Heart of the Mountain
Written by The Descendant
Chapter 3: "Shadowed Promises"
"Twilight!" he screamed, running forward, the princesses startling, awakening from their transcendent arias. "No," cried Celestia, "No!"
Twilight Sparkle had not wanted to look up, had wanted to keep bowing to the departing lord. Yet, at once she ventured a glance as he slipped through. As soon as he did she felt something pull at her, something grab at her from beyond the gate.
She had closed her eyes, had looked down to the floor, remembering her promise. She would do nothing; touch nothing, without the permission of the princesses.
When the two had begun to sing it had strengthened her, and she put the feeling aside. As the gates had started to swing shut the voices began again, and she sensed with her magic something powerful, something she was meant to dread…
…yet something so inviting.
Her eyes flashed open, almost against her own will. She shut them, but before she had they caught a glimpse of something beyond the gate, a swirling white cloud that settled down into a cascading tunnel…one that called to her, drew her within…
"No, no…" she told herself, "They told me not to, not to…"
And with that she had opened her eyes again, and saw the blackness beyond the gate. As she had done so it no longer became a question of whether she had wanted to or not…
Her body lifted around her, and she had felt herself walking, walking wordlessly past the singing princesses, past the enchanted Spike, and up to the gate. As she crossed the sill something buffeted her, and inside her own mind Twilight fought to pull back, but her body would not restrain itself.
Before her the onyx expanse was retreating into clouds, and she felt her hoof lift, and she placed it there…
She was falling through the sky! No, not falling…drifting…the vapors of the clouds drifting around her.
Soon the green expanse of the world opened before her…and there was Canterlot. It was not the throne city she knew…it was smaller, somehow younger, and it shone with a greater light.
She felt herself sweeping over it, looking at it over the rooftops of the palace.
There on the common, the same vast garden space she had looked on from her balcony, a family played. Two large proud alicorns were there, and seven foals, all playing on the grass, racing to one another, and calling to each other. The stallion was there, and two of the foals, one blue and black, the other white and pink, touched her heart with their joy…and she knew them…
The clouds shifted again and Canterlot disappeared.
She was raised up and flew across Equestria, in her mind she saw the lands she knew racing away beneath her. Soon she faced young mountains with jagged peaks.
There was a wheel in the sky, a wheel of time, and it was drawing backwards. There was a great crack of thunder, and a storm and a fire upon the mountains. Her mind raced her to that place…and as she watched an alicorn descended from the heavens and his hooves cracked the mountain, and a pass through it was cleft.
Twilight looked upon the alicorn. He was proud, strong, young. She knew then that it was the same stallion she had beheld not a minute before.
He raised his head to the swirling sky and neighed, a fearsome animal sound. The sound echoed down across the land and out into the young country beyond, and the heavens delivered another alicorn into the world, a mare.
The wheel in the sky flew backwards more, and Twilight saw the world from afar, as though she were a passing comet, or a distant moon.
And as she did the world was cracked, it buckled. It was opened, as a book opens, and into it were placed shards of wood and earth, and so she watched Equestria being born.
The wheel turned, and forward she went, back to the world. Now down the mountains that border Equestria she saw ponies arriving…earth ponies strong and industrious. Pegasus ponies, proud and diligent, winged their way down the slopes. Finally her own race, the magical and contemplative unicorns, their hooves making uncertain steps down the mountainside.
Now she was back in Canterlot, the larger, older Canterlot she remembers…yet not so old. Here she saw her teacher, yet younger, not yet so filled with wisdom or light. Luna was with her, but in the larger ennobled form she had before she was reduced.
They were so sad…they were the only alicorns in the city.
Suddenly all was black, and Twilight heard the sounds of a terrible battle, one fought with magic. The sounds of two magical beings in the throws of a desperate battle crashed through her mind, and the harsh cries of wounded mares echoing through the dark joined the cacophony.
The scene lifted again, and her mentor was alone. Celestia in her full glory sat alone on the familiar throne within the palace…weeping, crying unabashedly.
Suddenly Twilight was lifted high above Equestria, so high that she could see all of it, all of it she could imagine and more. All of the places she knew, places she'd visited, places she knew only by name…all of Equestria spread out before her in a panorama of beauty and life.
Yet, as she looked on in wonder something moved. From beyond the borders of Equestria something rose up…swirling forms.
As Twilight looked on intruders that she could neither name nor understand spoiled the magic of the mountain.
"It is a blasphemy," said three voices in unison, shocking Twilight out of her contemplation, "and we hate it, but we will suffer it to exist, Twilight Sparkle, if you will give us your strength."
"What...what, who are you?" she answers.
"If you will bow to us, you can reign over your beloved Equestria," said the three voices, "and we will have the rest."
"What, no…my Majesty…" said Twilight, regaining herself.
"Usurpers!" called the three, "We will not suffer the alicorns! Though, we will give you…"
"No, no I'll not betray…" called Twilight.
"Yes, yes you will, bow to us…" spoke the three voices in sweet tones.
"No, I'm loyal to Celestia, I won't…" she gasped.
"Yes, dear, yes you will…" they replied.
That is what Spike saw her mouthing as he ran to her, saw the battle she was fighting, but could not hear the words.
As Spike jumped over the sill of the gate something struck at him, something pulled at his heart and mind. His heart though was set on Twilight, and his mind on his task, and the pull passed.
"Twi, Twi!" he implored, pulling her tail. As she fell free of the onyx surface the gates came closer to closing. As he did so he thought he heard wails erupt from beyond the blackness of the onyx, but he quickly put it aside, trying to shove or push her free of the gates.
Twilight could not move, could only breathe hard, her eyes distant, her mind falling into the darkness of shock. "Twi!" called the little dragon, placing his hands on either side of her face, "Twi you have to get up, you have to run, walk…canter…teleport! Anything!" he pleaded. Yet, the unicorn did not move, could not move.
"I need help, please!" called the little dragon as the princesses galloped up to the very edge of the sill, then stopped. "Please!" he called again.
"It is beyond us to cross the sill!" answered Luna, her own face showing fear and confusion.
"What do I do?!" called Spike, trying still to push, pull, lift Twilight beyond the closing gate. Its two wings were now less far apart than the breadth of the trunk of the Ponyville library.
There was a flash of magic, and several spells exploded uselessly around him, Spike trying to shield his eyes and Twilight's as well. When he opened them the two were still within the gate. He looked to the princesses again; saw that between them they were charging one last spell. The two opened their eyes, and from their horns flashed a massive arc of magic, framed by the closing gate.
As it reached them Spike looked down to Twilight. She was now enveloped in blue flame, but instead of heat he felt coolness crossing his scales. As he watched the flames were absorbed into Twilight, filling her body.
"Spike," came the calm voice of Celestia, "You must breathe your fire upon her."
"But," he said, looking to the older sister. In her face he saw certainty, and he at once took a deep breath.
"Forgive me," he thought, and consigned his dearest friend to the green flames.
He did not dare open his eyes until he knew that her body had burnt away, until his flames splashed across the floor in long cords.
He opened his eyes in time to see her solidify, to see her come thudding down next to Celestia and Luna, beyond the sill and doors of the closing gate.
At once Twilight let out a scream of horrific pain, an awful sound that shred his heart to hear, and she thrashed about on the stones.
Spike covered his mouth with his hands, reeled in the horror of what he had done. He took a step back from the awful scene that played out beyond the narrowing gate…and at once his spines touched the black onyx.
"Spike," called three voices in unison, "See what we would show you…"
Into Spike's mind came a vision of a massive and powerful dragon, his wings wide, and his scales huge and terrible.
Beneath him was piled a hoard of gold and jewels and gilded weapons of amounts and quantity that he could not start to contemplate. It filled the palace of Canterlot; it spilled out into the streets.
Before the dragon bowed all of the living creatures Spike had ever beheld, from the massive and terrifying hydra down to the tiny, yet reviled, Angel the bunny.
In front of the animals and birds, at the forefront of the assembly, knelt the ponies, cowering before the dragon. Here knelt all of the ponies he had met, and many he could not even name. Good ponies, Big Mac, Applebloom, Snips, Snails, Ditzy, all cowered before the dragon, fearful and despondent. In front of them knelt his friends, Dash, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rarity, Fluttershy…they all knelt there.
And beneath the dragon, the crushed and broken forms of the Two Sisters lay in disgusting repose, unmoving.
Spike was sickened by it…disgusted.
"Why…why would you show me…" he began, but it was not his mouth that moved, but the mouth of the dragon. It was not his voice, but an awful one, like a roll of thunder.
At once he understood.
"All of this could be yours, Spike, if you would give us your strength," spoke the three voices in unison, in a hopeful tone.
The dragon looked down, saw the strength in him, saw how powerful he was. But as Spike, no, not Spike, this mockery of Spike, what a regular dragon would want…as this parody looked down he saw her there, crying.
There was Twilight, kneeling before him. Crying at his presence, terrified of him. He looked to her and she bowed lower, begged him for mercy as she wailed in fear and uncertainty.
Spike curled his lip, the lip of that monstrous dragon, and spoke, "You can not…" he said in that voice, taking a step forward in the bulking form.
"No!" cried the three voices, now in panic.
"You can not…" spoke that dragon, taking steps forward, that false world falling away in front of it.
"…even begin to imagine by how far you missed your guess," said Spike, walking away from the black expanse. The voices of the princesses called to him, and he saw the brass gate closing, now not much wider than himself.
Spike gave a quick sneer to the wall of onyx, and then ran. He ran as fast as he could, first on two legs, and then on all four. In bounding strides he cleared the sill of the gate and then leapt past the doors.
He cleared them in fine fashion, not touching either one as he sailed through, his back firmly turned on the vision that the intruders in the wall had presented him.
He came before the princesses; their horns already alight, working their magic over the forlorn figure of Twilight. As he approached them the gate closed behind him with a massive booming sound, one that echoed through the cavernous space.
He held his hands over his mouth as he looked at her, saw the burns…
"Spike," said Luna, "don't be fearful, look."
He leaned in closer, and as their magic wafted over Twilight the burns fell away, her purple hue returning. The pain melted off her face, replaced by a quiet stillness.
"Oh Twilight…what…" he began, looking down to her, the princesses kneeling on either side of him.
A new threat reached them, and around them great groaning sounds were audible.
"Come," said Celestia, rising up, "the temple is closing, returning to rock. We must be off."
Around them the rock face crept in, enveloping the carved plants and the great pillars.
"We'll never make it to the archway!" called Spike, clutching at Twilight's still form once more. He quickly looked up to the sisters to see their horns already alight, powerful magic swirling about them, lowing over the group.
"Oh, right," he said, closing his eyes, exhaling.
In a flash of magic the Sister Sovereigns, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike flashed out of the Temple at the Heart of the Mountain. As it closed in on itself the Gate of Brass was placed once again into a lonely stillness, undisturbed and as alone as any other tomb.
Twilight Sparkle felt the presence of others near her. A great sound of movement surrounded her. She did not open her eyes at first, not knowing what would be there. Instead she listened…
"…and if we had crossed the sill we would have become as they," spoke the voice of Princess Luna, softly and with a hint of resignation.
"I'm…I'm afraid I don't quite…" replied the voice of Spike, sounding confused.
Nearby the melodic laughter of Celestia let Twilight know that all was all right. Her teacher's voice filled her, and as Celestia spoke she regained strength, "More aged and learned scholars than yourself have struggled with it, Spike. You should be proud of how you…oh, look! The sleeper has awakened!"
"Twi, Twi!" called Spike, leaping to her as she raised her head. She let him embrace her as she gathered in her surroundings.
They were lying on the great dais where the sisters raised and lowered their elements, seated on the long cushions. Twilight looked to see the red band of the sun gathered at the edge of the Eastern Mountains, awaiting the deep magic of Celestia.
"Sister," spoke Luna, "I wane."
"And I dawn," said Celestia, and with that her eyes became brighter, and the sun moved up over the mountains. So it was that a new day broke over Equestria.
Twilight, wobbling, turned towards the view beyond. As the great river parted around them and spilled past the sides of the dais to the earth below she looked into the distance. There in the far, far distance the last few lights of Ponyville shown through the morning mist.
"Twilight," spoke Celestia, leaning closer. "Are you well?"
Twilight shook her head, Spike finally releasing her, looking up to her with worried eyes.
"You must have questions. I will try to answer…"
"I want to go home."
"I…I want to go home!" bawled Twilight Sparkle, falling over into the great white flank of her teacher, crying into her side with heaving sobs.
Celestia embraced her, and all there on the dais moved closer, put their clawed hands and hooves upon her as she wailed.
"Of course…of course, my beloved student," said the elder sister, "You've diligently and faithfully completed your work here. As you always have."
Twilight tried to control her tears, tried to listen. She gathered herself up and looked to her mentor with big tears still running down her face.
"Forgive me, my student, forgive me…" said Celestia, a pained expression passing over her.
"Forgive…forgive, but… I broke my…prom, promise not to touch…" stammered Twilight through her sobs.
"I was wrong. I was too…proud…I had assumed because you had the dream that you were prepared to face the Heart of the Mountain, and through most of it you performed marvelously," said Celestia, laying her head alongside Twilight's, "and you as well Spike."
The dragon blushed and ran his foot back and forth across the dais floor.
"But, in my arrogance I assumed I had already given you enough practice at being in the presence of Deep Magic, but…but I had not…and it called to you in ways you were simply not prepared to anticipate. Forgive me."
Twilight looked upon the face of her teacher. She tried to picture the magnificent alicorn as the tiny pink and white foal again, to see that world which the gate had shown her. But, as always, the majestic and graceful form filled her eyes.
"You are as ever, too kind, my princess," said Twilight Sparkle, "I have trusted that you would tell me if there was anything wrong, I should not have snuck after you, I should not have dragged Spike along when he knew better…" she said, nuzzling him.
"I do trust you, and you will be better prepared next time, I promise," said Celestia.
"Next time?!" shouted Spike and Twilight in unison, in a voice so distraught that passing unicorns looked up to the dais in alarm.
The princesses looked to them, and the two sat. For long moments all was silent, and together the four watched as day crept over the lands over which the Two Sister Sovereigns held dominion. The reigns of Procer Celestia Invictus and Procer Luna Revenio, the two greatest living alicorns, yet not the two greatest alicorns to have lived, moved forward.
"The Heart of the Mountain would not have shown you what it did without reason, Twilight, and if not for the intrusion of those who tainted your vision who knows what else you would have learned…"
Twilight struggled with this, trying to put pieces together.
"If you had not been in danger of being closed behind the doors and cast into the blackness, down into the death-like dreaming, if you had been stronger the Heart would have shown you much beyond what you had witnessed…you should be proud you were strong enough to see what you saw and come out of there as unscathed as you are…"
"Why?" interrupted Spike, "What did Twilight see?"
There was no answer, and Spike wrapped his tail around himself self-consciously.
"I know what you saw as well, Spike, what those who marred the Heart offered you," said Celestia. Spike clenched his teeth in painful embarrassment, hating the idea that his sovereign should see such things. "I know the choice you made, and the quality of your heart," said Celestia, moving her noble head to face him.
"There is none whom I would rather have in the service of my designate, Spike. You are a little dragon," she said, affixing him with a kiss that made him blush as brightly as the dawning sun, "but a little dragon is a dragon none the less, and they are always true to their hearts."
Twilight fought to her feet, shaking still.
"Princess Celestia…do, do I really need to face that again. Must I?"
"Yes," answered the princess, looking to her from where she kneeled, "But the next time you will be better prepared, and so will all of my students whom still await. The Heart can not protect us forever, and that they were able to mar the Heart at your approach shows that they are moving faster than I had hoped…but they have played their hand too early in revealing themselves so…"
Twilight looked to her mentor in bewilderment. "I don't…I don't understand," she said, wrinkling her nose.
With a great sigh Celestia looked out over her domain, and then back to Twilight. "I know…and this knowledge, what you have seen, would be a burden to you, until you were strong enough to understand it…"
Twilight kneeled before her teacher once more, and Celestia gathered her to her again.
"And so, Twilight I ask that you let me lift it from you until such time as you are able to better understand."
Twilight thought, reflected, and then nodded.
Soon she felt the noble head of her teacher touching hers, and she was glad of it.
"You as well Spike," spoke Princess Luna, yawning.
"Oh, okay…ummm," said the dragon turning towards her.
Luna gathered a blushing Spike to her, and laid her head to his. With an ignition of magic the two sisters spoke one word…
…and a purple shaft of light, visible all the way to Ponyville, erupted from the four.
It was in Canterlot, that famous and fabled city, where Twilight Sparkle was made to forget the gate.
Canterlot, that shining city, that city where magic deep and powerful flows just as freely as the water that ripples through its canals and slipways. It was there where Twilight had the gate put out of her mind, at least until she would need to remember it. It was in that city, capital and throne of the Two Sisters, where the Gate of Brass slept in its grave, awaiting the day it would be called upon to reveal all.