There was soft sunlight, and a warm breeze blowing on the air. Her eyes cracked open to see skies of blue, white and fluffy clouds now drifting overhead. The grass below her was green and soft, and as Twilight Sparkle raised her head, she felt only bliss and comfort.
Until she snapped into awareness of her situation. “What? Huh?” She stood upright and whirled around. “Where am I?” This looked nothing like the deer enclave. It didn't even look like Equestria- though off on the horizon, near a tree, she could swear she saw the silhouettes of ponies. “Where am I?”
“You are in the Summer Lands.”
The voice was strong, but gentle. She whirled about, then gasped as her neck craned upward. A huge bull elk was standing right before her. His coat was finely brushed, soft brown and a little iridescent. His antlers were tremendous, huge and tined more than a dozen times on each. Yet for all his power and his grandeur, his might and greatness, his eyes, a gleaming silver, were polite and kind.
Twilight gaped at him a moment- then she dwelt on what he said. Her own eyes bulged. “The- The- The Summer Lands?” she repeated. She spazzed out and began to swirl around. “The Summer Lands! So I'm- I'm- I'm-”
“Dead?” said the elk. He chuckled gently. “No, Twilight Sparkle, you are not dead- or, not entirely. You are half-dead, and even as we speak your alicorn magic is restoring you to full health. You will soon return to the land of the living.” He smiled down at her. “For the moment, however, I am glad you are here. I have long desired to speak with you.”
“Who are you?”
“Come now, Twilight Sparkle. You know my name already.”
She stared into the silver eyes a little longer. Then her own eyes widened. “You... you're Gil-Galad, aren't you?”
“Very good.” He smiled yet again. “I am so happy to meet you. I have watched you from afar for some time now, ever since you came in contact with my brother.”
“Your bro- Fëanor,” she whispered. She winced, flinched horribly, remembering his fate. “I'm so sorry for what happened to him.” Her ears drooped. “I wish I had been able to save him.”
“My brother,” breathed Gil-Galad, glancing to the side, “you know, when we were children, he was distant. He did not... connect with me, I suppose. The war drew us closer together. We were inseparable by the end. However, even I could not have foreseen what would happen to him... how he would be twisted.” His brows lowered. “I hate to think I was the cause. I hate to think my death turned him into what he became.”
“No, it wasn't you!” said Twilight. “I know it wasn't. It was Reiziger. He... his corruption, his rot. It didn't matter that he never actually touched Fëanor until the end. He poisoned his heart.” She glanced away. “He poisons everything.”
“Reiziger's hunger will destroy all in time, even himself. He wants an empty universe, and he will get it.”
“I- oh! You didn't call him 'Herd Lord.'”
“Why would I? He is the Herd Lord, true, but he has chosen a new name, and so I shall respond to him that way.” He smiled bitterly. “My fellow high deer choose not to use his new name, I think, because they are still seeing him through the lens of the past. They are stuck in the ending of the old world.” The silver eyes grew narrow. “But we are not in the old world, Twilight Sparkle. The world was remade by the Wills. The world is new, and so the old ways and old connections must be cast aside.”
“I... I know that now.” Gil-Galad began to walk toward a gentle stream, Twilight beside him. “The Elders tried to fight Reiziger the way you all did. Equestria has tried the same way! But it hasn't worked! All our battles have done is make him stronger.”
“Indeed. Reiziger is a creature of violence and hate. He cannot be beaten with violence in turn. He can be defeated militarily- his conquests can be turned back, his armies can be routed- but he himself taps far deeper, fouler powers than simply the ability to physically destroy. He is Death, Twilight Sparkle. Death cannot beat Death.” They were at the stream now. Gil-Galad glanced down into the babbling waters, seeing his reflection swim and shimmer. He hung his head. “I should have realized that. I did not see the solution staring me in the face.”
Gil-Galad said, “You have read my history, I know. You know of my successes as a politician, as a mender of hurts and a builder of alliances. Through my charisma, and my focus, I was able to unite the six species against Reiziger, finally breaking the Red Deer Republics away from his control. I used my eloquence of speech to banish all ideas of the mule deer and the white-tail deer being inferior to the high deer. We still had our slaves and servants, of course, but I even tried to improve their conditions. For the first time in more than a century, all the deerfolk were united against the Enemy.” He turned aside, face twisted in wrath. “And yet I did not see it. I was a fool.”
Twilight's eyes went wide. “But... you were the greatest of all the elk kings! You were wise and powerful and good!”
“I was a fool!” Gil-Galad snapped, making her jump back. He sighed to see how he had startled her, and hung his head again. “I was a fool, because I had created unity, and peace, and joy among the deerfolk again, for the first time in a hundred and fifty years. I had created it, yet all I could see, all I could think of, was how to wage war with this unity... with this harmony.”
“Harmony...” whispered Twilight.
“The thought will haunt me all my afterlife. What if I had gone to the Tree of Harmony? What if I had tried to retrieve the Elements? I might have failed, true, but I didn't even try. The thought didn't even occur to me. I could only think to combat Reiziger's violence with more violence- and so I failed.” He glanced down at her. His silver eyes grew bright; he smiled anew. “But where I failed, you can succeed- you and your five friends.”
“I...” Twilight stood up straighter. “I know that now.”
“Yes, you do. The world is a new world, in ways my brother did not understand, and in ways Reiziger does not understand, either. Ponies are not deer. You do not have our strengths- but in their place, you have your own strengths, and these are better suited to defeating Reiziger than all the magic and elegance and grandeur of the deer. Your love, your spirits, your strength of heart- these are what make ponies great. And they are what have brought the Elements of Harmony to your kind. Death does not beat Death. Life beats Death.” He smiled down at her, bright and lovely. “So then, Twilight Sparkle... what will you do?”
She beamed up at him. “I'm going to get my friends back.”
Twilight's body started wavering, becoming slightly transparent. “What?”
“You are waking up,” said Gil-Galad. “You will soon be back where you are healing. We shall see each other again, I think. At the very least, some day you will be powerful enough to visit the Summer Lands at will.”
“That's great,” said Twilight. She made a gentle face. “At least now you can be with Fëanor again.”
Gil-Galad's own face twisted in pain. He glanced aside. “My brother... is in a different part of the afterlife.”
“I anticipated it. It does not make it any easier to bear, though.”
“I'm so sorry.” Her body was translucent now. From her perspective, the Summer Lands were growing dim, and faint. “I'll find my friends! We'll get back together! We'll beat Reiziger! We'll win!”
“I believe you, Twilight Sparkle. Rally your friends. Unite the Elements. Defeat Reiziger. Succeed where we failed!”
“We will! I promise we will!” Things were very dark indeed; Gil-Galad's silver eyes were glowing in the growing shadow as her sight and hearing dimmed. “Goodbye, Gil-Galad! Thank you!”
“Farewell, Twilight Sparkle! Aa' menealle nauva calen ar' malta!”
She waved. “Goodbye! Lissenen ar' maska'lalaith tenna' lye omentuva!” The air grew dim, and all the feeling went out of her hooves and fur. She felt like she was falling, and all the brightness and the beauty of the world drifted away. She strayed beyond the bounds of time and space, if only for a moment, before she started sinking deep into the dark.
Twilight's eyes came open. She sat up; she was covered up in blankets. By the high white cavern ceilings, decorated with their swooping stone and metal, she knew that she was in the Enclave somewhere. Weeping, wailing, bawling drifted through the towering stone halls. The air was soft, and somber.
Twilight looked down at her hooves. She flexed her wings. She glanced around her. At last, she said, “I have to go back.”