44w, 1dPony Warfare
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73w, 6dTwilight, Alicorns, and Awsome
45w, 3dPonies of War
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41w, 4dEpic Pony War
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60w, 1d501st Party Brigade
30w, 2dLong Fics
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40w, 6dMind Control/Hypnosis
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44w, 3dCompleted Story Compendium
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44w, 4dThe End 74 comments · 1,616 views
53w, 1dArrogance 45 comments · 440 views
53w, 3dTeam Aesthetic Saves the World 36 comments · 148 views
58w, 4dThe Panel, and Where You Can Watch It. 10 comments · 156 views
58w, 4dThat thing happens to be today, and also right now. 6 comments · 86 views
58w, 6dOnline Panel on Wednesday 15 comments · 69 views
65w, 2dAsk Aesthetic Anything 285 comments · 193 views
69w, 18hThe Immortal's Endgame 69 comments · 175 views
69w, 6dAn Unsealed Envelope 9 comments · 146 views
70w, 5hIT'S COMING 29 comments · 105 views
Nihilus frowned as the light she had been reading by was obscured. She looked up, through a hole she had made in the ceiling, to find that a cloud had passed over the sun. She was temporarily living in Ponyville’s town hall as she gathered forces, and the building had suffered substantial damage during her fight with Luna. A benefit of all the collapsed ceilings and walls was that there was lots of natural light to work by. As the cloud darkened her reading light, Nihilus grew irritated.
“I thought I told those stupid townsponies to resume their regular duties,” she said. “It’s the middle of the afternoon and the sky is still filled with clouds. Where is the weather pony?” She looked around the room, her eyes coming to rest on its only other occupant. Her pegasus plaything was huddled in a corner, shivering, her eyes wild. A trickle of drool ran from her mouth to the floor beneath her.
“Oh,” Nihilus said delicately, “right.”
The pegasus was faring much better than she had been during the sack of Ponyville. The spell was slowly doing its work, and her pet was finding herself less and less able to resist. Soon, she would be able to act at full capacity, making her much more useful in a fight. At least, Nihilus hoped she would be. She had corrupted Rainbow Dash first because she thought she was the strongest of Twilight’s friends. Hopefully the next time they encountered Luna and the others her pet would be able to do more than get kicked in the face.
Wait, what?!” Twilight Sparkle’s voice sounded sharply within her mind.
Her passenger consciousness rarely ever spoke to her, and never initiated a conversation herself. Truth be told, Nihilus didn’t like having nopony to talk to. Her only other intelligent companion was drooling in the corner, and did not count for much of a conversationalist. Nihilus was puzzled at Twilight’s sudden outburst.
“I didn’t say anything...”
“No, but you thought it. You said that book was boring and useless!”
“It is boring and useless. I’m looking for ways to quickly defeat Luna, not enchanted cuff-links.”
“That book details exactly the topic you are looking for. And it was enchantment cuffles, not enchanted cuff-links.”
“I knew that!” Nihilus shot back at her indignantly. “I just don’t care. None of this interests me.” She tossed the book onto the floor with her magic to emphasize her point. “My only goal is to get the Elements of Harmony.”
For the first time ever, she felt her passenger consciousness project something other than her voice into Nihilus’s mind. It was an emotion, a feeling. It was curiosity. Twilight Sparkle was studying her, and wanted Nihilus to know it.
The feeling made Nihilus uncomfortable, to say the least. How was Twilight able to show Nihilus her feelings at will, and read Nihilus’s thoughts? Certainly, Nihilus had more power- she was, after all, in complete control of their body and magic. Still, Twilight’s strange ability made her angry.
The feeling of curiosity lingered as Twilight spoke. “You can’t actually understand anything written on that page, can you? You don’t have it.”
“Have what?” Nihilus snapped back. She was quickly growing tired of their conversation.
“My talent. You can learn spells through magical formula like any unicorn, but you don’t understand the theory at all. You can use my magic to teleport, or force mind magic on anypony, and you know everything I knew. But you can’t put the pieces together for yourself. That book is the key to taking the elements for yourself, and you can’t use it.”
Nihilus barked out a humorless laugh. “What makes you think I’m going to believe you?” Her pet looked up, and she realized she had started speaking aloud.
If Twilight were in the room, Nihilus knew she would be giving her a flat look. “There’s a picture,” she said dryly.
Intrigued, Nihilus picked the book off of the floor with telekinesis. Twilight gave her a page number to turn to. Sure enough, the entire page was occupied by an illustration of six colorful gems, The Elements of Harmony.
“I remember this page. This was the page the book was open to when I picked it up. This is why I kept it even though it had nothing to do with war magic. But other than this picture, it doesn’t mention the Elements.”
Twilight’s voice spoke to her, sounding excited, “Not directly, no. But the reason this illustration is here is because the Elements are a mythological example of a cuffled enchantment. Turn to page sixty three again.”
Nihilus didn’t trust the pupil, but she humored her anyway. Page sixty-three turned out to be the page she was on earlier. She had to light her horn to read the cramped script without sunlight.
“That’s what this book is about: Cuffled enchantments. You remember Rarity’s blade?”
Nihilus ran a hoof along the puckered wound now marring her face. “Oh,” she said dangerously. “I remember.”
Twilight ignored her momentary rage. “Those diamonds were enchanted. Their enchantment makes it easier for Rarity to throw them around when she calls her blade, and probably makes them sharper, too. But it also makes it so that no other unicorn can take them from her.”
“Of course they can’t.” She continued to speak out loud to an empty room. “Unicorns can’t take something another unicorn is manipulating telekinetically.” Titan himself wouldn’t even be able to take control of a grain of sand that, say, Snails had a hold of. It was just the rules.
“It not ‘just the rules’,” Twilight sounded irritated. “It’s a fundamental telekinetic theory and it’s provable. In fact, that fundamental theory is probably what makes it so that you can’t grab a hold of those diamonds, even when Rarity isn’t using them.”
Nihilus knew that Twilight was probably leading her on, but the other unicorn had just revealed an interesting fact about her enemy’s weapon. “Go on,” she said, now a little more interested.
“Okay, so how would you prevent Rarity from using her blade?”
Despite being asked a question like she was a school-filly, Nihilus answered.
“I’d break it.”
“Yes!” Nihilus wondered how Twilight could be so excited about magical theory. “You simply destroy the object and the magic enchanting it will detach and dissipate. But what if you wanted to use the sword for yourself?”
“I can’t, and why would I need it? My talent isn’t gems. I don’t even have a cutie mark.”
“Just hypothetically, if you wanted Rarity’s sword, magic intact, how would you get it?”
“I’d kill her.” It seemed a simple enough solution. “You’re saying I need to kill the element bearers?” Nihilus was puzzled. What was Twilight’s game?
From the corner, her pet look up in fear. “I’m not talking to you, dear,” Nihilus told her.
“You would kill her, yes, and then re-attune the enchantment to yourself. The enchantment has three primary components: the user; Rarity, the object; her diamonds, and the magic. You cannot take the artifact for yourself while the user is still alive. This is because of something called the cuffle.”
“Again with the cuff-links.”
“Cuffle,” Twilight corrected. “And I admit it’s a pretty silly word. But skilled unicorn enchanters can cuffle objects to themselves, ensuring that only they can use it.”
“You said that already.”
“Just making sure you understand.”
Nihilus gritted her teeth. “Go on.”
“So you can disenchant the magic, destroy the object, or kill the user, and the artifact become useless. But what if you add a fourth component? You add a whole new dimension to the enchantment.”
Nihilus didn’t follow. Was what Twilight was saying even possible?
“The author of that book wrote that it is theoretically possible, but most unicorns would say no. No method has ever been discovered for adding a fourth component to an enchantment, and no examples of artifacts with four components exist. Every artifact ponykind knows of is simply an object enchanted with magic, sometimes cuffled to a user.”
Nihilus was getting tired of her passenger consciousness playing schoolteacher. “Does this lesson have a point to it, or is this just what you do in your spare time?”
“The author of that book, she could think of only one example of artifacts that had more than three components. Unfortunately, those artifacts are largely considered to be a myth.”
Nihilus was instantly interested again. “The Elements of Harmony,” she said, “they have two cuff-links?”
“Cuffles,” Twilight answered flatly. “And they actually have three. The object, the magic, and the user are all cuffled to something else. The magic doesn’t actually touch a pony, or a jeweled necklace. All three components are cuffled to a central one. This way the enchantment can only be destroyed fully by knocking out that central component!”
“So I just have to destroy whatever it is they’re cuff-linked to?”
“No, because the central component isn’t another object, or a user, or a spell. It’s something totally untouchable, and completely indestructible.” Twilight’s sense of excitement spilled over into Nihilus’ consciousness. The mare really was interested in what she was talking about. “An idea,” she said simply. “Whatever made the Elements of Harmony knew that this was the most powerful magic in Equestria. They couldn’t risk it being stolen, or destroyed, so they did the impossible and enchanted an idea! You can’t smash loyalty against the wall, and you can’t break magic over your knee!”
The bottom dropped out of Nihilus’ stomach. “You’re saying I can never control the Elements,” she said out loud.
Twilight spoke slowly, as though choosing her words carefully. “Conventional unicorn wisdom would say no.”
Nihilus stomped a hoof on the floor of the broken-down office. Twilight was lying. It had to be possible.
“But I can show you how to do it. I can give you a spell.”
Nihilus scoffed. “You’ve had two days to come up with a plan. And this is your best shot? You’re just going to try to kill me.”
“I can prove it works, right now, on Rainbow Dash. You will be able to take the Element of Loyalty.”
Nihilus smiled, “Oh no I won’t. I’ll use it on us, and take the Element of Magic. You aren’t getting me to set her free.”
“How do you know I won’t try to kill us both? I already tried, once.”
Nihilus once again ran a hoof over her scar. “You won’t. Just tell me what it is you want in return for your ‘spell’, unless you honestly think I’d believe you’d give me this for free.”
“The reason I’m pointing all of this out to you is a selfish one, rest assured. If you want the Elements of Harmony, you need their current bearers alive. You can’t kill any of them.”
Nihilus did not like the idea of letting Twilight’s friends live. “I already knew that much. But after I have the Elements?”
“You could kill them, but you won’t.”
Nihilus laughed. “And why is that?”
“Because,” came Twilight’s answer. “I won’t tell you the spell until you give me your word that you won’t harm them.”
“You would put stock in my word? You are an imbecile, then.”
“You forget that I can read your mind. You have to tell me you won’t harm them, and you’ll have to mean it. If you intend for even a second to go back on your promise, I’ll know. And then no Elements of Harmony for you.”
Nihilus thought of Rarity, opening her face with a diamond blade. “No,” she answered. “I will learn the spell on my own. And then I’ll kill your friends while you watch.”
Another emotion from Twilight flooded into her thoughts: amusement. Twilight thought she was being funny. Nihilus did not like being laughed at.
“You’re going to learn the spell on your own, are you? Good luck, Naughty. It’s only a bit of theoretical magic dealing with an obscure idea in a branch of unknown enchantment. I’m sure you’ll do fine. You’ll be severing cuff-links in no time.”
The taunt was shocking. Twilight Sparkle was not, had never been, a bully. Why was she being so mean now? Nihilus felt her face burn. She was too inept to perform the spell, and they both knew it. She wished Twilight couldn’t read her thoughts. Couldn’t sense her feeling shame.
“You aren’t acting much like my counterpart,” she accused her passenger.
“Maybe you’re rubbing off on me. Which reminds me: there’s a second part of the deal, once you agree to the first.”
“I need to think! Leave me alone for a second.” Twilight complied.
Could Nihilus really do what Twilight wanted? Thinking of the unicorn’s five friends filled her with inexplicable rage. She hated them so much. She didn’t just want to kill them, she wanted to make them suffer, like Dash. That simple want drove her onward, kept her focused.
If she wanted the Elements of Harmony, however, she would have to give that up. Ultimately, the Elements were more important. She would love nothing more than to agree to Twilight’s terms and then betray her, but Twilight could read her thoughts. Nihilus had to fundamentally change her goals if she wanted the unicorn’s help. In the end, she would have to make the compromise.
“Once I have them all, I release Rainbow Dash and all your friends. Until then, however, I won’t kill them.”
Twilight must have read her thoughts and sensed her honesty. “Good. Now on to the second part of the deal. I think you’ll find this part mutually beneficial.”
Nihilus waited, intrigued. What could both of them possibly want that she would be willing to share?
“When you have all of the elements,” Twilight said quietly. “I will make a spell for you that you can use to destroy me. I will not spend eternity trapped with your thoughts. It’s already making me more like you.”
Nihilus thought back to the way Twilight had made her feel earlier, teasing her about her magic. “I agree. Now show me how to take the element of magic.”
Twilight had Nihilus write a spell formula out onto a sheet of paper. She waited as Nihilus studied the formula for several minutes. “It’s that easy?” Nihilus asked after she was finished. The spell seemed remarkably simple.
“No,” Twilight answered. “For you to cuffle an element to yourself, it must first be uncuffled from its previous user.”
“And how do I do that?”
“You can’t. The current bearer of the element has to do it by neglecting the ideal that connects them to both the magic and the object. Like when Discord hypnotized us and we couldn’t use their power.”
“So I need to make Rarity greedy, Applejack a liar, Pinkie Pie unhappy, and Fluttershy unkind?” Nihilus liked where this was going.
“Yes. I will help you do it in the most equine way possible. For now, however, your mind magic has Rainbow Dash being disloyal. Obviously I don’t have my magic. You should be able to cuffle yourself to those two Elements.”
Nihilus turned to Rainbow Dash, who hadn’t moved throughout the conversation. Which made sense, considering not a word had been said.
“My pet,” she called out. Dash’s wild eyes moved to her, unfocused. “I rescind my earlier order about killing yourself. Stop breathing.” Dash did as she was told.
“What are you doing!?” Twilight sounded enraged. “You agreed not to kill them!”
Nihilus chuckled. “I’ll take it back after I have the Element of Magic. I don’t intend for her to die, but I also need to know whether or not the spell you sent me is legitimate. Maybe I could have her eat her own wings instead.” Nihilus decided that the last idea was a good one, and made a mental note to remember it.
“Just cast the spell, it will work!”
Nihilus was surprised at Twilight’s reaction. Had the other unicorn actually given her the correct spell? Twilight had no reason not to try to kill her at least once. For all her magical talent, the mare was quite stupid.
She drew the magical crown out of null-space and cast the spell. Immediately, the gem at it’s centre changed color to an opaque black. Nihilus felt what she took to be the new connection to the element almost immediately, and then... nothing. Nothing else happened.
“You may breathe again, my pet,” she called out. “Do not attempt to take your own life.” She deposited the crown back into null-space and withdrew the lightning bolt necklace. The spell turned that one black, too. She now had two of the Elements of Harmony.
“Why give me this?” she asked her passenger. “Don’t you believe the magic of friendship will save you? What made you give up hope?”
“I can read your thoughts, remember? I know exactly what my friends are going to walk into. I’m just making the best of a bad situation.”
“Lower thine forelegs.”
Luna’s voice sounded throughout the glade. Applejack grumbled, then shifted on her legs, lowering herself slightly to the ground. Luna walked a circle around the earthpony, inspecting her stance.
“Now thine back legs are too high. I said lower thyself, not lean forward.”
Applejack shifted again. “Ah feel ridiculous.”
Rarity looked up from where she sat in a tree trimming tree branches some distance away. “That’s because you look ridiculous, dear.”
Applejack turned to respond, and Luna attacked.
She spun into Applejack’s guard and kicked the earthpony’s back legs out. Then, with remarkable dexterity, she hooked her own back legs under Applejack’s. She flapped her wings, throwing herself into the air and causing Applejack to topple forward and roll onto her back. Luna flapped her wings downward, pinning the earthpony’s back legs to the ground. Applejack looked up at her, clearly surprised at the aggression.
Luna’s horn flashed with magical energy, and a long gash appeared in Applejack’s leg. A short yelp of pain escaped the earthpony’s mouth.
“How did I beat you?” Luna asked simply.
Applejack winced. “You cheated! Ah wasn’t paying attention.”
“That does not make me a cheater, but rather thou a fool. Now get up.” She rolled off of the earthpony and stood on her two back legs again. It was a pegasus fighting stance.
Applejack groaned, and the other ponies in the glade looked on in shock. “Ah can’t get up, my leg is bleeding! What in the hay did you think you were doing!? Ah won’t be able to help you catch Dash like this!”
“Fix it.” Luna spoke the command with impatience. She saw Fluttershy approaching, no doubt to help her friend. Luna shot the pegasus a look, and she backed away. She turned back to Applejack.
Applejack twisted onto her side and looked at Luna as though she were insane. “This’ll take hours to stitch up! What’s wrong with you!”
“Listen to me very carefully, Applejack.” Luna approached the wounded mare. “I need thou to findest the strength thou use to buck apple trees. I doubt that thou hast ever focused on that strength before, so it might take some time. The faster thou findest it, however, the faster thou wilt be out of thine pain.”
Applejack winced from the pain, still looking at Luna as though she were crazy. “How am I supposed to focus when my leg is-”
“-The same way that thou wilt focus when thine enemies are bearing down upon thee. I need thou to findest that energy, and then concentrate thine mind on thine leg. Dost thou understand?”
Applejack screwed up her eyes to an almost comical degree. “Ah suppose Ah do. How am I supposed to know Ah have it? Ah always thought earthpony magic was innate, and Ah was just strong.”
“For the most part, it is. The active part, however, lets thou kick trees with incredible force. It also strengthens thine legs so that thou dost not pulverize them. It is a very powerful earthpony who canst maketh her flesh stronger than wood. This next part is difficult. Thou needst clench that magic around thine leg as though it were a muscle. I won’t lie, it may take several days-”
Applejack kicked out with her leg while the flesh around the wound bound itself together. The earthpony stood, clearly in awe of what she had just done. A soft “whoa, Nelly,” escaped her before she looked up at Princess Luna.
“Seconds,” Luna said flatly. “It taketh thou seconds. Why is it that I am hardly surprised. Now get ready again. This time, make sure thine back legs are low enough, and I won’t be able to flip you. And don’t stop to oggle the belle of the ball over there.” She nodded toward Rarity, who immediately fell out of her tree.
“Ah wasn’t ‘ogglin’, Ah was about to tell her to stuff her pretty face!” Applejack said angrily.
Rarity picked herself off the ground, brushing herself off. “I can vouch for Applejack. She was almost certainly about to say something crude and unrefined.” Her tone was indignant.
“I know that. See how defensive thou art? Try to apply that to your training, and thou might last more than two seconds. Remember that thou art going to have to win against Rainbow Dash.”
“She ain’t an alicorn, though!”
“No, but thou sayeth that she is faster than I, and knows martial arts. Pegasi have impeccable balance, and fight on two hooves. Thou canst not trip them, because they can fly. Thou canst not pin them, because they will be so much faster than thee. And if they get hold of thou, they won’t tell thou to get back up while they correct thine mistakes. You’ll get to think about your mistakes on your own on the way towards the ground. That is unless they decide to fly thee so high the air is too thin for a non-pegasi to breathe.”
“Thou dost not know that. By now whatever spell Nihilus has cast on her will likely have complete control.” If she hasn’t murdered the poor mare. “Thou cannot expect this to work like a storybook, where she comes back, all better, because thou asketh her nicely. This is not like what happened with Discord. Mind magic is almost indiscriminately evil. And even if Dash doesn’t give it her best to kill thee, the pegasus puppets will.”
“More puppets,” Applejack breathed, “right.”
“Lots more puppets. Terra will have had a week to increase their numbers. Most will be in Canterlot, but some will be under Nihilus’ command. That pegasi will be with her is guaranteed. Hopefully she doesn’t have any unicorns. But if you see one: run. None of you have a hope against one of Terra’s greater servants. She infuses her unicorns with more power and focus than her other puppets.”
“Well if Ahm gunna lose against Dash, why bother?”
“Because you aren’t going to lose. You’re going to win. I’m going to teach you how to win, and afterwards you can brag to your returned friend about how you can take her in a fight. Let’s be honest, it’s probably something you always wondered.”
At this Applejack looked up sharply.
“Ah, I thought so. That was always the case with my sister and I.” Although that might not be a good thing. We spent two and a half decades trying to kill each other. “Now flatten thine haunches. Good. If you take all of thine weight off of one hoof, you should still stay on the ground...”
Luna spied Rarity looking disdainfully at Applejack from her tree. “Don’t give us that look,” Luna called out. “Thou art next.”
It was still overcast, and the dark grey clouds lent an extra amount of gloom to the already melancholy town square in Ponyville. Nopony went outside anymore unless they had to, for fear of being caught by Nihilus or one of her puppets, and the town was empty except for Nihilus, a pale green stallion, and another forty puppets.
Nihilus was less than impressed by the reinforcements. “I was led to believe that I would be meeting with General Esteem, not one of his lackeys.”
“General Esteem is busy leading the counter-resistance in Canterlot. The citizens in the capitol are proving much more rebellious than we would have assumed considering ponykind has known a thousand years of peace.” The lackey’s face betrayed no emotions as he spoke. He might as well have been a puppet himself.
This made Nihilus grow even more irritated. “Canterlot has rebels? Prince Empyrean cannot crush them and let Esteem do his duty?”
A look of annoyance flashed across the soldier’s face before he regained his composure. “Prince Empyrean is an alicorn, and need not concern himself with these matters. General Esteem is a talented unicorn and a master tactician. He answers to Empyrean only.”
“Oh, you precious little thing.” Nihilus chuckled. “You think your boss outranks me, don’t you? If Esteem is such a ‘talented unicorn’, there wouldn’t be a rebellion happening right under our prince’s nose.”
The soldier’s jaw stiffened. “Canterlot is the magical capitol of Equestria. There are more magical talents there than in the rest of our kingdom combined. It is a much more difficult task to subdue these rebels than it is to attack a small village.”
“Watch your tongue, boy!” Nihilus snapped. “Do you know what would happen to me if I were to send your head back to Canterlot in a box?”
The soldier paled visibly as Nihilus jerked him towards her with her magic. She brought her mouth next to his ear. “Nothing at all,” she whispered as she threw him to the ground.
She turned once again to the meagre group of puppets she had been given. “This will not suffice,” she said, “I will need pegasi to take Cloudsdale. And unicorns to subdue Celestia’s task force while I deal with the princess.”
The soldier picked himself up off the ground as though nothing had happened. Nihilus wondered if Esteem had ever threatened to kill him before. “These are only a preliminary batch of reinforcements to ensure your hold on Ponyville is secure. The rest will be delivered with your boon.”
“My boon?” Nihilus asked. She had no idea what Esteem’s soldier was talking about.
“For you services and continued loyalties, Titan has offered to grant both you and Esteem a boon. The secondary reason for my visit is to ask what you desire of your god.”
“He’s giving us presents?” Nihilus grinned. “Goodie! What can I ask for?”
“Almost anything within his or Terra’s power. Esteem was granted eternal youth, at his request.”
Anything within his or Terra’s power. Nihilus thought furiously about what she could ask for. What were Titan’s capabilities, in any case? Clearly he knew things no other pony did; Twilight knew of no way even Celestia could have granted eternal youth. Her plan to rob the Bearers of the Elements was already in motion, however, and she didn’t need anything else to accomplish it.
Nihilus didn’t necessarily need anything. There were a great deal of things, however, that she wanted. She thought of things to make the attack on Cloudsdale even more fun, things that could assure her victory against Luna and the Bearers. Things she would want after she had harvested the Elements of Harmony and used them to usurp the royal family. In the end, there was really only one thing she could ask for.
“The way thou art holding it is more or less correct against an earthpony. Against a unicorn or pegasi, however, thou wanteth to keep the blade to thine side, at an angle to thine front leg. Like so.”
Under the soft light of the night sky, Luna instructed Rarity in the art of bladecasting. Everypony was awake and in the clearing despite the late hour. While Luna instructed Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie, and Fluttershy seemed to be playing some kind of game under a tree. Luna wasn’t sure if the game involved spinning around on your head, or if Pinkie Pie had simply opted to play that way to make things more interesting.
“Now,” she said once Rarity had adjusted her stance properly and looked ready to continue. “Thou already knowest the basics, but I assume that thou hast no practical experience with the blade outside of the attack three days ago?”
Rarity looked up thoughtfully. “I haven’t any real fighting experience, no. I was under the assumption, however, that this was to be a rescue operation, not a raid. Will I really have to tussle with those uncouth brutes again?” The unicorn moved a hoof up to her neck, which was still badly bruised.
Luna found it curious that Pinkie Pie’s bruise was not healing any faster than Rarity’s, and still appeared much worse than the unicorn’s. Earthponies were supposed to heal faster than others. Applejack was strong enough to heal at will, something Luna herself had trouble with. Perhaps Pinkie Pie was simply not a strong earthpony.
“Nihilus already has upwards of fifty puppets, and will likely have more by the time she moves on Cloudsdale. We aren’t going to destroy them all,” she added, seeing the look on Rarity’s face, “But thou wilt undoubtedly encounter some, along with Rainbow Dash. Thou needst to be ready for that eventuality, especially since the others don’t want to fight.”
It was true. While Rarity and Applejack had been willing to receive Luna’s crash courses in pony-on-pony combat, Pinkie Pie had refused, cheerfully telling Luna that she wasn’t going to hurt another pony. The princess had not even bothered asking Fluttershy. The poor mare broke into tears when birds were impolite to her. It was pathetic.
“You realize, of course, that I am only going to use this-” Rarity twirled her glimmering blade- “on puppets?”
Luna sighed. It was a topic she’d been hoping to avoid. “Rarity, I know thou dost not want to hurt anypony. None of us do. But sometimes we do not have a choice. There will be real, living ponies who side with Nihilus and Empyrean. And if it comes down to it, if thou must choose between them or you, well... we are at war.”
“I could give up my ideals for Sweetie Belle,” the unicorn said quietly. “But not for you, princess. I’m sorry, but I’d imagine Applejack feels the same way.”
Luna could see that she wasn’t going to get through to the other pony. “We’ll talk about this again later. For now, show me a roll. Go left when I come at thee.”
Rarity scoffed, clearly apprehensive.
“What is the matter?” Luna asked, “afraid to get dirty?”
“It’s huge!” Nihilus exclaimed, “how did you build this in a matter of days?”
Nihilus was some distance outside Ponyville, and before her loomed a massive complex constructed from bleak gray stone. The fortress was certainly imposing; it had numerous bastions and crenellations along its exterior, and the entrance in front of her was nearly three ponies tall. There were no lights shining out of the large doorway, and she could not see very far inside.
The two unicorn puppets standing at the entrance to the complex looked at her with blank expressions. One of them spoke:
“Queen Terra constructed it herself with alicorn magic. The magic is what gives it the unique properties you requested.”
Nihilus regarded the enormous structure appreciatively. “Well that makes sense, as nopony could ever move something this large with unicorn magic.” Alicorn magic could move the sun and the moon; of course it could move this comparatively small fortress.
Nihilus walked past the unicorn puppets to enter the fortress. As she moved into the darkened hallway, glass orbs lining the walls responded to her presence by emitting a bright glow, illuminating her passageway. She heard hoof-steps behind her, and turned to see the two unicorns following her inside. Nihilus was perplexed, but said nothing. She knew that unicorn puppets were supposed to be stronger than the others, but that did not explain how they were able to follow her without being told.
One of the puppets spoke. “The fortress is split into sections. The lower two levels consist of smaller rooms where you can store troops and supplies. The top level is smaller, and contains only a single large hall. That room is where you are intended to direct the citadel and hold audiences with captive rebels. The tower above it contains your personal chambers and is the final section of this citadel. As you are a true pony, your rooms have been stocked and furnished.”
As they walked, they passed numerous small doorways set into the stone walls of the hallway. Eventually, the hallway opened into a larger, circular room, lights flaring on to illuminate its dimensions. Three other hallways split off from the room, no doubt leading to the three other entrances to the fortress.
“How do I get to the other levels? Where are the stairs?”
Surprisingly, the unicorn answered her question. “Ramps run along the exterior of the structure. Shall we show you, mistress?”
Nihilus smiled when he used the word “mistress”. “Yes,” she said simply.
The unicorns led her along another one of the hallways, but before coming to an exit, they turned into one of the identical doorways and led her to a set of stairs that brought them outside and onto a crenellated rampart. There, the unicorns stopped.
“Keep going,” Nihilus said. “Take me to my chambers.” It seemed that the puppets still needed some prompting. Her servants complied, moving along the battlement until they entered another hallway. The second level looked similar to the first.
They quickly turned again and ascended another set of stairs leading up to another rampart. This one led around the exterior of the fortress as well, and the rampart above the first level was visible below them. As they walked, Nihilus questioned the unicorns.
“Why do we have to walk around a quarter of the fortress to ascend to the next level? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to go straight up?”
One of the puppets answered her. She wasn’t sure if it had been the one to speak earlier or not. “King Titan’s symbol is the circle. When Terra constructed this fortress, she made it circular so as to represent the pony it serves. When you discover your cutie mark, your sigil will be your mark within a circle. Prince Empyrean’s will be as well. The fact that the pathway to the upper chamber is a long one will make the complex easier to defend from earth ponies and unicorns.”
“I thought Terra made this fortress. Why does it’s architecture follow Titan’s iconography?”
“Terra is Titan’s puppet, just as we are yours.”
Nihilus hadn’t really cared about any of the first bit. She wasn’t worried about the shape of the fortress, or about Titan. All she cared about was the fact that when the remaining bearers attacked, she would have an additional edge.
At last they came to the third level. It was smaller than the other two because of the way the fortress had been built, tier upon tier. The upper floor seemed vast, however, because it consisted of only one giant, circular room. “Cages,” Nihilus said, noticing the metal enclosures along one section of the wall. “Those will come in handy. I suppose the throne is for me?” The centre of the room was a raised platform, the centre of which was occupied by a large chair, made out of the same stone that composed the rest of the fortress.
“The chair, yes. You will notice that each of this room’s four doorways open up to smaller balconies, rather than a battlement that surrounds the entire level. The balcony that leads to your personal chambers is this one.”
The tower turned out to be a squat cylinder protruding from the centre of the fortress. Nihilus supposed that there was no need for additional height, considering the structure in question. Her chambers were colorful and luxurious, dominated by a circular red bed and wall hangings. She noticed that the hanging directly above her bed was Titan’s sigil, a white circle on a field of black. Evidently the alicorn wanted to remind her of where her power came from.
“This boon is a gift,” she said softly. “To remind me of my ultimate allegiance should Empyrean ever rebel as Celestia did. Titan doesn’t trust his son. He wants to make sure Esteem and I are his side.” The alicorn’s mistrust was misplaced however. He should have been watching Nihilus, not Empyrean.
The puppet that spoke did not use its regular emotionless voice. Instead, Nihilus detected a hint of hesitation in the unicorn’s words. “The fortress simply serves to remind you of who you ultimately serve. Who all true ponies ultimately serve. It is also a gift of appreciation from the king to you, for your contributions to his cause.”
Nihilus had been the one to perform the ritual that granted Celestia’s magic to Prince Empyrean. Titan had not said why he needed her to complete the spell.
“Where is Titan now?” she asked, regarding the circle. She knew that Prince Empyrean was ruling in Canterlot, and supposedly having trouble with rebels. Titan, however, had vanished after defeating Princess Celestia, and taken his wife with him.
“The king has taken the queen with him to the Everfree Forest to complete his works. He has left Empyrean in charge of ponykind.”
“Why is it you can speak so well? I thought puppets were stupid.”
“The queen created us with more intellect than other ponies so that we may better focus our abilities in combat. We are designed to emulate magically talented unicorns, and require the additional intellect to cast our many spells. It is far more taxing for the queen to create a unicorn puppet than an earthpony or pegasus because of the extra power she invests in us.”
“So you’re stronger and smarter than the others?”
“Yes, mistress.” The puppet that answered her was not the one who had been speaking earlier.
“I see. Do you have names?”
The puppet thought for a moment before answering in its emotionless tone, “I am Puppet.”
“Creative,” Nihilus said flatly. She had come up with her own name as well. Nihilus Nix Naught. She thought it had a certain ring to it, even if it meant nothing. “And you?” she turned to the other puppet.
“I am Puppet,” it stated simply.
Nihilus laughed. “Of course you are. Do either of you have free will?”
“We can act of our own volition, but we still desire only to serve you in all things. We do not have wants ourselves.”
Nihilus regarded the puppet for a moment. “Stop breathing,” she commanded.
The unicorn complied, remaining perfectly still as it held its breath. Nihilus turned to his companion. “You have no sense of self-preservation, yes? So ‘Puppet’ here will hold his breath until he dies?”
The other puppet appeared completely unfazed as his partner continued to not breathe. “Not until he dies, mistress. He will likely just fall unconscious and start breathing again.”
“I suppose you’re right. You may breathe again,” she said, speaking to the unicorn on the ground. She turned back to the other puppet. “When do the other reinforcements arrive?”
“The next batch of puppets will be complete in two days. Terra will give you a cut of that group as well.”
Nihilus began the descent from her quarters to the central chamber. “Good,” she said, “Then we can proceed as planned and take Cloudsdale in three days’ time.” If the settlement in the sky had heard any news concerning Ponyville and Canterlot, they would not resist her. Still, the pegasi needed to be taught to fear their new ruler.
“We can allow ourselves and other earthponies to walk upon the clouds, mistress, should you wish it.”
“I will. But for now, I require only one other thing of you before I retire for the evening.”
“Anything you ask, mistress.”
A grin spread across her face. “How do I make it fly?”
Despite her skill and power when it came to flying, Luna’s descent back into the trillium glade was sloppy and tedious. Her wings laboured to stall her awkward fall, and she panted with exertion. Thankfully, Fluttershy saw her and flew up to give her a hoof.
It was late afternoon, and the sun was just beginning to dip below the horizon. Luna had just come back from doing reconnaissance in Ponyville. She had also offered to pick the other ponies up any supplies that they might need for the coming rescue operation. The second task was the source of her current overburdened state. She had travelled the considerable distance between Ponyville and the glade laden with three heavy sacks of goods.
She had not expected the Element bearers to ask for so much; and they hadn’t, really. Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie had not asked for anything at all. Rarity, however, had given Luna a list of items two pages long. The pages had also been double sided. Where the unicorn had gotten the paper, Luna didn’t know. It been difficult, however, to remain hidden in town while collecting the absurd amount of things that Rarity had requested.
The princess grunted as she dumped the contents of the sacks into the centre of the clearing. “What dost thou need these things for, Rarity? Tis’ merely a bunch of frivolous nonsense.”
Rarity daintily trotted over and placed a hoof to her chest. “Nonsense?” The unicorn made a face. “These items are imperative, princess. They are absolutely vital to the success of our mission. As a former commander, I thought surely you would understand.”
Luna raised an eyebrow. “Of course, Rarity. Please forgive me for not seeing why this-” she levitated an item out of the bag. “-two litre bottle of glossy and glamorous mane and crest shampoo is vital to our success.”
Rarity sniffed. “Princess, surely you cannot expect me to fight the forces of evil without looking my best! I haven’t been to the spa in almost a week! In any case, not all of this for me.” The unicorn turned, “Pinkie, dear!” she called out. From the other side of the glade, Pinkie Pie looked up.
“Chin up!” Rarity called out sharply. Pinkie Pie shot to all fours and stood at attention as Rarity pulled a scarf out of one of the sacks and tied it around her neck. “This should help to cover up that horrible bruise of yours.”
“Pink!” Pinkie Pie observed. “My favorite! Thanks, Rarity!”
“Thank the princess, dear. I also had her pick up a couple of board games to entertain you while we train.” Rarity stacked the board games neatly outside their sack.
Pinkie Pie cheered and merrily carried the pile of games away as Rarity tied her own scarf around her neck. “A little strange, wearing a scarf in summer, but I think I can pull it off,” she said to herself.
Luna gave an exasperated sigh, “Does anything here have anything to do with the rescue operation?” she asked through gritted teeth.
Rarity looked up as though she had just noticed the princess’ presence. “Well of course, princess! These-” she pulled out various materials, a needle, and thread. “-are for me. I’m going to make myself a saddlebag to carry my blade diamonds around in! I’m thinking it will sit farther back than a normal saddlebag, perhaps give it a lower clasp...
Luna’s eyes narrowed as the unicorn trailed off. “Thou meanest to sayeth that all thou really needed was a saddlebag? I just hauled all this junk through the air for three hours, and all thou didst need was a saddlebag?!”
“No!” Rarity threw the half a dozen objects she had been manipulating away from herself. She turned to face the princess, and Luna saw that her eyes were burning with rage. The other ponies looked over, startled at the outburst. “I did not need a saddlebag! I needed to make something, don’t you understand?!”
Luna took a step back from the unicorn. Why was Rarity acting this way?
“Pinkie Pie needs to play, Fluttershy needs something to care for.” She drew a long roll of canvas out of one of the bags and unrolled it. Then, she cast her blade, and fourteen diamonds shearing through the canvas she held in front of her. “You might enjoy this, maybe it reminds you of your glory days, princess-” Rarity divided the canvas into pieces, then split her blade and wrapped a piece around each diamond, smothering its edges in cloth. The diamonds did not cut through the cloth. “But the rest of us don’t like sitting around here doing nothing while Twilight and Rainbow Dash are in torment!”
Luna let the words wash over her. Not only was she surprised at Rarity’s sudden outburst, but she had no idea how to react. She could treat Rarity as a subject, and try to be firm and resolve whatever her problem was. She could also treat Rarity as a soldier, and simply punish her for questioning the chain of command. Neither seemed appropriate in her situation.
Applejack spoke before Luna could think of anything to say. “We wouldn’t have a hope of rescuing Twilight and Dash without the princess an’ you know it, Rarity. They’re the strongest of any of us. She’s only trying to help.”
Rarity gave a hmph. “You would defend her now, wouldn’t you Applejack?”
“Course I would! You’re being mighty stupid, and Luna is my friend!”
Luna considered interrupting their argument, but thought better of it. Rarity and Applejack knew each other better than she knew them, and could likely sort their feud out on their own. She had done enough harm already, apparently.
Rarity was fuming. “Twilight and Dash are your friends! The princess is your commander! You saw her memories with the rest of us, you don’t think she’d trade your life away if circumstances called for it?!”
“Hay no Ah don’t think that! What’s wrong with you, Rarity?”
Did Rarity hate Luna because she was in charge? Did the unicorn think she could do a better job? Or did she hate her because Luna had asked them to wait? Certainly the unicorn was under a lot of stress, but she had put her life in danger before. Was it just boredom, then? Rarity had said she needed to make something, whatever that meant.
“Of course she would, Applejack! That’s what commanders do.” The unicorn was breathing quickly now, and blinking tears away from her eyes. “No matter how much they’re supposed to love somepony, they can...” She sobbed as she sat in the grass and released her sword. The covered diamonds fell to the ground around her. “They can...”
“Rarity,” Applejack sat next to the unicorn in the grass. “Is this about your parents?”
Luna watched the two with growing confusion. Had Rarity’s father sent her mother to die? Was that where Rarity’s sudden hatred for the princess came from? Did Luna remind her of her father when they trained? She decided that she shouldn’t have been so pushy when it came to the sacks of shampoo. The decision seemed inconsequential, with the way the argument had suddenly escalated. Celestia wouldn’t have minded about the shampoo. What would Celestia do about Rarity’s outburst?
Rarity stood, regaining her composure almost instantly. “The Carousel Boutique is gone, Applejack. I am homeless and poor. The only thing I have of value to my name is the blade. I am the Element of Generosity with nothing to give.”
“Ah know things are hard, Rarity, but that doesn’t give you any right to go off on the princess like that.”
Luna decided enough was enough, “yes it does, Applejack.”
Both ponies looked up, evidently surprised to hear Luna’s opinion.
“I have been treating thee like a soldier, Rarity. Admittedly, tis all I know how to do. I’ve only really had one friend in my life, whereas I’ve had tens of thousands of soldiers and many more subjects. Thou art no a fighter, however, thou art a fashion designer.” The unicorn continued to eye her warily. “If we’re going to win this war, we’re going to do it with the Elements of Harmony. With friendship, not violence, as silly as that sounds. So perhaps you don’t need to be soldiers.”
Rarity wiped the tears from her face. “I’m sorry I let everything get to me. I assure you princess, I am usually much more collected. I don’t know what came over me.”
“I understand, Rarity.” Come to think of it, the unicorn was much more collected than Luna would have expected of somepony her age, all things considered. She was, after all, homeless and destitute, with the fate of the world depending on her.
“There’s some rope in there for you, Applejack.” Rarity nodded to one of the sacks. “And some birdseed for Fluttershy. I also got this canvas to wrap my blade so that we can train with it.” Rarity once again cast her blade, the cloth-covered diamonds forming a shaft in front of her. “Now I can hit you without worrying about slicing you to ribbons.”
“Tis... thoughtful of you.”
Rarity gave her a weak smile.
Pinkie Pie cartwheeled over to them, somersaulting into the air and landing with a flourish. She had incredible balance and speed for an earthpony. “So!” the pink pony exclaimed. “Who wants to play a game!” Fluttershy landed softly beside her. “I have Monopony!”
Luna suspected Rarity and Applejack agreed to play only to help them simmer down after the previous conversation. The ponies took positions as Pinkie Pie set up the board with lightning speed and precision, declaring herself the “banker”.
“You gunna play, princess?” Applejack motioned for her to sit down beside her.
“I... um...” Luna had never played a board game before. She hadn’t even realized that they intended for her to join them until Applejack asked. What was it she had she said? Maybe we don’t need to be soldiers.
“What is it?” Applejack prompted her.
“I do not know the rules...”
“I’ll teach you!” Pinkie Pie said, “You even have your own piece because this is a new edition!” Luna caught a tiny figurine of herself with telekinesis as Pinkie Pie threw it at her. It was metal, and incredibly detailed, probably crafted with magic by a unicorn. It even had her sparkly little shoes.
“So this is me?”
“Yep! You move it around on these squares here, see? We all start here. I’m the top hat!”
“So those are supposed to be bits?” Luna regarded the cardboard coins, “Why dost thou have so many?”
“Those aren’t mine, silly filly! That’s the bank!”
“And what is that?”
“The object thou art hiding under you back hoof.”
“Hey!” Applejack exclaimed. “Are you cheatin’, Pinkie?”
“No! Its just a spare piece. We only have five players so it’s the only piece left.”
“So then why art thou hiding it?” Luna was confused. Was it part of the game? Was Pinkie Pie just being strange like usual?
“It isn’t important, guys. Let’s just play.” Pinkie made to roll the dice.
“Oh, just show her the piece, Pinkie!” Rarity said, clearly exasperated. “What reason do you have to hide it?”
With a guilty expression, Pinkie Pie slowly extended her hoof. In it was a tiny, extremely detailed figurine.
It was of Celestia.
Of course, Luna thought, if there’s one of me there has to be one of Celestia. Her sister had loved games of all kinds. While Luna never played against her, she understood that Celestia almost always won. When they were in their teens Celestia would sit out in the courtyard on days off and play two or three games with multiple opponents at once. Luna had originally thought they were letting her win because she was their princess, but later other ponies had begun to gather just to watch her play, and Luna realized that Celestia was really just that good. Even at such a young age, Celestia had been attracting her subjects’ attention better than Luna ever could.
Now she was dead. Luna didn’t have time to mourn her. She first had to save the kingdom, and then rule it. She wasn’t sure she could do either, but she knew where to start. Where Celestia would have started, at least.
She was going to play Monopony.
The other four ponies had been looking at her in silence for some time while she regarded the figurine.
“It is okay. We can still play, everyone.”
“You sure, sugarcube?”
“I’m sure, AJ. But Pinkie?”
“Can I... keep this?” Luna nodded towards the tiny figurine of Celestia. It was silly, really, but lately she had found herself wondering what Celestia would do more and more. Maybe having the game piece would help.
“Of course you can! Now we roll to see who goes first, see...” Pinkie Pie cast the dice across the board. “Twelve!” she cheered.
Nihilus received General Esteem on one of her fortress balconies. The soldier approached in a carriage pulled by two pegasi puppets. He stepped from the carriage to the balcony.
Esteem was a pure white stallion with a blood-red mane. The mane was effeminately curly, but ended in masculine spikes that framed his sharp features. His cutie mark appeared to be three short, razor sharp spikes of metal. He wore a tightly fitted harness, no doubt to hold the fourteen shards of platinum-iridium that made up his blade, and on his shoulders sat epaulets, each displaying five stars surrounded by circles.
Nihilus despised him. “You look younger than you did last time I saw you, General. I didn’t think you were so vain.”
“I indulge in a healthy amount of narcissism, Nihilus.” He looked around at her fortress. “From the looks of your ‘gift’ you indulge in a more than a healthy amount of megalomania.” The general regarded her coolly. “You also look different. Last time I saw you, you looked just like Twilight Sparkle. Who ruined your face?”
Nihilus had not wanted him to ask that particular question. “Who do you think?”
“Ah, of course,” he said simply. The general gave something that could barely be taken for a smile, showing a small portion of his perfectly white teeth. “I’ve never been so proud. Perhaps next time she will do me a favor and take your whole head. But it is not just your face that has changed. Your coat is black now.”
“I figured I’d color-code things for your convenience,” Nihilus replied nonchalantly.
“Your right eye is much brighter than your left, and the pupil is becoming a slit. In fact, the iris is almost glowing. It is a different color, too. Closer to red than purple.”
Nihilus hadn’t known about those changes. The Sliver was changing Twilight’s appearance quite a bit, it seemed.
“I think the asymmetry compliments my aesthetic.” She lied.
“It does.” She was surprised to hear him agree. “Your ears have also curved. They look sharper now.”
“Is there a point to this visit other than prattling on about how menacing I look?”
Esteem did not react. “I have come to deliver these pegasi to your control and check up on things. The royals would like to know what the Sliver is doing to somepony who is not an alicorn. They know it didn’t amplify Twilight’s power by much, but they are curious as to whether or not the magic is unstable in any way. Empyrean is also growing agitated with the uprising in Canterlot. I hope you have good news for him.”
“I will have the remaining rebels within the week. Rainbow Dash is already dealt with.” Nihilus tugged on her pet’s magical leash. The pegasus made a perfect landing beside her, coming to a low crouch and barely making a sound despite the speed at which she had been flying. “Isn’t she just adorable? Have you thought of a name yet, pet?”
The pegasus did not hesitate before answering. “Spike?”
Nihilus’ eyes narrowed. “What made you choose that name?”
The pegasus realized she was in trouble, and her eyes grew fearful. “I just thought... I’m your pet... and you had a pet named Spike once, I can almost remember, so I-”
“I hate it. Pick something else. Now tell General Esteem here your purpose.”
“To be cruel and merciless. I will further your goals and kill your enemies.”
Esteem regarded the creature with disgust. The look that he gave Rainbow Dash, however, was nothing compared to the way he looked at Nihilus. “Do that to my daughter,” he said quietly, “and I will kill you, parasite.”
Nihilus let out a humorless laugh. “You and every pony here couldn’t take me, Esteem.”
“We’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?”
“What makes you say so? We’re on the same side, general.” Much as Nihilus would love to make Esteem one of her pets, the general would have to wait until she had the Elements of Harmony.
“Don’t think that I don’t know you’re planning something, Naught. I’m just waiting for you to make your move. And when you do, it will be me Empyrean sends to take care of you. There’s more to single combat than being a perfect ten on the Coruscare scale. I’m going to make you beg for mercy, girl.”
“And I’m going to turn you into a slobbering dog, pretty-boy. You’re going to do anything for a treat. I’ve had this one-” she nodded sharply towards her still-nameless pet. “-Eating the books that I finish with. They’re full of all sorts of terrible spells that we wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands, you see.”
It was a lovely use of her pet, Nihilus thought. Twilight was reviled by the idea of destroying a book, and even more reviled at the sight of what was once Rainbow Dash forcing parchment down her throat simply because Nihilus told her to.
The general turned away from her sharply. “Our business is done here,” Esteem said, climbing back into his carriage. “I have seen enough to fill my report to the prince. Take your pegasi and go play in your dollhouse like a good little child.”
Nihilus considered destroying his carriage as he flew away, but though better of it. She would have him, have them all, soon enough. She just needed the Elements of Harmony first. Where were Twilight’s friends?
They were in Cloudsdale.
It had taken several trips or vertigo-inducing flights to move the entire crew to the sky settlement, carried out in the dead of night. Applejack wasn’t exactly afraid of heights, but having nothing but several thousand feet between her and the ground as she dangled uselessly from Luna’s legs had not been a pleasant experience. The princess had used some magic to allow them all to walk on clouds, then created a tiny hollowed out portion of cloud for them to wait the rest of the night out in. Despite the late hour, nopony had gone to sleep.
Luna was in the centre of their makeshift hideout, and the four ponies gathered around her by the light of her horn. Applejack didn’t know whether the princess was using pegasus or unicorn magic, but Luna had sculpted a perfect replica of Cloudsdale out of cloud-stuff, which sat in the centre of the room. She marked locations on the model as she spoke to them.
“Nihilus will likely announce herself in the plaza, like she did in Ponyville.” The section of Cloudsdale representing the plaza filled with a blue light. “I’m counting on the fact that once she knows we’re here, she’ll spread her puppets out to look for us. Hopefully, that will include Rainbow Dash. If Nihilus decides to keep Rainbow Dash close, though, ye four will have to leave Rainbow Dash to me as well. I won’t risk letting ye get close to her, she’s just too dangerous. Last time we fought she hurt me enough to kill the lot of you several times over, Applejack not included.”
Applejack frowned at the princess’ estimation of her abilities. Hopefully, she wouldn’t have to find out just how much punishment she could take. “If you’re responsible for Dash and Nihilus, then what do we all do?”
“Again, this is only if she doesn’t send Dash after ye while I distract her. I’m fairly certain she will. If she doesn’t, or if anything else goes wrong, ye four will get out as fast as you can. Ye all remember how to find our secret entrance?”
The four ponies nodded in unison.
“Good. I doubt Nihilus will expect you all to hide right here in Cloudsdale. My spell will only work for the next couple of days, though, so you’ll have to have Fluttershy take ye down by then if I get captured or killed. Oh, don’t give me that look, I am well aware of my own mortality. If this ends badly, I need to know ye four will be able to continue the fight.” Luna levitated the figurine of her sister, turning it around in front of her face as she worked her mouth. “Celestia was always better at planning than I . She’d find a way to make it so that even if her enemies won, she won more.”
“You’re doing fine, princess,” Fluttershy said.
Luna gave the pegasus a tiny smile before continuing. “As loath as I am to break up our only two fighters, Rarity, I plan on putting thee here-” she marked a point on the model “-with Fluttershy. Applejack and Pinkie will take the higher ground here. This way, regardless of where the pegasi fly, they’re bound to run into two of you.”
“I think Fluttershy and I will be just fine, don’t you darling?” Rarity said. “My only concern is for you, princess. The last time you fought Nihilus-”
“The last time I fought Nihilus I was already exhausted from escaping my mother the night beforehand. And I had to worry about protecting a certain unicorn. This time I think that little parasite will be surprised.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose there is that little tidbit, isn’t there.”
“In any case, tomorrow is the big day. Our only goal is to rescue Rainbow Dash, but I will not lie to you. If we succeed, and the five of ye use the Elements on Nihilus, it will kill her, just as they killed Nightmare Moon. I figured I should let you all know that beforehand. It’s the only way to save Twilight, but it’s also thine choice to make.”
Silence dominated the room. Applejack had been waiting all week. Despite the danger they were in, she felt a little... excited. “She took Rainbow Dash,” she said coldly.
“And blew up my home,” Rarity added.
“And she has Twilight.” Fluttershy’s voice wasn’t angry like theirs, just sorrowful.
Pinkie Pie said nothing, but her eyes narrowed and she growled.
Luna tucked the figurine of her dead sister under the necklace she wore as part of her royal regalia, letting it press against her. “It’s settled, then,” she said simply. “As the only princess of Equestria in a time of war, I grant ye all the power to act in my name without fear of Equestrian law.”
The four other ponies in the room shifted uncomfortably, Applejack included. Luna looked at them each in turn, meeting their eyes before she spoke again. “Nihilus Nix Naught,” she said, “needs to die.”