• 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 21: White Lies

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 21: White Lies

Celestia moaned in her sleep, tossing and turning uncomfortably between consciousness and a dream. After a moment of wrestling with her blankets, she uncoiled and stretched on her bed before opening her eyes to the natural light flooding her room. She yelped and nearly fell off of the opposite side of her bed at what she had seen. Collecting herself, she rolled back over to find her sister, still there staring at her with a scarcely amused face. Placing a hoof to her head, Celestia groaned. "Luna? What are you doing in here? You startled me," she said in a breathy voice.

The moon princess half-frowned as she watched her sister slowly climb out of bed, ignoring the elder's chagrin. "You are holding back information regarding Telos, are you not? I do not wish to be left in the dark again." When Celestia gave her a funny look, Luna glanced away, abashed, and muttered, "So to speak."

Celestia gathered her regalia, but hesitated a moment before placing her tiara, staring into her dressing mirror to the other princess. "What do you mean, Luna?" she asked as she slowly rotated her tiara in front of her eyes.

"How did we come to possess his staff? I do not recall how we obtained such an artifact, even looking back to the time before my corruption."

"I... don't know. It's been resting in our vaults for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it's an heirloom passed down through the ages by archivists and historians. The bits of information about Telos and the staff have been retold over the centuries, and I'm afraid that's all that I know." Celestia placed her tiara and moved towards her balcony, opening the windows to the landing. A warm breeze swept into the room and she turned her head back and smiled. "Telos will probably have an explanation," she offered.

"You speak as if you are already old friends," said Luna, stifled frustration in her voice. She let a frown slip before composing herself back to an even disposition.

Celestia frowned. "I'm befriending him, Luna. I want him as an ally and a friend, and you should want the same. He's more likely to confide in us if he feels we're trustworthy."

"Trustworthy..." muttered Luna. She rolled her eyes at her sister in absent thought, but annoyance had begun to paint her face. "How did you make the connection of Aurelius and Astra?"

"Just a guess." Celestia hung her head and released an exasperated sigh. "Luna, you have been interrogating me since I awoke. What is bothering you?"

"Just a guess?" Luna harrumphed. Her eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to speak, but when she did it was not the accusing voice Celestia had expected. "Hurry along, dear sister. Breakfast has already been prepared, and the royal court shall be soon after. Telos will be making his appearance today." The princess of the night quickly turned and left. Celestia stared after for a moment longer, her gaze softening.

Oh, Luna...

***

Nightmare sat uncomfortably, finding it difficulty to not fidget under the stares she received at the breakfast table. Twilight's friends sat to her right on opposite side of the lengthy table, and most of them had already engaged in small talk. Sometimes it was too low for her to hear, but Rainbow Dash would speak up and lead it on with a story, relieving her of any whispers against her. However, it did little to affect her overall feeling, and she felt a pang of sympathy for the knight as she watched her occasionally paw at her bandaged eye.

Sitting across from her was Spike, a dragon whom she had only seen once when he was small, and beside herself sat Trixie, looking almost as uncomfortable as the Id felt. The magician constantly glanced between her hooves, Dash, and the entryway to the dining hall, but never to Nightmare. To her left, sitting a seat away from Spike, was Telos. The sage had a book laid out in front of him, focusing deep on what it had to offer. He paid little attention to the others, occasionally muttering his thoughts quietly to himself.

Nightmare's discomfort peaked as she met the glowers of Spike. The young dragon was now as large as she was and she worried he might become aggressive if they sat in silence too much longer. Relief washed over her as Luna entered and all eyes shifted to her.

"Greetings, everyone," she said as she took a seat on the end by the other Element bearers. "I hope we have not kept you waiting too long. Princess Celestia shall be here momentarily." She took a seat on the end to Nightmare's right and raised a hoof, prompting three waiting servants to roll carts over and distribute food.

Nightmare forced herself to eat under the hateful eyes of Spike; it was all she could do to ease her feelings of guilt. Please answer me, Twilight. The dragon chewed on a piece of meat with angry bites, rarely taking his eyes off of her.

A few minutes passed before Celestia entered. She took her seat opposite of Luna on Telos's end. Silence swept the room as the sun princess tapped a spoon to a glass. Clearing her throat, she began, "Much has happened in such a short time, and the war with the Brood has caused great confusion." Her eyes flowed over everyone present, stopping on Nightmare a second longer than anyone else. "I believe it's time I answered some of your questions."

"You're damn right," shouted Spike, the scraping of his chair backing his voice as he stood up. "Why don't you start by explaining why she's here!" He directed an accusing finger to Nightmare.

"Watch your tone, Spike!" Luna admonished swiftly.

Nightmare held a guilty look before Celestia spoke up again. "I understand your anger, Spike, but please calm down. Nightmare Moon is not the evil pony you remember," she soothed.

"Then where's Twilight?" the dragon continued.

"Twilight and I... we share the same body," Nightmare said. She swallowed as Spike shifted his angry stare to her, but his expression eased slightly when Trixie chimed in with, "It's true."

The dragon snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, and I'm the dragon king."

"She is telling the truth, Spike," added Celestia.

Nightmare watched the anger in the dragon wash away, his expression shifting to confusion, and then to a disbelieving stare on the Id again. She wanted to get away from his eyes. They were the same eyes as hers, the same as Aurelius's. Please, Twilight, she pleaded again.

"She... she's taken over Twilight now?" His voice sounded genuinely hurt as he continued to stare. "How," he choked out, "How is everyone okay with this?"

"Unlike Lady Luna, Nightmare does not possess her. They share the same body in something of a symbiotic bond," interjected Telos.

Spike turned to the sage while wearing defensive expression. "Who are you?"

"Lady Celestia, perhaps beginning with Twilight Sparkle's predicament was not the best place to start."

The sun princess nodded. "Let me start from the beginning, Spike." She cleared her throat as the dragon nodded his agreement and sat back down. "I suppose it could be said that this war began earlier than the Brood's invasion. As you all know, Spike is our royal liaison to the Brood. He caught wind of them planning an attack to take over Equestria, starting with the siege of Canterlot. It was then that I asked if he would spy for us and he agreed. As the war drew closer, he fled Draconis and took to hiding so as not to be persecuted or condemned as a traitor during the conflict. Soon after that we planned a counter attack to end the war."

"Is that when you transformed Twilight into an alicorn?" asked Trixie. The princess nodded, and Nightmare found herself rubbing one of her wings; a shard of Twilight's memory from the ascension process almost made them ache.

"Yes. In order to carry out this plan, Luna and I ascended her into an alicorn. Celestial Knight Rainbow Dash was tasked to be her partner, somepony whom she could have absolute trust and faith in. When Twilight agreed to the ascension and the mission, there were some," Celestia hesitated before adding in an almost distasteful tone, "requests that she made. Among them was the inclusion of Trixie Lulamoon, then an archmage apprentice."

"You never wanted me on that mission, did you, Princess?"

Celestia shook her head. "I'm afraid not. You had very limited experience fighting dragons at the time. However, I honored Twilight's wishes and you were added at her discretion."

Nightmare stared at the magician, but she didn't blink or move; Trixie's violet eyes remained on the sun princess. Nightmare recalled faint images of the night Twilight had briefed her on everything, even recalling traces of the emotions she felt during it. Twilight was anxious and afraid, but Nightmare was unable to discern why, the emotions being vague clues. Celestia went on, and she pushed the memories to the back of her mind.

"The mission objectives were,"—Dash coughed, her eyes wide, and subtly ran a hoof across her neck while shaking her head to the princess, finishing with a nod towards Spike—"to assassinate the king of the Brood, Render..."

"What!?" The dragon slammed a fist on the table and was standing before Nightmare could turn her head to him, his chair clattering loudly to the floor.

Celestia calmly finished, "And steal their war plans."

"Is King Render dead?" seethed the dragon. A heavy silence fell over the room when Celestia nodded, and Spike planted a hand over his eyes, tilting his head back and groaning. After a few moments, he muttered something only to himself. The dragon picked up his chair and quietly sat down, a fierce look in his eyes, but when he spoke again it was in a subdued tone. "Was Twilight the one who... Was she the one killed him?"

"Yes," started Celestia, "But please don't blame Twilight for—"

"Blame Aurelius," chimed in Telos simply.

"General Aurelius? King Render's top general and right hand. Why him?" Spike asked, genuinely confused.

"The one in the same, ambassador. Aurelius is no dragon," reaffirmed the sage.

"What do you mean Aurelius isn't a dragon?" He turned to Celestia. "What does he mean?"

"Spike. Aurelius was using a dragon's form to hide within the Brood, rising in the ranks to obtain power and influence. His body was that of a decayed dragon, sustained by his magic, but it was ultimately destroyed by Twilight at the end of the war. The true Aurelius is a former alicorn prince, and a previous ruler of Equestria."

The dragon stared blankly at her for a moment. The corners of his mouth twitched and he frowned. "That's not funny, Princess."

Telos stood up and shook his head. "It is not a joke. This is the true Aurelius, the prince of Equestria millennia before the world you know today." Clasping his hooves together, he closed his eyes and slowly parted them, spreading his forelegs apart and forming a translucent sphere of light around the table. In the center of the table was a small image of a crimson coated alicorn, his mane a slicked back stream of dark red. "As your princess has told you, he merely assumed the form of a dragon. His vessel was undead, sustained by immense magic to retain the resistance and fortitude of a typical dragon, and all for the sake of his illusion. He was faster and more powerful than most dragons, but his magical ability was no greater than even a novice mage."

There were whispers among the others, worried words dancing just out of earshot, but Nightmare tried not to strain herself to listen to them. Spike stared in wonder as the image slowly rotated, then back to Telos. "Who are you?" he asked again.

"I am Oracle Telos, and I was to be Prince Aurelius's eternal jailer. I am here before you now as Aurelius's true body was released from the prison of my staff. Now, please allow Princess Celestia to finish." Spike nodded and fell to silence again, visibly uncomfortable.

"Commander Rainbow Dash debriefed me of all that had occurred once the mission was complete. She and Archmage Lulamoon discovered evidence in the form of research notes that Nightmare Moon was created by Aurelius as a tool of war over a thousand years prior."

Nightmare looked away and grimaced, both at not knowing, and at being little more than a tool that had been used to ruin Luna's life for years. Her pain subsided as she clung to Twilight's forgiveness, her kindness and compassion for her in spite of all that she had done in her life. She snapped back to reality as Celestia continued her explanation.

"During the final battle with the dragon form of Aurelius, he forcefully activated the Elements of Harmony, attempting to harness their power to banish Nightmare Moon and Luna to the moon as I had done in the past." Nightmare could hear a pained breath as the sun princess continued. "As of now, they have been locked away to prevent such an event from occurring. Twilight and I attempted to disrupt the spell by placing ourselves within it, but we only partially succeeded. When the light cleared, we had succeeded in preventing Luna's banishment. However, Nightmare had taken Twilight's place."

"And that is why I'm here now instead of Twilight," added Nightmare absently, surprised that she had spoken at all. "During the battle with Aurelius we were able to switch places, but... I haven't been able to speak to her since returning to Canterlot. I'm sorry..."

Spike clenched his fists, staring at them for a while. Tears welled in his eyes and he held them shut. After a moment of deep thought, he relaxed and wiped his face. "I will never trust you as long as you're possessing Twilight."

"But I'm not—"

"Shut up!" roared Spike, pointing an accusing finger at her again. "You kidnapped Princess Celestia and tried to kill her the last time I saw you. Nothing is ever going to change that!"

"Enough of your petty quarrels," Telos said in wry frustration. "The past is not the present. There is still hope for Twilight Sparkle even if she is unable to resurface on her own. However, that is something that we can discuss another time. For now, I wish to finish dining in peace."

"Wait, I have a question." Trixie raised a hoof as she stared at Telos.

The sage rolled his eyes and sighed. "One more question for now. After that, will you please allow me to finish eating?"

"When the three of us were in Draconis, something... happened. I..." Trixie's mouth opened and closed a few times as she searched for the words. Nightmare stared at her, blurry images of what the magician was referring to coming to mind, but most of it returned as a blank. "Rainbow and I, we... We watched Twilight die," she finished. She swallowed as Telos gave her a surprised look.

The others gasped and Nightmare closed her eyes. Luna gazed at Celestia, but the sun princess only diverted her attention to Telos. The sage's eyes widened and he started to turn towards the sun princess, but he stopped halfway.

"How did she come back to life?" Trixie added.

"Another that could use all of Holy?" Telos glanced between Celestia and Luna, their hard, unreadable expressions offering no clues. "No. I thought not. Such power is... beyond our grasp, even at our peak. Hmph. The miracle of resurrection is not a power that should exist in our realm, Lady Celestia. How might such a miracle occur in this time, when even the strongest magical beings in Equestria sit at this very table with me, each writhing in their own weakness?"

Luna's face contorted in indignant anger, but Celestia remained placid. "I gave Twilight more of my power than Luna did. Perhaps that helped her more than we know, but I cannot say for certain what happened in Draconis. We have only Archmage Lulamoon and Knight Dash's testimonies. Whatever the cause, I'm grateful that she didn't die."

Telos maintained a thoughtful stare on the sun princess for a long while. Eventually, he pried his eyes away and grumbled. "Let us finish eating."

***

Breakfast concluded in uncomfortable silence, the clinking forks against plates the only sounds between everyone. Even the servants hustled to complete any requests and tasks in the room as quickly as possible before hurrying away. Nightmare wondered if it would be like that during the council court. The dining party split afterwards with Spike leaving on his own, deciding he wanted to be alone for a while. Dash and Trixie had to remain for the court while their friends left the castle for the day.

"The real Telos is a jerk," grumbled Dash in a hushed voice, leaning close to Trixie. "Somepony needs to pull that stick out of his plot."

"They need to do it soon or it's going to poke out your other eye," teased Trixie.

Dash frowned and rubbed the bandage gently. "Ha-ha, Trixie."

Nightmare trailed behind them, half listening to them, half distracted by her own thoughts. She wanted to laugh, to have an optimistic outlook on the situation, but for every unanswered call to Twilight she felt herself becoming more isolated. Empty. She tried again, always knowing it would fail, but always hoping that this would be the time she would finally answer. Wake up, Twilight. Please, wake up. I need you... Only the silence of her own mind persisted.

Nightmare wobbled for a few steps as nausea flooded her stomach once more. The feeling was a welcome relief; she no longer suffered from the headaches and overwhelming memories, but the sickness was a sign that Twilight was still there, still weakening her. Still alive, she thought, hopeful.

The doors of the court swung open with short creak, and the sweep of air brought her back to reality. Peering ahead, she could see the various counsel already seated at the half-circle tables. Several seats had been left vacant for Trixie, Dash and herself. The echoing of their hoofsteps on the marble floor were all that could be heard until they sat down. Nightmare allowed her eyes to wander to the walls where large, intricate tapestries carried the banner of the kingdom, the cutie marks of the princesses. Before the princesses took their seats, the eyes of the counsel drifted to her, and suddenly she wished the nausea was all she had to worry about.

Trixie and Dash sat opposite of each other at the separate tables while Telos moved to the center of the room, eyeing up the counsel members. The princesses watched him from their seats at the judge's positions, and the magician beckoned Nightmare to sit by her.

"So, you are Oracle Telos," began Archmage Leo, sitting at the far end of Trixie's table. He stood up and continued, "I am Chancellor Leo, presiding over the Royal Court of the Archmagi. Allow me the honor of welcoming you to the Canterlot castle. It wasn't long ago that we believed you to have died thousands of years ago, yet here you are standing before us today."

Telos tugged softly at the hood of his robe. "I imagine your history books bear more questions than answers regarding me." He took large breath and sighed. He glanced up and down the remaining archmagi, then back to Leo.

"Indeed. You come from a time when history was not well recorded, and what little we do know is vague and far from detailed. However much we have it is perhaps best to learn from you as to what happened."

"Very well. I suppose your history at least records that I vanished some time after the death of Queen Astra. I was there when her younger brother, Prince Aurelius, murdered her."

Shocked gasps and whispers rumbled through the tables. Nightmare couldn't help but sit in silence, meeting the glance of Trixie as neither had anything to add. However, Leo remained placid on his seat while the voices danced just under eavesdropping volume.

"When you say you vanished, what do you mean?" the chancellor asked.

Telos brushed a hoof against his face. "I imagine that's what it seemed like to the world. I created the prison that held Aurelius, researching and building what I like to call a Philosopher's Stone. It doubled as the spire of my staff. I carried it with me during the time I hunted him, and it was only meant to be broken by a pony who could potentially kill him. This is what Prince Aurelius should look like, after his blood pact with the Brood."

Telos closed his eyes and clasped his hooves. The room darkened to his channeling, and a blue sphere formed with him between the tables, bathing everything and everyone in its eerie glow. It expanded, the edges becoming transparent, and the image of Prince Aurelius formed before him in a ghostly blur. The prince's image sharpened, his crimson coat untouched by the blue glow of the rest of the spell, but neither casting its red shade to the room.

"The Dragon Prince, the Prince of Blood." Telos crinkled his nose, sneering. "Titles and nicknames do not properly convey how greatly he does not deserve the right to live."

Nightmare swallowed as she stared at the image, the prince slowly rotating for all to see. It was hard for her to believe that the undead dragon could be the same being, but the more she stared at his image the more she began to believe it.

"Telos, you told us that Aurelius was not an immediate threat. Can you elaborate on that?" asked Celestia.

The sage opened his eyes and nodded. "His timeless prison has weathered his powers over the ages and they will not restore immediately. We must capitalize on this advantage and gather our forces. I do not know how long it will take, but he will recover before too long. I am also weakened, but not to the degree as Aurelius."

"You had previously implied," started Luna, "that he was also capable of moving the cosmos to his will, the sun, and perhaps the moon as well. Is this true?"

The moon princess's eyes rested on Telos with a heavy gaze, a knowing gaze. A judging gaze, thought Nightmare, cautiously.

The sage stared back in silence for a moment. Nightmare could see the reluctance to answer in his demeanor. With a shivering shrug Telos closed his eyes and weaved his hooves along an invisible pattern. "It was shared with me that the pinnacle of his power could be... catastrophic."

The spherical field of Telos's memory spell expanded until the entirety of the room was within its space. The prince appeared at the nearest end between the tables by the door. Sprawling down the distance towards Telos and the judges' seats lay a city. Its construction was archaic, but the stone constructions stood fast, hardly looking worn based on the image. The sage swirled his hooves, continuing to weave them in an invisible pattern. Clouds formed, and then sunlight, filling out the scene with more details. And then the sage went still, opening his eyes with a dark look.

Rays of light pierced the clouds, incinerating buildings and scorching the earth. Worried murmurs floated between the magi while the knights stared in glum silence. Nightmare watched in quiet guilt as the city was erased piece by piece, rolling infernos consuming the surface in the wake of the rays. Hazy memories of destroying homes and assaulting Celestia's kingdom in the past surfaced from Nightmare's memory. She pushed them away, reminding herself of Twilight's forgiveness to aid her.

"I know only of that incident, but as you can see,"—Telos pivoted and pointed a hoof to the far end; the prince fell his knees, coughing, before collapsing completely—"such power is dually dangerous to oneself. I do not believe he is capable of performing such a feat again, but I do not want you to underestimate his capability."

"He is mad if he believes that murdering his sister will allow him to still succeed to the throne after all of this time," Celestia growled.

"His hubris will allow him to desire nothing less, Your Majesty. He has betrayed his flesh and blood, slaughtered his own subjects, and sold his soul to the dragons. All of it... for power. Arrogance is his greatest weakness, one he has made no attempt to rid himself of, it seems."

"We shall be ready for his assault when the time comes," said Luna. A pen wrapped itself in the blue glow of her magic and absently wrote on a piece of parchment before her without her looking at it. "Equestria's rule will remain as it has, and we will not underestimate Aurelius again. We may need to involve our allies in this battle."

Telos's nose wrinkled briefly. "My powers should return before his, but we must seal or kill him before he regains all of his own. Twilight Sparkle and Nightmare Moon's symbiotic power would be a great boon, and I intend to try my hoof at fixing their dilemma." He pointed a hoof to the Id before turning to glimpse her.

"Fixing? What can you do?" she asked, eagerly and fearfully, desperate hope dancing in her voice.

"That will be explained in due time, but this is a priority. Princesses, if you will excuse me, I wish to end this briefing and begin immediately on that task."

Celestia nodded reluctantly at the same time as Luna said, "Keep me informed of your progress." Nightmare and Trixie rose as Telos headed for the door.

"Wait," said Leo, "there is still much we should discuss."

Telos stopped and cocked his head to him, his forehead and mane hidden by his cowl. "Forgive me, Chancellor, but we cannot afford to waste time until all is said and done."

"I'm sorry, Chancellor," chimed Celestia, "but the matters of Twilight and Aurelius must be put first."

The chancellor gave a heavy breath as he watched the trio depart out of the court, hushed discussion chasing them until out of ear shot. Nightmare and Trixie followed on the sage's hooves to the throne room, each of their minds boiling with questions. He led them to the center of the room. Nightmare turned in a circle, surveying the room and noting its lack of guards.

Telos turned to Trixie as a circular glow began on the floor around him and Nightmare. "I fear that what my task entails is beyond even your great capability, Lady Lulamoon. For your safety, you should remain here until I have finished."

"You are not leaving me behind!" retorted the magician as she leaped into the light. It shined brighter and consumed the trio briefly.

Nightmare shielded her eyes momentarily as her vision whitened. When the light faded, it was dark. Her eyes rapidly adjusting, she quickly scanned the area, establishing it as a dim stone corridor with no windows or external light sources to illuminate it, and an ornate door at the end of it. A few small torches lit the other corridors, but their sparse placement offered little light in the one they were in. The air was chilly, and the torches did not share any heat with those that might wander their light.

"Where are we?" she asked. Weak memories of pain and magic surfaced in her mind, but they were fragmented as if nearly forgotten, or perhaps, intentionally forgotten. Twilight's memories, she thought, shivering.

"There lies a hidden chamber within the depths of the Canterlot castle. There are not many whom know of its existence, and even less who know its purpose. From what I gather from this time period, null-magic runes are very rare, an almost priceless artifact. This chamber," he explained, motioning towards the door, "is constructed entirely with them for the sole purpose of containment. In my time they were called magic crypts."

"Magic crypts?" Trixie muttered nervously. "W-why do they call them that?"

Telos snorted. "When the materials for null-magic runes were more plentiful, these chambers acted as prisons for rogue alicorns and powerful unicorns. Sometimes, they were even executed in them in secret were they deemed to dangerous to live."

The magician's eyes widened as they moved towards the door. "The princesses would never..."

"This is where her ascension took place," interrupted Nightmare as she moved towards the door, studying it in the dark. She felt drawn to it somehow, the faint memories continuing to dance just out of her reach.

"Very observant," he remarked. "Only a place such as this could the Rites have been invoked in absolute secrecy. Magic cannot pass through such a concentration of runes, and neither can it be detected, both inside and out."

Trixie shivered before moving to stand beside the sage. "Are you going to use it to reverse Twilight's ascension?" she asked.

Nightmare and Telos glanced to her. Even in the dark Nightmare could see the doubt in the magician's eyes. She pawed at the floor before wondering aloud. "Is that even possible?"

"I do not know if it is, nor would I even try if I could. I know very little of the Rites and their function. As it stands," he turned to Nightmare, "the combined magical potential of both Twilight Sparkle and your own magic will be necessary for a sound victory. Your princesses should never have ascended a unicorn with the Rites to begin with, and Aurelius never should have created a homunculus, but we cannot dwell on mistakes of the past that were never in our control."

Nightmare glowered at him in the dark, but he stepped past her before he could see her indignity in the darkness. I am not a mistake.

"Would it be possible to make me an alicorn? Would that help?" Trixie asked. She adjusted her cloak nervously when Telos stopped and turned to her, his face blurring into a void under the additional shadow of his cowl.

"Possible? Yes. Would it help? No. No... it would not. It requires two alicorns to sacrifice great power as a tribute to create an artificial one. They suffer a long period of unnatural weakness, one in which they cannot circumvent or accelerate the recovery of. You would need to wait for your princesses to fully regain their natural powers and then obtain their consent. However, becoming an alicorn is much like being born again. Your magic is of a different vein and caliber, and it is not inherently controlled the same as when you were a unicorn. You would need to relearn how to feel, so to speak."

Trixie's brow scrunched as she watched him stand in front of the chamber doors. "Twilight went through all of that? I never knew," she mumbled to herself.

The sage swayed a hoof and the doors made a loud creak. Nightmare watched as they parted, stone grinding against stone as they whined and opened. Twilight's memory filled the darkness of the chamber for Nightmare, and she recalled the light of Celestia and Luna's horns illuminating it as they led her inside. Telos turned to her and beckoned, stepping inside. Nightmare and Trixie ignited magic from their horns, lighting the chamber as they followed him.

Nightmare gave a sharp breath as she entered the chamber, and Trixie squeaked as she stepped up beside her. The chill the room gave slipped right into her bones. It was almost as if it was an unending coldness laying over her nerves. They exchanged sheepish looks before moving towards opposite sides of the chamber. Trixie studied the murals with interest while Nightmare listlessly glanced at them, gathering a sense of familiarity as they passed by quickly.

"Lie down, Nightmare," ordered Telos while motioning to the altar.

Nightmare turned her head towards the stone altar; a shiver of worry ran up her spine as Twilight's memory reminded her of how cold it was to the touch. As she gazed at it, more memories funneled into her thoughts. She glanced up to the ceiling, recalling that there was once a window there, but now there only appeared to be more stone. Twilight's feelings of pleasure overwhelmed the ones of discomfort, and she found herself laying out across the altar, her wings draping over the sides, mirroring Twilight's actions of the memory. She ignored the cold of the stone, but tensed as the memories of pain flowed to the surface of her mind. She clamped her eyes for a moment as Telos moved to loom over her, the room almost too dark for even her to see his shadow to cast any noticeable shade upon her.

"You should wait outside until the spells are complete," Telos said as he looked at Trixie.

"I am not leaving," she reminded.

Nightmare's head spun for a moment, the murals whirling around the room as streaks of color. Then it all stilled. Magic? she thought, her eyes following what murals she could see from her position. No. I'm... afraid? Why am I afraid? There's nothing... Her heart sank and her limbs shriveled closer to her, dread enshrouding her.

Telos's eyes flowed back to Nightmare and he sighed. "Be at ease, Nightmare Moon. You are no doubt beginning to feel the anxiety caused by this room. Unicorns crawl in their own skin when they are brought here. The runes that form the basis of the crypts interfere with your ability to sense your magic at all times. When you are not actively channeling it you will be quite uncomfortable." His eyes wandered to the magician.

"I'm fine," Trixie said sharply.

"So... now what?" asked Nightmare, turning up to face him. "What are you going to do?"

Telos ruffled one of his sleeves and procured a gem in the center of a hoof. "I intend to separate you, giving back Twilight dominion over her own body and preventing you two from eroding one another's consciousness. At least, that is what I believe is ailing you."

She stared at the gem. "If you're removing me from her, then—"

"Yes. Your soul, your very essence, will be stored within this. I do not have a body for you, but I can use you to give life to a new staff. I imagine Twilight will want you by her side if you decide to be the one stored in the gem."

"Wait. Isn't that the gem you used to imprison you and Aurelius?" interjected Trixie. "Won't it just seal her the same way?"

"While it's true that I had originally designed it do just that, I have since modified it in preparation for this. Whomever is in the gem will be able to communicate from the staff, possibly even exert her own magic from it. I don't know the extent of what she could do, but there will be no seals this time." Telos switched his gaze to Nightmare's, matching her pensive eyes with his calm. "Twilight is not here, and I leave the decision solely to you. Am I right to presume that you wish to be the one in the gem?"

Nightmare's eyes shifted between them. Trixie stared at her, her pleas for the Id to sacrifice herself reflected in her violet eyes. Nightmare shivered. You would do the same for me. Nodding, she said, "Yes. I would do anything for her." Trixie shifted uncomfortably, and Telos produced a book from the darkness of his robe.

"Beware of magical backlash, Archmage," said Telos. "It will not be weak."

Trixie nodded and began to layer barriers over herself. "What about you?"

"Worry only about yourself," he replied.

The chamber doors rumbled again, stone against stone, closing with a dull boom. Nightmare's throat tightened as Telos set the stone on the altar by her head, the entire stone slab glowing violet with magic. Trixie's barriers shined blue against the darkness and the violet. The violet glow deepened to purple as it formed into a shell over Nightmare's body, crackling as energy rippled across it and tore away. Strokes of light cut the murals, painting the stone with black marks. The lashes continued striking around the room while Telos muttered an incantation.

Nightmare writhed and attempted to cry out as she was overwhelmed by pain. A buzz of electricity drowned out her hearing, filling her head with a pounding headache. She felt her body pulling in every direction, as if her flesh was being torn from her bones. Languishing, she shut her eyes and arched her back, loosing a pained howl. It was all she could do to manage the pain.

"Soul Rend," shouted Telos. He raised his hooves, an ethereal scythe flickering before forming into his grasp. Bringing the scythe down, he roared against the crackling of the energy lashes.

Nightmare's opened her eyes and watched in terror as it cleaved her and the altar in half. She screamed, a distorted wail reverberating throughout the chamber, but she saw again, saw the terror in Trixie's eyes as she was ripped from her body, appearing as a dark blue specter. Her pain vanished, but her body flickered in and out of the darkness.

The scythe faded away and Telos grunted as he moved his hooves around, struggling as he muttered another incantation. Sweat ran down the sage's face and his eyes shifted to the gem below Nightmare. Her body had become enveloped in a violet light, and she stared into it. For a brief moment, she saw something and her heart felt as if it would fly away. Twilight! Then all was black again.

***

Telos collapsed, one foreleg laid on the altar for support, and gasped for air. "It is... done..." he said breathlessly. After several minutes, he conjured a ball of light above him, and stared at the Philosopher's Stone. It had turned completely black, save for a purple and blue dot beside each other in the center. He studied it closely before letting his eyes fall to the body on the altar.

"Twi...light?" Trixie asked in a sharp gasp. Her barriers had already faded and she collapsed to the floor. Crawling to the altar, she lifted herself high enough to see the dark violet alicorn's face again. "Wake up," she whispered to her.

Telos's eyes wandered to a trail of smeared blood behind the magician.

"Wake up!" Trixie pounded a hoof weakly on the altar. She shuddered as tears welled in her eyes. Bringing her other hoof up to the light, she watched as blood ran down her foreleg. "I can't even... protect myself. How could I... ever protect her?"

"You are strong, Archmage Lulamoon. You have not failed her," consoled the sage.

Trixie snickered and winced, wiping tears from her eyes with her clean hoof. "An earth pony with magic stronger than mine... and you're complimenting me? I'm the one bleeding, so don't make me laugh." She chuckled again and grumbled, "Seriously."

"If you die to that wound you would be an embarrassment to all of the archmagi." Telos snatched the gem and tucked it into one of his sleeves. He moved to crouch in front of Trixie, leaning in to inspect her wound. Blood soaked her archmage cloak, and it matted against her body. He peeled it away to see a blackened puncture into her abdomen. "You will be fine," he said. Trixie threw her head back and groaned. "So, this is Archmage Twilight Sparkle," said Telos as he rose to study her form, slowly pacing around the altar. "She is... not what I had expected."

"Hey! She's the Element of Magic. Show some respect."

"Hmph. And I am thousands of years your elder. Why don't you show me respect?" When the magician stuck her tongue out at him, he muttered, "I thought not."

"Fine then, grandpa, why don't you get me to the infirmary?" she quipped.

Telos pulled out the gem and held it out. He peered into it, turning it over in his hoof. The abyss within tugged at his interest, drawing him in almost naturally—or perhaps dangerously. The dots appeared in the center, pulsing with a tiny glow like two stars alone in space. "And there you are," he mumbled.

"Hey! What is more important than me bleeding to death!? I can't get out of here on my own."

"I never anticipated this ritual to succeed, you know," responded the sage without looking at her.

Trixie's mouth hung open, a silent "What?" etched into her face.

"Nightmare Moon is, or perhaps was, a homunculus—a being without a soul. However," he said as he slipped the gem into his sleeve again, "for a being not meant to possess a soul, she most certainly has one." He shivered as he glanced down to Twilight. "Her soul is very dark and I fear that..." Shaking his head, he looked back to Trixie. "It doesn't matter."

"Hey..." said Trixie weakly. "It's getting kind of cold in here," she muttered.

Telos moved between them and placed a hoof on each mare. In a flash, they were back in the throne room. Trixie collected herself and immediately glanced to Twilight, but the alicorn hadn't moved.

"I was not expecting you to have returned from your duties so soon, Lady Celestia," Telos said as he caught the sun princess. "There was doubt in that room, and I imagined it would have taken longer to dispel it among your advisors." He scanned the room, noting that the princess was alone.

"My subjects believe in me, Telos. They need little more assurance than my word." Celestia stared past the sage to Trixie. The magician attempted to crouch down to Twilight again, but groaned and fell down beside her, her open wound pouring through her hoof and onto the marble floor. The princess dashed to her side and laid her hooves over the wound and began healing it. "How did this—"

"At ease, Your Majesty. She knew the risks before I began." Trixie nodded, and Telos continued. Procuring the black gem that held Nightmare's soul, he said, "This is to be the medium for a new staff. Surely you have more mythril hidden away, yes?"

Celestia nodded again. "So that is Nightmare Moon now?" She eyed it with awe. "Can she hear us?"

Telos peered into the gem's void, finding the two dots again. "Even I do not know," he muttered as he studied them. "I am meddling with magic that I have never studied, theories I have never thought through. I fear that I may cause an irreversible disaster at any moment, Your Majesty."

"I'm aware that you weren't prepared for any of this, Telos, but you're still the best pony for the tasks that need to be done. There aren't many more I would trust for them." Celestia concluded her healing of the magician, rising to standing and stepping back. "You will need to get that bandaged and rest for a while, Trixie. It's not fatal, but you cannot strain yourself for a while."

Telos quickly stepped to the magician, startling her and holding a hoof to her forehead. "I'm afraid that this conversation must carry on without your presence."

"Hey! What's the big idea?" In a flash, Trixie was gone.

Celestia narrowed her eyes on Telos with concern. "She is one of my most trusted subjects. Why would you send her away?"

Telos paced back and forth across the red carpet, his eyes glued to the violet alicorn. "Twilight Sparkle should awaken before long. If you used the Rites on her then she must also be aware of how to tap into the cosmic powers of the sun and the moon. As the one who cast Holy—I wonder... Can she use astral projection?" he finished as his eyes wandered to Celestia.

The princess shook her head. "The cosmic gifts are given to very few ponies in our service, and Twilight is the first in millennia to be given both at once. I had left Holy to myth, and astral projection is nothing more than a theory even among the most gifted archmagi in history. I'm afraid such an extraordinary spell began and ended in rumors of your ability."

Telos stood still and stared at the floor. After a moment he resumed his pacing, but kept silent. "I will teach it to her, somehow," he said, stopping to look at Celestia again.

The princess stared back, a peculiar regard in her eyes. "I'm growing cautious of your power, Telos. You are an earth pony with magic as strong as the mightiest archmage. Where did you get it?"

"I see that your trust has limits after all. Hmph. I suppose the truth cannot be avoided if you are to trust me with all that I need, but I am not ready to show you where my power comes from." Telos clasped his hooves, light leaking out from the edges. Parting them, the sphere of a memory was created, expanding until the entirety of the throne room was within its space.

Trees, grass, plants, sounds, and even scents were created in a matter of seconds, filling the spell with a luscious forest area. Celestia stepped to the side as a tree appeared where she was standing, and she watched as the grass bent against Twilight's body. The memory continued to build, filling with more details; every blade of grass, every fallen leaf—it was exact. Rays of moonlight shone through the trees and lit the ground in its bright eerie glow. Telos stepped into the artificial light with a downcast expression towards the grass.

"What are you showing me if not the origins of your magic?" Celestia asked as she examined the detail of a tree's bark. She reached a hoof out to touch it. Passing through, she pulled it back, a look of cautious wonder etched on her face.

"I regret my title of Oracle. It is little more than a reminder of what I've lost... what I shall never have again. Aurelius would have torn apart more than just the ancient Equestrian kingdom. How I obtained my power is a memory for another time, but I will show you this, as a token of my good will, until I am ready to show you what you desire to know." He closed his eyes and receded back into the shadows of the trees.

"What do you think, my love?"

Celestia's eyes widened and her blood turned to ice. "Astra?" she muttered as she slowly turned around, coming face to face with the former 'queen'. Astra held a soft look, and her light blue eyes and peered right through Celestia. Stepping back, the princess moved to the side and found what the queen was looking at. The younger, past Telos stood opposite her, a dreamy smile on his face as he approached her from the shadows of the trees.

"This is where it all fell to pieces, Lady Celestia. This is the beginning of an end," said the present Telos.

Author's Note:

11/30/2013 - Took a million years, but it's done! Also, happy birthday to me in my absence.

Add. Note: Mopey Moon is worst Moon. :(

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