Chapter One - Night Breaks
First Summer Moon 6, 1001 SE
Shining Armor cut the flow to his magic and let Princess Celestia’s bed fall back to the floor. If she had any documents that could at least help explain the current crisis, they were not in her room. Oh, he’d found plenty of classified material, some of which even his security clearance probably didn’t cover, but nothing like what he’d been hoping for.
Frustrated and lacking any better option, Shining returned to his office where he waited for the remainder of the Royal Guard to deliver their reports. Empty-hoofed officers came and went through his door over the next several hours. They’d left no stone unturned in the castle only to come up with nothing. The closest thing to a clue the entire search effort had uncovered consisted of nothing more than an old mare’s tale he himself had found conspicuously on display in Twilight’s room.
Shining brought a hoof up to massage his mounting headache away. Speaking of Twilight, nopony had heard from his sister since Nightmare Moon’s first appearance in Ponyville. He’d hoped she could shed some light on the situation as she obviously knew more about it than he did. But no. Instead, she’d disappeared without a trace just like Princess Celestia. No sign of a struggle. No note. Nothing. He would be worried about her safety if she didn’t vanish on him like this all the time.
A knock came at the door. Shining bade his guest to enter and made himself a bit more presentable. His second-in-command, Lieutenant Rivet, stepped into the room wearing her winter gear and delivered a crisp salute. It seemed even the Royal Guard’s pegasi, naturally resistant to the rapidly dropping temperatures of eternal night, had switched over now.
“We searched your family’s home as ordered. Unfortunately, we came up empty.”
Shining clicked his tongue. This wouldn’t have been the first time his sister left sensitive documents lying around the house, but luck was not with them today.
“Your parents also said you should visit more,” Rivet added with a hint of morbid amusement. “You could have gone yourself.”
They both knew he couldn’t, not with the clock ticking on the fate of the entire world. There wasn’t yet time for family.
“We should get to our meeting.” Shining rose from his seat and led the way out.
Deeper within the castle, far away from the Royal Guard’s barracks and offices, the emergency response team formed to combat the threat eternal night posed gathered. Shining took his seat at the central table of the rarely utilized war room with Rivet standing just behind him.
At Shining’s left sat Incog, the director of the Equestrian Intelligence Service. He immediately recognised the pony at her side as Hail Singer, the head of the Anti-Monster Division under her command, by the distinctive scars running across his face. Rumor had it that he’d gotten them fighting a hydra single-hoofed in his early years with the EIS.
To Shining’s right sat General Strategos, the ancient head of Equestria’s National Guard, with his staff gathered around him. He was one of the few ponies alive who had actual experience fighting something which might generously be termed a war.
Lastly, Prince Blueblood sat across from Shining. In the unexplained absence of Princess Celestia and without a declared regent, it fell to him to lead Equestria. He wasn’t the pony Shining would have picked, but he had the self-awareness necessary to leave the crisis to the professionals and play a mere ceremonial role. This was no time for political plays.
As such, with everypony gathered, Prince Blueblood called the meeting to order. The dull buzz of conversation quieted, and he spoke. “The first item on our agenda is a status update on the search for Princess Celestia and Twilight Sparkle. Incog?”
The mare’s horn lit, and she levitated a copy of a transcript to the four major players at the table. As she did so, she said, “Still no news on Princess Celestia, but we have a better picture of what happened to her student. Five mares emerged from the Everfree Forest this morning who claim they went with her on a search for the Elements of Harmony.”
Shining’s ears perked up. He recognized that name from the copy of Predictions and Prophecies Twilight had left out in her tower.
“The Elements of Harmony,” Incog continued, “according to these mares, are a set of six magical artifacts capable of defeating Nightmare Moon. They claim to have successfully recovered five of the artifacts and stepped aside to allow Twilight Sparkle to retrieve the sixth. They went to check up on her sometime later and discovered that both she and the Elements had disappeared.”
Please just be being yourself, Twily. It wouldn’t surprise him if she’d left those mares without anymore word than she’d given him when leaving Canterlot, but Shining had a bad feeling and his own suspicions. There were two new actors at work which they knew almost nothing about.
Incog yielded the floor to Hail Singer to continue the report. “I led a team into the Everfree to search for the mare. We found her last known location and investigated. There were lingering traces of a teleport, but we couldn’t determine the destination or who cast it. Our best guess is it took her out of the forest.”
Shining’s brow furrowed. “How far in was she?” The answer left him focusing on his own breathing to retain his calm. While Twilight grew more powerful day by day, “The last I heard, that’s well outside her maximum range.”
“Perhaps Princess Celestia came to assist her?” Prince Blueblood suggested.
It was possible, and he hoped that was the case, but Shining personally dismissed the idea. What reason would Princess Celestia have had to leave the other mares Twilight had traveled with stranded in the middle of the Everfree? There were valid explanations, but they were unlikely, especially when there were other suspects.
General Strategos beat Shining to the punch. “What more do we know of the two alicorns locked in combat?”
“Very little,” Incog admitted. “The black one continues to introduce herself as Nightmare Moon. The blue one refers to her as such as well on the rare occasion when they exchange words within earshot.” She passed out another transcript that felt more akin to a leaflet. “To summarize, Nightmare Moon wishes to bring about eternal night. The blue one is fighting to bring it to an end, although we don’t know what her motivations are.”
“Do they really matter?” Prince Blueblood asked. Unvoiced was that, if the cold didn’t kill them first, they would all slowly starve as their food dwindled if she didn’t win. Most had given up on waiting for Princess Celestia by now.
Nopony answered the question.
“How is the collateral damage?”
To Prince Blueblood’s question, General Strategos replied, “Surprisingly low but accelerating. If I were to hazard a guess, the blue alicorn realizes she’s running out of time and is starting to focus on victory over protection. I’ve deployed the National Guard to do what it can to assist those affected.”
Prince Blueblood closed his eyes and visibly took a deep breath. “And the casualties?”
“We’re nearing three thousand injured, but we’ve only been unable to save fifteen lives. Those recently.”
Unbidden, the room descended into a moment of silence.
“We need to make contact and coordinate with the blue one,” General Strategos stated firmly.
The entire table agreed. Shining set aside his worry for his sister and concern over what either of the two new alicorns might have done with her to add his own voice to the chorus. He had no choice, no matter his misgivings, and he could only hope Twilight made it through this in one piece.
The real question now was how they intended to get the blue alicorn’s attention without distracting her. Every fraction of a second counted in battle. Everypony present knew that. Unfortunately, they also couldn’t simply wait until the fight finished. The blue alicorn never lingered. If she won, if her opponent fled, she dogged Nightmare Moon’s every step. If she lost, she fled to lick her wounds in preparation for the next round.
It was quite the quandary. If Cadance were here, perhaps then they would have somepony in the same weight class who could join the fray and open a line of communication. Unfortunately, she’d left Canterlot without even telling Shining where she intended to go. But at least she’d said goodbye, unlike–
The castle shook.
With the vibrations came the rumbling clatter of everything from fixtures to quills bouncing and striking each other as they fell.
And then came the thunderous crack of stone splitting.
Nopony needed to give the command. Everypony leapt to their hooves rushed toward the door. The battle had come to Canterlot.
Everfree Forest, Equestria
First Summer Moon 6, 1001 SE
Sweetie Drops felt it before she heard it. The ground shook, and then came the distant crackling roar of a meteor impact.
Paying it no mind, Sweetie Drops took advantage of the distraction. The timberwolf in front of her, confused over the trembling ground, left itself wide open. She rushed in and delivered a solid kick that split the beast into its component twigs and branches. Following up swiftly, she primed a fire stone from her belt and tossed it onto the remains before the timberwolf could reform.
The snap and crackling of the magical fire broke the rest of the timberwolf pack’s resolve. They fled back deeper into the Everfree away from Sweetie Drops and, consequentially, the little farming village she’d been assigned to protect. She didn’t understand why anypony thought it would be a good idea to settle on the border of the most dangerous place in Equestria. Monster attacks were so frequent here that the residents had become inured to their occurrence. Still, she would do her duty and defend Ponyville.
With one potential disaster averted, Sweetie Drops resumed her patrol of the Everfree Forest. The longer the night lasted, the bolder the monsters within grew. The bolder the monsters grew, the further from the depths they came. The further they came, the more dangerous they grew. She wouldn’t dream of fighting the nastier creatures of the forest alone, but it looked more and more like she might have to. The Anti-Monster Division of the EIS was stretched thin already and growing ever thinner everyday. She really needed to speak with Hail Singer about drumming up some new recruits as soon as possible.
At least the bugbear was already locked up in Tartarus. She’d seen to that personally.
As she stalked through the trees, Sweetie Drops allowed herself a moment to investigate what had caused the tremors earlier. She first found Canterlot off in the distance high up in the mountains clinging to the cliffside. From there, she shifted her gaze toward the light show not far enough away and swore under her breath.
Bursts of cyan and cobalt blue flew through the air from sources too small to make out as anything but pinpricks of light. When the two glows slammed together in a spectacular melee of unrelenting, rapid-fire spell casting, they shined brighter than the sun. The devastation around them mounted as the missed spells took their toll on the surrounding landscape. Soon a third color joined the fray, adding larger scale magical constructs to the battle in a brilliant raspberry from long range.
“Yeah, not getting involved with that,” Sweetie Drops muttered before resuming her patrol.
The world trembled once more.
First Summer Moon 6, 1001 SE
Deep in the foundations of the capital, accessible only from the castle and far from the reach of any conventional enemy, Shining saw to the activation of Canterlot’s first line of defense: the Aegis, a massive shield enveloping the entire capital. It was built into the very city itself, a masterpiece of enchantment from the days of yore and a permanent impression of magic upon the world. He’d heard some ponies, including his sister, refer to it as a work of art.
But art or otherwise, enormously complicated, notoriously power-hungry, the number of living ponies who could actually use it numbered in the single digits. Shining counted himself honored to be among them. As he approached the control center, he nodded to the ponies standing guard. A quick exchange of passwords granted him access.
Inside the chamber, Shining trotted forward to the pedestal standing alone in stark contrast to the otherwise bare features. Upon it resided an innocent pair of amulets that served as the user interface for the greater enchantment. One allowed full control over the Aegis. The other merely allowed somepony to power it remotely.
Shining plucked the control amulet from its place. “Here’s hoping those alicorns don’t knock out the foundations.” There would be nothing anypony could do if that happened but watch the city collapse as gravity took hold. Evacuation would take too long, and the weather was too cold to send ponies away preemptively without a place to send them to.
Bracing himself, Shining lowered the amulet over his head and let it come to a rest against his chest. He first adjusted the settings for the situation – nothing in, nothing out, no exceptions – and then brought the shield up. The magical load immediately settled onto him like an iron blanket determined to smother him beneath its weight, but he endured.
After swapping the control amulet out for the one which would let him serve as a remote battery but not a security risk, Shining departed to return to his duties. He’d left control of the guard entirely to his subordinates for long enough.
The city was in chaos. From the castle ramparts alone, Shining could spot three buildings which had collapsed from the periodic quakes. A few fires had even broken out. Crowds milled about in shock and confusion, some quiet, others screaming. The biting cold, it seemed, was preferable to staying indoors when the roof could fall down upon one’s head.
Outside the Aegis, the battle raged on. Shining allowed himself a few moments to observe it with uncomfortable closeness. The alicorns were too far away and too fast to see clearly, but he could get an all too clear read on their magic and spellcasting.
Nightmare Moon, the literal bogeymare, was everything he’d expected from a horror story brought to life. Her mere proximity suffocated the magically sensitive, even powerhouses like himself. She flung power around without art or grace, only a determination to blast apart everything in her way. Nopony but an alicorn could sustain such a crude style.
The other alicorn, her magic no less heavy upon the air but lacking the stifling nature, cast methodically and precisely but with the haste combat required. She made a clear effort to keep Canterlot out of the line of fire, but as a fellow warrior, Shining could tell she was fighting to win, not protect.
Shining tore his eyes away from the battle to find Rivet descending from above. When she landed in front of him, he asked for a progress report.
“As you can see” – Rivet gestured out to the city with a wing – “Canterlot is in a panic. The Royal Guard has taken up our positions, but keeping order is next to impossible.”
“And the National Guard?” Shining asked. There weren’t many here, but every extra hoof helped.
“They’re undertaking rescue operations and assisting the city’s firefighters. The hospitals are getting crowded, but ponies nearby are opening their homes and businesses for more space.”
Shining nodded in approval. Canterlot wasn’t exactly the place to live for neighborly generosity, but at least the residents were showing some sense.
An echoing cry of, “Eyes closed!” carried over the city in dozens of voices.
Before Shining could finish, Rivet threw a wing over his face. Through her feathers came a searingly bright light, and he immediately decided to take the advice offered and added a hoof for good measure.
“No need.” Shining dismissed the assistance with a gentle downward push on Rivet’s wing. “I don’t fancy being blind. What in Celestia’s name are those alicorns doing?” All he could tell was that it involved a lot of magic.
“Melee spellslinging, Captain. They get into it every so often.”
“Ah.” Spells colliding with spells tended to produce rather volatile effects. With their level of power, the rapidity of the spells, and the close range, Shining had to wonder if they were fighting entirely blind. If Twilight were here, maybe she would know a spell for high-light vision. He, unfortunately, only knew the opposite version.
Soon enough, the flare died down as the alicorns separated and returned to more tactical spellcasting at range.
Shining mumbled, “Well that happened,” to himself as he dreaded the answer to his next question. “How many of us got caught in the first flare?”
“About a quarter.”
A curse slipped past Shining’s lips. It was bad for morale, but he had no better response. Besides, nopony else but Rivet was close enough to overhear anyway.
A sudden surge of familiar magic caught Shining’s attention. His head spun back toward its source outside the city’s perimeter. A new pony had joined the fray. A pony who had no preparation or training. A pony who had more power than good sense. A pony near and dear to his heart.
“No, no, no. Twily what are you thinking?” She was going to get herself killed.
Heedless to her brother’s unheard distress, Twilight’s magic spread out into a massive spell matrix she had no business knowing. She hovered as a tiny spec in the air, though Shining knew not how, and fired a barrage of shield-piercing spells at Nightmare Moon. None of them hit, but the distraction did give the blue alicorn the opportunity to teleport into Nightmare Moon’s face and deliver a punch that turned her into a meteor.
Shining might have been filling in a few blanks with his imagination. Those three were far away. Still, he cheered with the rest of the populace even as the ground shook with the force of the impact.
It came too early. Before he could even process what had happened, a beam of cyan magic slammed Twilight into the Aegis. Shining felt the drain on his own magic spike. Then the shield shattered behind her and sent her flying into Canterlot on a collision course with the ground.
“No!” The word came as a whisper. Shining stood in a daze while the tiny section of the Aegis Nightmare Moon’s assault had pierced reformed. When the draw on his magic leveled out, he woke from his stupor. “Twilight!”
Rivet commanded him to go, and Shining took off with barely a thought to leave her in charge. He leapt over the rampart’s parapet. Midair, he cast a shield to land on. He gained speed as he galloped across it and leapt again. This time he made it to a roof. He repeated this process at full speed in a straight line to where his sister had landed.
The crash site could be termed as nothing but. Twilight had gone through a building, a tree, and then had finally hit the ground with enough remaining force to crack the pavement from one end of the street to the other. Shining blocked all thoughts of what the scene meant as he slid down a shield to the ground.
“Twilight!” Shining pushed his way through the gathered crowd with his magic, only slowing down as he made it to his sister’s side. He got just enough of an eyeful to know she was technically in one piece, but his mind refused to contemplate the image further.
Kneeling at his sister’s side, Shining spoke in a desperate whisper. “Twilight, can you hear me?”
“Twily, please, talk to me.”
A stallion from the crowd put a hoof on Shining’s shoulder, but he shrugged it off.
“Twilight, I – I’m going to find help. Just wait here, okay?”
A mumble came over the subdued tumult of the crowd. Hope ignited, Shining leaned closer and put an ear to Twilight’s mouth and asked her to repeat herself.
Shining wasn’t a medic, but he knew enough first aid to answer that request. He cast the spell, letting it wash over Twilight’s whole body, and heard her relieved sigh as it took full effect.
That voice was so tragically weak. Shining had heard a pony speak like that once before. “Don’t you dare die on me,” he commanded.
“Not. Gonna. Die.” Twilight made a noise that might have passed for laughter. “Snap me. Back. Into shape.” After a few seconds, she added, “Please. Faster.”
What? What’s faster? Shining, of course, did nothing in his confusion.
Twilight clicked her tongue. “Nevermind. I got it.” Her horn lit up, and only Celestia could say how she managed to cast magic in her state. Before Shining or anypony else could stop her, the raspberry glow of her own magic suffused her body.
Then the snapping started.
Shining would never forget the sound of bones being forced back into alignment or the smell that accompanied the process. Too horrified, he didn’t stop her. Nopony did.
“Oh, that’s much better,” Twilight said with far more ease. Her breathing rapidly evened out, and she cast another spell to clean up her mess. “Hey, Shining. It’s good to see you.”
“I… What? Twilight, how are you…”
The mare in question adopted a rather sheepish look. “Alive?”
Shining was going to say moving, but that worked too.
“This, uh, isn’t really how I wanted you to find out. But, well, I’m an alicorn. Surprise?”
Shining fell the rest of the way from his knees onto his barrel. How was he meant to respond to that? He glanced down and stated the obvious. “You have wings!”
“I do!” There was a surprising amount of glee in that voice for a pony who usually had to be dragged out of the library. “Well, sort of. I copied Luna’s genetic template with an old spell from the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters. My own will grow in in a couple of years. But” – she thrust a hoof up excitedly – “I have enough pegasus magic in me already to fly, so better to have them than to be grounded in an alicorn battle.” She laughed nervously as she got back onto her hooves, by all appearances completely unharmed despite her harrowing experience. “Anyway, I, uh, have to go. Battles to fight, and all that. You know how it is.”
Without a word more, Twilight took off into the air and hastened away. Shining idly noted the poor form of an inexperienced flier as the rest of his mind struggled to catch up with the emotional roller coaster he’d just been put through. When she neared the Aegis, her horn lit as she summoned up her magic, mostly likely attempting to teleport through the shield – which, of course, didn’t work.
Twilight flew back to Shining with an extremely awkward look about her and refused to meet his eyes. “Uh… How do I…”
Not having the control amulet with him, Shining had no way to let Twilight out with any promptness in a conventional manner. “You’ll have to blast your way through,” he offered rather lamely. The Aegis was designed to fail in bits and pieces and then reform. It made it slightly weaker but infinitely more efficient. “Move quickly once you have a hole.”
Shining grasped Twilight’s hoof in his magic as she took off again. It only took a gentle tug to bring her back to the ground. Once she was on her hooves, he pulled her into a needy hug. “I don’t know what you’re not telling me, Twily, but stay safe.”
After a few seconds of fidgeting, Twilight finally gave in and returned the hug in full. “I’ll try,” she offered. “Nightmare Moon doesn’t seem to be pulling any punches. I can at least promise not to die.”
“That’s the only reason I’m letting you go.”
Unfortunately, this moment between siblings was ruined. Shining felt a sharp drain on his magic once more as the blue alicorn ripped a hole in the Aegis. Her voice, carried by magic, said, “Twilight, stop flirting with ponies in the splash zone.”
The warmth and affection as well as the earlier awkwardness was nowhere to be found in Twilight’s voice as she separated from Shining. Instead, with uncharacteristic hostility, she shouted back, “He’s my brother, you jerk!”
A flat, “Gross,” came back. Shining picked up just the hint of laughter with it as Twilight fumed next to him. “Now get those wings in the air. I’ll keep the Aegis open for you until you get past it. I really need your help out here.”
In a huff, Twilight turned to Shining. “I need to get going.”
“You’ll be alright?”
Twilight averted her eyes and evaded. “Hey, I trained all last week for this,” she said as though that was supposed to inspire confidence.
Despite his frown, Shining had neither the authority nor the power to stop Twilight from leaving. He could play the big brother card, but he doubted it would work in this situation. With a sigh, he gave her one last hug and wished her good luck with saving the world.
It was only after Twilight left that Shining realized how fast rumors could spread in Canterlot.
First Summer Moon 6, 1001 SE
The moment Twilight was away from Canterlot, she cast a simple cantrip to reopen her line of communication with Luna. Neither of them would ever do this in a real battle. Even she, barely trained, knew better than that. It was insecure and unsubtle. But in this piece of theater, it hardly mattered. Nopony would even notice over the magical noise Luna fighting herself generated.
“Did you really have to turn me into a smear on the pavement?”
“Perhaps not,” Luna idly replied, “but it’s best you learn early and learn often that we are not invincible.”
Twilight made no secret of her grumbling. She didn’t need such a visceral lesson over something so trivial.
“If you don’t like it, try dodging next time.”
Twilight’s eyes widened as she recognized Luna’s duplicate, Nightmare Moon, attempting to blast her again in the exact same way. She flapped her wings as fast as she could to gain altitude. The beam flew past below her by a hair’s breadth, and she had even that allowance likely that only because Luna felt generous. Worse, it followed her as she flailed about until Luna forced her alter ego to give up the attack. It was only too bad she didn’t punch herself in the face again. That had been a riot.
“See?” Luna said smugly. “You’re learning.”
Refusing to dignify that with a response, Twilight said, “I’m going to start firing off long range support spells again. Let’s end this soon. Ponies are getting hurt. Again.”
Twilight could feel Luna rolling her eyes. They’d argued over casualties from the moment Twilight had found out about them. Not that it mattered. Luna would do whatever she wanted, and Twilight, unable to stop her partner in crime, had to bite her tongue in public. Exposing Luna as a fraud would only force her to rule with an iron hoof instead of acting as the benevolent princess she claimed to aspire to be.
At least the only ponies who’d died were those Luna would have killed anyway. Those deaths were more surreptitious assassinations than casualties. Equestria had a startling number of enemies gathering in the shadows. Twilight did her best to console herself with that information and tried not to think of what that meant for her future.
“I suppose it’s time,” Luna finally replied. She sent out a few dozen invisible magical markers. “Aim for these. Any piercing spell will do. I’ll dance around you, so don’t worry about making it look convincing.”
Twilight nodded. As she began casting, she repeated the confirmation verbally. “You have a minute until I’m ready to fire.”
“Understood. Going in for melee.”
Twilight idled her support spell for a moment to quickly cobble together another to protect her eyes. Once done, she returned to her work and allowed herself to watch Luna fight Nightmare Moon at close range. Dance truly was the correct verb choice for the sight. The two of them moved together in a fluid exchange of rapid attacks and blocks with an impossibly short time to react for anypony who didn’t know what was coming. It was a show designed to impress, not to be emulated in any real situation.
With some amusement, Twilight wondered if Luna would find more fulfillment on the silver screen than in government.
“Ready.” That was more warning than Luna needed. “Firing.”
Twilight let her first shot fly free. She aimed for the target nearest to Nightmare Moon. Luna forced – if one could use such a word in this situation – her duplicate into its path. Nightmare Moon batted the spell away with a hoof, but Luna took the opportunity to land a hit that lined her up with a trio of targets.
All three shots landed. Twilight knew this was but a performance, yet she still took some pleasure in venting her pent up frustration with Luna on Luna. It’d probably be decades before she gained enough skill to even come close to this for real.
Luna continued the combo, knocking Nightmare Moon into another line of fire.
Twilight followed suit and sent another spell off to pierce Nightmare Moon’s defenses and deal actual damage.
This continued until Twilight ran out of shots. Luna finished the beat down with a heavy kick that sent Nightmare Moon careening toward Canterlot. Luna rushed after her, and Twilight followed at a more cautious, sedate pace.
First Summer Moon 6, 1 LE (Lunar Era)
Shining watched Luna, if he’d caught the name correctly, slam Nightmare Moon headfirst against the Aegis with enough force to shatter the shield. The latter fell like a rock while Luna dropped down after her in a controlled fall.
Is it over? As he rushed to the scene, Shining certainly hoped so. The last thing Canterlot needed was two alicorns duking it out in its streets. Regardless, he severed the flow of magic from him to the Aegis to drop the shield around the city. It served no purpose at the moment but to confine those two to where they could do the most damage.
Or three, rather, Shining amended when he noticed Twilight gliding in to join Luna. She’d get there before him, but not by much.
When he arrived, Shining found a number of his own guard holding back curious civilians. Nightmare Moon was down and out, lying in an inelegant heap of her own limbs in the center of the street. Luna cast a spell he didn’t recognize on the fiend, most likely one to keep her that way. Twilight shifted about nervously as she stole glances at the crowd around them while, of course, everypony was watching.
And then Luna raised her horn skyward. Under the soft light of the moon, one might have missed the gentle cobalt glow of her magic. No longer was it the blazing light of war that made its weight felt upon the world. No, the fight had finished. The battle, over. This was something else, something peaceful.
In the sky, the moon lowered.
The sun rose.
And ponies everywhere cheered.