• 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 50

Far away are hidden lives,

With crumbling souls and painful sighs.

Their past covered, for blood it took.

Buried, forgotten, and not in any book.

But what once was their curse,

Has become their salvation.

Now all that remains,

Is the Shadow’s temptation.


Twilight’s breathing became shallow as Mist Hoof waited for her reply. Her mind raced back and forth, weighing the result of either answers. To further her panic, Ruby was alongside her, rapidly considering the outcomes while being torn on her desire to reveal her existence. But as frantic as their internal deliberation was, it was brief, and Twilight and Ruby came to a decision. Twilight licked her dry mouth as she answered in trepidation, “I… I’m Twilight.”

Mist Hoof’s gaze intensified while the other bat ponies widened their eyes.

“So it is true,” Willow Shade said quietly, and she regarded Twilight with an uncertain expression. “Night Walker did trick you into believing you were our princess.”

“Of course he did!” Rainbow Dash retorted. “You think she wanted to have all of this happen?”

Applejack placed a hoof on Rainbow Dash’s shoulder. “Rainbow, now’s probably not the time for—”

“No, I’m sick of this!” Rainbow Dash replied as she shrugged off Applejack’s hoof, and then marched up to Willow Shade. “She’s not your princess and she shouldn’t be a vampony either! And even worse, you’re telling me you’re actually happy that your boss, A.K.A. the feather-headed ****, attacked Dusktown? What the hay is wrong with you ponies?”

Willow Shade’s look of shock at Rainbow Dash’s close proximity and shouting quickly turned into a snarl, and she threw open her leathery wings. Rainbow Dash responded by flaring her wings out as well, but before either could reply, Cloud Shadow forced herself between the two of them and glared at Rainbow Dash.

“Hey!” Cloud Shadow shouted as she poked Rainbow Dash’s chest with a hoof. “And where do you get off yelling at us? Do you even know what we’ve been through?”

“Yeah, I do,” Rainbow Dash replied, practically growling as she matched Cloud Shadow’s glare. “We were just at Dusktown a few days ago. It’s horrible and awful, I get it. But it doesn’t mean you get to get away with all the crap you’ve been doing. Ponies have died!”

“We were dying!” Cloud Shadow replied.

“And then you all tricked Twilight!” Rainbow Dash continued as she spoke over her. She then pointed a hoof towards Twilight. “Night Walker used her! He’s messed with her and turned her into a… a… an experiment! What he did to her was sick! He’s done nothing but awful things to her, not to mention all the other ponies he’s broken or killed, and you’re still supporting him?”

“Why you—”

“Cloud Shadow, Willow Shade!” Mist Hoof shouted.

Despite their snarling faces, Cloud Shadow and Willow Shade fell quiet, and they huddled closer together while giving Rainbow Dash dirty looks.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes at them and opened her mouth to speak again before Twilight spoke in a calm voice, “Rainbow Dash, that’s enough.”

“But they—”

Enough”, Twilight said, and Rainbow Dash’s ears fell from the tone of Twilight’s voice. Letting out a ‘tsk’, Rainbow Dash retreated back to Applejack’s side, quietly mumbling to herself as she shot glares back at the two mares.

Throughout the confrontation, neither Mist Hoof nor Twilight broke eye contact with each other, and they continued to stare at one another in deep contemplation. Though, despite Twilight’s earlier command and tone, her nervousness was very apparent, and she waited with lowered ears for Mist Hoof to speak.

“So then,” Mist Hoof eventually said. “This entire time you were actually Princess Twilight.”

“...Yes.”

“Night Walker tricked you into thinking you were our princess?”

“Putting it mildly… Yes”

“And Ruby was just a false personality?”

Twilight flinched from a flash of pain within her, and she meekly replied, “Yes…”

“I see.”

Mist Hoof then took a deep breath, and sighed as if a weight had been removed from him. “I’m glad we got that cleared up.”

“Ruby isn’t gone!” Twilight quickly said, hoping they would at least listen to what she had to say. “She’s still here, inside me. She isn’t gone and she wasn’t fake!”

Surprised expressions passed over the bat ponies faces, including Mist Hoof’s, and Twilight stepped forward towards them with pleading eyes. “She’s inside me just like I was inside her since this started. The cave, the train, the penthouse, everything! I was there for all of it, watching from the inside. And when Night Walker returned my memories Ruby and I somehow switched places, so she’s inside of me now, but she’s still alive and she loves you all. She’s the reason why I’m here.” Twilight’s voice became shakier as she stepped closer. “She misses you and loves you. And I… I don’t know what you might still think of her, but she still wants to be your princess!”

Feeling as if short of breath, Twilight’s chest quivered as she spoke her next words. “She… we still want to be your princess. We only want the best for you…” She brought a hoof to her chest and gripped where she felt Ruby twisting inside of her, unable to express herself to the bat ponies. “She still loves you, and she wants to protect you. We both do...”

But the more Twilight tried to speak, the harder she found it to breathe, and she closed her eyes as she paused. Ruby was in turmoil inside of her, twisting about in anxiety at how the situation was developing, and its toll was high on Twilight. The two of them had previously considered that Mist Hoof and the others might choose Night Walker instead of them, but those thoughts had always been pushed aside in hopes that it would never come to pass. They never truly thought it was something that would actually happen, but now that dreadful thought was eating away at their hearts, and it gnawed at a hole of fear and uncertainty within Ruby that she had so desperately tried to keep in control since her existence had changed.

Then, Twilight’s ears flicked at the sound of approaching hoof steps, and when she opened her eyes she gasped at the sight of Mist Hoof and the others kneeling before her.

Mist Hoof lifted his head to look up to her, and he smiled. “I know you don’t like formalities or bowing, but we’re still here to serve you, Princess.”

Stunned, Twilight’s legs buckled, and tears fell freely as she stared at them. Deep within her, something had torn itself open, something that had been bottled away and hidden from her consciousness despite the restored connections. Twilight herself was overcome with joy at the bat ponies’ decision to choose them instead of Night Walker, but it hardly compared to the emotions that rushed forth from Ruby. She had figured Ruby had been keeping her most severe emotional pains away from her, burying it as deeply as she could from herself and Twilight while she focused on her singular goal of finding the bat ponies. But now that that goal was achieved, her suppressed feelings flowed with abandon, and every stored fear, worry, and painful thought came forward vividly. Even Twilight was overwhelmed by it all.

Falling to her knees, Twilight began to bawl, for both her and Ruby.

Ruby’s normally clear thoughts became wordless waves of emotion, and despite Twilight’s desire to hold them for Ruby as Ruby had done so many times for her, she found it too difficult to manage them.

Twilight became dimly aware of Applejack’s reassuring hoof stroking her back, and she leaned closer for comfort. But her ears pricked up again when Mist Hoof came closer, and she looked up to him through her blurry vision.

His worry was apparent, but he still smiled warmly towards her as he sat down in front of her.

Ruby’s desire was immediately felt, and Twilight acted on it at once, throwing her hooves around Mist Hoof as she cried into his chest. “S-She’s still here!” Twilight said between her sobs. “She was so worried, and she never gave up on you! Even when I was aw-awful to her! She never stopped! She never stopped fighting so hard for you all. You have to believe me! She never gave you up!”

“I do,” Mist Hoof said as he gently placed a hoof on Twilight’s mane. “We all do.”

Twilight partially registered the moment when Applejack pulled her hoof away, but she was more than aware when the rest of the bat ponies surrounded her and gave gentle touches of comfort.

Willow Shade and Cloud Shadow were particularly affectionate as they pressed their heads against hers, and Twilight eagerly pressed back against them.

“Come on,” Willow Shade said. “Do you really think we’d leave you? You’re stuck as our princess. No getting out of it.”

“That’s right,” Cloud Shadow added. “Couldn’t imagine anypony else filling that role.”

Twilight peeked up at them all while still holding Mist Hoof tightly, and though Ebon Wing and Ember Mane hadn’t spoken yet, she saw them give her nervous but heartfelt smiles.

“T-Thank you!” Twilight exclaimed. “Ruby is so… Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you....”

Twilight let herself be enveloped by their embrace, intent on relishing every moment of this reunion for Ruby, who in turn gave whispered thanks to her amidst her own internal cries as she felt the bat ponies’ touch through Twilight’s connection. Twilight was overjoyed for Ruby, even more so now that Ruby was no longer holding anything back from her. She had been comforted by Ruby more than enough, and now, she could finally support her in turn.

Meanwhile, Ruby lost herself between the phantom touches of the bat ponies and Twilight’s warm and supportive consciousness. For her, it was as if every finally felt normal again, just like the times when there was only her, the bat ponies, and the cave; when the world made sense and it was filled with love. She felt whole again. The bat ponies still cared for her and still considered her to be their princess. They were still her ponies and she was theirs.

She was still Ruby Sparkle.

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

“Wow, these are delicious!” Willow Shade and Cloud Shadow both exclaimed after biting into their apples “Like, amazingly delicious!”

Applejack let out a laugh. “We’ll, there’s more where that came from. Brought ‘em with me on our visit to Dusktown and there were plenty left over for this here trip. They’re grade A apples from Sweet Apple Acres.”

“We are definitely visiting there,” Cloud Shadow said, to which Willow Shade eagerly nodded in agreement.

Applejack looked over to Ebon Wing and Ember Mane who also seemed to be enjoying the apples. “Well? You two like ‘em?”

Ebon Wing gave a bashful nod, and Ember Mane politely swallowed before replying, “Yeah, they’re really good.”

“Good?” Cloud Shadow said. “These are amazing! Sure beats all the plums we’ve been surviving off of. I got tired of those days ago.”

“Like a plum would ever hold up to these babies,” Rainbow Dash remarked in between loud crunches as she chewed on her apple.

Applejack glared at her, but Cloud Shadow and Willow Shade had heard it.

“Uh yeah, that’s why I said it,” Cloud Shadow said.

“Good,” Rainbow Dash replied. “Glad to you know that you can sometimes tell when something’s right.”

Before the three of them could start again, they were silenced by stares from Twilight and Mist Hoof, and they began to eat quietly while glaring at each other.

After Twilight and Ruby’s reconciliation with the bat ponies, Twilight wanted to take some time to go over personal matters with Ruby and her newly resurgent feelings. But due to Ruby’s insistence, along with the rest of the group’s grumbling stomachs, Twilight relented under the promise they would speak in detail later on.

The entire group had then gathered in a circle to exchange information while having lunch. Twilight had just finished recounting everything that had happened to her and Ruby since they had left the penthouse. She tentatively went into the details of the nature of the bond she and Ruby currently shared, reassuring her audience every few minutes that Ruby was as real as any of them and of how much they meant to her. To her constant relief, the bat ponies were more than accepting on the matter, and openly spoke to both Twilight and Ruby, with Twilight conveying Ruby’s words of course.

Twilight then continued to talk about Lunar Pearl’s surprising appearance, their visit to Dusktown, and finally their trek to the cave. And while the reunion had been a mostly peaceful and touching affair, everypony was beginning to become accustomed to stopping the incessant spats between Rainbow and the two bat mares.

“Why don’t I start with what happened after you gave your orders,” Mist Hoof suggested now that it was his turn to give their side of things. Before that however, he gave one last glare to Cloud Shadow and Willow Shade who wore smug smiles as if they just came up with a new insult to throw at Rainbow Dash.

Twilight caught his glare, and she too gave a disapproving look at the two mares, and they both lowered their tuft ears at receiving a scolding from her as well. Twilight felt out of place giving discipline in Ruby’s stead, but she was really beginning to get tired of their bickering. She even glanced at Rainbow Dash to make sure she wasn’t about to take advantage by making fun of the bat mares latest trouble.

Relax. They’re going to be fine.

Are you kidding? They’ve been at each other’s throat every chance they get. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean.

I know, and I’m telling you to relax. It’s okay. They’re going to be good friends, eventually.

How in Equestria do you think they are going to be friends? I’m the Princess of Friendship, remember? I think I would know if they were becoming friends or not.

And you’re also the Princess of Bat Ponies, or Vamponies, depending on how you want to call it. Which means that I’m also a Princess of Friendship, and I’m telling you they are going to be good friends. Ruby gave a laugh as she looked at the three mares through Twilight’s eyes. Like I said before, Rainbow Dash would make a good vampony.

Ruby…

I know, I know. What I meant is that she would fit in just fine. They may not know it yet, but they are going to get along great. Just give them time.

“Twilight?” Mist Hoof asked.

Twilight snapped to and turned to Mist Hoof. “Oh, sorry. I was just speaking with Ruby.”

“Ah,” Mist Hoof replied. “That’s uh… quite a situation the two of you are in.”

“It’s been interesting to say the least,” Twilight replied. “Anyways, you were saying?”

“Right, after your orders.” Mist Hoof cleared his voice. “We gathered everypony up as quickly as we could and began evacuating. We left out the back side of the tower while you and Rainbow Dash handled things in the front. I informed Night Walker and Shade Flare right away what was happening, and he had me and the rest of us here ensure no pony would follow us to the rendezvous point. We waited until everypony had left the tower before I sent them,” Mist Hoof motioned to Ebon Wing, Ember Mane, Cloud Shadow, and Willow Shade, “to ensure the group made it without any problems. I was about to go myself after one last sweep of the tower when a blinding light suddenly came from the side you were on. I came to investigate to see if I could help you and Night Walker out.”

Mist Hoof leaned forward. “I perched myself near the top of the penthouse to get a look of things before jumping in, and you can imagine my surprise when I saw Princess Celestia. Shade Flare and a pegasus were still fighting off in the distance, but I wasn’t able to focus on them for long. You, Princess Celestia, and Night Walker talked for a bit, but I couldn’t hear any pony's voice except Princess Celestia’s of course.”

Twilight and Ruby recalled the moment vividly. Princess Celestia was hovering in the air above them, glowing with a white light as her flames licked the air around her. There was a sorrowful look on her face when she looked down at Ruby, and Ruby gave a flicker of remorse at the hateful words and glare she had given her in return. Celestia’s pain had been quickly replaced with fury when she turned her white hot gaze towards Night Walker and spoke in the Canterlot voice, practically rattling the windows.

“As you all talked I was preparing myself to fly down to help in what I thought was going to be a fight, but then Night Walker did something and you screamed. And then you teleported away.”

Twilight’s ears fell at the memory. That night in the field beneath the raining clouds seemed so far away now, but the fear and anger was easy to remember, and she berated herself for what she had almost done to Ruby. Though she didn’t feel as if she deserved it, Twilight welcomed Ruby’s gentle touch in response to her feelings of the memory. The two of them only exchanged feelings on the matter, sharing the pain they had both felt at the time. They had already spoken about that night a few times before, but it was something that they would revisit in the future, especially since it was the reason for the the cracks in the mirror between them. Since then, they had finally gathered all the remaining shards and placed them back in their positions utilizing their newfound connections with each other, and while in some ways their bond was now deeper than ever, it was not what they had before. It wasn’t worse, just different, but they were afraid those cracks would remain on the mirror forever.

“Then Night Walker and Princess Celestia fought, and by the night was that a fight.” Mist Hoof took a bite from his apple, staring at nothing in particular as his face showed a look of respect and fear at the memory. “I couldn’t imagine any other pony going hoof to hoof like they did.”

“I’m going to need to hear the details of that fight later on,” Twilight said. It was then that she remembered Rarity and Applejack had been there as well, and she and Ruby mentally noted to ask them later about it as well.

Mist Hoof gave her a long and careful look, but continued nonetheless. “At some point Shade Flare had his fight, but he didn’t say if he had won or not. He just told me to come with him so we could put some distance between ourselves and Celestia. When we reached the city limits Night Walker appeared beside us after somehow getting away and we flew the remaining distance to this cave together.”

Ruby had begun to formulate a question for Twilight to ask, but Twilight was already on the matter, given that she shared the same concern. “Did everypony make it?”

“Yup, everyone made it here, and all safe at that,” Mist Hoof replied. “Everypony was shaken at the sudden departure, but they were fine. Though, it didn’t take long for them all to figure out you weren’t with us.”

“Are you kidding?” Willow Shade said. “They knew something was wrong right away. The moment you three stepped in the cave without Ruby was when we all knew something was up.” Willow Shade then smirked at Twilight. “You should have seen them Ruby, Twilight,... uh Princess. Is it alright if I just call you Princess?”

Both Ruby and Twilight shared some hesitation at being called their title, much preferring their actual names be used in stead. But given the situation, they decided it would be fitting to clear up some confusion, for now. “Sure, it makes things easier.”

Willow Shade smiled as she continued, “Well Princess, everypony knew something was up right away. And we all started bugging Night Walker about what happened to you and when you would come back.”

Ruby’s joy and pride flashed, and Twilight couldn’t help herself but smile as well from it.

“But what Night Walker said wasn’t what we were expecting to hear,” Cloud Shadow added, and both her and Willow Shade looked to Mist Hoof expectantly.

Mist Hoof gave them a deadpan look for having interrupted him, but continued. “Night Walker started to fill us in on what actually happened, and how you weren’t our princess.”

“He… He did?” Twilight said, flattening her ears as she drew herself inwards. “What did he tell you?”

“He told us everything. He told us you were actually Twilight Sparkle the Princess of Friendship, and how he had gone to Ponyville to turn you into a vampony. He apologized for tricking us into believing you were a long lost vampony princess, but he said you were a “necessary sacrifice” for our lives to change, and that we shouldn’t forget what you’ve done for us even if you were no longer our princess.”

Twilight’s wings began to shake, and for a moment she looked as if she was about to leap from her position and fly away. But the moment was short lived and she calmed herself with deep breaths. Everypony remained stock still for the duration, daring not even to take a bite from their food until the moment had passed. The tension was clearly felt, and they all could only imagine how Twilight and Ruby felt at the moment.

Twilight eventually looked back to Mist Hoof, her face neutral save for a fire behind her red eyes. “Continue.”

It took a moment for Mist Hoof to regain his voice and he said, “After that, Night Walker announced we’d leave the cave the following night. When everypony had gone to sleep though, I went to Night Walker to speak more about the matter. We… came to some disagreements.”

Twilight’s ears perked up, and both her and Ruby felt a flash of concern. “Did he do anything to you?”

“No, nothing at all. He was very calm about the matter. Almost expecting it, actually,” Mist Hoof replied. “To be honest, Twilight, I had a feeling that you were who you actually were. I had thought about it ever since Applejack and Rarity told me about it. I’d had my suspicions, but I never guessed it would end up like this where there were actually two of you.”

“Ya mean you actually believed us?” Applejack asked.

“Not completely, but I definitely began to have my doubts that everything was as it appeared. Why in Equestria would two mares say the things you two had said, and go to such lengths for it? You fought in the yard with conviction, and not once did I feel as if you were pulling my leg. It may have also just been my love for crime and drama novels, and the fact that I may be going senile, but I had my suspicions.”

“You aren’t senile, and Ruby says the same along with ‘you old fart’,” Twilight said lovingly.

Mist Hoof laughed. “These silver highlights aren’t just for show, but if you say so. Who am I to argue with our princess?”

I always did like Mist Hoof.

He’s dependable to say the very least. I’m glad to have him back.

Me too.

“Anyways,” Mist Hoof continued. “While we were getting ready to leave the next night, Night Walker offered all of us a choice. Follow him to our new home and keep him as our Vampony Lord, or stay here and to take the chance of waiting for you to come back, our Vampony Princess.”

“He said that?” Twilight asked incredulously.

Mist Hoof nodded. “He did. And as you can see, some of us took that offer.”

Twilight looked to the rest, and she received supportive smiles in return. She felt her eyes begin to water again, but she quickly wiped them away. “I… I see…”

“Twilight, Ruby,” Mist Hoof said, and he waited until Twilight looked him in the eye. “Night Walker may have began this all, and while I still argue with myself at times whether following him was the right thing to do to begin with, you are the pony that I believe and will follow.” Mist Hoof scooted closer and in a gentlemanly fashion took Twilight’s hoof in his.

“Many terrible things have happened to you, and I’m sorry none of us were aware of it at the time. I can only imagine how hard it has been for you. For both of you. And while I still don’t understand everything, the others and I have already discussed it. We choose you to be our princess. Not only because following you will lead to less bloodshed, but because we truly believe you are the right choice for our race.”

“We’ve all seen you how lead us, how you care for us, and looking at you now, I’m already starting to see where the two of you influence each other. If I had to guess, you have already spoken your mind to me a few times, Twilight. Am I right?”

Twilight wordlessly nodded, feeling the tears beginning to appear again.

“I still remember fondly every moment we’ve had since our meeting. How you treated myself and the others, and always managed to lift our hearts no matter what was happening. You gave us a hope that we haven’t had for hundreds of years. And even now I am beginning to see Ruby inside of you in little actions and words. Regardless of whoever is speaking at the moment, I trust that both of you have our best interests at heart. The fact that you came here proves it.”

Twilight’s free hoof was covering her mouth, and she was having difficulty seeing again as her vision became watery.

The other bat ponies stood up as they came beside him and looked towards her. And Mist Hoof asked, “Will you be our princess again, Twilight and Ruby?”

Twilight gave a shuddered breath, and meekly nodded before replying, “Yes… we will.”

“Then it’s settled,” Mist Hoof replied with a smile. “We’ll follow you to the ends of Equestria, and we’ll help you fix our race and take them back from Night Walker’s hoof.”

“T-Thank you…” Twilight whispered as she and Ruby began to cry again. “We’ll do our best… thank you…”

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

After another tearful session, Twilight was whisked away by Cloud Shadow and Willow Shade who insistently asked question after question about her, Ruby, Equestria, and anything else that came to their minds. Rainbow Dash stayed beside Twilight the entire time, often leaning towards her in a protective and jealous manner while Applejack spoke to Ember Mane and Ebon Wing, attempting to elicit as many words as she could from the two. That left Mist Hoof and Rarity to share each others company, and they sat together away from the rest with thoughtful gazes.

They were both gauging the reactions of the two intermingling groups, and keeping an extra eye on the three troublemaking mares. Despite Twilight’s enhanced senses, the two bat mares had already developed a system where one would keep Twilight occupied with an honest question while the other would silently make faces at Rainbow Dash, leading to short spats between the three of them. After the first few scoldings from Twilight, Rainbow Dash quickly learned to follow suit, and she was now actively engaging in the silent war whenever she could. Despite how cunning the three of them thought they were being, they were completely unaware of Mist Hoof and Rarity’s deadpan expressions at them.

“Those three are going to be a hoofull when together,” Mist Hoof remarked.

“Indeed,” Rarity replied.

An awkward moment of silence passed between the two of them before Mist Hoof gently coughed into his hoof. “So, if you don’t mind me asking, you don’t seem to be acting yourself since we’ve last met.”

“Is it that noticeable?”

“Very. You were much livelier back in the yard.”

Rarity didn’t respond at first, but she eventually said, “I’ve fallen under some problematic circumstances. To keep it short, I’m suffering under the Hunter’s Curse.”

“I see,” Mist Hoof slowly replied, taking care to straighten his back.

“Don’t worry,” Rarity said having easily noticed the changed atmosphere between them. “My situation is a bit different than most Hunters. The only pony I intend to harm is Night Walker.” Rarity reluctantly tore her gaze away from Twilight and looked to Mist Hoof. “Though it makes me wonder how you know about my predicament.”

“You went to Dusktown, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And I’m assuming you met Grove?”

“Briefly, but yes.”

“Well, he’s my brother, and practically enamoured by the Hunters,” Mist Hoof said. His usual careful look dissolved into annoyance, and Rarity felt as if years had been lifted off his shoulders. “He’s an idiot most of the time, but a capable one. You’d think he’d kiss the ground the Hunters walked on if he came across one of them. I’m not sure how much you spoke to him but he’s all for keeping the bat ponies locked away in Dusktown. He’d do anything as long as he felt it would keep the tension between us and the rest of Equestria down.”

Mist Hoof narrowed his eyes as he thought about something from long ago, but eventually sighed. “He’s right most of the time, though. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of him at times for all the work and effort he’s put into improving our lives. He may be my idiot brother, but I can’t speak poorly about his accomplishments. Not all of them.”

Mist Hoof turned his gaze back to Rarity. “But it’s because of him that I know what I do about the Hunters. I can’t say that I’m exactly comfortable being near you, but I guess I don’t have a choice in the matter. It definitely explains how you fought like you did back then.”

Rarity’s focus on him intensified, but she still kept tabs on Twilight out of the corner of her eye, catching the fleeting moment of Rainbow Dash sticking out her tongue before innocently smiling when Twilight turned her head towards her.

“Can you tell me anything about the Hunters?”

“I can, but I can’t promise it’ll be anything you already don’t know.”

“The Hunters are descendants of the Gemstone family,” Rarity began to surmise. “Through methods unknown they were able to develope the instinctual ability to hunt the undead, vamponies included. The curse itself has been diluted over the generations and now requires a special ritual to be reactivated, which I myself have not undergone even though I have the curse. They are a part of the Royal Guard, and Dusktown lies in their ancient kingdom’s land.”

A moment passed between them as they stared at one another, and both their ears flicked at the sound of Twilight thwacking Cloud Shadow and Rainbow Dash’s heads.

“Well,” Mist Hoof eventually said. “Sounds like you know about as much as I do. The only thing I can add is that while our relationship with the Hunters has improved somewhat, and that there have even been a few cases where a batpony and one have fallen in love, it’s never with a Hunter that has been ‘awakened’. I’ve only met a few myself but it was never under amicable circumstances. They’ve always had an unsettling presence around us.”

Rarity sighed as she gave an understanding nod, and then returned her gaze to Twilight, catching sight of Rainbow Dash and Cloud Shadow carefully rubbing their new bruises. She immediately took note of Twilight’s facial expressions and how she glanced at the three of them now and then. From how her eyes would faintly become narrowed or worried, to even subtle posture changes that a normal pony would not even notice. If Rarity had to guess, she figured that both Twilight and Ruby were fed up with the three mares’ bickering, which would explain why Twilight would go as far as physical punishment even though it was something as light as a thump on the head. But gauging Twilight’s glances, Rarity suspected Twilight had hit them just slightly harder than she intended. Rarity noticed that Twilight was getting better at controlling her newfound strength, but Rarity would still catch the moments where Twilight exercised them too much. Even when Twilight would eat an apple with the others to keep up appearances, she would sometimes bite down far harder than a normal pony would, slicing the apple as if it were nothing with her fangs.

“You certainly have a Hunter’s focus,” Mist Hoof commented, causing Rarity to flick her ears and berate herself for becoming so focused on Twilight as to have missed Mist Hoof’s inspecting gaze. “But if it means anything, you don’t have the full Hunter’s atmosphere about you. Every Hunter I’ve met makes my skin crawl and they never looked at me kindly. You may give a mean glance now and then, but you’re definitely different. There’s still some kindness and care within you.”

“... It’s not enough of a difference if I still look at her with hate at times, though.”

“I’ve noticed,” Mist Hoof replied. “But it sounds like you need a mirror, because I’ve also seen you look at her fondly as well.”

Rarity didn’t reply, and Mist Hoof said nothing further on the matter. They watched together as Twilight spun her head around to catch Willow Shade giving a smug look at Rainbow Dash. Twilight raised a hoof in a gentle but threatening manner, and Willow Shade immediately gave a guilty smile in response while tactfully scooting away.

Among all the other details Rarity kept herself aware of, both major and minor, her reflection of Mist Hoof’s words made her to finally take notice of a strange but familiar feeling on her face. She normally ignored the sensation in the past due to the constant internal demand to focus on Twilight, and even when she did perform the action it was always hollow since it was only ever for the sake of another pony and not a true representation for how she actually felt. But to Rarity’s surprise, she realized she was giving the faintest of smiles towards Twilight, and that she wasn’t forcing herself to make it.

Rarity and Mist Hoof sat beside each other in silence for some time watching the rest of the group interact. Applejack had managed to strike a conversation up with Ember Mane, but Ebon Wing still remained mostly quiet. Willow Shade, Cloud Shadow, and Rainbow Dash looked to have established a temporary truce lest they suffer more scolding thwacks, and now settled for passive glares at each other whenever Twilight wasn’t looking at them.

“We should be going to bed soon,” Mist Hoof said, and Twilight’s ears flicked at having heard it from across the cave. She turned her head towards him, and silence fell within the cave as each pony looked towards her. “We should be well rested if we are going to follow you through this,” Mist Hoof said loud enough for all to hear.

“... You realize what I’m going to have to do, right?” Twilight asked.

Mist Hoof nodded. “We’ve known for awhile. Like I’ve said, we’ve done our fair share of talking while waiting for you. Night Walker needs to be dealt with.”

“I’m going to kill him,” Twilight said, and by the lack of reactions it was clear they knew it would come to that. “I’ll also be the one to do it,” Twilight added. “I can’t ask any of you to do something like that.”

“Twilight, I don’t—”

“I only need you all to keep the others away from Night Walker and myself,” Twilight firmly replied. “I won’t risk any of you in a fight with him. I can’t let myself be distracted if he threatens any of you.”

Mist Hoof opened his mouth to object, but Rarity gave a polite ‘ahem’, and he decided to withdraw his opinion.

“So, where do we find him?” Twilight asked. “Where exactly is this new ‘home’ he mentioned before he left?”

“He said it was to the west of here, only a few days flight and deep within a forest,” Mist Hoof replied. “He said our new home was a place called the ‘Castle of the Two Sisters’.”

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