Echoing Silence

She was only trying to help.
In a flash of light following her biggest mistake, Twilight Sparkle is banished to the Dusklands, a vast amount of wasteland outside the borders of the kingdom of Equestria. Here, the only thing the sisters control is the time of day and Twilight is left to defend herself in the barren lands that her most trusted ally exiled her to. After finding a city in such lands, Twilight worked hard to make a place for herself within it's walls, but when her past comes to find her, she finds it difficult to look at it the same way she did all those years ago. With the threat of war on the horizon for Twilight's new home and an old enemy returning to destroy the harmony of Equestria, Twilight will have to choose where her loyalties lie.
But just how far is she willing to go in order to save the ones she loves the most?

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9. Eight

King Sombra?” balked Diadem.

A dark chuckle escaped the stallion. “Yes, well. Given my indisposed of state for the last thousand years or so, it’s no surprise that you do not know my name.”

The hair on the nape of her neck stood on end. She’d heard of this story before, and it was like a terrible nightmare was beginning to occur all over again. “A-A thousand…years?”

He nodded, amusement clearly written in his features as he began to circle Diadem. His eyes drifted from her hooves up as he examined her; studied her. “Of course to a regular unicorn, that amount of time would seem too long. However, when you’re forced into the coldest ice of the north by magic, well, the body does well to persevere. Not to mention my own magic protecting and guarding me in my prison.”

Diadem stepped back with a hiss. The story was too similar, too familiar, and she felt her body quake as the hiss escaped her. “You were banished?”

She could taste his curiosity; see it in his eyes. This was not the reaction he had expected of her, and it greatly fascinated him. His thoughts brought forth the image of the sun in the dreamscape, but it was more of a symbol than the actual sun. It was a yellow circle, flat, with rays poking out from it in sways; a representation of a cutie mark she was all too familiar with. Diadem’s stomach churned in disgust as it knotted painfully. She slammed her hooves down upon the transparent floor of the dreamscape with enough force to crack it. The floor splintered beneath their hooves as she trembled with a fierce growl.

“Put it away!” she howled.

The strength of her will in the ethereal scape took hold and the image shattered like glass. Sombra grimaced at the unexpected turn, but easily side stepped the pieces as they rained down around them.

“Such hatred. Such anger,” The dying light from the shards of the sun veiled his face in shadows as he continued to walk. “If I wasn’t the personification of them myself, I think you’d make a lovely addition to the Elegies.”

Diadem began to count backwards. She needed to control her anger before it got out of hand. Her mind reached out and latched onto his words as she forced the memories away. She did not want to remember that face; remember that voice, and she returned her attention to the King with the strange green and red eyes with the purple mist.

“E-Elegies?” she rasped.

The King nodded. “It’s an exquisite set of dark magics. Something the Royal Sisters wanted to keep hidden away.”

“Just like everything else in history?” Diadem scoffed. The only thing that was in any sort of book about Nightmare Moon was a folktale. Her former mentor—Diadem cringed at the remembrance—tended to leave out the evils from the past. She shielded the nation in a blanket of false security and lies in order to keep the “peace”.  

King Sombra gave her a chilling grin.

“Anyway,” she continued. “I don’t know whose dreamscape this is, and I don’t really care. Stop dodging my question.”

“Ah, yes. How rude of me. To be blunt, yes. Though, being sentenced beneath the ice isn’t what I’d technically call a banishment.”

Diadem watched him. His curiosity seemed partially sated and she knew that if this was his dreamland and she could sense his curiosity, then he could obviously sense her hostility. Perhaps even her pain. She was uneasy, but she found solace in that fact and in his admission. “Then what would you call it?”

Sombra let out a sigh, his eyes took on a slightly distant look. “Pain. Being ripped away from all you hold dear and tossed away like filth. And then forgotten by all those that knew your name. Betrayal. Hatred.”

Diadem gulped and reactively deflected the memories that tried to creep up on her. She forced up more mental barriers in her mind, partly to keep Sombra from seeing just how bad he had hit a nerve, and mostly to shove her own memories and feelings away. “That scene…That Princess…who was she?”

Diadem cringed. Sombra’s curiosity melted into bitterness and she tasted something acrid and tart in the back of her throat. He did not lash out at her. Instead, he returned his gaze to her and he gave her that lopsided, fanged grin once more. She felt a sense of giddiness, like a child with a wonderful secret, and she could hear the dark rumblings of a chuckle.

“Not a Princess, Diadem. That was a Queen. She was the Queen of the Crystal Empire.”

“The…Crystal Empire?”

Although Sombra gazed at her in amusement, Diadem could sense his confusion with the way his brows knitted together. “A student of magic doesn’t know about the pinnacle of magic itself?”

She shook her head. “I never finished my studies. I—I was…”

Her voice faded as her chest flared in irritation. Again the memories slipped through her barrier and she could see bright colors of a decorated throne room with streamers, cake and ponies. Her insides burned as her thoughts instinctively switched to the festival. The whole thing had gone downhill for her since she had to deal with those five ponies and all it did was hurt her. She had wanted to enjoy the festival more, she wanted to laugh and have more fun, but their mere presence had been enough to tilt her from being able to enjoy herself. She didn’t want to think about it, but her walls fell and her emotions were clear as day to the King.

“You were thrown away,” whispered Sombra. Diadem caught the gleam of understanding in his eyes.

Diadem flinched. Of all the pain she had endured over the last few years, she thought that the idea could bounce off the walls surrounding her heart. No pony she had ever met put it that way, that she was thrown away. But it was true, and it struck her hard and deep. She didn’t want to be left alone. She didn’t want to be tossed away.

“Y-yeah. That.”

“I am sorry.” said Sombra with a respectful bow.

Diadem stared at him. Her mouth opened and closed repeatedly as her mind raced to understand the words that had come from his mouth. “W-What?”

“You’ve experienced a unique pain, a betrayal like no other,” he answered. “We’re not that different from each other.”

“I wouldn’t doubt it,” she replied. The scene she witnessed played again in her head. “Wait, if you’re the King now, what happened to…?”

As her voice trailed off, the King’s demeanor changed. His stoic yet mischievous attitude shifted to that of a predator. His smirk was malicious and his eyes glimmered with nauseating amusement.

“Queen Ametrine Crystal is rotting beneath the snow, where she belongs.”

Twilight Sparkle would have recoiled at the statement, sickened at the mere insinuation, but the mare she was now only nodded in understanding. Diadem could appreciate giving the killers what they deserved when murdering innocents and that alicorn, that queen, was no different. From the vision, she had manipulated Sombra for most of his life, a feeling Diadem knew all too well. She sat back and scanned him over, the green in his eyes still causing her to shiver. He told her that she was this voice and she eyed him.

“So, what is this call you’ve been hearing?” she asked. “And why do you think that it’s me?”

“Intelligent,” appraised Sombra. “I must commend you for piecing it together. Most ponies find me to be a figment of their imagination.”

“I’ve dealt with dream walkers before,” she huffed.

The King eyed her with an odd glance of understanding. “There is only one other dream walker I am aware of, and she is one of the two Princesses who encased me in the ice,” he supplied.

The moon came to the forefront of her mind and Diadem shook her head. Her analytical mind grasped each piece of the puzzle and kicked into action as it shoved the pieces together. There were only two beings she knew of that had the ability to banish, or encase, a highly magical being in the glaciers of the north. They were the very last thing she had wanted to think about.

“As for how I know it is you,” Sombra continued. “I have little doubt it is you. Not only does your magical signature match what I had sensed, your biggest fear is precisely what drew you to me. You do not wish to be thrown away, or hurt, like that ever again.”

“Pretty words,” she scoffed. “And generic fears.”

His dark chuckle echoed around them. “Isn’t that what starts it all? Pretty words and devious lies?”

“I suppose so,” she admitted.

The darkness echoed with her voice, the tone reverberating in the dreamscape as it took a lower octave and became warped. The shadows began to bleed away and King Sombra stopped to glance around the darkness.

“It seems that you are beginning to awaken. Such a pity. I have waited a long time to meet you. Unfortunately, dreams are limited in time. What do you think about meeting in person, Diadem?”

Their voices sounded foreign as the surrounding blackness began to lighten. King’s visage was beginning to melt into the darkness as it started to vanish. “If you’re in the north, it would be difficult. I am in the bitterly hot south and the lands between my home and your kingdom are inaccessible to me.”

Sombra chuckled. It was a strange sound since everything was becoming distorted, but he glanced to her with a smirk. “Fret not. I shall send you an invitation and a mode of transportation. Should you accept, there can be much discussed. However, should you choose to refuse the invitation, then I shall let it go. I won’t pursue this farther than you wish. I am not here to fight with you, but to learn about you.”

The light was beginning to blind her as he spoke. She focused on the King’s face, desperate to etch every line, every detail, into her memory. A part of him, be it his memories or his attitude, called out to her. She had felt a tug the moment she had entered the dream, but as he slowly began to fade from view, she blinked. Her ears twitched as she heard his last words, lingering in the air like a ghost, whispering to her.

“Not all rulers are monsters, after all.”

When she opened her eyes again, Diadem saw the comfortingly familiar stone ceiling above her. She blinked away the haze of sleep as she forced herself to sit up and she rubbed at her eyes as if the light had actually blinded her. Her horn glowed with magic as she lit the candles in her room, giving her light as she shook her head. The dream link was broken. She could no longer feel the King or his magic, but she felt herself curious. There was more to that stallion than he let on, but as she thought about this apparent invitation, she only grew more and more interested in learning about this King and his Empire. Questions sprang forth in her head and she wondered why he was trapped in the ice for a thousand years? Why was he, a King, calling out to an exiled student of magic?

Her stomach eloquently ended the tirade of thoughts as it grumbled loudly. She flattened her ears as she sighed. “Breakfast first. Then ponder about the weird King thing.” She muttered as she climbed out of bed.

 

*

 

Luna frowned. She could not recall the last time she had seen her sister cry, nor ever seeing her do so. Surely she had at some point in time, but the memories that were her own refused to surface.

Her memories as Nightmare Moon gave themselves up all too easily. The Princess of the Night could remember Celestia as she begged her to stop and pleaded for her to end her madness. Despite her best efforts, Luna could only recall her sister’s strained voice as it cracked. Celestia screamed at her to stop. To lower her moon and that she had loved Luna more than anything else. Luna could remember the words, the broken and hollow tones, but not her face and definitely not her tears. It was fuzzy behind the veil that had been Nightmare’s eyes, but as Celestia tried to quell her sobbing, Luna found herself stock still. She was unable to move, her muscles seizing in shock as she thought of the pain that could have caused Tia, her big sister Tia, to crumble.

“T-Tia…?” Luna tried, but her voice was too low.

“Y-You realize that you could have killed her, yes?” Rarity said, her own voice cracking with a sob.

“Yes, but it was a risk I had to take.” Celestia whimpered. “I didn’t expect any of this. None of this was supposed to happen.”

“And what was supposed ta’ happen?” Applejack finally asked, sullen.

Celestia wiped away her tears as she lifted her head to see the five mares before her. Every one of them were quaking with their own emotions and thoughts. She took a deep breath and eyed each one of the mares, knowing full well that they felt betrayed, it was clear in their eyes. Had she made a mistake? Yes, and only continued to make more after, despite her best efforts. For everything that they had sacrificed, everything they had done for Equestria as the Elements of Harmony, Celestia knew that they deserved to know everything. She was tired of holding it in. After all, only truth could set you free.

Celestia composed herself and took her usual regal pose before them. “Once the wedding was over, I had intended to go to Twilight and see what fate would befall her. I had expected to find her either giving into the nightmare… or upset and regretful of her actions. I believed that only two options should have been possible.”

“The invasion changed everything,” Pinkie Pie guessed. Her once curly hair had fallen straight and hung limp, concealing her tear stained cheeks from her friends, but not the Princesses.

The sun raiser nodded. “Yes. If I had an inkling of the threat to Canterlot already being in the city, I would have never sent her so far away. I would have never done it.”

Regret.

Celestia had held onto it for so many years, using it to motivate herself. To do what was right. After all, it was the only choice she had been given. Equestria, and all of her ponies within, was worth more to her than anything. Even if that meant the life of her faithful student had to be forfeited. She knew that should have been the end of it, but her heart stung. She had regretted her decision despite all of the reasoning she had memorized like a mantra. It was an action Celestia had believed would benefit Equestria one of two ways, and neither of those outcomes had come to pass. Instead, she was left hollow and empty inside as she grieved for her lost student. She would have always wondered about Twilight’s fate.

“B-But why…?” Fluttershy stuttered. “W-Why would you let us think she ran away?”

Applejack’s ears flattened against her head at the timid pegasus’ question. She had fully believed that Twilight had gone out and thrown a fit like Apple Bloom tended to do and had said it carelessly. “Well, uh…I might have said that, ‘Shy.” She said as she rubbed the back of her head. “I mentioned it when her folks were lookin’ for her. I said she probably ran away ‘cause she was mad at ‘er brother for marrying Princess Cadence.”

Celestia exhaled slowly as she tried to mend the broken barrier between her emotions and her face, “I never corrected your assumption because Luna and I had to defend Equestria. I believed that it was easier for you girls to believe that than the alternative, and I couldn’t let the harmony you girls represent dwindle in the face of danger. Despite my own selfishness of wanting to look for Twilight, my prison being broken only gave Chrysalis more incentive to either recapture me or destroy Canterlot. You girls all know what transpired after.”

“Still!” Luna finally barked as she slammed her hoof down. She had restrained herself enough for Celestia to talk, but her anger had finally stretched its limit. “Thy actions have caused Equestria great harm! Had thou not sent Twilight Sparkle away, the changeling queen would have been defeated long before we were captured!”

“I know, Luna. Believe me, I want nothing more than to go after Twilight. I want to fix this,” said Celestia.

“So…wh-what do we do now?” Rainbow Dash said. She had finally pulled herself from her shock and stood beside her friends. It was difficult to believe that Princess Celestia had done something so uncool like banishing Twilight like that, but if Twilight really was going to become something like Nightmare Moon…Rainbow shivered. “I-I mean, if you banished her…then…then she’s—”

Celestia brought forth an ivory feather to wipe away her remaining tears. She had finally told the truth, but there was much more she was feeling than regret. “I apologize for never correcting you girls.”

“I will not accept such an apology,” Rarity seethed. “You let us go out searching for Twilight without any sort of inclination as to what we might find or be told! Had you told us any of this sooner, we could have handled the situation better. We nearly killed an innocent queen, Princess! We almost destroyed an entire city’s way of life!”

Celestia’s eyes widened and Luna snapped her head towards the raging unicorn in disbelief. Applejack and Rainbow Dash both glanced at one another with guilty grimaces. Fluttershy whimpered and hugged Pinkie Pie who stared at the floor. Rarity stomped her hoof once more. “So, forgive me Princess, but no. I cannot and will not accept such a feeble, and dare I say, stupid excuse!”

“A whole city, you say?” Luna asked, caution clear within her voice.

Rarity gave a curt nod.

“I never expected cities to actually flourish out there.” Celestia finally said. “The Badlands are a barren wasteland. Nothing grows out there.”

“It seems you were wrong, yet again, Celestia. It seems to be a trend, dear sister.” Luna said. Her sarcastic tone took a chilling clip at the endearment and Celestia knew that Luna was furious.

Celestia heaved a heavy sigh. “That it does.”

Luna wanted to bark at her sister, to demand to know what madness had taken over her to use fear as a reason for banishment, but she halted her harsh tongue with a fierce bite. “A city will have a governing group, correct?”

Rainbow Dash cringed, “Yeah…about that.”

“Speak, Rainbow Dash.” Luna insisted.

“Er, well, funny story,” the cyan flyer commented quite lamely. “I might have, kinda, sorta maybe threatened him?”

Luna’s eyes widened.

“In our defense, Princess,” Applejack interjected, hopping up to her friend’s side. “We didn’t know what was goin’ on and he wasn’t helpin’ none! When we finally saw Twi, we wanted to hug ‘er and he got in the way!”

“Yeah! I told him to move or I’d make him, but uhh…” Rainbow Dash gave an uneasy chuckle. “Uh, Twi attacked me. I don’t think he likes me after that.”

The Royal Sisters stared at the five mares with wide eyes, and Luna’s mouth dropped.

“Hmph, yes. And don’t forget about the little detail of accusing him and Queen Atynis of hurting me and Fluttershy,” Rarity snapped.

Luna shook her head. “Thy tale is vexingly deplorable. Does this leader still have ill will towards thee?”

“I don’t believe so,” Rarity replied.

“Satisfactory at best, then,” Luna muttered. “If there is a city, then we must correct the errors caused by ignorance.”  

Before the Princess of the Night could continue, a feeling tugged at the corner of her consciousness. The gentle pull of her celestial body forced her to reign in her thoughts before they spiraled into a rage. She sighed and glanced at her sister before returning her gaze to the Elements.

“Thy concerns are mine, I swear to thee, but my moon must rest and the sun must rise. After all of your traveling, you must be fatigued. The guards shall make the proper accommodations for your stay. Please rest.”

At the mention of sleep and the thought of a warm bed to sleep in, Rarity nodded. Her eye lids were beginning to feel heavy the more she thought about it, and it would soon dull her senses enough to sleep. She turned her attention back to Celestia.

“Very well, but we are far from finished discussing this,” she said with a small glare.

“Of course.” Celestia affirmed.

As Rarity turned from the Princesses, her friends each muttered their own goodbyes. Some were obviously full of despair and others with disdain. Celestia watched her little ponies exit the room followed by the guards and she gave a heavy sigh, refusing to meet her sister’s gaze.

Luna gave her sister a perturbed frown. She was not ready to give her sister a break in the matter, but the day’s cycle needed to begin. With a sigh of her own, she closed her eyes and reached out to her celestial body. Her horn glowed a navy aura and she began to ease the moon from its place in the night sky. Celestia followed suit and her lemon yellow magic wrapped around her horn as she reached out for her sun. Together, they began the cycle. Luna’s night began to bleed into light as Celestia’s sun rose up on the horizon. As Celestia watched the sun rise, she knew that she would have to return to the front lines soon, especially since her wounds were healed, but first words had to be said.

“You wish to question me,” Celestia stated once her sun had risen high and she released her magic’s hold on the star. “I can see it in your eyes, Luna.”

The Princess of the Night gazed at her sister, “Why didst thou not confide in me? After all this time, am I still untrustworthy?”

Celestia recoiled. Her heart ached as if Luna’s words were a knife delving into the organ with serrated teeth and twisting violently. “That was never it, Luna! Please, believe me. I did not want to divide our allegiances when we still had to fight.”

“And after?” Luna pressed. “Thou had purposely let us believe that our friend had all but fled. You sent her away, Celestia. How could thou not disclose such delicate and serious information to me? Of young Twilight’s banishment? Of a possible nightmare returning?!”

“I didn’t want you to feel responsible,” Celestia said. “You were guilt ridden upon returning to me. I did not want you to suffer should a nightmare return once more.”

Luna halted her tirade and stared. She could not detect a lie in her sister’s words and she felt strange. She wanted to be angry at Celestia, but her sister spoke the truth. What if she had witnessed Twilight’s change? Would she have been able to fight without feeling that nightmare was her fault?

Her own creation afflicting a close friend?

Luna released the breath she had been holding. “I do not agree with your actions, but the damage is done. Thy protégé is rightfully livid with thee and thy actions have hurt me, as well. Thou knew where Twilight Sparkle had gone…and thou didst tell me.”

Celestia grimaced at her sister’s tone. Her shame knew no bounds and she felt her sister’s pain slice through her. She lowered her head in her guilt.

“I know Luna. I’ve made many mistakes, thinking I was doing the right thing, assuming it was the right thing,” she said as she got to her hooves. She stretched out her wings and turned to stare out at the morning sun. “I’m tired, Luna. Not in body, but in spirit. I have lived millenniums, trying my best and making many more mistakes than ponies know.”

Luna sensed Celestia’s change of mind. “Sister?”

“Luna,” Celestia began, “I wish to leave for the Badlands. I must go to Twilight. I must correct this…my awful mistake.”

“Nay, sister.” Luna replied as she stepped in front of the older alicorn. “While I doth agree, correction is needed, we can’t allow it. Not now. We’re at war, and while recovering the Element of Magic, and our friend, is important, I cannot hold the lines should we be attacked again.”

“But Lun—”

The dark alicorn shook her head and gave Celestia a glare. “No. There are other… diplomatic ways to go about this. Allow me to see what can be done. Besides, I doubt she would appreciate thy presence.”

Celestia’s chest constricted. Her sister’s obvious jab made her cringe and she knew that Luna was right. The implications were not unfounded and she had damaged her chances to reconcile with Twilight the moment she sent her away. The moment she thought she could rid one to save many.

“Very well, Luna. If you would keep me informed, then I shall resume my position at the northern post with Shining Armor and Princess Cadence,” Celestia replied.

“And tell Shining Armor the truth of his sister?” Luna inquired with a growl.

Celestia hung her head. “Yes.”

Luna nodded in satisfaction. “Do try to refrain from frivolous ideas, sister. The Element of Magic nearly killed you for trying to use it in place of its bearer.” Luna reprimanded her. “I may not care for thee at this very moment, but we are sisters and as a Princess of Equestria, we need you.”

Celestia glanced down. Her injuries were nearly gone. In less than a day they would be fragments of her memory, thanks to her healers left in the castle. She had not believed that the Elements of Harmony would lash out at her so violently. Testing the loyalty of the Element of Magic nearly killed her. The gem had stolen as much magic as it could, screaming at her the moment she tried to wield it, and it left her incapacitated. Celestia was at a loss. The Element of Magic was the last connection she had to Twilight and it rejected her, vehemently. Outside, she was injured, but on the inside she felt broken. She had returned to Canterlot to recover, but she had returned to face her biggest mistake. Her most painful mistake.

“Of course.” Celestia answered as she turned away from her sister. “I will head for the front lines this afternoon.”

“Mother’s speed, Celestia.” Luna said.

The porcelain alicorn only nodded before she stepped from the ruined chamber.

 

 

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