• 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 48: Home

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 48: Home

Where… am I?

Twilight was stiff and sore, but still she forced herself to stir and move anything to keep from being still longer than necessary. The stone floor of the cathedral was chilly and had been unkind to her spine. After rubbing her eyes, she managed to twist and push herself to sit up, groaning and coughing away the dryness in her mouth. Slowly, she opened her eyes to the dim lighting. A boom of thunder reverberated throughout the cathedral, and her gaze snapped to the entrance door, its hole allowing rain and sound in.

I’m inside now. Where’s Trixie? Is she…? Her head rotated around the room, scanning the surroundings as her body attempted to keep up with her intent. Her gaze stopped on a cleared spot beside her where blood had been smeared across the floor, a small pool in the center of the scene. Strips of bloody cloth were strewn haphazardly around the spot, and a blood drip trail led towards the exit. Her wounds… An image of the magician impaled by Moonlight struck her mind. Pangs of pain followed and she groaned again, a hoof rubbing her temples.

“You killed her.”

Twilight jumped, wincing as her muscles protested the abrupt movement. She took a deep breath and frowned at her doppelganger. It grinned at her like usual, but its appearance mirroring her unsettled her most. “I… don’t know that.”

“You know deep down that you meant to kill her. She was a traitor, and you executed her. That is your duty. Maybe she felt guilty and dragged you inside, but it’s clear she wandered off into the storm. With that much blood loss there’s no chance she survived.”

The blood drained from her face as she stared at it, the realization sinking in; it felt like electricity surged through her nerves. I… killed… Trixie? Tears rolled down her cheeks and she rose up. “N-No! You’re wrong! I would never kill her!” She took reluctant steps towards the door, following the thick blood trail outside. Rain had washed away any trace beyond the stone steps and she peered out into the darkness. Diluted blood was running down the steps, but had nearly faded entirely. Horror drew her features back, and she collapsed to the stone landing. I-I would never k-kill her… The rain battered her body as lightning split the night above, mirroring her tumultuous thoughts. For a long while she laid there and listened, wading through fuzzy memories of anger and scornfully cast spells. Would I? she finally asked herself.

Oh, it’s not a matter of if. You killed her. She won’t be getting in your way again, replied the doppelganger.

Its words bit into her more than they comforted. She screeched out her frustrations, and adrenaline caused her to charge out into the darkness. Harsh breaths could be heard over the rain with her puffs of air misting out, her eyes glued to the ground looking for any sign that the beloved magician may yet still live. Blood. A hoofprint. A shred of her cloak. She raced across the roads, expanding her search radius before surging down the one that led to Canterlot. She had to have gone back to Canterlot if she was serving Aurelius as Vibe, she thought as she galloped at full speed down the road towards the mountaintop capital. She said they still didn’t know about me. Maybe… Maybe she… After several minutes, she had been reduced to a jittery walk, panting and frantically looking around. Suddenly, she fell to the mud. Trembling forehooves met her horrified face as she reached a dark conclusion. Trixie would never have made it that far alive.

“I… I killed her… S-She’s dead… and I killed h-her. Wh-what have I done!?” she wailed.

“Why would you mourn the death of a traitor?” the doppelganger asked, appearing before her and sneering down. “She was your enemy. She betrayed you!”

Twilight ignored it and continued to weep into her hooves. “What have I done? W-What am I doing anymore?” Her cries soon died down as her maelstrom of sorrow shifted. “Why should I even keep going? I killed my apprentice… a mare I loved… I’ve lost four years of time and now my home and kingdom is gone. My friends are all scattered… or worse. The ponies I trusted most in this stupid war have all betrayed me. And Nightmare Moon is…” Her heart skipped a beat. She’s… still out there. She has to be! Taking a shuddering breath, she shakily stood up. I’ll keep going. I have to find her… I can’t… go on without her.

“Oh, not giving up just yet? Good. There is still work to be done, Oracle.” The doppelganger vanished.

“You’re right. I still have to get rid of you. Permanently.”

Oh? But I’m here to help you. You’re stronger with me here, it replied. You don’t need that fake alicorn to help you kill the prince.

I’ll find Nightmare Moon, and I’ll kill Aurelius. I don’t need you to do either, Twilight snapped back. She shook her head and marched on towards Canterlot. I’m going to make Aurelius suffer, she thought as violent images of her options emerged in her mind. I’ll torture him until his mind breaks. I will carve my name into his soul! The hatred welled within her and she picked up pace, her stamina returning. Astra won’t get a corpse or a head. That’s not enough for me. She’ll get a shell of her little brother, a living trophy for all eternity to display and pity. He’ll pay for everything! She stopped as her eyes flowed up to the city in the distance. She lowered the cowl from her burned up cloak and trudged on. And so will Celestia.

Oh? And what is it you will do to her? asked the doppelganger evenly. For once, there was no tantalizing or glee in its voice. However, the oracle remained silent. You have always guarded your intentions with her. Even I can’t see into your memories with her. What is it you’re hiding, hm?

It doesn’t concern you, she replied curtly, tuning out his coaxing taunts.

Twilight reached Canterlot’s mountain as noon light bathed the mountain, the rain having stopped before dawn. She wasn’t sure how long she had been unconscious, but relief washed over her as she had time to soak in the energizing rays. The march from the cathedral had been slowed by the mud of the heavy downpour and she frequently fought back the urge to fly. Trixie had managed to bring down a substantial part of her magic, and now she needed any precious time to recharge, but attracting the attention of any dragons would further delay her from her goals. Her stomach growled, but she would have to survive on her magic and force of will until she could steal in the city.

The external elevators to the capital were heavily guarded, and even fortified since the last time she had seen them. She paused and observed from a distance as the guards patrolled in pairs. Unicorns with the same jewelry from the town Berry occupied were among the guards, as well as cannons for additional defenses.

Anti-mages again? Not even the princesses employed them long ago. Who are they for? Luna’s magic is powerful, but she rarely fights directly with it. Trixie had already sided with Aurelius. Outside of Nightmare Moon and I fused this seems overly cautious for him. Her heart sank as she recalled the wondrous feeling of their melding together and sharing their experiences. She took a deep breath and refocused. I’m not interested in a fight just yet.

She started to scratch a rune into the ground, cleaning its details once she had finished. Let’s see if this works. With a small flash and a blink of her eyes, Twilight was inside Canterlot, or more precisely, the northern park. The runic teleportation was disorienting, and she inwardly lamented not having kept up with the practice. It didn’t take long for the morning-goers to take notice of her sudden and off-putting appearance. Whispers rolled through them while wide-eyes took in her sight, and some quickly scurried away. Taking another deep breath through her nose, Twilight peered around. She could see one pony speaking to several guards and motioning in her direction. Time to go.

Pivoting, she dashed away in the opposite direction and out of the park, tugging her cowl down. It did little to hide her black fur, and she appeared menacing even from a distance, but it obscured her face. After a few blocks of running she ducked into an alleyway to catch her breath. Concentrating, she sensed her surroundings and revealed no one had followed her. She sighed and looked over herself, extending a wing to inspect. Black fur is extremely rare, especially in Canterlot. Alicorns are even more suspect. I won’t be able to get to the castle without illusions. Grumbling, she straightened and cast a quick spell. I hate illusions. A small wave of light rolled over her body, shifting it into a light grey while her mane was left with a flat blue. She did her best to smooth and slick it back, but her magical influence straightened it and rolled the ends back allowing them to float above her eyes once more. This will have to do.

Why do you hate illusion spells? Don’t like pretending to be something you’re not? the doppelganger teased.

Twilight paused and frowned. It’s low level magic. It’s beneath me. Enchanting garments with complex spells are much more appropriate for a mage of my status. Trixie’s enchanted mask was impressive to say the least. The magician’s name turned her stomach and she quickly stepped out of the alleyway and directed her thoughts elsewhere. She moved down the sidewalk and lowered her cowl, her eyes drinking in the sight of an unfamiliar city. For a moment, she lost herself among the towers of grey stone and the ponies shuffling about in gloom.

“Oh… right,” she mumbled. Canterlot had to be rebuilt after it was razed during Aurelius’s siege. She sighed and began to deduce her whereabouts. I should still be close enough for a runic teleport. She closed her eyes and visualized her chambers within the castle, but she was unable to teleport. Repeated attempts gave her the same results. It felt as if a force was pushing back against her magic, even when focusing on a rune. So, Aurelius has adapted whatever teleport-blocking spell he had into something more. No matter. That’s more time to recover my magic.

She continued on, her eyes darting between the faces of every pony, her gaze lingering upon unicorns for a second longer. Home, she thought. But thoughts soon turned bitter. It’s not mine anymore. This isn’t the Canterlot I remember. It’s a lie. She moved to glimpse the tops of the castle in the distance and frowned. I’ll bring this whole façade crashing down.

Feisty, are we, said the doppelganger. It appeared ahead, walking backwards as it faced her. It still maintained its grin, but its body shifted and distorted before turning into something, or rather someone familiar.

“Celestia,” Twilight growled.

“Do you think she has something to do with this?” the doppelganger asked as it swayed a hoof to the ponies around. “They all seem so disillusioned. Just look at their faces, their eyes. So hollow. So… empty. Is that how they always were?” Twilight closed her eyes for a moment and wished death upon the doppelganger. To her relief, it had vanished from her view. As she went to take a breath, it reappeared beside her still donning the guise of the sun princess. “You feel it, don’t you?” it whispered in the sun princess’s voice as it leaned in close. “Deep within the very core of your soul,” it cooed. “She is guilty of this treason. You want to punish her. You want to… kill her.” It exhaled as its voice grew ever softer with sinister delight. “You’ll have your revenge. We know you will.”

Magic began to boil within Twilight as it snickered and pulled back, and she turned to face it ready to annihilate its existence externally, but it was gone. She quickly restrained her anger before she caused a ruckus, but it was too late. Her illusion had faded away and she was left receiving surprised looks. Ponies quickly shuffled by her and away, thinning the crowd. Damn you.

“Twilight?” a voice called from across the street.

She turned to glimpse them, preparing herself to fight or teleport if necessary, but her eyes widened to a light grey pony with a purple and white mane trotting towards her. N-no! This can’t happen. Not here, not now! Shaky steps back brought her rump to a wall.

“It really is you… You’re alive!” the mare’s voice shook, tears welling in her eyes. Before Twilight could react, she was embraced. “I can hardly recognize you.”

“M-mom…” she choked back while stumbling to reply. “What… are you… doing here?”

Velvet pulled back and clasped her daughter’s face, a bittersweet smile taking hold of her features. “I can’t believe it’s really you. What happened to you? Where have you been all this time? Your father and I… your brother, your friends… Th-there was a f-funeral.”

Twilight pulled her mother’s hooves from her face. “Mom, please. I don’t have time for this.” Immediately, she knew she had chosen the wrong words.

Tears rapidly fell from Velvet’s eyes while her face had twisted with sorrow. “H-How can y-you say th-that? Y-You s-should always have time for your f-family. We… we thought we had lost you f-forever!”

Ponies had begun to gather again. Too many eyes, thought Twilight. It’s too late to take my time now. She had to get away, but at the same time she owed her mother an explanation. Damn it. I can’t break her heart again, but I can’t afford to do this. Aurelius probably already knows I’m here! Damn it!

Twilight pushed Velvet away, earning a confused, hurt look, and formed a weak barrier around herself. “I’m sorry, mom. I love you, and tell dad and Shining. I promise I’ll explain later.” She stared at her mother as she opened her mouth, but she was instantly replaced with a fountain. Loosing a long sigh, Twilight spun around and stared down the main street to the Canterlot castle. The building loomed in the distance, seemingly untouched by time and the calamity in its own city. She hung her head, the misery of saddening her parents once more weighing over her, and trudged forward.

***

Luna yawned as the sun shone through her mane and into her face. Standing up, she stretched and rubbed her eyes, blinking several times until she could see. Derpy was still asleep in the chair next to her, but her eyes trailed up see the elder sister standing and leaning against the wall beside the door, her eyes closed and forelegs crossed.

“Was there any incident?” she asked.

The sandy pegasus gently shook her head. “I made sure the nurses were just that. Can’t be sure with the company we keep.” She shrugged. “I haven’t seen your pet changeling in a while.”

The princess frowned, and then looked to the magician lying in bed slowly breathing while a machine and mask fed her oxygen. “How is she?”

Daring opened her eyes, but she only stared at the floor. “Critical. She will need a long time to recover, far too long to delay retaking Canterlot for. Our resistance force is ready, but we’ve gotten new information that Colgate is there.”

Luna sighed. “You must handle her.”

Daring glanced up. “Why? Are you not planning to help?”

Luna gently shook Derpy as she spoke. “I am afraid Twilight may be beyond your sister’s strength, but since I do know some measure of yours I do hold confidence that you two together may be able to subdue her. However, confronting my friend is something I must do. I may be able to bring her to our cause, but she would not take kindly to those she does not know.”

Daring watched as Derpy stirred and rubbed a tendril of drool from the side of her mouth. “If she’s so dangerous, why are you putting your life on the line?”

The princess smiled. “For my dearest friend I shall face death to save her, even if she is the one that dare to take my life. Her power I do not fear, for I have witnessed firsthoof her madness. My sister has as well, and I do believe Knight Dash and Archmage Lulamoon have from their accounts of past events.”

The sandy pegasus drew her second sword and inspected damage already inflicted upon the blade. “Are you forgetting why I hated you?” She drew her first sword and rested it on her head. “Or did you ignore it?”

Luna maintained an even look. “I will not allow you to mute her. That is…”

Daring jammed both swords into their sheaths. “Our duty. Are you forgetting that I have carried out that duty before? My best friend, and my partner. It kills me inside to this day that he can walk around and act like it never happened. There had to have been another way!”

Derpy blinked and yawned. “What are you talking about?” Her elder sister chewed her lip and looked away.

Leo entered the room quietly and frowned. “There probably was another way,” he chimed in, removing the hood of his robe. Slowly, he parted the front of his mane. “Look, Paladin Do,” he said as he stepped in front of her. Daring refused, but the chancellor swiftly grabbed her face. “I have moved on. Why can’t you?” Daring’s eyes twitched as she stared at the grisly scar where his horn once was. “There is some nerve damage to this day, but it does not hurt as it once did. I mourned your loss and my own that day, and my daughter was acutely aware of whom muted me. I will never perform magic like the archmage I once was, but I survived. This is what we do, and what I understood when I ascended that day. Do you think, after all this time, that I would blame you of all ponies, or Princess Luna? If the decision had come from Princess Celestia we would not be having this conversation at all. She gave the correct instructions and your true master would have given the same ones.” Daring stared at the scar, and then glanced past to Luna and Derpy. Her younger sister stood up and cocked her head.

“You… cut off Chancellor Leo’s horn? That’s what this is all about?” Her gaze quickly grew more intense. “How long ago was this?”

Leo turned around and quickly reset his mane. “Far too long for it to matter. Your sister’s petty grudge—“

Daring placed a hoof on his shoulder. “How can you call it petty? Imagine if you were in my position and you had to cut off Colgate’s horn? How do you face anyone after you’re forced to cripple someone you would call family? How can I look myself in the mirror when I know in my heart there was another way? H-How…” She turned away and went silent for a moment. “How can I face my sister now knowing that she may one day have to do the same thing!?” Her body shook as she grit her teeth, but she subdued her voice to just above a whisper. “Every day of my life I spent wishing she would never have to do something like that, and here she has ended up exactly like me not knowing the pain of what it feels like every day to know you made the wrong decision and crippled a friend for the rest of their life. It only hurts more knowing you forgave me when you were the one that was robbed of everything.” She glanced up to see the princess wide-eyed and her sister’s jaw hanging open.

“So… that’s it, huh?” muttered Derpy. There was a long silence before she spoke again. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but if that’s what I would have to do to save my best friend then I’ll do it.”

“Ditz, please try to—“

“Understand? I get it, Daring.” She adjusted her armor and tightened her baldric. “I know what a paladin has to do, but if I let myself be afraid of my duties when I need to do them most I’ll get myself or others killed.”

Daring hung her head and fought back tears, but Leo placed a gentle hoof to her face. “You made the best decision you could have that day. We were overwhelmed. It was the first of the contractors we had ever encountered and we were not prepared. I played my trump card and lost control of my power. At first, I was angry and felt betrayed. I hated that my career was over, but I eventually came to terms with it. I was no longer angry at you, but upset because you never let me thank you for giving me another chance to see my daughter grow.”

The sandy pegasus shivered as tears fell from her obscured eyes. “I… can’t… do it, Leo. Not again. She hates me, and when we face her I can’t bring myself to do the same thing to her as I did to you if it comes to that. I just… can’t.”

“Then I’ll do it,” replied Derpy. Daring glanced up to her with tears streaming down her face. “She has been jealous of me taking the Paladin title ever since it was left vacant. You don’t need to bear the burden of doing something so terrible again. I will live with that. I took my oath knowing full well that this could one day happen.”

Wiping her eyes, the sandy pegasus took a deep breath. “No. That won’t happen again. This time… we will find another way.”

Luna loosed a sigh, relief washing over her as the tension faded. She turned to the magician. “I am… starting to see some connections I did not before. We must find Celestia before Twilight. I do not know what to expect with her, but I am sure… we can finish this conflict. Leo, are we ready to depart?”

The chancellor eyed Daring as she wiped her eyes. “We are, Your Majesty, or the best we can be. The militia will hold the enemy forces at bay, but you three must hurry to the royal vaults as soon as you can. The Paladins will be needed to hold the battle outside. However, I fully expect my daughter to join the fray and she will be far greater a danger than the dragons.”

“She will be difficult before we reach our armaments. Nay, she will be a great obstacle even once we have them.” Luna put a hoof to her chin as she stared at the floor for a moment. “One of you will need to hold her off if we encounter her. Once Paladin Hooves has her shield and I have my hammer we can split off. You two will aid our allies in the city while I find my sister and Twilight. Perhaps we can dispatch Aurelius ourselves. We must reach the vaults in haste. The longer Twilight is a factor the more volatile the situation in the castle becomes, and I do not wish to see her captured or worse. For now, we can count on Aurelius drawing her ire, but I fear my sister may be her target if she appears.”

“We won’t let you down, Princess,” said Derpy as she gave a salute. “C’mon, Daring,” she said as she walked out the door. Her sister took a deep breath and followed without looking at anyone else.

“Will she be alright to recover?” Leo nodded to the magician.

“I have guards stationed here in the meantime,” replied Luna as she adjusted her cloak fastidiously. She spoke again before the chancellor could and turned to face him. “She reveres my sister, and to this day I do not know the extent of that loyalty nor her power. That bothers me even if Paladin Hooves has gotten her to overcome her distaste of me. I do not like trusting ponies I cannot measure.”

Leo cocked his head. “Oh? Have you not seen enough?”

Luna gave him a heavy look. “Do you recall Twilight’s powers? Her thirst for knowledge? I had once feared she would gain a lust for power. If you could see her now you would see that fear manifest. That is what happens when there are no boundaries for an archmage. They say there is a first for everything. For the first time I fear an archmage. My best friend. And it is because I cannot measure her. Her power. Her intentions. Her psyche. Her loyalty. She is heading right to the heart of a war that has been going on longer than she has been in Equestria. Things have changed, and if she abandons her allegiance now there may be nothing in anyone’s power to save her.”

Leo chuckled, earning a surprised half-glare from the princess. “Do not sell us short, Your Majesty. I have lived to see Daring’s potential, but I do not need to see yours to know it. This day will end in a victory in one way or another. Have faith in yourself.”

Luna pushed open the door and calmed. “I wish I could share your confidence and outlook in the matter, but I simply cannot relinquish these fears. However, I will not allow myself to succumb to despair.” She took a deep breath. “Let us go. We shall see what awaits us in Canterlot. The end of Aurelius’s reign shall be this day.”

She made her way outside to see many ponies already gathered and organized. Many took notice of her presence and straightened up while the paladins scouted the skies. A brushing to the princess’s side startled her, and she only just realized that Chrysalis had appeared closely beside her. She had donned her Nympha alias. “Where have you been?”

The changeling queen didn’t meet her eyes. “I’m not exactly a welcome guest among your kind. I thought it would be best to be out of sight until you were awake.”

Luna placed a hoof on her shoulder. “You do not need to isolate yourself. I will protect you and show them.” Before she could receive a reply, Daring landed before her and saluted.

“We’re ready to go. We can take some of the ground forces by train, but getting anyone else into the city without being noticed will be impossible. Dragons patrol the skies, and the elevators are all guarded. Once the train team makes it in there will be alarms.” She cast a glance at the changeling queen for a split second.

Luna let out a disgruntled breath. “We have no other options open to us. It is now or never. I am afraid that, even though we do not know how to utilize any of Twilight’s teleportation abilities or runes, we must press on.”

A low, hoarse voice came from behind. “That’s not true.”

The princess turned to see the magician had staggered out of the hospital. Dried blood crusted her fur with thick bandaging for her sword wound. More bandages covered burn marks, with a final one wrapping around her head and covering her right eye. “Archmage Lulamoon, you should be resting. You are in no condition to—“

“Shut up,” she retorted, earning looks from the readied militia in earshot. “Your Majesty,” she added. “You’re not getting into Canterlot, even by train. Unicorns are in place to check the passengers before they even get off the cars. If you made it to the city there’s more patrols to deal with. Your only hope of getting everyone inside is through me.” She coughed several times and groaned, slouching forward and clutching her wound.

“We cannot allow you to risk your—“

The magician glowered. “Shut up.” She coughed again and took a deep breath as her two nurses exited the hospital and rushed over to her. She held up a hoof and shot them a look. “I can open a portal to one of Twilight’s runes. I studied her research and notes. It’ll take most of what I have just to do it, but I can get you there. And before you even ask, no, I won’t be joining you.”

Luna nodded. “That is a relief. Will you be alright here?”

Trixie looked at the nurses with a much more welcoming glance. “I don’t know. With my mask destroyed and my uniform gone I doubt I can reach out to Aurelius’s forces for support if necessary. I’m a traitor to him anyway. I’ve been passing information on to Rarity for a long time, but just talking to you like this now would seal my fate.”

Luna gasped. “So, you’re Rarity’s spy.” Trixie smirked for a moment, but her pain stole it away just as quickly as it came. “Before we depart, I must ask, what of my sister? What has happened all this time? What is the truth Twilight must not learn alone.”

The magician grimaced. “Princess Celestia has been alive and well in Canterlot since its fall. I’ve only seen her twice since becoming Vibe. Once, in the very beginning, when she was bound in chains and brought to him. And the second time I saw her in the halls of the castle alone in a robe. She walked by me and dropped a note. All it had said was, ‘Buy everyone time.’ She is a secret to even the other dragon lords—Aurelius’s little hounds.”

Buy everyone time?” Luna repeated, mystified. Could she have known we were working on a way to free her, or is there more to this? “Do you know what she meant?”

Trixie shook her head. “I had planned to sabotage that bastard prince from the moment I agreed to work for him, but he should’ve known that. He was always watching me, always making sure. I had to be careful, but to this day I’m sure he knew. I kept us from catching you, but the prince even delayed or threw off our pursuits of you and Derpy. I don’t know why. It’s like he wanted you to stay just out of reach.”

“That is troubling to hear.” Luna shook her head. “Is there anything else?”

“One last thing.” Trixie took a deep breath and groaned. “Princess Celestia is not locked in a dungeon. I could never confirm it, and Aurelius always warned me of asking about it, but she might be working with him. I only saw her twice, and she vanished after the second time. That was over a year ago. I even tried to find her.”

The princess stared at the ground in silence for a long while. She would never work with him. There would have to be a good reason for that. “Thank you, Trixie. We must depart. Twilight is far ahead of us in time.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She motioned for the nurses to follow and led them to a clearing nearby. “I can’t hold this forever, so you’ll need to hurry once this is opened.”

She took Derpy’s sword and shuffled around, scratching marks and lines all around. A large alchemy circle came to form, but she did not stop, continuing to add more details and pictograms within the quadrants and lines. It became far more complex and detailed than most of Twilight’s had been. After she finished, she dropped the sword and fell to the grass.

Luna rushed to her side. “Are you alright? Will you be able to cast the spell in your state?”

She slowly rose and nodded. “I have to compensate for Twilight’s magical talent with a more intricate design, but it will work. To be honest, I developed this spell for something just like this.” Her horn sparked and flared, producing a brilliant light. There was a loud hum as a portal of blue light burst forth, swirling as it expanded to form. It shimmered and billowed, emitting a low hum.

“Get going!” she shouted.

Derpy collected her sword and led the forces in, with Daring staying back to hustle them. Leo stepped in with the rest of the unicorns. Luna watched as they filed in until it was only herself and Chrysalis remaining.

“I will not forget this,” said Luna as she approached the portal, marveling at its existence.

“You better get my dimensions right when you build my statue,” Trixie replied as the light from her horn faded. “Good luck. And knock some sense into Twilight for me.”

Luna nodded, and glanced to Chrysalis. “Let’s go.” They disappeared into the portal and it closed shut.

Trixie collapsed to the ground, a hoof pressed tightly to her sword wound. The bandage had stained with blood and leaked out. “I bought all the time I could, Princess Celestia. I don’t know… what you have planned… but it… better… work…” She collapsed as the nurses lifted her and carried her back to the hospital.

***

Twilight quickened her pace through the city, attempting to maintain as much of a low profile as possible. Despite her best efforts, her black fur made her stand out against the light stone of the city buildings and the brighter shades of those around her. She inwardly groaned at the looks she received, but accelerated into a gallop to avoid lingering. Illusions seemed like a good idea after her teleport, but pairs of unicorn guards patrolled and they could more easily notice one. Their suspicion would call for an investigation into her use of such magic, and a quick dispel would give more alarm to her appearance. Wary glances were better than a risk for reinforcements. She wondered if her cutie mark being exposed even mattered now, but at least her fur would distract from it as she raced by.

The looks from strangers continued to put her on edge, and she tried to balance her urgent gait with attempting to move naturally. She failed and looked just as nervous as suspicious. The buildings loomed, and she began to imagine voices in her mind. Insults and cries for guards plagued her thoughts, her chest thumping in her head. She snatched a passing pony’s lunch and darted through the crowd and into an alley road. She shuffled away from the open street and took a gasping breath. Am I… having a panic attack? she wondered, pressing a hoof to her chest, and then calmly waving it out as she sucked in air. It took several moments to equalize herself, but it was offset by her suddenness to consume what she stole. Catching her breath, she stepped out of the alley and continued on.

She halted near the castle gates and peered to the grand steppe beyond sweeping up to the entrance. Memories burned her heart as she thought back to all the times she had walked up and down them with friends. With pride. She gnashed her teeth as she thought back to Trixie walking with her, but her bitter thoughts were interrupted as two pegasus guards approached her, with two more still at the gate.

“Stay where you are,” the first commanded sternly.

She quickly blinked back to focusing before ripping her cowl off. “Get out of my way,” she growled.

“You are to be detained. Come quietly and you won’t be harmed,” he continued.

The second guard attempted to circle her, but a ring of magical fire quickly formed around him. “Cross that ring and you’ll be burned alive.” Her eyes focused back on the guard in front of her and she extended a hoof towards him. A dark purple aura gripped him and raised him up, rapidly bringing him up to the oracle. “Where is Aurelius?” she asked forcefully.

“I’m not afraid of you!” he snarled, squirming within the aura.

Twilight’s eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to speak, but a horrified scream from beside her interrupted. She stared into the eyes of the guard before her as his fixated upon his burning companion. She did not need to look to know the fear in his eyes as the other guard ran and flailed in flames. Armor clamored about as he attempted to discard it or roll, but it didn’t matter. “I warned him. I’ll let you use your imagination for what will happen if I have to ask again.”

“C-Castle! T-Throne! G-Gathering!” he stuttered quickly.

Twilight lowered him to the ground, however he could not move, yet. She glanced over her shoulder as more guards and townsponies had begun to discover the commotion. The other guard had put himself out, but whimpered in agony. “Where is Celestia?”

The guard glared at her. “I won’t let you harm Her Majesty!”

“I hate the smell of burning flesh.” A blast of fire shot from her horn and struck him as she walked by. His screams filled the air behind her as other ponies cried out. As she neared the gates she attempted to coax them open, but they resisted. Wards? That’s new. She continued towards it and her horn lit with magic. Each half of the gate was gripped with the dark purple aura before being forcefully crushed and pulled from the hinges. She threw the bent pieces to her side, a cacophony of rattling steel, and continued without missing a step.

Impatient, are we? the doppelganger remarked, breaking its long silence.

I guess you could say that, she replied as her anger slowly rose.

More guards shuffled in behind her while some exited the castle to investigate. It wasn’t long before they barred her path and surrounded her. Orders to surrender were called out, but one of the castle guards shouted above the rest. “Stop! Do you know who this is!? Look, you fools!” He aimed a spear towards her flank. “It’s Twilight Sparkle, the rogue archmage!”

Twilight frowned. “Good,” she cooed. “We can skip the formalities. Where is Aurelius?” she called out, sizing up the numerous guards.

The captain frowned as she smirked back, and he lowered his spear. “Stand down, all of you. There is nothing we can do against her. Make way.” The guards at the castle entrance grumbled before moving aside and she continued on. “You shouldn’t be here,” he whispered as she passed.

She stopped and glanced at him. “Your concerns are noted. Where is Celestia?”

He shook his head and shuffled into the crowd.

Ignore him. Focus on your goal, the doppelganger urged. Don’t waste your energy on them.

She hesitated, but heeded the advice and entered the castle, the stares of the guards on her back. The red carpet running into the entry hall and main steps remained, but new banners of the prince hung all around. Tapestries with crests she did not recognize and new furnishings reminiscent of the Brood’s culture now decorated her former home. Anger distorted her face as two tapestries bearing the prince’s cutie mark erupted in flames, rapidly turning them to small piles of ash.

That bastard has desecrated this place! Abruptly, unicorns funneled into the room, and Twilight took note of a pulsing wave of magic. It was subtle, but distinct. A magic alarm!? She braced herself as she recognized the intricate decorations, masks, and light garb of her new foes. “Anti-mages,” she muttered with disgust.

“You will go no further, Twilight Sparkle,” shouted a member of the antimagi at the top of the stairs. “Surrender and you won’t be harmed. Resist and your defeat will be… uncomfortable.

This will only slow you down. Find a way past them or take them out quickly, urged the doppelganger.

I shouldn’t be wasting magic on them, but… She took a deep breath as she attempted to sense them all. Twenty two, twenty four… twenty eight, she counted. Their magic nullification had already seeped into the air, but their efforts were in vain. “None of you are strong enough to suppress me,” she noted aloud.

“Together, we will bind you,” the leader called back.

The force of their nullification was brought to bear, and Twilight struggled to resist it. The link to her own magic grew thin, and she feared she would lose it entirely. This is too much to ignore. I have to fight back. Cursing, she enshrouded herself in her dark aura and concentrated as the antimages descended the stairs and encircled her. Practiced words escaped her lips as she pieced together multiple incantations. When she finished, she grinned. “Your weakness is that you can’t suppress magic you can’t comprehend.” A white, opaque barrier formed around her that rapidly drew in energy. She could hear cries to flee, but the barrier exploded, rippling outward and destroying the room. When the dust settled, most of the unicorns had been rendered unconscious and the décor in the room had been reduced to rubble and burnt fragments. She smirked as she watched one of Aurelius’s tapestries burn away. Huh? She peered around the piles of unicorns, overlooking the ones still conscious and moaning. That’s odd. This place should be filled with ponies after all of that. Her eyes drifted to the corners and across the ceiling. A powerful enchantment is on the entranceway. No sound escapes this room. Have they been expecting me all along? Her heart skipped a beat. No. That wouldn’t make sense. Why is this room silenced, but with a specific alarm? How many more are like this?

She proceeded forward up the stairs and to the leader. He lay across the middle landing clutching his stomach while moaning. “Are you going to kill me?” he wondered aloud in a pained voice.

Twilight cocked her head. “You’re not worth the energy. Where is Aurelius? The throne room?”

The antimage hesitated to answer. “Sounds like you already know. It won’t matter. Once the king knows you’re here you’ll be drowning in dragons before the afternoon is done. You’re not escaping this place.”

The oracle knelt down, her face just inches from his mask, and spoke softly. “I murdered the Brood’s entire royal guard, and then the dragon king. Alone. Now, tell me. What would a bunch of whelps do, hm? I killed Aurelius once, and I’ll destroy him again.” She could hear the unicorn shivering beneath the mask. “Yes,” she cooed. “That’s the fear you should feel the next time you hear my name.” She stood up and walked on, leaving him to his wounds.

Excellent spell choice. How did you know they could not block that?

They disrupt magic by suppressing your ability to sense it. That spell is cast by modifying an existing one. They can’t stop that reaction without countering it, but I needed an incantation and more energy than normal to cast it. I’m not sure how much longer I could have waited before they forced me to resort to something more… drastic. She moved through the halls, her appearance startling castle staff. Several royal guards saw her, but they merely watched and said nothing, their even stoic eyes and faces following her and nothing else. They aren’t even trying. I would think this place would be less receptive to me. As she reached the throne hall, the large doors were shut tight, with a pegasus on each side armed with a spear and buckler.

“Beyond this point is invitation only,” said one guard.

Twilight frowned. “Is Celestia in there as well?” The guards exchanged nervous glances. “I’ll find out for myself.” Her horn lit, but a spear was at her throat before she could use telekinesis. “I suggest you remove that or we’re going to see if I’m accurate enough to lodge it between all of your organs without killing you.” She smirked as the spear was slowly lowered. “Both of you leave or you will die. I won’t give you a second chance. Evacuate as many ponies still loyal to the true Equestria as you can. I don’t tolerate betrayal kindly.” The guards once more exchanged nervous glances before galloping down the hall.

After they disappeared around a corner she took a deep breath and placed a hoof on each door. This is it. I’m finally here, and I’m ready to end all of this. She hesitated. This… is easy. Too easy. Something isn’t right. Getting into Canterlot was too easy, but not many knew of my runes. Escaping the guards was too easy. The castle guards stood down. The antimages were the only real threat and they don’t mesh with the other soldiers that should be here. All of this is off… She removed her hooves and began analyzing the hallway, and then the door, and finally the room ahead. All but four ponies within were beyond normal magical capability, the throne featured the same soundproofing enchantment as the lobby; however, there was no alarm spell present. Among those four she sensed she could only determine that one was not particularly strong, but the magical signature was tricky and unique. She attempted to analyze the magic, but it was unknown to her. She had never encountered anything like it in her travels.

Having doubts? You dispatched the antimages easily because you are powerful. They are nothing before the might of an archmage, an oracle of Astra.

Despite the encouragement from the doppelganger, Twilight couldn’t relinquish her doubts. They were starting to spiral into worry and fear. She took another deep breath. “Forget it. I’ve come this far. I can take on anything. I’ll deal with my own entropy if I need to. Today I will get my answers and my revenge.” With a heave and a push from her magic, the doors swept open to the throne room.

The large red carpet ran across the center of the room like a bloody tongue, climbing up a few steps to the throne landing. Enormous, extravagant chandeliers hung down, shimmering and illuminating the room with crystal splendor. Waiters were moving about with beverages and snacks while many ponies of nobility or high esteem were in groups speaking to one another. However, their eyes were now upon her. Twilight blinked several times. Dizziness hit her and she struggled to maintain her focus. Her eyes danced between the stained glass on the sides of the room, and her anger overrode her ill feelings. Their depictions were no longer of the princesses, or Twilight, or her friends. They were of dragons and the prince himself. She recognized a crystal pony in the crowd and her thoughts drifted to the Crystal Empire momentarily. She shook her head.

“Aurelius!” she bellowed. “I’ve come with a message.”

The prince, now a king, sat at the throne with a disinterested gaze upon his subjects. A lavish manteau rested over his back and shoulders, and an ornate crown ringed his head, resting gently against his horn. As her words reached him his eyes widened. He slowly stood up as his gaze shifted to a mixture of surprise and deep concern. It took him a moment to collect himself. “So… She found a new hound in you after all,” he responded coolly. “What message could a dead mare’s dog possibly have for me?”

“Astra will have your head.”

His gaze was now only with concern. Suddenly, a massive boom could be heard in the distance outside. “All of you, get out. Now!” he shouted down to the ponies in the room. They rushed by Twilight in whirlwind of hoofsteps and fearful words, taking care not to get too close to her. When all were gone, three ponies remained. One to the king’s right, a unicorn concealed with a white cloak, their cowl hung over their head, and another to his left, a unicorn fully clad in armor. “You. Go investigate that. See if the other dragon lord has recovered. I’ll need you two keeping those vermin in line.” With a nod, the armor-clad unicorn marched out. Twilight sensed their magic as they passed by.

Why do I sense two with that one? she wondered. She approached the throne’s landing, her scorn playing across her features. “Are you ready to die, little prince?”

Aurelius ignored her and spoke to the cloaked figure. “You’ll need to buy me some time. I can’t have her slowing me down. If she’s here now I must go.” The figure nodded and the king whirled around, blasting open one of his stained glass windows. “Remember, if I fall, you lose your best chance.” He made his escape, but Twilight took flight to pursue. The cloaked figure barred her path.

“Get out of my way! I’m not letting that bastard leave this place alive!” she roared.

She attempted to remove the figure was unable to touch the figure at all with her telekinesis. Anti-mage? Startled, she didn’t realize a kick from an armored hoof coming her way. With a crack, she was struck in the jaw and sent spiraling away and onto the steps, rolling to the bottom. Twilight moaned as she brought a hoof up to gingerly massage her jaw. “Who are you?” she asked as she stood up, her anger redirected. “I can’t touch you with my telekinesis.”

The figure removed their cloak in one swift move to reveal their large body to be lightly clad in armor. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I was hoping it would not come to this.”

“Celestia,” the word escaped Twilight’s mouth like a lost breath as she gazed upon the sun princess in awe. It was surreal to think that her mentor, friend, and the ruler of Equestria would protect the very enemy that shattered their world, but here she stood between her and her mark.

The princess maintained a delicate voice as she spoke. “There are things you don’t understand, Twilight. Things you can’t understand. Not as you are now. Please, do not fight. Hear me out.”

Her words did not reach the oracle and she hung her head to the floor. The pleas of the sun princess were muted, and the explosions and commotion from outside were reduced to a dull roar. There was only quietness to her as she stood up. In silence, her shroud appeared and its appearance was absolutely still. Is this… it? Is this the end? She… betrayed me to Aurelius. She sent me to kill him, and now she’s protecting him. What… am I anymore? What am I even doing? Am I… just a lie?

“Twilight, are you listening to me?” the princess asked urgently. “Please, just surrender.”

Her eyes met with Celestia’s. “There is nothing you can say to me…” She glanced up to the sun princess. “…that would make me want to do anything but cut out your lying tongue.”

Kill her, the doppelganger growled into her mind. The light in the room dimmed, and for a moment her mind’s eye melded with the world. Her doppelganger—her Id—had embraced her. She is a liar! She is a traitor! You serve Astra. A true queen. Its words no longer sickened her. It had been right, and she had doubted it. She didn’t trust it, but it had been keeping her on the path. She did not need to see its grin. She could feel it.

Celestia’s eyes widened and Twilight took a shambling step closer. A wide grin slowly split her face from ear to ear as she spoke softly. “You are… not Equestria’s princess. You are not my princess.” She gently shook her head and chuckled. “Not anymore. You are a liar, and you are a traitor.” She took a deep breath as her magic readied. Standing up, she swayed her forelegs out, as if welcoming her. “Today… I am going to retire you, Princess Celestia.”

Author's Note:

1/3/2017 - This should've been posted on New Years, but I didn't feel like doing the final edits from Peppy's proofing then. Instead, I just played FF12 and Heroes of the Storm.

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