• 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 46

The soft clamour of clinking vials, hushed voices, and hoofsteps filled the room, drowning out the faint cough that could be heard now and then. The main hospital room was large, large enough to fit a series of desks within the center for the nurses greet visitors and perform various secretarial work. Though it was a busy area, there was plenty space around it for doctor’s offices, patient rooms, and hallways leading to other parts of the hospital. The staff moved quietly about with medicine or papers, each busy with their own task as they saw to their patients lying in adjacent rooms. The majority of the staff were bat ponies, but a unicorn or earth pony could be seen now and then as well. Each staff member went about their normal nightly routine, with the exception of peeking from the corner of their eyes towards Twilight.

Ignoring the attention, Twilight took in the inside of the building. Unlike most hospitals Twilight had seen, where one might find white silken sheets acting as walls to an aisle filled with rows of simple beds, the Dusktown hospital “Nightshade” had a room for each patient that was artfully crafted just like any other part of the town. The rooms were fitted into roundish alcoves that could be seen from any position in the main room. And within each room, there was a large window that filled the entire length of the wall to the outside, allowing any patient a clear and unobstructed view of the town. In addition to that, there were also sunroofs placed above each bed to reveal the starry sky above. Both windows and sunroofs also had the feature of a sliding cover, preventing any sunlight from filtering in, allowing those that worked at night to sleep during the day. The rounded alcoves design ensured that no light would disturb a patient within another room.

It appeared to Twilight that the Nightshade Hospital had gone to great lengths to provide an aesthetically pleasing environment for its patients. While it seemed a frivolous notion at first, she soon learned that the other rooms housed the latest machines in the medical industry, bought and supplied by the Sisters themselves, and Twilight reminded herself that Dusktown had had a very long time to build itself up.

With permission from a flustered head nurse, Twilight was allowed to walk about the main room so long as she did not wander into the emergency wings. She visited the nearby patient rooms that she could, curiously glancing within the alcoves as she passed. Each room held a patient, some with two due to being family. Aside from the two pegasi she saw, each patient was a batpony, ranging from young to old. The ones who were awake and not busy reading a book looked back at Twilight curiously, watching as she passed their doorway.

The most memorable room to Twilight was the one occupied by a small colt lying beside his sleeping mother. He looked to Twilight immediately when she approached the doorway, and stared back with wide eyes. Twilight paused in front of this room longer than the others, captivated at the way the colt stared at her in wonder. More than once, Twilight moved her mouth as if to speak, but decided otherwise upon seeing to the sleeping mother, and eventually moved on.

After she had seen each one, she went back to central nurse’s desk and gently coughed for the head nurse’s attention. “Excuse me, but may I see the files for the patients?”

The nurse was still standing from the first conversation, seemingly refusing to sit down while in Twilight’s presence. “P-Patient records are normally confidential, Princess. But I can go ask the doctor-”

“That won’t be necessary,” an old voice interrupted.

Twilight had heard him approach long before he had spoken, but she had waited courteously for him to speak before turning to him. “Thank you, Elder Grove.”

He gave her a wizened smile as he faced her “Anytime, Princess Twilight. It warms my heart that you are so concerned for our patients.”

“Of course I’m concerned,” Twilight said affectionately. “If there was anything I could do to help I couldn’t just stand aside.”

Grove’s eyes narrowed somewhat at her statement before he wearily sighed. “We’ve had many ponies come to Dusktown to cure our ailments. Even Princess Celestia and Princess Luna have attempted many times themselves. Still, I’m hopeful that something will be found someday, and I hope that it will be you that finds it, Princess Twilight.”

Twilight blushed. “I’ll try my best.”

The nurse finished collecting the records and handed the stack to Twilight. Thanking her, Twilight and Grove walked away from the desk and towards an empty office that Grove insisted would be alright for them to use. Twilight magically flipped through the pages as she walked, glancing at each patient without looking too closely. Grove’s presence was tense but neutral as he walked beside her.

His breathing’s changed.

Hmm? Oh, I didn’t notice.

One of the benefits of being us, I guess. The amount of information our brain picks up hasn’t changed, just how we analyze it. You can pay attention to one thing, and I can pay attention to another.

That is really helpful, Twilight admitted, still focused on the records even as she spread them out on the desk and sat down to read through them. What do you think is bothering him?

I’m not sure. I can’t see his face until you look at him. Either way, let’s go over these records together.

As Twilight and Ruby pored over the documents, Grove sat quietly across from them. They could feel his stare on them, slowly building up the sense of unease Ruby had felt from him. While it never reached a level that was malevolent or even concerning, it was clear something was bothering the older pony.

I’m not sure if it’s our new connections or that I’ve been getting better with Soul Sight, but it’s getting easier to pick up other ponies’ moods without having to look at them.

Really? I haven’t noticed it yet.

I’d like to test it sometime, if possible. Once we’ve taken care of the important things, Ruby commented. But back to the records, these symptoms are worrying me.

Me too, Twilight sadly replied. It looks like what the bat ponies said back in the cave was right. Twilight magically lifted a few documents in front of her for another look. This mother has had three stillborns, this filly became blind, and this stallion is suffering severe mental anxiety that doesn’t quite match most cases. Her eyes tightened as she looked at the faces of each patient. How have the bat ponies even survived this long? This is horrible.

And, of course, there’s still no clear understanding of why these problems appear. Ruby watched Twilight peer over the other papers, reading the diagnosis line of each one again. Correct me if I’m wrong, but none of these have any normal correlations with each other. You wouldn’t find these kinds of issues occurring in other parts of Equestria in this amount, right?

That’s right, Twilight replied. While Ruby was aware of the general knowledge of the world that Twilight had, as well as a few bits of the specialized information related to magic, the rest of Twilight’s knowledge such as things related to medicine had stayed with Twilight alone. Which brings us to the next step for our hypothesis.

Soul Sight, Ruby replied. Time to find out if we can still do it or not.

Twilight nodded, involuntarily emanating a wave of guilt at her actions within the field outside of Fillydelphia. She had shoved all the knowledge and understanding of Soul Sight onto Ruby in her desperate attempts to purge herself. Even though Twilight could learn the skill eventually, it would take time and practice that they simply did not have. But the real worry that bothered them was if Ruby would even be able to use Soul Sight on another pony now that she was deep within Twilight. Ruby had assured Twilight that she had performed many repairs during those first few days, but she wasn’t certain if it would allow her to use it to its full extent again.

Physically nodding, Twilight stacked the papers neatly and stood up. “There’s something I need to confirm.”

Grove stood as well. “Please do.”

With that, the two of them exited the office and walked to the nearest room that Twilight and Ruby could recall housing a sleeping patient. Pausing at the doorway, Twilight confirmed the young mare was still asleep, and ever so slightly raising and lowering the blanket with her breathing from her partially open mouth.

“I’ll just be a minute,” Twilight whispered. Silently entering the room, Twilight came to the mare’s side, watching the mare’s peaceful expression with a sorrowful face as the notes of her record came to mind. Paralyses is starting to appear in her limbs, and her emotions are fluctuating between extremes with increasing frequency in what appear to be wild ravings.

Twilight felt Ruby quiver within her, and she instinctively brought a hoof to her chest for comfort. How are you holding up, Ruby?

I’m alright, Ruby replied with a shaky voice. I can handle this.

Twilight tightened her lips at the response, feeling with clarity Ruby’s normally strong facade seemingly crumble at the sight of the injured bat ponies. It defeated many of Twilight’s previous notions of Ruby before they became close again, and seeing Ruby now become so emotionally vulnerable impacted Twilight deeply. But thanks to their newfound connection, it was easier for Twilight to peer a little deeper into Ruby.

You’re… You’re scared…

A sniffling sound echoed as Ruby replied, ...Yeah.

Twilight waited for Ruby to respond, but Ruby couldn’t form the words to explain it. Instead, and to Twilight’s surprise, she thrust her fears onto Twilight, having Twilight experience them as her own.

Ruby… Twilight said softly, clenching and unclenching her jaw as she sifted through the emotions. Is that what you're starting to think of yourself as?

...

Twilight summoned the mental landscape, and looked through the mirror with a gentle smile. Sitting hunched over on the other side and with lowered ears, Ruby looked back with a dejected face. Ruby, you’re more than that. The bat ponies are important to you, but they don’t define you.

Ruby’s chest quivered as she looked up to Twilight. But it’s true. I said it myself when we were arguing before. The bat ponies are all I have that makes me ‘me’. She sniffled and turned away. You have so much more than that. I’m still just a shadow of you.

Twilight’s ears lowered, but she kept her smile as she placed a hoof on the glass. Come on, you know that isn’t true. That’s not what the real Ruby would say.

No, it’s what the real Ruby never showed you, she stated flatly. Not while everything was so messed up. I couldn’t be vulnerable, even for a moment. Not until I could be sure things would go the right way. Ruby turned her head back to the mirror, and the two of them stared at each other for some time. You know that I can tell that smile is fake, right?

Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop, Twilight replied, forcibly keeping her tone cheerful. Look, Ruby. I may not have felt what you’re going through on my own, but we’re close enough now that I can treat your feelings as if I had. Ruby, you aren’t defined by the bat ponies alone. And even if you were, those relationships were made by you. Those are real. And when we do fix them it doesn’t mean you are going to be less important or go away. There’s more to you than that, and you will become more as you grow.

Twilight leaned her face closer to the mirror. We’re going to be sharing a life now, and who you are as a pony will change as we live it together.

... Really?

Yes, really, Twilight replied gently.

Ruby sniffed once again, then wiped her eyes. You know, maybe we should cut back on our connections. I’m not sure I like you being able to tell when I’m weak.

I know you know that isn’t true, Twilight sweetly replied. And it isn’t being weak. You’re still the toughest vampony I know.

Ruby laughed at that, and it made Twilight happy to see her smiling again. Then, an idea came to her, and she became flustered with excitement and nervousness at its prospect. It was silly. Really, really silly, but she believed it would help Ruby feel better. If it weren’t for the fact that she and Ruby were already so close, Twilight would not have ever considered it due to possibly dying on the spot from embarrassment. Even as she pondered the idea, an uncertain frowned appeared on Ruby’s face, quickly becoming aware that something was up and would at any moment realize what it was.

Acting quickly, Twilight stood rigidly in front of the mirror, while Ruby looked back at her with a questioning look. Silence passed between them. Then, Twilight opened her mouth, stuck her tongue out, and plopped her face onto the glass.

Blauuuuuuaaagh!

Ruby sat with a frozen expression towards Twilight’s undignified face smeared against the glass, her cheeks and tongue pressed as tightly as possible while rolling her eyes and making the strangest noise Ruby had ever heard.

It was only moments before Ruby cracked and she began laughing hysterically. By the night! What is wrong with you!? she shouted while pointing a hoof in Twilight’s direction. But Twilight remained pressed against the glass, and Ruby’s mirth spiraled out of control. Ruby wrapped her hooves to her sides as she bellowed in laughter. That. Is. The. Funniest. Thing. Ever! You- You look ridiculous!

Unable to take it anymore, Twilight’s cheeks turned red and she quickly pulled away, immediately switching her goofy expression for a look of annoyance and shame.

Look! You smeared the glass! It’s all foggy now and covered in your saliva! Hahaa!

Flustered, Twilight began wiping the glass with her arm. Look… I… I just thought it’d make you feel better!

And it did! By the night it did! Ruby cried, now starting to wipe her eyes from the tears that appeared.

Twilight’s cheeks became even redder as she wiped more furiously. C-Come on! It wasn’t that funny!

Yes, it was! Princess Twilight Sparkle herself just smacked her face onto glass and made the silliest face I’ve ever seen! Oh, this is gold! Twilight Sparkle of all ponies! Oh, I’m going to remember that forever!

It wasn’t that funny! Twilight huffed, but Ruby continued laughing.

By the time Twilight had cleaned the mirror, Ruby was starting to collect herself again, still wearing a silly grin. Twilight made sure that her embarrassment was clearly felt in hope that Ruby would calm down more quickly, but Ruby made it known that she didn’t care about that at all. It was simply the funniest thing she had experienced during her entire existence. Even when Twilight protested by revealing the source of the inspiration to show it wasn’t her idea alone, Ruby only laughed more. I- I think Pinkie Pie’s slowly rubbing off on you.

And maybe Rainbow Dash rubbed off on you! Twilight said in annoyance as she shot glares through the mirror.

The pegasus, right? No, don’t show me. I remember her. Ruby took a deep breath as she calmed down. You know, she’d be a pretty good vampony now that I think about it.

Don’t think about it, Twilight seriously replied.

What? Ruby playfully replied, knowing the limits she could push the issue from Twilight’s emotional stance on the matter. She’s tough from what I remember. If it wasn’t for her the Hunters would have had us surrounded back at the...

Memories passed through them both, of Rainbow Dash chasing Night Walker through the sky, and inevitably, her diving down into the city lights below.

I’m sorry, Ruby quickly replied, all traces of humor vanishing within a moment. She stood up and moved towards mirror. I didn’t mean to bring that up. Thank you for cheering me up, Twilight.

Were it not for the ability to share their feelings so clearly and quickly, Twilight would have remained angry at Ruby. But they each could feel the other as if it were themselves if they choose to, and they agreed leave the matter aside as more important and immediate things came back to mind.

Back to work then.

Twilight’s attention shifted back to the mare in front of her, and she took a breath. Ready?

Ready.

Twilight closed her eyes, and she lingered in the back as Ruby extended her consciousness forward. Slowly, Twilight’s eyes became pure white, and at Ruby’s request, she opened them slightly. She and Ruby could barely see the mare in front of her, but over time, the figure on the bed began to blur from existence as their combined focus narrowed in, and the familiar orb-like structure of the mare’s soul appeared.

It’s different than before, Ruby commented. But it looks like we can still do it. I’m not sure how well we can affect it, but for now we can observe, though not as deeply as we could before.

Okay, guide us in.

Twilight watched pensively as Ruby directed their focus inward, bringing their vision and awareness of the soul into greater detail. The experience was like stepping into a building, bringing its components and fibers all around you as if they were the walls and ceiling. But even as Twilight began to consider the notion, she and Ruby felt a pop within them, and they inadvertently found themselves within the mirrorscape once again, but much different than before.

The mirror was still there, but within both sides of the reflection, the normally dark and blank landscape that surrounded them was replaced with the bridges of light that was the sleeping mare’s soul, and the normally featureless, colorless ground was now a platform of white light. Twilight and Ruby gasped at the scenery around them.

What is this?

I… I don’t know, Ruby whispered.

The mare’s soul was no longer some object to be observed in a limited and distant perspective, such as if they were an outsider looking through a window. Now they were within it as if it was a building itself, bringing a whole new perspective to the soul, and to Ruby’s surprise, she saw details in a way she had never seen before.

This is incredible, Ruby said as she stepped away from the mirror. Look how how this section is made. I didn’t even notice these pieces.

Ruby became lost at the sight of the crystalline expanse of a particular fiber that she picked out from the webwork around her, and at the inclination for a closer look, the entire room shifted. She and the mirror remained in place as her surroundings warped, becoming larger and larger as the section of fiber grew and drifted closer to Ruby. She remained frozen as the world around her moved, but she felt no motion herself. Within moments, the section of fiber sat in front of her and was now the size of an airship, revealing all its details in a way Ruby had never thought possible.

Wordlessly, she marveled at the bits of light that she could see travelling through the fiber-like bridge, unaware that Twilight had been calling her name for some time.

Ruby! Ruby come back!

Twilight? Turning to the mirror, she saw that Twilight’s reflection wasn’t there, and a sense of panic filled her. Twilight!

Running back to the mirror, Ruby frantically peered through at different angles, but was unable to see Twilight. She consciously reached out for her, but she couldn’t detect her feelings.

Ruby! Where are you?

Ruby’s ears flicked at the noise. I’m here! I’m in front of the mirror!

I don’t see you!

H-Hold on!

Steadying herself as she controlled her breathing, Ruby stared at the mirror with a fearful expression. Take me back. Take me back to Twilight. Return to where I was. Verbally commanding herself as she willed her Soul Sight forward, Ruby saw out of the corner of her eyes the landscape shifting again, becoming smaller as she drew away from the fiber bridge. As the seconds passed, Ruby held her breath, waiting for something to appear within the mirror.

Ruby!?

Ruby grit her teeth, and she willed it to go faster. Then, with a resounding snap, she felt herself come to a standstill, and Twilight’s reflection was in front of her again.

Ruby! Twilight shouted as she placed her hooves onto the mirror.

Ruby sighed in relief, placing her own hooves on it as well. The familiar sensation of Twilight’s emotions flooding through her, as panicked as they were, calmed Ruby somewhat. That was close.

What happened? Where did you go? Twilight asked frantically.

I don’t know. I saw a section I wanted to look at and then I… I just found myself closer to it.

I felt it happen, and when I looked back to the mirror you were gone! Twilight replied. What’s going on?

Ruby stared apprehensively to the surrounding landscape with greater suspicion than before. If I had to guess, we’ve somehow made our imaginary world merge with the mare’s soul. Or it’s just a reflection of it. I don’t know, this is beyond anything I’ve learned. Ruby glanced around one more time before she shook her head and kept her eyes focused on Twilight. We need to be careful. I have no idea what would happen if one of us got lost in here. We should leave for now.

But what about the mare?

I got a good enough look to confirm the cause. It’s much worse than what I’ve seen in others. Her soul is littered with holes. Pointing her hoof behind Twilight’s shoulder, she said, Keep the mirror firm in your mind as you look.

Doing as she suggested, Twilight kept the mirrors presence at the forefront of her mind, and she carefully looked behind her, spotting the piece Ruby was talking about. It was one of the components of the soul which the fibers connected to, though she didn’t know what it was. To her, it simply appeared as sphere like structure covered in purposely designed ridges and bumps, and it was connected by five different fiber like bridges. But the most immediate detail that came to her was the rot-like holes that were scattered over it. Staring at them, Twilight couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease, or rather, wrongness. Even some of the nearby the fibers that connected to it looked as if strips were missing, appearing thinner than the rest.

See the patches?

Twilight looked closer, and she saw holes that she hadn’t noticed at first for they blended into the sphere naturally. But they weren’t natural, she realized. The covered holes glowed with a strange magic that shifted colors, appearing for one moment as gold before seamlessly transitioning to a dark blue. It was as if her eyes simply couldn’t decide exactly which color it really was.

That is Celestia and Luna’s alicorn magic. Twilight could feel Ruby’s anger begin to boil, but before Twilight could address it, it simmered down, though it did not entirely vanish. They tried to fix what they could after they removed the vampirism. I don’t know how long it took them before the vampirism stopped appearing in ponies, but they looked like they never came close to a full fix. The fact that they even managed this much without Soul Sight amazes me.

It is impressive, Twilight replied before turning back to Ruby, worried that the small tremor she felt from starting at the patched section would cause her to zoom towards it.

It’s also dangerous, Ruby replied in a serious tone. They were working blind. Seeing this now that I’ve learned more, I don’t even know if I could fix them with Soul Sight and alicorn magic alone.

The implication was clear to Twilight. So… They need to become vamponies.

Ruby nodded. The vampirism is the only thing I’ve seen that can fix this. The fact that some bat ponies are still born with small traces of it shows how resilient it is. It’s possible those the few that are born with it may not experience any symptoms like this. Though, that’s just a guess. We should confirm with the nurses if there ever has been one.

Twilight nodded in agreement, then took one last hesitant look at the landscape, noting that there were far more patched and rotted sections now that she was able to recognize it. So it really has come to this… We need to make them vamponies if we want to help them…

You okay?

Twilight didn’t respond at first, and though Ruby had an idea of what she might say, she waited patiently for Twilight to find the words herself. Yeah… I think so. It’s just a lot to take in. I feel like so much has changed over these last few days.

Twilight stared out at the landscape for some moments more, trying to imagine how the red vampirism would appear on the endless spheres and fibers before turning back to Ruby. Before we change anyone, however, I want to know more about it. We need to look over Mist Hoof.

I agree, Ruby said. We need to know exactly what we’re dealing with.

Twilight smiled. Did I mention that it’s so nice to work with another pony that gets it?

Did I mention that I’ll never be able to forget that face you made, or the fact that you missed a spot of drool over here?

Ruby laughed as Twilight furiously wiped the lower section of the mirror, enjoying the beet red on her face despite Twilight’s attempts to hide it beneath her bangs.

Let’s head out.

Eventually, the room came back to Twilight’s vision, and she blinked at regaining her physical senses. The space they had been felt much different than when Twilight was inside during Ruby’s control, and leaving it left lingering tingles. That... was jarring.

Also affected, Ruby tested her internal reach about their soul, similar to how Twilight flexed her muscles to ensure everything still worked. No kidding.

Shaking her head and testing the weight of her real hooves, Twilight looked at the sleeping mare one last time, feeling her heart cry out at her peaceful face. Having read the report, she and Ruby knew that when the mare woke up again, she would most likely fall into a fit of anxiety that was beyond her control, unable to move her limbs to even show it.

“Hold on just a little longer,” Twilight whispered.

With one last heartfelt glance, Twilight left the room and made her way back into the empty office, half aware of Grove following her from behind. As they both sat down in their chairs, Grove still held his passive but guarded look, and he finally spoke, “What do you think?”

Twilight sighed as she ran a hoof through her mane. “I think they’re severely ill, and that any more attempts to help them might only worsen their situation.”

“Unfortunately, it’s all we can do,” Grove replied.

“Maybe not,” Twilight replied. “There may be another way if I-”

“No,” Grove stated flatly.

Twilight looked to him in surprise, and saw his eyes narrowed with a fierce expression. “I know I am stepping out of place when I say this, Princess Twilight, but I will not allow my kind fall backwards. If you are suggesting that they be turned, then I asked that you please forget the matter entirely and leave Dusktown.”

Twilight stared dumbfounded at Grove for some moments, then felt a rising fury in her chest. Her wings twitched at Ruby’s mood, and she quickly spoke before it could worsen. “But if they can be cured then shouldn’t we-”

“That is no cure!” Grove hissed. The determination in his eyes made Twilight flinch, and it settled Ruby’s for a moment, but she remained boiling as she listened intently. “I will not allow Dusktown to become stained with the blood of vamponies. There is no hope down that road no matter how promising it may seem. We must keep moving forward and continue searching for another cure.”

There were a hundred questions Twilight wanted to ask, a hundred statements Ruby wanted to scream. “But…” Twilight said, trying to collect her thoughts from her and Ruby’s confusion at how sour the conversation had become. “But what if there is no other cure?”

Grove was quiet for some moments, but eventually replied, “Then we will live out our lives the best that we can, while we can.”

Twilight was speechless, and she found her own anger beginning to rise with Ruby’s already blazing pyre. “How can you say that?” Twilight said, exposed her fangs as she placed her hooves on the table.

“Because I know what would happen if did abandon the grace we’ve been fortunate to be placed in,” Grove casually replied.

“So tell me, what would happen?” Twilight ask, trying not to growl at the same time.

“Blood would be spilt, and not willingly,” Grove answered. His old voice lowered in tone as he spoke, “Do you know how long it took before vampirism was cleared from my ancestors? Three hundred years. Three hundred years before the first pony could even be born. Since then, we’ve had a slow and painful transformation into the ponies we’ve now become. It was hard work. But not everypony believed that it was right. Some fought against it even after they had promised their fealty to the Sisters.”

Without flinching at Twilight’s furrowed gaze he continued, “Do you know how many rebellions were caused since Dusktown was first settled? More than once some vampony or even batpony later on challenged the rulings. They raised supporters and fought the guards for their freedom. They killed other ponies for it. But each time they were defeated, each time they were fought back by both the guards and bat ponies alike, because others knew it was wrong. Some ponies will always crave their freedom no matter the cost, and they’ve always brought ruin because of it.” Grove’s eyes became tighter and his voice became stronger as he continued. “Ponies have been slaughtered in their beds simply for speaking out against our status, murdered by the fearful and panicked guards that saw only monsters inside this town, something that thankfully doesn’t happen anymore. It takes years for everything to settle in Dusktown once a revolt occurs. But despite that cost, some batpony always thinks it’s wise for them to rise up and challenge everything, throwing everypony else back into fire and chaos again. The fact that no rebellions have happened for the last two hundred years before this week is a miracle in itself! We’ve been able to focus on building instead of destroying. We’ve made more progress with our efforts in finding a cure than ever before.”

“I can’t believe you would say that,” Twilight said, straining to contain her voice from both her and Ruby’s feelings. “How can you honestly believe this town is more important than the lives of every crippled, dying, and stillborn batpony in it?”

“I don’t expect you to understand me entirely, Princess Twilight,” Grove replied. “I must seem like an old fool who’s wrapped in his own beliefs and simply must have never thought about the other side of the matter.”

Twilight didn’t respond.

“But I have thought about it. Oh, I have,” Grove said, his voice becoming faint as he recalled his past. “I’ve spent a great deal of time considering it. I won’t lie that when I was younger I too dreamed of flying away from these walls to the rest of Equestria. But time and reason helped me realize that isn’t the way we must go about it. If I want my kind to survive, it needs to be with careful consideration and without violence.”

“So you’d rather die here than fighting for what you believe in?” Twilight asked. Though, on reflection, she realized she had asked what Ruby was thinking about. Being so emotionally close on the matter made it easier for them to share each other’s actions and responses.

“I would rather go down the path that I believe is right,” Grove calmly replied. “Princess Luna has returned, and we are better off than we’ve ever been before. Bat ponies are now able to join the guard who no longer look upon us with fear. We are accepted now. That alone was considered impossible hundreds of years ago. And now that the Hunters have attacked outright, something I am sorry you had to suffer through, their position has been weakened.”

Grove smiled at Twilight’s shocked reaction, and he spoke more confidently. “Not all Hunters are bad, Princess Twilight. I know this first hoof. But there are still some who refuse to let go of the past. Now that their influence has been weakened, it will allow us to move towards the future more easily. Eventually, bat ponies will be able to leave Dusktown, and it will be by peaceful means. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen. You may think we won’t survive without vampirism, but I still believe that a cure will be found. Research into magic and science has been increasing at a rapid pace even within my generation. You yourself have contributed so much to it already before this terrible tragedy befell you! Equestria is becoming better and better by the year.”

Twilight and Ruby had both calmed considerably, but their anger still simmered beneath as they listened.

“There is no clear path to right and wrong, Princess Twilight,” Grove said, and his voice became weary and quiet again. “But I will not sacrifice everything we’ve created here, everything we’ve worked for, for a quick and simple gain. Our freedom will be earned by vigilance, and it will be without blood.”

Silence filled the room as they stared back at one another. Twilight’s wings were flared out and quivering slightly, and Grove remained steady against her glare. Then, feeling enough had been said, Grove stood up and moved to the doorway. “I believe with some time, you would be able to find an alternative, Princess Twilight. Please forgive for me speaking my mind and so rudely, but I must make it clear to you how serious this matter is for me.” He paused at the entrance and looked back to her. “I only want the best for our kind in the way that I believe is right. I can only hope that you will agree with me in time.”

When it was clear Twilight was not going to respond, he continued out, but then halted as a thought crossed his mind and he hesitantly he looked back. “Princess Twilight?”

“Yes?” Twilight replied and without a note of friendliness.

“I apologize for asking this, especially after our heated conversation, but do you remember much of when you were with Night Walker?”

“Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

Grove opened and closed his mouth a few times, uncertain of whether he should ask or not. “Did… Did you happen to meet a pony called Mist Hoof?”

Twilight raised her eyebrows, then lowered them as she looked to him with suspicion. “Yes, I know him.”

“Is he still alive?”

“Yes,” Twilight said slowly. “He’s a vampony now, too.”

Grove’s eyes shot open, and he stared open mouthed at Twilight, speechless at her reply. After some moments, though, he shut his mouth and quickly left without another word.

Twilight stared at the doorway for some time, waiting for herself and Ruby to calm down as they reviewed what had just happened. Then, with a sudden thought, Twilight stood up and walked to the nurse’s desk. Shortly after her request, two files appeared before her, and she flipped them open. It took only seconds to scan them both over, and realization struck her hard.

Grove is Mist Hoof’s older brother...

Twilight swallowed the lump in her throat. She had no way of knowing for certain, but the image of how she thought the two of them were when they were young appeared in her mind. Two rambunctious colts fighting for a world they believed in together, two stallions whose opinions changed with time from another, and finally, two bitter elders who believed in entirely different ideals.

Some part of her felt the revelation should not have impacted her so much, but she could not shake the effects it had on her. Among other things, it all seemed terribly sad.

We’re done here, Twilight, Ruby quietly said. Her voice sounded empty, and Twilight didn’t even have to try to feel Ruby’s own similar but deeper feelings on the matter. Despite their shared connections, this was a matter in which Twilight felt it would be better to give Ruby privacy until she was willing to share. The best way we can help him, help all of them, is by figuring this all out.

Right... Twilight quietly replied as she returned the records.

Thanking the nurses for their help, Twilight left the hospital. Outside, the guards remained in their standing positions, along with Applejack and Rainbow Dash who sat nearby and yawned tiredly.

“Where’s Pinkie Pie and Lunar Pearl?” Twilight asked as she approached them.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash stretched their limbs as they stood up. “She went to take Lunar Pearl home,” Applejack replied as she rubbed her temple. “The little filly doesn’t have anyone to watch over her for the time being, so Pinkie Pie’s going to stay with her until they can find a friend or somepony to take care of her.”

Twilight’s ears lowered. “I can only imagine how hard this is for her. Her sister is still with Night Walker and probably worried out of her mind at where Lunar Pearl is...”

“Then all we need to do is kick his flank and get everything back to normal,” Rainbow Dash replied, finding some energy despite her tiredness. The guards, however, shot each of them a firm look. “I mean, when Celestia and Luna kick his flank things will be back to normal.” Rainbow Dash gave a wide grin to the guards, and though it was apparent they still were now on higher alert, they turned their eyes back to the surroundings, holding onto their spears a little tighter.

Great. The last thing we need is to have her get them riled up even more.

“Any sign of Rarity, yet?” Twilight asked.

Applejack shook her head. “Nothing yet. Wanna go look for her?”

“Yeah…” Twilight replied solemnly. “I need to talk to her. Did you two want to head back to the rooms?”

“Nah, Ah’ll be fine for a little longer,” Applejack said with a tired smile. Rainbow Dash did the same, and even started to hover to show she was still raring to go.

Twilight gave them a thankful smile, and then the three of them began walking down the street, flanked by guards at every moment. The amount of stares Twilight received hadn't lessened since her arrival, but she ignored it in favor of the matter at hoof.

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

“There she is,” Rainbow Dash said in an annoyed tone. She had stopped hovering sometime ago, and now was a walking zombie with bags under her eyes that refused to leave. “Aj and I will be right here. You-” she paused to yawn. “You… Just go talk to her. We’ll be riiiiiight here, by this comfy bench.”

Twilight gave a small smirk at Rainbow Dash and Applejack’s apparent tiredness, then hesitantly continued forward. Rarity and Fluttershy were at the edge of town, sitting on a bench next to a trail that provided a scenic view of the surrounding Unicorn Range.

Twilight kept her ears perked as she approached, but Rarity’s voice became quiet within moments of Twilight entering her sense’s considerable range.

That still unnerves me.

At how easily she notices us?

Yes, and how close she always pays attention. You’ve haven’t noticed it every time, but she’s always focused on us whenever we’re near.

Twilight looked at Rarity sadly as she slowed her pace. How do you feel about her?

I’m annoyed at how much she wants me gone, Ruby replied. However, her resentful tone softened as she continued. But she’s your friend, and she means a lot to you. If she’s willing to try, then I guess I am too.

What about her being a hunter?

I’m still iffy on it. From what I’ve gathered, she’s not a normal Hunter. The innate magic is incredible more active than it should be, and it’s obviously affecting her negatively. To be honest, I’m not sure if the Elements would help her either. Heck, they might make things worse.

Twilight stopped, keeping her eyes focused on Rarity as she idly listened to Fluttershy speak. Though her hearing had significantly increased, Fluttershy still spoke too quietly for Twilight to make out at this distance. What do you mean?

I’d need to use Soul Sight on her to confirm anything, but her issues appeared around the time Night Walker came to town and you became a fledgling. And then they became much worse once you were taken.

Equestria, it feels like all of that happened so long ago...

I know, Ruby replied gently. When the Elements were used on you, it purified- no that’s not the right word…. balanced, maybe? Either way, it did something to the vampirism in you. If it affected you, then there’s no telling what it did to Rarity that night as well.

Twilight vividly recalled the night her friends gathered at her house. The meal they shared, the ensuing conversation about Twilight’s condition, how they used the Elements and Twilight’s first glimpse of Soul Sight, and with a shudder, Night Walker appearing later in the evening with the amulet.

So you think that the Elements made it worse for her?

I don’t know what the Elements did, but from what we know now, they don’t work like we initially thought. Well, I guess how you initially thought. They’re still new to me. But the fact is that they use Soul Resonance, Twilight. Even I barely know anything about that. And given that the Elements somewhat work off the souls of six ponies for a singular purpose means they could potentially have any effect.

And because of that we don’t have any idea of what they-

Twilight stopped.

The revelation hit her like one of Blueblood’s automobiles.

It couldn’t be that simple, especially when it hadn’t worked for her.

She couldn’t know for sure it was true, but the possibility was there.

In retrospect, it all seemed so obvious.

Will you stop having abstract thoughts and just say it in words? Ruby complained.

Ruby, Twilight said calmly, though her rising heart rate and emotions showed otherwise. The Elements work off the singular goal of the bearers. Our goal was to get rid of my vampirism. Rarity had her Hunter aspect dormant within her…

...Sweet Celestia...

...

Don’t you dare tell anypony I used her name.

Twilight’s heart was pounding in her chest, and she ran towards Rarity and Fluttershy at full speed. Despite Fluttershy’s squeak at her sudden approach and Rarity’s horn alighting and pointing at her, Twilight only stopped until she was in front of Rarity and stared at her with wide eyes. Rarity held a guard but curious look, slowly raising her horn away from Twilight.

“Rarity!” Twilight shouted.

Rarity blinked in confusion as she fully raised her head, and even stepped closer. “Twilight? What’s wrong?”

“It’s just a guess, but I think I know what happened with you,” Twilight said without breathing.

Rarity pulled her head back as she looked at Twilight’s bristling appearance, and she frowned as she would at a muddy filly wanting to hug her. “Eh... And what do you think happened?”

“The Elements!” Twilight simply exclaimed.

Rarity and Fluttershy shared an equally confused and concerned expression. “I’m… not sure that I follow, dear.”

“The Elements work off Soul Magic!”

“... And?”

“It’s all so clear!”

“...”

A moaning wind through passed Dusktown, gently whipping the manes of two concerned looking ponies and one overly frantic alicorn.

You know, looking back at your memories, I’m amazed at how many times this has happened and that you’ve never learned from it.

“Wha- Hahhuuaaahhh… What’s goin’ on?” Applejack sleepily replied as she and Rainbow Dash walked up with the guards in tow. “Ah heard somepony shouting. Everything alright?”

“Twilight seems to be… Well, acting like Twilight again,” Rarity replied.

Before Applejack and Rainbow Dash could asked, Twilight whipped her head to them. “Don’t you see? It’s the Elements! It explains everything!”

All hints of sleeping vanished from Applejack and Rainbow Dash’s mind at the sight of Twilight’s wide and excited eyes.

I’m going to have to go inside and fix you, aren’t I?

“We tried using the Elements of Harmony to get rid of my vampirism, right?” The collective nods answered her. “But the Elements didn’t remove it. It affected it, but it didn’t remove it. I’m still trying to work that part out. But we were still focused on trying to get rid of it.” Twilight whipped her whole body towards Rarity. “You have latent Hunter magic inside of you! The same magic that compels ponies to hunt undead!”

“Twilight,” Rarity replied, “I’m not so sure that I- Oh my stars…”

“Right?”

The revelation hit Rarity like a last minute order of a hundred dresses requested to be delivered to Sapphire Shores within two days. “Is it really that simple?”

“I don’t know, but it’s my best guess,” Twilight fervently replied.

Rarity held a shocked look as she turned away and walked closer to the cliff edge, absentmindedly staring at the ground as the information ran through her head. “The Elements… They could be responsible… Which means that… And I… What if… What about…”

Everypony watched Rarity quietly converse with herself, each of them now coming to terms at Twilight’s implications. Twilight, however, was looking at Rarity with a raised eyebrow. “Do I act like that when I talk to myself?”

“Eeyup,” Applejack replied.

Note to self, stop thinking aloud.

Noted.

Rarity then raised her head as she looked out to the Unicorn Range, contemplating something for a moment, then turned to Twilight. “We have to confirm this.”

“Yes, we do,” Twilight agreed.

Night Walker?

“... Just as soon as we can.”

The other girls seemed relieved at the news and were already smiling to another, hopeful at the prospect of having Rarity’s issued solved. But Rarity look at Twilight with a stoic expression, having caught many subtle notes in Twilight’s reply.

“Yes, when we get back to Ponyville,” Rarity said slowly.

“Right,” Twilight replied, doing her best to keep her voice level. “When we get back to Ponyville.”

“Well, that settles everything,” Rainbow Dash said as she stretched her legs. “Now let’s call it a night and hit the sack. The sun’s gonna come up anytime now and Dash needs her sleep.”

Rarity kept a her gaze focused on Twilight, and she just about to open her mouth before a guard stepped forward. “Princess Twilight. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna requested that you stop by the town hall before you retire for the night.”

“Right, the detection barrier,” Twilight quickly said as she turned away from Rarity. “Yup, let’s go take care of that then go to bed.”

The rest of the girls murmured in agreement, and all began to wearily follow the guards back into town. Rarity, however, remained wide awake as she trailed at the back, noting the details that came to her mind despite her inner cry for sleep. Things such as how Twilight stayed near the front, at how her legs ever so subtly stepped onto the ground more rigidly than usual, and how her head remained fixed forward at all times.

Calm down, will ya?

I can’t help it, Twilight replied nervously. I can feel her staring at us.

So can I, and she’s only going to become more suspicious the more unusual we act.

This is going to be hard, isn’t it?

We’re only trying to stealthily escape a town that has been guarded for hundreds of years with the addition of the Sisters personally overseeing its defenses and while under the watch of a Hunter that may or may not have been awaken by the most powerful items in Equestria for the singular goal of getting rid of us. How hard could it be?

Is it me, or have you become sassier?

I’m going through an identity crisis, thank you very much. Since I’ll be spending the rest of forever inside of you, I might as well play around with my section of the soul and try out different aspects of myself. I’m going to need something to pass the time when I’m not focused on the outside.

Great, Twilight grumbled.

As they walked in dread of the situation, a sudden thought came to Ruby, and the thick mood cleared from her. Actually, this is going to be easier than I thought.

What do you mean?

We need to go to Fillydelphia which is in the east, and on the other side of Equestria from where we are now.

And? Twilight asked, though she was already beginning to understand what Ruby was leading towards.

It’s a long flight by wing, but we can do half of it by ship. Once we get to Canterlot we’ll just sneak away and continue on.

That… makes a lot of sense, Twilight replied, impressed at the idea and wondering how she hadn’t thought of it first. Smugness emanated from Ruby. We don’t have to lie to Celestia or worry about how we would even escape from here.

She didn’t say if she would come to Canterlot with us, so we should still plan as if we we’re trying to evade her.

Twilight physically nodded, then berated herself as she felt Rarity’s gaze intensify on her.

We still need to deal with that, though, Ruby said, sharing in Twilight’s shiver at the uncomfortable sensation.

To be honest, I’m still unsure of what to do about my friends.

Twilight pushed her emotions forward, and Ruby contemplated what she felt. You’re can’t decide if we should ask them to come with us, or go without them.

...

Ruby thought about it for some time as they walked, looking over Twilight’s worrying mind as memories revealed themselves from her conflict. Twilight had already tried handling things on her own before, and it hadn’t turned out well when she did. When Ruby thought about it more herself, she hadn’t been so fortunate on her either. If it wasn’t for Mist Hoof and the others, Ruby would have been doomed in the airship yard. Though they would never be truly alone again, physically, they were still just one pony.

Ruby sighed. As much as I want to figure it out as well, we should probably sleep on it. Let’s just get this barrier set up and go to bed.

Are you sure?

Trust me, I’m just as tempted as you are. The difference is that I’m in here where it’s easier to see what would happen if we stressed out about it.

But-

Twilight, we’re sleeping on it. You focus on the outside world, and I’ll focus on the inside one.

Okay, if you say so, Twilight replied timidly. We do still have time, I guess...

When Twilight reached the town hall, the purple hue of dawn began to color the sky.

Author's Note:

For those curious about the location of Fillydelphia in relation to the Unicorn Range, I use the this map from the wikia. Of course, I have a bit of leeway regarding size and distance of things, but I use it as an overall reference to the general location and design of Equestria.

In another news, I think I've finally found a good name to replace Nathaniel Moon. Given that the cutie mark is a crescent red moon with hoof prints beneath it, I was thinking about Midnight Trail. One of the issues with picking a new name was that I wanted it to be something that I could use a short nickname for it, like Nathan is to Nathaniel. But I think it's best if I move on from that desire as it is hindering the story. Let me know what you all think of the name, and if it gets good reception I will probably go back and do some name replacing with the next update.

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