Return of the Manticores

by MarcDaJohnson


Chapter 1&2

Twilight let out a sigh of relief as she sat her quill down. Bright sunshine poured through the colorful windows of Canterlot library, giving the stack of brown parchment in front of her a luminous glow. She carefully levitated each page up and diligently searched each one for errors. A bead of sweat ran down her cheek and she became more nervous. She'd been writing letters to Princess Celestia for years but none of them had ever been this important. This was her final assignment and quite a peculiar one at that.

For the past few years her training from the princess had changed significantly. As Twilight's mastery of the arcane sciences became stronger, her assignments had to grow more difficult. As talented as this young unicorn was she was still missing something that a true master must understand. It is no secret that Equestria has experienced great periods of turmoil in its past, and has most certainly seen its fair share of battles. In the days before Celestia's rule ponies met in armed combat to slay their brothers and sons. They fought not just among themselves, but with many of the other residents of Equestria.

Now, under the ever-guarding protection of the princesses, combat spells were reserved exclusively to the royal guard. Although they were the only lawful possessors of such knowledge, there were quite a few others that knew the ways of old. Twilight had done a report a few years back and learned first hand how well they could relieve stress. Her horn let off a purple glow as she began to focus her energy. Suddenly, a shaft of ice appeared and shot around the room followed by two more. They all struck the middle ring of a target Twilight had posted across the room from her desk. Shortly after, a grey mare came trotting up the stairs and shot Twilight an aggravated look. Twilight blushed as she floated the target down and returned to her work.

Her final paper was a report on one of the most feared creatures in all of Equestria, the manticore. Her introduction was perfect, detailing the process that created such an odd beast. The legend tells of an epic battle between a lion, a bat, and a scorpion in an attempt to appease the gods. They fought fiercely for many moons and gained the favor they so desperately seeked. The gods chose to honor them by making them one beast that would truly be a force to be feared and respected. They went on to spread chaos and multiply, strengthening the power they had over all other beings.

Twilight stopped to remember her own encounter with the beast. Fluttershy was able to calm the manticore with her compassion, which didn't sound a lot like a savage beast to her. The explanation became clear in her next section on the structure of manticore hierarchy. All manticores are born into a pack and must fight for their position in the pack. The prideleader is the alphamale that calls the shots and commands the most respect. His subordinates will fight loyally by his side and willingly die for the pack. However, when a manticore is separated from his pride he will no longer be living by pack mentality and will become significantly less hostile.

Twilight's concentration was quickly broken by a knock at the door. She trotted over to the door and opened it to find a not so little purple dragon carrying a bundle sack across his shoulder.

"Surprise!" Spike shouted as he grabbed Twilight and gave her a big hug. He had grown so much since she'd seen him last, he now stood almost two feet taller than her. "I missed you so much!" He said as he hugged her tighter.

"I missed you too Spike, but I thought you had one more semester left?" Twilight said.

"Yeah, I did but Professor Smokestack said I'd learned enough to graduate early. It was so much fun Twi. I got to be with other dragons who weren't mean and I learned all sorts of cool stuff about my culture."

"Well that's great Spike, I'm glad you had fun. Since your back would you mind giving my final paper a look over?"

"No problem Twi, let me just put my bags in here." The dragon disappeared into the next room and re-emerged a few moments later wearing a cape of green and purple. "You like my new cape? Rarity sent it to me while I was at school.

"It looks lovely Spike." The dragon walked over to the desk and began to look over Twilight's letter. After a few moments Spike's belly began to churn as he belched out a sealed roll of parchment. Twilight quickly grabbed the letter and began to read it.

The kingdom is in great danger Twilight. I've known this day was coming for quite some time. Me finding you was not by chance. It was written in the stars since the beginning. I've done my best to guide you in your journey but now I fear my time is short. The second coming is here and Equestria needs something worth fighting for, something to believe in. You are special Twilight Sparkle, you always have been. Go now and be the hero the land so desperately needs. Fulfill your destiny

"Hmmh, that's strange. I wonder what she means." Her thought was cut short by a piercing screech from outside the castle. Twilight and Spike rushed over to the window to see what was happening. On the horizon a group of winged figures race toward the castle at amazing speed, snapping and whipping their barbed tails back and forth. From over the mountains Celestia and Luna descended on to the beasts and began to shoot beams of magic toward the pack. They swung their mighty tales and deflected the magic, sending it back toward the princesses. They combined their power and created a wall of flames to entrap the manticores inside. The beasts charged right through it, unhindered by the flames nipping at their coats. In a last ditch effort the princesses formed a shield around themselves. The manticores beat at the shield mercilessly, wanting nothing more than to end the princesses. The force became too much to bear and their shield came down. Right before they were overwhelmed a bright light flooded Twilight's vision, and just like that the princesses were gone.

***

Deep in the darkest depths of Tartarus lives a beast so sinister, so evil, that many little ponies wish to forget. One day long ago, it broke free and laid waste to the land. Some say to feed his insatiable hunger for chaos he would eat little fillies, especially the ones that keep messing around in my tool shed! The father shouted, derailing the bedtime story he was reading his daughters. The two fillies looked back at him in confusion from behind their blankets, which they were previously hiding under. The father regained his composure and continued with the tale.

But all was not lost, for the same gods that created this beast also created a means of destroying it. Legend has it that a glorious scepter was forged from the stars themselves. It fell to the surface and lay untouched for many moons while the beasts destroyed Equestria. It seemed as if all hope was lost, but then a mighty unicorn stepped forward and was blessed by the divines with an ancient power, so strong it rivaled even their own. The road she walked not a simple one, leading her from the highest peaks, to the lowest pits of Tartatus itself. She drove the beast back to where it came and locked it away behind a magical barrier. The land was saved and ponykind could rebuild from the ruins that littered the countryside. And that they did. Most ponies think the barrier can hold but every now and then you'll hear of a strange attack. They could be anywhere... maybe outside your window! The father screamed followed by shrieks of terror from the little fillies. He placed the book down and slowly got up to leave. He got to the door and said "good night" before blowing out the candle.

Suddenly, a dark creature burst through the bedroom window, spraying shards of glass all over the floor. The beast let out a thundering roar, shaking the house and terrifying the children. The father took the candle holder and attacked the beast, swinging wildly in a protective rage. The manticore's stinger shot towards him and missed his side by just a few inches. When the chance opened up he swung the candle holder down across his head making a loud *ting*. The strike did little but anger it, which afterward it let out another roar that blew the father's mane straight back. It swiped at him with its massive paws and slammed him against the wall. The force left him disoriented and barely on the edge of consciousness. Quickly, the manticore scooped him up and took off out the window, leaving the room a disaster, but the children unharmed.

***

"What do we do?!" Twilight chanted over and over as she raced back and forth through the library.

"Twilight, look at this," Spike said but was ignored by the frantic purple unicorn. She was in her own little world of chaos, she hoped it was just a bad dream but she knew it wasn't. She was in disbelief but the rational side of her mind assured her that what she just saw was all too real. She gathered all the supplies she thought could be useful, along with the book on manticores she used for her report.

"Twilight." Spike said again louder, but he still couldn't get her attention. "Twilight!" Spike shouted with a short puff green flame flaring from his nose. This was enough to stop the crazed unicorn and get her full attention.

"Yes Spike, what is it? We don't have time to chat."

"That wasn't all to the letter, this came attached to it." Spike passed Twilight an intricately crafted golden key with an inscription in an unfamiliar language. It had a note attached to it with a piece of string.

There is a locked box in the Royal Hall. I think you may need what it contains. Make haste.

 P.S. I don't expect you to be able to read the ancient texts on the key. It's the third from the left.

"Ok, now we know where to go first! Sorry about that Spike."

"Aw it's fine Twilight. Don't worry about it."

"Question is how do we get over there?" Twilight asked as she gazed out the window. When the princesses vanished they took a lot of the manticores with them, but she could see more out on the horizon.

She turned back to see Spike spreading a set of scaly wings from behind his cloak. "When we lived in Ponyville I rode on your back all the time. I guess it's time to return the favor," He said smiling back at her.

After a few moments they stepped out onto the balcony and prepared for take off. Twilight jumped on Spike's back and got the best grip she could on one of his spikes. After a few practices flaps the two lifted up from the balcony and started out toward the Royal Hall. Aside from the eminent danger, Twilight was beginning to enjoy the wonder of flight. The wind nipping at her mane as Spike increased in speed, the beautiful view of Canterlot from so high was just breathtaking. Her wonder was cut short as a building set aflame entered her view along with quite a few more. As they touched down on the Royal Hall's balcony Twilight looked back to see the pack was quickly advancing towards Canterlot. The two raced in and searched frantically for the box. Quickly they realized there wasn't any boxes in the whole room. What did catch her eye was some new additions to the room she'd never seen before. A pedestal sat beside Celestia's throne facing the wall with five glass cases.

"So, she said it was the third from the left," Twilight said as she pulled out the scroll and opened it. When the scroll was moved the others spontaneously burst into purple flames. An eerie voice spoke to them as the text began to appear on the parchment.

There is no point to fight it hoof to hoofs
Power enough to smash ships and crush roofs
To be encased would not be fun
Yet it still must fear the fiery sun.

"Wow, what could that possibly mean? Where's Zecora when you need her?" Her thought process was cut off by a deafening roar from the door. There stood a massive female manticore whose coloration varied greatly from the ones twilight had seen before. She stood over ten foot tall and had a mane of orange and red that resembled a hot flame. She strolled in with the true presence of a leader, emitting a sense of superiority by her aura alone.

"Well well well, what do we have here. Oh, this must be the infamous Twilight Sparkle, Celestia's prized pupil. Yes, I've heard so much about you." She smiled with a devilish grin that could have put Discord's to shame. "So, now Twilight Sparkle, give me the key and I'll spare your life in exchange for your eternal servitude!" The manticore let out a sinister burst of laughter which filled the room.

"If you want this, you’re gonna have to come get it!" Twilight shouted waving the key in front of her face. She quickly shot a beam of energy at the beast, but she was able to dodge it. The manticore took flight high above her and swooped down spewing hot purple flames. Twilight quickly brought up a nearly clear blue shield around her and Spike. The flames licked at the magical barrier and caused it to flicker, but it stood strong. Twilight dropped the shield and produced two fireballs and shot them toward the beast. They both hit, bursting like fireworks and showering the hall in sparks. In the heat of battle she had a moment of clarity.

Power enough to smash ships and crush roofs, yet it still must fear the fiery sun.

"I got it Spike! I know the answer!" She shouted as she pulled up the shield once more. "Ships hit glaciers and hail can damage roof, but the sun can heat them up and melt them!"

After the second pass was over Twilight dashed over to the pedestal and started forming a shaft of ice. She launched it at the marking in front of the pedestal, and seconds later the wall began to slid down revealing a secret passageway. They both ran in and immediately after, the wall slid up behind them, sealing them in and the manticore out.