• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 13,703 Views, 217 Comments

Warring Dusk - AlphatheGriffin17



A happy day soon descends into a war between two peoples. Canterlot is under siege, the princesses are captured and Dusk must take up arms or watch his home fall.

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Caging the Beast

The words echoed over and over in the minds of all of those present. Dusk was no different. It was Ray. The creature down in that pit was Ray. That horrific, blood-chilling, ferocious monstrosity was somehow their friend. Their mischievous, teleporting, fun-loving friend was really… that creature. That beast.

The relief they'd felt before morphed once more into dead, shocked silence in the wake of this news. Dusk felt his jaw drop, his mind trying to process the words his ears had heard. It just didn't seem right, didn't seem real…

The others all seemed to be thinking the same thing. One of their number soon managed to break out of their stupor enough to voice it.

"Is this some kind of bad joke?" demanded Rainbow angrily. "You really expect us to buy that?"

"Yeah!" Pinkie laughed. "That's a good one Princess! Except it really isn't."

"Yeah, come on," added Applejack. "Ya can't seriously be suggesting that thing down there is our Ray Strike."

"Absolutely!" Rarity laughed in a desperate manner. "What a completely ludicrous suggestion indeed! Preposterous even! Why, it's almost funny!"

But she and the others soon stopped the longer they looked at Celestia. Her expression was set and her tone made the point even clearer. She was being completely serious.

"I assure you, Rarity, that none of this is funny."

The silence returned briefly as this news began to sink in. Dusk was still trying to believe it, every fibre of his being willing to deny it. How could it be true?

"Princess," he murmured, "how is this… even possible?"

"I'm wondering that too," voiced Twilight. "How did this happen?"

"I can't share all of the details just yet," she told them. "But, if I had to guess, I would say that it was Ray's anger towards Chrysalis that triggered his transformation."

"Hold on, hold on. His 'anger' did this? I don't understand what that means," voiced Shining. "I mean, I've heard about ponies changing when they're angry but I'm pretty sure it's not on this type of scale."

"That's a very good question," pointed out Pinkie.

Celestia ignored that last part. "I mean that the anger Ray felt towards the changeling queen must have been so intense that it boiled over and caused the power within him to emerge and take over him. He has been completely subsumed by the power his rage unleashed, transforming him into that beast. And the unfortunate victim of that rage was Chrysalis, who ended up suffering the price."

There was a moment of hesitation for these words to sink in.

"That just raises further questions!" the party pony shrilled.

"Celestia, you'll have to be clearer than that," insisted Cadence. "What do you mean by the power inside him? And like Shining said, how can simply being angry cause something like this? No matter how great the rage, no emotion could do something like this in a normal pony."

"That's because he isn't a normal pony," she answered. "He is very different, more different than any of you could imagine."

"Enough!" Luna had finally lost her temper. "I tire of how you have been behaving recently, Celestia, leaving our questions without answers and stirring more with the answers you give! Tell us now what is going on without all of these cryptic nuances!"

Instead of matching her sister's anger, Celestia simply hung her head and sighed.

"I'm sorry, Luna, but I can't tell you what you want to know at the moment, but I promise I'll explain later. For now, I need you all to trust me and to deal with this problem before we do anything else, for it is a most dire one indeed."

"We can see that, your highness," Dusk said respectfully. "But could you please give some explanation as to what you mean by that. The better we understand what's happening, the more chance we have at stopping it."

Celestia's look became pensive as she considered his argument. Meanwhile, the beast watched from below, like how a predator might watch its prey before it pounced. It was studying them, assessing them. After a while, she took a deep breath and began again.

"Very well." She nodded at the beast. "As I said, the creature before us is Ray Strike… yet he also isn't. It is a physical manifestation of his rage. The power within him is emerging because of this rage, consuming his body and taking the form of the beast to whom it really belongs."

"But what does-"

"Please, Twilight, this is important." Her student fell silent and she continued. "One thing you must understand is that Ray is no longer in control of his actions. He is completely under the influence of his anger, mixed with the power inside of him. It has turned him from a completely different entity from the Ray you all know… it's turned him into a monster."

Dusk didn't need a long stretch of thought to know what this reminded him all too well of. The memory of his growls and laughter still echoed a little in his mind like threatening whispers. It was so similar, it was almost frightening.

"This is like with me and Doom," he voiced aloud. "If Ray is being controlled by some kind of force inside of him, couldn't we just try and get through to him? I remember Doom's influence becoming weaker whenever he was reminded of whose body and mind he was hijacking."

Celestia shook her head sadly. "I'm afraid that won't work. While you are right in that there similarities, this isn't the same situation as it was with your darker side. When he controlled you, you were still aware of what was going on around you. Your body was under his control while you were trapped inside your own mind, unable to act against it."

Twilight spoke up. "But how is this not the same thing? It seems like it to me."

"Because Ray isn't simply being controlled. His entire being, body and mind, have been consumed completely. The levels of emotional intensity that triggered this transformation are far beyond what the average mind would be able to handle normally. Ray is within his own mind, but he's unconscious due to the sheer sensory overload, leaving his body with only one controlling influence: anger. Right now, that's the driving force behind this creature. You can't get through to Ray because he simply isn't there. He's acting purely off primal instinct and the power inside him, nothing else.

"I know it sounds cold, Dusk, but trying to get through to Ray would be pointless. His situation, dare I say it, is far more dire than in your case with Doom. It cannot be solved in the same way," she said with utter finality.

Upon hearing this, and hearing the truth behind every syllable of every word Celestia said, the true nature of the situation dawned on all of them...but especially Dusk.

He looked down at the creature, trying to see it as Ray...he thought he could vaguely make out the shape of Ray's body and unkempt mane against the body of roiling red energy, but...he was virtually unrecognizable. Almost everything about Ray at the moment was so...different. Alien. He no longer resembled a pony in the slightest sense of the word. The closest thing he could be related to was simply an angry, feral beast of some kind. Nothing like the joyous, friendly stallion he'd once known.

Ray, or the thing that had once been Ray, down in the crater, broke his own disturbing silence by letting loose another roar. An angry, impatient roar, even louder than the previous one, and it forced the group the try and keep their hoofing on the ground until it died away.

If seeing his body didn't convince him, that roar did. Nopony, in fact nothing he knew, made a roar like that. A dragon would tremble to hear it and the one among their number certainly was.

"You see now, don't you?" Celestia said. "He is transformed… but not irreversibly."

That caught Dusk's attention, along with the rest of the group. All except one, butter yellow Pegasus who had her eyes transfixed upon the creature in the crater. The words of those around her were drowned out as if he'd roared once more. It still rang in her ears.

Fluttershy could only stare at the form her friend had taken, only thinking with disbelief that that creature...is Ray. In her mind, she recalled flashes of memories: every time he'd ever run up to her in greeting, talked with her, comforted her, reassured her in her times of need...but most of all, his smiling face, with that grin that always managed to set her mind at ease...

How much she wanted it to be real, that she could actually begin to feel that comfort.

Then that image was replaced by the dark, growling face of this creature staring at her instead. He'd gone after Chrysalis alone, because he'd been angry about everything she'd done, especially to his friends...to Dusk and Twilight. He'd wanted to protect his friends...and this was what he'd become.

Slowly, unseen by those around her, tears began to well up in her eyes, and they start streaming down her face as she silently wept, not making a sound. As quietly as she always was.

Meanwhile, everypony else had their attention on the princess.

"You mean that?" Rarity asked. "There really is a way to reverse this?"

"Indeed. The form that Ray has taken is due to his rage, causing the magical power residing in him to consume his body," she reiterated. "I am able to reverse the effects by redirecting the energy back within Ray's body, then suppressing it, thus returning him to normal."

"Can't you eject it from his body?"

"Believe me, Dusk, if I did that… then I don't think even I would be able to stop it."

"A feat like that surely cannot be easy, Tia," noted Luna.

"It isn't. This spell is a specialized one and quite complicated at that. I'm afraid to say that, in my state, it will take me a bit of time to prepare it. Until then…" She hesitated. "Until then, I will need the help of everypony present."

"What can we do?" asked Shining dutifully.

"Provide moral support? Something safe like that?" asked Spike hopefully.

"I'm afraid not. Ray's current behaviour is that of a beast and, therefore, he must be dealt with as a beast. Somehow, you'll need to delay him long enough to use my spell on him and turn him back to normal."

"Fly circles around him until he's dizzy, I get it," Rainbow said. "You can count on me, princess."

"And on all of us," promised Twilight. "Whatever it takes to help him, we'll do it."

"I appreciate your bravery, but you have to understand this won't be any simple task. This creature is unlike anything you've ever seen or dealt with before. It's power is-"

She was cut off by a yellow form dashing past the group and into the crater, flying through the air toward Ray at the centre. Everypony was stunned briefly, but they all recovered once they see what she was doing.

"Fluttershy, don't!" Rarity called. "Don't go down there!"

"Little sister, stop! Come back, it's not safe!"

The others were all calling too, but she ignored them, thinking only about Ray. He wasn't a monster, not the Ray she knew. He must still be in there somewhere! She just had to try and get through to him!

Approaching the centre of the crater, she let herself touch the ground and began galloping towards Ray. His body tensed, as though expecting an attack. The others, still at the edge of the crater, yelled for her to get away, but she wasn't listening. With tears still streaming down her face as she got closer, she drew breath and screamed her loudest.

"RAY! PLEASE, STOP! It's okay, the fighting's over, you can stop now! There's no more reason for you to be angry! Please, Ray, please, just stop!" she begged. "Just listen to me! You have to-"

She was getting close when she suddenly tripped over a loose stone jutting up from the ground. She fell over and hit the ground hard. Still crying, she only now realized how hot the air around her had gotten.

Looking up, she saw the bestial form of Ray right in front of her, looking back down at her and growling, with unknowing, pure white, enraged eyes...

Eyes that were not his.

With her own eyes widening in growing fear, her body trembling, she one of his paws slowly rise... then it cut the air with its descent, coming down towards her.

The others all yelled, and Fluttershy herself couldn't make a sound as the paw made to strike her where she lay.

Suddenly, a bright blue shield rose around Fluttershy just before the paw smacked into her.

Dusk cried out involuntarily. He looked, saw Cadence's horn was glowing brightly, her wings flared out. Unfortunately, the shield didn't last for very long, staying up for only a moment before it shattered under the power acting against it. Cadence shrieked briefly and collapsed while the tail continued toward its mark.

This time, there was nothing the group could do. The paw swiped against Fluttershy's prone form. Dusk winced and cried out at the same time she did. The impact sent her rolling across the ground until she slid to a stop. She didn't move. She didn't get up.

Everypony was silent for a few moments as the reality of what has just happened dawned on them.

The reactions were mixed. The three princesses were shocked, even Celestia was a little. Rarity and Spike stared in disbelieving silence, stammering every now and again. Shining, Applejack and Rainbow expressed their evident anger towards the beast. Pinkie's face darkened as her bubbly mane deflated and hung around her head.

Dusk and Twilight looked at one another. They were both thinking the same thing. Neither one wanted to confront the truth, but Celestia was right. If Ray really was in there somewhere, he never would have done anything like that to Fluttershy. That meant there was only one thing they could do. Something Celestia was grim to confirm.

She looked at all of them. "We need to end this quickly. Can I count on you for that?"

The two unicorns stepped up, Twilight speaking for them. "We'll do what we can, Princess Celestia."

There was no need to ask the others. Their resolves were steeled. Whatever that thing was, it wasn't Ray. It really was a monster. And it needed to be stopped.

"I know you will. Good luck, to all of you." She raised a hoof and pointed boldly at the beast. "Advance!"

Either sliding down the sides of the crater or flying down on wings, the ponies and baby dragon charged towards their target, though not with much of the same vigour if they were still fresh-faced after a rest. The beast, meanwhile, just watched them from the centre, tensing for a fight.

"Dusk, Cadence! You two check on Fluttershy!" instructed Twilight. "The rest of you, with me! Keep your distance and spread out, make sure it can't focus on one target!"

Dusk diverted his route, joined by Cadence as they galloped and flew towards her prone form. He let some relief flood through him when he saw that she was still breathing.

"Oh, little sister…" He pressed an ear to her chest, feeling it rise and fall weakly. "I'm sorry…"

"She doesn't look too bad," said Cadence, checking her over. "I think my shield took the brunt of that blow. She has some bruising and probably some concussion, but she can't stay here."

"Get her out of the way and leave her with Celestia," suggested Dusk. "Then, we can help the others."

A loud roar shook their ears again, followed by an almighty slam that actually made him wobble on his hooves and nearly fall.

"You won't want to waste any time then." She lifted the Pegasus onto her back. "Go, they need you! I'll join you in a bit!"

Dusk nodded and rounded to face the beast. It remained at the centre, its head turning this way and that while the others spread out and surrounded it. As Twilight had ordered, none of them were risking getting too close and were attacking from a distance.

"Rainbow Dash, to me!" Luna's horn was glowing, storm clouds gathering around her head. "Heavens, heed my call!"

The black clouds gathered around her in a spiral and she thrust a hoof out. At the same time, lightning struck the beast, either around it or directly. Another growl rumbled in its throat and it tried to swipe at Luna, but she dodged the blow, continuing to rain lightning down upon it.

Rainbow helped too, grabbing storm clouds that Luna gathered and stationing them around the beast while it went for Luna. Once they were set up in a circle, she dashed by them, kicking each one so lightning struck from many different points around the creature. The growling increased as it watched them both, the bolts seemingly not affecting it.

Suddenly, it stood on its hind legs, hunched over. It raised its paws as Rainbow was returning to the centre and slammed them together in a clap. While the paws came together, they pushed away the storm clouds around it and the shockwave of the blast hit Rainbow full force. She crashed from the sky, while others struggled to keep their hoofing from the blast.

Rainbow tried to get up as the beast raised another claw to squash her. It was stopped by a barrier conjured by Shining, Applejack galloping up from behind him.

"Get her out!" The farm pony obeyed the captain, helping Rainbow to her hooves and moving away. "Good work!"

He galloped away and dropped his shield, just missing the claw that almost crushed him flat. He struggled to stand up straight and tried to move, but another slam made him fall. He rolled out of the way just as another claw hit the spot where he had been.

"Ah got this!" Applejack galloped up to the claw and raised her rear hooves to applebuck it. They slammed into it…

And the farm pony screamed as they made contact. She fell forward, her hooves actually smoking from it. She didn't have time to let this sink in, for the finger of the beast's claw flicked at her casually. She skidded across the ground, her head striking a jutting rock as she went. When she stopped, she didn't get back up.

"Applejack!" Rainbow was back in the air in an instant. "I'm coming!"

The beast's paw suddenly lengthened to unnatural lengths and it looked like it would grab her. Before it could, a rainbow streak darted by and the farm pony was gone, leaving it grasping at empty air.

Something sliced through the air and Rarity danced by, her bladed scarf glinting against the dark red glow.

"You uncouth, hyper-aggressive brute!" She stood in a ready stance. "Time to teach you some manners!"

Twirling and spinning, her scarf cut the beast's paw while it watched her. Dusk could have sworn he saw amusement glinting in its eyes. Even so, it looked like she was making incisions in the roiling mass of energy.

"Ah ha!" She stood back in triumph. "How do you like… that?" Her face fell when the wounds she had made closed and healed in seconds. "Well, I suppose we'll just have to…!" She raised her scarf, only to see that most of it had burned away. "Ah… oh dear."

One of the wounds she'd made widened and a smaller version on the beast's claw burst out and shot towards her. She shrieked, she didn't have time to get away-

A purple and green form pushed her aside just in time and the claw struck him instead. A trail of black smoke accompanied him as he tumbled to the ground.

"SPIKE!" The unicorn galloped up to him. "Oh, my little Spikey-wikey, no!"

The dragon coughed. The smoke emerged from the three claw marks raked across his back. Thankfully, no blood did.

"Thick scales, remember? Can't feel a thing." He rapped them and winced. "Okay… maybe a little bit."

"Oh Spike…" She levitated him gently onto her back. "I'll get you somewhere safe."

She hurried away, luckily with no further attacks from the beast. It had its attention focused elsewhere.

Dusk was about to fire another round of colour pellets at its back when he was lifted off his hooves. He panicked for a moment, until he saw the blue aura that surrounded him and was lifted up to join his teacher in the sky.

"Come, my student!" Darkness leaked from her horn. "Let us show this beast the night's displeasure!"

He nodded and joined her in the spell. "The moon leads us!"

Her power joined with his, shadows engulfed her while his body was shining with his coloured lights. He took left, she took right and he dived in first, going for the beast's face. Even with his hooves protected by the strongest magic, he could still feel the heat of the beast when he struck it across the face and pulled away.

Luna, from her point in the sky, attacked with a spear of shadow that pierced its side. She raised her hoof, summoned four orbs of shadow and cast them at him when she waved it. They struck it where the spear had, exploding on impact and eliciting a roar.

Ignoring it, they both dived one last time, creating blades of shadow and light respectively. He sliced down, she sliced across, again at the same point, leaving flecks of shadow and beams of light from where the blades had cut.

"An excellent effort, Dusk!" she praised. "I think it felt that!"

"If it didn't, I'd be…" He looked, saw the spot they'd struck bubbling and something shoot out. "Look out!"

Luna only just managed to raise a shield before a swarm of paws struck her. She careened through the sky and vanished into the trees. He didn't have much time to worry about that though, because there was nothing keeping him aloft now.

Gravity acted on him quickly and he fell. Even as he hurriedly prepared a colour cloud, he saw it wasn't the ground rushing up to meet him, but that swarm of paws that had struck Luna. He landed on the cloud, but they were practically upon him when he did. He could feel the searing heat as they got closer.

A familiar energy surrounded him and he vanished from that spot in the sky. A second later, lavender filled his vision and he didn't even acknowledge the feeling in his stomach.

"That's another save for me," Twilight noted. "I'm back in the lead."

"I didn't realise you were keeping score."

"Do you forget who you're talking to?" She looked at the trees. "I hope Luna's okay."

"Me too." He turned back to the beast. "Any other ideas?"

"Between us, we have plenty." She gestured to Pinkie, who was standing nearby, ready with her cannon. "The three of us will go for one of its limbs, see if we can cripple it with our combined attack."

"It's worth a try." He readied his magic once more. "Ready when you are."

She nodded. "Rainbow, now!"

The Pegasus, who was flying and darting around the beast, began hovering near his left forepaw. It raised up and she flew away towards them, its shadow encompassing her from above. She pulled up just as it came down, almost right in front of them.

"Open fire!"

The ends of their horns and the barrel of the cannon flashed. They went for the knee, Dusk rapidly firing pellets, Twilight casting off spells at a moderate rate and Pinkie doing the most damage with her cannon. She reloaded and fired as fast as she could, her draped mane billowing as she glared fiercely at the beast.

At first, it seemed to work. The beast growled loudly, but its leg was buckling from where they hit it. With a great boom, its knee hit the ground and shook the earth. It even bowed its head, seemingly in defeat.

"Yeah!" Pinkie moved forward a little, still firing off her cannon. "Have some candy, you big jerky jerk!"

The candy shell she loaded in exploded on its face. It burst and sent her special brand of popping candy out, little balls exploding across the area the shell hit. It actually looked like they were gaining some ground.

Until it raised its head and gave Pinkie a glared that made hers paled in comparison.

It opened its gaping maw, white light streaming from within. A second later, red orbs blasted at her in kind. She shrieked and tried to bounce aside, but her cannon was hit. Even as the metal bubbled and melted away, the wheels bursting into flames, its owner soon followed.

One orb hit the ground before her, enough to propel her backwards through the air. Her scream was cut short when a paw swiped her out of the air and slammed her into the ground.

"NO!" Both he and Twilight screamed at the same time.

Perhaps that was why the beast rounded on them now, the glow of its maw almost blinding them. Now, thought Dusk, was the time for a little darkness.

He grabbed Twilight and became formless shadow like Luna had taught him. He lifted high into the sky, dodging the beast's attacks and set her down somewhere behind it. It didn't press the attack, for Cadence flew by, firing a few bolts at its face to get its attention.

"That was close…" She smiled at Dusk. "Wow that felt even stranger than teleporting."

"It is a curious sensation, yes." He returned the smile. "You think this makes us even now?"

"Maybe." She gazed over at where they had been standing. "I can't believe it… he did that to her."

"Me neither," he murmured. "Still, we know Pinkie. She'll bounce right back in no time."

"I hope so," she echoed. They didn't have much time to dwell on it before something else snapped their attention back. Another scream.

Cadence had been caught mid-flight by one of the beast's paws. He could see a faint blue glow where it wrapped around her, but it was growing fainter. Cadence tried to struggle free, sweat trickling down her face.

"Put my wife-to-be down!" A bombardment of violet spells struck the tail, causing it to loosen and Cadence to fly out.

Shining nodded in satisfaction and was about to run when another paw whipped out and grabbed his leg. He tried to hit the spot, but the shots went wild as he was lifted up and thrown about like an animal tearing apart its prey.

The two unicorns started forward when Cadence returned the favour. A blue love heart shot at the paw and it fell to the ground as the edges sliced through the thinnest part. The remains holding on to Shining faded into ash, though his leg was blackened a little.

Cadence was immediately at her betrothed's side. "Don't say anything. We look out for each other, no matter what."

"Yeah… I get that." His eyes flickered to Dusk and Twilight, wincing a little. "Sheesh, that stings!"

"Here, let me." Her aura surrounded the burn and it faded away. "There. Can you stand okay?"

He tried and managed it without wincing. "Good as new. Thanks, dear."

"Like I said, we look out for each other," she said with a loving smile. "Hold on, it looks like Celestia needs to see me. Be right back."

"Be careful!" he called after her as she flew off, dodging more attacks.

Dusk noted that, even though Cadence had sliced it off, the paw had already grown back, just as strongly as before. Was there no stopping it?

"Alright, I've had it!" They all looked at the sound of Rainbow's frustrated yell. "Let's see how you like this!"

The beast watched as she flew away from him, up into the sky. She circled around and shot back towards it. A cone formed around her, lightning crackling around her body, her rainbow trail becoming more vibrant as she prepared her signature move.

It continued to watch her, right up until the moment the world exploded in a flash of rainbow light. Then, it raised its head a little higher and opened its mouth.

"Aw yeah!" Rainbow soared at him, propelled by the rainboom. "Taste the rainbow, mother-!"

She was cut off by the deafening roar the creature sounded off. Even as they covered their ears, they watched as Rainbow lost control and careered off course. She slammed into the ground, bounded skimmed across it and smacked into the side of the crater, falling in a heap.

This wasn't looking good. Most of them were down and those who weren't were getting tired, both from the previous battle and from this one. Meanwhile, the beast was managing to withstand and counter everything they threw at it. It had barely even moved from the centre, its wounds healing and its energy never-ending.

The belief that they could actually stop this thing was fading with every passing second. Until the princess of love returned.

"Dusk! Twilight!" Cadence landed next to them. "It's Celestia, she's ready to perform the spell!"

"Good." Dusk looked around at the others. "I don't think… we can keep this up much longer."

"It doesn't look like it, but there's something you need to know," she went on. "For her spell to work, she needs to be very close to Ray so that it has the maximum effect. For that to happen, he needs to be fully restrained."

"That's going to be challenging to pull off," murmured Twilight.

"But not impossible," followed up Dusk. "With who we have left, I think we have a chance."

"Then allow me to increase that chance!" Luna joined them, looking bruised, but otherwise fine. "It is time for this battle to be ended!"

"Just in time." He stood by his teacher. "She and I can use our shadow magic to hold him down, but that might not be enough."

Twilight was quick to act. "I can cast a continuous paralysis spell, see if that doesn't do anything to slow him down."

"Do you have the energy?"

"I guess we'll find out."

"We'll combine our magic into a shield spell," volunteered Shining, indicating Cadence. "That should seal the deal."

"Then we know what to do." He felt Luna begin to lift him up. "For our friend, let's finish this!"

They spread out around the beast, who still tried to attack, but watched them again with that animalistic curiosity. Just what they needed.

Luna looked at him. "Ready, Dusk?"

"Always, Luna."

"THEN LET IT BEGIN!" she boomed in the Royal Voice by way of a signal.

The creature turned its head at the sound. The massive shadow that it cast began to stir, as well as those around it and creep towards it. It lifted one of its legs, but a tendril wrapped around it and pulled it down. The same for another it tried, its teeth bared in anger at this.

Soon, its whole body was encased in blackness that pulled it down to its belly onto the ground. It roared, trying to struggle free and even breaking some of the shadows. Dusk could feel the strain, but kept pouring his magic into the spell. They were almost there, it was almost over…

The effort was lessened when Twilight joined in with their efforts. A beam shot unbroken from her horn towards the beast, the spell swamping it completely in her aura. Its movements became more jerky and stiff, but it still struggled against their hold.

Straight after, a combined violet and blue shield was added by the last two, but its tails and paws still slammed into them with such great force that they could feel it vibrate, even from the air. How was this thing still even capable of movement?!

They were all feeling the strain and the beast continued to rage and struggle in its bonds. Celestia had to act fast and she did. Now she had no fear of attacks, she dashed forward to its raging head, her horn glowing as bright as her sun.

Just as they were about to lose what little strength they had left, she cast the spell.

Closing her eyes, the glow from her horn channelled from it to him. The light was bright and fierce they had to look away, not being able to see the results as it consumed the beast. Even through that, they could still hear it roar. As if in defiance.

Eventually, that faded away, followed shortly by the light. Even with his eyes shut, Dusk could tell. But he didn't want to open them for a bit. Didn't dare to see, in case it hadn't worked.

"My friend." Luna's voice was gentle in his ears. "You may wish to open your eyes."

He did so, slowly. They were still in the crater, surrounded by all the devastation. But there was no red glow, no loud roaring, and no sign of the beast whatsoever. Where it had been was a green stallion, his silver mane in even more of a mess than before. He was lying face down on the ground, completely out of it.

Somehow, looking at this was even stranger. He was back to normal, just like that, with no sign of there being anything wrong with him.

Even so, they watched him for a long while. Dusk could hear Luna keeping her magic at the ready, see the faint glow from the other three down below, all eyes locked on him. They waited tensely. Nothing happened. Ray didn't move. He didn't get up.

Finally, they relaxed and let out sighs. Some were from exhaustion, some relief, some a little bit of both. Celestia did too, looking more relaxed since this whole thing started. Then her eyes rolled into her head, her eye lids shut and she collapsed too, almost mirroring Ray's position.

Dusk let himself be lowered down by Luna and they hurried to them both. Luna examined her sister, while Cadence looked over Ray. Dusk, meanwhile, found Twilight. They didn't say anything, they just fell into each other's embrace, relishing that it was over now.

The relief flooded through him along with his love for Twilight. They had their friend back… hopefully at no greater cost.

"I will take my sister and Ray to Canterlot hospital at once," said Luna, taking charge. "Cadence, you, Dusk, Twilight and Shining gather the others and bring them too. I will meet you there."

"See you there, Aunt Luna," she wished. The night princess smiled before teleporting away with the princess and the stallion.

"I'll go and get Fluttershy. Shining, you'll have Rainbow and Twilight, you look after Applejack. Dusk, check on Rarity and Spike, then get Pinkie," she told them.

"You got it. We'll bring them back here and Twily can teleport us back." He looked at his little sister. "Think you got the strength for it?"

"I may need to borrow a little but… I think I can pull it off," she answered.

"That's my little sister," he smiled. "See you in a few."

While Cadence and Shining hurried off, Twilight and Dusk lingered for a little. They took another look around the crater, taking it all in again. The ground still felt warm from the lingering energy.

"You think Celestia will tell us what that was?" asked Twilight. "What happened to Ray?"

"I should think so. We all deserve that much, especially…" He gazed at his wounded friends, lingering the longest on Fluttershy.

"Yeah… let's go and get them." She kissed his cheek and smiled comfortingly. "At least it's all over."

Dusk watched her go and murmured, "For now."

He then set his sights on Rarity and Spike, trudging towards them, the roar of the beast still echoing in his ears.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Above the edge of the crater, concealed in the dead trees, another party watched their progress. Cold eyes observed them assessing the injuries of their friends, lingering to speak and meeting back in the centre, teleporting away in a purple flash. The battle was over, now it was time to treat the wounded, both physically and mentally.

He knew. The stages of battle were so rehearsed to him, it was like a play he had performed so many times. Like the ones he'd watched so long ago, even ones based on his own battles. Yet he had always been one of the actors, guided by the directions and wills of others. Now, it was his turn to have a hoof at directing his own.

He had watched what he considered the rehearsal. A prelude to the main event. The actors had performed admirably, but the true centre of attention only renewed his confidence in what he had planned. The beast had been magnificent, pure and powerful. Truly talented and fierce.

It would only be a matter of time before he found the others. He had one already, now he knew where to find another. Once he had his cast, the debut could begin.

He smiled a little under his helmet. If only he had been a muse instead of a warrior. How different things would have been. But he'd already experienced his own tragedy. The time had come at last to pen his own. He hoped the one who staged his would find some beauty in it. It was the only virtue he could hope for now.

He watched for a little longer, almost tempted to see for himself up close. But why should the author show himself again before the first act had barely begun? He'd made enough of an impact the first time. He had waited a thousand years for it, he could wait a little longer.

He still remembered the look in her eyes when she'd seen him through the cocoon. It both pleased him and pained him. But it was her own fault. She'd given him no choice.

So he turned, the metal of his armour clanking as his body faded into embers. Soon.

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