The sun beat down on the rough, featureless stone, as it had for the last ten thousand years. Once, it had been covered in a thick layer of soil, but over time, it had dried and turned to dust. The spot hadn’t seen activity since. Until today, that is. The air seemed to shimmer with a light even brighter than the pervading sunshine, and with a sharp crack, a pony stumbled seemingly out of nowhere and collapsed onto the parched rock.
By the time Jigsaw woke up, Tiptoe had already been up for quite some time. The fire was burning weakly in the fire pit—Tiptoe obviously didn’t know much about building a fire. Jigsaw stood up and stretched, shaking off bits of forest debris. Tiptoe turned her head and smiled. She was sitting on her haunches near the fire, attempting to take the edge off the cold. Jigsaw trotted over to her and sat down beside her.
“How long have you been up?” Jigsaw asked, blinking the sleep out of his eyes.
“A few hours, I suppose. I didn’t sleep very well. Too cold,” she said.
“Did you find anything to eat?”
“No. The only thing in this forest, as far as I can tell, are trees. No fruit anywhere.”
“That’s too bad. I’m starving,” Jigsaw said. He cast his gaze around the small clearing. It appeared completely unchanged from the night before, save the multiple pairs of hoofprints that now covered the ground. Jigsaw sighed and stood up.
“I suppose we should keep going. Maybe we’ll find something to eat along the way.”
Tiptoe remained sitting, staring into the weakly sputtering fire for a few moments. Then, with a resigned sigh, she stood up. She stretched out her wings out to their full length. Jigsaw almost gasped. He had forgotten just how large Tiptoe seemed to be when she wanted to.
“I’m going to fly up and see if there’s anything interesting from above.”
“Alright,” Jigsaw conceded. Tiptoe flapped her powerful wings down once. The resulting blast of air blew burning embers from the fire out in all directions and nearly knocked Jigsaw over. The embers, fortunately, landed in the clearing, which was devoid of flammable material. Jigsaw chuckled to himself as he turned to put out the smoldering bits of wood that were littered around the fire pit. Tiptoe had come so far from the scared little pony in the caves.
Eventually, the fire was out; the only light that streamed through was the eerie moonlight from above and the weak sunlight. Jigsaw looked up. Tiptoe was high overhead, flying in a wide figure eight. Jigsaw turned his head back towards the treeline. He stepped out into the weak ray of sunlight that was eking its way through the trees. Jigsaw was surprised to find that even though the sun was only barely visible over the horizon, the ray of light warmed him more completely than the fire had.
Tiptoe swooped down and alighted next to Jigsaw. She looked somewhat concerned.
“What’s wrong?” Jigsaw asked.
“There’s a mountain. A very large one, directly in our way,” Tiptoe said, flatly.
Jigsaw looked stunned. “We didn’t see a mountain yesterday! How could one just have appeared?”
“I have no idea, but how are we going to get around it?” Tiptoe asked.
“Could you carry me?” Jigsaw asked.
“Over a mountain?” Tiptoe said incredulously. “No, I don’t think I could do that. I doubt I could even get over it by myself.”
“How wide is the base?” asked Jigsaw. “Could we just wa–” he froze mid-sentence. His eyes glazed over again, though this time, Tiptoe could almost see a dull, white light emanating from inside them. As before, it only lasted a moment, before Jigsaw blinked and continued talking. “–lk around it? Actually…on second thought, I don’t think we should go around it. Something tells me that what we need is on top. We should climb-.”
He saw Tiptoe’s frightened expression and cut himself off. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“You froze again, but this time seemed different. Your eyes glowed,” Tiptoe said, visibly concerned.
“My eyes glowed?” asked Jigsaw, though he sounded more interested than frightened.
“Just a little,” said Tiptoe, “and only for a second.”
“What do you think it could mean?” Jigsaw asked. “Do you think it has anything to do with yesterday?”
“It must,” agreed Tiptoe. “What else could it be?”
“Should we do anything about it?” Tiptoe said.
“I…I don’t think so. Something tells me it’s okay; that it’s a good thing. Call it intuition I suppose.”
“Or I could call it the fragment of Celestia living in your horn.” Tiptoe said, a smile beginning to creep across her face.
“What, you don’t trust me? When have I ever led you astray before?” Jigsaw said, in a theatrically exaggerated voice. They began to laugh.
“I’d forgotten how good it feels to laugh,” Tiptoe said, the good mood fading as quickly as it came.
Jigsaw nodded somberly.
“Shall we make our way out?” Tiptoe asked.
“I suppose so. Climbing that mountain won’t be easy.” Jigsaw said.
The pony that had collapsed on the sun-scorched earth twitched and opened her eyes. Immediately, she knew she was in danger. She sprang to her feet, surprisingly energetic for somepony who had been unconscious just a few moments before. The sun was about a quarter of the way up the sky in the west- she knew that if the teleporter had taken her even a few miles farther, she wouldn’t have lasted as long as she had. Even now, her throat was dry, and she could tell she had stopped sweating. She had to get out of there, now.
She glanced over to her shoulder, at the teleporter. It was flashing red. Red meant danger. After the teleporter was used, it required a certain amount of recharging before it could be used again. However, it did have an emergency backup supply for an emergency situation, and this definitely qualified. The only problem was the location was impossible to specifiy. Before, she hadn’t cared where she ended up, so long as it wasn’t there. But at least she had been able to specify that she wanted to be somewhere survivable—at least for a little while. If she teleported now, she’d have no control.
She decided. She turned her head to her shoulder and pressed the flashing red button. With a sound like a small explosion, she disappeared from the desert.
She reappeared an instant later on a steep cliff-side, and promptly lost her balance. She tumbled head-over-hoof down the steep incline until she came to rest on something hard.
Her head was pounding- she had hit it on a rock on the way down. She weakly lifted her head to look at her shoulder. The screen of the teleporter had been smashed. She attempted to stand up, only to fall back down. The ground was slippery. For a moment, she was confused. Then, she connected the pieces. She was lying on ice.
She almost let out a cry of joy. She stood up, more carefully this time, ignoring the pounding in her head, and slowly made her way over to the shoreline. Once there, her horn began to grow a deep orange, and she bent down to touch it to the ice. A puddle of water began to form, from which she drank greedily. She drank for several minutes before she stopped herself and sat by the side of the frozen river. She was going to be alright.
It was then that Incendia looked up. What she saw almost made her pass out again.
Tiptoe flew above the snow, keeping pace with Jigsaw’s slow progress through the heavy drifts. She couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, but the feeling of the air beneath her wings was too great for her to pass up. It helped take her mind off the horrible events that had happened in the last few days.
Jigsaw, on the other hand, was trying to analyze everything that had happened. It was how he had always dealt with tragedy in the past—logically, coldly, and detached. It was the only way he knew.
Antimony had been the worst. His thoughts always strayed to her when he thought of the tragedies of the last few days.
He had been so innocent back then. He was fresh out of school, and together, they were considered some of the most promising engineers of their time. The accident had been such a shock to him. He didn’t know how to handle it—it was as though his entire life had crumbled out from beneath him. He had buried himself in his work, avoiding the pain. It had had its uses, he found. He accomplished many great things—a new pumping system that was over twice as effective as the old one had been chief among them. He never quite recovered emotionally, however. He improved with time, true. But he never quite regained that easygoing, carefree personality he had had before the accident.
Not until Tiptoe, anyway. When he was with her, Jigsaw finally began to come out of his shell. He began making jokes again. The day-to-day minutia of daily life in a cave had become far less tedious. He was becoming like he had been when Antimony was still alive.
At first, this terrified Jigsaw. He didn’t want to open himself up to any other ponies ever again; not at that level, anyway. It wasn’t until that night in the bunker that he decided to take the chance and open up to Tiptoe.
Jigsaw looked up at her silhouette far above and a thousand thoughts shot through his mind. “Did I make the right choice? Am I setting myself up for another loss? Is this fair to her?”
He looked towards the mountain that loomed ever closer. He couldn’t allow himself to think like that, not now, not when so much was resting on their shoulders. He had made his choice. So had she.
Still, the fear was there.
Several hours later, Incendia sat at the base of a large, frozen waterfall. It appeared to have been frozen instantly—the ice appeared as if it cascaded over the rock and crashed into the river below. Far ahead, jutting out over a narrow precipice, the spire of a tower was visible. She simply stared up at it. She had never seen anything so impressive. She had seen towers back in Stalliongrad, but those had mostly been built for functionality. Or for the wealthy to lord over the less well-off ponies.
This caused Incendia to look back down. The thoughts of Stalliongrad filled her mind with conflicting emotions.
Technically, what she had fought for her whole life was complete. Rubidium was dead. It wasn’t at all how she wanted it, though.
Her thoughts turned towards her last moments in Stalliongrad. She had split up from the group in the rubble of the outer city and turned her attention to the injured ponies that littered the streets. Her efforts to help were almost always stymied, however, by the sheer insanity around her. Ponies galloped through the streets at random, not caring who or what they ran down.
Eventually, she realized it was futile. Her only hope was to meet up with Tiptoe, Jigsaw, and Cerulean. She set her teleporter to take her to the nearest safehouse to the tower, then slammed the button. She just hoped the building was still standing.
It wasn’t. Luckily, it had been almost totally leveled, so she only fell a few feet onto a flat piece of stone. That was the least of her problems. Clearly visible, only about a quarter mile away, were Tantalus and Rubidium. They were locked in vicious combat, flashes of red and green light radiating out with every blow. She could feel the magic in the air. It made her sick to her stomach.
Then it happened. With one mighty blast, Tantalus managed to knock Rubidium to the pavement. With one final, crushing blow, Rubidium was extinguished. Incendia felt it. It was like her very bones wanted to escape the magic in the air. It wasn’t right.
Tantalus let out a mighty roar, and green fire began to fly out in all directions. Incendia barely had time to react. She set her teleporter to random and smashed it, hoping it would take her somewhere far away.
Looking up at the dark, icy castle, it certainly had.
Something flitted by at the corner of her vision. Incendia whipped her head around to see what had caused it, but saw nothing. Then the pain came. Her head still pounded from her tumble down the mountainside. She lowered her head and closed her eyes until the pain subsided. When she opened them again, she caught sight of her reflection in the ice.
What she saw frightened her. She looked on the verge of death. Her normally sleek, almost mirror-shined black coat was ruffled and unkempt. Her flank had several deep lacerations, each with a mixture of dry and fresh blood on them. What frightened her most, though, was her mane. It was singed. That should be impossible. She was entirely immune to fire.
“But not the green fire,” she realized.
Again, the motion in the corner of her eye. This time, she moved her head more slowly to avoid the shooting pain. A wisp of some silvery substance disappeared beyond a rocky outcropping on the other side of the frozen river. Slowly, cautiously, Incendia got up and began to make her way towards the other side, when she heard a faint sound coming from her left. She turned to look, and to her delight, she saw two ponies galloping towards her across the frozen river.
Tiptoe spotted her before Jigsaw did. A small black dot at the foot of the waterfall. They had found the frozen river relatively quickly—for whatever reason, it was almost devoid of snow, and despite the slippery surface, progress across it was much faster than through the heavy snow. Tiptoe swooped down to the surface of the ice and slid into place next to Jigsaw.
“You’re not going to believe who I saw!” Tiptoe said, the words tumbling over each other in her excitement.
“What? You saw someone out here?” asked Jigsaw. “Who?”
“I think it was Incendia!” Tiptoe said.
“Where?” Jigsaw said, hardly believing his ears.
“The base of the waterfall!”
Jigsaw didn’t need to hear any more. He took off galloping in the direction of the icy wall, Tiptoe hot on his heels.