“Okay, this could work…” Rainbow blew more dust from the keyhole, trying to keep a clear view of the core. “Oh, who am I kidding. I have to be crazy to try this.”
Rainbow winced at the ear-splitting yell from the mare in the other cell. Whatever she was seeing, she was screaming from it once every seven minutes or so. “You better not do that while we're sneaking out, or you'll get us caught.”
“Tell me another one.” She backed up from the gate until her rump touched the concrete wall, then spread her wings and looked down at the core in her armor. The pirates had tried to take it off, but due to a security enchantment placed on it, it couldn’t be taken off unless the wearer let them take it off—something that Rainbow Dash clearly wasn’t going to do.
“Ugh, what to do.” She rubbed the back of her head, and felt two little bumps that felt like they were on fire, and her head started pounding. Guess they electrocuted me back there or something. Just a punch or pipe would’ve set off the–
A little zap pulsed through the back of her mind. “Heeeeeyyy… Wait a minute…” She looked down at the gem, only partially visible beyond her snout. There was still a decent glow in it, which meant it could still put up a shield to try to save her from a powerful impact.
Rainbow kicked off the ground and flug herself at the gate, her armor and the cage ringing out just before her head joined in the chorus, growing a brand new bump from the impact. “Ow. Ow ow ow… Bad idea.” She sucked in air and rubbed her head. “Well, good idea, but… pegasus.”
She pushed herself back up, and cursed the custom armor. Shield won’t do it’s thing unless it’s an impact that’ll hurt a pegasus, and pegasi can resist getting hurt from blunt impacts we see coming. Which means… I have to go even faster!
Dash wobbled to her hooves, then tapped the core in her armor. “You ready for this? Hope you have charge left, because I’m about to bash my brains in if not.”
Rainbow called forth her magic, pressing it into her pinions without letting it out. The air around her raged and rumbled at the indignity, vibrating the bars and sending tendrils of lightning out at her cage. She reached for the sky with her pinions, stretching out her mind to join the infinite heavens and ask for its power.
She was ready. She'd ram her body into the gate at full speed, and see if her armor had enough juice left to smash her way open.
“Twilight, whatever happens, thank you.”
She took in one last breath, and—
—froze in place, apparently. The magic she'd held belched out in an omnidirectional breeze, dying as easily as it had been called into being.
“Eep!” Whatever stallion had been on the other side of the door, he'd yelped like a total girl when it slammed back in his face.
Rainbow smirked. “Heh. Gonna have to remember that.”
The stallion must have been a unicorn, as the door was quickly engulfed in a green aura and pushed open surprisingly gently for the rough crowd that lived in this place. The pony that stepped in was equally out of place.
He was lithe and groomed to great detail. His clothes looked like something out of Rarity's boutique, though his colors didn't quite match. Gold just didn't really go with a green mane; even Rainbow could tell that much.
“You are so not a pirate.” Rainbow deadpanned. “So then, who the buck are you?”
The stallion tilted his head to look at her, then jumped back with another yelp even girlier than the last. “Rainbow Dash?!”
“Yeah.” Rainbow folded her forelegs. “What's it to you?”
The stallion didn't so much “stomp” as “scamper” up to the bars. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for a way out. Seemed like a fun challenge. Of course, once I do get out, any pirate in my way is going to have a worse day than the guy I electrocuted to death earlier. Care to—”
“Hush. There's a simple solution here: we help each other.” He pulled out a red-cored key from his froofy clothes, and opened up the cell. “Wait twenty seconds, then get out of here. If you can open the bay door, you'll distract them enough to be able to get out.”
Rainbow raised an eyebrow. A trap is why I'm in here already… “Why, exactly, are you helping me?”
The stallion huffed. “The business arrangement with these cretins is at an end. Their continued operation is a… liability, of sorts. And everypony knows who you are, Wonderbolt turned protector of the Grand Mage. If you escape, I’m certain Grand Mage Sparkle will shut them down. Our goals are aligned. Again, wait twenty seconds, then leave as quick as you can. Farriér will rally his pirates quickly once he realizes what's going on.”
“Celestia wept!” The stallion jumped up and back, then pulled out a neckerchief to wipe his brow. “What is with that mare?”
“Douchebag pumped her full of a drug. She's having night terrors inside a bad trip.” Rainbow motioned to the policemare’s cage. “And I'm taking her with me. Unlock her cage, too.”
“Surely not!” He stared at the thrashing mare as she let out another scream. “There's no way you could carry her out! This place is crawling with pirates!”
“I am. Either you unlock the cage, or I beat you up until you give up the key and then I unlock the cage. Your call.”
“Okay, okay, no need to descend to brutish violence. But you'll need more than threats to get out of here while carrying around a draft mare.” He took out the key and unlocked the other mare’s cage. “Why her, though? What's her name? What is she to you?”
Rainbow put a hoof through the door of her cage, just in case there was a trap there that she couldn't see, but nothing happened. “I honestly don't know her, but she looks like she's in law enforcement. So she's coming with me. No telling what these bastards will do to her if I'm not there to protect her.”
She pushed forward, trotting through the door and to the salmon-pink mare. “You should get going. It'll take me about twenty seconds to get her on my back. Then, we're leaving, no matter what you do. Clear?”
“Crystal.” The stallion trotted out, leaving the way open and the hallway silent.
“Here we go. One prison escape, coming—OOF you're heavy!” Rainbow grunted as her hind hoof slipped, sending her new rescuee sliding off her back. “Wow. Definitely a heavy. No normal pegasus weighs that much.
“Okay, take two: action!” She grabbed a couple of the other mare's legs and heaved, sliding the poor thing onto her back while Rainbow’s hind legs dug in to stand. At the end, Rainbow Dash had a monster of a draft heavy pegasus on her back.
“I am so going to need physiotherapy after this. Hoffa.”
A trot wouldn't do here; she'd lose her charge for sure. One step at a time, she walked out of the prison and instantly knew where she was. It had been behind one of the locked doors she'd encountered earlier, and it wasn't long before she also found herself at the side door to the outside. Unfortunately, it was still locked tight.
“Only one option then: time to find the control room,” she whispered.
She rounded the corner, and found herself right behind a pirate rummaging in a closet, rear end out and begging for a swift kick. Gotta be careful. And sneaky. Can't afford a big ruckus or fracas right now.
Rainbow rolled her eyes and took off forward, leaving the screaming pony behind and slamming a hoof right in the pirate’s chest. Whatever scream he was going to add to the mess only came out as a wheeze.
Rainbow grabbed him by the neck and squeezed, then slammed his head against the wall. “Control room! Where is it?!”
The pirate coughed and wheezed some more, spewing drool. “Wh-what—”
Wham! She slammed him again and twisted one of his legs. “‘What’ isn't a direction! Tell me how to get to the control room! Or I start breaking things!”
“It's over there!” The pony whimpered, nodding his head in a vague direction.
“Words! Use them!” Rainbow wrenched his leg, and he cried out with the other screaming pony she'd been hauling.
“Four halls down!” The pirate sobbed. “Last door on the right! Please don't—”
Wham! Rainbow knocked the pony's skull, rendering him unconscious at the very least. As she left the closet and picked up the lawpony, she looked back at the pirate. “You chose the pirate life. Yo-ho, motherbucker.
“Come on, girl, up you go.” Rainbow heaved the heavy pegasus back on her back, and made off down the hall, taking a right and following the knocked-out pony’s directions. The door at the end was unlabeled, and like all the others, made of metal. Now, who's hiding in there?
She slid the lawpony off her back, and flattened herself against the wall. Three, two, one, breach!
She grabbed the handle and flung the door open at the same time as her wings, ready to shoot anypony she found. Instead, she found nothing.
More accurately, she found a room devoid of ponies but lined with a row of control panels, each with an array of buttons and levers. Above the panels was a window overlooking the landing bay where the pirate airship sat idle. Below the ship were stacks upon stacks upon stacks of stolen goods, and probably every pirate in the base unloading more from the ship. At the other end of the room from her was another door, presumably a way to get to the bay. Opposite the windows were boxes of random supplies, possibly overflow from their raids.
“Okay, time for a plan.” Rainbow grabbed her charge by the legs and hauled her inside, then got to work tossing aside a few of the crates that were standing between her and the control panel. . “First, let's see which of the buttons are the shiniest.”
Rainbow looked over the panels, which, thankfully, had plenty of labels scrawled in marker. It was the giant lever on the left, though, that caught her attention, especially given that somepony had written “Main Door” next to it.
“Okay, that's step one. Now to find a distraction…” She turned around and started rummaging through the crates for anything useful. “Shovels, dish detergent, flares — those could be useful — some kind of gribble refiner, binoculars, rubber chickens — probably addressed to Pinkie Pie — a large amount of spaghetti… Dang. Not much that'll help.”
The unconscious mare coughed in her sleep, practically hacking, but she nonetheless remained in dreamland.
“Tell me about it,” Rainbow said, as if replying to the unconscious mare. “We're so close! They have carts down there. All that we need is a distraction. Then all I have to do is open the door and fly us out in the chaos.”
Rainbow tapped her chin. “What else is here? Anything else I can use in this hot box?”
She moved more boxes, scouring the room for any clues. Everything was just consumer goods. For whatever reason, they didn't keep big distraction bombs in the control room. All she uncovered was a vent grate.
“Wonderfully useless. I can't hide there with my ‘passenger,’ and it's the first place they'll look when they realize I’m gone. What am I— wait a minute.” Rainbow put a hoof to the grate, feeling the air flow. “That's why it was covered. It's taking air in for some reason. Might be why it's kinda hot in here. But if it's going in, where's it heading? Hmmm…”
Rainbow dove back into the boxes, finding the binoculars she saw earlier. She pointed them at the airship across the way, specifically at the large glass windows at the bridge. It took quite a few adjustments, but she found just the right angle to see a bit of a reflection in the glass. Below her was a large fan built into the wall, almost certainly blowing fresh air into the bay. “Betcha that's where the grate leads. Now, where were those flares?”
She tore open the packaging, pulling out a box of a dozen combustible sticks. “Ooooooh, smoke flares! Even better! Hang tight, girl. I know how we're getting out of here.”
Rainbow stacked as many boxes as she could on the opposite door from where she came, then picked all the flares up and stuffed them under a wing. Plan at the ready, she headed back out from where she came. She wandered nearly back to the prison, stopping one hall short. She picked out one flare, pulled the top, and tossed it down the hall. Red smoke bellowed and filled the hall, gobbling it up in seconds, making sight impossible.
Rainbow immediately pulled the top off another and dropped it at her hooves, followed by a dash back to the control room. At each hall, she tossed another down the way and one at the intersection. When she got back to the room, she noted that the little extra hall in the other direction had a left turn, likely giving access to the main bay. “Perfect!”
She tossed a flare in its direction, then jumped in the control room. “Time for a party.” She grabbed hold of one of the shovels she found in the boxes, and plowed the blade in between the grate and the floor, prying off the metal. Once the opening was big enough, she started popping flare after flare and tossing them down the hole.
It wasn't long before an alarm sounding was the only thing louder than panicking ponies.
“Time for the finale!” Rainbow pulled down on the main door lever, and machinery groaned to life over the sound of yet another klaxon. Siren lights kicked on, and the door started to move. “That's our cue!”
She sat down with her back to the lawpony and grabbed her legs, ready to pull her onto her back. But then, a shower of glass and fierce, deep power blasted her back, knocking her into a somersault. Her ears rang like she was in a church bell before she realized what the source of the noise was: something had exploded in the ship bay.
Half deaf and wobbling left and right, she stumbled to her feet and looked out the window that had been shattered into nothing. Smoke and flame burned in the far corner, where the machinery for the door had been. Raw rock was exposed where concrete had once been.
“There was a bomb in the gears… Must've gone off when they turned too far. Ugh, that hurt.” She could barely hear herself over the ringing and the commotion, but she could stand, so she could fly.
The main doors were open, even if only partially. It was enough for a pony with a cart, though it might never fully open or close again.
“Time for part two!” Rainbow pulled the lawpony onto her back, took a deep breath, and opened the door. The hall was solid with smoke, and the ex-Wonderbolt dove right in. She counted her steps, and turned left down the little hall. As predicted, ponies opened that door to check, found the hall filled with smoke, and doubled back to try another way, leaving her path wide open.
The pirates were so panicked, most were just flying out the door. Some were running into the opposite door, trying to get to the control room from the hall with slightly less smoke, only to find the door blocked.
She didn't even hide her footsteps down the clangy metal catwalk leading down the the bay floor. Nothing her hooves could do would overpower the noise, and the pirates weren't even paying enough attention to even notice that she was mid-escape. She had her heavy pegasus friend inside the back of a cart before any of them even called out to her.
“What are you doing!?”
Rainbow grabbed a box and tossed it at his head. “This!”
It hit square in his temple with a bone-breaking crunch, knocking him on his back.
She took the split second to toss the harness of the cart on her back and spread her wings, pushing power into them and lifting off. Pirates were skipping on their guns, and no fewer than a dozen pegasi attempted to flight and try to pursue.
“Amateurs.” Rainbow had breached through the main door in the time it took the pirates to take off, her precious cargo safe in back. Night was falling as she fled away from a blood-red sunset, and finally, the sky welcomed her home.
Bolts of white-hot death ripped through the air above her head, which she turned to find no fewer than five pirates following her.
She flapped her wings back, dropping a shockwave behind her and racing forward. The cart behind her groaned and whined under the strain, each of its parts rattling apart with every turn.
“Damn…” She banked and turned, though with the cart it was like flying in molasses.
Bits of wood went flying, and Rainbow turned back to see a corner of the cart gone, including the wheel. She was losing her pursuers, but they kept firing.
At this rate, I'll—
No wood exploded. There was no pain, and no bolts flew over her head. She dared not slow, but she did turn her head to see.
A formation of three pegasi dove in, striking down two of the pirates and entering into a dogfight with the rest. It wouldn't take long for her rescuers to win. Rainbow knew this, deep in her heart, for she recognized their uniforms.
“Dash!” A stallion dove in next to her, dragging a line of smoke behind him. He wore a Wonderbolt SAR uniform, had a dark blue mane, and Commander's bars.
“Soarin’? Soarin’!” Tears welled up in Rainbow's eyes instantly. “How'd you find me?”
“We’ve been searching for forever when Twilight issued new orders! She narrowed down where Farriér’s base could be hiding!” He pointed at the pony in the cart. “Who's she?”
“Prisoner of the pirates. They drugged her! We need to get her to Fort Earthborne!” Rainbow squinted at the high altitudes, finding the ambulance chariot diving in to meet them. “Can you get her in there? She's a heavy!”
“Consider it done!” Soarin’ landed in the cart just long enough to heft the unconscious mare into his forelegs, then took off for the ambulance.
Ponies there took her in, and Rainbow breathed a sigh of relief. She pushed off her harness, letting the cart fall to its death amidst the rock and sand below. Spreading her legs and wings, she rolled over and over, playing with gravity while tingles of euphoria ate away at her body.
“You too, Dash!” Soarin yelled, having returned without her even seeing him.
“What about me?” Dash asked.
Soarin gave her a stare. “In the ambulance. Now.”
Rainbow glared right back. “Like hell! I'm going to go back there and kick some flank! Then I'm going to go get Twilight, and we're going to kick all their flanks!”
“Not a request, Dash! It's an order!”
“Different divisions mean nothing. I'm the lead of an operation to rescue you, so I do have the say here! Get in the ambulance; you're going to Fort Earthborn.”
Rainbow felt kicked in the hocks. Soarin’ was right, and the euphoria she had drained away, leaving her ill and dizzy. She had the sky, and now, she had to go back in a little box.
Soarin’ inched closer. “Just for a bit. You're safe now. I promise.”
Rainbow sighed, and made for the ambulance. Two medics reached out to catch her, and she let them. It wasn't their fault, after all. They led her to one of the stretchers in the chariot, while the other was occupied by the screaming law pony
The unicorn was a brown-coated, tall stallion wearing military camouflage. He wasn't a Wonderbolt, but was likely borrowed from Fort Earthborne. His insignia was from General Stone’s division, and there was a red sun on his helmet – military for combat medic. He pointed a flashlight in her eyes, and pulled out a needle for an IV.
“You don't need to,” Rainbow said and she laid down. “I'm fine.”
“Standard procedure for rescues, especially in the desert. You're probably dehydrated like crazy at this point. Just relax, and pop the armor. You don't need it now.”
“Yeah… Saved my life, though.” Rainbow sighed and took off one of the pieces on her legs, and the IV went in. Cold water coursed through her veins, and pressure on her head eased. “Whoa. You put something in that?”
“Just cold saline. See? Dehydrated. Don't worry, though, you don't look too worse for wear. A meal, some rest, and you should be good as new for the inevitable debriefing. Though the doctors will have final say.” He pointed at the unconscious mare. “Any idea what they did to her?”
“Everfree Elixir, right in her vein. She needs a hospital.”
“She'll get it.” He pulled out a pre-packaged injector pen and pressed it into the lawpony’s leg. “Generalized anti-toxin potion. It'll keep her stable. You try to get some rest. We'll be back at base in a couple hours.”
Twilight munched away on the energy bar, hoping that it would live up to the promises of filling her up a little and keeping her going for a few hours. It was designed and used by the military for just that purpose — which meant it tasted like school glue mixed with raw oats. At the very least, however, the claims were more likely to not be simple marketing hyperbole.
She had passed on a full meal from the Officer’s Club — she had things to do, after all. Even if General Stone was supposed to be excellent at ground warfare, and far more experienced than her in such matters, that didn't mean she couldn't be there and stay informed.
She made her way through the blast doors and into the EOC, looking for the General. He was still there, coordinating between a dozen other ponies leading the search. Next to him, though, was a pony she hasn't expected to see yet.
Trixie Lulamoon wasted no time when she saw Twilight. She marched straight to her, and used a smooth confident trot.
“You've decided, then?” Twilight asked. “You still have time. There's no huge rush if you want to think about it more.”
Trixie shook her head. “There's nopony in this world I would trust my life with more. If I carry on, I'll either go crazy or be thrown to political wolves. If I leave, I risk another trap by the Illusionists, no matter what their so-called representative said.
“But if I stay? Then someday, I have a chance to be free.” Trixie took off her hat and laid it before her. “The irony of giving up my freedom to gain it later isn't lost on me, but nopony else deserves to be put in my position. And I'm confident that with you, I can make sure it never happens again.
“So, my life is yours. Take good care of it.” Trixie was about to throw an enormous weight off her shoulders, and she looked it. Moreover, her anger was still there. There, behind her eyes, was a fire desperate for oxygen.
“Alright then, let's do this.” Twilight pulled out her notebook, and summoned her magic. Violet power flowed in a river around both of them, caressing the book and flipping the pages like a gale. Ghosts of pages flittered up, little squares of light floating around them, building up a simple magic circle entrapping them both.
A second circle formed between them, this one vertical and filled with ornate flourish around the edges. Ponies had stopped their work to watch the lines fill in, some guessing at the meaning, others cheering.
Twilight touched her voice with power to fill the room. “Trixie Lulamoon, you have been charged by Harmony to take up the quests of the Grand Mage of Equestria. Are you ready to accept it?”
Trixie stood up straight. “I am.”
“Then kneel, and speak the pledge of the Evening Guard.” Twilight wrote the words on the circle between them, which were reflected on the ground for Trixie to see. Both circles spun faster, synced to each other perfectly. Then, Trixie bowed to the ground.
“I, Trixie Lulamoon, have heard the call of Harmony. I pledge my life to Grand Mage Twilight Sparkle, to take up her path, to protect her from our enemies, to shield her ponies from harm, and accept whatever may happen to me on this journey.
“I swear to follow the tenets of Harmony when I can, and to lead others to do so as well. I swear I shall use force only with wisdom and restraint, and only when I must.
“I swear to uphold the light of knowledge to banish darkness, of courage to banish fear, of will to banish weakness.
“I swear I shall do whatever I must to fulfill the promise Equestria holds.
“I swear all of this to you, Grand Mage Sparkle. My life, my will, is yours.”
The words in the circle faded, and silence fell across the EOC before new words appeared.
“Trixie Lulamoon,” Twilight said, standing over her friend. “I have heard and accept your pledge. In accordance with the tradition of the Evening Guard, I shall pledge to you in return.
“I shall lead you to the best of my ability, and help you to honor your promises. I shall shield you in kind as I can, and treat your commitment with the utmost of respect. You are my precious friend, and shall be treated as such.
“We march forward into the world together, stronger than either alone, more powerful than ever before.
“Rise, Specialist Lulamoon of the Evening Guard.” Twilight gave her a smile. “We have work to do.”
The small crowd cheered and applauded, stomping their hooves and flapping their wings. The wind blew away the magic in the air; with the spell complete, there was nothing to hold it together.
Trixie stood up amidst the calming cheers, shaking but proud. “What's our first order of business?”
“Find out how close we are to uncovering Farriér's hideout.” Twilight waved her over, and they walked to the table with General Stone. “Gentle colts?
Stone motioned to the map. An area in the shape of a crescent moon was shaded in over Firestorm Valley, with the thinnest area opposite the base. “We've got them surrounded, if they're there. In addition to the scouting teams, there are sentries placed all over, within sight of each other, and fire teams standing by to respond to any sightings.”
“And a giant hole on one end,” Trixie said, folding her forelegs. “What's to stop them from slipping by through that gap?”
“The Bellerophon, I'm guessing.” Twilight picked up a pencil and lightly traced a line from the edge of the map to the opening of the crescent. “Given the last position I saw for it, I'm betting that's where it's coming in. The General wants them to head for the gap — that's where they'll run into our most powerful asset.”
“Aye, ye get a bonnie mind there, lass.” Stone grabbed a large, triangle-shaped piece of paper and laid it on the map, with one point at the thickest end of the crescent. “That's not all, though.” Stone took another triangle and placed it on the map. “The Michaelides is taking position here, and is sweeping through with another scouting force. One way or another, they'll be come face to face with one or both of our largest warships.”
“Good. There's only one thing I'm worried about with this plan.” Twilight took out her pen and started chewing on the cap. “The enemy ship had a device that could render it invisible. What's to stop it from sneaking by that way?”
“The weather.” Stone pulled out a large blueprint and spread it out, revealing the design for an incredibly complicated machine. “I was only read intae thes project hours ago, but, th’ cloakin’ device is… something the military has bin working on fur ages. Every time we gave up, some hotshot wood come up tae us with ideas prancing aboot in their head, an’ we moved forward.
“The last fool tae dae that was Shifting Current, an’ he was supposed to be good. But he's been missing fur over ten years, and presumed deid. Somehaw this pirate got the darn thing working, but there's a limit tae how far it'll go.”
“The fire,” Twilight said, having digested the plans. “The fire magic reacts with the water magic the device uses. But nopony travels in Firestorm Valley, so they only had to use it outside of the worst of the flames. And actually…”
She picked up a nearby red pencil and started shading the search zone, stopping at the eastern edge to leave a specific area untouched. “The Valley’s effects wax and wane on a roughly fifty-year cycle. Usually. We're actually at a low point right now, so this area would be someplace the cloak could work, at least for a time.
“General, have the teams focus on the unshaded area of the map. Have the Bellerophon shoot incendiary shells with fire dust into the air. That could disrupt the cloak over a wide area.”
“Wait!” An earth pony soldier had trotted to them during Twilight's orders, and she was pressing a hoof on the speaker in her ear. “I'm getting a report. The base has been sighted, right…” She picked up a pencil and placed an X over a large butte in an unshaded region. “Here. There's a huge door built into the stone. The door is half open and spewing smoke. And…”
Twilight's heart pounded and leapt into her throat. We have them! I can save Rainbow and Rose!
The mare continued, “General Stone, I have a report of two ponies being rescued by a Wonderbolt SAR team. Captain Rainbow Dash and one other were seen fleeing the base after an explosion drew the attention of the team.”
Twilight's jaw just about hit the floor. Or, they could go rescue themselves before I even get a chance. Go Rainbow.
“You were the one to say to have faith in them,” Aurora said, giggling. “You were right.”
“It sounds like the Captain is dehydrated, tired, and hungry, but otherwise okay.” The mare started writing things down. “The other is a pink heavy pegasus, and is unconscious and drugged.”
Twilight's heart started pounding. “This base has an ER, right?”
“Aye. We'll get things ready for their arrival.” The General turned to a pair of lieutenants. “You, inf’rm the hospital we hae emergency incoming. And ye, have our forces close in as one. Tighten the noose, leave no chance of escape. Have the artillery deploy from the sootheast and northeast, and have th’ Black Berets make ready for a rescue operation deploying from the soothwest. If we can rescue all remaining civilians, we can freely destroy their ship an’ infrastructure an’, if necessary, pit them under siege them until they surrender.”
“You have everything in hoof, General.” Twilight picked up her things and turned for the exit. “I'm going to go make sure my friends are okay.”
“Rainbow!” Twilight sparked her horn and popped back into space and time next to her friend on the hospital bed. They weren't in a room, just an enormous tent sectioned off by curtains. That there was a real floor and not dirt was the ER’s signature luxury.
“Hey, Twilight. Bring me any food?” Rainbow chuckled with bag-laden eyes. Her wings were drooping and dirty, and there was an old cut on her head. She tapped the metal pole holding up her IV. “This just isn't all that filling.”
“Just sit back. I'll make sure they get you something.” Twilight exhaled, dropping several boulders of metaphorical weight off her back. “I'm just glad you're okay. Is Rose with you?”
“Rose?” Rainbow tilted her head.
“The reports said you came in with a heavy pegasus. Pink coat, cutie mark with a shield?”
“Oh! So that's her name.” Rainbow then looked like her train of thought hit an unceremonious barrier at the end of the rail. “How did you know that?”
“First things first. Where is she?”
“Next door. She's… She's calmed down a lot since they gave her medicine.” Rainbow shuddered. “I got the guy that injected her with the Elixir, but ancestors help her. I don't know what she was seeing, Twi, but she was screaming. Screaming like she was facing Discord’s black sire.”
Twilight pulled back the white curtain behind her, and there was Rose, sleeping like a baby. Whatever they had given her had worked, at least for the short term. Her legs, though, were still restrained with enchanted straps. Drool was leaking from her mouth, and there was a faint snore coming from her mouth.
Twilight grabbed a blanket and put it over the sleeping bounty hunter, then put the curtain back where it was. “After you and I got separated, we bumped into each other. She's a bounty hunter, and a local. She knew the desert and its ponies, and I needed a ride. So I hired her, and she wound up getting captured when Farriér launched a surprise attack on a mine we were investigating to try and track him down. He took several others...
“Speaking of, how many innocents were locked up there?” Twilight asked. “We have to save them.”
“None that can be saved, now.” Rainbow put her ears back. “After I got caught, I tried to get out, but couldn't. The doors were locked, and I got lost trying to find the control room. Killed a bunch of pirates, but they caught me. Farriér, I mean.
“Next thing I knew, I woke up in a jail cell in their base. They force-fed me Elixir. They didn't realize I had protection, and left me to trip. There were others, in other cells. They got sold off before I escaped.
“When I left, a bomb blew up the gears of the main door. I don't think the ship is going anywhere soon, so there's probably not any civilians in the line of fire anymore.”
Twilight blinked. “Hold up, reverse that. ‘A bomb blew up the gears of the main door.’ That implies you weren't the one to set it.”
“I wasn't.” Rainbow's eyes lost focus, looking at something in the past. “It's the weirdest thing. Just before I was ready to make my own break, a guy came up to me and let me go.”
“A guy?” Twilight got out her notebook. “Can you describe him?”
“Yeah.” Rainbow ran through the details, from his odd colors to his clothes. “I asked him why, and he said that his business with the pirates was ending, and that they were a loose end. Now that I think about it, he had hinted about the bomb, but I didn't get it until after the explosion knocked me on my plot.”
Twilight ground her teeth, and nearly snapped her pen in two. “Celestia damn it! I'm being used! Again! Just when I think I'm going to do something good with nopony pulling my strings, this comes along!”
Rainbow buried her muzzle into her pillow. “Sorry…”
“Not your fault, Dash. In fact, given what was recently stolen by the pirates, I'm willing to bet you met a member of the Majestics. They let you go so I would get mad and blow up the pirate base.
“In fact, I bet they don't care what I do with Farriér, so long as I stop him from operating against them. He knows what they want, so he can keep them from it. Without the piracy, they can get it through shell games instead. Or they're switching regions or something. Could be any number of things. I'd even be willing to bet a lot of money we won't find any evidence leading to them at that base, even if we take it intact.”
“So what do we do?” Rainbow sat up, tossing aside her blanket. “I'm itching for some payback.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow at her. “We aren't doing anything. You're going to stay here, rest, and follow the doctor's orders to a T.”
Rainbow opened her mouth to protest, but stopped and deflated instead. “I'm not going to convince you to let me come, am I?”
“Nope. Don't worry about me, Dash. I'm not alone in this one. The Bellerophon, the Michaelides, and the entire might of Fort Earthborne are going to descend on Farriér's head. I don't care if he has a couple hundred pirates; I'm bringing tens of thousands of ponies into this operation.”
“Heh. No kill like overkill.” Rainbow lay back down, and pulled the light blanket over her. “I guess I can let you have this one, then.”
Twilight felt a twinkle form in her eye. “Besides, I have the other combat-capable member of the Evening Guard here with me.”
Rainbow sat up a tad. “You're letting Spike fight?”
“Don't be silly!” Twilight opened up the curtain and stepped through, then added, “Specialist Lulamoon will be backing me up.”
Twilight closed the curtain.
Hehehe. Oh, if you could see me now, Tia!
“Status report?” Twilight walked into the bridge of the Michaelides, marking the first time in ages real carpet had touched her hooves. The warm lighting was positively luxurious compared to the rest of the Duchy.
“All initial assault forces are in position,” a mare at the communications station replied. “Princess Luna is assisting with teleportations; support personnel are being put in place now. Artillery pieces are ready to fire on command.”
“Captain...” Twilight took a place at the forward window to stare out at the night sky. The smoke behind her was giving way to starlight, but it wouldn't stay that way for long. “It's time. Let's bring it.”
“Battlestations!” With the single order from the stallion, the lights dimmed to red and a klaxon ground into the ears of every pony on the ship, followed by a broadcast from the comms mare.
“Red Alert! Battlestations! Battlestations! This is not a drill! All hooves to their posts! Battle stations!
The thunder of hooves storming to their designations overpowered even the alarm, though only for a moment. Everypony knew what was coming.
“Sir! The enemy base is within range!” a gunnery officer yelled. “Visual available with binoculars. Scouts report confirmed damage to the main door. The ship appears to… Wait…”
Bolts of fire filled the sky from the base of the butte, then exploded in a cacophony of magic. A few fizzled on the shields of the ship, and contrails zipped into being while pegs scattered.””
“Target zone is hot!” The comms mare flicked several switches on her panel. “I'm getting reports of trenches being uncovered! Pill boxes sighted!”
Twilight craned her head around to face the mare. “Signal the artillery. Deploy Sakura shells to cover our ground forces coming in from the west.”
“Aye! Artillery, come in! Request fire mission, deploy Sakura shells at planned target alpha!”
Seconds later, the shriek of shells pierced the air, and burst before impact on the ground. Pink blossoms burst from the warheads, raining down into the battlefield.
Twilight held her stomach to try and calm its butterflies. “Trixie, stay safe…”
“Let's move!” Trixie held her spell in her horn, its twisting giving her a migraine for the ages, all in the name of timing. The chariot under her was not pulled by a pegasus, but by an earth pony running on the bumpy, rock-covered ground. Though this part of the valley wasn't a pure inferno, smoke still leaked from the sediment and smoldered in her nose.
It didn't help that the large majority of light they had was coming from guns firing at them.
Bolts of yellow and red crackled through the air, not only at the pegasi supporting them, but at the ground, too. Two buttes near their target lit up like a Hearth’s Warming tree, spewing heavy fire that immediately hit three ponies, tearing through their shields.
Trixie didn't know if they were alive or dead, just that they were hit and flew back. Their armor wasn't as good as hers, but...
“Sakura shells, incoming!”
Trixie grabbed hold of her chariot as the bumps threatened to toss her overboard. The onslaught of ponies picked up speed, not daring to be too far behind when the shells hit.
Explosions popped in the sky, and each warhead burst into a pink, flat oval that slammed into the ground. They sunk in halfway with hundreds of THUDs, leaving the top halves exposed. The soldiers all rushed to them, including Trixie and her charioteer, who put their backs to them to hide.
The bolts from the enemy guns plinked off the translucent sakura, each a shed-sized shield for a small team.
“Trixie!” one soldier yelled, though she couldn't tell who. “We need that secret weapon of yours!”
“Then silence those guns!” Trixie’s heart stopped for an instant while a bolt slammed into the shield opposite her head. “I need uninterrupted line of sight!”
“Drop me here, Private!”
Trixie looked up at the pony that screamed those words, and found a maniacal looking stallion being carried by a pegasus at least a couple hoofball fields up. They were weaving between shots fired by the anti-air guns with practiced ease.
“You got it, Sir!”
“Look out below!” The stallion, definitely an earth pony, fell like an anvil into the ground.
The earth rocked and split open, cracking and grinding dirt and stone in a straight line towards the pillbox, only to stop short. A split second later, a dozen more earth ponies landed near the fault, triggering a focused earthquake.
“You're not going to hog all the fun this time, pea brain!” Another earth pony landed, and the ground under him exploded, launching him even higher into the sky than the other had been. The parabolic course sent him over the line of fire of the pillbox, and directly down on top of the butte.
He had put one hoof down first, and the side of the butte exploded. Dust and rocks filled the air, and a small landslide covered their path to the enemy base with solid stone. The pillbox fell with it all, crashing below into a heap of twisted metal. A shock wave followed suit a second later, heralding a shower of sparks from detonating cores.
“Empty night!” Trixie rubbed her head before coughing on the dust. “Earth ponies can do that?”
The mare that had been pulling Trixie's chariot pulled out a pair of gas masks and tossed one to her. “Nopony trains earth ponies like General Stone. We all have magic to help things grow and keep ourselves healthy, but most of us also have magic that can interact with the ground. We’ve been exploring the tactical side of that. We're at the forefront of what's possible with earth magic. Stuff even unicorns have a hard time with.”
“So I see…” Trixie put on the mask just in time for the stallion himself, General Stone, to run up to the group.
“What in blazes are ye doing? Why is that other pillbox still in one piece?” Stone reared up on his hind legs.
Uh-oh… Trixie ducked for cover, ready for yet more explosions.
He slammed both forehooves down, creating another earthquake that snaked to the other butte. Only a few other earth ponies landed to help him. That was all it took to make the line of cracked earth plunge into the stone under the pillbox, crumbling it all and bringing it down.
“With just one stomp? Wow…”
“Trixie!” ‘Smiles’ yelled. “You're clear! Do your thing!”
“R-right!” Trixie popped out from the sakura shield, and poured more power into her spell. She didn't even notice the pain anymore. “Pure light, illuminate my mind to this world!”
The spell fired, and an arm the size of several train cars appeared up from the ground and clawed at the dirt. A monster, nay, demon rose from nothing and roared, sending pebbles flying. Screaming could be heard on the opposite side of the rocks, and the soldiers ignored it, rushing in to mop up the pirates in the trenches.
“Now see, to me, that's impressive.” The chariot mare chuckled. “Looks freaking real from here, at least!”
Trixie let go of the spell and the illusion while her stomach started doing jumping jacks, a sure sign she was in danger of overextending herself. The demon faded, but its real damage had been done; the enemy line had been shattered by surprise. “I think I need some water.”
“Let's get you out of here. We—”
Two more explosions ripped through the valley, though these were softer than the huge plumes of dust would have suggested. They came from the enemy base, and were completely outdone by the sound of the base's main door breaking free and falling to the ground. A long, armored airship floated out before the dust even had a chance to think about settling.
“I did my part, Twilight.” Trixie hopped on her chariot. “Your turn!”
“Captain, they're making a run for it!” Twilight felt Aurora deploy even before she finished her words. They were safe behind shields, but the armor no doubt figured out what her plan was. “I've got to hit them now, before they cloak!”
“That may not be necessary.” The Captain straightened his hat. “Ensign, signal the Bellerophon!”
The enemy ship rose, floating into the sky while smoke and lightning danced around it. The cloak was ready, but so was the Bellerophon.
The hulking flagship of Equestria climbed up from behind its hiding post behind a nearby butte. Two batteries trained on the pirate vessel, then fired in blooms of yellow fury. Through the shields of the Michaelides, the explosions were naught but soft WHUDs, but were still enough to make the pirate vessel wince and list to the side.
Undaunted, it continued to cloak, covering itself in smoke and cloud.
“Sir, the Bellerophon is reporting!” The comms mare pressed her headphones to her ears. “They've secured grappling cables to the pirate airship and are reeling them in!”
A smile grew on Twilight’s face. “Ha! Now cloaking won't do them any good!”
Every second, the Bellerophon inched closer. The pirate ship pulled away as best it could, but it was caught like a fish on a hook, so it turned its guns on its captor. Red fireballs belched forth from all of its cannons, bathing the port side of the vessel in flames that licked at the Bellerophon’s shield.
Twilight paced and thought out loud. “If the Bellerophon fires on the pirate ship that close, the detonation could destroy both ships. The reverse is also true, though I don't they'll break through the shields anytime soon. So, why the suicidal action? Unless…”
Twilight jumped to her feet and wound up her cannonball spell. “Captain! Drop the shields so I can get through! Then launch boarding parties to silence their guns!”
“Grand Mage! You can't be—”
“Do it!” Twilight waited for the tell-tale shimmering by the window which signaled the shields dropping momentarily, then ripped through space and time. The silence of the bridge was destroyed by the unreal sounds of war. Guns fired in a nonstop roar of thunder, sending countless rounds of energy in every direction. Twilight’s shields shimmered, reacting to the power in the air. She charged her horn, readying her attack.
The pirate vessel fired on the Bellerophon with flame and shot, though it only crashed on hard shields. The Bellerophon returned the favor, though with a flood of lightning that, instead of striking in a bolt, washed over the ship in a wave, taking the hostile shields down with it.
Now! Twilight teleported again, zooming towards the enemy ship. She zigged left, aiming to its side, and her target appeared. Three pegasi flew out of the bay, doing the aerial equivalent of tip-hoofing out to not be spotted.
“Farriér!” Twilight yelled at the top of her lungs, slinging a hot, unfocused stream of magic from her horn.
Farriér pulled up, looping around the flames while a cloud of lightning covered his wings. The other two pegasi fell from the sky, leaving only the Captain.
Twilight launched herself once more, this time appearing behind Farriér as he tried to aim at her. She launched a hail of bolts, closing on the pegasus but missing with each shot as he danced around them with the ease of a master.
Tch. Twilight kicked in her cannonball spell again, ready to take him down from behind. Then she caught his eye. It was seething with cold confidence, devoid of mercy and respect. He meant to kill her, and he knew how to kill.
She teleported again, appearing away and to his side. As she did, lightning flooded out behind Farriér, looking like the Bellerophon’s ability in miniature.
“O god of the far north sea, cover this land in your ice!”
The voice was louder than the cannons on either ship, and crushed the entire battle for a single, solitary moment.
Admiral Silver Tempest stood on her ship, katana held high and encased in rime. Water exploded from its tip, covering the sky in a tsunami of power.
“Let’s bring it all to a close! Sekai no Owari!” Storm clouds formed instantly in its wake, birthing a thunderhead the San Palomino desert had likely not seen in a thousand years. Perhaps it was one never seen by most ponies, either, as this one opened up with not just rain, but snow. Most of what fell was snow, the kind that caked on things and froze into a sheet of ice.
It had all unfolded in a few seconds. What was once the hottest place in Equestria was now as cold as Stalliongrad. Snow fell from the sky, some crystals the size of dinner plates. Wherever the oversized flakes landed, they exploded into a tower of ice covered in frozen spikes.
In the wake of this, even Farriér's eyes changed. He eyed the Admiral with none of the contempt reserved for Twilight, then turned to fly.
Twilight's eyes went wide. That's it! She charged her horn and materialized a blade, firing one bolt and throwing the sword.
Farriér dodged the first as easy as the others, and then dodged the blade, only to have it explode next to him.
Twilight teleported to the surface of the pirate airship, standing atop it while Farriér crashed into it at other end. He jumped and flipped to his hooves, singed but alive and well. Only then did he look at her, and only then was there some glimmer of something new: respect.
“I do declare, Miss Sparkle, you're even luckier than I thought! That colorful one beat my guards and escaped to lead you straight to me. Though I admit, I've no idea where she got the bomb that kept me here.” He stroked his beard with a wicked grin. “Had she not done that, you'd never have caught me.”
Twilight pulled out two swords and held them low. “I had your base figured out before Rainbow even came back. It was easy, Farriér. Just leg work. But it was something I could do — ponies I could talk to — that the police couldn’t. Still, I doubt you had much time left. That’s why you implicated Cobb – you needed the team closest to finding you stalled.”
The stallion lifted his leg slightly. He may as well have let Twilight see his entire hand of cards.
Twilight looked down on him, even though he was taller. “You thought I wouldn't figure it out? Blathering that piece of ‘intel’ was just too convenient. And after that, those idiots you have around Badlands made it all too obvious what was going on, so uncovering Badlands’ weakness was a simple snoop job.”
“That's not the funny thing, though. You wanna know what that is?” Power flowed out Twilight's horn and into her blades, deepening their wells to a black fire. The smallest of cocky smiles upturned Twilight's lips. “Rainbow never set a bomb, you loser.”
Farriér blurred and snarled, slashing at Twilight's neck.
Twilight jumped in a backflip, dodging the electric wave as easily as he had dodged her bolts. Farriér blurred again, and Twilight smiled as she teleported away and up. She plunged down on Farriér's head, slashing with the fire of her blades. They carved into the hull of the ship, and she pulled them out to stand tall.
Farriér had used Passage again, and stood at the other end of the ship again. “You…” He huffed and panted. “You lie!”
“Nope!” Twilight stretched her neck. “Whoever you were working with, they're pretty clearly eager for me to clean your clock. Of course, that’s something for me to worry about later. Right now, I'm focused on you. So here's your last chance, Farrier!
“There's two generals, two airships, and thousands of soldiers all here, just for you! It's over, and there's no escape!” Twilight pointed a blade at him. “Surrender, or I will cut you down!”
The contemptful confidence returned, and Farriér spread his wings. Metal buzzed on his primaries, and magic coursed through the weapon. “No. No, I think you'll let me go.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “You've got to be kidding me. No way in Tartarus am I going to do that.”
“If you kill me, every one of my crew turns into a vegetable.”
Twilight's heart squeezed itself inside her chest. “The geas. It's so you can hold them hostage!”
“That's right!” Farriér licked his lips. “I can even trigger it without dying. The right thought from me, and their brains are soup.”
Twilight stared him in the eyes, listening to the battle rage around her. Snow landed on her nose, and she huffed to knock it free. “So, what you're saying is, if I kill you…” Power crackled in her blades as she raised one to the sky. She exhaled, and gave Farriér the same look he had her. Contempt. Confidence. Commitment to a path. It was all there. “If I kill you, this whole battle is over?”
Farriér's eyes widened in shock, and he lunged forward. Twilight followed suit, plowing into his advance.
Twilight’s telekinetic swords clashed with the bonded weapon in a shower of electricity and sparks, and Twilight pressed her attack. She leaned in, pushing forward and swinging her blades to cut whatever she could. She nicked him a few times, but barely drew blood. Yet she was pushing him back.
Lightning coursed through her leg as Farriér’s weapon hit her shoulder, grounding itself in the blimp. It burned and locked her leg down for a second, but she knocked him off with a shoulder to his chest.
“Profile confirmed. Resistance now at seventy-five percent and climbing rapidly.”
Farriér charged up, and his feathers buzzed with power.
“No you don't!” Twilight jumped at him, slicing upwards and cutting the rim of his hat in two. She brought another at his head, burning his eyelashes as he stumbled back. “What the buck is wrong with you? Parents not love you? Sore that your wings are good at turning and not speed?”
Farriér caught fire with hate, and screamed an unintelligible curse.
Twilight swung at his foreleg, and cut him just over his knee.
Farriér never stopped, he just rolled and jumped, flying over her head and landing on the other end of the zeppelin. “Hammer of Light!” The lightning of an entire storm engulfed him, swirling around him and turning night to day. “Electrical Apocalypse!”
He flared his wings, and the lightning cracked the air to its target with a metallic, venomous, demonic bite.
“Tch.” Twilight braced herself and held out a hoof. The power slammed into her, and her shields. The latter buckled and bent, but ultimately held, and all Farriér’s pathetic fury balled up in the frog of her hoof, contained there at her will. “Did you really think that would work again? Against me?”
Twilight lifted her hoof and the power she'd collected, just so she could finally see fear in those heartless eyes of his. Then, she brought it down, and sent his rage back to him. “Absolute Mirror!”
Power lashed back down along Twilight's foreleg, searing down her nerves, all while enough electricity to run Manehatten’s lights for a full ten seconds rose up like a snake before crashing into her target. Power washed over him for seconds, bathing him in lightning.
When it finally faded, Twilight was panting, and she was tasting blood. I bit my cheek, and I didn't even notice. The armour on her foreleg had areas where it was glowing and melted, though she could still feel it, so the nerves hadn't been destroyed. She took a step forward, and the twisted, melted plating wouldn't move right, giving her a limp.
“I'll be okay. Stay focused.”
Farriér was still standing, though barely. He was panting and nearly choking on his own tongue. Blood oozed from his forehead and wings, and much of his coat and mane had been burned away. His clothes were nowhere to be found, and Twilight could see his weapon’s core around a piece of armor on his chest.
So that's how he lived. His bonded artifact is a weapon and armor!
“Who… Who would have thought…” Farriér choked out, coughing up blood. “Some little girl like you could do that to me. I’d laugh, but my throat is a bit dry.”
Twilight limped a few steps to him, mindful to keep some distance, then pointed her sword at his head. “It's over, Farriér. No ship, no element of surprise, no hostages I'm not willing to risk. I've won. Surrender.”
Farriér coughed up a laugh. “Are you sure about that last part?”
The voice flash chilled Twilight's flesh down to her core. “Spike?” She turned her head to see Spike flying in, soaring under his own wings. “Spike, run!”
The gem on Farriér's chest crackled with life, and Farriér spread his wings. “I win, you little bitch! You're going to let me go, with your little friend, or I'll shoot him out of the sky!”
“Twilight!” Spike pulled something out from his pack, and threw it at her hooves.
She plucked it out of the air, spinning it around to point its tip to the sky.
The hilt was made of pure mythril, with a chain-link texture that seemed to pull in and hug her telekinetic grip. The guard was simple, and modeled after a scimitar's. Both were a simple silver color, and the blade was much smaller than she expected given the heft.
The core she'd given Blade Forge made up part of the blade, and half of it was covered in metal. Together, they formed a short sword, or perhaps a half-length rapier.
Twilight plunged the blade into the hull of the ship. In a flash of light, she vanished and reappeared in midair between Spike and Farriér. She watched as the pirate lashed out with electricity, then swatted it away like she would a fly. A second attack came, this one desperate and flailing with power in the shape of a skull, will and intent made physical.
Aurora’s gem glowed, and a diamond shield projected in front of her. It smashed into the skull of light like a fist, smothering the power out.
“Spike…” Twilight grabbed hold of her brother as gravity took hold. “What were you thinking?!”
Spike swallowed. “I thought that—”
She spun round and round, then let go, tossing him clear of the ship and the fight. “Get out of here, you moron!”
The gem in Farriér's artifact flickered and sputtered, trying for another attack.
Twilight cut through spacetime, appearing behind Farriér. “And as for you, you park ride reject!”
Farriér bucked out, and Twilight ducked, then punched between his legs. He winced and stumbled forward, spewing a tirade of sewage not fit for any company.
Twilight teleported again, this time in front of him. “I'm all out of last chances for you. You're too evil for this world. It's time you were removed.”
Farriér punched toward her, only for Twilight to dodge right and grab his leg. Power flowed from his weapon and wings, but refused to ground in her armor, falling to the ship instead.
Twilight delivered an uppercut that sent his light pegasus frame into the air, then backed up two steps. As her target fell, she lunged forward, striking blow after blow into his body, then bringing both forehooves down on his head so hard his body bounced back into the air after hitting the ship. She clenched her back muscles, summoning pegasus magic into her own jump, turning it into a backflip that sent her hind hooves into his jaw.
She lit her horn, and entered a teleport. She reappeared in the same place she was, but launching forward like a cannonball, plunging her hoof into his chest. Her fetlock felt a crunch of bone as his sternum broke, and she turned her body to pass him by. Then, she teleported again, sending her back the way she came to hit his backside. She teleported over and over, each time coming from a different angle, and breaking something new. After the seventh or eighth time, she appeared below him, and punched him into the air.
My ponies are fighting for their lives down below. Time to end this. Her horn reached out for her new blade, and pulled it from the ship’s armor. She brought it to Farriér's neck, and somehow, beyond all expectations, he managed to cross his wings in front of him to parry her.
Twilight’s horn shown as a new star, and she brought them both through a teleport, launching them together into the sky, followed by another and another to send them soaring into the storm clouds.
Farriér spit up some blood in a cough. “I'm not done yet. I won't let you—”
Twilight gripped her sword as tightly as she could. That was when it exploded.
Flames and fire spewed upwards in a volcano of violet power. The edges were the same translucent hue of her telekinesis, which became opaque further in. At the core was a black void filled with sparkles of astral power. Though the sword she had held was the same, the plume was five times taller than her.
Twilight swung it out, the arc of energy clashing with his bonded blade. She pushed him ever forward, ready to break through his defence, looking him dead in his eyes. Eyes that still spoke only of rage, hatred, and an intent to kill.
An idea entered her mind, and just like that, a portal opened behind Farriér, and Twilight watched as she herself emerged from it. Four more portals, two on each flank, opened up, and four more Twilights came from them. Six of her voices called out together as they wound up their attack, “Power etched into the laws of the cosmos, secret hidden in ages past, fill my blade to cut through time and space!”
They all screamed again as their blades came down, the name of an attack pulled from the very core of her being. It hit true, but to make it stick, Twilight had work to do. After all, just one attack from one of her was far less than what was obviously called for.
She summoned her power and memory as she fell, calculating the physics of Starswirl’s spell to travel back in time just a few seconds. She disappeared from the world, appearing to Farriér's right just before the others of her delivered their attacks. She brought the sword together with theirs, screaming as she did. She repeated the process five more times, finally appearing behind and above him for the finale.
She raised her sword behind her and pushed as much power into it as she could, and it drank from her wellspring like a stallion at a desert oasis. It didn't even reach for her horn, but took from her core directly.
In time with her previous selves, she dove in, screaming from the bottom of her soul, and brought the blade down on his head.
A violet, six pointed explosion of astral power tore a hole in reality, blasting away the storm and clearing the sky. Next to the moon, the Luminar Nova dominated, bathing the desert in purple light. Shockwaves blasted out in rings from the epicentre, setting off smaller, bright white explosions around the star as they formed violent eddies in spacetime.
Twilight came into a landing on the ground with all four hooves hitting at the same time, sliding on them until she came to a stop. She spun her sword a couple times, then sank it into the desert soil. “It is done.”
Pegasi were falling from the sky around her, and the pirate ship was listing to the side, its guns silent as the Luminar Nova faded. The sounds of battle around her faded away, settling into a silence that chilled her nerves far more than the unusual, cold air.
A shooting star fell out of the sky, burning with magic as it slammed into the ground. Farriér's bonded artifact, drained of magic and warped, landed next to her. Chunks of burned flesh were still attached, but turned to stone, then dust in front of her eyes. All that was left of Farriér was putrid smoke.
In seconds, the only remaining light was the moon and stars, both sparkling in the towers of ice around her. Spotlights under the Bellerophon turned on, and reports of “All Clear” sounded in her radio.
“Twilight!” Spike came in for a landing next to her, tripping and falling on the landing. He rose to his feet as if he meant to fall. “That was incredible! Are you okay?”
Twilight nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. And don't worry. I'll be back in a moment.”
Spike clutched his chest. “Are — are you going somewhere?”
“More like somewhen.” Light overtook her, thrusting her forward in time as Starswirl's spell ended, trying to align the fractured timeline. Her surroundings blinked as she was flung forward in time several moments, and she reappeared in the same location, though now with a dozen waiting soldiers surrounding her.
“Lady Sparkle!” One medic pony bowed. “Do you require assistance?”
“No, I'm fi—” Her legs turned to mush, and the ground under her rocked like the ocean while her head felt like it split open. She leaned on her sword, and her haunches spontaneously found soil. “On second thought, I might need a nap. That took a lot out of me.”
“Get a stretcher!” the medic yelled behind him, triggering a flurry of activity.
Twilight let herself flop on her back, looking up at the sky and the thousands of stars. In one spot, where she had launched her final attack, was a blue-green rip in the air beginning to pulse and swirl.
“Oh, great, a temporal rift.” Twilight yawned as she let sleep take her. “I really hope Luna knows how to take care of that…”