(Cheers to Fausticorn for the rapid-fire preread!)
Starburst appeared high in the air above the park, glowing fiery purple-red as he fed all of his magic into his levitation spell. He saw one of the things coming straight towards him, its forelegs raised, its fanged mouth open wide. He glanced straight up and squinted at the sun. Focusing his mind, he pulled the magic of raw solar fire into his horn and blasted the oncoming monster with a psychokinetic shock that blew it into oblivion. He shook his head, dizzy from the pain of the spell, then whirled through the air. He saw more of the creatures diving and dancing amongst a cloud of pegasi. Most of the ponies were armourless but their drawn swords marked them as guards.
But these monsters, these strange unknown enemies, they weren’t ordinary creatures. The long rapier-like weapons of the pegasi weren’t touching the creatures, just passing through and leaving them unharmed, as if they were made of nothing more than enchanted black smoke. That clearly wasn’t the case though, as the creatures were clawing and biting the pegasi, splashing hot red blood through the sky. Smoke couldn’t do that. These monsters were clearly very powerful magical creatures.
He roared towards the guards and the monsters on a jet of red-hot magic, horn blazing so bright it was almost pure white as he fed off the magic of the sun. He locked his eyes onto the nearest one. The thing that had a pegasus by the face screeched and exploded, blowing the pony sideways through the air. He transfixed another with a psychokinetic hold. They weren’t physical and so physical attacks couldn’t harm them. Magical attacks, though... He could feel this one through his magic, could feel it thrash and squirm as he held it, could feel its claws grating against his magical grip. He ripped it in two and it dissolved into black mist.
The pegasi couldn’t do anything. Unicorn guards. They needed unicorn guards. How many could levitate? He didn’t know. It was a common enough skill to have, but it was usually nothing more than a gimmick. A party trick. It wasn’t flight, not as fast, not as sure, and you had to keep using magic all the while. And how many unicorn guards could levitate this high and use offensive magic at the same time? Casting more than one spell at once was difficult. Perhaps they could draw these invaders down low so that unicorns could attack them from the ground. He considered translocating away again, back to the castle, maybe to one of the barracks, see how many he could find...
And then Starburst saw her, and all thoughts of leaving the battle for reinforcements disappeared. They didn’t need reinforcements any more.
A streak of purple fire was whipping through the air from monster to monster, moving very fast on large alicorn wings. Where it touched the creatures, they exploded into ash. Pegasi everywhere, injured and uninjured, conscious or otherwise, were vanishing with flashes of deep red as Twilight teleported them away, one by one, probably straight into the closest hospital’s trauma ward if he knew his wife. And then, suddenly, the streak of vicious purple gained a golden-white companion. And then a silver-blue one as well.
Celestia and Luna had appeared on either side of their Little Sister, and they were both wearing their battle armour. Their horns started to blaze, and the reddish pops of light that were teleporting the outmatched guards away were replaced with golden-yellow and pale-blue ones as the older Sisters started to save their subjects. Twilight had left them to it and started to concentrate entirely on the strange monsters.
But more and more of the creatures were appearing in the air all around them, as if out of nothing, hundreds of them, thousands of them. For every one that Twilight destroyed, another fifty just seemed to pop into sight. There were so many that the blue sky above was growing dark with them.
Not far below, he saw Luna suddenly stop dead in midair. She just stopped beating her wings and froze in place, seemingly disregarding gravity, physics and reality for the moment. Her horn was glowing though, she must be levitating. She’d gone rigid, her wings and legs and even her head just sticking straight out from her body. Celestia must have noticed as well, because she had started to turn around, to fly over to her completely stationary Sister, obviously to make sure Luna was alright, see what had happened, perhaps lend assistance -
Luna screamed. A horrible scream, a petrified scream, a scream so ghastly that Starburst’s heart faltered for a moment. Bright white light had started to flood from her wide, terrified eyes as she screamed even louder and then, just as Celestia reached her, the Princess of the Night vanished with a thunderous crash of silver moonlight.
He'd had his eyes on Luna for too long. As he started to wonder what had just happened, something sharp grabbed his neck from behind and he yelled in pain. Another of the monsters had him, its claws digging in right where that first one had slashed his neck. His horn pulsed, he teleported five feet backwards, and now he was behind the bewildered monster. Blowing it to wispy black shreds with another blast of solar-powered magic that almost blinded him with pain, he felt his magical connection to the sun flicker and fade. He’d flown out of sunlight and into shadow. They were blocking out the sky above him, they were almost a solid wall of blackness. He couldn’t use his most powerful spells because he couldn’t see the sun, couldn’t use the infinite reserves of magic to be found there. There were far too many... The alicorns couldn’t stop this and he was no real help at all, he’d destroyed half a dozen of the things while Twilight had vaporised hundreds and hundreds of them, but what was the use because they just kept coming and coming and he had to get to Twilight, they had to get back to Glim, she was protected by guards but how could their little Sweetheart be safe from this, they had to get her away from here, to run, to run away, far away, they had to hide...
His wife could feel his despair, his panic, his overwhelmed hopelessness. It pushed her over the edge. And it just kept on pushing.
He felt his Sweetie lose her mind, felt her release the tight grip she kept on her alicorn restraint. A tremendous fury, quite separate to his own and many times greater, sizzled through his heart like Dragonfire. It was followed by a blinding and brutally searing rage that made him gasp in actual physical pain. It was just enough of a warning.
He cast the thickest, most powerful shield spell around himself that he could manage as the entire sky exploded with white light. He just caught sight of Celestia streaking downwards, a blur of bright magic and fearsome armour, getting away from her Littlest Sister as fast as she could. Clenching his eyes shut, he felt an enormous something smash into the protective barrier, a huge wall of magic that almost threw him from the sky, almost made him vomit from the sheer power behind it. Even through tightly-closed lids and his forehooves, the light was so bright that it hurt his eyes. It seemed to bore right through his skull and into his brain. He managed to open them a crack as the whiteness started to fade. He couldn’t look up, the sky was still burning far too brightly, so he looked down towards the ground and saw Celestia flitting from pegasus guard to pegasus guard, still casting translocation spells on them one by one, teleporting them all away. Quite a few of them were injured, and all of them were unconscious and falling from the sky. He would be unconscious and falling, too, if he hadn’t cast that shield. In fact, it was a miracle that his protective spell had held in the face of whatever magic Twilight had used. His shield felt like it had been crushed and bent under the magical onslaught. The sky was still too bright for him to see his wife. His head was pounding with the pain from his abused eyes.
The blinding light from the sky finally faded enough for him to squint up. He was fairly surprised that he was still levitating, actually. There was so much magic in the air that his teeth were starting to ache from it. He saw Twilight far above, looking down with eyes of fire, towers of white flame where her mane and tail should have been. The creatures, all of them, tens of thousands of them, were all screaming, shrieking, flailing, burning with hot blue-white magical flames. Then all the fires seemed to go out at once. All of the monsters were gone, reduced to swirling black ash, and then Twilight, no longer blazing and with just her normal hair whipping around her in the wind, winked out of the sky and appeared right next to him. Or rather, tried to.
“Ooof!” she grunted as his shield spell smacked her away from his side. He felt it shudder where she’d touched it, felt it start to collapse. He dropped the spell before it cracked and potentially knocked him out with the recoil - using a spell on an alicorn when they weren’t keeping a tight hold of their magic could be dangerous - and concentrated on his levitation. He’d been floating almost sideways. He righted himself in the air and then the Prince and Princess swept towards each other and embraced. Twilight’s horn flashed and they vanished.
They appeared together in their daughter’s room. Sixty guards swivelled in their direction, the pegasi each hurling one of their swords like they were javelins, sweeping the other high as they tensed to spring forward at the intruders, the unicorns firing two dozen Fireshock blasts directly at them and preparing to fire two dozen more, the earth guards screaming and charging forwards, massive spiked forehooves swiping through the air. No guard took any time to identify their targets. They were all attacking on reflex, and they were all aiming to kill.
The blasts vanished as they hit the thick magical bubble that Twilight had wrapped around herself and her husband. The swords all flashed with deep red light as Starburst grabbed them and threw them aside, where they clanged and sparked against the wall. Recognising them at once, the earth guards all skidded to a halt, their armoured hooves tearing the carpet, and then every guard moved aside as fast as they could, all of them exhaling and visibly sagging with relief now that the Royals were back. Twilight and Starburst galloped straight through the opening in the ring of guards to their screaming daughter.
The meeting took place barely an hour after the attack. Half a dozen of the most senior guard captains from every branch, the commanding General of the entire guard, and even an earth Prince and Princess were attending. The guards hadn’t found Luna yet, so Celestia sat alone. Everypony was quietly sitting and waiting except for Twilight and her husband. They were both far too agitated to sit.
“Twakonitipawon,” Twilight said in a low voice to Starburst. He looked puzzled. “From Bestarium Diabolimagicka.” He still looked confused for a moment, and then his eyes flew wide in surprise and understanding. A moment later though, he’d resumed his grim expression and continued pacing alongside his wife. He shook his head.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” he muttered. “Sorry, Sweetie.”
“Not your fault. You’ve never seen them before. You were magnificent.” Their voices were low anyway, but they stopped their private discussion and tried to pay attention when Celestia coughed - though they didn’t sit down, instead continuing to pace around the Court hall.
“Your Highnesses, We’re pleased that you were both unharmed,” Celestia said to the earth Royals, kicking off the meeting. “And your little foals as well. At least you weren’t the target of the attack.”
“Yes, but why would there be an attack on Twilight Glimmer?” Prince Geimos asked. “Changelings! Here in the capital! I can’t believe it, no pony would have believed -”
“Changelings?” Celestia said. “We’re at peace with the Changelings, Nephew. They have no reason to attack us, haven’t had a reason for thousands of years -”
“But they were all black! Black as night!” the earth Prince interrupted. He’d been in the park that day with his wife and their twin sons, celebrating Glim’s birthday just like the rest of Equestria, and they’d all had the shock of their lives - especially when their pegasus guards had abandoned them and their unicorn guards had practically herded the Royals into safety at a gallop. “Black and dangerous-looking and they could fly -”
“There are a lot of things that can fly,” Starburst said, “and a lot of them are black and dangerous. They didn’t look anything like Changelings, Your Highness.”
“From a distance, you might mistake them, though these are much bigger than a Changeling. They have no eyes or horns either. Though it’s no wonder you don’t know what they are,” Celestia said quietly.
“Well then, what -”
“Windigoes,” Twilight spat. “Bucking Windigoes! In spring, during the day, and with the entire land full of harmony! Windigoes! What the hell?”
There was silence for a few moments. Twilight glared. Every mortal pony, apart from Starburst, stared at her like she’d lost her mind.
“Sorry,” Geimos said, shaking his head a little. He was starting to think that the attack on the little Princess had unhinged Twilight’s mind a little. “Windigoes, Aunt Twilight? They didn’t look anything like Windigoes.”
“And how would you know what a Windigo looks like, Nephew?” Celestia asked quietly. “From children’s tales and fairy stories? From history and legends and films and books and light entertainment?” The earth Prince’s eyes went wide. Celestia’s voice had sent chills up his spine. The Princess of the Day always sounded so calm, so reassuring, but right then she’d almost sounded like her slightly-spooky absent Sister. “Until this morning, there were only three living ponies in the entire world who’d ever seen a Windigo, I believe. And two of them are right here in this room, Geimos.”
“It’s true,” Starburst said. “Completely true. I didn’t recognise them today. I should have, I remember reading about them when I was just a kid in a book Twilight gave me to study. I don’t think anypony made the connection. I sure didn’t, not until just now, when she told me.” He pointed at his grim wife. They were mirroring each other's expressions.
“What do you mean?” the earth Princess asked. She’d been quite as frightened as her husband that morning but earth ponies, even the Royal ones, were tough. “They didn’t look like Windigoes at all. Well, not like any Windigo that I’ve ever heard of,” she said, bowing her head slightly in Celestia’s direction. “Perhaps you could shed some light?”
“You think We’d allow the descriptions of actual Windigoes to go into children’s books?” Celestia asked. “My dear Princess Prandiale, Windigoes are creatures of pure nightmare. Nopony here’s going to sleep soundly for a week. Nopony who saw them. They’re among the most horrific creatures to ever exist, and as far as we thought, were utterly extinct.”
“And that’s even stranger,” Twilight said. “You can’t kill a Windigo, because they’re not alive. You can’t harm them, magically or otherwise, and they can’t harm you. Not directly. They bring famine, war, drought, winter, and that’s how they cause their harm. In order to destroy them you have to destroy whatever it was that brought them. But that was clearly not the case today. I didn’t try to attack them or anything. They surrounded me and I couldn’t see how I could break out. I panicked. I didn’t even think to teleport. I finally tried a concussion spell and I blew about fifty of them into dust. That shouldn’t have been possible.”
“They wounded a lot of guards, Your Highnesses,” the commanding guard General said. “A few fractured skulls and a lot of bites and scrapes. Nothing serious, nothing magic couldn’t fix in a flash. Everypony’s already back on their hooves, though I ordered bed-rest for the worst of them, a broken bone needs a few hours’ rest after mending. None of them are obeying, of course. The entire three branches of the guard have never been this heavily manned. And my boys couldn’t even scratch them. But magic certainly seemed to do the trick. I’ve ordered the strongest pegasi to begin weight and endurance training with the most powerful unicorns in the guard. I want them to carry unicorns for any further airborne attacks,” he said. “You know, Your Highness, you’re entitled to a decoration for that wound. You’re nominal head of the unicorn guards -”
“For this?” Starburst said, tapping the side of his neck. “Hardly. It’s not serious.” He’d ask Twilight to heal it up later, it was more a nuisance than a wound. “It’s already stopped bleeding.”
“Well, at any rate, you three, and Princess Luna, saved my pegasi from a fight they couldn’t possibly win,” the General said, bowing towards Twilight, Celestia and Starburst. “Thank you, Your Highnesses. It’s supposed to be the other way around but there’s nothing a pegasus can do in a fight with a magical creature. A lot of fine ponies would have died today without your efforts.”
“So... Windigoes,” Prince Geimos said as the other Royals bowed back to the General, acknowledging the fact that they had, probably, saved a lot of lives. “The legends, the stories aren’t true? They’re just, well, just bedtime stories?” Celestia shook her head.
“The stories are true, just... Just very old. They invaded the world - and nearly killed it - just before the founding of Equestria. Disharmony and war between the tribes brought them. Though even that had an external cause. They fled when the tribes united, and returned four and a half thousand years later for the wars that were named for them. And they were all destroyed in those wars,” she said. “The memories of the old horrors had already died when they came for the second time, and the conflicts weren’t called The Windigo Wars until three hundred years after their conclusion. Nopony but us three Sisters knew they were Windigoes at the time.”
“They were an eye-opener to me, back then,” Twilight said. “I’d never seen the things before, and after the wars I never thought I’d see them again. And now I’m terrified.”
“For Glim? The prophecy?” Celestia asked. Twilight and Starburst nodded. “Damnit. Prophecy always has so many meanings. So it’s not the dragons at all?”
“No idea, it still might be,” Starburst said. He was gritting his teeth. “If only that guard had convinced her to come up to the castle... We could have spoken to her.” He looked at Twilight. “You could have seen her again after all these years.”
One of the first guards to break out of the hospital and report back for duty - torn shoulder and all - had been adamant that he’d found Pinkie Pie in the park this morning. Right before the attack. And, he’d reported, she warned him that it was about to take place.
“So close,” Twilight said. “I was only five hundred feet above her... I need to see her. I need to talk to her. I can’t find her with magic. Damn.”
The earth Royals weren’t in the know about Pinkie Pie, though technically, neither was anypony else either. The guards just knew they had to find a sad-looking pink unicorn with long, straight hair and a balloon Cutie Mark, and they had no idea that she was prophesying the future. Although it was common knowledge that there was a prophecy concerning the little Princess and dragons. Celestia changed the subject before difficult questions were asked. “You’re wondering why we’re concerned about Windigoes and not dragons, Your Highnesses?”
“Well, yes,” the Princess said. “If Princess Glim is supposed to be kept away from dragons, well. Windigoes might not be spectral white horses that create blizzards from disharmony, but they’re also not dragons. Aside from the attack today, why would you worry about Windigoes? The prophecy mentions dragons.”
“Because they weren’t called Windigoes when they first attacked the world. That word came three thousand years later. In the language of the time, they were called Twakonitipawon,” Celestia said. Prince Geimos had opened his mouth to speak, a questioning look on his forehead. “Plague Dragons,” the Princess finished.
“Oh.” He looked a little disturbed. “So, Your Highnesses, your Generalship, this seems to be the question then. Why? Why did they turn up this morning, and why did they attack the little Princess?”
“Were they called by something?” Starburst said. He stopped his pacing for a moment and put a hoof to his chin. “Equestria’s happy, Equestria’s peaceful. If disharmony calls them or summons them, then what could have brought them here to attack my daughter?”
A bright flash of moonlight illuminated the entire Court chamber.
“LUNA!” Celestia and Twilight cried, running towards her. The Princess of the Night had appeared at the foot of the three thrones. She was still wearing her armour, although it was lopsided and almost falling off. The other two alicorns halted, stunned shock on their faces as Starburst came trotting up to join them.
She looked awful. Her cheeks were sunken and her mane was flat and limp. It was her eyes though, her eyes were the worst. They were wide, wild, haunted. Terrified.
“I’m sorry,” she choked.
Celestia and Twilight were by her sides in an instant. “What? What, Little Sister?” Celestia asked. She hadn’t seen Luna look like this since...
“I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to be here, but I must. I’ve been thinking about it ever since... Didn’t you sense it, Little Sister? Didn’t you feel it?”
“I didn’t sense anything,” Twilight said. “I was a bit preoccupied. Luna, you look awful. What happened? Do you need to lie down? Where did you go?”
“The moon. I fled. Like a coward, I fled.” She scrunched her eyes shut and ducked her head. “Me, an immortal alicorn, supposedly afraid of nothing. And I ran, I ran away like a terrified little foal. I ran and hid on the moon.”
“How?” Celestia asked. Neither she nor Luna could teleport to the moon without Twilight’s help. She moved to drape a wing around her Little Sister, but Luna twitched and batted it away with a hoof.
“The fear. I fled and the fear took me to my old prison. I couldn’t stay on the field of battle. I felt it. It was there, in the park below us, looking up at me. I ran away from it, I was so terrified that I tried to forget about it, to put it from my mind.” Luna’s voice started shaking even more, her speech becoming rambling. “But I can’t. I mustn’t. I’ve felt it sometimes, since the end of the Windigo Wars, fleetingly, just for moments. I never worried before. I never thought anything of it until I felt it at the park, and then it was so strong, it was so near that I fled in terror, I had to save those guards, I had to do my duty but I... I’m sorry. I couldn’t. I hid.”
“But you came back,” Twilight whispered.
“I had to come back.” She looked every day of her eight thousand years. Ancient. Ancient beyond belief. “This could be all of Equestria at stake here, not just Twilight Glimmer.”
Every pony in the room was silent. The earth Royals, and the guards, just looked puzzled. The other alicorns and Starburst didn’t. They were starting to look a little bit frightened as well, because all three of them were catching on.
There was only one thing in the entire universe that Luna was afraid of.
But it was gone. Wasn’t it?
“I think, Sisters, Starburst,” Luna said slowly, her gaze low, her expression bleak, “that we have to consider the possibility, the very remote possibility... Six Elements. They’re all whole and still exist, and have recombined into the original Element of Harmony. At least, we think they have. The Element wasn’t the only thing that fractured eight thousand years ago. We have to consider the possibility, however crazy it sounds, that, despite parts of it having been destroyed... that The Lunacy might not be entirely dead.”
The last Oracle did not, as it turned out, have a dreamless night. She cracked her eyes as the first light of dawn crept around the edges of her rough wooden door, sat up, and looked puzzled.
That feeling, that really weird feeling. She’d felt all funky since that thing happened in the park yesterday. She swung herself onto her rocky floor and thought about it.
“Is that... Hmm.” That dream had been interesting. She supposed that it really had been a nightmare, and even though a lot of horrible, horrible things had happened in it, she didn’t feel sad in the least...
She didn’t feel sad. For the first time ever.
She jumped where she’d been standing, wide eyes looking down her cave towards the wooden door over the entrance. The corners of her mouth twitched as she recognised the feeling deep down inside her chest. She'd never felt it before but she could recognise it all the same. The feeling grew.
Warmth spread from her chest and all the way through her body, down her legs, up her neck, onto her face, onto her lips -
They were wrenched upwards into an enormous, wide, face-splitting...
She was smiling, smiling so much that her face would have hurt if she could feel pain. She was smiling with her mouth and her eyes and her whole face and her whole body because she’d never felt anything like this before. She’d never been happy before. Her mane and tail were quivering, starting to look slightly untidy and even just a little bit frizzy as she bounced around the cave, smiling, laughing... She suddenly frowned - a happy frown, even so - and sat down on the floor. She rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
“So... That’s what changed? That’s why I saw what I saw in the park, hmm. Because that wasn’t supposed to happen, and something I couldn’t, um, see... Something did something I couldn’t see before, because The Element couldn’t see it either...” She was starting to feel dizzy, but she wanted to puzzle it through because of how fantastic she felt. “Okay. Some really, really bad, um, thing? It did something yesterday when I was in the park, and that changed... That changed... everything?”
“Hey!” she said in surprise, jumping to her hooves and looking around her dim cave. “Hey!” she called again, peering into the corners and under her low bed. “Who’s in here? Is somepony in here? Where are you?”
“I’m so sorry, my dear Pinkie Pie.”
“Hey...” she said again, slowly, warily. She sat down. She was looking at the jagged cave wall but she didn’t see it. “Hey. I know you.”
“Yes, you know me. And I’m sorry. You must hate me.”
“I did. Yes I did. But I don’t think I hate you now. Not after... That was... Thank you.”
“I don’t deserve thanks, not for all the things you had to see - What? What’s so funny?” Despite its sombre mood, The Element couldn’t keep the smile out of its voice. Pinkie Pie had started giggling.
“I dunno,” she said after she’d calmed down a bit. Her voice was full of mirth. “I guess I always thought your voice would be a lot deeper!”
“So, my name’s Pinkie Pie?”
“It’s a nice name. I think I like it.”
“It is a nice name, my dearest Pinkie. I’m so sorry that I couldn’t face you before.” The voice in her head was full of shame. The shame of centuries, of millennia. “I couldn’t. I just... I couldn’t. But now... Now I can. Now I can face you and explain my shame at last. Now that everything has changed.”
“You didn’t see it coming either, did you?” she asked. It shook its metaphorical head. “Well, it’s happened. Or, it will happen. Or it won’t happen, it’s one of those. You know. The important one.”
“Would you like to go for a walk? We can talk about it.”
“Yeah, looks like it’s gonna be a nice morning. I think I’m gonna go find a park. Maybe smell a few flowers. And maybe you can tell me a bit about myself, or herself. About Pinkie Pie. Thank you,” she said again, and smiled her happiest smile.
Because even though that nightmare had been one of the worst things she’d ever dreamed, it had made her happy. Happy, overjoyed, literally skipping, for the first time in sixteen centuries.