For Adagio, there was only the sensation of falling. Where a moment before, her companions had been clustered near her, now she was surrounded by a icey, inky blackness that clawed at her coat and mane with a thousand skittering legs. In such a suffocating mass of blackness, it was impossible to determine how far she fell, or even how much time was passing as she did. Eventually the trip did come to an and end as Adagio hit the ground with a soft thud that knocked the air from her. For a moment she lay there, mind trying to process what just happened. A creature she had never heard of before, a hidden home in the old capital and now a pit.
“...Won’t find any answers just sitting here,” she huffed after a few more moments of thinking.
Getting up, she examined her surroundings, or lack thereof. Blackness still surrounded her, save for a small circle of light in which she stood. Slowly, she advanced, hooves clacking on unseen stone.
“Suri? Starlight? Aria? Are any of you here?”
Adagio froze as a scratchy, familiar chuckle echoed around her.
“Come on Twilight! You want to make peace with the changelings? That’s madness!”
A cold chill ran down Adagio’s spine as two ghostly figures walked right through her. The first was clearly Chroma but...not an alicorn. She was a completely normal pegasus, albeit one with quite the vivid mane and tail. Apparently it's rainbow nature wasn’t part of her alicorn state. The purple unicorn at her side was likewise familiar...in a way. Her coat was lighter colored and she lacked the wings that were so prominent in every mural, but Adagio knew the face of Midnight when she saw it. A near flock of scrolls floated through the air beside her.
“Rainbow Dash! That’s a horrible thing to say!” Midnight chided, even as she rapidly looked from scroll to scroll as she walked. “Just because we’ve had conflicts in the past, doesn’t mean we should give up on them!”
“What’s a changeling?” Adagio muttered under her breath.
Chroma took wing, zipping back and forth between Midnight’s scrolls. “Twilight! They’re changelings! When have they ever been straight with us?”
Midnight glanced up at Chroma. “And that’s why we’ll be careful about this. You will be working with Consul Sombra on security, yes?”
“Duh! I’m not going to leave you hanging!”
“Then let’s focus on how this is going to work, rather than how it’s going to fail. Now-”
Whatever else Midnight had to say was lost as she and Chroma vanished into the darkness again. Adagio frowned. This seemed some manner of memory, an echo of what was playing itself out now that a living pony was in the area. Or perhaps it did this on its own anyway? Either way, she knew that there was really only one option available to her. She had to advance and see just what these memories were hiding. Steeling her nerve with a deep breath, she pressed into the darkness before her.
- - - -
“Is she still breathing?” Starlight asked.
She was gathered around the slumped over form of Adagio with Aria, Suri, and Sonata. Meanwhile, Lightning Dust searched the ceiling of the chamber they found themselves trapped in. A long rectangle, made of simple carved stone, mostly unadorned and devoid of windows. They were spared from the darkness of such a sealed chamber by a lingering aura of light that almost seemed to cling to the slabs. Lightning was convinced that there was a way to trigger the trap door from this side, though Starlight wasn’t entirely sure herself. Teleporting out might be an option. She knew the spell. But it wasn’t something she was willing to risk with Adagio unconscious or worse.
Aria pressed her ear to the fallen unicorn’s side. “Yup. She’s still alive. Hey! Baroness! Wake up!” she shouted, shaking Adagio’s form.
Further attempts to shake the baroness awake were stopped by Suri placing a hoof on Ariar’s back. “Aria! Stop that!” she frowned.
“What? It works for me!” She sighed, looking towards the ceiling. “I hope that Deathclaw is okay up there.”
“Why pick on a hawk?” Sonata asked. “I mean, you’d have to be pretty evil to pick on a hawk.”
Starlight rolled her eyes and turned her attention to the only other thing in the room, an ornate stone pedestal. Shaped like an inverted V, it was made up of five smaller pillars, each one with a small circular top. The middle pillar was the tallest, with the next two slightly below that, and the last two slightly below those. Each of them had a crystal sphere resting on their tops, each one of those a different color. Orange, red, pink, blue and purple.
“Those look Elements of Harmony-ish to you girls?” Starlight asked.
“You’re the expert here,” Lightning answered, landing beside her. “Shouldn’t you be telling us?”
Starlight smirked, channeling for just a moment. Her horn was still aching from the caprataur shaman’s strike, but a quick detect magic charm was a simple enough thing to do. The weave of the spell settled into place and the crystal spheres began to softly glow with a nimbus of arcane energy.
“They’re certainly magic, that’s for sure. But they could also be a trap of some kind.”
Lightning Dust tilted her head slightly. “We never did work out how you’re supposed to activate the Elements, did we?”
“No, not yet. But just give me a little bit and I’m sure I’ll be able to figure it out.” Starlight rubbed her chin, carefully sorting through the different possibilities. “Key words, would still be the best way, I think. Then again-”
She began to channel, weaving a detect magic enchantment around the Elements. But she was only part way through the enchantment when a horrible twinge of pain shot through her still charred horn. The spell sputtered out as she hissed in pain, rubbing at her horn. “Ascarids!”
“Are you alright?” Suri asked.
“Damned caprataurs,” Starlight hissed. “I knew this was going to cause problems!” Frowning, she tried again, only for another twinge of pain to drill into her. The battle with the spider creature had taxed her horn’s core and now even small enchantments were painful. “I think I’m going to need a few minutes to rest before I can try it again.”
Lightning rolled her eyes. “I’m gonna touch one!”
Before Starlight could stop her Lightning Dust shot forward, a hoof outstretched towards the orbs. When she was less than a leg’s length away, the blue gem burst apart, its shards rushing to meet Lightning. They swooped in around her, her eyes beginning glow with a bright white light as the shards settled into an orbit around her body. Both pony and stones then hovered in place, a soft humming sound filling the air.
“Starlight…,” Suri blinked. “What are we supposed to do about that?”
“Just...nopony touch anything, please?” Starlight grumbled, rubbing her forehead again. There was a headache coming on.
- - - -
Adagio heard the sounds of screaming before the images this time. They flickered back into being in scattered bursts, always scenes of violence and conflict, but piecemeal at the same time. A few ponies running in terror, some legionaries swinging back against shadowy foes, buildings wreathed in smoke and flame. But the attackers were never visible, at least not fully. All Adagio could make out of them were glowing blue eyes and an odd droning sound that seemed to accompany their movements. Her skin crawled every time one of those creatures drew near her and she had to fight the desire to turn and run back the way she came. An empty sensation settled in her gut when they were close, like the very ability to love or feel joy was being drawn away by the droning beasts.
It was after a dozen or so of these flashes of memory or the past, that she found Chroma again. She dropped from the sky like a blue bolt, stumbling as she landed. Her legionnaire armor was battered, dented and hanging loose in a few places with the straps sliced. Her coat was battered and scorched in some places, while she clutched at a jagged slash that ran up her right foreleg.
“Twilight?” she called. Her voice was cracking, the panic evident. “Rarity? Applejack? Where are you!” Her legs quaked for a moment and threatened to give out from under her. “Gah! Damned changelings! I told Twilight...I told her...”
A thin frown crossed Adagio’s muzzle as she paced around Chroma’s past self. “You were under attack...why? What’s happening here? Was this your start of darkness? Why are you showing me this!”
Chroma didn’t answer. She continued to look around, her ears flicking towards sounds that only she could hear. At least she did until a very loud buzzing sound settled over the both of them. Chroma threw herself backwards with a flap of her wings. In the next moment a large figure slammed down where she had been standing a moment before. The horrible feeling from before bore down on Adagio with a new ferocity as she found herself looking up at what she could only describe as a monster.
Tall as an alicorn, the figure was wrapped in a black shell, like some kind of bug or beetle. Yet, despite the shell, it’s body was full of holes, as were its gossamer wings and sickly green mane. Like an alicorn, it had a horn, but jagged and gnarled like an old tree branch. A fringe like mockery of a crown was set just behind the horn, as if the oversized bug was royalty itself. Adagio’s eyes roamed up its figure, taking in its horrible glory, even as she slowly backed away from it and the horrible sneer that showed off knife like fangs.
“Oooo, what do we have here?” the monster alicorn cooed in a buzzy, yet frighteningly familiar voice. “Twilight Sparkle’s little bodyguard all on her own?”
Adagio felt her mouth fall open, her sick feeling growing even worse. “...Queen Chrysalis?”
Despite the echoing quality in the voice, it was been unmistakable. Somehow, the creature standing before her. This...changeling...was one of the co-rulers of The Heartlands. It was almost too much.
“How?” she muttered to herself.
“You...you...traitor!” Chroma snapped. “We invited you in! Tried to be your friend! Twilight believed that changelings and ponies could live side by side!”
Chrysalis threw her head back, cackling with unrestrained glee. “Oh, how so hopelessly naive! There is only one way ponies will interact with my changelings.” Her eyes flashed with flickering green light. “As our food!”
She surged forward, mouth open wide, fangs glittering in the darkness. And just like that, as immediately as the vision had started, it ended; leaving Adagio alone in the darkness. Shaking her head to clear it, she examined her night shrouded surroundings again. No new visions, at least here.
Time to press on.
- - - -
Starlight Glimmer jumped back from the floating form of Lightning Dust. She had barely began to formulate a plan of action about the magic shards orbiting Lightning when they suddenly dove towards her. The pegasus’ body was momentarily obscured in a brilliant blue flash of magic.
“Lightning! Are you okay!” Sonata shouted, galloping forward.
Almost in response, the light began to fade, revealing a very much intact Lightning Dust. Starlight gave a sigh of relief, but immediately turned her attention to the new outfit that Lightning was wearing. The all weather cloak she had been wearing before was now a shimmering sky blue, its hem marked by a line of white lightning bolts, not unlike her cutie-mark. It was held in place by a circular golden clasp, a deep blue gem set in its center, also in the shape of a lightning bolt. The leather ranger armor she was wearing before almost glowed now, the leather sturdier and tougher looking. Even the crossbow she had borrowed from Adagio’s manor had been magically reforged. The stock was now dark and polished, Lightning’s cutie-mark emblazoned on the side. The mechanisms glittered in the magical light that filled the room, devoid of any flaw that Starlight could make out.
Lightning Dust opened her eyes and grinned. “Gadzooks! That was a rush!”
“...Lightning, what in the name of Harmony happened?” Suri asked, trotting over to her. She looked over Lightning’s cloak with a discerning eye.
“I talked to it!”
Starlight slowly blinked. “That...you talked to it?”
“Well...maybe talk isn’t the right word,” Lightning shrugged, before dropping back to the floor. “Felt a vague sense of approval maybe? It definitely felt like I did something good.”
“And that’s why you have new clothes!” Sonata beamed.
Lightning looked down at herself, tapping a hoof to her cloak clasp. “Huh...so I do.”
“So...not a trap then?” Aria asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Doesn’t look like it,” Starlight shrugged.
Sonata bounced in place. “Ooo! Me next! Me next!”
“Why not all at once?” Suri proposed.
Starlight considered that for a moment, her tail flicking idly in thought. Then she nodded. “All at once.”
With the decision made, the group advanced towards the Elements as one.
- - - -
The next vision took place inside. It was a small room that Adagio found herself in, with a low bed and an empty desk. A collection of scrolls were piled on the floor near the door, while a pony sized lump huddled under the bed’s covers. Adagio trotted around to the front of the bed, where she could just make out the tips of Chroma’s rainbow mane peeking out from under the edge of blanket.
“So...Chroma’s room. And why am I here now?” Adagio grumbled to herself. Crossing back across the room, she turned her attention to the scrolls by the door. While they were quite intangible to the touch- magical or otherwise- most had been haphazardly tossed aside and a few had landed face up. But to Adagio’s frustration, despite her classical training in Old Equestrian, they were completely illegible. The scrawls skittered and flowed across the page when Adagio tried to look at them directly. The size of the characters was different across the scrolls she could see though, perhaps pointing towards the messages becoming increasingly frantic as time went on.
Those examinations came to an abrupt end when a series of heavy knocks echoed against the door. Adagio jumped back from it, only for a ghostly spear to thrust through her neck from behind.
“Who-who goes there?” Chroma asked.
Adagio glanced down at the insubstantial weapon passing through her body. “Somepony worthy of a spear, apparently.”
Midnight’s voice shouted through the door. “Rainbow Dash! Come out of there right now!”
“No! Go away! You might not even be Twilight! You could be a changeling! They could be everywhere!”
Stepping aside as to not have a ghost’s weapon sticking through her, Adagio spared a glance at Chroma out of the corner of her eye. She was haggard, no question about it, with bloodshot eyes and a coat that was matted down in far too many places. Adagio sincerely doubted that hygiene had been a concern of Chroma for weeks.
“I said no!”
There was a pause. Then there was a frustrated growl from the other side of the door. “That’s it! We’re coming in?”
“We?” Adagio blinked.
Midnight appeared with the soft pop of a teleport spell. Where before she was a normal unicorn, now she truly lived up to her namesake. Dark purple coat, full alicorn stature, powerful looking wings, and an ethereal mane made of billowing magical energy alone. As horrific as the sight of Midnight in all her glory was, it was the creature at her side that made Adagio recoil in horror.
For the legendary breaker of Equestria, the so called “Destroyer of Dreams”, the gargoyle struck an almost comical figure. Stooped over, his wiry figure looked ready to blow away at the first stiff breeze. That was most likely why he was leaning on a gnarled walking stick. He kept his other arm tucked close to his body, almost hiding it behind the long white beard that hung from his jutting snout. Adding to his harmless appearance was the expression he wore. A soft, kindly, almost grandfatherly smile.
Chroma looked between the two, blinking in confusion. “Twilight...what happened to you? Scorpan? What’s going on?”
Scorpan kept his grandfatherly smile as he shuffled over to Chroma’s side. “In light of the recent incident with the changelings, we decided that the balance of power needed to be...addressed.”
“...Nope!” Chroma shook her head. “This is madness! You’re both changelings, I just know it!” She thrust her spear forward, trying to bury the tip into Midnight’s chest.
Midnight responded by grabbing the spear with her magic and casually throwing it aside. “Rainbow Dash! I know that everything went wrong with my changeling summit, but that doesn’t mean that they’re hiding under your bed and behind every pony!”
“Then why are you an alicorn?” Chroma snapped.
“Because Scorpan helped me understand!” Midnight roared back. Her eyes began to glow with power as she lifted off the floor. “I am not a helpless little unicorn anymore! I am not a changeling! I. Am. Ascended!”
“It is time for you and the rest of your friends to step forth!” Scorpan added. “For years you have worked under Celestia and Luna as their most devoted servants and assistants! But now I can give you the power to act! The power to make sure that Chrysalis can never hurt you again. Can never hurt Equestria again!” He extended a clawed half towards Chroma. “Come Rainbow Dash. Let us turn Equestria into a nation that will never be humbled again!”
Adagio rolled her eyes. “Oh! That’s not suspicious at all! How did you fall for this anyway?”
Chroma nervously tapped her hooves together. “I...you’re saying I could be like Twilight? You...want me to be an alicorn? How is that even possible?”
“Scorpan found a way,” Midnight smiled. “Join me Rainbow. We’ll fix Equestria together.”
“I don’t know…”
Midnight’s smile grew even wider. “Trust me. Aren’t we friends?”
Chroma lapsed into a sulking silence. For a moment it almost looked like she wouldn’t take Midnight up on her offer. But then she raised her head, a new intensity burning in her vivid magenta eyes.
“You’re right Twilight. We are friends. And I’d never leave my friends hanging. I’m with you!”
With that, the scene faded out, once more leaving Adagio in darkness and with a burning question in her mind.
“Why did I see all of this?”
“Because you need to understand.”
- - - -
Starlight neatly twirled her brand new staff. Enhanced and strengthened by her Element of Harmony, it shared the twin prongs of her old one, but now had a purple gem was set in the middle of the haft. It matched nicely with the purple gem clasp for her new cloak, shaped to match her cutie-mark. Lightning Dust had been right. It was a hard thing to explain, but when she had made a connection with the dark purple gem, there had been a sense of approval.
She looked around the others, who were all likewise dressed in new cloaks and clasps and carrying new weapons. Like hers and Lightning’s, the color of the cloaks matched the cutie-mark themed gems on the clasps and had simplified patterns of their cutie-marks decorating the hems. Sonata’s was a light, airy pink color, Aria a sturdy looking orange and Suri a striking red color.
Their weapons were a bit more of a mixed bag. A pair of gauntlets slipped over Aria’s hooves and came up her fetlocks. They looked sturdy enough that any bucks or punches she delivered would have to hurt. She was also flexing both her wings now, the magic of the Elements having fixed the broken one. In Sonata’s case the Elements of Harmony had seen fit to enchant her cast iron frying pan, which now glittered in a whole new, silver metal. A lasso of enchanted thread hung off Suri’s flank, a glimmering, oversized needle dangling on the end.
“This is...amazing,” Aria muttered, slowly working her healed wing. “I’ve never experienced magic like this before in my life.”
Starlight grinned, happy that the damage to her horn had likewise been healed.. “Magic powerful enough to seal away multiple alicorns for centuries. The Elements of Harmony have power to spare!”
“Enough power to wake up Adagio?” Suri asked, pointing to her fallen master.
“I’d imagine so.”
“Great! ...How do we do that?”
“....I have no idea!”
- - - -
“Midnight?” Adagio frowned.
The unicorn shook her head. “We are borrowing her appearance. We know all the ponies worthy of carrying our power.”
Those words settled over Adagio, a realization turning in her brain. “...You’re one of the Elements of Harmony.”
“We are,” Midnight nodded. “We are the sixth.”
“The sixth, Starlight didn’t say anything about a sixth-”
“Knowledge of our existence tends to be deliberately kept vague. Ponies who carry our power have to prove themselves a little more.”
Despite the situation, pride swelled in Adagio’s chest. “Oh, well! I’m honored to that you think that I’m worthy-”
A raucous bout of laughter shook Midnight’s form, stopping Adagio dead. “You? Consider us officially flabbergasted, Adagio Dazzle! You managed to completely miss the point of that vision! The previous bearers were amongst the best and most worthy to carry our power and Scorpan still managed to corrupt them!”
She advanced on Adagio, eyes glowing with a magenta light. “But you? You’re a spoiled, power hungry, vainglorious, excuse for a pony! Any bonds of friendship you form, you only form because they can benefit you somehow! How irresponsible would we be to let somepony like that have my magic? To let her become a queen, as cold and as terrible as the northern gales?”
The pony seemed to unfold as she drew close to Adagio, other ponies stepping out of the first one. A light blue coated unicorn mare with a silvery mane and star studded cape and hat. A purple unicorn stallion with a short green mane. A white coated unicorn mare with lightning blue hair and some strange lenses strapped over her eyes. And they were just the first. Soon Adagio found herself staring down an army of ponies, from across the three tribes and new ones she had never seen before. And when they talked, they talked as one rumbling voice.
“We know you, Adagio Dazzle!” Magic roared in a chorus of scorn. “Understand us clearly! You will never wield the Element of Magic!”
Adagio trembled, a mixture of anger and fear coursing through her. Anger from the accusations thrown her way by the Element of Magic. Fear from the thought of what fate would befall the Heartlands if Chroma wasn’t stopped. However, she was sure of one thing at least. That she wasn’t going to be intimidated out of her course by anypony, not even one of the Elements of Harmony themselves. She took a deep breath, exhaled, then smoothed down her tattered, muddy skirts.
“My, for a fundamental force of Harmony magic, you’re certainly ignorant of a great deal,” she said, keeping her tone calm and conversational. “You say that I don’t care about others? I care. I care about Iron Will. That minotaur has been like a father to me. I care about Suri. She’s been one of the few true confidants in my life. Sonata, Aria, Starlight and Lightning? I care about them too. We may have only known each other for a few days now, but my life would be poorer without them in it.”
Perhaps a few days ago, that would have been a statement completely foreign to Adagio’s mind. But now, the words flowed naturally from her mouth, for it had somehow become true without Adagio even realizing it. “Sonata’s cheerful attitude! Aria’s grumpy realism! Starlight’s vast knowledge! Even Lightning’s dreadful sense of humor! They’re all wonderful in their own stupid little ways and that’s what makes them fun to be around!”
She shook her head, a genuine smile playing across her muzzle now. “I’d almost call it crazy. We’re all so very different as ponies. But we’ve come together and become...friends.”
It was true. They were, simply, her friends.
“Friends,” Adagio muttered to herself.
Even as she said the word, a sensation of warmth grew in her chest. Warmth that was something more than just the emotional resonance that came with making that connection in her mind. Adagio looked down at herself, raising an eyebrow at the sight of a pale magenta glow, just barely radiating past her coat.
Adagio looked back up into Magic’s army of angry ponies, unable to keep the victorious smirk from her muzzle. “That’s it, isn’t it? The sixth element, isn’t just magic, it’s the very concept of friendship! It’s even in the baronal oath I swore! ‘Always seek and strengthen the bonds of friendship’! Friendship is magic!”
“That means nothing. We still will not let you wield our power!”
“Why not?” Adagio frowned. “Because I play the game of politics?”
“Yes!” Magic snapped. “Look at what Twilight and her friends did after they were corrupted by Scorpan and they were ponies dedicated to the betterment of Equestria. You? You love power! You love the game of politics and the chase of getting what you want. We wouldn’t dare create a new queen, as terrible and cruel as Twilight and her friends! One that could corrupt and manipulate a whole nation to bow at her hooves! For we also know you Adagio Dazzle. All of you and every you.”
Adagio’s ears flicked towards a cascade of soft popping sounds from behind her. Turning, she saw an equally large army of herself standing there. It was an eclectic bunch. Tall minotaur like bipeds stood in the shadows of sinuous sea-serpents, both rising above the relatively small number of ponies scattered between them. Some were paupers, with little more than rags for clothes, while others were princesses bedecked in finery. Some were smirking with confidence, while others brooded and pouted. But one thing they all shared was the cold lack of warmth behind their eyes. No love or connections to others would likely be found in these lives. Just the love for power that Magic was so concerned about Adagio sharing.
For a moment, Adagio considered objecting to that. But she didn’t. Because it was true. There was a thrill that came with negotiating, a rush that came from getting one over on her political rivals. Even more so, in her own humble opinion, it was something she had real skill at. But that didn’t automatically make her a tyrant or a monsters. So, she took a different tact.
“And?” she shrugged.
“...We beg your pardon?” Magic blinked in unison.
“Then let me say it again, in case you didn’t hear me. And? What does it matter if I like politics? It’s something I’m good at! Perhaps instead of running from a pony with ability in that area, you should embrace it?”
“...Are you out of your mind? What ‘good’ have you actually done with your machinations for power so far?” Magic snarled.
“None...so far,” Adagio answered. “But that was before I marched through the Everfree. Before I made friends. Before Chroma humbled me. Scorpan is dead, so I’m not worried about him ‘corrupting’ me. I have friends now that can help keep me from wandering off the path. Times. Have. Changed.
If you wish to stay hiding down here, while Chroma drowns Equestria and ponies act less harmonious day after day, I suppose that is your right as a fundamental force of harmony. But I also think you’re just running away from the problem.”
Adagio imagined that if Suri was here right now, she would have done anything she could have to stop such backtalk to the Element of Magic. Magic...didn’t respond at first. She just stared back down at Adagio with a curious expression.
“Is that really how you view me, baroness?”
Adagio snorted. “It is self evident! Magic, I have made me case. Either accept me as your bearer or don’t.”
Magic turned away, her ears and tail drooping. She was quiet for quite some time, enough so that Adagio grew concerned that she had pushed things too far. But then, Magic spoke again, her voice quiet.
- - - -
Adagio awoke with a start, finding herself laying on the floor of a wide stone room. Her head was swimming. Hadn’t she just been talking to the Element of Magic a moment ago?
“Adagio? Are you alright?”
Suri. Adagio turned her head towards her servant, latching onto the familiar in the midst of the chaos swirling around her mind.
Failed. Beyond failed in fact. She had pushed things too far and with a single word she was denied an element. Denied an ability to do something about Chroma. Even as Suri helped pull her upright, part of Adagio wanted to just lie back down and cry. What were they supposed to do without all the Elements of Harmony? She looked around at her fellow seekers and saw that they had all been blessed with new cloaks and weapons. The Elements had found them worthy. Her mind began to race even faster now. Would five be enough? Maybe there would be enough power in those to sent Chroma packing?
“Baroness?” Starlight ventured after a few more moments of Adagio’s stunned silence. “What happened?”
“The sixth element rejected me,” Adagio answered, her tone deadpan. “It said I would never carry it.”
“Wait...there’s a sixth Element? Why didn’t any of my research talk about it?” Starlight glowered. “What even is it?”
“Magic,” Adagio answered, voice empty and deadpan. “The sixth element is magic. Friendship and magic and I...failed.” She looked around at them again, doing her best to smile softly and present some good news at least. “I see that you all have yours. Which ones did you get?”
“...Generosity,” Starlight answered, though she didn’t seem any happier about it.
“Laughter,” Lightning said. “Though I don’t feel like laughing right now.”
“Honesty,” Aria added.
Suri walked to Adagio’s side and placed a hoof on her back. “Loyalty.”
“Kindness,” Sonata pouted. “But...baroness...what do we do now?”
What did they do now? Despite the shock of her failure, Adagio began to focus her mind on that question. There would be time for misery later. Now, she needed to come up with a plan of action.
“We need to get back to Ponyville. With the five that we have, we should be able to at least drive Chroma’s forces away from the town. Then we can find somepony who can carry the Element of Magic. Maybe even link up with King Sombra somehow.”
It wasn’t a great plan, admittedly. Like many of the ones they had been running on since the start of this fiasco it was very much a loose guideline with lots of guess work filling up the inbetween bits. But it was what they had right now.
“Lightning, can you-” Adagio began.
But before she could even finish asking the question, a section of the ceiling began to move. To the sound of stone softly grinding on stone, the section in question unfolded, becoming a simple set of stairs. A moment later the still cloaked form of Master Tirek began to carefully pick his way down them. Deathclaw was perched on his shoulder, but immediately took wing at the sight of Aria, doing a happy loop around his master before settling on her back.
Tirek’s eyes lit up as she took in the group. “Ah ha! Master Tirek knew that the ponies could claim the Elemen-” Both his cheer and sentence were cut off when his eyes fell upon Adagio however. “Oh dear. The Element of Magic did not make itself known?”
“Oh, it did!” Adagio snapped, unable to stop her bitterness from bubbling to the surface. “It also said that I wasn’t worthy!”
Tirek winced, nervously tapping his fingers together. “This is not good.”
“Oh really? I wouldn’t have guessed!”
“No, you don’t understand. The enchantment that hides the Elements presence won’t hide now that they are bound to living ponies. Chroma will undoubtedly be able to sense them and the remains of her connection to the one she bore in the past.” His eyes flicked across the group again and he pointed at Suri. “That’s yours.”
“Oh joyous day,” Suri winced.
“Quickly!” Tirek shouted. “We must away before-”
An explosion rocked the building, quickly followed by another as the roof of the room they were in began to be peeled away. Stone by stone, it was simply folded out of the way as Chroma lowered herself into the chamber. The whole of her body crackled with power and lightning, an expression of pure rage etched upon her features. Adagio could feel her legs threatening to give out from under her. The burns from her last Chroma induced lightning bath prickled again as Chroma touched down.
Triek reared up, a golden glow beginning to dance along his arms and flanks. But before he could finish doing whatever it was he was planning to do, Chroma grabbed the whole of his body in an aura of lightning and smashed him against the wall. Dazed, Tirek struggled to enact his charm again, only to once more be smashed against the wall. And again and again, until he slumped in Chroma’s grip with a pathetic moan. Chroma then casually, dismissively, cast him aside and advanced towards Adagio and her companions.
“Baroness Dazzle!” Chroma smiled, wide and manic. “I see you escaped your execution date. A slight oversight, but allow me to solve that!”
As lightning coiled around her horn, the others sprang into action. A pair of crackling fireballs lept from the twin tips of Starlight’s staff, snaking through the air in a winding pattern, before detonating against Chroma’s coat. While the alicorn was obscured by the detonation Lightning Dust snapped off a shot from her crossbow. The bolt whistled through the air, sounding almost like a soft giggle as it plunged towards Chroma. An inch from the smoke that still obscured the alicorn, the bolt was seized by Chroma’s white aura and cast aside. She burst from the smoke with a heavy flap of her wings, shooting straight for Starlight. She yelped, vanishing with a soft pop sound and reappearing on the far side of the room.
Chroma didn’t miss a beat though and neatly spun in place, smacking Adagio aside with a wing while whipping a crackling ball of lightning towards Sonata. While Adagio was sent tumbling head over tail, Sonata yelped and shielded her face with her enchanted frying pan. Adagio looked up to see the lightning ball bounce off of the pan’s reflective surface and crash back against Chroma. But being a creature of lightning herself, it shattered into a shower of sparks with no effect. The alicorn snorted dismissively in response, grabbed Sonata with her aura and pitched her at Lightning, who was in the middle of lining up another shot. The pair crashed to the ground in a tangle of legs and wings.
“Go for the eyes Deathclaw!” Aria shouted. “Go for the eyes!”
Deathclaw swooped in with a screech, lashing out with his talons. Chroma grabbed the hawk with her magic before dismissively tossing him aside. Aria crashed into her a moment later, lashing out with her gauntleted forehooves in a blinding fury. The attack was so frenzied that Chroma actually stumbled backwards for a moment. But then she struck back, grabbing Aria, slamming her to the ground and pressing a hoof against her head.
“Doesn’t anypony I kill actually stay dead?” Chroma snarled. She began to press down on Aria’s head, eliciting a cry of pain.
Adagio drew her rapier and charged in now. At the same time Suri’s enchanted needle and thread whipped through the air, reacting seemingly to her thoughts. The threads wrapped around Chroma’s legs, pulling them tightly together. Thrown off balance, Chroma beat her wings and rose slightly into the air, giving Aria enough time to scramble away.
With the alicorn momentarily tied down, Adagio thrust her rapier into Chroma’s side with all her might. To her horror, the blade bent against Chroma’s dark blue coat, the metal flimsy as straw against an alicorn’s hide. Utterly unconcerned with her efforts, Chroma simply flicked her wings out and sent Adagio tumbling away again. Then she simply flexed her legs, bursting out of Suri’s enchanted thread.
“Everypony stay down!” Starlight shouted, beginning to channel another round of spells. But before she could finish unleashing whatever flurry of magic she was planning, Starlight was tackled from behind by Spitfire and multiple other Everfree Rangers, having now caught up with their commander.
Chroma lashed out with her magic again, grabbing the rest of her scattered opponents and dragging them before her. “This farce is done with! I warned you! I made it very clear what the consequences would be for opposing my glorious reclamation!”
“There’s nothing glorious about what you’ve been doing!” Starlight shouted back, struggling against the vice like grip of the Rangers.
Chroma’s eyes narrowed. “Bring the mayor forth.”
Adagio could only watch helplessly as Spitfire and company dragged Starlight over to Chroma. She peered down at Starlight imperiously as she was forced into a bow by the Rangers. “Our conversation was pretty clear Mayor Glimmer. That you would face the gallows if you moved against me?”
“Go to Tartarus!” Starlight spat back.
“I’ll consider that your defense then.” Chroma sneered. “We have no gallows, but there are other means to deal with a troublesome pony.”
The horribly familiar lightning began to dance around Chroma’s horn again, Adagio’s heart leaping in her throat. Before she even realized what she was doing, she was shouting at the top of her lungs.
Chroma actually paused, tilting her head slightly to peer down at Adagio with a questioning eyebrow raise. “And why should I, baroness? You are all traitors.”
“Because this was all my idea!”
“Adagio! That-” Starlight began.
“Don’t listen to her! Pay attention to me, Chroma!” Adagio shouted over her friend. “I am the ruler of the Ponyville Barony! All of these ponies serve at my pleasure and follow my commands! I am the responsible one!”
Starlight opened her mouth to object again, only for Chroma’s magic to wrap around her muzzle and clamp it shut. Chroma stared at Adagio now, her furious glower having given way to a puzzled, questioning expression.
“Why are you telling me this?” she asked.
“Because they wouldn’t be here if not for me,” Adagio said. It was a lie. A horrible, desperate lie, but if she was going to accomplish anything from this, she’d make sure that the others would live at least. “I’m responsible for their rebellion. If a punishment must be given...give it to me. Don’t kill them.”
A chorus of angry shouts rose from Everfree Rangers and her travelling companions alike.
“Consul, this is ludicrous!” Spitfire shouted. “Adagio was under lock and key! When could she have possibly given orders to Mayor Glimmer?”
“Adagio! Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare do what you’re thinking about doing!” Suri yelled, struggling all the harder against Chroma’s magical grip.
“Silence, both of you!” Chroma snapped.
A small ball of magic slapped Spitfire across the muzzle, stunning her into silence. Chroma kept her eyes on Adagio. For the first time there seemed to be uncertainty in the alicorn’s expression. “Showing loyalty to those under your command. That is a stance I can appreciate, baroness.” Her wings twitched and she frowned, seemingly deep in thought. “...Very well. Accept your fate Baroness Dazzle.”
The lightning began to build around Chroma’s horn again, crackling and flickering with lethal intent. Adagio braced herself, knowing that she wouldn’t be coming back from this particular strike. It was going to be worth it though. So long as the others would live, maybe there would be a later chance for them to strike back. Even if that never happened, they could maybe still build a life...somehow. So long as her friends were okay, this would be worth it.
Chroma’s lightning bolt leapt forth and Adagio squeezed her eyes closed. A chorus of frantic shouts and screams rose from her friends and...nothing. No pain. No sensation of lightning running over her skin.
“Noooo!” Chroma growled.
Adagio opened one eye. A collection of magenta colored gem shards floated in the air before her, blocking the lightning that Chroma was still channeling. Adagio blinked in surprise, before allowing herself a wide smirk that broke into a chorus of laughter.
“Oh my...I suppose the Element of Magic and I have come to an understanding!”
“There’s no understanding!” Chroma yelled. “The Element of Magic can’t save you!”
“Oh, but it can! That’s why Scorpan attacked the way he did! You, Midnight, the rest of your group? You were all brought together by the bonds of friendship. Friendship brought you together and made you stronger! So Scorpan had to corrupt that!”
“I am not corrupt you vomitous little gnat!”
The magenta shards suddenly glowed with a burst of light, shattering dispelling the lightning bolt as if it wasn’t there. As the shards then swirled around Adagio, she felt a warm light embrace her. The burns from Chroma’s previous lightning bolt faded away, her coat growing back in. Her muddy, torn clothes were instantly repaired as her weather resistant cloak became one of the fine ones like her friends were wearing, its hem marked with a gem pattern. Adagio couldn’t help herself. She laughed again.
She and her friends began to rise from the ground, slipping free of their bonds. Rainbow motes of light began to flow between them, a wellspring of power growing in their chests. Chroma snarled, unleashing a flurry of lightning bolts in a desperate attempt to stop what was about to happen.
“Oh come on!” she snarled. “This can’t be happening!”
“Sorry Chroma,” Adagio grinned. “But don’t you know? Friendship is magic!”
The magic reached its crescendo, twisting into a rainbow ribbon that then crashed down upon Chroma’s head in a raging torrent. She let loose a cry of anger and frustration as her magically constructed body fell apart into light, the spheres shooting into the air. As the magic faded away, Adagio and her friends gently touched down and turned their attentions to Spitfire and the Rangers.
“I’ll accept your surrender now,” Adagio smirked.
Spitfire’s right eye twitched. “This is complete and utter nonsense! How can a group of deplorables like you harness the Elements of Harmony? We’re the ponies with the righteous cause! We’re-”
Not in the mood to deal with Spitfire’s rant, Adagio rolled her eyes. “Starlight? Suri? With me, if you please.”
“With pleasure,” Starlight smirked.
Spitfire realized what was coming the moment Starlight pointed her staff their way. Taking wing, she and her rangers went for their crossbows. Adagio channeled singing a single, piercing note drilling into their ears. They screamed, clutching at their ears while Suri’s needle and thread zipped around them, wrapping the whole group tightly together into one mass of perturbed pegasai. Starlight’s spell struck home a moment later, encasing them in their own crystal prison. It was probably a little more than strictly needed, but Adagio reasoned that it would be better to be safe than sorry right now.
“Yes! We did it!” Sonata cheered. “We beat Chroma!”
“And all because of friendship,” Suri mused. She glanced over at Adagio, a smile playing across her muzzle. “I guess that means you really do like us?”
“Oh Suri, I always liked you,” Adagio smirked back. “But I do admit it. I’ve developed a bit of a taste for our shared camaraderie. I-” she yelped as Sonata pounced on her with a powerful hug. “Ack! Sonata!”
“I like you too Dagi!”
Adagio’s mind raced at the possibilities of what was to come. They’d all be up for accolades from the crown, that much she was sure of. Perhaps if she played her cards right she could get everypony a knighthood? They certainly deserved it with all the danger they had trod through. But her planning session came to an abrupt end when Aria loudly coughed to get their attention.
“Not to rain on everypony’s parade, but aren’t you all forgetting something?” she asked, glowering as always. When no answer readily came she sighed and jabbed a hoof skyward.”It’s still drizzling. And didn’t Starlight say that Chroma split into three ponies? Those spheres of light had to go someplace.”
“Ascarids!” Starlight cursed. “I was so wrapped up in the fact we beat Chroma that I forgot about her third part!”
“Where was that Chroma going?” Adagio asked.
Starlight shrugged. “I don’t know. She said that she was going to follow their ‘original plan’ whatever that means.”
“Well, those spheres looked like they were heading north west before they got out of sight,” Lightning said, rubbing her chin. “But the only thing that’s in that direction is more of the Everfree Forest. I have no idea where she’s going.”
“Master...Tirek...may be able...to answer that.”
Slowly, the hunched over form of Master Tirek tottered back to his hooves, even as he clutched at the sides of his undoubtedly aching head. Turning to face Adagio and her friends, she could see that he had a nasty welt developing on his forehead.
“She most likely journies to the Middle Mountains and believes that one of her friends is sealed away there.”
Adagio’s mouth was suddenly quite dry. “And is one of the other five there?”
Tirek cast his gaze to the floor. “...Yes.”