Twilight grunted in discomfort as the guard rammed into her side. She and the rest of her friends were being led to Moon Pool's town center for the public execution. Apparently Jackie had come through. Twilight, after reading the rest of the night and not sleeping for a moment, had instructed Spike to burn the book once more. She missed the comfort it brought. Something about holding old books felt safe. But the time for preparation and comfort had passed. She had done what she needed. Now was the time for action.
Well, maybe not yet. Soon.
The friends were shuffled into a crowd of ponies gathered at the base of a wooden platform, the prison camp guards watching them closely to ensure they didn't sneak away in the sea of faces. Not that they really could, being chained up as they were.
“Citizens of Moon Pool! Too long have the Griffons worked against our glorious revolution!” The crowd cheered in agreement. Shuddercry tossed her head in arrogance, her pink hair barely moving from the motion, being cramped in the ever-present helmet. “Today we will have a moment of vengeance. This filth, this prisoner of ours, corrupted one of our kin. She created a griffon sympathizer.”
The crowd erupted into boos. Twilight shook her head. These ponies were so blind.
“They plotted in the darkness and stole an apple from us! Each of us will go to bed hungrier because of them!”
“Make them pay!”
“But of course! That's what we're here for, isn't it?” Shuddercry gestured behind her, where Pinkamina emerged from the shadows, lifting a humming ax. Her steps were heavy and meaningful, and the crowd silenced immediately.
“Now, the prisoners will have their last words.”
Gilda walked forward, her face resolute and calm. “Your threats against my people are as fruitless as a breeze against an oak. While you fight for conquest, we fight for survival. The righteous will always prevail.” She bowed and stepped backwards, leaving a dark air over the crowd.
Next Rainbow Dash stepped forward, her face streaked with tears, though none flowed now. “All I can say is I'm sorry. Am I sorry I stole the apple? Yes. But it goes beyond that. I'm sorry you live in a world where fighting is the only option. I'm sorry you're in a conflict that neither side truly wishes for. I'm sorry that you've known nothing but pain your entire lives. Most of all,” she said, deliberately lingering over each of her friend's faces, “I'm sorry for disappointing you.”
Pinkamina shuffled her grip on the ax.
Lustrous Revolt took the stage as Dash returned to Gilda's side. “Citizens, let us honor and respect their courage. If one can never find some admirable trait in their foe, they are a fool. But let us remember the law and why it is in place. Without order comes chaos. And with chaos comes destruction. Destruction of civilization, of self, of what makes us all intelligent creatures. We are separated from the animals by the thinnest of lines. And when that line is broken, we must sever ties from those who would make us thoughtless beasts. From those that would make us weak.”
Lustrous raised a hoof, holding it in place. Two guards forced Gilda and Dash to kneel. The enchanted blade rose over Dash's neck, the tension in the air as real as the weight of the ax. The entire crowd leaned forward in anticipation, and Twilight whispered a silent prayer. If they didn't arrive now, there was no hope for either of the two friends.
One of the guards next to Twilight, Hawkeye, flicked her ear. She looked up to the sky in horror and shock. “They're coming.” She jumped into the air, allowing her wings to catch her as she shouted towards the stage. “Lustrous Revolt! The griffons are attacking!”
Twilight let a sly smile creep over her face as the crowd looked up in bewilderment and to the several hundred griffons steadily growing larger. Time seemed to freeze around her. Nopony moved. The blade hung in a careful balance. Lustrous Revolt's careful look of disinterest had morphed into one of disbelief. Then the clock ticked.
“Hawkeye! How could you not see it coming sooner?! This is your job!”
“We don't have time for excuses! Everyone! Prepare for battle!”
The crowd scattered in all directions, only the two guards with the Reality ponies remaining. They were quickly herded towards the stage. Lustrous Revolt scowled at Twilight. “Neither of them are off the hook. You will be taken back to the camp until we're finished with this. Guards, escort them back, then join me for battle.” Lustrous Revolt turned and galloped off.
Once more the ponies were jostled into line and led away. Pinkamina was left alone between the two condemned, who were watching her carefully. She still had the ax lifted in the air in indecision, the tension in her forelegs causing them to shake.
Pinkamina sniffled quietly. “Here comes our judgment. We lie to ourselves, believing we're ever in control. Even the powers that be aren't. Even they must play by the rules.”
She dropped the heavy burden of death, a calm overtaking her face. “I cannot carry on any further. This world doesn't need me. Not now. Not yet. It just needs a little brightness. A little...
She dropped to a kneel, mirroring the old friends. She lowered her head, as if in prayer. They sat for a moment, in the calm before the storm, as the city around them held its breath in anticipation.
With an audible pomf the pink pony's hair returned to its familiar poofyness. The brightness in her eyes had returned, and already a grin was creeping over her face. She turned to Dash first, then Gilda. “Hey guys! What's going on? Why are you chained up?”
Twilight walked with bated breath. Were the guards watching her closely, they would have seen the tension in her body. Their eyes were too preoccupied with the sky, however. The griffons would reach Moon Pool in less than a minute, and anyone out in the open could be a target.
It was the perfect setup. Who would expect an attack from the side when one was already coming from above?
“Ooof!” The guard grunted out in pain as he was knocked to the ground by two purple and green blurs. Twilight reacted instantly, taking down the other with a swift kick to the head. Any other time she'd feel horrible about physically hurting another pony, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Spike and Thorn managed to pin the other guard to the ground. “Heh, perhaps being forgotten isn't always the worst thing. Didn't think the little guy would cause any problems, did you?”
Spike tossed the key the guard had been carrying, and Twilight busied herself with freeing the friends of the shackles that had been slowing them down. They had just enough time to cuff the terrified guard to a nearby post before the first griffons arrived. Shouts and screeches sounded from the other end of the city. They'd have to be careful traveling through here, as the griffons wouldn't take the time to know friend from foe, especially as their doppelgängers were notorious war criminals.
The group ran through the city, keeping to the alleyways where they would have the most cover and where the least fighting could be expected. In short enough time they had returned to the town square, but Rainbow Dash and Gilda were nowhere to be seen.
Neither was any blood, Twilight was relieved to note.
“Should we look for them?” asked Rarity.
Twilight shook her head. “We'll find them later! If they're still captured, they're still captured. If they're free, it would be almost impossible to find them in this mess. It's more important now that we get our gear and get out of the way of this conflict!”
“Well, where'd they keep our stuff, once they took it from us? None of us have seen it since before Lustrous Revolt introduced us to Blood and Pain.”
“Well, my reflection's got a lot in common with me. And if I know anything about myself, I like to keep important objects close to home.”
“The Library of the Lost, then?”
“Oh yes, Spike. It's time for us to check out.”
“...Leave the jokes to me.”
The unlikely trio of a griffon and two ponies jumped from alleyway to alleyway. “What's the plan, G?” asked Rainbow, looking over her shoulder at Pinkie, who seemed awfully chipper and oblivious to the whole scenario.
“You two are safe as long as you're with me, from the griffons anyway. We need to find out who's in charge of this attack so we can ask them for help, and see if we can get the rest of you guys out of harm's way.”
“So how do we get there?”
“That's just it. The ponies of Moon Pool have gotten very good at ground-to-air combat, so flying's out of the question.” Looking at Pinkie, she added, “not that it ever was an option. We'll have to travel along the rooftops, but that will be plenty dangerous in its own right.”
“...Oooor we could just walk, right?”
Gilda sighed. “Listen, Pinkie, a lot of things that are happening are just not going to make sense to you right now. Just try to stick close, and don't approach anyone but us.”
“Alrighty. Oh, and Gilda, I have to apologize for letting you leave Ponyville unhappy that one time. I'm glad you seem happier now.”
“Uh... yeah, Pinkie. It's alright. You're cool.”
Pinkie beamed at the compliment.
The trio made their way onto the rooftops and began running towards the center of the griffon strike force. Thankfully, the buildings in their chosen path were close enough together that leaping from one to another was possible without much difficulty. Up here, the griffons and pegasi were locked in deadly dogfights, shouts and cries of pain echoing through the air. Pinkie watched in fascination. “I don't get it. Are they fighting?”
“Yes,” huffed Gilda.
“It's complicated, Pinkie. Just keep running!” shouted Dash.
As they jumped over one of the alleyways, a loud cry was heard overhead. A white pegasus grabbed his chest in pain, the added weight of the spear throwing off his balance. He plummeted to the earth, collapsing in a sickening heap directly in front of Pinkie, loud cracks sounding as bones crunched under the force. Pinkie stopped in shock as a spatter of blood from the impact struck her across the face.
“Wha– Dashie? What happened to him?”
Rainbow ran back and pushed Pinkie forward. “The same thing that might happen to us if we don't stay moving!”
“But Dash! We have to help him!”
“He's dead Pinkie! We can't do anything!”
“And he'd have killed us if he weren't distracted by the griffons. The ponies here aren't trying to help us. Now move!”
Pinkie began galloping again, her face still locked in disbelief. It hurt Dash to see her good friend like this, but there wasn't time to console her. Rainbow grimaced in determination. They'd get through this. They had to.
The friends managed to get through the worst of the fighting, avoiding the hoof-to-claw combat on the ground and dodging any falling objects or bodies from above as they came. Finally, they got to the front line of the griffon offensive. Several griffon elite swooped down to confront the two ponies.
“Wait!” cried Gilda. “These two are on our side. It's me, Lieutenant Gilda. We've managed to escape from the prisoner camp and have to speak with whoever's in charge of this strike.”
The griffon soldiers looked to one another. “Commander Glenn? He's already gone into battle. He's looking for the leader of the Moon Pool ponies, Lustrous Revolt. It's critical we take her out before the fighting gets too intense. She decimated our forces last time.”
“Yeah, I was in charge of that blunder, thanks for reminding me.”
“Did the Commander say where he was going?”
“To the Library, Revolt's base of command. I'm just laughing we got so close before they detected us. We sure caught them with their pants down.”
“That's because they were busy attempting to execute me. Thank you.”
Gilda turned towards the library. “We have to get there before he does. If he mistakenly finds Twilight instead of Lustrous Revolt, he'll kill her before she can explain herself.” She took off running once more, the pink earth pony and sky-blue pegasus in close pursuit.
Twilight shot into the library, horn sputtering weakly. Despite her weakened state, it was a good idea to be prepared. Nobody greeted her nor attempted to attack her, which she took as a good sign. She quickly ushered in the rest of her group, looking into the streets. So far, no sign of anyone else, friend or foe. But that could change any moment. After they all filed in, she shut the door and locked it, whirling around to face the refugees. “Alright, we have to do this as quickly as possible. Search every nook and cranny of this place for our saddlebags and the Elements of Harmony. They have to be here. We can't use them until we hook up back with Rainbow Dash and somehow rip Pinkie out of that shadow of hers, but it's better to have the possibility. Look for anything else that might be helpful as well. Wherever we're going, we'll be walking for quite some time. Now get moving!”
The friends split up without a word, hoofsteps clattering in all directions as they raided the library. Twilight busied herself on the main floor, looking over the map that Spike had seen when he had retrieved the book. Tiny flags were placed over cities and small stacks of plastic chips were near each. There was some sort of purpose, but Twilight couldn't quite figure it out. All she knew was that she needed a map and that she didn't particularly care about preserving Lustrous Revolt's carefully laid out plans. She grabbed the whole map in her telekinetic field, ripping it out from under the pieces, which clattered to the table and surrounding floor. Twilight rolled up the map just as Spike called to her from upstairs. “I found Lustrous' room, Twilight, and our bags are here.”
Twilight ascended the stairs and stepped into the room Spike had spoken from. Thorn was perched on the head of a simple bed with stark white covers, Sure enough, at the foot of the bed rested the six saddlebags. Some were open as if they had been rummaged through, but it looked like nothing had been misplaced. “Awesome, Spike.” She picked up her bag and set it in place on her back, happy to feel the familiar weight once more.
“Hmm... Hey Twilight, there's something else over here you might want to see.”
Twilight walked over, looking at the folder in Spike's hands. “What is it?”
Spike spread out the contents on a nearby desk, revealing a set of pictures and paper-clipped notes. There was one for each of the Reality ponies, and another for each of the Forgotten ponies. It looked pretty interesting, but it was too much to go over now.
“We'll take it with us.” Twilight scooped up everything and put them in her bag, then instructed Spike to carry the rest of the bags downstairs. She then stepped out of the room, ready to go check on Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy, when she heard a loud thump from the door downstairs. Somebody was attempting to get in. She waited quietly at the top of the stairs, ears straining for any further clues. Faint voices were heard on the other side, in some sort of heated discussion.
Then, with a terrible blast that shook books out of their shelves, the door exploded inwards. A loud voice boomed from the now larger entrance. “Lustrous Revolt! Come meet your fate, war criminal!”
“Is that Commander Glenn?”
“You better believe it!” A tall, muscular griffon stepped over the rubble, his blind left eye still seeming the pierce the relative darkness. He turned towards Twilight's voice, his good eye piercing looking over her form. “Come quietly or pick up your arms!”
“What are you talking about? I'm the one who called out for the griffons! My friends and I were held captive at the prisoner camp here!”
“Likely story, but your form doesn't lie, Revolt. Besides, the one who communed with us knew something only a fellow griffon could know. This is another one of your dirty tricks!”
“Stalling won't save you!” Commander Glenn rushed, claws outstretched. Twilight reacted on instinct, sliding down the stairs underneath him and kicking upwards. Glenn's momentum kept him moving up the stairs before he rolled back down several of the steps. He got to his legs once more, shaking off the pain. Twilight ran down to the center area where the attendant guards were waiting with wicked smiles.
Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy appeared in the stairwell. “What the hay is going on down there?”
“More conspirators? The infamous Shuddercry, joined by Jackie and Temperament, who feed and arm those who slaughter us mercilessly. It will be a pleasure killing you myself.”
The griffon jumped towards the group, his guards close behind. Twilight flared up her horn and expended the last of her energy with a hastily cast magical shield. The griffons hit the physical barrier and fell.
“I'M NOT LUSTROUS REVOLT!”
“Though you did a pretty great job of keeping them occupied while I got here.”
All heads turned towards the entrance where the mentioned pony stood darkly.
“But how? There can't be two of you unless the ponies from the other world have leaked through!”
“They have. That will give you something to think about until you return.” With four quick magical blasts, the wounded griffons were dealt with and done.
Lustrous stretched her neck casually. “Good to see you made it alright. It's nice to know you're just as predictable as I thought.”
Twilight sighed. “I don't think you understand just how sick I am of seeing you.”
“The feelings mutual. Now, you'll do as I say or else I'll be forced to introduce Death a bit sooner than planned. Return with me, without a fuss, to the prisoner camp. Leave your bags.”
“If you think that's going to work, you're not just evil, you're stupid.”
“I fully expect it not to. But if I don't give you the chance then my actions won't be justified.”
“We're not going back.”
“So be it. You chose this.” Lustrous Revolt stomped her hooves into the ground, a gust of wind picking up and lifting her off of the ground. She prepared an attack, while Twilight gather her friends behind her in protection.
“Woah! Two Twilights?!”
Lustrous Revolt turned to look at the three newcomers. She physically drew back in shock. “Pinkamina? You're...”
“Pinkamina? Silly, that's what my family calls me. To friends and strangers I'm just Pinkie Pie!”
“And you two escaped.”
Twilight motioned for Rainbow and Gilda to come near her as quickly as possible while Lustrous Revolt was still undecided. Gilda literally grabbed Pinkie and dropped her behind Twilight. Gilda looked at the fallen body of her comrades, then to Twilight for an explanation. Twilight pointed at the pony floating in front of them.
Lustrous shook her head. “It doesn't matter. Unforeseen complications, that's all. To be expected. Planned for.” The determined smile set back in. “Look at all of you standing before me. What a ragtag bunch of misfits. And so you cower in fear. As you very well should. However, I digress. This is going far longer than I expected it to, and there's an invasion to turn back.”
She closed her eyes and began chanting in an archaic language. “Quick girls!” Twilight yelled. “Get the Elements while we have a chance!” The ponies rustled through their saddlebags, quickly donning their respective Element as the physical energy in the room began to rise from the arcane buildup. Twilight activated the Element of Magic, forcing what was usually a natural process. As she and the other ponies began to rise into the air, she pressed through the energy flow, pulling it with her rather than being pulled by it. She turned to look at her reflection through burning Celestia eyes. How odd it was, how poetic, almost. Two almost exact ponies. One surrounded by friends. The other standing alone.
Twilight allowed herself to be filled with the potent energy of the Elements, feeling the pressure rise inside. She channeled the power, ready to unleash the fury towards the pony she now hated more than any other. She concentrated, directing the flow, and...
She dropped to the floor, hearing her friends fall around her as well. Twilight looked up in confusion. What had happened?
A screech from above confirmed her fears. Thorn had snatched the crown right off of Twilight's head just before the release, causing the built up energy to dissipate around the room. As a matter of fact, Twilight felt her energy stores refilled to the brim. She grinned. Lustrous Revolt's plan had backfired. She–
No. No, it couldn't be. Thorn dropped the crown from the high height he had climbed to. Twilight saw what was happening. The attack had never been intended for Twilight, nor any of her friends. After all, what good would it do? They'd only rise again.
Revolt had tricked them into using the Element's power to destroy itself. What Twilight had received from the backflow of energy was only a fraction of what was released. The vast majority had gone straight to Lustrous Revolt, and therefore her attack.
The blinding beam shot forward from the orb held in Lustrous' hooves. It hit the Element of Magic dead on, superheating the metal. Finally, after giving much resistance, the Element buckled under the attack, the ornate gemstone bursting into a hundred brightly colored shards that embedded themselves into anything they touched.
Lustrous Revolt dropped to the ground. She raised her head slowly, her vanity almost overpowering, and her sneer condemning. “Did you think you stood a chance against the Element of Destruction? What a pity.”