She could see them. All of them. Everywhere, all over the place, criss-crossing almost randomly across the landscape. She could see the energy, the immense concentration of power and magic that ran through them, and the amount that was hiding away, unseen. So much wasted potential lying beneath the surface. She could feel Tanat beside her, guiding her with his sweeping hands as she carefully, surgically pressed the tiniest scalpel of her magic into each mote that needed to be tapped, unleashing magic back into the leylines.
He guided her as they worked to open the leylines, even as they made Laputa rise.
Rainbow Dash shifted uneasily, all six of her as she felt such intense magic around them. It felt like the tyrant, the same powerful force directing her, yet at the same time she felt the love and care in it. She felt Twilight in there. She was directing for sure, but she was doing it not out of a need to oppress her. It was comforting, yet at the same time terrifying knowing she could do nothing to help.
That wasn’t entirely true, she could protect her. She was the Guardian of Souls right? Twilight was the Soul. It was in their names, she had to protect Twilight, not that she never felt that before. But looking on her now, pulsing with enough power to make her wings try to stand at their full height, she felt that need even more. There was something odd about Twilight now, something that told her to guard her, to guide her, and to be close to her.
What was happening to them?
Hero wasn’t unfamiliar with the southern ocean. He had done fly-overs for the Forest of Tranquility before, and usually spent a little time admiring the shore if he had the time. More than one pony on the lam had attempted to use the forest’s notoriety of never letting go of the people who enter it to try and elude their pursuers, but only once had Hero actually witnessed one come out unaided, exhausted, thirsty, and starving. Maybe some did escape, but where to? Seclusion in the forest? The furthest settlement to the south was Ponyville, with the Everfree Forest acting as a barrier between the town and the peaceful sea of green below.
He found it ironic that the one piece of land nopony had any amount of control over was considered less dangerous than the Forest, since it was common knowledge you simply lost yourself when you went into the forest. You could fly out for sure, but that meant getting seen by the law. The few attempts to actually map out the place by Pegasi failed spectacularly, as no matter how they marked it, whenever they returned the forest seemed to shift itself to keep the pony lost. Hero was under the impression the place was just as untamable as the Everfree Forest, even if they did have to send weather ponies to change the seasons around it.
“We’re approaching the end of our destination. Keep flight noise low and eyes open; remember, we’re looking for dragons, so hold your counter-formations and watch for the signs. Do not get separated from your partners and keep within spitting distance of the other.” Hero ordered, just loud enough for them to hear. Everypony behind him reduced how much they flapped their wings, and carefully scanned around themselves to watch their assigned groups.
The quietness always got to Hero. The whole ‘calm before the storm’ bit always tightened his gut, not just because it uneasy to have it so quiet when they were prepping for combat, but because it meant as soon as the fertilizer found its way into the air conditioning, they might be entering a war. He had never been in a war. Battles? Sure, but against thugs using Equestrian armor and weaponry, more commonly known as clothing and chairs. He had picked up and swung a sword before, but never had somepony else doing the same to him. Much less on top of a fire-spitting, carnivorous dragon.
The tension was thick as they finally flew out to the ocean, staring over the startling blue. He had no idea if they would find anything. He wanted to find something for the sake of Equestria, but he was seriously concerned with his soldiers and himself. They had sent away singular dragons before, but the letter sent by Twilight’s friends made it sound like there was more than one. Dragons were not pack animals, so this was going to be a very unpredictable situation, especially if the dragons were Equestria’s intelligent variety.
The ponies behind him understood the danger, but it still concerned him. Would their ranks be cut down today, or would they come out of this unscathed? He could only hope it was the second, as he knew most of the men and women around him. He knew their families. Heck, he knew most of their kids’ names, even the ones that weren’t even born yet. He grit his teeth as the thought came to him, but he pushed it out of his head. He would have no deaths today. He would do his best to make sure of that.
He became aware of the sound of beating wings. Large beating wings. Too large to be pony wings. He turned his head, saw his soldiers, and behind them, saw exactly what they were looking for. His eyes widened, and his soldiers began to beat their wings faster as over twenty dragons being ridden seemed to simply appear behind them. “Follow.” He ordered tersely.
He was unfamiliar with open air war, but seeing so many dragons, instinct kicked in. Unlike Ponies, dragons were most dangerous from the front. Their eyes were aligned to stare down their target, their fire came from their mouths, their teeth were in their mouths, and their claws were made to scratch forward. They burned their target, tackled it, and devoured it, and if it was too big, cut it down to size. That meant they had to get around and surprise them. Somehow.
“Dragon formations everypony. And-” He folded his wings up, and suddenly fell. His entire team of fifty-six trained Pegasi did the same and fell with him as the dragons began to close in, close enough to smoke out the ponies bringing up the rear. The dragons and their riders watched and began to dive downwards after their prey.
Shallom flew near the middle of the pack of dragons, and had a long history of air warfare. Watching the ponies dive after their leader as one, he could tell despite their peace, they were incredibly well-trained. Props where they were due, but it was not enough. He watched his team of dragons begin to dive down after them, and suddenly, before their leader hit the ocean he split off, as did teams of four from the mass of Equestrian soldiers.
That was unexpected. He was used to fighting battalions, not teams, and none of the fourteen teams of four went the same way. When the unexpected happened, one had to hold back to evaluate the situation. He lifted upwards and out of the formation of dragons, and watched as each rider split to chase a target.
The Equestrians were swift, and daringly acrobatic, avoiding blasts of fire and each other constantly, never once breaking formation. It was an impressive feat, and he watched as one dragon got particularly close to its targets as they rose upwards. The three ponies behind the lead of the team suddenly broke formation, lifting up and over the pursuing dragon with ease, and went into a dive as a moment later, so did the leader, who was within breathing distance of the dragon behind him. The dumb beast opened its mouth, attempting to swallow the pony rather than burn it.
The three that had broken away caught up quickly, and Shallom watched with surprised eyes as two flew directly beneath the beasts wings and lifted upwards, forcing the dragon’s wings to stop flapping as the dive continued. The third grabbed onto the dragon’s tail and held it still, causing the beast to screech as the pony it chased flew off.
The dragon tried to turn left or right, to lash out with its claws and tails, to blast its attackers with fire, but there was no luck as the pony on top tried to get his spear beneath the wings to jab the Equestrians, but the dragon was squirming too much. The five creatures hit break-neck speeds, and unable to rise or turn, the Equestrian soldiers suddenly dove away and caught themselves in the air as the dragon hit the sea with enough force to toss its rider a good few meters away.
These Equestrians weren’t fighters, but damned if they weren’t smart.
Shallom flew in, watching as the team that just finished a dragon peeled a second off another team, and the two flew into the air to repeat the ocean tactic. He kept his eyes on the first team, as the three from the back broke off, and began to force the dragon into a straight flight as the forth got away from its mouth.
Hero was breathing hard. This was dangerous, this was insane, and even as he dived beneath a charging dragon and kicked it squarely in its unprotected throat, he knew this may have been the most exciting thing he’d ever done. Dragons were filling the air, his teams of Equestrian soldiers never once losing their cool as they swarmed and dived around the dragons, avoiding spears, teeth, flames, and wings as they tried to determine the perfect moment to strike.
The dragon he kicked flew away awkwardly, roaring in pain as its rider tried to regain control, and pulled it around to face Hero. Hero was watching the battle, watching his teams, trying to watch for danger, and the dragon dove forward, its rider screaming a war cry as he readied a spear. Barely shifting, Hero suddenly twisted, spiraling in the air as he flew over the dragon’s blast of flame, hoof extended, knocking the Rider out of his seat and to the deep blue below. The dragon watched its rider fall in confusion, and dove in after him.
Hero did not watch the dragon catch its rider with its arms. Instead, he watched as a Pegasus he did not recognize flew towards one of his teams. He felt his heart beat, and he was charging in an instant as the sound of rolling thunder filled the air.
The battle slowed down as the noise echoed through across the ocean and clouds, and heads turned to watch as a Pegasus turned into a bolt of lightning and streaked towards one of the team leaders, and crashed into the Equestrian with the force of sledgehammer. The sky lit up as the lightning leaped everywhere, driving away pony and dragon alike, and the soldier began to fall, turning into a ball of hot flame as he fell for the ocean.
Shallom watched for just a moment, but just a moment long enough to see an incredibly speedy Equestrian catch the ball of flame in mid-air to slow the fall, and dump it into the ocean to put it out. Then that speedy thing turned upwards, and Shallom snarled as he raced for the leader of the Equestrian soldiers, lightning sparking around him.
The leader noticed him, but kept his course as Shallom shot in with unmatched speed. Even if this Equestrian was fast, Shallom was the fastest in the world. With the power of Atmos in his blood, his natural talent and his superior training were amplified. Nothing could match the lightning king.
The Equestrian suddenly twisted in midair, turning into a ninety-degree angle while barely breaking a sweat. Shallow shot straight upwards, turning aggravatingly slow due to his impressive speed. He dived for pegasus, this time watching his subtle movements as Hero once again went straight downwards at ninety degrees. From his high point, it was easier for Shallom to launch downwards, watching the point of interception, and he began to spark. His speed picked up, and he carefully started to turn upwards as he knew the leader would keep his distance from a stronger opponent.
Imagine his surprise when Hero suddenly twisted and dove underneath Shallom, pushing his back hoof into the Lightning Cloud’s chest. Shallom grunted, feeling his breath get kicked out, but he kept his wits and smoothed his flight as he sucked in a deep breath and tried to turn. That leader had disappeared.
“Damnit.” Shallom grunted. He wanted to find that soldier. He didn’t know if he wanted to kick his ass or shake his hoof for that.
That had hurt. Hero stabilized his flying just above the water, letting the spasms from such close contact to the electricity work themselves out of his body, and his body went numb as the burn went away. He was lucky his wings hadn’t taken the brunt of it. He’d be luckier if he could use his left back hoof again for this fight though, he couldn’t even feel it anymore.
“Quite a feat. I don’t think I know of anypony striking Shallom before.” Hero jerked his head to the side. Damnit, he was too distracted. He hadn’t even noticed the great black-armored dragon pull up beside him just below, its rider being the single biggest pony he’d ever seen. Hero began to turn, and the dragon followed.
“Yes, well, lucky me.” Hero grumbled. The pony on the dragon laughed.
“Give yourself some credit. It takes true wit to trick Shallom in the air.”
“Shouldn’t you be out there helping?” Hero asked with a raised eyebrow as he turned towards the fight, the enormous earth pony still keeping up, not raising a hoof to attack.
“I am more suited to the land myself. Besides my dragon, I’m all but useless up here. I prefer to observe when I cannot fight.” He rolled his great shoulders, and delicately pulled the reins so the dragon would go up with Hero.
“Do you want to share such information with the enemy? I could take you down right here.” Hero pointed out as he upped his speed.
“And I could have had you eaten twenty seconds ago. One for one.” The dragon began to slow, and angle downwards as Rukafelth started back to observing. “Best of luck.”
“You too, I suppose.” And the two separated.
The dragon riders were getting more aggressive. They would deflect their attackers from their dragons with their spears as they tried to dive back and get beneath the wings, and started to risk moving around their mounts more to get a better angle to stab their opponents. They relied less on their mounts to do all the work and were relying on their own hoof work to protect said mounts.
They were rapidly changing their tactics, both Equestria and Golding, spinning around each other, using the fire as smoke-screens so the dragon could dive for a better angle and avoid being caught, twists and turns becoming more rapid and commonplace.
Applejack watched all of this with eyes that just grew wider and wider as both sides became smarter. So far, seventeen Equestrians had been knocked out of flight and were scrambling towards shore, their wounds keeping them from going back to the air. Four dragons and their riders had been taken down in turn, and both sides were now not using power to get themselves through the battle, but a lot of deceit and quick wits.
She had never seen a battle like this. She had seen mock fights and kicked a few ponies herself, but she had never witnessed something so aggressive, so strong, and so deadly. The violence was as shocking as the intelligence of the fighters, both sides showing greater and greater strength as their tactics varied.
Pinkie Pie shook beside her, not able to comprehend the animosity from both sides as they fought. They had seen Equestrians skewered, the enemy get bucked around, the dragons burn some and take a number of hits themselves. Despite this, the teams of four never broke, even when they started to lose their numbers they kept together.
The pink pony watched the one enemy soldier still struggling to rein his dragon in, and an idea came to mind. “Applejack, we need to stop that guy.” She whispered, pointing to the one pressing his spear to the struggling dragon’s wing joint as he tried to grab ahold of the reins, but the dragon bucked them away, even as the spear drew some blood.
“Yeah.” Applejack agreed. They had to do something, anything to reduce what was happening here. The two started for the dragon carefully.
Each kick was measured and aimed for the vitals. Years of training, practice, and some personal experience made Hero a force to be reckoned with, even alone. Some of the less obedient dragons began to actively avoid facing him alone, while Hero used said dragons to keep himself out of the sight of the lightning pony.
He knew he was being hunted for because - Shallom? - wasn’t trying any more tricks against his soldiers, he was diving around the battlefield, kicking away anything that got in the way in his search. Hero knew he was in danger, but a part of him found it thrilling. To be hunted by such power, to have struck enough of a blow to be considered worthy hunting material, and to still not be caught.
He was extremely careful as he spied the pony, and dove just above a dragon, socking its rider in the mouth as a spear narrowly missed his stomach, just as Shallom dove beneath the dragon. He had never been ‘prey’ before, and through his fears, his worries, and his adrenaline, he found himself above and beyond excited.
He had to be careful though, one wrong misstep meant death. Maybe not for him, but he needed to protect his team. If Shallom got bored, that meant trouble for everypony he was trying to defend.
He shot away from Shallom, flying underneath a dragon that recognized him and pulled up. He dove between one of his teams and a pursuing dragon, causing it to hesitate just long enough to let the team get beneath it and score a few strong kicks to its stomach. He circled in the air once, and spied Shallom. The foreign pegasus was barreling down on him from above, lighting filling the air around him.
He circled once more, and then fell into an impressively fast deathfall towards the ocean, his eyes firmly on the blue beneath as he heard rolling thunder. He knew Shallom wouldn’t be any easier this time around, Shallom knew he simply wouldn’t just run, dive, and keep him distracted.
He suddenly twisted, just barely in time as a bolt of lightning shot by him, the air around him turning static. Yes, just like the reports on Sparkle’s battle. This was impressive, but now that he was the target he knew the danger. If his gut wasn’t guiding him he would have been out of it.
He twisted up from his dive, right as a noise not unlike the castle collapsing on itself filled his ears, and the entire ocean shivered beneath him. The sound of rolling thunder stopped, and he pulled up. He looked back to Shallom, but Shallom had stopped chasing him. In fact, all around him the entire battle had come to a halt. He rose, and watched as the ocean some distance away began to swirl.
“It can’t be.” He heard Shallom whisper. Nopony moved a muscle as an enormous whirlpool, easily one-thousand feet across began to form, sucking water in deeper into the depths as it rapidly grew faster and faster.
It was like nothing Hero had ever seen, as the middle of the whirlpool began to actually open, revealing a hole that began to widen as the speed of the whirlpool picked up. “Surround it! SURROUND IT!” Shallom roared, charging for the whirlpool as his dragon army went after him, trying to keep up as they surrounded the swirling water.
This was unexpected, and Hero had a feeling that this was also very bad. “Follow them and take them down, whatever they’re after, we need to get to first!” He shouted, and his soldiers charged in. A mistake.
The dragons turned slowly, their limited mobility making them slow, but they had formed a wall in front of the charging Equestrians. It took Hero half a second to understand, and was shooting down. His soldiers weren’t so lucky. A wall of flame shot from the huge dragons, creating a cloud of fire that threatened to swallow everything in its way. The soldiers tried to dive, but the cloud of heat drew closer and closer, and finally consumed them.
Hero stared up in despair as his entire team was consumed, and he watched, expectantly waiting to catch the first to fall, to try and help. No bodies came. The cloud of fire passed, and showed a shimmering black sphere hovered where his men and women had been. He could only watch in awe as Princess Luna emerged, eyes blazing white as the decision to fight was finally made.
“For your crimes against Equestria!” Luna shouted, her voice no longer meek and quiet, but clearly unused to shouting, “I deem you the enemies of the night! I will stifle your flames and dull your spears and I will protect this land and its people! If you dare to face the power of an Alicorn, then I invite you to come forward and try to harm my Guards!”
There was no hesitation. She was instantly surrounded by some thirty Pegasi, just as ready to fight. The dragon riders were still for just a moment, but when Shallom emerged from behind, white fire surrounding his body, they roared in unison. The two sides dove towards each other, Luna and Hero charging towards Shallom, now blazing with an all consuming fire.
Hero collided with his foe, and felt nothing but hooves as they connected.
“Enough of this!” The soldier shouted, grabbing his spear and turning around to face the disobedient beast he was intended to ride. “I have had enough of your attitude you stupid lizard, you will not be missed!” He shouted, charging towards the dragon as it reared back, wings raised, a blast of fire coming from its mouth. The soldier rolled around it easily, and the dragon leapt in surprise as the pony got underneath it, and lunged.
The spear never connected. A solid kick tossed it against the dragon’s tough inner thigh, and the dragon stared in confusion as an orange pony pulled her legs back and kicked the rider in the face again, sending him sprawling onto the ground. “Ya’ll just gon’ mistreat your pets like that ya’ll deserve a kick to tha head!” She shouted to the soldier, who brought himself up.
“You stupid little filly! Thank Galio, I’ve been wanting to let some steam off!” He snarled, lunging forward, armored hooves raised to bring down onto the orange filly, until something massive smacked him across the beach. The dragon lowered its arm and roared as it lifted itself off its massive haunches and stalked forward, mouth extended as a fireball filled the back of its throat.
The little orange pony was there first, her front hooves stomping on the soldier’s head, knocking him unconscious. The dragon swallowed the fireball, and leaned down, sniffing the little pony.
Applejack leapt back, and stared at the massive creature as it sniffed her. “Uh… Hi. I’m Applejack.” She said nervously, now completely aware she was standing by a big, tooth-filled dragon. “Um, sorry ‘bout him, not all us ponies are so bad. Y’know?” She shifted nervously, and watched the dragon closely.
The dragon turned its head as Pinkie Pie came along, with a small patch made of leaves and sap. The little pink pony gave the dragon and sympathetic smile as she looked to its hurt wing. The dragon raised a scaled eyebrow and turned, extending its wing carefully so Pinkie could apply the patch to the wound.
“Well, there ya are big guy. So, uh, we cool?” Applejack asked, chuckling nervously as the dragon checked its first-aid. It then turned around, and slowly lowered itself onto its haunches, staying completely still as its wings spread. Applejack and Pinkie Pie stared up at the saddle in shock, and looked to each other.
“I think that means we’re cool…” Pinkie whispered, slowly climbing the dragon’s back to sit in its saddle. Applejack followed her after a moment, and settled in.
“Well, I think this tops the ‘cool things I’ve done today’ list…” Applejack mumbled as she settled onto the saddle. The dragon lifted its wings, and began to flap slowly before lifting into the air.
Luna shrieked as she brought a shield of pure magic up right in time to block a bolt of lightning, her breathing labored as she flew downwards, trying to avoid the furious Pegasus as he barreled down onto her, and she tried to slip to the side but Shallow intercepted quickly, forcing her to make another shield to repel him. He bounced off only a little, then blasted the shield with fire hot enough to make her sweat behind it.
This magic was unnatural. This magic was too powerful and too violent to be natural, it most certainly did not feel Equestrian or like it even came from a ley line. This came from pure rage and the need to kill, which in itself was a terrifying concept. Sure her magic was strong but she was no fighter, and though she could handle the dragons, this Pegasus was proving to be too strong for her.
Her only saving grace struck Shallom in the stomach as he tried to pull off of Luna’s position, sending him falling to the ocean for a few seconds before recovering and launching himself at Hero. Luna bounced him off another shield, but he merely caught himself and flew over it, now flying in a corkscrew pattern which he changed up to keep Luna guessing.
She wasn’t used to casting magic so rapidly, and her focus was starting to waver as the battle around her became more and more intense. She was not used to this. She was used to having time to think. Here she had to perform magic instinctively putting up shields, barriers, getting actually assaulted by their leader again and again.
She watched Shallom suddenly twist off Hero as they flew nearer, and dive straight towards Luna with a look of determine fury in his eyes. Luna shakily gathered up her strength as Shallom sparked with lightning, and she watched in surprise as he turned suddenly, avoiding her barrier completely and aiming straight towards Hero head-on.
Luna flapped her wings rapidly and charged forward, magic leaping off her horn as the two veteran leaders were milliseconds from colliding with deadly force, and she didn’t know what else to do. She squeezed her eyes shut and felt the energy leap off her horn as the bolt of force shot towards Shallom, colliding with him like a fist and disrupting his lightning, tossing him into Hero. The two struggled in the air to catch themselves as they fell, and Luna dove. She caught Hero on her back and fired one more bolt of force at Shallom, but he avoided. He flew upwards rapidly, getting some distance and turned, and stopped.
“Princess Luna?” Hero asked, getting back in the air as he stared at the Princess. “Princess Luna!” He shouted. Her eyes had gone wide, and she was staring hard at the whirlpool beneath them. Or what had been a whirlpool.
The hole in the middle had consumed the entire pool, meaning there was an enormous, thousand-foot hole in the ocean. He stared with her. He couldn’t feel what she did, but he could see it. There was a castle in that hole, and it was rising, out of the hole in the ocean.
“NO!” Shallom roared, charging towards the hole suddenly. Hero watched in surprise as he dove for the hole, and he could barely see what made his enemy freak out so much. Standing on the tallest tower of the castle were eight things. Six blue ponies that looked exactly the same, one strange bipedal thing, and in front of the thing, was a small purple unicorn.
“Twilight!” He and Luna shouted as one, diving for her. She was glowing bright orange, throwing light off everywhere as her magic actually tugged the castle out of the sea. Shallom was going to make it first though. He charged, his eyes flaring as he dove towards the tower, sparking with lightning and fire as he prepared his magic.
It never happened. He slammed into a large, hexagonal magical barrier, and the lightning backfired, sending him off into the air in smoke. He pulled himself out of it, barely, and floated and stared. He watched Hero and Luna pause in their charge. They knew the barrier was there, meaning they couldn’t get the Fake either. He just needed some time, Balla would no doubt sense this happening.
He charged rather suddenly, trying to pull up his lightning, but it would not come. He could feel it was being blocked off. That meant he had to rely on skill. Interesting. As The two others finally turned their head to look at Shallom, he slammed into Luna unheeded, and kicked her as hard as he could manage in the stomach.
She could see the sky. Through twelve eyes she stared up at the sea of blue that she preferred. Through twelve eyes she witnessed the beautiful, fluffy white clouds hanging overhead, and through twelve eyes she saw a war raging above them.
Seeing freedom ,Dash spread her wings, and she bit back a scream of rage as she realized she could no longer fly. She felt like her hooves were full of lead. This was the first time she’d seen sky since her wings were clipped, and this was the most torturous thing they could throw at her. She turned to Twilight, and saw her pulsate with power. Whatever she was doing was important, she knew, but still, she was completely unaware of her surroundings.
They were in danger. There was some sort of fight going on and she was the only one awake for it here. She was the only one who knew anything about the dangers ahead that could actually fight back. Something about it angered her. She again felt so alone. She narrowed her eyes and watched dragons and Equestria’s Royal Guards fight up above. She couldn’t tell who was winning, but she did not like the odds for Equestria.
One of her turned to Twilight, and gently pressed her nose to her ear. “C’mon Twilight, hurry it up. I don’t know what to do here.” She whispered. She knew they’d become a nice big object of interest once they came from the ocean if they weren’t already.
They slid out of it slowly, and as she stared around, she saw the entire battle had gone silent. The dragons and their riders were staring at them with wide eyes and anger, the Equestrians watched in absolute shock. All six of her working together counted the number. Thirty-one Equestrians, Princess Luna of all ponies, and thirteen dragon riders. All staring at Twilight.
“NO!” One of her turned her head towards a voice she felt she recognized, and she took a step back as she saw him. The Pegasus was diving for them at top speed, crackling with lightning. He was going to attack them, he was going to kill Twilight. Yellow Dash leapt over to Twilight.
“Twilight, we’re about to get hit!” She shouted, and Twilight’s ear twitched. Dash turned her head and unsheathed her sword, preparing for the attack, until a large orange shield appeared in midair, throwing him off, exploding him in fact and sending him away. She sighed in relief, Twilight was paying attention. She turned to look to Luna, preparing to shout something to her, when the Princess was slammed into by the enormous Pegasus.
Dash stared, Hero stared, the entire Equestrian battalion stared, and as one, they screamed in fury. Luna was falling, and Dash knew, just knew if she had her wings she could save her, but no, no they were cut short. She screamed in impotency and stomped her hooves. They had attacked one of their beloved rulers, and that one pony was about to feel unmatched anger.
She watched as what looked like the Equestrian leader tuned into his own explosive emotions and slammed into Shallom. Shallom turned to deliver a kick but received a hoof to his snout, then another, and was then tackled hard, throwing him into the shield. Shallom bounced off it, not receiving the explosive backlash, but he righted himself, shooting underneath Hero who executed his stop-point turn and grasped onto Shallom’s back as the Lightning King tore towards Luna.
Hero wasn’t going to stop him in time, but he had to try, he needed to do something…
Right before Luna crashed into the unforgiving surface of the sea, a dragon swooped beneath her, catching her. Hero stared. Those weren’t enemy soldiers, those looked like regular little fillies on that dragon.
“Who the hell was that?!” Shallom shouted in rage, twisting and tossing Hero off him as he shot towards the dragon. The dragon turned upwards rapidly, and flew through the barrier as Shallom bounced off it once more. He floated there, panting heavily, watching the dragon with an evil stare.
And then he got kicked in his face.
“Holy horse apples!” Applejack shouted over the roar of the wind, her hat string struggling its hardest to keep the hat firmly attached to her head. “Did ya see that!?” She shouted, her heart beating with excitement and terror.
She was flying up the castle now as it emerged rapidly from the ocean. It was a beautiful glowing white, with purple, violet, and pink banners with what she swore was Twilight’s cutie mark on them. There were what must have been hundreds of windows, balconies, and platforms built onto it, all leading up to one central tower where she had seen her goal.
“Barely…” Pinkie groaned underneath Luna. Luna was unconscious from the hit, and was heavier than Pinkie expected. “Is she alright?”
“She looks fine to me.” Applejack yelled back, finally getting above the tower at the top. She directed the dragon to land on it, and smiled down as she saw- “Wait.” Her eyebrow raised as she stared into Dash’s equally confused eyes.
“Where the hay did you get a dragon?” Rainbow Dash demanded. Or she thought it was Rainbow Dash. She had solid purple hair, and was surrounded by other Rainbow Dash’s, all with mono-colored hair.
“Nevermind my dragon why are there six of you!?” Applejack shouted in confusion.
“Help?” Pinkie whimpered, finally getting their attention. The six Dash’s climbed the rather calm dragon and helped carry Princess Luna onto the tower, and laid her on the stone. “Thanks so much Green Dashie, she is really heavy on the spine.” Pinkie shook her hair out and sighed softly.
“No problem Pinkie.” Green Dash said, then finally turned and looked at her. “… Pinkie Pie!” She tackled the mare, and hugged her close. Pinkie yelped at the sudden display of affection, as did Applejack when the yellow-haired one grabbed ahold of her. “Oh my gosh guys!” She wheezed through pained breaths as she squeezed the both of them, revelling in the warmth and familiarity.
“It’s great t’see you too Dash.” Applejack whispered, trying to keep her smile small and failing. “You must have been through a lot…” She stared at Dash’s tiny little wings sadly. She wouldn’t ask about them yet. Happy thoughts.
“They didn’t hurt you did they Dashie?” Pinkie asked as the six Dash’s gathered around and they sat.
“… Yeah.” The Red Dash extended her tiny little wings, and Pinkie’s eyes widened, near bugging point. “They took my flying from me, kicked my pride around, and this castle tried to eat my mind.”
“… Look Sugarcube. I’m real sorry about all this.” Applejack offered her a nuzzle, and three accepted it. It was awkward being under so much Rainbow Dash. “But look, we’ll have a nice long talk and a visit to an expert on this later, right now we have to get out of here. Like, now, so go wake up Twilight.”
“Can’t.” Blue Dash shrugged and looked to Twilight, making Applejack and Pinkie Pie stare at Twilight fully for the first time. She was definitely gone in that trance. “She has to do this to save Equestria. I don’t think Anemone was expected a fight during all of this.”
“Anemone? No, wait, nevermind, save Equestria? What’s going on?” Applejack asked, causing Pinkie Pie to nod rapidly in distress.
“Look, Twilight didn’t tell me all the details, but from what I picked up we’ve been picked by a super Alicorn older than Celestia to basically keep these foreigner guys from screwing up the world’s leylines. If they do that, everything is basically going to die. Twilight’s doing something, I don’t know what, but simply put it’s going to help.”
Applejack and Pinkie Pie stared at her for a long time, and she sighed in annoyance. “And there are six of me because Anemone wanted there to be. I’ll explain this when we have some time…” She nodded, and they nodded back. Then her eyebrow raised. “Who the hay is that?”
They turned their head to follow her eyes. Standing on top of the unconscious dragon was a pony with a fool’s cap, a checkered outfit, and skull face paint. “Oh, I’m sorry if I interrupted, but it’s not polite to kill a pony during their conversation.”
Applejack’s eyes widened as the six Dash’s took an aggressive stance, one holding a brilliantly bright sword. Pinkie stared, and began to back away slowly, shadowed by one of the Dash’s.
“So you’re done then? I can start then? Really?” Cloppin’s smile widened as pleasure and glee filled his bouncing steps. “Goodie!”
He disappeared in the same instant Applejack felt a streak of pain run across her side, and felt fresh blood weep from an open cut. She gave a shout of pain, and heard Pinkie scream, turning in time to see the knife flash downwards.
It sailed away as the clown was shoved back by a rough kick from the orange Dash, and she charged him. He was gone again, and the dagger swept across Orange’s Dash’s front leg, drawing a scream, but the green-maned reflection kicked Cloppin squarely in the side of his neck as he raised up to bring the dagger down, throwing him, but he disappeared in mid-air.
The dagger flashed down onto Applejack’s ribs, but Cloppin was thrown as another pair of legs struck him in an instant. He was back on top of the dragons, staring at the eight ponies. The one in the hat wobbled slightly, but continued to glare at him viciously. “Ya’ll’re the monster clown that attacked Pinkie Pie!” She shouted, grimacing in pain.
“Maybe I did. You would have saved her some of that fear if you hadn’t come by, you know, a few more seconds and, uh oh, no more Pinkie!” He giggled, causing the Dash’s to roar in anger as two launched forward, one with a sword that began to crackle.
Cloppin appeared again next to the pink mare, a hoof roughly forcing her off her hooves and onto the floor, but before he could bare in on her and strike her stomach a blade flew through the air and struck his hind leg. Cloppin’s eyes grew wide as an unfamiliar feeling went through his leg as it spasmed, and he saw red.
He stared at it, the ponies baring in on him as he did. They paused when his smile grew. It was not a happy smile. It was twisted into something that only looked like one. “You’ll pay.” His voice shook as his entire body quivered.
“That’s for Pinkie Pie.” The Red Dash snarled. The snarl turned into a gasp as suddenly the rest of her blue coat turned red, and Cloppin forced the dagger deep into her throat until the reflection stopped twitching and gagging. Then in a flash of light, the copy was gone, as was the blood.
“Where. Did. You. Go?” He asked low, turning around as the others backed off slowly. Then he saw it. The green one now had a red stripe in her hair. Oh, he understood. He had to kill them all. Well that’s what he had been planning anyways so it was time to
The orange one’s eyes widened as Cloppin appeared in front of her, the dagger going straight for her eye, pushing in deep, but was thrown again as a kick struck his face. He disappeared and appeared again, drawing a jagged line down the purple one’s back, savoring her scream until he grew winded from a sharp kick to his stomach.
The yellow one took nothing as he appeared, getting struck again, the red and green one getting in a stare as he missed as another one sent him sailing back. It’s like they knew his every move. Wherever he appeared they knew and were prepared. His eyes flicked towards the blue one and drove his dagger into her heart, but was knocked aside as his dagger was slapped from his mouth. He rolled across the ground in confusion, so sure he’d driven it into the blue one as she stood over him, sword in mouth.
“Heh.” Cloppin stared up at her. His Trell couldn’t follow him. Not across the water. He should have been able to handle this alone. No, not just glancing wounds, he had to have killed them all. “Hehe.” But no, he couldn’t, they kept kicking and slashing, and he watched the mare hesitate to drive the sword down. “Hehehe.” He disappeared.
“Hahahaha!” He had his knife. “Hehehehaha!” He stood over their precious Princess. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” He drove it downwards. His dagger came down, and he heard their screams of terror. He had never killed royalty before, much less an Alicorn. “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH-” He stared into a pair of yellow eyes.
“You will not harm her.” The octopus-head said, his skinny fingers holding the dagger as he dripped black blood. Cloppin twitched in shock as a hand grabbed his neck, and the tentacles on the thing’s face opened and wrapped around his head. He felt the tentacles try to pierce his eyelids and enter his ears, he felt them go into his mouth, and with one final laugh, began to stab.
His hooves held the dagger tightly as he stabbed the octopus repeatedly, even as his eyes popped as they were pushed aside by tentacles, even as his ear canals were ripped apart and his throat and sinuses were widened, trying to rip his head to pieces. The octopus was slowing, and the pain was so immense nothing felt real anymore.
Cloppin kept laughing as the creature’s tentacles tickled his brain, and then he disappeared.
The world was bright. Oh so bright and shiny. She felt heat on her body, something that felt unusual compared to the past few days. As Twilight cleared her eyes, she stared at the orange orb floating above her, and watched it explode. She was nearly thrown back as a wave of force shot out of it, and watched as all around them, ponies from Canterlot’s guard and dragons from Golding’s army were thrown from the air.
She panicked, and felt her own magic extend as she grabbed ahold of each of the all of them, pony and dragon. She didn’t know how she did that, she’d just wanted it to happen and suddenly she was holding them. The amount of power needed for a spell that strong should have been out of her reach, yet here she was, keeping them from falling.
She watched them squirm and struggle as she slowly brought them to her, and watched in surprise as one suddenly flashed in lightning and took off. She thought she recognized him, but couldn’t tell.
“Miss Sparkle!” One Equestrian Pegasus shouted. “This is Hero Cloudbreaker speaking. Please put us down immediately!” He paused. “Just us! Keep the foreigners suspended!” Twilight meekly did as she was told, and Hero flew towards her, slowly, but encountered no resistance as he landed. “We’ve been looking for you.” He stated with a low nod.
“Oh.” Twilight blinked, and stared into Hero’s eyes. “Oh! Hero. Um, hi…” She lowered her head in embarrassment. He nodded slowly as a large group of the Pegasi landed around them, filling the platform.
“Yes, hello, as soon as we’re done gathering our wounded, we’re going to talk. Is that heard?” he called to his surrounding soldiers, and they all nodded. They flew off towards the ocean to do just that. “As for the soldiers… I don’t know, bind them?” He suggested with a shrug, turning to go to Luna’s side.
Twilight blinked, glanced to the soldiers and their dragons, and in a moment had them bound in ethereal chains. Anemone had unleashed the magic around her. It finally made sense.
During the confusion, nopony had seemed to notice the creature bleeding out, resting against the dais with closed eyes. Nopony noticed Rainbow Dash dismiss all her reflections as she approached the creature quietly, and gently nudged his leg. “Tanat?” She whispered.
“Guardian.” She heard in her head. Tanat’s eyes opened, and he may have smiled. “You performed well.”
“Um… Thank you. Tanat, you’re really hurt, okay? So try not to move much.” Dash whispered, pushing his hand down as she stared at his bleeding chest. Sweet Celestia, she had never seen such grievous wounds. She had never seen so much blood. It made her stomach quiver.
“Heh. Vigilant. No, Dash. I see Anemone.” His voice was quiet in her head. Calm. Relaxed. Accepting.
“No no no Tanat, there’s no Anemone around here, that’s Luna.” She whispered, nudging him again as his face crinkled in a bigger possible smile.
“No, I see Luna. I see Anemone too. He’s welcoming me.” His voice was elated. “I get to go home.” His eyes closed again, and Dash whimpered.
“C’mon Tanat, you know what’s going on, please don’t leave.” Dash whispered. He was dying. He was going to die on her watch. He had saved Luna’s life at the cost of his own. He was suspicious, but he was loyal.
“You know more than enough. The two of you.” He raised a hand slightly, as if to gesture to Twilight. “You can protect this world. I know you can. Anemone cares for you. You are his chosen. Good night, Rainbow Dash.”
“Wait, Tanat!” A lump filled her throat as he stopped moving. “C’mon Tanat.” She nudged him gently, but he did not respond. She hung her head in saddened defeat as his body began to glow, and slowly disappear.
Her freedom, her ego, her wings, everything. She felt useless. Tanat was gone, a creature that just wanted to help whom she hadn’t trusted. She could have been better, but… Tanat had completed his mission, right? That’s all that counted, right? He was with Anemone now. There was that.
She lifted her head as Applejack and Pinkie Pie drew close. “He was a friend?” Applejack asked in a low whisper. Pinkie Pie was biting her lip hard.
“Yeah. He was the only guy to help us around here, and the only one who knew what was going on. Bye Tanat.” She watched the last drop of blood disappear, and she sighed heavily. “Sorry I couldn’t do more.”
“You…” Pinkie Pie swallowed heavily. “You did your best. That’s all that matters.”
“Yeah. He’s with Anemone now anyways. That’ll make him happy. C’mon, Twilight’s up here.” She climbed the dais. Twilight was standing in the middle of it, looking unsure and confused. “Hey Queenie, you alright?” She asked.
Twilight turned her head to Dash, her eyes a little wide. “Is he really-”
“Yeah. Some Clown… Thing got him. He said he’s with Anemone though. How did you know that anyways?” Dash asked, watching Twilight’s eyes shift to sadness.
“I don’t know. I just felt him go.” They were quiet for a moment, until Twilight saw Applejack and Pinkie Pie. “Oh my goodness, Applejack! Pinkie Pie!” She gasped, leaping forward.
Applejack actually felt the hug before she was hugged. It was like the air just squeezed her happily, right before Twilight did. She winced, her wound still stinging, but she returned it, even as Twilight took Pinkie Pie into the hug. “Hey sugarcube.” She whispered in quiet happiness.
“You were right Applejack, this whole thing was worth it.” Pinkie sighed, snuggling into Twilight’s neck as they embraced. Twilight opened a foreleg and smiled to Dash, who stepped in to join the hug.
Dash herself winced as she still felt the wounds from the jester’s attack, even if they weren’t there anymore. It hurt pretty badly, but she was still able to move around. As they hugged, they all felt warmth seeping into them as Twilight’s magic surrounded them. “We have,” Twilight’s chest heaved, “so much to tell you when we get back.” Twilight whispered.
“I guess ya’ll do. Wanna give us the short version now?” Applejack asked with a tiny smile.
Soldiers and dragons were gathered and the castle’s aerial launch pads were soon filled with the wounded and the dead. There were many burns and plenty of blood, but there were very few deaths. It was somewhat peaceful as the combat medics tended to the wounded. The prisoners were all given a single balcony of their own, guarded by the Equestrian soldiers, while the dragons…
They chose to hang around up top. They did not attack, did not fight, did not even mind being captured. They seemed pretty happy to be near the top of the tower, several even landing there, watching Twilight intently as she told her story. Hero and Princess Luna had joined in, both keeping their composure as Twilight summed up what happened. “… and after getting our gifts, I was told to raise the castle and unleash the magic. It’s the best way to protect the leylines for now.”
“I think I understand where, um, father is coming from.” Luna gave a tiny smile, nursing bruise on her chest that was visible even through her dark fur. “But what about during your capture? Your travel here?”
“That will have to wait until later. Right now, we’re almost ready to leave. We’ll need a lot of carriages unless the dragons remain cooperative.” Hero interrupted, and Twilight smiled.
“Oh! I can take us there myself.” She stated, and Dash nodded.
Nopony seemed to inclined to believe her. “Um, your teleportation spells are cool and all Twilight but maybe you shouldn’t try everyone here?” Pinkie chuckled nervously.
“Not teleportation Pinkie, she can fly the castle there.” Dash said, looking to the nodding Unicorn.
“Fly the castle?” Luna raised an eyebrow. Even if her magic had gotten stronger, the sheer weight of the castle would be incredible. It would strain anything but an Alicorn.
“Yeah, uh, one of my gifts was Laputa. Like I can control it.” Twilight nodded rapidly.
“Yeah, and Queenie here also owns everything inside, which is worth crap if Anemone didn’t change it all back.” Dash added. Everypony simply stared.
“… Uh?” Luna finally responded.
“Hold on. You, Twilight Sparkle, own an enormous flying castle probably full of ancient treasure and knowledge long gone.” Hero asked, and Twilight nodded slowly. “… I’m going to go ahead and inform Princess Celestia her student got kidnapped and came back with a castle. Begin moving this thing immediately.” Hero leapt upwards, beat his wings once, and then was gone as he flew into the distance.
They merely stared after him, until Twilight sighed. “Alright guys, let’s get this moving.” Twilight whispered. She stood rigid on the dais, and tapping into the castle beneath her, it began to fly towards Equestria.