• 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 29: Lights of the Ecclesia

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 29: Lights of the Ecclesia

A loud clunk echoed beside Dash, and she moved closer to the only other being with her, her eyes watching the dark skies as lights from small meteors lit them in streams. There was an uneasiness in the way she held herself, and she adjusted a makeshift baldric for a black metal rod on her back. Bandages crossed her body done up in a hurry, but her crimson eyes showed no feeling of pain. "Shouldn't I be fighting with them?"

Aurelius's gaze held the entirety of the battlefield. Burning buildings, skeleton dragons, the hazy sky, and the untouched castle resting on the opposite side of the city, seated to watch over Canterlot. A grin played across his face that reached his eyes, and he raised a hoof, closing one eye as he aimed at it the castle. "Your princess, Celestia, is the golden illusion, and her sister's crown is the silver lie I exposed. I require my rightful position at the throne, but I have waited ages for it." He turned and met Dash's thoughtful glance, his grin having faded. "You will have your time to serve, as will I mine to rule. We shall wait a while longer." He returned his eyes to the battlefield once more.

"What are you going to do about Telos?" Dash asked.

"Telos is merely the ancient thorn in my side," the prince said. He glanced up as a piece of burning wood dropped down to him. As it reached him, it burned away into ashes. "Twilight Sparkle is the anomaly, and she has Nightmare Moon by her side." He turned back to the knight one last time. "What you can predict is what you can prepare for. That crownless alicorn is one of the three most dangerous beings in existence right now." Taking a deep breath through his nostrils, he added, "And not even she realizes it."

***

Clanging marked Berry Punch's stride as she galloped towards a bone dragon. As she neared it, it opened its jowls and lurched forward for a kill. The earth knight stood up, skidding on her hind hooves, and pulled back her right cestus. "Eat this!" She swung wide, barely hitting the underside of its jaw and knocking its head away. She muttered a curse as the dragon attempted to claw her, twisting its entire frame into the strike. Ducking low, she moved closer under the rib cage as it turned, and swung directly upward.

Her cestus connected, breaking the thick ribs on contact and cracking the adjacent bones. The dragon roared and attempted to continue rotating, sweeping it's large tail through buildings to catch the earth knight. Berry tensed her body and swung her left cestus, a powerful blow breaking the tail off at the impact point. The dragon's skeleton shuddered for a moment, but it continued its rotation, finishing with another swipe from its claw, and another bite from the head.

Berry knocked the claw away, then drove a cestus into the face. There was a small boom as she hit the face, the entire frame shuddering as it cracked and splintered. A roar rang out as the bone dragon crumbled into itself, too many bones damaged for it to continue fighting.

"Score another for Equestria's royal army!" cheered the knight, pumping an armored foreleg into the air. "Come on, where's the rest of you?"

"Must you celebrate ever kill?" interjected Colgate, irritation in her tone. She watched from atop a nearby building, her grated visor down.

"Aw c'mon. Why don't you chip a little ice off that frozen sense of fun of yours and join in?"

"You aren't even using your sword!" the unicorn knight said. She leaped from the building and onto the ground, coiling down as she landed.

"Relax, Colgate. These aren't even close to as strong as the real deal. I bet I can take one down in just one punch." Berry smirked and flexed, raising her cestuses into the air. "What are you doing here anyway? Shouldn't you be clearing the central areas?"

"I just want to make sure you're alright by yourself." Berry met her comrade with a disbelieving frown. "Oh, don't look at me like that."

Berry threw a foreleg around the unicorn and beamed, pulling her close. "Aw, Colgate. You're worried about me, aren'tcha? That's so sweet!"

Colgate wriggled herself free and stepped back. "Whatever! Just clear through the northern section." Berry nodded and galloped along a northern street and away. "And be careful!" she shouted, finally muttering, "Jerk," before heading into the central areas of Canterlot.

Berry continued up the street and it broke away into an opening. A group of royal soldiers were battling one of the bone dragons, but they were being overwhelmed by its monstrous size and strength. Charging in, Berry rose to standing and cocked back a cestus.

"Hey, bones! Why don't you pick on someone your own strength!"

As it turned to face her, she cried out and struck it in the jaw with an uppercut, sending it reeling back. It caught itself, pieces coming loose and falling from its jaw, and brought down both claws. Berry dashed underneath aiming for the ribcage again and leaped into the air despite the weight she carried, and struck it, cracking the bones. The dragon trembled and staggered backwards, roaring in some kind of pain, and began to crumble inward. The soldiers charged and cut it down in its weakened state, finally bringing it down.

"Soldiers," Berry shouted as they regrouped. "I'm Knight-Commander Punch, and I'm here to pass on Her Majesty's orders. Princess Celestia has sent us to lead an offensive, to push back against Aurelius's army. Right now, the other Celestial Knights are fighting in other areas. However, Knight Dash has been captured and is being manipulated. If you run into her, do not engage her in combat! Call for another Celestial Knight. Understood?" The soldiers gave words of acknowledgement and she continued. "I want your party to split into two groups and coordinate attacks from each side of a dragon. Try to pick them off one at a time. If you have to, fall back and regroup. I'm heading further north. Keep on this path until you reach the edge, then circle back around towards the castle collecting any survivors."

Clanging resumed as Berry continued on to a northern street, the soldiers hollering behind her as they marched forward in the wake of her assist. The density of the dragons was low, and she brought down only half a dozen in her path. She could hear the fighting of soldiers on other streets battling and the occasional crash as Derpy sent one plummeting from the skies, but the air grew quiet the further north she went.

The buildings broke away into a large park and she slowed to a walk, her eyes investigating the scene. It was a disaster. Bodies of the royal soldiers and guard had been scattered around, some no longer whole, and blood coated patches of grass. She grimaced at the sight, but her stomach did not turn until she glimpsed bodies of innocent citizens.

"I will avenge you," she whispered to herself, gnashing her teeth. Where are the dragons that killed them?

The earth rumbled as a dragon set down on top of a tree, smashing its trunk onto the ground, and garnered Berry's attention. It roared, stretching its neck towards her. Despite it being only a skeleton, it still blew air in her face, bringing with it dust and billowing her mane and tail. The earth knight cracked her neck and wrists, banging her cestuses together.

A claw swept from the knight's left, the talons hunting for her body. She raised her hooves in defense and blocked, the armor of her hind hooves grinding across the ground until she slid to a halt, the inertia from the attack having been nullified. Surprised, the dragon pulled its head back as if to examine the entire scene. Berry smirked and pulled back her right hoof firing a punch into the claw and sending it back with cracks running along its design.

The knight tilted her head back and howled. She charged forward and onto a cobblestone path, raising her left cestus as a guard and reeling back the right, the armored hoof nearly grazing her face as it passed. The air became still as she drove her punch forward, and the dragon brought its head down to meet her.

"Earthbreaker!" the knight boomed, swinging her left cestus behind her.

A boom resounded as her cestus connected with the dragon's mouth, sending a powerful ripple throughout its skeleton. The force echoed across each bone as the dragon stumbled backwards, but soon an explosion occurred. Bones shattered in a cascade of overwhelming kinetic energy; joints broke free from their sockets as it surged down to the beginning of its tail. The skull had been pulverized in the strike, and its body reduced into a pile of its own bone fragments, only the tail remaining intact.

The knight fell forward with the punch, landing awkwardly on all fours as she heaved for air and relaxed her muscles. She raised her head after a moment and scanned her surroundings. A displeased groan escaped her throat as she saw two more dragons circling in the air above the park. They appeared much like buzzards, casually circling a wounded prey, ready to swoop down for an easy meal. Berry pushed herself up to standing and called to them.

"Why don't you come join your friend?"

She kept her eyes fixated on them, refusing to let them out of her sight. I guess it can't be helped. Shaking her hooves quickly, her cestuses rattled off, falling and cracking the path where they fell. She massaged each wrist with the other before tilting her shoulder down and wrapping her right hoof around the large hilt of her greatsword. She pulled it loose from a set of metal fixtures that held it like a baldric. The weapon made a thick whoosh as she spun it overhead and rested on her shoulder again, standing up as she gauged her enemies.

The first dragon began a descent, putting its claws first as it prepared to attack the knight from above. Berry spun backwards as the dragon's talons came close, allowing her weapon to swing freely. That flat of the blade caught the dragon's claws, halting the attack and bringing it to a complete stop.

"End of the line."

Mist coiled rapidly around the thick blade and, suddenly, it blasted the dragon back, sending it toppling. It managed to sink its talons into the ground, cutting wide grooves as it caught and rebalanced itself. Berry tossed the blade back on her shoulder as she marched in for the finishing blow. "You guys are pretty weak, you know?" she said, her mouth twisting in a disappointed way. "I got called all the way from the Badlands for this. So far, you aren't even worth my time." The dragon started to move its body, but the knight jumped above the skull, swinging her sword down as she descended. The upper spine crumbled to pieces like toy blocks as the blade slid effortlessly through, the rest following shortly after. Force exploded outward from the impact point and spat dirt and debris away as the skeleton split apart, a groove cut into the ground to match the strike.

The last dragon dropped down on the far side of the park, the ground shuddering slightly as it took its full weight. Berry frowned and allowed her sword to rest on the ground in front of her, the tip aiming at the dragon. "You should've just stayed up there... not that it'd do you much good." The dragon planted its fleshless claws on the ground and threw its head back, unleashing a shrill roar.

"Shut up," the knight muttered, closing one eye and dropping her weapon to rub her ears. She snatched up her sword, spinning around before thrusting it forward with one hoof and aiming with the other. "Vanishing World!" Air condensed around the blade again, then abruptly, a distorted boom of force at the dragon's chest exploded, hurling fragments of bone in every direction. The knight sprinted forward and leaped above for the kill, bringing her greatsword down and crushing the skull into the ground. Another explosion destroyed the front of its body and sent her sailing away. She twirled in the air, locking her blade in its fixtures as she landed.

Her body quivered as she landed, her hind legs threatening to buckle. She sauntered over to an untouched bench and removed her greatsword to sit down. She took a deep breath as she saw all of the destruction that the sad park held within. A sigh escaped her lips and she silently prayed for her comrades that had fallen, her eyes glistening as she looked over the bodies again. Roars of the bone dragons echoed in the distance towards the central areas, but they were lost to her thoughts of that moment.

A shorter, higher pitched cry stole her attention as she recognized it. She jumped up and turned to face it, gauging its exact location. "Colgate!" she shouted, unaware that she had taken her sword and her body was already in motion for the source. "Hang on, I'm coming!" The heavy clomping of her hooves droned on like white noise as she rushed towards the heart of the city.

***

Colgate found herself dodging bones raining from the sky, even entire skeletons that crashed down, crushing buildings, lamp posts, and blocking paths. Every once in a while, she would need to dash beneath one. All of the raining remains were the work of the current reigning Paladin, Derpy Hooves. She glanced up with barred eyes to see her white and green lights on occasion, followed by a broken dragon slamming down into the street as it opened to a large plaza. Brick spilled into her pathway as it fell partway onto a building, and she was forced to climb over it. As she entered the plaza, another skeleton came speeding down on top of her.

She took a deep breath and walked forward as the body slowed its descent, reaching the ground only after the unicorn knight was clear. Turning, she opened her visor and looked at the now blocked off street, then to the sky. "I don't think the three of us will be enough," she said, slamming her visor down. A roar and battle cries came from the plaza, and she turned and began running again.

Three dragons were being battled by soldiers and civilians alike, desperate packs scattered around each as they tried to fight back. Colgate entered the first dragon's range and she drew her sword and shield as she rose to standing. Her weapon bore a somewhat wide and flat blue blade with a shallow fuller running much of its length. The crossguard was in the shape of a diamond with sloped sides.

"Knight Minuette!" shouted one of the soldiers. Like a sweep of courage, the soldiers rallied together at the name and held their ground, the civilians attempting to fight with them.

"Don't get distracted or you will die!" she called back through her helmet. She raised her shield as the dragon turned its attention to her, making a downward strike with its right claw. She twisted and swung her shield sideways to meet the strike, successfully deflecting it with little effort. The dragon attacked again, sweeping with its left claw. Maneuvering quickly, she parried at the wrist, again twisting herself and deflecting the arm over herself.

The dragon anchored itself with a claw and spun clockwise, bringing its enormous tail around for an attack. The others fighting it were swept away in the attack, but Colgate allowed it to connect with her sword, immediately stopping the foe. Frustrated, it began clawing at her furiously as it backpedaled in caution. The knight almost danced as she dodged, parried, and blocked the assault, and finally, the dragon threw itself on top of her in an effort to crush her with its gargantuan frame.

Colgate's horn shined for a moment, a trail of light following the tip as she moved. The dragon fell slowly and she jumped, slashing at the solar plexus and leaving a deep cut. The dragon stopped moving entirely, and she dashed and leaped, slicing it to pieces effortlessly. As it broke down into itself, the startled looks of the other soldiers met her.

"What... was that?" one asked in disbelief, but she faced him, her face hidden behind her visor and he went silent.

"Help the others. You'll need to work together as a group to bring them down. I'm pressing on alone." She watched as the group split apart to assist the others, and she waited a moment to make sure they could handle them before turning to leave.

Her mission was barred as three more dragons set down on the far end of the plaza, slowly advancing to her and the others still fighting. They snapped at and wrestled with one another for a moment. Fighting over rights to the kills? she wondered sourly. She roared as she charged at them, and her horn flashed. A bubble appeared over them, the space of everything within discolored to a tint of beige. The forms struggled to move, but they had managed little mobility within the spatial distortion. Colgate grinned to herself, once again dashing between them and chopping them to pieces. Their bones didn't fall freely, but instead hung in the air.

As she finished with the second and prepared for the third, the distortion ended. She to herself in the face of its roar, the pieces of the other two skeletons clattering to the ground. It lunged at her and she raised her sword and pulled her shield close to her body. The strength was more than she expected and she was forced into the ground, her armored hooves grinding and chipping at the stone street. She glanced around to her surroundings before roaring and throwing herself out of the way.

The dragon fell forward as she slid away, each quickly recovering. Her horn flashed again and she charged up its tail as it slowly turned to bite her. She ran along its spine, slicing up its back until she made it down to its head and jumped off. Landing with a clank of her armor, she turned to watch it fall to pieces. She sheathed her sword and set her shield on her back when she heard an explosion from the north. She must be having fun. One last glance over her shoulder allayed any worry she had that the others might not be able to handle the other two, but a bout of cheering poured into the air as one was felled, the group of soldiers fighting it swarming over the last one and quickly overwhelming it. The dragon thrashed before it was cut down and toppled.

Ahead, the street took a sharp turn to the right before curving back left. She slowed herself to a walk as she tossed her head glumly from side to side. Blood painted the walls as ponies' bodies lined alleyways. Some had scribbled messages in their blood before they had passed, and she closed her eyes, a quick mourning thought before she rushed on to an intersection. She stopped and glanced back, reexamining every body. Slash wounds? she wondered. Rushing forward briefly, she came skidding to a halt and put herself into a cautious stance as she watched a lone pony walk across the intersecting street ahead.

"Identify yourself!" she called. The pony turned and faced her, bandages covering their body, a black rod resting on their back, and their crimson eyes pierced into her. "Knight Rainbow Dash?"

Colgate drew her sword and shield swiftly, her heart rate accelerating as she met the eyes of her comrade. In only a few seconds, Dash had brandished the rod and closed the distance, striking Colgate's shield. She beat her wings, trying to add more force, but it only caused the unicorn knight to slide a meter backwards. Colgate kicked a hoof into the street, giving her traction and allowing her to push back. Dash pulled away, taking the rod into both hooves.

"Surrender yourself, Knight Dash! Aurelius's control over you will be broken." The words did nothing to stop the controlled knight, and she zoomed forward again.

Colgate made a weak defensive slash, but Dash swooped beneath it, then pushed herself off of the ground. She barreled over and delivered a heavy blow to the unicorn's side. She yelped in pain as she could feel ribs cracking, her armor denting to the force. Winded and painfully gasping for air, Colgate's horn burst with light, dyeing the world in beige around her. Dash planted her hind hooves on the ground and turned as it happened, attempting to swing again, but it was too late. The unicorn knight stumbled away and slumped against a building, using her sword to keep herself from sliding to the ground, removing her helmet and revealing her sweaty face.

"You're not even... a real Celestial Knight to me," she said through gritting teeth. "I'll show you just how weak you are." There was a popping sound and she slowly rose back to standing, breathing out a cool mist in relief. A thundering pain still echoed where the wound was and she removed her breastplate, revealing a purple bruise showing through her coat she had been struck.

A new voice entered, catching Colgate's attention with its mocking tone threaded into it. "I find it humorous that the Celestial Knight I had first controlled was the strongest, and now I'm left with the weakest. What an unfortunate trade."

"So, you're the one controlling her? Then I'll just cut the head off of the snake." She raised her sword and shield, stepping into the center of the intersection and scanning the area. Her sword's blue shined as she shrank into a defensive stance.

Snickering bounced off of the walls as Aurelius stepped into view of both warriors. "Foolish knight, you do not seem to understand the position you are in." A flash from the prince's horn erased the distortion affecting Dash. "Kill her," he ordered.

Dash quickly soared and brought down an overhead strike, but it narrowly missed Colgate's skull. The impact on the street sent chips of stone flying. Pivoting, the unicorn knight whirled back around, driving the flat of her blade into Dash's head. Dash stumbled and clutched the side of her head, her right eye clamped shut in pain. As Colgate attempted a finishing strike to disable her, Dash raised the rod and blocked it, their weapons grinding off one another.

What is that thing made of? I should be able to cut right through it, she thought. As they pulled away, she took note the lack of damage on the rod. It possessed no cross guard, grip, or any wear at all. Even where her blade's edge met it, it was untouched.

There was little time to spend thinking about it. The pegasus knight began an offensive, swinging wildly at her. Colgate skillfully maneuvered and blocked every attack; the pegasus knight was completely outclassed in swordplay. Dash tried for an opening, thrusting the rod towards Colgate's bruise, but it lost strength and slowed down as the unicorn knight focused on it. A quick bat from her sword sent the rod away from her body.

Dash's eyes widened and she pulled her head back. "What the!?"

Colgate swung her blade in for the finish, the pegasus knight left vulnerable by the phenomenon. Dash tried to pull back, but it was too late. The flat of Colgate's sword struck her in the head a second time. Dash toppled to the ground, unconscious, and the rod clattered loudly to the street and rolled away. "I'm sorry, Rainbow," she said before turning to glower at Aurelius.

"Pegasi comprise the grand majority of Celestial Knights. Their mobility and versatility is favored over that of unicorns and earth ponies. You would think earth ponies would be the rarest to be Celestial Knights, but you would be wrong..." He gave a disappointed frown to Dash's body before looking at Colgate with intrigue. "You are an interesting one, though. A unicorn Celestial Knight, and one with absolute control of not just one, but both of her magicks. So much so that you can extend your knightly power beyond its original potential. You are remarkable..."

"I'm going to send you to Tartarus," Colgate snarled.

"You are mine!" Aurelius held a hoof to her as his horn started glowing.

"Earthbreaker!"

Colgate's ears filled with a blast as the prince disappeared into waves of rubble. The buildings beside the prince had exploded in one direction, dust pluming into the air while brick and rock rained down where the street was. Berry climbed over the rubble of the first building, her chest bouncing up and down as she panted.

"Did I... make it in time?" she said, her mane matted to her face and neck.

"Berry? I found and disabled Rainbow Dash. Let's take her back to the castle and—"

Deep, rumbling laughter reverberated all around, and Berry leaped down to Colgate and prepared for more fighting. The rubble that buried Aurelius slowly raised, spilling off of an unknown shape shrouded in the dust. Berry placed a hoof on her sword as two red wings opened out of the plume, shearing the tops of buildings as a red dragon came into view.

Aurelius continued to laugh as he stood up, towering over the knights and raising his head above the nearby buildings. He appeared as large as King Render, but with a red coat that held a sheen with his scales. Sharp, crimson eyes focused on the two knights below and he shook himself free of all debris.

"I was hoping to wait a while longer before showing this form off, but..." He twisted and stretched his neck, then lowered himself to gaze at Berry. "I did not expect that."

The air grew thick and heavy as Aurelius took a step forward, the ground shuddering and the street cracking where his claw touched. His mouth stretched into a wide grin as his eyes shifted back to Colgate. "I will make you mine," he said. He raised a mighty claw and swung down with colossal force.

There was a rush of wind as the claw was stopped, surprising the prince. Aurelius's eyes widened as he struggled to finish the attack. Berry had dug her hind hooves into the ground and caught the claw, her muscles taut with strain.

"You're a lot stronger than any dragon I've faced," she said hoarsely. Aurelius pulled back his arm and she dropped to all fours, panting while sweat dripped from her face. She grinned as Aurelius gauged her.

"The strength of a colossus," Aurelius muttered. "You two may be more trouble than you're worth."

***

Trixie stormed down a southern causeway, her only companion being the staff holding Nightmare Moon and the shadows cast by the buildings. Her amplified magic easily struck down any dragons that she came across, but she slowed to a light jog as she entered a commons area. She had been burning through her magical reserves too rapidly and took the time to catch her breath and recharge some of what she had spent. Sounds of roars from soldiers and bone dragons alike periodically held the moments, but she tried to ignore them and focus on her task.

You need to be more conservative with your magic. There's no need to use more than you have to, chastised Nightmare.

Trixie panted a few more times before replying. Okay, mom.

I'm serious, Trixie. The extent of my power is to amplify your own. That's all I can safely do for you.

Trixie skipped a step and nearly tripped, but a short stumble returned her back to pace. Safely? What, you can do more? Like what? she asked quickly.

An irritated groan slipped into the magician's mind. While I can shield you with a strong barrier, I cannot give you my dark power without risking corruption.

Trixie frowned. What about Twilight? A dragon touched down, blocking Trixie's path. Without thinking, her horn ignited and a bolt of lightning ripped down from the sky. In a flash, its spine had been charred and made brittle, collapsing in on itself, and the magician galloped further along the southern street. She doesn't seem to have any side effects from using it.

She is different. Our magic is bonded, and we are both alicorns.

But what does—

That is all you need to know, Nightmare said curtly.

The magician neared the southernmost edge of the city, striking down only a few more dragons in path. She slowed to a walk as her eyes scouted out the surroundings, the area opening up to a sloping brick path that led to a large wall, the city's border. "That's weird," she muttered, her eyes gleaning over the untouched area, "There should be more here." She increased her pace as it grew quiet, the sounds of the central battlefield too distant to reach her.

Don't let your guard down. I don't like this...

Trixie reached the city's border wall and levitated herself to its top, setting down as she continued to glance around. She looked over to the distant horizon, catching Ponyville as a speck in her view. "What's going on?"

Nightmare manifested herself beside her and glanced down. "We must warn everyone at once." A blurred mass of bones shifted far below, and some started their ascent to the summit.

The magician followed her stare to the distance down the mountain. "No..." she whispered. She turned and jumped from the wall, Nightmare's image vanishing as she broke into a run as fast as her legs would allow. "That couldn't be—! There's too many!"

We'll come up with a plan. Telos can handle Aurelius while the rest of us fight off the invasion.

Trixie's thoughts were eased, but it wasn't enough to expel her doubt and worry. She continued running towards the castle, her heart thumping in her chest. After a while of running, the castle came back into view and she slowed to a walk to catch her breath, heaving and gasping as she hung her head. An explosion sounded north of her and she dared to glimpse towards its source. Where Knight Colgate had gone a red dragon's wings rose just into view above the rooftops in the night.

"Aurelius is here in the city!?" Trixie shrieked, her fear echoing off of the buildings. Her mind reeled with worry, her hooves quivering as she stepped backwards.

Focus, Trixie! Leave him to Telos, Nightmare reminded sternly.

The magician turned and bolted back towards the castle. As she reached the front steps, her tired body climbing them slowly, she could see the sage and the princesses casting confused glances to her, and she reached to the top before collapsing in a sweaty heap, her legs burning from the run.

"Archmage Lulamoon, why have you returned so soon?" Celestia asked first.

"P-Princess Celestia, Princess... Luna," she croaked, adjusting the collar of her cloak, "Hundreds more... Reinforcements... They're below the city. They're already... ascending to the city!" she managed between breaths. "There's too many!"

Luna stomped her hoof as she glanced ahead. "Aurelius has made his appearance. This is his decisive moment. We must join the fray and bolster our soldiers, sister."

"No," Twilight interjected. "I will go. It's my duty to be out there, and I can help against the reinforcements."

"Absolutely not, Twilight," Celestia barked. "You are in no condition to fight right now."

"She is right, Twilight," Luna agreed. "Your exhaustion has set in and you will be of no help against them."

"I can manage!" the lavender alicorn shouted back. "Why are you doubting me now of all times?"

"Because you could very well die in your state, Archmage Sparkle," chimed in Telos.

"Please listen to me," pleaded Celestia as she stepped closer. She opened her mouth to continue, but Twilight cut her off.

"You're right, but we swore our lives for Equestria. The Celestial Knights, the Archmagi... We're all here to fight until the end. I'm not doing this alone," she said, looking to Trixie.

"I will not allow—"

"I've made up mind, Princess Celestia. Are you going to stop me from fulfilling my royal duties?" Telos chuckled as Twilight took Nightmare back from Trixie. "What's so funny?"

"Well played, Archmage Sparkle. Your princess can't argue with that logic, but I won't allow you to throw your life away if I can help it." He began to remove his robe as he continued talking. "With Aurelius here, we have no choice but to fight him directly. If he dies, then perhaps his necromantic powers will fade. In any case, he must die." He dropped his robe on the ground, the runes and glyphs on his body pulsing a blue glow as he stepped closer to Twilight.

Celestia chewed on her lip and took her tiara off, massaging her temples before replacing it. "Please, Twilight. Stay here. I have a bad feeling about this," she said softly.

"I'm going, Princess." She turned to the sage. "What can you do to help, Telos? Can you recharge my magic?"

"I can do better than that. I will return her soul to you," he said, motioning to the staff.

Twilight's eyes lit up, but Trixie's expression evened as she took a step back.

"It will drain some of my magic, but..." He put a hoof to his chin and allowed his gaze to drift to Aurelius off in the distance. "The staff will lose unique powers it has, but mixing your magic again will be far more potent. However, sending you into battle is still a dangerous gamble with your life."

Twilight frowned. "Don't worry about my life. Will you do it or not?" she snapped.

"Twilight..." Trixie muttered.

"As you wish. I only hope the Celestial Knights deal a major blow to Aurelius. Lie down next to the staff. We do not have the magic crypt for this, so I must ask that the rest of you protect yourselves."

Everyone did as they were told and Trixie took her place beside the princesses, each forming a barrier around themselves. An alchemy circle formed beneath Twilight and Nightmare with light encasing the space within. Energy crackled and lashed around as the sage held his hooves up, stone blackening where it touched. Moments passed with the energy growing more chaotic, but abruptly it stilled.

"Soul Rend!" The ethereal scythe appeared in his hooves and sliced through the staff, ripping Nightmare free in a distorted mass. The scythe vanished and he clawed his hooves downward, struggling to drive the soul back into Twilight's body. With a final roar, he brought them down to the ground and the Id flowed into the lavender alicorn.

Twilight jumped up as the alchemy circle faded, shrieks of agony escaping her throat. She clamped her eyes shut, her body caving back to the ground as her muscles tensed, her head held low. Her mane covered her face as she slowly twisted and stamped her hooves, gnashing her teeth as she growled and yelped. One final cry and she collapsed back to the ground gasping for air.

"Twilight!" Trixie dashed to her side and held her head to her chest. "Are you alright?"

Telos fell to his haunches and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "I did not... expect that to be so... draining," he said.

When Twilight's pain subsided, she was left with a euphoria coursing through her nerves, and she stood up, placing a hoof to her head as a throb took over briefly, her body wobbling back and forth.

Twilight...? Nightmare asked softly. I've... missed you.

The lavender alicorn turned to the city where Aurelius was and smiled. I've missed you, too. She turned to the magician, still smiling. "I'm alright, Trixie. Thanks." Trixie stepped back, her eyes darting across Twilight's body. "What? What is it?"

"Y-You," the magician stammered, pointing at her.

Twilight blinked and looked her own body over. She had taken nearly all of Nightmare's features on. Black coat, a misty mane and tail with three streaks of purple, and even the Id's polished cerulean armor. The only things she retained were her eye color and their shape and her cutie mark.

"Nightmare's magic is dominant, but I'm in control right now. I'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" Trixie asked, hesitant to accept the new look.

Twilight stepped closer and brought a hoof to her face. "I promise, it's fine." She discarded her tattered cloak and stretched her neck. "We need to get going, princesses." Rather than wait, Twilight pulled the others to her and, in a flash, they were gone.

The princesses moved to the edge of the steps and stared off into the distance where Aurelius was. It wouldn't be long before the southern edge gave way to more bone dragons, and they both fidgeted to join the fight.

"I share your grim feelings, sister," the moon princess said. "Even with Nightmare with her again, I cannot cast aside my doubts about this."

Celestia removed her tiara again and set it down beside her. "Luna," she started, grabbing her attention. "Could I have done more?" She turned to her sister, regret lining her eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"I feel as though, after all I have done to ensure Twilight's survival, then why..." She paused and shook her head, taking a deep breath. "Why does it feel as if I just allowed one of my best friends to march to their own death?"

Luna shot her sister a disturbed glance before they both looked back to the battlefield, tears rolling down Celestia's cheek.

Author's Note:

8/19/2014 - Yay for another quick-ish update?

8/23/2014 - Actual publishing date. I meant to post this days earlier, but definitively last night. Some offline things happened and it got delayed.

2/23/2015 - Peppy's edits are in now. lol

Enjoy!

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