• Published 9th Mar 2013
  • 3,774 Views, 136 Comments

Unity at Dusk - AlphatheGriffin17

Book III. With the lord of chaos released from stone and being the only none-Element, Dusk is left behind by the others. But he will soon discover that there is much more to him than he could have ever known...

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Celebrations and Isolation

"Whooee, some party, huh Strongheart?" remarked Applejack to the buffalo calf.

"Indeed it is," agreed Strongheart. "Pinkie Pie certainly knows how to host a celebration, to say the least."

"That ain't the half-a it!" She ducked as a stream of confetti shot over her head. "Ah think she put her all inta this one."

"Well, it is quite an event we are celebrating," she noted. Though she wasn't quite used to the atmosphere of it all, she was having a good time at least.

Applejack took a swig from the cup of punch she had and looked across the room. "Ya know, ah knew there was more ta that stallion than met the eye, but even ah wasn't expectin' that."

She followed her gaze to Dusk, who was standing close to Twilight Sparkle, who appeared to be glaring at some hopeful looking mares looking in his direction while he was getting a drink with Spike. The trio of rivals swiftly bolted away, just as he turned back around and Twilight returned to her bright smile, the two of them staying rather close together, almost brushing each other's sides. Their cheeks went red, but neither of them seemed to mind.

She'd noticed that his eye sight didn't seem to have improved by much. When he tried to get a drink, his hoof had lingered for a few moments over the drinks before selecting one, like he had to carefully consider where his hoof would be going before in case it knocked over something. When he turned around to face Twilight, she had to stop him from tripping over another pony's hoof he didn't see. He had returned her gesture with a blush and diverted eyes, no doubt stuttering our some kind of thanks.

"I had a feeling about him too." She watched as the two entered an avid discussion. "But I must admit, the seventh Element… did such a thing even exist before today?"

"Far as Twilight knows, there didn't seem much ta go on, but ah wouldn't really know, that's more her area than mine." She shook her head. "Ah'm still tryin' ta wrap ma head around the whole thing maself."

"I don't think that you're the only one," said Strongheart, still watching Dusk.

She could tell that he was still just as surprised about his hidden destiny as much as they all were. It was in how much more restless he seemed, how much his eyes still held surprise and attempts at comprehension, like someone had just explained something complex to him far too quickly. Still, he seemed perfectly at peace with his fellow unicorn and the two were getting along fine. Until Spike popped up in between them, slapped them both on the backs and chuckled, both of them smiling along but looking rather disappointed.

Strongheart almost shook her head when neither of them said anything more on what was so obvious, so she returned her attention to Applejack, once again feeling comfort from the presence of a good friend.

Strongheart was fitting in well enough. At first, she'd found a little strange and unnerving being here, for the level of activity wasn't really what she was used to. While her tribe did hold celebrations for certain events and they were invited to square dances by the townsfolk, this was on quite another level entirely. All of the noise, yelling and shouting and whooping was getting to her early on and she was tempted to try and leave, possibly find somewhere quieter. Still, her friends from Ponyville had helped her relax into it and members of her tribe and Appleloosa were here too, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

After the spell of chaos had lifted from their town, it didn't take long for the citizens to figure out who their saviours were and the Wielders were soon swamped by admirers and well-wishers. Strongheart and a few of the others were also included, receiving praise and thanks from both ponies and members of her tribe for her bravery, once they were pointed out. That too had been overwhelming, but she accepted it silently and humbly, thanking the spirits of her ancestors for guiding her to this point and aiding in their victory.

Like everypony else, Strongheart was very thankful that the chaos spirit Discord had been stopped once again by friendship's magic. Though she did know and uphold the belief that her people were a proud and noble race, even she couldn't help but giggle a little at the bemused expressions of some of her tribe's bulls when they were released from the influence that controlled them, only to discover that they were dressed in pink tutus and white vests. To say that they were embarrassed would have been an understatement.

The Sky Monarchs had returned to Canterlot to return the Elements of Harmony and the statue of Discord to their rightful places and to organize an official ceremony to commend their efforts. The Night Bringer made particular mention of how brave she had been during what she had been through, praise she accepted with silent awe and surprise. In her eyes, she had only done what was necessary, but it was quite bolstering regardless.

Sometimes a little pride was good to take. Unlike Dusk, she noticed, who seemed to be extremely embarrassed at all of the attention he was getting as the unknown Seventh Element. Seeing him stutter and stumble out his responses had made her giggle a little more too.

In lieu of the defeat of Discord, Pinkie had immediately suggested, despite the celebratory dinner that would be held after the ceremony tomorrow, that they have a party to celebrate. Within minutes, she'd set everything up and now the whole town, including her own tribe and the Appleloosans, were joining in on the party.

Applejack had just come over to engage in conversation, while she had been glancing around unsure as to where to go or what to do. Though her gaze had been looking for one pale yellow stallion in particular, who she'd been awaiting the arrival of since the Appleloosans.

Applejack gave her a sympathetic look. "Ya lookin' mighty lonely there. Fittin' in okay here?"

"Better than I was," she admitted. "Thank you for making me and my people feel welcome in your town."

"Hey, if yer not feelin' welcome in Ponyville, we ain't doin' our job right." They shared a laugh at this. "'Sides, the buffalo have put up with us ponies buttin' in on their land, only figures we should do our best ta return the favour."

"Those pies you make already settle that nicely enough." She still felt her mouth begin water whenever she thought of the food that had ended their conflict.

"How've things been there since we left then?"

"Oh, they've been great!" she assured. "The compromise we made is holding out nicely and, even then, me and Braeburn act as ambassadors for both sides."

"You an' Braeburn huh?" Applejack smiled in a knowing sort of way, but Strongheart didn't really notice. "That mus' be nice for ya."

"It is yes," she nodded, not catching the sly tone in her voice. "He and I get along very well and I think the peace we have is all that much better because of it."

"Ah would think so." She had a casual sip of her punch. "Ya say ya get on well with ma cousin then…"

"Oh yes, we do." She was so happy to talk about him, she was still ignorant of Applejack's look. "He's athletic, fair, pleasant, friendly, caring, strong, and handsome, he's just wonderful."

"Uh huh, sounds ta me like you two seem a lil' more-n jus' good friends."

"Well, that's because we-" With a start she remembered who she was talking to and soon her cheeks were as hot as the desert sun at the highest point. "Um… by which I mean we… I mean, he and I are… well, we're…"

Strongheart didn't really know what to say. She had just said all of that to a member of Braeburn's family without even stopping to think of how she might view their relationship. She didn't look angry about it, but she could be just as easily covering up her anger behind that smile. Fortunately, she was spared her embarrassment.

"Well, ah must say, it's mighty nice-a you that you'd say all-a those things 'bout me." She whirled around and felt her smile grow at the sight of him sweeping off his hat in a bow.

Her mouth fell open and she shifted her eyes from her coltfriend to his cousin. "He's been standing there all of this time, hasn't he?"

"Don't look at me," she dismissed. "His idea, not mine. Anyway, enough about that. How long you two been goin' steady then?"

Strongheart couldn't help but blush as Braeburn put his leg around her. "Not very long. We'd only just begun really when Discord broke free. We were already such good friends and we thought it only made sense to… take things to the next level, despite our differences."

"Yeah, took some discussions with the Chief and the Sherriff though when they both first found out," informed Braeburn. "But once all that was sorted out, they didn't see anythin' wrong with it an' they jus' let us go on ahead."

Strongheart wasn't really sure how Applejack would react. Even if the buffalo and the settlers had their treaty, there were some small tensions between them, mostly coming from cultural or sometimes physical differences. When they'd first admitted it to their leaders that their feelings for each other went beyond friendship, they had at first reacted harshly and forbade it. They, however, weren't willing to let it go that easily. It had been tough, but it had been worth it.

Applejack however only smiled and nodded fondly, immediately making her feel relaxed enough to melt into his embrace.

"Well, ah think it's jus' grand, ah'm happy for ya both," she said honestly, as there was no other way for her to say it. "Ah don' know what everypony else has been sayin', but ah think the two-a you look great tagether."

Braeburn practically beamed. "Well shucks cuz, thanks fer that. The both-a us really appreciate that."

"Yes, this means a lot to us both that you would say that, Applejack." She raised her neck respectfully to her. "I know the two of you are family and I wasn't sure how… well, this would be seen in your eyes."

"We're friends Strongheart, why would ya think somethin' like that?" She tipped her hat to them. "Well, I'm glad ta have helped ya both and ah hope you'll both be happy."

"Of that, I have no doubts." She nuzzled Braeburn's cheek, which he returned with a kiss to hers.

"At least somepony here knows what they want." She saw her eyes flick in Dusk's direction and frown a little, until she smiled again. "Right, ah'm gonna get maself some more punch." She winked as she walked off. "Good evenin', you two."

"See, ah told you she'd be fine with us," Braeburn remarked when they were alone. "Applejack's gonna be jus' fine with with us, ah said and wouldn't ya know it, as was right! After all, she is family."

"Yes, yes you've made your point." She nuzzled him again. "I shouldn't have doubted you Brae, or your family."

"Shoot, t'aint nothin' darlin'," he assured her in his light hearted voice. "So, as ah was wonderin' on over here, lookin' fer the prettiest buffalo ma eyes ever did behold, ah happened ta catch her sayin' certain things about me."

"Oh, did you now?" she asked teasingly.

"Mighty kind-a you, ma sweetheart Strongheart."

"Well, my brave Brae, you shouldn't believe everything you hear." She gazed at him enticingly.

"You sayin' that you didn't mean what you said then? Were you lyin' ta my cousin?"

"I'm saying that maybe I wasn't entirely truthful." She traced her hoof around his face, keeping her smile. "Perhaps I really think that you are all of those things and even more."

He placed a hoof over hers, her cheeks flaring even more from the contact. "An' how might we prove that what you were sayin' is true?"

"Well, there is one way." Both of them thinking the same thing, their lips met in a kiss, which they held for several minutes before breaking apart. "I love you, Braeburn."

"An' ah love you, Little Strongheart." Giggling, she rubbed her nose against his as he glanced over across the room. "Ah'd say that we ain't the only couple at this shindig."

When she looked to where he pointed, she nodded approvingly when she saw that Twilight and Dusk were by themselves again, Spike not too far off at one of the part games. They had just finished speaking and were inches apart from each other, both of them red in the face and smiling shyly, but warmly to each other. They were clearly nervous about something, shifting on their hooves and it seemed only inevitable what would happen. They just had to close the distance… it was so simple yet, as Strongheart knew, so hard as well… would they do it?

In the end however, they both broke eye contact and stared off elsewhere in a mortified way, clearing their throats and stammering. Strongheart couldn't help but sigh as Twilight was called away by Spike and, reluctantly, left her fellow unicorn, regret immediately clouding her face when her back was on him. It was so obvious how they felt for each other, she'd even seen it herself when they were at Appleloosa. Why couldn't they?

"Guess ah spoke too soon." Braeburn seemed to echo her disappointment. "Applejack's said herself that it's so obvious what those two feel for each other, it might as well be blowin' an entire brass section right in front-a their faces."

"Sometimes the things we miss are the most obvious," she mused.

"Ah guess," shrugged Braeburn. "Shame really. That Dusk is a nice feller and that Twilight's a sweet lil' mare. Ah bet they'd look great tagether."

"On this, you and I are agreed." She looked back at him, lost in his eyes once more. "Oh well, we both know how that feels. I'm sure the truth will out, soon enough."

"Hope so." He looked back over at Dusk and his face fell. "Oh, he don't look too happy, does he?"

When Strongheart checked, she could see what he meant. Dusk's head was bowed in disappointment, his stature weighed down with sadness. It would be easy to pass it off as just berating himself for not saying anything to Twilight, but Strongheart could see there was more to it than that. She had seen it before when she'd looked into his eyes. A lingering guilt from some unknown crime, a heavy conscience weighing on his mind as great as a mountain. And there was something else too, a darkness that she couldn't quite make out, the remnants of a shadow in the depths of his mind.

She didn't know what it was exactly, but when she'd seen it, just for a second, it had made her spine tingle and feel uneasy. And very rarely did Little Strongheart feel uneasy.

"Reckon we should go talk to him?"

Strongheart didn't answer Braeburn at once, but merely watched as Dusk, unnoticed by anypony else, placed his empty glass hard on the table, turned about and left the party, only lingering in the doorway a moment to gaze one last time at Twilight. A second later, he was gone as easily as a shadow vanished in the light.

"I think this is something he needs to deal with himself. Besides," she added sombrely, "I don't think we're the ones he needs to talk to."

"You reckon so?" He looked at the door when Strongheart nodded. "Too bad, ah feel kinda bad fer him. Can't be easy ta deal with, a thing like that."

"No, I imagine not." Only to Strongheart did she know that she was referring to more than his failed attempts at romance.

"Oh well, let's not get ourselves all upset." His face brightened up in the boyish way it did. "Hey, let's go play Pin the Tail on the Pony! Ah'll show ya how ta play!"

"That sounds like a good idea. Hold on, I'll join you in a moment." He nodded, kissed her cheek and set off for the closest game.

Strongheart smiled as he left and looked towards the door again. The thought of Dusk in her mind, she stomped her hoof on the ground, grinded it for a few seconds, lifted it up to her mouth and blew the dust she had gathered in the direction of the door. An act performed by her people to ward off evil influences. Somehow though, she knew she wouldn't have had to explain that to Dusk.

"Be strong, Dusk. Let the light prevail." With that, she turned to rejoin Braeburn and let him show her how to play this new game.

As soon as he left the bustle and noise of the party, Dusk felt something akin to relaxation. Being out here, in the cool night air with the stars shining down on him and the moon hung in the sky, he felt at peace with himself. The silence was tranquil, not oppressive, soothing his mind and relieving all of the pressures that he had been feeling. He felt like he could just stand here and he would be forever at peace, free from pain. Perhaps Twilight could join him and the two of them would have their perfect moment in time, even more so than when they'd danced at the Gala…

Then the memories returned again, the screams and the cries, the destruction, the chaos and the laughter… his laughter. No, he would never be at peace and he didn't want Twilight, nor anypony else to see him like this, not after all they'd been through. Part of him wanted to go back inside, find her and his friends and hold them close, never letting go and letting them tell him it would be all right. Of course that would be the right thing to do. But he couldn't, not anymore… not after what he'd done and not after what he'd now discovered he was. He'd need to be stronger now, to take care of his own problems.

"I'm an Element now," he whispered to himself, "I need to be more resilient than I was, I need to show I deserve this responsibility…" He sighed and kept walking. Even to him, that just sounded like a lie. He'd just have to get used to it.

So, that was why he'd now left the celebrations and had started to make his way back home. He didn't want to see anypony else anymore, not tonight. He didn't want to read, or to think or to speak or do anything. He was just tired… so tired… more than he'd ever felt in his life. He needed to rest… he'd earned that much anyway. So, with a heavy heart, he made his way back through the darkened streets of Ponyville, as best he could with his now terrible eyes.

Though Dusk knew just as well the power the Elements of Harmony had, it was still a little unnerving to actually see the effect that it had on their once chaotically driven home. Before, the level of change was unbelievable, with floating homes and candy floss clouds as far as the eye could see, not to mention the streets that were swarming with Paraserpents, thriving and feeding off the suffering their master had caused. With everypony discorded and unable or unwilling to rise up and stop Discord, it seemed like Ponyville would stay this way forever, along with all of Equestria once the chaos spread further.

Now though, thanks to the wondrous magic of the Elements, everything was back to as it was, like Discord had never returned. The candy clouds had gone, houses were fixed firmly back on the ground and everything that even related to chaos had gone. With the obvious exception of Pinkie, but her being gone would hardly be a good thing. Even his home, which had been destroyed by Blackhole, was back to normal. He had been there previously to find that everything was repaired, the interior, exterior, fence, plants, the whole thing was back like it had been built brand new once again.

The Elements, what a concept, he thought to himself, hiding in the shadows from a few ponies that passed down the streets. He didn't want to be seen by anypony else tonight… He stood up to set off again and tripped over a rock he didn't see.

Once again the mixed feelings he had for discovering that he was in fact the unknown and long lost seventh Element of Harmony swamped his mind while he picked himself up and dusted off the dirt as best he could. Primarily, he was utterly shocked that such a thing even existed once he'd figured it out, even more so to the fact that it was him. Him, little Dusk Noir. On the one hoof he was rather grateful that now, as far as being an Element went, he was no longer the odd one out in the group, apart from still being the only stallion. Now in future, if they ever needed the Elements again, he could be there with them and actually be useful, rather than just the fifth wheel.

On the other hoof though… it just seemed like some kind of cruel joke. He'd heard all the ponies at the party say how brave he was, how wonderful it was that he was Unity and he just felt rather uncomfortable with all of this praise and attention until he just wanted to close his eyes and wish they were all gone. He also heard them talking, with more than an undertone of fear, about a stallion with fur as dark as night that had been helping Discord and torturing them, tormenting and terrorizing them with his horrible magic, laughing while he did it and screeching like a predator in rage and that just made him feel worse. He'd break eye contact, lose track of what he was saying and try his best to block out what he could hear in his own memories…

It must have shown in his face because then they'd say, including his friends, that they understood what he'd been through and he had to restrain himself to stop a decisive laugh come out. True, everypony had their bad memories and experiences of what they'd suffered under Discord's tyranny, things that they'd done that they regretted or things done to them they'd rather forget as soon as possible. But how could any of them even begin to comprehend what he was going through, what he had been through and what he now had to live with. He just said a quiet thanks and kept back a scowl when they turned away from him.

What did they know? What did any of them know? But at least they were trying, so that was something, especially Twilight. Despite his guilt from the pain he'd caused her and the others, he still felt a flutter in his chest when she drew close to him now, those warm feelings whenever she gazed at him that just made him feel like all was well in the world… with her.

Then, there was his cutie mark. He was still getting used to the fact that the little scroll of knowledge was now gone and replaced with the circle of colour. That mark had been as much a part of him as his legs and fur, so of course it felt very strange. Yet, in another way, it also felt rather enriching, for it showed what his true special talent was and the previous one had just been a kind of mask to disguise what his true talent. Though he missed the scroll, he rather preferred this new one. How would his parents react when they saw that, considering…

Still, he thought to himself, unlocking the door to his home and stepping inside, it was his problem, not anypony else's and he'd deal with it in his own way. He'd dealt with the nightmares from his first encounter with the Paraserpent and he'd always managed with similar things on his own before, he would do so again this time. Trying to feel at peace with himself, he let a light guide him to his bed, not even bothering to turn on the lights in his home. What was the point, he could barely see a thing anyway.

He knew Ophelia would be out hunting and he left a window open for her to return later. He removed his hat and placed it on his bedpost and reached to remove Twilight's necklace only to remember that it was no longer there. Only realising now how he missed its once comforting weight around his neck, the love he always felt when he remembered what it meant to him and to the pony that gave it to him, he crawled into his bed and pulled up the covers around his body. At least she, his little owl, was still with him, so that was something.

His eyelids sliding shut and clouding his already blurry eyes, Dusk's last thought before he drifted into the land of dreams was if his eyes really would get better or if, like his mind, they would be forever scarred, never to heal…

Everything was perfect when he fell to sleep and awoke to the dawn of a new day in his home. The sun was shining high up the sky, the rays beaming down on the rivers and making the surface sparkle like diamonds. Ponyville was picture perfect, beams of light brightening the already wonderful and homely houses, making it look more like something out of a storybook. The animals were playing in the fields, the birds were chirping the trees, their sweet melodies gracing and playing on his ears, a beautiful and enriching sound. Brightly coloured flowers were sprouting from their stalks, bees buzzing in and out of them, adding their own beauty to this already utopian image.

Dusk emerged from his home and took in a deep breath of the early morning air, just glad that everything was back the way it was meant to be. It was just another perfect day in Ponyville and one that made him glad to be residing here. As always, he'd be on time to perform his normal duties in the library. Another day would be spent trading quips with Spike and shy smiles with Twilight, sorting out books, taking notes for her and relaxing with a book at lunch time with his fellow librarians, perhaps sharing another awkward, yet pleasing moment when he and Twilight's hooves accidently touched each other or their sides brushed against one another for a moment. Then he'd always wonder if it really was an accident.

When he looked down, he saw that Twilight's necklace was still around his neck and his cutie mark was still a scroll. So, that whole Discord incident had just been some horrible nightmare. He wasn't really the seventh Element of Harmony after all, how could he be? He was nothing special, just Dusk Noir and he was just fine with things like that. Sure, he wouldn't much use if the Elements were needed, but he didn't want a responsibility like that, the attention and pressure that would come with such a duty. He would just be there in background, still helping but never really seen. It was better that way. He didn't really have some terrible darker side in his mind, Luna had told him so. It was just some little fear that he had and nothing more. Why on earth would he think of something like that anyway?

"Oh well, back to business," he said to himself brightly, perhaps a little too brightly. "Keep calm and carry on, as they say." Again, it sounded a little strange how happy he was while he continued on.

When he got into town, it was just as welcoming and warm as he knew it to be. Just the way I prefer it, he thought happily, walking off into town and whistling on the way to work. Just when he wondered if Applejack had baked another apple pie down at the farm or if Pinkie would want him to sample some new cupcake recipe with the others, his eyes caught sight of some other ponies also leaving their homes to go about their daily routines. They also looked just as happy and thankful for this wonderful day as he was. A few caught sight of him, smiled in a friendly way and raised their hooves to wave and wish him a good morning. He beamed back and was about to return the greeting, when he stopped and faltered.

Something was wrong here and it took a little bit of thinking with his usually sharp mind before he noticed it. Their smiles looked too wide, too happy, to a point where they looked false. Their faces were stretched and warped from how big their smiles were growing, like a distorted image in one of those funhouse mirrors. Except while those could be funny, this was a little eerie and disturbing and it made Dusk feel uncomfortable looking at them.

They seemed to notice, but their smiles didn't falter. "Something wrong there?" Even their voices sounded more like actors rehearsing lines for a show rather than actual ponies talking.

He was about to say what was bothering him, but maybe he was just thinking about too hard, seeing strange things were there none.

"No, everything's fine," he answered back. "Have a great day."

"You too! After all, it is a beautiful day, wouldn't want to waste it!" There was that uncomfortable feeling again and he couldn't help but quicken his pace to the library.

Perhaps he'd stop noticing after a while and he still felt a little drowsy and needed to wake himself up a bit. But the feeling didn't go away and nopony else in the town looked anymore normal than the two he'd met before. They all had those too wide smiles, those strangely distorted faces as he quick-walked through town to the library. What made it worse was that they all stopped to look at him while he walked by and their smiles were even more disturbing when they grew wider at the sight of him. He stopped returning them after a while and ended up sprinting for the library.

He hurried inside, slamming the door behind him and breathing heavily. He gripped the necklace around his neck and tried his best to calm down. What was going on today? Was there some kind of creature or magic affecting Ponyville, making everypony act like this? Or maybe it was something affecting him, altering his perceptions. Was it Discord, manipulating his thoughts and warping his view of his home to confuse him? Some new form of torture the lord of chaos had devised against him…

Wait, how did that make any sense? He only knew about Discord from the many history books that he'd read and he knew for a fact that he was frozen in stone in the Royal Canterlot Gardens right this minute. He'd never actually met the spirit of disharmony, so where in Equestria had he got an idea like that from? Something strange was going on here and he had to figure out what. Perhaps Twilight would know what was going on…

"Oh, there you are Dusk." He whipped his head up to see the mare he held so dear, smiling that same smile as the rest of the town. "Are you okay? You look a little shaken."

"No, I'm not okay Twi," he replied. "Something really weird is going on and I don't what might be causing it."

"What do you mean? There's nothing going on, it's just another perfect day." She cocked her head to one side, still smiling. "Are you feeling well?"

"I… I don't know…" His mind was clouded and he wasn't sure what to think. "You… you're the same as the others too…"

"Dusk, what are you talking about? It's me, Twilight Sparkle, your best friend. What do you mean 'them'?"

"I… I… I don't know, it's just…" He glanced around the library, for he could have sworn it had flickered like a reel on a film projector. "It's just… something doesn't feel right."

"You're probably just tired, do you need a lie down?" She took a few steps closer and he was surprised to find himself backing away. "Dusk, you don't need to be scared of me."

"I'm… not so sure. This just doesn't feel real…" He glared at her. "Who are you and what have you done with my friend?"

"What? What's that supposed to mean?" That smile became even creepier, making his skin crawl. "I really think you need a lie down."

"No, no I don't!" he was yelling now, scrabbling to get away. He hit the wall and heard something crack. "Keep away from me!"

"But Dusk…" Now her voice became deeper than it should be and it made him freeze when he recognised it. "I insist!"

In that instant, the cracking grew louder and he looked up to see the walls of the library splintering all around him, a white light shining through them that was as blinding as the sun's glare. With a sound like shattering glass, the pieces of the illusion fell around him, revealing what truly lay underneath. The sky was a deep red now, crimson clouds trailing across it like splashes of blood. Everything was dead, the flowers withered and decayed, homes were now smoking ruins and skeletons of ponies littered the ground.

Within the stump of the once proud tree, where Twilight had been there stood a stallion with fur as dark as his heart, a wild mane as white as bones, the raging fire of his cutie mark emblazoned on his flank. The way his muscles rippled, it actually looked like an inferno. That hideous abomination of a smile was on his face, with rage and anger being the only things that burned in his jade green, slit-like eyes, which were locked on him like a beast.

"You," he breathed, fear paralysing him. "No…

"Hello brother," growled Blackhole. "Did you miss me?"

"No… no this can't be," he said desperately. "I defeated you, you're gone!"

"Gone?" He made that choked, strangled sound that Dusk knew to be his laughter. "I am a part of you, that piece of your mind you try to ignore. But though you try, I'm still here and I will never leave."

"Get back!" Blackhole had taken a few more steps forward, a faint glow in his horn. "What are you doing here? What do you want?"

"But Dusk, don't you see?" He gestured round at the destroyed husk that was once Ponyville. "This is what I wanted. To destroy the world that you knew would never accept you and you could never be a part of." He paused, letting his words and the silence sink in. "See, isn't this so much better?"

"No…" Dusk gazed around at all of the destruction, the dead, quite unable to take it all in. "You… you monster!"

"Talking to yourself in the first sign of madness," he retorted. "Besides, whose failure is the greater here? Mine… or yours?"

"What? How can this possibly be my failure?!" he demanded.

"Isn't it obvious? Look," he said, pointing to his neck.

Dusk looked to see that the string of stones had been replaced the silver, jewel encrusted form of his Element, Unity. Glancing back, he could see that his scroll mark was gone and the mark for his colour talent was there instead. At first, he wondered why things had changed now and he looked so different. Now, he remembered and it made him recoil in fear and shame.

"Now you know," Blackhole growled. "It was your task to stop me, to hold me at bay and prevent my work from being complete. After all, you are the seventh Element."

"No… no…"

"But as you can see, you failed, as you surely knew that you would." The ground seemed to shake as he stepped closer. "Perhaps somepony made a mistake picking you for such a responsibility, since you obviously couldn't handle it."

"No! No, I never asked for this!"

"That doesn't matter. What does matter is what's happened as a result." A skull crumbled to dust as he stamped on it. "You failed and now they're all dead, because of you."

Dusk felt the wall, cold and harsh, against his back and scrabbled desperately against it. "Stay away from me! No, get back!"

"All of these dead, all of them are on your hooves." He stopped and scooped up a skull. "Why, I do believe this was your friend Fluttershy. She isn't looking so well, is she?"

"Little sister… no!"

"And look, here's Applejack. Honesty didn't help her did it? Nor did loyalty save Rainbow Dash. Not so tough now, is she?"

"Stop it! Just, STOP!"

He crushed another skull and cackled. "Oops, I think that was Pinkie. Or perhaps Rarity, I have no idea."

"No! NO!"

"And look…" He picked up the skull of a unicorn and shoved it into his face. "Here's your dear sweet Twilight Sparkle. Oh, you must feel the worst about her, musn't you?"

"No… no, not her too!" He shut his eyes and looked away. "Stop, please, stop!"

"Look at her! Tell her how useless you were, how pathetic your 'faith' was." He felt the cold bone against his face. "She had faith in you, even though she thought otherwise and now look at her!"

"No! Please, no more!"

"I said LOOK AT HER! LOOK AT HER!" He heard the sound of breaking bone again. "You failed Dusk, you failed them all! I want you to see that! See it!"


"They're all dead, all rotting and decaying and it's all because of you! You let them down! YOU!"



"No, please, just stop! I know, I know, but please just don't… don't show me anymore."

"Dusk, open your eyes. Thou art safe now." Wait… that voice didn't belong to his darker side. It was softer, kinder and definitely wasn't a stallion's…

He dared to peak through his eyes, still remembering the sight of all of those skulls and bones littering ground and was equally shocked to see that the environment had changed. He was no longer in Ponyville, but the Star Tower in Canterlot, overlooking a starlit sky and a tranquil Equestria. There at the balcony was the princess who brought that night, smiling kindly and filling him with so much relief, he felt like he would cry.

"Luna…" His words caught in his throat. "I thought I was… that he… how could he?"

"I know, I know." Compassion shone from her like the moon she raised. "I saw it too. It was… beyond description. But it's gone now, just a nightmare."

"A… a nightmare? Then this is…?" He reached out and touched the floor with his hoof and it shimmered slightly, like a surface of water disturbed by a leaf. "This is… a dream?"

"Yes, just a dream, no matter how real it might seem," she agreed. "As thou may know, as Princess of the Night, it is my duty to…"

Dusk nodded and picked up from where she spoke. "To watch over the dreams of your subjects. I remember reading that… thank you."

"Well, I couldn't just leave thee to thy fears, not after when thou hast already been through so much." She shook her head softly. "Thou doesn't deserve that."

"Even so, thank you…"

There was silence between the two of them, enough for Dusk to recall some other details that he thought he had forgotten. Who was it that had first taken that interest in him? Who was it that had sent him to the Everfree Forest on some mysterious mission? Who was it that seemed to be hiding something from him?

He met her gaze steadily and she must have known what he would say, for she diverted it for a moment. "You knew, didn't you? What I am?"

She was still silent for a moment, perhaps considering whether or not to tell him. Finally, she breathed, "Yes, I did."

"But… how? How could you have known?"

Her ocean-blue eyes met his emerald green, still shining with the same compassion and care that Celestia's did, but that most seemed to always forget about. That was something else that they shared, that they always seemed to be overlooked and forgotten about. But while Dusk never thought of himself as important, it was even crueler for Luna. When she worked so hard to bring the night and her sister always received the love and admiration… that just wasn't fair. No wonder she became so bitter.

In the end, she sighed and stood up. "Normally, I would say thou would not believe me if I said. But after all that's happened, thou deserves to know the truth."

"What truth?"

"Come with me, young Dusk." She gestured for him to stand by her side. "It's time I showed you something important."

He hesitated for a moment, but joined her regardless. "Showed me what?"

The air shimmered around them again and Dusk let himself be guided away by the Princess. "Thy inheritance… and the truth."

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