• 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 13: The Fallen Angel

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 13: The Fallen Angel

Twilight's skin crawled, her heart racing as every nerve in her body cried out for her to run, but she couldn't. There was no escaping Nightmare Moon now, and she stared at her, her violet eyes locked into the sharp turquoise, and all she could think about was what she had to do. There was a fire buried within their eyes--hers of the will to protect, the Id's of the will to break. But even as she battled away her worry, her fear of faltering, her fear of being unable to save Luna or protect her friends, it was there, always there in a tiny ember that lined her actions. I can't fail! And then she forced her instinct to run out of her mind, an adrenaline rush reminding her there was no avoiding this fight.

"You little devil, I'll tell you what. If you win, I'll relinquish the eternal night and allow Celestia to raise your precious sun again." Nightmare Moon snorted at her own words, the mere thought of her losing being a joke all in itself. "But... if I win, you will become my gracious servant," her almost jovial tone reversed to a stern one as she went on, "and always remain by my side in this everlasting darkness among the dragons. They can be quite boring." Nightmare Moon finished with a large smirk to her sentence. Her eyes were laced with taunting malice, or a sinister affection. As if you could ever beat me alone.

Twilight hadn't moved an inch, even at the goading of her fear, and remained petrified, not out of fright, but in defiance of Nightmare Moon. Any sign that she was scared would only mean the Id could be winning. Without the Elements of Harmony to purge Nightmare Moon from Luna she couldn't hold back her powers for anyone. Telos faded and slipped into the shadows, two thumps on the heads of the sleeping ponies quickly roused them awake.

"Get out of here!" Twilight shouted into the darkness behind Nightmare, her eyes wide and fixated on the location of Trixie and Dash.

The knight was first to shuffle awake, rubbing her head with one hoof, and her eyes with the other. Half-yawning, she opened her mouth to speak. "What the hay, Twi? What gives?" she started, standing up and allowing her eyes to absorb the moonlight.

Trixie followed suit, still rubbing her head gently. "Twilight, what's going on?" The pair's eyes picked up Nightmare's misty mane waving ominously in the air before them.

"You!" cried Dash, snatching her sword. She ripped the weapon from the sheathe and took on an offensive stance immediately. "Twilight, we're not going to leave you here to fight her alone," she argued.

"Who is that, Twilight?" Trixie glanced between the two alicorns nervously, until her eyes settled on the Id's cutie mark, and she snatched up her staff an instant. Nightmare turned her head enough to shoot the unicorn a sidelong glance, and as their eyes met, she became overwhelmed with a sense of dread. Nightmare's astral mane shifted in the air, not unlike Celestia's, but its movements and flow were confident and spiteful.

Twilight straightened and stood up, Telos returning into her hooves. She had no choice but to wield it directly now; a sense of power surged through her as it fell into her grasp. Directly utilizing a staff was considered a last resort among unicorn magi, even in dire circumstances. She needed full control over the magic amplification, even if it meant risking catastrophic destruction through her completely unrestrained spells.

"Get out of here, NOW! Continue to Draconis without me. I might not be able to finish this mission with you after all. Don't wait for me." Her hooves trembled, a few tears loosing onto her hooves. The pain of regret only made her grip the staff tighter, her hooves clenching until they became sore. "Just... go," she added, letting her bangs mask her tears.

Trixie took a step forward. "No, Twilight! You're coming with us! We need each other now more than ever!" she begged with all of her heart, her panic suddenly mixing with desperation.

Twilight snapped her head up, her tears glistening in the moonlight. "Damn it, Trixie, listen to me! This isn't a fight either of you can handle. Just don't get into any battles and finish Rainbow's half of the mission. If you stay within a mile of this area... I can't guarantee I won't hurt you."

"No, Twilight. I'm staying!" Trixie shouted back.

In two flashes of the spire, Twilight had raised and slammed Telos into the ground. "Don't make this... any harder... than it has to be." Trembling, she wiped her eyes and raised her head to look at Trixie one last time, her irises shining in the darkness like the Id's. "I love you, Trixie. Now please... go," she added weakly, her look softening.

Trixie could no longer hold back tears of her own and they ran down her cheeks freely, spilling onto the dark ground. "I love you, too, Twilight..." she murmured.

Rainbow Dash attempted to pull Trixie away, but she remained in place. The magician watched as Twilight removed her gaze from her and a faint purple aura formed around her. Nightmare turned away and watched as Dash latched onto Trixie's body and pried her from the ground, taking off backwards and soon vanishing into the skies. The knight's illusion faded as she departed.

"Touching, and how noble of you to remain behind and sacrifice your heart and soul to save them and all of Equestria. Perhaps if they watch from the distance, they'll get to see just how right you are," Nightmare mocked, a rush of excitement filling her.

Twilight stamped a hoof. "It's just you and me, Nightmare Moon. I won't let you hurt any of my friends or stop our mission," she retorted.

"Oh, hohoho! There is so much evil in my past, and now you, the oh-so-holy savior, stand before me with blood on your hooves. Tell me, Twilight Sparkle, do you have it in you to kill Princess Luna for the good of Equestria if need be?"

Twilight took a step backwards and clenched her teeth, a renewed spite clouding her head. "You bastard... I only need to disable you until the Elements of Harmony are gathered again. But I think I can purge you from Luna myself."

Nightmare's eyes lit up and she took a step forward out of the darkness, the moonlight splitting her body at a sharp angle. "Cocky, are we? Really now, do you think you are strong enough to do that and join your friends?" she countered, smirking.

Twilight stared back with contempt, pulling the staff into both hooves again. "Don't tempt me, Luna."

Nightmare frowned. "Enough of your prattle, foal. I am most certainly not your precious Princess Luna. I am the darkness, and I will make you my trophy," she replied, the ground around her beginning to rumble. "If you give up now, I'll make sure everything is painless. I promise."

"Nightmare Moon, you're nothing but a bad dream. In the name of the Princesses, I will purge you, just a bitter shell, from Luna!" Twilight declared, slamming Telos into the ground once more.

Nightmare was the first attack, her horn shining with a fierce blue aura as she called upon her magic. A tree uprooted from nearby and propelled towards Twilight. She bat it away with Telos, a telekinetic pulse from the spire diverting it past her. Nightmare smirked before ripping many more out and attempting to drive them into her. Telos's spire shined brilliantly and a gale of wind swirled around Twilight before surging sharply upwards and shattering the trunks to peces. The chips of wood rained down upon them, and Telos shifted into a red glow as Twilight recited an incantation for a more powerful spell.

"Drown in the blood of the Phoenixes, and may nothing but ashes of life remain!" she cried out.

In an instant, the jungle was engulfed in a rampaging inferno. The fires latched onto every piece of flora that could be seen, and ignited it in a bright red and orange display, even the corpse of the dragon was ignited and added to the blaze. Nightmare attempted to fly away, but the flames seemed to come to life, reaching up to her and touching a wing before returning to the ground. The flames quickly spread over her body and she crashed back to the earth, dropping and rolling as she became nothing more than a flailing, screaming mass of flames.

Her cries died down as her mane expanded and weaved itself around her to smother them. She slowly rose back up her hooves as the flames vanished and her body steamed, a rage hidden behind an exasperated, pained expression, and panted heavily. Her misty mane had diminished in size slightly and several pieces of armor had melted, some fusing to her body. She stood up and placed a hoof under the edge of her chest piece, and then screamed as she violently ripped it off, bloody, exposed flesh illuminated in the firelight, and she discarded the armor with a disappointed toss to the side.

The skies began to rain down the ashes of the vanishing jungle. Twilight's spell left nothing around them but blackened earth and cinders, but she paid the destruction of her catastrophic spell no mind. Both alicorns glowered at each other, Nightmare showing her fangs as she made no attempt to hide her contempt.

Drying out the immediate atmosphere so I can't use the water... You're clever. This is getting interesting... "I... will make... you suffer... for that!" Nightmare grinded out. "Why don't you have a taste of my darkness?" she bellowed, her horn flaring with a dark glow. A dark light split the earth before her and surged towards its target.

Twilight's body instinctively lurched backwards, but the light lanced her in the chest and spread through her body. Telos attempted to block it, but it was too late. She clenched her teeth and growled through the pain, her nerves feeling as if they'd been burned by the energy that surged throughout her. She landed off balance and spread her wings to pivot before unleashing a counter attack. Nightmare's eyes widened as she watched her.

"Mjollnir!" Twilight called out with a dry throat as she landed with little grace, her hind legs nearly buckling as she returned to a normal stance.

The mighty lightning bolt climbed down from the heavens and consumed Nightmare within a brilliant yellow shine for its momentous duration. Everything was bathed in that yellow glow for a brief few seconds. The area the bolt had struck cratered slightly, but Nightmare stood panting as a dark blue barrier around her faded away and displayed her body, unscathed by the spell.

Nightmare chuckled, almost incoherently, for a few seconds. "Back in the Everfree Forest years ago... I never would've imagined you could ever hold a candle to me. Now look at you. I'm almost as proud of you as my sister is." She straightened herself and regarded Twilight with a frown. "...Almost." Her expression darkened and her horn began shining again. "To think you would ever become an alicorn! I will make Celestia pay dearly for making you, an insult to our race!" she raged.

The ground beneath Twilight suddenly quaked and tore apart as a dark hand erupted forth and caught her in its grasp. Its grip tightened and attempted to squeeze the life out of her. She yelped in agony, but the hand was unable to fully crush her against a passive force engulfing her. Instead, it dragged her down into the ground and it closed again as she disappeared.

Nightmare stared to where Twilight had been pulled down with expectant eyes, almost leaning as she waited. The ground trembled and an arcane blast erupted from beneath Nightmare. She leaped and propelled herself backwards with her wings, narrowly avoiding the spell. Twilight flew out of the new fissure with several new cuts on her body, and a large contusion wrapping around her chest. She landed on the opposite side of the fissure, Telos firm in her grasp, and the faint purple aura still glowing around her, but she groaned and placed a hoof softly to her chest.

"Isn't this fun, Twilight?" Nightmare asked as she gently patted a burnt wing.

"You're enjoying yourself too much." Twilight spat blood to her side and tensed, running her hoof over the bruise around her torso. She winced at how sensitive it was, even with her duskweave and modified body resisting the injury.

Nightmare brought an armored hoof to her mouth and snickered, the melted metal glimmering in the firelight. "I can see it in your eyes. You revel cutting loose like this,"--she swung a hoof to the inferno consuming the jungle--"creating destruction as much as I. It excites us!"

Twilight's eyes widened briefly before settling into a contemptuous stare. "Don't compare me to you. Is causing others to suffer all you care about?"

Nightmare opened her mouth to speak, but she suddenly shuddered and placed a hoof to her head. The helmet was cracked, with the edges and detail having melted to dullness. "I..." An image of an alicorn pierced her mind. She couldn't make out the details, but she was suddenly filled with a yearning. She groaned and shook her head quickly. "Enough of your pointless judgements!"

The air around Telos swirled and powerful winds soon picked up around Twilight. She aimed the spire to the ground and a maelstrom ripped forth, prompting her to construct a barrier and expend more magic controlling it. As the windstorm grew into a tornado, it continued to expand and tear up the ground, carving sharp indents where it touched the earth in a matter of seconds. Nightmare bared her teeth and attempted to gain distance, but the winds began vacuuming her slender form into it. Her large wings battled the tornado's suction, and she managed to keep her distance as ashes from the ground and air were absorbed.

The tornado took on a sickly opaque grey color as more and more ashes were pulled in. Nightmare struggled to keep away, even attempting to counter it with her own magical wind, but the twister prevailed and engulfed her. It teetered back and forth, side-winding for a moment as it ravaged the ground further. Twilight panted and pressed a hoof to her head, moaning as a pang of pain rapped on her skull. The tornado ended in an instant and all that it contained was dispersed into several rings where it had been, Nightmare's lacerated form resting in the center.

Nightmare grunted and shook herself of loose dirt and ash, grinding her teeth as she leveled her gaze on Twilight. "It seems like you're getting exhausted already. Heh... Maybe I overestimated just how strong you are." She took in a deep breath and slowed her heart rate, despite all of the wounds on her body--burns, cuts, bruises, gashes--she was able to collect herself. "Let's see how durable my new toy is."

The ground quaked as she finished speaking, a black void forming beneath her. Twilight looked to the sky as it began to precipitate, but the droplets that rained down on them were not water. They were black, almost oily, and tinted the ground as they soaked in. They hit their bodies and slid off without leaving much more than a damp streak. Twilight tightened her grip on Telos and poised herself for another spell, but she wasn't sure what Nightmare was planning yet.

The Id chuckled as a dark meteor slid into view in the sky, ending the strange rain as it plummeted towards Twilight. Twilight spun Telos as she whirled around, settling herself with the spire aimed at the meteor upon returning to face it. A blast of invisible force escaped the spire and hit the meteor, the form rippling where it was impacted before it shattered. As she prepared to focus back on Nightmare Moon, more meteors slid out of the night sky and into the firelight.

She gasped as a few turned into many, and soon an entire swarm of them were approaching from the nightly heavens. Her mouth hung open as she analyzed which she could evade and which she would be forced to use magic against. She turned to glimpse Nightmare, but the Id had vanished into raging flames to watch as she recovered. To Twilight's dismay, the meteors began changing course and homing in on her. She broke into a run, utilizing her wings for bursts of speed to narrowly evade some of the meteors. They slammed into the ground, but crumbled to small rocks shortly after serving their purpose.

The first assault proved easy to dodge, but every barrage that followed tracked her movements better than the last. Damn it. She's going to wear us both out. After two more barrages, she was unable to evade any more of them, and raised Telos, firing blasts of magic at any that would hit her. Bolt after bolt shattered the approaching meteors, filling the sky with their debris on top of the ashes. She cleared the way through the waves, but one final meteor appeared. Twilight growled as its entirety became visible. It was too large to dash out of the way with the improved homing, and she fired a blast of force at it. The meteor was unaffected and she frowned at it.

I'm alone, this shouldn't-- Twilight attempted to teleport, but her eyes went wide as nothing happened. Damn it! Bracing for impact, she raised Telos again and formed several barriers, layering them over herself one after the other.

Nightmare reappeared as the meteor hit the ground, the quake that followed forcing her to take flight. The sound was deafening, the earth heaving and breaking beneath the impact. After a moment, Nightmare landed atop the meteor and tilted her head back, snorting. "Oh, my. Was that too much? I'd hate to have broken my new toy so soon." The meteor shook before shattering to pieces, a startled Nightmare leaping into flight again. "Well, well, well..."

The pieces crumbled and vanished into the air, and the infernos consuming the jungle around ceased as the last of the pieces disappeared, the area once again reclaimed by the chilling darkness. Twilight crawled out of the crater on her knees, her duskweave ripped in many places, and blood running down her head. She spread her wings and flew away from it to gain more distance, landing on stable ground. Her legs threatened to buckle, but she jammed Telos into the ground to remain steady, placing a hoof on her head and moaning.

Nightmare landed opposite of her a cautious distance between them, her eyes holding a contemptuous glare for the new alicorn. "You're more than a typical alicorn... What are you? No unicorn in all of Equestria could stand against me alone, but you... What are you...?"

"Surrender, Nightmare Moon. I don't care if it's to me, or if you retreat now and do it later, but you know how this ends. I don't want to hurt you or Luna anymore." Twilight panted, turning her head away to wince as another pain spike rammed into her skull like a carriage hitting a stone wall. She clutched her head with both forehooves briefly, her staff ringed in her forelegs. "I don't care what you do with your position, but just... don't hurt anyone anymore..."

Nightmare laughed as she disregarded her words. "Do you really think I'll just give up, run away because a little foal like you hurt me? I've waited too many centuries for what is rightfully mine! To think I would walk away now, when I can break you, is absurd! Don't mock me because you're standing in a place no pony has reached in a thousand years," she yelled. "You are the one who should give up."

Twilight gave her a look of disgust. "Don't you even know who you are!? You and Luna are nothing alike! I don't know how something like you could ever exist inside Luna." Nightmare blinked, at a loss for words to counter with. She looked away for a moment before Twilight went on. "I don't know how you came back from Luna after we redeemed her." I'm sorry, Luna, but this might be the only way.

Telos's spire pierced the dark skies as it shined blue over the fiery orange. Nightmare threw her head in every direction as the air suddenly became humid again, the humidity quickly turning into a damp chill hanging in the air. A few seconds passed as the cold set in and it began to snow. Winds suddenly whipped through the area, and in a matter of minutes a full blizzard was created, burying the scarred land in sheets of powdery snow.

"You can command the weather?" Nightmare blurted in surprise. Her slender form was quickly blanketed along with the lands by the rapidly thickening snow.

"Give up peacefully, Nightmare Moon, and I won't finish this spell."

The alicorns stared at each other, each with a different determination and loathsome thought in their eyes. The snow built up and rose to their haunches as a minute ticked away, the cold numbing their brutal wounds. Nightmare's expression shifted into a sneer. "Hardly."

Twilight lowered her Telos and cast the snow a look of regret. "Fine then. Don't say I never offered you a peaceful solution..."

Her horn flashed and the blizzard intensified, the winds shepherding the snow in thick, rolling smears that reduced visibility to nothing. The temperature was bearable before, but now Nightmare's body began to chill and slow, the blizzard sapping her natural heat from her. She squinted and strained her eyes to find Twilight, but all that returned were the howling gales and ferocious frost.

"This cold snap.... will not... freeze... me!" Nightmare's roars withered with each word until she was left breathless, a burning sensation scraping the inside of her lungs. She shivered, and she began to numb on the outside. She wasn't sure if her teeth were chattering, but all feeling was slipping away in the moment.

Twilight heard her drowned roars as a distant cry as she dug into the snow, a weak barrier warding off the contact with the frost, but it did little to fight back the cold. Nightmare's presence was fading, and she sensed one last spark of magic that fizzled and vanished. Did it work? The blizzard faded over the course of half a minute, the winds stopping and the snow becoming no more than a light sprinkling. Twilight canceled her barrier and stood up, her head poking out of the snow to glance around.

Lingering breezes bit into her face with icy fangs, some carrying a few flakes to accentuate her eyes with white. The sky was a mess of grey as stray snow danced above. She squinted through the cold and caught sight of Nightmare, entrapped in a thick case of ice. Twilight trudged through the frost and reached her, staring into her sharp, stilled eyes. The cold was beginning to dull her own movements, and a shiver jolted precious heat back into her, but she remained fixated on Nightmare's eyes. Like a dragon's... she noted.

A sudden feeling of sorrow washed over her as she stared into the eyes, her imagination answering questions of Luna's past for her. "I'm sorry that it had to be the cold that trapped you. I'm sorry, Luna, but it's over now, and I'll bring you back soon. I promise." She placed a hoof up to Nightmare's face and glanced away.

"Don't speak as if you know me!" The muffled words of Nightmare Moon snapped her eyes back up to her frozen face. Twilight leaped backwards, startled that the Id could survive the blizzard. "I will never succumb to the cold again! Never!" A burst of energy shattered the prison of ice and Twilight raised a foreleg to shield her eyes from the spray of ice.

The energy didn't dissipate and surged on to Twilight, striking her in the chest before she could react. The impact sent her sailing backwards, her chilled wings unable to provide necessary stability, and she fell back into the depths of the snow. She yelped and clutched the wound, a steaming burn mark on her chest overlaying the bruise, and wiped a line of blood running down her jaw. She clenched her teeth and rolled onto her back, Telos resting on her stomach, and held her hooves over her chest. The pain faded as the wound closed beneath the healing light emanating from her hooves.

Maybe I can't win... Celestia, help me!

"Crawl. Crawl like the pathetic worm you truly are from, me, the almighty bird," Nightmare seethed. Her mane whipped violently at the snow, blasting large scoops into the air on one side while she conjured flames to burn through the other.

Twilight tunneled through the bottom layers, taking care not to give away her position. Wait... Maybe if I just weaken her more... She continued tunneling behind Nightmare as the flames threatened to melt away her cover on top of her, and a desperate idea formed in her mind. This is my only chance to purge her. Now or never! She leaped out of the snow, her frost covered body fighting back the numbing cold through adrenaline. Nightmare spun on her heels in surprise and was met with the spire of Telos shining brilliantly, aimed at her.

"Celestial Star!" Twilight cried, and a magical rune spread out onto the dampened ground beneath Nightmare.

The Id reflexively glanced up to the sky as white lances of energy surged down from the dark heavens, each illuminating a bit of the sky in its path. Nightmare smirked and began flying between them. She attempted to destroy one with her own magic, but it merely knocked it off course, a great flash and explosion quaking the ground even from where it had landed in the distance. She quickly found herself cornered by the same trap she used on Twilight, only the lances became too fast to dodge. "I have plenty of magic left, but I doubt you can keep this up on me!"

"Meteor Storm!"

Twilight constructed a barrier over herself as meteors, smaller in mass than the powerful stars hailing down, began barraging on top of Nightmare like artillery. The Id's face contorted in anger as she was left with only one way out. She began making her advance on Twilight when a star and meteor, each too large to share the glory of crushing her, took over the sky above. Too much! She broke down into her mist and managed to slip herself closer to Twilight, but the other alicorn shielded herself as the star and meteor collided on top of both of them.

The earth resisted the forces rippling through the land for a moment, but the top layers of dirt were torn asunder as the shockwave ruffled land like a light cloth. Powerful vibrations penetrated Twilight's barrier and she fell onto her stomach as everything settled once more. A thick haze created by cascading dirt made it difficult to see as her barrier faded, and she wheezed, gasping in the dirty air, and the drain of her magic was beginning to physically impact her.

Nightmare had been blasted slightly away, but she remained in full control of herself. The Id pulled her cracked helm off and removed the loose shackling of a broken bracer, tossing it aside with ire.

Twilight forced herself into a gallop towards Nightmare, her heart beginning to drum as the other alicorn still appeared unhindered by her grievous wounds and magic fatigue. This is all I can do... I hope it's enough--it has to be enough!

"You damned witch!" Nightmare growled. Seeing Twilight's horn beginning to glow as she neared, she prepared a spell of her own.

"Kyrie Eleison!" cried Twilight as she skid to a halt a ten yards from Nightmare.

"You won't defeat me! Black Hole!" Nightmare countered, throwing an aiming hoof at Twilight.

Their spells did not clash, and instead, were aimed directly at the areas they both resided. Twilight's spell summoned a great white light beneath Nightmare Moon, too bright to peer into. She turned her head away and squinted as the light burned away the darkness and consumed Nightmare with it. As it expanded outward from its targeting point, the dark figure seemed to vanish completely into it, her screams of agony and rage the only evidence she was caught within.

Twilight was left with no time to observe, and Nightmare Moon's final spell manifested next to her. A black void appeared, distorting the world around it, and began pulling her and parts of the ravaged earth into it. "What... is... this!?" she choked out as her body twisted and distorted, captured and quickly whirling in an unnatural animation and becoming devoured by the void. She attempted to scream, a scream containing the pain of every nerve and cell in her body being crushed and compacted into nothingness, but no sound escaped her throat, no amount of effort could force her cry from her lungs. Her heart felt as if it stopped as her chest clinched and the spell seemed to vacuum life from her.

Telos clattered to the ground where Twilight had stood as the rest of her body was pulled into the void. The light from her own spell was unable to reach the void, and it consumed any that dared to reach for it. Nightmare continued to burn for the duration of the exorcising light. As the white subsided so did her black hole, and it deposited Twilight's mangled form and the devoured earth back onto the ground where it had been summoned.

The purple alicorn whimpered as she could feel herself capable of breathing again, but could not fathom the mechanics of the spell nor her inability to process the overwhelming pain it had created. All of her bones felt brittle, and she shakily rose to her hooves, fearful they might crumble to dust with any pressure applied to them. Her ears rang like she'd been inside a bell as it was beaten with an equally large bell. Blood ran down her muzzle starting from nose, and she clamped her left eye shut as she attempted to realign her senses with reality. She kept her right eye open, but the image was blurred and the world jumped at her as the throbbing of a migraine made itself apparent through the rest of her pain.

"I can't... believe it..." She coughed, a splat of blood landing on the dirt in front of her. Her legs trembled as she maintained a feeble stance.

Nightmare stared at her from where she stood, her own legs trembling as blood dripped from the previous burn on her chest. She extended her wings onto the ground and lowered her head, gasping for air. Blood covered her body in patches, and one of her wings had half of the feathers burned away. Her mane and tail had receded into small splotches of the mist it once was, now lacking the distinct starry pattern living within.

She attempted to take a step forward, only to fall and barrel over to her side and clutch her chest with one foreleg, attempting to use the other to rise again to a bipedal stance. She heaved in a breath, grunting as she made it to back standing, but shakily on all fours. Her steps had changed direction and she staggered towards the nearest tree that witnessed their battle.

"Where... are you... going?" called Twilight, attempting to follow her with an equally frail gait.

Nightmare Moon made it to the tree and plopped onto the ground at its base, scooting up and leaning back against it. Twilight's eyes widened as she took in the Id's expression. It was not one of her typical complacency or anger, but an earnest smile, her eyes glazed as they ran from the purple alicorn up to the moon showing through the grey haze from the blizzard hanging high in the sky. She snorted, but then it evolved into a chortle.

"I don't know what's happening to me... But you..." She slipped into incoherent laughter, and Twilight couldn't understand some of her words. "I don't think... I will ever... forget you," she added in a rasp. She winced as pain surged across the burn on her chest. She took in another sharp breath and it passed.

Twilight could only stare in disbelief at the sudden shift in demeanor, her eyes still widened with awe and curiosity. She maintained a distance from the Id, cautious that she may still have an ace up her sleeve.

Nightmare's glee faded and they stared at each other in a strange silence for a while. "Luna was right..." she blurted suddenly.

"What?"

"There is..." Nightmare winced and clutched her head with both forehooves. "Something... more to this. Ohh... my head," she groaned.

Twilight collapsed on the ground at the edge of a crater, her legs no longer willing to support her. She held out a forehoof behind her and Telos moved into her weak grasp. She used it to help her stand back up, and Nightmare snorted again.

"So... You have Luna's memories?" asked Twilight in wonder. Nightmare shook her head, but then gave a small nod afterwards. "Then if she was right about you two... Maybe... some day... we can be friends... or... or something."

"Don't... make me... laugh..." Nightmare grit, fighting the urge to break into a fit of laughter again. "I could kill you right now, and you want to be friends? Hahaha... pathetic."

"I might know you better than you think." Twilight moved a hoof to her face and wiped the blood off in quick rubs.

"Shut up. You know nothing about me. Didn't you just hear me? I can kill you where you stand." Nightmare attempted to scream, but all she could manage was a slightly elevated tone.

"Oh, yeah? And at what cost, huh? Neither of us have any magic left and you know it," retorted Twilight in a breathless voice.

Nightmare stared at her as she contemplated the situation. She cringed, and then turned away to grimace in defeat. But... She craned her neck to peer at the disastrous battlefield, taking in all of the scars the two of them had left upon the land. Her eyes trailed up to the hazy grey sky above, the moon barely distinct from the mask. There was nothing left of the jungle from beyond the tree she laid against, the treeline opening into an area of craters, ash, and cinders.

Twilight's body slid into the crater and she rested her head on the edge, making sure not to have her vision leave the Id. The tax of her final spell still seemed to pull more energy out of her, and she began to feel the agitation of having none at all. "This is a draw," she said after a while of silence.

"Hmph." Nightmare turned her nose up at her. "I hate to admit it, but you're right." She took a deep, heaving breath, exasperated by her injures, and slowly rose back to her hooves. She clutched her head and collapsed back to the ground, grasping her head tighter and moaning briefly. "Uhn... I..." She collected herself and managed to stand up a second time, albeit slower. "Do not fear the Brood, Twilight. I have no allegiance to them and they will never know that you survived this battle. They will only have the scars of the land to see," she said softly, swaying a hoof to the lands.

Twilight's ears perked up and her eyes widened. "Why... why are you telling me this?" she croaked.

Nightmare looked through her, as far as Twilight could tell, as she continued on. "Your mission is leading you to Draconis, is it not?"

"H-how did you know!?" Twilight blurted in panic.

Nightmare chuckled, but it came as a raspy, cough-laden laugh. "Be wary of the Dragon King, Render. I..." She put a hoof to her head and paused for a moment, looking away in confusion. "You're brave. The only reason you could be heading out this far is to reach Draconis, the capitol city of the Brood. What you do once you get there..." She snorted, but immediately regretted it and followed with a pained cough. "Heh. That is... my hope..."

Twilight shivered as a cold breeze swept the open area. Her spine bristled, but she remained fixated on the wounded mare of darkness, her eyes still wide with disbelief. "Why... are you telling me this?" she repeated softly.

"I..." Nightmare looked away again. "I don't remember." She shook her head, slowly at first, then more rapidly before speaking again. "Just... Go to Draconis. I think you will find something there that should help you."

Twilight crawled out of the crater and made a vain attempt at standing again. When she could not, she worried that Nightmare may have enough physical strength left to finish her off. "Are you having a change of heart?" she asked to keep her talking.

There was a long silence as Nightmare only stared with an unreadable expression. "Perhaps some day you will understand everything about me," she mused aloud, clamping one eye as blood ran into it. "Go now. I imagine my sister is counting on you."

"...Thank you?" Twilight said unsure. As Nightmare rose up, she turned to stagger into the forest, limping with every step. A surge of determination suddenly sparked Twilight into a standing position and the adrenaline it brought dulled the pain enough for her to lean forward with an outstretched hoof. "W-wait!" she cried. "I don't understand how you and Luna work, but why don't you help us stop the Brood if you're not working with them? Why not help me save Equestria from their rule? I don't know about the night, but please!" She winced and fell back to the ground, one foreleg clutching her chest and another propping her up as she quivered in pain. Telos fell to the ground in front of her with no glow in the spire.

"What, and spoil the fun?" Nightmare unleashed a long breath through her nose and turned to gaze up at the moon, the grey haze clearing enough to see its details clearly. "You and Celestia are both right and wrong at the same time. I am not Luna, nor am I truly her sister. I'm... something else," she riddled. "Perhaps you can set things right this time, but I can't help you."

"What do you mean?"

Nightmare turned her body towards the jungle, but kept her head tilted to keep the other alicorn in view. "The city of the dragons carries a great deception. When next we meet, you may carry a truth that would bury this pointless war. For now, this is all I can do for us both." She lowered her head and resumed her march into the jungle. "Maybe we can be friends, too," she muttered before blurring into the black shadows.

Twilight stared after her, wide-eyed, and her mouth agape. What was that? she thought, completely vexed. Taking a bracing breath, she lifted herself back up and manually collected Telos from the ground. She attempted her quest to regroup with her comrades, but the first few steps proved to be too much and she ultimately fell back into one of the many craters on the battlefield. There was no magic left within her, and she released the silent Telos from her grasp. It hurts so much. Am I... going to die? she wondered as she slid to the bottom. Celestia... can you... hear me?

Twilight? Where are you? Is everything alright!? Celestia replied in panic.

I did my best... I'm sorry, but I couldn't stop Nightmare Moon. There's something... about this war. She said... She said it's a lie...

Twilight!? Twilight! What's going on? Are you alright? Please, answer me! Celestia pleaded into her mind.

Twilight grimaced to herself as she could no longer maintain the mental link. She unfurled her wings and did her best to encase herself in them. The chill of her snowstorm lingered in the air, and the crater offered little reprieve from the sleepy night breezes. She grunted, then crawled back towards the jungle. A thin blood trail followed her from the crater, and after several more shrieks of pain, she reached the edge and buried herself in the flora. I thought... I thought I could do this, but now... Oh, Luna... I'm sorry... I wasn't strong enough... she lamented, her final thoughts before slipping unconscious.

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

Nightmare Moon staggered through the jungle, each step growing more reluctant to incite the pain of her injuries than the last. Every stone and adventurous root sought to trip her, but each time she tripped she clenched her teeth, regained her balance and pushed on. Not... here... Not yet... She couldn't tell how long she'd forced herself to walk, but the jungle eventually opened back up the messenger dragon's clearing, and the pain had spoken to her of an arduous journey. A satisfied grin parted her lips as she opened her eyes fully, her turquoise shining in the darkness.

"I... have... returned," she called out as casually as she could.

The ground vibrated as the dragon answered the summons and moved to greet her. He peeked out behind the tapestry, the orange glow spilling into the night, and peered around. His eyes fell upon the bloody and frail alicorn, and he dashed to her as she began to fall. "Mistress Moon! What happened to you?" he asked quickly.

"I fell down some stairs," she joked, but her body couldn't emphasize it with laughter. She wheezed as she fell into the dragon's awaiting grasp.

"Your injuries are grave, Mistress," he remarked, astonished, as he studied the wounds the best he could in the darkness. The dried blood and gashes across her form were the only true indicator of her dire state. "I will get you to Draconis immediately."

Nightmare involuntarily coughed before she could protest, wincing and growling away the pain. "You will do no such thing," she snapped. "You will return me to Canterlot at once!" The intensity of her final order proved to take all of the power she had left in her voice. "Tell Aurelius nothing is left... only the ashes... of... an... enemy," she trailed off.

"Mistress?" The dragon attempted to gently shake her awake, but to no avail. He brought her up to his ear and listened for her breath. Damn it! Why must you have me travel so far? You risk death, Mistress. Aurelius will have my head if you die... Gnashing his teeth, he carefully cradled her in both hands and took off, the fevered rhythm in his wings rustling the tapestry to his hut in his wake.

As he gained altitude for the long haul to Canterlot, he caught the wake of Nightmare Moon's duel in the corner of his eye, instantly snapping his head to fully glimpse what he could. The massive section of the forest was no more and the fires of Twilight's had left a blackened scar on the ground where they had battled, like a miasma of sorrow. "By Render... what did you fight, Mistress?" he asked aloud, not expecting the unconscious alicorn to respond anyway.

He swallowed and focused on the flight home, flying as fast as he could. His small form made his efforts double that of the larger of his kin, and his wings ached before he'd reached the valley before the Everfree Forest. He sped past others of his kind, most paying him no mind while others offered him a confused glance his way. He reached the Canterlot mountain, cringing as he made the sharp ascent without the assistance of a draft, and huffing in relief as he reached the city itself. His body cried for reprieve, but he forced himself to fly the last stretch and he hit the street before the castle and skid to a halt on his chest near the main walk.

Aurelius lay in the courtyard as the thump of the messenger's body hitting the street piqued his interest. He yawned and shook his body as he rose and moved to the front of the castle. He arched a brow as the panting dragon came into view. "What are you doing in Canterlot?" he asked casually, approaching and offering a hand to help him to his feet.

He ignored the helping hand and stood up with the assistance of his aching wings. "My lord... It is her," he said, opening his hands and revealing the safe, but dire form of the alicorn, "Mistress Moon."

"Explain yourself..." Aurelius growled, his eyes narrowing suddenly.

The smaller dragon shook his head quickly. "This is not my doing, I assure you! She wandered into my dwelling gravely injured. I wanted to take her to Draconis, but she refused and insisted I take her back to Canterlot instead. Forgive me, my lord."

Aurelius regarded the messenger slowly. "How did she come to be in such a state?"

"I don't know. She only muttered that all that was left of her enemy were ashes."

"Hmph. Leave her with me. I will see to it that Princess Celestia tends to the mistress's wounds. You have earned a rest before you return home, messenger." The smaller dragon nodded, carefully setting Nightmare Moon down, and began to walk towards the castle courtyard with haggard steps, but Aurelius held out a wing to stop him. He turned his head parallel with the messenger's and leaned close. "Are you absolutely sure there is nothing else you know about this?" he whispered. The messenger froze, but then nodded curtly and scrambled away, worried the alicorn's grievous state might be blamed on him.

Once the messenger was gone, Aurelius took Nightmare's body into a large hand and walked through the castle towards Celestia's chambers. Well, well, well... It seems you found yourself trouble after all. Who did you encounter that was so powerful? he wondered to himself. Arriving at the thick oak doors, the sun carving denoting Celestia's chamber, he gave a swift knock.

"What do you want?" Celestia growled from the other side. When she received no reply, she opened the door with her magic, a scowl heavy on her face, but her expression soon crumbled to worry and fright. "Luna!" she cried, bolting out of the room as Aurelius carefully laid Nightmare upon the marble floor. "What did you do to her!?" Celestia glowered death at the dragon as she looked over Nightmare's injuries.

"This is not my doing, Celestia. However... perhaps you might know who exactly could have done this."

"How should I know? You're the one that has me detained," the princess snapped back.

"Hmph. It does not matter who did this," muttered Aurelius as he turned to walk away. Celestia glared at his back as he left, a burning ire in her eyes. When she could no longer see him or hear his footsteps, she levitated Nightmare into her room, slamming the door behind her.

Aurelius chuckled to himself as he walked through the quiet halls, most of the servants shying away from the main corridors to avoid the patrolling dragons. Yours is a cruel circumstance, Celestia. Your own sister, in a state you loathe so, and yet, an enemy you must heal. If Nightmare Moon dies, so shall Luna. He returned the courtyard to find the messenger dragon fast asleep against the castle walls. Aurelius took his place in the center and gazed up to the moon.

I will investigate this once Render has arrived. What being could possess the power to stand against Nightmare Moon so evenly? I pray I am not too late. His eyes canvassed the sky, and he was intrigued by it. There was something different, but he could not place it. Shrugging himself, he lowered his head into a comfortable position and abandoned the thoughts in favor of rest.

***

Celestia pulled Nightmare Moon to the rug in front of her fireplace, her heart racing as she focused on her magic, setting to work as quickly as possible. The blood on Nightmare's body had long dried, but open wounds continued to gush small streams that were absorbed by the rug. Celestia laid her upon her side delicately, and loomed over her with her horn glowing. I had hoped it wouldn't have come to this, Twilight, but I knew that she would find you eventually. Placing her hooves over Nightmare's torso, waves of light spread over it, but at a great strain to the princess's magic. The critical injuries took a significant amount of time to mend, but the free flow of the blood lessened, and eventually ceased altogether. She took one of her sheets and ripped it into ribbons, quickly bandaging her injuries and making a makeshift tourniquet for one of her legs.

Celestia exhaled in relief as her triage came to an end, and wiped sweat from her brow. She levitated the Id to her bed and tucked her into it. She stared at her, no longer with contempt, but with pure worry. Instinctively, she leaned forward and kissed her on the head, but quickly pulled away and blinked. Why did I...? She pulled herself away and moved to her private balcony, lit by the moonlight, pushing the thoughts away. Sighing, she glanced up to the sky with an unmasked weariness.

She gasped and shot Nightmare's resting form a surprised look, then returned to gazing at the sky with a renewed vigor. What in the world? She closed her eyes and concentrated. Twilight, are you there? she asked. She waited, minutes ticking away, but they were lost to the expectant silence. Please, Twilight, she pleaded in vain.

She returned to the inside of her chamber, the weariness returning to her, and stood over the rug she had placed Nightmare upon. Her eyes fixated on the splotches of blood that would soon become stains, but she only gave it a stoic look. After a few moments, she snatched it with her magic and crumpled it up, quickly throwing it into her fireplace. She watched the fire consume it, shriveling it until it burned away into ashes. Luna...

The memories of her first descent into Nightmare Moon slipped into her mind over the flames. What happened? How did it all go wrong...? Her chest tightened as she was reminded of the horror of being forced to banish her sister, her mind hinging on the thought that it may become necessary once again. Tears welled in her eyes as the worry of Twilight's unknown status held itself firmly in the front of her mind. Please be alright, Twilight. If anything happened to you... I could never forgive myself.

Nightmare murmured in her sleep, and Celestia turned to gaze at her, the rise and fall of her chest bringing the comfort of a peaceful repose. Sighing, she moved to stand before a tall mirror, a crestfallen look still carved into her features. Her eyes were accentuated by dark circles, and her usually kempt mane frazzled at the ends. She removed her crown and sat it upon the fireplace mantel and laid down before the fire, staring into it as sleep weighed heavily upon her eyelids. What did you mean Twilight? What did who say? Nightmare Moon? She gave a slight huff of discontent at the situation and further being helpless in it.

There was no perceivable time when she finally drifted to sleep, lulled to peace by the hypnotic dancing of the flames in her fireplace. She slipped into a dream, a sweet dream of spending time with Twilight. The activities of playing with her, reading together, and even a enjoying a simple cup of tea in the courtyard with Luna flooded her. Everything felt right for a fleeting moment.

But the blissful dream carried a powerful longing, and for every smile she'd put on the unicorn's face, her own was forever unable to match the unicorn's innocence. There was an agony that feeling brought, one she could not resist or dampen. Her mind languished in that feeling. After a few more memories of the persisting feeling, it suddenly vanished, and everything became right again. There was no way to tell why, but she found herself not caring to question, instead, losing herself in the memories.

In the final memory, Spike, Twilight, Trixie, Luna, and herself were together for a night of stargazing. Each one carried a happy smile, each of their spirits lifted by Luna's lessons of the constellations and her intricate work. It was one of her fondest memories since her sister's status had been restored, but also when she felt as if she was surrounded by a true family. The emotional surge intoxicated her, but in the moment that she had awoken, it was gone, like a puzzle without all of the pieces. She didn't open her eyes, still protesting against the awakening of her body, but reality took hold, and with it returned the distress that she had wished to forever forget.

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