• Published 28th Sep 2012
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Repercussions - GaryOak



None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free.

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Chapter XI - Miasma

Chapter XI
Miasma
===============

“Are you ready?” whispered Twilight, closing the library door behind them.

“Yes, but I still think we're leaving a bit early; I can hardly see in front of my muzzle,” hissed Greyhoof. “We'll be halfway to Canterlot before dawn.”

Twilight gave Greyhoof a wry grin. “So, you think you'll be able to sleep for a couple more hours?”

She began heading toward the northern road that led to Canterlot.

“I guess not,” he admitted sheepishly, falling into step beside Twilight.

The soft thudding of their hooves upon the darkened, tranquil Ponyville street was the only sound which accompanied Twilight and Greyhoof as they left the town. Twilight looked behind her at the town she had grown to adore so much. From here, it looked exactly like something she'd seen on a postcard years ago, slumbering peacefully in the wee hours of the morning. Both of them were suddenly knocked on their flanks by the shockwave of a tremendous explosion that originated from the centre of Ponyville. The entire town became engulfed in a bright fire.

“What's happening?” shouted Greyhoof, quickly getting back to his hooves.

“It's –”

Twilight was interrupted by a torrent of purple fume rushing past her with the force of a small hurricane. Familiar laughter blared in her ears as the smog rushed past, the sound like a thousand needles in her heart. The vapour coalesced into the dark mare a few meters away from them, significantly larger than she remembered it.

“Turn back, Twilight Sparkle!” it taunted, its eerie, whistling voice almost booming.

Twilight gritted her teeth defiantly and pawed at the ground. “You said I'm the only pony capable of stopping the evil one, and that's what I intend to do!”

“How amusing...” jeered the creature, towering over her. Its bright, lantern-like eyes turned to Greyhoof, who was surrounded by a light blue glow, his horn crackling with power. “Your friend's an eager one. This should be fun!”

Before she could warn him of the danger, a wave of fire from Ponyville rolled toward them, forming a giant ring around the three. Twilight attempted to rush to Greyhoof's side, only to find herself imprisoned in a cage of fire, the heat from its molten bars matting her coat with sweat. Crying out in shock, Twilight tried to free herself by firing a blast at the cage bars, but they absorbed the spell completely.

“Greyhoof!”

Twilight watched helplessly as the two dueled, firing spells at each other, but it quickly became evident that the dark mare was merely toying with Greyhoof. Any spell that he used against it had no visible effect, and the mare merely continued to laugh as it intensified its assault, causing Greyhoof to steadily lose ground.

Greyhoof's horn became encased in light blue magic as the energy enhanced it, turning it into a magical weapon. Loosing a mighty bellow, Greyhoof charged toward the dark mare, slashing downward with his horn. The mare nimbly dodged his attack and struck him in the gut with one of its hooves. Greyhoof crashed into the ground, the ring of fire blazing behind him as the dark mare stood over him.

“When the time comes, Twilight Sparkle,” it hissed, gazing at the helpless Twilight, “only you can save him – and this land.”

“No!” screamed Twilight as the dark mare plunged one of its hooves into Greyhoof's skull, both exploding in a swirl of smoke.

Twilight screamed again as the cage of fire began to collapse on her. As the molten bars pressed into her coat, her vision went dark. Her eyes shot open a moment later to reveal the library, the first rays of the sun creeping through the window. She got up, breathing heavily, and looked at the bed across the room. To her relief, Greyhoof still occupied it, his soft snoring abating after a few seconds as he rose.

Nodding to Twilight solemnly, he set off down the stairs. Twilight wrestled with the idea of telling Greyhoof about the dream, but thought better of it. There's no turning back now. I may tell him later, but this just isn't the time. Upon reaching the ground floor, she noticed that Spike was still fast asleep amidst the swamp of books on the floor.

“Should we wake him?” whispered Twilight.

“No,” Greyhoof hissed back. “Let's go. Somepony will tell him what happened if he starts wondering.”

“You're right,” sighed Twilight, continuing to talk under her breath. “This is already hard enough. Spike begging us to stay will only make it worse.”

Twilight gave Spike a sad smile that she knew he couldn't see, quietly approached him, softly whispered “Goodbye, Spike,” and then followed Greyhoof, who had already slipped out of the library. The streets of Ponyville were quiet. They quickly made their way to the outskirts of Ponyville, reaching the edge of the town. Twilight's eyes distractedly made their way onto the ornate sign marking the border. “Now leaving Ponyville. We hope to see you again soon!” As she reread the words with more focus, including the smiley face scribbled on the sign after the word “soon”, undoubtedly the work of Pinkie, her steps began to slow, and Greyhoof looked at her questioningly. Twilight turned around, and for a while, gazed wordlessly at the town.

“Don't worry,” said Greyhoof, snapping Twilight out of her reverie, “things will work out for the best. I can feel it.”

Twilight looked back at Greyhoof and pressed on. The road was long, but bare. Since it was so early, ponies weren't traveling on the dusty road yet, and many who did opted for the convenience of the Ponyville-to-Canterlot train. While the road generally didn't see an overly large amount of traffic, there were ponies or carts that went to and from Canterlot, to either Ponyville or other parts of Equestria, with some regularity.

Their brisk trot gradually turned into a trudge as the day wore on. Both had greatly underestimated the distance between Ponyville and Canterlot. The road remained clear in both directions as far as the eye could see, the dust being illuminated by the sun, which had fully risen by now.

“Greyhoof, there's something I have to tell you,” said Twilight dully.

“What's that?”

Twilight hastily explained the dream she had the previous night, and how it had been weighing heavily on her all day. “I just don't know what to do. I know we can't turn back, but I'm afraid I might lose you.”

Greyhoof paled. “Does it mean that I'm the next to die?”

“Remember that it seemed like the dark mare told me I could prevent it,” said Twilight.

“But how?”

Twilight regarded his perturbed expression. “I wish I knew. I do promise you this: if it is another premonition of what's to come, I will do everything in my power to save your life.”

“How can you be so sure?” said Greyhoof, his eyes shifting uneasily. “Those dreams have been a sort of prophecy thus far, haven't they? Does this mean Celestia will stand over me and – and –”

She turned and rested her forehooves on his shoulders. “Look, I don't care what the dreams say. I'm not going to let them come true. I've lost Rainbow, and I'm not about to lose you, too. If I'm the only pony who can save you, then by Celestia, I will.”

A smile began tugging at the corners of his mouth. “I know you will.”

Twilight's eyes began to wander, and landed upon a copse of apple trees by the side of the road. “I think we should get something to eat; we're only about halfway to Canterlot.”

“I heartily concur,” said Greyhoof, briskly trotting toward the trees. Using their magic, they plucked a few of the apples and sat down in their shade. Grinning, Greyhoof levitated an apple toward Twilight's muzzle.

Twilight's cheeks reddened as she took a bite, the apple's cool juices replenishing her strength. The two ponies eagerly dug in, making short work of their lunch. This may be our last meal, she reflected, staring deeply into Greyhoof's burning eyes. Somehow, something in those eyes told her everything would be alright. The seemingly eternal fire blazing within them was one of determination, courage, and even confidence. She couldn't put her hoof on why, but all of her fears and apprehensions melted away before it.

She leaned in closer to him, and he gave her a curious smile. The tips of her ears went pink as she hugged him, rubbing her neck on his. As he returned her embrace, she wished they could just sit there forever, away from the danger that they were about to rush headlong into.

“We should get going,” said Twilight softly, releasing Greyhoof.

Greyhoof nodded at her, his expression one of tenderness, but his eyes harboured the flame of vengeance. “Yes. Every second we wait gives Celestia more opportunities to murder somepony, like Rainbow Dash, just to stay in power. What do you think would've happened to Pinkie if we hadn't intervened?” He got up and walked back to the road, Twilight following. “She would have died, like all the others.”

Twilight glared up at the many towers of Canterlot looming in the distance, knowing somewhere up there, Princess Celestia was waiting, perhaps even planning her next attack. A couple of hours later, they eventually came to the steep road that lead up the mountain upon which Canterlot was built.

“We need some sort of plan,” said Twilight as they climbed. “Hopefully, gaining entry won't be much of a problem.”

“With any luck, it won't be,” said Greyhoof, staring intently at the castle. “I highly doubt the Princess would order the Royal Guard to harm you, at least in the open, especially considering your brother's position. All I need is for you to distract the guards so I can slip in unnoticed. I should be able to get to the east tower by myself from there.”

“I think so, but how do you think you can manage to sneak through that much of the castle, in broad daylight?” asked Twilight.

“Let's say... I have my ways. While I cannot render myself invisible, I have learned to bend the shadows around me and conceal myself within them. This technique, however, isn't so effective in broad daylight, but with a suitable distraction, it will suffice,” said Greyhoof. “Just make sure the guards will pay attention to you for about thirty seconds. Leave the rest to me.”

“So you said to tell the Princess you'll be in the east tower and seeking an audience?”

“Yes. Her reaction will tell you all you need to know. If our hunch is correct, hopefully she'll be alone. Otherwise, we can explain to her what's been happening in Ponyville and we can enlist her to help us,” said Greyhoof hopefully.

“I never imagined I'd be coming back to Canterlot like... like this,” said Twilight, looking quite glum.

The two unicorns remained silent as they climbed the winding path that led to Canterlot. Twilight thought they'd never reach the top, but every time she thought of giving up and collapsing on the ground in a heap, she saw Greyhoof still going strong. She somehow fed off his energy and found the drive to keep going. As they neared the castle gates, she was pleased to notice that the portcullis was raised.

“You were right,” she said. “Security seems about what it normally is.”

“Good,” said Greyhoof. “Now, approach the castle doors and talk to the guards.”

“Right.”

With that, Greyhoof slipped into the shadows, leaving Twilight alone in front of the entrance of Canterlot Castle. He's good, she thought as she approached the guards.

“State your business,” said one of them.

“I'm Twilight Sparkle,” said Twilight. “You know? Princess Celestia's personal apprentice? I'm here to visit for the day.” Twilight felt a pang of panic as she noticed that the other guard wasn't paying any attention to her. “Want me to prove it?” she asked, a slight smile creeping across her face as her horn began to shimmer.

“I'm sure that won't –” whatever the guard was about to say was lost when Twilight grabbed him, causing him to drop his spear in surprise, and bounced him off the castle wall to perform a gravity-defying aerial somersault.

“Okay! Okay!” shouted the airborne guard. “We believe you! Put me down!”

After giving the floating guard a quick spin, Twilight set him down and walked into the castle. It was the same Canterlot Castle she had remembered, with all of its statues, suits of armour, polished tile floors, stained glass windows, and high ceilings. Her hoofsteps made audible clacking noises as she walked the deserted corridors.

Twilight's nervousness steadily grew with each step, knowing she was moments away from confronting her teacher. Every time she rounded a corner, she brought a hoof to her brow, wiping away sweat. Her heart began hammering so loudly, she was surprised the sound hadn't given her away.

“Halt!”

The shout made her leap three feet into the air. When she landed, her head whipped around toward the source of the yell. An unknown unicorn, wearing familiar-looking armour, stood before her, four of Princess Celestia's royal guards at his back. He glared at her, his stony expression making her quiver in fear.

“I – um – that is –”

“Oh!” he said, a smile replacing his scowl. “You're Twilight Sparkle, aren't you? Forgive my rudeness. I am Phalanx, the new Captain of the Royal Guard. Princess Celestia entrusted me with Shining Armour's coveted position when he was forced to give it up following his marriage. Are you here to see the Princess?”

Finding her throat knotted, Twilight could only nod.

Phalanx's expression softened. “Well, I'm glad, because she's been noticeably perturbed lately. When I asked what was wrong, she insisted everything was okay, but I don't buy it. Maybe a visit from you will cheer her up.”

She lamely nodded again and continued toward the throne room, her progress unimpeded by Phalanx or the guards. So, she does know about what's been going on! Is she troubled because both Pinkie and her Ursa Major failed? As she drew closer to the throne room, she kept looking around cautiously, as if she expected to be ambushed by the castle guards at any second, despite being given the all-clear from Phalanx.

“Twilight Sparkle,” said one guard crisply, refraining fro lowering his spear. “What brings you to Canterlot?”

“I've come to see the Princess,” said Twilight, her stomach full of butterflies.

“Does she know of your coming?”

“I don't think so; it's a surprise visit,” said Twilight, glancing at each guard quickly as her mind raced to manufacture a believable excuse. “To – uh – deliver an extra special report on friendship!”

Both guards quizzically scowled at her for a moment before nodding. “Enter.”

Their horns shimmered and the doors swung open. The cavernous throne room was almost deserted, unlike the last times she had been in there, when it was filled to bursting with guests. Those were much happier times, when Discord's defeat and the marriage of her brother were celebrated throughout all of Equestria. This once-welcoming room now felt vast and intimidating. On the throne, as expected, sat Princess Celestia, who smiled at the sight of her.

“Twilight!” exclaimed Celestia in surprise, rising from her throne and approaching Twilight, her mane flowing with the eternal magic that only the alicorns possessed. “What brings you here?”

“Princess, I'm here on behalf of my friend, Greyhoof,” she began, barely keeping herself from trembling. “He seeks an audience with you.”

“Oh? And where is this friend of yours?” asked Celestia, her tone remaining pleasant.

“He should be in the far east tower. He's hoping for a more private meeting, just the three of us, so he figured the throne room might be a bit crowded, so –”

Twilight was cut off mid-sentence by Celestia, whose eyes opened wide. “The east tower? Why, that's...” She paused for a moment and closed her eyes. Twilight stood there, confused by the Princess's reaction. Celestia opened her eyes again, her expression suddenly grave. “I think I feel something. Tell me, my student, this Greyhoof – where does he come from? What does he look like?”

“Well, he said he was from somewhere called Neighagra Falls, up north, I think. As his name suggests, he's a grey stallion,” said Twilight. “He's got a short, green mane, wears an old cloak, and has orange eyes.”

“Orange eyes?” asked Celestia in a tone Twilight had never heard from her before: one of worry. “Tell me – do they seem different, somehow? As if they possess of a sort of strange fire?”

“Why, yes, but how did –”

Celestia's horn glowed bright yellow and a scroll and quill appeared out of nowhere. The quill began scribbling furiously. Twilight managed to catch a few of the words:

Phalanx – east tower – very dangerous – all guards – don't let escape.

Before Twilight could make out any complete sentences, the scroll vanished. Celestia then lowered her head so that it was right next to hers.

“Listen to me now, my student,” said Celestia, her voice full of a heart-stopping seriousness Twilight had seldom heard before. “Whatever you do, do not leave this room under any circumstance. Any circumstance. Await my return. Do I make myself clear?”

Twilight stood there, frozen as the throne room doors burst open and Celestia left at a brisk pace, her wings unfurled and her mane flowing more quickly than usual. Twilight's heart sank. If I've read the scroll correctly, it means Greyhoof and I are right. Dead right. The doors slammed shut behind Celestia.

* * *

Greyhoof paced around the east tower, looking about. The room was quite vacant, which was unusual for Canterlot. It gave off the feeling that it once had a purpose now long forgotten. He couldn't help but grimace as his eyes came to rest on various mundane points in the tower, each as barren as the last. His face began to quiver as his gaze kept coming to rest upon the same space in the room, as if something important had once occupied that spot.

He eventually came to a stop at the vast window that offered a stunning panoramic view of the mountains. He stared outside, observing them with what almost looked like familiarity. He breathed deeply. A single bead of sweat trickled down his face.

Suddenly, the doors burst open. Phalanx entered with a dozen armoured ponies. Their spears pointed directly at Greyhoof.

“Ah, Princess!” exclaimed Greyhoof, his gaze remaining away from the door. “I'm so glad you decided to grant me the honour of an audience! I must say, you're here a lot sooner than expected.”

“By the royal order of her Majesty Princess Celestia of Equestria,” recited Phalanx in a gravelly monotone, “you are under arrest, Greyhoof.”

Greyhoof remained still as Phalanx and the rest of the Royal Guards approached him, their plate mail clinking in time with their hoofsteps on the tile. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked in an unnervingly calm voice. “What is to happen to me?”

“You're coming with us,” said Phalanx. “Our ruler will decide your fate.”

“I am your ruler,” said Greyhoof, a deep and menacing tone creeping into his voice. It made all but the bravest of the guards shiver.

“Do not resist,” commanded Phalanx, drawing within hoof's reach of Greyhoof. “We will use force if necessary.”

With his back still to Phalanx and the guards, a wicked grin spread across Greyhoof's face. “It's treason, then...”

In a blinding flash, he performed a gravity-defying front flip, and spun around in midair. He landed, and burst out of his black cloak, tearing it to shreds, the remnants leaving his body and falling to the ground. Phalanx's mouth fell open when he saw a massive pair of wings where the cloak had been.

Greyhoof launched himself forward in a flash of light, easily avoiding the spear and impaling one of the guards with his horn. It pierced the golden plate armour as if it were paper, killing the pony instantly. Phalanx and the others stepped back. After a moment's pause to regroup, the guards charged forward, but Greyhoof simply flapped his wings and soared high into the air, discarding the fallen earth pony. Three pegasi flew up and attacked him in tandem, ducked and weaved between their attacks, and after a series of lethal swipes of his horn, the lifeless guards fell one by one to the floor, spears clattering beside them.

As Greyhoof landed back on the floor, the four earth pony guards charged him directly, with Phalanx joining them, attempting to use his own unicorn magic. Baring his teeth, Greyhoof shot a burst of energy that was not only light blue, but orange, dark blue, and red as well. The magic enveloped the spears, snapping metal tips from wooden shafts like twigs. The earth ponies skidded to a halt, staring at the floating tips in disbelief, discarding their now useless poles.

“Don't send a mud pony to do a unicorn's job!” quipped Greyhoof, and he thrust the spear tips into the skulls of their former wielders, piercing the bone as if it was parchment.

Phalanx stepped back and formed a line with the unicorn guards. They summoned all the magical strength they had, forming bright orbs on their horn tips, and launched a concentrated magic beam upon Greyhoof, who laughed manically at their efforts, his eyes searing with a hatred that bored into them. As it was about to hit him, his horn shimmered and projected a multicoloured forcefield around him, deflecting the attack with ease.

“You've had your fun,” spat Greyhoof.

His horn crackled with a wash of colour before a burst of lightning shot from it, striking one of the unicorns. After a few seconds, the attack stopped, and the unicorn collapsed to the ground, dead, smoke rising from his blackened coat.

“Who are you?” cried Phalanx, a look of horror contorting his normally emotionless face.

“I am the paragon of this world. I am perfection!” sneered Greyhoof. “Kneel before me!”

“Monster!” yelled one of the unicorn guards, charging Greyhoof with his horn lowered.

Greyhoof smirked and flew a few feet into the air, bringing his two front hooves down on the charging guard's head with enough force to send him into the floor, splintering the tile beneath him. Now, only two guards remained by Phalanx's side, shifting in panic.

Phalanx stepped forward, a teal glow engulfing his horn. The other unicorns did the same and joined him, advancing on Greyhoof. Greyhoof bared his teeth and ignited his own horn, bathing the room in its multicoloured light. One of the guards swung his head at Greyhoof, using his horn as a magical sword. Greyhoof effortlessly parried the attack and squared himself with his other opponents.

Following his comrade's lead, Phalanx attempted to strike Greyhoof, but again, his horn deflected Phalanx's attack in a flourish. Back and forth the combat went, the three unicorns trying desperately to find an opening in Greyhoof's defenses.

Greyhoof's stride and attacks quickened, his strength waxing instead of waning. Phalanx and the guards were steadily less and less able to stave off Greyhoof's assault, losing ground rapidly. Once their backs were to a wall, Phalanx and one of the unicorns dodged to either side, but the third guard was left with nowhere to retreat. Greyhoof's empowered horn found an opening and decapitated him.

While Greyhoof's back was turned, Phalanx tried to strike him, but he used his wings and soared far above Phalanx's head, and nimbly landed in the centre of the room. Phalanx and the other guard began backing away, about to make a run to the door.

“Retreat?” asked Greyhoof in a condescending tone. “Quite unbecoming for the Canterlot Royal Guard. I see that Celestia will make anypony a guard these days.” Greyhoof's aura enveloped the last remaining unicorn, raising him to the ceiling before bringing him down to the tile floor with enough force to break every bone in his body.

Phalanx sank to his knees. “Please... don't kill me!” he cried, quivering on the ground.

“Fear?” mocked Greyhoof, arching an eyebrow. “Quite unbecoming for a Captain of the Guard.”

He gave Phalanx one last contemptuous look before shooting himself forward, torpedo-like, striking Phalanx. The force was so great that not only did his horn go clean through Phalanx, but Greyhoof kept going until it made a hole in the wall. He withdrew his horn and allowed his victim to fall to the ground, joining his comrades in death. He licked the blood from his lips and walked down the stairs to the centre of the room, which was now littered with corpses.

Admiring his handiwork, he strutted about the corpse-covered ground, coming to a stop by the window as if nothing had happened. He unfurled his wings and stared not at the mountains, but at his own reflection. His mane was no longer short, but long and elegant. Its former colours were replaced by an orange as bright as the sun in the top half, and the bottom half was now a star-spangled deep blue, like a clear midnight sky. The clashing colours were separated by a thin stripe, which constantly shifted colour.

His eyes glittered as he admired himself. His mane and tail both flowed of their own accord, as if they were caught in a perpetual gentle breeze. He grinned as his eyes drifted toward his cutie mark, which was a bright sun next to a crescent moon, both eclipsed by a blazing blue comet. His ears twitched when he heard the door swing open once again. In the doorway stood Princess Celestia, her expression one of cold fury.

“So it is true,” she said, narrowing her eyes. “I can hardly believe it. After all these years – but how? Luna and I found nothing – no trace.” Her eyes darted around the room, lingering on each corpse for a split second before returning to him. “I can see that you haven't changed your ways, Cosmo... such a shame. You shouldn't have come here tonight.”

King Cosmo turned around, threw his head back, and laughed. “I've waited a long time for this moment... sister!”

Celestia, standing atop the staircase, gazed down at her brother. “If only you learned the same lessons Luna did. I didn't want to do what I did back then, and I don't want to be forced to repeat those actions now.”

“History will not repeat itself,” said Cosmo, slowly shaking his head. “No... I have done far more than skulk for the past thousand years. I will pay back the pain and humiliation you have caused me a hundred-fold!”

“Tell me, brother, how did you survive?”

“When the Elements betrayed me, they took many things... but not my life,” said Cosmo.

“And you have chosen now, of all times, to strike. Just because I am no longer connected with the Elements of Harmony – or with Luna at my side – doesn't mean I still can't best you!” said Celestia, narrowing her eyes. “In fact, I don't think you're confident that you can defeat me, even now.”

“You underestimate me, little sister,” spat Cosmo. “I have had over a thousand years of shame and exile to devise your destruction. I will not be stopped! Not by you, nor the Elements of Harmony, nor anypony. Soon, the crown of Equestria will rest on its rightful head once more.”

“I see that your defeat has taught you nothing, Cosmo. Killing you once wrenched my heart, but for the safety of Equestria – no, the world – I will do so again.” She narrowed her eyes. “I spent many sleepless nights wondering, 'Could this have been prevented? Did I make some sort of mistake in our youth?' With what both Nightmare Moon and you have done, have I failed as your sister? I see now that your love of power has corrupted your heart – and nothing can save it. No, the only thing you are capable of loving is power. When we were young, did you ever show us true love, or were you masquerading back then, too?”

Cosmo laughed. “You are gravely mistaken. I have no need of love – nor your pity.” He flapped his wings. Beginning to slowly ascend, his entire body crackled with magic. “I have long prepared for this. Now you will experience the full power of King Cosmo!” His eyes glowed white as he spoke, the last few words coming out as a bellow that shook the room to its foundation.

Before Celestia could offer a rebuttal, Cosmo engulfed himself in magic, and launched himself at Celestia like a multicoloured fireball. She beat her wings and banked to the right of the oncoming strike. He stopped himself a few inches from the wall. Grimacing at his sister, he launched himself again, but this time she copied his maneuver. The alicorns clashed with enough force to incinerate any other pony. They rebounded and floated in the air, magic blazing around them in a thick haze.

Celestia's aura was pure bright yellow, a sharp contrast to the four-colour torrent that surrounded her elder brother. The two stared at each other for a few moments before their auras began flaring up, bathing the room in a terrible display of light and power. Cosmo let loose a warcry as he launched himself at Celestia once again, and she mimicked his attack a split second later. They clashed once again, but instead of rebounding from the impact, they stayed locked in close combat, swinging at each other with all four hooves in midair, exchanging a flurry of blows.

Every time one launched a strike, the other retaliated with equal force, although most of their rapid attacks were either dodged or parried. Eventually, Cosmo landed a blow on Celestia's jaw, but before the impact could fully take its toll on her, she managed to repay Cosmo in kind. The combat was torn asunder, and both alicorns floated a good distance away from each other, bleeding at the mouth.

“Why, brother?” Why must you force me to do this?” asked Celestia, wiping her muzzle. “Your powers have weakened over the long years. Abandon this madness!”

Cosmo spat out blood. “You fail to appreciate the full extent of my design. Not once has your treasonous act left my mind. This day will be your last.”

“I did what I had to for the safety of my subjects!” shouted Celestia. “You sought to rule with an iron hoof, through tyranny and subjugation. That is not what we were meant to do. You left me with no choice, brother.”

“We never did see eye to eye,” sighed Cosmo. “Your sense of morality always sickened me.”

Cosmo concentrated his aura into the shape of a hefty sledgehammer and swung it at Celestia. Celestia barely had enough time to focus her own aura into a barrier. The blow sent her soaring into the wall, but she pivoted herself in midair, and slammed her hooves into the wall. The stone cracked from the force as she launched herself back into the centre of the room.

Celestia reshaped her aura into a scimitar, while Cosmo turned his into a rapier, and they took rapid, deadly swings at each other, the magical blades clashing in a display of beautiful colours and terrible power. The combatants were harshly reminded of the necessity to deflect the other's strikes when Cosmo's blade parried Celestia's, and the weapon nicked the ground, gouging a deep trench in the tile. Their magical weapons continued to clash, but once again, neither was able to overcome the other's defenses.

“So,” sneered Cosmo, breaking off his attack, “I see you are still as quick as you were back when we first conquered Equestria.” The magic that forged his weapon began to rush back into his horn. Celestia's was doing the same.

“'Conquered'?” said Celestia, eyebrows raised. “That's not what you called it then. 'Liberated' was the word. We freed the kingdom from the tyrants who sought to oppress it. Tyrants like you.”

“A tyrant, am I?” he scoffed, absorbing the remainder of his weapon as Celestia did the same. “I sought to bring perfection to this land. Under my eternal watch, I would have achieved utopia!”

Taking a deep breath, Celestia shook her head. “You let your power get to you, my brother. You lost sight of your true self long ago.” Her tone was not one of anger, but of regret. “Cosmo died long ago, murdered by the pony who stands before me now. Why can't we go back to simpler times – such as when we used to race – before the thoughts of crowns, wars, and power even crossed our minds?”

“You make me sick.”

Both Cosmo and Celestia stood about half the room apart, briefly surveying the damaged tile and the corpse-littered ground before staring back into each other's eyes. Cosmo's mane flowed as brilliantly as ever, the orange and dark blue sparkling with the magic that only ran through the bloodline of the Equestrian royal family. The stripe in the middle of his mane shifted between the brighter colours now, as if it too was threatening Celestia. Cosmo's expression was one of grim smugness, his eyes almost on fire, as they seemed to be attempting to burn his opponent with his gaze. Celestia's mane shone every bit as brilliantly as her brother's, an uncharacteristic look of hatred on her face as she gazed upon a pony she never imagined she'd see again.

* * *

Twilight paced the throne room nervously. She could feel cold fingers of dread clenching around her stomach. What do I do? She seemed to recognize who Greyhoof is, but how, and why? Is she going to kill him in cold blood? Despite all of the evidence that seemed to irrefutably damn the Princess, she now found herself torn.

Suddenly, the entire castle shook. Twilight peered out one of the windows and saw unnatural light in many colours coming from what had to be the east tower. Tears filled her eyes as she stood there, witnessing the deadly light show. It's begun. I know she told me to stay put, but I made a promise. I can't let her harm anypony else. She closed her eyes and turned away from the window.

Why, Princess? Why? Why does it have to be this way? Twilight opened her eyes, hardening her expression and her heart. This ends tonight. Greyhoof, please hold on! Calling upon her magic, Twilight threw the doors wide open and began galloping toward the east tower as fast as her hooves could carry her.

* * *

The short respite was abruptly brought to an end as Cosmo began summoning a fresh torrent of magic. The gathering energy began to distort the light in the room, and Canterlot Castle seemed to tremble. Instantly realizing what he was doing, Celestia did the same.

“You're insane! This could destroy us both!” she yelled, flapping her wings to gain sufficient altitude.

Cosmo's only response was another manic laugh as he ascended to to Celestia's height, both combatants' gathering energy increasing so dramatically that they couldn't see each other anymore, as the energy had formed a large sphere around each of them. Once the spheres reached the size of large boulders, they unleashed them in the forms of a massive yellow beam that collided with a corkscrew of colours in the centre of the room.

Excess energy from the two beams shot off in all directions. Stray bolts tore holes in the walls, floor, and ceiling, with explosions at each point of impact, vaporizing many of the dead bodies and pieces of discarded equipment. Both alicorns gritted their teeth in exertion, pouring every ounce of their magic into their attacks, horns the focal points of their energy. The astounding display of magical power was so bright, it almost blinding – especially the large orb between the two beams where the conflicting powers clashed. The sphere never remained still, sometimes moving toward one alicorn and then to another as one stream of magic gained strength over its opponent, even if for just a split second.

Eventually, the epicenter of the clashing magic drew closer and closer to Celestia. She cried out as it was about to hit her, summoning energy from her deepest reserves just in time to force Cosmo's energy back at him. Eventually the beams evened out again and began tilting toward Cosmo.

As Cosmo's beam waned in power, a hint of panic flashed in his eyes. He desperately channeled some of his power toward Celestia's beam as he gradually flew higher and higher. Finally, he had done it. The two beams merged into one, and were redirected completely. It shot through the roof of the east tower, obliterating so much of it that very little debris fell to the floor. Both alicorns finally let up and watched as their combined magical essence shot high up into the sky. A few seconds later, before it passed beyond their vision, it exploded. A violent cascade of colours suddenly lit up the night sky, as if a hundred sonic rainbooms had detonated all at once, illuminating Canterlot and untold acres of land surrounding the castle. As the lights began to fade, Celestia and Cosmo glared at each other once more.

“It would seem that we are evenly matched,” said Cosmo, summoning energy to his horn.

Celestia did the same. “'Even' is what you call it?” she said, their faces glowing by the light of their horns. “You really are deluded, Cosmo. I told you coming here was a mistake.”

“You are blinded by your arrogance, Celestia,” he said, swinging his horn at her as if he wielded a sword.

She parried. “That is probably the most ironic thing I've heard in my life.”

Cosmo spun away before darting back in with three quick swipes, each of them avoided or deflected by his opponent. “The full irony of the situation is lost on you, my dear sister. But do not fear; you will appreciate the perfection of my grand design in your dying moments!”

Their brief respite was over; Celestia rushed at him, aiming precise slices that would deal fatal blows should Cosmo fail to avoid them. While he managed to stop the attacks and riposte them, his sister matched him blow for blow, and more. He was slowly but surely losing ground as Celestia hammered away at his defenses. She hadn't managed to strike him yet, but with each swing of her glowing horn, she made him take a step back, driving him closer and closer to the large window. One of Celestia's fiercer strikes was deflected into the window itself, shattering the entire thing. Cosmo stumbled onto his back.

Celestia suddenly shot a strong burst of magic at Cosmo. It narrowly missed, destroying a sizable chunk of the wall behind him, creating a pile of debris. Another blast struck Cosmo directly, and sent him flying into the rubble. Cosmo attempted to retaliate, but Celestia effortlessly turned his shot away with her horn. Celestia lowered her horn to Cosmo's throat.

“Cosmo, your tyranny will never return!” shouted Celestia with a tone of finality, her pristine white coat now covered in dust and blood. “You have lost.”

King Cosmo's burning eyes flicked toward the east tower's door for a moment, before returning to meet her sister's penetrating stare. He smirked and transformed himself into a vapour that shared his mane's colour. The mist began rushing past Celestia, but she narrowed her eyes and blasted the entire cloud. Cosmo cried in pain and was once again sent crashing into the pile of rubble, forcibly returned to his physical form.

It was at that moment that Twilight burst through the doors. She stared at Celestia, and at her stance. She could barely make out Greyhoof's crumpled body beneath the mound of dust and loose stones.

“No...” said Cosmo. “It won't end like this!” He fired a burst of lightning at Celestia, who matched it with her own, Cosmo's attack quickly failing under the strength of Celestia's.

“Twilight, we were right! Celestia's going to kill us both!” yelled Cosmo, his voice abruptly reverting to Greyhoof's. “Please... you promised! Your dreams are coming true! Only you can stop it and destroy the evil one!”

“You don't understand whom you're dealing with, my student,” shouted Celestia, her eyes remaining fixed on her fallen brother.

Twilight's vision grew hazy as her dream from the previous night rushed back vividly. There stood Celestia, exactly as the dark mare had over a fallen Greyhoof, with Twilight looking on helplessly. The very pony who had raised her like the daughter she never had, teaching her valuable lessons – not just in magic, but in life, in friendship – was the dark mare responsible for the death of Rainbow Dash, and if she didn't act quickly, Greyhoof and countless others.

I will do as you taught me, thought Twilight, as I promised that I would do for him. Greyhoof is my friend – and I will protect that friendship. When her vision cleared, she saw Greyhoof's head was resting on the rubble, his eyes closed. He breathed weakly as Celestia once again lowered her horn, its tip pressing against Greyhoof's neck.

“Twilight, stay back! I'm sorry you had to witness this...”

“Please Princess, stop this!” cried Twilight, edging closer to her teacher. “Please!”

Cosmo opened his eyes and frantically looked at Twilight, an expression of pure terror on his face. “I did my best, Twilight. I failed... she was too much for me.”

“Twilight Sparkle, stay back!” commanded Celestia in a booming voice that almost made Twilight lose her nerve on the spot.

“No! I will not let you kill him!” shouted Twilight defiantly. “I – I can't live without him!”

“That's enough,” said Celestia. “It is clear to me now that his influence over you runs too deep. I must end this. All will be made clear once he has been dealt with, once and for all.”

Celestia raised her horn like an executioner's axe. As she lowered it, Twilight felt something snap deep within her. The past days' feeling of helplessness, of despair, of dread, burst forth like a torrent breaching an old dam. The sight of one she had trusted so much for all of her life, preparing to destroy a pony who she had grown so close to, drove Twilight over the edge. She loosed an unearthly yell and unleashed a great burst of untamed magic.

The blast hit Celestia's horn squarely, with such incredible force that it was sundered clean in two. Celestia screamed, her eyes wide with surprise and pain as she looked up at the stump that had been her long, brilliant horn.

King Cosmo's expression instantly shifted from terror to malice. “At last... Equestria. Is. All. MINE!” Cosmo struck Celestia with a renewed magical assault, engulfing her completely. “Begone, you filthy usurper!”

“Twilight, please!” shrieked Celestia as she was lifted into the air by Cosmo's magic, trapped in a quickly-contracting sphere of multicoloured lightning. “Help! I beg of you!”

Unable to move and barely able to breathe, Twilight collapsed as she bore witness to the Princess's undoing. Tears poured down her face as she stared, horrified, at the abominable scene unfolding before her eyes. Her whole body went numb as it was first overcome by a frigid chill, and then by a growing flame of inexplicable hatred, seemingly fueled by Celestia's suffering.

“Twilight!” she cried again. “I love you! I've always loved you! Please...” Her voice was barely audible over the sound of crackling lightning. “This is our only chance! If he succeeds, Equestria is doomed! Please, Twilight. TWILIGHT! I love you, Twilight! I lo–” She was cut off as the sphere shrunk enough to make contact with her. It exploded in a blinding flash of light, the shockwave blowing Twilight's mane in all directions.

The Princess fell to the ground, her eyes closed, her coat covered in blackened scorch marks. Her mane had stopped flowing. No longer was it the beautiful cascade of cerulean, turquoise, pink, and cobalt. It was now shorter, and only pink. Cosmo approached her and unceremoniously kicked the body. After quickly appraising it, he pushed the corpse out of the shattered window, and it hit the rocks far below with a dull thud.

“What... what have I done?” sobbed Twilight, burying her face in her hooves.

Cosmo turned to Twilight, a large burnished gold crown set with a topaz and obsidian trim appearing on his head, and ruby-set hoofguards and chest band magically appearing as well. “You have done exactly as you were meant to, Twilight.”

Twilight looked at him, her tearful eyes open wide. She was too overcome with conflicting emotions to even flinch as Cosmo crushed Celestia's discarded crown beneath his hoof.

“By ensuring Celestia's final destruction, you have succeeded where Nightmare Moon could not,” continued the King. “The dark mare, and the events leading up to this moment, have all transpired by my will, and my will alone.”

Twilight stared at her hooves, which shook with terror. “What is happening to me?”

Cosmo chuckled. “By destroying Celestia, you created a powerful spark deep within you. A spark of power. I am now bestowing upon you my greatest gift of all, as I did with my youngest sister, Luna, over a thousand years ago. I am igniting that spark.” As Cosmo spoke, a change slowly began to take hold of Twilight. Her purple coat was darkening to near blackness, and her mane was gaining a strange dark purple glow.

“Yes... it is taking hold nicely,” said Cosmo. “The purple smoke that became the dark mare has a name. That name is Miasma. Twilight Sparkle is no more. You are to become that dark mare – my greatest weapon. When you rise, you shall do so as Miasma, the herald of the true King! What say you, my servant?”

“I was wrong... all this time... I was wrong. How could I have done this? How could I have believed it? How could I have killed her? I – I was like her daughter!” Twilight writhed on the splintered tile floor, and three small, streaking comets appeared on her cutie mark. “I feel... pain. Unbelievable pain... yet... I feel... alive! Such power! Such incomprehensible power! It surges within me, strengthening every second! Celestia wasn't the only pony to have died by my hoof. Twilight is no more. Twilight never was, and never will be. Now, there is only Miasma! I will do whatever you ask, my liege.” Miasma slowly rose to her hooves. She had stopped crying.

The magic had taken full hold of her now; her eyes were open wide, and possessed of a strange white glow, and gave them the appearance of bright lanterns. Her mane was now almost unrecognizable – the pink stripe almost lost in the sea of deep purple that glowed with a pitch blackness that seemed to flow, as if there was a perpetual breeze playing through it. “But how – how did you manipulate my weaker self so easily?”

“That is a simple matter,” said King Cosmo, regarding Miasma with maliciously glittering eyes. “I have the power of absolute control. When I discovered how potent your friendship was, and that it augmented your considerable magical ability, I knew it was the perfect weapon. Your own sickening friendship was your downfall; the friendship you forged with 'Greyhoof' was the sword that finally beheaded the traitor.”

Cosmo flared his wings as his smile broadened. “Once I won you over with my disguise, it was only a matter of time before you saw to the destruction of your own mentor. All it took were a few well-placed lies, an unwitting puppet, and a forged letter. Remember, none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe that they are free.”

“Amusing,” laughed Miasma. “I'm glad to be rid of that sentimental fool. I am what I was destined to be. What is our next move, sire? Luna and Cadence still live.”

“Both of them have no doubt sensed the demise of Celestia or the ample amounts of magic wielded this night,” said Cosmo. “Luna will know what has transpired here, and is likely already on the move. I predict her first move will be to gather the Elements of Harmony. She was always the weak one, and knows that she is no match for me. Cadence is likely ignorant of my existence, and will make her way here. I will prepare her a fitting welcome. With Celestia gone, the Elements are now the last thing standing between me and total victory. Everypony who wields the Elements of Harmony is an enemy of this kingdom.”

“What must I do?” snarled Miasma.

“I want you to go to Ponyville and destroy those whom you once called 'friends',” commanded Cosmo. “Show no pity, show no mercy. You will be accompanied by half a century of the Canterlot Royal Guard.”

“And what if Luna reaches them first? Shall we seek them out?”

“No. I believe that you will be needed back here,” said Cosmo. “A family reunion is in order, don't you agree? If they are gone, see to it that they have no homes to return to.” King Cosmo closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “As I saw when you discovered your power many years ago... you've got such potential, the likes of which I have not seen in thousands of years. It would be a real waste if we didn't put it to use. The whole world needs to be corrected. Now go. There is much work to be done.”

Miasma bowed to King Cosmo. “Yes, my lord. The citizens of Ponyville will not live to see the next sunrise. Long live the King!”