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[Author's Notes: Too long of a space between updates, and with a shorter chapter? For shame. Anyways, since the Revisions are kicking my ass, I had my Editor-In-Chief Shadow Horizons write the vast majority of this chapter under my guidance and ideals. So, expect some slight change of writing style here and there. Also, praise him. Do it.]
“Tell me how it feels to be mortal.”
The word echoed around inside my head over and over again, even as Shadow pulled away from me, quietly laughing. Mortal. No, that wasn’t the right word. I’ve never been immortal. I’ve always known that there was the possibility that I could be killed. I simply had greater longevity than almost anything else.
I had simply lost my extensive lifespan, and now, I was kneeling before the man I hated most in any reality. Kneeling before the man who believed himself to be a god.
And without my Editor, he might as well be.
“And there’s the typical glare I’ve come to know you for,” Shadow said, looking down at me. “Don’t look at me like I killed your goldfish. You brought this on yourself.”
“What?” I growled.
The Manipulator shrugged. “You heard me. You’ve become sloppy since you left me to die all those years ago.” He turned on his heel and strode away from me, gesturing wildly and dramatically as irritation filled his tone. “You’ve let yourself become lax. You, the only man I ever admired or respected, became weak. Weak!”
Faster than my mind could register, he was standing at my side again and hoisting me into the air by my throat. “How do you think I felt, finding you after all this time, only to discover that you were goofing around with some unworthy idiot that somehow turned himself into a pony?” His grip tightened, sealing off my windpipes. I struggled against him, clawing desperately at his arm, but he didn’t seem to notice.
“We were gods, you and I,” he said, disgust and disappointment evident in his tone. “No, we were the gods of gods. The other Editors and Manipulators can’t even compare to the two of us. How can they? We’re the Originals. The First Ones. Now look at you!”
I suddenly became very much aware that Shadow’s hand was no longer clutching my throat as he flung me across the room like a rag doll. I crashed into one of the marble pillars near where Celestia was being held captive and slammed back onto the floor. I didn’t even have time to groan in pain before I felt something wrapping itself around my left leg. I glanced down, and caught sight of the shadows around me coming to life to form a long tendril of darkness tying itself around my ankle.
The shadows threw me into the air, and then sent me flying back toward Shadow, who greeted me by putting his fist into my stomach, bringing me to a sudden stop. A faint thought recognizing that he could’ve crushed everything in his fist’s path, but chose not to do it came to mind as I collapsed to the floor gasping for breath and trying my hardest not to cry out. ‘I will not give him the satisfaction,’ I told myself over and over again.
Shadow towered over me, oddly silent for several agonizingly long moments. “Degraded as you are, you’re still Storm. The one man I respected.” He drew a second energy sword from the inside of his coat and activated it. The dual tips of the super-heated plasma snapped into life mere inches from my throat. “And that’s why I can’t forgive you! I will make you remember what we are Storm. I will remind you just what we are capable of.”
“There’s just one problem with that plan of yours, Shadow,” I grunted. “Even when my cards are out, I still refuse to give up.” With a flash of light, my Keyblade Requiem reappeared in my hand. Shadow barely had time to react before I had kicked him hard in the chest with both feet, knocking him back.
I swiftly stood and prepared to charge at Shadow, only to barely catch a glimpse of him as he swung his blade into my upper arm, slicing through flesh and sinew, nearly into the bone. He didn’t even give me a chance to cry out in pain before his boot struck my face with tremendous force, lifting me off of the ground and sending my flying across the room once more.
“Credit where it’s due, you still know how to fight underhandedly when the situation calls for it,” Shadow said. “And here I was, worried you’d be too noble. But it didn’t do you any good, now did it?”
My own chuckles cut him off, despite the intense pain coursing through me. “On the contrary, it got me where I needed to go.” I had landed right next to Shadow’s rocket launcher, which still had three shots in it. I grabbed the heavy artillery weapon and took aim. “Hasta luego, bitch.”
With a twitch of my finger, a rocket burst forth from the weapon like the hand of God to strike down whatever it hit. Shadow rolled his eyes as he leaned to the side, easily avoiding the rocket. “Your aim is even worse than I remember,” he taunted.
I let out another chuckle. “Look again.”
Shadow gave me a slightly confused look before glancing behind him, just in time to watch as the rocket fired from his abandoned weapon collided with the device powering the containment fields holding the ponies hostage. The projectile detonated and the device was blown into pieces. Great arcs of blue tinted electricity filled the air around the pieces for a moment as the containment fields flickered and died around the ponies.
There was a single moment of pure silence as everyone in the room stared in mild surprise at the ruined device. Then the hall descended into utter chaos as the Royal Guard threw themselves at the Irida, roaring with glee at their unexpected freedom. The Irida, in their panic and inexperience with firearms, seemed to forget how to shoot and instead resorted to attempting to club the guards instead.
“Get them under control!” Shadow snapped at his minions. “Use non-lethal force! If any of you kills one of these ponies, I’ll snap your neck myself!” He turned to glare down at me. Oddly enough, his eyes didn’t show any hate, only mild-irritation.
With a snap of his fingers, the rocket launcher in my grip transformed into a pile of scorpions, all colored a brighter pink than Pinkie Pie’s coat. I let out a shout of shock and scrambled away from the insects. The scorpions all let out high pitched laughs and scurried off; humming the chorus of “It’s a Small World” as they went.
“You certainly can grind my gears, Storm,” Shadow growled as he turned his attention back to the fray of guard ponies and Irida. “But I don’t see the point to what you were trying to do. Without your Editor, you’re useless. What good will a brief escape for your pony friends accomplish?”
I glanced behind Shadow, and what I saw brought a small grin to my face, despite what was happening. “Who said it was brief?” I retorted, before rolling to my feet and leaping away from him. Shadow watched me go with a confused expression on his face before he turned around to see what I had been looking at, only to be blasted off of his feet by a powerful blast of midnight blue magic.
Shadow rolled once before landing on his feet, his momentum causing him to slide further away from me. Luna, free from her energy prison, stood at her full height, her wings stretched out widely in an impressive display of raw power. “COWARDLY WHELP!” She growled at Shadow, the sheer power of the Royal Canterlot Voice knocking Shadow (and nearly everyone else in the room) off balance.
“THOU DAREST TO TAKE OUR SUBJECTS CAPTIVE?! THOU DAREST TO ORDER THINE FORCES TO ASSAULT THIS PEACEFUL LAND, SIMPLY BECAUSE THOU ‘CAN’?!” Her tone suddenly shifted to one of pure malice and hatred, one that nearly sent a shiver up my spine, if only because she dropped the Voice and older style of speech. “And you dare show your face again, after what you did to me and my sister?”
The Manipulator pondered this for a moment as he dusted himself off. “Pretty much, yeah,” he replied, cheekily flashing his teeth at Luna. The air in the throne room seemed to whip around wildly as a magical aura surrounded the moon princess’ horn.
“Then consider this payback,” Luna declared, “for the thousand years I spent trapped in the moon all because you interfered.”
My vision was filled with a midnight blue burst of light as Luna unleashed an attack on Shadow. The Manipulator smirked as the energy shot toward him faster than the speed of sound, and snapped his arm up to intercept the attack.
Luna’s attack struck Shadow’s outstretched palm with the sound of a bullet-train crashing into a mountainside. The glass windows lining three of the four walls in the throne room shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. Chunks of stone from the floor, ceiling and the closest support pillar were blasted into the air and reduced to a thick cloud of dust.
The sound of the attack had been enough to bring the room to a standstill as everyone present watched in nervous anticipation to see what had become of the Manipulator. The dust took an agonizingly long time to settle enough to where I could see clearly.
To my complete surprise, Shadow stood there. Unharmed.
‘That shouldn’t be possible.’ I tried to make sense of what I was seeing. An attack like that with no shields or any form of protection? I would’ve lost my arm! ‘Or at least my hand. Unless... I hate regeneration nanobots.’
Shadow let out a boisterous chuckle and clipped his second broken energy sword of the day back on his belt before he drew back his fist. The shadows on the floor sprang to life, suddenly becoming three-dimensional and solid as stone.
They took on the form of a giant fist and mimicked the movement of Shadow’s arm as he swung at the empty air in front of him. The solidified darkness that created the fist crashed into Luna before dissipating into a thick black mist.
“Princess Luna!” The sound of six feminine voices crying out in unison reached my ears. Looking around, I spotted the other Bearers for the Elements of Harmony (and the musician, Lyra) I had first met here in Equestria gathered around the naked human form of Twilight, still holding herself at just the right angle so I couldn’t see anything indecent.
All seven wore expressions of concern for their princess, though Twilight’s expression also displayed the pain she was in from the forced physical transformation through Hellfire. And I have little doubt it was far from a pleasurable experience.
However, my attention was once again captured by my other fellow human as he let out an exasperated sigh. I turned to look at him, and much to my surprise, he had a look of impatience about him as he stared all around the hall.
“Illusions aren’t very nice, little Luna,” he chided. “And you call me a coward? Ha! That’s good for a laugh.” Above him, a large, rectangular box appeared with the glowing words “Laughter” appearing inside. A completely stereotypical laugh-track echoed throughout the throne room until the box disappeared. I looked around at where Luna had been standing before the shadow fist had struck her. Sure enough, she was still there, or rather, her image was still there, flickering slightly as the last of the magic powering it fizzled out.
I realized the spell she used to be have many different names, too many to count and consider. Though, if memory served me right from the conversations with the Bearers, then in this realm that spell held the name ‘Mirror Image’. Basic spell, copies appearance in a second location, same old parlor trick I’ve encountered before whose only purpose is in a situation like this.
“Luna, Luna, Luna,” Shadow called out in a sing-song voice, spinning in a circle and holding his arms wide open. “Come out and play~!”
The ground beneath Shadow let out a mighty roar and the stonework of the flooring came to life, forming a massive, two headed behemoth with glowing red eyes. The Manipulator let out a low whistle as he stared up at the behemoth, which was more than ten times his size.
“Little Luna’s got some new tricks in her mane,” he chuckled as a pair of comically large red boxing gloves appeared on his hands. “Let’s see how long you can keep this construct alive, shall we?”
The behemoth responded by slamming its marble fist down on top of Shadow.
“Okay. That’s just cheating,” Shadow’s muffled voice complained. “The bell didn’t even ring yet.” Above the floor behemoth’s head, a golden bell appeared in a flash of green light, along with a miniaturized Shadow holding a large mallet. The Mini-Shadow swung the mallet against the bell, and a loud clang reverberated throughout the room before the bell exploded like a firework in the shape of Shadow’s grinning face.
The behemoth’s fist that had struck Shadow suddenly exploded in a small cloud of dust and marble shrapnel. The living floor let out a howl of frustration as Shadow stepped back into view, dusty and with one hell of a black eye, but otherwise seemingly untouched. The floor roared in his face and he didn’t even wince. Instead, he stomped on the behemoth’s foot.
The sound of metal striking stone filled the air a split second before several loud cracks drowned it out. The behemoth’s foot had been smashed into thousands of pieces beneath Shadow’s blow. The floor behemoth cried out in surprise as it lost its balance and fell backwards, nearly crushing the crowd of Irida and guard ponies.
Thankfully, the ponies saw the beast fall and managed to get out of the way in time. Ten or so Irida weren’t so lucky. I didn’t have the urge to gag as the floor forced itself off of the blue splatters now on the floor, but I noticed a few other ponies out of the corner of my eye emptying their stomachs of all recently ingested food and drink.
The marble beast was slowly standing back up, growling angrily at the Manipulator standing below it. Then it occurred to me, Shadow was distracted. I quickly scrambled to my feet, doing my best to ignore the sharp, throbbing pain in my shoulder from where Shadow’s energy sword had split it open.
I turned my attention away from the fight; it was the least of my concerns, after all. Twilight was curled up on the ground a ways away, watching the fight between Shadow and the creature of Luna’s creation with glazed over eyes. I stumbled over to her side, nearly falling over twice from the shaking of the floor as the behemoth attempted to smash Shadow repeatedly.
Twilight hadn’t moved from where Shadow had trapped her in the ring of Hellfire, transforming her into the young adult human laying before me. Thankfully, her arms and legs were crossed in just the right way to preserve some form of modesty, whether the former-unicorn was aware of it or not.
Of course, that didn’t mean I was going to just let the poor girl stay naked. Even in a crisis situation like this one, I was still a gentleman.
Twilight let out a small squeak of surprise as I dropped my jacket over her upper body. She gave me a quizzical look, but seemed to understand the gesture. “Thanks,” she said.
“No problem,” I replied. I kept my gaze fixed on Shadow, watching as he danced between the heavy blows dealt by the behemoth. The behemoth’s arm came within a hair’s breadth of crushing the Manipulator. Shadow struck back with reflexes like lightning. His glove struck the marble beast and reduced its arm into a cloud of dust and small pieces of stone shrapnel.
“What is he?” My former-pony-now-human companion asked. I glanced down at her, she was fixated on Shadow. A loud crack filled the air. I didn’t need to look around to know what was happening. “He’s just toying with Princess Luna. When you fought her, you actually had to put in some effort (or at the very least, it looked like you did). So why does he seem so carefree about fighting somepony as powerful as her?”
“Because that’s who he is,” I said simply. My pained gaze examined the construct combat my rival. “He's a rather unusual case when it comes to his madness. It infuriates me, because he makes everything seem so simple when he pulls this trick of toying in such a childish manner.”
“That doesn’t explain why he’s doing all of this though,” the former-unicorn pointed out. “If he was only after you, then why did he bother taking us prisoner? Why did he tell those reptiles working for him to keep us ponies alive?”
“Technically, you’re not a pony,” I pointed out with a extremely light and cheeky grin on my face. Apparently, Karma didn't take too kindly to this for I was forced to duck as a chunk of the marble behemoth came dangerously close to rearranging my face. “You’re human now.”
“Just because I look human, doesn’t mean I am human,” Twilight retorted. Her face took on a look of steadfast determination, but I could see it was extremely fragile. “I’m still me. I think…”
My eyebrows furrowed at seeing her hug her knees to her chest with a sad look in her eyes. To be honest, it only made me feel worse than I already did.
“I’m sorry,” I said, doing my best to hide the pain in my voice as I spoke. “I’m so sorry. I should’ve made sure he died all those years ago. If I had been more thorough, if I had done something different, then none of this would be happening.”
Across the room, Shadow let out a triumphant bout of laughter as the behemoth fell for the last time, crumbling into a pile of dust and rubble. He took a bow to an invisible crowd (complete with applause and cheering) as dozens of red roses showered around him. Shadow caught one of the roses in his hand and gripped it in his teeth.
“Because of my arrogance to believe that he was finished, everything is falling apart now,” I continued, slumping down on the ground next to Twilight. “There's no way I can combat him in my state, and neither can your Princesses.” I glared down at the Limiter, slowly vanishing as it finished fusing with my body.
“Is that really all you have to offer?” Shadow called out. Both princesses had vanished from the room, but there was an odd feeling in the air, like knowing that there’s a super weapon primed and waiting in orbit, but not knowing when it was going to activate. “Come on! Do the all powerful Princesses of Sun and Moon really have nothing more to fight me with than a living floor? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.”
A flash of bright orange light filled the room, fading quickly to reveal a flame spirit, taking on the form of Celestia. Shadow raised an eyebrow. The flame spirit flawlessly imitated Celestia’s image (if the Princess had been engulfed from head to hoof in flame). Shadow let out a low whistle and dispelled his boxing gloves with a flash of Hellfire.
“Not bad, for a pony who couldn’t even live up to her special talent for nearly five years,” Shadow said with a laugh as he summoned a one-handed squirt gun. “But just one construct? A for effort, E for effectiveness. And here I was, expecting you to whip out some sort of secret…” In the time he had spent talking, the flame spirit had transformed into that of a giant, flaming lion.
“Are you ponies overcompensating for something? Or did I miss the memo on ‘Bring your abnormally sized constructs to the fight day’?” Shadow said with a laugh.
“I will not allow you to torment my little ponies any further,” the lion spoke in Celestia’s voice. Shadow lost it at that, falling over in a fit of laughter at the sheer absurdity of it all. And to be honest, despite the horrible reality I was being faced with, it was difficult for me not to grin.
“Have I ever told you how much you ponies crack me up?” The Manipulator said, wiping a tear of mirth from the corner of his eye. “Seriously, how is that supposed to be intimidating when it has your voice?”
The lion glared down at Shadow for a moment, before opening up its jaws and unleashing a thick column of flame upon the man. The flames persisted for several long seconds, bathing the room in a warm light.
However, the flames faded to reveal Shadow, unsurprisingly unharmed and holding an umbrella in the shape of a miniature palm tree.
Celestia’s fire lion let out a growl of irritation before splitting itself in half. The halves then split themselves yet again, until no fewer than thirty flame lions surrounded Shadow on all sides. The crackling of the flames and the growls of the lions filled the air.
One of the flame lions pounced at the Manipulator from his blind spot, fangs and claws bared and poised for the kill. Shadow, however had faster reflexes. He spun on his heel, briefly becoming a blur as he leveled the water gun between the flame lion’s eyes. A single bead of white light shot from the gun instead of water as Shadow pulled the trigger.
In the blink of an eye, the lion had been transformed into a strawberry ice cream statue of itself, which immediately began melting under the heat from the other fiery lions nearby. The other lions immediately stopped growling and simply stared at their melting comrade for a moment before looking back at Shadow, who now wore a sinister grin on his face.
The fire lions gave up trying to attack Shadow, and instead ran for safety as the Manipulator chased after them, cackling like a madman. With each shot of his weapon, another lion would turn into an ice cream statue, until there were none left.
“Well that was fun,” Shadow said, grinning with satisfaction at his handiwork. “What’s next?”
His answer came in the form of both Celestia and Luna appearing opposite of one another with Shadow in between them. Their horns were ablaze with large amounts of raw, magical energy. The glow seemed to suck all of the light and color out of the world, briefly making everything seem like an old grainy black-and-white movie.
Shadow’s grin slowly slipped off of his face as both princesses released the spells they had been charging. “Oh.”
Both bolts of magic slammed into the Manipulator with a sound akin to clashing thunder. The force of the resulting blast lifted Shadow off of his feet and tossed him up into the air.
“Alright Princesses!” Rainbow Dash cheered from somewhere beyond my line of sight.
Shadow rose a good ten feet before gravity reclaimed its hold on him and he started to fall back to the ground. As he did so, his momentum rapidly vanished, until he was falling slowly, bit by bit, as if time around him had slowed to a crawl.
I noticed the faint traces of blue and gold magic surrounding his body in a near transparent bubble, and then I realized that was exactly what was happening to him. I looked over at Celestia and Luna, both of whom still had their horns glowing brightly with their respective auras. Their faces were screwed up in concentration as they maintained their spell it was they had cast on the Manipulator.
“What- what’s happening to him?” Fluttershy asked as she appeared next to Twilight and I. “Why is he taking so long to fall?”
“My sister and I have him trapped in a time bubble,” Luna explained while I nodded at the familiar wavy strands that composed of it. I may have lost the ability to interact with magic, but that didn’t mean I still couldn’t identify it.
“It’s highly advanced magic that slows down time to a point where it moves forward at an imperceptibly slow pace,” I continued for Luna. The others looked at me surprised for a moment, as if I wasn’t supposed to be able to know this in my state. “It should take him at least a full week to even touch the ground at this rate.”
“Then, it’s over?” Applejack asked, walking up to stand on my other side, shooting hesitant glances at Shadow who had a look of surprise frozen on his face. “That’s really all it took to stop him?” Celestia and Luna shared a strained, nervous glance. One that went unnoticed by the ponies surrounding me and Twilight.
“It’s not over,” I mumbled, hardly noticing as the others turned to look at me once more. “You two have to keep the magic flowing into the bubble, or he’ll break free.”
“He is remarkably strong willed,” Celestia admitted. “His mind was able to resist the effects of the spell, but his body couldn’t. We can feel him fighting back, trying to break free.”
“And, if either one of us has our magic interrupted, the spell will collapse on itself,” Luna added through her clenched teeth.
“There must be something we can do to help,” Rainbow said. “I know! We can go get the Elements! If they can stop Nightmare Moon and Discord, then they-”
“No, Rainbow Dash, the Elements will be powerless against him,” Celestia interrupted. “Shadow is far more powerful than anything, or anypony my sister and I have ever known. Not only could he possibly resist them, he might be able to reverse the effects of the Elements back onto you six.”
“Besides, the Elements of Harmony only work for ponies, to prevent them from falling into the clutches of those who would seek to use them for their own gain,” Luna explained. “And now that Twilight is a human…”
“The Elements are powerless,” Lyra realized. “Without all six, they’re just a set of gaudy jewelry. Am I right, your Highnesses?”
“Correct, Miss Heartstrings,” Celestia said. “Sadly, there is nothing any of you can do to stop him. Especially since he took away the one thing that might’ve stood a chance against him.” She shot me a sad, apologetic look. I couldn’t even meet her eyes. She wasn’t blaming me, I could easily tell that much, but it sure felt like it.
“Then what can we do?” Applejack said, indignantly stomping her hoof on the ground. “We can’t just sit on our flanks and do nothing. We have to do something!”
“Applejack’s right!” Rainbow Dash said, landing next to the orange-coated mare and bumping hooves with her. “This guy’s one bad customer, and we’re all that stands between him and Equestria. We can’t just abandon all those ponies out there who don’t know what’s going on!”
“You tell ‘em Dash!” Pinkie cheered. “Let’s show this mean-old meanie-pants just who he’s messing with!” She stood up on her hind legs and jabbed at the open air in front of her like a boxer would before losing her balance and falling onto her back.
“Your bravery is commendable,” Luna said. “But there is nothing you can do.”
“If you stay, there is no telling what Shadow will do to you.” Celestia said sadly. “Look at what he did to Twilight. I cannot bear the thought of anything happening to my little ponies, and it hurts me deeply to see Twilight suffering like this.”
“Princess…” Twilight said, a tear running down her cheek.
“You asked us what you can do, Applejack,” Luna reminded us, “there is only one thing you can do.”
“Anything you ask, Princess,” Applejack said proudly. “We can do it. No sweat. Right girls?” The others all nodded in a somber agreement.
“Run away,” Celestia said, her tone one of desperate pleading. “Run away and don’t look back. Get as far away from Canterlot as you possibly can.” The ponies around me all looked at their princess like she had grown a second head.
“But, Princess…” Fluttershy began.
“We won’t be able to hold Shadow forever,” Luna interrupted. “And you’ve seen how this fight is playing out. Shadow is toying with my sister and me. You need to escape while you still have time.”
“You’re going to keep him busy so we can escape,” I simplified. Celestia nodded as she kept her stare with her citizens. “You won’t stand a chance against him once he loses interest in the fight, you know.”
“We know,” Celestia said gravely. “But there is no other option.” She turned to look at me. “Only you know Shadow better than anypony, Storm. Only you can beat him. If that Limiter is all that’s keeping you from being able to fight him on equal terms, then you must run. Run and find a way to destroy the Limiter. Then you’ll be able to stop Shadow.”
“I told you, I don’t run away,” I said, wincing as pain lanced through my body from my shoulder. Regardless, I still summoned the Requiem into my grasp to fight. While the Editor may be locked out for me, certain things are still of use to me. And since the Keyblade only requires a strong heart, and I still have that...
“It’s not running away, it’s advancing toward future victory,” Celestia said with a sad smile. She turned her head away from me and the others to look at a guard galloping toward the Princesses as quickly as he could. “Lieutenant Shining Armor! I have an assignment for you.”
The guard slid to a halt just beside the sun princess, a confused look on his face. “Are you sure this is the best time, your Majesty?”
“There won’t be another time if you don’t hurry, Lieutenant,” Luna pointed out. “You are to escort these seve- six, mares and the two humans to safety. Get them as far away from Canterlot as quickly as you can. Understood?”
The Lieutenant snapped a salute at both Princesses. “You can count on me, your Majesties.” He turned toward the rest of us and gave us a quick, once-over glance. “Alright, you heard the Princesses. Time for us to go.”
“Hold up! You’re just going to abandon the Princesses when they need as many of you guys as possible?” Rainbow Dash interjected forcefully. “What kind of Royal Guard are you?”
“The loyal kind,” Lieutenant Armor retorted. “I may not agree with them, but orders are orders. I have to get you lot as far away from here as quickly as possible.”
“There’s just one small problem with that plan of yours,” Rarity said solemnly. She pointed with her hoof at the entrance to the throne room. I looked over in time to watch the last five pegasi guards fall to the Irida.
The unconscious bodies of over forty guards lay scattered at the feet of the Irida forces, which were beginning to drag the unconscious ponies into a pile off to the side. The wounded Irida were already back on their feet, treating their own wounds as their customs demanded.
Those that weren’t wounded or moving ponies had already started to regroup, their weapons trained on us with a certain militaristic discipline that they hadn’t had when I had been to their universe less than a month ago. I knew Shadow trained his forces fast, but damn.
“They've got the only exit blocked,” Applejack noted. “How are we supposed to escape?”
“We’re not,” the Lieutenant explained. “That’s the point. They’re trying to keep us from running.” I glanced over at him, and almost did a double-take at the sight of the determined grin he wore. “But I always did like finding my way out of tight situations.”
“Got something in mind?” I asked. The Lieutenant nodded, which only earned from me a curious crease of my right eyebrow. Considering his rank, surely he knows some secret passage perhaps that we could use-
“We’re going to jump.”
’Oh... nevermind then. So much for hoping to have an easy way out.’
“Jump?” Fluttershy repeated, her voice almost inaudible over the shuffling of the Irida across the floor.
“Exactly,” the Lieutenant had a wild look in his eyes, and I’ll be honest, it unnerved me a tiny bit with the fact that he was only a unicorn, and I doubted there was any ‘Featherfall’ variants of spells he knew of. “On my count, we’re going to make a break for the window behind us and jump. Understood?”
“But the windows back there overlook the mountainside,” Rainbow Dash pointed out. “It’s a straight drop down to the valley below. Fluttershy and I would be alright, but you guys would only turn into an ugly stain on the ground!”
“Rainbow is right,” Applejack said forcefully. “There has to be another way.”
“There isn’t,” I admitted begrudgingly. “The Irida have our only other escape route cut off. And those rifles of theirs would put more holes in us than we could count if we tried to fight our way through. Our only option is down.”
“What part of “non-flying ponies go ‘splat”, did you not understand?” Dash said, sticking her face close to mine.
“You let me worry about that,” Shining Armor said. Rainbow Dash pulled away from me, giving him a confused look. “When I give the signal, I want you all to leap as high into the air as you can.”
“And how will that help us escape exactly?” I asked as I rose to my feet.
“Just trust me,” the Lieutenant said, shooting me a confident smirk as he turned back to face the Irida. I had no idea what he was planning to do, or why he was so confident it would work, but I was out of options. Against my better judgment (and nearly seven million years of training with a variety of militaries, militias and special operations teams) I turned my back on the Irida to pick up Twilight.
The former unicorn gave a small squeak of surprise as I lifted her from the ground in a bridal carry. I had to frown a bit more as I did so. Twilight was heavier than I anticipated, and not because she was heavy built as a human. On the contrary, she couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred and twenty pounds. Did my Editor really make me that much stronger? Was I seriously this weak without it?
Twilight seemed to catch on to the concept of the carry fairly quickly. She figured out that she would be at less risk of falling if she wrapped her arms around my shoulders and held on for dear life.
I turned back toward Shining Armor, who was giving Twilight a pained, guilty look before he noticed my stare in return. “I guess we’re ready,” I said. “What’s your plan?”
The Lieutenant turned back toward the Irida that were lining up in front of the doors to the throne room and gave him the absolutely most terrifying glare I’ve seen any of these ponies give. And by terrifying, I mean comically laughable.
Shining gave me a wicked grin, the same one as earlier that made me more nervous than the situation should have called for. Then again, we were basically screwed already, so what’s the worst that could happen?
“Hey, come and get us you inbred-morons!” The guards pony shouted at them. Apparently, I haven’t learned my lesson, and Murphy is gladly using his Law to correct me once more.
I almost dropped Twilight from my desire to smack myself in the face. He just had to say that, didn’t he? Out of all of the insults he could’ve come up with, he just had to pick the one that was the equivalent of burning a cross in Christianity.
The room fell deathly silent as all of the Irida present slowly turned to face the Lieutenant. If looks could kill, all of Canterlot (and maybe half of the nearby countryside) would be a pile of smoking rubble, if even that. The Irida were furious. The first and foremost creed of their religion had banned incest. To even speak of it was taboo, and to use it as an insult (like I had once not long ago) was almost guaranteed to get an angry mob after you.
To my surprise however, none of the Irida led the charge. They were glaring at Shining Armor with an intense ferocity, sure, yet they were unnaturally quiet considering what the Lieutenant had just said. Then, one of the Irida in the back lobbed a grenade in our direction. As it sailed through the air, a good five more (thrown by the first throwers companions) followed it.
The first grenade landed within inches of Shining Armor’s hooves. I moved to cry out, to warn him of what was about to happen, to do something. However, I never got the chance. In the split second before the grenade detonated, the Lieutenant’s horn lit up with a magenta magic and a translucent, magenta bubble of pure energy surrounded our little group.
“Now!” Shining Armor shouted. I didn’t hesitate to jump. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rest of the girls do the same as Shining and I. The grenade went off with a deafening boom and knocked our bubble (which we were now floating in the center of due to Shining’s magic) backwards toward the window.
We bounced once off of the ground before the other four grenades struck the side of the bubble and exploded. In the blink of an eye, my world was filled with the sounds of shattering glass and the screams of five mares (one of which was now human), the thrilled holler of a rainbow-maned pegasus, and the whooping laughter of both a pink-coated party pony and the guards pony currently casting a malleable shield around us with his magic.
The concussive force of the grenades had thrown us clear out of the window, and true to Rainbow Dash’s word, there was nothing below us but a rather steep and jagged cliff-side ending with a sudden stop somewhere several thousand feet below us.
At this point, having mildly come to terms with my newfound mortality and loss of power, I probably would’ve joined the mares in the screaming. However, Twilight had a near death-grip around my throat, and getting air in was difficult enough as it was, let alone getting it back out in a scream.
“Hey! This thing can survive a fall from this height, right?” I shouted over the sound of rushing air in my ears.
“I think so,” Shining Armor shouted back.
“What you mean by ‘you think so’?!” I yelled in shock. “Haven’t you ever tested it before?!”
“Consider this the trial run, then,” Shining said with a laugh. I swear I could feel myself break out in a cold, nervous sweat. I do not like being mortal, especially being mortal and plummeting to what could very well end in the untimely demise of myself and my fellow companions.
Fortunately, that train of thought came to an end as the bubble fell into a decently deep river. The bubble popped on impact and the lot of us remained suspended in midair for a few seconds (I swear this world loves its comedic opportunities) before we fell into the rushing waters below.
Luck was on our side, thankfully enough. The river was too wide for us to swim across with the quick moving currents, and the ponies other than Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy had trouble staying above water for long. We had, however, landed right next to the floating remains of a tree that had fallen into the water at some point upriver and now served as the makeshift raft that all of us (minus our pegasi companions) were now trying to avoid rolling as we clung onto it.
“Well, this day is going swimmingly,” Rarity grumbled sarcastically.
“At least we got away,” Fluttershy said sadly, giving the distant city above a pitiful glance. “I hope the Princesses are okay.”
“Duh! They’re the Princesses, how could they not be?” Rainbow Dash said, a small hint of worry in her voice, almost unperceivable by her overall confidence.
“But they’re fighting that mean old Shadow man!” Pinkie Pie reminded her. “And he’s got cuh-razy powers!”
I gave Shining Armor a quick glance. I’ll admit, despite current circumstances, I was curious about this pony. Judging by the look he had given Twilight earlier, I would guess that the two of them were good friends. Or, maybe they were more than friends. Who knows? I’ve hardly interacted with these ponies for more than two weeks.
The Lieutenant, who had briefly been wearing a look of triumph on his face after we reached the tree, was looking downriver with a mild expression of worry. Now, knowing that the locals all had better senses than I usually did (without enhancing them with my Editor, of course), I got the feeling that he saw/heard something that I couldn’t. My suspicions were confirmed as, one by one, the mares around me fell quiet, all staring off in the same direction.
“Let me guess,” I began, quickly judging several possible scenarios that were about to plague us, before I chose one at random, “we’re about to go over a huge waterfall.”
“Uh-huh,” Rainbow Dash confirmed.
“Sharp rocks at the bottom?” I asked.
“Most likely,” Shining Armor replied.
After everything I’ve been through in the past hour, a waterfall was nothing. I’ve fallen down plenty of waterfalls in my life. What’s one more?
I felt the manic grin spreading across my face. I must be losing my mind faster than I was previously. “Bring it on,” I said eagerly as the top of the waterfall came into view for me.
Scars panted heavily as he lowered his pistol, the barrel still smoking. After Storm and the ponies near him had been thrown out of the window by grenades, he had turned on the ones responsible for throwing the explosives and executed them without mercy. Shadow’s orders had been clear: they weren’t supposed to seriously harm or attempt to kill any ponies (though the reasons why were still unclear to the Irida). Those six that had thrown the grenades had gone against Shadow’s orders, and as the current leader of the Irida forces under Shadow’s command, it was his duty to see punishment dealt out appropriately through hot lead.
“Dispose of the bodies,” he growled at the troops behind him. Several of his comrades snapped to attention and immediately moved to carry out his orders. Scars grunted in irritation. Insubordination was amongst the worst crimes imaginable according to Shadow, and the only suitable punishment was for the guilty to serve as an example to his fellows by being swiftly and mercilessly executed.
He turned back toward the princesses, his brow furrowed as he studied the glow around Shadow, and the identical glows around the alicorns’ horns. He had heard the Warbringer, Storm, mention that if the princesses had their magic interrupted or stopped, Shadow would be free.
Without even a moment of hesitation, Scars raised his pistol and fired a single round and the white-coated alicorn’s head.
Out of the corner of her eye, Luna caught the glint of light off of the pistol’s side as Scars aimed at her sister. She didn’t even think as she teleported into the path of the bullet, flaring out her wings to provide the maximum protection she could for her elder sister. She saw the flash of the gun’s barrel as it went off, and for a split second, time slowed down just enough to allow her to see the small projectile race toward her at impossible speeds.
A translucent shield of golden magic energy flared to life in front of the moon princess, effectively bringing the bullet to stop mere millimeters from her throat. Luna breathed a sigh of relief and gave a smug smirk in the direction of Scars.
Much to her surprise, Scars also had a smug look on his face (or at least what Luna assumed was a smug look). The Irida in question raised one long, sharp-nailed finger, and pointed behind Luna.
The dark-coated princess slowly turned to look behind her. The first thing she saw was her elder sister, looking at her with a relieved expression. Then Luna’s eyes shifted ever so slightly to look over Celestia’s shoulder in the direction of where Scars had been pointing, and saw… nothing.
‘What is he pointing at?’ Luna asked herself as she continued to look around in the general area behind Celestia.
Celestia, however, was staring straight at Scars with a look of pure loathing on her face. Her horn lit up with a magical fire that shone as brightly as the sun. She took two steps toward the Irida and lowered her head, so that the full intensity of her glare could be felt, as well as aiming her horn at Scars.
“Nopony will ever hurt my sister,” she growled. Her horn’s glow intensified until the magic manifested itself as a miniaturized sun that swirled around her horn. Scars eyes went wide with shock, and he stood, frozen in place as the sun princess unleashed her attack of solar fire on the reptilian warrior.
Her attack barely made it halfway to the Irida before the emerald green flames of Hellfire flared to life around the attack and absorbed it. Celestia felt her jaw drop slightly. The Sun’s Breath was the most powerful offensive spell known to ponykind. Its power could be increased or decreased based on necessity, from starting a campfire to leaving a mountain scorched and covered in the ashy remains of what had once been there.
The Hellfire slowly faded, leaving only Shadow behind, now freed of his temporary prison in the time bubble. Realization dawned on the sisters. Scars had only taken the shot to distract them, breaking the flow of their magic and freeing Shadow.
Shadow was no longer smiling like he had been since the minute he arrived in Equestria. Instead, his mouth was set in an irritated frown, and his silver eyes glinted with malice. In his left hand, he gripped a long staff, sharpened into a point on one end and topped with a hollow obsidian circle on the other.
“Game’s over, your Highnesses,” the Manipulator said, his voice as cold as ice. In the time it took Celestia to blink once, Shadow vanished and reappeared right next to her. She didn’t even have time to react before she was struck by his drawn fist and sent flying through several of the marble pillars lining the sides of the throne room.
Luna attempted to impale Shadow with her horn, but he merely transformed himself into pitch black mist, which swirled around the princess and reformed into the man behind her. Luna didn’t even get to turn around before Shadow had knocked her legs out from under her.
She fell heavily to the ground with a gasp of pain, twisting her head to look her attacker in the eyes. It was just like Storm had said; once Shadow had lost interest in the fight, they really hadn’t stood a chance against him. Shadow glared down at the moon princess for a moment before he brought the sharp end of his staff down into her throat.
“No!” Celestia’s defiant cry had a volume akin to a bomb detonating in a small, enclosed space. It shattered all of the still intact windows and sent the Irida collapsing to their knees under the sheer force of it. Shadow however, remained unaffected. A midnight blue orb of light began to form in the hollow circle atop his staff, while Luna’s body below began to glow as well.
When Shadow finally drew back his staff and stepped away from Luna, Celestia immediately rushed to her sister’s side, stifling a sob. But she slid to a stop as she got a better look at Luna.
There was no blood from Shadow’s attack. There wasn’t even a wound in Luna’s neck. Instead, Luna was no longer tall and graceful. She was the size of an average unicorn mare. Her coat had brightened to a light purple and her mane, once ethereal and as colorful as the night sky, was a light blue, and solid. But what came as the biggest surprise to Celestia, was her sister’s lack of wings. She was a basic unicorn now.
Celestia rounded on Shadow, determined to find out what he had done to her sister. She never got the chance.
As she turned to face him, Shadow had dashed forward at speeds that shouldn’t have been physically possible, and stabbed Celestia in her neck as well. Shadow’s momentum knocked the princess off of her hooves and sent the two of them sliding across the broken floor.
As they slid to a halt, Celestia felt her magic flare up inside her against her will, something that would only happen in foals younger than three years. The magic began to flow toward one point, the spot in her neck where Shadow had stabbed her. Celestia forced her eyes back open and she stared up at the Manipulator, who towered above her. A golden orb of light had formed in the center of the hollow circle on the staff now, and Celestia didn’t need to see herself to figure out what had happened.
Shadow had absorbed all of Luna’s alicorn powers, the dominion over moon and night when he stabbed her in the neck. And now he was doing the same to her. His staff acted as a medium, drawing their alicorn powers into it and storing them there, in the lights now fighting for dominance in the circle.
“Why?” She managed to gasp, as Shadow finally drew his staff out of her throat. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because gods must be strong,” Shadow answered simply, vanishing from Celestia’s view as a thick strand of her new, vibrantly pink mane fell over her eyes. “And Storm became weak.”
Shadow strode away from the fallen alicorns as both began to slip into unconsciousness. He walked right past the Irida, all of whom made a path for him and fell to their knees as he passed.
“Lock them in the dungeons,” Shadow ordered as he neared the doors. “And reinforce the doors with a containment field generator. Make sure they can’t escape.” He paused in the doorway, and turned back to face Scars. “Send your troops out. Take the city, and remember to keep all of the ponies alive.”
“By your command, my Lord,” Scars said, placing a hand over the center of his chest and bowing low enough to kiss the floor. Shadow smirked slightly and strode out of the throne room. Irida troops rushed past him moments later as they obeyed the command he had given Scars and prepared to take Canterlot in Shadow’s name.
His smirk was quickly turning into a manic grin.
He stepped outside of the castle and into one of the many courtyards lining its ground floor. High above, the sun shone its midday light down on the world below. The shadows at the Manipulator’s feet swirled to life and produced a pair of solid, three-dimensional sunglasses for him.
He twirled his staff in his hand once before he thrust it upwards at the sun. The midnight blue and golden lights in the circle turned ruby-red and a column of red light erupted from the top of the circle, rising high into the sky. The column rose and rose and rose, until finally it seemed to touch the sun.
All across Equestria, time seemed to freeze as everypony and everything looked up at the column of red light that seemed to drain all color from the world. The column of light faded after a minute or so, but the sky had been stained red by the light from the ruby sun now blazing in the sky.
I sat on the edge of a small lake at the bottom of Canterlot Mountain, having dragged a swimming-impaired group of ponies out of the water with the help of our two pegasi companions after we had barely survived the waterfall ride down. All of us were staring at the light rising from Canterlot halfway up the mountainside.
“What is that?” Applejack asked. “Is that one of the Princess’ doin’?”
“No,” I said gravely. The others all looked at me with confused expressions.
“How do you know?” Rainbow Dash demanded. “It’s not like you can know what’s going on up there.”
“I’ve seen this before,” I continued. The light column faded, but now the sun seemed a lot larger than it had before. And around it, as black as night, was the image of a large hand print. “That’s Shadow’s Mark. A black hand print of pure Darkness, with a blood-sun in the middle of the palm, high in the sky where everyone can see it.”
“So?” Applejack asked. “What’s that mean?”
“It means Shadow marked this world as his own,” I said, feeling every muscle in my body twitch angrily. “He won.”