"Why are we out here again?" Dusky asked, staring off into the grass and shuffling her hooves.
"We're looking for Twilight's cave," Applejack turned to the unicorn. "Ain't that right, Twi?"
"I wouldn't call it mine, but yes, we're looking for the cave I took shelter in," Twilight said.
"What does it matter? You forget something in there?" Dash cocked her head.
"Call me silly-"
Twilight glared at Rainbow, "I'm looking for proof whether or not the Misty I met is the same one from my history book.
"Misty?" Dusky tilted her head.
"She's a ghost!" Pinkie cut in.
"A... a ghost?" Fluttershy echoed, shrinking back.
"That's what Twilight said!" the pink pony replied. Everypony looked at the lavender unicorn, an awkward silence filling the air. Twilight felt her cheeks glow.
Rarity spoke carefully, clear hesitation between each question, "Twilight, are you really sure about this story of yours? I mean, did you not say you do not believe in ghosts?"
Twilight sighed, "I know it sounds weird. Honestly, it's all been pretty weird for me too, but she was real."
"You sure you didn't just hit your head too hard?" Rainbow crossed her forehooves.
"Yes, Rainbow," Twilight said, annoyance taking hold and placing her forehoof on her head. "I didn't learn those spells from nopony. Now can you stop asking useless questions? We're losing valuable time!"
"Okay, Twi, no need to get so huffy. We're here to help, remember?" Applejack gave her a concerned look.
"I understand," Dusky interjected.
"What?" Twilight and the other ponies turned to the pegasus.
"I know what it's like to be desperate for answers that no pony has. 'Did she find shelter?' 'Is she hurt?' 'Where did I go wrong?' To search for something, anything that could prove everything will be okay," Dusky looked directly at Twilight, pupils quivering. "I... understand. You need this to move on."
Twilight found herself nodding, smiling at the other mare's insight. She watched the charcoal pegasus trot through the grass to a shattered tree trunk.
"This is where your hoofprints stopped."
Twilight stared for a moment. The terrain was a little rough in places, but the ruts were so small the place may as well be a plain. She frowned.
"Really? But I took a pretty long fall," out of the corner of her eye, Twilight caught Dash opening her mouth. "No, Rainbow, I'm not that clumsy."
"Maybe the snow made it taller?" Pinkie held her hooves high.
Dusky shook her head, "I don't remember any large banks being around here. Do you, Rainbow Dash?"
"Nope. Had some big ridges south of here, though," Dash offered.
"Wouldn't that be a really long walk?" Pinkie tilted her head.
"And that still does not explain the tracks," Rarity added.
"A spell?" Fluttershy suggested.
"You mean my teleportation?"
The yellow pegasus nodded.
"I don't think so... I wasn't very good at it and it's not exactly a trivial spell. It's not something I'm likely to do by accident."
"There does not seem to be any other explanation," Rarity insisted.
"Any other places?" Applejack looked at the pegasi.
"There were some moguls around here but they were barely worth falling off of," Dusky answered.
"Well, let's check out those ridges, I guess," the purple pony bit her lip. Not a promising start.
"Um, Twilight, what does this cave look like?" Fluttershy continued walking as she looked over.
"Small and the ground was pretty flat. Aside from that, um..." the unicorn trailed off absently.
"Gee, thanks, that's a lot to go off of," Dash rolled her eyes.
"Sorry, I'm really not sure what else I can say about it."
"Not like we have much... or rather any selection," Rarity pointed out.
"And a fall down any of these hills would hurt more than a mite. We're looking for a needle in a haystack."
Everypony stopped to look around them. Twilight sighed. Applejack was right. The terrain all seemed to blend together. And even if they were in the right place, she might not even know it since the snow was gone.
".........evvvvvvvv.........reeeeeee........." a vaguely feminine voice echoed.
"What?" Twilight arched a brow.
"What what?" Rainbow Dash returned Twilight's puzzled glance.
"Didn't somepony say something?"
The group looked from one pony to the next, each of them answering with some variation of 'no.'
"Oh, I guess it must have been the wind."
The ponies plodded along, silent in their uncertainty. The dull thudding of hooves on grass occasionally accented by somepony stepping onto rock. They passed at least a half dozen more hills without any luck.
"Hey!" Pinkie's face lit up. "What about your magic?"
"What about it?"
"Couldn't you use it to go back?"
"I've thought about that. But longer distances still make me tired. The library was okay because you were there to find me. Doing it in reverse is far too risky," the unicorn explained, recollections of the dog-worms' gnashing teeth sending shivers up and down her body.
"But we can't keeping wandering aimlessly like this," Dusky said. "Can't you remember anything else?"
"I..." the haze began to spring up in Twilight's mind again, but she forced it aside. "I seem to remember a treeline."
"There's nothing like that around here," Rainbow said. "The closest grove is in... Everfree."
Twilight's friends looked restlessly at each other, then at her.
"All right, Twi. As long as we get out before dark. Come on, girls."
"What did you see? What did you see?" Pinkie bounced up and down as Dusky landed.
"Something interesting, actually," the pegasus smiled. "It's not our cave, but there was a small break in the trees and I thought I saw what could be part of an old stone wall."
"That's it?" the pink pony stared blankly.
"What do you mean, that's it? I'd have to take a closer look, but I think it might be part of an old building. And maybe Twilight can find something useful there!"
"Ohhhh, yea, I guess I never thought of it that way. That's much more exciting!" Pinkie Pie perked up.
The sudden clopping of hooves made Pinkie glance behind her.
"Up and at 'em, girls, we have a problem!" Applejack yelled.
"What's wrong? Where's Twilight? Is she hurt?" Dusky asked all at once.
"That's just it, I don't know!"
"But, but you were together!" Pinkie gave Applejack a confused stare.
"I know, but she got this funny look on her face and she started mumbling to herself and wandering around. I thought she just needed a second to think, but then she used that flashy teleporting spell of hers and she was gone!"
"That's not good. How do we even know she's not halfway across Equestria now?" Dusky frowned deeply.
"I don't know. Guess we just gotta hope she stuck around. Ain't got nothing else to go on."
Pinkie and Dusky both nodded solemnly.
"So here's the plan, Dusky, you're my eye in the sky."
"Pinkie, I want you to stay here in case Twi comes back. If you see the others, tell 'em to get Rainbow and Fluttershy up there too."
"Okie dokie lokie," Pinkie saluted.
The tops of a few battered trees protruded from the murky water. Several feet away, a grime covered rock connected the central marsh to the muddy bank. As she borrowed the rock's elevation, something felt vaguely familiar. And yet when she surveyed the landscape beneath her, she could not quite put her hoof on it.
She sighed and looked down at the water. A cloudy, distorted Twilight stared back. Her focus slipped again and she found herself entranced by the tiny ripples the wind was pushing across her image.
"Ugh!" she groaned, finally catching and chiding herself for wasting time.
The unicorn jumped. She stood stock still, ears twitching.
"Hello?" she called out after a few moments.
Twilight cautiously approached the direction of the voice. Horn glowing gently, she nudged the bushes aside and was relieved to find nothing. Or at least no pony.
Before her stood a small, ruined path of weather worn stones. Several jutted out at strange angles and in other places only round ruts remained. Even though time had been cruel to the former road, the intent was still clear to her. Curiosity grabbed hold and Twilight began trotting alongside the stones.
After a handful of twists and turns, the pathway became smoother, or at least walkable. Stepping out onto the stone, a feeling of familiarity once again crept into Twilight's mind. She plodded absently through the ruins. She did not know where she was going, but the route just felt... right. She stopped when she reached a semi-circle of stones. They were rough and overgrown, but the unicorn guessed they might be the remains of some sort of basin.
With a short trill, a trio of oddly coloured fly like creatures popped out of the overgrowth, large eyes wide and friendly. But Twilight was not fooled. She recognized the creatures instantly: parasprites.
She remembered the chaos and panic. The months of recovery. Her cheeks grew red hot as she recalled the humiliation, the close call that almost ruined her reputation with Princess Celestia. They were dangerous. Too dangerous to leave alive.
Lightning lanced from Twilight's horn, one bolt striking each of the parasprites dead on. A few seconds later, they crumbled to dust, carried off by the wind.
"Twi, what... what are you doing?"
The unicorn turned to see Applejack and Dusky staring at her.
"I..." Twilight hesitated, wincing as a sharp pain invaded her mind. A ghost of a town flashed across her vision.
"Are you okay?" the pegasus cast a sideways glance at Applejack.
"... Protect... the village..." Twilight hardly realized what she had mumbled. She was too occupied by the vision of a great blaze.
"What?" Dusky cocked her head.
"I... I'm protecting... the village," the unicorn snapped, the pain growing worse with each word. Visions of burned out buildings began to leap by.
"What in Equestria are you talking about? We ain't anywhere near Ponyville, sugarcube."
"I..." the pain was almost unbearable now and Twilight crumpled to the ground, clutching at her head. She could see the entire ruined town now, as though she was somewhere high above it.
"We need to get her out of here," Dusky's voice faintly touched Twilight's ears.
Twilight felt a hoof brush her shoulder and she bolted up, lightning once more dancing from her horn. With an anguished cry, the charcoal pegasus flew backward, crashing into a nearby tree and falling into a twisted heap. The smell of singed feathers filled the air.
"What the hay?!"
Twilight pointed her horn in Applejack's direction, and the earth pony to skidded to a stop. The glow of the gathering magic reflected off the orange pony's eyes.
"Whoa! WHOA! TWI! Calm down! It's me, Applejack!"
The pain suddenly faded and with it, her horn's aura. Twilight fell to her haunches, sweat running down her face as she struggled for air. She looked from Dusky's limp body to Applejack's terrified face. She hung her head.
"I... I need help..."
"That's all the destruction magic you've learned?" Princess Celestia's expression remained calm.
"Yes, Princess," Twilight answered, biting her lip. Her mentor looked her up and down and with each passing second, the unicorn's mind presented a new punishment for disappointing the princess.
"I will reserve judgement until you have told me your full story."
Twilight breathed again.
Celestia continued, "But for now, I don't want you to use any magic."
"N-no magic? At all?!" Twilight stammered, a feeling of profound emptiness washing across her.
"I'm afraid so."
Twilight's eyes widened, taken aback that she could even think such a thing. Aside from the fact that there was no logical reason for the princess to be jealous of her.
'Think about it for a second,' a low, ragged version of her voice whispered. 'Why else would she put these limitations on you?'
'To... to protect me and others around me.'
'Hah, she really has brainwashed you,' the voice was steadily growing louder. 'No, Twilight, she sees your power, your true power. One that is beyond measure.'
"...a doctor before..."
'I... I...' Twilight's thought was drowned out as she found herself unable to concentrate on anything but the voice.
'You could be more powerful than either of the princesses. But instead they stunt your growth, keeping you under their hoof. Do you know why?'
'N-no... Princess Celestia is my mentor, she wouldn't... she wouldn't...'
'Because they fear you. That a mere unicorn could surpass an alicorn? Heresy. But we both know the truth. So why live under their shadow when you could be so much more?'
"Do you understand?"
"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" Twilight cried out.
"Twilight! What has gotten into- oh no..." sudden recognition washed over Princess Celestia's face.
A hurricane of magic raged around the unicorn, surrounding her in a solid purple mist. Her eyes flashed white and she felt her body stretching and twisting. She let out a strange scream, a mixture of elation and pain, startling even herself.
The lavender pony went numb, dark purple energy pulsing outward, tearing up the carpet and throwing candle stands every which way. Then the dome retracted, gathering once more inside of Twilight.
For a brief moment Twilight caught the look of horror on her ex-mentor's face. Without thinking, the unicorn flashed her a wicked grin.
The room exploded.
Pinkie Pie paced the hall, pausing every so often to sit down, but ultimately resuming her wandering. She was deep in thought, planning the celebration they would have. She just had to wait for Twilight to come back and tell them she will be okay. Pinkie had never hosted a party in Canterlot before and the thought occurred to her that she would have to find somewhere to hold it. She wondered if the princess would let them borrow a room.
"Ugh, how much longer do we have to wait out here?" Dash paced the opposite side to Pinkie.
"It's only been five minutes," a slight quiver betrayed Applejack's calmness.
"That's five minutes too long, if you ask me. We should be in there with her."
"We're all worried, but complaining will not do us any good. Besides, if anypony can help her, it's the princess."
"Don't worry, Dashie, we'll see plenty of her at the 'you got better!' party I have planned!"
Rainbow Dash turned and gave Pinkie an annoyed glare, although she thought she caught a weak little smirk somewhere in there.
The ground began to rumble and Pinkie Pie was thrown from her hooves. She hit the stone hard, cutting her surprised yelp short.
Furniture toppled violently and the windows shattered, raining bits of glass all over the hall. Pinkie's eyes widened, shuffling back on her side as the stone wall began to crack and heave, its heavy doors crashing down. She breathed a sigh of relief when the stones stopped moving. As the dust began to settle, the pink pony looked around for her friends.
"Oh... oh dear," Fluttershy coughed from the other side of the hall.
"Is everypony all right?" Applejack called.
"Yeppers!" Pinkie bounced to her feet and waved a foreleg.
"Yea, I'm fine," Dash answered.
"Oof. My mane is positively ruined."
"Aside from that."
"Oh, I guess I'm okay then..."
"What the hay was that, anyway?" Rainbow asked.
"I don't know, but I've got a bad feeling about this," Applejack answered.
The sudden rapid clopping of hooves caught Pinkie Pie's attention. She watched several guard ponies rush in from the far end of the hall. None of them paid the mares any heed as they galloped past.
The girls looked dubiously at the broken doorway, then at each other, then back at the passage.
"I have to know," Applejack gritted her teeth and broke off into a gallop.
"Wait for me!" Pinkie yelled.
"And the rest of us," Rarity added.
They followed the guards into the throne room where Pinkie was greeted by a terrible sight. The walls were caving outward, the ceiling collapsed in many places and the floor torn to shreds. Any decor that might have been in the room was completely unrecognizable. And in the center of all that destruction stood a tall, lavender mare. At her hooves lay a still Princess Celestia.
"H-halt! Give yourself up!" one of the guards demanded.
The mare turned slowly, her navy tail twitching as she did, causing the pink and purple streaks to flicker in and out of existence. Pinkie gaped as the mare's flank and her star burst cutie mark came into view. Her form was slender, yet muscular, not unlike Princess Celestia. Haunting white eyes peered out from her navy mane, illuminating the beautiful, yet terrifying contours of her face.
Rainbow was the first to find her courage, "Twilight! Is... that you? What the hay?!"
"Stay out of this!" Twilight's new form bellowed, horn flaring with magic.
"Twilight? W-what are you..." Pinkie did not want to believe what she was seeing.
Before she knew what was happening, the pink pony was shaking uncontrollably, feeling like she was being cooked alive. She wanted to cry out, to beg Twilight to stop, but her mouth failed to obey. Just when she thought she could take no more, she went numb, collapsing in a heap on the floor. She tried to stand, but her body felt tingly and refused to work. Through spotted vision, Pinkie Pie could see the guards, all sprawled out on the floor.
A purple aura suddenly appeared around Twilight and she was lifted into the air. But with a single flash of the unicorn's horn, the aura was gone. She twisted in midair, landing gracefully.
"You are more resilient than I remember, Princess," Twilight's voice was low and arrogant.
"What have you done with Twilight?"
"Why, Princess, whatever do you mean? I'm right here," Twilight's voice returned to normal.
"Don't play games with me. I know who you are."
"Really? Then why ask such needless questions? Oh, that's right. You want to save her. Always the hero, I see. Perhaps you could use the Elements- oh wait, I'm one of them aren't I?" the unicorn mocked.
"I could seal you again."
"Is that so? Which is it going to be then? Twilight's blood on your hooves? Or perhaps we'll be spending some quality time together on the moon?"
"Silence!" Celestia yelled, the blast of light from her horn narrowly missing Twilight.
"Oh, my. Was that anger? Are you going to fight me in earnest, then?"
The two mares began to circle, lithe muscles poised and horns brimming with magic.
Twilight lunged first, sparks bursting into being around her. The princess was quickly out of the way, a barrage of light bearing down upon the unicorn. A wheel of energy appeared around Twilight, sucking in each of the bolts. The mass of magic gathered around her horn, bursting forth into into a gigantic claw of lightning.
Pinkie clenched her eyes, her world becoming white. When the light finally subsided, she eagerly forced her eyes open, blinking several times. She squinted, trying to make out what happened.
Dark grey smoke billowed up from where Princess Celestia had been standing. And Twilight was gone. Pinkie's ears drooped. No matter how she tried to look at the situation, things were not going well.
As the smoke faded, a transparent orange sphere became apparent. And within was the princess, unflinching and unharmed.
"Are you finished yet?" Princess Celestia called to the room.
Several seething magical lances materialized, striking out at the alicorn. The first two broke harmlessly upon the barrier, but after the third, the sphere faded from existence. The princess' counterattack was a ball of water that exploded into a geyser as it struck the ground. The moisture flew everywhere, making a mess of the far side of the room.
Pinkie covered her head with her forehooves as the room glowed a frightening red. Small meteors appeared by the dozen, homing in on Princess Celestia. Another barrier appeared, deflecting each of the blazing orbs in turn, several of which came dangerously close to the crowd of incapacitated ponies.
"Enough!" the alicorn said sternly. The air around her swirled violently, sucking in debris and water. Pinkie clutched her forehooves even tighter, feeling like her mane was about to pull loose.
"Ooph!" Twilight's cry was barely audible over the raging vortex.
As the wind died off, Pinkie struggled to a sitting position. She gaped, unable to decide whether to be concerned or relieved. Twilight lay in a tangled heap a few feet away from Princess Celestia, the alicorn steadily advancing.
"Ouch! Princess, it hurts, help me!" the purple unicorn quivered.
The princess hesitated for a moment, enough for a bolt of dark energy to leap forth. Even though the attack deflected harmlessly off Celestia's barrier, she took a stunned step backward.
"Ahaha, you really are attached to this filly, aren't you?" Twilight remarked snidely as she got back on her hooves. A series of bolts left her horn, once again stopped in their entirety.
The unicorn sneered as she continued, "You could crush me where I stand. But you can't, can you? Because deep down, I'm still your beloved student, not a monster. To make the same mistake after all these years, tsk, Princess, tsk."
Twilight had her mouth half open for another taunt when a blast of dark magic struck her full on, throwing her into the wall with a dull thud. Before she could touch the ground, a dark purple aura surrounded her, pressing her up against the uneven bricks.
"Ah, Luna, I was wondering if you'd ever show up again."
Pinkie followed Twilight's gaze and blinked. A faded Princess Luna stood beside her sister, the colour of her coat steadily becoming more vibrant. Magic sparkled casually around her horn.
"That's enough out of you!" Luna retorted sharply. Twilight let out a loud gasp as she was slammed into the wall.
"I will not allow you to mock Tia's compassion any further," the smaller alicorn growled, stepping forward and bringing her rage filled eyes up to meet Twilight's. "And I'm sure you know by now that I am far less merciful."
"So what?" the purple pony asked, undaunted by the horn pointed her way. "Are you going to kill me then? Oh, wait, no, you'd just be killing Twilight. Isn't that a shame?"
"At least you would be deprived of a powerful body," Princess Luna answered coldly. Her horn glowed brighter, a blackhole of energy seeping forth and enveloping Twilight. The unicorn let out an anguished scream.
Pinkie was stunned. She could not believe the moon princess' words. The warmth of tears on her cheeks broke her trance. There had to be some other way. Something with a happy ending. She leaped to her hooves.
"Wait, don't... Twilight... she isn't a bad pony!"
"She's right, Luna, stop!"
"No, Tia, I know better than anypony this needs to be done! Prepare the sealing spell!"
"This will not address the root of the problem!"
Pinkie tried to gallop toward the princesses, but found no matter how fast she ran, she could not move forward. She watched in horror as Twilight continued to convulse, her flailing limbs smashing into the wall with alarming frequency. The unicorn looked like she was melting. The pink pony shut her eyes as she looked away. The tears came faster now, the thought of never seeing her friend again almost too much to bear.
The screams stopped and Pinkie cautiously opened her eyes. Twilight lay gasping on the ground, coat smoldering with black energy.
"Twilight?" Princess Luna asked, advancing toward the unicorn.
Twilight looked up at the younger princess, obviously pained by the effort. As their gazes met, Princess Luna's expression softened. Then a burst of magic leaped from the unicorn's horn. The stunned alicorn was thrown back, but she was hardly phased, landing on her hooves.
"Ha... hahaha, oh, Luna, you... you... are a terrible bluffer," Twilight stood shakily, but promptly lost her footing and fell to her knees again. Her horn began to glow dimly.
"Stop!" the moon princess yelled.
"Or what? You'll... hurt me more? Kill me for real? You must have a thing for torturing... poor Celestia," Twilight smirked, looking to the elder princess.
Pinkie looked from princess to princess. A small trickle of tears leaked from the quiet fury in the white alicorn's eyes. For her part, Princess Luna stared hesitantly at her sister.
In a flash of white light, the unicorn winked out of existence.
Twilight was in a dark place, the faint glow of her horn providing barely any sight at all. She spun frantically. But no matter where she turned, she was met by the same inky black.
"Hello?" she called out.
Light erupted behind the purple pony, making her jump. When she turned to face the source, she immediately recognized the sea blue mane and grey coat of the other unicorn.
"Hello, Twilight Sparkle," Misty's voice echoed.
"Misty..." Twilight planted her hooves, eying the other mare up and down.
"Oh, dear, such a serious face."
"I have many questions," Twilight's stomach churned with uncertainty and she was surprised she sounded as resolved as she did.
"Do you?" Misty raised an eyebrow.
Out of the whirlwind in her mind, the purple pony chose to ask the simplest query, "Are you... are you Misty the Mad?"
She held her breath, keeping a careful eye on Misty. The other mare stood stock still, wordlessly returning the stare.
After a long silence, Twilight spoke again, "I... I don't want to believe it, but if you won't deny it..."
Misty remained motionless, not a single word escaping her lips.
Twilight's cheeks grew warm and tears welled up in the corner of her eyes as she advanced, "Say something! Please!"
Still no answer. When she was a scant foot away, she reached out a forehoof.
Misty let out a muted scream as she disintegrated, becoming gaseous, but retaining a general pony shape. The colours mutated, becoming a transparent purple-blue. Twilight almost fell over backward.
As she recovered her composure, her eyes narrowed, "Who are you? And what have you done with Misty?"
"Ahaha, oh, you naive little filly," the voice was distorted, almost pointedly genderless.
"What?" Twilight frowned deeply.
"You haven't figure it out yet?" the pony thing tilted its head. "There is no Misty."
"But she was there... in the cave, we talked... she was... she was..." Twilight's eyes widened as she realized she never actually found what she was looking for.
"Me. Oh, actually, you know what? I did tell a tiny lie," Twilight drew back as the gaseous pony hovered forward, but it was too fast and soon its 'face' was inches from hers. "There WAS a Misty. And she was... simply delicious."
"You... you monster! Murderer!" Twilight sputtered half-coherently, her mind hanging morbidly on the ethereal pony's final phrase.
"Me? Oh, no, you seem to have me confused with your precious princesses."
"Liar!" Twilight lunged.
"In fact, let me show you."
Before Twilight stood Misty Tide, a smug expression written across her face. Behind her was a town square, its cobblestones devoid of ponies. Within the square was a ruined fountain, its crushed tiers poking feebly over the edge of the basin. Twilight's heart filled with dread.
"Misty," the voice was Princess Luna's.
"I'm sorry you had to get involved in this."
"What are you babbling about?" Misty squinted.
"I was hoping she could still hear me," the moon princess' voice remained level.
"Maybe she can. Maybe she can't," the smaller mare shrugged.
"Why do you continue to do this? You have never won a fight against us."
"Why, my dear Luna, I'm glad you finally asked. All I want is to help ponies."
"You. Help ponies."
Misty began to pace side to side, each step heavily exaggerated, "Why, yes. You, Celestia, me... we're ageless. Nothing stands the test of time. Were I to build an empire, it would be gone in a blink of our eyes. And yet such a time frame is long enough for these ponies, in their short lives, to strive for these fleeting dreams. I find it simply fascinating. I want to see the endpoint of their desires."
"And yet you toy with their emotions, even amplify the negative. You would send them off course."
"Tsk, Luna," the unicorn shook her head. "That is simply in the eye of the beholder. I see them as rather positive. If you ask me, the real negative emotions are those that get in the way of my pony's ambitions. Those sentiments that hold them back, those are the ones that put them truly off course."
"You make a good point. Those emotions can be troublesome at times," Luna's agreement stunned Twilight. Not that she could fully disagree either.
"I knew you'd see things my way. You were always the practical sister."
"But a pony's own ambitions aren't everything. They are not as simple as you make them out to be. Many genuinely desire to see their friends and family happy, to see them succeed. And those desires are not any less worthwhile than their own dreams."
"Hmph, seems I spoke too soon. You do not truly understand. I wonder how long until you do, though."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Princess Luna's vision narrowed.
"You see me as a threat to your country, yes? Your supposed happy, happy little land is in chaos because I make ponies act on their base desires. You had a chance to kill and seal me and yet here we are bantering away. You know bloodying your hooves is necessary. You've done it many times before. How many times must I force your hoof?"
Twilight felt sick, the bodies piling up in her imagination as it tried to work out what constituted 'many times.'
"Enough of this! I'm not like you and never will be. I do not take killing lightly!" the princess' sudden shouting startled Twilight, breaking her horror.
"Hmph, if you're going to be so closed minded, why ask?" Misty tilted her head.
"I just wanted to know before I defeated you once and for all."
"Hahaha, that's a good one. You don't even have Celestia with you."
"I don't need her."
"Is that so?"
"Yes, yes it is."
"Then show me!" Misty's horn glowed. A small wheel of fireballs appeared beside her, launching off in rapid succession.
Princess Luna did not even bother moving, the flames deflecting harmlessly off her barrier. Tendrils of dark purple light bore down upon Misty. But in a burst of white she was in front of Luna, charging straight at her.
The moon princess stepped quickly to the side, a purple aura tossing Misty to the ground. As she slid along the cobblestone, the unicorn launched several seething white beams, shattering the princess' barrier
Light flooded outward from the alicorn and wicked crescents of translucent purple leaped into being, distorting the air as they spiralled toward the grey mare. As each one struck, Misty's own shield appeared to cave. The last of the projectiles deflected off toward a house, cleaving through an upper window with a crash.
Only then did Twilight begin to notice the flames licking at the bases of many of the structures. Her mind reeled once more with horror as she thought back to her history book. The seeds of Nickerton's doom had been sewn.
Misty flashed out of existence again and Princess Luna spun around, a pulse of air blasting the unicorn away. This time she landed on her hooves, another ring of fireballs bearing down on the alicorn.
A dark blue radiance flooded out from Princess Luna and a renewed barrier materialized, once again stifling the blaze. With each passing second, the light's intensity grew.
Misty's horn was also flaring with energy, some of which refracted into intense columns of white. Combined with the fire, the auras' light washed away the town's natural colours. The effect was surreal.
With a cry of triumph, Misty pointed her horn directly at Princess Luna, a huge scathing white circle rushing forward. The attack was stopped a safe distance away, a larger shield of silver shimmering into existence. Even so, the barrier appeared to be losing ground, closing in on the alicorn. The princess' vision wavered and sank as she let out an audible grunt.
Then the beam was gone, the moon princess wasting no time leaping to her hooves. A pool of what Twilight could only describe as shadows had gathered under Misty, reaching up and entangling her. As she struggled, they appeared to stick to her like some sort of paste.
"Behold!" Princess Luna cried out, her blue aura flooding the battlefield once more. "The Elements of Harmony!"
Six gems materialized in front of the princess. The purple one began to spin, the others gyrating around it, leaving mesmerizing streaks of red, pink, yellow, blue and green in their wake. A large rainbow leaped from the center, flying out in the air, circling around and heading straight for Misty.
"What the...?" were the unicorn's last words before becoming encircled.
Princess Luna's vision became pure white.
When the light was finally gone, the princess' sight fell once more while she gasped for breath. Looking up, she saw the motionless body of Misty. She hurried over to the unicorn's body and nudged her. Nothing. The alicorn's vision turned and Twilight guessed she was placing her ear to the grey mare's chest.
"D-damnit, I... I'm sorry, Tia... things didn't quite... work out..." Princess Luna spoke skyward. A moment later, she toppled over.
"No... no... that's..." Twilight shuddered, the vision having not quite left her.
"The truth of the matter," the gaseous pony was in her face once more. "Then they cremated the body and buried it deep underground. I'll give them points for their thoroughness. Too bad it wasn't enough."
The ethereal pony let out a knowing chuckle.
"No... then I... I was the one who released you?" Twilight's face drooped.
"Released? Hahaha, no, I was never trapped. I just returned to my old haunting grounds to, lick my wounds, so to speak. But I was also without body and, well let's just say I've had my eye on you for a while, Twilight."
The gaseous pony placed a forehoof around Twilight's neck and a chill crept down her spine.
"You see, Twilight, you fascinate me. I've existed for thousands of years and yet... you are the first to truly wound me. Such power as that... well, I couldn't just pass that up, could I?"
The ethereal pony leaned up to her ear and whispered, "All I needed to do was set a few simple things in motion to get you to me. And here's my little gift to you: that wasn't a release spell. Like a naive little foal, you bound me to yourself."