• 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 26: Shackles of Valor

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 26: Shackles of Valor

A flash of light lit the dark field briefly, and Telos blinked open his eyes, glancing up and scanning the sky. The haze of the storm had not yet dispersed, and a few dark clouds flickered their light high above, buried deep within the grey puffs. Glancing at the sword, he frowned. It's as you said. You don't feel it's right because it isn't.

The sage wandered towards a cloud still sparking with lightning. He stabbed the sword into the ground and moved away from it, then fired a blast of magic into the cloud. There was lull in its activity until, abruptly, lightning ripped from it and touched down the sword. Booming thunder deafened him and he teleported further back as his ears rung like a bell. He watched the sword from the distance, the bright flashes striking it over and over, illuminating the dark land in still frames of his vision.

After a while, the lightning died down, finally ceasing as the cloud moved on from the area. Telos moved back to the sword and eyed it carefully. The green glow was more vibrant than it had been before, but the weapon was otherwise unscathed from the electrical onslaught. He reached for the hilt, but stopped only inches away. The blade moved into his hoof and he looked up to the sky. In another flash, he was gone.

***

"Is it... done?" Dash asked as she eyed the sword carefully in the sage's outstretched hooves. She had donned her knight's armor, freshly polished, but without the helmet. The gleam of her armor had absorbed some of Moonlight's glow and cast back a pale green of its own. A tower shield took the place of her destroyed heater shield, bowing around her back like a protective shell. She cocked her head to one side and brought an armored hoof up to her chin as she leaned and inspected every detail of it.

"Yes. The sword can now slash with a magical element to it, increasing its overall power. This new property will bring an entirely new dimension to your swordplay, which is already advanced as a pegasus knight." The sage rolled his eyes when Dash's eyes lit up in excitement. "This is not a toy, child!" he added, waving in an emphatic hoof.

Dash recomposed herself and quickly took the blade, stuffing it into its waiting sheathe beneath her shield unceremoniously. "Sorry. Thanks, Telos. I owe you one."

"Be careful with it. I fear that you may injure yourself... or worse. A pointblank wave can lead to a dangerous explosion if used improperly. Moonlight should possess formidable range and I implore you to begin training with it immediately."

"Well, the other Celestial Knights are too busy to spar with them..." She trailed off and put a hoof to her chin again, looking to the sky for answer. "Ah-hah," she exclaimed, "I'll get Twilight and Trixie to help."

Before the sage could offer input, Dash took off into the sky, excitement boiling over and causing her to spin and flip as she went. The extra burden of her gear failed to slow her down as she continued to twirl and wind in her path. She hovered up above the castle courtyard for a moment, glancing around to see if she could spot either magical mare, but her eyes found another pair of ponies instead. She gasped and cracked a grin, then went into a steep descent towards them, reaching the ground and skidding to a halt perfectly in front of her targets, much to the shock of others around them.

"Hey, you two!" she greeted cheerily.

"Rainbow Dash? Is that really you?" asked the pegasus nearest her.

"The one and only, kid." Before Dash could say anything else, Scootaloo lurched forward and embraced her, nuzzling into her chest.

"I've missed you so much, Rainbow. I was starting to think you'd forgotten about us!"

Dash gave her a noogie and smiled softly. "I could never forget about my number one fan," she joked. Her eyes ran across the pegasus's uniform, nostalgia flowing into her as the signature Wonderbolts design and goggles filled her imagination. She turned her head to the other pony.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't the hero, Rainbow Dash," she teased, eyeing the knight's armor. "The Wonderbolts miss you, you know."

Dash chuckled. "I know, I know. I miss everyone on the team, too."

"Why don't you come back?" Scootaloo asked quickly.

"I..." Dash swallowed. They don't know about everything going on. "I'm sorry, kid. I'm really busy with all this knight stuff. Maybe once it all calms down I could do both." Scootaloo gave her a hopeful look, but Spitfire offered a doubtful one.

"I don't know," Spitfire said. "You fell head over hooves in love with that pegasus soldier, and then you were gone, just like that. Something tells me you're going to follow her around forever."

Dash chuckled. "Aw, c'mon, Spitty. Don't be like that. We won't be soldiers forever." She scratched the back of her head and grinned. "Anyway, I need to go do some training. I'll see you two around." She turned and prepared to fly, but a hoof on her shoulder stopped her.

"Listen," Spitfire said, "You're welcome back any time, even to any events, parties, or practice. We'd love to have you with us again, but I understand you've got other duties now. Just don't forget about us."

The knight glanced between them and looked away. Memories from her time as a Wonderbolt flooded into her mind and she smiled. "Yeah, I'd like that." She latched onto Spitfire, hugging her tight before turning and taking off. She forced herself not to look back, into the eyes of a disappointed Scootaloo, but she meant to keep her word and try to balance her career desires. You're already livin' the dream, Scoot, she thought, smiling to herself.

Her flight meandered over the city for a while as she played some of her fondest memories of the Wonderbolts in her mind, but it eventually led her back to the castle. Other soldiers and guards nodded to her or waved, but none of them were the one she wanted to see. Sighing, she landed on a balcony that overlooked the city. Her armored hooves gave a metallic clank as she set down, and she turned to see the late morning sun lighting everything up.

"There is a door, you know," called Trixie from the room. The magician had donned her archmage's cloak, also wearing a matching pointed hat, much akin to her magician's garb. "And most ponies knock first."

Dash entered the room to see her standing before a tall mirror beside the bed. Twilight was lying across her bed, her eyes closed and wings spread down beside her. Nightmare was lying with her, the staff's eerie dark glow remaining static, but the entirety of it held a black color, replacing its once glorious platinum sheen.

"I used the pegasus door. You left it open again," joked Dash, smirking to an annoyed Trixie.

"Good morning, Rainbow," Twilight greeted as she opened her eyes.

A dark mist flowed from the staff and coalesced at the foot of the bed, manifesting into a coarse image of Nightmare Moon. The runes and glyphs across Twilight's body alighted as the image's details were filled out. Though complete in form, only the Id's mane and tail were rendered perfectly, the rest of her body having blurred severely.

"Hello, Rainbow Dash," greeted Nightmare. "You seem tensed by my presence."

By reflex, the knight reached for her sword, but her hoof stopped as it touched the hilt, and she slowly put it back to the floor. She gave Nightmare a weird look before shivering.

The Id glanced down. "Don't worry. Twilight is working on improving the projection."

"It's just... I'll never get used to seeing you," Dash said, turning her head away and scratching the back of her head guiltily.

"Don't worry about it, Rainbow. I'll have her looking like a normal pony in no time." The alicorn stood up and exhaled sharply, and Nightmare's image rippled and faded momentarily. The runes on Twilight's body shimmered, but both her staff and horn were oddly silent. "Wow," she said, out of breath, "this takes a lot more magic than I thought."

Nightmare crouched down beside her. "Please don't strain yourself for me."

Twilight smiled and sat back down and pressed a hoof to her chest. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."

"So, uh... I'm here to borrow Trixie," Dash interjected.

The magician gave her a sour look. "Do I look like some kind of knick-knack you can just take whenever you please?"

"What for?" asked Twilight.

"I need a sparring partner so I can practice with Moonlight." She unsheathed the blade and held it with the tip of the blade touching the floor; the eerie glow pulsed and faded slowly. "I need to practice with the new wave ability."

"What, do I look like some kind of indestructible training dummy to you?" Trixie crossed her forelegs over her chest.

Dash rolled her eyes. "You can make barriers and shields to block attacks. I can't test it out on any of the actual training dummies." She looked away and muttered under her breath. "The last time Luna fined me three months of salary for the damages..."

"You should do it Trixie," chimed in Twilight. "It'll help keep your skills sharp."

The magician gave her an unsure look before glancing to her staff. "Alright, but on one condition." Twilight raised an eyebrow. "I get to borrow Nightmare Moon." When both alicorns gave her puzzled looks, she offered an abashed look and added, "For safety purposes. You can never be too careful with things you don't know. You taught me that."

Twilight beamed. "Is that okay with you, Nightmare?"

"I suppose... if you're okay with it."

"Alright then, it's settled," Twilight said, rising to standing. Nightmare's image dispersed into nothingness and she picked the staff up and moved to stand by the magician. "Now you two don't go overboard. The last thing we need is more injuries."

"I won't," said Trixie and Dash in unison. In a flash, all three teleported to the empty field below Canterlot.

"This is the best place I can think of to train away from others. Try not to make too much of a mess. It takes a lot of magic to heal nature," Twilight said.

***

Trixie squinted to the sudden sunlight, peering around. There wasn't much to see, but the familiar lance stuck out of the ground to mark their location. Always here, she thought, rolling her eyes. As her eyes adjusted to the brightness, Dash set her shield down took flight while Twilight stepped backwards to gain some distance to view. The sword sparkled in the sunlight when the knight unsheathed it, and Trixie strained her eyes to see her above.

"Hey, are you ready, yet? I don't see any barriers!" Dash called down.

Trixie glanced to Twilight and Nightmare levitated to her. She swallowed as the staff came into close proximity, then shivered when she touched it. The feeling of Nightmare's presence within her mind felt foreign, but she was thankful that they had opted not to exchange words.

"I've got ten bits saying nothing happens on the first try!" she shouted back.

Dash took the sword in both hooves and reeled it over her head. With a heave, she swung it down with all of her might. To everyone's surprise, a crescent wave of green light cut from the apex of her swing, rocketing towards the ground. Trixie's eyes were wide as she watched it, but her barrier formed in an instant. The energy wave crashed into it and dispersed. She lowered her barrier, her surprised look maintained as she peered up to the knight.

"Whoa!" Dash said in marvel. "You owe me ten bits!"

A notepad and quill appeared in front of Twilight as she glanced between it, Dash, and Trixie. "Wow. Telos did that to her sword? I've got to ask him what he did," she said as she took down notes.

Dash descended closer to the ground, giving light slashes and cuts to the air. Moonlight's waves varied in size and power depending on the force of the swing and her own intent, even producing none at all when she swung it sharply to the sky without wanting to cut a wave. "Telos wasn't kidding when he said this could bring a whole new dimension to swordplay."

"That I was not," affirmed the sage.

Trixie's eyes darted to the sage as Twilight gave him a surprised look. "I didn't even notice you," said the alicorn.

Telos ignored her and spoke only to Dash. "Do exercise caution. The velocity is neither instantaneous, nor is this new power to solely be relied upon." Dash nodded.

"Have you come to observe, too, Telos?" Twilight asked.

Telos shook his head. "Though I wish to observe, the princesses have summoned you."

Twilight sighed and stepped to Trixie. The magician had been watching and she gave her lover a disappointed look. "I have to go, Trixie. I'll try to hurry back as soon as I can. In the mean time, don't overdo it."

"I won't," Trixie repeated.

Twilight pointed at the staff. "You, too." The staff pulsed a glow in affirmation. In a flash, Telos and Twilight were gone.

"Quit lazing around up there and hit me with everything you've got!" Trixie shouted.

The knight slashed several times in her direction, the blade producing a wave for each stroke of the weapon. Trixie's barrier deflected them and each wave cut a groove into the ground around her, as if the sword itself had struck the earth. With Nightmare, she could scarcely feel the drain on her magic.

"Is that the best you can do?"

Dash groaned. "Fine. I'm not holding back at all this time. You and Nightmare had better block it!"

"We can take on anything!" Trixie could hear an aggravated sigh from Nightmare, but she chose to ignore it as another barrier was erected over her.

The knight beat her wings and circled around overhead, climbing into the sky. Once she was satisfied with her altitude, she took Moonlight into both hooves again and went into a dive, twirling as the wind resistance failed to deter her. The sword's energy leaked back behind her, giving her corkscrew two green tails and obscuring her from view.

Trixie braced herself, taking on a defensive stance and raising Nightmare in front of her. Her barrier's color shifted into a dark blue as she poured more of her magic into it. She gave a cry as Dash impacted the barrier, an explosion of lights erupting outside of her barrier followed by a plume of dirt and rocks. Her barrier faded, but the attack was over. She stood, gazing at where the knight's attack connected, a foreleg raised in defense, still. Trixie gagged as the dust in the air coated the inside of her mouth and she used her magic to blow it away.

Her eyes fell to the knight, but it took her a moment before she could fully absorb what had just happened. Dash had drilled into the ground up to her chest and was struggling to free her forelegs and weapon.

"Don't you dare laugh," Dash said.

Are you alright? Nightmare asked.

Trixie's brow twitched as she shook her head. "You could've killed me!" the magician bellowed, collecting herself.

I wouldn't have allowed that, but you should never underestimate your opponents.

"Quiet, you," Trixie rebuked.

"Who are you—"

"You," Trixie interrupted quickly. She raised the staff and a gale swept through, removing the dust from herself. She glanced to down to Dash and pried her free with a wave of the staff.

"I told you I wasn't holding back," explained Dash as she brushed herself off and straightened. "Well, now that I know what I can do, let's have a real duel," she added, smirking.

Trixie looked into Moonlight's eerie glow. The appearance of the black on the blade struck her as wrong in the daylight, standing out against anything else. She pulled her eyes away before answering. "An actual duel? Puh-lease. You may have been a Celestial Knight longer than I've been an archmage, but you don't have what it takes to stand with the best." She smirked back as Dash's confidence shifted into indignation, adding, "Like me."

Trixie, you shouldn't—

"Oh, you really think you can take me on? Twilight might be your teacher, but I've got the best mentor a Celestial Knight could have!"

Remember what Twilight said, reminded Nightmare. I'm here to protect you, but my power is merely an extension to yours.

"Didn't you get all of Twilight's memories?" Trixie replied. Before Nightmare could answer she went on. "Because I don't remember her ever doubting me."

The Id remained quiet for a moment as Trixie nodded to Dash. She doesn't know Moonlight's capabilities and she doesn't want you to get injured.

Once Dash was out of earshot, Trixie spun around slammed the spire of the staff onto the ground. "You can't be serious! She doesn't think I can handle myself!?"

It's not like that...

"Just once, I want to be the one protecting her..."

She... This is none of my business. You should speak to her.

"Are you ready, yet?" called the knight.

Trixie groaned and looked up to her. "I've got to let off some steam, and you better not cry for mercy!" She took up Nightmare as an aura formed over her, giving her a dark tint even in the sunlight.

***

"What is so urgent that the princesses need to speak to me right now?" Hurried hoofsteps punctuated Twilight's movement as she followed behind the sage. Her black cloak fluttered in her wake as she moved beside him and matched his stride.

"Time may be of the essence, Archmage Sparkle. Your princesses will brief you."

Twilight frowned as she recognized where they were going. The war room. It can't be... So soon?

Telos knocked swiftly and the door flew open, a royal guard just on the other side. He allowed them in, then stepped out and closed it with a low thump behind him. Luna stepped past Twilight and pressed her hooves to the door, a blue aura flickering over it, then she and Telos moved to loom over a table.

Twilight stepped up, recognizing it as a large scale map of Equestria, but there were landmarks even she did not recognize. The princesses looked tense, their eyes running along several of the markers to the north, and exchanging silent words with one another.

"Princess Celestia, Luna, what's going on?" Twilight asked.

"Twilight, I fear Aurelius has made his first move," answered Celestia.

"One of our most trusted agents, a Celestial Knight, has been captured," said Luna.

Twilight's brow lowered. "Another Celestial Knight? There are more I don't know about?"

"The knowledge that the Archmagi and the Celestial Knights have of each other is typically limited. Admittedly, you are an exception and we have neglected to brief you as to the extent of their purpose and existence, but that is for another time," explained Luna.

Celestia swallowed and ran a hoof over one of the northern markers. "I know this is sudden and I don't have much information, but she must be rescued at once."

"So, we're thinking the same thing," Twilight said dryly. "If Aurelius has turned her, I can break his magic, but what was she doing all the way up here?" She motioned towards the marker Celestia had swept.

Luna explained. "Until recently, she was assigned to managing our borders with the Brood, ensuring that there were no dragons without an allegiance attacking. However, with the settling of the Brood and Aurelius's impending assault, she was reassigned to reconnaissance. I would sooner see Aurelius dead than wait for him to come to Canterlot."

"How do you know she was captured?"

"Though I had intended to conserve my magic, I scouted her with astral projection to be sure this was not left to speculation," answered Telos.

"Twilight," Celestia said sternly, giving the archmage a hard look. "We cannot afford to have this particular knight executed. If she is being controlled, you must do everything in your power to break that control."

"Just who is this knight?" Twilight asked, glancing between the princesses.

Celestia and Luna exchanged glances, but Luna was the one to answer. "Celestial Knight, and current Paladin, Derpy Hooves."

Twilight blinked. "Derpy?" she muttered. "Where have I heard that name before..." When the princesses gave her serious looks she dropped the subject. "Alright. Rainbow Dash is a Celestial Knight, so she will subdue her and I'll break Aurelius's control."

"I am afraid that it is not that simple, Twilight," said Luna.

Celestia continued in her sister's place. "Each Celestial Knight wields a blessed sword to bolster their service to the kingdom. Knight Dash was given Nightfall—now Moonlight—which is a powerful weapon, but even with its wave ability, she will be no match for Knight Hooves."

"How much power does this Knight Hooves possess? Surely Rainbow Dash is strong enough now that she has a wave capability," Telos interjected.

"Celestial Knights are physically greater than any natural strength that can be achieved. Their power comes for multiple sources, and their swords are one of them. Paladin Hooves wields the Glance Reviver, and it is one of the strongest blades forged." Celestia sighed and turned away from the table. "It can grant her a variety of abilities ranging from speed to basic spellcraft. Where Knight Dash moves with incredible speed, Knight Hooves can exceed even that were she to will it."

"That's impossible. There has to be a weakness."

"There is," said Luna. "The knights function as batteries for the abilities granted by their weapons. The drain of their abilities mirrors that of a unicorn and that limitation applies to Paladin Hooves just the same. They can exceed those limits, but at grave costs."

"Alright, then we'll need to wear her down. We'll form a three pony team. I'll need Rainbow since she knows how the Celestial Knights fight, and I'll bring Trixie so that—"

"Nay," interrupted Luna, shaking her head. "I will take Archmage Lulamoon's place. If an alicorn's magic is what is needed to break Aurelius's control, then I will join the mission as insurance. Should you fall, another must be there to break the binding."

"Are you sure, Luna?" Twilight asked.

"Discard your doubts, Twilight. My power is more than adequate."

Twilight nodded and glanced at the map, scanning over the terrain and markers again. "Where was Knight Hooves last seen?"

Celestia pointed to a mark above the one she had swept earlier. "Here."

Twilight glanced up. "How much time do we have to prepare?"

"I want you to be on your way in ten minutes," replied the sun princess.

"Derpy Hooves..." Twilight muttered to herself. The princesses stared at her but she paid them no mind. "Why does that sound so familiar?"

Luna interrupted her thoughts with a prod to her shoulder. "We must be going, Twilight. The sooner Knight Hooves is returned, the better for us all." Twilight nodded and they both teleported out of the chambers.

"I should be joining them. My astral projection would be a great asset if—"

"No," Celestia said quickly. "I want you here in case this is just a diversion. You know him better than anyone, and your magic gives him caution. I cannot allow you to exhaust yourself in the event he sieges Canterlot." She tapped a hoof on the marker for the capitol on the map. "I'm afraid that he will. I never could have imagined Paladin Hooves being captured. There are doubts within me that even my two best archmagi could bring her down."

"Was sending your sister into danger, knowing Aurelius was there as well, a good idea?" Telos asked.

Celestia looked up to him with stalwart determination burning in her eyes. "Luna knows what's at stake. She is right to have a second alicorn there. Recovering Paladin Hooves is of utmost importance. Both of them know that."

"You seem unsettled by the decision," Telos observed.

The princess stared at the northern marks on the map. "Knight Dash is the last Celestial Knight I would choose to battle her, but she is the only one available right now."

***

Dash barreled at high speed, narrowly avoiding an arcane bolt from Trixie, but her sword caught the ground and threw her off balance. She quickly recovered, cutting a second groove into the ground momentarily for stability. Moonlight gleamed before she turned sharply and cut a vertical wave towards the magician. Trixie countered with her own wave of magic and the two clashed, exploding in a plume of light and mist.

"Is that the best you can do?" Trixie taunted.

The knight spun herself around, her off leg swinging out to maintain balance as she drove herself down in a curve. As she reached the ground, she arced, then moved at high speed across the surface, closing in for a finishing strike. Trixie readied herself, gathering energy in the spire of Nightmare. She pushed a hoof out as her magic discharged and Dash swung her weapon.

Twilight appeared in the nexus of the two attacks. Nightmare moved to her in an instant, catching Moonlight, and with a free hoof she nullified Trixie's spell. Both sparring ponies froze in surprise, but Twilight merely composed herself. "I'm sorry to interrupt your training, but we've got a mission," she said.

What is it, Twilight? the Id asked casually the same time as Trixie asked, "What's going on?"

"A mission? I thought we were staying here in case Aurelius attacks," added Dash.

Twilight shook her head. "This is too important. The princesses want us on this right away. Another celestial knight has been captured by Aurelius?"

Trixie gave a gasp, but Dash slammed Moonlight in its sheathe and stepped closer. "Wh-what did you say? Please tell me I heard that wrong."

Twilight shook her head again. "I'm sorry, Rainbow, but Telos confirmed it. We'll be leaving in ten minutes on a rescue mission." Dash opened her mouth, but she cut her off. "You'll be a part of the rescue team."

"I'll go grab a few things and we can—"

Twilight turned. "Sorry, Trixie, but you're sitting this one out."

Trixie's mouth fluttered. "Wh-what!? Why!"

"I can break Aurelius's influence, but she suspects it's alicorn magic that can do it. Luna is taking your place as insurance, in case I'm incapacitated."

The magician's face was painted with disbelief, but it melted down to disappointment. "Why don't I still come? It will just increase our chances of success."

Twilight licked her lips as her mouth went dry. "I'm sorry, Trixie. You were my first choice, but we need to keep as much of Equestria's forces right here in Canterlot."

"So," Dash said, "who's the knight that got captured?"

"Paladin Derpy Hooves."

Dash stared at Twilight, her mouth hanging open as tears welled in her eyes. "No," she said breathlessly. "We have to hurry! W-we have to go right now! Right now, right now!"

"We're leaving soon," Twilight reminded her. "Who is she?"

Dash hesitated for a second before answering. "She's the reason I left the Wonderbolts. She's the reason that I... that I am a Celestial Knight."

"Don't worry, Rainbow. We'll bring her back."

"Well, since I'm not going, you had better come back safe," Trixie chimed.

"I promise, Trixie." Twilight leaned closer and gave her a kiss on the cheek before whispering, "Don't let your guard down." In a flash, they were gone.

***

"Halt your teleportations, Twilight," Luna said, raising a commanding hoof. "We shall fly the latter half of the journey. Our destination is to that of a forested climb and leaping blindly into the thick of enemy territory will only seek to get us killed."

Twilight panted, wiping a rim of sweat from her forehead. She should've warned us about how cold it was going to be, she complained to Nightmare. The air had grown crisp several teleports ago and it was making her sweat feel like icy water cutting through her fur. She shivered as a gust ruffled her robe and chilled her.

Sustain yourself with magic. You once survived in my blizzard. This should be nothing. Nightmare gave a noise somewhere between a haughty grunt and a proud harrumph, but Twilight couldn't tell which it was meant to be.

I don't want to spend any more magic. I'll need as much as I can get. She sucked in air through her nose and tugged her cloak closer as they took flight over a rapidly frosting landscape. Dash flew beside her as Luna led them, but the knight remained quiet.

Twilight looked up towards the sun, squinting and soaking in the sunlight. They had only just begun the flying segment, but she was already weary of the travel. The land scrolled by in a blur as she tried to maintain a conversation with Nightmare to pass the time during the flight. The conversation lapsed for a while, but the Id spoke up again.

Twilight, Nightmare began, garnering the lavender mare's attention, Why did you think I could change, even after all that I've done and after learning about who—what I am?

I... she trailed off, caught off guard by the question. After a moment, she smiled to herself. You already know the answer. She sighed when the Id stayed silent. I saw into your heart, your memories. I knew what you knew. I even felt what you felt. If it wasn't for that, I would just be guessing, but... Don't you believe that everyone deserves a second chance?

I never believed someone like me deserved a second chance. There's blood on my hooves. What about all of the innocent ponies whose loved ones I killed?

Twilight swallowed. I can't tell you what to do other than try to atone for what you've done. The feeling of what you... She took a deep breath and glanced to the ground. That horrible feeling will never go away, no matter how much you want it to. You just try to make it smaller in any way you can. The staff floated before Twilight, pulsing its strange glow calmly. Why did you ask all of that when you already know my feelings?

Maybe... I just wanted you to reassure me again that they hadn't changed...

Twilight prepared another thought, but she was interrupted as Luna descended to the ground.

"We shall land here," she announced. The trio touched down and stretched their legs, taking in their surroundings. Dash eagerly stepped about and practiced her brandish and shield draw while they took a few moments to rest their wings.

"Alright, enough rest. Let's get to Derpy pronto!" the knight said.

"Nay," said Luna. "We move by ground through the area. We do not know where exactly they are, nor can we move too quickly and risk stumbling into a trap." There was a twinge of regret in her face as she looked upon the knight, but she pivoted and raised a hoof to the horizon behind her. "The temperature falls as the light wanes. Though Twilight and I can sense through the darkness, you are at a disadvantage."

"Luna's right. We need to stay low and move carefully. If we're lucky, we can get the jump on them, without the need for a fight."

Dash gave a defeated shrug. "I'm a Celestial Knight just like her. I can handle her on my own. There has to be another way."

"No," said Luna sternly. "I wish to return Knight Hooves to Canterlot as swiftly as you, but I will not jeopardize our lives for it. Furthermore, though you are a formidable warrior, Paladin Hooves is much stronger than you are now."

"I..." Dash hung her head.

"Don't worry. We'll bring her back," Twilight said to reassure her. It wasn't much, but her words had managed to bring Rainbow's hope back to the surface, earning her a smile.

The march further into the northern lands made Twilight apprehensive. She expected there to be some kind of animals producing noise, any at all, but there was only an uneasy silence. She and Luna constantly scanned the surroundings, straining themselves to sense anything magical nearby, but only the silence answered each time. They reached a forest as Luna raised the moon, night falling and bathing everything in shadows, and they all stopped to peer into the darkness cast by the trees.

"This is it," said Luna as she stepped through a patch of snow. "The tactical advantage is hers, and we must'nt become separated. As I am the night, so is she, and she will not be easily tracked beneath my veil."

"Even if she has duskweave, I can still sense her," Twilight said, trying to feel out the forest for anything peculiar. What? If she's here, then why... "I'm... not sensing anything at all. Are you sure she's here?"

"I removed her presence in the night, much akin to the lunar blessing you had once received yourself. She does not possess duskweave, but you should not lower your guard."

The princess led them into the forest, moving quietly, cautiously. The party's eyes darted between the trees, fixating with frightful intensity to the location of any sound they heard. The rustling of leaves, the snapping of a tree branch, or the singing of wind—anything could be a fatal danger. Every shadow challenged their calm with adrenaline, taunting them to jump at anything and everything. Twilight grew nervous when Dash had nearly brandished her weapon and leaped at snow falling from an encumbered branch. But none of it prepared them for the snickering voice.

Dash and Luna froze on the frontline while Twilight spun around to cover the rear, raising Nightmare defensively. The snickering peaked to a laugh before dying back down to a snicker. Luna's horn ignited with a powerful glow, beating back the shadows around them and casting new ones from the trees in their place. Dash ripped Moonlight from its sheathe and stood ready, raising her tower shield.

Where? Where is it coming from? Twilight's mind reeled as the noise danced around them, her eyes shooting from shadow to shadow, tree to tree in the distance.

She's here, but I can't be sure where, exactly. Luna's blessing is more potent than I thought, said Nightmare.

"Well, if it isn't Princess Luna herself. My, when was the last time you stepped hoof outside of Canterlot for a mission, hm?" Derpy taunted, her voice continuing to bounce between the trees.

I'm sensing something else, Twilight, the Id added. Be careful. I'm not sure what it is, yet.

"Surrender at once, Paladin Hooves! There is no need for violence against one of my own!" Luna bellowed.

"You've brought Archmage Twilight Sparkle and Celestial Knight Rainbow Dash. This is almost perfect for King Aurelius. It's too bad, though. He isn't here to see this now."

Twilight's heart sank and Luna spun to her and Dash, her eyes widening. "It has begun. He lured us away to begin the assault! Quickly, Twilight. You can return to Canterlot the fastest! You must—!"

"I'm afraid that won't work," said Derpy.

Twilight closed her eyes and attempted to teleport. "What!?" she loosed, her eyes opening wide. "I... I can't teleport!"

"You're trapped in this forest's illusion now. Your teleportation has been sealed and any attempt to leave will loop you right back here. The only way out is to kill me. Do that... and you're home free."

Powerful magic is maintaining the illusion, said Nightmare.

How can I break it? Twilight asked.

A wave of white energy split the darkness of the forest, casting shadows anew as it traveled towards the trio. They divided to evade, but quickly regrouped once it passed, with Twilight and Luna behind Dash. In the wake, a shadow moved in the returning darkness, and Derpy appeared before Dash, making a vertical slash from the ground. Dash parried, hopping backwards from the recoil and poising herself for a following strike, but it never came. She had stopped between the other mares and maintained a defensive stance. The eerie moonlight refracted from a cut in her breastplate, a grim mark that she wasn't quite fast enough.

I don't know how to break the illusion, but I'll keep analyzing the magic, said the Id. Be careful, it could take some time.

There's no time. I'll figure it out on my own. Can you help Rainbow? Twilight said in a hurry, pivoting to watch all angles for a second attack.

Yes, but then—

It's settled. Help her. Luna and I can handle ourselves. Twilight spun to Dash and pushed a hoof towards her, Nightmare moving quickly to her and slipping under her baldric. The knight gave her a confused glance. "Take Nightmare. She can help you fight Derpy. Just be careful not to—"

Two skeletal dragons ripped from the ground and dived at Luna and Twilight, criss-crossing and catching each target in their jaws. They surged behind the nearest trees and into the shadows. In an instant, Dash was left alone with the staff and her foe.

"Twilight! Princess Luna!" she shouted. She blinked and threw her head in every direction, her heartbeat growing faster the longer her calls went unanswered, her blood burning as fear began to set in. Shit, they're gone!

Don't let your guard down! reminded Nightmare, her voice now filling the knight's head.

"I wouldn't worry about them anymore. After all, it won't be long before King Aurelius takes his rightful place at the throne of Equestria. The princesses will fall, but the only question that matters is whether or not you'll fall with them, or stand with King Aurelius." The words rolled off of the paladin's tongue with a dark inflection.

"What? The mare I know would never betray the princesses. Snap out of it, Derpy! Aurelius is just controlling you!"

It's no use, Rainbow. She can't free herself on her own. The most she can do is resist his will.

No! I'm not giving up on her! She would never betray Equestria. Dash grimaced at the reality.

"Come now, Rainbow. Join me and we can be together as we serve our new king."

Dash pleaded. "Stop this, Derpy. Please! You have to fight it!"

"There's nothing to fight. I serve my king, and you serve your princesses. Now, I know you've got your own sword. Why don't you show me what you can do with it, hm?"

There was a ripple in the forest's illusion, and Dash braced herself for anything. There was a pause of relief when a figure appeared ahead, but that feeling quickly roiled into anger. It was an image of Aurelius.

"My lord," said Derpy. Dash could hear her armor rustling, believing her to be kneeling.

The prince's image blurred heavily and didn't appear as if it would last very long, occasionally disappearing altogether, but nonetheless he spoke clearly. "Well, I must admit I had not expected the brave little knight from Canterlot to be here," he said, turning towards Dash. "It's a shame I never cared to know your name."

What do I do!? Dash cried to her own mind, half-asking Nightmare. The Id offered no response and she shook her head as she watched.

"Derpy Hooves, was it? Bring me their heads as proof of victory and move to Canterlot at once. If you return to see me claim my throne, I shall reward you handsomely."

"As my king commands," said Derpy, her armor rustling again as she stood. Aurelius's image flashed and vanished.

"Come on, Derpy, this isn't you! Snap out of it already!" Dash pleaded.

"I'm getting tired of hearing that..."

"I don't want to, but I'll take you down right here if I have to. After that, I'm going to kill Aurelius!" Her voice belied her fear, and she struggled just to keep herself from quivering.

"There's no need to get your hopes up," said the paladin as she slowly approached, her form sharpening the nearer she got. "You won't make it past me," she added, her voice now centering on her form. "Don't resist and I'll make your death quick, a token of my appreciation for all of the memories."

Where Dash's blood had felt like it was burning before, it immediately turned to ice as the paladin revealed herself in full. Her armor appeared as a charcoal grey beneath the moonlight, but she lacked her helmet and was equipped with no more than her blessed sword. But all of that paled in contrast to her eyes. The paladin's irises were now a wicked crimson. Derpy smiled as she stopped, her body fully in the light now, and it chilled Dash to the core.

She tightened her grip on Moonlight and focused on her anger, forcing it to well and drown out her fear and sorrow, sorrow that she had to raise arms against the one she loved. She succeeded and the fear was gone, displaced by her determination. I'm going to kill Aurelius!

"It's just you and me now," the paladin said as a sinister grin pulled the corners of her mouth. She drew Glance Reviver from its sheathe, the white glow of the blade appearing pale and sickly. "I really do hope you've made the right choice, Rainbow."

Author's Note:

5/11/2014 - I trimmed a TON of cheesy dialogue, reworking much of how this chapter ends from the original. Trust me, it's far better for it. Sorry for the delays while I mended a somewhat broken heart and took a vacation out of town. I hope everyone enjoys this chapter. Maybe you guys will catch me in a Dark Souls 2 stream with Peppy. :3

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