Part 8: The Cliffhanger
Luna stomped daintily into her sister's bedroom, looking around wildly for the other princess as she spoke.
"Before anypony else talks to you about this I simply wish for it to be known that Bucephalus provoked me most cruelly and that I do not believe my consequent actions were in any manner unjustified. And really, if the captain of your guard cannot handle a little of the 'Royal Canterlot Voice' without voiding his bowels upon the carpeting then perhaps it is time you considered replacing him with a stallion made of sterner stuff..."
She trailed off. The room was empty and silent aside from the tapping of her horseshoes upon the floor and a slight breeze coming through the open window. Luna looked around carefully, pausing to check the ceiling, because she knew what her sister could be like when she was in one of her moods. Not detecting a hint of Celestia's presence, Luna stepped forward further into the room, examining the environs for any clues as to where her sister might be.
Luna paused, one hoof still in the air, as she trod on an indentation in the floor. Frowning, she looked down to see four large hoofprints. The size and the spacing indicated they had been made by her sister, but Celestia wasn't in the habit of stomping her hooves so hard that it left dents. Looking closer, Luna realized the prints had actually been melted into the flooring.
Paper rustled against her muzzle, and she turned to see a partially scorched piece of parchment lying on the floor. Luna couldn't read all of it, but Spike's plea for assistance was still intact.
The hoof prints were right in front of the window.
"Oh dear... ah, guards? Guards!? Somepony tell Captain Bucephalus to stop being hysterical, we actually require his services for once! Oh my..."
The creature ran in circles, tail lashing behind itself as it moved. Vocalizing in short, harsh barks and sinuous hissing noises, it ran with a frantic, nervous energy. Its head bobbed up and down and its hooves dug great gouges in the turf beneath it, its tail slamming into and breaking the trees around the small clearing it had retreated to.
The queen had rejected it.
The queen could not reject her children. The queen could not disapprove of the propagation of her own race.
It could not be the queen.
It commanded. It commanded the creature and therefore it was the queen because the queen commanded and was to be obeyed.
The queen commanded the creature not to propagate the race.
The queen was to be obeyed.
The queen could not be disobeyed.
The creature could not disobey to the queen's face. Not with those eyes.
Those horrible staring eyes.
The creature paused, steam billowing out of its dorsal horns as it looked around. Its frantic tantrum had knocked over a number of smaller trees, and now the clearing was littered with broken and splintered branches.
The creature slunk over to one branch that had been snapped in several places, the short lengths of wood left dangerously pointed.
The creature rolled one wooden spike under its hoof, contemplatively.
There was nothing but the hive. All that mattered was propagation.
The queen stood in the way of the propagation of the race.
The queen would have to be disobeyed.
The creature could no longer look into her eyes.
The melted remnants of Fluttershy's pitchfork floated into the air and spun lazily under the influence of Twilight Sparkle's magic, the purple unicorn carefully eyeing her opponent as she maneuvered the tool in between them. The horned creature hissed lowly in response, and its horn began to light up with a sickly gray glow. Behind it, a large tree began to tremble, and then produce a number of loud crackling noises as six heavy branches flew down to impact with the ground beside the creature. As Twilight watched, each one denuded itself of foliage until it had been streamlined into a primitive missile.
The creature made a noise that could almost be described as laughter, a guttural choking sound that shook its frame with primordial mirth. Twilight blanched and took a step back, levitating the pitchfork closer to herself out of reflex.
"Okay Twilight," she muttered to herself, "you can do this. You've been brought up to do magic by the very best teacher available. You've drilled on combat magic. You've studied the theory. You've sparred with the Princess of the Sun herself! You can do this! Remember your training!"
"Okay now really Twilight," laughed Celestia, shaking her head in something that almost resembled exasperation, "you knew we were practicing combat magic today. You had to have known that this would in some way involve actual combat."
"But I can't fight you!" a much younger Twilight Sparkle said, completely aghast, "you raise the sun! You'll turn me into a little purple pile of ash!"
"And that's why I won't be attacking you," Celestia replied gently, "we're just trying to get a feel for what you can do today my faithful student, so give me your best shot."
Twilight's eyes grew huge and round, filled with the threat of tears.
"But what if I hurt you?"
Celestia stared at her for a long moment, and then failed to resist a fit of the giggles.
"That's so adorable. Listen Twilight, I've already warded myself with protective spells, do you understand? There's almost no way you can actually harm me. It's just practice, okay? Nopony's going to get hurt. Now I want you to hit me as hard as you can."
Twilight nodded slowly, squaring up her little shoulders and closing her eyes in concentration. The tip of her stubby horn began to glow, a tiny purple orb of light that grew brighter with each passing second until it resembled an incandescent golf ball. With a small grunt, Twilight Sparkle flicked her head forward, and the tiny ball of magic began to drift slowly across the gym towards Celestia.
The princess blinked as the glowing orb puttered towards her. She smiled indulgently at her student and took a few steps closer.
"Okay, that's not a bad try, but why don't you-"
She stopped short as the orb suddenly twirled crazily through the air, looping around her several times before it bounced off the ground and then alighted on top of her muzzle. Celestia's eyes crossed as she looked at the little ball of magic sitting on her nose.
And then she let out a surprised squawk as it exploded.
When the light cleared Celestia was sitting on her rump and blinking. An instant later Twilight Sparkle tackled her, the impact only barely budging the much larger pony. Celestia looked down in confusion as Twilight tightly hugged her foreleg.
"Oh my gosh I'm so sorry! I didn't mean to are you okay? Oh princess I told you I didn't want to hurt you I'm so sorry! Please don't banish me! I promise I'll never do it again oh I was so worried. Are you alright? Please tell me you're alright! I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry...!"
Celestia sighed and patted Twilight gently on the back.
"It's alright dear. I think that's enough for one day."
Twilight's face fell.
"... that doesn't help me at all!"
One of the creature's wooden missiles, shimmering with malevolent power, shot directly at her head. Wide-eyed, Twilight managed to deflect it with a sweep of the pitchfork. She then leaped to one side to avoid a second missile. A third rustled her mane as she just barely managed to duck underneath it.
"I changed my mind! I don't have this! Oh my gosh!"
Twilight took off at a dead run as the creature's missiles continued to rain down around her. The thing made a low hissing noise and tilted its head to one side thoughtfully. The glow around its horn grew brighter as it continued to chase the unicorn in circles with its improvised spears.
"Somepony needs to help her," said Rarity, standing up. "Fluttershy, you stay with Applejack, I'm going to-"
Twilight had turned sharply towards the creature and was running towards it as fast as she could, still hollering in terror. The creature snarled and lashed its tail as it continued trying to gore the unicorn, the glowing stakes thudding into the ground repeatedly as they chased her towards it. Long ropes of drool began to fall from the monster's jaws.
Then Twilight came to a skidding halt, and all of the floating spears took on a bright purple glow. Tilting every so slightly upwards, they sailed over her head and struck the furiously hissing beast. Screaming, it fell over onto its side, impaled in six different places. Twilight hurled the pitchfork at it for good measure.
"... oh," said Rarity, "well never mind then."
"Oh my gosh you guys!" Pinky Pie leaped to her feet, suddenly looking very serious. "Rainbow Dash is in trouble! I have to help her!"
"How could you possibly know that?" asked Fluttershy. Pinkie simply waggled her cottony tail for an answer, and then galloped around behind Fluttershy's woodshed. She emerged a moment later pushing a large wooden contraption on wheels. Fluttershy and Rarity stared at her in bafflement as she wheeled it into a position that seemed to satisfy her, then hopped onto a bucket-like container mounted onto the cart.
"Is that..." started Rarity, before Pinkie Pie cut her off.
"There's no time to explain! Dash needs me! Quick, cut that rope! ...no not that rope! That other rope! The one right next to it that looks exactly the same as the first one! Yeah that's grrreeeeeeEEEAAAAAAAAAATTTT!!!"
"... I don't own a catapult," said Fluttershy as Pinkie Pie sailed into the sky, slowly turning into a small pink dot and then disappearing from sight.
"I know dear," Rarity said very quietly.
"Where did it come from?"
"I think we're better off not knowing."
The two ponies went entirely still as an organic rumbling noise interrupted their thoughts. Suppressing a squeak, Fluttershy turned to see the pile of pony corpses and slime had begun to pulsate gently. It produced a few more squelching noises, and then went quiet, though several of the boils and lumps continued to twitch in an unsettling manner.
"I also think we should do something about that," said Rarity, taking a half step further away from the pile.
Rarity's eyes went wide as she glanced at Fluttershy. The pegasus was staring at the thing intently, her eyes uncharacteristically hard and her mouth set in a grim line. Rarity reached out and laid a gentle hoof on her shoulder.
"Are you sure, dear? Those ponies' families are going to want the bodies, surely?"
"It's an egg sac," said Fluttershy quietly, "if we don't get rid of it now, it could hatch more parasites. ...besides, do you really think anypony is going to give those poor things an open casket burial?"
"Point made," said Rarity with a grimace, "I'll take care of it. You keep an eye on Applejack."
Fluttershy nodded and settled a wing over the earth pony's withers. Rarity narrowed her eyes and stepped purposefully up to the egg sac, giving it the same look she might ordinarily give to a poniquin wearing a particularly troublesome outfit. The sac continued to pulsate as she used her telekinesis to pick up a few pieces of wood debris from the ground.
Rarity watched the egg sac carefully as she brought two pieces of wood together, selecting one long sliver and a shorter cylindrical chunk. Hovering the two pieces between herself and the egg sac, she gave the smaller chunk a mental wind up and then spun it hard, dragging it quickly down the length of the longer piece. With a noise like a miniature buzzsaw both splinters caught fire.
The sac began to make more gurgling noises, and some of the pustules near the top began to split. Quickly, Rarity levitated the two burning pieces of wood up on top of the slimy mess and cantered backwards a few steps. The unicorn's eyes narrowed in concentration and the glow around her horn intensified.
"Twilight taught me this spell to help start fires on cold nights," she said to Fluttershy almost conversationally, "I've never tried it on anything this big before, but..."
Air, the purple pony had explained, was the same as any other form of matter in that it was composed of molecules. The only difference was that those molecules were somewhat fewer and far more spread out. The attention to detail that allowed Rarity to pick out gemstones from rude earth could also be used to detect the difference between the gases that made up most of the atmosphere, and the oxygen that ponies needed to breathe.
With a deep breath, Rarity shut her eyes, and pushed. An instant later there was a roughly spherical area of air around the egg sac containing nothing but oxygen. She heard a loud whoompf and felt the heat on her skin as she turned around to face Fluttershy, smiling brightly and only opening her eyes after she was squarely facing the pegasus, because cool ponies don't look at explosions.
"Think that will work?" she asked. Fluttershy nodded silently.
Then they heard the scream.
Twilight scrambled backwards, blood pouring out of the shallow wound in her shoulder as the horned alien yanked its bladed tail out of the ground. The horrible creature hissed and spat as it pulled itself jerkily to its hooves, the stab wounds along its flank spurting blood and acid-eaten splinters. The creature whirled and lashed out at Twilight again with its tail, the pointed tip aimed squarely at her face.
Twilight narrowed her eyes and deflected the attack with a sweep of her horn and a burst of violet light, shouting as she backed away further from the hissing monster.
"You're tougher than I thought!" she growled.
The creature snarled in response, and magical energy burned around it as the horn on its head pulsed with off-white light. Guttural vocalizations melted into a horrible ululating scream as the monster crouched low and shoved forward with its magic. A battering ram of force churned up the earth and set grass aflame as it roared towards Twilight Sparkle.
The unicorn's narrowed eyes turned into slits of fiery white magic as her horn flashed with a vibrant violet glow. Letting out a yell of her own, Twilight pointed her magic at the creature and set it loose. A wave of raw energy blasted forwards out of her and impacted with the monster's own spell.
Rarity and Fluttershy stared as magic struck magic and reacted like a supernova, a contained explosion of intermingling magical force that punched a crater in the ground and nearly threw both combatants off their hooves. The creature's screams rose in pitch as it squared its shoulders and pushed harder, tail lashing its acid smeared flanks. Twilight was silent but no less focused, struggling to remain upright on three legs as she favored her wounded limb, but continuing to pour her energy into the conflagration.
"...I'm going to help her," said Rarity, leaping forward and galloping towards the other unicorn. Fluttershy squeaked softly and shrank down against Applejack's side. She let out another squeak as she felt the earth pony suddenly move for the first time in several minutes.
"It's okay Applejack," said Fluttershy, gently stroking the orange pony's mane, "I'm right here."
"Yer pet monster thinger..." Applejack asked the question slowly, like a pony talking in their sleep. "Does he have eyes?"
"Scuttles?" asked the pegasus distractedly, "well you know, I had a hard time telling, with that cowl. I think I saw eye sockets underneath it, though, and he certainly reacted to my Stare, so he probably does."
"Well, even if he did, he doesn't have 'em now."
Fluttershy slowly craned her head around to look in the same direction as Applejack.
Scuttles was approaching them slowly, lips peeled back from its translucent fangs as a mixture of blood and drool dripped over them and onto the ground. The creature's face was a mess, its cowl broken and torn away, whatever eye sockets it may or may not have had stuffed with broken and melted shards of wood. Fluttershy raised a hoof to her mouth in shock, fresh tears threatening to fall.
"Oh no... oh Scuttles..."
The creature startled at the sound of her voice, and then it growled, a low rumble that rose into a full-throated roar just before it sprang, jaws opened wide. Paralyzed with horror, Fluttershy could only sit and stare until a pair of orange hooves shot out of her peripheral vision and impacted with Scuttle's head, sending it careening away from her at the last second. The pegasus looked up with a startled cry as Applejack stepped around her, pushing her hat forward in a businesslike manner.
"Ah'm sorry Fluttershy," said the farmer, "but he's gotta get put down."
Fluttershy nodded, not even trying to stop the tears.
"Please be careful."
Applejack snorted and pawed the ground.
"Ah'll be just fine."
Then she charged.
The wind whistled in Rainbow Dash's ears as she banked hard left and ducked to avoid yet another stroke of the flying monstrosity's tail. She growled softly and angled her wings into a sharp climb, using the creature's strident hissing to keep track of its location. Normally at the top of a climb like this she might freefall a bit to lose altitude, but this time she continued pumping her wings as she arced and then pointed herself down. The creature was right where she had guessed it would be.
The pegasus smiled and shot straight down. She didn't have enough height over the monster to build up as much speed as she would have liked, a sonic rainboom would have messed it up for sure, but it was enough. Despite its speed the monster just plain couldn't outmaneuver her at her fastest, and she struck it like a missile with both forehooves and a noise like thunder.
The flying creature shrieked and fell, wings flailing. Rainbow Dash shouted and corkscrewed away, cradling her hooves against her chest.
"Son of a-! What are you made out of, concrete!? GNYA!"
She juked to the side just in time to avoid the creature's return stroke, yanking her tail frantically out of its reach. The thing snarled and spat as it gave chase. Rainbow could see that its wingbeats were uneven and it was visibly working harder now. She'd hurt it.
"But I'm not hurting it enough," she muttered, slipping into another long circle, buying time while she wracked her brain for a solution.
"See, this is why I dropped out of flight school. They never taught us anything useful! A class on combat flying? That would have come in real handy right about now! But no! They just taught us about cirrus clouds. This bites!"
The pegasus blinked and cocked her ears back as a new sound got her attention.
"That sounds like..."
Rainbow Dash and the creature both paused in their chase to take in the incongruous sight of a wildly flailing pink pony shooting past them and further into the air, grinning hugely and talking a mile a minute.
"Oh my gosh Rainbow Dash there you are I found you and you found another one of those things I think there's like three of them now Twilight's dealing with one of them and I think Fluttershy took care of the other one? But you're getting this one and it looks like maybe you need some help until somepony else gets here oh gosh maybe I can help! Do you want me to help Rainbow Dash? I promise I'll do my very bestest best to help you except I'm kind of falling now I don't suppose you could help meeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEE!!!"
Rainbow Dash let out a grunt as Pinkie landed heavily on her back, and then gasped in pain as the pink pony's hoof flailed against her side.
"Gah! Watch the flank!"
"Oh my gosh!" Pinkie Pie wailed as she settled her legs around the blue pony's body, "Rainbow Dash you're hurt! We need to get you a band-aid!"
"Later!" Rainbow barked as she took off, just barely avoiding a swipe of the creature's tail. "Pinkie how did you even get up here!? No wait I don't want to know! How are you going to help me? You can't fly!"
"Silly Dashie!" cackled Pinkie Pie, "I don't have to fly, you can take care of that! I'm gonna take care of the big grumpy monstery mcmonsterpants!"
In answer, Pinkie Pie reached into her voluminous mane, rummaged around a little, and then pulled out a kazoo, which she hurled expertly at the monster. It flinched briefly as the plastic instrument clattered off of its cowl, and then began pumping its wings harder. Weighted down as she was by the pink party pony, Rainbow Dash was losing the lead she had on the monster, and the gap between them started closing with alarming speed.
"Pinkie, I hate to break it to you, but you are doing the opposite of helping!"
"Hold on, hold on! I got more where that came from!"
Pinkie reached back into her mane and started throwing additional odds and ends at the creature. It simply hunkered down and ignored the shower of noisemakers, uninflated balloons, crackers, and plastic party silverware. It did pause very briefly when a cupcake splattered across its face, giving Rainbow Dash several precious seconds to pull ahead.
"Pinks... I'm not sure you understand what's going on here...!" Rainbow Dash was starting to become short of breath. "That thing's trying to kill us!"
"I know, I know! But I left my party cannon back at the bakery! And... oh!"
Rainbow's eye twitched as she felt Pinkie's tail suddenly brushing frantically over her haunches, followed shortly by her hooves digging into her sides, an incredibly distracting tremble shaking the pink pony's entire body.
"OH MY GOSH that was such a twitch! Quick Rainbow Dash left go left!"
Not really trusting Pinkie to do anything useful at this point, but largely out of other options, Rainbow followed the suggestion, angling her wings to carry her in the direction her friend was pointing. The creature let out a snarl and gave chase. Rainbow happened to glance downwards, and saw that she was flying over Ponyville proper now, the various denizens of the small town looking up in surprise as she sailed over their heads.
"Pinkie!" she yelled, "we're getting off course! We need to head back to Fluttershy's!"
"I told you Twilight's taking care of it!" yelled Pinkie, "Like, she said so herself! She was all 'Everypony chill, I've got this'! It was really kinda badass!"
"Twilight Sparkle a badass? Now I know you're just messing with me!"
"I'm serious! Anyhow, we need to go this way! We can't be over Ponyville when it happens!"
Rainbow frowned. They had passed over most of the town now, and were coming up on Sweet Apple Acres. Rainbow adjusted her vector and headed for a large pond she knew was situated near the property.
"When what happens!?"
"Just keep flying! And get ready to close your eyes!"
"What!? Pinks, I gotta see to fly!"
"Just for a sec- OH MY GOSH NOW!"
Rainbow clenched her eyes shut. Burning hot light shone red through her eyelids, nearly blinding her anyway. The pegasus let out a cry of surprise, briefly floundering in the air as she she regained her bearings. Pinkie's legs were locked tightly around her body, and the earth pony squealed too loudly in her ear.
"What!? What just happened?"
Rainbow gasped as she opened her eyes, pausing in her headlong flight. A shimmering curtain of rapidly fading motes of light floated in the air beside her, not a wingslength from the tips of her own pinions. Turning to follow the ribbon of near-light, she felt her jaw fall open as she saw the creature fall apart in mid-air, slashed cleanly in half almost perfectly down the middle. Golden power burned around it even as it fell and the monster's pieces caught fire, becoming completely enveloped in blistering yellow flames just as it hit the surface of the pond below, throwing up a great splash of water and a billowing cloud of steam before it sank out of sight.
"Celestia's stifles," gasped Rainbow, "Pinks how did you manage that?"
"Oh, I didn't, she did."
Rainbow looked to where Pinkie's hoof was pointing and felt her jaw fall open for the third time in as many minutes as Princess Celestia herself hovered into view, the worried look on her face quickly giving way to confusion as she stared at Rainbow Dash.
"What's that about my stifles now?"
"Uuhhh... hey we don't have time to talk about that! The rest of those things are at Fluttershy's place right now!"
Celestia's eyes widened.
"There are more of them!? Lead the way, quickly!"
"Sure thing! They're right-"
Rainbow Dash felt the words die in her throat as she heard the explosion. Following Celestia's horrified gaze, she could see the enormous burst of purple light shooting into the air from somewhere in the hills on the other side of Ponyville. Somewhere near where she knew Fluttershy's cottage was.
Without a word, Celestia and Dash took off as fast as their wings could carry them, Pinkie holding on desperately to Rainbow and for once entirely silent.
Scuttles screamed and snarled, its tail a constant blur of motion. Applejack swore under her breath as she shied away and outs of its reach one more time, eyes narrowed as she looked for a hole in the thing's defenses. Stabbing out its own eyes apparently hadn't been more than an inconvenience for the creature, as it continued to strike at her with near perfect accuracy. The earth pony's own lightning reflexes were the only reason she hadn't yet been gored by the monster's tail.
"Reckon I oughta do somethin' about that."
Stamping her hooves hard on the ground, Applejack quickly leapt backwards as Scuttles brought its tail tip down on where she'd been standing an instant ago, burying the blade in the ground. Jumping forward into the creature's space, Applejack quickly wrapped her own tail around Scuttles'. Holding the knobby appendage against her flank, she reared up on her forelegs and slammed her back hooves into the thing's side.
Scuttles shrieked in rage as it was hurled through the air, landing on the burning remains of its egg sac. Its screams increased in intensity as it struggled to escape the inferno. Fire clung to its flanks as it rolled upright and danced away, beating at the burning patches on its hide with its hooves.
Then Applejack was on it again, slamming her hooves into its side and sending it tumbling. The earth pony grunted and shook her hind legs, one after the other, to rid herself of the tingling numbness in her fetlocks. That thing was hard. Not as sturdy and immovable as an apple tree, but Scuttles was dense and covered in ribs and other protrusions that hurt to buck into.
Snarling, Scuttles rose again to its hooves, limping only slightly as it lashed out at Applejack again with its tail. Applejack dodged to the side, then coiled her own tail around the appendage once more, tensing to deliver another almighty kick to the creature's face. Then Scuttles dug in its hooves and yanked back on its tail, hard.
Applejack yelled in surprise as she was pulled off of her hooves and hurled through the air, landing painfully on her side. Crying out briefly, she had no time to get back onto her hooves before Scuttles pounced, slavering jaws opened wide. Applejack kicked it in the chin as hard as she could, but the awkward angle prevented her from putting all of her strength into it, and Scuttles was only distracted. Applejack didn't intend to give it any time to recover and brought her foreleg up in a left hook across the creature's jaw. Drool and acid splattered across her as she struck, and Applejack cried out as she felt her forearm start to sting. Scuttles roared and brought its inner jaws down on her face.
Translucent teeth snapped a hairsbreadth from Applejack's nose and Scuttles turned its head to the pink and yellow pony that had just rammed into its side. Fluttershy hopped back, fixed the creature in her gaze, and Stared.
"Scuttles you stop this right n-Agh!"
Ignoring Fluttershy's power completely Scuttles jerked forward and headbutted her in the face, knocking the pegasus onto her rump. Then Applejack got both of her hooves underneath it and shoved. Scuttles snarled and hissed as it flew, actually digging a shallow trench in the ground with its body as it skidded to a stop.
Applejack was breathing heavily as she stumbled onto her hooves, holding her injured foreleg against her chest. Fluttershy gasped and immediately pulled herself back upright, rushing over to Applejack to inspect her leg.
"Oh gosh, are you hurt? Did he bite you?"
"Naw, I think some of his blood got on me," Applejack groaned, "Twilight's right, the stuff burns! Ah, Fluttershy! Stop that!"
"It's okay," said the pegasus, wincing as she rubbed her flank against Applejack's leg, "the saliva should dilute it so it won't penetrate too deeply, and if I can rub it off it won't hurt you as much. Ow."
"Get outta the way!"
Fluttershy squeaked as Applejack pushed her roughly to one side, spinning to deliver a kick to Scuttles' face. The creature screamed in frustration, knocked off kilter by the blow. Applejack followed it up quickly with another kick, and then another, delivering a flurry of quick blows to the monster's face and jaw. Caught off balance by the repeated kicks, Scuttles raised its tail to bring it down on Applejack, only to find the limb tackled and pinned by Fluttershy.
Snarling, Applejack coiled her legs and then thrust backwards as hard as she could. Her hooves struck Scuttles square in the chest, knocking Fluttershy off of it and and sending it flying head over hooves, across the expanse of Fluttershy's backyard and into a conveniently placed tree. The tree cracked at the point of impact and leaned forwards, showering Scuttles with leaves as it slid bonelessly to the ground.
Applejack groaned as she sank onto her haunches. She glared at the monster as it lay at the foot of the tree, silently daring it to get back up. It didn't.
"That's for Dollars and Blues," Applejack snarled, tears pooling in her eyes.
With a gasp, Applejack and Fluttershy turned to the magical duel taking place between Twilight and the horned creature, the coalescing ball of raw magic between them growing larger and brighter with every passing moment. Twilight was on her knees now, sweat lathering her flanks as she fought to push harder on the spell. The creature was fighting just as hard, its tail imbedded deeply in the ground as an anchor to keep itself from being pushed further back. Rarity was standing next to Twilight, looking anxiously between the unicorn and the spell, biting her lip in worry.
"Twilight, I think that's getting too big for you to control! You have to release it!"
"Can't!" Twilight ground out, teeth clenched in concentration, "if I let go now it'll backlash! I have to keep pushing!"
Rarity looked at the creature, still struggling with its own power, and a frown formed on her face. Creeping closer to the sphere of energy, she gazed into its depths for several seconds before abruptly turning and running behind Twilight, her own horn starting to glimmer with magic. A long, thin spear of energy appeared above her head, angled delicately towards the writhing ball.
"Okay darling, now listen carefully, if that thing's unstable, a good poke should make it go right up."
Twilight's glowing eyes widened.
"Of course! If you can disrupt the reaction it'll break the spells' cohesion and make them erupt! But if we're both focusing on the spell hard enough it might implode instead, damaging this place's intrinsic magical field! Can you distract it!?"
"Oh, I think I might be able to do that," said Rarity, "just get ready to push hard."
A pebble, glimmering with Rarity's telekinesis, sailed through the air and bounced off the horned monster's cowl. It didn't so much as flinch, continuing to pour energy into the magical duel. Rarity made a small "Hmph!" noise and chucked another small rock. This one bounced off the creature's head, and then went right down one of its dorsal tubes.
The creature let out a strangled cry and reared up. The long sliver of magic floating over Rarity's head shot forward and was sucked into the ball of white and lavender magic. Twilight screamed and a bubble of pinkish energy appeared around the two unicorns. Applejack pushed Fluttershy to the ground and covered the shy pony's body with her own.
Their world exploded.
-End of Part 8