• Published 23rd Dec 2011
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A Bluebird's Song - Ardensfax



Rainbow Dash is struggling against her own past. Is it time for her rising star to fall?

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Redemption

A Bluebird’s Song

~~~
Bring me home or leave me be
My love in the dark heart of the night
I have lost the path before me
The one behind will lead me
~~~

Redemption

“Luna, come here for a moment.”

The soft afternoon sunlight fell in gentle, multicoloured beams through the stained glass windows of Canterlot Castle. The ponies depicted in the leaded images seemed to glow, their achievements frozen in history, their images preserved even as their bodied withered and faded from life and memory. The history of Celestia’s reign was laid out here, if anypony cared to look, from the first imprisonment of Discord and the rise of the sisterhood, to the fall of Nightmare Moon.

The place was known to the sisters as the Hall of Memories, although in a twist of irony, few mortal ponies knew that to be its name these days.

At the far end of the carpeted hall, her alabaster body bathed in the prismatic light, stood Princess Celestia. She was gazing thoughtfully through the unlocked golden door into the Chamber of the Elements.

The five golden necklaces and the weighty, jeweled tiara lay on the wide stone table in front of Celestia, their case for the moment discarded. In the heart of each perfectly-shaped gem burned a gentle, pulsing light. The princess was waiting for something; a confirmation of her theory, her eyes unfathomable.

Cloudshine had told her everything; every part of her mother’s story. Each piece had fitted perfectly into the framework of facts as Celestia knew them, and had provided some respite from a question which had been nagging at her ever since she had left the hospital: The glimpse in the corner of her eye of a haggard, ochre mare, as she made her way to the waiting room. A mare whose headscarf could not entirely contain her distinctive mane; a mare whose eyes were all too familiar.

On an impulse, Celestia had not accosted her, nor had she decided to warn the others. Rainbow Shine’s appearance at this pivotal time could mean any number of things. The princess had lived for too long to believe in destiny or fate, but she knew that other forces could easily be at work beyond the random hand of chance.

Cloudshine’s story had helped her to confirm that suspicion.

“What is it, my sister?” Luna had been searching for Celestia, the elder sister having sequestered herself in the Hall of Memory without giving anypony a hint as to her location. Celestia must have heard her approach.

“Do you remember what I told you, when we first unearthed the Elements?”

Luna nodded, gravely. “You told me that they were not truly ours. We could dominate them; we could will them into submission and bend them to our purpose, but they would never be a part of us, nor we a part of them.”

Celestia stared down at the golden trinkets, glittering, almost tawdry in the sunlight, belying their power. “And that one day,” she murmured, “one day they would find themselves needed.” She sighed. “I underestimated their potency, in truth. They drew together six precisely compatible ponies for their needs, but it’s more than that. It’s so much more. I believe that these ponies were marked by the Elements from the moment of their conception, and moulded by them ever since, into the shapes that were needed for the roles they must play.”

“Why do you tell me this?”

“Because it’s still happening. I see no reason to believe that the Elements are not protecting and guiding Twilight and her friends to this day.”

“I see,” replied Luna. It was true; she understood what Celestia was telling her. She simply did not understand why it was significant. “Is it relevant?”

Celestia nodded. “It is relevant, Luna, because a pony’s duties should be through choice, not through an accident of birth.”

Luna snorted. “Nopony extended such courtesy to us, did they?”

“Exactly.” The alabaster princess turned to her sister. “Every night, I see eternity, and it terrifies me. I sometimes think that had I been given a choice, knowing what I know now, I would have not made the choice to live this life.”

“You made this land what it is today, ‘Tia. Your ponies would be lost without you.”

“Perhaps so, but fear makes ponies selfish, and I am no exception.”

Luna decided to change the subject, heading her sister off before she fell too deeply into introspection. “Speaking of the Elements, how is the pegasus? I remember our sparring with clouds on Nightmare Night; it was most entertaining in hindsight. It would be a dreadful shame for her not to pull through.”

Celestia sighed. “I hate to do this to Twilight, to leave her like this, without warning her of my suspicions. She’s going to be terrified, but this isn’t her choice, nor is it mine. I cannot be present until I am needed.”

“Needed for what?”

The elder princess did not so much sidestep the question as ignore it entirely. “I think that I finally understand how the Elements are playing their hand. Cloudshine gave me the final piece. I hope I’m right.”

“And if you’re wrong?”

“If I’m wrong, there’s every chance that we will lose Rainbow Dash. It would take years for Twilight to recover; they’ve been so strongly bonded together by what they’ve been through. I’ve seen the way they behave together; it’s not the foalish saccharine affectations that new couples so often put on. They seem like… soulmates, I suppose.”

“You did say that the Elements tend to draw together compatible ponies.”

Celestia nodded. “Certainly. An unexpected side effect.”

At that moment, her eyes widened, her gaze drawn towards the arrayed Elements. The gentle glow in the centre of Loyalty, the ruby-red Element shaped like a bolt of lightning, suddenly sparked bright. For a moment it shone, almost blinding, then it flickered. The light stuttered once, and then faded entirely, leaving the necklace’s centre an inert, lifeless stone.

Both sisters knew all too well what this signified, and Luna gasped in horror, her gaze turning from one of shock to one of condolence. “’Tia, I…” she began, but her words faded.

To the princess of the moon’s great surprise, Celestia smiled, grimly.

She turned, striding out across the marble hall, her hoofbeats soft yet purposeful on the thick carpet. “I was right,” she called back over her shoulder, moments before the great wooden doors slammed shut in her wake.

*

Twilight’s brain had frozen, as she stared at Dash’s motionless form. Whatever train of thought she had been entertaining had been sent spinning like a cobweb in a hurricane. Half of her wanted to break down on the spot and weep, and the other half wanted to simply run and run and never stop, to leave behind this room, this city, this world, to go somewhere where the shadows of the past could not haunt her.

She felt an insistent hoof on her shoulder, breaking a little into her panic-hazed mind. She turned to see Rainbow Shine; the mare’s eyes were wide and urgent. Doctors would be on their way, summoned by the alarm bells of the flatlining monitor.

“Twilight, I need you to listen to me.”

Twilight nodded, mutely, and Shine continued: “I came here to apologize, but I can do more, you know I can.” She gritted her teeth, obviously gathering her courage. “I overheard your friends talking in the waiting room. They mentioned a spell called Death’s Tally…” her eyes were determined and a little tearful. “I love Dash, it’s taken me years to admit it, but she’s my daughter, and I love her. Use the spell on me; use it on me now.”

Twilight closed her eyes for a moment, a little despairing. She had been horribly aware that Shine may well be planning this. “I… I can’t,” she whispered.

“Why not?” Rainbow Shine flared up angrily, taking a step towards the lavender unicorn. “I’m ready, I want this!”

“I know, that’s not what I mean!” exclaimed Twilight, her voice choked and tearful. “I mean I can’t… I literally can’t, I don’t know the spell.”

Her mind was beginning to clear of the initial shock, and a light of hope was rekindling, thawing out the horrible inertia of helplessness. She had a chance, and that was all that was needed, although she was conflicted about allowing Rainbow Shine to give her life, instead of giving her own.

You promised you’d leave her be.

If Rainbow Shine wants to bring her daughter back, I won’t stop her.

You said you’d leave her in peace.

Things are different now; she’ll have proof that her mother loved her. That question’s been hanging over her for years. Having the answer might be exactly what she needs. If Rainbow Shine gives her life, maybe Dash could have peace and life at the same time. We’ll be able to stay together.

“Then what do we do?” whispered Shine, looking to the younger unicorn for guidance.

Twilight closed her eyes for a moment, blocking out the incessant, keening tone of the heart monitor, blocking out everything but her own thoughts. “I think I know what to do,” she murmured, eventually.

At that moment, the door of Dash’s room burst open. A doctor entered, accompanied hastily by three assistants. Twilight and Rainbow Shine were forced back to the wall by the onrushing group of ponies and medical equipment, and suddenly the room was full of chatter and barked instructions.

“No heart activity, looks like cardiac arrest.”

“Somepony get on CPR, we need adrenaline drips and defibrillators!”

“Chest compressions and oxygen, now!”

A fifth unicorn, a mare, appeared in the doorway nursing a bruised knee. A small cloud of broken shards of metal hovered in the air before her, suspended by magic for a few moments before being tossed in the pedal-bin. Apparently she had slipped on them in her hurried state. “What the hell happened to the lock?”

Nopony responded to her, and a moment later she joined the throng around the bed. There was the distinctive electrical whine of a charging defibrillator. One of the assistants, a bulky blue stallion in a white coat, turned and gestured to Twilight and her friends. “We need more room to work, I can’t have all these ponies in here.”

“I’m staying, and so is she,” Twilight gestured to Rainbow Shine, her voice flat, her tone one that would brook no argument. She turned to her friends, her eyes softening. “I’m sorry, girls. Would… would you mind?”

None of them appeared to. As the doctor and his team worked, they left the room, each stopping to give Twilight a reassuring nuzzle or half-embrace, none of them speaking. All of them seemed a little tearful. Applejack was holding her hat to her chest, respectfully. Fluttershy’s head was resting on Rarity’s shoulder, her tears leaking into the unicorn’s expertly-styled mane.

The door swung shut, and Twilight’s heart hammered as she and Shine watched the doctors work in silence. The medical ponies had obviously decided not to argue against her presence, given her obvious belligerence and their much more immediate concerns.

Maybe they’ll bring her around. Maybe nopony will have to die today.

“Epinephrine’s in, how’re the defibrillators?”

“Charged.”

“Do it.”

The electrical whining cut off, followed immediately by a loud, sharp buzzing sound. Twilight had expected a violent convulsion, but Dash simply lay there, unresisting, unmoving.

The doctor in charge waved away the defibrillators as they began to hum again. “They’re not going to work, she’s flatlined,” he exclaimed in exasperation. “Keep up the CPR!”

Twilight looked away, unable to watch any further. She remembered something, some random fact that she had stowed away in the recesses of her brain during one of her reading trawls.

…If a patient flatlines after a cardiac arrest, the chance of survival is less than two percent…

Rainbow Shine was looking at Twilight, and could read all too easily the expression on her face. “It’s not going to work, is it?”

Twilight shook her head. “That means we need to work fast,” she muttered.

One of the unicorns was pumping Dash’s chest, another rapidly wheeling an oxygen cylinder over to the table. There was a great deal of visible activity for absolutely no gain, and in the end they seemed to realize this fact.

“It’s no good,” one of them said, quietly. “We’ve lost her.”

At this point, the medics were doing more harm than good, by keeping Twilight away from the bed. She had a plan, but was unable for the moment to enact it. She knew that every second was costing Dash a few brain cells, but if she tried to interrupt the doctors she would be seen as a hysterical, interfering mare and ignored. Either that or she would be made to explain herself, which in itself would be unbearably costly. This was no time for subtlety.

She stepped forwards, her horn flaring brightly. She wove a brief spell to amplify her voice, and when she spoke, her words echoed loudly around the room, almost menacing, immediately capturing everypony’s attention. “Listen to me!” Twilight boomed. “I need you to leave this to me, I know what to do.”

One of the doctors stepped forwards, his expression hovering somewhere between fearful and consoling. “Miss, I think you should-”

Twilight cut across him. “Trust me. I know how to save her, I just need you all to let me near her.”

The medical ponies still looked mutinous. Twilight snorted in exasperation, the magical field fluxing with her burst of anger, lifting her hooves a couple of inches above the tiled floor. “I’m Princess Celestia’s personal student, and if I have to use that authority, I will. I truly appreciate your efforts, but you have to understand that, right now, you’re working over a corpse. Only Rainbow Shine here can bring her back, but she needs my help, and I need to make my preparations immediately.”

The oldest of the group of doctors took charge, apparently coming to a decision. “Very well, Miss Sparkle,” he said with a small nod. “She’s beyond our help now. Do what you can.”

“Thank you,” Twilight said, gratefully, her voice returning to its normal tone. The doctors retreated from the bed, and Twilight’s hooves touched down once again. She trotted to Dash’s side, her skin crawling as she rested a hoof on the pegasus’s forehead. Her love was still relatively warm, and she knew what she had to do. She turned to Rainbow Shine, offering her one last chance.

“Are you sure you’re ready to go through with this?”

Shine nodded, without a moment’s hesitation. “I’m her mother. Of course I am.”

“Then I need you to do exactly as I say.”

Twilight’s horn suddenly flared, glowing purple and white. Immediately, the temperature in the room seemed to drop. A chill wind rippled the curtains, the spikes of cold vicious and biting. These effects, however, were nothing compared to what was happening to Dash. Her temperature dropped to near-freezing in the space of a few moments, a rime of frost encrusting cobweb patterns on her fur.

Death’s Tally was by no means a spell which created perfection. It could revive, but its healing powers were limited strictly to the cause of death itself. In Dash’s case, she would awaken from her coma, and her heart would be kick-started, but the rest of her injuries would remain untouched, and Twilight feared that the worst injury may have befallen her after her heart failed.

Without oxygen and a blood supply, Dash’s brain cells would destroy themselves extremely rapidly. Twilight was no medic, but her readings into equine biology had taught her enough to know that at this point, preservation was Dash’s only hope.

The doctors had left, but to Twilight’s annoyance, they had obviously warned the others not to re-enter, for there was no sign of her friends.

Her teeth were gritted with the effort of maintaining the spell. She was still not entirely recovered from her exertion in the Everfree, and already her forehead was beginning to burn. She turned to Rainbow Shine. “I need you to go to the others, get… get Applejack. She’s the fastest. Tell her to run straight to the castle, and fetch Princess Celestia. She’s the only pony I know who can perform the spell.”

Twilight felt deeply uncomfortable orchestrating another pony’s death in this cold, calculating way, but Shine seemed unfazed.

“Will the guards let her in?” she asked, turning to go. She appeared quite calm.

“She’s an Element; they ought to recognize her.”

Shine nodded, heading towards the door. “Alright.”

“I’ll keep her temperature down as best I can, but tell Applejack to be quick. Every second counts. Tell the others… tell them to come in here.”

The door swung shut behind the ochre mare, and Twilight turned back to look at Dash. Even in her shroud of frost, the pegasus looked strangely restful. “You’re going to come back,” Twilight whispered to her, her voice full of quiet determination. She hardly noticed the spots of ice forming on her own fur as the sphere of low temperature radiated outwards, biting at her. “You’re going to make it.”

“I believe she is, my student.”

The shock of hearing that mellifluous voice so close behind her almost caused Twilight’s spell to fail. Focusing hard on keeping Dash’s temperature low, she turned her head to see the shining form of Princess Celestia standing in the open doorway, Rainbow Shine and her other friends following close behind, shivering in the sudden cold.

Twilight’s mouth dropped open. “But… but you…? How…?”

Celestia held up a commanding hoof to silence her. “I know when I am needed, Twilight. We must attend to Rainbow Dash.”

Twilight felt the familiar burn of curiosity and half-formed fear rising inside her, but she quelled it for Dash’s sake, and nodded. She knew that she had nothing further to say; this was between Celestia and Rainbow Shine now.

Dash’s mother bowed hastily, lowering her head in respect. “Your highness,” she began, nervously, her voice a little louder than usual over the whistling of the ice spell. “I’m Rainbow Dash’s mother. I want to prove to my daughter once and for all that I care for her, even though I was never there for her. I’d like you to use the Tally spell on me; wake her up.”

Twilight risked a fleeting glance at Celestia, half-expecting her to react angrily or refuse. Somehow, though, she knew that that would not be the case. The princess had returned here without being asked, and that could only mean one thing. She knew, somehow, that she was needed. She was prepared to help.

The princess of the sun nodded; her expression was serious, but there was something close to triumph or vindication in her eyes. “You’re willing to give your life for her?”

“I am,” confirmed Rainbow Shine. Her voice held the same conviction as before, although the immediacy of her sacrifice lent a slight quiver to her voice. Despite the freezing air, her forehead was a little sweaty, and she was blinking rapidly. “Does it… will it hurt?” she looked angry with herself for asking, as if the question had slipped out against her better judgment and betrayed some kind of weakness.

“The spell is designed for a rapid exchange,” replied Celestia, quietly. “You won’t feel a thing.”

Shine nodded. “Alright then. Let’s get this done.”

Applejack stepped forwards. “Pardon me for interruptin’, but would ya’ll rather we left?” she gestured around to the three others, waiting on seats at the edge of the room. “This is a mighty personal thing, an’ Ah wouldn’t blame ya for wantin’ some privacy.”

Dash’s mother smiled a little sadly at the farm pony. “You’re all my daughter’s friends; you’ve looked after her for years, you’ve made her life worth living when I was too weak or cowardly to look out for her myself. I can’t think of any ponies I’d rather be with for this.”

She looked around at the others, still smiling her sad smile, and finally approached Twilight. “Thank you,” she murmured. “For sticking by her, and for going after her.”

“I’ll keep her safe,” Twilight promised, her gaze sincere and unblinking, despite the continued effort of the cold spell. In a moment of instinctual gratitude, she hugged the older mare, her eyes suddenly tearful. “I’ll keep her safe,” she repeated, her voice barely a whisper.

She pulled back, and Rainbow Shine smiled at her. The tinge of sadness was gone, and her expression was peaceful and trusting. “I know you will.”

The ochre unicorn turned to Celestia. “I’m ready,” she said, simply.

The alicorn nodded, deciding to delay no further. Twilight forced herself to hold her concentration. She would have to remove the freezing spell as soon as Death’s Tally began to take effect, and the timing was a matter of great delicacy.

Princess Celestia stepped forwards, a golden glow enveloping her horn.

At the last moment, Celestia leaned down, and whispered a few words in Rainbow Shine’s ear.

The unicorn nodded, her eyes fixed on the princess’s. Her face genuinely at peace, free of the guilt that had haunted her for so much of her life, free of the wild-eyed, compulsive motion. In these last moments, she was a different mare; a younger mare. She had been given a chance that so few were offered; a chance of redemption, for her and her daughter. She could not ask for anything more.

The tip of Celestia’s horn emitted two shining, pearly points of light, which rose freely into the air, dancing around each other in a complex, interlaced pattern. Then, as if tired of their dance, the tiny spheres separated.

Everypony in the room was utterly silent as they watched the spell’s progress. One of the glowing lights made its arcing way to Rainbow Shine, and sank into her chest. She felt no pain, but instantaneously she was aglow. Every vein in her body was suddenly filled with flaring light; pulsing, spiderweb patterns intricately weaving themselves together beneath her skin. The effects was beautiful, and yet at the same time utterly unearthly.

The second shining dot slipped soundlessly into Dash’s motionless chest. In the end, Twilight’s sense of timing was not needed. The instant that the spell made contact with Dash’s body, it rebuffed Twilight’s freezing spell. She felt the magical current in her horn immediately die out, and there was a hissing sound as the ice crystals forming on the pegasus’s body immediately evaporated. She understood what was happening; cold may preserve well enough, but it was anathema to the life that this spell brought in its wake.

Like Shine, Dash’s skin was suddenly alive with fine, interlaced patterns as the glowing magic worked its way through her veins. Suddenly, she convulsed violently, her body jerking upwards, and the strongest glow of all began to burn in the centre of her chest, pulsing in time with the rhythm of her newly-awakened heart. The mechanics of a living body were reinstated, but life itself was yet to be returned.

Without warning or preamble, Celestia took a single step forward, and bowed her head. All eyes were drawn to the motion, as her glowing horn descended through the air. Rainbow Shine was stretching her own neck forwards, craning upwards, eagerly accepting the princess’s gift, her eyes afire and pleading.

In a swift motion that would have been elegant were it not for its shocking savagery, Princess Celestia plunged her horn deep into Rainbow Shine’s forehead, shattering the ochre mare’s horn down its centre, and sinking effortlessly and smoothly up to the base. True to Celestia’s word, Shine never felt a thing.

Twilight had only the briefest of moments to reel in shock at the unexpected brutality called for by the spell, had only the briefest of moments to see the monarch and the mare, their bloodied foreheads and noses touching in a frozen instant of strange intimacy.

Then, her vision was whited out as Death’s Tally took hold. A magnesium-bright flare erupted from the point of contact, blinding her and sending her reeling backwards, colliding hard with the ECG stand by the side of the bed.

The strangest thing was the silence. Her blinded eyes could make out little beyond burning lights and points of shade, shapes and hazy, indistinct motions. She could hear nothing, not a single word, nor a hiss of magic.

Still the light hammered at her closed eyelids, its sun-bright zenith near unbearable.

Then, it was over.

Twilight opened her eyes, but for a few seconds could see nothing. When her vision began to return, she shook her head in an attempt to clear it, beginning to make out the hazy shapes of her friends. Applejack was clutching her hat to her chest, the pressure cutting deep creases into the leather surface. Fluttershy was holding on to Rarity, breathing hard. The alabaster unicorn herself was staring at Celestia, her expression caught between awe and fear. Pinkie Pie was blinking hard, her vision still apparently impaired.

Princess Celestia was breathing hard, her horn now inert and unstained. Of Rainbow Shine, however, there was no sign. The force of the magical exchange had utterly erased her, with the exception of four hoof-shaped scorch marks, melted several inches deep into the tiled floor.

Of course, right then, none of that mattered. Only one thing was of importance.

Twilight took a deep breath, ready to turn and face the bed, preparing herself for the worst, and refusing to allow herself hope for fear that it may be shattered once again.

“Hey, Twi’,” came a weak, coltish voice from the bed behind her, its rasping quality was exaggerated from lack of use, and unutterably beautiful.

Twilight whipped around, her heart hammering, and the world seemed to stop.

For several long moments, she simply stared in delight and amazement at the sight that awaited her.

Her gaze was met steadily by that shining, life-kissed pair of deep, magenta eyes.

End of Part Three.

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