• Published 27th Nov 2019
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Hour of Twilight - Starscribe

Twilight Sparkle was Celestia's chosen heir, and under her rule Equestria was destined to prosper. But then her friends passed, as mortal ponies always do, and she was left to rule alone. The years were not kind to her after that.

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Chapter 55: Telescopium

This was her moment.

Sunset Shimmer strode past the crushed vault door, magical senses alert. Sunset doubted Twilight would leave further traps waiting in her own lab, where intense thaumic fields from her experiments might trigger them by mistake. But she couldn’t be sure—Twilight had done many things Sunset never could’ve believed.

“Keep her eyes on you,” Landon said, practically whispering into her helmet. “If I see a shot, I’ll take it. You might need to protect yourself.”

“I can handle this,” Sunset called back, insistent. “Star’s magic got us in, now mine will end this.”

This place hadn’t existed in Sunset’s day, but the layout was basically what she’d been expecting. A huge empty space, with lead lining the walls and ceiling. Much of the floor was soft slate, perfectly suited to extensive spellcraft. There was a spell written now in fact, with the princess herself putting on the finishing touches.

“Just a moment,” Twilight called. Her voice was entirely unphased. She didn’t even look up from what she was scribbling. “Let me finish writing these last few glyphs, and… there.” There was another creature behind her, along with a little stone pillar tucked against the wall. From the butchered stumps to either side, this must’ve been an Alicorn once. Their insider was finally caught, it seemed.

Twilight looked up, turning to face them.

In some ways, Twilight was exactly the same pony Sunset had known in life. She was a little taller, her wings a little wider—but that wasn’t the most significant thing. Now Twilight’s mane was wild and unkempt, slick with grease or blood. Her eyes were the worst, though. Sunset had known this alicorn long enough to remember times when her understanding slipped. Her eyes went wild and manic, and she became unpredictable. With her friends gone, that had become a more frequent occurrence.

Her eyes were wide and bloodshot, without a trace of sanity left. “Bold to assume I would allow more of your kind in my castle,” Twilight snapped. Her horn flashed, and Sunset felt the wave of magic coming for them. Entropic projection—one of the simplest and least efficient spells necromancy had to offer.

Sunset didn’t let the spell reach them. She didn’t know if it would work on most of them, but she didn’t plan on finding out. She whispered a counterspell, not burning nearly the energy it would take to counter the attack. Instead, Sunset directed the wave upward.

The ceiling exploded, tearing open for layer after layer of castle as they turned to smoke along with anyone unfortunate enough to get in the way. Chunks of stone and glass showered down on them from above like hail, but Sunset ignored them. The human armor she wore could handle a few pebbles.

She’d been waiting for this moment. Sunset activated the external speaker, striding through the showering debris. “You were supposed to protect Equestria. Ever since I woke up, there’s barely anything of Equestria left. How many lies, Princess? How many lives?”

Twilight froze, hesitating in the middle of whatever counterspell she’d been planning next. “I know your voice. But I don’t… it can’t be you. You’re dead.”

“You’d prefer it that way, wouldn’t you?” Sunset waited for the last bits of debris to stop falling. She could see all the way up to the sky now, through so many floors of castle that it hurt to look at them all. Hopefully there weren’t too many people up there.

She twisted, removing the helmet and holding it briefly under one arm. She shook out her human mane of yellow and red, so Twilight could see. “I know you won’t recognize me. But that makes two of us: I barely recognize you. At least if it were someone else—if you were a secret changeling all along, or some… demon, I wouldn’t have to believe you could do this. Turning friendship into a cult, taking away the free will of the ones who loved you the most… how?”

“Sunset?” Finally there was some recognition, buried deep in the shell of the pony Sunset knew. “It is you.”

“Thanks to them,” she said. “Humans gave me back what you stole from me.” She settled the helmet back onto her shoulders. Just because she wanted to talk didn’t mean she was stupid. If she was protected from magic, then Twilight was going to come at her with a sword. Better inadequate protection than none at all. “There was a man who could repair the damage you caused, but you murdered him too. Blown up on that starship.”

“This is the best you can do?” Twilight advanced on her, and in a flash of light she had her own armor—hardened thaumium, but with far less magic radiating within than Sunset would’ve thought. “You imitate someone you killed, and expect me to crumple? You could’ve at least told the changeling what she looked like as a pony. This is pathetic.”

She’s running out of resources, like we thought. That armor won’t protect her for long.

Sunset began preparing her first spell, something far subtler than Twilight herself had used. She’d had days to imagine this moment, days to choose her weapons. Nothing too forceful or directly hostile, or else the Alicorn would counterspell it just as Sunset had.

“This body was meant for someone else, sacrificed so I could have my own heartbeat again. It spent decades growing, and still I was a slave to you. How many of our friends do you still have in your service? Flash? Or maybe Moondancer? Is Luster Dawn undead too, somewhere in this castle? After what you did to Ponyville, I don’t know if there’s anything you wouldn’t do.”

Twilight charged, flashing another few terrible spells in her direction. Targeting Sunset specifically this time, not the others lurking near the back of the room. She could only hope they’d find some small way to help her—or at least stay out of her way.

Sunset couldn’t even feel the array of terrible spells flashing at her, let alone redirect them. She didn’t bother, vanishing from one side of the lab and reappearing on the other. A layer of insulating lead liquified in an instant, leaving the stone wall beyond to crumble to dust.

No sooner had Sunset reappeared than she released the spell she’d been preparing. A gravitational redirection, targeting the stones and broken glass and globs of molten metal, rather than Twilight herself. Twilight buckled under the assault, banging against her armor and unprotected limbs alike. Sunset smelled a little sizzling flesh in there, though not enough. It took more than a little sunburn to kill an Alicorn.

“Out of the way!” someone yelled. Sunset turned, distracted for a moment as Marlay came running, blasting at Twilight with the brilliant blue fire of two flamethrowers.

Sunset stumbled back, and her helmet shifted instantly dark, showing her only shadow as the cloak of debris became entirely molten. “Get the buck away!” Sunset yelled. So much for the idiot being out of gas.

Sunset brought both hands together, crushing force from both directions in on the pony within.

For a moment Sunset felt like she was making progress—but then Twilight exploded. Sunset shielded herself, but even so she went flying across the room, smacking painfully against a rear wall. Metal crunched and glass shattered, but Sunset’s shield had protected her from the worst of the damage. The same couldn’t be said for Marlay, who was little more than a shredded mass of metal bits pooling on the floor.

Twilight stood in the center of a crater, much of her armor gone in the blast. Even as Sunset watched, scorched flesh regrew on bleached bones, becoming whole again in seconds. She’s burning power doing that. How long can she keep healing?

“You can’t have magic…” Twilight said. “Alicorn of lies, now Devourers who stole from Harmony? How many of my subjects did you brutalize to accomplish this?”

“None.” Sunset stumbled forward, yanking her armor from the ruins of the wall. It squealed and whined as she moved, no longer dragging her forward with inexorable force. She might be better off getting rid of it soon. She was leaking something blue, which splashed on the floor behind her. “I didn’t steal my magic from anyone, Twilight. They gave it back to me.”

“It won’t work!” Twilight yelled. She charged at Sunset, but didn’t cast a spell this time. Instead she drew her sword from its sheath, levitating in the air beside her. “All of this—you’re manipulating me! Except it won’t work!”

Sunset had no sword, and didn’t know how to use it well enough to fight a pony like Twilight anyway. The Alicorn would only have grown stronger since killing Sunset. Sunset wouldn’t fight her on a field she couldn’t win.

As Twilight closed, she prepared another spell, though very different than her last. Twilight had transport nodes here in the lab, and going anywhere else would result in a swift death. Instead of a short jump, Sunset yanked them both upward with simple force, a gravitational displacement that sent air whipping past them the wrong way. Even Sunset was briefly disoriented by the incredible acceleration.

For a brief second they were both blinded, then they were falling.

Moisture whipped around them through the air, beading on Sunset’s visor and blinding her. But she’d been waiting for this too—she didn’t start falling. Sunset Shimmer willed it, and wings appeared around her, glittering light wider than her arms.

The princess had no idea what was coming, so tumbled past her, briefly dropping the sword in her confusion.

But she recovered quickly, spreading real wings and soaring upward in an arc, towards where Sunset hovered. Her cracked helmet flaked away around Sunset’s face, letting her hair stream out through the air behind her. But she didn’t care—it wouldn’t protect her from any of the magic she would find up here. “Do you believe me now, Twilight? Or do you think the people who don’t know enough magic to make their airships fly could do this?”

“It can’t be you!” Twilight yelled back. Air whipped between them, a few meters apart in the sky high above Concord. “Sunset Shimmer would never fight for evil! She served Equestria for centuries! Devourers killed her! Look what they’re doing to the city now!”

Sunset looked. Far below, she could see a city aflame. Her memories of this place after her death were faint and confusing, but she needed no memory to know that it shouldn’t look like this. Whole neighborhoods were burning. Ponies fought, though this far away she couldn’t see more than outlines. What she could see were the drones—metal shapes a little bigger than a human with various tools instead of limbs. They tore into buildings, or sent up showers of sparks as they attacked the infrastructure of the city directly.

It seemed that the Iron Lord was wrong—the drones didn’t obey him. He’d been deceived by the Alldeath.

Can’t get distracted. One evil at a time. “You brought this on Equestria, not me! Think, Twilight! There used to be cities all over the world—real ones, bigger than Canterlot! You can’t chop up a few districts and call it a country, feeding your own subjects lives to grow your army! It’s wrong… all of it is, and it has to stop.”

She spread both arms, holding still in the air. There was no peace up here, the wind still whipped at them, and far below there were screams and gunshots. “Surrender. Go into exile. Let Equestria move on to something better.”

Twilight’s sword reappeared in the air beside her, swinging towards Sunset. “You know I can’t. I’m the only one protecting them. If I stop fighting, they die just like my friends! But you could let me win—when tonight’s over, Equestria will be safer than ever. The last of the Devourers will be gone. They won’t be able to corrupt, or hurt the innocent ever again. This has to happen, Sunset! Don’t you want them to be safe?”

“From you!” Sunset lashed out with another terrible spell, her first real attempt on her life. A spear of light shot forward, directly at Twilight—too fast for her to catch. Her breastplate shattered, sending bits and pieces of molten metal raining down on the city below. Sunset drooped in the air, the effort of so much magic draining her. Even with Star’s help to get them here, Sunset felt herself weakening. She couldn’t pretend to be an Alicorn all night, not without consequence. I have to end this soon, or she’ll outlast me.

Twilight spun on her. She struck out with her blade. Sunset raised both arms to block—but it wasn’t aimed at her. It pierced her phantom wings, carrying a spell with it. Sunset’s whole body went numb, and every spell she held in her mind died in an instant.

Suddenly she was falling, air whipping past her as her face tilted down towards the city. The ruined castle came rushing up to meet her. Sunset scrambled, trying to collect her thoughts. Electricity still buzzed in her brain, making it almost impossible to focus.

She just hit me with a spell. The shock of that realization smacked into her as hard as the ground would if she couldn’t stop herself soon. Her secret weapon, humanity’s invulnerability to magic—wouldn’t work.

Force… force… anything! Sunset whispered the words just as the shattered ruins of the palace blurred past, wrapping herself in a dense bubble of air. Not quite soon enough—even blasting directly down at the stone floor, Sunset smacked into the stone, shattering a patch of empty slate. Something cracked under her as she hit, sending a fresh wave of pain that had nothing to do with Twilight’s spell. She could barely even sit up, enough to see Twilight land meters away, unharmed.

“You make this… needlessly difficult.” She twisted her head suddenly to the side, yanking something through the air. Sunset could barely make out what was happening near the entrance. The last few surviving volunteers and soldiers were there, blurring together.

I need to do something. When she gets close. The pain burned in Sunset’s legs and lower body, which refused to move for her. But in a way, that pain invigorated her—it was proof that she was alive, in spite of all Twilight’s attempts to take that away.

The object skidded to a stop in front of her—Landon’s gun, twisted up on itself. The woman herself stumbled backward, hands gripping at empty air. But even now, Twilight couldn’t target her directly. A second later and a bright purple barrier appeared around the remaining soldiers, thicker than the stone pillars. “I’ll deal with them when this is over. If they know something about where more chaotic elements are hiding, I’ll find out. Bringing them to me was a gift, Sunset, even if you don’t understand it.”

She turned, advancing on Sunset.

Sunset crawled back, trailing more blue goo. Her hands reached for anything she could use. But aside from the barrier, there was only the spell Twilight had carved on the floor, and a butchered Alicorn pawing at it. Sunset had no other weapons, nothing but her magic.

Get a little closer, Twilight. The Starmind’s strands had given her a little more strength. “I will protect them,” Twilight said, her sword glittering as she lifted it over her head. “Whatever you are—all this, everything I sacrificed—it was always for them. We suffered, we sacrificed—but we endured. We’ll endure tonight. This war will finally end.”

Sunset summoned a storm of flame, brighter than anything a sane pony would conjure. It was a heat to turn rock to liquid, the churning heart of the earth itself.

Not enough. Sunset caught one final glimpse of a shell appearing around her, just like the one she’d used to trap the others. The immolation couldn’t be stopped—but Sunset had never meant to live through it either way.

My choice this time, she thought, senses failing. The armor couldn’t protect her, not when the flames were in her chest. She hadn’t stopped Twilight.

But maybe she’d done enough.

Sensation failed her, this time for good.

Jamie stared up in horror at the victorious Alicorn advancing on her. Twilight’s body was badly burned—magical injuries that probably would’ve killed an ordinary person. But Twilight’s powers eclipsed anything an ordinary creature could imagine. Jamie’s own body was strained to exhaustion, nearly burned to a crisp by the stray energy that had blasted all around her during the fight.

She retreated over the spell-diagram, burned stumps of her wings twitching painfully as she did so. There would be no escaping from Twilight now. Everyone who stood a chance against the princess had been captured or killed. Her own death would not be too surprising.

“This is… what makes your kind so… irredeemable,” Twilight said. “Not all the evil you’ve done. But turning ponies against each other.” She glanced briefly back at the terrible opening in the sky, and the rubble of the castle above. “Sunset Shimmer was once the best of us, the most dedicated to protecting Equestria. Your evil went deep enough to corrupt even her.”

Don’t you think that might say more about you than us? Jamie backed right up against a pillar, before the pressure of Twilight’s magic came crashing down on her like an irresistible weight. For a second it seemed that Twilight would just kill her—but then the pressure lifted. Twilight levitated her into the center of the magical diagram, smacking her down so hard her legs buckled from the impact.

“I… misplaced my poison,” Twilight said, tone exhausted. “But I have them now.” She pointed across the room, to the shell of light that imprisoned the surviving warriors. “Anything I do would tamper with your spellcasting, so… I’ll go through them one at a time. Or cast the spell, and have my word I’ll give them life in prison instead.”

“Your word?” Jamie raised an eyebrow. “What good does that do me? I’ll be dead, I have no proof you’ll keep it.”

The princess shrugged, levitating one of the prisoners out onto the bare ground beside her. The bruised and beaten hippogriff wrapped in bandages. They caught fire before her eyes, and he shook his head. But Twilight strangled whatever he was trying to say. “Take it or leave it. If I run out of prisoners, I’ll have to… find more poison somewhere in this ruin. At least this way’s painless.”

“Okay!” Jamie spread both wings—or tried to. The strain at torn and broken flesh sent fresh spikes of agony stabbing through her sides. “Stop it! I’ll cast your spell.”

“Good.” Twilight dropped the prisoner contemptuously to the floor. He landed with a bruising heap, still burning. She didn’t seem to care that he rolled to put himself out. Twilight stepped into the opening in the diagram. “Put an end to this. When I rebuild, I will fix every flaw they exploited. Equestria will be safe, forever.”

Jamie looked down, tracing the subtle changes she had made to the diagram to find the starting position. Then she started to read.

Princess Twilight Sparkle froze in place, her eyes widening with horror and recognition. Her horn flashed around Jamie, crumbling the pillar to ash around her, heating the air to stellar temperatures, blasting her with spears of light—all faded before they reached her.

“Thaumic expression invalid.”

“Force Vector invalid.”

“Entropic projection invalid.”

Jamie moved slowly closer to her, her mind utterly absorbed by the spell. She could not look away from the diagram, couldn’t break concentration even for an instant.

Twilight’s hooves cemented to the floor, perfect transparent crystal. She could still speak, though her voice was distant and strange. Like Flurry’s had been, before the end. “You changed the spell during the fight. You learned magic… that fast?”

Jamie nodded. The sound of rushing air, the crumbling rubble, the distant cries of the dying—all faded. Only Twilight remained in focus to her now, and the diagrams that Twilight had mostly made. She didn’t stop with the spell, though. “From this one to me, to continue the work in Life’s name, until all the world is whole, and the scars of agonies past are healed.”

With each word, new strength flowed to her. Twilight was wrong about almost everything she thought about Alicorns. She would have received almost nothing from Jamie—except this. Her power was incredible, vast enough to rule over a global empire for so long. Strong enough to overcome every rebellion.

Twilight laughed. Her whole body was crystal now, all the way to her neck. It wouldn’t be long now. “Wars and poison and nuclear fire couldn’t do it. That’s why you always check your figures, Jamie. Even a subtle error can cascade completely out of control.”

The barrier containing her prisoners failed. One of them rushed across the room towards them. The most intact of any here. As she ran, she removed her helmet, shaking out a mane of orange hair. She stopped beside Jamie, not close enough to interfere. The transfer was almost finished.

“Princess,” the woman said. “They aren’t the evil you think they are. Humans can be good. They’ll make a better world than this one.”

“I… hope so,” Twilight said. Her voice stretched, fading to a whisper. “Hope I was… wrong.” Her body went completely still, face transparent and glistening in the light from the woman’s helmet. She bent down, wiping at her face with one hand. Were those… tears?

Jamie didn’t question her. For all the power burning in her now, Jamie half expected her broken wings to spontaneously regrow before her eyes. They didn’t.

“You did it,” the stranger whispered. “You’re Jamie, aren’t you? We spoke briefly while you were in Hollow Shades. I’m Star Orchid, part of the rebellion there.”

In her armor, Star was quite a bit taller than she was. “I don’t remember any other humans down there.”

She waved a dismissive hand. “I wasn’t at the time. There were… a long series of mistakes between Hollow Shades and now. I just wanted to warn you. Before you climb onto that throne that Twilight left, you should know she isn’t the only threat the planet faces. There’s a worse one—as we speak, its drones are dismantling the city. It will kill everyone here. Twilight was the only one who could fight it. That’s your job now. The Governing Intelligence, the Alldeath—it’s still alive.”

Jamie’s heart began to race all over again. She’d been beaten practically to death, the world was burning all around her—couldn’t she rest? Even more, couldn’t someone better informed or better trained deal with the AI?

“Alright, fine.” Jamie spun, towards the front of the laboratory. “But you’re coming. Follow me.”

“Me?” Star did follow, though she sounded as overwhelmed as Jamie felt. “I don’t know how to fight a… machine. Every time I come up against it, it tries to kill me.”

“And I failed my AI-dev certs six times,” Jamie snapped back, annoyed. “But we’re not going to fight it. God, I don’t know how I’d dream of doing that. But I think Twilight had a solution in mind for if the thing came back. At least, I assume that’s why she poured so many resources into figuring the thing out. Come with me.”

She still couldn’t teleport across the castle, as helpful as that would’ve been. The group of injured humans and a few other creatures let them go without a word, watching Jamie with obvious fear. She couldn’t blame them—anyone who knew how much power she had boiling in her chest should be afraid of her.

“We’re going to dig Pedro out of the rubble,” called one of them—Jamie could only imagine she was the leader, since she’d been the one with the huge gun earlier. Did having the biggest gun make you leader? “Don’t get killed, Star.”

Star waved one feeble hand in their direction, but followed Jamie as directed.

She clambered through the vault door, torn violently open. And if it weren’t for them, I’d be dead now, and Twilight would be able to take over the planet.

“I don’t know what you think I can do,” Star Orchid said. “I’m not an Alicorn, I’m not a fighter. Gods and machines are all… bigger than me.”

Jamie slowed to an abrupt stop, eyes wide. It seemed that after the vault was breached, reinforcements had arrived. Dozens of Unification Army soldiers stood in battle lines, spears pointed at the door. But they hadn’t gone in—Twilight’s overly zealous protection of her lab might’ve cost her life.

“S-see?” Star stopped, her armor creaking to a halt. But hers was still functional, it could probably take a few hits. Jamie didn’t intend to find out.

Her wings twitched painfully as she reflexively tried to spread them. There was barely enough left to even recognize what they were supposed to be. But maybe they’d remember her? Or maybe it was enough. “Stand down,” she called, her voice authoritative. “Your princess commands you drop your weapons.”

There was a few seconds hesitation. Soldiers glanced between one another, as though for confirmation. They didn’t whisper, or speak even a word. Probably they were running through the same mental process, all at once.

An officer acted first, his face obscured in a plumed helmet. His spear clattered to the ground, and one by one the others followed. “Princess, you appear injured. Do you require our assistance to the infirmary?”

That’s surprising intelligence from a zombie. “No.” It was probably a lie. The complications from this injury might kill her soon. But with so much magic inside her, she found the pain barely meant anything. There was a roiling storm inside her gut, demanding to be used. “I have new orders for you. Tell the army all over the city to return to the castle. Retreat from your positions, leaving any prisoners behind unguarded. Return to the castle and wait. The battle is over.”

Jamie didn’t really expect it to work. Any general, even some imagined stereotype of a stupid soldier, would realize the absurdity of that order. Ordering a retreat of all forces from the entire city couldn’t possibly align with their goals.

The officer saluted. “It will be done, Princess.” Then he turned, and the formation began to break apart. He stomped out a few commands, and blocks of ponies separated into different directions, their spears abandoned on the ground. She’d never ordered them to pick them up again.

“Stars above, you really do have her power,” Star Orchid whispered. “You commanded them as easily as she does.”

“Not power.” Jamie started walking again, growing more confident. The only other real danger she had to fear here were resistance fighters, assuming there were even any left. Hopefully Solar had made his goals for her clear among their number. “Twilight invented a religion to keep the population pacified, pretending that magic was sacred. I think she spent so long saying it that she started to believe it. The Unification Army obeyed me because I’m an Alicorn. No magic involved.”

Even so, Jamie waited until the army had cleared the hall back to her room before proceeding. With her wings destroyed, she didn’t exactly want to take chances that they would respond differently when watching her up close. We’ll just have to hope the city can’t be completely deconstructed in the time it takes to stop this.

That wasn’t their only hope. Jamie might suspect the ancient monument would help, but she couldn’t be sure. What if it were some resource only Twilight could properly use?

The castle was in ruins. It was obvious that the rebellion had fought their way in—dead soldiers lay everywhere, seeping yellow fluid from their bodies. Many still twitched or moved in small ways, despite wounds no living person could’ve survived. Jamie did her best not to look at them for too long. This is Twilight’s fault, not mine. I didn’t do this.

“If whatever you’re doing relies on a human, you might be disappointed in me,” Star said, after they’d been walking for some minutes. “I just look like one thanks to helping Sunset Shimmer with…” She trailed off, looking away. “Since I helped Sunset with a spell. I don’t actually know anything about humans. I grew up here in Concord. Before she sent me out, I worked here in the castle. But she never showed me anything military.”

“Well, that’s lucky,” Jamie answered. “I’m not really a pony. An AI wrapped my brain up in cellophane and stuck me in this body. Then it decided I wasn’t good enough and it grafted some shit to me. I’m still not good enough, but we’re all the world gets.”

Jamie slowed as they rounded the corner to the holding cell. There were more dead soldiers here. Many were Unification Army, but there were a few human volunteers in their characteristic armor. A single human in white and red bent down over them, tending to the wounded. It looked like a futile effort, though—this group had been completely decimated.

“Christy?” Star called from beside her, hurrying over. There were no living Unification Army soldiers to stop her. Jamie could only guess that her orders to withdraw had made it this far. She might’ve saved this nurse’s life. “What the buck are you doing here?”

The nurse looked up, dropping a bag of medical supplies beside the mostly unwrapped human. Jamie couldn’t even tell if they were breathing at this distance. “Not enough!” she yelled. “Why did the soldiers leave us? I should be dead too.” Christy glanced between them, her eyes settling immediately on Jamie’s injured wings. Of course she would, with those medical symbols all over her armor. Maybe Jamie wasn’t going to die of her injuries after all.

“You know her?” Jamie whispered.

Star nodded. “She helped with Sunset’s surgery. Guess she’s braver than I thought, if she decided to help with the fight after all.”

“I told the army to stop fighting,” Jamie called, a little louder. “The Tyrant is dead, but her army listens to an Alicorn. I am, or… I was one.” She nodded down towards her wings. “Anything you can do for an injury like this?”

The nurse fumbled for a heavy medical bag, gesturing her over. Maybe it was selfish to take a moment to see to her first aid—but if Jamie’s wounds killed her before she could stop the AI, Concord was doomed. Despite what Twilight had thought, she didn’t want ponies to die.

“Lay down on this cot here. I’ll see what we can do for those wings. I can’t do anything like a real field surgery, but we could… at least make sure you’re not going to bleed to death. If you haven’t died from the shock, it’s probably safe to assume you won’t.”

Jamie obeyed, settling across a set of sandbags the Unification Army had been using to keep her trapped in her cell. They were uncomfortably close to the edge, with only blackness waiting beyond. Her instruction had almost taken away all fear of heights, but now she was in just as much danger as before.

Jamie closed her eyes, turning her exposed wounds towards the nurse. She heard movement from the nearby hall. Struggling powered armor by the sound of it, and the more conventional type. Jamie looked up, and saw that Star was still halfway across the room, watching the strangers approach. But she wasn’t armed—what could the human possibly do if they were dangerous?

I’ll have to use this magic if something goes wrong. I should be ready.

Christy dropped to one knee, opening her medical bag and inspecting the wounds. “Well, you’re in luck, pony. These were very clean cuts. Whoever did this was strong enough to slice right through. I don’t see any bone-fragments, or torn flesh. What they did to it would be easy to repair if it hadn’t been, um…”

Jamie nodded darkly. “Burned, I know. Princess didn’t want me to die until she was done with me. Her mistake, I guess. I know I’m going to sound insane, but I don’t want any painkillers yet. I need to be able to concentrate to do magic, and I’m pretty sure anything too strong would take that away. Will I start bleeding again?”

The nurse fumbled in her pack, removing something Jamie couldn’t see. She started prodding at her wings, causing a little spasm of pain with each touch. It was probably something about them being grafted to the body—she wasn’t supposed to have those limbs anyway. But every reminder caused enough pain that she was briefly overwhelmed.

“I wonder why she let you think that,” Christy whispered. “I’ve seen the princess fake her death before. I can think of one reason she might be trying.”

Jamie twisted, eyes widening as she looked up at the nurse. That was no diagnostic scanner in her hands—that was a dagger, eight inches long and covered with dried blood. She pressed it up against Jamie’s throat.

“I would use it—but the princess already decided how you would be executed. Enjoy your trip.”

Then she shoved, and Jamie went screaming over the edge.

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