• 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 38: Ember of the Past

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 38: Ember of the Past

Twilight elicited a loud gasp as her head shot up, her body managing to lurch backwards into a standing position. Startled, she glanced around before her memories returned, then her eyes fell listlessly to the floor as she crumbled to sitting. “What do you want?” she murmured, no longer interested in expressing her disdain.

There was a moment of silence where she expected an answer, but she glanced up to find her doppelganger looming over her, its form large and daunting. The grin it once wore proudly was replaced with sympathy. It offered a hoof to Twilight and slowly nodded. She took it and rose up to her hooves, preparing to offer a weak thanks. However, when she blinked, the creature had taken on her appearance entirely, save for the heterochromatic eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but the creature shook its head and gently placed a hoof behind her head, pulling her closer.

I will be the one to protect you, now,” it whispered to her softly. “I will not allow anyone to hurt you like Princess Celestia or Nightmare Moon ever again. I promise you that.”

Twilight stared at her doppelganger in shock and wonder, but calm washed over her and her eyes closed. Crushing doubts were soon lifted from her heart, and the anguish of betrayal turned to resolve for vengeance. There were many things she wanted to say to convey the feeling, to summarize her experiences, but she could only offer an answer to the creature. “Okay,” she whispered back.

When she opened her eyes the creature was grinning once more.

***

Muddled voices called out to her, repeating her name with growing desperation. Twilight opened her eyes to sunlight from a cloudy sky and unleashed a monstrous yawn, smacking her lips. She stared at the clouds for a while, trying to envision them as familiar objects or ponies, but to no avail. Rising up, she stretched and found that she felt truly energized, and that her grievous injuries had nearly vanished. A lingering soreness echoed in her bones and face, but it wasn’t enough to distract her. Glancing around, she realized she was lying beneath the trees she had wandered under last night, but the entirety of the scene was amiss to her.

Where’s the dragon? she wondered, peering around in confusion. Where its blood flowed there was nothing more than a faint path through the trees that stretched on. Rays of light pierced the spot where the tree was crushed by the dragon’s body, with unblemished grass drinking in the light. What in the world is going on? her mind roared.

The voices calling her name grew louder, nearer, but a feeling inside her urged her not to be found. That feeling soon manifested into a voice in her head.

They will make you stay, it told her.

Twilight cast a wary glance towards the direction of the voices that would soon be upon her, then a wondering one away.

You cannot trust them.

Twilight recognized the voices of Luna and Derpy calling out to her. “Why? Luna is one of my best friends and a mentor. She would never betray me.”

The only way you can guarantee your revenge is to be alone, the voice cooed.

“But…” She pondered the thought for a moment as she thought back to Luna’s reaction upon seeing her again. The sad look in her eyes as she pleaded for her not to leave. Twilight resisted for a moment, but her thoughts pulled her to beckoning of the voice. “You’re… right. Luna would never let me go off to fight alone again. I can’t waste any more time, either.”

With a deep breath, she turned and fled, beating her wings as she flew beneath the trees. I’m sorry, Luna. She did not know where she was or where she was going, but she already had a starting goal in mind. I’m going to hunt down Berry and Vibe. I’ll kill Aurelius and fix this. Nothing can stop me, she thought as the wind ran through her fur, her magic coursing through her at full capacity. As she flew towards a tree trunk, there was a small flash as she vanished in a teleport. The world ran away from her in a stream of arcane distortion and blurs of colors, a smear of scenery brushing past her.

This isn’t—!

A startled cry escaped her throat, her body plummeting to the ground. She bounced and rolled before coming to a stop. Coughing, she quickly rose up and shook dirt from her fur, ruffling her wings and straightening her mane. Her heart thumped in her chest as she threw her head in every direction.

“Where am I?” she mumbled, looking around. The scene was just a simple forest, far away from Canterlot and its surrounding lands. For a moment, it seemed familiar as she walked around and surveyed it. Too familiar, she thought.

Gasping, Twilight found the area to be where she had been defeated by Berry Punch. Blood had long been washed away from the ground, but the scars of her magic remained. Instinctively, a hoof was brought up to her eye, a memory of pain reminding her of the bitter defeat and her arrogance. She frowned and bared her teeth. “That won’t happen again,” she whispered.

It won’t. Together, we will destroy Aurelius piece by piece.

Twilight blinked, her eyes jumping from tree to tree. “It can’t be…”

Yes, you can hear me now. I have been calling out to you for a while. It’s time to hunt down the knight that defeated you. You will find her, and this time… you will crush her. The creature haunting her dreams spoke into her mind, its haughty voice slithering through her thoughts. You need to prove who is truly superior.

For once, Twilight agreed with it. Chuckling, she replied, “I still have my pride as an archmage. I’ll show Aurelius that I’m stronger.” She pressed a hoof into the ground and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath through her nose. With a surge of determination, she sprang into the air and scanned the distances around her. Cities and towns sprinkled the green landscape, but one in particular stood out towards the regions closer to Canterlot. It would have appeared like any other, but thick, stone walls rose up around it, affixed with what she guessed to be anti-air weaponry. If the Brood is serving Aurelius again and he’s ruling, why would they need those? With a destination in sight, she soared towards it, enjoying the wind through her mane and fur again as her blood burned with anticipation. I won’t lose this time.

***

“Twilight!” Luna shouted, her voice slowly becoming hoarse. “Where are you?” She glided around the landscape, hoping to find any sign of the archmage, but no traces of her presence remained. Derpy crisscrossed along the ground, her eyes ricocheting from tree to shrub and back again. Both ponies dropped down to land, and the paladin could only offer a glum look and shake of her head.

“I… do not wish to believe that she would have left on her own again,” Luna said.

“Maybe she’ll come back,” Derpy said, sounding as if she didn’t believe her own words.

Luna gave the grass a defeated look. “There is something going on inside of her, but I do not know what.” She sat down as her voice wavered. She slammed a hoof on the ground and spat, tears welling in her eyes. “Celestia and I saw it! Signs of this strange war eroding her, but we. Said. Nothing!”

“H-Hey, don’t blame yourself, princess,” Derpy offered, but the look she received was less than welcoming. “She wasn’t introduced to it like I was, or Rainbow. I never thought I could stand to do this, and if it wasn’t for you neither of us would have made it this far.”

Luna sighed, her demeanor softening. “Be that as it may, we have still lost Twilight once more. In my heart, I know that she will be alright, but… to have allowed this to happen… to have stood idly by as she began to unravel. When she battered my sister after we thought Aurelius had been killed, that was when I should have intervened. Whatever promise Celestia made to Twilight before her ascension seemed null afterward. They shared a mental connection, once, but Twilight severed that long ago. That battle with Aurelius tore her apart and we never even gave a second thought as to Twilight’s state of mind!” She glanced up to the sky as she continued. “There is only one pony that can truly understand what is going on inside of her, but we know not her fate.”

“Her marefriend, Trixie?”

Luna shook her head as her gaze fell back to the paladin. “Nightmare Moon.” The name rolled off her tongue with a hint of disdain, her mane increasing its flow momentarily. “Their symbiosis changed them in ways I can only speculate. Twilight was the only one willing to give that mare a chance at redeeming herself and, in the end, it paid off.” She raised a hoof to ward off Derpy’s input. “I have always wondered if she became a victim because of it. Nightmare Moon was my evil. If she is no longer that, then what has she become to Twilight? Has her darkness warped her? Could Twilight be too far gone now? I have held many questions regarding the matter, but I was afraid of what Twilight may think were I to press the subject.”

The paladin shuddered at the line of questions. “Do you… really think that Twilight could become something like what Nightmare Moon was?”

Luna gave her a heavy gaze. “I do not know, but you must be prepared to take her down if she manifests into something like that. My reunion with her, seeing her transformation, was frightening. I am not sure what to make of it, even now. One moment she is calm and collected, another she could be volatile and manic. It is not so unlike her panic attacks when she was young, but this is something far more severe. She has been… tense, but that is understandable given all that has happened since her disappearance, and after her return. Her unpredictability now is something I’ve grown apprehensive of.”

“Then we have to go after her, princess. If she really does get out of control, we can’t have her going on a rampage if she loses control of herself.”

Luna stood up and turned westwards, facing the direction of the town they were staying. “I am afraid that we cannot press on to find her. Time may be of the essence and we must trek to the desert to continue our efforts.” She swallowed hard, her eyes stilling. “I pray that this celestial knight rumor is a hoax, for our sake.”

“I’m still the paladin. I can protect you,” said Derpy.

“It is not me that I worry for,” Luna muttered under her breath. “Let us grab a few supplies before we depart. We will need plenty of water for the journey.” She took several steps before casting a glance over her shoulder. “You may want to discard your armor once we reach the sand. It will be most uncomfortable if it gets inside, and the heat will be even less forgiving.”

Luna gathered water in several canteens while Derpy acquired cloaks for them. When she returned, the paladin had two of them draped over her back and a look on her face suggesting she did her best. The princess took one and threw it over her regular brown one and immediately frowned as an excess of dirt dispersed into the air and sank into her mane.

“Sorry,” the paladin muttered as she did the same with her own. “It was all I could find.”

Luna manually shook out her mane and rolled her eyes. “It will be adequate for our needs. This journey was never meant to be easy.” She lifted her cloaks and rattled her assortment of canteens. “This should be enough for the day travel, but we will be cutting it close. Let’s go. I pray Twilight is safe, wherever she may be.”

Luna set a brisk pace of walking westwards, beyond the town and into arid, scorched lands. Earth began to crack and peel, as if reaching out as it died. Grass snapped down as it turned white, the last vestiges of life fading as they walked along dried and eroded ground. Luna stopped and peered around to buttes and boulders, small breezes carrying dust and tumbleweeds across the flatland before the sand.

“It has been… too long since I have journeyed this far west outside of the scope of the Equestrian Empire,” the princess said. “I shall manage through this heat without a doubt, however,” she eyed her comrade up and down, “I implore you to leave your armor behind.”

A tongue flicked across drying lips. “I’ll be fine, Your Majesty. I’ve traveled in worse conditions.” She lowered her visor and nodded. “Why don’t we cross at night when it’s cooler?”

Worse is relative here, Derpy. Night in this desert reduces the temperatures to chilling levels, only to rekindle to sweltering during the day. A fire at night to keep us warm could attract creatures of the desert, or enemies that seek us out.” Luna reached under her cloak and pulled out a canteen. “We must stay hydrated if we are to cross this wretched place.” She took a deep breath of the parched air. “And survive.” She produced a canteen and held it out.

The paladin eyed it carefully before shaking her head. “I’m fine.”

Winds licked at the landscape ahead, roiling dust and sand into a wispy haze. Luna lowered her hood and produced several more articles of cloth as the desert heat cut into her body. Wrapping them around her face and neck, it was all she could do to keep cool without expelling precious magic. Peering ahead, her confidence wavered at the sight of the endless wasteland.

There may not be enough moisture to readily produce any water or ice with my magic. Her eyes drifted to Derpy, the paladin doing her best to make her battered armor comfortable. Luna was thankful that it had long lost its gleam. We did not come this far to perish in a desert. “Let us tarry no longer.” Stepping ahead, she sighed to herself. I wish you would have stayed, Twilight.

The march through the desert proved to be more than anticipated. It wasn’t long before they had reached the sand dunes, with their peaks sprawling across the landscape. The winds had died down, but they were left with only the unrelenting heat of the sun. For once, Luna wished she could become Nightmare Moon herself, if only to bring the almighty star down to sunset.

Several halts in their journey were made as Derpy sank into the sand, all the while muttering curses about it invading her sabatons. She continued to insist that she would wear her armor in case of an emergency. However, each passing minute Luna could see the toll it took upon her to keep it. Each stride grew smaller and drawn out until the paladin was reduced to a haggard trudge, periodically opening her visor to wipe sweat from her brow or take a fresher breath. At every request for her to drink some water she reluctantly took a small sip, offering reassurance that it would be all she needed.

Silence was filled only by the quiet clank of the paladin’s armor and her occasional vocal frustration of the conditions. Her usual discipline was lost in the wake of the unrelenting heat.

“Where exactly are we going out here?” she asked while sliding a sabaton off, hobbling along as she banged on the bottom of it.

“A particular oasis town exists out here. It is our destination and our salvation from here. Though”—she peeled back her hoods for a moment and wiped sweat from her face—“I do not recall this desert to be so… hot.”

She paused and Derpy added, “But?”

“The heat is more intense than I last remember. This desert was not so devoid of life. The oasis had flourished as a hub of travel, but we have not seen even a pegasus traveling the skies, let alone a dragon under Aurelius’s command.”

“Why don’t we fly?”

Luna offered a sympathetic look. “I have had a bad feeling about this place since I first heard the rumor of what may be out here. I wish to get there faster as well, but you are at a disadvantage if we get attacked.” Derpy removed her helmet to reveal her sweat-soaked face, raspy pants escaping cracked lips. A sweat-drenched mane clung to her reddened face as she huffed for air. “This is not a place we should be forced to fight in.”

Derpy let her head hang. “You’re… right, but,”—she threw her head back and wiped it of sweat again—“I don’t think there’s anything out here that could be dangerous.” Her voice had grown wheezy. When she looked up, Luna held out a canteen.

“Drink now, as much as you are able, or I will force it down your throat.”

The paladin did as she was told and quaffed the canteen. “What… about… you?”

Luna took out another canteen and took a few sips before capping it and stashing it beneath her cloak. “Do not attempt to save face now. It is too dangerous.”

“Sorry.” She wiped tendrils of her sweaty mane from her eyes and replaced her helmet. “How much further is the oasis?”

Luna beckoned her to follow and they climbed a massive sand dune. The princess stumbled and sank into the sand, but Derpy offered her a helping hoof to keep going. Reaching the top, she squinted and panned her view around, struggling to keep her vision focused. This heat is even getting to me, she thought. Trusting her instincts, she pointed ahead. “It is not far beyond our sight. However…” she trailed off and looked all around the skies. “We may need to fly after all. If night falls, I’ll be forced to use my magic to keep us going. We are not equipped to survive it.”

“So that’s why we didn’t travel at night?”

Luna gave her a brief look of confusion. “I had forgotten that you have never been dispatched to this location. Forgive me.”

“The Celestial Knights are supposed to be able to cover any environment. If it’s not us, is it an archmage that would come out here?” The princess’s eyes widened as she slowly pried her eyes from the paladin and stared ahead. “What, what is it!?” Derpy blurted as she followed her gaze.

“No… It could not be. Impossible. Two, three of order generations. Any of them could…” She placed a hoof to her chin as she stared across the sandy wastes. “Such capability has fallen out of the cycle. Where could it have gone? I do not… understand. Not bestowed, remained dormant. I maintain completeness. Hmm… Not… possible.”

“Princess, princess!” Derpy shouted as she shook Luna. “What is going on?”

Luna cast a hollow look. “S-sorry. I was lost in thought. This celestial knight rumor… I keep considering the possibility of a celestial knight truly alive, but it does not make sense to me. The way your powers are succeeded does not allow another celestial knight to exist in form.” She cleared her throat. “One that has retained their bestowed powers, that is. There is no one that could know better than I. The rumor must be false.”

Derpy eyed her incredulously. “You don’t sound too sure of yourself.”

Luna frowned. “That is the worrisome part. If the rumor is false, then what awaits us?” She reached under her cloak and produced another canteen of water, passing it to Derpy as she sipped on the first. “If you are thirsty, drink every last drop. I need you in fighting shape if it can be helped.”

“I’m alright for now,” Derpy said after a few sips. She placed it around her neck as Luna led the way forward.

The princess periodically swept her view skyward, then slowly lowered it and panned around, squinting. She repeated the behavior over and over as they trudged on through the sand, occasionally taking a sip from her canteen to keep up her pace.

“What is it?” Derpy asked as she took a gulp from own canteen.

Luna wiped her brow and adjusted her cloak. “Look. The horizon. It’s… changing…” She took a deep breath and blinked several times. “Right?”

Derpy looked ahead and raised a brow. “How can you tell? Everywhere you look is sand. Are you sure there is an oasis town out here?”

“Y-Yes,” she muttered as she turned around. The trail of hoofsteps in the sand didn’t stretch far back, periodic winds erasing them. “Derpy…” she started as she took a few steps back. “How long have we been walking?”

“Um…” She trailed off and met Luna’s eyes, concern etched into her face.

Luna turned forward and grinned, a foreleg pointing. “Ah-hah! Look, Derpy. Our destination is that way!”

The paladin sighed in relief. “Finally,” she said, marveling at the blurry buildings in the distance.

Luna blinked several times and her joy faded. The oasis had vanished. “Wh-What?”

Derpy offered the same befuddled expression and they exchanged glances. “Luna, what’s going on?”

“I-I don’t know. You saw it, too, didn’t you? We should head that way.”

“I don’t know, princess. That’s not the same direction we were going.” She glanced behind them, but the lack of a long trail was casting its doubt. “Was it?”

Luna swallowed hard, her throat feeling as if it had endured ash. “We must press on. That has to be the oasis. The desert must be playing tricks on us.” She raised a hoof to her brow and breathed through her nose. Is the heat getting to me? she wondered.

Sand licked at their bodies as they marched on, veering their path toward the town that vanished in the distance. Over and over the princess played the images back in her mind, reassuring herself of what she had seen. Glancing up, all that she could in the distance was the blur of more sand, the heat haze obscuring their horizons.

“We must be nearly there, Derpy,” she rasped, her body haggardly moving forward with each dragging step. “I don’t know how much… more I can take of this heat.”

The paladin shambled just behind, her head hanging as sweat dripped from her helmet. “Yeah,” she replied weakly, unable to offer anything more. She grabbed her canteen and opened the cap, tilting it upright to her open mouth. With eyes closed and tongue lolling out, she immediately frowned when nothing but a few drops escaped the container. “Princess, I’m out,” she said with a wheeze, holding up the canteen.

Luna cast her a tired look before checking beneath her cloak. One canteen remained. “How long have we been walking?” she asked.

Derpy eyed her questioningly. “What?”

“Walking. How long have we been walking?” Luna repeated.

The paladin’s face stretched with exhaustion. “All day, I think.”

Luna cringed. How long have we been walking from the start? From when we saw the town? She didn’t know the answer to that question, and her mind was too distracted by the overwhelming heat to try and recall.

“Thanks, Derpy,” she muttered. “We have to be close. This is the last dune. I’m sure of it.” She stopped walking when she realized she could no longer hear the clink of the paladin’s armor. “Derpy?” Looking around, she found her collapsed in the sand. “Derpy!”

She jumped and hit the sand, sliding back down to her comrade, pulling her helmet off and revealing her sweaty, reddened face. “No! I will not allow you to die to this heat.” She produced the final canteen and stared at it for a moment. Damn. I did not think this desert would be so merciless. I underestimated how much water we would need. She ripped off the cap and took a drink before forcing Derpy to consume the rest.

After some wheezy coughs, the paladin sat up and finished the rest. “What is with this desert?” she blurted.

Luna stared at her for a moment before shaking her head. “The heat has gotten to us. We’re running out of time.” She helped Derpy to her hooves and led the way to the top of the dune. Peering down below, she sat down and exhaled. “It must have been a mirage,” she shouted joyously. Wind blew sand in her mouth and she sputtered and spat.

Derpy threw her head back as the oasis came into view. “More water. Food. Some shade. Come on, Luna.”

They began their descent down the final dune, jumping into the air and gliding, but the wind picked up again and pulled them back up to the top.

“What is this?” Luna looked up to see a dark wall of sand reaching high into the sky headed their way.

“Uh, princess. We’d better run if we’re going to make it,” said Derpy nervously.

“What do you—“

The wind ripped Luna’s hood from her head as a second, opposing wall of sand roared towards them. Two sandstorms? Now of all times! “Come on!” the princess roared as the howl of the wind neared.

Sand raged through the air as they rushed down the dune, ignoring the heat as particles scratched at their cloaks and bodies. Luna kept a hoof on her cowl as she ran, but she tripped and rolled, dragging Derpy with her. They barreled down the sand as the storms began to collide, obscuring their view of the oasis ahead. Luna hit the bottom, but could barely see more than a couple meters ahead. Squinting, she shouted. “Derpy! Where are you?”

The paladin scrambled up beside her. “Just run!”

Luna dropped to all fours and bolted forwards. She could no longer see the oasis, but she knew it was there. The winds slowed her to a strained walk, and she clamped her wings to her side as her cloak billowed wildly, the bursts of sand fraying it. Despite the wind, the heat continued to beat at her body, draining her stamina rapidly. Why is the wind not cooling me?

“Nothing as lowly as a sandstorm will stop me!”

A burst of light tore from Luna’s position, pushing back the storms. Her horn emitted light and formed a barrier. I didn’t want to use my magic, but I don’t have any stamina left! She fell to the ground, maintaining the barrier.

The paladin moved up and draped one of Luna’s forelegs over her shoulder as she pushed on. The oasis was just up ahead, but the barrier began to shrink. “Come on, Your Majesty. Just a little furrther!”

Luna grunted and exhaled as her barrier collapsed. “Forgive me, Derpy. I am too weakened.” The storms collided onto them briefly, then suddenly they ceased altogether. The pair halted in their tracks, their jaws agape as the sand settled and the winds ceased.

“What in the world…” Luna muttered as she forced herself to stand alone, wobbling.

“What kind of freak sandstorms were those?” Derpy removed her sabatons to shake sand out of them again before draping her cloak back over herself.

The princess brought her gaze to the oasis and coughed dust from her lungs. “Something is not right. Both sandstorms were conjured. We’ve fallen into a trap.”

“Could there be unicorns out here with that much magic?” the paladin asked as she warily looked around.

Luna tugged her cowls down and slowly walked forward. “I do not know who could be an enemy this far out into a desert, but their magical class is that of an archmage. Be careful.”

Sand lit up the sky again as a figure burst from the ground, clouding the party’s vision. When it flowed away, a pony stood in front of them barring their path. They were clad head to hoof in a sand colored body suit that even extended to wrap their tail and they wore a ragged cloak to match. Tinted goggles obscured the eyes, with a mask over their face. Luna tugged her cowl as low as she could without losing sight of the unknown.

“Assassin!” Derpy bellowed. “Get down!” In an instant, the assassin rushed toward Luna.

She has no weapon drawn. I still have some magic left.

Derpy moved between them, her blade flashing into the sunlight as it slashed wide. To her surprise, it was stopped by a much smaller blade. “Wrist swords!?” she blurted as a second one reached for her throat. She leaned backwards to avoid it as the assassin spun around and continued her assault.

Where have I seen this technique before? Those weapons? She fights like a… Luna thought, backing away from the fight, her eyes never leaving the new foe.

Derpy parried one of the blades as the assassin whirled around, but she thrust forward in an instant. To her surprise, the blade was caught between both wrist swords and the force was deflected away. Off balance, the paladin beat her wings to remain fluid and stable on the sand. She twisted to avoid more strikes and brought Glance Reviver back, putting as much power into the swing as she could muster.

Both wrists swords were brought together to defend this time, crossing as the sword fell dangerously close to the assassin’s head. Derpy flapped her wings and pulled back, then charged and put her might into another chop, using both hooves to drive her blade to its target. The assassin parried again, but this time one of the wrist swords cracked and broke away. The enemies split apart and the assassin ditched the subtle blades, drawing their own sword.

“Who are you?” barked the paladin as she eyed the generic looking sword. The assassin remained silent.

Taking to the offensive, Derpy moved forward and swiped, her sword whistling through the air. The blades clashed and the assassin’s sword wobbled, but held true. Suddenly, Derpy was forced back by a flurry of wild strikes. The clang of blade to blade rang in her head as she concentrated on defending herself. There was a pause in the attack as the assassin pressed their blades to the hilts. A muffled voice came through the mask.

“What’s wrong? Never used a sword before?”

Derpy was too shocked to notice the kick to her chest. She barreled backwards as the assassin attempted to point their sword to her throat. However, she flipped over and slashed the attack away following it up with a downward strike, only for it to miss as her foe hopped back. “Don’t underestimate me!”

The paladin heaved as the heat bore down on her, the steel prison of her armor roasting her. Her stamina was nearly depleted and she had to end the fight soon. A few feathers came lose as her wings whipped into a frenzy, and she surged forward. The assassin lost their balance as another vertical swing forced them into the sand, and Derpy followed it with several more strikes. She made an opening with her blade poised low and slashed upwards for a definitive blow. In an instant, Glance Reviver was parried by a second blade.

The assassin knocked her attack away and stepped back to the top of the sand. Derpy made a desperate thrust and caught the collar of their cloak, slicing it away and revealing wrapped wings pressed tightly to her opponents’ sides, but the attack left her open. In an instant, the second sword made a rising slash that cut through her breastplate and helmet, splitting them open. Another kick sent her crashing into the sand, lying on her back.

Out of energy and her armor rendered useless, the paladin stood up and ripped her cloak off. She peeled off her damaged helmet and squinted through the unfiltered sunlight. “I don’t know who you are, but if you’re going after her you’ll need to kill me first!”

The assassin suddenly froze, their forelegs falling limp to their side. Both swords slipped from their hooves and clattered together onto the sand. After a moment, they slumped down to the sand, shuddering, their head lowered.

“Wh-what’s going on?” Derpy demanded as she straightened up, wiping sweat from her face. “Too afraid to fight, now?”

The assassin shook their head, a single, choked word coming through their mask.

“Ditz?”

Derpy’s eyes widened, a ghastly look taking hold of her features. “No one calls me that anymore… I gave that name up a long time ago. Who are you? How do you know my name? Answer me!”

The assassin gazed at their swords on the ground for a long while. Finally, they stood back up and turned their head away, peeling back their cowl and head of the body suit. There was another moment of hesitation before they pulled their mask and goggles off. Turning back, tears glistened in the eyes of the would-be assassin, a bittersweet smile crossing their face.

“It’s me, Ditz. It’s your sister,” the mare replied, barely able to maintain her composure.

Author's Note:

11/1/2015 - I have virtually rewritten this entire chapter, scrapping the first 25%, then the latter 75% later after finishing the rough draft--which is part of why it took so long. However, now it's something I like a lot more. I've been waiting a long time to write this one. :>

I'm not really a fan of following two different characters in the same chapter, especially due to the way I deliberately ended the last one. I'd like it more if the characters had some kind of overlap. Anyway...

Enjoy!

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