• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 13,698 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.

  • ...

A Promise

The threat had been stopped. That was what Luna had told the public when they arrived back at Canterlot. They had ventured to the source of the explosion and had determined that it was an attempted action by the changelings to once again rally their forces. They had sustained injuries fighting them off and required rest, but were assured that the conflict was over. The changelings had been forced back to their own lands and would no longer trouble them.

The relief efforts were already under way. Cadence and Shining were overseeing the operations, the captain sending troops out to assess the damage the changelings had done and the princess organising help for the ponies and dogs who had served against their enemy. The dogs had been compensated with their part of the crystal caves and most had already departed. Ponies still had to have homes repaired, their injured treated… and their dead counted.

Dusk didn't want to see it. He didn't want to see the buildings with holes torn in them,

In a sense, Dusk could understand why she had to bend the truth. The people had endured enough of the harshness the invasion had brought without having their encounter in the Forest added to it. In a way, it was over and they had won the battle. The battle with the changelings anyway.

But they still had no idea what they had faced out there. Part of him hoped they never would.

He cast his eyes around the ward. With a little persuasion from Luna, they were all together in the same ward. Many others were being treated as well, either because the changelings had drained a great deal of their love from feeding or from injuries in the battles. Thankfully, between Cloudsdale and Canterlot, neither were terribly packed. Being here still served as a reminder for Dusk as to what had happened.

In the case of those like himself and Twilight, they just had to rest and recover their strength. Applejack was lying on her bed, her hooves being treated for burns. Rainbow was also on a bed with bandages in place for some broken bones she'd sustained. Pinkie, as enduring as ever, was already up on her hooves and making efforts to make sure others throughout the hospital were in high spirits. Rarity and Spike sat curled up together on a chair in the corner, a bandage over the dragon's chest. There were only two who remained unconscious.

Ray and Fluttershy were both beds opposite each other. While the former had suffered little beyond being worn out, the latter was more noticeably injured. It was a few bruises and bandages from some moderate fractures she'd received, including one to her head, but they were still there. Thank Celestia Cadence's shield had taken the brunt of the blow. If it hadn't…

He put that thought out of his mind. She was fine now. They all were. Celestia was being looked after by Luna and she was going to explain what had happened. All they had to do now was wait for her and for Ray to wake up.

"Do you think this is why he understood so well?" Twilight asked suddenly. She was sat next to him, her head rested on his shoulder.

He looked down at her. "Understood what?"

"When you we came after you, after we got rid of Doom, I remember Ray said he'd talked to you, that he'd helped convince you to come back," she clarified. "I was just thinking that, with this power inside him… maybe that's why he understood so well."

Dusk nodded. "I see what you mean. The way he talked to me when that happened… it was like he knew exactly what I was going through. I never thought it would be anything like this though…"

"Me neither, although…" She frowned. "Do you remember he'd get headaches sometimes? And when we asked about them, he just shrugged them off? Like the ones you had before Doom took over you again."

"Again, that does seem reasonable to assume." He looked over at his friend. "I wonder if he heard that… thing too. Growling inside his head, always reminding him that it was there…"

"That can't have been easy, for either of you," she murmured. "I know Celestia said that this isn't like with you and Doom, but you never know. Maybe there's a chance for us to get rid of this thing too, if we can find the right spell."

"It's a nice thought to have," he agreed. "I suppose we'll just have to wait until he wakes up and find out. Maybe he can explain this to us."

"I hope so." She looked at Dusk again, tilting her head to one side and smiling. "Hey, I just noticed. You aren't wearing your glasses anymore."

He returned the smile. "That didn't take you long then."

"To be fair, we did have a lot of other things going on," she countered. "Does that mean you can see okay again?"

"Mostly." He pulled them out and put them on. "I still have a little trouble with reading, so I'm going to keep them for that. But, as far as everyday things are considered, I think I'm fine."

"Well, I'm happy to hear that, but I'm also kind of glad you're keeping them." She fluttered her lashes up at him. "The learned look really suits you."

"I was hoping you'd think so." He gently placed a hoof on her cheek. "Even with all that's happened, I'm just glad to have you back, Miss Sparkle."

"Me too, my dearest Dusk." She lingeringly kissed his lips and rested her head on his shoulder again. "I love you…"

"I love you too," he returned, stroking her mane.

If nothing else from all of this devastation and torment, they had each other once more and their friends too. Looking around at them though, it was a rather bittersweet thought. He'd see Rainbow suppressing her anger, Fluttershy still out cold, Applejack with her hooves still a little black from the battle.

Then he saw Ray… and he was stirring.

"Hey, everypony," he said quietly, "I think he's waking up."

"Really?" Twilight walked over to the bed with him. "You're right, he's moving. He's coming round."

"He is?!" Rarity shrieked suddenly and hid behind Spike.

"Come on now, y'all," Applejack said resoanbly. "I'm sure nothing's gonna happen to him."

"Doesn't hurt to be ready though," muttered Rainbow, watching the stallion carefully.

The doors suddenly flung open and Pinkie bounded in. "Did I hear right? Has Ray decided to stop being a sleepyhead?"

"You did." Twilight gave her a look. "Where were you when you heard that?"

"Only a few floors down."

"But how did you even-?"

"Ray!" She joined them at the bed. "Come on! Wake up, you sleepyhead, rub your eyes, get outta bed!"

"Ding dong… the wicked witch is dead?" he finished weakly. "Do you know… how much I hate that song?"

"Nope!" She wrapped him up in one of her signature hugs. "Yay! Ray's awake, Ray's awake, Ray's awake!"

"He… is…" he managed to choke out. "Though he might not be… if you keep squeezing him…"

"Oops!" She let him go and smiled sheepishly. "Sorry."

"It's fine, I think that actually helped." He ruffled her mane. "Good to see you haven't lost your spirit."

"Sure haven't and if I did, I'd have to find it again and that'd make me a Ghostbuster!" She gasped and pointed. "Oh no, Ray! He's on the ceiling!"

As the stallion burst out laughing while Pinkie somehow managed to attach herself to the ceiling, Dusk felt both relief and some uneasiness as to how… normal he was acting. It was like the battle before hadn't even happened, from his point of view. There wasn't even a hint of it in his eyes when he turned to look at him.

"Hey, Dusk! You made it! And Twilight! The real Twilight I'm guessing, right? And the real Dusk?" he added, glancing from one to the other.

"Yes, we're both real," she said calmly. "It's good to see you're okay, Ray."

"You too. Having you two separated was just… a crime, plain and simple," he said honestly. He looked around the ward. "Nice to see I'm not alone on the injured front then. McGillicuddy and McGee doing okay there, AJ?"

"Jus' fine," she replied, managing a smile. "Jus' you wait, these boys'll be back ta buckin' before ya know it."

"Good to hear and it looks like you've been living up to your name just fine, Crash," he noted.

Rainbow glared. "Yeah, you could say that."

"O…kay." He looked away unsurely. "Hey, there's my favourite snob! Getting cosy with your Spikey-wikey, I see."

Rarity shrieked again and scrambled further behind Spike. The dragon raised his claws into fists.

"I'm warning you, you'd better not try anything!" he said threateningly.

"Hey, hey, calm down, little guy. What's gotten you so…?" He trailed off when he looked at the bed opposite. "Oh no… Flutters…"

Dusk hurried forward. "It's okay, Ray, don't worry. She just received… a bit of a knock."

"Who did it?!" he demanded. "Tell me who and I swear, I'll return the favour!"

"I could point you in the right direction," Rainbow said icily.

"Calm down, Ray," urged Twilight. "There's no point in getting angry about it now. You'll have to go pretty far if you want to find any changelings to hit."

"Wouldn't bother me…" His expression changed as the words sank in. "Wait… does that mean we won? They're gone?"

"We did and they are," answered Dusk.

"Yes, we did it!" He punched a hoof into the air and looked around eagerly. "So, what happened? What heroic and brave thing did I end up doing that made me wind up here?"

"Ya mean ya don't know?" asked Applejack.

"Not even a little. The last thing I do remember is being in the middle of a fight with Chrysalis out in the forest." He chuckled. "I guess she's the reason I'm here, right?"

"You uh… you could say that," said Twilight hesitantly.

"Yeah, I guess I was a little outta my league trying to take her on," he shrugged. "I'll bet she beat me down after I put up a brave fight, then you guys came in and finished her off. Am I right?"

This time, the only answer he got was an awkward silence. It was clear he didn't remember anything about what had happened to him in the Forest. Dusk considered lying, but he knew Ray would pick up on it. They had briefly discussed this possibility but now they were met with it, they had no idea where to begin. How were they going to break this to him?

"O… kay. Anypony got a knife I cut the tension in the air with?" He laughed, but trailed off awkwardly when nopony joined him. "Not even you, Pinkie? What's wrong guys?"

"Well um…" Applejack decided to try her hoof. "Ya see, sugarcube… the thing is uh… that um…"

"What's wrong?! I'll tell you what's wrong!" Rainbow snapped. "You tried to turn us into pony pancakes and are acting like nothing even happened! That's what's wrong!"

"Rainbow! We were going to try and ease him into it!" chastised Twilight.

"Why?! It's not like he eased us into what he's got hidden!" she countered.

"Who's hiding what now?" he asked.

"Don't you play dumb with me!" she shouted. "You know exactly what I mean!"

"I really don't," he insisted. "I feel completely wrecked and I barely remember a thing. If I did something, I'm sorry for it, really, but you're gonna have to explain."

"I'll give you an explanation, you-!"

"Hold it there, Dashie," Pinkie stepped in. "I get your mad about what happened, but yelling's only good for raves and I don't see anypony with a glow stick in here. Now you've brought up what we were gonna talk about-"

"As subtly as a brick," muttered Twilight.

"-we can ask him about it without me having to bring out any flashing lights and dubstep. That sound good?" she asked brightly.

Rainbow looked from a bewildered Ray to a smiling Pinkie and said nothing. She just muttered something and looked away, but didn't do anything else.

"Thank you, Pinkie." Dusk decided to take it from here. "Now then, Ray… you really don't remember anything past the fight with Chrysalis, do you?"

"Not a thing," he replied, trying to make light. "I didn't make Chrysalis cry, did I? Do I need to apologise?"

"Not exactly." Dusk let out a sigh. "This is going to be difficult to explain and, if I'm honest, hard to hear so… bear with us, please."

And so, like climbing the first peaks of Mount Mareverest, they began to tell him. Every now and again, one of them would lose face and be unable to go on. The story would be taken up by another, though it wasn't getting any easier. Even Rarity tried her hoof when she gathered enough courage, Rainbow occasionally adding a harsh comment, but not saying much outside that.

They told him that he had fought Chrysalis, that he had transformed into some kind of beast and had ended up killing the changeling queen. When they'd arrived, he'd fought them too as they tried to subdue him. They used their injuries as examples, though it was like a foal being struck by their own parent for every time they did.

Ray didn't say anything, he just listened. As he did, his expression became a visage of pure horror. This was especially prevalent once they told him about Chrysalis and their own battle with him. He looked down at his own hooves on top of the bed sheets, but said nothing.

Silence hung thick in the air when they'd finished. Ray looked around at them all, his gaze lingering the longest on Fluttershy. His eyes screwed shut and he hung his head, sinking onto his bed. Like he hoped to be swallowed by it completely.

"Ray…" No matter how quiet he made his voice, it still sounded loud against the silence. "I understand that this is… hard to hear. You know I do. But we have to know… what happened? How did you become that… beast?"

The unicorn said nothing.

"Ray, please, you have to tell us," urged Twilight. "Is it some kind of spell, a curse of some form of dark magic? Did Chrysalis do something to you? Have you always had this or did you get it somewhere? Do you have any control over it?"

All of her questions were answered only with silence.

"Come now, darling, we know what's happened, you can be silent on us forever," reasoned Rarity. "Tell us, try to help us understand."

"Yeah, come on. It's not like we ain't been through this before and Dusk is still with us," Applejack put in. "Ya can tell us, it's okay."

Still, there was nothing.

"Hellooooo? Equestria to Ray? Do you read me?" Pinkie rapped on his head. "Anypony? Somepony? Nopony?"

Again, no answer.

"Oh, for crying out loud!" cried Rainbow. She actually managed to get up from her bed and start violently shaking his shoulders. "Just tell us already! TELL US!"

It took both Dusk and Rarity to restrain her and get her back onto her bed. Yet still, that had done nothing. He was still in the same position, still silent.

"Ray… you helped me when I was going through this. Let me help you now." He placed a hoof on his shoulder. "It's alright, you can tell us. You can tell me."

His response was a mutter, bordering on whisper. "I can't…"

"Hold on." Pinkie reached into her ear and pulled out some streamers, before enlarging it. "Say that again?"

"I said, I can't," he repeated. "I can't tell you…"

"What? What do you mean you can't?" asked Spike.

"I mean exactly that."

"You can't as in you have difficulty talking about it or you don't want to talk about it?"

"I can't as in I can't, Twilight."

"Ray, dear, you're going to have to give us more to go on than that."

"But I really can't, Rarity."

"Would ya stop sayin' that?! Ya can't keep this hidden anymore! We know about it, so take my advice an' jus' come clean with the whole story!"

"But I can't though! I really, really can't!"

"But why?"

"Look, Dusk, it's not that I don't want to or I'm choosing not to. I physically can't talk about it! At all!"

"Oh, that is bullroar!"

"It's the truth, Rainbow!"

"Like hay it is! That doesn't make any sense! How can you not physically talk about it?!"

"Because I can't! I literally can't!"

"Yes you literally can!" Rainbow thrust a hoof at him. "You can't shut us out now, Ray!"

"I don't have any choice!" he insisted. "I couldn't tell you, even if I wanted to!"

"And do you want to?" asked Dusk.

"Of course I do!"

"Then tell us."

"I told you, I physically cannot tell you anything about what happened!"

"How about you tell it to my hoof then, you-!"

"LOOK!" He opened his mouth and stuck his tongue out.

"Well, honestly, there's no need to be so… oh." Rarity fell silent at what she saw. They all did.

Hidden at the very back of his tongue was a black marking. If he hadn't shown it to them and if they weren't looking for it, they would never have known it was there. Was it their imagination or was it shifting slightly?

Rainbow wasn't convinced. "So? What does some stupid tongue tattoo have anything to do with this?"

"I think I might know." Twilight leaned in closer, inspecting it with an educated eye. "I've read about these. This looks like some kind of magical seal. I can't really be sure without anything to reference, but it has to be."

"Once again, it seems your studies have paid off, my student." They all whipped around to see the Royal Pony Sisters enter the ward.

"Princess Celestia!" Twilight ran up and hugged her mentor. "You're okay!"

"I am, Twilight, no need to worry. I'm pleased to see you all seem to be recovering too," she added to the others.

"That depends on how you look at it," muttered Rainbow darkly.

"Indeed." She slowly looked at Ray. "I take it then that you've already begun to be questioned about recent events then."

"Pretty much. I was just trying to show them this." He stuck out his tongue again.

"Intriguing…" Luna examined it now. "It is indeed a seal. One that prevents the one it is cast upon from speaking of whatever the caster does not wish them to discuss. A very powerful seal too, to be so specific in its purpose."

"With good reason," said Celestia. "The subject that Ray is prevented from speaking about is one of the utmost secrecy and importance. There could be no risk taken that he might accidentally let it slip. The consequences could be disastrous."

Her horn shone and her aura appeared around the seal. When it subsided, it had disappeared, with Ray gagging slightly in the aftermath.

"I made you all a promise," continued the Sun Princess. "Since Ray is very much centre to it, for now, he should be allowed freedom to speak of this."

Ray stuck his tongue out again and spat slightly. "Gee, thanks."

"Ray, would you kindly refrain from showing me anymore of your tongue than I have to see?" hissed Rarity. "The seal is gone now, so there's no excuse for further rudeness."

"Fine." He put it away. "What promise is this then?"

"To give an explanation as to what happened in the Everfree Forest today. Since Ray is now free to speak about it, I'm sure I can count on some help from him too."

"Yeah, sure," he nodded. "I mean, I can't really say a whole lot, but whatever you want to know about Wrath, I'll tell you."

"Wrath?" Dusk was confused. "Who's Wrath?"

"He's the other guy who lives in here. It's what I like to think of him as, since that's really all he is" He tapped his head for emphasis. "When you saw me turn into that… well, you know, that was him."

"You mean that horrible beast actually has a name?!" gasped Rarity. "I would dread to even put a name to an aberration such as that!"

Ray cringed a little. "Ooh… he didn't like that."

"What do you mean?" Twilight leaned in closer. "Can you hear him? Can he… can he hear us?"

"Sort of. Most of the time, he keeps quiet but he likes to remind me he's here at times, you know?" He rubbed his head. "Right now though, he really isn't happy about being locked back up again."

"So he can hear us?" asked Spike, shivering a little.

"Right now, he can, yeah, but I'm sure he'll simmer down soon enough… once he realises he's not going anywhere," he murmured, rubbing his temples.

A few of them backed away a little at this.

"Well, that's not very nice." Pinkie lifted one of his ears. "Hey Wrathy! Keep it down in there! Respect your roomie!"

Ray cringed even more. "Pinkie, not really helping."

"Sorry," she said sheepishly. "Maybe he just needs a party, that'd help put him in a better mood."

"I think he's already had enough of a party," snorted Rainbow.

"Hey, do you think I like it any better?" he snapped. "You only got to meet him once. I'm the one who has to put up with him every day!"

"Every day?" Applejack tilted her head. "Whaddaya mean by that?"

"What do you think? I've had him ever since I was born. From the second I started breathing, me and Wrath have been best friends for life. Him giving me headaches and raging away inside my mind while I just try to get on and forget he's even there, but I never can."

"Ya've had him… fer that long?" Applejack looked horrified at the thought.

"Yeah." He paused for a moment. "You know, back home, I thought it was why all the ponies always seemed to resent me. Don't ask me how I know, they just did. As a kid, I never understood why everypony hated me. They never told me anything or said anything. I was just left to wander, alone and confused. Until my thirteenth birthday, anyway. It all changed then…"

"How come?" Pinkie asked. "Did you get a nice party?"

"I wish," he scoffed. "You know that time when all kids go through changes? It was the same for me, because it was when my buddy decided to make himself known, on my birthday. I was out and about, on my own again. But that day, as I was going around, I became… more aware of all the glares and curses I was getting. I'd tried to ignore them whenever I could before, but that day for some reason, I was more sensitive to every jibe, every set of lingering eyes on me. It continued on throughout the whole day...and eventually, it all got to me. I just… snapped.

"And that's when Wrath first came out. That was when I had first learned about the demon inside of me, and understood why the others all hated me so much. And that's why, ultimately, I decided to leave. I've been on the road aimlessly ever since. Doesn't that sound like fun, Rainbow?" he asked bitterly.

The daredevil's eyes shifted around and she pursed her lips, but she said nothing. Pinkie shook her head sympathetically.

"That doesn't sound like fun at all."

"Tell me about it…" He hung his head again.

"Hey, come on." She perked his chin up. "So Wrath makes you a little crazy. Who isn't a little crazy at times? It's not like you're the only pony here who's had an unwanted roommate in your head."

"I can second that," said Dusk.

"Yeah, me too," added Spike, rubbing the back of his head. "Kinda puts my greed rampage into perspective really."

"And we all know what happens when my mane goes all…" She let it drop before it popped back up again. "See? It's not as bad as you think."

He didn't look entirely convinced. "I guess…"

"Is there a catalyst for it?" asked Twilight. "I mean, Pinkie goes like that when she's sad, Spike has his greed and Dusk had the Entity corrupting his negative emotions. What brings out Wrath exactly?"

"Anger, mostly," he answered. "He really gets off on it. Whenever I start to lose control… he really starts to get a little more talkative, really wants me to push myself. If I'm having fun, why should he miss out on it, you know?"

"Like back in Ponyville?" asked Rarity. "When Fluttershy was being attacked by those changelings, that strange red mist appeared around your body. Your eyes changed, your teeth…" She backed off a little more.

"Yep, that was him," he confirmed. "You know how they say anger brings out the worst in us? How true is that for me? I keep him under wraps mostly but sometimes… sometimes things like that happen. It was worse when I was younger, I got better at it as I got older but… hey, nopony's perfect."

"And ya did this all by yerself?" Applejack's expression was sympathetic. "Back in Idahoof, ah mean. Ya said you were alone there, no friends or family, with everypony hatin' on ya. But ya managed ta keep Wrath under control, even with all that against ya?"

"Mostly. Like I said, nopony's perfect…"

"Oh, sugarcube…" She smiled warmly at him. "Ah gotta say, that's some real strength right there."

He managed a smile in return. "Thanks. Sure as hay wish I was a little stronger though…"

"But what exactly is he?" asked Twilight. "That's still one thing you haven't really explained."

"I can't really. He's not really one for talking about his past life, he's all about the future which, for him, would be smoking anything and everything in his path." He laughed bitterly. "Just making for the fun times, am I right?"

"I think I'd best take it from here," spoke up Celestia. "Though I admit, it's rather difficult to begin to explain."

"Try, sister. After all, it is owed to us."

"Indeed. Very well…" She lapsed into silence for a moment. "Wrath is one name for him, but it's difficult to put an actual name to what he is. He seems to prefer the term Demon Beast, the Embodiment of Wrath and I'm hard pressed to think of a more fitting name for an entity such as him. You've all seen what he's capable of, so I think you'd agree.

"Wrath comes from a darker time. A much, much darker time. Before Luna and I came to power, before even Discord, he held Equestria in his power. He couldn't be negotiated with or reasoned with. He didn't want land or resources or slaves. He just… destroyed. Not constantly, but he would just suddenly appear one day. He would crush whole towns with his power, kill anypony unfortunate enough to get in his way and then leave. To let them repair and rebuild… just so he could come back and destroy them again.

"For many years, the ponies endured this. Then, after the Unification, the time had come at last to rise up against him. And so began the battle. A battle that nearly destroyed our new land so shortly after it had been formed. The entire combined military force of Equestria against a single Demon Beast. We were victorious… but at a terrible cost."

Her words seemed to weigh heavily on all of them. He could actually hear a thousand years of suffering in her tone, of holding on to this terrible secret.

"But there's nothing in any history book that references anything like this, except in very vague legends and myth," brought up Dusk. "How can such an event just be non-existent in our history and if you defeated it, why is it still here? Why is Wrath inside Ray?"

"Yeah, I kinda wanna know as well," added the stallion.

"Both of those questions have the same answer," she replied. "You see, while we managed to suppress the Beast, we couldn't destroy it, not completely. He is a sentient being, entirely composed of pure, negative magical energy given a solid, breathing form. Even if he were to be "killed", his body would simply dissipate for an indeterminable amount of time, and he'd eventually emerge again just as strong as before.

"It was decided that the only way to stop such a monster - not for a short while, but for all time- was to seal him away forever, along with his, so that he could never again emerge. But there was one problem. To permanently seal away so much power was not only physically next to impossible, but also strategically unwise. If one were to stumble upon the object or location where we sealed him, it would be far too easy to undo the seal, accidentally or otherwise. The solution was to seal the Beast within a living, sentient vessel, so that he could be more easily observed and protected than if here were sealed in some indistinct area.

"Using a very powerful piece of magic, the unicorns managed to seal away Wrath inside a mortal body, permanently suppressing his destructive energies within that host and ensuring that he would never again roam free.

"Those involved in the ritual also swore an oath of complete secrecy regarding these events. It was decided that if some other power learned of what happened to the Beast, then they might try and harness its power for their own ends. So a seal was placed on the tongue of the host, to prevent them from speaking of it and the Beast was struck forever from the pages of history. Obviously, as you say, there are some vague references still, but they are little more than a whisper of myth. Only those few would ever know… including me."

Ray's eyes widened in shock. "So… it was you? You're why… why he's in my head?"

Now, Celestia bowed her head. "Yes. I am."

"But… but… you… all of my life… and you…" He trailed off, unable to get his thoughts out.

Dusk could hear the anger in his voice, see his body trembling, but he was also completely dumbstruck. Dusk knew how he must feel, because he was equally as shocked that the wise and benevolent Celestia would even condone such a thing.

Twilight looked incredulous. "But… how is that possible?! That was thousands of years ago! How can Ray be that old? Or does the Beast prevent him from aging?"

"Neither. While Wrath lives on indefinitely, we knew the host would eventually die. So every few generations, a new host is selected to take over possession of the demon, and a transference ritual takes place to move the beast over to the new host before the original host perishes. Ray is simply the latest in a long line of vessels for the Wrath Demon."

Dusk hated the way that sounded. It made it sound like Ray, his friend, was just a tool, a means to a seemingly infinite end. He didn't think it was possible for him to look anymore dumbstruck, but somehow he managed it.

"Are there others who know about this then or is it just you?" her student asked.

"There is a group involved, yes. A group of trusted ponies who's names I'm afraid I can't divulge. They're the ones responsible for finding the host, while I lend a great deal of my magic to the transfers. Every few generations, they select a new host and I help to move the Beast before the current one dies. And so it has been, for so long…"

"And why was I not informed of this?" asked Luna levelly. "Given its obvious importance, I would have thought you would tell me."

"I'm sorry, Luna. When all of this happened, I was still a filly. You hadn't even been born yet and, as such, you had no part in the decision regarding what had to be done."

Her tone became tenser. "So because I was younger, I was kept in the dark? Did you not trust me?"

"Far from that." Her tone was much more solemn. "I was forced to mature quickly because of what I had seen, but you… you knew nothing about it. You were young and I wanted to preserve your innocence for as long as possible before telling you. One day, I told myself, one day I would tell you, even though the longer I told myself that, the longer it took for that day to arrive, when I would have to let you shoulder the responsibility with me. It only became worse leading up to your becoming Nightmare Moon, when you distanced yourself even more.

"On the day I finally decided to tell you, it was as if fate itself decided to intervene and I had to seal you away. After that, I had no choice but to keep it to myself for the next millennia. When you finally did return to me, there was so much going on around us, with you and me and everypony else… it just never seemed like a good time. You had enough to deal with and afterwards, much to be joyous about. I just didn't have the heart to do it."

While terror hung on her words, Dusk could also sense an inherent sense of fatigue, like she was tired of all of this. Even so, he found feeling sympathetic for her a little difficult when a question came up that Applejack voiced, since Ray was evidently still too shocked to even speak.

"So, how'd ya pick Ray fer this? What made him qualify ta be the lucky pony?"

"He just qualified for the selection." They waited, but she didn't elaborate on this.

"An' is it like he said? That he had this fer his whole life? How long has he had this thing?"

She hesitated. "He was… he was little more than a child when I transferred the demon to his body."

Ray snapped his head up. "You… you…why? Why?!"

"Because it was all I could do. All any of us could do."

"And you just let this happen?!" It surprised them that it was Rarity who snapped. "You willingly and knowingly let a child endure the burden of such a monster being part of their very being?!"

Even Rainbow's expression had softened. "Wow… from the princess of the sun, that's pretty cold."

"I had no choice," the princess insisted. "What I did, I did for the good of Equestria, for everypony."

"So the ends justify the means then?" countered Twilight. "Oh, who cares if poor Ray has to have a horrid monster inside him just so long as we're all okay?! Yeah, that sounds fine to me!"

"I'm afraid that is the case, my student," she replied harshly. "You weren't there in those times. If you saw how close we came to destruction, how many thousands died for a victory we only barely managed to achieve, you would know why we had to do it. In fact, I think both you and Dusk know exactly how many thousands."

"Forgive me, princess, for asking, but how?"

"You've been to the Gates of Tartarus, Dusk. Have you never wondered where all of those graves came from?"

Dusk froze and he knew Twilight must have too. All of those headstones, stretching on for miles, marking the entrance to the land of the dead by showing probably the greatest contribution of souls they'd ever received. He had never known why so many had died. Now he did, he almost wished he just had the stories to go on again.

If they hadn't got to Ray in time…

"Can't you just move it or something?" Rainbow asked. "Let somepony else have it?"

"That doesn't exactly sound much better than if it were just bound to him," noted Luna.

"It'd be better than letting him have it!" she said defensively.

"I'm afraid it wouldn't be as simple as that, Rainbow," Celestia said calmly. "At the moment of sealing, the life energies of both the beast and the host become linked. Not inseparably, which allows for the beast to be moved to different hosts. Something of a failsafe should the worst-case scenario happen. In the event that the host should perish, the beast, too, will disperse for a time until it eventually reforms later, giving those responsible for its suppression time to prepare. However, whenever the beast is extracted from a host... that host invariably dies soon afterward. Thus, it cannot simply be removed, or else Ray's life would end."

"So then, lemme get this straight," Applejack said. "Not only did he not have a choice or say when ya put the darn thing in him, but can't even get rid of it now?"

"As harsh at that sounds, yes it does," she replied firmly. "As I said, I did it for the good of everypony."

"Maybe…" Pinkie looked up at her. "But how many other little foals and fillies had to do it too?"

Celestia didn't answer her. She just gazed at her, with those ancient eyes that had seen and lived through so much. Just like the Doctor's eyes, they had seen both good and bad, the virtuous and the horrific. Within Celestia's eyes was eternity. While her body didn't show it, they did.

But then Dusk would see a similar look in Ray's eyes, his simmering anger and he knew where his sympathies lay.

"But there's something else I feel must be said, concerning what's happened," continued Celestia. "Again, you may not like it, but I'm afraid it is necessary."

"What is it?" asked Twilight.

"Haven't you ruined my life enough?" muttered Ray.

Celestia ignored that, though she seemed to wince a little.

"Before the invasion occurred, I had something of a premonition, a dream, concerning Wrath. In it, he threatened me and swore revenge, along with the promise that he'd emerge soon. Mere days later, Ray loses control of himself and goes halfway to transforming into a full beast, closer than he's ever let happen before. Even though we-"

"Hold on, what do you mean 'halfway'?" Rainbow suddenly asked.

Celestia raised an eyebrow but explained. "There are separate stages that Ray can go through before becoming the full-fledged form of Wrath. As the stages progress, signs of the Beast become more prevalent, his teeth sharpening or his eyes changing. The creature we fought in the Forest wasn't the full form of the Beast, but at the time, Ray was halfway through the transformation into letting him out."

"You mean… that wasn't even the actual Beast?" A flicker of fear appeared on Rainbow's face. "Geez, if that was only halfway in…"

"Exactly. As I was saying, even though managed to intervene, there were far too many variables involved. If I hadn't been rescued in time, if I hadn't been able to cast the spell, if the spell hadn't worked, if the others hadn't been able to successfully restrain him, if he'd gone even one stage further in the transformation... Equestria would have been in great peril.

"As it is now, Ray is a threat-not just to you all, but to the security of Equestria. As he's proven before, he could lose control of himself at any given moment, and I wouldn't always be there to help contain him. Even if I were, there is only so much I can do against such a force. After what has just happened, it's too much of a risk to allow him to simply go back to Ponyville with you. Therefore, it is my decision that Ray will stay in Canterlot. Under supervision custody."

"No…" Ray shook his head. "No, no, no, please, no…"

"WHAT?!" Dusk had kept his temper in check, but this was just too much. "You can't just keep him here!"

"I can and I will."

"But he's our friend!" insisted Pinkie. "We don't want him to go!"

"I'm afraid it's necessary. You don't need to worry, he'll be cared for."

"That's not the point!" put in Twilight. "How can you just lock him away for this? It's not even his fault!"

"Whether or not it was his fault is irrelevant. For his own safety and for the safety of everypony, he must be kept here."

"That's not fair!" shouted Ray. "I didn't ask for this!"

"None the less, it is what must be done."

"Why though?" put in Spike. "You didn't lock me up when I got greedy that one time! Why can't you do the same for Ray?!"

"This is different, Spike."

"No, it isn't! Just like how anything that could make him mad could set him off, I'm the same with anything that could make me greedy!"

"A rampaging dragon can be dealt with, but you know how hard the fight was against Wrath. It's not something a kiss and a fire ruby can fix."

Spike flushed heavily and didn't press his point further.

"But we can look after him in Ponyville!" tried Rarity. "We can make sure he stays happy and calm. If he needs to be relaxed, I'll treat him to the spa! I'll even pay for all of his spa treatments for the rest of his life if it that would help!"

"This is a very serious problem, Rarity, one that can't be solved with some mud wraps and steam room sessions."

"What about a party?"


"What?" She recoiled from their backlash. "I'm just saying, it might help."

"Princess, please, don't do this!" he begged. "I'll do anything you want of me, if you'll just let me stay in Ponyville!"

She shook her head sadly. "I'm sorry, Ray, but the only thing I want is the safety of my subjects and for that, you must be kept here."

"How can ya jus' lock him up fer somethin' that he ain't even responsible for? Why is he bein' punished fer somethin' he didn't even have any say in?! He didn't even have his family with him, he's had ta cope with this alone an' now ya jus' wanna throw him in a hole an' say it's all fine an' dandy?!"

"Applejack, it isn't like that-"

"Yeah, it is like that!" Rainbow rounded on her. "The way I see it, you're the one to blame here. You put that thing inside him, you're the reason he's had to put up with it his whole life and now, you're the one who wants to keep him cooped up here for something that you did! Oh yeah, I can sure see why it's Ray who should be locked up!"

"Be careful with the tone you take, Rainbow Dash. You may be an Element of Harmony, but don't forget who it is that wears the crown."

Luna stood between them. "As I understand it, there is more than one crown. I cannot stand by your decision here, sister."

Celestia was taken aback, but held firm. "Whether or not you agree, Luna, I have to do this."

"Surely there must be other precautions we can take, other steps to ensure that this doesn't happen again. Perhaps some form of soothing spell or mental relaxation, something that would mean we don't have to keep him here."

"The Beast is just as powerful as any magic you or I can cast, if not more so. If Ray were to lose control, it would dissolve through any spell we would put on him like acid through metal. This is the only way."

"Celestia, I must-!"

"No, Luna," she said firmly. "I'm sorry, I truly am, but this is the decision I have set upon and that's final. I will not discuss it further."

"So, that's it then?" Ray gazed helplessly at her. "After locking this thing away in my head to begin with, you're just gonna lock me up too?"

"If it helps, Ray, I don't take any pleasure in doing this." Her expression was sympathetic, but firm. "I'm sorry, but that's my final word."

With that, she turned on her golden heel and walked off down the hallway. Luna watched her go before following.

"Not if I have any say in it," Dusk heard her say before the doors slammed shut.

"Ray, I…" Dusk looked at his friend. "I'm so sorry… for everything."

"Is there anything we can do?" asked Twilight.

He didn't look at them. His eyes were fixed on the door.

"I was wrong then. She hadn't ruined my life enough…" Nopony said anything in response to Ray.

Silence crept in not long after that. They all just drifted away, stewing in their own thoughts and feelings on what had transpired. Throughout it all, none of them really looked at Ray all that much. When they did, a flash of fear came into their eyes and they quickly looked away again. Only Pinkie seemed to have the courage and even then, she seemed to be faintly shaking.

Dusk could tell that Ray had seen it too. Whenever he managed to catch the eyes of one of the others, he would try to grin and hold it, but it was like a physical blow when they looked away. In the end, his head stopped moving and his eyes were fixed on something on the opposite end of the room. Dusk followed his gaze and soon saw why.

He didn't know when she'd woken up or was even really asleep to begin with, but Fluttershy was now up in her bed and staring at Ray. No longer was it in the adoring, shy way she'd always done. It was more like how one might watch an angry wolf before it pounced. Occasionally, Ray would open his mouth to say something, but she recoiled away and whimpered.

Eventually, they both looked away from each other. Fluttershy curled up in the covers her head and buried her face in her hooves. Ray just screwed up his eyes again and hung his head in complete shame. Now, Dusk could see the glistening tears that rolled down his cheeks.

None of them even really acknowledged when Cadence and Shining came to visit.

"Hey everypony, how are you all…?" Cadence looked around and didn't finish her question.

The smiles the couple had soon faded at the mood that had settled before their arrival.

"What's going on here?" Shining's curiosity turned to sympathy when his sister hugged him. "Hey, what happened? Is everything okay?"

"Ray, you're up and awake then," Cadence said brightly. He only glanced up at her. "Oh dear. Something has happened, hasn't it? Is there something wrong with you, Ray? Are you sick?"

"Don't fret 'bout that, princess, he's fine. Kinda," Applejack added in a murmur.

"Then it's something else?"

"Yeah, something like that," Rainbow said dejectedly.

"We heard that Princess Celestia came by from the staff," said Shining. "Did she keep her promise? Did she tell you about what happened with Ray?"

Dusk answered when none of the others did. "She did, yes."

"Well then, what is it?"

"We um…" Dusk thought for a moment. "I don't think we'd prefer to discuss it right now. We're still adjusting to it ourselves."

"Yeah, I think I can see that," the captain nodded. "If that's how you feel, you can just tell us some other time or we can get it from Celestia."

"It's not just that though…" Twilight looked up. "Celestia, she… she said that she…"

"It's okay, Twilight," Cadence soothed. "Calm down, give yourself a minute and tell us when you're ready."

Twilight did so, taking a few deep breaths and wiping away her tears. Dusk did what he could, holding her gently and calming her down. Between the two of them, they managed to relay to Cadence and Shining what Celestia wanted to do with Ray.

"My goodness…" Cadence whispered. "I… I don't even know what to say."

Shining was different. "I don't know. I think I can see why she's doing it."

"Shining!" Cadence looked shocked. "How can you even say that?"

"Cadence, you remember what it was like, fighting that monster. We were just lucky we weren't all killed. At least this way, we'll have some warning about it and we can try and stop it," he reasoned.

"But at the cost of Ray's home, his friends? His freedom?"

"I didn't say I supported it entirely, but I do understand it." He sighed. "Anyway, it's no point debating it now. If Celestia's made her decision, there's not much else we can do."

"I suppose…" Cadence looked reluctant to drop the subject. "Anyway, there's another reason we came here. There's something we both want to ask you all."

"We've been discussing it, but we wanted to hear what you all thought as well," followed up Shining. "With all that's happened over the past few days, we're wondering if we should still follow through with the wedding."

"Well, there's no question of that!" Rarity said at once. "You two deserve to have your special day, especially since you've been through so much to see it happen. I'd already made the dress!"

"But why should we have any special treatment?" asked Cadence. "We aren't the only ones who've been through a lot and there are some who've lost far more than what we have."

"Don't get us wrong, we're still getting married. It's really just a question of when we want to do it now," added Shining.

"Awww, but I really wanted you to have it," sighed Pinkie. "It'd be nice to go to a wedding and have a good time."

"But would we have a good time, Pinkie?" asked Applejack. "Ah mean, we have been kinda at war for the past few days. Ah know ah wouldn't want ma weddin' ta happen right after ah got in a scuffle with somepony."

"I dunno, I think it would be kinda awesome," shrugged Rainbow. "I say go for it. Gimme at least till tomorrow and I can even give you that sonic rainboom you wanted."

"I wouldn't want you to be pushing yourself like that, Rainbow."

"Believe me, princess, it'll be good to get back in the air just to fly again."

"Ah still say it wouldn't sit right with me but ah gotta admit, ah wouldn't mind still doin' the food for ya neither."

"And I bet Fluttershy would be happy to provide her songbird choir too, right?" Pinkie asked brightly.

"I… I guess…" Her voice was barely a whisper and she retreated behind her hooves again.

Shining looked at his sister. "Well, what do you think, Twily? You are my best mare, after all."

Twilight thought for a moment. "If I'm honest, I can see where you're both coming from and why you're not sure about going through with this. A lot has happened recently, not really the kind of stuff that you'd want to bring to a wedding and that's not even taking the current relief efforts into account."

Dusk put in his thoughts. "Perhaps it would be best not to cancel it completely, like you said, but postpone it until a later date. You still love each other and you still want to get married. The fighting's over now, so you'll have plenty of time to try and set up a later date, especially once the aftermath has subsided."

Shining sighed. "You two both make good points."

"How does that sound to all of you?" asked Cadence. "Should we hold off on the wedding until another time?"

Looking at them all, Dusk could see that they looked like they were beginning to agree. Only Ray and Fluttershy seemed uninterested in the discussion. Even though he'd made the argument with Twilight, Dusk had to admit he was disappointed at having to make his point. It would have been nice for a wedding to come out of all of this, but he had to be honest.

Just when they were about to agree on it, it was one of the silent parties who spoke up.

"No." Though his tone was dead, there was a faintness of hope leaking into Ray's voice too. "No, I don't think you should hold off on it."

Shining watched him carefully. "Care to explain why?"

He lapsed into silence before speaking again. "You said we shouldn't have the wedding because of everything that's happened, right? I think that's exactly why we should have it."

"What do you mean?" asked Cadence.

He looked up a little more. "Right now the mood is a bit dampened. Understandable. But it's exactly when things start to get dark and bleak that you should brighten things up. Pinkie, you understand that better than any of us."

"Sure do," she nodded.

"I don't want you all to keep being sad, not at a time like this. Not because of what's happened or because… because of me." His voice faltered before he resumed. "If… If I'm not gonna see any of you again, at least… you know, not for a while, then… I at least want to see you happy. That aside, this wedding… it would be a celebration. Not just for you two, but for everypony who fought and won against the changelings."

"Well said!" Rarity said. "Ray is right. The time for despair is over. We should celebrate!"

"Yeah. Sure would be nice after all that's gone down," agreed Applejack.

"I'm not a big fan of weddings or any of that sappy stuff, but yeah, let's go for it," said Rainbow.

"Maybe we could have a dedication in it too," suggested Twilight. "A tribute to those who… who couldn't be here to celebrate with us."

"I think that's a good idea," agreed Dusk. "We should celebrate, but we also can't forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could have the celebration."

"It'll be kind of sad, but as long as we're all still happy, it'll be fine," said Pinkie hopefully.

"Yeah and I still gotta plan the bachelor party!" Spike looked momentarily confused. "I still gotta actually find out what that is."

Though she had her face in her hooves, Dusk could have sworn he saw a faint smile tug at the corners of Fluttershy's mouth.

Shining put his foreleg around Cadence. "Well, if that's what you all think, then I'm in too. What about you, dear?"

"I'm all for it. Like you said, not just for us, but for everypony," she echoed proudly. "They gave us the chance to have our special day. It's the least we can do."

As she said this, Dusk could see her eyes moving around the room. Following her gaze, Dusk could see why. Even with everypony talking about trying to be happy, it was too easy to see the lingering pain in their eyes. Especially Ray, whose half-inch of a smile was doing absolutely nothing to conceal his sadness.

"Could you all excuse me a minute?" Without waiting for an answer, she wriggled out of Shining's hold. "There's something I need to do."

Without even offering an explanation, she walked out of the ward and out into the corridor. A pony with purpose in her stride.

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