Fillydelphia had no warning. One moment it gloried in a bright and sunny day, happy for the gentleness and mildness the weather ponies had bestowed upon it. One moment it was peaceful and serene. One moment everypony in it was in harmony with all themselves and with the universe.
Then the skies grew dark. Clouds festooned with lightning bunched up in the air, crackling and sparkling with thunderbolts and wrath. Bursts of air began to spin, such that everypony's hair stood up from sudden atmospheric chill. Booming thunder rocked each pony's chest. As if that weren't enough, purple flames began to burn within the sky and in the lanterns and the lamps. A chilling, fouling wind blew up between the cobblestones.
From above there came a shriek, and out the sky there flew a demon all in black. It whirled around the copper tower on the top of Indepenprance Hall, swooped low over the great reflecting pool within the city's center, finally alighted on the grand old spire that had marked the highest point within the city from its very founding.
It was a creature near Princess Celestia in size, or maybe bigger. Its body was a shadowy and angled shape; its limbs were rickety and thin. It had no fur but only blackened, reptile skin, and from its rump and neck there drew out lines of straggly mane shaded in all the colors of the rainbow. It might have been a pegasus, but no- its large, bat-webbéd wings and massive size made its distinction clear. It was a thestral, a creature that most ponies only knew from foals' tales, but as it loosed a high and shrieking whinny its reality was clear to all. It flapped its leathered wings and swooped into the air, circling in spirals. It cycled its own wings and hovered. As it did the clouds began to swirl until tornadoes started falling from the sky, howling out with wind as they descended on the hapless city. Ponies ran and cried and ducked for cover as the massive windstorms smashed down on the buildings and the homes within the city.
Those ponies that hid soon heard the clop-clop-clop of hooves within the safer portions of the city. Glancing from their spots, they saw another animal that only had appeared in fairy tales. It too was near Celestia in size; it too was pitch black. But this creature was beautiful, although in an unsettling and haunting way. It had a long, slender tail that ended in a patch of purple hair. Its mane was likewise purple, though it was not near as full and vibrant as a pony's. It bore a beard of purple fur that stuck out from its blackened neck, drawing down toward the ground below. Even its long, straight horn was purple, and it glowed as if on fire from within. The little foals had never seen its like, but older mares and stallions knew its shape: it was one of the legendary Mythical Unicorns, the supposed predecessors of the modern pony type. Mythicorn the name was usually shortened, and now there was one standing in their midst.
Their wonder, though, was short. The mythicorn in flickerings of black drew near a bank of buildings, and with a flash of power, purple fire blasted from its horn. The buildings blew away, leaving gleaming smoke and smell of ozone. A turn, a whining sound of charging power, and the horn again erupted with the magic, blowing up a tower made of stone. A desperate family went charging from their hiding place, hurrying as best they could- alas, the father stumbled, the mythicorn drew close. “Stay away!” cried the mother, stomping with her hoof and wishing that she had a horn herself. The mythicorn's head tilted to the side, empty blue eyes seeming blind. Its horn blazed up with power, the family drew back-
In a flash of purple light, however, they were gone. Not dead, though- they reappeared outside the city, blinking, shuddering in fear. “Huh?” the father said.
“Come on!” the mother cried, tugging on him. Leaving musings on their fate to other times, the father took his son onto his back and joined his wife in flight. Nor were they the only ponies that were suddenly delivered from the darkness. Burst by purple burst more groups of ponies came to be outside the city, wondering just for a moment why the mythicorn was teleporting them instead of killing them. Only for a moment, though, and then they moved to flee.
The mythicorn had no such care for buildings, though. Purple fire blazed and blasted off its horn, wiping out huge sections of the city. Meanwhile the thestral swooped down low much like a bat, bringing with it wind that tore the tops off towers and a lightning that lit trees and parks ablaze. Unlike the mythicorn the thestral had no love of pony life. Its movings of destruction were complete and total, sparing nopony within its path.
At last, the city was a wreck. The thestral pumped its wings and hurtled skyward, while the mythicorn blinked out of sight and reappeared up in the air. Side by side they hovered, winds and lightning whipping, purple fire blazing. The air was humming, tense with mighty power, and the twin black horses reared back, fire blazed and lightning flashed and then there was a mighty rushing wind-
With a horrible, long, agonizing crash the city of Fillydelphia ceased to be. Lightning and fire razed it totally to the ground, while twisters and hurricane-force winds caught the debris and blew it far away into the sky. A noise like the end of the world echoed through space and maddened anypony around to hear it.
There was, in fact, one pony round to hear, a pegasus named Brickers. She had sprained her wing that week and so had not been able to fly to safety; now she hid below a hill and watched as all she'd ever known was blown away. “No...” she whispered, tears upon her cheeks. “No!”
Ah, good, a witness.
She shrieked in terror and she drew back filled with horror as Reiziger appeared before her. The mythicorn teleported to his side, while the thestral wheeled about and came to a galloping landing nearby, trotting up and stopping on its master's left. “Please...” Brickers cried, crawling backward, scared out of her mind... “Please, please...”
“Oh, I'm not going to kill you- not yet, anyway,” said Reiziger, grinning hugely. “I need you to deliver a message to your princesses.”
Brickers breathed hard in and out.
“Hippy-hooray, it's a brand new day!” cried Pinkie Pie, sitting up in bed. She smiled and thought. Gummy! Come here! The toothless alligator squirmed out of the bathroom, blinking his ridiculous and always-out-of-sync lavender eyes. Pinkie smiled as she passed her Gift of Laughter over him; she'd noticed, lately, that she'd started to be able to faintly read his mood. Not in any coherent sense- she couldn't read concrete thoughts from Gummy, likely because he didn't have them- but she could tell when he was sad or happy or angry or more. It made for a nice change of pace. “Well, I guess I need to-” she paused and hacked a cough.
Pain and terror slashed into her heart, and Pinkie suddenly could feel that it was not a good day not at all. She slid from bed, wincing at the bite marks that still burned and leaked with every shifting of the muscles on her back. She breathed in hard, then breathed out just as forcefully. She wouldn't let the blackness overtake her. She couldn't, there was no way.
“Just gotta... just gotta sing!” she told herself. The edges of her vision started growing dark. She shook her head as best she could to clear the foul sensations now enveloping her heart. She raised her voice and music swelled:
Oh, it's not easy being pink,
At least that's what they say,
When you're this color, ponies think
You always have a lovely day!
The trouble is when gloomy skies
Come blowing down the way,
You've gotta put your best hoof out
And have the very best day!
Pinkie went to her bathroom. She paused in front of her mirror, forced herself to smile.
So don't let blackness get you down!
Find sunshine's bright ray!
Turn that frown right upside-down,
Because I'm totally and absolutely positively gonna be okay!
Pinkie smiled broader, glancing at her haggard, worn form in the mirror- and the mirror cracked. Pinkie coughed, spewing up a rush of shadowed fluid. Her colors suddenly became dulled down and muted, as though she'd stepped inside out of the sun. Her bouncy, curly mane and tail wrung out, falling into streams of flat and perfectly straight hair that ran in curtains down her head.
“No I'm noooooooootttttt,” she bawled, black tears streaming from her eyes.
Hours later, Mrs. Cake rapped upon her houseguest's door. “Pinkie?” she gently said. “Pinkie, sweetie, you missed breakfast! Is everything all right?” No response. The plump blue pony pushed the door open, surprised to find it unlocked. She was even more surprised to find that Pinkie's room looked like a bomb had gone off. Covers and pillows were strewn everywhere, her huge pile of stuffed animals had been all scattered, even some curtains had been torn down. Gummy was frantically wriggling around the room, moving with a speed unusual for him. “Gummy, dear, have you seen Pinkie?”
The alligator scampered to the bathroom door. A sinking feeling in her heart, Mrs. Cake trotted to the doorway.
“Pinkie? Where are you- no!” The pony she'd been calling was sprawled out upon the floor, her bandages soaked through and leaking black onto the tile.
<Are you sure you need nothing else, my lady?> Ines asked. <Perhaps some tea?>
<I am perfectly all right, Ines, thank you,> said Falalauria. <At any rate, you are not a maid. You don't need to be busying yourself with my menial desires.>
<Forgive me, I suppose,> and Ines bowed. <My impulse always is to do you help. You do so much for us... now more than ever.>
<That may be,> said Falalauria, <but I do it out of love, not for praise of others, or for service. And while I am due some service as your leader, all I needed from you this afternoon was your company.>
<Unfortunately, my time is up. I must go inspect the watch around the camp. More ponies have been challenging our guards of late, so I must make sure there is no lapse in the protection.>
Falalauria sighed deeply. <Such a shame. Go, then.> Ines bowed again and trotted from the tent. Falalauria rose up out of her cushioned seat and wandered to her mirror. Using magic, she levitated up a silver file, and began to use it to enhance the sharpness of her antler's tines. It was a grooming matter, much like ponies brushing out their manes and tails. She found that it relaxed her, allowed her Sight a moment's rest. She sighed- and then her eyebrows rose. <Hello?> she turned around, glancing through her large and chambered tent. She could see no one, but she felt that she was not alone.
Putting down the file, Falalauria went walking through the tent, antlers flickering with magic, Sight fanned out for threats. She of course saw doom behind her in the past and doom ahead of her now in the future, but presently she could See no harm to come. And yet she felt it, yet she knew she was in danger. From whom, though? From where?
Then out of a bend in space there stepped a tall black thing. Purple was its mane, purple also its long beard and the curled tuft that ended its long tail. Its great long horn was sparkling with might. Its eyes were perfect, empty blue. Falalauria was startled, but then sighed. “Ah, I should have known. The only one who could hide from my Sight was another seer, particularly one as powerful as you, Rarity.”
The mythicorn began to circle her, eyes glinting with a predatory light.
“I should have anticipated this... should have Seen it coming.” She chuckled bitterly. “Reiziger is right. I don't See what I don't look for- and how could I have looked for this? But clearly you have Seen something. Clearly there is a necessity in this.”
The mythicorn stood boldly now in front of her. Its horn was glimmering, and also deadly sharp.
Falalauria now sighed. “I know you will not kill me, even though that is what your Master sent you here for. He must have known that my wards would alert me to his own presence, the presence of a powerful deer. However, there are no such wards against ponies.” She glanced aside. “My blasted bleeding heart... even so, I know you will not kill me. You must retain enough control for that. And I suppose you'll tell your Master I resisted, and you could not land the killing blow. Still, you must do something, musn't you?”
The mythicorn's horn began to glow the brighter, gleaming, blazing white.
Falalauria bowed low her head. “Very well then, Rarity. Do what you have come to do.”
The white-tails in the camp were suddenly aroused by a great scream. Their horror grew in strength as they realized it came from their beloved Lady's tent. “My Lady!” cried Filipe, dashing with a dozen fellow deer toward the great striped cotton edifice. Bursting through the door they found Falalauria sprawled on the floor. Smoke was coming from her closed-shut eyes, billowing out of the gaps between her eyelids. “My Lady!” Filipe tenderly approached her, sitting down and cradling her head. “My Lady, speak to me, please!”
Falalauria rose gingerly into a sitting position. She shifted, trying to get comfortable. Then, at last, her eyes came open- and the deer around her gasped. They were flat, matted black. No stars were in them, and they lacked all trace of life. “I...” Falalauria began, with trembling voice, “I... I cannot See. I can't see... anything.”
“Princess Celestia!” cried Twilight Sparkle, bursting through the throne room doors. Fluttershy was hurrying behind her. Pinkie was not on her hooves- instead she floated, motionless, between the running ponies, held aloft by Twilight's magic.
“Twily?” Shining Armor said, turning from his conversation with Celestia and Luna. “What's- Pinkie!” He hurried to his sister, stopping swiftly to examine her invalid friend with growing horror. Pinkie's mane and tail were straight and flat, falling cruelly off her as she hovered in the air. Her bandages were soaked completely with the blackness deep inside her- indeed, the noctuous emissions were so thick that they were leaking out, falling in soft drips onto the carpet. “What happened?”
“Mrs. Cake found her passed out in her room- oh, Princess Celestia, you have to help her, you have to!”
“Set her down gently, Twilight,” said Celestia, horn flashing as she conjured up a mattress. Twilight laid Pinkie upon it. Celestia drew close; her horn was glowing lovely gold, and now she ran it over Pinkie, aura round it flickering just as she did. Celestia's expression darkened as the examination proceeded. “The black power of Reiziger is sunk very deeply into her now. It's turned etheric- it's infecting her spirit, her soul.”
“You said she was going to heal!” cried Twilight. Anger spiked across her face. “Is that just another thing you were lying about?”
“Twilight, not now,” said Celestia, and then she winced at how her voice had changed. “Twilight Sparkle, I... please, calm down.”
“Fluttershy, didst thou not try to heal her?” Luna asked.
“Well, I...” Fluttershy's ears drooped, “I just... I wasn't sure I could. It's so bad...”
“You have the Gift of Kindness, Fluttershy,” said Celestia. “It is worth a try, at least.”
Breathing out, Fluttershy approached the mattress. She sat before Pinkie and took another breath. She clopped her front hooves sharp together, summoning what courage she possessed. She tried to focus on the Gift within her. It was a kind of touching of her heart, as though her own wings had reached in and gently fluttered deep inside her chest. She summoned up her love, willed herself to care so deeply about Pinkie and then press that care upon her. Her hooves began to glow a gentle pink, and now she pressed them onto Pinkie's back.
Her touch, her loving gentle mothering caress now pressed and pushed deep through the black and noxious ichor. Fluttershy dove deeper in her heart, tried to care just that much more, hooves kept glowing brighter, and Pinkie's back began to glow in turn-
“Ah!” cried Fluttershy as a streak of pain erupted through her hooves. She tore her hooves away; they smoked, and felt like they'd been burned.
“Oh, dear,” Celestia said softly. “I worry that only your Gift, Fluttershy, can truly and definitely heal her. Reiziger's poisoning is beyond my powers.”
“What a surprise,” grumbled Twilight.
“However, that is not to say I can't help her,” Celestia said. Drawing close to Pinkie yet again, she bent her head down and began to sing. It was a wordless tune, a gentle blooming flower of a song, washing over everypony present in a way that bathed them all in golden solar warmth. With wide eyes Twilight saw that golden ripples washed all over Pinkie. Her colors got a little brighter, though they did not reach their full intensity, nor did her straight mane and tail re-curl. A breath came sharply in between her teeth, and Pinkie's sky blue eyes came open, slowly, tentatively, but definitively.
“I... where am I?”
“You're in Canterlot, Pinkie,” said Fluttershy. “You passed out in your room.”
“I... I don't understand...”
“Reiziger's black power has seeped into thy spirit, Pinkie Pie,” said Luna. “Have no fear, though- in time, we shall heal thee fully.”
“No... no... no, no, there is no time, there is no hope,” Pinkie's hooves wrapped round her head. “There's nothing, nothing left! All there is now is shadow, night! All I...” her eyes welled up with blackened tears, “all I can see is the black antler tines, like dead trees in winter! I'm naked in the dark and there's no hope!”
“Pinkie, please calm down,” said Twilight. “Everything's going to be okay!”
“You don't believe that. You can't believe that. That's impossible! The end is here!”
“Why is she like this?” asked Shining Armor.
“It's as Luna said,” Celestia replied, “Reiziger's blackness has seeped into her spirit. It has poisoned her happiness, infecting her soul as well as her body.”
“All is lost!” cried Pinkie, curling up and weeping quietly.
“We... we have to help her,” Fluttershy said softly. She looked down at her hooves. “I have to help her. I have to get stronger...”
“We have to stop Reiziger, once and for all!” cried Twilight. “He's the whole reason for this, for all of this! If we undo him, we save everything!”
“It is not enough simply to destroy Reiziger,” said Luna, “assuming that can even be done.”
“It can be and it has to be. He's a cancer and we have to cut him out!”
Celestia's eyebrows rose. “Twilight Sparkle, you're not the first creature to use words like that.”
“Because they're the right words- because it's true! Fëanor was-”
The great doors of the throne room burst asunder for the second time that hour. “My princesses!” a captain of the Royal Guard exclaimed. “My princesses, Fillydelphia has been destroyed!”
“What?” Celestia exclaimed. “When? How?”
“A few hours ago, ma'am,” the captain said. “We have a survivor here.” He turned about, and two guards pulled apart to reveal a brown pegasus now shivering behind them.
Celestia breathed deeply in. “Come now, don't be afraid.” The pegasus, still shivering, stood stock still for a moment. Celestia extended out her thoughts, pulsing calmness through the pony's mind. “Come, please, you are safe here.”
The pegasus at last walked slowly forward, still ashiver as she moved. “Your... your majesty.” She bowed on trembling legs.
“What is your name?”
“I am Brickers, your highnesses,” she said, nodding now to Luna. “I live... I lived in Fillydelphia.”
“What has happened to the city?” Luna asked. “Tell us, please, we beg you.”
Brickers breathed hard in and out; she was nearly panting. “I... I saw everything...” tears sprang into her eyes. “I saw everything! I saw the thestral and the mythicorn! They were black all over, and they were so tall!”
“A thestral?” Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Those are just legends- and mythicorns are, too.”
“No! They were real, I saw them both! The thestral's mane and tail were rainbow striped, and the mythicorn's were violet!”
Fluttershy and Twilight exchanged terrified glances.
“They blew the city away! They destroyed it with fire and lightning and wind! There weren't even any ruins left! And then he...” Brickers tumbled to the carpet, tears now streaming from her eyes, hooves held tight against her head, “And then he was there...”
Celestia sat down and rubbed her golden hoof quite gently over Brickers' soft back. “The black deer, you mean?”
“Yes! He... he appeared right in front of me! He said he wanted me to be alive, because he needed me to deliver a message- a message to you, princesses!”
Celestia and Luna shared a glance. “What message was that, O good Brickers?” Luna asked.
“He said... he said to tell you that he'd struck another blow against Equestria. He said to tell you that the next blow he struck would be mortal.” She curled into a ball and started weeping loudly, shoulders wracked with sobs.
“Mortal,” Shining Armor muttered. “So what's his next move?”
“Um, I'm curious, what does that word mean?” asked Fluttershy.
“By definition, a mortal blow is a blow that results in the death of the one who receives it, even if it isn't immediately fatal,” Twilight said. Her head cocked to the side. “But how could he strike the killing blow? He's already destroyed Equestria so thoroughly.”
“He's hit Cloudsdale, Manehattan, and now Fillydelphia,” said Shining Armor. “What's left?”
“The Crystal Empire, for starters,” said Celestia. “That city is a great stronghold, and an attack there would devastate us.”
“Lucky you had them reinforce their defenses,” Luna said.
“Beyond that, there's Las Pegasus, the second-largest economic center in the country... there's Trottingham out east... and of course there's...” Celestia's eyes bulged. “Of course there's...”
One by one, in horrible and terrifying seconds, all of them came to the same conclusion. “Shining Armor,” Luna said. “General Shining Armor, raise your barrier, raise it now-”
Then all of a sudden all the palace rocked hard to the side. No, not the palace- all the city. It shook with echoes and reverberations of great force. Celestia, with wild eyes, went galloping toward the balcony that led out of the throne room, Luna close beside her, Shining Armor and Twilight and also Fluttershy hot on their heels. They burst into the sunlight, gazing out into the mighty vista Canterlot afforded-
There he was, floating in the sky just out beyond the city. The thestral fluttered close beside him, leathery black wings flapping in slow and lazy circles. On his other side the mythicorn was floating, held aloft by magical ability. In the center, there he was, crimson fire burning on his antlers.
“Hello, Celestia!” cried Reiziger. “Your city- I want it!”