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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7. Six

Rainbow’s wings flapped as she scoured the crowd from above. She dodged some drakes who had been dancing while hovering above the crowd below and she groaned. If she had to worry about changelings and dragons in the air, then she was better off on hoof. She landed with ease and strode through the multitude of beings with caution as she eyed the throng of creatures with a critical gaze as she searched for the stallion who had stormed off earlier. Her gaze travelled, but there was no sign of him and she groaned again.

“Where did he go?”

The cyan pegasus shoved through another group as she continued her search. After the stallion had finished with the group of changelings, he ventured off into the crowd and Rainbow Dash lost him. Now, as she pushed through the throng of creatures, Rainbow could only growl in annoyance at her slip up. In her search, a familiar shade of indigo caught her attention and she turned to make her way that direction. As she emerged from the mass of beings, Rainbow Dash greeted her companions with a scoff.

“Hey Rares. Hey Flutters,” she said, stepping up to Rarity. “What’s up?”

She was greeted with silence and she turned. Immediately, her coat stood on end at the look on Rarity’s face. Her friend’s mouth was slightly agape and her eyes were the size of pinpricks which was standard for the fashionista when she was horrified. Rainbow spun around and found the changeling queen Atynis as she stood beside Nereus; both stared at her friends with furrowed brows and frowns. Rainbow’s chest flared as she leapt between the four, her lips curling over her teeth as she snarled at the changeling queen.

“What did you do to them?” she hissed.

Normally, Rarity would have been mortified by Rainbow’s actions, but as the shock began to wear down, the unicorn found herself incompetent. She opened her mouth, but words failed her repeatedly. She ran the revelation through her mind again and again until she could finally put her thoughts into words. She reached out and placed a hoof on her friend’s shoulder, pulling her back a bit.

“Rainbow Dash, dear, don’t be so hasty.” Rarity finally managed. She cleared her throat and stepped beside the cyan flyer. “They did nothing wrong.”

Rainbow stared at her companion with wide eyes. Her mouth opened and closed in a vain attempt to work through her own thoughts.

“But…” Rainbow Dash stuttered in disbelief. “You guys looked so freaked out!”

“Shocked,” Rarity corrected, taking a deep breath. “We’re in shock, darling.”

“Huh?” Rainbow articulated with an arched brow.

“Shocked,” Rarity repeated. “It seems that there is something we have foolishly neglected to ask about all of this.”

“I don’t get it.” Rainbow said. “What do you mean?”

“Dash, darling, please. Go find Applejack and Pinkie. This will be much easier to talk about if we’re all together,” Rarity pleaded. “I fear that something dreadful happened on our part to make Twilight….make Diadem act like this.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll go get them.” Rainbow Dash sighed. “I’ll be right back. I think I saw them near the shop looking thing.”

With a flare of her wings, Rainbow Dash took flight. Rarity watched her friend glide away to gather the rest of their entourage and sighed as she turned her attention back to Nereus and Atynis. A frown graced her features as she sighed again.

“You said with a keen eye and a wise heart,” Rarity said as she turned her full attention to Atynis. “So, if Chrysalis had encountered some pony who knew the pony she was impersonating, but she never studied that relationship…that the friend would have seen through it?”

Atynis nodded. “Absolutely.”

“I see,” Rarity said as she turned her gaze to her hooves. “I might know what had happened…If I may, Nereus, how did Diadem come under your care?”

The elder Ki’rin gave the unicorn a sad smile. “She was rescued by one of my best teams. It was a surprise to find a pony out in the wastes.”

“Please,” Rarity pleaded as she hugged Fluttershy. “What happened to our friend, Nereus?”

“She was cast out,” Nereus said with a shiver as he closed his eyes. His memory of the day his daughter had come into his clan – his family – was vivid in his mind’s eye. The day that Diadem had been brought to him was a memory he would not – could not —forget. It was forever burned into his mind; the churn of his stomach at the sight of her form, the pain on her face, the wounds that she had, her fearful eyes and her silence. He could remember the first thing he had ever heard her say, but he knew that she had been delirious. Yet, that one sentence told him everything he needed to know.

Nereus sighed as he finished up with a few more clan members to discuss the shortage of water and supplies to make a list for the year’s trades. He had barely made it to the surface when he saw a glint of silver in the bright sunlight. Silver Fang, a drake with silver scales, flew at him with something in his arms and the rest of his team at his heels. Nereus watched him land, the bundle in Silver Fang’s arms was a being he had only seen once in his life and his eyes widened. Silver Fang was holding a pony.

“Nereus,” Silver Fang looked up at his clan leader. “We checked out the caves and…”

Fang’s voice trailed off as the bundle in his arms moaned. The drake held the pony as delicately as he could as she whimpered and winced, her body trembling from the pain as her wounds cracked and bled with each movement. The pony’s voice told Nereus that it was a female, but the wounds that littered her body would make a hardened warrior cringe. Her mulberry coat was tinged a dark indigo, mixed with dirt and blood. The lacerations littered her body and while only some were bleeding, others were blackened and yellowed with infection that was sure to cause a high fever. He had no connection to this tiny creature, but Nereus could not stop his anger from rising, nor the twist of his stomach, at the weakened state his team had found her in. The poor thing was weak. The pony’s body shuddered with each intake of breath and she was so malnourished that he could nearly see her ribs beneath her skin.

“Don’t…” came the tiny whisper. “Don’t throw me away…”

“Get her to the infirmary. Now.” Nereus commanded. “She needs a doctor.”  

To this day, he knew that there were things she held quiet in her heart, unable to say them aloud without being forced to relive the moments, and it caused him pain to know that his daughter suffered still. “She was brought to me, wounded in both body and spirit.”

Beside him, Atynis stepped closer. The Queen had picked up on his emotions early, but the surge of anger and sorrow had surprised her. She had open trades with the Ki’rin Lord decades ago, but these raw emotions of anger, sadness and hatred radiating from him were new. The sensations slammed into her as his emotions swirled about, the rolling waves of pain and fear sliced through the anger and bitterness like a blade and she steeled herself against them as she brushed a gentle wing against his side.

“Cast out?” she prompted him, softly.

Nereus nodded. “Yes. That’s all she wished to explain to me, and I did not find it right to press further. She once lived in the land of Equestria—the pony lands—as Twilight Sparkle, and she was cast out.”

“You mean….she was banished?” Rarity moaned in horror as her thoughts began to meld together, affirming her original idea that there was more to this than they had originally thought.

Fluttershy whimpered. She did not want to believe it. She couldn’t, but it was the only thing that made sense. “B-but she wasn’t banished…w-was she? Th-that would mean…that…”

Rarity hugged Fluttershy once more as she nodded, helplessly. “That would mean that Princess Celestia had to do it.”

“The Princess had to do what?”

Rarity and Fluttershy turned. Rainbow Dash had successfully retrieved the rest of their group and as Fluttershy hiccupped, she buried her face into Rarity’s coat. Rainbow Dash stilled. Fluttershy was not in tears when she left, and Rarity was not yelling, which meant that something said had to have hurt the timid pegasus’ feelings. In a swift movement, she landed beside Rarity and hugged Fluttershy who turned and hugged her back as she stifled her cries. Rarity looked at her three friends with a sad frown. Each one held a guarded look on their face and she opened her mouth to explain, but could not find the words. They were surely curious of what could have possibly brought the mention of their Princess up, but Rarity had no words to state her accusation. Instead, she made her decision and steeled herself for the oncoming backlash.

“Girls, I believe that some key information was withheld from us. I fear we must return to Equestria…without Twilight.”

“What?!” Applejack and Rainbow Dash screeched.

“Ya’ll are crazy if you think that Ahm just gonna leave without her!” Applejack shouted.

“Applejack, please—”

“No!” the apple farmer shouted, interrupting Rarity as her voice cracked. “Ahm not going back a failure! What am Ah supposed to tell mah family? That we just left her out here?”

“Applejack!” Rarity snapped, stomping her hoof in frustration. “How do you think I will feel having to return and tell Spike that I didn’t bring her home? You know that he’s been out searching for her, too!”

Applejack closed her mouth and held back the tears that threatened to fall. She feared failure and she wanted to bring her friend home, but she knew that Spike had been hurt the most after she disappeared and that he was yearning to see Twilight again. Rarity mentioned the nightmares he would wake up with, shouting for Twilight not to abandon him, and she remembered how tired her two friends looked in the weeks following the news of Twilight’s disappearance. Now, they found her, so what was going home without her going to accomplish?

“If I may,” Atynis interected. “I am curious to know. Why it is so imperative to bring Princess Diadem back to this Equestria?”

The tension in the air did not deter the pink party pony from jumping up with a Cheshire grin and throwing her hooves in the air. “Because we need her silly! Without Twilight we can’t use the Elements! So we can’t go all glowy and throw magic rainbows at the bad guys! Or guy! Or…well…whatever he is!”  

“Elements?” Atynis asked. The corners of her mouth dipped down in her confusion. “As in the water, the earth, fire and air?”

“No, no.” Rarity answered. “Not those types of elements, Your Majesty. We are the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony, including Twilight. Without her, we cannot wield them to protect our home.”

“A weapon,” Nereus affirmed. “Ancient magical artifacts that commune with individuals that hold specific traits that match accordingly with that Element.”

“Precisely,” Rarity said. “But I fear the worse of this situation. There is something that I feel we are missing and I think I may have an idea about it. However, I also fear for her response if she knew that we came here under a different understanding.”

Nereus mulled over the unicorn’s words as he thought of his daughter. Mention of her past put him on edge, yet it was difficult to ignore the curiosity of what had exactly transpired before she had arrived to his clan and became a member of his family. He loved Diadem very much and he wanted to shoot the ideas down, but he knew better. His feelings should not affect the outcome of his daughter’s future, but just the thought of her past made the hairs on his neck rise in concern, despite the curiosity. Before Nereus could reply, the crowd roared. The Ki’rin turned his head, his golden-yellow eyes finding the members of his clan, both new and old, crowding around the designated dance area. With a sneaking suspicion, Nereus ventured away from the conversation and made his way toward the crowd. His clan members parted as he ambled through. Members of the clan hardly took their eyes from whatever had captured their attention and with the ponies following behind him in curiosity, along with Atynis, Nereus made his way to the edge of the throng of creatures he called family to see a rare sight.

A melody drifted from the band as his eyes found Diadem and Astral Mace stepping out onto the dance floor. The song that had been playing had died down as the crowd began to cheer, excited for the pair who stood in the center of the floor. It was when the next group of notes signaled a new song that Diadem and Astral Mace began to move. Together, they pushed themselves onto their hind legs and began to glide across the stone, eyes closed as they began to dance. Astral Mace held the Princess by the waist with his left hoof as they spun around and Diadem held his other hoof tight in her own grasp as she rested her free hoof on his shoulder. With their eyes closed, the two leaned their foreheads against one another, careful of Diadem’s horn, before losing themselves to the music.

The pair twirled across the floor with ease, careful to not bump into the crowd that they both knew surrounded them, even with their eyes closed. Diadem kept her composure, despite the cheers of her people echoing in her ears as she gracefully followed Astral’s lead. If the stallion was nervous of all the eyes staring at him, he showed no signs of it, and it comforted her to know that he held her protectively as they slid across the floor with each other. It was not until the music began to die down once more that she opened her eyes to meet with Astral’s pleased grin.

“Fraidy-cat,” he said as they return to their four hooves.

Diadem’s cheeks flared in chagrin. “Shut up.” She said, punching his shoulder.

His cheeky grin only widened as he gave her a bow. He adored seeing her blush in embarrassment and he chuckled. “Thank you for the dance, Princess.”

The heat in her cheeks intensified, but Diadem did not back down. Straightening her back, she bowed in return with a mischievous smile gracing her lips. “It was my pleasure, Prince Astral.”

The moment of silence between them dissolved into laughter as they straightened back up. Diadem tilted her head back, her laughter filling the air above them as she giggled like a child and Astral Mace fell back onto his haunches, bent forward, as he guffawed. Around them, the crowd roared with approval, but the two could only hear their own laughter as they got to their hooves and trotted off just as the next song began. Nereus chuckled at his children, a wide smile upon his face as he watched them run off together. It was a familiar feeling that he had been missing since he had sent Astral Mace out to check on the other territories within the wastes and he was delighted to see it return. Beside him, the five ponies stared with mouths agape. Not a single one of them had seen Twilight dance in all the time they had been friend with her, which not only caused them to be surprised, but with the realization that Twilight had indeed changed, and not just in a rude way, Rarity and her companions were beginning to find that there was more to this new Twilight then just anger and bitterness.

“I…didn’t know she could dance.” Rarity said.

Atynis smiled as she watched the clan prince and princess disappear into the crowd. The two ponies had welcomed her hive with open hooves just as Nereus had, but the emotions that were in the air of the celebration made her insides hum with pleasure. She was nourished enough to heal and she stretched her wings a bit as she twittered lightly.

“They dance well.” She said.

“Rarity, why can’t we just go to Twi’ and talk to her? Ah don’t understand?” Applejack huffed.

“That is what I’ve been trying to explain to you all, but you two are being so stubborn.” Rarity sighed. “I believe we have been misinformed of the events that happened five years ago. Twilight, she…she didn’t go missing as we believed. Some things happened an—”

Rainbow Dash scoffed, getting impatient with it all. “Yeah, well why don’t we just ask her? Twi can just tell us exactly what’s up, we’ll figure it out, and get out of here. AJ’s right. We aren’t going to get anywhere without talking to her.”

Rarity groaned as she sat back on her haunches. “And I agree. We need to talk to her but just what do you think we—”

“Um…Rarity?” Fluttershy said. “They’re gone.”

Rarity turned to see her two prideful friends darting away. She jumped to her hooves, alarmed. This situation had become severe and it needed to he handled delicately, something neither Applejack or Rainbow Dash did well. Rarity spluttered in annoyance after them, but Pinkie Pie’s silence stopped the unicorn and she turned to look at her. Pinkie Pie was wearing a frown and rarity cleared her throat to capture the party pony’s attention.

“Are you alright, Pinkie?”

The earth pony shook her head, her mane deflating a small bit in her sadness. “I don’t think this is a good idea. I got a doozy of a feeling coming.”

“Well that is what I have been trying to stress to our friends.” Rarity sighed. She turned to the two leaders and gave a quick bow. “I’m sorry to have to ask, but could you help us? I’m afraid that my hot headed friends are going to cause a scene and it would been unbearable if they disrupted such a wonderful celebration.”

Nereus nodded. The Viridian Harvest was an all-night celebration and for it to be ruined would be catastrophic. “I will accompany you.”

“I shall as well.” Atynis said as she stepped forward.

Rarity wanted to suggest for the Queen to stay behind because of what had transpired earlier when they had run into the horde, but she bit back the words and turned to trot away. Stopping their friends took first priority. She needed to stop them before it was too late. If her assumption was correct, if this Nereus was telling them the truth, then they had to return to Equestria for some answers before Twilight resented them forever.

If she didn’t already.

Rarity threw herself into a gallop as she took off after her hot-headed friends and was surprised by how quickly she had caught up with them. Sweat lined her brow as she concentrated, her horn flashing brilliantly as her magic flew out and gripped her two friends mid charge. She really did not want to resort to using their emergency magic, but it seemed like they were not going to listen to her. Rarity caught up to the two hovering ponies and the others were soon to follow. Nereus watched the magical aura with a small fascination as Rarity fixed the two with a glare and stomped over to them.

“Can you two not be so brash?!” she nearly screeched around the breath that was sawing in and out of her lungs through her gritted teeth.

“Wha—?” Applejack spluttered as she scrambled in the pale blue aura. When she realized who had used their magic, she spun around and glared. “Rarity! Put me down! Ya’ know I hate it when you do that!”

The fashionista huffed as she trotted forward and released her magic. The apple farmer and her flyer friend were unceremoniously dropped to the ground. Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie cringed.

“OW!” the prideful duo chorused in pain.

Rarity stalked forward, her blue eyes sparkling in fury as she glared at them. “You know what I hate, Applejack? I hate it when you refuse to listen to reason! If you two would stop and listen to me instead of ignoring what I’m trying to say, then I wouldn’t have had to chase you!”

Applejack and Rainbow Dash got to their hooves as Applejack bristled at Rarity’s comment. “Ah ain’t ignorin’ you!”

Diadem had just finished explaining part of the protection system to a few defenders in the hive when she heard the shouting. An exasperated sigh escaped her as she turned and pushed through the crowd. She was already tired from the emotional rollercoaster from earlier mixed with the search for the Anistera hive, but her exhaustion made every small thing ten times more irritating then normal. She had just about had it with the ponies who believed her to be their friend, a sentiment she had not seen before her banishment, and it was not something she craved any longer. She stepped around a few changelings who had come to check on their Queen who was present during the quarreling and saw the five mares bickering with one another. Nereus caught sight of his daughter and motioned her over. With a sigh, she straightened her back and trotted over to him as the mares continued to growl at one another.

“Of course you aren’t ignoring me!” Rarity nearly spat, voice full of sarcasm. “You just want to run off and create problems for the rest of us!”

“Oh c’mon, Rares! Who else is going to talk to Twilight?” Rainbow Dash argued, throwing her hooves in the air.

“That’s not even my—”

“Ah ain’t creatin’ problems, neither! I’m tryin’ to talk to Twilight!” Applejack interrupted, nearly physically butting heads with Rarity.

The sound of that name made Diadem angrier. Her father wrapped his tail tightly around her own as she gritted her teeth, but the anger boiled away and left a chilling annoyance in her stomach. She knew that she was being bitter, and she had every right to be, but talking to these mares just made her want to disappear and never see them again. The emotions they brought forth were not the problem for Diadem. It was the memories. Many faces of others she had forced herself to forget were at the edge of her conscious every time she faced the five mares and Diadem wanted nothing more than to make all of it disappear; the feelings, the memories, the pain, all of it.

“And she can’t talk to you.” Diadem spoke up before the two could continue their debacle. “Twilight Sparkle,” she spat the name out as if it were poison. “is dead. She died five years ago.”

Applejack and Rarity turned to look at the clan Princess. Rarity groaned. This confrontation as exactly what she had feared while Applejack stomped her hoof angrily. “Well, Ah don’t believe that. You’re right there in front of me!”

Diadem snorted and gave the apple farmer a glare. She refused to be called that sun forsaken name all these years to leave the past behind. She had no right, they had no right to call her like they were her friends. Like they knew her. Like she was being a petulant child. She knew what would really shake them, their weaknesses all too clear to the hardened, calculated fighter she was, and she hoped that it would deter them from continuing the frivolous attempt to act as if they had nothing to do with her being exiled. She released herself from her father’s comforting hold on her tail as she leveled the five mares with a dark glare.

“Then you’re done here.” She simply stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Leave. This city has no place for a lying, backstabbing, selfish, cruel and miserable group like you.”

The five mares recoiled at Diadem’s words as if struck by them and as they tried to respond, Diadem turned to her father with a bow as she left to head back to her room. She was done for the evening. Her emotions and exhaustion felt like lead weights chaining her down even as her anger cooled. She just wanted to lay down and forget that this day ever happened.

As she left, Applejack spluttered after her in shock. Words failed her even as Diadem disappeared from her sight. Never had she been spoken to like that, not even by Flim and Flam, but to hear it from Twilight had nearly broke her heart. Applejack sat back on her haunches, her Stetson falling from her head to the ground behind her as she stared at the ground.

“She…Ah don’t….she—”

Rainbow Dash whipped around to glare at Rarity. “You said she won’t talk to us. Why?”

Rarity frowned. “That’s why I wanted to return home first. There are some things not adding up and I believe our presence has only made things a lot worse.  But, I know just the pony to ask.”

Applejack stuttered again. Rainbow Dash reached over and hugged her friend with on hoof as the apple farmer muttered a weak denial. Rarity stood up straight and tall, as though she were preparing for a fight. She gave her friends a stern glance with her lips pressed into a thin line. She would not let their inaction or ignorance feed Twilight’s bitterness towards them any longer. They would get to the bottom of this.

“Who?” Pinkie Pie asked, frowning at Applejack.

“Princess Celestia.” Rarity replied as she turned to bow to Nereus. “Please forgive us, but I believe we shall be leaving now.”

Nereus nodded. He eyed the five mares with apprehension, but knew that the damage had already been done long before this encounter. “I wish you and your companions a safe journey, despite all that has occurred.”

“Thank you.” Rarity said just as Applejack hopped to her hooves.

“AH AIN’T A LIAR!”

Rarity cringed at her friend’s outburst and sighed as Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy hugged the orange earth pony back from tearing off after the clan princess.

“I thank you for your hospitality, despite the trouble we’ve caused. I’m sorry that we have to leave so soon, but we have little time to spare.” Rarity said as she turned her attention to the changeling queen. “And I hope that there are no hard feelings, Your Majesty.”

Atynis nodded with a smile. “There are none. May safe travels be with you all.”

With Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy dragging Applejack behind them, the group retrieved their saddle bags from the infirmary with assistance from the elk doctor Fennel.  Pinkie Pie carried Applejack’s Stetson as they left the city, the apple farmer stomping angrily behind as she recomposed herself and followed her friends into the darkness of the waste lands with only Rarity’s horn lighting their path. They walked until the lights of the city were out of sight and with her friends crowded around her, Rarity concentrated. Her pale blue magic wrapped around them as she withdrew a scroll from her saddle bag. She poured her magic into the enchanted scroll and, in seconds, they were surrounded by a warm glow. With a flash of light, they were gone.

 

 

*

 

The winding corridors of the city below the surface were calming entities for Diadem as she made her way into the city’s depths. She had no knowledge of the departing mares, but it would not have made her mood any lighter.

They had found her. After five long years of torture, carving a name for herself out in the toughest parts of the wastelands, they had found her. Her home and everything within its walls were subjected to the unruly antics of the five even as the apple farmer had shouted after her. She knew that she had hurt them, it was her intent when she said it, and she felt no remorse in having to do so. Her life was here in the Den with her squad and her father. She needed nothing else, especially from her past, and she wanted to be left alone to continue her life here without having to subject her new family to the false pretense of a happy life that Equestria—that sun forsaken place—had instilled in her since fillyhood.

Diadem gritted her teeth as she relocked the memories that threatened to tear her apart from the inside again, and she entered her room with a shaky breath. Despite the anger that burned inside of her chest, Diadem carefully peeled the elegant gown from her body with her hooves and draped it across the edge of the chair in the corner of the room before she let herself collapse onto her cot. The crown upon her head tumbled, but her magic wrapped around the metal and caught it right above the rocky ground. Lazily, she hovered the silver crown to where it truly belonged and closed her eyes. The day had been painstakingly long and as she concentrated on her breathing, she felt the tension leave her body as she relaxed on the cot, nuzzling her face against her rough pillow as she felt herself slip from reality into a realm of peaceful darkness.

As she entered into the realm of dreams, a feeling tugged at the clan princess. A splash of color in her dream alerted her that something was wrong and she tensed. Dreams were one of her worse enemies, even after years of dealing with them, and she prepared herself for a fight when the strange, foreign feeling slammed into her again. She squirmed, nearly suffocating at the feeling that rippled through her and she would have cried out if she felt like she was alone, but the colors and the feeling vanished, leaving her in a cold darkness. A moment passed before she felt the presence of another and she turned with a glare. Someone had invaded her mind.

 

 

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