• 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 18: Twin Dream II: Glass Prison

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 18: Twin Dream II: Glass Prison

I'm... drifting... Nightmare's body gave her the illusion of movement, but when she opened her eyes, all that returned was black. A sudden uncertainty hit her, and when she opened her eyes with a start, she was met with the vision of Ponyville. What? How did I end up here? She blinked several times to reassure herself this was not just a brief image. She rotated her head to glimpse her surroundings before walking forward when nothing stood out. Why would I be here?

There were residents of the town out wandering the streets, but none paid her any mind, either ignoring her or choosing not to care. No stares, no glances of contempt, no screaming or yelling, or any ponies fleeing at the mere sight of her. She paused and swallowed, the lack of reaction from them made her anxious. If this is supposed to be real, why do they not fear me? Why am I here?

She walked on, continuing to throw wary glances to ponies passing her or looking her way, even if not directly at her. As she reached the town's central plaza she spotted a lavender unicorn leaning over the edge of a large, triple-terraced fountain. She was alone at the monument and paying no mind to anything but the water before her. "Is that you, Twilight?" she asked hesitantly. She moved to stand beside her, confirming her identity and finally gaining a sense of relief.

"Good morning, Nightmare Moon. How are you today?" Twilight responded cheerfully. The unicorn was casually dipping a hoof into the water, watching as the ripples echoed out from the impact point.

Nightmare's ears perked at the mention of her name, and she threw her head in every direction to the townsponies going about their business. Her fears were laid to rest when none even glanced her way. "I-I am fine..." she replied nervously. She stared at the water as the unicorn continued to repeat the dipping process in a lazy daze, the waving ripples catching her eyes.

Twilight looked up from the fountain and caught Nightmare's stare. "You're always so stressed out these days. Why don't you come to the library with me and relax? We could have some fun with Trixie and Spike if you're up for it."

The invitation instilled a sudden shyness within the Id. "I-I wouldn't want to impose or anything..." she mumbled while looking away to the ground. Why... do I feel this way?

Twilight splashed some water on her and giggled as Nightmare gave a start to the cool water. "Nonsense, Nightmare. You're coming with me. I promise you'll feel better," the unicorn insisted. She snatched one of Nightmare's hooves and dragged her along, the Id stumbling and trying to come up with a reasonable protest.

Nightmare blurted out several trivial excuses, finding her sudden modesty odd, but ultimately relented. The more she was dragged along the less she felt compelled to resist the unicorn. The townsponies never offered more than a quick glance her way, their gazes never lingering or carrying the judgements she continued to expect. When the pair reached the tree library Nightmare found herself shedding the anxiety in favor of curiosity of what was to come.

The door opened swiftly with Trixie and Spike appearing on the other side. "Hey, Twilight," she greeted. Her eyes darted to Nightmare and, rather than convey surprise or contempt, they lit up, a smile brightening the magician's face. "Oh, hello Nightmare Moon. I didn't know you were coming today."

Today? Nightmare opened her mouth to speak, but Twilight caught her off.

"Yes. She'll be playing with us this afternoon. What about you, Spike. Want to join us?"

"Of course, Twilight. What did you have in mind?"

Twilight put a hoof to her chin, giving a low hum to aide her thoughts. As she came to a decision, her eyes rolled from Spike to Trixie, then to the confused Nightmare. "How about hide and seek?" Trixie and Spike voiced their agreeance while Nightmare just gave her an awkward smile, her ears folding back.

The Id's nerves resisted comfort; resisted the sanctuary of safety emanating from the lavender unicorn's tone. Her smile... Nightmare fixated on Twilight as she beamed to her, awaiting a response, but for all that Nightmare tried, it didn't feel right to her. "Sure..." she muttered uncomfortably.

"Alright, you three. Go hide and I'll count to thirty," she said as she turned around and closed her eyes.

The chant of consecutive numbers came in an almost sing-song voice as Nightmare raised her first hoof to turn, but as she rotated herself the world was pulled away. Her eyes widened as the void overtook her and dread filled her chest. NO! her mind screeched in terror. The feeling was too familiar. The same sense of being alone on the moon implanted itselfs into her and she wrenched her mind in fright. Twilight's counting began to quiet as her voice grew distant. Nightmare whirled around and pleaded. DON'T LET ME GO, PLEASE! In the instant she next blinked, the unicorn was gone and all was silent. N-no! Please, no! she begged as she succumbed to despair.

Light split the darkness like an oncoming train in the night, and Nightmare shielded her eyes as everything bloomed and whited out. She groaned and opened her eyes, slowly, but shut them abruptly. Please... Please no... Opening them again, she gave a defeated whimper as she found herself on the moon. The monotonous grey surface incited memories she would have preferred never remembering.

She gazed out across the expanse of blandness before turning to see the castle she had constructed for herself. A queen in my own mind, she thought regretfully. She forced herself towards the castle, afraid of the sorrow, but curious of the vision's meaning, hoping that she might warp away from it at any moment. Her heart sank as she entered the hollow castle, and it took her a moment to reassure herself that it was an illusion before she would move.

She moved into a corridor with light spilling in from the windows on one side. Cautiously stepping to the first one, she gazed out to the source of light. Her expression crumbled as despair took hold once more. I hate it... I hate it. I hate it! "I hate it!" she screamed, her voice echoing down the corridor and fading.

"I created you." Nightmare's head snapped up, tears glistening in the light of the Earth's radiance. "I used you." Aurelius's voice spoke into her head and she tensed, her body beginning to tremble. "You were nothing more than a tool, meant to be thrown away when you had served your purpose." The voice snickered before fading.

"No!" Nightmare shouted back.

"You are not my sister!" cut in Celestia. Nightmare threw her head to the end of the dark corridor, but the voice continued to speak clearly into her mind. "You're nothing more than a parasite corrupting Luna!"

"N-no, I'm-!"

"Thou hath destroyed my life, forced my sister's hoof to banish us because of thine vile existence!" Luna's voice was the last, thundering in her mind as it drowned out anything else. "Thou should never have existed in the first place," her voice growled.

"I'm... s-sorry." Nightmare shut her eyes and clasped her ears as the voices continued again in turn with their spiteful words. Her efforts did nothing to lower their volume or shut them out, and she broke down sobbing. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..." An image flickered in her mind and she opened her eyes again. "Twilight, where are you! I need you. Please... Please help me..."

"I'm right here." Nightmare twisted her neck, her hooves falling from her ears, and in that moment, all was silent as her eyes locked with the unicorn's. Twilight stared at her, a soft smile casting from her. "It's alright. I'm here now," she cooed as she closed the distance and pulled Nightmare into a comforting embrace. She ran a hoof gently through the Id's starry mane, successfully calming her shuddering cries down to sniffles.

"Y-you won't leave me... will you? Y-you'll never leave, right?"

Twilight lowered her head and whispered, "I will never leave you. I promise."

Nightmare felt the world shift and her eyes opened to another confusing darkness. It warped and she blinked, finding herself in a familiar yet safe place. "Sixteen... seventeen... eighteen..." She breathed out in relief as she recognized the unicorn's counting voice. As she calmed she closed her eyes and focused on the voice, every number bolstering her sense of security knowing that the other mare was nearby and the world was bright. "Ready or not, here I come!" The sing-song finish prepared her for the hunt, her eyes opening and following the sounds of the unicorn's hoofsteps.

There was a surprised yet joyous cry when Trixie was found outside on the balcony. A few jovial giggles and words were exchanged before Twilight had moved on to find Spike somewhere in another room, the same noises repeating in reversed order. Several minutes passed before hoofsteps neared Nightmare's dark hiding spot. It was only now that she realized that she was under the lavender unicorn's bed. The starry quilt draped over the edges of the bed blocked out most of the light, and she tensed as the hoofsteps stopped before the side in front of her.

She held her breath as the side in front of her was pulled away, half expecting some bizarre entity of the dream world to peek under the bed, but she exhaled in relief when Twilight's grinning face appeared instead. "Found you!" she cheered to the scrunched alicorn.

Nightmare had forgotten about the game in that moment as relief permeated through her being. "You've always been a clever pony, Twilight," she said after a moment's pause, a smile creeping at the corners of her mouth.

"Yes, but you were hidden the longest, though. But," Twilight said, stretching a hoof to Nightmare, "you can't hide from me forever."

The Id stared at the hoof in contemplation while blinking. She dwelled on the unicorn's words. I can't... hide from you. The words had struck a nerve of indifference and subtle fear with her. As Nightmare reached for the hoof the world was pulled away, warping into darkness. In the span of a blink, she was sitting up and facing Twilight, the other mare appearing as an alicorn to her.

"I'm afraid." Nightmare blinked and studied Twilight, the lavender alicorn's form standing out against the blackness. She was bright against it, but everything around was a void.

"It is I who should be afraid. I have never shared..." Nightmare trailed off and glanced away, losing her nerve to speak.

"No," interrupted Twilight as she turned Nightmare's face back to her. "I'm not afraid of you. I'm afraid of... what will happen. After all we've seen. I'm afraid we might..."

Nightmare shook her head and placed a hoof over the unicorn's. "Your world... The game... That... fountain. We're-"

"Alike?" Twilight finished. A silence hung between them for a moment as they both silently acknowledged it. "We've both... had to hide parts of ourselves, but you... you've had to hide so much more."

"And you found... it—me." Nightmare paused again as confusion bore itself into her mind. She blinked back to attention as Twilight eyed her worriedly. "Why did my memories come forth if... if..." She stared through the other mare for a moment. Twilight scooted closer and placed a comforting hoof to the Id's shoulder, with some success. The height difference between the two of them was unusual, but Nightmare felt intimidated by Twilight's wealth of confidence and reassurement.

"We're two sides of the same coin now. You feel it... don't you—everything that I have?" Twilight paused and pursed her lips before smiling. "I feel... you."

Nightmare stared at her, sudden guilt welling inside her. "Yes, you have. But..."

"But?"

She ran through the memories of her past, the grim images no longer burying her in sorrow. As Twilight stared at her expectantly, Nightmare closed her eyes and sighed. "You have helped me with my pain, and I will always be grateful for that, but..." There was another pause and moment of hesitation as she opened and closed her mouth. "I cannot help you with... with what will be ours," she finished, turning her head away.

"I can handle it."

Nightmare returned her gaze to her and narrowed her eyes. "Are you absolutely sure you can?"

"I..." Twilight looked away with doubt weighing heavily on her features. She retracted her hoof as she mulled over the question.

Her hesitation frightened Nightmare. Doubt was the final divide, and the last thing her fears hinged on before she could unite with her. The noble alicorn was bravely fighting the external war while ignoring the internal one as it slowly chipped away at her. Will you break? Nightmare suddenly smiled and reached out for her, startling Twilight from her thoughts and bringing her attention back. "You don't feel the same when you asked, but... I will always be here for you, as you will for me. To me, that is enough. Perhaps it will be enough for you."

Twilight lowered her gaze to the floor of the void. "It's hard... to be sure anymore, but you... you have helped me more than they will ever know. I have to be strong for everyone, no matter what. It's just... so hard right now."

"Twilight,"—Nightmare used both forehooves to bring the other mare's face to hers—"it is my turn to help you. Let me return that feeling to you, as you have to me." She pulled Twilight into an embrace and they both closed their eyes.

The world shifted again, and for a moment Nightmare could feel nothing, her body numbing and her mind losing focus. One last thought pierced her mind before she regained control of herself. We don't have to hide anymore.

——————————————————

Nightmare shielded her eyes to the powerful rays of sunlight flooding the world. She stifled a surprised gasp as she met Celestia's gaze, realizing no time had passed during the dream state. Twilight's life flooded into her mind, and she became disoriented for a moment. Memories, knowledge, experience. She choked on a breath as it was swept away by a thought not her own.

Save her. Twilight's voice echoed in her mind, clearing the storm of information.

"Are you Twilight Sparkle... or Nightmare Moon?" asked Celestia as she regarded the Id carefully.

Nightmare glanced up to her and muttered, "I am... me." She vanished in a flash of light, appearing in the thick of the toxic cloud. She held her breath, her chest tensing as she squinted her eyes to find Trixie. The cloud was a haze that bathed everything in a dark green tint, but she spotted the outline of the magician laying on her back. She dashed over to her and scooped her into her forelegs. As she crouched down, a burst of energy tore through the haze before impacting where the magician lay.

"So, Nightmare Moon. You have subdued the soul of one of Princess Celestia's dearest. My, this feels familiar, does it not?" Aurelius peered into the toxic cloud, the burst of energy hastening its dispersion, and growled as he could not see either target.

"You're wrong, Aurelius," Nightmare called from behind the undead dragon. She leered at him as Telos floated between them, Trixie laid out upon her back. "She subdued me."

The dragon chuckled. "It seems our views differ... Your new trick won't help you." He began to suck in more air, but Telos animated to life, the spire emitting a white light while the shaft darkened to a shiny black.

"Celestia, I'm changing the battlefield." Before the princess could question her, Nightmare brought the staff down, the spire bursting with a flash of white on impact.

When the light faded, Trixie, Luna, Garr, and the other five Elements found themselves in the plaza of Ponyville exchanging confused glances with one another. Trixie lay on the ground before them and began to stir awake. "Twilight..." she murmured softly.

Dash crouched down and helped her sit up, the magician loosing several hacking coughs and rubbing her eyes. "Hey, take it easy. Nightmare Moon separated us. We're safe in Ponyville now."

The magician immediately ignored her fatigue. Jumping up, she started, "Where are they!? We need to help them!" She collapsed back down, clutching her head as dizziness disrupted her focus.

"At ease, archmage," commanded Luna. "You could be suffering ill effects from Aurelius's attack." The princess moved and looked her over, her horn emitting a low glow as she did so.

"I'm fine!" Trixie croaked, batting one of the princess's hooves away. "Twilight is fighting alone again. We have to help her!"

Luna frowned. "My sister is with her now, but there is no telling how weak she is."

"Weak?" Trixie sat back up without any help this time. "What do you mean?"

"We are still not at our full strength after the Rites. She is worse for wear than I, but she will not stand by and watch Twilight fight alone."

Dash unleashed a growl of frustration. "What can we even do? You've seen how strong her magic is. It's just like when she teleported us away when she fought Nightmare Moon the first time. She destroyed the forest. We could get caught in the crossfire."

"Knight Dash is correct. We could be a hindrance if she intends to use all of her power," said Luna.

Trixie straightened, her face contorting in anger. "Fine!" she bellowed. "All of you can stay, but I'm going! Garr, take me back to them." The Elements gave regretful looks and talked amongst themselves as Trixie boarded the dragon king's back.

Luna leaped up beside her. "I shall join the fray. I will not allow my sister to do battle without me by her side, however..." she trailed off.

"What?"

The princess shook her head. "Aiding Nightmare Moon... Never could I have dreamt of such a thing." She took a deep breath before shaking her head again. "Garr, take us to the fields north of Canterlot. That is where they will fight, away from the vicinity of others."

"By your command, princess."

"Wait!" Garr's wings froze to the sound of Dash's voice. "We're coming, too! We might not be able to fight, but you'll need the Elements if Nightmare Moon betrays us," she said, indicating to her necklace.

Luna nodded. "Fine, but you must keep your distance."

The others climbed onto the dragon's back, and Dash shuffled up to stand between Luna and Trixie. "Do you think Nightmare Moon is really on our side?"

Trixie only stared at her in silence, but Luna answered. "I do not know where her intentions and loyalties now lie, but I trust Twilight's judgement. Nightmare Moon is an ally... for now." Luna tapped a hoof on Garr and the dragon took off. She gazed ahead to their destination as the others talked among themselves, but she ignored their discussion in favor of her own thoughts. Nightmare Moon... an ally. I pray that she has not corrupted you as she once did me. The princess shuddered as an image of the Id with a sadistic expression surfaced from memory.

——————————————————

Aurelius frowned, not in anger, but in disappointment as his eyes fell to the only ponies that appeared with him. The wind-swept fields north of Canterlot were spacious and desolate, the lands having gone unblemished since Twilight's first practice with Telos years before. "A fitting place," he started, turning to absorb the scenery, "to make a grave for ones such as yourselves," he finished as he turned back to Nightmare and Celestia.

The Id scowled. Telos floated beside her, drifting just above her head. "You died once before, but this time we'll make sure you stay that way." Her mane latched onto the staff and began to swallow it, the dark weapon disappearing into the starry abyss. The starry mane returned to its natural curvy shape, continuing to flow in the air, but the staff did not poke out. There is nothing to hold us back now.

Be careful.

Nightmare nodded unconsciously to Twilight. Thank you.

"I do not wish to waste any more time. Equestria's kingdom will belong to me before sundown."

"We'll see about that, Aurelius," muttered Celestia.

The dragon pushed his hands forward. Water erupted beneath the ponies, catching the princess off guard. Celestia was swallowed as Nightmare shielded herself. The liquid twisted and tided before spiraling and raising up. Nightmare began charging up energy as the water reversed its flow and began to grind Celestia into the ground with the force of its current.

Unleashing the charge, Nightmare dropped her barrier and blasted the water away, the excess liquid flooding the lands and rapidly converting it into a marsh. Nightmare lifted Celestia to her hooves, the latter coughing up water as the Id looked over scrapes and gashes on one side of her.

"Thank you," she said, "but they're only scratches." Nightmare gave her a wary look before focusing her attention back to Aurelius.

The undead dragon summoned more water, and Celestia focused the sun's rays upon herself in a focused ray of light. As the water swelled, Aurelius brought the torrent down upon the princess, driving all of its power into her. The sun ray consumed her form in its light and the water evaporated, boiling into steam as it tried to sweep her away. When the brunt of the attack had been nullified, the ray dimmed and faded leaving only blackened earth beneath the princess and steam rising around her. Her wounds had vanished.

Nightmare threw a hoof towards Aurelius and a spiraling inferno sprang from the ground and engulfed him, igniting his rotted flesh. Celestia took flight and the sun shifted slightly. Empowered by her celestial object, she gathered energy in her horn before unleashing a burst of solar energy into the attack. The fires shifted to yellow and plumed higher as he was struck. After a few moments, the flames died down and the princess landed, her legs nearly buckling as she hit the ground panting.

"It is... finished..." she said between breaths. She watched as the fires burned the ground and scraps of flesh to ashes. Sucking in a triumphant breath, a smirk tugged at the corners of her mouth.

Look out! cried Twilight.

Nightmare spread her wings as a claw pierced the earth, blasting her away and taking Celestia into its grasp. Aurelius climbed out shortly after, breaking the land and revealing his form to be burned further to just his skeletal frame. His presence brought with it the putrid scent of burning flesh, but neither pony had time to gag.

"I must admit," he said as his charred tongue ran across what remained of his lips, "that it took quite a lot to fool Nightmare. But you..."

"How did you—!?" The princess's eyes went wide as Aurelius tightened his grip, her bones and joints popping beneath the extreme pressure. Celestia threw her head back and screamed.

"How fragile you are. It would seem I was right that you cannot detect magic as you once could only a few years ago." Before he could squeeze her to death, his claw was severed in a nova of light. "What!?"

Celestia fell to ground whimpering, but wriggled herself free, panting as sweat dripped from her face. Nightmare appeared beside her with concern etched onto her face. "Are you alright, Celestia?"

The princess shot her one eye from beneath the veil of her prismatic mane. "I cannot fight... any longer. I must retreat. I'm sorry," she said in a breathy voice.

"You have done more than enough, Celestia. I know that you are still weak." There was a moment of hesitation before Nightmare spoke again. "I have a last request, though, one that Twilight has already accepted." The princess gave Nightmare a sharp look, but nodded slowly. "If we are to die here then we wish for you to tell all of the world that it was she who slew Aurelius, and that she killed me as well."

The princess's eyes widened as she raised her head to look the Id in her eyes completely. After a moment, her look softened and she closed her eyes and nodded again. "It will be done, but only if it comes to that." She began beating her wings and turned, muttering under her breath as she flew away. "Please don't die, Nightmare Moon."

Aurelius picked up his claw and held it back to his arm. A light appeared between them and they fused back together. He gave it a few flexes to test its function before his gaze fell back to Nightmare Moon, a frown reaching his eyes as he fixated on the staff floating beside her. "Even now Telos taunts me still," he growled.

Nightmare whirled around and resumed a fierce disposition, the spire on Telos shining brighter to match. "My soul has burned—ached—for the chance to kill you," she said, her words dripping with malice.

Aurelius chuckled and cocked his head. "How noble of you. The myth, the monster spoken of through the ages as fairy tails to scare children, is now a hero willing to lay down her life for those who once loathed her very existence. Tell me,"—the dragon dug his claws into the ground—"just how did free yourself from my dominion?"

Nightmare scowled at him, but it shifted to a haughty glare. "Your power, as you call it, is flawed. When Twilight and I clashed before she reached Draconis... Well," Nightmare snorted, "that's when everything became quite different for me. My will could not be fully freed because of my proximity to you, but I have doubts as to whether that was the only reason."

For a long while Aurelius said nothing, only blinking and remaining still. "Hmph. To think Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were able to create such an enigma and keep it from the rest of the world... I never would have guessed they would unite and use the Rites. It has been far too long since I have last seen them used, afterall."

Nightmare's brow arched. "...Last seen them?"

The dragon chuckled, a devious smirk pulling back his burnt face. "Yes... Gods can be forged from desires of any breadth. Even puppets such as yourself. But I wonder... Do you even know of your true own origins?"

Nightmare opened her mouth to speak, but Twilight's voice cut into her mind and muted her thoughts. He's trying to trick you into lowering your guard. Don't listen to him!

A light appeared in the dragon's mouth before he plunged his claws deeper into the earth. Telos moved between them as Aurelius unleashed another toxic breath. Nightmare's eyes widened as it swept the land, wilting and killing the grass immediately. The staff flashed and emitted a constant force of air outward and forwards, clearing a safe path. Nightmare dashed through the safe zone and planted her hooves to Aurelius's chest before he could free his anchoring claws. With a battle cry, Nightmare blasted him free, burning more layers of his flesh from his rib cage. He flipped backwards and rolled into a prone position, using a claw to prevent himself from sliding any further.

***

Garr touched down at a cautious distance from the battle, the sun princess soon joining them. The group unloaded from the dragon king's back and formed a line to observe. Luna met with her sister and took note of her battle fatigue. Before she could get a status report Trixie magically pried the giant lance from Garr's hand and dashed to the battle.

"Stay yourself, Trixie!" Luna called in vain. "We do not know what we are up against!"

Celestia tugged at the end of her sister's mane to grab her attention. "Let her go. There is nothing we can say that will stop her." She loosed a sigh and laid down, her eyes reflecting an unusual tiredness as they fell onto Nightmare.

"Sister, are you truly alright?"

"I'll be fine, Luna," she replied without shifting her gaze. "The sun will replenish me with time, but I... I just need to catch my breath."

"If you are injured, I will not leave your side."

Celestia frowned and brought her eyes to her sister's worried gaze. "Luna, I will be fine. Nightmare Moon may need your help."

The moon princess's eyes shifted to Nightmare, then to the ground as anxiety slipped into her. "I don't know... if I should."

"Luna, it's time to let go of the past. You don't have to forgive her right now. She was just as much of a pawn as you were, but we need her," Celestia offered soothingly.

"It is not easy to forget the feeling," she said as a shudder shook her form, "of losing control and being enslaved to such..." She trailed off before giving Celestia a hard stare. "Sister, can you forgive her?"

Celestia's eyes moved back to Nightmare, and she tried her hardest to find any ill will in looking upon her. With a sigh she muttered, "I have no choice, Luna."

***

Trixie continued running as fast as her adrenaline-charged body would let her. As she neared the battlefield, the two combatants exchanged energy blasts with one another forming craters in the marsh and splattering mud everywhere.

Aurelius blocked an attack with a wing and prepared to counter. Suddenly, a heavy downfall of snow had begun with large flakes cascading slowly to the ground. In a matter of minutes the clear sunny weather had been replaced with a howling blizzard, the cold drying out the mud and the winds carving grooves into the softened land before it was buried. The snow quickly piled over and whited out the landscape with Trixie forming a small barrier over herself and digging into the lower layers to avoid the frostbite from the wind.

As the blizzard grew, Nightmare lost visibility of Aurelius as the grey haze of snow drowned out the backdrop and darkened everything. Need... to get... warm... Her body started to go numb and her wings began to freeze over as the cold lowered her core temperature. Heat... heat... BURN!

An inferno burst from her body, engulfing her and pushing back the blizzard and melting the snow. The storm ended with the evaporated snow turning to steam around her and the sun illuminating the battlefield once again. Nightmare fell to her knees and Aurelius took control of the earth. The ground near him pulled itself up into a landslide and tided towards Nightmare. She blasted part of the attack away and attempted to shield herself, but it crashed into her and dried, rooting her place. The dragon charged and pulled back an arm before crashing it into the Id for a haymaker, his colossal weight behind the attack.

Nightmare, look out! cried Twilight.

Trixie discarded the lance and bolted towards Nightmare. Aurelius reeled back his arm again, preparing for another haymaker, but the magician had managed to reach Nightmare first. Leaping between them, she summoned as much magic as she could into a barrier. The dragon's claw carried magic in it as it struck the barrier, shattering it and striking the magician. Trixie could hear her own bones break as she was knocked backwards, her cloak fluttering loudly as she sailed through the air. Nightmare regained her bearings and unleashed a burst of energy, forcing Aurelius back, before teleporting to Trixie's landing point.

The dragon fell to a knee and clutched his chest, gingerly running a clawed digit over his grevious wound. "They just all line up to die for you, the victim from the past. I don't believe I will ever understand why they would want to save something like you," he muttered.

Nightmare trembled as she knelt down beside the magician. "Why... why did you save me? I'm just... just a..."

Trixie chuckled before wincing and coughing up blood. "I was saving both of you. If you die, so does she. And she would be... disappointed if... you died." She succumbed to another fit of coughs, more blood spilling onto herself and the grass.

Nightmare attempted to heal her, focusing herself with every bit of effort she could muster. The white light that emanated from her hooves cascaded over the magician's body in thick waves. "Just hold on."

Trixie shook her head slowly. "That was too much, even for me. Please promise me that... that you'll always protect Twilight... and... and tell her... never to... give up."

Nightmare's eyes widened as Trixie closed hers. Tears ran freely down the Id's cheeks and spilled onto Trixie's chest, her mind roaring with a maelstrom of thoughts. Some of the thoughts came in the form of Twilight's voice, but then all went silent. She stopped her attempts to heal Trixie and moved a hoof to close her eyes. Nightmare's vision distorted and she began to tremble uncontrollably.

"You know the price of war, Nightmare. Death is the merciful end compared to the fate that will always await you," Aurelius said.

Hope died within the alicorn as something welled up inside her, something explosive rushing to the surface. She grinded her teeth as her senses faded away.

HURT....PAIN....AGONY....REVENGE....RAGE....TEAR....TORMENT.... ANGER....SHRED...RIP...BLEED...SAVE HER....I FAILED....TRY....SLASH.... PLEASE....HOW DID THIS HAPPEN....REVENGE....EVISCERATE....REND

I'M GOING TO KILL YOU

CUT....BURN....SUFFER....I'LL MAKE HIM PAY....DIE....MONSTER....WHY....RIP... SHEAR....VIOLENCE....HATRED....DEATH....MURDER....JUSTICE....IT ISN'T RIGHT.....BREAK....BLAME....TERROR....IRE....SCREAM....SHATTER....RIP

A purple aura shone over Nightmare's body before expanding into a rippling flame around her. Her black coat lightened into a dark purple and the crescent moon of her cutie mark morphed into the star pattern of Twilight's. Her starry mane was replaced with the other alicorn's three-colored stripes, each stripe separating at the end and dancing in the air individually.

Laughter filled the air, a sinister laugh that carried with it pure joy, and the alicorn rose up and turned. Her eyes were no longer the sharp, draconic of Nightmare's, but the wide, natural violet orbs of Twilight's. She put a hoof over her mouth in an attempt to stifle her laughter, and after a moment of giggling into it it finally subsided.

"Oh, wow... hehe... It's just too funny. I mean, c'mon, I just got the joke," she started, animating her words with her hooves. "It's like, 'I can't believe this is me and not me at the same time.' Like, 'this is how it's supposed to be.'" She brought a hoof back up to her mouth as laughter stole her voice again and she used her other hoof to wipe tears away.

"We have to do something," cried Dash as she turned to Celestia.

"You and I are in no condition to help her. There is no telling what Twilight will do right now. She has both Nightmare Moon and her own powers at her disposal, and the sun is a wellspring of energy for her. If we join the fight now we could be killed in the crossfire."

Dash beat a hoof into the ground as tears glistened in her eyes. "Damn it! She's only like this 'cause of you," she roared. "And now look! Trixie's dead!"

"Watch your tongue," Luna boomed, stepping between them. "Twilight and Trixie volunteered for their duty and knew full well what could happen."

"More like you used her! She would never say no to you, Princess Celestia," growled Dash as she leaned around Luna and pointed at the sun princess.

Celestia gave Dash an unreadable stare. "I make decisions every day that affect the lives of the ponies I lead. It is ponies like you, Twilight, and Trixie that make them easier and save lives. This could have very well played out differently, but I have no regrets for my decision."

Dash glared at her for a while longer before loosing a huff and moving to stand with the other Elements again, wiping her face briskly.

"Sister, I must assist Twilight Sparkle now."

Celestia shook her head. "No. Assess Twilight's condition first. I don't know what she'll do, and her unpredictability makes her dangerous." Luna gave her sister a surprised look before they redirected their gazes to Twilight.

Aurelius took an uncomfortable step back as he eyed the alicorn in front of him cautiously. "You speak in riddles. Have you gone mad?" He lowered himself into a defensive stance poised to retaliate.

"Afraid?" Twilight ran a hoof against her chin. "Of me being crazy? That's a little funny coming from you."

Twilight closed the distance between them with a slow march, her body blithely swaying from side to side as if she might stumble and fall. Telos appeared beside her in a flash, dancing in a sporadic rhythm to match her movements. The light in the spire flickered through many colors and she stopped to watch it, suddenly finding interest in it.

"Isn't this such a neat toy? Telos leaves behind such nice presents."

Aurelius's eyes widened and he snapped at her words. "Telos gave that staff to you?"

Twilight moved her eyes to him before adjusting her face to match. "Who else? The staff is named Telos after him, you know. I betcha you want one, too," she finished in a sing-song voice.

"Where is he!?" seethed the dragon, throwing his head in every direction and taking another cautious step back. "I was sure I killed him."

"Aw, you and Telos don't play nice?" Twilight whined. Twilight's cheery voice was lowered as she began to talk to the staff, the weapon dancing around her in an entertaining rhythm. "That's okay. We can have just as much fun!"

"Where is Nightmare Moon? What have you done with her?"

Twilight continued to fixate on the staff as Aurelius gnashed his teeth in anger. After a moment, she rolled them to him, black circles ringing them. "She was holding me back. I killed her," she said in a serious tone. In the same instant her disposition returned to jovial and she added, "But enough about that. Let's have some fun!"

Aurelius raised his claws, the rush of movement splattering bits of mud everywhere. With a mighty heave he slammed them into the ground, his chain rattling around his neck from the impact. The earth shuddered as a wave of mud and stone came to life and surged towards Twilight.

Splitting a wide grin, the archmage rose to standing, twirling around and raising her hooves. Telos flipped spire down and a swirl of water formed, propelling outward as a sudden, conjured wave. Before it closed half of the distance to Aurelius, it halted and rapidly spun into a cyclone, expanding vertically and absorbing the dragon's attack. It drilled into the ground before exploding, dispersing more water and spraying the dragon with debris and forcing him to shield his face with a wing.

In a flash, Twilight appeared behind him with Telos in both forehooves. She raised it high overhead before loosing a battle cry and striking his tail. Aurelius half expected his tail to be blown off, but the archmage had not added any magic or spells to the attack. He whirled around in a sweep with his left claw, but she was gone by the time he completed his turn.

Twilight reappeared atop his head, hanging hers down to try and glimpse his eyes. "Isn't it even more fun when your food plays with you back?" The dragon reached for her, but she vanished once more, reappearing in the distance before him.

"I have had enough of your games. You only delay your and your princess' deaths, and their succession."

Twilight snickered. "Who cares about that stuff? This is much more fun!" She released Telos and it floated in front of her, laying horizontal and spinning. After a moment a tornado formed with the staff as the center, the funnel reaching high into the sky. It gathered power and began ripping up the ground, pulling mud and rocks into and changing its color to brown. "Let's see what we can do," she muttered to herself, her voice lost to the howl of the cyclone.

Aurelius took in a deep breath, anchoring himself with his claws again, and unleashed a magical flame at the storm. To his surprise, it absorbed it and added its power to the attack. Twilight took a breath and blew her own flame into it, combining them. She added an additional spell as she held out her hoof, a black orb forming above it and floating into the cyclone's center; it was absorbed, dyeing the creation black and giving it the power of Nightmare's gravity magic.

Twilight collapsed for a moment, panting, but held a satisfied look as the cyclone moved towards Aurelius. The dragon attempted to back away, but the gravitational pull was too great. When Twilight caught her breath she stood up and renewed her disposition. "And now for the finishing touch."

Before Aurelius could react, the spellstorm closed the distance to him in a few seconds, trapping him with its gravitational pull and eroding his form. He roared as it tore through rotted flesh and obliterated a few bones. The chain around his neck snapped and the rune dissolved. Instantly, the spell came to an end with all of the sediment and debris dropping onto the ground around him. Twilight stared at him for a moment, blinking. The dragon instinctively reached for his neck, glowering when he realized the rune was gone.

"Such power from the likes of you? This is insanity."

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but she froze, wide-eyed, as Nightmare's voice overtook her thoughts. Twilight Sparkle!

The alicorn groaned. "Shut up..."

Stop this at once! I am here, and I will not give up on you.

"I said, 'Shut up!'" Twilight staggered backwards, her hooves clasping her head, and Telos fell to the ground beside her losing its light. "Get out of my head." Her mane shifted about as she turned and whipped herself about. Finally, she collapsed to the ground murmuring to herself.

I promised Trixie that I would always protect you.

Twilight froze, tears welling in her eyes. Promised. The word cleared her mind of scattered thoughts and feelings. Promise. She teleported to Trixie's body and crouched down. "It's... it's... not... fair! I tried... I did my best... I did everything I could! And I still... I still couldn't save..." Her vision blurred, and she punched the ground beside the magician, shuddering.

I am so sorry, Twilight.

"I'm sorry, Nightmare, Trixie. I failed." Twilight ran a hoof through the magician's mane. There were splotches of blood and mud, but all she could see was her face unblemished, aided by imagination. She leaned down and kissed her lips, her breaths sharp and disjointed. As tears fell onto Trixie's face, Twilight mouthed her last thought to her. I love you, and goodbye.

Aurelius regained enough strength to move and, seizing the opportunity to strike, he propelled himself towards the alicorn. His shredded wings gave him what little boost of speed they could offer, and he slammed his fists into them. He could not feel their bodies crush beneath his attack; Twilight had already vanished with Trixie's body.

"Take care of her," she said to her friends, appearing before them. Trixie's body floated in her magical aura, and she gently set her down and laid her out peacefully. No one dared speak a word as Twilight's gaze fell hollowly onto her body. With a sigh, she turned and disappeared in another flash of light.

"Luna, please go to her now. I will continue to gather my strength." Celestia watched as her sister took flight and headed for the battlefield.

"I do not like sitting idly by while a comrade battles in my stead," said Garr.

Celestia turned to him with her unreadable look. "I understand, but this is no longer your fight."

Garr's expression shifted into uncomfortable disbelief. "What makes you say that? Aurelius is the very reason why this war began, and why my king is dead. He is a member of the Brood who has manipulated and betrayed us. Why should I stand by and watch?"

Celestia's eyes wandered to Twilight's friends, all of them having gathered around Trixie to mourn. After listening to some of their tearful goodbyes, she glanced back to Garr. "I'm starting to doubt that Aurelius is a dragon at all."

"What!?"

"I'm not sure, yet, but he seems to have a personal hatred for Telos, who went missing thousands of years ago." She stood up and glanced to the ground in thought. "Wait a minute... No... It couldn't be," she muttered as she looked up the battle.

***

Luna landed beside Twilight as she regained her composure. Telos came back to life and floated beside her, and her mane's wild movement calmed to a natural flow. The archmage continued to hang her head and allow her mane to obscure her face. "Are you alright, Twilight?"

"I'll... be fine."

I'm here for you, Nightmare's voice echoed in her mind.

Twilight sighed and raised her head. I will not break my promise to you.

What of your's and Celestia's promise?

Twilight ignored her and spoke to the princess, instead the other mare's expression deepening with concern as the silence between them had grown. "I have a plan, Luna. Can you and Celestia raise the moon and sun together? I need both of them."

Luna gawked at her. Never in her or her sister's reign had both celestial objects ruled the sky simultaneously. She thought it over for a moment before nodding. "It will not be easy and it will take some time. You must hold Aurelius off during that period." She turned to walk away, but stopped and glanced back to the archmage. "Twilight. We are staking everything on you."

"It wouldn't be the first time," Twilight muttered bitterly under her breath.

The princess cast her a regretful look before flying away. Her mind catalogued the potential of utilizing both the sun and the moon, but she could not be sure of Twilight's plan. As she touched down beside Celestia she still carried a worried expression.

"What is it, Luna?"

"She," she started, hesitating for a moment, "wishes to have us raise both the sun and the moon."

Celestia's eyes widened immediately. "What could she possibly-?" The sun princess cut herself off and shook her head. "I'm afraid Aurelius may not be who we thought he was."

"Oh? And just who might he truly be?"

Celestia lowered her brow in thought and magically readjusted her tiara. "His necromancy, and his knowledge of things that even some of our highest counsel are not privy to... I believe he may be a former ruler from Equestria's history."

The others gasped at the idea and Luna tensed, but her sister remained steady. "Who... Who could be alive after all of this time? Who before us? Who would dare go against our—your—peaceful rule, sister?"

"Aurelius... is the name of Soothsayer Astra's brother."

Luna choked on a breath as she whipped her head back to the undead dragon. "It... cannot be!" she said as her composure crumbled.

"It seems his powers are limited, but there is no telling what he is capable of, even now." Celestia took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as she allowed herself to relax. "I believe in Twilight."

"She will not lose," muttered Luna as she cast a glance to Trixie's body. "She has lost too much already." As she returned her eyes to the battle they came to a rest upon Aurelius. Soothsayer Astra's brother. Impossible.

Author's Note:

5/6/13 - Outside the hiatus this has been the longest gap between updates in the revision. I apologize immensely for that.

Special thanks to the EQD pre-reader, who will not be named, for throwing me some useful learning material. This chapter is too established to make use of some of it, but I'm forever grateful.

And further support to the small circle of authors and readers on Skype who always encourage and support me. (Peppy, Spacecowboy, Allington, Jekyll, and Lich.) :3

10/17/2014 - Looking back, there's definitely some things I'd like to polish, but I'm still fairly happy with some of its moments. One of my favorite chapters.

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