“Hello?” Adagio called again. “Please! Is anypony out there?”
Her hooves carried her through the silent halls of Canterlot Castle, each step echoing eerily against the stone walls and distressingly empty halls. It was as if death itself had descended upon the castle and stolen its residents away. Aside from her own increasingly frantic calls, the castle was silent as the grave. No matter where she looked- from servants quarters to the throne room- she could find hide nor hair of anypony. She stopped in the Great Halls, angrily stomping a hoof in sheer frustration.
“Scorpan’s twisted tail, what is going on here?” she raged. Just two days ago, these halls had been full to near bursting with ponies celebrating her ennoblement, where-
The deep, gut shaking boom of thunder assaulted her ears. Dark clouds were right behind it. They seemed to flow from the stones themselves, collecting in the vaulted ceilings of the chamber. Adagio recoiled as another round of thunder pealed forth and a downpour began to cascade over her.
Adagio sputtered and shook her head in a futile gesture as the rain continued to fall. An icy chill quickly swallowed her pasterns and crept ever higher at a frightening pace, rising past fetlocks then cannons, then her knees, until the water was lapping past her belly and towards her withers.
She shrieked as she found herself forced to paddle frantically to keep her head above water. It was a process that was more difficult than it should have been. The almost supernatural chill of the black, brackish liquid drained warmth from her body and made her limbs sluggish and hard to control.
No! She thought. I won’t go out like this! If I can just get to the windows.
Kicking as powerfully as she could, Adagio paddled for the impressive stained glass windows on the far side of the chamber. She huffed and puffed as she swam, her limbs aching in protest but onwards she pushed, driven on by sheer will and survival instinct. As she drew close to them, she opened her mouth and channeled her magic. One raw scream of power would do it and then she’d be free-
Another roar of thunder and crack of lightning made Adagio scream for different reasons, her magic snuffing out as she lost control of the spell.
Ponies floated beyond the window.
In the moment the lightning cut through the room, it illuminated the nearly black ocean beyond the brightly colored scenes of The Heartland’s past. An unending expanse of dark water that had obviously swallowed the whole world. The bodies of ponies floated in that expanse. Cold and unmoving.
Something brushed past her leg. She looked down and splashed away in horror. Suri’s waterlogged corpse bobbed just below the surface. Her mane, having come loose from its bun, sprawled out in all directions, the hairs threatening to coil around Adagio’s leg like the tendrils of a macabre jellyfish. Her vacant stare was somehow accusatory. This was all Adagio’s fault somehow.
She kept paddling away, only to bump into something else. Another body, this one of Starlight Glimmer. She twisted around again, only to face Sonata Dusk. Again to see Aria Blaze. Once more and there was Lightning Dust.
They boxed her in, somehow floating just to block her path no matter where she tried to swim as the water rose ever higher. They were beginning to reach the high ceilings of the chamber and the storm clouds that hovered there at which point she’d run out of air and be joining the ponies- her ponies- that she had failed to protect. The ones she had insulted and taken for granted.
“Stay away from me!” she shouted, lashing out with a hoof.
Sonata’s mane caught her wild strike and Adagio quickly found herself tangled. She screamed again, thrashing and lashing out to try and get away from the chef, only to feel a tug on her tail.
The weight dragged her under the surface immediately, which made her thrash all the harder and kick up a flurry of bubbles. She twisted her head around to look at what else had grabbed her, only to wish she hadn’t. Iron Will was hanging onto her tail in a vice like death grip. His posture was slumped, almost resigned as he sunk towards the yawning abyss that was once the Great Hall’s floor.
A desperate panic beginning to set in, Adagio thrashed all the harder, kicking at her former bodyguard to try and make him release her. But his grip remained. As did the net that was Sonata’s mane. And now Suri’s mane. And Aria’s. All their bodies were beginning to cling to her now, dragging her ever downwards.
As she was swallowed by the darkness of the water, her limbs grew stiffer and stiffer. Her lungs burned, almost screaming for air. The light of the surface above faded dimmer and dimmer. She knew that she was dying.
And hearing things. That voice sounded almost like Queen Chrysalis.
Adagio Dazzle! You must go to Roam!
As her watery grave claimed her, Adagio could only wonder what the queen meant.
- - - -
Adagio returned to the waking world in a great deal of pain.
A web of agony pulsed across her skin, underneath what felt like tight wrappings of some kind. She could also dimly make out something stiff and cold snapped tightly around her right front cannon.
Mind swimming with a confusing jumble of memories, she tried to sit up. There had been the festival and then she and Chrysalis had argued and-
Chroma. Lightning. Will.
Memory of the lightning bolt was like a bucket of cold water, snapping Adagio back to her immediate surroundings. She was lying on her back, a warm blanket firmly tucked around her, a thick straw mattress underneath her. She could tell by the slight itch on her spine. The bed she was in was set right next to a small square window, through which she could make out Ponyville. Rain continued to lash the buildings, rattling out a discordant chorus on their roofs. It was quite dark out as well. Enough so that it must have been night.
Slowly, she pushed herself into a sitting position, ears twitching at a clanking rattle that followed along. Frowning, she looked down at her right foreleg and the odd sensation there. It was a manacle. Heavy and iron, it was connected to an equally heavy iron chain. Her eyes roamed across its length, following it back to one of the bed legs, where it was firmly secured. It seemed that the chain was just long enough to give Adagio some room to move on the bed, but not off of it.
Turning her gaze to the room, Adagio could see that it was a long rectangle, with two rows of beds and lit by flickering candles. In the flickering gloom, Adagio could make out two occupied beds across from her, one pony sized and one much larger. To her surprise, Sonata Dusk was at the side of the larger lump, dabbing at it with a sponge.
“Sonata?” she managed to croak out.
The chef jerked away from her charge, yelping with a mixture of fear and surprise. Even in the flickering light, Adagio could see a great deal of anguish on Sonata’s features as she turned. Her mane and coat were frazzled and she was sniffling and hiccuping as she talked.
“H-hello m-mlady,” she smiled. “G-glad to-*hic* see you u-up. I h-hope you’re not in t-too much pain. My a-app-prentice S-sugarcoat mixed your poultice.” A shaking, shivering snorty moan shook her body. “She-she’s studying to be a healer when n-not working for m-me!”
That would explain the wrappings. Bandages. “Sonata-”
“Would you l-like something t-to eat?” Sonata asked. “I t-think I brought some soup.”
She spun about, hooves fumbling with a tray on a bedside table. Adagio grit her teeth, yanking at her chain. “Sonata! What’s going on? Where’s Iron Will? What’s Chroma doing?”
Sonata glanced at the large lump at her side. “He’s….sleeping. T-the lightning hurt. Chroma...I think she’s talking to mayor Glimmer.”
Adagio’s heart hammered in her chest. If Will had taken the brunt of Chroma’s blast…. She shook her head. No, she couldn’t focus on that right now. She needed to know as many details as she could.
“Why am I chained up?”
“Because we’re due to be executed tomorrow.”
That voice, familiar and bitterly sarcastic, had come from the smaller lump opposite Adagio. As the pony it belonged to sat up, she quickly put a name to the face.
“You’re a member of the Everfree Rangers. Lightning Dust, right?”
“Former member now,” Lightning shrugged.
Adagio’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean, executed?”
“We’re due to be hung at sun up for trying to assassinate a consul of Equestria. Because we’re traitors.”
That statement proved to be too much for Sonata. She broke into great, body wracking sobs and threw herself at Adagio, wrapping her arms around the stunned baroness’ neck. “Noooooo!” she wailed. “I-I I don’t want you to die Dagi! Or y-you D-dust. I d-don’t,” she took a deep heaving breath before breaking into more half sobbing-half talking, “I don’t want anypony to die!”
Despite the sobbing pony latched to her Adagio blinked, a realization suddenly hitting home. “You!” she snarled, jabbing an accusing hoof at Lightning Dust. “That was your crossbow bolt! It’s your fault that Will got hurt!”
Fueled by anger, she lurched forward, sending Sonata tumbling away with a squeak. But in her anger she forgot that she was manacled. The bed jerked forward a pathetic amount and Adagio was forced to catch herself before she face planted off the edge. Shooting an angry glare at Lightning, she tried to channel a spell, only for it to immediately fizzle.
“What?” Adagio shouted, reaching up to feel her horn. She could just feel some kind of iron band set around the base. “What is this thing?”
“The ponies outside called it a magic dampener…” Sonata managed to sniff as she got up. “Something that Chroma gave them.”
Adagio almost ground her teeth in frustration. Unless she wanted to be hanging from a gallows tomorrow, she needed to think of a way out of here. “Where’s Suri?”
“Pfft. Chroma won’t let her see you,” Lightning Dust snorted. “Doesn’t want your servant helping you escape.”
“Would you be silent!” Adagio snapped. “I need to think.”
“I hope you can think faster than you make friends. Or we’re in big trouble.”
Ignoring that crack Adagio looked over at the sleeping form of Iron Will. His breathing was shallow, barely moving the blanket. She didn’t care how powerful Chroma was. The alicorn had struck at everyone and thing dear to her and she wasn’t going to take it lying down.
“Sonata...are there guards outside?”
“Uh huh,” she sniffed.
“Good.” She jabbed at her horn with her free hoof. “Then get this thing off of me.”
- - - -
Across town Starlight Glimmer found herself wishing that she was anywhere else. Chroma glared down at her, eyes glowing with arcane energy. Even sitting as she was, the alicorn loomed her desk, the air around her humming with power. The buzz was occasionally punctuated by the rhythmic pounding of the twisted looking cloth bag hung around Chroma’s neck. It continued to pulse away, each thump echoing in Starlight’s ears.
Chroma wasn’t alone either. Spitfire stood in the corner, slowly furling and unfurling her wings to stretch them out. Her face was an unnatural mask of calm, despite the presence of a living legend less than two feet from her. But, considering that she and her Rangers had eagerly worked alongside Chroma… Well, it seemed that Spitfire had chosen her side. It was enough to make Starlight’s stomach churn, but she didn’t dare show weakness in front of Chroma.
“My allies in the Everfree Rangers speak highly of you Mayor Glimmer,” Chroma said, gesturing to Spitfire with a wing. She raised a goblet of cider from Starlight’s stores to her lips, quaffing it back in a strange parody of a raucous tavern scene. “Well liked by the citizenry, a skilled administrator and an advocate for the rights of ponies in bondage. In many ways, you embody all the ideals of Equestria.”
“Thank you, consul,” Starlight answered. The words were bitter on her tongue. They were hollow. Flattery meant to appease a madmare and nothing more. Even worse, her chosen cause suddenly felt...tainted by Chroma’s praise.
She glanced towards the corner of the room. Sugar Belle cowered there, clutching the tray she brought the cider on to her chest. Suri Polomare was at her side managing to look agitated and worried all at once, like she desperately wanted to say something.
“All in all,” Chroma continued. “I’d say you’re the pony to be governor of this province. Certainly you seem the more qualified choice than the ‘baroness’ Chrysalis...dumped on your doorstep?” She idly glanced at Spitfire out of the corner of her eye. “That’s the phrase, right?”
“Yes, Consul Rainbow Dash, that’s the phrase,” Spitfire nodded back.
Suri raised an eyebrow at her. “Been teaching our consul modern vernacular I see? The subtleties of the tongue?”
“Bite your tongue wench!” Spitfire sneered. “How dare you suggest our consul would need speech therapy.”
Chroma grunted. “Actually, modern slang remains confusing. I’m still not sure what fadoodle means. Is it a breed of dog? Sounds like one.”
Spitfire slumped a little. “No, consul. It means ‘foolishness’.”
“Ah!” Chroma perked up, slapping a hoof on the table. “Because you doodle the foolishness? Or is it because you put the fa in the doodle?”
Starlight nervously licked her lips. Chroma was almost acting like a normal pony. Maybe...just maybe she could be reasoned with? She could at least try to stem the violence...a little. “Consul...about Baroness Dazzle. I can’t see her being aware of what one rogue ranger was planning. She didn’t even know about a bunch of laws that some other pony had passed on her behalf! Isn’t there room for some leniency?”
Chroma poured herself another goblet of cider. “Something you gotta learn if you’re going to make governor. Power will make a pony cast aside their strongest morals.”
Pot calling the kettle black. Starlight thought.
“It’s too bad about Baroness Dazzle, really. But that’s war and if I roll over now, that will just empower the next five assassins. My sentence stands. Though, since you brought it up….”
Faster than anyone could react, Chroma seized Spitfire with her magic. Starlight could only watch, wide eyed, as Chroma slammed the pegasus against the wall, whirled about and pressed the tip of her horn against Spitfire’s throat.
“So, Spitfire my dear friend. Do you have any explanation as to why one of your supposedly loyal Rangers tried to kill me?”
Despite the horn at her throat, Spitfire kept her cool. “It surprised me too. Lightning Dust practically worshiped the ground the Rangers walk on. She showed up on my doorstep one day, demanding to be let in. Does that sound like the kind of Ranger who wouldn’t follow her brothers and sisters?”
“Clearly, you underestimated her loyalty to her sham of a ‘country’!” Chroma snapped back.
“Yes,” Spitfire managed to nod, ever so slightly. “Clearly I did. My mistake. I won’t make it again.”
A minute crawled by with only the sound of Chroma’s magic filling the room. Starlight looked from pegasus to alicorn, wondering if she was going to see another execution right here in her office. To her relief though, Chroma let Spitfire go, her mood turning again.
“Hah!” Chroma grinned. “Lesson learned then, but while you take that in, maybe get that stick out of your flank while you’re at it? You’re far too tense Spitfire. Reminds me of my old banner mare during the northern campaigns. I told you about the battle of Griffinstone, right?”
Spitfire smiled back. “About ten times so far. It’s still amazing, every time I hear it.”
Scorpan’s twisted tail! Starlight mentally groaned. How in The Heartlands did these two manage to wind up friends?
“We’ll have to skip the eleventh time though. Canterlot, remember?”
“Ah, yes,” Chroma smiled. It was wide, downright gleeful in fact. “It has been far, far too long since Sombra and I have clashed in combat! I will show him the error of siding against Equestria! And then The Heartlands will be restored and from there, Equestria!”
With that, Chroma got to her hooves, grabbed the cider and drained the whole of the bottle in one smooth motion. She glanced around the office, only to freeze as her eyes locked onto one of Starlight’s many trinkets.
“What, is that?” she snarled, jabbing past Starlight at the item of her ire.
Starlight twisted about, blinking at the rough stone sphere on one of her shelves. “That? It’s a rock somepony tried to pass off as an Element of Harmony-”
Without any warning Chroma's magic surged and the rock exploded with a crack, a shower of stone shards raining down on Starlight’s head. Sugar Belle cried out in panic, using her tray as a shield. Suri winced but stood firm, even seemed to step forward as if to further guard Sugar Belle from the debris.
“Harmony...is a lie and the Elements are its chief agents,” Chroma growled. “Do not be deceived by them.”
“Y-yes… of course not, consul.” Starlight said, bowing her head, though all the while never taking her eyes off the unstable madmare.
Chroma thrashed her tail in a whip-like motion, snorting down at the broken pieces of stone that now littered the floor. “Ponies...how often do they search the Everfree?”
Starlight blinked as did Spitfire.
“Not that many,” Spitfire answered. “It’s mostly trade caravans from Luna’s kingdom and occasional explores crazy enough to risk the caprataurs to search for-”
“Roam,” Chroma growled. “Sky above, Spitfire, why didn’t you tell me this?”
“Because when we met, you didn’t care about the Everfree! You told me you had lurked in it enough!”
Chroma’s eye twitched. “No, no…,” she muttered, more to herself than to anypony else in the room. “I’ve delayed long enough. Three hundred years I had to sit on my hooves, waiting and watching. I can not delay them again, even to chase after the Elements! This changes things… Spitfire, pick a few ponies you can trust. You’ll go into the Everfree and collect the Elements of Harmony from the ruins of Roam. I’ll continue with the main plan-”
“Of course, I’ll leave at once.”
“Wait,” Chroma frowned, holding up a wing. “Wait…,” she swept her wing towards Sugar Belle and the silver tray she cowered behind. “Bring that forth.”
She shook like a leaf at the attention, but managed to squeek out a response. “E-excuse me?”
“I said...STEP FORTH!”
The whole room shook, Starlight wincing as a painting of her mother fell from the wall. The alicorn’s rage was too much for poor Sugar Belle to handle. With a soft whimper, her eyes rolled back and she passed out. Chroma growled, taking an angry step forward and Starlight jumped to her hooves, terrified for the safety of her assistant.
Suri intervened, scooping up the silver tray up and holding it forth. “I have it, consul.”
Chroma snorted but seemed content to let Suri hold the tray. Her horn began to glow, brighter and brighter, before the lady of storms seemed to fall apart, breaking into a stream of light before flowing directly into the surface of the reflective metal.
Her magic aura remained however, shimmering around the tray. In the next moment three separate streams of light flowed back out. Red and orange first, followed by green and yellow and then blue and violet. They did a slow lap of the room, twisting and slipping past each other and the other ponies present before returning to the spot where Chroma had been standing and beginning to condense.
Starlight Glimmer gulped as three Chromas now stood where one had been before. Three Chromas...similar, but not the same. Where the original had her full rainbow colored mane, these ones were broken up the same way the light had come out of the mirror. They also looked a little cross eyed as they shook their heads.
“Ugh,” the red and orange maned Chroma said. She still had the purple bag hanging around her neck, so Starlight decided to consider her the leader. “I hate doing that! Still can’t believe that’s the best I could do...” She growled under her breath, trailing off into incomprehensible mutterings as she rubbed at the back of her neck.
Yellow and green faced Spitfire. “I’m coming with you to Roam.”
Violet and blue nodded. “I got Canterlot.”
Original finished her tirade. “And I’ll handle our other Everfree task.”
Starlight stared as three alicorns and a pegasus trotted towards the tower balcony, Chroma forcing the doors open with a flick of her magic. The driving rain didn’t seem to bother her. In fact, despite the downpour, the alicorn remained bone dry as she took a deep breath.
“CITIZENS OF PONYVILLE!” Her voice echoed with a frightening amount of power, roaring like the thunderstorms she had summoned. “THE GLORIOUS RESTORATION MOVES ON! I LEAVE YOUR MAYOR, STARLIGHT GLIMMER TO RULE IN MY STEAD! OBEY HER COMMANDS AS IF THEY WERE MY OWN, OR SUFFER MY WRATH!”
Starlight was sure that even the dead had heard that magically empowered shout. Chroma glanced back at her. “That goes for you as well, mayor Glimmer. Move against me and you shall find the gallows quite accommodating. My loyal Everfree Rangers will be keeping an eye on you.”
With that the four ponies took wing and Starlight slumped against her desk, utterly exhausted. It felt like she had just done a full day's hard labor and she wasn’t sure that she’d ever forget Chroma’s crackling, electricity infused glare. Her first thought was to just crawl into bed and prepare for the next day under the yoke of her new ruler. But….
“Starlight!” Suri shouted. “You can’t just let her kill Adagio! There has to be something we can do!”
Mentally exhausted as she was, Starlight’s analytical mind couldn’t help but grind into action. Chroma. Chroma was... well, maybe not afraid. But she was clearly concerned enough about the Elements of Harmony to divide herself so she could help check on them. That action alone gave new credence to the rumors that drove ponies to search for the ruins of the “eternal city”. And there was no question in her mind that if Chroma got them, she’d try to destroy the Elements of Harmony. But she was split right now. Did that split her power too? What what about this other thing she was chasing in the Everfree?
Suri’s second call snapped Starlight out of her contemplative reverie. “The Elements,” she muttered.
“...What?” Suri blinked.
“Help me get Sugar Belle up,” Starlight said. “I need her to get some things ready while we go rescue Adagio. ...I have a plan.”
- - - -
Adagio grit her teeth. Chroma’s pronouncement was still ringing in her hears. “I’m going to punch Starlight!”
Sonata carefully worked the magic dampener up her horn, twisting it a bit at a time. Apparently it wasn’t designed to just be yanked off all at once. “Don’t hit her. She’s nice!”
“She just stole my province!”
“Sure she did.” Lightning Dust rolled her eyes. “I’m sure that Chroma would have taken a ‘no’ for an answer if Starlight refused the position.”
“Oh? Do you think that your fellow rangers were forced into betraying the crown?”
“S-stop it!” Sonata sniffed. “We shouldn’t be fighting right now!”
“What’s going on in there?” a gruff voice shouted past the door.
The handle began to rattle and turn.
“Hurry up!” Adagio hissed.
Sonata twisted all the faster. “I’m trying!”
The door swung open and a buff looking member of the Everfree Rangers stepped into the room. He was a monster of a stallion, with mountain like muscles rippling under his pale gray coat. Adagio imagined he had a name like Slate or Granite or something else rock based. Shouting in anger he charged for Sonata.
She yelped and tumbled away, but the magic ring went with. The magic suppressor came off roughly, sending a burning lance of pain right through Adagio’s horn. But through those throbbing waves of pain and watery eyes Adagio channeled, unleashing a torrent of magic, along with a wave of song.
Hush a bye birdie, croon, croon
Hush a bye birdie, croon.
The sheep are gone to the Silver Wood,
And the cows are gone to the broom, broom.
The stallion’s legs were already wavering as Adagio’s spell settled over him. So she threw more magic into her spell, tears streaming down the sides of her face, her horn screaming in protest.
The birds are singing, the bells are ringing
The deer go galloping by.
Hush a bye birdie, croon, croon.
Hush a bye birdie, croon.
He hit the floor with a thud, a loud series of snores following suit. Lightning Dust gaped at the sleeping pony before staring at Adagio.
“Okay, I’m actually kind of impressed.”
“Glad I could show off,” Adagio smirked, wiping her tears away. The throbbing sensation was fading in her horn, thankfully. “Sonata, get the keys.”
Sonata grinned as she scooped them up and set to unlocking everypony’s shackles. “Dagi! That was so amazing!”
Adagio rolled her eyes. She’d correct Sonata later. “Both of you help me with Will. I’m not leaving him here to be hurt because the other prisoners are gone.”
Wrapping her magic around Iron Will, she strained to lift his bulk. Magic was much like a limb. The more a pony used it, the stronger it was. And while her magic wasn’t exactly weak, Iron Will lived up to his name and weighed a ton. Sliding him sideways off the bed, she guided him onto the waiting backs of Sonata and Lightning. Lightning grunted, but Sonata took the weight without complaint. Earth ponies.
Adjusting her grip around Will’s legs, Adagio nodded. “Do either of you know the layout of this place?”
“I do,” Lightning answered. “With all the lumps I’ve taken in the rangers, I’m on a first name basis with the healers.”
“Lead the way then. Take a back door.”
They set off through the halls at the fastest trot they could manage while carrying a minotaur. When that minotaur was as bulky as Iron Will, that speed wasn’t too fast. More of a trundle than a trot. Despite this, every step sent burning lances of pain through Adagio’s body. Whatever burns the lightning had inflicted on her…,they still really hurt. Really hurt. But she grit her teeth and pushed ahead. At least her horn wasn’t hurting anymore.
Down they went, taking one of the stair wells, the wooden stairs creaking under their hooves as they rushed onwards. Iron Will’s hands dragged along the wood as well, but the minotaur didn’t stir. Then they were at the bottom floor and trundling towards a door at the far end of a long hall.
“Faster!” Adagio hissed.
“Oh, sure. I’ll just break into a gallop with a minotaur on my back!” Lightning Dust hissed back. “What did you feed him!”
“Well, he did love my foldies,” Sonata said.
Adagio groaned. At least they were almost at the exit. After just a few more step, they pushed through and-
Bumped into two more Everfree Rangers. The pair were lounging on a pair of crates turned into impromptu chairs, but quickly scrambled to their hooves. While their figures were partially obscured by heavy purple cloaks that wicked the driving rain away from them, Adagio could just make out that they were a mare and stallion.
“Ascarids…,” she swore.
Up their crossbows came, strings taut and steel tipped bolts loaded.
“Not one step more,” the right stallion said. “Or you won’t even make it to the hangmare’s noose.”
Lightning winced. “Come on Swiftwing! We’re friends! How many patrols have we gone on together? This isn’t right and you know it!”
The mare on the left took a step forward, almost shoving the tip of her weapon into Lightning’s face. “We don’t let traitors and assassins walk!”
To Adagio’s shock, Lightning pushed the weapon aside and slipped out from under Will, Sonata grunting as she was suddenly carrying most of Iron Will’s weight. Lightning advanced on her former comrades, wings flared.
“Traitors? Morning Dew, I don’t remember turning against the crown! Have you two completely forgotten your oaths? By Scorpan’s twisted tail! You’re working against the monarchs who gave our founders the land our chapter house sits on for a mad mare!”
“You don’t understand!” Morning Dew shot back, letting her weapon fall to her side. “We live among the bones of a fallen empire! Consul Rainbow Dash has shown us the glory of old Equestria! Don’t you see? We can reclaim our pride!”
“I have plenty of pride,” Lightning growled through clenched teeth. “I am an Everfree Ranger! I help protect this town! That’s plenty to be proud of.”
Morning Dew swung raised her crossbow again. “Like I said. You don’t understand.”
“I don’t know…,” Swiftwing said, clearly hesitating. “It’s not like we ever really gave her a chance. Spitfire never really let us try and convince her.”
Morning Dew turned slightly towards towards Swiftwing. Though whether it was to agree or argue with him, Adagio didn’t have a chance to find out. Lightning lashed out with a wide hoof swing knocking their crossbows from their hooves before diving on Morning Dew.
“Don’t just stand there! Help me!” Lightning shouted as she attempted to put Morning Dew in a headlock.
It seemed to take a moment for Sonata to realize just what Lightning Dust meant. But as Swiftwing moved to gang up on her, Sonata yelped and charged forward in a clumsy rush.
Adagio shouted, desperately trying to hang on Iron Will herself. But the weight of his body was too much and he hit the cobblestones with a heavy thud and splash. Now furious Adagio scrambled past the fallen form of her bodyguard, already channeling, a new song and spell on her mind.
Both flowed forth, swirling around the rangers as they grappled with Sonata and Lightning. Morning Dew had managed to wriggle out of the lock but Lightning was proving quite difficult to pin down, blocking punches and bucks as she flitted about in the cramped confines of the alley. In contrast, Sonata had just pinned Swiftwing against the opposite wall with her body, looking quite satisfied with herself.
The ranger’s ears twitched at Adagio’s enchantment, but unlike their fellow inside, they didn’t fall. Adagio flinched, her own ears twitching at the constant roar and patter of the driving rain. That was the downside of sound based magic.
And over that driving hail of noise, Adagio failed to hear the approach of a new attacker. Talons raked across her back, tearing at her bandages and pitching her forward. Landing snout first in a puddle, Adagio groaned and rolled onto her side, peering up at whatever had attacked her.
One of Chroma’s stormcrows cackled at her misfortune. It loomed over her, wings spread wide to make it seem even larger than it already was. Under its glowing gaze, Adagio found herself calling to mind a somewhat morbid poem about a trio of ravens- and the dead knight they were planning to feast on for dinner- she read when she was younger.
The storm crow dove forward, wings spread wide. Adagio rolled again, her attacker’s talons scraping the stones where she was. She channeled as she came back up, not so much casting as just unleashing a raw ball of magic and force in a burst of fear and frustration. The crow reeled from the impact, giving an angry squawk of protest. But it quickly recovered, advancing more slowly now. As it did, lightning began to surge along its wings.
Why didn’t I bring my rapier to the festival? Adagio thought bitterly to herself. Could really use it right now!
The fact that the Rangers would have taken it when they locked her up was besides the point. A weapon was just a better option than trying to punch the lightning infused raven with her bare hooves.
It let loose a caw, a jolt of said lightning leapt from its throat. Adagio jumped back, the bolt striking the ground right at her hooves. Her back was against the wall of the healing house now and the otherworldly raven cackled in glee as it closed in.
Again, Adagio dug into her well of magic, trying to ignore the stabs of pain that were still wracking her body under the bandages. But the burst of energy that had come with the excitement of the escape was beginning to drain away. That, mixed with the rain, the cracks of thunder high above her head and those searing lances it was hard to maintain focus. Still, she gave it her best and whipped another raw blast towards the raven.
The spell slipped.
To Adagio’s horror, it shot right over her target, the raven’s head following it as it impacted harmlessly on the opposite wall in a shower of sparks. The raven looked back to Adagio, clacking its beak in what she could only classify as an imitation of laughter.
“I hate you,” she hissed.
The raven opened its beak in retort, throat glowing with power. Adagio braced herself for impact.
Three magic spheres came screaming in from the ally lip tearing into the creature’s side. The first two knocked it to the ground. The third popped it, a few sparkling remains glinting in the air before fading away.
A second spell chased right on the hooves of the first. Two scintillating spheres of color zipped through the rain, engulfing the Rangers in a flash of light. Adagio winced, covering her eyes for a moment. When she looked again, she was surprised to see both Rangers encased in glittering crystal.
She then turned towards the source of her salvation. Her heart and spirits rose at the sight of Suri rushing towards her. Even the presence of Starlight Glimmer and the twisted, two pronged staff held aloft in her magic were reassuring….somehow.
“Adagio!” Suri shouted- formal address forgotten- as she slid to an ungainly stop at her side. “Are you-”
“I’m fine.” Adagio pointed towards the unconscious form of Will. “Help grab him. We need to go. We need...to get out of...Ponyville. Link up with King Sombra…he’ll be planning a counter attack once he knows about what happened to Chrysalis.” She was rambling now, her mind rushing about, chasing half formed ideas. “We need to gather my guards and ponies-at-arms.”
Starlight shook her head. “Right now, we need to get back to your manor house.”
“We can’t stay in Ponyville! As soon as any of these rangers wake up and tell Chroma-”
“She’s not here. I watched her split herself and fly off in two different directions.” Starlight answered. “And I have plan.”
- - - -
“Help me get him upstairs.”
Adagio and Starlight were carrying Will now, their interlocked magic auras proving to be enough to support him. As they climbed the stairs to the main bedroom, carefully balancing a bandaged minotaur between them, Starlight laid out her observations and her plan. Adagio listened with a frown, carefully analyzing everything the mayor said. The idea that Chroma split up to go after the Elements of Harmony made a certain amount of sense. After all, if Canterlot was her sole target, why divide her power when Sombra would be there and be ready to put up a fight? He was always ready to put up a fight.
No, it was Starlight’s plan that made Adagio raise an eyebrow.
“The Everfree Forest? You want us to just walk in there and find the Elements of Harmony?”
A flick of Adagio’s magic pushed the door to the master bedroom open. “The Everfree stretches for miles and miles. Do you suggest we just wander in there and stumble around for them?”
Starlight rolled her eyes as they lowered Will onto the bed. “Adagio-"
Her eyes narrowed. “Baroness. Or m’lady. We aren’t friends Mayor Glimmer.”
“....Very well, m’lady. But I’m not talking about searching the whole thing. You know as well as I that the Everfree grew up around Roam. Not only is it the most logical place for them to be hidden in that direction, a split Chroma is heading that way!”
Adagio chewed on her lip for a moment. Starlight was right. Being Equestria’s former capital, Roam not only contained the complex for the senate, but the palaces of each of the consuls as well as a slew of other government buildings, all of which could contain hidden vaults. The empire’s primary mint, just as an example. But the counter arguments she could come up with as to why they couldn’t be there were just as valid. Perhaps the most important being “Why would the remaining consuls store them in an abandoned city?”
And then there was her dream. A crazed, lightning strike induced dream, but Adagio could have sworn she heard the queen’s voice in it, urging her to go straight to the place that Starlight was now saying the Elements could be hidden in.
She looked down at the unconscious form of Iron Will. His breathing was still shallow, though beyond that Adagio couldn’t tell how well he was aside from “badly hurt”. There was no question that something had to be done. But if Chroma was also heading there-
“Baroness! If we’re going to do this, we need to go now!”
“...Then get whatever we need for the journey and do it quickly.”
There really was only one choice.
- - - -
A little while later, Adagio stomped down the stairs, prepared for the worst fight she could imagine. Her rapier sat securely in its scabbard which was firmly lashed to her side. Any pretense of being fancy had been dropped, as she now had her mane done up in a tight and practical bun and wore the thickest all weather cloak she had been able to dig up.
Starlight had taken over the main sitting room with her assistants and Suri, who were putting the finishing touches on a quartet of saddlebags. Taking a quick stock, Adagio could see that they were loaded up with camping equipment, rations and other survival tools. Sonata and Lightning were nowhere in sight.
“Where did our two ‘friends’ go?”
Starlight didn’t look up from her own saddlebags. “I sent Sonata home. She was never in custody, so if she keeps her head down, the rangers might just overlook she was involved. They eat at her place enough.”
Adagio nodded. “And Lightning Dust?”
“Went off with your guards.”
Almost on cue, Lightning and her guards came trotting into the room from the servant’s quarters. They were all decked out in their armor, Lightning having clearly borrowed a spare set. As well as a spare crossbow, that she was glowering at as she stomped over to her saddlebags.
“Ugh. The trigger on this thing feels way too loose. And the stock is all wrong.”
“You’ll have to make do,” Starlight said. “We don’t have time to go looking for your crossbow.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just saying that these could be tweaked a little more. Your guards could stand to be a little better equipped Baroness.”
But Adagio wasn’t listening. She had instead focused on her guards. Her guards who had done nothing but run away when Chorma arrived. The ones that had left Will to face Chroma’s lightning bolt alone.
“All of you,” she growled, jabbing a hoof at the group. Approaching them, her eyes practically blazed with anger. “You’re just going to pretend that your dereliction never happened? That I forgot your failure?”
They fidgeted under her harsh words, none quite eager to look her in the eye. “M’lady,” one- the pegasus- managed to force out after a moment. “You’re going into the Everfree Forest. We would be failing all over again to allow you to go without protection.”
“I have protection! The mayor makes a superior guard!” Adagio snorted, gesticulating at Starlight Glimmer. “She came to rescue me! Did any of you? No! You hid here I presume, just like you cowered when Chroma arrived!”
“I...we…,” the pegasus shuddered. “I saw her arrive. She struck down the captain of the weather patrol like she wasn’t even there. How are we supposed to fight an alicorn?”
“Well, no need to worry about that! You can stay here and guard Will! At least he had the common courtesy to try!” Satisfied she had said her piece, Adagio grabbed the saddlebags set aside for her and stormed for the front doors. “Come on!”
- - - -
The quartet raced across town, bolting from alley to alley to avoid any watchful eyes that might be seeking them. For the first time since the rain began to fall Adagio actually found it to their advantage. It- and presumably the fear of Chroma- was keeping ponies off the streets and hiding their movements. So, it wasn’t long before they came to the west gate. To Adagio’s surprize there were only a pair of Everfree Rangers standing guard.
“Two?” she whispered, glancing towards Lightning Dust. They were huddled down in an alley across the street, preparing their next move.
She shrugged back. “We’ve only ever had thirty rangers in the chapter house at max. Usually it’s more like...fifteen when ponies are out on extended patrol.”
Adagio nodded. “I don’t see any town guard either.”
“I know most of them,” Starlight whispered. “Family ponies mostly. Pretty happy with their lots in life. I imagine Spitfire will need to talk them into falling into line.”
“Can you do that colored ball spell again?”
Starlight nodded. Twirling that gnarled staff of hers for a moment, Starlight leveled it at the pair of rangers and channeled. Her aura ran along both branches of the staff before bursting forth, a pair of spheres shooting across the street and towards the ponies. They reacted immediately, jumping back, wings flared as they prepared to attack whatever was coming at them. But the scintillating colors engulfed the two ponies and their crystal bound forms hit the ground with a thud.
“Go!” Adagio hissed.
They took off at a gallop, racing across the wide avenue. They were just at the gate when Suri gasped.
Adagio glanced back down the street, her eyes narrowing at the bulky shadow galloping towards them through the mist. She drew her rapier, preparing to fight or threaten her way out of this situation. So, it was to her surprize that it wasn’t another ranger that came rushing their way, but Sonata Dusk.
The chef had also clearly packed for a journey. Heavy saddlebags hung from her sides, stuffed almost to bursting. But she had also strapped another, even larger satchel to her back, that likewise seemed full to bursting.
“Wait!” she called. “I’m coming too!” She paused at the sight of the incapacitated rangers. “...Are they going to be okay?”
“They’ll be fine when the spell wears off,” Starlight answered. “They’re basically asleep.”
Adagio blinked as Sonata came to a stop before her. There was an immediate question that popped into Adagio’s mind. “How...did you even know about this?”
Sonata looked back at her with wide, cheerful eyes. “Starlight told me before she sent me home. But on the way there, I started to think.”
A dangerous proposition, Adagio thought.
“And I just couldn’t let Chroma get away with hurting ponies! So I’m coming too!”
Adagio sighed, rubbing her brow. “Sonata...we’re going into the Everfree. Do you even have a weapon?”
“Uh huh!” Sonata grinned. She twisted her head around and grabbed something hanging off her larger pack. She brandished it in her mouth, grinning around the handle.
It was a heavy cast iron frying pan.
“Seriously?” Adagio hissed.
Sonata pouted and hung it back on her pack. “What? It’ll give somepony a good bonk.”
“Do you understand what you’re doing Sonata?” Starlight asked, a deep frown on her muzzle. “I mean, if we don’t pull this off-”
“I’m not leaving,” Sonata said. Her voice had suddenly lost its cheerful, bouncy nature and gained a hard edge. “Will was nice to me. I don’t know if he’ll last through the night. I am helping stop Chroma. ...Besides, she doesn’t have a weapon!” she finished, jabbing a hoof at Suri.
“I’m not letting m’lady risk her life without me!” Suri said, stomping a hoof.
Adagio began to argue, when Lightning pressed a hoof to her lips. “We don’t have time for this!” she practically snarled. “The Rangers will be out looking for us as soon as your friends back at the healing house wake up!”
Lightning had a point. So she nodded and motioned towards the large gates. All five ponies placed their hooves against the doors and pushed with all their might. As they slowly swung open, they galloped off into the night and the storm.