Content Warning: This chapter contains some scenes of abuse that may trigger some readers. This content will be marked by red |||'s, in case you want to avoid it.
D-Space, the warped place between dimensions, was like a swirl of color and light outside of the main bridge’s viewport. The Time-Space Administration Bureau Trans-Dimensional Patrol Ship Arthra soared through D-Space like an arrow, its tuning-fork shaped hull glittering under the shifting colors.
TSAB Enforcer Chrono Harlaown stood by quietly on the lower deck of the bridge, watching the swirling colors play out. It was still relatively ‘early’ in the watch, so the bridge crew was minimal; just the navigational staff and him. The soft hum of the engines was the only thing disrupting his concentration.
These dimensional disturbances are getting progressively more frequent. His arms crossed as he looked out into the depths of D-Space. If this continues, I’d hate to see what would happen. What is that fool doing down there that’s causing so much chaos?
“Captain on deck!”
Chrono turned around and saluted as he heard the door on the upper part of the bridge slide open. Captain Lindy Harlaown took her seat at the captain’s chair, pushing her mint green hair out of her eyes. “Good morning everyone, at ease. Navigation, status report.”
“Ma’am, we’re currently on course with no deviations, currently at level three Dimensional Nautical Velocity and holding.” The young man at the helm replied over his shoulder. “If we maintain our current speed, we should arrive at our target dimension at roughly seventeen-hundred hours, ship time.”
“Good. Sensors, anything atypical?”
“No ma’am, not since the dimensional disturbance a few hours ago. Still catching a few ripples in D-Space from that, but nothing outside of standard readings.”
“That’s good. The last thing we need are further problems. Don’t you agree, Enforcer Harlaown?”
“Yes ma’am.” Chrono replied. He was a professional, an Enforcer for the Time-Space Administration Bureau. He wouldn’t let the fact that he was on his mother’s ship get to his nerves.
The door slid open again, admitting Intelligence Officer Amy Limietta onto the bridge, one hand holding a cup of hot tea, the other cradling a file pad. “Captain, I have the data you requested on our destination.”
“Thank you Amy.” Lindy smiled as she took the file, the officer cadet setting the tea cup on the station in front of her. “Have you gotten the records on our young archeologist friend as well?”
“Not yet ma’am. I’ve contacted headquarters, and they should send them through within the hour.”
“Very good. Enforcer Chrono, would you come up here and look over the records with me?”
“Yes ma’am.” Chrono mounted the steps, nodding to Amy as he did so. He tried to suppress a blush as Amy smiled at him, focusing on the file in the Captain’s hand. It wasn’t exactly packed with pages, which was never a good sign.
“Non-Administrated World #77, discovered and registered on Year 0025 of the New Calendar. Outer-dimensional scans indicate territory arability and atmosphere is equivalent to non-industrial Mid-Childan norms, with chronal procession of 24-365. Scans also indicate abnormally high levels of ambient magical energy.” Lindy hmmed as she flipped through the sheets of data, pausing on a bit of red text. “Huh. ‘Note: Settling or investigation is inadvisable due to unknown barrier surrounding dimensional space, possibly of Lost Logia level magecraft. Protection is advised if entering space surrounding NAW #77.’ Is this really all there is, Amy?”
“Unfortunately yes.” Amy sighed. “I did my best to dig up what else I could find, Captain, but there really isn’t any more information. Frankly, I’m not sure why it’s listed on the NAW list.”
“It might be because it’s possibly inhabitable.” Chrono frowned. “I don’t like it though.”
“Neither do I, but we have to make the best of a bad situation.” Lindy set the file aside and picked up her teacup. “Chrono, I want you to report to the armory and pick up a Hazard Shield to supplement your Barrier Jacket.. The last thing I need is you getting turned inside out or something in case the barrier turns out to be hazardous.”
Lindy took a drink of her tea, then nodded. “We‘re venturing into unknown territory to face an unknown foe. Let’s do the Bureau proud.”
Why does everything hurt?
Twilight groaned, her eyes cracking open slightly. Her field of vision was filled with blooms of a hundred different colors and her ears were ringing. She thought she could hear voices, but they sounded distant due to the tinnitus. It was like listening to someone shouting underwater. Her muscles pulsed and throbbed as she tried to shift around.
Why does everything have to hurt? I’ve had a piano, a hay-cart and an anvil dropped on me before and I didn’t hurt this much.
The pain ebbed slowly as a greenish light filled her vision. There was a loud roaring noise as her ears cleared, the ambient sound sliding back to its normal volume.
“Is she okay?”
“Fluttershy, she almost got exploded! She’s lucky she’s in one piece!”
“She’s intact, at least. My healing spell’s taken care of the wounds…”
“The poor darling…”
“Ugh…guys?” Twilight winced. “I can hear you…”
The unicorn winced at the shout, her vision finally clearing. Everyone was clustered around her, looking down at her with looks of worry and relief on their faces. “Is everypony alright?”
“We’re fine.” Yuuno reached down, carefully helping Twilight up. “You’re a lucky pony, you know that?”
“What do you- oh…” Twilight’s eyes widened. The ground where the Jewel Seed’s defense program was standing was deeply cratered, the stone glassy and warped. Combined with the huge gaping chasm that had been formed earlier, the entire place was a disaster zone.
“What in Equestria happened?”
“Well…” Yuuno inhaled as he started his explanation.
The golem roared as its body glowed brighter and brighter, the entire husk looking like a prismatic star. Yuuno leapt from the Floater Field even as Arf darted downward, the wolf-woman’s arms extended.
Then the golem exploded, its body dissolving as a hemisphere of blue-white flame ripped across the ground for a brief moment. One could barely make out screams of panic.
The shockwave hit as Yuuno reached Twilight, Raising Heart’s auto-protection system buckling rapidly under the sheer power of the detonation. Yuuno shut his eyes, hugging his arms around her body as he willed his shield into existence. Controlling two shields wasn’t hard, but the sheer force battered against the two of them.
The dome of flame then retracted, imploding and blasting upwards into the sky. The air around the column of light warped and sang, flickers of energy playing along its length as the energy dissolved into nothingness.
As the light faded, Yuuno blinked to clear the colors out of his eyes as he saw Fate and Arf. Arf had tackled Fate to the ground, her body covering the prone pony even as her shield shimmered in the light, the strain of the blast obvious. Arf glared at the two of them as she lifted Fate up from the ground, the unconscious filly limp in her arms.
Yuuno stared right back, even as the two Jewel Seeds hung in the air, pulsing with light and chiming softly.
With an angry growl, Arf fled, disappearing into the trees with her master even as the other ponies rushed forwards.
“Apparently your combined spells must have overloaded the golem’s body, which fed back into the Seeds, causing them to expel the energy in a violent, dimension-distorting explosion.”
Twilight nodded slowly. “And Arf…just left the seeds?”
Yuuno nodded, holding up the two seeds, the runes labeling them VI and IX. “After she fled, I made sure to seal them. So that leaves us with a score of two to eight. The other ponies tried to pursue, but…”
“We couldn’t find hide nor hair of them.” Applejack snorted, kicking a rock gently. “Ya’ll’d think with all that hair and such Fate’d leave a trail as wide as a barn door. But nope, they just flat out vanished.”
“I don’t understand.” Twilight rubbed her head. “Why did Arf flee and leave the Seeds?”
“Because of Fate…”
The others glanced at Fluttershy.
“Arf… the way she was looking at us… i-it was like a dog defending her master. Arf may be big and tough, but she wouldn’t risk Fate being hurt, even for the Jewel Seeds. A-at least, that’s what I think.”
“That makes sense.” Pinkie nodded. “I know if I was in trouble, Gummy would do his best to save me.”
“Darling, Gummy’s a toothless baby alligator. Arf’s a glorified guard dog with tacky fashion sense.” Rarity noted politely.
“…Raising Heart!” Twilight searched around in panic. “Where’s my staff? Where’s Raising Heart?”
“Um…” Yuuno swallowed, fishing into his pocket. “Here…”
Twilight’s eyes widened as Yuuno withdrew the Device on its chain. The pinkish-red jewel pulsed softly, a thin tracery of cracks running along the surface of the gem. “Oh no… is…”
“She’s seen better days. My guess is the feedback from her shielding you from the full force of the blast damaged her. She’s currently in auto-recovery mode.”
Twilight stared at the pulsing jewel as Yuuno set it in her hoof. “Oh Raising Heart. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
Auto-Recovery Mode Active. All Core Functions Offline. Recovery Status: 10% Complete. The telepathic reply was monotone and genderless.
“It shouldn’t take long for her to recover.”
“Even so…” Twilight couldn’t help but frown sadly at the gem, right before she felt a finger tap her on the nose to get her attention.
“Twilight, Raising Heart protected you. A Intelligent Device of her caliber was willing to shield you, even if it broke her.” Yuuno crossed his arms. “That’s what she’s supposed to do. So no feeling miserable, alright?” A small smirk creased Yuuno’s lips. “Or I’ll sic Pinkie on you. Got it?”
“But I don’t want to make anypony sick.” Pinkie pouted.
Twilight snorted, carefully sliding the pendant chain around her neck. “I got it.”
“Good. Now could you explain why you had wings?!” Rainbow glared down at Twilight. “Seriously, Fate can fly and shoot lightning, and then you grow a pair of wings! Is everypony trying to steal my shtick or something?”
“I’ll explain once we get back to the library.”
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
Fate glowered quietly at Arf as the wolf-woman fussed over her, her tail swishing irritably. “Arf.” She said flatly.
“That’s the ninth time you’ve asked me that question in the past five minutes. I’ve counted.” Fate settled herself onto her bedroll, tucking her legs underneath her, her face turned away from her familiar. “The worst I’ve got is a pounding headache and a few sore muscles. Please stop asking.”
The wolf-girl whined softly, slumping down onto her knees, her ears going limp.. “Yes, Master.”
“I’m more upset that you abandoned the Jewel Seeds. You know how important those are, both to my mission and to Mother.”
“But…but you were unconscious!” Arf whimpered softly, wilting further. “I…I had to get you out of there. If something had happened…”
Arf sniffled softly, a tiny whine escaping her lips. Her head bowed further, to the point that her orange hair hid her face. It was bad enough that she was afraid for her master, but to be treated so callously… “I’ll…excuse myself from your presence then, master.”
Arf paused as she heard Fate rise, the dainty pony gently nuzzling her side.
“I’m sorry Arf. It’s just that I have to report to Mother tomorrow. I had hoped to get some more Seeds to take to her. I shouldn’t blame you like this. You were only doing what you thought was best.”
Arf closed her eyes, her tail slowly swishing. “You’re…not mad at me?”
“Only a little.” Fate sighed softly. “It’s best we turn in for the evening. I need to rest, and Bardiche needs to regenerate from his damage from the blast.”
“Yes Master.” Arf glanced up slightly. “Um… Fate?”
“If all you’re doing tomorrow is going in to report, then maybe you should let me handle it?” She swallowed, the butterflies in her stomach alerting her to the territory she was stepping into. “After all, it’s just a quick report…”
“Arf, Mother won’t listen to you.” Fate quietly interrupted. “Half the time she won’t even register your existence. Besides, if I didn’t report in person, she would worry.”
Arf’s ears flattened. “Worry? Her?”
“Arf.” Fate warned. “Don’t.”
“I know you don’t like Mother, but she’s different. She’s just going through a bad time right now. I know Mother loves me, deep in my heart. She just…has a funny way of showing it.”
That’s putting it lightly. Arf swallowed, trying not to look at a place just below Fate’s withers.
“You’re a good girl, Arf. But you can’t let your protective instincts run so wild.”
Arf inhaled slowly. Put on a happy face Arf. Smile. Maybe Master is right…this time.
“You’re right. After all, in the short time we’ve been here we’ve collected over a third of the Jewel Seeds!” Arf did her best to smile, her lips slightly fixed. “I’m sure she’ll have nothing but praise for your efforts. After all, you’ve worked so hard for her…”
“That’s the spirit, Arf.” Fate smiled again, nuzzling closer to the wolf-woman wit her eyes closed. Arf wrapped an arm around Fate’s body, holding her close even as she shivered; a spike of cold ran up her back from the memories.
‘Nothing but praise.’ That woman wouldn’t know praise if it slapped her in the face. Arf’s thoughts ran dark, her teeth clenching.
Evening had came quietly on the sleepy town of Ponyville. The other ponies had dispersed earlier to go about their business; Applejack and Rarity returned to their homes-slash-businesses, Pinkie Pie had vanished off to Sugarcube Corner, Fluttershy had gone off to check on the animals since her cottage had been fixed up, and a very grumpy Rainbow Dash had flown off to find a place to nap. That had left Yuuno, Twilight, and Spike to their own devices.
Yuuno glanced up from his book One good thing about rooming in a library; there was easy access to plenty of reading material. True, it was in an unfamiliar language, but it wasn’t exactly difficult to puzzle out. “Yes, Twilight?”
“You’re good at spells and such, right?” Twilight approached, a stack of papers floating just behind her and a pair of glasses balanced carefully on her nose.
“Well, I wouldn’t say good, but I’m proficient. Why? What’s up?”
“Nothing. I just wanted you to check and see if everything looked alright.” She floated the parchment pages over to his desk, setting them down in a neat stack before him.
“’If everything looked alright?’ What do you mean?” Yuuno paused as he scanned over the top page. The familiar runes of Mid-Childan magic decorated the page of notes, neatly and precisely scribed by quill pen, but none of the spells looked in any way familiar. “Twilight? How did-”
“Raising Heart gave me a primer on Mid-Childan magical theory after we finished practicing the Flier Fin spell. I was going over it in my head when the Seeds activated.” Twilight glanced at him. “Is something wrong? Did I mess up my calculations?”
“No. It’s just… I keep forgetting how skilled you are at this sort of thing. Usually it takes months, if not longer, to learn enough basic magical theorem to program unique spells. These don’t look like anything I’m familiar with.”
“That’s because I’ve been trying to transcribe Unicorn magic into Mid-Childan style magic. It helps that your style of spell-casting is pretty close to ours.” Twilight telekinetically floated a large tome over and opened it. “See? This is a copy of Efficient Enchantments for the Economical Equine. As you can see, the spells are mostly mental formulas that are used to channel personal energy and desire to achieve an observable effect. When you get down to it, it’s only a difference in notation and mathematical language.”
“See? Told you she was scary smart.” Spike noted, leaning his head out from the kitchen. “Salad’s ready by the way. Do you guys want to eat in here?”
“I…I really don’t know what to say Twilight.” Yuuno blushed as he fingered through the pages. The formulas certainly looked alright. Some of them he recognized, particularly a spell that looked very much like his Transporter spell. One or two of them looked like Twilight was trying to combine different classes of magic.
It was the last three pages that gave him pause. The designs inscribed on it were a lot more elaborate and advanced. It looked like some sort of Bombardment spell, but a great deal more complex.
And she did all this with a basic primer on Mid-Childan magic theory? Spike was right, Twilight is frighteningly smart.
“Oh! Yeah, that one’s a doozy.” Twilight laughed nervously as Yuuno paused. “I’m still working on that one. I haven’t even given it a name yet. Plus, the calculations for energy transference and conversion are a bit of a pain to balance out. Once I get it down though…”
“Twilight, you never cease to amaze.” Yuuno set the pages down, then reached over and rubbed Twilight’s ears. The purple unicorn blushed and giggled softly.
“I mean it. I’ve met mages that don’t even have half of your talent, even working in their native paradigm.”
“Oh stop! You’re embarrassing me.” Twilight blushed brighter.
“Ugh. Get a room you two.” Spike rolled his eyes as he brought the food in.
“Spike!” Twilight flushed even brighter.
“Nothing wrong with admiring a fellow intellectual.” Yuuno chuckled as he walked over to the table, picking up a plate and loading it with salad.
“Mhmm.” Twilight levitated a bit of salad over to her own plate, then paused. “Yuuno.”
“What’s your opinion on Fate?”
“My opinion?” Yuuno forked some lettuce into his mouth, munching thoughtfully.
“Yes. I mean, it’s clear she’s a very driven individual, highly skilled in magic and willing to fight to get what she wants. It’s just that there’s something off about her. I can’t quite put my hoof on it, but it’s troubling me.”
“Considering she only seems to hang around with that dog-woman of hers and hunt after Jewel Seeds, she probably doesn’t have much to do.” Spike countered.
“I think you might be onto something Spike. I haven’t seen her around Ponyville. Pinkie hasn’t seen her either, or we’d be getting party invitations.” Twilight frowned. “I wonder if that’s it. Maybe she’s alone.”
“Sounds like somepony’s dredging up some bad memories.” Spike reached over, pulling the pepper shaker closer to his side.
“Yeah. I was like that before the Summer Sun Celebration. I was happy being alone, or at least that’s what I thought…”
“It sounds like you’re projecting a little bit.” Yuuno tapped his fork against his chin. “But it does make sense. And from the speed she’s reacting to events, she has to be living relatively close by. Are there any towns and cities near here?”
“Not really. The closest city is Canterlot, and I’d think the Princesses would know about any mysterious unicorns flying around with pet dogs. Not to mention the way to Canterlot is on the opposite side of town from the Everfree Forest. Plus, we haven’t seen anypony other than pegasi doing a fly-over of Ponyville.”
“So maybe she’s working out of the Everfree Forest?”
“It’s certainly possible. That place has more than enough hiding spots. That’s where I’d go if I had to hide.” Twilight paused. “Actually, I’d probably go to Canterlot if I really had to hide, but that’s beside the point. Fate doesn’t seem to have any allies. She’s alone, with only Arf and her Device, and hiding in the Everfree Forest. Why? If she had any sense she would have brought assistance, or tried to get help from here in Ponyville. Why does she have to do it alone?”
“She doesn’t seem to be the trusting type. Maybe she feels like she has to do it by herself?” Yuuno ventured.
“Or someone’s forcing her to do it.” Spike deadpanned. “Nopony that young is likely going to go out and do something this dangerous without somepony waiting for them.”
“Either way, I just…” Twilight sighed. “I want to help her. I really do, even after all she’s done.” She sighed softly. “Maybe I’ll ask Zecora tomorrow if she’s seen anything out of the ordinary. I’ve been so busy with everything that I’ve completely forgotten to keep her in the loop.”
The “higher reaches” of D-Space hid many secrets, especially in the more unstable or tempestuous areas of the inter-dimensional warp. The Garden of Time was one such secret.
A great black citadel of stone and metal, the Garden resembled a monster from the depths of some dark ocean, silently floating in the perpetually-swirling D-Space surrounding it. Bolts of lightning crackled along its surface, the sparks drawn to one of the dozens of spires dotting its surface.
The insides were no less intimidating. What areas that weren’t shrouded in gloom were lit with intense lights, creating sharp shadows among the gothic architecture that had been hewn out of the citadel’s insides.
Arf despised the place for many reasons. The aesthetics, however, were the least of her qualms. The familiar stayed close to her ponified master, her tail as stiff as a bottle brush as they approached the great golden doors that lead to the throne room. There was a soft creak as they swung inwards, the gloom inside waiting to swallow Fate up.
“We’ve arrived.” Fate noted quietly.
“Y-yeah…” Arf swallowed. “Fate, please, let me come in with you this time. Please…”
The golden filly shook her head slowly. “Mother won’t allow it.”
“Please…” Arf whined, sinking down to Fate’s level. “Just this once. I just want to be beside you, just in case something bad…”
“Nothing bad will happen, Arf.” Fate replied quietly, giving the wolf-girl’s face a nuzzle. “Now, please, be a good girl and wait out here.”
“No buts. You‘re not allowed into the throne room until the doors open again.”
Arf shivered visibly as she sank down onto the carpet beside the door. It took every ounce of self control, every bit of her will not to spring up and chase after her Master. She pressed her palms against her head, pinning her ears as she shut her eyes.
Linith, what would you do? How do I help my master when she just pushes me away?
The memories came to her, even as she tried to drown out the painful cries.
“Whatcha doin’ Linith?”
Arf grinned playfully as she peered over the older familiar’s shoulder. She loved teasing Linith, gently testing the cat’s saint-like patience every so often, just to see if she’d react. The fact that they shared an apartment in the Garden of Time helped with her teasing.
Linith sighed, closing her eyes as she glanced up from the piece of glowing metal hovering before her. “I’m working on something for dear Fate. Your Master may have given you no demands, but I have duties to attend to.”
“Something for Master? Ooh! Lemme see! Lemme see!”
“Absolutely not.” Linith held up a hand, pressing it into Arf’s face and giving her a gentle push back. “The project has not yet been completed, and I won’t have your hands all over it, puppy. Away with you!”
“Aw…” Arf pouted, hands on her hips. “There’s no reason to be so secretive…”
“Yes, there is. It’s supposed to be a surprise for her. And so help me, if you tell Fate I’ll be extremely upset with you, puppy.”
Arf was about to reply as she heard the door shut, followed by soft, shuffling footsteps.
“Fate’s back!” Arf grinned, bounding towards the sound of the footsteps. “Fate! Fate!”
The joy promptly died as she saw Fate’s state. The girl walked quietly, her head slightly bowed. The young girl’s face was red, and her eyes were puffy.
“Fate?” Arf paused, then blinked as her Master shuffled by. “Fate, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Mother…“ The young girl rubbed her face gently. “Mother was… upset with me, that’s all.”
“Have…you been crying, Master?” Arf whined softly, tentatively reaching out for her.
“No.” Fate walked around her, passing her by without a second glance.
“I’m fine Arf.” Fate replied quietly, her tiny hands reaching up to the door handle. “I’m just going to clean up, okay? Please, wait out here.”
Arf started to speak, right before Fate shut the door in her face.
“She hides it well.”
Arf spun as Linith stepped into the hallway, her normally peaceful gaze steely, her pupils sliding into slits. “But then again, growing up with someone like her mother, she learned quickly.”
“I…I don’t understand.” Arf whined. “What did her mother…what did Fate do wrong?”
“Nothing. My Master simply has goals in mind for her. Goals that she absolutely insists on achieving.” Linith looked at the bathroom door even as water began to run. “Goals that no sane mother, no, no sane person would force on a child so young. Such is the twisted logic of my never-kind Master, Presea Testarossa.”
“Linith!” Arf whispered. “You’re not supposed to talk about your Master that way!”
Linith made a noise that was half laugh and half snarl. It was not a happy sound. “I can and I shall. What she does is wrong. But that’s not the worst of it…” Linith hugged her arms around herself and inhaled. “My Master is keeping her cruelty in check for now, if only just because of my own demands. After all, I am Fate’s tutor. Without me, even her mildest of objectives would be impossible.” Linith closed her eyes and shivered. “I can only imagine what depths that woman will sink to when I have completed my duties to her.”
Linith turned her gaze on Arf. The wolf-woman shrank slightly from her eyes. “Listen well, puppy. There may come a time when you’ll have to stand up to Fate.”
“I could never…”
“I know. But you must. You can feel it in your bones, in those instincts of yours, that this is wrong. I know you do. When the time comes, you’ll have to stand up to your Master, if only to save her from herself.”
Linith froze, her lips creasing into a sneer. “My ever-cruel Master calls for me. She requires an accounting for her daughter’s progress.” She might as well have spat at the end of that sentence, such was her venom. She glanced back to Arf. “Be there for her, Arf. Once I’m gone, you’ll be the only friend she’ll have in this miserable place.”
“I’m disappointed in you, Fate.”
Fate tried to breathe shallowly. It was difficult to do with her forelimbs suspended above her head. Her Barrier Jacket was in shreds, the black cloth giving way to thin lacerations along the trunk of her body. Similar wounds decorated her limbs. Her mane was a tangle of gold that barely hid her face. Here and there drops of red stained her yellow coat. All of it combined with her pounding head and aching muscles, which had not disappeared while she slept.
I will not cry. I will not cry. Fate kept her mental mantra going as she heard Mother approach. Mother will be sad if I cry. I will not cry.
“I had great expectations for you. When the Jewel Seeds finally made their presence known, I knew that all my plans would soon bare fruit. I sent you forth in my stead, knowing you would bring them to me. And what happened? Tell me, what happened?”
“I…brought back…eight…” Fate whispered.
“You brought back eight Jewel Seeds. Eight out of twenty one.” Mother’s voice grew harsher. “Not even half of the Seeds. And what’s worse, you offer excuses as to your failure!” Mother’s voice broke as she began to cough, a wet, wracking noise that hurt to listen too. After a few moments, the coughing slowed and stopped. “I’m…very…disappointed.” Mother’s voice continued shakily.
Fate clenched her eyes, waiting for the pain to come. But nothing happened. She felt a hand grip her chin, pulling her head upwards sharply. “Look at me, Fate.”
Fate opened her eyes slowly. Mother’s eyes almost glowed in the gloom. A tiny trickle of blood ran down from the corner of her mouth.
“You are the offspring of the great mage, Presea Testarossa.” Mother whispered, holding her chin gently. “For someone like you, a task like retrieving the Jewel Seeds should be simple. Child’s play. I expect better from you, Fate. Not even a change in form should stop you from your task. Don‘t you agree?”
“Yes…mother…” Fate whispered.
“And yet, you come here with such meager results. No excuses, no words, can make up the difference. Again and again, I told you; ‘only actions can show the strength of your conviction, the strength of your loyalty to me.’ Do you not remember that, Fate?”
“Yes…mother.” Fate heard the rustle of fabric just outside of her field of vision. Her eyes widened in recognition.
“Normally, I would be willing to forgive the brief faltering of your convictions, Fate. No doubt your current state came as a shock. Am I right?”
“However… you tried to make excuses to my face, to justify your weakness.” Mother hissed, squeezing her chin harder, fingernails digging into her skin. “That, however, is unacceptable. I will not tolerate you trying to hide your failures like that, not with knowing how important the Jewel Seeds are to my plans. You knew this and yet you make excuses! I will not tolerate such insubordination!”
“Yes, mother.” Fate squeaked as her jaw was released. Mother stepped back, her black dress rustling as she raised her staff, the golden wings glittering around the large purple sphere at its head.
“It seems further instruction is required. A reminder of the penalties for failing me.”
Fate whimpered as the staff glowed, the thin rod warping as it became a long, coiling whip, the grip the same metallic gold as the wings of her mother‘s staff. It was a weapon she was quite familiar with. She clenched her eyes shut, steeling herself.
The first blow sent a spike of pain up her body. A scream came involuntarily from her lips as the whip whistled towards her again.
The second blow lanced across her ribs. She felt one of them buckle slightly.
Foam flecked her lips as she screamed again. The wounds felt like they were on fire. All she could do was scream.
CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!
Fate slumped as the lashes stopped. Tears dripped down her muzzle. She couldn’t even think straight. Every breath felt like it took weeks to pull into her lungs.
“I trust you have learned your lesson?” Mother’s voice was gentle now.
Fate sobbed a reply.
“I only do this to make you strong, Fate. You must be strong. Only someone who’s strong can achieve great things. Don’t you want to be strong?”
“Yes…” Fate managed to choke out.
“Then go back to that world. Find the remaining Jewel Seeds. If something gets in your way…” Fate felt Mother’s hand stroke her ear, the grip it firmly. “Crush it without a second thought. Show no mercy or kindness. I know it will be hard, but you will be rewarded for it. Your success will bring me such delight. Don‘t you want to make your mother happy?”
Fate sobbed quietly. “Yes…mother…”
“Good. The next time you disappoint me, it will be twenty lashes. Do not fail me again, Fate.” Fate heard Mother’s heeled shoes and staff click softly on the stone floor. “I’m going to rest. Someone in my condition shouldn’t get so agitated. I trust you can find your way back.”
Fate fell to the hard ground as the door shut, the phantasmal chains disappearing from around her hooves. She laid there on the cold stone floor. Vaguely, she heard the front doors swing open. Warm hands pressed around her head. She felt herself being lifted up, surrounded by an orange haze. Her vision blurred and went black.
“Captain, we have arrived over target dimension.”
“Very good. Synchronize and maintain relative dimensional vector with the area.” Lindy stood from her Captain’s chair, her hands resting on the ridge overlooking the bridge crew. “Begin sweeps for any dimensional anomalies. Also, initiate surface scans to see if there’s anything we can see on ground level.”
“Aye-aye, captain! Beginning sensor sweeps now.”
At least now we’ll be able to get a look at the world. Lindy pinched the bridge of her nose as data began to pump into the holographic displays hanging in the air. She had to admit, the world was rather pretty, even if the sensor scans were a bit fuzzy.
“What’s with the interference?”
“Sorry Captain,” the gentleman at sensors replied. “There’s a lot of ambient energy on this world. It’s hard to get a completely clear visual scan, and this weird barrier isn‘t helping. We’re working on it though… wait.“ The sensor crew tapped at their consoles before a shout rang out. “I’ve got a spike!”
“What?!” Lindy leaned over the edge as green coordinates flashed up on the sensor screens.
“Incoming dimensional warp. Single transit from an unknown location! Unable to ascertain the origin point.”
Lindy‘s hand clenched tighter. “Do we have a destination?”
“Approximately! We’re narrowing it down as quickly as we can!”
“Finally, some action.” Lindy reached over, tapping the comm button. “Enforcer Harlaown, this is Captain Harlaown. Proceed to transit room for immediate mobilization.”
“Yes ma’am,” came the response. “My orders?”
“Investigate and, if a battle should break out, interfere and resolve. You have authority to use any methods you should feel necessary, short of lethal force.”
“Confirmed. I will mobilize once transit coordinates have been finalized.”
“Good hunting, Chrono. and do be careful, alright?”
"Of course, M- I mean, Yes, Captain."
Lindy smiled faintly as she flicked the communicator off.
The Everfree was abuzz with life as the sun poured through the canopy, the leaves rustling in a gentle breeze as two travelers worked their way along one of its many winding paths.
“So, tell me more about Zecora.” Yuuno smiled down at Twilight as the pair of them walked through the forest.
“Well, Zecora’s a zebra. She lives out here in the Everfree Forest, mostly on her own.”
“On her own?” Yuuno blinked. “Isn’t that a bit dangerous?”
“Well, yes. But Zecora seems to like it. To be frank, she doesn’t seem quite comfortable with Ponyville. Then again, the other ponies were afraid she was some sort of evil witch. Even I fell into the hysteria for a little while until we sorted things out.” Twilight shook her head and sighed. “Not one of my prouder moments, believe me.”
“I can understand that.”
“But we’re past that now. Zecora’s a brilliant mare, and a skilled herbalist. She makes potions and remedies from things she finds in the Everfree, even for things that would elude the doctors in Ponyville. The things she can do with herbs and minerals boggles even me sometimes.”
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy there, Twilight?” Yuuno teased.
“Haha.” Twilight rolled her eyes. “I don’t mind admitting when I’m outclassed. I’m pretty sure that Zecora could fix anything.”
“ZECORA! ZECORA! Oh please be here, ZECORA!”
The zebra glanced up from her cauldron as she heard the shout. It was a familiar voice, but filled with panic and desperation. The zebra trotted around the cauldron, heading towards the door. “I’m coming quick, oh shouting one.” she called back as she unlocked and opened the door. “What business now do you wish done?”
Zecora’s mouth went dry at the sight. It was the same voice, coming out of the mouth of a very unfamiliar looking creature. A crumpled up young filly hung limply in her arms, her breathing strained, and her black clothing stained and wet. The creature’s features were different, but the mane of orange hair, ears and brilliant blue eyes were familiar, even through the streams of tears.
“Arf? Is that you I see? Who is this young filly?”
“Master! Please! She’s hurt bad! Breathing not good!” Arf’s words were jumbled as she hugged the slender pony. “Fix her! Please! Zecora, help!”
“Bring her in, and move quickly!” Zecora stepped aside, jerking her head inwards. “I can help her, you will see. On the table, lay her down. I’ll not heal her on the ground!”
Arf moved quickly, resting the filly on the aforementioned table, her ears and tail bristling.
“Remove her clothing, hurry, quick!” Zecora was moving right behind her, quickly pulling bottles and pouches from their holding spots. “Before the blood begins to stick!”
“G-got it.” Arf started pulling off the filly’s dressing. It wasn’t exactly difficult, the thing was in near-tatters already. “Oh no, oh no, oh Fate, please, please please…”
“Your panicking will not help her,” Zecora shouted, causing Arf to whine, “To my authority, defer! Undress her quick, and then step out, or else this task will be a rout!”
“I’m not going anywhere!” Arf snarled, meeting Zecora's turqouise eyes.
“Listen wolf, I tell no lies. Should your Fate meet her demise, I will offer you my throat, and we’ll both be on that boat!” Zecora whinnied and head butted the wolf-woman towards the door. “Trust in me, she’s in good care. Now get out. ‘fore I despair! Every second that you interfere, she slips closer to death so near!”
Arf whined as she stumbled out the door. Zecora whipped her tail around, shutting it quickly before rushing back to her patient. Her body was covered in wounds, some only shallow, but several quite deep into the muscle. Her breathing was shallow and labored. Beneath her coat, Zecora’s hooves felt the tell-tale tracery of scar tissue.
“Quick I’ll work, to relieve these pains.” Zecora pulled down her potions, producing long strips of clean cloth that she soaked in the colorful tinctures. “and to still the blood that now drains.” She ran her hooves along the filly’s barrel, clicking her tongue as she felt more give than should be there. “The breathing is slow, likely a rib is broke. A bone-fixing potion that problem will choke.”
Zecora worked quickly. A thick white potion was poured own the unconscious filly’s throat, even as Zecora’s tail dipped bandages into a shallow basin filled with potion. Her hooves and teeth pulled the bandages around the filly’s limbs and belly, securing them even as the elixir did its work. She did her best to ignore the pitiful whimpering outside her door.
She couldn't ignore it, however, when the whimpering turned to shouting.
Fate was floating in a shadowy sea, alone and in silence. Her mane, unbound, flowed freely around her head. Her entire body ached with constant pain, but it felt distant, muted. She was alone, like always. Bardiche was still recovering from the impact of the Jewel Seeds, and Arf was nowhere to be found.
She was utterly alone.
You’re not alone.
Who said that? She couldn’t open her eyes, but she heard a voice. A thought. Something warm and gentle.
You’re not alone.
No, she had to be alone. Whenever she was hurt, she was always alone and in the dark. She would sit in the bathtub with the water running so she could cry. Arf didn’t understand. Bardiche couldn’t understand. She had failed her mother.
She deserved to be alone.
And yet, the feeling remained.
Nopony deserves to be alone, the feeling said. And nopony is alone. Even if you’re by yourself under the bright day or the gentle night, you’re not alone because the sun and moon are above you.
Who are you?
The darkness rippled. I am the one watching over you from morning to night. And I wanted you to know, even in this dark place of pain, you aren’t alone. Not if you choose to be.
Fate felt limbs slide around her middle, a gentle nudge on her cheek. It was like sunlight, like the warmth of the day when Mother made her the crown of flowers..
Be at peace, little one. It will hurt, but you’ll get better. And know that you’re not alone.
And for the first time in a long, long time, Fate felt safe.
Twilight stepped back, staring at the wolf-woman blocking the entrance to the door. She and Yuuno had only just entered the clearing Zecora’s house was in when Arf sprang up, bodily blocking the door.
“What’re you doing here?!” Twilight Sparkle’s mind raced. This was bad; Raising Heart was still inactive, which meant it was her and Yuuno’s magic against Arf’s if it came down to that. However, the familiar seemed completely out of sorts; her hair looked like someone had been pulling on it, and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
“I SAID GET BACK!” Arf snarled. “GET OUT OF HERE! I WON’T LET YOU TOUCH HER!”
“Okay…okay…” Yuuno raised his hands slowly, stepping back. “We’re not going to do anything, alright?”
“I don’t believe you! I won’t let you touch Fate. She’s already hurt! I won’t! I WON’T!”
“Where’s Zecora?” Twilight called to her. “Is she inside?”
“Yes! Now go away! Please, just go away!” Arf sobbed. “I will protect my Master, like I should have! I won’t let anyone hurt Fate!” Energy crackled around Arf as a set of energy spheres popped into being.
“GO AWAY!” Arf howled as the bolts flew free, only to be intercepted by a light blue shield mid-way between her and the others. Bright blue bindings snapped around Arf’s hands as a voice rang out.
A young man appeared in a black coat, a long black staff tipped with a blue, single-winged cylinder held in one hand and raised in a defensive stance. His eyes were determined as a blue glow faded from around him, glancing from Yuuno, to Arf.
“I am Enforcer Chrono Harlaown, representing the Time-Space Administration Bureau. Cease all combat immediately and withdraw all active Devices.”
“The Time-Space…what?!” Twilight gaped.
“So, how is she?”
Celestia opened her eyes slowly, her horn still glowing sunlight-yellow. Luna was standing before her, looking more than a little irritated.
“I’ve touched the hearts of many a pony, but never someone so…sad.” Celestia bowed her head. “I wish I had done so sooner.”
“She is not the only problem we have, sister.” Luna snorted. “There is a vessel currently docked above our world in lower dimensional space. An individual has made egress from it and has entered the Everfree Forest.”
“Were you expecting something akin to this, Sister mine?” Luna’s voice had a slight edge to it.
“I did. I knew our quiet little corner of the universe wouldn’t stay unmolested for long.” Celestia nodded quietly. “It was only a matter of time before mortals started showing up again.”
Luna frowned at her elder sister. The fact that she was taking this in such easy stride was deeply unsettling. She was used to Celestia’s machinations, but this was beyond the scope of any of her prior plans.
“Should we prepare for an invasion, or for a diplomatic exchange?”
“Why do you ask, Luna?” Celestia smiled faintly.
“Because you are, as usual, smugly smiling and keeping information close to your chest. Tis rather galling in more ways than one. I repeat; invasion, or diplomacy?”
“Diplomacy first, Luna. I don’t think they’d be so quick to go to war this time.”
“You said that many years ago too, and look how that turned out.” Luna countered darkly.
“There’s always hope, little sister.”
All images (c) their creators.