Silver Soul was talking with Rarity while they made their final preparations. Rarity had put on her Armor and had her two swords on her back, while Silver Soul had taken a special artifact, a magical silver necklace containing a ridiculous amount of compressed silver. She could turn normal earth into a silver-like substance and use it in a pinch, but having actual silver was better.
"This is going to be great!" The avatar said "Luna will be pretty stoked to be going on a mission with the Knights, even by proxy, when she wakes up."
"And I'm sure she will be happy that her apprentice is finally coming into his own, as well." Rarity said, and looked closely at Silver Soul's necklace "It's rare to see an old artifact that is still whole this days."
"Oh yeah. The Knights keep breaking them." She said with a giggle, which turned into a snort when she saw the pained expression on Rarity's face "This one wasn't even made by a real artificer, it was a present Luna received from the Mage Association of Relemb." She became lost in thought "I actually married one of them in the following century."
Rarity got curious "How does the marriage thing works for avatars?"
"Oh? Ah, I guess you wouldn't know given that we've spent too long under Sombra's control." Silver Soul reasoned "Basically, we are treated like normal ponies for this. We can get married, we can have children, and neither our partners nor our descendants have any special privileges."
Rarity nodded, then thought of something "Partners? Do you mean..." She didn't complete the thought.
"Ah, I know what you mean. Me and Lightning only like stallions, but Dark Moon likes both stallions and mares." The earth pony answered.
"I understand." Rarity said, and then she asked "Could I take a closer look at your necklace?"
"Sure." Silver Soul said, and took it off before handing it to Rarity.
"Hmm... Some very interesting space compression spells... Based around material elemental affinity for the silver element... It's a very well-done piece of magic, nothing exactly out of the ordinary, but to execute it so well in so little space is praiseworthy." Rarity muttered a few more things, then looked up at Silver Soul with a smile "What do you think about an addition to it?"
Silver Soul's grin was all the answer she needed.
Fluttershy was checked over by Celestia in order to make sure she was in top-shape before going. She didn't even bother to remove the Armor. Twilight put on her own armor and busied herself with charging it with the merged spell components and retesting the shapeshifting properties of it.
When the Princess was done, Twilight and Fluttershy spent a bit of time going over their combined techniques (as teacher and pupil, they had quite a lot of those), making small plans for general situations (trying to make specific plans against problems caused by a shard of chaos was a fool's errand and reading every bit of information they could get about Lake Tsucara.
"Ah, and have you developed any new techniques since the last time we talked?" Twilight didn't forget to check. Developing new techniques was one of the official Knight pastimes, after all. (Sunset was the one who decided that, she reasoned that it must be true considering all the varied techniques they showed in the stories. Twilight and Trixie agreed with the idea.)
"Ah yes. I pretty much finished one earlier today." She said casually.
Twilight looked at her "And... What is it?"
Fluttershy looked back, approached Twilight, put a hoof on her shoulder and said "It's a secret." With a teasing smile.
"Awww." Twilight complained, before recovering "I just hope we don't have to use the emergency system."
"I agree." Fluttershy said.
The Knights and Spike still had their Fluttershy feathers that could connect to her, and the avatars received feathers as well. However, this time the distance in between the groups was far too large for Fluttershy to be able to maintain complex communications with the others (she had said she would be able to do it eventually, once her abilities developed more), so they had worked things out to only call her in case of emergency, so that she and Twilight could direct reinforcements to the right place. Simply shoving emotions at the feather would be enough, and Fluttershy wouldn't be able to receive any more than that, anyway. She could also sense if the holders of the feathers got extremely distressed, such as receiving big injuries or worse, which would call for the same reaction.
"Well... I guess everything is ready." Twilight said, and Fluttershy nodded, so the unicorn prepared their teleport spell.
Applejack and Dark Moon didn't really have a lot of things to do before going. Applejack had to wear her armor, but otherwise there was not much to do. So Applejack decided to ask for details about Dark Moon's powers.
" [...] And so, by being swallowed by darkness, I become one with darkness and as such darkness becomes one with me. Like this, I can chance the darkness like I change myself, and make it solid as well as turn it into the greatest attack and defense, manipulating the world around via the darkness channeled by my dark soul [...]" Dark Moon just kept going on and on.
Applejack had heard the word "darkness" so many times already that it didn't sound like a real word anymore. And the avatar was still going.
"[...] For the true meaning of this darkness is the space that swallows all light. With this, I can devour anything by sucking it into the darkness-"
"Dark Moon." Applejack interjected.
"Ah think Ah understand yer darkness powers more or less." She spoke with a voice that brimmed with forced calm "Ah think we should use the remaining time before we have ta go by planning our general approach."
"Hmm... I still had a lot more to say, but I guess this is indeed important." She sounded a little disappointed, but nodded "What do you mean by general approach."
"Since we don't know what we are going ta find, specially because we are dealing with chaos magic, we can't make any detailed plans. Instead, it would be better ta define a general approach, how best ta work as a team in regards ta mobility, attack and defense." Applejack's voice had returned to normal "There is also the matter of quickly passing information that Ah gain with my eyes, so that ya can understand the situation at all times. I have a way to do it, but it needs eye contact."
"Those are indeed factors that we have to plan for." Dark Moon spoke in a thoughtful voice "I guess most of the defence and mobility should be taken care off by me, since it's easier to use than your earth magic."
"Ah think ya should pay attention ta the matter of long range attacks. Ah can do them, but earth magic really isn't suited for this." Applejack pointed out.
Their discussion continued, and Applejack managed to keep things mostly on track, even if she was still hearing the word darkness far too much.
"And you don't need to worry too much about diplomatic issues. Because Knights have a lot of leeway for simple faux passes. It would be different if you acted like a jerk or committed an actual crime, but there's no chance of that." Trixie was explaining to Rainbow Dash what she expected of her, considering that they weren't teacher and student and didn't have as much experience together as those pairs.
"You sound like Sunset. I thought you would be a lot more demanding of precision and stuff, to make your plans work right." Rainbow Dash said.
"That's Rarity. You're thinking of Rarity." Trixie joked "That also has its place, but micromanagement is always a crapshoot, much less involving a pegasus like you, and much less in a situation involving Shards of Chaos. If Trixie really needs to give you specific orders, she'll just create an auditory illusion to give you the instructions at the perfect time."
Trixie had put on her armor while Rainbow Dash was getting treated by Celestia, though that was mostly unnecessary. She hadn't been in an actual fight, and had simply channeled her magic at a slightly high level to be able to perform what she did. Still, it was better to be careful about those kinds of things.
"So, what do you expect?" Rainbow Dash asked.
"Trixie expects that we will find a few welcoming zebra who will be completely surprised when the forest turns against us and will need to be protected. She expects having to rescue zebra from the bowels of chaotic creatures, and also expects some kind of chaotic arena, maybe an underground world or a place made out of a combination of uncountable trees." She stopped for a moment "But don't count on it too much."
"Okay... I agree that seems probable... By the way, that thing about Rarity... Is there a story there?" Rainbow asked casually.
Trixie smirked at her knowingly "Actually, there is indeed a story. Trixie put her apprentices through a few exercises to test for their potential skill in command. Applejack did well, being able to see through the heart of the matter and make snap decisions. But Rarity... She gets too bogged down in details and isn't able to react properly when things don't go as planned."
"Ahh... I can see that." Rainbow Dash agreed.
"Speaking of that... Did Sunset do something similar with you?" Trixie asked.
"Yeah. And she said that my best style of leadership would be going in front following my instincts and allowing the others to act according to the situation." The pegasus said in a level voice.
Trixie looked at her "Somehow, Trixie is completely unsurprised by that."
Pinkie quickly put on her armor, and when Lightning Chaser asked if there was anything important she needed to know, decided to explain something important about her Emotion Charge:
"I managed to reach a level where I can use 80% of the power of my emotions but I can't go up any higher because it always feels like I'll lose control, and to even reach this point I need to slowly elevate the power of my emotions so I can't start with full power." Pinkie spoke in two breaths.
Lightning Chaser was grateful for the quick and direct sharing of information, and decided to ask something.
"Could you help me with something? I have some experience with using my magic to deal with chaotic effects, I even helped fight Discord once. But it has been a while, and I think it would be best to refamiliarize myself with it."
Pinkie agreed, and they went to a place where they could do it.
"Okay. Do it." Lightning Chaser asked Pinkie Pie.
The Knight charged the air with a high amount of chaotic magic and threw it at the pegasus, who allowed it to settle around her and start causing strange reactions as it shifted the nature of the air repeatedly. After a few seconds of this, Lightning Chaser started using her magic to create black-colored versions of her namesake, forcefully breaking through the restrictions of the chaotic magic.
While she looked at Lightning Chaser's techniques, Pinkie could not help but remember something.
"Hey, this black lightning you use looks like the same type of lightning magic that I've seen Tempest of Destruction using during that mission, so is there some kind of connection? Is this just what happens when you get really good at lightning? Can you do lightning clones too? Did you know him?" Pinkie unleashed a series of questions that would put most ponies out of balance.
But Lightning Chaser wasn't most ponies. She broke the entire chaotic field, dispersing the magic, and then started calmly answering Pinkie's questions:
"Yes, there is some connection, but only in the sense that he copied the black lightning from me. No, this is not just what happens when you get really good at lightning, it's a special technique that grants the attribute of destruction to the lightning. I can't do lightning clones, that is one of the techniques he created himself, but I can use colored lightning of different types with different attributes, which he never managed to do. I do know him, but we never had a lot of contact, mostly he faced Knight Flurry."
"I got it..." Pinkie thought for a moment "Do you want to hear details about how Sunset annihilated him?" She said with a smile.
Lightning Chaser couldn't help but crack a smile at that. She quickly schooled her expression back to neutral, but Pinkie cheered internally.
"I would like that, yes."
"So, little guy, it's you and me. I hope you cover me from danger when I'm busy with other things." Sunset said.
"I really hope my abilities are enough for this mission. There is so much that can go wrong..." Spike said.
"That is how things always are when you are a Knight. You must face all enemies and threats without knowing whether you are strong enough or if your abilities are suited to it. You trust in your companions and keep going no matter what, and if nothing else works, you start being reckless." Sunset did a small speech about it.
"... I guess you're right... I can't really just keep worrying about things. I need to relax and deal with things as they come. I need to remember how much I've trained and how much stronger I've gotten since I started. Master always says that remembering my training would help gain confidence." Spike said.
"That's the spirit. And I also seem to have heard something about you being able to fly now." Sunset grinned at him.
"Yeah. I finally got to the point where I can use the draconic aura to form wings. It really..." Spike seemed to have difficulty expressing himself "It really was something that made all the effort worth it. I've been dreaming about flying for a while."
"That's cool. I just never found a true flight spell that was right for me." Sunset sighed "Teleportation works well most of the time, and in a pinch I can improvise something... But flying is still one of my weak points."
"Then, I could carry you flying so that we can join our forces." Spike suggested.
Sunset grinned again "We could call it Draconic Weapons Platform! A flying weapon that blasts everything nearby!"
"... Why do I feel like this is not a spur of the moment thing?" Spike asked.
"Because it's not. I have something similar with Rainbow Dash. The Rainbow Weapons Platform!" Sunset declared.
"That makes sense."
A kilometer from the Rottwell tunnels, a circle of light suddenly appeared on the ground. If one were to have good sight, it would be possible to see letters shifting rapidly within the light. The circle got more and more solid, and the light got brighter, until the point where, like an explosion without sound, everything reached the peak for a moment and then vanished.
In the place of the circle, there were two ponies. A white unicorn and a blue earth pony. Rarity then spoke:
"Ahhh. Teleporting so far still wears me out a little, specially with a guest along." She smiled a bit.
"Do you need a moment or...?" Silver Soul asked.
"The walk towards the cave is already enough for me to recover my breath." Rarity said, grabbing her swords with telekinesis and making them float.
Silver Soul nodded and the two started walking in the direction of their objective. They still hadn't gone three hundred meters before Rarity sighed.
"What?" The earth pony avatar asked.
"We should have already been intercepted and asked about our business, according to what I've been able to gather about the Jeweled Commandos." She answered "The fact that they haven't done that yet means that something has disturbed their usual patterns badly already."
Silver Soul thought for a moment and nodded. She then activated her necklace and coated herself with a layer of silver. Preparing for any unexpected surprises.
The two moved quickly but calmly, covering the rest of the distance to the entrance of the cave in a short time. Nothing jumped out to attack them, but as they got closer to the cave, Rarity got more and more certain that this wasn't going to last for long, because there was something inside the cave that was interfering with her magic. Even with the power of her Earth Ruler Sword, she could barely feel the earth of the cave, much less control it, and the air was the same. This was definitely something that could be called enemy territory.
When the two actually got inside, Rarity saw that if she was close enough to the earth or air that she wanted to control, she could overcome the interference, so things weren't in the worst case scenario. Still, the unicorn quickly focused herself to the limit, knowing that things could get hairy in a hurry.
The cave was dark (unnaturally so, the light coming from the mouth of the cavern was being smothered somehow), and Rarity quickly cast a small night-vision spell. Silver Soul, being one of the avatars of the princess of the night, clearly wasn't hindered by the darkness. And the two had an instant to see what they were going against before the attacks started.
The interior of the cavern was full of towers, four meter tall structures which seemed roughly made, as if in a hurry. The towers created barriers that formed a winding path through the cavern. Each tower had a big gemstone on top, and they were extremely well-cut and flawless, as well as not having the normal color variance of natural gemstones. Instead, they were solid and vibrant colors all the way through, some red, some green, some yellow, some blue and yet other colors. Those beautiful gems made quite the contrast with the rough towers.
However, their beauty was slightly undercut for Rarity and Silver Soul when they started shooting spells at them.
Rarity immediately activated her wind wings and flew into the air. The ceiling of the cave was only seven meters tall, but it was still enough space to maneuver, because Rarity had trained a lot in flight techniques ever since the fight against Chrysalis. Silver Soul released a wave of silver to create a barrier against the spells.
The two immediately realized that simple defense or avoidance wouldn't even be enough to survive for a minute, because those were clearly not ordinary spells. Some of them were homing, and some were area of effect based, meaning that Rarity's ability to dodge was compromised. Meanwhile, Silver Soul had problems because some of the spells were piercing, capable of going through her barrier, while others caused disruptions in the magic she was using to control the silver in the first place.
And that wasn't all. There was a ridiculous variety of spells being used against them, to the point where it was only possible because each jewel could release several different spells, and they shot fast. Some spells were heat or cold, others were lightning, some were pure kinetic energy, while others were projectile based, some spells were explosive while others released a pseudo-acid.
The two shifted their focus to attack, Rarity deliberately flying close to the nearest towers, knowing that the spells would have to hold back to preserve them. Silver Soul surrounded herself in a sphere of silver and bulled forward, also approaching the towers.
"Wind Slash!" Rarity cast, releasing a cutting slash of wind and sawing two towers in half.
"Silver Stab!" Silver Soul followed her lead, creating a spear of silver and gouging a huge hole right in the middle of another one.
The towers crumbled, but the jewels teleported away to nearby towers, and kept up their assault. Silver Soul suddenly alerted:
"MOVE!" And jumped away, while Rarity did a sharp dodge in the air.
The earth under them exploded, as a Diamond Dog jumped out from it and slashed right where Rarity had been previously. Then, he was hit by a dozen spells in quick sequence, but instead of harming him, the spells seemed to buff him, with magical barriers appearing, his claws gaining an edge of red light, his legs shining green and other things that were less visible but could be felt happening.
After that, he advanced on his opponents, while the towers kept attacking them with their spells.
Rarity landed on the ground beside Silver Soul, knowing that this would be difficult.
Twilight and Fluttershy appeared five hundred meters away from Lake Tsucara, in the southwest side. And it was immediately obvious that things weren't right.
The numerous ponies running away from the lake and screaming as well as the multitudes of tentacles constructed from algae sweeping around the area were a pretty big clue.
The main priority of the Knights was always helping others, and so their first move was explicitly for this purpose, and it was Fluttershy who made it.
"Empathy Drive: Grand Search!" She cast, releasing a pulse of magic that spread over the entire area.
That was the base spell that had been turned into the ritual used previously. In such a limited area, Fluttershy could expand her empathy to be able to sense every living being in range, which also made her able to find every single innocent that was in danger. More than that, she could also touch Twilight with her empathy to give her the same information.
And Twilight Sparkle was quite capable of doing something about it.
"Chaos Magic: Interference Pulse!" Twilight released a pulse of magic of her own.
But this pulse was fairly different from Fluttershy's. It was actually designed to interfere with any bit of magic that it encountered. Fluttershy had to deactivate her Grand Search while it passed, before reactivating it. But it was worth it because of the effects of that spell.
All of the tentacles that were dragging ponies towards the depths of the lake were acting due to the influence of chaos magic. It was difficult to interfere with them for most ponies, but Twilight was an expert in chaos magic herself, and so, even having to spread her magic through a very large space, the effects of her magic pulse "stunned" all of the tentacles, preventing them from moving for a while and also causing parts of them to fall off, as the lowered efficiency of the chaos magic meant that the laws of physics had the final say over some structures that were far too fragile to work normally.
And that was only the opening act.
"Empathy Drive: Animal Spirit!" Fluttershy charged her magic "Manticore Edition!"
And once more she channeled the spirit of the manticore. Fluttershy flew right to the closest ponies in danger and slashed through the tentacle that was threatening them. Twilight did a chaotic shift and started casting spells all over the place, creating small earth monsters that turned the battle into a war. The two moved forward towards the lake and kept with their attacks, saving more and more ponies in the process. This was helped by Fluttershy's Grand Search, which gave her a constant awareness of everything, which she shared with Twilight.
The two kept getting ever closer to the lake, and the stunned state of the tentacles couldn't last long. As such, the opposing chaotic magic quickly honed in on the two of them as the biggest threats and sent a lot of tentacles at them, and not only that, but smaller monsters that also seemed to be at least halfway plant based started crawling out of the lake and attacking.
But it didn't help. Twilight and Fluttershy cut through them like they weren't even there, and even the biggest tentacle vines were barely slowing the two down.
Without hesitation, both of them plunged into the water, and finally they were faced with something that was actually challenging. The whole underwater forest attacked them all at once, and with the support of the water taking most of the burden of keeping the vegetable structures standing, the rest of the chaos magic was free to increase their size, thickness, number and ferocity. The fact that they were closer to the source of the chaos magic also helped. Twilight and Fluttershy also had to worry about keeping up the magic they were using to breathe underwater, which was basically creating a pocket of air on their muzzles and drawing air from the water into it.
They defended themselves from the multitude of tendrils, claws, spikes and teeth that were thrown at them. The two were trying to rescue four ponies who had already been dragged down into the lake, so they didn't stop to fight, instead simply rushing through as fast as they could. Twilight created a chaotic vortex of water around herself as a defense and attack, while Fluttershy simply kept going with her Manticore Spirit.
Luckily, the chaotic effects seemed to want their victims alive, so the tentacles who got them had encased the underwater ponies in bubbles which also put them in stasis (according to what Fluttershy could feel). The two broke through the crowded waters and managed to reach the endangered ponies one by one, allowing Twilight to teleport them to safety after destroying the bubbles.
And then, the Knights had one last thing to do. They needed to deal with the chaotic forest that was still attacking and would still be a danger to the innocent ponies. This was a problem, because they couldn't just destroy the forest, given that the livelihood of many ponies depended on it.
However, they didn't really need to, because the two were actually perfectly prepared to deal with that situation. They joined their hooves and charged magic for a second, while the numerous attacks got closer and closer to them.
"Duo Magic: Power Gift!" They called.
Fluttershy was connected to every living being in the area due to her Grand Search, and that included the chaos warped forest. So with Twilight's help, she poured energy into the core of the plants and used it to utterly supplant the chaos magic that was controlling them, returning everything to normal.
Fluttershy and Twilight then had a short conversation via empathy that ended with the two of them flying back out of the water.
"Is there anyone who is still missing?" Twilight asked, after having cast a spell to enhance her voice.
There was a rush as ponies around the lake called for their families and friends, trying to find each other. The Knights watched as most of them had success on that endeavor, but in the end, five ponies still remained missing.
"They must be inside the underwater tunnels." Fluttershy said.
"Yes. The tunnels that shouldn't exist." Twilight was resigned.
Because Fluttershy had noticed that the bottom of the lake had disappeared, as an underwater cave network appeared, a place that could be called a subworld, given that it was apparently created entirely by the chaos magic warping the place.
And they would have to go in.
Applejack and Dark Moon appeared in the snow-covered cliffs of Arrankar Mountain and immediately had to use their aura defenses to protect against the cold. Heavy winds blew through the air, carrying with them such cold that even thick insulating clothing would only extend the time before a pony without sufficient magical abilities fell to hypothermia.
Thankfully, both of them did have sufficient abilities, and knowing that they were going to a place like this, they had already prepared and even cast spells of protection against the cold on themselves, spells that reduced the burden that their aura defenses had to take to keep the two warm.
After a moment to get used to the situation, Applejack used her Far Sight to confirm the position of the Fortress. And that was the first sign that things weren't right.
The fortress was at the same time magnificent and scary. It was perched at the top of a particularly sharp incline. The walls were solid and dozens of meters tall, with their tops being covered with wicked spikes. The design of the walls was composed of strange, beautiful, complex and varied spiral patterns, that seemed to change whenever they weren't being watched. The gate was a steel structure that seemed to meld perfectly with the stone around it, and was an arch with an iron grid inside it, which seemed to lack any visible means of opening. And there was no moat, but around the fortress there were three circles of nasty looking runes.
All of this was well and good, but the important was what wasn't there. There was none of the wear and tear that would be expected for a place abandoned to the elements for centuries. There was also none of the damage from Black Hooves famed final battle against the Knights of the Scarlet Dream. Both of those things had appeared in the most recent pictures of the place (taken by an extreme adventurer pegasus called Rising Star who made a living by taking pictures of dangerous and inhospitable places). Which meant that something was very wrong.
Applejack couldn't be sure of what was happening, because she would need to get closer in order to actually see through everything (she still hadn't been able to combine Far Sight with the other capabilities of the Eyes of Truth), but they simply wouldn't get anywhere by just standing there, so Applejack informed Dark Moon of what she had seen and then the two started making their way towards the fortress.
The walking was calm for about three minutes, and then Applejack called:
Dark Moon did so and looked at the Knight, wondering what the problem was. Applejack explained by drawing a sphere of earth from the ground and throwing it forward.
As soon as it touched the ground, the sphere was skewered by eleven spikes of ice that suddenly surged out from the ground in a burst of magic.
"Magical trap." Applejack declared "Another thing that should not be working right now."
Dark Moon nodded and the two returned to their walk, the avatar went into battle-ready mode, coating herself in darkness, just in case, but Applejack's Eyes were doing pretty well with spotting the traps, and she could disable them safely, sometimes by throwing things, while others she had to shift the earth to break the hidden magical runes (there were different types of traps). They made steady progress.
And finally, the two got close enough to the fortress that Applejack could see the truth of it.
"Memories..." She realized.
But before she could elaborate, there was a reaction from the fortress, or rather, from above it, as a pony appeared in the air over the fortress. It was an earth pony stallion with gray mane and white coat, except for his hooves, which were black as coal. He was most definitely Warlock Black Hooves.
"So... You have come here to bring and end to me?!" He spoke in an angry voice "You shall see the true power of the cold of death!"
That said, he charged magic, and the whole fortress did the same, and from within the fortress, a gigantic ice sculpture of a minotaur appeared and jumped towards Applejack and Dark Moon.
Rainbow Dash and Trixie teleported already inside the forest. They kept their eyes and ears open as they walked through the trees, going in the direction of the zebra "village" that was closest to the place where the Shard of Chaos had been detected. They got into sight distance of the buildings and... Didn't see anything out of the ordinary.
Feeling obscurely disappointed, they walked into the town, which was a somewhat loose collection of buildings in a certain area. And the two could quickly see what Celestia had meant when she talked about the zebra acting in harmony with nature. The terrain of the forest was bumpy, but instead of flattening it for the convenience of easily coming and going, the zebras had chosen to follow the same strategy of the trees of the forest (which grew in all sorts of weird configurations and angles, according to the uneven terrain) and simply adapted to the place.
Houses were shaped according to the terrain they were in, with some shaped like triangles that hugged upward slopes, others were located at the bottom of depressions and were built in a way that the entrances were on the "ground", like they were a basement of a house that was now missing. Some houses supported themselves in configurations of trees, something like tree houses which had supports on the ground, while others simply took the trees as part of themselves, like a house under a tree where part of the walls was made from the roots of that tree. And with those configurations, entrances, exits, windows and all those parts had an immense variation from each other, with the zebra putting ramps, bridges, spiral stairs and all sorts of other things to facilitate their movement around, creating situations like a door being situated right above a deep depression, and so connecting straight to a bridge that led to another high ground. No two houses were the same, and Rainbow imagined that the zebra foals would definitely get a lot of fun just walking around the place.
As for the inhabitants of the town, there was also nothing strange there. Almost all of them were zebra, though one or two ponies could be seen as well as a donkey. As such, while they got some stares due to being strangers, most of those who saw them didn't really seem overly concerned. And after a minute of walking through the town, they seemed to have been recognized, and a zebra mare with red earrings on both ears and a blue ring on her neck, as well as a cutie mark in the zebra style that seemed to depict some sort of fruit came to talk to them.
"Knight Trixie, Knight Rainbow Dash?" She walked up to them, looking the two up and down "Why are you two here? Did Knight Rainbow come to watch Knight Trixie's show? But I didn't hear anything about this."
Trixie assumed the lead "Actually, the two of us are here on official Knight business. By the way, what's your name."
The zebra seemed surprised "I'm Medaka. And that seems serious. Do you need any help?"
Trixie shook her head "Not at the moment. We'll just take a look at things slowly for now."
Medaka nodded and left them to their business, Rainbow turned to Trixie "Shouldn't you have asked if there has been anything strange?"
"No. If there was, she would have mentioned it, now that we are here." She closed her eyes for a moment "More importantly, I've been running a spell to detect chaos magic ever since we got here. The level of chaotic energy in the air is higher than normal, but not that much higher, and not at a level that would make things happen. We should keep going and see if we find anywhere that has a higher level of chaos."
Rainbow Dash nodded and the two kept walking around the town. It was a fairly peaceful way to spend half an hour, and Rainbow only didn't get bored because her instincts were telling her that something was definitely not right around there. Still, they didn't find anything, so Trixie decided to change tactics, and so they went to speak to Medaka again.
"Could you tell us about any particularly interesting places on the town?" Trixie asked.
Medaka nodded "Yes. I know of a perfect place, come with me, it's not far."
And she took them to a place that was somewhat separated from the main collection of buildings that composed the town. Five minutes of walking through the forest led them to the thing Medaka wanted to show.
It was a tree. But it wasn't just any tree. This tree was thicker than any of the others, with more and bigger branches, as well as more leaves on them, the roots were also big, to the point they could be faintly seen where they were just below the ground.
"This is the Colonara tree. It's an old tree that mutated over the years until it became like this. The roots of this tree go farther down than any of the others, to the point she can actually draw water directly from the underground river that supplies this entire part of the forest." Medaka said proudly.
Trixie walked in front of the tree and checked for chaos magic. The results were immediate, it had a much bigger amount of chaotic energy inside it, to the point where it should be doing something. And that made it even stranger that the tree didn't seem to be doing any different from normal, the chaotic energy seemingly inactive.
Wanting to get to the bottom of this, Trixie tried a spell to analyze the tree directly... And immediately had to cut it off, getting a headache from the backlash.
"Medaka..." She said slowly "Why does it feel like this tree is only a part of something much bigger?"
"That's because it is." The zebra spoke carefully "This whole section of the forest is something like a colony, every living being is connected to every other living being and they all share everything. It's like they are all part of a single organism."
Rainbow Dash blinked and Trixie sighed.
'A single organism, huh? I have the feeling we have just gotten to the main issue here.' Trixie thought.
Pinkie Pie and Lightning Chaser teleported in just a few meters away from the entrance of Saddleoak.
"And then Sunset was like 'Annihilation Nova!', and she made this huge ball of energy, like whoa! And it was so huge she had to teleport away to escape her own attack, like oops!" Pinkie was telling the story.
Lightning Chaser didn't react outwardly, but Pinkie could tell that she was smiling on the inside.
And then the wind picked up suddenly and a vortex of air appeared in the sky. It gathered clouds onto itself and quickly turned into a colossal storm cloud.
Both Pinkie Pie and Lightning Chaser thought about going after it but decided not to for different reasons. Pinkie Pie realized that there were no traces of chaos magic on that sudden phenomenon, and she remembered Celestia talking about the weird climate of that place. Lightning Chaser, on the other hand, looked around and saw that the ponies around them didn't seem to be worried about that situation. Both of them decided to wait and see, but prepared themselves to interfere if things got out of hand.
Soon after the storm appeared, a squad of six pegasi flew from the city and took a formation just below the storm, flapping their wings and molding their magic in a way that managed to intercept most of the force of the winds and rain that were coming from it.
"Pinkie. Is this something normal for this place?" Lightning Chaser asked.
"It seems so. There's no influence of chaos magic around anyway. And it doesn't look like they need our help." She answered.
It certainly looked like they had things in hand. The storm was getting smaller and smaller, and the pegasi kept moving around it in an expert manner, taking care of the most troublesome areas. And then Pinkie felt a warning from her Pinkie Sense and, from within the center of the remaining mass, a purple lightning appeared, and the storm seemed to implode in itself, before splitting into a dozen individual, chaotically charged clouds.
"Time to go!" She said to Lightning Chaser, before starting her Emotion Charge.
The pegasus avatar immediately flew into the sky, where the pegasi team was bravely trying to deal with this new development, but their concerted efforts were not being very effective, for the individual clouds ran away as soon as they were making some progress, with another "fresh" cloud moving to take their place. She flew as fast as she could, and charged black lightning on her wings.
Pinkie started to run on the air, going directly up to the storm and using chaotic shifting to speed up. Even so, Lightning Chaser got there first, and speared the closest cloud with a huge bold of black lightning. The storm itself seemed to roar in response, and she screamed "Form a barrier!" to the six pegasi, knowing that things were about to get rough.
And she was right. The eleven remaining clouds joined together and formed a giant griffin made out of chaos clouds, who swiped the air, causing a powerful wind to slam into Lightning Chaser and the six pegasi. She managed to block the wind with a shield of white lightning, though she had to retreat a few meters in the air, the pegasi were thrown kilometers away, though their shield protected them from injuries.
But the chaos weather griffin had miscalculated. It used to much power with that attack, and Pinkie Pie was more than ready to exploit such a flaw. She shifted right in front of the griffin...
"Chaotic Arts: Burst Magic!" And released a burst of chaotic energy that was so tremendous it actually managed to make all the clouds that composed the griffin waver in and out of existence for a few moments... Revealing a point of light in his lower part.
"There!" Pinkie shouted, and Lightning Chaser didn't dawdle.
She created another bolt of black lightning shot it straight through that light, and with a mournful sound, the griffin disappeared.
Lightning Chaser flew to Pinkie's side "This is just the start, isn't it?" She asked.
Pinkie nodded "Yes. And the worst part is, I could fell that the chaos magic that did this came from somewhere inside the city."
Sunset Shimmer and Spike appeared next to the quarry and the Knight immediately started charging magic, for she had felt a big amount of chaotic energy in the air, similar to what happened when Twilight had time to spread her magic too much in their spars. Her action was proven correct moments later, when several stone golems appeared from the quarry and came straight at the two.
"Magic Enhance: Comet Dash!" She cast, shooting her magical projectile straight at the closest golem.
"Draconic Aura: Right Arm of the Dragon!" Spike was only a beat behind, as he created his aura and punched the next goblin.
The following minute was a flurry of violence. The golems were big and strong, but that also made them good targets, and the Knight and Squire were more than powerful enough to take advantage of that. They destroyed enemy after enemy, and there were none left after a bit.
The two kept looking around, ready for another wave, until Spike said "River!", having managed to see something even from far away. Sunset nodded.
"Draconic Weapons Platform!" She called, and jumped into the air.
Spike didn't wait, he jumped into the air as well and used his magic.
"Draconic Aura: Wings of the Dragon!" He called, and two big, powerful-looking wings appeared on his back and allowed him to float in the air. Sunset landed on the left wing, and Spike took off, flying fast towards the river.
Sunset soon could see what Spike saw. Fishlike water golems were jumping out of the river and going after a bunch of fisherponies, who were trying to run away. With Spike swooping right over them, the Knight went back to shooting powerful spell after powerful spell, destroying the enemies with high efficiency.
After they were all gone, Spike changed directions and flew towards the city, saying "More enemies!", and this time there were a lot more ponies in danger, as several earth golems which looked similar to rabbits had spawned inside the city limits. The duo resumed their sistematic annihilation of the chaotic monsters, but even after they were all gone, there was no time to take a rest, for the next wave of enemies appeared in the forest. They were wood golems which looked like walking trees, and Sunset couldn't use fire magic due to the risk of a forest fire.
That barely slowed the two of them down. Sunset switched to using more impact based spells and just kept up her powerful attacks. After a short period of time, the wood golems were all gone... And then Spike changed directions again, this time to the mountain.
"Oh, come on!" Sunset shouted, even as she prepared for a new round of fighting.
This time the chaotic monsters were different, they were arms coming out of the earth that kept extending more and more. Sunset was already beginning to get tired of having to destroy those kinds of things repeatedly, but the situation finally changed when one of the arms was destroyed by a flurry of wind blades.
Sunset looked around and saw who was responsible. It was a beautiful unicorn mare with dark green coat and sky blue mane. She was riding a wind current and had a zither made out of pure magic floating by her side (her cutie mark was of three musical notes).
"Do you need some help?" She asked.