“That is enough, Luna,” Princess Celestia whispered.
“You…” the moon princess seemed at a loss for words. Her lips moved, but no sounds came out. She spun round, took in the faces of the ponies surrounding her, and turned back to the sun princess. “Ripple Dew was one of yours, wasn’t he?” she accused, “Your little pawns have been very busy tonight.” The Elements of Harmony shimmered, and her horn’s magic re-ignited.
“Guards, you had best leave, now,” the white alicorn intoned. “My sister and I have unfinished business to conclude.”
Luna snorted. “Yes, guards, by all means.” She looked at each one in turn, and her glances lingered longest on those still wearing dark armour. “I am so disappointed in all of you…” Lightning crackled on her horn.
Celestia stepped forward. “No. I do not care whose side they are on – you will not draw any other pony into our quarrel. There has been enough suffering already.”
The dark alicorn offered her a twisted smile. “A duel, again? You might recall that our last battle went rather poorly for you.” She tossed her mane and added, “And this time, I have the Elements of Harmony.”
“We might both be able to use their power,” Celestia conceded, “but ever since that night, you heart has been anything but in harmony.” She tilted her horn forward, and a golden aura enveloped the coloured crystals, right before they flitted over from the dark alicorn to her own side. When she saw Luna’s surprise, she shook her head and added, “They have only one steward now, not two.”
Luna’s mane writhed and shimmered angrily. Anvil had the impression that it was itching to strangle something. “You will need more than a few pretty gemstones to stop me,” she snarled. “The next time we meet, numbers and magic will not be in your favour.”
Her horn glowed brightly, and Anvil felt the weightlessness that precedes teleportation. A flash of light, then darkness, followed by what felt like a load of bricks being dropped on his head. When the world exploded back into existence, it was spinning, and once he’d taken a moment to quell his churning stomach, he realised that they were still in the Great Hall.
Well… horse apples.
Just then, there was the rapid clip clop of hooves, and an out-of-breath Summer Cloud came galloping from down the corridor and skidded to a halt by Princess Celestia’s side. “It… it is done, Your Highness,” she panted.
“What has been done?” Luna demanded. She was still reeling from her failed spell. Her horn was smoking, and her coat looked like it had been dragged through a bramble bush.
“I have had the palace warded against teleportation,” the sun princess explained. “No pony comes or goes.”
One of Luna’s ears twitched. “Summer Cloud, you little rat, I should have had you banished when I had the chance!” The grey unicorn didn’t answer, but neither did she avert her eyes. She just looked… regretful, but she also seemed resolute.
Luna spun round, but they were surrounded. She looked up, and saw just as many loyalists hovering above the hole in the wrecked ceiling, blocking any escape. Anvil saw her mouth tighten – she was going to do it; she was going to fight. She spread her wings, and the aura on her horn, which had been somewhat passive after the failed spell, crackled and spat purple sparks. The loyalists readied themselves, but Celestia did not. In fact, she was merely gazing pointedly at him and Hammer. Summer was doing the same.
Ah… hayseed. He knew what that look meant.
“Your Highness…” Anvil put a hoof on Luna’s shoulder. She started and her flesh twitched at his touch, and he realised just how tense she was at the moment. “Perhaps… perhaps it is time to let go.”
Luna’s eyes narrowed, but she did not take them off her sister. “I do not follow.”
“This is not a battle we can win,” Hammer clarified.
Celestia added, “Luna, I know that deep down, you still have Equestria’s best interests at heart. But you cannot help your subjects when your heart is so choked with turmoil, when your judgment is so clouded by resentment.” She sighed. “Please, I ask this of you – let me use the Elements to undo your transformation. It is very much like a splinter in your wound – the wound in your heart. You cannot heal unless it is removed.”
“And you…” Luna said in an undertone, turning to Anvil and Hammer, “you would both agree with her?”
“If it matters to you, then my answer is yes,” Hammer said simply. “And if not; your subjects would still best be served by agreeing to this.”
“I feel the same, Your Highness. Equestria has been through enough – it must end here.”
Celestia nodded. “They speak true, sister. And it will be easier and quicker if you do not fight it. Will you let me help you?”
They waited. The dark alicorn folded her wings, closed her eyes, drew in a long breath, and released it slowly. Her horn’s aura faded, and her mane stopped writhing. Then, she opened her eyes – there were wet with tears.
“No,” Luna whispered.
“No,” she repeated, louder and longer.
Some ponies began to back away slowly.
“No!” she howled. “I am not some disease to be cured; I am not an ailment to be remedied – I am your sister, your other half! I will not suffer the humiliation of submitting to you again!”
Movement caught Anvil’s eye – the windigo. For every word Luna spoke, it seemed to grow more alert, less feeble.
Princess Celestia took a step forward. “Sister, I am not trying to change you,” she pleaded, “But your magic has – ”
The dark alicorn snapped her wings wide open and dropped into an aggressive stance. “No!” she roared, and the palace shook and dust rained from above. “If you force this ‘cure’ on me, I will call down every comet… every star… every lightning bolt… even the moon itself – I will bring them all down upon this pathetic Equestria of yours, until there is nothing left but ash and dust!”
The windigo raised its head. Wisps of frost drifted out of its nostrils, coalescing into a narrow sliver of ice on the ground before it, two or three inches long. Nopony else seemed to have noticed. He remembered Updraft’s words; “They feed on misery and hate.”
Hayseed. “Luna – ”
“Don’t you ‘Luna’ me, foal.” There was a sudden tightness around his throat, and Anvil found himself lifted off the ground. Startled, he flailed uselessly in the air as she drew him closer. A garbled sound escaped his mouth as Celestia cried out something he didn’t quite catch. His friend was being similarly throttled. When they were face to face with the moon princess, she glared at them. There was a trickle of tears under each narrowed eye.
“My friends call me Luna,” she whispered.
Anvil was violently thrown backwards. He bowled over the line of loyalists, tumbled once on the floor, then slammed into a pillar and collapsed into a battered heap upside down. He heard a second impact somewhere off to his side. Groaning, he rolled himself upright and raised his head slowly, grimacing. His dented armour was pressing painfully against his ribs. He had cut a line clean through the ranks of the loyalists – some of them were still down; the rest were staring at him and Hammer. He saw Luna fold her wings and turn her face away.
“ – And you are not my friends,” Luna finished.
The windigo’s sliver of ice was now a sizeable shard – a really sharp one. Anvil saw the spirit raise it off the floor and tilt it towards her neck, ever so slightly… “Luna!” he shouted. Celestia uttered a similar cry.
The shard whizzed to her throat, but stopped halfway when a deep purple aura engulfed it. Luna glanced at the projectile as if it was a mild annoyance and swatted it aside with a foreleg. Then, before the windigo could flee, Luna’s mane had twisted into dragon’s claws and wrapped around its neck. “Admirable attempt,” she mocked, “but not quite enough.” She began to squeeze.
The windigo didn’t make a sound – it simply writhed and squirmed, wide-eyed and bleeding drops of water.
“Luna, stop this. You’re killing it!” Celestia cried.
The dark alicorn gave her a scathing look. “What of it? These spirits are the ones responsible for starving our subjects – their winter is the cause of all our troubles. Ridding Equestria of them would only help.”
“It is not something we do,” the white alicorn answered. “Please, do not cross this line.”
The windigo was fading – Anvil could easily see through it now. It was withering away. Luna paid it no heed, but continued to stare down her sister. “A small price to pay, I think.”
Celestia spread her wings and her eyes and mane blazed. “Luna. Let it go.”
“What a dilemma. I lose if I do; I lose if I don’t.” Luna put a hoof to her chin. Her mane continued to throttle the spirit. “Hmm, I say… no.”
The sun princess frowned. Luna grinned, and loosened her grip. A ragged gasp escaped the windigo, but a second later, the claws around its neck tightened once more, choking off its cry. She was toying with it.
“Enough!” Celestia thundered. “Release it immediately!”
“Don’t make me do this, Luna. I don’t want to hurt you.” A golden aura pulsed on her horn as she advanced.
“You already have.” The moon princess lifted the spirit up, and it looked like she was about to smash it to the ground like a glass bauble. Her mane whipped down…
There was a bright flash, and a thundering blast of fire burst forth from Celestia’s horn. It was as thick as a pony was tall, in the shape of a beam, and there was a small explosion when it collided with Luna and sent her flying. She crashed into a wall and was buried under a pile of debris shaken loose by the impact. There was a smoking, red-hot path on the floor from the heat of the fiery blast. Anvil saw the windigo drift away, up and through the hole in the roof, thin and transparent as a stream of smoke.
“Guards,” Celestia repeated, “leave, now!”
Most moved to obey her. A few, Anvil included, couldn’t help watching as the debris pile shifted, and Luna rose with dust and ash dripping off her like water. Her coat and feathers were smouldering, and her silvery blue armour was scorched. She coughed up a little cloud of smoke, then fixed Celestia a menacing grin.
“So you do have a spine, after all,” she mocked. Purple lightning arced from her horn towards Celestia, but dissipated into tiny branches of electricity when it met her barrier. But before the white alicorn could retaliate, Luna had already transformed into a starry cloud and was surging straight towards her at breakneck speed, just inches above the smouldering line on the floor. The sun princess shot another blast of fire at her, and for a second Anvil thought that Luna might be evaporated by the flames. His fear proved unfounded, though, for Luna passed through the inferno unharmed, even through the golden barrier, and reverted into an alicorn once she was inside. She seemed to savour the shock on her sister’s face for a second, right before she scorched her in the chest with multiple thunderbolts. Celestia convulsed, then collapsed onto the floor.
“Princess!” Summer Cloud cried. Anvil saw her leap out from the cover of a pillar and galloped to her mentor’s side. Celestia urged her away, but the grey mare refused, and took up a defensive stance beside her – horn aglow and teeth gritted, ready for battle.
“Touching,” Luna quipped. “But it will gain you no quarter, no matter how pathetic a challenge you present.” She brought her wing low in preparation to swat Summer aside…
Anvil wasn’t sure how hard Luna would hit, but it would not be gentle. He struggled up, and began a panting, stumbling sort of gallop towards the Summer Cloud. Too slow. Too far. He realised that when he was just a few feet away. But then, he saw Hammer appear and shove the grey unicorn out of harm’s way. The big pegasus took the blow instead, and flew a short distance before tumbling away on the floor. He didn’t rise, but simply lay there, breathing heavily. Anvil skidded to a halt.
Luna was stunned. Or rather, she looked as if she couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or horrified. That was all the time Celestia needed. Before the dark alicorn realised it, she had already drawn herself up, with the Elements whirling in a circle around her. When Luna shook herself out of her reverie, she received a fireball to the face, followed by another to the chest when she stumbled backwards. The moon princess growled at her sister, and sent forth a continuous, crackling beam of purple lightning. Celestia met it with an orange fire-beam of her own, and the floor glowed an angry red where the two collided. A ball of flame and lightning was growing in the middle. It started at the size of a melon, but in a few seconds, it had swollen to the size of a carriage. Gouts of fire and lightning sputtered from it, and the ground trembled as it continued to grow.
Anvil rushed to Hammer’s side, where Summer Cloud was attempting to help him back onto his hooves. She was struggling under his friend’s weight, so he went to his other side and slung one foreleg over his own shoulder. Time was short. The ball of energy between the two warring alicorns was already as big as a house.
“You need to lose weight,” Anvil grunted as they hobbled away.
“Grow some muscles,” Hammer retorted.
“You two shut up,” Summer snapped.
There was no time to look back. The moment they got behind a broken pillar, the ball exploded. The shockwave cracked pillars and sent loose masonry flying, turning them into deadly missiles that punched holes in the walls. Summer Cloud managed to deflect a few pieces that flew forth when loose bricks exploded against other objects. Even so, it was a miracle that they were not seriously harmed. The heat on either side of the pillar was scorching. Lightning arcs danced in the air.
A moment later, the fire and sparks subsided, and when Anvil peeked around the half-melted pillar, he saw the two royal sisters still facing off, glowing brighter than ever in their conjured barriers. Celestia’s mane was an angry inferno, and Luna’s was a seething dark cloud. There was a crater between them, with a great shaft of moonlight shining down through the now non-existent ceiling.
“Well, this will be interesting,” Luna said with a frown. “But the Elements won’t save you; I can match anything you care to use against me.”
Celestia shook her head. “That may be true, but only against my magic – the Elements of Harmony have power of their own, and they will act only against you.” She closed her eyes, and the Elements stopped spinning around her and hovered at wing height. Their glow intensified.
The moon princess looked like she had been about to retort with something derisive, but Anvil never got to hear it. The first word had hardly left her mouth before she was ensnared by six multi-coloured streams of magic. They encircled and twined themselves around her, until she was practically trapped in a whirling, rainbow-tornado.
But that lasted only for a few seconds, for a blinding flash of purple light burst forth from the tornado, shattering the streams of coloured light from the Elements. When the brilliance faded, Anvil could see the dark alicorn once more – but she was still suspended in the air by a few strands of rainbow light, flailing wildly. Her dark colouration seemed to be peeling away in several places, like old paint, revealing her original deep blue hue beneath. And it looked like it hurt. She screamed when a sizeable patch of blackness peeled off one side of her face and dissolved into wisps of dark smoke. She opened her eyes – and one of them had a round pupil. Anvil’s heart leaped. Luna?
“Release me – now!” she screamed, still in Nightmare Moon’s voice.
“Don’t fight it, sister, please!” Celestia cried. A streak of golden light connected her horn to the Elements, which in turn were binding the moon princess.
Luna gritted her teeth, and the blackness on her hide expanded until it covered her whole body once more. Celestia’s eyes widened, but she continued to channel the power holding her sister captive.
“That does not bode well...” Anvil commented.
Summer Cloud was gaping. “She’s… she’s actually resisting the Elements. Nopony should be able to do that!”
More specks of blackness burned away from Luna’s face, but the edges continuously renewed themselves, like mould creeping over a damp surface. Her left eye still had a round pupil. She screamed again, and a faint blue aura came to life on her horn. “You will not take me like this!” she spat at Celestia. “Release me now, or you will regret it, foal!” Thunder rumbled in the sky above, but no clouds appeared.
“Care to tell us what she is doing?” Hammer said, glancing at Summer Cloud.
She scowled at him, but turned her attention to Luna anyhow. “I don’t know…” she began, as her own horn glowed green, “It feels… unnatural.”
The dark alicorn thrashed violently as another myriad of dark patches burned off, only to regrow themselves. Her tears were boiling away and drifting off as steam.
Celestia was crying, too. And she winced when Luna howled – a particularly large patch of her coat had torn away. “Luna…” she sobbed, “don’t make this any harder… I can’t bear to see you like this.”
“I believe you can – else you would not even try doing this to me,” Luna snarled through gritted teeth. “Fine, if you want Equestria back so badly – you can have it, and may you rot in it!” A bolt of lightning streaked up from her horn into the air high above, where it split into a thousand branches and arced all across the sky.
Summer Cloud screamed and dropped to the floor, trying to cover her head with her fore hooves. The ground began to tremble, continuously.
Hayseed. Anvil crouched by her side. “What’s wrong?”
“The – she… she’s doing something to Everfree!” the grey unicorn stuttered between wracks of pain.
Then Anvil realised that Summer hadn’t been trying to cover her head – she was trying to blot out her magical sense. Luna must be channelling some truly powerful magic to hurt Summer Cloud like that.
She let loose another short scream. “Somepony make her stop!”
“Luna, what are you doing?” Celestia cried.
“Watch,” the dark alicorn replied.
The tremors stopped. Then… a tree root suddenly burst out of the ground behind Anvil. He bucked out in surprise, and the gnarled thing wrapped itself around his hind leg. He uttered an expletive and wrenched his hoof away. Another root burst out of the ground. Then, thorny vines came writhing out of cracks in the walls.
“Take her up!” Hammer growled.
Without hesitation, Anvil put both forelegs around Summer Cloud’s chest and dragged her into the air, away from the twisting roots and vines. His pegasus friend then hobbled off, thrashing and bucking and biting at any plants that tried to ensnare him. He watched helplessly as Hammer made agonisingly slow progress to one side of the Great Hall, where the piles of debris from the roof seemed to be out of reach of the nasty vegetation. Summer Cloud was still grimacing and twitching in his hold as she endured the effect of Luna’s spell on her magical sense. There was no sign of other guards, loyalist or otherwise, save for the occasional cries of alarm ringing from somewhere off in the hallways.
Below them, Princess Celestia was still caught up in the magical struggle against her sister. Any vines or roots that reached her were quickly incinerated by the heat from her blazing mane and tail. But something else was different, too. The Elements no longer glowed in their usual colours – they were fading; losing their brilliant hues and turning a dull grey. Luna was still channelling the bolt of lightning into the sky, and her dark coat was still burning away in patches and re-growing itself.
“Please…” Celestia whispered.
Luna’s half-grin half-grimace was almost unbearably difficult to watch. “I can… I can do this… all night,” she snarled between breaths. “But your… precious Elements… cannot.”
For a moment, it seemed as if Celestia had lost the will to fight, for her shoulders slumped and her magical aura faded until it was barely a glimmer. She glanced about in a panic, as if she was looking for something, then her gaze lingered for a moment on the moon above. She then shut her eyes for a second, and when she opened them again, they were filled with conviction once more. Her golden aura returned, stronger than ever, and a silvery beam of light lanced upwards from the floor beneath Luna, straight up to the moon. It was as wide as an apple tree was tall. The moon princess’ coat ceased to burn away, but then it suddenly seemed as if a great wind was howling up from beneath her, lifting up her mane and tail and even the hairs on her coat. Anvil could see bricks and stones whipping upwards as if they were no more than grains of sand.
Luna stopped channelling her spell, and the creeping roots and vines stopped moving – surprise was written all over her face. As she glanced about her surroundings, the blackness overtook her entire body once more, and her one round pupil reverted to its more dragon-like form. Dirt and dust kept swirling and flying up past her, within the beam of light, straight to the great blue orb above. She looked up, and her eyes widened in shock. A second later, her pupils shrank in fear. “You – you wouldn’t...”
“I’m sorry,” Celestia whispered.
Luna shut her eyes. “So be it. I will not forget this, sister.”
A great white light engulfed the dark alicorn, and Anvil had to turn away to avoid being blinded. He heard a mighty whooshing sound, like the winds of a hurricane, and when he looked back, Celestia was standing alone in front of an empty, barren crater, surrounded by charred vines and the six inert Elements. Each had become a grey, stony orb with a small projection on it that resembled the shape of the gemstone it had been.
Luna was gone.
“Anvil, please put me down,” Summer Cloud tentatively said. “I believe it’s safe, now.”
He obeyed wordlessly, and realised just how weary he was when he felt her sliding out of his embrace. He nearly dropped her the last ten feet. Once on the ground, the grey unicorn rushed to the sun princess’ side. Anvil himself tottered listlessly over to a slope of rubble by the wall, where Hammer was slowly plucking thorns out of his hide.
“Did you see?” he asked his friend.
The big pegasus spat out a large green thorn. “I did.”
Just then, royal guards were returning into the ruined Great Hall – some came from the corridors, others flew in through windows or the non-existent roof. Many seemed flustered, and some looked like they had experienced the nasty vegetation that Luna had called forth. A few of the loyalists came over and surrounded Anvil and Hammer, though they did keep their distance. One of them sped over to Celestia and said, “Your Highness, we must leave Everfree. The city is overgrown with these – ” here, he looked at several cuts on his flank smeared with green sap and shredded leaves, “trees… these trees are attacking ponies. And Thunder Gale says he saw some wolves – made out of bark. And other dangerous creatures as well; they’re swarming all over the city.”
That seemed to shake Celestia out of her bleak outlook. “Get everypony out of the city, then,” she commanded, “Get all the carriages and take as many as you can straight to Canterville – the mountain should be high enough to provide safety. And I want at least half of the Guard stationed here to protect those who cannot go by air.”
“And what about those two?” the guard asked with a sidelong glance at them.
“They will help you escort them to safety.”
“Ye – Your Highness, are you certain? We cannot spare anypony to ensure they don’t flee.”
“They won’t; they’re better than that,” Summer Cloud answered.
“I agree.” The sun princess gave them a baleful look and added, “But to put your fears to rest; if they do try to escape, I will personally hunt them down and make them regret it.”
The guard nodded and shouted their way, “Get moving, then. On your hooves!”
Hammer took a moment to struggle up and allowed himself to be herded off. Anvil took to the air with the others instead. As they headed out to the city, he turned his gaze skyward. The moon was no longer blue – it had returned to usual silvery grey. But this time, there was a shadow on it, in the shape of a horned mare’s head and chest.
One of the royal guards slapped him with a wing and snapped, “Watch where you’re flying!” Anvil corrected his course, but kept his eyes on the moon. He felt something trickle down to his mouth. He licked his lips, and tasted salt.
The past two days had been truly harrowing. The first mostly involved pulling sky carriages filled to the brim with earth ponies and unicorns, all the way from Everfree to Canterville. Large as it was, the town was still getting positively crowded, and once they had determined that the lower lands outside of Everfree were safe, ponies had started spreading out and down from Canter Mountain. The next day in Everfree was worse – some ponies had chosen to hide themselves rather than trust their safety to the guards, and were then in need of rescue when their surroundings had become overrun with nasty plants and critters. Anvil was certain that he had received every kind of bite, scratch and cut imaginable in the fights to reach trapped ponies.
And to make things worse, there were some parts of the city where sky carriages were out of the question. Trees and brambles had sprouted up all over the city, right through the pavement, and the stronger ones were even capable of wrecking entire houses. And many were like nothing anypony had seen before. Hammer mentioned some apple trees whose branches crackled with electricity, their fruits striped with every colour of the rainbow – nopony had dared to taste one, though. Then there were those gnarled, leafless trees that kept trying to lash at anything that moved with their whip-like branhes. But at the end of it all, they had finally managed to get all the stragglers out of Everfree City. On the second night, when everypony was safe in Canterville, they were both locked in the cellar of the town hall, in a makeshift cage of iron bars and oak boughs, with only a few candles for light.
Still, it was a better situation than Anvil could have hoped for – Celestia had been kind enough to mend the wounds of the guards at the end of each day, Night and Royal alike, so there was little that he could complain about, all things considered.
The next morning, Anvil was unceremoniously awakened with a bucketful of water to the face. He spluttered and shook himself, and found Princess Celestia and Hazel Hock standing outside their cage. After the initial groggy blinking, he really had to work hard to keep a straight face – the leader of the loyalists had blundered into a patch of innocent-looking blue flowers on their first day of rescuing… and had turned into a mare overnight. A rather attractive one, by the looks of him – her. Hazel coloured, too, and it did not matter if he… she wore the enchanted guard armour; the nutty brown colour remained, and the condition had defied all attempts to remedy it, magical or otherwise.
“You look dazzling today,” Hammer deadpanned.
The pegasus mare in royal guard armour gave him a dirty look. “That had better be addressed to Her Highness.”
The mare-ish, high pitched voice was too much. Anvil felt a snigger coming on and hastily turned it into a cough.
“What am I to do with you?” Celestia said aloud, to no one in particular.
“Nothing less than exile, were it my choice, Your Highness,” Hazel suggested.
Anvil and Hammer grew silent. They had known this day was coming – everywhere they went, no matter who or how much they helped, ponies often glared daggers at them, and those were the nicer ones. They’d had dirt and rotten food lobbed at them from time to time, especially when they slept. And it didn’t matter that they were amongst the rest of the guards, nopony moved to help them. And the worst part was when those trapped in Everfree actually tried to flee from him and his friend rather than the trees or creatures that were actually trying to hurt them. Luna’s enchantment still remained, beyond even Princess Celestia’s ability to undo, and their dragon-like wings and eyes were clear reminders of what the moon princess had wrought in her time as sole ruler of Equestria. And those ponies were just on the outskirts of the city – the countryside ponies outright refused to come anywhere within a hundred feet, unless it was to hurl insults and filth at them. They came rather close to a revolt at one point, and after that, Celestia was forced to keep them out of sight when they were not on rescue duty. The ponies of Equestria were demanding justice, and with Luna gone, the sun princess was probably going to have to appease them with him and Hammer – soon.
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “Exile?”
“Several ponies have died in Luna’s winter – that’s what the country folk are calling it now. Your subjects are out for blood, Your Highness. Keeping these two around will do no good – unless you intend to let them get stomped to death sooner or later.”
The white alicorn didn’t answer.
Hazel Hock pressed on. “Princess, I know how you feel about Luna, but her guards – ”
Celestia waved him to silence with a wing, and gave him a stern look. “Have you ever banished your only sister to the moon?” she asked, eyes tearing up slightly. When he didn’t reply, she continued, “No? Then do not claim to know how I feel.” She paused as Hazel bowed in apology, then added with a sidelong glance at Anvil and Hammer, “But you are right. There must be consequences for treason.”
They awaited their fate.
“Have you nothing to say for yourselves?”
“No.” Hammer replied. Anvil kept silent.
Celestia turned to Hazel and said, “Gather everypony in the town square tomorrow – as many as the place can hold, but I will want at least one representative from each settlement. Please go and make the arrangements.”
The pegasus mare bowed and took off. When Hazel was out of sight, Celestia’s horn glowed, and Anvil’s soaked coat was suddenly dry. “I’m sorry,” the princess said, “I know that whatever you did, you acted out of love for my sister, and that you tried to dissuade her even when she would not see reason.” She averted her eyes. “This will be your last day. I have notified those who were known to be close to you – if anypony visits, it will be your last chance to say farewell.” With that said, she turned and left them in the gloom.
A rotten tomato sailed through the air and splattered on Anvil’s nose as the crowd roared and jeered. His wings were pinned to his sides with thick ropes, the manacles chafed, and the chains clinked noisily with his every step. He heard an unsavoury squelch and caught a whiff of rotten egg. He turned slightly and saw the greenish-orange yolk dripping from Hammer’s face. The royal guards flanking them marched on without concern, and simply shoved them forward whenever they slipped or stumbled as they were bombarded with decaying vegetables.
This carried on for quite a while as they were led through Canterville to the ledge overlooking the town. A stage had been hastily constructed on it, and when they reached the top, they found Princess Celestia waiting there. She gestured them forward to the edge, and when they took their places, their chains were removed. Anvil could see the entirety of the town below, along with the vast crowd of ponies who were to witness their punishment. It was a rather sunny day. Princess Celestia trotted forward to the edge, and raised both wings. The crowd’s voices stilled.
“Citizens of Equestria,” she called out, “These two pegasi stand before you accused and found guilty of treason. I have thought long and hard on the consequences of their actions, and have decided that there shall be no lenience for those who would choose to serve a single pony, even a princess, over the wellbeing of their fellow ponies.”
Everypony held their breath as they waited for the sun princess to continue. She closed her eyes, took a slow, deep breath, and sighed. When she finally announced their sentence, the crowd roared in approval.
With her speech ended, Celestia turned to face them. “Farewell,” she whispered.
Hayseed. Anvil wasn’t certain, but he had a sudden feeling that there was something he’d forgotten.
Summer Cloud trotted down the steps to the lower gardens as quickly as she could. Almost everypony was busy hauling as much as they could out of the Treasury and Royal Library, and the rest were keeping watch, protecting the scribes and servants from anything that tried to attack them. There would be enough time – she just had to avoid dawdling. With every step, she felt her chest tighten and her eyes moisten.
She was crying by the time she reached the bottom. Hammer and Anvil – they were gone. She had come to see them the night before, had begged them not to tell the princess about him. That was her responsibility – it could not be anypony else’s. They were all traitors in their own way. How could everything have gone so wrong?
It should have been easy enough; Hazel Hock would have followed Anvil and Hammer to the location of the Elements whilst she and Ripple Dew freed Celestia and the imprisoned royal guards. Hazel should then have wrested the gemstones from them once they had broken the magical seals… except that they didn’t even find them. The loyalist commander had told her everything – the mountain, the windigos, Anvil’s ‘babbling nonsense about Discord’… That part was actually her fault. She should have told the others about the draconequus’ involvement, instead of cooking up a false story about leaving a magical doppelganger posing as their informant in the cave, along with a spell booby trap that would sap their strength without their realising it. If she hadn’t lied, then perhaps Hazel might have chosen to enlist Anvil and Hammer’s aid instead of fighting them half the way back to Everfree. Maybe…
So many maybes… so many lies. She hadn’t even told anypony about Discord yet, even after all that had happened. Especially after all that had happened. But still… A sob escaped her. Anvil and Hammer were gone, now. How much of that was her fault? The last words they ever heard from her were “Please don’t tell Celestia.” She hadn’t the courage to face them when she made her plea, and had fled before they could even answer. Some farewell she had given them, when they had tried their best to help her in the end. She wasn’t even sure if she would have visited them if the princess hadn’t told her about their sentence.
She stomped a hoof, thoroughly disgusted with herself. When it squelched into thick mud, she realised that she was already in the lower gardens. It had changed beyond recognition – the pegasus architecture was gone, there were plants with bulbous, orange glowing leaves everywhere, and something was splashing around in a pool in the middle of the garden. She did not linger, but quickly conjured a light globe and hurried into Discord’s cave. As she made her way through the narrow tunnel, she sensed the usual random, chaotic, crackling sort of magic emanating from the statue. But… something felt a little different.
She found Discord’s apparition perched on his statue when she entered the cavern, grinning like an idiot.
“Well, well, if it isn’t my favourite unicorn – I have you to thank for the unbelievable amount of chaos in the past week!” He sniggered. “Oh my, I can’t stop thinking about the look on little Luna’s face when she saw the windigos. And when Tia was about to send her to the moon – priceless!”
“You lied!” Summer shouted. “You said you would show them where the Elements were!”
Discord crossed his arms and pouted. “Well, so much for a little gratitude… I said I would help them find the Elements, and find them they did – perhaps just not in the way you were expecting.”
“By unleashing a blizzard on unsuspecting ponies? What were those windigos doing in there in the first place?” Summer’s temper was fraying, but she didn’t care anymore.
“Oh, I simply had them locked away when I was putting Equestria under new management. They were amusing enough for a time, but they kept freezing my chocolate milk.”
She blinked, anger momentarily forgotten. “Choc… chocolate milk?”
“Tis a most wondrous beverage. Sadly, you ponies have yet to discover it.”
Summer mentally brushed aside the distraction and glared at him. “Those winter spirits have ruined so many ponies. Half of Equestria is starving already!”
“Well, that part was unintentional, actually. I’m surprised that the spirits were able to feed on the emotions of so many from that distance. My, my, Luna must have been making them quite miserable, unless she was the one feeding the windigos all by herself – her feelings have been deliciously dark for quite a long while.” He sidled over to her side and whispered in a conspiratorial manner, “I’m rather proud of her, to be honest. Just imagine what a villain she will make when she finally returns!” He sniffed and wiped away an imaginary tear. “My little Woona’s all grown up – and it only took a few centuries.”
Summer flared her horn and sent a wave of cave filth over the apparition. Nothing happened, of course, with him being insubstantial. It was an unsatisfying gesture, and he seemed more amused than anything by it.
“Temper, my dear. Whatever would your teacher say?” he chided. “Using your magic for such petty acts.”
Magic. That was when she realised what felt so different about the draconequus’ statue. There was a different sort mixed with the reddish-orange chaos within, a calmer, deeper, ‘bluer’ sort. Luna’s sort of magic. She then knew what exactly he had done when he had ‘weakened’ Anvil and Hammer for the loyalists.
“You stole her enchantment... you said you were only going to remove it...”
“Well, it did seem terrible to waste perfectly good magic.”
Summer sensed the tiny cracks on the statue’s chest. They were small – thinner than a hair’s breadth, but they ran deep, and with the Elements of Harmony rendered inert by what the princesses had used them for, the outcome was inevitable. She took a step backward, and the blue, glowing apparition grinned.
“Oh, there is nothing to worry about, I assure you,” he said as he hovered back onto his statue. “It won’t happen in your lifetime.”
She shook her head. “Celestia will stop you.”
“She is welcome to try – if you tell her, of course.”
There was that smirk again. Discord leaned forward and rested his chin on a paw. “Somehow, I do not think you will. You went behind her back and conspired with her old enemy – nay, her old sweetheart, against her own sister – an act which ended in the release of three very unfriendly winter spirits, along with the starvation of several thousand ponies plus the complete destruction of her beautiful and very expensive palace. Oh, and need I mention the part where she sends her own sister to the moon?”
“That wasn’t my – ” Summer stammered, but was cut off.
“Perhaps, perhaps. But will she see it that way? Do you see it that way?”
“She… But I – ” Words failed her.
There was a rumble from above, and the cavern trembled. Discord eyed the ceiling curiously, and with the air of one commenting on the weather said, “It would seem that this new forest is growing a delightful personality of its own. It would be unwise for you to linger.”
“Why would you care?” she spat. She raised loose stones on the floor and sent them flying at the statue. They clattered off harmlessly. “You don’t care about anything or anypony!”
The draconequus was suddenly quite pensive. “That is the nature of chaos.”
“Why?” Summer cried, “Why would you do this to us? What is the point of it all?”
Another shrug. “Chaos is pointless. That’s the whole point.” A second later, the solemnity was replaced by his usual infuriatingly cheerful demeanour. “But on to less dreary subjects – run along, Summer Cloud. Everfree is promising to be a very interesting place to study, which I recall is one of your favourite pastimes. Serve Tia well, and let the future deal with me when the time comes. There is nothing you can change, now.”
Her mind was numb. She didn’t even know why she had bothered to come back here. Closure, perhaps, but even that had been denied her. She should never have followed the faint magical trace when she first heard the draconequus laughing on the night of Luna’s transformation. Summer Cloud turned and fled.
“Do mind the blue flowers on your way out,” Discord called after her. “They can be rather amusing.”