• Published 25th Mar 2019
  • 2,579 Views, 76 Comments

Altered Destiny - SoothingCoffee



Becoming a Royal Guard in the peaceful land of Equestria, Twilight had expected boring posts, and patrols around the Castle. Instead, she had to deal with monsters, vengeful ghosts, cultists, and Sunset Shimmer. She's not complaining, though.

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Twilight (and Star) Slays a Monster

Twilight Sparkle was twelve when she got into her first hoof-fight — not the playful kind, or the one where a punch too hard was all it took for everything to stop, but a real one where she had to actually go to a clinic and get everything checked out. She couldn’t remember the reason why, but she was sure it was something really, really dumb, and she had overreacted. But she recalled the anger; the unreasonable spike of spite — that screaming ‘whatever comes come, I’ll deal with it’ thundering in her chest; burning like the fire of Tartarus. Card Castle had always been a jerk; the first to throw the punch, but she had replied it twice as hard.

She also remembered that ugly, painful feeling when she had finally dwindled down; Card Castle beneath her, crying ugly blobs of tears and snot, hooves raised in an instinctive and desperate guard, blubbering out sorries, and pleading stops. She froze then, and affronted by what she had done, felt horror; disgust — a black thick tar that drowned her insides. It had taken her minutes before she realized she had been tackled by what was probably a dozen colts and fillies.

A Royal Guard — no, not even a Royal Guard; just a Guard protected. It literally meant that. And not even starting her career; a filly who still didn’t have her Cutie Mark, Twilight Sparkle had flunked it.

The usual standards had followed. Mrs. Maywoods had been surprisingly calm, but in hindsight, she was probably really, really scared and worried. Card Castle was hurried into the infirmary, and after a look at her split lips and bleeding nose, so did Twilight. She recalled being treated like some crazy monster, and thought she deserved it. Mom and Dad were called, and so were Card’s Mom and Dad. Both sides were horrified, and were reasonably apoplectic at her. Twilight was suspended for a week-and-a-half, grounded for a month, and her books confiscated for two. Card Castle had never bothered her since, and what should be relief, Twilight only felt crushing guilt, and self-loathing.

It was an odd thing to recall now, a tiny corner of Twilight’s mind mused. Time slowed to a crawl; a tiny droplet in a serene pool, sending ripples of memories. I never apologized — not really, she remembered. Mom and Dad forced her too almost immediately, and she did; they had come bright and early, waited for Castle to arrive, and Dad had practically forced her to bow down. But that was only a formality. An apology forced by parents didn’t simply count, even if she had meant it. In that sense, she never apologized apologized, and she never had the chance. Card Castle had moved to a small village called Ponyville before she could; Twilight would later find out that Castle’s parents were getting a divorce, and his Mom got the custody.

Again, Twilight thought, detachedly, weird thing to remember now.

Or maybe it’s not. Something clicked. A lost chance — an unresolved conflict. As she saw certain death approach Star Cell, time snapped back. Twilight Sparkle didn’t hesitate. Magic was too slow. Instead, she braced her front-legs against the ground, pumping as much energy into them, and pounced; a purple blur upon the earth before she barreled straight into Star Cell. Flesh met flesh. Twilight immediately hugged Star’s chest as they tumbled together, rolling once then halfway through the second; tangled like a demented two-pony rubber-ball. Star Cell’s sweet, sweaty scent overwhelmed her as her snout dug into her fur. Something hot passed her right leg before they finally skidded to a stop. Twilight quickly pushed herself up, her eyes wide; chest beating like Flash Sentry’s weird band drummer. Star laid beneath her, her chest pumping up and down, blue pupils trembling; in that moment, Star Cell looked ten years younger than she actually was — a shot of panic pierced Twilight, before it went away in a wash of relief:

“You’re fine,” Twilight breathed out, brushing Star’s cheek. She smiled. “You’re… fine. Now snap out of it, and get away. Fire the flares, and wait for reinforcement — I’ll stall,” she growled, before stepping away from Star. Her leg buckled. Twilight let out a small cry; the searing pain finally registered — like sticking your hoof over an iron; or a stovetop, she mused. That’s a lot of blood for a little graze. Twilight ignored it; gritting her teeth through as she dragged herself away. Just… a little to the left.

There was a choked gasp behind her. “T-Twilight, what are — where —”

Her hoof rose, and for once, Star listened without protest. Twilight felt her lips quirk as she watched the monster.

It wasn’t attacking them anymore. It simply… stood there. Hundreds eyes unblinking, almost uncomprehending as it stared at its limb, and then at where they had stood — now renovated into a practical trench.

Not for long. Twilight narrowed her eyes. When you got hit, hit them twice as hard — the spear in her telekinetic grip felt heavier than normal. With a grunt, it shot through the air like an arrow, and struck true. Slurch! Her lips ticked grimly as it pierced through eyes-covered hide, and dug through flesh. Blood, silver like the moon, shone even under its tar-like body — leaking like water from a rusty pump, trailing down from its scale-hide, following the force of gravity as it traced like tear tracks before the blood dripped into one of its eyes.

It flinched; the unfortunately eye clenched tight. For a moment, it didn’t realize what just happened — then it hit. Eyes widened, and its skin… warbled. A muffled croak; almost a gasp of pain echoed, before the monster threw its head back. Elongated maws parted open, and it shrieked.

Her ears rang, even as she folded them over her head. Its scream muted the world, and hammered drills into her skull. The earth shook, and the air wobbled; an ultimate expression of pain and distress. Despite that, Twilight felt a weight released from her chest. Tense muscles loosened as she floated her sword close by her side. “It bleeds. It feels pain,” she whispered. Hundreds, thousands of beasts, creatures, and monsters had been written down on the Royal Guard Monstro Compendium — some, like the wendigo, required special approaches. This was not one of them. “It can be killed.”

Eventually, the thing quietened, its maws clamping shut. If Twilight strained her ears, she could still hear a distinct, muffled moaning emanating from its mouth. Glancing backwards, Twilight sighed in relief. Star Cell was gone. Thank Celestia. Her lips quirked as she noticed the eyes locking onto her, narrowed almost to a black slit. It didn’t quite turn towards her, but then, it really didn’t need to.

Her leg hurt a little, and there was a trail of red from where she had been — but that familiar pumping within her chest pushed it away. For the first time since she had entered the forest, Twilight was completely in her element. “Yeah. I hurt you,” she grinned, tapping at the ground. “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

It lunged.

Twilight grimaced, and jumped away, fur bristling as the monster’s claw whizzed past her, straight to the tree behind her. Wood splintered. Even though Twilight had expected it, it was fast. Or rather, it was simply too — Twilight’s eyes widened, and she skidded to an immediate halt. Just in time, as its other arm speared right before her snout — another step, and she would’ve lost her head. Growling, Twilight ran her sword against the offending limb. Silver spat, and gurgled; a dozen eyeball shivered, deflated before they slammed shut. A roar from the monster; a quake from the earth. Twilight glanced behind her, and clenched her jaws. Its other arm was closing in, dragging mud and dirt along with it — intending to squish her like one would to a mosquito.

She grinned. Her hooves dug into flesh, bloody eye holes turning into the perfect climbing steps, even as the monster’s shriek increased in volume; luminous silver drenched the bronze of her shoes, and sprayed to the purple of her fur as she scaled the limb. Like cornstarch and water, she grimly mused. She took another glance backwards — now! — and leaped. For a moment, she was floating, rotating in the air; below, the tree-sized limb breezed by. For a moment, Twilight understood why pegasi liked to fly so dangerously close to the ground; why daredevils existed — that close touch against death; that bumpbumpbumpbumpbump! in her heart, threatening to burst from its cavity. A certain euphoria that swept everything away; a fog that dragged reality, and common sense to the backseat: whatever happens, happens! Even if I die, I’ll die happy!

Then she fell. “Shit!” she gasped, hitting the ground. Scrambling up to her legs, Twilight grimaced. Her body screamed at her — worse, she had landed on her bad leg. A glance, and she realized there was no time for rest.

The monster was relentless. Reckless. It attacked mindless, repetitiously, and without sign of stopping. Twilight ducked as its claw tried for a grab, and ran as it tried to gore through her. She darted, rolling on the ground, before leaping to avoid another attack. A deadly game of whack-a-mole. Her sword swung instinctively, a whirlwind of steel on its own right; eyes popped, and deflated — silver blood sprayed, slathered her entire body until she smelled like… not quite copper, but something smokey. Like charcoal. Like ash. But even as the monster bellowed, screamed, shrieked, and flinched in pain, Twilight knew they were just mere surface wounds.

… And she was slowly losing blood. Her breath came in gasps, and out in wheezes. It felt strange — to be so alive when she was so close to death. Twilight bit her lips until it bled. Focus! Her vision blurred, and focused at the same time. How long had she been doing this — running around it, trying to stall for time? Had a minute even pass? Probably not. Battles always felt like they lasted forever. Especially when something great was at stake.

Twilight gritted her teeth. She… she can’t die. Not yet. She refused to. It was unacceptable. She… she wasn’t even a Royal Guard.

She needed a change of strategy —

A pop to the left — red light burned at the corner of her periphery. She glanced quickly. It was the emergency flare. Finally — and the monster flinch, its flesh wobbling and tensing. Hundreds of eyes looked away from her, straight towards the flare.

It shifted its body away, upwards. “... Mnyessie… mmnemere…” it moaned. Twilight folded her ears, grimacing. Like a vinyl record playing in backwards; scratched, cracked, and bent.

But now it had stopped its assault. Good. Thank you, Star. Twilight took a deep breath, facing the monster fully. She… she could try to seriously wound it; close in the distance, and damage its torso; hope for the best that she struck something vital. Risky, but it might slow it down. How? Charging immediately would be suicidal, even if it was distracted. One of its eyes would spot her first, and despite their size, its claws were more like a pair of prehensile swords, rather than a spear. She doubted a closer range would make her safer. I need to blind it first. Twilight glanced behind her — and just like that, it clicked; the final piece of the puzzle snapping in place. She got her plan.

Twilight grinned, pulling her sword close to her side. Magelight, being one of the three spells any unicorn wanting to join the Guards required to learn, was probably the easiest spell a pony could learn. Almost instinctual, really. In the first place, magical energy emitted from a unicorn could already produce light. Magelight merely attempted to emphasize on that aspect — in that sense, it was the natural progression into the world of magic.

Of course, casting the spell, and modifying it was a completely different beast altogether. A modified spell was a new spell entirely — a Magic Missile meant to pierce was different to a Magic Missile meant to harmlessly stun ponies, even if they belonged to the same subtype. And that’s the beauty of magic, isn’t it? Ever changing. Ever evolving. Never quite the same. Similar, but narrow your eyes a little, and you’ll find them unique. Even each attempt at a spell was different. It didn’t even have to apply to unicorns. Earth ponies, and pegasi; magic that was innate, seeped deep into their skin, flesh, and bones were unique to each other.

Ponies did so unconsciously. Unaware, they would change a spell to fit their emotions, beliefs, lifestyle, and worldviews. A seamstress would unconsciously make their telekinesis more meticulous — throwing strength for precision. A thug’s Magic Missile might be crude — rough, and inaccurate, but it would be strong. To change that was difficult for many reasons, akin to changing one’s nature at the tap of a hoof. But for Twilight? She understood it. Magic — that was her Cutie Mark. More than just a simple talent; it was her destiny. Her nature. Ever changing. Ever evolving. Never quite the same. Infinite possibilities.

The month that followed after her Cutie Mark manifested had been the happiest, and scariest month in her life.

Just a tweak here, and nudge there. Smaller. Compress it, and — there it was. Dark purple ball glowed dimly before her. A lightbulb at its final legs, minutes before dying. It flickered, now and then; tree root cracks running along its surface, filled with a cement of distant neon, throbbing like the veins in her hoof. For a moment, the ball wobbled; losing its shape. Losing its focus. It folded, slumping under its own weight, like an overstuffed water balloon — an accidental jerk away from bursting. Magic trickled from Twilight’s horn — another tweak, and it calmed. A crag-like surface sprouted around it, stabilizing it — a brittle glass to the wet paper she had before.

Twilight smiled, nodding. She glanced back up. The flare was still up — a veritable red star; an angry eye, sneering down at her. It reminded her of Star. Twilight felt her lips twitch. Somehow, the thought comforted her. The monster was still staring at it too, Twilight’s presence forgotten. A hundred eyes blinked, not collectively, but by the dozen. It let out a long groan, and for a moment, Twilight was struck with the image of Shining Armor, eyes wide in awe and fascination. It was his first Summer Sun Celebration — and the way he looked at Princess Celestia as she came down reminded her why she was who she was.

Her face twisted into an ugly grimace. This thing’s nothing like Shiny. “Hey, eyeballs!” Twilight shouted, and the monster’s eyes jumped to her. They blinked. Smirking, the “magelight” sailed off from her grip. “Catch!” it arced slowly, lazily into a parabola. A feather guided by the wind. The monster’s eyes latched onto it, following along its path. It rose, up, and up; away and away. Then, at the middle of the field, the ball of energy finally peaked.

Twilight looked away, raising her hoof over her eyes, and clenched them shut. She felt the click; the release on her horn — that twang of an arrow leaving its bow, echoing within her mind.

Then, pandemonium. A shriek pierced through the air, a hissing kettlepot that threatened to burst her eardrums. If her cuts had caused a scream of pain and anger, then this was that of agony, and fear. Twilight cracked her eyes open, and chuckled at what she saw. Black lines ran along its body, spreading and popping like cracked glass — eyes clenched shut; throbbing like veins. It flailed, thrashing its surrounding with wild abandon, leaving gashes onto the ground, chucking scoops of dirt in the air. Unfortunate trees and saplings exploded in bursts of splinters. A blind attempt to keep her away; self-preservation mounting whatever intelligence, or instinct the beast had.

Good thing that she was just out of its reach.

Twilight flared her nostrils, tapping quietly at the ground. One. Two. She took a deep breath, and exhale. Three. She wobbled a little, before blinking the blurriness away. Four’s the magic number, she mused as she stomped the ground hard. “Hey, Eyeballs! I’m here!”

Its reaction was immediate. A howl rent the air, and its head turned towards her. Its lunging attack was predictable in its suddenness and unpredictability. That’s its secret, Twilight mused as she threw herself to the side, instinct screaming at her. Not its speed, though it was still fast, but the lack of ‘tell’. Even Jaw Breaker, Equestria’s Current Lightweight Boxer Champion, famed for his quick jabs had ‘tells’. Every living being had. This monster did not.

Landing hooves-first on the ground, Twilight gritted; a hiss slipping through. Pain lanced through her bad leg, like a skewer straight into her spine. “Fuck,” she bit her lips, drawing blood. It… perhaps it’s not as light of a graze, Twilight thought. Covered in her and the monster’s blood, it was difficult to see how bad it was looking. She didn’t really give it a good look before either. Now’s not the time! Underneath, the earth rumbled, and the monster let loose another roar.

She turned to look, and let out a chuckle. Striking blindly and carelessly, the monster’s claw went straight into the abandoned mine’s entry — and deeper it went. It jerked its limb, or tried to. In response, the ground rumbled, and shifted. Stuck. With a grin, her sword went straight into the exposed arm. Deeper! Silver burst out, showering her with gore as the monster roared. She broke into a gallop, and jumped. Her sword held, and she immediately followed it with a hop. For a moment, she stumbled as she stood atop an unfamiliar terrain — squishy, sticky, and slippery. Muddy, almost.

There she was, on the monster’s limb. Right before her was a path, and for a moment, Twilight saw a familiar bridge — one of the academy’s excursion; an old hanging bridge, sloping upwards to a taller cliffside. It was old, and covered in slippery moss; another kilogram away from falling apart; a step away from a deadly accident. Twilight blinked, and the image was gone. She tugged at her sword free, and more silver sprayed the already bloody field. Another roar. Another attempt of the monster to struggle free, to no avail. Another failed one.

Twilight breathed. In, out — ragged. Blood loss was a bitch, and she didn't know how long she’ll last. Didn’t matter. She’ll get out of her alive. “M’not gonna die,” she muttered, glaring. With a growl, her sword went downwards. Deep into its flesh. Deeper! To the hilt! Through the bones! Through dark flesh, it ate, and drank the moon deep. With a roar of her own, Twilight galloped — beside her, the sword became her loyal companion, carving through a path of gore; a geyser of moonlight trailing behind her. A warm shower, drenching her body in liquid life. Her chest burned, and her leg felt numb — the panic in the monster’s moaning fed her with energy. Its other limb tried to swat her, but for once, Twilight could see it coming. She ducked, and it went wide. Her throat felt hoarse from the screaming, yet she couldn’t stop the glee from showing.

I know this feeling, Twilight realized numbly, stepping onto the zenith — the monster’s shoulder. Up here, she could feel some of the sunlight. Up here, she could hear the monster’s moaning better than ever: a pitiful, mewling noise that slipped between the slit of its maw. It sounded like a filly’s cry, lost in the middle of the Summer Sun Celebration, her Mom and Dad nowhere to be found, lost in the crowd. Only strangers there, until a golden hoof tapped —

— Maybe —

Twilight jerked her head aside, and her sword followed alongside it — a grand silver fireworks, blooming in the afternoon sky. I know this feeling, Twilight thought, stricken by a sense of dejavu. Steel flashed, before she hammered it back down — a veritable nail, digging into its joint. It began to carve — a Griffon Butcher working to separate the cuts. Each movement requiring a mental, and physical jerk. The hanging bridge swayed; tugged, and she wobbled for a moment. But it didn’t break. Didn’t pull free. It almost did, like that one last time, but it didn’t.

A cry — a mewl. A sob. Twilight blinked, feeling her head swim towards the surface; the blurry edges fading away. Something warm washed her back, crawling like pinpricks. In the corner of her eyes, the monster cracked its maws open. A black blur shot out. Her eyes widened. She — whoomph! — cried as the air fled her lungs, a creak crackling at her ears. For the second time that day, a sense of weightlessness took over. She blinked at the sun — at the flare that was still glowing brightly.

Then gravity returned, and a pair of hooves tried to crush her throat. She choked, blinking through the tears of pain. A filly, Twilight’s eyes widened, tears welling up as she scrambled at her neck for air. She felt the long gangly hooves around them. Her legs flailed, but there was no ground for her to stand. Blank, unseeing eyes — muddled in black ichor. A mouth, hanging open; a throaty mewling, and sobbing like a backward-playing record. Essie, Essie, Essie. Essie, Essie, Essie. Who’s Essie?

A pony can go on for three-hundred-and-sixty seconds without oxygen. Twilight snapped back to focus. She needed to escape now! Her eyes teared up as she renewed her effort. A pony can only last one-hundred-and-eighty seconds before losing consciousness. She needed to breathe! Her sword! Where — she couldn’t see it. Couldn’t reach it with magic. She growled, and slammed her head against the filly’s. Once. Twice. Nothing. She can’t —

— not yet —

I know this feeling, Twilight remembered as a strange sort of calmness settled in. Her hooves burned, and felt numb. Heavy. They dropped limply.

It’s when everything, and nothing matters.

She stared quietly at the filly in front of her. Coat and mane black as the monster’s — a pony made out of black mud. A pair of unseeing eyes, pumped with the night. There’s only her torso, Twilight mused, and a glance revealed why — it had no lower body. Or perhaps it would be more accurate that the lower body was the monster itself; a long trail flesh connecting the filly to the back of the monster’s throat. Filly’s the tongue. For some reason, Twilight found it funny. She heard that mewl again. A faint sob. That sound came from her, huh? She saw a pair of silver tracks trailing down from its eyes.

You look lost, kid. Weakly, her hoof twitched. Where’s your parents?

“Twilight!”

“Oof,” for the second time that day, Twilight felt the air escape from her lungs. Something slammed at her side, and suddenly, she found herself rolling… her vision blinded by… blue. A grunt that wasn’t hers echoed, followed by one that was hers as her back hit the ground. Something warm was pressed against her body; something that smelled of earth, sweat, and candies. Finally, they skidded to a halt. Twilight blinked, dejavu striking her like a hammer.

Star Cell stood over her, breathing ragged; coming in gasps, and out in wheezes. Sweat dripped from her body, fur matted over; wet, warm, and sticky. “You’re fine,” her eyes were watery, Twilight noted. “You’re,” she gritted her teeth, glaring. “You can’t die until my say so, understood?” she took a deep breath, and a familiar smirk formed on her lips. “And I haven’t given you the permission yet.”

Twilight blinked. In the background, she heard a howl. She peeked slightly to the side — there, on the sky, were three blurs. Pockets. Count, and Trigger? Something crunched against the grass, closing in on them. Coal. Twilight chuckled, before choking; her throat felt like shit. “What took you so long?”

Star Cell tittered, her voice strained. She stepped aside from her, finally allowing Twilight a proper look. “You said you’ll stall. I got every — can you stand — ” she paused, blue eyes settling at Twilight’s neck, and then her leg. “No, actually —”

“I can stand,” she growled, before wincing, rubbing her throat. “Monster’s still not down. I… I think I know how,” taking a deep breath, she rolled over to her belly. She gritted her teeth, bracing her hooves against the ground, and —

Something pressed her down — a hoof. “Stay down, Twilight. This is an order from your leader,” Star growled. Firm. Despite herself, Twilight found herself laying still. “At least let me bandage you first!”

“That,” Twilight grimaced, before nodding. Star moved her hoof away, and Twilight rolled to her back. “Alright. Thanks,” at least they were somewhat away from the battle, Twilight mused, her eyes staring at the forest canopy.

“You better be,” Star grumbled, pulling out the first aid kit from her saddlebag.

A strained chuckle came from her left. “You look like shit, Twilight,” Hard Coal muttered, his eyes going over her body. “Like. Real shit. How… how’re you feeling?”

Twilight closed her eyes, taking a deep breath — and stopping halfway, feeling her chest tighten. She rubbed her neck, before wincing. That’s definitely going to leave a nasty bruise. “Bad,” she returned, blinking the fraying edges of her vision away.

“Point for aptness,” Coal muttered. “How are you even awake? You should be out-cold now with how much blood you lost.”

Twilight snorted, feeling the sting as Star cleaned up the wound. “It's not that bad.”

“You're right,” Star's voice was cold. “It's worse. I can see the bones, you know. Now shut your mouth, and rest. It's an order. The others are taking care of it, especially that Trigger. Besides, you already did quite a number on it,” she muttered, then sighed — a hint of… something in her voice. “As always. Have faith in your subordinates, Twilight.”

Her throat tightened. “No. No, you don’t get it,” Twilight shook her head, before wincing. Can’t move her neck too much. She tapped at the ground. Essie. Essie. Es sie. S.C. Star Cell. Of course. It all made sense now. Licking her lips, Twilight met Star’s eyes squarely. “That thing can’t be stopped. They’re…” Twilight glanced to back to the monster, through the gap the trees had allowed her to see. Its left limb had been torn halfway through, hanging limply by silvers of silver flesh. From the distance, she could even see her sword sticking out. Despite that fact, it’s still fighting relentlessly, even with only one claw available. It’s distracted by the pegasi, and Star’s right; Trigger was something else, flitting and blitzing around the monster’s swings, practically toying with it as Count and Pockets piled in damages with arrows, and bolts. It’s still not losing, not really — and it’s not tiring itself either. Every now and then, some of the eyes would glance at their direction; at Twilight, and Star Cell.

Mainly Star Cell. Though it spared three out of ten eyes at Twilight herself.

Was that why it was so transfixed with the flare? Not because it was something shiny, but because it somehow knew who set it off? I had underestimated it, Twilight paled, as the battle frenzy began to lift its claws from her mind. It’s not dumb, not really. Just constantly and easily distracted, and extremely focused. And really, really angry at Twilight, for some reason.

It’s not roaring as much as when I fought it, for example.

“... Twilight,” Star growled. “Answer me. What don’t I get?” she bit out, annoyed. “Why can’t it be stopped? Why are you so sun-damned stubborn?” she spat in disgust, stepping away.

Twilight snapped back. “What?” She blinked. Where was — ah, right. A glance showed that her leg had been practically mummified. It… she felt numb. She bit her cheeks hard enough to bleed. Focus! She can’t pass out now! “It's targeting you. It's — it's a Revenant; a dark spirit of vengeance; the wendigo’s distant relatives. Somepony summoned it, and it possessed the Summoner to deliver that pony's wish at the cost of its body, and… Essie. It kept saying that. Over and over. It's looking for you, Star.”

“... What?” Star blanched. “Who in Tartarus would do that? And why?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight breathed out, trying to climb back to her hooves. This time, Star Cell didn’t stop her. Her chest hurt, but it didn’t feel like she had cracked anything. Just bruised. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand ponies who would resort to that,” hatred so large to sacrifice your soul to rely on Dark Magic — and she didn’t want to. “But there’s only one way to defeat a revenant — destroy its anchor; the summoner’s body.”

Star steeled her jaws. “Where is it?”

“It’s the tongue —”

A cry echoed around the field. It wasn’t the monster’s. Twilight caught the orange blur, careening away; a distant crack that resounding through the trees. “Cadet!” Count’s voice yelled.

“Pockets,” Twilight growled, grimacing. She made to move. “We need to —”

“Stand-by, Twilight,” Star ordered, eyes narrow. Twilight clenched her jaws. “Shit,” licking her lips, the she turned to the side. “Coal, hurry up and check Pockets! Get her to safety!”

“Right,” Coal nodded, face stoic.

First time seeing him this serious, Twilight thought as he galloped away. She shook her head, and turned to Star impassively. “We have to join them —” her vision tilted to the left. Grimacing, she recovered at the last moment. Focus — that wasn’t the main concern. “I can still fight, and we need every hoof available.”

“Like hell you will, Twilight,” Star hissed. “You could barely stand on your hooves. You — we can take care of this ourselves. You’re just going to be a liability.“

She’s not wrong. Star’s word echoed inside her head. Liability. Protocol demanded that a wounded soldier should retreat to get themselves taken care of. But what was she to do then? Lay back, then watch and do nothing as her allies fought? As they struggled, and bled, and grasping for every thread of victory? Run away? That’s worse. It was one thing if they won, but what if they lost? Would she have to watch in silence, as one by one, her allies were culled? It would be too late by then, wouldn’t it? Could one even gamble on that chance?

Faith — an errant comment and an equally errant thought. Was this what Star meant? Faith on your allies, to believe that they’ll do right regardless of opposition. Faith on your victory, to trust that everything would turn out alright; that Fate and Destiny both still have much in store for you?

Bravery, or cowardice; strength, or weakness, to sit on the sideline, and do nothing? She didn’t know the answer. It felt like one of those stupid questions where neither answer is wrong or right. Card Castle’s face flashed to her mind, face wrapped in bandage; she recalled taking a step, before wavering — something awful brewing within. Star was right, I’m not good at this. Despite the gravity of the whole situation, her lips couldn’t help but twitch at that. They thinned immediately into a flat line. She gave Star an unwavering look. “No.”

Star Cell stepped back. For a moment, she looked unsure. “No?” her left eye twitched. “No?! For Celestia’s — did you even hear what I just said? You’re injured. You — you could die, Twilight,” she hissed.

“I’ve suffered worse,” Twilight defended.

Star responded with a look.

“I haven’t suffered worse,” Twilight admitted. She returned Star’s look with her own impassive one. “Respectfully, Star Cell, I might be injured — heck, this is perhaps that worst I’ve ever been in. But I’m not out, and I can still fight. Maybe not in close quarters, but I still have my magic, and you’ve seen what I can do with magic. When it comes down to it, though, I’m not going to do nothing.

Star glared, and Twilight caught it squarely. The battle felt like it had lasted for ten seconds, but it was probably less than a second — and when it was over, Star Cell was the first to look away. She clicked her tongue. “What’s even the point?” she spat out, turning around. “You’re Twilight Sparkle. I can’t even stop you even if I want to,” despite that, she unlatched the spear on her side, and handed it to Twilight. “Here, to cover your back. You said the weakness is its tongue, right?”

Twilight took the spear, sighing at the familiar weight. “Mhm,” she grunted, trailing after Star. “Even then, we need to make it show itself. Otherwise, it would remain hidden inside the jaws — and I don’t think we have the firepower to force it…” Twilight trailed off, wondering about that. She… she could let her magic run wild, but that would just replace one problem with another — or just add into it instead.

Star pursed her lips. “How did you do it, then?”

Twilight frowned in thought. “It was a last — no,” she shook her head, furrowing her eyebrows. That didn’t make sense. There were two reasons why a revenant might show itself. One was that it was desperate enough to utilize its greatest weakness as a trump card, and while she did manage to spill a lot of its blood, blinded it, and practically crippled the revenant… they were superficial. Maybe there was actual fear in there, Twilight thought with some satisfaction; some measures of desperation, but that couldn’t be just it. It’s deeper than that.

Twilight recalled the twin tracks of silver tears. It was crying, wasn’t it? Why showed her that — that anguish? It was most likely nothing — her mind putting meanings where there was none. Yet… a small part of her, buried deep in that deepest part of her mind pondered: was it a plea for help?

Twilight blinked, and then shook her head. No, that was impossible — when one’s possessed by the summoned revenant, the only thing left of you is your grief; that raw hatred, and thirst for vengeance that fueled itself, acting like a compass in the middle of a storm. Which led to the second reason why a revenant might show its achor… Oh. Twilight blinked, a chill touching her fur, spreading like hoarfrost. “I think I pissed off. Or really, really emotionally affected. Made it irrational.”

“So you annoyed it? Typical,” Star snorted, shaking her head. “If it was that easy, Trigger’s probably doing a good enough job at it right now.”

“No. Not annoyed, Star. Pissed off. It doesn’t just want me dead,” Twilight corrected, chewing her lips. She took a deep breath. “... But that doesn’t make sense. According to the Compendium, a revenant also reveals its true body willingly — its weakness — to the Summoner’s target.”

Star Cell blinked. “It wants to make it personal,” there was a tone in her voice that Twilight couldn’t quite put a pin on. “It wants you to know who’s killing you — so that as it could see the dawning realization on your face. ‘Look what you made me do!’ it shouts. Your despair, guilt, and regret It wants you to know why the summoner wants you dead, for you to think ‘If only I didn’t do this...’ as your flame extinguishes… it’s what I would do if I hate somepony enough to summon a monster, and sacrifice my body to it,” Star Cell admitted, before glancing back at Twilight. She returned it with a bemused look. Star smirked. “I guess you’re a good magnet for that sort of attention, huh.”

Twilight’s bemused expression only doubled.

Star huffed, a hint of laughter ringing at the back of her throat as she looked away. There was a pause. They stood just behind the treeline. The revenant’s eyes pierced through the shadows, straight at them, but it did nothing — merely stared. It’s waiting, Twilight belatedly realized. How courteous.

Then, in a low voice, Star spoke: “I guess I am too.”

There was something there. A heaviness in Star’s voice; the slightest tremor, revealing quelled emotions. Twilight felt her throat constrict. “You don’t have to do it. I can —”

“Let me stop you there, now,” craning over her shoulder, Star gave Twilight a warning glare. “No. You promised to cover us from the back — nothing more, nothing less.”

Twilight looked away. “You make it sound I’m planning to die,” she pointed out quietly. “Because I’m not — and it makes sense for me, the least able, to be the bait.”

She let out a low bark of laughter. “Really. You’re not?” Star snorted, sneering. “Could’ve fooled me, Twilight. But enough dawdling — keep to what we agreed to. For once, have faith in me, Twilight,” she whispered.

Twilight opened her mouth, then closed it shut. Nothing that came out of it would help, Twilight knew. Instead, she stared at Star silently.

The Manehattanite let out a quiet chuckle. It sounded hollow. “Good enough, I suppose,” and with that, they both entered the field.

.

7

.

There was something to be said about plans never surviving the enemy contact. For a certain measure of ‘plans’ at least.

The moment Twilight had stepped into the field, the destruction of her previous engagement was finally laid bare upon her: trenched and gouged earth surface; what used to be the mine’s entrance now collapsed into itself, and silver seeped into the ground. It all pervaded her senses; the stench of battle; that incessant drumming inside her chest — an imperceptible pressure, pushing down on her in a haze; a certain headiness that made that hind-part of her brain drunk.

I did this, Twilight marveled silently, and felt that feeling of helplessness, that prospect of fighting a foe beyond themselves, fade away.

Then the revenant’s other hundred eyes snapped towards them. Twilight froze, the beating of her chest coming to a sudden halt. Trigger and Count were ignored, a rain upon an unmoving stone — in the monster’s world, only Star Cell and Twilight Sparkle existed. Narrowing her eyes, Twilight began to count, waiting for its move.

One — like a stretched-out rubber band, the monster snapped into action. Trigger cried out in surprise. A roar of intent, of spite shattered the air as it barreled towards them. The earth trembled, and it finally registered to her what that meant. Barreled. It wasn’t lunging its arms in place anymore, but it was moving.

Once. Twice. In two speedy strides, it had crossed the field. It’s not fast, Twilight thought, her eyes meeting with Star’s. Not really. It was simply inevitable. But one’s more than enough — clenching her jaws, Twilight pounced to the side. Sweat and candy wafted into her nose as she crashed into Star Cell — a grunt that was less heard, and more felt. They rolled into a tangle of limbs. For a flash second, they seperated, and their eyes met. Star’s furious blue eyes glared at Twilight’s, but it didn’t really matter. Twilight’s hooves coiled around Star’s barrel, and as the rolled a fully one-eighty, she flung —-

Twilight’s eyes widened as her limbs refused to budge, and the roll continued to a full three-sixty. She struggled, and saw the smug triumph in Star’s eyes as her hooves left hers, flung back into that familiar sense of weightlessness.

“Trigger, catch Twi — !” Star’s command was cut off by a screech. Twilight’s vision of her cut off by a familiar, abominable limb.

Gravity jerked. A pair hooves grabbed Twilight by her shoulders. “Gotcha,” Trigger grunted.

Twilight ignored him — his voice was barely a drop in the violent ocean buzzing inside her ears. Dirt, and dust swirled as a tree snapped, forming a smoke screen. Then the monster reeled its arm back; a fisher-stallion gleeful for a catch. Inside its claw, Star Cell’s dazed expression almost felt like relief — she’s alive.

That snapped Twilight back to focus. “Throw me,” she growled.

“Alright.”

With a heave and a grunt from him, Twilight sailed through the air. In the corner of her periphery, Trigger was already moving. She saw the frustration — the silent fury in his eyes as he carved his sword into the monster’s leg. Up above, Count continued his barrage of arrows. The sun, and the blue sky reminded her that it was still afternoon. Her hooves finally touched surface. Slippery, almost oily, flesh wriggled underneath her — eyelids opening and blinking. Growling, Twilight drove her spear down into one of the eyes. Star’s sword stuck out from the monster’s wirst, its blade glinting. An idea formed inside her head, and with a clench of her jaws, it slid out, spurting silver blood.

The monster replied with an annoyed rumble — with how much hurt it had been soaking in, Twilight would be surprised if that was barely a prickle. No matter, she gave the blinking Star one last look before she turned on her heels. With a grim smile, Twilight broke into a gallop. Without its arm held by the abandoned mine, it was way trickier, Twilight mused as the monster tried to shake heroff, limb flailing up and down. Gravity shifted not once, but twice and many more times. But Twilight refused to be moved. Driving Star’s sword into flesh, she held tight on its hilt.

The Extreme and Unusual Terrain Trekking Course finally paid off.

The revenant’s annoyed rumble grew into a frustrated growl. Each step was harrowing, and she could feel her innards flopping and shifting, but each step took her closer to its maws. There was a grunt, and Twilight blinked as her belly dropped. She held tight to her sword, and grunted as gravity reasserted itself once again. A whoop of triumph resounded. Trigger managed to do enough damage to its leg. Twilight glanced backwards, and saw Star’s glare — she had recovered; a spear in her magical grip, trying to free herself. Her heart soared as she advanced. This was it — either the monster would let her lop its arm off, or it’d attempt the same trick with its tongue. Either way would be beneficial —

A shadow fell over her. Star’s cry was mixed with Count’s. Twilight blinked, and stared up. “That’s —” impossible. She didn’t have the chance to finish her word as the monster’s other hand descended on her. Cursing, Twilight leaped —

too late. Darkness enveloped her entire body, and for a quick moment, Twilight wondered what was going to happen. Then there was a lurch — an impact, and Twilight felt something break. A cry — hoarse and soundless tore through her throat. She wriggled, trying to move, but she couldn’t. Am I — no! Twilight gulped. Something warm trailed down to her chin. Blood, or tears? Did it matter? She couldn’t move, but it wasn’t because of the break — merely the monster’s claws imprisoning her. Something broke, but it’s not my spine. Twilight gritted her teeth. She needed to get out. How? She didn’t have her sword or spear, and the monster was too strong —

Magic.

Right. Twilight took a deep breath in, and reached out. Cold sweat streamed out of her pores. A unicorn’s natural telekinesis was never meant to be used against another living being, but it didn’t mean it wasn’t feasible. The revenant’s flesh felt oily, and Twilight realized that it extended beyond the physical means. More oily, Twilight noted. Like trying to grasp a lubricated rubber ball with one lubricated hoof while standing in sheet of oil. Other unicorns would’ve given up — deemed it impossible.

Twilight Sparkle was not “other unicorns”. By all account, her Cutie Mark was one of a kind: Magic. Nothing more and nothing less, yet it meant everything and anything. If a simple telekinesis wouldn’t do, then she just needed to change her tactics.

She took a deep breath.

Griffons and Minotaurs had always fascinated her. Ponies were strong, and sturdy; buck or a hoof-punch could brutalize anypony with ease. Add to that even more by the natural magic that coursed through them — and by proxy, hers — the pony physiology and morphology were made to last against all odds, even under the harshest of circumstances. Survival above all.

But Griffons and Minotaurs were made for battle; for war — combat was in their genes, and their body reflected that. Minotaurs had their perfectly sculpted muscles that allowed them to bend steel with ease, and claws that could turn the toughest meat into ribbons, but more than that — they were capable of handling tools, and weapons with such precision that a pony without a horn couldn’t possibly compete.

A shapeless form began to appear inside Twilight’s mind. Force Blast was the next natural progression to Magic Missile — a wave of spread out force meant to push ponies in a certain radius away. Magic Missile’s less precise cousin, so to say. If she cast that spell here, she would probably end up breaking herself from the backlash.

She took a deep breath. A dim purple glow emanated within the tight confine, before Twilight began to push. She imagined Celestia’s hoof; mighty, powerful, and unstoppable — and her sun filtered through the cracks. A giggle fled from her throat when she had enough space to shift, and stand on four — three — Twilight realized what just broke — of her hooves. She grunted as the claws cracked open, allowing limp out. Belatedly, as she felt the ground beneath her, Twilight realized that the monster had torn its crippled arm to trap her.

“Twilight!” Coal Hard immediately appeared by her side, his shoulder keep her standing. “Thank Celestia,” he paled. “Fuck, you look worse. We need to —”

Twilight stared at the monster. Trigger was coated in blood, and not all of it was silver. Count was now in close-range. Star was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Star.”

“I — “ Coal faltered. “The monster ate her,” he whispered.

Twilight recalled what Star had told her. The monster was now… less focused. Its arm made a few token efforts to ward off the pegasi even as they tried to kick its head — trying to force it open, to no avail. But... “She’s still in there,” Twilight whispered, though she couldn’t know for how long. Her eyes fell onto the revenant’s limb. Her horn glowed, recalling to the altered mish-mash of a spell she just did. Direct telekinesis wasn’t possible without tiring herself, so indirect was the next logical progression — picking up an oily rubber-ball with one hoof was near impossible, and so was two, three, four, and five. But a hundred? Two hundreds?

Beside her, Coal let out a gasp followed by a muttered curse. Twilight opened her eyes, and chuckled as the enormous limb floated by her magic. It strained, and ached, and hurt, but while she wasn’t one for theatrics, the ensuing silence — the way the revenant’s eyes stared at her, but with actual disbelief, and fear that was thicker than before. Hah. Gently pushing Coal’s support, Twilight stepped forward, and the revenant took a step back. Haha. Everything hurt, and if every part of her body wasn’t at least cracked or bruised, then she’d be extremely surprised. Her leg was bleeding profusely, and that was definitely broken.

Twilight took a deep breath, and watched in grim satisfaction as she drove its arm deep into its gut — silver geysered forth; black claws bursting at the other end. The revenant tried to return the favor by slamming its other claw onto her — but she was the Duelling Champion here, not the monster. With a strained growl, she jerked her new weapon to the side. It tumbled, and the claws missed her by a meter instead. She pulled her weapon back with a slurching sound, much to its futile struggle. This time, Twilight lunged her limb straight towards the monster’s other shoulder. Without much resistance against her attack, the offending arm disconnected itself from the monster’s torso.

Her head burned. It felt like somepony had shoved her entire head into a hot over. Twilight had never pushed her magic this far — not since she had first got her Cutie Mark, and as she lifted up the other arm, adding it into her arsenal, Twilight wondered why she didn’t. If she had bothered, things would’ve gone this far. If she had added more spells into her arsenals rather than spending it swinging swords and spears, and learning knots, this would already be over. Unlimited potential. All the open doors was at the tip of horn, and all she needed to do was reach out and everything would be hers.

So why didn’t she?

Because there’s nothing more terrifying than never knowing what you’re supposed to be. Because if I could become everything, then what’s the point of even bothering?

Twilight blinked. Ah. That’s right, Twilight mused as the monster finally toppled over to its back — legs, and body practically too flimsy and unrecognizable to even support its own weight. Idly, she drove both giant claws through its stomach, pinning it deep onto the earth. Finally, the monster let loose a pitiful, mewling howl that echoed within the silent field. It was cut suddenly with almost a choke.

Twilight didn’t know how long she stood there, staring at nothing in particular. It felt like an eternity, but things like these always felt longer than they were supposed to be. Everything felt so hazy; the darkness fought against the edge of her vision, trying to claim her. “No. Not yet,” Twilight told it, and the darkness listened.

Then she saw Star Cell’s hoof wriggling out at the slip of the revenant’s maw. Trigger and Count immediately flew towards it, and pulled Star Cell out. A gentle pressure pushed her down. Relief. Twilight smiled, and sighed.

“Okay. Now,” Twilight mumbled, and darkness finally reclaimed her.

.

8

.

Four.

That was the amount Twilight Sparkle had gone into the hospital — not the infirmary. Four. Unfortunately not three, but certainly below the unlucky number. It was a strange thing to be proud of, but it was something she was proud of. Four was considered a lucky number; the number of the seasons. And four times to the hospital were less compared to other ponies she knew.

As a young filly, a late bloomer among late bloomers, that had been a point of confidence. It made her feel… special, in a juvenile sense. Made her feel better. And some weird, and vague way, that fact almost felt like a badge of honor; an acknowledgement of what Fate and Destiny had in store for Twilight Sparkle. It meant she was strong compared to others; healthier, and much more fit compared to those who had to go to the hospital each time they tripped on their hooves. It meant that, when she decided she wanted to be a Royal Guard, she wasn’t fooling herself. Being ‘superstitious’ was something that a young Twilight Sparkle would ardently deny, but looking back on it with a pair of lenses that time could only provide, ‘superstitious’ was definitely a fitting word for it. It was certainly better compared to ‘pitifully hopeful’ or ‘grasping at straws’, at least.

The first time Twilight Sparkle had gone into the hospital was for a particularly stupid reason: magic exhaustion. She had pushed, and despite knowing her limit, pushed harder. Mom and Dad reacted badly, and immediately rushed her to the hospital when they found her wriggling on the floor, holding her head in pain. She had learned from her mistake. Second time had been for her shots, and some check-ups. Number three had been that dumb fight with Card Castle that Twilight can't even remember why. Fourth time was when she had been much older — a sparring accident where the other colt didn't understand that sparring did not equal an actual all-out brawl. At least the other colt had it worse than her.

Fifth… well, this would make it the fifth time — and the first time she had woken up in a hospital. Twilight blinked blearily at the white ceiling, a fog clouding her mind. Bits and pieces coming together, somewhat enough to paint picture. Twilight Sparkle breathed deeply. The cold, and detached antiseptic air of the room pooled inside her lungs, and slowly expunged. It reminded her of the school’s infirmary. For some reason, Twilight mused idly, she had pictured herself reacting much dramatically. Rally Forth did, at least, screaming and flailing like a stallion possessed as he desperately asked, and called out for his friends.

Were they her friends? The question came so suddenly, Twilight had to pause. No, they were not friends. Closer than before, perhaps, but not quite.

Not yet.

There was a gasp by her side. Twilight twitched a little, catching a glimpse of blue and white in the corner of her periphery. “Sis! You’re — mom, dad, Twilight’s awake!”

“Shiny?” Twilight breathed out, wincing at her voice — or near lack of one. Her throat felt incredibly dry.

A pair of white alabaster hooves clambered at the edge of her cot, depressing the mattress somewhat, as the owner grunted. Bright blue eyes, and a messy mane of alternating blues; a stub of a horn growing out of his head, barely even starting to mature. Shining Armor blinked a pair of red-rimmed eyes. “Y-yeah?” he stuttered, voice hoarse and soft. “Um. Water?”

Despite herself, Twilight couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, sure,” she nodded, and received a small smile back as Shiny carefully floated a glass of water to her lips. Cold, and soothing. Licking her lips, Twilight sighed in relief. “Thanks, Shiny.”

“No problem, Sis,” there was a pause. Shiny’s lips quivered slightly, before he leaned closer, pressing his muzzle against her shoulder. His breath felt like home. “A-are you — I thought you wouldn’t —” Shiny paused, his muffled voice trailing off. Twilight felt herself crumble when she registered the growing wetness on her shoulder. “I was really worried.”

“Y-yeah,” Twilight murmured. Guilt had never felt so damn awful. Her forelegs were perfectly fine, so she placed one over Shiny’s withers. “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to make you worry,” she whispered, caressing the back of his neck softly. Shiny replied with something, but her fur muffled it into incomprehensibility. Twilight hummed back, before pausing as a thought occurred to her. “How are you —” . Right. She sighed. She was probably in Canterlot Saint Caramel Hospital, and even if she wasn’t… huh. Shiny’s previous words finally registered. She blinked. She knew she shouldn’t be surprised, but that didn’t make her veins feel any less cold. “Wait,” Twilight croaked, paling. “Mom and dad’s here?”

“Yep,” that popped ‘p’ answered her question. From the far side of her room, Dad and Mom stepped out from their chair, and entered her periphery. They look like a mess, Twilight thought, biting the inside of her cheek. Dark baggy eyes, rimmed with bloodshot red. Scruffy fur, and bedraggled mane — locks of stray hair sticking out, and tangling up with one another; their color greyed, and faded from the lack of care and attention.

A chuckle broke her observation. “Eyes up here, Sparky,” Dad grinned. It was tired, and forced, lacking in his usual exuberance, and carelessness. Despite herself, Twilight shrunk into her bed. “... How’re you feeling, buddy?”

“Good,” Twilight replied, swallowing the knot in her throat. She didn’t even want to know the expression on Mom’s face. “Better than I expected, to be honest,” she admitted, tracing a hoof against her lightly bandaged sides, before staring at her casted leg — held hanging by some slings. It felt… well, it felt fine. Some twinges, and itches, perhaps, and a faint numbness.

There was a long stretch of silence. Left to stew inside her own thoughts, Twilight decided she didn’t like it at all. What a joke of a Guard I am, Twilight mused, before pausing: Am I even a Guard? Did I pass the test? Not that knowing the answer would help breaking this choking silence.

But she didn’t need to. Dad let out a hum. “Well, that’s good to know. The Doctor said you weren’t in much danger. Just some cracked ribs, extreme loss of blood, extreme magical exhaustion — just exhaustion in general, and a broken leg that required several stitches. Nothing that a little sleep, magic, spit, and elbow grease can’t fix, eh? At least our expensive health insurance finally paid off.”

Twilight stared for a very long time. She wasn’t the only one. Shiny looked at Dad as though he had just grown another head — even Mom looked… not surprised, but something. Bemused “... I think the Crown’s going to cover pretty much everything, health insurance or not,” she instead found herself say. There’s a beat of pause. Twilight followed it with a weak chuckle.

Dad blinked, and then rolled his eyes — a chuckle leaving his lips. “Well, what a waste of money then, that. I’m sorry, Sparky,” Dad sagged. “Didn’t mean to go off the handle on you there. You didn’t deserve that.”

An exasperated sigh. Mom’s. A light smile played on her lips; tired, but genuine, before she nuzzled Twilight’s neck. Twilight closed her eyes at the familiar embrace. “We’re just… so scared,” her voice rumbled, coursing through her body. Mom’s lullaby. “When we heard the news, and when found you there…” Mom shivered, before pulling away from her embrace. Sky blue eyes gazed deeply into Twilight’s purples. “Tell me, Twilight… is this going to be something we have to expect when you finally become a Royal Guard? Will there be a next time?”

“No,” Twilight answered immediately. Then a pause. Twilight squeezed her eyes shut. “... I don’t know,” she finished lamely. “But it isn’t something you’ll have to expect.

“I see,” Mom didn’t sound surprised at that. Cracking her eyes open, Twilight realized it didn’t make her look any less saddened. “You know, it’s moments like this — where you ended up getting hurt, or hurting somepony else, I can’t help but wonder how none of these things would’ve happened if I hadn’t said yes, years ago.”

Twilight flinched.

Dad frowned. “Velv, dear.”

“I know, Light,” Mom returned, a guilty look on her face. After a moment, she focused to Twilight. “And I’m sorry, dear,” her hoof felt warm against her mane. “I lost control there.”

Twilight’s lips twitched in wry humor. “Not for the first time, yeah. At least this time, it was Dad who lost control, and not you.”

“Haha,” Mom deadpanned. “Very funny.”

Twilight smirked.

“We’ve heard what happened from one of your friends. Star Cell,” Dad chimed in, and Twilight’s ears perked up. “She told us that you did the most in dealing with the monster — and that you also saved her life twice. Bit strange, after what we just said,” he admittedly, chuckling. “But we’re proud of you, Twilight.”

“Well, I’m not,” Velvet mumbled. Dad gave her a knowing look, and Mom flushed, looking away. “Well, maybe a little.”

Twilight giggled — feeling another set of weights lifted off her shoulders. She had already taken a hopeful guess, but it’s still nice knowing that Star Cell’s fine. More than that, she welcomed the fading tension from the room. In the end, it was always like this.

“Just promise to be careful, alright?”

Twilight nodded seriously. “I promise.”

Dad grinned. Mom sighed under her breath; a sad, watery smile on her lips. Twilight averted her eyes away. Out of all of them, Mom had always been against Twilight’s choice of career.

“I…” Twilight’s eyes twitched towards Shiny. For the very first time in a while, he spoke; voice soft, and hollow. Watery blue eyes fixed upon the seams of the hospital tiles. “I don’t get it,” he raised his head, glaring. “How… why are you guys acting like…” he trailed off. “Why are you guys acting like there’s nothing wrong with this whole thing?! Sis, you’re hurt. And for what?! Some… some stupid test?”

“Shiny…” Twilight sighed. Mom and Dad understood — they had to, raising a filly who dreamt big. It’s why they accepted her answer “easily”. Shining Armor didn't, at least not to such an extent. Gone were the days where Royal Guards would get sent out to vanquish great evils, or looming threats — a proverbial adventure where they might meet interesting characters along the way. Or maybe that had never been the case — an ideal immortalized in fictional books that Twilight still adored.

As everything oft to be, the reality was much less engaging, filled with the monotony, and bureaucracy a small part of four years in the Academy had drilled into. But even though she, and her classmates were oft called “decoration soldiers” and “toy guards” by the other cadets, that didn't change the fact that they were Princess Celestia's Sword and Shield — her personal agents.

And when it came to managing Equestria’s peace, Twilight Sparkle would bet her soul that Princess Celestia wasn’t one to be idle.

“Even if I wasn’t hurt today, then it might be tomorrow, and even if it was today, it could still be tomorrow,” That doesn't just apply to being a Guard, Twilight mused. Police officers, firefighters, and more. “What I'm trying to say is, I've accepted the risks, Shiny. I have been for ten years. Mom and Dad don't, but they knew,” Twilight explained.

“Well I haven't, and I don’t like it,” he stamped his hoof on the floor glaring at everypony. Silence, then broken by a sniff. “I hate this,” Shiny mumbled.

“I don’t expect you to,” Twilight mused aloud, reaching out for Shiny. He didn’t push her hoof away, and instead reclaimed his place by her side. Her shoulder grew wet again, but that was a laughably small price. Mom and Dad stepped closer, piling their body against Shiny; against Twilight. Bodies pressing, radiating a warmth Twilight hadn’t felt for weeks. As far as family hug went, it was the least comfortable, and the most awkward — but it was definitely one of the best. If not the best ever.

Twilight tried to ignore the sudden clog inside her throat. “How… how long have I been out?”

“One and a half day,” came Mom’s answer

“Oh.”

Silence again. Then somepony sniffed — Twilight didn’t know who. It could’ve been her. It was probably her. But whoever it was, it didn’t matter, because that had been the fuse to break the dam. Burying her face into Dad’s chest, the tears that welled in her eyes began to spill — the years training, and mastering her emotions forgotten, and thrown aside for now as she silently wept, body shaking as snot dripped.

I’m alive, Twilight thought. Everyone’s fine. Star Cell, and everyone, they’re alive. Mom, Dad, and Shiny are all here. Even though it had only been a couple weeks at most since she last saw them — even though it had only been two days or so after the terrifying encounter with the revenant, where she had nearly died… a strangled choke escaped her throat at that, and she dug her face deeper. I nearly died, didn’t I? It wasn’t just a street scuffle, or a duel competition — it was a real life or death situation.

In that heat of the moment, running on the magical fumes that was adrenaline, and putting her everything into dodging, and swinging her sword like a cravened lunatic, Twilight didn’t have the time to truly think about it —

But there was a real chance, wasn’t it? A very real possibility that Twilight was never going to come back home — that she was never going to see Mom, Dad, and Shiny again.

Her cry was an ugly thing. Snot running from her nose, and spit spilling over her mouth — yet, it was also a joyous thing. Weights Twilight never knew she even had fell off her shoulders, leaving only a sense of relief — palpable, and real; like sweet air to a drowning mare.

“... I-I-I’m,” her voice hitched. “I’m home.”

Author's Note:

Once again, thanks to Sunglow for proofreading this one.

Comments ( 39 )

I don't know why, but I'm getting the feeling that Star has a crush on Twilight that wasn't reciprocated.

Of course it wasn't reciprocated. Twilight's her usual clueless self. :facehoof:

Twilight better have PTSD from this.

Tbh that first part left a sour taste of annoyance in my mouth.

That fight scene was awesome. It was action packed, hinted at hidden abilities, and nearly confirmed that Twilight is still oblivious to anything not related to her obsession. And that scene with her parents was just awkward enough.

Gteat fight. You can feel Twilight struggles and dissociation of the situation the more she get hurt. This is a Twilight who traded magic for the spear and the sword but that's why it felt strange to not see her teleporting around or simply blasting a hole at full power in it.

Side note, it still feels funny that Twilight is the older siblings in this story.

Her leg hurt a little, and there was a trail of red from where she had been — but that familiar pumping within her chest pushed it away. For the first time since she had entered the forest, Twilight was completely in her element. “Yeah. I hurt you,” she grinned, tapping at the ground. “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

Twilight, when waiting for reinforcements, you're supposed to drag out the fight as much as possible not taunt the enemy :facehoof:

Because there’s nothing more terrifying than never knowing what you’re supposed to be. Because if I could become everything, then what’s the point of even bothering?

That doesn't mean that it's okay to neglect your strongest, and most versatile, weapon/tool for as long as you have :trixieshiftleft:

9584743

Well I may come off as rude and insensitive but as someone who has delt with bullies and other people like that after being picked on for a while I can say with a 100% honesty that I really don't hold and sort of pity or remorse for them and lest said about the adults who were supposed to put a stop to it but only did so after I put them in their place the better.

But again that would be me projecting those view onto Twilight so that's why I originally said what I said.

That and a well placed kick or a punch can go a long way.

Nice chapter. It does bother me that any equestria would actually need such a thing as health insurance, but jokes, known worlds and all that. I'm rather curious on how this'll continue, and will anxiously await for more.

9584843

Ah. You meant that one. I thought you were referring the other fights -- but yeah, that's fair. They way I had it in mind when I wrote that opening was that Cards Castle had said something that hurt, and Twilight escalated it into a full-blown hoof fight.

It was, in young Twilight's mind, as she watched Cards Castle dark and blue face, mildly horrifying. After all, she wanted to be a Guard -- a protector. A hero. That felt like anything but.

Heroes don't just fly out of their handle the moment they heard something they didn't like. And discovering much later on that Cards' parents had divorced the week beforehand caused a mature-er Twilight to view that event in a pretty different light.

Not to justify whatever it was Cards happened to say, or that words don't hurt - because they did. Twilight just believed she could've handled it better - during, or in the aftermath. The fact she didn't, and missed the chance to talk it out with Cards made her reminisce that event with a tinge of melancholy, and regret.

9584843
Hmm. I feel like this is a very nuanced thing, bullying. Is it the bully's fault? Neglectful parents? Neglectful teachers? People are naturally evil, greedy, and prideful. "I" is a prideful expression, no matter the case. Because you're talking about yourself, and most people use "I" quite a bit. Greedy by nature, after all our first thoughts are to continue sucking the life out of our mothers, and have to be forced to stop at some point.

So, is it's the bully's fault? In part, we're not always sure of their home life. Maybe they need a good ass whooping from a parent, or maybe they need less. I feel everyone deserves the chance of forgiveness, but only if they ask for it.

Point is, maybe not sympathy, but maybe reconciliation. The past is past, we can't change it but it still happened. Just forgive, don't forget. Forgive and remember and learn from it. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, after all.

9585066
Well Conceded but when you get pegged in the back of the head by a rock the size of your fist by those who you have never wrong and have done all to share to metaphorical olive branch one can't help to be cynical towards the outer world.

I am of the mentality of leaving your problems at home and with those who you have problems with.

Be what it may be, they became asshats in my eyes and I had enough of their shit, to be brief in the end I got expelled from that school while they only got a firm talking to, I never forget but forgiveness is not something that I will hand out easily, I don't expect them to grovel at my feet and beg for it but when I last saw them remorse was the last thing I saw in their eyes.

like it was explained this was me mostly projecting my personal experiences into the character in that particular situation, since I have always been taught to stand up for myself if needed and if not just try to get along with everyone keeping a neutral position if possible.

9585106
Fair enough. To be frank I think I mainly used your comment as a jumping off point for my "We're naturally evil" commentary. Don't mind it too much.

This is more of a religious belief, actually. So it makes sense if not everyone agrees, in fact I don't want everyone to agree with me. I just want people to acknowledge the view point and maybe share their own. Sloth and contention are the parents of invention and progress. After all, why use a sword when a gun can kill more people easier?

A pair of white alabaster hooves clambered at the edge of her cot, depressing the mattress somewhat, as the owner grunted. Bright blue eyes, and a messy mane of alternating blues; a stub of a horn growing out of his head, barely even starting to mature.

I just want to confirm, because I'm taking this from context: Twilight and Shining's ages are reversed in this? That's one of the traits I've noticed with your writing style. You tend to reveal essential plot points from little more than a subtle inference. Points that if they aren't read carefully, can easily be missed.

I have the same issue with the way you hinted at Star Cell and Twilight's previous relationship. We, as the readers, have to assume it was a one-sided crush. But the way you wrote it was extremely vague and difficult to gauge from a reader's perspective, at least at this point in the story.

Being the author, it's obvious to you how old the characters are and their relationships with one another. We, as the readers, not so much. We can only go off of what you reveal and how you choose to reveal it. I don't necessarily have an issue with some subtlety mixed in here and there. That's fine. But from this point forward, please consider making characterization essentials a bit more obvious?

In any case, I'm quite enjoying the story. Keep up the good work.:twilightsmile:

9585234
Nothing more to say, have you? :derpyderp2:

forgetting its fochs as it folded

Focus.

9585277

Well, I always strive to answer any question with the best of my abilities!:twilightsmile:

TDR

neat

The Revenant wasn't part of the test, right? Twilight should've said that to Shining, she didn't get hurt for some test, she got hurt saving another pony's life.

I really like this, especially the subtle story telling. You're showing, rather than telling, and that's great.

Well killing a revenant is certainly a good bit more impressive than a three-day camping trip or digging some thingamajig out of an abandoned mine. Dunno what Twilight's worried about, this is probably in the bag.

9596034 When NMM finally shows up... if the story keeps going that long... it's going to be super psycho NMM, and everyone's going to be wondering why the buck Celestia didn't just off her when she had the chance.

I just hope in this brutal, remorseless version of Equestria, Celestia is given far more competence and capability than just relying on 6 random mares to stop her insane god-child sister when she's back for bloodthirsty vengeance.

9585066 It took me demonstrating how accurately I could throw a very sharp protractor to convince the bullies relentlessly bothering me that I was the one holding back.

Fortunately for them, they got the metaphorical point. Before they got the literal point.

Some are simply stupid and violent. As my mother had to learn in her youth, sometimes beating the crap out of them is the only way to break through the wall of idiocy.

I did end up having to humiliate two others, lifting them each by the throat, one for each arm, and explaining that all I had to do was squeeze a little harder. That finally opened their eyes.

By high school, I'd found a preemptive demonstration was very effective, and when my entire class saw me leg-pressing nearly half a ton with my 110-lb body... they were quite properly cowed.

Most, not all, but MOST bullies are all about fear. And are themselves very fearful. You do need to be wary of the truly psychotic ones. Those require... special treatment.

9654539
OK? That had nothing to do with my comment.

9655736 I somehow managed to get the wrong response number in my response. I was trying to address the comments regarding dealing with bullies.

9623727
Lol

Yup, add that to the list of achievements she has.

9596034
I don't think we're worried about THAT right now...

9658454
Well, In context it would've made sense to tell him about it, It would help him stop thinking that she almost died for nothing, which is what he thinks. This can cause problems because he'll dislike the guards for what happened because he assumes it was their fault, when it wasn't.

9661613
Valid points, but I think if we look at it in a more emotional angsty- My-poor-little-Twilight-just-woke-up-from-being-thrown-around-like-a-ragged-doll point, Shining Armor is in a more protective standpoint than that of an investigator. He's swept up at the moment. While asking and pointing out the heroic deed Twilight had done would've been nice, it wouldn't have fit in at the scene in which we're doing it. But maybe like, 2 days later. Say, if someone was hit by a car and you drove a car, you wouldn't ask them the moment they woke up from their comatose state what car had hit them.

Ok, that example doesn't work but meh....

9662822
Well it would've made sense if when he said "all this for a stupid test" she had said "that wasn't part of the test" at the very least.

9663476
Meh, who are we to judge? It's a beautifully written story, there is no reason we should be debating over such a small detail.

Agree to disagree?

In a weird way, I'm hoping Star Cell and Twilight get posted to the same area, since their conflict seems not entirely resolved.

This is a very interesting concept, i hope you continue this.

I'm not gonna lie - this story needa editing. There are typos, missing words, bad phrasing...

Bit I say this from a point of love. I really like this fic, it's got some great writing, and an interesting premise (not original, but interesting), and while I'm usually pulled out of the action with a typo, this story kept me enthralled.

Like the story so far. Hope you post more.

Oh, I love this story already! I hope to see more great chapters like this one.

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