself."
"Alliance? What about my brother and Cadance? They wouldn't go along with him. And what happened to Garr being the new Dragon King?" Twilight asked quickly.
"I am sorry, Twilight, but I do not know."
Twilight jumped out of the chair, shaking. "I-I-I have to go. I-I have to find them."
"Hold on, Twilight. The world thinks you are you dead."
Twilight blinked. "And m-my family?"
The princess gave her an apologetic look. "They... insisted on a funeral. Celestia resisted at first, but she could not deny them their right to bury you."
"No... no-no-no-no..." Twilight trailed off, pacing circles for a few moments. Ultimately, she slumped into the chair and stared at the floor. For a moment, it was quiet, but her face contorted into anger. "I'm going to kill him," she ground out, breaking the silence.
Luna gave her worried look. "Him?"
Twilight glanced at as she stood back up. "Aurelius." She adjusted her cloak tightly around her neck. "Go find the resistance, Luna, but I won't be going with you."
"I'm going to tear the crown off Aurelius's head right before I slit his damned throat."
She turned and headed for the door, but Luna rushed in front of her. "I can't let you go off alone, Twilight. We need you!" she pleaded.
"I'm going to take out Vibe. That should keep the Dragon Lords off of your backs while you make it to the desert. Try to get the Gryphon Empire to help."
"It will be better if you stay with us. If you get discovered, they will come for you."
"I am going, Luna, and you cannot stop me."
The princess regarded her for a long while, but finally gave a sad sigh and stepped aside. "I wish you would stay with us, Twilight. With me."
The violet alicorn hung her head. "Me, too, but I have to go." She moved to the door and prepared to open it, but Luna placed a hoof on her shoulder. "Before you go, take this with you."
She removed a baldric and sheath with a sword from beneath her cloak and handed it to her. Twilight drew the sword out from its sheath for a moment. A black and green blade slid out, the familiar glow within the green of its design absent. "Moonlight?"
"Yes. Derpy has not used it since the siege of Canterlot those years ago, and I cannot wield it. It is immune to my magic."
"It was immune to mine, too." Twilight drew the sword and ran a hoof over the blade. Nothing. She thought. She prepared to sheathe it when she stopped. Something. She shook her head and accepted the weapon. "Thank you, Luna."
"Good luck. If you find Cadance or Shining, or Garr, and if they can be trusted, tell them of our plans." Luna gave her a hug. "Be safe. I hope this is not the last time we see each other."
"It won't be, Luna." Twilight returned the hug.
"One more thing." The princess gave her a worried look. "For all the time that you have returned, you never once asked about Trixie."
Twilight's eyes widened. "I... It must have slipped my mind. Do you... know where she is?"
Luna shook her head. "We could really use her help right now. You trained her well."
Twilight tugged her cowl down as tears welled in her eyes. "I know." She opened the door and closed it quietly behind her, sighing as she stepped onto the street. She tore a strip from the end of her cloak and wrapped it around her face.
She could feel Moonlight resting on her back, the blade casting a presence to her for the first time. Again, she pushed the feeling aside and headed for the exit of the city. A main road flowed out, and she opted to follow it. She stared at the ground, lost in thought as she walked on. Who is Vibe? Who, or what, are the two shadows? The light? Where are Nightmare Moon and Trixie?
Her thoughts were lost when a pony, clad in light armor, bumped into her.
"Sorry, ma'am," he said, removing his helmet briefly to bow. He stepped to the side of her and veered off the road. Twilight stopped and glanced around, now noticing that there were many more ponies in light armor heading in the same direction. She prepared to ask why, but her eyes fell to the target. Three dragons lay off to the side of the road, their bodies slashed.
She trotted up to the pony that bumped into her. "Hey, what happened?"
The pony glanced to her with a confused look. "Your guess is as good as mine," he said, throwing a hoof to the scene. "Dragons of the King's army have been littering the middle cloister around Canterlot for a couple years now, some even in the inner cloister recently." He slowly walked between the bodies, Twilight in tow, as he continued talking. "Patrols of them wind up dead, all exactly like this." He swayed a hoof to a particularly gruesome sight of a green dragon that had been cleanly cut to pieces, from decapitated limbs to a split stomach that leaked intestines. Twilight gleaned the agony of its final moments from the terror frozen on its face.
He spun around to a red dragon and shook his head. "And some like this one."
Twilight marveled at the clean cuts of his dismembered parts. Perfect slices of flesh lay piled on the ground, as if someone or something had aimed to cut it to ribbons. "Two years and no one knows how they die?"
The armored pony removed his helmet and scratched at his head. "Not even the Dragon Lords know. There have never been any survivors. There's only rumors." The armored pony caught a glimpse of Twilight's sword as she examined the various giblets around her. "A weapon, eh? You'd best be careful traveler. There's reports of bandits in the parts of the main road that are least patrolled, and you'll need to hide that if you plan to enter the inner cloister."
"Why's that?" Twilight asked, her eyes catching sight of small weapons on the other armored ponies around.
"Weapons are forbidden in the inner towns and cities without express permission from the King or his Dragon Lords."
Twilight frowned, but paid the warning no mind. "These dragons don't smell. How long have they been here?"
"These?" The armored pony scratched his chin. "They're not even a day old. Crazy that whatever is doing this has never been seen. A patrol found them just this morning. No trace of who, or what, did it." The armored pony shook his head. "Why? Do you think you might know something?"
He turned around, but Twilight was already gone.