Discord dodged to the side with a hiss, grabbing Nightmare Moon's horn as he began to spin. With great force, the angered chimera threw his entire body weight into the motion, tossing his former lover off to the side before flaring his wings and dropping into a low stance. The mare formerly known as Selena did nothing to slow her momentum, grinning devilishly as she kicked off the wall of a nearby house, rocketing forward once again directly at Celestia. The ivory alicorn saw the move coming and beat her wings downward with great force, causing herself to rise up and avoid her speeding mother's body.
"Luna! You must stop! I know you can hear me!"
The nightmare ground to a halt directly in front of Rarity and Sol, both of whom stood still and glared up at the much larger mare. A column of blackness swirled around Selena's horn, coating her entire forehead in crackling clouds of deepest black as she spoke in an icy tone.
"One of the Bearers. I suppose I can eliminate you immediately to save myself the trouble later."
Without so much as a breath, the alicorn's horn began to spark with lightning, and she swung it down directly at Rarity as the smaller unicorn hopped out of the way. A sudden impact caught Selena by surprise, and she found her horn deadlocked with a shimmering blade.
"You will not touch her. Rarity, move! I'll hold her off!" Sol cast all of his weight into pushing back against the twisted pony's horn, watching with determination as arcs of blue electricity worked their way around his sword. The heat of the energy began to run up through his jaw, bringing forth the taste of blood as the stallion pushed ever harder, only to be rewarded with a dismissive snort and a rush of pain. All at once, Sol was enveloped in an aura of blue magic and cast to the side, hurling through the air and into the window of a nearby shop, causing glass to rain out into the street. Rarity ran to his aid immediately, completely abandoning the battlefield to make sure that the stallion was alive.
"Ignorant foal." Nightmare Moon whinnied and pawed at the street, stomping hard against the rocks below once again. "Nopony shall stand in my way! Not even you!" Her mane of stars swirling around her, Selena jumped up and took off, once again speeding toward Discord as Celestia assessed the situation from above.
"Rainbow Dash! Spitfire! To me!"
The two pegasi flew up alongside their princess, ready and waiting to receive whatever orders the alicorn may have had in mind. Before Celestia could speak, however, Rainbow Dash took the momentary silence as an invitation.
"Did… did Nightmare Moon just… call you 'Daughter'? And how the hay is she even… we got rid of her! I saw it with my own eyes!" The pegasus thrust her hooves downward incredulously, and Celestia averted her gaze with a guilty look back to the ground.
"I… I do not know. As for our relation… it is indeed true, but we have no time to dwell on such things. We can speak of it after this battle is won." Rainbow blinked in surprise, but remained silent as Spitfire lowered her goggles down over her eyes.
"Just say the word, and we'll do whatever we can."
Celestia nodded to the older of the two ponies and took a deep breath. Things were getting far too dangerous already, and keeping the townsponies involved would only lead to unnecessary deaths. "I need for you two to begin evacuating Canterlot. Rouse the guard, and give them orders from me to begin relocating everypony. We cannot afford to endanger anypony else."
"But Princess! Aren't you going to need us here?" Rainbow Dash inquired.
Celestia narrowed her eyes as she watched Discord hurling bolts of lightning at her mother, and something about the sight brought her a powerful sense of unease. "Yes. I will. That's why I'm sending you two now. Be quick, and return as soon as you are able. Stop for nopony, unless you see Twilight." Celestia cringed as Nightmare Moon scored a direct hit with her front hooves, causing Discord to skid back several feet along the ground. "If you do…" Celestia closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her heart and mind fighting an uneasy battle within her. To protect her student, and risk everything for her safety… or to put her life on the line, and stay true to her obligations?
"…then tell her to come here as quickly as possible."
Spitfire flew in front of the alicorn, giving the ruler her best questioning gaze. "Not for nothing, but isn't her leg broken? Shouldn't she b-"
Celestia steeled herself and set her face in a harsh gaze at the saffron pegasus. "That is for me to worry about, friend. Now go. Begin evacuation."
At the second request, both pegasi flew off at top speed, and Celestia breathed a sigh of relief. She spared another glance downward to see Nightmare Moon and Discord with arms and hooves locked, both struggling to force the other to the ground, but neither gaining the upper hand.
Discord was visibly straining, his mismatched arms twitching to hold back the unusually strong alicorn from pushing him to the floor. Selena responded in kind, grinning wickedly as she put her entire body weight into the action.
"Long have I waited for this opportunity, you treacherous foal," the pony began. "I needed only somepony to set me free, but imagine my disappointment to find you sealed in stone upon my release."
Discord vanished in a puff of smoke and reappeared several feet to the side, causing Selena to fall back to the ground with surprise.
"Mm… yes, your daughter does indeed seem to make a mess of things quite often. So sorry to disappoint."
"Disappoint? Perhaps. But I could ask for no better of an opportunity than this one…" The ebony mare began slowly advancing as she readied another spell, once again summoning black clouds around her horn. "Luna's body is mine, you're here and being assailed from two sides at once, and Celestia… Celestia is as good as dead."
"Do not count me out too quickly, Mother!"
A streak of white flew downward through the sky at blinding speeds, colliding against Discord's back with great force and catching the male completely by surprise. The draconequus was forced end over end, once again tumbling along the ground and being subjected to minor scrapes as his assailant ground him into the earth before pushing off and landing on all fours some distance away as she turned to face Nightmare Moon.
"Mother. I propose that we combine our efforts against this traitor, for the time being." Celestia glared hard at the shaking abomination, watching with a mix of nausea and satisfaction as he slowly rose from his prone position, eyes burning with hatred. Another thought crossed her mind as she watched Discord pull himself up and begin circling her, and Celestia's entire chest went numb as she spoke with hesitance. "You and I… can finish this later. Help me do away with him. Please."
The midnight mare let forth a chilling laugh as she stomped into the ground, clearly amused by the proposition. "Pass up one uppity traitor for another? You poor, poor foal. It's clear that you still understand nothing." Selena shook her head, advancing slowly as she spat her words with as much venom as she could muster. "There are no sides. There are no rules. Only one of us three will survive this, a-"
Nightmare Moon's words were cut off by a scream as her side was slashed with a series of invisible wounds. The mare teetered sideways, stepping rapidly to regain her balance as she whirled to face Discord. A resounding crack of whiplike noise resounded throughout the town square as the chimera flicked his claws, reeling back in his weapons of choice to origins unknown.
"I couldn't have said it better myself. Enough with the talking, girls. Whichever two are alive longest can have a nice little chat, to be sure." Discord's claws began to crackle with magic, his leonine paw coated in rippling flame and his talons arcing with arcane lightning. "But first… let's liven things up!"
Discord spun, dodging another rush from his former lover as he tossed a sphere of electrical magic after her. With his paw extended, he aimed a gout of flame for the fountain in the center of town, where it swam within the water before replacing it entirely. Celestia watched in horror as the stone spring began to erupt like a volcano, spewing chunks of burning rock and torrents of lava into the sky in arcing patterns.
"Your precious city will burn, oh Princess of the Sun." Discord's eyes held a dangerous glint as flapped hard, rising into the sky to be silhouetted against the burgeoning flames. "And there is nothing you can do to stop it."
Nightmare Moon rose up as well, summoning thunderclouds into the unnatural evening sky from her place several buildings removed from the hybrid. With a smirk, she cast a bolt of lightning into a nearby building, watching with satisfaction as the entire structure went up in flames. "Now that is a cause I can get behind."
Celestia took to the air as well, a protective shield of flame dancing before her as she began to circle the burning buildings. She quickly swept her vision over the square, trying to remain calm and hide how badly the sight was affecting her psyche. Fortunately, it seemed that everypony in the immediate area had fled the scene, and the alicorn could do nothing but hope that her pegasi were effectively clearing out the rest of town. Structures could be rebuilt. Memories kept alive via various means. However, stopping her foes here and now couldn't wait a second longer.
"You may burn my city, but you will never extinguish my spirit." Celestia continued to flap, her shield transforming into twin jets of flame that circled her in spiral patterns as she sized up her targets. "I'm not the scared little filly that I used to be, Mother," she spat before casting her gaze to the smirking draconequus. "Nor am I the easily-lead fool that you think me to be, you charlatan. Do not underestimate me!" The spiraling trails of magic shot forth, one aimed for each of the hovering conspirators. Celestia herself rushed forth surrounded by a shield of swirling wind, speeding directly for her long-term tormentor with horn lowered and intent to kill.
A series of ragged breaths escaped the violet unicorn as she ran atop the parapets, jumping and giving herself a magical boost to reach the raised turrets of the castle as she ran along the raised battlements. Twilight Sparkle was sprinting harder than she ever had before, sweating profusely as she darted along the upper walls of the castle.
Where are they? Why can't I see anyth-
Twilight's ears twitched as a loud explosion echoed off of the castle walls. She ground her hooves into the stone below, skidding to a stop as she turned to see a tower of rising flame coming from the center of town.
There they are! One turret over!
Twilight turned back around, giving herself a magical boost for quicker acceleration as she retraced her steps with frantic hoofbeats. Hopping off the turret and back to the wall below, she cast the sling hanging uselessly about her neck off the side of the castle with a frustrated grunt.
Stupid thing. No more games, no more faking it- Princess Celestia needs me! If my role is a trump card, I'm going to make it count! Nopony will see this coming!
"Twilight? What the hay are you doing up here?"
The unicorn mare kept running as she looked up and to the side to find a multicolor blur speeding alongside her.
"Rainbow!" Twilight gasped, breathing hard as she jumped and boosted herself back up to the tower before her. "No time to explain! Shouldn't you be helping the Princess?"
"Spitfire and I are evacuating Canterlot! Princess Celestia ordered it after Nightmare Moon showed up!"
Twilight's eyes widened as she turned to give the pegasus her full attention. Surely, she had heard wrong.
"Nightmare Moon? How… how is that even possible? We sealed her!"
"Yeah, well, apparently Princess Luna unsealed her! I don't know details, but sh- look!" The pegauses grabbed Twilight's shoulder and spun her friend to face the battlefield that was now the central square of Canterlot. There, steadily rising above a crumbling building, was the black silhouette with a rippling mane of stars. Twilight felt her breath hitch at the sight as unpleasant memories of nearly losing everything to the shadowy mare flashed before her. With a sudden growl, she stomped her hoof, causing Rainbow Dash to jump a bit in reaction.
"It doesn't matter! Nightmare Moon or no, I'm not going down there! I've got a plan!"
The polychromatic pegasus eyed her friend suspiciously, letting her magenta orbs linger upon the limb that had just been stomped into the surface of the tower. "Twi… your leg… it's not…"
"No, it's not. Tell nopony." Twilight's horn began to glow, and she spread her hooves before crouching low and aiming her forehead through the raised stone blockades and toward the center of town. "You're supposed to be helping with the evacuation. Go."
The unfamiliar edge in Twilight's voice told Rainbow all that she needed to know- now was not a time for questioning. "You got it. I'll clear out the town and then head back to help."
"Good," came the curt reply. Twilight's eyes glazed over, her pupils replaced by twin orbs of purest white light as her entire body became surrounded by a thin veil of magic. "I need to focus. This is going to take quite a while, so distract Discord and Nightmare Moon if you can. Do not let me be seen. If I can pull this off, and the Princess has a plan of her own, we can take him down all at once."
Rainbow rose back up into the sky, nodding uncertainly. "If you say so." The pegasus hung in the air for another second, watching Twilight sweat profusely as she began to quiver. A wave of worry flushed over Rainbow at the sight, but she would never let it show, even now. "Twi?"
"Yes?" The unicorn's focus never left the town square as she adjusted her positioning ever so slightly.
"…good luck. We've got this."
"…I hope you're right."
Rainbow flew off, leaving a multicolor trail as she sped off to complete her task. Twilight stood completely still, her eyes narrowing as all sound was dampened by the near-deafening buzz coming from her horn. Sweat poured down her forehead, causing her eyes to sting and her vision to blur slightly as she focused upon the twisting form of Discord as he spun erratically through the sky.
One shot. C'mon, Twilight. One shot, and your part is done. It's necessary. Princess Celestia needs you to do this.
Twilight swallowed back the lump in her throat, trying her best to shut out the thoughts of what could happen as a result of her actions. The thought of playing a part in taking a life weighed heavily upon her, but was it not justified? Despite her own encouraging words to her mentor, Twilight herself was finding it difficult to see another way.
Everything we've been through together… all of the pain he's caused the Princess, and everypony else… I have to do this. I might not even succeed, but if I do…
Twilight closed her eyes momentarily, allowing herself to reflect upon her lessons. Princess Celestia's sweet voice swirled through her mind, the inflection of her tone bringing a soothing quality to the unsavory lesson that the unicorn remembered so well.
"Sometimes, Twilight… we must do things that we do not wish to. For other ponies, and even for yourself. The best medicine is often bitter, my little pony." The alicorn wrapped a wing around Twilight's side, bringing a sensation of unnatural warmth. "Always keep in mind that which is important, and do what you must to reach that ideal."
The solitary unicorn opened her eyes, her vision snapping to focus upon Discord as he whipped out another tendril of wire from his claws so far below. Twilight's shaking intensified, her horn beginning to spark as her limbs grew numb.
For the Princess.
"Sol!" Rarity paused only for a moment before hopping over the jagged glass and into the storefront, looking for her fallen companion. Of all places to be thrown into, it had to be a fabric shop. Rarity grimaced at the irony of the situation, finding this the absolute last place she wanted to be at the moment. "Sol, where are you? Are you alive? Answer me, please!"
A pained moan was the reply, and Rarity rushed over to a clump of fallen tapestries and other materials, pulling them off with her magic. As she got further through the pile, the materials became heavier, stained with crimson and sticking together.
No no no! He has to be alright!
Rarity lifted the final sheet of cloth, flinging it to the side without batting an eyelash. There upon the dirty floor lay Sol, bleeding heavily and barely conscious.
"Sol! Say something! Are you able to stand?" Rarity began to tear up despite her efforts to fight it back, and she kneeled down to the fallen stallion's level with a mournful sob.
"Geeze, Rarity. You'd think I'm dyin' or something. I'll be fine!"
Rarity swept her eyes over the stallion's wounds, quickly and quietly deciding that he most definitely would not be fine. Sol's leg twitched in reflex as he shivered completely against his will. A large, jagged gash extended from his missing wing to nearly his flank, and blood was oozing out of it at a steady pace.
"Sol… you're… y-you're bleeding quite a bit… hold on, I'll…"
The panicked mare lifted a sheet of material, dabbing around the edges of the wound with the patterned cloth. Gingerly, she rested the fabric along the edges of the injury, doing her best to stop the blood from running down his coat.
Sol laughed, coughing as he craned his neck up to look at the damage. "Well, shit. Maybe I won't be alright."
"Don't talk like that!" Rarity's chest heaved as she watched the blood continue to seep out. Sol began blinking rapidly, and suddenly found it difficult to keep his head raised.
"Rarity… you've got to get back out there. The Princess needs you…"
"Shut up!" Rarity snapped. "I'll get back out there, but I'm not about to just watch you bleed out on the floor!"
Sol chuckled again before letting out a pained moan. His vision began to swim with black dots as he struggled to stay awake. The trauma caused his side to go numb, and suddenly the sensation of pain began to dull. "Rarity… it's alright. I'll be… alright. Just go. Don't waste valuable time wo-"
Sol reeled as he took a hoof to the face. The pain in his side came back immediately, chased closely by the newfound stinging in his cheek as he looked up in surprise at the infuriated mare.
"When a lady tells you to shut up, you shut. Up!"
Rarity spun around, wracking her brain and trying to steady her breathing. Think! I'm not a nurse, but… fabric store! Right!
The unicorn trotted behind the counter, allowing herself a bittersweet smile as she lifted a plastic container with her magic. With a quick swirl of blue, she lifted out a spool of thick thread and a rather large needle before discarding the remaining objects. "Hold still."
Sol merely rolled his eyes. "You really think you can j-"
Rarity glared daggers at him, stomping her hoof into the stack of cloth below her. "Yes, I do! I'm a seamstress, you foal! Now don't move!"
With a quick flourish, Rarity ignited the needle in a blazing flame before dousing it with a torrent of magical water.
"What the ha-"
"Sterilization. Now shut up."
Rarity kneeled low and threaded the needle before aiming it at the edge of Sol's wound with a look of determination. "This is going to sting, but it's better than bleeding to death. No bitching."
Sol gave an amused smile at her choice words before biting his tongue. He watched with interest as his side was covered in a blue field to stop the bleeding temporarily. A sudden rush of blazing pain shot through his side as Rarity began to sew quickly and efficiently. The stallion closed his eyes and bit onto a nearby spool of fabric, doing his best not to cry out as the needle pierced his side repeatedly. Within a few minutes, Rarity stood back up and tossed the needle into a nearby wall, where it stuck menacingly out of the wood.
"There. You'll be… stable, at least. I hope. Bit of a hack job, but the best I can do, given the circumstances." Rarity nodded and blushed, laughing a little to herself as she looked at the less-than-perfect stitching.
Sol released his bite from upon the spool, grunting with effort as he leaned his head back upward to survey the stitching. His side was completely closed, and though he was in incredible pain, he found himself grateful for the mare's quick thinking. Another series of pricks caused him to curse in surprise as he felt a tugging sensation all over his body, only to find smaller flecks of glass being pulled out of his face and limbs by the magical mare.
"Alright. You're a mess, but you'll live. At least, you'd better." Rarity glared hard, refusing to accept an alternative. Sol moved his limbs and tried to stand, only to find himself being forced back to the ground by a blue wave of light.
"No. Lie down, and rest. I'll take care of things."
Sol shook his head with a snort. "Good luck. Keep your distance, and play a support role. Your little magical bolts and shields might help more than just charging in like an idiot."
"Oh, like you did?" Rarity countered before turning to walk back through the ruined wall. Sol at least had the decency to blush before returning her jab with one of his own.
"Maybe. It's too bad you can't just sew Discord to death. It'd be kinda hard to kill him with a little needle swooping about."
Rarity paused with one hoof halfway out of the shop before turning, her eyes lighting up at the words. "…sew him to death?"
Sol leaned up on one limb, propping himself to get a better look at the unicorn. Whatever idea she had, he wasn't sure he wanted to hear it. "Rarity, I was kidding. I know you can do mo-"
"Once again- shut up. You're a genius!"
Rarity trotted back over to Sol's side and put a hoof upon his back, gently leaning him upward as he sputtered in shock.
"If I can guide a needle with magic," she began in a singsong tone, "then I see no reason why I wouldn't be able to guide… one of these!"
A shing of metal against metal echoed throughout the room as Rarity pulled the blade on Sol's side from its sheath, brandishing it in the air with a few swooping cuts before removing the harness from Sol altogether.
"Rarity! What in Celestia's name are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking it's about time I really contributed." The fashionista smiled as she looped the apparatus over her head with a quick motion before turning to test her skills once again. The mare made a few swirling motions, spinning the blade and weaving it through the air like a needle through thread before testing her precision. Rarity began to slash furiously at the wall as Sol protested once again, trying desperately to dissuade the mare.
"You're insane! You've probably never even seen a real blade before n-"
Rarity turned and pointed a hoof at the wall, where the words 'SHUT UP, SOL' were carved expertly into the wood. With a final snort, Rarity slashed three times to underline the words, before sheathing the blade and running out of the shop without another word.
Sol stared blankly at the words for a moment before he let out a pained chuckle and resigned himself to resting atop the fallen fabric.
"…hell of a mare, that one."
"Oh, I'm getting very tired of this," the draconequus drawled boredly as he dodge another torrent flame chased by a burst of icy crystals. "Whatever happened to no teams, Selena? Bit of a grudge?"
Humorlessly, the black alicorn flung a bolt of lightning over her shoulder, catching her daughter by surprise and causing the elegant mare to cry out in pain. "Happy? Now back to you!" Selena pushed forth, again opting to strike at Discord with her hooves as Celestia fell behind her.
The startled princess fell downward several feet, smacking into a billboard and causing it to splinter as her side impacted the top with a loud noise. Celestia gasped in pain, sure that she had bruised, if not broken, several ribs in the fall. Just in time, she looked downward, noting that the remainder of the building was already ablaze below. Using the rising warm air to speed her flight, Celestia righted herself and pushed upward to rejoin the fray.
All at once, she fired off a salvo of fireballs from her horn, catching both of the remaining combatants off guard and singing their fur with her surprise attack. Discord landed upon a roof and flapped furiously to dispel the flame as Selena landed nearby and doused herself with black smoke, smothering the fire instantly. Discord was the first to speak, standing quite still as he glared up at the floating princess.
"For the first time I can remember… I'm getting tired of playing games." The twisted creature snapped his talons, and an embossed box appeared before him. Deliberately, he unlatched the top as Selena paused to watch with interest. Five necklaces and a tiara rose from within the velvet folds of the container, lazily floating in the air before the hybrid as he touched each of them, one by one.
"Deception. Disloyalty. Sadness. Maliciousness. Selfishness. And…" Discord stopped upon the final, deep purple gem within the tiara. "…Magic. Magic need not be corrupted, for it is an Element that can serve both the benevolent," he glared at Celestia, "or the self-righteous. It's high time I showed you what my little creations can do…"
Discord moved his claw to grab the orange apple-shaped gemstone from its necklace, and crushed it into his palm as Celestia stared on, seemingly in disinterest. A burst of energy flew from the stone and channeled up the chimera's arm, pulsing with power as it dissipated throughout his entire body. Discord swept up the light blue balloon and pink butterfly gemstones, smashing them and siphoning their power as well.
"Sadness… Maliciousness…" Discord smiled insanely, beginning to cackle as rivulets of magical energy ran up and down his form. Suddenly, Selena shot forth, pushing him aside and grabbing the light purple diamond.
"Generosity was mine!" The enraged mare held the gemstone close to her protectively, staring down at it with a possessive snort. "Nopony will take it from me!"
Discord got back to his feet, his eyes swirling with orange, blue, and light purple trails. "Very well. Take your Selfishness, you foal! I still have the remaining gems! Disloya-"
A rainbow blur cut Discord off as he held up the gem, only to find it absent from his claw a second later.
"Disloyalty, huh? You can't corrupt my gem, baby! I'm too cool for that!"
Spitfire put a hoof upon Rainbow's shoulder, stopping the mare from trying to use the gem. "Dash, I don't know if that's a good idea! Look at what's happening to him!"
The two pegasi landed upon an adjacent rooftop, and Rainbow Dash dropped her Element as she stared at Discord in horror. The draconequus was breathing hard, struggling to stay standing as the tricolor trails of magic circled around him.
"Spitfire is right. Do not touch it." Celestia landed beside the pair, her tone completely even as she watched the scene, expressionless. "It's corrupted. Leave it be." Without another word, the alicorn tossed the gemstone to the side, letting it clatter upon the rooftop before it slid to a stop.
"Princess! What's he… what's happening?" Rainbow looked up to her ruler for guidance, only to see her beginning to smirk.
"Is Canterlot evacuated?" Rainbow Dash nodded quickly, and Celestia's smirk turned into a smile. "Then stay back, my little pony. Watch this. Carefully."
"More…" Discord boomed as he lurched forward, grinning wickedly as he stumbled across the roof, weighed down by the pulsating strands of magic. With a final uneasy movement, he fell forward, driving his claws into the rooftop shingles and bunching them up into fists. Suddenly, the magical swirling ceased, and all trails of arcane power snaked their way to his chest, where they burrowed into his fur and disappeared without a trace. The draconequus looked up briefly before slamming his fist into the surface below, tunneling a hole and sending bits of roofing flying off into the sky.
"You cannot stand up to me, Little Tia. Not with so much power… GIVE ME THE GEM!"
Selena made a mad dash for the red lightning bolt, only to be flung off the roof and into the flames below by a magical blast from Discord. Celestia's heart leapt as she watched the other mare careen downward into the fire, and she primed her wings in automatic response.
That's… she's in Luna's body! She must not die!
Celestia dived off the roof in pursuit of her other foe, slaloming through the flames as best she could to assist the ebony alicorn.
Rainbow Dash and Spitfire stood before the crazed chimera, shaking with fear as he steadily advanced. His thundering voice was overpowering to the point that it nearly forced the two to the ground as he spoke, three whispy and ethereal voices backing his own.
"Give me the gemstone, girls, and perhaps I will allow you to live. Probably not, but why not take a chance?"
Rainbow Dash scooped up the gem, hurling it with all of her might across the rooftop and into the flame, her heart pounding. "Go and get it!"
Discord whirled immediately and chased after the gem, snaking his way through the sky after the flying ruby. Rainbow breathed a sigh, content that at least for the moment, they hadn't been retaliated against. A sudden grunt of effort from behind her caught the pegasus' attention, and she leaned over the rooftop to see Rarity frantically climbing the side of the structure.
"Rarity? Where's Sol?" Rainbow and Spitfire offered their hooves, pulling the slightly singed unicorn up and onto the rooftop.
"Injured. Away from the flame. I hope." Rarity coughed, rolling over and rising to stand. Slowly, she shook the soot off of herself, but the action did little to make her more presentable. Her mane and tail were in a frayed, charred mess, and her once beautiful coat was covered in ash and grime. "Apologies that it took so long to get up here. What have I missed?"
A deafening roar answered the question for her as Discord flew back in a flash of red light, surrounded by a crackling shield of lightning. Once again, he was twitching, struggling to contain the power harvested from so many other ponies.
"THREE… AT ONCE… NOT BAD…"
The draconequus darted forward, and Rarity drew her blade reflexively. The mares all darted in different directions, desperately fleeing across the shattering rooftop as shingles began to fall downward into the rising flame.
"Where is the Princess?" Rarity cried, screaming as she barely avoided a hole in the roof.
"She'll be back soon! She has to be!" Spitfire dodged an errant bolt of lightning thrown by the draconequus before removing her goggles and casting them into the flame. "I can barely see anymore with all of this smoke!"
Rainbow Dash found herself in agreement as she flew up high, trying to get a bead on Princess Celestia. She searched fruitlessly for several seconds before catching sight of an ivory flash amongst the flames. "Guys! I see her!"
Princess Celestia spun once again, pulling her wings inward as she rushed past a column of fire shooting out through the side of a building. She blinked the tears from her eyes as the smoke caused them to sting, desperately searching for a sign of Nightmare Moon.
"Luna? Luna!" Celestia began to panic, not catching sight of her sister anywhere within the flames. "…Selena! Mother!"
A gust of wind caused her mane to blow back as a silhouette flew up from the flames, smoking around the edges and snarling. "You thought I couldn't save myself? You foal!"
The black alicorn charged forward, and Celestia sighed in relief as she dodged. "So long as you're alive! Come, this is almost over!" Celestia flapped furiously, trying to maintain position amongst the smoke and flames. "Set aside our fight for but a few minutes, and Discord can be eliminated! Then we can continue this!"
Her teal, snakelike eyes narrowed as Selena regarded her pleading daughter while clutching the Element of Selfishness to her chest. "I make no promises, especially to one who was partially responsible for my downfall!" The angered mare rose up into the sky before pointing a hoof downward at Celestia. "But for now, I'll focus my attack on him! Stay true to your word, or you will be the first to die!" Nightmare Moon flew forth, out of view as Celestia moved to follow.
Up through the blackened sky she flew, searching for the rooftop upon which she was needed. The hunt didn't take long, as an explosion of red lightning caught her attention almost immediately. The bright fuchsia gem within Celestia's crown pulsed, and she teleported over to land atop the building upon which Discord was situated.
Discord turned to fully face his adversary, the red shield of lightning obscuring him from her view.
"I'M COMING FOR YOU, LITTLE TIA! I CAN LIVE WITHOUT ONE ELEMENT, BUT WITH THIS, OUR GAME IS OVER!"
The draconequus hoisted up the Element of Magic, holding it before him as if it was a trophy. Without a care, he tossed the decorated box from which he had retrieved it aside, laughing madly. The sound caused Celestia, her pegasi, and Rarity to flinch, all four standing silently as Discord made his desperate move.
The deep purple gem began to spin before stopping in place, hovering in midair. With a quick clasping of his talons, Discord shattered the gemstone, only for… nothing to happen. The draconequus stared at the shattered amethyst in his palm, thoroughly confused and seething with rage.
"WHAT? WHY WON'T IT WORK? WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?"
Discord looked up to see Celestia's eyes swimming with a purple glow, a devilish grin painted across her features as her own tiara pulsed with pure, white magic.
"Simple, you foal. I swapped the gems."
Celestia began walking forth, before issuing a magical nova from her horn as it glowed with a white-hot aura. Discord's shield of lightning was blown to shreds, and he stumbled backward along the rooftop as the red swirls of magic dissipated into the air.
"You locked the Elements… stole them from myself and Luna, blocking our access to their power." Celestia continued her advance, smiling brightly as her horn began to pulse with audible emanations of magic. "After seeing their true forms through you… I'm glad that you did. However, during your little… personal invasion upon a certain pegasus…" Rainbow Dash stared on in awe, watching as Celestia stripped the orange trails from Discord's eyes, "…I took the opportunity to repurpose Magic, and make it my own, once again."
Celestia looked up above Discord, and caught sight of a purple unicorn perched atop one of the battlements. Rarity and Nightmare Moon advanced upon Discord from the sides and Celestia continued to walk forward, backing Discord up as he raged at the trio. A final nova dispelled his remaining stolen power, and the draconequus clutched his head in agony as he felt the power drain from his body.
"You wicked bitch! You cannot do this! I cannot be killed so easily!"
Discord ran forth while hurling magic at the alicorn, only for Celestia to respond with a series of pure white rings of energy flying from her horn, binding the draconequus in place. Time seemed to stop as she halted her movements, staring deep into his mismatched eyes. For the first time in her life, Celestia saw fear coming from the trapped male. All was silent for but a moment, and a single tear slid down her cheek as she closed her own eyes, unable to bear the sight.
"…after all that you've done, both to me, and Equestria at large," she began. "After every unforgivable action, every betrayal, every time you've broken me…" Celestia's voice hitched as her horn began to hiss and her tiara rose to center around the tip. "…even after hating you for well over a thousand years…" Celestia opened her eyes, and a sob escaped her as she shook her head. "…I want you to know that this brings me absolutely no pleasure. Discord… I'm sorry."
Tears began to cascade down Celestia's face as she flared her wings, unable to distance herself from the situation any longer. Memories of her father bleeding out in front of her, Twilight strung up in the air, about to die as Discord laughed, her own rape within a dream, and finally, his malicious glare as he dared her to retaliate for tricking her into assisting with Selena's murder.
Rainbow Dash and Spitfire shot forward, both driving their forehooves into Discord's face as he tried to speak, only to feel the sting of a blade across his back while Rarity slashed a deep wound into his waiting fur. Nightmare Moon galloped forth, her horn sparking with electricity as she gored Discord through the throat, causing a trail of blood to drip down his chest as his breath was stolen from him. The ebony alicorn flew upward as she sensed the incoming danger, and Twilight Sparkle unleashed a beam of crimson magic from atop the battlements, encompassing Discord fully with a direct hit as his fur began to burn. Celestia wasted no time coating herself within a layer of glittering white magic before flying forth into the gigantic laser, tackling Discord and flying upward into it.
Holding the draconequus close to herself, Celestia let her tears flow as she gazed at Discord's bleeding face. She flew further into the beam, her heart beginning to spasm as she watched him in so much pain. Again, Celestia spoke, but with a whisper.
"I wish there was another way. Any other way." Discord didn't respond, though from inability or unwillingness, Celestia didn't know. "I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry." The tiara began to spin and slip off the tip of Celestia's horn as the alicorn princess coated herself in another layer of protective magic amid the beam. Hesitantly, she rested her head upon Discord's shoulder and closed her eyes before giving the silent male a final nuzzle.
A massive, deafening explosion of magic ripped across the sky, dispelling the beam and creating a bright ring of multicolor force that pulsed outward. Discord was ripped apart, his mouth opened in a wordless, final scream as he was utterly disintegrated by the powerful blast. Celestia's crown began to spin unsteadily, shifting from side to side in the air before the Element of Magic within exploded, shattering the tiara and blowing Celestia backward across the sky. The impact shattered the upper half of her horn and singed her face, drawing a pained scream from the princess as she spiraled downward, unable to control her descent as her forehead smoked and throbbed with pain.
Celestia looked to the side as she fell, spotting Twilight Sparkle running wildly atop the castle walls. The unicorn tried to catch her mentor in a bubble of magic, but the mare was moving too quickly and slipped through. An orange blur flew up from underneath her, catching Celestia and straining to stabilize the alicorn as a blue and white blur flew up to assist.
"We've got you, Your Highness!"
Celestia found herself too weak to reply as she looked to Rainbow Dash, who had Rarity clinging tightly to her back. "Don't move! We'll set you down atop the wall!"
Celestia merely nodded weakly, her eyes still streaming from both the intense pain and the emotional stress of the situation. Slowly, the quartet of ponies made it to the castle wall, whereupon Celestia was placed upon the cool stone. Unsteadily, she wobbled upon her hooves before falling to her knees, unable to stand after such a violent impact.
Celestia opened her eyes and looked up to see Twilight Sparkle running toward her, also in tears and stumbling over her hooves. The smaller mare tripped forward, throwing out her front hooves to loop them around Celestia's neck in a tight hug. The action caused the princess considerable pain given that her neck and chest were badly scorched, but Celestia found that she didn't care, and returned the hug with as much strength as she could muster.
"My Faithful Student… are you alright? How did you… that beam…" Celestia was breathing hard, and soon felt several pairs of hooves upon her back as she strained to continue speaking. "H-how did you…"
"I just… I focused as much magic as I could. I don't… feel so good…" Twilight leaned in further, only to find Rainbow Dash and Rarity rush to support her.
"Darling, don't push yourself any further. It's over. We've won." Rarity gave Twilight a nuzzle, only to be cut off by Celestia.
"No. N-no, it's not." Slowly, the alicorn forced herself to stand. She brought a hoof up to her horn, and the lightest touch caused a rush of pain to shoot through her entire skull. The upper half was blown clean off, leaving a jagged edge protruding from her forehead. Celestia tried to cast a simple spell, but soon doubled over from the sheer pain of her efforts.
"Princess! Chill out!" Spitfire looped a foreleg under Celestia, helping the larger pony to stay standing. The princess responded with a humorless smile.
"I'm afraid that I cannot simply 'chill out', my friend. Nightmare Moon is… is still…" Celestia wobbled upon her hooves, fighting to stay awake. Seconds later, she got her incentive.
"Admirable work, Daughter." The shadowy pony landed several yards behind the group, sneering at the fallen alicorn and her student. "One traitor is dead. Now, I need only remove the second."
Celestia stood fully and whirled around, thrusting a hoof outward at her remaining foe. "Luna! I know you can fight this!"
"She cannot, you foal! Stop trying to reach her! The only thing that brought her back was the Elements, and only one remains!" Nightmare Moon grinned as she cradled the Element of Selfishness before her, holding it with magic as if it was a child. "Nopony can take this away from me!"
Twilight Sparkle walked forward, still shaky upon her hooves as she moved in front of her kneeling mentor. "You don't deserve to hold an Element! You don't even deserve to be here!"
Nightmare Moon scoffed and popped the gem out of her necklace before tossing it over the battlements. With a quick magical reshaping, she socketed the Element of Selfishness into the empty receptacle before replying. "Blame your precious mentor and her idiotic sister! It was Celestia's own selfishness and lack of foresight that allowed this!"
Celestia dragged herself up to standing, silencing Twilight from defending her before the unicorn even began. "Perhaps, Mother. But things are different now." The alicorn princess shook her wings upon feeling a full-body chill, and did her best to rally despite the throbbing pain in her skull. "I'll admit, not placing my own lock upon the vault was a grave mistake, one made partially to distance myself from the situation, and partially to allow Luna the satisfaction of revenge…"
"And such a mistake shall be your undoing!" Nightmare Moon stomped, smiling madly. "Your sister knew of my power, and came to release me for this fight! You stand no chance against me now, especially without your vaunted Elements! The Elements have never worked as you desire them to, and you're lucky that they even worked the first time! All that they are good for is destruction and despair!"
Celestia blinked and glared at the socketed gem with determination, before raising her eyes to Selena's helmet. An idea hit her, and she smiled as a plan formulated in her head. "Not… necessarily…"
The princess flapped hard before drawing her wings in to her sides. "Girls! I need everypony to steel yourselves! Do not harm Nightmare Moon! Remove her armor any way you can!"
Nightmare Moon paused momentarily, taken aback. "What?"
Celestia walked forward, opting to stand at the front of the pack. "You're correct: the Elements have never functioned to resolve things as intended. Discord's sealing in stone, both times, was not to my will or that of the Bearers. Correct?"
Twilight looked up to her mentor as the pony turned to her, and nodded in affirmation. "Right. I… I'm not sure what I wanted to happen, but it definitely wasn't that again."
"And you, Mother. The Bearers had no idea how to even use the Elements when they banished you again. When I arrived, your armor lay shattered upon the ground around you, blown apart by the sheer force of the magic that they used. That is what saved Luna."
"Her helmet!" Rainbow Dash jumped up, clearly excited. "I totally noticed that! Her helmet was intact when Princess Luna came back! Everything else got broken! So, take off the helmet, and we win?"
Nightmare Moon flew forth at the pegasus, enveloped in a spiral of thunder-laced energy. Rarity jumped forth to intercept, coupling magic to move her friend and a thrust of her blade to parry the incoming mare. Selena was sent off to the side, ramming into the wall and bruising her side as she stumbled to upright herself.
"Don't hurt her!"
Celestia ran forward in a panic and moved Rarity out of the way. "Just get rid of her helmet! It's Luna under there, we can't just att-"
Nightmare Moon whirled, screaming and furious as she charged at Rarity. The unicorn leapt out of the way at the last second, clashing her sword with the alicorn's horn as she swirled the blade through the air with considerable skill.
"Somepony! Stop her! I can't just hold her off like this!" Rarity parried another horn jab, only to be knocked to the side by Selena's powerful hooves. Spitfire and Rainbow Dash took action, swooping down from behind and making a grab for the alicorn's necklace as Selena spun around to stop them.
"NO! YOU CANNOT HAVE IT! IT IS MINE!"
The black mare readied a nova of magical energy, but was interrupted by a combination of purple and gold blasts bearing down upon her. Celestia and Twilight Sparkle stood side by side, both mares utterly exhausted and channeling the last bit of their magical strength into pinning the crazed alicorn down to the stone. Celestia's forehead felt as though it was ready to split, and her vision blacked out entirely as she struggled to stand.
"Everypony, help! W-we can make this happen here and now!"
Rarity rushed forward, forgoing the addition of her magic to the effort to instead wedge her sword beneath the helmet above Nightmare Moon's brow. With all of her strength from her hooves and horn combined, she pried the helmet loose steadily, cutting a bit of Selena's flesh as the disgraced ruler of the night bucked wildly and screamed.
Spitfire and Rainbow Dash wrenched the necklace free and tossed it to the floor before adding their hooves to the effort to remove the helmet. With everypony pulling and pushing, the headgear was wrenched off as Selena let forth a final enraged shriek. A swirl of blackened clouds enveloped her form as Spitfire flew backward, clutching the helmet to her chest. After a deafening roar, the smoke cleared, and where Selena once kneeled was now Princess Luna, bleeding, bruised, and barely conscious.
"Luna!" Celestia ran forward, tripping over herself and falling into a hug, which the younger alicorn happily returned.
"Tia! I… I'm…"
"No, Sister. Don't apologize. I understand." Celestia nuzzled her sister tight, uncaring that they were both in incredible amounts of pain. "Risky and terrible… but brilliant."
Luna coughed and brought a hoof to her mouth as she stared at the surrounding ponies, all of whom appeared exhausted. "Even so… even if it was a justified action… forgive me for adding to your stress. Am I to assume that we won?"
Twilight Sparkle moved forward, adding herself to the hug. "We won, Princess Luna. Discord is… he's…"
"Dead." Celestia finished. She pulled back to share a meaningful glance with Luna, only to return to the hug only seconds later. "Canterlot is burning, but… we did indeed win. You put everything on the line, Lulu. Thank you, but… please, never do something like that again."
Luna was shocked by the news, but nodded her agreement. "I will not. I promise. But Sister… your… your horn…"
"I know." Celestia nuzzled her sister again, reveling in the warmth and completely unashamed. "But more important matters are at hoof."
The princess turned to regard Spitfire, who was still holding the helmet and examining it curiously. "Spitfire? Please, bring the helmet here. Do we still have the necklace?"
"Got it!" Rainbow Dash landed and trotted forward, the necklace bearing the corrupted Element within her mouth. The two mares set the items side by side upon the stone and backed away, regarding them with interest.
Celestia broke from the hug and gave her student a nuzzle. "I have an idea as to how to prevent Nightmare Moon from ever coming back."
"Well, let's hear it. I wouldn't mind never seeing her again."
Everypony present turned at the sound of the gruff male voice, and Rarity squealed in delight upon seeing Sol walking across the battlement, heavily bandaged and limping. The fashionista was joined by everypony else as she walked over to the stallion, though the remainder of the party hung back a bit to watch the interaction.
Rarity spun her blade in midair before holding it out horizontally, enveloped in a blue glow. "I believe this is yours, kind sir."
Sol raised a brow. "Hm… doesn't look familiar, Miss. Why don't you hang on to it?"
Rarity raised a brow as well, before spinning the sword and sheathing it at her side with a smile. "If you insist. Were you in danger down there? How'd you get out?"
Sol shrugged and cracked his neck, clearly amused by the mare's concern. "Guard found me. Was nowhere near the flames, though. Speaking of, the rest of the guards are busy dousing out the city, as per my orders. That particular one dragged my flank back to the med bay, and I hoofed it up here to watch the fireworks. I take it I'm a bit late for that?"
"Not necessarily." Rarity walked forward and tilted her head with a kind smile. "Depends upon which fireworks you're referring to."
Curious as to her meaning, the stallion gave a snort and flicked out his wing before returning it to his side. "There's more to this than beating down Discord and Nightmare Moon? What other 'fireworks' could there possibly be?"
The proud pegasus blinked at the phrasing, and looked Rarity directly in the eyes. "Yeah?"
Rarity only smiled. "Shut up."
Everypony watched with varying levels of amusement as Rarity leaned in and planted a kiss upon the older stallion's lips, catching him completely off guard. The veteran soldier blushed furiously, his wing fluffing out to the side as he closed his eyes and returned the gesture, satisfaction quite clear upon his features.
"…you've got to be kidding me."
Rainbow Dash folded her hooves and stuck her tongue out in disgust, blowing her mane out of her face with disinterest as she turned back to Celestia. "So, Princess, the plan? To get rid of all of this crap? Like, forever?"
Twilight Sparkle turned back around to give her friend some much-needed privacy, and decided to join the conversation as she signaled for Spitfire to let the new couple be. "Indeed. Is it something we can do right now?"
"No matter what it is, I wish to know as well." Luna turned and glared icily at the gemstone and helm, narrowing her eyes. "I never wish to put that on again, willingly or no."
Celestia blinked to clear the spots from her vision as she turned back to her guard captain and his younger mare. "Rarity? Rarity?"
The princess brought a hoof up to her forehead as she got no response from the unicorn. Twilight rolled her eyes and stomped, turning as she yelled for her friend's attention.
"Hm?" The blushing pony turned to see the entire group starting at her.
"Celestia kinda needs you."
Rarity and Sol both walked over, both absolutely scarlet and immediately apologetic.
"…Your Highness?" Sol began, cowering just a little as he noticed that the princess had an amused smirk.
"…as I was saying…" Celestia began, while turning back to the armor, "…I managed to detonate the Element of Magic by overloading it. Perhaps we can do the same with this one? We tried for years to destroy the cursed helm, but nopony was able to find a way. If the Element of Magic could destroy my father's crown, then perhaps the Element of G-… Selfishness could break Nightmare Moon's helm?"
Luna furrowed her brow, looking deeply into the light purple gemstone. "…I believe that it could be worth a try. Sister, are you up to making the attempt, even with a broken horn?"
Celestia nodded quickly, despite her already terrible migraine. "This is the end of it all. I can rally for this final push." The alicorn turned to Twilight, who was also staring at the gem with a determined expression. "My student, are you able?"
"Yes," came the immediate reply. "Let's finish this here and now, so that everypony can rest easy."
Rarity trotted forth to stand beside the princesses and her friend. "I'm ready as well. Shall we begin?"
Each pony capable of casting magic nodded and backed up as a collective, the two uninjured pegasi taking to the air and flying back behind the group as Sol walked along the battlement to stand at the opposite end.
Celestia closed her eyes and readied herself for the coming pain, knowing that if it worked, it would all be worth it. "Luna, if you would, place the necklace in the helmet and hold both out over the castle walls?"
The younger alicorn complied, doing as she was asked and holding the cursed items within a muted purple glow.
"On my command, everypony." Celestia raised a hoof, and began the countdown. "One, two… three."
Four streams of magic shot forth, directly into the floating gem, which began to pulse and quiver. Celestia fell to her knees, only for Twilight and Luna to rush forward and support her from underneath. The princess kept her horn focused in the direction of the gem, pouring all of her effort into the act and watching with bated breath as it began to shake violently. Luna slipped out from underneath Celestia and walked forward, her horn pulsing more and more vibrantly as she began to speak.
"Mother… whether you can hear me or not… you can finally rest, now. I bear you no hatred for all that you did to me, to Tia… to Father…" Luna's voice broke, but she soon found Celestia at her side, and felt a wing being draped over her back in a reassuring manner. "Despite your crimes, I pray that you can sleep, now. Let us end this!"
A final pulse rocked through Luna's horn, and an enlarged bolt shot forth into the gemstone, causing it to crack and shatter instantly. The helmet was unable to contain the blast, and the cerulean material burst, raining downward over the castle wall in a shower of twinkling diamond. A muted, enraged scream escaped the armor as a blackened wisp rose up into the night, only to dissipate amongst the clouds as all four ponies stopped their efforts and cried out in celebration. Spitfire, Rainbow Dash, and Sol also joined in, moving forward and adding their voices to the joyous outcry.
"We did it! We're done!" Twilight jumped, smiling broadly. "Princess, it's over!"
"Indeed it is, my student." The alicorn fought to stay standing, and returned Twilight's oncoming embrace. "Everything is in its place, and I feel that I can breathe easy for the first time in over a thousand years."
Luna moved forward, draping her own wing over Celestia's side. "Not everything, Sister." The darker alicorn looked up at the sky, watching the twinkling stars with great interest. "It is not yet time for night, Celestia. Should I wipe clean the sky so that you might raise the sun?"
Celestia looked up as well, taking in the sight. Glittering starscapes dotted the sky, newly visible with the blackened clouds of Nightmare Moon's design having faded. The constellations flickered against the blackness, bringing the princess mixed feelings and a sense of contentment.
"…no, Lulu. Leave it. I find it… comforting."
The younger princess did as asked, and rested her head upon Celestia's shoulder as everypony sat atop the castle walls, content to watch the stars in silence.
Celestia stood alone in the gardens, breathing slowly and watching as steam escaped from her mouth due to the bitter cold. The mare didn't shiver, her natural body heat being more than enough to trump the elements despite the snow falling directly onto her. She watched silently as the golden statue before her was slowly covered in white powder. The princess stared on, unblinking, quietly reflecting upon everything that had occurred just two short weeks ago.
I am finally free, Canterlot is being rebuilt, Luna need never fear our mother's influence again, and everypony is happy. So… why am I still drawn to this place? Why was it necessary to construct this… this statue? This tribute?
Celestia sighed as her horn began to glow, the artificial golden tip resonating and catching the sunlight as she slowly wiped the snow from the solitary figure, revealing Discord's face cast in precious metal. More and more she had been coming here, though she knew not why. Of course, the statue wouldn't respond to her queries, or provide her any comfort. Nor, for once, would it speak to her. Celestia furrowed her brow as she stared at its contours, feeling unnerved and slightly guilty.
The large alicorn turned, caught completely by surprise. While staring at the statue, she was almost convinced that it had come from within. But the tone was much softer, and he would never have called her 'Princess'.
"…Twilight Sparkle? What a pleasant surprise. Come here, my little pony." Celestia offered a warm smile at the sight of her student, bundled warmly in several layers to prevent being chilled by the winter wind.
"Princess Luna said that you might be out here." Twilight sniffled a bit, and paused to look at the statue with uncertainty. "It's… a very good likeness of him."
"Mm." Celestia continued to stare, lost in her thoughts.
"Princess… why do you want to remember? Why… have this constructed at all?" The smaller mare furrowed her brow and offered a nuzzle, pressing herself tightly against Celestia's leg. The alicorn thought long and hard before bothering to answer, her eyes still locked upon the carved orbs of gold.
"…I… in some strange way, I… I think that I almost… needed him." Celestia began. Twilight shivered and pressed herself further into the princess' side. Though she didn't understand, the mare decided not to interrupt. "Despite his tendency to slowly wear me down, he… over time, his presence was… reassuring, in a sick way."
Twilight cleared her throat and readjusted her hood. "Did he… ever comfort you? Ever say anything nice to you while he was in your mind?"
"…perhaps a few times, yes. He did indeed make himself useful on occasion… though whether it was to worm his way into influencing me or out of genuine kindness, I suppose we can never know, my student." Celestia sat down upon the freezing earth, her gaze never leaving the statue as snow began to obscure it from vision once again. "I… got used to him being here. I got used to his presence, his biting sarcasm, his constant petty insults and his reminders of my failures. Now that they're gone, I… it's… I feel… off."
Twilight sat as well, braving the cold and leaning further into Celestia's side as the alicorn wrapped a wing around her. "I… guess I can understand that, but… you can't focus on the negatives, like he made you. Princess Luna and I will always be here for you. I promise."
"I know, my student. I know." Celestia heaved a great sigh, and pushed another cloud of steam out of her mouth. Why was it so hard to let go of something that had caused her pain for so long?
"I suppose that I will just… need some time to adjust. As for why this statue exists, Twilight… I believe that we can learn from… him."
The princess let her gaze wander up to the sky, where the clouds moved freely in the winter air. "He may have been brutish, selfish, merciless, and incorrigible, but… he was also right, about some things."
Twilight blinked in confusion. "…care to name a few?"
Celestia laughed humorlessly. "He made me face my flaws. Despite his brutal and destructive methods, he… made me stop running from my past. All of this time, I've wallowed in sadness, partially because of him, but due to my own actions, as well. In addition to all of that, his personal perspective on things, while twisted, wasn't always as insane as you might be lead to believe…"
"So… is this the lesson you taught me so long ago about finding the good in everypony?" Twilight inquired.
Celestia smirked, and leaned down to nuzzle the shivering mare. "Something like that, but there is more to it, as well. However… I believe that it's high time I stop dwelling on such things, don't you agree?"
"Absolutely." Twilight nodded and moved to stand, happy when Celestia followed her lead.
"I will try. I… a piece of me feels almost… empty… but with you and Luna at my side, there is nothing left to fear." Celestia smiled fully and gave the statue one last look before turning away. "I believe that I will be content just leaving him here."
"Good!" Twilight smiled as well, and began to walk, Celestia at her side. "My other friends are in town as well. Would you like to go find Princess Luna and meet for lunch?"
The Princess of the Sun looked up to the sky, knowing that there was still much more to be done before her sister ushered in the night. Paperwork, meetings, budget balancing, and physical rebuilding were all on the schedule, but Celestia's heart fluttered just a bit as she continued to smile, putting such things out of mind, at least, for a little while...
"That sounds lovely, Twilight. Let us go."
Twilight Sparkle walked to the edge of the garden, swinging open the gate with her magic and stepping through the small door. Celestia reached the portal and paused, closing her eyes one last time as she stood silently at the threshold to the outside world. With a deep breath, she continued looking forward and stepped out of the garden, leaving the twisted statue of her nemesis behind to be covered in a powdery layer of pure white snow.
Credits go to Cadenceofrain.