• 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 15: The Ethereal Divide

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 15: The Ethereal Divide

There was a short moment of silence, ended abruptly by the movements of King Render as he lumbered towards Twilight's exsanguinating corpse. His heavy steps caused the pool of blood beneath the skewered alicorn to tremble and ripple, even tide as he neared. The massive lance kept her body poised upright with her limbs dangling limply to the ground, her body impaled just above the stomach. As Render took the final steps to reach the lance, droplets spilled from the metal and splashed into the pool, and he paused for a moment as he tightened his grip on the handle of the weapon.

He turned his head away as he heaved and torqued the lance from the ground and whipped it in a sharp motion, Twilight's body slipping from the prong and splattering to the ground in a bloody heap. Her blood ran freely along the marble waypoint, filling each line and detail of the intricate engravings. Render turned and began to walk away, shaking his head. "Such a pitiless creature. This is a weapon of the cosmos, a gift from an astral ruler eons long past. Imbued with arcane arts I cannot fathom, it seals the magic of anything it impales. You surrendered your fate the moment you entered this city." He sighed, almost regretfully as he continued on. "Your kingdom will be razed, and you will be forgotten."

Twilight's blood began to form green glyphs over the stone, even above where it ran into the fractured stone. Render kept his back turned and swayed the lance out. "Scour the city for her companions. One is a pegasus and they could be anywhere. Make sure they do not leave the city alive." Everyone froze as an overwhelming sensation of dread weighed down upon them like a quilt, and Render instinctively shuddered.

NO! I WON'T LET IT END HERE!

Particles of light suddenly appeared in the air around the waypoint, continuing to appear even beyond it. They slowly cascaded towards the ground and lit up the cityscape, casting an eerie tint to Twilight's blood. The dragons shifted uneasily and scanned the night sky for a potential source, but it offered no answer. The particles grew thicker and thicker, and as they reached the ground, flowed across it and towards the alicorn's corpse, gaining speed as they neared.

I WON'T BREAK OUR PROMISES!

The ground began trembling, but Twilight's blood stopped flowing freely out across the stone. The pools and puddles shrank, running along the designs and seeping back into her corpse. Render turned and observed the supernatural event with caution and awe. The trembling grew into quaking, growing in magnitude, and all of the blood on the stone had receded back into the alicorn's body leaving only red stains on the marble to mark where it had ran to before. The dread in the air shifted into a chill, and each dragon shared a sudden, worried expression with one another.

THIS IS GOING TO BE... FUN...

The cascading light finished flowing into Twilight's body, and after a moment of silence, erupted in an intense pillar of light, engulfing her and illuminating the sky and ground around her. Pure energy surged to the heavens beyond the veil of darkness, and the broken slabs and rocks of the waypoint lifted into the air and swirled around the alicorn's body. Twilight began to lift into the air, her deathly wound now closed.

Maybe we can be friends, too... Nightmare's voice echoed in her mind, her final parting words she couldn't be sure she heard, now clear to her. She opened her eyes at the beckoning of recognition, their hue shifting from violet to scarlet, and the pillar of light exploded with concussive force, and revealed a different appearance for the alicorn.

Hovering before them now was an astral being no dragon dared to give a name. Twilight's coat had become snow white with a translucent effect; she appeared ethereal, with a faint tint of red about the effect. Her cutie mark appeared with traits of both princesses, her star imposed into Celestia's sun, with both resting on an inverted splotch the same as Luna's. Licking at the air, her mane took on a living property, constantly shifting and moving as a mass of different shades of purple. Lastly, her wings had grown to the size of Celestia's, extending into the air and amplifying her presence.

Friends... The word echoed throughout her head, foreign and unfamiliar within the sound of Nightmare's voice. Twilight raised her wings and gave a dark look to the royal guard and Render, energy and invisible forces swirling around her in a small storm. The word began as a whisper, growing in sound until it was as if it were whispered directly into her ear. She focused in on it, and the judgments carried behind her eyes deepened her expression into a hard stare at the ranks of the dragons.

"I promise you..." she whispered to herself.

The fury of energy around her intensified and shattered a large section of the waypoint, the following debris spraying outward before the energy around the alicorn stabilized into an unusual aura. It almost undulated as it shifted a slight distorting effect around her, occasionally blurring limbs or details for a fraction of a second. The royal guard had slipped into cautious stances, and Render took a step back into their ranks, his grip on the lance tightening once more.

"The world you seek..." started Twilight, her eyes dancing across the line of dragons. "It's filled with hatred wrought by pride." She pointed up to the sky, but didn't glance to it. "The darkness is a testament to your misguided goals. It is not I who will be forgotten, but you--your dark reign will end, and no one will want to remember it." She landed atop an upright slab of the broken waypoint and took in a deep breath. "I am the cosmos, and you will be washed away in the dreams of the stars."

"You insolent little whelp! Tell me your name so that I may make sure it's never uttered again," boomed Render, poising the lance for battle.

Twilight stared at him, listlessly. "Name? You need know no more than that I am the combined wills of the Sun and the Moon." She snapped up suddenly and turned to face towards the entrance of Draconis, the black horizon beckoning her. In a flash of light, she was gone.

***

Trixie and Dash crouched on the ledge, straining and squinting their eyes to try and peer into the distance in hopes of witnessing the battle to come. They were each left in awed silence by a sudden burst of light that erupted from the city, but could see little more than the tops of buildings illuminated briefly before they ran back into the darkness beyond what could be seen. The magician's heart ached, yearning for the hope her imagination had led her to. Twilight will be fine.

A light bloomed in front of them and Twilight appeared, startling both with her strange new form. Both mares leaped up, but the alicorn swiftly raised a hoof to silence any questions in advance. "I'm sorry, but you need to leave. I will make sure they can't follow you, and I'll stop Render here and now." Twilight attempted to maintain a stoic expression, but it slipped slightly; she winced as Trixie's suddenly brightening expression crumbled back to despair just as quickly.

"Twilight, no! Please! Don't leave us again!" the magician pleaded.

Twilight turned her head away, fighting back the hot tears welling in her eyes that threatened to spill freely. "I'm sorry... but this is goodbye," she responded with a wavering voice.

"Wait!" Trixie leaped forward and attempted to grab her, but another flash blinded her, consuming both her and the silent knight. She held up her forelegs instinctively and groaned as she suddenly became disoriented. When the light faded and their eyes adjusted to the darkness again, they realized they were back at the entrance to the cave where they had reunited before. Trixie collapsed to the rocky ground in the veil of darkness, wailing her pain into the night. "Twilight!"

Dash carried a crestfallen look, but forced herself to move forward and not cry, the simple motion sapping all of her effort. She latched onto Trixie and pulled her into a tight embrace, the magician's shuddering and blubbering cries pouring into her chest. "We... We can't... do anything to... help her now. We... we have to get back to... to Canterlot." The knight couldn't keep her tone steady as every nerve in her body struggled to keep her from succumbing to the grief as the magician had, and her wails only made it harder.

Trixie shoved Dash away and stared at her with contempt, tears streaming down her puffed up cheeks. "How... How can you just leave her behind like that!? After all she's done for us--our friend... my... How can you say that!?" She glowered at the knight, an undirected rage within her ready to rampage free.

Dash lowered her head, allowing her mane to obscure her already shadowed face. She shuddered and clenched a hoof. "You think this is easy for me!?" she bellowed, snapping her head up and throwing a foreleg to the air beside her. "I just watched one of my best friends condemn themselves to death for our sake! Don't you dare think that I don't get it!" The knight tensed beneath the weight of her inner turmoil, unknowingly crying herself.

Trixie blubbered more incoherent words as she collapsed back to the ground, and Dash closed the distance again. She placed a hoof on Trixie's shoulder, but she shook it away. Attempting to grab her again, Trixie blasted her back with a burst of magic, scorching the end of her tail as she leaped backwards. "Don't touch me," she growled. "I'm not leaving." She turned towards the cave and began to walk unsteadily towards the entrance.

Dash hung her head in defeat. "I'm sorry, Twilight." As Trixie turned around in surprise, her face was met with the knight's armored hoof. Everything went black as she fell to the ground, unconscious.

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Twilight reappeared with another flash at the waypoint. The dragons had encroached slightly on her position, still wary of her appearance and demonstration of resurrection. Landing on an upright slab again, she rose up on her hind legs, extending her wings wide, and raised her forelegs up. Her horn shined as a cylindrical barrier of light rose up around the waypoint and beyond, trapping all of the royal guard and King Render within.

Tremors rippled through the ground before stone slabs and chunks dislodged and levitated. Twilight swayed her forehooves forward and they moved at high velocity, striking two red dragons with titanic force. Their frames rippled at the impact, and the stone shattered before they fell over, no one sure if they were still alive. The other royal guards raised their arms and wings, some becoming terrified at the telekinetic overload, others becoming fueled by the rage at seeing their comrades fall.

Render aimed the lance at her, a scowl sharpening his eyes. "Kill her!" he roared as he reeled back the lance. Using his left hand and his wings to balance him, he threw it with all of his might, the weapon developing a high speed rotation as it left his grip.

Twilight's new surge of power proved difficult to gate, and the aura that cloaked her body made her feel sluggish, almost tired as she moved. Her body resisted the will to leap to the side or fly, and she held a hoof outward instead. A barrier formed instantly before the moment the lance impacted her; the lance drilled into the magic shell and created a sparking, crackling noise as it sheered into it. The inertia continued to drive the weapon into her barrier, and tendrils of light ripped away in its wake, lashing at the ground and burning marks into it. After a moment longer, Twilight tensed and the lance fell to the ground as the inertia had depleted. She took a moment to catch a few gulps of air before focusing her gaze back upon the royal guard.

Her eyes listlessly decreed an unspoken judgement, and she aimed a hoof at them once more, her horn still shining with magic at the ready. Confidence crested the corners of her mouth. "You shall drown within the sea of time," she declared.

The dragons clambered to the edge of the barrier and watched cautiously as Twilight closed her eyes, tilting her head back and taking a deep breath in through her nose. Water droplets formed in the air by the hundreds, quickly multiplying. For a brief moment, it appeared as if time had stopped in the middle of a heavy rain, but in a few seconds, they rushed to coalesce into a large sphere. The water rippled and wobbled, and Twilight floated the sphere down to the center of the waypoint, quickly stepping to it and pressing a hoof gently to its surface.

"What are you doing!?" shouted Render. "Attack her!" The dragons royal guard remained frozen in cautious awe, all watching the alicorn with varying degrees of fear.

Steam arose from the surface of the sphere, its color lightening, and tendrils snaked their way into the sky and cooled away into the night. The sphere undulated, but maintained its shape, the steam and tint the only visible indication of any change to it. The liquid began to lift away, and the first line of the royal guard began advancing, a couple bold dragons leading the initiative. The corners of Twilight's mouth pulled up into a devious look, and the sphere burst. Her eyes glazed with pride as the liquid splashed against the scales of her foes, clinging as it had become more viscous. The agonizing roars of the frontline bounced off of the walls of the barrier and filled the arena for a few moments as scales melted and flesh seared.

It feels so good to cut loose like this. This must be how Nightmare feels all the time! --Argh, what was what? Twilight shuddered as strange feelings conflicted with her expected ones. For a moment, she felt delight in their roars, as if the pain was sung ever so sweetly to her, but then afraid as it all rushed away. She shook her head nervously and eyed the wounded warily. I have to focus! The wounded dragons fell to the ground and rolled on the stone until they cooled. It was only a few seconds before they scrambled back to their feet and fell back into the ranks of the rest of their comrades.

"Consider that a warning," she announced with a steadied voice. Her words echoed out in front of her, but there was little reaction to the commanding intent they held within themselves. "Surrender now to the crown of Equestria and there will be no more bloodshed." The barrier faded away and revealed the rest of Draconis to them again, as well as non-combative dragons watching from a distance, each observing the event with uncertain fear. Twilight cast the onlookers a knowing stare briefly.

She could hear whispers slipping their way from the ranks, and after a few more minutes, several took to the air and flew away, none daring to look back. "You cowards will be executed!" bellowed Render to them, but his once loyal subjects offered him no more respect than their backs as they took flight from the battlefield.

The remaining dragons of the royal guard regrouped into a tighter formation, malevolence in their eyes as they stared at Twilight. But for every bit of anger in them, there was shifting expression in the alicorn's. For some moments, she would gaze at them with nothing, and for others, there was a hint of wanton desire in them.

"You underestimate us, fool. You are nothing but another delusional pony who think the Brood weak. I have buried your kind more times than I can count, and whether you're a mage slaying alicorn will make no difference." Render took two steps and leaped into the air. "Kill her now!" The rest of the royal guard filled the night overhead, and Twilight closed her eyes and tapped a hoof lightly to the waypoint. The barrier reformed again, accommodating the expanded aerial battlefield.

The swarm overhead began to fill up the sky with their multicolored scale coats, shifting and spitting bursts of fire down on the ground. They landed in tiny spots and created small, napalm-like fires on the stone. Twilight watched them closely until, all at once, they breathed together a tremendous firestorm down upon her. She twirled, pushing both hooves out to her sides as the flames spiraled downward into the waypoint.

Her horn shimmered and the flames engulfed her and burned away her duskweave, slamming into the stone and quickly flowing into it. The royal guard ceased fire and watched in shock as all of it vanished, including the earlier flames. Twilight's mouth tugged up into a faint smile as the ground rumbled before all of the flames burst forth from the stone and passed around her, to the sky. To the surprise of King Render, the flames that flowed back out from the stone had become black.

The swarm scattered as the flames assaulted the air, catching, igniting, and engulfing entire dragons. A tiny spec of fire touched one fleeing dragon's tail, and in only a few seconds, it erupted into a black blaze that consumed him. His wails of pain died shortly after as his skeletal frame fell to the ground, shattering to ash on the waypoint. Every dragon caught in the flames crashed from the sky in a black blaze, their skeletons all remaining until the moment before it touched the ground. The roars and cries lasted only a few seconds, and then all ceased simultaneously as all targets had ceased to exist.

Twilight stumbled backwards several steps and dropped to one knee, one hoof pressed to her left eye, and the other to her chest. She heaved and tensed, pain spikes running through her mind and a suddenly racing heart pounding against her chest. Heh... I'm not used to using this much magic. She coughed a few times and returned to an outwardly comfortable state. Shaking her head, she muttered, "What was that?"

In her moment of weakness, the royal guard regrouped and began to dive bomb her, vicious, massive claws poised to strike. As the first set to strike her reached out with vengeful intent, she held out a hoof, stopping them in their entirety only inches away from her. The second wave scattered, and Render swooped past and retrieved his lance. A purple aura locked the movements of those caught, and she tilted her head to meet their astonished looks with an apathetic one. "A gift from your matron of the night. Black Hole."

Render and the other dragons not caught by the telekinesis fled away. A dark vortex formed just above the ones caught and twisted reality, pulling everything into its distorting void. She released her telekinesis and watched as they attempted to claw, fly, or latch onto the stone waypoint. She stepped backwards, once again with a light smirk striking her face. One by one, it pulled in the victims, ripping loose stone from the waypoint with it. They beat their wings in desperation, but the gravitational pull was too strong, even for the might of a dragon.

Twilight surrounded herself in a barrier and watched as they disappeared into the void. For a moment, there was a peaceful silence. The flaps of dragon wings overhead and her own heart beat were all that she could hear. After that moment, the vortex's distortion reversed and began to deposit the victims back onto the stone. Bodies of dragons heaped into a pile beneath it, but Twilight could only see one still moving, groaning and whimpering in agony.

"Do you really want to keep this game going, King Render?"

"You bastard..." Render glared into the scarlet eyes, but for all their exotic beauty, he could only see what they lacked. "Those eyes..." he muttered. They lacked compassion.

Twilight held her forehooves out and a ball of crackling energy formed before. It spit ripples of energy outward and around it occasionally, crackling lightly like static, but she stared into it, noting an odd splendor in its light. It became brighter, and she squinted while she held it before her. Turning to the sky, she pushed it up, and with a spark of her horn, it exploded into an array of lightning with a tremendous crack. Each bolt split and overlapped one another, racing at targets everywhere as it branched out. Dragons roared as they were struck, most simply descending at the pain of a singed or charred wing, but one did fall, sailing to the ground and landing in an unconscious heap.

Why... isn't it working!? The strikes chained around, but the power diminished with each hit until the last target only flinched in surprise. I... can't control it... Twilight slouched and pressed a hoof over her eye again as her head throbbed. Her powers felt endless, as if she could feel magic in everything and channel a hundred more great spells, but she was suffering from entropy beneath the overwhelming surge of power. "It's over, Render. The royal guard falls here." She straightened herself, but kept the hoof over her eye, holding her free one directly skywards. I can't stop now! "Kyrie Eleison!"

White light devoured all empty space, pushing back the blackness of the night around and all other color with it. It climbed into the air, engulfing the royal guard in the sky, those it touched quickly vanishing into its brilliance. Some of the dragons managed to escape, along with King Render, but everything else vanished into the white. An almost hissing sound sang with it, and those that were free of it shielded their eyes as it receded and faded away only a few seconds later.

When he could see again, Render's eyes widened as his forces lay unmoving, littered across the ravaged waypoint like bodies scattered over a graveyard ready to be buried. Twilight trembled and fell to her haunches, once again struggling to catch her breath. Render began a sharp descent towards her, preying on the unexpected weakness in the alicorn. As he neared, he swung the lance in a powerful strike. Twilight sprang up, panting, and evaded it. The lance dug into the stone, breaking it on impact and then raking a wide scar just beside Twilight.

Twilight's horn shined, and she reached a hoof outward to him as he passed by. She attempted to grasp him with her telekinesis, but he proved too resistant and all she managed was to dull his movements briefly before he broke away to the sky again. She remained panting, with her hoof still firmly planted over her eye, and watched him with an unreadable expression. Sweat ran down the sides of her face bringing with it strands of her mane to mat against it. "The blood of the Brood makes you resistant to magic, but you're a lot more resistant than any others. Maybe that's why you're the king."

Render glared at her from skies as he circled her in the air, his lance firm in his grasp and readied. "I will not let you suppress the Brood. This world is rightfully ours, and I'm taking it from your kind... by force." He aimed his free hand to her and the remaining royal guard began to descend upon her.

Twilight stepped back and loosed bolts of light from her shining horn. Each bolt pierced the incoming dragons in their wings, causing them to spiral out of control and crash land. They slid past her or fell beyond reasonable range, and she focused on controlling her blasts until she could use a minimum amount of magic in disabling them. The final guard was struck at the top of his wings, the small burn sheering his entire wing to the strain of a few beats. He roared as he lost control and spiraled head first into the stone, quickly losing consciousness.

"The royal guard is... no more. You can't... stop my friends now," she said breathlessly. She dropped to her haunches again, a hoof readied at her chest, and the ethereal property of her body began to wane. She shifted and became clearer and clearer as the precious seconds of her repose ticked away.

"They've served their purpose." Render pulled the lance back, using his left arm to balance himself and steady his aim. "YOU'RE WEAK PREY NOW!" He threw the lance with all of his might, the menacing gyrations beginning as it rolled free from his grasp. The whistling sound sang into the air as it surged towards the alicorn.

Twilight stood up and placed both hooves towards the lance. As her horn ignited with a furious light, her ethereal property faded completely and a barrier formed as the lance reached her. She spread her wings as it impacted, and the ground trembled, the lance drilling into her barrier again. Her body tensed, and the pain spike in her head returned in greater force. She clamped her left eye in response and pushed against the edge of the barrier as she poured increasing amounts of magic into it. Unconsciously, her wings bowed in front of her at the impact point. With a symphony of sounds like breaking glass, the barrier shattered and the lance impaled her once more, but the rotations ceased.

But Twilight didn't flinch as the cool metal slid into her body, breaking bones and piercing organs. Render gasped and his eyes widened as the alicorn staggered forward a few steps, blood running out of her mouth and down her body. "How can you--"

"This uprising from the Brood ends here," Twilight said in a cold voice strained by the blood in her mouth. Her scarlet eyes shined in the dark, instilling the dragon king with a sense of doom.

The alicorn coughed several times, a slew of blood chasing each to the stone. Her horn remained shining, and the lance slowly slid out, her body distorting where it had struck and limiting blood flow from the wound. It flipped around and aimed at Render, and she put one hoof over the wound, and used the other to aim it. The barrier surrounding the battlefield vanished as she took aim. "Don't blink."

Render whirled around and attempted to fly higher into the night, but the lance rocketed away from the alicorn. In two beats of his wings, the lance closed the distance and impaled him with both prongs into his back, piercing through to his chest. A pained groan attempted to escape his throat, but he found himself unable to force it out. His wings lost their strength and he fell backwards to the edge of the waypoint, spiraling before slamming into the stone and rolling onto his belly. He opened his eyes, his head swimming, and watched helplessly as the alicorn staggered towards him with a hard look on her face.

Her horn's furious shine was replaced with a weak white one, and a sickly light, almost too faint to see, echoed out from the hoof held over her wound. A thick river of blood ran behind her from where she had been impaled, meandering as a grim path. As she neared Render's face, her coat returned to its natural violet, and her mane's living effect faded with it soon after. The light from her horn and beneath her hoof faded as she stopped in front of him. Blood continued to run out of her wound in a small trickle, but she appeared to be stable for now, or at least as far as she would allow the dragon to see.

"I'm sorry about all of this bloodshed. It never should've come to this, but you and I both knew what would happen if you challenged the princesses." She coughed more blood into a waiting hoof, and the rampant emotions and instability in her feelings vanished as her eyes reverted back to purple. She paused to glance at the blood on her hoof, but she weakly shook it away.

Render turned his head and coughed, blood splattering onto the stone beside him in spotty patterns. He took a few wheezing breaths, but remained stationary. He chuckled before speaking. "I never thought that someone like you or that damned sun princess would stop me. ...So, what now, now that you've killed me and much of the royal guard?"

"With you dead, the rest of the Brood should surrender and we can go back to the peace from before."

The king eyed Twilight's wound, his eyes following the trail back and calculating the blood loss. "Neither of us will live to see such a day... it seems, " he struggled with a raspy voice.

There was a look of sympathy etched into Twilight's face for a moment, but she turned away, returning with a more regretful look when she faced the dragon king again. "I can't die yet. My friends... I have too many promises... I won't break them... Maybe we could've... been friends... in another life..." Twilight dropped down to all fours, but her legs trembled beneath her weight.

Render chuckled, again a raspy sound that almost whistled in the air, as his condition continued to deteriorate. "Perhaps you are right, but this life... will not be the one. Your race is difficult for the Brood to comprehend, but... you have always intrigued me to understand you."

Twilight snorted. "We ponies could say the same about the Brood." She shuddered as a few more coughs battled their way to freedom, but she managed to suppress them and loose a groan instead. The metallic taste of her blood made its way into her mouth and she held a hoof to her chest, pain from the wound erupting from seemingly nothing before.

"I wish to know the name of the one who intrigues me most, the one who shall take my life, before I am to die. Honor me with that, at the least." Render pushed a weak hand forward, but it stopped after only a meter when his dug in. He could raise it no more.

Twilight stared at it, the chill and drowsiness of her blood less setting in, and stretched a foreleg to touch it. "My name... is Twilight... Sparkle... Let's be friends..." she muttered, her mouth twisting up into a weak smile.

"I am Render..." He trailed off and muttered something else she couldn't quite hear. "It is nice to make... a new friend, even so close to death." Render smiled, or at least Twilight thought he did. "Earlier... you did not name yourself. Might I ask why?"

Twilight raised an eyebrow at the question. "I... don't know. I can't control that form very well. I..." She turned her head away and spoke distantly. "I lose myself."

"I... see."

"Render, why did you start this war?" asked Twilight as she returned her gaze to the dragon king.

Render's eyes tilted up to the night sky before he chose to answer. "It almost feels as if... I'm waking from a dream. This war is... not mine. It is General Aurelius's. My memory is hazy. I remember... peace not so long ago. That dragon's sharp tongue convinced us to go to war... to take back Equestria as it was once ours." Render loosed a few hacking coughs, aiming the blood spatter away from the alicorn. "I don't know why. Perhaps it was jealousy... but I'm afraid my memory is too obscured."

Twilight's eyes were wide, but her vision began to darken. "I... see..." she muttered in response, her mind racing to piece everything together in what little time remained. "Who is Aurelius?"

Render snorted and wheezed at the same time. "Heh. He is more enigma than dragon. Our race is recorded... for all those that are part of the Brood... but his origins are unknown to us. Perhaps I will find the answer... in the afterlife... I will tell you... if I ever find out... but it is my time. Goodbye, my... friend..."

Render's eyes closed slowly, and Twilight could've sworn he was smiling in the moment that they did. She called out to him, "R-Render!?" Forcing herself to rise through the pain of her injury, she clenched her teeth and adrenaline brought her to standing. She lurched forward and put her forehooves on his snout, shaking it with what little strength she could muster. "Render! Wake up, Render! ... No.... no, no, no, no! Please, Render! Wake up!"

She pushed even harder, but a sharp pain shot through her chest and she was forced to cough again. Loosing a pained groan, she fell to the ground against the dragon's snout and began to heal herself again. The light that emanated from her hoof was faint, but it worked nonetheless to mend her catastrophic injury just a bit more. "Please, Render... please wake up," she pleaded in a voice barely above a whisper. "Don't leave me... alone... please..."

Tears began to stream down her eyes as the adrenaline faded, her surge of energy wilting her into a puddle of sorrow and encroaching despair. She flinched as a warmth touched her flank and back, and she turned her head, blurting the king's name once more. Her eyes fell to the stone as his blood drained onto it and ran against her. She clambered away and watched as it slowly pooled outward from his body, but she only shuddered. I did this... A breeze swept the waypoint, erasing the warmth in the blood and freezing her where it painted her coat.

"No... Why is this happening? It wasn't supposed to be... this hard..." She slammed a hoof weakly to the stone and glanced up to the sky.

Her barrier had obscured her view of the night, but now that it was gone and the night no longer lit by the ferocity of her magic, everything in the black backdrop shone clearly. The stars and constellations stood out in stark contrast to their beauty before, appearing much like Luna's masterpiece on a clear winter night. Her mouth hung open, and for a moment, her tears ceased, only to return as the crafter's name and image slid back into her mind. Nightmare Moon... I'll come for you... I promise.

Her eyes fell to Render, trailing back to the expanding pool of blood. Her own fur matted to her body where hers ran, and his touched. Crouched on her hind knees, she took in as large a breath as she could. She threw her head back and screamed with her last breath; a scream that carried the pain of every life she had taken, every scar on her soul, and every piece of her humanity she had felt she lost in the sorrow and regret. When her requiem finished spilling into the air, she fell to the stone and laid there as Render's blood slowly approached her again.

I did it Celestia... I promised... You... promised me... she thought. However, there was no magic left in her to communicate with the princess. I just want... everything... I just want... it all... to end... As the dragon's blood reached her, a chill ran through her body, the crimson liquid no longer bearing the warmth of life. She succumbed to darkness as the chill began spreading throughout the rest of her body.

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The icy chill of the air hitting Dash's face did little more than force her to squint as she pushed her endurance to the limits. The knight held Trixie's forelegs around her neck while balancing her and attempting to race back towards Canterlot. One of Trixie's eyes had swollen, and she hoped that the swelling went down before she had awoken to find it. I'm sorry, Trixie, but I won't let you go back and die if she fails... The knight allowed her head to hang mournfully to the landscape for a moment, but refused to cry. The air stung at her eyes, but she shook her head and resumed focus on the journey ahead.

It wasn't long before the additional weight of her armor and the unicorn's body strained her wings beyond their limits. Damn... Maybe I can make it to Canterlot with her, but I'll be too tired to fight... Cold sweat glistened as it ran down her face and clumped her mane together in thick strands that billowed back. The chill of the night only made it more difficult to keep herself empowered by the surge of adrenaline, and her pauses in wing beats to soar grew in number as she pressed on. No. I can't be useless when we get back to Canterlot. I need my strength.

She couldn't tell how long she had been flying, but her wings threatened to give out as they neared the forest where Twilight remained behind to duel Nightmare Moon. As the bare patch in the forest came into view, her mouth hung open as an awed, "Whoa," escaped her lips. With fatigue bearing down, she resolved to take a break, swooping down to the forest's new tree line. Carefully propping Trixie against one of the thick tree trunks within the canopy's cover, she turned and slowly stepped into the ravaged battlefield.

"Twilight... Just how strong are you...?" she muttered, her eyes glazed in awe as they drank in the destruction. There was a hint of fear in her eyes as she committed the details to memory.

Spots of black soot marked where trees had once stood, burned all the way into the ground upon themselves, roots and all. She turned back to the tree line to glimpse the frayed and blackened edge of the leaves. The verdant green no longer shone in the moonlight, instead made dull and sickly by the thick sheet of ash resting upon it, masking its life in grime. Returning her eyes to the battlefield, she continued to wander throughout in a trance.

Craters, grooves, and more ash were all that could be found of the once serene forest. There were a few patches of snow in some of the craters, as well as a couple lingering pieces of burnt bark, but no life. She attempted to grab one to inspect it, but it crumbled to dust as she touched it. She closed her eyes and imagined what a battle between two alicorns would be like. What was it like for Celestia and Nightmare Moon? All we did was use the Elements of Harmony... A chill ran down her spine as she opened her eyes, suddenly afraid of what her imagination might conjure up.

Spinning on her heels, she began to gallop back to check on Trixie, but she froze as her eyes landed on something on the ground. Blood. She leaned down and reached out a hoof to touch it, but instantly pulled it back, shuddering as she stepped around it. You seemed fine... pretended like nothing really happened...

She reached Trixie, finding the unicorn to still be peacefully sleeping. She hoisted her up and moved them deeper into the forest, fearful of being exposed to any dragons that shared her curiosity. Laying Trixie beneath another tree, she moved to sit on the opposite side of an adjacent one, out of view but within earshot of the unicorn.

She's dead... There's no way... How am I going to tell everyone... what she did for us? How am I...? Her eyes darted to the side, and she twisted her neck slightly to look in the direction of Trixie. She shuddered and pulled her hind legs up to her, tears flowing freely from her eyes.

"Everything... everything you taught us about friendship--that we could do anything if we stuck together... and you threw it away..." Her shudders turned to trembling and she lost the will to hold herself together briefly. Suddenly standing, she screamed, no longer afraid of who might hear. "YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE, TWILIGHT! WE'RE YOUR FRIENDS!"

She collapsed back down to the tree, sliding against it. "You didn't have to fight alone," she sobbed, turning to punch the trunk. "You didn't... have to fight alone..." She cried and blubbered to herself, her eyes periodically darting to Trixie as the pain spilled out of her in pleas and sobs.

When she finished mourning, she dried her eyes with a hoof and stood up, approaching Trixie. She stood over her, studying the rise and fall of her chest and her peaceful eyes. I lost a friend, but you... lost so much more... I'll protect you, just like she would've wanted... She moved to lay against a tree opposite of her, to watch over her as a sentinel. As she relaxed once more, she removed Nightfall from its sheath and stabbed it into the ground in front of her. I promise to protect you, Trixie. No matter what... She drifted to sleep with one hoof resting on the hilt of her sword.

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Celestia jumped at the sound of the one in her bed stirring. She ripped her gaze from the stars above her balcony to watch as Nightmare Moon shifted and moaned. The soreness of her body prompted her to groan instead, and she automatically held a foreleg over her chest while using the other to sit up. I'm in a bed? She yawned and used her hooves to rub her eyes of sleep. Pausing, she snorted before her eyes wandered to the side of the bed to find Celestia watching her with a worried look.

Nightmare frowned as their eyes locked, but neither wanted to say anything. She pulled back the covers to find herself covered in bandages with dried blood peeking through. Opening her mouth to speak, she turned to Celestia, but didn't need to ask to know the answer. She loosed a quiet, "Hmph," before attempting to walk on her own. Putting weight on her legs, she growled as pain set in, and Celestia lunged to support her. The Id turned her head away after steadying herself until the princess stepped back.

As memory returned, she eyed the bandages carefully, taking note of the great deal of care in their application. I wonder if that alicorn has it in her, she thought as an image of Twilight's face pierced her mind briefly.

"Is Luna's shadow awake now?" Celestia asked with slight distaste, her disposition returning to normal.

Nightmare turned and scowled at her. "I have a name, you know, and it is not Luna, dear sister," she retorted.

"You are no sister of mine. You're just a monster, infesting her like a parasite," Celestia snapped back.

Nightmare turned and stepped close, placing her face within inches, ignoring the fiery pain that raced up her limbs. "How dare you! You know nothing about me! It must be nice to sit here pretty for a thousand years while we rot on the Moon because of what you did! Maybe if you'd spent a little more time trying to understand--!" Nightmare cut herself off and stepped away as the princess stared at her, wide-eyed and confused, her mouth agape. Nightmare moved to the fireplace and stood in front of it, gazing into it and taking comfort in the heat it gave. The wood spit and crackled quietly, but the heat and dancing flames gave off an almost hypnotic pleasure.

Celestia watched Nightmare as she hung her head, her starry mane slowly reappearing and expanding to its normal size again. She thought back to the time before when Luna had rebelled, but all she could think of was how hard it was to banish her sister, and how afraid of Nightmare Moon she once was. Are they... not the same mare? With a sudden surge of concern, she stepped beside her and raised Nightmare's head with a hoof.

"If... If you're truly not the darker part of Luna's soul... then help me understand who, or what, you truly are." She forced a caring look on her face, as she moved her hoof gently to Nightmare's shoulder.

The Id eyed the hoof pensively. "Your student... Twilight was it? She might be able to..." She pulled away and returned herself to staring into the fire. "The next time we see her, you will understand then."

Celestia blinked a few times, unsure of how to react or proceed. The Nightmare Moon she had known over a millennia ago was very different from the nearly passive one before her. Even in her wisdom and experience, she could not be sure if the Id was attempting to deceive her or not. With the war with the Brood placing her at the top of Equestria's rule, the mare she had known would not have been so disinterested in her new position of power.

"What are you afraid of, Lu--Nightmare?" Celestia asked, putting all of her effort into making her voice as welcoming as possible.

"I am not afraid. Wh-what are you talking about?" Nightmare turned to face the princess, forcing up a hard expression.

Celestia stepped closer and wrapped her forelegs around Nightmare. The Id eyed them cautiously, but did not push them away as Celestia pulled her into an embrace, Nightmare's body quivering as they tightened around her. The Id closed her eyes as Celestia laid her head beside hers, and after a moment, returned the hug. Celestia's warmth poured into her, overwhelming her pain and suppressing a deep, inner sorrow. For the first time in her life, she felt truly safe and wanted, wrapped in the act of compassion.

Abruptly, Nightmare pushed Celestia away and stood up, turning towards the door and refusing to face her. The princess stepped up and attempted to approach, reaching out to her, but Nightmare took a step forward. "I-I'm leaving now. Your hospitality is... a-appreciated," she stammered quietly before departing in a rush, closing the door behind her.

Celestia watched as she left, awestruck by everything that had just transpired. Was that Luna... or was Nightmare Moon just...? The normally malevolent Nightmare Moon appeared vulnerable. The princess hung her head in confused defeat. Maybe Twilight knows... Focusing, she sat before the fire and closed her eyes.

Twilight, are you there? she asked with her thoughts. The silence bothered her, and she called out to her a few more times before giving up. The younger alicorn's lack of communication left her worried of the worst case scenario. Please be safe...

She opened her eyes and gazed into the flames with a glum disposition, further left confused by memories of Luna's younger, but happier self. It wasn't long before the memories dancing in the fireplace shifted to Nightmare Moon, the princess contemplating what to do. Are you Luna, or somepony else, Nightmare?

***

Nightmare strode through the castle as comfortably as she could, but her gait expressed the strain she hid from her injuries, each step a chore of its own. The clopping of her bare hooves against the marble echoed down the halls, but there were no signs of life beyond the dragon patrols outside. The servants must be avoiding me again, she thought with a hint of sadness. Maybe if... She paused and shook her head, continuing to make her way to the outside.

A few more strides and she gave up trying to hide her pain, choosing to wince and limp to limit her pain. With her pace slowed, she found an interest in the castle's decorations. Only torches lit the corridors, most placed conveniently before a tapestry or one of the murals that climbed down the walls. One particular mural caught her eye, one depicting Celestia and Luna flying in a circle opposite of one another. On Luna's side, it was blue with the moon, speckled with stars to signify the bringing of the night; on Celestia's side, it was a creamy white with a faded yellow sun to signify the bringing of dawn and day once more, forever in an endless cycle of balance. Harmony.

Nightmare gave the mural a faint, sad smile and placed a hoof to it. If only... She retracted her hoof and turned her head to keep walking when a tapestry caught her eye, one with an all too familiar depiction. She stepped to it as quickly as she could and whipped her head in every direction to see if anyone was watching her. When the corridors returned only slow dancing shadows from the torch flames, she breathed out in content.

She focused back on the tapestry in front of her, studying its colors carefully, then its details. Woven with exquisite skill was the beginning of Luna's descent into her madness, and the beginning of her rebellion against Celestia. Becoming me... mouthed Nightmare as she grimaced at it. She had taken pride in her power and all that she felt she controlled, but now it all felt pointless, as if it never meant anything in the first place. She continued walking on, hanging her head and solemnly ignoring the rest of the decorations, both for fear that they were happy memories, or scenes of her subjugation in the past.

She made her way to the castle's royal courtyard, frowning as she found the grass and pieces of shrubbery to have been ravaged in the siege. To her surprise, the side courtyard and the statue garden were completely untouched, save for a few indents in the pathway by hurried dragons in the initial siege. She walked along the path, avoiding pieces of the castle that had chipped or broken off and fallen below, and found a large tree, hanging its shadow and further darkening the ground beneath it.

She settled in beneath it, laying just so her eyes peeked out to the open night above, the cloudless sky giving way to the stars and the moon. A star raced across the sky and over the horizon briefly, and her expression softened with a light smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She reached a hoof up to the sky, and the moon shifted ever so slightly into view. It radiated a clear white, shining down brilliantly and bathing the land in its odd, pale glow. She spread her wings on the ground beside her, wincing as the damaged one resisted the effort.

She took a deep breath and exhaled, her thoughts slipping back to Twilight. The unnatural alicorn's final spell caused her to writhe in agony, but with the pain, it also brought a sense of freedom. She pulled a hoof closer and turned it over before her, intrigued by the memories of the feeling. A spell that was not meant to kill, yet so powerful... Please hurry, Twilight, she thought as her eyes wandered back the stars above. I'm waiting for you...

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