• 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 25: Closing the First Eye

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 25: Closing the First Eye

Telos shook his head, visibly disturbed by the news of Astra's status. Twilight couldn't tell if the sage was angry or saddened, but nonetheless he approached the princesses, trembling. When he spoke, it was in a loud, disbelieving sputter.

"Astra... alive! Such a thing... is a lie!" he cried, his eyes wide and intense. Twilight took a few steps closer as he shook his head. "This is how Astra died!" he shouted again, perhaps to convince himself of his own words. He clasped his hooves together and a sphere of light formed between them, but Twilight placed a hoof over his hooves. Telos went still and looked at her with shock before lowering his hooves.

"Let her talk," Twilight said calmly, softly. Even she was surprised by how it came out, but both mages looked to Celestia expectantly. I'll whether I can believe her.

The sun princess shot Twilight a grateful glance, but the violet alicorn merely gazed back with the same, calm expectancy. There was a wonder in each of their eyes in that moment, but Celestia tore herself away when she recognized her one faithful student's gaze as a merciless one. She gave a heavy sigh as she finished healing Luna's most grievous injuries, and then stepped back and sat to where she could look between her and Twilight.

"Astra spoke of many things to me in what little time we had contact." She turned to Telos, an apologetic expression stretching her face with a tiredness that made her appear weary. "She spoke of her death, how she had been beheaded by her own brother, Prince Aurelius."

Telos's jaw seemed to unhinge as he trembled, and he staggered a step backwards, falling to his flank and maintaining his shocked stare. It soon waned beneath the weight of anger and he bared his teeth, shaking his head fitfully. "You are lying," he shouted. "There is no—"

Celestia cut him off with a stern voice. "This occurred before you appeared to us, Telos. Before the war. Spike's information was not how I learned of the Brood's ultimate plan to go to war with us, at least not in the beginning, though I deceived him and everyone else into believing that to be true." She winced as the dragon gave her a look of utter disbelief, and she allowed her sorry eyes to meet with his before flowing over everyone as she continued. "He only confirmed it after Astra had already spoken to me as I did not want to place my trust in her words alone." The sun princess's mane shifted over her face as she hung her head.

"How dare you keep such information from us!" shouted Telos accusingly. "And you would have us believe a fairy tale that Astra lives, foretelling the future? Even if such a tale were true, how could we ever trust you with you and your silvered tongue, Princess Celestia?" The title rolled out of his mouth with a sourness that almost made him spit. "How can we be sure you are not keeping more secrets from us, hm? Secrets that could be vital to the outcome of the dire situation we face?"

Celestia prepared to speak, but Luna coughed and spoke instead. "Do not... hate her," she said in a raspy, quiet voice. She gave a hopeful, warming look to Telos and it seemed to pacify some of his anger. "I bear my own disposition regarding my sister's actions, but I am beginning to understand those... things we spoke of, now." She took a long, deep breath and shivered. A mild scent of her cooked flesh carried in the air, and Twilight crinkled her nose as the repulsive odor twisted her stomach. "There are merely threads holding us together now, but we cannot afford to let these revelations sever them. Surely you understand that, Telos."

The sage took several sharp breaths before unleashing a frustrated cry, thrashing his head back and forth once more. "No... No! I do not want to believe you! But... but for you to know such details..." He regarded Celestia carefully. "I must know all that she said. I need..." The princess gazed back, her brow bent with guilt and regret, but she opened her mouth to speak. "No. Not... now... I must be alone for a while," Telos announced suddenly. With the end of his sentence, he glanced away from everyone.

"W-wait, Telos!" Celestia cried, but it was too late. The sage had already vanished in a flash. "There was just... never a right time..." she whispered to herself, her eyes downcast.

A moment of silence passed while she obscured her face with her mane and muttered to herself. Raising her head, she glanced to Trixie, Spike, and Dash. "May I ask that the rest of you give Twilight, Luna, and I some time alone?" There were protests from the others, and Twilight glanced to Trixie and Spike, each staring back at her with nervous worry. Twilight nodded and moved to them and they vanished in a flash leaving the alicorns. Nightmare remained behind, and Twilight brought the staff to her back.

"Anything you say to me can be heard by Nightmare," Twilight explained. "Don't lie to me, Princess Celestia. I deserve better than that."

"I..." she trailed off. Hearing her friend utter her title again was like a knife to her heart, but she was no longer twisting it with a spiteful emphasis. Her mane shifted away and she faced Twilight, looking her in the eyes, opening and closing her mouth as she tried to articulate a response—the response that would make everything alright. The searching culminated into words Twilight never wanted to hear, never wanted to believe. "I manipulated you," the princess said solemnly.

The notion was nothing new, but the reality of the confession hurt more than ever. Twilight tensed, twisting her neck as her throat and chest quickly began to ache. "I knew it," she muttered, forcing herself to keep up the tough demeanor.

"Perhaps Luna and I could've stopped Aurelius and the Brood without involving you as a proxy, but... I feared the damage. How many lives would've been wasted in a pointless war? How much destruction would have been wrought? How much... suffering would both of our nations have to endure?" She took a deep breath as Twilight struggled with her composure. "I put the kingdom and myself first, selfishly choosing to use you for the greater good. However..." Celestia glanced away for a moment before turning back to her and continuing. "I knew you would succeed. I knew all along that the mission I tasked you with would be successful."

Twilight's brows arched. "Then... what?"

"I wasn't made aware of the real Telos, or that Aurelius was a previous ruler and that he was the one driving the war. I didn't know that Nightmare Moon would be a part of everything. Astra was vague with what was to come and I chose the best course of action I thought at the time."

Twilight moved Nightmare to float beside her and she peered into the spire.

She... how could she not tell us—tell you? All this time you were right, Nightmare spoke in her mind. I didn't want to believe she would do this.

How ironic, Twilight thought miserably to herself. Her stomach churned as she replayed Celestia's words in her mind. "I manipulated you."

Questions flowed from Nightmare like a waterfall, but Twilight drowned her voice out with her own thoughts. She carried doubts about her anger and bitterness now; there was a curiosity that she felt in the turmoil of her anger, and the doubt only added to her confliction. She yearned for Nightmare to pacify her feelings, but the bond they shared now lacked the intimacy of the one before and their understanding was not as easily shared. Her chest ached to the point of burning and her throat clenched tighter the longer she did not speak. She had to release the feelings.

"I would have done anything for you, Celestia!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. The sun princess jumped, staring wide-eyed at her, tears glistening in her eyes. "You took advantage of that—of me! You never asked me for my loyalty back then! Why would you use me if you and Luna could've fought, huh? I would have been there right by your side as a loyal unicorn archmage, still your faithful friend, but now I'm an alicorn because of you two! Why? Why any of this!?" she screeched, crying. The aching in her throat began to subside as she panted for breath, sucking in the brisk night air.

Celestia glanced to her sister, but Luna's eyes told her she would offer no help or reprieve. With a gulp, she faced Twilight once more. Her resolve faltered as she studied the pain on her former student's face and the tears that fell freely from her cheeks. Why? shone in her eyes as plainly as if the question had been repeated again. "I was... I am... afraid of dying. Afraid of..." she trailed off as her vision was blurred away by tears.

Twilight scoffed, choking on rattled breaths. "You're immortal and all-powerful, Princess... and you were going to sacrifice me—a mortal—because deep down you're a coward?" she asked in a hurt, disbelieving voice barely above a whisper.

"No! That's not it at all!" Celestia countered quickly.

"Then what is!?" Twilight snapped with a boom. Tears continued to race down her cheeks, pained squeaks between shuddered breaths escaping her where words could not. That was all that filled the silence. She used me... She betrayed me. I wanted to be wrong... so much... I tried so hard to convince myself. Why would she do this to me? Why? After all we've been through... How could she of all ponies do this... to me? Nightmare could give no consoling answer, and instead, a subtle warmth filled Twilight, but it did nothing to ease her torment. Her throat grew sore as it clenched again.

There was a long silence between them, and a cold breeze meandered through the fields again. Celestia sniffled several times before answering. "When Astra told me of what was to come, she assured me that whoever I chose—you—would be safe. I never would have gone through with this if I had believed you would die! Please, Twilight! Please believe me!" she pleaded, falling to her knees. It was the first time Twilight had noticed the princess was crying. "Please, I'm begging you to believe me! I'm sorry! I'm so... sorry..."

Twilight clamped her eyes shut as she stood there trembling and crying. But...

You were used... just like I was... mused Nightmare. In her mind, Twilight was sitting in the dark as the Id slowly circled her, a look of sympathy weighing her features. Nightmare reached out and placed a hoof on her shoulder.

I don't know what to do... what I should say. I want to believe her. I want to forgive her... You know what she means to me, said Twilight. I don't want this. I don't want any of this! This isn't how it should be!

I know that, in your heart, you know that she would not risk your life or throw it away. She believed that you would be safe. I will not tell you to forgive her—that is your choice—but maybe you can begin to forgive her. She is suffering knowing what she has put you through.

The staff levitated beside her and Twilight opened her eyes to gaze into the spire. And... and everything I've been through—everything that's happened, it's okay to forgive her with just this? Nightmare kept silent, and she moaned and cried again. She began whispering to herself to stave off her pain. "Why, why, why, why, why, why..."

"Do not hate my sister, Twilight," interjected Luna. "We are both at fault for this."

Twilight stopped and stared at her in confused wonder. The moon princess slowly pushed herself off of the ground, shakily rising back to standing. She slouched with her weakness, appearing frail as though she might fall back down at any second. Celestia turned to her and began healing more of her injuries, the soft waves of light spilling around her form and fading away from her hooves.

Twilight gazed at those waves, their even, cascading light flowing over Luna's contrasting form and fading seemed to ease her heartache in that moment. After a while, it eased her anger and she looked at Celestia, the princess meeting her eyes with cautious expectation held fast within. She could see her hope twinkling within, but also the fragility. Neither of us deserved this. "I forgive you," she said, anger and hatred no longer driving her voice. She gave her a sad look, but the princess returned a bittersweet smile.

"Twilight," she muttered back.

The violet alicorn turned her head sharply, trying unsuccessfully not to cry again. "I keep trying to tell myself... that it... it doesn't..." She turned back to Celestia, her jaw fluttering with unformed words, and she crumbled to the floor, weeping into her hooves. "That... none of this matters!" she screamed. "That I shouldn't be angry... or sad... or hurt... or any of this! I keep trying, but I just can't... distance myself from all of it. You'll make this right in the end, right? So why do I keep feeling like this!? I have to forgive you. I have to... I don't want to right now, but... if I don't..."

"Shh..." cooed the princess as she pulled herself away from Luna and stepped closer to her. She crouched down and lowered her head until she was at eye level with Twilight. "I made you a promise back then," she said, her tears drying on her cheeks. "I never once questioned it, but please... don't force me to keep it," she begged.

"But how can I go on like this knowing what we've both done?" Twilight choked out. "Spike will never look at me the same again. I can't do it, Celestia. I just... can't. Do you know what it's like to be hated by everyone you care about? Everyone... including yourself?"

The princess nodded slowly. "Twilight, you haven't looked at me the same since you returned. You blame me, and I accept that. I alone am responsible for what you've been through, what you still must endure."

"Sister," interjected Luna.

Celestia gave her a quick glance before continuing. "I understand your feelings completely, more than anyone else in the world, but I..." She swallowed and shook her head several times, wiping her eyes and attempting to recompose herself. "I can't live with you hating me forever. I can't live like I'm nothing more than a stranger to you. Please, Twilight... don't shut me out anymore."

The violet alicorn trembled. She wasn't sure if it was from the chill of the marshy ground or her own feelings, but it had made her sick. With an anguished sigh, she looked back up to Celestia. "I'm sorry."

The princess shook her head quickly as she stared at her. "No, no. Don't be, Twilight. You have every reason to hate me for what I've done. But I will never give up trying to earn your love and trust again. I will never stop trying." She extended a hoof to Twilight and smiled. "I'm always here for you, Twilight. Even if you hate me I will always be here for you. I can't bear the thought of seeing you in shambles, but..." She closed her in eyes in a pained look. "A promise is a promise."

Twilight's body stilled and she took the hoof, allowing herself to be pulled to standing again. "It's my choice," she said.

Celestia leaned close and whispered into her ear. "I would never take that away from you, no matter how much I want to."

Twilight shut her eyes tightly for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Let's... go. It's cold and Trixie has my cloak." Celestia smiled and Luna shot them an exhausted look as she slumped down. Twilight caught her and levitated her on to her back, perching Nightmare atop her.

Hello, Luna.

The princess's eyes widened and she unleashed a startled cry as she fell from Twilight's back. She crawled a few meters from her in the mud, staring at the staff and shivering. "Sh-she spoke to m-me!" she stammered.

Twilight glimpsed the staff spire, a wondering thought hanging in her mind. She moved the staff between them and gave the princess a nod. Luna stared at it fearfully for a moment, but she was soon overtaken by curiosity. She reached a trembling hoof out to it, then retracted it quickly, shaking it as if she just touched something sticky.

"Is... is it alright for... for me?"

Twilight nodded again. "She can't hurt you, Luna. Not even if she wanted to."

"But your transformation—"

"That only works if you're willing. If you don't want her in your mind, then don't let her in."

Luna stared at the staff suspiciously for a moment longer. She reached a hoof out to the staff again. Holding her breath, she touched it and went still, her body tensing as she swallowed hard.

Don't be afraid. I merely wanted to thank you for being a good friend to Twilight. She needs you and Celestia right now more than ever.

The concept of telepathy was new ground for the princess, but she willed her thoughts into words. You... can hear open conversation, yet speak only to those in direct contact?

Yes, but I can communicate with Twilight if she is nearby, replied Nightmare. I know you still hold ill feelings toward me. As Celestia is trying to make up for what she has done to Twilight, so too will I try to atone for what I have done to you... if you'll let me.

Luna snorted. And just how might one in such a predicament as yourself undo over one thousand years of sorrow and anguish, hm?

I don't know, but I have to begin by saying I'm sorry. Luna blinked open her eyes to see Twilight and Celestia staring at her. I'm sorry for everything that I have ever done to you. I'm sorry for getting you banished for one thousand years, and I'm sorry that... that you are not at peace with me. I just... wanted you to hear that.

Luna shook her head and closed her eyes, rubbing them gingerly. You have said what you have needed to say.

I hope that you'll want to talk some more, in time.

"Perhaps we shall," muttered Luna as the staff was pulled back to Twilight, their connection severing.

The violet alicorn turned to Celestia. "Is Astra really alive?" she asked, genuinely this time.

The princess was surprised and nodded earnestly, but she quickly shook her head afterwards. "Though alive might not be the right word, we did speak when she appeared to me. There have been stories passed down through the ages of powerful magical beings transcending to a higher plane after their death, but... they were merely fairy tales told in musty taverns and around campfires. Even the pontiffs of the ancient court never believed them, but now I'm not so sure I disagree anymore. Many magi still teach the belief that we simply leave this plane of existence for another."

"Then how did you two talk? Was it like... the way we used to?"

Celestia gave her another surprised look, but it morphed into a wistful smile. "I'm afraid not. She appeared to me like a spirit, or something like an astral projection. She introduced herself, and then she warned me of the impending hostilities with the dragon. She suggested the plan to ascend a unicorn into an alicorn for the war," she explained, her voice growing regretful as she went on.

Luna spoke next. "If Prince Aurelius was indeed her younger brother, then why did she not mention his presence among the dragons, that he manipulated the Brood and orchestrated the war himself?"

"I don't know," Celestia replied quietly.

Twilight wrinkled her nose. "I'm beginning to wonder if Aurelius's plan was to free his body from Telos's prison all along, but it didn't play out the way he wanted. If he took Canterlot like he'd first planned, he would have freed himself on his own, but instead... I did it for him." She grimaced and stamped a hoof. "I don't want to admit it, but Aurelius was smart. He didn't expect me, but he still found a way to use me."

"It is most troublesome that his plan succeeded in spite of Astra's divine intervention," said Luna. "We must not become divided now. If Telos is to be believed, then we do not have the time nor the resources to be at each other's throats." She shifted her eyes between the other two alicorns while wearing a frown.

Twilight glanced away and nodded. "Our differences aren't settled, but I will never abandon Equestria. I will always put my duties before my feelings. You have the archmagi and the Celestial Knights, Trixie and Rainbow Dash." She turned back to face Celestia. "And you have us," she finished, throwing a hoof out to Nightmare. The staff pulsed an eerie dark glow, as if the Id agreed.

Celestia smiled, but it was cut short when Luna asked another question. "If Astra has contacted you before, why has she not done so again? Everything has changed as a result of Aurelius's success. If she knows more and is an ally, why has she not reached out to you once more?"

"I'm afraid I don't know. For now, Telos is our best source of information. He may not trust me for a while after what I withheld." Celestia sighed. "Just one more thing I regret."

Twilight placed a hoof on her shoulder, prompting the princess to look up. "But he still trusts us," she said as she motioned to Luna. "He knows what's at stake just as much as we do. I know he'll put his personal feelings aside."

"Thank you, Twilight."

The violet alicorn stepped between the princesses, Nightmare's spire shining as she glanced between them. She could feel her magic growing more focused, stronger, with the staff. In a flash, they were gone.

***

Twilight's eyes fluttered open to something unexpected. Grass and flowers flooded her vision in swathes. A lush meadow free from the overhanging canopy of nearby forest trees grew reached up all around her. Everything glowed with an almost surreal green tint, but she recognized it as a combination of moonlight and some kind of magic present in the air. I thought I...

The rustling of grass prompted her to scan the area. Astra stood in the center of the moonlit meadow, her head lowered to breathe in the scent of a particularly large flower rising above the rest. She gazed at her, studying her nearly colorless features. The former queen's mane held the color of the area's glow, but she couldn't be sure if that was her natural color. Her body took on the same tint and her mane and tail seemed like extensions to her body as they floated gently in the air, even more freely than the princesses.

Twilight heard the rustling of tree leaves in the distance and she turned to see a cloaked pony flying towards Astra. The dark cloak wrapped the pony's neck, billowing violently behind him as he broke the shade of the canopy. She recognized him as Aurelius. The young prince had a green-bladed sword clutched in his hooves, and pulled it back in preparation to swing. Telos entered the meadow from in front of Astra as the prince broke the treeline.

This moment—!

"You are a traitor to us all, sister!" shouted the prince.

Astra had not noticed him and spoke over him before she turned. "Oh, and what do you base—" The blade struck the queen in the neck as she finally glimpsed into her brother's eyes as he reached her, her own wide with disbelief and pain. Blood spilled down her body as she crumbled to the ground, the blade sawing through her neck with little effort.

Telos screamed as he watched her head tumble to the grass, his eyes following it as his jaw hung open. Bolting forward with all of his strength, he dropped down and slid to her head. "Wh-what have you done, Aurelius?" he asked as he quivered over it. He lifted the queen's head up to his chest and looked into her eyes one last time, her horror and pain etched into her face.

Aurelius cast the blade aside and rubbed his sister's blood from his face. "Only what is necessary for my subjects, Telos. My hoof has been forced, and my kingdom has no more time to spare as the chaotic dragons claw at our walls. Her vision has failed and our lives will not be the price we pay for it. I will crush the dragons and lead us to victory." He sneered at his sister's body before turning to leave.

"Y-You're a monster. How could you murder your own sister?" Telos shouted, tears running down his eyes.

"Those who stand in my way will die, even my weak-willed kin."

Telos sat Astra's head onto the grass delicately before charging at the prince. "Murderer!" A dark red aura enveloped him and whipped him across the meadow, impacting him into a tree. He yelped as he wrapped around it, then fell to the ground moaning and clutching his torso. "Sh-she loved you and b-believed in you. You betrayed her. W-why?"

"Have you met the King of Tragedy?" called Aurelius over his shoulder. "Until you have seen what I have, you will never understand." The prince turned around to face Telos as he climbed to his hooves, his sneer having been replaced with an apathetic frown. There was only a few seconds before the prince spun back around and walked away leaving Telos to stare after him.

Twilight saw it for a moment; the prince's eyes were sharp like a dragon's, the slits holding a coldness in them that could not be matched by words. She wanted to shudder, but somehow, she felt as though she understood what could create such a darkness. That understanding ultimately made her shiver, even in the warmth of where they were.

Telos crawled back to Astra's head. He pulled it up to him, stroking her mane out of her face, and began to turn her over to face him. He stopped and squeezed his eyes shut, more tears running down his cheeks. Placing her head back where it had been severed, he stood up and stepped away. "This is my fault... maybe if I never became your follower... your Oracle..." A shuddering sigh left him speechless for a moment. "Your lover."

Suddenly, a light engulfed Astra's body and head, humming as it grew in intensity. Telos gave a start and lurched backwards, stumbling and falling, shielding his eyes. It faded several seconds later and he jumped back to his hooves to find her remains had vanished leaving only her blood on the grass and imprints of the light muddling his vision briefly.

"Is that you, Aurelius!? Come to spit on your sister's memory some more, have you? Show your face, monster! I am not afraid of you!"

A light reappeared where her body had been taking the form of a small wisp no bigger than a hoof. More and more wisps appeared until they blurred into a singular mass, coalescing. Telos stared at it in awe, unable to peel himself away from them. They began moving as one and flowed towards him, swarming around him and lifting him off of the grass. They obscured his vision until all was white.

What is this? he tried to say, but his voice failed him. The hum returned, filling his mind until it was only his thoughts he could focus on. He felt a burning in his head, but at the same time he felt pleasure, and the hum slowly faded into a low ringing.

"Do not be afraid, Telos," came Astra's voice, clear and soft. "I knew my life could be forfeit had I put my faith in my brother to make the right decision for himself. I allowed this to happen hoping that perhaps I, or my death, could alter the vile path he now walks. I fear that it has not."

The pain and pleasure in Telos's head intensified and spread throughout his body. He arched his back, writhing as he tried to cry out, but his voice remained muted.

"I am giving you a piece of my magic, what I can, a parting gift. Use it to stop my brother from becoming what he should not, for I fear his actions will lead to a vain future if left unchecked. He mustn't be allowed to rule how he sees fit, lest we be led to senseless slaughter." Telos nodded, but the pain spiked and he twisted in agony. "Please, do not kill my brother. That is all I wish of you, my love."

Telos's voice exploded from his throat. "Astra! Do not leave me alone as this! Why would you allow yourself to be killed?"

When Astra spoke again, her voice was barely audible. "My beloved, Telos... You shall come to understand one day."

The light soaked into his body and all of the feelings ended at once. The only trace of the scene just moments ago was the sword Aurelius had used; Astra's blood had vanished completely. Telos fell to the ground, pounding on it as he screeched out. His breaths growing into angry heaves. "Forgive me, Astra, but I cannot—I will not—allow your brother to draw breath." He stood up and looked at his hooves, an orb of energy forming within. In it, images of Astra's final moments played out. "I will honor your desire that he does not rule, but I shall do so with his execution."

His new magic came naturally and he formed streams of energy in the air that flowed wherever his mind led them. He combined the streams before driving them into a cluster of trees, blasting several into a rain of seared splinters. He watched as they cascaded onto the ground, leaving little more than smoking stumps of their former glory. There was no strain from the magic, no draw that he could feel as unicorns were supposed to. An aura encased him as he further felt out his power.

"I will ensure that he never lays his vile hooves on the crown he desires," he said darkly. He pointed a hoof to the sword and moved into his hoof. A peculiar black ran up and down the blade now, like a billowing smoke. He stared at it for a while, then frowned and glanced to where Aurelius had left.

Abruptly, the scene flowed into a vortex and vanished. Twilight blinked, dazed by the world distorting and disappearing all at once, but she took a comforted breath that she was right where she intended to be. The familiar stained glass windows and red carpet of the throne room seemed foreign now, but the sudden change was not unlike her teleportation.

She found the real Telos standing down the carpet, his hood pulled down over his face. The others were there, Spike, Trixie, and Dash. They glanced to Twilight and the princesses, each at a loss with what to say. The knight reached to Moonlight's hilt and slung the weapon to the floor in a quick motion, the weapon rolling along the carpet to Telos.

"That's the same sword that was used to kill her? I-I can't use that!" She shuddered and pried her gaze away from it.

The sage was staring where the blood stain of the memory had been, but he moved his eyes from it to the sword, then the knight. "It matters not of its past. It is no more a tool then as it is now. Wield it as you have, and continue to fight for your kingdom."

Dash gave him a mild look of disgust. "It isn't right. Nightfall, or Moonlight—whatever the heck its name is—was a gift from Princess Luna for becoming a Celestial Knight. But now that I know where it came from..." She trailed off and glanced to a wall, frustration tightening her face. "It just doesn't feel right."

Telos remained silent for a while before picking up the sword and holding it with the tip of the blade to the floor. "There is more to this sword than even I understand. It was never a blade meant for a pegasus, I know that much. Magic is meant to flow through it, not unlike the way a unicorn or alicorn uses their own, but I have not been able to utilize it in such a way. Perhaps I can imbue it with a wave property, but that is all I can do."

The blade levitated before Dash and she resisted looking at it for a while. Finally, she sighed and took it, grumbling as she quickly slid it back into its sheathe. "Only because I still need a good sword." She rolled her eyes to the alicorns, but quickly straightened herself when the princesses gave her a disapproving look.

"How is she supposed to slash out waves with her sword if she can't use magic?" asked Trixie.

Telos smiled. "Observant, Archmage Lulamoon. The blade is ancient, and has lost some of its power over the ages. As I understand it, its wielder channels magic through it, but I believe I can store energy in it that will more than suffice for the remainder of Knight Dash's career." He turned his attention to Twilight. "Speaking of preparations, the ritual for your astral projection is not yet complete."

"Tell me you're joking," she replied while offering a serious look.

"I am afraid not, Archmage Sparkle. The last of the materials arrived earlier this evening, and we can finish now if you wish."

Twilight loosed a sound of discontent before nodding. "Fine. Let's just get this over with."

"I would like to observe it," said Celestia.

Luna nodded and spoke in a hoarse, almost smoky voice. "As do I."

Twilight craned her neck to see her own body, and Trixie followed her stare. The runes were nearly lost to the new darkness in her coat, and the magician had to step closer to begin making them out.

The ritual is not finished? Nightmare asked.

I guess not. I can still remember the sting from the first one, Twilight mused sourly, closing her eyes. The foreign pattern of the glyphs on her body were bothersome. Some looked similar to ones found in old, dusty scrolls, but the draconic pattern they bore frightened her most. Aurelius knows a lot about what the dragons do. I hope—

Stop that, the Id balked. Don't even think about it. I have been down that road of thought before, and you don't need to start going there.

Twilight smiled. You're right. Thank you. She opened her eyes to Trixie staring at her.

"Then we shall finish the ritual here and now," Telos announced as he placed his forehooves on the ground. There was a quick flash as several small boxes appeared stacked in a pile.

"Is it alright to be doing conducting this just after our duel?" asked Luna. Her hoarse voice twisted Twilight's stomach with regret. "Your injuries... I do not wish to see you exacerbate them, Twilight."

"She's right, Twi. You're already pretty banged up," chimed Spike. She could hear the disappointment of her duel still ringing in his voice.

"Are you sure about this?" Trixie asked, throwing on a worried expression. "I don't want you to get hurt any more than you already have."

"I'm..." Twilight lifted a foreleg and stared at it. Bits of the fur on it had been singed or burned down.

The Id's voice cooed in her mind. Listen to them, Twilight. I know you have a high tolerance for pain now, but are you sure you can handle this?

As the sage unboxed the materials, he pulled a mortar and pestle out of the largest box and began mixing materials in them. Twilight watched him with uncertainty as the mixture changed colors with each new material he added. He threw several chalk-like bars into it, his magic taking the pestle and crushing them down into the bowl. A prism floated out and was set beside the bowl, glimmering occasionally and refracting the light in the throne room look the chandeliers above. Lastly, he slowly poured a phial containing a dark, inky substance, stirring slowly until it was all mixed in. It appeared almost like a void inside the bowl and she gazed into it for a while, intrigued.

Once it was complete, Telos dunked a hoof in and scurried around, smearing a dark paste across the floor, the bowl floating just beside him. A thick circle encompassed a large area, running across the large red carpet and across the marble. Twilight caught Celestia and Luna grimacing as he went about making more work for the castle servants. She chuckled to herself, but it faded as she glanced back to the smears.

"Twilight," Trixie said, prodding her master, "those look like—"

"Dragon runes," Twilight finished with a breathy voice. "The glyphs on my body are made from dragon runes." She marveled at the finished creation of what appeared to be a multi-layered alchemic circle.

The dual lined outer rim, and its intricate weaving inside, were the perimeter of the spell and magic being used within. Lines that criss-crossed and snaked or bowed and flowed beside the patterns and shapes within were for spell sequencing. The shapes themselves varied from being spells to properties to be applied to existing ones. When the sage stepped back, she swallowed hard.

"Just... what... kind of alchemy formulation is this?" she said, scanning it in fearful awe. "I've never seen anything like this," she added, motioning to it.

I have seen one of those before from my time under Aurelius, said Nightmare. Twilight poised to ask a question, but the Id quickly responded. I don't remember what it was used for, though. Sorry.

It's alright.

"It is the kind of alchemy formulation that keeps you whole and prevents your powers from waning. Stand in the center, Archmage Sparkle, if you will." Telos pointed to it, but she found herself shuddering as she gazed at it. On one hoof, it was a scientific and magical masterpiece. On the other, it was an unknown and dangerous spellweave, and her doubts were rapidly growing that it might be too dangerous this time. "It will not bite, I assure you."

"Will it... hurt?" she asked, glancing nervously to Trixie.

Telos sighed. "You have run your body through a lightning storm this evening, so I understand your reservations, however... I am afraid that this will hurt more than the first ritual."

Twilight gave a distraught stare to Trixie as she leaned into her, and she draped a wing over the magician before looking back to the circle. "Will it be quick?"

"Yes."

With that, Twilight allowed Nightmare to remain standing beside Trixie as she walked to the center, each clop from her steps making her heartbeat grow louder. "I swear to—" She threw a glance to Celestia and frowned. "If you're lying..."

"There is no other in the world that can tell you what it is like. This part of the ritual will bind the ink into the glyphs so that they may hold their power. Now, should I be concerned that your injuries will prevent you from going through with this?"

She frowned at him. "I can handle it."

"This will be finished soon." Telos reached into one of the small boxes and procured a second phial.

Twilight glanced to all of her friends, then the princesses, the uncertainty painting her face. Trixie motioned to her and she kept her eyes on her. Telos crouched down to place his forehooves on the outer rim.

"Are you ready?" he asked as he looked up.

Twilight gulped. "Ready."

The circle slowly lit up in a fluorescent blue, the light flowing along every line and design. The phial floated away from Telos, its top off, and the prism levitated from beside the bowl and floated above her. Twilight glanced up as the phial poured over the prism and the circle's light bathed her in its glow.

"What is—" The question never left her throat as the phial's contents spilled onto her back. The glyphs on her body glowed brightly as the prism connected beams of magic from the alchemy circle and refracted them onto her. Burning followed where the ink flowed, coalescing over the glyphs across her body rather than run down her sides and drip to the floor. This... is... nothing! She did not scream, instead only shuddering and lowering her head, clenching her eyes.

After every glyph had been covered, the glyphs on her body shifted about, their pain moving with them. The light from the alchemy circle ended and the prism floated down, gently tumbling to the floor beside her. A light smoke trail could be seen drifting away from several of the glyphs. One of her legs buckled and she bent down with her mouth just above the floor as she panted, her mane growing damp with sweat and clinging to her face. Telos gave her a surprised look.

"Is... it... done?" she asked through clenched teeth. All of the pain passed slowly and her body no longer held her aloft. She collapsed to the floor, rolling so that her face was laid against the cool marble. It soothed the echoes of the pain in her flesh, but it doubled the burning of the glyphs where it touched.

"Yes. You are now ready to begin training."

Trixie moved to Twilight's side, bringing Nightmare with her. Twilight gave the sage an exhausted glance as she relaxed. "Are you okay?" the magician asked. The violet alicorn merely nodded, and Trixie looked back up to Telos. "The books we studied, even the one you gave us, never made any mention of astral projection. Since you can do it, why don't you show us?"

The sage met her eyes and nodded. "Very well." Trixie propped Twilight up against her and they stared at Telos expectantly.

"Well? Aren't you going to show us?" Trixie asked impatiently.

"Do you not see, fledgling archmage?" The magician nearly jumped out of her skin while Twilight's eyes opened wide with surprise. "Though it is magic that does not exist even now, I consider low level astral projection to be a single, controlled source." A duplicate Telos stepped up from behind Twilight and Trixie, moving to stand beside the original. The image's movements mimed the original perfectly, and Twilight couldn't help but frown.

"Is that it?" the violet alicorn said, unable to stymie her skepticism.

"If that was all such a skill could do I would be a fool to waste time passing it on to you," he said sourly. He shook his head and removed his robe, the runes on his body glowing a deep blue against his sandy coat. He swayed a hoof through his image several times before continuing. "I am merely demonstrating what your first successes will look like."

He stood up and his demeanor became more serious. "There are several elements of this technique that can be used for various purposes." He swayed his hoof to his image again, but this time it stopped against its body. "Your images can be intangible or solid." The image followed several of his movements in sync, but abruptly broke away and moved around on its own. "Of your movements, mimicking or independent." Lastly, the image grew in size until it was twice Princess Celestia's size, surprising everyone. "Large or small, though this function cannot work with a scaled strength on its own, nor in tandem with the most important ones."

"And what are those?" Trixie asked.

"Indeed, these by themselves, or even combined, appear as only minute tactical advantages on the battlefield for the amount of magic they will require to maintain. However, the finality of this spell is to utilize your magic through yourself and your projection."

"That... you can do that?" said Twilight.

Suddenly, the image cast a bolt of magic at Telos, and the original countered with an identical one, canceling them out. "Though I can teleport, it is far and away from the caliber of your own ability. I suspect that the spell in your hands will transcend my own one day, allowing you to teleport between your images."

Twilight gaped at him. Teleport between my images? Images that cast magic, and look identical to me. "Now I understand why this magic was lost."

"It is not impervious to the strong, nor is it insignificant to the evil. There are now only four ponies who have seen how it is created in its entirety." He cast a glance to Luna. "I have been using my astral projection to delay Aurelius from reaching Canterlot."

"So, you knew where he was all along," Celestia said, scowling.

"Not all along. It took a great deal of time to find him, but I have been tracking his movements since. Initially, he was hasty in making his way here, but he has since slowed to focus on his recovery. I fear that his assault draws near." His projection disappeared without a flash and he put his robe back on.

"Is he truly as powerful as you say?" asked Luna. "Surely he cannot stand before all of us."

"I am afraid that he is. He will not fight alone, however. He knows he cannot win against our combined power, but that is what I fear."

"That he won't fight alone?" Trixie echoed.

Telos gave her a look of disbelief, which prompted the magician to scowl back. "Not the idea, child. The Brood are no longer an option, and I don't know who he would use. That is what I fear."

"I'm not a child," Trixie grumbled.

"What if he uses them again with his... ability?" asked Celestia. She looked to Twilight as she spoke. "I won't have another misguided war with the dragons. There is already talk of becoming allies with them now that Garr is king."

"The Brood is no longer an option for him, but I worry that another empire could become his victims quickly. He has showed no signs of aligning himself while I have tracked him and that makes it all the worse. He may be brash and arrogant at times, but the prince is no fool."

"He cannot expect to rule an entire nation when he is brash and arrogant at all," added Luna.

"The crown was never something he squandered. He is not reckless in his rule." Telos shifted uncomfortably.

"So, Aurelius did rule after Astra's death," said Celestia.

"I am afraid so. He mete out his own justice to those who stood against him, those still loyal to Astra. Though her gift empowered me, my magic did not reach a capacity that would be enough to dethrone him. In the end, I still tried to honor her wish and spare his life, choosing to seal him away. Perhaps with more time, I would have killed him."

"We won't be sealing him this time," Twilight interjected curtly. "He will be executed." Everyone looked at her with surprise. "He is responsible for everyone that died and I will make sure he pays for that." The ribbons of color in her mane separated at the end and drifted apart. He is responsible for your pain and what happened to Luna.

"I agree," said a stone-faced Luna. "We cannot allow a being as capable and dangerous as Aurelius to live. Not after all that he has done and all that he will do."

"Execution," Celestia said, the word rolling off her tongue like a bitter grape, "is not something I would normally agree with, but... I think it's for the best. He could one day take hold of the Gryphon empire or the Crystal kingdom." The princesses exchanged regretful looks. "We cannot allow that to happen."

Telos turned and pointed to Twilight. "You must train your astral projection for combat until your images can independently operate. I wish to see what your first attempt amounts to."

Twilight gave him a puzzled look. "Images?" she repeated. "So I can conjure more than one?"

The sage's mouth wrinkled. "Perhaps a slip of the tongue in times past. However, make no mistake, Archmage Sparkle. This technique is dangerous in the wrong hooves. One image alone is beyond your current magical theories."

"Show me what I should be trying to do."

"I suppose a simple demonstration is fair enough." In the span of a blink, Telos created an image of himself, but it was incomplete, appearing faintly dark and transparent. It faced Twilight, as did the sage himself, and each did simple movements. "Combination magic is also possible without the need for the caster to blend the spells within their own container, but that is closer to the finality of the magic."

Twilight marveled at the possibilities of the spell, but there was a subtle fear lingering within her.

Nightmare Moon's voice stirred in her mind. This is something I would've—

But you're not the same as before, she thought, briskly cutting the Id off. I trust you.

"Can you teach us as well?" said Luna.

Telos glanced to the floor and put a hoof up to his chin as he thought. He eyed the princesses and Trixie carefully before answering. "Perhaps if I discovered a method that did away with the glyphs necessary. They are a curse in themselves and the resources for creating them are most rare, even in my time." Turning back to Twilight, he said, "Your first attempt, if you will. Your mind is your obstacle, archmage. Your magic, however, will oblige."

Twilight closed her eyes and concentrated, visualizing herself as a second being viewing herself. Magic flowed through her and she could feel it beginning to become something. Abruptly, she felt dizzy and stopped, opening her eyes and squinting. "I don't feel so good," she muttered, swaying.

"The ill feelings will not last, and they will vanish with experience. Try again and persevere through them."

Closing her eyes again, Twilight concentrated, straining to maintain focus as her magic flowed through her. She could feel it coalescing and materializing into something. She blinked open her eyes, sensing her creation was complete, but she gasped at the final product of the spell.

"N-Nightmare?" she blurted and glanced around to see everyone equally as perplexed.

The Id blinked several times, seemingly unaware of her current status. "Where... am I?" she asked.

"Your projection... is the soul within the staff?" exclaimed Telos, marveling at Nightmare's form. The Id had used her powers through Twilight's link before, but never molding herself into an independent entity or vice versa.

The Id's body appeared with a blurry distortion, but her mane and tail had been rendered perfectly. She glanced around between the others confusedly, deftly avoiding eye contact with Luna. "Twilight?" she said as her eyes fell on the archmage. A wistful smile pulled her features up.

"I can do... this?" she said as she reached a hoof out to touch the Id. Nightmare reached back, but Twilight staggered forward and collapsed, the staff clattering to the floor beside her. Nightmare opened her mouth to speak, but her image distorted and vanished before she could.

"Twilight!" shrieked Trixie, catching the violet alicorn before she hit the floor. "Twilight, are you okay?" She shook her gently before her fears were allayed. "She... passed out?" she said, glancing to Telos.

"It takes great energy to use this ability, and I'm afraid that her body is not accustomed to the strain it puts on the user. She merely needs to rest."

Twilight moaned and stirred. "No... I have... I have to summon her... again!" She shakily tried to stand, but she wobbled and her legs buckled, collapsing back into Trixie's awaiting embrace. "Ugh... I feel so... tired..."

Please rest, Twilight, encouraged her Id. Don't push yourself for me.

But I... want to... I need to... Twilight replied, her voice fading away.

The only thing you need to do right now is rest! the Id scolded. But... why did you project me instead of an image of yourself? The question came too late and Twilight had already fallen asleep.

"Twilight?" Trixie asked, shaking her gently, but she shook her head when she didn't stir.

"She will not awaken again this evening," said Telos. "I will have her train further once she is rested."

"Perhaps all of you should retire for the evening," added Celestia. "I will need to inform the local weather pegasi regarding the sudden storm over the fields below." She gave a hard stare to Telos, panning her view to make eye contact with the others as well. "An incident like that will not happen again. Do you understand?" They nodded in agreement and she headed for the door. "I don't want to see any of you here by the time I'm finished."

Telos vanished in a quick flash while Spike, Dash and Luna followed the sun princess out of the throne. Trixie levitated Twilight over herself and stared at Nightmare's staff for a while. Swallowing, she wrapped Twilight's black cloak over her and slid the staff underneath before leaving.

Author's Note:

This chapter was heavily delayed by my own dislike of the original's structure, and because I have a time priority sunk into something else (that is entirely unproductive). I'm fairly satisfied with the final, but I *hated* rewriting this one. So much work. x.x

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