• Published 13th Oct 2011
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The Quiet Place - Aynine



Twilight fights against sinister manipulations, struggling to overcome a deep-seated darkness within. As she battles to preserve everything she cares about, she will sacrifice anything necessary to succeed. But the price of victory may be herself.

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Chapter 10: Dissonance in the Heart

The Quiet Place
By: Aynine

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

Chapter 10: Dissonance in the Heart

The sound of chirping birds lashed into the dreaming mind of Twilight, prompting her to awaken with a grouchy look. As the realm of loose fantasy faded into the sharpness of reality, she sat up and scratched at the back of her head. The birds continued their songs, but as she shifted into the land of the alert, she found it much easier to bear, especially when a comfortable breeze swept through the room. She glanced to her left to see the balcony door wide open, her better half wearing her cloak without the cowl idly sitting in the morning daylight. Her cloak swept beneath the wind and she tilted her head back, rising to a standing position.

Yawning with the ferocity of an angry beaver, Twilight crawled out of bed to meet the other mare on the balcony. As she quietly stepped up beside her, her eyes still half-lidded, she took in the breathtaking scenery, complimented by the high sun. "It's a beautiful day for your ceremony, Trixie," she said while opening her adjusting eyes more and admiring Canterlot's sophisticated architecture from the vantage point.

Trixie dropped down to sitting once more and leaned her head into the crook of Twilight's neck, the action being reciprocated by the slightly taller alicorn. Twilight spread her right wing over the magician and smiled to nothing in particular. "Canterlot is beautiful," echoed Trixie before turning Twilight. "But I think it pales in comparison to you."

Twilight's smile expanded and she took in the scent of Trixie in a deep breath, the smell raising her spirits as nostalgia of every moment together flickered by in faint images. "It's days like these that I forget why we've worked so hard training these past few years."

Trixie pulled away and shot Twilight a sarcastic look. "The alicorn's trying is Trixie's half-flanking," she joked. She kissed Twilight on the cheek and went back inside. The alicorn remained on the balcony for a minute longer, quickly concealing her wings within the duskweave as a patrolling pegasus guard passed by not far below her. "Come on," Trixie called from the bed. "We've got a little... time to ourselves," she added seductively, waggling her tail to enhance the invitation.

Twilight chuckled as she made her way back to the bed. Despite her disheveled mane and tail, she remained as sexy to Trixie as she always had. "Oooh. Frisky in the morning, eh?" Twilight closed the balcony door behind her and drew the curtains over the windows. "Are we going to be late to the ceremony?" she asked innocently.

Trixie pulled the alicorn down to the bed on top of her and grinned, leaning up to her mouth. "I hope so," she whispered before planting a kiss on her lips.

***

THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP

Rainbow Dash furiously pounded on the thick oak door to Twilight and Trixie's chambers, her armor lightly echoing behind the knocks. "Hey! Hey! Are you guys even up yet? The ceremony is in an hour!" she shouted at the door. Passing castle staff offered her looks ranging from sympathy to annoyance at her lack of subtlety, but the pegasus ignored them, intent on ensuring they arrived on time. After a few more knocks, she called one more time, "I'm coming back in thirty minutes."

A sudden gust of air flowed through the castle ruffling manes, tails, clothes, and tapestries hanging along the walls or from high ceilings. "They're probably celebrating. You know... in their own way." Dash spun around on her hind hooves in surprise, but her expression brightened immediately at recognition of the voice.

"H-hey, Derpy! You startled me," she blurted unsteadily. The grey pegasus was casually leaning against the opposite wall in all of her armor, nonchalantly looking at the edge of her right hoof. She wasn't wearing a helmet, but her tower shield was resting evenly on her back and hiding her sword. It wasn't until Dash had begun moving towards her that she looked up.

"You don't really think they're--" Dash cut herself off when Derpy gave her a disbelieving stare. "You know what, never mind."

Derpy quickly glanced down the corridors, ensuring that there was no one within earshot. She moved away from the wall and stepped up to Rainbow Dash to whisper in her ear. "You know..." she started in a seductive voice, prompting the cyan pegasus to blush hard. "We could do the same kind of... celebrating back in my room."

Dash lost all composure and began to sputter non-answers incoherently. Derpy circled by her again, brushing her tail up against Dash's face. "I-I... d-don't know," she squeaked out, her blush deepening as a servant walked by. The grey pegasus circled the knight a few more times, wooing her into submission when another pegasus stormed into the corridor. Both knights paused, with Dash threatening to pass out, her cheeks bearing most of the blood in her body at that moment.

"Paladin Hooves. Your presence is required by Her Majesty, Celestia, immediately," the pegasus announced, a younger stallion bearing standard armor. He procured a scroll from his breastplate and handed it to Derpy. She quickly unfurled and scanned it, then crumpled it up and tucked it away.

Derpy loosed a long, aggravated sigh and rolled her eyes. She turned to her charmed victim and giggled. "Hey, Dashie. It looks like I'm needed for something right now. We can, you know, celebrate when I get back," she cooed, adding a wink.

As soon as the stallion turned to leave, a rush of wind flowed through the corridor once more, ruining his balance and threatening to crash him into a wall. "The hay was that?" he asked aloud, looking around and seeing that it was just Rainbow Dash in the corridor before shrugging and flying away.

Dash continued swaying until the creak of Twilight's door pulled her back into focus. She whirled around and instinctively threw up a practiced salute, her face still reddened by Derpy's antics. When the alicorn burst out laughing, Dash frowned and dropped her hoof. "Nice blush, Rainbow. I guess you weren't the only one having some fun," Twilight teased.

The pegasus gagged and glared at her. "As if. You guys better not be late to the ceremony."

Trixie poked her head out of the door below Twilight's, also breaking into laughter at the knight's lack of composure or usual tough demeanor. "Late to my own ceremony? Dashie, you really shouldn't be giving advice. It looks like you are the one trying to find an excuse to be late to my ceremony," she added in.

Dash huffed and flew away, "Yeah, whatever," echoing down the hall behind her as she disappeared.

The two mares in the doorway way fell into a giggling heap, Twilight atop Trixie. "Did you see the look on her face?" Trixie said first. "She's totally got the hots for somepony."

"I wonder who," mused Twilight.

***

Twilight entered the throne room wearing a new dark blue cloak, Telos silently idling beneath it. She breathed in relief at being punctual to Trixie's archmage ceremony, the last minute personal activity threatening to make her and Trixie both tardy. The room was lit gloriously by the sun's radiance and the ceremony summoned a proper attendance this time. Most of the officials and upper class ponies had little to no affiliation with Trixie, but felt obligated to make an appearance anyway.

Trixie stood just inside the throne with her own cloak on, nervously pawing at the red carpet while casual discussions filled the air around her. Her eyes occasionally shifted up to glance at the princesses at the throne beneath her cowl, their attention pulled to a few guards and other archmagi near them. Her heart began to race each time they glimpsed her. "Ohhh... hurry up, Twilight," she muttered nervously to herself.

"Yeah, she better hurry up," echoed Twilight teasingly, and prompting the magician to turn and hug her. "I wouldn't miss this for the world, Trixie."

"Thank you." Trixie wanted to snuggle into her master's neck, but the pending ceremony kept her desires at bay. "They're about to begin. I don't have a speech prepared or anything. What should I do? What should I say?"

Twilight smiled and pulled her cowl off. "You should relax. Share your experiences and wisdom. That's what I did." She winked and Trixie eased up for a moment.

"You're right. This is just stage fright," Trixie assured herself. "I've done this a hundred times before."

Twilight patted her on the head. "That's the spirit."

Luna cleared her throat loudly and bellowed. "Your attention, everypony. We will now begin the inauguration ceremony for Trixie Lulamoon." At the reverberation of her voice, all discussion ceased to a few lingering murmurs and whispers among the audience.

The opening speeches from those who felt obligated to give one came off as generic, with Chancellor Leo's sounding particularly rehearsed. Twilight stood to the side, leaving Trixie as the last one standing on the pony-lined carpet. The magician bit her lip, inwardly groaning at the sheer amount of time it took for all of them to offer words of congratulations and praise, or just how many times the same thing could be reworded between the upper-class ponies. The archmages took turns offering a bite of wisdom, until it was Twilight's turn.

The hidden alicorn moved to stand at the throne between the princesses, clearing her throat and casting a faint smile to the crowd. "I remember the day Princess Celestia accepted me as her very own protégé," she began, turning to glimpse her face. "I was only a filly who hadn't even gotten her cutie mark yet, but lost control of my magic. Celestia saw the potential within me and trained me, always reminding me that the same potential could be in any unicorn, even any one of you here."

The crowd shifted with a few intrigued whispers being exchanged by some of the unicorns, a better show of interest than any of the previous speeches. Trixie perked up as she reveled in the words. "The unicorn you see before you was not one who would initially seem like they'd have had such a potential in the them,"--Trixie frowned--"but I could see it. The potential to shape our own destiny exists within us all, regardless of race." Twilight cast a glance to both princesses, and a sidelong one to the quiet Devon.

"I have never experienced as much joy in teaching and learning than with my own apprentice, watching her learn, watching her grow. She showed me the same passion for knowledge, and after today, will now be an official Archmage herself." The crowd began an applause, some on the floor, some clapping their forehooves. "She is a shining example of the potential within us all." As she bowed, the applause grew louder and there was a cheering that erupted with it.

"A truly wonderful speech, Twilight," whispered Celestia.

"May your words forever kindle that spark, Twilight," added Luna.

Twilight blushed and lightly pawed at her cheek. "Thanks, you two. I'm going to go congratulate her myself." The princesses nodded and Twilight took two steps before a distant roar spilled into the throne. The entire audience fell to absolute silence, all eyes darting to the door with an intense fear. "No..." muttered Twilight. "Please..." Her heart thumped inside of her chest as they waited, all praying that such a sound was the mere work of a prankster having snuck into the castle.

After an agonizing moment of silence, some of the ponies began to relax and whisper amongst themselves, the ones on the throne continued to watch the entrance. A pegasus guard clambered in and tripped, falling unceremoniously beside Trixie. As quickly as he hit the floor he had risen back to standing, a swift salute following. "P-Princesses!" he trilled. "Dragons! They're attacking the city!"

Twilight closed her eyes, Trixie looking to her, and Rainbow Dash shrugging her armor. "Damn..." Dash muttered. "I was really hoping it wouldn't be today."

Celestia stepped forward and stomped a hoof, the sound magically amplified through her now-shining horn. "Everypony, follow evacuation procedure at once," she boomed. "The Brood has initiated war upon Equestria. Canterlot is now officially a war zone."

Luna bared her teeth in anger as she watched the ponies swarm out with the assistance of guards hustling them down the proper corridors. When the throne emptied, only Twilight, Trixie, Rainbow Dash, Devon, the princesses, and seven archmagi remained. Devon stepped up beside Celestia and tugged back his cowl slightly. "It is time."

"We can never repay what you for what you have done for us, Telos," said Celestia in a softer tone. Twilight, Trixie, and Dash loosed a confused, "What?" in unison.

"May that spark be your salvation," he said aloud before vanishing and flowing into Twilight's staff. The hidden alicorn took a step back in surprise.

"That was Telos? Then--!?"

"There is no time, Twilight. You must leave at once, before they arrive. They will be coming for Luna and I." Celestia put a hoof to her head, the gravity of the situation now bearing down upon her. "He was only a memory left within the staff, much of his knowledge intact. Nothing more." Twilight's heart continued to accelerate. "GO!" shouted Celestia louder than intended.

Twilight didn't flinch and her heart began to slow back down. "I'm... sorry," she apologized suddenly. "We'll get out in the chaos."

"Good luck, Twilight," Luna added as Rainbow Dash and Trixie gathered beside her.

The princesses stepped further away and Twilight began her group teleportation. An alchemic rune formed beneath them. As the blinding flash shifted them into another location, Twilight cast one last glance to Celestia. Never forget, she thought.

I won't. Celestia's voice played clearly through her head as if she were speaking directly to her.

After they vanished in a flash, Celestia magically removed her crown and rubbed her temples, resetting it and taking on a determined expression. "I hope this works."

Luna placed a gentle hoof to her sister's shoulder and gave a reassuring nod. "Remain faithful, sister."

Everything we've prepared for is finally happening, just as predicted. Go now, Twilight. You now bear everyone's burden. Forgive me for asking you to do this... Celestia prayed silently.

"We had not originally planned for Trixie's aid. Do you think we should have asked her to remain here in Canterlot's defense?" Luna asked, her tone laced with doubt.

Celestia shook her head, her eyes remaining on the throne's entrance. "She became too involved the moment Twilight opened up to her. Were the Brood to find out she was linked to her, they would not hesitate to break her." She unleashed a slow sigh and met Luna's gaze. "Twilight would never allow them to harm her."

Luna looked to the floor for a moment, hesitating with her next words. "Her ascension. When she was first given Telos. I cannot allay my fears of her befalling the greed hidden within power."

Celestia snorted, prompting Luna to look at her with confusion. "I would've thought by now that she'd have proven you wrong without a shadow of a doubt."

"The Moon Lord stains my conscious. You are right to trust her. It is too late to doubt her now."

"And we learned to take precautions. I am not afraid of her." Celestia shrugged her body and straightened her stance. "They're here."

The entrance to the throne room crashed open, the brick and debris spilling dusty clouds into the room. As the dust settled, the forms of three dragons appeared, cautiously eyeing the party before them. A red dragon larger than the others wore a chain, with two lieutenants, a blue and green, to his sides. The seven archmagi began coordinating spells and barriers between them while the princesses readied their magic.

"Allow us, Your Majesties," one of them said. "We will make short work of these three."

Celestia recognized the dragon leading the charge. "General Aurelius..." she seethed. "You would be the one to lead the attack on me."

Luna began to fidget, her rage barely contained as her horn began charging. "You would dare assault the crowns yourself? You underestimate us far too much."

Aurelius chuckled, a deep, rolling rumble of a laugh. "Too long has it been since we last clashed with words alone. You think I would not personally come to end your rule? I thought you knew me better than that." He gave a toothy grin and took a step forward. "We know how easily gods can fall with the right tools..."

"We shall see," retorted Celestia. "Magi!"

The seven unicorns took on an offensive formation, each of their channeling culminating into a powerful combination spell. Immediately, the blue dragon lieutenant to Aurelius's left, was struck down by a powerful burst of energy. The wall beside him shattered from the force, and he gave a final wail before his body fell in a slump against its remains. The other dragon gave a nervous glance to the corpse while Aurelius paid it no heed, his eyes focused only on the princesses.

The second lieutenant, a green dragon, charged the magi, his brute strength easily crashing through the barriers. With a mighty swipe, his claw crushed two of the magi into the floor, their bodies becoming limp. The other five seized their brethren's sacrifice as an opportunity and began to channel a freezing spell. The dragon thrashed and resisted, managing to incapacitate one more archmage before succumbing to the arcane frost. As the dragon's blood froze and his body turned to ice, one mage forcefully ripped a piece of the wall out and propelled it into the dragon's body. The crystalline form shattered, a magnificent display of shards cascading to the floor, the boom of broken glass reverberating throughout the throne room.

Aurelius grinned, raising his body slightly, but keeping his left claw on the ground. "My, my how powerful the archmagi have become. This generation of spellcasters is much stronger than the last," he observed aloud with feigned boredom. "That's not to say they won't amuse me... for what remains of their borrowed lives," he bellowed. The walls trembled with his words, but his voice failed to faze the ones standing defiantly before him.

Aurelius reeled back slightly while drawing in a great breath, then fell forward onto both hands and unleashed a rancid flame towards the throne. The archmagi moved to the center of the room and repelled the breath with an icy gale that spread it to the walls and ceiling. The frost and smoke obscured their view momentarily and Aurelius dove through the dispersing magic, propelling himself with his wings. His right claw reached forward and slammed down, missing as the four remaining mages split apart to dodge. He retracted his arm and his claw raked the floor, the red carpet shredding and the stone crumbling beneath his power.

The mages had begun to regroup, a pair already channeling a spell, but the other two were too far apart. Aurelius seized the advantage and snatched the nearest mage before he could act. He muttered a curse and the dragon crushed him in his cruel grip, an agonized scream filling the hall before he relinquished him. The princesses watched as the body hit the floor, the billowing of his robes and the thud being the only sounds following the cry.

"I will stand idle no longer!" bellowed Luna. Celestia's eyes narrowed, but she held her composure.

"Hold your magic, princess," returned one of the mages. Luna stared at him, then grimaced. "Should we fall, your magic should be sufficient in defeating him." Celestia nodded, her own disdain for the thought coloring her face.

Aurelius paused his assault and studied the three magi remaining. The pair of mages finished their spell and a powerful jolt of lightning rained down from the ceiling, striking the dragon on his back and charring his scales. He loosed a roar and staggered back several steps, a grin spreading on his face. The two magi left no room for a reprisal and hurled a flurry of bolts at the dragon. Their blasts filled the distance between them with smoke, and after expending a noticeable portion of magic, ceased the barrage.

When the smoke dispersed, Aurelius merely laughed, his body unscathed from the assault. The magi stared in disbelief as he recovered his lost ground without effort. "Truly more powerful than the previous ones. I must say, your knights are far more durable, though."

Aurelius charged the pair of magi that burned him, beating his wings and gaining momentum. They attempted to dodge, but their efforts came too late. The dragon slammed into the floor with all of his might, crushing one into the floor, and the wave of rubble from the impact burying the other. He raised himself up, wiping the smear of blood from his chest, and studied the final archmage with caution.

"A lone mage to stand before the might of all that is the Brood. How bold you are," he started, "yet, your bones shall break all the same," he finished with a subtle, sadistic glee.

The mage produced his staff and his horn began glowing a brilliant yellow. "You will regret this day, dragon!" he yelled back with all of his fury.

Aurelius chuckled and lowered himself down. "There isn't even a shred of terror in this one's entire being," he remarked as he let his eyes wander to the princesses, then back to the mage. "I commend your conviction," he finished in a heavy voice.

With the last of the archmage's energy, he summoned the same lightning bolt from before. The flash of light from the power blinded him momentarily. It touched down to the dragon's back again, aiming for the same spot, but it fizzled and vanished. No smoke appeared, a sign that it never reached its target.

"What the--!?" The mage stared, his wide-eyed, shocked expression glued to the dragon's arrogant grin. "There's no way you could've dispelled that!"

"Your magic is not strong enough to break this," Aurelius said. He grabbed his chain and rotated it around his neck, the large links banging together in a symphony of dread. Attached to the opposite side was an engraved stone bearing a strange glyph.

Luna stamped her hoof and shook her head. "A null-magic rune! Where did you get one?" she boomed.

"A truly wondrous artifact, but they are not without great sacrifice," Aurelius said casually. His gaze settled onto Luna and he grinned. "But you would know all about that, wouldn't you, Nightmare Moon?" he asked, punctuating the name with the shaking of his chain.

Luna lurched backwards, her mind flooding with memories she sought to forget. "How dare you," she snarled.

Aurelius began a slow march towards the throne. "Meek little princess of darkness... It's time I returned you to your former glory. But first I will crush all of your hopes." The last archmage barred his path again, his labored breath and weak horn glow announcing his fatigue. "Remove yourself from my sight, insect," Aurelius growled. He bat the archmage against the wall without any magical resistance, rendering him unconscious.

Aurelius put himself within range of the princesses. He loosed a large flame upon the throne and thrust his right claw forward. The flames obscured his view, but his strike connected with one of the alicorns. The force of his attack demolished the throne and the end of the rug ignited and began to burn its way back towards to the entrance.

After all of the flames cleared, he was struck in the back by a bolt of magic from Celestia. It burned, but the spells of the archmagi had been significantly more powerful. "Did you think I was so weak that you could attack me directly?" The princess was carrying her sister upon her back, a gash on her side bleeding moderately.

"Yes," Aurelius replied matter of fact. "However, I did not expect you to be this weak," his tone filled with genuine surprise. "It doesn't matter. Your sister is more than willing to sacrifice herself in your stead. It would seem that she never harbored the millennium of hatred I thought she would. Let us extract whatever little there may be, shall we?"

Aurelius slipped his thumb under the chain and rotated it another ninety degrees. A black gem came into view, appearing as a spec in his ruby red body. Dark smoke swirled from within the gem and Celestia's spine bristled as his hand grasped it. She gasped as she realized what was about to happen.

"Return to your true grace, Nightmare Moon," the dragon beckoned to Luna. He tore the gem from his chain and tossed it towards the princesses.

"NO!" Celestia cried, her eyes widening in terror. Luna slipped from her back and she began to form a barrier with all of her magic. The gem hit the floor and shattered, the black smoke flowing free into a sweeping fog. Celestia finished her barrier, but to no avail. The smoke flowed through it and past her, swirling around Luna.

She stared in horror, tears welling in her eyes as Luna was lifted from the floor, every part of her body darkening and reflecting the corruption of Nightmare Moon. The wound in her side closed, and as soon as her transformation was complete, the smoke vanished.

"L-Luna..." muttered Celestia, taking a step towards her, tear drops falling freely to the floor.

Nightmare Moon groggily opened her eyes. She glanced around in confusion before they settled on Celestia before her and Aurelius behind her by the ruined throne. Her sinister disposition began to return and she laughed. It soon grew into a cackle, an expression of pure joy marking all of her features.

"What luck!" she started. "My old friend, Aurelius, and my dear sister, Celestia. What a grand reunion for me!" she cried the moment she could collect herself. She clapped against the floor, further conveying her happiness.

The dragon began chuckling in tandem with the corrupted moon goddess, while Celestia pivoted to him, anger in her eyes and voice. "Aurelius! What have you done with my sister!?" she bellowed.

The dragon broke the laugh and pulled a piece of charred scales from his back and tossed it aside. "Forget your sister, Luna. Nightmare Moon is here to remind you of the darkness that truly is," he cooed.

Nightmare Moon broke back into a fit of giggles as she walked in a predatory circle around Celestia, her eyes openly mocking her. The light outside began to fade away and Celestia realized that the moon was overtaking the sun already, forcibly. The princess fought it, but she found herself drained and powerless against it. With every ounce of energy she poured into her efforts, the moon just seemed that much more overpowering. Her heart sank at the realization that eternal night was riding the coattails of the war.

"I'm afraid you won't be banishing me this time, sister," Nightmare Moon said softly, a feigned sympathy in her voice. Celestia growled and scowled at the evil Id. "Oh sister, don't be so hostile. We're family!"

"You are no sister of mine," retorted Celestia. She finished her words, but her blood froze in her veins, Nightmare Moon grinning as her expression panicked. I can't... feel the sun at all... Her mind and heart began racing over what had just happened, unable to come up with a logical explanation for any of it.

"Are you just now realizing it?" Nightmare Moon ducked down to look up at Celestia in a ridiculing way, rising back up as she spoke. "You cannot end this darkness so long as I draw breath. A small courtesy with the help of that nifty gemstone that was used to resurrect me," Nightmare Moon said into Celestia's ear. She continued pacing herself in a taunting circle around Celestia. "Don't worry, sister. Your pretty little sun is safely tucked away, forever. Why don't you accept the beautiful night as a consolation prize from the Brood on my behalf?"

Celestia stared out of one of the windows, her rage dying with the light of the sun. Eventide took over and she sighed, staring at the ground, lonely tears continuing to rain down. This... was never supposed to happen...

"Do not look so sad, sister," consoled Nightmare Moon. "You won't stop me with the Elements of Harmony a third time, though. I will make sure of that. In fact, I will allow them to live if you remain obedient and sit idly by and watch your world crumble to dust." She turned to Aurelius who met her eyes with curiosity. "I get to personally keep the Element of Magic for myself, as a contingency... and a pet." The dragon nodded.

Celestia's anger returned at the mention of Twilight. She wanted to strike Nightmare Moon, burn Aurelius with a spell, or anything to relieve herself of the overwhelming ire welling within her. She clenched her teeth until her jaw began to ache, and calmed herself beneath the veil of logic. I can't risk compromising Twilight, she reminded herself. "I... relent," she said in a solemn voice.

"What's that?" asked Nightmare Moon with feigned confusion.

"I said, 'I relent,'" she repeated disdainfully.

Nightmare Moon grinned. "I'm glad you've come around, sister. Now, let's fix up this dreadful place," she said looking around. "Dear sister, why do you get to have all of the fun?" she remarked while browsing the ruin left in Aurelius's wake.

------------------------------------------------------

A white light flashed beyond the castle walls, too small to steal the attention of a roaming dragon. The trio of heroes appeared just beyond the castle walls in an empty street. Dragons paid it no mind as it was too distant from any strategic point of attack, choosing to do battle with ponies instead. The ponies were instantly met with the roars of dragons, equally matched by the screams of terror and agony of the resisting soldiers, and bold civilians. The haunting cries of the ones already meeting the end of their fate pierced through their hearts, a guilt-laden knife to remind them what they fought for.

Trixie and Rainbow Dash looked to Twilight. She met their hollowed expressions with a nod and began creeping along the wall of the nearest building. She peeked around the first street and bit her lower lip. Several earth ponies and pegasi were fighting a one-sided battle against a green dragon. He toyed with them briefly, then snapped a pegasus out of the air, the crunch and gnash of his bones ending the others' will to fight. She grimaced as he laughed, and motioned for them to dash across the street while he was too distracted to notice.

They moved along several more corridors, making their way to the edge of the city between the castle wall and the buildings nearest it. When they made it to one of the final streets, they began a mad dash down the path, praying it remained devoid of anything to slow them, or remind them. As the buildings ran by them in a blurry smear, Twilight couldn't help but take in the ones in front of her. Some burned down on top of themselves while others were mere piles of rubble, a few door frames standing as monoliths of what had once been.

An average sized black dragon stormed over the cliff and into the city, slamming suddenly in front of the trio. Twilight skidded to a halt, blinking wide as she weighed her options. "What have we here?" the dragon asked. "Soldiers trying to desert their own capitol. How shameful. My, don't you look delicious," he added with a lick of his lips.

Twilight's body tensed and her cloak began to billow suddenly. Raising her staff, she glared at the dragon with his sealed fate reflecting in her eyes. Telos... "Mjollnir!" she cried. An enormous bolt of lighting clawed its way down from the sunny heavens and raked down the dragon's back for a few brief seconds. His eyes widened as it burned into him, his body too quickly damaged to leave a deathly wail. His body slumped to the ground, already lifeless.

"Twilight..." muttered Trixie as the alicorn refused to turn and look at them.

"Come on," said Twilight. "We have to get out of here before we end up fighting too many. I just hope they didn't notice that."

"Are you really just an Archmage?" Trixie asked with cautious awe.

Twilight forced herself from continuing to run further forward, finally turning to look at her friends. "Right now, I'm just a weapon to help end this war. I don't want you to look at me any differently than before, but... you're going to see me do things that I never want you to see," she said sadly. "But, I hope you'll always love me the same." Twilight put up a weak smile before motioning for them to follow.

They pressed on, huffing and puffing as the sun beat into them. Twilight and Trixie weren't used to sprinting long distances and the toll began to settle in. They heaved in their breaths, what little they offered for sustaining their speed, and prayed. Twilight grit her teeth when four dragons dropped down, barring their path once more. She cursed her choice of spells for disposing of the black dragon. A green, blue, and two red dragons studied them like vultures studying helpless prey, their confidence showing in their expressions.

"Dash, take the green, Trixie the blue. I'll get the two red."

Rainbow Dash ran several steps and leaped into flight, her hooves deftly brandishing an odd black longsword with a faded, smoky green design running up the blade. The green dragon took the challenge and launched into the air to begin the duel. Despite the added weight of her equipment, she maneuvered between his attacks and reprisals with ease. The dragon resorted to a putrid, burning breath as a quick end and she pushed produced her shield and flew through it, the designs melting away beneath the heat.

She breached the flames and barreled sideways while passing the dragon. A wide side swing with her spin's force added in sliced off the left wing, and she flew at a downward angle behind him while he fell to the ground. The disoriented beast roared and clawed at the air in a pointless attempt at catching the pegasus. She sighed and flew away, turning around and accelerating to high speeds. She held her sword forward, ducking beneath a final swipe, and sliced the dragon's head clean off. Blood splashed onto her face and spilled into the road, a large pool forming from the sheer amount. She wiped stray blots of blood off of her face as she watched her friends in their battles, silently debating whether to help.

Trixie began to demonstrate her new magical combat prowess as the blue dragon singled her out. She moved further back down the road to duel and the dragon flew up and blew a large, misty breath of frost her way. She manipulated a piece of the street into a wall in front of her, effectively blocking it. The frost breath coated the wall in a crystalline ice. Her horn shined brightly as she manually levitated her own staff. I hope this isn't too flashy... She conjured a storm cloud as quickly as possible to strike a wing. It appeared for several seconds and licked at one of the wings three times.

The cloud dispersed as quickly as it had appeared, and the dragon plummeted back to the ground. He groaned and began to charge her, ignoring everything else going on around him as a new rage took hold of his senses. Trixie leaped onto the wall and held her staff at the dragon, her lips moving in silence. As he neared, he pulled an arm back, prepared for the kill. As he stopped to push his weight into the attack, a summoning circle formed in front of him, his eyes widening in a start, and his will faltered. A meteor ripped forth and crashed into his face with tremendous force, the collision sending a ripple throughout the dragon's body. The size of the matter muffled his roar and he fell backwards, no longer moving. Trixie stood over his body, hesitating to ensure his death.

She glanced to Twilight as she took the air with the two red dragons. "I'd do anything for you..." she muttered, her hooves shaking as her staff returned to them. She clutched it tighter and closed her eyes, an icicle forming in front of her. I'm sorry. It impaled the dragon's neck, spurts of blood running into the streets. A shock ran through her and an image of Spike muddled her vision briefly. She stared at the draining blood for a moment, then pried herself away to look back to Twilight.

Twilight resolved not to expend any additional magic if she could help it. She knew their battle would likely attract reinforcements if they waited too much longer. With her thoughts, she willed Telos into a greatsword again and moved it into her hooves. She swung with all of her might as she passed by one of the dragons, the blade easily rending its stomach open. It roared in pain; an anguished cry that quickly lost volume as he fell to the ground, his guts escaping through the wound. As he hit the ground, he clutched his stomach, but it was already too late. A moment later his life faded from the world.

The second dragon immediately raised its guard, choosing to keep Twilight at as much of a distance as possible. He breathed at her and clawed with as much reach as he could. Twilight wasn't as fast or skilled as Rainbow Dash at flying, but a few minutes in the air with the dragons made her size advantage apparent. The large forms of the dragons made it difficult for them to hit her if she was careful; however, the constant sprays of breath made closing the distance difficult on her part.

As another breath began to flow towards her, she surrounded herself in an aura of cold and grunted as she flew into the inferno. Her blue-tinted form disappeared until she breached the flames unscathed, the dragon attempting to pull back in fear. The unexpected tactic proved to be fatal and she impaled the dragon with Telos. He refused to fall and swiped at Twilight. She narrowly avoided being struck out of the air and pulled away. The dragon howled, a cry that was mimicked by the hundreds more in the city.

Blood dripped from the wound he clutched, and Twilight began charging him again with all of the speed she could. Her horn shined and a gust of wind gave her a burst of speed for the last stretch of distance. She twirled and changed her trajectory to avoid an incoming swipe, closing the distance and striking at the neck. She loosed a battle cry and sawed through in a spray of blood. The sword cut through the bone and she watched as the head and body hit the ground with heavy thumps. She landed ahead of the violent conflict and wiped her face and Telos off on the end of her cloak while Trixie and Dash caught up to her position.

"Let's go," she said solemnly, Telos returning to its idle form and perching.

Wow, Twilight. That was amazing, thought Trixie, her eyes glued to Twilight during the last of the gallop to escape Canterlot's battlefield.

When they reached the edge, Twilight moved them into a building and teleported them below. She coughed and heaved, struggling with the drain of teleporting long distances with more than Trixie. As she reached the bottom, she closed her eyes and sucked in breaths of fresh air, and the rays of the sun to regenerate her magic. Suddenly the sunlight began to fade and she shrieked in surprise when the moon appeared with an early night.

"It... can't be..." she mumbled, stepping towards the moon. She fell to her knees, wide-eyed and threatening to cry, still fixated on the celestial object with disbelief. "N-no. That couldn't have happened." She struggled to breathe, the moon's presence inciting a feeling of dread and despair. "No... no, no, no..."

Dash cast a defeated look to the ground, and Trixie took it upon herself to get the answer. "What's going on Twilight? Why is it night already?" she asked in an unsteady tone.

Twilight wiped her eyes and looked at her. "I... don't know exactly. But Luna would never raise the moon when the sun is supposed to be out. This is bad..."

"Everything will be fine," chimed in Dash with some reassurance, but her voice betrayed her. The same fear lingered in her words, even if she couldn't hear it.

Twilight nodded and stood up, pulling her cowl down tight. "It's going to be cold for a while," she said in a steady tone. Celestia... what's happening? Her heart sank when there was no reply. She shivered involuntarily, not because of the cold, but because of the sudden loneliness. If Celestia couldn't answer, there was something happening beyond the original expectations.

The trio made their way to the Everfree Forest in subdued silence, save for a few suggestions or comments about what they should do at that point. As they passed Ponyville, and Fluttershy's cottage, Twilight lamented over what might happen to her friends there. I hope all of you are safe. I'll try to make everything better, she promised.

They wandered through the eerie night, careful of the areas containing the hazardous flower, Poison Joke, always eyeing each of the stocky, reaching branches of the trees with wary eyes. Every shifting shadow threatened to evoke a reaction, and animals leaping between bushes in fright caused the knight to brandish her sword more than once. After a while they caught sight of Zecora's hut and stopped to discuss whether or not to involve her.

"She could help us," argued Rainbow Dash.

"What if we need supplies? We didn't exactly get to pack when we left," reminded Trixie.

Both mares stared Twilight expectantly while she studied their faces. She cast a glance at Zecora's hut before concluding with a flat, "No."

Rainbow Dash and Trixie cried "What?" in unison.

"Dragons are known for carrying gold and gems. While none of the dragons in the siege force in Canterlot had anything, I'm sure we'll come across some out here. I've got some money on me if we pass a town, but we are not going to attract attention or involve anyone we don't have to," she explained sternly.

The other two nodded, though reluctantly. They walked deeper into the forest until they could no longer see Zecora's hut. Twilight yawned and they decided they would camp out there in the mean time. She dug a hoof into the dirt and closed her eyes, a light green aura overtaking her form. She pulled Telos into her grasp and began to sense through the forest. She could detect Zecora's glimmering aura, but nothing else stood out as a sentient presence. Safe, she thought.

Twilight opened her eyes and planted Telos in the ground in front of a tree. She wrapped herself in her cloak and laid down beside it. "I'm sure we're all a little bit exhausted. While I don't want to waste time, we don't want to run into anything at half strength, either."

Rainbow Dash removed her helmet and stretched. Her multi-colored mane was matted against her head and neck, a blurry smear of colors in the dark. "I'm surprised you can fight a dragon like that, Twilight," she remarked while eyeing Telos.

"We're small compared to them, so they have a hard time hitting us. Plus I have magic on my side. They're also arrogant." She stopped herself when Dash raised her brows. "Thanks," she added quickly. "You're much better with a sword, though. What is that anyway?"

"Oh this?" Dash brandished the blade and put the tip to the ground. The longsword appeared thinner than most standard knight swords, and the cross-guard stood up to her navel. "Princess Luna gave it to me. It's called Nightfall and it's supposed to be strong enough to cut through anything," she said excitedly. "Well, that's what she said anyway. What about you, Trixie? Is your staff anything special?"

Trixie found herself gazing at Telos, the platinum-finished artifact laying in stark contrast to the darkness of the Everfree Forest. The appearance of its whole creation struck her as odd, its form reflecting flawless perfection and a holy purity. Even after coming up with reasons for its oddness, she concluded it was simply a feeling caused by the night. "This thing?" she asked, pulling her staff from her back and standing it up. The metallic, dark green finish reflected the moonlight, brightening its appearance in the open. "This isn't anything special," she said while letting her eyes trail to Twilight. She snickered when the bundled alicorn shot her a disbelieving look.

"I personally had that forged from my old staff after they gave me Telos. I call it Mystic Sage in honor of Telos." Twilight smiled, and ran a hoof over Telos, the wonder of who he really was filling her mind.

"So... Does it do any cool tricks?" Trixie forced a curious expression when Twilight repeated her disbelieving look.

"You can cast powerful spells without an incantation, almost like my Mjollnir before. You only need to visualize it and say the name to use greater bursts of magic. I don't need to do it with Telos since it's linked to my thoughts, but your staff is more powerful than most," she explained proudly.

"Oh, yeah. I bet," Trixie replied sarcastically.

"Trixie!" Twilight sat up and folded her forelegs across her chest, a frown evident on her face in the darkness. When the magician broke into a fit of giggles, she relaxed. "You're such a jerk," she added playfully while laying back down.

"Anything at your expense, Twilight."

Rainbow Dash replaced her helmet and laid facing away from the others. Trixie wrapped herself in her cloak and snuggled next to Twilight, a content smile on her lips as she quickly fell asleep. Twilight stared at her face for a while, a silent promise in her heart, and an anxiety that would never cease. The forced night was unsettling and she could no longer keep track of time. I'll fix this. I can do this, she encouraged herself.

She closed her eyes after gazing at the moon for a while longer, the white sphere always calming her. She focused her thoughts, all of her effort into reforming her mental link with sun princess. Celestia, are you there?

There was an anguishing silence that followed as the seconds ticked away. Yes, Twilight. I am here, she replied.

This darkness... What happened?

Celestia delayed her response in hopes of trying to rationalize it herself, but she could not come up with a better way to explain it. I knew the Brood would have to take Canterlot for this mission to work, but... She trailed off, her own thoughts becoming unsteady. But not something like this. The distress reflected in their communication as clearly as conversation, the princess rattled by the experience in the throne.

What? Twilight pressed. What happened!?

The leader of the siege was General Aurelius, a particularly spiteful and dangerous red dragon. He is the second in command of the Brood's army. He has resurrected Nightmare Moon within my sister somehow. She holds me hostage, forced to live comfortably while everyone suffers around me. Celestia paused for a moment leaving Twilight's heart to pick up a worried pace again. Nightmare Moon has sealed my power to raise the sun. I am sorry, but you cannot use its power to regenerate. This is a double edge for the Brood, though. The moon amplifies your magic, and you will be very difficult, if not impossible, to track.

Twilight bit her lip, her eyes shooting open and up to the moon. Suddenly, it felt as if she was being watched by it. A chill ran up her spine as she suddenly felt isolated and alone again. I'm sorry about Luna. We'll get her back, I promise.

I know, Twilight. Please be careful. The bodies of five dragons were found on the edge of Canterlot and they haven't found anypony they deem responsible. They're on high alert now. Watch your backs...

Don't worry about us, Celestia. We're resting in the Everfree Forest and we have the night on our side. I will make sure Rainbow Dash and Trixie finish this mission, even if I can't.

Don't ever think like that, Twilight! scolded Celestia, her motherly voice filling her head like a thunderous roar. She flinched, suddenly regretting her choice of words. You are more than strong enough, even capable of laying siege to Draconis yourself, I'd imagine. But I don't want unnecessary bloodshed; I don't want you to sacrifice yourself for Equestria. I'm sorry for making this so difficult, but please... don't say such things. The princess's upset tone cut into Twilight's heart like a jagged razor.

You don't have to apologize, Celestia. I'm sorry, and you're right. It's just... more than I thought it would've been. Maybe I could've prepared more if I knew who Devon was, though. Trixie murmured in her sleep and pulled herself closer to Twilight. Twilight opened her eyes and stared at her, dwelling on questions buried by the past.

I believe you learned all his memory could offer. I need to rest, and I'm sure you're tired as well. I will be fine. Aurelius has no plans to make me a martyr in this war--only a spectator. However... Celestia hesitated. Nightmare Moon is very intent on... capturing you. Be careful, she echoed.

Twilight sighed and wrapped a foreleg around Trixie, rolling over and resting her head against hers. I'm sure she holds a grudge for when we used the Elements of Harmony to purify her. That was so long ago...

I will let you know if anything else comes up. Rest easy, Twilight.

Don't forget our promise, Twilight added suddenly.

I promise. I won't. Celestia's voice faded away and Twilight was left with her own thoughts again.

She could hear Rainbow Dash shift in her sleep behind her, realization that she was without her special somepony digging into her. She had to leave them behind... With a final thought, Telos quietly dug itself further into the ground, only the spire showing above the top of the grass, and its glow became very faint. It acted as a magical alarm, jolting her awake should anyone wander too closely to them during their sleep. It wasn't much, but it was safety Twilight could finally fall asleep to.

------------------------------------------------------

"Let us... play, big sister..." Nightmare Moon cooed. She materialized herself in Celestia's chambers, the princess fast asleep on her bed in an exhausted heap. She stepped to the bed and loomed over the quiet form, her eyes watching the rise and fall of her chest with each breath. Celestia's regalia lay scattered on a nightstand and the floor, her eyeliner smeared slightly by tears. A toothy grin spread upon Nightmare's face as her horn began to shine. "How about a little game?" Celestia's form darkened and the grin on her face stretched a little more.

***

Celestia found herself walking through Canterlot in her dream, her hoofsteps echoing more than they should. But the city itself appeared different, haunted. The skies appeared to be driven by a crimson tone, and a dark tint muddled everything her eyes fell upon. As she cautiously walked deeper into the city, an overwhelming sense of sorrow clawed its way into her heart, the feeling growing in intensity as she neared the central plaza. She turned the last corner onto a main street in her sorrowful march, and the sight that took hold of her vision filled her with the desire to scream. Bodies. Hundreds of bodies lined the streets, their blood painting the walls in smears of murder and anguish, the blood pooling near the bodies and layering the stone streets.

The grip of sorrow upon her heart became too much to bear with the vivid imagery and tears began to drip from her eyes. A misty haze clouded her vision briefly until she reached the central plaza, the large fountain had become a corrupted monument. She broke down crying, a single phrase forcing its way into every coherent thought her mind could muster. I'm sorry.

Nightmare Moon stood just in front of the fountain grinning ear to ear, her maniacal laugh filling the silence where the running of the fountain could not. Corpses were floating in its bed, with several more slung over the rim in a careless heap. It was not water that ran through the fountain, but the deep red of blood. The haze in her vision ended as soon as her eyes fell to the main event.

Celestia wailed. "NO!" Her body lurched forward with all of its might, desperately trying to make it to Nightmare Moon. Before the dark god of the dreams knelt Twilight Sparkle, a distressed, yet accusing, look on her face. She was bound, her horn unable to produce magic, and Celestia suddenly found herself frozen mere meters away, her own magic failing.

Nightmare Moon gave a sadistic laugh as a large executioner's axe formed above Twilight, the weapon held aloft by a weak magical grasp. I'm sorry. Her body ached, the feeling of Nightmare Moon's intent permeating throughout her. The head of the axe came swinging down, Nightmare Moon tilting her head back and laughing in pure delight. I'm sorry. The cut was clean, without sound, and the head landed on the stone with a quiet thud, rolling to the princesses hooves.

Celestia dropped down and picked it up, turning it over and viewing the last moment of horror forever etched into Twilight's face. The sorrow shattered her heart and she broke down crying, cradling it and apologizing to her over and over. "I'm sorry," she whispered again and again. "I'm sorry." Teardrops fell upon the face, quickly disappearing into the purple coat.

Nightmare Moon ceased her fit of joy and stepped over to Celestia, her eyes illuminated by the sight before her.

"Every dream a nightmare. Every breath in anguish. That is your existence now." Celestia looked up and glowered at her, her eyes red and puffy, still flowing with tears. "These are not nightmares, dear sister. They are dreams! My gift to you!" Nightmare whispered excitedly.

Hatred took hold of Celestia. The burning, primal fury of all of her anger, all of her might, all of the pent up wrath and frustration she held onto. It all culminated into a rage that needed to be freed--that would break free. "You... you MONSTER!" she roared. She leaped up, letting Twilight's head fall from her and roll away, and attempted to strangle Nightmare Moon.

Her hooves stopped mere inches away, the Id before her unfazed and grinning once more. Celestia could not move her body, all of her muscles frozen but those within her face. Nightmare Moon laughed again, in her face this time, the sickening roll of joy that haunted her in reality now haunted her dreams. She struggled, her mind and body fighting as one to resist the force that bound her, but it was no use. She languished in her fury-driven resistance. Nightmare Moon ruled her dreams now.

The Id leaned close, letting her nose brush the top of Celestia's ear, their eyes meeting and sharing conflicting emotions. "You're going to enjoy these... sweet dreams over and over... and over again," she whispered.

Celestia gnashed her teeth, the rage submitting to despair and she began to cry with her eyes open again. It became difficult to see Nightmare's taunting expression through the watery blurs, but she knew she was still there, still smiling. The dream began to fade into pure darkness, a new one forming where the previous played out before her; a new creation forged with the idea of breaking the princess in mind. Celestia experienced them one by one, the same soul crushing anguish and painful emotions bringing her mind to its knees. She was forced to witness murder and destruction, friends slaughtered and accusing, all with precise, realistic detail.

The nightmares continued for a few more hours before Nightmare Moon grew bored of the maddening torment. She returned to reality, letting the rattled mind of the princess trickle back into a normal state. She stared at Celestia's wracked body. The princess had thrashed, cried, and sweat in the bed during the dreams. Nightmare Moon observed the damage of her fantasies intently. It filled her with hollow feeling, one that wasn't like her. She frowned and shook her head, her misty mane swirling briefly in tandem.

She loosed a sharp, discontented huff and moved to Celestia's private balcony. Her eyes drank in the destruction of Canterlot. The battles had ceased, but a few fires remained to consume unfortunate buildings in their path. Dragons patrolled the air and streets rallying survivors and finishing off any resistance that remained. She took in a deep breath, a small smile forming at the ends of her mouth, and took to the air.

She roamed the air around the castle for a bit, always keeping an eye out for the destruction, before eventually landing on a statue of a pony in the courtyard. She unknowingly sighed and peered up to the moon. All she had wanted, including total control over Celestia was within her grasp. She licked her lips and ran a hoof over the neck of the statue. "Foolish sister. There are no heroes in the world. Only those less willing to show the evil inside." Her eyes trailed back up to Celestia's balcony. "Watch me break your favorite prize. You will see her evil," she muttered. "I will show you what you don't want to see."

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