The wind howled past Jigsaw and Tiptoe as they trudged through the snow. A series of mountain ranges could be seen looming behind them, though they had left it far behind. They had been walking for the better part of a day, and the temperature was dropping all the while. The sun remained frozen in the west as ever- though it had now been eclipsed by the mountain. The dull gray moon loomed larger and larger. The green fields at the base of the mountain had slowly become more sparse until the grass was almost entirely covered in snow. A few stunted trees somehow managed to survive here, though Jigsaw had no idea how they managed to grow when all the water was frozen, at least as far as he could see.
Jigsaw peered through the low light and saw a larger-than-average tree with low, overhanging branches. He called over the wind to Tiptoe and they two ponies galloped towards the shelter.
Jigsaw shook the snow off of his hooves and turned to Tiptoe, who was resting against the side of the tree. “I think we should talk about what happened back there.”
“You mean the kiss?” Tiptoe asked quietly, blushing and turning her head away from Jigsaw slightly.
Jigsaw’s heart did a funny sort of flip on hearing Tiptoe mention the kiss, but he tried not to show it on his face. “I meant the dragon, Tantalus. Specifically, what he asked us to do.”
The smile dropped off Tiptoe’s face. “Oh. That. What exactly is it we’re supposed to be doing? It’s not like he gave us very specific directions besides ‘east’. As far as we know, it could be a million miles east! And besides...” her voice dropped in volume. “I don’t think I could kill anypony, no matter how evil they might be.”
Jigsaw nodded. He appeared deep in thought.
Jigsaw looked up at the moon, huge in the sky, and let out a sigh. “Remember back in the subway car? When I told you about Antimony, my first apprentice? Well, I wasn’t entirely truthful. She was... she was my mate.”
Tiptoe let out a little gasp. “Your mate died? That’s... that’s awful. I’m so sorry. But... why are you telling me this now? What does this have to do with anything?”
“I lied when I said I wanted to talk about the dragon.” Jigsaw said. He looked up at Tiptoe.
“We can’t be together. It’s just too dangerous. I can’t lose another pony because I can’t handle the situation! I just... I can’t deal with it. And who knows what we’re about to walk into?”
Jigsaw looked intensely at Tiptoe, then dropped his gaze to the snowy ground below. Tiptoe looked taken aback.
“Jigsaw... I didn’t mean to put this kind of pressure on you. I really do like you, but I understand that now isn’t the best time to form a relationship!” she said.
The sides of Jigsaw’s mouth twitched, but the smile didn’t last very long.
“Thank you for understanding. Now, I think we should get some sleep. We have quite an adventure ahead of us.”
He stood up and walked over to Tiptoe. He hesitated for a moment, then walked over and nuzzled Tiptoe. “I really do like you, you know.”
Tiptoe blushed. Jigsaw lit his horn and lifted away a patch of snow , exposing the ground below. He lied down in it, and Tiptoe joined him. The two ponies closed their eyes.
Tiptoe opened them several hours later find Jigsaw already awake. He had a small pile of twigs and rocks in front of him. As she watched, Jigsaw’s horn glowed blue and the twigs lifted off the ground and bent themselves into an elaborate structure.
“That’s amazing!” Tiptoe exclaimed.
Jigsaw let out a yelp and the structure sprang apart. He looked over to see Tiptoe sitting up in the clearing, giggling.
“Oh, you’re up.” Jigsaw said, looking a little annoyed.
“What are you doing?” Tiptoe said, standing up and stretching her wings.
“I’m just tinkering. It helps me relax.” he said. As Tiptoe watched, the twigs formed elaborate geometric patterns in mid-air.
“I wish I could do something like that,” Tiptoe said, “I haven’t even gotten to use my special talent.” She shot a glance over her shoulder at the feather emblazoned on her flank. “Haven’t really had to sneak anywhere.”
“Well, you never know. We’re heading out into a frozen wasteland to find some unicorn that’s apparently powerful enough to kill goddesses. Not to mention, who knows what’s left over from the Great Cataclysm? There could easily still be traps left unsprung the farther in we walk. You may soon have more work on your hooves than you bargained for.” Jigsaw winked, then stood up and walked out of the protective branches. Tiptoe followed, a little confused by how Jigsaw’s mood had changed since last night.
They walked out into the semidarkness of the plain. The moon hung low in the sky, casting a sullen gray light over the snow. The sun in the west had shrunk to a mere sliver of red light shining over the mountain range behind them. Tiptoe flapped her wings and took off, spiraling upward. Jigsaw set off at a canter.
After only a few minutes of flying, Tiptoe was rushing back towards Jigsaw.
“You won’t believe what I just saw!” She cried, obviously excited.
“What? What is it?” Jigsaw said.
“At first, I thought it was just a pile of rubble, but as I flew closer, I saw lights come on!”
“Tiptoe, the last place we walked into that looked inhabited, we got trapped and recruited by a dragon.”
“Well, do you have any better ideas?” asked Tiptoe.
“Well, I suppose not. And I am pretty hungry...”
“Then follow me!” Tiptoe said, taking off and flying away. Jigsaw rolled his eyes and set off after her.
Tiptoe arrived at the ruined building several minutes ahead of Jigsaw and began to look around. The wall that was still standing was maybe a floor high, though it looked as though the building was one much larger. Old world writing was etched over the ornate metal door that led inside, though most of the writing had been worn off by time, so that the only letters remaining were “AMY F CLSTA”. Tiptoe hadn’t the slightest idea what it could mean. From above, the building just looked like a jumble of steel beams and rotting wood. The lights that had shined through the window from a distance hadn’t reappeared since the approach, but Tiptoe was confident that something was alive inside, because when she opened the door, the air from inside was surprisingly warm.
Jigsaw galloped up to Tiptoe, who was waiting near the door. “This is the place you saw? It doesn’t look very inviting.”
“We’ll never know unless we go inside, now, will we?” She nudged the door open with her nose, and a buffet of warm air hit the two ponies.
“Well, that’s encouraging,” said Jigsaw, his eyes widening a bit.
Jigsaw lit his horn again and closed the door behind him. Inside was a narrow hallway that extended about 30 feet to a relatively featureless metal desk. The real eye-catcher in the room, however, was the large, golden sun emblazoned on the wall behind the desk. As they two ponies walked forwards, the sun suddenly blazed golden, flooding the room with light and heat. Jigsaw’s horn glowed even brighter in response to the magic in the air.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the lights shut off and the warmth vanished. Jigsaw and Tiptoe stood frozen in mid-stride, stunned.
Jigsaw put his hoof down. “Well, that explains the lig-”
His words were cut off by a sudden horrible buzzing. A sharp crack and a flash of blue light came from the end of the hallway, and white lights flickered to life along the length of the hallway. Jigsaw walked up to one and examined it with wonder. He touched his horn to the metal casing and a spark jumped between his horn and the metal casing on the light. He stepped back and nodded appreciatively, apparently impressed. Tiptoe just looked on quizzically.
Jigsaw turned around to face her. “The old world technology was apparently built to last. There’s an elevator down at the end of the hallway that goes... very far down. I don’t know how far.”
“You can tell all that just by looking at a light?” Tiptoe said in awe.
“This cutie mark isn’t just for show, you know!” Jigsaw said, a wide smile parting his face. “Now come on! Who knows what we’ll find down there?”
Tiptoe let out a heavy sigh at the prospect of having to go underground yet again, then followed Jigsaw down the hallway. They had to climb over a few broken steel beams, but before too long, they came to a small door in the rubble. Jigsaw touched his horn to the door, and after a few minutes of effort, the door slid open haltingly. Inside was a rather strange sight from the metal hallways- interior walls appeared to panelled with wood. On the side opposite of the door, the sun symbol was once again repeated on the wall, only this one was a half sun instead of a whole. It still gave off a slight heat.
“Well, I suppose we should head down.” Jigsaw said, walking into the elevator compartment. Tiptoe followed him apprehensively. Jigsaw’s horn glowed bright blue, and the elevator hummed to life, moving smoothly down the shaft. Arriving at the first floor, the two ponies stepped off the elevator to see a very strange sight. Banners emblazoned with the sun symbol were strewn all around the room, though most appeared to have been burned. Many strange and spindly-looking devices lined the walls. A loud, low tone like someone striking a large bell rang out as the two ponies walked into the room. Tiptoe’s hair stood on end and her feathers ruffled. Jigsaw’s horn glowed blue for just an instant, then the blue light seemed to expand out from his horn in rings and then vanished. Jigsaw gulped.
“There is some serious magical protection around this room. And I mean serious. If we hadn’t have passed whatever criteria it checks, we would have been dead already.”
“If this room is so well protected, what did that?” Tiptoe said, gesturing towards the pile of burned banners with her hoof.
“That’s what worries me.” Jigsaw said, looking uneasy. Nonetheless, he trotted off towards a large archway to their left that has ornate old world letting over the entrance. It read “Celestial Observatory”.
“Wait up!” Tiptoe shouted, cantering after Jigsaw. They entered into the dark room simultaneously, taking in the strange model of the sky that lay above them. Lined along the walls were dark monitors. On the floor was a dual insignia- A rising sun side by side with a crescent moon.
Jigsaw walked to the center of the room, turned in a full circle, and lowered his head. Tiptoe was confused for a moment, but then Jigsaw’s horn erupted in a brilliant blue light.
Pieces of metal, glass, what looked like cut crystal, and a few scattered electronic components flew through the air in swirl of activity, fastening themselves to unknown mechanisms behind the domed surface of the observatory. The sun and moon logo on the floor seemed to glow with a golden light, and there was a loud bang. The lights kicked on Jigsaw lifted his head, a sly smile on his face.
Suddenly, the screens along the wall burst into life. On them were an image of an earth pony outfitted in full armor, a look of terror on his face. An explosion shook the screen and the earth pony began talking rapidly, though no sound could be heard.
“Hold on just a second,” Jigsaw said. His horn lit up with only the faintest corona of blue light, in contrast to the rod of whirling blue plasma it had appeared to be just minutes ago. A blast of sound filled the room.
“-ow on supplies! I don’t know how much longer we can hold out like this. I thought the war with the west was bad enough, but this... thing... has managed to breach all our defences! It’s already killed almost everypony else in the whole facility! We’ve managed to hold out here for now, but I don’t know how long our defences will hold. Listen, if anypony finds this video, there’s still hope! Go east to the Night Palace. Our researchers found something to do with Princess Luna’s disappearance. Go! No-” the recording was cut off by what appeared a torrent of emerald flames, a flash of golden light, and a roar. Then the tape ended and the screen went blank. The sun and moon on the ceiling hadn’t moved.
“What was all that about?” Tiptoe said. “Was that recorded... during the Grand Cataclysm?”
“I think it must have been. War with the west? What else could it have been?” Jigsaw replied. “I’m more interested with this Night Palace and whatever broke in here. What do you think happened to it? I’m going to dig through the system to see if there are any records after that.” Jigsaw’s horn glowed blue yet again as he touched it to the wall.
It was then that a loud alternating tone rang out from the speakers in the room. The lights switched to a dark red color and heavy bulkheads fell all around the room. The two ponies were trapped.
Jigsaw looked nervously at Tiptoe. “Oops.”