• Published 19th Jan 2013
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Rise of the Elements Part II: Return of the Avatars - Radiant Dawn

Ancient beings of long since past are returning, but for good or ill?

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Chapter 20: Black Dawn

Chapter 20: Black Dawn

The days of fun had passed and I was preparing to leave to return to the Forsaken Forest, ready to relieve my soldiers. I was happy though, as I'd gotten to see and spend time with everypony, including Vinyl and Lyra. Emotions ran high for all of us as I stood (still in my human form) before everypony gathered, as I was going to be gone for at least another week...alone. Even with my attempts at trying to assure everyone that I was going to be fine, I was still on the receiving end of a great many hugs of care and worry, mostly from my mother and sister. The filly and mare were both extremely worried about me because of what was to come.

Back on Earth, I never in a thousand years imagined I'd fight in a war, and definitely did not imagine being not only an equine, but a prince. I had the love of ten amazing mares, all of which were unique in their own right. But the most unlikely thing I ever imagined, was that I would find my true calling in life. To be given the honor of watching over an entire world...it was beyond what I could have ever hoped for. Sure it was stressful and demanding, but to know that because of me ponies would live where they would have otherwise died...it was inspiring.

And yet, this war had cost us the lives of 120,000.

By Earth's standards it's a drop in the bucket, but in a place like Terra – where such a scale of death hasn't even been heard of before – it's soul-crushing. Until we all ended this war and restored this world to peace...the bodies were just going to keep piling up. It was a sad reality, but one I had become accustomed with.

I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

"Now you better tear it up out there man, because when we meet at the final A/O, I want to have to really try to keep up with you." my brother said with a smirk.

I chuckled and nodded as I embraced him tightly. "Sure thing, Mace. I got this."

I then looked to my mother and she trotted up and hugged me tight for probably the millionth time. "You better be safe, Andrew."

I wrapped my arms around the mare's neck and hugged her tightly as well. "I will...I promise." I then released her and began to focus my vast stores of magic, willing myself to change back to an alicorn. As soon as the spell faded, I felt as eleven pairs of hooves embraced me...and I just smiled as my friends and family gave me one last hug before my departure, and I extended my large wings to hug them all just as tightly. I then took one last loving look at them all before charging my teleportation spell and disappearing in a flash.

I reappeared in my tent, right next to a very surprised Rainbow Dash and Ditzy. Both were apparently preparing to leave as well, and so had not been expecting me to arrive as I did.

Both quickly came to their senses though and nearly bowled me over with a group hug, and I enjoyed every second of it. Dash then looked up to me and smiled as she released me. "So how was it?"

I grinned with a faraway expression. "It was wonderful. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed everypony until I got to see them. They miss you two as well, so we should head out to the camp so I can let the soldiers know what's up."

Ditzy released me next and went to grab her saddlebag. "I've already told them what's going to happen, but it's probably best if they hear it from you as well." She then gestured to the open flap of the tent. "They're awaiting your orders, Colonel."

I smiled. "Cool. Alright, let's do this. I'm sure they'll all be happy to go home." I then looked to my two companions with a serious expression. "Get all you can out of this when you're home, because shortly after I return, we'll all be gathering for the final operation. Understood?"

Both mares saluted me sternly with a, "Yes sir!"

I then stepped outside the tent, seeing that the entire battalion had gathered. I stepped before them and they all silenced themselves. "Alright troops, this is your reward for your faithful service to our home. Whether you be pony," I looked to Zita, the white dragon, "dragon," I then looked to a male gryphon, "gryphon," I gazed at a tall deer warrior, "deer," lastly, I looked to my two close friends, Venn and Moonfang, "or wolf...all of you are fighting for the safety and continued existence of this world and her people, and so you all deserve to see your loved ones in return for your service. Go home, rest, and prepare for the final battle that is to come. Troops...dismissed!"

As soon as I finished my words, multiple unicorns began casting teleportation spells and dragons, pegasi, and gryphons flew away. Rainbow Dash and I sent the deer-people of Cervidas home with spells, and then looked to the two wolves.

I smiled at them both and said, "You two have proven to be far more formidable than I ever thought possible, and have made wonderful friends and citizens to Equestria. Equestria appreciates your service...but most of all, so do I. Thanks a lot guys."

Both wolves placed a hand on my chest in a gesture of respect and friendship, then Moonfang responded, "I believe I speak for both of us when I say that we should be thanking you. You befriended us when you had no reason to, and believed we were more than our form would suggest. Thank you for doing that...we are eternally in your debt." The two wolves took a step back, and Dash and I pooled our remaining magic to send the two wolves home.

I then turned to the cyan alicorn and gray pegasus with a smile. "Well girls, when you see me in a week, it'll be to the gathering of the largest single force the world has ever seen. So enjoy yourselves and see all your loved ones...because soon we're going to end this." I leaned over and kissed the both of them softly before saying, "Fly safe, and I'll see you both soon." Both mares then took flight, heading towards home. I then looked around the camp, noting just how empty it looked with only my tent left standing. I sighed and dissipated my ice shield. After doing so, I amplified my voice and said, "Alright...I'm alone. We both know you've been wanting to get me by myself for whatever reason. Show yourself."

Not a second after saying this, a black alicorn phased into existence in front of me, its illusionary spell dropped. He smiled and said, "Hello, son."

"Enough with the pleasantries, father." I spat in anger. "What do you want?"

"Straight to business, eh? Alright then." he answered with no small amount of arrogance. "It has come to my attention that you've found a way to stave off my reinforcements, and have found and destroyed all of my generals."

I smirked. "We have...and you're next."

Death growled at this and shouted, "Do you honestly think that your ragtag band of fighters can best me? All of them will die...and when I am through with you, so shall you."

I chuckled smugly as I sat down lazily on the soft grass. "If you're so confident, then why not take them out now? Play that 'ace-in-the-hole' you think you have and let's see what happens."

The alicorn's anger was replaced with his own smug grin and he responded, "I would rather wait until I have all of my enemies gathered in one place, and then wipe them out in one fell swoop. Why do you not attack me now when I am alone if you're so confident?"

I shrugged. "Possibly because I know I couldn't take you down by myself. I'm not so arrogant as to think I can take down the very personification of death by myself...but make no mistake, you will fall. You've ended the lives of more than enough living things to warrant your death...but don't worry, we won't kill you. We have a far more interesting way to end you in store."

"And what makes you think these friends of yours will be any more successful in ending me?" he asked, now a little nervous...an expression I relished every second of.

I smirked and looked to the beautiful springtime sky. "Because they fight for balance, not power. The victory we achieve is for all of Terra...not just one race of people."

"Can't you see what I'm trying to do here?" he questioned angrily. "I am trying to establish complete control over the world. Imagine, a place where there would be no disease, no death, no more pain and suffering."

"Freedom is not an equal trade for that. For an eternal being, you seem to have overlooked that snippet of information." I retorted, my grin getting bigger. I sighed and stood again, looking the black pony in the eyes. "Look, I know that you haven't shown yourself to me just to talk, there's a reason you're here...so just get it over with so I can finish off the abominations that plague this land and go home."

He stared at me for a moment before shrugging. "Very well. I have a proposition for you."

"Big surprise there..." I added.

He glared at me for a moment before continuing with, "It's quite simple: call off this little 'crusade' of yours and I will spare your friends and family. I will even give them a position of power in the world that is to come." He then smiled at me and nodded. "A fair offer, if ever there was one."

I tapped my hoof on my chin, as if contemplating the prospect before replying with, "No deal. First of all, you have a horrible poker face. The only reason you're trying to make a deal is because you know we're closing in on you and you have nowhere else to go. That and your 'terms' don't really work for us. The world was fine before you started this shit, and it's going to go back to that when this is over. Saying you're going to eliminate the need to die doesn't really convince me. I can tell you right away that immortality is only a blessing if you get to spend it with those you love...otherwise it's a curse. That means in essence, you'd be cursing those left alive, because you've already killed so many. Children have lost mothers and fathers. Brothers and sisters have been split apart or killed. You have no moral standing to lean against here, and do not think this flimsy 'proposition' of yours is at all enticing. So go back to whatever hole you're hiding in. Make no mistake, we will find you...and this will end. Goodbye, father." I then turned around and walked away. I heard a growl from the avatar behind me before a flash of light issued forth, and I could no longer feel his magical essence in the air. I then focused my magic and made contact with Celestia.

Hey Celly, it's Frost. I have news that might be of interest to everypony.”

"Very well. What have you to report?"

"Death just made an appearance after my company left, and he spoke to me."

"Oh...are you injured?"

"No...he actually didn't even attack me whatsoever. He just talked."

"I see...what did he have to say?"

"He demanded a surrender. I think he's starting to get desperate."

"You don't think..."

"I do. Tighten defenses around Canterlot and Ponyville, as well as any of the outlying territories. Let our allies know as well, as they could find themselves under attack. Have Twilight contact Chrysalis and ask her and her hive to keep an eye on things. I don't think Death realizes we know where he is yet, and I don't want to lose that advantage. Don't call in the soldiers on furlough though unless something happens. They deserve a rest."

"Understood, Frost. We will contact you if something changes. I love you...be safe."

"I love you as well, Celly. I'll be home soon."

I closed connection with the solar princess and sighed as I looked towards the mountains that bordered the valley the forest was contained in. I could sense a lot of Death's magic in use there, which meant my quarry would be hiding along the foot of the mountains. I sighed as I donned my ice armor and grabbed my two blackflame-forged swords.

Today was going to be long and boring.

Perspective change – Darkflight

"Tell me again why ya gotta go find that mare. She ain't nothin' but a pain in the flank!" shouted Applejack as I pulled the straps of my armor tight.

I sighed and clasped my cloak around my body. "Because Ditzy asked me to do her a favor, and I kinda owe her. More than that though, I think Trixie deserves a second chance."

"Ah still say it's a waste of tahm." she responded in annoyance.

I stood up and pulled the straps of my legplates and shoulderplates tight before looking at the orange farm pony. "AJ, I'm trying to turn over a new leaf in my life, and one of those things I'm trying to do is forgive. When I heard about this Trixie chick, I thought she was a bitch too...but she lost her entire career because of it. I think she's paid enough for her screw-up." I did one last check of my armor to make sure it was snug and then grabbed my helmet. "Ditzy's contacts say she's in Manehattan, so it should only take me a few hours to get there. Once I arrive, I just gotta find her and then I just have to convince her to come back."

AJ looked at me with a grin and chuckled. "And how d'ya think that's gonna go?"

"Not well." I responded quickly as I grabbed Yamato. "She got ran out of here for being a pompous showoff, so it's unlikely she's going to want to come back at first. It might take some creative speech, but if I can find her, I'm pretty confident I can convince her to come back with me."

"Or you could ponynap her..." the orange mare mused, seemingly to herself.

"Not helping." I responded with a sigh. "I seriously considered that for awhile. It would be easier and I know the princesses would cover for me, but I'd prefer to not break any laws while I do this." I then did put my helmet on and did a quick turnaround, my black cloak flowing gently in the air. "How do I look?"

Applejack smirked and sauntered over to me sensually. "Y'all look like a dangerous dragon now."

I chuckled and kneeled down to embrace the mare in a tight hug. "Thanks, AJ. I'll miss you."

"Ah'll miss ya too, Dark. Be safe." she responded before planting a kiss on my mouth.

I returned it and then released her, standing and grabbing my pack. "I will. I'll be back soon." I held onto her hoof for a moment before letting go and diving off the balcony of the steelworks and taking flight, veering west towards Manehattan.

Contrary to how it had been before the war, the skies between towns and cities were no longer vacant. Pegasi, gryphons, and even dragons could be seen crowding the skies, and I had to be careful not to run into anyone. Luckily most of them made room for me, as I was not only an Obsidian, but was decked-out in some of the most intimidating armor any of them had ever seen.

Chuck Norris ain't got nothin' on me.

A few of the dragons I recognized from the island I'd visited with Celestia, and they waved at me when they realized who I was. I simply waved back and ignored them for the most part. Not because I felt like being an asshole, but I didn't really have time to engage any of them in small talk or anything. I had things to do and I wanted to get it done as soon as possible.

"Hi!" shouted a piercingly loud voice from beside me, which caused me to stumble in the air and nearly fall on top of a large red dragon.

I flipped my hood down and looked around for the source of the voice, only to see a bright white pegasus hovering right in front of my face. Her hair was almost exactly the same style as Pinkie Pie's, except it was bright yellow. I glared at her for a minute before asking, "Can I help you little pony?"

She giggled and shrugged. "I don't know, can you?"

I rolled my eyes and took off flying again, weaving in and out of the traffic that surrounded me.

"So, where are you going?" the pony asked me.

I grit my teeth and responded with, "Manehattan."

I heard a gasp and once again, she flew right in front of me. "That's where I'm going! Ohmygosh, we can go together! Like a road trip! Or is it a sky trip...?"

I didn't feel like wearing myself out by outflying her and I didn't want to hurt her...which meant I was going to have to put up with her.

This was going to be a long flight.

Perspective change – Twilight Sparkle

"So then what happened?" I asked, eager to hear the next part of Rainbow Dash's story.

The mentioned alicorn mare was reclining in the library, where myself and all the others were gathered upon our friends' return. Everypony was there, even the rulers of Equestria, eager to welcome back their friends.

"Well," Dash started, taking a sip of her sarsaparilla, "we were cleaning up the last bit of resistance last winter as we left Stalliongrad. I know I said a little bit, but there were thousands of them. Considering how many there were before though, it wasn't too many...not with all of us there anyway." She took another sip of her drink and grinned, just barely holding back laughter. "So anyway, the rest of the regiment was providing air and magical support, but me, Moonfang, Venn, and Frost were holding the front line. All of the sudden, I see an armored gray wolf come tearing across the field with some rancid-looking fleshy on his back, trying to chew through his armor. He's flailing around like an idiot while screaming, 'Get it off me!'" She giggled softly before continuing with, "So then Moonfang bolts across to Venn and grabs the thing off of him, and rips it wide open with his bare hands. The only problem with that is everything sprayed all over his face." At this we all cringed, and she nodded. "Yeah...imagine the worst smell in the world. Because of how strong Moonfang's nose is though, multiply that by about five-hundred." She then looked to the beige wolf with a grin. "So after the thing sprays its guts all over him, he up and pukes right there during a battle." At this, the entire room erupts into laughter as we all glanced at the poor wolf.

He raised his hand high and said, "For the record, it was the most terrible experience of my entire life. I had nightmares about the smell for three days." I watched as Fluttershy nuzzled him softly, and immediately the disgusted look left his face...replaced with a loving smile.

I then turned my attention to Ditzy, who was sitting quietly next to her twin sister, Derpy. "What about you, Ditzy? See any crazy things out there?"

The gray-coated mare chuckled and sighed. "Twilight, you have no idea." She then sat up straight and grinned. "Okay, check this out: about a month into our deployment, we were sitting around a campfire as we tried to pass the time. Supplies hadn't arrived yet from Canterlot, so we were all hungry...so we spent the time doing anything we could to pass the time. So, as cliché as it sounds, we ended up telling stories around the fire. Not necessarily scary stories, just stories in general." Ditzy lifted a mug of cider to her lips and took a drink, letting an audible "ahh" out as she swallowed. "Anyway, it eventually was Frost's turn to tell a story about something. Now mind you I've already come to terms with what he his, who he used to be, and where he comes from. All that I can handle...but then he told us all about something called 'fan-fictions' from Earth."

"Oh yeah, he mentioned those once I think. Didn't sound all that interesting." Vinyl said as she exited the room and headed for the kitchen.

Ditzy Doo rolled her eyes and shook her head. "I thought the same thing at first, but then he told me about some of them. Basically fan-fictions are made-up stories about characters from movies, TV shows, video games...anything. One of the most popular sections of fan-fictions are about us."

"Really?" Pinkie Pie asked as she munched slowly on a cupcake. "Humans write stories about us?"

The gray pegasus mare nodded with a smile. "Yeah. We're really popular. We're practically worshiped by a large number of humans."

"That's awesome!" Vinyl yelled from the other room.

"Wait wait wait, why don't I remember any of this?" Rainbow asked in confusion.

The slate-colored pegasus shrugged. "Probably because you were sleeping. The whole time we were in the field, I've yet to see you out of your tent after the sun goes down."

The rainbow-maned pony smiled sheepishly as she rubbed her mane. "Y-yeah, I guess I get tired easily."

Ditzy smiled and nodded. "Yep. Anyway, he told me about the different types of stories that were written. You know, adventure, comedy, action...that sort of thing. When he gets to the genre of romance though, that's when things get a little weird."

I quirked my eyebrow up and asked, "How so?"

"Well," she started, taking another gulp of AJ's cider, "it's pretty self explanatory what a romance entails. People write stories about us falling in love with other ponies." She then grinned mischievously. "Anyone care to guess who the arguably most popular pony to write those about is?" We all shrugged, and then Ditzy looked to Rainbow Dash.

The cyan alicorn nearly choked on her drink and she squeaked out, "What?"

Ditzy giggled and nodded. "Yep...you're one of the favorites, Rainbow Dash." She then took another drink of cider and sat back against the soft chair.

The room was silent for a long time before I heard Applejack say, "Well don't leave us hangin', sugarcube. Who's she put with?"

Ditzy took a very serious expression next and looked to Celestia and Luna. "Are you all sure you want to hear this? I warn you, it can get pretty weird and some of you might end up really uncomfortable."

The princesses of sun and moon nodded, and Rainbow Dash said, "Pfft, we're tough. We can handle it. Fire away!"

The gray mare shrugged and grinned. "Aaalright, I warned you. Usually it's pretty straightforward. A lot of times, you get put with Soarin the Wonderbolt." At this Rainbow Dash smiled dreamily. "But," she said, getting everypony's attention, "sometimes it's a bit stranger. For example..." she then pointed at Fluttershy.

It took a moment for all of us to understand.

"Wait, what?" Dash nearly screamed. She looked over at her best friend before looking back to Ditzy. "That's...I mean EWW! That would be like dating my sister!" She then turned to the canary-yellow mare and chuckled nervously. "Umm...no offense, Fluttershy...but you're like totally not my type."

To my utter surprise (as well as everypony else's), Fluttershy didn't react at all. She just smiled warmly and nodded. "Oh, it's okay Rainbow Dash. I don't like mares like that anyway, and it's just a story."

"That's not all..." Ditzy continued. "The second choice is Applejack..."

"Say what now?!" the farm mare yelled loudly. "Ah ain't no filly-fooler, yah know. Ah get a li'l tipsy and kiss a mare one tahm and all tha sudden humans think-"

"Actually," the gray pegasus interrupted, "that specific incident was never shown in the TV show on Earth. It's just something humans thought up." She then turned to the rest of us and pointed a hoof at the everypony. "I just want to stress to all of you so that you don't react like Applejack, that these are fiction...which means it's made up. It doesn't mean anything unless you want it to."

"What about me?" Fluttershy asked timidly.

"Mostly Big Macintosh." Ditzy responded, which gained her a look of shock from the large crimson stallion.

Fluttershy blushed a color that matched Big Mac's coat perfectly, and she squeaked out, "Oh my..."

"Oh please," Rainbow Dash answered back, "we all know you used to have a crush on Big Mac. It's not like it's a secret."

"Ooh, ooh, do me next! Do me!" Pinkie requested excitedly, bouncing a bit in her seat.

"Well," Ditzy said, placing a hoof on her chin as she thought, "usually you're paired with a human from Earth, but you've also been paired with all the other Elements of Harmony too...and even Princess Celestia."

"Wait a minute," Venn spoke loudly, "she's been paired with all of her friends?"

"Yep. I mean come on, who doesn't love Pinkie Pie?" Ditzy quipped with a manic grin.

"I'd hit that." we all heard Vinyl say loudly as she reentered the room, levitating a bottle of apple juice. She took a sip as she sat down and looked up to see all of us staring at her. "What? I know I'm not the only pony thinking that. I'm just the one who said it."

"What about me?" I finally asked.

Ditzy leveled her gaze with me and smiled. "You've also been paired with all your friends at some point...but mostly Princess Luna." I stole a glance at Luna, and she winked in return. Ditzy said, "Yeah...not far off base on that one."

"What about you, Ditzy Doo?" the gray pegasus mare's twin sister asked.

She sighed and shook her head. "See, that's where things get a little skewed. Apparently on Earth, a lot of times we're the same pony. There's no difference between us...and that's kinda sad."

"Well, who do I get to be with then?" the wall-eyed mare asked with excitement.

Her sister grinned and replied, "Usually Doctor Whooves."

"That weird stallion with the hourglass cutie mark?" Rainbow Dash asked.

Ditzy nodded and downed the rest of her drink. "Yep, that's him."

"But I am the Doctor's marefriend!" Derpy responded in confusion.

"I know, but humans don't. Apparently they just don't have any imagination in that respect. Although, I will give them props for being able to spot a good match like that." Ditzy answered.

"What about me?" Spike asked eagerly. "Do I get to be with Rarity?"

"Sometimes." Ditzy answered. "But you've also been paired with Sweetie Belle, Applebloom, Scootaloo, Queen Chrysalis...and Twilight."

Spike and I both gasped in shock, and he said, "You mean to tell me I get to be with a changeling and my bucking mentor?" Spike looked at me with a grimace and turned back to Ditzy. "Twi's like my mom...and my sister! That's just...ugh."

"I warned all of you, but nooo...you all got way too curious." the gray mare quipped with a smirk. "Anyway, let's get off of this subject before I scar too many of you."

"You know an awful lot for never having been to Earth before." I stated to her.

Ditzy shrugged. "We weren't in battle all of the time. When we were settling down and relaxing at night, there wasn't much to do. If we couldn't sleep, we sat up and told stories to each other. Gotta find some way to keep from going crazy."

I nodded in understanding. "So are you excited to be going?"

"To Earth?" she asked, and I nodded. "Well, I guess so. I mean it's not like there's something specific I can look forward to, because I've never been there before. It will be pretty interesting to see where Frost came from though. He told me he's taking us somewhere called Hollywood. Supposedly it's where all the famous people of the country he lived in were congregated."

"I think it's gonna be awesome!" Dash added. "He told me something about a squadron of fighter pilots called the 'Blue Angels'. They're supposed to be some of the best stunt fliers around. I mean nothing compared to me of course, but they're about the best that humans can do. Still, I think it's going to be pretty cool to see."

"He told me we would be visiting someplace called 'France'." Rarity sang. "The way he explained it made it sound wonderful. So much fashion...so much culture! Oh, I can't wait!"

Leave it to Rarity to get excited about clothes.

I smiled and nodded in response to all this. "Yep. Frost told me we'd be staying for a few months, so we'll have time to do all sorts of things."

"And how does Frostbreaker expect to pay for all this?" Luna asked curiously.

I smiled and walked over to my saddlebag, grabbing one bit out. I then showed it to the whole room. "Our bits are made of nearly solid gold, with platinum mixed in to keep it from warping because of our own body heat, since gold is such a soft metal. This coin weighs about an ounce...and Frost tells me that an ounce of pure gold is worth over one-and-a-half thousand dollars in his world, with platinum being worth almost the same amount. To put that into perspective for you, a bag of a dozen apples in his world costs about five dollars."

"Ah charge two bits fer a bag here...wow, tha's still a lot of money." Applejack voiced.

I nodded. "What Earth considers 'precious metals', we use every day for currency, clothing, jewelry, and other common things. We have a lot more of it here on Terra than Earth does...which is why it's so much more valuable there. So to answer the main question, we can just trade in bits for currency on that planet...which means we'll have no problem when it comes to money."

Luna tilted her head back and forth a few times before nodding. "That appears to make sense. It seems we will be funded to do nearly anything we wish then."

I nodded. "Yep, we're going to have lots of fun." I then looked at the clock, noticing it was well past four. "Anyway, we should all clean things up and head home. I've got reports to go through tomorrow in preparation for the final offensive, and I want to make sure everything's in order."

Everypony nodded and began to clean things up as they headed towards the exits. Thankfully, the library had been preserved, and my guests all did their part in helping pick things up, so after about twenty minutes, the library was clean and empty, save for me, Luna, and Celestia.

Both princesses gave me a hug, and Celestia said, "It was so wonderful to see everpony again." They both released me and the sun princess looked to her sister. "Coming Luna?"

The moon princess shook her head as she glanced at me. "I will stay with Twilight tonight, sister."

My mentor nodded with a smile as she nuzzled her sister. "Very well. I will see the two of you tomorrow." She then walked over to me and embraced me in a hug. "I have missed you, Twilight. Seeing you today has made the wait worth it though. I am so proud of you."

I didn't even have to ask what she was referring to. I mean, going from a unicorn that specifically studied spells and the magic of friendship to planning and coordinating nearly the entire military of Equestria was a feat in itself, but to do it so well was something else. I'd come to terms with the fact that lives were going to be lost – and in all honesty, it was something I still cried about every now and then – but with my tactics and the princess' guidance, I had saved more than we lost. Some days it didn't feel that way, but luckily I had my friends to remind me of just how close we were to ending this.

Which was why Princess Celestia's words had such power over me.

With tears flowing down my cheeks, I looked at my teacher and friend with a bright smile. "Thank you so much, Princess Celestia...that means a lot to me."

The solar princess released me and kissed my forehead softly with a smile. "I will contact the two of you tomorrow with any updates I have. In the meantime, relax and enjoy this momentary lull in the action...as you will need the energy and presence of mind for what is to come." She turned around towards the door and opened it, stopping in the doorway. "Protect each other, and stay safe. I will return with the morning's first light." Without another word, she took flight towards Canterlot, just as the sun was beginning to set.

I then looked to Luna and smiled. "Tea and a book?"

"That sounds wonderful, Twilight." she responded with a warm smile.

As the two of us sat next to each other on the loveseat a few hours later, I couldn't help but glance at my reading partner every now and then. It had been a long time since the two of us could simply enjoy each other's company without work coming in the middle of it. It was one of the many things I missed about my 'old' life, and one of the many things I was striving to restore. Life might never be the same again after the war, but then again maybe I didn't want it to be. There had been pain, suffering, and tears shed...but with those also came wisdom beyond anything I ever thought possible. Though war was a terrible thing, it allowed me to put into perspective what was truly important in my life. I still loved to learn new things, but it was decidedly less important now than it once had been. My friends and family now occupied the spot in my heart for what was most important in my life, and I was forever going to make sure that going forward, they knew it.

Looking back, I realized I'd neglected a lot of those relationships in the past. I mean, other than the occasional letter, I hadn't spoken to my parents very much at all over the years. True, I was living on my own now and was independent, but I still shouldn't have been as neglectful as I had been with them. It was rather rude of me to invite them to my home after nearly two years, only for them to find out I was getting married. Even with that being the case though, they didn't berate me for it or even say anything about that. They were happy to see me, and proud of me for all I'd accomplished already. Even as a filly, they were always there for me – encouraging, guiding, and loving. Where once this realization would cause me to have an emotional breakdown, I instead vowed to myself that I would be a better daughter to them, as they'd been the best mother and father I ever could have asked for.

And then there was my other friends.

Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Luna...and even Spike. All of them were far more than I deserved. When I first came to Ponyville, I didn't even want to make friends. I was foolishly caught up in my studies, when I should have realized that the personal connection between two ponies was far more important. After all, the happiness I gained from my friends was far more than studying had ever brought me. It took Luna to show me that, to show me how much more important other ponies were when compared to books. Books couldn't love me, tell me that they cared, and they couldn't keep me safe. They couldn't comfort me when I woke up from a bad dream, or hold me close and kiss me on a cold winter night. I had Celestia-knows how much life ahead of me, and yet I felt that I'd robbed myself of those years in the beginning.
I chose not to dwell on the negative though, as I looked to the moon princess beside me. Her tongue was sticking out of her mouth cutely as she read the novel in her magical grasp. It was the little things like this that made me smile, reminding me that while an ancient and powerful being, she was every bit a pony as the rest of us in some ways. More so, she desired to be seen that way by her subjects. It was a difficult balance to be loved by ponies and still be seen as a respected ruler however, but Luna seemed to have nailed it. Since being re-assimilated into modern society, she had become a benevolent ruler, just like her sister. She was kind and loving to all, and yet firm and powerful when it was needed. It was the little things like this that I found so endearing...and Celestia-willing, it was what I hoped to be someday.

I continued to spend time with Luna for the rest of the day, and before I knew it, she was raising the moon into the sky to bring forth the night. I was still awed by the amount of power she must have had to control to be able to do it, but she explained to me that she the moon was simply an extension of her own consciousness...and to control it was as easy as blinking her eyes. Still, what was normal for her was still amazing to me, and I made sure to tell her so.

"But you move such a large celestial body through the sky not just once, but twice every day! How is that not amazing?" I asked fervently.

Luna blushed at this and grinned. "I thank you Twilight, but it is nothing special."

I rolled my eyes with a warm smile of my own. "Luna, you help the passing of days, possibly one of the most important responsibilities that could ever be. Your nights are always beautiful, and I know I'm not the only pony that thinks so." I then placed a hoof on her side and gazed at her with great care. "Which is why we are bringing back an ancient holiday, known as the Lunar Festival."

The Lunar Festival was a holiday held on the day of the winter solstice since ancient times. Unfortunately it was a forgotten holiday, long since abandoned since the rise of Nightmare Moon. I had already spoken with Princess Celestia about this, and as Luna gasped in shock, I could tell I'd made the right choice. Celestia had the Summer Sun Celebration...but Luna's holiday was forgotten.

That was something I wouldn't allow...not now, or ever again.

After my declaration, Luna was flabbergasted. Her mouth hung open and her eyes were distant, and I could tell she had literally been shocked beyond belief. Not only at the fact that I even knew what the Lunar Festival was, but also the fact that I had pushed to get it reinstated as an Equestrian holiday. Luna and I were a lot alike when it came to self-esteem: we had little to none. Yet, that was why we were such a great pair. Both of us knew how the other felt about herself, and uplifted the other when she was feeling bad about herself. It was because of this knowledge that I knew she needed this. For so long, she had lived in her sister's shadow, at no fault of Celestia's...but now we had a chance to correct that. For the first time in nearly two-thousand years, the Celestial Twins would truly be equals in Equestria again. It was what I believed was an injustice that had gone uncorrected for far too long.

But now I could change that.

Finally, the lunar princess composed herself and found her voice. "T-Twilight, I..."

Before she could go further, I simply embraced her in a hug. "I've already worked out the details with Princess Celestia...and she agrees with me completely. You've done more than anypony could ask for to deserve equality again, so this was something I wanted to do."

"Twilight...I have no words to express how I feel right now." she stated, on the verge of tears.

I just smiled and nuzzled her cheek as I continued the embrace. "You don't need to thank me, Luna...we all love you and want you to be as happy as can be."

Luna released me and her horn began to glow as her eyes closed. For a few seconds, her face was a canvas of intense concentration, but then the aura of her horn changed from blue to solid black. The black aura seeped off of her horn and onto the floor like smoke, slowly congealing into a shape that I had never thought to see again, and especially not separate from Luna...

Nightmare Moon, the avatar of night.

The Queen of Night opened her slitted eyes and gazed around the room before settling on me. Instead of anger, loathing, or sadness towards me, I saw gratitude and happiness. She was taller than Luna by almost a foot, and her wings were much larger. Where once this form would instill fear in me and anger, I was now ready for anything she could throw at me.

"Dear Twilight Sparkle...we thank you for your wonderful gift to us. Without you, our sacred holiday might have never come about again." the black alicorn praised.

Okay...maybe I wasn't ready for anything.

Luna then added. "I agree. Thank you so much, Twilight. We are forever in your debt for this."

I was frozen in awe. Not only had I received such a heartfelt thanks from one of the ponies I was closest to, but also from the very embodiment of night and darkness...a being I once considered a mortal enemy.

Tears began to well up in my eyes at the thanks I was receiving, and I simply grabbed both larger mares and pulled them into a tight embrace. Much to my surprise, Night did not resist whatsoever. Instead, her foreleg wrapped around my back along with Luna's before a large wing from each alicorn enveloped me in a tight hug.

It appears today is hug day.

As the evening hit the hour of midnight, I felt it was time to finally go to bed, as I had things to do tomorrow. Night was still with Luna and I, and during the hours that had passed, I learned a great deal about her. From this knowledge came understanding of why she did what she had so many years ago. She in fact was simply taking more aggressive action when ponies no longer appreciated the night. As it had Luna, she was angered...but unlike Luna, she took action. I explained to her that while I condemned her actions, I empathized with her feelings on the matter. I understood well what it felt like to have your hard work overlooked, and so perhaps I could be a friend to this ancient being.

Yes...yes I could.

It made sense that Luna was Night's host. Beyond simply being the steward of the night and its denizens, both were very much alike. Both were in fact kind and intelligent, and both were very emotionally fragile. It was something I'd learned just in the short time I'd been speaking to both of them together. Night was the brace that gave Luna strength where she was weak, and Luna was the gentleness that balanced Night when she was too harsh. Two sides to the same coin, as Frost would say. I began to understand that Night was simply misunderstood, as Luna was. She deserves our respect, but also our adoration.

Even a sweet puppy can become mean if it's neglected.

For the longest time, the three of us simply lay on my bed, talking about a bunch of things. It was the first time I'd spoken to anypony where my new job as a general wasn't brought up, or even the war itself. I learned a lot about Luna and Night's past, and was pleased with what I found. I had been right...Night was simply misunderstood. As Frost had taught me, we all had the potential for good and evil within us. Which we choose to follow is what makes us the pony we are.

But we all make mistakes...even an eternal being like Night can be wrong.

Finally, the day began to catch up to me and Luna, and so we lay down and I switched off the light with a flick of magic...but this left Night looking at the two of us with discontent. I could tell she had enjoyed being included in a positive social atmosphere, and that warmed my heart.

I turned to Luna and inclined my head to the black alicorn. "How much longer is the spell active?"

"Approximately nine hours, so long as I do not actively dispel it before then." she answered with a smile, understanding my motive.

I turned to the avatar of darkness with a smile, patting the space next to me. "Come on. You don't have to be alone again."

"I-I don't..." she stuttered nervously.

I rolled my eyes and levitated her over to me, laying my head against her side gently once she stopped flailing. "I forgive you, Night. Whatever happened is in the past. Look to the future and be happy."

As I curled up next to the black pony, I felt Luna shift closer to me and kiss me on the forehead. I then watched as one large black wing encompassed all of us, and warmth spread throughout me. Night smiled happily down at me when I gazed at her, and I lay my head against her soft obsidian fur. The midnight blue alicorn to my right then rested her head on my forehooves, and I closed my eyes...pleased with myself for making a new friend and causing her to smile, all in one night.

Night. The mare was once known as the dreaded Nightmare Moon, bent on bringing about eternal night, and thus likely ending all life in Equestria. Now, she was Night – a friend.

I suppose that one never knows what the day will bring.

As my eyes closed and I began to fall asleep, I felt as Night lay her head over mine as she sighed happily...and therein lie the perfect end to a great day.

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