• Published 11th Sep 2013
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Second Princess of the Night - Senyu



With King Sombra gone, is Equestria truely safe from harm? Or will another foe as old as the Crystal Kingdom itself appear now that the dark unicorn's position of evil is vacant? What new danger will threaten the land and the Elements of Harmony?

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Act III - Chapter 43

Sliding the carriage door shut, Applejack turned around to face the near vacant train cart, careful not to loosen her grip on the two cups of water she held against her chest. The two guards ponies standing near the door gave her a brief glance before returning their eyes to another pair of guards at the other end of the train carriage. The four of them ensured Applejack and the rest of the girls privacy from other passengers. Twilight sat in the mid section and stared out the window in deep thought, Fluttershy and Rarity were having a quiet conversation a few seats away, Rainbow Dash sat alone while eying the guards skeptically, and Lunar Pearl was with Pinkie Pie, the two of them pushing their faces against the glass while staring out with excited expressions.

Making her way down the aisle, Applejack entered Twilight’s booth. “Here ya go.”

Twilight broke her pensive gaze out the window for a brief moment to magically grab one of the cups. “Thanks…”

Applejack took the seat across from her, and silently observed as Twilight took an idle sip. Minutes passed as the train chugged along past fields and woods, and Twilight still kept her gaze fixed outward.

“Ya’ll right?” Applejack asked.

“I’m nervous,” Twilight immediately replied, much to Applejack’s surprise. “I don’t know what to think or ask when we get to Canterlot. Why didn’t Princess Celestia tell me about Dusktown? I mean, I know why she didn’t when it was attacked, though that still bothers me. But I want to know why I’ve never even heard of Dusktown in the first place. Why didn’t I know anything about bat ponies? I knew they existed, but I never put much thought into them…”

Applejack gave a relieved smile at seeing that some normalcy was coming back bit by bit to Twilight. Being able to talk about the matters in such a straightforward manner made much of Applejack’s apprehension vanish, and she scooted closer to the edge of her seat. “Well, I don’t reckon I know either, but ah’m sure we’ll find out.” Applejack gave her a reassuring smile. “Princess Celestia’s got to have a good reason for it.”

“That’s one of the things I’m worried about,” Twilight said after sighing. She turned away from the window and looked to Applejack. “What good reason is there to keep an entire town of ponies isolated from the world?”

Applejack opened her mouth to respond, but found she didn’t have anything to say to that.

“If what everything Ruby learned is true,” Twilight said in a solemn voice, ”then I can’t really imagine any good explanation for the way the bat ponies have been treated.”

“Now, hold on,” Applejack said. “You don’t know if Ruby knows the real truth, or that she’s even telling the truth.”

Twilight gave a sad smile to that. “Trust me, I know when Ruby’s telling the truth.”

Applejack gave a small frown, but it quickly changed into a look of concern. “Twilight, what happened last night?”

Glancing to the other seats on the train, Twilight spotted Lunar Pearl. Her fatigue from staying up throughout the day was clearly visible, despite her desperate vigilance whenever Pinkie Pie said ‘I spy...’.

“We’ve come to… amicable terms,” Twilight replied.

Applejack caught her stare, and exhaled loudly. “So... She’s being friendly for now until Lunar Pearl’s somewhere safe?”

“More or less.”

“Then what?”

“I’m… not sure…”

Twilight stared pensively at the floor, but Applejack kept her gaze firm on her. “Twilight, ah’m worried about ya, and ah don’t mean about the obvious.” Twilight looked to her as she continued. “Ah know ah only know a little about Ruby, but she isn’t you. You may think she can be trusted right now, and normally that’s all ah need to trust her too, but ah can’t. At least, not yet.”

“I understand,” Twilight said in a quiet voice.

“It’s not that ah don’t want to, it’s just…” Applejack said, wracking her brain for the right thing to say. “Ah just… Ah don’t get the right vibe from her. Ah thought ah was doing the right thing back in Manehattan. Ah thought letting you go to help the bat ponies was right. You have no idea how much ah was worrying that you wouldn’t come back.”

Applejack set her cup aside as she brought her hooves together. “When you did come back, ah figured that we were reaching you somewhat, but then that fight in the yard happened, and Night Walker on the balcony… it all just makes me wonder if ah couldn’t have done more right by ya…if I had went about it another way.”

“Applejack, you can’t blame yourself for any of that,” Twilight said. “You tried your best. You did reach me. If it wasn’t for you, Ruby would have…”

Twilight’s voice trailed off, and Applejack’s nod affirmed that she knew exactly what would have happened.

“That’s why ah’m so bothered by her. Twilight, you have no idea how scared ah was when ah cornered you and her in the alleyway. Ah been given plenty of mean looks, but nothing like that… and never by a friend…” Applejack’s face became tight as she thought about the memory. “Ah know it’s silly being all worked up by something like that, but ah just can’t help it. Ah can’t shake the feeling ah get from her. And knowing she’s still inside you, ah just... “ Applejack took a deep breath to calm herself. “Ah want to be as supportive as ah can, but ah’m with Rarity on this one. Ah don’t like Ruby being inside of you, and ah think you would be better off without her.”

A sad expression passed over Twilight, and her own mixed feelings on the matter were met with bitter emotions from Ruby. Their connection was weak, but it was closer to what it had once been.

She’s worried about me, Twilight explained.

Of course she is. She’s your friend, Ruby replied passively. Twilight, however, caught a hint of the pain the remark left on her, and the subtle sense of loneliness accompanying it. Those emotions quickly changed into surprise when Ruby realised how closely Twilight was paying attention to her, and Ruby shifted herself in a way as to not emanate any more feelings idly.

“I know you’re all worried about me…” Twilight softly said after a long while. “And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried myself. I’m scared about what Ruby’s capable of and what she has done. But… But I think something can be worked out with her. At least, when it involves the bat ponies.”

Applejack stared thoughtfully at Twilight, as if searching her face for something before asking, “Are you still going to try to remove her?”

Twilight took a long time to answer, and her voice was a whisper when she did. “I don’t know…”

Applejack signed, and gave a hesitant frown as she asked, “Do you know for sure she isn’t something Night Walker put inside you? That she isn’t some strange and dark magic possessing you?”

“No, she isn’t,” Twilight said with a shake of her head. “She’s different, but she’s a part of me. I hate to say it but…” Twilight visibly gulped as she forced the words, trying very hard not to tear up as she spoke. “I think she’s… she’s what I would be like if I had grown up like she did… If I had been a vampony from the start. And that scares me...”

Applejack gave Twilight a few moments to recompose herself before speaking. “Ah can’t promise ah’ll ever trust her, but if you say it’s like that between the two of you, then… ah guess ah’ll try to be understanding.”

Applejack gave Twilight a supportive smile, and Twilight gave a thankful one in return.

...

“So, uh… back to this here ‘Dusktown’,” Applejack said. “What does Ruby know about it?”

Twilight’s voice took on a more serious but still concerned tone. “The only things we know is that it is a town for bat ponies, it’s under guard, and that the bat ponies have been sick for a long time. Defects and mutations have been increasing over the centuries, and there’s still no clue of how to fully cure them.”

“Is it bad?” Applejack asked worriedly.

“Stillborns aren’t a rare occurrence, and not every pony lives longer than Lunar Pearl…”

Applejack’s face paled at that.

“Celestia has been trying to cure them of their vampirism ever since they came to her,” Twilight continued. “She was successful to some degree by the looks of things, but she never was able to completely solve it.”

“Did she tell you anything after you came back?”

“No, it never came up,” Twilight said, recalling the first few days of her return to Ponyville. “You girls talked to her more than I did before she left that night.”

“Right,” Applejack replied.

“I just don’t understand why she never told me about the bat ponies in the first place. If they’ve been suffering this much, why was I never told?” An inquisitive frown appeared on Twilight’s face. “Why doesn’t any of Equestria know what’s going on?”

“Ah guess we’ll find out soon,” Applejack said as she looked out the window.

As Twilight joined her gaze, the first tunnel into the mountain appeared just ahead of them as the train began to curve and turn into a steady incline that would twist and wind up the mountain all the way to Canterlot; it’s alabaster towers gleamed in the sunlight. The sudden darkness from entering the tunnel made Twilight’s squinting eyes relax in relief, and she placed her hoof onto her nearby hat in preparation for their imminent arrival.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Princess Celestia and Princess Luna is waiting for you in the throne room, your Highness,” one of the guards stated.

Twilight took her hat off and began to idly fan herself with it. “Thank you.”

The guard bowed, then returned to the rest of the contingent of guards that had escorted Twilight’s group all the way from the train station. Their tight-knit formation around the carriage ensured Twilight had been entirely shielded from the sun, and from the rest of Canterlot. After the front door had shut behind them, and after Twilight left her hat with the waiting attendant, she and the girls began making their way through the castle.

“It’s been a while since we’ve seen Princess Luna,” Applejack commented.

“Yes, it has,” Rarity replied in a low tone. “I would like to know what she thinks of the matter, considering bat ponies have been her personal escort.”

“Rarity!” Applejack exclaimed.

“I’m not saying she has anything to do with it,” Rarity replied evenly. “I would just like to learn more about the situation.”

“She’s right,” Twilight said, cutting off Applejack’s reply. “Princess Luna’s escorts were the first bat ponies I’ve seen in real life. Out of all the ponies in Equestria, I’ll bet Princess Luna was the closest to them.” Twilight turned her head to Lunar Pearl. The little bat pony walked a short distance behind her and was still practically attached to Pinkie Pie. “When Luna came back, did she spend time in Dusktown?”

Lunar Pearl broke her gaze from the expansive hall they were walking down and nodded. “A lot of the grownups seemed happy that she showed up.”

A lot of good she seemed to have done, Ruby commented.

Her dark tone made Twilight wince, but it only lasted a moment as she turned her head forward. “I’m sure we’ll find our answers...”

Twilight’s determination and concern about the matter that had been brooding during the train ride finally grew to a point that it leaked from the makeshift walls she and Ruby had made for inner privacy, and she mentally waited for her to comment on it. But Ruby remained quiet and withdrawn, and Twilight continued walking forward.

“Seems a little empty,” Rainbow Dash commented, looking around with a frown.

After having their attention brought to the fact, everyone else began to look around as well. Aside from the butlers who had been waiting at the front door, the castle appeared unusually empty.

Twilight’s ears flicked about, and she was barely able to catch the faint whispers that would fade from the hallways up ahead or appear from far behind. She could not make out the exact words, but she had a fair idea as to who they were talking about. “Maybe Celestia didn’t want anypony near me…” Twilight said, the drop in her tone ever so subtle.

“If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have left you in Ponyville,” Applejack said.

Twilight looked towards her and saw Applejack giving her a reassuring smile, one that helped lift her spirits. “Yeah, that’s true,” she replied.

Turning her head forward again, they continued down the expansive and relatively empty castle. They reached the throne room shortly. The doors opened as Twilight approached, revealing Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and to Twilight’s surprise, Princess Cadance and Shining Armor standing near the thrones.

“Twilight!” Shining Armor shouted, immediately breaking away from Princess Cadance’s supportive hug as he ran towards Twilight.

“Shining!?” Twilight yelped in surprise. Her back leg unconsciously stepped back from him, but she was otherwise rooted to the spot, unable to stop the tears forming in her eyes.

Despite his size and armor, Shining Armor came to a screeching halt just before her and nimbly wrapped his hooves around Twilight to pull her close to him. “You’re back! You’re back!”

Twilight gave a weak laugh as tears ran down her face, and she felt one of the many weights in her chest fall as she let herself be enveloped by her brother’s arms. She returned the gesture, wrapping her hooves around him in kind, careful as to how hard she squeezed.

“I’m so glad you’re back,” Shining Armor continued to repeat, his voice becoming noticeably shakier each time.

“Y-Yeah, I’m back,” Twilight said happily, also finding it hard to speak.

“Twily, I was so worried,” Shining Armor whispered as the wave of frantic excitement passed. He relaxed his embrace just a little so he could lean back and place his horn against her’s. “You have no idea how much Cadance and I worried about you…”

Twilight sniffed. “I have an idea…”

Not wishing for the moment to end, Twilight buried her face into Shining Armor’s chest, much like she had done when she was only a filly. Before there was school, before she was Celestia’s protégée, Shining Armor had been her best source of protection and comfort, always living up to his name. And right now, all she wanted to be was his little sister again.

In the back of her mind, there was a mix of anger and happiness towards Celestia for having gone against her wishes in telling her brother and sister-in-law that she was back. Twilight wanted to be the one who broke the news, to explain everything she could before they came near her. Despite knowing she wouldn’t simply lash out unless she was extremely hungry, she still couldn’t help but feel apprehension and aversion towards others. But they were here, and Shining Armor was holding her closely, and a few moments later, she could hear Cadance coming to her side as well.

“Twilight,” Cadance said, the toll of weeks of worrying clear in her voice.

“Cadance,” Twilight replied as she turned to her. Shining Armor reluctantly let Twilight go, then began wiping his eyes with his hoof. Twilight and Cadance embraced one another, and Twilight let herself be whisked away in memories of her foal sitter.

“Thank Equestria you’re safe,” Cadance whispered as she gently stroked Twilight’s mane. The soothing action made Twilight sniffle once again, and she tightened her grip.

“It’s so good to be back,” Twilight replied, trying her hardest to keep her voice normal. She then reached a hoof in Shining Armor’s direction. He eagerly accepted it, and Twilight pulled the two of them close to herself. “It’s so good to back with you all!”

The three of them were together for some time before Cadance suggested that they give Twilight room to breathe. Twilight was at first reluctant to let go, but Cadance’s gentle and guiding touch managed to convince her. Cadance wiped Twilight’s eyes with her wings while giving her a look that assured her that the three of them would have their time later. Twilight nodded her head, and recomposed herself. It was then that she saw Celestia and Luna waiting patiently nearby.

“Twilight,” Celestia said lovingly. At once Twilight moved to her and gave her her hug.

“My parents better not be here as well,” Twilight said quietly enough for only Celestia to hear, her voice wavering.

Celestia smiled as she brought her head down to whisper back. “I will leave that announcement to you. But for now, I thought it best for Cadance and Shining Armor to know. Especially when they are in the need to know on the matter in whole.”

Twilight nodded in understanding, though still flustered from it all. When she pulled away from Celestia, she looked to Luna next, and saw that she was fidgeting somewhat. “Princess Luna,” Twilight said, not entirely sure what to say or do.

“Twilight,” Luna said hesitantly. She looked to be having difficulty looking Twilight in the eyes, but as she did, Twilight saw a world of concern and regret. “I am so sorry this has happened to you. I’m sorry you have been cursed in such a way.” Before Twilight could speak, Luna stepped forward and wrapped her hooves around Twilight. “Truly, I am sorry…”

Twilight was stunned at the sudden embrace, but quickly became at ease from Luna’s touch. Half-hearted ideas that something would be different between them now that Twilight was a vampony flew from Twilight’s mind. Luna’s touch, though it seemed to hold no magical effect or preference compared to Celestia’s, was still warm, soft, and loving, and was special in its own way.

Twilight returned the embrace, settling her face into Luna’s deep blue mane. And after a moment with nothing else said between the two, they pulled apart.

“Let’s move to the conference room,” Celestia announced. She eyed each of them before settling onto Lunar Pearl who hid herself further behind Pinkie Pie’s leg. Celestia’s mouth tightened ever so slightly, saddened by the response, and she turned her head back towards the throne room doors. “We’ll talk more there as we eat.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After placing the last plate, the butlers exited the circular room, shutting the doors behind them for privacy. Everyone sat at a thin table that curved with the room, allowing everypony to see each other with little strain. Twilight stared passively at Celestia and Luna at the other end of the table, breaking her gaze from them only to sneak a glance at Shining Armor and Cadance who sat beside her for support. Right away Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie began eating right away, with Lunar Pearl joining them after a few hesitant sniffs, while everypony else sat quietly.

“Where should I even begin…” Celestia asked nopony in particular.

“The beginning,” Twilight said.

Celestia inclined her head with solemn look, and she turned to Luna who nodded that she was prepared. “As you’re all aware,” Celestia said turning her eyes back to everyone, “a long time ago, Luna and I were approached by the remaining vamponies. After losing Night Walker—whose sudden disappearance still remains a mystery—they experienced difficult times, and came to us as their last hope.”

“In exchange for not fatally feeding on ponies,” Luna said, “they would be provided protection and an attempt at a cure. They would be held away from the populace, having only the necessary amount of blood given, donated by our citizens, and would remain there until we could lift their vampirism.”

“How did the Hunters become involved?” Rarity asked.

Luna gave Rarity a long look, which Rarity returned with a firm and unwavering gaze. “After losing their kingdom,” Luna eventually said, “they had dedicated themselves to revenge, swearing an oath and binding themselves with magic to pursue and hunt all undead. Vamponies, though not as similar, were still considered one of their ‘prey’. Of course, they hunted anything they saw as a danger to Equestria, but their vendetta for the undead was always at their core.”

“Are you saying there used to be zombies?” Rainbow Dash asked curiously.

“Do not fool yourself into believing they are like anything portrayed today,” Luna replied firmly. “The festive costumes worn during Nightmare Night do not do those awful creatures justice.”

“The Hunters became a respected organization as they became more successful,” Celestia said. “As more and more threats were culled or vanished on their own, they turned their eye to whatever they could. And when they heard that we had taken in the remaining vamponies, they threatened to march upon us in force.” Celestia closed her eyes as she recalled the distant memory, the sight of the dawning sun shining on the backs of so many armed and grim faced ponies that looked upon her and Luna with betrayed eyes. “If it had not been for our relationship and position during those days, I fear they would have attacked us outright.”

“But they didn’t,” Rarity concluded.

“No, they did not,” Celestia answered, opening her eyes again. “An agreement was made. The Hunters would not attack the vamponies, and in exchange the Hunters would guard them until they were cured.”

“You actually let those creeps near them?” Rainbow Dash said, throwing her wings up in agitation.

Rarity shot Rainbow Dash a silencing glare, but it went unnoticed as Celestia shook her head. “It was all we could do to sway them. If it came to it, Luna and I would have protected the vamponies as promised, but we would not shed blood or sacrifice our own soldiers if it could be avoided.”

Rainbow Dash looked dissatisfied, but otherwise quieted down.

“Years passed,” Celestia continued, “and all of Equestria was beginning to know a lasting peace. With nothing else to pursue, the Hunters became more active in their sworn duties. In time, they joined our guard, extending their watchful eye to not just the bat ponies but to all of Equestria. Eventually, what was once the feared and mysterious place called Dusktown became a common fact, then an old legend, and finally, a distant thought.” Faint lines appeared on Celestia’s face as her gaze settled on nothing in particular. “Time passed, and so many things were forgotten.”

“Before I was banished,” Luna said, “I spent much of my time in Dusktown. The vamponies held a certain amount of trust towards me for who I am, and aside from the rogue Hunter breaking their vow, they were at peace.”

Twilight and Ruby listened intently, though with mixed feelings on the matter. In the corner of her eye, Twilight saw Lunar Pearl becoming less willing to eat by the moment.

“When I returned,” Luna continued, “I immediately returned my attention to Dusktown. I had imagined that they might have been fully cured by then, but I was pleased to see that they at least no longer craved blood.”

Because they’re so much better off, Ruby thought darkly.

Shhh!

A smile appeared on Luna’s face. “I was taken aback by their joyous reception. The bat ponies were all too eager to welcome me, something I thought would be common across Equestria until my arrival in Ponyville on Nightmare Night made me think otherwise. But nonetheless, I found nothing but warm welcomes in Dusktown. By then, my sister had already begun allowing them into the guard, and I made it a point to have some as my escorts, a sign of my trust and hope for them.”

“Were…” Twilight said, swallowing a lump in her throat as everypony turned their attention towards her. “Were the bat ponies… confined in Dusktown?”

“Unfortunately,” Celestia said sadly, “certain promises had to be kept.”

“Hold on,” Applejack said. “If bat ponies don’t need blood any more, then wouldn’t that mean they were cured?”

“Even though only one in every fifty bat ponies would crave blood,” Celestia replied, “I am still bound to the promises I made. And unlike the ones that only I now remember, the Hunters have ensured that ours would never be forgotten, and a select few have kept it firm in their minds and hearts through the generations. Most of their descendants are not even aware of the matter, but enough with significant political positions have, and they continue to hold onto their promises to ensure that I do the same.”

“I’m sorry,” Twilight interjected. “Did you say one in every fifty bat ponies crave blood?”

“That is correct,” Celestia replied. “They aren’t full vamponies, nor do they possess the full strength of their ancestors, but their craving is enough to legally justify the continued watch.”

Twilight brought a hoof to her chin. Night Walker failed to mention that.

It’s not that important of a detail considering everything, Ruby said. Ask her about the mutations.

“Are… Are they any side effects with the curing process?”

“If you are referring to the ailments and suffering of the bat ponies,” Celestia said quietly. “Then yes.”

A wave of anger flowed from Ruby, and Twilight was hard pressed not to sneer in reflex. “There’s at least been effort to prevent that, right?”

“Of course!” Celestia quickly replied, even leaning forward as she said it. “Every attempt has and still is being taken to prevent any ill effects. I refuse to stop trying until the vampirism and every single defect is gone.”

The way she spoke caught Twilight by surprise. She spoke in a pleading tone as if to convince Twilight that she really had been trying her hardest, a behavior Twilight had never seen from her before. It had seemed to Twilight like a much younger Celestia had spoken, from a time when ruling was still very new to her.

We won’t stop,” Luna added, placing her hoof on top of Celestia’s. “The bat ponies are our citizens, and we will give them our unending support.”

Luna squeezed Celestia’s hoof in reassurance, her silent message that Celestia should not burden herself with guilt alone.

“Which brings me to ask, Twilight,” Luna said afterward. “You mentioned something about a cure when you returned?”

Everyone turned to Twilight, causing her to blush faintly as she lowered her ears. “I’m not sure if you could call it a full cure… But… Yes, something along the lines was discovered.”

“Please explain,” Luna asked intently.

Twilight gulped as she formed the words in her mind. As she was about to begin, she caught sight of Celestia looking to her firmly, flashing her eyes between her and Shining Armor and Cadance. It took a moment before Twilight understood, but when she did, her voice came out shakier than she thought it would.

“When I was… under the impression that I was an ancient vampony,” Twilight said, emphasizing the ‘I’ in hopes that everypony else who knew would understand. “I turned a bat pony named Shade Flare into a vampony.”

“I know this name,” Luna said. “Some of the elders in the town told me about him. He’s believed to be the first one to assist Night Walker.”

Twilight nodded in confirmation. “From what I remember, he was second in command aside myself and Night Walker.” Twilight briefly glanced towards Shining Armor, spotting Cadance’s soothing touch on his tense leg. “At first, we thought the transformation had gone wrong,” Twilight continued. “There was something about him that was different from Night Walker and myself, something I didn’t quite understand. And we didn’t have time to study him due to an attack.”

“Commander Wintermane,” Shining Armor stated. “He was the one who led the search party.” Shining Armor then flashed what Twilight saw as an angry glance at Celestia, but she held her suspicions to herself. He looked like he was about to speak more on the matter, but Cadance’s sudden touch on his shoulders made him reconsider.

Twilight’s face became sullen at imagining what Shining Armor must have done when he was informed about her disappearance.

“Ponies had… died during that attack,” Twilight quietly continued. “One of them… I… I had…” Before Rarity could place a supportive hoof on her, Twilight quickly took a breath and wiped her eyes, clearing her throat before continuing. “When Night Walker joined me later in Manehattan, a bat pony named Mist Hoof was dying.”

Rarity and Applejack shared a quick glance at the name.

“Shade Flare was the one who turned him, and it was then that I found out that he had become a new type of vampony, one that did not need blood to survive. Without it, he was a normal bat pony without any noticeable defects, though I can’t say if it would cure every defect. But when he did have some, he would become a full vampony.” Twilight’s voice had by now returned to strength, and she spoke clearly. “Once I had removed the alicorn magic inside of them and completed the transformation, he was able to exist in an inbetween state of both sides.”

“But how is that possible?” Celestia asked. “In all honesty, I’m surprised you have already begun working with alicorn magic, something we will talk about later, but being turned by a vampony should have made him into a regular vampony. What would have caused this to happen?”

“I’m not sure,” Twilight replied. “I don’t have many memories of when I first woke up after being kidnapped.” Twilight tried to search the faded memories that mostly belonged to Ruby, who—after some coaxing—begrudgingly revealed them. Flashes of the cave, the bat ponies, Soul Magic, and even the brief discussions of Shadow Magic played across her mind. After being certain that she and Ruby hadn’t overlooked anything, Twilight shook her head. “I can’t think of anything that would have caused him to turn out that way.”

“I believe I do,” Rarity said. Waiting for each pony’s attention she continued, “Twilight, you mentioned back in the library that you could see souls.”

“Yes,” Twilight replied hesitantly, catching look of surprise from both Celestia and Luna.

“And didn’t you mention that you might have figured out how the Elements of Harmony worked?”

“Yeah,” Twilight replied, now beginning look more puzzled.

“It is just a guess,” Rarity said. “But the night before you left, we had tried using the Elements of Harmony on you to remove your vampirism.” Even as Rarity said it, she widened her eyes at her statement. She looked as if she was about to speak more on the matter, but decided otherwise, choosing to settle back in her seat as she became lost in thought.

“That’s right,” Twilight said in sudden understanding. She brought her hoof to her chin as she spun through the appearing ideas. “I’m not sure how we can confirm it but… Maybe… It is possible I suppose.”

“Do you have an idea of what might have happened?” Celestia asked, both her and Luna coming to the same conclusion as well.

“I might,” Twilight said as she lowered her hoof. “The Elements of Harmony are powered by soul resonance, and they create balance where there is none. Some things are rejected outright, while others are transformed. And it was clear that vampirism was not rejected when we tried to use them on me.” Twilight closed her eyes as she and Ruby looked in a particular memory in detail. “I was able to see Night Walker’s soul briefly, and while there was many things wrong with him, I was able to get a good look at the vampirism inside of him. I never spent much time thinking about it, but there is a small difference between his and mine. Shade Flare and Mist Hoof still have… something inside them that I can’t really explain, but they did have some similarities, and one of those was something I had that Night Walker didn’t.” Opening her eyes again, she looked to everyone. “I’m still a pure vampony, but Shade Flare and Mist Hoof must have been changed because of me. My blood must have a different effect than Night Walker’s.”

“If that is true…” Celestia said, looking down in deep thought. Everypony waited quietly for her, the grumbling of the stomachs forced those who hadn’t eaten yet to start on their food. Twilight paid no attention to hers, and studied Celestia intently.

Then, Celestia nodded to herself, appearing to have come to a decision, and looked to Twilight. “Luna and I have already discussed what I am about to ask, but I think it is more important now than it was before.”

“As you are aware,” Luna said, “Dusktown was attacked a few days ago. Night Walker, along with a small group of bat ponies, had managed to create an opening between the on duty guard and took fifty-six adult bat ponies with them. The town itself now only has less than two-hundred occupants left.”

Twilight was almost unable to ask, but she managed to do so. “How… How many died?”

Luna closed her eyes. “Eighteen guards and seven attackers.”

Twilight’s face tightened as she bit her lip, trying hard not to let herself dwell on those numbers. Ruby, however, was not as successful, and Twilight’s eyes watered at the pain and anger that arose from Ruby.

“Great, a few more attacks like that and Night Walker will have an army,” Rainbow Dash said, scowling at a piece of broccoli before jabbing it with a fork.

“I doubt Night Walker will receive any more assistance from Dusktown,” Luna said. “All of those willing to follow him had done so from the beginning, and the rest had, as you might say, been on the fence on the matter.”

Twilight looked to Luna questioningly. And Ruby’s quieted her inner turmoil in curiosity as well. “What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

Luna regarded Twilight for a moment before replying, “I’m sure you already have an image of Dusktown painted in your mind. I cannot say what it was you expected, but I do not think it is as bad as imagined.”

“Twilight,” Celestia said, waiting until she looked to her. There was a pained look to her eyes as she asked, “Do you really think I would treat any pony cruelly?”

Twilight’s ears fell back. “Of course not! I just… I had been lead to believe—”

“It’s fine,” Celestia said, gently cutting her off. “I can only imagine what Night Walker has told you, which is why what I’m about to ask you is even more important.” Twilight looked to Celestia with an open mouth, a hint of what would be asked playing across her mind. “You may of course, decline,” Celestia began. “I understand if you are not feeling up to it, or if it is too uncomfortable, but I think it might be best if you—”

“I’ll go,” Twilight quietly said.

Celestia and Luna widened their eyes, but gave her reassuring nods at her acceptance.

“I’ve known for awhile that I needed to go. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t go at least once. Just to see…”

Twilight’s friends all looked to her with worry, each of them with faces of worry and support. Twilight glanced at each of them in turn, receiving sad eyes or nods of support, then finally looked to Lunar Pearl.

Lunar Pearl’s already lowered ears flattened even more as everypony else began looking at her as well, and she tried to make herself smaller.

“What is your name?” Luna asked, causing Lunar Pearl to stiffen when she realised she was speaking to her.

“Lu… Lunar Pearl…” she quietly replied.

A warm smile appeared on Luna’s face. “Would you like to go home, Lunar Pearl?”

Lunar Pearl looked to her, then Celestia, then finally to Twilight. She searched for some sign of Ruby within the familiar but now strange face. But the way Twilight looked at her, despite her kind and helpful expression, was not the same way Ruby would look at her, and she lowered her gaze. “I want to be back with my sister…”

“Don’t worry, Loopey,” Pinkie Pie said with a smile, receiving a hopeful look in return from Lunar Pearl. The nickname of ‘Lu’ and ‘Pe’ from her whole name made Lunar Pearl feel somewhat better, and she didn’t pull away when Pinkie Pie wrapped a hoof around her. “I got a sister too. She makes really good rock candy. We can make some for Lily Wing if you like.”

A smile finally appeared on Lunar Pearl’s face, and she nodded happily.

Everypony else, however, did not smile at the situation the poor filly was in.

“We’ll leave tomorrow afternoon,” Celestia announced. “There are some affairs that Luna and I must attend to, and I would like to speak with you later, Twilight. There is still much more to discuss.”

“Of course,” Twilight said.

“We get you first,” Cadance said, smiling to her warmly.

“I would like that,” Twilight softly replied.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Please, come in,” Celestia called when Twilight knocked on the door. She took a quick breath to compose herself somewhat, and wiped away the tear stains on her cheeks from her time with Shining Armor and Cadance. Then she opened the door, idly noting how much easier it was for her to open the weighted door.

Stepping inside, Twilight wistfully gazed about the wide but modestly decorated room she had spent so much time in. The large circular bed where stories had been told and difficult homework was solved sat at the end of the room. To its side was the few desks and drawers within the room, breaking up the built in shelving that ran along the walls that held a variety of trinkets and mementos of Celestia’s past. And to the left was the open balcony that revealed the night sky. Twilight was able to see the telescope she had gifted to Celestia when she was younger, what she thought was the perfect present at the time. Much to her embarrassment as she grew older, Celestia refused to part with it and frequently told her it was one of her most cherished possessions. It was there next to it that Celestia stood, looking out into the night with a melancholic gaze.

Twilight closed the door behind her, and stood awkwardly in silence until, eventually, Celestia unfolded a wing and beckoned Twilight to her side with it.

With some uncertainty, Twilight slowly walked forward, and came up to Celestia’s side to look out over the land. Canterlot’s lights shined like dotted stars against the mountain ledge, and the glow of partially visibly street lights showed the paths of the winding streets. And far down below, was the much darker land of Equestria where the dotted lights of Ponyville, and beyond that, the gentle glow on the horizon of faraway cities.

Twilight stood quietly as she stared out at the scenery, finding a new appreciation for it that went well beyond the new details she could now make out. Looking out across the city with her recent trials running through her mind, it seemed a wonder that such a lovely night could exist. She realized that while so much was different, there were many things that were still the same.

An inkling of an idea of how Celestia faced the passage of time crossed Twilight’s mind, along with the wonderment of how many times she must have looked out at the ever so slowly growing world around her.

Then, as if she had read her mind, Celestia spoke, “So much has changed, yet nothing has at the same time.”

Twilight’s heart thumped at the statement, but she otherwise remained quiet.

“I thought I had brought peace to everyone…” Celestia spoke quietly. “I thought those dark days were now far behind… I shouldn’t have let myself become so complacent…”

“Celestia…” Twilight said, though she didn’t have an idea of what to say.

Celestia closed her eyes for a moment as she sighed, then slowly turned back towards her room. Twilight wordlessly followed.

I’ve never seen her like this, Twilight said to Ruby, uncertain of what to do. Ruby, though, did not reply. Twilight mentally ‘tsked’ at her, and continued alongside Celestia who ungraciously climbed into the bed and sat upright in the middle.

“Celestia,” Twilight said after finding her voice. “Is… Is something wrong?”

“Just myself,” Celestia replied solemnly. She turned her head to Twilight and asked, “Twilight, would you please join me?” The air of confidence that always surrounded Celestia was vacant, and she gave Twilight a pleading look. It made Twilight nervous to say the least.

Twilight couldn’t help but let her worry and confusion show, but she complied and slowly got onto the bed and sat beside her.

“I’m so sorry this has happened to you,” Celestia whispered, her voice quivering as she spoke. She rested her head against Twilight, gently shifting her body weight as she leaned in to Twilight. Twilight found her weight easy to support, most likely because of her recent biological changes she figured, but she was otherwise speechless at Celestia comforting herself against her. “I should have been more prepared. If I had... then perhaps none of this would have happened.”

“Y-You can’t blame yourself,” Twilight quickly spoke. She wasn’t quite sure what she should be saying, but she wasn’t about to stay quiet as her mentor consoled herself with her for the first time. “It isn’t your fault, you couldn’t have seen this coming.”

“But I did, I did see it…” Celestia whispered, her voice becoming hoarse. “I was so hopeful that it wouldn’t, but I was blinded by everything I have built, everything I have worked for, everything that I have done for these last thousand years.” Celestia pulled her head away, and she sat upright as she stared absently at the floor. “I was lucky that everything turned out the way it did with my sister, and I was overjoyed at it. Then Discord appeared, and somehow, that too was managed. Even more surprisingly, he’s changed his nature enough to be a friend to Equestria. Then Sombra returned and…” Celestia closed her eyes as she visibly tried to her keep her composure. “Everything I had thought that was long behind me is returning, and I’ve done nothing to prepare for it.”

“You couldn’t have expected any of this to happen,” Twilight urgently replied. “Well, with Luna you could, but not the rest.”

“But it is my responsibility to keep Equestria safe,” Celestia recited in a monotone voice. “It is my responsibility to make sure my ponies are protected. And I’ve let myself become so fixated on Equestria's peace that I neglected its ability to defend itself.” Then, her well composed face cracked, and she grit her teeth as a tears appeared in her eyes. “I’ve smothered it like an overcaring mother would a child! I thought I was protecting it, but all I’ve done is make it vulnerable and unprepared for the world!”

Twilight stared open mouthed at her, unable to stop her own eyes from watering up in kind. Her heart did not know how to handle a sight like this from Celestia.

“Twilight, you do not know what it was like back then,” Celestia continued with a quiet voice. “It was such a different world. The ponies of today would be helpless against it. They do not know what it means to fear what the next day or night might bring, they don’t have to look towards other ponies with guarded suspicion, and even death is reserved for only the elderly and sick.”

Celestia’s wings quivered as she spoke, and Twilight found herself instinctively wrapping her wings around her, though she could only cover a portion of her body. “Have you told Luna about this?” Twilight asked, fumbling for something to say.

“She knows some of it,” Celestia said, sniffing somewhat at the mention of her sister’s name. “But I can’t burden her with my guilt. She deserves better. She doesn’t need another weight within her.”

“Well… I…” Twilight said. Then, to her surprise, she uttered something she never thought she would. “I… I don’t think you’re right.”

The statement made Celestia widen her eyes, and she looked to Twilight.

“E-Equestria isn’t helpless,” Twilight continued with a wavering voice. She needed to do something, say something. She needed to support Celestia like Celestia had always done for her. “Sure, we’ve had some hard times, but we’ve always managed.” Twilight gave a weak smile. “This one may be worse than normal but… but we...”

Twilight’s voice trailed off at Celestia’s sullen stare, and Twilight began to remember the ponies who had so far died. She was unable to continue, because she knew what she was trying to say was wrong; this was much worse than anything she had been a part of.

“It was so painful watching what ponies were suffering through,” Celestia eventually continued, “that I promised myself that I would make Equestria a better place. A place where ponies would be safe in their own homes and not have to worry for their lives every day. I wanted to banish the darkness, to bury the past so deep that it wouldn’t be remembered by anypony save myself. But in doing so, I have made Equestria more vulnerable than it has ever been. And you… You were victim to my folly.”

Twilight only stared with a tearful gaze as Celestia’s once proud and regal form became nothing more than a pained and grieving mare, a far cry of Twilight’s inner perspective of her.

Celestia’s eyes widened in recognition of Twilight’s tear stained and dejected face, and she choked as she tried to recompose herself. “I’m sorry,” Celestia said between heavy breaths as she cleared her eyes. “I shouldn’t have troubled you. I don’t want you to worry.”

“No, it’s okay,” Twilight said weakly as she too wiped her eyes.

After some moments of straightening themselves up, Celestia spoke, “Twilight, you mean so much to me.” Turning to Twilight’s stunned expression, she continued, “I’ve had many ponies become a part of my life. More than once I’ve wished that they could stay with me for far longer than they were able. But you... “ Celestia swallowed as she felt more tears build, but continued. “You’ve been like a daughter to me, something so few have ever been. And out of all those who I would call my children, you alone have become an alicorn. You're one of the few ponies who can follow me through time now, the only one who can stand by my side as an equal, and I… I nearly lost you.”

Celestia leaned forward and wrapped Twilight within her wings, placing her chin on top of Twilight’s head. “There are few things that I will allow myself to become selfish with, and you are one of them, Twilight. And it is through my own lack of preparation that you were almost taken away from me. I cannot bear having another become lost to me like my sister was… I can’t lose Luna, Cadance, or you… I can’t lose any of you again...”

Twilight let her head fall forward as she buried herself into Celestia’s coat as she silently cried. She was overwhelmed, and she was beginning to wonder just how much a mare could cry before she couldn't anymore.

Time passed, and Twilight and Celestia remained beside each other throughout the night, eventually settling down and falling asleep. Twilight remained covered within Celestia’s wings, a blanket of feathers that soothed her and let her dream peacefully through the night. Twilight’s warm body made Celestia hold onto her, the heart-warming thought that Twilight would not fade into the past like so many others at the back of her mind, and the main focus of her dreams.

It was a beautiful dream, one filled with happiness that Luna had only seen a few times since her return, and she could not help but feel her legs weaken as she stood on the balcony.

The two dreams had caught her attention during her nightly duties, and she had returned to the waking world at once to see them. It brought a long smile to her face at seeing her sister sleep as she did now, and she was ever thankful for Twilight’s relatively safe return.

From the way they were now, Luna figured that the conversation had turned out very differently than what she and Celestia had planned for Twilight. They had discussed that now was the time to bring Twilight up to speed on matters, but she was overjoyed at the fact that Celestia had finally let herself open. She had only seen her sister do it once—the night of her return—and she was worried that the centuries of lonely vigilance had hardened her to the point of never opening up to another pony again, much like the same inner demon that Luna still faced on such matters. But that worry seemed lessened now, and Luna departed the balcony with a brief but hopeful smile.

Circling into the night sky, Luna perched herself atop the highest tower in Canterlot, and stared intently across the land. Out there, Night Walker and some one-hundred and fifty bat ponies were preparing for who knows what. And while that thought frightened Luna, the fact that that was all that had happened thus far frightened her more.

She shared Celestia’s sentiments on the state of Equestria, though she couldn’t help but feel proud at Celestia’s accomplishment of peace. But now that that peace was threatened...

Her eyes narrowed as she recalled the distant past, memories of her encounters with Night Walker and how dangerous he could truly be. He was cunning, often times merciless, and perplexing in his actions. But this… This was confusing even by his standards. He was being sloppy, slow, and careless. Why he was going to such length for the bat ponies instead of raising an army, or even revealing his existence instead of securing a place for himself in the world from within the shadows, Luna could only guess.

Turning her head to the sky, then north, and finally to the far south, Luna idly thought about the remaining two Shepherds. Would they appear as well? Why had they vanished in the first place?

Luna stood atop the tower long into the night, wondering what was happening to the world her sister had diligently built, and what would become of it in the end.

Author's Note:

To be honest, I didn't initially plan on the chapter ending with Celestia showing her vulnerable side. It feels slighly out of place to me and kind of out of left field, but I think it was something that needed to be shown. In the way that I imagine the MLP-verse to be, Celestia needs to break down now and then, and losing your next practically immortal-alicorn daughter-like figure would do it. Though, I'm not sure if I have settled on the fact that they are immortal or just live for a really long time. Either way, I feel like I've been overdoing the crying and tearful scenes, and its time to move the plot forward. Time to get some questions answered, to see how Twilight and Ruby turn out with each other, and what's going to be done with Night Walker.

Also... I reached the 250,000 word mark!

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