• 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 28: Closing the Second 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 28: Closing the Second Eye

Dash's nerves boiled with fear once more, her body tensing while her heart drummed several times a second. The paladin could be anywhere. With Aurelius's influence and minions behind her, and her own fatigue from the previous fight, she was rapidly losing her confidence in Nightmare's presence to help her win the second time.

Abandon such useless thoughts. You are more than a formidable opponent. You may not be able to use my magic, but I can use you as a conduit of my power. Nightmare dispelled some of her doubt, but it wasn't enough to erase the fear still tightly gripping the knight's heart.

I know... but I cut through my own shield the last time, and I'm worried she'll cut through your barrier just as easily. Dash replayed the moment of splitting her own shield in her mind, a vain attempt to strike Derpy.

The Id harrumphed. It's not as simple as a strike to run through my magic. Do not fear her this time. It will only hold you back.

"I underestimated you the last time, but it won't happen again," the paladin called from deeper within the forest. Several small waves of light streamed across the ground, but Dash leaped out of the way and allowed them to pass by.

The absence of pieces of her armor and her shield allowed her to move faster, but she wondered if not having the extra defense would be too dangerous. "Come on out, Derpy!" she challenged. She broke into a run, Moonlight brandished and poised for combat. Her eyes raced between the trees, scanning every shadow for the enemy as she passed them.

Derpy charged forward, cutting three waves of light at high speed. The waves were different this time, bouncing and twisting as they flowed. Dash sprang into flight to avoid them, her eyes studying them. The distraction proved to be a mistake and she was struck in the back and sent spiraling back down. All three waves cut into her as Derpy observed from above.

"Even at your best, you're still the weakest Celestial Knight. What makes you think this fight will be any different?" the paladin taunted, an arrogant smirk highlighting her features. Her haughtiness quickly replaced itself with disbelief as Dash rose to stand, completely unharmed by the attack.

"Because I've got a new ace up my sleeve." A dark cloak of magic formed around Dash, flickering into a more solid image on occasion. Nightmare's image appeared over her several times, but it faded into giving the knight a dark tint.

"Your little trick won't save you from me." Derpy's eyes narrowed and she squinted to glimpse something. "The... staff?" she wondered aloud.

Suddenly, the sickly white aura formed around the paladin, and she tightened her grip on her sword. Bolting forward, she unleashed a maelstrom of attacks. Dash bared her teeth as she struggled to keep up with her superior speed, the clang and grind of their blades ringing in her ears. Derpy's speed overwhelmed her again and she struck her in the chest, slashing with a wave of energy releasing forth. In an instant, Dash's magical shroud had thickened and suffocated the burst of light, but a piece of it was ripped away, lightening its tint on her.

Dash broke away and recovered without any injury, Nightmare's influence having saved her from harm once again, but she knew it wouldn't last forever. Her heart sank as doubt surfaced once more. What am I going to do? She's just going to cut away your magic. I can barely see her when she's at full speed.

There was a lull before the Id answered, filled only by the knight's rampant heart beats. I'm not using all of my power to protect you. Don't worry, you won't lose this time.

Dash ran forward, taking flight to gain speed. Then you better start making me believe you! She crashed into Derpy, her wings beating furiously as she pressed into the paladin. They forced themselves closer, their blades grinding at the crossguards, but Derpy held her ground.

"A little better than before, but it's still not enough," taunted the paladin. She turned her head away, distracted. "It seems one of your friends barely survived my trap this time."

Dash tried to kick her, but it was blocked. As she broke away, she slashed down to prevent the paladin from charging at her, then grounded herself. She blinked and clamped her jaw. I don't feel... right... she thought.

"Twilight Sparkle is very dangerous. As the Paladin of the current circle of Celestial Knights, I'm not sure even I could kill her at her full strength if I was ordered to. But..." Derpy turned to Dash and grinned, her crimson eyes stark in the darkness. "Princess Luna doesn't seem to be at her peak. We're supposed to be able to kill archmagi. Mageslayers," she said distastefully, "that's all we really are in the end."

The paladin surged forward, a hum emanating from her as she closed in. Dash held her breath and swung wide, a desperate attempt to deflect. If she missed, it left Nightmare's shroud as the last line of defense. Glance Reviver thrust into her faster than she anticipated, sliding into her chest. Dash cried out, coughing up blood and pressed Moonlight against it to prevent the blade from moving any further.

Damn it! both minds thought in unison.

I thought you said I wouldn't lose, Dash said. Her chest convulsed and she coughed more blood onto Derpy, much to her dismay.

I was trying to hold out as long as I can, but... the Id replied cryptically.

Derpy attempted to wrench her sword, but a sudden blast of dark energy sent her flying backwards and ripping it free. She caught herself and landed in a skid, raising her sword as she kept her eyes on the knight. Dash became engulfed in a black sphere, energy coursing and running across its surface in violent sparks. The paladin charged and attempted to strike at her with a pointblank wave, but the sphere revolted and sent it back into her, detonating.

The sphere became quiet and shrank down to an ethereal form over Dash's body. The knight's colors had been severely darkened and she bore a black coat with three dark grey shades to make up the palette of her hair. Moonlight appeared in her right hoof, no longer with a smoky black design; the blade was entirely green and shone brightly.

"The light and the darkness," said Nightmare. "This is my favorite kind of battle." She licked her lips before vanishing and allowing the dark Dash to appear.

Derpy scoffed. "Your little makeover won't—"

She was interrupted as part of her left wing was ripped through, blood and feathers scattering into the air. The paladin barely had time to avoid any of the strike. Reappearing at a safe distance, she was left panting, her eyes wide as she looked upon the knight. "What... What did you do!?" she demanded, glancing to her mangled wing.

Dash slashed several waves at her, their natural green accented with a black at the front of them now. Derpy matched each of them with her own, but they almost failed to stop them.

I feel so hot... I want to... I want to crush her. I want to make her bleed! Dash thought. She shook her head. What's going on!?

You must end this quickly or my dark powers will consume you. If that happens, you will not stop until my powers fade from you, Nightmare explained.

Dash didn't hesitate and bolted forward with levels of speed she was unfamiliar with. She sped past the paladin and used her sword to slow herself down, stabbing it into a tree and sliding around it as she cut the trunk. "How do you control yourself like this?" she couldn't help but ask.

Derpy only offered silence and a sour look before rushing after her. The tides were turning as Dash was able to match her blow for blow, the clashing of their blades growing so powerful that they vibrated and rang as they pulled apart, readying for the next strike. Every slash, every cut bolstered Dash's confidence, but with each one she lost a part of herself, slowly chipping away at her control. Her once skilled swings grew wild and reckless with the new speed. Sparks and waves lit the shadows in their evanescent light, still frames of the battle lingering in their image between their strikes where their glows did not reach.

End it now! Nightmare roared in her mind, but Dash only heard it as a murmur fading into the void of her thoughts.

"This isn't enough to stop me," Derpy shouted.

Dash rushed forward and collided with the paladin at full strength, forcing Derpy to slide back with raw might alone. She tried to punch her with her free hoof, knocking the paladin off balance. Seizing the opening, Dash swiped her blade only to have it deflected away. Derpy's superior skill proved to be too great an obstacle for direct combat, even with Dash's augmented power.

Clang. More light as they met each other with determined blows. I have to be... Another deadly thrust dodged. Faster! One more deathblow parried. Stronger! The grinding of their blades seemed to pull her away from her focus. Just a little more! I need more... more power! her thoughts boiled.

You are losing yourself! the Id cautioned.

I don't care! You can bring me back after I beat her, right? Dash's heart sank as Nightmare grew slow to answer.

Yes... But will I bring you back before you kill her?

Dash pulled away, giving their high speed duel a pause. She grimaced at Derpy, Moonlight illuminating her dark face with a green tint. If she's going to die, it's better to be by my hoof, rather than as Aurelius's puppet. The last thing Dash could hear before her thoughts scattered was Nightmare's voice.

As you wish...

The dark shroud intensified over Dash's body and began to change her form. Magenta eyes turned turquoise, mirroring the Id's, and her body turned into an entirely black creature, meshing into the shadows where the glow of her sword didn't cast. When it was complete, her sword dropped to the ground and she leaned back, stretching her neck to the sky and roared. Her bloodthirsty battle cry made the earth tremble, and the paladin raised Glance Reviver in front of her face, placing a hoof to the side of the blade.

"I am the daughter of the m—" Derpy's voice was lost in the roars, but her aura expanded around her, bathing more of the vicinity in its sickly light. She swung the weapon slowly, a trail of light flowing with the blade.

Dash had ceased to be a pegasus knight as she dropped to all fours, growling like a rabid beast, and snatched Moonlight up into her mouth, then met the paladin with feral eyes. There was a moment of silence between them, but it was lost in an instant as both knights suddenly slammed into each other. Moments passed where neither were visible, only to meet in a titanic crossing of blades. Derpy was beginning to grow exhausted by her power while beast only seemed to grow stronger as a battery of dark might.

Dash's strength was enough to match the paladin, and she mixed strikes from her limbs into each assault. Derpy's speed was no longer an advantage, and she scrambled to use it to keep herself from having her guard broken. Every time she blocked the sword, she would have to maneuver her blade and body to meet the pugilism that followed. She went on the offensive, striking at the beast's body with a horizontal swipe, but it was blocked with a foreleg. The wave that flowed from the paladin's blade spilled into the beast, sinking into her body and cutting off Dash's baldric.

The attack showed no signs of wounding or inflicting pain to the beast at all. Dash twisted her body and plunged Moonlight into Derpy's side. The paladin cried out in pain as she flickered away in retreat, appearing at a safe distance clutching her side. Blood oozed from her armor and she slumped low. Sweat ran down her face as she panted, a mane damp with sweat and blood clinging tightly to her face.

"I can't... I can't believe it..." she muttered.

Dash howled in triumph before moving in for the kill, a deathblow seeking her neck. The paladin proved to be less than vulnerable as their blades met once more, but both appeared to have slowed drastically since their last exchange. There was less power behind Dash's attacks and less speed guiding Derpy's. The latter attempted to mix in her own reprisals, attempting to punch or kick, and even going so far as to switch sword hooves between swings. Her refined swordplay eventually led her into an opening as she ducked beneath a beheading swing, rising back up with a diagonal cut that ran across the beast's chest.

Blood spilled to the ground, but again there were no signs of pain from the wound. Dash charged her again, rotating the blade in her mouth. She dove at the paladin's neck in a thrust. Glance Reviver was raised to block, but a punch from each side forced her to narrowly dodge instead. Moonlight lodged itself into a tree, leaving Dash to fight with punches and kicks for a moment. She swiped a high haymaker, missing as Derpy ducked and pulled away, but the beast grabbed the hilt of her sword and spun, cutting the tree down.

The paladin removed her eyes from the beast for only a second to glimpse her own sword, but when she looked up again the beast was nowhere to be found. Dash attacked from above, gyrating her body. A punch from her left hoof knocked Derpy into the ground, followed by the wave of light cutting into her back. Derpy yelped and dropped her sword in pain, her aura and the blade's shine vanishing instantly.

That is ENOUGH! boomed Nightmare. Focus yourself, Rainbow Dash!

Wha... what am I doing? Where... am I? Dash asked herself, quietly falling through a void. She felt suffocated by it, her mind crushing to its presence, but Nightmare's voice continued to call out to her and push the feeling away.

Remember who you are!

The black shroud over Dash's form slowly receded, giving her back her normal form, and she dropped Moonlight. Sweat dripped from her face as she crumbled to the ground in a fit of shudders, her eyes unsteady as she mumbled to herself. "No... N-no... No... no, no, n-no, no!" The sense of falling vanished and the knight rose, staggering backwards and shaking her head while her senses returned in a rush. Her eyes returned to normal and steadied, her vision to the dim forest returning. The rage and turmoil of Nightmare's power still echoed within her, and she struggled to reign in her senses amidst the suddenness of control.

Derpy used one foreleg to clutch her stomach wound and the other to crawl back to her weapon. Dash regained control of herself and glimpsed a large gash across the paladin's back, the wave having split her armor. Derpy's body trembled as it neared Glance Reviver's hilt, and she groaned as she reached for it.

"It's over, Derpy!"

Dash quickly took both swords up, impaling the paladin's left hoof with Glance Reviver and the right with Moonlight, earning her two cries of excruciating pain. She grimaced as she looked upon her defeated friend, but scars and wounds on her own body became evident. She glanced at Moonlight and noticed that the black smoky design returned, but she shrugged it off and slumped down. Gnashing her teeth, she catalogued the injuries she sustained from the fight.

Welcome back, Nightmare said in relief.

Is this... sort of what Twilight went through? Dash asked. Her eyes watered as she looked upon the defeated paladin.

I'm afraid you'll never be able to understand what she endures, said the Id.

"You... You think this is over?" Derpy shouted. "You're too late! You're too... late..." she said weakly before beginning to sniffle and cry.

Dash's eyes rested upon the paladin in a pained gaze. "Just hang tight, Derpy. Help is on the way. We'll have you back to your old self, and heal you," she said, motioning to her injuries.

"Congratulations, Celestial Knight Rainbow Dash. You have defeated the paladin, the strongest Celestial Knight from your generation."

Dash jumped up, her stomach flooding with nausea as the familiar voice reverberated in the forest. She ripped Nightmare from her back and held it as her only weapon, fearful of removing Moonlight from binding the paladin. "It's too bad such a triumph will only prove to be a hollow victory." The voice snickered.

Aurelius stepped into the spell's space and towards Dash. His head drifted from side to side as he surveyed the destruction from their rematch. Some trees lay cleanly felled while others had been savagely chopped to pieces, and blood painted trunks and grass all over. The prince stopped in rays of moonlight and grinned as his eyes rested on both knights.

"Aurelius!" Dash growled, preparing to call upon whatever powers from Nightmare she could.

"You shall address me as King Aurelius," the prince said, frowning. "Though I suppose my title of Prince is still acceptable."

Before Dash could react, her limbs had been bound in place by a powerful telekinesis. She strained and struggled, slowly starting to break it, but more magic poured on and she was too weak to free herself on brute strength after her duel with Derpy. The prince stepped closer and raised a hoof, his grin growing wider.

"You are mine, and you will serve me," he said, stamping it to her forehead. The knight went limp and dropped Nightmare before standing up straight, a blankness in her eyes. "Hmph. A pegasus with a staff. How silly."

"M-my lord," Derpy said in a frail voice. "There is s-something you sh-should know." She twisted her neck to glimpse him, but she was met with the same hoof to her forehead.

"You have failed me, Paladin, and there is nothing you can say that will atone for that. Besides," he said, turning to Dash, "I have already chosen your successor."

The paladin groaned. "Where... where am I?" She appeared dazed for a moment, but it wasn't long before she recognized the situation she was in.

Aurelius glanced between the knights and cocked his head to one side. "You,"—he pointed to Dash—"Your first task is to kill her."

Derpy's eyes reverted to their natural, innocent golden to find Dash looming over her. "R-Rainbow!? What's going on here!"

"Kill her and come to Canterlot at once," Aurelius commanded. He turned and flew away, disappearing out of the spell.

"Rainbow! What are you doing?"

"You failed our king, and now you're going to pay with your life," replied the knight in a distant voice. Her eyes had turned a sinister crimson, and she stared down with the gaze of a judge.

"What!?" Derpy started, but her memories flooded back. Her encounter with Aurelius in the snowy north. Being defeated and put under control. The moments of lucidity in her fight with Dash. "Wait, Rainbow! Please, stop!" she begged.

"For King Aurelius." Dash pulled Moonlight free and raised it overhead, swinging down without hesitation.

In an instant, the paladin used her freed right hoof to brutally rip Glance Reviver from the left, defending herself in a flash of white. Her adrenaline and power numbed the pain, and she knew her injuries and exhaustion left her on the brink, but she had to fight for her life.

"Stop this, Dashie!" she pleaded, tears forming in her eyes and her voice cracking. They traded blows, but her mortal wounds afforded no advantage. Being forced back on a desperate defensive, she tried to draw upon more of her power. Her aura returned as an intense white, no longer stricken with a sickly tint.

Before she could utilize her last resort and fight, a flurry of blue blasts struck her from the side. She stumbled sideways and slumped against a tree, her aura fading as quickly as it came. She coughed blood onto the tree before dropping her sword and turning to slide down against it, her body too damaged to continue.

"Am I not too late?" wondered Luna. The princess had thrown Twilight over her back, and her horn glowed with magic at the ready. She caught sight of the discarded Nightmare and the injured Dash. "Are you all right, Knight Dash?"

"Wait!" Derpy croaked, reaching a bloody, mangled hoof out to the princess.

"Silence, you!"

"A-Aurelius has already taken hold of her. I'm not your enemy!" the paladin pleaded, her blonde mane smeared with blood clinging to her face and chest. "P-please, you have to listen to me!"

"That is impossible. Aurelius's control cannot be broken by any normal means," said Luna sharply. She began charging her magic and aiming at Derpy, preparing to break the prince's hold over her.

Dash slashed a wave at Luna before charging her, but the princess managed to meet it with her readied magic and nullify it. Changing targets, the knight attempted the same tactic with Derpy, but a flash stole her from view. Twilight appeared with Nightmare in her hooves and the paladin laying behind her.

"I didn't come this far for either of you to die!" she shouted.

Aurelius traded control of Derpy for Rainbow after we defeated her. I'm sorry, Twilight. I failed you...

It's not your fault, Nightmare, Twilight assured. I'll break his control here and now, and they'll both be free.

The archmage scowled in Dash's direction, wishing to unleash her unbridled hatred to her captor, rather than his captive. The staff levitated sideways, and Twilight ran a hoof along the shaft while she channeled magic into it. A dark bolt fired from the spire, but Dash countered with a powerful wave from Moonlight, completely crushing the weak attack and continuing down to her and the paladin. Twilight teleported them both to safety, but she winced and grunted as she reappeared.

"Your wounds are not even partially healed. Stand down and I shall take the lead from here," Luna barked.

"N-no! I should be the one to s-stop her," protested Derpy, but curt glances from both alicorns swiftly silenced her.

"You're right, but I'm not going to stop doing whatever I can to help," replied Twilight.

Please, Twilight. Allow Luna to take it from here. She can break his control and you won't need to strain yourself.

Before Luna or Nightmare could say anything more, Twilight took on a black shroud and teleported next to Dash. She reached for her, trying to gain physical contact for her magic, but the attempt was met with another wave. Twilight shielded herself and Luna struck the knight with a blast of magic that weighted her. The knight crashed into the ground too quickly to stabilize and Moonlight was knocked free from her grasp.

Derpy appeared with Glance Reviver in hoof, ready to land a crippling blow, but Dash managed to rise back up and duck beneath, rushing past her. After several more maneuvers, the spell broke and she soared free, turning around to scowl at the trio.

"I'll see you back in Canterlot," she called before turning and disappearing into the night.

Twilight's shield faded and Derpy fell onto the ground in tearful defeat, Luna holding an equally crestfallen look as she watched where the knight had flown away from. The princess stepped over to Derpy and began healing her, a dark look held away from meeting the paladin.

"My child," Luna began, garnering Twilight's attention, "How did you fall to Aurelius?"

Derpy shuddered and looked away. "I underestimated the strength of his magic."

"From the beginning," said the princess.

"As requested by Princess Celestia, I skirmished to the north to investigate the rumors of a red alicorn causing trouble. It was originally a reconnaissance mission, but I was detected after I found him." She hung her head in embarrassment and laid herself down. "I don't perform well in the cold, and a surprise attack grounded me. I tried to flee, but he trapped me in the area, just like I did to you." She waved a bloody hoof the forest and scowled. "I tried to focus on breaking it, but he trapped me with fire. It got hazy, and... I don't remember anything after that. I'm sorry, Princess Luna, but I failed you, and I failed Princess Celestia."

Luna moved a hoof to turn the paladin's face to hers. "You are not at fault. A valiant effort was made on your part for Equestria, and your comrades. He is an enemy of the likes we have never seen."

"Rainbow Dash is... much more than a comrade," Derpy said, glancing at her hooves. One had been healed, but the other was still closing. "I have to get her back."

Twilight picked up Moonlight and examined the blade. Something felt different within it, but the only effect she could feel was being drawn to it. She turned and stabbed it into the ground before the paladin. "Can you use both?" she asked.

Derpy gazed at it, losing herself in its eerie glow for a moment. "I usually have a shield, but I can't leave any treasured weapons laying around unused. It's not as strong as Glance Reviver, but I can dual wield."

Luna raised an eyebrow. "I was not aware you were versed in dual wielding."

"I had a bit of a mentor... once," she said wistfully. "I just... prefer to use Svalinn."

"Then, you are hereby the sole assigned wielder of Moonlight in the absence of Knight Dash."

Derpy stood up and nodded, taking up Glance Reviver and Moonlight. She fetched Dash's baldric and sheathed both swords across her back. "Princess Luna, why is Moonlight such a weak sword? The other Celestial Knights use much more powerful swords. Where did hers come from?"

"It was meant to be wielded by an alicorn, as far as I can tell. It was originally Aurelius's sword," explained Twilight.

Derpy gasped and shuddered. "Then how was Rainbow able to wield it?"

"Telos charged it. My guess is that it's not at full power, but I can't be sure," Twilight added.

Luna nodded. "Indeed, we were not originally aware. Knight Dash is the newest Celestial Knight. I gave her Nightfall—Moonlight's former name—when she began the mission to Draconis. I did not believe she needed a potentially reckless power that lies within the other blessed swords."

"I would've told you that she would never abuse her power!" Derpy barked, throwing a hoof out.

The princess looked at her with derision. "I understand your feelings and your experience, however, she is young and her discipline can wane. I do not doubt her as she is the bearer of Element of Loyalty, but I will not break the laws that have been in place for ages just for her. She would have doubtlessly earned her rightful blade in time."

"But—"

"Enough, Paladin Hooves!" the princess boomed. "We do not have time for such trivial banter. We must return to Canterlot at once. Our other forces must be fighting as we speak." The paladin buckled in understanding, trying her best to put duty before emotion. Luna turned to Twilight, "Are you able to teleport us further on?"

She swayed her head low in regret. "I won't be of much help once we get there if I do."

"Then rest once we reach the capitol. I still have much magic left. Paladin Hooves and I are still able to fight, and we will formulate a plan once we have regrouped with Princess Celestia."

I know you want to be fighting now more than ever, but you're no help if you're out of magic, Nightmare reminded delicately.

And I'm no help sitting around while everyone else fights, retorted Twilight.

She stepped between the others and began the series of teleports and flashes onward to Canterlot. Her mind didn't commit any of the locations and they flew by as her mind sank into deep thought. I almost died without you. I'm not strong enough on my own, she chastised herself, glancing to her weakened comrades. The toll of her teleportations felt suffocating on her magic, and she had already depleted it more than once tonight. I can't be afraid in front of them. I can't be weak now when everyone needs me most.

Her confidence came to a grinding halt when she teleported them to the fields below Canterlot. Far ahead of them stood the rusty lance, jutting from the ground like an ugly tooth, casting a long shadow from the moonlight. Twilight fell to the grass, huffing and puffing as sweat dripped from chin and ran down her neck, her tattered cloak stuck to her body.

"I'm sorry. I... can't do another one," she managed breathlessly.

"This is fine. We shall fly the rest of the way."

A couple minutes passed with Twilight's loud, raspy breathing before she was able to bring herself to fly. Luna took the lead with Derpy right by her side. As they neared the mountain-based city, the scene of the tragedy made itself known. Faint orange glows came into view as they neared, thin trails of smoking snaking into the sky above them. Throngs of skeletal dragons swarmed the city skies with more fighting on the ground in the city streets. They reached the city and could better see the enemy forces, but what captured their attention was the royal guard and the bodies of fallen soldiers strewn about with callous disregard.

Luna's face twitched with rage. "To the palace with haste. We must see if my sister has already taken steps in this battle." She drank in the carnage, her eyes burning. "I will see to it that Aurelius is brought to justice for this..." she muttered.

Destruction muddled the once pristine vision of the city. Buildings were razed, some a second time, and repairs from the initial war with the Brood had yet to be completed. To their relief, there were no signs of rampaging fires, but it was quickly lost to the agonized wails and screams from soldiers still fighting to the end. One dragon made an attempt on a party of soldiers, but Luna dipped down. With her eyes whiting out, she fired on it with an orb of frost, freezing it completely and allowing the soldiers to take it down with little effort.

They reached the main steps to the castle to find Princess Celestia, Telos, Trixie, and two unusual ponies with them. Twilight saw one as a fully clad unicorn knight with a well cared for broadsword and a heater shield resting on their back. The other was a lightly armor-clad earth pony with two cestuses on her front hooves. A thick greatsword lay across her back and more, extending part of its foible and the tip off of her flank. Its edge appeared chipped and jagged, and it had a buckle in place of a crossguard.

There were few words above a whisper exchanged between Twilight and Trixie before they embraced, nuzzling into each other. Trixie silently cried as she held on.

"Sister! We have returned!" Luna called out as she landed.

The sun princess's eyes quickly lit with hope and relief at their sight. "Where is Knight Rainbow Dash?" she asked, looking around.

Derpy dropped down before her and bowed her head, raising it to meet her gaze. Her sorrow could not be subdued and reflected openly within her eyes. "I was defeated, and Aurelius showed up after I had been disabled. He released me and took Knight Dash in my place," she explained sullenly. "I tried... I did everything I could. I'm sorry, Your Majesty, but I have failed you and my comrades. I've failed her."

Celestia's eyes softened apologetically. She caught a glimpse of Moonlight seated upon the paladin's back. "You have her sword?"

Derpy gave a solemn nod. "We managed to disarm her before she escaped, but I wasn't in the condition I am now when we did." She stood up and brandished both weapons, Glance Reviver in her right hoof and Moonlight in her left. "I will give it back to her when we bring her back, Your Majesty."

"Status report of the situation at hoof, sister," interrupted Luna quickly.

Celestia's smile faded and she turned to face everyone at once. "The magi and royal guard have been dispatched, and the Celestial Knights have only just been assembled." She nodded to Derpy's return. "The city has been evacuated, and our forces are prepared to go on the offensive. We are without Knight Dash, and there are no others we can call upon that will aid us in time."

"What about former Celestial Knights?" the armored unicorn asked, but the sun princess shook her head.

A screech from above pierced everyone's attention, and a bone dragon began to dive bomb them. Derpy tightened her grip on both swords and rocketed upwards. As she closed in, she twirled and darted back and forth, effortlessly slicing it to pieces in a flurry of green and white streaks. The pieces of bone rained down below, and she dropped down next to the other knights and sheathed her swords.

"Paladin Derpy Hooves," said the armored unicorn, pulling back her helmet visor. Her armor seemed to be what Dash's was modeled after, but the unicorn's covered every inch of her, going so far as to have her cutie mark painted on both sides of the plating covering her flank. Her fur was blue, and an azure and white tail flowed out of her armor behind her. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess it has. We need to rescue Knight Dash any chance we can. Keep your eyes peeled for her. Getting her back becomes our first priority if she's seen. We're going to need all the help we can get." Derpy stepped forward and placed a hoof on the unicorn's shoulder. "I'm glad you're here, Colgate."

"That's Knight Minuette to you, Paladin Hooves," she corrected coyly.

"Lady Celestia, we must begin the offensive now," interjected Telos.

"Alright. Archmage Trixie and the Celestial Knights will join the fray. I want all of you to split up. Aid and rally the soldiers battling and lead the push back against Aurelius's undead army. Make no mistake, my subjects. We are at war with this false prince." Her eyes flowed over them as she spoke. "Princess Luna, Telos and I will remain here to oversee everything."

"Alright, let's go!" cheered the knight with the greatsword, enthusiastically pumping one of her cestuses into in the air. She was plum colored with a mulberry mane and tail. There was a giddy eagerness about her as she stretched and flexed.

"Knight Berry Punch," Celestia called, prompting the knight with the greatsword to turn around. "The city has been evacuated. You have our permission to use your full strength if necessary." With a nod, she turned and dashed down the steps with Knight Minuette following in her wake.

"I have to do something," Twilight said, glancing at the other three remaining.

"You do not have the magic left necessary to fight, Twilight," said Luna. "Simply rest and gather your magic. We may need your assistance later."

Twilight frowned. She's right, damn it. "Trixie," she called. The magician looked at her with earnest. "Please be careful."

"You don't need to worry about me anymore," she replied said.

"I know, but that doesn't stop me. Take Nightmare with you. She can help more than I can." The magician accepted the staff and nodded. "I love you..."

"I love you, too. I'll be back soon." Trixie blew her a kiss before turning and dashing down the stairs and into the city.

Derpy gave a quick salute. "I'm going to take care of the aerial forces." She turned and took a step, but stopped. "I promise I'll bring back Knight Dash," she added, glancing back to the princesses. She blasted off into the sky above the city and out of sight.

"Why do you insist on having me remain here?" Telos asked impatiently, his eyes constantly keeping watch of the battlefield ahead.

Celestia explained. "Should Aurelius assault us directly, we should remain together. He cannot hope to stop all of us, even with Knight Dash on his side." Her eyes fell to the weakened Twilight, watching her sit down and focus on breathing. She pulled her gaze back to the city and frowned. "I pray that he doesn't have any more aces up his sleeve."

Author's Note:

8/8/2014 - Completed much in advance. Quick proofread was conducted, but hopefully it's quite clean.
8/27/2014 - Updated following Peppy's proofread, as well as other changes I made for clarity and making dialogue better.

Enjoy the quick update, dear readers!

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