• 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 43: Among the Willows

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 43: Among the Willows

Twilight’s body screamed at her to quit moving, every muscle aching as her magic dwindled dangerously close to none. Her bones felt as if they would crumble at any moment, yet she shambled on, teleporting when she was able. He strides grew shorter and shorter until she veered off of the roads and collapsed against a tree trunk. Wheezy breaths punctuated the rise and fall of her chest, a painful groan erupting from her throat every other breath. Slowly, she slid down the trunk until she was sitting against it.

Those Celestial Knights… mage slayers trained and empowered to kill archmages, like you… the doppelganger snickered. Even they fall before your might.

In that moment, Twilight tuned out her darker spirit’s ramblings and praise, focusing only on her own breathing. Even that hurt to do. Dried blood encrusted some of her fur, and she could feel bruises where Berry had struck her, but nothing felt worse than her head. A pounding migraine followed her every second on from the moment she received the knight’s sonic attack. She could take excruciating amounts of pain; her body was almost accustomed to it now, but the ringing in her head made it difficult to organize her thoughts.

…and killing Princess Celestia should be no problem.

Twilight blinked, tired half-lidded eyes. “Killing… the sun princess?”

Of course. Isn’t that what you want? Revenge for everything she has done to you?

Twilight’s eyes slowly made their way skyward. The sun was setting and she would soon be able to view the stars. “Yeah… want revenge,” she muttered. She closed her eyes and took a deep, wheezy breath. When she opened them again she was greeted by a grinning mare.

“And what else is it that you desire?” they cooed.

If not for her wounds and exhaustion Twilight would have flinched at the sight of her doppelganger in front of her, but she failed to offer more than wide eyes. “H-How—?”

The doppelganger chuckled. “Oh, come now. We’ve been over this.” They leaned closer as their grin expanded, stopping only a few centimeters away and whispered. “What else do you desire?”

Twilight gazed into what appeared to be a very real copy of herself, but with different colored eyes. “I want…” She hesitated. Her heart longed for many things. “...you to shut up,” she finished as she closed her eyes. The doppelganger frowned as one of its brows twitched. “I’m tired. Can you just let me sleep? The sun is gone and I need to recover my strength.”

The doppelganger slowly receded backwards as it faded into the darkening world. “Fine. When you forsake everything else just remember who your real friend is.”

Twilight opened her eyes and smirked. “You’re going to be waiting a while.”

The doppelganger’s body vanished, but a toothy grin lingered in the air for a moment longer. “Oh, I have a feeling it will come sooner than you think.”

The archmage blinked and her doppelganger was gone. Damn that thing creeps me out. To her surprise, it did not respond. Huffing, she scooted away from the tree to lie down, but discomfort split her back. Rolling, she managed to pry the forgotten baldric out from under her. This is still with me after all of that? she wondered. Automatically, she slipped the blade partway from its sheath and stared at the green glow of its smoky design. It distracted her from her aches and pains momentarily, but she replaced the blade before settling herself again. Vibe better be at that cathedral. I’d almost feel bad having to go back and break that knight’s hind legs, too.

***

“Wake up!”

Twilight sat up with a start, but immediately winced and groaned. “Ow…” After a few minutes she cast a glare at her awakener. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“You’ve recovered enough. Let’s get going,” the doppelganger barked.

Twilight threw her head back and unleashed a loud moan while she yawned. Sometimes I wonder how I don’t wake up in a jail cell. She snatched up Moonlight and stretched, but her bones quickly reminded her of the day before. Gritting her teeth, she shuffled forward with a few gentle steps that scarcely dragged across the ground.

“Why don’t you heal yourself?” the doppelganger asked.

Twilight stared at it for a moment, and then looked at her hooves. “It… hasn’t been working. It’s like I can’t use that kind of magic anymore.”

“Maybe that knight broke you.”

The archmage scowled at the doppelganger’s innocent expression before continuing on. She walked in the sunlight as much as she was able, stopping periodically to catch her breath. Celestia had given her many things, but throughout all of this she was most thankful for the solar blessing. She occasionally teleported further and further distances, feeling out her magical capacity. Berry had drained her tremendously, and it would take time to fully recover, but she hadn’t suffered any lasting effects from her fight beyond the wear on her body.

How much further is Ponyville? the doppelganger asked.

Twilight glanced around. Weren’t you just—? Nevermind. She unfurled her wings and tried to fly, but those ached just as much as the rest of her body and she was forced to continue walking. Once she breached the trees she could see Canterlot in the distance. “Ponyville is a good deal closer than Canterlot. Vibe can’t be much farther from it.”

What will you do after you’ve dealt with Vibe?

Twilight eyes were glued to the ground as she walked. I hadn’t… really thought about it until now. I’m going to kill Aurelius, but I never made a plan as to how And Vibe just became another obstacle. When she looked up, the doppelganger was walking beside her. “Will you stop that?”

It eyed her up and down. “You need to finish resting before you take on Aurelius.”

Twilight frowned again. “Why do you even exist?”

The doppelganger smiled. “Because without me… you’d already be dead,” it said in a serious tone.

“I doubt that.” She adjusted her baldric and ran a hoof through her mane. “If Berry captured me it just would’ve brought me closer to Aurelius.”

Snickering filled the air. “You honestly believe you would be allowed to have your magic if you were brought to him? My, my, we still need to work on your arrogance.”

Twilight fired a blast of magic at the doppelganger, but it phased through and hit the ground behind it. “You’re getting on my nerves. I don’t need you.”

It grinned. “And yet… I’m still here.” It faded out of Twilight’s vision, its grin lingering for a moment once more.

The archmage’s mood shifted several times as she dwelled on more things that had happened. She had plenty of time to herself as she trudged on through grasslands and forests, taking care to avoid any primary roads. She was surprised that there weren’t very many dragons or ponies around, despite what she had been led to believe about areas closer to the capital. However, when she found several with their bodies hacked and eviscerated it troubled her.

“Who keeps doing this? Another enemy of Aurelius?” she wondered aloud while she studied her reflection in one of the pools of blood.

“Jealous of someone else’s work, perhaps?” The doppelganger appeared beside her, its eyes glazed with interest.

Twilight skimmed over most of the wounds, but found one of the dragon’s eyes to have been left open, pain stretching its face back. As she stared into it her fur bristled. The memory of the first time she had to kill a dragon without hesitation flashed into her mind, and the nausea that accompanied it. She took a few sharp breaths and blinked away the terrible memory. “Whoever did this made it quick. They never saw it coming.”

Clean gashes and full cuts separated body parts through thick bones, as well as savage tears into the flesh ripping organs free. The bodies had not rotted, but they were cold. I should be careful. Whoever did this can’t be too far ahead of me.

Twilight continued on when she felt there was nothing else to discern from the grisly killings. They had spanned all across the lands she crossed, from the moment she returned and walked out of the first town without Luna and Derpy, and now almost to Ponyville. The kills were varied, but featured the same sets of wounds. Did someone know I was coming back to the real world? She nervously cast a glance over her shoulder, and then panned around her. There was only silence. Or does someone know that I’m coming for Vibe and Aurelius and they’re paving the way? Both thoughts made her uneasy. Unknowns were the biggest threats of all, and an enemy that her enemies could not see was frightening.

“It’s not like you to look so nervous,” remarked the doppelganger.

Twilight raised a brow at it, and then shrugged. “You’re… right. I’ve taken on everything thrown at me. I shouldn’t be worried about someone that only kills a couple dragons at a time. I slaughtered the Brood’s royal guard and killed their king all in one battle.” Despite her words, the swiftness and discreetness of the kills continued to bother her. Killing a mature dragon is no easy feat, let alone several at a time, but to do it fast and quietly? She shuddered. They’re on par with the archmagi or the celestial knights. Who has that level of power that is still around?

It took all of the morning and the early afternoon to reach Ponyville, a mixture of teleports and steady walking driving her pace. Little by little, Twilight’s pace increased, and she returned to her usual stride after absorbing hours of sunlight. Throughout the journey the doppelganger frequently appeared and vanished, taunting, mocking, or conversing with her at every opportunity it could. The mysterious being took delight in its new ability to project itself to her. Childlike grins and devious snickers punctuated its thoughts and words, but it failed to trigger much reaction from the archmage beyond glares and growls. Twilight was thankful as it was unable to speak through her mind every time it appeared making it much easier to ignore in favor of her own thoughts.

“Isn’t this where you grew up?” the doppelganger asked as it gazed down from the edge of a steep hill.

Twilight offered a solemn look to the town below, her eyes drifting slowly across it. They fell to the tree library and hung there before she blinked and glanced elsewhere “No. My home is Canterlot. This… is just memory lane to me.” She raised a leg to take a step, but hesitated. Dragons dotted the town in the distance, though only a few. I should check on my friends. Pivoting, she changed directions and headed towards the northwestern point of town.

“Oooh, are you—“

Be quiet, for once in your miserable existence, Twilight thought furiously. The doppelganger abruptly vanished without another word. Blinking, she took a deep breath and continued on in silence.

Fearing ponies might recognize her, she stole some garments from a pony’s clothesline along the way and fashioned them into a makeshift cloak with a cowl. It wasn’t stylish, but it hid her face without making her stand out as more than a traveler.

She avoided meeting the faces of others ponies, hanging her head as she moved along the outskirts of the town. The air had grown cool when she arrived at her first destination. The sign denoting Sweet Apple Acres welcomed her, but the farm itself was lacking trees. As she walked along the path towards the house she could hear shouting coming from the orchard.

“You varmints keep destroying mah trees and damagin’ the orchard. How do y’all expect us to make a livin’ if ya keep wreckin’ our farm? This is our livelihood!” Applejack shouted. “We’ve got a business to run!”

A dragon, red, promptly sat down; snaps and pops boomed from beneath its hulking body. “Starve if you have to. I don’t care. King Aurelius having me keep watch on a pathetic earth pony is punishment enough.” He began to reach for her. “If only the king would let me eat you,” he cooed. “What’s another dead pony to the king?” Applejack bucked his hand away, prompting him to growl. He swept his tail, uprooting and folding more apple trees over, roiling up a haze of dirt. “You should consider yourself lucky you can even stay on your farm, pony.”

The farmer erupted into another tirade of threats and curses while the dragon mocked her, but they both fell silent as Twilight approached with her head down. One of the dragon’s claws was planted just before her, its menacing talons stretching out of her view.

“This farm is closed off to civilians.”

“That’s funny,” Twilight said without looking at him. “I don’t recall asking a pathetic whelp about it.”

The dragon’s eyes lit up and he started to rise, but he stopped to observe as Applejack muttered. The farmer’s eyes widened as her mouth hung open, glee slowly taking hold of her. “That voice… T-Twi. Is… is that you?” She took a couple steps closer, her mouth still open.

Twilight looked up and met her eyes. “It’s been a long time hasn’t it, Applejack?”

The farmer was in shock for a moment before rushing over to embrace her friend. Twilight winced as she was squeezed and lifted off of the ground, but she managed a smile when she put back down. “We were told you were dead, Twi. I can’t believe it… It really is you!”

“Who told you I was dead?” The archmage cocked her head to one side.

Applejack removed her hat and held it against her chest as she looked away. “Nobody wanted to believe it less than me, Twi. But they searched for ya for months, the princess and the royal army. All of us. The princesses declared you dead when they couldn’t find any clues. Princess Celestia….” She replaced her hat and bowed her head. “She held a funeral for you.”

Twilight grimaced. “A funeral? Why?”

“It was your family, your parents especially. They wanted closure if they never saw you again. Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor came all the way from the Crystal Empire to be there. All of us were there, even Spike. Trixie was there, but she refused to say anything after Princess Celestia gave a eulogy. I was told Nightmare Moon was supposed to be there, but she never showed up. I guess she just couldn’t bear the thought of it.”

Twilight fought back tears and swallowed hard. “W-Well… Here I am,” she choked out in a hoarse voice.

Applejack chewed her lower lip. “Ya don’t look so good, Twi. A bit darker than I remember.”

Twilight gave a weak laugh, and glanced away. “I’ve… been through a lot.”

Applejack chuckled. “I’ll bet. It’s been over four years since we’ve last seen ya. Ya gotta visit the others.”

“Oh, how sweet. A reunion,” the dragon finally interjected. “At least one of the other dragons can be your chaperone since you’ll all be in one place. But you,”—he pointed at Twilight—“will pay for your insolence.”

Applejack leaped out of the way as he attempted to strike the archmage, but his claw was stopped by a dark barrier. Slowly, Twilight turned to face him. “This is the only warning you will get. Leave Ponyville right now and I’ll let you live.” As his face contorted in rage, she added, “I’ll consider it payment for your insolence.”

“Who do you think you are?” the dragon snarled as he attempted to smash her again. His arm stopped several meters before Twilight this time. “What!?”

Dirt clung to it in thin strands, rapidly growing thicker and pulling it back. He struggled as more dirt appeared and piled against his body, bracing him in an awkward combat stance.

Twilight slowly pulled back her cowl to reveal her horn shining with a dark violet light, her dark fur lightening in the sun. She gazed at him as dirt compressed and stilled his wings, the earth rumbling as his feet slipped beneath the ground. With a blank gaze, she stepped closer as his head was brought down to her level.

“Y-You… You’re the one the king is looking for! You’ll… you’ll die… for this!” the dragon roared, struggling against his doom. He muttered curses at her, but a ball of dirt formed and was shoved into his mouth.

“I don’t recall asking a pathetic whelp about it,” she repeated in a hushed voice.

Twilight lowered her cowl as the quaking grew stronger, the earth swallowing the dragon’s body whole. She twisted and twirled her hooves in the air as he completely vanished into the earth. After a moment, it grew quiet as a flat patch of land replaced him.

She turned to face her friend as she spoke. “Sorry about that, Applejack.”

The farmer was petrified. Her mouth hung agape, eyes wide as she fixated at where the dragon was standing only a moment ago. A damp breeze blew her hat onto the ground before she finally pried herself away.

“T-Twi… What did yah just do?” she whispered.

“I killed him,” the archmage replied simply. She turned to the dragon’s grave. “Well, he probably has another minute or two of air left. It doesn’t matter, though.”

“Y-You can’t just kill one of Aurelius’s dragons! Y-Y-You can’t just m-murder a dragon… o-or a-anyone!”

Twilight merely stared at her. “It was good to see you again Applejack.” She turned and began to walk away.

“T-Twi. Twilight!” the farmer called after her. Twilight stopped and turned to see her friend, confusion and pain etched into her face. “What happened to yah, Twi? You ain’t the same pony I remember. The Twilight I knew would never do a thing like that!”

Twilight stared at her for a long while. Silence filled where nothing was said, and she turned and continued on without another word. Applejack did not move and only watched as the archmage departed.

Twilight reentered town and headed to Sugarcube Corner, careful not to attract attention from other ponies. There were hushed conversations about the earthquake that just hit, and another dragon’s shadow cast over the road quickly as it soared towards Sweet Apple Acres. She paid them no mind as her stomach growled, and seeing Pinkie Pie and getting something to eat was her priority. When she arrived she pushed open the door, a sad jingle announcing her arrival.

“Welcome to Sugarcube Corner,” a familiar voice intoned. “How can I help you today?”

Twilight looked up to see Pinkie Pie behind the counter, an empty and disinterested look on her face as she flipped through a cookbook. Her mane was no longer the wild mangle it had once been, now hanging flatly against her face and obscuring her right eye. When she looked up she cocked her head to one side and squinted. “Twilight? Is that you?”

Removing her cowl, the archmage gave a weak smile. “Hey, Pinkie Pie. I think I’ve missed a few birthday parties.”

The cookbook was slammed shut as the party pony vaulted over the counter and dashed into an embrace. She sobbed into Twilight’s chest, trembling and blubbering incoherently for several minutes. “Y-You w-were d-d-dead!”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she replied. Pinkie shot her a confused, teary look before resuming her sobs. Twilight held her, the party pony bawling out her sorrow and joy until she was reduced to huffs and shudders.

Twilight’s stomach growled, but before she could ask the party pony had already whirled around and started grabbing various baked goods. She motioned Twilight to a table as she made a modest spread of goodies. “T-Take whatever you n-need, Twilight! Oh, we’ve all missed you s-so much. W-We have to let everyone know that you’re back! We have to let the w-whole town—“

Twilight enveloped her in an aura. “I’m sorry, Pinkie, but I can’t let you do that.” She set her down and sighed.

The party pony cocked her head. “But why, Twilight?”

“I’m just stopping by to see my friends. I’ve already spoken to Applejack.” She grabbed a particularly plump muffin and took a massive bite out of it.

Pinkie’s eyes drifted away. “Won’t you stay, Twilight? Even for a little while longer?”

She shook her head and smiled. “I’m sorry, Pinkie Pie. I’d love to, but I can’t. My mission still stands.” Twilight took another bite and quickly swallowed. “Even now.”

Footsteps came from the stairs behind the counter and the archmage’s heart rate spiked as she fixated to it, her magic already prepared to strike down any threat. A pony appeared with a tray of cups in their forelegs.

“Pinkie, am I going crazy or did I hear you talking to—“ The tray fell the rest of the way down the stairs, shattering a tea set it was carrying. A yellow pegasus stood frozen as she gazed past her friend.

Twilight’s magic faded and she stood up. “Fluttershy? I didn’t expect to see you here.”

The pegasus stumbled as she tried to descend the steps as quickly as possible. Tears welled in her eyes as she drew closer, crying as she reached her friend. “T-There w-was a f-funeral for you, and… and…” she choked out.

Twilight pulled her into an embrace as she broke down. She shushed and cooed, gently rubbing her back. After a moment, the pegasus pulled away and smiled, wiping her eyes as Pinkie moved to support her.

“What happened to your cottage, Fluttershy?”

The pegasus became crestfallen. “Aurelius evicted and replaced me with another animal caretaker. He said he wanted the Element of Harmony users to be closer together so it was easier to keep an eye on all us at once. Pinkie and the Cakes offered to take me in until I can move back. Applejack was lucky enough to stay on the family farm.”

Twilight looked around. “What about Rarity?”

The pegasus’s grief washed away. “Oh, she’s still running the Carousel Boutique, but she hasn’t made many dresses… or anything, really.”

“Yeah, Rarity has been keeping to herself since the dragons moved in,” Pinkie added. “I think they remind her of Spike.” She sighed. “She’s been really busy with other stuff, so we haven’t talked to her much.”

Twilight’s heart sank. “Where’s Spike? Is he in Ponyville?”

The two mares exchanged uncomfortable glances. “We don’t know. After the funeral he talked to the princesses and Shining Armor, but we haven’t seen him since.”

“I… see.” Twilight sat down at a table and gobbled up the food Pinkie brought her, consisting mostly of sweets. She tried to force the thought of her number one assistant out of her head, lamenting their previous encounters involving Nightmare Moon.

“How’s Rainbow Dash?” Fluttershy asked. “Have you seen her at all? She isn’t in Ponyville, or Cloudsdale. I asked around. Last we heard she was in Canterlot with you.” She bit her lip and glanced away when Twilight gave her a confused look. “Oh, but I guess you haven’t been there in a while…”

“I’m sorry, Fluttershy, but I don’t know. When I came back, Luna and Derpy found me. I’m still learning what happened after I, uh, disappeared.”

Pinkie’s eyes lit up. “Princess Luna is okay?”

Twilight nodded. “She was the last time I saw her. We… had to go our separate ways. They didn’t know what happened to Trixie, Rainbow, Princess Celestia, or Nightmare, though.”

“Midnight,” Fluttershy chimed in.

Twilight raised a brow. “Midnight?”

“That’s what Nightmare Moon insisted she be called after you… you know,” Pinkie said. “She’s a pretty weird mare, but at least she isn’t the same as she used to be.”

The archmage scratched at her chin. She never wanted a different name when we were fused. “Midnight Moon, huh? Did she say why?”

Fluttershy explained. “They called the first war with the Brood the Midnight War because it took place at night and was short. She said she didn’t like anyone calling her Nightmare anymore. It reminded her of everything she hated about herself.”

“Oh.” Abruptly, Twilight finished her food and stood up. “Thank you, girls, for the food and the conversation. I wish I could stay longer, but I have to go.”

“Please be careful,” Fluttershy said at the same time as Pinkie cried, “Already?”

“I’m sorry, Pinkie. I’m going to see Rarity before I leave Ponyville.” She turned to head towards the door, but stopped. “Have either of you two heard of a unicorn named Vibe? I’m looking for him.” Each mare shook their heads. “Alright, thanks.” Twilight departed Sugarcube Corner before they could say anything else. A humid breeze ran through her fur and left her with a sticky feeling. A storm is coming, she thought. I’d better make this quick. Carousel Boutique wasn’t far, but she maintained a brisk walk through town, careful not to seem like she was in a hurry and stood out amongst the other townsponies. She received several looks, but moved on before anyone could get a closer look at her.

When she arrived at Rarity’s home she stopped to take in the view of the fashion shop. Its once vibrant and well cared for appearance had faded over time. Paint peeled and rolled back to reveal faded wood, and the door’s handle was tarnished and revealed scratched brass underneath. It almost appeared that no one lived there anymore, but a sign in one of the more visible windows indicated it was still open.

Pushing the door in, an agonizing creak of the hinges gave way to the dull clank of a different bell. Rarity’s display room was typically filled with dresses and well presented, but dust bunnies and piles of fabric had accumulated in the corners, with grime climbing the windows. Is she really still making dresses in here? she wondered as she scanned the dingy sight. The dusty curtain to her show stage had been drawn back partway, but there was nothing on it but old mannequins.

“I’ll be right with you in a minute,” the unicorn called from a back room.

Twilight continued to meander around the room inspecting its disarray and lack of maintenance. It was unsettling to think that the neat-freak unicorn had allowed her residence to devolve into staggering levels of filth.

“Hello, and welcome to the Carousel Boutique. How may I—“ Something hit the ground hard as Rarity interrupted herself. “Oh my Celestia!” she shrieked. Turning, the archmage found her to be staring, her mouth hanging open. “It… it really is you,” she whispered. Tears welled in the fashionista’s eyes, but she quickly blinked them away.

Twilight gave a warm smile. “Hi, Rarity. You look, um… different,” Twilight remarked as she eyed her friend’s unusual choice of dirty and stained overalls for attire. Rarity’s mane was unkempt and frazzled, but tied up in a bun. Splotches of grime patterned the white fur of her face and body. “Fluttershy said you still made dresses, but…” She pivoted and took in the whole room, the unicorn following her sweeping gaze. “I’m guessing they went out of style,” her eyes landed back on the fashionista, “a long time ago.”

Rarity glanced down at herself before snorting. “Well, times have changed and a nice, hoof-stitched dress isn’t really in demand in Ponyville.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “You’re not quite as surprised to see me as the others.”

Rarity snatched up the object she had dropped when she entered the room, a large mallet, and set it on one of her workbenches. “I had heard you were alive, but it’s not as if any of us wanted to believe you were dead.”

Twilight rubbed the back of her head. “Yeah, Applejack told me about the funeral. Nightmare Moon really didn’t show up?”

Rarity chewed her lower lip. “I’m sorry, dear. She even advocated for putting it off several times. She kept insisting you were alive… somewhere. I’m glad she was right.”

Twilight sighed and sat down. “Have you seen her at all?”

Rarity shook her head. “I’m sorry, Twilight. None of us has heard from her in years.”

“Years?” Rarity offered a solemn nod. “I see…” Twilight stared at the floor in silence for a moment.

“Now, what is this atrocious thing you’re wearing?” the unicorn asked as she stepped closer and inspected the garment Twilight had fashioned for herself.

Snickering, she replied, “I was hoping you could make me something a bit more stylish, but it looks like we went for the same thing.”

Rarity grinned. “Well, I have just the thing already prepared for you. I’ll be right back.”

“Already prepared?” Twilight echoed, but Rarity had already dashed out of the room.

The archmage was left alone for a long while before she returned, a new garment folded and resting on her back as she came back. “It’s not quite as good as your official archmage cloak was, but I think it will keep you comfortable and low profile on your way to Canterlot.”

“How did you know—“

The unicorn quickly held up a hoof. “I know more about your duties as an archmage than the others. Between Spike and Trixie I managed to stay a bit more in the loop, but I don’t know all of the details.” She gave Twilight a sad look, her eyes focusing on her fur. “Frankly, it’s probably better that I don’t. The others have largely gone about their lives, but I cannot stand what has happened.”

Twilight removed her makeshift outfit while Rarity unfolded the new one careful not to get any grime on it. “And what has happened?”

As Rarity ensured the designs on the new garment were complete, she replied. “The disappearances of ponies, the absence of Princess Celestia, the occupation of the dragons…” She trailed off and glanced at Twilight’s darkened fur. “I heard a most unsettling rumor recently.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of rumor?”

“That Princess Celestia didn’t vanish at all, and that she has been in Canterlot this entire time.” Rarity grew pensive. “But it doesn’t make sense.”

Twilight looked away briefly. “He could be keeping her prisoner, but I’ll find out soon enough.”

“That’s what I thought, but the rumor suggested she was not a prisoner.” She quickly shook her head when Twilight shot her a heavy look. “It is only a rumor. Here you are, darling.” Rarity levitated the garment to her.

As Twilight held it in front of her it appeared much like her archmage cloak, complete with a cowl, but the material wasn’t as soft. Two crests were woven into the inside, but they were not her cutie mark, rather, it was a subtle toning of Nightmare Moon’s and Trixie’s. It could not be noticed other than up close, and she loosed a gasp.

“She had me make it for you shortly before she left Canterlot. She said that if I ever saw you to give it to you. I objected to her cutie mark over simply your own, or Trixie’s, but she was quite insistent that this is what you would prefer.”

Twilight smiled as she wrapped herself in the dark blue garment. It was soft and certainly more comfortable than the pile of cloth she had used earlier. “She was right. It’s nice to have a reminder of what I’m still fighting for.”

“It looks nice on you, darling, but I have to ask.” Rarity pulled back the cowl as soon as Twilight put it on. “What has happened to you? I don’t think I need to point out how different your appearance has become, but I think I will. From your dark fur and the changes to your mane you are quite a sight to behold. You look a lot like Nightma—ahh, Midnight does.”

“My mane?” Rarity held up a mirror to Twilight’s face. Three different colored strands still curled back and floated above her eyes. “I’d forgotten all about that.”

“Is everything alright?” the unicorn asked lowering the mirror to reveal her concerned face. “I know you’ve had to do some… difficult things, but I have been wondering if you are the one responsible for the dragon murders happening all across Equestria.”

Twilight was taken aback at her words. “So… You know about those, too?” The unicorn nodded. “Well, you can tell they’re not my kills.”

“How so?” Rarity cocked her head.

Twilight lowered the cowl and stood up straight as she faced her. “Because there’s still a body.”

Rarity fidgeted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to strike a nerve. Aurelius has been investigating them for a while, but there are never any clues. I just thought that—“

“—Maybe one of your best friends is on a killing spree?” Twilight finished. “I mean, who could doubt me? I’ve killed so many dragons as an archmage. Across Equestria… In Canterlot… In Draconis where I slaughtered the royal guard and slayed their king without much second thought.” Twilight watched as the blood drained from her friend’s face and she shrank down. “I’ve killed several ponies and crippled one of the celestial knights. I also just killed the dragon terrorizing Sweet Apple Acres, and all of that was just since I’ve returned.” She began to step towards Rarity, the unicorn backing up with her. “So, just what were you trying to get at, Rarity?”

The unicorn’s eyes darted back and forth as she coughed into a hoof. “W-Well. You probably must get going.”

Twilight continued to back her into a corner, her gaze growing dark. “I don’t like how much you seem to know about me or what’s been going on. The others know nothing, but you…”

Rarity’s rump hit the wall and she stood up and put her back to it. “Twilight, you’re s-scaring me.”

Taking more steps, Twilight tugged down the cowl and moved until her face was just inches away from the fashionista’s. “Do you know a unicorn named Vibe? Answer me truthfully, Rarity. I don’t have much patience for liars these days.”

She swallowed hard as Twilight placed a hoof beside her head. “I-I know of him, b-but I don’t know w-who he is. I heard h-he likes to rest in a nearby cathedral to the s-south during his time off.” Twilight cocked her head to one side. “I-I swear that’s all I know!”

Twilight lingered in her face until she was satisfied, then quietly pulled back. “Thanks for the cloak, Rarity. It was good seeing you again.”

“Y-You didn’t have to scare me like that, you know!” the fashionista shouted back, panting.

Twilight shot her a placid look. “Probably not, but I had to be sure.”

Rarity exhaled deeply. “If you run into Spike, can you tell him how much we miss him and to come home?”

The archmage nodded. “I will. Take care of yourself, Rarity.” Her eyes scaled the walls of the dingy room again. “And you might want to clean this place up.” She quickly left Carousel Boutique and paused outside as the door shut with a painful creak behind her. Looking up, grey clouds of varying shades blotted out the sun and the sky. She could feel the humidity in the air rising even further. Taking a deep breath, she started off southward out of town.

The doppelganger’s voice slithered back into her mind. So, how was memory lane?

Twilight instinctively frowned. Disappointing.

Author's Note:

3/15/2016 - This would've been uploaded sooner, but it ended up going through two more full edit passes. It's much better as a result, so enjoy. As usual, Peppy helped proof this one (for its first draft and first heavy edit pass).

I've already started some work on the next chapter, but my appointments are all coming and I'm really trying to get into Black Desert Online. Also, I have to transfer my entire PC to its new case, so it could end up delayed a bit. Probably not more than my usual updating schedule. undynelaugh.jpg

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