Tags: Alternate Universe, Dark, Romance, Tragedy
At a fair held in the town of Dappleshore, Twilight stumbles upon something from her family's past and is drawn to investigate. But will she succumb to its sinister influence, and can Trixie and Luna set their differences aside to help her?
The title and certain themes were inspired by the song Filistata by Stolen Babies. The plot is loosely based on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H. P. Lovecraft.
Also available on FiMFiction. Featured on Equestria Daily
The moon peeked above the horizon as Luna landed in the garden outside the farm. She glanced up and watched the pale orb and the thousands of stars sparkling in the black sky. This was the time when she felt most comfortable, but there was little consolation in the sky tonight.
She didn't know how much time she could expect to have before Trixie and Twilight returned, and she had no idea what she was even looking for or what she should expect to find. She turned her gaze to the farm. There was no light in the windows or smoke from the chimney. The place seemed completely abandoned. She hoped it wasn't merely a ruse.
With slow steps, Luna walked up to the old door and focused on the lock. A click and a creak later the door stood open before her, a portal into the darkness and the unknown. She stood for a brief minute, listening breathlessly, but everything was dead silence. Finally she braced herself and stepped through the door.
The kitchen looked like it had when they were there earlier. It obviously wasn't here Twilight had done her supposed cleaning; the cups of tea were still standing out on the table.
Crossing the room, Luna pushed open the door to the small pantry. Trixie had mentioned rope and stains of blood, but all Luna could see was bales of hay and sacks of oat. Nothing out of the ordinary for a pantry.
The study was no more helpful. The book she had found earlier was gone, and none of the others seemed out of place. Luna searched the desk but found nothing. She paused, sighed, and then went back out into the hall.
A pair of rooms followed, obviously the rooms of Twilight and her guest. Luna had no trouble picking out Twilight's room. It was overflowing with books and parchment, the obvious product of an obsessive mind.
Luna searched through the piles of books and papers. Most of the books appeared to come from the local Dappleshore archives; long records of local matters dating back to the founding of the village. No doubt it all had to do with Twilight's original research into her family.
Gray's room on the other hoof gave the impression of having never been used. An old mattress and an empty desk was all the room had to offer. Maybe Gray had left as Twilight said and taken everything with her.
Luna stood in the dark hall and watched the room in silence. No, the more she thought about it the more it began to seem like a facade. This room had not been used in ages. The mattress and desk had been put there simply for show. But if not here, where then had Gray been spending her time?
Luna continued down the hall, past the bathroom to a single door at the end. She pushed at it but found it locked. The keyhole revealed nothing but darkness beyond. Carefully Luna focused on the lock, and a faint light shone from the tip of her horn. There was a click as the bolt moved, unlocking the door.
Luna paused briefly to listen. When she heard nothing, she slowly pushed the door open and looked down a short flight of stairs into a small cellar.
With wary steps, Luna descended the stairs and glanced around the room of cold stone walls and rough floor. She took a few steps into the virtually empty room and struck a hoof against something hard. Previously concealed by sand and dust, a metal ring now revealed a large trap door at her hooves.
Luna pulled open the hatch with her heart beating fast. She looked down into the dark to find more stairs leading into the ground. The steps looked ancient, the stone rough and crumbling in places, but the dust and cobwebs had been disturbed, proof that it had been used frequently of late. Glancing back over her shoulder, Luna then began her descent into the ground.
* * *
The stairs ended in a long tunnel. Luna paused at the last step and glanced down the pitch black corridor, allowing her keen eyes to get used to the darkness before heading down the tunnel. She didn’t want to use any light, in case it gave her presence away.
After a few steps she stopped suddenly, holding her breath. Her gaze focused upon a cloaked figure hiding in a niche ahead. When it didn't move, Luna dared to edge closer. She drew a breath of relief when the specter revealed itself to be a black coat thrown upon a torch set in the wall.
Still, the discarded piece of cloth left Luna wary. It looked like Gray's cloak which she had always been wearing, but if her coat was here that meant Gray could be nearby as well. Luna gave the niche and the cloak a wide berth as she moved on down the corridor.
A strong and unpleasant scent of copper wafted up from somewhere ahead. Luna edged closer and stopped where the tunnel took a turn. Peeking around the corner, she stared into a small room with a large slab of stone in the center. Something was lying on top of the stone.
A lump formed in her throat as she rounded the corner and stepped into the room. For a while she didn't dare to look, keeping her eyes shut. Finally she opened one eye slightly and looked at the thing on the stone.
The gray stone slab and much of the surrounding floor was smeared in layers of dried blood. On top of the stone lay a small figure, huddled together like a newborn foal, her legs still bound together with rope. Luna knew instantly that the filly was beyond saving; she was already long dead. Her white coat and rose-and-purple mane lacked all luster, her skin was stretched taut over her bones, and a deep wound cut across her throat like a wide red grin from ear to ear.
Luna felt her heart sink and turned her eyes away, fighting back tears only to have her gaze fall on a large stone furnace set into the wall. Blackened bones and skulls with tiny horns mixed within the now cold ashes of what Luna assumed to be all the missing fillies of recent weeks.
“May you all rest in peace.” Luna bowed her head.
She wished she could do something for them, to give them a proper burial at the very least, but such concerns would have to wait. She gave the scene a last sorrowful look, then walked up to the only door in the room and slowly pushed it open.
She paused as she thought she heard something, but after awhile of breathless listening everything was still silent. Luna looked around. Up ahead, the corridor split off in two, one continuing straight ahead, while a side passage lead off to the left.
Luna sneaked closer and took a peek around the corner. The side passage ended in a heavy wooden door with a small, barred window. It was barred from the outside. Luna glanced through the window. The light from her horn fell upon a figure lying motionless in the corner. This one was much too large to be a filly, but Luna had no doubt that it too was dead.
The latch on the door was easy to open from this side, and Luna gently pulled the heavy door open and took a step inside. No sooner had she set a hoof through the door than something small crashed into her side at great speed and with a loud cry.
“For Sweetie Belle!”
Luna lost balance and fell over, knocking her head against the stone wall. The fall almost knocked her out and her vision blurred. Struggling to keep her consciousness, Luna tried to fend for herself in the resulting chaos as small hooves beat down upon her.
“And this is for Apple Bloom!” the young voice cried, and a hoof struck at the base of Luna’s horn, disrupting her concentration on the spell she had tried to summon up. “You won't touch her! I won't let you!”
Luna felt a sharp pain as strong teeth sank into her neck and held fast. “Please … stop … I don't mean you harm!” Luna cried, and her horn lit up brightly to light the room.
The young pegasus fighting Luna blinked at the bright light and closed her eyes tight but didn't break her hold on Luna’s neck.
“Scootaloo … Scootaloo! It's not her!”
The voice came from one of the corners where a pale yellow pony was lying, holding up a hoof to shield her eyes against the bright light.
Luna finally got a grip on the pegasus and tried to pull her off.
The young pony let go and stared at the princess. “Whoa!” She gasped, then narrowed her eyes. There was no doubt that she had been crying. “Are you real?”
Luna let go of her and sat up, pressing a hoof against her wounded neck. “I think my blood on your snout proves it.”
Scootaloo backed away, placing herself in front of Apple Bloom protectively.
Luna looked up at them, letting her light fall upon the two fillies. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to frighten you. Are you hurt?”
Apple Bloom cringed, but neither filly replied.
Luna glanced over at the larger figure she had originally seen through the bars. The black and white equine was lying perfectly still on the cold floor. Luna only now noticed how her neck was turned in an unnatural way. The way her head was staring into the wall made it impossible to see her face.
“S-she's dead,” Apple Bloom cried. “Twilight killed her!”
Luna looked back at the two fillies. “Twilight Sparkle? Are you sure?”
Scootaloo frowned. “Yeah, we're sure! We followed the trail when Sweetie Belle disappeared. We found Twilight, and we thought she would help us, but she just locked us up in here.”
Apple Bloom sniffed and rubbed her eyes. “I don't understand! Zecora was Twilight's friend, and e-everypony loved Sweetie Belle. Why would she do this?”
Luna thought of Trixie. If Twilight was really behind this, if she had really gone mad and murdered all those fillies, then Trixie might be in danger. She took a step towards the two fillies but stopped as Scootaloo stomped the ground angrily.
“Don't you come closer! I don't trust you! You'll hurt us like she did!”
Luna paused, then lay down flat on the ground in the most defenseless posture she could. She placed her head on the floor and looked up at the small but fiercely protective pegasus. “I swear that I won't hurt you, but we're all in grave danger here. Do you think you can make it out?”
Apple Bloom cringed again. “I think my leg is broken, but I can still stand on the other three.”
Scootaloo glanced at her, but didn’t leave Luna entirely out of sight. “I'll get you out, and I won't let anypony hurt you again!”
Luna remained on the floor, not wanting to scare the fillies. “You should get out. There's a mansion back in the village, the address is 110 Pedigree Lane. Go there and hide, and if you see Trixie, warn her of Twilight too, will you?”
The two fillies glanced at each other. “Trixie? That silly magician who once visited Ponyville?”
Luna nodded as well as she could in her position on the floor. “You can trust her. And if you see Twilight's owl, tell it to find my sister too. Now go, before Twilight returns.”
Scootaloo helped Apple Bloom up and supported her as they staggered towards the door. Apple Bloom stopped in the door and looked back at Luna. “What about you?”
Luna turned her head and smiled. “Don't worry about me. I'm going to get to the bottom of this place.”
Apple Bloom gave a worried nod, and with that the two fillies were gone. Luna lay for a minute, regaining her breath, then stood up and walked back out.
She might not have a lot of time left.
“It's a shame Luna couldn't be here.”
Trixie watched the waiter walk off to get their order. Twilight was sitting on the other side of the table, smiling at her. Truthfully Trixie would rather have been alone with Luna, but she didn't say that. Something about Twilight made her uncomfortable tonight, and everything that had happened lately didn't put her mind at ease either.
“Just the two of us tonight.” Twilight smiled.
Trixie gave a nervous smile back, eyes trying not to look into Twilight's.
Twilight watched her silently for a time before she spoke again. “Is something wrong, my dear?”
Trixie straightened up and tried not to look too concerned. “It's nothing. It's just that so much has happened of late.” She knew she had to buy Luna as much time as she could, and if she could get something out of Twilight, however little, all the better.
Twilight didn't say anything. The waiter returned with two plates of trefoil sandwiches with roasted alfalfa seeds and hay fries on the side.
Trixie picked a little at the fries as the waiter filled their glasses with sparkling spring water. Despite being rather hungry she didn't quite feel like eating. The waiter left, and Twilight sipped her water while looking at Trixie, who began to feel a little uncomfortable at the silence.
When Twilight didn't seem about to speak, Trixie gathered her courage and looked up to meet her eyes. “Twilight, I need to hear the truth. With everything that's happened I feel like I don't know you anymore.”
Twilight looked down a little. She hadn't touched her food yet either. “I know I owe you a better explanation, but I had hoped we could simply enjoy tonight together. I know I shouldn't think of myself in this situation, but I had looked forward to putting all this behind me for just one night.”
Twilight looked back up at Trixie. “Will you give me that? Just for tonight?”
Trixie stared into her glass.
Twilight reached out a hoof to her. “Tomorrow I'll wrap up my business here. I'll sell the mansion and the farm, and then we can return to Ponyville. Together. Does that sound good?”
Trixie smiled a little and nodded. She wasn't sure, but at least getting away from this dreary place might raise her spirits a little.
Twilight smiled back and gave Trixie's hoof a light stroke. “Don't worry. Tomorrow all this will be behind us.”
* * *
The evening progressed slowly but quietly. Twilight took her time eating, ordering both seconds and dessert. Trixie was mildly perplexed by her friend’s unusual appetite but didn't complain. If it meant giving Luna more time, Trixie would be the last pony to complain.
They didn't speak much. Trixie still felt concerned, but Twilight seemed happy to just enjoy the evening together in silence.
Twilight pushed the rest of her dessert—rich chocolate cake with strawberry and cream—to the side with a sigh. She had been poking the remains for a while, clearly full but eyes wanting more. Trixie hadn't been able to finish hers either, but for entirely different reasons.
Twilight looked at her, still smiling. “Sorry. I've been so distracted lately. It's just nice to finally relax and enjoy a night out. The food is quite nice here.”
Trixie nodded in silent response.
Twilight gestured for the waiter to bring them the bill. “We have the night ahead of us. Is there anything you'd like to do?”
Trixie didn't respond immediately. It was getting late; surely Luna would have searched the house by now. On the other hoof, it wouldn't hurt to be on the safe side.
Twilight paid the waiter, and when he left she turned back to Trixie. “I know a nice, quiet place where we could go if you like. It's not far, and I think you’ll love it.”
Trixie hesitated, feeling suddenly nervous, but finally nodded.
Twilight smiled brightly and stood up, offering Trixie a hoof. “Come, then. Tonight it's just you and me.”
* * *
Trixie walked next to Twilight as they trotted down the streets towards the fields and marshes outside town. As the forest came into view, Trixie felt her throat narrow and her heart beat faster. Luna had told her how she had found her in there, nearly dead. Trixie didn't remember anything of the incident, but something deep within her fought to make her turn around and run.
Twilight looked at her and placed a comforting hoof on her shoulder. “Don't worry, Trixie. We won't go far in, and I'll be with you the entire time.”
Trixie continued, though slowly. She didn't know why, but the looming forest brought up a sense of absolute terror within her. She fought to keep herself under control as Twilight led the way into the forest.
As Twilight had promised, they didn't have to go far in the shadows of the trees before Twilight stopped at the foot of a small hill poking up above the canopy.
Twilight looked at Trixie and smiled before they continued up the hill. “The view from up here is simply marvelous,” Twilight said and stopped at the top.
Trixie looked around. Twilight was right; the view was quite spectacular up here. The forest and swamps stretched out as far as the eyes could see without interruption, except to the east in the direction they had come, where the faint lights of the village shone against the dark blue of the sea.
Twilight sat down and pointed a hoof up at the starry sky. “I've come here a few times, but it's always been a little lonely.” She smiled at Trixie, watching her silently.
Trixie looked up at the sky. Luna's moon was full tonight, shining brightly down upon the two ponies on the hilltop.
Twilight reached out and stroked her mane. “Won't you sit down here with me?”
Trixie looked down again and smiled sadly at Twilight before sitting down.
Twilight laid a hoof around her shoulders and glanced up at the sky, watching the stars in silence.
It was a perfect night, yet Trixie couldn't stop feeling a deep sense of unease. She closed her eyes, trying to relax, trying to clear her mind. When she opened them again she noticed that Twilight was looking at her. She turned and looked into Twilight's deep violet eyes. For a moment she sat there breathlessly.
Twilight smiled and leaned closer, meeting her lips.
Trixie closed her eyes and remembered their first kiss, outside the mansion on that night. It had felt so right. Something lit up within her, a tiny spark, a fragment of something familiar that she had lost. As her horn grazed Twilight's, the sensation of magic that she had almost forgotten burst and flooded her mind, and something else welled up inside her as well.
With all the suddenness and force of a lightning strike, a sense of utter dread filled her and consumed her. Their first kiss had felt so right, but this … this was so very wrong!
Trixie pushed Twilight away from her with all her force and jumped to her hooves, breathing frantically and staring at the confused mare now lying on the ground looking up at her.
“Trixie? What's wrong?”
Trixie stared at her in absolute shock and disgust, then spun around and galloped down the hill.
“Trixie! I'm sorry! Please—”
She didn't hear Twilight's plea or look back as she ran. Her hooves barely touched the ground as they carried her through the forest, faster than she had ever run before. A power that she had never known coursed through her veins, and for the briefest of moments all four hooves left the ground as her body shot forwards on the beats of phantom wings.
All Trixie could think of was flight, of getting away and finding Luna!
* * *
Trixie landed outside the mansion and burst through the door. “Luna!” she called out as she glanced around frantically. Her eyes fell upon two small figures huddled behind the desk, their frightened eyes staring back at her.
Trixie took a deep breath, the rushing of blood calming a bit.
“Are you two alright? What are you doing here? Have you seen Luna?” Seeing that they were still too frightened to speak, Trixie reached out a hoof to them. “Don't worry. I won't hurt you. Please, it's important that I find Luna. She may be in danger. We may all be in danger!”
“S-she was in the dungeon. She told us to go here,” Apple Bloom stammered.
Trixie looked between the two. “Dungeon? Where? When?”
Scootaloo looked at Apple Bloom uncertainly. “We were looking for our friend, Sweetie Belle. She disappeared, and the trail lead to a farm near here. We met Twilight and she … she locked us in a dungeon.”
Apple Bloom nodded while crying. “Luna broke us out and told us to go here. But we've been here for—” she looked at Scootaloo who finished the sentence for her.
Apple Bloom nodded and wiped her eyes. “We were so afraid.”
Trixie walked over and sat next to them. “Don't worry. We need to find Luna. Are you hurt?”
Apple Bloom nodded at her leg. “I think my leg is broken.”
Trixie looked at the leg and nuzzled the young pony gently. “Come, I'll carry you on my back. I won't leave you here; it's too dangerous.” Trixie lay down and allowed Apple Bloom to crawl up on her back with Scootaloo's help.
Apple Bloom clung to Trixie's neck. “Are we going back to that dark place?”
Trixie nodded “Be brave, my little ponies. You will need all your courage now.” She turned around and trotted out the door.
“S-she killed Sweetie Belle … and Zecora,” Apple Bloom cried into Trixie's mane.
Trixie looked at them as they ran down the street. “Who?”
Scootaloo frowned, trying to keep up with Trixie. “Twilight! She killed them both and locked us up.”
Apple Bloom continued to cry. “Why would she do that? Poor Sweetie Belle …”
Trixie bit her lip. “She's not Twilight. She just … looks like her.”
The two fillies looked up at Trixie. “But where is Twilight, then?”
Trixie lowered her head, holding back tears. She couldn't get herself to say it. She still hoped that she was wrong, even though deep inside she knew the truth.
Luna glanced around the room at shelf upon shelf of vials, each laboriously labeled with numbers. She picked one up at random with the number 3 and carefully unscrewed the lid. The vial was full of a fine, gray dust. Cautiously, she poured a little amount out on her hoof and looked at it. It looked like ash.
Luna shivered as the image of the furnace and the bones of fillies forced itself to the front of her mind. The vial dropped and clashed against the stone floor where it shattered. Luna stepped back and stared at the ashes on the floor and the hundreds of vials on the shelves.
“Are these …? But there are so many,” she whispered to herself.
She forced herself to look away and quickly moved across the room and into the small study beyond. A long desk was overflowing with scrolls and books. A single vial, like the others, was standing alone on another desk along with a small bowl of silver and an open book. Luna ignored that desk for now and walked over to the many scrolls and books littering the first desk.
One book was open. It seemed to be a catalog of the vials in the other room, each line containing a number, a name and a pair of dates. Luna flipped back a few pages to the very beginning, unconsciously searching a particular number.
“3: Mandrake Meadows, June 6, 1646 - November 1, 1652”
Luna shivered and nervously flipped to the last page but found no recent records. She closed the book and put it aside, turning her attention to a small black book placed under a bottle of ink and a quill.
Luna carefully pulled the book free and opened it. It looked like a journal, but not the one Twilight had originally found. She flipped to the first entry and began to read with growing dread:
“May 21, 1799
“My spirit has returned to the lands of the living once again! After repeated, embarrassing failures with those fools who I call my descendants, I am eager not to repeat past mistakes. My most recent great-granddaughter, Twilight Sparkle, may well bear that cursed family name, but she has proven more useful than the bunch of them so far, and I think I shall be quite pleased with her.”
“May 23, 1799
“My descendant has been very helpful in reacquiring my former estates. I have no use for the mansion, but it is good to see these old catacombs still stand after all these years. The loss to my studies appears to be minimal, all things considered. My foolish granddaughter and the goonish villagers must have assumed it all collapsed during the assault.”
“May 28, 1799
“The supply of young unicorns in the area is unsatisfactory! I can not risk taking too many in one place, and the big cities are too crowded. I had to make do with an older pair last night. They both had their cutie marks already. Their combined blood was just about enough, but it loses vitality too quickly as they age.
“My descendant's inability to sustain the spirits for more than mere minutes on her own blood is a testament to just how strong she is, as one should expect of one of my own line. With such talent and will there is little left of the raw potential residing only in the very young and inexperienced.
“I may be forced to travel further to get what I need until I have regained enough strength to take the final step. It will not be too long now.”
“May 30, 1799
“That rhyming zebra is at it again. I believe I shall have to do something about her. Twilight seems to like her, but I can't have an outsider nosing around and getting too close.”
“June 3, 1799
“I went as far as Ponyville last night in my hunt for the much needed blood. I do not think I can make it much further. I did come away with a most interesting little pony; at the risk of upsetting Twilight, but my options are limited, especially now that news are spreading. It is that or the big cities, and my one venture into Baltimare has convinced me that I can not afford that risk.”
“June 6, 1799
“My descendant is starting to question a little too much. Perhaps the news from Ponyville upset her more than I expected. She has been a great help in my restoration and will soon provide me with the greatest gift of all. For now I will have to keep her appeased a little longer. She can not be allowed to ruin my plans. Not this time!”
“June 7, 1799
“Found Twilight's little lover snooping around in an alley and had to deal with her. Unfortunately we were interrupted most rudely by the young princess of the night. I am not yet strong enough to face such a power. I must be more cautious, but they will be dealt with in time. I may consider playing her sister against her if everything goes as planned. It would be interesting to see who the beautiful Celestia trusts the most, her faithful student or her very own sister. What a delightful scheme.”
“June 9, 1799
“Success! I have cast aside my cloak and embraced the living, breathing flesh once more! And not a moment too soon.
“Oh to feel the beat of the heart in your chest and the breath of air in your lungs. The flow of the life's blood is potent in my veins! Twilight struggled mightily, but I wouldn't have it any other way from a descendant of mine. She is the perfect heir indeed. Fair Celestia has raised her well for me, and provided me a unique opportunity. A student of Celestia herself, the perfect ticket into Canterlot.
“Oh to have waited so long for this. And with the flesh comes all the old urges I thought I had forgotten. I must indulge them as soon as convenient. Why, I haven't had a proper meal in generations. Ah, how I suddenly crave all the old sweets … what a bliss to taste and smell again.”
Luna sank a lump in her throat and dropped the journal on the table. Twilight had told the truth the other night, and they had failed to protect her. They had failed her, and now she was …
Luna closed her eyes, unable to hold back the tears. “I'm so sorry, Twilight!”
It took her awhile before she opened her eyes again and turned to the other table, the one with the vial and silver bowl. The vial had no number, simply marked by an X, and its contents—fine gray ashes like the others—had been emptied into the bowl. Luna walked up to glance into the bowl, then let her eyes fall upon the pages of the open book next to it. A small passage had been underlined:
“From the ashes of the dead, properly prepared, may be called up the forms of their spirits.”
And in the margin was scribbled a note:
“Never call forth that which you can not put down again, lest it should command you.”
A piece of parchment had been attached to the page. Luna carefully picked it up and read it. The closely written script and diagrams described a spell. Luna had seen similar magic once long ago. Forbidden magic that she had studied behind Celestia's back. She felt a shiver as she read over the spell. It was impossible to tell what it was meant to do.
* * *
A noise broke Luna out of her thoughts. She turned and listened carefully. Was it a door, or hoof steps? Everything was silent again. Luna stepped quietly over to the door and peeked through it into the room with the vials. Everything was as she had left it.
Luna hoped that it was just the place playing tricks on her. She needed to get out; she had seen enough, and she had to make sure Trixie and the two fillies were safe.
Luna hurried out of the vial room and through the corridors, as quickly as she could without making a noise. The ancient tunnels bent and split in several places. Luna tried to recall the path she had taken when she came but nearly ran into a wall as the tunnel came to a dead end.
She turned around and froze as she heard hoof steps back the way she had come from. Quickly stepping back against the wall, she stood perfectly still in the darkness and listened. She knew there was no way to run except through whoever was coming, but this time she wouldn't be taken by surprise.
Luna braced herself for a fight as she listened to the hoof steps getting closer, her keen eyes staring into the pitch-black darkness. The steps were now very close, and through the darkness Luna could see a cloaked figure.
Luna focused her magic, feeling it coursing through her horn but suppressing the glow. Instead she gathered the light that would normally surround her horn and directed it at a spot behind the figure. A faint light sprung up far down the hall, not very strong but just enough—she hoped—for a distraction to give her the edge she wanted.
The steps came to a sudden halt, and Luna saw the figure turning towards the light. Wasting not a second, Luna lashed out at the specter with a powerful blast of magic, sending it flying through the tunnel. She stormed after it and was upon it in the beat of a heart, her horn lowered threateningly and her teeth clenched.
She paused, confused. Beneath her lay Gray's old cloak, but it was empty. Luna poked it with her horn then turned around, casting a bright light in every direction to chase off shadows, trying to reveal anything that might be hiding.
As she looked up, the cloak moved with a sudden jerk and pulled her legs away from under her. Luna fell over, and her jaw hit the floor painfully. Her vision blurred, and she could taste her own blood. Before she could regain her composure, something wrapped around her head and neck and tightened swiftly. Blinded and struggling to breathe, Luna waved about frantically.
“Inquiring minds wish to know if alicorns can die. Are you truly immortal, or just really long-lived?” A voice spoke behind her.
Luna struggled and wheezed under the strangling cloak. The voice moved closer, and she felt a hoof kick her in the side. “I must confess, your majesty, that I find myself disappointed. I had hoped for more of a fight from the mighty princess of the night.”
Luna's muscles relaxed, and her wheezing stopped. The princess lay sprawled on the cold floor of the dungeon with her head wrapped in Gray's cloak. She scrambled for a moment longer before her body stopped moving.
The pony standing above her smiled darkly. A knife flashed in the dark, and the unicorn bowed down over the limp body of the princess, untying the cloak to expose the neck. The blade pressed against Luna's throat. “Goodnight, princess.”
* * *
Luna's body tensed, and in one powerful movement her back arched and her hind legs shot out behind her. The sharp blade cut into her neck before it clattered against the floor, as her hooves sank deep into the soft flesh of the unicorn's exposed stomach.
Twilight gave off a pained cry as she was thrown backwards and rolled into a ball on the floor.
Luna was on her shaking hooves in a split second, the loose cloak falling off her head. She spun around, and her horn flared. Her magic took hold of the fallen unicorn and pulled her into the air. Luna staggered, her vision blurred, and her head started swimming. She had stood up too quickly after the strangling.
Her magic faltered, and Luna lost her grip for a second, long enough for Twilight to respond with a brief but powerful strike to the head. Luna just barely managed to block the magical force and staggered backwards. She was feeling weak. Blood poured from the cut in her neck, and it seemed her enemy had managed to gain the upper hoof from the start.
Luna gritted her teeth and took a deep breath, magic coursing through her body and flaring intensely at the tip of her horn as she charged. She would not go down quietly!
* * *
Trixie stumbled, feeling the ground tremble violently under her hooves as dust and small pieces of rock fell from the ceiling. She stopped and glanced around nervously at the distant explosion.
Scootaloo came to a halt behind her. “Whoa! What in Equestria was that?”
Trixie frowned. She could barely see anything in the crushing darkness of the tunnel. Since her flight from Twilight on the hilltop she had felt a spark of magic inside her, but only a trace was left now, barely enough to light up the tunnel ahead of them.
“I don't know,” she muttered but stopped as a long cry broke the silence, sending chills down her spine.
Apple Bloom shivered and hid her face in Trixie's mane.
“Come on. Quick! That way!” Trixie charged down the tunnel with Scootaloo following behind as fast as her small legs could carry her.
* * *
Luna stomped her hooves against the shattered floor and breathed heavily. Her eyes were obsidian orbs of night, and black flames swirled around her, licking her sleek coat like a mane of living fire.
Twilight was in front of her, staring back intently. Her purple eyes burned with a cold, otherworldly light as the two enemies observed each other without daring to blink, waiting to find a weak spot or a moment to strike.
Celestia had always said Twilight held immense power, and yet this was not Twilight. Luna recognized the bleak, eerie power swelling within those purple eyes. Luna had once resorted to similar powers and had lost herself in the process. She felt it even now, clawing within her to get free. She felt her mind fracture, felt opposing powers battling for control within her.
“Let it go!” the voice screamed at her. “Why are you holding back? Unleash the power and beat the foal into the ground. Crush her under your hooves like the bug she is! Why do you let yourself get beaten?”
But she couldn't. She couldn't lose herself. Not again. She had to resist. “Think of Twilight and Trixie and everypony who depends on you now! They have no hope without you. Will you fail them now? It is justified. You know what you must do!”
Tears of rage streamed from her eyes and down her cheeks as she lowered her head and set off in a flash of lightning, sending stone and dirt flying in every direction with each strike of her hooves as she closed in on her target.
Twilight disappeared in a flash a split second before impact, and Luna crashed into the ground with an agonizing cry as she felt a sharp pain in her hind leg and heard the sound of splintering bone. She scrambled to get back up, but a hoof beat her back down.
“Pathetic! You have such power and potential, and you squander it even when your life is on the line!” Twilight stood above her, a derisive sneer on her face as she forced Luna's head down into the ground. “You would be a magnificent beast if you were not so afraid of yourself, of what you could become!”
“I would rather die than become what you are!” Luna sneered.
“You would deny this power? Then you are a fool, and I shall take it from you!” Twilight lowered her horn and pointed it at the back of Luna's head.
Luna closed her eyes, awaiting the final strike that would crush her skull.
* * *
It never came.
A terrifying shriek resounded between the walls and through the catacombs. Luna felt warm blood spatter over her back as the hoof let go of her head. Opening her eyes she saw Twilight stumbling back, a deep wound in her flank.
Trixie charged again, her horn striking Twilight between the ribs and sinking in deep. A small orange pegasus pounced upon Twilight and pulled her mane. The violent jerk caused Trixie's horn to tear a long, bloody gash in Twilight's side as she stumbled.
Twilight screamed in agony and panic. She threw off the filly and turned, burning eyes of purple fire focused straight upon Trixie. “You will pay for this!” Her horn lit up like a violet sun.
The walls and ceiling of the tunnel trembled, and Trixie fell backwards, losing balance as dark waves of force crashed against her.
Luna held her hooves over her head protectively and closed her eyes tightly. Something within her reacted instinctively, or perhaps it was merely all her panicked mind could think to do. Her horn flared up, surrounded by dark flames. A memory of an unknown spell from a slip of paper was all she could reach for and unleash in a desperate last call.
Luna stood up, leaning against the wall with her broken leg hanging in a painful and unnatural position behind her. She cried but focused all her energy on the magic. Waves of black flames clashed against the purple inferno.
The light flickered, and the purple flames died with a sudden cry and an infernal hiss. The earth shuddered as Twilight's charred corpse fell to the ground and crumbled to ashes in an instant.
Luna collapsed as everything fell apart in a shower of rock and earth.
The earth groaned like a mighty titan and swallowed up the tunnels and the farm in a crushing maelstrom of stone and dirt.
* * *
The moment Twilight's body dissolved to dust, a jolt ran through Trixie's body, and a voice whispered in her mind. “If I could, I would give you all of mine.”
Trixie rose back on her hooves. Her horn shone with a tangible flame. She cried as raw power surged through her veins like a raging flood of fire. Her body wracked with pain as a pair of azure wings unfolded protectively over the two terrified fillies holding on for dear life to her legs.
White flames erupted around Trixie, a blazing aura melting stone and earth as everything came falling down around them.
* * *
Ponies from all over Dappleshore were rushing to the site of the crater where once a farm had been. Hushed whispers and cries were quickly replaced by reverent silence as the regal figure of Celestia landed gracefully in front of the gathering crowd, flanked by her ever-present royal guard. The princess glanced sadly over the ruined land and lowered her head.
A slight tremor caused a frightened commotion among the gathered ponies. The rumbling grew, and everypony watched as the ground cracked and shivered, finally bursting open in a flare of white light which, for a brief moment, left the early morning as bright as the day.
As the light faded away, a bright figure hung in the air above the crater, wings outstretched and horn glowing. Two frightened fillies were clinging to her legs, and beside her floated the bloodied and unmoving body of Princess Luna.
The lights in the grand theater dim, and Trixie stands alone upon the stage. The audience is breathless and quiet. The unicorn looks up, tears blinking in her sorrowful eyes. For a moment her voice falters, and she falls quiet for a minute before speaking again.
“So ends the tale of Fillystata and of Twilight Sparkle's greatest mistake, for which she paid the highest price. But when I tell this story tonight it is to tell the truth that you all deserve to hear, and to allow us all to put it behind us. Let us not dwell on the evil, or the unfortunate deeds of a lone unicorn driven by forces beyond her control.”
“Tonight I want everypony to give a minute's silence for all the young fillies who died, and for Zecora, who lost her life trying to help a friend.”
Trixie lowers her head, and every pony in the audience follows. A deep and extended silence falls over the hall as tiny candles light up in the dark, one for each of the dead.
Finally Trixie looks back up.
“It has taken weeks to recover all the bones of the dead from the site of the farm, but they deserve a proper resting place. Princess Celestia herself will oversee the official funeral this night. Let us never forget those who died, and may they live in our hearts forever more. But let not grief so consume us either, that we forget each other and those who yet live among us.”
She glanced out over the audience. “Tonight I wish to thank a very special pair of fillies. Two young fillies who saw their best friend taken away and murdered, and who showed unbreakable loyalty and bravery till the very end. Please come up here, Apple Bloom and Scootaloo.”
Two young ponies rise from the audience and make their way to the stage as the audience applauds solemnly.
“Another who gave everything to save those she cared about,” Trixie says and turns as Luna walks out from behind the curtain, standing next to Trixie with a sad smile. “She just came out of the hospital last night. Give her a warm thanks. Had it not been for her, this tragedy may have been greater still.”
The audience breaks out in applause again, and Trixie gives Luna a sad smile back.
“There is another pony who we should not forget, and she is here with us today in spirit at least. Twilight Sparkle. If this story has a moral, it must be that even the best of us can be led astray by forces we do not comprehend. Twilight deserves to be remembered for who she was, not for what her ancestor did to her. She was a friend to many, a friend whose loss and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”
“And finally …” Trixie's hat and cloak floats off and the blue unicorn unfolds a pair of azure wings, a hushed whisper of awe running through the audience. “I wish to give my personal thanks to our fair Princess Celestia, for accepting me—” She turns to Luna with a smile “—into her family.”
Trixie and Luna lean forwards, and their lips meet in a long kiss as the curtains fall.