FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS AGO
Terrified creatures huddled together on the scorched earth, hiding beneath the immolated remains of a tree. Beneath their paws the ground shook as shockwaves from far distant explosions pelted their quaking bodies. At once the explosions stopped and one of the creatures opened up its eyes and looked skyward. Filling the smoke choked skies were the unmistakable shapes of dragons. Huge, ancient, and powerful beyond measure, the dragons had decades ago assembled into an army to fight the Tainted Ones. The following war between The Corruptor and the assembled might of all of the world’s gods had devastated the planet. Terra, Equine Goddess of Matter, had torn entire continents asunder to halt the hordes; her mate Radian, the Equine God of Energy, had vaporized whole populations of corrupted beings; all in a desperate effort to prevent Him from gaining more power. The Beast drew strength from all his followers, their hatred and malice made manifest in the form of a grotesque second skin that covered them from head to toe. This armor of living evil would then torture the purified creature residing within it. All the pain, all the terror, and all the misery of these poor souls fed His dread magics to the point where he could challenge the gods themselves!
The creature shielded its eyes as an enormous flash engulfed the horizon, followed by another, and another, and ten more like it in quick procession. Huge mushroom clouds reached into the sky, the smoke and dust of the debris clouds barely choking out the light from the massive fireballs within as they rose into the heavens. The dragon army had arrived; their ancient and potent magic coupled with their sheer physical power was razing the earth beneath the distant battlefield in a flurry of fire and monstrous explosions.
The creature smiled. Even though his world was destroyed; even though billions of creatures sentient and bestial alike had died screaming in the fiery desperation of the gods; even though the he and his few remaining kin may well be the last of their kind left alive on this burning world. He still smiled. He smiled because He was losing. The Beast. The Corruptor. Holder of The Source of Darkness. The Demon God Tirac was losing. He had been losing for months, ever since the gods had found a way to detect the taint of His magic early enough to neutralize the infected before they became new sources of power. Entire populations were obliterated, whole species wiped out before they could become His servants. The gods and dragons had been thorough, and now Tirac was forced to fight them by himself. Both Equine Gods had raced overhead hours ago to meet him in his last stand, their battle with the Demon God only seemed to gain ferocity the longer they fought. Despite His diminished power He was still an unimaginably powerful being, the hate and misery of decades of global war had fed into Him, even against the most powerful of the Elemental Gods Radian and Terra He was still a formidable foe. But all that was soon to change, the dragon army was but the harbinger of a greater power, a god unlike any other.
The creature felt it before he heard it, a static prickling sensation on the side of his body facing the approaching force. He turned to see Him. The great one. The last hope of this dying world. Calcipher the Dragon God. The creature squealed in joy and ran after the behemoth, eager to see the downfall of He who had wrought such terrible suffering. The tiny shape raced across the desolate landscape heedless of the danger; if his defeat was the last thing he ever saw, then his race would die content.
He soared overhead, gaining altitude, his massive length belying his speed; on a wingspan three kilometers wide from tip to tip the giant god hurtled towards the battlefield, his adamantine scales glittering in the refracted light of the many fires dotting the landscape. The polluted air electrified and arced as his body surged through it at supersonic speeds, creating a trail of lightning and plasma behind him. His enormous jet black spikes extending and sharpening as he drew closer, his jaws opening to reveal hundreds of ten-meter long teeth, the inside of his mouth glowing from within as he concentrated his incredible energy. As the battlefield quickly approached he could see his children relentlessly attacking a figure over seven hundred meters tall and at least a kilometer long. In body he was similar to a grey ungulate, a grotesque looking torso sprouting from where a neck should have been. The skin of this protuberance was an alarming crimson color with thick swaths of dark grey-blue fur about the head and shoulders in a sort of sardonic mockery of a manticore’s mane. On his shoulders was a somewhat spherical head encased in blue-grey fur; his bald red face was flat and hideous and his ears were immobile flaps on the side of his head, each one perched below long shiny black horns much like a bull’s.
Tirac struck down dozens of his dragons as he haggardly fended off the quick and powerful attacks of this world’s remaining Elemental Gods. Radian, a huge blindingly white stallion with a swirling luminescent mane of corporeal light, leapt at the beast with hooves outstretched, encasing them in destructive concentrated light. Tirac aimed a blast from his mouth at the Elemental, only to have the attack blocked by a summoned wall of neutron-degenerate matter willed into existence by Terra, a massive mare of the richest earth brown with a glittering mane of flowing diamonds. The evil energy destroyed the neutron matter almost instantly, but the ruse was effective; Radian had time to convert his entire kilometer long body into pure photons. From every angle Radian struck Tirac with the fury of an exploding star, each blow causing cracks to appear in the demon’s giant body. Tirac roared in fury and reached out, grabbing the lightspeed God by the throat. He laughed and began to squeeze, attempting to crush the equine’s head off. A monomolecular edged blade of neutron matter shot up from the ground and severed the beast’s arm at the elbow. Tirac roared a scream of pain and rage as the severed arm decayed into simple stone, shattering to dust on the ground. The equines stood at the ready, a literal cloud of dragons formed behind them, ready to unleash their fury alongside the gods.
“You think you’ve beaten me?” Tirac said through gritted teeth, defiled black blood leaking through his fingers as he clutched the wound. “You think just because you wiped out all your precious creatures that I can no longer draw strength from them?” he reached into the pulsating sack around his neck, sliding his remaining hand into it and pulling out a ball of pure non-matter, The Source of Darkness; its thick black aura shivering and fluctuating wildly as it levitated above his hand. “They are in here, feeding me for all eternity! Just you wait…you’ll pay dearly for this outrage…”
Radian and Terra flung themselves at him, only to have thick black tendrils of non-energy whip out from The Source and carve long deep wounds into their necks and sides, drawing the incandescent essence of the universe that is the blood of gods.
Tirac cackled with glee as the last two Elementals collapsed before him, wounded but alive. “You still don’t get it, do you? Aggression makes it stronger! Hate makes it grow! You cannot attack it! You cannot defeat it! And through it…I. Am. Immortal!!”
He raised his hand, the throbbing mass of unreality convalescing into a red and black ball of destruction, the smile on Tirac’s face that of insane and desperate rage. “And now! I shall annihilate this pathetic planet and start anew elsewhere! There is so much life out there, so much potential misery!” Tirac felt warmth against his back, light from behind him bathing the battlefield in an almost serene glow. “Gaze upon your sun one last time! For this world will never see another day!”
Radian smiled through a grimace of pain, a thick chuckle rising from his throat. “Hate to break it to you Tirac…but sunrise isn’t for another ten minutes.”
The hideous smile on the demon’s face dropped instantly, replaced by dawning realization and then terror. “…No…”
He spun around to see Calcipher as he hovered tens of kilometers above them, the energy emanating from his mouth now a small supernova of light. Calcipher smiled mockingly as he prepared to fire.
“NO!! YOU DIE!!” Tirac bellowed, hurling the death ball at the dragon god. Calcipher roared and unleashed his attack; a coherent beam of pure destructive power lanced through the air, impacting the demonic ball of energy as it arced towards Calcipher. The sphere of death blew apart and dispersed like a cloud under the onslaught of the Dragon God’s power. Tirac’s eyes went wide as the pillar of destruction bared down on him, bellowing a scream of mortal terror and utter panic before being washed away by the righteous blast.
The attack carved into the solid rock like it wasn’t even there. It sliced a molten channel a kilometer wide clean through the planet. The Equine Gods gathered around the hole as it filled up with molten magma from the planet’s core. Calcipher set down on the ground, causing it to tremor and shake. The dragon god reared up to his full height of over sixteen hundred meters, he curled his massive wings to his side and turned to his friends.
“He’s still alive.” He said in his booming reverberating voice. “As I feared, an attack made in anger, regardless of the damage dealt, will never completely kill him.”
A twisted and blackened hand rose out of the magma, sending ropey strands of molten rock flinging out of the caldera. The hand and arm were horribly damaged; bone and tissue visible through the many lacerations and burns, the thick black ichor that pulsed from the wounds seemed to eat the light around it. The hand clutched at the rocky ground with skeletal fingers and began to pull. The body that rose out of the liquid rock was all that remained of the fiend who had pillaged and tortured the planet for decades; his quadruped portion had been completely destroyed by the blast, leaving only the bizarre torso to pathetically crawl from the searing hot rock. His entire mane along with whole sections of his formerly adamantine skin had been flayed from his body, revealing bone, muscle, and viscera. He dragged himself forward with his remaining arm, a slimy section of exposed intestine caught on a hardened spire of molten glass, pulling his insides out of his side as he wriggled towards his victorious enemies. The arm steadied as the loathsome creature reared up, raising his shoulders to face them. Much of the skin on his head had been burned, areas of white skull visible through the patches where the force of the blast had sheared it away. His ears were melted stubs surrounding raw holes on the sides of his head; the once long sharp horns had been shattered, leaving only stumps of fractured bone and exposed nerves. Where his searing red eyes had been there was now destroyed craters, tears of liquefied tissue and jelly running down his shredded cheeks.
“Bastards…” he croaked, several broken teeth and the tattered remains of his tongue were visible through the jagged holes in his face, they moved and twitched as he spoke. “That…hurt…I’ll kill…yuh…I’ll chew on your hearts! Smash your skulls! Eat your souls!!”
A multitude of neutron-matter spikes shot up from the ground, impaling the gurgling remains in ten different places; the beast yelped in pain, its wretched whimpering degrading into mocking laughter. “…I cannot die you stupid horse! Heh-heh…the…the only thing you’ve killed is your precious planet! Hehehehehehe-AH-HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!”
Calcipher growled and shot a single blast of energy into the jabbering corpse’s back, blasting away chunks of bone and tissue. “You brag and brag about your precious immortality, but you will soon see your touted spell for the curse it truly is!”
“Calcipher! Don’t-” Radian ran up to Calcipher only to be casually swatted away by his wing.
Calcipher leaned over the wound, a dark and wriggling organ visible at the bottom of the oozing crater. “For what you’ve done you deserve to live forever…”
The dragon god’s head shot downwards, his massive jaws digging deep into the wound, grabbing hold of their target with jagged ten-meter diamond teeth. Tirac screamed in agony as the giant god pulled back slowly, his screaming rose with the wet tearing sound of rending flesh, both reaching a crescendo as Calcipher snapped his head back, a pulsating lump of ichor-spewing flesh between his great jaws. The corpse fell limp and the color faded from it, leaving only a stone statue of the great beast.
Left to its devices the single lump of tissue would regenerate, Calcipher snapped his head back and swallowed the heart in a single gulp. He extended his wings and rose into the air, calling down to his friends. “Terra! Radian! You know what to do!”
“Calcipher!” Terra shouted up at him, tears in her eyes. “It has been our honor to call you our ally!”
“It has been my honor to call you my friends!” He called back.
He grunted and concentrated, his internal furnace obliterating the flesh he had swallowed, destroying every semblance of Tirac’s physical form and leaving only his degenerate essence within him. In its weakened state Tirac’s soul could not hope to corrupt the great god…yet. But now that his past physical form was destroyed, it had imbued itself permanently into his tissues. Had he simply destroyed the heart, this evil spirit would roam the universe until a suitable host could be found, protected from them in its immaterial state.
Calcipher felt the depraved soul trapped within him and chuckled. “Enjoy your stay…”
Calcipher gritted his teeth and roared, a powerful glow beginning to shine through his chest. He bellowed in pain as the light began to move from his chest and into his throat. As his heart moved away from his chest his great body began to stiffen and petrify, becoming simple inanimate gemstones. The glowing heart moved into his mouth and he shot it down to the ground, it impacted the solid bedrock and burrowed deep into the shield. Calcipher crossed his arms over his chest and tucked his head and long neck down alongside his belly, his huge wings encapsulating his entire body as the last vestiges of life bled away. The bulk shifted in midair before plummeting to the ground, it impacted directly across from where his heart had fell. The force of the huge body falling caused his legs to shatter spectacularly, sending shards of every type of gemstone out in all directions. The wings cracked but stayed intact, burying themselves into the ground. The body glittered and shone, an entire mountain of crystallized minerals; even in death Calcipher was an astounding sight.
Terra hobbled forwards, tears in her eyes as she struggled to maintain the necessary concentration to perform her task. “For the sake of all beings I do this…” Rock began to snake around the corpse, encasing it. “…Your body will be transformed…” the gems inside began to shift and change into a great spire. “May Tirac’s evil be forgotten, and from the ashes of our world may a new one grow, a world of peace and prosperity. In a world such as this there will be no place for Tirac…or us. Within me I carry the seed of the new gods, the daughters of Matter and Energy. It will be their job to maintain this world for the good of the universe. The name Calcipher will live on in legend, but the knowledge of your death will not.”
Radian shot into the air and obliterated the petrified remains of Tirac, carving a gash several kilometers deep into the rock. He set down beside his mate and flicked his shimmering mane. “As for you Tirac, this new world will never degrade enough for you to rise again. For the rest of time you will be contained, fully aware and fully conscious of the outside world. Your need to corrupt and kill will continue unabated and go insatiate. It will torment you until the end of time. For now and forever…good bye.”
The creature rushed to the battlefield, the great Elemental Gods were levitating into the air, flanked on all sides by thousands of dragons. Serenely, they rose into the thick clouds of smoke and dust. Tirac was gone…but so was Calcipher. The creature strode forwards, for where there had been a relatively flat plane, there was now a single enormous spire jutting out of the landscape. The creature looked around hopelessly, disappointment rising. For all he had suffered at the hands of Tirac, he had not been there for his defeat. The creature shuffled towards the mountain, the ground was still too hot to touch in places, a misplaced step on a loose piece of rubble sent the creature sprawling. He looked over at the offending piece of debris; it appeared to be a simple rock, aside from its odd shape there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. There was a thunderous boom overhead, he looked up to see a huge shockwave spreading out over the sky, the thick cover of smoke and dust parting as the blast moved through it. Amazingly, the shockwave continued far beyond what was possible, sweeping the skies of the scars of war. All over the globe fires were extinguished, smoke and ruin purged from the sky. The creature felt a familiar heated sensation on his back; slowly he turned around to see the sun rise over the scarred landscape. As the sun rose he lifted his hand in front of his face, the brilliant light too much for his sensitive eyes. As they adjusted he noticed a beautiful glimmering in front of him, the light of the sun reflected off of something on the ground that split the light into all the beautiful colors of the rainbow. He scurried forth and picked it up, it was an enormous diamond.
“Cherish that.” said a voice from behind. The creature spun around to see a small brown equine clothed in strange fabrics. “Remember the simple beauty of things like this. The sun rising, a cloudless blue sky, a shiny rock you found on the ground…you have to cherish those things. Because when you stop cherishing those simple things, you begin to lose focus on what’s truly worthwhile. Soon you see nothing as beautiful or wonderful and the world becomes grey and pointless. Really, it’s that sort of thing that got Tirac going in the first place. So, it’s up to you to keep perspective, to make the world that Calcipher wanted possible. You think you can do that?”
The creature stared at the stallion and held his diamond up to the sun. “Yes…yes I think I can.”
The stallion smiled broadly and made his way towards a box that the creature hadn’t seen until that point. The stallion stopped and turned to him once more. “By the way…what are you anyway?”
His ears perked up and he blinked. “A stone wolf…why?”
“No reason…” The stallion said before stepping into the box. “…It’s just nice to know where that lot came from! You stay out of trouble; you’ve got a species to create!”
The door slammed shut and a wonderful sound began to emanate from the box, warm blasts of energized air caused the stone wolf’s fur to stand on end. After a moment the box was gone, leaving only a rapidly fading whirling sound in its wake.
(Dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da etc)
The Mines of Dragon Mountain: Part 6
Zeitgeist snorted and jostled himself awake. What time was it? How long had he been sleeping? Where-
He sniffed the air, the smell of eggs and roast Tartary lamb chops wafted in the air. A sharp tightness in his stomach followed by a loud growl chased away all thoughts of worry and subterfuge. He sat up from the couch, blinking sleep out of his eyes as he looked around. He saw Litigia sitting across the room, a pot of steaming coffee sat in the middle of the table as she set down her mug.
She smiled at him and gestured at the food. “Afternoon Zeit. I hope you had a good nap.”
“Evidently, if it’s afternoon…” he said with a yawn, getting to his feet and making his way towards her. “How long?”
“Three hours, enough for a diamond dog.” she said as she poured him a cup of coffee. “But a little shallow by pony standards.”
He chuckled and took his mug. “I manage. Lit, once again I don’t regret taking your advice! I feel great! And hungry, too…” he sat down and began to eat voraciously, hardly chewing his eggs and noisily masticating the Tartary lamb chop. “Mmh! My compliments to the chef!”
“Thank you sir.” She said, sipping her coffee and levitating a hay-fry into her mouth. “Now that you are in a better head space, I feel I must inform you of something. Your friend Rarity and all of her friends are allied with The Doctor.”
“I know.” He said glibly, sipping his coffee. “That’s how I knew he was an imposter, remember?”
“No, I mean they’re allied with him right now. He collected them and now they can’t be found.”
Zeit paused and put down his mug. “How do we know this?”
“I sent some of our operatives to investigate a kidnapping this morning.” She said with a sigh. “Some ponies kidnapped Spike as he was opening the Narragansett celebration. Rarity called to ask you for help, but since you were asleep I decided to send Feist and three other agents to facilitate the search. They claim that upon arrival The Doctor had already made contact with our guests and they escaped shortly afterwards.”
“Feist has reported back?” Zeit said with an exasperated exhalation.
“He left Kiefer and Knochen to assist in the investigation. He and Hahnenkamm returned here to fill out the paperwork.” She nibbled another hay-fry. “A dog after my own heart.”
“Indeed…” Zeitgeist sighed. “That Doctor must be gathering them up to help his Grundel friends! Especially if that Ms. Sparkle is with him…if Celestia gets involved this whole thing is over!”
“Perhaps that’s for the better?” Litigia said cautiously. “Zeit, this situation has gotten out of hand. Maybe closing it down would be the best option.”
“No…” he said lowly.
She continued, her voice soft but with the kind of strength in it that diamond dogs instinctively recognize. “It would be bloodless and relatively inexpensive. We have plenty of jobs for the miners in other mines, or even in the city…”
“No.” he said, more firmly.
“…Which isn’t even dependent on the mine revenue anymore.” She said, her voice increasing in firmness in tandem with his. “And you’ve got ten other mines that would be more than able to fill in for lost gem production! Zeit, the company could get along just as well without Kaffelerram Mine. It’s just a matter of allocating appropriate resources away fr-”
“NO!!” Zeit roared, slamming his powerful diamond dog arms down on the table, shattering it into splinters, Litigia jumped back with a yelp. “We will not abandon this mine!!”
His rage suddenly dropped as he saw Litigia’s face, her large green eyes wide in fear. “…Oh…oh Lit I’m sorry…I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to, I just…”
She carefully made her way towards him, stepping over the splintered remains of the table. “Zeit. Tell me, why are you so adamant about this? I know you, this isn’t like you!”
He buried his face in his hands and sighed. “It means more to me than money, prestige, reputation, even my own life! Were it not for this mine I wouldn’t be the dog I am today!”
“Yes.” She said with a nod. “Your success here made you famous! It makes sense that you’d feel attachment to it-”
“No, you don’t understand.” He looked up at her with silver grey eyes. “Without this mine I would not be a duke, I wouldn’t be Zeitgeist Stardust!”
He straightened the fur on top of his head out with his hand. “I never told you this Lit, I guess I was ashamed. I have every right to be ashamed too! I wasn’t born the legitimate heir to the Duchy of Sternenstaub; rather I was the firstborn of my father’s favorite mistress. A bastard of sorts, born at the same time as the rightful heir.”
Litigia gasped. “How did you…?”
“My father deemed me legitimate on my mother’s deathbed, took me in as his son and raised me alongside my brother Lohengramm.” Zeitgeist scoffed and continued. “We were friends he and I, like brothers but distant enough to not hate one another.”
“It all started twenty years ago.” Zeitgeist said as he swallowed sadness. “When our father Duke Barbarossa Stardust died he was naturally the rightful heir. But at that time I had fallen into good relations with Archduke Steinkoff and several other nobles, they felt that I was the more eligible option for the position of duke. Lohengramm was…brilliant but lazy is a good way to put it. He wasn’t remotely the kind of person who would benefit the court by holding such power. According to the Archduke, since I held the title of legitimate heir it was well within my right to challenge the inheritance if I had another equally powerful noble to be my patron.”
“Which you did.” Litigia said, already formulating an idea of where this story was going.
“I first offered to take the role off his hands, to take a job he never really wanted. But he was adamant about following father’s will and I was forced to challenge him.” Zeitgeist flicked a piece of rubble. “I was such a fool back then…”
“What happened, Zeit?” Litigia implored. “What did you do?”
“We tried every form of contest under the sun, each one of them ending in a tie. We were so evenly matched you see. But then the Archduke suggested the Trial of Diamonds, an ancient contest where we were tied together at the ankle and given specially sharpened diamonds. The way they were sharpened insured that no lasting damage could be inflicted, as it was primarily a test of endurance. We blocked and parried and slashed for hours on end, until we were both too exhausted to fight. It was only then that the Archduke revealed that any challenge of inheritance towards nobles above the rank of viscount was considered an act of treason, and that I was to be executed for my crime.” Zeit’s voice took on a heavy quality, like he was on the verge of tears. “We both began to protest, forgetful that we were tied together at the ankle. We tripped and fell…and when I got up he didn’t. I’d accidentally stabbed him through the heart, killing him instantly.”
Litigia gasped and pulled herself close to him. “Oh Celestia! I’m so sorry Zeit!”
He inhaled sharply, holding his composure. “The Archduke was planning to get rid of me the entire time, if my brother had been duke he would have gone to me for advice. I would have become his advisor and duke if anything had happened to him…Steinkoff wanted to be rid of me so that he could take advantage of Lohengramm’s disinterest in politics to drive the Sternenstaub fortune into his own pocket. He was ready to have the imperial guards shoot me on the spot had the Emperor not stepped in. The Emperor had seen Steinkoff’s plan for what it was, and knew that the power vacuum caused by the death of the Sternenstaub family would upset the chain of command for much of the nobility. As such, he simply banished me, decreeing that I was not to return until I had proven my abilities as a duke and leader.” He turned to Litigia with a bit of a smirk. “That’s a fancy way of saying ‘don’t come back until you’ve made a lot of money’. In this case, a billion bits or approximately one fifth of my father’s net worth at the time of his death. I was stripped of my name, rank, and resources; even my birth certificate and each and every official document holding my name were placed in storage. Zeitgeist Stardust ceased to be as far as the government was concerned.”
Litigia looked down at the floor. “…So you came here, to this mine. Your success here not only made you famous, but it made you you again. It allowed you to uphold your father’s name and avenge your brother’s death.”
Zeit nodded. “I built the first machines used to mine that mountain with my own two hands! The whole thing was going under when I bought it, but it was still several hundred thousand bits to buy the land and get a permit. I had no money; my assets were frozen, so I had to work for it. For five years I wandered around doing odd jobs and selling my ideas on technology to tycoons for pocket change until I made enough money to buy the mountain.”
“You sold your designs and technology?” Litigia said disbelievingly. “How are you still able to claim copyright?”
Zeitgeist shrugged. “I withheld the fact that I still maintained patents and copyrights for said technology back in my home country. The fact that Zeitgeist Stardust didn’t exist on paper at that point made the whole thing a non-issue as far as patent offices were concerned.” He smiled and winked. “But when I suddenly existed again, all the predated paperwork came out of storage to say that I had patented the ideas years ago. Yet another thing that got Stardust Gems Inc going was the seizure and liquidation of assets belonging to those in possession of ‘stolen’ patents.”
“You magnificent bastard.” Litigia said in awe. “You should write a book.”
“I just might…” he said thoughtfully.
Litigia shuffled up next to him, a smile on her face. “So you went back to the empire, got your name and rank back, and came back here as a foreign dignitary.”
“Whereupon I was assigned a legal consultant and political escort on behalf of the Equestrian government.” Zeit said, returning the smile. “The best thing that ever happened to me.”
Litigia blushed, turning away. “Oh Zeit…”
He placed a hand on her back, a soft expression on his face. “I’m serious Lit. Look, if I don’t make it out of this thing alive…”
“Zeit, don’t say things like that.”
“Lit please. It needs to be said…” Zeit cleared his throat nervously. “I-”
A loud buzz cut him off as the intercom activated, followed by the voice of Feist. “Pardon me Your Excellency, but Ms. Twilight Sparkle just arrived a few minutes ago in ornithopter three with Knochen and Kiefer. She is at the entrance to the main complex, shall I let her in?”
“No.” Zeitgeist growled lowly in frustration. “Call security and the Grenadiers, The Doctor and the rest of them may be around. Feist, you apprehend her and prepare her for interrogation.”
“By your command.” Feist said before adding. “Do I have to be polite about it, Your Excellency?”
“No Feist, she’s working with the enemy.”
“By your command.” Feist said, a smile in his voice.
Zeit sighed and chuckled before turning back to Litigia. “That dog loves his job.”
“Are you sure that was wise?” Litigia said anxiously. “Her profile states that she’s unbelievably proficient with magic. If she’s here to cause trouble…”
“She’s also a pony.” Zeit said reassuringly. “Gentle. Passive. What’s the worst that could happen?”
A muffled explosion thudded through the complex as the floors shuddered. Zeitgeist and Litigia shot to their feet and ran over to the intercom and video crystal. Zeitgeist activated the intercom. “Feist! Feist, report!”
“…Liberate…tu…ta…me…ex…infernis…” a voice croaked back through the sputtering channel.
“Huh.” Zeit muttered. “Well, that can’t be good.”
A second explosion rocked the building as distant cries of alarm went out through the assembled soldiery and security forces, several dozen voices sounded over the communication channels.
“…intruder sighted entering the lobby, moving to interce~kkzzzzzzzzt~”
“Intruder sighted! It’s…it’s a pony! By the creator! She’s glowing like a sun! Sh-she’s doing someth~kkzzkzkzzzzzt~”
“Medic to lobby! Medic to lobby! They’re still alive! She’s~kzzzzzzzzkzztt~”
“Lobby! Lobby! Come in! Repeat your last message! ~BOOOOOM!!~ By the…intruder sighted on floor two! Repeat! Intruder sighted on floor two! I-wait…Grenadiers have arrived and are moving to intercept! They~kzzzzzztzzzzt~mother of~kzzzzzzzztkzt~aieee!!~kzzkzzztkzzt~”
Zeitgeist rushed over to the video crystal and flicked the switch labeled ‘Lobby’. A grainy picture appeared on the crystal, the usually pristine imaging system disrupted by the large amounts of residual energy left behind by the intruder. The room was a shambles; debris from the destroyed iron door and parts of the concrete wall had been strewn across the cracked floor, windows and pottery had been shattered and roofing tiles had fallen to the ground. As he rotated the camera he noticed that there were least seven different bodies laying on the ground, all of them squirming in some way, alive but incapacitated. She had deliberately pulled her punches; this was her exercising restraint. He switched to the second floor; it was the same only with fifteen of his finest troops littering the room, each in some state of trauma. The ones who were not unconscious were either limping or crawling to their unresponsive teammates. A thundering crashing sound just down the hall caused Zeitgeist to spin around to the door.
“…This is third floor!” The com behind him chattered. “Contact with hostile confirmed! The unicorn appears to be heading towards Duke Stardust’s office, stop her at all~kkkkzzzzzztkzzzzzt~”
At the sound of gunfire Zeit quickly switched to the third floor camera; in the floor was a sizable hole and next to it one of his heavily armored second floor Grenadiers, who had no doubt been the source of the hole. Once again more of his soldiers lay scattered on the ground, only this time there was evidence in the drywall that they had merely been telekinetically flung into the walls and ceiling as opposed to magically incapacitated. He panned the camera to midway down the hall where the remaining five Grenadiers fired away with their lightning guns. The unicorn, completely encased in a luminescent aura of furious magic, effortlessly bent the directed energy beams away from her causing them to carve flaming channels into the walls and ceiling. As she stepped forwards the soldiers maintained a steady retreat until a single soldier ceased firing and lunged at the unicorn with his truncheon drawn. Almost comically he halted in midair just in front of the pony, frozen in place. The pony smirked and proceeded to batter the remaining soldiers with the petrified body of the lone attacker, sending them flying in all directions to painfully crumple against the walls and skid across the floors. Once all the remaining soldiers lay groaning on the ground she held the single Grenadier in front of her, causally tossing him aside and through a heavy wooden door before making her way down the hall. Zeitgeist and Litigia spun around to the door, waiting for it to shatter into a thousand splinters.
There was a knock. Steady, polite, and firm.
“Come in.” Zeitgeist said calmly. “It’s open.”
The door swung open revealing a single unicorn pony; her purple and pink streaked mane had barely a hair out of place, she was somewhat short, a little over a meter tall, and cute as could be. She also had a dimly glowing fire-like aura of purple and white energy undulating around her body, her eyes lit from behind by her immense power. “Hello Mr. Stardust.”
“Ms. Sparkle! What brings you to my humble abode?” he said, the smile on his face genuine as the fear in his gut.
“I think you know.” She rumbled, the power coursing through her body giving her voice an unnatural reverberation. This was not Twilight Sparkle speaking, but rather her power and rage.
“The Grundels weren’t as inviting as The Doctor had hoped, I take?” Zeitgeist said, thinking of no other reason she would be alone. “The first impression makes the friendship, and yours went sour hmmm?”
“I’ve come for your help.” She said tersely.
“You could have asked.” He muttered.
“I did not come here to ‘ask’.” She growled. “I came here to trade.”
Zeitgeist’s eyebrow rose in curiosity. “Trade? Do you do this sort of thing at the pawnshop as well? Blow open doors and throttle personnel?”
“I was in a bad mood before I arrived here…” She said with a snort. “…And Mr. Feist was…impolitic in his choice of words regarding my predicament. Your security forces required neutralizing after witnessing my solution.”
“Ah yes, Feist…if you don’t mind me asking, what did you do to him? I did not see him in the lobby.”
“He spurned my attempts at diplomacy.” She said explanatorily. “So I sent him away.”
“Away.” Zeit nodded. “To where?”
“To Hurt.” Twilight said glibly. “He’ll do well to learn some manners there.”
Litigia stepped forward, brow creased in incredulous anger. “So all this is because your friends got captured by some monsters? And you come asking for help like this?!”
“The captivity of my friends is of little concern to me.” She said matter-of-factly, her absolute certainty clear in her voice. “They are highly competent and can fend for themselves…”
“Your dragon?” Zeitgeist said cautiously. “You want us to help you find your dragon?”
The aura surrounding the unicorn arced lightning and crackled fiercely. “Standing between me and Spike is…unwise.”
“Evidently.” Zeitgeist said quietly. “So, what’s in it for me?”
“What you wanted.” She said coldly. “What you always wanted…”
The Doctor paced in the cell, his mind racing for a way out of this scenario. Of course, he had already formulated several plans but none of them ended favorably for all involved. That was always the trick, the dilemma; he could never content himself with anything less than total success, which more often than not left him disappointed at the end of each adventure. ‘This has the potential to end very badly! Even the best-case scenarios would see the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds of people! No illusions about what Gabbro plans to do with that heart either, someone that filled with anger and hatred isn’t going to stop at one city, it’s going to be open season on the diamond dogs! Zeitgeist isn’t much better, even if he sees reason there’s still a multinational corporation behind him that stands to take a loss it won’t welcome. Both sides are ready for war and both sides are more than capable of inflicting terrible suffering. I don’t know what-’
“Um, Doctor?” Fluttershy muttered, stopping his relentless pacing. “Did Gabbro seem a little…off to you too?”
The Doctor looked over at her and nodded, welcoming the minor distraction from his endless postulating. “Yes, he’s certainly a different breed to the Workers, and even the Thinkers. They say that he’s the one who’s been planning all the attacks on the mine, that fact alone makes him something of an oddity in the Grundel world.”
“No…” muttered Fluttershy. “I think it’s something other than that. Like there was something…wrong about him.”
The Doctor’s ears perked up, he had come to trust Fluttershy’s intuition without question. When something was ‘wrong’ it usually meant there was something fundamentally wrong, something unnatural. “What do you mean Fluttershy? Is it like with the Carrionites?”
She nodded and sighed, all eyes were on her now but it was her role in their team to detect this sort of thing. “His voice doesn’t seem to quite synch up with the rest of him.”
Rainbow Dash scratched her chin with her hoof. “What does that mean?”
“Um, well, you see…” Fluttershy took a deep breath. “When people talk their body language and facial expressions tend to work towards conveying the same message as what they are saying. Posture, hand movements, and subtle things like breathing and subconscious reactions all tend to coincide with how a person is talking. Gabbro’s body language seems almost…false.”
“So he’s being dishonest?” Rarity said with her eyebrow raised.
“It’s worse than that.” Fluttershy said with a shake of her head. “I noticed that when his mouth said something his body language and queues would be delayed by roughly a quarter second and it would always catch up in the same descending order. First he would speak and then his facial expressions would begin, followed by his body language, and finally unconscious queues. It’s kind of like he’s subconsciously trying to synch with the words coming out of his own mouth, as though he isn’t really saying them at all.”
“What are you saying…” Fire Dazzler said incredulously. “That he’s just sort of jittering around while something…oh.”
“Like a ventriloquist dummy!” Pinkie exclaimed. “He’s moving and his jaw is flapping, but he’s not the one talking!”
The Doctor nodded, Fluttershy was right. With growing horror he realized that he had noticed every single thing that Fluttershy had but ignored them at the time. “…Oh no.”
“What?” Applejack said, recognizing The Doctor’s expression. “Whenever you make that face things get worse!”
“A perception filter.” The Doctor said with a sigh. “And a strong one too, no wonder I didn’t catch on earlier.” He turned to the other ponies in the room. “I wish I could say that your observation is just a coincidence Applejack, but no, things have just gotten much worse.”
“What now?” Rainbow Dash said with a groan. “No wait, lemme guess…The Big Bad Whatever held up in the mountain is not only out, but in control of that Gabbro guy too?” The Doctor tapped his nose in confirmation, causing Rainbow Dash to stomp her hoof in frustration. “Sometimes I hate being right!”
“How’d y’all come to that conclusion Prof?” Applejack said nervously. “Maybe it’s just a coincidence?”
The Doctor shook his head. “You all know what a perception filter can do, but what you don’t know is the history. They were first constructed by beings from beyond the third dimension, frequently and correctly seen as gods by those living here. In general the true form for such creatures is too incomprehensible to be safely perceived by simpler life forms, so to interact safely with this dimension they constructed perception filters. If you form one around a trans-third-dimensional being or object you automatically see what you want to see, ignoring the mind-melting unreal parts. Alternately, if you stick one on a third dimensional being or object their presence in your sensory field drops to easily ignorable levels, making it ideal for stealth. They tend to come into common use in any given society around the fifth age, or about three thousand years in the future for Equestria. At this point in time there are only three beings on this planet with access to perception filters and that’s the Royal Sisters and yours truly. To find them anywhere else is bad news.”
Fire Dazzler cleared his throat worriedly. “How bad is ‘bad news’?”
“If Cheppu’s knowledge of Grundel lore is accurate we just might be in the presence of one of the most heinously evil and murderous metaphysical beings in the history of this universe.”
“That’s bad.” Fire Dazzler said quietly.
“Indeed.” The Doctor said while scratching his cheek. “The only good news is that this Tirac creature is currently in a weakened or limited state. He only has control over one Grundel and that control is partial at the very most, explaining the shoddy synching.”
“What do we do?” Pinkie said. “Is there any chance that we can stop him?”
The Doctor smiled widely. “Of course there is! We just have to find out what he’s planning and hope that Twilight Sparkle is having more luck with Zeitgeist than I did!”
There was a shifting sound as the rock of the wall percolated and evanesced to create a door. Into the room walked a single Worker Grundel; The Doctor recognized him immediately.
“Cheppu!” The Doctor said happily.
‘Hello Doctor.’ Cheppu signed. ‘It is good to see you again.’
“Likewise! Did you tell the other Grundels about Zeitgeist?”
‘Yes, the Elders are now prepared to attempt a diplomatic solution.’ Cheppu signed happily. ‘Perhaps this will end well after all?’
The Doctor sighed and stepped forward. “Cheppu, Gabbro is planning to do something very bad and a lot of people are going to die.”
‘I know.’ Cheppu signed. ‘That’s why I came here. He’s acting without the permission of the Elders, if they were to find out they would rescind his status as a Thinker, this would free the Workers under his command. Could you do that for me?’
The Doctor blinked in confusion. “You know what he’s planning? Why not go to the Elders yourself?”
Cheppu slouched. ‘After he told me what he was planning he ordered me not to tell the Elders, as such I am compelled to obey. Please, do not allow him to follow through with his plan! I know Gabbro; he’s not a bad person, just very stubborn! Don’t let him do this!’
The Doctor nodded firmly. “Cheppu, I know you love Gabbro but listen to me. I have reason to believe he’s been corrupted by…Him.”
‘What?!’ Cheppu signed in disbelief. ‘But…Gabbro’s a Grundel, he can’t be-’
“Thank about it for a second!” The Doctor interrupted. “Could a Grundel really think up all the horrible things he has? Could a Grundel be so willing to kill an entire city of innocents?”
‘I…no…I don’t believe you!’ Cheppu said defiantly. ‘He’s just obsessed! If this thing is resolved he’ll be back to normal!’
“When we linked I saw that Grundels could detect His influence!” The Doctor said with a stamp of his hoof. “Have you ever tried to scan him?”
‘No! There wouldn’t be any point since Grundels can’t be corrupted! Calcipher created us that way, therefore we can’t!’ Cheppu signed heatedly.
The Doctor backed away with an understanding nod. “Okay, okay, calm down…I’ll warn the Elders as soon as I can and hopefully we can help Gabbro before he goes any further.”
‘Good.’ Cheppu said with an uncertain expression. ‘You’re still wrong, though.’
“I’ll leave that up to you to decide.” The Doctor said steadily.
‘Anyway, Gabbro and Granodiorite will be here soon. Try to get to the Elders before thirteen hundred hours. Whatever Gabbro’s planning, it’ll be then.’
The Doctor winked knowingly at Cheppu. “I understand. You take care now.”
‘I will.’ Cheppu said, walking towards a newly materialized door before stopping and turning. ‘And Doctor…thank you.’
As the door sealed shut The Doctor sighed and turned to see Spike groggily rising to his feet, flanked on both sides by Rarity and Pinkie Pie. “Uuugh…what happened? Where-oh, I’m still here?”
The Doctor smiled and raced up to Spike. “Spike! Long time no see!”
“Long time?” Spike said with a scoff. “Didn’t I see you yesterday? In fact, I still haven’t completely cleaned up all that stuff you broke!”
“Ah well, it seemed longer to me.” The Doctor said quickly. “Look Spike, we’re in trouble.”
“You think?” Spike said with a deadpan expression.
“What we do in the next hour or so will determine whether tens of thousands of people will live or die.” The Doctor put his hooves on Spike’s shoulders. “Can I count on you?”
Spike looked around, all of his friends (and one worried looking stallion) were watching him, their faces hopeful. “Yes, you count on me Doctor. What do you need me to do?”
He saw Cheppu exit the room, the door closing behind him with the sound of shifting stone. He walked forward, a large smile on His face. “Hello…Cheppu.”
The huge Worker Grundel spun around, eyes wide before he recognized the flesh he inhabited and signed. ‘Hello Brother Gabbro! How good it is to see you.’
“Likewise.” He lied. “Have a good conversation with The Doctor?”
‘Yes.’ Cheppu signed, nervousness clear in his scent.
“And what are his intentions?” He pushed.
‘He says he still wants to help us…but not you. He will try to stop your plan.’ The Worker answered, now almost terrified. ‘Perhaps it is for the better?’
He could barely keep his sneer of contempt off Gabbro’s face. These Worker Grundels disgusted him most of all; they were literally impossible to corrupt, their minds incapable of duplicity and ambition, two things key to his power. Whenever he spoke to them they would respond in their ridiculous sign language, their moods conveyed with body odor making it impossible for them to lie. It was sickening to see such a straightforward and concise language, with none of the intrinsic loopholes or imprecision that made his job so much easier. It had been so long, so so long since he last killed something smart enough to understand and fear death, and the fool he inhabited dearly loved this creature! Even better!
“Cheppu.” He said. “Come here. Kneel.”
Obediently the Worker obeyed, kneeling down until his head was level with Gabbro’s chest. He reached out, all it would take was a single touch and the Worker would die in a horrible foaming paroxysm of agony, his brain slowly melting from the dark energy instilled in His hand. He might even snap his own spine in the violence of his death throes! Such wonderful things rushed through His mind as He reached out, closer…closer…
“I just want you to know…” said Gabbro, patting him on the head before drawing in to a warm embrace, “…That I’m very proud of you. You handled your ordeal very bravely. I’m so proud of you. And…and I just want you to know that I’m sorry.”
‘You’re sorry?’ Cheppu said. ‘What for? It wasn’t your fault that I got captured.’
“No.” Gabbro said through gritted teeth. “I’m sorry. For the business at the mine, for my plans, for me, for everything! I’m sorry! And I’m especially sorry for what I’m going to do.”
‘Gabbro?’ Cheppu signed.
“Go.” Gabbro said with considerable strain, pushing Cheppu away. “Now. Leave me. Go to the Elders, you’ll be safe with them. Go!!”
Cheppu rose to his feet and ran down the hall, looking back to see Gabbro double over and prop himself up against the wall. ‘I forgive you…’
“Idiot…” He growled. “How dare you! He was talking with the Time Lord! He had to die!”
“You listen to me, horror!” Gabbro hissed. “You do not harm him! You understand?! You do not harm Cheppu!”
“Such sentimentality! Don’t worry, I’ll soon flay that out of you!” He said, quietly shaken at Gabbro’s ability to resist him. “Call the other Workers and Granodiorite, we must lull the Time Lord and his friends into a false sense of security by revealing our plans.”
“Why? Why not just kill them?”
“Because…” He said, sadistic glee thick in his voice. “It’s more fun when they don’t expect it!”
“That’s idiotic!” Gabbro muttered. “Why reveal our plans to them at all then? They seem to have pieced it together by themselves!”
“The fact that they know or not isn’t the point!” He sighed through Gabbro’s mouth; this host was becoming far too much of a hassle. “If we play this thing close to the chest now after he’s just pretended to be your ally then he’ll think that something is wrong! If we take him and his little party down into the ignition room we’ll be able to trap them in an area that no one but our little clique knows about, thus reducing the chances of the Elders finding out about them and the plan to zero. Understood?”
“…Yes.” Gabbro sighed, sending a message to Granodiorite regarding the prisoners. “What will we do about them then?”
“From there they will bear witness to my return, whereupon I will inflict some kind of deranged torment upon their souls…or something.”
“Or something?” Gabbro scoffed. “You don’t know?”
“I have a lot of really depraved ideas after half a million years, it’ll take a while to sort through them all.” He chuckled through Gabbro’s mouth. “And we’ll have all the time in the world, he and I.”
“Brother Gabbro!” Granodiorite called from down the hall. “Who are…forgive me, I thought I heard you speaking with someone.”
“You are mistaken.” Gabbro said curtly. “Are all the preparations ready?”
“Yes sir, the re-vivification spell works perfectly, all we need is the dragon.”
“Excellent. Did you tell Fracture and Crater to escort our new allies and the dragon down into the ignition chamber?”
“Yes, they should be waiting for us down there.”
“Good, very good indeed-” Gabbro took several steps forward before losing his balance and tumbling to the hard floor. “Aah! What happened?!”
Granodiorite stepped forward and examined the floor; there was what appeared to be a shallow crater cut clean out of the rock. “Oh yeah, that.”
“What is it?” Gabbro demanded, brushing himself off. “Where did that come from?”
Granodiorite fidgeted and gestured apologetically. “I’m sorry sir, it was from one of the ponies during the capture. We had phased their hooves into the rock and the Workers were going about incapacitating them, but then one of them began to glow brightly and was gone in a flash, leaving only this little dent in the floor.”
“You…” He said through gritted teeth. “…You let her escape?”
Granodiorite took a few steps back, noticing the change in his voice, the hideous otherness behind his eyes. “S-sir?”
“You let her escape.” He said, stepping forward with horrid glee in his now red eyes. “And you did not tell me? I’m afraid I must punish you.”
“She had fled, sir. She was no longer invading our domain. S-she wasn’t a threat.” Granodiorite stammered, retreating a step back with every advancing step taken by the Thing inside Gabbro.
He began to hold out His hands, the Thing in Gabbro did the same. “S-sir? Sir what are you doing?”
“Just this.” It reached out and lightly prodded Granodiorite on the nose.
Granodiorite twitched as he felt an electric shock run across his face and down his spine. Before he could speak he felt an itching sensation on the tip of his nose that spread to his entire face. It grew in intensity until it was a terrible burning stabbing throbbing pain, the entire spectrum of agony swept across his face. He opened his mouth to scream but the Thing in Gabbro prodded his throat, killing any sound before it could be made.
“No, no. We can’t have you making a fuss.” It said. “Alas! I would love to hear you sing, but I’m trying to keep a low profile you see.”
A horrible realization streaked through Granodiorite’s agony addled mind; it was not ‘it’, but ‘him’…not just any him…it was Him!
He saw this realization on his face and grinned evilly. “So quickly you understand. In your final few minutes of life I want you to contemplate the fact that you were instrumental in my release.” He leaned in, smile growing wider than what should be possible, and whispered. “…Thank you.”
Granodiorite fell to his knees in despair and agony, hands clutching at his face. The unbelievable pain washed his mind away while The Beast watched, glee visible in his blood red eyes despite Gabbro’s tears streaming down his cheeks.
“My, my, if that face isn’t causing you all kinds of trouble!” he snapped his fingers in sardonic revelation. “I know!”
Granodiorite looked up at the sparkling gem in his hand, an almost comforting smile on his face. “I think you should take it off.”
The insane Grundel reached out and snatched the razor-sharp gem and drove it into his torment-moistened cheeks. Blood and pieces of meat splatted on the stone ground as he worked, tearing off chunks and throwing them away. But then the pain began to move away from the relief of the cutting, moving up his now exposed cheekbones and into his eyes before settling in the center of his brain.
“Oh dear.” He said with a chuckle, rubbing his chin contemplatively. “It’s dug itself right in there, hasn’t it?”
Granodiorite looked up at Him plaintively, garnering a twisted smile. “A smart boy like you should be able to figure out what to do next.”
He looked at his long clawed fingers, a revelation surging through him. His wriggling fingertips were the last things he saw, but not the last thing he heard. The high child-like laughter of a cruel god rang in his ears until his long fingers dug too deep and he slumped over, dead.
Tirac sighed happily, satisfaction surging through him. “Thinking of you, Doctor…”
Twilight walked alongside Zeitgeist as they entered the launch site. The site teemed with soldiers clad in heavy-looking metal armor, each one armed with one of Zeitgeist’s incredible weapons. They hadn’t proven very effective against her of course, but the technology was brilliant in concept. A powerful light-stone and a high-grade lightning spellstone were connected to a pack containing Zeitgeist’s capacitor gel. The light given off by the light-stone was directed into a coherent beam of photons that would heat the gasses in the atmosphere into an excited state, thus allowing the directed passage of electrons through the now-conductive plasma medium. Such a weapon could just as easily stun as it could kill.
“Here, you better put this on.” Zeitgeist said, gesturing at what appeared to be and equine variant of his soldier’s armor. “Things could get hairy down there.”
“I’ve got defense spells…and aren’t you going to try some kind of chivalrous ‘a lady can’t go into battle’ asininity or some such?” Twilight said flatly as she regarded the armor.
“Normally yes, but considering said ‘lady’ has just wiped the floor with twenty of my best soldiers in under five minutes I’ll make an exception.” He said with a smile.
“And Ms. Statute is alright with you going into battle against a numerically superior foe with a home-ground advantage?” Twilight said, looking over at the forlorn looking unicorn staring out the window of his office. “It would look bad on her resume if you got your head crushed by an angry Grundel.”
Zeitgeist waved dismissively. “She’s absolved of all responsibility when it comes to me fulfilling my duty as a duke. Being a responsible leader, I will lead my soldiers into battle, and should I die it will be in that capacity.” He said before quietly adding. “For the record, no, she is not alright with it. I’m expecting an earful at dinner.”
He donned some armor and shouldered a rifle from a gun rack before he led Twilight around the corner. She stopped and gasped. “What is that?”
It was an enormous machine, twenty-five meters long from tip to tip with a height of at least eight meters. The body was cylindrical with what appeared to be small sections of caterpillar tracks placed at strategic places on the chassis, not doubt to in some way assist the massive toothed tacks that grew from the belly of the beast. The body was covered in lines from where the sections had been connected, the spaces between them showing exposed machinery that was unbearably tantalizing in its complexity. Most intriguing was the disc-shaped tool at the nose of the machine; the power cables leading into it were huge and heavily insulated, implying large amounts of energy involved. The gems studding the outside facing surface were huge and ornate, but the pattern they had been arranged in was no doubt functional in its precision. The combination of the ornate disc and the tough armor skin and cruel-looking-toothed tracks gave the distinct impression of a ceremonial war-machine.
“That…” Zeitgeist said with a proud grin. “…Is one of my XMC-703s. The newest innovation in mining technology produced by Stardust Incorporated.”
“That’s a mining machine?” Twilight said disbelievingly. “How? Where’s the drill?”
“Drills are a thing of the past!” He proclaimed. “No more will miners risk their lives in dangerous holes in the ground! With the technology used in the 703s, miners will simply wait in the insurance-friendly safety of a distant quarry!”
“How?” Twilight repeated. “What does it do?”
“Utilizing a high-powered displacement spell and a beacon spell the 703 can teleport an eight meter sphere of matter as far as twenty kilometers. Developed by me, I had the world’s best courier imprint the teleportation spell onto a stone. This way all I need do is send these out to tunnel into mountain while my mining staff pick through the teleported material that appears at the locator beacon.”
“And that’s how we’re getting to Spike?” Twilight said her focus regained, waiting until the mission was complete before she would allow herself to gush over the innovation of it all. “Once your locator spell in attuned to his DNA signature, of course.”
Zeitgeist cleared his throat, his excitement damped by her sudden return to seriousness. “Yes…speaking of locator spells, thank you.”
“I gave you that spell without the consent of its creator, one of my best friends. I hope you appreciate the gravity of that action.” She said quietly.
“You have my word as a duke that my men and I will uphold our end of the agreement.” He said steadily. “Ms. Rarity will understand, Ms. Sparkle.”
“Still…” she murmured before shaking her head. “No time for that. We leave as soon as we’ve located Spike.”
“But of course.”
The Doctor and his friends walked silently down the hallway, escorted by morose looking (and smelling) Worker Grundels. The farther they walked the more rough and fresh the tunnels looked, like they had been recently and hurriedly carved out of the rock. Wherever they were being taken, there was a good chance that no one outside of Gabbro’s team knew of its existence. They passed what appeared to be an alcove, inside of which was a series of large turbines, their thunderous thrumming silenced by a serenity spell.
“What’s that?” The Doctor said to the Worker nearest to him, knowing full well what it was.
‘That is a geothermal electricity generator.’ The Grundel named Fracture said explanatorily. ‘Utilizing an enclosed hydro-turbine loop, the heat from the earth is used to create electricity, it is what keeps the halls lit.’
“Big turbines.” Spike said thoughtfully, the cast iron chains restraining his hands clinked as he pointed at the roof. “A lot of juice for just some lights.”
“What else are they for?” The Doctor said directly, knowing the Worker could not lie.
‘It is being used to power the phase spell in the ignition chamber.’ Fracture signed. ‘To phase a small tunnel consistently for several kilometers for five minutes requires at least one gigajoule of energy.’
“Why not connect it to the city’s main generator?” The Doctor said, having already guessed the answer.
‘Such a drain in power would be noticed. Connecting even the lights for these tunnels would alert the others of their existence.’
The Doctor shot Spike a knowing look, garnering an understanding nod from the young dragon.
They entered the room at the end of the long and twisting hallway. It was full of Worker Grundels and a single Thinker as they stood around a veiled object in the center of the room. The Thinker was young and wide-eyed, comically out of place amongst the burly towering Workers.
He shuffled forwards, a welcoming smile on his face. “Greetings! It is so good to meet you Doctor!”
“You’ve heard of me?” The Doctor said with a flattered smile. “From Cheppu I gather?”
He nodded fervently. “Indeed! Word spreads quickly amongst the Workers, the Duke has become something of a boogey-dog amongst them, and your liberation of Cheppu from his clutches is a common topic of discussion at the moment!”
“And you are?” Rainbow Dash said impatiently, interrupting The Doctor’s ego trip.
“Oh!” The young Grundel exclaimed. “Forgive me please, I become careless when I become excited. I am Pellet, Thinker level-2, I serve Brother Gabbro in any way I can. I hope to perform the same service for you and your acquaintances.”
“Charmed.” The Doctor said with a reassuring smile. “Brother Gabbro said that this is what’s going to win you lot the war. Do you know how that’s going to happen?”
Pellet’s face dropped for a moment, like he was distressed by even simple contemplation of the idea. “…I confess I am not…completely certain how he will achieve this goal. B-but Brother Gabbro is indeed a genius, there are likely facets I am not considering.”
“Why don’t you tell us what you think is going on, hmm?” The Doctor said warmly.
“If that is what you wish…” The fidgeting Grundel said before clearing his throat. “Brother Gabbro intends to drain the caldera beneath Mount Calcipher in order to retrieve The Creator’s heart, the source of Calcipher’s power.”
“Wait…” Rarity said, raising her hoof. “Why does he want to get Calcipher’s heart in the first place? Shouldn’t its resting place be sacred to your people?”
“Indeed her ladyship is correct.” Pellet said with a respectful bow. “But Brother Gabbro believes that the resurrection of our creator is necessary to combat the diamond dogs and keep His evil contained. Should the heart be fused with the infant, there is a good chance that Calcipher’s great power will imbue itself into him, giving rise to a new dragon god!”
Spike sputtered and stepped forwards. “Back up. What do you mean ‘good chance’?”
Pellet cleared his throat bashfully. “There is also a chance that it will reject you and go dormant once again…and a very small chance that you would, uh, explode.”
“Explode?!” Spike exclaimed. “What do you mean I’d explode?!”
“The heart would partially fuse with you before rejecting you, whereupon it would detonate every photon in your body simultaneously.” Pellet said before adding. “…Followed shortly by every neutron in your body exploding also.”
“I’d explode twice?!” Spike said, turning to Applejack. “I thought that couldn’t happen!”
“Neither did ah!” Applejack said with a confused look on her face.
“There’d be about a nanosecond between the two.” The Doctor said pithily. “It would seem like one explosion, albeit a very large one.”
“But the chances are small!” Pellet said reassuringly. “In all likelihood you would be reborn as the most powerful being in the universe!”
“Reborn?” Fluttershy said worriedly. “How do you mean?”
“Uuuh…” Pellet muttered. “The, uh, the process would involve less of a transfer of power to the intended vessel and more of a…copying of the vessel with changes made to accommodate the incredible energies.”
Pellet recoiled violently when Rainbow Dash flashed in front of him, fury in her eyes. “That’s sick! You’d kidnap a baby and murder him on the off chance it would make something as powerful as your creator appear?!”
“W-w-w-we’re doing it for the greater good!” Pellet stammered, realization creeping onto his face. “If one should die that the rest may live-”
“Then the lives of the rest would be hollow at best!” Zecora said, walking over to Spike. “Take a good look, my Grundel friend, at the infant whose life you strive to end! To take his life without knowing his plight, makes you just as bad as He you fight.”
A clapping from behind turned all their heads, Gabbro’s deep refined voice carrying through the room eerily. “How poetic. You know, you almost had me convinced not to…but then I realized that every living being on the planet would soon be tortured to undeath by a maniacal abomination. Perspective thus gained…”
“Hello Gabbro.” The Doctor said lowly. “How’s life?”
“Quite good, victory is within grasp…” Gabbro strode up to The Doctor and leaned in, his facial expression suddenly shifting to that of desperate fear. “Stop me.” A cruel smile replaced the fear with unnatural speed, his eyes flashing red for a split second. “Please, try.”
He brushed past The Doctor and over to Pellet. “Pellet, how goes the preparation?”
“Quite good Brother Gabbro. The penetrator has been loaded into place, it now only awaits the phase generator to create the tunnel.”
“And the revivification spell?” He said happily.
“We now only need the blood of a dragon to prepare the penetrator.”
The Doctor stepped forward, his expression serious, there was no doubt in his mind that things had gone from worse to critical; Tirac was in control now. “Care to tell us what’s going on, ally?”
Gabbro turned to face The Doctor, the being behind his eyes radiating an almost palpable level of malevolence, obvious only to him and his team through the perception filter. “Well, you see, we need the dragon’s blood to pattern the revivification spell off of in order to restore a small part of Calcipher to its original state for a short period of time.”
“And that will accomplish…what?”
“Well…” Gabbro said explanatorily. “…A few years ago a team of engineers, whilst attempting to install a large geothermal generator, discovered something strange about the magma pocket under Mount Calcipher. Specifically, there is an adamantine spell cast upon the stone surrounding the magma chamber; so long as the heart resides within the chamber it is effectively impenetrable. Impenetrable to all but god-level weapons.” He smiled and pulled the tarp off of the object in the middle of the room, it was a single spire of diamond roughly two meters long attached to a launch pad leading into the ground at a slight incline. “This piece of diamond has been conclusively determined as the tip of one of Calcipher’s pedal claws, one of the few pieces not transmogrified into the mountain structure by Terra upon his death.”
The Doctor nodded grimly. “When you revive it to its natural state, it will be more than enough to pierce the magma chamber and drain it.”
Gabbro tapped his nose. “Correct! I trust Pellet has informed you of our intentions with the heart?”
Pellet shuffled up to Gabbro, nodded enthusiastically. “Oh yes sir! Indeed I have!”
“Good boy.” Gabbro said before casually turning to the assembled Workers. “Restrain them.”
The crowd of Workers immediately surrounded the ponies and held them fast. They struggled futilely against the incredible strength of the large creatures, Applejack needing to be lifted clear off the ground to fully immobilize her. Spike yelped as he was hoisted into the air by the chain rope tied to his restraints.
Pellet blinked in confusion. “Sir…?”
Gabbro produced a large blue crystal, activating a carved rune. A hologram appeared in the air with a low trilling sound, in it was a view of the mine’s work yard as it bustled with activity. A large group of what was unmistakably soldiers gathered around one of those enormous machines. The picture zoomed in, and again, closer and closer until a single purple unicorn was visible, she was in the middle of a silent exchange with an armed and ready Zeitgeist.
“They are spies.” Gabbro said with finality. “That purple unicorn there was with them when they entered our domain. She escaped and is now enlisting the help of the Duke. There can be no other conclusion.”
“But…” Pellet muttered, turning to The Doctor. “…Why would he help Cheppu escape the Duke if he was working with him?”
“To sow discontent and doubt in our ranks, Pellet!” Gabbro said righteously. “He knew that Cheppu would return and spread the Duke’s lies and deceptions to our Elders, knowing that they would rightfully lower their guard in favor of diplomacy thus allowing him to strike!”
“That’s terrible!” Pellet said in disgust. “Such lies and deceit are worthy of The Beast Himself!”
“Thank you.” Gabbro said under his breath. “Now they shall pay for their chicanery by witnessing our victory! Prepare for ignition!”
“Yes sir!” Pellet said excitedly, running towards the claw tip.
“Hey Pellet!” Applejack shouted. “Ah know you’re doing what you think is right ‘n all, but just think fer a second! Where in the blazes d’you think all that magma’s gonna go?!”
Pellet rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to speak before blinking in confusion. “I…well of course it’d…sir?”
Gabbro cleared his throat nervously. “W-well naturally I have constructed a series of caves and pits for it to flow into!”
“But I’ve been helping you this whole time.” Pellet said with realization. “You never ordered such a thing!”
“Why don’t you tell him about the tunnels under Stardust City, Gabbro?” Rarity said icily.
“Ignore her!” Gabbro said angrily. “Prepare the penetrator!”
“But I thought the ground was to stable to undermine? What possible…use…could…?” Pellet gasped in horror. “A-and if the magma is released, the pressure differential in the chamber would cause a great deal of it to go upwards! The entire equine city would be annihilated as well! All those lives…”
“Prepare the penetrator!” Gabbro growled and turned to Pellet. “That’s an order!”
“No sir!” Pellet said, distraught anger in his voice. “This is wrong!”
“Workers!” Gabbro barked. “Restrain Pellet! He has betrayed Calcipher!”
The unoccupied Workers reluctantly began to converge on Pellet when their intercom crystals activated, projecting a hologram of the ancient and stern features of Elder Granite.
“My fellow Grundels…” he said. “For over a decade we have fought valiantly against Great Corruptor and those who would unwittingly free him. No one can call into doubt the importance of our actions or the righteousness of our goal. However, it has been brought to our attention by a reliable source that our resident tactician and strategist Brother Gabbro has been operating without express permission of the council or the Elders, and in this capacity intends to commit an atrocity! Due to this dereliction of duty and apparent contempt for our governing system, the Grundel known as Gabbro is hereby stripped of his rank of Thinker Level-10. He is to be apprehended by any Worker or Thinker who in his company or knows of his whereabouts. Upon apprehension he is to be brought before the council and Elders for official punishment. This is Elder Granite apologizing on behalf of the Grundel Governing Body.”
Gabbro looked around at the roomful of Grundels as they all turned to him, relieved smiles on their faces. “…Aw Grundelmumf…”
Pellet grinned and gestured at Gabbro. “Workers! Release the ponies and restrain Gabbro!”
Gabbro sighed and shrugged. “Plan B…”
He launched forwards with a roar, streaking past the bewildered Workers with unnatural speed in a single blurred motion. A moment later and he had wrapped around Pellet’s mouth, his fingers digging in painfully as he lifted the smaller Thinker off the ground. The Workers spun around to see a dark and terrible aura roiling off the Thinker Grundel like black fire.
“You know, I was actually willing to give this whole ‘subtlety’ thing a go…” Tirac smiled grotesquely with Gabbro’s mouth, his eyes now glowing pits of scarlet light as his fingers began to burn into Pellet’s face. “Oh well! It’s more fun this way!”
There was a hiss of ionized air combined with the sizzle of cooking meat as jet-black tendrils of energy exploded out the back of Pellet’s head, splattering the wall with blood and steaming brain. The body thudded to the ground, the remains of the young Grundel’s head hitting with a wet sound, Tirac turned around in a flash and extended his arms with his fingers splayed. More of the tendrils lanced from his fingers, each one lightly touching the foreheads of each Worker Grundel. The Workers twitched slightly before collapsing in a heap on the ground, small trickles of blood streaming from their eyes, ears, and nostrils.
“Now…” Tirac turned to the shocked ponies and dragon; his deranged toothy grin gave way to a more restrained but no-less sinister smirk. “…What shall I do with you?”
He raised his arms, garnering a collective flinch from the group. A purple ball formed above his hands, it silently exploded in flash of light, smaller undulating balls of light streaking towards the fallen Worker Grundels. They entered the fallen creature’s heads through the small burn mark that dotted each of their foreheads, a small buzz of energy and the bodies twitched. Slowly each Worker opened their eyes, now glowing red with the dark magic that pulsed inside their heads.
“Restrain them again.” Tirac said.
The Worker Grundels lunged at the ponies with ferocious speed, once again catching them off guard and immobilizing them.
Tirac gave Pellet’s corpse a little kick and chuckled as it twitched slightly. “I wish I hadn’t done that…killed him so quickly, I mean.” He turned back to his prisoners walking towards them at a leisurely pace. “If only I had the time to thank him. You see, these Grundels have dedicated their entire existence to my permanent imprisonment, so it’s especially satisfying to tell them what a pivotal role they played in my release! They practically lose the will to live!”
“And that’s just nirvana for you, isn’t it?” The Doctor said in disgust. “The degradation of other living beings!”
“Degradation, humiliation, mortification, mutation, I love it all!” Tirac said jubilantly. “Really, can there be any greater satisfaction than the utter destruction of a sentient being? Any greater music than the sound of screams?”
“You’re a monster!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed.
Tirac winked and clicked his tongue before turning to The Doctor. “Real sharp bunch you’ve put together here, Doctor! But then I guess the bar was set pretty low…”
“I’m sorry-I meet so many personifications of evil in travels-have we met?” The Doctor said casually.
Tirac paused. “It’s me…Tirac. Demon God. The Evil One. Holder of The Source of Darkness. The Beast. Him. Ring any bells?”
“Oh I know who you are.” The Doctor said. “You just seem to be awfully familiar with me.”
“Five hundred thousand years ago you helped the gods of this world to align against me. Had it not been for you, I may never have been defeated, I may never have been imprisoned!” Tirac said with a growl. “You woke Calcipher from his slumber, participated in my first defeat, and crippled The Source of Darkness…remember now?”
The Doctor played along and nodded. “Oh right! That Tirac.”
“Remember?” Tirac said with a smile. “Good. Because I want you to reflect on every little thing you did to stop me while I torture you and your friends in increasingly horrible ways for the rest of eternity!”
Fire Dazzler chuckled nervously. “Isn’t an eternity of torture a little much for a measly half-a-million years of imprisonment? You’re a god, that’s like a dime for you!”
Tirac nodded and shrugged. “What can I say, I’m petty.”
“At least you’re willing to admit it.” The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Don’t be offended if I’m not scared, this isn’t the first time I’ve been threatened with an eternity of agony. After one hears it a thousand times it begins to lose its edge.”
Tirac scoffed and patted the restrained stallion on the head. “I see this universe hasn’t affected your wit the same way it did your height.”
The Doctor’s eyes widened. “What?”
Tirac’s smile broadened even wider. “Ah…it’s that moment of dawning realization that I live for! To be fair, there really isn’t any way for you to know who I truly am.”
“Who?” The Doctor said, his expression serious and his voice low. “Who are you?”
“No doubt you remember my other prison.” Tirac growled. “An ugly little rock inside the event horizon of a black hole? Those idiotic apes and their lobotomized squid-faced servants had been working so hard to liberate me! I was almost out, almost free, but then you and your pet chav appeared! You sent my body plummeting into the singularity while she shot me out of an airlock to follow it!”
He swallowed hard, this had just gone from critical to disastrous. “You…”
“Yes!” Tirac said with a smile. “Me! You know, I was actually surprised that that little tart wasn’t here with you! Heh-heh…what do you suppose her cutie mark would be? Fish’n’Chips? A sack of hammers? Oh wait, I’ve got it! A ball and chain! Heheheheheheheheheheheh!!”
The Doctor ignored that comment and asked. “How did you get here?”
“Painfully.” Tirac said bluntly. “Every atom in my body was crushed and stretched into nothingness, my immortal soul in constant agony as the dead heart of a star ground me down. But then I saw it; a pulsating orb of the deepest black, a dark nothingness so potent that it stood out even in the light-crushing heart of a singularity. The Source of Darkness, a large deposit of manifest non-matter, unbelievable power and it was mine for the taking!”
That’s impossible!” The Doctor said. “Non-matter erases reality! It should have killed you the second you touched it!”
“It very nearly did! I reached out for it, it ripped me apart while smashing me together; I existed in all points of time and space for but an instant before being compressed to a point smaller than an electron. And then I was here, alive, free, and more powerful than ever! It would seem that the intense conditions of a singularity had tempered it into a usable tool! And through it I am immortal! Hehehehehehe-hahahahahahahahahAHAHAHAHAHAAA-”
“*Snerk* Phhht-! Heehee…”
A stifled snickering to his left cut off Tirac’s triumphant laugh, he turned to see Spike as he dangled from the chain held by the revenant Grundel, biting his lower lip to restrain an amused giggle. Tirac loomed over the chuckling dragon, a look of bemused fury on his face. “What are you laughing at?”
“Heh-ha-he…o-oh nothing *giggle* J-just…” Spike calmed himself down and answered. “You.”
“Come again?” Tirac snapped.
Spike rolled his eyes disparagingly. “You, dude! You’re hysterical! A riot!”
“No.” Tirac rumbled. “I’m really, really not.”
“Oh come on!” Spike said with a scoff. “You’re all like ‘soon the world will be mine, moo-hoo-ha-ha-ha’. Psht! Y’know, when I heard that ‘The Demon God Tirac’ was loose I was kinda expecting something more, I dunno, sinister and menacing! I really wasn’t expecting some mugging chucklehead crooning clichés like a Saturday morning cartoon villain!”
“What.” Tirac said through gritted teeth.
“Look…” Spike said with a sigh. “I was expecting you to be more ‘Freezer from Serpent Spheres X’, but you’re actually some kind of cross between Snidely Whiplash and a Captain Planet villain.”
Tirac’s arm shot out, grabbing the small dragon by the throat and lifting him face to face. “And what if I just bled you dry and snapped your neck like the twig it is? Would that be sinister and menacing enough?!”
“More like spiteful and stupid…” Spike croaked through the infuriated hand around his throat. “…In case you forgot, we dragons turn to gems when we die! Blood and all! So unless you were just diddling around with all that spell-breaking garbage a minute ago, you need me alive to forward this whole plan of yours!”
Tirac hissed and dropped him, pointing a finger at the assembled ponies. “Once I’m truly free, you and your friends will beg for death!”
“Uh-huh, ‘till then.” Spike said, deadpan, and gesturing at the revenant Grundel holding his chain. “These guys aren’t alive anymore are they? That big light show you did killed them?”
“Yes.” Tirac said, turning away from the dragon and walking towards the penetrator. “I always loathe using revenants, they’re too stupid and uncoordinated even for minions, but the situation demanded it.”
“That’s a ‘no’.” Spike said with a smile, biting the iron chain holding his hands together. His razor sharp teeth cleaved through the cast iron links like butter, sparks flying from his mouth as he landed feet first on the ground. He opened his hand extending his claws as he spun around and raked them across the soft flesh directly above the revenant Grundel’s kneecaps. He dashed and rolled between the undead corpse’s legs as it toppled forwards, the tendons keeping the legs taught had been severed. Tirac spun around to see the revenant rise to its feet only to topple forwards again as Spike pulled a large wrench from the tool shelf in the room. Spike spun around to face Tirac, his expression serious as he held the wrench out in front of him.
Tirac chuckled contemptuously. “Oh no! What’re you going to do with that? Fix the plumbing?”
“No…” Spike said lowly. “I’m gonna wreck your power generators, allowing my friends and I to escape and preventing you from phasing your penetrator thingy. Clear?”
The Doctor shot Fire Dazzler a look; he nodded and began to concentrate.
Tirac raised an eyebrow, too distracted by Spike to notice. “Oh? Please, tell me how you plan to destroy three multi-ton generators twenty meters away whilst surrounded on all sides by my faithful servants…with nothing but a wrench.”
Spike smiled, hoping to distract Tirac long enough for that scatter-maned stallion to work his magic. “Easy. You ever hear the story of the watchmaker in the desert?”
Tirac blinked, oddly enough he hadn’t heard of it. “No, actually.”
“That’s because I made it up just now.” Spike said, still buying time for Fire Dazzler.
“Ah. Tell me then, how does it go?” Tirac said sardonically, raising his hand to magically attack the young dragon.
“A watch maker takes his pocket watch into the desert. It stops working.” Spike said, brandishing the wrench for emphasis. “The end.”
Tirac clapped his hands and laughed mockingly. “Ooh kid! Post that one on Equestria Daily, I’m sure it’ll get six stars!”
“The moral of the story, you see…” Spike said, his chest expanding as he inhaled air. “…Is that small things in the right place can cause big problems; like a grain of sand in the gears of a pocket watch or, say…” he smiled widely as magic fire built in his throat. “…A wrench in a turbine?”
Tirac’s eyes widened and he prepared to attack, but it was too late. Spike exhaled a bright plume of green flames onto the wrench in his hands; it disintegrated and disappeared into the evanescing green fire. An instant later a wrench materialized in-between the main fan and rotor of the middle turbine, stopping it dead and shattering it spectacularly. In a matter of milliseconds the entire fuselage and outer shell of the turbine was filled with superheated water vapor. A tremendous explosion followed as the equivalent of several hundred kilograms of high explosive obliterated the middle turbine, sending supersonic shrapnel out in all directions, shredding the other turbines and causing similar explosions.
As the lights went out Tirac’s laugh sounded out over the explosive din. “You little fool! Look at the body I inhabit, the environment in which it lives! Do you really think I would be hampered by darkness? My low-light vision in this body is a hundred times that of a pony or a dragon!”
“Actually…” said The Doctor’s voice from behind. “We were counting on it. I bet your pupils are good and dilated by now!”
Tirac spun around in the darkness, the dim light of channeled magic encasing the white stallion’s horn. “…N-”
Fire Dazzler’s face screwed with concentration. “PTFE!!”
His horn exploded in a cascade of blinding white light. Tirac’s sensitive Grundel eyes were wide open when the light burned in, sending white-hot lances of agony shooting into his brain. Tirac screamed and squeezed his eyes shut, his hands shooting to his face. “AAAAHG!!”
Tirac felt a equine mouth snatch something from his pocket and heard the clatter of hooves as the revenants released the ponies, the undamaged parts of their brains instinctively opting to shield their eyes. A clatter of hooves and jubilant congratulations raced down the hall away from him.
Tirac roared in fury, words unable to express his boundless rage.
The ponies raced down the hallway, their way illuminated by Fire Dazzler’s less intense illumination spell. The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver trilled and the door to the generator room, now a hell of superheated steam and shattered metal, phased shut. They ran through the rapidly cooling cloud of steam left in the hall and continued to run full tilt, Tirac’s scream of hatred echoing up the narrow hall, the pure malice in it almost felt as though it was crawling over their skin.
“Kudos is in order, Spike!” The Doctor said to the grinning dragon. “I hadn’t expected Tirac to be in full control when I put the plan together, your adlibbing really pulled our flanks out of the fire!”
“Not gonna lie, l’il guy!” Applejack said with an admiring smile. “Talking tah Tirac like that took serious horse apples!”
Rarity voiced her agreement. “Oh indeed! That was amazing! You broke his composure quite handily, but how did you know he’d let you talk? He could have just knocked you out!”
Spike nodded and chuckled bashfully; Rarity thought he was amazing! “I wasn’t lying about that Saturday morning cartoon stuff! I figured that if he was the type to bring us down to his lair and tell us his evil plan, he’d be the type to let me monologue for a bit!”
The Doctor laughed happily. “Brilliant! I can’t imagine why Twilight thinks you’d be in danger if you traveled with us!”
Pinkie Pie galloped alongside The Doctor and looked up at Spike. “Since when can you bite through iron chains?”
“Since forever…” Spike said with a roll of his eyes. “I can chew diamonds! Those chains might as well have been made of gummy worms for all the good they did!”
“Mmm…gummy chains…” Pinkie said hungrily.
Fluttershy sighed and sniffled slightly. “Those poor, poor Workers. I liked Fracture and Crater, they were nice.”
“They all were.” The Doctor said, eyes narrowing. “We have to stop him. If we don’t he’ll just keep killing and killing…”
“You know him, don’t you?” Rainbow Dash said from above. “All that in the room there wasn’t just bluffing, was it?”
“A little from column A and a little from column B.” The Doctor said with a so-so head tilt gesture. “The ‘second’ time we met from his point of view is somewhere around five hundred thousand years in the past, or some point in time in my future. The first time we met for both of us was back in my universe.”
“What was he there?” Zecora said inquisitively.
“Pretty much the same, a powerful godlike source of homicidal evil; although he’d been in that prison for a couple billion years by the time.” The Doctor said, recollecting. “Rose and I dropped him into the black hole to stop him from getting free…but he just wound up here instead!”
The light began to return as they entered a smooth walled room. Fire Dazzler deactivated his horn and turned to the other ponies. “Okay. We’re in the clear! Wow! Was that a close one or what?” The other ponies simply stared, looks of shock and amusement on their faces. “W-what? What’re you looking at?”
Rarity gestured at her face. “You’ve got a little…Uhh.”
The Doctor trilled his sonic screwdriver and a small section of the magical walls became reflective. Fire Dazzler looked into the mirror and shrieked; all the fur around his horn, as well as a section of his forehead and mane had been burned away, leaving only slightly red exposed skin. “AAH!! This is why I use chemicals! Setting off pyrotechnic displays on your face is a stupid talent!! But then I’ve never used a PTFE spell before…I guess this is why!”
Applejack chuckled and nudged him heartily. “Ah’m just glad ya knew how tah do it in the first place! You did good Fire Dazzler.”
He smiled and nodded shallowly. “Yeah…I guess I did…”
A dark bolt of energy blasted a small chunk of rock out of the wall, causing Fire Dazzler and Applejack to leap back. The demon wearing Gabbro’s body lurched into view, his still dazed eyes blinking rapidly. “Damn…”
“That was quick!” The Doctor said exasperatedly. “I thought you’d be blinded for at least another few minutes!”
“I am, you idiot!” Tirac growled. “Doesn’t mean I can’t still navigate with my other senses! Mortals…”
“Fortunately y’all need eyes tah aim!” Applejack shouted at him, winking at Rainbow Dash.
“Ears do just fine.” He said quietly, pointing a darkly glowing finger at her.
A blue blur flashed by impacting his arm at high speed, sending the deadly blast to fizzle harmlessly against the wall. Rainbow Dash chuckled and streaked towards the reeling demon. Tirac smirked and instantly regained his footing, planting a powerful punch directly into Rainbow Dash’s face as she sped towards him. His wiry Grundel muscles sent the pegasus hurtling backwards, stopped only by the hand that grasped her back hoof. Tirac grunted and swung the semi-conscious pegasus into a charging Applejack, sending the two of them tumbling across the floor. Zecora silently sped towards him, only a small grunt giving her away as she leapt into the air, intending to plant the sharp edges of her hooves on the back of his cervical vertebrae. He smirked and ducked with unnatural speed, his right hand twisting into a large hideously powerful fist. He roared as his drove his fist directly into her solar plexus as she soared overhead. Zecora exhaled in pain and instinctively doubled over, thudding loudly on the hard stone floor before skidding to a stop, immobilized by pain.
Tirac cracked his neck and turned to the remaining ponies, a wide grin on his face. “Pity these Grundels can’t be easily corrupted, they’d make excellent warriors.”
Fire Dazzler shrieked and raced forward, head down with his sharp horn pointing forward. Tirac casually sidestepped him and planted an open palmed blow across the stallion’s face, lifting him clear off his hooves and sending him flying across the room to bounce painfully off the stony wall.
He turned back to The Doctor, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie huddling behind him as Rarity nervously prepared to do battle. “So…what was your plan again? Run around and hope that I didn’t catch you? To be honest-”
Spike hissed and leapt at Tirac from the side. Tirac lifted his hand and arcs of lightning lanced forwards, striking the young dragon and suspending him in mid air. Spike convulsed as the electricity danced over his body, a scream of agony silenced by convulsing vocal chords. Tirac telekinetically tossed the infant over his shoulder the moment he went limp, striking Applejack across the face with the unconscious dragon as she stealthily attempted to rise to her hooves, sending her sprawling once again.
“…To be honest, I expected better from you. That business with the generators and the living fax machine over there, now that was clever!”
The Doctor looked around, all the best fighters in the group (and Fire Dazzler) had been laid low over the course of a minute. He gulped lightly. “So…where are your zombie friends?”
“Dead.” He said nonchalantly. “I told you I hate using revenants, and without their eyes they’re even more useless! A waste of magic.”
“So what are you going to do now? No generators means no phased tunnel for your ignition penetrator.” Rarity said steadily, professional as ever.
“Part of Plan-A, may it rest in peace. I never really needed them, but Grundels can’t channel near enough energy for that sort of thing, wouldn’t want to give myself away or anything.”
The Doctor’s ears perked, a smile tugging at the sides of his face. “…Speaking of Plan-Bs…”
A deep thunderous rumbling began to reverberate through the room. Tirac growled in confusion and turned to the source of the sound, the right-most ‘side’ of the spherical room. A basso electrical sound accompanied a bright white flash that engulfed the entire segment of wall. An instant later nothing remained of the wall and part of the floor, now replaced with a solid-looking wall of metal. A door sprung open from the metal object and dozens of heavily armored diamond dogs streamed out of a space inside. Leading the charge was Zeitgeist Stardust.
“Hold your fire! Shoot him if he moves!” All weapons were trained on Tirac as Zeitgeist made his way to The Doctor, looking around at the beaten ponies. “I see I’ve arrived just in time.”
“Good to see you Zeit.” The Doctor said with a smile.
“Never thought I’d hear that from you, Doctor.” Zeitgeist said with a smile. “So, who’s the Grundel? Friend of yours?”
“Hardly.” The Doctor scoffed. “Careful, that’s Tirac, he-”
“Fire!” Zeitgeist roared.
All of the soldiers opened fire with their lightning guns, two-dozen blue-white energy beams converged and Tirac disappeared behind a ball of bright light and smoke.
The Doctor clopped his hoof against his forehead. “I didn’t say ‘kill him’!”
“You said he was Tirac.” Zeitgeist said with a shrug. “Excuse me if I don’t give the Elder God time to attack! Now all we have to do is mop up and get out of here!”
The Doctor turned to the smoldering patch burnt in the ground. “Look again. No pieces. I know your weapons are powerful, but there’s no way they could have vaporized him!”
A grenadier knelt down to gently scoop up the unconscious infant dragon lying next to a dazed pony being assisted by his comrades. He was internally surprised at how much the dragon weighed. He looked up to see a hideous face rise out of the floor, followed shortly by the rest of its body. He barely let out a yelp of alarm before the Grundel spread his arms wide and swung them inwards, smashing the balls of his fists into each side of the grenadier’s head. The sturdy helmet crumpled and the soldier grunted before falling over backwards. As he collapsed Tirac snatched the Spike from his limp arms with one hand and his lighting gun with the other. With demonic speed he turned to The Doctor and took aim.
“Doctor! Watch-” Zeitgeist said, shoving The Doctor out of the way just as a blue-white spear of photons and plasma flashed into existence. Having moved into The Doctor’s place while pushing him Zeitgeist grunted in pain as the laser beam instantly superheated a three-centimeter wide area of his torso armor into plasma, causing a small explosion that knocked him off his feet and sent him skidding across the floor.
“Your Excellency!!” Sergeant Doppler cried, turning to the offending Grundel and opening fire as he sidestepped his way towards his fallen lord.
Tirac gritted his teeth and mentally re-directed the beam away from him, but as more and more diamond dogs began to fire at him he was forced to deflect them all, a much more energy consuming process. He stomped the ground and super charged what little Grundel magic he knew, summoning a meter thick wall of rock between him and his attackers. He looked at the monolithic wall, panting softly. This past half hour had consumed nearly all of the energy Granodiorite’s suffering had given him, with the diamond dogs in the mix there was an actual threat of defeat now. Behind him there was flash of light and a rush of air, he spun around to see a single purple unicorn standing in a shower of magical sparks as they heatlessly dissipated.
She locked eyes with him, the hairs on the back of Gabbro’s neck stood up as the air became electrified. “Are you the one they call Gabbro?”
“Well, I’m wearing the one they call Gabbro.” Tirac said with a twisted smile. “I’m Tirac, the monster who killed all but three of this world’s gods half-a-million years ago, pleased to meet you.”
The unicorn’s face stayed the same, an expression of stern determination. “You could be Radian for all I care. The dragon in your arms, hand him over and I’ll consider leaving your skeleton where it is.”
Tirac laughed in genuine amusement, raising the lightning gun until it came to bear on her. “Oh! Was that a threat from a pony? I think I’m in love!”
Twilight ripped the lightning gun from his hand and snapped it in half, flinging the remains across the bisected room. Tirac leveled a glare at her, teeth bared. He raised his hand and pointed at her, summoning his strongest killing spell, hoping that in his weakened state it would cause an appropriate amount of pain for the disrespect he had just witnessed. The arc of deadly black energy lanced out towards the unicorn, eating the light around it. Tirac gasped in horror as the spell fizzled against a shield spell emanating from her.
Her eyes began to glow from behind as a hideously powerful magical aura began to undulate from her body, a small smile on her face. “That…was…a mistake.”
The Doctor rushed to Zeitgeist’s side as the wall rose up with a boom. He examined the ceramic/metallic plate of the armor with his sonic screwdriver; a fair sized crater had been blasted out of it, but no penetration.
“Impressed?” Zeitgeist groaned as he sat himself up. “My own design. Carbon nanotube enhanced titanium filaments suspended in a heat absorbing ceramic. That chest plate could take ten more such hits and still stop a crossbow.”
The Doctor clicked his tongue as he checked his readings. “The armor may hold up, but the wearer won’t! You have two ribs cracked, one bruised.”
Zeitgeist hissed through his teeth as he rose to his feet. “Feels about right…”
Sergeant Doppler rushed to Zeitgeist, doing a small salute and clearing his throat. “Your Excellency, the one known as Tirac has abducted the dragon. The wall he raised is a meter of solid granite, it will take us half an hour to get through with our lightning guns and the room is too unstable to dig around with the 703.”
Zeitgeist smiled and waved his hand. “Never you mind that, the dragon will be back with us in a matter of moments.”
The Doctor opened his mouth to ask a question before being cut off by Tirac crashing through the granite wall, punching a two-meter wide hole in it before smashing into the wall of the room with enough force to crater it. Twilight hopped through the hole she had made, Spike resting carefully on her back. As she did a low rumbling filled the room, dust and small pebbles falling from the ceiling.
“That last bit did it!” The Doctor shouted over the din. “Everyone get into the 703!”
The soldiers and ponies sprinted towards the 703’s open hatch. The grenadiers allowed the ponies to enter first, only entering after Zeitgeist limped in. The hatch closed and the 703 began to charge up its mechanism, its mighty tacks moving it backwards through the tunnel it had dug. Soon it was racing back to the surface, leaving the collapsing room behind.
The 703 shuddered and shook as it rolled through the rough tunnel forged by the machine’s entrance. Inside the cramped space inside The Doctor and his friends sighed a collective sigh of relief.
Applejack cheered and bucked happily, stopping only to hiss through her teeth as her bruised body objected painfully to her celebration. “Now that was a rescue! Honestly Twi, you an’ Zeit really timed that ‘un well!”
“Yeah!” Rainbow Dash said enthusiastically, limping on her back left leg. “Tirac was gonna take us apart like a bunch of potato heads!”
Twilight knelt over an unconscious Spike, looking up at them with a relieved expression. “Really, it was Zeit who deserves the credit, he brought the hardware…”
“Nonsense!” Zeitgeist said with a wave of his paw. “If what The Doctor has told me is true, you just tossed around an Elder God like a ragdoll! Makes your little stroll through my facility look like an elderly mare filing a complaint!”
Twilight sighed and shook her head. “He was weakened, severely weakened. The killing spell he threw at me was unbelievably complex like Celestia’s sun-raising spell, just thinking about it makes my head hurt. I only stopped it because he was running low on whatever energy he runs on.”
The Doctor nodded gravely. “He can only transfer limited amounts of his own power through whatever connection he has with Gabbro, but that doesn’t mean he can’t pull energy from an outside source…” The Doctor turned to Zeitgeist. “I imagine you have some sort of device for this thing that allows it to see through rocks?”
“Of course, we aren’t driving blind or anything…” Zeitgeist said with a smile that disappeared after some thought. “Do you think he’s still alive?”
The Doctor raced to the cockpit and opened the door. He hurried inside and began to look over the machinery, pulling out his sonic screwdriver and running over the control panels.
“Hey!” The pilot said indignantly. “What’s this business?!”
“None of yours.” Zeitgeist said sternly as he entered. “Back to work Mr. Gräber.”
“Y-yes Your Excellency.” He said before turning back to the controls, ears down.
“You never get tired of being called that, do you?” The Doctor said with a sideways glance.
“Comes with the job.” Zeitgeist said quickly punching in some coordinates, the imager showing a glowing red area. “Look, that entire room and everything in it has been crushed by several megatons of granite, nothing could survive that, especially if he was as weakened as Ms. Sparkle asserts.”
“I don’t suppose you can detect something as delicate as a body with this thing, hmm?”
“No, the scan penetrates all things save very hard or very dense materials like gems or certain metals. However, it does take detailed chemical scans of what it does penetrate.” Zeitgeist said, looking over to The Doctor who was pulling what appeared to be a large crystal out of his pocket. “What’s that?”
“Personal communications/holo-imaging device…” he said, scanning over it with his sonic screwdriver. “…Ah hah! Just as I thought, it stores information as well!”
“…So? My company makes those too.”
“Heh. What are they called? I-Gems?” The Doctor said with a scoff.
“Don’t be foolish! My marketing department can do better than that!” Zeit said with a huff. “We make Mi-Shards.”
The Doctor rolled his eyes and the sonic screwdriver trilled, causing the screen to flicker as a hologram sprang from the crystal. In it was the ignition room; the floor was strewn with the dead bodies of the Grundels who had been discarded by Tirac. The Doctor blinked as a figure limped into the room, it was a Thinker Grundel whose face was turned to them as it made its way towards a crystal spire mounted on a launch platform. It was Tirac.
“How did he survive?” Zeitgeist said, shocked.
Tirac spun around, looking in all directions for the source of the voice. “What…”
The Doctor turned to Zeitgeist with a small smile on his face. “I synchronized the imager’s scanner with the communications crystal. We can put a carrier wave through it and see any and all places through the rock medium. Unfortunately he can hear us due to-”
“The communicator translating your input into sound waves by oscillating the rock medium.” Tirac finished, his sneer on Gabbro’s face. “I see you’re as thorough as ever, Doctor.”
“I never expect your type to stay dead Tirac, no matter the circumstances!” The Doctor said with a roll of his eyes. “It’s rather tiring actually.”
“Just as well Doctor!” Tirac snarled. “In fact, it’s ideal! You get to witness my ultimate triumph!”
“You must be going a little stir crazy in that body, Ticcy! We have the dragon and, by extension, his blood. That means no restoring that claw, no rupturing the magma chamber, and no body to imbue with god-like energies for you to inhabit! You’ve lost!” The Doctor said with a stomp of his hoof. “Give it up!”
“Fool.” Tirac spat. “True, I would have liked to have the infant’s body fused with Calcipher’s heart, but it was never more than a convenient bonus! All I truly need is to burn those cities alive, their pain will restart the Source of Darkness, giving me the power to free myself fully!”
“But you still need the blood to cast your revivification spell on the claw!” The Doctor said before adding under his breath. “Three…two…one…”
Tirac reached into his sleeve and produced a small vial with a dark red liquid inside, garnering a frustrated ‘tch’ from The Doctor. “I took this while the dragon slept, just in case.”
“I hate it when they’re clever…” The Doctor sighed. “…What’re you gonna do for power? That little fight nearly took what little power you had and your generators are a little fragmented at the moment!”
“I have my ways, Doctor.” Tirac said, slapping his hand against the spire, crushing the vial of blood against it. “Ciao.”
Tirac began to concentrate as his hand began to glow; the glow encapsulated the spire as heatless sparks of magic lanced around it. Slowly the spire began to turn a deep lustrous black, the launch pad and surrounding rock beginning to strain under the weight of the tempered adamantine coming into being atop it.
The Doctor stomped his hoof in exasperation, Zeitgeist biting his lip nervously. “Doctor, does that mean he’s still…”
“Yes.” The Doctor said lowly. “He’s still going to destroy the city.”
“Can we swing back and stop him, I mean, if he’s as weakened as Twilight said he is…”
“No. By now he’s already created the tunnel and launched the penetrator, we have a little over five minutes before it hits, after that I calculate another three before the chamber ruptures and both cities are destroyed.” The Doctor lowered his head, a heavy sigh escaping his lips.
“Can’t we intercept the object sir?” Gräber said inquisitively. “I can swing this thing around and get back there in less than two minutes!”
The Doctor groaned and shook his head. “That thing is solid adamantine now, literally a weapon of the gods! Anything that gets in its way will be obliterated at a conceptual level!”
Zeitgeist sighed and slumped. “My city…my people…there’s no time for evacuation! Soon it’ll just be a smoldering hole in the ground!”
The Doctor’s ear perked up, a flash of inspiration behind his eyes, the beginnings of a wide smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Zeit…after seeing and hearing this machine of yours for a second time I’d have to say that it runs on some sort of displacement/teleportation mechanism, correct?
The Doctor’s smile lit up his face. “That’s it!”
“What’s it?” Zeitgeist said worriedly. “Doctor…what are you planning?”
The 703 bucked slightly and evened out, a solid clunk was heard from outside and Gräber turned to them. “We’ve surfaced Your Excellency.”
The Doctor raced out of the cockpit, calling out to his friends. “Everyone out! Tirac’s activated the penetrator, we’ve got about six minutes until both cities go up!”
“Six minutes?!” Twilight said in horror. “But-”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got a plan!” The Doctor said happily as he sped out of the mining machine. “Ziggy! Tell your dogs to evacuate the mine and facility!”
The ponies and diamond dogs gathered outside of the mining machine, Zeitgeist ordering the Grenadiers to evacuate the facility of all personnel before turning to The Doctor. “Alright, what’s your plan?”
“Here.” The Doctor produced the Grundel communicator, activating it and projecting a hologram of the valley area into the air. “Alright, here’s the skinny; Gabbro has been attacking your mine through a series of tunnels under Mount Kaffelerram, and it is through these tunnels that he plans to conduct the magma towards the city.”
Rarity nodded and stepped forward, pointing to several bright orange lines leading from the mountain to the city. “As you can see there is an extensive series of tunnels leading to the city from their base of operations under the mine, part of an undermining scheme that didn’t pan out.”
Twilight nodded and pointed at the tunnels. “Each of these tunnels are very narrow, that will insulate and keep the magma and gasses super heated until they hit this honeycomb like structure under the city…it’d be like one of those Centuari fusion bombs going off!”
The Doctor pointed at the network of Grundel tunnels underneath the mountain. “I calculate that a displacement of a sphere of matter exactly 200-meters in diameter, or in terms of volume moved that’s-”
“Four million one hundred and eighty-eight thousand seven-hundred and ninety cubic meters.” Pinkie said offhandedly. “…And two hundred and four cubic decimeters…give or take.”
The Doctor leveled a stare at Pinkie and sighed deeply before returning to form. “That much displacement underneath the mountain should cause it to collapse on the tunnels!
Twilight nodded excitedly. “Hundreds of megatons of diamond and gemstones, some of the strongest natural substances of the planet, not even a caldera could get past that!”
“But how?” Fluttershy said in panic. “How are we going to remove that much rock in…oh my goodness, four minutes?!”
Zeitgeist chuckled lowly, a laugh devoid of mirth. “If the 703 is set to overload it would displace easily that amount, if not more.”
The Doctor leveled with Zeitgeist and narrowed his eyes. “You understand that this means the mountain will no longer be minable.”
“Only a mad-dog would mine an extended volcano, Doctor.” Zeitgeist said lowly, turning to walk towards his 703. “But that’s not going to be my problem.”
“Zeitgeist…what are you doing?” The Doctor said sternly.
“Saving my people Doctor.” Zeitgeist said calmly. “This mine means more to me than my own life…but not theirs. As a duke it is my duty to preserve the lives and safety of my subjects.”
Twilight rushed forward, a look of shock on her face. “Can’t you just set it on autopilot and send it down to overload?”
He shook his head. “I built these machines to be as safe as possible. An overload would atomize whatever it displaces, so I designed and installed over a hundred different fail-safes. The physical fail-safes I installed can be deactivated but the regulating software cannot, as it won’t run without it. Unless you know a hacker who can stay ten steps ahead of thirty separate and very expensive fail-safe systems I’ll have to do it.”
The Doctor stepped in front of Zeitgeist. “Well, since you asked nicely…”
Zeitgeist growled and grabbed The Doctor’s mane and spun him around. “What do you think you’re doing?! You’ll be killed!”
“I’ll figure something out!” The Doctor retorted, wriggling free of his grasp. “There isn’t time for squabbles!”
“I can’t let you throw your life away for this! This is my mine!” Zeitgeist hissed.
The Doctor gestured in the direction of the city, an outcropping of buildings on the horizon. “And they are your people! You can only serve them while you’re alive, now perform your duty Duke Stardust!”
Zeitgeist stepped back and sighed, nodding silently. The Doctor snorted and turned towards the 703 just as a sharp hissing crack rang through the air. The Doctor went ramrod stiff and collapsed in a heap, Zeitgeist holstered his pistol and stepped over the twitching stallion. “Excuse the curtness of my retort Doctor, but I have the impression that you’re far more important than I’ll ever be.”
Zeitgeist entered the 703 and turned to the ponies gathering around The Doctor as he struggled to overcome his dazed twitching body, a sort of sad half smile tugged at the side of his mouth as he called out. “Ms. Sparkle! Tell Litigia to look in the third drawer of my isolation room’s desk on the Brünhild. There’s an approved transfer form in there along with a separate message in legalese, see that she reads it. And you, all of you, keep him out of trouble.”
Across the valley Mount Calcipher rumbled and roared, smoke and ash billowing from the crater. Zeitgeist closed the door and moments later the enormous machine sprung to life, seamlessly chewing into the solid rock and completely disappearing a second later. The rumbling from across the valley intensified, the ponies could practically feel the indescribably hot magma race through the narrow tunnels and towards the mountain. From the tunnel came a high pitched electronic whining sound, unlike before there was a ragged and wavering quality to it, like a turbine being pushed beyond its limits and crying out as vital parts began to fail. A thunderous basso thud reverberated through the rock as a solid pillar of light burst from the tunnel. A moment later the enormous black spire began to waver, a low straining sound vibrated through its formerly solid rock base. Well below the diamond spire a sphere of rock 500-meters in diameter had been excised, as though it had never been there to begin with. The rock began to crumble as the immense weight of the mountain fully came to bear, instantly pulverizing and crushing the solid bedrock as though it was talc. Enormous jets of powdered rock erupted from newly formed fissures in the ground, the two kilometer high mountain plummeted into the chasm beneath, its huge size belying the speed at which it fell. With a monstrous sound the mineral spire lurched to a halt as it bottomed out the abyss beneath. The hard yet brittle diamonds that made up the mountain cracked and fractured, causing the sinister looking tip to shatter and slide down the sturdier base, filling much of the space with diamond shards the size of zeppelins.
An instant later a sound arose like nothing before, an explosive deafening thud as super-heated rock and gas slammed into the near-indestructible mass that now impeded it. Hot gas and dust shot up from around the sunken base as a minute amount of the caldera’s innards found their way through the cracks and crevices of the diamond seal, much of their deadly energy absorbed. Slowly the crater around the shattered sunken mountain began to fill with dimly glowing magma, the immense pressures unable to move the indestructible obstacle in its path, now only strengthening the seal with the weight of the viscous liquid rock. With the pressure within Mount Calcipher’s caldera restored to its original equilibrium, the great volcano thundered and roared no more. Dragon Valley was quiet and safe once more.