Under A Luminous Sky
Jake The Army Guy
Chapter Fourteen: Under A Luminous Sky
The sharp sound of hoofbeats echoed off the buildings that lined the road. The few ponies that were still out stopped and stared at the two ponies racing down the street.
"Twilight, stop!" Bentgrass was several lengths behind Twilight, but he was rapidly closing the distance.
She rounded a corner so fast her hooves skidded across the cobblestone road, picking up speed as soon as she was stable. Spike is alone in the library with that... that monster.
A few loud hoofbeats came from behind her. She yelped and skidded to a stop as Bentgrass leapt in front of her. She moved to go around him, but he sidestepped to block her.
"Get out of my way!" She lowered her head, her left forehoof digging at the ground.
“We don’t have time for this!” Her horn flashed. As soon as she materialized behind him, Bentgrass whipped around and grabbed her tail. Twilight yelped loudly as she tried to run, but was yanked down to the ground. She growled and kicked her left hind leg at him, which he easily deflected with a hoof.
"Twilight, that is enough!" He leaped in front of her, his eyes boring into her. "Now look, I understand that you are upset about Zecora, but that is no excuse for throwing around baseless accusations!"
"They're not baseless!" She stared right at him through narrowed eyes. "He's been manipulating us from the very beginning!"
"Oh, and you're basing this off what? A cough?"
Twilight made to go around him, but he maneuvered to block her. A growl escaped her as she glared at him. "Ninety-seven percent of all earth ponies experience severe nausea and disorientation from the influx of outside magic when they're teleported. There have been zero reported cases of anypony suffering any kind of respiratory distress!"
"And that means he's a killer?"
“No, it means he’s lying to us, and that makes everything else clear." Her words came fast, her expression cold. "Think about it! Parchment needs to throw the police off his scent, so he carves some Zebrican gibberish onto Berry’s flank. Naturally, the local Zebra would know nothing about it, making her look suspicious.” She took a hard step towards him. “Then when she didn’t know, who would be the next pony somepony would ask? Equestria’s leading expert on Zebrican history!”
"Parchment." Bentgrass slowly backed away from her, his eyes wandering. Quickly, he shook his head and stared back at her. "What about the magic used on the parasprite? Your own computer said it was Zebrican." Twilight said nothing, merely staring at him. Slowly, his eyes widened. "And... Parchment has spent most of his life in Zebrica."
She nodded. "Zebrican magic is heavily based in potions and incantations. It's not a stretch to assume he picked something up."
"Furthermore, his lack of expertise would explain the magical overexposure on the parasprite. It must be a powerful spell."
"But what about the Mbwun? Zecora used the word, and it is a way to refer to oneself."
"And who told us that?"
Though Bentgrass still glared at her, his tail began to droop. "Still, why would Parchment come all the way to Ponyville to kill ponies he's never even met?"
Twilight chewed her lip for a moment, but her eyes remained hard. "Look, I'm not saying it’s a perfect theory, but you have to admit it explains a lot."
Bentgrass sighed. "I will admit, there is some... logic to your argument."
"Then let's go!" Twilight grabbed his foreleg and pulled. "Spike’s alone in the library with him!"
"But," Bentgrass said, jerking away from her grasp, "I have known the professor for most of my life. He would not have done this!"
The street was silent for a few moments. Bentgrass raised an eyebrow as Twilight stared at him. "What?"
"Bentgrass, think about what you just said."
A few more moments of silence before he gasped quietly. Slowly, he settled his shoulders and looked away. "Well played, Ms. Sparkle.” He looked back to her, a deep scowl on his pale face. “Very well. But I shall ask the questions!"
Twilight nodded and took off running, Bentgrass quickly catching up. They were less than a block from the library now; Twilight could see the light from their bedroom window high in the canopy of the old tree. She quickened her pace and lowered her head, swallowing the thick lump in her throat. Hang on, Spike...
They rounded one more corner when the library finally came into full view. A final burst of speed and Twilight skidded to a halt in front of the door. She turned, preparing to buck the oak door open.
She paused mid-buck as Bentgrass finally caught up. "Remember, we are just asking questions. There is no need to destroy your home."
Twilight grumbled, but nodded. She turned back to the door, took a deep breath and opened it. "Spike? Profe—" She stopped dead in her tracks.
The library was in shambles. Twilight felt a cold lump in her gut as she raced inside, carelessly stepping through the sea of half-burned books on the floor. “Spike?” The smell of burnt paper stung her nostrils. Twilight ran to the center of the room, the smoke from the charred carving on the table stinging her eyes. She spun frantically, her eyes scanning through the wreckage: the many bookshelves turned to splinters, the deep gouges in the floor, blackened scorch marks everywhere.
"Spike!" She raced into the kitchen, Bentgrass hot on her heels. She skidded to a halt in front of the overturned kitchen table. Gingerly stepping around the jagged shards of broken plates and glasses, Twilight darted her head back and forth, then spun around and ran back towards the main room, heading for the stairs.
"Spike? Where are you? Spi—"
As she reached the top step, her breath caught in her throat, and she felt the blood drain from her face. On the ground in between her and Spike's torn mattresses lay a large puddle of green blood. In the middle was a single purple scale, one edge torn and cracked.
Twilight fell to her knees as hot tears began to well up in her eyes. Her lower jaw quivered, her mind refusing to process what lay before her. "No. Oh, no, please no."
She felt Bentgrass kneel beside her and lay a foreleg over her shoulders. "Twilight." She didn't acknowledge him. "Twilight!" He leaned forward and took her chin in his other hoof, gently turning her head away from the grisly scene and towards his face. "Twilight, you know how difficult it is to remove a dragon's scale. This is a message: Spike is alive. Parchment... he wishes us to find him." His voice sounded distant. Even as he spoke, his eyes drifted away from her, glazing over slightly. He shook his head and stood up, reaching into his coat to pull out the gem. “I shall call for backup.”
Twilight slowly stood and tore her eyes from the blood. Despite the cold lump in her stomach, she couldn’t help but feel a tiny swell of pride as she scanned the room. The bedroom, much like the downstairs, was all but destroyed; her expensive telescope was bent and shattered, all of her drawers were on their sides, and there were countless claw marks and burns on the ground. At least Spike made him work for it.
“Blast it!” Twilight turned her head to see Bentgrass furiously stomping on the still-dark gem. “Still nothing. There is something interfering with the signal. I can not reach Canterlot.”
She began to speak when a faint scratching came from their right. They both whipped their heads towards the linen closet. The two of them shared a brief look before leaping to their hooves. They crept towards the closet door, listening intently to the fluttering noise from inside. Twilight took a moment to wipe tears from her eyes before looking to Bentgrass. He stood beside her, knees bent slightly forward. He looked to her and gave a sharp nod. They both turned back to the door as Twilight's horn glowed.
The door flung open. They both stepped forward to look, and Twilight gasped. "Pee Wee!"
Amongst a pile of burnt bedsheets, the young bird lay in a slowly growing puddle of blood, the ragged stumps where his wings had been twitching slightly. Slowly, he turned his wide eyes towards Twilight, and let out a pitiful gurgling sound, his tongue lolling out from his missing bottom beak.
She knelt down to the broken bird. "Oh, what did he do to you?" Pee Wee let out another painful warble and shot Twilight a pleading look. She stared for a moment before gasping, her eyes going wide. "Y-you want me to..." The bird slowly nodded, his limp tongue flopping against his throat.
Slowly, Twilight stood and took a step back. "Okay." A soft lavender glow enveloped the phoenix's body. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she whimpered as she closed her eyes.
Bentgrass flinched as the bird suddenly erupted into flame. The body hissed and popped for a few moments, then stopped. When he turned back, all that remained was a small pile of ash and the pungent stench of burning flesh. He whirled around and stared at Twilight, his mouth agape. "Twilight, what did you—"
A brilliant flash of light cut him off. The ashes alighted, the searing heat causing him to shy away again.
From the ball of flame flew a small bird with brilliant golden and red plumage. It exploded into the air, flying several tight circles around the two ponies before landing at their hooves, squawking loudly and gesturing with his new wings towards the pool of blood in the bedroom. Bentgrass's eyes widened. "Oh, a phoenix!" He turned to Twilight and raised his eyebrow. "Spike has a pet phoenix?"
Twilight bent down to the panicking bird. "Pee Wee, Pee Wee! Calm down." She reached out her hoof and gently stroked the his plumage. The bird stopped its flailing, looking at her with a worried gaze. "Listen, Pee Wee, I need you to fly to Canterlot. Remember where we visited Philomena?" The bird nodded. "Good. Go get her, tell her to bring the Princesses and my brother here as fast as you can, okay?"
With a sharp nod, Pee Wee took to the air and glided to the bedroom window, his feathers smouldering with gathering magic. He opened his wings and paused, casting another worried glance to the green pool of blood.
"Don't worry," Twilight said, "we'll find him. I promise."
He looked to her and nodded once more before turning back to the window. With a loud cry, he rocketed through the open window, leaving a trail of fire in his wake.
Bentgrass watched the magic bird leave, then turned to Twilight. "How long will it take him to reach Canterlot?" She didn't answer, her own eyes drawn back to the purple scale on the floor. "Twilight!"
She shook her head and faced him. "A full grown phoenix could make it in two hours. It'll take him a bit longer. We need to find where Parchment took Spike."
As she said the professor's name, Bentgrass's ears fell to his head. "Yes," he mumbled, taking a few slow steps towards the staircase. "I... I still can't believe it. I have known him for years! How could he do this? Why would he?"
"I don't know, and right now, I don’t care. We need to—"
Both ponies jumped slightly as the new voiced came from beneath them. After a brief look, they both ran downstairs to find Big Macintosh in the doorway panting heavily, sweat pouring down his face. "Twi— Oh, thank... thank th' Sisters." he stepped inside on shaky hooves. "Listen ya... ya got..."
Bentgrass stepped forward. "Please calm yourself, Mr. Apple. What happened?"
Mac raised an eyebrow at the pale detective before turning to Twilight. She nodded. "He's with me. Now, what's wrong?"
He took a moment to catch his breath before speaking. "Dash was supposed t' meet me fer dinner tonight, but she never showed. I figured she got caught up dealin' with Zecora or somethin', so I went back home. Talked to Apple Bloom, come to find out that AJ never came home from the hospital this afternoon."
A cold feeling began to build up in Twilight's stomach. She opened her mouth to speak, but Mac continued. "There's more. On the way here, I stopped by Sugarcube Corner and the Boutique." He took a deep breath. "Twi, the girls are missin'!"
Bentgrass fell to his haunches. "Parchment must have taken them. But why? Why kidnap your friends and Spike? This makes no sense!"
Twilight stepped next to him, placing a hoof on his shoulder. “‘Why’ doesn’t matter now. We need to find them.”
“Y-Yes, you’re right.” He cleared his throat and stood, straightening his coat. “He has never spoken to me about visiting Ponyville. Twilight, can you teleport us to the local inn?” She nodded. “Good. Hopefully he left something in his room that may give us a clue as to where he took the girls and Spike.”
Mac stepped forward. “I’m comin’, too.”
Bentgrass sighed. “Look, Mr. Apple, we don’t have time to—”
Bentgrass jumped slightly at the baritone yell. Big Mac stepped towards him, bringing the two eye to eye. Even though they were the same height, Mac’s hulking frame made the lithe Bentgrass seem very small.
“Look, buddy. I don’t know who you are, or who this... Parchment is,” his voice was low, his eyes boring into Bentgrass, “but whoever he is, he’s got my sister and my marefriend.” He took another step forward, now mere inches from Bentgrass’s face. “I’m comin’.”
To his credit, Bentgrass didn’t flinch under Mac’s withering gaze, though Twilight heard him gulp. “Very well. The more the merrier.” Taking a step away from the enraged Mac, he cleared his throat and turned to Twilight. “Ms. Sparkle, if you would?”
Twilight shot one last glance at the bloody scale on the floor, then nodded and lit her horn. “Hold on to your lunches, boys.”
The Barnyard Inn was a humble establishment. The U-shaped building spanned a single block on the fringe of Ponyville. A large wooden sign stood in the middle of the dirt covered parking lot, several carriages parked around it. A flash of purple light and a loud pop broke the calm of the parking lot, followed by a violent retching and wet plops on the ground.
Twilight was unaffected by the teleport, but found her stomach turn slightly at the rancid scent of half-digested apples wafting over her. Mac knelt on the dirt, spitting out the last of his lunch. Behind her, Bentgrass stood on shaky legs, looking very green around the gills.
“I forgot how... unpleasant that is.” Bentgrass shook his head and turned to Twilight. “I shall go speak with the manager.” With that, he took off towards the office.
Twilight turned her attention to Mac, who still sat on his knees, heaving slightly. “Are you going to be okay, Mac?” He merely nodded, taking several shaky breaths. He shuddered, and Twilight took a step back. “Close your eyes, Mac. It’ll help the na—”
“We have to find them, Twi.”
She stopped at his words. Raising her eyebrow, she slowly walked to his front. Under the pale light of the lamp from the sign above them, she could see a tear snaking down his crimson muzzle. Mindful of the pile of sick, she knelt before him. “We will.”
“You don’t understand.” He took several quivering breaths and cleared his throat, still looking down at the ground. “First Ma n’ Pa, then Granny Smith last year.” He slowly raised his head to meet hers, his eyes red. “I... I can’t lose AJ, too. And Rainbow!”
Mac finally stood, his legs wobbly at first. Groaning, he took a few steps away, turning his back to Twilight. “You ever been in love, Miss Twilight?”
Twilight hesitated before answering. “Um, no.”
“Neither had I, before Dashie.” His head slowly turned upward, gazing softly at the sliver of moon high above him. “You know, I—I always thought my life would be simple: work the farm, support AJ and Apple Bloom, let them two go off ‘n find love. Weren’t never any time for me to find it. Then... then she came along.” A heavy sigh left him. His bulky frame seemed to deflate slightly. “Now I had somethin’ for myself. Somethin’ special, that I won’t let nopony take.”
Twilight slowly made her way next to him. Though dwarfed by his size, she leaned into him, feeling the slight shudder that ran through him.
He finally lowered his head, meeting her eyes. “And now... there’s still so much we have to do. So much I... I ain’t said.” He growled and kicked at the dirt, sending a small cloud of dust from under his massive hoof. “Consarn-it, I shoulda just asked her!”
“Macintosh.” She reached a hoof up and lightly touched his face. Slowly, he turned to face her, his eyes damp. She stared into his eyes, her eyebrows set. “We’ll rescue them. I promise.”
The two held their gaze until Bentgrass came running over. “The Professor stayed in room five.” Mac nodded and took off towards the long building, Bentgrass and Twilight right behind him.
They crossed the dirt parking lot and ran under the awning covering the doors. Each had a numeral emblazoned on the front. Mac ran until he found the door they were looking for. Without even pausing, he spun around and delivered a hard buck. A deafening crack came as the wooden door exploded into splinters under his muscled hind legs. Whirling around, he barged inside.
The room was spartanly furnished: a queen-sized bed with drab brown sheets sat next to a chest of drawers; across from that stood a large writing desk. The three immediately began searching for anything. Twilight moved towards the back of the room. A large mirror reflected her worried look back at her as she scanned the pearl countertop for anything Parchment may have left behind.
“Hey, Twi! Come here, look at this.”
Twilight spun and saw Mac standing next to the writing desk, hefting something onto it with his mouth. She rushed over and saw a set of saddlebags, instantly identifying them as the same ones that Parchment had worn when they first met. "These are Parchment’s."
"Why would he leave them behind?"
"That is a mystery for later." Bentgrass grabbed the bags and turned them up, dumping the contents on the desk.
Twilight separated the items with her magic, laying them side by side on the desk. To her eye, nothing stood out: a pair of reading glasses, some quills, a few granola bars, a book featuring a mare in a very lewd pose that made Twilight shudder. She slammed a hoof on the desk. “Ugh, there’s nothing here that tells us where he could be! Just a bunch of... random junk!”
“Twilight, I think I may have found something.”
Twilight turned to face Bentgrass. He was sitting on his haunches, holding the saddlebags upside down with his head half-inside. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Twilight found the sight very amusing. Presently, she simply stared at him. “What? What is it?”
Removing his head, Bentgrass stood and placed the bags on the desk with the opening facing up. “Look here.” He pointed to a large lump in the side of the bag. “It appears to be some kind of... secret compartment sewn into the lining.”
Twilight gently pushed him aside and lit her horn. A loud tearing sound, and she reached inside the lining. Slowly, she pulled out the contents: a thick scroll, tied lovingly with a burlap band. As she levitated it out, she could almost feel the age radiating off it. Countless wrinkles marred the paper, several places along the edges torn and frayed. A heavy musk wafted off it, reminding Twilight of the historical wing of the Canterlot Archives. Whatever this was, it was ancient.
Bentgrass pushed the items from the desk sending them clattering to the floor. Twilight gently laid the scroll on the desk and undid the burlap tie. With a scholar’s patience, she eased the tie off and began to slowly unfurl the old parchment.
“We ain’t got time for this!” Mac roughly elbowed his way between them and grabbed the scroll, heaving the end across the table, laying it bare. Twilight gasped and glared at him. He just shrugged.
She was about to berate him when she looked down and gasped. Every inch of the ancient scroll was covered with faded black ink, endless lines of some odd language interspersed with odd glyphs and symbols. What really shook her were the drawings that ran beneath the scroll; deformed monsters, ponies being consumed by ghoulish creatures while others fled. They seemed to tell a story, Twilight assumed the same as the writing.
“Oh, my,” Bentgrass whispered.
Twilight looked away from the scroll to see his eyes squinted and his brow furrowed. “You can read it? What does it say?”
Bentgrass was silent for a minute, his eyes darting back and forth. Finally, he spoke. “Well, this is a very old dialect, but... it appears that Ms. Zecora was not far off.”
“What do you mean?” Twilight's tail began to twitch behind her as she eyed the freakish creatures on the parchment before them.
“From what I can gather,” he said, tracing the writing with a hoof, “it seems that Mbwun was not a demon, he was the Chief of a small herd on the southern plains of Zebrica. They were... um, beset on all sides by enemies.”
Twilight looked to where he pointed and saw a pony with his forelegs thrust upward in prayer. A wicked looking claw reached down to him, holding a strange glyph.
“Chief Mbwun prayed to the gods for aid. For a time, nothing came to him, and his herd seemed doomed. Then one night a...” he squinted harder, his head slightly cocked to the side, “uh, a shade? Shadow? I’m not sure the word, but it appeared to him in a dream, revealing to him a... a dark ritual.”
“What kinda ‘dark ritual?’” Mac had stepped back from the table to give the scholarly ponies room to work, but now worked his way back to their side.
“Well, it seems that through the practice of,” he shuddered, “equine sacrifice, the ritual allowed Mbwun to consume the natural magics inherent in a pony’s heart.”
Both Twilight and Mac flinched away from the scroll. Beneath where Bentgrass now pointed was a pony tied to a table. Another pony grasping a large, curved blade in one hoof, plunging it towards the victim.
“This ritual gave Mbwun incredible magical abilities, the likes of which the zebra’s had never seen, including... ‘the allowance to grasp that which only the Eternal Dam and Sire could wield.’”
“W-What is that?”
Slowly, Bentgrass turned to Twilight, and for the first time since they’d met, Twilight could see nervousness in his eyes. “The power of creation.” He turned back to the scroll, once more tracing it with a hoof. “He created vile abominations, chimeras of all types, perverting the very face of nature, twisting it to his will. The herd’s enemies were crushed underhoof.”
“Why do I feel a ‘but’ comin’ on?” Mac asked.
Bentgrass continued on, now fervently scanning the paper. “But, the power was tainted. It quickly drove Chief Mbwun insane. He began to slaughter his own zebras to further his power. The more he killed, the greater his creations became.” Bentgrass stepped away from the scroll, walking towards the bed, his eyes glazed over. “Oh, my old friend. What happened to you?”
All was silent in the small room before Twilight stomped her hoof on the ground. “And? What happened next?”
Bentgrass plopped down on the bed. “The rest unfolds much as Ms. Zecora said. The great herds of Zebrica united under one banner and fought back. Eventually, they slayed Chief Mbwun and buried him and this scroll, hoping it would never surface again.”
“So, wait,” Mac stepped away from the desk and turned to Bentgrass, “if this scroll’s so important to him, why would he leave it here?”
“I’m not sure.” Bentgrass didn’t even look up at him. “Perhaps he is approaching some sort of endgame and feels he doesn’t need it anymore.”
Behind them, Twilight studied the scroll, her eyes roaming across the page as her mind worked over what she’d just heard. It all has to be connected. Why would he kidnap my friends? What could he want fr— Twilight’s head shot up, her eyes widening. “Oh, no.”
“What?” Mac walked back to her. “Twilight, what is it?”
Twilight slowly turned her eyes to him. “The Elements of Harmony. That’s what he wants, that’s why he took the girls!”
At this, Bentgrass jerked his head up. “Twilight, the Elements are locked up in Canterlot Castle under the most advanced protection spells known to ponykind.”
Twilight shook her head. “No, the jewels are just mediums, a way to focus and weaponize the power of Harmony. The magic is inside us. It’s our friendship, our love for each other.”
Bentgrass walked over to them, his ears slowly falling against his head. “Ms. Sparkle, are you saying the Parchment could activate the Elements?”
“No, not exactly. You said that this... ritual allows him to consume the natural magic of a pony, right?”
“So,” Twilight said, her ears splayed against her head, “if he were to absorb the magic from the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony...”
Bentgrass slowly reached a hoof to his mouth. “Not even the Princesses would be able to oppose him.” The two stared at each other for a moment, the implications racing through their heads.
“Okay, so we really need to find them.” Mac gently stomped a hoof to snap them back. “So, does any of this give us any clue as to where he woulda taken them?”
Bentgrass shook his head and nodded, pushing past them to examine the contents of the saddlebag on the floor. He pawed through them feverishly, before slapping them away. “No, Sisters damn it! Nothing!”
“What about the scroll?” Twilight stepped next to Bentgrass and eased him back to his hooves. “Maybe something about the ritual can give us a hint.”
He nodded and returned to the desk. He scanned the scroll intently, his eyes and hoof racing from side to side. “It appears that the ritual requires a large amount of naturally-occurring magic.”
Twilight nodded. “So, he's most likely near a massive ley line junction.”
Behind them, Mac’s head darted between the two. “Uh, somepony please speak Equestrian. Ley what now?”
“Oh! Sorry, Mac.” Despite the situation, Twilight blushed slightly and reverted into teacher mode. “Ley lines. Basically, invisible rivers of magic that flow across the world. They keep the thaumatic energy evenly distributed across the globe, except for the points where they intersect, called junctions.”
“Indeed,” Bentgrass said from behind her. “And lucky for us, there are not that many of them. Twilight, do you know where the nearest is?”
Twilight thought for a moment, then shook her head. “Yes, but he wouldn’t be there.”
“Well, because it’s in Canterlot. That’s why the Princess moved the castle the—” Twilight’s eyes shot wide open, and she gasped loudly. “I know where they are!”
A quiet ringing and a dull throb.
“—nbow Da—ust wa—ase!”
Dash groaned as the quiet buzz in her mind slowly became a deafening roar. She shook her head to clear the noise and was rewarded with a blinding pain. She gritted her teeth hard, the pain so bad she swore she could feel her head physically throbbing.
Slowly, the pain and the ringing subsided, and she peeked open her eyes. A muddy blur welcomed her, muted colors swirling and dancing in her vision. As she cautiously lifted her head, the voice came again.
“Rainbow, please, say something!”
She immediately recognized the cultured voice. She opened her mouth to speak, only managing a dry croak. “Ngh... Rarity?”
“Yes, I’m here. Oh, thank goodness you’re all right!”
“Ugh, that’s debata—” She yelped as she tried to sit up. “Huh?” With a groan, she looked down, and her blood ran cold.
A thick vine ran across her midsection, binding her wings and her forelegs. A similar vine held her hind legs together, and another bound her to the slab of rock she was situated on. On her left, Rarity was bound in much the same way, though she also had a strange ring affixed to her horn, a soft blue glow emanating from it.
Dash craned her head up, darting it around to take in her surroundings. She was in the middle of what appeared to be a massive courtyard, lined on four sides with a stone wall several pony lengths high. Flickering torches lined the wall, providing soft light. The ground had at one point been cobblestone, but thick weeds snaked through the floor, pushing up the loose stones. Trees grew outside the wall, the starlight casting gnarled shadows across the ground.
Dash gulped. “Rarity? W-Where are we?”
“I think we’re in th’ old ruins in th’ Everfree.”
Rainbow whipped her head around to face the new voice behind her. “Applejack?”
“Yup. Fluttershy’s here, too.” A quiet whimper confirmed that.
Dash’s heart began to race even faster. Though her vision was limited, she could see Applejack was bound as well, though a few extra vines held her hind legs together. Smart move, whoever you are. One swift buck and you’d be done.
“Can you move?”
A few grunts, then a sigh. “Nope. Got me tied like a calf at a rodeo.”
A thought passed Dash’s mind. “Hey, are Pinkie and Twilight here, too?”
“Um, Pinkie’s right next to me.” Fluttershy’s voice was barely a squeak. “But she’s not moving. And... and she looks like she’s b-b-bleeding really bad.”
Icy fingers gripped Dash’s heart. “Is... is she...”
“N-No. She’s still breathing.”
“Of course she is!”
All four mares whipped their heads at the new voice. Across the courtyard, a figure seemed to bleed in from the shadows. His dark brown cloak covered every inch of him except his face, which was hidden in the darkness. As he neared, two bright yellow eyes began to glow from underneath the hood, and a low, sinister chuckle echoed in the empty space. “The ritual requires the harvest to be taken only shortly after death.” With smooth fluidity, he eased next to Dash and lowered his hood, revealing a older yellow stallion with a curly red mane. His bright yellow eyes bored into Dash as he smiled. “Wouldn't do any good to have her spoil before your friend arrives.”
Dash’s eyes went wide. “You... you’re that creepy professor guy!”
His smile got even wider, the edges threatening to break off his face. “Aye! Professor Tornbald Parchment, at your service.” With that, his eyes began to glow brighter, and an odd haze built up around his head, like heat lines off a paved road. In a blur of movement, he lifted off the ground, hovering a few lengths above them, still grinning madly.
All four of them gasped quietly. Dash was the first to find her voice. “B-B-But, how? You... you’re an earth pony!”
Parchment’s eyes glared down at Dash. Quicker than even she could have moved, he landed next to her. “Aye! A filthy earth pony!” He leaned his head over her, bringing his face inches from hers. Dash gagged at the rotten stench coming from his mouth. “That’s what they called me, when they fired me, the bastards! They called me filthy!” Dash cringed as small flecks of spittle hit her face.
He slowly paced away from the group, his head held high. “I bring them the discovery of a lifetime! Something that’ll change the entire way we look at ancient Zebrica, rock the very foundation of magical studies!” He whipped around, his eyes gleaming like fire. “And what do they do? They try and take it from me!”
While he ranted, Dash kept tugging at her restraints. Come one, come on! Just let me get one wing loose...
“Nineteen years I slaved away in that wretched school, and those unicorns spit in my face!” He was no longer looking at them, his eyes glaring at the ground beneath him as he paced back and forth. “They laughed when they did it! ‘Oh, how can you hope to be a full professor at a school for unicorns, when you're not even magical?’ Well...” He turned to face them, and his eyes blazed with light once more, the air around his head once more shimmering and dancing. He grunted, and Dash could see his body tense from exertion.
Suddenly, the ground began to shake violently, groaning so loud that Dash could feel it in her bones. As she watched, large fissures appeared throughout the yard, spitting up massive plumes of dirt. With a final loud scream, Parchment rocketed into the air as several large pillars of earth shot up from the ground, raining dirt and rocks on the bound ponies.
Several loud, panting breaths escaped him. “Who’s magical now?!” A maniacal laugh echoed throughout the courtyard while Parchment slowly descended, the haze around his head dying out.
“What the hay does any of that have t’ do with us?”Applejack grunted loudly, once more fighting her restraints.
On Dash’s other side, Rarity cleared her throat. “What my friend is trying to say, sir, is that is indeed tragic, what they did to you.” Her voiced oozed sympathy, so much so that even Dash couldn’t tell if she was faking or not. “But none of us are involved in this. You have been wronged, and for that I am sorry, but please, let us go.”
Parchment chuckled. “Oh, no, lass. You’re very involved. You and your friends are the key to the next phase of my plan.” He grinned at them again, his eyes narrowed.
“What plan?” Dash glared at him. Gotta keep him talking. Twilight is probably on her way. “Your plan is to kill random ponies to... to what, get back at your boss?”
“Oh, no, Ms. Dash. Maybe at first, but not anymore.”
Dash scoffed. “Then what? You’re just... killing for the sake of killing?”
He glared at Dash, digging his hoof into the ground. “No! I kill to reach a new, and better reality for all!”
“What’re you on about?” Applejack cried. “How’re you makin’ life better by killin’? That’s crazy!”
“Silence!” Quicker than she could blink, he launched himself at Applejack, almost instantly at her side. “I’m not crazy! I’m a visionary! A prophet!”
Slowly, he back away from her, his eyes bouncing between the bound ponies. “This power, it’s shown me so much. This world is chaotic, adrift, lost!” He leapt towards Fluttershy, his glowing eyes making her cringe. “We coddle the weak, and condemn the strong! It flies in the very face of nature itself!” Fluttershy whimpered as he leaned in close. “Well, not anymore!”
“W-W-What... what do you mean?”
He smiled at her, licking his lips. “Very soon, I will have the power to remake the world. Look!”
He once more took to the air, and all four mares followed him with their eyes. Slowly, the sky above them began to shimmer like the ocean. Parchment’s eyes glowed brighter, and thousands, millions of wavy lines slowly emerged from the darkness. Dash let out a quiet gasp. The lines snaked in from the surrounding forest, the weeds in the courtyard, even them; five beams of multicolored light joining the white ones from the woods. She looked as they all flowed upwards, and once more her jaw dropped.
All the countless beams of light slithered towards a large sphere that hung in the air above them. The ball seemed to be dozens of lengths across, and it danced with an ethereal grace, bobbing and weaving slightly to some cosmic tune. Random shapes twisted and spun inside a maelstrom of color and light at its center. Like arcs of electricity, the lines shot out from inside of it in every direction, eventually fading from her sight.
Parchment laughed again. “You see it now? These ley lines connect to every corner of the globe.” His voice grew distant, his eyes glazed over. “From here, my magic will spread to every living thing on the planet. I shall give my gift to the wind, and all of creation will be born anew.”
In a flash, the lines disappeared. All four mares snapped their eyes back to the floating stallion, who grinned at them with that wicked smile. “And that is where you come in, lassies!” With a dull thump, he landed on the ground next to Rarity, leering at her. “Once I have consumed you, I’ll defeat your pitiful sky goddesses. And then, the world will be remade as it should be!”
Rarity let out a sharp bark of laughter. “You’re not going to,” she shuddered, “consume anypony! Twilight has probably already sent word to the Princesses. Any second now, she and her brother will come crashing through that wall with dozens of Royal Guards!”
Parchment chuckled. “Oh, I know she’ll be coming here, that’s the point! But she’ll not be sending for anypony.” His eyes glowed brighter as he stepped back from her. “I’ve got her little messenger.”
A rustling sound came from behind them. Rarity turned towards the sound. “Spike!”
Spike hung limply in the air next to Parchment. Small spatters of greenish blood stained his scales, and more trickled from a large wound on his head. With a nod of his head, Parchment sent the unconscious dragon flying away, impacting the stone wall hard enough to crack it.
“What have you done to my Spikey-Wikey?!” Rarity yelled.
“Oh, don’t worry, he’s still alive. Bait is no good if it’s dead.” His smile seemed to grow larger, offset by the wild look in his glowing eyes. “Little bastard put up a fight, so I had to subdue him.”
“Hey!” Parchment slowly turned to face Dash. She glared right back with her trademark intensity. Keep him talking, keep him talking. "So, is that what you did to Zecora?"
Parchment threw his head back and laughed, the sound echoing off the stone walls around them. Taking several deep breaths, he looked back to Dash. “Oh, that zebra bitch? That was nothing. Just a few dormant genes activated." He chuckled again. "Unlocking a gift from her family!"
Dash clenched her jaw. “So, why? Why drive her crazy like that?"
"Eh, the power needed time to mature. I knew somepony would come, so I gave them a rabbit to chase.”
His ears suddenly perked up. In another blinding flash of movement, he settled next to Fluttershy. “Speaking of rabbits, did you like what I did to your little friend?” He licked his lips as Fluttershy gasped. “Oh, he wasn’t much to look at to begin with, but now that rabbit’s dynamite!”
Fluttershy’s lower lip trembled. "Y... You did that t-to Angel?”
Leaning in close, Parchment’s eyes grew very cold, his lips curling into a cruel smile. “Aye, lass. And very soon, with your power inside me, I shall do the same to every living thing on the planet.” He leaned back and turned to face the others. “Can you picture it? A world free from the bondage of pitiful things like sentience, love, friendship.” He spat the last word. Turning his head back to the stars, his eyes glazed over again, his voice distant. “The strong will thrive, the weak will perish, and all shall bow at my hooves.”
Parchment tensed, slowly turning his head back to face Fluttershy. “What did you say?”
“I. Said. No!” As Parchment finally met her eyes, Fluttershy set her jaw and Stared. Immediately, Parchment froze, his eyes locked with hers. “You listen to me, mister! You will not hurt any more of my friends!” She leaned her head up towards him. Her eyes narrowed, but the intensity of her gaze never faltered. “Now, you undo these ropes and let us go this instant!”
Parchment blinked a few times. “Um... no.” His eyes glowed again, and with a nod of his head, Fluttershy was flung across the courtyard. She slammed into the wall, the loud crack of snapping bone echoing across the courtyard, and fell to the ground limp.
“Fluttershy!” Dash thrashed against her bonds, but they still held fast. Tears welled up in her eyes as she saw her childhood friend lay still against the cold stone wall, one wing bent at a horrible angle.
Parchment huffed. “Pitiful mind magic.” He cricked his neck to the side and turned back to the ponies. “Do you understand now, lassies? I’m above you. I’m beyond you.”
“You let me outta here, you sireless son of a goat! I’ll show you what I understand!” Applejack struggled with all her might, but her bonds refused to budge. Still, her eyes dripped venom as she glared at the leering stallion.
He let out a loud bark of laughter. “Oh, you’ve got some fight in you! You have passion! I like that.” He slowly made his way over to her, licking his lips. “You know, we’ve probably got some time before your friend shows up. How about we,” he reached his hoof and rubbed Applejack’s cutie mark in a slow, circular motion, “get to know each other better?” Applejack grimaced under the touch, but held her defiant gaze.
Next to her, Dash’s mind was racing. Oh no. Come on, Dash, think! Think like a hero! What would Daring Do d—
At once, it all became crystal clear. All the signs and cues were so obvious, she couldn’t believe she didn’t see it before. As the realization struck her, Rainbow Dash did the last thing anypony would have expected her to do in a situation like this.
Parchment slowly lifted his hoof from Applejack’s flank and turned to Rainbow. “Oh, and what’s so funny, lass?”
“Y-Y—” Dash struggled to breath through the fit of laughter. “You... you sound like... like a Daring Do villain!”
Parchment smiled lightly, slowly walking towards her. “Oh? How so?”
“Li-listen to yourself! ‘Oh, I shall have my revenge on th-those who wronged me! Th-the world will soon be mi—” She couldn’t even finish the word before another fit of giggles took hold.
Parchment stood next to her, still smiling lowly. “I fail o’ see how that’s so funny, Ms. Dash.”
Rainbow took a big gulp of air, trying to find her voice. “And-and you know what else you fail to see?” Parchment said nothing. “You can’t see how badly you’ve fucked up!”
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” He turned and began to walk away.
“Uh, yeah!” Her laughter finally subsided, Dash’s face once more held the cocksure grin. “Do you have any idea who you’ve pissed off by kidnapping us?” Parchment shook his head, a bemused smile on his face. “Well, first off, you have her brother,” she nodded her head towards Applejack, “and my coltfriend. There’s a reason they call him Big Macintosh! He can buck a tree clear out of the ground, and when he gets here, he’s gonna break you in half!” Dash’s sides began to ache from the gale of laughter.
Parchment laughed with her. “Oh, I’m so scared!”
“And then, and then, you have our best friend; Twilight Sparkle! The most powerful unicorn on the planet! The freaking Element of Magic! She’s saved the world more times than I can count, and you kidnapped her best friends!” She narrowed her eyes at him, chuckling once more. “You’re kinda stupid, ain’t you?” Parchment froze. Dash saw him tense up, and grinned. Gotcha!
Slowly, Parchment turned back to face them. The look of mirth was gone from his face, replaced by simmering anger. “What did you just say?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I said you’re a moron!”
“Shut up,” he growled, walking back towards Dash.
“No wonder they fired you!”
“How could you possibly teach ponies anything?!”
Parchment stormed up next to Dash, slamming his hoof into the stone she was tied to. “Shut up!”
Dash grinned at him. “Face it. You’re nothing but a stupid, ignorant,” she paused, trying to remember the insults she used to hear other foals say on the playground, “mud-kicking, dirt-sucking, ground-pounding common earth pony!”
With a loud yell, Parchment leaped on top of her, repeatedly slamming his hoof into her face. “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”
After several long moments, Parchment climbed down from the stone, taking several heaving breaths. He walked over to the other side and his eyes glowed again. A very long, curved blade floated beside him. Strange drawings covered the hilt from the tip of the blade to the ring that slid over his hoof. He turned back to Dash, panting. “You know, Ms. Dash? I think we’ve played enough. Your unicorn friend won’t mind one friend missing.”
Dash groaned and raised her head off the stone. Her left eye was already starting to swell. “So... so now you... you kill me?”
“Aye, that’s the plan,” he said coldly.
Dash’s eyes quickly darted to something behind Parchment before looking back at him. “Well, before you do that,” she groaned again, turning her head and spitting blood on the ground, “there’s something you really need to do.”
“Oh?” Parchment slowly raised the knife, taking aim at her chest. “What’s that, then?”
Dash smiled. “Turn around.”
Parchment paused, raising an eyebrow at her. Curious, he lowered the knife and turned around, just in time to see the massive red hoof impact his face hard enough to crack the bone.
Mac retracted his hoof, hatred blazing in his eyes, and swung again.
He reached back for another blow, spittle flying from his mouth.
The Professor’s face deformed further as small droplets of blood were flung from Mac’s hoof, and he swung again
Mac finally released his hold on the Professor, only to turn around and buck as hard as he could.
The crunch of snapping bone rang out as Parchment went flying, his landing point lost in the shadows. Mac turned back around to face where the stallion had been and spat.
“Dashie!” Mac spun and took a vine in his mouth, yanking it off her. He ripped the rest off and helped her up before putting his hooves around her and pulling her into the fiercest hug they’d ever shared. They held the embrace for a few moments before each pulled back, looked into the other’s eyes, and shouted in unison.
A cricket behind the stone chirped, unaware of its excellent timing.
“Oh, my gosh. Oh, my go—”
“Can that lovey-dovey crap an’ get us outta here!”
“AJ!” Mac whipped around and set to work on the vines around her. Behind him, Twilight and Bentgrass freed the others. Twilight gingerly lifted the ring off of Rarity’s horn, earning a loud sigh from her, before the pair turned to retrieve Pinkie Pie.
Mac slowly eased Applejack off the stone, bringing her close for a tight nuzzle. “You okay, haystack?”
She nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks, big brother.” She pulled back and stared at him and Rainbow. “The three of us are gonna have a long talk later!”
Mac and Rainbow gulped. He began to speak when a deep, melodic chuckle came from behind them. The group turned in unison. From the shadows, Parchment walked towards them, his eyes glowing brightly. His cloak was gone, revealing his crumpled chest and mangled face. A loud crack came as his chest popped back into shape, his face reforming with several wet pops. “Well, well. The gang’s all here! Finally, we can begin.”
Bentgrass stepped forward. “Professor, please! Stop this!”
Parchment shook his head. “Benty, what’re you doing here, lad? I let you leave the library! You were supposed to be going back to Canterlot, awaiting the dawn of the new world!”
“I am here because my dear friend needs me!”
“It’s too late fer that, Benty.” He smiled once more. “This world is lost, and I am the only one who can bring it back.”
“No, Tornbald! That’s not you talking. It’s this power, it’s driven you mad, can’t you see that?” Parchment’s smile faltered slightly, and Bentgrass took a step forward. “I have known you since I was a foal. You helped to raise me after my parents died! I know you, this isn’t you!”
Parchment blinked several times, his posture slumped a bit. “Benty... you don’t... I...”
Bentgrass pressed forward. “No, Torn. I do know. You were wronged and you wish justice. I understand that, truly I do! But look at what you’ve done! You’ve killed innocent ponies! Committed heinous acts, perverted your very mind! How does that make you any better than those you loathe?” Parchment fell to his haunches as Bentgrass approached. “This has to stop, Professor.” He reached a hoof down to his shoulders. “Please, old friend.”
“I... I...” Parchment shook his head violently. “No. No, no, no!” He jerked his head up, glaring at Bentgrass with glowing eyes. He cried out once more, and a wave of telekinetic energy blasted Bentgrass away.
“Bentgrass!” Twilight lit her horn and caught the airborne pony, easing him down to the ground next to her. “Are you alright?”
Bentgrass said nothing. His simply stood up, ground a hoof into the ground, and stared at the approaching Parchment with his usual cold gaze.
“That’s enough of this!” Parchment stomped towards them. “I will not be stopped by the likes of you! I have discovered the true gift of magic—one beyond what any unicorn could accomplish! With you as my first subjects, I will spread my work all across Equestria!"” He lowered his head and glared at them, stopping several lengths away. “And now, I take what I need.”
“I don’t think so, buddy!” Mac stepped forward and slammed his hoof down. “If you wanna hurt my sister and my... my wife,” he cast a quick glance to Rainbow, who smiled at him, “then you’re gonna have to get through me first!” He snorted loudly, digging a small trench in the dirt with his hooves.
Parchment said nothing for a moment. A smile slowly began to spread across his face. He let out a deep chuckle that soon morphed into raucous laughter. The echoes bounced off the high walls surrounding them. Finally, his laughter died down and he looked at Mac. “Through you? Laddie—” his eyes blazed to life, the air around him crackling and distorting— “I’d rather use you.”
From behind Mac, Dash scoffed. “This guy’s off his cumulus!” She marched forward to join him. “Come on, Mac, let’s ge—”
A thick red leg stopped her in her tracks. Confused, she looked up at him. “Mac?”
He didn’t acknowledge her; his eyes were wide and locked on Parchment. His lower jaw began to tremble, the vibration soon spreading to his whole body. As Dash watched, Mac turned to face her in slow, jerky movements, the shaking growing stronger. “D...Da...sssshhh—” Their eyes finally met. A yellow film began to seep in from the corner of his eyes, devouring his pupils as the veins in his irises pulsed and throbbed.
His whimper turned into a loud roar, and he lashed out with his massive foreleg, launching Dash towards the wall. Dash had no time to react and she slammed into one of the stone pillars they had been tied to. She groaned and struggled back to her hooves when a loud scream jerked her attention back to her coltfriend.
Mac was laying on his side, grunting loudly. His back legs were flailing, pounding into the ground, when he began to slam his forehooves into his head. “Get out! Get it out, get it out!” He flopped onto his stomach, slamming his head into the dirt as he writhed. The slight tremor from before was now a violent shudder, Mac’s body helplessly flopping on the ground as he cried out.
He screamed as his back began to writhe and pulse, like snakes were crawling under his skin. With a horrible, wet tearing sound, half a dozen bony spikes erupted from his back sending a splatter of blood into the air. The spines raised up in the air before lowering and clamping down around his midsection, tiny tendrils of bone spreading between them across his belly and sides. Several sickening cracks, and his torso stretched, tripling his already massive size. His hind legs began to stretch back, a sickening crack, accompanied by a pained howl, came as his knees reversed angles. The skin puffed out, bulging muscle bulking up his legs. His forelegs grew wiry and thin, stretching out to double the length of his hind legs. In a shower of blood, his hooves cracked and broke apart, growing into four thick, sausage-like fingers on each.
His scream began to deepen, dropping several octaves as the hair of his tail began to twist and writhe, each hair straightening before being braided together. Eventually, the single, rock-hard mass of his tail pulled away from his body, ending at nearly double his full length. The end suddenly inflated, leaving a large bulge of bone the size of a pony’s head.
His voice was now deep and guttural, a horrible warbling cry that echoed throughout Dash’s mind. His eyes, those beautiful green eyes she loved, were now blood red. His face flattened out, and his teeth began to grow. As she watched in horror, his two of his teeth surged in length, sharpening to gleaming points. The thing that had been her coltfriend slammed it’s deformed fist down, shaking the ground and sending Dash careening off her shaky hooves.
Behind the beast, Parchment was sweating and grunting, having fallen to his knees at some point. Blood trickled from both his nostrils as he finally stood on shaky hooves. He looked to his creation, then smiled and cackled at the gawking ponies.
“Do you... do you see it now?” He took a shaky step forward, panting heavily. “Behold! The future of all ponykind!”
Dash took a small step forward. “M... M-Mac?”
The thing before them whipped its massive head towards her and roared, the force nearly knocking all the ponies to their knees. Its sinewy tail whipped back and forth behind it, its hind legs scratching at the ground.
Parchment finally composed himself, calmly strolling beside his creation. “Now, my pet,” he chuckled.