• 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 17: Twin Dream I: Overture of Lights

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 17: Twin Dream I: Overture of Lights

Celestia moaned and rose back to her hooves, the Elements of Harmony's power dazing her in its brilliant light. The world began to return to focus, and she groggily squinted as the forms of two others came into her immediate view. The dark crescent moon cutie mark of her sister came as a blur, but she recognized it. Her heart began to pound, overjoyed at her sister's return. She approached slowly, her vision still adjusting to the darkness after the bloom of light. "Luna...? Is that... Is that really you?" she asked while leaning down.

As she neared, another voice called out to her from behind her. "Ohh... Where am I? Sister, is that you?"

Celestia's legs froze, her eyes widening in horror, and she slowly raised her head and turned, her eyes widening further as they further adjusted. Luna approached her, a smile rapidly spreading on her face, but it stopped halfway and the night princess gazed past her in shock, petrified. Celestia followed her gaze to the form of the last alicorn. It can't be... N-Nightmare Moon?

"I'm... I'm still here?" the Id murmured confusedly, patting herself down and shakily rising to her hooves. She opened her mouth to address the princesses, but a pang of pain throbbed in her head and she collapsed back to the ground, both hooves clutching it, and her misty mane stilling.

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I feel... warm, Twilight thought to herself, eyes closed. She could feel the heat of what she guessed was the sun laying upon her form, herself resting on the cushion of soft grass. It feels so... perfect. She opened her eyes cautiously to the light, but there were no unpleasant sensations as the world came to her clear and sharp. Rising up, she glanced around in confusion to find a light source, but there were none she could discern. The light illuminated the meadow she now found herself, but like that light, it was simply there.

Where am I? Off in the distance an elevated tree came into view, casting a cool, honeycombed shadow to the grass beneath it, and she felt herself drawn to it. Another quick glance around revealed nothing else of interest in the vicinity. She took steps through the tall meadow, a gentle breeze swaying the flowers and grass, and stepped out of it and into the tree's cool shadow. Where are my wings? She inspected her body and shuddered, then examined the tree with sensations of awe and confusion filling her. They conflicted with a feeling of anxiety; the feeling was small, faint, but it was there with the others she felt. She backed away as the anxiety began to grow, her heart pounding. No! She turned to run as the anxiety overwhelmed.

"Hello," a voice chirped. "What's your name?"

Twilight froze, and the feelings vanished all at once. She pivoted on her hind hooves and arched a brow at the owner of the voice. There was a small filly before her, black coated and with purple splotch on her mark surrounding a light blue crescent moon, a large, intrigued smile on her face. The filly invoked familiarity within her, but as to what and why, she could not place.

Twilight knelt down to the filly's eye level and returned the smile. "My name is Twilight Sparkle. What's your name, little filly?"

The filly giggled and ran in a circle around her before coming to a stop. "What's my name? You're so silly, Twilight. Everypony knows who I am," she replied in an innocent, cheerful voice.

Twilight rose back up in an instant, shocked and confused once more. She took a step back as the anxiety returned, and the filly dashed into the depths of the meadow. "Hey, I'm serious! What's your name?" she called out, but there was no answer, no signs of life moving within the meadow. Her heart sank, and she cast a worried look to the distance as her mind worked to rationalize what she just encountered.

"Nightmare Moon is the name I have been given, a name I have suffered beneath and identified with for as long as I can remember."

The voice amplified the anxiety into apprehension, and Twilight loosed a startled cry before whirling around. She stood face to face with the Id, the dark alicorn's sharp, draconic eyes piercing into her own; however, there was a comfort in those eyes this time. There was no fear, no contempt, no hatred, no indifference. Just comfort.

"W-was that... you?" Twilight asked, motioning to the meadow behind her where the filly had vanished.

Yes. Nightmare did not move, or speak, and continued to stare. Twilight's mouth hung open with her eyes wide as the answer filled her mind, but the Id's expression remained placid.

Twilight turned to look at the meadow, but the world had changed in the instance she blinked to it. Gone were the cheerful flowers and grass, and in their place were the monotonous and endless dunes of sand and craters. No longer was an indeterminable source brightening the lands, but a lonely darkness casting its shadowy tint over the solemn grey. The lands gave her a hollow feeling, and she shivered as chills ran through her body. She turned to speak to Nightmare, but she was gone, and instead, a castle further behind where the tree had stood now took their places.

As her eyes took in the plain exterior of the castle a sense of sorrow wash over her, stacking onto the chill. What is this place? she wondered. She turned, her eyes following the landscape into the darkness of the sky, trailing across stars and constellations until it fell on something else, something horrifying. She yelped as she could see the Earth, her eyes locking onto it and her mouth hanging open. She blinked, but each time it was still there in the sky, radiating against the blackness of space.

"That's right. This is the moon," Nightmare's voice came from behind her. "For a thousand years, every day and every night, I watched the world change under Celestia's lone rule, and my hatred for her freedom only grew. For a thousand years all I wanted was my own world, my own life." There was a silence that came between them, but the unicorn did not turn around, still awed by the view. "Feel what I have felt, Twilight."

Twilight collapsed as the sorrow she felt intensified into an emotion that tore the breath from her lungs. She felt sick, the sudden rush of emotions not her own filling her head and chest, scattering her thoughts. She clamped her eyes shut to the ground as she processed them, each one filing and becoming identifiable behind the next, and she huffed as tears hit the ground. "This... This is what it was like for you?" she whispered as she raised her teary eyes to Nightmare.

Nightmare stared back to her blankly, muttering only a simplistic, "Yes."

"Why... Why are you showing me all of this? How can we even be on the moon?"

Nightmare frowned and looked to the Earth, Twilight following her gaze to the vibrant object. "Where do you think you are, the only place where one could cope with a thousand years of solitude?"

Twilight stared at the planet, her mind and heart clearing of the crippling emotional turmoil, and the answer came to her as a distant thought. "This is... your mind?" she said, unsure. Another feeling washed into her for an instance, but just as quickly it had disappeared. Deja vu?

Nightmare snorted and snickered. "Perhaps this is our mind now, Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight blinked, confusion painting her face. "Our mind? What do you mean?"

The world ran into the darkness again and she was left in the blackness beside the Id. Twilight tensed as the blackness was replaced with what appeared to be the main royal courtyard of the Canterlot castle. She scanned the surroundings, and it was indeed the Canterlot castle's, but it was different. The landscaping was different, from the style the hedges and shrubbery had been trimmed to the very grass and layout of the area.

Twilight stepped out onto the grass, glancing at every bit of scenic detail and drinking in the surroundings. Why am I here? she thought, attempting to speak. There was no answer, and she could not find Nightmare when she glanced back, or anywhere. In the distance she could see several gardeners and landscapers working on the hedges, but one particular pony nearby caught her eye. Princess Celestia! she attempted to call out, to no avail, and she reached out a hoof to touch her. She reeled back in fright as her hoof slipped through the princess, failing to elicit any reaction at all. What is this? What's going on? The soft crunch of the grass interrupted her confusion, and she whirled around in time to see Princess Luna come to a stop behind Celestia.

"Good afternoon, dear sister. The radiance of thy sun is most lovely today," Luna greeted in a cheerful tone.

She was much smaller in stature than the one Twilight knew, and her mane lacked the astral, starry property. She appeared much like she had when she was purged by the Elements of Harmony the first time. Twilight glanced to Celestia as she turned and smiled, and she gasped as she realized the sun princess's mane was only pink. This is the past! Her thoughts exploded into more questions, but all fell to silence as Celestia spoke.

"Oh, Luna. Thou knowest thy moon dances in the stars of eventide whilst my radiant sun weeps for such beautiful friends during the lonesome day."

Luna gave a downcast look to the grass and huffed. "The beauty of my moon is but for naught more than my own pride. My subjects slumber from dusk til dawn, and there art no pony awake by the eve of twilight to enjoy the beauty of the forthcoming night."

Celestia's expression softened and she approached Luna, offering her a reassuring smile and placing a soothing hoof to her shoulder. "Now, now, Luna. Such a number of our subjects indeed enjoy the breathtaking beauty and unparalleled grace of thy nights."

Luna pouted, grumbling to the ground. "My subjects wouldst appreciate my night more if it were to outlast their slumbering, so that they may always see it."

"'Twas the Winter Solstice not enough to satisfy thy desire? There art places in Equestria where the nights far outlast my days." Celestia shot her sister a concerned look when she did not react positively. "Luna," she started, drawing the name out sympathetically. "There art ponies who seek out thy night and thy night alone, choosing to slumber throughout the day, no matter how long my day lasts."

The moon princess's eyes widened. "Truly, thou would not dare deceive me with thy words?"

Celestia chuckled and embraced her sister warmly. "I would not dare, Luna. When thy moon is full, the unicorns bask in its light, empowering their magic and aiding them in their magical focus. Navigators of the great seas use your stars to guide them upon long voyages. Astrologers use your stars to interpret aspects of their lives, finding meaning in their masterful arrangement and design."

"We... We did not know," muttered Luna in awe. "Still, Celestia. Our subjects favor the day much greater than my night. We simply... wish they favored the night as much as thy sun. Thy sun is but a star in the sky, yet its radiant glory overtakes all of the rest when it brings the day."

Celestia giggled and nuzzled into her sister before pulling away. "I understand thy frustrations, sister. Nevertheless, the night dost not go unnoticed in the wayward cycle of light and dark. Indeed, give it time. Some ponies know not the wonder of the night where the ones who truly understand its marvel appreciate it exactly for what it is. The sun is taken for granted by those who favor the night, and even those who would favor the day."

"We understand. However, we shalt one day convince everypony of the true wonder of the night, and thy sun shalt pale in its glory. One day," she assured with a spreading grin, hopeful and confident.

Celestia chuckled and looked up to the sky. "Perhaps there will come a time when the moon and the night are loved equally to the sun and the day. We shalt raise the sun every day and lower it every evening, for there will always be ponies who appreciate it, and there shalt always be those who do not."

"We had not thought of it like that before." Luna brought a hoof to her chin and stared at the ground.

"We do not continue our cycle for the sake of recognition, my dear sister. We appreciate the love and admiration we receive, but we do this out of our own love and duty to our subjects. Be proud, Luna. We can do something nopony else can." Celestia lowered her eyes to Luna and smiled. She hugged her sister tight and muttered something Twilight could not hear, even with her proximity.

The unicorn stared in disbelief, trying to fathom how the young princess before her had been the engine for the nightmare she had become. It can't be...

"Luna did not become me," interjected Nightmare as she appeared sitting beside Twilight. "I was forced to become her, to corrupt her and poison the bond between her and Celestia."

"But how? How could that even be possible?"

There was a pause as Nightmare stared at the sisters, a look of disgust in her eyes as she recalled a different memory. "Aurelius is an enigmatic dragon, but he has his own malicious plans. I know little of him, and he is my creator, but he was meant to have died long ago. The royal sisters had bested him in times long past, and he fell as another number in a sea of countless foes before him." Twilight continued to stare at her, wide-eyed and confused, and the scene around them stilled. "Exploiting the eventual darkness in Luna's heart, I warped her mind and body, twisting her into what you see me as. That is my form, but I was created to replace her. I am... a fake." Nightmare's mane obscured her face as she grimaced, glancing away.

"I don't believe that," Twilight said flatly.

Nightmare gasped and tilted her head to eye the unicorn doubtfully. "Oh? Then what do you believe?" Her expression evened and she refaced the princesses embracing one another, frozen in time in their warm moment.

Twilight stood up and moved between them, giving Nightmare a determined look. "You might've ended up with Luna's memories and feelings, but you--you are your own pony. But still..." She trailed off, glancing away pensively. "You did become jealous of Luna, didn't you?"

Nightmare opened her mouth, but hesitated as Twilight looked back to her with a hard stare. She looked beyond the unicorn, casting a regretful look to the embracing sisters. She sighed and nodded. "I... was--no, I am. I have never had any form of companionship. Within her, I was merely there. Whether she acknowledged me or not, I do not know. You could never understand what it's like... to be nothing more than a tool created for the sole purpose of being used and manipulated, then cast aside like a piece of garbage when your creator no longer thinks you're useful." Her eyes welled with hot tears, but she blinked them back and she turned her back to Twilight.

The unicorn gasped at her words, and something in her heart shifted. She couldn't place what it was, but she could breathe easier, as if a weight had been lifted from her chest. She reached a hoof out to Nightmare, but stopped before she touched her and pulled it back. "You didn't have to be alone," she offered.

Nightmare snapped back to her, tears running down her cheeks. "I had no choice! I had no control over my own will! What could I have done!?" she screamed, her eyes clenched shut.

Twilight gave the ground a guilty look as Nightmare caught her breath in sniffled huffs, a silence growing between them. "So... Aurelius," delicately.

"Yes," the Id answered solemnly as she wiped her tears.

A hoof reached out and touched Nightmare this time. "You don't deserve this. You don't deserve to be alone. Aurelius will pay for what he's done." The Id only stared back in disbelief, and tears continued to stream down her cheeks. "When Celestia... When she banished you to the moon... what happened to Luna?" asked Twilight softly.

Nightmare sniffled a few more times and wiped her eyes again. "I... don't know for certain. A millennium of solitude... I don't--no, I can't remember how we coped. Perhaps it was my mind, my existence that lay dormant while Luna was forced to endure that time alone."

"Luna remembers some things, and she was aware of what you did while you were in control. She doesn't know the truth, but she wonders. You were the one in control when... we freed her with the Elements of Harmony."

Nightmare closed her eyes. "I remember. The Summer Sun Celebration, the summer solstice. The longest day of the thousandth year. Our banishment became a holiday, and our escape became a prophecy. Tch. What of it now, Twilight?"

"I won't let this be your fate. I won't let Equestria forever see you as the evil you were forced to be. If you can forget the past and all of the hardships you've had to endure, then maybe I can convince the princesses to let you be free. And I will make sure everyone knows what Aurelius has--what he has made you do."

Nightmare gaped at the unicorn, but her eyes reflected a sturdy doubt. "That is merely a dream so long as Aurelius draws breath," she reminded.

"I will stop him. No. We'll stop him... together." Twilight extended a hoof to her and smiled. "Please, let me help you."

The Id choked on her breath as the flow of tears began once more. She took the hoof in both of hers and cried into it. Twilight softened her expression to a smile and scooted close enough to bring Nightmare's head to her chest. There was hope now, someone who understood her plight. Thank you, Twilight. When we first met I never thought you would be the one to uncover the truth. Thank you...

"I need to know more about Aurelius. Please, is there anything you can tell me about him?"

Nightmare sat up and wiped her eyes for the last time, putting up a doubtful expression. "I'm sorry. There really isn't much I know about him." She paused and stared blankly at the ground for a moment. "Though... I can't believe he is still alive after all this time. I was created over a thousand years ago, well before an adult dragon should have died of natural cause at this point."

"Is there anything else?"

"He's unusual, and he can command magic. The gold chain around his neck bears a null-magic rune. They're extraordinarily rare and powerful artifacts, but I believe they can serve other purposes. Don't underestimate him." There was a flicker of disorientation in Nightmare's eyes, and after a moment she shook her head and opened her mouth to speak.

"What? What is it?"

"Hmm... dragon, dragon, dragon... dragon..." Twilight leaned forward slightly, as if trying to better hear an answer from the Id's mind. "Aurelius was something else in another time, but,"--she held a hoof out to Twilight--"I don't know what. I'm sorry, but that is all I know."

Twilight slumped back in defeat, mulling over the information she now had. "So, this null-magic rune can serve other purposes. What does it do exactly? I've read about them, but never seen one to study."

"I suppose you could say it functions like your staff, or our horns. It's similar to a conduit or a focal point for magic, but it can do things that a common unicorn can't. I'm afraid I can't give specifics." Nightmare sighed and rubbed the back of her head.

Twilight's eyes wandered all over the scenery and she stood up and began to investigate the surroundings. "Well, we still need to get out of here first."

The Id snorted. "Twilight. You aren't here. This is us," she corrected.

Twilight turned to her and cocked her head, but as she opened her mouth to speak, a realization cut off any words she had prepared. I feel sick. The world twisted and distorted, the details pulling away into a vortex of black. And then there was everything she could believe was real again.

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"Luna...? Is that... Is that really you?" Celestia called out as her vision returned from the bloom of light. The smear of darkness began to detail itself as she took each unsteady step towards the dark form.

"Ohh... Where am I?" groaned Luna. The moon princess placed her right hoof firm on the ground, but her left faltered to find it as nausea swept through her. I do not feel well. What has happened to me? "Sister?" She peered past Celestia and to whom she was approaching.

Celestia turned and looked down, her night vision returning in full. "H-How is this possible!?" she muttered as she took a step back.

"I'm... I'm still here? My head..." the Id groaned.

The onlookers gaped in silence as Nightmare rose to stand, one forehoof still pressed to her head. She met the princesses eyes with a start and the silence that was cast between them suffocated the atmosphere. Even Aurelius remained silent in the shadows beside the castle. Luna shuddered, but she continued to tremble as she stared the incarnate of her evil disposition in the eyes. Nightmare winced and clutched her head briefly before raising her eyes back to Celestia.

"Where is she..." Celestia growled as she took a step toward Nightmare.

"Wha-"

"Where is she?" the sun princess bellowed again. "Where is Twilight Sparkle!?" Her horn ignited with a furious light that pushed back the darkness and revealed Nightmare's body, her armor absent over her black body.

I'm right here, Celestia!

Nightmare froze, her mouth open with a response she never articulated. That's not my voice...

Tell her the truth.

She recognized the voice as Twilight's, but it did little to alleviate her confusion. "Twilight?"

I don't know what's going on, but Celestia will kill you if you don't convince her!

"Yes, Twilight." The sun princess took another step and the glow from her horn grew brighter. "This is your last chance, Nightmare Moon."

"S-Stop!" Nightmare raised her hooves up as if to ease the princess' anger down. "She's here, with me. I don't know what's going on, but I can hear her thoughts. You have to believe me!"

"You're lying!" boomed Luna as she stepped beside Celestia, her horn taking on an equal glow to her sister's. "Now that we're separated, there's nothing to stop you from trying to buy your freedom. You would sooner run a knife through our backs than side with us!"

Nightmare shook her head quickly. "No, please! Maybe I can prove it!"

The princesses glared at her, and Celestia spoke in a deadly tone. "You have thirty seconds to prove you're not lying."

Twilight, what is something only you and Celestia would know? Anything she trusted only to you.

There was a lull between her panicked thoughts for a few seconds and Celestia's eyes narrowed as the seconds ticked away. Ask her if she remembers our promise, and if she'll keep it no matter what.

A promise? That will be enough?

Just do it.

"She wants to know if you remember your promise to her, that you'll keep it no matter what."

In the instant the words spilled into the air, Celestia's horn darkened and her lips quivered. Luna's horn followed suit and she shot the Id a cautious look. "There is no way she could know unless Twilight told her herself."

"T-Twilight?" Celestia asked as her eyes watered. "How could this happen?"

Nightmare shook her head. "We don't know, but it seems that, though I've been separated from Princess Luna, I am now united with Twilight."

Before anyone else could speak, a loud clap came from Aurelius. "My, my. This is fascinating, isn't it? I have traded one enemy for another, but I will crush all of you the same. Let's make this night truly eternal for you, Princess Celestia." The title rolled off of his tongue venomously as he slinked further into the shadows.

We need to stop him. Garr can deal with the other dragons, but my friends need to get out of here.

What should I do?

Let Celestia raise the sun. Tell Trixie to free the other Elements and Garr to prevent the other dragons from interfering.

"Celestia. Twilight says to raise the sun. You should be able to now."

The sun princess blinked before closing her eyes. After a moment of pause, she leaped into the air and spread her wings, the darkness in the skies becoming pushed back by a purple twilight, and then an orange glow. In a matter of minutes, the sun would be over the horizon. "It is done," she said with a breathy heave, and she fell to her knees.

Aurelius turned to watch as the sunrise began. "Hmph. It seems you have chosen borrowed time, Mistress. You have long outlived your purpose. I will put you down, as I would have done eons ago, but you should thank Celestia for prolonging your life by jailing you on the moon."

Nightmare's anger surfaced and her face contorted in rage. "I have my freedom now, Aurelius, and I will tear out your throat even if it's the last free choice I get to make," she snarled. Her heart skipped a beat. Free... I'm free, aren't I?

Yes, Nightmare. Now let's go.

Aurelius growled. "You insolent brat. You have forgotten your place. I created you, and I will destroy you!"

Nightmare turned and called out to the magician. "Quickly, Trixie. Free the other Elements and get out of here!"

"I will not allow you to run amok!" Aurelius charged the Id, but he was hit with several blasts of yellow energy.

"You will pay for your transgressions, Aurelius!" The sun breached the horizon and spilled its golden rays onto the lands, and all of the creatures, dragons and ponies alike, shielded their eyes as the light burned away the shadows. All but Celestia. She charged a large blast as Aurelius attempted to advance again, and loosed it into his chest. The dragon grunted and dug his claws into the ground as it pushed him back. Luna stepped to her side and nodded.

Trixie leaped down from Garr with Telos and Mystic Sage in her tow. She dashed to the elements while the princesses continued to block Aurelius. Every time the dragon took a step, they blasted him back. The magician made her way to Dash first, quickly looking her over and then shaking her awake.

"Rainbow, wake up. You and the other Elements need to get out of here, now!"

The knight winced and groaned as she sat up. "Man, I never thought I'd be glad to see you, Trix."

"If you call me that again I will cut out your tongue."

Fluttershy grabbed Applejack while Rainbow Dash hoisted Pinkie Pie and Rarity, each hanging onto the other. She grunted loudly as she took to the air and headed towards Garr.

"You're not going anywhere. I still have a use for you," called Aurelius.

The dragon broke through the princess' counter assault without stopping or coming to harm, but Trixie turned and raised Mystic Sage with Telos rising above it. "Mjollnir!" The colossal streak of lightning brightened the already sun lit landscape as it reached down from the heavens. Aurelius halted his charge and raised his wings above him in defense. The bolt unleashed a mighty crack as it struck his wings, but when the momentary magic ended, he was barely scathed.

"Stronger than the last, but still too weak," the dragon muttered before charging again.

He skid to a halt as Celestia barred his path once more. Raising a claw, he swung down with great force, smashing the ground where the sun princess stood, but she evaded and dashed by, her hoof gently tapping his claw as she passed it. Aurelius spun, sweeping his front with his left arm and his rear with his tail. Celestia tapped his arm has he rotated, and his tail as she lifted off into the air, dropping down behind it and racing around him, a yellow mark in place of each spot she touched.

As they danced in combat, she placed more and more marks across his body until she was forced to retreat from a second tail swipe. Her horn ignited with a yellow-orange glow and the marks began to expand and grow in vibrancy. Aurelius lunged for her, but he found himself stopping as the marks began to burn, searing his flesh off. He growled and slinked backwards, attempting to brush them off in panic.

Scraps of smoking flesh were ripped from the bones they once rested upon as the spell came to an end, a putrid stench saturating the air. The ponies present tensed as it brought with it pangs of nausea. "And here I thought I was growing fond of this particular coil," he said before tearing a large piece of scale and skin from his face. "Funny how immortality is cruel to you, Celestia, yet, so full of life for me."

"Cruel to me? You are no god, Aurelius. You can't be immortal."

The princess' lower jaw hung open, quivering as the dragon peeled and stripped away more flesh, down to the bones in some parts. A grin took hold of Aurelius's face, what was left of it, as he maintained his gaze with Celestia while picking himself apart.

"No," began Nightmare. "The other dragons of this generation don't know where you came from, but... You can't possibly be..."

"Oh, are you just now realizing it? I am surprised that you are only figuring this out now."

"Nightmare Moon. What is he saying?" Celestia asked in confusion.

The Id turned to her with a solemn look. "This dragon--Aurelius. He is... undead," she croaked.

Celestia's eyes widened and she took an instinctive step back, the others gasping in response. She dropped down in front of Trixie, unable to pry her gaze away from the dragon. He ripped a piece of the scales on his chest away and decaying flesh beneath was revealed. Blackened, sickly flesh.

"Y-you are a vile monster!" bellowed Luna as she took a frightened step back.

"Whatever you have become, I will remove you from this world as you so rightly deserve!" added Celestia, her hooves unknowingly trembling.

"No princess of the sun and light. We are much more alike than you wish to think. I will add you to my collection of puppets in this war as well. An undead puppet." The dragon snickered and stood up, spreading his now magic-ravaged wings.

"H-How do we kill him?" Trixie asked nervously. But there was no reply before Aurelius spoke again.

"Yes," hissed the dragon. "How do you kill something that has transcended death and walks among the living once more?" After a silence, he reeled himself back. "Perhaps you need to understand what it's like to know the answer to that." Despite his form, he took in an audible breath and fell onto his hands, loosing a putrid green cloud across the ground before him.

By reflex, the alicorns leaped into flight while the rest of the onlookers in the back pulled out of range. Trixie was left alone as the cloud of noxious air engulfed her. The magician formed a barrier, but the cloud corroded it in seconds and seeped through. She coughed, taking in more of the contaminated air and furthering her symptom into a fit. Her vision blurred and she collapsed, the independent Telos crashing silently to the ground a few seconds later. She rolled onto her back, and with one last wheezing breath of air, called out. "Twilight... help... me..."

Everyone stared in horror as they watched. DO SOMETHING! Twilight's voice filled the Id's mind like a wall of sound, echoing.

I can't fly in there and grab her, or sweep in as a mist. I will become poisoned before I can get out safely again. What would you have me do?

There was a silence that followed, but it was overtaken by the pounding of Nightmare's heart as she awaited an answer from the soul within her.

Teleport to her! came the boom of thought.

I can't-

But I can! M-maybe we can merge our minds, and I can teach you. We share the same body, so you should be able to teleport. The words came hastily, but confident.

How? Nightmare's heart beat faster as Trixie stopped moving and her image blurred into the sickly cloud.

Relax and focus on it.

Before Nightmare could question the idea any further, she closed her eyes and slowed her breathing. She focused on her sense of sound, the flaps of her wings, then the sound from the other princesses and dragons. And then it was gone. There was only silence.

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Where am I? Twilight found herself moving through darkness, the feelings of sorrow and apprehension once more instilled within her. The cold. The dark. She shivered to herself and clamped her eyes. And then she was no longer moving.

"H-Hello?" she called out as her eyes opened, adjusting to the new light, a melancholy grey. The heavy tapping of a thick downpour filled her ears, and she found she was standing before a cathedral; the rooftops and their stone guardians had long worn away with age, and rampant growths of nature climbed the eroding walls. Her eyes wandered around to her sides and rear, to more buildings, most ruined with age and neglect. "Is anyone out there?" She stared into several of the windows in the buildings, but shuddered when there was nothing but the apprehension to comfort her. She scampered up to the cathedral, huddling against the old doors, their locks rusted and appearing as if they would snap were they ever used again.

The rain did not calm her, and instead, the chill of the water seeped into her coat as she watched it. Shivering, she turned and faced the weathered doors. With a bracing breath she held, she pushed open one with a heave. To her surprise, it gave way with a loud, squealing creak, and she slipped in and shut it behind her. The boom of the closing door made her jump, but she silenced a startled cry in her throat and took a breath. She took a moment to take in the view in front of her.

Grime obscured the stained glass windows, overtaking the images they once held, and all of the benches were smashed and pushed into the forward corners, some into piles of rotted wood. The floor was bare, with a coat of dust fading the surface of dark stone. Down the aisle and where the altar podium would be was a dark filly, huddled down and shuddering to the rhythm of faint weeps. Nightmare Moon...? As Twilight approached, her hoofsteps echoed off of the walls, but the filly did not react, continuing to remain huddled.

The weeping grew louder as Twilight neared, and she stepped up beside her and knelt down. The filly bore Nightmare's cutie mark and alicorn traits, and Twilight took a deep breath as she thought over her approach. She peered past the filly and to the floor; the filly had been crying over a photograph. Twilight attempted to lean closer to see it, but the filly turned and slid it away with a hoof.

"Hey, it's alright," she began soothingly. "What's wrong? You can tell me."

Between sniffles, she got a reply. "It's... it's not my fault. But it's not... it's not her fault either..." She made a sorrowed sound before turning to face Twilight, her sharp, draconic eyes no longer appearing with the confidence and empowered look the real Nightmare always had. Twilight found herself saddened as she stared into them. "What am I?"

The question rattled Twilight as she gazed back, her expression ranging from surprise to anxious. I... don't know, she thought to herself. "Can I see that?" she said, dodging the question and indicating to the photograph.

"All I see is... what they want to see. It's never me... Why won't they see me!" the filly shrieked, sliding the photo over to her. She quickly turned away and broke down into huddled sobs again.

Twilight reached a hoof to her, but she hesitated, and instead picked up the picture. She flipped it over, and it was blank. Black. As she stared at it, it expanded and swallowed her, pulling her out of the cathedral. Consumed by darkness, Twilight cried out, but found she no longer had her voice. What's going on!? In an instant, she was inside another castle. She threw her head around quickly, taking in the interior. She moved to see out of one of the stained glass windows, the canopy of a dark forest appearing on the other side. Wait a minute. Isn't this the-

"It ends here, Nightmare Moon!"

Twilight jumped and turned to see Celestia with a pink mane and clad in armor similar to Nightmare Moon's. The Id appeared at the end of the room opposite of her, wearing her usual regalia, but with her back to the sun princess.

Princess Celestia! she attempted to call, but her voice was still gone. Surrounding the princess were five jewels, and it dawned on Twilight where she was and what was taking place. Don't! Please!

"Oh, does it, Celestia? Would you truly bring yourself to defeat me, your own sister? I am here to provide our subjects with the gift that our dear Luna so desires to share. Tell me," she said, turning around, "why would you rob her of such a thing?"

Celestia's face contorted into a deadly scowl. "The night shall always be there. Neither the sun nor the moon is to reign eternally. Relinquish my sister at once, you monster!"

"Do you hate me, sister?" Nightmare asked as she charged.

Celestia's horn began to glow brilliantly, overtaking the rest of the lights in the room. The Elements activated and joined into the glow before melding together in the light and surging towards Nightmare. The Id found herself immobilized and struggled to break free.

"What is this!? Your petty trinkets cannot stop the likes of me!" Nightmare's eyes whited out as magic surged up her horn, but it fizzled shortly after.

Celestia stepped to her, a mournful sorrow taking over her gait. "Forgive me, little sister. I know not of any other way," she apologized as tears spilled from her. "There shall come a time, one thousand years from now, when we will meet again. It is then that I hope to have found the strength to save you."

The light bloomed and Twilight shielded her eyes as it filled the room. When it was gone, Celestia lay where she stood, sobbing loudly into the floor. She shook her head quickly and stood up, moving to one of the windows. She pushed it open and leaped out, taking flight and rising up to the roof of the castle. Twilight was whisked away, moving through and after where she was forced to watch beside the princess. She followed Celestia's gaze up to the moon and watched as a small twinkle of light crashed into it, and an imprint of Nightmare's head engrave itself upon the surface.

Celestia laid down and wailed into her hooves once more. "Why did it have to be like this?" she choked out in a break from her sobbing. "How did you end up like this, Luna? We were supposed to rule together." She punctuated her cries with a blow to the roof, but it did nothing to ease her. "We were supposed to always be... together."

Twilight found herself crying as she watched helplessly. So that's how it really happened. I'm so sorry, Celestia. The princess suddenly rose, her eyes clamped shut, and leaped skyward. Her wings spread and the moon was replaced with the sun in a matter of minutes. With daylight restored, she chose not to land and flew into the distance, never looking back towards the castle. Twilight wiped her face and hung her head as everything was pulled away. When she looked up again she was in the cathedral.

The filly was beside her again, but not actively crying. Her puffy eyes were still wet and glazed with tears, and she stared at the unicorn expectantly. Twilight glanced back to the photo in her hoof and frowned. With a breath, she flipped it over and placed it back on the floor, sliding it in front of the filly.

"Thank you for helping me understand. I'm sorry about everything, but I will always know who you truly are. Let me be your friend." Twilight pulled the filly into an embrace, snuggling into her and filling her with warmth.

The filly gave a start. "You want to be my f-friend? Really?"

Twilight released her and nodded. "Really." She felt a shift in the atmosphere briefly, but she could not tell what it was.

"But... I'm just a fake!"

Twilight blinked as the memories stung her and she turned away. "Shh... No you're not. You're not Luna, but you still have to find out who-" She choked on her breath as she turned to find the real Nightmare Moon staring back at her. "-You really are," she finished. The Id had been given someone else's life to live, and the happy memories were all she clung to. Memories with the one she was forced to betray. "You're free, Nightmare."

"How do I atone for the sins I was created for?"

Twilight extended a hoof to her and she stared at it. "By doing whatever we can. You're not alone anymore."

Nightmare hesitated, and Twilight's heart skipped a beat as a thought pierced her mind. Nightmare considered resigning herself to Aurelius again. It would be easier than... redemption.

The hoof Twilight extended was brought to Nightmare's face, forcing them to face one another. "No! Don't ever think like that. You're my friend, and I will help you. I'm here for you, I will always be here for you."

Nightmare's expression faltered into pain, and she broke down into sobs a moment later, accepting the hoof and holding against her face. "Thank you... Thank you so much."

Twilight scooted closer and pulled her into an embrace. "Always," she whispered.

Now, show me... you.

The unicorn opened her eyes and Nightmare was gone. She looked around quickly and everything began to grow brighter. She squinted, and then shut and shielded her eyes with her forelegs as it became too bright. When she opened the again, the cathedral was restored, and sun poured in through the vibrant stained glass windows, no longer obscured by grime. They depicted patterns in all but the large one behind the stage and at the back. The final window reflected back her and Nightmare embracing one another.

Twilight's eyes went wide and darted to the floor where the photograph was. She flipped it over and caught the image of Aurelius's face before it burned away. Standing up, she stopped as she could no longer hear the rain. In the silence, a new thought entered her mind. Glancing up, she smiled at the stained glass of the two of them together. "Can you tell me... if I still feel the same?"

Author's Note:

Sorry it took so long. This one is very personal to a lot of things involving me, and it was my first attempt at symbolism in its original incarnation. The title is now something much more appropriate and allusive. I really hope that you enjoy this one.

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