Warning, this chapter contains mature implications. No explicit details or actions are given. But are implied.
"Sweet Celestia on a pogo stick!" The orange stallion shouted as Mares In Black poured over the alleyway's rooftops. The identical unicorns threw endless doorknobs at him, not caring if they hit each other. He didn't question why they didn't use their combined telekinesis to grab him.
(The world's gone crazy as is. Oh hey, name's Flash Sentry. Fancy meeting you here. And I can see you're not pink and charcoal like everything and near everyone else here. Yeah I'm a Royal Guard, but rank don't mean much right now. Do you know what's going on? I sure don't! OW!)
Weirdo Pegasus Guard
Flash dodged with the deftness of an onstage performer, folding his wings and twirling, blocking the door-knobs with his armor, keeping his forelegs protectively close to his chest.
One of the alleyway walls busted open from the inside when a caribou was knocked through it and through the opposite wall, taking several Mares In Black with him.
"That's what you get when you try to screw Screwball!" Golden Tiara snarled from the opening she'd made. She turned to look at Flash Sentry, kicking and punching away MiB who got close to her, ignoring the bumps and bruises the doorknobs gave her. "I don't think us splitting up to draw less attention was a good idea after all."
Golden 'Screwball' Tiara
High Class Berserker
"No arguments, here."
Sorry, we're kinda in the middle of things! We've been fighting our way through Canterlot since this insanity started! Almost makes me miss the time Discord turned me into a life-size plastic doll who sang out-of-tune rock, smashed guitars, and told girls how rotten and selfish they all were. Almost. Okay, I'll rewind a bit here.
I was on guard duty, if you can call it that, at one of Canterlot's fancy cliff seated social spots with lots of local and visiting big names there. With 'Queen Cadence' having the Xenomorph Ponies cleaning up their own mess, things had gotten more peaceful than you'd think. This let fancy ponies get back to the latest gossip or whatever: a kid's joke newspaper getting more attention then it should. The only weird thing that day had been the 'Pwinzees Woona' and 'Tyrant Molestia' chatter coming back from the dead for no good reason, and even smart and sane ponies I knew acting like it was serious. I didn't even know ponies knew what that word meant! And the stubborn fog I had to swim through. Then, BOOM! I see the world turn into a Dyson sphere, the world's 'art-style' changing to like some new-age stuff, and can't tell if it's day or night! I think I blacked out, cause I dreamed of a filly with a prosthetic wing pointing at me and saying "Your page is written in another book of fate."
I woke up, and me and my armor were the only things that wasn't pink and gray. But that wasn't what made me almost wonder if I was having a nightmare.
I saw mares holding anatomically correct walking, moving stallion blow-up-dolls (since when did Equestria have those? Since when did ponies know what those were?), big buff moose standing about, and the music played now vibed 'come here big boy' which I'd NEVER heard in Equestria before. There were zebras and donkeys with chained collars around their necks serving, and zebra stallions dancing on stage in mounting gear. Oh, and Cherry, Note Worthy, Banjo, and Caramel? The other guards here? Their armor now looked like some feminist's revenge for all those chainmail bikinis in fantasy art. And everyone was acting like nothing had changed!
I'd wanted Equestria to be less 'little girls' fantasy', before I got a taste of Guard training, but I never wanted it to get this far!
I looked outside. Buildings, streets, the landscape, the ponies, everything that same style, and all the buildings were twisted like something by M. C. Escher. With statues of Celestia looking like she was for sale.
I hoped First Base is okay. He's my little brother. Well, technically. It's a long story. In case he ends up reading this, I'm skipping over the worse things I saw and overheard.
I noticed one mare in the room who wasn't sick pink, but purple with matching mane and white strips, yeah, that's Golden Tiara, or is it Screwball? Even when we'd all been fighting the changelings together, I hadn't really officially met her.
No one cared that I'd left my post as I got closer. She looked even more scared and shocked than I felt, and was clutching a letter like a life preserver. Later, she told me it was the only proof she had that she hadn't gone crazy (again). I only got a glimpse of what it said:
'-and a promise is a promise. I Pinkie Pie Swear, I'm sorry, but if you want to join the
Evil Super Fun Side, just say so out-loud, and there will be no problems. You can get revenge on all the ponies who hurt you. I'll make for you your own private palace. Please? With sugar on? :-( Pretty please?
Definitely Not Signed By The Coolest And Most Awesome Of Nature's Fury -Twister'
I didn't get a chance to think what that meant when I got spanked in the flank by Fleur-Dis-Lee!
"Why're you wearing all that nonstandard armor, little colt?" She asked smiling at me like I was jewelry. And I got distracted from THAT when Screwball shouted.
Two unicorns. One was the very recognizable Fancy Pants, and another was a blue-coated stranger with an orange mane and leather dress. They were holding Golden down with their magic with her face to the table as a moose trotted up behind her, and placed his forelegs on the table. And her husband was just calmly letting it happen! And Fleur didn't even seem to care what Fancy was doing! Screwball kicked the moose in the stomach and sent him crashing through tables. The unicorns then prodded her with their horns, endlessly shocking her, she punched them away like she didn't even feel it, but more popped out of nowhere and zapped her more. And not the Guards, not her husband, acted like this was wrong. A mare with a medical cutie mark next to her said,
"Now just remember this is healthy for you, Golden. Nurse TLC's order."
I... don't remember clearly what happened next. I saw red, I think I screamed something, let the Guard training take over, there being more and more copy unicorns, moose, and other things. When the red haze cleared, we were both running but with no clue where. I imagine I kicked a bunch of nobles in the face. If I punched Cherry, I'll apologize to Carrot Top and Noi later. We both said we had no idea what was going on, and quickly introduced ourselves.
"Thanks for the help back there, Flash Sentry."
"I'm a Guard, it's my duty, Golden Tiara."
Even with Screwball using caribou as baseball bats and swinging nothing but hits, I was the one they were on like vultures on roadkill, or actually, my charge.
Hugging to my coat and armor for life was a hybrid between a horse and a fairy, with insect feelers and wings. Colored black and purple and a sparkly mane, her cutie mark was a purple moon with a dark cloud covering it.
"Protect me please! They're going to get me!" Her high-pitched voice shouted.
I wingbladed a golem pony's head off, it kept coming so I kicked it into the crowd of nasty, knocking them all flat on their backs, they dissolved into black snakes of smoke and scattered.
"Not on my watch, Triangle Crown," I said.
Royal Recaller Pixie
"Mussst get rid of her kind! Exterminate flutterponies by Her Majesty's command! Her existence threatens unicorn power!" Said a pony-sized dragon swooping down at me, I met 'im with a flying back flip kick that sent him skidding into more of the Mares In Black.
"Straight ahead and take a right and a left!" Shouted Crown as we obliged using the opening in the ranks we'd made even if everything looked the same in the fog.
I'd noticed a little something just outside my vision as we tried to get outside, but all the hallways looking alike and nothing arranged how I remembered. It was 'KOs Total 23'. Total knock-outs?
"Golden Tiara! Do you have a weird 'KOs Total' number in your head right now?" I didn't have time to be subtle.
"Actually, yes, it says 31. Do you know what it means?"
I felt a chill. Had I been knocked out and put in some VR machine? Did I fall into a magic video game? Was I stuck in the Matrix? Had everything I'd experienced just been something transmitted to my brain? Who was to say my whole life hadn't been this? What was a simpler explanation? That the whole world had changed, or that I was wired into a machine?
For a second, I felt something in my head whisper, 'The only escape is to end it all, or the game will never end, we have only one freedom, and that is to end it, or we'll be in the game until we rot. None of it is real.'
"NO!" I shouted tripping and crash into a vase with sicko art on it.
"Flash! You okay?"
"Just hurting, nothing major." 'But what does it matter if it is something like the Matrix? Pain is just another sense. Maybe this is all a big illusion spell. Maybe we're in a coma dreaming all this. Maybe the moment we came here to Her home town we got put in some machine and we all hoped was a lie. End the lie.'
Screwball looked scared of me somehow. 'She's afraid we've figured out the truth!'
I gritted my teeth and hugged myself, and thought: 'I chose to trust Her, I chose to trust what She made me feel the world is like. I know She's real, and the kind of world She represents. Her smile, Her 'dancing', bringing different tribes together, Her optimism. I'll trust in that.'
Screwball gently nuzzled me. "Don't go crazy. Remember what's important to you, that helps. Even when the world is turned outside-down. It's not easy. This is weird. But we both know what's supposed to be right."
That was when the horde of deer, unicorns, doll ponies, and small dragons caught up. Us suddenly in a hall-crossing, and nasties behind, in front, and to the sides like a solid mass.
"If I have any miracles saved up, I'd like to cash them in," I said. I didn't expect anything to happen. Screwball gave the floor an angry stomp. The stones underneath rumbled, they neatly cracked open, and down we went. I opened my wings to slow my fall and catch Screwball. The nasties didn't follow us, so good thing right?
We splashed down and surfaced in a cave with rising water. We saw floating in the water a holed jar, slowing filling. Inside was Triangle Crown trying to twist the jar open.
"Help! Hey, listen! Save me!"
But we also saw Prince Blueblood!
Guy's horn was sealed and was shackled to the rock wall! He was gonna drown! We didn't hesitate. I tried pulling the chains out or cutting him free. Screwball took a pin out of her hair and picked the locks in no time, whoa! Poor guy was coughing and gagging, Screwball kept him afloat as I saved our horse-pixie.
The only way out was up, but our pixie shouted, "Smash the wall to your right! Other right! Down there! Hit it!"
Ker-Pow from Screwball and we got our dank, dirty, stinking, other way out: a cave going up! And up we went! The water rose behind us. "Thanks, little pixie!"
"I'm not 'Pixie', I'm a breezie. Call me Triangle Crown, you have to get me to Luna to right things!"
"Never heard of your tribe."
"Most haven't. Our big cousins are the flutterponies, oh you haven't heard of then either?"
"How'd you get down there?"
"Those things in black teleported me in there after some very disrespectful foals who caught me got bored with me and hoofed me over!- Now move it!"
The cave got better looking as we went up, until it was bricks. We spent the time to break the seal on Blueblood's horn, but the guy was still out of it. The noise of wild water got most distant, but the smell didn't.
We got to a manhole cover, we checked for an ambush and then climbed out. Things was crazi-ER. The houses and ponies had colors, but they were darker, and the shadows were all black. But beyond, I saw the pink and black twisted Canterlot.
"Bahamut's Rest," Screwball said looking around.
Right, Her neighborhood. I braced myself when I saw Guards dressed like my buddies had been, but they just stood on the street corners like happy zombies, or livestock on display, I felt sick at the sight of them. Canterlot, the world, twisted so the horizon and sky had been replaced with the city then turned inside out so up/down was a joke.
"Blue!" Shouted a unicorn with an earth pony filly running next to her.
"Arcane Spell? Neatly Spell?" Screwball whispered.
As the cutest girl I've ever met would say:
-Quick introduction all around: Check.
-Apparently the girls got to know each during the Canterlot Wedding: Check.
-Get Blueblood inside their house and on the couch: Check.
-Meet the parents (both unicorn mages, one apparently just recovered from a long illness): Check.
-Little sister who wants to be like the rest of her family but whose talent is in design not magic: Check.
-Screwball spending a few minutes encouraging the filly to seek her own path: Kinda check.
-Learn that they think there's nothing wrong with the universe: Check.
-Rest ourselves: Check.
-Listen to Crown shouting, "Go go go, already!" The whole time?: Oy, check.
So they had no idea WHY Bahamut's rest was different from the rest of Canterlot because they couldn't SEE any difference! I did notice there were a few more shrines to the pop-culture version of the Babylonian god around. "He rested here, of course it's a sacred place," Arcane Spell's mom said matter of fact.
We decided to not look a...uh...gift horse in the mouth here and just accept we were safe and move on to more important matters.
So yeah, two expert unicorn mages, and the more we tried to convince them something was off, the more they thought we were being weird. It got even weirder for US when we asked what the deal was with Blueblood.
"Princess Celestia said Prince Blueblood was killed and replaced by a changeling over a year ago, and that his entire plan to incite a rebellion against The Princess was a changeling plot...But... the changelings are stupid and incompetent, how did they... Ugh! Never mind! And that unicorns raising the sun and moon with their magic were just stories- or where they just stories? Or stories of stories in stories? Excuse me. I feel dizzy."
I've never even HEARD OF THOSE outside of some badly written 'Celestia is a fraud' tabloid stories that make the 'all visits to the moon are fake' sound plausible.
When Prince Blueblood came around, the poor guy made as much sense as everything else.
"Auntie replaced me with a changeling, but since when do changelings ever pull off a convincing job of anypony? Ugh! And used him to discredit everything I said, since if the person saying it is bad therefore every single thing they say is bad... but... since when... do I... I've never WANTED anything like that... she said it was to prevent a civil war."
"SO THE MOST LOGICAL THING TO DO AFTERWARDS WAS TO LEAVE YOU TO DROWN ALONE IN THE DARK?!" Screwball exclaimed.
"I... uh... I think so?" Blueblood asked looking more confused. "Auntie would never... Auntie would always... Auntie didn't think I was worth enjoying first, she thinks so little of me."
Dude, I've know Prince Blueblood was a spoiled coward who treated his dates like accessories. But he's sooner turned in a cabal against Celestia than joined them! He's lazy, not evil! ... And that was BEFORE I heard from Captain Shining Armor's boys how the guy grew up during the changeling occupation. And yeah, I've seen a bad rep isn't the easiest to clean up.
The stuff 'bout Celestia? Makes me sick, screw it, she'd never be like that.
Oh, right, almost forgot. We had an assassin come in through the window and try to kill Blueblood. In very bad lighting she might have been mistaken for ... Twilight Sparkle. She had a shark cutie mark. She talked like she was speaking from a script. Her colors were all off. She had sharp teeth and... she was... well, VAGUE is the best way I can put it. Plus, she was a pegasus, and not really all that cute.
She had a toaster and a rain cloud with her, and said with a straight face, "Hello, I am Twilight Sharkle, I'm here to give Prince Blueblood his shower, we have an appointment."
Screwball and I took one look at each other. For an assassin, she went down pretty quick against a trained Guard and a seasoned earth mare with an infinite pain tolerance. She didn't even get a hit in before she got hit with our knee to the jaw and elbow to the back combo, and was on the floor, twitching... She dissolved into blackness like the Mares In Black (but I didn't know that yet), that scurried away in every direction. Consider me officially creeped out! This reminds me of a lot of horror movies I'd rather not currently be in!
"She was MADE of black magic?" was all Screwball could say. The Spells and Prince Blueblood acted like ponies melting into shadows was normal.
Arcane Spell said, "We'll look after Blue and protect him from any more of The Princess' assassins." The guy was a wreck; in no shape for tagging along.
"Crown, you said meeting Princess Luna could fix all this, how?" I asked.
"My Princess has made it so I must not share that with anypony, just PLEASE know that I HAVE TO be reunited with her. I must! With or without your help!"
"All on your own? That's suicide," Screwball said.
"Well, unless you've got any better leads, okay Crown, we'll help."
"Good! Follow my guidance, and we'll reach The Princess!"
Like I said, we barely convinced Crown to let us rest and prepare. Wish I had some Guard buddies who weren't zombified. Felt like I was in that old movie with all the pods!
When we explained we were going to see Princess Luna about… well, we said it was about Blueblood… Neatly Spell said. "Oh poor poor poor Pwinzees Woona, always bullied and repressed by her big sister, I feel so sorry for her."
"So do I, poor poor Princess Luna, it's not fair no one loves her and always ignores her when she makes such beautiful nights and just wants to make friends," Arcane Spell added.
This echoed, Blueblood and the Spells all saying how poor and misunderstood Luna was, ugh! I'd SEEN Princess Luna! She's beautiful, she's brilliant, and she's freakin' SCARY! I mean, she's NOT EVIL, she's just not the mercy-giving-type and leave it at that.
Okay, I've had enough of this bad joke, if our mystery pixie says she can get things fixed by getting to Princess Luna, it's better than nothing!
"Follow me through the fog, stay close, I shall guide ye, and ye shall protect I," Crown said as we stood at the edge of Bahamut's rest and back into the ugly twisted Canterlot.
"How can you through THAT?" I pointed at the mess.
"Because she calls me!"
We followed Triangle Crown's instructions to the letter. The Mares In Black, caribou, golems, and teenage dragons came at us with no sense of strategy or self-preservation, not even trying to ambush us. Knocking them down was easy, but another mob was waiting around every other corner.
Well at least I can finally say I was able to stand up to a supernatural evil and fight it instead of being brainwashed or something.
And Canterlot's people around us ignored us and the enemy like nobody's business. I was almost grateful for the nasties keeping my mind off of what Canterlot looked like now.
We began to cross a bridge when the fog around it, congealed! It gathered together shaped like a half-melted snowman... except this one had rows of yellow eyes across its face and more fangs than a dragon. It made the most nauseating giggle I've ever heard as it began to float towards... and a ball of bright orange light glowed in its stomach. It looked down confused before it blew apart in an explosion of sunlight.
"Get across before it reforms!" Shouted a familiar pink unicorn with a blond mane, blue eyes, and a cloudy sun cutie mark. No, she was not shaped like Fleur-Dis-Lee!
"Don't need to tell us twice!"
"What kept you?"
"Guess they love us more than you," I quipped.
Sunlit Tabloid Writer
"Hey, I can carry Golden Tiara, maybe you can lead us a faster to Luna if we fly?"
"No, this is the only route that's open, I can feel it," Triangle Crown said and wouldn't give a better answer.
I had no idea how much progress we were making, it was like following a thread trailed from a big ball of yarn in knots. But the Mares In Black, moose, golems, and dragons were all determined to keep us from getting bored. I was impressed with myself for not keeling over from exhaustion.
I saw ponies doing things I won't repeat, but new was seeing a mare smashed out a closed window with MiB pouring after her like dumped packaging peanuts. Even as she fell I saw her blasting the free falling MiB into the building she'd fallen out of. She was fighting even with the street waiting to kiss her. I didn't think, I just flew. I plowed through the monsters around her.
I noticed she was colorful like us only AFTER I'd caught her and saved her from several broken bones. And yes, I made sure to be careful not to snap her neck from whiplash, guard training teaches you how to use pegasus magic for that. Not missing a beat, I flew around and landed back with my friends and set her down (softening the landing with a couple monsters Golden had laid out before they vanished into darkness), leaving the Mares In Black to be the pavement's date instead.
"Nice save," Screwball said.
Moving a lock of her mane out of her eyes, our new friend said, "One, thank you for saving me. Two, do you know what the buck is going on around here? Three, do you have a 'KO number' thing in you eye too? Four, cute breezie you got there. Five, name's Sunny Day, yes, that Sunny Day, and you all are?"
"Guard Flash Sentry, Mrs. Golden Tiara, and this is Triangle Crown. We're off to see the wonderful Nightjesty of Canterlot because our magic fairy friend insists she can make the bad stuff go away if we get her to her with little to no explanation."
"... Sounds legit. You aren't working with whoever did this, or you wouldn't be looking over your shoulder like that. You could have worked with them and then been betrayed but then you'd be more angry than uncomfortable with everything. You might be putting on an act to draw me to them since I haven't been affected either, but that's overly complicated when the most practical means of dealing with a mystery is to eliminate it. You didn't need to help me when I was about to crash because your work would've been done for you. So gaining my trust would gain you nothing. And you haven't been turned into braindead pretty boys and girls like the rest of the Guard got turned into, so you aren't being controlled. So you're not the enemy."
"I have no clue why I'm not screwed up, the other times evil magic made my life miserable I wasn't exactly heroically resisting from within," I said.
"Which means something is different, I know high society little colt, knowing how to lie and how to spot lies is part of the game. You're hiding something."
I didn't try to deny it. "I'm a part of Equestria's Royal Guard, I'm not a changeling, and I'm as freaked out as you are. And I made a promise not to tell others my private life unless it was Her."
"You also have an odd accent."
"How do we know you're not the spy?" Screwball asked.
"She isn't, I can tell. She doesn't smell same as all of this," Triangle Crown said.
That was when a bunch of doll stallions and mares decided to remind us they weren't politely waiting for us to finish talking. We stood in a circle outwards as Screwball literally ripped up the street to smash them with a stone block, while Sunny Day fired orange beams of light melting them, and my wing blade deflated them. Why didn't I have a sword at the time? I did, it was gone when I woke up. I'm guessing because the Guard have been reduced to scenery who...needed a different kind of weapon.
"You say you're THAT Sunny Day, so you're the one who writes all those smear tabloids about Celestia abusing her own students?" Screwball asked popping one golem after another.
"I DID NOT!" Sunny Day snarled, a magic surge releasing a wide spread of flames, then sending up a ball of fire that then exploded bringing burning hail down on the enemy, giving us a path through the horde. "I never published ANY of those rumors!"
"After everything else you publish?" Screwball asked as we ran with Crown leading.
"I just keep Princess Celestia on her hooves! And remind ponies she's not absolutely perfect-"
"HERETIC!" Screwball snarled.
"-so ponies if there's a typo on one of her orders, guards don't try to divert waiters instead of waters, or order 50 helmets when she needed 500 because they're all too afraid to contradict her! Especially after that time her personal assistant went mad with power!"
"For what it's worth," I said, "I... I get what you're saying. Celestia's a teacher, she's not going to be angry at her students for questioning her."
Sunny Day pot shot a dragon out of the sky and smiled at me. "Good looks, brave, and sensitivity, my kind of stallion."
I blushed as I flew up and then crashed on all fours into a caribou's head sending it two feet into the street. "Thanks, but I have a girlfriend."
"Oh really? Who's the lucky mare?"
"I... actually haven't introduced myself to her yet. But we did fight off an evil changeling swarm together!"
"Oh, one of those eh? You know the longer you wait the more likely she'll find somepony else."
"She's right," Screwball said matter of fact, side striking a MiB through a store window.
"Oh I already have the date I'm going to introduce myself to her. Right down to the year, day, hour, and minute." I threw a MiB over my shoulder and into the same store window.
"Maybe you should allow yourself some flexibility," Sunny Day replied setting a caribou on fire.
"I asked a benefactor of mine about that, but he said that I could end up destroying her world if I tried to make things happen before they're supposed to."
"That's rather arrogant for anypony to say when they're 'supposed' to happen when it comes to a stallion introducing himself to a mare," Sunny retorted.
"Trust me. He's the expert on 'when it's supposed to happen.' Plus, one time we met I acted like a jerk, I want to make that up to Her, somehow."
"Oh, first love," Screwball said lovey-dovey grabbing a caribou by the antlers and forcing him to stampede forward with some good kicks to his rear blazing our trail for us before making him run into a wall.
"She's not my first. My first... she was smart, pretty, but REALLY didn't know how to make friends. Tried to help her, but she didn't WANT to be helped. Crazy enough, she was the one who told me I had to decide if I really liked my second one or not. Or if it was just a crush. After... I kinda accidentally hit on a girl who happened to look the same as the cutest girl I know, I thought she might have a point." I did a corkscrew in the air, cutting a dragon's wing and sending it crashing over a city cliff.
"HEY! Careful!" Triangle shouted.
Screwball said jump kicking a pair of Mares In Black. "Listen to me little boy. Some ponies say love at first sight doesn't exist. But love can sprout ANYWHERE, it's whether it blooms or not that makes it real."
I could finally SEE we were making progress after fighting our way through city districts I didn't know Canterlot even had; and finding some strategically placed shops after each city district run by a talking wishing star with a face, and her 'identical cousins' that offered upgrades to our equipment and a rest area that Triangle Crown was VERY CROSS whenever we used, impatient horse-pixie.
We were getting onto higher and higher levels of the city, the twisted upside-down landscape began to look more like a pink dirty version of the Canterlot Castle we knew, and instead of the inside of a city sphere, we had a view of the fog covered lands below.
What I thought NONE OF US recognized was that tower that seemed to go so high it looked like it pierced the sky. It was in the middle of Ponyville from my guess, and I was left wondering how it wasn't falling over, oh right, magic.
One of knew what it was, "Foalfree Press says it's the World Tower of the Princesses Liza Doloots and Animatia Erroria. 'The best princesses in the world ever,'" Sunny Day said reading a copy of the kid's newspaper.
"What else does it say?"
"You don't wanna know," Screwball said cringing at the articles as she balanced on two back legs and stuffing the paper away somewhere.
And... Well... I don't think you could really miss it. It happened after we'd gotten through our second 'castle district.'
Sparkling dark purple and gray smoke began to pour out of the big tower. It was like flood waters... all of Ponyville... all of it... just got covered in the blanket of sparkling black smoke. And it wasn't stopping. Even as we watched it was slowly rising and spreading. Canterlot and Cloudsdale were all okay, for now. But I could SEE it ever so slowly climb up the mountain as the 'flood levels' got higher and higher!
"... No," Sunny Day said, looking pale, sick, and... guilty.
"What is it Sunny?" Screw Ball implored.
"Oh right, the thing that got Princess Luna and Fluttershy," I said. "I... I didn't think how the papers never said what happened to it, I figured Twilight and the others blasted it to Kingdom Come."
"Triangle Crown! You said Princess Luna can stop this right?! Right?!" Sunny begged.
Triangle Crown looked down at the flood and... she was grinding her teeth and had black flames in her eyes. "How DARE THEY! How DARE they? Those little-! They'll-! Yes! She can! And if you stupid ponies stopped sitting on your flanks eating donuts we'd be there already!!!"
I looked as the Nightmare Force kept rising. Why did it come back now? Why was there so much of it? Where had it even come from? The papers never said. It was just there, it possessed Princess Luna and Fluttershy, lost, and the two of them were freed. But if it could hold an Alicorn prisoner for a thousand years... Are Twilight and the others okay? Ugh! As if I wasn't worried about them BEFORE!!!
Oh no... First Base. Don't you dare conquer Equestria when I'm not there to tell you not to kiddo!
"No time to point fingers! Let's move it!" I shouted, as we did.
= Solidus Cave - Hyrule Warriors =
We stampeded through the soulless automatons, and we could see it! The grand gates to Canterlot Castle Keep! It was one of the first things the changelings had fixed up in restitution.
Except... there was now a crevice around it, thankfully there was a bridge, not so thankfully there were two giant black suits of armor the size of a house standing on it. One was a minotaur with an axe, the other an orthros! I could see inside they were filled with -something- but it wasn't a minotaur or orthros.
"By order of Queen Celestia! None shall pass! To attempt is death!" They echoed like loudspeakers.
"AGH!!!" Crown snapped. "WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!"
"Then let's not waste any!" Sunny said. "Flash, keep them busy, Crown, stay near me, Golden," she whispered to Screwball, who nodded. "And I'll make sure it works! GO! GO! GO!"
= 'Iron Golem' - Dark Souls =
"You chose death," they echoed. I moved as fast as I could, I hope distraction didn't equal 'dead meat.' I did my best keep myself in their line of sight, being JUST within their range to keep me a tempting target. The minotaur's axe almost bisected me more than once, the orthros leapt behind me, if I hadn't folded my wings and dropped, I'd have gotten a look at its insides. Then I had to dart about like a bug just to keep from being stepped on like one!
I couldn't risk turning my head to see what the others were doing! If I stayed close to the ground the orthros would eat me, if I stayed in the air, the minotaur armor was gonna turn me into cutlets! Never easy. I kept to the big guy's back as long as I dared before flying right in his face. No matter how much I baited them, the two never seemed to get in each other's way or even hit each other. How was that fair?!
Ugh, it's times like this I wish I'd been a gamer or a D&D nut, that'd make it so much easier to find a weak point in these things!
My wingblades nicked and scratched their armor, leaving little smoking gashes in it, but it was gonna take forever to beat 'em like this if I could stay alive that long, and we didn't have forever! My dive bomb kicks made them echo like giant bells, but the dents I was leaving weren't anything to write home about! I wish I had some clouds to do some lightning spells but fog was all there was!
Of course having two heads, the orthros WOULD be spotting me easier! At least the two armors didn't seem to be using team work. Come on girls I can't keep this up forever! Big axe! Teeth! Teeth! Claws! Claws! Big hoof! I grab onto his horn. Instead of trying to chop me and his horn off, the minotaur shook his head wildly like a dog. I held on for dear life.
UN-OH! The orthros! It was headed for the others! I let go and flew straight for the metal dog, the axe neatly slicing through my tail parallel to it and I think splitting some of my hairs. I hit the orthros armor with enough force that I was left dizzy, but at least it put the orthros' attention back on me!
Ugh! Why couldn't being a distraction be as easy as challenging them to a dance off? That worked in that movie.
That's when I saw what the others had been up to... Screwball... she was... punching into the edge of the bridge? A large crack now ran along the edge, I dared look to see she'd snuck around and did the same to the other end.
Then Sunny Day, she fired her orange heat magic at the feet of the giant suits of armor. I somehow didn't get killed as I flew around the nasties like a tornado, not sure what else to do. And... the armor of the titans paws and hooves, turned from black, to orange.
"NOW!" Sunny shouted, and Screwball gave the bridge one last big punch, her hoof bleeding, and the entire bridge crumbled into the abyss, the suits of armor tries to simply jump off and continue their fight on solid ground. Instead, their softened feet faltered... and they fell with the bridge down below. The Minotaur threw his axe at me but I evaded. Hope it hits you on the way down, you big lug.
"GOOD RIDDANCE!" Crown hissed.
"Seconded," Screwball said, nursing her bleeding hoof.
"Flash! Get us across!" Sunny said.
You need to ask?
Sunny Day used her horn to melt us an opening through the gates. Then Screwball picked the locks on the doors, and used her earth pony strength to force them open. In we go! Ah great, more caribou, only these were wearing black armor. I'm getting sick of this.
Indoors was as filled with the stupid fog as everything else. More swimming for me, joy. Fog monsters formed only for Sunny Day to fireball them. The corridors weren't like the Canterlot Castle I knew, only Crown knew which was we were going. I swear there was no way all these corridors could have fit inside the castle.
Naturally I did the first thing a Royal Guard in my situation would do: look in the castle armory for a decent weapon the moment I spotted it. The wingblade technique was useful, but a spear would give me better range. Unfortunately, the armory was full of cake...and things I will never repeat because I know what they're for, and it's not torture. Darn it! I guess I could take some cakes to use as a projectile. Better than nothing.
"Through here!" Crown shouted, at a pair of beautiful and ancient oak double doors... we didn't knock, we kicked our way in.
Inside... we were in an opera house... didn't look like the castle's indoor theater. Rows upon rows of chairs. Rock farmers, Canterlot elite, changelings, musicians, all filled the seats, they turned and shushed us.
The doors closed right behind us on their own (mental note, next time break them DOWN). Uh-oh. The lights dimmed, I'm guessing we just happen to be right on time for the show. A downward spotlight lightens up the stage.
Octavia Pie Melody?
She stood on her rear legs, and held her head down, next to her was her signature cello and bow.
"Once upon a time, there was an earth pony filly born to high class unicorn parents. For what musician would want mediocre origins on a rockfarm? But her parents saw not a daughter but a missing horn. But they were determined to make her succeed, to show their families they could make a great musician of even a 'worthless earth pony.'"
Tears hit the floor in front of her.
"When she failed at other instruments, they gave her the cello, telling her to practice until she MADE IT her talent. As she struggled, they performed a ritual with the unknown, and she awoke with her cutie mark. And she would practice whether she liked it or not. The strings were always there. So she was a prisoner in her home, made to compose music in all her time. Until she met a wild white unicorn with opposite taste in music that made her happy. But her parents would have none of it. And in her fury at being denied happiness, the strings became chains, and her parents were no more. But the strings remained, and she played, to perform and practice, not of her own her will: but by the expectations of others."
Octavia's head shot up, her eyes squinted open, and her mouth pulled back into a grin.
"Oh God," I said.
Screwball just shook.
The audience clapped as Octavia body's straddled the line between elegant and clumsy, grabbing her bow and cello, and began to play. I have an ear for music, even if guitar is more my style, and she was as brilliant as always. I almost didn't notice the little sign next to us that read-
"Her concert is for the next twelve hours?! That's insane!" Screwball gasped.
"We can't wait that long!" I said.
"Of course we can't!" Crown hissed. For once I didn't feel she was being impatient.
Screwball rushed to the doors on the opposite side of the theater and gave them a running tackle, and she bounced off them! We were at her side in a flash.
"Felt like, I was ramming a mountain." We saw thin little red cuts along her side where she tried to bust through... like piano string. Oh boy.
"She's close! So close! We're so close! We can't be stopped here!" Triangle Crown tried scratch at the door or try to squeeze through the locks, but nothing worked. Tears formed in her eyes.
Could we maybe break through the wall? I wasn't sure.
"This concerts needs to end right now!" Sunny Day said.
We were being ignored, everyone's eyes and ears were on Octavia.
"Time to cut the knot!" Screwball said getting up, she really didn't feel pain. She leapt at the stage like a wild beast, for one bad moment, I thought she was going to hurt Octavia. Instead, she tackled the cello, and smashed it and Octavia's bow to pieces.
Octavia's expression didn't change at all. But the audience gasped.
= No Strings Attached (Octavia Battle Theme) =
The next moment, the impression of chains pushed in on Screwball's neck, and she was lurched upwards even if I couldn't see a unicorn's magic aura. She reached up with her forelegs 'miming' pulling her neck. Her ears flicked, and she brought up her rear legs instantly, and caught SOMETHING we couldn't see, and we saw her gut being pushed inward like an invisble something sharp was trying push its way in.
Octavia's bow and cello floated up, and came back together, held together with invisible duck tape or something. Octavia just resumed her concert as Screwball struggled for her life above her.
"Please, just stop, there's no saving me," Octavia whispered, TO US.
"Forget it!" I snapped.
"There's no way to win, if you fight it, it'll just make things worse until it goes the way it's supposed to," she pleaded, her face still pulled into that smile.
"Help her! There's too much wood, I'd set everything on fire!" Sunny Day grunted.
I didn't have a sword, so instead I broke one of the chairs (to the protest of Upper Crust) and flew up, trying to force it between Screwball and whatever was trying to hurt her. Then I felt chains I couldn't see wrap around my legs, try to stretch me apart! My Guard training was the only thing that gave me the muscle to last.
"Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had a different life, but that's a dream, a fantasy, not real, this is reality," Octavia lamented.
The Guards of course continued to stand like dummies.
"Please stop interrupting the concert! Give the mare her chance in the spotlight!"
I looked down at who'd spoken. I'm a Guard, I know whose who for VIPs in Canterlot... I felt my stomach turn to ice.
Blue Song. Bright Blood. Moonlight/Moonshine Sparkle. Starlight Sparkle. Princess Cadence's and Twilight's parents, doctor, singer, stargazer, and romance writer... I'd seen them at the wedding. All of them pink and gray, looking comfortable sitting upright like Lyra in the chairs, and all of them... just SMILING and ENJOYING THE SHOW! 'Pretend what they're seeing is normal' isn't funny when it's the baddie's stuff.
"HELP ME!" I said even though I knew they wouldn't. They were like the rest, twisted like the world.
Now only Sunny and Crown were free. How long do we have? What's left? And don't even suggest attacking Octavia! She's just the victim here! She didn't ask to have weird psycho puppet strings...puppet... strings...wait a minute.
"Sunny! If Octavia's a puppet, where's the puppeteer?"
Sunny's eye went wide. She looked in the direction the strings would be coming from. We didn't see anything, just a dark, shadowy roof.
"Sunny! Above us! Sun burst!"
She sent up a bright sphere of light that went boom, like a miniature sun, heating my armor.
Whatever it was didn't like that, because it let go of me, Screwball, and Octavia's limbs and face. Screwball hit the ground coughing and my legs were sore. I saw them, puppeteer crosses, just FLOATING there, like ghosts, I knew they were there, but didn't want to.
Octavia's eyes went wide. "What...what just happened?!" she asked, following our line of sight. "You-you can see those?!"
"We can NOW," I replied. But where was the puppeteer?!
A ripple passed though the room, a wave of violet shadows and sad blue stars, and the fog in the room glowed white for a moment then was pulled towards one spot between the puppeteer grips, congealing and becoming something else entirely.
It was a blender mix of a morbidly skinny old mare, and a spider with hands and legs built from sewing needles, and a long stringy black mane. She wore a Frankenstein's patchwork of Canterlot dress parts. In her grip were the puppet crosses.
"You are one ugly witch!" I blurted out.
The Beldam drew in breath, realizing we could see her. The audience themselves gasped in confusion. Octavia's eyes went as wide as dinner plates.
"No mercy!" Crown hissed. We didn't need to be told twice.
The Beldam snarled. "Don't meddle!"
She sent the strings and chains at us that I saw now had sharp hooks, but it was a LOT easier to dodge something you could see.
I weaved through them and dodged a slash of her claws and deliver a wing blade slash to her midsection. It didn't bisect her, but it spilled black blood. I had to dodge more strings but I wasn't the main attack.
Screwball climbed up the stage curtains like a spider herself and I gave her a boost off my back so she could slam Beldam into the stage below. Sunny promptly blasted the witch with a beam of solar light. She tried to use the strings to shield herself but they just turned Sunny's attack into a scatter shot and gave her more burns.
"Used to hiding instead of fighting?" I asked.
"Cousin Random's invitation didn't say I'd have trouble-makers!" she roared, sending more strings at me I had to fly through.
"Invitation overruled!" I yelled, reaching her and giving her a stair-step-kick to the chest, Golden charged from behind and took the Beldam's legs out from under her and putting the Beldam's back on the floor at the same time I finished with a double kick.
Both of us high tailed it as Sunny formed a ball of yellow energy above us that sent down bolt of sunlight straight down on the Beldam.
She blocked with her strings and chains but the heat still seemed to do damage, blackening the stage around her.
Me and Screwball rushed over as she got up and double bucked her upwards right as Sunny brought her mini sun straight down, the impact causing a fairly large sized explosion, scorching the entire stage.
"That do it?" I asked, landing next to them as the smoke obscured anything we could see. We heard deep raspy breathing and her legs scrapping. "DANG it!"
No we didn't wanna kill her, but I thought that'd stop her!
Thankfully, the Beldam wasn't in good shape. She was burnt to Tartarus and barely had any hair left. As if she couldn't get any uglier. Oh and I think we blew her arm off.
"You...you...why?! I was supposed to get a new child after that bowed brat stole my key!"
"Dunno about that," I replied. "But why? You TRAPPED US AND ENSLAVED OCTAVIA!"
GAH! What the-?!
Oh, her severed arm climbed up my back and was trying to choke me! AHHHHH!
"You were to go no further and stay with my Octavia!" the monster roared as Screwball pull the arm off me and let Sunny blow it to bits.
"If this were my world, Your souls would-GAH!"
Sorry, just never seen an spider-witch get impaled from behind by the broken neck of a cello!
Beldam had black blood running from her mouth as she just looked down at it in bewildered disbelief.
Octavia was standing behind her, holding it and panting, the strings laying limp around her. "Get...Out. This puppet is cutting her strings."
"You-UNGRATEFUL BRAT-" She turned and jabbed with her claws... but Sunny's magic held her in place an inch from Octavia's eyes.
"What's going on! You know why the world's cursed don't you! Tell us right now!" Sunny shouted.
"... it doesn't matter, your world, can never return... You'd have been safe and sound in here from the Nightmares, Crawling Mist, Cousin, and that flavorless filly... Enjoy the doom you've chosen," Her body turned to sand, and her mechanical parts clattered to the floor lifeless. Her strings and chains turned to wool, the doors opened. From the pile came the shadow of a large hand/spider that broke into a million little shadows, who scurried back into the darkness.
Octavia fell to her knees and started to sob. Golden instantly hugged her. I don't blame her...I know that monster was evil and needed to go, but...
"What wonderful special effects, such drama," said Twilight's still pink and gray mom. Twilight's dad agreed with her, as did Cadence's parents. Then so did the farmers, musicians, and the elites and changelings. Some complaining they had come for a concert, not an opera. Others asked what the rest of the eleven hour show was going to be. But they were all soon clapping.
Octavia was still charcoal and dirty pink... but there was a clarity in her eyes I hadn't seen in any of the others.
"You said the world is cursed... are my dreams more than dreams?" Octavia tried to get up, found her motions were more clumsy than they'd been when she stabbed the Beldam. "It's... been so long since I moved on my own..." She looked at us, tears still streaming down her face. "Please... tell me you can do something."
"We are," Golden said. "Just believe we can."
"We're RUNNING OUT OF TIME!" Crown screamed at the top of her lungs, looking like a wreck on Sunny's back.
We each gave Octavia and hug and nuzzle, and told her to be strong, and we ran through the doors of the theater we hadn't entered through.
"You okay Crown?" I asked.
"I will be." The impatient pixie grunted.
I don't care if it matters in the long run or not. We saved Octavia.
Hmmmm, what was with Golden Tiara/Screwball? She... she looked dizzy.