• 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 27: Malediction in White

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 27: Malediction in White

"Now, that's a pretty sword," Derpy said, staring at the green glow of Dash's weapon. She moved her shield in front of it defensively, earning a mockingly saddened moan from the paladin.

"It's called Moonlight," Dash said, finding herself unable to resist answering.

Derpy glanced up and gave a wistful smile. "The moonlight is always pretty. It's a good name."

Suddenly, Derpy charged, and Dash's body lurched forward to meet her. Streams of light moved forward with the paladin, striking all around her. Dash maneuvered between them, blocking and avoiding what she could, but several still cutting at her. The wounds were superficial, but she found the knight had made it behind her in the distracting light barrage. There was no time to react and the paladin kicked her in the back, sending her barreling forward. Her wings opened and allowed her to spring backwards onto her hooves again.

"A staff?" wondered Derpy aloud. "What are you doing with that? We can't use magic the same way as unicorns."

"None of your business," Dash snarled back. "Are you gonna take my head or what?" She rushed back in, meeting Derpy, attempting to keep up blow for blow. They parted and Dash spun around, slashing a large wave towards the paladin.

Derpy was surprised, but she made a rising vertical cut that split Moonlight's wave, both pieces crashing into trees just behind her. "Well, now this is getting interesting."

The tree trunks around became decorated with slashes, some being felled entirely in the carnage as both warriors clashed all around the shadowy forest. Clangs from their blades crossing with tremendous force rang out, waves of light peeling back the darkness one cut at a time. For every wave that Moonlight cut, Glance Reviver nullified it with its own. Dash struggled to keep up with Derpy's bursts of speed, her ability to dodge her attacks growing more and more frustrating with each attempt.

The divide in their ability grew more apparent over time as Derpy scored blow after blow, denting and puncturing her armor. Blood leaked from the holes where she had been stabbed, dripping onto the patches of snow. Cold air seeped in, chilling her and threatening to dull her movements.

I can't keep up, she thought to herself, glancing down to her wounds and grimacing. I'm going to die at this rate. She clenched her jaw and pushed away the cold and the pain, focusing only on her goal, and rushed forward again. The next clash left them sliding backwards from one another by force alone.

"Come on, Dashie. I thought you were the fastest flyer in all of Equestria," the paladin taunted.

Dash chuckled grimly before moving again. "And I thought you'd have killed me by now!"

Derpy bolted forward, faster than Dash could have anticipated. Afterimages chased the paladin's form like grey phantoms. She moved from side to side, breaching Dash's guard and slipping her sword beneath her breastplate. Dash cried out as it impaled her from the bottom, her eyes widening from the pain.

Derpy leaned in close. "If I take your head now, then there's no time to have fun." She pushed the knight back and ripped the blade free, leaping backwards with a delighted grin as she watched the knight crumble to the ground moaning.

Dash clutched where the wound was, releasing her shield and holding herself up with her other foreleg. She panted and coughed, the numbing of the cold returning stronger than before. How, she thought in disbelief. How did she do that?

You're losing too much blood. Use my power and I can give you a chance against her, Nightmare said quickly.

Not... yet. I can still fight on my own. She didn't hit any vital organs, Dash replied. She groaned as the pain spiked, but stood up and raised her shield, bringing it closer to her body than before. "How..." she began, wiping blood from her mouth, "can you move so fast?"

"Want to see an instant replay?"

Derpy moved again, this time directly for the knight. Bracing herself, Dash charged forward as the paladin broke the halfway mark, raising her shield and putting her weight behind it. Derpy, failing to anticipate the change in tactic, crashed into the wall of steel, loosing a shrill cry before the air was crushed out from her lungs. She stumbled backwards, dazed, swinging her sword blindly to prevent any follow up attack. When she regained her breath and bearings, she chuckled.

"I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that," she said in a hoarse voice. She was left standing in the light and glanced up to the moon. "I'm going to take your sword as a prize. Moonlight doesn't seem fitting for somepony so..." She turned back to Dash and eyed her appearance from top to bottom. "Colorful," she finished, scoffing.

Dash stared at Glance Reviver, the pale light of the blade radiating against the moonlight; the blood on the blade did little to mar its appearance. She half hoped it would rust and break during their fight, but the weapons of the Celestial Knights were flawless in creation, but they never knew where they had come from. The white gleam of Derpy's sword had always mirrored her personality, but now it made Dash sick to see her wielding it now.

Dash trembled, her armor gently rattling with her as the cold gripped her muscles. No. It wasn't the cold. It was fear again. Even when facing the Ursa Major in days past, protecting Trixie with her life, she had never been this afraid. Her heart rate picked up as she tried to will it away, but she could only overcome the pain this time. She cut a vertical wave towards Derpy, but the paladin quickly side stepped and shook her head.

"It seems like you're getting slower. I guess you're at your limit now," she said as she moved forward.

Dash cut several more waves in her direction, attempting to slow her down or force her into a bad position, but the paladin proved too agile and maneuvered between and past all of them. Her movements seemed less like those of a warrior and more like those of a dancer. Reaching melee, Derpy swung towards Dash's left side, and she raised her shield in anticipation. The paladin twisted and side stepped a thrust as each moved to match the other's movements. The exchange ended with Derpy's sword to the back of Dash's neck, while Moonlight was raised to the paladin's throat.

Dash could hear her own heartbeat again, pounding with adrenaline, her fear scratching at her resolve. The stalemate ended when Dash ducked, thrusting Moonlight forward, but Derpy hopped sideways, deflecting the attack away, but not before ripping her shield from her and fully disengaging.

"What the!"

The paladin sheathed her sword and raised the shield. "I can kill you any time I want. I'm not in a hurry to return to King Aurelius. He'll understand that I want to have some fun with my protégé first." She charged forward, but stopped short, moving to the side.

Dash stepped forward, poising to meet her, but Derpy crashed right over her. Surprised by her own tactic being used against her, she rolled backwards, using her wings to land back on her hooves, and turned. Derpy had already taken the shield and swung it like an axe towards her neck again. Dash ducked, but it was too late. The shield collided with her head, an audible crack against her helmet. She cried out, barreling across the grass and snow into the darkness.

Dash couldn't see, her vision blocked out by the pain and ghostly ringing of metal in her head. She could feel blood running down the side of her head and from her torso, and she tried to stand several times only to fall back to her haunches.

Rainbow Dash! Get up! You have to get up! Nightmare tried to call, but her voice failed to pierce the veil of pain.

Get up, said another voice.

"Derpy?" Dash moaned to herself.

Never give up! said the voice again. You told me that once, remember?

Slowly, shakily, Dash stood again, removing her now-cracked helmet and trying to focus. Her vision was still blurry, but it was enough to gauge the paladin's form, and the absence of her helmet allowed her to hear and see in a larger field. "Who said I was ready to give up?" she said to herself.

"You don't have time to talk yourself, Dashie," said Derpy as she moved in for another attack.

Dash raised Moonlight for the attack, following the paladin's movements in anticipation. She swung the shield lower this time, aiming for her shoulder. In a hazy fury, Dash swung Moonlight as hard as she could at the shield, energy exploding from the blade and into the attack. The slash bisected the shield, blasting Derpy back as the pieces fell in her wake. The paladin narrowly avoided a mortal wound as she beat her wings to gain distance, a genuine look of surprise etched into her face. She drew Glance Reviver again and took on an odd stance, leaning forward as she tilted the blade downwards towards Dash, and holding her free hoof parallel to the blade.

Rushing forward, Derpy's images blurred with her, pushing the snow and dirt aside in her wake. Clarity returned to Dash's vision, and she ducked low as a deadly thrust narrowly missed her head. The paladin was moving too quickly to offer a second attack. Seizing the opening, Dash turned and slashed at her back, but Derpy took flight. She was too slow to hit her mark, but the attack caught one of the paladin's hind legs. She yelped before gaining distance and landing again.

Derpy grit her teeth and shook her head, balancing delicately on the injured leg. "You're going to have to do better than that," she said, her voice wavering. She groaned and pressed her free hoof to her head. "Where... am I?" she muttered, looking around in a daze. Her eyes found Dash again and lit up for a moment, but it crumbled to remorse. "Rainbow, you have to stop me! Aurelius has—"

"Derpy?" Dash asked, hopeful.

"There's no time. You have to—augh!" She staggered backwards and removed the hoof from her head. She stood up tall and shook her head quickly. "Sorry about that... I guess it's time to get this over with." A sickly white aura lit up her form now, removing her from the darkness entirely.

Dash's throat felt like as if it had been tied into a knot as she stared at the paladin, the white glow drawing her attention in a grim way. "I didn't become a Celestial Knight for this!" Moonlight gave Dash a dark green glow, the green of the blade glowing with her aura. The lapse in Derpy's control gave her hope and renewed her determination. "I'm taking you back to Canterlot, even if I have to kick your flank first, Derpy."

Both knights dashed to one another, a flurry of lights spilling away from their clashes. Bark sprayed into the air as stray waves ripped through trees, their explosive cuts illuminating the forest in a cascade of flashes. White and green, struggling to bathe it in its evanescent glows. The paladin accelerated, unleashing a sharp swing hunting for Dash's head. The cyan knight's green aura was replaced with a dark one and she quickly ducked under it and the two knights broke apart, only to clash again a moment later. They pressed their bodies against each other, the blades grinding as each rubbed down to the crossguards.

"How..." Derpy said, panting, "How did you... dodge that?"

Dash looked past Derpy to a series of trees that had been cut down by stray waves. She caught the paladin glancing past her to a similar series of felled trees, surprise lining her eyes. "I guess I'm better than you thought."

Derpy grunted. "Keep up with... this!" She disappeared entirely as she broke away, seemingly vanishing into the shadows.

Dash squinted, glancing around as she tried to follow the sounds she made. The paladin reappeared next to her. With a start, she narrowly parried a vertical slash, and she leaned and stepped backwards to regain her balance, lunging forward with a swift thrust. Derpy pivoted and grabbed her sword hoof, pulling Dash past her and disrupting her balance again. Before Dash could react, Glance Reviver's blade slid into her stomach a second time, the paladin leaning close to whisper into her ear.

"Don't you get it? You can never beat me."

Derpy pulled her sword free, then twirled into a horizontal slash. The blade scratched the back of the knight's breastplate, but was ultimately deflected leaving only a thick scratch. Dash attempted to leap backwards, but the pain in her stomach sapped her strength, and she relied on her wings to carry her a cautious distance. Staring down, she could see her blood leak from the wounds and onto the ground, slowly pooling. She pressed a hoof against her armor, trying to apply pressure to the wound.

"Please, Derpy... stop this..."

The paladin blinked several times and shook her head. "Rainbow!" she called out, suddenly. "I can't fight it... You have to kill me!"

"I... I can't do that, Derpy!"

"Yes, you can! Please, Rainbow! I couldn't bear it if I killed you." Derpy sheathed her sword and wavered for a moment, but she quickly flew to Rainbow, landing just in front of her, crouching down. "Kill me, Rainbow. Do it before it's too late!"

Dash stared at her, wide eyed, her armor rattling as her body shook. "I... I can't!"

"JUST DO IT, RAINBOW!" Derpy screamed, glancing up.

Moonlight was slowly raised, its glow painting over the paladin's face.

"I love you."

Dash screeched as Derpy lowered her head, Moonlight swinging down. "I'm sorry! I can't do it!" The two knights met each others faces with tear-laden eyes, their looks hollow with regret and sorrow. "I just... there has to be another way..." Dash said.

Snickering pierced the moment, and Dash's heart twisted as she realized what that meant. Glance Reviver sang as it flew from its sheathe, illuminating her in its sickly glow once more. She leaped backwards, turning and blocking as the white blade slid past her. She attempted to turn the defensive maneuver into a riposte, thrusting forward with all of her might, but Derpy evaded, gracefully dancing out of reach.

I have to take this fight to the skies. I'm not very good at ground combat.

Nightmare's voice replied to her thought. No, wait! If you—

Her attempt at a warning came too late as Dash propelled into the forest canopy. Just as she breached it, she took a deep breath as the sky came into view, and she glanced down as she gained altitude. Suddenly, the air was crushed out of her lungs and she went limp, sailing back down. She cried out as she neared the ground, and she twisted, stabbing her sword into a tree trunk to slow her descent. It was partially successful, but it slipped out of the bark and she still slammed into the ground. "Ugh. What... was that...?" she asked hoarsely, her head swimming. She looked up to see Derpy grinning at her, suppressing a giggle with a hoof over her mouth.

"Why do you think I haven't been flying? This forest's illusion doubles as a barrier. You won't be getting any advantages up there."

Dash collected herself in time to see the paladin slash a wave towards her. She countered with her own letting the explosion of light fill the distance between them. Using the distraction, she hid behind a tree, a hoof pressed tightly to her stomach wound. The numbness had returned and her dizziness only grew. Damn... Where is Twilight and Princess Luna?

I can augment your strength with my magic, said Nightmare.

Why didn't you mention that earlier!? Dash chastised.

My magic can overpower your conscience, bringing out only a primal bloodlust within you. If your goal is to save Derpy, then I can't guarantee her life if we do this.

Dash's heart sunk at hearing that. But if I don't... I have to wait on Twilight and Princess Luna.

I don't think you'll last that long, the Id said grimly. You can resist its effects, for a time, but I don't know how long. I will leave the choice up to you.

Dash mouthed a curse before glancing down. Nightmare was right. If Derpy continued fighting as she was, she wasn't going to make it, however long it took the alicorns to break the illusion magic. She only knew that her blood loss was only speeding up her own demise.

"Come out, come out wherever you are, Dashie!" Derpy called in sing-song fashion. "You can run from my light... but you can't hide!" The paladin spun around, unleashing a whirlwind of waves into the forest. They spread out, cutting down trees in every direction. One of the waves felled the one Dash was hiding behind, and she sank down low to stay out of sight behind its stump.

Do it, Dash said. I just hope the others make it in time. She turned and peeked over the stump as Derpy slowly walked and surveyed the area for the knight. I'm sorry, Derpy...

A blur whisked through the night towards the paladin, a black and green erupting from it and striking at her. Derpy managed to parry, but she was kicked in the chest as Dash passed her, knocking her off balance and sending her teetering backwards. She twirled and caught herself on three legs, spinning and sweeping, first with a foreleg, then with her sword. Dash evaded as a wave ripped from the blade. Beating her wings, she moved past Derpy, narrowly avoiding another strike as the paladin recovered, but she lost control and stumbled, rolling and then standing again.

Derpy wiped saliva from her mouth and adjusted her breastplate, raising her sword defensively in front of her. "I don't know what you did, but you're faster than before. Still," she said, raising her sword straight up and placing her off hoof against the blade, "you're going to need to be faster if you want to kill me."

I can't focus too well or control this speed, the knight thought to herself. The ache of her head from previous wounds was replaced; a throbbing soreness had been replaced by a pulsing heat that seemed to be growing.

Light exploded from Derpy's position, stealing away the paladin from view. Sensing the danger, Dash rolled to the side, her focus returning, to see Derpy incoming. They clashed, their blades singing and dancing with one another again. The light faded leaving Dash's eyes dilated and difficult to see as Glance Reviver suddenly dimmed. Pulling back and not chancing a blow she couldn't see, she rushed past the paladin to buy her time. It was short lived as Derpy quickly closed the distance in pursuit.

Dash found herself matching every strike, though lacking in the finesse of the paladin. She could feel herself swinging but, slowly, that feeling of control was slipping away. She mixed kicks and punches into her attacks to keep Derpy from going on the offensive, but most failed to connect with her.

Derpy broke away and faded into the shadows as Dash strained to see her in the darkness. Her eyes still hadn't readjusted from the earlier light, and the dizziness from her blood loss set in. The paladin returned to using her afterimages, gyrating around into a blurred whirlwind of blade and light. Dash heaved as she loosed a flurry of waves to fill the distance between them, but Derpy managed to maneuver between them.

She couldn't gauge the attack and, attempting to still the paladin's sword, swung blindly into her form. Moonlight's blade was deflected and three slashes came in quick succession. The first struck her breastplate, the second sawed through it, and the final cut rended her chest. Rather than pull back, Dash raised her shoulder and pushed in, bringing her sword back in for an unexpected attack. The paladin twisted and lurched backwards, but Dash's attack struck her right shoulder before she could dodge. The wave that followed the strike made the cut deeper, forcing her down before she could escape. Blood oozed from each warrior's wounds as they both clutched them.

"Who in their right mind would dive right in after an attack like that?" Derpy growled, her eyes seemingly shining brighter. "I'm going to make you pay for that, you cocky little brat!"

An aura surrounded Derpy as she switched sword hooves, then charged in. She broke Dash's guard with a downward slash and unleashed a flurry of slashes. Dash did what she could, but the onslaught was too much. Desperate, she thrust her sword forward and forced the paladin to back off. Collapsing, Dash held herself from the ground with just Moonlight, panting and attempting to clutch several wounds on her torso at once.

Despair filled her as she glanced up to Derpy through a sweaty, bloody mane. Her vision had begun to tunnel, slowly shrinking as she the paladin began to walk towards her. I can't win. She's too strong... I can't fight anymore, Nightmare. Your power wasn't enough, and neither was mine... If you ever see the others again... tell them I'm sorry...

Derpy stopped and loomed over the defeated knight, pity finding its way into her gaze as she took in the pool of blood. "I'm going to take your head back to King Aurelius. You put up a good fight, though. Why don't you smile for me?" she mocked, raising her sword.

Move... move... move! MOVE! Dash's body twisted and she deflected Derpy's executing strike. The paladin stumbled back as she regained her balance, but Dash stood up and screamed, driving Moonlight into the ground. A nova of green exploded forth, blasting Derpy away before she was swallowed by the light. The last thing Dash could see was the forest rippling before her body gave out. She fell into a slump on her sword, unconscious. Nightmare tried to call her, but to no avail.

Derpy appeared again as she stomped towards Dash. Blood ran down the side of her head with the ends of her mane singed and a cut through her breastplate leaking blood. "What, are you dead already?" she shouted at the knight. The staff on Dash's back had gone silent, no longer emitting a glow. Raising her sword, Derpy swung it down for a clean beheading.

The pale blade shrieked, sparks flying into the air as it crashed into the black staff.

"Don't you lay another hoof on my friend!" Twilight roared.

Derpy blinked, just noticing that the archmage had appeared and that the staff had come to life again to block her strike. She swung again, this time with a wave forming. A barrier formed over both ponies and nullified the attack. She took flight, slashing several more waves from a distance, but to no avail. The barrier showed no signs of cracking or fading, let alone breaking.

"I guess I underestimated how long those little prototypes would keep you busy," the paladin said as she hovered in the air.

"Prototypes?" Twilight blurted.

"Those skeleton dragons might be nothing like the real thing, but Aurelius has already raised an army of them," Derpy explained as she descended. A dark blast hit the ground where she intended to land, and she flew backwards as another followed it, narrowly missing again.

"Cease this charade at once, Paladin Hooves!" Luna commanded, landing beside Twilight.

Derpy grunted. "I've already succeeded in stalling you. I'll see you back in Canterlot for the grand finale."

"Ether Laser!" The concentrated beam of magic erupted from Nightmare's spire, splitting the forest before crashing into the ground and erupting an explosion of blue light and debris. Twilight gnashed her teeth as the paladin had vanished with her afterimages.

She spun around and turned her attention to Dash. "Are you alright?" she asked. The knight didn't answer. It was only now that she could begin to see all of her injuries, with Nightmare's voice cataloguing the slashes and blood loss to her. Luna gave Dash a concerned look when Twilight laid her down and began to heal her, the white light illuminating a paleness to the knight's appearance and the blood that had drained beneath her.

"This didn't work," Twilight said grimly. "I should be the one to fight her."

The princess sighed and turned to keep an eye out for danger. "I am afraid that we may not fair any better than Knight Dash."

"And why's that?"

"Celestial Knights are intended to be the opposite to the Archmagi, as well as a counterweight to their unrestrained magic. As you know, archmagi are scrutinized for potential corruption and dissent, but we cannot predict the path that they will walk in the future."

Twilight stared at her while healing, recalling her own vetting experiences. "So if an archmage goes rogue, a Celestial Knight is sent to kill them?"

Luna gave a flat, "Yes," in response. "They are many things, and bearing the burden of mageslayers is one of them. Specifically, the weight of that burden is carried by the paladin. Historically, Paladin Hooves has not had to raise arms against an archmage, but her predecessor has. However, she is more than capable."

"Even so, I'm stronger than you and Rainbow."

Luna shook her head and regarded the sight of the fallen knight. "It may seem like a simple thing for a unicorn to defeat a pegasus, simply stealing away their weapons or binding them with telekinesis, but that is not the case for the Celestial Knights."

Twilight grumbled to herself. "I should've known."

"The Knights are immune to such trivial magicks."

"But I'm an alicorn. Isn't my magic different?"

Luna stared at her thoughtfully for a while. "No. While Telos's magic originates solely from an alicorn, yours is evolved from a unicorn. In time, your magic will permanently shift, but that is time we do not have. The Knights do not have a profound defense against alicorn magic. We have never needed them to bear arms against one."

Twilight frowned. "Is that so they can't rebel against you?"

The princess's eyes widened. "Of course not," the princess snapped, indignity in her voice. "There has never been any need for such a thing."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply..." Twilight glanced back to Dash, a glum silence taking residence in the air as she finished healing. "How can we help her win if we get separated again?"

Luna gazed at Moonlight, eyeing the design up and down, but fixating on the black. "She will require Nightmare Moon's aid once more," she said.

Before Twilight could speak, Nightmare manifested herself from the staff, projecting as her ghastly, unevenly distorted form again. "And how will the next time be any different? I can't do very much to help a pegasus."

"You have shielded your charge once before, as I have borne witness to," replied Luna.

"Twilight and Trixie possess magic by nature. Your knight is only a pegasus. I can't help her in the same way without—" The Id cut herself off and turned her head away.

"Without?" Luna asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Forget it," Nightmare said dismissively.

"Please," Twilight begged. "If there's anything more you can do, tell us. We have to do everything we can to help her."

Nightmare's resolve crumbled to dust as she stared into the lavender alicorn's pleading eyes. "My dark power is not like Luna's. Mine bears the terrible will I was created with. It will corrupt her."

"What do you mean?"

The Id shifted her eyes between Luna and Twilight slowly, caution glimmering within them. "Our bond is much different. For her, I will be giving her my magic to augment her abilities. You have become drunk with power just from touching Telos's staff, much the same as I have become overwhelmed by your memories. She will succumb to the turmoil within my magic."

"We do not have any other choice," Luna chimed in. "We cannot guarantee ourselves to be in the fight against Paladin Hooves. Knight Dash was the one who shattered the illusion that trapped us in the forest. I have no doubt we can, but will it be in time?"

Dash suddenly coughed and groaned, sitting up as Twilight offered a helping hoof. "I couldn't save her," the knight said in a raspy voice, turning to Twilight. "We have to catch up to her. You have to break the spell, Twilight! She's fighting Aurelius's control."

Twilight offered her a sympathetic expression. "We might not be able to, Rainbow," she said as delicately as she could.

Dash rose to standing and gave her a spiteful look. "That's bullshit! You have to try harder!"

The knight stepped back in fear as Twilight sprang to standing, quivering with anger. "Is it!?" she bellowed, taking a step closer. Dash shrank as Twilight's presence only grew, tears forming in her eyes. "Do you remember when I nearly killed Nightmare and Luna? Do you remember when I slaughtered the Brood's soldiers and royal guard? How about when I murdered King Render? I didn't know I could break Aurelius's control. I still don't know exactly how much magic it takes. I could've saved them, too, you know! But I didn't know. And right now, I'm trying to help save her, and if I use a spell too powerful, I will kill her, too, so don't you dare accuse me of not trying hard enough! Don't you ever speak to me like I'm not giving it my all when I'm out here fighting for my kingdom—for my friends!"

Dash had sat down, shrunken into herself while the other alicorns simply stared in shock. The knight glanced to the ground and cried. "I-I'm sorry, Twilight. I just... I have to save her. I have to... Seeing her like this is just wrong. There was a couple times where... Aurelius's control broke for a moment. She asked me to save her. She gave me the opportunity to kill her, even, and I just couldn't do it..." The knight trailed off before looking back up to Twilight. "What if we can't do it? What if I have to kill her?"

Twilight shook her head and took a deep breath, regaining her composure. "I'm sorry, Rainbow. I will try my best to break his control over her, but... if I can't... I need to know that you're prepared to... to do what is necessary if we fail."

Dash appeared disturbed by the notion, but it faded into understanding a moment later. "I am."

Twilight pulled her into an embrace. "Don't give up hope. I won't stop fighting for her."

The knight nodded and smiled as she broke away, wiping her eyes. "Thanks, Twilight. And I'm sorry for... being a jerk. I just..."

"Shh... It's alright. I forgive you."

"I will do my best to help Rainbow Dash," the Id said, nodding to Twilight. "As long as she is aware of the risks." Her image dispersed and faded, the staff moving to the knight.

Dash stood up and sheathed her sword, readjusting her baldric and making sure the staff was secure. "Let's go."

The party walked in silence as they exited the forest, the darkness no longer haunting them with danger. They found comfort in the quietness after the battle, with Twilight focusing on further healing Dash's wounds as they pressed on. Her magic couldn't take away the exhaustion, and the knight periodically stumbled as dizziness from her blood loss hit her.

She won't last long without Nightmare's power, she thought. I just hope it's enough, for her sake. She pulled away as she finished doing all that she could.

"Twilight," spoke up Luna. "Will you be alright fighting without your teleportation?"

"I'll be fine. The skeleton dragons aren't as resistant to magic as the real ones," she replied. "I was able to incinerate the one that attacked me until its bones became brittle," she explained, images of the dragon's final moments popping into her mind. The flames engulfed it and it roared as it attempted to approach her. Its claws and arms snapped and broke as it fell down, the bones splintering while some turned to dust altogether. "They won't be a problem."

"We need to get back to Canterlot faster," Dash said. "Can you teleport us back?"

"I can," Twilight said reluctantly, "but my magic is going to run low by the time we get there."

"I will not hold back for the sake of all of us," Luna assured her. She raised a hoof and inspected it. "My magic has nearly returned in full since your ascension."

Twilight motioned for them to stand closer. "Brace yourselves. I'll try to go as far as I can."

The world changed in a flash. First, they appeared back into the middle of the tundra, the moon shining dully down to them. The next brought them to the outskirts where the snow appeared to be reaching to the untouched land. Another brought the party to a grassland, the bite of the cold air having vanished. Twilight grunted as she prepared each teleport, a flash into a new territory where she would wheeze for a moment and Luna would scan the surroundings. She pushed herself to try and catch up to Derpy before she could reach Canterlot, but there had been no sign of her.

Soon Twilight began to suffer the drain of teleporting the others, her final teleport landing them in another forest. She dropped down to her haunches and gasped for air, the drain of her magic overcoming her stamina. The middle of the night brought forth the heaviest darkness, and the forest canopy was much thicker than the snowy one. As she panted, Twilight raised her head enough to see Dash's anxiety begin to boil over, the knight constantly fidgeting and looking in every direction.

"C-can we not take a break h-here," Dash said, a hoof constantly on the hilt of her sword. "P-please, Twilight. Anywhere but here..."

"I'm... sorry... Rainbow," she said between pants. "But I... need... a break..." She slowed her pace and took bigger breaths, trying to recover as much energy as she could, but she offered as much sympathy as she could to her friend. Dash had nearly died in a shadowy forset to a friend, after all. "Just... a little... longer," she reassured her.

"Steel yourself, Knight Dash. All will be fine," Luna added confidently.

Dash did her best to remain composed, but every noise, every swaying tree served to put her further on edge. Nightmare manifested herself to complete a defensive scouting formation, offering consoling words.

"I won't allow you to lose," the Id said as she slowly oscillated her gaze.

"Thanks," Dash said half-heartedly.

"Something isn't right," Twilight said suddenly. Dash's eyes went wide as she stared at her, and the alicorns all exchanged glances with one another. Rising up, Twilight shouted, "She's here!"

White light cut through the forest, surging across the ground and scattering the party. Nightmare dispersed as the others leaped out of the way of the attack. In an instant, Twilight found herself alone. Damn it! She's already separated and trapped us again? She glanced around, cursing that she didn't have more time to recuperate from the teleports. If Rainbow can break this spell, then so can I.

Before she could conjure any magic, a skeletal dragon erupted from the ground. She quickly discovered her teleportation had been sealed again. She took to the air, flapping her wings to pull back as the dragon charged by. As she touched down, another emerged, crossing towards her again. Each time, she took to the air landing as a new one appeared. After seven had appeared in all, she landed on a branch and watched them circle around above like buzzards watching a vulnerable prey.

This is bad. I'm already exhausted and I don't have Nightmare... She wished that the Id was by her side more than anything, but she had no choice but to expend what magic she did have to fight off the dragons. Taking flight, she caught their attention and landed, waving her forelegs out and forming a barrier around herself. The first two dragons that tried to attack her were pushed back, their frames eroding to the strange energy of the barrier.

"Sorry, but I've got too much at stake," she shouted. Lightning crackled around her magical shell as she grunted. "Mana Crash!"

With her runes and horn glowing, the barrier hummed and turned into an opaque purple, particles and air drawing into it. As it sucked in all it needed, the air grew still and silent. In a silent flash, the barrier exploded outward in the seconds that followed, catching all of the dragons in its violent light. When it ended, the earth hid in darkness once more as splintered bones rained down around her. Twilight collapsed to the ground and slumped onto her forelegs, panting as she could feel the sickness of her magic purge coming on. Hurry, Luna. I don't have any magic left to break the spell trapping us. As she tried to relax and take deep breaths again, she heard movement behind her. She forced herself to stand and face whatever it was. Her eyes lit with fear and her head hanging with fatigue as she prepared herself.

***

Luna stood defiant and proud amongst a swarm of skeletal dragons, the bony constructs slowly circling her. She merely followed them with disinterested eyes, gauging how much magic it would take to eradicate them. Her mane stirred slowly in the air as her presence amplified. The dragons roared in unison before taking turns charging at the princess. She closed her eyes and her mane plumed in a starry mist above her, bolts of frost firing out of it and striking the dragons.

The magic proved to be overwhelming against some of them, shattering bones on contact with residual frost growing along their frames and slowing their movement. As they crumbled into themselves and fell to pieces, Luna opened her eyes as her mane shrank to normal size, a smirk spreading along her lips. "...Merely throwaways not fit to fall by my hoof," Luna muttered, disappointed. She surveyed their remains before preparing to break the trapping spell.

The clattering of bones drew the princess's attention back to her foes, and she frowned as they reassembled themselves from the intact pieces. "Oh? Your new trick will not help you before the might of the Princess of the Night. I shall return you to the earth where you belong!" Her voiced boomed through the area, a gust flowing with it. "I did not wish to show it before, with my magic feeling so nascent, but..." She stood up and raised her forelegs upwards, a black orb forming at the tip of her shining horn. The orb grew in size, floating only a few meters above her and gave off a dim light to everything around. "I can control our full powers—my true power, once again!"

The orb vibrated and the earth rumbled; the dark orb drew everything in the area towards it. The dragons roared and clawed at the earth, some trying to fly away, but they could not overpower the gravity of the orb. Trees were uprooted effortlessly, and the dragons were all slowly drawn into the spell as Luna watched from below, her eyes shining against the dim light, pride reflecting within. Her mane snapped and whipped sporadically until all had been drawn into the sphere. It hummed and flashed, then it was gone.

That should be enough, she thought as she glanced around. Her heart lifted as she spotted Twilight slumped against a tree, delighted that her magic had affected the spell that trapped them. Her joy was quickly washed away when the lavender alicorn's image distorted and faded. Surely you are already working on dispelling this, Twilight.

Coiling down, Luna gave a battle cry as she discharged magic towards Twilight's direction. The blast hit the illusion's wall, exploding and sending ripples across the rest of the illusion around her. Twilight's image flickered again and Luna fired several more times. There was a shattering as the final blast struck the wall, and shards of the illusion rained down and dissipated into nothingness. At last, she could see the true area where Twilight was and dashed to her.

The lavender alicorn barely reacted to her presence, an empty, hollow look in her eyes. Luna noticed black stains littering the ground her, but Twilight had cuts and gashes across her body, her cloak torn and ripped with dried blood patches on it. "Are you alright, Twilight? I will mend your wounds and we can rescue Knight Dash," the princess said quickly.

Twilight gave her a look of uncertainty and shook her head. "N-no!" she protested weakly. "You have... you have to help Rainbow. I'll be fine... Just get to her first. I don't have any magic left and you have to break the control on Derpy. I'll heal myself as soon as I can."

"Nay, Twilight. Your injures are grievous. I shall—"

"No!" the wounded mare snapped again, her voice beginning to rasp. Her form tightened and she shuddered. "Get to Rainbow. She needs you more than I. I'll be fine, I promise."

Luna regarded her with worry, calculating whether or not her friend would be okay without her help. Relenting, she nodded. "If you need me, just call for me." She stepped away and turned in the direction she last saw the knight. She continued speaking, hoping to keep Twilight engaged. "The spell that traps us is sturdier than I had expected. Have you analyzed it at all?" she said as her horn started glowing. Twilight didn't respond and Luna turned to find her collapsed on the ground.

"Twilight!" she shrieked, rushing to her side. "Hold on!" She began to heal her, worry etched into her face as the white glow of the magic washed over her friend. "Knight Dash must wait. I... we cannot afford to lose you," she said, her voice cracking. "I will not let you die."

Author's Note:

8/26/2014 - Peppy's proofing fixes added.

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