This Epilogue is optional. If you were satisfied with the ending presented at the end of Chapter 12, then feel free to end the story there. That is where I intend the story to end, but I understand that some of you don't like openly-ambiguous endings.
The air was cold, and there was nary a sound to be heard except for the quiet breathing of two exhausted ponies. Everything was dark, still and quiet. Life had not been easy for these two ponies lately. They had been through so much in the past couple of weeks, seemingly more than they could both handle, and yet here they still were, pressing on.
It had been a personal journey through Tartarus for the both of them. They had gone through so many emotions and so much pain. There were so many times where it would have been easy to simply give up, but they both knew that they couldn't. Throughout it all, they both knew deep down that they had to be brave.
Sometimes, though, it was hard to be brave through all the tears and the suffering. Sometimes it was just too much to bear, but together they managed to pull through every time.
Twilight Sparkle groaned as she was roused from her sleep. She blinked her incredibly weary eyes until they eventually managed to focus on the pony who had woken her. An equally exhausted Princess Celestia gazed down at her.
"Mnn…?" Twilight muttered, not a drop of strength in her voice.
"You've been sleeping for quite a while," the princess replied, "Would you like something to eat?" Celestia spoke with no royal voice and without her familiar commanding presence. She had the voice of a young student who had just pulled an all-night study session.
Twilight sighed and sat up, simply nodding in response. As Celestia turned and trotted into the kitchen, Twilight's eyes roamed her library. Nearly everything was dark. All of the lights were out, and the light of the moon was all that would let her see. It was a cold, almost lonely feeling as she took in the dim, empty room.
Her eyes caught the relatively thin trail of magic connected to her horn and followed it to the right. She trailed it right up until it disappeared into the swirling vortex contained within her device, heading off to heavens knew where.
The beacon was still lit; a silver lining in a sea of despair.
Celestia returned, carrying in her mouth a tray with an apple, some stalks of hay, and a glass of water on it. She set it down next to Twilight on the couch, and the unicorn nodded in thanks. The princess' mane and coat were lacking upkeep, mirroring Twilight's own, and the two of them sported matching dark circles under their eyes.
She then followed the thin trail of magic connecting to Celestia's horn, watching as it flowed towards the portal and formed the powerful, impregnable barrier before it.
Twilight stared down at her food, but she couldn't bring herself to pick anything up. She was so exhausted, far too drained to grab with her magic. It was why Celestia had carried the food in with her mouth. The two ponies slumped in their respective spots, Twilight on the couch and Celestia on a few pillows on the floor, both slouching and sagging from incredible exhaustion.
"Celestia…?" Twilight spoke up weakly.
"How long can we keep doing this for…?"
The alicorn didn't reply, and the two of them slowly turned to look at the portal. There was a long silence between the two of them, troubled looks on each of their faces. Finally, after a few minutes had passed, Celestia turned back to face her student with a heavy frown.
"I…" she spoke, pausing in uncharacteristic uncertainty, "I don't have the answer to that question, Twilight." When the tired unicorn looked up at her, Celestia sighed. "You've already done so much for them, Twilight. You've done so much more than anypony could have ever asked of you, short of throwing yourself right into that thing." She gave the portal another short glance.
"You've stayed awake for many hours," Celestia continued, "You've focused so long and so hard to keep your spell active, making sure it was strong enough to remain even if you drifted off to sleep."
Twilight frowned and glanced away. "Even if I do sleep, it's not very sound sleep. The buzzing in my head from the spell keeps me up…"
"And yet we're both still here, two weeks later. You've far exceeded my expectations, Twilight, and I can only humbly say that I am proud of you."
At this, the unicorn turned away and grimaced.
"Twilight…" Celestia spoke in a more soothing voice, "I know that you blame yourself for everything that happened, but you must stop beating yourself up. I'm sure that you didn't expect for any of this to happen. The fact that you're still here, trying to guide them home, says more about your character than any failure ever could."
Twilight sniffled, trying to hold back tears. "I never should have…I never should have built this stupid thing."
"Twilight, there is no sense in living in the past. We are here now, and we are doing what we can."
"I know, Princess…"
"I can honestly say that you have done your part. All of your friends have, but you especially." She paused again. "I know that you are exhausting yourself. If you wish to stop, I would not hold anything against you. I would put forth my own beacon and remain here for as long as I could."
The room was then filled with an icy sort of silence as Celestia's expression fell and her entire body sagged even more than it already had. "But…" she spoke in a voice barely above a whisper, "there is no sense in doing anything if it is ultimately futile. At some point, even in a situation like this, one must eventually give up."
Twilight let out a cry that she had been holding back. She took a few deep breaths for a moment, quivering as she sat. Silent tears fell to the couch and she whispered "I'm so sorry…"
"It's okay, Twilight…" Celestia spoke slowly, but softly, "I forgive you."
"I'm sorry…" The unicorn was shivering madly.
"Twilight, calm down. It's okay. Don't panic."
"You don't think you can do this anymore?"
Twilight slowly raised her head up to look at Celestia, many tears streaming from her eyes. She moved her mouth uselessly for a few moments, as if trying to figure out what to say. Then, finally, she let out a defeated sigh and slowly nodded her head.
Celestia bowed her own head. "I understand, Twilight. I do not blame you. There is no use getting yourself sick, or worse, over this. Go get some sleep."
Twilight's head hung low as she softly sobbed. "I'm sorry…" she whispered again.
"It's okay, Twilight," Celestia repeated, "I will stay here for as long as I can. With any luck, hopefully they can find their way home." Yet again she paused, slowly turning her head to the portal. "And if not…" She couldn't bring herself to finish the sentence.
Celestia's expression then changed into one of intrigue. She blinked a couple of times. "Twilight?" she spoke, "What is it doing? Is it supposed to do that?"
"What?" Twilight said, turning to look at the portal as well. It hadn't changed very much, but the astute eye of the princess had picked up that the swirling pattern had changed just slightly. It had turned a darker shade, and the vortex seemed to be 'deeper' somehow.
Twilight had seen it a few times before. It had looked like this before a few strange and horrifying creatures had found their way through the portal, hence the reason Celestia was now here to keep up a shield.
Something was coming through.
Twilight relayed this information to the princess, and now the two of them were sitting up at attention. "It could be anything," Twilight continued to speak, "It might even be a rock that rolled through…" No level of skepticism could be seen on either of their faces, however. A sense of cautious anticipation filled the room.
Eventually, in the distance within the swirling vortex, a silhouette appeared. It was difficult to see, but it was quickly approaching the threshold. It was always nearly impossible to tell what was coming through the portal until it had reached them and passed through the barrier. It looked quite large, however, and it seemed to have a distinctive shape. The two waited with their breaths held. 'Is that…' Twilights lips said silently.
Finally, something tumbled through the portal and onto the library floor. "Luna…!" Twilight was immediately on her hooves. "It's Luna! Drop the shield!"
Celestia's horn stopped glowing and the magic shield vanished into thin air, revealing the bloody form of Princess Luna laying on the floor. "Luna!" she cried, scrambling to stand up.
Twilight was quickly upon her, eyes wide and frantic. The princess was in a really bad state, covered from head to tail in blood and injuries. She lay there with her eyes closed and unmoving. The unicorn shivered and seized up at the very sight of her, the beacon spell vanishing.
Celestia nearly tackled into them, leaning down and cradling Luna's head gently with her bare hooves. Her eyes darted back and forth quickly as she took in her sister and the state she was in. She too was shivering, and her breaths came in quick, short gasps, but it wasn't long before she began to exude a familiar air of control.
"Help me carry her," she instructed her student curtly, "Try to be gentle. Put her on the couch."
This seemed to snap Twilight out of her stupor, and she nodded and lit up her horn. Luna was surrounded in a mix of purple and golden glows and gently lifted off the ground. The two carried her the short distance across the room to the couch, leaving a trail of dripping blood in their wake.
"Is she breathing?" Twilight asked, her voice in a state of frenzy. Before she could even hear a response, her gaze drifted back to the portal and she noticed that something else had come through.
Twilight rushed over to the collapsed body of the filly, who was also covered in a bit of blood but didn't seem to have any notable, visible injuries. She leaned down close to Sweetie's body, and a few seconds later she saw the filly's chest rise and fall slowly. The poor thing was knocked out, but still alive and breathing.
She picked up the filly with her magic and gently brought her over to the pillows that Celestia had been sitting on, carefully depositing her atop one of them. Twilight was panting heavily, shivering, and her eyes were wide with panic.
"They both made it through!" she shouted quickly, nearly stumbling over her words, "They're here! They- I- What do…?" Twilight had turned around to look at Celestia, and she gasped.
The elder alicorn was leaning over the laying body of her sister, one hoof on Luna's chest, and her face gritted tightly in exertion. Her horn was growing in an extremely powerful golden glow, the likes of which were gently enveloping Luna's body. Twilight stared for a few moments in agitated confusion until her eyes drifted to Luna's chest.
It wasn't moving.
Twilight held her hooves to her mouth in shock. She could only sit there and watch as seconds drifted past, eventually turning into agonizing minutes. Celestia was breathing heavily, her face screwed up in pain as she performed unbelievably powerful magic. Sweat poured from her brow, and tears from her eyes. Twilight held her breath as she waited for something to happen.
The room was filled with the glorious sound of Luna gasping loudly for air.
Twilight visibly deflated and she sighed in relief. Celestia's horn stopped glowing and she collapsed onto her sister as lightly as she could, facing away from Twilight and panting heavily. Behind her, Twilight could just barely see Luna's chest rise and fall slowly.
"Is she okay…?" Twilight said, only barely able to get above a whisper.
Celestia pulled herself up and eventually made it to a sitting position. She was still panting and out of breath. She wore upon her an exhausted expression of great turmoil. "No…" she panted, "But she is alive…"
Twilight gazed past the princess at the other one laying on the couch, making her shiver once more as her expression turned nauseous. She turned to look at the pony beside her. "Sweetie Belle made it too," she spoke quickly, "I don't think she's hurt, but she's passed out. I think the blood on her might be…Luna's…"
Celestia took a few deep breaths and then spoke authoritatively. "They're both here, and they're both alive. Shut off the portal."
Twilight gasped and wheeled to face Celestia again. "No!" she cried out, "Not now! I can't risk the thing going haywire again, especially with these two so close to it. I have to shut it down carefully."
Celestia closed her eyes for a minute, then turned her attention to Sweetie Belle. "Take her to the hospital," she commanded, "She does not appear injured, but she looks to be suffering from exhaustion and possibly malnutrition. Take her there now, as fast as you can."
As Twilight moved to lift Sweetie onto her back, she returned her attention to the couch which had become noticeably redder. "What about Luna?"
"I must heal her myself," Celestia spoke, her horn beginning to glow again, "Her injuries are incredibly severe. She has lost more blood than a mortal pony would be able to survive. If I don't do something immediately, we'll lose her."
Twilight gasped in horror.
As Celestia's golden glow enveloped the comatose alicorn, she turned to Twilight and put on a brave face. "She will live," she reassured her student, "As long as I remain with her, she will live. Go now. Sweetie Belle needs your help."
With the filly securely on her back, Twilight nodded. "Right. I'll run as fast as I can; it's too risky to teleport there." Without any further words, Twilight turned and dashed towards the library's front door. Moments later, the door slammed shut and the two ponies were gone.
Silent minutes drifted past as Celestia guided her magic into her sister's wounded body. For a few minutes, she remained brave-faced and focused on her task. However, it wasn't long before her expression began to falter.
Eventually, the alicorn found herself half-leaning over the couch, hugging her sister as tightly as she dared. She wept loudly, tears flowing from her eyes as she held her baby sister close. Her horn continued to glow, but her entire body shivered as it was wracked with powerful emotions. Celestia nuzzled herself against Luna's cheeks and chest, hugging her tightly and not caring how much blood stained her pristine white fur.
"I was so scared…" she said in a shuddering whisper, "I thought I had lost you forever…"
Luna didn't reply, though her breathing had become more stable and no further blood was leaking out.
"I love you Luna…" Celestia snuggled herself close to her sister like a frightened little foal, "I love you…
"Thank heavens you're all right…"