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The Night that Never Ended p16

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The sky flickered with the few remaining stars, their lights disappearing one by one as day descended. Though the sun should have been rising, bathing the forest below in orange radiance, instead the last points of light were winking out, laying a darkened twilight over the rotted limbs below.


But although the stars above gave in to the relentless advance of day, a beacon on the ground shone as bright as ever. From afar, a twinkle among the forest may have looked like a fallen star that refused to die, but for Trixie it was blinding agony.


She should have felt relief, her deity's spell somehow failing to reveal the warrant officer's lies. She should have felt pride at the alicorn's obvious unhinging. She should have felt confidence in the doomed nature of her latest spell. But all that filled Trixie's mind was panic, the burning light of the goddess searing her eyes, even closed and averted as they were. Trixie knew she had screamed at least once, maybe she still was, but she couldn't hear herself over the roar of air as it whipped past. Her horn let her feel that air wasn't the only thing rushing by; streams of magic were being drawn from the alicorn, the earth, probably from the other unicorns nearby.


Trixie held back tears, the light becoming unbearable but her hooves remaining rooted to the ground. Managing to lift one to shield her eyes provided little respite, but at least it let her think straight. And the more she thought about it, the more her confidence was restored. Telepathy is a skill of grace, not brute power, she smirked to herself. All the power of the stars can't force results where finesse is required.


But as the light pulsed again, the standing alicorn within losing even her silhouette for a moment, Trixie found herself second guessing her own confidence. All the power of the stars... it was certainly a lot of power...

_______________________

Nightmare Moon's entire existence was pain. Her muscle's strained to their limit to keep the force within her contained, and her mind reeled from the impossibility of the situation. She could feel the vibration in her jaw from her molars grinding together, but the sound was drowned out by the roaring hum of the spell.


We were supposed to rule together! How could you do this...


Memories floated to the top of her consciousness, the magic within her making the voices sound real, thrumming in time with the spell's energy. Even with her eyes shut tight, she could see her sister's face looking at her pitifully, the white face wet with tears. She could see her own hoof raised desperately from the ground as she begged for mercy, could see the white alicorn's horn glow, could feel the cold creep in to her bones...


And she could see Rainbow Dash. Once a threat to her return, now broken and defeated on the grass. Sacrificing herself for her friends, even if it was too late to matter. Such courage, such loyalty...


Luna gasped for air as she pulled her mane back in, panting heavily at the exertion from the fight. Below her, the cyan pegasus lay defeated and unconscious. A thousand years of fury bubbled within Luna, telling her not to waste time with this foal. She should kill her and forever break the elements of harmony, ensure they could never threaten her again, but something gave her pause.

Rainbow Dash stirred beneath her, and she lifted the pegasus gently with her magic. Arranging a bed of fallen leaves on top of the wet grass, Luna scowled as she made up her mind. The pegasus's actions were intriguing, that was all, and Luna was simply curious. How could she care so deeply about another pony? Why was she willing to die for fillies she cared nothing for?


She would have her answers, she resolved. After an immortal's lifetime of ruling side by side with Celestia, the crushing loneliness of her banishment was by far the worst part of her punishment. To make the element of loyalty believe the same thing as her, to see Celestia's little project not merely destroyed, but corrupted...yes, Rainbow Dash would live, if only to serve as an example of irony. Just a fraction of the revenge that Nightmare Moon would extract on that traitorous bitch when she returned to her rightful throne...



Nightmare Moon remembered the hatred she had held, saw her memories flash before her eyes. Her horn resonated painfully with the vibration of the magic, and the voices of her past were drowned out by her own mental screams of pain. This was not how magic was supposed to work! Magic was meant to be sculpted and pointed toward a goal, allowing the spell to flow naturally. With practice, an act of telepathy required little magic at all, but what Nightmare Moon lacked in patience and skill she made up for in raw power.


Pouring her fury and pain into the spell, she redoubled her efforts. Gradually, she could make out the outline...no, the presence of two other beings nearby. Muddy and vague, Nightmare Moon grit her teeth and cast her mental gaze elsewhere. Focusing on her memories of Rainbow Dash, she searched widely and randomly, every moment of agony left unheeded by her desperation for answers.


She would find her captain, and she would find out the truth of the matter. She would have proof that Trixie was hiding something, that Rainbow Dash was innocent, that she hadn't been betrayed again. If she could just find that little infuriating little pegasus...


"I don't care WHAT your orders are, you jerk!"


Another memory manifested itself in Nightmare Moon's mind, the scene of her own throne room shimmering vaguely. Nightmare Moon could no longer tell if her eyes were open or closed, the light from her spell blinding her to the real world either way.


"How DARE you address me like that, foal! I am Nightmare Moon, Ruler of Equestria, Goddess of Night Eternal-"


"More like the ruler of Jerktown! What did those ponies ever do to you?"


Nightmare Moon reeled in her anger, grinding her teeth as the image of smiting the new captain played through her mind.
Just think of how much more satisfying it will be once she's broken, she told herself. Just give it time...


"The ponies of New Ponyville, by your own advisement, will refuse to give up their own citizens. When you drop in today to give them my ultimatum, I want you to be prepared to meet out justice for their impending crimes." Nightmare Moon glared sternly at the pegasus, but the captain was unfazed. "Unless, of course, you still harbor loyalties to them. And after all your talk about serving me now, I was beginning to believe you."


"You can't just punish them for being loyal to each other! Isn't that a good thing?"


Nightmare Moon paused, choosing her next words carefully. "Loyalty, my little captain, should be to one's ruler. Are they not my subjects?"


"Well, yea, but you can't just
demand that they start liking you! And killing them isn't going to win any favors."


"I do not need them to like me, foal. They will learn to respect me out of fear if need be!"


Nightmare Moon drew in the moment. Her wretched sister was gone, awaiting her own justice in the dungeons below, and now a kingdom lay before her, ripe for the molding. The first town to defy her would serve as a worthy example of her power.


"It's not just Ponyville, Nightmare. If you start using force against those ponies, you might as well start killing everypony. If it was Celestia, she'd-


"SILENCE!" Nightmare Moon shrieked, her good mood evaporating. "I made it very clear that nopony was to utter that name, under any circumstances." Rainbow Dash took a step back, and Nightmare Moon felt a pang of guilt for the fear in her face. Steeling her heart, she pressed on, "You have your orders, foal, now go and execute them. By striking first, I can quash any thoughts of rebellion against my power."


Rainbow Dash huffed, but turned towards the door. "This isn't right," she muttered on her way out. "You'll see. This isn't right."



The memory faded with same feeling of infuriation that had sparked it. She had been right, of course, and the Manehatten riots had started as soon as news of Ponyville got out. The night sky hung over the heads of everypony, casting its beauty down for all to see, but the ground beneath her palace was filled with anger and hate. Anger so thick she felt it in the air, drew it in with every breath. It clouded her vision before long, and from there it had quickly guided her actions.


Another scene coalesced out of the swimming vapors of magic, this time of a long stairwell. The bottom should have been pitch black, but an infuriating light shone out from underneath a heavy door. A light, Nightmare Moon knew, that would have been as strong as the sun if let free. A light she so longed to snuff out. Drawing in a deep breath and trying to stop the shaking of her hooves, she took a step downward-


Nightmare Moon reeled backwards. With this much magic, it was hard enough to control it without reliving every regret of her life. Reason told her that she had only been standing in place for a few moments at most since she began the spell, but she pushed even that revelation out of her mind. Expunging all of her thoughts except that of her captain, Nightmare Moon began searching again.


________________________


Twilight Sparkle turned her head left and right as she walked down the dry streets. To each side, wood and stone buildings rose above her and blocked her view. If she didn't look too hard, she could almost pretend that she was outside on a moonless night instead of inside a cavern. Almost.


Twilight sighed, her hooves plodding down the road. Technically, her house was only a few minutes from the town center at most, but it had been almost twenty and she was still walking. She hadn't seen another pony outside yet, and she was perfectly fine with that. It gave her time to think about what she would say. Would she let them down gently? No, she needed the town to hate Rarity if they were going to get her out of power. That meant she would have to rile them up first, get them angry, make them want to hurt somepony. Then she would tell them about the resistance, give them a target, and let the rest play out.

It was all so logical. The perfect plan to depose the leaders. They'd probably die, of course, but what did she care? They weren't her friends, after all.


Twilight stopped walking and turned her back against a wall, slumping down into the dirt. "It shouldn't have come to this," she muttered to herself, her head reeling too much for any mental thought to be heard. "Maybe if I had been a little more understanding, we could have all compromised. That would have been better than this. Anything would have been better than this."

Twilight looked down at her hooves splayed before her, eyes blinking dryly. A few days ago, the mere thought of what she was about to do would have made her cry, but now it just seemed cold and obvious. This is where she was, and this was what had to be done. Twilight wanted to throw up.
  

Instead, she pushed herself back up and resumed walking. The alley emptied onto a more familiar street after a few feet, and Twilight forced herself to turn towards the town square. If it were Rainbow Dash, it would already be over. She would have flown in, bit the bridle, and blown the whistle. This was your plan, Twilight, don't let her down.


All too soon, the minor street emptied into a more open area. Empty shop carts and discarded litter were the only obstacles between Twilight and Rarity's office now, besides the thronging mass of ponies in front of the double doors.


Twilight halted. She had been so mixed up in her thoughts, she hadn't even noticed the growing noise as she grew closer. Ahead of her, easily two dozen ponies crowded around the entrance to Rarity's office, the door to which had been hastily fixed and boarded up. Raising her gaze, Twilight thought she could see an orange face looking down through a window, but it vanished quickly.


"Look! It's Twilight Sparkle!"


Twilight barely had time to blink before the mass of ponies surged toward her, surrounding her and pressing in as they barraged her with questions.


"Twilight! Tell Rarity that-"


"-fillies horn broke clean off-"


"-can't find him anywhere! Please-"


"-savagely attacked-"


"-demand compensation-"


Head spinning, Twilight tried to push her way clear of the group. For every pony she shoved aside, however, another took its place. Every colt and filly tried to yell above the other, vying for her attention and deafening her to everypony else.


"ENOUGH!" she yelled at last, wishing she had some magic to shove them back with. The voices of the ponies around her quieted, but didn't silence as they murmured to each other. She pushed a few ponies back roughly until she had enough space to breathe, and gasping raggedly she looked around at the group. "Now, what is the meaning of all this? One at a time, please!" she added as everypony began to speak at once.


"Twilight, please, we've been out here all day trying to get an audience with the mayor, but she hasn't come down at all! Applejack came out and told us all to go back to our homes, but all she's done since then is stay inside as well!"


Twilight looked at the terrified filly, a small blue colt hiding under her wing.  Shooting another glance towards the second story window, she found that it was still empty. The ponies began to murmur around her again, their voices quickly building before Twilight moved her hooves to shush them all. "Look, everypony remain calm, I can go in and-"


A thought halted Twilight's voice, and the sick stomach returned to her. These ponies are terrified and confused already. Do I really want to calm them down? She looked around at their dust-smeared faces, torches along the walls of the building revealing the confusion in their eyes. Slowly, Twilight raised a hoof and pointed toward a random colt. "You," she said flatly, "why are you here?"


Looking to each side, the colt cleared his throat. "Me? I came up here after the food shops closed. My little girl hasn't had anything to eat in almost two days!"


Moving her hoof slightly, Twilight's voice rang out. "You."


"Oh, uh, w-we don't know what to do about little Daffodil. She looks sick, but the hospital is full-"
     

"You."


"My poor lad never woke up after Trixie's spell. Applejack nearly caved his head in! I don't know what's worse, seeing him barely breathing or the screaming... "


Twilight moved down the line, barely listening to the ponies stories. They consisted of a hundred problems, many of them Rarity's fault, that ponies had been weathering in silence. They had come here for answers, for hope from their leaders, and they had been turned away. How easy it would be to turn their fear to anger.


Twilight's gut churned, and she swallowed hard as the ponies continued giving their stories. It was all so clear to her, her path obvious. All she had to do was tell them all the truth, the truth they deserved to know, and they would turn towards the ponies that damned them all. It would be a bloodbath, but more importantly, it would mean hope.


Twilight caught herself, the word echoing through her mind. If Rarity and Applejack had both done what they had for hope, would she be any better than them? Celestia, she was killing them as surely as Rarity killed the lieutenant! Her hoof neared the end of the line of ponies, and Twilight could see the looks in their eyes. Rarity's name was mentioned more than a few times, and Applejack's wasn't uncommon in the complaints either. They were beginning to get the picture, even without Twilight's help.


I can't afford to back down now, she told herself as her hoof flicked to the next pony. If Rarity and Applejack refuse to see reason, then the only hope lies in letting somepony else lead. If these ponies are going to survive, those two need to answer for what they've done.


___________________________


Rainbow Dash held her hoof steady, or tried to, as the captain looked up at her from the bed. Dash wanted to chew her out for what she had done, but she bit her tongue and held her hoof forward. For Twilight's sake, she had to keep her pride and anger in check.


The question hung in the air, the silence of the moment framing it clearly. The captain's face was unreadable, but Dash dared to let her hopes soar as one uniformed hoof began to rise.


"I..." the captain began, raising her own blue hoof towards Dash's. "I... I can't."


She pushed Dash's hoof gently away, her face lowering. "I can't help Ponyville, not again. Not anymore." Dash lowered her hoof slowly in shock, not sure what to say. "You're on your own."


But... but... Dash didn't know what to say, her eyes wide with surprise. "You..." she began weakly, her mind struggling to find the right words. "You jerk!"


The captain didn't look up, her head hanging low as she sat on the edge of the bed. Rainbow Dash kept going, her words gaining momentum. "You huge, giant jerk! I came in, heard your nonsense about loyalty, and gave you a chance to make amends, and you still have your head so far up your plot that you can't see reason?! What in Celestia's name could you possibly owe Nightmare Moon that's worth not even trying to save your friends?"


"Loyalty." The captain stated.

"That's- that's just- AUGHH! " Rainbow Dash threw her hooves up in frustration, her wings shooting out to catch her balance. "You know what? Screw this. Screw you, screw this world, and screw loyalty." The captain raised her gaze, and Dash caught the confusion in her eyes. "Oh yea, you heard me, I said 'screw loyalty'. 'Cause you know what? If loyalty got you here, if it got everypony in this mess, then I never want anything to do with it again."

"But you're- we're the element of loyalty, isn't that the point? Don't act like you're better than me all of a sudden because I took my element one step farther than you-"


"One step too far! Don't you get it, foal?" Dash caught the slip of her tongue as she used the captain's own insult, but pressed on. "That's the same mistake everypony has made. You all took your elements of harmony past common sense and right into crazy town. Fluttershy killing animals for kindness? Rarity killing the town by giving them too much? It's all the same pattern!" Dash huffed, exasperated, as the captain stood.


"So what, I'm supposed to only believe in my beliefs when it suits me? What's the point in having them then?" Her voice was defiant, but shaky.


"Ya, whatever, believe what you want whenever you want." Dash turned toward the door, waving a hoof over her shoulder. "I'm done with you and your stupid philosophies. I've got more practical things to worry about, like not letting everypony die."


"So now what?" the captain called out jeeringly. "You just gonna abandon everything you ever stood for and then walk away like the bigger pony? You make me sick."


Dash slowed, the door in front of her filling her vision. Eyes closing as she took a deep breath, she barely held herself back from turning around and lashing out at the other pegasus. "You know, one time, me and my friends went to visit Appaloosa." She called up the memory, as much as to distract herself from her anger as to make a point. "When we got there, we found that the local town had gotten into a land dispute with a herd of buffalo nearby. And you know who's side I took? The buffalo's. Pinkie and I stood up against all our friends because the buffalo were right." She shook her head, but no sound came from the captain. "You can talk about your morals and stuff all you want, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how loyal you are if you're loyal to the wrong cause."


The captain snarled something in response, but Dash wasn't listening. She knew that the captain just wanted to get the last word in. After all, she was the same way. She hated that about herself.


The captain was still speaking, but quieted at the sound of a rattling noise. Dash belatedly realized it was the doorknob, and looked blankly at her hoof on the door before realizing that she wasn't the one turning it. Stepping backwards, her eyes widened as the door swung open. In his mouth, Big Mac held the keyring to unlock the door, his eyes doing their best to apologize to Dash for the white unicorn standing behind him.

____________________________

In the blazing white eyes of Nightmare Moon, all of New Ponyville shone like like a city in the distance. A hundred tiny flames flickered inside a vaguely shimmering mountain, but Nightmare Moon could no more stop to look than she could stop the memories welling up. A thousand moments replayed before her eyes, each flashing by a little faster than the last. Having long since given up on quashing them down, she grabbed desperately at each one that included her query. She could feel herself getting closer in a way she couldn't quite explain, and her mental gaze searched rapidly as she was pulled formlessly along.


The lights flit by below her, passing by the dozens. Small flashes of recognition sparked as she passed overhead, like light shining over the facets of a gem as it's turned. With equal parts surprise and triumph, Nightmare Moon realized she was looking at ponies, or at least parts of them. Her spell was taking her consciousness over theirs, looking for Rainbow Dash and finding instead the memories from these ponies, their ghostly forms wandering aimlessly and unseeingly about their daily lives. Nightmare Moon's gut churned in confusion; how did so many ponies know of her captain's true face? Nopony except her knew that Rainbow Dash hadn't died months ago, and her memory should have been buried along with other loved ones that were lost. Why did nigh everypony in here have her in mind?


Distracted by her own thought, Nightmare Moon looked up from the ghostly forms below. She couldn't place when it had happened, but she was now amidst the city of lights she had seen from a distance just moments ago. As she skimmed over them far faster than anypony could fly, she pried into the darkness surrounding her. The corporeal world was vague and gloomy even in the light below, but... was that a stalactite that just went by? And another, there! She was in a cavern, a gigantic cavern filled with ponies! Though her spell pulled her forward relentlessly, Nightmare Moon's thoughts halted. A cavern filled with ponies exactly where Trixie reported the rebel base. And they all had her captain in their recent memories.


No, Nightmare Moon soothed herself, that serpent couldn't have been telling the truth... could she?


Soundlessly but suddenly, the pony-shaped flames of the town were purged from her sight by a beacon of light. She couldn't feel any motion, but she saw the world stretch around her as she was pulled forward. The glow of her captain's mind was matched only by the brilliance Nightmare Moon emanated in Trixie's tent, easily twice that of the other ponies, and with a cry of victory she collided with the Shadowbolt's mind.


The pain around her ceased as normal light began to fill her sight, but any sound she should have heard was drowned out by a loud, blaring static. She could see that she was standing, looking towards a door, her hooves pushing her off the bed as... wait, that wasn't right. She was laying down on a bed, her back turned towards the figure in the bed, the door opening to reveal a red pony, who she couldn't see behind herself-


GAHH! she recoiled,the scene fading away from her. What was going wrong? Nightmare Moon scowled and braced herself, the air around her magical presence brimming with static. It was as if she couldn't quite connect with the captain's mind, like something was splitting her awareness as soon as she tried to focus on it. Redoubling her efforts, she surged formlessly towards the mass of light again, the real world spinning into focus.


There! She was standing in a hallway now, her eyes cast toward a white unicorn as the big red earth pony pulled the door shut behind her, holding the keyring in his mouth. Standing beside her bed, she could hear it click with a horrible finality as- no, wait, she was drifting away again! Focusing on the hallway, she could see the white unicorn in front of her again, hear the mumbles of her voice as she flicked her mane. As a rainbow tuft of hair bobbed across her vision, Nightmare Moon smiled to herself. Yes, her way had been blocked by something, but she had found her captain at last. Focusing on the scene before her, the static slowly muted as thoughts began to race through her mind. Thoughts that weren't her own.


She suddenly knew the unicorn in front of her. Rarity was speaking, mumbling something inaudible, as Big Mac strode to her side. Both figures turned to walk down the hallway, and her vision began to bounce as she found herself following. She let her wings carry her down the hallway as she raised a hoof to her ear, tilting her head to try and dig out the source of the ringing. It wasn't as loud as it was a few minutes ago, but it had returned and wouldn't go away.


Somewhere in the back of her mind, an alarm went off. Something was wrong, she wasn't lifting her own hoof, Rainbow Dash was lifting her hoof. Nightmare Moon backpeddled, struggling to keep perspective. Away from the taunting eyes of Trixie, Nightmare Moon wasn't afraid to admit to herself that she wasn't in her element here. If she lost herself inside the captain, she had no idea what would happen.



"You must stop dallying, Rainbow Dash!" Rarity scolded from up ahead, her figure silhouetted by the light coming from the staircase behind her. "Twilight could tell everypony the truth at any moment now. If ever she needed you to be fast, it is now."


Her vision shook, and Nightmare Moon reminded herself that it was Dash shaking her head, not her. But she could hear Dash mentally scolding herself, wordlessly admonishing her sluggishness. "I know, I'm sorry. I'll get to her, don't you worry!" She said aloud. Zipping past Rarity, she got halfway down the stairs before she turned back around. "Oh! And uh, Rarity? Sorry 'bout the whole... you know..."


"Rainbow, please! There will be time enough for apologies after you stop Twilight!"


Dash nodded and flew down the stairs, her mind already refocused on her goal. It wasn't far to the town square, and that's where Twilight would be. Dash just had to stop her before she undermined all of their efforts to protect New Ponyville by paving the way for Trixie and Nightmare Moon. Dash narrowed her brow as she flew out the door. She certainly wasn't going to watch everything everypony had gone through be for naught.


As Dash flew towards the cavern ceiling, she didn't notice that the sound of static had been replaced by the sound of racing wind. If anypony had happened to fly by that exact spot in the air, they might have heard a dim static buzzing before it dissipated slowly, leaving a stunned silence in its wake.

____________________________


Twilight's hoof hung frozen in the air, an orange filly looking nervously to the ponies on either side of her. "So then, I told my sis to stay home, but she said that everypony was going to be rushing to get the food before it was all gone, and because of her broken leg she... the crowds in the street were so fast, and she fell down, and they didn't stop to let her up. They just kept pushing and pushing and... "


The filly trailed off, the ponies to her side standing stiff as boards. Twilight felt what they all felt, yet another surge of anger towards the cause of needless harm and death. Where were the safety precautions for basic, day-to-day life? Why had nopony addressed the stalactites that fell on homes in the western part of the cavern? Was anypony looking for the cause of this new sickness that had so many ponies hospitalized?


Twilight lowered her hoof, and the movement drew all eyes to her. They aren't sure yet, she thought to herself as her stomach sank. They can be pushed either way. I can stop this craziness before it begins.


Unbidden, images of her friends flashed before her mind. Fluttershy and Zecora, seeming so friendly while they slaughtered animals. Rarity taking on more than she could handle and refusing to acknowledge it. Applejack digging them deeper and deeper into a pit so deep they hadn't seen the sun in months. Twilight sighed as she made her decision. It's too late to stop the craziness, she thought glumly, it started well before I even arrived. The best I can do now is try to end it.


She opened her mouth to speak, raising her gaze as she did so. Above the ponies in front of her, barely visible behind a curtain, an orange face peered down at her from the window. Trying her hardest to ignore the pain in her gut, she addressed the crowd.


"Listen everypony, there's something you should-"


Twilight's ears perked, twitching as they caught a sound from behind her. It had almost sounded like her name, but the town square was empty except for the scared ponies before her. Is my subconscious trying to distract me from this? she wondered. Well, too bad. I may not want to do it, but somepony needs to. If we are to have any hope of survival, somepony needs-


"-ilight!"


No, wait, she had definitely heard something that time. Turning her head again, her ears perked forward. Her eyes scanned the darkness, their distended pupils picking up all the light they could.


"Twilight!"


There! Something was falling from the ceiling- no, flying down towards her. Before Twilight could wonder what had her in such a hurry, Rainbow Dash was grinding to a halt on the stone ground, dust kicking up behind her in the torchlight.


"Twilight!" She yelled again, this time only a few feet away. Twilight cringed from all the noise in the otherwise quiet chamber, and threw a guilty glance back towards the crowd. The ponies stood looking toward each other and Twilight, just as confused as she was. Before she could open her mouth to speak however, Rainbow Dash was pulling her head down for a conspiratorial whisper. "Twilight," she hissed, "we need to get away from these ponies now! I've got something important about a certain prisoner that you need to know."


"Er, Rainbow Dash, remember what we talked about?" Twilight motioned with her head over her shoulder, forcing a grin for the sake of the watching ponies. "I'm kind of in the middle of something, here."


"NO!" Dash hissed again, jerking Twilight's neck painfully back down. "I mean, just let me explain. This isn't something you want to do Twilight."


"I know it's not," Twilight said, her own inner monologue echoing in her head. Raising her voice for the benefit of her audience, she could feel their eyes on her. It was exhilarating, in a way, knowing she was guiding their hearts and minds with her words. "It's not something that anypony should want to do, but it's the only logical action." She was like a book, she mused inwardly, and they were her readers, soaking up every word and replaying them, letting their own inner voices echo in tandem with hers. She had felt it from their side more times than she could count, and could see the rapture on their faces. "Your leaders have failed you, ponies of Ponyville!"


A rush of whispers sprang up, the ponies glancing towards eachother but not daring to interrupt. Twilight smiled with surprise at herself. She had expected to be nervous, even frightened of this moment. But with all eyes on her, she was rising to the occasion. Maybe she'd make a good leader after all. Maybe she'd even make a great leader.


"Twilight, listen, this is important!"


Twilight faltered, looking towards her friend. Her gut told her to stop what she was doing now and hear her friend out, and the wide eyes on the pegasus's face told Twilight all she needed to know of the her friend's sincerity. With a lingering look toward the restless crowd, she lowered her head back down towards Dash. "What?" she snapped, her head already itching to turn back to her audience.


"Twilight, I know what we agreed to do, but this is wrong. You aren't acting like yourself right now, and Rarity-"


"I'm acting the way I always have," Twilight interrupted indignantly, "I'm being logical when everypony else is acting crazy." With a touch of pride, she straightened her chest. "I've done a lot of thinking, and we were right. We can't let the heat of the moment dissuade us now, Rainbow! We have to keep our heads and stick to the plan."

Dash tried to speak, but Twilight was on a roll. "Rarity had her chance, and she chose to lie and scam this town. Well, I'm not okay with that. I can't sit here and watch her damn everyone because Applejack is too stubborn to admit she's wrong."


"There are more important things than being right!" Twilight could hear weight behind her friend's admission, but the fire within her had already pulled her back towards the crowd. "Don't do something you'll regret. Don't become like them!"


Twilight Sparkle froze, her mouth open mid breath, Slowly lowering the hoof that she didn't remember raising, she let the whisper from Rainbow Dash tumble inside her head. She could feel the energy of the crowd, could see that windows from nearby houses had opened, but it felt muted now.


She felt a hoof on her shoulder, and turned to the blurry face of Rainbow Dash. As a sob escaped her throat, Twilight brushed the tears from her eyes as she lowered her head. "I..."


Twilight felt a hoof brush through her mane, and saw blue hooves move past her. "Rarity and Applejack have made hard choices," Rainbow's voice spoke loudly to the mob, "and maybe some of them weren't the right ones. But they are doing the best they can, and for now that has to be good enough. When you think of the loved ones you've lost and want someone to blame, try taking a look around town to see where their families are."


It felt like a lead weight had dropped in Twilight's chest. When was the last time she had even thought of Sweetie Belle's energetic face? Dared she think what had become of Apple Bloom? "You have an army on our doorstep," Dash continued, "so you can't afford to fight amongst yourselves. Not right now, not after how far you've all come."


The crowd muttered, but Twilight kept silent. With a final command to go home, Dash turned away from them. As their eyes shifted to Twilight, she let her gaze fall back to the ground. Guilty and ashamed, she turned to follow her friend away from the logical conclusion.


_____________________


Luna's vision darkened, the light from her spell diminishing around her. Uncaringly, she let herself fall on her haunches. My captain... her broken thoughts tumbled around her head. Betrayed again. She wants to save the town. Her town. From me.


Some pony was calling her name, no, her title. "Nightmare Moon", it rang out. "My Queen", "Your Highness". Not like her captain did. Not like her Rainbow Dash.


Luna thought back over the last months, wincing at how much he had confided in Rainbow Dash. While she had started as a rebellious project fueled by Luna's anger, she had slowly become slightly more. It took many indignant days for her to admit it to herself, but she had let the pegasus become a friend. Just another entry for the list of her mistakes. Just one more regret to mark her immortal lifetime. She had let her guard down, the same mistake that had landed her alone and on the moon. And suddenly, sitting on the cold ground in a war tent, under a lightless sky that was a testament to her failure, she felt more alone than ever.

Gradually, Luna realized that the pony calling to her had come closer, and with a slow turn of her head she saw the curious face of Trixie. She was aware that the unicorn was talking, but Luna didn't bother to listen. Something wet on her hoof told her that she was crying, and she didn't bother to hold her tears back. Why bother with looking regal anymore? Why bother with anything? Why raise the stars tonight? Why not just let the world rot, finish what she had so foolishly started, and start all over again in a few millenia. After all, she had time. Until the last star blinked out, she would be alive, alone with her regrets. Always alone.


Something glimmered dimly in her mind, and Luna saw something that drew her back, if only a little, into the real world. Trixie had finished talking, and now stood silently watching her leader. Her eyes were wide with worry, concern written all over her face.


It all clicked for the alicorn. Luna snorted, making her Royal Guard jump. Another snort followed, and then a chuckle, and then full blown laughter at the absurdity of it all. Here she was lamenting over another traitor, while the one pony who told the truth stood by her side. How could I have been so stupid, she chortled to herself, as to think I could make one of Celestia's pets my friend, when I have had my own this whole time?


Nightmare Moon stood, shaking her flank to clear off the dust. She pulled in her despair and pain, nursing it as she nursed her anger. It would serve its use in time, just as it always had. Feeling her mane blow out behind her, she turned towards her last faithful servant.


"Trixie," she began, letting the name roll around her tongue, "I'm afraid I owe you an apology. I seem to have made a grievous... mistake, and your service has long gone unheeded."


Surprise lit up Trixie's face, a hoof coming up reflexively. Reveling in taking the arrogant mare off guard, Trixie lowered her horn. "You asked for my blessing to crush the rebel camp, and I arrogantly refused, foolishly trusting the spies and liars amongst my midst. Your rewards are long overdue." She let her horn glow, pouring her exhausted self into a spell for the second time that night. "You asked for the power to smite my enemies, and with my blessing, you shall have it."

_____________________

Trudging silently toward Twilight's home, neither pony said a word until they reached the door. Unsure whether the lump in her throat was another sob or the pressure to say something, Twilight opened her mouth to speak, even then unsure what to say.


"Wait," Rainbow Dash spoke first, her face unreadable. "Twilight, I know you're sorry. You don't have to apologize-"


"Yes I do!" Twilight nearly shouted, stamping her hooves as the floodgates burst. "Rainbow, I can never apologize enough! I nearly got them killed, I nearly started a riot, and for what? Because somepony lied for all the right reasons?" Twilight quieted, letting a tear drop from her cheek. "I would have done it if you hadn't stopped me. Celestia, how can I ever look at Rarity or Applejack again? The things I said to them, thinking they were just being stupid. I don't know how it all happened so fast..."


The hooves wrapping Twilight in a sudden hug did little to ease her mind, but they did help quiet her sniffles. In the otherwise silent room, her quiet sobs echoed like thunder. "I knew it would get them killed, and I wanted to do it anyway. I wanted... I wanted to see justice, even after seeing what happened to the lieutenant. I'm just as bad as they are."


"No you aren't, Twilight. You stopped while they kept going. You didn't let your duty to fellow ponies break who you are." Dash kept Twilight wrapped in a tight hug, squeezing a little with every word.


Twilight knew Dash's words were meant to be reassuring, but she still felt a lump in her chest. "Is that really better, Rainbow?"

Twilight felt the sigh from her friend more than she heard it, the pegasus deflating a little bit around her shoulders. "Better? I... I don't really know anymore, I guess. But everypony here has done something terrible because it helps everypony else, and all it's done is left everypony depressed, hopeless, and disgusted with themselves." Twilight was silent as the grim reality set in. "I don't think 'better' is the right way to think of it, but we know their way doesn't work. We just can't let ourselves fall into the same traps as them."


Twilight lifted herself onto her hind legs, wordlessly returning the hug. It still wasn't clear to her, and she doubted that it ever would be again, but at least right here, right now, she could be happy about what she hadn't done. Letting herself fall onto all four hooves, Twilight cocked her head as a question came to her. "Dash, why did you decide to come back and stop me?"


Letting herself fall off her shoulders, Dash stood face to face with her friend. "Oh, that. Well, I kinda got... caught. Rarity heard everything I said to the captain, including the part where I told her what you were doing."


Twilight's jaw dropped. "So you came back after she told you too? Was that whole thing you following her orders?"


"What? No!" Dash huffed indignantly, tossing her hair out of her face. "Actually, I was ready to fight my way out when she told me what she had come up there for. Twilight, she's letting the captain go free, no trial or anything."


Twilight's jaw remained dropped, this time for a very different reason. "She... whaa?" was all she could muster.


"I don't know why," Dash interpreted Twilight's sentence, "I think that's a talk for the two of them. But it got me thinking that Rarity wasn't all bad. Heck, nopony is all bad, not even the captain or Nightmare Moon or maybe even Trixie." Dash brought a hoof to her chin pensively. "Well, maybe. Anyway, I knew Rarity wasn't, and that's when I asked myself if I was rushing a half-baked plan again."


"I think we both know the answer to that question." Twilight crumpled to the floor.


"Yea, but at least we caught it before it was too late."


"I guess," Twilight admitted. Her happiness was rapidly fading beneath the prospect of her next step. "So the captain isn't going to help and we aren't going to try and lead the town. That puts us right back where we started."


"Not exactly," Dash interjected. "I might have found a way home, Twilight. But if we ever get the opportunity to take it, I want to make sure we deserve it. I don't want to bring this place back with us. I don't want to become like them."


"Me neither, Dash." Twilight readily agreed, "But how? How do we get home? How do we beat Trixie? How do we protect the town?"


Dash nuzzled her friend as she walked past, looking at the wall. "The captain gave me an idea," She finally said. "The reason this all happened, the whole cause of this whole mess... it was her. She wasn't loyal, or maybe not the right kind of loyal, or whatever. Her Element of Harmony wasn't strong enough to ignite your spark thingy."


"So they only had four elements?" Twilight tapped her chin, her mind kicking into gear.  "That explains why they failed at stopping Nightmare Moon, but how does it help us?" Twilight struggled to think ahead of the pegasus, not used to being the one behind in the conversation.


"Because, Twilight," a grin spread across Dash's face, "we're the missing two."
GD: [link]

Oh jeez, where to even start...

First of all, no indents this time because DA changed something with how those work (again). I hope it's not as much of an eyesore to you as it is to me.

On a lighter note, I'm glad to finally nix this silly suspicious that the fic is dead. It's not dead, and won't die. Admittedly, I came pretty close to putting it on hold until later this year, but when I realized that it was more laziness than business I forced myself to sit down and work through my writer's block. (Very) long story short, it worked, and now I'm back in action.

One of the things that really held me back was that I generally plan out events about three chapters ahead of what I'm writing. Now, for the first fifteen chapters, that's not a big deal because I can direct the story as I wish. However, it's getting to the point where I have to start considering the conclusion, and I had so many different ways I *could* end it that I just couldn't decide where to go from there.

Something like two weeks ago, I finally slapped myself and said the same thing that I say to anyone that complains of writer's block: just fucking write something. So I did, and it was bad and I scrapped it, but I kept writing and even started another fic (hohohohoho let's see how long that takes) to help get the ideas flowing. I've got a good idea of what I want to have happen now, and this time I have an idea of how I'm going to let the characters get there.

My enthusiasm for the story is the highest it's been in months. Thanks for your patience, and I promise Ill do my best not to let you down.

Also special shoutout to unitoone for the new cover art. In fact, special shoutout to everyone who makes fan art. Hell, even people who just leave comments. You guys are literally the fuel the keeps me going, and my heart does a back flip every time I log onto to DA and see giant paragraphs waiting for me.

...but extra special shoutout to unitoone. You're the man.
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DolphinBuster's avatar
"Because, Twilight," a grin spread across Dash's face, "we're the missing two."

Best part. AND IT ALL MAKES SENSE! *squee*