Down, down, down we went, down far deeper than I thought our building ran.
The more secure staircase gave way to a hastily-crafted metal structure that leaned and groaned when hooves trod upon it. Farther below, the heat began to increase as well. The metal tunnel I was dragged down was barely lit, and seemed to almost close around me.
Real Steel and his cronies kept quiet for the trip, except occasional grunts or mutterings from the two line workers when they began to lose their grip.
It wasn’t too long, however, before the metal staircase opened up onto a large platform placed over a chasm that ran deep into the planet’s bedrock. The ceiling to the chamber ran up hundreds of feet into the air, giving a colossal scale to the room.
A railing was placed at the edge of the platform, but that didn’t help my fears of falling when I was shoved roughly against it. My hooves were kept unbound, but my guards kept near enough to not give me a hope of escaping. Instead, I was left trying not to look down.
I turned away from the sight and focused on Real Steel, who stood nearby with a smirk on his face.
“What kind of place is this?” I shouted. “And why in Tartarus did you drag me here?”
“You know too much,” he said simply.
“What are you even talking about?”
“Don’t worry, the master will explain.”
Before I could ask just who the master was, another quake rattled the steel platform and I grasped desperately at the railing lest I fall. It was then I realized, to my growing horror, that I hadn’t just felt the tremor, but heard it.
Chancing a look downward, I was just in time to see a massive silver shape rise up from the depths with a flap of its titanic wings.
The scales, the elongated neck, the reptilian eyes and claws . . . even a pony like me knew a dragon when I saw one. I was shaking so hard that I would have fallen to my knees had I not already been on them. My heart thumped in my chest as I gazed up at the great silver beast. Only his eyes were a different color: the cruelest hue of amber that I had ever seen.
Then, to my horror, he extended his head down to our level and stopped right in front of me. A low rumble filled his throat, preceding his speech.
“Who is this hatchling you have brought to me?”
“We found her snooping around upstairs,” Steel said, “so we brought her down here just like you ordered.”
“And was she with someone else?”
Steel nodded. “There was a mare . . . she looked all weird and then teleported away before we could capture her.”
The silver dragon’s massive eyes narrowed. “Indeed . . .”
He bent his head in a way so that he was look directly at me, and I at him. I tried to push back away from the edge of the platform, but the two line workers held me in place.
To my surprise, the dragon chose that moment to close his eyes and take a big sniff of me. He smiled a smile that was not altogether very friendly.
“You smell like her,” he rumbled.
“I-I do?” I stammered. “What does that, uh, mean, exactly?”
“And ask as many questions as she once did,” the dragon observed with a small chuckle. Small, as in it only lightly shook the platform.
He glared down at me again. “Tell me, little one, do you even know the name of the mare who led you here?”
“Not exactly, no,” I said quickly. “Am I supposed to?”
The gravity of my situation with the dragon was lost on me as I gazed into his massive eyes. They seemed to calm me . . . to reassure me that nothing was a secret between us, and that the wise old dragon was only there to be my friend. I began to feel almost woozy and looked away.
“I suppose not,” the dragon answered finally. “Few of your kind do anymore. You with your short lives and thinking always of the future, but not of the past.” His eyes sparkled. “What, then, do you know of the Elements of Harmony?”
The absurdity of trying to recall grade school lessons while on a metal platform suspended over a chasm that was home to a colossal dragon was not lost on me.
“That’s the old story, right?” I said. “The six elements who freed Luna of the Everfree from the moon after Empress Celestia locked her away for one thousand years.”
“You are correct in that aspect,” the dragon thundered, “but what, then, were the names of the elements?”
“Princess Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie the Magnificent,” I s
aid with confidence.
I’d never been one for history lessons, but the Elements of Harmony had been my favorite subject. Next to recess, of course.
“That’s only five,” the dragon said. “Who was the sixth? The Element of Magic?”
I opened my mouth to speak, but was forced to shut it when no answer came to mind. I could feel that I knew the correct name, but it was like every time I called it forth in my mind, it slipped away.
“I don’t . . . I don’t know,” I said at last.
He smiled. “So she has been forgotten.”
The great dragon snapped his claws like a crack of thunder and suddenly the two line worker stallions grabbed me again and held me up off the ground so I could not move, no matter how hard I kicked.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
The dragon laughed at what must have been, to him, a very pitiful attempt to get answers.
“I’ve had my fun, so now it’s time to get down to business,” he explained. “You honestly didn’t think I would let you go after all you’ve seen, did you?”
“Then wh-what are you going to do to me?”
“The same thing I’ve done to the ponies you see here,” he said. “It is not easy to convince the owner of a ship-breaking yard to allow me to ingest most of the metal that comes through his doors, but with a little dragon magic, anything is possible.”
He stuck his head down until one of his eyes was almost directly at my own eye level.
“Just stare into it, and you’ll soon understand,” he cooed.
By far the most disturbing thing I’ve ever heard is the sound of a dragon trying to sound enticing.
I struggled and tried to look away, but Real Steel held my head in place himself. When I shut my eyes, they were forced open with a little bit of what I presumed to be the dragon’s magic, for none of us were unicorns.
“P-Please, just let me go!” I cried. “I won’t tell anypony, I swear!”
“I could trust you,” the dragon said, “or I could guarantee it. But don’t worry; you won’t be harmed. You won’t even know you’re under my control unless I become in need of your . . . assistance.”
His pupil shrunk and seemed to try to force its way into my head. Emotions raged inside of me as I could feel his warm influence bubbling up in my mind. Part of me just wanted to . . . to give up. Stop fighting and welcome his leadership. The master’s leadership.
The master laughed.
“I see I am already having an effect on you; a pity you had to be so weak-minded. I thought this might have been fun.” He shrugged. “Oh well.”
Real Steel no longer had to hold my head as I willingly looked into the master’s wonderful, wonderful eye. I could not even speak, his hold was so great upon me. My head felt fuzzy and my limbs trembled in his presence.
“Before you go,” the Master said in a fading voice, “I will impart on you a name that has been lost, but should never be forgotten. Perhaps even your . . . new . . . memories will retain it. The name of the mare who led you astray, and the same mare who banished me here all those years ago when she overthrew our splendid revolution.”
The Master’s eye narrowed. “Her name was—”
“Twilight Sparkle,” a different voice said. A familiar voice.
The Master roared and snapped his head up, and suddenly the warm feeling was gone. For a second I missed its soothing presence, but I shook my head and my thoughts cleared. The master? I had called a dragon my master!
I was dropped to the ground as Real Steel and the line workers turned to face their new threat, and I looked in the same direction.
The mare with the tattoo stood defiantly in an entryway that seemed to be made out of solid rock, her cloak fluttering in the hot breeze rising up from the deep. She had said her name was Twilight Sparkle.
My eyes widened as the name fit like a missing puzzle piece into my memories. Of course; the lost Element of Magic!
“Twilight!” I called. “You came back!”
She seemed rather surprised at the inclusion of her name, but didn’t show it for long.
“Yes, I did,” she said. “But not for you; I came for him.”
The dragon did a reptilian impression of a smirk.
“Did you now?” he said. “I am surprised that even a mare of your . . . considerable power could break through the magic shield I placed around this facility to keep your kind away.”
The mare’s, er, Twilight’s tattoo flashed red like it had in the facility, and she winced. When her eyes were open fully again, the one right above the tattoo had turned a startling color of red.
“A dragon using magic?” she said through gritted teeth. “Now I’ve seen everything. And if you knew me, then you’d know that’s saying a lot.”
“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” he snapped. “What else was I to do when you and Spike the Oathbreaker threw us out of the civilized worlds three hundred years ago and told us to never return to ponydom? This shield has been my only protection against the likes of you, and it hid me so I could feed on mere scraps these past centuries. Not a single gem, even! And your probes against my shield had this entire colony shaking like a leaf in the wind!”
Twilight did not look amused.
“Your kind were banished for a reason,” she spat. “Your scourge consumed three colonies, and you threatened the Empress herself! You deserved everything you got, and should have been happy that you were even allowed the unpopulated worlds.”
“You don’t know what it’s like on those worlds . . . how lonely it can be.”
The dragon laughed. “Old Silverback is not a fool. I know of your condition.” His smile grew crueler. “And I know how to exploit it, too.” His eyes flashed and Twilight’s tattoo glowed a fiery red once again.
She cried out and fell to the ground, sweat pouring down her face and her horn crackling.
Silverback nodded to his guards. “See that she is lost to time more . . . permanently.”
The three stallions advanced on her, but Twilight was still aware enough to notice them, and apparently that was enough. With just a slight twitch of her horn, the three of them were sent flying across the room in bursts of magic.
Real Steel himself landed next to me. I watched as the silver faded from his eyes, and when he got up, he looked around like he had no idea where he was.
Silverback sighed. “So hard to find good help in a place like this. But, that is why I made sure to keep an ace in the hole, just in case you showed up.”
He turned to me. “Are you ready, little one?”
I started to back away, but suddenly found I couldn’t. In fact, I could not control a single part of my body outside my eyes and brain. I was forced to watch in horror as my body marched itself unceasingly closer to Twilight.
“Like it?” Silverback asked Twilight. “It’s a new one: a deeper control than even you can penetrate with a simple burst of magic. The very depths of herself belong to me, even if her brain will not cooperate.”
He laughed. “And I know of your affinity, your weakness for these kinds of ponies. Even three centuries later, I can see it in your eyes. You won’t dare harm her, lest you be plagued with guilt.”
Meanwhile, my limbs continued to march themselves forward and one of my hooves drew up as if to strike Twilight. Her eyes that stared at me grew conflicted. I was made to watch as she decided my fate in front of me.
She screamed in frustration.
“Stop it, just stop it!” she yelled. “Leave her out of this; she has no part in our fight!”
“Neither did my hatchlings,” Silverback said coldly.
I tried to move, tried to run, tried to do anything . . . but I couldn't. I was going to die, down here, alone. Never to to see the surface again, or Charm, or travel the stars. Die as an unwilling slave of a dragon.
"Please, help me!" I cried to Twilight in desperation.
She looked at me helplessly, and the tattoo on her face glowed an even brighter red, but she didn’t seem to notice. Instead, she whispered to me, “I’m sorry,” and her horn flashed a brilliant purple.
The burst of magic hit me in the chest and sent me skidding across the platform before I came to a rest in the middle of it. I regained control of my limbs as Silverback’s warmth left my body, only to be replaced by . . . something else.
It felt as if a great cold had set over me at first, before it suddenly snapped inside me. Agony coursed through my body and out my lungs as I cried out while white-hot lances of pain shot up and down my spine. My vision filled with red and I realized I was shaking and convulsing on the ground.
Still, though, I was aware. Aware enough to watch Twilight’s pained look as she watched me. And then the fury that filled her eyes when she turned to Silverback. Her horn glowed far brighter than I had seen it, and crackled with energy.
“Get. Out. Now,” she bellowed in a voice that didn’t sound all her own.
Silverback raised a claw as if to strike, but he was too slow. A massive bolt of pure magic shot from Twilight’s horn and struck the dragon right in the chest.
Scales burned away and I watched as the skin under it curled and smoked. Silverback howled and yelled in pain and anger, but did not raise a claw to Twilight again.
“Get out,” she said again. “Leave the civilized systems and never return! Because if you come back, it will be the last time you do.”
Silverback said nothing more. He turned and clawed away a great section of rock in the chamber to reveal a massive tunnel that I assumed led to the surface.
Whether dragons could fly in space or he had a spaceship stashed somewhere, I did not know or care.
The pain had started to subside, but left behind a feeling that reminded me of a cold winter’s night. I coughed and my breath sparkled and turned gold. My eyes widened. Magic.
My vision began to turn blurry as I coughed some more, but I was able to see Twilight finally walk over to where I lay, she looked down upon me with concern.
“Well this is quite the mess you’ve made,” she said.
But, wait, she hadn’t said it. Her lips hadn’t moved. I began to blink furiously as her tattoo seemed to come alive and detach itself from her! Not all the way, but from the side of her face.
The little tattoo seemed to take an almost-third dimensional shape, and crossed arms that didn’t match, Its beady little eyes glowed red.
“Hold on, you didn’t do what I think you did, did you?” it said.
“I had no choice,” Twilight said.
“You could have at least thought about it . . .”
“No time. I made my decision.”
The tattoo tsked. “And my my, what the decision. I can see the spell’s effect already taking hold on her: she looks absolutely frightened!”
“It might also be the sight of a talking tattoo.”
“Oh. Right.” The tattoo extended itself down toward me.
“Greetings!” it said. “I’m Discord, former Lord of Chaos and temporary tattoo for Miss Sparkle here. Hah, get it? Temporary!”
It gave me what I assumed to be a smile. “And you are?”
It may have been the tattoo calling itself Discord or the fact that I heard his voice inside my head, but it was that moment that I chose to pass out.
* * *
The first sensation I had when I was awoke was one of being carried. Specifically, being hauled through air by the power of magic. The cold sensation was still with me, but it felt . . . deeper. Easier to manage, at least.
I opened my eyes briefly, but the sensation hurt my head so I shut them again. From what I could see, though, it was night once again and the flickering lights of Journey’s End had begun to dim in the late hours.
I heard whispering coming from Twilight and, uh, Discord from in front of me, so I ascertained that Twilight was carrying me behind her back. She must still assume I was asleep. I took my chance to listen in.
“Are you sure this is where she lives?” Twilight was saying.
“Mostly,” Discord replied.
“What do you mean by mostly?”
“Well, that little fragment of me you put inside her isn’t cooperating very well with me, so this is my best guess.”
“It’ll have to do then.”
“You know this isn’t going to work, don’t you?” Discord said. “She’s practically part of us now.”
“We have to try,” Twilight said. “She didn’t deserve . . . this. She had no way of knowing what she was getting herself into.”
“Still have that weak spot for curious ponies, I see. And yet, this mare—Tinker, wasn’t it?—still made the choice to follow you. That counts for something.”
“Yes, well, we all make choices we regret.”
“Don’t I know it.”
I felt myself being lifted higher up and over Twilight’s head, and then being placed on a familiar stoop in front of Charm’s apartment building.
They started to leave, but I snapped my head up and called out to them, “Wait!”
Discord, half of him unattached to Twilight’s body, placed a very small lion’s paw on his forehead.
“Of course she’s awake,” he muttered.
“What do you want?” Twilight asked, more to the point.
“You two were going to leave . . . just like that?” I said.
“That’s how it usually works,” Twilight said. “The monster’s gone and the problems are over and now you can all go about living your happy, normal lives.”
“But-But what about you?” I said. “What am I supposed to think about you and that dragon?”
“It’s best if you forget everything,” Twilight said quietly. “Forget about the dragon, what happened to you . . . forget about me. If you ever want to be happy, you will forget about me.”
“But what if I see you again?”
“If you’re lucky, you won’t.”
And with that she was galloping down the street and around a corner into an abandoned alley. I felt defeated, though a little bit of me was also relieved. No more dragons or magic, but just another story to tell Charm. Charm . . .
I mashed the buzzer next to the complex’s front door that had our room number on it. Around me, the wind began to pick up just like the night before at the factory. A few pieces of trash rolled every which way.
My attention was brought to the apartment complex door as it suddenly swung open. Charm stood in the doorway with dark circles under his eyes and hair that was messed in every direction. The look of a stallion who had been under tremendous stress.
“Tinker!” he said as a smile erupted on his face. “I waited all day! Where have you been?”
I laughed. “Oh, Cha’, when I tell you, you won’t believe—”
From around the corner where Twilight had gone came the sound of a tremendous boom and suddenly Charm and Journey’s End and everything else was gone in a sea of white.