• 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 32: Eldritch Reality

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 32: Eldritch Reality

Twilight blinked several times, hoping that the alicorn before her would pull back, but she remained gazing at her. She sank further into the floor as they slowly gravitated closer, then panned themselves around her for inspection. What is she doing? Her face flushed and her eyes widened until, finally, the alicorn pulled away. Confused, Twilight sat up again, rubbing the back of her head awkwardly. "Who are you?"

The question was immediately clashed by another one as she peered around. All around was a thick, pale whiteness that seemed to enclose her and the alicorn into a localized space. It was unlike anything she'd ever seen before. Where... am I? she thought. No walls. No floor. No ceiling. Just the pale whiteness. Even the floor below her bore the same bizarre appearance and had no indication it was even separate from the existence of everything else.

"I am Astra," the alicorn said, her eyes never leaving Twilight. Stoicism held her demeanor the entire time she observed her, but her eyes kept an amused glaze.

Twilight stared at her, studying her features as the name slowly grew familiar. I hate those eyes, she thought as the steely orbs peered back. "Astra," she echoed. She surged to her hooves as the name sank in. "You! You're Soothsayer Astra." She had never seen her directly, but she knew the name.

Astra did not respond, choosing only to observe Twilight in silence.

She looks a lot like Celestia, Twilight thought.

The soothsayer's body was a chalky white, but with a faint, translucent blue aura to it, giving her distinction to everything else. Her mane and tail floated in thick masses of a darker shade of blue, defying gravity. Despite the distinction, the resemblance to the sun princess made her uncomfortable. She took a cautious step closer to see Astra's furled up wings. No! she thought, stumbling back the same steps.

"You... were in Draconis..." she muttered, but her voice quickly thickened with anger. "Weren't you!"

"What makes you think that, Twilight Sparkle?"

"Your wings. Mine became just like them, and the magic that brought me here was the same."

Astra unfurled large, white wings. Twilight scowled as the feathers faded into tendrils of light, blending in with the surroundings. They danced and billowed in the air, one extending to her. Twilight blinked as it seemed to stretch to her. She fell backwards, blinking again to see them furled back up in the next instant.

"Where are my wings?" Twilight looked herself over, stunned by her appearance. She was a unicorn again, no longer bearing the darkness to her coat from Nightmare or her own wings. She could not summon the magical sheen to her mane or coat at will, either.

"Twilight Sparkle, do you know where you are?" Astra asked plainly. When the unicorn shook her head, she brought a hoof up. "This is the ethereal plane."

The hoof was swayed to her side, seemingly touching reality. A stream of light sprung from the contact and whirled through the air before finalizing as a flat band between them. Twilight recognized images of herself and Celestia playing across them.

"Are these my... memories?" she said, trembling as her eyes scanned the images.

"Where your Princess Celestia and Princess Luna preside over the mortal realm, it can be said that this is now my domain. As you are here in it now, you are as much a part of it as you are a part of me, so to speak."

Twilight felt her heart crash into her stomach, her mind racing. She sat down and glanced down at shaky hooves. Memories of the slaughter in Draconis popped into her mind, followed by being torn from Nightmare Moon. Glancing up, the same images played back to her in chilling clarity. The implication of Astra's presence, and now meeting her, turned her stomach sour. "Am I... dead?" she asked, fearing the answer.

Astra's eyes narrowed on her. "Dead? No." Hope wormed its way back into Twilight, but the soothsayer's placid gaze quickly stymied it. "You are simply not bound to the mortal realm, so to speak. The ethereal plane is a stream of existence, energy and imagination."

"Imagination?"

"As you are here, you are the combined existence of magic and collective thought. You,"—she pointed at her—"are your soul." The images in the band changed to various depictions of Nightmare Moon. "Her existence is much the same as yours is now. Merely a soul without a static, unique form."

"How am I the same as Nightmare Moon? Aurelius created her to corrupt and take control of Princess Luna." One of the images briefly showed the Id vomiting in the throne room; she forced herself not to think of the cause.

"I loathe my brother's ill-willed actions. He is ruled by his sinister desires. It has led to many... vulgar choices." Astra's nose crinkled with her disgust.

"Does that start with murdering you?"

Astra's eyes widened for a moment, but she closed them before speaking. "That was something... I did not believe he would do, I must admit."

"You're called Soothsayer, but you didn't see that coming?" she challenged.

Astra regained her stoic composure. "My subjects accorded me that title." When she opened her eyes to see Twilight maintaining her stare, she added, "No, I did not."

Twilight loosed a frustrated groan while maintaining eye contact. I hate her eyes. "Why did you involve me in all of this? Wouldn't Celestia and Luna have been able to stop Aurelius themselves?" There was a pause before Astra answered, and Twilight stomped her hooves. "Answer me."

The soothsayer didn't flinch or react, furthering Twilight's aggravation. After another long moment, Astra cocked her head to one side. "My brother would have likely slain one of your princesses and succeeded in taking over. I did not choose you. Your princesses chose you. If you feel there is blame to be placed, it lies not with me."

The band of images vanished and Astra turned around, taking several steps forward and standing. She thrust her forelegs in front of her, slowly parting them, reality tearing between. A black void ripped through the whiteness, but the soothsayer obscured Twilight's view. Something crashed onto the ground and she stepped to the side. However, Astra moved out of the way as the void closed up.

"Greetings, dear brother. It is good to see you again," Astra intoned, her face absent of interest or joy.

Twilight gaped as Aurelius stood up, brushing himself off and looking around in a daze. The fiery prince lacked his magic and appeared as a light, dull red, his darker mane appearing as unkempt hair. He appeared much younger than when she had encountered him all times prior.

Twilight lost herself to anger, charging both siblings. She took a swing at Astra, but phased through her. She squealed as she crashed into the ground. Rising up, she attempted to attack Aurelius, only for her attack to phase through him as well.

Astra turned her attention to the unicorn. "Twilight Sparkle. This is a domain comprised of my magic and thought. If I do not wish it, then it shall not be."

"What the heck is going on?" Twilight seethed. Those damn eyes!

"Astra?" the prince said as he gained his bearings. "I had always thought... No. I knew! But tell me oh beloved sister, how are you still alive?" he asked bitterly.

"Dear brother, I never died," the soothsayer replied simply.

Aurelius tried to call upon his magic, but nothing answered his command. He attempted to transform into a dragon, but it failed as well, leaving him shocked as his gaze slowly fell back to his elder sister. Rekindling his resolve, he attempted to strike her, only to fall victim to the same fate as Twilight.

"That won't work," Twilight said, but the prince didn't acknowledge her. He can't see me?

The prince jumped to his hooves. "I killed your little pet!" he shouted. The prince found himself levitating, raising high above the ground. In the next moment, he was driven into the floor, a painful yelp escaping his throat, only to be drowned out as he was slammed into the floor a second time.

"This is my domain now. Your stay is merely temporary and superficial, but I shall make it less than pleasant for you, dear brother." For once, Twilight was frightened by her emotionless voice, and the prince shrank into himself in fear as the pain rippled across his features.

"If it's temporary, then why are we here? Can I get back to the real world?" Twilight asked quickly, stifling any ill-feelings she held for the soothsayer in favor of answers.

Astra stepped to the side and plunged a hoof into the whiteness, the end of her leg disappearing, or blurring into it as far as Twilight could tell. "Aurelius shall depart from this dimension before long, but you shall not, I must admit."

"What!?"

The prince grinned viciously as he finally took notice of Twilight, causing the latter to flinch in surprise. He rubbed his forehooves together. "Oh, how delightful, sister. You're removing one of the biggest obstacles for me!" He stepped beside Astra, leaning up to her. "You are truly wonderful, do you know that?" He grinned and wiped a stream of blood from his mouth.

Astra was neither amused nor angered by his sarcastic affection, but she turned her attention to him nonetheless. A black light smothered the prince's mouth and he tried to flail and shout. As he found his movements restricted, his front right leg made a sickening crack as it folded forwards. Despite the agony of his movements, no sound escaped his throat. Twilight stared at him as he writhed in anguished silence, then rubbed her own leg.

I have to get out of here!

"Dear brother, Twilight Sparkle is going to be your end." She stared at him with her blank expression while he glowered back death, tears in his eyes. For a moment, Twilight saw a faint smile as she spoke. "Have I ever been wrong about predictions beyond us? Do you perhaps feel I shall be incorrect with this one? I wish to hear your thoughts on the matter."

The black light covering the prince's mouth faded, but a slew of curses streamed out once he could speak again. "I'm going to make sure you suffer for an eternity, Astra!"

The soothsayer gazed at him until he stopped speaking, having grown nervous and fearful of her again as silence fell between them. "I do not... suffer, dear brother." His left foreleg snapped this time, and he screamed again without anything to quiet him.

As his agony died down, tears flowed down Aurelius's cheeks. His breaths were labored, but the pain subsided and he glowered at her again. "I know... I know what'll... anger you," he said between pained pants. He grinned and mentally prepared himself for a third broken leg. "I finally killed him. I finally killed your precious little Telos. As a dragon, I ate his lifeless body. I chewed him into nothing but mush and swallowed." He tilted his head back and half-snorted, half-cackled between sharp breaths. Astra stared blankly at him for a long while. "What, nothing to say now?"

Twilight collapsed to the floor, her eyes wide for a moment as the memory of Telos's demise played in her mind.

"I do not desire to hear your voice any longer." The black light returned over the prince's mouth as both of his hind legs snapped.

Twilight looked up to watch the prince writhing in pain again, his body convulsing as every fiber of his being cried out for mercy. She found herself unable to pull her eyes away; instead, she took a step closer, drinking in his suffering. Why... am... I...? Her muddled thoughts scattered away as Astra removed her hoof from the whiteness and turned to her, but she failed to notice. I... feel...

"I apologize for our interact—" Twilight tilted her head back, cackling as she stood up. "Twilight Sparkle?"

"Can you... torture him some more?" she asked as she shifted her focus from the prince to the soothsayer. "I want to see him suffer," she added as she looked to the soothsayer, a pleading glaze to her violet orbs.

Astra's eyes narrowed for a moment, but she glanced at her brother. "I will not. I did not take you for a sadist, I must admit."

"Why not? Just another broken bone, a twist of a wrist. Preferably his neck, but I don't care either way," she said in a casual manner.

Astra's eyes narrowed again as she glanced to Twilight, and Aurelius disappeared in dark flash. "While it is of no consequence, I do not enjoy the violence."

LIAR! "Are you kidding me!?" Twilight dashed to stand in front of Astra, peering into her eyes as anger boiled over once more. "That's awfully hypocritical. You torture your brother, and you use me to slaughter the Brood, but you don't enjoy violence?" Astra stared back with her blank expression. "Say something!"

"Forgive me—"

"I could never forgive you for that," snarled Twilight. "You're just like Celestia."

Astra's eyes lowered into a deep, listless expression. "I do not typically explore the lives of others, but I believe it is of no consequence to you what I do." She tapped a hoof to the floor and it faded into a view of Nightmare Moon. "Divert your focus from my brother for now."

Twilight sank to the floor as her anger was drowned by grief, her eyes welling with tears. "She's..."

"In pain," Astra finished.

Nightmare was fixated on a cracked helm on a worn vanity, a broken mirror behind showing a scattered reflection of tears streaming down her cheeks. She slowly levitated the helm closer to her face, her reflection showing in its fading polish. With a heavy sigh, she placed it upon her head and reached for something unseen. As she turned, she paused and gazed directly at Twilight. Can she...? But the Id blinked and continued on, the unseen object's levitating glow following her just out of view.

"Why are you showing me this? What does this have to do with me?" Twilight said quickly.

"You shall be reunited." Twilight's spirits rose at the words. "As it is currently, I am holding Aurelius and allowing for Celestia to lick her wounds, so to speak." She tapped her hoof again and the floor turned white. Nightmare and Twilight—as an alicorn—stood back-to-back between them.

"Why am I a unicorn here," asked Twilight, changing the subject.

"Do you hold pride in becoming an alicorn?"

"What, can't see into my mind now?" Twilight replied sarcastically.

Astra sighed. "I saw only what was necessary to see." She swayed a hoof and the alicorns combined together, creating the dark cross fusion with Twilight dominant, but the unicorn didn't react. "I find amusement in the truth of your maddened words. I assure you, however, that I do not take pride in assisting in their creation." The fusion of both alicorns shifted into Twilight's transformation against the Brood's royal guard and King Render. "You did not ask why I intervened in Draconis."

"I don't know if I even care anymore. Why should I ask now?"

"I thought you might have wished to know."

"Fine." Twilight rolled her eyes. "Why did you, oh great and almighty goddess from beyond death, help me, a victim of duty and circumstance, in Draconis?"

"Very well." Astra stomped her forehooves and the image of her transformation was replaced with the entire vicinity warping into Draconis, just moments before Render impaled Twilight. "If you had not prepared yourself to transform, you would have surely died, so to speak."

Twilight jumped and yelped as Render's lance crashed into the ground in a cacophony, the outside perspective haunting as the memories of the experience flooded every corner of her mind. She shivered as she stared at her body, wide-eyed, the chill of death as the blood drained out of her body returning to her nerves. Trixie's scream pierced her thoughts causing her to grimace and look away for a moment. When she looked back, she could see the magician crying as they said their goodbyes. Twilight reached out a hoof to her as tears welled in her eyes, but in a flash, her friends were gone.

"You are truly a noble soul, Twilight Sparkle," Astra commented, but the unicorn ignored her and wiped her eyes.

Render lumbered over to the lance and grabbed it, turning his head away as he tore it from the ground. Twilight shivered, but did not blink as she watched him whip the blood off of it, her body sliding free and hitting the ground. It rolled several meters, a smear of blood on the waypoint to mark her impact. Her legs quaked as she watched the blood flow over the stone, forming runes she had not seen since her days as an archmage still in training. Blood filled in the grooves in the waypoint as particles of light formed above, slowly drifting down. The particles flowed into her body as the blood stopped, soon receding back into her. Twilight gnashed her teeth as the explosion of light came.

I died, she thought.

"My influence began the moment you sought to invoke your higher form. Your princesses should have forbidden you from using such a power. Never could you have mastered it in so little time, even with your extraordinary gifts." Astra paused as Twilight conversed with Render, waiting until it was finished before continuing. She motioned to above her transformed version when she returned back to Draconis in the memory. "You could not have possibly seen it at the time. I know that you felt it. Had I not intervened, you would surely have perished. It took great effort to ensure you did not fully comprehend my influence."

Twilight cringed when the first attack brought down two red dragons. She watched the scene with equal parts awe and disgust. When the black flame appeared, she couldn't remember it.

"A black flame is the pinnacle of fire magic. In such a state, fire is not easily controlled. You resisted my will, but you maintained your finesse. Quite impressive, I must admit."

"No..." Twilight muttered as she stepped back, closing her eyes and shaking her head. "No! You were going to kill all of them anyway?"

Astra stepped closer, cocking her head to one side, the flame erupting from the ground behind her. "I was all that prevented your death, so to speak." She swayed a hoof outward, drawing in a stream of blue energy to it.

"I-I would have been fine! None of them had to die!"

"Oh? Was the vulgar display of power not to your liking? Perhaps I was mistaken when I linked myself to you. Tell me, then, would you have truly, absolutely gated your power—if you could have—had you not had my... assistance?"

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She froze, her heart pounding as the cries of dying dragons behind Astra filled the silence between them. After a moment, she collapsed to the floor and held her hooves over her eyes. "I never... wanted any of this..." she whimpered.

"In my initial contact with Princess Celestia I did not name anyone. I informed her of the risk of doing everything herself, but she was the one who asked if invoking the Rites of the Alicorn would be a better option." Astra rose up, throwing her other hoof out and drawing in a second stream of energy, the memory of Draconis fading back into whiteness behind her.

"And then she picked me..."

"She trusts you." Twilight squeezed her eyes shut. "From the perspective of a ruler, she made the correct decision." Astra was met with a glare from the unicorn. "She could not have accounted for the unforeseen. Even I cannot see all."

"How did you not know about Nightmare Moon, or your own brother, but you manifested yourself to tell Celestia about a war with the dragons?" She stood up and approached the soothsayer. "You didn't even care about your own lover, and he gave up everything for your legacy."

Astra loosed a sigh, swirling her hooves around and drawing energy from different points. The streams flowed from the nothingness, the whiteness. "You must put your world first unless you wish to see it end. That is what your princess—and I—have done many times. Were I in her situation, I would have made the same decision without a second thought. The toll of being a leader is more than one on the outside can understand." She moved with a rhythm to the energy streams, but after a moment, her eyes fluttered open as she bared her teeth. With a sharp groan, she collapsed to the ground, the streams fading away.

"What's wrong?" Twilight moved closer, but the soothsayer held a hoof out to ward her away.

"I... underestimated my brother's power," she said as she slowly rose to her hooves. "He shall soon escape this realm and resume his plans."

"What, how?"

"Neither of you are dead. I am merely holding you both here for a time, but you are weakened and detached from your corporeal form." Astra took a few deep breaths, relaxing completely and drawing in energy again.

"What about me?"

"What about you?" the soothsayer mimicked.

"So, I can leave just like Aurelius? I can just go back to my body, right?"

"No." Astra offered her a blank expression as she spoke. "I removed your soul from it. That body now belongs to Nightmare Moon, so to speak." Twilight's legs trembled as her mind comprehended the soothsayer's words. "Your soul is no longer bound to a physical form, and thus, you do not have anywhere on the mortal plane you can return to on your own." She turned away to focus on her energy siphoning.

"N-No!"

Twilight staggered backwards as her hind legs buckled. She sat down and quivered as she replayed her final moments in the physical plane in her mind.

I will find you, I promise!

She froze as Nightmare's screams flooded her thoughts, and she clenched her eyes shut as she wept into readied hooves.

I won't stop!

"I'm stuck here?" Twilight shouted, as if hearing it would comfort her. Grief and fear quickly turned to rage, and she sprang up. "So... what! Aurelius just gets to fight his way back out and win? Everything I've done... everything I've fought for... It's all for nothing!?"

"Yes," replied Astra simply, her attention still focused elsewhere.

Twilight attempted to strike the soothsayer again, but she phased through her once more. Again she tried to call upon her magic, but nothing happened. She screeched out her frustrations and pounded the floor instead.

"Why would you bring me here? Why is this happening to me? It isn't fair!"

"Fair?" Astra scoffed. "Perhaps you are even more naive than..." she trailed off. "As I had originally predicted, you will succeed in ending Aurelius's war," she reassured.

"How? You just said—"

"I should have been clearer." The soothsayer turned to finally face the unicorn. "My answer was to your second question, though I suppose it could apply to all three. You are not truly stuck here, so to speak. When you are able, you shall be returned. I am binding my brother for as long as is reasonable. He will soon be free of my grasp." Astra ceased her siphoning and stepped to the side, beginning to draw in two new streams of energy. Twilight shielded her eyes as bright orange and bright blue blinded her momentarily before the vibrancy of the energy evened out.

"Are you going to put me back into my own body with Nightmare Moon?"

"No." The streams stopped and Astra tilted her head to the floor. "It would seem as though my brother has escaped. There will be some time before he regains any of his strength, but I must remind you. All that you have fought for will be for naught by the time I am able to return you to your world." Three more streams of energy were drawn from the nothingness into the soothsayer.

"What... do you mean 'by the time I am able to return you'?"

"Time is merely a mortal idea, Twilight Sparkle. It is an idea that does not follow the same perception in this realm as it does in yours, so to speak." She took a deep breath before continuing. "As such, I expect no less than a year to have passed by the time you are ready to return."

"Ready to return?" Twilight echoed.

"Yes." Before she could elaborate, her energy siphoning ceased and she turned as the whiteness beside her tore open. Aurelius stepped through, his body looking worn and his face carrying a haggardness to it. Despite his injuries only moments ago, he was standing on unbroken legs.

"Did you really think you could keep me here, Astra?" he growled.

"Of course not, dear brother."

The prince attempted to strike her, but it phased through her again. "Damn you..."

"This is my realm, dear brother. You bear no influence here within any capacity." Aurelius turned to Twilight attempted to strike her the same. She froze in fear as the attack phased through her just the same. "My direct influence is all you can affect. Though it has not been diminished, you are free to return"—she paused and ran a hoof through her strange mane, flattening it to a more natural look—"to a location of my choosing. I assure you, it shall be most... uncomfortable for you, dear brother."

"There's nothing you—"

"Do you remember our most trying and tragic war?" Twilight raised an eyebrow at the emphasis, but what piqued her interest most was the prince's reaction.

"N-No! You wouldn't—"

"Oh, but I would." Twilight gaped as Astra cracked a smile before shoving her brother. The prince's face distorted into fear, but before pleas could be articulated a tear appeared in the whiteness and swallowed him, closing in the same moment. As soon as Astra noticed the unicorn's shock, her smile faded. "I apologize for my displays. Telos most certainly painted me a saint."

"I'm glad he was wrong." Astra frowned. "He's not the first to be blinded by love."

The soothsayer blinked. "I suppose he is not." She drew in a blue stream of energy to her as she continued. "I am going to give you a natural alicorn body for you return to your world in."

Twilight's eyes widened. "A natural alicorn body? I was already an alicorn."

"Through the Rites of the Alicorn, yes. You were merely an artificial alicorn. Despite your ascension, you did not bear the same constitution, nor potential of that of a natural one." She ceased her energy siphon and moved closer to Twilight, looking her straight in the eyes with a heavy gaze. "I must warn you. There is no reversing this process once I have bound your soul into the new body."

"What about Nightmare Moon? She's an alicorn and her soul can be transferred."

"Yes, but she was," Astra pursed her lips briefly, "created to do such. Her soul attaches itself, rather than occupies... what we shall call existence. To corrupt your Princess Luna, she needed to be much like a natural alicorn. That is why they bear many similarities, even apart. You, however, have given her a uniqueness that Aurelius had never intended."

"What's that?"

"Despite my brother's lack of understanding of her creation, she is very much like a normal soul. You have given her love and hope, befriending her despite the past sins she was made to commit." Astra smiled again, and Twilight was beginning to feel it was dangerous for her. "You remind me of someone."

"Who... Telos?" I guess we have one thing in common. We're both dead now.

"Not quite. You will know the answer, and its meaning, some day."

"You?"

Astra chuckled and opened her wings, drawing in more streams of energy through them. "I am afraid not." Each stream was silent and colorless, but the blue stream drawn to her horn began to make a humming noise. Twilight recognized it as the same hum from when she was pulled from Canterlot, and she grimaced as she recalled Nightmare shouting to her, only for her voice to be suffocated by that same hum.

Twilight sat down and folded her forelegs across her chest. "When can I leave?"

Astra returned to her stoic demeanor and eyed her up and down. "When fate allows."

"This is your realm, you said. Shouldn't you be able to tell me when?"

"You do not seem to understand, so you must forgive me."

What now? "Can you, I don't know, maybe elaborate on that? Some of us aren't fluent in vague."

"You are the prediction, yet, you are the one I cannot predict." Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but the energy streams exploded into violent conduits, roaring as they flowed into the soothsayer. They flowed around her in undulating streams, shifting into various hues of color, only to be canceled out by the vibrancy of the other streams. After a few moments, they vanished and Astra collapsed to the floor panting. She glanced up to the unicorn with an apologetic look. "I... need some... time..."

Twilight rushed to her side, crouching down to examine her. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Astra took several gasps of air before her breathing normalized. "I am afraid not. This is my realm and you cannot interact with it beyond what I will. You cannot grasp at anything outside of this..."

"Prison," Twilight finished, glancing away in annoyance.

Astra stood up as if nothing happened and glanced around. "From your perspective, I suppose it could be viewed as such."

Twilight released an exasperated groan. "There. Is. Nothing. Here!"

Astra turned to her with a blank expression, her voice returning to a dull tone once more. "Forgive me, Twilight Sparkle. Perhaps you may consider this beyond death. There are things that you cannot fathom as you are now. Your mind could break, or your soul could shatter at the mere comprehension of some of the knowledge I have obtained."

Twilight looked at her incredulously before standing up. Panning her vision around to the white nothingness, she crossed her forelegs over her chest again. "Yep. Looking real transcended here. You're dead, you're stuck here, your premonitions suck, and all you seem to have accomplished is two abductions and a couple light shows. I'm not impressed, I must admit."

Despite Twilight's sarcasm, Astra remained placid. "I have transcended what you call death. However, that is an explanation for another time. You are neither dead nor bound to this realm. You will be returned to Equestria and end my brother's machinations once and for all.

"Right, right. The whole natural alicorn body and sent back to Equestria thing. I've read books with worse stories," she said, mimicking quotations with her hooves.

"I shall bind you to my body and it shall become yours. I cannot return to it," Astra lamented.

Her body? Twilight cocked her head to one side. "What do you mean your body? You're dead. Telos watched you die. He even showed everyone his memory!"

Astra gave her a faint smile. "That was a most... unfortunate and unforeseen incident. Yes, I did die, so to speak." Twilight continued to stare at her in disbelief. "And my body, do you recall what became of it?"

"It... vanished. Then some kind of energy was absorbed into Telos. That's how he got his magic, right?"

"Indeed. It was my final gift to him." Astra stood up again, extending her wings and drawing in streams of energy again. She closed her eyes as all of them resumed. Twilight watched in awe as the streams expanded. The soothsayer's body faded in and out of reality several times before the streams died down.

"I don't trust you, Astra," Twilight said flatly.

"I do not need your trust. I do not even require your cooperation. You will do as you are fated."

Twilight glowered at her. "Why did you stop me from killing Aurelius?"

Astra gazed back in silence, but before Twilight could voice her aggravation to that, she turned her head away and spoke. "You may not have been successful. It was a risk that I was unwilling to take, so to speak."

"Telos weakened him! He died right in front of us trying to kill him. And still, you stopped us from avenging him and killing Aurelius." She dashed to stand in the soothsayer's view as her face contorted in anger, but her focus was elsewhere. "I would have ripped his head from his body as he begged for his life."

"Perhaps if Telos was aware of..." she trailed off. Shaking her head, she refocused on the unicorn. "I could not warn him in time to prevent his demise." She turned around and hung her head, her mane lowering to obscure her face.

Is she crying? Twilight wondered. She relaxed her voice and glanced away. "Why did you stop us? I would have killed him and ended all of this."

"You seem not to fully understand the capability of my brother. Your sister princesses, they are far more capable than you have ever seen. The Rites of the Alicorn crippled their power. My brother is much the same way."

"I'm not buying it. Together, Nightmare and I are stronger than he could possibly be."

"Your arrogance is unbecoming." Twilight frowned, and Astra rose up and spread her forelegs in a cross as lights swirled to and around her. They made no sound as they wrapped around her several times before flowing up to her horn. "Are you aware of what is growing inside of you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You are capable of fighting my brother only as long as your princesses are alive. So long as they continue to draw breath, he cannot seize control of nor utilize their powers. In your case, the boons they provide are... not as they should be."

"Don't change the subject!"

"Have you not been aware of just how truly slow your magic recharges in the daylight?"

"I..." Twilight thought back to all of her day time battles. She always assured herself that the sun was a wellspring of magical energy, but Astra's words made her question whether or not her magical endurance and sheer force of will was what truly kept her going. "It works just fine," she said quickly.

"Your disfavor of your sun princess affects you whether you acknowledge it or not. It is most evident in the way you speak of her. What was once exaltation is now forlorn affection at best." Astra's expression turned to disappointment. "Something is within you. Whether it is a gift or a curse, I cannot say. Be wary of yourself."

"Whatever! Are you going to keep speaking in riddles until I leave?"

"I am nearly ready."

"Finally," Twilight muttered as she rolled her eyes.

"Do not be sad, Twilight Sparkle. A blade may have two edges, but the one that cuts in your favor has always been the goal." Astra gave her an apologetic look. "It is not fair for the ones that are sacrificed. For that, I am truly sorry for what you have had to endure. Your princess must always see something in you that others cannot."

"I am not sad about that. I don't need your sympathy. I just need you to put me back in Equestria, so I can get this over with already." Twilight looked up to Astra expecting a heavy or blank look, but the once stoic gaze she held had been replaced with a wistful sorrow. It cast a warmth to her and she contemplated that feeling until she closed her eyes. "Hey—"

A surge of energy shot from Astra's horn and hit Twilight, forming a pillar of light around her. It hummed loudly, scrambling her thoughts as she staggered backwards, clutching her ears. It faded a few moments later into an aura.

"What did you just do to me!?" When she opened her eyes, Astra stood before her with her stoic expression again. She cocked her head from side to side as she took in Twilight's aura.

"Meddling in the affairs of you mortals shall no longer be my business after this. I am loathe to say this, Twilight Sparkle, but there are no more second chances beyond this. You cannot fail." Astra swayed a foreleg to her left and a dark portal tore open in the whiteness. "When you leave my realm, you shall return to life in your new body."

Twilight's eyes widened to the sight of the dark portal. It seemed as if it called to her, to bring her back to the real world, but she found herself fearful of entering. This is it. This will bring me back to life. What've I got to lose? I'm already dead if it doesn't... She pried her attention away and to Astra. "It's your body. Won't I look like you?"

"No. It shall bear your dark guise. Nightmare Moon has influenced you too much, I am afraid."

Twilight gulped and turned back to the portal. She took a trembling step closer to it as it became audible. "Y-You said I would return a year after Aurelius, but it's only been an hour, right?"

"The way time is perceived and interacted with in this dimension is different. As a mortal, you are only capable of observing its flow in a limited capacity, but I"—she raised a hoof up—"see things beyond your understanding." Twilight shot her a confused glance. "Do not tarry here. Time slips by the longer you delay."

Twilight could feel the portal begin to pull at her, but she resisted it. "Where is Telos? He's dead, too. Why isn't he here with you?"

Astra glanced away. "I... cannot sense him. He is beyond my grasp."

The pull from the portal grew stronger, but still Twilight stood her ground. It began to hum as she turned her entire body to face the soothsayer. "Can you tell me what's changed? If I'm going up against Aurelius again, I don't want to be blind."

"If my brother is not to disappoint, I expect him to be king. As for your comrades, pray that he spared them. Perhaps he found a use for them, but I advise you to steal yourself and gather allies."

By now, the portal had begun to disrupt her balance with its pull, and Twilight turned to face it, preparing to take her final steps. "I have to know one last thing."

"What is it?"

Twilight turned around. "If you can see the future... What happens to me?"

Astra cocked her head as her composure tore itself between surprise and caution. "I do not know what you mean."

"What happens to me at the end, when this is all over?" The hum rang in her ears as the pull of the portal grew stronger. There wasn't much time left before it would simply vacuum her in. Astra looked away and there was a long while before she did anything.

"Do you believe in fate?"

Twilight gave her contemptuous glare. "No." She blinked, and the soothsayer was standing just before her. She flinched as the taller mare's presence intimidated her.

All fell to silence as Astra spoke, and the pull of the portal ceased momentarily. "Then I cannot quell your curiosity. Of all the beings I have ever encountered throughout the ages, yours and your shadow's futures are the ones I cannot see. Even when I could not foresee my death at my brother's hooves, I saw a grander picture beyond words. For you, my sight is obscured."

"So, you can't see my future."

"Be wary, Twilight Sparkle, you walk with two shadows, even when you are surrounded by light."

"What do you mea—"

Astra emitted a force, and Twilight shrieked as she was blasted back into the portal. It sealed itself immediately and Astra closed her eyes, sighing. She turned and moved back before standing up to draw in more energy, but she hesitated. She smiled as she twirled her right hoof, drawing in a blue stream to it.

"For how long have you carried the first shadow?"

Author's Note:

2/23/2015 - Peppy's edits have been added.

This was one of my favorite chapters to write and rewrite. It has evolved so much since its conceptualization, and I'm very proud of the final.

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