Twilight smiled nervously.
Twilight cringed a bit as an eyebrow was raised.
“You took a liking to this whole thing quickly.” Dash finally stated, having been roused by a plate of fruit-and-frosting covered pancakes delivered personally by Princess Luna.
“I say she looks rather dashing. Like true royalty, with a touch of flavor.” Luna walked around Twilight slowly, inspecting her. Twilight wasn’t sure she appreciated the attention. She felt kind of puny being admired by the Princess of all ponies. She squeaked as a pair of hooves began to straighten her legs, tighten her stance, and hold her head up. “Now lift your tail like as if you were prancing.” Princess Luna ordered.
Twilight did so hesitantly, using her hind muscles to make her tail lift high. Luna then took a brush to it, and Twilight began to wince as Dash sighed. “I would have expected this from Pinkie Pie at the very least but Applejack’s got the crazy hat now and you’re actually accepting all this? Isn’t it a bit early to celebrate?”
“Well, it’s not like I could have stopped them, I have to fly the castle!” Twilight mumbled childishly, making Dash snort.
“You took the time to comfort me but not stop ponies from dressing you up? Seems like it’d be a pretty easy thing to stop for. Hay, you could take it off right now if you spared a minute or so.” Dash leaned over and stared at the jeweled bracers around her legs and rolled her eyes.
“We can’t just stop. We have to go to Canterlot and tell Celestia and everypony else about what’s happening. Y’know, before those creatures Anemone warned me about pop up.” Twilight insisted, only to receive a slight knock on the head from Dash.
“Just let Princess Luna do it! She’s literally right behind you!”
“I-” Twilight paused and felt Princess Luna curl her tail, giving her a much more royal look. “I guess that could work.”
“Afraid not.” Twilight heard Night Brigade to her side, and saw Dash turning to look at him. “We absolutely need witness testimonials and to show you two are doing fine. Do not stop this castle Miss Sparkle, the sooner we get there the sooner you can do whatever this Alicorn guy wants you to do.” He stated simply, easily, and Rainbow Dash began to grumble some very unpleasant things under her breath.
“It’s not so bad Dash, I’m not planning to stay this way.” The reassurance made Dash sigh and roll her eyes.
“Oh fine, I believe you, but if you start expecting a ‘your majesty’ and a ‘yes sire’, I’m going to kick you.” Dash warned her with a raised eyebrow, making Twilight giggle a little.
“Nothing of the sort. Hey, stay in front of me for a moment.” Twilight told her, and Dash promptly sat down as Twilight raised her voice. “Princess Luna, could you do me a big favor and go find Applejack and Pinkie Pie? They said they were going to explore even more so they’re probably way downstairs.”
“Of course Twilight.” Luna walked to the staircase and went down.
“And Night Brigade? Could you please leave us alone for a while? Dash and I need to talk.”
“What, you can’t find a better excuse for me to leave, my Queen?” He smirked, but saw Dash’s flat stare. Yeah, he wasn’t about to mess with Sextuplets anytime soon, so he turned and wisely chose the stairs, rather than his wings. “Fine, fine. Just don’t interrupt her flight Miss Dash.”
Dash nodded quietly and turned back to Twilight. The unicorn sighed heavily as she kept her focus on flight. “I want to thank you.”
“… Shut up.”
“I’m not kidding. I want to thank you for putting up with all of this. It’s my fault this-”
Dash interrupted her with an annoyed grunt. “Twilight, seriously, shut up. I don’t want to hear any ‘thanks’ or ‘sorry’s or anything.”
“But I want to-”
“Look, Twilight, I don’t care. All that matters is that you and me are safe. You’re my friend, I was just doing what any friend would do for each other.” Twilight blinked. She had an entirely, carefully worded speech for all of this. She’d been intending to make big promises, loving speeches, and promise a reward somehow, but Dash just had to go and derail another perfectly laid out plan. “Look, I know you feel all guilty but, y’know, don’t. I don’t blame you.”
“You don’t?” Twilight blinked rapidly as Dash shook her head.
“These Golding guys aren’t your fault. You and me, we were both scared fillies with no idea of what was going on, getting attacked by ponies who we didn’t know for no reason. That day we were captured I was frustrated. There’s something wrong with you, and I wanted to know what it was. Now I know, now I don’t care. All that matters is that, during this whole big thing we gotta do now is that I keep you safe. Not because I have to, if it had been that Brigade guy I would have let somepony else volunteer themselves for suicide, but it’s not him, it’s you. I’m going to keep you safe, so I’m going to be practicing my magical powers a lot. So don’t get a big head about your new magic, I’m going to race you to who’s the best magic user here.” Dash’s smirk was both reassuring and toughening.
Twilight stared into Dash’s eyes for what felt like minutes. Her carefully planned speech had suddenly become Dash’s carefully planned speech. She’d figured Dash would be scared, terrified of all this happening; losing her wings, gaining some freaky power, being asked to go on a quest to guard her newest friend who she barely got along with to protect the world, it freaked Twilight out. She wasn’t ready to have new magic, or ready to save anypony, but she knew she couldn’t say no. Her wants didn’t matter right now, she had a world to protect.
But Dash was willing to go the extra mile. Sure she was probably scared and didn’t want to, but she still had a duty to perform. She was insisting on being strong too. Heck, she was challenging her, Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia’s personal student and the group’s master of magic, to a race to be the better Unicorn! That was some very serious confidence. It made Twilight smile. Then she started to laugh.
“No no, go ahead, it’s okay to laugh the doubt away. I’m serious though, by the time we’re done with this you’re going to have to trade over your spot for ‘Ponyville’s Premium Wizard’. That spot’s reserved for me now that I don’t have anything else to occupy me.” Dash smirked, and Twilight’s smile wavered. She knew what she meant. She was proud she wasn’t going to let it stop her from doing something with her life though. She just hoped it was a decent substitute.
“Fine then. Rainbow Dash, I formally accept your challenge. May the best magic user win.” Twilight extended a hoof and, remembering Applejack’s and Dash’s nasty little ritual, spit on it. Dash did the same, and they shook.
The castle never wavered or slowed. In fact, some of the more attentive of art lovers currently in the castle would say Rainbow Dash was appearing in more in the pictures.
His chest stung a bit. He could still feel the power of those hooves connecting against his chest again and again. A lot of his beautiful mane was singed and blackened by the electrical feedback, and he was starting to glide more as he started to feel exhausted. He had never fought such an air battle. He had faced foes with years of experience against him that simply failed to owe up to that one’s standards.
It occurred to him that maybe Equestria’s greatest strength wasn’t its magic, it was their resourcefulness. A ninety degree turn at near top speed was considered countless times to be impossible, but he had seen it. The closer he examined his memory the more he saw the split-second acrobatics he’d performed. An aerial twist, a spin that required a shift of your body that would require extreme training as well as flexibility. But still, to change his momentum so quickly, the way he bucked his hind legs…
“The clouds.” He finally said to himself, staring at the fluff beneath him. “That tricky little-” he muttered to himself as he forced himself through the barrier guarding his base of operations. He flew through an endless sea of clouds, the cool moisture feeling good where he’d been hurt and he started to fly towards the sound of rolling thunder.
Your average, intelligent Pegasus avoided thunder like a mouse avoiding an owl, or an oddly dressed baby-dragon, as flying through a thunder storm meant forcing ones self into the face of danger. He flew towards it bravely though, and finally emerged into an open area in the clouds, appearing in a small dale in the clouds hidden well among the fluff, with the buildings being as irregularly shaped and low as possible. His soldiers peaked their heads from the clouds as they saw him, and flew towards the middle of the makeshift village.
His many Pegasus soldiers directly working around him stood by quietly as he landed on a raised platform of cloud. Silence filled the air as they took note of his once formerly perfect handsomeness diminished by burns, by bruises, and by exhaustion. An uneasy feeling filled the air as Shallom stretched his wings and sat with a groan of relief.
He understood their concern. Shallom rarely exerted himself, even in battle. He was powerful and fast, and always seemed perfectly invincible. Yet he sat before them, looking like he himself had taken quite a few hits. His face was flat as well. They understood. He did not succeed.
“Sir?” Schola whispered from the crowd, his second in command stepping forward, looking heavily concerned. “Sir are you alright?”
“The False One has escaped us again, and has depleted our numbers, yet again.” He spoke strong, but deep, and several of his soldiers looked a bit woozy. “I am afraid her strength has reached its climax. She gave pause to, and took away Rukafelth’s riding dragons as well as their riders.”
He watched their eyes widen, and glance back and forth to each other in surprise, wondering if this was real or not. “That is not all. Equestria’s soldiers are powerful. Intelligent. More so than I’ve ever seen. They had well-trained methods of bringing down the dragons, and their leader…” He sucked in a breath through his teeth. “He was like nothing I’d ever seen. The situation is much more difficult than I’d imagined. The few blows they landed on me may have hurt, but I am back here alive, wiser, and stronger because of it. We’ll not be caught off guard. We’re returning to Lord Galio to deliver the news, and our training scheme is being boosted by twenty more hours each week.” The news made them all stand straight and tense, and he nodded quietly.
He liked the ponies under him. They were dedicated and strong, not full of slackers. Nopony could be in Galio’s army, or they’d walk a very fine edge of pleasure and being reprimanded by an angry king, and Lord Galio was one king you simply did not make angry or disappoint. Shallom had failed, but he could explain himself to Galio and at least reduce his punishment. Rukafelth was probably doing the same now.
He would tell his full story there, to Lord Galio. He idly wondered, though, how he would take the death of Cloppin. A particularly nasty way to die, he mused, thanks to whatever that thing was. Either way, as his team began to prepare themselves for launch he wondered around thinking about how this day could have gone different… Or worse.
“- though with a very creative mind you can do a lot more. Tanat said your powers were based around mirrors and reflections, so knowing what your powers can specifically do, see if you can’t get more creative with it.” Twilight spoke as she propelled the castle along. They must be over the Everfree Forest by now, she couldn’t tell because she couldn’t see, but very vaguely she could see the Canterlot castle far into the distance. Not that that was an accomplishment, seeing as the mountain it was built on was fairly huge.
Rainbow Dash was now actually listening to her, focusing on the words and how they applied to her current situation rather than self-experimenting. She still had what little she picked up from the basic magic lesson, but Twilight had also mentioned it would not apply to her too much since she wasn’t a Unicorn, and the magical differences could be astronomical. Of course, she’d said, she could have been exaggerating since all they really had in difference was a horn and wings.
“So, as long as I think with mirrors, I can do, uh…”
“Pretty much anything.” Dash looked up with a cocked eyebrow. “Provided you’re thinking with reflections and mirrors. Other factors though are your control, focus, and the amount of magic available. With the amount available to me now, I’m not having too much trouble lifting the castle because I’m focused, and controlling, but before I wouldn’t have even been able to lift a house.”
“Says the girl who lifted up a water tower.” Dash snorted.
Twilight smiled awkwardly. “Well, see, it wasn’t as heavy as a house. Houses are usually full of stuff, and ponies. Not to mention it’s attached to foundation, which is stuck in the ground, so I-”
“Yeah yeah, complicated stuff. So I know I can reflect myself six times. What should I try next?”
Twilight blinked, then rubbed her chin with her hoof. “Well, see, I think you should try and come up with it. It’s your magic after all and you know your limits.”
“Yeah but you’re more practiced and stuff with magic. I wanna know what you think. You know what’s hard or not.”
“Well…” Twilight paused in thought, and realized she was correct. She knew the ins and outs of magic like crazy. “Well, using magic on yourself, an organic being, is generally harder than using it on an inanimate object, if only because the materials are more basic.”
Rainbow Dash nodded and walked in closer. Twilight watched with unblinking eyes as Dash carefully undid the necklace around her neck. Dash narrowed her eyes and politely took her time as she undid the clasp, and finally slipped it off. “You don’t mind, do you?” Dash asked, holding it carefully in front of Twilight.
“Not at all.” The unicorn shook her head, and Dash took it to the side. She laid it out on the ground a few feet from Twilight and stared at it. Twilight watched those puny wings extend, and she gulped down a small lump of misery as they began to flap, as if wanting to fly again. Dash did not lift up, but the necklace began to shift a little.
The Pegasus stopped, took a closer look, and grinned in triumph. “I did something!”
“What did you do? Lemme see!” Twilight tried to lean in closer for a look.
“I made it move a little!” Dash bounced excitedly. Twilight opened her mouth to tell Dash, a nearly fully grown mare, that making it move just a bit with magic wasn’t all too impressive, but she had to remind herself that Dash was just stepping into the kiddy pool where magic was concerned, especially since Dash was so used to being able to rush into something and get results. Twilight supposed that was where flight had its advantages: if you were doing something right, you typically knew immediately. Not that that didn’t apply to magic sometimes; Celestia’s amazing blazing coat coming to mind during a particularly bad screw-up on a complicated spell. Good thing the Princess was immune to heat. The same could not be said for her white coat. Twilight was perhaps the only pony alive to ever see Princess Celestia “naked”.
“Very good Dash. When you were trying to use magic on it, what were you thinking about doing to it?” She asked curiously.
“Um.” Dash looked down to the necklace and pushed it gently with one hoof. “I was just thinking about making it do something. I didn’t really have anything in mind.” She’d put quite a bit of power into it, and all it did was twitch. What more was there for her to do to it?
“Well, you need to focus on what you want it to do. If you just ask it to do something, you’re not going to get any results, especially if your powers are limited.”
“Well, okay…” She hummed to herself, and focused on the necklace again. She supposed that made sense. Like with flying and performing tricks, you had to figure out everything you were going to do. If you just let everything naturally take over, you were going to do a few loops and corkscrews, but nothing too amazing. Or crash, there was always that. So she focused on the necklace again.
She felt Twilight’s eyes on her, but didn’t feel judged or rushed. It reminded her of her dad when he was teaching her how to fly. No matter how long it took, he patiently sat by, offered pointers, gave advice when prompted, and when she finally learned, joined in. She felt good about it. She could do this, especially with Twilight’s help.
She paused in thought. She felt really comfortable with the unicorn now. She didn’t know much about her past but she knew Twilight was trustworthy, and honest, and caring. She glanced up to the unicorn, who smiled back at her, then back to the necklace. She’d lost her wings, but she’d gained more than that. A shot at seeing her brother, something else to at least focus her attentions on, and a pony she could easily call her good friend.
It felt weird being so comfortable with somepony. She guessed telling her biggest secret and sharing those pains and tragedies could bring her together with somepony. She just didn’t know it would feel this easy. She accepted it without hesitation. The heart and mind were weird things.
She raised her little stubs of wings and focused on the necklace again, thinking about mirrors, about reflecting it. She was going to reflect Twilight’s necklace. Who knew what would happen? Who cared? She wouldn’t find out by just standing there.
The Brehmin Canyons laid just below. Shallom did not like the Brehmin Canyons, or any canyons for that matter, as they were inevitably hot spots for dragons and low-flight zones. But it was mostly the dragons he hated, especially these enormous, speaking Equestrian dragons that found something incredibly offensive about being conscripted into a foreign invading army and responded about as well as Shallom expected.
Dragon tamers or no, not all dragons liked the taste of sheep. And not all dragons thought such an offering was polite. No, rather, the Equestrian dragons found the slaughtered sheep offering rather disgusting and promptly toasted the offending dragon tamer, then went back to chewing on gems. They were bigger, meaner, less pack-minded, and were essentially vegetarians.
Equestria was stupidly weird. They’d have just as much luck blindly throwing darts and guessing where it landed as they would figuring out what the creatures of Equestria were like. It made for some interesting stories at least.
Sailing among the high mountain ranges of the east while his men and women glided behind him, matching his every move as he flew through the snow without worry. He began to dive as he saw the only landmark he knew, a large completely circular cave in the side of a mountain, and lowered himself into the darkness below.
The canyon line was wide but it was thick with danger. Drakes and dragons roosted in the gem-rich canyon walls and took action against any intruders poking around. Their first appearance had stirred the dragons into action, but Golding was not a war-state because it avoided dragons. He could still feel his wings twitching as he sensed the magic they had used several weeks ago to clear their new base, the power behind it setting him on the edge immediately.
Ruthless efficiency. That was their battle policy.
He and his team flew beneath the canyon walls, the sound of wind blowing being replaced by overwhelming silence as they flew down the correct paths. A left, a right, another right, straight forward, left again… It was engraved in his memory.
Finally they flew into a dead-end that had a single brass doorway in the middle of the opposing wall. There was not an ounce of hesitation as Shallom flew through it, activating every silent alarm and magical trip-wire there was, and as he flew through the narrow, rune-lined tunnel he saw the unicorn guards step out of invisibility to watch him fly by and wave him down. At the last one to his left, he slowed and flew level where he stood on his raised perch. “We’ve come to report.”
“We suspected as much, Rukafelth informed us you’d be flying in soon. Please go through Sire, Lady Balla has prepared remedies for your aches.” Shallom nodded his head to the bowing unicorn and lead his Pegasus team into the enormous cave Terraria had built his kingdom.
The cave itself was dark and unimpressive, but the massive brass palace that had been built in the middle, that stretched to each wall with its bulk, its courtyards, and its streets, shown like a candle in the dark. Long enchanted to glow with might, and engraved with runes and sigils of accomplishment and power. There was activity all over the outer walls as the bulk of Galio’s personal guards, Rukafelth’s non-dragon-riding soldiers, Balla’s many unicorns, and Shallom’s own army he’d left behind swarmed about, moving quickly to get jobs done, to deliver this and that, or to watch Shallom make his entrance. Of the grand temple’s many entrances, one opened solely for Shallom. It was to Balla’s quarters.
He dismissed Schola and his squad, and they flew to the Pegasus quarters at the towers that rose to the very roof of the cave, while Shallom flew through the doorway, landing squarely and easily in a room decorated with urns, treasures, and metal. Terraria, unlike Atmos, preferred his fineries to be metal decorations and artwork. Before Shallom stood a unicorn, hardly taller than her own mages.
Balla had an incredibly soft purple coat, barely tinged with any color at all, but a majority of the purple was in her incredibly dark mane that she let grow much longer than she should have been allowed. A good part of it fell over the ruined half of her face, the rest gently resting along her back, on the white silk robe she wore. The half of her face Shallom could see, the left side, lit up with joy. “Shallom! You finally made it, Lord Galio’s been worried sick.”
Shallom stood awkwardly as Balla rushed up to nuzzle his legs, and shot her snickering guards a glare. “Rukafelth told me you got hurt. I didn’t believe it at first but this is terrible! Burn wounds all over, severe bruising on your chest, several cracked ribs.” Balla whispered, what little was left of her horn glowing weakly as she scanned him medically.
“It’s nothing too severe. They had a captain who proved to be an impressive opponent. Given time, I’ll be fine.” Shallom stated easily, wanting to go report to Galio, but he knew not letting Balla treat him would just stress her.
“Yes, but the pain could affect your flight and combat capabilities, and if you tried to fight again you could aggravate your ribs and cause even more damage! I won’t be long, just some bandages and a poultice should be enough.” Balla walked around the medical ward, horn glowing as bandages, herbs, and a bucket of warm water were lifted and carried behind her.
He supposed it was for the best. The quicker he got himself healed up, the better condition he’d be in to fight the enemy Captain. It would also let him get back into training faster, so he could try and work around that ninety-degree turn. “So.” He turned his head back to Balla as she approached, the bandages slowly circling around him. “Did you see her?” Balla asked, failing to keep all the venom out of her voice.
“The False One? Yes. My assumptions were correct in that she’d find a way out.” He spoke, watching the herbs form a small ball of green in the air before getting dipped in the bucket, then grunted as the poultice was tightly pressed against his chest. The numbing feeling of the herbs kicked in before the healing process did. The bandages squeezed around him snuggly.
“And the magic she stole?”
“Accessed, activated, in use. She stopped dragons dead in flight.” Balla snorted softly, but placed the last bandage before checking him over once.
“Well, that should do it. Is it working?” She looked up to Shallom, who flexed his legs.
“I can’t feel anything above my knees.”
“Goodie!” Balla smiled brightly, and Shallom sighed. “Yes yes, you can go make your report now. I’ll be escorting you in fact, I was barely there for Rukafelth’s report.”
Shallom gave a brisk nod and stepped out of the herb-filled room, Balla pacing quickly by his side to keep up with his long steps, the two guards directly to their sides. The palace was as glorious as Shallom had imagined. He’d been here only briefly before when receiving orders, and now he was getting a closer look at an Alicorn’s vanity.
Gold, bronze, brass, colors of the Earth everywhere, lit by glowing orbs lining the hallways revealing old treasure that stood in pristine condition. Beautiful urns and treasure boxes, decorated chains and jeweled furniture laid all over the hallway, while entire wall were covered in mosaic pictures of the great lord. It gave Shallom a sense of the sheer presence Terraria would have had.
Balla, whom was used to all this, kept her eyes forward as they walked to the staircase that would lead them to the throne room. They went down two flights, and emerged in wide hallway filled with guards and researchers, who stood aside immediately the moment Shallom and Balla came into view. They walked to the grand doors and the guards opened them, allowing them passage.
The throne room had several levels. The lowest, where they stood, was the entrance, which raised to another level a few feet higher, where a majority of the lower-rung guards were resting in provided pillows. The level up had two doors, one on each side, where the Unicorns were passing to and fro, as the doors lead to extensive libraries. As they kept climbing, they went past the royal guard’s level, where, despite resting up, they remained alert and tense, ready to spring into action. Finally, Shallom and Balla stood one level below the top, where nobles and royals were to stand.
Shallom saw Rukafelth rise from the side and approach, bowing his head in greeting, and then Shallom looked up and straight, at the mighty throne, where Lord Galio in all his glory sat with his eyes closed, the gemmed-circlet on his forehead glowing softly. They dared not interrupt him.
“I have explained most of what had happened to Lord Galio. He knows about Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash, as well as your fight over Laputa. He was impressed when I told him about the Princess.” Rukafelth smiled softly, but Shallom’s face did not change.
“I still failed the mission.”
“It was inevitable with a Princess and Twilight being in the mix. I have accepted a bulk of the punishment for allowing her to slip away under my nose. I imagine you’ll receive none.” Rukafelth told him, then stood straight and watched his lord as Galio’s eyes opened.
“Shallom.” His voice was easy and low, but teemed with a sense of command and sheer manliness that made Shallom’s wings and legs straighten a bit more. “Rukafelth told me you had the most uncanny timing in showing up to deal with the False One.”
Shallom cleared his throat once as he met his lord’s eyes and nodded. “I had come to inform him of Miss Sparkle’s intelligence, problem solving skills, and magical prowess even without the magic she took. It was during this time Miss Sparkle and her companion chose to enact their escape.”
Galio’s silver eyebrow rose as he stood up on all four legs, his red cloak laying on him elegantly as his golden fur gleamed under the artificial light. “Somehow you and Miss Sparkle are on name-basis?”
Shallom chewed himself out quietly as he grit his teeth, Balla tapping his leg slightly in playful disappointment, while Rukafelth spoke up. “In all fairness lord, ponies who spend even a short amount of time in Twilight Sparkle’s presence typically find themselves being endeared to her. I can only assume it’s because of the magic.”
“Troublesome.” Galio answered, looking back to Shallom. “Rukafelth tells me that you fought hard and fought well, but were distracted by the enemy Captain. Tell me about him.”
Shallom closed his eyes in thought, and reflected back on it, then spoke. “He was fast, he was intelligent, and he had aerial capabilities I have never seen before. He was dangerous, and spent a good amount of time in the fight wounding the dragons and removing the riders single-hoofedly. I deemed him a priority target and treated him as such.”
“As you should have. I must say, hearing that you met something even a fraction of your talent in the air surprises and impresses me. How will you remedy this situation, Shallom?”
“I have boosted my team’s training hours during the week to a total of thirty-two, which will be my own personal goal as well. I plan to copy the enemy’s abilities as well as I can, and find their counter-measures.” Lord Galio nodded quietly at this.
“You are gifted Shallom. Your extra training hours will be punishment enough in my opinion, but I am giving you new orders. This goes for you as well Balla, please step forward.”
Shallom looked down in surprise as the little Unicorn around his legs stared up at her lord with an open mouth, then slowly walked forward into perfect view. “Yes my Lord?” Balla asked, gulping heavily.
“This situation has gotten out of hoof. The False One has escaped,” Galio began to pace in front of his throne slowly, lowering his eyes to Balla, “she is aware of our presence and I imagine her Princess will soon, they possess Laputa and all it’s knowledge, and now she and her companion have fairly powerful magic.”
“Cloppin is also dead.” Shallom spoke up, and Galio whirled towards him quickly, Rukafelth’s eyes wide at Shallom with a look that said, ‘you shouldn’t have said that.’
“Cloppin is dead?” Galio repeated, watching Shallom nod. “How?”
“Strange two-legged creature with tentacles on its face. Pushed the tentacles into his mouth, nose, ears, and eyes and, well, as far as I could tell, that would be enough to kill a pony.” Shallom recited.
Galio looked passive, as Balla clearly tried to hold back her stomach from thinking about it too hard. “That’s all then? Then I’m not worried. Back to Balla.” All the attending ponies stared in surprise as he simply disregarded the death of one of his lead officers, “As I said, things are well out of hoof by now. I know I have never fielded you before, and I know we’re in a strange, foreign land, but Balla, you are powerful, and I trust you to find, capture, and drain Twilight Sparkle.” He looked to the staring Unicorn, who was slowly trembling, “I mean the False One.”
Balla stared down at her hooves and nodded rapidly. “Yes my lord, of course my lord, whatever you ask I shall do. I will capture the False One, sir.” She whispered, her long hair touching the ground as Shallom gently set a leg over her back in comfort.
“Shallom, you shall resume your search for the locations of Terraria and Atmos, and I would like you to play advisor to Balla. She is new to this after all.” Shallom nodded slowly, Balla glancing up to the pony over her.
“You both have my promise that I will help her however I can.”
Galio seemed pleased with this and turned to Rukafelth. “Rukafelth, your orders no longer have to deal with Twilig- the False One. I imagine she will be telling the Princess of what has happened, and they will inevitably scramble their soldiers. I need your expertise and your soldiers to get ready for a potential war.”
Rukafelth bowed his head low. “Of course my lord.”
“You are dismissed for now.” Lord Galio sat down quietly once more, and the three of them walked out of the throne room, thinking about what needed to be done.
“-which is partially my fault I suppose, but Celestia had her phoenixes so I thought it might be cool to make night-themed bears. Turns out I’m not too good with animals though, since they got a little aggressive.” Princess Luna smiled a bit shyly as she, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie all walked upstairs together.
They’d been found exploring the courtyards, which was made of evenly cut stone sidewalks lined with lampposts, a few statues of Twilight or one of her friends, well-trimmed hedges, and whole lot of pretty flowers, plants, and trees. There were a ton of birds roosting about, making it feel very much like a wilderness experience. It was so calm, peaceful, and pretty that Applejack had nearly lost her breath just staring at it all. She really had to get over this place or she may consider moving in.
“Well they were kinda cool when they weren’t getting all mad at everypony and trying to stomp on things but I guess anything is like that. I bet I’d be pretty ferocious if I got all angry!” Pinkie Pie smiled brightly.
“Ya’ll have no idea.” Applejack rolled her eyes and smirked at Pinkie Pie as they reached the top step. All the birds were gone, which was a nice change of pace, but when they looked onto the dais… “What the hay is going on up there?” Applejack called in with a surprised stare.
“Shut up! Concentrating!” Dash growled, staring directly into Twilight’s eyes, their snouts practically touching as they focused.
“Hey, if this is some Stockholm thing then you two had better-”
“Sh.” Luna, gently rested a hoof on Applejack’s back as they watched.
“Sh!” She insisted more loudly. Applejack frowned, but quieted down as she watched. Their lips were almost touching, and Twilight hadn’t said or done anything. She tried to get a closer look, but she ended up touching a barrier.
“What’s going on?” She whispered as quietly as she could, and Luna pointed up at the two.
“It’s a focus test. Twilight’s probably in Rainbow Dash’s mind seeing what she is seeing. It’s a standard test in the academy, to focus on just the eyes and cut off everything else. If you can do that, then you are typically allowed to start in teenage school.” Luna explained, tensing as she saw Dash lean in further. Their lips were practically touching, but there wasn’t a single romantic or sexual thing about it. Twilight wasn’t even there, and Dash simply didn’t care.
“Alright, this has gone too far.” Applejack grumbled, pressing her hooves to the shield. “Princess Luna can ya’ll break this? I need to go split this up before tongues get involved.”
“They probably won’t. It’s best if we just let them practice their focus.”
“Focus on what? Magic or kissing?” Pinkie asked, circling around for a better look. They stared at each other so intensely it was like they were having a staring contest.
“Don’t be dirty. My sister taught Twilight focus this way, the teachers teach their students this way. Though, normally, they aren’t so close.” Luna mused, watching them as Twilight finally gasped.
“You did it!”
“Really!?” Dash’s eyes opened in surprise, and they realized they could feel each others’ breath in their mouths. Dash leapt backwards, as Twilight blushed hugely, and cleared her throat.
“Yes, really, you did good Dash. Um. Try again!” Twilight grinned in embarrassment as the shield around them fell. The three other ponies in attendance climbed onto the dais to watch as Dash hastily backed up and calmly stared at the necklace on the ground.
“What’s going on?” Pinkie asked curiously, getting under Dash’s nose to stare at the necklace.
“Aww c’mon Pinkie! I was so close!” Dash sighed heavily in annoyance and gently pushed the pink mare away, but she popped back up. “I’m trying to do a little magic here, quit that!”
“Ooooh! Lemme see lemme see lemme see!” Pinkie bounced in place as Dash stared at the necklace, then her lips curled in annoyance.
“Neither of us will see anything if you keep interrupting me like this!”
“Interruptin’ ya from doin’ what?” Applejack poked in, staring at the necklace. “… Appraisin’ jewelry?”
“Girls, you need to let her concentrate, it’s absolutely imperative that she focuses her full attention on the necklace and nothing else. She’s trying to practice magic and one slight mix-up and there might not be a necklace anymore.” Twilight insisted. Applejack and Pinkie Pie glanced to each other, then to Dash, and backed away.
Luna watched with careful eyes as Dash’s little wings lifted and began to flap rapidly, and she could sense the magic coming from her. It was hard to describe exactly what it felt like compared to regular magic. In a way, it was stronger, but it also felt more volatile, like one wrong shake…
The necklace twitched, then twitched again, and all of them leaned forward to take a closer look. It flashed white, and then disappeared. Twilight stared for a while, then her jaw dropped. “Okay, I wasn’t being serious when I said it might not be a necklace anymore.”
“Then what happened?” Pinkie Pie asked, looking to Twilight. Applejack and Luna did the same and simply stared. The necklace was wrapped around her neck, but it was much lighter than the original silver-color it had been, almost blindingly so.
“I polished your necklace?” Dash asked, and she heard a slight jingling around her neck. When they looked, she had a silver necklace too, but it was dark silver. It was still beautiful, and very valuable looking.
“You reflected it.” Twilight corrected, staring at the necklace on Dash’s neck, and then tried to get a good look at her own. Luna herself took a few steps forward to get a better look.
“Dash, when you were focusing on the necklace, did you think of it as anything more than a necklace?” The Princess asked curiously, touching one and then the other. Same weight, same density, same composition, just differently colored.
“Well, I figured that it’s Twilight’s necklace, so…”
“So it appeared on Twilight as that’s how you chose it to appear. It must have appeared on you as a side-effect. It needed somepony to reflect on after all.” Princess Luna rubbed her chin and smiled. “It’s quite a curious power you have Rainbow Dash, I would love to study it if we have the time.”
“Which we don’t.” Dash pointed out. Twilight nodded in agreement.
“Oh, right.” Luna sighed quietly, then turned her head like everypony else did when several of the guards began to lift off and fly away from the castle, towards Canterlot.
Every guard that still had flight capabilities was leaving, except Night Brigade. Night Brigade had landed on the castle’s tower instead. “We’re scrambling to prepare Canterlot for your eventual arrival, we need to set up roosts for the dragons, prepare a parking zone, and report to Captain Hero. So, other than maybe two of us, you five are going to be alone. Miss Sparkle, I trust you can do this without us?” Night Brigade smiled in amusement, and Twilight nodded her head.
“Of course I can sir, no need to worry.” She smiled, and Night Brigade turned his head to the Princess.
“Princess, as the soldier in charge here, I must ask you to take over during my leave. You won’t have to do much more than make sure Miss Sparkle holds true to her word. Applejack.” He turned to the farm pony, who stood straighter as he looked over her. “… Eh, I’ll ask later. Keep Hayseed under control.”
“Wait, ask me what?” Applejack called as his wings spread and he lifted up.
“Later! TTFN!” He grinned and shot forward, towards Canterlot. Applejack watched after him. They all did. But only Princess Luna was smiling.
“Ah, to be young again. Twilight, you keep doing your job, Rainbow Dash, how about I give you a few more lessons in magic?” She offered, and the former-Pegasus nodded quickly.
It felt good to be practicing something again. To take her mind off the past few days’ events.
“Please be Night Brigade.” Cupcakes murmured as she watched out the open set of double doors, Hero joining her side. It had been a tense hour and half, as Celestia had been very insistent on hearing what Hero knew, but Hero kept telling her that it would make more sense coming from Twilight.
He himself didn’t know all that much about what the hay was going on, having gotten the shorthand version halfway through as Dash explained a brain-eating statue, but even still, Celestia was relentlessly questioning.
Speaking of Celestia, the tall and proud Princess was leaning forward tensely as she watched the figures from the sky outside speed towards Canterlot. The whole court was buzzing with chatter and excitement, many ponies demanding to know what was going on, but so far no information had been passed. Twilight’s parents were practically bouncing from their nervousness, and her friends were occupied keeping the children in line, although once Spike arrived they let him have the corralling job.
Rarity watched as many of the royal guard soldiers flew into the hall, regal and beautiful as they folded their wings and smartly entered, one-by-one, bowing before Hero each as they took their places on the sides of the red carpet. “Twilight Sparkle and Princess Luna are fine then?” Hero asked, and one of his subordinates nodded.
Night Brigade entered several seconds after the last soldier touched down, and sat before Hero as the captain sized him up. Night had been giddy the whole flight over here and it showed, his black-feathered wings weren’t all straight and in place, his eyes were wide with excitement, his smile a little too suspicious… And only now did he realized that Hero might not be amused by what he had planned.
Yet before he could say anything, Princess Celestia spoke up, “Is this all of you?” She asked in surprise, staring at the twenty-something guards on the carpet. “I could have sworn I’d released at least twice your number for this mission.”
The court quieted down so the conversation could commence, “Ah, well, see, this is all of us who can still fly. We left behind anyone too wounded to do so to be carried by the Qu- Twilight.” Night Brigade explained perkily.
“Wounded?” Celestia’s eyes opened wide. She felt like she’d been doing that a lot lately, she needed to stop being so surprised by this news, but she could feel her heart breaking some at the thought that her land was changing so much.
“Yes, Princess. We encountered heavy resistance while recovering Miss Sparkle. We were fortunate enough to lose minimal numbers considering the odds. It was all in the military report?” Hero raised an eyebrow.
“Ah, I’m… Sorry, I must have been distracted, but-”
“I understand Princess. Night, how far are they now?” Hero turned to Night Brigade, who had been winking at a secretly smirking Cupcakes.
“Thirty minutes. Tops. I left behind Mister Sir and Blue Watcher to take care of some extra things.”
“Well, parking, for one.”
Hero just nodded sagely as Celestia blinked her eyes rapidly.
“Alright, everypony, my name is Blue Watcher.” All the ponies and the dragon present turned their heads slowly to watch as a dashing pink-coated soldier walked slowly around the dais. “I am here to guide the dragons to a proper roost as well as set up a parking zone for you Miss Sparkle.”
“Well, alright, makes sense and all but how do ya plan to lead the dragons?” Applejack spoke up, and Blue clapped his hooves together. Twilight stopped watching Blue to turn to Rainbow Dash, who was quietly toying with her reflected necklace and tiara. Dash learned quickly. Probably in part due to the magic itself, but Dash was dedicated and confident. She’d been pulling stuff apart and pulling them together the entire time, getting more and more complicated as she did. Even an apple meant for Hayseed had been split, and both reflections had been eaten. Not at the same time even, even though one side got destroyed, the other was perfectly fine.
“It’s simple, really. Miss Applejack, I am going to ask you to help guide the dragons, seeing as you have the special draconic touch.” He explained with a confident smile. Twilight’s ear was still cocked towards Blue, but she was still watching Rainbow Dash.
“Um, look, no offense, but the only dragon I have ever ridden was Hayseed and that was for a real short time. I don’t think I can lead a whole mess of ‘em.” Part of Twilight was happy, part of it was scared. She was going home, but once there she would have to explain everything to Celestia, to the whole court, and then she’d have to set off to perform Anemone’s task. As she stared at Dash, she felt a little confidence kindling inside of her. Dash would be there at least, maybe even more of her friends.
“Try. You’re a farm filly, use your herding skills.” Blue advised, and Applejack sighed heavily. Twilight looked away from Rainbow Dash as they heard a high-pitched whistle. They saw Applejack standing there, Hayseed getting onto his feet quickly, and the air was filled with the noise of flapping wings. Suddenly they were surrounded by the entire pack of dragons, each making a soft whistling noise in answer to Applejack.
“… Uh.” She gave a sharp, short whistle, and they all slipped into a formation ring around the castle. “Okay…”
“If you need help, I’m sure Princess Luna can come along. I’ll be marking where the roosts will be, then making a parking zone. We will then report immediately to Princess Celestia and wait for Twilight’s arrival. Clear?” There were a few nods, and Blue grinned. “Alright! Applejack, you get on Hayseed, Princess Luna, you come along to keep the dragons in line, everypony else-”
“I want to go with AJ.” Pinkie Pie waved her hoof. “I need to go tell Fluttershy and Rarity that everypony is okie-dokie, hunky-dory.” The pink filly smiled, and Blue shrugged. Applejack carefully climbed Hayseed’s back and sat in the saddle while she took ahold of the reins, Pinky Pie sitting behind her with her front legs wrapped around the farm pony’s chest. Hayseed flapped his mighty wings once to lift off, and then shot into the sky.
Princess Luna lightly pecked Twilight on her horn, then flew off after Applejack as the blue mare whistled high, and the dragons fell in line behind her as Blue lead the way.
Rainbow Dash and Twilight looked to each other quietly, then forward as the mountain of Canterlot rose, and Twilight began to shift it up so they would go through the clouds to the palace itself. “All alone again.” Rainbow Dash mumbled quietly, nervousness setting in. She reflected herself, just for the sense of security as she stared at all corners of the sky.
“But we’re home now. Closer to safety.” Twilight sighed softly in peace. She was looking forward to that, even though it may not last so long.
“True.” Red Dash quietly stood next to her, watching forward as they flew. “Closer to a warm bath and bed.”
“Closer to actual land food.”
“Closer to friends.”
They both sat there for a second, then spoke up at the same time, “Cllllooo~ooosseeerrrr to Hooo~ooommmee~ee!” They sang, paused, glanced to each other, then began to laugh.
“I don’t think I understand what exactly you mean by parking. Carriages?” Celestia raised an eyebrow. Hero and Night both opened their mouths at the same time, but were interrupted by a loud, piercing whistle. Everypony turned towards the door at the sound of the whistle.
“Hey!” Applebloom stood up straight, as did Big Mac and Granny Smith a few feet away. That noise! It couldn’t be anypony else. “That was Applejack’s whistle!” She began to bounce a little as she ran to the door. She sucked in a deep breath, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle right behind her, and whistled loud, piercingly, making Hero’s eyes widen.
“Oh crap.” He said in realization. That was a herding whistle, he knew. What would Applejack be herding in the sky? “Girls!” He shouted, Night springing forward to grab them. “Away from the doors! Now!”
“What?” Applebloom squeaked as she was pushed aside by Night Brigade, Silly having the guards standing further from the middle carpet.
There was a series of similar whistles outside, followed by one incredibly frantic one that was most likely Applejack. “No! No no no no ya’ll stubborn thing stop that! That ain’t at all where ya need ta- follow me ya no-listenin’ lizard!”
“Window!” Came another shout.
“Pinkie Pie?” Rarity spoke up at the sound of the voice. Fluttershy had perked her ears up as they heard another series of whistles. “What’s going on?” Rarity turned to Hero, who immediately charged up the stairs and stood next to Celestia, followed by Night Brigade and Silly Cupcakes.
“Night, if this is your fault-”
“No I swear it’s not! I had plans for the castle is all!” Night interrupted frantically as the whistles got closer.
“So you do have plans.” Hero snarled, right as he turned and watched a dark shape shoot up from beneath, covering the window for a moment before looping in the air.
“Hero…?” Celestia squeaked as she saw it land. A mass of scaled muscle. Giant reptilian wings. Razor sharp claws and teeth. Piercing yellow eyes. There was now a dragon sitting on her window balcony, and it whistled high and loud. The entire court had gone completely still as the dragon ducked its head and stepped into the room.
“Hayseed, ya’ll best be gettin’ out of here!” Applejack grunted as the dragon stared around slowly.
Fluttershy’s scream died in her throat. Rarity wavered from near fainting. The girls stopped squealing in fear as they looked up at the top of the dragon. All the adults in the audience just stared.
Applejack slid off the back of the dragon as Pinkie Pie followed, but while Pinkie Pie stood to the side under the folded wing, Applejack walked around to the front of the dragon. “Hayseed!” She snapped, and the dragon looked down to her. “I don’ care watcha hear, ya’ll just don’t go followin’ strange noises! What if that was a Whistlin’ Toothy Snapper? Ya’ll coulda gone and gotcherself hurt!”
The dragon’s eyes lowered, as did its body as it got level with Applejack and…
“Now ya’ll see here Hayseed, ya gotta have a bit of discipline or ya’ll could just go get called by any old pony who knows a whistle or two. Am I clear?” She asked, gently rubbing the dragon’s snout as it nodded slowly, making soft growls and squeaks that sounded like it was definitely whimpering.
“… Applejack?” Applejack perked up, and finally seemed to realize where she was. She saw Celestia staring at her with huge eyes. She smiled nervously, but looked to where the voice came from. Big Mac, for the first time looking truly scared, spoke up. “Ya’ll… What’s going on?”
“Oh, uh, hey Big Mac. This is my new friend. Uh, his name is Hayseed.” She turned to look at the dragon, which pressed its big snout to her side and nuzzled, seeking forgiveness. “Oh quit bein’ a big baby, I ain’t mad…” Hayseed began to coo.
“So you finally showed up!” Night Brigade walked down with a smile, and Hayseed sniffed in amusement as he stood and sat back on his haunches. Hero was behind him, a little more slowly to follow him towards a dragon. “What about the rest of the dragons you were herding?”
“… Uh?” Celestia shook her head in disbelief.
“Well, Blue started whistlin’ like mad to get their attention so they all went to follow him, but Hayseed was dead-set on comin’ here. Who was the foal that was whistlin’?” She glanced around, and Applebloom was gently nudged forward.
“Uh… Th-that’d be me Applejack.” She tried to look very small, and succeeded.
“Well that explains it. Hayseed musta thought yours was mine or somethin’. That it Hayseed?” She looked up to the dragon, who nodded his big head, leaned down, and Applebloom squirmed as it stared at her.
Applejack jumped, and a majority of the crowd screamed as the dragon reached out and picked up the squirming filly, then rested her on the crook of his arm, and cradled her quietly. Applejack just stared as Applebloom just laid on the dragon’s arms, frozen in confusion. “Uh, Hayseed, that’s my little sister Applebloom.” She explained, and again the dragon nodded, cooing quietly. “… Good dragon.”
“Hold on just a minute!” Applejack’s eye twitched as she heard that tone. Rarity slowly walked out of the crowd towards Applejack, staring up at the dragon. “You come barreling in on a dragon of all things, which may I remind you, you did not have when you set out to find Twilight, and now you have these fancy-” she waved her dainty hoof at Applejack’s person, at the clothing she was wearing, “-these fancy duds? I demand to know what is going on!”
“That makes two of us.” Celestia’s eyes narrowed, and Hero began to feel a little small. Wisely, he hid behind the much less dangerous fifteen-foot fire-breathing mega-reptile.
“We picked up Hayseed when we protected him from some jerk of a pony!” Pinkie bounced merrily, rubbing Hayseed’s side. “And as for our fancy clothes? All Twilight’s work!” Everypony looked to Pinkie now, who was wearing a sweeping, envy-sparking little number.
“Tech-nick-ally,” Applejack rubbed her chin, “It wasn’t her, it was Laputa.”
“Oh right, but it only did that because of Twilight. If it wasn’t for Twilight, Laputa wouldn’t have made the clothes.” Pinkie Pie pointed out, and Applejack shrugged.
“I guess. Man, magic makes everything complicated. Hey, speakin’ of Twilight and Laputa, they shouldn’t be too far behind. Maybe we should go lookin’ for ‘em. Escort ‘em. We already screwed up this much.” Applejack mused as she tugged on a rein, and Hayseed set the quaking Applebloom on the ground, leaned down, and allowed Applejack and Pinkie Pie back on.
“Wait!” Celestia cried out, frustration in her voice.
Applejack did not. Hero felt himself get exposed as the dragon turned and took off.
“None of you have explained anything!” Celestia shouted, the entire crowd just watching with shock.
“No worries Princess! By the end of the night, everything will make perfect sense. Sort of.” Night Brigade smiled in promise as he stood next to Hero, who was grumbling loudly.
Applebloom finally stopped shaking as she watched the dragon leave, and turned to Rarity and Fluttershy. Fluttershy was on her back, twitching ever so slightly as Rarity had a very quiet tantrum with an enormously cocked eyebrow. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle just stared at the door. “Dude.” Scootaloo spoke up. “Your sister is awesome.”
“Children grow up so fast.” Uncle Orange mumbled quietly, trying to calm himself down with a few deep-breathing exercises.
“One moment they run off to work on a farm, the next they’re invading palaces on top of dragons.” Aunt Orange had the stiffest smile anypony had ever seen on her.
It was quiet outside the palace. The open-air garden was, for the first time, in a long while, completely quiet. Hayseed, the elderly gardener whistled softly to himself as he worked, nervous as he stared all around his grounds as he trimmed hedges. The animals were dead silent, and a good number of them were sitting out of their hiding places, staring off at the fenced cliffside, towards the clouds.
They sensed something. He knew this much, they reacted much the same way when they’d felt Nightmare Moon coming, but they seemed more peaceful. They weren’t tensed, as if waiting for the end of the world to come, they weren’t shaking as if they were about to be subject to judgment, no, the little animals waited with expectancy. They scooted ever closer to the edge of the cliff and stared, noses twitching.
He had never seen them this calm before. Even when Celestia entered the grounds they never just gathered around and waited for her to come by. Something was happening. Possibly something big. Hayseed was careful as he worked around a rose bush, having nearly cut off one of the dainty flowers. Heck of a way to start a shift.
He knew there was a meeting going on in the hall, he didn’t know how big or important it was, or what it was about at all, he just heard the chatter earlier while tending to the Palace’s potted plants. Was a pretty big meeting though, perhaps they were planning a party?
He idly wandered what it could have been while working in a slow circle. Then he heard it. One of the rabbits let out a squeak, followed by the rest of the rabbits, then the bears roared, the birds squawked, and monkeys chattered and bounced, hitting the ground. He turned his head towards the deafening noise, hearing them all make as much noise as possible, bouncing around like an earthquake had hit and watching the cliff. He didn’t see it at first, he was concentrating too much on the how much the loudness hurt his ears, but then he spied it. A dark shape among the reddening clouds. It was a weird dark cylinder.
The animals were cheering at it. Hayseed stared at it for several long seconds, and the more he stared the more he noticed the soft, easy purple glow around it. The longer he stared, the more he felt his old bones ease up. The wariness of his wrinkled, tired body began to dissipate, and the itching throat he’d been developing from years of working through this pollen was forgotten. No, not forgotten, it was no longer there. He did not see the wrinkles on his body fade to soft lines, nor the tired bags disappear under his eyes.
His gray hair began to blacken again, and his brown fur quickly regained a lot of its luster. His body was unstrained as he stared at the light, and he knew, just knew it was something big. He turned quickly, and faster than he’d run in the past twenty years, he charged towards the palace.
He shot through doorway after doorway, down the halls and finally towards the open throne room. He leapt inside, staring up at Celestia as he took a deep breath, his lungs not needing any more sustainment than that one breath. “Princess Celestia!”
The Princess stared at the intruder. She stared at his hat, his pipe, his clothes, and she raked her memory. This was her gardener of around fifty years. This was Hayseed, yet he looked twenty years young. And he was glowing purple. “Hayseed?” She whispered in surprise. Today was just one big smorgasbord of shock and surprise and it was making her more and more frustrated.
“Yes!” He cried out, his voice young and powerful again, “Princess Celestia you have to come out back! The cliff garden, oh goodness it’s amazing!” He whispered loudly, unaware of all the eyes on him. “A great tower rising out of the clouds! It was glowing purple, I could feel it just,” he stomped his hooves rapidly, “it was healing me Princess! The animals went mad when they saw it, they just started cheering and hopping around like crazy! Something amazing is happening Princess!”
Hero took a step forward, but Night Brigade was already charging forward, “Twilight’s here!” He sang happily, rounding the corner quickly. Hero facehoofed, but heard the hooves around him begin to move.
“Was he being serious? Twilight’s here?” Celestia asked, Twilight’s parents already rushing towards the door.
“Completely. Everything will make sense when she tells her story. Come.” He ran towards the door, and heard the stampede behind him.
Fluttershy was the closest behind him, Rarity just inches behind her, the Cutie Mark Crusaders under their legs as the Oranges were almost just keeping up, but couldn’t. Spike was pumping his little arms and legs to keep up, but he was overtaken by the crowd as they followed. Celestia was technically ahead, as she was flying just outside the windows as she aimed towards the cliff garden. She landed, and waded her way through the mass of cheering animals who barely moved on her appearance, and stood by Night Brigade and Twilight’s parents.
In the distance, she saw it. She felt Fluttershy, Rarity, the Crusaders appear right behind her to watch, Hero leaping over them to stand in front of them as they watched the rising figure in the distance. The entire crowd showed up behind the animals.
Hayseed stared at the dark figure coming from the clouds, moving towards them. The cylinder was wider, taller, and was moving towards them rapidly. Several of the royal guard flew out over them, and began to hover in certain places. His new and improved eyes saw it, and he gasped. “There’s a little unicorn up there.” He pointed out. Celestia and the parents just watched with wide eyes as they saw it.
“That,” Twilight’s mother whispered, “that’s her?” She looked to her husband. He nodded slowly as the Cylinder came above the clouds, and soon there was a whole new mass rising above it, which they began to recognize as an entire structure.
“Is that a castle?” Somepony from the crowd shouted over the loud animals, and they saw it was. An entire castle was coming above the crowds, glowing purple, and all who witnessed it felt their maladies and twinges leave as they stared at the glowing castle.
It grew taller and taller, until it towered above the Canterlot castle, a large, flat plot of floating land holding the castle. They could see it in all its glory, it’s multiple stories, the enormous multi-colored banners with Twilight’s cutie mark adorning them, the giant Twilight statue gracefully caught in mid-leap above the enormous main entrance.
From the Palace behind them, an enormous mountain horn blared, followed by three more as they called to announce the castle’s arrival, and soon every servant, guard, noble, and attendant in the castle was at their windows, staring as the floating castle drew near.
In the next moment, Mister Sir ignited the fireworks he’d found, and the sky filled with explosions of color and flaring lights as the mountain horns kept roaring in the distance. The castle lit up with color as the pony on top of it stared down at the castle.
It hovered maybe ten meters away from the cliffside, the edge of the land that held the castle just above the cliff itself. Then it stopped moving.
Every pony stared open-mouthed at the castle. Fluttershy couldn’t move, its magnificence holding her still as she tried to take in every bit of its glory at once. It dominated the sky, the landscape itself, and dwarfed the Princesses’ palace in both beauty and size. The horns around them stopped blaring.
Rarity’s entire body quaked and she forced herself to sit, watching the banners and the statue. It was Twilight on this castle. This castle somehow had Twilight all over it. It was absolutely glorious, and filled every vanity a pony could ever have. It mesmerized and terrified her to watch it. The silent castle sat still, the purple glow leaving it.
“Hero.” Celestia called out weakly, staring at the grand building above them. “What… In all of Equestria, what is going on?”
“It’s very hard to explain. I wasn’t sure you’d believe me if I told you.” Hero mentioned idly. The setting sun behind the castle made it look both grand and fearsome. He and the Princess sat and watched with mixed emotions as purple, star-specked magic stairs appeared between the castle’s island and the cliff.
Celestia, in all her life, had never been so worried, so nervous, so scared, yet with such a strange sense of relief. Did this feel right? Not at all. It scared her so much to see her student’s sign all over this weird, floating thing, but that could only mean she was at the very least safe.
Night Brigade climbed the steps and stared at the castle for a few moments in full view of everypony, then turned to face the crowd. “Now presenting, the Queen’s personal guard: Rainbow Dash!” He roared to the crowd, his Thespian training kicking into high gear as excitement filled him. At the edge of the island, Rainbow Dash appeared. Then another Dash. Then another. All in all, six Dashes stood at the edge of the island, all wearing holsters, all with mono-colored hair.
The six of them surveyed the crowd as Fluttershy’s heart beat rapidly. She could feel Rarity next to her, see her mouth just dropping as they watched the six nearly identical Dash’s, all looking passive, happy, and pleasant. There was no way to describe how it felt, especially as two Pegasi stepped forward from the crowd.
“Rainbow Dash?” The female whispered just high enough for everyone to hear.
“… Hi mom.” The yellow Dash called back, the red one’s head turned as if watching something. Then the purple one spoke up. “I need everypony to listen, that includes the animals. If you are not Princess Celestia, Fluttershy, Rarity, Hero , my parents or,” she stared at two ponies standing closest to the stairs, “Twilight’s parents, I think, then stand back and give us some space.”
The crowd obeyed, even the animals, who were now quiet. The red one called back behind her, “Alright Twilight, I think we’re okay.”
The entire crowd tensed as Night smirked. “And now presenting the grand Queen of the Sky and the Sea, Queen Twilight Sparkle.” He edged away from the stairs as more than one gasp filled the air.
The Two middle Dash’s had split, and down came Twilight. Still in full royal regalia, with a stride that spoke ages of wisdom and a gaze that had seen many sights. She looked equally passive, though tired, and somewhat relieved. The only sound was her footsteps mixed with the six Dash’s as they walked down the stairs, and stood on the grass in front of the castle. Behind them, at the top of the stairs, Hayseed the dragon and his two riders landed, watching the crowd.
It hit them.
One by one, all but everypony nearest to them began to bow, while Twilight stopped at the foot of the stairs, the Dash’s stopping with her. Twilight looked around at everypony, her face never changing as she felt her heart beat. They were bowing to her. She did not want them bowing to her. The shocked looks she’d expected, but this was all…
Night Brigade. She would have a word with him later.
Everything was silent as Twilight considered herself, the Dash’s waited for Twilight, the crowd waited to be relieved, and the ponies up front simply stared in absolute awe and shock. All but Hero, who turned his head as he heard little feet.
“Twilight!” The heads turned as a small purple dragon emerged from the crowd, and without hesitation charged towards the pony who had raised him. There was not a single bit of hesitation as Twilight’s smile grew absolutely massive, and she tugged Spike into the biggest hug she could manage.
It felt so good, all this relief and joy, that it hurt. After days of pain, confusion, jobs, and fear, she had Spike back in her arms. The little dragon pressed his head to her chest, ignoring the necklace, and they both let out a breath of relief.
All in all, life felt right again.
Y'know, I named the dragon before I found out the gardener's name. That was an awkward feeling.
Twilight: "We're going home!"
Shallom: "We're going home!"
Dash: "We're going home!"
Shallom: "We're going home!"
Galio: "Balla, go obsess over Twilight now."
Twilight: "We're going home!"
Applejack: "Canterlot has shitty defenses against dragons, apparently!"
Twilight: "We're home!"
Celestia: "I STILL KNOW NOTHING."