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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8. Seven

Canterlot looked grim during the cold night. The high towers of Canterlot Castle were nothing more than rubble, crumbled to the base from the battle for the city that had started five years ago. The sisters took refuge in the servant quarters beneath the throne room, humbled; their once glorious throne room decimated. Scorch marks littered the floor, marring the marble with dark splotches that would never be washed out. The thrones were smashed, the ceiling still held above the heads of the two guards standing at attention, but the canopy had three rather large holes in it. The doors were gone, the wood discarded to the side and forgotten; never replaced after Twilight had broken them down. Five years the castle took the beatings of the creatures that it housed and each brought a glimmering of hope into the heart of the citizens of Canterlot. Five years without repairs as the sisters waged a war against their foes, both new and old. Five long years, the castle stood upon the edge of Canterlot like a corpse, greyed and heavy.

Two guards, a Solar Guard and a Lunar Guard, shifted uneasily in the eerie glow of the throne room as they awaited the return of the Elements of Harmony. It would be another silent night, should they not return, but the guards stood proud and tall as they waited patiently. The rest of the Royal Guard were holding off the invasion from the north while the mares searched relentlessly for the missing prodigy that had been the student of the sun princess they worshipped, but with each passing day, Equestria’s defeat became more and more a pending reality.

A flash of light broke them of their thoughts. The guards covered their eyes as the magical illuminance brightened the room until it vanished, leaving behind five figures in its wake. The Solar Guard stepped forward with a bow of his head as the mares readjusted themselves. Moans of discomfort reached the guards and they moved forward to assist the party. The Solar Guard eyed the group, noting that only five mares had returned, and with a mournful frown, he bowed to the unicorn in the group.

“Welcome back, Lady Rarity. We shall make the appropriate accommodations for you all to rest.”

Rarity shook her head. The teleport had disoriented her and she closed her eyes to stop the world around her from spinning as she forced her thoughts to return to the proper track. Once upon a time, she would have swooned over the idea of a stallion calling her ‘Lady Rarity’, but given the circumstances, she found the title to be a curse. The destruction of the castle, the surrounding parts of the city, and the loss of a dear friend had gained her such a title in a time of war.

“I appreciate the thought, Swift Charge, but it is urgent that we speak to the Princess.”

The mare beside Swift Charge, a batpony guard, cleared her throat. “Princess Celestia is resting. I can let Princess Luna know of the urgent audience.”

Rarity shook her head. “No. We must speak to Princess Celestia specifically. We have found Twilight Sparkle.”

Swift Charge glanced at the mare beside him with wide eyes. The Princesses had both awaited the news of Twilight Sparkle and it had come in the form of an audience. The mare nodded and took flight.

“I will summon the Princess, then.”

Swift Charge nodded at the thestral. “We await your return, Dusk Star.”

Dusk Star flew from the room with all the speed her bat wings could muster. Rarity stood still, scared to move an inch, but her friends were not as immobile. Rainbow Dash paced in circles above them, hovering as she worked through her own thoughts while Applejack took back her Stetson from Pinkie to lay down and cover her face in anger. Fluttershy sat beside the still unicorn, her eyes half closed from exhaustion as she tried not to cry once more. It was hard enough for them to leave their old friend behind in the Badlands, but to leave with those malicious last words still in their minds brought their spirits down further. Even Pinkie Pie was silent, her normal puffed up hair was straight and fell around her face like a dark curtain as she watched the crumbled debris across the room with mild interest.  

 

*

 

Dusk’s wings flapped with urgency as she sped through the dark corridors. Princess Luna would be in the garden calming the nightmares of her subjects as she did every night since the invasion, and that would mean that Princess Celestia would be recovering from her injuries in her room down near the servant’s quarters. Dusk Star veered towards the accommodations near the foyer of the castle until she made her way into the servant wing and she landed before a familiar door. She cleared her throat before she raised her hoof and knocked on the door as hard as she could.

“Please forgive the interruption, Princess,” Dusk called through the door. “But the Elements have returned! They are requesting an immediate audience!”

At first, Dusk thought that Princess Celestia had been dead asleep with how silent it was within the chambers, but the notion was hastily discarded as the door glowed with a lemon yellow aura before swinging open. Despite it being the middle of the night, Princess Celestia strode forward with little trouble from her fading wounds. Dusk Star bowed before the Princess of the Sun and Celestia gave her nod of acknowledgement.

“It is quite late, Dusk Star. The Elements have returned in the middle of the night many times. What is the reason for such a late audience?”

Celestia has had many years to practice her façade and as she gave the thestral mare a somber glance, she forced her hopes aside. There was little hope that her student had survived a year in exile, let alone five, but as she watched the Lunar Guard shift, she felt that maybe an emergency audience had significant information for the Elements of Harmony to return and demand such a meeting so late.

“Lady Rarity said that they had to meet with you, Princess. She said that they’ve found her,” Dusk Star stated with a bow. “They said they found Twilight Sparkle.”

Celestia’s lungs felt as though they had stopped working. For a moment, the Princess of Equestria could hardly fathom the idea, but the words were lingering in her mind like a phantom and she wanted nothing more than to beg the thestral for the absolute truth. Her insides burned with a mixture of emotions as she remembered to breathe and with a shake of her head, Celestia stepped into the corridor and with ease, a lemon light surrounded both Princess and Guard.  

“With haste, Dusk Star!”

The thestral had no time to respond. A flicker of the lemon yellow aura sent them to the throne room where the five mares waited for the answers they were desperate to achieve. The first thing that Celestia noticed was that there were only five mares in the room, not six. A painful jolt struck her chest as she watched the pained and angry expressions across the faces of the mares, each one only bringing forth the one thing Celestia had feared the most.

Was her student gone?

With a small smile forced upon her muzzle, the princess stepped forward. “Welcome back, my little ponies. What news have you brought this evening?”

Rarity’s ears perked up. She had noticed the princess’ arrival, of course she had, but her mind had wandered to Ponyville and Sweetie Belle. Her thoughts had traveled to Spike, as well, the poor thing that was wandering all of Equestria looking for the mother that he thought abandoned him so long ago. However, if Twilight was right, it seemed that his pain was not caused by the Changelings, nor by Twilight herself, but the celestial being that stood before her now. The realization lit a fire within Rarity’s stomach that made her more upset than it did sick. That distress blossomed into a furious wildfire and the fashionista turned towards her princess with her head high and a glint of anger in her blue eyes.

“Princess, we have found Twilight.” she declared.

Celestia’s chest was stabbed with another shot of pain as she looked at the five. She could only fathom the reasons behind Twilight not being with them, but the most dominant thought was the notion of losing her student permanently. It took Celestia a moment before she could respond, keeping the fear and oncoming despair from her voice.

“Where is she?” Celestia asked. “What has become of my student?”

Rarity wanted to snap at the ruler. She wanted to ask Celestia how she could have possibly done such a thing to her student, their friend, but she mulled the harsh remarks over in her head. What if Twilight was wrong? What if it hadn’t been Celestia, but Chrysalis? Hope glimmered in the unicorn and she bit her lip with uncertainty as her ears twitched.

What was the truth?

As her friends came to her side, Rarity looked up at Celestia once more as a dark figure flew in from the window. Princess Luna glided in with regal purpose, a curiosity in her dark eyes as she landed beside her sister and she gazed at the solar diarch quizzically. For a moment, the throne room was silent. Every pony were like statues. Not a pony would move, each waiting for one of others to break the silence.

Rarity put on her bravest face as she took a deep breath. “Twilight Sparkle is no longer Twilight Sparkle.”

The fashionista hesitated. The pregnant pause only served the Royal Sisters as they glanced to one another with confusion. Rarity forced herself to continue.

“She’s alive.” She blurted. “She’s just not…Arg!”

Rarity stomped her hoof in frustration. “She’s not the same. She’s…different. Her mane’s an absolute mess—”

“She’s too thin.” Fluttershy hiccupped around Rarity’s retort.

“She’s just plain ol’ mean.” Applejack spat.

“She won’t smile…” Pinkie Pie sniffled.

“She won’t talk to us.” Rainbow Dash added.

“She’s just changed.” Rarity finally said, her eyes tearing up as those hateful words echoed in her head again.

Celestia could hardly take it. Thousands of years she had watched the lives of ponies play out, the sense of loss never truly affecting her past Luna’s banishment, but the pain of her student being lost to whatever monsters she had encountered while alone caused Celestia’s heart to ache in a whole new pain. Twilight Sparkle was always at the forefront of her mind, but not even love seemed to be able to win the battle for Canterlot. The city was still in ruins. Equestria was still in a panic. Twilight, her Twilight, was still missing.

What had she done?

“Changed? What dost it matter? Where is our friend?”

Luna’s inquiry yanked Celestia from her inner turmoil and the sun princess caught her tears before they broke through the dam of her restraint. Luna gazed at the five with a mixture of confusion and betrayal. She had hoped that searching for Twilight would have yielded better results, but simply a changed mare being the response made her upset. She had yearned for her friend to return, yet they came back without her.

“She’s not coming back.” Rarity replied. “She refuses to be called Twilight Sparkle, and instead is known as Diadem, and lives out in the Dusklands. She refused to come back with us. It’s obvious that she is angry with all of us, Princess. But I…we need to know why.”

“Then return to where you found her and ask. I shall accompany—”

“No, you misunderstand me.” Rarity intervened, holding a hoof out to halt Luna. “I wanted us to come back because we needed to ask why she was angry with us. We needed to ask you, Princess Celestia.”

Rarity turned, her bright blue eyes falling to the alabaster princess. With a tied tongue, she opened her mouth, the desire to accuse the princess of the act high, but she stopped. Again, she felt the questions swirling around in her mind. What if it wasn’t true? What if it wasn’t Celestia? What if she was wrong? Her hooves began to shake with the idea, but she pushed forward. She had to know. For Twilight.

“Princess Celestia…What happened to Twilight at the wedding?”

Rarity cringed. It was not the question she had wanted to ask, but it was almost void of any accusation. The diarchy glanced to one another and Luna arched a brow at the question.  

“You know just as we do,” said Luna, taking a step forward. “Our friend disappeared after making a spectacle of herself.”

Rarity’s sky blue eyes locked onto the alabaster princess who had remained silent. Her hopes fading as she saw Celestia, mighty and benevolent Celestia, avert her gaze. Rarity felt her inner commotion building like a tsunami as she began to shake. Celestia was hiding something from them, but what was it? Could it truly be possible for the Solar Monarch to have had a hoof in Twilight’s disappearance? Rarity lifted her chin, her resolve setting as she heard her friends surrounding her. Rainbow Dash hovered with a groan of impatience while Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie sat back on their haunches to sulk quietly. Neither of them would say anything out of turn, but Applejack stepped up to stand beside her with a perplexed frown. The apple farmer could not fathom the reason to leave, but as Rarity exhaled, she received her answer.

“I believe Princess Celestia understands what I am implying,” The fashionista quipped.

Celesta, tall and powerful Celestia, cringed. All eyes turned to her at her blunder and she felt the tears in her eyes. How could she tell them? How could she stand before some of her most loyal subjects and admit her mistake? She had yet to tell Velvet and Light just what had transpired, but the five mares who made up Equestria’s defense was a whole different matter. She had to articulate it carefully. If she failed, she could condemn her kingdom to ruin. Celestia straightened her back, sweat coating her ivory fur as she shifted. Her throat seemed parched and she swallowed a few more times, thankful for the task as she mulled the thoughts over. What could she say to make them understand? Could they ever understand? Did she?

“I might.”

The words tumbled out before she could stop them, but her gentle smile held her façade in place. There was no skirting the truth, unless she wanted to destroy Equestria. It had been so long without her faithful student that she loved like her own daughter, and she had all but mentally and emotionally punished herself over the last five years. She has dreamt of losing Twilight to every horrible situation she could think of, to the point that she has nearly lived off of the twenty minute naps she takes in between breakfast and conferences. Her student’s paranoia had plagued her and Celestia had wondered if she had misread other situations where Twilight had gone stir crazy, but as she remembered the look of her student the day she came barging into the celebration, Celestia’s fur stood on end.

Never before had she experienced such a shiver down her spine than the curled lip snarl that Twilight had released after demolishing the throne room doors. The harsh magic and brute strength she had used to get to the couple at the altar had made Celestia flinch. There was no way she had mistaken the amount of darkness coming off of her pupil, but denial frothed in her belly. Twilight was not a creature of darkness like Luna. She did not command the dark arts which would twist her vision until she could no longer distinguish hate from love, loathing all things until she was but a shell of her former self for the foulest of magics to take root and flourish. She was not her dearest sister who she lost to the dreaded nightmare that was the very same darkness that Twilight radiated. It was impossible. Twilight was but a unicorn she had deemed destined for greatness and she should have trusted her.

But she didn’t.

Celestia’s smile faltered and, for a moment, the graceful and benevolent princess her subjects had known so well simply stared at the five mares before her as though she were trying to see beyond them. Her guilt forced the mask to break, but Celestia recovered quickly and smiled at Rarity.

“What have you been told?” Celestia inquired, feigning innocence.

The barrier was repaired instantly as she stood before her prodigy’s friends and smiled like the princess she was known to be, but her stomach flipped wildly with “what ifs”. Celestia closed her eyes and pushed the rampant thought aside as she opened them to smile at Rarity and her companions once more. Rarity huffed.

“There is no easy way to say this, Princess, but while we were out there we learned that Twilight didn’t just vanish. Princess… Twilight wouldn’t have just run away from home during her brother’s wedding…would she?”

The accusation was there. Celestia picked it up swiftly. “No. Twilight was never a mare to back down from a gut feeling.”

Her nonchalant tone was deplorable to her own ears. Luna turned towards her sister with wide eyes. “Hath thou known the circumstances behind thy student’s disappearance?”

Accusation number two. Celestia noted that she should have spoken to Luna after Canterlot was won from the Changelings. She should have sat down to talk with her, but the city and the nation needed them mobile. They needed them to calm their fears and protect them during a vulnerable time. Unfortunately, a war was immediately waged against them when he returned. Her ivory coat stood on end as she shivered. If there was a time she needed to have confidence in everything working out, it would be this very moment. She did not banish her student because she wanted her gone. She did it because she was afraid of what she saw that day and with the threat against Canterlot, she could not chance her student becoming the very beast she fought should the darkness finally take hold. Celestia straightened.

Rarity took the admission with a grimace. “She doesn’t run, does she Princess?” Her tone melted from caution and held a hint of anger. “She would have tried again, wouldn’t she?”

Celestia held herself together, but nodded. “Correct.”

Rarity was angry. “She would have gone to you, right? She would have undoubtedly gone to her mentor to quell her fears, wouldn’t she?”

Celestia nodded. Rarity could hardly breathe. Her face felt heated under her oncoming anger and she stomped her foot as she glared at the Princess. She had to ask. She needed to find out for Twilight.

For Spike.

“I was hoping to be wrong.” Rarity said, a hiccup of a sob in her throat. “But it seems that I’m not. Am I?” A curt, humorless laugh. “You did it, didn’t you?” Rarity shook her head. “Princess, did you banish Twilight?”

Celestia’s heart thrummed in her chest as she opened her mouth, poised to answer.

“WHOA! RARES!” Rainbow Dash finally spoke up, flying in front of her friend. “Are you for reals?”

“That’s a ridiculous question. Ah never pegged ya’ to be that dramatic, Rarity. What in tarnation would make ya’ think that the Princess would have anything to do with Twilight leaving us?” Applejack agreed.

“Oh but...She didn’t leave.” Fluttershy spoke up, wiping her reddened eyes. “Why else would she be so…so…”

“Angry?” Pinkie Pie finished.

“Ah can’t believe that ya’ll are even considering this!” Applejack huffed.

“Yeah. Where did you get that from, anyway?” Rainbow asked.

Rarity glared at her two stubborn friends as if they were squabbling foals. “If you must know, while you two were creating a scene, I was talking to the Lord of the clan and the Queen you two nearly killed.”

“Queen?” Celestia asked.

“Celestia?…Sister?” Luna began, turning wide eyes toward Celestia, “The accusation holds no legitimacy, yes?”

Celestia did not answer, but Rainbow Dash’s voice drowned out the Lunar Princess’ thoughts.

“You’re believing a Changeling Queen and some lizard-dragon-dude you’ve never seen before?!” Rainbow snarled.

Rarity glared. “Yes, actually. It makes sense. And that would be Queen Atynis, Rainbow.”

“Ah don’t believe ya’ Rarity!” Applejack snorted.

“I don’t care what her name is! She’s a changeling queen! Or didja forget what those monsters did to us?!” Rainbow Dash growled. “How can you believe the lies those things spread?!”

Rarity glowered at her companions as she stood up. Almost methodically, Rarity took a few steps forward until she was in the cyan pegasus’ face. Her hooves clacked loudly as she stomped forward. “I’m not so hotheaded to believe that all changelings are monsters when clearly shown otherwise. In fact, I had a wonderful discussion about the changelings as a whole. Did you know that Chrysalis was an extremist who broke the laws of her people to get what she wanted like a spoiled brat? No, you didn’t, because you two don’t even bother to talk to anypony before deciding that they’re evil. That Queen you kicked, Applejack? She’s actually a well-spoken and kind Queen who happened to mention Chrysalis’ one weakness in infiltrating a group. Do you know what that is?”

Applejack clicked her tongue. “No.”

“Knowledge.” Rarity breathed. “She can replicate a pony’s looks, but not the personality. She said that she could be detected by someone with a keen eye and a wise heart. Who was the only person who figured out who Chrysalis actually was, hmm? Who was it that told us she was evil in the first place?”

Applejack cringed, the memory had returned full force. “H-How were we supposed to know—”

“Because we were her friends!” Tears finally spilled as they cascaded down the unicorn’s cheeks. “And we were awful friends! We didn’t believe her. We ridiculed her and she just vanished! We believed that she would actually run away!”

Rarity rounded on the Princess. “And you let us believe it! How could you?!”

Princess Luna stepped forward and to the side, knees bent as she readied herself to protect Celestia. “Thy lies are slanderous!”

“No, Luna.” Celestia finally said, placing a gentle hoof on her sister’s shoulder. “She does not lie.”

The room filled with silence as Luna turned, eyes wide. “Sister?”

Celestia stood tall and proud. The perfect ruler she had always presented herself as, and with a firm nod, she turned her gaze to Rarity. “You are not wrong. Twilight would not have run away, as you’ve all believed. In fact, she didn’t. After her…display at the wedding, which had destroyed the castle doors, I spoke with Twilight. She had said that Cadence was evil, and with my experience dealing with a paranoid Twilight, I tried to use reason to calm her fears. She refused to listen—the very offence I committed in return—and fled with a promise to stop Cadence. By the time I reached her, she had already harmed Cadence.”

Celestia squeezed her eyes shut as she remembered. The pink alicorn sobbed as she pointed at her sister-to-be and threw the accusations at her with no remorse. In hindsight, she could see Twilight’s form crumple until she no longer felt anything as she was escorted from the room.

“I had Twilight escorted out and called the doctors to help heal Cadence. I left her in their care and went to talk to Twilight.” Celestia opened her eyes to look upon her student’s friends. “By the time I reached her, she had shut down. However, it was evident that she was not going to stop. She fully believed that Cadence was evil and that she was using her brother.”

Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and Applejack listened, each remembering the day of the wedding, but for a much different reason. They remembered the day after the initial wedding day. Pinkie Pie stared at the ground, her poofy hair falling straight as she remembered prancing out of the room without ever looking back. Applejack cringed at the memory as she hurled her own passive-aggressive jab at Twilight before walking out on her, too. Even Rainbow Dash began to remember the encounter as well as the harsh lesson of getting in the way of an angry Twilight and the sharp pain in her back made her grimace.

Rarity and Fluttershy watched the expressions on their friends’ faces as the pieces and memories began to click into place. The two had already relieved the memories of that day at the festival. But the pain was still fresh for them as they both knew, as everypony in the room began to know, just how much pain they had caused Twilight.

“I regret to say that I could not believe that my niece was the same monster Twilight believed her to be. I was fooled by the disguise and my own pride. I believed that I knew Princess Cadence better than my student who had grown up with her. When Chrysalis revealed herself, I knew that I had made a terrible mistake.”

“Mistake?” Rarity hissed. “You banished her!”

Celestia bowed her head in shame. “I did, yes.”

Luna turned towards her sister in disbelief. “Sister...Where did you send her?”

Celestia flinched. “I believe the destination was south of Dodge Junction.”

Luna backpedaled in alarm. “You…were you wishing for her death?!”

“No!” Celestia nearly shouted. Her head snapped up in alarm. “I would never do such a thing! I thought that if I kept her near Equestria that we could find her once she had calmed down. Twilight is resourceful, smart and talented. I knew that I could reach her if she were close by after the wedding. I never intended to keep her away forever, but you must realize that she attacked someone presumed to be a member of the Royal Family! Do you know what would have happened if word had gotten out?” Celestia’s pristine image crumbled as she sat back on her flank, tears in her eyes. “I didn’t think that I’d be in a cocoon for nearly a year! Or that Twilight was right!”

The room was silent for a brief moment until Celestia, mighty and benevolent Celestia, began to sob. “I was a damned fool once again. I couldn’t protect you from yourself and then I couldn’t tell our niece apart from an impersonator. I…I…”

Luna shook her head. “No…No! Thy actions were not warranted. You said it thyself that she became detached from the situation. Why would you even consider such a punishment?”

“Because I was frightened,” Celestia said. She screwed her eyes shut at the admission.

“Let me get this straight. You banished Twilight and didn’t tell us because you were afraid?” asked Rainbow Dash.

“Yes,” Celestia replied with a nod. “I didn’t inform anyone because Equestria needed a strong front in order to survive the damage caused by the invasion. I had to do what was right for Equestria.”

“That’s hardly a proper answer.” Rarity huffed. “If you had not banished Twilight, she’d still be with us. We could have used the Elements a long time ago and prevented these wars. Everything would be different.”

Celestia nodded, but refused to speak.

“How could you do that to us? To her parents? To Spike!” Rarity continued. “He’s been searching for Twilight all this time!”

“It was wrong.” Celestia admitted, her voice low. “And I cannot give a reason that would pacify any resentment or anger. I have not only failed as Twilight’s mentor, but I have failed as a ruler. I should have known Twilight better than that. She wouldn’t attack some pony, much less a Princess of Equestria, without provocation.”

“Of course she wouldn’t. Thy prodigy is far from an imbecile!” Luna snapped. “You claimed this on thy fears! What was it thy feared?”

“Of a nightmare returning…” Celestia whimpered.

Luna stopped short and she recoiled as if she had been struck. “Pardon?”

Celestia grimaced. “When Twilight came barreling into the throne room to the wedding and began to yell, I could see it was if it were happening all over again; the tendrils of nightmare reaching around her. I could almost hear the laughter from over a thousand years ago. I stepped in when she attacked, but she dove right past me. I could almost see the transformation I never saw with you, Luna. I was afraid…afraid that I would have to witness another turn into a nightmare. I…I couldn’t bear it.”

With silence as her answer, Celestia bowed her head. Then, with the building guilt and heartache she had accumulated over the course of five years, the mask finally broke and Princess Celestia, co-ruler of Equestria and caretaker of the sun, wept.

 

*

 

The brilliant, blinding light faded behind her closed lids and before she opened them, Diadem could tell that she had been placed in a new environment. Her hooves were suddenly cold. The frigid fluff was snow—she saw it as she looked down—and with furrowed brows she tried to figure out why she was standing in a blizzard that reached her ankles. The hard wind whipped her short mane from its fallen curls, and the sapphire locks billowed around her thin face with a ferocity she had long forgotten about. The bleak, grey sky offered no comfort especially with the clouds, but as she squinted to see through the blizzard, she saw a vibrant crimson illuminance glow in the haze of the storm. With a cautious curiosity, she braced herself against the gale and made her way towards the light.

The snow crunched beneath her hooves with each step she took against the storm, and Diadem could only wonder what she was seeing. Her short locks began to freeze over, her fur frozen in patches as she pushed forward through the tundra, and as she drew near the red spotlight she felt the alien presence strengthen. She knew that she was in a dream—she had to be—but the frigid windstorm felt so real that it sent a wave of shivers through her. Diadem quickened her steps until she was trotting toward the light which grew larger and brighter as she drew closer until the blizzard picked up, blinding her momentarily as a wave of heat enveloped her. She closed her eyes and stepped through the light.

Diadem opened her eyes startled at the impossible warmth she had walked into, but before her laid a vast field, bright green and warm under the sun that had nearly been nonexistent on the treacherous walk towards the light. She shivered again, her body warming up, and proceeded further. Whoever had invaded her mind must have projected this image into her dream for a reason and she wanted to know why. The only one she knew who could traverse the realm of dreams was the dark coated princess she had long ago forced herself to forget and she would be damned if she let that pony gain further access into her mind. Her past would stay in the past; she would make sure of that.

The rolling fields of green blended into a bright sparkle of what seemed to be…crystal? Diadem ambled down the worn path and approached the glimmering city as she scanned the buildings with interest. Never before had she seen actual buildings carved out of crystals and gems of various sizes and shapes. She was swept away in the beauty, her lungs seizing with awe. Her journey led her deeper into the city until she reached the center, where it seemed a fair of some sorts had been taking place. In slow motion, ponies with coats of what appeared to be crystal, danced and laughed, each turned away from the epicenter. At the middle was a statue of a heart carved from crystal and Diadem stepped forward, confused. What was she being shown?

She lifted a forehoof and reached out to the heart, her senses compelling her forward until her hoof tapped the gem and the world around her spun to life. The time caught back up and the ponies of crystal danced about, the square filling with the music and laughter of the citizens. All but one, Diadem noticed, as a rather young stallion barreled through the crowd and ducked into the castle. Curiosity propelled her further and she ducked through the crowd, following the stallion. The interior of the castle stunned Diadem just as the city had, but the shriek of a mare snapped her from her amusement. She broke into a gallop, darting through corridors and rooms to find the source when she stumbled into the throne room. Chills went down her spine, memories trying to surface, but she pushed them aside as she stared ahead.

Before her stood the stallion, howling in grief as he hugged a bloodied corpse on the ground. Heart thrumming in her chest, Diadem felt only pain from the stallion and she collapsed in the doorway. A sigh pervaded the haze of grief and she glanced up to find an alicorn watching the stallion with bitterness. She had a crystal coat of imperial topaz with wings extended, her sapphire mane, lighter than Diadem’s, was tied high with curls falling down in waves, weaved with various hues of tourmaline, quartz, and andalusites gemstones. The crown upon her head was gold, shimmering with rubies and diamonds as she stepped forward, towering over the fallen mare and the weeping stallion by a full two feet as she stared down at them with her jade green eyes.  

“You will thank me in the end, Onyx,” The alicorn said with a forced smile. “You have forsaken me and went off with this harlot. Disregarded your duties as a Lieutenant of the Crystal Army and even thought that I might wave you off with a smile? Absolutely not!”

The alicorn snarled at the stallion. “You have taken everything I’ve given you, taught you, and have thrown it in my face these past few years. Should I remind you just where you came from?!”

Diadem gasped as the scene before her slightly shifted. She could see a mare and stallion off to the side, their smiles beamed out, almost blindingly as she looked at them, a young filly between them. Their smiles and faces contorted and soon were horrified shadows of what might have been. The stallion cried out, his black coat losing its shimmer as he crumpled beneath the alicorn’s magic. Ghostly moans echoed in the room, a shrill cry and a choked sob reached Diadem’s ears as she watched the stallion collapse, his crimson eyes wide with panic and tears at the ethereal image.

“You forgot that day, didn’t you? Ah, yes. I let you forget. Took the painful memories and hid them deep within your subconscious, but I find that you should bear your burden. Alone, this time, hmm?”

The alicorn’s scowl was replaced with a thin smile as she gently approached him. “Restore my faith in you, Onyxus. Devote yourself to me once more and I shall seal away these awful memories. I’ll let you forget that you killed your parents, your sister, and now your wife. I’ll take the pain away for you, my precious gem. Just say the magic word.”

Diadem felt it before it manifested, but the stallion stood, tears streaming down his cheeks as his horn lit, throwing back the alicorn. Stunned, the citrine beauty stared with wide eyes as the stallion glared at her. He snarled and stomped his hoof, the crystal beneath him cracking with the pressure of his magic. Diadem cringed. What had she gotten into? What was this vision?

She shook the haze of the spectral image from her head as she stood. She stepped forward, cautious, until she could see his face and she recoiled. His ruby red eyes glowed with power, the magic around him pulsing dangerously and she studied him. A dark charcoal coat, darker than Astral’s, with a jet black mane and ruby red eyes. He seemed built for his position, undoubtedly from years of training in combat and he snarled at the alicorn.

“No more lies!” he roared.

Diadem’s coat stood on end as she back pedaled away from him, the white of his eyes turning spring green with eggplant violet smoke billowing from the corners of his eyes. His rounded pupil became like a diamond, slitted and draconic as he glared.

“You murdered Crystal Thread for nothing!” he screeched as though he were a banshee. “You—”

“No more!”

Her veins froze to ice and Diadem felt the sudden chill as the visions disappeared. She was left alone in the sudden darkness with no idea what happened. The darkness ripped before her, and out stepped the stallion, except his horn had become warped. The curve of the appendage was like a blade and crimson, as if it had seen battle and bathed in the blood of victims impaled by it. She gasped and backed away, the green in his eyes reminding her of that day she was just desperate to forget.

“Who dares to enter my dreamscape?” he sneered. “Who are you?”

Diadem almost stepped back in fright. “Your dreamscape?” she scoffed. “You entered my dreams… I think.”

He blinked at her, his sneer dissipating. His eyes widened as he looked her over with narrowed eyes in scrutiny. Diadem swore she could feel his thoughts, his emotions of curiosity and wonder. Even amazement. Just by focusing on him, two questions seemed to emerge from his mind. Could it be? Was she the one?

“A connection,” he said as he stood straight. “I have been feeling the call of one with great magical potential.”

Albeit confused, Diadem studied him and her eyes widened with a gasp. Upon his back was a plush red cape with black and white fur at the hem. It was held in place by part of his armor, the silver mantle wrapped around his shoulders and covered up to his throat. Upon his head was a crown of silver with two small red spikes curving toward his deranged horn. His dark coat nearly blended into the darkness and his mane gently flowed in a faux breeze. Despite the neon green and violet anomalies with his eyes, Diadem almost took him as a King.

“I…I was a student of magic…a long time ago.” Diadem confessed. “But I haven’t tried to call out to anyone.”

The royal stallion stepped around her, examining her like a vulture with its prey. Diadem was ready to fight, her muscles tensing and her fur standing up on edge. The King took notice and chuckled as he stepped away. His senses told him that it was indeed the same magical signature that had reached out to him in the darkest of hours. He gave her a lopsided grin, a devilish fang protruding from his lips, as he stood straight.

“What is your name?” he asked.

Diadem arched a brow as she slightly relaxed. “Uhh…The name’s Diadem.”

“Diadem,” he repeated, the name a purr on his tongue. “Well, Diadem. I am King Sombra. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”

 

 

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