15w, 6dPony Warfare
40w, 10hAlicorn Twilight
45w, 4dTwilight, Alicorns, and Awsome
17w, 1dPonies of War
25w, 4dTwilight Sparkle
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13w, 3dEpic Pony War
21w, 12hTwilight's Library
45w, 5dprecist pozdeji
31w, 6d501st Party Brigade
2w, 14hLong Fics
31w, 6dStories I've read
12w, 4dMind Control/Hypnosis
29w, 3dThe best of authors
27w, 1dThe Dreamers
27w, 8hThe Writer's Coalition
16w, 2dCompleted Story Compendium
12w, 4dLoyal Subjects
9w, 5ddk rlater
9w, 1dFallen Heroes
8w, 14hEvil Twilight
5w, 3hDark Twilight
Rarity had not been able to banish the thought from her mind since they had left the dance club. Celestia must have been the one to turn the moon red. Only she had the capability to turn the moon red. What are the chances that Princess Celestia made a mistake, using a millennium-old symbol by accident? The chances were zero. The princess was not known to make even small mistakes, let alone one of this magnitude. That meant one thing:
Equestria had to be at war, but with whom? The answer was obvious, of course. Either princess Luna had once again become Nightmare Moon, or somepony somewhere believed they had the power to rival both the princesses and every soldier in Equestria. The thought was a frightening one.
She arrived at the Carousel Boutique and immediately made for her bedroom. After searching around under her bed for several seconds, her hoof grasped a long, slender chest. She slid it out from under the bed.
Sweetie Belle was having a sleepover at Sweet Apple Acres with her friends, leaving Rarity home alone for the night. The filly wouldn’t like it, but Rarity would have to forbid such things in the future. Whatever was going on, whoever they were at war with, she would want to keep her sister close. Sweetie would not approve, but how could Rarity make her understand?
Rarity opened the tiny chest. Inside were fourteen diamonds of varying shapes resting upon a cloth. None of them were particularly pretty, and Rarity would never consider using them were she designing a dress. Still, she ran her hoof over each of them in turn, feeling each facet, testing each edge. Were she less careful, she could have easily cut herself- but no, of course she didn’t cut herself.
Touching the fourteen gems reminded her too much of days long from long ago. Unbidden, a memory came to her. It was of her father, handing her her newborn sister for the first time.
“This is your sister, Rarity,” he had said. “Your mother is gone now, so we’re going to take care of her. Your mother wanted us to name her ‘Sweetie Belle’, But I prefer ‘Allure’. What do you think?”
Rarity had answered that Allure was fine. She knew better than to disagree with her father.
Sighing, Rarity closed the lid of the chest and slid it back under her bed where it belonged. She hoped that she would never have to open it again, that its contents would remain hidden to the world. They were not diamonds to be worn, or shown off. As much as she hated the chest, its existence was necessary, should the unthinkable ever happen.
“So Twilight, how are you handling things so far?”
Nihilus trotted into Ponyville with an entourage consisting of forty or so of Terra’s earthpony puppets. The puppets weren’t by any means perfect replicas- each of them was almost entirely incapable of thinking for itself, and as such could only follow simple orders. On top of that, each of the ponies was physically identical: all male, with the same jet-black coat and neon green manes and tails. Their eyes and eyebrows were all a solid green. They didn’t look around at their surroundings, or walk in formation. The simply cast the occasional glance at Nihilus, as if following her was their only purpose.
Which, come to think of it, was their only purpose. One could never have too many witless brutes ready to die for them, if Nihilus was to be any judge.
At length, the other unicorn answered her. “Leave me alone,” she said faintly.
“Seems your spirit broke sooner than I expected. A pity, really, as I had figured tormenting you would be an excellent warm up to taking all your friends. ”
Twilight didn’t answer.
“While you watch helplessly, of course,” Nihilus added just for good measure.
It was the morning after Titan’s return, and their passage through the town was drawing looks from everypony on the streets. It made sense, really. The people of Ponyville still hadn’t heard from the Canterlot, and had probably been able to see the fight between the king and the princess even at this distance. The whole town was probably on edge, and almost forty strange looking earthponies were trotting down the street in unison.
Nihilus would have preferred holding off taking Ponyville directly, instead bringing some of the other Element bearers under her control first. It would have likely been quite easy, in fact, to break the minds of the others just as she had done with Rainbow Dash. Her alicorn superiors, however, had insisted that she immediately take Ponyville and dispose of “Celestia’s elite”, and Nihilus had to obey them... for now.
Twilight responded at length. “You’re a monster.”
At this, Nihilus laughed out loud. Several townsponies gave her strange looks as she continued to laugh at something they couldn’t hear. “Twilight! Calling me a monster does not do your vocabulary or my actions any justice. I’m just getting started, kiddo.”
“This is insane, Nihilus. You don’t need to do any of this!”
“You know what, Twilight? You’re absolutely right! I don’t need to do any of this. But you see, it’s going to just be so much fun.”
Twilight didn’t answer her.
“Oh don’t worry, kiddo. I know just the thing to cheer you up. What you need is a friend.” Nihilus reached out with her magic and gave a little tug.
It was several moments later that a gray-maned, black-coated pegasus came crashing to the ground in front of them. She came down fast, barely flared out her wings in time, and landed with her face in the dirt. The pegasus spasmed violently, then jerked to her feet and looked at Nihilus, her expression changing from a look of defiant hatred to a blank stare. There were bags under her eyes, and her mane and coat were dirty and disheveled. She had obviously not slept the previous night.
“I must say, my pet.” Nihilus took several steps forward until she was less than a foot from the pegasus. “You exhibit a remarkable ability to resist the pull of my spell.”
The pegasus lunged at her, but her muscles locked up as soon as she started moving. She toppled forward again onto the dirty street as Nihilus delicately sidestepped her.
“Bad,” the pegasus mumbled to herself as she spat dirt out of her mouth. “Bad, bad pony.”
“It must be agonizing, really, to be so close to me but be completely unable to do anything. Twilight isn’t taking very well to her complete powerlessness either. Is there anything you’d like to say to her?”
At the mention of Twilight’s name, the pegasus’ head shot up. “Twilight,” she breathed softly. Then she screwed her eyes shut. “I hate you,” she finished quickly.
“You’ll pay for this.”
“Forgive me for not feeling threatened. And it isn’t my problem if you don’t like my new toy,” Nihilus replied.
At last she came to the town hall, her destination. She climbed up onto the slightly raised balcony that surrounded the building and her earthponies fanned out on the ground around her in a semi-circle. Her pet looked around, then curled up into a ball beside the stairs.
“Citizens of Ponyville!” Nihilus shouted. Her voice carried to the far edges of the town square. “I bring news from Canterlot!”
The forty puppets she had brought with her had already attracted a great deal of attention on their way into town, and her little show with Rainbow Dash had helped. In moments, a small gathering of ponies was growing at the base of the town hall.
Nihilus turned toward the crowd. The ponies were talking amongst themselves in hushed voices, eyeing Nihilus and the ring of strange earthponies. She scanned the crowd for any of their targets, but none of them were there.
She hadn’t expected Fluttershy or Applejack to have heard or seen her because they lived so far from the town centre. Or Pinkie Pie, for that matter, as Sugarcube Corner was several streets away. The Carousel Boutique was visible from where she was standing. a sign out front read: “Out on business. Store closed momentarily”.
I suppose can work with this, Nihilus thought to herself. The other unicorn was well-known by the townsponies. While Nihilus would prefer a live demonstration, it was by no means necessary.
She judged that the crowd was large enough for her to proceed. “Listen well, my little ponies, for what you are about to hear is joyous news indeed!” she cried. She paused, giving everypony in the crowd time to once again turn their attention towards her. “The King and Queen of Equestria have returned!”
A murmur went through the crowd, and the ponies gave each other confused looks. It was clear that none of them knew just who she was talking about.
“Equestria doesn’t have a king,” a stallion in the crowd pointed out to her. “We’ve never had a king.”
Nihilus nodded along, then rolled her eyes when he finished. “So you have been led to believe,” she said. “But in truth your Princess Celestia was merely a usurper, a rebel who treacherously locked King Titan and his wife away so that she and her sister could seize Equestria for themselves. But the king has returned, and the sun tyrant has been destroyed!”
Her statement was met with disbelief, and in some cases, outrage. Almost immediately, ponies in the crowd began to heckle her.
“Why wouldn’t anypony know if we had had a king and queen?”
“Tell us what really happened in Canterlot!”
“Celestia isn’t a tyrant!”
“The princess can’t die!”
It was exactly the reaction Nihilus was expecting, and exactly the reaction she had been hoping for. She tapped into her well of magical power. It was enormous- Twilight Sparkle had been unmatched in raw magical power, and was well learned enough to make Nihilus a potent unicorn. She had more than enough power to suit her needs.
Instantly she felt the magic surge through her. It vibrated through her entire body and made the air crackle around her. Her hair shimmered and coalesced into a mass of seething black ether tinged with indigo at the edges. It began to sway gently as if being blown by a nonexistent wind. The blood in her veins was felt as though it had been replaced with liquid electricity. She was overtaken by the sheer magnitude of the power at her disposal.
“Enough!” Her voice cracked through the air like a whip. Everypony in the crowd drew away and gasped.
Nihilus swung her gaze back and forth, staring them down. Nopony would meet her eyes. “Your god is dead, you pitiful little foals. Overthrown in a single night by an alicorn who possesses endless power and unfathomable intellect.” She emphasized her next words, “He is Titan, and you will ALL worship him, with more devotion than you ever paid to your dead princess!”
She watched the looks on their faces change from disbelief to fear. They were beginning to believe her.
“The raising of the sun will now be attended to by the king and queen’s newborn son, prince Empyrean. Should you have any problems with the new order, you will petition him at court.”
Nihilus stepped down and began to walk among the crowd. Ponies backed away from her as she moved through them, shooting looks at random townsfolk. None of them met her eyes.
“This brings us to a very important topic: myself,” she said, her voice losing its harshness. She spun around in place and gave a little flourish.
“Should any of you feel that the new monarchy is not adequate, know this: King Titan, Queen Terra, and Prince Empyrean rule by divine right. They created this world, the celestial sphere, and your species. Each of you owes to them everything you have.”
“Should any of you make the most unwise decision to act against them, passively or with violence, you will be branded as a rebel-” The crowd was hanging onto her every word, and she loved it. What she loved even more, however, was what came next:
“-And I will kill you.” The ponies in the crowd were now giving her passage a wide berth.
“Should any of you house any rebel, or keep from the monarchy any information regarding a rebel, I will kill you.”
Nihilus drank in their uncertainty, their terror, and felt exhilarated. She approached a mother standing with a unicorn filly, and the mare backed away. The filly, however, did not. She stood, looking up a Nihilus, confused and shaking.
“If I hear anything that makes me think you are a rebel.” She leaned down and looked the filly in the eyes, and the other pony gave a tiny gulp. “Even the slightest little peep-” she gave the filly a tap on the forehead with her horn, the stood and turned to face the rest of the crowd. “I will interrogate you, and you will beg me to kill you. Should I decide I would like to kill any of you for no reason whatsoever, I will, you guessed it, kill you.”
She emerged from the group of terrified ponies. The Carousel Boutique sat in front of her.
“Don’t do this,” a little voice in the back of her head begged gently.
She unleashed her magic, focusing on a point she imagined somewhere inside the Carousel Boutique.
The entire building imploded.
The colourful roof, the walls, even the sign out front simply burst into splinters, tearing themselves apart as they were pulled inward by her spell. The sound of tearing wood was deafening, and sawdust filled the air around the boutique. Nihilus watched, if anything feeling even more energetic after the expenditure of power.
Nihilus heard her pegasus plaything give an incoherent scream that was suddenly cut short. She suppressed the urge to laugh.
“Don’t worry, Twilight. Rarity is off running some errand; I only killed her sister. Oh, and ruined her life’s work and left her homeless and destitute.” She thought about it for a moment. “Actually,” she told Twilight, “I like the way this turned out. Can you imagine the look on her face when she returns?”
Using the destructive magic and terrifying the townsponies had been exhilarating, and Nihilus was nowhere near finished. She tapped the immense well of power again, this time throwing herself through space. The air around her sizzled and cracked, and she reappeared once again atop the balcony outside the town hall.
“Pay attention!” she barked.
Forty-odd solid green sets of eyes and one set of magenta ones snapped toward her. The townsponies were still watching her, but many of them were inching away from the main crowd.
She called upon even more of her magical power, and began to create crude illusions to represent her targets as she named them off one by one.
“Rarity.” A sloppily constructed image of a white unicorn with a intricately kept mane appeared between her and the earthponies. She enlarged the cutie mark to ensure they all got a good look at it.
“Applejack.” The earthpony’s image was easy to construct in a way that made her identifiable, her hat and cutie mark being distinguishing traits.
“Fluttershy.” She noticed with glee that her store of magical power was not even close to running out; Twilight had certainly been a powerful unicorn.
“And Pinkie Pie.” She didn’t spend much effort on the final illusion. A pink coated pink haired pony named ‘Pinkie Pie’ would be easy to find for even these half-witted brutes.
She raised her voice again, making certain the crowd of townsponies heard her. “All of these ponies are dangerous rebels and you are to treat them as such. Should any of you think to join their cause against his majesty King Titan, the events of today will serve to help you... reconsider.”
She addressed her earthponies, “Eight of you to Sweet Apple Acres. Two of you search that wreckage.” She nodded sharply towards the ruins of the carousel boutique. “Six of you go with my pet to Sugarcube Corner, and two of you to Fluttershy’s cottage. The rest of you, search the entire town. Kill nopony, but do not be gentle. You will find these four, and you will bring them to me alive.”
She dispersed her illusions and looked back at to the townsponies. “Until every one of them is found, I will assume you are harboring these dangerous individuals. You will be treated accordingly,” she let the last word drip with menace.
The earthponies attacked.
They trampled through the crowd of townsponies and split into their respective groups. Her puppets kicked, shoved, and head-butted the helpless townsponies with the kind of casual brutality suited to a creature created only for violence. Once they realized their victim was not one of their targets, however, they simply moved on. Nihilus noticed with pleasure that several ponies were checked multiple times by different puppets. They broke down doors, kicked in windows, and otherwise caused mayhem.
Nihilus tugged on her pet’s magical leash, and the colorless pony turned to her. “Get to Sugarcube Corner, and carry out your task,” she said. Her monochromatic toy jerked and spasmed, obviously trying to resist, but eventually took to the air. Nihilus turned back to the chaos in the town square.
Ponies screamed and begged for restraint. Some frantically cried out their coat and mane colors, even waving their flanks, displaying their cutie marks to show that they weren’t one of her targets. Nothing worked. Nihilus watched the chaos unfold and smiled. Terra had ensured that the puppets would refrain from killing any non-vital targets, regardless of her orders, when she spun them from nothing. There was a fine line, she had said, between enforcing the new rule and encouraging rebellion through brutality.
One of her puppets burst.
She hadn’t seen it clearly. One moment she had watched lazily out of the corner of her eye as it struck the mail-mare with its front hooves, the next moment the mail-mare was staring up from the ground in confusion as the earthpony dissolved into a cloud of inky darkness. The cloud dissipated in less than a second, leaving no trace of the servant it had been. Nihilus perked up slightly.
Two more followed the first. This time she saw it- a rough shape moving through the crowd, definitely a pony. The figure’s features were hidden, however, by a hooded cloak.
Well that’s a little dramatic, Nihilus thought wryly. The strange pony moved with purpose, spinning and rolling, not away, but toward Nihilus. Two more earthponies were felled before the figure emerged from the crowd. The figure, a mare, let the oversized cloak fall to the ground around her as she faced the dark unicorn. Nihilus recognized her immediately.
“Princess Luna,” she greeted the alicorn. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you. Let’s make this quick, alright? I have ponies I need to capture.”
The princess regarded Nihilus, and recognition flashed in her eyes. The alicorn gave her a look of absolute loathing.
“Thou,” she spat. “Thou hast no conception of how much I am going to enjoy peeling thee away from her whilst thou scream. I hope thou hast more than unicorn magic to use against me. I am an alicorn.” She flared her wings and her horn began to glow. “This was thy first and last day among the living, parasite!”
The princess lunged.
Applejack’s hooves dug gently into the packed earth of the road she travelled. The harness for her apple cart sat heavily on her back, but it was only a small discomfort for the earthpony by now.
She tilted her hat forward so as to better shield her eyes from the hot summer sun. In the distance below her stretched Ponyville, but something about the town was strange. She was on her way down from Sweet Apple Acres, and she had seen an awful lot of ponies gathered in the town square. Now the crowd seemed to have dispersed, but as she got closer faint sounds began to carry from the town. Applejack thought she heard shouting.
It was another strange occurrence to add to the growing list. Applejack would arrive in town soon enough, and then she’d find out what all the ruckus was about. With luck, Twilight would have sent word back from Canterlot, explaining the strange noises they had heard the night earlier. There was also the matter of the moon turning red, for which nopony had had any explanation but Rarity.
Rarity’s answer, however, had been a little too melodramatic for Applejack. In any case, her explanation made no sense. Equestria didn’t make war, and that was just the way it was. True, small conflicts existed between ponies and their various neighbors, and in some cases even other ponies, but as a kingdom Equestria had never taken military action, ever.
Applejack shook her head. Here she was thinking about things that were way above a farm pony. She was likely just worrying where there was no need for it. She sighed and began pulling her apple cart towards town. Big Macintosh was selling apples in the market today, and she was bringing him a load of freshly bucked Red Delicious to carry him through the afternoon. While she was there, it wouldn’t hurt to check in and see if word had come back from Canterlot.
It wasn’t long before she spied several dark shapes travelling towards her on the road ahead. On closer inspection, there were a little less than ten of them, and they were galloping. She watched as they came closer. They were all identical earthponies with black coats and unnaturally bright green manes.
The ponies were yet another item to add to the list of strange happenings. She debated about whether or not she should just let them pass by, but in the end curiosity won her over and she resolved to ask them a couple questions. She unhooked the apple cart and stepped into their path.
“Howdy there!” she called out as the group of ponies approached. “Ah see y'all came from Ponyville. There something goin’ on down there that Ah should be worried about?”
The pony in the lead didn’t answer. He simply continued charging straight towards her, throwing his shoulder forward to strike her.
The pony crashed into her. It was a powerful blow, and Applejack was not prepared for it. Despite her sturdy frame, and the fact that she had all four hooves on the ground, she was knocked to the dirt.
“What in the hay do you think yer-” Her sentence was interrupted as her assailant kicked her with his forelegs, knocking the wind out of her and turning her over. Applejack gasped for air as he leaned in to examine her cutie mark.
“It is Applejack,” he said in a deep voice. It had an almost metallic echo to it, making it sound as though his lungs were hollow. From her position on the ground, Applejack saw another set of black hooves approach her.
“Take her,” the new pony said in the exact same hollow voice.
Before she could register what was happening, the first pony pinned her to the ground and knelt down on her neck, choking her.
Applejack’s confusion immediately became terror. She instinctively flexed the muscles in her neck to protect her windpipe, and began beating her legs against the ground uselessly. She tried throwing a shoulder back to roll him off, but he had her pinned too tightly. He had left one of her forelegs free, however, his own foreleg focused on choking her to death.
Panicking and out of options, Applejack threw her front leg out to hit him in the chin.
The punch was an unnaturally strong one. Applejack had worked for years on the family farm, strengthening her muscles into an enviable physique. She was also an earthpony, and a strong one at that. Not to mention she was fighting desperately for her life. All of these things combined into a punch that snapped outward lightning fast, and with incredible force.
She hit her mark, and the earthpony’s head whipped backward with an audible snap. Shocked, Applejack rolled him off of her and sprung the her feet. The other pony twitched once, then burst into a cloud of dense black smoke.
They aren’t real, she thought, They’re just some kind of fancy magic. At least she hoped that’s what they were. If not, she had just killed somepony. The thought did not sit well with her.
But there were more pressing matters at hand. Another earthpony stood just metres away from her, and another six of them stood behind him. Seven earthponies who were apparently trying to kill her. She had to get home, had to make sure Applebloom and Granny Smith were safe. But she couldn’t lead these strange earthponies there, which meant one thing:
She had to fight for her life.
The ponies began to slowly move towards her. She raised her back legs, and brought them downward onto the abandoned applecart. The front of the applecart shattered, setting hundreds of apples to roll across the ground. Applejack stepped out of the way of the wave of apples, but the earthponies were not so quick. They stumbled and tripped, struggling to remain on all four hooves. The closest pony fell over completely.
Applejack picked up two apples in her mouth and tossed them high into the air. While the two apples sailed skyward, she pivoted on her forelegs so that her back was to the closest earthpony. He was just regaining his feet.
She bucked him harder in the chest than she had ever bucked an apple tree. The front of his ribcage shattered under the force of her legs, splinters of bone pushed back into the vital organs they were meant to protect. Like the first pony, he vanished into a cloud of thick black smoke.
Applejack didn’t slow down. She repositioned herself as the apples she had thrown earlier fell back downward. Her back legs snapped out again to launch the apples at another earthpony. It was a difficult rodeo trick, one that many ponies took years to master.
Applejack had perfected it when she was eight. She aimed for her target’s head.
The first apple missed, but the second hit him and burst right between his eyes. The pony recoiled, blinded by the mush that now covered his face.
The remaining ponies were now all on their feet, and all of them faced her. They seemed completely unfazed that she had taken out two of their companions. The ponies didn’t spread out to surround her. They simply stared ahead with solid green eyes as they advanced towards her.
Applejack moved to put the closest pony between herself and the rest of the group, then waited. As she expected, he lunged at her as soon as he got close.
She caught his lunge, throwing her weight and turning herself so that he didn’t pin her, but was caught in a grapple. She twisted and spun and the earthpony was pushed to the ground, Applejack atop him.
Applejack brought her front legs up just as another dark pony tried to tackle her...
She brought her legs down, crushing her pinned victim’s skull as the next pony came sailing toward her head. But the earthpony she had been on top of exploded into the strange black smoke, and she fell the short distance to the ground. She tightened her form, drawing inward and hugging the ground, and the lunging pony sailed over her and landed on the road behind her.
She snapped her head back, waiting for the pony to turn around. When he did, she straightened and lashed out with her back legs in another incredibly powerful kick. She barely felt her legs connect with the earthpony’s face before he too dispersed.
She turned too late to see two of the remaining three ponies bearing down on her. They struck her, hard, and she was thrown to the ground again, this time landing back first. The two ponies were on top of her, pinning all four of her legs with their own.
She struggled helplessly as the final pony approached. He looked down at her, his face betraying no emotions whatsoever. He raised his front legs, preparing to smash her skull. She gave one last jerk, attempting to break free, but it was no use. Two ponies holding her down was too much. She got one last glance at the bottom of the earthpony’s hooves as he brought them down...
Every one of the earthponies atop her was thrown off as a massive red pony slammed into them.
Macintosh! she realized.
She righted herself, and looked at her older brother. He was on the ground, tangled up in the other three earthponies he had just charged. Two of them lay under his hindquarters, dazed. The other was sprawled across his chest, head-locked by one of Mac’s front legs.
With a jerk, Mac snapped the neck of the pony he held. It too became only a cloud of rapidly fading darkness.
Applejack wasted no time. She sprung forward before the the other two earthponies could recover, landing with a hoof on each of their necks. They were helpless, and it was hardly fair, but she was long past sympathizing with the creatures that had almost killed her twice. They aren’t living ponies anyways, she thought uneasily as the two beneath her dispersed. The way their skulls caved in felt real enough.
Big Mac got to his feet and looked around. His eyes found the one remaining pony at the same time Applejack’s did. It was on its haunches, rubbing at its eyes despite the fact that the apple mush had all come off by now. They flesh around them was swollen, and she could barely see the solid green orbs beneath. The apple had hit its mark hard.
She and Mac both moved until they were at opposite sides of the earthpony. “What...” Applejack swallowed. “What should we do with him?”.
She met her brother’s eyes. They were hard.
“Only one thing to do, sister.”
Applejack nodded. This time she barely felt the impact at all. Only the light tapping of her and her brother’s hooves meeting amid a cloud of dark smoke.
Applejack adjusted her hat once more, “Mac-”
“They’re all over the town, AJ, and they’re looking for you. You and all your friends. Came up this way to warn you. Was almost too late.”
“Ah’m fine, Mac. We have to get Applebloom out of here, she-”
“Ah will get Applebloom, and her friends. You find yours. They need you AJ. Do your thing.”
“I-” she began, but she stopped herself.
Strange sounds and flashes had come from Canterlot the previous night. A declaration of war that was older than dirt had been made. Now, Ponyville had come under attack by strange magical ponies looking for the bearers of the Elements of Harmony.
Whatever the problem was, whatever was happening, Applejack realized that it had become her responsibility. Her responsibility, and the responsibility of the other bearers of the Elements. While she might want to take her family far away to someplace safe, she had a duty to do.
And when duty called, an Apple answered.
“You take Gran and the kids to Appleoosa, you hear? Don’t stay with cousin Braeburn, though. It’s too dangerous. See if the local Buffalo will take you in, they know him and me.”
Macintosh nodded. She knew he understood completely- not just that they needed to lay low, but why Applejack needed to leave. That she may never see him, or Applebloom, again.
“Good luck, AJ.”
Applejack nodded once more before turning away and sprinting off toward Ponyville. She couldn’t afford to stretch the goodbye out longer. She needed to find her friends.
Twilight Sparkle is the new ten, Celestia had said. Don’t worry, I think that you two will get along just fine. You share enough common interests
Luna thought back to her sister’s words as Nihilus’ spell threw her through a nearby house. The walls folded under her, then cracked and burst into bits. Chips and splinters of wood followed her as she landed back first on -of all things- a sofa. She shook the debris off of herself, noting how many pieces of wood were now lodged in her back.
She flexed her wings, and found them to still be functional. While it was true that most of a pegasus’ ability to fly came from magic, that magic was still centred in the wings. Damaging them too much would knock out one of Luna’s two major advantages, and stop her from being able to escape.
Escape was looking to be her only option. The spell Nihilus had used was not a complicated one. Luna’s opponent had simply slapped the her with enough telekinetic force to uproot a tree. As far as combat magic went, what Nihilus was doing was inefficient and bland. It makes sense, Luna thought, Twilight probably knew nothing about fighting with magic. Despite this, Luna was losing.
She had still not recovered from Terra’s attack the previous night. She was exhausted, her magical reserves already half-spent. Her wings and muscles ached whenever she moved, and casting spells required extra focus. Had she not been so exhausted, perhaps she would have been able to defeat the unicorn in single combat. As things were, she was barely scraping by.
Luna rolled off of the sofa and kicked it away from her, earthpony strength sending the it sliding across the room. Looking around, she noticed that there were actually several sofas in the room with her, as well as a wide assortment of what looked to be quills and ink. She was in a shop. She waited, and it wasn’t long before Nihilus came in after her.
The parasite that had taken Twilight Sparkle had not made any drastic changes to the unicorn’s form. She was still the same size as Luna remembered, and was now simply darker. Her coat seemed a darker purple, and her mane, energized with magical might, blazed blue-black.
Luna had not known Celestia’s student personally, but had seen the unicorn before. Nihilus still had the round muzzle and the small mouth of Twilight Sparkle, as well as her sharp eyebrows and straight lashes. But where Twilight’s eyes had seemed deep and focused, analytical even, the parasite’s flitted to and fro, wide with madness.
“You know,” the unicorn remarked casually as she stepped through the gaping hole in the shop wall. “I don’t seem to hate you nearly as much as I hate the others.” Several shingles fell, only to bounce off an invisible barrier over her head. “I could offer you the chance to surrender. This fight is really just a formality. Even if I couldn’t restrain you, you’re no match for the new prince. He’ll get you eventually.”
The parasite went on, “But I don’t think I will. You see, you’re really the only pony in Equestria who can give me a good fight. I have all of Twilight Sparkle’s power, and I am just itching-”
She threw herself across the room with all the force her wings and legs could muster. It was enough that she closed the distance between them in a fraction of a second. Nihilus was a unicorn, lacking the earthpony resilience that made Luna so hard to kill. Luna could take being thrown through walls all day, but one good hit would be all it took to bring the unicorn down.
But Nihilus was not going to let herself be beaten so easily. With a whip-like crack, the unicorn vanished, and Luna passed through hot air. Instinctively, she angled herself towards the ground and tucked into a roll as she left the shop. Another intense blast of force whipped at her mane as it barreled over her head. She heard another building break behind her.
She stopped and spun in place, finding herself back in the town square. It was not as packed as it had been moments ago, but there were still small groups of ponies fleeing from Terra’s brutes. Nihilus stood perhaps twenty paces away from her, mane blazing.
Luna wasted no time. She tapped her unicorn magic, grabbing the shards of wood leftover from the broken quill and sofa store and threw them at her adversary.
Nihilus’ horn glowed, and the shards of wood broke harmlessly against her chest and face. Tiny splinters shattered against her open eyes.
That’s... war magic, Luna thought, completely taken aback. I don’t even know that spell!
“You think I came here completely unprepared?” The parasite smirked. “I have a number of texts detailing how to cause harm to other ponies. The first spell I learned was, naturally, the one that made me near invincible. The second was an interesting bit of mind magic designed to control free will itself.”
She learned two spells in less than a day, Luna thought numbly. Spells unicorns talented with magic might spend months working to perfect.
Twilight Sparkle is the new ten, her sister had said.
She was loathe to admit it, but she couldn’t win. While Luna had enough magic to make even a powerful unicorn envious, her opponent outclassed her by an order of magnitude.
Luna was a world-class flyer, but Nihilus had even more mobility because of her uncanny ability to teleport. Luna had enough latent earthpony magic to make her almost unkillable, but Nihilus had the spell for unbreakable skin. Despite decades of experience of war, Luna was going to lose to the parasite.
Luna remembered a very similar battle she had fought once, against a powerful unicorn named Astor Coruscare. She had won then, but she had also been able to cast a blade. That magic was lost to her.
She decided that she couldn’t afford to lose. She had to buy time, at least, enough to make sure the bearers were safe. She had to survive, and help them fulfill their purpose.
What was it you were always so fond of saying, sister? She thought to herself.
Nihilus narrowed her eyes and pawed at the ground. Her horn glowed as she prepared another attack. Her mouth curved into a wicked smile.
Time to make the best of a bad situation. Why is it you get to be the martyr and I get left with all the work?
Rarity had an appreciation for beauty, and it was truly a beautiful morning. Shafts of sunlight broke through the tree branches, bathing her in a glow that made her dazzling white coat shine. It had been sunny all morning, despite the fact that Rainbow Dash still hadn’t cleared the few clouds that had formed. Rarity was waiting on the ground as Fluttershy addressed the occupants of a nearby oak tree.
“It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you.” Rarity watched as Fluttershy gently rose through the air until she was level with the oak’s higher branches. The birds in the tree scattered as she approached, multicolored blurs of feathers shooting off in different directions.
The yellow pegasus frowned slightly, but did not otherwise express any frustration. This was not the first time the animals had run away from her that morning.
They were in a lightly wooded grove that was perhaps a five minute walk from the Carousel Boutique where Rarity was supposed to be making cloaks for the Canterlot aristocracy. Though I wonder if they’ll be worrying about their cloaks now, Rarity thought, reflecting once again on the previous night’s events.
Fluttershy descended softly to the ground before her with her characteristic natural grace. The pegasus gave a resigned sigh. “I guess they’re all just agitated from all the loud noises last night. They didn’t even act this scared during the trouble with the dragon.” Another sigh. “I suppose I’ll just have to wait for them to calm down.”
Over the course of the morning Fluttershy had approached more types of birds and rodents than Rarity could name. Every single one of them had fled when she got close. The woodland creatures would seldom run from anypony, let alone Fluttershy. It was curious behaviour indeed.
“Well, if you’re done-” Rarity made a sweeping motion to indicate the grove around them “-checking in, I ought to get back to the boutique. Technically we aren’t open this early in the day, but I do have so much to do I’d like to get a head start.”
Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “Oh, I didn’t mean to keep you Rarity! I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have asked you to come with me...”
Rarity brought a hoof to her mouth and gasped. “Oh my dear, that isn’t what I meant at all! You know how much I love spending time with you!” she said even as she began leading them back toward the boutique. In truth, her mind had never left the shop. She had spent their whole outing debating whether or not she wanted emeralds or green sapphires inlaid at the clasp.
She didn’t have enough of either gem to outfit the entire line, of course. But she could always borrow Spike and fetch more once he and Twilight returned from Canterlot. The real problem with the cloaks now was the trim. It really couldn’t be any color but green if she wanted to avoid her cloaks seeming garish. That was if she decided on a trim at all, in which case she would have to blind-stitch the hem, which meant the collar would need to be-
Rarity’s train of thought was rudely interrupted by a loud crack. She frowned and looked about, trying to determine the source of the noise. “You don’t suppose that came from Ponyville, do you?” she asked, trying to hide her worry. She looked around for Fluttershy.
Two eyes looked out at her from a nearby bush.
The brush parted slightly as the pegasus’ pink maned head slowly poked out and looked around. It was followed shortly afterward by the rest of her body. Rarity gave her a flat look.
“Whatever it was I suppose we’ll find out when we get to town. What was it you were saying?”
“I wasn’t saying anything.”
“Oh,” Rarity remarked. Had she really been paying that little attention? “So sorry dear, it seems I just can’t stay focused today.”
It was at that moment that a purple pony came galloping at them full tilt through the woods, eyes wild. “Run!” she screamed through labored breathing. Rarity and Fluttershy both simply stared. “Run!” the wild-eyed mare urged again as she got closer. She suddenly stopped and regarded them with a look of pure terror. “Oh no,” she said, shaking her head and backing away. She looked as though she was seeing a pair of ghosts. “You’re them.”
Rarity didn’t know how to react. Fluttershy spoke first.
“Shhhhhh,” the pegasus said softly as she approached the mare. “Just calm down and tell us what’s the matter. I’m sure we can help, whatever it is.”
“No... no...” The mare continued to back away. “They’re here for you. They’re going to catch you! There’s one following me!” She quickly stole a glance behind her. “You have to run, but I can’t be near you. I’m sorry,” the pony turned to run-
And stopped dead as a thickly built black colt with an electric green mane stepped into view. He began to move towards her, but stopped as he saw Rarity and Fluttershy.
The mare curled up into a ball on the ground. “It’s them,” she muttered quietly. “It’s them, you don’t need me... please, you don’t need me... don’t hurt me...”
The colt approached them and examined them for a moment with his pure green eyes. They’re here to catch you, the mare had said. The black colt’s eyes narrowed.
For the second time in the space of a day, Rarity heard the voice of her father:
An earthpony strikes low, and forward. They can kill you or I in one blow. It is imperative that you remain outside of their reach.
The colt took a step forward. Rarity took a step back.
Always engage one with a weapon, and remember that strong earthponies can take a dozen times the punishment you or I can.
The colt lunged. Rarity sprung backwards, panicking. He’s attacking me, she thought. He’s actually attacking me!
She thought of the chest of diamonds she had under her bed. No, She thought, I am not his daughter. We are not his daughters.
The colt began to circle her. She made sure to keep him at a distance. Fluttershy was nowhere to be seen.
I’ll just... negotiate with him. Yes, that’s right, I’ll disarm him with my natural charm and poise. Or frighten him away with a bout of good old fashioned whining, like I did those other ruffians...
She cleared her throat. “Ehem, yes. I’m sure there’s been some misunderstanding, good sir,” she called out. The dark pony tilted its head. “Why don’t we just conduct ourselves like gentleponies and have a nice little chat about whatever it is I’ve done to offend you.” The pony pawed at the ground. “Er... at a distance?” Rarity added meakly.
He charged. Rarity didn’t jump out of the way, or defend herself. She simply stood, frozen with fear.
For a moment, she was a filly again. “But I don’t want to practice! Cinnamon Swirl’s costume party is today!”
The colt collided with her, throwing her onto her side. He rolled on top of her, pinning her. He had to be twice her weight.
There were tears running down her face as she screamed at him. “I spent hours making my costume! It was going to be the most beautiful and best costume of any pony there!” It was the first time she had ever yelled at her father. The first time she had ever refused to practice.
She felt the colt shift, moving her onto her back. His front leg pressed down onto her neck, choking her. Her mane was trapped under his other front leg, and as he shifted it pulled taught, tearing at her scalp.
She should have stopped when he remained quiet. She didn’t. “Practice is stupid! I don’t CARE about having a weapon! I want FRIENDS! I want a cutie mark! And when I get one, It isn’t going to look like yours!”
She was going to die, and she was only realizing it now. Why hadn’t she been able to get out of the way? The edges of her vision began to turn red, and everything lost focus except for the two green eyes staring down at her. She could only hear her heartbeat. Her head felt as though it was going to explode.
“I don’t want to be like YOU!” Her father had regarded her for a moment, expressionless. Then he grabbed one of the metal shards they used for training and slapped his daughter across the face, drawing blood.
Rarity’s world began to spin, and she closed her eyes.
“I will not tolerate whining,” he had said. “And you will not cower and sob. The strong do what they want, my Rarity, and you are a weak little child. I will make you strong, though, and then you can go to all the parties you like. Now pick up the shards.”
Even at such a young age, Rarity had been a perfectionist. She had made a good student.
She couldn’t even feel the weight on her neck or the pounding in her head anymore. She wondered if her senses had gone numb or if she had actually already died. She realized she had been breathing for quite some time. Dead, then.
“Um... Rarity? You can get up now. I got rid of the bad pony almost a minute ago.”
The unicorn opened her eyes to find herself still in the clearing, her neck throbbing where the earthpony had tried to strangle her. “I’m alive,” she managed hoarsely, “He’s gone.”
“It was incredible.” The purple pony from before stood next to a noticeably shaken Fluttershy. “She just... looked at it, right in the eye, and it stopped. Then it just... vanished... like it had never been here in the first place.”
Fluttershy was clearly distraught. “I-I-I just tried to tell him to go away... to leave us alone. I didn’t mean to,” she gulped. “Kill him,” she finished in a whisper.
Rarity’s mind was still reeling from the attempt on her life.
The metal shards clattered uselessly against the walls. “In battle we must kill our enemies without hesitation. If you cannot attack your father properly in practice, how can I expect you to do this?”
“Try to kill me, girl! I know you want to!”
Rarity had to focus on the present. “You say it just vanished?” she asked the purple pony.
“Yes... like it was made of smoke.”
Rarity nodded. “Well then it was simply a conjuration, my dear! It wasn’t even alive to begin with!” She had no idea whether or not that was true, but it was what Fluttershy needed to hear. Indeed, the pegasus visibly relaxed at her words. “Thank you, Fluttershy. You saved my life.”
“Now,” she began, turning toward the purple mare. “I need you to tell me everything, as quickly as you can. Her throat was badly damaged, and the words came out hard. This is probably going to leave a nasty bruise.
The mare looked from Rarity to Fluttershy, then sat. “She came into town, with so many of those black ponies. I knew something was wrong, everypony did. She told everypony that the princess was dead.”
“Who came into town?” Rarity demanded. “Which princess?”
“C-C-Celestia. She said that Celestia was dead. That we had a king and queen now. I don’t r-remember their names. But she also said there was a prince now, and I remember his name was Empyrean. Then she said your name, and yours,” the purple pony nodded to Fluttershy. “She told us you were rebels. And then- then those things she had with her started hurting ponies. They were looking for you and your friends.”
It was too much information. Rarity could process it later. Right now only one thing was important.
“Who gave them the orders?”
The purple mare looked away as she spoke, “It wasn’t her, it was like she was different somehow.”
“Who is trying to hurt me?!”
The purple pony looked up, “Your friend,” she said softly. “The librarian. T-T-Twilight.”
Silence filled the grove.
“Oh, no,” Fluttershy said softly, “that has to be a mistake. Twilight isn’t... she wouldn’t...” Rarity heard her friend let out a heart-wrenching sob. “What’s going on?”
But Fluttershy would have to wait, “Did any of the black ponies head towards Sweet Apple Acres?” she asked the purple pony in a level tone.
The mare was obviously still in shock, and her answer came delayed. Rarity realized that she must look like a savage, covered in dirt with her mane in disarray. “She-” the purple mare looked up at Rarity with fear. “She sent a group of them there specifically. T-T-To get Applejack.”
“Fluttershy.” The yellow pegasus looked up, eyes studded with tears. “Do you remember where we go to pick trilliums?”
The pegasus nodded.
“Wait for me there. Stay away from ponyville, and do not go back to your cottage.” Rarity turned away, toward Ponyville. “Everything will be alright.” She didn’t give the pegasus time to answer. She broke into a run.
Rarity was not an athletic pony. She preferred to leave unsavory physical pasttimes to ponies like Applejack and Rainbow Dash. But Ponyville was only moments away, and she had hardly broken a sweat by the time she cleared the trees.
She hoped that Fluttershy would do as she was told. The pegasus had obviously also been in some amount of shock before Rarity left them, but it was understandable. Rarity doubted that she was fit to make decisions in her current state, either. She was, after all, charging headfirst into Ponyville nonetheless- a place apparently filled with strange ponies who were trying to capture her.
Sweet Apple Acres was not her destination. No, first she needed to go to the Carousel Boutique. Then she would go to the Acres, and warn Applejack, and make sure Sweetie Belle was safe. Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash would have to make do on their own.
Rarity cleared the trees and looked out at Ponyville, and she felt like she was back in the grove, being strangled.
“I am proud of the progress you have made, daughter. Most unicorns your age would struggle to lift even one shard. Yet today we have shown that when the correct pressure is applied to the right places, you are capable of lifting four.” Rarity tasted blood in her mouth. She could hardly stand. “Yes, you are a precocious little filly. One day you will make me proud.”
Ponyville was in chaos. Ponies were being assaulted in the streets by the strange black earthponies. Not a window in sight was intact, their glass littering the roads and twinkling in the morning sun. Several buildings had collapsed entirely.
One of them was Rarity’s home.
The Carousel Boutique was a shattered heap of painted wood and cloth. What had once been a top-tier fashion emporium, a temple of tasteful dress and impeccable style, was simply reduced to nothing. All of her work, all of her possessions, were gone. A small part of her realized that she now had no products to treat her mane- which, at the moment, was a dirty mess.
It was too much for her to handle. She fell to the ground, shaking, as she looked at the ruins of her livelihood. Princess Celestia was dead. By now Pinkie Pie was probably dead too, and Applejack would follow soon afterward. Rainbow Dash would easily be able to escape, but Twilight was either still missing or trying to kill them. And Sweetie Belle, Sweetie Belle would-
No, Rarity thought adamantly. Rarity would get to Sweetie Belle in time, and the filly would be fine. Rarity might not have a roof to put over her sister’s head anymore, but she would never, ever stop being a big sister. She would give Sweetie Belle everything she had. Even if it cost Rarity everything that she had. Even if it cost her her own identity.
She would be his daughter, just for today.
“How dare you!” she said to the colts ravaging ponyville, all of whom were too far away to actually hear her. Rarity knew what to do.
She ran full tilt past the Carousel Boutique, and focused, her horn aglow with magic.
There were two of the strange colts sifting through the ruins of the Boutique, and each of them turned its attention to her as she approached. When she got close enough, one of them lunged at her.
She rolled out of the way of its lunge, putting it between herself and the ruins of the Boutique. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the second creature preparing to lunge.
She released her magic, letting it take the form of a gem finding spell, as she rolled. It was a specific form of the spell, a certain frequency of magic designed only to detect diamonds of a certain kind. Fourteen clustered points of light appeared in her mind.
As she came out of her roll, she pulled on all of them.
Rarity was a talented unicorn. Not just in the areas of taste, class, design, common sense, grooming, sewing, artistic vision, and social graces, but in magic as well. While she could never rival the ability of a magically talented unicorn like Twilight, she still possessed a level of focus and skill that many unicorns would envy. Indeed, she could manipulate a dozen objects at once while she carried a conversation and operated a sewing machine.
But focus only went so far, and a unicorn’s magic was designed to aid their special talent. A pony could only move something so heavy, and only so quickly. And even that would quickly become exhausting. Rarity was no exception.
Unless the object in question was, say, a gem.
As Rarity came out of her roll and regained her footing, fourteen enchanted diamonds tore their way from the ruins of the Carousel Boutique. They punched through cloth, wood, and the unlucky black construct that stood between the gems and their mistress. As Rarity was showered with a discorporeal black mist, the gems aligned in front of her, their various irregularities interlocking perfectly.
The second pony had already lunged.
It was met in midair by a length of the hardest, sharpest material known to ponykind about as long as Rarity’s tail. The irregular diamonds had tessellated into a perfectly straight edge, the fractures that joined them refracting light into a myriad of colors that sparkled through the air as Rarity cleaved her enemy in two. She was rewarded with another shower of silky darkness.
She brought the blade to rest floating in front of her, parallel to the ground, and whipped around to face the rest of ponyville.
Four more dark ponies were in the nearest street, some of them kicking townsponies who were on the ground. None of them paid her any heed.
She split her blade along its fractures and sent four tiny, brilliant spikes outward. When they returned, the street was clear, and Rarity was already making her way toward Sweet Apple Acres.
She was skirting past the town square when none other than Princess Luna came flying through one of the town hall’s windows and landed not twenty feet away from her. The princess was covered in scrapes, and an oblong metal rod was jutting out of her shoulder.
The glass from the window did not fall to the ground, however. It stayed frozen in the air until the alicorn righted herself on the ground. Then, it plunged through the broken window frame, treating the room inside to a storm of tiny shards of glass.
The princess took in her surroundings with a wide sweep of her head, noting Rarity. Her gaze turned, whipping back and forth between the broken window, the surrounding rooftops, and the empty streets. Then she spoke:
Rarity was aghast. She had completely forgotten her manners. “Princess? You know my name! Ah!” She almost squealed as she came out of a deep bow.
The princess was breathing heavily as she spoke. Her eyes continued to scan their surroundings. “Thou must runneth. Find thy friends and get out of here, now!”
Rarity had forgotten her task when she spotted the princess. She remembered what she needed to do, but now she wasn’t so certain. “But... you’re hurt!” She could not leave what was possibly Equestria’s only remaining leader to bleed out in the town square.
The princess spat out a mouthful of blood. “I’ll be fine. Now I am giving you an order, as your princess. Run. Save thyself, before she-”
Just then, another length of steel spun through the air with incredible speed, striking Luna on the back of her head. There was a loud crack and the princess was thrown forward, face first, into the dirt. She didn’t get up.
A smooth laughter filled the square. Rarity looked around, searching for the sound’s origin. She found it in the window Luna had broken earlier. It was Twilight.
Or so she seemed to be at first glance. She had the same face, but her coat was a deep aubergine, her mane a writhing mass of black energy tinged at the edges with-
Azure? No, it was a darker shade than azure, like a navy blue, but a bit more vibrant. Yes, definitely too much hue to be as mundane a shade as navy blue, perhaps ultramarine-
The mare spoke her name as a statement filled with loathing, and Rarity was brought out of her thoughts and reminded of the fact that she was in mortal peril. She looked up and saw the new pony bringing herself gently to the ground- an odd feat, considering the broken window had been on the second story.
The mare’s eyes radiated a hatred that Rarity knew Twilight Sparkle to be incapable of. Whoever this was, it wasn’t her friend. The air around her crackled with energy as her horn began to glow. “My, my,” the mare said. “Is that a blade you have there?” The other unicorn chuckled. “What a completely irrelevant surprise.” The aubergine unicorn cast a spell.
Immediately Rarity was hit by a wave of force that knocked her breath away. She curled up as tightly as she could as she was thrown backwards, tumbling through the square until she struck a wall. A splitting pain filled her head, and her legs trembled as she failed to stand. Somewhere during the throw, she had lost her hold on her blade diamonds. She tasted blood.
A voice sounded, but Rarity couldn’t tell from where. “Seems our princess is down and out. Hopefully I didn’t hit her too hard, I’m supposed to keep her alive, you see. You, on the other hand...” Rarity was suddenly thrown up and against the wall, her legs spread out around her. She could barely make out the form of the other unicorn in front of her, her vision was so blurry.
“I’m sure you think I’m going to kill you, and I could, but I see you now, here, like this, and you’re just so pretty!”
Rarity’s senses began to return to her. What was the other pony talking about?
“Even with your mane all trashy, and that unseemly bruise on your neck. Even all covered in blood and dirt. You’re just so precious, and of course you know it. But that isn’t ever good enough for you, is it?” The unicorn leaned in to whisper in her ear. “You have to look perfect.”
Rarity knew that she needed to escape, somehow, but the magic that held her was impossibly strong. She couldn’t even move a single leg.
Rarity could feel the other pony’s breath in her ear. “No, Rarity, I’m not going to kill you. You’re going to kill yourself, eventually. And you’re going to do it because I tell you to.”
Rarity had to escape, find her sister, but she couldn’t move, and she couldn’t focus enough to call her blade through all the pain...
The other unicorn stepped back and regarded Rarity, crucified against a wall, with glee. “No, Rarity, I’m not going to kill you.” Her horn glowed, and a point of twisting darkness appeared in front of Rarity’s face. Rarity tried to draw away from the writhing ball of blackness. The other pony grinned. “I’m going to give you a makeover!”
Rarity whimpered as the point of darkness drew closer.
Luna barreled into the other pony, and the point of darkness vanished as Rarity felt herself fall away from the wall. The other unicorn was not so easily had, however, and moments after Luna struck her she simply vanished, reappearing in the centre of the square.
Luna turned to Rarity. Her head was slightly misshapen, and a metal rod still stuck out of her shoulder. She was covered in blood.
“As soon as I give thou a chance,” Luna said quietly enough that only Rarity could hear. “Run.” The alicorn’s horn glowed, and the metal protruding from her shoulder wrenched itself free with a sickening squelch and hung in the air beside her. “Understand?”
Rarity willfully stopped her back legs from shaking with fear. What am I doing here, she thought, calling her blade to herself once more.
She tightened the magical grip she had on her diamond blade, and nodded slightly in answer to her princess.
Their adversary attacked.
The morning air was crisp and warm, and a light breeze ruffled the nameless pony’s sleek black feathers. The sun shone down on ponyville, bright and cheerful, ignorant of the destruction and violence consuming the town. The nameless pegasus was surrounded by Nihilus's puppets. There were four of them forming a ring around her, and two of them were attempting to break down the door to Sugarcube Corner.
Just don’t think, she thought firmly, just don’t think of anything and it won’t hurt you. The madness will just go away.
The ponies she had brought with her were bucking the door to the shop, but to no avail. It had obviously been barred from the other side. They were making little progress breaking it down, the useless brutes. The black colts were nothing. They were scum, worth less even than her. And she didn’t even have a name.
But she had had a name last night. She tried to remember...
Don’t think, she reminded herself, just do, and it will go away.
She called it the Insanity. It was in her, through her, making sure she didn’t do anything bad. Anything Nihilus wouldn’t want her to do. It was always with her, dimming her vision at the edges, making her skin itch. It writhed and twisted in her belly, making her feel as though she had swallowed an eel. It was always with her, because she was always resisting.
A part of her didn’t want to be cruel to others. She didn’t want to be merciless and hateful. She didn’t want to do what Nihilus told her to. It was there, a remnant of her former self, to struggle against everything the Insanity wanted her to do.
And because a part of her was always resisting, the Insanity was always with her, muddling her thoughts.
And the more she resisted, the harder the Insanity would grip her. It would make her forget herself, forget where she was. It would squeeze her insides and crawl under her skin and it would become a thousand insects buzzing around in her brain. She could try to be the other pony all she wanted, but the Insanity would take over and follow Nihilus’ orders regardless.
Once it had, however, it would recede again. The nameless pegasus would be cruel, and merciless, and then she would be her old self again. And when she was her old self, she resisted. And when she resisted, the Insanity took her, used her, then let go, and she was her old self again...
She hadn’t slept at all the previous night. It had taken her hours of mental torture, of teeter-tottering between her old self and the Insanity before she realized how to keep the two balanced. She simply tried not to think, and so she hung between the malicious spell and her old psyche. She couldn’t want to be cruel, and merciless, and all the other things Nihilus had said, not yet. But if she simply didn’t think, It was almost like the Insanity was gone.
The door was cracked and splintered now, and slowly being pressed inwards. The vermin were making progress. On the other side of the door was Sugarcube Corner, and-
Don’t think, the nameless pegasus thought sharply to herself, Not about that.
Instead she tried to come up with a name for herself while she waited. Her mistress had only forbidden her from using her old one; there was no reason she couldn’t come up with new one for herself. A new name would be the perfect thing to help her forget her old self. Help her to be cruel, and dispassionate...
She was a glossy black mare now, with a deep grey mane, the color of a storm cloud. Storm Cloud? No, she didn’t want to be a cloud. Dark Dash? The buzzing in her ears grew louder, and she immediately discarded the idea. Too similar to her name. Blackblitz? It had a certain ring to it, and she was fast. Blackstorm? Storms were cool. She decided she needed more words for the color black. Rarity had a fancy word for every shade imaginable. The unicorn had once gone through sixty with a handful of Rainbow Dash’s mane alone-
Her stomach knotted and her legs grew weak. The buzzing in her head grew louder, and her vision tunneled as the darkness closed in. Don’t think that name. she thought desperately. Don’t think about her, either. Don’t think about any of them, they’re all going to die. Don’t think...
The door burst, and the puppets charged into Sugarcube Corner. Blackblitz followed.
The interior of Sugarcube Corner was not as she had remembered it. The tables and chairs had all been piled against the door, except for one that was tipped on its side at the far end of the bakery. Evidently, somepony had known that Pinkie Pie was a target.
Blackblitz moved into the centre of the room as the puppets cleared the broken pieces of furniture from the entryway. She had to force herself not to remember anything about the room. Her old self was getting agitated.
Don’t think, just do. She had to remember why she was there.
“Dashie!” Despite the circumstances, Pinkie Pie’s voice had lost none of its energy.
Dash turned, and the Insanity proceeded to choke her out.
You will no longer answer to that name, Nihilus’ voice echoed in her head. You will be cruel to others. Her stomach knotted and her skin began to crawl.
The sight of Pinkie had awakened a new resistance in Rainbow Dash. Rainbow Dash, she thought to herself. Blackblitz is a stupid name. The darkness at the edges of her vision began to creep inward, until all she could see was Pinkie Pie, standing on the staircase that led up to her room. She couldn’t fight the Insanity forever, but she wouldn’t need to.
“Pinkie,” she managed to choke out. “Run,” she gritted her teeth and collapsed to the floor as blackness consumed her vision. The Insanity took hold-
And suddenly she had crossed the distance between them with a powerful sweep of her wings. She slapped the pink mare across the face with a front hoof.
The Insanity immediately gave a little, and the hoof was jerked backwards away from Pinkie Pie as Rainbow Dash realized what she was doing.
She was a strong pony. Not as strong as an earthpony focusing their innate magical talent, but strong enough to hoof-wrassle even the biggest pegasus and come out on top. Pinkie’s head snapped to the side. She turned back to the nameless pegasus.
“Dash?” she asked softly.
Dash knew that the puppets were going to try to help her. She had only moments before the Insanity took her again....
“Don’t touch her!” she called out to the black ponies that had followed her inside. She pumped her wings as her vision darkened once more to throw herself backwards off of the staircase.
You will beat Pinkamena Diane Pie to within an inch of her life. She used her wings to spin midair, and aimed a back leg at Pinkie’s face.
The party pony had the sense to dodge this time, tilting her head out of the way with a surprising speed. While Dash was still turning in the air, she threw herself into a sideways aerial somersault, wrapping her two back legs around the leg Dash had used to kick her. Pinkie used the grab to twist Dash in front of her as continued through the air, spinning over the stairway banister and landing on the floor of Sugarcube Corner. Dash was face down, Pinkie holding her pinned with whatever strange leg grab she was using.
“Wooooooooo-eeeee!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed. The vermin around them were completely motionless, following the orders the pegasus had given when she was Rainbow Dash. “Somepony is having a bad day!” She released Dash’s leg, and the pegasus threw her front legs at the pink pony’s face again.
Pinkie Pie threw both punches aside with her own front legs, then shifted forward, pinning the pegasus’ front legs to the floor. Her face was inches away from Dash’s. She smiled.
“But I know just the thing to cheer you up and get you well!” She let go of Dash’s front legs and stood. “First,” Pinkie Pie whispered so loudly that everypony in the room could hear her. “You should stop hanging around with these guys. They look like Grumpy McGrumperpusses, if you know what I mean. And the look is wearing off on you.” She gave a conspicuous wink and nudged the pegasus “Eh, Dashie?”.
The pegasus had hardly heard her through the buzzing that filled her ears. “That’s not my name!” she shouted. “My name is Darkbolt, or-” what had she decided on earlier? It was so hard to remember... “Blackblitz, or Stormcloud...”
She was stalling. The Insanity needed her to do one thing, just this one thing, and then she could be any name she wanted.
“Take her,” the dark pegasus ordered. Her vermin moved toward the pink pony.
She watched as the expression on Pinkie Pie’s face turned slack. Saw the bright earthpony turn to her, mouth open, and raise her eyebrows. The look in her eyes became one of understanding- she was finally taking things seriously, finally realizing that Darkbolt was trying to kill her. Pinkie Pie’s lower lip quivered as the six vermin closed in around her.
“What’s wrong with you, Dashie?” She didn’t sound angry.
Pinkamena Diane Pie. Dash got to her feet as the first two of her vermin reached the pink pony, one of them aimed a kick at her chest with both its back legs. The other struck out with a front-hoof punch.
Pinkie Pie flipped onto her back and swept a front leg around, striking the vermin’s legs mid-kick, making it lose its balance and fell on its belly. The second vermin’s punch sailed over her head, and she grabbed the offending limb between her two back legs. With a powerful twist of her thighs, she threw the vermin to the ground and brought herself to rest on top of him.
Another vermin tried to tackle the pink pony. Pinkie Pie simply straightened her legs and bounced, clearing the vermin as he landed atop his downed comrade. She landed next to the nameless pegasus.
“Come with me, Dashie,” she said, ducking to avoid another punch and striking out with her back legs to trip the offending vermin. “We’ll find Twilight. She’ll know what to do!” She flicked her tail into the face of an approaching vermin, causing him to sneeze. “Afterwards when you’re all better, we can throw a party!” She turned and threw a handful of confetti into the face of another vermin. It stopped, momentarily confused.
She landed on Pinkie’s back, wrapping two legs around her shoulders to squeeze at Pinkie’s neck. She beat her wings downward, slamming Pinkie headfirst into the floor. The earthpony struggled, but was dazed and had no leverage. She began to jerk spasmodically.
The nameless pegasus was doing her job well, and the Insanity receded...
“No!” Dash screamed. She loosened her grip, and tried to roll off of the earthpony, and ended up beside her on the floor, back to the door. She wasn’t going to let herself choke Pinkie Pie.
Pinkie Pie let out a squeak.
The Insanity tightened, and so did her grip. She needed to knock Pinkie Pie unconscious, and then everything would be so easy.
Pinkie Pie tried to speak out of the suffocating headlock, and failed. Once she was out, the buzzing would go away. the Insanity would leave her alone. She could pick a new name.
She felt the pink pony go limp with unconsciousness, and the Insanity receded momentarily...
Too late, she saw the dark cloud of smoke at the corner of her field of vision. She turned, only to see an orange hoof hit her directly in the forehead.
Her vision swam, and she rolled over onto her back. She saw two more vermin disintegrate, and a stetson-wearing earthpony jumped over her with Pinkie Pie on her back. The room stopped spinning, and she felt herself blacking out.
A bad, bad part of the nameless pony cheered, but she was already unconscious before the Insanity could reprimand it.
Nihilus’ teleport brought her to a hallway just inside the town hall. The smell of slightly singed wood filled her nostrils as the energy from her spell scorched the floor. The repercussions of her battle with Luna had knocked the pictures lining the hallway from the wall, and she could see a gaping hole at the end of the hall where one of her attacks had struck earlier.
Before her teleport, she had been standing just outside the town hall. She hadn’t been far from where she was now, just outside the building. Nihilus watched as, less than second after she entered the building, a dozen glittering gems punched through the wall behind her former position. Rarity was not nearly as inept as she had thought, and seemed to have no issue with trying to kill her.
“I guess I really did kill her sister.” Nihilus thought to her passenger with glee.
“You’re evil!” was Twilight’s response. “How can anypony be so cruel?”
Nihilus tapped her magic once more and flung herself through space, this time focusing on a point in the square outside. There was a sharp crack and she found herself facing Rarity and the princess. They had their backs to her. With Rarity’s gems all buried in the town hall’s walls, the unicorn was completely defenseless. Unlike Princess Luna, who had gratuitous amounts of earthpony magic to keep her alive, Rarity would go down with only one good hit.
“I’m evil, am I?” she replied in a dry voice. “You’re just catching on to that one now?”
She threw a wave of force at the white unicorn. It was a basic spell, one poorly suited for fighting, but Twilight had not known any war magic whatsoever. What Twilight did have was more raw magical talent than any other unicorn in Equestrian history. With Nihilus in control, she could hold her own against a young alicorn. Even her basic spells packed as much punch as a locomotive.
Luna turned just in time to see Nihilus unleash her spell. The princess released a spell of her own, causing an invisible barrier of force to spring up between Nihilus and Rarity. While Luna wasn’t strong enough to stop her spell with force alone, she didn’t need to. Her barrier angled the wave of concussive force downward, causing it to harmlessly kick up a large amount of dirt.
The moon princess’s spell had the additional effect of obscuring them for several moments while earth rained down on the square. Several pieces of splintered wood and stones were thrown at her through the cloud of dirt, but Nihilus let them bounce harmlessly off of her magically hardened skin. She still felt the impacts, but her spell made it almost impossible for anything to pierce her flesh.
The dirt cleared, revealing Rarity, but no Luna. In addition to having her mane in a complete state of disarray and a nasty bruise along her neck, the unicorn was now covered in earth. She gave Nihilus a murderous look.
“Dirt?!” she screeched, “You’ll pay for this, you wicked mare! You aren’t aubergine, you’re just a muddy maroon! You look like a rotten plum!”
Nihilus looked down at her dark, reddish-purple coat. She had actually thought it was quite striking. What was wrong with plums? Plums were delicious.
She almost missed the cluster of razor sharp gems speeding towards her. Her magical skin wasn’t that strong. She teleported to the first place she could think of- back in the hallway in the town hall.
She was struck immediately in the chest by a pinpoint of force so powerful it sent her reeling backwards down the hallway. Luna had been waiting for her. She tried to gain footing as she skidded across the floor, but her hooves slid off the hallway floor as though it were made of ice. Luna had somehow turned it into a frictionless surface, preventing Nihilus from gaining her bearings.
She’s good, Nihilus thought.
She reacted by immediately throwing a magical barrier between her and Luna. Luna’s next spell- a ball of silvery light- struck the barrier and exploded into a shower of sparks. The shock of the spell striking the barrier still sent Nihilus spinning down the frictionless hallway once again.
She reached outward, desperately trying to cling to something to stop her slide, and her hoof found the hole in the wall she had made earlier. She clung to it, stopping her movement, and rolled out onto the patio surrounding the town hall. She shot to her feet.
“Left!” her instincts seemed to scream.
She turned her head sharply, and was brought face to face with the hole in the wall she had just exited. It was empty. She turned to her right too late to see Rarity’s glimmering blade soaring towards her face. She ducked, but wasn’t fast enough. The blade opened her face from the end of her muzzle to just below her eye before burying itself into the wall behind her.
Her instincts hadn’t warned her. It had been Twilight. She was trying to get them both killed.
She threw a wave of force toward Rarity, but before her spell was even loosed, Luna had flown in low and grabbed the unicorn, carrying her target away.
“Get back here!” Nihilus screamed, blinking blood out her eye. She had to get Rarity. She had to get them all, make them suffer...
“I think I know why you hate them so much,” Twilight said to her quietly.
“Shut up, you little foal. You could have killed us.” Nihilus had no way of sealing the wound on her face. It was going to scar.
“That’s the plan, kiddo. You think I wouldn’t die for them?”
Nihilus had no response. Instead she set out for the doctor’s office.
It had been abandoned in the chaos, and Nihilus found a needle and gut with which to crudely stitched up her face while she waited. It was perhaps a half hour before her earthpony servants found her waiting on the steps of the town hall, having thoroughly searched Ponyville.
Or at least, what servants she had left returned to her. Of her original forty-something earthponies, nineteen remained. What was worse, not one of Twilight’s friends had been caught. Nihilus stared in disbelief as two of Terra’s earthponies deposited the unconscious form of her pet at her feet. Nihilus made a mental note to punish the pegasus later.
Inside her head, Twilight cheered. Nihilus didn’t understand.
She had access to all of Twilight’s memories, knew everything the young unicorn did. While she was a separate consciousness, she was still very much Twilight Sparkle. And she knew Twilight’s friends.
None of them could fight. None of them had any special combat experience, no training whatsoever in the art of war. Indeed, Twilight had absolutely no knowledge when it came to weaponizing magic. They were simply a group of mares who happened to bear the Elements of Harmony. Nothing Twilight knew suggested that any of them would be able to fight off her minions, let alone all of them. Rainbow Dash was a black belt in whatever martial art they taught in Cloudsdale- yet somehow Pinkie Pie had knocked her unconscious and defeated half a dozen of Terra’s earthponies to boot. The pink earthpony was always full of surprises.
Nihilus had counted on Applejack being able to take care of herself- she was the strongest earthpony Twilight had known, and was likely able to take a hard beating. But to defeat eight other earthponies? The idea was absurd.
Fluttershy could always fly away if she was caught outdoors, so it made sense that she might be able to escape. The pegasus was usually outdoors, tending to all her little critters. Against a pegasus, her earthbound minions were woefully inadequate.
What Rarity had done, however, was beyond Nihilus’ ability to rationalize. She had obviously not been in the implosion that had probably killed Sweetie Belle, which accounted for her survival. But what about her blade? The fashion designer somehow knew the most deadly and sophisticated war magic known to unicorns. It wasn’t a spell you could simply intuit- you had to actually forge the weapon beforehand.
The unicorn had not known any other spells with which to fight Nihilus. She actually couldn’t perform any other spells, on account of her special talent being gems, or fashion, or sewing, or whatever-it-was. But all unicorns could learn the spell to turn their special talent into a weapon, and apparently Rarity had. That simple fact went against everything Twilight had known about the unicorn.
Next time I fight that little minx she won’t have a princess to protect her, she resolved. We’ll see how long she lasts then.
Nihilus had told prince Empyrean that Twilight’s friends were responsible for defeating Nightmare Moon and Discord because they were some of the most powerful ponies in Equestria. She had said that they were Celestia’s specially trained elites, ponies used for precision attacks. Faced with their survival, the irony of her lie was not lost on her.
It was she who had the Elements of Harmony, of course. Titan, Terra, and Empyrean didn’t know of their existence yet, and the Tower of Harmony had been destroyed during Celestia’s fight with their king. Nihilus had retrieved them before travelling to Ponyville to corrupt Rainbow Dash. And once all of Twilight’s friends were hers, she would find a way to harvest them and use them herself.
Then she would dispose of the alicorn family, and be queen of Equestria. She was the only one capable of transferring an alicorn’s power; she had done so with Celestia to help Terra create a new son. If she could take a defeated alicorn’s magic and bestow it upon another alicorn, why not herself? The Elements of Harmony were the most powerful magic in Equestria, and once she had them she would be invincible.
Prince Empyrean thought that the resources he was lending to her were going to be used to prevent ponykind from rebelling against the new regime. And they were- for now. He thought that she needed to kill her targets because they were highly trained guerrillas capable of causing his government serious harm. In truth, they were the only reason he and his parents were still alive.
“It’s too bad you let them get away,” Twilight lamented sarcastically. “Now you’ll never get to rule Equestria.”
“Oh I’m not too worried,.” Nihilus replied. “You see, when I teleported I let Luna see the null-space where I’m keeping the elements. She knows I have them, and she knows that they’re the only way to save you. Your friends are going to come to me.”
Nihilus paused, however. How had Twilight known what she had been thinking? Nihilus couldn’t tell what Twilight was thinking, but could Twilight perhaps read her thoughts? It was a disturbing revelation.
“So you can’t read my mind,” the unicorn’s voice sounded cheerfully in Nihilus’ head. “But I can read yours. Good to know.”
Unfortunately, Nihilus had no way of harming her passenger consciousness. She decided to ignore the insolent mare for the time being, and instead sent for a quill, ink, and parchment. Her letter read:
Dear Prince Empyrean,
The operation in Ponyville has met mixed results. I succeeded in regards to one of our five targets, but the other four were prepared and escaped. They would not have, but I was hindered by your fiancee, Princess Luna, who also escaped. She has joined forces with the remaining four elites, no doubt intending to seed rebellion among the general populace.
While I search for them, I will continue to spread the message of your rule among Equestria’s towns and cities. The citizenry needs to be shown that we are not a force to be trifled with.
The constructs that Terra provided were inept and useless. While they may suffice against an average soldier, they sustained heavy losses against Celestia’s own. I will need more adequate forces, especially if I am to capture your bride-to-be.
These ponies are the only free link to Celestia left in the kingdom. Give me the resources I need and I will kill them, my prince. Then your rule will be absolute.
Your faithful student,
Nihilus Nix Naught