• 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.

  • ...

22: Still Life

At the sight of the soft insect clinging to her, Twilight whimpered in visceral terror. Her horn lit with a lavender glow, and she channeled a telekinesis spell. It was the same spell she'd used a thousand times before, and she knew it by heart. An answering glow lit up around. . . Fluttershy, and Twilight used her magic to drag her friend back onto the sand. Somehow, in that moment, the revolting centipede tearing at her flesh was less important than Fluttershy's safety.

But Applejack was in danger too. She hadn't left Twilight's side, and she was busy protecting her friend by throwing creatures aside with her bare hooves. She spun, she kicked, she flung herself back and forth, and she swept her enemies aside with prodigious strength. The orange gem at her throat was faintly aglow, and her hooves had already become bloody messes. Speckles of red dotted the sand all around her.

Twilight had dragged Fluttershy most of the way back to them when Applejack threw her a glance, gasped and tackled Twilight into the surf. She did her best to grasp the centipede behind its head and she tried to pull it backwards. But all the blood made getting a grip on it impossible, and Applejack's hooves had gone entirely numb anyhow. Although she fumbled and cursed and sobbed, she couldn't pull the thing's pincers out of Twilight's arm no matter how hard she tried.

Twilight felt the numbness spreading though her chest, but she didn't feel alarmed. She actually felt at peace. Despite the sharp smell of burnt fur and coppery blood, this spot on the beach was nice. The ocean water was crisp and cool as it gently lapped at the top of her head. The sun was bright and beautiful. There wasn't even a cloud in the sky. And Applejack was there, the most hardworking and dependable pony Twilight had ever met. Things really weren't so bad. It's funny, She thought, This might be the most beautiful place in the world to die.

Then Applejack was gone, replaced by a soft pink mane and a bright yellow face. Fluttershy picked something off of Twilight's shoulder and then laid a hoof on her chest and the world was gone.

Her cry of alarm echoed soundlessly through the emptiness between stars. She tumbled without momentum, and without direction. Just a vague sense that nothing sped past her in every direction.

Then she found herself standing in a familiar field of wildflowers beneath a bright sun. Twilight herself was in a great deal of pain. She felt as though acid or fire had been splashed over one side of her body. Yet, for some reason, the pain was a distant thing, too far away to really matter. It just felt less immediate than the flowers bowing gently to her in the breeze, or the solid mountains presiding over the hazy horizon. She felt the tension ease from her shoulders as her soul discovered a measure of surcease in the tranquil glade. She also felt that she wasn't alone. Twilight turned, a warm smile already tugging at the corners of her mouth.

A young filly stood behind her, a butter-yellow pegasus peeking out from behind a lanky pink mane. She was gangly and thin, but Twilight could see hints of the graceful and pretty mare she would become. And the sunlight seemed to wreath the young foal in a faint nimbus of glowing light. "Fluttershy." Twilight said, her voice suffused with warmth.

The filly smiled sadly, her voice and words far older than her years. "You're lost, aren't you?" She asked, even though she wasn't expecting an answer. "You've strayed far from the path Celestia laid out for you, and now you're lost. Just like Luna was." Twilight felt the sting of shame, and her face flushed before the innocent child. She hadn't forgotten Fluttershy's accusations back aboard the Vigil, nor how accurate they were.

The filly flipped her mane out of the way and stepped forward, catching Twilight's fallen gaze with her own. Young Fluttershy's expression radiated compassion, not condemnation. "It's okay," She said in a voice both soft and melodic. "We still love you, you know. Even if violence is the only answer you can find. We are still your friends."

With that the filly reached out a comforting hoof and touched it to Twilight's shoulder. Immediately the pain began to fade. That touch was a cool balm, spreading through her soul as much as her body. Twilight hadn't realized just how badly she'd needed some form of comfort, some kind of release. And she'd been too busy shouldering all of the responsibility and all of the blame to even realize she needed it. As the pain eased, Twilight figured there was another letter to write about friendship and forgiveness somewhere in there.

Twilight wanted to put it into words. She wanted to scoop the filly into her arms and hold her, maybe tell her one of the thousand or so things her heart wanted to say. But the glade and the mountains and the sun were fading, blown to dust and mist. Even the filly before her, all sea-green eyes and potential, evaporated into nothingness. But as Twilight drifted through the void once again, this time she was awash with a sense of peace.


Twilight awoke to a stillness she hadn't been prepared for. The sea still lapped gently against the shore, but the sound was distant, and there was little else to break the calm. Except Princess Luna. "Twilight Sparkle, art thou well?" Luna had Twilight's head cradled off of the sand, and the care in her words matched the concern in her eyes. Behind her horn, Luna's mane wavered and flowed, looking for all the world like a portal into the night sky.

Twilight smiled. "Yes." She assured the Princess. Then she felt her arms and her hooves. Feeling had returned to her limbs! She wasn't numb anymore! A relieved laugh bubbled out of her. "Yes, I think I am. Where is everypony?"

Luna's return smile was tight-lipped. "We are all here, and we are all alive, for the moment."

Twilight sat up and looked around, her eyes focusing. She and Luna sat in a circle of sand. A couple of pony-lengths away, Fluttershy crouched above an unconscious Applejack, her hooves upon the earth pony's chest. Fluttershy looked beyond awful. Her coat was pale and almost colorless. She looked emaciated, like she hadn't eaten in weeks. Her ribs were prominent and her eyes sunken and hollow. It was little wonder they had immediately assumed the worst when they first glimpsed her.

But her pink mane had been tied back into a ponytail with seaweed, and when she opened them, her sallow eyes were hard with determination. She looked like a pony who had been through every level of Tartarus, and was ready to go back at a moment's notice without flinching. She looked strong. Twilight was so happy to see her, she felt like she might cry.

Near them, Pinkie Pie glanced around wildly, her ears twitching and her hooves trembling. She was maintaining her shield spell around the five of them. A glance of her own showed Twilight why she looked so frightened.

Waves of vile abominations pressed themselves against the edges of the shield. In every direction teeth bit, claws scratched, limbs scuttled and dead eyes stared. They piled atop one another, a few of the more insectile creatures scaling the sides, until very little of the world around them was still visible. Only Pinkie's one spell she'd learned kept them all from dying together, crushed beneath the putrid tide. And only Pinkie's focus maintained it. The slightest waver in her concentration would probably kill them all.

Celebrating Fluttershy's return would have to wait.

Sun Shade kept her aim steady as she slowly swept her eyes around the bridge. The traitor must have thrown up a veil, an advanced magic trick she had only seen once before. But Shade knew that no veil was perfect. She should be able to detect some kind of movement if she just let her eyes relax. A shimmer maybe, or some kind of distortion. She side-stepped towards the closed door. She had to keep the changeling contained with them.

"You. . . bastard. . ." Thistle muttered through a clenched beak from his position on the floor. The rest of whatever he was trying to say was lost in an indecipherable growl.

Shade's heart grew light and fluttery. Thistle Down was on death's doorstep, and she had to waste these precious last moments on a bug hunt? It was criminally unfair. She blinked a tear free; she needed her vision to be as clear as possible.

When she neared the door, Shade suddenly swept her weighted parasol in an arc, allowing the weapon to extend as she did so. She didn't expect an impact, but she was hoping for one. As it whistled through the empty air she tucked and rolled, popping up next to the door itself. With a twitch she retracted the umbrella and pressed her flank against the hatch, trying to aim her weapon at the whole room at once.

Kelbrri limped around the room, swiping her claws through the air every few steps, snarling curses under her breath. Cloud ducked her head and braced her legs, but she didn't abandon her post at the helm. Shade slowed her breathing and waited.

She didn't have to wait long. From the floor Thistle gasped and struggled, his muscles starting to seize. Shade aimed at the air above him and fired. But even as she hit the trigger, she knew it would miss. Thistle's condition had simply gotten worse, and the changeling had been waiting for that very moment to strike. So Shade wasn't as surprised as she should have been to catch a blurring in the corner of her eye just as a battering ram hit her in the chest.

As she took the hit, instinct swept Shade's hoof in a warding gesture by her face, and by luck she neatly deflected a blow aimed at her temple. She followed with her other hoof in a swing that had her weight behind it, but her unseen attacker caught it easily. Undaunted, Shade lunged forward, aiming a vicious headbutt at the blur in front of her. She felt the creature's sharp horn cut the very top of her head as her forehead connected with a sharp crack, and the changeling staggered backwards.

Its veil wavered and dropped as Shade spun, swinging her parasol at the changeling's head. It braced an arm expertly to absorb the impact, but the heavy weapon still spun the creature around, right into Kelbrri's reach. The gryphon engaged with no reservation, attacking like a berzerker with raking claws. But the traitor was just a little too fast for her in her wounded state, and it ducked beneath her attack and tackled her to the floor.

In a flash of green light, there were suddenly two Kelbrris tumbling about and fighting. They had identical markings and identical injuries, and they fought with the same snarls of hate. Sun Shade couldn't tell them apart.

With a snort of frustration and an annoyed flick of her ears, she braced her parasol against her shoulder. She wiped a trickle of blood out of her eyes and took the shot. The dart buried itself in a ruff of neck feathers, and with a gasp of surprise one of the combatants keeled over, already in a deep sleep. The other Kelbrri shoved the comatose one off of her and stood shakily. "Nice shot." The gryphon remarked, still panting for breath.

Shade adjusted her aim and hit the trigger again, wanting to take no chances. Her weapon emitted another little phut sound, but nothing came out. She'd fired every shot she had. Kelbrri made a clumsy warding gesture, as though she might knock the dart out of the air before it hit her. "Woah, easy!" She exclaimed. "I'm rright here! I'm not going anywherre!"

Shade made another frustrated sound. "I can't know its you, now can I?" With a practiced flip, she tossed her umbrella over to hold it by the tip, priming it to dispense a corrosive mist out of the tips of the parasol's ribs. It was dangerous in a confined space, but what choice did she have? She glanced around the room, looking for some kind of restraint she could use.

"Oh, believe me, I get it." Kelbrri agreed wholeheartedly. "So, what should we do now? Just tell me what to do and I'll do it."

Shade sidled up to a coil of thick wire. She picked it up and threw it at the gryphon's feet. "Tie yourself to the rail there, next to Cloud. Then we'll go from there."

"Surre." Kelbrri hesitated, wondering how best to tie herself up. She settled for lining up a hind leg with the railing, and lashing the wire around them both, crossing itself for stability. She tied a deft knot and then gestured. "Like that?"

Shade shouldered her parasol with a sigh. The knot looked sturdy enough. She crossed the room and picked up one of the discarded darts she'd fired during the fight. "I'm sorry Kelbrri," She approached the colorful gryphon holding the projectile in her teeth.

"No, it's fine." The gryphon held out an arm, cringing and looking the other way. "I hate needles, but, I don't know, just get it overr with."

Shade didn't hesitate. She took the dart and drove it into the gryphon's forearm. At least, she should have. Instead, the arm twisted out of the way, grabbed her wrist and snapped it out of joint. Then a magical blast sent Sun Shade flying backwards to slam into the far wall.

Shade's head rang, and her muscles felt limp and lifeless, but she shook her vision clear in time to see Kelbrri turn and slam her dart into Cloud's back, then immediately bring her claws to bear against the wire holding her captive.

Clouded Gaze fought the sedative for a few precious moments, but it was a potent mix. Soon she slumped over the controls, and Aether's Vigil began to plummet from the sky. As dazed as Sun Shade was, she had been trained for what she might refer to as 'sticky situations.' As the deck canted forward beneath her her she slid forward willingly, and when she reached the helm she controlled her impact with her hind hooves and shoved Cloud's limp form off of the controls.

Ocean loomed before her in the bay windows, and it's blue expanse made it impossible to gauge just how much time she had left before impact. So Shade just pulled up hard, feeling herself become seriously heavy as the g-forces tried to crush her to the deck. But she kept her grip steady, and the horizon became visible, filling up the windows with sky just as the bottom of the ship skimmed the water, causing the whole vessel to shudder.

She drew the ship up further and it began to fly proper, leveling out above the water line. With a shaky breath, Sun Shade glanced behind her and confirmed her fears. The door behind her was wide open. The traitor was gone.

Mere moments later, several crew members burst through the hatch and poured into the room. Various cries of "Captain!" and "I think he's dead." and "Fetch Celestia!" and "Sun Shade! You're hurt!" and "What in the coiled spring of eternity happened here?" echoed in Shade's ears, but they all sounded distant and hollow. Every face she glanced at was a cunning disguise. Every touch of concern laced with mockery. Every kind face a potential mask. Shade grit her teeth, shook more tears out of her eyes, and tried to control her panicked breathing.

But she didn't dare give the flight controls to anyone.

It was difficult, but Celestia eventually regained a measure of herself. Despite her overwhelming, literally overwhelming, sense of joy and happiness, she did have tasks to attend to, subjects and friends to aid. As she pried her gaze away from her brother and directed it to the shoreline ahead, she tried asking Teryn for information or insight. She wondered if he could describe how they might combat the darkness unfurling endlessly to one side of them. Unfortunately, he seemed to have no idea how to help.

Celestia spotted a few straggling creatures on the beach, headed south. She figured they must be catching up to Twilight and Luna. She was entirely unprepared for the airship to tumble suddenly out of the sky, allowing the wind to snatch the pair of alicorns off the deck and into a freefall.

It only took Celestia a moment to straighten out her fall with her wings, teleport herself beneath her brother's helpless form and catch him with a simple telekinesis spell. She watched as the Vigil straightened out of its dive in the nick of time, leveled out just above the ocean's surface and continued without them.

As Celestia gently draped her brother across her back and continued to fly, he spoke into her ear. "Good catch, sister." He chuckled weakly, "Some friends you've got. I do believe we've been given the brush off."

"Nonsense." It was startling how easy it was to slip back into old speech habits with him. She wasted no time treating him like a little brother after all these years. "I'd say something unexpected happened. Maybe the Captain overlooked something in the repairs."

"I do hope you're right, sister."

"Hey Pinkie," Twilight kept her voice deliberately relaxed, as though they were sharing a cup of tea at Sugar Cube Corner. "How are you holding up?"

"Um," Pinkie's voice was slightly less relaxed, as though they were sharing an afternoon disarming large amounts of explosives. "Okay, I guess. I can feel this, um, strange sort of pressure in my head, and, uh, maybe one of you magicy horned ponies who're all good with magicy stuff could, um, take over for me maybe? Because I'm trying real hard not to have a little freak out here."

"You're doing great, Pinkie. Real A-plus work." She placed a steadying hoof on her friend's shoulder. "But we can't. For some reason your magic is different. These things ate through Luna's shield back on the ship, remember?"

That might have been the wrong thing to say. The earth pony began to tremble even more, and her eyes grew more frantic. "Oh crudy-crud, that's right. I-I watched it happen! Oh no! What-what if. . ." Little ripples spread across the perfectly-spherical dome above them. "What if they manage. . ."

"Deep breaths, Pinkie, deep breaths. You need to relax and let the magic flow through you. You're already doing fine, all you have to do is keep it up for a little bit longer. I promise, we'll make it out of here okay. Don't forget, you saved us from the behemoth, remember?"

Pinkie's shaking slowed a little. "Hey yeah, I. . . I kinda did, didn't I?"

"You bet." Twilight kept soothing Pinkie with her voice while she wrapped a hug around her. "And furthermore, we found Fluttershy."

Pinkie glanced at the yellow pegasus, and her exhale broke into pieces. It was impossible to tell if they were the echoes of sobs or laughter.

"Now. . . now all we need to do is find Dash and Spike." Twilight concluded, ignoring their current predicament as though it was a tiny problem being buried alive beneath mounds of disgusting creatures, each one a tribute to torture and rot. "Easy-peasy, right?"

Pinkie nodded, and took a steadying breath. "Right." She agreed.

Twilight felt the tremors dwindle and she disentangled herself from the hug, assured that Pinkie's shield would hold for a bit longer.

"Twilight Sparkle." Princess Luna turned the unicorn with a hoof. "We have an idea."

Oh thank goodness. Twilight thought. I was all out of those. "What is it?"

"Dost thou remember our grounding exercises aboard the Vigil?"

Twilight thought back. She remembered trying to shove Pinkie backwards, and finding it almost impossible. "Yes."

"We shall purchase ourselves some space by exerting ourselves against opposite sides of this dome. When we are ready. . ."

"Oh!" Twilight immediately liked the idea. "That should work! In fact I'd say its genius!"

"Well," Was the Princess of the Night blushing a little? "Perhaps such titles might be warranted should we survive the day. But how shall we proceed should this plan work?"

Twilight pondered for a bit, chewing on her bottom lip. She ran through hundreds of spells in her mind, wondering which would help keep her friends from harm. Unfortunately, she pondered a little too long. There was a loud crash that shook the sand beneath them. Applejack shot awake. "GAH! Oh my stars! C'mere Flutters!" She immediately threw her arms around Fluttershy, who barely had the energy to squeak in protest.

"What was that?" Pinkie asked nervously.

Luna looked worried. "It has returned." She breathed.

There was another crash, much closer this time, and sea water sloshed up around the blue dome of energy. "There's no time!" Twilight shouted. "Pinkie, drop the shield when we say so, okay? But not a moment before!"

"Okay!" Pinkie tried to sound brave.

"What're y'all doin'?" Applejack asked, finally taking a look around. "Oh sweet sunburnt filly Celestia. . ."

Twilight and Luna wheeled to face opposite directions, and together their horns lit with blinding light. They set themselves and pushed against opposite sides of Pinkie's shield, their force scaling upwards until the air beneath the shield gusted chaotically. Twilight felt herself pushed right up against Luna's backside, and so braced, she pushed herself even harder, focusing on her half of the dome. Her ears popped painfully from the increase in pressure.

"Ah!" Pinkie shouted. "That really feels weird! None of you magical ponies ever talk about how weird your magicy stuff feels!"

"NOW, PINKAMENA!" Luna thundered.

The shield dropped, and like a detonation the combined forces exploded outwards, flinging bloated, fungus-covered creatures in every direction. The beach was scoured clear for a hundred yards, and the monsters flung into the air arced out of sight.

Twilight's ears rang with the sudden silence, and as the after-image of the magic faded from her eyes, they focused on the megalith crawling out of the sea. It was close to them, too close. It was only a couple of dragging, lumbering steps away from crushing them all. It's skin had dissolved away in the ocean water, leaving the bright reds of striated muscle and filmy connective tissues, like a biology poster come to life. Twilight felt Luna at her side, and she readied her magic.

But then an answering crash reverberated behind them, causing Twilight to spin in place. A second behemoth emerged from the shadows of the twisted lands, shaking its massive head and roaring in challenge.

Twilight exhaled as though she'd been kicked in the gut. "Oh, hoof me. . ."

"Twilight." Fluttershy's voice was quiet. Hoarse with thirst and pain and exhaustion. But beneath all of that, there was steel. She stared down the new monstrosity as though she had nothing in the world to fear and never would again. "Help the Princess. I've got this one."

Twilight felt a tightening in her stomach, the same fear she felt when any of her friends were in danger. Is she insane? Her instinct was to say no, to push Fluttershy behind her and tell her she couldn't possibly handle this kind of danger. But another part of her remembered a lesson she'd learned only minutes ago, though it felt like ages. I have to trust my friends, don't I?

As if she'd read her mind, Fluttershy flipped her makeshift ponytail out of the way and glanced at her friend. "Trust me." She said with a soft smile.

With a grimace, Twilight nodded and spun back around to find Luna on the wing, conjuring more black chains out of thin air as the colossus hauled itself further up the beach. She had to force herself to ignore Fluttershy's absence beside her, and she pulled up a spell she thought might help. A spell she'd used back on the airship to help a mechanic fix a turbine.

As Luna's gravity spells dragged the creature towards the planet, Twilight focused on the ethereal chains and cast her own spell, reversing the gravity acting on them. The creature reared up, it's paws suddenly dragged skyward, exposing its fleshless underbelly. Luna saw the opportunity and struck with her magic, severing yards of muscle and goring the creature. At the same time, Twilight centered herself deep and cast another spell, physically knocking the creature backwards with the mightiest blow she could muster.

Twilight dropped her gravity spell, and the re-weighted chains finished hauling the monstrosity backwards, toppling it into the sea, sending mighty waves rolling out in every direction. Twilight heard a pattering sound beneath her, and she jumped away from her hooves in a panic. But it was just a nosebleed.

"Need any help?" Fluttershy asked from her shoulder. For some reason, Fluttershy's voice was incapable of startling anyone. Even as hoarse as it was, it was so soft and sweet. . .

"Wait." Twilight did a double-take, then she whipped around to find the colossus behind them collapsed in the sand. "Buh?" Twilight asked.

Fluttershy tsked, shaking her head at Princess Luna, who was flying passes above the flailing creature and lashing it down onto its back with more chains. "This needn't be so messy." Fluttershy took to the wing, and even her wing strokes looked exhausted as she crossed the distance, her light body barely clearing the water. Twilight just stared, her muscles twitching with the effort needed to stay upright. Her head was starting to pound. She really needed to find a different job, one where she didn't need to overextend herself magically so very often.

Twilight just watched in disbelief as Fluttershy landed on the giant creature, and it immediately went limp, as though it had just fallen asleep. From a couple of paces away, Applejack muttered, "Huh. She makes it look kinda easy."

Pinkie cupped a hoof to her mouth. "You go Fluttershy! You tell that big bad meanie who's boss!" She lowered her voice and sighed contentedly. "She's got such a way with animals. Even the smelly, give you nightmares forever kind." Was. . . was there a little spring to Pinkie's hair? It didn't look perfectly straight anymore.

Twilight just nodded, stunned. These twisted abominations had been spiritually deformed by the curse, and somehow they were driven to consume the spiritual energy of healthy beings. For some reason, Fluttershy was immune to having her soul devoured. Or she could turn it back upon them somehow. And she was able to patch up the injuries of others, even the spiritual ones. But the effort required must be immense. No wonder she looked awful.

In the ensuing silence, she heard a distant thrumming sound. A sound that filled her with hope and joy. Pinkie Pie gasped. "They're here! They're here to rescue us!"

Twilight laughed out loud. They were out of the woods, weren't they? Maybe Fluttershy can save the Captain, right? Maybe nopony else has to die today. "I can't believe we made it."

"Ah never had a doubt, sugarcube." Applejack gave Twilight a gentle noogie. "Woah, hold on a sec."

"What now?" Twilight scarcely had the energy to ask, but she asked anyway.

"You musta had sand on your horn when you started slingin' magic around." She picked at something, and Twilight cringed in pain. "It's all turned to little bits o' glass."

"Oh, let me see!" Pinkie exclaimed, gently pushing Applejack out of the way. "That's really pretty, actually!"

Twilight shook her friends off her. "Hey, knock it off." She said with a tired smile. "Let's get back aboard the airship first, okay?"

"Hey!" Pinkie Pie shouted, "Maybe Rarity can design a dress to show off your new glass-speckled horn! That would be super-awesome!"

Applejack shook her head no. "Lookin like this? Shoot, that nosebleed alone would make Rarity twitch. We'll getcha cleaned up proper first."

As the Vigil swept into view, Twilight glanced around them for more danger. The closest shambling creatures were still pretty far away, and Luna and Fluttershy seemed to be flying up towards the approaching ship. Twilight was already deciding what she wanted to pilfer from the kitchens. Definitely more of Sun Shade's tea. "After we rescue Rainbow and Spike, I'm going to sleep for a week." Twilight said to no one in particular.

Applejack chuckled. Pinkie just wrapped her arms around Twilight in a hug. In a flash of purple light, Twilight teleported them up to the deck of the hovering ship.

The airship had slowed, but it was still moving. Twilight's spell tumbled the trio onto the deck haphazardly, and they all fell into various undignified positions. Pinkie's head ended up craned beneath her. She giggled without moving. "Look! It's like you rolled three pony-shaped dice."

Twilight, her rump sticking straight up into the air, giggled with her. "I wonder how many spaces we move."

Applejack, flat on her back, said in utter exhaustion, "I hope it just means we skip our next few turns. That'd be fine by this pony."

They managed to straighten themselves up before Princess Luna and Fluttershy joined them. Twilight found herself overwhelmed with emotions. She could barely keep them straight. She was happy, and proud of her friend, and sad that she looked so awful, and ashamed for not planning better in the first place, and relieved she turned out to be alive, and humbled by the abilities she seemed to have discovered, and curious about those same abilities, and stung that she now had to ask more of her friend than she had any right to, and so on.

But she didn't shirk her responsibilities. "Fluttershy, I. . . I can't tell you how good it is to see you." Her eyes misted up and welled over, but they weren't important right now. "And none of us have the slightest clue what you've been through. But, you somehow saved me from dying. Even the Princesses didn't think it was possible, and. . ."

Fluttershy saved her the trouble. "And Thistle is dying too. I know." At Twilight's startled look, she explained herself. "Luna told me."

"C-can you help him?" Twilight managed.

"Of course I'll try." Fluttershy creased her brow in concern. "I hope I'm not too late."

Twilight nodded her thanks, but reaction was catching up to her, and she had trouble forming words. Luna stepped in. "Thouart a hero, Fluttershy. Pinkamen. . . Pinkie, please accompany our Fluttershy to the bridge. That should be where the good Captain is presently. Applejack, would thee be so kind as to see to Fluttershy's comfort? Perhaps food and a place to rest quietly?"

With murmured agreement, the three ponies departed, leaving Twilight alone with the Princess. As the airship hovered high over the ravaged stretch of beach where they'd fought so hard to survive, Luna took Twilight into her arms and held her. She could see that the unicorn just needed a little time to herself, a little peace in the aftermath of so much violence. Twilight shook, and fought down the tears, but she allowed herself this small solace.

It was only a few minutes later when the sound of metal hoofshods touched down behind Luna's back. This didn't surprise Luna. The second set of hooves that touched down beside her, though. . . that came as a surprise. "Sister. . ." Celestia's voice, thick with emotion, caused Luna to turn. "Sister, look who we found among these forgotten wastes."

Luna locked eyes with the brown-coated alicorn leaning upon Celestia's radiant form. She recognized him instantly. She shot to her hooves, standing tall beneath the noon sun. "Teryn." She said, a glint of challenge in her voice.

"Luna. . ." Teryn's voice, by contrast, expressed love and longing.

"It truly is him." Celestia said earnestly. "He's alive and returned to us, sister. . ."

From her place sitting upon the flight deck of the airship, Twilight was threaded through with shock. She thought they'd been through a great deal, she hadn't even considered what everyone else might have been going through. And this. . . Twilight could definitely see the resemblance, despite the contrasting colors. Luna and Teryn had been twins, right? She had remembered Celestia saying as much. What in Equestria's name had happened?

Teryn reached out to his black-coated sister. "It's been so long. . ."

Twilight was doubly shocked when Luna lifted her brother up in her magic and dragged him close, until they were nose to nose. "Not so long, brother mine." Luna snarled. "Not so long at all. Why, thou stopped to visit us just a few weeks ago, didn't thee?"

Celestia was aghast. "Luna, what are you doing?"

Teryn's eyes widened, and he chaffed in disbelief. "Oh, well it's nice to see you too. . ."

Luna cut him off, still snarling her words as though the figure before her had offended her. "'Twas thine eyes. . . We were certain 'twas thee 'pon the far shore, possessed of a changeling's form, what savaged our sister and turned that savagery 'pon us!"

"Stop this, Luna." Teryn said flatly.

"'Twas thee we sensed deep within the hurricane's fury, striking our ship from the sky! And thee we discover upon these darkened shores, twisting thy words and doubtless plotting more harm 'pon us!"

Twilight wiped some of the crusted blood off of her nose and tried to focus her exhausted mind. She thought for certain things were going to get worse before they got any better. Yet even as she tried to prepare herself, her breath caught as she watched pain and incomprehension twist Celestia's features.

The drooping alicorn looked helpless in Luna's grasp. "Have you considered," He said weakly, "Maybe I just wanted to see you both so badly. . ."

Luna continued, her voice shaking with the force of her anger. "Brother, we have felt thy heart through thy magic and will. And we have named thee Traitor of Life, after thy wish to see all things dead beneath thy hooves." For the first time, Princess Luna allowed herself to display the barest hint of pain. "All we ask. . . is why."

Celestia took a step back from her brother, studying him with new eyes. Her pain was palpable. But Teryn didn't refute the accusation. He didn't respond at all for a few moments. Luna's gaze remained steady, and Twilight, looking on, held her breath.

Eventually Teryn shrugged, and as he did, he shrugged out of Luna's spell the way one might shrug out of a light grip on the shoulder. He transformed then, not in any physical way, but he stood tall with no hint of uncertainty or fatigue. And his expression became fond, almost covetous as he regarded his siblings. "Oh, I don't expect either of you to understand the truth." His voice held clear hints of disappointment and despite.

Celestia gasped and held a shaky hoof to her mouth. "What. . . What truth?"

Teryn paced over to the railing and studied the crawling shadows stretching out for miles. "Death, of course. The only genuinely universal truth." He turned a disarming smile back upon Celestia, a smile that on any other pony would have elicited a smile in return. "I'd like to share it with you."

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