• 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 37: White Noise

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 37: White Noise

Twilight clutched her jaw for a moment before wiping it clean of her saliva; it was the fourth time she had fallen asleep during Luna's instruction. What was to be a gentle prodding from the princess to awaken her became pain amplified by her bruise with an integer the archmage couldn't quite quantify. She refrained from a yelp, but when she refocused on Luna, all she could do was glare death.

"The next time you try to wake me, try yelling so it doesn't feel like I just caught a train with my face... again!" Twilight grumbled, a gentle hoof already easing the throb in her cheek.

Luna bit her lower lip. "Forgive me, but I would not have to awaken you if you would simply stay awake in the first place."

A loud yawn escaped Twilight's mouth as she tilted her head back and allowed her tongue to loll partway out of her mouth. Luna was right. Her recovery had been chocked full of sleepless nights and restless days, and now that she was able to walk around again on her own she had garnered no additional sleep. Darkness ringed her bagged eyes, and she frequently rubbed them and yawned.

"I'm sorry, Luna. I just haven't been sleeping..." Twilight squinted around the room, trying to quicken their adjustment. "At all." It wasn't like her not to sleep. She had read books on the subject, conducted sleep studies, some of them on herself. Even when tired and feeling less sore she couldn't sleep more than a few winks at most.

"Right. Well." Luna rose from the uncomfortable hospital chair and moved to the blinds of the only window in the room.

Twilight's eyes widened as they slowly tracked the princess. No... No. No! Damn it, Luna, don't!

In one swift motion, the princess unleashed the full power of the bright morning sun into the room and Twilight groaned, clamping her eyes shut and shielding them from the flood with her forelegs.

"Come, Twilight," Luna chirped. "You are able enough to join Derpy and me outside. Your stay here has ended, and you must train yourself in the event that you must battle Berry again." She trotted out of the room before Twilight could complain.

Grumbling, then sighing, Twilight climbed out of bed, her body stiff and her left foreleg still in a cast. She yawned as she gathered up her cloak and Moonlight. On her way out of the room, she caught a glimpse of her haggard appearance in the mirror. Rolling her eyes, she chalked up her appearance to echoing how she felt. At least my fur hasn't gotten any darker, she thought.

Luna and Derpy awaited her outside, the paladin looking far perkier and ready compared to the rest of them. She was already clad in what remained of her battle-worn armor, performing stretches and exercises.

"Good morning, Twilight," greeted Derpy as she stood up to attention.

"I thought we were supposed to be laying low." Twilight cringed and shut her eyes, turning away as she met the full force of natural light. After a moment, her eyes fully adapted and she began to enjoy the regenerative properties of the sun. It slowly peeled back the agony of her sleeplessness.

Luna glanced around the hospital grounds and shook her head, smiling. Trees dotted the area, with rays of light honeycombing the shade through the leaves. Birds could be heard chirping and tweeting songs from above. "This territory is much too far for Aurelius's reach. Though there are likely loyalists this far, the kingdom's influence is scarce or neglected, even within the outer lands of Equestria. He has no concern for what goes on here. This is one of the more peaceful places, unaffected by the unruly dragons that serve the king." She enunciated the title with distaste before watching other ponies taking walks in the morning. Twilight noticed her wistfulness and cleared her throat.

Just how far did someone take me? Twilight decided to push the question away for the time being. "You wanted to teach me how to fight Berry, right?"

Luna blinked a couple times, her head snapping back to Twilight. "Right. Of course. I shall do my best."

Derpy moved beside Twilight. "I'd like to learn, too, Your Majesty."

The princess pursed her lips as she regarded the paladin. "I am afraid that this is not something for you, Derpy. I intend to have Twilight use her magic. Your powers should be sufficient... once you are at full strength, that is." The paladin stared at the ground in disappointment.

Twilight scoffed. "My magic? She barely flinched when I hit her with some of my spells. I watched her break her own armor apart with raw strength, just to keep going."

"Indeed. Her physical might and resilience is akin to the Brood's royal guard. She will be a most formidable opponent for you now."

"So, how do I beat her?"

Luna's horn lit up as a ball of magic formed. "Celestia and I had allowed ourselves to succumb to rust before Aurelius's initial assault. Following that, we began to train ourselves once more in your absence. Though one would never believe it, she is a fierce combatant when she wants to be. We aimed to develop new magic to aid us. One idea I had been experimenting with is... this."

A sphere of blue energy formed in the air, and Luna held a foreleg out. The sphere touched it and molded onto and around her form, solidifying in color. Luna grunted and bared her teeth as it coated her entire foreleg. "Unfortunately, it is merely in experimental stages," she ground out.

She moved to one of the trees and pulled back her magic-coated hoof. With a cry, she punched it. The trunk dented as pieces of bark fell away and the magic dispersed. Leaves on the branches rustled in discontent while some fell away. Twilight found her interest in the ability piqued, but disappointment in the final result.

"I'm fairly confident Berry can punch the tree into paper," Twilight blurted.

"Knight Punch could clear an entire forest with her bare hooves," added Luna, "but that is beside the point. I have been working to mold magic over myself to bolster strength and defenses, aside from what our natural ability allows. Though unicorns do not tend to gain physical properties from stronger magic, it increases our stamina and ability to resist damage. I am hoping to amplify and even push beyond that limitation, converting magic into raw power."

Twilight imagined converting her magic into physical strength, but the daydream was cut short when Luna took her uninjured forehoof. "Your affinity for magic is greater than any other. Give it a try."

Twilight glanced between her hoof and Luna. Smirking, she summoned magic, without the sphere, already around her hoof. "Like thi—"

Her confidence was crushed when it felt like her bones were being compressed inside the magical shell. A great weight pulled her towards the ground, and she gnashed her teeth before she dispelled it. Panting, she stood up straight and looked at the awed Derpy and worried Luna with disbelieving eyes.

"I am afraid that I have not had much time to devote to this," the princess lamented. "I will continue to work at it, but having you to help will surely bring this ability to fruition in due time."

Derpy shrugged and shifted her armor. "Are you sure something like this could be used against Berry? I've seen her stop an attack from Aurelius, and even keep fighting with broken bones. I've never seen any direct attack slow her down, let alone stop her."

Luna beamed. "With enough magic funneled into it, I believe it can. However, we must first figure out how to harness it without these debilitating flaws. The condensed magic is encumbering, and the bracing it applies to our forms must be lessened. Once these limitations are overcome, I believe Twilight has enough magic to outclass Knight Punch in melee combat."

Twilight attempted to immerse her hoof in magic again, this time bracing herself for the pressure and unexpected weight gain. She wobbled at first, then beat her wings to stay standing for a moment. She released the magic and panted. "This is going to take some serious effort. Do we have time for me to learn this?"

Luna looked through Twilight for a moment. "It is always a gamble, but we have not seen or heard of them since Vibe called them elsewhere on Aurelius's behalf." She refocused on Twilight's face. "Nevertheless, we should use this newfound precious time to our advantage and bolster our might." She glanced to Derpy. "My magic may be returning, but I still rely on Paladin Hooves's strength."

The paladin hung her head. "But if I fall—"

Luna raised a hoof. "Do not dwell on that thought. We have options, even if they are limited." Twilight gnashed her teeth and growled as she coated her hind legs in magic. "W-wait, Twilight. That is much too fast!"

Roaring, Twilight charged the tree Luna had struck and delivered a kick to it. The tree heaved with a loud crack, its leaves rustling as it partially uprooted and settled at a tilt. Ponies walking about the hospital grounds all froze and stared at her in awe and confusion as violently loosened leaves fluttered down around her. She huffed and dispelled the magic, crumbling to the ground.

"I... have... to get... stronger," she muttered. My legs feel like butter after that. Despite the drain, she glanced up to see a split running up the trunk. That's more like it.

Luna exchanged concerned glances with Derpy, then examined the tree trunk. Her eyes lit up as the damage was catalogued. "I must admit... I am impressed. Such a short time... I think that is more than enough progress for today. You should sunbathe and recover your magic more. Perhaps it is time to mend your own injuries. Derpy and I have some business elsewhere for now. You are safe in this town for the time being."

"Business elsewhere?" Twilight asked as she shakily rose back up, using a hoof to the tree trunk and flaps of her wings to help her stand.

Luna shrouded her head with the cowl of her cloak. "Perhaps we may dig up a lead on this elusive resistance."

Twilight debated on inviting herself to accompany them, but after a moment of pondering she decided against it. "Alright, be careful and good luck."

After they left, Twilight took Luna's advice and strolled into the sun, the heat permeating into her body. It energized her, relaxing her body and easing her soreness, but it unsettled her mind. Where is Celestia? she wondered, squinting to the all powerful star briefly. It was tempting to try and get some rest, but the idea of defeating Berry in combat was too enticing. She formed a sphere of energy in the air and held her right forehoof to it. I'm going to break her!

***

It wasn't until midday when Luna and Derpy returned, and Twilight had spent the time alone with her thoughts, switching between lounging around in the sun and attempting to utilize the new magical technique. All she had managed to accomplish was melding it over more of her body, but she had not made any progress on relieving the physical strain to increase the longevity of its power. She mentally logged her experiments, trying out different ways of adapting it, but the technique continued to be too much to bear. Luna's voice pierced her thoughts as she released an attempt at slowly layering the magic over herself.

"You're looking a bit better," Luna observed with a smile.

"You don't look as tired," added Derpy.

Twilight chewed on her lower lip. "I took a nap," she lied. "I'm feeling a bit better now. What about you? Did you find anything out?"

"Indeed, but it is... peculiar to say the least," the princess replied.

The paladin shifted her mouth, her face becoming pensive. "There's a rumor that the resistance has a former celestial knight among its ranks."

"A celestial knight? But I thought you were the only one that escaped. Maybe Rainbow Dash got away on her own," Twilight said.

Luna shook her head. "A possibility only were my sister to have freed her. The dragon lords had been tracking us well before you returned, and I cannot fathom her staying away now when we need her most. I do not believe it is her."

"Then who could it be if Colgate and Berry are already serving under Aurelius?"

Derpy slowly raised her head and turned to Luna. "Princess, who were the celestial knights before Berry and I joined? Colgate is the only one that served with any from a previous order, but she never spoke of them." Luna only gazed back in silence. "Luna," the paladin pressed, taking a step towards her as her face grew hard. "What former celestial knights are still out there? If there's more, we need their help!"

Still the princess remained silent for a while longer. "I am afraid I cannot answer that in a way that will raise your spirits, Derpy."

"What does that even mean?"

Luna coughed into a hoof briefly. "As you should know, when a celestial knight retires their divine powers are relinquished. Once a successor to their seat is chosen, the power is passed unto the new celestial knight. To say that there is a fifth celestial knight is very suspicious. On one hoof, the order is not well known, serving the kingdom closely. On the other hoof, the only ones that would make such a claim... would be those who knew of it. The rumor is very suspect either way."

Twilight cocked her head to one side. "Then who did Rainbow Dash succeed?"

"No one from the generation Berry Punch has served in. The fourth seat of the Celestial Knights remained vacant for some time as there was simply no need. Her promotion came as a mixed result of circumstance and necessity."

"Then who did Berry Punch succeed?" Derpy asked.

Luna was still deep in thought as she turned to her. "That is what troubles me. I do not know for sure."

"That doesn't make any sense. You are the one that trains us. We have to follow the rumor, Your Majesty. What if it really is Rainbow Dash? We have to—"

Luna silenced her with a raised hoof. "I have already made up my mind. We will investigate this, but very carefully. I remain wary of such a rumor."

Derpy melted into joy and relief as she thanked the princess profusely.

A fifth celestial knight? Twilight thought. If Colgate, Berry, and Derpy were fighting on the borders, and Rainbow was with Trixie and me during the war with the Brood, where the heck would a fifth have been? She watched as Derpy departed to retrieve supplies for their journey. Magic formed around her hoof again, but she released it only a moment later when the strain became too much. I have to take down Berry Punch. A sour memory of the knight shattering her barriers and delivering a crushing blow filled her mind briefly.

"Twilight, are you alright to travel with us?" Luna asked. She blinked several times to find the princess staring with a curious look. "I hold doubts of the progress of your recovery allowing it right now."

"I don't know if I'll go with you," she replied absentmindedly.

Before she knew it, Luna had erased the gap between them and placed a hoof on her shoulder. "I will not allow you to leave my side again! I let you leave the first time and you wound up crippled in a hospital! Were it not for whomever triaged and brought you here, you could have died!" Her eyes were wide, her body fidgeting from deep breaths.

Twilight chewed her lower lip as Luna shouted at her, but after a moment the princess looked around and realized others were staring. "F-forgive me," she murmured as she glanced to the ground. She tried to hide the tears welling in her eyes, but Twilight had caught a glimpse of them already. "I have lost family, friends, and comrades to this nightmare." She slowly looked up. "I do not want to lose another, after only getting them back not so long ago."

"I'm.... sorry, Luna. I just... Something keeps telling me to fight alone. I don't know why."

Luna wiped her eyes and shook her head. "I'm not letting you go this time. You cannot face Aurelius and his minions alone."

"I still have one trick up my sleeve. The one you and Princess Celestia taught me."

Luna's eyes shot open wide again as her mouth fluttered for a moment. "Do. Not. Dare," she whispered. "There is still much we can do without resorting to such an accursed thing. Promise me, Twilight Sparkle. Promise me that you will never use that unless there is nothing left!"

Twilight coiled back as Luna stepped towards her, her face hard with fear. She had never seen Luna so rattled before. "Alright, alright, but I'm not going to forget. If I lose to Berry like I did last time, I might have to."

"No, Twilight! It is much too dangerous. Berry is not unstoppable, nor must you use such a terrible thing. The result of the first instance was pure luck. You cannot risk mind and magic, lest you be muted."

Mute, Twilight thought. A shiver ran down her spine. The thought was harrowing, that her own power could burn out her magic and end her ability to use it forever. "You're right," she responded quietly. "It's not worth it if I can help it."

"Thank you," said Luna. She stepped back and the atmosphere loosened while she changed the subject. "We shall depart in the morning. You should rest up. Your physical injuries are healing nicely. How fares your magic?"

"I didn't exert myself as much as I could have. That knight... she caught me off guard. I've taken on Ursa Majors, multiple dragons, the Brood's royal guard, Aurelius, and even Dragon King Render. I never expected a pony could be so strong." Twilight sat down and glanced at the leg that was broken. "Isn't Derpy supposed to be stronger since she's the Paladin?"

The princess sighed. "Physical strength is not all that encompasses a celestial knight's power and status. When one is elevated to bear, their natural strength is brought to its full potential, and their weapon abilities are unique to the knight in question. The former paladin's divine gift is nothing like Derpy's, even though they are..." She trailed off. "The previous incumbent for Knight Punch's seat was a pegasus, as most celestial knights are."

"What about Rainbow Dash? She had Moonlight, but it wasn't a blessed sword."

Luna grew pensive for a moment before answering. "I am afraid that I do not know her unique weapon power. Celestia and I were in a rush to prepare her, and we could not unlock and manifest it in time. She has one, but I cannot tell you what it is until it reveals itself."

"What about Colgate? What are her powers?"

The princess hesitated to answer for a long while and the silence made Twilight shift uncomfortably. Luna looked her in the eyes and shook her head slowly. "Do not engage her. Though your magic is far greater than most, you struggle to wield and gate your potential at times. You must understand, Twilight. The number of unicorns to be elevated to Celestial Knight status is few and far between. Colgate has the gift of her parents' magic in an unusual form, and her weapon power. She has gained mastery over two paths of magic and allowed her to gain properties of both, effectively doubling her stamina. I loathe to say it, but she outclasses Derpy in combat and is one of the strongest celestial knights to have ever lived. If we are to battle her, outnumbering her is merely a good start to dealing with her twinned magic."

Twilight mulled over the information. A unicorn stronger than me? I don't believe it. "How powerful is her magic?"

"It is not as strong as yours, but it is the unique capability that could set you apart on the battlefield. Her divine powers are ice and water, to which she has an archmage's finesse over. However," Luna took a deep breath and loosed it slowly, "her natural power is to distort time. I must admit, I do not know her full capability with it. She can manipulate it within localized areas, or specific targets she has marked. It is something she scarcely resorts to. Were you to fight, she could slow your attacks and effortlessly evade and counter, should you become marked."

Twilight's eyes widened. "So, what? Just play keep-away and blast her from a distance? That doesn't sound too difficult."

Luna snorted. "I am afraid that you cannot make light of the celestial knights so easily. You are stronger than an archmage, but a mage nonetheless. The celestial knights were created as a balance to keep archmagi in check, even kill them if they become rogue. Normally, it is the paladin's duty to carry out their very execution in such a situation."

Twilight hung her eyes to the ground for a while, her thoughts moving about wordlessly in her mind. After a while, she responded. "So, Derpy has killed archmages before?"

Luna shook her head, much to her relief. "Thankfully, such a vile thing has not occurred in several generations of knights and archmagi alike. We have had problems more recently than that, but they were handled without requiring the loss of life."

"I don't like this, Luna. If Colgate is stronger than Derpy, and she's under Aurelius's control. What chance do I have?"

The princess moved to her and patted her on the shoulder. "Do not worry. I am sure we will come up with a plan when the time comes. For now, Aurelius seems content to keep his dragon lords,"—she made a disgusted face with the title—"closer to Canterlot. We must press on and find out how strong the resistance is, especially if there truly is another celestial knight among them." Luna turned and prepared to step away, but she cast a doubtful glance back to Twilight. "If there even is a resistance." She gave a wave. "You can spend another night in the hospital if you would like. I shall pick you up in the morning. For now, rest up for the journey ahead, Twilight. With your help, we will restore Equestria. I swear it."

***

Rays of moonlight cut across Twilight's body as she wandered beneath the canopies of trees. Night had fallen hours ago, but she remained unable to sleep, the rejuvenating effects of her earlier sunbathing having long faded back into restlessness. The agitation of her insomnia was wearing heavily on her, and she had hoped a long walk would bring her sleep. So far, she had done little more than wander in agony as the world around her dimmed to a murky blur, seemingly mocking her efforts. A gentle breeze licked at her mane, but her body refused the soothing sensation. Snapping her head up, Twilight realized she had wandered outside of the quiet town and into the areas beyond. Areas unknown.

Where... am I? she thought as she peered around. The moon was distant, and its glow failed to fully illuminate the grass and trees around her, instead giving it all a melancholy shade. How long have I been walking?

The breeze kicked up into a wind and snaked into her fur, eliciting a shiver from the lost archmage. It was not cold, but it still felt chilling. A screech or a roar played in the distance, but Twilight could not tell what made it. Her sleep-deprived mind could not focus, her thoughts crashing into each other only to be buried beneath the constant nagging to go to sleep. The screeching sound grew suddenly louder, nearer. As she pivoted towards the source and glanced up, a massive body abruptly crashed down onto the ground and rolled beside her, flattening trees and leaving a trail of liquid in its wake. Twilight stared at the unusual scene, trying to muster the energy to react appropriately. Nonetheless, she forced herself to investigate, if only to distract her from the waking nightmare she was stuck in.

"What the—!"

She lurched backwards at the sight of what appeared to be a patrolling dragon, the liquid following its body having become a river of blood. Eyes wide, Twilight lit her horn to examine the beast. She slowly moved around it as she grew alert, sleeplessness pushed aside for now.

The dragon was not moving, and it was evident by the organs leaking from a slice running up its stomach that it had already checked out of life. Suddenly, the gears in Twilight's mind clicked and she shrouded herself in a barrier. If something killed the dragon, there was no telling if its slayer was a friend or a foe.

"Who's there!?" Twilight bellowed as she took flight to hover over the corpse. She shined her horn to the surrounding fields, and then slowly followed along the path of blood, glancing around. There was a presence in the air, but it was faint to the point of being unrecognizable. She couldn't tell whether it was her own lack of rest or the unknown's skill in masking themselves. "Show yourself! I know you're there!"

There was a long silence of nothingness as Twilight remained poised to defend herself, or attack, whomever laid the dragon to rest. After a while of only the breeze lapping at her fur, she dropped down and lowered her barrier. I must be... dreaming, she rationalized. Yes, I'm just sleepwalking and this is a dream. Convincing herself that the entire encounter was in her head and she would awaken to nothing occurring, she turned and headed back towards the town. She continuously threw glances over her shoulder at the dead dragon as it slowly shrank in her view. Just as it was about to completely vanish into darkness, the wind stilled. Twilight's fur bristled as the wind suddenly whipped into a roar, a dark fog forming and surrounding her from the rest of the night.

"So, you're still here!" Conjuring a barrier once more, she whirled around and watched as the fog flowed in a ring around her, thickening and pulsing. "Who are you!?" Her head snapped to different points all around her, trying to find something to focus on.

The fog coalesced into a thin pony, its features undefined as it remained with a foggy form, but as it slowly finalized the form, Twilight's eyes widened and her barrier receded. Her breath slipped away and she struggled to breathe, choking on the words she wanted to say. The words she needed to scream.

"NIGHTMARE MOON!"

The name tore from her throat as the foggy mare remained in the immaterial state, staring. Twilight could only hear the roaring of the wind driving the fog around her while she gazed back. She collapsed to the ground panting, her heart ready to burst from her chest. Tears flowed from her tired eyes as clarity returned. Jaw fluttering, she managed to stammer out her words. "Y-You... Y-You're alive! Y-You're s-s-safe!" Swallowing, she managed to find the strength to stand up back up. "I-I kn-knew it. I'm so g-glad to s-see you," she added, rubbing the tears from her eyes, only for them to blur again as more formed. The foggy form raised its muzzle before turning and walking into the fog.

Twilight choked on her breath as she took a step toward her, eyes widening. "W-wait! Where are you going? Nightmare? Nightmare!" Before she knew it, she broke into a run after her, charging into the depths of the fog. "No, Nightmare! What's wrong!? Don't leave. Wait!" The foggy form blended into its surroundings and began to vanish. "Where are you going? Come back, Nightmare!" Her heart drummed in her chest as tears reached full flow and she continued to run through the fog, unable to see anything beyond her fixation. "Nightmare, please! Don't leave me!" she screamed. Frantically, she loosed a torrent of force from her body, blasting the fog away and dispersing it, but the foggy form of Nightmare Moon was gone.

Twilight crumbled to the ground in a fit of sobs and trembles, her stomach turning, body growing weak and jittery from the shock. Incoherent babble filled the gaps between her wails and cries. "Why would you leave me? After... After everything... I need you..."

As her crying died down, she found herself shivering, truly cold, only to discover that she had run back to the dragon’s body and collapsed in its blood. Why? Why would you leave...? You promised to find me. I don’t... understand. Before long, the last vestiges of her willpower left and consciousness waned.

Can you hear me, now? a voice came, soothing her mind, but failing to calm her emotions. Rest now… You don’t need to cry anymore. From now on, I’ll protect you.

Author's Note:

8/7/2015 - This chapter saw a lot of changes over the course of writing it, from being a dull shell, to finally shaped into something I'm satisfied with. Forgive me for the horrendous delay in updating. Real life has been quite hectic.

Special thanks to Peppy for helping me out with a few specific things during this one.

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