• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 13,697 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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What Must Be Done?

Silence dominated their walk through the palace. Celestia knew that her younger sister was following her with the intent of pressing her point further. She didn't stop, she didn't slow down, and she didn't let her sibling catch up. She would only glance back every now and again and keep walking.

Luna didn't care. She kept following her elder. They made a silent agreement not to resume this until they arrived at somewhere private. While Celestia had made it clear that she didn't want to discuss the issue further, it seemed she was willing to give Luna the benefit of the doubt. After what she had kept from her, it was the least she could do.

Everypony else they saw on their way seemed to sense the hostile air between the royal sisters. They quickly moved to get out of their way, watching them warily until they passed. It was times like this they were reminded the princesses weren't all smiles and sunshine. They took their roles as leaders of Equestria very seriously and nowhere was that more prevalent than right now.

They soon arrived at their private quarters in higher parts of the castle. The guards either side of the door snapped to attention as Celestia strode into her room, her sister close behind. The latter closed the door and dismissed the guards. She didn't want anypony overhearing this. Once she made sure the door was locked, she turned to face her elder.

She stood in front of her window. The sun's rays glared down upon her, casting a shadow across her younger sibling. She barely even turned her head to look at Luna. Anypony else might have found such a sight to be intimidating. Not Luna. She stood her ground. She had her point and she was prepared to make it.

For a very long time, neither of them spoke. The only sounds were those from the city below, of repairs and relief.

When Celestia did speak, it was in a low voice. "I don't much appreciate your attempting to undermine my decisions, Luna."

"Unfortunate, since I'm the only one who can," she replied. "As I said, you're not the only one who wears a crown here."

"On this occasion, it would have been better if you had just let me do what I know is right."

She smirked. "You know that's never really been my way of doing things.

"Don't test me, sister," she warned.

"Or what? Will you send me to the moon again?"

Celestia faltered. "Luna, I didn't mean-"

"Although, it is quite fitting that I bring that up, considering what you've just forced upon Ray Strike."

She tensed. "This is nothing like that."

"It might as well be for what you've just condemned him to," she countered. "As benevolent as your reputation is, it surprises even me at how cruel you can be."

"It might seem harsh, but I have no choice," she insisted. "Like it or not, this must be done."

"Well, I don't like it and who is to say that it has to be done?"

"We are, because we're the only ones with the power to do so." She turned to look at her now. "You're no stranger to having to act for what you know is right, dear sister."

She froze. "That is not the issue here."

"Isn't it?" She gazed at her, the sun streaming in behind her. "You right there with me, at the Empire. You were there when Sombra had to be-"

"No!" At the mention of his name, she felt as if her heart were pierced. "Why? Why would you even mention him?!"

"Because I know how much it must have hurt you, Luna," she said gently. "I know the pain it put you through, how much you wished the responsibilities we have might be put upon another, just to spare yourself that pain."

The shadows seemed to coil around the Princess of the Night. "Do not presume to tell me what you think you know of what I went through that day, Celestia."

"I will, because I know how it feels." Her expression wasn't angry, but sympathetic. "The pain you felt that day, I felt every time I saw it in your eyes thereafter. I felt it when I had to imprison Brave, when I had to send you away, when I had to… I had to seal away that… that monster inside an innocent, undeserving child. I feel it now, even before I told him he has to be kept here…"

The mask of royal composure was gone now. This was the Celestia that few ever truly saw. The embodiment of eternity, of power… of regret. Her eyes shimmered as her features hardened, reflecting even further the ages she had seen, that had risen and fallen while she lived on. Never aging, never ending, never dying.

Luna knew. She was one of the few who did.

"What I do," she continued, "I do not because I wish to, but because I have to. For the good of our subjects, like I always have done."

She nodded slowly. "I am not disputing that, Celestia. But what I must ask… is it really necessary this time?"

"You know it is."

"He's just a pony, Celestia. A stallion who wants to live his life as he wishes to, just as anypony else would want."

"You wouldn't be saying that if you were there, Luna." Though her eyes were on her sister, they weren't focused anymore. "You never saw the destruction that I saw. You never saw the villages, towns, even cities that were reduced to rubble and dust, the mountains of bodies that piled in the wake of it, the lifeless, barren wastelands that used to be lush fields and rich forests. If you did, you would know what I know and that is that stallion… has the potential to wreak it again."

"No, not the stallion," said Luna firmly. "The Beast inside of him."

"Unfortunately, in this case, it is the same thing."

"And you forget, sister, that I have seen it now," she pressed on. "But at this moment, all that my eyes behold is a stallion, begging not to be ripped away from those he loves while you watch on. Does that remind you of anything?"

She flinched. "Luna… you know how much it pained me to do that to you."

"And you think you're the only one who suffered?"

"But it's not just you two that suffer, is it?" a new voice said. "And it's it not just you two who holds the title of princess now."

"Cadence!" Luna rounded on the younger alicorn. "How did you get in here?"

"Like I said, you're not the only two alicorns in the world anymore," she answered. "I might be as old or as wise as you two are, but I think I deserve a say in this, don't you?"

"My niece," Celestia began calmly, "I think you should listen to-"

"No, you listen, Celestia," she cut off. "For all you say about how much your decisions hurt you, you seem to forget that you're not the only ones involved. What you decide affects your subjects, our subjects, just as much as it affects you."

Even though Cadence was a princess, compared to Luna and Celestia, she was still in training. She still needed guidance in places and lessons to learn. Luna knew her elder was willing to tolerate arguments from a sibling, but not as much from one like Cadence.

That was evident in the authority she exerted now.

"Don't think I don't forget that, Cadence!" she snapped. "Don't think that it slips my mind, even for a second that the decisions I make are for the good of those we have responsibility over!"

"Then it's about time you hear what this one's done to some very important ones," replied Cadence bravely. "Do you know what happened after you passed your judgement? After you stripped that poor stallion of the only happiness he's ever had, Shining and I asked them if we should continue with our wedding, if it should even take place after what's happened."

"How is this-?!"

"And he said that it should." She let that sink in. "You see? Even after all of this, all that's happened to him, he still wants his friends to be happy. He still wants us to be happy. Not only that, he wants to share in that happiness because, throughout his whole life, he's never had any. Not only has he been alone, but he has been rejected and hated by those around him too. No friends, no family, no one to support him. By himself, he's had to cope and struggle through life because of something that was forced upon him.

"But instead of succumbing to the misery, which almost every other pony would have done, he took his life into his own hooves and decided to try and make the most out of it, suffering all the while. Now, after all of that, he's finally found happiness for himself. He has a job, he has a home, he has friends, but even more than that. He has a family. He has all of that now. And you. You're going to take that away from him, for something that wasn't his fault."

"Cadence, it isn't-"

"No, it is. He never asked to have that monster put inside of him, never even had a choice! He can't be blamed for losing his temper with Chrysalis, any of us would have too! I know I would have! I understand that with his particular circumstances, that makes this even more dangerous, but its circumstances that he can't be blamed for. There's only one who he can blame for everything that's happened to him. And I'm standing right in front of her."

Luna was dumbstruck. Celestia was speechless, completely caught off-guard by this. Her niece had always looked up to her and to hear all of this coming from her must have been shocking. But the Princess of Love wasn't finished.

"I heard you, outside the door. I almost don't want to believe that it was you who put that… that thing inside of him. Not only that, but now you're here again, telling him you're just going to take away everything Ray has earned and worked for. You're punishing him for having a demon inside of him, when you were the one who put it there in the first place." She shook her head and started to walk away. "You can go ahead and lock him up if you wish, but I have to say… between you and him, I think I can see who the real monster is."

Echoing her aunt's moves, Cadence left without even waiting for Celestia's response. Just as she reached the door, she glanced back.

"Just one last thing… about the wedding…" Her look hardened. "I don't think I want you presiding over the ceremony anymore. I think Luna would be better suited."

Luna's mouth fell open at this. "Dearest niece… why would you ask such a thing?"

Cadence paused. "Because I don't want my new life with Shining blessed by somepony who ruined another's."

She stepped out of the door, which even though it was closed normally, seemed to let out an echoing slam.

The Princess of the Sun stared after her for a long while before looking at her sister. She had her mouth open, but no words came out. The tears in her eyes were starting to brim over and trickle down her face. Luna still understood, she knew how difficult this must be. But it wasn't just her sibling who was going through a difficult time right now.

Neither of them said anything. Celestia tried to, but Luna just held her in her gaze. After hearing all of that though, Luna managed to think of one thing to say. For some reason, it seemed rather fitting.

"You have a lot to think about."

Then, she followed her niece and left her sister to the deafening silence of her own thoughts. Just as she closed the door, she could hear the quiet sobbing of the Princess within…

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

Despite the apparent fact that the wedding would take place soon after, it still took a few days to get everything in order. Much had been disrupted by the changeling's invasion, the original decorations and preparations included, so they had to spend some time ensuring that everything was as perfect as they could make it. It was nice to focus on something other than fighting.

They all committed themselves to their roles. Applejack maintained a positive attitude while working in the kitchens, the food just as delicious as ever, along with Pinkie in preparing the reception. Rarity's work on the wedding gown was as stunning as always, though she practically insisted on having Spike by her side, not that the dragon was complaining. Rainbow still had to get rest in-between practicing her sonic rainboom since she was still in recovery, a fact she wasn't entirely happy about. Dusk put even more effort into his display for their dance and was usually rewarded by a kiss from Twilight while she diligently performed her inspections.

Fluttershy was quite a concern, acting very distant in the wake of the aftermath. Most of her time was spent now in the same room as before, getting her bird choir ready for singing. She rarely ventured out and when she did, she would be alone in the gardens. She would always cover it up, but they could tell she had been crying. She wouldn't talk to them much, didn't stay for very long at meals. She even seemed reluctant to the company of animals from the garden, who had become more acclimatised to her presence.

It was more pleasant this time, at least. When Cadence came by to inspect their work, they took comfort that she was no longer the changeling queen, but the smiling, optimistic and kind princess she was meant to be. She was always appreciative of their work, even happy to join in with Pinkie while she pranced around like a little filly. She and Shining had been through a lot and they were determined to make their special day as special as they could.

But it wasn't quite the same anymore. They were all still friends, they were all still together, but they couldn't really ignore what the past few days had put them through. How could they? Not only had they become soldiers in a sense, more so than they had to before, but with this news of what one of their friends was…

It had been hard on all of them. Rarity was a little twitchier now which Spike helped to calm, Rainbow acting surlier, Applejack forcing a smile, Fluttershy was barely with them and Pinkie trying to keep them positive. Every night, Dusk was awakened by new nightmares, that diamond dog who fell off the side replaced by his friends or even Twilight. But she was there for him more than ever, rarely leaving his side. She comforted him and he was happy to return the favour. They spent as much time together as they could, the sharing of a bed practically a nightly occurrence.

Far from driving them apart, the events of the last few days had only made them closer. That lingering feeling Dusk had from their brief mental link was growing ever stronger and he knew she must be feeling it too. No matter what, they were determined never to be kept apart by that again. He didn't know if it was healthy, but at the same time, he didn't really care. He was just glad to have her back.

As for the others… they'd been through similar experiences before. They were strong together. They had each other and experiences they'd all shared in. They would recover. It would just take some time.

Fluttershy wasn't the only one they rarely saw. Apart from when she had to come out for necessary duties, Celestia never left her private quarters. Whenever she was with one of the others, they didn't seem to regard her with as much of the same reverence as before. Things were a lot colder with the princess, ironic when one thought about it. Even Dusk couldn't really look at her without remembering what she had brought upon one of his closest friends. He wasn't sure if he could forgive her for that. Not yet, anyway…

Then, there was Ray. He was being kept in a room in the castle. It was kept locked at all times, with guards posted at the door and an anti-teleportation spell placed upon the room. Throughout their busy schedules, they'd all put aside some time to see him. Everpony except Fluttershy. It was usually whenever he was mentioned that she would leave their company, barely excusing herself and tears welling up in her eyes. Even though there was a kind of fear whenever his name was mentioned, he was still their friend. They weren't going to abandon him.

It was Dusk who now stood at the door where Ray was being kept. The guards checked the contents of his saddlebag before confirming that he was okay to enter. He knocked.

"Ray? Ray, it's me." There was no response. "Can I come in?"

A whole minute passed in absolute silence. The only response he got was at the end of that minute, a yellow aura surrounding the door handle. It creaked open just an inch. Dusk pushed it open a little further, stepped inside and stood in the room.

At first glance, one never would have suspected that Ray was being kept prisoner. It was one of the castle's larger guest rooms, similar to the one Dusk had stayed in when he was training in Canterlot with Luna. It was large, with a small second floor complete with windows, reachable by a twisting set of stairs. A study area with a desk and paper was on the ground floor, along with rows of bookshelves, a sizable bed, a separate bathroom off to the side and a large round oak dining table in the centre of the room.

On one hoof, it was a very accommodating space. But at the same time, it looked more like a small house than a room, serving for somepony who needed more space for staying in one place. It served to drive home the fact that Ray wasn't going anywhere.

Somehow, in its own way, this seemed even crueller.

"Ray?" he called out. "Where are you?"

"Up here!" his voice from up on the inside balcony, next to the window. "Hey, Dusk! Sorry about that. I was... lost in thought. Didn't register the knocking at first."

"Don't worry, I understand perfectly." He opened his saddlebag and placed it on the table. "I brought you something just for... well, let's say old times."

"Really?" He teleported down next to him. "I'm surprised those guards out there let you bring anything in."

"They didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with this." He pulled out some bread and a jar of Zap Apple jam. "I thought it would be fitting, considering..."

Ray stared at the food for a few moments. His mouth cracked into a grin.

"Wow...haven't thought about that stuff for a while," he murmured. "First thing we did after officially becoming friends: eat some electric-tasting jelly. It's been a while...how do you still have any?"

"I thought it would be prudent to save some for a special occasion." He opened it and started to spread it on some bread. "Don't worry, Applejack told me that it could be as old as Equestria itself and still be good to eat."

"Heh...well, that's comforting to know. Thanks." Accepting a slice from Dusk, he started moving towards the stairs. "So Dusk...what brings you here to my new, not-so-humble abode this day?"

"I just wanted to stop by and see how you were... adjusting," he answered, following him. "How are you, by the way? I know it seems pointless asking but..."

The stallion stopped. He sighed deeply and was silent for a few more moments before responding.

"...fine, I guess. Fine as somepony like me can be, anyways. It's been... well, it hasn't been the most pleasant past few days, I can tell you that much," he said quietly.

"I wouldn't have imagined so. Believe me, I know..." He looked at him. "Has anything happened since... well...?"

Ray returned his look with a smile. "You mean has my good buddy Wrath been acting up at all? You don't have to be tentative about it, Dusk. Like I said, I've had him my whole life... after the first decade, it stops being a touchy subject, if you know what I mean."

"I'm sorry, I just thought... that kind of thing can't be easy to deal with. Even if you are, as you say, used to it," he added.

"You're right about that." He turned and continued up the stairs. "In answer to your question, he's been a little peeved about this whole turn of events, but hasn't tried anything. Apparently it's boring enough having to sit around in my head while I go about normal life. Now he really has nothing to do."

"I suppose he might have been a little dispirited too, since his bid for freedom was cut short," said Dusk, following him up.

Ray barked out a laugh. "Dispirited? Heck no! If anything, it's only made him more determined to find some way to get out and start destroying everything, starting with this city, seeing as how important it is to Celestia."

It was strange hearing how, even though there was a tone of fear in his voice, he spoke of it so casually.

"At least you can't fault him for his tenaciousness." He paused. "I can't imagine how you must feel, knowing what you know now about Celestia. I mean, I'm rather shocked myself but you..."

"Yeah…" Ray stopped in front of his window, staring out at the city. "Until a few days ago, I didn't know anything about why Wrath was in my head. Not a single detail. But, you know, he always did seem to have a particular dislike for Celestia, whenever she was mentioned... now I know why. And as for myself... I guess-"

He stopped himself and sighed again.

Dusk joined him at the window. "You don't have to talk about this, if you don't want to."

"It's not that...it's just..." A forlorn look clouded his eyes. "He showed me."

"Showed you?" Dusk thought about those words, the weight with which he said them. "You mean, when he was first sealed away?"

"I don't know, Dusk. Maybe. Just...after Celestia told us all of that stuff. You know, about the battle she mentioned?" he asked. "The one a long time ago, with Equestria teaming up against Wrath?" Dusk nodded. "Well... that night, after I got brought here... I went to sleep, as usual. But... I guess, now that I knew all of this, Wrath must've thought it'd be fun to let me see all of it myself. He showed it to me. All of it. His memories of that battle...and everything that happened..."

"Ray..." Sympathy for his friend welled up inside Dusk. "You don't deserve this. Nopony does..."

Ray, however, continued like he hadn't even heard him. "It was like a nightmare. I wanted to wake up... so many times...but he wouldn't let me. I saw everything... a whole forest set on fire... entire groups of ponies getting wiped out in hordes... nothing they did could stop him. They did everything, Dusk... things I didn't even know ponies could do. They were working together, trying their best... and he just crushed them. Each and every time. Like he wasn't even trying. And when they did somehow manage to hurt him... he just shrugged it off and came back... it was... just..."

He lapsed into silence, closing his eyes and hanging his head. Dusk could almost see the weight of the burden in his mind in this stance.

He placed a hoof on his friend's shoulder. "I know how it feels. Really, I do... and I'm so, so sorry."

His voice was quiet. "Dusk... this thing in my head... if it ever gets out again... I can't even imagine how much would be destroyed. At first, I didn't understand. I was too angry to make sense of any of it. But now that I've had time to think about it...and knowing exactly what it is that we're all dealing with...I can't believe I'm saying this, but...Celestia may have a point."

Dusk nodded slowly. "Honestly, I can see it too, but even so... is this really what it comes down to? Sacrificing everything you've earned, forced to leave it all behind...?"

"Apparently, it is." He looked up and took a bite out of his bread before sighing again. "I'm sorry, Dusk. This isn't exactly a fun conversation topic to be having on a friendly visit."

"Neither was the one you gave me concerning my... family issues." He tapped his head for emphasis. "Not pleasant, but unavoidable really."

He chuckled. "Yeah, well, you were being an antisocial emo little idiot at the time. Had to talk some sense into you."

"I think 'idiot' might be stretching it a little," said Dusk, echoing the laugh.

A smile tugged at his mouth. "I think 'idiot' is a light way of putting it. I'm sure Twilight would agree with me. I could think of a lot of other ways to refer to how you were acting back then."

"Can you honestly say you're not going through the same thing now? Even a little?" he asked in a more serious tone.

Ray continued to smile. "Well, the difference here is that I'm not trying to hide from my friends. I am being deliberately kept under lock and key, away from all of you. I'm also not feeling sorry for myself. I mean... well, that may be a lie. I'm not to the same extent as you were, anyways."

Dusk managed to return it. "Can you blame me for feeling sorry for myself? As hard as Wrath may be to live with, Doom wasn't exactly the most pleasant of individuals either."

"Yeah, I get it. Good thing I was around though, right?" he added brightly. "Pulled you out of that little funk of yours."

"It was indeed. I was thinking I might be able to return the favour, but you're doing a lot better than I was. Still largely useless as always." He smiled as he said this last part.

"I guess. It was a nice thought, tho-" He paused and spun to look at Dusk. "You are so lucky I don't have my pipe right now! That warrants a good solid whack upside the head! You know what, wait here. I'm gonna go see if any of those books are hard enough."

"And get beaten by me again?" He levitated off his hat and cast a spell on it as Ray walked off. "Do you really want that?"

"Oh no, I'm not gonna fight you! You crazy? I'm just gonna hit you really, really hard with something blunt. I'm...wait a second." His eyes narrowed. "Were you messing with me?"

He smirked. "It's just possible."

He suddenly grinned widely. "Wow... Dusk, of all ponies... messing around with the guy who's got a demon living in his head. How the times have changed." He returned to the window. "Wasn't all that long ago, it feels like, when you kept inadvertently insulting yourself at every turn."

"I suppose that's another funk you snapped me out of. Speaking of which..."

He took the moment to hit Ray with his hardened hat. There was a resounding 'clonk' from the impact.

"OWW! Geez, what the...WHY?!" He clutched his head, still smiling mildly.

"Simple. You would strike me whenever I held myself in low self-esteem. Now that I hold myself in a higher regard, I see fit to return the favour, just so you know what an impact you had on me," he explained. "Quite literally, as it happens."

Ray looked at Dusk for a bit, before getting up and wrapping a friendly hoof around his shoulder.

"What're friends for? It's good to know I had a positive impact on somepony's life." He paused. "I think it was positive. Was it positive?"

"Most decidedly indeed," replied Dusk, placing the hat on Ray's head.

He looked at it and ruffled Dusk's mane a little. "Right... thank you. For the hat especially."

"You're welcome. I'm going to want that back though," he added.

"Figured you would." He smiled before casting his gaze back out over Canterlot. "So then...I take it the wedding preparations are going smoothly?"

Dusk nodded. "Just about everything is prepared, yes. It's on tomorrow and we're all ready."

"Nice. The bride and groom all set to go?"

"That and more, I would say. They're really grateful to you for saying that it should go ahead."

"Yeah, well..." He looked down again. "I didn't want all of you should have to be stuck feeling bad about everything that's happened. It's bad enough just having to deal with it myself. The rest of you should at least try and be happy. Speaking of the others, how are they doing?"

"About as well as can be expected," he replied. "I think the recent events have... affected them a little more than others. Surely you've seen it too?"

"Yeah...they've been visiting too, as I'm sure you already know. It's interesting, to say the least. Oh yeah..." He chuckled for a few moments. "You should have seen Rainbow when she came to visit. A little bit of hostility at first, which I do not blame her for. After all, this is... what, the second friend she's had who's got a psychopathic tenant in his head? Yeah... anyways, it was a little rocky at first, but once she figured out that I wasn't gonna do anything, she warmed up. And man, did she have some things to say to Wrath. I mean, they didn't talk directly, of course, but that didn't stop her from verbally attacking him, since he could still hear her. Would've been funny at the time if my head hadn't hurt so much afterward."

"I imagine it would have. Twilight tells me that she tried some spells that were meant to soothe your mind, like what she used on me when I was recovering from Doom," he mentioned.

Yeah, she did," he confirmed. "And they worked, too. Well, the first few didn't. I mean, they worked on me, but not on him. One of those spells actually put him right to sleep, believe it or not. Except he woke up a few minutes later, very upset. He's actually asleep right now, for the record. That's why he isn't doing anything in response to all of this talk about him." He frowned thoughtfully. "You know, I'm surprised you didn't come in with Twilight."

"She has some last minute checks to look over before the wedding. She did me first so I could come and visit you afterwards." He cocked an eyebrow. "Why did you think I'd come with her?"

"Uh...because you're both together and all that?" he said obviously. "I meant I'm surprised you didn't come in with her when she came to visit, not now. That aside, I've noticed something about you two. You seem... awfully closer than you did before all of this. And I'm saying more than what's usual for couples who've just been reunited."

"I'll be honest, I never really thought about it..." Now it was his turn to think. "I suppose we've just been through a lot more than what you would call usual couples."

"True that. Still, at least it's all over now. I hope it is, anyways." He fell silent for a bit. "So yeah...the others have all come by too. Rarity and Spike came in together... not a surprise at all, really. I think Spike's main goal was to protect Rarity or something... took about an hour of not trying to attack them before he loosened up. Rarity was really pleasant, though. Surprisingly, given what's happened. I would've thought she'd be this way and that with her dramatic attitude, but... she was sympathetic. And attentive. A far cry from the snob I always thought she was."

"I can't blame him for that, really. As for Rarity, she might act snobbish at times, but there's a lot more to her than that." Dusk smiled at the thought of her. "Even I don't have her quite figured out at times."

"At first I would have raised an eyebrow and questioned your logic, but now... yeah, I have to agree with you. She's nicer than I thought. How must it be for her though?" he asked. "At first, she probably felt that I was a rude, roughhousing animal with no place in modern society. Then her opinion of me changed... and then she finds out about this." He pointed to his head. "Probably didn't help my standing."

"I think having previous experience helped," said Dusk, echoing his gesture.

"Maybe, but from what I know, she liked you right from the get-go, didn't she?"

"Mostly, except for when I got her mane covered in dust. Accident, by the way," he put in quickly in answer to Ray's smirk. "I think she likes you more than you might think."

"I know she does." His smirk became a smile. "It's weird, our relationship... but that makes it all the more meaningful. However cheesy that sounds." He laughed to himself at the last part. "Alright, who else..? Oh yeah, AJ and Pinkie also came in together yesterday. I was a bit confused, but it turns out they both baked me a cake! That was a surprise... though still a pleasant one."

"The best surprises usually are, especially considering those two. How was it?"

"Well, it was a collaborative effort between Pinkie, a baker of all things sweet, and Applejack, an expert on all things apple-related," he noted. "How was the cake? Simply put, absolutely delicious. We all ate some of it together, but they left most of it for me... which may have lasted about five minutes, if my estimation is correct. The actual eating of the cake was kinda blurry, I admit. I think I may have just scarfed the whole thing down after they left.

"But anywho...yeah, they made a cake for me, which was nice. And we talked. Pinkie was her usual fun, party-crazed self, despite everything that's happened. Good to see that some things never change. She didn't have her party cannon though...which I felt I had to apologize for."

Dusk shrugged. "Well, the guards are on orders not to allow any prohibited items in here. I would think weaponry would rank up there."

"Not that that would stop Pinkie... no, when I asked about it, she told me that I... kinda destroyed it in that fight you all had with me. So yeah. She says it's okay though. Apparently she has a couple dozen more back in Ponyville."

He laughed. "That does sound like the sort of thing she'd do."

"Keep a ton of extra cannons in reserve? Yeah, that only slightly surprised me when I heard it. And AJ... it was a bit strange. When she walked, she had a bit of a limp because of those burns... she's tough, I know, and she was trying to hide it, but it was there. Still... I can't help feeling bad about it."

I don't blame you at all, but it wasn't your fault. She knows it and I know it," repeated Dusk.

"I know. And she said as much too. She doesn't blame me for it at all, which is... more of a relief than anything. It helped that Pinkie was there to brighten the mood. I don't know how I would've handled it otherwise. She's my boss, after all. Or... former boss, anyways," he said, with a tone of regret.

"More friend than boss though, I should think," said Dusk positively.

"Well yeah, friend came first... which, if I'm honest, may be why I wasn't fired on numerous occasions…" He rubbed his head sheepishly. "But still. It was nice that she didn't hold it against me."

"Of course she wouldn't."

"Yeah... she wouldn't…" He lapsed into silence again.

He furrowed his brow for a few moments and bit his lip, as though mentally debating with himself over something. When Dusk was about to ask, he resumed.

"Dusk... what about Fluttershy? She hasn't been by at all... and the others don't really mention her. Is she... is she alright?" he asked fearfully.

Dusk looked away. He'd dreaded when the conversation would arrive at this. The girls hadn't mentioned Fluttershy, because they didn't want Ray being more hurt than he already was. But Dusk couldn't lie to him. He had to be honest.

He did his best to look him in the eye. "I'll be honest with you, Ray... she's not doing great."

"What... what do you mean?"

"She's just been... distant," he answered. "A lot more than usual. She doesn't stay long with us, barely says a word when she is, she shuts herself away with her birds... she won't talk to us about it but..."

Ray didn't reply. Not at first. He shut his eyes and turned his head. His gaze was back on Canterlot again. Even then, Dusk could see the pain lingering in his eyes.

"It's… because of… of me?"

"I think so..." Dusk said, nodding slowly.

He kept staring before he shut his eyes again. "Damn it..."

He walked away slowly from the window toward the edge of the inner balcony, before stopping and looking solemnly at Dusk.

"Dusk... I'm sorry. I'm... so sorry. I wish I could've told all of you sooner... there were times when I wanted to, but... I just..." He looked away. "I didn't want you all to find out like this..."

Dusk tried to comfort him. "You had that seal, Ray. It's not like you could speak freely and like I said, I know exactly how hard it is to talk about something like this."

"I know all of that, Dusk!" he snapped. "I know it wasn't my fault, I know I had no choice, and I know that you and I...I know! But that doesn't change anything..."

"What do you mean? Of course it-"

"No, it doesn't," he said sharply. "I still feel like I should have tried something... even if I couldn't talk about it, there were probably dozens of ways I could've still gotten around that and told all of you... I just gave up."

"Ray, I-"

"And now..." he went on. "Now… even if I did go back to Ponyville, it's not like things would ever be the same...not like with you, Dusk."

There was no denying the bitterness, even resentment that was in his voice. Dusk didn't know quite what it was that drove him to ask his next question, but he was certain it was partly to do with hearing the tone of defeat in his voice.

"So... that's it? Even if you had the chance, you would just give up?"

He rounded on Dusk angrily. "Of course not! If I had the choice, I'd jump on that train with the rest of you back to Ponyville in a heartbeat! But I'm smart enough to see that the others don't think of me the same way they used to. I can see it in their eyes...whenever they see me. It's in your eyes too, Dusk."

"I'm not-"

"Don't even try lying to me, Dusk," he warned. "I can tell these sorts of things and you're a crappy liar anyway. Even now, you're scared. You're all scared. No matter what you may say, you can't hide that. Even if I were to go back to Ponyville... can you honestly say, from your heart, with complete truth, that things would be the same?"

Dusk opened his mouth, but he couldn't answer. How could he? Grim conviction settled in Ray's eyes.

He knew the answer to that question already, Dusk suspected. It wasn't just his new home and friends that he'd lost. For once, he'd been able to forget about his burden and actually enjoy life, make a name for himself and have friends. Now, that had all been shattered and it didn't look like it was ever coming back. He might even end up alone again.

Dusk knew. He had been through it too. Ray hadn't let him lose hope and he would be damned if he wasn't going to do the same.

"I never said they would be," he began. "But I'll tell you one thing that hasn't changed. They haven't abandoned you. None of us have. Despite our fear, our knowledge of this, we're still here for you and we're going to help you cope with this. We're more afraid of things we don't understand and now we're beginning to, we're willing to. We might be afraid... but we don't run from our fears. We face them. Together."

Ray held Dusk in his gaze for a few, long seconds. Something changed in Ray's eyes, but his lids covered them again. Silently, he turned away from him and stared off into the distance for about a minute.

Dusk was concerned and started forward. Did he not believe him? Was it too late? Was there anything else he could say?

The answer came when he suddenly turned toward Dusk and embraced him. He could feel his chest rising and falling erratically as cried slightly.

"Dusk...thank you. You know that...you're my best friend?"

Dusk had tensed from surprise of the gesture, but he returned it. "You might have mentioned it. You're... you're mine too, Ray."

"Yeah... I mean that... thank you." He chuckled slightly. "Also, because I detect a vague hint of shock at the fact that I'm hugging you... this is a bro-hug we are doing. Got it?"

Dusk chuckled too. "And I seem to detect that you appear to be shedding a few tears."

"Oh, that...uh, that's just..." He pulled away and attempted to wipe away at his eyes. "I'm... uh... darn it, this is a very touching moment for me, okay? I have emotions too, you know?!"

"Really? I never would have guessed."

"I… gah, I can't tell with you anymore!" he yelled in mock frustration. "It was fun back when I was the one messing with you! Ugh... come on, let's just go eat that jam you brought. Don't want negative topics to ruin the visit..."

"Very true. And Ray... about Fluttershy." He offered him a reassuring smile. "Give her time. Just remember, it's not you we're afraid of."

"I know that. But still…" He stopped on his way to the staircase and looked back at Dusk. "Next time you see her... could you tell her that I'm sorry? And let her know that... among all of you... I wanted to tell her the most."

He smiled and nodded in understanding. "I would be happy to."

He shared it. "Thanks. Now then, let's get back to eating, shall we? What else is going on?"

So, Dusk sat with Ray. They talked, as if nothing had even happened. Perhaps it was because, like Ray said, they were both ponies with aggressive upstairs tenants in their heads. For Dusk, it was more of a former case, but it meant that he could understand what Ray was going through a lot better than most.

Curiously, he found himself wondering what would happen if Doom were pitted against Wrath. He couldn't help but laugh a little at the thought of his darker side being crushed underfoot by the beast.

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