Magisight: Thaumaturgical Ocularity

by PsychicKid

Chapter 25: From Cloudborne Cacophony

The ruins of the Cloudsbane lay before Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash. Spires of hardened cloud matter pierced the sky, eclipsing what little sunlight streamed through the steadily swirling darkness overhead. The air was surprisingly still. Even as dull flashes of lightning arced through the cloud walls around them, the booms of distant thunder were muted. Twilight took a few careful steps forward and peered over the edge of the cloud platform.

“I…” Twilight’s voice cracked as words failed her.

Rainbow joined Twilight, her jaw dropping in awe. “What in Equestria happened here?” Rainbow asked to nopony in particular. She tensed up as she looked across the ruins.

“Well,” Twilight bit her lip, closing her eyes to recall. “It was abandoned over three hundred years ago. If nopony has been here since then—” A loud rumble stole their attention as a nearby structure finally gave way to the ravages of time and imploded. Dust and broken cloud debris mushroomed into the sky, spreading out along the ground and covering the smaller buildings. Flashes of discharged magic lit up within the rubble.

No, something else had to have happened here, Twilight thought. This damage is beyond just time.

“Where do we even start?” Rainbow said, idly kicking at a tuft of cloud. “This place is huge!”

Twilight sharply took a breath. “Our plan hasn’t changed. We find the weather factory, see what’s wrong, and fix it if we can,” she said resolutely. She gulped, feeling her nervousness—or was it excitement?—building within as she took in the ruined skyscape. “There’s something I want to try first. I think it might help if we…” Her voice trailed off as she focused her senses inward. She took slow, steady breaths to loosen her body and pressed her hooves into the cloud. She summoned probes of magic, sending them skimming through the puffy surface. As her awareness spread, she suddenly felt resistance. Her magic refused to travel more than a few feet from her. Of course, she thought, it’s incompatible. Pegasus magic interferes with earth pony magic… I’ll have to write about this.

Twilight recalled her magic and shook her head, sighing with disappointment.

“Uh, Twi, you okay?” Rainbow asked. “You kinda zoned out for a second there.”

“I’m fine. It was a long shot, but I was just testing something,” Twilight said with a frown. “I had a feeling that using earth pony magic on a cloud would possibly give us some insight into what happened.” She shook her head. “But it didn’t work.” A moment passed as Twilight looked over the city. An idea suddenly struck her.

“Wait,” she said sharply under her breath, “the clouds at Sweet Apple Acres.” She gazed into the middle distance as she recalled how she and the other pegasi battled the storm cloud. Some of my energy was infused with earth pony magic. There must be a connection..

Rainbow rolled her eyes and groaned as she hovered above Twilight, her wings itching to fly. “Come on, we’re wasting time!” she protested.

“Just one more try, then we’ll look for the factory from above. I think I have another idea.” Twilight said. She closed her eyes to focus—this time feeling the pegasus energy flow from her wings—and a swirling mixture of pegasus and earth pony aether cascaded from her hooves into the clouds. The pegasus energy crackled along the cloud surface, warping its subaetheric structure and carving a path for the earth pony aether to tunnel through. It took longer than using the same magic on the ground, but Twilight made steady progress as her magic flowed from their platform down into the city. She swayed gently, forward and back as she breathed, tendrils of magic worming through destroyed homes and businesses. Twilight thought she heard Rainbow ask something, but the muffled voice faded into nothing.

There was nothing else. No plant life, no animal life, and certainly no pony life. Most of the magic probes remained a neutral tan-brown, with only a scant few becoming light blue showing leaking moisture scattered throughout the clouds. Twilight tried to force her consciousness along these paths to better understand the city’s layout, but a familiar resistance kept her tethered to her physical form. She could feel the reluctance between the different types of magic, preventing them from fully mixing on an aethereal level. As she crossed the threshold into some ruined homes, the connection was suddenly severed and she snapped back to her physical senses.

Twilight took a moment to recompose herself. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t—” she panted.

“I dunno what you’re trying to do, but we need to hurry!” Rainbow grumbled. She took off toward the city without waiting for a response.

“Sorry,” Twilight muttered, her voice cracked as her spirits fell. She dove from the platform, catching up to Rainbow. “I was trying to sense if there were any signs of life here… but I didn’t find anything. No ponies, no vegetation; nothing.”

“So what does that mean for us?” Rainbow said, slowing to fly side-by-side with her friend.

Twilight shook her head. “It’s complicated, but earth ponies can sense other living creatures through the land. Adapting that to clouds is…” Twilight paused, hung up on her words. “Difficult. Difficult but not impossible. I think we’re completely alone up here.”

Rainbow looked around, a sense of unease welling in her stomach as she took in the abandoned metropolis. She grimaced, catching sight of what looked like a large sports arena—or what used to be one, anyway. The entire side facing them had caved in, revealing the bleachers on the opposite side. “You don’t think something bad happened here, do you?” Rainbow asked nervously. “Like...a really bad accident at the factory?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said, shaking her head slowly. “I honestly don’t know. It happened so long ago, and everything is so decayed I can’t tell if…” Twilight bit her lip, a chill running up her spine. “If they were able to leave at all.”

They drifted past an ornate tower rising nearly to their level. Entire pieces of it were missing, the hardened-cloud nature of the rubble turning to vapor long ago. A broken walkway projected from one side, heading toward a nearby tower before terminating in mid-air. Peeking through what used to be a window, Twilight saw what looked to be a small bedroom. The remnants of furniture—including a rotten bed and a smashed bookcase—lay among scattered papers, torn books, and other debris. “There’s so much history here that’s been lost…” she whispered, feeling a tear roll down her cheek. She glanced around and felt a pang of loss in her chest. Many of the surrounding buildings seemed to be large homes, a few smaller residential towers punctuating the surroundings. Hundreds must have lived in this place long ago, all reduced to nothing. An indistinct yell from Rainbow broke her attention, and she flew away from the destroyed tower.

“C’mon, Twi!” Rainbow shouted. “I think I see it up ahead!” Twilight flew next to Rainbow and squinted to look into the distance. At the end of the main skyway loomed a massive structure, dominating the skyline and blocking out a good amount of sunlight.

Twilight slouched as she hovered, taking in the awesome sight. “It’s enormous, she breathed.

“Yeah, I know,” Rainbow said, her voice wavering ever so slightly. “Like, I knew Cloudsdale was big, but this is just ridiculous!” She glanced at Twilight, nudging her as she flew on. “Let’s go. If there’s anypony who can figure this out, it’s you.” A broad grin spread over her face as her natural bravado took over. Twilight couldn’t help but smile back, and they continued deeper into the city.

As they flew, passing by more ruined structures and evidence of disaster, Twilight felt her heart sink lower. This city—Cloudsbane, or whatever it once was—really wasn’t unlike Cloudsdale, even reminding her of Canterlot at times. They were clearly approaching some kind of commercial sector, maybe even the downtown district. The closer they got to the factory, the more dilapidated their surroundings became. Buildings steadily went from merely crumbling to having been completely demolished, only the bronzed support structures remaining as evidence of their existence. It became impossible to discern what some of them used to be. The entire front facade of the factory looked like it had blown outward, with gigantic pieces of the structure carving giant swathes out of the clouds below.

“This place is totally trashed,” Rainbow said, hovering with awe as the destroyed factory loomed above. The skyway they had been following split at an intersection right in front of the factory. Flashes of light flared randomly within the walls.

“There’s clearly some kind of activity coming from inside, even if nopony’s here.” Twilight said as she landed on street level before the factory. Smashed carts and other vehicles littered the area, whatever contents they were carrying long since worn away by time. Everything else around her had been completely levelled, merely the outlines of their foundations peeking through the cloud surface. Something horrible happened here… “Dash, what could have done this?” Twilight said quietly as Rainbow landed next to her.

“Looks like wind damage,” Rainbow replied, “I think.” There was a pregnant pause until she spoke again. “You don’t think this could happen to Ponyville, do you?”

No, this isn’t just wind damage. But… Twilight shook her head. “If we don’t stop the rampant weather, then who knows what will happen. First, we need to—” A sudden explosion tore through the air, rattling nearby buildings. Twilight looked up toward the source. Arcs of pegasus magic sped violently through the air, penetrating the storm surrounding the city. “It’s coming from the factory!”

Twilight!” Rainbow shouted. “More important things to worry about!” She grabbed Twilight and spun her around. A nearby building had collapsed inward, a wall of debris rolling toward them.

“Inside, now!” Twilight yelled, taking hold of Rainbow and disappearing in a flash of teleportation magic. They reappeared inside the factory, in what she guessed was the main lobby. The large gap in the wall left them exposed, and Twilight quickly threw up a shield to fill the holes. Her lavender patchwork illuminated the dull grey walls. Smoke rumbled against the building, flowing upward and away.

“I can’t keep this up for long,” Twilight grunted. Her horn flared as she focused stabilization magic into the shield. “Can you find a way out of here?”

Rainbow quickly glanced about. The remnants of a receptionist desk—or at least the outline where one once stood—took up the rear of the room. A set of sturdy-looking double doors remained standing on the far wall. “In here!” Rainbow bolted for the doors.

Twilight galloped after Rainbow as she flung them open and dove through. “Come on, let’s hurry,” Twilight said frantically, her horn’s aura starting to flicker with the effort. “I can keep the shield up for a little while, but it’s harder the further we run.”

The hallway rocked violently as a deafening thoom sounded behind them, causing overhead lighting to flicker with random bursts of electricity. Twilight held her head between her hooves, feeling the force of the debris pounding against her shield. If the shield falls, we’ll get buried in here. She inhaled sharply and focused intently on the spell, her horn growing warm as the flow of magic intensified. The cacophony faded into nothingness as Twilight’s perception suddenly fractured.

She felt weightless; detached from her body. Twilight found it difficult to move as she struggled to turn her head, her surroundings growing dim. She looked across this aetheric plane to see the latticework of her barrier spell, visible through the walls, crumbling as the magical threads unlocked from one another. The spell is failing!

Ripples cascaded across the surface of the spell, each individual particle of dust sending its own imprint into the magic around it. The spellform weakened each time it was struck, and Twilight could feel them strike against her consciousness. This isn’t just debris from a building, she realized with shock. These are—she cried out as a massive flash danced across the surface, stunning her. She squeezed her eyes shut, the brilliant vestiges of ancient pegasus magic burning themselves into her mind. Locked away for centuries and corrupted by age, the untethered magic manifested as uncontrollable lightning and danced along the factory’s exterior.

Twilight focused her magic once again, a stream of sigils weaving themselves through the air as she redoubled her efforts. The damaged fragments of the spell slowly righted themselves as these additional arcane bindings reinforced them. They locked together with a high-pitched snap, residual particles of unicorn magic scattering every which way. Another bolt struck against the barrier, but as the light dissipated, the shield still held firm.

Twilight sighed, blinked, and suddenly found herself standing next to Rainbow Dash in the hallway.

“Hey, Equestria to Twilight!” Rainbow shouted, her muzzle practically in Twilight’s ear.

Twilight yelped, stumbling away and folding her ears. “I’m right here, you don’t have to yell.”

“Well, you just stopped moving all of a sudden. I thought you might’ve gotten hurt.” Rainbow said with a shrugging. She kicked into the air, hovering a few feet above the floor. “We need to go. I wanna get as far away from that as we can.”

“The spell should hold for now,” Twilight said as she walked alongside her flying friend. “I was able to reinforce it on a sub-aetheric level, so the only way it could break is if the erratic pegasus magic somehow matched the inverse-phase frequency of my own spell signature, which is statistically nearly impossible because—”

“Yeah-huh, that’s great,” Rainbow muttered indifferently. Twilight pouted quietly. “We need to find the main control room. That’s where this sarcargo-thingy should be, right?” Rainbow continued on, unaware of Twilight’s annoyance.

“That’s my hypothesis, at least,” Twilight said with a sigh as they made their way down the dim hallway. “I don’t even know exactly what it is we’ll find when we get there. The book suggested the sarcophagus is some sort of magical containment field, but that’s something only unicorn and alicorn magic should be capable of.”

“You’re the egghead, not me,” Rainbow said with a chuckle. Twilight shot her a look from the corner of her eyes, a slight smirk spreading across her face. Rainbow pointed ahead.“If this place is anything like Cloudsdale’s factory, the room up ahead should be processing. That’s where they make all the clouds. We should be able to get into the control room from there.”

They passed through another set of double doors at the end of the hallway, craning their necks as the ceiling suddenly vaulted high above them. They stepped nervously onto a catwalk suspended over empty space. Twilight took a peek downward, regretting her decision as she saw the room descend down, down, down. On the other end of the room, the catwalk came to an intersection, leading to a pair of doors on opposite sides of the room. On the far wall, her walkway came to a third door. Shattered windows lined the wall alongside one of the doors.

A menagerie of broken machinery was strewn about the space and along the walls, suspended by cables and weakening cloud matter. They were much larger than the devices in the Cloudsdale factory. Conveyor belts linking the machines together had warped over time and torn to shreds. An unsettlingly large pile of dark-grey clouds had accumulated to one side of the room. Uncontrolled lightning discharges sparked across the walls and between equipment.

“Yikes, this place has seen better days,” Rainbow said as she flew out over the work area. 

Twilight made her way down the catwalk, wanting to get a closer look. Most of the machinery was so damaged she couldn’t tell what it had been used for. A series of long tubes came from above and fed into a funnel hanging overhead. Although they were smashed to pieces, Twilight assumed these had originally been part of a cloud generator. A nearby gathering of black clouds sparked as they swayed gently.

“Where do we go from here?” she asked, looking up at Rainbow.

Rainbow took a quick scan of the room. “I’ll bet one of those doors will take us closer to the main control room, I’m just not sure which one. There’s three doors, and only two of us.”

Twilight tapped her chin as she idly examined one of the broken machines, deep in thought. She prodded a lever with her hoof, which promptly snapped off and fell to the ground far below. She waited for a moment, listening for an impact, but couldn’t make one out. “I don’t think we should split up.” she said. “If part of the building collapses, or there’s a sudden outburst of weather, we won’t be able to find each other easily.”

Rainbow flew down to Twilight, her eyes narrowing with annoyance. “Well, we don’t have a lot of time here. If we don’t stop this now, then Ponyville and all of Equestria could be in even more danger!”

Twilight bit her lower lip. She took a deep breath before speaking. “I know we’re pressed for time, but we just have to trust that the princesses and weather teams can mitigate the damage. If we get lost or injured—or worse—then things will just go from bad to worse.”

Rainbow let out an exasperated sigh and descended next to Twilight. “Fine. You’re not wrong, I guess,” she said, looking away. Twilight rolled her eyes.

“Let’s check up there,” Twilight said, pointing at the central door. “That looks like an office. Maybe there’s a map or something else we can use.”

The black clouds nearby crackled as the energy within seemed to have reached some kind of tipping point. Twilight quirked an eyebrow and stared at it for a moment. “I guess even the debris is unstable,” she remarked. She could see bolts of pegasus magic dancing within the cloud, but something about it looked… wrong. It wasn’t too dissimilar from storm clouds she had seen before, but Twilight felt something off about it.

Twilight took a slow step toward the pile, leaning in gingerly. I don’t want to risk discharging it in here. Sure enough, she could see an unmistakable pattern within the pegasus magic. It was consistent, repetitively tracing some kind of image. I know I’ve seen this kind of pattern before… but where? She thought back to her travels, and as her memories drifted to her friends in Ponyville, the realization hit her. “It’s the aetheric signature of a cutie mark,” she whispered.

“A cutie mark what-now?” Rainbow asked with a frown.

“My goodness, this is so fascinating,” Twilight whispered excitedly. “This cloud was made centuries ago and still has the unique signature of the pony who made it!”

Rainbow groaned and smacked her face with a hoof. “That’s so fascinating. Great. I’m glad you can do some research while we’re saving Equestria. Or did you forget we’ve got a sarcopha-thingy to find?”

Twilight ignored her friend and looked more closely at the sizzling magic. The flashing colors began to slow, steadily warping into a deep black she felt more than saw. Green splotches bubbled up amidst the inky blackness, disrupting the pattern. She shuddered, feeling a pit form in her stomach. What is that? And why do I feel so… sick?

“Twilight, come on!” Rainbow Dash shouted from above. Twilight tore herself away to see that she Rainbow had already flown halfway toward the doorway.

“Right, sorry!” Twilight said sheepishly. “I’m coming!” She leapt up to join her friend, but she couldn’t shake the unease from her mind.

A sudden rumbling filled the room, catching them off-guard. They glanced around desperately, trying to find the source. The sound echoed around the room, pulsating from the ceiling and the walls, and Twilight found it hard to concentrate. Flecks of tiny debris fell from the clouds, dissipating into the charged air. Twilight gasped with realization and slowly turned toward the broken storm clouds. “Rainbow, look!”

The fluff started to undulate as the magic within coalesced into a singular, radiating bead of green energy. The edges of the cloud started to pull inward, slowly reshaping itself. Four columns of cloud matter—no, legs—sprouted from a central body as a short neck grew out, followed by a head. Two ears sprang upward as a muzzle elongated from the front of the head, forming a face. Where the eyes should have been instead rested two unsettling black voids. As the cloud edges solidified, the green light within faded from view.

“Uhh, Twilight?” Rainbow asked, quickly flying backward a few feet. “Why are the clouds turning into a pony?”

Twilight hovered in place, speechless. Never in her time studying magic had she seen anything like this. Her mind raced, overwhelmed with fear as she tried to think of an explanation. “I-I don’t know!” She stammered. “It looks like the magic started to assemble itself and it must have—”

A deafening rumble of thunder filled the room. A mouth suddenly appeared along the muzzle of the pony-creature, unhinging and hanging open grotesquely. Piercing green light suddenly radiated through the eye sockets. Pieces of cloud matter broke off as two wings broke outward from its body, a whoosh of wind buffeting Twilight and Rainbow. From the open mouth, a horrifying shriek emanated and echoed through the room. Lightning shot from its body in random directions, just barely missing the pair as it arced into the equipment all around.

Yow!” Rainbow yelled out as another bolt zipped past her. “Too close for comfort!”

The cloudborne monstrosity’s head tilted unnaturally on what passed for a neck, swivelling around to focus directly on Rainbow. The creature bellowed, unintelligible words beginning to form as a more directed bolt flew toward them.

Twilight screamed, quickly conjuring another barrier to deflect the blast. The lightning cracked all over the room, striking random sections of wall and machinery. “Rainbow! Hold on!” Twilight yelled, her magic brightening and enveloping them. They vanished in a burst of magic, reappearing in a cramped room full of filing cabinets, wall-mounted pressure gauges, and a long wooden desk. Sunlight streamed in from a shattered window frame. They were in the office overlooking the processing room. Twilight breathed a heavy sigh of relief and peeked over the windowsill. The strange creature was visible down below, turning its head methodically back and forth as if searching for them. Every few seconds it would shriek in a butchered, long-forgotten dialect.

“What is that thing?” Rainbow whispered, panting heavily as she leaned back against the desk.

Twilight sat quietly, her hooves to her head as her thoughts churned over themselves. She mentally recounted everything she had ever learned about pegasus magic, going through book after book in her mental library. She threw her hooves to her mouth to suppress a gasp as she remembered the one book she needed.

“It’s a weather simulacrum,” Twilight whispered.

“A weather simu-what now?” Rainbow asked, her snout scrunching up in confusion.

“It’s an artificial construct sculpted out of charged weather clouds. You might have heard them referred to as ‘golems’.”

“Like those things in Daring Do and the Lost Skyopolis?” Rainbow said, excitement glinting in her eyes.

Twilight groaned. “Look, I’d be excited to learn more about it if it wasn’t shooting lightning at us. I don’t think Daring Do had to worry about that.”

“So, how do we stop it?” Rainbow asked. She yelped and ducked as bolts of lightning arced through the windows and into the room. They sliced through the damaged filing cabinets, melting them into slag that slowly sunk into the floor. The two looked on in horror as the destroyed furniture dropped through the floor, leaving a scorched hole behind. The construct burst through the windows and landed before them with an echoing thud. Its ear-piercing wail rose in intensity as streaks of electricity shot around the room.

“Back outside! Hurry!” Twilight tried to yell over the shrieking. Rainbow had her hooves to her ears. Twilight motioned frantically toward the open window with her wings, the sound too unbearable to take her hooves off her ears. Rainbow nodded, her face contorted in pain. The two launched themselves through the window back into the main room. Lightning flashed through the windows while portions of the wall started to crumble.

Suddenly, silence.

Twilight and Rainbow hovered over the dilapidated production lines, holding their breath. Smoke poured from the windows. “Is it gone?” Rainbow asked. She gulped, puffing her chest out. “I-I mean I’m not scared or anything! But there’s no way that thing is still there after all that.”

Twilight squinted through the haze. Aside from a quiet crackling of muted energy, no sound came from the room. She stiffened as a dark azure flash pulsed through the smoke. Then another. Please, please, please, please be residual discharge, Twilight thought, her heart sinking. The charred blue mingled with a murky blackness, twisting around each other as the magic fed into itself. The familiar green bursts of energy followed soon after. Twilight’s stomach turned at the sight, despite the smoke obscuring them. Dark blue vortices shone the shadows, but these quickly twisted into the darkness themselves.

This isn’t regular pegasus magic. Something else is going on here. It’s so familiar but… The energy suddenly pulsed, coalescing into solid extrusions. The corrupted cloud matter sharpened into points, a grating squeal ringing through the air that set Twilight’s fur on end.

“Get behind me!” Twilight shouted as the image suddenly clicked in her mind. Magic leapt from her horn, a lavender shield quickly weaving itself around them. She felt her horn ache as she fed as much magic as she could into it, microscopic hexagon cogs locking into place as the barrier solidified. Just as the shield glistened with completion, a monstrous crack of deep blue-and-black lightning tore through the room, striking her shield directly in the center. The lightning ricocheted in all directions, ravaging the room all around them. Machinery was set ablaze as chunks of the walls were blasted away, leaving smoldering craters.

Twilight looked up at the lightning, sweat running down her face as she held the spell firm. Something was wrong with this magic. Its composition was twisted and perverse—more so than any magic she had seen so far. The magical structure of the lightning had innumerable sharp, erratic lines dancing wildly within itself, and there were strange, sagging clumps seemingly attached to the remains of the golem. Some of them ruptured, sending splashes of black and green over the structure that sparked more energy.

“Rainbow!” Twilight yelled, her voice straining as the lightning surged across her shield, portions of the spellweave loosening under the assault. “Once I drop the shield, I need you to get close. Slice what’s left of that thing with your wings, like you’re busting a regular cloud, and I’ll handle the rest!”

“You’re asking me to outfly lightning?” Rainbow asked incredulously as pieces of the ceiling fell down around them.

Twilight grunted, her shield shimmering dangerously. “You’re the fastest flyer in Equestria! I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t think you could—” Rainbow cut her off with a hoof on her shoulder.

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Rainbow said with a confident smirk. She flared her wings and stretched. “I’m not about to let some stupid cloud-pony-monster-thing get the best of my friend, much less my speed.”

Twilight’s worried frown gave way to determination. She nodded, their eyes meeting with an understanding like no other. The lightning abated for a moment, and a twisted, crystallized caricature of the creature landed on the catwalk in front of them with a loud crunch. Remnants of the twisted cloud matter clung to its body, mixes of blue pegasus magic and some form of unknown, black magic flickering within its torso as it struggled forward. The deep, empty eye sockets sparked furiously with green arcane energy with each creaking step.

“Now!” Twilight yelled, dropping her shield. Rainbow bolted forward, tearing through the air toward her target. The golem shrieked, lightning striking forth from its wings. Some of it flew toward Rainbow, but most of it flung off in random directions, destroying more of the room. Rainbow spun through the air, deftly dodging the electrical onslaught. On her approach, she extended her wings out level, dragging her feathers through the side of the creature. Cloud matter was torn asunder, the crystalline form cracking open. Twilight sharpened her focus toward the magic inside the golem. A strange, black blob of magic had gripped most of the pegasus magic swirling within. There was a strange sense of weight to the shadow, a sharp contrast to the few bits of flowing magic that were still free. Rainbow banked hard and away from the golem, nearly running sideways along the wall as her momentum carried her around.

Twilight readied another spell. A shimmering grid of unicorn magic appeared within her mind’s eye. As she focused, a line suddenly broke from its position and bent itself at a right angle. Then another, and another. At the speed of thought, her conjuration spell took shape into a complex web of magic, wrapping about itself into a rod of energy. She released the spell with a shout. A towering lavender mast burst forth from the ground far below, interposing itself between Rainbow and the golem. The straight lines of her spell’s foundation drew the wild and erratic aether into itself, sending the lightning downward.

Before the electricity struck the ground, Twilight broke the spell from its base and reconstructed it. Magic flowed all around the broken edge of the lightning rod, its shape reforming as tiny pieces formed from the aether and snapped into place like a giant puzzle. The new end started to curve back around, but Twilight was running out of time. The lightning was catching up. She had to outpace lightning. Not just lightning, but…

Twilight cried out as she desperately called upon a magic she had forgotten she knew. She could feel the edges of her vision fade as a massive surge of energy poured into her spell, stringing a connective link from this new lightning rod to her target. She thrust her spell forward with a heave and lodged it into the open side of the golem—just in time. The lightning crackled through the conduit and into the dark orb.

Twilight and Rainbow threw their hooves to their ears and pressed themselves flat against the catwalk as the golem let out one final cry of anguish. Magic pulsed through its eyes and mouth, growing brighter as electricity enveloped it from the inside. A high-pitched magic whine drowned out the monstrous cry, and the light suddenly vanished, leaving behind not but a few sparkles of free-floating cloud energy. The darkness had released its grip, and the azure magic stabilized around the room.

“That was awesome!” Rainbow shouted, her wings flaring as she leapt into the air with an adrenaline rush. Twilight took a few shaky steps before collapsing into a heap, panting heavily. A gentle wisp of purple energy curled like smoke from the corner of her eye, fading as Twilight dismissed the spell. Rainbow landed next to her, worry crossing her face. “Hey, you okay?”

“I’ll,” Twilight panted between breaths, “be fine… Just need to—” she strained, trying to stand, before dropping again. “Rest.” She stared upward, her vision blurry as her eyes refused to focus. She watched vaguely as the pegasus magic that had formed the golem flickered above the room, slowly blipping out of existence as it returned to the air from whence it came. Twilight squinted. The strange globs of green, sickly magic hovered in the air, persisting beyond the pegasus magic. She squeezed her eyes shut, panting quietly, as she fought her exhaustion. When she opened her eyes again, the magic had faded. Did I just imagine it?

Rainbow slumped against the railing next to Twilight. Sweat trickled down her face, matting her mane, but was otherwise unhurt. “Well, what’s the plan now, Princess?” Rainbow asked with a weak chuckle. “Back to finding the main control room?”

“Yeah,” Twilight said. Her voice was raspy. She let out an exhausted sigh. “I’m just worried.”

“We beat that golem thing into last week, and some bad weather isn’t gonna put a stop to this pegasus! So, what’s wrong?” Rainbow asked, preening some of her flight feathers.

Twilight bit her lip. Runaway pegasus magic is one thing. If this Cloudsbane factory is a nexus point of naturally occurring pegasus magic, then the weather anomalies in theory make sense. But that golem…

Twilight swallowed dryly. She recalled similar magic signatures, long ago and far away from here. “It’s nothing. Give me a minute, we can go soon.” She closed her eyes, deep in thought.

How did King Sombra’s magic end up here?