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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11. Ten

Pain.

Pure, heart breaking pain was all that reached Diadem with her attempt to tune out the wails of her people as they carried Astral’s cold, lifeless body back into the city. Many of the citizens looked on in horror, some breaking into cries, as the group moved through the throng of creatures. Nereus was at the head of the pack with Atynis at his side. The Queen had offered to carry Astral’s body and the grey pegasus was coated in a pale, gentle sea-blue magic. Diadem’s eyes were dried, she had cried every tear she could when Astral had taken his last few breaths, but now, there were thousands of tears for the fallen warrior that had been their prince. A changeling flanked each side of Diadem, wings stretched to help the unicorn with each passing step. Her body grew heavy, her mind shutting down as she stared at the limp form of the only other pony in the wastes and her best friend. She stared at his blood soaked hooves, at the droplets of blood that escaped Atynis’ magic, and all Diadem could feel was a growing emptiness that she was much too familiar with.

Each step she took, every wail that reached her ears in Dia’s attempt to tune it all out, made her hooves drag. She was accustomed to loss, it was the only constant in the Dusklands and wastes, but this was the second time a loss had hit her so personally that it shook her to the core. She had been betrayed, beaten, used, but those losses never held a candle to Silver Fang’s death, and nothing could compare to what she was struggling with now. Her chest ached as her eyes flickered away from the pegasus and to the crowd. No bodies littered the roads, thank the goddess, but every eye in the Den was focused on her and her group. Diadem stumbled. Hooves and wings of the changelings beside Dia kept her on her hooves. She could hardly breathe and each step she took only drained her further. Emerald and Sapphire trailed the end of the group, the green dragon holding onto his sobbing sister as she cried. Cedar had his head bowed, with wet cheeks and Steel Forge trudged on with glassy eyes. But still, everyone marched on.

Nereus slowed as he took inventory of the crowd. They had only a few injured and many were scared, but at least they were all alive unlike his son. The great leader grimaced. He had done everything he could in the last seven years to raise Astral Mace to be a great pony, the one that Astral’s sister had always believed he would be and failure flooded the Ki’rin’s body. He had promised Vanadium that he would take care of Astral for her. He swore that he would care for Astral for the rest of his days when she had left them all, and he had failed. Every loss that the Den suffered hurt him, but Astral Mace had been his son and the pain was so much more unbearable.

Nereus slowed to a stop. He raised his head high and with a heavy sorrow, he let out a low tone. It rang through the air, and soon, other Ki’rins lifted their heads and added to the tone. It was a mournful cry that shook every creature in the Den. Diadem trembled as she listened to the melody. It was filled with a pain and sadness that was so deep, it even mustered another tear from her dried eyes. If she was capable of crying again, she probably would have collapsed right there. The song grew as more voices joined in from the other creatures in the Den. From the elks to the dragons, voices mingled as they mourned. Diadem’s throat felt tight. Never in a million years had she ever believed that she would have to witness a dirge for Astral Mace. Not once had she ever thought of losing him, but as she listened to the wails in the air, she felt her throat finally unlock. With glassy eyes, the unicorn lifted her face up. Beside her, the changelings watched her curiously as she forced herself to stand on her own two feet. She forced herself forward a few steps to stand between Atynis and Nereus, and with the last remnants of her voice, Diadem joined in the lament. Her voice was cracking with every note, but she continued. Beside her, Atynis raised her head and let out her own wail and her children followed. Every note stung like a swarm of bees, but Diadem continued to cry into the sky and she would remain beside Nereus even as the sun slowly began to set upon the horizon. As a whole, the Den would mourn.

Astral Mace, their prince, was gone.

The song filled the air, the crescendo grew as each member held onto their loved ones. Diadem leaned against Nereus, her throat aching with every note. Soon, the requiem broke into parts and between Nereus, Atynis and the two changelings at her side, Diadem pressed forward with her crew. They would give Astral the most beautiful good-bye they could. As they marched forward, Diadem forced herself to light the torches on the buildings with her magic. She had to be strong, she knew she needed to, but the tears she had cried just made her exhausted. Her chest ached. Her eyes were heavy from the crying, but Diadem pushed herself to help Nereus. They would give Astral a proper burial.

Hours had passed after the song had died down and Diadem watched as members of the Den walked up to where Astral Mace laid. The sun had set hours ago, but the city was still awake. The moon was high in the sky, the time close to midnight, but Diadem could hardly care. The funeral rite would last well into the evening and Diadem would stay for every second of it. She would not let Astral down. Instead, she brushed her hoof against his cold cheek. She had cried so much since they had returned, and she hated herself for breaking down so easily, but Astral was a part of her composure in these lands. She was a broken mare, she knew, but Mace and her team had given her the best light they could even in her darkest of moments. The grey pegasus was her guiding light the last few years, and he had become her rock when Silver Fang had given up his life to protect her, but his life was snuffed out by the very same thing she had feared for so long. She was weak and that weakness had cost her the lives of two of her closest allies and friends the last five years. Now, she was alone with Nereus. She had her team, sure, but Emerald and Sapphire were completely torn up. Cedar and Forge were with their kin as they watched her and she… she just had Nereus beside her. She didn’t have a multitude of ponies to call friends anymore. She did not have the guidance of a Princess with unlimited power. No, she was simply a pony in the wastelands who had lost her best friend. Again.

A stray tear fell from her eyes and landed on Astral’s peaceful face. Despite being pale, the pegasus could have been mistaken for sleeping. Nereus and Atynis had seen to it that Astral Mace was cleaned up well enough to perform the funeral rite. Nereus had a fresh black vest put on him, one of the few items of clothing that Astral had ever worn with pride, and they had brought him out to display him for the Den. Members walked up and bowed with words of sympathy and love. Diadem could practically sense the love in the air. It was strange, but comforting to know that every single creature in the Den had loved Astral Mace as she and Nereus did. A cloven hoof gently touched her right shoulder and upon her left, Atynis stretched out a wing.

“They all loved him as you both do.” The queen supplied, “We are devastated to lose Astral Mace as well.”

Diadem glanced up at the Queen and could see a few tears escape Atynis’ composure. “He enjoyed visiting the changelings.” Diadem said, “He loved to hear stories about your people, Atynis.”

“And he loved to tell stories of you and the Den.” Atynis replied.

“My boy had always been a story teller.” Nereus said after bowing his head to another group as they left the podium and display.

Diadem found herself chuckling through the harsh burn of tears. “He was. He used to tell me all kinds of stories when I first arrived here. He was like a kid on Christmas.”

“You were the first pony we had seen since he and Vana had come,” Nereus admitted. His eyes were seeing past the crowds coming to pay their respects. Instead, he saw the charcoal pegasus, a young colt, standing beside the rose red pegasus with the silver eyes.

Dia looked down at her hooves. “I’m sorry. I…” Anger bubbled up inside of her. She was pissed at herself for using so much magic. She was infuriated that her inability to control herself and her magic is what caused Astral Mace his life.

“You aren’t to blame.” Atynis said, feeling the guilt radiate off the pony.

“It is.” Diadem insisted. “I had been reckless and I over exerted myself. If I had just been a bit more careful…”

Astral Mace had jumped between her and that Hippogriff to save her. He had jumped in to make sure that she was safe, but he lost his life in the process and Dia could not—

“He was lost in battle.” Atynis replied, retracting her wing from Dia’s side. Her voice was low, a soft and comforting whisper, as she lowered herself to Diadem’s level. “A noble sacrifice for one he loves.”

Diadem closed her eyes in denial. “If only I was stronger.” She hiccupped.

“You cannot blame yourself for what happened with young Astral.” Atynis replied with a comforting whisper as she reached out to pull the pony close with her hooves. “The love which he felt for you was true, youngling. Please, do not let his sacrifice burden you. He gave his life willingly for you because he wanted you to live.”

“B-but… H-how am I supposed to…?”

Atynis shushed the unicorn. Another hiccup escaped Dia as she leaned into the queen’s embrace.

“Live, for him, youngling. Live for him and your father,” Atynis answered. “and you’re your people.”

Diadem nodded. “I-I won’t let them get away with this.”

A heat enveloped Atynis and the changeling gave the pony a lopsided smirk. “We agree, youngling. You have my defenders at your disposal, princess.”

Diadem nodded once more as she wiped her face. “Thank you, Atynis.”

 
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