Before Twilight hit the bottom, she felt Rainbow’s teeth close around her foreleg.
With a jerk, she slowed abruptly, but her foreleg slipped from Rainbow’s grasp, leaving only lavender hair behind. For a brief moment, she saw horror in Rainbow’s eyes. She hit the bottom, crumpling backwards until her head struck hard stone.
When Twilight regained her senses, she felt a pair forelegs looped underneath hers. “I’m gonna get you out of here, Twilight,” Rainbow said in her ear.
Twilight’s heart raced. She couldn’t see anything. I’m blind, she thought. She hit her head too hard, and now she was blind. Can Fluttershy heal blindness?
Rainbow grunted, and Twilight heard wingbeats in the darkness. Something warm and wet splashed her coat.
With relief, she realized that the light from her horn had gone out. She focused magic into the tip of her horn, illuminating her surroundings. Her vision swam as the light filled the space, and the first thing she noticed was the copious quantities of red liquid oozing from Rainbow’s foreleg. Rainbow’s straining muscles were pushing blood out and around an arrowhead buried deep in her flesh. The shaft had broken off, opening the path for blood to spill out of the wound.
“Twilight, Rainbow!” she heard her friends calling from above.
Twilight glanced around the space. The shaft had narrowed towards the bottom; there wasn’t enough space for Rainbow to fully spread her wings. “You have to let me go, Rainbow,” she said.
“No... way,” Rainbow said through clenched teeth.
“Fly up. Get healed. Get Fluttershy,” Twilight ordered.
“I’m not... gonna—”
“Now!” Twilight said, using her levitation to slip free from Rainbow’s limbs.
“Twilight, let me help you!” Rainbow said, panting as she stared down at Twilight.
“If you don’t fly up there right now, I’ll use a Charm spell on you and make you!” Twilight said. She doubted she could convince the strong-willed pegasus to do anything with magic, but the threat seemed to work.
“Fine!” Rainbow shouted. “I’ll get help...” Without Twilight weighing her down, she reluctantly rose up the narrow passage. “I’ll get help!” she said and beat her wings faster. Within a few seconds, the pegasus was a shadow beyond the light from Twilight’s horn.
Twilight groaned, assessing the damage to her body. Her head throbbed, and her back ached. She moved each of her limbs in turn, making sure they weren’t broken. Her right foreleg hurt, but she could move the limb. A sprain, most likely, from when Rainbow had caught her. Her next two limbs were largely uninjured. When she tried to move the last limb on her list, her left hind leg, she felt only pain – no movement. She looked down at her leg. It twisted at an unnatural angle, broken.
She heard Pinkie’s voice echo down the chasm. “Sit tight, Twi, your pal Pinkie is coming!”
“We’re getting ropes set up, we’ll be down in a couple minutes!” Rarity called.
Twilight sighed, settling back. There was nothing to do but wait.
She heard something moving in the darkness and immediately put out her horn. She noticed firelight spilling out from the mouth of a tunnel a few hoofspans above the bottom of the chasm. She didn’t have a couple of minutes.
“Kill the intruders!” a hissing voice echoed out of the passage.
She wrapped her levitation around her leg.
I’m going to live.
She clenched her jaw and pulled with her magic. The pain was excruciating, but her leg quickly set with a snap. She barely managed to keep from crying out and giving away her position. Panting, she groped around in her pack for a healing potion. Something sharp cut her skin.
The flasks containing her healing potions had shattered, despite the glass being magically reinforced. Panicking, she continued to probe the pack with her hoof, with only more cuts for her efforts.
I don’t need a potion, she realized.
Twilight reached down and set her bleeding hoof against her thigh. She closed her eyes, focusing. She let out a breath. It wasn’t working.
The moving creatures were closer now, she could hear them sniffling. “I smell pony, live pony,” one said.
Star Swirl wanted me to live.
She dug deep and remembered the feeling she had when she healed Pinkie. There was a power within her, a force she didn’t understand, and it filled her with divine energy that surged down her foreleg and into her body. The warmth that spread through her was nothing compared to the healing spell Fluttershy had used, but it was enough to purge the pain from her hind leg.
She saw the silhouette of a diamond dog clambering out of the tunnel. On its fists and hindpaws, it moved toward her. “It’s down here!” it hissed, and a second dog climbed out of the tunnel, holding a torch in its paw.
As Twilight stood, she felt something rise within her. It spread through her limbs and into her magic as she drew Solstice.
When the light hit Twilight, she was already moving. She sheathed Solstice in the gut of the first dog before it could react and cast the stunned form aside. While she pulled the blade free, the second dropped the torch and raised a crude short sword to defend itself.
The torch sputtered on the ground, but before its light had faded, she swung Solstice at the dog’s head. Driven by the full strength of her levitation, the sharp edge of Solstice cleaved cleanly through the dog’s inferior sword, leaving only the broken hilt in its hand, and she felt the blade contact a body and continue through.
When Twilight lit her horn, she saw grey matter oozing blood. She could identify the two diamond dogs as male now. She’d taken off the top of the second dog’s skull, and he lay dead in the bottom of the passage.
“Demon,” the first dog coughed, clutching his gut. “Pony fell... pony shouldn’t be standing...” He coughed again. “Demon!” he shouted with all the air he had left in his lungs.
With a flick of Solstice, Twilight silenced him. She heard more movement. She wasn’t going to wait down here like a trapped rat. She would take the fight to them.
Twilight scrambled her way up through the tunnel. The walls were roughly hewn through the earth, and some larger rocks looked like they’d been dug through by a mixture of claws and metal tools. Claws: dangerous, sharp enough to cut through stone, she noted.
As Twilight made her way along the the diamond dog’s tunnel, she cast two spells. First, she cast Shield, and second, Mirror Image. When she was finished, an invisible barrier floated in the air in front of her, and four identical copies of herself surrounded her, overlapping and clipping through the stone around her.
In the narrow tunnel, the next two diamond dogs she encountered had nowhere to go, and she simply drove Solstice’s tip into the first dog. She didn’t stop when the hilt hit his sternum. She pushed him, sending him staggering backwards. The second enemy turned and fled in an attempt to get around a corner before Twilight’s blade caught up with him. He didn’t make it. The blade buried into his back and pinned him to the wall. He screamed while the other creature behind him let out his last breath.
She was strong, stronger than she’d ever felt before. The power she felt within her had done more than heal her.
Still holding Solstice to keep the living foe pinned, Twilight picked up one of dogs’ fallen weapons: a short spear.
A voice whispered in her mind, ”Kill him, he would kill you.”
Twilight launched the spear with her levitation. It entered through his ear. He went silent.
Twilight pulled her blade free, and the two limp bodies slumped down to the bottom of the tunnel, a spear sticking from one of their heads. She stepped over them, then whirled when she felt something cut her hind leg. She relaxed a moment later; she’d accidentally clipped herself on one of the dead dog’s claws. Picking her hooves up higher, she continued around the bend.
The tunnel widened into a small room. Brandishing spears and swords at her, four diamond dogs in crude makeshift armor patched together from chainmail, plate, and leather waited a few hoofspans into the room. She didn’t even flinch when a flaming arrow arced over them and impacted her shield. The barrier lit into a translucent lavender rectangle for a brief instant as it deflected the arrow.
”They want to kill you.”
She focused, a second layer of glow joining the light on her horn. Two dogs with spears lunged at her. Twilight smiled slightly; she’d made sure she was far back in the tunnel enough that only two of them could come at her at a time. While she cast, she cleaved through one of the spear shafts, sending the head clattering to the ground, and sidestepped the second. The spear passed close by her, and one of her images evaporated.
She finished her spell and launched a conjured acid arrow past the four diamond dogs in armor, striking the archer behind them. The archer writhed and fell, a hissing sound coming from her burning flesh. Before the dog with the broken spear could come at Twilight with his claws, she swung Solstice down on him.
Her sword rent his leather helmet, cleaving into his skull, and she twisted it free as he dropped. With ferocious determination, the other dog thrusted directly at her, but her shield blocked his spear. She spun Solstice in the air, redirecting the tip downward, and stabbed it into the exposed space between the dog’s shoulder and neck.
The full two hoofspan length of her sword plunged into the diamond dog’s body cavity. Blood dribbled from his mouth as she pulled the blade free. He collapsed, his body tipping forward. As she took a step back to avoid the falling corpse, she caught his spear before it hit the ground.
Shrieks drew Twilight’s attention as she advanced. Behind the remaining two diamond dogs, the archer rolled on the floor, clawing away at her own chest as the acid burned ever deeper. Both weapons floated in Twilight’s levitation. She watched the two diamond dogs draw close together, their eyes wide with terror. One of them carried a round metal shield; they both tried to hide behind it.
“Demon!” one of them shouted.
With a powerful thrust, she shattered the spear on the diamond dog’s shield. The sheer force of her blow knocked him stumbling back. Now that the second dog was exposed, she swung Solstice with precision past his blade and took the paw holding his sword off at the wrist.
She deftly caught the sword, and in one smooth motion, she stabbed it into his gut clean through the chainmail protecting him, angling it up to penetrate the vital organs protected by his breastplate and ribcage. He stared down at the stump of his severed limb in shock. She knew he would be dead in a few seconds.
Twilight shoved him off balance with a push of her magic and advanced on the final threat in the room. The archer had gone silent; the acid had finally dissolved her heart. Only the diamond dog with the shield remained to face her.
“Demon Pony!” he shouted. “Demon Pony will kill us all!”
He roared and charged at her.
”Kill him, or he’ll kill you.”
He swung his sword precisely, but instead of striking her, his blade cleaved through air when it evaporated one of her images. He gave her a brief look of acceptance, and she could tell he knew he was about to die; his futile attack had left him exposed. She retaliated, and Solstice bit into leather and flesh until it finally lodged in a plate protecting the middle of his chest.
She tugged at Solstice. It wouldn’t come free.
She heard something move behind her and immediately glanced over her shoulder. A diamond dog lunged at her exposed back from one of the room’s side passages, his claws outstretched.
Without even turning, she released Solstice, picked up the sword of the armored diamond dog she’d just killed, and sent it tip first at the diamond dog pouncing on her. When she heard the creature whine sharply, she knew she’d missed. He should be dead.
Twilight spun slowly to face her attacker. He dangled from a painted wooden target, pinned by the sword impaled through his shoulder. Frantically, he gripped the hilt and pulled. Twilight levitated the broken spear shaft, its end a jagged splinter. She lined up the shot.
Screaming in pain, the dog wrenched at the sword, jerking it desperately back and forth in a final bid for survival. He was small; she saw that he was either young, or a runt. She didn’t care.
The spike quivered, sticking out of his eye socket. His limp fingers fell from the hilt, the blade nearly free. Twilight felt nothing.
It’s them, or me.
She heard shrieks coming from the side passage.
“Demon! Demon Pony! Flee! Regroup!”
”You’re not finished yet...”
She formed a Sleep spell and yanked Solstice free while she stepped into the side passage.
Twilight stood over the bodies of six diamond dogs, panting. She started when a comforting hoof pressed against her flank.
“Twilight, are you okay?” Pinkie said.
Twilight swallowed, staring at the dead beneath her hooves. “I’m fine...” she said. Quieter, she murmured, “me or them... them or me... me or them...”
A warm embrace wrapped Twilight, despite the mixture of pony and diamond dog blood that soaked her fur. It was her turn to be held. She pulled close to Pinkie, shivering.
What am I?
Contrary to popular belief, diamond dogs are not stupid, Twilight concluded as she ducked behind an old abandoned minecart. In fact, they can be quite clever.
After her group had found her, she felt composed and in control again. At first, the diamond dogs left them largely alone while they explored the deep passages of the mine, but eventually they returned in force. With a series of crude traps, collapsing tunnels, and deft maneuvers, they’d forced the ponies down a dead end and cornered them.
Now, over a dozen diamond dog archers pelted their cover with arrows from down the passageway, keeping them pinned down. They all clustered behind the overturned minecart, pressing close together to avoid exposing themselves to fire.
“What now?” Applejack shouted in her ear over the din of flint arrowheads impacting the metal cart.
“They’ve got to run out of arrows eventually!” Twilight shouted back.
“Why don’t you Fireball ‘em or something?” Rainbow yelled, frustrated.
“Down here, in this space? Do you want to get burned too? That is, assuming we could even breathe afterwards!” Twilight shouted.
The volley withered, dying out, and for a moment, the tunnel was quiet. Cautiously, Twilight leaned around the corner of the minecart, peering out. She saw a point of light glinting off an arrowhead bound for her and quickly jerked her head back. It flew past the side of their cover.
“Not yet, I guess...” Twilight murmured.
“Shush, I hear something,” Pinkie said, her ears perked.
Twilight listened intently. She could hear something scraping above them. She looked up, and a plume of dirt fell from the ceiling.
They’re going to collapse the tunnel on us... she realized.
“We have to move!” she said. “On three!”
She spent a couple seconds to cast her second Shield spell – her first had run out a few minutes ago. Then, as she cast another, different spell, she started to count.
Next to her, the rest of her group nodded, preparing to move.
Her spell finished. A white light emanated out from her horn and wrapped around all six ponies and the bunny in Fluttershy’s mane.
Twilight shot out from behind their cover, her movements enhanced by the Haste spell she cast a moment ago. She heard a rumble behind her. With no time to look back, she kept her eyes forward and saw an arrow closing toward her. It moved slowly enough that she simply dipped her head beneath it as she galloped. Two more arrows deflected off her shield, but before the rest of the diamond dogs had time to fire, she was upon them.
Them, or me...
The edge of her blade drew blood. She moved among them, everywhere at once, deftly dealing death. A diamond dog flanked her, and she turned a moment too late, but before he could strike, a crystalline arrow pierced his throat. From the tunnel she’d ran down a moment ago, a wave of dust and debris hit her. It scattered the light of her horn, turning her surroundings into a mess of shadows and fog.
She glimpsed a pegasus wing, and a claw beside it. She severed the claw at the wrist, and someone howled. Next, she dealt with an exposed diamond dog throat. Applejack’s chain punched through the air past her head and hit something with a sickening thud. A pink blur flashed by her. She saw the silhouette of a giant rabbit stomping on a broken body.
For Twilight, it was one moment to the next in a sensory deprived world. Nimbly, she evaded a claw that clipped the air ahead of her. With the help of the Haste Spell, she was as quick on her hooves as Pinkie was on a good day. Like lightning, she ended the life of whoever the claw belonged to.
Close beside her, she heard Fluttershy scream, and she glimpsed fire.
Twilight took a step through the mist. She saw Angel rolling in the dirt, fire licking at his natural armor, a broken arrow protruding from his back. He made a pitiful whimpering sound. Without hesitation, Twilight dispatched a diamond dog that descended toward the prone bunny.
“Rainbow, here!” Twilight shouted.
With a gust of wind, Rainbow appeared next to her.
“Put him out,” Twilight said.
Rainbow nodded and pirouetted. Two arcing blasts of air flowed off her wingblades and sucked the life from the flames that consumed Angel. The blasts also pulled most of the dust with them, clearing the air.
Twilight coughed, looking around at her friends. Other than Angel, her group remained largely uninjured. Most of the twenty-or-so diamond dogs scattered around their hooves lay dead, but a few still moved, groaning in pain. A rotted elevator platform dangling on a rope above them identified the chamber as a central mineshaft. A half dozen tunnels spread out around them like the spokes of a wheel.
The fire out, Angel shrunk back down to a white bunny. His coat was blackened in places, and his eyes were closed. Fluttershy gingerly picked him up in her hooves. Twilight noticed a glimmer of moisture in Fluttershy’s eyes as she healed her guardian.
Rarity pointed down the passage they’d fled from. “We’ve got company.”
Twilight turned. Shapes moved among the rubble, diamond dogs emerging from the ceiling of the recently collapsed tunnel. As soon as the healing was complete, she picked Angel up in her levitation and nestled him into Fluttershy’s mane.
“We need to keep moving,” Twilight said.
She picked an unfamiliar, downward tilting tunnel, even though the deeper they went, the worse the diamond dogs seemed to get. Celestia had said there were answers down there, and after all she’d been through so far, she wasn’t about to leave empty hooved.
“This way, let’s go,” she said as she set off down the passage at a trot, but due to the effects of the Haste spell, she was moving as fast as she could normally gallop.
The passage was too narrow for more than two ponies at a time. They proceeded down it, Twilight and Pinkie first, Rarity and Fluttershy in the middle, and Applejack and Rainbow Dash in the back. A moment before they rounded a sharp bend, Pinkie raised her foreleg in front of Twilight, and the group came to a dead stop.
“Another booby trap?” Twilight said, scanning the tunnel ahead for the tell-tale signs of a hidden pit.
Pinkie shook her head. “Nope, worse.”
“I see what you mean,” Rarity said from behind Twilight. “This’ll take a moment to deal with.”
Twilight glanced over her shoulder. The sound of diamond dogs in pursuit echoed down the passage. She switched places with Rarity and faced toward the sound. She could Web the passageway, or cast a Confusion spell down the tunnel, but she preferred to conserve her resources. She’d already burned through the majority of her spells, and only had a few more powerful ones left in reserve.
Fortunately, before the first diamond dogs came into view, Rarity made a sound of triumph. Twilight glanced over her shoulder, and saw Rarity pull a rod-shaped object from the wall of the passage. It was a cobalt-blue cylinder, about a hoofspan long, with a gemstone set in the end. Twilight recognized it as a spell wand, though she couldn’t be sure which spell it held. Walking around the bend while the wand was still in place surely would have triggered it.
Twilight turned her gaze back down the passage. She knew the diamond dogs were close; even though they had yet to step into the light from her horn, she saw the light of their torches and hear their claws on the stone. There are so many of them, she thought. She might have to cast a spell anyway, to buy them some time.
Before Twilight could cast, she noticed Fluttershy’s eyes glowing. From the sides of the passage at the limit of her light, Twilight could see insects emerging from the walls, both flying and crawling. They steadily swarmed toward the approaching diamond dogs.
“We moving, or what?” Rainbow said.
Twilight nodded and switched places with Rarity. They proceeded around the corner. The pained howls of diamond dogs echoed through the tunnel. She glanced at Fluttershy, realizing that, when pushed, the shy pegasus could do far more than heal.
As soon as they rounded the bend, Twilight stopped, gazing at the sight before her in awe. The tunnel hit a natural sandstone cavern. Hundreds of dwellings were dug into the walls and ceiling of the cave. What shocked her the most was a diamond dog shaman wearing ceremonial garb made from bones prostrated before them.
“Demon Ponies! Spare us!” the shaman wailed. Twilight could tell from the tenor of the shaman’s voice that she was female.
Twilight blinked. “We’re not demons,” she said automatically.
The shaman glanced up at her hopefully. “Then what is Pony? We can wound these ponies, but they do not die. They kill our best warriors by the dozens, and there is only six. They do not stop. They unleash great spells upon us. They penetrate our defenses, and mercilessly descend to our home. If not Demon Ponies, what are they?”
The shaman placed her forehead back against the ground. “Spare us! If Demons agree to leave, and not destroy our home, we will give Demons a thousand gemstones, we will give Demons the souls of our firstborn pups. Does Dark One seek to punish us? We work hard, we swear!”
“Tell me about the Dark One,” Twilight said.
“Dark One dwells beneath! Dark Pony makes the bones of our ancestors walk again if we do not do his bidding, but he promises that we will be blessed after we die in return,” the shaman said.
Twilight glanced over her shoulder. While the shaman was speaking, the swarm of diamond dogs had arrived at the corner and stopped in the passage. They listened in silence, except for the occasional yelp when an insect stung one.
“What does he have you do?” Twilight asked.
“Pony Diggers dig, and then we pour on the red rock where they dig. We know not why Dark One has us pour, only that it pleases him.”
“Pour what? Tell me!” Twilight said, making sure to insert wrath into her tone. If the diamond dogs realized that they weren’t demons, and went back to trying to kill them, they could easily be overrun.
The shaman squirmed on the floor, whimpering. “He told us not to show ponies. He told us not to be seen!”
Beside Twilight, Rarity spoke, her horn glowing. Rarity’s voice filled the chamber, and the light warped, darkening.
“We are Demon Ponies, pitiful creature.” Her voice echoed off the walls, several shades deeper than it was normally. “Tell us what we want to know, or we will consume the souls of your firstborns, then we will come after you!”
“Please, no! Spare us! We show Demon Ponies!” Frantically, the shaman sat up on her haunches, and beckoned one of the warriors to step forward. The selected warrior gingerly crept past the group of ponies, knelt, and pulled a bottle of green liquid from a pouch, presenting it to Twilight.
Twilight snatched it from his grip and inspected the vial. The liquid within surged and bubbled. “I think I know what’s wrong with the iron...” she murmured.
She glanced around at the diamond dogs. They were here before the iron mine, she realized. This was their home, and they’d fought tooth and claw to defend it. Now, something deeper beneath was manipulating them. When she spoke again, her voice carried all the authority she could muster.
“You will take us to the Dark One, let us pass through your tunnels unhindered, and stop pouring. Do not fear the Dark One; we will deal with him. When we are finished, you may continue to live here in safety. If you attack or steal from the nearby pony town, we will return, and you will be destroyed. If you give the ponies the rocks that they want, they will give you food in return. If you negotiate, you will get a fair deal. If you do all this, you will be spared.”
The shaman nodded fervently. “Destroy Dark One, yes!” she cried. “Destroy Dark One! We shall do as Demon Pony commands!”
The two diamond dog warriors assigned to guide them led them ever deeper down twisting tunnels, and Twilight was beginning to suspect that the Shaman had tricked them. The diamond dogs could be trying to get them so lost that they could never find their way back to the surface or the diamond dogs’ cavern.
Her sore muscles protested as they clambered through the narrow tunnels. The Haste spell had a price; a second of movement under the effects of the spell taxed the body like ten seconds of activity. Now, the spell itself was long gone, but the price stayed with her. Mercifully, when the tunnel emerged into a cavern, they finally stopped.
The diamond dogs pointed across the cavern at a case full of vials filled with the green liquid. “This is where we get Pour. We go no further. Ancestors walk down here.”
“Stay here, then, and wait for us,” Twilight ordered.
The diamond dogs squirmed with displeasure at the task, but beneath her gaze, they nodded fearfully. Twilight stepped out into the cavern. In contrast to the barren land above, down here a large, mirror smooth pond reflected back the light of her horn. When she looked down at her reflection, she understood why the diamond dogs mistook her for a Demon.
Her coat was matted and stained crimson from her first encounter with them. Next to her, Solstice floated, its blade as bloodstained as her coat. To them, she was death, unstoppable and inevitable.
Twilight skirted the pool, her group following. While she made her way toward the case, Twilight wondered what time it was up above. How long has Braeburn been waiting for us? Do the Appleloosans think we’re dead? All she knew for certain was that it had been hours, and she was tired.
In stark contrast to the natural cavern, beside the case of vials, a square edged passage led into darkness. Twilight paused in front of corridor, letting the light of her horn shine down it. It terminated in a perfectly square T intersection.
“Any traps?” she said, glancing at Pinkie and Rarity. She’d learned that they both had an eye for details that she sometimes missed.
Rarity and Pinkie glanced down the passage.
“I don’t see anything,” Rarity said.
Pinkie stepped across the threshold and pointed. “Nope, there’s something there, see the hole next to the corner?”
With it pointed out to her, Twilight could see what Pinkie had noticed. “Where’s the trigger?” Twilight asked.
“Ah, I see it,” Rarity said. “It’s right...” Rarity lit her horn, and a narrow row of small, faintly inscribed magical runes glowed midway down the passage. “There!”
Between the two of them, Rarity and Pinkie extracted the wand without tripping the trap. “It looks the same as the one the diamond dogs had,” Rarity observed. “Do you think this Dark One gave them wands?”
“Actually, if I were to guess, I’d say that the shaman made them,” Twilight said. “Do you see the claw marks? A diamond dog at least handled this one too.”
Rarity blinked. “I didn’t think diamond dogs could do magic.”
“They can’t, at least not the same way unicorns can, but magic is a part of Equestria. Magic formed solely from ingredients is usually called voodoo, and conventional understanding holds that it doesn’t exist. Even alchemy is merely the art of making a liquid medium that can hold spells. They say that for magic to work, somewhere along the line a spellcaster had to cast a spell... but they’re wrong,” Twilight said.
It was a chilling realization, that her books had betrayed her. She realized she had known it was true ever since the argument with Applejack. She could never assume something was true; she had to know it was true.
Celestia said there was darkness down here, and she was about to find out for herself. She strode confidently forward down the dark corridor. She would finally have some answers.
It didn’t take long for Twilight to realize that they were in an ancient mausoleum. Once they were inside, nooks filled with the mummified remains of long dead ponies occupied the walls. The much fresher bones of diamond dogs littered the floor.
Someone brought them here, Twilight realized. “Looks like these are what he used to scare the diamond dogs,” she said.
Rainbow picked up one of the diamond dog skulls and held it in her hoof. “What did he do, put on a bone outfit and dance around?”
“What a boner!” Pinkie said, snickering.
Twilight frowned. She couldn’t understand how Pinkie could be laughing after what they’d done to the diamond dogs – what she’d seen in Twilight’s wake.
“No, he animated them,” Twilight said.
Rainbow dropped the skull, shocked. “You can do that? I thought that was just a scary story.”
“Certain clerics can, and there are arcane spells that can have a similar effect. I know Celestia’s never do it, but others do,” Twilight said.
“So we’re probably dealing with a cleric who can animate corpses...” Applejack said. “Sounds like he earned the name Dark One.”
Twilight stepped around a corner and said, “Well, we’re about to find out.”
Ahead, a light that wasn’t coming from her horn illuminated a doorway. She moved forward toward it, her hooves clopping on the stone. Surely, whatever lurked down here knew they were coming.
When she arrived at the door, she stopped and stared in shock. Sitting there at a dark wooden desk, scribbling away at some parchment with a quill in his mouth, sat an earth pony in silken robes. Around him was room decorated with fine furniture, lush rugs, and a large four poster bed. Tapestries hung from the walls of the tomb.
The pony at the desk didn’t even look up at Twilight.
“What? Are they out of vials again? Just grab some more, they’re in the same place that they always are,” the pony said around his quill and gestured over his shoulder.
Twilight followed the gesture with her eyes. In the corner, beside a large mirror, a pile of cases full of green vials rested.
“Well, chop chop, we don’t have all day. Come on, just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you’re brain-dead... well, maybe it does,” the pony said.
Twilight continued to stand there, stunned. This wasn’t what she expected to find. She expected an armored pony like the Black Knight, standing there ready to do battle with her. She expected to fight for her life once again.
The pony sighed, planting his face in his hooves. “I’m a cleric of the Nightmare, cloaked in obscene power, but apparently that doesn’t entitle me to decent help.” He pulled his hoof from his face, and turned toward Twilight. “I mean, you can’t hold a conversation, the least you could do is your job, you stupid—” The quill dropped from his mouth. “How?”
“Tell me everything you know!” Twilight said, brandishing Solstice while she closed the distance between her and the pony at the desk.
The pony’s eyes started to glow with a black-silver light. Before he had time to cast, she stuck him in the gut with her sword. He fell backwards out of his chair as she pulled Solstice free, the glow in his eyes gone. He groaned, clutching at his gut with his forehooves.
Twilight glanced at the blood streaking her blade, and she knew she’d stabbed too deep. She didn’t want him dead; she wanted answers. “Fluttershy, heal him!”
“I can’t,” Fluttershy murmured.
Twilight whirled on Fluttershy. “What do you mean you can’t?!” she shouted.
Fluttershy cringed. “I used the last of my magic saving Angel... I’m sorry... I–I can try...”
The pony on the floor laughed dryly. “I guess I’m going to die then... I was going to be a Lich... they say only wizards can become Liches... silly arrogant unicorns...” he rambled.
Twilight turned back to the pony she’d stabbed. “Argh!”
She was so close to answers. She placed her hoof on him, trying to heal him like she’d healed herself and Pinkie.
“Twilight, what’re you doing?” Applejack said.
It was no use, either she couldn’t focus, or she needed rest before she could do it again. “This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen!” she yelled.
“I know what you mean...” the dying pony said, his eyes growing distant. “I got too complacent. Fat and lazy. Have you seen my cave? It’s very nice... nobody should be able to get to me down here. Oh well, they’re gonna eat you now... I made it so that they would do that if somebody got me... it’s too bad, I was going to be a Lich... I was so close.”
“Tell me about the Black Knight!” Twilight shouted, violently, desperately shaking him with her forehooves.
The pony coughed after she shook him, his eyes going crossed. “Heh... heh... shiny, shiny, shiny, hiding in the dark...” He focused on Twilight. “You’d better run... they’re coming... all my beautiful, beautiful bones.”
She could see him getting paler by the moment. There wasn’t much blood oozing from his belly, but she knew he was bleeding internally.
“Can’t you heal yourself!?” she yelled in his face.
She heard the clopping of hooves and the snapping of bones coming from the doorway.
“Um, Twilight, I don’t think they’re friendly dead ponies,” Pinkie said.
“I could... I could also kill you with a spell... I’m pretty sure you’d stab me again if I tried. Getting stabbed hurts... good life lesson,” he said.
Time, more time. I need more time.
Twilight cast a spell. It hit the doorway as the first mummified pony reached it. Thick, gooey webbing shot out, covering the doorway and spreading down the corridor. She saw the mummy stop, held back by the webs, and returned her focus to the pony on the floor.
“Tell me!” she cried. She needed what she’d done to get down here to mean something. I didn’t do it because I wanted to!
“Tell you?” He glanced over at a spot on the wall. “Tell you how to get out? I’ve got a way... I’m not telling... they’re going to eat you!” He started to laugh, but it quickly deteriorated into a fit of coughs.
She shook him again, harder. “Tell me about him! Tell me, tell me, tell me!”
She felt a hoof on her shoulder. “It’s done, Twilight,” Applejack said.
Twilight blinked. The pony’s eyes were staring lifelessly up at her. She heard the sound of stone sliding against stone, and looked up. Rarity stood next to the spot on the wall the dying pony had looked at. A portion of the wall had swung open, revealing a hidden tunnel.
“We need to leave,” Applejack said.
Twilight nodded and turned to the desk. It was empty. The papers were gone. The drawers were scattered on the floor, also empty. She rushed toward it in disbelief and frantically swept her hooves over the surface of the desk, spilling the inkwell. There was nothing there.
“Where are they?!” Twilight shrieked.
“I already got them,” Rarity said.
Twilight swallowed, her eyes traveling first to the skeletons clawing their way through her webbing, then to the dead pony on the floor, and finally to the open door where her friends waited. There was nothing left down here.
She rushed over to her friends, and they galloped down the passage. Out of spite, once they’d made it a safe distance, Twilight turned and launched a Fireball into the room. She smiled with satisfaction when the explosion swept down the corridor and rattled her skull.
She heard a secondary explosion, and her eyes widened. “Crap! Run!”
“Already doing that!” Rainbow shouted from ahead.
“The green flasks are flammable! Very, very flammable!” Twilight yelled as she sprinted after her friends, explosions rattling the corridor behind her.
Twilight lay on her back in the sand. The fact that it was morning, and they’d spent all night underground, was the first thing Twilight noticed when she cleared the collapsing passageway. The second thing she noticed was that all of her friends had made it out ahead of her. She could barely move her legs. She wanted to rest, but some part of her mind knew that she couldn’t stay out in the Sun.
“Come on, get off your flanks and on your hooves!” she heard Rainbow shout in her ear.
Twilight groaned and curled into a ball, her eyes closed. It had taken all the strength she had to sprint full speed down that passage, with the light at the end her only promise of salvation. She thought it was never going to end. The light never seemed to get any closer, until suddenly, she was outside.
She heard a heavy hoof fall and a deep snort.
“Who are you? Stop!” Rainbow said.
The hooves moved toward her.
“I’m warning you!” Rainbow said.
Twilight flicked her eyes open. She made out the outline of a pony with an unusually large head above her. Rainbow fell onto the sand beside her, out cold. A hoof touched Twilight on the forehead, directly below her horn. The figure’s eyes appeared when they glowed with a soft green light.
”Peace, Little Shadow.”
Twilight’s world went dark.