• 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 12: Whispers in the Dark

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 12: Whispers in the Dark

An ominous, black mist filled the air before a reliquary, the ruins marking its own defeat in times long forgotten; Nightmare Moon breathed in deep as she solidified in front of the ancient castle that housed the once-depleted Elements of Harmony. She gazed fearlessly at the dense Everfree Forest behind her, then hesitantly to the ruins in front of her. A tinge of anxiety crept over her as she gazed upon it. With another deep breath, she stepped forward and into a realm of fear she had never considered immersing herself in again. Haunting memories of falling twice in the same place lingered in the back of her mind, images of a time when her arrogance repeatedly led to her undoing flickered in place of faded murals over the dark walls.

Nightmare found it difficult to believe she could fear this place at all, her status reflecting her as darkness incarnate. Apprehension loomed behind every corner, every stone casting an unnatural shadow out of place. Tch! I have nothing to fear. The shadows engulfed her, calming, yet creating the apprehension. And yet... She stepped out of the darkness and into a spot where the roof had eroded away centuries before. Moonlight spilled in through the opening, its pale glow tinting everything it laid upon with a majestic aura. She paused and looked up at the moon, its unmarked surface reminding her of freedom, but also of the anguishing imprisonment of the past. She shuddered beneath its beauty.

She continued her investigation, quietly moving through the halls. The muffled clop of her careful hoofsteps were all that dared to fill the wide corridors with more than faint ambiance. She occasionally lost herself to the memories of the ruins; her body knowing where to go when her mind could not find direction, and guiding her to a destination unknowingly. She reached a grand flight of stairs and paused, her turquoise eyes peering into the darkness of the climbing corridor. The blackness gave a momentary sense of comfort again. She exhaled sharply and took the first step up.

She ascended the stairs to the next floor and into the room where the Elements had been housed. She snickered at the construction that once held them succumbing to ruin, but it vanished when an image of Twilight's face burrowed its way into her memory. I broke them, and she still recreated them and used them against me. That damn unicorn... As she slowly walked through the room, she threw her eyes over every inch of the floor and walls to ensure there was nothing to miss. Satisfied by the time she reached the next doorway, she threw one last blank glance to the broken pedestal arm before moving to the next flight of stairs.

Arriving in the final room, where Twilight Sparkle had bested her with the Elements, she chose to remain at the entrance for a while. She scanned the room with caution, then her eyes darted to the raised stone floor where she twice stood proud, moments before the Elements of Harmony banished her over a millennium ago, and later purged her from Luna. As she strained herself to hear, the soft thumping of her heartbeat added to the ambience of a weak wind, and once more she feared the Elements suddenly appearing to seal her again.

After another minute, she snorted and began to move to the center of the room. Perhaps Aurelius is right. I am merely paranoid. There is nothing to fear, she assured herself.

With her fears finally expelled, she gave a weak smile as she began to channel magic through the room. Her horn gave a sickly purple glow as dark waves of light rippled throughout the room. "Well now... Somepony was most certainly here," she said aloud. "How... nostalgic."

Her ears began twitching and she recognized the faint traces of weak magic. She unconsciously shook her head, and as she was about to abandon her search, her eyes shot open, a familiar feeling embedded within the magic. Her face contorted in anger and she stomped her forehooves, her magic ending with the boom of her hooves. "You would lie, sister," she bellowed at the empty space, her voice reverberating.

"Your precious student is up to something," she grated in a much lower, gruff voice. "I'm going to find her, and I'm going to find out what your scheme is... and I'm going to get my revenge on your little pet." Her body blurred and faded into the starry mist of her mane. Rather than return to Canterlot and interrogate Celestia, she resolved to find Twilight immediately. You will pay for this, Celestia.

Her etheral form flowed up a wall and out of a window, creeping along the outer wall and down to the forest floor. She appeared as a misty blue snake slithering through the dark shrubs, a bizarre presence between the gloomy trees. The forest's typically intimidating wildlife fled from Nightmare's path as she coursed through towards a valley in the distance. All sounds from the forest dwellers ceased within half a mile of her presence, and did not immediately return once she had passed.

The forest trees broke away into the wide valley, sloping down to a sparse area with a single dirt path splitting it in half. Casting away her misty form, she gazed at it with contempt. She pressed forward and examined the surroundings as she slowly walked along the path. No traces of magic beyond the forest. Where did you go? Her head swayed between the sides of the valley, her eyes unhindered by the dark, but for all that she saw, there were no signs of anyone but the dragons having been there recently.

She snorted as she reached the center, an indent in the path marking where the unfortunate captain had laid. She stopped and stared at it for a moment. Pathetic. They couldn't even catch a single unicorn.

The dragons had long since abandoned the valley, their trap no longer useful and their search bearing no fruit. As she stepped into the indent, she froze, her eyes widening in delight. Where Twilight's cloak had been recovered, a trace amount of magic still lingered. Her eyes darted through the area in hopes of finding another visible source, but she settled on closing them and focusing. She wandered around the vicinity looking for more traces, but where the cloak rested was the only place in the valley she could sense it. Frowning, she kicked up dirt in frustration.

"You're a clever unicorn, Twilight Sparkle. I'll give you that. I don't know how you've managed to conceal your magical trail, but you will not escape me!" she threatened the empty valley. "Hmm..." she mumbled as her eyes followed the path to the other end of the valley. And where would you be going?

She began walking towards the lands in the expanse beyond the valley, the lack of any other direction to go compelling her. Each step was goaded by the curiosity of what lay beyond. Her curiosity drew her to the other end, but the sparse landscape offered nothing for a scheming unicorn, as far as she could see.

A unicorn cannot simply erase their magical presence from me, she thought. Grumbling, she maneuvered between an array of boulders, nearly prepared to give up in her pursuit. She slumped against one and looked up to the night sky. It wilted her frustrations; it reminded her that one of her own hidden dreams had come true. After a while of stargazing, her eyes fell to the ground as she started to pick herself up. But something caught her attention. Hoofprints?

A grin quickly pulled her features up and she followed them with her eyes into the distance. They were very faint, but they were there. She followed them back around the boulder and closed her eyes where they began. Twilight's magical presence lingered in the area and she began to release a breathy laugh.

"Ah-hah! I'll learn how you passed that valley without leaving a magical trail sooner than I thought. Now, little unicorn, just where are you going?" she asked to no one in particular as she peered into the direction the hoofprints led to. "And this time, we'll see just how powerful you truly are when your friends aren't there to save you."

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Twilight awoke with a start before her body was reminded of the comfort of a cozy bed and the security she was afforded. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, scanning the bland hotel room for her companions, dismayed they were not there. Hopping off the bed, she stretched and felt her magical reserves restored. The weakness, and sometimes malaise, associated with magic exhaustion tended to leave her cranky or agitated.

She found a note resting on the dresser, and a plate of breakfast. She quickly read the note as she downed the meal. Rather than crumple it up and throw it away, she disintegrated it and watched the ashes fall and vanish into the air. The others had already awakened and left to eat breakfast, though the night's embrace still robbed the world of natural light. She collected Telos and headed downstairs to find them. In the lobby, the receptionist pointed towards the captive dragons outside without a word. As Twilight stepped out into the lamp-lit streets, she garnered unreadable looks and several ponies even began following her. Rainbow Dash and Trixie sat before the leader of the dragons and sipped on coffee. They occasionally hustled ponies along or away from them to ensure they remained undisturbed.

"Good morning, Twilight, or whatever time it is," greeted Dash, her eyes rolling as she recalled the predicament of the sun.

"Did you sleep well, Twilight? We didn't want to wake you." Trixie blew over her mug of coffee while looking at the alicorn thoughtfully.

Twilight stretched and yawned again. Blinking, her eyes trailed up to the dragons. "Much better than sleeping on the grass."

Trixie followed her look and turned to glimpse the dragons. The pair, having been magnetically bonded, had since separated apart, but were still pulled close together. They laid idly by their leader, whom was still slumped into his awkward laying position, his wounds having closed during the period of rest. "What should we do with them?" she asked.

"We'll release them soon enough," replied Twilight.

A colt spoke up from behind, prompting all six of them to focus on him. "You can't do that!" he shouted nervously. "You've already killed one of them. They'll only bring more when they come back after you're gone!"

Twilight tilted her head to glimpse the dragon. "Don't worry. They won't be coming back. Right, captain?" she asked, shooting him a flat stare.

The dragon cleared his throat noisily before speaking and grunted as he returned to a natural sitting position. His comrades sat up with him, watching his lead. "Among the Brood death is all that awaits those who commit treason. What will you have us do to escape that of a traitor's fate?" he asked.

Twilight put a hoof to her chin and paused to think about it. Pride is a double edge, she thought. "You'll have to lie to them. If anyone asks, tell them you followed a lead of tracking down some mysterious ponies after you sent a scout and they failed to return. Since this town doesn't have a means to defend itself, you left your post, confident you could reoccupy it once you were done." She looked up to him. "Will that be enough?"

"I suppose, with a bit of luck. However, my comrade over there,"--he pointed a ravaged hand towards the beheaded dragon corpse off to the side--"what of him?"

Twilight and company turned their heads to glimpse it, all grimacing in unison. "Do the Brood have any burial ceremonies for their dead?" she asked with a wavering voice.

The captain raised a brow. "You would honor our dead?"

Twilight nodded quickly. "We shouldn't allow ourselves to forget who we are because of this war..." she muttered distantly, but loud enough for him to hear. Trixie and Dash stared at her, each uncomfortable of the meaning.

"Indeed. The dead of our race are laid to rest in sacred burial grounds. However..." The dragon trailed off and looked to his comrades. "If we are to make this arrangement work, we must burn the body to the bones. The corpse will surely cause us both trouble." Twilight's eyes widened and her gaze on the dragon shifted into hesitant worry. Swallowing, she opened her mouth to speak, but the dragon raised a hand to silence her. "We will do it. He is no friend of mine, but his life will be honored just the same."

"I'm... sorry it came to this." Twilight pointed a hoof to the pair of dragons beside the captain, and with a flash of her horn, undid the rest of their binding. "I just want peace again," she added sadly.

The captain studied her carefully. "The messenger at the outpost. Tell him that Captain Garr sent you to deliver the report in his stead, and that we have already departed." Garr stood up and lumbered over to his fallen comrade. After a moment of silence, he hoisted the body onto his back, nodding to the pair to retrieve the head. Garr turned back to Twilight and gave her a thoughtful look. "Were you left at my mercy, stranded in the same predicament, I may not have spared you. Your potential... It is something to admire, and fear. Thank you."

Twilight gave a solemn nod that followed with a faint smile. "Hopefully this will be over soon. I hope the Brood will share the same ideals as the rest of Equestria again."

"Perhaps we will meet again under a more favorable circumstance, pony. Maybe even as allies." Garr chuckled as he began to beat his wings. The rolling waves of dust emanating from his powerful beats swept the streets and he soon took off into night. His comrades quickly flew after, eager to leave.

"Maybe even as friends..." Twilight whispered to herself while watching them ascend into the darkness. She turned away and used a wide field of telekinesis to replace the debris of her tornado back, hiding the traces of the decisive battle. After several moments of Dash and Trixie watching in awe, the street appeared as if it had only been eroded by many years of use. "It's time to leave. We don't have a lot of time," she announced.

"Hold on." The voice of a stallion came up from behind her and the trio turned to face him. An older pony, he quickly identified himself as the mayor, with an aide standing by his side ready to help. "Thank you, heroes, for all that you have done for the town and I. Before you go, at least tell us your names," he said in a soft, almost pleading voice.

Twilight regarded his words before sighing. "I'm sorry, but we can't tell you who we are. Not right now. You will know soon enough, I promise," she replied.

"Won't you stay a while longer? You drove the dragons away, and stopped them from hurting anypony. The least we can do is extend our hospitality." He stared at the alicorn expectantly, almost guiltily.

"I'm sorry, but we can't. We just don't have the time." Her eyes trailed up to the immovable moon for a moment, then back down to the stallion. "Do you even know what's going on?"

The stallion pursed his lips and looked away. "We can only guess, what with the extended night and the dragons suddenly attacking and declaring us under the rule of the Brood." A crowd of ponies had gathered up behind as they conversed, each lured by the truth.

Twilight grimaced and continued. "Canterlot has been attacked, and the princesses captured. Judging by your reaction," she said, noting the stallion's horrified expression, "information has been disrupted as well."

The stallion hung his head as the crowd behind him was filled with gasps and quick whispers. "Then it is as I feared. I first recognized the armor of a royal soldier, and I wondered why one had wandered to our peaceful town after we were occupied," he said while pointing to Rainbow Dash. "Were you sent to help us?"

Twilight shook her head. "I'm sorry, but we weren't. We needed to rest, and took a substantial risk coming here, let alone liberating your town."

"I see..." There was a pause as he contemplated his luck. "Thank you."

Twilight nodded and rubbed at the back of her neck. "While we're grateful for your offer, everypony needs to forget we were ever here. Our mission can't be compromised," she said softly.

"I understand." He turned and faced his citizens with a glum expression. "You heard her. It's the least we can do in exchange for what they've done for us." The crowd murmured and nodded, none wishing for the outcome, but all in silent acknowledgement. Returning his focus to the trio, he sighed. "These ponies are good folk. You have my word that none of them will speak of you," he said, adding a bow.

"Thank you, mayor, for everything. We have to get going now. This will be over when dawn comes again, I hope. A new day to look forward to." She blinked slowly and began to turn. "Good luck."

They departed the town and marched beyond, a subdued emotion locked in their gait as they pushed on into the everlasting night. The prairie lands offered nothing to alleviate a rising boredom, but the constant caution drowned out the desire for entertainment. In the distance a dragon's roar could occasionally be heard, causing the trio's hearts to sink briefly and scan the horizon for the location. Dash's hoof would slip to her sword's hilt, while Telos would wobble and threaten to leap into action.

It took them the better part of a day to trek to the forest at their unenthusiastic pace, but when they arrived, Twilight scanned the edge before stepping through the tree line. It was an entangled wilderness, a jungle of rampant wildlife. Even in the night, the sounds of animals and insects sang melodies of their reign over the domain. Twilight turned to face Trixie and Dash, a careful look weighing down upon the knight.

"From here on out, we need to hide our identity. Even if the townsponies keep us a secret, we can't risk being identified."

She aimed her horn at Rainbow Dash and a stream of magic traveled to her, striking her and spreading over her body. Her usual, bright cyan coat was engulfed by a soft light and faded into a sullen grey. Her signature prismatic mane and tail were faded into as many shades of grey to match her coat. Further adding to the illusion, the sheen of her armor decayed to a dull silver. The illusion added one final touch of ruffling the knight's already messy mane. To Twilight and Trixie, it appeared as if Rainbow Dash's appearance had aged fifty years, or she'd fallen into a cement mixer.

"Whoa," exclaimed Trixie as she studied Dash's monochromatic look. "Am I going to have to look like that too?" she whined as she ran a protective hoof through her silvery mane.

"That won't be necessary, Trixie. You're not one of the Elements of Harmony, so they probably aren't even looking for you. To them, you are just another unicorn traveling with us. I, uhh... know how demeaning that sounds..." trailed off Twilight, feeling guilty of her tongue.

Trixie frowned, but it quickly flipped into a smile. "Oh, don't worry. As long as you know how Great and Powerful I am, I could care less about anypony else," she said, proudly flipping her mane out of her face.

Twilight's duskweave began to shift and took on an abyssal look. Her coat faded to a charcoal black, and her cutie mark was even replaced with a quill laying over an open book. The idea of a non-magical mark felt foreign, but she silently reassured herself it would convey the correct message. She used her magic to change her mane to a lighter grey than Rainbow Dash's.

"Uhh... Twilight?" The alicorn turned to the knight with expectant confusion. "You look like an assassin. Shouldn't you look like a scaredy pony?" asked Dash, eyeing her up and down with doubt.

"I need to look reliable, but difficult to spot. What better disguise than to look like a librarian with a dark coat?" she said, punctuating her words with a smirk. "Come on, let's not waste anymore time here. If this delivery takes any longer, this cover might not work. Garr is counting on us to make sure they don't get caught for treason and it might also give us the perfect pass to Draconis, if we're lucky," she added as Telos pushed aside some brush and they entered further into the entangled thicket of the jungle.

The wilds were absent of silence as sounds from animals and creatures of the jungle blared from every direction around them. As Trixie and Dash carefully followed behind Twilight, they continued to avert their eyes from the path they made to watch their surroundings. Any minute it seemed like an animal could attack, even if the sounds came from docile creatures. Telos's spire radiated a bright white light to aid Twilight's advance, but the light itself was unable to beat back the rampaging plant life. The thickness of the flora briefly became too much for her to handle, and she called on Rainbow Dash to take the lead, the knight expending little effort to hack open a clear path again.

After hiking for several hours into the depths of the jungle, the distance traveled dampened by the dense flora, they finally arrived at a small clearing, or at least small in contrast to the sprawling jungle. In the center sat a large hut of sorts with a thin chimney loosing a wispy stream of smoke. The hut was primitive in construction, expected of a hastily made military outpost, but it came with several pieces of tapestry and hides that suggested a more artistic origin. An inviting glow ran out from beneath a tapestry that marked the entrance. They approached cautiously, with Twilight's staff returning to a simplistic pole and Dash tucking her sword uncomfortably beneath her breastplate.

"And who would dare tread through a dangerous jungle inhabited by a dragon?" came a deep, draconic voice. The voice was not as deep as any of the dragons they had encountered so far, but it was intimidating nonetheless.

"Um, excuse me, but are you the Draconis messenger for this area?" Twilight asked in a soft voice. She bit her lip as she waited for the dragon's reaction.

"Answer the question," the voice ordered impatiently.

"Uh... um... a Captain Garr sent me to give a report in his place," added Twilight quickly. Her head swayed to glimpse Dash and Trixie, both looking to her for guidance.

"That old windbag sent you?" The dragon exited the hut and into the night, the orange glow sweeping at his feet. He stood up, but his form was significantly smaller than most dragons, standing at roughly half the mass of most fully grown members of the Brood. He examined the three before him with an air of annoyance about him. "Well? what is his report, pony? Quickly, before I consider devouring you," he snapped, licking his lips and lowering his head to better examine them.

"Uh..." Twilight hesitated, both in preparation for defending herself should his patience run out, and to contemplate how to kill him without repercussions. "He sent a subordinate to follow a lead regarding suspicious individuals in the area. However, the subordinate didn't return, and he decided to go find him. Our town," she said, throwing a hoof behind her to Trixie and Dash, "can't resist the Brood, so he thought it would be fine to just come back after he looked for the other dragon."

As she explained the dragon seemed to loom over them like a tall shadow, and she sank backwards, anxious that he wouldn't allow her to finish. After the report, there was a silence as the dragon regarded them. His back was illuminated by the hut's firelight and gave him an orange outline, but his face was blurred by the darkness.

The dragon placed a hand to his chin, mumbling idly in thought and turning his head to a random direction in the forest. He kept the ponies in the corner of his eye, even as he contemplated to himself. "I can't say I'm surprised he would use ponies to deliver a message in his place, though to part with his name to you..." The dragon grunted, almost enthusiastically, before lowering himself again. A lick of wind rushed away from him and caused Twilight's back fur to bristle. "This location is not of great importance, so I shall allow you to deliver your message to King Render." The dragon's mouth spread into a toothy grin.

"You want us to deliver his report to the dragon king?" Trixie blurted nervously. Twilight shot her an even look as the dragon chuckled.

"Of course. You can at least manage that, right? Draconis isn't far--for a dragon anyway--but we enjoy watching you ponies squirm in our presence. Having you deliver his report to our king sounds like quite the entertainment. Just don't anger him or you may end up dead before you can pass it on."

The dragon chuckled more while the trio exchanged mixed expressions. Inwardly, they groaned to each other. Twilight tilted her head down and quietly breathed in in relief. It won't be long now. I'll have to kill their king, Twilight thought. She swallowed as she glanced up to the laughing dragon. The entire Brood will be affected by this, though. What about Spike and Garr? An image of Celestia flashed into her mind, and with it brought a fear, a fear of the sorrow of losing her in the same way. Assassination...

She bit her lip, and the memories of Celestia's vain attempt at redeeming her sister twice on her own rekindled a sense of longing. I'm sorry, Celestia. She caught herself being watched by everyone around her and she cleared her throat and nodded blindly, hoping she blended back into the situation without a cause for concern.

"Scurry away, ponies. If you intend to still be breathing by the time you deliver your report, I suggest you had better be punctual. After all, our kind is at war with yours." The dragon grunted once more before lumbering back into his hut, disappearing behind the tapestry and into the orange glow.

All three breathed out in relief and began walking beyond the hut with Dash taking the lead again. They walked a quick mile in silence before conversation had broken out again. "This forest gives me the creeps," Dash said first.

"I've got a bad feeling about this place, Twilight," added Trixie, nervous.

The alicorn rolled her eyes as she met their hasty glances to her with acknowledgement, but her own eyes wandered to the reaching shadows and grasping entanglement of flora. A sudden apprehension bit into her nerves, and she felt compelled to agree. "I don't like it either, but this jungle gives us good cover, and we've already got a way into Draconis without starting a fight."

"Yeah, but Twilight," Dash protested, "this place really gives me the creeps." She slashed through a plant barring their path and there was a hesitation in her steps as she moved forward. Her head turned to look behind her, thoughts of subtle worry snaking through her mind as she pressed forward at the same time.

"We're just going to have to put up with it. It's our best option and you know it."

"Fine..." The knight sighed in defeat rather than grumbling. She continued cutting the path onward, muttering an occasional curse when the flora proved to be persistent. Twilight's light illuminated the way, but the shadows it cast moved as they did, and she would nervously jump if they moved too quickly.

They hiked through the jungle for hours, taking turns to wield Nightfall and cut the way. The knight's sword leg tired, and Trixie and Twilight would have to switch often, neither too accustomed to the physical endurance of swinging a sword. Rainbow Dash would fly just above the treetops and reset their bearings, in case they wandered off track without realizing it. A yawn slipped into the air after a long while, having erupted unceremoniously from the knight. She looked at her friends and offered a confused, "What?"

"We'll stop and rest here," Twilight said as she halted and sat down. Trixie sat next to her and rested her head into the crook of her neck.

Dash lifted herself above the treetops briefly to scan the area. "This place looks pretty empty," she remarked before setting herself down. She unfastened her baldric and laid it against a tree she had designated as her temporary bed.

A chilling breeze combed the tops of the trees suddenly. "It seems the closer we get to Draconis the less secure it is," said Twilight as she shuddered. The wind picked up and all three mares stood up simultaneously.

A black dragon slammed down on top of a tree in front of them, smashing it to the ground with a loud crack of the thick trunk snapping. He scanned them quickly and the corners of his mouth pulled into a smirk. "Well, what do we have here? I thought I heard tiny voices. Now, what might ponies be doing wandering so close to the Brood's territory?" he asked tantalizingly. "Well?" he added impatiently when they did not immediately answer.

Trixie blinked in surprise a few times. "W-we're just on our way to D-Draconis to deliver a report to K-King Render," she stammered. Her fear was only half-feigned as she watched him. The fear of her near-death experience at the hands of a dragon still lingered over the years, a nervousness always brought by their presence. Twilight placed a hoof on her and she calmed.

"Give me the report," the dragon ordered.

Twilight nudged Trixie away, while both her and Rainbow Dash both looked to Twilight. He's not going to let us go, Twilight thought as she gauged his murderous intent. The dragon took a step forward, his head lowering, and focused on the alicorn. Her black coat faded her into the night, but her eyes still shone enough to constantly reveal her position. She took a few steps forward and into the moonlight spilling between her and the dragon, Telos shifting into its staff form and springing to life. The spire aimed at the dragon and sparkled blue.

"And what do you plan to do with your little toy?" the dragon asked.

"Ether Strike," muttered Twilight as soon as he finished speaking.

The jungle lit up in a brilliant blue as a thick beam erupted from the staff, a slight buzzing emitted with it. It appeared only for a couple seconds, burning a perfect hole through the dragon. His eyes went wide, and he attempted to move a hand instinctively to shield himself, but his hand burned away instantly. As the beam vanished, he could be seen through, and his eyes shakily made their way between his wound and the alicorn, widened in disbelief.

"Wh-what!?" he croaked out as his blood spilled out onto the jungle floor. His body lifelessly toppled forward with a thump.

Twilight fell to her haunches and Telos went dark, clattering to the ground in front of her without a sheen. She held a hoof to her chest as her hyperventilating could be heard now that her target had been vanquished. Trixie rushed to her side and helped her back to standing while Twilight tried to relax herself. "Are you okay?" Trixie asked.

"I'll... be... fine," she said between gasps of air. "That... took... a lot... of magic..." After a moment, Telos returned to her back, and she dragged the dragon's corpse between the trees with her telekinesis. She wiped a rim of sweat from her head, and looked at her mystified comrades.

"Twilight, are you sure you're okay?" asked Dash with concern. It was difficult to see in the dark, but her voice carried her intent.

"I had to put a lot of power into that spell. I just need... to rest a little... is all."

The alicorn moved to the back of the dragon and lifted the tree he had crushed back up, then drove it into the stomp. She closed her eyes, her breathing slowing to almost normal, and placed both forehooves on the trunk. Green waves of light permeated over where the trunk had been split. After several moments, it appeared to have healed and kneaded itself back together, though it leaned over the dragon's corpse slightly. Her breathing had quickened again, and she paused for a moment. "This will at least... make it harder for any aerial patrols to spot us."

Dash prodded the dragon with a foreleg, confirming his death. Twilight shivered and wiped her brow again. "It's going to be cold. His body will still be warm, so we should sleep next to it."

"Uh..." Trixie glanced to the blood running along the ground on one side, her own face seeming to drain of it.

"It's that or freeze," concluded Twilight. She took her place against the tail with Trixie quick to be by her side. Dash laid on the opposite side to Trixie. "It seems the dragons are more loyal and dangerous the closer we get to Draconis. I don't know if we'll be able to keep ourselves hidden if this happens again. We need to be ready for anything."

"Don't worry, Twi. We're in this together," Dash said, shooting her a confident smirk.

"To the end of the world, Twilight," echoed Trixie with a reassuring smile.

Twilight sighed and rolled to her side, Telos moving in front of them and burying itself into the ground, a soft white glow emanating from the spire. "Thank you both for coming. I don't know if I could've done this alone." Trixie began massaging her back with gentle hooves, a quiet moan escaping her beloved's lips. Maybe it would've been easier alone... I don't know if I could've made it, though... she lamented. Her breathing slowed and her body relaxed completely.

The dragon's final moment flashed into her mind, and an image of Spike shaking his head with it. Every kill was getting easier, but each was a brick to her conscious; each brick made herself harder to carry, harder to believe in. Celestia... Maybe you were wrong. Maybe Luna was right. Maybe... Her worried thoughts scattered to nothingness as sleep overtook her.

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Nightmare Moon cracked a toothy grin as she began approaching the lower slope of a mountain. She galloped up the mountain with itchy eagerness, even though she could barely sense Twilight's lingering presence. Even at a quick pace, the rough trail failed to slow or impede her, her steps carefully missing each rock without so much as a cautious glance to the ground. She scaled the mountain up to a cliff face that overlooked the next area, and she stopped, the scent she was following lingering there in a slightly stronger form. Oh, aren't you the clever one, she mused while looking out into the night.

She stayed for a moment to observe them before mumbling to herself. "Dragons are such trite beings." Taking a breath, she turned around and stared at the blank cliff face. With a small smirk, her mane lashed at it, engraving a sharp crescent moon. She chuckled and continued down the path, her pace hastened as she fixated on Twilight's magical trail once more. She followed it all the way to the nearest town in the expanse below, throwing her head back and forth to the sparse surroundings. As she neared the entrance to the town, she arched a brow.

No dragons, huh? Well, Twilight Sparkle, you're sneakier than I ever would've guessed. She took a few more steps to the entrance and peered past the two militia ponies. She failed to notice them trembling with fear as they laid eyes upon her. Oh my, it has been quite a while since I've made an impression. How do I want to play this? Spectacularly, casually, magically? she wondered. She took an eager step forward as she settled on her method.

She took her steps with enthusiasm while she watched the ponies of the town flee from her presence. Some shouted her name, others simply called out to run, but all of them made her feel all the happier that her status remained intact while she was dormant. The scent of Twilight's magic intensified on the main road, and she froze for a moment. Her eyes widened and her heart rate picked up, but her grin remained unchanging. Oh, my. Aren't you the extraordinary little unicorn now? She glanced around to the ponies brave enough to linger, meeting each look of hatred and fear with her own of outward glee.

"Why, if it isn't some of my sister, Celestia's, loyal subjects. Come now, don't be shy." She began walking towards a frightened colt unlucky enough to be caught in the street. He attempted to flee, but his legs buckled and he crashed onto his back, petrified as Nightmare moved and loomed over. "Oh, don't you want to know what it's like to spend a millennium banished to the Moon all alone?" she tantalized.

The colt whimpered as her mane began to expand, a thick, dark mist expanding over him and engulfing him in a misty cocoon. He yelped as the last of him was consumed and Nightmare Moon stared at it expectantly. The mist suddenly receded back into her mane, and she threw her head back, wild with laughter. The colt had wet himself, and he threw his head frantically in every direction. When his eyes settled back on Nightmare Moon, he blinked several times and she leaned closer.

Chuckling, Nightmare's mane lurched towards him and caressed his cheek. "Oh, pitiful worm. I'm not here to hurt you. I'm just having some fun while I look for..." She paused and pulled away, turning towards the direction of Twilight's magical scent on the main road briefly, "somepony in particular to hurt. Perhaps you've seen her?" The colt shook his head quickly. Nightmare leaned in close and her grin slipped away into a blank look. "Boo!" she yelled suddenly, her grin returning and eyes widening.

The colt screamed and dashed away without looking back. Nightmare cackled as she watched him run down the street and disappear between a set of buildings. On-looking townsponies stared at her in shock, none able to believe the Id's bizarre mercy. She wiped a joyful tear from her eye with her mane and continued following Twilight's trail. She froze again as she picked up something else. She's traveling with another archmage? Such a ridiculous order... You should know our rule is absolute, Celestia, she thought with disdain for the sun princess's ideals.

The main road through the town opened into a plaza area. It was empty, all ponies having abandoned it the moment Nightmare Moon had arrived. She walked to the center and Twilight's lingering scent became intoxicating briefly. I think I shall make her my jester. Nightmare smiled and nodded unconsciously in agreement with herself. The scent brought a powerful nostalgia, and she closed her eyes to memories of battling Celestia in the past. She breathed in deep through her nostrils and exhaled with a joyous squeak at the end. "What a prize you have left me, dear sister. Oh how this brings back the exhilaration of our quarrels." She smiled again, faintly, as she opened her eyes and continued following the trail, paying no mind to the confused onlookers eager to see her leave.

Rather than hasten her travel as a sentient mist, she trotted casually through the prairie lands on the opposite side of the town. Hot on Twilight's trail, she felt compelled to take her time, and she wandered through the open night at a brisk pace, even with the hatred for her constantly coaxing each step to be faster than the last. The cool air only served to bristle her spine in anticipation as she followed the magic scent to a jungle. You're a clever pony, Twilight Sparkle. I did not think you could travel my night so quietly. It doesn't matter, though. I shall have my revenge upon you and Celestia soon enough.

There was a hesitation as she stared into the jungle, her eyes peering in but succeeding in discerning nothing more than that it contained wildlife. She shook her head stepped through, her tall, slender form easily maneuvering through the dense plants. Twilight's magic trail had grown feint, intensifying slightly at the edge of the jungle, and then fading to almost nothing afterwards, but it lined a fresh cut path through the flora. The expanse of wilderness was silent as she pressed through, no sounds from animals daring to greet her. Even the animals know to fear me, she thought gleefully.

After only a couple hours, she reached a large clearing in the jungle, a hut situated in the center. The warm glow of a fire spilled out of the entranceway, seemingly inviting her. She moved to it with piqued interest, abandoning her hunt for a moment.

"Identify your--" A small dragon hastily exited the hut, a look of astonishment on his face as Nightmare Moon came into view. He chuckled and closed the distance between them. "Well, well, well. Such a sinister presence you bring. None of the Brood thought Lord Aurelius could succeed in bringing you back. What brings you to me, she who is exalted among us, the mistress of the night, Nightmare Moon?"

"I bear no allegiance to the Brood, let alone Aurelius," the alicorn snapped. The dragon stared at her with confusion. "We are merely allied, and nothing more. Now, I am searching for a pony--a purple unicorn. I believe they passed through here not long ago."

The dragon scratched at his chin while eyeing her. "A purple unicorn, no. I don't know how long ago it was, but two unicorns and a pegasus passed through. Haggard looking bunch. They are delivering a report on a Brood captain's behalf. I sent them on to Draconis. I'm sure King Render, or another dragon will eat them and take the report. Why does it matter to you, mistress?"

Nightmare Moon frowned as she stared at him, an annoyed expression filling her features, though it could not be revealed in the darkness. "I have a personal vendetta to settle with the one I am hunting, and it just so happens to be Celestia's protégé."

"Forgive me, mistress, for I have not seen the ones you are looking for. I hope what little information I have provided helps."

Nightmare smiled suddenly and glanced up to the sky. She began walking past the dragon, a new spring in her steps. "Oh, I believe it has. Thank you for participating in this great hunt." The dragon nodded confusedly and stepped back into his hut and out of sight. Each step Nightmare took seemed quicker than the last, and she was suddenly eager to catch up to Twilight.

She broke into a full speed run, but after several more strides, she dematerialized into her mist and flowed through the jungle with renewed vigor. Let's have some fun before I make you mine, Twilight Sparkle. Let's see just how strong you are now without the Elements of Harmony to save you. Her thoughts only fueled her eagerness and the mist surged after the trail. The magical scent began to intensify, lingering magic amplifying the feeling as the shadowed carcass of a dragon came into view.

She returned to her natural form and slowed to approach carefully, a large grin splitting her face. I've found you~! A soft white glow emanated from an object near the tail, and as she neared it, a blinding flash erupted from it. She attempted to shield her eyes, reeling backwards and holding a foreleg over them, but it took her a moment to recover her vision from the light.

"Nightmare Moon!?" came a shocked voice. Twilight appeared behind her with the staff floating beside her, awe and fear marking her face, her mouth agape.

"I've finally caught you, Twilight Sparkle. Oh how I've longed to see you again, Element of Magic. I hope you've prepared yourself. You get the privilege of kneeling before me in my eternal night." She clapped her hooves, beaming with delight.

Twlight's back bristled and she trembled slightly, forcing herself to stare at the Id evenly. She allowed her natural coat color to return, but her hue in the darkness barely shifted and her wings remained hidden. I... I have to stop her! Her eyes remained locked with Nightmare Moon's own, her blood freezing over as terror seeped into her. I can't kill her... Celestia... forgive me... The air stood still, but Twilight felt as if she was growing colder, the Id pulling the heat from her body with just her sharp, malicious eyes.

Nightmare Moon took a step forward. "Don't be shy!" she cooed. "I only want to play with you again." She began laughing as she took another step. "Maybe you can spend a thousand years on the moon all alone. Or maybe a thousand years as my pet. How does that sound?"

Twilight stood up and pointed an accusing hoof at Nightmare Moon. "Your night ends here, Nightmare Moon! I don't need the Elements of Harmony to stop you!" she retorted with forced determination. She prayed that the Id could not see her hind legs trembling in the darkness.

"Oh? But your friends are the Elements of Harmony, so you don't need them as well?"

The question caught Twilight off guard, and her mouth went dry. Try as she might, there was nothing she could say to spoil Nightmare Moon's mood. I can't hold back this time. I'm sorry it came to this, Celestia. I'm sorry, Luna. She braced herself for a cosmic duel. She forced air into her lungs and dropped down to all fours, Telos hovering alight beside her. Maybe... Maybe I can free Luna!

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