• 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 44: Season's End

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 44: Season’s End

Thunder resounded in the blackened skies, booming down like an angry shout. Every so often a bolt of lightning would push back the night in brilliant flashes in the clouds, and Twilight found herself glancing up in anticipation. For a brief moment, it appeared as if the rainstorm froze time and she could see every drop of water around her. It reminded her of one of the first archmage training sessions with Celestia. When she could feel a bolt of lightning coming her bristled and she readied her magic. In a flash, the rain stood still once more, but this time it lingered with the dark glow of her magical aura capturing hundreds of rain drops around her and holding them, illuminating the area in an eerie purple glow.

After a moment, she released them and smiled to herself as she continued along a muddy road towards her destination. It barely touches my magic now, she thought proudly. Open fields rolled out to her left while trees walled up her right, and the shadows stretched with her during every flash.

The archmage flinched as a chain of lightning strikes occurred all across the fields beside her, the cracks of their close impacts deafening her momentarily, the flashes blinding as they assaulted the land in her direction. It took her a moment to regain her vision and hearing.

“Your progress has exceeded my predictions,” a familiar voice said as the ringing in her ears subsided and the faltered to a sprinkle. The lightning storm, though the clouds remained thick and black with distant rumbles of thunder. Twilight frowned as that familiar being’s body stood out in stark contrast to the night. “But such is the one I predicted, but cannot predict,” finished Astra.

Twilight’s eyes were wide and she blinked several times, and then rubbed them quickly. However, the alicorn continued to hold a stoic gaze upon her, her light blue eyes drilling into her memory; they almost glowed in the night.

“H-How are you here?” she asked, pulling back her sopping cowl and wiping strands of her mane from her face.

Astra’s eyes slowly took in the view around her before refocusing back on the archmage. “I could ask you much the same. I have been observing you since I returned you to this plane, as I had kept an eye on you in times past. When that brutish earth pony left you battered and crippled I expected you to die, I must admit.” She raised a hoof and inspected it. “My… clairvoyance, we shall call it, could not see how you survived. That is a most peculiar thing, though it would not be the first time I was unable to see something or someone. I suppose that is not relevant now as I observed you the victor her in your next encounter. You are a most adaptive and clever pony indeed. The brutality you display can be a most fetching trait where it is warranted.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “What do you want, Astra?”

The alicorn frowned. “That is Queen, though I permit you to refer to me as Soothsayer if you so desire. My name is not necessary in either instance.” She walked towards Twilight and circled around her, a glint of interest in her eyes. “How fares the hunt for my brother’s head?”

The archmage kept her eyes on the Soothsayer at all times, pivoting as she circled. “You don’t need to worry about him, not that it matters to a ghost.”

Astra lurched forward and planted a hoof into Twilight’s snout, knocking her back and into the mud. “No more, no less. You’re getting ahead of yourself with presumptions. I am… and I am not.” She cleared her throat and smiled faintly.

“Why are you here?” Twilight grumbled as she attempted to brush herself off and rub her nose at the same time. “You said you weren’t going to interfere with us anymore.”

Astra looked up to the clouds before bringing her eyes back down to the archmage. “You remember correctly. Though, I specifically said directly, which you appear to have glossed over.”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “What’s the difference?”

The Soothsayer’s smile deepened as she leaned closer. “I have a proposal for you, or rather additions to the first.”

Twilight used her magic to wring out her cloak. “I’m listening… not that I have much of a choice.”

Astra’s head tilted back to the sky, her eyes trailing away to the capital barely visible in the distance. “When you are poised to remove my dear brother from the throne I wish you to also ensure that neither Princess Celestia nor Princess Luna returns to the throne nor, we’ll say, reset things to being as they were.” Her eyes fell back to Twilight having lost their glint. “This is an absolute and there is no compromise for this request.”

Twilight tilted her head to one side. “Why? Getting Equestria back to normal is exactly what we need. It’s what I’ve been fighting for all this time. Besides… even if I said yes, what’s in it for me? What could you say that would possibly want me to stand in their way?”

Astra’s smile faded away. “I will reign once more as I did, as I shall.”

The archmage snorted and broke into a fit of chuckles. “Last I checked, dead ponies can’t lead a country.” She attempted to grab the Soothsayer with her magic, but it failed. Abruptly, Twilight was engulfed in a blue-white aura and lifted off of the ground before being bound within the aura, unable to move. It slowly constricted her body until breathing became difficult.

“I believe that you are confused as to the ramifications of saying no, Twilight Sparkle.” The alicorn’s gaze darkened and any compassion in her eyes died as the aura tightened even further, constricting her throat. Twilight began to feel lightheaded as Astra’s voice became harsh and low. “I will kill anyone that should dare oppose my rule, and your princesses are not beyond this. Any soldiers following their orders to stand against me will die. Any dragons that show allegiance to any name but my own will be slain without a second thought. I will eradicate the Brood should they feel their power is above mine, though history suggests that will not be the case.” She muttered something under her breath before bringing the archmage up to her face and returning to a delicate tone. “Regardless of your choice or the outcomes, you will live so long as you do not raise arms against me. For slaying my brother you will be rewarded with a comfortable retirement of your choosing, and so shall your direct lineage for eons to come. Alternatively, you may stand with me in the future if you wish to remain active in similar duties. That is an open offer regardless of your choice or the outcomes, provided you are still alive.”

Twilight was gently set down before the aura receded away. She collapsed to the ground in a coughing fit for several moments before she could take a full breath. Breathing again did little to calm her nerves as she processed the proposal and what just happened.

“I suppose this is an informal way of asking you to succeed Telos as my new Oracle. He was a fine envoy for my will, and though his passing is a great loss, his position remains mournfully vacant.”

The archmage shuddered, but it wasn’t from the cold of the rain in her fur or the chill of a breeze in the storm. “If… If I don’t agree you’re going to kill the princesses?” She swallowed, suddenly finding her mouth dry.

“That is the most likely outcome. It does not invoke any sympathy in me, I must admit. I do not have weak enemies. There are the ones I kill before they become a true threat and the ones that require a much more delicate and calculated strategy to destroy.” Astra blinked several times and glanced around. “My time runs short, Twilight Sparkle. Will you become my new Oracle, or do you wish to observe the outcome of my will from a more pedestrian position? You may intervene on the behalf of your friends and comrades when the time comes, even if you say no. You will not be faulted for that, so long as you remain passive to me.”

Damn it. Why this? Why now? This isn’t how things were supposed to be. She drove a hoof into the mud. After a few minutes she took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, raising her head to meet her light blue eyes. “If I do this… I need to have some conditions.”

Astra smiled warmly, her eyes filling with a peculiar delight. “Certainly. I did not expect you to agree to these terms alone, and I am more than willing to offer you whatever else you desire in exchange for your services. After all, you have aided me far more than you know.”

Twilight pulled her cloak alongside her and glanced at the subtle cutie marks inside. “I get to deal with the princesses. Whether they live or die is my choice and I get to handle it. If they want to die to you, then they’ll have to get through me. If you’re really so strong, then it shouldn’t matter if I get to deal with them. You’re going to be queen again regardless, right?”

The Soothsayer chuckled, much to Twilight’s surprise. “Very well. They are not a true threat to me. I’ll allow their fate to be in your hooves. I do not enjoy Princess Celestia’s complacency, but I find Princess Luna to be an intriguing specimen. It would be welcome to have her alive under my rule.”

Holding up a muddy hoof Twilight continued. “Nightmare Moon and Trixie Lulamoon, and all of my friends are to be unharmed. Whether they continue with their military employment is up to you, but they are not to be held accountable for standing up against you at the time you step into control. I can convince them and stop them from any further aggression after their initial shock. I will make sure everyone understands our… arrangement.”

Astra became placid. “That is fair, but should they rise up against me later I will not hesitate to dispatch them. I hope that they will understand that allegiance to me is not a concept to be distorted.”

“There are a few things I want to know,” added Twilight.

“Oh? What do you wish to learn from me, Oracle?” The title rolled off Astra’s tongue with joy, and Twilight hesitated for a moment.

“Where are Trixie and Nightmare Moon?”

The Soothsayer went silent for a long while. Her eyes drifted to the horizons that could be seen, but eventually gravitated back to Twilight. “I do not see them as I do you. I am afraid I cannot invest myself into finding them for you at this time. I apologize,” she answered.

The archmage groaned. “How do you plan to come back? You’re not even alive as far as I know.”

“That… is not something I can assist you in comprehending at this time.” She shifted back into a smile. “Discard your worries for my well-being, Oracle, for you will come to learn that answer in the future.”

Twilight frowned. “Last question for now. Who, or what, is a true threat to you other than Aurelius? Should I be worried about them?”

The Soothsayer’s gaze darkened and she stiffened. She remained silent for a long while as she merely locked eyes with the archmage. The gaze made Twilight uncomfortable, but she fought away the urge to glance away. When Astra broke the silence she spoke slowly and quietly. “Should you stand with me at the end of this you shall know that answer. However, since our deal remains unfulfilled you are merely to focus on the current task before you, and that is my dear brother. Is there anything else, Oracle?”

Twilight glanced away. “I… hate your eyes.” When she met Astra’s face again the alicorn was smiling.

A portal opened up behind her. “That is truly a shame to hear that from you. It is time for me to leave. If I am able we shall have a dialogue again in the future. I look forward to speaking with you again, my Oracle.” She turned and walked towards the portal, but paused just before it. “A shadow has been stalking you for some time. Do be careful. I do not wish to see you suffer more than you have. I have developed a fondness for you.” With that, she disappeared into it. There was an overwhelming flash as it collapsed, blinding Twilight. When she could see again, the storm had returned in force.

I hate that mare, she thought.

Oracle, the doppelganger echoed. It’s a nice title. You should wear it with pride.

Twilight grumbled. Archmage worked just fine, and I earned it.

You don’t think you’ve earned Queen Astra’s title?

She glanced back to where the Soothsayer was standing, the image of her eyes burned into her memory. I don’t have a choice. I know my friends will object to her taking Princess Celestia’s and Luna’s places as the ruler of Equestria. Rainbow, especially. If I don’t step in she’ll kill them.

The doppelganger snickered. Afraid of your new queen, are we?

Twilight didn’t answer. There was no need to say anything. Astra had done things to her that were beyond fathom in mortal magical studies, and she had nothing more than wild stories and experiences behind her. Being ripped from one dimensional plane into another and being rendered helpless and altered inside left a fear inside of her. She couldn’t place Astra’s power, but watching Aurelius effortlessly crippled and cast aside like garbage before her eyes made her skin crawl. His grievous injuries and muffled screams unsettled her, and she decided to keep moving to stave off the ill feelings the memory brought.

The rain began to recede as Twilight reached what appeared to be a small town, or what remained of one. The main road ran straight ahead to the cathedral, but she narrowed her gait to a small walk. Her head drifted left and right as she took in the buildings. “What is this place?” she mumbled. She expected to receive a cheeky reply from her doppelganger, but it had been quiet since Astra’s appearance and continued to say nothing.

Houses and storefronts were abandoned with shattered windows letting water in. Vines grappled the sides of walls and climbed as high as they could. Overgrowth from everything was seizing control of the land again with tall grass making it difficult to stray from the path.

Why does this place seem so familiar? thought Twilight as her fur bristled.

She continued forward to the cathedral, discovering the overgrowth surrounding it had been cleared. The building itself appeared in good condition in contrast to the surroundings; though very worn, none of the windows or external decorations had been destroyed. Several small statues of ponies could be seen, but any distinctive features they once had were long eroded by the elements with small cracks snaking up their forms. In a sudden burst of fear, Twilight whirled around and stared back down the road she came.

“I’ve… been here before… But I don’t remember when or why.”

It took several deep breaths to calm down again and she faced the cathedral doors for the last time, moving up the steps and onto a large stone landing. The thick, stained wood loomed over her, the rusted knocker seeming to leer. Will it… be the same? she wondered nervously. Placing both forelegs on one of the doors, she pushed it open with a grunt and a blaring creak of the hinges several times.

The doors gave way to the nave and a dim light spilled out of the way and onto the landing. She turned and cast a glance back over her shoulder, taking in the sight of the night as the storm picked up. This is it. She stepped into the cathedral and allowed the doors to shut behind her with a creaking boom. Dust rolled away from the entryway and piled up in an arc before it.

Lightning illuminated the room through the windows with each bright flash, a faint image ingrained briefly into Twilight’s eyes each time. The cracks of thunder from each one were muted, but the storm sounded no less fierce as the rain assaulted the glass. Braziers in the corners of the room gave a faint orange light to fight back the shadows, and Twilight could make out the rough details of the walls as her eyes adjusted to the lighting.

“I’ve been watching you for a while now,” a voice carried across the room. “I’m surprised you didn’t defeat Berry Punch the first try, but I guess I overestimated you.” Twilight looked up to see Vibe sitting on the sanctuary beside a podium, his back to her. The red cape of his attire ran down the step behind him like a sheet of blood. He stood up and turned to face her, his mask greeting her with its blank expression. “But you never fought an anti-mage before, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Vibe.” Twilight took a breath as she sensed the unicorn’s power. Reacting, a light blue aura formed around him, his power filling her thoughts. “Join me against Aurelius,” she shouted.

“Kneel to Aurelius and you’ll keep your life,” he rebuked. His white aura solidified and stretched around him, his cape fluttering. “That is the only offer you get.”

Twilight struggled to breathe. Try as she might, the atmosphere crashed down on her, encumbering her. The power that flowed forth from Vibe was staggering for a unicorn. After several moments, she managed to catch her breath again, deducing that he was above the average archmage. Finally, it dawned on her why, despite her usual confidence, she was unsettled. I'm a bit scared... It’s been a long time since I’ve been afraid of fighting another mage... “I don’t kneel to anyone.”

The masked unicorn stood up and reached beneath his scarlet cloak to remove a staff. Holding it in front of him, he released it and it came to life. "Telos," he uttered slowly, "is one of the strongest magical conduits a pony has ever seen. Telos himself could stand against an alicorn with such a tool by his side. And here an alicorn comes to me ready to die. You stand no chance against the might of Aurelius's strongest general."

"H-How do you have that? I destroyed it!” Her eyes fell from the staff to the pony. “Aurelius is just using you. I can break his control on you if you let me. Resist it. Join me and we can take him down together," Twilight said. She brandished Moonlight from under her cloak and readied it. "With your power we can easily defeat him. Even if you don’t I’m going to stop him whether anyone stands with me or not, but it will be easier with a pony of your caliber with me. There’s a resistance that will rise up against him."

Vibe seemed to step back at the presence of the grim sword. Telos moved to float at an angle just above him. "If you can kill me, you’ll have your chance at slaying another king.” Twilight gasped. “This cathedral has been magically sealed in more ways than one. You cannot break it, the windows will not shatter, and no magic can be sensed outside of these walls. One of us shall die in this place." Vibe swayed a hoof out. "Don’t hold back against me, Twilight Sparkle."

How did he know about Render?

Twilight’s horn ignited with a fiery, violet aura and her shroud manifested. The cathedral trembled, but nothing dared to move under Vibe’s enchantment. “You seem to know a lot about me. Do you think you can stand against me after everything I’ve done, and everyone I’ve killed?”

Kill him! Kill him! Kill him! the doppelganger chanted into her mind. Not even Aurelius’s strongest general will be more than a fool groveling at your hooves for his life!

“I’m told I should kill you, but I think you would make a better ally,” she said. Moonlight shed its black design and shone green against the dim light. She dashed forward and swung at the unicorn. The staff caught the strike, sparking as the blade’s edge grinded against the shaft. When she pulled it back there was damage to the staff. Not so indestructible anymore, she thought.

“Do you think you can convince me? Defeat me?” Vibe tapped a hoof to the floor and a barrier formed. Magic coalesced on the surface, forming bolts of energy that fired at Twilight. The oracle leaped backwards as they struck the floor leaving small plumes of smoke where they impacted. She returned several waves from the sword that hit the barrier and dispersed. “Clever,” the unicorn remarked. “Avoiding using your own magic to feel out mine and conserve your own. However,”—he adjusted his mask and cloak—“this is not a fight you want to win.”

“Don’t do this, Vibe. We can be allies. I don’t have to kill you here.” Twilight straightened herself and chewed her lower lip. “Aurelius is destroying Equestria.”

Why do you try to save this one? said the doppelganger. Hm?

Shut up, retorted Twilight.

The unicorn offered a hearty laugh. “You don’t have any idea what’s going on in the world, do you?” Vibe clasped his hooves together as tremendous magic was gathered. The space around him tinted with a faded yellow. “But that doesn’t matter right now. The reason this cathedral has been enchanted is because I didn’t want to take any chances with you.” Slowly, his hooves pulled apart to reveal a yellow ball of energy, blue streaks of energy crackling along its surface. The sphere expanded and engulfed the entire room in its glow, passing through Twilight.

Twilight gasped, her eyes expanding. The magic felt familiar. Too familiar. “Is that… Telos’s spell?” Damn, this is getting dangerous. I can’t afford getting caught in that. Her dark shroud manifested as she drove Moonlight into the floor, its black design returning.

Vibe chuckled while he reinforced his barrier with several layers. “This battle was over before you even arrived. What do you think you’re going to do, Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight straightened as streams of energy rapidly flowed into her horn. “Whatever I have to.” She forced her hooves forward, a violet beam erupting forth. It struck Moonlight before changing to an intense green. “Ether Laser!

Telos moved inside Vibe’s barrier and pressed its spire against it. The concentrated magic struck the barrier and continued on, striking into the edges of Telos’s spell. Darkness dispersed as both spells exploded, the entire cathedral quaking. When Twilight could see again, the unicorn’s barrier scarcely remained, but his spell had been successfully disrupted.

Vibe’s barrier reformed in full. “I’m impressed. You stopped even a weak version of that spell with just one of your own.”

Twilight snapped up Moonlight and stroked two waves of green light down the aisle. The waves of energy struck the barrier, and she followed with a large overhead swing. A dark wave flowed from the edge and slammed into the barrier, shattering it at last. In a flash, she appeared beside the unicorn, energy gathered in her free hoof. With a roar she drove it into the unicorn’s side as he turned to face her, sending him tumbling towards the door.

Vibe coughed several times and picked himself up from the floor, dusting his garment off fastidiously. Telos appeared standing with him, gently tapping the floor with a clink. “I always forget that you can teleport. Why don’t we even the odds?” The staff hit the floor with force and emitted a dark wave that ran up the walls and across the ceiling.

Twilight took a sharp breath as it passed through her. Blocking my teleport? So this is how it’s done. She processed the feeling against her magic. I don’t have time to counter this. Taking a deep breath, she drove Moonlight into the floor again and focused on her foe. “Always forget?” she echoed. “Who are you? Telos? I know Aurelius has some necromantic ability. I wouldn’t be surprised if he raised you from the dead.”

Vibe chuckled again. “Telos? Hah. I surpassed him, but that doesn’t matter.” The staff rose up and shifted blue before the bottom of the shaft struck the floor again. A nova of frost blasted outward taking the room in a blue light as ice coated the surfaces of everything. Twilight responded with a burst of flame that accelerated through the ring, breaking it, and veering into the walls. It ricocheted several times before she brought her hooves down.

Fire and lightning exploded all around the unicorn as he erected a barrier against the spell. Despite his magic, the barrier faltered to the blasts. Cries battled the sound of the explosions as parts of his flesh were seared. A burst of force pierced the explosions and struck Twilight sending her barreling backwards into the sanctuary steps. She groaned as she lifted herself up in time for the spell to end, the soreness in her back quickly setting in. Not pausing to recover she began to gather streams of white and grey around her dark aura, but she paused when she glimpsed her foe’s next spell.

“Let’s see you handle this!” A massive alchemy rune scarred the floor in blue lines; the cathedral quaked every other second as it erupted in a brief pillar of light. Stones burst through and set upon the floor as more slowly followed after in a slinky chain. Vibe laughed as he stepped back. “Can you feel it, Twilight? A spell the likes hasn’t been seen in centuries, maybe even millennia!”

The oracle’s gathered magic dispersed as she watched the stones fully arise from its summoning and assemble together into a towering construct, her eyes following up to a head with a single blue gem for an eye. “A… golem?” she muttered as her breath left her briefly. “There aren’t very many ponies that could possibly know that spell.” She looked through the construct at her enemy. “Which one are you?”

“You don’t have time to speculate,” he warned. “Golems are highly resistant to magic, like dragons. I’ll be disappointed if it smashes you.”

The multi-stone ‘creature’ shambled forward, its heaving steps threatening to rattle Twilight to the floor. She glowered and pulled in black streams of magic coalescing them into a large, inky sphere of energy. “Do you think even a golem can stop me? I’ll show you the power I’ll kill Aurelius with!” She threw her head back and cackled. Images of the doppelganger’s grin flickered into her mind as more dark energy was funneled into the sphere. It grew weighted against her control and she strained to keep it contained. The golem neared her and raised a stony fist to the ceiling, and then brought it down. There isn’t enough room in this place! We’re both getting caught in this.

The sphere was unleashed, propelling forward as sickly black trails chased its core. Twilight solidified her shroud into her Black Diamond technique as it crashed into the golem with a deafening explosion. Void seized the room as the blast rippled and reverberated throughout the cathedral. Too powerful, Twilight and Vibe were ripped from the ground and sent careening away from one another despite their barriers. The unicorn hit the doors as the oracle smashed through the podium and hit the wall, dropping onto the sanctuary with a thud. Slowly, Twilight rose back up and dusted herself off, her shroud receding to a lightened tint.

Vibe took longer to recover, and punctuated his movements with a pained cough. He stood up and half-heartedly dusted himself off. For a moment, he lifted his mask and turned his head to spit blood to the side before adjusting it. “Impossible,” he remarked. “You destroyed my golem in a single spell…” He extended a hoof outward and his staff snapped into his grasp. “I’m impressed.”

Twilight glanced at Moonlight and fired a stream of lightning towards the weapon. Vibe conjured another barrier as it jumped from the sword to him, striking against his magic. The barrier melted away after several seconds and burned into his body before throwing him back against the doors once more.

“Just surrender and I’ll break his control. It isn’t absolute. This doesn’t have to end for you here,” said Twilight. “I don’t want to kill you.” She sighed and took on a colder demeanor as she started walking forward. “But I will if I have to. I’ve had to kill a lot to get here. Ponies. Dragons. There might’ve been a gryphon somewhere along the way. I’m not sure. It’s a little hard remembering everyone I’ve had to kill.”

Vibe stood up and tilted his mask to spit again. He replaced it and wobbled before taking a deep breath and straightening himself. “You don’t get it,” he replied, his voice having gained a gruffness to it. “You just don’t understand.”

Halting at Moonlight, Twilight pulled it from the floor. “Don’t understand what?”

Vibe laughed aloud as he stared at her. “I’m not being controlled. I serve King Aurelius willingly. I haven’t been indoctrinated like the others.”

The words processed quickly and Twilight gave him a sidelong look, her eyes wide. “N-no. I refuse to b-believe a unicorn like you… c-could serve someone like… like him!” She trembled at the notion. He’s doing this freely? That can’t be! What unicorn with archmage-class magic would do that? We can fight him… I’ve defeated him before and I’ll do it again. Why… Why would anyone…?

Oh, you know why, her doppelganger responded. They’re a coward. Cowards hide in the shadows of those stronger than them. If he serves willingly in his shadow, then he will die in that shadow. He needs to die and you know it! Now… kill him.

I… I don’t know if I can—

You’re having second thoughts about killing another pony? The doppelganger snickered. That’s unlike you. Doubt will get you killed. The voice faded with another snicker.

“I assure you. I’ve stood by His Majesty for years, and I have done it all of my own free will. That’s my choice. Why don’t you surrender?” Vibe extended a hoof towards her. “I’m sure King Aurelius would love to have a pony like you serving him. You would be great in his empire, and you could have the life you did before. Think about it. Everything would be in its proper place with you as an archmage again.”

Twilight muttered and mumbled to herself for several moments as she mulled it over. “N-No! I… I won’t! You’re being controlled. You have to be! Serving him is insane!” Her eyes held a distance as she gazed at the unicorn. “I would never serve a monster that murders his own sister for more power. I can’t betray the true Equestria. I-I won’t! I’ll put Astra back in power and fix everything. You’ll see.”

“Astra back in power? Just what are you trying to accomplish?” Vibe growled.

Twilight cocked her head to one side. “What do you mean? She’s going to restore order, and even if she doesn’t Aurelius will be dead and the princesses can take control again.”

Vibe balked. “You talk of me being used, yet you’ve deluded yourself into bringing back the dead again.”

“I’ve done it before, but that part doesn’t matter!” She took several quick breaths. “I can fix this. I’ll fix everything.”

“Then how do you plan on that? A lone alicorn fighting against all odds. No friends, no family, no allies.” Telos moved above him and aimed at her. “What makes you think you can kill Aurelius?”

Twilight raised Moonlight and it discarded its darkness again. “I killed him once before, and I’ll kill him again in time. Do I need to show you?”

Vibe grew silent for a moment. “It doesn’t matter. The perfect little alicorn, Twilight Sparkle, thinks she can fight her way to Aurelius and kill him alone. I’ll show you how wrong you are.”

Telos lit up and unleashed a stream of white while Vibe shot a second yellow beam after it. Moonlight was sliced upwards, then diagonally to meet the attack. The energy collided in a flash of white, snuffing out the shadows in the room. The unicorn charged through the lingering plumes of smoke.

“You’re making a mistake!” replied Twilight.

Telos darted to her and she blocked its attack with Moonlight. A wave of energy slipped from the blade and detonated before her, obscuring her vision in a vibrant green haze. She failed to notice Vibe move past her, and she felt two hooves press against her side. Ice sprayed over her form while cold tore through her nerves and muscles. With her body shivering, the oracle turned to see herself quickly encasing ice. She tried to swing the sword at him, but her mobility was too restricted.

“D-Damn y-you,” she said through chattering teeth.

Her foreleg froze with Moonlight aloft, but the blade didn’t freeze. Ice continued to pop as it ran up to her neck, and then finally entombing her whole.

Vibe shook his head as he paced around her. “With all of your boasting I’m disappointed that this is all you had to offer.” He stopped and gathered energy in a hoof. With a roar, he lunged and drove it into the block of ice. There was a boom and a resounding crack, but the ice remained steadfast. Vibe lurched backwards with a screech, cradling his striking foreleg. After a few seconds he whimpered. “What… How!?”

The ice honeycombed with cracks before crumbling into small shards around Twilight and melting. Her teeth chattered for a moment longer before she thawed completely. “I guess you can’t punch through diamond, huh?” She shook her body to remove the last pieces from her mane and cloak.

Alchemy,” the unicorn growled. “That should have been impossible while you were being frozen. How did you manage that?”

Twilight adjusted the collar of her cloak and took a deep breath. “An archmage isn’t worth their salt if they can’t prepare spells quickly, even in dire situations. Performing a little external alchemy while being frozen is foal’s play. After all,”—she grinned—“I’ve casted spells with a magic-sealing lance lodged between my lungs as I bled to death.”

“How could anyone forget…” muttered the unicorn.

W-What did he say? Twilight’s throat clenched and she tightened her grip on the sword. “You… know about Draconis?” Vibe remained silent as Telos bolted towards her. She lashed out with her blade and parried its attacks, while the unicorn stood behind and directed it. Knocking it away she rushed to him and swung down. He evaded and Telos struck her in the shoulder, but she whirled around, dragging the edge of her sword along the ground before completing her turn and slashing upwards.

Vibe created a shield as a storm of energy waves came his way, battering against it. His shield held, and he dispelled it and unleashed a wall of flames her way. The oracle drove Moonlight into the floor and held her forelegs into the air as the flames drew closer. Red and orange consumed everything in her vision, but she seized the flames and raised them around her; they turned black and flowed into the floor, vanishing.

The unicorn immediately conjured a barrier, his head darting all around the cathedral. He focused back on Twilight, but she continued to guide her hooves in an unknown pattern. Suddenly, the black flames erupted from beneath him, shooting into the ceiling and running along the walls. His barrier melted away with metal quickly following suit. Howls of agony ripped from his throat even after the flames faded away, and the sickening odor of his burnt flesh found its way into the air.

Twilight squinted at his wounds hoping to glean the color of his fur, but only bloody and seared flesh was exposed. The repulsive smell hung in the air, and she took sharp breaths to avoid feeling queasy. Vibe shivered and raised a hoof, beckoning Telos to him with stiff, reluctant movements. Twilight took up Moonlight and glanced away.

Kill him. The doppelganger’s thought slinked its way back into her mind. Doubt will get you killed.

Twilight chewed her lip and shook her head, stopping back on the unicorn. “Just surrender to me. You don’t need to die here. Please, we can work together.” Her eyes darted to the walls as she noticed the blue and yellow hues appearing again. I thought I broke that spell.

The unicorn offered a pained snicker. “You still don’t get it. What makes you think I would bow before your princesses? Aurelius already defeated Princess Celestia to take control of Equestria. Ask yourself, where are your princesses now?” He quivered again, but straightened up.

“I killed Aurelius once before,” Twilight retorted. “I’ll kill him again, and this time I’ll make sure he stays dead. If you think he’ll kill me, then stand aside and watch me. What’ve you got to lose?”

Vibe laughed. “It’ll take more than a single alicorn to stop him. You weren’t fighting alone the first time, and he has all of his magic back. He’s not the same undead shell you remember.”

Twilight snorted. “You’re right. I wasn’t alone that day. And I won’t be alone when Aurelius is brought down. The resistance will be fighting him, too.”

Vibe gazed at her for a long while, his silence giving hope that he would change his mind. “You’re the one that should give up. You’ll only get yourself killed.”

The oracle grit her teeth. “You have to be under Aurelius’s control. I just… can’t believe someone like you would serve him.”

Someone like me, huh? I’ll show you why I serve the king!” Telos’s spire burned with a furious red.

Twilight leaped backwards and flapped her wings to return to the sanctuary as the entire cathedral rocked to the unicorn’s call. A stream of black fire snaked out of Telos and hit the floor, swirling around him and swelling in size. The walls darkened as the temperature rose, and she started to sweat in the heat. The flames continued to grow, filling upwards to the ceiling and consuming more room in the dark blaze. She knew this spell. This was Aurelius’s spell. She filled with dread as her eyes took in the scope of the flames.

This is going to cost me a lot of magic if I counter it with just my own spell. I have to… She glanced at Moonlight. I wish I had Telos, my Telos, but this will have to do.

Vibe weaved the spell with both of his hooves as he held the flames at bay. “Surrender, Twilight Sparkle. You were never meant to win this fight.” He extended a hoof outward, as if inviting her into the jowls of the dark blaze. “Join Aurelius, and you’ll get your old life back. I promise you that.”

Twilight’s magic started to flow out and her shroud shifted green as she retuned her magic. A grin stretched her mouth corner to corner. “The only one I serve… is myself!” Energy coursed throughout her body, but her shroud stabilized into an aura. Twilight’s violet irises shone through the green as her grin remained. “I’ve died twice already. Go ahead and just try to kill me again!”

Vibe sent the flames after the oracle in a series of movements from his hooves. Despite the cathedral’s enchantment, the walls scorched and blackened where the flames licked at them, and he disappeared behind the wall of fire.

Twilight gathered energy into Moonlight and pulled the sword back overhead as magic exuded from it and distorted its form. With a cry, she swung down, a massive wave of energy ripping from the blade and charged forward into the maw. The light surged for the unicorn, splitting the flames and splashing them against the walls. She shielded her eyes as it connected in a brilliant flash. As the flames dispersed and fade, Twilight walked to her foe, stopping as she reached the center of the cathedral and dispelling her shroud. Did I overdo it? She glimpsed the unicorn attempting to stand, only to slump against the cathedral doors and slide to the floor, a smear of blood on the wood behind him.

“I… have to know… I-I just have to know if… if you’re r-really doing this with your own will.” She reached a hoof out and attempted to grab his mask with her magic, but his own rejected it. “So, you still have some fight in you. I’m surprised. I don’t like relying on anything but my own raw magic, but you’ve forced me to improvise.”

Vibe managed to stand up again, but there was a smear of blood on the floor beneath him, with his cloth garments absorbing most of the drip from his wounds. Only the cloth of his outer armor remained, and his mask had a large crack running between the eyes with burns on both sides. Despite this, none of his appearance could be seen aside from the bloody and charred flesh of his wounds.

“I… am,” the unicorn panted. “I never liked the title, but I’m Dragon Lord Vibe, King Aurelius’s strongest…” He coughed several times into his mask, failing to lift it, and it slowly dripped from the bottom as he spoke. “I’ll show you how strong I’ve become. I surpassed Telos, and now… I’ll surpass you!” He took the staff into his hooves and the cathedral rumbled once more as the spire shined blue.

Twilight’s eyes snapped to the blue and yellow hues on the wall. That spell is still active!? She watched as it pulled away into a sphere that began to recede. She slashed several waves at it as she stepped backwards away from Vibe, but they were consumed on contact. She looked back to the unicorn as he coated himself in a blue aura.

“I perfected the late Telos’s signature spell, Tomb of the Divine. He used this to corner Aurelius and weaken him, but he couldn’t escape his own creation. Instead of dying, he sealed himself within his staff. Aurelius escaped with his consciousness, but most of his power had been sealed away.” The sphere receded through him with no effects. “As you can see, it doesn’t harm me.” He turned as a blue aura enveloped one of the cathedral doors and pulled it back. The winds had died down, but the rain had only grown heavier. “This is goodbye, Twilight Sparkle. I’m sorry that I couldn’t… convince you.” With that, he stepped outside and shut the door behind him.

“W-Wait,” cried Twilight. She attempted to move closer, but the chaotic energies within the sphere appeared and drove her away from the edge.

Walking away… The doppelganger scoffed. He thinks you’re weak, that you’re insignificant. What will you do?

Twilight hung her head as the sphere slowly shrank, the crackling growing louder as her impending doom drew nearer. She gnashed her teeth and she snapped her head up. “H-How dare he! How dare he ignore me! Trapping me like an animal instead of finishing our duel like a true mage.”

Her eyes shot around hoping to glimpse salvation from the spell. Reaching out a hoof, she allowed the barrier to recede around it. Immediately, she yelped and pulled it back. She inspected the damage; her fur had been burned away and her flesh seared. Worst of all, she could not feel her magic through that part of her body. Endorphins flooded her head and the pain dulled enough that she could ignore it. Looking up, the sphere had receded to the size of a small room.

“Damn you, Vibe. I’ll show you… I swear I’ll kill you for this!” The sphere was nearly upon her, and her cloak billowed into it and burned away. As the ashes sprinkled into the remaining space she closed her eyes and her dark shroud formed. She set down Moonlight and bowed her wings in front of her as energy gathered in her horn and aimed for the doors. “I’ll teach you to walk away from me! Ether Laser!”

A black and purple beam exploded from her horn and crashed into the sphere, emitting a hum that soon turned into a grinding screech. The sphere was pushed back, its yellow and blue hues darkening and twisting into a sickly violet. Sweat beaded and ran down Twilight’s face as she exerted her magic, baring her teeth as more energy was used to drive her spell. This is one of my strongest spells and it’s struggling to break it? With a roar, the beam pierced the sphere with it rippling back as it started to wobble and dispel. The energy continued to lance forward, erasing the doors of the enchanted cathedral in its path. Vibe was partway down the road outside as he turned in time to glimpse it strike him. A massive explosion obscured Twilight’s view of him and she ended the spell.

She heaved as the tremendous drain hit her, her shroud fading away. Grabbing Moonlight, she stumbled forward and held herself up against the large hole in the doors for a moment to catch her breath with rapid pants, wiping away sweat from her brow. Stumbling on, she found the unicorn crawling out of a crater. Approaching, she snickered as she mustered a partial grin. “Well, well… well. It looks like the big bad Dragon Lord wasn’t strong enough to stop the evil alicorn. What now, Vibe? Huh? Will you surrender, or will I kill you right here and now and leave your body to rot in the middle of nowhere?” The unicorn stood up and faced him, his cracked mask still intact. She glowered and shook her head. “I’m sick of that damn mask. It’s time I find out who you really are.”

“S-Stay back,” Vibe said weakly. He held a hoof up and a damaged Telos appeared in front of him and emitted force against her.

Twilight was stalled, but she whirled around and threw Moonlight at him. The sword moved through the magic without hindrance and impaled the unicorn. He cried out in pain and froze. Telos fell lifelessly to his side as the spell ended, and he slowly pulled the blade out of his body, blood oozing from the new wound.

Charging forward, Twilight gathered energy into a hoof. With a shrill cry, she punched the unicorn in the mask and, using telekinsesis, lifted him off his hooves and slammed him onto his back. She stumbled and collapsed to the ground, gasping for air. The unicorn coughed several times before rising again, and she stood up and turned to face him.

The oracle watched with bated interest as the mask on the unicorn’s face cracked and shattered, piece by piece falling away to the muddy ground. A tired, pained face was revealed with blood leaking from the mouth, their eyes half-lidded.

“N-No…” Twilight muttered as her eyes grew wide. Her world stopped as the last of the mask fell away and no doubt of Vibe’s true identity was left. “It… It can’t be…”

The unicorn brought a hoof up to a waiting mouth, coughing blood into it as the other hoof clutched where Moonlight pierced. “I’m… sorry. This… isn’t how you… were supposed to find out.”

Twilight stared, wide-eyed, her lips twitching and trembling, but she could not find any words. Emotions and questions stormed within her mind and she began to feel sick, falling to her haunches as her eyes dropped to the ground. N-No. Wh-why? After all this time? After all this time of hoping… H-How… Why is everything going so wrong? This is wrong… This is all wrong! Her mind reeled from the revelation and her entire body shuddered. After several minutes of silence, unable to ask a question, she snorted and broke into a fit of chuckles.

“Heh. An enchanted mask. That’s pretty clever,” was all she could say without falling apart, unable to bring herself to look up. “I shouldn’t be surprised… Trixie.”

The magician winced at her name, and she could be heard sniffling. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I’m so… sorry.” Twilight gazed at the ground while Trixie stared at her, silence hanging again. It was only broken when the magician fell to the ground and coughed again. “Please… let me explain!” she said in a raspy voice.

“Explain what?” Twilight’s voice boomed off of the buildings around. Her face contorted as she bared her teeth to the muddy ground.

Betrayal! She is a traitor! She is a liar! A lying traitor! the doppelganger howled into her mind.

“Please, Twilight. If you’ll just let me—“

“How could you betray Equestria, Trixie!? You’re an archmage! You were my apprentice!” She trembled as she shouted and shook her head. She finally raised her head and looked the magician up and down as she began to cry. “Were my apprentice.”

Tears flowed freely down Trixie’s face and she struggled to stand up. “Y-You don’t understand, Twilight! How could you!? You were gone for four years. Four. Years! You just… vanished! When Aurelius came back, I was there fighting to stop him. W-Where were you!?”

Only the sounds of the rain drops hitting the earth could be heard for a moment as Twilight stared at her, shaking her head. “Don’t you dare try to blame me for anything! Do you think I asked to be torn away from the world? It wasn’t my choice to disappear! Nightmare and I cornered Aurelius. We were about to kill him and end this, all of this, but then Astra stopped me! She saved him and pulled me from Nightmare Moon. I didn’t think I was ever coming back!”

Trixie gasped. “Then… she wasn’t lying about that.”

“Why would she? She’s the only one that was there! Astra didn’t take her, too. She split us apart somehow. I-I don’t know how.” Twilight stopped and took several deep breaths. “None of that matters now! Here you are. Aurelius’s best servant. How could you ever justify this to me? He killed you.” She threw a foreleg out. “You died right in front of me because of him! H-How…. H-How could y-you of all ponies… d-do this… to m-m-me, Trixie? I love you. I wa-wa…” Twilight crumbled to the ground sobbing as she held her forelegs out, imagining the magician’s lifeless body in her embrace as the memories flooded her vision. “Why…? I… survived Draconis. Dying… That wasn’t even the worst thing… Seeing you dead, knowing that I failed to save you…”

Trixie sniffled and looked away, chewing on her lip. “It was either serve him willingly, or he would take away my free will and force me as some kind of mind slave. We lost the fight when Aurelius came back. Princess Luna and Derpy escaped, but Princess Celestia and the other celestial knights stayed to fight. We weren’t prepared and he took control of the knights. Afterwards, there wasn’t much I could do. Serve him and keep my will, or he would just take control of me like the others. What choice did I have? At least this way I had an opportunity.”

Twilight put a hoof to her head, tilting it back and laughing while tears continued to stream down her face. “This is just… too perfect. Why didn’t you flee like the others? Luna and Derpy are still out there fighting to take back Equestria.”

The magician wiped her eyes. “You don’t get it! I’ve been keeping Berry and Colgate from capturing them! Most of the time we search for them at night because they can’t be tracked at night. They aren’t being caught because I’ve been able to sabotage our efforts from the inside.”

The oracle’s laugh died down to giggling. “Did you know I was back? I saw you on my first day, you know. I could sense your magic, but I didn’t recognize it. I never could have seen this.” She motioned a hoof to her. “My marefriend serving the enemy. Everything is insane, hah!”

“No, I didn’t. Not even Aurelius knows you’re alive, yet.” She wiped her eyes of more tears. “I’d heard you fought Berry Punch. I visited her after she won the first time, but I lied when I told her I reported your return to Aurelius. When you defeated her,” she threw up a sad smile, “I knew I had to beat you to Canterlot.”

Twilight blinked away her tears and cocked her head. “Why? Why would you go through the trouble of this”—she threw a foreleg out again—“and challenge me?”

“I had to know how strong you were. I… had to know if we could take down Aurelius together when the time came.” She looked past Twilight to the hole in the cathedral doors. “I was hoping that, for once, even if for a little while… that I might be stronger.”

The oracle shook her head. “You’re powerful, Trixie, but I haven’t had to… use everything, yet. Berry almost pushed me to the brink, though.”

Everything?” Trixie echoed.

When Twilight opened her mouth, there was a red flicker in the magician’s eyes. “What was that?” she asked quickly.

“N-Nothing,” replied Trixie.

Stepping closer, Twilight’s eyes narrowed. “You lied to me, Trixie. You are being controlled!”

“N-No, I’m not! I know what it looks like, but I swear I’m not under his control!” The magician backed away as Twilight took several more steps, a deadly calm taking hold of her.

The oracle’s voice became gentle and quiet. “I…” She hung her head as memories of Trixie flooded into her mind. The day she met her. The first night she kissed her. The first lesson she gave her. The day she was inaugurated into the archmagi. The moment she said she would always be by her side. And the moment she had to watch her die. “…Don’t believe you.” Tears ran down her face again while her body became black, her shadow expanding beneath her like an inky void. You were right.

Snickering filled her mind. I told you so.

“P-Please, Twilight! You have to b-believe me!” Trixie pleaded. “W-What do I have to do to p-prove it to you? Please, a-anything!”

The black alicorn stepped closer as her shroud returned. The inky shadows followed and stretched out around her, swallowing the rest of the world. “Die,” she replied simply with a smile.

The magician gasped as her eyes widened and she fell backwards, shrinking into herself. “P-Please, Twilight. I l-love you. I would n-never betray you! I swear!”

Twilight hesitated briefly, and then her smile reached her eyes. “I can’t trust you anymore. Does it make any difference now?” The shadows moved around Trixie and pulled up from the ground, looming over her as she shielded her eyes and screamed.

A blast of magic exploded on the ground between them, and it pulled them together briefly. Twilight’s shroud and shadows vanished as they were suddenly hurled apart. Trixie hit the ground and rolled, but the magic surged through Twilight’s own. A counterspell…? she wondered as pain gripped her. She tried to shield herself and fight it off, but it caught her off guard. She hit the mud with a splat, and her body became unresponsive as darkness took over her vision. A crack of lightning resounded nearby and left a ringing in her ears as consciousness faded. Damn, if only I was…

Steps could be heard as something walked through the area. It moved to the magician and she could hear a spell in several stages. Afterwards, they moved to Twilight. She couldn’t move, but she could feel their presence. “Don’t give up, yet. Hold on a little longer.” Twilight strained her ears to recognize the voice, but the ringing in her ears muddled it too much to discern. Her body and mind relented to the disrupting spell and she managed to open her eyes one last time to glimpse the presence.

She was greeted by the doppelganger with a stoic gaze, two eyes of blue meeting her own as it spoke without moving its lips. Now do you see? I’m the only one you can trust.

Author's Note:

4/10/2016 - Fun Fax: Vibe's working name for a long time was "Atlas". Also, the lightning/explosion combo was to be a reference to the spell "Lord of Vermillion" from Ragnarok Online. This chapter also had 5-6 working titles as references to other things.

4/10 Evening Edit: Fixed some grammar errors.

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