Chapter Twenty Eight - The Solstice (Part Two)
She hesitated to call this penance, but it needed to be done no matter how much it hurt to dredge up memories which were, in all honesty, better off not forgotten. She owed that much at least to the world even if nopony else ever read her journals.
Twilight was the first to snap back into action. Her eyes took in the scattered bearers around her. Flash had crumpled to his knees. Trixie wasn’t even in the room. Lyra looked spell shocked just from Luna’s unrestrained magical aura. Sweetie Belle had placed herself in front of the Crusaders. Pinkie Pie was…moving to help Lyra and make herself useful? Perfect!
But they weren’t ready. They’d been caught off guard.
Twilight would just have to be ready enough for all of them.
She spared no time to witness Luna manifest for the first time in a millennium nor to ensure the traps were working as intended. She hardly needed to. The hurricane of magic from Luna tearing them to pieces with sheer brute force was hard to mistake.
No, instead Twilight flew into action. She teleported Sweetie Belle over to Lyra and Pinkie Pie. She couldn’t interrupt the latter two if she wanted a chance to use the Elements, so there they would gather.
At the same time, Twilight hit Flash with a lightning fast but poorly controlled burst of her telekinesis to get his attention. It was enough to stagger him, but it got the job done. She thrust a hoof up at the trio of bearers already gathered and hoped he could figure out the rest. Thankfully, he did. Loyalty got him into place in a blink.
That just left Trixie. Twilight had no idea where she was beyond ‘nearby’. By the time anypony could hunt her down, Luna would have already long since won. She could only hope Trixie showed up in the next one or two seconds.
Twilight swore under her breath. That wasn’t realistic. She had to activate contingency plans instead.
Reaching out with her magic, Twilight dispelled several of the timing mechanisms governing the traps for Luna. That would resequence the entire system to play out at a slower rate, but it came at a cost. It ran the risk of Luna finding a way out early. Without overwhelming her with spells from every direction meant to put her down long enough to secure, she could slip out of the net.
Hopefully, she wouldn’t notice the change.
At almost the same time Twilight teleported herself into place beside the other bearers, Trixie reappeared. She froze up, however, when her eyes landed on her old mentor. There was pain there but also joy and concern, and then her face twisted into some mixed expression Twilight couldn’t read.
Moon Dancer rolled high on initiative. For all her vast knowledge and skill, she wasn’t a fast spellcaster. Instead of teleporting or choosing some other more expeditious course of action, she rushed up to Trixie on hoof. She shook the mare, said something with clear urgency, and pointed toward the rest of the bearers.
It was all precious moments wasted.
Even so, Trixie got the message. Her eyes lingered on Luna for a few fractions of a second longer before she teleported into place and completed the set.
“Laughter!” Twilight hissed.
An instant later, Trixie summoned it to her.
They were ready, and just in time. The traps had nearly run out of steam.
“Now!” It was all the instruction for which Twilight had time to spare.
Even so, it was enough.
Twilight reached out for the other bearers through Magic, and they responded one after another. The Elements shone with power, raw unimaginable power Twilight had only ever had under her marginal control once before. It swelled between the bearers, cycling properly this time now that all six of them were together.
Yet flaws remained. So intimately connected to her fellow bearers, Twilight could feel the problems.
Lyra was barely functional in the middle of a PTSD episode.
Something had upset Flash recently.
Trixie was reluctant.
As a whole, they might be called a clique. Pairwise, fewer of them were friends.
But it was better than last time. It was still power overwhelming. It would have to be enough.
Twilight took the energy she did have at her disposal, concentrated it, imbued it as best as she could with her intention to take away Luna’s anger, and directed it straight at her friend.
One of her closest friends.
Twilight wordlessly begged Magic not to pull its punch just because she’d flinched.
The magic she’d unleashed, whatever it intended to do, flew straight toward Luna. Last time, it’d taken the visible form of a chaotic blend of every color of the rainbow. This time it had far more coherency. Would that make it more effective? Was it just because Kindness had taken part in forming it this time?
Twilight gnawed at her lip as she watched the rainbow carve its way through the few remaining traps as if they weren’t even there. Luna stood right in its path, unmoving.
This was going to work.
This was really going to work!
Luna smacked the rainbow into the ground with a hoof.
Twilight gaped at the sight.
She’s part earth pony. She can channel magic like that.
That’s probably the point.
The thoughts flew by in an instant. Then the backlash from whatever Luna had done hit her. A scream ripped its way out of Twilight’s mouth as an alien pain certainly not biological surged through her. Somehow, she retained just enough command over the Elements to prevent it from spreading to the others.
But there yet remained an enormous amount of built up magic that Twilight couldn’t control anymore. When the Elements failed, it burst out of the conduits of power they’d constructed all at once. The resulting explosion of magic sent the bearers flying radially outward from their center.
At the head of the group, that sent Twilight rocketing toward Luna and catching both of them by surprise.
She took her chance.
Twilight focused power into her horn. It hurt. It hurt just like when she’d contaminated her own magic. But she pushed through both the searing pain and the exhaustion that accompanied using the Elements to fire off a rudimentary sleep spell.
Eyes wide, Luna just barely managed to throw an uncontrolled burst of magic at the spell to disrupt it before Twilight crashed into her. Twilight almost blacked out from the impact alone, but it was too much to hope that Luna had as well. She was, after all, as physically sturdy as any earth pony.
That didn’t stop the pair from tumbling end over end across the floor through the throne room of the Old Castle, however. Despite everything, Luna grabbed hold of Twilight and took the hit first just before they slammed into the wall.
Twilight swallowed another scream when she felt one of her legs bend the wrong way against the ground. She had a polymorph active. She’d be fine. Everypony would be fine. Everypony was prepared for this sort of worst-case scenario. Even Luna would regenerate quickly. They would all be fine.
An ominous scraping filled the air.
That was the sound of stone against stone, wasn’t it?
They’d hit the already crumbling wall of this ruin of a castle fairly hard, hadn’t they? Well, at least the throne room had lost some of its roof in the original battle between Luna and Celestia. This would hurt that much less.
Then came the rumbling of bricks falling, just as Twilight had expected. Perfect. This was just what she needed.
That was, of course, sarcasm. If the mere thought of casting another spell didn’t make her nauseous, it might not have been. Perhaps she could have knocked Luna out magically, but that option was beyond her. She had an alicorn-grade tranquilizer in her bag of holding, but that had the same problem. There was no way she’d be able to manage the magical coordination necessary to even withdraw it right now, let alone use it. She could try to strangle Luna until she passed out, but as they’d already established, alicorns were part earth pony. That wouldn’t work.
The only real chance they had left was to surprise Luna with the crystal mirror.
And so Twilight affected a defeated sigh. “Thanks for the catch,” she said just before the castle brickwork fell on top of them.
As the throne room crumbled, Moon Dancer barely had the time to urge the uninvolved foals in the room to gather around her. She cast a hasty, domed shield to protect them, and it only just held against one of the throne room’s great columns falling on top of them.
Slowly, the dust settled. At the far end of the hall, Princess Luna became the first to emerge from beneath the rubble. She threw aside the stone with barely a flex of the power at her disposal. And now that Moon Dancer had the chance to really take her in, it was Princess Luna, not Nightmare Moon. Princess Celestia had told the whole world that her sister was coming home without ever once mentioning the mare’s evil alter ego, but anypony who’d paid close enough attention could tell she’d replied to almost every question about the details with a careful nonanswer or a misleading truth.
Apparently, there’d been something to Princess Celestia’s unrelenting confidence that it would in fact be her sister who came back to Equestria.
Princess Luna pulled the bloody, broken mess that was Twilight out after her. Moon Dancer’s heart leapt into her throat at the sight, at least up until the princess dispelled Twilight’s polymorph and returned her to good health.
Oh. Right. Moon Dancer had forgotten for a moment that nopony here could die so easily. But they did need to dig everypony out quickly. If left in this state for too long, their magic might disperse. If that happened, there would be no saving them.
Moon Dancer immediately set to the task. She recalled where Flash had crashed and scryed for him underneath the crushing weight of the stone. It wasn’t a pretty sight, but she teleported him out to safety and restored him fully to life. He thanked her for the assistance once he stirred, but there was something wrong.
“Why is your wing still broken?” Had Moon Dancer done something incorrectly when she’d dispelled his polymorph?
“Ah, it was already like that,” Flash replied, setting Moon Dancer at ease. “I got caught up in the whole Eclipse affair at the castle.”
Meanwhile, the two fillies had managed to find their friend. Sweetie Belle had gotten somewhat lucky. The wall she’d hit had given way and let her fly through right into the branches of a tree outside. It still must have hurt terribly, and she was covered in tree sap, but she was in one piece.
On the other side of what once was the throne room, Pinkie Pie had apparently managed to rescue herself. She made her way over to Twilight to offer a shoulder to lean on, and Twilight certainly looked like she needed it. Physically, she seemed well and whole, but the expression on her face made it clear that just staying conscious remained a struggle.
With Flash helpfully pointing her position out, Princess Luna pulled Trixie from the rubble. The moment their eyes truly met was almost painfully awkward to watch. The princess offered her a small smile, but she only looked away. Moon Dancer wondered what the story was there.
After that, Flash directed the group to Lyra Heartstrings. Before Princess Luna could unearth her, Twilight gestured for the princess to lean closer. She whispered something that even Pinkie Pie, the pony helping her stand upright, probably couldn’t overhear into Princess Luna’s ear.
“Truly?” No small amount of surprise filled Princess Luna’s voice, and Twilight, of course, nodded. “I recall what you told me about her, but I didn’t expect that. Such interesting company you keep.”
So there were even more secrets, it seemed. Twilight and Princess Luna somehow knew one another, apparently. Moreover, whatever Twilight had revealed led the princess to free up some space underneath the rubble around Lyra Heartstrings rather than simply remove her from it. Princess Luna only then dispelled her polymorph, which Moon Dancer assumed meant she had a secret identity that she wanted to remain secret.
Moon Dancer resisted the urge to peek with a bit of divination magic.
It took a little while after that before the mare herself popped out from beneath the pile of stone and rejoined the group, although that didn’t last very long. Lyra Heartstrings shrank under the weight of Princess Luna’s curious eyes. “I, uh… Twilight, I’m just gonna go get some fresh air, if that’s okay?” She barely waited for an answer before she fled the room at a canter.
Without a word, Trixie spun on her hooves and followed after at a far more casual pace.
Well, that happened.
Princess Luna let out a little sigh at Trixie’s departure, one more seen than heard. Soon enough, however, she pushed that strange melancholy aside and turned to Twilight with some as yet unspoken purpose. The two struck quite a sight.
On the left stood the victorious princess. She looked every bit as regal as her elder sister, if quite a bit shorter. Her ethereal mane, a sea of stars easily mistaken for the night sky, flowed about her in an unfelt wind without a crown to weigh her down. She wore an obsidian suit of armor that made her look every bit the warrior she was. She wanted only for a helmet and a weapon to complete the image .
On the right, the defiant archmage hung from her friend’s shoulders with narrowed eyes. She’d not yet conceded defeat and would struggle to come out on top until the last chance for victory finally slipped away. Between the two, she wore the crown. Anypony who had seen her fully armed for battle could only imagine what had brought her to this state.
Moon Dancer shook herself from such romantic notions. Real life was nothing like her adventures stories. After the past two moons, if she wasn’t careful, she’d get it into her head that she could go on them herself.
“Archmage Twilight Sparkle,” Princess Luna said, her voice regal and her tone formal. “Our bargain?”
A bargain? Twilight has been making deals with the enemy? Moon Dancer couldn’t believe it. It didn’t sound like her. Surely she wouldn’t throw Princess Celestia, her beloved mentor, under a carriage like that.
Indeed, the fire in Twilight’s eyes only burned brighter. “My word is my bond. But you haven’t won yet!”
It took a few moments before Moon Dancer realized what Twilight meant.
Oh. Oh no! She doesn’t honestly expect me to somehow get Princess Luna through the mirror, does she? That was supposed to be Captain Armor’s job, but he was stuck on the other side of the portal right now. Everypony over there had no idea what had happened. They wouldn’t be any more ready than the bearers had been!
Twilight’s defiance did little to impress Princess Luna. “The Elements have failed thee. Thy fellowship is broken.” She paused for a moment. “I can understand if you wish not to take part in what follows, but what more must I do for you to admit defeat?”
A truly evil smile curled the ends of Twilight’s lips. “That–”
Without the slightest hint of warning, a sleep spell appeared from a strange warping of space that hurt just to look at. Princess Luna sidestepped the magic rather than block or dispel it.
“–would be my cue to enter.”
It didn’t surprise Sunset to see the Elements fail as she spied on events from atop a cloud far above the Old Castle. Honestly, what did surprise her was how well the bearers had gotten them to work. She’d have to give Twilight a pat on the back later for doing such a good job with the mess she’d had to endure.
More importantly, Sunset had spotted the crystal mirror hidden away nearby. It was both a perfect match for the sketch in Star Swirl’s research notes and a stroke of genius. She had no idea where Twilight had found it or if she’d somehow constructed it from scratch just for this, but Sunset wouldn’t ignore such an obvious path to victory. All she needed to do was create the right opportunity to use it.
Having seen Luna shield Twilight from their impact with the wall, Sunset sat back and waited to strike until the bearers were back on their hooves. As she did, she took in Luna’s measure, evaluating how her soon-to-be opponent moved and carried herself.
Sunset had always assumed she’d have to fight Celestia someday to cement her hold on the Crystal Empire. She’d prepared for it. She’d done everything she could to give herself the best shot at coming out on top. She felt she had better than even odds at coming out on top for one simple reason.
Celestia was not a warrior.
But her sister? Sunset could see it in every move Luna made. Despite all of the power at her disposal that made brute force a viable option in every battle, she had learned to use it properly. She had the instinct. She had the training. She would be no lumbering beast trampling her way to victory by virtue of being in a weight class all her own.
This was going to be a tough fight.
Once all of the bearers had recovered, Sunset dispelled the telescope spell she’d been using to spy from the sky. She wouldn’t need that to fight. Next, she warped space to give her a clear shot at Luna in the ruins of the Old Castle’s throne room. It was a hard thing to notice when one wasn’t looking for it. Sound carried perfectly well through the distortion in the fabric of reality, however, and she took a moment to eavesdrop.
“The Elements have failed thee. Thy fellowship is broken. I can understand if you wish not to take part in what follows, but what more must I do for you to admit defeat?”
So she’s not thrown in the towel yet. Perfect. Unless Twilight had another crazy plan up her sleeve, Sunset was glad to hear that they were on the same page. She would do the fighting. Twilight could manage the mirror.
“That–” Twilight began, which was just too perfect of a moment for a dramatic entrance to pass up.
Sunset fired a sleep spell through the warped space straight at Luna.
The surprise attack didn’t work. Luna merely sidestepped it. But that was fine. It set the right tone.
Stepping forward with a confident smirk, Sunset entered the throne room and placed herself neatly between Twilight and Luna. “–would be my cue to enter,” she finished.
“Sunset Shimmer,” Luna acknowledged with instant recognition and a tone of respect. “Today is just full of surprises. Did you and my sister mend fences since you stole her crown?”
Reactions to that were mixed. Twilight already knew, of course, while Moon Dancer didn’t seem particularly surprised. Loyalty’s bearer wore a glare that might have been intimidating to a normal pony. The pink one’s long gasp was too absurd to be real, unlike the foals’.
For her own part, Sunset scoffed. “As if. I’m only here because my sisters will pitch a fit if I don’t help out.”
“Sisters?” Luna echoed with a note of genuine confusion in her quiet voice.
“We will not,” Twilight said, answering that question succinctly. With a bit of a huff, she added, “Although I did attempt to contact you on several occasions recently.”
Not taking an eye off of Luna, Sunset waved a hoof dismissively in Twilight’s general direction. “Late notice. That’s your problem, not mine.”
Twilight harrumphed but said nothing more.
A bit of light laughter came from Luna. What she found so funny, she declined to share. Instead, she asked, “So what is thy plan, sorceress? Surely, you don’t intend to fight me.”
Sunset pushed a cocky smirk back onto her face. “Actually,” she began, “that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
“What? No!” Twilight urged the pink one to help her get between the two combatants, and she managed to hobble over on seven legs. “Sunset, you can’t do this.”
“I can’t?” Sunset scoffed. “I heard you before. Look at yourself in the mirror.”
The tiniest bit of emphasis on that last word made Twilight’s eyes widen, something Luna couldn’t see. Sunset couldn’t have positioned the two more perfectly if she’d planned for it.
“What do you think you can do?” Sunset sidestepped to get Twilight and Pinkie Pie out of her line of sight. “Besides–” She made sure to lock eyes with Luna to better play up the overconfident act. “–I am you, Sparkles, only older and better in every way. Just lie down and let me take care of this.”
For a moment, there was total silence.
Then, before anypony could say anything in retaliation, Twilight reached up and removed her crown from her head. She held it out in her hoof. “Take it. Try to keep the collateral damage inside the Everfree.”
This was the first time Sunset had come so close to Magic before. She’d fully expected to experience what Twilight referred to as the call, but there was nothing. She didn’t know how to feel about that or what it meant, but she could think about it later. For now, she levitated Magic onto her head. A bit of power rushed into her, but nothing on the scale she needed or even near what Twilight exhibited while wearing the Element. It would let her cast spells anywhere within the Everfree, though, which was all she required.
Luna bore a heavy frown now, one which even Sunset found utterly unreadable. Something about that exchange had bothered her, clearly, but what and why remained a mystery. When she spoke, it was merely to ask, “Do you insist upon this folly?”
With a shrug, Sunset replied, “The sneak attack didn’t work. Might as well fight you fair and square.”
“Very well,” Luna said. “I suppose I could use a warm up before–”
Sunset reached into the ocean of power safely tucked away within her subspace storage and drew it forth like a river. She unleashed a beam of pure, raw magic at Luna. There was no blocking such an attack without creating a dangerous build up of magic, no dispelling it, and no countering it. The only reasonable options were to get out of the way or take the hit.
In this case, not prepared for an attack of that magnitude, the beam blasted Luna out into the forest. If she were anypony else, the acceleration alone would have knocked her out. Even the Everfree’s chaotic magic couldn’t devour the attack quickly enough to stop it. Trees splintered like twigs as Luna crashed into them. The thundering cracks sent everything within ten leagues running for the hills.
“Fair and square?”
Sunset spared a moment to smirk at Twilight’s wry question. “Well, for me.”
“How much magic did you bring?”
It was hard to say. Sunset hadn’t bothered to measure in well over a decade, but one word sufficed. “Enough.”
Twilight just snorted while everypony else utterly failed to break out of their shocked stupor. “Don’t forget you’re fighting in the Everfree,” she said. “Luna doesn’t have an Element to stabilize the magic around her. Use it to your advantage.”
“Sparkles,” Sunset began flatly, “don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.”
Twilight had the decency to look abashed.
That said, the origin of the Everfree Forest’s chaotic magic was no secret to Sunset. Celestia and Luna had created it during their great confrontation a millennium ago. Time had changed the forest, but she wouldn’t count on it not bending before it’s former master’s might.
Case in point, something was ripping up the forest on its way straight toward the Old Castle, and Sunset would bet anything that Luna was the culprit even had she not been able to feel the overwhelming weight of a furious alicorn’s magic headed in her direction.
“I’ll get her full and undivided attention,” Sunset said. There was no need to clarify who ‘she’ was. “We only get one free shot at this.” There was no way Luna would fall for the same trick twice. “Don’t screw up.”
Despite the urgency of the situation, Twilight still shuffled herself off of Pinkie Pie to wrap Sunset up in a hug and a nuzzle. “Thank you.”
“You and Cadey, I swear. Always with the hugging.”
As soon as Sunset managed to get Twilight to let her go, she conjured up a pair of wings for herself and leapt into action. She needed to take this away from the castle and the unintended casualties waiting to happen inside it.
Luna’s initial counterattack when she re-engaged with Sunset was nothing short of an all out attempt to crush the target of her wrath with overwhelming power. It didn’t work, naturally. Sunset had both the magical might behind her to fight fire with fire as well as all of the experience and knowledge necessary to avoid falling into such slugfests to begin with.
It didn’t take long for Luna to adapt and adjust. She shifted into her usual flexible style the very moment she realized Sunset was perfectly willing to meet brute strength with brute strength. The two moved almost as a blur and teleported freely, engaging in a wild melee of spellcasting and the occasional more mundane strike with a conjured weapon meant to sneak through a hole in their defense.
A thunderclap split the air. Twilight pressed her ears to her head against the deafening sound and pushed the phantom pain that came with it from her mind. She vividly recalled Luna shooting her from the sky with lightning during one of their dream spars. As an attack, it was too fast to react to but notoriously, exponentially, impossibly difficult to control over large distances, yet Luna had managed it anyway. That had certainly been an experience.
However, Luna clearly hadn’t heard the full story of Eclipse’s jaunt through Canterlot Castle. The lightning bolt warped around Sunset and flew straight back at her. It didn’t do any more than stagger her for a split second as pegasi, alicorns especially, were resistant to electrical shocks, but it was the principle of the thing.
Someday, Twilight needed to get Sunset to tutor her in dimensional magic. That mare had truly taken spatial manipulation to a whole new level, and it made for one monster of a defensive strategy.
Of course, Luna could see that as well and quickly started including countermeasures in her attacks. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t, and sometimes Sunset turned the tables on her by letting them work. Twilight wished she could join them. She didn’t particularly like fighting, but she did oh so love the matching of wits inherent in magical duels on her level.
As the battle carried on, the remaining bearers and the Crusaders watched the spectacle in silence. It was hard to tell, but it almost looked like Sunset was, Twilight dared to say, winning. Granted, she’d gotten her flank served to her on a silver platter enough times to tell when Luna was holding back. Only one of those two couldn’t die, after all. Even so, the sight of a puny mortal legitimately giving a goddess a run for her money was heartening, encouraging, inspiring, and every other such word one could think of.
Twilight broke the silence. There was work to be done. “Moon Dancer.”
The mare in question jumped in surprise with a sudden intake of breath. “Huh! I – oh. Yes, Twilight?”
“Get the mirror. You’re going to wield it.”
“What? No!” Moon Dancer fell heavily onto her rear and shrunk in on herself. The impact shifted her glasses, and she used a hoof instead of her magic to push them back into place. “I can’t. Your brother–”
Twilight cut Moon Dancer off. “–has a personal grudge against Sunset.” Unlike Cadance, Shining wasn’t nearly so forgiving about how she’d treated his wife. “And if somepony let it slip that she’s Eclipse as well? Yeah, that’s a complication we don’t need.”
“What about Lyra Heartstrings? Where is she?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care.” Given current events and the emotional turmoil Lyra had left in, Twilight would guess she’d already left for Ponyville. With Honesty, she could just teleport there through the Everfree. “She’s not in a fit state to do the job.”
Moon Dancer then reached for the only other way to escape. “Trixie?”
“Has divided loyalties,” Twilight replied, which was the nice way of saying she’d probably already ditched them. With a bit of help from Pinkie Pie, Twilight managed to stand in front of Moon Dancer. She placed her forehooves upon the mare’s shoulders with some difficulty and looked her dead in the eye. “It has to be you.”
Before Sweetie Belle could give Moon Dancer another out, Twilight silently interrupted her. You’re going to dump magic into the mirror’s battery. She was too young and inexperienced to be given the primary role when they had somepony far more qualified present.
Moon Dancer gulped. “Are you sure you can’t do it?”
Bitter laughter escaped Twilight. “No, I’m useless. Whatever Luna did to the Elements, it damaged my magic.” She ignored the wide eyes and the gasps that elicited. “I won’t recover for a few days. Please, Moon Dancer.”
“I… Okay.” With unsure eyes downcast, Moon Dancer heaved herself to her hooves. As she left, she said, “I’ll get the mirror.”
That would not do.
“Hey,” Twilight called out.
Moon Dancer paused and looked back over her shoulder.
“I get that you feel out of place here. That” – Twilight thrust a hoof up into the sky behind her where Sunset and Luna flung more magic at each other with every passing second than most ponies would use in their entire lives – “is enough to make anypony feel small. The point isn’t that they’re stronger than you. It’s that they’re leveraging what strengths they have to their advantage. The mirror is the ultimate trump card. Let Sunset do the heavy lifting. You just focus on cheating our way to victory for all you’re worth.”
That was, Twilight felt, probably the best inspirational speech she’d ever given, not that she had too large of a sample size.
A smile forced its way out of Moon Dancer. With a chuckle, she pushed up her glasses in a familiar nervous tic. “I’ve never cheated a day in my life, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything.”
And with that, Moon Dancer departed to go retrieve the mirror. It was very fortunate they’d kept it hidden and, as a consequence, kept it from being caught up in the throne room’s collapse.
When Moon Dancer was out of earshot, Sweetie Belle spoke up. “Archmage Twilight? I don’t know how to work with solidified magic.”
Yes, Twilight had expected that. “Don’t worry. Unless something goes horribly dramatic, you won’t actually have to do anything. Regardless, it’s not too difficult. I can teach you before we move out.”
After so many close calls, Sunset had developed a sixth sense for electrical buildup. She could feel it in how the hairs of her coat stood on end. Sure enough, Luna teleported directly in front of her and fired off a two punch combo. First came a tricky bit of magic to stabilize the fabric of reality, and then came the lightning bolt. This time, however, she also slashed out with a telekinetic blade to cut the invisible ground connected to the forest floor which Sunset had been using to short out these sorts of attacks.
Sunset bit out some swear on reflex. She didn’t want to test her protective enchantments against alicorn lightning directly if she could avoid it. When ponies told stories about divine judgment, that was the form it usually took.
In the split second before Luna fried her, Sunset pulled a chunk of solidified magic from her subspace storage, crudely shaped it into a malformed, inert spell, expanded it until it reverted to its normal state, and then braced herself for a ride. With the magic free to flow once more, the mass exploded and sent both her and Luna flying.
Having had time to prepare for this fight, Sunset let her enchantments bleed the sudden acceleration into a uniform field across her body. The heat didn’t bother her, but the light made it impossible to see, much less aim, even with scrying spells. And because it was an explosion of magic, if her opponent were anypony else, she wouldn’t be able to sense Luna’s location via her horn.
But alicorns were big, obvious targets in the magical field. Sunset leveled her horn at Luna and fired another beam of raw magic.
By the grunt, the attack struck true. Sunset even felt the mass of magic that was Luna fly away into the sky. This wouldn’t win the battle, but it gave her an opening.
Sunset teleported above where Luna was headed and prepared to blast her toward the ground. If she hit her head hard enough, unprotected, it might knock her out long enough to win this fight outright. She damn well wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to become a living legend if she got it.
But when Sunset’s vision finally cleared, that wasn’t Luna flying toward her. It was just a big lump of magic! A trap! She hurriedly formed a teleport, but it was too late.
Luna appeared just above Sunset and delivered a kick that broke through her enchantments, snapped her spine, and sent her careening into her own attack.
She was not going to lose to that old trick!
Casting aside the half formed teleport, Sunset did something stupid. She telekinetically shoved herself aside to get a good enough angle, if not dodge, and fired another beam. Neighton’s laws applied to magic just as well as anything else. Her attacks deflected off of each other, thankfully, instead of unleashing an explosion of magic that would have probably torn her own magic apart and killed her.
Like a well played game of billiards, Sunset’s original attack sailed dangerously close past her and caught Luna, who hadn’t expected such a harebrained response, instead.
Sunset had a few moments before Luna recovered. Using them, she layered a new polymorph atop her old one to heal. Fighting with a broken spine was a nonstarter.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sunset caught just a glimpse of a splotch of bright color moving beneath the forest canopy below. She purposefully didn’t look any closer but instead glanced toward the Old Castle. Purple, orange, pink, orange, yellow. That left two ponies unaccounted for: Sweetie Belle and Moon Dancer.
So they finally have the mirror ready.
As Sunset’s attack finally ran its course and lost power high up above, she tensed as she realized Luna wasn’t up there.
Don’t tell me she saw the mirror.
Sunset couldn’t go check. If she did, she’d give the whole plan away if Luna didn’t already know.
Deep down, Sunset also didn’t care. She wanted to win. She wanted to best the master of the ancient world. She wanted–
Sunset executed a tight half-loop and shielded herself against a conjured blade. On the ground, it would have been a stalemate. In the air, Luna proved the greater strength. She followed through with the stroke, and although it couldn’t pierce the barrier, it sent Sunset rocketing downward.
Sunset wasn’t the best flier, so she opted to teleport straight up rather than risk a more complicated aerial maneuver. Without the extra work of redirecting her momentum, she got out of the way just before Luna unleashed a follow up attack.
Right. No hubris. Let’s just toss her through the mirror.
Sunset would give the two below wielding it a few more minutes to get set up. After that, she’d start looking for opportunities to knock Luna down to the ground and into the portal.
“Do you think they know we’re down here?” Sweetie Belle asked.
Moon Dancer wasn’t sure. As she observed the battle above through the few gaps in the forest canopy, she noticed that Sunset Shimmer seemed to be favoring attacks aimed downward, which, as a corollary, meant Princess Luna’s return fire often went upward away from them. “Maybe.” It came as a small comfort. She had a teleport ready to get them and the mirror out of trouble if a stray spell came at them, but she didn’t want to trust her reflexes with their lives. She’d much rather those two just didn’t shoot in their general direction. “Either way, our job is the same. You ready?”
The poor filly deserved points for honesty in Moon Dancer’s book. “Are you going to be?”
A fit of light laughter forced its way out of Moon Dancer. There wasn’t anything funny about this situation, but it was either laugh or curl up into a little ball and cry. “Yeah, me neither.”
“But we have to do this anyway.”
Moon Dancer pat Sweetie Belle on the shoulder. “You’re a braver filly than I ever was. Whatever happens, be proud of that.” Her words actually seemed to have a positive effect on her partner in this venture. She only wished a few pretty words could make her less nervous.
And so they settled in for an uncomfortably close seat to all the action. Moon Dancer carefully constructed a second teleport spell but left the destination unspecified. The plan was to place the mirror in Princess Luna’s path when she couldn’t dodge. Twilight assured her that Sunset Shimmer was in on it. It wasn’t very complicated as far as combat tactics went, but simple plans tended to work best.
The battle raged on. The two combatants continued their deadly dance above, neither seemingly gaining the upper hoof over one another. As they traded blows, their missed attacks occasionally demolished whole sections of the forest.
Then opportunity knocked. Sunset Shimmer and Princess Luna came together and simultaneously unleashed an attack. When the blows met, they went flying in opposite directions. The former soared skyward, gravity having no hold on her. The latter plummeted toward the ground.
This was their chance!
Moon Dancer gave the signal and quickly calculated the destination coordinates for where she needed to place the mirror. It needed to be aligned perfectly to send Princess Luna through it instead of bouncing off of it. She put the results into her teleport spell as Sweetie Belle activated the portal’s battery, and then she sent it away.
Unless she screwed up her math to a wild degree, they only got one shot at this.
Please, please let this work!
Moon Dancer held her breath.
Princess Luna flew straight and true toward the mirror.
Then the moment the portal fully activated, Princess Luna spread her wings and gave a mighty beat. That arrested her momentum only hooves from her defeat. A shield popped into existence between her and the mirror as, with a calculated flap, she spun along her barrel’s axis upward to face the mirror.
The massive counterspell at the tip of Princess Luna’s horn blinked out of existence as her eyes widened.
And in that moment, Sunset Shimmer seized her chance. She teleported directly behind Princess Luna and blasted her straight into the mirror.
Suddenly, all Moon Dancer could feel or hear was the furious beating of her own heart.
“Oh my gosh! We actually did it!”
Sweetie Belle, just as excited, leapt up and down crying their victory.
Over at the mirror, Sunset Shimmer grabbed hold of it before it fell to the ground and figured out on her own how to deactivate it, two things which Moon Dancer really should have taken care of herself, but she just couldn’t stop to think because they’d really, truly, actually won, and that was amazing, and she’d had a part in it, and her thoughts kept racing with just how incredible it all was, and if she didn’t calm down soon, she–
Moon Dancer’s head swam. She swayed on her hooves. This was one doozy of an emotional high.
Seeing Sunset Shimmer teleport away with the mirror back to the Old Castle, Moon Dancer did her best to calm herself. She and Sweetie Belle needed to return as well to celebrate.
“Really? You’re the Captain of the Royal Guard over there?”
Even if it wasn’t actually his sister seated across the table from him, Shining couldn’t help but preen a bit at the surprise and adulation. “I am! What does the human version of me do?”
“Oh, you’re a police officer,” Sparky, the name Twilight had given him for this version of her, replied. “You’re an inspector, but most think you’ll be the police commissioner when our current one retires.”
Hmm, not bad. It wasn’t nearly as prestigious or influential, but Shining could see the appeal. “What about Cadance?”
“She’s the principal at my old high school, Crystal Prep Academy.”
Shining laughed at the coincidence. “Imagine that. Mine is actually just starting a school of her own for pegasi. She hasn’t decided on a name yet, but I’ll pitch that one to her.” He rubbed his jaw with his hand thoughtfully. “Although everypony will probably just end up calling it Princess Cadance’s School for Gifted Pegasi anyway.”
“Wait. What?” Sparky’s head snapped up from the notes she’d been taking. “Cadance is a princess?”
“You didn’t know?”
Sparky shook her head fiercely back and forth.
“Well, let me tell you–”
Without warning, a massive burst of disordered magic came through the portal. It spread everywhere. Sparks flew from dozens of no doubt delicate instruments. The room itself being designed to contain magic gone wrong kept the chaos going as the magic bounced and bounced until, after what felt like forever, it finally settled.
A few moments of relative silence passed before Shining risked coming out from cover. Even as a human, he could feel the heightened level of magic in the room, but everything looked calm. He called out that the danger had passed.
Sparky emerged from under her desk next. She frowned at the state of her lab and, with a huff, started cleaning it up with telekinesis from where she stood.
“I take it that’s not normal?” Shining asked.
Sparky replied, “It most certainly is not. What on Earth is Sparkles up to?”
Eager to have the very same question answered, Shining tried to pass through the portal. It was closed.
“Well,” Shining began, “I guess we’ll find out later.”
Moon Dancer teleported in with Sweetie Belle not long after Sunset had arrived, and Twilight added them to her celebratory hug as soon as they came within range. Pinkie Pie jumped in next, and then came Flash and the remaining Crusaders for a full group embrace.
It was over. It was really over. They’d won.
“Thank you,” Twilight said. Her voice hitched as she spoke, and she didn’t bother trying to hide that she was crying. “Thank you all. I – I didn’t think – I really thought Celestia – Sunset, you didn’t have to – I – oh, thank you!”
Moon Dancer distinctly blushed and mumbled, “I was happy to help.”
“Anytime, anywhere!” Sweetie Belle said.
Sunset, having already gotten her ego out of the way before the others joined in, asked, “Are you ever going to let me go? I’m burning magic just holding on to it, you know.”
However valid a complaint, Twilight shook her head. She wouldn’t let this feeling of warmth and accomplishment go anytime soon. It was hard to believe it was all over. Granted, she still had to get Luna to concede defeat and work out where they went from here, but that was the easy part. The impossible part was over. The merely hard part, of course, would be reconciling the two sisters.
Twilight chuckled with a lightness she hadn’t felt in years. That’ll certainly be a long-term project.
“Pinkie,” Twilight began, “how would you like to throw us a victory party?”
The mare in question gasped in what sounded like both excitement and surprise. “I’d love to! We can invite everypony!”
“Yes, a celebration would be most appropriate for such a glorious victory.”
Everypony froze. Twilight’s heart sank in her chest. Slowly, she turned to face the source of the voice. Standing just beside the mirror was the mare they’d pushed through it and locked safely away.
“Your creativity is commendable,” Luna continued, “but you misunderstand my very nature.”
Twilight struggled for words that wouldn’t come.
“Tell me, were you counting on me to be unwilling to destroy the mirror or did you just get lucky?”
From the peaks of joy to the valleys of despair, Twilight fought not to hyperventilate.
“Well, I suppose it matters little. ’Tis your loss. Do you yield at last?”
Twilight had nothing. Unless Sunset thought she could fight Luna and win? Twilight turned to her last chance with what she knew was a terribly unfair hope in her wet eyes.
The silent request did not pass unnoticed. Sunset frowned, performed some mental calculation, bit her lip, and then finally shook her head.
Twilight forced a thin smile onto her face. She understood and accepted the decision. Tough choices were part of her job.
But was there truly nothing else she could do? There had to be something. There was always something.
But she had a hard time thinking of it.
“I… I-I…” Twilight hung her head and squeezed her eyes shut. She refused to show Luna her tears.
At this very moment, as if fate meant to mock Twilight, light coalesced into Celestia’s form near the pile of rubble that used to be the Elements’ pedestal, because of course she arrived just in time to witness her faithful student swear herself to another princess. Why not just rub salt in her wounds while fate was at it?
Luna, however, rather than take advantage of the opportunity, turned her full attention onto Celestia. Her expression twisted into a predatory smile. “Ah, dear sister. Arriving late, I see.” That silky voice sent shivers down Twilight’s spine. “Done letting other ponies fight your battles for you?”
The first time Celestia opened her mouth, no words came out. Her second attempt only netted her a quiet, “Lulu…” She took first a half step forward and then a full one. “Lulu, is that really you?”
“Despite your best efforts,” Luna shot back at just shy of a snarl.
Celestia only stepped closer. “I never wanted you gone, Lulu. These past thousand years have been agony for me.”
As Celestia drew near, Luna stalked the beginnings of a circle about her. “Oh, I believe you. Certainly, you could not have found bearers for the Elements and set me free early. Certainly, nopony could possibly manage such a feat. Certainly, no ragtag band of misfits came close with the Crystal Empire.”
Twilight winced. Her own actions had given Luna that ammunition. When she saw how stricken Celestia looked, she cringed away from the sight.
“Lulu, we tried that ourselves. We failed. I thought… If I had known… I…” Celestia shook her head. “No. No excuses. Lulu, I beg of you, please forgive me for everything. I regret everything. I am more sorry than you can possibly imagine. I want to make amends any way I can.”
The stirrings of an irresistible form of magic prickled at Twilight’s horn and pulled at her muscles like marionette strings.
“Make amends?” Luna echoed bitterly. “One thousand years, Sister. What could you possibly offer to make amends?”
“Anything,” Celestia pleaded. “Everything.”
The magic swelled. Twilight wasn’t sure if the royal sisters even noticed as Luna smoothly transitioned into verse.
“Oh, you can give me everything?
“Yes, anything I want?”
Luna barked a laugh.
“I know your words are empty and
“As hollow as this haunt.”
In a show of strength, she cast a massive spell of dizzying complexity. Piece by piece, the Old Castle rose around them, renewed and repaired. As the dais reformed, she climbed the stairs to her old throne while the heartsong carried on.
“You have no power to keep me
“From what is rightly mine.
“You must admit you lack the strength.
“You might as well resign.”
Luna caressed her old seat of power with a soft smile that soon fell into a frown and then turned back to her audience.
“So now what do you offer me,
“O’ sister I despise?
“A world that’s forgotten me
“And a throne without allies?”
The magic of the music, despite it being – or perhaps because it was – an expression of Luna’s innermost feelings, conspicuously placed everypony supportively behind Celestia.
“What do you think my answer is
“When that is your reply?
“Forgiveness is outside your reach,
“And let–” Luna leapt from the dais into a glide. “–me lay out–” She landed neatly in front of the gathered group. “–why.”
A new wave of magic swept through the throne room and displayed scenes of Luna’s past in every direction. Some Twilight recognized from stories or Luna’s anecdotes. Some showed events she now knew were wrongly accredited to Celestia. Most depicted matters she’d never heard of.
“The ponies of Equestria
“Once knew a dark blue knight,
“The merry maid who danced and played
“And fought for what was right.”
Luna moved from scene to scene, nostalgically reciting some of her more notable accomplishments.
“I brought us out of the Everfree.
“I braved the northern fjords.
“I fought the creatures of the night.
“I faced the feathered hordes.”
And then the harmony darkened. The black figure of an alicorn leapt from the shadows and shattered the images of Luna’s past. With them went any semblance of happiness in her voice as her anger resurfaced.
“Yet now the specter, Nightmare Moon,
“Awaits those in the dark
“Because you let them demonize
“Without a kind remark.”
Luna banished the unwanted remnant of her past and then spun on Celestia.
“It would have been so easy, too,
“Just something simple, mind,
“A word or two from you to them
“To see that we’re aligned.”
The heartsong compelled Celestia to a brief moment of protest that she had tried, but the words fell on deaf ears. No, worse than that, Luna snorted contemptuously as though she believed them but found them somehow wanting anyway.
“But it no longer matters now.
“I see through your design.
“The simple truth is that this time
“You’ve truly crossed the line.”
Twilight moved with the music as it carried her to stand beside Celestia, who now sat upon the Solar Throne in the Old Castle. Luna stood at the base of the dais while everypony else stared up at her in wonder amongst a crowd of illusionary courtiers.
“How all those little ponies jump
“Upon your ev’ry word
“Exposed, your lies, I can’t deny,
“Would simply pass unheard.”
Upon Luna’s approach up the dais, Celestia gracefully rose and stepped aside. The intent was clear.
Luna did not take the offered throne. She smacked aside the hoof Celestia raised in invitation.
“Still now I’m here to call you out
“On what you’d call a gift.”
Luna gestured at the empty seat of power.
“You have arranged for my return
“To proceed smooth and swift.”
The attention of the audience noticeably shifted from one sister to the other, although it was no longer with open admiration but rather a mixture of suspicion, begrudging acceptance, and open hostility.
“But who, I ask, does benefit
“From pomp and circumstance
“As this eleventh hour dies
“As though to break a trance?”
Luna stepped forward and thrust out a hoof. Her voice raised in volume, and she slipped on controlling her habitual anachronisms.
“’Tis thee who dost abuse
“Thy ponies’ twisted loyalty
“To leave in gallant sacrifice
“To rival royalty!”
To emphasize the point, Luna blasted Celestia from the dais. Everypony gathered watched her fall with gasps of shock before their horrified gazes snapped back to Luna. Twilight herself could only watch on with clenched teeth.
“A noble end. Thy conscience eased.
“A sister vilified.
“I hope thy vanity was worth
“The hate I must abide.”
Bitterly, Twilight mentally conceded that she understood how Luna could come to this conclusion. If she could just get those two to talk without Luna dismissing everything Celestia said or Celestia’s guilty conscience getting in the way! It wouldn’t heal all of the hurt, but it’d be a start.
“I sometimes asked, ‘What if I’m wrong?’
“But this doth vindicate
“A thousand years of my distrust
“Which thou didst instigate.”
Luna stared down upon Celestia from the dais, power swelling around her on a scale that dwarfed even her battle with Sunset. With her magic injured, Twilight could only guess at what Luna was casting. She had a bad feeling she was about to find out the hard way, however, as the music swelled to a climax.
“And as we part a thousand more,
“Here’s a mercy for thy jail.”
There was sudden silence, and then Luna’s dark voice broke it.
“When next we meet, I shall ensure
“Thou find a level scale.”
The heartsong crescendoed as the magic in the air spiked. Whatever Luna intended to do with Celestia, be it banishment, petrification, or something more mundane, they stood upon the precipice.
And then a lone voice cried out, “Wait!”
This wasn’t the first heartsong Sweetie Belle had gotten caught up in. As a rule, she liked them more, it seemed, than most sorceresses did.
But Princess Luna’s? A shiver would have run down Sweetie Belle’s spine if she had the agency for it. Princess Luna hid her thoughts behind what sounded like Old Ponish, but this could only end one way. Even if the thick emotion hanging in the air allowed Princess Celestia to sing a reprise in answer, Sweetie Belle had overheard enough stray comments to worry about the princess’s own sense of guilt.
Something had to be done! Sweetie Belle imagined herself in Princess Luna’s place with Rarity down below and shook. Their bond would never – no, could never become so strained. As Princess Luna sang her anger and hurt to her sister, the dark emotions hanging heavy in the air grasped Sweetie Belle’s heart. Somepony had to do something!
As she struggled against the heartsong, a familiar feeling swelled up in Sweetie Belle. She’d caught hints of it now and then, almost always fleeting. It’d come clearest when she’d played the piano with Spike. This time she chased it to its source with abandon. It felt like something new and beautiful, and she just knew it had to be exactly what they needed.
Somehow, following a faint instinct, Sweetie Belle pushed back against the heartsong.
It fought back.
The weight of the heartsong’s magic threatened to crush her. It felt like wrestling the moon.
Then it happened.
It came in a moment of clarity.
As Princess Luna’s power built with the climax of the heartsong to strike her own sister down, the slightest weakness in the magic showed itself.
Sweetie Belle felt a shift in her own magic, a solidifying and strengthening of what was already there. Her mind lit with possibilities she didn’t understand. Something was happening, and if she proceeded any further, she might not be able to stop it.
A lone voice cried out, “Wait!”
For a moment, the world fell into perfect silence as it turned to Sweetie Belle.