My magic, real magic, comes from within. It's a skill you're born with. Curses are artificial, fake magic. It's conjured with potions and incantations; all smoke and mirrors meant to scare. But curses have no real power; they're just an old pony tale.
Destiny. It's a strange concept. Is it something that we all have? Does everypony have a destiny? And what guides us there? Do we make our own destiny or are we guided by some inescapable fate? I shudder to think that somepony else is controlling my life. But as I draw closer and closer to my destiny, I can't help but think that it’s true. Something is pushing me in a direction, and I'm not sure that I want to know where it is taking me.
I wonder once more about Twilight's destiny. Did she know where she was going during the war? Did she ever realize that her role in the conflict that destroyed the world was merely pushed along by the gears of war? I felt for the mare, the real mare, not the Ministry Mare. The real Twilight was a good and kind mare who only saw her friends. When did she lose sight of that? I can't rightly say. But in the end, she found her destiny in the vats of Maripony.
“Violet!!!” I shouted as my love streaked towards the ground. Blue gas streamed from her body as she plummeted towards the rubble-strewn ground. The green eyed zebra mare that had caused her untimely descent grinned wickedly at me from her spot at the far end of the train car.
The first thought that came to my mind was Oh shit she's falling really fast! The second thought that came to my mind was You have wings stupid! I flapped my wings hard and pushed away from the train car, taking wing after my marefriend. Within an instant, the hard beating of leather alerted me that I was being followed. I looked back for a brief moment, seeing that Envy had leaped from the train car after me, her cloak glowing with unnatural energy as it transformed into a pair of bat wings.
I turned back and pushed forward, intent on reaching Violet before the zebra mare got to me. I could hear my love scream as she fell, spurring me on in my attempt to save her. Somewhere above me, the telltale eruptions of Para Bellum rang out into the air and Envy shrieked as she flew upwards to escape Patch's fire. I thanked Luna for good fortune and locked my wings in, shooting downwards fast towards Violet. The green mare began flailing as I neared her.
“Hold on!” I shouted as I built up the magic in my horn. Opting for simple telekinesis I wrapped Violet in a tight mesh of force, pulling her upwards to meet me as I spread my wings. Coming out of the dive, I brought my love with me as I zoomed back towards to the train car. Above, I could see Patch and Steeljack standing on the top of the car, aiming curiously at the buildings and sky above. Envy was nowhere to be seen. I beat my wings hard as I lifted Violet next to me, heading towards the train car. White and black flashed before my eyes as the zebra mare appeared in front of me, her leathery wings flapping hard against the still air. A hoof lashed out and struck me in the face, disrupting my magic and knocking me towards the streets below. A scream from beside me indicated that Violet was now falling again as well. A blur above indicated that the striped mare was pursuing us, her dark form strafing back and forth as she dodged Patch and Steeljack's fire. One of Steeljack's bullets nearly caught me in the side, the round grazing me as it streaked by. I shouted in pain, hoping that my friends above kept their friendly fire to a minimum. I used the opportunity presented by the zebra's distance to lock my wings in to get some speed. I sped towards the ground, trying to position myself below Violet, who was screaming like a scared schoolfilly.
“I got ya!” I cried out, spreading my wings at the last moment, catching my marefriend as she landed on my back. First things first, this hurt like a bitch as my love is not exactly a light pony. Not calling her fat, but she's definitely not light. Second of all, being landed on while trying to maintain your trajectory in the air really throws you off. I went spiraling as Violet struggled to hold onto me, slamming into the concrete street. I groaned as my rider went over my head, landing on the ground next to me. I definitely felt pain as I tried to push myself up. Shadows above us indicated the presence of Envy as the zebra mare rushed down at us. Shit! I thought as I rolled over, grabbing Violet and scrambling to my hooves. I lunged into a gallop as Envy struck ground right behind me, sending shards of concrete everywhere. I tossed a glance back over my shoulder, seeing Envy’s toothy smile closing in on me. I scooped up a protesting Violet with my magic, unceremoniously depositing her on my back as I pushed off from the ground. I took to the air, feeling the hot breath of the zebra against my back. I beat my wings as hard as I could, forcing Violet and I into the sky. As I headed towards the train car, I dived low, giving Steeljack and Patch a clear shot. A loud *crack* erupted from above as Steeljack's shot streaked past us, forcing Envy to disappear once more. I banked hard over and landed on the car, lowering Violet down as softly as I could. She groaned as she laid on her side, looking up at me. I scanned the buildings around us, trying to locate the enigmatic zebra. She was nowhere to be found.
“Star...?” Violet said weakly. I smiled as I placed my hoof on her shoulder.
“You're alright now,” I said, looking up at Patch who was scanning the skies for any sign of the zebra.
“Patch. You see if you can get the train running. I'll take care of the zebra,” I said. I had a score to settle with that bitch for trying to kill my marefriend. Patch nodded and rushed along the train car, leaping from one to the next as she headed towards the front of the train. I lifted out Stargazer and called out to the dark city.
“Show yourself!” I yelled. “If you want me, come get me you zebra bitch!” A chuckle emanated all around me.
“You'll get your desire Ministry Mare. Here I shall appear before you fair,” The voice echoed as the black form of the cloaked zebra landed on the top of the train car. Her cloak billowed out behind her as she rushed at me, wicked gauntlets with steel spikes extending from her forelegs. Shit she's just as fast as the others! I thought as I moved to dodge. Steeljack moved to pull Violet away as the zebra leaped forward, swinging at me with one of the gauntlets. The steel blade barely missed my neck as I pushed away. The zebra leveled a back leg at me, swinging into a kick that struck me hard in the side. I felt a rib break under the force of the blow, knocking me to the metal of the train car roof. Steeljack snarled and leveled his rifle, letting loose a *crack* at the zebra. Envy grinned and leaped into the air, throwing several small silver devices towards the grey buck. Steeljack tried to move back as the devices struck the metal surface, dotting the train car with tiny explosions that knocked the stallion back over Violet. My green love groaned and pushed herself up, levitating Thunder Flash in her magic. A flash of silver fire filled the air as she fired, completely missing the zebra as she disappeared from the air, reappearing behind me. A steel blade emerged from her cloak as she struck, slicing open my flank and spilling precious life blood.
“Owww!” I shouted as I struggled to regain my focus on the enigmatic zebra. I wheeled around and lashed out with a forehoof, missing the striped mare again as she leaped over my head and landed back onto the train car with a loud *thunk*. I growled as I leveled another strike at the zebra.
“Stay still dammit!” I shouted as Envy leaped back away from my strike. She grinned evilly as she unsheathed two wicked blades from underneath her cloak.
“The Lotus Triad wishes for your head. It does not matter to me if you are alive or dead,” She intoned in her rhyming cadence.
“You're here for the bounty?” I snarled angrily. I could feel pain shooting through my legs as my life blood flowed down them. I felt as if most of my body had been broken in half, and I hadn't even gotten a scratch in on the zebra. The mare nodded in return.
“The amount of caps that you are worth is quite enough. Now come quietly and this will not be too rough,” She replied.
“Fuck you. I'm not going anywhere with you,” I shouted. I lunged forward, bringing Stargazer up and dropping into E.S.A.T.S. Time stood still as I studied the zebra. Her dark green eyes sparked with a deadly intelligence. I decided to queue up several shots to the mare's legs, hoping to disable her. Time resumed and Stargazer unleashed hell,vomiting a torrent of gunfire at the zebra. Envy grinned, leaping into the air over the bullets. She reached out with her hoof, striking me in the face. What?! I thought as pain rippled across my face and neck, knocking me to the cold steel below. I could have sworn I had her! I looked up in horror to see the zebra descending down towards me, her steel blades shining in the darkness. A flash of silver streaked over my head from Violet's rifle, slamming into the black cloak surrounding the deadly mare. The force of the blast was enough to send Envy skidding across the top of the train car, impossibly staying upright. She grinned, tossing a few more of her deadly silver mines my way.
“Nice try bitch,” I said, igniting my horn. I didn’t take the time for subtlety, batting the mines away into the surrounding buildings. The devices struck and exploded upon impact, rocking the train track a little. What's taking Patch so long? I thought as I leaped forward, lashing out with my hoof at the zebra, finally managing to connect with a hit. The mare rubbed her face as she returned with a roundhouse that struck me squarely in the shoulder. I grimaced through the pain as I glared at the striped menace.
“A lucky strike you have achieved, double the pain is what you will receive,” She said, grinning.
“Go to hell,” I yelled in reply, pushing myself off of the zebra and leaping back next to Violet, who was readying Thunder Flash for another attack. Envy whirled her cloak about, launching several knives through the air. Violet jumped to the side, lighting up her own horn as she lifted her beam rifle. Silver fire flashed through the air, catching several of the knives and melting them into goop. One of them managed to get through, lodging itself into my shoulder. I felt ready to fall apart at any moment. I had been stabbed, blown up, and I was pretty sure Envy had broken several of my ribs earlier. I groaned. Pain ripped through every part of my body. A thought came to my mind as I lit up my horn, focusing all of my magic into an attack I'd only ever used before under Spark's control. I unleashed the magic in an explosion of psychic energy that erupted in front of me, rushing towards the zebra. Envy shrieked as the wave of energy hit her. She hit the train car with a resounding *thud*, sliding off the back of it. I turned back to Violet, who smiled weakly at me. I realized the train was starting to move as the shuddering turned into a lurching motion.
“Thank you Patch!” I shouted. The train lurched forward, steam and smoke issuing from the sides of the car. I grinned, turning towards the zebra, who had never reappeared after falling off the train car. Where did...? I thought as I scanned the buildings around us. The sound of hooves echoing on cold metal behind me alerted me to somepony running along the train car. I turned, seeing Patch. The green earth pony leaped across onto the train car, landing next to Steeljack.
“Took me a bit, had to completely rewire the control panel. That stripey bitch must have disabled it,” She said as we stood on the now moving train. The car shuddered below us, groaning as it traveled along the track. There was no more sign of Envy. I felt uneasy about this. My injuries were starting to catch up with me as I plopped to my haunches. Violet stepped up next to me and began checking me over. I sighed and grimaced as she pulled the knife out of my shoulder. She tossed the knife off the side of the train car, the metal clattering against the track as it soared to the streets below.
“Violet? You alright?” I asked weakly. She grinned.
“I'm fine, thanks to you. You saved my life,” She said softly. I chuckled, reaching over and kissing her lightly on the cheek. I pulled away, coughing a bit from the stabbing in the side of my barrel. I managed to stop myself and smiled.
“Always will too,” I replied. “So that was Envy. I really hope we don't run into her again anytime soon. Something tells me that I'm wrong though.”
“Do you think she's got any connection to Pride?” Violet asked. I shrugged.
“She didn't mention her, but it wouldn't surprise me. I'm starting to get the feeling all of them: Pride, Lust, Envy, Greed, Sloth? They're all connected somehow. Sloth said something about being a regular ghoul once,” I said as my love began to work over my injuries with her healing magic. She had learned only a little bit from Dusk Blue in her time with him, but a little went a long way when you were me. It would do nothing for the magical burnout I was suffering from the psychic explosion, though. I would have to recover my magic on my own. She nodded as I continued. “I know we need to go to the Ministry of Image... but there's a place out east of the city called Colter's Field. Supposedly, that's where the Cult of Iron Will is.”
“The Cult of Iron Will?” Violet replied.
“Yeah... the Minotaur mentioned them. Apparently their leader is a minotaur named Wrath,” I said, catching the eye of my love. She narrowed her gaze at me.
“Another lead on Pride?” She asked. I nodded. Past her I could see Steeljack and Patch, standing guard on opposite ends of the train car. The skyscrapers of the great city loomed all about us as the train rumbled its way forward. The station could be seen in the far distance. Our little stop had cost us time, but in several minutes we would be near our destination. I sighed, hoping that I was wrong and we’d at least get to the Ministry of Image before Envy showed her striped face. As the train bent its way around a corner, a glint of silver on the side of a car caught my eye.. I pushed myself up and away from Violet, who followed my gaze down the side of the train car.
“Oh. OH FUCK!” I shouted. The sides of the train had been literally covered by what looked like hundreds of those Envy’s little mines. Before I could even blink, all of them began lighting up and beeping at the same time. The bitch had tricked us, lulled us into a sense of false security in order to just blow us up. The train station loomed ahead of us now, the train speeding faster as it prepared to make an explosive entrance. I called out to my friends, reaching deep inside to try and find something... anything that could get us out of here in a pinch. My fight with Envy had left me physically and mentally drained, and despite everything I was unable to come up with any sort of idea for getting us out of this. The beeping got louder and louder as we approached the train station, the cars sliding along the track at a furious pace. I grimaced as the platform came into view, the beeping from the mines overwhelming our senses.
“We're going to have to jump!” I shouted, wrapping a hoof around Violet. My marefriend followed after me as we pushed off from the side of the train car. On the other side of the car I could see that Patch and Steeljack had done the same.
We simply weren't fast enough. As soon as we left the car the beeping went into a steady tone. Explosions rocked the side of the train, tossing us forward into the station. The force of the explosion coupled with the shrapnel from the devices propelled us into the wall facing the platform with a sickening *crack*. I groaned from the pain, my ears ringing and my vision blinded temporarily. I could hear my friends groaning next to me as well. I imagine if we hadn't gotten off the train then we probably all would have gone up in a fiery blaze. At least we weren't dead. Through the ringing in my ears I could hear the crackling of the flames from the now stopped train cars as the fire spread from car to car, consuming it and moving to the tracks below. Accompanying the crackle of the flames was hoofsteps along the stone flooring.
Shit, I thought as I tried to push myself up. A hoof launched out, striking me in the face and pushing me back to the ground.
“If you had listened to me and laid down your arms, your friends would not have been harmed,” The smooth voice belonging to Envy sounded from above me. “I would have taken just you, the caps you're worth would see me through.” I blinked. Did she really just continue the whole rhyming game? I thought that was just playful banter during our initial fight. I hadn't realized that she actually talked like that normally!
“F-f-fuck you and your stupid rhyming,” I managed to choke out. Another hoof came across, striking me across my face as I tried to lever myself to my hooves. The force of the blow lifted me from the ground, sending me back into the stone wall. I groaned, feeling another rib crack beneath the pressure. I was surprised I hadn't passed out yet. Through the bloody haze, I could see Violet and the others trying to push themselves up as well to come help me. Envy took note of this and began to step towards them. I growled and ignited my horn, grabbing the zebra mare's legs with telekinesis to hold her in place. A headache like no other shot intense pain through my forehead. I only had a few moments of holding her before my magic would dissipate.
“Get out of here!” I shouted at my friends. “Run! Hide!”
“Are you crazy?! She'll kill you!” Violet shouted. “I just got you back. I'm not losing you again!”
“Vi, I love you but if you don't run and hide now, she'll kill us all! Now GO!!!” I yelled back at my lover. The zebra was struggling against my hold, and I could feel the last flickers of my magic draining away. The green unicorn nodded, pushing up against my other two friends as they turned and ran deep into the station. Soon they were out of sight. A growl erupted from the zebra as my magic finally broke, freeing her from my grasp. She wheeled about, turning upright and spinning into another kick which connected solidly with my chest. I grunted as I was knocked back once more. Beeping came from all around me as I realized more of those silver mines were being tossed in my direction. I tried to reach out with my magic, but the burnout was just too much. Explosions tore through the air around me, blasting me back against the wall. I felt more bones crack, but still was conscious for some reason. What the fuck is going on? I should be dead by now, I thought as I tried to get up. Blood streamed down my left eye, which had conveniently swollen shut. I chuckled and coughed, more blood erupting from my mouth as I did.
“That... that all you got?” I said, grinning through the pain and hurt. The zebra mare stared incredulously at me.
“How is it that you still breathe?” The zebra said, breaking her rhyme for a moment. I guess even she hadn't expected my unnatural endurance. A familiar form of a black maned unicorn stepped from behind the mare, grinning evilly.
“When you're finished playing with this striped bitch, you can get to the Ministry of Image already,” Spark said angrily. “Then I can stop wasting energy on the stupid healing spell that’s keeping your mule ass upright.”
“What...?” I said aloud at the realization. Spark had helped me? Why? I thought about it for a moment, groaning. Of course, I thought. If I die, she doesn't get what she wants. “I suppose I should thank you, you fucking bitch.”
“Do not waste your breath, for I have come to bring about your death,” Envy replied in Spark's place, grinning evilly as she stepped forward on her hind legs, unsheathing her steel blades as she moved closer. She stopped within inches of me, running the flat part of the blade along my shoulder. “Try to escape my blade this time, with one slice you shall be mine.”
“And I keep telling you,” I spat, blood splattering on the zebra mare's muzzle as I did. “Go to hell you fucking bitch.” I pushed back and kicked out, planting my hooves on the mare's chest in as strong of a kick as I could muster. I connected, sending the zebra flying back into a stone column. She slumped to the ground and didn't move. I doubted I had killed her, and right then I didn't really care. I only cared about getting away. I started to shuffle in the direction that Violet and the others had gone. I only hoped I wasn't too far off from them. Blood streamed down my leg, fresh wounds having opened up during the fight.
“Please be alright,” I said as I moved along, slowly but surely towards my friends.
I slumped against the wall, startling the green unicorn and my other two friends.
“Star!” Violet shouted, rushing over to me. She looked like hell. Her mane was singed from where the fire had licked it, and she had bruises and cuts all over. Patch and Steeljack didn't look much better. Both of my earth pony friends were sitting next to each other, tending to the other's injuries. They both smiled as they saw me. Violet looked up and down my side, her horn glowing as she began to cast her healing spell on me. Metal pieces struck the floor as shrapnel expelled from my healing cuts. I pulled out a healing potion from my saddlebags and downed it, hoping to help along the process. I was breathing hard at this point. My horn still flared with pain, the feeling of magic burnout pulsing through my entire head.
“I... I need to sit down,” I said as I plopped down against the tunnel wall. It had taken me a good hour to find my friends, as slow as I was moving. They had managed to find a tunnel below the train station that was hidden among the rubble. It was a good hiding spot. I certainly hoped that it would be a good place to hide away from Envy. I was a hundred percent sure that the zebra was still alive. If my experiences with Pride and the others had taught me anything, it's that they were absurdly difficult to kill.
“You feeling okay?” Violet said. I nodded. I was lying of course. I felt like shit, but I wasn't about to tell Violet so. She was under enough stress as it was. I laid back against the wall of the tunnel, trying to process what had happened since we left Filiet. I let my mind wander, thinking about Envy, and Spark's sudden interest in my physical health. I considered that maybe Spark knew I couldn't handle Envy alone and did it to keep me alive so that she could have me all to herself. The scary thought was... she was right. Envy was too much for me. Our only option was to run. I wondered how long we would have to keep running, how long Envy would keep chasing us. Fuck... five hundred thousand caps? I was surprised no other mercenaries had come after me yet. I suddenly found myself wishing I had Lucky around to speak to. I hadn't seen the green mare since the incident with the Cowpones. I hoped that she was okay. I glanced over at my other friends. They were busy bandaging each other up, Violet's horn glowing gently as she channeled healing magic into Patch and Steeljack. I sighed, hearing a light giggle from my right. I looked over, seeing the familiar black maned unicorn.
“Heya beautiful,” Spark said, grinning wickedly at me. I glared at the unicorn and then back to my friends.
“Violet? I'm gonna check the outside of the tunnel, just to make sure we haven't been followed,” I said. She nodded in return as I pushed myself up from the wall and pushed past the debris blocking the entrance to the tunnel. The lavender unicorn followed behind me, an evil grin plastered all over her face. As soon as I assumed we were out of earshot I looked around to ensure that there was nopony following me. I turned and growled at the unicorn.
“What do you want now?” I said. The purple mare chuckled evilly.
“You know what I want. I want you. Do I have to spell it out for you?” She replied. I glared at her with cold eyes.
“You keep saying that, but I don't know what that means,” I said. “Why me? Why am I so fucking important to you?!”
“I thought it was obvious 'Goddess',” Spark said. My eyes widened at the nickname. “Yes... you understand don't you? Twilight thought the spell was going to work. She left the Twilight Society explicit instructions to carry out her wishes. But she was wrong. It didn't bring her back, it brought me instead.”
“Why? Why did it bring you here? Why are you in my head?!” I shouted, glaring at the lavender unicorn. She grinned.
“All in due time my dear,” Spark replied, turning away from me and walking down into the tunnel entrance, disappearing. I narrowed my gaze, pondering the unicorn's words. The Twilight Society certainly couldn't have known what Twilight's spell had done. But was Spark lying to me? Did her spell really bring back Magic and not Twilight? What was it that Twilight was trying to accomplish? My mind swirled with thoughts as I tried to understand. I became so lost in my thoughts that I almost didn't hear the hoofsteps clattering along the concrete. Fuck me, I thought as I whirled around, catching a strike in the face from the zebra who had been walking behind me. Of course, I thought as I was launched back into the air against the wall. The zebra mare sneered at me as she stepped forward on her hind legs.
“Ministry Mare, Ministry Mare...” She began to say in a bit of a sing-song voice, ditching her customary rhyming for a few moments. “You tried to bury me. It didn't work.”
“I see that you stopped rhyming,” I said, chuckling a bit as I tried to put some distance between me and the zebra. She circled around like a bird of prey ready to come in for the kill.
“Well... It's something that I do for my prey. Scares the shit out of them they say,” She said, grinning.
“Any chance I could convince you to leave me alone?” I asked. The mare's green eyes flared.
“You're worth far too much money to leave alone,” She said. “Besides. If I went back to the Lotus Triad empty handed, I would probably be killed for not completing the job.”
“I doubt they could kill you. You're all the same, the whole lot of you. Pride, Sloth, Greed...” I replied.
“So... you've met our brothers and sisters,” She said, surprise coloring her rich voice.
“I take it you don't see them too often?” I said. We continued to circle around each other, neither of us coming in to begin the fight anew.
“I haven't seen my equals in some time no. I am quite disconnected from them,” Envy said.
“Really? Then you must not have heard then? I killed Greed, and if you keep pursuing me I'll kill you too,” I snarled. The mare's eyes widened.
“You killed Greed? Interesting,” The zebra said, unsheathing her steel blades. “How is it that such a pathetic mare as yourself killed my brother in sin?”
“My little secret. What I'd really like to know, is what do you know about Pride? I owe that bitch a world of pain, and I'm definitely not planning on dying until I give it to her,” I said.
“Pride is nearly as enigmatic as I am. If you've met her you must be very special,” The zebra said. “Why would I reveal any secrets about her to you?”
“Was worth a shot,” I spat back, continuing my circling motion around the other mare. Her hooves clicked across the ground and she grinned. In a flash, she was in my face, slashing with those wicked blades of hers. I tried to jump back, activating my alicorn shield as the mare's weapons came deadly close to shaving off my head. The shield blocked the strike, throwing the zebra off balance for a moment and giving me enough time to turn tail and hoof it. I began to gallop as best I could through the rubble guarding the tunnel entrance, pouring on the speed as Envy gave chase once more. I groaned, leaping into the tunnel and surprising my friends with a loud crash to the ground. I righted myself and began talking, panic loosening my tongue.
“Gotta go gotta go gotta go!” I shouted as the zebra launched herself into the tunnel after me, drawing shouts of surprise from my friends. We scrambled down the tunnel, the striped mare hot on our heels. The tunnel itself was filled with all sorts of debris, forcing us to dodge the rubble as we tried to escape. We dug in deeper as the tunnel began to curve downward, ending in a fork. There wasn't much time to think as we dove into the right tunnel, immediately regretting the decision. The tunnel veered downwards, turning what appeared to be a sewage drain. The stench of death assaulted my senses as we started sliding down the drain. I couldn't hear anything behind the rush of the water that had joined us. We slid for what felt like forever, the slick filthy water carrying us along until we finally hit a drainage cover that opened up, dumping out into another tunnel below. Raw sewage and black water streamed from above, covering us in its filth.
I pushed myself up and took a look around. The tunnel was dark and dank, filled with rubble and debris. At the far end, a large steel door in the shape of a gear loomed ahead. I could hear groaning above me and realized that the only chance we had to escape Envy was right in front of us. I turned to my friends, noticing that they were trying to get up themselves. I motioned to Violet, pointing at the gear-shaped door. She nodded, wincing in pain as she tried to get Patch and Steeljack up.
“We have to move. It's our only chance to get away from her,” I said as my friends and I galloped down the tunnel towards the Stable door. I could hear clattering from the drain, indicating that we had been followed down the sewer. We arrived at the door, Violet pulling her PipBuck up and connecting it to the terminal. She began tapping away at the buttons on it, shouting at the terminal.
“Open dammit!” She yelled, pounding at the buttons on the keyboard. The terminal flashed ACCESS DENIED over and over as she tried different passcodes. The drain cover down the hall finally gave way, dumping the zebra mare that was chasing after us into the tunnel. She pushed herself up, grinning.
“Trapped like rats in a cage, you four have incited my rage,” She said as she stood up on her hind legs, unsheathing her wicked blades. Violet continued to pound away at the terminal as the striped mare began to stalk down the tunnel. She didn't need to end this quickly, I realized. If we were unable to get the door open, it would be all over for us anyways.
“It won't open!” My marefriend shouted angrily. Patch and Steeljack readied themselves for Envy, picking up their weapons. Somehow I doubted that even in this enclosed space that they would be able to hit the zebra mare. Patch unleashed a loud eruption from Para Bellum, the shot zooming past Envy as she dodged to the side. She was getting closer and closer now. Violet cried out in victory as the terminal emitted a chime that indicated she had managed to get the door open.
The steel door began to shift to the side. I grinned as my friends stepped inside the Stable proper. I stuck my tongue out at the zebra mare as I stepped behind the door, which began to close. Envy reached out just as the door slammed shut, cursing at me in what I assumed was her native language. The image of the mare was replaced with the cold steel of the door. I breathed a sigh of relief as I turned around to see this Stable we had ended up in. The barrels of several rifles met my gaze. I looked up to see the rifles were held by four unicorns in Stable jumpsuits. My friends stood in front of me, their hooves in the air.
Oh. Fuck us, I thought.
“Hold it right there!” A voice shouted. A dark red unicorn mare with a bright red mane stepped out from behind the four Stable Security ponies. She waved at the Security ponies, who in turn lowered their rifles briefly.
“Who are you?” She said coldly. I felt a chill from the red unicorn. Great... just our luck. A Stable that's still inhabited... I thought as I stared down the red mare, who I assumed was the Overmare. “The door hasn't opened since the Stable was sealed.”
“We... we're from topside. We didn't know there was anypony still here, but we uh... didn't have much of a choice,” I said meekly. “We were sort of being chased.”
“Chased?” The unicorn said. “Oh stars, you four look like you've been through hell. You said you were from topside?” I nodded. “And you mean us no harm?” I nodded again.
“We're just looking for some place to recover and rest for a little while. Your big door should keep out old stripey,” I said, pointing back at the door. “My name's Radiant Star, and these are my friends Violet Iris, Steeljack, and Patch.”
“My name is ahh... Ruby Crystal, and I'm the Overmare of Stable 175,” The ruby maned mare said. “I think we can help you Miss Star. Please, follow me. We have an excellent infirmary that can tend to your needs.”
“Thank you so much,” I said as my friends and I moved to follow the red unicorn. The Stable Security ponies followed behind us. I couldn't blame them really. After hundreds of years being down here by themselves to suddenly be faced with topsiders, I would be pretty distrustful too. I decided to try and break the ice a little.
“So... are we really the first topsiders you've ever met?” I asked the Overmare. The red mare nodded.
“The door has never opened before. All we really know about the outside is what the sensors tell us,” She said. “Is it true what they say? That the topside is a radioactive hellhole?” I chuckled a bit.
“Well. The city above isn't fantastic, but there's definitely settlements. It's not as bad,” I said. Liar, I thought. The Wasteland is a shithole and you know it. “Anyways... so what's your experiment here in Stable 175?” The other mare looked at me like I was insane. I could see a bit of fear in her eyes, almost like I had said something completely offensive. For a second, I almost thought I saw her eyes change from red to blue and then back. What was that? I thought, dismissing what I had seen as a trick of the light my mind was playing on me.
“Experiment?” She asked quietly. I nodded.
“See, a lot of the other Stables out there... when they were sealed up they were given instructions of things to do in their Stable. Each one was different. It's very rare that we find a Stable that is still sealed, let alone one that has ponies living in it,” I explained as we continued to walk.
“I see,” Ruby said. “So other Stables survived?”
“Some of them. One of them even gave the Wasteland a savior,” I said. “A few years ago a mare named Littlepip crawled out of Stable 2 down near Ponyville. Shook things up a lot. Even took care of the Grand Pegasus Enclave.”
“Grand Pegasus Enclave?” The mare asked curiously. I nodded again and grinned.
“Got a lot to learn about the topside I guess. So what was the point of your Stable?” I asked again.
“Oh. No point. Nothing at all. I guess we were just meant to survive here,” She replied, a nervous tone filling her voice. I cocked my head at her.
“Really? That's kind of odd,” I said, looking at Violet and shrugging. I guessed they maybe didn't know yet what their social experiment was. Not every Stable really knew what they were supposed to be doing, but this was the Overmare. She of all ponies, should have known what the experiment was. Something felt off about this whole situation, but the siren song of the infirmary drowned out my misgivings.
The Overmare led us down a new hallway to a door that was labeled Infirmary. The door slid open and we shuffled inside.
“We have everything needed here to fix you up,” Ruby said, motioning to the doctor pony, a lithe unicorn stallion, just inside the infirmary. “Make sure these four get the special treatment.” The doctor nodded, waving for us to lay down on the beds inside the clean room. I slumped my saddlebags off and lay down as the two nurses, a blue and pink earth pony, began to attend to me and my friends. The doctor moved to the cabinet in the room, pulling out several vials of what appeared to be Med-X. He smiled warmly as he levitated out the vials, giving each one of us an injection. The familiar relief of pain followed, sending me into oblivious bliss. I sighed, stretching myself out for the nurse. She began to wrap me up, the healing magic of the enchanted bandages taking immediate effect.
“Ohh... this feels pretty good,” I said as the doctor injected another dose of something into us. I sighed, feeling even better than I did with the Med-X. “What was that?” I asked.
“Oh? That was the special treatment. It's a specialized drug to aid in the healing process,” The doctor replied. “We manufacture it here. It's one of our specialties!” I grinned.
“Well it's working wonders for me,” I said. The doctor smiled, and began looking over my ear. “What happened here? It looks... scarred.”
“I wouldn't waste your time on it doc. It's pretty well going to stay that way unfortunately,” I replied. It was pretty much true. While the ear had stopped hurting, I no longer felt much from it at all. It just sort of... hung there like a lump on the side of my head. I wondered briefly if the thing would ever heal, but I doubted it. Dusk Blue was pretty convinced that the wound was magical in nature, and even with normal healing magic it wouldn't be fixed.
“That should be all, you can stay as long as you need to here. I'm sure the Overmare will wish to speak with you before too long,” He said, motioning to the two nurses. They withdrew from the room, leaving us in the cold infirmary. I noticed immediately that the guards stayed just outside the room through the window into the hallway. It seemed to me that we weren't exactly guests here, but prisoners. No. They're just being cautious, I thought, shaking my head and trying to clear myself of any negative thoughts.
I turned over and smiled at my friends. We had all begun to look a little better from the fight with Envy. Violet sat up and trotted off to one of the private rooms. I got up and followed closely behind, bidding Steeljack and Patch a good night as I did. I entered the dark infirmary room and lay down on the soft bed. This was at least one good thing about Stables. Their beds and pillows were always so nice and comfy. Violet plopped down next to me, nuzzling me close. I sighed once more. I had missed this so much. I pecked her on the neck, drawing a slight moan from my green love.
“Oh that feels good,” She said, looking up at me with her bright green eyes. My eyes widened, drawing a stare from the pale green unicorn. “You alright sweetie?”
“Yeah...” I said, chuckling nervously, catching another glare from my love. “Alright, look. I'm just kind of... worried you know? The bounty and then Spark keeps showing up and I haven't seen Lucky and I just... I'm scared. Scared of what's going to happen next.” She sighed, and kissed me on the cheek. Her warm lips pressed against me in a beautiful gesture of love. She pulled away and smiled.
“It'll work out. I'm sure that Lucky will turn up. After all, you said it seemed like she was connected to you right?” She said. I nodded. “As far as the bounty is concerned... I think we should see if the Minotaur will help us there. If he can make the city think the bounty is off we might be able to throw everypony off of our trail. First things first though, we need to get to that Ministry hub and get Spark under control.” I sighed, hugging her closely. It was exactly what I had needed to hear... a plan. Something, anything that would mean that we had this situation wrapped up. It had been so long since I felt like I was in control of anything.
“But... the Minotaur? How are we even going to get there? I only teleported there by accident,” I said, remembering the encounter with the enigmatic DJ. Violet smiled.
“We'll figure that out. Right now we should take a break, and rest up. We can only hope that Envy is waiting us out behind the Stable door,” She said.
“Speaking of... do you get a funny feeling about this place at all?” I asked. She cocked her head at me.
“What do you mean?” She replied. I shrugged.
“I don't know. Something feels off about it. I mean, if they have any sort of sensors for the outside world, why stay in here? Most Stables opened years ago,” I said, feeling rather frustrated. “It just doesn't fit, is all.”
“You have a good point. They seem friendly enough, albeit a little nervous. I would be too if I was meeting topsiders for the first time,” Violet said.
“I know, but... I kid you not, I thought I saw the Overmare's eyes turn blue for a brief second when we were speaking earlier,” I responded. Violet sighed.
“I think the overexertion we've all been experiencing has been getting to us,” She said, nuzzling me close. I sighed.
“I suppose you're right,” I replied, turning over and pulling some items out of my saddlebags. The set of memory orbs from the Fort Knowledge library rolled out and I looked to my marefriend.
“Supposedly one of these has a memory that came from Shining Armor. I figure... we're in a safe position, I might as well see which one,” I said. Violet smiled.
“I think you're more than owed a chance to keep figuring out this puzzle,” She said. “Don't worry, we'll keep watch over you.” I smiled and kissed her again, turning my attention to the orbs in front of me. They were all unmarked, and there really wasn't any discernible feature that would tell me which one of them belonged to Twilight's brother. I was sort of surprised, I had figured Twilight would have kept and marked any sort of item that had belonged to Shining Armor. I decided I would have to wing it and just pick one of them. I glanced at the first of the orbs, and latched out with my magic. The world fell away into nothingness as I dove head first into the past.
This was a unique feeling. I was in a unicorn, but it wasn't Shining Armor. The body I was in was tall and lanky and definitively male. I felt a little slow, but my host was moving with fierce determination. A dark hallway extended beyond my borrowed sight as the lanky unicorn made his way to the door at the end of the long room. The door opened quietly as the unicorn stepped inside to an even darker room. In the center of the room in the dim light I could see a familiar purple unicorn standing over a pedestal. I felt the magic flow through my host's horn, resulting in that funny feeling I associated with invisibility. My host stepped softly into the cylindrical room, coming closer and closer to the Ministry Mare. She appeared to be lost in thought, the item on the pedestal catching all of her attention.
“Interesting,” She muttered to herself, her horn glowing as she turned several pages of what appeared to be a book sitting on the pedestal. I glanced down as my host circled around the Ministry Mare, watching her intently. The book was bound in black leather, mystical runes scratched into each page in what appeared to be dried blood. My eyes nearly popped out of my head as I realized what I was looking at. It was the same as the Book that the Destroyer had brought to Maripony, but yet different. How many of these things did the zebras make? And how is it that Twilight acquired it? I thought that she had never finished the necromantic component of the spell! The mare looked up for a brief moment, horn flashing. I felt the invisibility spell drop as my host stared at the purple mare.
“So. Thought you could spy on me did you?” She said. “Snails. You should know better. Your mistress would be disappointed.”
“Mistress Rarity asked me to keep an eye on you, eh,” My host said, his voice a low and long drawl that I nearly thought would never end. “With good reason I can see. You're sneaking around, eh!” Twilight's eyes shifted from left to right.
“Me? No. I was given clearance to be here,” The Ministry Mare said.
“Really? Does Mistress Rarity know you're here then?” My host said. “That book is classified to the Ministry of Image only.”
“I can see why. A book on zebra necromancy? I knew Rarity had something like this. I just didn't expect it to be here of all places,” Twilight spat, stepping back towards the door. A shield appeared in a cylinder around the room, preventing the mare from leaving. She looked back at my host, whose horn was glowing.
“Mistress Rarity placed me in charge of the Chicacolt facility. This entire building is at my command, eh,” My host drawled.
“Let me go. The Princess needs to know about this. Then I'll be given unrestricted access to study it all I want,” Twilight threatened, her horn charging up into what I recognized as a teleportation spell. My host grinned slowly.
“I think you'll find eh that this building prevents teleportation in and out as well,” The lanky unicorn replied. “Now then... Mistress Rarity made it clear I was supposed to watch you, but seeing as how you've infiltrated one of our secret hubs, I have to decide what to do with you, eh!”
“You could just let me go. I am a Ministry Mare. You would never get away with simply detaining me,” The lavender unicorn said. My host nodded slowly.
“You're right. That wouldn't work. However, you have seen too much here, and that cannot be ignored,” He said, flaring his horn more.
“What do you propose then Snails? You know you could never overpower me. I am the bearer of the Element of Magic after all,” Twilight said.
“Tsk tsk Darling, you of all ponies should know better than to threaten,” A voice came from the darkness behind my host. The demure form of Rarity appeared out of the shadows, stepping forward smoothly beside the lanky unicorn.
“Rarity,” Twilight said nervously. “What are you doing here?” Rarity sighed and stepped towards her friend cautiously. Twilight backed away for a second before stopping and staring straight at the purple maned unicorn. Rarity extended a hoof and pulled Twilight close into a loving hug.
“I'm so sorry dear,” She muttered under her breath. My host could hear her very clearly despite his distance from the two other unicorns. “I'm so sorry I had to keep something like this from you, but you must understand... this book must never get out. It must never end up in the wrong hooves.” Twilight began to sob into Rarity's shoulder.
“I... I'm sorry Rarity!” She cried out, tears streaming from her eyes. “I... I just... I need it. I need to finish this!” Rarity sighed and looked over at my host, her eyes watery with tears as well. She nodded, and my host let down the shield around the room. He bowed to the white unicorn.
“Thank you Snails. That will be all. I have some business to attend to here,” She said, motioning to the sobbing Twilight. My host nodded and began to walk for the door. As he opened it, I could hear Rarity behind him saying “Now my dear... let's see if we can't help you...”
I awoke to pure darkness, my mind trying to process what I had just witnessed. Did that mean that the Chicacolt Ministry Hub held the second book? Was it even possible? And what did Rarity mean by trying to help Twilight? The memory orb, while not being the one I had wanted to view, had raised even more questions. I was almost certain that Twilight had never been able to finish the spell, but something inside me mad me wonder if Spark hadn't lied about that too. It seemed likely that she had. She had certainly made sure to tell me that Twilight was responsible for the instructions given to the Twilight Society, but was she lying about that too? I found it hard to believe anything the angry little phantasm had said up until now.
My eyes opened and I looked over in the darkness of the room, smiling at my marefriend laying next to me. I sighed, leaning into her neck and nuzzling her close. She awoke, grinning as she kissed me on the cheek.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” She replied, pushing herself up off the bed. The lights fluttered on and we exited the private room back into the infirmary. The doctor was standing inside the room. He smiled as we entered. Patch and Steeljack came out of their room as well. They looked a bit better, albeit a little tired looking still.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?” The medical pony asked. Violet nodded. I refrained from saying anything. Memory orbs didn't exactly count as actual sleep. Granted, your body didn't go anywhere but your mind wasn't really resting. Instead I changed the subject as best as I could.
“So... do we get a tour of your facility?” I asked. The doctor's expression turned deadly serious.
“I'm afraid... that's out of the question,” He replied. “The Overmare has forbid you to leave the infirmary.” I grimaced. I was afraid that would be the answer. It seemed that the Stable inhabitants didn't exactly trust us yet.
“Well, we can we at least see the Overmare? We can't exactly stay here you know,” I said. “We'd like to see about trading for some medical supplies and then getting on our way.”
“I... I'll see what I can do,” The doctor said, looking very shifty as he spoke. What is up with this place? I thought. I shrugged off the feeling I was getting as I nodded at the medical officer. “Now, let's make sure you all are doing alright.” He looked to the two nurses, who smiled and brought out their needles and bandages. They began to check us over once more, injecting us with the special healing drug. I felt much more relaxed as the nurses finished up and the doctor left us to our own devices for a little while in order to find the Overmare.
What felt like a few hours later (but was really more like a half an hour according to my PipBuck), the door to the infirmary opened once more, revealing Ruby Crystal and her entourage of security ponies. I wondered briefly if the ruby mare traveled around the Stable with them at all times. She had a deathly serious look on her face.
“The doctor informs me that you wish to leave the Stable,” The red maned unicorn said flatly. I nodded. She grimaced.
“I'm afraid I can't do that. Reopening the door is a dangerous thing. We don't trust you, nor do we trust the fact that you are the only topsiders who would invade our home.”
“What?!” I shouted angrily. “We don't mean you any harm. We're sorry we barged in like this, but it is only us. What reason would we have to hurt you?” I thought about that for a second. I supposed there were lots of reasons. Stables held a wealth of technology, not to mention the Stable population itself would be very lucrative to slavers. Still, why the sudden change in attitude? I didn't understand why we would suddenly be denied exit from the Stable. In the back of my mind, things tumbled around, little signs of wrongness. Things hadn’t been right since the moment we entered the Stable.
“And until we've ascertained that there is no threat, you will stay here,” The Overmare stated with finality. I glared at her.
“Fine. But we need to get going soon. The longer we stay here, the less time I have,” I said. “I'm not going to lie. I'm not in a good place right now, and I need to get some answers before something really bad happens.” The Overmare snorted.
“We'll see. For now, you will stay here,” She replied, turning and exiting the room. I groaned, turning to Violet and the others.
“So... ideas?” I said. “It doesn't sound like we're just going to get let out of here.”
“I agree,” Steeljack said quietly. “I dunno about you, but this place give me the creeps.” Patch nodded.
“Something... isn’t right. I can't place my hoof on it,” She said. “I say we make a break for it. Violet can open the door again just as easily as she did before.”
“Hopefully. I can only hope they didn't change the security codes,” Violet chimed in. “But I agree with Patch. I didn't see it beforehand, but now... I don't know...”
“Alright, if we're going to do this we need to be smart about it. I don't want to hurt these ponies,” I said. My friends nodded as we retreated to our rooms to get our things together. I packed up my saddlebags and looked to Violet. My green love smiled as she pulled together her bags. Moments later, we stepped out into the main room of the infirmary. I could still see the guards posted just outside the door. We needed a bit of a distraction to get the guards away. I ignited my horn and cast my invisibility spell over myself. I stepped towards the door, willing it to open with my magic. The guards turned, not seeing anything there as I stepped into the hallway.
“Hey did you see anything?” One of the guards said. The other guard shrugged.
“Must be a door malfunction,” He replied. I grinned, using the opportunity presented by the guard's confusion to focus my magic on the hallway itself. A noise erupted from the hallway as several pipes burst, filling the end of the hall with steam. The two guards looked up and ran from their post, shouting into their PipBucks for maintenance. I dropped my invisibility spell and nodded through the window at my friends. The door opened once more and we set off into the Stable. We came down the next hallway, noticing that there was no activity thus far. I wonder if they're all off working or something... weren't these things supposed to be more populated? Not that I'm complaining about it right now, I thought as we trotted along. According to my PipBuck, we were nearing close to the main Stable door. This was going to work! We'd get out of here and then we'd be right on our way to the Ministry of Image, and then I could get some answers about everything that had been happening to me since we got into this stupid city.
“We're getting closer!” I shouted. We rounded the next corner, the entrance finally coming into sight. We galloped full speed down the hallway, getting closer and closer with each stride. We made it within ten feet of the entrance lobby, when I noticed my friends were beginning to slow down and stumble. I stopped for a moment as they fell to the floor, groaning. Violet looked up at me as she fell unconscious, her eyes wide with fear.
“What...?” I said. “Violet! Patch! Steeljack!” What was happening to them? Before I could even process what was going on, I felt two sharp stings of pain in my backside. I turned around, seeing several Stable security ponies with rifles. I realized that I had been shot. I growled, bringing Stargazer to bear. I never even got a shot off before I was shot again from behind. Of course, I thought, as pain ripped through my body. I looked up through the haze at the Stable ponies, seeing them... change. Suddenly I was staring at several rows of blue multi-faceted eyes, all the same.
“What... what are you...?” I said as I fell to the ground and fell unconscious.
I groaned as I awoke. It was dark once more. What happened? I thought. My mind was drawn back to the events prior. My friends! Something had happened to them, and then I had been shot. A lot. I rubbed my rump a bit, feeling the telltale signs of medical bandages and my wounds healing up. Why would they heal me if they were going to lock us up? Why not just kill me? I was beginning to realize that we had been right about this Stable. Something wasn't right here.
It was then that I noticed the smell of fire around me. It wasn't like a normal flame smell, but had a distinct magical signature about it. My eyes fluttered open and I looked about what had to be the Stable's brig. It was bare, and I was alone. My saddlebags and Stargazer lay on the other side of the bars, sitting by the security officer's desk. The door to the cell was blown off of its hinges, and laying just inside the doorway... was a black body. It was smoldering, but I could tell it wasn't equine. At least not in any true sense of the word. My mind struggled for a moment as I tried to process where I had seen this creature before. It had two wings, but they were more insectoid in nature than pegasi. Two blue bulbous eyes were set into its skull, its sharp silver teeth lining every part of its mouth. I realized after a moment that this was the same sort of beast I had seen in Fillydelphia when I was attacked by Discord. It was a changeling. What in Equestria is it doing here? And where's Violet? I thought as I pushed myself up out of the bed, strapping my weapon to its harness and peering out into the infirmary proper.
There were more of the strange changeling bodies littering the room. These ones however, were wearing clothing. I peered closely at them, realizing immediately that they were wearing Stable jumpsuits. Something clicked in the back of my mind.
“Yep, they're the Stable ponies,” A voice behind me said. A very familiar voice that I hadn't heard in a few days. I smiled, and turned about. The sight of the spectral green unicorn/pegasus filled my heart with a little joy at least.
“Lucky,” I said aloud. The green mare nodded in return. “What happened to you?”
“Spark,” She said, smiling. “She... she sent me somewhere. I'm not really sure where, but while you were out I was able to reform here.” I groaned. Of course Spark had wanted to keep her away, but why? What threat was Lucky to her? I realized it was only after Lucky had died that I had begun to see the dark maned unicorn. Maybe Lucky was some form of catalyst that gave Spark the power to manifest herself? More questions swam through my mind, the most prevalent of them being...
“Where is everypony?” I asked, looking around the room. There was nopony but me, Lucky, and the dead changelings.
“I'm not sure. When I got here it was just you. But it looks like we're locked in here,” The green mare replied, pointing at the door. It was closed, a red light shining above it. I grinned.
“Not for long,” I said, letting the magic flow through me as I pushed hard against the door with telekinesis. The door buckled against the pressure, blowing out into the hall. It hit the wall with a *crunch* and fell flat to the floor. I stepped into the hallway, the stench of death filling my nostrils almost immediately. I floated out Stargazer and flipped on my E.F.S.
I nearly fell over at the amount of red that flooded my vision. Red bars were everywhere! I gathered my composure a bit as I looked for any sign of yellow to indicate my friends. Amidst the sea of red, three yellow bars appeared in the direction of the Stable's Atrium. They weren't moving, but the fact that they were showing up gave me hope. I clicked into my PipBuck's locator spell, and input Violet's PipBuck tag, getting a glowing arrow in my E.F.S. that would show me the way. I looked over at Lucky and nodded.
“Let's go get my friends,” I said, starting down the hallway. I made it to the end of the long hall before my first encounter with a live changeling. The mare (at least it looked like a normal pony mare) stepped out from behind the corner, brandishing a saddle mounted rifle. She let loose a barrage of bullets, her eyes glimmering evilly as she charged down the hallway at me. I put up my shield spell, causing the bullets to harmlessly deflect away. I snarled and pulled up Stargazer, pointing it at the mare.
“Who are you?!” I shouted. The mare chittered in a voice that sounded a lot like an insect. A blaze of green fire appeared around the equine, revealing its true nature. The soulless blue eyes of the beast before me made me shudder. It flapped its bug-like wings and chittered again. I quickly realized that even disregarding the language barrier that these things weren't interested in diplomatic solutions. I dropped into E.S.A.T.S., queuing up several burst rounds before letting the spell drop. Gunfire echoed in the hall as Stargazer's rounds slammed into the changeling, dropping it to the ground. Green fire erupted from the body as I smelled that distinct stench of burning flesh once more. Must be some sort of release when they die, I thought as I dropped my shield spell. I turned back to check on Lucky, seeing the green mare cowering below me.
“Really?” I said flatly. Lucky grinned sheepishly.
“Sorry,” She said, pulling herself up from the ground. “Old habits?”
“Right,” I said as I started to turn away. I noticed a large cluster of red bars heading in the direction of the brig. “And it seems now we should make some haste. They're coming to check on me, and when I'm not there to be checked on... they'll be hot on our trail.” The green mare nodded as she followed behind me. I turned down the corner, keeping a close eye on my E.F.S. as I walked along at a brisk pace. Within a few moments, we arrived at a small balcony overlooking the Stable's main Atrium. The Atrium of a Stable was typically a general meeting area where the Stable inhabitants could socialize. This however, was no typical Atrium. Looking down off the balcony, I could see a large hole in the center of the vast room. It looked as if it had been expanded over time, a testament to the creatures who developed it. The inside of the hole looked very much like one would expect a bee hive to look. The organic, insectile look and feel of the changeling hive had spread to the Atrium around it. Blackened stalactites grew on the ceiling, nearly blocking the lighting in the large open room. I blinked as I realized the largest cluster of red on my E.F.S. was right here in front of me.
Changelings populated every part of the room below the balcony, the insectoid beasts milling back and forth. In the center of the commotion stood the red form of Ruby Crystal. She appeared to be directing the other changelings. Behind her three green crystalized cocoons arose from the ground. Inside of the cocoons were each of my three friends. I growled lowly at the sight of them. They appeared to be unconscious thankfully, but still in quite a bit of danger. I dropped from sight, trying to consider a plan of attack. I couldn't just go rushing in to try and save them. I silently cursed my viewing of memory orbs. If I had been up and about when the changelings had attacked us, I could have done something, anything to stop them. I had to hope instead for some form of alternative solution. What exactly do these things want with us? Why leave me in the brig? I thought. I considered the fact that I had been knocked out at the time, and the possiblity that they didn't consider me a threat. Their mistake, really. They didn’t know just how pissed off I could get over my friends’ lives being threatened.
I looked over at Lucky, who merely shrugged. I sighed and tried to process any sort of plan, but was having a lot of trouble coming up with anything. I supposed maybe I could try to reason with Ruby Crystal, since she had been able to at least talk. I grumbled. I hated having to think of the diplomatic solution but it was probably my only chance at getting my friends out of this alive. I grinned and stood up, hopping off of the balcony and using my wings to glide me to the center of what was now a chittering commotion. I was immediately beset upon by several of the slobbering insect-like beasts. I held up my hooves, hopefully indicating that I was surrendering and to not kill me on site. The red Overmare grinned, and I could see that she too wasn't exactly a pony. Her eyes gleamed an evil blue and green fire erupted around her. Instead of the normal changelings I had seen up until now, Ruby Crystal had become something quite... stately. Beautifully built insect wings came from her back, and she had a well built frame with a very sleek black carapace all over. A horn extended from her head, where her flaming red hair lay down her neck and face.
“Hold her!” She called out, buzzing her wings and landing in front of me. “Well well. So you're the power source the little filly unicorn has been focusing on.”
“Power source?” I asked, glaring at the changeling.
“Indeed. It's been a while since we've gotten visitors. At least a week at most,” The black creature said.
“I assume you were lying when you told me that you hadn't met topsiders before?” I said. She grinned, her teeth showing through the smile.
“Every so often they find their way down here. We take them in, and we use them for feeding stock,” She said, motioning around the room. I looked up, seeing hundreds of cocoons, each one containing a different pony in them. There were even a few griffons here and there as well.
“Feeding stock?” I said. “What do you mean?”
“Changelings feed on the powerful emotions given off by the various races of the Wasteland. A long time ago, our race fed on love, pure true love. But that was a long time ago...” The Overmare replied. I had been surrounded by this time, the changeling swarm all around me. “We have not tasted such powerful love in a long time.”
“How did you get here?” I asked, deciding to try and prolong as much as I could while I thought of a way out of this.
“When this Stable was built, Stable-Tec in all of its infinite wisdom ended up building this place over an old Changeling hive. We hid underground for many years, prospering on the emotions that drifted down from the Stable. Then... all of a sudden the emotions stopped,” She said. “The inhabitants of this Stable had gone mad you see, driven insane by some form of drug that the Stable doctors had administered.” My eyes went wide. I guess that explained the social experiment of this place. I quickly remembered the needles the doctor had injected us with.
“What did you give us when you brought us into the infirmary?” I said nervously, hoping that it wasn't those kinds of drugs. The changeling grinned, catching onto my nervous speech easily.
“Strong sedatives. Put your friends to sleep, but it didn't seem to have any effect on you because we had to put you down by force,” She said. “Afterwards, you were completely out of it and unresponsive. Imagine my surprise to see you here now.”
“I'm not exactly normal. I've got this thing in my head. It must have overrode your drugs. So what happened to the Stable ponies then?” I replied. I was beginning to get a bit uneasy. I was pretty sure I knew the answer already.
“We tried to make contact with them, but they were violent and uncontrollable. We were forced... forced to kill them, keeping only the most lucid as food. We took their place in the Stable, a mockery of what they were. Since then... we've survived on the emotions of pain and anger,” The changeling said.
“And now you want me and my friends for a snack? I don't think so,” I said angrily. The changeling licked her lips a bit, grinning widely. Her sharp teeth gleamed and her red hair shimmered.
“Such a powerful emotion, anger. But love? Love is truly an amazing emotion. It tastes so... incredible,” She replied. “Your little friend has it in spades for you my dear. Your emotions will feed us for quite a long time.”
“I can't let that happen. I have too many important things to do still,” I said. “Let my friends go. Now.” The changeling laughed, a tittering noise amidst the chatter of the swarm surrounding us.
“Let you go? Why would I ever think about doing that?” She said. “I need to feed my children after all.” I glared at the changeling overmare. That was it then. My friends would be food for this bitch and her swarm. What would she need me for? She could just get rid of me, and that would be the end of it. I looked up at Lucky briefly, the green mare cowering just above the balcony. A chuckle erupted in the back of my mind, indicating the familiar presence of Spark. The dark maned unicorn stepped out from behind the changeling queen.
“Caught in a bind sweetie?” She said. I stared at the unicorn, growling under my breath. She grinned, her horn lighting up as time around us began to slow to a stand still. “There. Now we can talk without anypony or anything bothering us.” She motioned at the changelings surrounding us. It appeared that nopony else could hear us or even acknowledge us.
“What do you want now Spark? I'm getting tired of these interruptions,” I said aloud, stomping a hoof in irritation. The dark mare sighed.
“You're wasting time sweetie,” She replied. “You have an appointment to keep.”
“What's so important about the Ministry of Image Hub? Why do you want me to get there so badly?” I asked.
“Answers sweetheart. You get there, I'll tell you everything you wanted to know,” The dark unicorn said. “But in order to do so, you've got to get out of here.”
“Got any ideas then? I'm afraid to tell you that I'm fresh out of them,” I said.
“I have a few. One of them includes giving me control for a little bit. I'll get us out here, in no time,” The dark mare said, grinning. I glared at her. Of course there was that. That was her goal after all. I couldn't see any other way out of this unfortunately.
“Fine,” I said. “Just get it over with. But as soon as we are clear, I want my body back,” Spark chuckled. I could hear hoofsteps behind me indicating Lucky's presence.
“Don't do it Star. I don't trust her,” She said. Spark laughed, a choppy bark of sound.
“Please. You have any other bright ideas greenie?” The dark maned unicorn said. Lucky glared at her silently. “Of course you didn't. Now, let's get this show on the road.” I nodded as Spark stepped up to me. Her horn ignited for a brief second... and then suddenly I found myself staring at my own body. It was a strange feeling, but I was staring at myself almost as if I were looking in a mirror. I looked down for a moment, realizing that this spectral form of me looked just like I had before the spell. I was blue again! I looked back up, seeing my body turn around to look at me and Lucky. Lucky stepped up next to me, placing a hoof on my shoulder. I could actually feel her touch as the purple alicorn began to speak.
“Alright then. Watch... and learn love,” I heard my voice emanate from the other mare's body. Suddenly as if a dam had burst, time started again. The changeling swarm buzzed about as Spark turned back to the Overmare.
“So... you feed on strong emotion?” I heard myself say, a grin forming on Spark's mouth. “Well, can you handle this then?” I felt a rush of power exude from the purple mare's body. I assumed that the changeling queen had felt it too, as she began to dip to the ground before me. She groaned in pain.
“Stop! It hurts... please... stop...” I heard her shout, growling as she tried to push herself up. The changeling swarm around us began to fall one by one, unable to withstand Spark's power. Have I always been able to do that? I thought. Or is this something Spark is able to do? Spark chuckled.
“Spark. That's enough. Get them to free Violet and the others,” I shouted at the purple mare. She glared back at me for a moment.
“Hold your horses, I'm having a little fun with them first,” She said menacingly, turning back to the changeling.
“Release them,” Spark said with a commanding voice. The changeling queen forced herself up.
“Please... anything... just... take them!” She shouted. The cocoons surrounding my friends began to disintegrate, shards sparkling and tinkling like fine crystals. I could hear the groans of my friends as they began to wake up. They looked disoriented as they tried to process what was going on. Violet looked over at my body and smiled weakly. I watched as my body moved over to my friends. Her horn ignited and I felt the familiar tug of magic on my spectral form. Teleportation? I thought. How can she...? Where is she even going to teleport? The purple mare released the magic, and the world disappeared.
I looked about, realizing that I was back in the same room with the same circular structure and the six doors. I groaned for a moment, wondering how I had gotten here when I hadn't exactly gone unconscious. Unless the strain that Spark had put on my body by teleporting the whole group to Celestia knows where had knocked my body out, I couldn't understand why here, of all places.
The torch in the center of the room went out once more and the flames zoomed across the circular floor to the door emblazoned with the cutie mark of a cloud and a rainbow colored lightning bolt extending from it. The door opened and I stepped through. Almost immediately I began to fall, landing a short distance away from the door on a nice fluffy cloud. I looked up and saw the door entrance suspended in the air. Well, that's... amusing, I thought as I pulled myself up. I looked out upon an entire city suspended in the clouds. It was a city I had only ever seen in books. Cloudsdale, I thought, smiling. The shining capital of the pegasi looked incredibly beautiful with the sun shining down above it. I started forward, bouncing from cloud to cloud. Before long, I had ended up inside a large cloud coliseum. Pillars of white fluffy goodness extended along the large open space in the center of the arena, where a cyan pegasus was flying about. I flapped my wings a bit and took to the sky, catching the eye of the mare as she zoomed past me.
“Hey you!” She shouted, her voice brash and vibrant. “You think you got what it takes to roll with me?!” I grinned.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked, trying to keep up with the cyan pegasus as we sped about the coliseum.
“How's about a race? See if you got the stuff,” The mare replied, grinning widely. I nodded as we came to a stop above a cloud far above the coliseum. The cyan mare pointed at the far end of the arena. “Alright, here's the scoop. We race to the other end of the coliseum and then right back here. Very simple.”
“Alright. What happens if I win?” I asked coyly. The other mare snorted.
“As if!” She exclaimed. “Nopony can beat me. I'm the fastest flier in all of Equestria!”
“We'll see,” I said. “How do we know when it will be time to start then? I only see the two of us here.”
“Don't you worry about that,” The cyan mare replied, pointing across the clouds. A spectral pegasus appeared, waving a flag. The blue pegasus put herself into a starting position, cricking her neck for extra flare. I grinned and put myself in the same position. The spectral pegasus stared blankly at the two of us, and waved the flag. I pushed off of the cloud and shot forward, keeping pace with the cyan mare initially. The rainbow maned pegasus grinned however, and pushed ahead of me, her tail leaving streaks of color behind her as she shot through the air. I couldn't help but admire the pure athleticism she embodied. She moved powerfully, but at the same time gracefully, through the sky. I shook my head, trying to focus on the race at hoof. I flared my wings and pushed forward, picking up speed as I caught up to the cyan mare. I grinned at her as I began to pull away just as we hit the halfway marker. Banking into a tight curve, I pulled around and began to speed back towards the finish line. The rainbow maned pegasus growled as she came up next to me.
“Oh no you don't!” She shouted, whipping through the wind as she moved ahead of me. I pushed my wings even harder, trying my best to even keep up with the blue mare. I was so focused on the race that I didn't see the cloud in front of me. I grunted as I slammed through the cloud, the sudden impact sending me veering off course. I heard the cyan pegasus chortle with laughter as she raced ahead. I growled as I banked around, turning upwards and heading as fast as I could towards the finish line. I picked up speed once more, but I realized that I would be unable to catch the cyan mare. I groaned as I watched the mare speed across the finish line, cheering hard for herself. I crossed the finish line shortly afterwards, stopping on the cloud the mare was standing on. She chuckled profusely.
“Good effort, but like I said. Nopony can beat the fastest flier in all of Equestria!” She exclaimed. I huffed angrily.
“Would have had you if not for that stupid cloud,” I said. The other mare giggled and stuck her tongue out at me.
“Anyways, let me guess... not Rainbow Dash?”
“You'd be correct. But you might say Dash rubbed off a lot on me. I'm Loyalty, nice to meet you,” The cyan pegasus replied. She sat down on the cloud in front of me. I plopped down on my rump as well, staring at the curious mare.
“So... I'm supposed to like... learn how to be loyal then?” I asked. Why of all virtues would I be shown Loyalty? This really didn't make much sense. Loyalty giggled a bit.
“Loyalty takes very many forms. It was a brave thing you just did, giving yourself up for your friends. It really shows how loyal you are to them Star,” She said.
“I just hope it wasn't the wrong thing to do,” I said, averting my eyes to the cloud below me. “Honesty told me that Spark wasn't always this way. Why is she doing this?”
“Honesty was right. Spark used to be just like the rest of us, pure and whole. Now... now she's less than she was. She became obsessed with surviving,” Loyalty said. My eyes picked up and my ears perked forward.
“Surviving? What do you mean?” I asked.
“When we were joined with the Ministry Mares, we all knew that the bonds that created us were beginning to break. Spark refused to believe that it was going to happen, but she stressed over it much more than the rest of us. She was so adamant about survival, that in her denial she pushed Twilight to try to come up with ways to keep her alive,” The cyan mare replied. “The whole I.M.P. Project came from Spark pushing Twilight to think about creating alicorns as a means to end the war.” I blinked. If Twilight hadn't gotten that extra push from Spark, the whole I.M.P. Project would have never been completed and the alicorn race as it was today would have never existed! My eyes widened at this revelation.
“What was she so afraid of?” I said.
“She was afraid of not existing,” Loyalty said. I looked at the cyan mare intently. “You see, if the bond that brought us all together suddenly no longer was there... we'd cease to exist and the Elements of Harmony would be useless.”
“But... didn't you all survive anyways?” I asked curiously. Loyalty nodded.
“I always personally thought Spark was a little loopy, but at the time... some of us fell right into her delirium. Take Laughter for instance. She and Spark were quite close,” She said.
“Spark told me that Twilight messed up, that the spell that's affecting me brought her back instead of Twilight,” I said. “Wouldn't happen to know anything about that would you?” The cyan mare shook her head.
“I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if she did something like that,” Loyalty said. “She always was a little... out there for an egghead.” I nodded, looking out amongst the clouds at the city.
“This place... it's beautiful by the way,” I said, motioning to the view before us. Loyalty grinned.
“How about another race?” She said. “This time around the whole city?” I smiled.
“I'd love to,” I said, sitting up and flapping my wings. “On the count of three?”
“On the count of three.”
“Three two one go!” I shouted quickly, taking off into the sky and heading towards the city proper. Loyalty shouted behind me and began to follow me, a wide smile on her face. Blackness overtook me as we glided into the sun.
My eyes opened slowly as I took in the surroundings. I felt... normal I guess is the word I would use. I looked down, noticing I was back to my normal purple coat color. I looked about, seeing Violet and the others lying about the tunnel we were in. We were in what appeared to be one of the side tunnels underneath the subway station. I groaned as I forced myself up. I made my way over to Violet, nudging her. She sputtered awake, turning over to look at me. A smile emerged on her face once she saw me.
“Star...?” She said quietly. I nodded, nuzzling her close. A few groans to our side indicated that Patch and Steeljack had awoken as well. The two sat up and looked around.
“Where are we?” Patch said. “Last thing I remember is us trying to escape from the Stable.”
“You uh... were sort of being used as feeding stock for a changeling hive,” I said, grinning sheepishly. My friend's eyes widened collectively.
“You mean we... we were being used as food?” Steeljack said, looking over himself and Patch for any wounds. I giggled at his self examination.
“Not that kind of food. I guess changelings feed on emotions,” I said. I began to take some stock of what we had left. Our bags and belongings had been left untouched. I was sort of surprised the changelings hadn't stripped my friends of them. I guess even changelings weren't too savvy about prisoners.
“Actually... that was me. You're welcome by the way?” A voice in the back of my mind echoed. I winced at the headache it caused. I looked casually at my friends. They had moved to gathering up our stuff. I quietly looked to the side, trying to hide the obvious pain that Spark's interactions were now apparently causing me.
Hello again, Spark, I said to the voice in my head. What did you do then?
“I managed to locate and teleport all of your gear too,” Spark replied. “Coincidentally, that's what knocked you out when we landed. Used up a little too much power saving your sorry ass.”
Gee thanks. So what happens now? You said you would give me some answers, I said to Spark. A chuckle erupted from my side. The dark unicorn appeared next to me, grinning widely.
“In due time sweetie. In due time,” She said, before disappearing again. I looked over at my friends again.
“I think we should get going. I don't know that Envy is still around these parts, and we need to put some distance between us and that Stable,” I said. Violet nodded, gathering up the rest of our bags with her magic. Stargazer clipped to its harness and we set off down the tunnel, trying to find the way out. We walked quietly and quickly, trying to pay attention to our surroundings for any indication of hostiles. My E.F.S. was fairly dark, and showed nothing more than the yellow blips of my friends. I breathed a sigh of relief as we came to the end of the tunnel. Light streamed from the drain above us. I grinned as I latched onto the drain with my telekinesis, moving it away. More light flooded the tunnel.
“Looks like we're just below the streets,” Violet said. Happily, we used our magic to float the earth ponies up the drain to the Chicacolt street, and I lifted Violet up afterwards. A flew flaps of my wings brought me to the drain, and Violet tugged me through onto the dirty asphalt. As we stood up finally on the street, the ruined skyscrapers of Chicacolt spread out before us. I breathed in the air, smiling.
“Feels good to be back above ground,” I said. My friends nodded as we began to walk through the city once more. In the distance to the south we could see Filly's Tower, the black structure looming over the center of the city. I looked at my PipBuck, the mapping feature showing a new location: Ministry of Image Chicacolt Hub. An arrow popped up on my E.F.S., showing that the building we were seeking lay to the east of us. I indicated this to the others.
“You know... if this was supposed to be a hidden hub, how does your PipBuck know about it?” Violet questioned. I shrugged.
“I'm not sure,” I replied. “It just seems to know. I know this it though. The memory orb that I looked at in the Stable... it took place there. There's something there, I can just feel it.” My love nodded and we continued on in silence once more. After about an hour, I decided that Envy must have thought us to be dead and had left us once more. I couldn't help but shake the feeling that we'd see the zebra mare again though. I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a little noise as I clicked on the radio. The brash and arrogant voice of the Minotaur assaulted our ears.
“Wheeeeeeee! It's that time again kiddies! Yes, it's time for the Morning Moo Madhouse! And I am your host. The one. The only. THE MINOTAUR!!!!
That's right kiddies, it is I. The eye in the sky giving you all the latest news and musical hits Chicacolt has to offer!
First off. Some news on the Ministry Mare. The last she was seen folks was on a train fighting a zebra! Then the train blew up! Since then, we've lost visual contact with her. If you're out there Ministry Mare, wave a hoof and let us know you're alright! Of course, you do still have that bounty to worry about, so that might not be the best thing!
In other news, the MMMM has taken the fight to the Lotus Triad. It seems that a particularly outspoken member of the bakery bad boys has a bone to pick with the Triad over the bounty placed on the Ministry Mare's head. It's gang wars in the streets friends! If you're close to or living in a gang zone, you might want to get out pronto. Those of you in MMMM territory especially should lay low for a little bit. It's good for your health. Trust me!
That's it for this hour kiddies. We'll be back in a little while for your regularly scheduled horrible programming. That's right! A full hour of the worst jokes and stuff you've ever heard! We'll even give good old Cotton Candy a call and see how he's doing! Until then, have a little REO Skywagon!”
I clicked the radio off before the music could start playing. I sighed. I couldn't tell if the Minotaur was trying to help me or get me killed!
“You don't suppose that MMMM member that he talked about is Danish do you?” Steeljack piped up as we neared closer to our destination. I shrugged.
“Possibly. I wonder if that means the MMMM are on our side,” I replied.
“I don't know. But if they're actively fighting the Triad, maybe it will keep some of them off of our back for a little while,” Violet said. I nodded as we continued on in silence. Nothing really more had to be said. I took a few moments while we were walking to keep an eye out for Lucky. I knew that if she had been sent away again that she would eventually find her way back to me. I certainly hoped so. I had made a promise to her to try and fix things, and I intended to make good on that promise.
Within the hour, we found ourselves in front of what we assumed was the Ministry of Image Chicacolt Hub. At least that's what my PipBuck said. The building was a generic office building with little to no decoration, much like the other MoI hubs I had seen in my time in the Wasteland. The Ministry of Image typically operated in secrecy, hiding away in boring buildings like this all across Equestria. The only real Ministry hub was the Canterlot hub, and that was now an unfortunate pile of rubble. Most other hubs were just like the one looming over us: drab and gray. I looked up at the building, hoping and praying to Luna that the answers I had sought for so long were inside.
We stepped into the front door of the building, leaving the sunny day and entering into the dark and dreary office. Skeletons of long dead ponies littered the main floor of the building, situated everywhere from cubicles to the tiny break rooms and offices that lined the walls. Most of the terminals in the place were dead, but a few here and there still had power. Unfortunately, most of these were also crashed and couldn't provide much information on the facility. The other strange thing about the place was that none of the offices provided any knowledge that this was actually a Ministry hub. Despite what my PipBuck said, this place appeared to be a normal office building for some sort of forms company. Thankfully, my E.F.S. showed absolutely no activity within our vicinity. I decided that it was time Spark owned up to her promise to tell me everything.
Spark...? I said to the spirit in my head. A chuckle came from behind me as the dark unicorn stepped out.
“Well. You made it here. Good. Follow me,” She said. I cocked my head curiously. What are you playing at now? I thought. She turned, grinning widely as she made her way down the hallway. I motioned to my friends.
“This way. I think I see something,” I said, stretching the truth to get them to follow me. I felt kind of bad about it, but I don't think they'd believe that Spark was leading us let alone trust her. The spectral mare led us down to a set of stairs that extended deep into the building. We walked in silence as the light around us got darker the farther we went down. Eventually the stairway ended abruptly at a basement level. A long dark hallway stretched out before us. Spark motioned at the door at the end of the hallway, nodding before she disappeared. I started trotting down the dark hall faster and faster until I reached the door. I pushed forward on it, finding the door locked. I growled, reaching out with my magic and pushing on the door hard. I felt resistance as I gritted my teeth, pouring more energy into the spell. The door must have been keyed to specific magic to enter, much like the door in the M.W.T. hub had been. I had no time for such subtleties. I growled, angry that I had come so far to be blocked by a damn door. Magic streamed from my horn, lighting the entrance up like fireworks. Finally, the door buckled and bowed away from my wrath, exploding outward into the room with intense force. I strode into the middle of the same dark cylindrical room from Snails' memory orb, my eyes only on the prize in the middle of the room. I could hear my friends behind me, but my senses focused only on the pedestal before me.
The pedestal in the center of the room was a very simple marble affair. It was what lay on top of it that interested me. A dark black bound leather book (at least I assumed it was leather) sat there surrounded by a magical field. It was some form of shield. I reached out with my magic, touching the field. Instinctively, I realized that I already knew what I was doing here. Something about this felt... right. I was about to break open the shield when a voice stopped me.
“Star!” The familiar voice shouted. I looked up, seeing Lucky standing across the room on the other side of the pedestal. “What are you doing?”
“Fulfilling a promise I made,” I said quietly, hoping my friends standing behind me couldn't hear me. “A promise I made to you.”
“Star... you don't need to. I'm fine. It's not your fault,” Lucky said, tears welling up in her eyes. “Please... please stop. I don't like this place.”
“It's too late Lucky. I'm sorry... but I need answers. I need to know why this thing is so important,” I said, tears flowing from my eyes as well. I could hear Violet and the others behind me, calling my name.
“Star? You alright?” My marefriend said, stepping up next to me. I looked down at her for a moment.
“Yeah... Yeah I'm fine. Just... never thought I'd find this thing,” I said, motioning at the book. “I think perhaps you should stand back though. I'm not sure what will happen once I open the shield.” Violet nodded and moved over to Steeljack and Patch, informing them of what I was about to do. I looked back at Lucky.
“Whatever happens. I'm sorry. I made you a promise and I'm going to fix you,” I said with finality, my horn igniting as I broke the shield. Lucky tried to shout out to stop me, but it was too late. The shield fell away with a splash of magic. I closed my eyes for a second, waiting for whatever came next. I opened my eyes, a flash of light nearly blinding me. A holographic figure appeared before the pedestal of a demure white unicorn with a gorgeous purple mane. Rarity? I thought. The purple mare began to speak.
“Twilight...? It's me. It's Rarity. I know we left each other on bad terms darling, but I shall always be first and foremost your friend. If you're here... well then the rest of us are dead. We've squandered our world, and I failed you all. What is left here is my legacy to you. This book contains many secrets about the soul, much like the other one of its kind. This book is rather special however, as it contains information about calling the soul back from the afterlife. I know the death of your brother hurt you deeply my dear, but I implore you to destroy this vile thing. Do not open it. You've heard it. The book calls to you, it wants you to exploit its secrets.
It lies. Do not listen to it. The spells contained within are too vile even for me, one who has dabbled in such secrets.
Please Twilight. I love you, please just... please...”
The hologram sputtered out of existence as I stared at the book before me. I could hear whispers coming from the thing. The black leather book sat there, mocking me openly. It dared me to open it.
“Star...?” I heard Lucky and Violet say at the same time. They didn't matter now. Yes... the only thing that mattered was the book. I could feel it calling to me, this was why I was here. This held my answers. I felt it in my bones. I reached out with my magic, picking up the book and opening it. It implored me to continue... to learn from it and to use it. I grinned widely as I absorbed the contents of the book. I heard Spark speaking alongside me.
“Now... the tiara. Use it. This is the final component. What you've been waiting for,” She said. “Use it, and I will tell you everything.” I looked over at her. I rummaged through my saddlebags, pulling out the dull tiara. I placed it on the top of my head.
“Everything?” I asked quietly. She nodded, her grin showing entirely too many teeth.
“Everything,” She replied. I turned back to the book and reached out again for my magic. I looked to Lucky.
“I'm going to fix this. Fix you, this will work... trust me...” I mouthed as I let loose with my horn, the magic overwhelming me. A brilliant light flashed in the center of the room, expanding out and enveloping me in its warm glow. I looked up to the ceiling, smiling as I realized with great truth that this was what I was supposed to be doing. This was it. The end of my search. I could hardly believe it.
Then the darkness came swirling about me. Spark cackled wildly as I looked about, a scared look replacing my confident smile. Something wasn’t right. What did I do? What did I ---?
“What's happening?” I shouted as the darkness surrounded me. The cylinder of pure dark spun around the room. I could feel an evil presence resonating from it. Spark grinned widely, her eyes gleaming with triumph.
“You fool. You've played right into my hooves. Did you think for one measly second that I was actually helping you? That I'd actually tell you what this place meant for us? This is where I take over,” She said as she grabbed onto me with her hooves. “The tiara combined with this book was the final act needed for my ascension to become a Goddess! You see, I planted that thing there with the help of Twilight. She thought it was the Element of Magic, but she was wrong. The real Element Tiara is far far away. This one was a fake, meant only for me.” What?! I thought as I felt forced out of my body. A fake tiara.. ascending to a Goddess?! This isn’t what I wanted. I wanted you out! I wanted... I thought. This feeling of disconnection was different than before when Spark had taken over in the Stable. This felt... wrong on so many levels.
“No!” I shouted as Spark gave a final push, knocking me out of my body. I flailed my spectral hooves at her, but the frantic blows passed right through her. She entered into my body with relative ease, sighing with contentment as she did so. I looked down for a moment, realizing that like before I had turned back to my regular blue alicorn form while I was outside of my body. I wondered briefly if I would ever see that blue coat in the flesh again. I floated to the ground below me, watching in horror as the darkness ceased and the book slammed shut on the pedestal. I looked over at Lucky. The green pegasus/unicorn stared at me with tears in her eyes before looking away. Great... now you’ve gone and done it, I thought, looking back at the purple alicorn before me. I noticed immediately that my cutie mark had changed, the star colors inverting to match the exact cutie mark of Twilight Sparkle.
Violet and the others stood at the far end of the room, watching the spectacle of magic that had just occurred. They had concerned looks on their faces. My green marefriend stepped forward to my former body, placing a hoof on its shoulder.
“Star...? Are you alright?” She said cautiously. I saw a gleaming grin emerge from my body's face. Spark looked down at my love and smiled. I shouted angrily to try and get my marefriend’s attention as Spark turned away, picking up the book and taking off the tiara, placing both items into my saddlebags. Her reply came shortly after, her voice smooth as silk.
“Never felt better, my love.”
Radiant Star: Level Up!
Quest Perk! Psychic Spark: Thanks to your influence from the spirit of Magic, you can now use the Psychic Explosion spell at will.
Spark Level: 99%. Spark is now in control of your body. What does this mean for you? Only time will tell. There however, is still a chance.
Reputation: You are now liked by the MMMM. Seems like you've got a friend indeed.
Violet Iris: Level Up!
Steeljack: Level Up!
Patch: Level Up!
Whee! A chapter! It does exist! This was a fun chapter to write, mostly because I dug Envy a lot and the introspective into Spark.
What a way to end it though, amirite? I do so love cliffhangers, and I think out of all of them, this is probably the worst one of all. Spark gets into Star’s body finally, and Star herself is pushed out!
Alright, onto some plugs and stuff! Shameless plug is shameless! http://askradiantstar.tumblr.com is Star's tumblr. Go ask her some questions! She's not shy!
Another fun dA to plug is my wife's deviant art account she uses for her pony stuff. http://luckystarmlp.deviantart.com Go check it out! She makes customs and other pony art, and we'll hopefully be at Canterlot Gardens in September! She even made a Littlepip and Velvet Remedy that got posted on EQD's Custom Compilation # 78!
My story plug of the week goes right out the window to Sir_Leadhead's incredible story “Fallout Equestria: Morality of Property”. This story is pretty awesome, and has great fun characters. Check it out!
Time for my thank yous. First off, before this chapter went live... Starlight hit 8k views on FIMFiction with 1000+ views on the Prologue. Combine that with 120+ favorites now, that makes me a happy happy pony! Thank you to every one of you, the readers, for keeping with me. There's more to come, for sure.
Big thanks to Wirepony and Cadmium for all their help in prereads and brushies. You guys are awesome!
Thanks to the folk of the Fallout-Equestria IRC chat. Ilushia, McMesser (you're a boss man!), Felipe, Dimestream, Arcane_Scroll, and even you Spiffy! You're all great.
As always, thanks go to Kkat, for her vision in creating the sandbox. It's been a wild ride sofar, and I'm enjoying being a part of it.
Editor’s Note: If these chapters get much longer, The Big V is gonna practically kill me. I was already up too damn late working on this one - but it was worth it! Big Blue’s got her work cut out for her, and the future is grim.. but of course, this _is_ the Wasteland...