• 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 52: Neverland

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 52: Neverland

Wake up! bellowed the doppelganger.

Twilight sprang up, abruptly clenching her jaw and grinding her teeth together as the voice filled her head. A choked cough escaped her throat as she tensed, and a leg scraped over her chest. She took a deep breath and exhaled sharply, blinking rapidly. A large tourniquet wrapped her wound where shredded fabric once did, with a faded splotch of red occupying the center. The room almost spun as she threw her gaze at every inch, studying the surroundings, but the walls told her where she was.

“Take it easy, Twily!” called a familiar voice. She couldn’t quite place the origin until a stout white unicorn stepped into view. A concerned gaze poked out just beneath a groomed blue mane. “You almost bled out by the time the train crew found you.”

“Shining… Armor…” she muttered as she allowed herself to relax. The name rolled off her tongue with a distant unfamiliarity.

“Just lay back and take it easy,” he cooed as he helped her down. “I just… can’t believe you’re alive.” He wiped his eyes before any tears could be seen. “What happened to you? Where have you been all this time?”

For a moment, she only stared back at him with an eerie listlessness, and he raised a brow to her. “I flew a little too close to the sun”—she held up the hoof Celestia had burned—“I’ll be fine.”

“Well…” He fidgeted before rubbing the back of his head. “I’m just glad you’re alright now. Can I get you anything?”

Her eyes rolled around the room once more before settling on her brother. “Take me to Cadance.”

Shining rubbed the back of his head again as he offered a sheepish smile. “I really don’t think you’re in any condition for that. I meant food or—“

Twilight sat up again and her eyes focused on him. “Cadance,” she repeated flatly.

The prince sighed. “I’m sorry, Twilight, but you need to be resting. As your big brother, I refu—“

His eyes went wide as he was engulfed in a dark violet aura and lifted from the floor. “Your little sister doesn’t have time for this. I am going to see Cadance, with or without your help.” He drifted back to the floor and was gently set down.

Shining’s features tore themselves between concern and worry. “Alright, alright. We… We thought you were dead. I don’t want to lose you… I can’t go to your funeral again, Twily.”

She climbed out of bed, her immediate notice that the majority of her pain had grown small. The lingering soreness and tenderness remained, but she had the freedom of being mobile once more. You’re welcome, her doppelganger chimed into her thoughts. Try not to tear your wounds open.

“I’m sorry about that. I’ll explain everything one day.” She limped towards him, and he offered to help, but she waved him off. “I’m in a hurry, so let’s go.” His concerned gaze was cast her way one last time before he led her out of the room.

The walk through the crystal palace was filled with her brother attempting to make small talk, but any time she could find interest in the conversation the doppelganger reminded her it was meaningless. She struggled to silence it this time and the voice drowned out her own thoughts as they neared the throne.

“Will you just… SHUTUP!?” she screeched out.

Shining spun around on his heels and met her with wide eyes. “Wow, Twilight. I didn—“

“N-Not you, Shiny. I just… I’ve been so distracted lately and my thoughts got the better of me. I’m… I’m sorry.” Despite the apology, her brother still appeared hurt.

“It’s… okay, Twilight,” he replied softly. “I’m sure you’ve been through a lot. You’re safe here, so just take it easy. Cadance is just in here.” His gaze lingered on her for a moment, as if hoping she would open up to him, before turning and opening the doors.

A guard on both sides nodded to them as they entered, with two more by the throne acknowledging them with looks. Cadance had already moved towards them when they entered. “Thank goodness you’re alive, Twilight!” she called. “We were so worried when they found you.” She moved in for a hug, but Twilight held her back with her unharmed hoof. “Ah, sorry. It’s just… we thought you were…” She glanced to Shining.

Twilight offered an awkward cough. “It’s complicated. Look, I’d love to catch up, but I came here for Aurelius. Where is he?”

The pair exchanged glances before they started walking to the throne together. Cadance spoke as she looked around the room. “I’m sorry, Twilight, but he hasn’t come here.” When she reached the throne, Twilight had moved to the middle of the room, her gaze heavy upon her.

After a moment, she closed her eyes. “I don’t believe you.”

Shining shook his head. “I don’t know what to tell you, Twily. He hasn’t come here in a long time.”

Twilight’s horn lit up as she opened her eyes. “You should know, brother, of all the ponies in Equestria, that you can’t lie to me.” She reached for him with his magic, but a barrier formed and blocked her. The guards quickly dashed to surround her.

“Twilight, what’s gotten into you?” Cadance asked as she huddled beside her husband.

Violet light snatched the guards and balled them together before launching them through the entrance. The doors slammed shut with a gust of air, and she approached the barrier. I can’t hurt them, she thought.

You’re right, the doppelganger replied, snickering. Twilight visualized its mouth, the devious grin spreading across its lips. And suddenly, she was seeing the world from a distance behind her eyes.

What’s… happening? she wondered. She could see herself moving, and even feel the movements, but she could not feel control. There was no intent within those movements, no thought or emotion as she witnessed her actions.

A blast of energy struck the barrier, crackling and sputtering before fizzling into a small plume of smoke. “Impressive. Shining Armor, was it?” She grinned as dark energy enshrouded her. “I’m betting she used to admire your shielding abilities when she was young, but let’s see how long you last against her magic now.”

Another blast of energy hit the barrier and Shining strengthened it. “You’re no sister of mine. Who are you? What have you done with Twilight?”

It’s me, big brother,” she replied, her grin reaching her eyes. “I’m just a little tired of wasting time is all.” She struck the barrier with a hoof, leaving a crack. She gazed over the damage at the pair before striking again. To her dismay, the crack had vanished. “How long can you keep this up?”

“As long as I need to,” her brother replied.

A hole formed in the barrier and a pink beam shot through, ripping through Twilight’s shroud and sending her back. “Did you really think you could attack us after Canterlot?” Cadance growled. “We know you don’t have the strength to fight after that.”

Twilight picked herself up as the shroud returned. “Twilight may lack the willpower, but I do not. Her magic will suffice even now.” She charged forward and the shroud solidified into a dark sheen. Another pink beam sliced across her body, but it only slowed her. A second hit her, much more powerful than the last, and she stumbled to the ground. Glancing up, Cadance took a deep breath before readying her magic again. Twilight reached the barrier and began striking it over and over, more cracks forming. They were repaired, but it grew slower and slower each time.

“Together, Shining!” cried Cadance. All at once, the barrier fell and a burst of magic exploded forth from them.

It ripped through Twilight and she fell backwards as she was engulfed in the light. When it faded, her defenses had vanished, but her shroud remained in a thin, wispy layer. She took a deep breath and picked herself up, trudging towards them once more. “You’re strong, but can you really kill me, your little sister?”

“What?” Cadance panted as she signaled for the barrier to be reformed, but Shining’s breathing was becoming heavier. It started to take shape once more around them, but Twilight latched onto it and ripped it apart, dispelling it in a flash. Cadance threw herself between them, but a blast of force sent her to the side.

No! Don’t! cried Twilight.

She reached her brother, and she struck him; his head hit the floor before the sweat from his face could. He grunted before he was punched over and over again.

Stop it! Stop! STOP! she screamed within herself, watching helplessly as her brother’s face bruised and his blood leaked to the crystalline floor. It shimmered off of the crystal, burning its image into her mind.

Cadance cried out as she neared, and another blast of force failed to send her away again. She reached them and generated a burst of energy that ripped Twilight from her brother and launched her into the air. She caught herself with her wings and descended to the ground.

Cadance was sobbing as she clutched her husband’s battered head in her hooves. “Why… Why would you do this?”

“I’ve come for Aurelius, and you’re in my way,” she replied as she loomed over them. “She might not have the resolve to do what is necessary, but I do.”

“Are you going to kill us, Twilight? Your own family?” she snarled back, tears glinting in her eyes. “I don’t think you have it in you.”

Twilight gave her a malicious grin, looming over her. “Tell me where Aurelius is, or we might just find out.”

She turned to Shining as he moaned, and her tears fell upon his bloodied cheeks. His eyes had already started to swell. “I don’t even recognize you,” she whispered, turning to the dark alicorn.

The battered unicorn reached a hoof up his wife. “That’s… not Twilight… anymore,” he rasped. “Just tell her… where he is…” She took his hoof into her own and nodded.

“Tick, tock, princess. My patience is nearly gone,” said the oracle, her grin dropping.

Cadance’s voice wavered as she stifled her sobs. “He went south. Far to the south. To the Badlands. He didn’t say why.”

Twilight did not move as she spoke, an unsettling twisting of energy around her as she maintained her stillness. “Why did he come to the Crystal kingdom? I’d heard he forced labor here. What was he excavating?”

“A key. We never saw it. We don’t know why he wanted it or what it was for.” She cast a sad look to Shining and murmured something Twilight could not hear. “That’s all we know. Now leave us alone.” She stood up and faced her. “Leave and never come back. If you do, I swear I’ll make you pay.”

Twilight grinned and bowed graciously, one leg to her belly and another extended. “Thank you, princess. Thank you, brother.” She moved towards the entranceway and opened the doors. Many of the royal guard had filled the corridor leading out. “Tell them to get out of my way or the walls will have a new color.”

Cadance glowered at her through teary eyes before calling to the guards. “Stand down and let her leave the city. That’s an order.”

The guards offered her looks of surprise before shuffling out of the way. Twilight maintained her grin as she walked past them, their expressions of disgust filling her with glee. As she reached the castle exit, she took flight and soared out of the city until the guards could no longer be seen trailing her.

Suddenly, she squealed and came crashing into the ground. She blinked and everything that she saw started collapsing onto her mind. The memories sickened her, despair chasing them into her heart with blades. It felt as though a nightmare had ended, only for her to awaken within a new one. “Wh-What… have I done?” she muttered with quivering lips, and tears streamed down her cheeks. “M-My… b-brother… He’ll n-never… ever f-forgive me…” She sobbed into her hooves.

I did what you could not. What was necessary. If it wasn’t for me we would have never left.

Rage boiled within her despair, and magic exploded out from her and blasted the surrounding earth away. She panted before collapsing and slamming a hoof on the ground beneath her. “Y-You’re a disease. I have to get rid of you. I will get rid of you!”

Your task is not complete until Aurelius is dead, the doppelganger reminded.

She surrendered her immediate anger, but her thoughts stormed inside her mind, replaying everything that just happened. The thoughts splintered into ideas once more. It… took control of me. I would never hurt Cadance and my brother… Never… I would never… try to kill… Celestia… What’s… What’s wrong with me!? What… do I do?

She shuddered and slowly pushed herself back up from the earth. There was a peculiar twitching in her body as she stood up, and she took a deep breath. Her wounds had closed, but not healed. Looking to the horizon, she could see the wintery northern lands in the distance. With a last glimpse over her shoulder to the pristine Crystal Empire, she disappeared in a flash.

***

Nightmare awoke early, jumping out of bed and hurriedly grabbing her armaments before heading out of Twilight’s chambers. She slept well, but being in the oracle’s room brought her absence to bear. She chewed her lip before casting it one last glance, the door closing with a quiet creak.

“I expected you to rest longer.”

The Id flinched as she spun around to greet Celestia, hesitating to reply. “I… got all the rest I needed.”

The sun princess yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Well, we should grab some food before going. I’ll have the staff prepare us something.” She yawned once more as they walked.

“Did you sleep well? I don’t want to do this alone.”

The sun princess shook her head. “Luna’s injuries and inquiries kept her restless, so I debriefed her on everything that’s happened while…” She paused and sighed. “While she’s been away.”

“We only heard rumors of your fate. How did you manage to hide away for all this time? I hunted down Aurelius’s minions outside of Canterlot, interrogating them for information about you, or anything else I could use. No one knew what happened to you in the aftermath of Canterlot’s sudden fall.”

Celestia sighed. “I was in no position to fight back once Aurelius had seized control of the situation. To be honest,” she glanced to Nightmare, “I didn’t expect to survive.”

“I didn’t expect him to survive, either. If only…” Her eyes fell to the floor as the night of Twilight’s disappearance slipped into her mind. “I could have killed him back then.”

“An untimely intervention for both sides. Astra saved her brother by ripping Twilight from you and taking them both. I’m… sorry you didn’t get your justice.” Sympathy drew the princess’s features soft for a moment. “But I’m afraid it will still have to wait.”

“What do you mean by that?” Nightmare stopped.

The princess motioned for her to follow into the dining hall. “Over breakfast. I’m hungry and there’s much to tell.” Nightmare gave her an aggravated stare as she walked ahead.

When breakfast arrived, the Id seemingly inhaled her food as Celestia watched a few seats away. Before she could finish half of hers, Nightmare had consumed all of her own and requested more.

“As you were saying?” she said as she passed her plate to one of the morning cooks.

The princess swallowed her bite and looked into the sharp eyes, rubbing her lips together before she spoke. “Aurelius may not… be… the main threat…” Before the Id could finish processing the words, she strengthened her resolve. “It’s true he is our enemy, but his sister’s machinations will tear Equestria apart if left alone.” A cook returned with another plate of food, but Nightmare fixated on the princess. With a bow, he set it on the table and dashed away.

“The one… that took Twilight.” Nightmare’s gaze hardened. “What power could a dead alicorn hold, and why would she take Twilight?”

The princess cleared her throat. “Aurelius said she intends to return. She has done so eons into the past, but it takes tremendous amounts of energy for her to resurrect.” Her utensils were allowed to rest on the plate and she wiped her mouth, meeting the Id’s eyes. “She took Twilight to help her.” She watched as the blood drained from Nightmare’s face, her dejected eyes casting over the plate of food before her. “We don’t know why, and if that’s her plan it’s certainly not what I saw in her eyes.”

“I… How…” She slowly raised her head back to the princess. “Let’s say I believe you… I understand killing Aurelius. He’s in her way and it’s something we all want, so she’s fit that into her plan. I don’t understand how removing Twilight for four years while her brother establishes power helps her. We could have killed him that night and prevented all of this.”

Celestia shook her head. “I’m sorry. We could never find an answer for that. We considered her needing Twilight as a vessel, but she was torn from her own body and provided a new one, somehow. Whatever Astra is planning it still hasn’t come together, yet, and we can’t see the endgame. All I know is, for now, we must get Twilight back, or stop her. I fear her mission goes well beyond herself and killing Aurelius.”

“Is it possible Astra is controlling her? Just like Aurelius had done to me?”

The sun princess’s eyes narrowed. “No. Aurelius assured me she does not possess the same ability as him. It shouldn’t work on alicorns, as he cannot project his will over their natural magic. He attempted to do so with me before bargaining.” She sighed and gazed down over her food glumly.

Nightmare suddenly stood up, her chair scraping backwards. “I’ll wait for you outside. I’ve lost my appetite.”

Outside the castle, guard patrols eyed the Id and her weapon with concern, but she paid them no mind. Her eyes lay upon the city, blind to the latest damage; she could only see the burning remains of the city during its sieging. She tore her thoughts away as she could hear steps behind her.

“Thank you for waiting,” said the princess as she appeared in burnished armor similar to the Id’s. “I’m afraid the last train evacuated yesterday and we’re still on alert, so we’ll be flying.” Her greataxe was stood beside her, its double-head and phoenix-adornment rising to the crest of her helm. Abruptly, it was devoured by her mane. “This… is bad.”

A crystal pegasus with a flight jacket and messenger bag frantically flew over the gates before coming down onto the stone landing. Sweat rained down to the stone as he bowed his head, a hoof extended with a piece of parchment. “An urgent missive from Princess Cadance, Your Majesty.” Celestia frowned and snatched it, quickly unfurling and scanning the contents.

“Twilight?” asked Nightmare.

The sun princess nodded to her. “I sent a warning to Cadance regarding Twilight as soon as I could. It appears that she made it the Crystal Empire, as I expected.” She turned to the pegasus and offered a smile. “Rest, messenger. There is no need for a reply. We are already headed there.”

A weak smile tugged the corners of his mouth up before he flattened onto the stone. “Thank you, Your Majesty,” he rasped.

“Shouldn’t we bring an army, or at least a battalion with us?” asked Nightmare.

The sun princess gave a defeated snort. “Canterlot needs its defense right now. It’s unlikely we’ll find any hostile forces between here and the Crystal Empire. At least for now.”

The alicorns coiled down and leapt into flight, quickly beating their wings and gliding towards the Crystal Empire.

“There’s one thing I must know before we confront Twilight,” said Nightmare. “To know that I can trust you.” She waited for the princess to meet her eyes before continuing. “Why did you never betray Aurelius? Even Trixie was undermining him.”

Celestia’s eyes fell to the passing fields below. “Several things happened in the aftermath of his return. I don’t know if he knew how he would return, but he was certainly prepared for it. When he took control of the celestial knights and failed to subdue me, he made me his offer. At the same time, Archmage Lulamoon was not under his control. If I did not agree, he would subdue her and one of the three was to die. He threatened to kill more, but I didn’t want to call that bluff.” She sighed. “However, for Trixie to remain free, she had to make a blood pact—“

Nightmare’s eyes widened “Trixie is bound to a dragon!?”

The sun princess shot her a solemn look. “She was provided the benefits, but it also left her vulnerable. She’s formidable, and she could’ve likely escaped when she had the chance. I tried to change Aurelius’s mind, anything to keep her from that.”

Nightmare continued to fly straight as she maintained her gaze on Celestia. “Do you know the dragon she is bound to?”

“Garr, the dragon king of the Brood.” Celestia clicked her teeth as she looked ahead. “To keep the political balance and prevent them from fighting, he kept me alive and Trixie in check at the same time. If the Brood were to align with anyone else to fight back, he would kill her and cut the head off of their faction for a while at the same time. It was better to stand down than prevent another war built upon lies with them. If not for Garr, we might be at war. They did not take kindly to King Render’s assassination, and I can’t say I blame them. I’ll carry Twilight’s fault for that, but she bears the guilt.”

“If Aurelius still intends to use that against us…” Nightmare trailed off as she peered ahead. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

“I hope for a lot of things, but for now let’s focus on Twilight.” The princess flew ahead as she led the way towards the crystal empire.

The heat of the sun raked over Nightmare as they pressed on, and she trailed the sun princess. “Could you… you know…” she started. Celestia slowed down until they were side by side.

“What?” she asked, studying the Id’s face.

“Tone down the heat. I’m not immune to it.” She brought a hoof up to her head, removing her helmet with magic and wiping her brow before replacing it.

Celestia loosed a hearty chuckle. “I didn’t expect you to be this bothered, but I’m afraid I can’t adjust the sun just to make you more comfortable.”

“It was worth a try,” muttered Nightmare as her mane shifted and stilled, forming an awkward shade for her head. The resulting image brought more laughter from the princess as she bobbed up and down in flight.

“You look ridiculous,” she blurted before chuckling some more.

“I’m trying to save my magic,” the Id grumbled, casting her an annoyed glance. “Let’s just hurry,” she added, and flew ahead.

In the distance the Crystal Empire arose, the palace shimmering in the face of the sun. Refractions cast down to the rest of the city, bathing it in breathtaking hues while Nightmare squinted at it. Her tired wings made her hope it wasn’t a mirage, and she shifted into a glide, sweeping a hoof over her sopping brow. A glance to Celestia ensured that the sun princess hadn’t fallen behind, and she appeared much less fatigued by the journey.

“They’re not going to attack me on sight, are they?” asked the Id.

“No,” replied Celestia. “As long as you are with me you will be fine.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Celestia looked to the Id, and followed a pointed hoof to the edge of the city. “Were they expecting us?”

The sun princess soared ahead and led them to touch down at the perimeter. Several crystal ponies moved to meet them, with more pegasi and a unicorn behind keeping a watchful eye.

Celestia held a hoof to her chest as she spoke. “I am—“

“—Princess Celestia!”

The princess scanned the guards to find Cadance moving through them, but when the Crystal Princess emerged she did not bear any joy.

“Tell me what happened, Cadance,” she said softly. “I’m afraid this is not a social call.”

The crystal princess’s eyes were on Nightmare. “She looks just like Twilight.”

Nightmare’s eyes widened and she met Celestia’s sympathetic gaze. “I’m guessing she is no longer here.”

“No,” Cadance said bitterly. “She stayed just long enough to nearly smash her brother’s face in.” Nightmare hung her head as Cadance turned away and took a deep breath. “Did you come for her?”

Celestia sighed. “Yes. She is… not the mare she was. The resistance forces have overthrown Aurelius, and Twilight led the attack. However, she was not allied with them. She came for Aurelius, but I stopped her pursuit. She turned on Luna and I before escaping.”

Nightmare’s stomach twisted to the words. Why did it come to this?

“So that little murderer Aurelius was right?” Cadance grimaced. “We have to stop her…”

“I don’t believe there’s a right answer to that,” the sun princess said mournfully. Her gaze shifted to Nightmare. “Has Aurelius come and gone? Did he find what he was looking for?”

“A while ago.” Cadance looked to the horizon as if viewing her memories. “We shut down his excavation and sent home as many ponies as we could. Whatever it was he found it was buried deep beneath King Sombra’s old empire. It was some kind of key, but he wouldn’t say what it was for. He took it and left.”

“Where is he going?” asked Nightmare quickly. “She’s going to kill him, so she will surely follow him.”

She frowned at the Id. “I told her Aurelius is going to the Badlands.” The Id opened her mouth, but the crystal princess cut her off. “I don’t know why he’s going there. If Twilight plans to kill him, I almost don’t think we should stop her.” When both ponies shot her surprised glances, she repeated, “Almost.”

Celestia shook her head. “I don’t think she is lost. At least not yet.”

“Tell that to my comatose husband.” The crystal princess turned up on her heels and headed for the city. “You’re welcome to stay, auntie, but I’ll have the Canterlot train released for you right away,” she called back.

Nightmare watched Cadance leave, scraps of Twilight’s fond memories of her seeming so foreign now. “She… attacked her brother,” she mumbled, as if to herself.

“After me, are you surprised?”

The Id shifted her gaze to her and shook her head. “No. You… were supposed to be the line she could not cross. I never thought she would use her contingency plan as an ultimatum. However, with all of this damage to her family and friends, her home, and how much she wants vengeance…” She took a deep breath and watched the guards reform their perimeter in the princess’s absence. “I can’t tell if she still expects you to destroy her memories, or if she is truly gone.” She turned back to Celestia to find her silently crying.

“Neither… can I…” She wiped her eyes, speaking with a quiet, uneven voice. “We should return to Canterlot. We can rest on the train.”

Nightmare let her take the lead, her eyes noting the prismatic mane obscuring her eyes. Seeing her tears felt like an iron plate had been laid over her heart. Luna’s memories conveyed the sun princess as being compassionate and composed, almost to a fault. Her own memories only showed her that she did not shy away from the difficulties of her duties. As she followed her, her mind started to delve into the memories of Twilight, and pain welled within her as she briefly saw Celestia as the oracle once had.

She stopped as she could recall the moment she finally saw Twilight again. For only a fraction of a second, time had stopped for her as their eyes met. You’re still there, she thought. I won’t let you go.

Author's Note:

9/15/17 - I went back to work very recently. I don't think that'll affect my writing. In retrospect, most things don't, and I'm just weak at updating quickly. Please forgive me. :(

Not much to say. Peppy said it turned out well.

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