The next morning, the group of the remaining ponies arrived in a remote forest, northeast of Vanhoover and away from civilization. They were here for information about a certain sensitive topic that others definitely wouldn't have the knowledge of. But this pony more than likely did.
"Applejack, are you sure they would know about the thestrals?" Twilight asked worriedly as they made their way through some thick vines and roots. "I don't want to have came all the way out here for nothing."
"Well it's either her or some pony that definitely don't know nothin'. Besides, it's too late to oppose. We're already here." Applejack pointed at a shack out in a clearing. "Even if you did come out here for nothin', there ain't nothin' you can do about it now."
"Ugghhh fine," Twilight groaned. "Let's just do this already."
Rarity walked past Twilight and up to the mostly broken wooden door, knocking on it gently. A few seconds later, the door cracked open slightly, revealing narrowed purple eyes. Familiar purple eyes. "Can I help you?" A mare whispered.
"We need your help, Ms. Yearling," Twilight answered. "We know you're the right candidate for information."
"Depends on what you're looking for," she responded quietly through the crack. Then glanced around the area before commanding, "Come inside." The door opened wider, revealing A.K. Yearling and her messy home. They all filed in the building, before Daring shut the door behind her and locked it.
"Now....what do you need to know and why?" She asked while making her way over.
"Well," Rarity said, taking a seat. "We recently discovered a pony, a friend of ours, wasn't really a pony at all. She's a thestral." Daring's eyes popped open in interest before she took a seat in the chair across from them.
"Who was this pony?" She asked quickly.
The adventurer sighed and nodded her head. "That actually makes a lot of sense for her behavior."
"What behavior?" Twilight asked.
"Have you ever been with Rainbow Dash when there are Royal Guards around? She gets very skittish, running around and testing windows, holes, and making sure her wings work. Same thing with crowded areas."
"I'm a little afraid to ask...but why?" Fluttershy asked.
Daring sighed before beginning her tale. "I think this was a very good reason. Years ago, I was out in the Badlands, searching for diamonds and expensive rocks, trying to scrape up some money for food, water, you know...the necessities, when I see a giant cave at the top of a mountain. Thinking it to be a dragon's lair, I climb it, hoping to get some gold and more. I eventually made it to the entrance. But there was a sign there: 'Restricted Area, Do Not Enter'. Well, I'm an adventurer, So I do what I always do: Put myself in dangerous situations that seem very impossible for me to get out of, but somehow I do and it makes absolutely no sense.
"I enter the cave, going a little ways inside. I thought I was gonna get lost in there. But eventually I find my way through it. Soon, I come across one thestral....but they were headless." Twilight raised an eyebrow, her lips parting slightly. "I looked at the body before continuing on my journey. All thestrals live in the caves anyway, but there were more. I thought it was just that one. I saw four more, in a room, decaying. I keep going, hoping it wasn't what I thought it was. But sadly....it was. There was a door with a sign on it, I can't remember what it read at the moment, but it was pretty important.
"I opened the door and nearly puked. There was nothing but bodies......thestral bodies everywhere. I was in an atrium, apparently they lived something like the changelings. Going underground in a system of caves. It was a very large Atrium and I was on the top floor. I peek over the ledge and saw.......hundreds...of bodies."
The group gasped lightly. "And there was dried blood on the walls and ground. I ran around the whole Atrium, hoping to find something alive down there. It was eerily quiet. Nothing else goes into the mountains in the badlands except the Thestrals and Changelings. So imagine how quiet it was. There was no movement, no voices, no wind. Just.....silence.
"Eventually I came to the conclusion something killed these ponies. Something horrible. So I flew around hoping to find something there that could give me a clue as to who did it when I found something laying beside the body of a foal." Daring got up and went to a locker in the corner. After turning the lock and opening it, she pulled out a couple things.
"These are what I found." She took the items and laid them in front of the group, who crept closer to get a better view. One was a spear, another a crossbow, and another some type of pin. Seeing their confusion, Daring pointed at an item to explain.
"The one that looks like a pin was actually what soldiers use to put their armor together. Attach the chest plate to the shoulders, you know. But this pin is only used by one group of soldiers that we all know so well..."
"You don't mean," Twilight said, fearing the answer. Daring closed her eyes and nodded. She leaned down and picked up the pin, handing it to Twilight, who stared at it, gasping at the sun emblem embossed on it.
"These were from Princess Celestia's Royal Guard. I don't wanna believe it either, but...the Royal Guard, probably commanded by Princess Celestia herself, slaughtered the Thestrals. Oh!" Daring went back and into the locker, opened some type of box, and pulled out a sheet of paper. "This is what was on that door. 'Sector 195b - Lockdown Thestral Camp.' I also drew what I could." She turned the paper around, showing the group an emblem......of a sun. "This was at the bottom of the sign."
"Dash....Princess Anemone was telling the truth," Rarity whispered. "Equestria killed the Thestrals."
"I can't believe this," Applejack said, shaking her head. "How long ago was this?"
"I don't know, nearly a decade ago. But I arrived maybe a month after it happened," Daring said, putting the stuff back. "Somepony was actually having a party in one of those rooms in there. There was even a banner at the top that read 'Happy First Birthday, Amaryllis!' I cried that day in those caves. Some foal probably got their life taken after only being alive for a year."
"You mean Scootaloo," Twilight said, catching her attention. "The foal whose birthday it was was Scootaloo, Rainbow's actual sister."
"So they lived?" Twilight nodded. "Phew. Good, because that broke my heart reading that banner."
"Thank you so much, Daring," Twilight responded as she stood up with the others. "This will help us on this mystery."
"You're welcome. But word of advice."
Daring walked over and gave Twilight the most serious look she could manage. "Don't go back to Celestia. There's no telling what she'll do. If she could slaughter hundreds of Thestrals, she'll kill one pony just for finding out. Tread lightly, Princess Twilight Sparkle."
The Crystal Empire was abundant with life. Crystal ponies and regular ponies moving about getting things done in the wondrous sunshine piercing through the snow, thanks to the Crystal Heart. Some were buying groceries, others to ponies in the colorful streets, and one Thestral moving out of sight by jumping from one dark area to another, goal to reach the abandoned structure Anemone's sister was camping out in.
"Amaryllis," Dash whispered, crawling through the hole inside leading to the basement. "I've brought food. Mostly fruit."
Amaryllis jumped off of a beam on the ceiling and landed in front of her sister, who cocked her head to the side in realization. "Uhhh....what were you doing on the ceiling?"
"Hanging upside down!" Amaryllis replied happily. "It's fun actually! You should try it." Anemone dropped the bag of food on the floor, letting her sister dig in before looking up at the high beam. There were multiple ones up there.
Anemone squinted then looked back down and asked tiredly, "Why would I do that?"
"Because it actually helps you go to sleep and be more alert. That's what I felt."
"I'll do it after we eat, ok?" Anemone rubbed her little sister's mane before tipping the bag over, revealing apples, oranges, peaches, and more. "Dig in."
Princess Cadance and Shining Armor were trotting their way through the city that same morning, talking about this and that while pushing Flurry Heart in a stroller.
"So Twilight thinks we should all meet up again since we haven't done so in a while," Shining informed his wife. "I think we should too. I miss Twily. What about you?"
"Well I agree we haven't actually seen each other in a while. Maybe we should....." Cadance stopped talking and walking. Then gazed around, feeling a sense of strange magic. Shining Armor continued walking before he stopped and faced her.
"What is it?" He asked.
"I feel something.......strange. It's magic, but...I've never felt it before. It's...alien."
Shining looked around in suspicion. "Dark magic?"
Cadance shook her head. "No, not dark magic but.....it's coming from that abandoned building," she replied pointing her head towards a building that was boarded up.
"I'll go check it out," Shining said, pushing the stroller towards Cadance before walking over to the source. When he was near the windows he felt it. It wasn't dark and definitely not light. It was just.....weird.
Walking inside, he took quiet steps, making sure not to be heard until he started hearing voices.
"It's really better to sleep this way, sis! We get more sleep in!" Shining listened closely. Sounded like a filly.
"I guess so." The captain's eyes snapped open. He'd recognize that voice anywhere! Rainbow Dash! "Can we eat like this though? Try it." A bit of that magic rolled through his body before it stopped and the sound of crunching was heard. He stopped beside an open doorway where the voices were coming from and listened in.
"Well the juice drips down my face, but other than that, yeah."
"Good. We'll need food and sleep if we're gonna keep running." Running, Shining thought. Running from what?
"Do you think Twilight told anyone?" One of the ponies flapped something before there was a metallic creak and a response.
"If she, or the others did, we'll have to leave Equestria...or I'll fight Celestia if she comes."
"Do you feel that?" Cadance asked loudly, spooking everybody in the house. Shining jumped while Anemone pulled Amaryllis off of the beam, flattening themselves against the wall by the door.
"Well I was listening in until you spoke," Shining whispered back to her. "Now they're silent."
"There are ponies in there?!" She yelled out, trotting inside the building with Flurry Heart on her back.
"Rainbow Dash and somepony else."
"Okay. Rainbow Dash?" She called out, walking towards the hole. "I'm coming—"
"Don't you dare come in!" Anemone yelled, her sister covered under her wing. Cadance stepped back. Why was she so hostile?
"Are you okay?" No answer. "Do you need help?"
"No! Go away!"
"Rainbow, it's not safe being inside an abandoned building."
"Just go, and leave us alone!" Cadance stepped back again, feeling a rush of that weird magic again.
"Rainbow, we just wanna help," Shining said, attempting to walk through the hole.
"Stay away! You're one of them!" Amaryllis hissed.
"I got this, Amaryllis," Anemone said.
"Rainbow please, we just want to—"
"Go. Away. Now." Cadance and Shining looked at each other before turning around and walking away.
"We gotta speak to Twilight," Shining suggested once they were far enough away. "She mentioned Twilight telling people something and that she'll fight Celestia if it comes to that point." The ponies made their way back to the castle, soon walking into the throne room where Cadance picked up a letter and started writing down everything she heard in the building before sending it through a spark of magic she created.
"Now we wait."
The group of five ponies and one dragon was seated at the cutie map, trying to find traces of Anemone and Scootaloo. Twilight sent out her magic three times, not receiving any clue of the two of them.
"It's like they disappeared from Equestria!" Twilight yelled in disbelief, propping up her head on the table. Suddenly, the doors opened up revealing Starlight Glimmer and Trixie.
"Where have you guys been?" Twilight asked incredulously. "We're in a crisis here!"
"Uhhh...Crystal Empire," Trixie answered, boasting. "The great and powerful Trixie has been doing a lot of shows for multiple cities and Starlight has assisted!"
"Yep, she's getting better too," Starlight confirmed happily, walking towards the table. Her expression quickly changed to seriousness. "Now what's the crisis?"
"Ah yes, Trixie has noticed the Pegasus is—"
"She's not a Pegasus, Trixie," Rarity said. "She's a Thestral."
The two of them just looked at each other before Trixie snickered, covering her mouth with her hoof.
"You're joking right?" Before anyone could respond, Spike began to puff his cheeks out and make noises. He belched, revealing a scroll that Twilight grabbed in her magic.
She rolled it open, reading it out loud. "'Dear Twilight Sparkle. I am contacting you about a strange situation here in the Crystal Empire. Today, your brother and I went out for a walk with Flurry Heart when I felt strange magic coming from an abandoned building. Shining Armor went to investigate to discover Rainbow Dash and some filly inside. We tried to get them to come out only for her to respond with hostility. It was also heard of a possible altercation with Princess Celestia in the future which has me worried.
"'If you can, please come to the Crystal Empire as soon as possible. I have not informed Celestia as of yet. I do not want to alarm her if this is not as big as it seems. Your fellow Princess, family, and friend. Princess Cadance.'"
The others looked towards Twilight to see her rubbing her forehead. "We're going. I have a feeling this is going to get ugly. You two are coming with us."
"Twiiiliiight," Trixie groaned. "We just returned from there!"
"Well you're going back. Alright, everypony, we can either take the train or go through teleportation. It'll tire me out immensely, but I'm not leaving Rainbow and Scootaloo up there in danger and we're running out of time."
"I prefer a much more safer way," Applejack said. "But you're right....we're runnin' out of time. Teleport."
"Alright, looks like we're teleporting. Let's do this. Spike? Let Cadance know we're on our way. Make sure they do not approach Rainbow."
Shining and Cadance were busy fawning over and feeding Flurry Heart, listening to her giggle, and watching her throw food around in the kitchen with her magic before a string of magic slipped into the room, swirling together to form a scroll.
"What's it say?" Shining asked as Flurry threw some mashed peas at his horn. "You, little filly, are really difficult." Flurry gave a giggle and flapped her wings a little in response while her mother grabbed the message.
Cadance opened the scroll and read it. "Twilight's coming over immediately. She says not to bother Anemone, especially you because you're the captain of the Royal Guard. She'll attack on sight."
"I don't know, but I want to know what's going on." A few minutes later, the front door of the castle opened up, catching their attention. Shining Armor stood up to investigate the hallway and poked his head out the kitchen door, seeing the group from Ponyville walk in with Applejack carrying Twilight on her back.
"Alright so what's going?" He asked, walking over, raising an eyebrow at Twilight slumped over. "What happened to her?"
"We teleported over here. Don't scold her, no time for that," Rarity said.
"Where's......Rainbow?" Twilight asked breathlessly.
"If she's still there, then the abandoned home," Cadance quickly answered, Flurry Heart on her back. "I'll take you there." The group followed Cadance out of the castle and down a street before Cadance began asking questions. "So why exactly is Rainbow living in an abandoned building?"
"She's hidin'," Applejack responded as they neared the location. "Outta fear."
"Why'd you call her Anemone?" They didn't answer. Instead, they stopped in front of the abandoned home, looking inside. Twilight twitched, feeling a rush of Anemone's magic before turning around.
"Have your magic ready," she ordered. "She's very alert and tense right now. She could respond violently."
Shining and Cadance shared a glance before Twilight walked inside with the others following. They stopped at the hole, where Twilight could feel more of that magic and sat down beside the doorway before speaking.
"Anemone? It's Twilight," she greeted slowly. "Sadly, you were right. We spoke with Daring Do since she's an adventurer and...she saw the aftermath." A scuffle and a whisper was heard before footsteps trotted slowly towards the door.
"Was there anyone left? There has to be someone left!" Anemone cried desperately. Twilight sighed sadly before looking at her hooves.
"I'm sorry but....there was nothing but decaying bodies." Cadance and Shining's eyes widened. What bodies?
"So...me and Amaryllis really are the last ones," she responded, sitting down by the wall. Amaryllis walked up to her, rubbing against her side as she tried to bring her comfort.
"It's okay," she cooed. "We'll have to start a new life...again...but it won't be so bad as long as we have each other, right?" Anemone looked down and smiled at her sister. Then lifted her hoof and scuffled her mane.
"We're two princesses without a kingdom...having to start a new life around the ones who killed our kind, leaving us the only ones alive is no way to live. No way at all. But I'll try for you, ok?"
Amaryllis grinned before Anemone looked towards the doorway again. "I'm guessing she saw the birthday party in progress before all the bodies?"
"It read 'Happy Birthday Amaryllis,'" Twilight quietly confirmed, keeping her eyes to the floor.
"She must've went through the whole site. That room was in the very back. How many of us were.....piled up?"
"What are you ladies talking about?" Cadance asked timidly. "Dash, why won't you come out?"
"Because you have a Royal Guard with you," she responded. "I will not reveal myself unless he leaves."
"End of discussion!" She stated with a stomp of her hoof, sending out a pulse of magic that everyone felt. Cadance sighed, then turned back to Shining and nodded. Reluctantly, he groaned before walking out of the building, sitting next to the wall. Once out of sight, Cadance turned back to the door.
"He's gone and waiting outside." Anemone sighed before bending low, allowing her sister to crawl over her head and on her back before she tentatively took a step forward, the creaking floor capturing Starlight, Trixie, and Cadance's interest. Anemone walked out, revealing her bat wings and slitted eyes before turning her head to the left at everyone else standing but Twilight sitting by the hole. But her little sister waved her way eagerly.
"Hey, Twilight!" Amaryllis greeted happily.
"Hey, Scootaloo!" Twilight stood up and nuzzled the little thestral on her sister's back before turning to Anemone with a sorrowful expression. "I really am sorry, Anemone. There was also evidence to your claims. A spear, a crossbow, and a pin for a soldier's chest plate...beside the body of a foal."
Rainbow narrowed her eyes before yelling and striking out at the wall next to her, creating a hole and spooking everyone watching.
"Despicable!" She yelled, removing hoof from the wall and slamming it down, creating a pulse of weird magic. "Utterly despicable! That Alicorn had no mercy! NONE!" Anemone looked back at the group, finally noticing Trixie and Starlight. "When'd Starlight and Trixie get here?"
The two looked at each other before focusing back on the thestral. "Rainbow, we've—"
"That is not my name!" She yelled, punctuating her sentence with a powerful stomp of her hoof.
"They don't know your name, sis!" Amaryllis clarified from her back. She jumped off, catching their attention and slowly walked forward.
Starlight gasped, then pointed at her and yelled, "Wait....I recognize you! You're one of those crusaders!"
"Scootaloo," she said. "I'm Princess Amaryllis of the...thestrals."
"One of the last two," Rainbow added, stepping forward. "Out of the four hundred to five hundred thestrals, there are only two left, her and I. Thanks to you despicable ponies' Princess of the Sun."
"What?! What are you talking about?" Cadance asked. "What did Celestia do?"
"She slaughtered a cave full of Thestrals," Anemone said sadly turning to face her. "A whole colony. Leaving them to rot. But for what? Nopony knows. It was my sister's birthday. Her FIRST birthday and Celestia came in, killing mothers and fathers, aunts, uncles, nephews, and friends. Not to mention...foals. Fillies and colts. An explosion sounded off at the front when the Royal Guard rushed in and slaughtered everyone. I remember all of it.
"We grabbed my sister and then ran, making it to the entrance. We flew away, briefly pursued by Celestia herself when father gave his life to protect us. We hid in Ponyville. Disguised and under different aliases until it was time to leave again. Now we're on the run, ducking Celestia and her ties."
"No way! It couldn't have been—" Cadance was cutoff from a flash of light at the building's entrance as well as a familiar voice.
"Twilight." Everyone turned towards the doorway while Anemone gasped and grab Amaryllis, placing her on her back.
"Are you alright?" Celestia asked, trotting forward. "I felt a very powerful surge of your magic earlier and......" She stopped suddenly, her eyes widening in surprise, as well as... turning red. "A thestral." Everyone backed away from the scene, sensing a tense atmosphere. "A thestral?! You're supposed to be gone!" Anemone didn't respond, holding her ground in a defensive stance and staring daggers at the princess. Celestia scoffed before lighting her horn before Anemone dart forward using the speed she was so commonly known for, butting the princess out of the door with her head.
She slid out onto the sidewalk, spooking some ponies walking by before a sudden blast knocked her back again. Everyone watched as Anemone stalked out, leaving Amaryllis with Twilight.
"I knew there was another that escaped!" The princess said as she righted herself, circling like the thestral.
"Why'd you do it?!" Anemone yelled. Why did you destroy an entire—" A blast knocked her back, sending her skidding across the ground.
"Silence, you worm!" Celestia yelled out. "Your kind has taunted Equestria for years!"
"That gave you no right to disrupt the lives of hundreds!" Rainbow retorted, shooting forward and bucking Celestia in the face. The princess grabbed Anemone's rear hoof, throwing and slamming her back into a nearby building before running towards her, pointing her horn. Anemone rose up on her rear hooves and gathered her magic in her hooves. Then slammed down on the concrete, sending out a very strong pulse through the ground, causing Celestia and anyone around to fall.
Finding a great opportunity, Anemone zipped towards the princess and stomped her in the gut. Celestia grimaced before she flipped her over, with Anemone on her back and Celestia towering above, pointing her horn at her head. Anemone gasped before dodging her head to the side, letting the horn miss her and hit the concrete. Again and again, she kept missing, before getting a slash in across her cheek, causing Anemone to cry out in pain.
"Princess Celestia! Stop!" Twilight yelled to her. Anemone flipped her over before flying up far then back down again, nearly doing her rainboom before impacting the ground where Celestia was a second ago, creating a shockwave that rocked the whole city.
They all ducked for cover as debris from the crater began to rain down on them. A sudden blast made everyone look up to Anemone flying back into a nearby stand. Then ducked right when Celestia drove her horn into where her neck was a second ago.
"Stop! Stop this right now!" Cadance yelled, a futile effort since they continued with their battle. Anemone raised a hoof, firing a bolt of magic at Celestia that pierced her side.
"You will pay for the massacre of our colony!" She yelled, running straight at Celestia who teleported right when Anemone lunged out. Confused, Anemone looked around and got bucked in the face, rolling a few feet away to a skidding stop. While attempting to stand, Celestia charged up a large bolt of magic and fired it at her down body, who looked up just in time for it to hit, the sound of the blast resonating across the city.
"NOOOO!" The group screamed, running over to the scene and past Celestia to the wounded thestral.
"Anemone!" Amaryllis screamed in horror. Anemone's body was thrown a few feet away, smoking. In horror, Amaryllis jumped off Twilight's back and ran across the destructive scene to her sister. She nudged her face, trying to get her to wake up while Twilight performed a scanning spell on her. "Come on, wake up! Wake up!"
"She's still alive!" Twilight declared. "But she needs—" Amaryllis and Anemone screamed when she and her sister were hefted into the air. Everyone turned around towards Celestia breathing heavily, her eyes red.
"Apparently you can defy death.....but can you defy banishment?" She turned towards the direction of the castle bringing the two of them with her as she ran across the street.
"Put us down! Put us Down!" Amaryllis yelled, flailing her hooves and flapping her wings.
"Princess Celestia! What in Equestrian name are you doing?!" Cadance yelled, trying to catch up to her, seeing it as a futile effort. Celestia had long legs. She burst through the doors and into the Castle, followed closely by Twilight who knew her intentions.
"Don't do this, Celestia!" She yelled, watching as she passed the throne room, heading towards a specific room. One they were all familiar with. The others caught up with Twilight, trying their hardest to get to the Princess and stop her before she made a huge mistake.
Celestia ran into another room, where a mirror was placed at the far end. "Equestria is no place for beings like you!" She yelled.
"NOOOOO!" Everyone yelled as Celestia slid to a stop and swung her horn towards the mirror sending both ponies through the portal.
"And you shall never return!" Celestia lit her horn and fired a bolt at the mirror which glowed a very bright blue before it shattered into tiny pieces. Right when the others tackled her to the ground.