• Published 30th Aug 2015
  • 2,718 Views, 389 Comments

Nine Days Down - JoeShogun



Celestia's latest game of Save the Princess gets more serious than she'd have liked when she gets herself thrown into Tartarus. It would be bad enough if she were alone...but it seems she'd picked up a straggler as well.

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“She’s awake! Sir, she’s moving! Princess!? Are you alright?”

“Back off, March. Give her some room.”

Twilight blinked. Even her eyes were tired. Moving them took actual effort.

A pony stepped into her view. She eventually recognized her as the pegasus mare, Brevity.

“You were amazing back there, Princess! How do you feel? Can you hear me?”

Twilight didn’t respond. Her ears turned by reflex to the sound of an explosion. Seeing where she was looking, or trying to look, Brevity explained.

“They’re still fighting, Your Majesty. It’s just the Princesses now.”

Twilight managed to roll up onto her legs. Nothing hurt, and she was certain that couldn’t be right. She worked her tongue, wondering at what was happening with her. She was utterly drained, but not in pain. She took a slow look around.

She lay on a hill. A henge of some kind stood behind her, leading into a tunnel. A nice, familiar wind blew in from it. The gate. The way to Equestria.

The guards all watched her, off and on, but she couldn’t read their expressions. The huge, night-black bird was there, and it watched her as well. Sidewinder sat beside it. Close, like an old friend. Ben had crawled up onto Twilight’s back at some point.

Somepony was missing. It took her some time to figure out the words to the only question that mattered.

“Where’s Bait?”

Brevity’s face fell a bit. Even out-of-sorts as she was, Twilight could see that.

“He ran, Princess,” said Silver Shine. “Something hit him from behind. We couldn’t make it in time. I’m sorry.”

“Oh.”

She felt nothing. Nothing at all. No shock, no explosive rage or swallowing grief. Only a vague sense that that couldn’t be right. It was like she’d been hollowed out, like there was just nothing left in her to handle this with. She wondered at it, in an absent sort of way. Was this what Terra felt like? It wasn’t unpleasant. It wasn’t anything.

It’s temporary. A brief period of shock resulting from a serious overuse of unknown magic and a long period of trauma and emotional instability.

It was Insight, telling her that. Not in words, of course. Just knowledge. Twilight accepted it.

There is no immediate danger here.

She accepted that too, but…

“Why are we still here?”

“We’ll leave soon, Princess. We wanted to wait until you were awake. And, um, more cooperative.” Brevity scratched away at her scroll as she spoke, looking maybe nervous?

You fought them every time you woke until now. No one was harmed.

That was insight again.

“Princess Luna also requested we wait as long as possible, so we could tell her what happened when we get back.”

Twilight said nothing, just turned to watch the battle that still raged on.

Typhon had been hurt while she was gone. Badly. Great rents had been torn in him, some deep enough to show iron-black bone under gouged scale and flesh. It would have disgusted Twilight before, seeing such gore, but now it was all just more information. She wondered how it had happened. Had the Brothers done all it, or had it been the Princesses?

Two of Typhon’s six wings hung limp, the skin of them ragged, but still he roared in fury at his enemies. All that damage hadn’t even slowed him down.

Luna and Celestia circled the beast, radiant in their might. Celestia blazed, an invulnerable juggernaut. She swung Hyperia, striking down Typhon’s blood-monsters as she stung him with blast after blast of furious molten power. She harried him, maddened him, dragged him out to overextend himself in flailing claw strikes and world-rending blasts of his not-fire or lightning or stranger things. She almost never dodged. In the rare event that his attacks bypassed Hyperia, she forged a barrier of such invincibility that it turned aside even his annihilating flame. She was a vision of terrible glory, and he could not touch her.

Luna danced in the shadow of her sister. While Celestia drew Typhon’s fury, she snuck into the lee of it, wreaking devastation on the dragon’s few and rarely exposed weaknesses, laughing all the while. She sliced into him with Shard, but her deadliest work was done with magic. She unleashed bizarre and frightening spells, opening portals that fired his own weapons back at him, or latching onto his mind to twist his perceptions for just a moment, or grabbing hold of his own creatures by their warped souls and breaking them into her service. She was a vision of glorious terror, and there was no harm he could bring onto her that she could not return on a far greater scale.

It was the stuff of legends, this, but Twilight felt no excitement in seeing it. Perhaps if she had, she could have held out some hope. But Insight was remorseless in her observations, and so Twilight knew that, for all their cunning and power and skill, the Princesses were losing. They spent their might in a profligate torrent, and it was killing them. They were better at managing their godstuff than Twilight had been, but the simple fact was that mortal bodies weren’t built for that kind of potency. And that was what the Sisters were here. Mortal.

Typhon suffered no such weakness. He was indestructible. The Sisters laid into him, time and again, but even seeing as little as she had, Twilight knew it wouldn’t be enough. The sisters were faster, more clever, clearly more experienced, but Typhon was a thing of apocalyptic might. He was no dumb beast, either. He learned from every feint, every trap, every spell they poured into fighting him. He fell for nothing twice, and he just wouldn’t die! A single slip would be all it took for Luna or Celestia to be torn asunder, but Typhon would fight until every muscle was scorched and severed. Twilight had seen what he was, and she knew this: he would never, ever stop.

Typhon lunged at Celestia with one massive claw, cutting off her easiest escape with a blast of shattering sound from one greater head as several tails swept in from behind. He had finally caught her, locked her into a tiny, lethal moment of hesitation. Celestia's eyes were hard, admitting nothing of defeat.

Luna dove in seemingly from nowhere, revealing Celestia’s trick for what it was as she ravaged the throat of Typhon’s screaming head. She cut in so deep that it coughed and gurgled on its own blood. Now freed from the prison she’d intentionally created, Celestia dodged the claw easily, jabbing at the wounded head’s eyes with Hyperia for good measure. It turned away fast enough that the damage was minimal, but no matter. Everything had gone as planned.

Except for a few things.

Typhon’s claws had switched direction mid-strike, and even now were closing on Luna. She was already flitting aside, but suddenly had to contend with a lesser head. That was easy enough, but then there were three, seven, twenty. Still she evaded, keeping just ahead of the beast. There was a rush of air as Typhon breathed, then a ringing crack as everything in a cone over half a mile long froze instantly solid. Luna wheeled away, turning back to taunt the dragon for having somehow failed to kill her there, and it was only as she attempted to flex her right wing that she noticed he hadn’t quite completely missed.

From the elbow out, the wing was an unbroken, perfect crystal. Luna’s eyes went wide as Typhon sang a single, discordantly beautiful note. Everything that had just frozen shattered into a billion tiny needles. Luna screamed, falling, but even now she kept her head. As Typhon lunged for her in a hundred-headed rush, she teleported out with a…

There should have been a pop, but it never came. Some of Typhon's heads were chanting, and their racket dissolved Luna’s spell before it even really began. Moon Princess looked up into the great, gaping maw bearing down on her.

“See you in Equestria, Sister.”

It snapped shut, and swallowed her whole.

Twilight watched it happen, and felt almost nothing. A tiny, withered shot of worry, nothing more. She had almost seen it coming, actually. She wondered how Luna hadn’t.

Celestia cried out, screaming her sister’s name. It seemed like everything paused for a moment, like the whole world just stopped in honor of the exquisite agony that comes when one hero sees another die. A single blue feather drifted slowly down.

And then it was done. The world moved on. It forgot.

Typhon turned all of his attention on Celestia, every one of his multitudinous heads whipping to face her. She sneered, but it was not in disrespect.

It was wrath. This would be over soon, that was obvious. But it would cost him. Dearly.

Typhon stormed forward. Celestia roared in hopeless, magnificent defiance. But in the end, Luna upstaged them both. She’d never been one to be forgotten easily, after all.

It began as a little, black pinprick in space. It grew as it absorbed the seemingly infinite weight of Typhon’s pain. It developed with alarming speed, and soon it held so much weight that it arrested his whole charge. The dragon-thing found himself tethered to his own strangling head as an ever-deepening black hole grew in his throat. It swelled massive, and as Twilight watched, she saw it suck in blood and scale and eventually muscle and—

She looked away, studying a blade of grass near her hoof instead. Brevity yelled something and lurched forward to catch her scroll, but Twilight barely heard her through the deafening vortex. Her own mane was whipping toward it, but she decided not to think about that just then. She felt, more than saw, Typhon dig his claws in against that inexorable pull, felt him fight with all his damned, irrepressible will. The singularity tore into his head from its neck, then sucked in that too, all the way down to one shoulder before it finally collapsed in a tiny, ridiculous, entirely anticlimactic pop. It was only now that Twilight realized that Luna had been laughing the entire time.

Raising her exhausted eyes once more onto the scene of ruin that was this battle, Twilight couldn’t decide what was more impossible: that any single being could be capable of such unbridled destructive power…

Or that it wasn’t enough.

Typhon rose. One great head was gone, what was left of its neck dragging against the ground. Half a shoulder had joined it, leaving muscle and bone exposed to open air, but still Typhon rose. He didn’t even stop to think. He was on Celestia already.

Two heads and one-and-a-half arms proved more than enough. Celestia struck back as best she could, but she wasn’t even trying to hurt him anymore. That cause was lost without Luna. Instead, she stalled, weathering his fury for as long as she could, pulling him ever away from the gate where Twilight lay. It was a fighting retreat of one.

What was she doing, though? Why had they even tried to fight him? Why hadn’t they all simply run? Twilight could only wait and see.

Typhon, too, was being more cautious. Perhaps the injuries were finally enough to slow him, or maybe he hadn’t known the extent to which the Princesses could hurt him. No longer did he fly at her in a rush. He was grinding her down, forcing her to block with magic as much as she dodged, biding his time. He refused to bite with his greater heads at all, using them only to fire gouts of annihilation, or to speak those words that unraveled any magic but his own.

The living Sun dodged a blast of fury, another, cut down one blood-borne monster after another. She blocked a bite that should, by all rights, have killed her and then...something happened. The whole land of Tartarus shifted, rippled as if it were a lake into which dozens of pebbles had been dropped. The disturbances pulled together into a single locus just in front of Typhon, then went still.

Just for a moment, the dragon was distracted.

Celestia drew back Hyperia, and lit herself ablaze in one final burst of power. She hurled herself forward, spinning her sword like a thresher. Typhon’s eyes went wide as he tried to slip aside, but he may as well have tried to dodge light itself. The sword blew through his throat like it wasn’t there, leaving a perfectly circular hole from one side to the other just under his chin. Typhon recoiled, mouth opening, choking. Celestia dove straight into that spear-toothed maw. It snapped shut on reflex.

Despite her malaise, Twilight felt her breath catch. An impossibly long moment passed as Typhon fought to spit the Princess out, but it was already too late. Brilliant, golden light poured from his mouth, from the hole in his neck, from his eyes and ears, and then…

The entire skyline was consumed in the tragic, indescribably beautiful glory of the Sun Goddess's death.

Twilight didn’t look away, didn’t blink, even as her eyes burned.

I a few moments more, it was done. Celestia was gone. Everything they’d done, all the things they’d shared here…

Gone. Not even a floating feather marked her end.

Typhon stirred. He was still alive. Only one of his three massive heads remained, and it had been scorched blind on one side, but still, he rose again. He coughed something up, pushed himself upright. His arms trembled, but barely, and only once.

“Princess Twilight?”

It wasn’t the first time Brevity had called. She moved in front of Twilight to get her attention, touching her lightly with a hoof.

“It’s time to go, Princess.”

Twilight made no move.

“Do you need help, Your Highness? We have a stretcher, we can carry you.”

Twilight’s eyes gradually moved to focus on the pony before her.

“I’m fine,” she said. She slowly stood, mirroring Typhon’s inexorable rise. Brevity was right. They had to go. He would be coming soon.

“Oh, thank goodness. Right this way, Princess.” Brevity trotted a few steps, turning to indicate that Twilight should follow.

She didn’t.

Why had this happened? Why had Luna and Celestia thrown themselves away? Typhon was still alive, and he was coming, and nothing any of the survivors could do would stop him. What had been the point?

The earth moved again, shifting. Typhon stared into the spot, just before him, as it went completely still. His one good eye simmered with emotions Twilight utterly failed to comprehend.

A single, massive, skeletal hoof thrust up from the ground. It rose, enormous, then fell to back to the land, dragging up the rest of the body that followed. It was like a scene out of some schlock horror novel, an undead zombie-pony rising from her grave. Except bigger. And real.

Terra.

Her horn breached next, a long, sharp, exquisite thing of quartz and jade and magic. Her skull followed, glittering and transparent, where it wasn’t shining and black. Diamond, Twilight realized. And iron. Veins of molten silver and gold poured in over the skeleton as Terra continued to pull herself, form herself, from the earth. Flesh of shining granite and gleaming marble wrapped around her veins and skeleton in a perfect simulacrum of the Earth Goddess.

No. That wasn’t right. The one she’d seen before had been the simulacrum. An imperfect copy of this, something small enough that a pony might possibly be able to relate to it. This sublime thing was what she truly was. She’d been trying to be polite before, appearing to them in such a limited form…

Terra’s mane burst into being, shot through with lines of sapphire and glittering ruby and topaz. Her tail followed, filling out into a rainbow of stone and gems and unimaginable, natural beauty. Her great wings flexed as they filled in, stone feathers gleaming and sharp. Her eyes opened, exquisite in their lifeless majesty.

“Go back to sleep, Typhon.”

Her voice was like nothing Twilight had ever heard. She’d read books that had tried to do things like this. Some creature would speak with a voice like wind through the leaves, or steam from a kettle, or some such. But she’d never really understood how different a sound could be from what she’d known until now. Terra’s was the voice of the earth itself. How could one describe such a thing? The sound of forging a diamond in the center of the world? The echo of a sparkling gemstone? There simply weren’t words for this.

“Highness? We really need to go. Princess Luna told us that if this happened it meant things were about to get ugly.”

How could they just turn away from such a wonder? And how much uglier could things possibly get?

“DiE!!!”

You may not want to know that just now.

Insight again. Twilight accepted it. She let herself be dragged away, nearer the henge and its tunnel.

Terra didn’t speak again, and Twilight was in the tunnel before the first blow landed.

~~~

The trip through the gate was short, and Twilight would never remember much of it. Just darkness and a slow, strange emptiness of self.

“We’re here, Princess!” exclaimed Brevity. She waved a hoof, leading Twilight out through a small henge-circled tunnel much like the one she’d entered in Tartarus. Had she even really left? Twilight looked up. The sky was full of twinkling stars. Little wisps of cloud floated through it, and a big, bright half-Moon shone down on her. A huff of breath escaped her.

“Alright, Your Majesty, Silver Shine will contact Princess Luna. She'll be here very soon. Would you like to take a moment for yourself? Or would you rather I stay with you?”

Twilight looked about, eyes moving slowly from one place to the next.

“No. I’m fine.”

“Yes, my lady.” Brevity bowed, but Twilight didn’t pay much attention. She slowly lowered her haunches onto the grass, mind empty.

The soldiers bustled about, doing whatever it was they did. Twilight twitched when she felt the ground shake. She would have fled, if she could, or at least jumped. As it was, she merely turned to face whatever betrayal was coming her way. She beheld the bounding form of Cerberus, running forward up to greet them. He smiled in his canine way, tongues lolling out. He took his toll of petting from each guard before trotting over to Twilight. He stopped in front of her, heads tilting, as if confused.

Twilight didn’t recognize the unusually astute hound’s concern for what it was, but she didn't stop him as he sidled up next to her and lay down. Twilight just sat there, staring into the sky, for a long while. Cerberus inched closer, snuffling one huge nose under her hoof. She raised it to absently stroke the great hound behind his offered ear. Ben, forgotten this whole time, followed Cerberus’s lead. He crawled up Twilight’s back, across her withers, and down to her free leg. She picked him up on pure reflex and held him to her chest.

She finally felt a tightness there, deep within her. She didn’t know what it was and didn’t want to. She just held Ben and stroked Cerberus and sat, gazing blankly out into nothing.

A loud pop burst through the night, along with a bright light, and Twilight twitchedagain. The thing in her chest erupted into something far worse, and suddenly she couldn’t breathe.

But it was just a flare. The guards had set it off. Ben chirped, and Twilight loosened her grip on him. Cerberus shifted a bit, just reminding her he was there, and she resumed petting him. Slowly, she relaxed. But then…

She coalesced out of nothing. She was born of stardust and dream, whimsy and nightmare, all woven together with just enough reality to make it work. If Twilight hadn’t seen so many impossible things today already, watching Luna incarnate would have been the most unforgettably, dumbfoundingly amazing thing she had ever witnessed. As it stood, Twilight just stared all the more.

“Good eve, my loyal soldiers!” called the Moon Princess. “You are all here, yes?” The nyxies among them circled around her, eager but not overwhelmed. Perhaps they had seen this before?

The pegasi gaped openly, but even they came around after a moment.

“All accounted for, m’lady,” said Silver Shine, bowing.

“Wonderful!” The relief was visible across her whole countenance. “And what of Twilight Sparkle? Celestia?” She caught Twilight’s eye as she looked about, and her face immediately changed. She rushed forward, but slowed as she grew closer, her smile going still. One of the guards whispered something to her, then stepped aside to give the Royalty their space.

“Twilight?”

She came to her cautiously, concerned, the way Fluttershy might approach a wounded animal. Why? Twilight felt fine.

“Hm?”

“It’s alright, Twilight.”

She opened her mouth, but nothing came out.

“It’s over now.” She raised a wing and gently placed it on Twilight’s shoulder. It was the one that had just been shattered by Typhon.

“I—”

Something wet rolled down Twilight’s muzzle and dripped onto her leg. Another drop followed. Was it raining? Twilight looked up and saw only stars and the Moon and thin, harmless clouds. She tilted her head back down and found that her vision had gone all blurry. She raised the hoof she’d been petting Cerberus with to her eyes to clear them. It came back wet and warm.

“You’re home, Twilight.”

The thing in her chest gripped her again. It reached up to lock onto her throat, and made squeeze her eyes shut tight. For all that, it wasn't exactly unpleasant.

Luna stepped forward and wrapped both wings around her.

The dam burst. The river of tears she’d kept locked away for so long finally, finally came crashing out, and Twilight just broke down. She fell into that big, warm chest and cried, and cried, and cried until there was nothing left. She managed to blubber out one question.

“W-where’s Suh-Ce-Celestia?”

“She will rise with the dawn, Twilight, as she ever has. She will be with you again very soon. But worry not on that now, dear-heart. You are home.”

Author's Note:

THE END!







Haha, just kidding. There's a bit more.

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