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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10. Nine

Diadem yelped as she was thrown back.

Her back met the rocky terrain and she skidded across the stone floor. The throb in her spine made her cringe, but as she rolled onto her hooves, Diadem let instinct take over. She leapt forward and unsheathed her prized dagger. Her violet eyes locked onto her opponent and she jerked her head, the blade barely missing its quarry as he ducked out of the way. With a hard pivot, she threw herself into him and the two crumbled to the floor. She pinned him beneath her, a hard breath sawing through her teeth clenched around the hilt of the blade as she pressed it against his exposed throat. Astral Mace cringed when the steel touched his neck and he gave a strained chuckle.

“Alright, D. You win. Let me up.”

Diadem lifted her head, careful to not nick him, and she stepped off of him. Astral struggled to his hooves with her assistance and winced. His back flared in pain from the hard strike to the ground. Diadem sheathed her weapon and trotted around the stallion with purpose. She examined his wings and the bandages. She searched for an open wound or a missing bandage, but found nothing more than dirt on the cloth. Her examination was complete and she gave him a smile.

“Looks like you’re alright,” she said with a giggle.

Astral Mace sighed in relief. “Yeah, well, you went easy on me.”

Diadem pouted, but it soon gave way to a sarcastic grin. “I’m sorry. Was I not supposed to?” she asked, innocently.

She blinked up at him with her pouty, puppy dog eyes. Unable to contain the barking laughter that took ahold of him, Astral fell back onto his flank. Diadem grinned and hoofed him right in the shoulder.

“That’s what I thought,” she said.

“Yeah, ‘cause I totally want you to tear my wings off, ya’ brat.” Astral laughed.

“Mmm…ideas!” Diadem sang as she trotted towards the doorway. “C’mon. We should go check the surface. Besides, after yesterday, I need some therapeutic stall shoppin’.”

Astral rolled his eyes as Diadem used her magic to hover the small sack of sickles out of her vest’s pocket. “Alright, alright. I’m comin’.”

He jogged to her side and together the two ponies ventured through the tunnels. Exiting from the training grounds, they took the closest tunnel to the surface. They came out at the northern general travel building, and passed by various families who were enjoying the morning’s sun. They ambled into the sea of creatures they were very familiar with and Astral took a long, deep breath.

“There’s nothing like home,” he sighed.

Diadem smiled. “When you’re gone for so long, it’s hard to think of anything else.”

“Yeah.”

Diadem giggled at the lame response before nodding towards one of the stalls. With Astral at her side, Diadem ventured over and glanced around the wares. There were sashes and gemstones alike. Jewelry carved into shapes that would signify it’s use, either for tranquility, healing or self-control. She hummed as Astral spoke to the vender, happily exchanging stories from his latest trip.

“Well, the Burrow sends their love.” Astral said with a wide grin as he tossed two sickles at the vendor.

The boar chortled as he handed the stallion a small trinket wrapped in silk. “That’s a relief to hear, Mace. Thank ya’, kid.”

“No problem, Ace.” Astral replied.

Diadem giggled softly as she turned from the stall. She wandered from the stand with Astral Mace to another vendor. The two ponies ventured through stall after stall until they reached a playground. Children of every kind ran around with their laughter in the air and Diadem cracked a wide grin. There was a young changeling in the group. She almost laughed out loud, knowing that a changeling could easily win a simple game of hide and seek. As Dia and Astral passed a few of the children, a young shoat darted past them with a little drake on his tail. A toy in his mouth seemed to anger the little dragon and Diadem plucked the toy from the shoat with her magic.

“Don’t steal toys from other kids,” she reprimanded the young boar. She handed the wooden figurine back to the small drake.

Astral Mace snorted. A part of him was laughing hysterically and he smirked. “Momma Dia to the rescue!”

A second passed as the words sunk in. An image of a small purple dragon with green spines floated to the surface of her mind and she shook it away. Diadem whipped around and glared, but Astral could not resist. His laughter burst forth as he trotted away. He knew better than to stick close by Diadem when teasing her like that. Diadem glanced back at the children, who were playing nice once again, before taking a long, deep breath. She was becoming increasingly annoyed with Astral and she knew that she had to tolerate him.

Don’t kill him, D. she told herself. Father would be very unhappy if you—

“Momma Dia to the rescuuuuue!” came the fading taunt.

Diadem’s hoof met her forehead as a dark growl escaped her. “I’m going to fucking murder him!” With a dark glare, she tore off after Astral, a curse upon her tongue.

Astral chanced a glance behind him and screamed. He broke into a full gallop, tearing through the crowd as he weaved in and out of the sea of creatures. He did not know how long he had run, but he broke through another group and tumbled into a changeling circle. He landed with a grunt, his head spinning. He had taken many twists and turns, dodging everyone he could and as he got to his hooves, a gentle giggle reached him. With a groan, he looked up to find the changeling queen looking down at him.

“Hello once again, Astral Mace,” Atynis said, holding out a hoof.

“Y-Your Majesty!” he yelped as he jumped to his hooves. “I-I’m sorry, I—”

ASTRAL MAAAAACE!

“EEP!” Astral squeaked.

He dove behind a few of the smaller changelings and quaked in fear. Queen Atynis turned to see the clan princess galloping towards them. She blinked.

“Princess.” The Queen greeted. “Is everything all right?”

Diadem skidded to a halt and exhaled sharply as she scanned the group. A black tail was visible from behind one of the drones and she wrapped it in her magenta magic. With a swift yank, she pulled the terrified stallion from his hiding spot.

“Uhh, D, w-wait. We can talk about this!” Astral whined.

“Take. It. Back.” She growled as she stomped up to him. Their noses touched and she grabbed a tuft of his coat in her hoof.

“I-I’m sorry! You know I was just teasing!”

Queen Atynis covered her mouth with a hoof to hide her smile. She had never seen a pony so angry, and Astral’s terrified squeaks made the queen want to giggle. “Is… Is everything alright, princess?”

Diadem glanced at the queen and nodded. “Oh. Yes, Your Majesty. And please, Diadem is fine. Astral just decided to take his teasing a little far.”

“I was just playing, D! C’mon!” he said.

Diadem turned a swift glare onto the stallion. Astral Mace quieted.

“And what sort of teasing did the young prince do to warrant your anger?” Atynis inquired.

Diadem shook her head. “He likes to tease me about everything. He just likes to hit my sore spots.”

And bring up painful memories. she added the thought.  

Atynis grinned. “If I remember correctly, I believe your father has said that teasing amongst family shows strong bonds.”

Astral Mace and Diadem glanced at one another, and Diadem huffed as she turned her face away, her cheeks tarnished with a pale pink hue. A familiar chuckle echoed over the group and the ponies turned to see their father figure step into the fold with his friend beside him. Pyrros grinned at the group.

“Good morning, Nereus.” Atynis greeted.

“Good morning, Atynis.” Nereus said with a fanged grin. “Astral, I can’t help but to ask if you have incurred Dia’s wrath once more?”    

The sound the stallion had emitted was a mixture of a whine and a chuckle. The unicorn rolled her eyes, but turned her face back towards her father and gave him a pressed smile. “Good morning, father.”

“Good morning, daughter of mine.” Nereus said as he returned his attention to his son. “Maybe you should apologize?”

“I’m sorry, D.” Astral finally muttered.

Diadem scoffed and let him go with a hard shove. “Only because father is here.”

Pyrros chortled. “Playing rough like always.”

Atynis smiled as she glanced at her children, each one taking in the scene. “Playing rough is what happens out here, no?”

“Aha! That it does, Your Majesty.” Pyrros grinned.

“Oh, Your Highness—” Diadem began.

“Please, just Atynis.” The queen interrupted.

“Oh, um, Atynis,” Diadem corrected with an embarrassed cough. “have things been well for you and your hive?”

“Quite well.” Atynis replied with a smile. “Your home runs on different system than ours. There is much to be learned.”

A few of the changelings around her buzzed. Atynis gave a small laugh. “And many of my drones are interested in learning about dragons.”

Nereus’ booming laughter echoed around them. “Dragons, eh? Well, we have plenty of friendly ones. All you have to do is make a friend and ask.”

A few of the smaller changelings buzzed excitedly. Atynis giggled. “You heard him, my lovelies. Go and make a friend.”

Diadem watched as the changelings dispersed. They looked eager, yet scared, of the Den around them and she could only smile. Her first few months had been like that, and she was proud of the fact that she was able to connect with the clan as she had. Some things were just ingrained in her, she supposed, but that was never a thought she could ever admit. Diadem ambled with the group as her father and the Queen moved. Astral walked beside her and she watched the waves of changelings soon became melded with the rest of the creatures. It was what she had worked hard to see; a peace between species. Her father broke her from her thoughts as he called her name, and Diadem shook her head.

“Uh, what?” she eloquently articulated.

Nereus glanced at her over his shoulder, “I asked if there was something you had planned for today.”

“Oh, no. Not at all,” she replied.

“Daydreaming while walking?” Pyrros chortled.

Astral opened his mouth to tease, but a swift slap to the back of the head from Diadem made him reconsider.

“There’s…Uh, I have a lot on my mind,” she said, glaring at Astral.

Nereus slowed his pace. “Something troubles you?”

Diadem sighed, “Is it that obvious?”

“You cannot fool eyes as old as mine,” Nereus said with a fanged smile. “You are peculiarly absent this morning.”

Diadem sighed as she sat back on her flank. Her ears lowered and she bit her bottom lip.

“D, you okay?” Astral Mace asked as he nudged her with his snout.

Nereus turned to his children. His mouth curved down in a frown as he watched his daughter. The night had been stressful for her, but for her mind to be occupied while off of any assignments worried him. He glanced over to Pyrros and Atynis and nodded at them. Sensing that the clan head wished to be alone, the changeling and Ki’rin turned to leave, their conversation continuing as they stepped far enough away in order to give the small family a moment to themselves.

A heavy sigh left Diadem. She had easily pushed back her worries about the King from this Crystal Empire, but she also was curious. Their pasts were similar, yet so different. She wanted to know all about the tyrannical alicorn queen and how Sombra came to power. He referred to himself as King Sombra, but she wondered. In the dream, the queen had called him Onyxus, not Sombra. Was Sombra his actual name? A pseudonym? Just who exactly was this King Sombra, and what could he possibly teach an exile?

What if he is messing with me? she thought.

“What troubles you my child?”

Diadem flinched. Nereus’ voice was like a bucket of ice cold water in her face and she blinked away the haze she had fallen into while consumed in her thoughts. She glanced up at her father and took a deep breath.

“I was…oh, this sounds crazy,” she groaned. “I know it does, but my consciousness was connected to some pony last night, Father.”

Nereus’ brow knitted together.  Astral tilted his head to the side.

“What do you mean?” asked Astral.

“Back in… that place, there was a pony who could traverse dreams. Walk through them and connect her mind, her dreams, to someone else,” Diadem hated herself for bringing it up. The moon’s visage in the dreamscape returned to her mind and she cringed. “That happened with me last night… to a king.”

Nereus blinked. “A king, you say? And what happened?”

“He… he suffered banishment, too,” Her voice wavered as she became quiet. She could feel the ache in her chest as it grew again. Like a sharp blade forced through her sternum, the memories mixed. Her and the King had been exiled unjustly. “He wants to meet in person. Something about magic. He’s a king of an entire empire, Father. And… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little scared.”

“Are you going though? To meet him?” Astral asked. He stepped closer and nuzzled the unicorn. “I mean, seriously? It sounds weird, but you can do some crazy shit, so dream walking isn’t as surprising as it sounds.”

“Interesting,” hummed Nereus. “And of this king?”

“He doesn’t seem bad,” Diadem said. “He’s in pain, angry, but that’s all I know.”

“I will not let you go alone,” Nereus decided. “Should you go; I shall send you with your team.”

Her muscles eased out of the tension she held and her lips curved upwards into a relieved smile. She hopped forward and hugged the Ki’rin.

“Thank you. That makes me feel safer about accepting that invitation,” she said.

Astral scoffed. “An invitation? He didn’t like summon you or something?”

Diadem turned to the stallion and rolled her eyes. “The only Lord that commands me is Father. I have no obligation to anyone else.”

Nereus chortled. “We should move on,” he said. “Atynis must be suffering through Pyrros’ jokes. We must make haste to save her.”

Diadem laughed and followed her father with Astral Mace at her side. Together and laughing, the family rejoined their friends and continued into the crowd, but Astral Mace hung closer to Diadem. He nuzzled the princess as they followed their father and friends through the crowd.

Diadem stared out at the multitude of creatures as she sat and chewed on her straw. No matter how many times she had seen it, it still fascinated her. So many different races living together in… harmony. A frown crossed her lips as the word floated across her mind, but she blocked any other thoughts down that road and instead, focused at the site before her.

The post-Viridian Harvest market day was one of the most hectic of all the trade days. Creatures from all over the Badlands traveling just for the occasion to sell their many wares. She watched familys, individuals, couples of all sorts move to and through the booths. Everything from tools and weapons, to books and star charts, exotic herbs and medicines, was available for trade or selling. Being post-harvest, there was also a massive amount of foods gathered. Sents of all sorts floated through the air; fresh fruits and grilled vegetables, baking breads, and even the objectionable scent of roasting meats. But it was their smiles, the friendly greetings, the warm way they shook hands, hoofs, or claws that made her heart feel at peace.

She wouldn’t trade it for anything, her stomach on the other hoof.

Diadem felt it rumble again, and went back to chewing on her straw.

It was probably only a few minutes, but it felt like an eternity by the time a food tray slid onto the table and interrupted her thoughts.

“What in the world took you so long?”

“Madam Hayseed,” replied Astral as he sat down across from her.

Diadem rolled her eyes. The old cow, and she meant that very respectfully, was known to be quite the talker, but no one could beat her grilled vegetables.

She looked down at the tray with a smile on her face, the plate was loaded with all sorts of grilled delights; bell peppers, zuchinnies, squash, green beans, asparagus, onions, even slices of… “Are these peaches?” She asked, looked back up with a grin.

Astral nodded. “E’yup. Madam Hayseed said they had a really good summer rain and it allowed them to grow quite a few of their… exotic products.”

“I’ve got to see her before she goes back to Barnyard,” said Diadem, picking up a peach slice with her magic and biting into it.  The sweet taste of the cinnamon sugar butter, coupled with the heated effects of the fire left a seductive caramelizing effect. That plus the balsamic vinegar, and the hint of smoke from fire, blew up her taste buds. “This is the greatest thing, ever.”

Astral chuckled. “Yeah, I thought so. Madam Hayseed is going to leave you a stash, a thank you gift for helping the herd out of the Maze.”

Diadem carefully set the peaches to one side of her plate, fully intending to save them for last and to eat the rest of the food.  

She had just stuffed her face when she felt a claw on her shoulder. “Eating well, my daughter?”

Dia turned and looked up at Nereus, forcing herself to chew and swallow her food before replying. “Y-yes, father. It’s been wonderful.”

Nereus nodded, his face carefully neutral, but his eyes twinkling with amusement. “It brings great warmth to my heart to see you happy, Diadem. Out enjoying this day as so many should. But I have a favor to ask of you.”

“A favor?”

Nereus nodded again. “A report came to me, a group is seen coming from the Western Gate, and we aren’t expecting anyone. You and your team are the closest ones I have at the moment. Go, find out who they are.”

Diadem avoided looking back at her plate of steam smoking vegetables and peaches.

“Yes, father.”

Diadem got to her hooves as she glanced towards the stall that Emerald and Sapphire had run off towards. Astral hopped up and ran off to get them as she returned her attention toward her father.

“It could be him,” Diadem offered, “but I doubt that any pony would arrived for quite a few weeks.”

“I must agree.” Nereus sighed.

Emerald and Sapphire landed with a few gems in each of their claws as Astral stepped up to Diadem. He lifted a rather large mace onto his back and strapped it on as he settled in beside Diadem.

“C’mon team,” Diadem said as she began to trot over towards the west, “Let’s find out who they are!”

The sweltering sun beat down upon the four as they moved forward. The team had left the city without two members, unable to find Cedar or Steel Forge in the crowds as they exited the western gates. Diadem trotted at the head of the group with the twins hovering behind her with Astral Mace. Ahead, she could see the silhouettes of a group and she slowed her pace. She tried to gauge their shapes, possibly their races, but their sizes varied, and the cloaks they wore only kept their identities silent. Her coat stood on end. Something about these visitors were strangely familiar and there were at least a dozen of them, but she counted more. It was as a long beige tail with a white tuft on the end peeked through that she panicked.

“HIPPOGRIFFS!” she screeched.

The visitors heard the frantic cry and sprang forth. Fears discarded, Diadem used her magic to grab her dagger and jumped back, out of the way of hooves and claws. Emerald and Sapphire took flight, both of them diving onto the enemy with their claws out. Astral Mace grabbed the handle of his mace in his hooves and hopped back onto his hind legs, ready to swing. Diadem’s heart pounded feverishly. Her eyes wild as she analyzed the situation. A lot of them, but only a few of her own. This was the first time the Hippogriffs had actually come to their city, and Diadem knew that they would not come alone. She gasped as she realized their intention.

“EMERALD!” she screamed. Her focus was on the three before her and she leapt around to dodge their claws and strike back.

“Dia!” the drake shouted. He flew towards her and knocked two of the Hippogriffs away. She took the small chance to buck away the third.

“Go back! Tell Lord Nereus we’re being ambushed! They’re going for the city!” Diadem ordered.

Emerald’s teal eyes widened. “Th-the city?!”

“Go!” Diadem commanded as she pushed him away. “We need all civilians covered! NOW!”

As Emerald took to the sky, a growl caught Diadem’s attention. She pivoted around to find her three opponents shaking off their cloaks. The pony faces would have been welcomed if they weren’t partly eagle. The three bore their fangs and claws as they took flight and Diadem gulped. One came at her, the savage cry of battle screeched from its throat as it descended. Diadem jumped to the side, a few of his claws barely missing her. Her body was coated in a panicked sweat. She had to start thinking. Now.

Calm down. Calm down, she thought, ducking from another swipe of the hippogriff’s claws. Think.

She spun away from the third attack, but was so lost in her thoughts that she didn’t see the other two hippogriffs sneak up behind her. They caught her in the back and side, claws and fangs dug into her coat and she screamed. Sapphire soared through the air and ripped one of them from her. Blood oozed from the new would, some flesh ripped from the Hippogriff’s claws and Diadem whimpered. Her magic lifted the dagger and she dug it deep into the offending bird’s neck. A swift jerk of the hilt and its head came clean off. Her lavender coat became a dark indigo from the blackened blood that gushed from the neck as she turned to face her other attackers. Sapphire shouted as she was tackled from above and Diadem watched as two of them began to close in on her.

Eliminate the threat, the mantra began. They launched towards Diadem, and with blood on her hooves, she finally focused on the enemy. Leave them no quarter. Kill or be killed.

She tapped into her magic and sheathed the dagger. They were severely outnumbered, a ratio of four to one on average, but she knew that these monsters would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. They were savage beasts and as she began to remember her last time at their claws, her magic bubbled.

Twilight Sparkle moaned as she awoke.

All she could remember was an extreme thirst, collapsing on the hot sun baked rocks, and then everything went dark. She groaned, her parched throat scratchy as she coughed. Her eyes fluttered open as she tried to get her bearings. Dim light met her in what appeared to be a cave. Had some pony come to her rescue? Did they save her?

She coughed again as she rolled to her belly. A loud clang made her jump and she glanced down at a new weight on her fetlocks and neck. Her eyes widened, her pupils dilating to that of pinpricks, as her mind attempted to process what had happened. She was shackled. Twilight Sparkle had only been wandering the deserted rocky terrain for days. She was hungry—starving, really—and very thirsty. She couldn’t remember doing anything to warrant such a treatment.

“You’re awake!”

The cackle that followed that one sentence made her cringe. It was dark and devious, something that Cadenza had done when tormenting her about how so had attacked a princess. How she was a fool. Her eyes became glassy and her vision blurred with the fresh tears. Her chest ached. It was too fresh. Too heartbreaking.

“A quiet one, eh?”

Twilight heard the clop of hooves and chanced a glance up towards the direction of the voice. In the dim candlelight, a silhouette took shape and stepped into the light. She recoiled. The…thing looked like a pony at first, but its fangs that it flashed at her with that malicious grin, and the claws on its front legs, forced her to pause and reconsider. It looked almost like a gryphon, with the lion-like tail and large wings, and she eyed the creature in curiosity. It was rather large, almost the size of Princess Luna, —she cringed at the thought, her chest aching a bit more—and she watched it take another step forward.

“Wh-where—” her throat burned with the effort. Lack of water forced her voice to become gravel toned and hoarse. “Where am I?”

A crazed grin crossed its face. “A nest,” the creature, a male by the sound of its voice, said. “More specifically, my nest.”

The cat-like purr made her coat stand on end. Another cough crept upon her and she put a hoof to her throat. The cool metal of bondage made her ears droop as she glanced up at him. She wanted to ask why she was chained up, but her stomach did a gruesome flip as he sauntered closer. He eyed her, licking his lips eagerly, as he sized her up. She wanted to use her magic and teleport away, but she had no destination, and more importantly, no energy. She had been wandering the wastes for days since she had been sent away, and in her weakened state she could not illuminate the darkness around her. With such littler energy, she couldn’t possibly hope to get away.

“Mmm…you’re perfect,” the thing purred again. “Never got to fuck a pony before. The guys are gonna love you...But I get a few rounds in first…”

Pain. It seared through her left side as she blinked back the next memory. Her own screams and sobs filled her ears as she turned, throwing the next bolt of magic at another hippogriff. Her neck tightened at the recollection of her bonds, her ankles throbbed in the same way, as she leapt forward onto her assailant. She threw all her anger into her hooves and magic. She stomped on its hooves as she shot magic at the others attempting to assist her victim. Her teeth grounded together in fury as she let herself feel. Her body was washed over with an intense pain that started at her chest and pulsed throughout her entire body.

Kill or be killed, Sparks. It’s the only way to live out here.

The whispered advice reached her ears. Silver Fang’s voice was almost desperate, as if he was telling her to not let his sacrifice be in vain. Her chest ached again. She was never one to hesitate and she grinned at the hippogriff beneath her hooves. She encased his wings in magic and with a swift jerk of her head, they popped off. A screech echoed from the monster and she giggled.

A part of her was insane, she knew that it was wrong, but it felt so… so good. She was about to impale the foul creature on its own wing bones when she was thrown forward by an attack from behind. She flew a good few feet and tumbled to the ground, her vest and stomach grinding against the rock. More of the enemies jumped on her, the cries of their brethren motivating them to destroy the purple pony, but she gathered her magic and blasted them away. The few that had jumped on top of her were tossed away with squawks of anguish as they were blown to pieces. Her eyes glowed a bright magenta as she rounded on the monster that had thrown her. A violent beam of magic shot at them and they were reduced to burning flesh and ash. She gasped at the pounding in her head.

She was using too much magic.

The world around her spun and she gripped at her forehead with a hoof. In the distance, she could see Astral Mace and Sapphire still fighting to return to the city, but her eyes locked with Astral’s, and saw the concern within. Glancing around, she saw all the bodies that littered the ground, and felt the adrenaline leaving her body as she staggered forward and fell to her knees. She had lost too much blood, she was exhausted.

Astral could see that too. So could the hippogriff that broke off from Sapphire’s pack.

Time seemed to slow. She watched as the hybrid leaped at her, claws extended. Somewhere, she heard her name being screamed at her.

Diadem made eye contact with the hippogriff before letting loose another violent beam through the chest and the stupid hybrid thing was dead. Her vision was beginning to blur, but the others needed her. Diadem turned to glanced at Astral and gasped.

“ASTRAL!”

The running stallion chanced a glance behind him and threw himself to the side. One of the hippogriffs had followed him and careened down to kill him with their claws. He continued his gallop to Diadem and checked her over.

“You okay?!” he gasped as he saw her bleeding side.

“I will be,” she replied. “Where’s Saph?”

“Up here!” the dragoness shouted.

Sapphire was great with aerial combat. She easily dodged her attackers like a river around a rock. She could deflect if they got close and some of them looked awful. She was really laying into them and Diadem smirked with pride.

That’s my dragon.

As Diadem pushed herself back onto her hooves, she was hit from the side and thrown back. Her head hit a sharp rock and stars popped into her sight. The world spun as she clambered to sit up on her flank. She stumbled and shook her head.

“D!”

“DIA!”

The unicorn blinked away her dizziness, but the sight she saw made her mind go blank. A hippogriff was above her, claws out and ready to strike. She tried to use her magic, but her horn just fizzled and popped.

Diadem closed her eyes with a grimace as she realized she had failed Silver Fang. She had failed to live for the dragon or protect her clan. Her life was about to be cut short because she let her guard down. She closed her eyes, ready for the blow. Instead, liquid splattered against her face. Dark ichor was the first thing she saw as she opened her eyes in surprise and peered up.

Her blood went cold.

Ice pumped through her veins as her eyes burned with tears. Astral Mace had jumped in front of her and the griff’s claws went straight through his stomach. Astral wasn’t the only one to suffer a serious blow because he managed to embed a dagger deep into the hippogriff’s neck. The stallion coughed, blood splattering in the gurgling hippogriff’s face, and as he ripped the claw from his stomach the bird-pony fell back dead. Diadem couldn’t breathe. Astral staggered as he turned to her.

His eyes became distant as he tried to chuckle, but only blood came out. “Y-Ya’ just gonna sit there? Ya’…brat?”

He crumpled and Diadem reached out for him. Her mind restarted as she gasped, holding a hoof to the gaping wound.

“Astral!” she breathed. “Oh… oh goddess. H-Hang on!”

“ASTRAL!” Sapphire shouted.

The azure dragon had finished off the last couple of enemies and flew to her fallen comrades. Her teal eyes were wide.

“S-Sapphire! Go get Lavender! Please!” Diadem pleaded.

“D…” Astral tried.

“Shh, Astral, shh,” she shushed the struggling pegasus. “Save your strength. We’re going to get you help, just hang on okay?”

“Saph! Dia!”

Emerald flew back towards his companions, eyes scanning the bloodied and burned bodies surrounding the small group. Cedar and Forge were galloping beneath him as Nereus and Atynis flew beside the young drake with a group of changelings at their side. Diadem refused to look away as she continued to talk to Astral.

“Help’s here,” she said, her throat tightening with her sobs. She felt his body twitch, and already the color was gone from his face. “N-no, stay with me, it’ll be alright.”

“D, I-I’m sor—” a blood filled cough left him and cut off his apology. “I… I was going to tell you, and I-I’m sorry, I… I didn’t…”

Nereus landed and his eyes widened. His son laid in his daughter’s arms with blood everywhere. His stomach was injured, but the tears in Diadem’s eyes made Nereus realize just how bad Astral was hurt.

“N-No!” Diadem shouted as he closed his eyes. “Don’t you do this to me! Stay awake, Astral!”

The stallion lifted a bloodied hoof to her cheek and wiped away a few of the tears as he opened his eyes again. He shook his head, but whether that was from denial or from shock from losing blood, she couldn’t tell. “Heh. I haven’t…seen you cry… in a while.”

“Astral, please.” Diadem hiccupped.

“I…I wanted…to tell you when you were better…” he said with a hard, painful swallow. “I thought you weren’t ready… I-I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for!” she cried.

“I shoulda said it sooner,” he gasped. “Not fair…now.”

“My son,” Nereus said, landing by his children. “Stop exerting yourself. We can—”

“Pops…I-I ain’t gonna…make that trip. You…you know that.”

“Lies!” Diadem sobbed. “We can get you back! We can—”

“I-I promised…I wouldn’t leave you,” Astral said, breath hard. “I’m sorry I…have to break…it.”

“D-Don’t be silly,” Diadem replied. “We’ll get you back home and you’ll get better. Please…Please Astral. You gotta hang on. I…I need you. I don’t…know what I’d do without you! Please!”

Diadem’s hiccups broke through as tears fell onto his chest. Ichor and tears blended and he tried to smile at her.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “This isn’t fair…to you. You’ve suffered…for so long.”

“Don’t make me suffer more, then!” she selfishly demanded. “Stay with me, please…I can’t...I can’t lose you, Ast. Please…”

“I…I love you…” Astral whispered. “I was gonna tell you…last night. But, you were so stressed out…It wasn’t fair. I just wanted you to have fun…with me. Wanted…you…”

He coughed once more as his hoof fell to her shoulder, leaving behind a streak of blood on her cheek.

“I love you…more than a sister…” he rasped.

Diadem’s chest ached. Her tears spilled down her cheeks at his admission. She knew what he was doing and she shook her head. She couldn’t let him go. She didn’t want to say goodbye!

“N-No…you tell me that once you’re better,” she sniffled.

“I…love you,” he repeated. “More than anything.”

Diadem felt her breath leave her lungs, but Nereus watched as she crumbled. Her denial began to fall away and Atynis leaned over to hug the ki’rin. The sorrow that swept through him slammed into her. Nereus’ lower lip trembled. Astral Mace had come to him as a baby. His sister and Nereus had raised him into a colt that turned into a happy stallion. He could only watch as Diadem implored him to stay, pleaded with him to live.

“I-I can’t…please,” she begged. “Don’t…Don’t do this to me! Don’t leave me, Astral! Please! Please don’t leave me!”

She sniffled as he smiled at her, blood staining his white teeth. “I’ll watch over ya’. I pro…mise…”

His hoof finally fell from her shoulder as he gave a raspy breath. Nereus stepped forward and bowed his head as he watched the last bit of life in his son’s eyes flicker up to him.

“You too, Pops…I love…you.”

Nereus nodded as Astral Mace gave his final breath.

Diadem shook her head as her teeth grinded together in her sorry attempt to conceal her sobs, but as Astral went limp in her arms, she could no longer hold her feelings back. Nereus wrapped around his daughter as she held Astral close and Atynis let him go. Emerald hugged his sister, both drakes in tears. They had known Astral all their lives. Atynis bowed her head as she mourned for the youngling who had given his life to protect every creature in the Den, herself and her children included. Cedar bowed his head as well and Forge turned away. Astral Mace was their prince, their first in line to succeed Nereus. He had grown up with everyone in the Den. He had been raised to love unconditionally. He was just a young stallion with a lot of promise.

And now, he was gone.

With all the pain she felt, Diadem tilted her head back and screamed to the offending bright blue skies above. She screamed in anger, she screamed in denial, she screamed in pain until her voice went hoarse and all she could do was hiccup. Tears splashed down her cheeks as she hugged her favorite stallion to her chest and with all she had in her. She couldn’t hold back her tears and she leaned into her father as she curled around Astral’s body and just cried.

 

Author's Note:

Holy Behemoth, Batman!

This was a terrible chapter for me. The whole time I was caught in the whirlwind of Diadem's emotions to the point where I couldn't write. With a LOT of help from Lord-Commander, I've been able to make this pack more of a punch.

Also, I thought that I'd share a little something from our editing banter. Hopefully, it will make you smile through any tears you may have! Enjoy!

 

 

 

"Go and make a friend."

 

Lord-Commander:

"Later, it was observed that a group of changelings literally made a friend, a scare crow dummy that resembled a dragon."

 

 

 

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