Night had fallen over Canterlot, bringing a blanket of silence over the normally bustling city. Twilight was still sitting at the window, unmoving. It was this sorry sight that greeted Rarity as she entered the room, levitating a tray of herbal tea. Spike followed at her heels dejectedly, his normal enthusiasm gone.
Sighing, Rarity trotted over to Twilight and delicately placed the tray on the windowsill.
“Twilight,” she began kindly. “I can’t claim to even begin to understand what you’re going through right now…but please, you need to eat something!” The plates of food she had brought to comfort the mourning princess had gradually piled up, and were now threatening to fall off the edge of the desk.
Twilight said nothing, but slowly levitated the cup and took a small sip. Warmth spread through her body immediately, her muscles losing some of their tension. She smiled weakly at Rarity in gratitude, and turned back to the window.
“You…you mustn’t blame yourself, Twilight.” Rarity said carefully. “I don’t think any of us realised just how far into madness she had slipped.”
“…what do I do now, Rarity?” She said shakily, her voice strained. “Is that it? Does life just…carry on like before?” A single tear trailed down her face, and she furiously rubbed at her eyes.
“Shh, it’s ok dear. Let it out.” Rarity reached other to her charge, patting her on the pack in a consoling manner.
Twilight blinked, and stood up forcefully.
“No…” she choked out. “I am a Princess. I…I can’t cry now. Not when there is so much to do…”
“Twilight, it’s not healthy to bottle things up like that.” Spike commented in concern, who had been hovering awkwardly near the food for a few minutes.
“No…I have to be strong. It’s like Caramel…” she shuddered and took a deep breath, then continued. “It’s like Caramel said. The people out there that she’s oppressing…they believe in me. Look up to me. Depend on me. And all of this time I’ve sitting in the castle doing nothing…its time I started doing something for them. It’s…it’s what Caramel would have wanted.”
“But…what can you do?” Spike asked. “Moon won’t ever let you do anything that goes against her wishes.”
“I DON’T KNOW!” Twilight yelled in frustration, making the young dragon and unicorn jump. “I just…I have to do something. I can’t just stay here!”
“You’re not. We leave the castle tonight.” Came a voice from the door.
The three of them turned to see Colter standing there, a grim look on his face. “This kingdom needs nothing less than a revolution. It needs a new leader.” He looked pointedly at Twilight. “It needs…a Hero.”
“What…revolution?” Stammered Rarity in shock and more than a little fear, but Twilight was nodding in fierce agreement.
“Nightmare Moon has to be stopped. If she carries on like this…I can’t allow any more ponies to suffer because of her.” She looked nervously at Colter. “Do…do you really think I could lead a revolution?”
“You are highly intelligent, compassionate, skilled in combat and magic, have a good understanding of royal politics and society, and are charismatic enough to sway people to your cause…so long as you can get your head out your books long enough to actually talk to people.” He replied curtly.
“But…a full on revolution?” Said Spike incredulously. “How are we going to manage that? We’d need an army!”
“Lad, there are enough people angry at Moon to storm the castle a hundred times over. We just have to convince them to help us.”
“Colter, you’re an ex-soldier. You know it won’t be anywhere near as simple as that.” Chided Twilight in disapproval.
“I’m dumbing it down for the kid.”
“Hey!” Protested Spike. “I’m not stupid!”
“Well,” interrupted Rarity, “If we are leaving, then I will just need to quickly pack some essentials-“
“There isn’t any time, Rarity.” Colter irritably replied. “We take nothing.”
She looked horrified. “NOTHING?” She shrieked. “Nothing? Not even pyjamas?”
“He’s right, Rarity.” Twilight added. “The moment she realises we’ve gone, she’ll send soldiers after us. We need to travel as light as possible.”
She began pacing nervously. “But…how will we escape? I’m under strict orders not to leave the tower for the rest of the day. There are at least two guards at the entrance and who knows how many more between there and the main gate.”
“Those two change their shift in about ten minutes.” Replied Colter. “We can slip by fairly easily at that point.” He glanced at Rarity. “Or a least, we can assuming we aren’t carrying any suitcases….”
“Oh, just leave it.” She huffed. “But I’m telling you now that you’ll regret not taking anything.”
“And the gate?” Asked Spike. “Something tells me that casually strolling out of the castle grounds won’t go down too well.”
“You leave that to me.” Said Colter gruffly.
“What have you got planned?” Twilight asked in suspicion. He simply smirked knowingly.
Before they knew it, it was time to make their daring escape. The journey down the tower was simple enough- the only others around were members of the cleaning staff, who pointedly ignored them.
Stepping into the small antechamber, Colter halted and cautiously extended his right foreleg, which Twilight promptly smacked her face into.
“Shh, not so loud!” I need to check if the coast is clear. You three wait here.” He carefully inched his way closer to the doorframe, surprisingly stealthy for one so large.
“Eugh, so bossy.” Rarity said bossily.
He nudged the door slightly ajar with his nose, peering out with one eye. “It’s clear. Let’s go.”
Sighing in relief, they quickly re-joined him and slipped outside. The gardens were just as beautiful in the soft moonlight as they were in the sun, the moon’s soft rays gently giving each flower an ethereal glow.
“Oh my, I am going to miss that.” Rarity sighed wistfully, gazing upon the scene.
“Hurry!” Urged Colter, and they swiftly made their way across the grounds. There were no guards in sight, but at any moment one could come round the corner, or pop out from behind a bush…
“Wait a minute.” Twilight spoke up, breaking the tense silence. “This isn’t the way to the gate. I thought we were leaving the castle?”
“We are. There’s just one thing we need to do first…”
With a jolt Twilight realised where the old stallion had lead them. At the very back of the gardens a set a stairs led down stopping at a pair of grand ornate doors laid into the rock of the very mountain on which Canterlot Castle was built.
This was her mother’s tomb.
She had never been inside. The funeral had taken place just outside, and the coffin was moved there shortly after. Her father’s had also been relocated, to be placed alongside his wife. After the service, she had spent weeks inside her room, refusing to speak to anyone. Even long after she had come to terms with the situation, she had never mustered up the courage to enter, even once.
And to think, poor Caramel probably wouldn’t even get as much as a headstone. Traitors are given no such privileges…
“It’s time to pay our respects,” Whispered Colter softly. “To Equestria’s last Hero.”
Twilight felt her anger growing. Just what was Colter’s game? “Again with that Hero nonsense?” She spat, making the other three jump in alarm. “They’re just stories, Colter! Why bring it up now?”
“Twilight?” Asked Spike fearfully. She ignored him.
Colter didn’t answer for a moment. He inclined his head forward slightly, his eyes closed.
“I was there for some of it, you know.”
Twilight blinked. What was he talking about?
“Not the major part, not what the stories are about. But I fought alongside your mother, Twilight. I saw the raw power she wielded, the things her Will could do. She told me the real stories- the truth behind the legends was beyond anything I could have dreamed of.” He turned and fixed her with a long, piercing stare.
“There is no doubt in my mind that Celestia had Hero blood running through her veins. And I am equally certain it also runs through yours. If we are going to lead a revolution, we need more than just a leader. We need someone who can shape the world in their image. Someone who truly cares for what is right and just. We need someone like you, Twilight.”
Twilight’s head was spinning. Could it really be true? All those tales…surely they had to fake? They were simply urban legends formulated by an adoring populace who raised Celestia onto an unbreakable pedestal.
The defeat of the bandit pony Thag Furhide at Ponyville Lake, becoming the undisputed Champion of the Crucible at Neighcliffe, fighting off hordes of Hollow Ponies…could it all have really happened?
She shook her head to clear her thoughts. “Look Colter…let’s pretend for some crazy moment that you’re right, and my mother secretly used to be an almost omnipotent member of a long dead order who travelled Equestria performing incredible and noble acts before becoming Queen, and that I also have the potential to do similar things.”
She looked at him wryly. “How does that help us escape the Castle?”
The ex-soldier said nothing, and simply continued on down the steps.
“He’s trying to be mysterious again.” Griped Spike as they followed.
“Oh I don’t know…I find it quite attractive myself.” Whispered Rarity to him conspiratorially, before letting out a small giggle.
If looks could kill, then Colter’s back would be quite a mess giving how hard Spike was glaring at it.
The tomb was remarkably clean considering no one had entered it for several years. The walls of the chamber were adorned with various arcane symbols and runes, which all glowed faintly. Twilight knew they were a highly advanced ward system, though she couldn’t say what it did without a proper analysis.
At the far end of the room an enormous statue of a pony stood, keeping watch over the two sarcophagi in front of it.
Her breath catching in her throat, Twilight slowly walked over to them.
Rarity, Spike and Colter followed, their heads bowed respectfully.
Gingerly, Twilight traced her hoof over the lid of the left coffin, wiping away the layer of fine dust and revealing the inscription beneath:
Beloved Ruler, Wife, Sister and Mother
May she find peace in the Afterworld
“Mother…” She sniffled. “I…” She sighed and stepped away. “Please, look after Caramel for me.” Sadly, she turned away, now facing the feet of the giant statue.
Looking more closely at it, she saw it was female, and garbed in some kind of old-fashioned robe, a unicorn’s horn just visible underneath its hood. It had no eyes or mouth- its face was blank. Frankly, it was rather creepy.
“I know it’s here somewhere…” Came a mutter from off to the side. Turning, she saw Colter was scrabbling about near the base of the statue, impatiently stomping his hooves on the stone tiles in succession.
“What on earth are you doing?”
He didn’t reply, but instead let out a gruff laugh as one of the tiles sunk beneath his hoof with a resounding click. “Got it!”
There was a deep rumble, and with a jolt Twilight realised that the statue was moving, some ancient mechanism triggering when Colter had stepped on the tile. It was bending its head forward and folding its legs, slowly lowering itself toward the ground.
Rarity screamed and reared back in shock, while Spike just stared dumbly.
The statue was now in a lying down position, as if it were about to sleep. Its blank face was directly in front of Twilight, and she resisted the urge not to bolt. It was obviously some kind of construct, but what purpose did it serve?
With a whirring noise, a panel that previously had blended in with the stonework slid open, approximately where the nose would have been.
Inside was a small compartment containing a large metal disk. It had the symbol of what appeared to be some kind of hourglass on it, with two spiral patterns on either side.
Even without touching it, Twilight could feel a faint magical throbbing from it.
“Ok, I’m officially lost.” Said Spike.
Colter proudly walked over to Twilight. “This was your mother’s most treasured possession, lass.” He paused dramatically.
“It’s the Hero’s Guild Seal!”
“What does it do?” Twilight asked, genuinely curious. If the legends of the Heroes had any truth to them, then at the very least that meant there was a lot of new material to potentially be researched.
“I have absolutely no idea.” They all groaned in exasperation.
“But I do know that not long before she passed away, she told me to bring you here and give it to you, Twilight, when I thought you were ready.” He sighed deeply. “But it doesn’t matter what I think anymore. This may be our last chance- whatever that thing is- it is a part of your legacy. Take it.”
Shakily, Twilight focussed and gently levitated it out of the compartment, which promptly close shut. She caught it in her mouth as she let go of the spell. For such a large object, it was surprisingly light.
“So…is something supposed to happen? My hooves are getting filthy.” Asked Rarity impatiently.
Twilight was about spit out the Seal and reply, but before she could an incredible pain lanced throughout her body, freezing her muscles rigid. Her vision turned white and she collapsed to the floor, unconscious.
Groaning, Twilight gingerly opened her eyes, and promptly shut them again as a fierce white light pierced them. Trying again as her eyes adjusted, she forced herself to stand, her body protesting angrily by giving her aches all over. She could feel her mane was a mess, and she doubted her tail was much better.
Just where am I?
She seemed to be standing on a stone path, which was suspended in mid-air. Past the edge she could only see an endless white void. Just up ahead was a large gate, with a large, complicated-looking lock sealing it shut.
Peering through the bars, she could see that the path continued through the gate into another more open area, which had yet another gate at the far end. Looking past that, she saw that the pattern repeated itself, a seemingly never-ending path filled with gates. In each interval between them, there seemed to be what looked like…chests?
“Ok, Twilight.” She muttered to herself. “This is officially the weirdest dream you have ever had.”
“Oh believe me, this is no dream.” Came a voice from behind her.
With a yelp of surprise, Twilight turned to see who else was here with her in this mysterious place.
Standing of few feet away from her was a unicorn decked out in a long, flowing cape covered with star patterns, and was wearing a rather dramatic wizard’s hat of the same style.
“Although, I can certainly understand why you would believe this to be all but a dream.” The mysterious mare continued with a smirk. “After all, most can only dream of being in the presence of…The Great and Powerful Trixie!”
Twilight blinked. “Who?”
“Psh, haven’t heard of me? I suppose it’s to be expected- it has been at least 30 years since I last graced Equestria with my power.” Trixie grinned and walked over to Twilight. “You’re very lucky you know- you’re only the second pony in history to receive this honour!”
“Err…thanks?” Said Twilight awkwardly, completely confused. “Um…where exactly are we? The last thing I remember-“
“You were touching the Guild Seal, correct?” Trixie interrupted.
“…yes? How did you-“
“”When you did so, it reacted to the power lying dormant within you, and brought you to this place.” She smiled smugly.
“One of my more ingenious enchantments, if I do say so myself!”
“Wait…you brought me here?” Retorted Twilight angrily. “Look, I don’t care who you are, you have to send me back! My friends-“
“Are fretting over your unconscious body right now. Don’t worry, I’ll return you after we’re done.” She hesitated for a moment. “Ah yes, I forgot to mention- right now we are inside a metaphysical representation of you mind.” Trixie smiled sheepishly. “Probably should have mentioned that earlier.”
Twilight was loathe to admit it to this obnoxious and full of herself unicorn, but that was some seriously impressive magic. Mind magic was one of the most difficult branches to work with, not least because so little was known about how the mind functioned.
“So…is there a reason why my mind is so weird-looking?” Her eyes narrowed. “And more to the point, why are you in my mind? Haven’t you heard of personal space?”
“I am here to guide you on your journey, Twilight Sparkle…just as I guided your mother through hers.”
Twilight blinked, even more confused than ever. “My…mother’s journey?”
“That’s correct, Twilight Sparkle.” Trixie sighed and looked away. “All those years ago, when Equestria was divided…when those with power lorded it over those less fortunate, when everyday life was just a struggle to survive, by any means necessary…there was one pony who was destined to change all that. To fight against injustice and evil, and unite Equestria into the peaceful, happy place it was meant to be. To achieve her revenge...”
Wait…revenge? Thought Twilight. That doesn’t sound like my mother at all…
“All those stories your friend told you? They’re all true, and more. Your mother was a Hero, all right.” Trixie smirked smugly. “And it was with my guidance that she was able to achieve her ambitions. So you should be quite honoured I’m doing the same for you.”
“Ok, by this point I’m starting to think that there might be some truth to this whole Hero thing.” Twilight began slowly. “But there is simply no way you guided my mother on anything- if this ‘journey’ took place before Equestria became a Kingdom, then it was at least thirty years ago- but you can’t be any older than twenty or so.”
“Appearances can be deceptive, Sparkle.” Countered Trixie confidently. “In more ways than one. You would do well to remember that.” She stepped past Twilight and eyed the gate critically.
“As to your other question, this particular part of your mind is a representation of your Will.” She explained. “There are other parts to which I could have brought you- your memories, your natural unicorn magic, your emotions- but these are all familiar to you.”
She gestured at the lock on the door. “These symbolise that you have very little familiarity with Will. Each of those chests you see behind the gates contains the instinctual knowledge of how to use it- it’s already there, in your blood. All you have to do is unlock it.”
She turned to Twilight again. “You remember your little fight in the training room? That spark you felt as you made the final blow? That was Will. A small taste of the power at your disposal…look closer.”
Still sceptic, Twilight inched close to the gate. Peering intently at it, she saw that where the other gates were sleek and shiny, this one had become rusted, its locks almost falling apart. Reaching out tentatively, she gave the central lock a firm push with her hoof.
With a protesting groan, it disintegrated into a fine dust, and the doors swung open. Trixie smirked.
“Go on, Princess. Claim your prize.”
“Yeah, I’d worked that out already.” Twilight snarked. “You don’t have to comment just before I do everything, you know.”
Trixie huffed, but said nothing further.
The chest had a simple latch mechanism, and was easily opening with Twilight’s magic. She peered inside eagerly to find…a metal tube?
“Um…” She deadpanned. “Is this my ‘instinctual knowledge? Because it’s not looking too impressive right now.”
“Fool,” hissed Trixie. “That is a very ancient and powerful magical artefact. It is what will allow you to channel your Will into a physical form!”
“…What is it?”
“It’s a gauntlet, for goodness sake! It straps onto your foreleg!”
“Oh…” Muttered Twilight, feeling rather stupid. Levitating it out of the chest, she put it on her right foreleg. It was comfortable, and surprisingly warm. “I don’t feel any different. How exactly does this help?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.” Trixie stated unhelpfully. “Now, it is time for you to leave.”
Twilight jumped. “Already? That was quite quick.”
“As you use your Will and adapt to it, more of these gates will open, and you will acquire new powers-“
“But I haven’t even got one power yet!”
“When you do,” Trixie continued. “You must return here and unlock them.”
“And how do I do that?” Twilight yelled in frustration. For somepony supposedly dedicated to ‘guiding’ her, she was being incredibly vague.
Trixie did not respond, but vanished in a swirl of silver energy. Almost immediately Twilight felt the same painful sensation as before, and she found herself collapsing unconscious for the second time in about five minutes.
“Twilight? Wake up!” Spike yelled in a panic, frantically fanning her face as she lay in a heap on the floor, unmoving. “What the hay is wrong with her?”
“Oh my…” wailed Rarity. “Of all the terrible things that could happen- this is THE. WORST. POSSIBLE. THING!” With a dramatic sigh she swooned backwards, and immediately regretted it as her back collided with the stone floor.
“Ah! Make that the second worst possible thing!”
“Quiet, both of you!” Shouted Colter grumpily as he paced around. “Look, I don’t know what happened either, but whatever that device did it was Celestia’s intention for it to happen. I’m sure everything will be fine, just give Twilight a minute.”
As if on cue, Twilight groaned and clumsily rose to her hooves. “Oh, horseapples…anyone get the name of the manticore that hit me?”
“Her terrible humour is still there.” Observed Spike. “She’s fine.”
“Oh thank goodness,” gushed Rarity, walking over to inspect the young princess for any damage. “You gave us quite a scare! But what happened?”
“I’m…not entirely sure.” Twilight admitted. “I was transported to some weird place in my own head by an even weirder unicorn who started prattling on about ‘guiding me on my journey’ and ‘unlocking my instinctual knowledge’.” She sighed and raised her hoof. “And all I got was this crummy gauntlet-“
She paused, in shock. There, strapped to her foreleg, was the same gauntlet from her trip into her own mind. How in Equestria had it manifested itself into the physical world? Even as she pondered, she could feel an energy within it, not dissimilar to the power she had felt in the Seal (Which lay to the side, temporarily forgotten.)
“I’ve seen one of those before,” Colter trotted over to inspect the device, his eyes wide. “Your mother had one- never took it off outside the castle grounds, if I remember rightly.”
“That mare told me it was to focus my Will.” Twilight said uncertainly.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” Spike asked eagerly. “Try casting a spell with it!”
“Well…ok. You might want to stand back, though- I have no idea what effect it will have.”
“Oh! Um…” Rarity was looking nervous. “Twilight, are you sure this is a good idea?”
Twilight paid her no heed. Her eyes were closed tightly shut, her brow furrowed in concentration. I have to search within myself…if this power exists, it can’t be that dissimilar to how I use my unicorn magic. She had to resist the urge to channel her energy into her horn like normal. That wasn’t what she was aiming for here.
There! A small spark, alien and strange within her own body, resting just behind her sternum. Gently, she coaxed it out, driving it towards her hoof. The gauntlet is just an outlet for the power- the true conduit is me. I have to let it become an extension of myself…
Rarity, Spike and Colter looked on in amazement as Twilight suddenly slammed her hoof down on the floor involuntarily, a surge of red, wild flames bursting forth from the gauntlet. Shocked, Twilight released her hold on the spell, but it had done its job.
The flames seemed to have a mind and purpose of their own, and they flowed into the cracks of the stonework beneath Twilight’s hooves like liquid, forming an image of the same symbol that had been on the Guild Seals. Strangely, Twilight did not feel any burning- only a mild and rather comfortable warmth.
The arcane symbols on the walls brightened in approval. With a mighty rumble, the floor between the two sarcophagi slid away, revealing a stairwell beneath.
“Marvellous!” Chuckled Colter heartily. “A secret passageway! This will lead us out undetected for sure!”
Rarity narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him. “Did you know this was here?”
“No, I didn’t.” He stated honestly. “All I knew was that it was important Twilight get her hooves on that Seal. But this is an excellent bonus.”
“Then…wait a minute.” Spike spoke up. “What was your plan for getting out of the castle originally? The one you acted all mysterious and knowing about?”
“I have to say,” Colter said rather loudly, ignoring Spike’s question pointedly. “That was some very impressive magic there, Twilight!”
“Yeah…” She was still in shock from the sheer power she had felt when she had unleashed her energy. And this was just the basics of Will magic? She started to feel uneasy. Can I…can anyone be trusted to wield such power?
“Well, I don’t know about you three,” Rarity huffed as she peered critically down the newly opened secret stairway. “But wherever this will take us, it looks to be extremely grimy so I’d rather we got it over with as quickly as possible, thank you.”
Twilight sighed. “Yes, let’s get going.” She could worry about the technicalities of what she had unleashed later. Her mother had wielded this power, and she had been a remarkable person. Everything would be fine.
Colter placed the Seal inside a pouch strapped to his uniform, and the four quickly made their way down the steps. The finely carved walls and stone floor quickly gave way to a mossy, natural tunnel. The rock beneath their hooves was damp, and cobwebs cluttered the ceiling above them.
“Oh, wonderful, absolutely wonderful…” Muttered Rarity. “I can just imagine what sort of horrible things live down here.” Her eyes darted from side to side nervously. She swallowed and turned to Colter. “What…what if there are…” She paused dramatically. “Balverines down here!”
“What…what are Balverines?” Asked Spike fearfully. Twilight looked back to him critically.
“They are an extremely deadly type of wolf that can infect other species, turning them into Balverines as well.” She explained clinically. “Most people believe them to be an urban legend, but numerous studies and reports from adventurers suggest that-“
“There are no Balverines down here, Rarity.” Colter cut Twilight off mid-sentence.
Twilight frowned, but said nothing else.
“How can you be certain?” Rarity fretted, worriedly peering around the next corner, as if a pack of Balverines was lying in wait. “You’ve never been down here before!”
“Any exits to this tunnel must be somewhere within a few miles of Canterlot at the most. If there were Balverines making this place their home, we’d know about it. The worse you’ll get down here is bats.”
“Oh, just bats. Good.” Rarity said calmly. Then, her eyes widened in horror. “Bats? BATS? That’s just as bad! No- it’s even worse!”
“How is it worse?” Retorted Twilight. “They’re kind of creepy but they aren’t dangerous.”
“Yes, but they are absolutely filthy! And…what if they come at us in a big swarm, or-“
“You don’t have to fear, Dear Lady.” Spike said pompously, puffing out his little chest. “I shall make it more solemn task- no, my solemn duty- to defend you from such foul beasts!”
“-you’ll protect me, won’t you Sir Colter?”
Spike deflated as Rarity stepped closer to the old soldier. “Can’t blame a guy for trying.” He muttered morosely.
Rarity would have to be disappointed however, as Colter was staying oddly silent. He was keeping his eyes focussed on the path ahead, pointedly not looking at any of his companions. He seemed quite perturbed.
Twilight frowned. “Colter?” She called softly. “Everything okay?”
“I don’t like caves.” Was his curt reply.
Twilight blinked in surprise. She never would have expected Colter of all people to be freaked out by a cave- she knew that he’d been in plenty of grim situations far worse than contending with a few bats. Why was he having such a difficult time with it?
She was cut off from her train of thought as the tunnel abruptly opened out into an expansive underground cavern. The ceiling must have been nearly 50 hooves high, the only source of light coming from a wide crack into the roof through which the soft moonlight creeped in. From what she could see, there were rock archways and platforms rising haphazardly from the cavern floor and sides. In the dim light, she could see a vague natural pathway winding its way through them, though were it lead she couldn’t say. The faint sound of running water could be heard somewhere deeper within.
“Oh my,” Rarity gushed. “It’s beautiful. But where on earth are we? I’ve never heard of anywhere like this near Canterlot.”
Spike, eager to prove himself a match for Colter, decided to put his many, many study sessions with Twilight to good use. “I think we are in the Everfree cavern,” he explained. “It’s a fairly recently discovered underground system not far from the outskirts of Canterlot. There was going to be a team of field researchers sent here to take a look at it, but the Queen said she couldn’t spare the funds that needed to go to the guard force. Bet she’d be mad if she found out she’d missed a secret passage.”
“I don’t get it,” Colter spoke up. “Why is it called the Everfree cavern? The Everfree forest and river are by Ponyville, and that’s halfway across Equestria.”
“The river flows from the Griffon Border Mountains and seems to stop at the forest,” Twilight elaborated. “But it actually continues on much further underground. Come on, we need to keep going.”
Without a pony-made path to guide them, navigating through the rocky formations was tricky but they seemed to be making good time. More than once Rarity had to stifle a scream as what appeared to be a glowing pair of yellow eyes in the darkness turned out to be little more than a nest of glow-worms.
“So, once we eventually get through this god-awful place,” Rarity broke the silence as she flinched away from yet another
group of the luminescent bugs. “What exactly is our plan? Where are we going to go? ‘Lead a rebellion’ is all well and good I suppose, but I think we need a few more details than that.”
Twilight’s eyes shifted to Colter on reflex. He shook his head.
“You’re in charge, Princess.”
“Right…” Twilight stalled, trying to collect her thoughts and avoid stepping on a rather nasty jagged rock on the ground at the same time. “Well, before we do anything else we need to have some kind of base of operations- somewhere secure, that Nightmare Moon doesn’t know about or is highly unlikely to check.”
“Any suggestions?” Spike inquired hopefully.
“I’m afraid not. Until we find one we’ll just have to keep on the move constantly.”
“Oh, joy.” Rarity grumbled.
“Considering our primary goal right now is to begin recruiting others to the cause,” Twilight continued, pretending she hadn’t heard the interruption. “It stands to reason that earning the favour of a group already on the verge of rebellion itself will allow us to use their headquarters, at least temporarily. We just need an idea of who we are potentially recruiting.”
“I can think of a good place to start,” Colter added. “The Dweller camp near Ponyville.”
“Ponyville? That’s quite a way to walk. “Twilight said with a frown. “And I don’t think I’ve heard of these ‘Dwellers’ before.”
“I have,” interrupted Rarity. “Due to increased bandit activity and higher taxes, a lot of ponies were left homeless, and from what I’ve heard they’ve all flocked to some ramshackle village deep in the Everfree forest.” She frowned. “Don’t get me wrong, I think that’s horrible they were forced into doing that, and I can certainty see why’d they willing to help us…”
“Well to be quite honest dears, they are little more than farmers. Most of them probably can’t even read! Hardly a vast and almighty army.”
Colter scowled at her. “I’ve met their leader,” He countered. “A stronger and more stubborn mare you’d be hard pressed to find. What her people lack in skill or intellect, they make up for tenfold with spirit and courage.”
“It’s settled then,” Twilight said authoritatively. “We head for Ponyville, and the Everfree forest. We’ll have to walk to a town far enough from Canterlot that I won’t be recognised and catch a carriage from there.”
“Yeah, that’s one good thing about you being such a bookworm, Twi.” Spike snorted. “No one outside the castle has any idea what you look like!”
Twilight gritted her teeth and swivelled around. “I am not a bookworm!” She hissed at him.
“You kind of are.” He smirked.
“It is true darling.” Rarity supplied helpfully.
Frustrated, Twilight glared at Colter, daring him to agree.
“No comment.” He said carefully, much to her annoyance.
She huffed and stormed off down the path. “Let’s just keep going.”
Soon enough the other side of the cavern came into view. The path gradually descended and seemed to stop at what must have been the remnants of the Everfree River Twilight had mentioned. It flowed in from a crevice far off to their right and cut right across the path they had intended to take. That wasn’t the biggest problem, however.
Directly across from them was a wide archway, whose floor also contained running water, but of a sickly greenish brown colour. The walls were made of smooth concrete, and broken pipes and pieces of steel girders stuck out of the archway like teeth in a shark’s mouth. The foul liquid intercepted the pure water of the river at this junction, from way it carried the burden the rest of the way downstream.
“Oh, no!” Whispered Rarity hoarsely, looking rather green.
“Seems this is the real reason Her Majesty didn’t fund any excavation team,” Colter said with a hint of amusement. “She didn’t want them to find out this is where she’d been pumping all of Canterlot’s sewage.
“Urgh…this is disgusting.” Twilight retched. “We…we don’t have to walk through that, do we?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Oh, no no no no no no NO.” Rarity wailed. “I can’t do this, I can’t!”
“Um, guys?” Spike intervened. “Can’t Twilight just do a levitation spell?”
She looked thoughtful. “I could probably sustain myself, you and Rarity for a good half an hour or so, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to lift you, Colter.”
“And you won’t have to,” He snorted. “Bunch of pansies. You’re going to have to contend with worse than this, you know.”
“Perhaps,” She acknowledged. “But there is no point in going through a challenge for the sake of it when there is a simpler solution.”
He shrugged. “You’re the boss.” With that, he casually stepped into the water and began wading across.
Twilight turned to the almost hyperventilating unicorn. “Now, hold still Rarity. I need to have as little interference as possible.”
“Alright dear…” She swallowed nervously. “But…is there anything you can do about the smell, too?”
She sighed. “I was afraid you’d say that.”
Twilight’s horn lit up in a flare of magic, and a reddish purple glow formed around the three of them. Silently and swiftly, they rose off the ground by several hooves.
“Oh man, this is cool!” Spike uttered gleefully, flailing his stumpy arms and tail about.
“Stay still, Spike!” Twilight muttered. “I need to focus.”
“Is this what a Pegasus feels like on a cloud?” Rarity mused. “I can see the appeal, it’s quite relaxing.”
“Are you three still mucking about back there?” Came Colter’s voice from within the pipe. “I think I’ve found something.”
“Coming!” Twilight answered, and with a short spark from her horn the three of them glided over the water and into the tunnel.
“Urgh…” Spike sniffed the air distastefully. “You sure you can’t do anything about the smell, Twilight?”
“I can replace it with the smell of singed dragon, if you like.” She snapped.
It didn’t take them long to find Colter. On one side of the pipe was a raised platform he’d managed to haul himself onto, dripping with the slimy water.
Twilight guided them over to him and gently set the group down on the cool metal, careful to avoid the puddles of sewage which Rarity was eyeing warily, as if they might suddenly come alive and attack her.
“Here,” Colter gestured, tapping the wall of the pipe with his hoof. “It’s the same symbol.” Sure enough, the hourglass-like shape of the Guild Seal was emblazoned on the wall, partially obscured by grime.
“There must another passageway behind this one!” Spike exclaimed in realisation.
Nodding, Twilight reached inside herself again for the power she had channelled before. It was easier now that she knew what to look for, and she was able to cut down the amount of power she withdrew.
This time, her gauntlet did not realise a torrent of fire, but inside glowed white, a small ball of flame gathering an inch or so in front of her hoof. Carefully, she pressed it to the symbol. Once again the flames seeped into the pattern, and with a grinding complaint the wall slid away to reveal the area beyond.
“It’s…a dead end!” Rarity said in shock. There was no tunnel or passageway behind the wall, but a tiny room that was almost completely bare. There was just enough room to fit all of them into it.
“Not quite!” Twilight exclaimed almost gleefully, gesturing happily at the corner. “Look at that!”
The item in question appeared to be a circular stone plinth, which was emitting a faint blue glow. Its edges were covered in arcane symbols.
“It’s a cullis gate! And an active one!” Twilight sounded almost giddy. “Oh, researchers have been looking for an active cullis gate for years! And to think there was one right under our noses the whole time!” She paused and sniffed the air with a grimace. “Literally under our noses.”
“But…what does it do?” Rarity asked, curious.
“From the inactive ones we’ve found dotted about Equestria they are some kind of long distance teleportation system.” Twilight explained, stepping over to it. “Though scientists have never been able to get them to work before- we don’t who built them or much about how they function.” She turned to them. “It was hidden behind a carving of the Guild Seal…which means it’s related to Will and Heroes somehow.” She looked thoughtful tapping her hoof with her chin.
“I think I get it,” Spike said. “They’ve never reacted to any kind of unicorn spell before. But what about Twilight’s new magic?”
“I don’t know about any of that,” Colter grumbled. “But if it gets us away from Canterlot, I’ll take it.”
“Yes, the sooner we get away from this awful sewer, the better.” Rarity agreed.
The four of them quickly squished themselves as tightly onto the plinth as they could, with Twilight checking to make sure no-one was outside the circle. No complications like body parts being left behind would be helpful here. Spike seemed quite pleased about the chance to be in a confined space with Rarity, and Rarity seemed quite content to be in a confined space with Colter.
“I don’t like confined spaces.” Colter mumbled.
“Oh, be quiet.” Twilight chided, activating her gauntlet and pushing her Will into the device.
There was a flash a bright blue light, and Twilight felt the unnerving sensation of being teleported. She’d done it many times before, but it still felt as weird as always- like every particle in your body was being disassembled and reconstructed someplace else. Which was basically how it worked.
Once she was sure she had been transferred properly, she opened her eyes to see where the gate had taken them. It appeared to be a circular room fashioned with high quality marble walls and a tiled floor, but it appeared to have fallen into severe disrepair. Assorted junk like book, scraps of paper and inkwells littered the mucky floor, and the low ceiling was covered in cobwebs.
The centrepiece of the room was a round table with what appeared to be a highly detailed map of Equestria engraved into it. Various doors encircled the room, with symbols above them. There was a door with a pair of crossed blades, one with a coat-hanger, a gold coin, a bed, and finally a fire. Five in total.
There was a groan behind her. Turning, she her companions in a heap against the wall. She giggled lightly.
“First time any of you have teleported?”
“Urgh…” Colter protested as he stood up, shoving the other two aside. “And to think, I thought those carriages were bad…” He looked around in confusion. “Where the hay are we?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But I don’t think anyone else has been here several years, by the look of things. We should be safe for now, at least.”
Spike and Rarity clambered to their feet groggily. “I think next time I’ll walk.” Rarity said, looking even greener than she had in the sewer. “I need to work on my figure, anyway.” She looked critically around the room. “Well, whoever was here last certainly didn’t bother to clean up after themselves. Honestly.”
“Maybe it shows where we are on that map?” Spike suggested, pointing a stubby floor to the table in the centre of the room.
Twilight investigated it, but while the map had all sorts of towns, cities, villages and natural landmarks noted down, there was no information on this room. Curiously, each location seemed to have a small node next to it, all but two of them dull and lifeless. The two nodes located by ‘Everfree Caverns’ and ‘Everfree Forest’ were lit up, emitting a pale blue light.
That wasn’t what drew Twilight’s attention, though. Lying on the table was a small book, no bigger than her hoof. The title made her breath catch in her throat.
By Queen Celestia
For the eyes of Twilight Sparkle and those she deems trustworthy
“Mom…” She whispered in shock, lightly brushing the cover with her hoof.
“Found something?” Colter asked curiously, walking over to her.
She said nothing, but instead opened the book with a small push of her magic, and began to read to the others.
“To my dearest Twilight,
It is my greatest hope that you never have reason to gaze upon these words, or to seek out this place. If you are, then my worst fears have come to pass.
In mine and Luna’s youth, the world was a very different place from what it is now. No doubt you know that our family is not royal by blood, but by deed; it was the people who chose me to lead them. Before that, Equestria was a dark, bloody place. I have worked for years to improve life for everyone, and I’d like to think that I have for the most part succeeded.
Even as I write this, I can feel my bones ache in protest, my heart wearily pounding. I am not long for this world. You are asleep, curled up in front of the fireplace with a dog-eared book open before you. I would like nothing more than to embrace you with my wings, and shield you from the world forever. But I know this cannot happen.
My dearest sister Luna, your aunt, is just as precious to me. She is as headstrong and stubborn now as she was when we grew up together on the streets of Canterlot. But I fear for how well she will cope with both my impending passing, and her new mantle as my successor. I pray she remains strong.
The blood of Heroes flows through your veins, my daughter. And if there is one thing I have learnt in my life, it is that a Hero is destined to accomplish great triumphs…and suffer terrible hardships. I wish that you will never have to experience the same kind of trials that I did growing up. I wish the Equestria I have worked hard to save will remain safe.
If you are reading this, then this is not the case.
The place you are in now is known as the Sanctuary. Many hundreds of years ago when there were dozens of Heroes at any one time across the land, it was the Heroes Guild. I found it when I was just 16, in all its decrepit and ancient splendour. After I became Queen, and my adventures were over, I made some alterations to it- though it may require some cleaning.
The physical location of the Sanctuary is deep under a complex network of tunnels beneath Canter Reservoir. The construction of the Reservoir has sealed the original entrance, so the only way in or out is through the cullis gates. When the Guild was in its prime, these devices served as a quick and easy way for Heroes to travel about Equestria, with the Sanctuary acting as a ‘Hub’. The nodes you see on the map represent these gates. Channelling Will into one will transport you and anyone in physical contact with you to that location.
Many, if not all, of the gates are inactive- channelling Will into them will serve to re-establish the connection. During my travels I located and opened a fair number of gates, but by the time you are reading this they may have fallen into disuse once again.
Once again I must state that I hope this information is never of any relevance to you. If you are in such a situation, then I pray that you are not alone. It breaks my heart to see such a lonely child; your dear friendship with Caramel and your affection for the newly hatched dragon Spike are endearing, but your closest friends have always been your books. Only with the help of your friends will you be able to get through the days to come.”
Twilight sniffed and rubbed at her eyes with her hoof. “I’m sorry, I can’t read any more.” She choked.
“Shh, it’s ok dear.” Rarity cooed, gently closing the book and rubbing Twilight’s back soothingly. “I know this must be hard for you.”
“Thank you, Rarity.” Twilight snuffled through her tears. “You’re a good friend.”
“We’re all your friends, Twilight.” Spike said reassuringly. “And we’ll always be there to help you.”
“It’s just like your mother says,” Colter said softly. “With us by your side, you can get through this.”
Feeling much better in herself, Twilight gave her eyes one last rub before her face settled into her ‘thinking’ expression, and she began to pace as she often did when she was in thought.
“All of that aside, this really is a stroke of luck. A secret chamber only we know about, that can only be accessed by me or someone with me, and is accessible from almost any location in Equestria, provided we activate the gate there first.” She tapped the map with her hoof. “What’s more, we can use this to visit all of those locations almost instantly.” She grinned enthusiastically. “This is the perfect base of operations!”
“It needs a bit of…sprucing up though.” Rarity said disdainfully. “Although I’m very curious to find out what’s behind all these doors.”
“And to top it off, the other place we can go to on here is right where we want to go: Everfree Forest!” Spike grinned.
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, lad.” Colter warned. “The forest is a big place, with all sorts of creatures within. The Dweller Camp will likely be right in the very centre.”
“Still, it is an opportunity we cannot waste.” Twilight countered. “We should leave as soon as possible.”
“Hmm…” Rarity mused. “You know, I think I’ll stay here and tidy this place up a bit while you three our out making peace with the locals.” She looked curiously at the book left behind by Celestia. “And I’ll skim through the rest of that while I’m at it- it might contain a lot of other useful information.”
Twilight nodded to show her agreement- she knew that trekking through a forest and talking to farmers were the last thing on Rarity’s mind after crawling through a cave and a sewer.
“Alright then. Spike, Colter, grab hold of me.” Spike plopped himself on Twilight’s back, while Colter opted to simply place his hoof on her side.
Drawing out her Will, an act that was becoming progressively more natural to her, Twilight tapped the node labelled ‘Everfree Forest’. With a swirl of magic, the three of them vanished from the room, leaving Rarity alone with a book and a lot of Rarity.
“Oh, Rarity.” She huffed. “I sure hope you know what you’ve let yourself into…” Reluctantly she conjured up a feather duster, a broom, dustpan and brush, and various other assorted cleaning devices. Her brow sweated from the exertion of casting the spells: she didn’t have the same magical stamina that someone like Twilight did, after all.
“You three had better appreciate this when you get back.” She grumbled, and began the long arduous war against her eternal enemy- dirt.