Fluttershy was focusing like she had never focused before in her life, even during that terrifying fight against Chrysalis. She was thinking about Twilight. Her smart teacher who had showed her the path to doing such amazing things in the world of magic, who was courageous and strong, but most importantly, kind.
She thought of Twilight's smile and her laugh, as well as her voice. Fluttershy believed that the two of them had a deep connection, so she just... needed... to find it... And her will passed through all barriers following that connection.
It was like trying to reach out from the ground and catch a falling star that crossed the sky, but Fluttershy's magic reached through the overwhelming distance, refusing to give up. On the outside Pinkie saw Fluttershy glowing with an aura of power as she channeled extreme amounts of magical power in an attempt to make the impossible possible.
Because what was magic, if not the will to change the world?
But even with that, even with all of her power, Fluttershy could not quite reach it. She was ready to bet everything on using an Overdrive when a miracle happened.
The "falling star" reached out to her.
After all, if they had a true connection, why would Fluttershy have to do all the work?
The two touched, and Fluttershy was almost overwhelmed by joy, but her work wasn't done yet. With a herculean effort, the pegasus firmly embraced Twilight's essence and started pulling herself back through the (infinite yet short) distance back to her body. And even though she had a natural connection with her material form, the return path was even more difficult, partly due to having to keep holding Twilight, and partly due to weariness from her earlier effort.
But again, she wasn't alone this time. Twilight's will joined with her, and pushed along with her own power to help them cross the final barrier. It was difficult to say how long that final journey took, but it was something the two of them would always cherish.
And suddenly, it was over. Fluttershy was back in her own body... And Twilight was right there beside her.
"Twilight..." Fluttershy whispered, as if to try and convince herself of the reality. This was really Twilight, the true Twilight, with everything that she was.
"Fluttershy..." Twilight replied, looking at her with tears in her eyes and positively radiating joy to Fluttershy's senses. She looked like she was going to say something else, when suddenly...
"Gaarrgh!" Twilight vomited blood and collapsed on the floor.
"Twilight!" Fluttershy screamed, and Pinkie screamed right along with her. Fluttershy reached out with her empathic senses to discover what was wrong....
Pain. Overwhelming pain in the whole body. Magic was impossible to reach.
Twilight was hurt. Hurt badly and Fluttershy didn't understand what was wrong and she didn't know any healing spells and-
"Twilight!" Sunset and Trixie shouted in unison, from the other side of the area.
Fluttershy turned to them, getting over her panic due to the reassurance of their presence, and then Pinkie Pie sent her a message via the feather connection 'They'll help.'
She understood perfectly. The original Knights had received a much broader and deeper magical education than the newest ones, they would be able to help.
"Switch!" Pinkie shouted at the two, and then she and Fluttershy took off towards Blank.
When Pinkie Pie shouted switch, both Sunset and Trixie understood perfectly what the plan was. Both of them started preparing teleports to get to Twilight's side, but the strange properties of that place hindered them, and the teleports were slow enough for Blank to get over his surprise and start an attack on them.
But he had evidently forgotten that Trixie and Sunset weren't the only Knights he was facing, and the two trusted Rarity and Rainbow Dash to keep the situation under control.
They weren't wrong to trust.
"Rarity!" Rainbow Dash shouted, flying down to the ground at supersonic speed "The circles!"
The other Knight nodded and pierced her Earth Ruler Sword into the ground at the same time as Rainbow Dash struck the earth. The two unleashed their magic power into the soil... and broke every single one of the previously prepared magical circles.
Twilight was already back and they just needed to escape, so there was no reason to hold back anymore. These circles would become useless, but the result would be worth it.
The broken circles disturbed the dragon pulse in the area, which was already pretty strained due to the state of constant battle of the time loop, and it discharged an insane amount of magic energy into the air. Usually it would explode immediately, but Rarity had use her magic on the ground an controlled every single bit of the disturbed magical power, though it was a strain even for a pony of her particular capabilities.
Instead, the power was channeled in a line of magic towards Rainbow Dash, who grabbed hold of it, focused it and finally released it in a way to create the greatest possible effect, instead of most of the power dissipating harmlessly like it would usually happen.
"Double Arts!" Rarity and Rainbow Dash shouted "Broken Circle!"
And their combined attack took the form of not a wave, but a veritable tsunami of power unleashed right in the direction of Blank and his copies. They had to abort their attacks as they tried to deal with this ridiculously overpowered menace, and Trixie and Sunset managed to teleport while Pinkie and Fluttershy got enough time to reach their place on the battlefield.
This gave the duo some time to breathe, and they managed to see that the city had changed completely, now looking like some strange, dark and rocky abyss with crystals scattered around. They wondered if this place had been made by Blank's memories, and whether that meant he had taken over the spell completely.
As soon as they reached Twilight's side, Sunset and Trixie shared a quick glance to communicate about where each of them would work to be able to divide their efforts.
They used their magic in a trained way, managing to avoid any mistakes despite their worry about their partner. They quickly scanned her body and got to work on the most critical places, their medical knowledge coming in handy to understand what to prioritize. Which was important, because there was a lot of stuff wrong.
Lacerated muscles, torn ligaments, internal bleeding, generalized stress fractures on most of her bones, but worst of all was the heavy organ damage, specially in the heart and liver.
The two original Knights worked in perfect coordination, focusing on the critical areas to ensure Twilight's survival, not caring about completely fixing anything since time was of the essence and they could hopefully deal with everything else later.
Their state of concentration was so high that both of them were aware of every millisecond that passed, and so their work seemed to last an eternity, even though it was barely five seconds until Twilight partially recovered.
"Ah... You two..." Twilight spoke with a raspy voice "I don't feel good."
"Of course." Trixie said, her voice was harsh but unable to conceal her relief in seeing that Twilight seemed better, and she didn't stop her spells either "What were you thinking? Overlaying Overdrives is a forbidden technique for a reason."
"I had to!" Twilight did the closest to a shout she could in her condition "I couldn't leave you... dead..."
"You idiot!" Sunset scolded her "We weren't dead! That guy had some kind of gap magic, and it trapped us someplace. I'm sure you could have freed us if you weren't so impulsive!" Sunset was also keeping the treatment going.
"Ah... Then... I guess I really messed up, didn't I?"
"Yes." Trixie said "Trixie would be more irritated with you if you hadn't already planned a way to go back." Sunset and Twilight looked surprised at her "Trixie also saw those theories about time magic. What other reason could there be for you to not be getting stronger while he is, even though it was you who cast the spell?"
Twilight sighed "More like I refused to do anything that could prevent me from going back. I wasn't exactly thinking straight enough to plan something like this." She looked at the two "But I definitely was going to find my way back... You two are like family for me and I never wanted you to feel bad because of me."
Sunset's eyes softened "I'm an only child, but I always felt that if I had sisters, it would be like with the two of you."
Trixie was the next "Trixie has always considered the two of you to be her sisters."
Twilight smiled slightly "Then, should we just go forward and start calling each other sisters?"
Sunset smiled as well "I have no objections to that... sister."
"Trixie also has no objections."
Twilight nodded "Then, from now on, we are sisters."
There was a moment of silence and then Sunset spoke "So, but first we need to deal with that guy and get out of here."
Twilight grinned "This is not going to be a problem. He committed a great mistake and has already lost. Just look at Applejack."
The two did so.
Applejack was no longer struggling to keep the portal opened, and it seemed completely stable.
It took a moment for the other two to understand, but then they grinned as well.
When Blank managed to get through the tsunami of magic unleashed by the breaking of the magical circle, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were already ready to get into the fight.
"Chaotic Arts: SURPRISE!" Pinkie shouted, throwing a pink sphere of overcharged elemental surprise.
As might be expected, this named attack was much more powerful than her original surprise balls, and had a rather astonishing effect. It burst into a huge swarm of cyborg dragonflies with electric powers that started attacking Blank and his copies.
It was, indeed, very surprising.
"Hydra! Multiplicity edition!" Fluttershy cast her own magic, creating her Hydra armor construct.
However, this time it was different. This hydra had dozens of small heads, each one at the end of comically large necks and carrying sharp teeth in their jaws. The heads pounced on Blank and his copies, biting and headbutting with powerful strength.
And the Knights together actually managed to do something astonishing, they reached the point of actually forcing Blank to remain on the defensive.
Obviously, Rarity and Rainbow Dash would not simply let Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie do everything themselves, and they were a big part of the reason why Blank was struggling. Rarity was focusing on the power of her Wind Ruler Sword, and she and Rainbow Dash joined their wind manipulation abilities with extreme coordination to attack everywhere at once.
Pinkie also was a big part. After her dragonflies had been taken down, the chaotic pony simply kept doing ever-changing spells, first multiplying herself to match the numbers of her opponent, and then releasing such a diverse range of attacks that truly showed the potential of chaotic magic.
But still, the biggest contributor to their success was Fluttershy. Her hydra heads and necks took on a huge amount of space, pressuring the opponents from all sides, and while they could remove parts of the construct, Fluttershy had deliberately made it very fragile but easy to repair, creating a true undying beast that would not leave even a single moment of time for her opponents to catch their breaths.
However, it couldn't last. Eventually Blank was pushed to the point of actually detonating his copies, creating a cataclysmic explosion that he deliberately kept contained in a relatively small space in order to annihilate every single thing that was attacking him. Even then, the Knights barely managed to get out of the way in time, and Fluttershy's hydra construct was completely destroyed.
The spell was so powerful that even with his amazing new power, Blank had to stop to recover for a bit, and at that moment, Pinkie noticed something:
The explosion had actually caused cracks to appear on space itself.
Getting an idea from that and knowing she didn't want to let up on the attacks, Pinkie spoke quickly to Fluttershy:
"Follow my lead." And she raised a hoof, channeling her magic.
She touched the space with her will, doing so with ease due to the properties of her chaos magic. Fluttershy came with her, and she suddenly understood what Pinkie Pie was trying to do. Both of them exploded with power, Pinkie Pie idly thinking that this would hurt in the morning, since she had been using the full potential of her 80% Emotion Charge far too much in a single day.
And in an instant, their spell was complete, and they unleashed it straight at the cracks in space.
"Double Arts!" They both shouted "Black Hole Rising!"
Instantly, in a ridiculous multidimensional warping that gave headaches to everypony watching (except Pinkie), the cracks folded upon themselves forming a pseudo icosahedron that then exploded into a hole in space that started dragging everything towards it, starting with Blank.
It wasn't really an actual black hole, but "merely" a magical disturbance that had some of the same properties. Blank, unprepared for the sudden appearance of it, ended up flying right at the "black hole" and crashing into the "side of it" (because apparently it was solid somehow, and even Pinkie didn't expect that one).
He started punching the black hole, which started expanding, and then the Knights ran away, seeing that staying so near that thing wasn't recommended. They stopped besides the three original Knights, and Applejack casually strolled to join them moments after.
Fluttershy immediately flew forward and hugged Twilight, who was sitting on the ground, being careful not to jostle her injuries.
"It's great that you're back..." Fluttershy muttered. Twilight didn't say anything, knowing that this didn't need a response.
After that, Pinkie also hugged her teacher, and the other apprentices also expressed their happiness for Twilight being okay, but their celebrations were eventually cut off by a ferocious roar.
"GROOOAAARRGHHHH!" It was Blank, and once more the entire dimension shook as his power grew. He raised a hoof and gave a colossal punch to the "black hole", making it break in half and dissipate. He then turned his head towards the Knights. The four who had been fighting him tensed up in preparation, but Sunset and Trixie stopped them with a gesture, wearing calm expressions, which were mirrored by Twilight.
Blank threw a big sphere of his gap magic straight at the Knights, who didn't do anything to stop it at all, the original Knights knowing what would happen, and their apprentices trusting in them. The sphere exploded and made everything nearby disappear... except for the Knights.
They were completely unharmed and standing on nothing, almost like they were ghosts that did not belong to that world.
Blank stopped and looked at them without comprehension. Then Twilight started talking, enunciating very clearly despite her injuries, like she was giving a lecture:
"The hardest part of conceptual magic isn't actually manipulating the concepts. Instead, it is avoiding the negative influence of the concepts on yourself. I didn't care about that with my spell, and you could say it was 'a spell to trap oneself into a time loop and drag somepony with you'. Or rather, that was the price I paid for being able to achieve my true aim."
She stared at Blank with pity "I don't know how you were made, or how much influence you had over your actions in attacking us." Then her eyes hardened "But there is one thing I'm certain of. After being dragged with the spell, you got a chance to make a choice, which may well have been the first choice you ever made in your life."
She continued "Like I said, I was the one who cast the spell, so I was the one who was the most trapped by the well of time. If you had chosen to try and escape the loop, even if it wouldn't be exactly easy, it would be a lot easier than if it was me who tried it. That was fine with me, since my biggest reason for using the spell wasn't really to trap you."
She shook her head "But instead, you choose to gain power, and in doing so, got more and more trapped by the chains of time. So we were both in the same situation, and my friends here reached through the barriers of time and managed to interact with us, despite not being burdened by time like us.
"And that was when you committed your last mistake. In your search for power, you actually took over my spell, effectively taking my burden for your own. Now I was no longer trapped, and since my friends here came to get me, and not you, their temporal distance from you increased along with mine.
"Now, we are so distant that only my words will reach, no longer able to interact in any other way, and even that will end soon. So, I have to thank you for helping with my mistake, and say that I hope that somewhen you may redeem yourself for yours."
With those words, Twilight disappeared from Blank's vision, together with the rest of the Knights.
The stallion raged and destroyed everything around. But he was unable to affect anything outside his prison.
"They're coming." Moondancer said.
Spike perked up and looked as the portal that had been dormant suddenly activated again, and he could barely contain his joy when he saw all eight of the Knights fall off the portal, which closed behind them (though Twilight was held in Sunset's telekinetic grip and didn't actually reach the floor).
"Twilight!" He shouted, running over to her "You're okay!"
"I'm okay." She agreed, smiling.
Moondancer, who knew a lot about Overdrives, simply walked over to her and asked "What's the prognosis?"
Twilight looked thoughtful for a moment "I won't be able to use any magic for around four months. And it will take at least two more months after that for my body to recover enough to be able to channel any useful amount of power."
Spike looked worried "But you will be able to come watch my Knight proclamation, right?"
"Of course!" Twilight said, nodding.
The others nodded "We'll all be there." Sunset added.
Then she looked around and notices that the area had a lot of new craters, burns and other signs of a battle "What happened here?"
Moondancer was the one who responded "Another one of those construct enemies came here, but me and Spike defeated him, no problem."
"Oh, you have to tell Trixie the details!" Said unicorn spoke, and the others soon also started asking for the story. Spike showed an air of pride and started telling the story.
Twilight looked around at all of them, smiled and closed her eyes "I'm back."
Shards of Chaos/Time Loop Arc End
Next: Flames of Annihilation Arc