• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 3,752 Views, 145 Comments

Darkened Shores - Silver Flare

An adventure that takes the Mane 6 around the world to face the what destroyed the alicorn homeland.

  • ...

16: Loss

Twilight Sparkle fought consciousness for a long time. For several hours she slept without stirring, without dreams, as if her mind or her spirit were still far below the surface of the sea. Of course she was bitterly exhausted, but her sleep went deeper than that. Part of her rejected the waking world because, subconsciously perhaps, she knew how painful it had become. So while she drifted she was also safe from the pain. And even though she slept so deeply she was scarcely breathing, she felt warm, and she felt that she wasn’t alone. So that when she eventually woke, it was into the sensation of being cared for, of being held. As she stirred, as she blinked her violet eyes into focus and lifted her head to look around, she was smiling. For a brief and beautiful moment, everything in the world was okay.

Her faint but content smile faded into puzzlement as she took in her surroundings. A sideways-oriented mess hall loomed over her like some unsettling painting she’d seen in a museum in Canterlot. She lay against the wall, swathed in blankets with another pony’s form curled around her. Daylight poured through the portholes above her, joined by light from lanterns carefully hung from benches bolted to the sideways floor. Ropes had been strung about the room as well, leading up to doorways and between the upright tables. Over the sound of a strong, steady wind distant voices carried concern, but not panic, and the voices were far too indistinct to have any meaning, although they may have been what woke her.

Oh, and there was a sharp, throbbing pain behind both of her temples. A clear symptom of overextending herself magically; she just couldn’t remember actually using any magic. It was clear that wherever Twilight was, something had gone wrong. Her puzzlement became concern. Something has happened, hasn’t it? She thought. Twilight groggily shifted a blanket and found a black-coated leg curled about her, ending in a beautiful and intricate silver hoof-shod. Luna? For a moment, everything seemed impossible. Why am I curled up in blankets with Luna and a headache in a sideways room?

The voices grew louder, and then stopped. A moment later, Pinkie Pie appeared in the sideways door above Twilight and began climbing down towards them. As she climbed, Twilight’s brain finally began to work properly, and she noticed a small but painful detail. Pinkie Pie’s normally curly and bouncy mane hung straight and lank down her back, almost covering her scorched packs. Her pink tail was just as lifeless, and even her coat had lost some of its color. That’s when Twilight's brain discovered some memories which should have been nightmares, by all rights. She felt as though a knife had slipped between her ribs, and she gasped in pain. Behind her, Luna stirred awake. Pinkie Pie reached the floor/wall and turned, meeting Twilight’s gaze. Twilight could see that same pain mirrored in her friend’s light blue eyes.

From behind her, Luna lifted her head. “Ah, Pinkamena. Perhaps your shift this hour shall consist of providing sustenance rather than a vigil. It seems our friend awakens.”

Pinkie Pie glanced at Luna and nodded, wiping at one eye. In a small voice, she said, “Your Highness, Celestia needs your help at the pumps again.”

Luna nodded and rose, shedding the blankets they had been wrapped in. “Of course.” She glanced down at Twilight. In the kindest and softest voice Twilight had ever heard her use, Luna spoke. “Twilight Sparkle. Our little messiah. For your sake we hope our road ends in tranquil meadows, yet we fear we wander yet through the forest.” She placed a gentle hoof on Twilight’s head. “We understand your pain as well as your need for time. Time, however, moves against us. We may need you, young Twilight. Please join us when your grief allows.” Twilight closed her eyes, and tears slipped free down both sides of her face. Luna sighed, and then launched herself up towards the doorway and the airship pegasus who waited for her.

Luna paused on the threshold and turned. "Twilight, there is one more thing. As time grows thin, we must explain now. Our sister, she blames the Darkness for our dalliance with the essence of nightmare. She. . . she is yet mistaken on that score." Then she vanished.

Pinkie's brow creased a little. "What did she mean by that?"

Twilight didn't know. She didn't even try to understand. Twilight just wanted to throw her arms around the usually bubbly, pink pony. Spike. She wanted so badly to break. Dash. It hurt just to breathe. Fluttershy. This wasn’t how things were supposed to happen. Pinkie Pie walked up to her friend, placing each hoof carefully, and just as slowly and deliberately withdrew a pile of wilted daisies and a canteen. She did all of this without meeting Twilight’s gaze again. And Twilight understood. Neither one of them could afford to lose control. Not now. Not when more lives were at stake. Rarity! Twilight managed to croak, “Rarity, how. . . How is she?”

Pinkie Pie didn’t smile. “She’s okay. I mean, she’s not okay okay, but she’ll make it. Here, have some breakfast, and then I’ll take you to see her.”

Twilight stared at the flowers and felt absolutely ravenous. Immediately, her hunger was overwhelmed by a crushing wave of guilt. She very nearly hated herself for feeling something as mundane and normal as hunger. Three of her friends were missing or worse, and she wanted breakfast? Twilight suddenly felt very sick. No. She decided. She remembered Spike’s selfless concern overriding his fear for himself. She remembered Rainbow Dash both thinking and moving faster than she had. There’s no breakfast for my friends. I can live without it too until we find them. She remembered Fluttershy’s quiet acceptance; how she had refused to let those two friends be lost in the sea alone. The memory of her courage or sacrifice, whatever it had been, nearly broke Twilight’s control. Sweet, timid Fluttershy? It was too much. Twilight’s body shook with the force of biting back her sobs.

No. I can not bear this. It hurts too much. Twilight’s mind and will had been honed to a keen edge by years of study and training, and she used that now as a weapon to maim herself, to cut away her grief and her heartache until she was left with nothing but a hollow and empty feeling. When Twilight opened her eyes the world seemed a bit dulled around the edges, perhaps a bit lifeless. And the empty feeling was a sick and horrible thing, but it was better than the grief. When she opened her eyes, they were dry. Her breathing was steady. It hurt so much less when you didn’t allow yourself to care. How interesting. She thought.

When Twilight picked herself up, it was with one shaky hoof at a time. Pinkie Pie leaned into her friend to help steady her, and to take some of her weight. She said nothing, but she radiated understanding and comfort. After a minute passed Twilight moved to stand on her own, and eight or nine rather steady steps later she reached the ropes dangling down from the sideways door above. Pinkie Pie showed her how to use the loops tied into the rope to pull herself upward. As she climbed, Twilight’s muscles burned and ached with the exertion, and her empty stomach grumbled in protest. She began to feel lightheaded, and she had to stop about a third of the way from the top to catch her breath and steady herself. For a minute, she didn’t think she could continue, but she felt Pinkie Pie climb up behind her; a comforting and solid presence. Her silent support helped steady Twilight once again, and she slowly hauled herself up one hoof at a time until she reached the top.

Guide ropes stretched down the corridor, past the half-flooded and empty engine room and the corridors leading to the starboard and port pumps. That seemed to be the center of activity in the foundered ship. There were ropes and hoses strung here and there, and a continuous jumble of voices mixed with the howl of wind to create a meaningless symphony. Pinkie Pie steered Twilight past those corridors, walking along the wall near the ceiling in the direction of the aft cabins.

They reached the first one, a door closed at their feet. Next to the door lay a neatly coiled climbing rope. Pinkie Pie walked up to the door and gently opened it inward before lowering the rope and motioning Twilight ahead of her. Twilight felt a bit steadier than she had at first. She knew she should feel an overpowering need to see the most generous pony she’d ever met; to hear her voice and know she was alright, but she still just felt hollow. Nevertheless, Twilight didn’t hesitate. She grabbed the rope and swung herself down into the room. It took a bit of effort to find the footholds since her flailing hooves kept kicking the rope around, but she eventually made her way to the floor.

The domicile had been cleared out of furniture. The double bunkbeds and bureau relocated or disposed of. Rarity lay atop a mattress in a shaft of sunlight shining in through the porthole in the hallway above, and she was swathed in blankets for warmth. She appeared graceful, even in sleep, the light diffusing through her entirely unkempt purple mane. Twilight just stared, allowing herself to feel what hollow relief and happiness her friend’s breathing could afford her. Pinkie Pie climbed down and stood next to Twilight, and for a brief stretch of time neither of them moved nor spoke. It was a rare moment of peace in an otherwise frightening world.

When Pinkie Pie broke the silence it was in a soft, careful voice. “Pin Feather said that she was lucky. She really needs to lay still for at least a couple of days, but her broken legs will heal. He said something about the cold water keeping the swelling down. She’ll be wearing splints on her hind legs for a couple of months, but at least she’ll be able to walk again.”

Twilight whispered back. “Pinkie, I’m so glad she’s alive.” But Twilight wasn’t certain whether she said it for Pinkie’s benefit, or her own.

“I know Twilight. Me too.”

They stood there for awhile, and Twilight lost track of time. That wasn’t like her. Had it been one minute or ten? She wasn’t sure. But she realized she was waiting for Rarity to wake up. Twilight broke the silence. “R-Rarity?” Her voice cracked on the last syllable. “Rarity? Can you hear me?” No response. Not even an ear twitch.

Pinkie Pie walked confidently to the side of the mattress, tucked her fetlocks underneath herself and lay with her mouth close to the white unicorn’s ear. “It’s all right.” Pinkie Pie said softly. “Twilight is here and she’s okay. Do you understand? Can you hear me? Everything is going to be fine.” Despite the deep numbness radiating through Twilight’s chest, she was taken aback. She couldn’t logically understand how anyone could still believe in her. Or trust her with their lives. It didn't make sense.

Voices and the sounds of movement echoed in through the open door just before a yellow beak appeared above them. “She’s right here!” Pin feather called over his shoulder. “I found her! See?”

Celestia’s face joined his, and as Twilight glanced up and met her eyes, relief washed over the regal alicorn’s features. Even Celestia, the veritable Goddess of the Sun herself, seemed filled with hope to see Twilight up and walking around. But as she took in the expression on Twilight’s face her smile froze, replaced by a small frown. It was then Twilight noticed how sunken and haggard Celestia looked. Maybe she'd been running the emergency water pumps with magic. “Thank you, Pin Feather.” Celestia’s tone was clearly one of polite dismissal.

Pin Feather took the hint. “Sure, I can get out of your mane. Hey Pinkster?”

Pinkie Pie shook her head no. “She’s still asleep.”

“Okay. Just let me know the instant she wakes up.” The gryphon nodded to the Princess and bounded away.

Celestia dropped into the room, spreading her wings to soften her landing. Even without allowing herself her full wingspan, her primary feathers still brushed both cabin walls. Yet she landed gracefully enough on three hooves, keeping the weight off of her injured hindleg and folding her wings against her sides once again. Twilight looked up at her mentor, and then back down at her friends. “Twilight Sparkle.” Celestia effortlessly imbued those words with affection and pride. Despite herself, Twilight felt a small surge of warmth somewhere in her heart, but it quickly faded back into the dull emptiness.

Celestia turned to consider the pony on the mattress before her. “Rarity. That she certainly is. She has displayed more strength and resilience than I’d ever suspected she had.” Twilight nodded slowly in agreement. She waited, half-expecting what the Princess would say next. Celestia sighed, her brow creasing with determination beneath the slow aurora borealis of her mane. “Twilight, we have a plan to free us from our current straights, but we need your help.” Of course. Twilight thought. Of course you do. “We need you to hold off the wind while Luna and I lift this ship out of the ocean, drain the water we’ve taken on and restart the engines.”


Celestia took an involuntary step back, as though she’d been slapped. Pinkie Pie stared at Twilight with wide, frightened eyes. “Do you mean to say there’s something wrong with my plan?” Celestia said.

“No.” Twilight looked like she might say more, but then she closed her mouth. She stared unfocused, gazing into her thoughts and memories.

“Twilight, what’s wrong?” For the first time Celestia truly seemed unsettled. It seemed as though unpleasant memories flitted behind her ancient eyes. When Twilight didn’t answer, she reached out a tentative hoof.

When she touched her student, it seemed to open a floodgate, and Twilight began talking in a dull monotone, as if she were reciting figures from a book of little interest. “I’m beginning to understand you now, I think. It must have been scary, watching your homeland being overcome with Darkness like you described. To feel that sort of helplessness. Founding Equestria was a really smart move, in retrospect. To cultivate a place rich with harmony and love would give you the perfect power base from which to draw up a magical defense. But that creature never showed up, did it? And you talked yourself into waiting. Waiting for thousands and thousands of years. I’m wondering now how much of your sister’s rebellion against you stemmed from blaming you for your brother’s death, and how much stemmed from simple frustration at having to watch you accumulate power and not use it to fight.”

"Twilight?" Celestia grew angry. “What are you accusing me of?”

Twilight continued. “Being a coward.” A part of her couldn’t believe she was saying these things, but the rest of her didn't care enough to stop. “I didn’t start putting the pieces into the right places until I met Cinder. Some of the things he said, they're starting to make sense. He accused you of ‘hiding your power,’ didn't he? Chrysalis must have crossed the ocean with her changelings, hoping to confront or end this Darkness, and they failed. Her attack on Canterlot was a desperate gamble, but a well thought-out one. If Chrysalis had been able to take your power base and the Elements as her own, she would have used them to fight this Darkness, wouldn’t she? But she knew that if she did fail, you would see her desperation and wonder what could possibly drive her to such extremes. So she crashed my brother's wedding, hoping to goad you into some kind of action that didn’t involve you sitting safely behind your borders, training one student after another just telling yourself you were waiting for one gifted enough to succeed where you had failed. That’s why you decided to tell us about your history when you did, and why we’re making this trip now instead of twenty years from now. Chrysalis forced your hoof.”

Twilight continued, laying down each word like a lifeless brick outlining the cold wall between them. “You even told Cinder to his face that we were crossing the ocean, and that so long as your subjects in Equestria remained unharmed, you wouldn’t turn back. You’ve been telling us all along that we’re just making this trip to have a look, to see what’s going on. But you really brought us here to try and fight. Which explains why the changelings let us leave. The only thing I can’t understand is why you never helped me when it mattered. You stayed away during Nightmare Moon’s return, not because you couldn’t fight but because you needed to test me. You offered no help when Discord returned, not even to stem the flood of chaos he caused. And did you really turn the full force of your power on Queen Chrysalis?” Twilight shook her head. “Even in the changeling hive, you pushed me to figure out a way to escape instead of allowing me to depend upon you, to think for some reason you might save us. I’m not really sure what’s worse anyway, thinking that you can’t save us or thinking that you wont. . .”

“ENOUGH!!!” Celestia’s voice, imbued with her magic, had the force of an impact, sliding everything in the room away from her a little. Her entire body glowed with a soft white light, her righteous anger filling the room. “That is quite enough, Twilight Sparkle!” She made a visible effort to try and control herself. “You go too far!" Celestia now seemed just as hurt as she was angry as she continued. “Of course I tried to push you, to help you become more than what you have been. Isn't that what every teacher does? And you have such promise! Deep beneath this ocean, you allowed my sister and I to draw upon your power. Your potential is greater than any I have ever felt. You saved all of our lives, Twilight, and yet you insist upon acting as though you aren’t needed. As though you aren’t special.”

Twilight shrugged as her gaze drifted back to Rarity, still passed out in her blankets. “I know that I’m strong.” Twilight said. “I just can’t imagine that I’m any stronger than the pair of immortal alicorns who rule a kingdom.” She gestured halfheartedly at the shaft of sunlight beaming down upon the injured unicorn. “I don’t know how long it’s been since we’ve broken out from under the cloud cover, but I’m sure you know what it means. This wind isn’t moving in a circle; it’s moving in a straight line. My guess is that we’ll be hitting land sometime soon. And when we do, I’ll be right here, doing my best to try and protect Rarity. You can’t ask any more of me. I’m sorry.” With that, Twilight carefully stepped over Rarity’s purple tail and curled up next to her, settling herself in next to Pinkie.

Celestia just stared, her body trembling and her jaw clenched. Twilight almost envied her mentor's capacity to feel so much all at once. When Celestia spoke again, it was a clear accusation. "Twilight, do you remember the night we spent in the cave? Because I do. And I did not miss the fact that your throat completely healed overnight. Neither did I heal my own injuries. Both of these feats are impossible, as you well know. Now explain again how you are 'unneeded'."

Twilight recoiled a little in shock, her eyes searching. "Fascinating. . ." Twilight pondered the words, but she found no clear explanation. She shook her head. "But it wasn't me, your Highness. I've never done anything. I swear it." Celestia met her gaze, but she added nothing. So Twilight continued. "Maybe we should conduct an experiment. You could crush my trachea, and have Pin Feather monitor my progress. Would that convince you?" Twilight tilted her head back, exposing her neck.

Eventually Celestia glanced away, nodded to herself and launched herself up and out of the cabin, passing a wide-eyed Applejack on her way out.

“Woah there!” Applejack ducked and clutched for her missing hat as Celestia swooped by. After a brief pause, the earth pony leaped into the room, nimbly grabbing the rope in her jaws and working her way down without the hoof-holds. Applejack stood studying Twilight with wide green eyes before asking, “You reckon it’s all true? The things you said about Celestia?” Twilight sighed and nodded, unwilling to move from her place at Rarity’s side.

Applejack continued, “Yeah, I reckon you’re right.” She shifted uncomfortably from hoof to hoof. “Listen. . . Twi’. . . I hear you when you say the Princess hasn’t been playing all o’ her cards with us. . . but you’re right about something else too. When I left the deck Cloud was pretty certain her crew had spotted land. And, uh, we’re still heading in a mite fast.” From the tone of her voice, it was clear she was hoping Twilight would leap to the rescue.

She couldn’t. Twilight shook her head sadly. “I hope Celestia and Luna can save us.” She said without any emotion at all.

Applejack didn’t look surprised at those words, just disappointed. “You jus’ can’t mean that.” She said. Pinkie Pie glanced from Applejack to Twilight, and back again.

“I do.” Twilight said lifelessly. “What I don’t understand is why everypony still thinks I can handle everything. Honestly, every time I make a decision it seems like somepony gets hurt. Or lost. Yet everypony still looks at me with hope in their eyes, or with expectations whenever something goes wrong. I can’t bear it anymore. I’m sorry.”

Applejack could sense the change in Twilight. She almost thought she could feel the emptiness radiating from her friend. “Oh Twi’.” Applejack moved to hunker down next to Rarity as well, addressing Twilight from across the injured unicorn. “You can’t just go an’ take all the blame by yer lonesome. You didn’t make this storm. You didn’t make Sp. . . Spike chew through his ropes. Shoot, you been trying yer hardest just like the rest of us. Ain’t no shame in that.”

“Yeah Twilight,” Pinkie Pie spoke without lifting her head, her mane straight and unmoving beside her. “You can’t give up now.” She said in a small voice.

Twilight still felt nothing. She closed her eyes and rested her head on her hooves between herself and Rarity. Her friends’ pleading just made her feel tired. “You don’t understand.” Twilight sighed. Waiting in darkness seemed far preferable to looking at the disappointment in her friends’ eyes. So she waited.

“TWILIGHT!” Applejack’s voice was a lash, popping Twilight’s eyes open. The earth pony was on her hooves, and she reached down to drag Twilight off the floor and look her in the eye. “Now, you may have given up on Celestia. Fine. You may have given up on yerself. Fine! But Dash and ‘Shy and Spike are out there somewhere, and we might, might be able to find them with this here airship. Pinkie and I can keep Rarity safe but we can’t help save this ship! Do you hear me Twilight Sparkle? I will NOT sit here and let you give up on our friends!”

Twilight said nothing. Our friends are dead, Applejack. Gone. she wanted to say. Emotionally, Applejack’s words were stones dropped into a well with no bottom. But we don't know for sure, do we? There's no evidence. Logically, Twilight couldn’t find fault with the argument. So finally Twilight nodded, and Applejack let her go. Twilight felt vaguely hurt; which was strange, given how terribly numb she was. She decided there was nothing at all to say, and so she stepped carefully over the unconscious Rarity, grabbed a hold of the climbing rope and pulled herself up and away from her friends. Applejack turned away from the open doorway above.

Pinkie Pie’s sky-blue eyes teared up. “Applejack. What’s wrong with her?” She clearly wasn’t referring to Rarity.

“I don’t rightly know Pinkie. I mean to say I ain’t sure. But I don’t like it one bit.” She sighed and smiled a little. “She’ll be okay. We’ll all figure this out once we get through this dollop o’ hogswallop we’re in.” She said, producing a length of rope. “Now, help me rig up somethin’ that’ll keep Rarity here from sliding around too much.”

The airship hung an inch from death, and the sight of the upended bridge was an eloquent portrait of that fact. Two crew members were suspended from harnesses near the ceiling, trying desperately to repair some of the electronics set underneath a hatch in the far wall. Halfway up the room, at the flight wheel, Clouded Gaze stood locked between the the spokes of the wheel and the floor, her beak contorted in an unconscious grimace. Of course she couldn't have afforded to give up her post. Even the slightest shift in the Vigil's rudder would upset its precarious balance and send it plunging into the depths. Her wings were spread, trying to take some of her weight by bracing against a control panel. Still, Twilight had no idea how Cloud managed to take the strain.

Thistle Down paced the floor, heedless of the oil paintings and the two inches of water he splashed through. "I get it! She's not coming. But we have to try something, don't we?"

Celestia stood near him, staring out of the three massive windows lining the nose of the airship. Ocean water took up nearly half of the view, and a sliver of cloudless horizon took up the rest, as the vicious wind continued to scour the ship broadside through the ocean. "Perhaps we can levitate the airship when we near the shore, and attempt to soften the impact magically."

"You told me four hours ago that the Vigil could buckle under the strain if we tried that!" Thistle actually pulled a few of the feathers out of his crest in frustration. "Minor repairs are one thing, but if we break this airship's back it'll never fly again!"

"Captain, I believe it is our best chance."

From the sideways hatch, Twilight spoke, "I'll help."

"Twilight!" Thistle spun around to look up at her. "Thank the stars! The Princess told me you were indisposed."

"Well," Twilight and Celestia locked eyes without smiling. "She was partly right."

Celestia nodded to her student. "I'm glad you've come."

Twilight shrugged. "Just tell me what to do."

The distant shoreline looked vaguely grey and unhealthy from this distance. Despite the fullness of the afternoon sun hanging in the sky, the landmass looked overshadowed, as though the sun didn't quite touch it. It was tough to gauge how far away they were with her mane whipping frantically about her face, but Twilight didn't feel like estimating anything anyways. Glancing into the wind behind them, Twilight suddenly understood why the Wonderbolts all wore flight goggles. Even squinting into the wind, her eyes leaked involuntary tears. She looked away, but not before glimpsing the entirely clear skyline behind them. There was no longer any sign of a storm. Aside from the bulldozer-like wind that continued to scythe any plume of water instantly to mist, leveling the ocean and driving the airship towards the gnarled shore.

Twilight had followed Princess Celestia out into the clear sunshine, scaling a series of ropes that had been laid out hours before by members of the crew. The sea frothed around the deck of the ship, roiling thickly like viscid magma. It seemed as though the wind and the sea both struggled mightily to claim the airship, fighting one another to a standstill. The pair were quickly joined by Princess Luna, and the three of them perched themselves upon the guardrail and prepared to meet the Vigil's final crisis.

"This will be a delicate undertaking." Celestia didn't seem very inconvenienced by the wind. Twilight struggled not to feel envious as her own mane lashed uncontrollably about her face. "Should we cease the wind without a proper hold of the ship, it would sink within moments. Should we hoist the ship up into the wind, it would be instantly flung end over end. And even if we managed to divert the wind and lift the ship at the same time, we could not right it properly until we have drained most of the water, else we would endanger everyone aboard, including Rarity. We must time this perfectly."

From Twilight's other side, Luna added. "We will lift the dirigible. My sister, thou will tend to the water. Twilight Sparkle, thou must stave off this gale, as thou has done before."

"But Twilight, you must wait until Luna has given you a signal, not a moment before. Do you understand?"

Twilight shrugged and nodded dully, agreeing. Luna cast a questioning look over the unicorn's head, but Celestia only looked pained. With a grimace, Luna returned her gaze to the rapidly approaching shore. Luna closed her eyes, and when she opened them again, her horn lit with a soft glow. A similar glow spread about the ship beneath them. "Young one, we are ready."

Twilight nodded, and she visualized the spell in her mind. She reached for her power, and projected it into a flat plane behind them, diverting the wind.

Except nothing happened.

Nothing at all.

Twilight's horn remained as dull and lifeless as the crown perched meaninglessly upon her head. She forgot to breathe. Even in her self-imposed numbness, she could still feel dumbstruck.

"Now, Twilight."

She groped within herself, but she felt nothing. No connection. No magic. Of course she didn't. Oh no.

Celestia's panic was infectious. "We are running out of time! My student, if you can divert the wind you must do so now!"

As the realization dawned upon her, Twilight shook her head side to side. When she had cut herself off from mourning her friends and her own failures, she had also cut herself off from her magic. When she had gouged out her heart to distance herself from the pain, she'd left her soul behind too. Celestia herself had taught her as much. The connections between individuals were the source of all magic, and Twilight felt nothing at the moment. Nothing but a dull panic. "No." She whimpered to nobody, as the ghost of her grief loomed above her. "Please, no."

Celestia gently shook her student. "Twilight!"

"Sister, we must act! Now!" Luna shouted into the wind.

"Twilight! What is wrong?!?" Celestia searched Twilight with her eyes. When comprehension dawned across the regal alicorn's face, she gasped. "Twilight?"

By this time, Twilight's chest heaved with gasping breaths. She knew what she had to do. She hadn't really cut out her own heart. It had just felt that way. All she'd managed to do was erect a wall between herself and her feelings. Now that she was aware of it again, a great tidal wave of anguish threatened to crash down upon her, all the worse because she hadn't allowed herself to face it until this moment. And she would need to let it swallow her whole. She whimpered again and shut her eyes. She wasn't sure she could do it.

Celestia had nearly spread her wings in shock, endangering her precarious balance. "Sister. . . Luna, I will divert the wind."

"To what point and purpose?" Luna maintained the beginnings of her spell despite her frantic speech. "We can neither right the ship nor drain it safely! It will not float again in this way! We must alight upon the shore, then!"

"Yes." Celestia's voice was heavy with dread.

"We were being sarcastic!" Luna shot back. "Thou knowest these shores are as dangerous as our current straights!"

"We must try." The desolate shoreline sped closer. Spits of broken rock angled menacingly out of the water like teeth threatening to devour the airship whole. "Our time is up."

A honey-colored wedge of magic appeared, blocking the force of the gale behind them. Once divested of its prize, the wind howled its savagery in an impotent rage. At the same moment, Luna's glow scaled upwards in intensity, and Aether's Vigil began to lift out of the water. The wind had ceased, but the ship retained all of its momentum.

"Higher, sister!" Celestia cried out.

Luna's spell intensified, her horn becoming too bright to look at, but seawater poured out of the previously submerged pump apertures and from around every porthole and seam. And wherever the water flowed, it washed away and weakened Luna's magical grasp. A spar of rock approached at train-worthy speeds, looking for all the world like a giant's discarded spear. Luna hauled with all her might, but to no avail. They couldn't clear it.

Twilight saw everything in excruciating detail, but her heart and mind were leagues away. Rainbow. . . Fluttershy. . . Spike. Oh Spike, you trusted me. You trusted me to keep you safe if we just stayed together. But I was too slow. Spike. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. I. . . I love you so much and I let you go.

As Twilight cried out her broken heart to the empty sky and the merciless sea, her form burst into light.

. . .

. . .

. . .

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