• Published 24th Jul 2012
  • 3,761 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.

  • ...

24: Sunset

“'Tis no good answer, brother, so I ask thee again. Why?” Luna rasped.

To Twilight's eyes, Teryn appeared calm and rational. Were he just a little less tall, and perhaps without the wings or the horn, she might have passed him by in a busy marketplace without a second thought.

He smiled sympathetically when he replied. “You don't need to understand. I'm. . . not certain you could. The millennia you both have spent troubled by the petty concerns of mortals, I have spent observing the ebb and flow of the cosmos.” His horn began to glow. “My beloved siblings, you both only have one thing left to do.” Luna braced herself for an attack, and Twilight followed her lead.

Black tendrils of power squirmed out of Teryn's fur, grasping at nothing. A blink, and his eyes had become large, glossy marbles. Despite the warm sunlight, deep cold radiated across the airship deck, and Twilight gasped as though she'd been thrown into the ocean far below. The wood beneath his hooves deformed, cracking and peeling as he gathered his power.

To Twilight's senses, he felt as formidable as the hurricane had been. She could feel the same immortal and ageless power that a nameless being had bestowed upon Celestia and Luna in eons past. Yet underlying that power was another, a deeper force that stank like rot and attar. And it was as vast as the roiling landscape of shadows stretching out beneath them. Her confidence was utterly unmade. She wasn't certain that even the Elements of Harmony could prevail here.

Celestia stepped forward steadily, defenseless, and without reservation. She confronted the figure within the darkness, rather than the power itself. “Please brother, I need to understand.” She pleaded. “I. . . I know why you hate me. And m-maybe I deserve to. . . to. . .” She fought back her dismay. “I will not defend myself against you. All I need is to hear you say it. Out loud. What. . .” Celestia swallowed hard and bowed her head towards the deck. “What truth have my mistakes taught you?”

Teryn's eyes unfocused, and for a long second those glassy orbs tracked back and forth, practically vibrating in their sockets. Twilight wondered if his brain had shorted out. But then, without releasing his power, he spoke. “You comprehend so little,” His voice was nothing but a faint echo, distant and tinny. “Your plan to sacrifice me in your bid against the Dark was a meaningless gamble, and I have not dwelled upon it. Had I craved vengeance, I could have had it ages ago.” He frowned at the landscape below, as though it was a foal who had missed a deadline for a school assignment. “There is, perhaps, a little time left to us. Yet it cannot change the fact that there is nothing to say.”

Celestia followed his gaze, turning subtly towards his side. And Twilight understood. It was just like the fight in the changeling hive, when Celestia had kept Cinder's attention off of Twilight's friends in a moment when it mattered most. Celestia had moved his gaze away from Twilight in particular. She was trying to give her an opportunity to escape, maybe warn the others. It was exactly what Twilight might have done in her place; shoulder all of the consequences and spare her friends.

Twilight began edging backwards towards the open hatch, placing each hoof slowly and carefully. Her stomach growled loudly then, and she remembered out of the blue that she hadn't eaten in. . . days now, wasn't it? Not since the storm, at least. She froze in place, feeling dizzy with fear. Fear and hunger. Thankfully, Princess Celestia had begun speaking at that moment.

“It was you.” Celestia said, “You found the Element of Deception and gave it to the changelings, didn't you?”

“I did.” Teryn answered vacantly. “I have empowered many creatures inhabiting your lands. And in return, they have all helped me slip through your borders and into your secret places. I have watched you lead. I have watched you fight. I have watched you struggle and celebrate. I have watched you sleep. I have known this day would come, and I have prepared.”

Nope. Not creepy at all. Twilight began edging her way backwards again.

“Hast thou changed so much, brother?” Luna demanded. She trembled as she spoke, but only a fool might mistake that for weakness. “Has thy time spent in the void turned thy love to ash?”

“Love?” He laughed then, and there was genuine wonder in his voice. “I have mourned the passing of stars. Witnessed the end of uncounted civilizations. I have peeked behind the fabric of existence, and I have discovered that every act of creation begins with destruction. Death. It is the first and the last of all that is.” One of the undulating tendrils curled about Luna's cheek, and she hissed and pulled away. “If I didn't love you both, I would have left you to die with the rest of this worthless planet.”

Luna glowered. “Thouart corrupted by the ill thou has existed within for so long. Step into the light, brother, for we will not allow thee to commit such an atrocity!”

Teryn smiled. “I'm not the one devouring the world. Yami has never left, and continues to seek the heart of this planet. Yet, you know all of this, don't you Luna?”

The Princess of the Night gave no response.

“Sister?” Celestia's eyes shone. “What is he talking about?”

Teryn's head tilted to the side. “Oh, Luna has known the truth for some time now. As I understand it, she intended to goad you into traveling here. Tell me Celestia, what event finally convinced you to make the voyage? Was it perhaps a changeling attack our sister was mysteriously absent for?”

Twilight thought her heart might simply beat right out of her chest and go flopping across the wood of the deck, giving her away then and there. Luna? Oh, that does explain so much. . . Well crap. She knew Celestia couldn't just sit around forever. . . But that's still betrayal, no matter what her intentions were. She didn't stop moving, though, and she gently eased herself back over the storm sill one leg at a time. She lost track of Celestia's hurt reply as she backed through the hatch, and the moment she was out of sight she flung herself down the stairs. Her eyes hadn't adjusted to the sudden absence of sunlight, and she collided face-first with a breathless Applejack.

“Twi!” Applejack said a little too loudly. “There's a mmflff-lfff!”

Twilight's magic had enveloped the farm mare's muzzle. She threw a terrified glance back up the stairs, but the bright sunlight remained unobstructed, and there was no surge of destructive magics that Twilight could sense. Yet.

She scrambled back into motion, releasing her captive. “We need Dash!” She said urgently, keeping her voice low. “Right now!”

Applejack struggled to keep up, keeping her hoof beats light. Twilight's fear was contagious. “Oh-kay,” She whispered, “But where's the fire? We need the Elements to capture one little changeling? OOOF!” She collided with Twilight for the second time in seven seconds.

“A changeling? Here?” Twilight's eyes darted vaguely about as the pieces fell into place. Understanding lit her eyes, and she flung herself back into motion. “Oh! That doesn't matter now!”

“My fuzzy flank it don't matter!” Applejack said when she caught back up. “You haven't seen what that slimy, lyin' insect did to Kelbri and Sun Shade! Darlin', her wrist is broke for sure!”

“Did she attack first?” Twilight angled down the stairs, sliding a bit as she turned.

“What? The hoof's it matter who swung first?”

Twilight turned her head a little to answer over her shoulder, but she missed her footing and slipped, tumbling down the last of the stairs. She resisted the urge to catch herself with her magic, her only thought was avoiding the attention of the thing up on the flight deck for as long as she could. So she tumbled broadside into the wall, wincing at the impact. She kicked her hooves in an attempt to right herself.

Applejack helped her up, and she spoke slowly. “Please, just tell me what is wrong, sugar.”

Twilight responded by grabbing Applejack by the face. “The bridge. I need to get to the bridge! Applejack, he's going to tear this ship from the sky any second now!”

The bridge was as packed with bodies as Twilight had ever seen it. A glance showed Fluttershy crouched over a pair of feathered forms while Pinkie Pie hovered near her, holding a sandwich it was clear Fluttershy wasn't going to eat any time soon. The largest cluster of crew members surrounded the body of the Captain, and from the muffled sounds of mourning, Twilight assumed the worst. For the briefest of instants, she felt too heavy to move. She was so exhausted she felt it deep in her chest, and the room spun around her. She was nauseated from hunger and weakness. She needed to eat until her stomach hurt and sleep for about a week.

But Twilight was finally beginning to see the big picture. She only allowed herself the briefest moment of hesitation before she flung herself across the room, dizziness be damned, and slid to a stop next to Sun Shade. The earth pony's raven-black mane formed a disheveled frame for a face streaked with anguish. She held the flight controls as though they alone kept her alive; despite one joint looking painfully swollen and purple. Sun Shade kept her eyes locked on the horizon and acknowledged nothing.

Twilight spoke in a low voice. “Shade, I need you to. . .”

“Don't touch me.” She replied reflexively.

“Need you to cut the engines when I say so, okay? You have to trust me.” Twilight had no energy to spare for sympathy, and no time for explanations. She put as much conviction into her voice as she could. “Everyone, listen up! Find something to hold on to and don't let go!”

Sun Shade shook her head no, blinking a tear free as she did. Instead of responding, she kept her muzzle clamped down on her distress.

“Twilight.” Applejack brushed against her friend's side in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. “Just what are we up against here?”

Twilight kept her senses wide open, hoping desperately for some kind of warning before Teryn employed the powers at his command. She called up a little magic, trying to remain subtle. “It's Celestia's brother. From the story she told?” Twilight's mouth was dry with fear, and it was difficult to speak. “He's the one who's been following us, the one who controlled Cinder and attacked Celestia on the shore.”

“Uh, right. Wasn't it Talon or something?”

“Teryn. He's standing on the flight deck now, threatening to kill us all.”

“So he's the one who tore up Nova Coltia and freaked out our Fluttershy? Why, I've half a mind to march up there and personally introduce him to Bucky MacGilliguty and Kick's McGee!”

Applejack's response was lost on Twilight. She'd sensed a deep cold, like a void yawning open somewhere above. In a voice thready with panic, Twilight shouted “NOW!” and she put up a broad shield just as the top corner of the Vigil disintegrated in a massive humming orb of black power. The three front windows exploded into a shower of shrapnel, and the screaming began.

But Sun Shade had listened, placing the shredded remains of her trust into Twilight Sparkle's hooves. She'd cut the power to the hover turbines, and the airship began to fall from the sky as tendrils of darkness cleaved their way through the roof, adding splinters to the deadly mix of glass pelting Twilight's shield. Yet they didn't fall quite fast enough for Twilight, as a pair of tendrils found her shield and tore through it like it was tissue paper. She gasped at the contact; ice and pain flaring through her horn and into her brain. She dropped the spell.

The tendrils drew away as the airship continued to plummet, and Twilight's stomach tensed as the floor fell away beneath her. Around her, other bodies lifted into the air as the nose of the ship canted downward, revealing cold ocean spuming below. Applejack had anchored herself to a nearby railing and reached up, dragging Twilight back down by a hind hoof. Others were less lucky, falling high enough to collide with the ceiling.

With a cry of pain, Sun Shade shoved a lever with her busted wrist, and the turbines whirred back to life. Bodies collapsed around them as the airship tried to level out, but Twilight scarcely registered the change. For the world above her exploded with magical energies, and a palpable torrent of force consumed her attention. The incandescent explosions and thundering detonations were overwhelming to everyone else, but to Twilight's heightened senses they blotted out the world.

There was screaming in her ear; that might have been Applejack. There was an impact, and Twilight found herself flattened to the floor. Her ears rang dimly, making everything else sound faint. She forced her eyes to focus on the physical world around her. The bridge had been torn open, and sunlight streamed down upon about a dozen prone forms just picking themselves up from under a light sheen of sawdust and splinters. “You all right, sugarcube?” Applejack shouted from behind her ear.

Twilight barely heard her, and she didn't bother to answer. Her gaze had locked on the view beyond the jagged glass shards of thick glass which were all that remained of the windows. The airship had landed hard on the shore, and twining shadows drifted lazily upwards, curling over the sill. Twilight groaned. “Ugh, I hate these things!” She mumbled.

Applejack followed her gaze. “Ponyfeathers! Um, everypony steer clear of tha' windows! Er, what's left of 'em. . . Pinkie, Flutters, we might need y'all here in a sec!'”

Sun Shade had collapsed by the flight controls, clutching her foreleg and gritting her teeth. Twilight urged her to her hooves. “Shade, I'm sorry, but we need to move the ship out into the water. We can't stay here.”

The magenta pony didn't move. Twilight wasn't certain they could hear each other. With a frustrated shake of her head to try and clear her vision, Twilight stepped up to the controls. This can't be too hard, can it? Her tongue stuck absently out of one corner of her mouth as she reached towards a useful-looking lever.

A blow to her stomach catapulted her into the air, and she crashed gracelessly onto one shoulder. Sun Shade had kicked her away from the controls, and she now crouched before them, snarling at everyone. “Stay back, all of you! Any one of you filthy blighters could be the changeling!”

“Shade!” Applejack barked. “Get control of yerself! Fer all we know, y'all could be the changeling too, now couldn't ya?”

Something with soft, skinny arms gasped as it struggled to climb over the edge of the ship, seemingly unaware of the glass shards leaving faint cuts in its body. A nearby gryphon scrambled away from the horror, while Fluttershy stepped calmly between them. She touched the creature's head and it sagged limply, sliding backwards off the ship. But five others had appeared within the space of two heartbeats.

Applejack gestured out the window. “See! You're puttin' the whole crew in danger! If y'all don't trust anypony else to fly us then YOU fly us outta here, NOW!”

Twilight crawled to her feet and readied a telekinetic spell, but her eyes wouldn't focus. There was a bleary haze over everything. It took her a moment to realize it was actually smoke.

Sun Shade glanced around nervously, then started fiddling with the controls again, her eyes streaming desperate tears.

Voices carried from the back of the room. “Fire. There's a fire back here!”

“Grab the extinguishers!”

Twilight held her breath and closed one eye, hoping to steady herself and focus on a target. But she couldn't find a clear shot. She blinked hard and shook her mane out of her eyes. But then a blue bolt sailed over her shoulder, catching a pasty, scuttling crab and tossing it away.

“Fluttershy?!?” Rarity called out, pitching her voice through the smoke and din. “Nopony told me you'd returned!” She hobbled onto the bridge while sweeping creatures out of sight with her shimmering magic.

“I'm so sorry, Rarity.” Fluttershy's soft voice carried her smile with it. “It's nice to see you survived that horrible storm too.” She stretched her hooves out to touch two creatures at once, yet she couldn't seem to move very quickly anymore. Grey shaped dragged themselves aboard to either side of her. Thankfully Rarity joined her in stemming the flood.

Twilight fired off a couple of shots of her own, surprising herself with her accuracy. But then movement in the sky beyond caught her eye. A dark, hovering shape blazed a trail of lightning through the sky. Twilight recognized Princess Luna more through the feel of her magic than by sight. Within the span of about a second, Luna juked a thin black beam that sizzled the very air around it and shielded against a series of detonations from strikes Twilight was too slow to follow. When her shield shattered, Twilight forced herself to look away.

None of this is going to matter if we can't trigger the Elements, and soon. We need Rainbow! Twilight seethed. She thought frantically. They didn't have the time to find Dash with the airship, even if she could work out a tracking spell to guide them. That left only one possibility, but it was dangerous. She cast about the room for something she could use. Her eyes fell upon a clipboard, lying forgotten on the floor. With a thought, Twilight picked it up with her magic and hovered it over to her.

Her friends called out for help, but she blocked them out. Celestia and Luna needed her help too, for certain. Twilight pushed that from her mind as well. The airship's engines whirred beneath her, but Twilight blocked those out too. With her magic, she projected a crude set of instructions onto the paper still hanging from the clipboard with a spell she'd learned that one night she let herself run out of ink. Then she snapped the item into two jagged halves.

Now comes the hard part. Celestia had described the spell used to send letters back and forth to Spike, but Twilight had never tried to cast it before. She blocked out the smoke and the yelling and the scurrying around her. She blocked out the hiss of extinguishers and the disgusting sounds of wet, corrupted flesh upon the floor, and Twilight cast her spell. The crown atop her head glowed with a gentle light.

The half of the clipboard with paper still attached dissolved into the air, the same way every one of Spike's letters always had, and Twilight watched it go with worry in her eyes. Then she focused on the fractured piece of cheap wood still in front of her. She set it carefully on the floor and began weaving delicate magics around it.

Twilight failed to see Sun Shade standing tall beneath the crushing weight of her grief to pilot the ship out of danger one more time. She failed to see Fluttershy work herself to exhaustion, until her legs collapsed and refused to support her. She failed to see Rarity taking a stand amidst smoke and screaming to save her friends from the swarm of nightmares. She failed to see Skan, a gryphon she barely knew, shouting fearless orders as he and two other crew members fought to contain a wall of flames spreading across the back of the room. She missed the moment when Applejack picked Fluttershy up and, at her insistence, trotted her from one corrupted creature to another, that she might continue to still them with her touch. She failed to see Pinkie Pie's look of concentration as she tried to work multiple shields at once, both protecting Rarity's flank and helping to contain the spread of the blaze behind her.

Twilight caught none of these things as she bent all of her focus into the complex spell. Before long, a glowing disk of violet magic hovered just above the broken object. She stepped backward, mopping sweat from her brow. With a thought, she shielded herself and her target from the rest of the bridge. If the other piece of clipboard hadn't ended up where she'd intended. . . or if her instructions hadn't been clear. . . She tried not to dwell on the possibilities. Instead she steadied herself the way Celestia had instructed her to, and she struck.

Light flared before her, burning afterimages shaped like star-bursts into her eyes. As the light faded, Twilight saw ocean water rolling before her, reflecting sunlight through the portal she'd opened. A little seawater actually rolled right through the aperture, sloshing the floor around her hooves. “Spike?” She called out. “Dash?”

“Twilight?” The sound of a voice Twilight couldn't bear to miss made her breath catch high in her throat just before a chubby, green-spined figure floated into view.

“Twilight!?! Heh, I knew you'd WOAH!” Twilight's magic slung him through the gate and into her arms, and Spike relaxed into the embrace. “I knew you'd find me. I knew it.” He said with warm confidence. Twilight couldn't seem to find her voice, so she let the hug speak for itself. But after just a few seconds Spike wrinkled his nose and blinked his eyes open. “Uh, Twilight. . . What happened in here?”

Twilight did not let up right away. She couldn't say she'd been more worried for Spike than for her other friends, but she'd definitely felt a different kind of worry. She'd felt responsible for him, and now with his wet scales rising and falling in her arms, a heavy weight lifted off of her heart. Coasting a wave of relief and elation, Twilight opened her eyes too.

The bridge had quieted. Sun Shade had the Vigil in a low hover just off the coast, her tear tracks the only clean part of her face. Soot and sawdust covered everything as ponies and gryphons took stock of their injuries and light streamed in through the space where half of the ceiling used to be. “It's, ah. . . it's a long story.” A small mote of alarm crept into Twilight's chest, spoiling the moment. “Where's Dash?”

Spike shook his head. “She's not here.” He wiggled a bit, loosening Twilight's grip so he could look back over his shoulder. “I mean, she isn't there.” He pointed back through the glowing portal to the blank sea beyond.

“What do you mean, she isn't there? We used a scrying spell and saw you both together! Where is she?”

“Once Dash didn't have to keep my head above water and I burped up those floaties, she was able to get herself airborne. Then she said she was going to find you guys herself.” He held up a pouch draped around his neck. “She was exhausted, but she left me the provisions. And the flare gun. We had no idea you were going to try a portal, honest!”

Twilight's face scrunched, trying to express love and dismay at the same time. She sighed and hugged Spike to her chest one more time. But she jumped as another cluster of detonations seemed to shatter the sky above, and the light of day strobed through the entire spectrum of colors to black. Immediately, a rippling series of ka-chunks swept the airship, ending with an exposed section of the bridge being impaled with a few dozen shards of ice as long as Twilight's foreleg. It was only thanks to the threat of the gray creatures crawling through the breach that nobody was close enough to the edge to be killed that way.

Spike winced, his pupils dilated with fear. “We need the Elements, don't we?” He asked.

As sunlight returned, Pinkie Pie walked up and swept Spike into a dusty, ash-covered and bittersweet embrace of her own. Twilight locked eyes with her, and Pinkie nodded her understanding. “We'll watch over him.” Pinkie said. “Go. Help them.”

Twilight gulped. Maybe I can convince Spike to go back through the gate. It's safer there. A second thought chased the first away. Why? So he can starve or drown instead of being blown up or impaled? With a heavy sigh and an effort of will, she closed the gate. Hiding couldn't save any of them for long. “Keep your heads down, don't draw attention to yourselves or the ship. I love you, Spike. I love all of you.” Rarity grimaced, fighting back tears. Applejack reached up to take her hat off, only to find it missing again. Pinkie just blinked her wide, blue eyes. Spike reached for her, opening his mouth to speak.

In a purple flash, Twilight disappeared before she heard what he'd intended to say.

Twilight appeared, levitating herself with a spell above the flight deck and blinking her dry eyes beneath the harsh glare of the sun. She failed to see a safe spot to stand though, since the airship below her looked for all the world like a massive frozen porcupine. As did vast stretches of beach in both directions. Once Twilight's pupils shrank and the glare had receded from her vision, she looked up.

Celestia and Luna flew side by side as they fought, their manes ablaze with eldritch magic. They flowed seamlessly around one another, blocking and counter-striking for one another with fluid ease. Three black orbs humming with energy curved through the air, and Celestia deflected two of them with a convex shield, directing the resulting explosions away from her sister. The third she allowed past, and Luna caught it on her horn as though it was a wick for a flame. With a cry, Luna altered its color and flung it back towards its maker in a blaze of deepest blue.

Swift as thought, Luna swept in front of her sister and, with a rapid burst of telekinesis, demolished a neat row of what looked to be shards of glass flying towards them, sharp as razors. In a chattering pulse of magic, they became sand. Luna's swoop obscured their enemy's view of the spell Celestia was charging. From the tip of Celestia's horn arced a small river of white flame like a solar flare over her sister's head. Wincing from the heat despite being hundreds of feet below the spell, Twilight tracked the fire's trajectory.

She blinked. A thin black mist clung to the outside of a thick, pus-yellow bubble that seemed to moil and flow like oil upon water. It made her eyes hurt to try and follow its subtle movements. Celestia's sunfire poured onto those defenses, but the mist gathered high and dispersed the worst of the attack. The rest of the fire hit the yellow shield, causing it to ripple violently, but it absorbed every drop of heat like a sponge, swirling with white as it did.

Twilight steadied herself in the air and gathered her magic. She tried to remind herself not to hold back, that she needed to strike hard and fast, because she may not have the element of surprise again. She reached deep into herself, into the potential she knew she had and the loving friendships which had brought her this far. She tried to imagine herself on par with her immortal rulers, capable and worthy of standing with them. With the crown atop her head aglow with energy, Twilight struck.

As Celestia's attack ended, Twilight launched a massive strike from below, and Luna timed her onslaught to coincide with Twilight's, calling deep red lightning out of the clear sky above. The resulting detonation rattled Twilight's ears and forced her to shield her eyes. To her dismay, though, they scarcely seemed to make a dent. The yellow bubble had deformed, but not by much. And Twilight began to feel very, very small.

The black mist gathered to both sides, and light pulsed from deep within the shield, outlining the silhouette of the figure inside. Then a pair of thin black beams sizzled through the air, originating from the mist, and they cut towards Celestia and Luna.

Luna spun confidently out of their way, making no attempt to try and stop or deflect such a potent assault. Celestia simply vanished, teleporting elsewhere. But the attack had served its purpose, forcing the sisters to separate. In a flash, about half a dozen motes of blackness arced downward towards Twilight. Well, I got his attention. Oh crud, now what? Simultaneous attacks harried both Celestia and Luna, and with a start Twilight realized that she couldn't simply dodge or teleport herself to safety. The Vigil hovered below her, and the ship would be demolished if she didn't save them. Her heart stuttered as she drew up the best shield she could muster.

Twilight's best was pretty good. Celestia had taught her some advanced shielding before they'd hit the storm, and she managed to brace herself behind a deflection shield, its surface mirrored and shiny, before the attacks hit. Every tiny black star hit her shield at the same time and detonated, a muffled roar blanketing the world. Even though most of the heat and force reflected upwards, the potent darkness at their core shattered her shield, and Twilight lost her hold on her magic.

Twilight blinked her eyes open to see the airship rushing up to meet her presenting a forest of slowly melting ice shards filling her vision and she panicked and focused a blast of telekinesis at the deck below her shattering the ice just before she hit the deck with a wet and painful thud.

She pushed herself up onto her knees amidst the frozen slush and dented wood, eventually standing upright on shaking legs. Twilight wondered briefly what it would feel like to go into shock, knowing full well she didn't have that luxury. Above her, the fight was nearing its end. Celestia appeared scuffed and singed, her efforts now entirely defensive. Luna was dripping blood down one wing, her movements no longer sharp and liquid. Teryn, however, seemed untouched, and he successfully kept the two sisters separated, forcing them to attack from different angles.

He was winning.

Twilight had barely been enough of a distraction to warrant his attention, and she had nearly died for the effort. He was unlikely to leave her alive if she actually managed to pose some sort of threat to him. She knew that. She knew that deep in her bones. But nothing changed what she needed to do. And Celestia and Luna, fighting for their lives, were buying her just a little time. She took a deep breath and centered herself.

Twilight made herself a sword. A glowing, ephemeral construct of magic and will, she conjured into existence a long, straight sword like the ones she'd seen in the Canterlot Museum of History. Twilight could never have lifted one properly with her teeth, but she had no trouble wielding this one with her mind. Hmmm. . . Twilight scanned the deck. Focusing on a bent and twisted section of the guardrail, she tore a long section of steel loose and brought that to hover in front of her as well.

Twilight was scared. She felt tired, hungry and afraid. If she'd had any choice in the matter, she would have gone home then and there. It was only the safety of those she loved that bereft her of any choice she might have had.

Yet. . . deep down. . . there was a small part of her that was not afraid. A part of her that yearned to be tested. A part of her that felt that sometimes retribution was a justifiable response to malicious intent. A part of her that Fluttershy had identified and condemned and, eventually, forgave. A part of her that would enact violence gladly for the sake of her friends. That part of Twilight pulled the corner of her mouth up in a small smile as her form burst into light and she launched herself like a missile towards the nebulous threat above.

But the airship was still in the line of fire, so Twilight took no chances. The moment she was in motion the light of her horn brightened and she vanished. She emerged from the teleport almost directly beneath Teryn's shield. The black mist gathered before her, but she slashed her weapons through the dense fog and it dispersed a little, granting her a clear view of the sickly pale shield beneath.

She plunged both of her weapons into the orb of slime and they stuck as though it was wet sand or cold butter. She linked a spell through the two weapons as the mist closed about her and energy gathered nearby for an attack. But Twilight was prepared. She teleported again, leaving her instruments behind. This time she teleported to the far side of her opponent, appearing in clean air and bright sunlight. Then she triggered her spell, pulsing her magic through her weapons and into the shield's defenses. The yellow orb disintegrated into separate blobs of energy and fell into the sea. For a moment, Twilight felt a wave of elation, as though she'd aced a difficult test. But then her smile faded.

Below her spread the wings of a dark god. The air itself shimmered and bent around his onyx limbs. Faint patterns like fire trails twined about his body, forming indecipherable, shifting runes. His long horn trailed afterimages of darkness smudging their way across Twilight's vision. And the hard marbles of his eyes exerted a gravity of their own, giving Twilight the sensation she was being pulled into them.

He locked those soulless eyes on Twilight without blinking. Different magical assaults arced in from the alicorn sisters from different directions, but Teryn deflected them both away without looking by sort of bending the attacks around him. Or maybe by bending the shape of the physical space they traveled through. He opened his mouth to utter some form of destruction towards the purple unicorn sheathed in magic hovering above him.

Until a spinning chunk of guardrail slammed against the back of his head.

Twilight's weapons spun to her sides and she brandished them menacingly, looping them through independent patterns above her left and right shoulders. Twilight's ability to juggle multiple telekinetic movements at the same time was a point of pride, so she took that moment to marshal her courage by showing off just a little bit.

Teryn's brow furrowed, and he motioned her forward with a hoof. Twilight obliged by flinging herself forward, spinning her weapons to deflect a pair of strikes, firing a few shots of her own as she closed the distance, and adjusting her trajectory to dodge a blast from Luna that Teryn curved toward her with a hoof. With all of her telekinetic weight behind it, Twilight swung her sword through a vicious arc, somewhat surprised that Teryn made no move to evade her.

The impact shook Twilight deeply, jarring her mind as though she'd swung her weapon at a mountain. Teryn had blocked the edge of the sword with a negligent hoof, and the magic holding it together shattered. Without hesitation, Twilight swung the guardrail from the other direction and it deformed across the alicorn's face. He scarcely moved. He just reached a hoof forward delicately, so Twilight threw up a shield in panic but she felt a white-hot pain flare through her mind anyway, and it was mirrored in her chest. Twilight glanced down to find a small hole in her sternum and a little blood.

It's fine. Twilight thought as her heartbeat rocketed upwards. I'm fine! It doesn't even hurt that much. This is not over! Twilight kicked out with a hoof once, twice, adding the force of her magic to the blow.

Just taking the hits as though she were as weak as a kitten, he reached forward again and plucked the crown from atop her head. Within his grasp, the Element of Magic crumbled into ashes and blew away on the breeze. He smiled then, and Twilight felt a deep chill follow the burning pain in her chest.

Twilight panted hard. Why was she having so much trouble breathing? She felt naked after having worn her Element for so long and then having it taken away so suddenly. How could he destroy Magic so. . . so easily? That's not possible, is it? And it was somehow worse with her blood spreading through her coat; she just felt so exposed and weak. She tried to hit Teryn again, but Luna had appeared at her side and attacked him with abandon, forcing her opponent to blink away.

Then she was in Celestia's arms. The Princess of the Sun seemed upset, and she made a big fuss examining Twilight's wound. “It's not a big deal.” Twilight muttered, swatting Celesta's hoof away. “I'm fine.” Although there was quite a lot of blood by now. Maybe some pressure on the wound would be a good idea. Twilight pressed a hoof to her chest and tried looking around for the fight. But Celesta wouldn't let her go. The Princess was breathing hard, and her eyes shone with ferocity.

Then Twilight's vision dimmed a little, and a sharp CRACK resounded from one horizon to the other. And in a blink Teryn hovered before them, alone. Luna was nowhere to be seen. “Don't do this, brother.” Celestia begged, panting.

He began to gesture, but Twilight couldn't see what he'd intended because Celestia had turned her back on him. Then the world behind Twilight exploded with light and ice and pain, and Celestia screamed in her ear. Together, they fell from the sky.

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