44w, 2dPony Warfare
68w, 4dAlicorn Twilight
74w, 1dTwilight, Alicorns, and Awsome
45w, 5dPonies of War
54w, 1dTwilight Sparkle
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41w, 6dEpic Pony War
49w, 4dTwilight's Library
74w, 1dprecist pozdeji
60w, 3d501st Party Brigade
30w, 4dLong Fics
60w, 3dStories I've read
41w, 20hMind Control/Hypnosis
8w, 16hMy Little Over Analysis
57w, 6dThe best of authors
55w, 5dThe Dreamers
44w, 5dCompleted Story Compendium
41w, 18hLoyal Subjects
38w, 1ddk rlater
17w, 4dBest Stories Ever
37w, 4dFallen Heroes
36w, 4dEvil Twilight
5d, 3hVallett's Read Later List
33w, 3dDark Twilight
17w, 4dRainbow Dash is Best Pony
13w, 3dMeri's Favorite Stories
22w, 1dEQD Story Compedium
26w, 5dTyrant Sparkle
24w, 4dSuper Best Friends
16w, 5dDramatic Stories Group
10w, 3hThe 1000 Up Vote Club
9w, 3dDriz's Fanfiction Emporium
12w, 4dThe Immortal Game
7w, 2dThe God Stories
4w, 4dTwilight's Choice Stories
3d, 9hFallen's Library
44w, 6dThe End 74 comments · 1,620 views
53w, 3dArrogance 45 comments · 442 views
53w, 5dTeam Aesthetic Saves the World 36 comments · 148 views
58w, 5dThe Panel, and Where You Can Watch It. 10 comments · 156 views
58w, 6dThat thing happens to be today, and also right now. 6 comments · 90 views
59w, 1dOnline Panel on Wednesday 15 comments · 69 views
65w, 3dAsk Aesthetic Anything 285 comments · 193 views
69w, 2dThe Immortal's Endgame 69 comments · 175 views
70w, 1dAn Unsealed Envelope 9 comments · 148 views
70w, 2dIT'S COMING 29 comments · 105 views
Celestia was dying. Singularity was buried in her chest, drawing the very life out of her flesh. It wasn’t painful. It didn’t even make her feel weak. As Titan channeled his magic into his blade, her body simply began to shut down. Each heartbeat came weaker than the last.
It was taking too long, though. Titan wasn’t just stronger than Celestia—he was stronger than her by an order of magnitude. By all rights, she should be dead already. So why wasn’t she?
Zenith was still embedded in Titan’s chest, but its light was dwindling by the second. Celestia mustered every ounce of unicorn magic she possessed and poured it into her blade, and its light grew to a blinding intensity.
Titan cringed. It was a small motion, almost imperceptible, but it was there. What had Discord done to him? Whatever it was, Celestia was hurting him. Celestia was putting him in danger. Her heart stuttered in her chest. The end of war was worth anything.
“You’re weak,” she said between labored gasps. “I can kill you.”
Her heart beat again, so faint she could barely feel it. How long until her blood grew still in her veins?
Something flashed over Titan’s face for barely a moment. Celestia couldn’t quite place what it was. Some kind of recognition. She felt a glimmer of hope. Was that the face Titan made when he was afraid?
The world around them darkened as Singularity drew the light out of the air. “Terra!” Titan cried, his voice urgent. Celestia realized with a start that she had completely forgotten about her mother. Celestia tried to chuckle and wound up coughing up a gout of blood. She really wasn’t on her game today.
Terra was at her side in moments with Exogenesis raised. Celestia had to tear her blade out of Titan’s chest to deflect her mother’s killing blow. Their blades burned against each other. Celestia's hope of killing Titan died somewhere between the shimmering weapons.
Terra grinned. “Looks like this is it, Sunshine.”
Celestia looked from Titan to Terra. She shut her eyes. “Another day,” she whispered.
She mustered every ounce of magical energy she could—pegasus, earthpony, everything. Zenith went out as she drew its power into herself. She called heat and force, pouring all her unicorn magic into one simple spell.
The wave of magic struck Titan first, burning every hair off his body and hurling him backwards even as it shattered the surrounding trees. Terra at least had the decency to scream as she was cast away like a child’s plaything.
Celestia shocked her body back into life with all of her earthpony magic. Wounds closed and flesh reknit in an instant as she crouched down and called on her pegasus magic.
She broke the sound barrier taking off from a standstill, leaving her parents behind as she arced through the sky towards Canterlot. Celestia threw out her magical senses in an effort to sense whether or not she was being pursued. She wasn’t. Not unless Titan himself was coming after her. Celestia put a little more force into her wing thrusts.
Three days. Whatever Discord had done to Titan would last for three days. Three days to find out how she was going to fight two alicorns who severely outclassed her.
It was as Celestia approached the city that she felt a trickle of thick fluid run out of the corner of her mouth. She wiped it away with a hoof, assuming that it was just blood or saliva. It was neither. Her hoof came away black.
Only then did Celestia realize that not an ounce of her magic had regenerated since she left the forest. Titan had made her powerless.
They’d been given rooms in the castle to use for the night shortly after Celestia’s return. Fluttershy had refused to take up such an enormous suite on her lonesome, and so had Applejack.
“Applejack?” Fluttershy called out to the darkness. The only light in the room was the starlight, falling through open windows to cast itself across the bedspread in an uneven pattern. Canterlot beds were both very large and very soft, and the one that Fluttershy and Applejack shared was no exception. Fluttershy didn’t mind, but Applejack hadn’t stopped shifting about since they’d gone to bed.
“Dang bed is too soft,” Applejack muttered as she rolled over. “Feels like it’s stuffed with clouds and pegasus feathers. I’m gonna sink in and drown in my sleep.”
Fluttershy actually loved having a proper bed to sleep on for once. She wondered if Applejack’s inability to sleep really stemmed from the bed—after all, Canterlot Castle had more than enough rooms for all of them.
“Have you tried counting pegasi?”
“No,” Applejack said, rubbing her eyes. “I can’t count ‘em all at once. Quick little buggers...”
Fluttershy frowned. “Have you tried drinking a warm glass of milk?”
Applejack looked at Fluttershy and raised an eyebrow. “And where am I gonna get a warm glass of milk?” She shook her head. “Canterlot milk tastes funny anyway. No fat.”
“Okay,” Fluttershy said. “Well, how about you just close your eyes and imagine you’re in your bed at home?”
Applejack let out an exasperated sigh. “Well that does it,” she said. “Now I’m never getting to sleep. Thanks, Fluttershy.”
Fluttershy cringed. “Oh, I’m sorry. What did I do?”
“Nothin’,”Applejack said. “You didn’t do anything. It’s not your fault. I guess I’m just homesick is all.”
“Oh,” Fluttershy said. She sat up. “Well if you’re not going to get to sleep, do you want to talk about it?”
“Not particularly,” Applejack said, propping herself up on her forelegs. “It’s just, I’ve never been this long without them before. Family is why I do what I do, you know? Don’t get me wrong—I love the farm. But this mark on my flank has a lot more to do with the Apple Family than with the fruit.”
“You miss them.”
“What if Apple Bloom comes back.” Applejack’s voice cracked. “And she’s got her cutie mark? She’s the right age. What if I miss that because I’m out here? I know that I have a duty to do. I hate myself for thinkin’ it, but sometimes I think it ain't fair.”
“You’ll see them again,” Fluttershy whispered.
“But what if I don’t?” Applejack asked. “What if we lose, and Apple Bloom is waitin’ for me to come take her home. And I never come...” Tears started to roll off of Applejack’s face.
Fluttershy shifted over on the bed and wrapped her forelegs around Applejack. “That won’t happen,” she whispered as Applejack buried her face in Fluttershy’s coat and sniffed. “We’ve done too much already to lose now. You’re going to see them again, Applejack.”
Fluttershy expected Applejack to pull away and wipe the few tears from her face. Instead, she Applejack clung to her like a child. Applejack did her best to stifle her sobs, and her quiet cries became the only sound in the room. “It hurts,” she whimpered after a time.
Fluttershy stroked Applejack’s back. “Because you love them.”
Applejack shook her head against Fluttershy’s coat. “No,” she said. “Not being away. The fighting. The dying.” Applejack’s eyes grew distant, staring off at something that Fluttershy couldn’t see. “It still hurts just as much when I get my bones broken or my skin torn off. I’ve been crushed to death and choked. I’ve seen my insides, Fluttershy, hanging out and....”
Fluttershy had no idea what to say. She rarely took the field, and when she did, it was almost never with Applejack. Still, even she’d seen the mare snap bones back into place and spit out mouthfuls of blood without even flinching. How could Applejack have possibly done those things while in pain?
“Fire,” Applejack whispered, still staring off into space. “Fire’s the worst. The heat gets inside me. Inside my armor. The metal heats up like a stovetop, and I can’t pull away. I just keep healing, and burning, and all I can smell is cooked meat. I can’t breathe, because then the fire gets in my lungs.” She swallowed. “And my eyes melt...”
“Shhh,” Fluttershy said, rubbing Applejack’s back. “You’re okay now, Applejack. You’re here with me.”
Applejack swallowed, nodding. “Thanks, Fluttershy. I’m an earthpony. I think I can go another night without sleep. Get some rest. You’ll need it.”
Fluttershy didn’t let go. “I have a little earthpony magic too, Applejack. Remember? I’m here for you as long as you need me.”
Applejack groaned as the sunlight struck her eyes. Birdsong reached her ears. It was morning, then. “Guess I fell asleep,” she said.
Fluttershy smiled. “Mhm,” she said. “Sometimes all you need is a good cry.”
Applejack propped herself up and looked down at Fluttershy, who was directly below her. She blushed. “I slept on you,” she said. “I guess it beats the mattress. And I cried.”
“There’s nothing wrong with crying, Applejack.”
Applejack sighed and rested her head on Fluttershy’s chest. “Yeah, yeah. Just don’t tell Dash.”
“Don’t tell me what?” Rainbow Dash asked as she hovered into the room carrying a platter covered in waffles. “Are you two keeping seeee—” The platter clattered to the floor as Dash stopped in her tracks. “Uh... hey you two.” Dash’s face began to turn a deep shade of red. “Uh, hey... you... two,” Dash said slowly.
“This looks bad, dunnit?” Applejack said from where she lay on top of Fluttershy in the bed.
Dash’s eyes were wide. “I uh, came with—er, brought. I brought waffles for you. Two.” She looked intently at the floor where her platter had fallen and spilt its contents. “I’ll go get more,” she whispered as she slowly backed out of the doorway.
“Dash,” Applejack tried to stumble out of bed, but her legs were still tangled up in Fluttershy’s. “Dash!” Fluttershy squeaked as Applejack finally pulled herself free and toppled to the floor. Applejack grunted before running after Rainbow Dash.
Fluttershy couldn’t help it. She giggled as she climbed out of bed. Her mane needed brushing, but that wasn’t something she could do on her own. It didn’t matter; Rarity would likely take one look at her over breakfast and drag her off to a mirror.
A blue jay chirped from her window ledge, and Fluttershy froze. Her and the animals used to groom each other as part of her morning routine. Ever since Titan had returned, however, she’d hardly been able to do anything but scare them away.
Just like every time before this one, Fluttershy found herself hoping that this bird would be different. She hesitated to speak to it, though; she didn’t want it to fly off. Whatever Titan had done, Twilight hadn’t been able to undo it. Fluttershy wished she had her own unicorn magic. It was a selfish wish, but she felt helpless not being able to at least try to return the animals to the way they were.
A thought occurred to her: she had a little earthpony magic. She had to have a little pegasus magic; or she wouldn’t be able to fly. What if she had other magic too?
Twilight’s voice sounded in her mind. Unicorn magic requires study and focus. But what was she supposed to focus on? It’s about shaping the universal energy within all of us. Fluttershy tried to clear her mind and find magic within herself. She closed her eyes, reaching past the gentle breeze that was her pegasus magic, and the far less malleable well of strength that she knew to be earthpony magic.
To her surprise, she found something.
She recognized it instantly; it was the same source of power that she tapped when she used the stare. Was the stare unicorn magic? She’d have to ask Twilight or Rarity about it when she got the chance. For now, her attention was on the bird.
Fluttershy focused on the blue jay idling atop the windowsill and tried to reach for the power within her. Immediately she realized why unicorns were always going on about how much focus their magic took—it was difficult to concentrate on both the bird and the magic.
Still, she tried, and after several minutes, she felt something begin to gather in the air between her and the bird. Fluttershy had expected something that felt electrical; an energy that she would need to contain. Instead what she felt was almost musical. It was a song; she could almost hear it building inside her, yearning for release. She opened her mouth, preparing to sing.
“Fluttershy?” Dash said as she strode into the room.
Immediately the magic left Fluttershy, and a choked cry escaped her lips as the blue jay flew away, startled.
Dash waved a hoof in front of her face. “Equestria to Fluttershy! We’re having breakfast out in the courtyard.”
“Oh,” Fluttershy said, turning to Rainbow Dash. “Sorry. I’ll be right out.”
“Yeah,” Dash said. “And Fluttershy? Thanks for taking care of Applejack.”
“It was nothing,” Fluttershy said. “She just needed a release.”
“Uh, yeah,” Dash said. “I’ll bet she did.” Rainbow Dash started to blush again. Fluttershy smiled.
“Waffles!” Unimpressive shouted as Fluttershy glided into the courtyard. “Waffles for everypony. That includes you, Fluttershy, so take a seat.”
All of her friends sat around a picnic table in the sunlight except for Twilight. It was too bad; Fluttershy had intended to ask her about unicorn magic. “You made waffles?” she said. “Thank you.”
“Pinkie Pie helped,” Unimpressive told her as she sat down. “Although ‘helped’ may not be the best word for it. I’m beginning to suspect she sees baking as a zero-sum game where she gets to eat the food based on her input. Anyway, waffles there,” he said, pointing at a platter of steaming waffles. He began to point around the table. “Also whipped cream, sugared strawberries, maple syrup, various fruit slices, orange juice, butter, milk, and buttermilk. Also whiskey. Breakfast of champions.”
“That’s whiskey?” Rainbow Dash asked, peering at the square bottle that Unimpressive had pointed to last.
“Best cure for a hangover,” Unimpressive said.
Rarity wrinkled her nose. “Why did you make us breakfast, exactly?”
“Excellent question!” Unimpressive said. “You see, I’ve figured out that none of you have any actual duties within the army, and nopony has the guts to tell you what to do. The more time I spend around you guys, the less actual work I have to do!”
“You worked before?” Rarity said.
Unimpressive held a hoof to his chest. “I trained bladecasters!” he said. “And killed things. And let me tell you, I take those two duties very seriously. It’s important not to get the two confused and end up doing both at once.”
Fluttershy began to take tiny bites out of her waffles. “Do we know where Twilight is yet?” she asked, careful to do so without her mouth full to avoid Rarity’s ire.
“Nope,” Applejack said through the fork she was using to prod some apple slices. “Nopony’s seen her since yesterday mornin’.”
Rarity held up a hoof, and everypony waited as she finished the food she was eating. “We absolutely have to find her,” she said. “The poor mare must have so much on her mind today, what with the gods making war and my dead father and all. I do hope it’s not troubling her too much.” She wiped her knife on a napkin before picking out a choice strawberry. “He isn’t worth a second of discomfort.” Red juice filled her mouth as she crushed the strawberry with her teeth.
“Well,” Unimpressive said as he poured whiskey all over a waffle. “It’s a good thing Princess Celestia came back, or we’d be missing a leader. You guys should probably talk to her at some point, being heroes and all. Oh and we turned out the dungeons last night, some guy wanted to talk to you.” He folded the entire alcohol-soaked waffle into his mouth and began to chew noisily.
“A pony wanted to talk to us?” Rainbow Dash asked.
“Mmph,” Unimpressive said through his waffle. Whiskey dribbled down his chin. “Not a pony. Dragon. Little guy about yea high.” He held a hoof a short distance over the table. “Mostly mentioned Twi but you came up too,” he glanced at Rarity.
Every pony seated at the table exchanged stunned looks. “Spike,” Fluttershy whispered.
Her face was plastered to the side of an open book, and the desk surrounding her was covered in even more tomes. For Twilight Sparkle, it was not a strange way to wake up. Or, at least, it never used to be strange. Lately she was more used to being surrounded by corpses than books. Twilight woke, and the memory of who she had become and what she was doing realized itself in her mind. Astor. Celestia. Titan. Discord.
“Spike?” she said so quietly she barely even heard herself.
Twilight had committed murder. She’d been used as a weapon, and she’d used others as weapons in turn. She’d watched ponies die for nothing simply because they’d been in the way of a god. She’d learned the truth behind the world she lived in: the paradise Celestia had built for them was an illusion built on top of a greater nightmare. The world was a dark place.
But when she turned to see Spike standing in the doorway, it became a little lighter.
“So, yeah,” Spike said, looking around at Celestia’s study, which was strewn with rubble and books. “I’m not dead. I guess the bad guy lied.”
Twilight grabbed him with her magic and pulled him into a close embrace. “Spike! You’re alive!”
Spike’s voice was thick with emotion. “So are you,” he said. “They told me...” He sniffed. “They said you’d...”
“I know,” Twilight whispered. “Where have you been all this time?”
“The dungeon,” he said. “They’ve been using it ever since Princess Celestia died. Or, I thought she died. Applejack told me you brought her back.”
“Yeah,” Twilight said. “Sort of. Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”
“Me? I’m fine,” Spike said. “The dungeon was really boring, though. Nothing to do all day and all they fed me was hay. I need some gemstones.”
Twilight didn’t know it was possibly to laugh and sob at the same time. “We can get you some gemstones, Spike.”
“So,” he said. “I figured I’d find you here. End of the world and you’re studying.”
“Pretty much,” Twilight said.
Twilight sighed. “Nothing I didn’t already know. Any mention of how the Elements of Harmony might work is just speculation. And all of it is wrong. There’s no mention of them or Discord in Astor’s journal, either.”
“Relax, Twilight,” Spike said. “You’ll figure it out.”
If I don’t, Twilight thought, we lose. If not to Titan, then to Discord. “I just don’t understand!” she shouted, standing. “Every time I think I learn more about them, all I really learn is how little I know! They have to have a power source; they have to have had an architect. Somepony made them, so they have to have purpose. Theoretically I should be able to figure out why they aren’t working, and why Titan can resist them. But I can’t. I can’t do it.”
“You don’t understand Pinkie Pie’s Pinkie Sense either,” Spike said.
“I don’t need her Pinkie Sense to save the world.”
“Oh,” Spike said. “Right.”
Twilight sighed again. “What time is it?”
“Sun just came up,” Spike said.
“What?” Twilight shouted. “I was out for a whole night? What about Titan and Discord? They can’t still be fighting.”
Spike shrugged. “I dunno. Celestia’s back, though. Maybe you should talk to her.”
“Yeah,” Twilight said. “Maybe I should. Come on.” She levitated him onto her back and set out for the courtyard. Somepony there would be able to tell her where Celestia was.
“Hey, Twi?” Spike asked as Twilight strode through the halls. “What’s with the costume?”
Twilight frowned. “It’s a uniform, Spike.”
“It looks ridiculous.”
Twilight called out to the first pony she saw. “You there!” The pony turned, and, much to her dismay, bowed. Twilight much preferred it when all they did was salute. She was their general. Not their god. “Where is Princess Celestia?”
“In the castle library,” the pony said. “Her court was destroyed. Would you like me to take you there, ma’am?”
“No, thanks.” Twilight could find the library well enough on her own. She began to make her way through the inner courtyard, which hadn’t seen any damage from the fighting. Esteem had apparently seen to it that the gardens remained well-kept.
Luna landed and fell in beside her. “Twilight Sparkle. I am glad I found thee.”
Twilight nodded. “I’m glad you got out of the Everfree okay.”
“I owe thee a debt, Twilight Sparkle. My sister is alive because of thee. Despite our differences, I cannot thank thee enough.”
“Who won?” Twilight asked. “And why haven’t they acted yet?”
“As Celestia tells it, Discord has fled our world. He left Titan afflicted with a powerful spell. Titan is weakened and fears taking action. Celestia has been similarly afflicted. She says this will last for two more days.”
Twilight took the new information in stride. “Then Terra is the strongest alicorn alive.”
“Yes,” Luna said. “We do not know why she has not yet attacked.”
“It would be a blunder,” Twilight said. “If Titan has her wait with him, he’ll win in two days. There’s no need to get impatient and send Terra out now. He has nothing to fear from us.”
“Nothing?” Luna asked, her voice growing softer. “Truly?”
Twilight shook her head. “The Elements are dead. I don’t know how they work, or why they’ve stopped. None of the books I brought from Ponyville were any help, and neither was Astor’s journal.”
Luna swallowed. “Thou didst read Astor’s journal?”
“About half of it,” Twilight said. “It paints your sister in an interesting light. I’m on my way to talk to her now.”
“Thou art angry with her.”
Luna stopped Twilight with an outstretched hoof. “You have every right to be angry, Twilight Sparkle. But Celestia has done more for ponykind than you will ever know. Remember that.”
“It isn’t about what she did to ponykind. It’s about what she did to me.” Twilight walked around Luna’s hoof.
“Uh, Twilight?” Spike asked. “Since when did you get angry at Celestia?”
Since I took her place. “You can’t be here for this, Spike. Go find Rarity.”
“But, but we just...”
“I know, Spike. I’m sorry. I’ll find you in a bit and we’ll catch up.”
“This stinks,” Spike said.
“Believe me, Spike,” Twilight said. “I couldn’t agree more.”
Spike hopped off her back and began to waddle away. “You better bring gems!” he called out as he left.
Luna fell into step beside Twilight once again. “Celestia is weak, Twilight Sparkle. You can’t see it, but it’s taking all of her earthpony magic just to stay on her hooves.”
“Well then she’ll just have to cope.”
“You don’t understand, Twilight Sparkle. You can hurt her more than you realize. She loves you. You know she does.”
Twilight gritted her teeth. “I’ll keep that in mind. Now if you’ll excuse me.” She threw open the doors to the library and stepped through them.
The Canterlot Castle library was a maze of enormous bookshelves that stretched up to a ceiling over twenty meters high. Thick red carpet served the purpose of muffling sound, and Twilight had spent many hours of her youth reading in the booths along the upper floor balcony. Off-color stone and conspicuously absent shelves marked where Titan and Celestia had battled on the night of her defeat.
It had been converted into their new command center. Tables had been removed from the booths and set up in between bookshelves. Most of them now held maps, or books, or both, but some of them seemingly existed only as a place for ponies to gather around. Twilight frowned at the noise level of some of the discussions going on. They should’ve kept their voices down. It was still a library, after all. She fought the sudden urge to shush them.
Celestia stood at a meeting of several tables in the center of the room, surrounded by Twilight’s friends. Twilight reasoned that Celestia’s presence was doing wonders for their morale.
She cleared her throat as she entered, and it wasn’t long before everypony in the room was looking at their master general expectantly. Twilight realized too late that she hadn’t bowed to Princess Celestia. Not that she was in the mood for it, anyway.
Twilight raised her voice. “I will speak with the princess,” she said. “Alone.” Ponies began to file out of the room. Celestia winced.
Applejack approached her almost immediately. “Your mum and dad are alright, Twi, but your mum took a hit to the chest. She’s gunna be fine, but she’s in the hospital for now. Understand?”
Twilight had forgotten about her parents. “Thanks, Applejack. Go find Spike. He’s probably really upset that I left him so soon after finding out he’s still alive.”
“Sure thing, Twi. Come on, girls!”
Twilight’s friends were the last ponies to leave the library. Twilight waited until she was alone with Celestia. This conversation would be for them alone.
Luna had been right. There were no signs to indicate that Celestia was afflicted with anything: her coat practically shone, and her mane was at its usual luminescence. Her royal regalia once again adorned her form. She looked perfect.
“You spoke to my friends,” Twilight said. “Did they seem happy?”
Celestia closed her eyes. “Yes.”
“That’s nice,” Twilight said as she stepped closer. “You know Applejack hasn’t seen her family or been to Sweet Apple Acres for over a month?”
“No, Twilight,” Celestia whispered. “I didn’t.”
“Rarity is homeless. The only thing she owns is a unicorn blade. Fourteen parts. Remarkable, really.” Twilight began to pace. “Her father taught her, you see—or maybe you already knew. We haven’t spoken much since the battle. I wonder how she’s taking the fact that I killed him.”
Twilight spoke over her. “Fluttershy can’t talk to the animals. Titan has been turning them feral. Her special talent. Gone.”
“At least Pinkie Pie is alright,” Twilight said. “She’s with her friends and she knows that the Cakes are safe in Ponyville. That’s enough for her.”
Twilight telekinetically grabbed the table in front of Celestia and floated it up to an empty booth, leaving the space between them clear. “Do you know what happened to Rainbow Dash?” she whispered. “Nihilus cast a spell on her. One to change her from the most strong-willed, loyal pony I know into a slobbering monster. She picked Dash just because she wanted to break somepony with so much fight in them. The spell came out of a book off of that shelf right over there. I think you know the one.”
Celestia’s pupils diminished to points as her eyes widened. “No,” she whispered.
“Yes,” Twilight said. “You met Nihilus. I know you did; I watched out of her eyes as she destroyed you. I tasted the blood as she tore your ear apart with her teeth. You know the thing that I was trapped inside for so long. You know what she was capable of. It’s funny.” Twilight began to move more tables back into their booths, returning the library to its original state. “I don’t think she’d be nearly as bad if I were corrupted today.”
“Don’t say that, Twilight.”
“Twilight,” she said. “Twilight Sparkle. It’s sounds almost unfamiliar to me now. My friends have lost everything, but me?” Twilight’s voice was growing louder. “I have it all! I’m a hero! Ponies bow when they see me. And I can kill almost anything I want. What pony could ask for more? After all, isn’t that what you all play your little game for?”
Celestia looked away. “Please, Twilight...”
“Look at me!” Twilight shouted. She spun in place, and her cloak billowed out around her. “I’m Master General Twilight Sparkle! I’m The Godslayer. I’ve become everything you wanted me to be! Aren’t you proud of me, Celestia? Because I’m your little monster.”
“You read her journal,” Celestia whispered. “You saw her memories.”
“Enough of them,” Twilight said. “I can understand why you did a lot of the things you did, but her journal belongs to my family by right. I very much doubt my parents would have given me over to you if they had read it.”
“No,” Celestia said. “They wouldn’t have. You aren’t like Astor Coruscare, Twilight. You could never be like her.”
Twilight’s ears pricked. “I know. But that was your intention, wasn’t it? Astor got out of your control. For me you needed to be a little more subtle. Ponies Make War. The labyrinth. How many other pieces of information have you planted in my mind without me knowing?”
Celestia let out a humorless laugh. “Would you really like me to tell you?”
Twilight ignored her. “You know what the worst part is? I can understand exactly why you did it. When ponykind itself is on the line, what’s one eleven year old filly worth? You were the perfect parental figure, Princess. I imagine after a thousand years it becomes easy to play the role.”
“I’ve never lied about how much I care about you, Twilight. You have to believe me.”
Twilight shuddered. “No,” she said. “I don’t. When you saw me for the first time, what did you see? Did you see Astor Coruscare, a dangerous pony that needed to be contained? Did you see a piece to be played upon Nightmare Moon’s return? Or did you see the Element of Magic, and the only thing in the world capable of destroying you?”
“All of them,” Celestia said. “But the world had changed. I had changed. I knew that Luna’s return was coming, and I had barely started to prepare, I was so afraid of what I’d do. You have no idea how hard it is, Twilight.”
Twilight snorted. “Oh no?”
“No, Twilight. When you want to eat a slice of someone’s cake, do you steal it from them? I’d think not; that would be immoral. So you ask them for a slice of their cake. What if they say no? Do you try to convince them to give you the slice of cake? Do you argue with them using logic and rhetoric? Do you carefully lead their mind to the conclusion that they should give you a slice of their cake?”
“I see where you’re going with this,” Twilight said.
“You’re a filly in the supermarket and you want a candy bar. Do you tell your mother or father outright that you want them to buy you a candy bar? Hardly; your chances of success will be slim. A charismatic child might first remind their parents of how well-behaved they have been. They might mention all of the chores they’ve done around the house. In this way, the candy bar would be presented as a way to reward them. A naughty child might throw a temper tantrum and scream until the embarrassed parents give into their demands.
“You’re a carriage salespony trying to make a sale. You push the customer as much as you can. You act as friendly as possible in the interest of convincing them to buy your carriage. Influence, Twilight. In all cases you influence ponies, and we do not see that as morally reprehensible. It is not okay to steal a piece of cake, or take it by physical force, but it is okay to take it with words. If a pony willfully gives you cake, or buys you a candy bar, or purchases a carriage, no wrong has been done.”
“But the end is the same,” Twilight said.
Celestia smiled and gave a tiny nod. “I have a one more hypothetical situation for you, Twilight.”
Twilight gritted her teeth. “I’m not your student anymore, Celestia.”
Celestia’s mouth hardened into a thin line. “Suppose now that you are a god. Every creature in your kingdom fears and loves you so much that they will do whatever it is you wish. You know yourself capable of making anypony do or believe anything, given enough time and subtle machination. Their identities are as moldable to you as clay, and you have no power to answer to but yourself.
“What is moral, then? If simple influence is moral, then you can take whatever you please and do unto others whatever you wish. But I think we can both agree that at some point influence becomes manipulation, and that this is wrong. Where do you draw that line, Twilight? When you want something, what means become unacceptable?”
“We don’t need to go into hypotheticals!” Twilight shouted. “You lied to me and you used me. That’s wrong.”
“It is,” Celestia said. “I could have told you that I turned my last student into a murderer. I could have told you that I intended to have you risk your life to save my sister Luna. But I was afraid that I would lose you. In the end, all my arguments about what is and isn’t right were academic. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for Ponykind.”
“Well then,” Twilight said. “I guess we agree on something.”
Celestia took a step towards her. “Twilight,” she said. “You taught me things I could never have learned on my own. I am constantly amazed by what you are capable of. You were the greatest student I could have ever asked for, Twilight. An extraordinary mare.”
“Too extraordinary,” Twilight said.
Celestia gave a slight tilt of her head. “What?”
“You taught me too well, Celestia. I’ve learned even the things you’d rather I didn’t know. Tell me, why are we in the library?”
Celestia hung her head. “Twilight...”
“Ponies are naturally averse to change, as you well know,” Twilight said. “And I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been going through some changes lately. As you could probably guess, there’s been stress. You saw the way I started putting away tables earlier—it’s obvious that a part of me wants things to be the way they were. So you chose to position your command in one of my favorite old hangouts, to remind me of the good old days. It’s the same reason you told me all of that garbage about the morality of influence using hypothetical situations. Because that’s the structure of our old lessons.
“I imagine that you calculated when I would be arriving based on when Spike left to find me. You arranged to be with my five friends as I entered, because you know that they can also influence me. You wanted to show me that I’m alone in my dislike of you. Did you arrange for Luna to intercept me as well?”
“Yes.” The word was almost a sob.
“Then,” Twilight said, trembling. “You tell me what I once would have given anything to hear. Not just a ‘good job, Twilight’. You tell me I’m extraordinary. Amazing. That I’ve taught you things. That I’ve become everything you ever wanted. Which, as you know, is everything I ever wanted.”
“All of it is true, Twilight.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Twilight said. “But my problem is that what you wanted was for me to be a tool. I exist to destroy your enemies and protect your people. But the joke is on you, Celestia. You chose wrong. I’ve failed. The Elements don’t work and I don’t think I can figure them out in two days. Titan is going to come back and destroy us all. Unless I do something. Because despite that crown, it’s all still falling on my shoulders.”
Celestia sighed. “I should have told you,” she said. “I should have told you everything. I should have told ponykind everything, but it didn’t fit into my idea of paradise. I’m so sorry, Twilight.”
Twilight ignored her. “He held me down,” she said, raising her voice once again. “Your Captain Esteem.”
“And as I screamed your name as he trapped me inside a monster. He pushed it through my eye.”
Celestia took another step towards her. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Twilight.”
“I hate you!” Twilight screamed. She could hear her heartbeat and feel the blood pumping through her veins. “You lied to me all my life! You made me feel special! All for this! You...” Twilight felt hot tears running down her face, and she gasped for breath. “You didn’t save me.” Her chest started to ache. She fell to the floor and curled up into a ball. “You’re supposed to make everything better, not me. I have to tell all of my friends to risk their lives every day because... because...” Twilight sobbed.
“Come here, Twilight,” Celestia said, moving to drape a wing over her.
“No!” Twilight shouted as she pushed herself back across the carpet. “Don’t touch me! Just... just stay here. I can’t...” She felt the magic building inside her. “I can’t do this,” she whispered. She shut her eyes as the teleport took her away.
When she opened them, she was in her tower in Canterlot. Apparently it hadn’t seen any use during the occupation. It was exactly the way Twilight had left it.
So why did it feel so different?
“I’m glad all of you could make it,” Twilight said to her collected friends.
Spike scoffed. “Yeah Twi, because there are so many places they could be other than here.”
Twilight’s tower consisted of three circular rooms stacked atop one another and linked by ramps that ran along the outside of the building. The highest room, where they now convened, was also the tallest, and hosted all of her bookshelves as well as a couple magical trinkets. The center of the room was dominated by an hourglass wider around and taller than a pony. An intricate web made of green light hovered above them.
“Wow, Twilight,” Rainbow Dash said, looking at the criss-crossing strands of magical luminescence.
“Yeah,” Twilight said, regarding her web. “Trying to map a four-cuffle enchantment was impossible to do on the blackboard, so I had to move out into three-dimensional space.”
“So,” Rarity said, drawing the word out. “You spoke with Celestia.”
Twilight frowned. “I did, and it went about as well as expected. Did she explain our situation to you?”
“We’ve got two more days,” Applejack said. “Before Titan comes back and turns Canterlot into rubble. Oh, and we brought you some waffles, sugarcube. Figured you haven’t eaten much.”
Twilight realized she hadn’t eaten in almost a day. “Thanks, girls. I’m actually starving, come to think of it.
“Here you go!” Pinkie Pie said as she presented Twilight a platter covered in waffles, whipped cream, and fruit. It looked more than delicious, and Twilight evenly distributed the whipped cream and fruit over the waffles. She began to fold and stuff them into her mouth, squeezing syrup out of the spongy food with every bite. Rarity cringed as a dribble of syrup ran down Twilight’s chin.
“Exactly,” Twilight said through mouthfuls of food. “Which means we have to days to—mmph—who made these? These are delicious.”
“Unimpressive,” Dash said. “I don’t get it either. Guy just like waffles, apparently.”
“I helped!” Pinkie cried.
“Thanks,” Twilight said. “So we have two days before the end of the world. In that time I need to figure out why the Elements don’t work on Titan and how we can not only bring them back to life, but also use them against him. Any questions?”
“Um,” Fluttershy said. Everyone turned toward her. “I have a question for you, Twilight, but it isn’t about this, really.”
“Go ahead,” Twilight said. “I love answering questions.”
“Okay, well,” Fluttershy said. “When you use your magic, does it feel kind of like a... a song? Like you can’t help but try to sing?”
Twilight cocked her head. “Not really, no.”
Fluttershy’s head fell. “Oh. What does it feel like?”
Twilight closed her eyes, and her mane etherealized as she tapped her unicorn powers. “Like the whole of the universe has turned to look solely at me,” she said. “And if I try hard enough, and I’m clever enough, I’ll be able to solve any problem that comes my way. Right now it feels like electricity is running through my veins, and I can sense every object in this room. Including all of you.” She opened her eyes and let her mane fall straight. “Does that help?”
“Sort of,” Fluttershy said. She didn’t elaborate.
“So,” Twilight said to the room at large. “I have been trying to figure out the Elements of Harmony.”
“So you need our Elements?” Rarity asked. “I’m afraid they’re with our armor, darling. Which is back in the keep. You’re the only one who wears their uniform all the time. Though,” she said, putting a hoof to her chin. “With such a fabulous outfit I can see why.”
Twilight laughed. “Actually,” she said. “I have all your armor with me. I took it before I started my research.”
“Then whatever do you need us for, dear?” Rarity asked.
“Glad you asked,” Twilight said. “The first time I was able to focus the Elements was against Nightmare Moon, when I realized how happy I was that you all came for me. The second time was against Discord, after we had shed his magic and reunited as friends. The third time was against Nihilus, when all you came to rescue me. The fourth time was against Titan and, er...” Twilight shot Rarity a glance.
“Esteem,” Rarity said. “It won’t hurt either of us to say it out loud, darling.”
Twilight flashed her a tiny smile. “Esteem,” she said. “That time, it let me share in your strength and saved my life rather than our usual giant rainbow. Anyway, I think you can all see the pattern. I’d like to do some experiments while you’re here. There’s another reason, too. I wanted to see you all again, and I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”
Pinkie Pie tilted her head ninety degrees. “Sorry for what?”
“All of you saved my life,” Twilight said as she set her waffles aside. “And I’ve been acting crazy. I keep asking you to put yourselves in danger. Yesterday morning I left you all in the throne room. I shouldn’t have done that.”
Applejack smiled at her. “It’s alright, Twilight. We understand.” Everypony nodded.
“You had good reasons,” Dash said.
“It’s more than that, though,” Twilight said. “I feel...” Twilight struggled to come up with a word. “Better, when you’re around. More like myself. Without you the world is grim. Dark. I can’t think of anything but Nihilus, or violence, or what will happen if we fail. Right now things look worse than they ever have. But with all of you around, it’s easier. I’m happy. Does that make any sense?”
Pinkie Pie stepped forward and put a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “It makes perfect sense, Twilight,” she said. “We’re your friends. You make me feel that way too.”
Twilight’s window shook as a loud crack resonated through Canterlot. Twilight strode to the window and looked out over the city. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. “You all heard that, right?” Twilight asked.
Before they could answer her, Twilight’s window shattered, and broken glass rained down to the ground below in a sheet. Shards bounced off of the purple shield that Twilight erected around herself and her friends.
Luna landed in the center of the tower, then shook the glass off her body. “Um,” Twilight said. “There’s a door...”
The Princess spun on Twilight, her eyes frantic. “Ponyville,” she said. “Terra is attacking Ponyville.”
“What?” Twilight shouted. “But that’s insane! Why risk an asset like Terra when waiting guarantees him a victory? What does he have to gain from Ponyville?”
Luna shook her head. “Punishment, Twilight Sparkle. He wants to hurt the six of you. It has nothing to do with winning.”
Twilight choked out a sob. “No!”
“Terra is strong, Twilight Sparkle. Stronger by far than every pony in this room put together.”
Twilight closed her eyes and drew in a rattling breath. “Ponyville has a population of just over two thousand,” she said. She turned to face her friends, and each of them wore the same expression she did. Resolution.
“Suit up,” Twilight said, bringing their armor out of her nullspace. “Your enchantments will still work. Rainbow Dash takes the head of the windstream and carries Applejack; she’s the fastest. I take middle with Rarity. Fluttershy takes Pinkie Pie; Pinkie’s magic makes her lighter.”
“You’re going after her,” Luna whispered.
Rarity began to strap Pinkie Pie into her armor, and Twilight helped Applejack as she nodded to Luna. “Spike, you get to Celestia and tell her to evacuate all of Canterlot.”
Spike looked from pony to pony, all of whom were putting on armor. “But—”
“Spike,” Twilight said. “I will see you again, do you understand me? We can’t hope to kill Terra; only slow her down. It is imperative that we start clearing out population centers.”
“Slow her down?” Luna asked. “You’re talking about an alicorn that is nearly a thousand years old, Twilight Sparkle.”
“A thousand years,” Twilight said. “A thousand years since Astor Coruscare reinvented war magic. Do you have any idea how many scientific innovations we’ve undergone since then?”
Luna raised an eyebrow. “No,” she said. “I was locked in the moon. Twilight, I understand that this is your home. I know that you cannot sit idly by while Terra destroys it. But you are about to put all your lives in more risk than you ever have before. Will this mean anything, Twilight Sparkle? All the hopes of Ponykind rest on your shoulders. Are the lives you might save worth those hopes?”
Twilight considered Luna’s words. Pinkie Pie finished tightening the last strap on her rig, making the six of them ready. A flick of magical energy, and Twilight folded Equinox out of null space. She shaped the motes into a pair of wings made of blade-like tiers and attached them to her back.
“Not a single pony life,” she said, “is worth anything less. We’re in this together.”
Luna nodded. “Then I will carry Applejack. If Rainbow Dash takes the lead alone, she can cut a wider windstream. We’ll get there faster.”
Twilight wondered if the average pegasus knew just how much their magic actually did. It thinned the air before her, thickened the air under her wings, made her lighter and reduced drag forces. All in response to her flapping her artificial wings. The air caught her mane as she soared towards Ponyville, and she used a spell to protect her eyes. Under different circumstances, she might have found flight to be enjoyable.
“This is the plan,” Twilight shouted as Ponyville came into view. “Luna and I will distract Terra. We’ll try to draw her away from the town. The five of you get everypony out and disperse the population.”
“No way, Twi!” Applejack shouted, turning to look back at her. She had to keep a hoof on her hat to keep it from blowing away. “We go with you!”
The Equestrian landscape sped by beneath them, a green quilt crisscrossed with roads and dotted with farmsteads. Ahead of them, smoke rose from Ponyville in great black columns.
“You’ll be fodder that close to Terra!” Twilight shouted. “I can teleport.”
“What about Luna?” Applejack asked.
“Do not worry, Applejack,” Luna said. “My mother will not be interested in killing me. Only torturing.”
From her place at the front of the group, Dash turned back. “Going down!” she shouted. “Where do we land?”
Twilight cursed their lack of a harmonic connection. How was it possible that she could fly but they could no longer sense each other? “We split by standard teams,” she shouted. “Rarity and Applejack go in first. Dash, Pinkie, and Fluttershy take the far side. Luna and I take Terra.”
Dash nodded. “Twilight?” Rarity asked. She’d had her eyes squeezed shut ever since they left Canterlot.
As if being careful would help against the Queen of the world. “I will be.”
“I mean it, Twilight. You’ll give us enough time, and then you’ll come back safe. You must.”
“I’ll try,” Twilight said.
“You must! I’m going to be a fashion designer, Twilight. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life fighting evil with Applejack. She makes fun of me.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Alright, Rarity. But you be careful too.”
Rarity barked out a humorless laugh. “You needn’t worry, darling. I couldn’t possibly die with hair looking like this. It would be a dreadful embarrassment.”
Twilight looked down to see that the wind had blown Rarity’s mane until it stood almost perpendicular to her neck. “Well then,” she said. “I suppose I don’t have to worry.”
“I can see her!” Rainbow Dash called back. “She’s in the town square! She brought puppets!”
Puppets weren’t a problem. Not for them. “Luna, with me! Everyone else touch down on the far side of the square, at the outskirts of town!” She waited a moment before adding, “Good luck!” Luna dipped downward toward Ponyville, and Twilight angled her artificial wings to follow suit.
“Okay, Rarity,” Twilight said as they approached the outskirts of Ponyville. “We’re going to set you two down gently...”
“Incoming!” Applejack screamed as Luna dropped her over five stories. She landed with a boom.
“Please don’t do that to me,” Rarity said. “I’m not invincible.”
Twilight dove toward the ground and Rarity screamed. Dust billowed out around them in a wave as Twilight slowed their fall and set Rarity down.
They were on the outskirts of Ponyville. There was no damage to the surrounding building to indicate that the town was under attack. But ponies fled. Some ran past Twilight and Rarity, and some of them just galloped in circles, looking around for something—or somepony—that they had lost.
Twilight seethed. “Get them out of here,” she said. “Kill anything that tries to hurt them. I’ll see you again.” She shot back into the air.
It didn’t take her long to rejoin Princess Luna. “Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said as Twilight fell in beside her. “You are very likely about to die.”
“Keep her occupied,” Twilight said. “Give me enough time, and I can hurt her.”
“Be cautious, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said. “If Terra even looks at you, run. Never try to directly negate a spell she throws at you, and do not ever enter her close quarters. Remember, this is a distraction, not a fight. If you die, I fear Celestia will never speak to me again.”
“Right,” Twilight said. “Down we go?”
Luna nodded. “Aye.”
Through the spell shielding her eyes, it was easy for Twilight to make out the town square. Or rather, it was easy for her to make out the break in the burning buildings. As they came closer, she saw the forms of ponies scattered across the square. The only ones that were moving were black. Puppets. Puppets and bodies. Twilight swallowed.
At the center of the square, lying atop the statue of Princess Celestia, was Queen Terra. She wore nothing except a crown of thorns and flowers that was constantly growing, wilting, and regrowing. Her head was propped up on a foreleg over the statue’s tiara.
Twilight and Luna landed hard on the packed earth of the square, and Terra ignored them. “That one,” she said, waving a hoof at a nearby pharmacy. Two unicorn puppets began to use their magic, and smoke curled out of the pharmacy’s open windows.
Twilight looked around at the still forms littering the town square and tasted bile. The stallion who ran the bookstore. The mare who ran the flower shop. The colt who delivered the papers. “Luna,” she whimpered.
Luna spoke in a level tone. “Keep your eye on the Queen, Twilight Sparkle.”
Terra groaned. “You know,” she said as she looked over at the two of them. “Buildings were much easier to incinerate a thousand years ago.” She drew a hoof through the air in a decisive chop as her horn glowed. The entire pharmacy burst into flames. “Who would have thought that the sun goddess would crack down so hard on fire safety? Bitch.”
She shifted her head to the other foreleg and glanced around at the town. “How many puppets would you two say I have here?” she asked. “Twenty? Thirty? Two unicorns, right?” Her head swivelled around as she looked at her troops. “Yeah, two unicorns,” she said at last. Terra sighed. “Ah, well.” She gestured limply to Twilight and Luna with a hoof. “Kill ‘em.” The puppets turned in unison towards Twilight and Luna.
Twilight teleported behind the first unicorn and pushed Equinox through its neck. Luna dove at the second, rolled under a series of magic missiles, then executed it with her blade. With both of the unicorns destroyed, the puppets would have no magical defenses. Twilight reached out with her magic, intending to stop their hearts.
She found that she couldn’t touch the puppets, however. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Terra wave at her, grinning. Twilight teleported back to Luna’s side, and each of them brandished their blades at the oncoming puppets.
It was a short fight, if it could even be called that. Twilight was, for all intents and purposes, an alicorn without alicorn magic. The puppets threw themselves at Nadir and Equinox without abandon. Twilight could swing her blade faster than they could come at her. Twilight could kill them by the hundreds. It was that simple.
As the last tuft of black mist drifted past Twilight’s face, Terra clapped. “Now that’s entertainment,” she said. “I’m wondering why Titan is so bothered about you, Twilight Sparkle. It’s more than just the whole Harmony thing. I think he really hates you. You should feel special; the only other pony Titan hates is Celestia.”
Terra looked down at the statue of Celestia. “Speaking of which,” she said. “Why is this still here?” With a sharp motion of her hoof, she knocked Celestia’s head to the dirt. Terra yawned and stretched before rolling off of the statue and onto the ground. “This is your town, is that right?” she asked Twilight.
Slowly, Twilight nodded.
“Ponyville,” Terra said. She threw her head back. “Ponyville!” she shouted. “What a name for a town! There’s always a Ponyville somewhere, you know. Your incredible pony minds can’t really come up with a much better name.”
She sighed as she looked around at the bodies littering the town square. “And when I’m done with Ponyville,” she said. “I’ll have to go to the next town. Which will be called Saddleland, or Stirrup Holdt, or Hock County, or Muzzle Mound, or whatever. It’s gonna take decades to get just the right amount of you lot dead, and you know what?”
Nearby, the pharmacy roof collapsed, sending flames and sparks billowing into the sky. Terra spat. “I’m bored already!” she shouted. She began to pace. “I mean, what’s the point of killing somepony you don’t even know?” Her horn glowed, and a nearby corpse was pulled off the ground to hang lifelessly in the air. “Look at this mare,” Terra said. “Do you know who she is?” she asked Luna. “How about you, Twilight?” Terra shrugged. “I don’t know who she is. Where’s the fun in stabbing her through the heart if I don’t know anything about her?”
Twilight could hear her heart beating in her ears. “I mean,” Terra said. “This poor mare went through life with a bunch of candy on her ass. What did she do? Eat candy? Make candy? Build castles out of candy?” Terra chuckled. “What is it like,” she said. “To find out just as you enter marehood: your existence is candy. You will live your life for candy. Validation will come to you through candy. Now live your meaningless life and then die.”
The corpse fell out of the air. “But that’s all of you, isn’t it?” Terra said. “Live your meaningless life and then die. Every single one of you is just crushed under the weight of your own insignificance. You’re all the same. All exactly the same. There’s only one difference between you and my puppets.”
Twilight held her tongue. The more Terra ran her mouth, the longer the others would have to evacuate.
“It’s hard-coded into every living pony,” Terra said. “And it makes you all such a massive pain. Survival. I can tell all my puppets to throw themselves on your blades, and they’ll happily oblige. But Ponykind? Oh no.”
Terra shook her head. “You wake every morning to slowly die for another day and it whispers for you to go on. ‘Survive,’ it says, as you look in the mirror at your greying mane. Your crops wilt and wither until your only way to live through the winter is to kill your neighbor and take his crops. ‘Survive,’ it commands, as your forelegs close around his throat.”
Terra’s horn flashed, and the headless statue of Celestia was blown to bits and strewn about the square. The Queen leapt up onto the empty pedestal. “Your god!” she screamed. “Descends from the heavens and demands your blood as atonement for your sins! ‘Survive!’ it screams, as you run oh so slowly away.” She swept her horn in an arc, and several more buildings in the square burst into flames. “You watch as every living being you know and every object you cherish is destroyed! ‘Survive,’ it whimpers, as your sanity slips away!”
Terra shot into the air and laughed as she did a backflip. “That’s why you have to die,” she said. “Because you have to survive.”
“No,” Twilight said. She ground one of her hooves into the ground. “That’s why you have to die. So that we survive.”
Terra threw her head back and laughed. It was a laugh that sounded like it was rehearsed. “This,” she said. “This is what makes the job so enjoyable. Sometimes it helps to sing a happy tune as I slaughter you, or even make a game out of it. But nothing will ever brighten my day more than the heroes. The champions so filled with hope. Hope,” Terra said, her face splitting into a grin as though she had just told a joke. “Survive has its uses, but hope has none. It’s a wonder it was ever part of your design.”
“Hope,” Luna said, her wings flared. “Is not useless.”
“Is that so?” Terra asked. “I haven’t forgotten about you, Luna. You betrayed me and locked me beneath my own firmament. I owe you quite a bit of suffering.”
“Yes,” Luna said. “You missed out on over a millenia of hiding from Titan while ponies make war. I shudder to think of how disappointing that was.”
Terra ran a hoof through her flowing mane. “Ah,” she said. “Trying to get me to talk about my husband, or the past? You’ve always been so much more clever than you act, Luna. Being able to use others despite your utter lack of charisma always made me like you more than Celestia. Sadly, I’m going to have to decline your offer. I’ve been reminiscing too much, lately.”
Terra rolled her shoulders. “The two of you have provided an excellent distraction,” she said. “And believe me, I do like being distracted. But Titan wants you, Twilight Sparkle, and I want you, Luna, and when you’re an alicorn as old as I am and you want something, you just go right ahead and take it.”
Luna dipped her head in a tiny nod. “So what are you waiting for?”
Terra’s joking grin returned. “That. Question. Exactly.”
Terra crossed the distance between them faster than Twilight could see. Luna threw herself into a roll as soon as Terra started moving, but she was too slow compared to the Queen. Terra’s foreleg came down on Luna with a sound that more closely resembled a hammer striking a rock than a hoof striking flesh. The blow sent Luna crumpling to the ground.
Terra bent over Luna. “Do you hear it, Twilight Sparkle?” she said. Luna tried to stand, and Terra beat her back into the ground with another sickening crunch. “Surely it has something to say after watching me crush your Princess.”
Wrapping two hooves around Luna’s neck, Terra dragged her daughter to the center of the square. “Even if you are a reasonable creature, it will still have something to say.” Terra heaved Luna into the air and brought her down onto the empty stone pedestal. Cracks appeared where Luna connected. The princess’s eyes were half open, looking around, dazed.
“Survive!” Terra screamed. She brought a hoof across Luna’s cheek, pulverizing her face and tearing away skin that splattered across the dirt. “It begs you to run and hide, because now you realize that against me there can be no victory! And slowly it saps the strength out of your legs until you can hardly stand.”
Terra spun to face Twilight. “Run,” she said. “Run and hide.”
The town hall was still intact. Twilight teleported onto its roof and did her best to keep down.
“Aha!” Terra laughed. “Looks like your little friend isn’t so special after all, Luna.” She threw her head back. “I’ll be seeing you again, Twilight Sparkle!” she shouted to nopony in particular. “But I’m in no hurry,” she said, looking down at Luna. “And you and I have some catching up to do, don’t we?”
Luna spat on her.
Twilight watched them and felt her skin begin to creep. She realized she wasn’t going to get a better chance than this one. She’d said she could hurt Terra; now it was time to deliver.
She teleported two blocks to the village supermarket. From the outside, it appeared to be abandoned. Thankfully, there were no bodies, no puppets, and no signs of her friends. Twilight had seen enough corpses for one day.
Twilight ran through the little metal revolving door made for shopping carts and past the fruits and vegetables section. She stopped in front of the cereal aisle and looked around at the store. She needed materials. Iron. She needed iron.
Her horn glowed as she caused the space above her head to function as a magnet. At first, nothing happened, but as Twilight fed the spell more fuel, it began to attract. A tiny can was pulled out of an abandoned shopping cart and dragged across the floor. Twilight erected a shield, and the can bounced up the surface of the purple barrier. When it got to the point above Twilight’s head, it was folded into a pocket of null-space.
Twilight fed her spell more power, and soon the shopping cart followed the can. It was followed by more carts, hundreds of cans. Soon entire shelves were dragged into her null-space and rivets tore their way out of the walls. Everything metal in the store was pulled, and quite a few non-metals were pulled with them.
She stood at the heart of a maelstrom of steel until the supermarket collapsed around her. Twilight decided that she had collected enough materials—in any case, her null-space couldn’t hold much more. She teleported back to the roof of the town square, but not before casting a spell to silence the space around her. It would not do to be detected, and she was about to be very noisy.
Luna was still pinned to the pedestal. Terra stood over her, a strip of skin hanging from her mouth. Twilight wondered exactly how she was supposed to hit Terra without outright killing Luna. Precision would be a difficult thing to manage, but not impossible.
First step: Twilight created a spell to identify iron, and only iron, then sent it through a portion of her null-space. It would have been an impossible thing to do, if iron were not a basic substance. Rather than map every individual iron quanta, which would be impossible, her spell returned to her a magical array of the metal’s distinct signature.
Second step: Twilight phased a portion of the iron into an all new, much smaller part of null-space. For another unicorn, separating all the iron out of a can of tomato paste would have also been impossible. For Twilight, it was a simple matter of telling all quanta of iron’s previously determined signature to teleport over there.
There in this case happened to be a pocket dimension. Once Twilight had finished transferring a portion of the metal, the extra null-space contained only pure iron. She ceased working with her first null-space, focusing entirely on the second.
Third step: Twilight modified the null-space, using even more of her spatial manipulation magic. First, she tied the space together at both ends. If it were a hallway, walking from the beginning to the end would place a pony at the beginning once more. Twilight had created an infinite space.
Fourth step: Heat. Twilight pulled heat energy from the air around her, above her, beneath her. She poured more and more of it into her pocket space, where its only point of refuge was the iron. She used her own magic, as well, casting a very powerful, very simple spell to convert unicorn magic into heat.
Frost clung to her coat by the time Twilight was satisfied with the internal temperature of her iron dimension. She couldn’t remember the exact boiling point of iron—it was somewhere just shy of three thousand celsius, or five thousand farenheit. Hers was well past that temperature by now.
Terra still stood with her back to Twilight, looking down at the helpless Luna. Just hang in there, Princess. Almost done.
Fifth step: gravity. Twilight ceased adding heat to the system and instead opened it to the curve of space generated by the planet beneath her. The superheated iron began to fall, but Twilight’s space was infinite. The iron fell forever, in a system with no terminal velocity. Twilight used a spell to amplify the gravity and increase the iron’s rate of acceleration. Luna would appreciate the faster delivery.
Sixth, final step: weaponize. Twilight closed her system off to the planet’s gravity once the iron was moving at an appreciable fraction of the speed of light.
Twilight took all the gravity away from the town square. Weightlessness engulfed her, Luna, and Terra. Specks of dirt, drops of blood, and burning fragments of Celestia’s statue drifted in the air. The fires that were left stopped burning upwards. Too late, Terra looked up.
Twilight took all of the gravity from the square and focused it into a single, needle thin channel between herself and the Queen. She cast a spell to shield her from heat and light. She pushed all of the air out of her channel. Nature, she thought. Meet science.
She dropped her sound spell and siphoned the iron into the gravity channel.
Twilight’s stream was less than a millimetre thick of compressed, superheated iron. The pure white beam of light that flared into existence between her and Terra was as thick as her hoof. It hissed, a sound that was so loud it was a tearing scream. Twilight didn’t care if Terra was almost a thousand years old. Nothing could withstand superheavy boiling iron travelling so fast.
The beam punched a hole through Terra’s midsection, cutting her in two just above the hind legs. It slammed Terra to the ground. She burst into flames from convection; and so did the ground around her for ten paces, including Luna. The beam didn’t stop with Terra. Dirt in its path became glass. Bedrock beneath the dirt became slag. All the while, the roaring scream of the weapon filled Twilight’s ears.
The power to destroy.
Terra beat her tattered and flaming wings and managed to drag herself across the square. Twilight swung the beam towards her, and it cut a swath into the ground as it travelled. The beam died just before it reached the Queen, leaving a strange silence in its wake. Twilight had run out of iron.
The air around Twilight was filled with garbage as she ejected several hundred pounds of non-iron debris. Tomato paste, paint, bits of wood and plastic all arced down towards the ground.
Twilight teleported directly in front of the Queen and drew Equinox. Her nostrils were filled with the smell of cooked flesh. Terra still hadn’t healed her hind legs. Twilight swung her blade at Terra, and Terra met it in the air with a foreleg.
“What about you,” Twilight said as Equinox burned against Terra’s leg. Terra’s flesh was beginning to heal, and in some places Twilight could even see skin. “Do you hear it?” Terra’s leg began to tremble as Twilight threw more and more power into her blade. “Survive.”
As Terra’s lips filled in, Twilight saw that she was grinning. “I hear it, Twilight Sparkle. But do you!” She punched Twilight in the chest with her other hoof.
Every one of Twilight’s ribs broke. Twilight was pushed through the air and into an intact building—her mental map of the square told her that this was the horseshoe shop. Indeed, she thought as she found herself pinned to the wall, a wooden shoe-hanging rod sticking out of her stomach: this was definitely the horseshoe shop. There, lying by the door with a hole in his neck, was Shoe Fits, its proprietor. It was funny: Twilight hadn’t even felt the door shattering behind her as she flew through it.
Terra grabbed her hindquarters with unicorn magic and took flight as soon as Twilight was through the building. Twilight watched her go, then split her mind, allowing Sparkle to work without pain. Sparkle tore the wooden rod out of their chest and teleported them back into the center of the square, next to Luna.
Twilight simply collapsed to the ground and waited for her chest to heal. She had a hole through her stomach and her ribcage felt more like a sack of gravel than a bone structure. Put me back together, she silently begged her earthpony magic. This is agony.
I can’t sense Terra, Sparkle said to her as the fragments of her ribcage pinched themselves back together. Twilight heard a pop from one of her hind legs, and realized that it must have been broken, too. Her insides twisted as her flesh reknit.
At last Sparkle stood them up and looked at Luna. The princess was smoking and mostly hairless, but still conscious. Her eyes were shut. “Princess,” Sparkle made them say as their ribs began to take on a distinct shape.
Luna gulped in air and opened her eyes. “Was that... all unicorn magic?”
Twilight finished healing and drew Sparkle back into the whole. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah it was.”
Luna rolled off of the pedestal, stumbled, then caught her balance by leaning against it with a foreleg. “I am glad, Twilight Sparkle,” she said, “that Nihilus was an idiot.” Her hair began to grow in.
Twilight thought back to their fight in the square almost two months ago. “Yeah,” she said. “Me too.”
Terra landed so hard that her hooves sent dirt shooting upward into the air around her. Twilight froze.
“Harmony,” Terra said, “seems to have more in store than I had previously thought. You are special, aren’t you, Twilight Sparkle?”
“You can get away,” Luna said. “Go. You are vital; I am not.”
“Yes,” Terra said, gesturing to the town square with a hoof. “You probably can get away. You are a Coruscare, after all. But I very much doubt Luna has arranged her protective field in such a way as to let you throw her about. So go, Twilight Sparkle. Leave Luna with me. Survive.”
Twilight looked over at Luna. No pony is worth anything less. “No,” she said. “I figure one more hit with my mass accelerator and you’ll die. Sure you don’t want to limp back to your husband?”
Terra rolled her eyes. “That’s the problem with you Coruscares,” she said. “You all think you’re gods.” Terra’s horn flashed, and Twilight felt the bottom drop out of her stomach as she realized what spell Terra had cast. It was the same spell that Titan had used. It stopped her from teleporting.
“Too late!” Terra cried, practically bouncing. “Now I get to take you both home. Honestly, you think I don’t know how to handle a coruscarim?”
Terra sped across the distance between them faster than Twilight’s eyes could follow. A green shaft of light split the air as she skidded to a halt in the dirt beside Luna. Exogenesis. Luna had said that Terra’s blade was called Exogenesis. Twilight knew that Luna could barely stand.
Equinox met Exogenesis, flickered, and died. Terra drew a hoof across Twilight’s face, shattering her cheekbone and sending her sprawling to the ground. Twilight struggled to spit dirt out of her mouth around the fragments of bone and her swollen tongue, but to no avail. It didn’t matter; she needed to focus. With a throw of her shoulder, she spun on the ground to face Luna and Terra once more.
When she saw Luna, the princess’s legs had been sheared off past the knee. Luna’s face was an angry grimace, and her bloodied stumps beat uselessly at the ground.
Terra smiled down at Twilight. Her horn glowed, and Twilight heard a deafening snap as a support beam was ripped away from a nearby building. The shop collapsed into the square.
“This,” Terra said as she snapped the beam in two. “Is going in you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.” She smiled as she saw Twilight gulp. “You want to be a god, child? Let me teach you what it is to be an alicorn.”
Twilight was leaping out of the way before Terra started moving, but it made no difference. Terra kicked Twilight, and she felt her side explode. Organs stuttered and bones splintered. The sudden shock of pain struck her mind like a hammer blow.
Twilight collided with the wall of town hall. Her head snapped back into the finished wood, and she felt her skull fracture as something squished. Strangely, she did not fall back to the ground. It was only after her skull had regenerated that she looked down to see the support beam Terra had collected earlier sticking out of her belly. It was odd; she hadn’t even felt it go in.
She felt it now. It was pushing her insides away from where they were supposed to be. She felt the fragments of one of her hips cutting their way through her as they struggled back to their original position.
Terra landed in front of her and pushed against Twilight’s forehead with a hoof, holding her mane back and pressing the back of her skull into the wall. “This,” Terra hissed. “This is what immortality is, Coruscare. It’s pain. It’s living with every mistake and every sin for eternity. You want to be a god, little girl? You need look no further than the blood running out of the corners of your mouth. Divinity is agony.”
“Let her go!”
No, Twilight thought. You were supposed to leave.
Terra raised an eyebrow and spun to face the new arrival. It was Applejack, covered hoof to chops in her armor. Twilight opened her mouth to tell Applejack to run, and found she couldn’t speak. She shook her head at the mare, trying to warn her. Run.
Terra collided with Applejack head-on, throwing Applejack onto her back and pinning her to the ground. Applejack struggled against Terra’s pin, trying to get free. She failed.
“Do you feel that!” Terra shouted. “Tell me, earthpony, have you ever felt too weak before? It won’t last long,” she said, pushing Applejack’s legs down into the dirt. Bones snapped under the force of Terra’s hold. “The problem is that you’re mortal. But I!” Terra shrieked. “I will make you divine!”
Terra called up fire. Twilight sobbed. Applejack screamed.
The broken beam was pulled free from the wall, encased in the light blue glow of Rarity’s magic. “Twilight!” Rarity said as she came around the edge of the building. She winced at the sound of Applejack’s screaming. “Do something!” Her eyes were wide.
The hole in Twilight’s chest was beginning to close. Do something. She couldn’t teleport because of Terra’s spell. So undo Terra’s spell. But she couldn’t focus enough to do that. So split your mind. Split her mind. Right.
A thundercrack filled the town square. Twilight knew without looking that Rainbow Dash was trying to save Applejack. Twilight turned to Terra.
The combination of Dash’s thunderbolt and the speed of their collision was enough to knock Terra to the ground. Dash raised her blade. Applejack twisted and writhed on the ground as smoke poured through the cracks in her armor.
Terra’s hoof came towards Rainbow Dash, a blur of motion. Dash had no earthpony magic to mend shattered bones. Twilight shielded her on instinct, throwing every ounce of magical power she could muster into the barrier.
She might as well have tried to stop a train with a pane of glass. Her shield shattered, absorbing some of the power behind Terra’s strike. Not enough to keep Dash from getting sent flying through the air, however. Dash hit the ground with a dull thud. She shuddered once before falling still.
Terra cocked her head. “What are you doing, pegasus pony? Are you broken? You’re programmed with one rule to override all others: survive.”
Twilight stumbled to her feet. She had to get them out. She had to get them all out. With a small effort of will, she drew most of the heat out of Applejack’s armor. With a larger effort of will, she suppressed the urge to vomit at the thought of what Applejack had just gone through.
She was running out of magic. Even if she could disable Terra’s spell, Twilight wondered if she’d have enough power to teleport them all away.
“And yet,” Terra said as she came to stand over Dash’s face-down form. “You come at me. It must be a failure of intellect. You ponies don’t seem to understand that you can no more fight me than you can stop your own heartbeats.”
Dash trembled again and pushed herself off the ground with her forelegs. Her face was streaked with dirt and blood. “Wrong,” she said.
Twilight knew that it was Pinkie Pie before the mare ever spoke. Which meant that Fluttershy was also nearby, somewhere. All of them. They were all coming to Terra. They were all coming for her. And Luna. And each other.
Terra spun around with her lightning quickness. “Another earthpony joins the party!” she cried. “I can hardly believe it! What’s your name, earthpony?”
“Hi.” Pinkie Pie undid the straps holding her hoof-blades and let them fall to the ground. “I’m Pinkie Pie,” she said. “And it’s not a party until I say it is.”
Terra placed a hoof on the back of Rainbow Dash’s head and pushed it into the ground. “You’re not getting up, right?” She asked. “Excuse me while I kill your friend Pinkie Pie as you lie helpless in the dirt.” She threw herself backwards with her unnatural speed, aiming another hoof at Pinkie Pie as she flew through the air.
She missed. Pinkie Pie had dodged the blow before Terra had started to move. Again, Terra moved to attack her, and again, Pinkie Pie moved out of the way before the strike had ever been thrown.
The second time, Pinkie Pie’s mane etherealized. The tangled strands of pink hair merged together to form a churning mass of ether. Pinkie Pie tilted her head as her energy mane framed her face.
Twilight reached out with her magic and tried to sense the spell that Terra had used to stop her from teleporting. It was there, alright. The composition of the spell was unmistakably Titan’s style. It would take time and focus to undo. Twilight went to work with her magic.
Terra drew away from Pinkie Pie as though she had lain a hoof on a hot stove. “No,” she said. “That’s impossible. I killed you.”
“No you didn’t,” Pinkie Pie said. “I’m still alive. See?”
“No,” Terra said, stepping back. “No!”
“Don’t be silly,” Pinkie Pie said. “If something happens, that makes it possible.”
Terra drew Exogenesis and swung it at Pinkie Pie. Its motion was a green blur. Twilight didn’t see Pinkie move at all. One moment she was in the path of the blade, the next she was clear of it.
“Honk!” Pinkie cried as her hooves closed around Terra’s nose.
Terra swung her blade again and again, and each time Pinkie Pie evaded it before she could have seen the attack coming, and with speed that defied physics. Twilight didn’t understand: The Pinkie Sense wasn’t supposed to be that fast, and neither was Pinkie Pie.
“You,” Terra said at last. “Your race is dead. I killed you to a pony.”
Twilight lost her focus, and the spells she had been crafting fell to pieces in her mind. Pinkie Pie wasn’t an earthpony. No horn, no wings, but Pinkie Pie wasn’t an earthpony. What did that make her?
Terra sneered. “Do you think you’re clever, arcpony? You can see the future. Tell me, what’s about to happen?” Pinkie Pie’s eyes widened.
She swept Exogenesis in an arc, and a wave of kinetic force followed it. It threw Pinkie Pie up and back. Pinkie landed in the skeletal remains of a building that had burned to the ground.
Terra shuddered as she ran a hoof through her mane. “Break is over,” she said. “Time to get back to work.” She spun to face Twilight across the square. Her face was completely devoid of mirth.
Immediately, Twilight’s brain reeled. Terra was going to come at her. Terra was going to kill her. Something needed to be done; but what? She was too slow to move out of the way. A strike from Exogenesis would be too much for her to regenerate. Her unicorn magic couldn’t shield Terra’s hoof, let alone her blade. Survive, her mind screamed. But she was going to die.
Terra flapped her wings and came towards Twilight Sparkle. She collided with a golden barrier and was sent reeling. The barrier faded as Terra spat blood into the dirt.
Celestia fell out of the sky like boulder, striking the ground in front of Twilight with a heavy thud. She pushed herself to her hooves, stumbled, then caught her footing. Twilight looked at the princess with horror. Black veins stood out along her legs and neck, thick and pulsing. Her mane hung at the sides of her head as mundane pink hair. She was covered in sweat.
“Twilight,” Celestia said. Her horn glowed, and Twilight felt the oppressive presence of Terra’s spell fade. “Run.”
Terra’s eyes locked onto Celestia. “You can’t be serious,” she said.
Exogenesis met Zenith, and Celestia shrank beneath their blades. “What is it!” Terra shouted. “That makes you all so eager to die?” The veins along Celestia’s legs spread and throbbed, and Celestia let out a sharp cry. “What makes you all ignore your most basic instinct?”
Zenith went out. Celestia fell backwards into the dirt, a trickle of black ichor running out of the corner of her mouth. “Twilight,” she whispered.
Terra raised Exogenesis and grinned. “Survive!” she shrieked. Terra plunged the blade into Celestia’s chest. Celestia jerked once, then went still.
Fourteen diamonds sped toward Terra. She batted them out of the air with such force that they tore into the building around them. “What is it!” Terra shouted again. She leveled Exogenesis at Twilight and Rarity.
Twilight teleported them to the other end of the square just as Terra unleashed her spell. A deafening crack reached her ears. The town hall was blown to smithereens by the blast, and fragments of wood rained down on them.
Terra went for Rainbow Dash, but Twilight grabbed her first. With a pop, Dash appeared in the air beside them and fell to the ground. She rolled over, clutching her belly.
“What makes you defy your very design?” Terra shrieked. She sent a wave of fire towards where Applejack lay on the ground. Twilight plucked Applejack out of space and set her next to the rest of them. “What,” Terra said, “could possibly be more important to you ponies than survival?”
“Friendship,” said Fluttershy.
Twilight had known that Fluttershy was behind them before she spoke the words. Fluttershy held her wings stiff, gliding off of the top of a nearby roof to land next to them. She began to help Applejack to her hooves.
Terra stared at them as though they’d just told a joke she didn’t get. “Friendship?” she said. “You’ll die for friendship?”
Pinkie Pie cartwheeled over and picked Rainbow Dash up off the ground. At her throat, the balloon gem gleamed, bright and blue in the summer sunlight.
Terra grinned. “I have more power than all of you combined. Against me you have nothing,” she said. “No weapons. No magic.” She beat her wings and became a blur of motion once more. She swung her blade at Twilight’s head as if it were an axe.
Exogenesis met Equinox.
Twilight’s blade burned so bright her friends had to cover their eyes. Her protective spell was up, however, and she could clearly see the look of confusion on Terra’s face. She pressed Equinox forward, channeling the Elements of Harmony through their focus.
A horizontal ring of light burst outward from where their blades met. It sheared through the bottom of every building still standing in the town square, and they all fell to ruins.
Exogenesis guttered out and died, and a wave of brilliant violet magic engulfed the queen. Twilight stepped forward as her mane etherealized.
“No!” Terra said. She beat her wings, but the magic held her to the ground. Terra thrashed and kicked, but to no avail. “That’s impossible.”
Twilight looked down at the Queen of the world. “Hadn’t you heard?” she said. “Friendship is magic.”