Chariots and hooves touched down on the metal bay floor, boosting an already impressive racket on the busy airship.
No wonder most of the ponies here tend to wear earplugs, Twilight mused to herself as she dismounted from her chariot.
Small teams of ponies rushed forward to remove the harnesses from the pegasi and gave them water bottles and energy bars to refuel their bodies. Others began examining the chariots themselves, making note of any needed maintenance work. Mist and fog dissipated as the bay doors closed, the warm interior air evaporating the pieces of the ship’s disguise that had leaked inside.
“Hey Twilight!” Spike waved from the door leading to the interior of the vessel. “The Admiral wants to see you. Says she wants to talk about what you found.”
“I figured as much. On my way.” Twilight broke into a trot, moving directly passed Spike and through the twisting guts of the ship. After a wrong turn and a snicker from her assistant, they eventually made it to the bridge.
“Royalty on de—”
“At ease,” Twilight cut the yeoman off, making her way next to the captain’s chair where the admiral sat. “You wanted to see me?”
Tempest spun around in the chair to face her. “Yes. It was mentioned over the radio that you believe the weapons the zebra had were authentic?”
Twilight nodded. “Yes. The base we infiltrated contained an intelligence gold mine. The weapons themselves are authentic, and although the crystals they use are not, they apparently found a way to charge them without a unicorn’s help. What’s more, is that there are a lot of them. Tens, if not hundreds of thousands of guns have made their way into Zebrican hooves already.
“Also, all the weapons we found were manufactured by Cloudsdale Armouries, and we think the Zebrican government is acquiring them through underground criminal organizations via smuggling. Thus far, I can't determine if the company is complicit or a victim.”
“Hmmm…” Tempest rubbed her chin with a fetlock. “That will be problematic. No company has more sway in the Empyreal Hall. They could stonewall any investigation for some time.
“In any event, the degree of authenticity in the weapons suggests a pony or multiple ponies on the inside. That is… not good. Helm! Prepare for immediate departure! We have to get back in range of a leyline so we can warn the princesses.”
“Aye aye!” The Ensign yelled, flipping a bunch of switches on his control board. “Lift off in two minutes.”
The XO stepped forward to a microphone and sound of the orders throughout the ship. “All stations, prepare for departure! Retract all anchoring lines! Wind up the engines and prepare for cruise speed!”
“One last question, Grand Mage.” Tempest looked back at Twilight, her face unreadable. “Those gems you brought back to the ship. I had them stowed away in the armoury. Are you sure they’re safe?”
“Unless somepony decides to pump a whole bunch of magic into them, yes. They are, for all intents and purposes, completely dead.”
“Very well,” she said, turning back to her work on the ship, seemingly satisfied.
As she walked out of the bridge, Spike put his arm around her. “All done? We’re going home?”
“Yeah, we're going home. Let’s go back to our quarters. I wanted to study that white gem a little more.”
“Sounds good, but while you do that, I’m going to take a freaking nap.”
“Zzzz… Micro noodles… No, no! Prench toast! Zzz…. Not enough egg… Get away!”
Twilight snickered a little at Spike talking in his sleep. I wonder what he’s dreaming about… Sounds like some kind of crazy food dream. Something like Pinkie Pie might have. The quill that had been resting in her magic fell to the paper. Sweet Luna… Pinkie Pie invading dreams… Now that is scary.
Twilight sighed and shook off the thought, returning her attention to the gem, finishing her sketch of the damaged side. It doesn’t look like they were trying to create a bonded item out of it. In fact, it looks like it’s still fresh out of the ground. He never tried to cut it into a shape. There does appear to be microcircuits embedded within it, much like a common cored artifact. But the design used isn’t one I’m familiar with. Hmm…
She lit her horn and lifted up the crystal, pushing it ever so gently with her telekinetic field. Just a little bit of magic… Just enough to light up the circuits…
The crystal took on a white glow, while strands of her violet magic filled in lines in the core.
Perfect, now I can examine… Wait…
“Zzzzz… Three heads! Three heads! No… Two and one… Line broken… Gah! Not the cheese!”
Twilight rolled her eyes and smiled. I’m going to have to wake him if this keeps up. She turned her attention back to the crystal, rotating it back to the gash. The purple light continued to course through the circuits like blood through the veins, eventually finding their way to the major arteries of the gem. The glow intensified and shifted, changing color from violet, to red, to a bright fiery orange.
That symbol… She twisted and turned the gem, looking for any other clues. All that was there was that liquid gold colored image that somehow haunted her memory. I know I’ve seen that before… Her peripheral vision faded away as she focused, grinding her teeth to try to remember.
“Whaa! No! Get awa–!” Spike set up in a jolt, looking like he’d be drenched if he actually had sweat glands.
Twilight set the gem down and hopped off her chair, walking over to give him a small hug. “Rough dreams, Spike?”
“Yeah.” He leaned into her, returning the embrace. “Rough, and weird, too. I… I don’t think I’m going back to sleep anytime soon.” He stretched out with a yawn. “How are you doing with your investigation?”
“I made some progress, but I’m still not entirely sure what they were doing with the cores. Though, I think I understand how they were trying to program them, and why it frequently didn’t work, but given the complexities involved I’m not entirely certain that this method could ever work.”
“You mean for what Mipaka was trying to do, right? But what about for finding out where they’re from? Or using it ourselves?”
“I don’t have the equipment here to determine their origin. But…” She floated the crystal over to them. “I do think we would be able to make some pretty decent cores out of some of these. Most of the volume in this one is unused. As for a bonded gem, well, it’s doubtful, but theoretically possible. We’d have to cut away what’s already used, though, and I’m not about to try that here. I’ll leave it to the professionals that Celestia knows.”
“Fair enough. I think I’m going to go get a snack. Settle my stomach.” Spike plodded off out of the room as his stomach growled at approval.
Twilight’s chuckled to herself a little. As if the food on this ship could actually settle a stomach. Giggling at her quip, she got back up on her chair and took a sip of her coffee, but stopped mid-swallow. After staring at the black liquid in the cup, she sat down and pulled out a checklist, adding “Talk to Tia about getting her proper coffee on the Bellerophon” to the end.
Seriously. It’s meant to be a royal ship. You’d think there be better coffee. She took one final gulp, swallowing the rest of it down. Blerg. At least its caffeine. Now, about this symbol…
She turned her object to study over, and scratched her head. I know I’ve seen this before…
Twilight sat up and turned around, finding that there wasn’t a single other soul in the room with her. “Rainbow, is that you? I thought you were going down to the launch bay to work out…”
She switched to her magic sight, checking around and finding no other wellsprings nearby, not even behind the door to the room." Huh. I could’ve sworn…"
Twilight sat back in the chair and checked under the desk. Even down low, there was nobody there. Not Spike, not Rainbow, not Admiral Tempest, not even a mouse.
Aaaand I’m starting to lose my mind.
“No, it’s me. Around your neck.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide with realization as she stared at her torc. “Oh, that’s right! Sorry, I guess I’m a little out of it right now. Still, you can’t blame me too much. You’re rather quiet.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll leave you alone.”
“No! No, wait! Please! I’m the one who’s sorry. You been really helpful so far. I should’ve thanked you for that properly, and I apologize. How are you doing? We haven’t talked since I was in Ponyville chasing after Phantasm.”
“I’m okay. It’s just, well… I was going to say I think I recognize that symbol.”
Twilight grabbed her quill and put it to paper, ready to write. “You do? Where from?”
“I’m not sure. I just know that it’s familiar somehow. I thought maybe… we could work on it together? If you use that thing the Princess gave you. It kinda hurts to talk like this…”
“Of course! Just give me a minute to get it.” Twilight hopped off the chair and wandered across the lush carpet to the room’s storage cabinet. "Huh. Didn’t need most of this after all. Now where did… Aha! There you are." She pulled out the swirly gem and went over to the oversized bed, plopping herself down on it. Taking a last look at the dark clouds outside her window, she took in a deep breath, held the gem in her magic, and watched the thaumic energies begin to flow…
Twilight woke up, once again on a large, fluffy cloud. This time, the vortex she was in was quite a bit wider. The cloud wall surrounding her, however, were also much darker. Lightning cracked through them every few seconds, but all she could hear was a slight rumbling.
I wonder what makes the weather change here, she thought, her mental voice echoing throughout the space.
“You do, technically, even if you can’t control it yet.”
Twilight’s ear twitched at the new voice coming from behind her, sounding far more familiar than ever before. She turned her head, and froze. There, behind her, was herself. Not quite herself, however. Rather, it was her as a filly.
“It can’t be…” She turned around to face the newcomer, and lay down on the ground to be at eye level. The resemblance was perfect. It looked exactly like her, just after she had gotten her cutie Mark. The only difference she could find was that this filly was wearing a royal torc — her royal torc.
“Are you… My armour? The torque Celestia gave me?”
The filly nodded. "When I was made, you looked like this. So, I thought I should look like this too. Is that… Is that alright?”
Twilight nodded back. “I suppose, I mean, this is surprising is all. Why would you want to look like me?”
The filly drew little circles in the cloud with her hoof, avoiding eye contact. “Because I am you… Sort of… I was made from you.”
That’s right… Celestia said she used my magic to create… Okay, now it makes a little more sense. Hmm… Twilight squinted at her Armour’s avatar, looking her over while a small gust blew her mane around.
“W-what is it?”
“Could I ask you another question?”
“Um, okay…” The filly ducked her head down and tucked in her tail, going into what her father called “ball mode.”
Twilight slowly held out her hoof and stroked her back. “Hey, it’s okay. I was just curious why you always seemed to like deploying right when I put you on.”
“I…” The filly sniffled. "After I was made, Celestia tried to make me dormant. I tricked her into thinking she'd done it, but I didn't know that... I was in storage so long… I didn’t want you to leave again…”
Twilight covered her mouth with, hiding the little ”oh…” she said in response. “I didn’t realize. I didn’t even know she made you.”
“I know. It’s just…”
“Well, for what it’s worth, I don’t ever intend to stick you in storage again. In fact, it looks like the both of us are in this for a long haul, and I’m definitely going to need your help. So, maybe we could be friends?”
“I… I…” Little filly wiped away some tears and nodded her head before reaching out with both forelegs open.
Twilight smiled and took her into an embrace, stroking her head and back as a few more tears fell. When the little avatar finally calmed down, she let go and held out a forehoof. “My name’s Twilight Sparkle. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
“My name is…” She looked up at Twilight, and backed away from the hoof before realizing what to do and giving it a small bump. “My name is Aurora.”
“Aurora? That’s a really pretty name! Did you think of that one?”
Aurora nodded. “I… I know most everything you do. Mostly. Sometimes it's fuzzy. But whenever I heard that word, it made me happy.”
“Well, Aurora it is then.” Twilight sat up, giving her a big, proud smile. “So, Aurora, do you think you can help me figure out what I’m working on?”
“Um… I can try…”
“That’s all I ask. Now, the symbol looked a little like—” Twilight’s speech stop short when an orange glow came from behind her. She turned around, there was a symbol, hanging in midair. “Um, yeah. That.”
“I can see what you see. So I can remember the symbol, and show it here. This is, in a way, my world too.”
Twilight shrugged. “Hey, I’m not going to complain. Do you remember what it looked like on the gem?”
The image shifted to one of the gem floating in midair, symbol still there and the glowing.
“Impressive! I wish I had this kind of thing in the lab. Okay, now, what do we know?”
“Well…" the filly tilted her head and took a step forward, sniffing the air. "We know it’s not the only one. Mipaka said that he was about to receive the ‘final waymarker,’ and that this was a ‘failed waymarker.’”
“That’s true. Although I don’t know what he’s hoping to accomplish with that.” Twilight folded her forelegs. “I mean, just having a bunch is one thing. You can give them to several followers. But if he's trying to use more than one at once... It'd be insane. Using two or more cores in a single artifact is crazy dangerous. If the magics ever cross the wrong way, boom!”
“What if what he’s doing is too complicated? I mean, to do with one. It is possible to use more than one. The elements are an example of that.”
“Well, yeah, but I kinda doubt he’s that good. The Elements are ancient masterworks that are technically in another category, and this,” she pointed a hoof at the image, “is most certainly not a masterwork. It’s actually kind of amateurish, and the circuitry design is strange. I know I’m not exactly an expert in this field, at least not yet, but even I can tell this is weird. And I don’t even know where to start with that symbol. I don’t recognize it, and it’s located near the surface of the gem, not in the actual circuit itself.”
“So what is it used for? If not in the circuit itself, maybe it does something else? Maybe something to do with that giant gash?”
The two of them approached the image and circled around it, both of their heads tilted to the side.
“I think you might be onto something, Aurora. If I knew what the rest of it looked like before it was damaged, that might give me a clue. I wonder if the rest of the gems have symbols like this.”
“Would it look something like this?” The filly waved a hoof, changing the image to a bunch of random gems with different orange symbols arranged in a circle.
“Yeah, but that almost looks like—” Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Of course! That symbol isn’t for inside circuitry, it’s part of a magic circle! It’s… It’s like a rune! A permanent magic circle designed to help guide the energies in the gem once they exit!”
“And they could use a magic circle like that to use more than one gem!” Aurora wagged her tail with happiness. “We’re figuring it out!”
“Maybe…” Twilight bit down on the tip of her hoof. "But it’s still incredibly risky. If done right, they could cast something huge, maybe even something thaumacally equivalent to a unicorn spell. Maybe even an alicorn spell.” Twilight shivered at the possibilities. “But if even the smallest thing went wrong…”
“Anypony trying to use it would die,” Aurora finished for her.
Twilight shook her head. “No, it’s worse than that. If they're using several gems rather than one or two, then it would mean a spell failure on a catastrophic level. Not just a little pop on a typical horn, but a detonation large enough to wipe out a city. A large one, like Manehattan. And that’s about the best case scenario.”
The filly cringed, looking off to to the side as an image of the zebra town formed in midair. "Do you think we should warn them?"
“I… Think so? The question is, would they do anything about it? We’re talking about a religious cult here. They’re probably not going to like us ‘stealing’ their ‘salvation’.”
Aurora kept staring at the image. “But if the town explodes, Zebrica could blame Saddle Arabia…”
“…And it would start a war anyway. But if we go in there, we could start a war between Zebrica and Equestria!” Twilight buried her face in her hooves. “Maybe… Maybe we can figure out what spell they’re trying to cast. Maybe it won’t be as bad as I think.”
“And if it is?”
“Then I’ll turn the ship around. It’s not like Zebrica is in a position to threaten us anyway. Now, look at this and think. What will it be used for? We know it’s supposed to be put in a magic circle, and that changes things a bit, but I still don’t recognize it as being any kind of symbol used in circles.”
“What if that’s not the right symbol?" Aurora turned to walk towards the image of the gems, jumping and ‘landing’ on some invisible something a couple meters in the air, putting her right next to the image. “Or what if it’s something we just don’t recognize? It might need something custom-made.” She lowered her ears and dropped her head. “Or I’m just not remembering it right. The gash kinda made it hard to see.”
All the clouds around them dropped away into darkness in an instant and Twilight’s eyes widened as she focused on the single, lone gem she had been examining earlier. “What did you just say?”
The filly took a few steps back. “Um, I said, the gash made it—”
“Hard to see! Aurora, that symbol…”
“I wish he had explained himself better. Then maybe I could understand more than half of his ramblings at the end about how he’s going to get to ‘The After.’ He never said why he wanted to go there or what it was! I have a few guesses I really don’t want to believe, but they’re still just guesses because he never actually came out and said it!
Some few decades before Discord’s emergence, we determined that his magical growth had stopped. He would never have completed his ascension. When he learned of this, he started obsessing over ‘The After,’ which was his term for the afterlife. He was convinced that there was a way to arrive at an afterlife without having to suffer the pain of death. This is the result of the spell he used in his attempt.
<<My father believes that the end of the world is coming, but that he can lead his chosen followers to safety before it does.>>
“That symbol! It’s one of Starswirl’s! Look!” Twilight focused on the finish symbol in her mind, completing it over where the gash had destroyed a part of it. “He used symbols and terminology that were never accepted by what was left of the scientific community after the chaos wars! This was one of them!”
Whatever Aurora had been sitting on vanished, and she fell down to the cloud. "But that means…"
Wind rushed around Twilight as her heart began to race, her inner world vanishing as she started to wake up.“It means that Mipaka is trying to get to ‘The After’…”
“…and if we don’t stop him…”
“…Hundreds of millions of ponies are going to die.”
“Are you sure about this, Twi?” Spike asked, huffing a little to keep up with Twilight’s pace.
“Yeah, I don’t know a lot about magic, but you have to admit, it seems a little out there.” Rainbow said as she ducked through an airtight hatch.
“I know what it sounds like, but I’m completely serious. Trust me.” Twilight grabbed onto the door to the bridge, tossing it open and jumping through. The room was darker than normal, the outside of the window having been blackened by deep, powerful storm clouds. Flashes of lightning ripped around the Bellerophon constantly. “Admiral! We have a problem. I need you to turn the ship around!”
The Admiral turned around in her chair with a look of incredulity plastered on her face. “You have to be kidding me. We’re mission complete! On top of that, were in the middle of a hurricane right now. Unless you can give me a damn good explanation…”
Twilight snap turned to the right, marching over to a map table. With a single burst of her magic, dozens of papers, pencils, maps, all manner of other things were washed away and sent flying to the other end of the bridge. Pulling out a drawer, she slammed down some blank sheets of paper, grabbed a pencil from the floor, and laid her gem next to them.
“This is one of the cores I took from Mipaka. See this symbol? It should really look like this.” Twilight quickly to route the full symbol on a piece of paper. “Now, this isn’t just any kind of magic symbol.”
“No kidding,” one of the unicorns on the bridge said. “I don’t recognize it.”
“That’s because Starswirl created it, and the magic community never got behind it. It is unique to him.”
Tempest folded her forelegs. “Not impressing me so far.”
“Oh, I’m just getting started. This symbol? It appears in Starswirl’s private journal. All the Grand Mages have a journal, and I’ve read every one. And you know what? Starswirl was nuts. Especially at the end, he kept ranting about finding a way to what he called ‘The After.’ What’s more, he actually succeeded. He created the spell that, somehow, that doomsday cult back in Zebrica discovered. And now they’re trying to use a bunch of bond class gems to activate it!”
Tempest scoffed and laughed, waving her off with a hoof. “So what? If they’re really trying to use more than one core, they'll just blow themselves up. Problem solved.”
“No, problem not solved!” She tossed the way the papers and pulled up a map of the entire continent of Zebrica and the surrounding areas. “If they manage to succeed, that spell won’t stop at just the town. It won’t be a little portal. Everything it swallows, it’ll use towards making itself grow. And there’s more than enough magic in the environment for to keep going, and going, and going…”
A pencil danced in Twilight’s magic and found its mark on the map, tracing out a circle larger than the continent itself.
“Here,” Twilight said, stabbing the map with a pencil. “That’s how far out the portal will likely grow, swallowing everything inside. At this point, it won’t be able to get enough energy from the environment to sustain itself, and will collapse. Explosively.”
The coats of every pony in the room, and even the color of the scales of the one dragon, all faded out four shades whiter.
Twilight exhaled, driving in her point with the tip of a spear. "If this happens, the force of the detonation will completely destroy not only Zebrica, but Saddle Arabia as well. It will break windows as far away as Canterlot, and send a tsunami towards Equestria that will reach hundreds of kilometres inland."
Everypony stood in stunned silence, the gravity of Twilight’s words crushing all arguement.
“Helm,” Tempest whispered. “Bring us about, take us back to Zebrica at full speed. Disengage all engine safeties.”
“Aye, aye…” The helmspony said with a swallow.
“When will we get there?” Twilight asked. “Mipaka said he was starting the ceremony at noon.”
The XO looked up at the clock. “At full speed? Will be very, very lucky to make it before then.”
“What happens if the portal is already open?” Tempest leaned in to Twilight. “Do you have a way to stop it?”
“The spell did indeed create a portal, though where it really led is anypony’s guess. All I knew was that it was expanding rapidly, consuming more of the castle every second. I tried to close it, and when that failed I tried to put a shield over it. The shield was simply stretched, or pushed outward by the portal like a balloon being pumped full of air. I panicked, so I did the next thing that came to mind: I tried to teleport the entire thing into orbit.”
“I didn’t think any of it through, but that didn’t matter, as what happened next I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams. Somehow, the spells reacted, and destroyed each other violently. The blast was enormous, but would have been much larger were it not for the shield I cast. Regardless, the damage was done. My home was destroyed, countless ponies lost their lives from the spell’s detonation or were consumed by the portal, and the magical contamination twisted the once-peaceful forest into the corrupt Everfree.”
“Maybe.” Twilight grimaced. “Just maybe. But it would be better if I can get in a chariot and get there ahead of the ship.”
“In this weather? Are you nuts?” Rainbow pointed a hoof out the window. “There’s no way! Not even I could do it!”
“Dash, if this spell goes off, were talking about hundreds of millions of lives! I’m willing to risk my personal safety to get there faster!”
“It’s not just a matter of safety, Lady Sparkle.” Tempest spread her wings. “Even the most experienced flyer wouldn’t be able to keep their direction straight in this maelstrom. Compasses would be useless from the magic lightning being created. Even if you do manage to keep your bearings, you'll get pelted with wild lightning, rain, and hail over and over. If you take off now, you will never get back to Zebrica alive, let alone before the spell goes off. This time, the ship is faster.”
Twilight took in a deep breath, her guts twisting into a knot. “Then I’m going to go and practice a failsafe spell, but I want that chariot ready now. We’re taking off the instant we’re able to navigate our way out of these storms. And Dash?” The Grand Mage leaned in close to her captain so the others wouldn’t hear. “I need you to follow my orders. To the letter.”
A purple and blue blur blazed out of the cloud bank, the chariot soaring to the shoreline amidst an ocean of scattered thunderheads bringing rain down on anypony unfortunate enough to be under them.
“Faster, Dash! We’re not going to make it at this rate!” Twilight yelled at the top of her lungs, her voice barely overcoming the rush of wind around them. “Rainboom it!”
“I can’t do a rainboom carrying a chariot!” Rainbow yelled back, straining against the wind resistance. “The harness connection isn’t strong enough!”
Twilight ground her teeth and stood up, putting her forehooves over the front of the vehicle. Then we’ll just have to do without it. She lit her horn and fired her teleportation spell, planning directly on top of Rainbow Dash. She spun her hind legs around her friend, and kicked up on the harness at the back of her hooves, knocking the chariot free.
“What are you—?”
“Less talking, more Rainbooming! Punch it!” Twilight thrust a hoof in the direction of the town, barely getting it in front of her friend’s face.
Rainbow arched her back, snapping into a steep dive as they picked up speed. Twilight couldn’t even hear the chariot hit the water, the resulting rainboom was so loud. As they levelled out mere meters above the sea, waves blurred together, making the ocean look like it was a single, calm mass.
Rainbow banked to the left, a cone-shaped cloud forming behind them as they aimed towards the trees. What once was a sapphire sea beneath them turned into an emerald floor of leaves. As the pegasus flared out her wings, they slowed down, the town coming into view.
Twilight grabbed onto her friend, steering her towards the center. Similarly every single zebra in the entire village had congregated in a large park, with a figure Twilight assumed to be Mipaka in the very center. Next to him was a large wooden apparatus over a vat of glowing orange liquid. In the elder’s mouth was a rope attached to the structure, which was holding a very large metal ring fitted with nineteen glowing cores.
“Rainbow! Nail him!”
Twilight jumped off her friend a moment before impact, her hooves reaching out to the rope. As Rainbow rolled down the hill behind her, she alone stood before the apocalypse. She wrapped herself around the rope grasping it for dear life, yet the ring continued to fall. She gripped it even tighter, pulling back, the thaumatic radiation from the vat feeling like a sunburn on her face.
Time slowed as she watched the ring fall, and the rope grow taut. Lower and lower it fell, causing her heart to stop.
She reached out with her telekinesis, feeling the underside of the ring as the protective spells embedded within let it slip through her magic…
Just as the gems dipped inside the fluid.
“Noooooooooooo!” she screamed at the top of her lungs as a shockwave disrupted her magic, and the gems sank to the bottom.
The ground shook, the sky glowed red, and the very fabric of reality cracked.
Grand Mage Starswirl the Bearded’s final spell opened up before her. A magic circle the size of a mountain formed above them, dozens upon dozens of new layers branching out and burning the very air itself.
No… No! She spun around, galloping down the hill. “Dash! Run!” The screaming voice cracked, her lungs heaved, desperate for the oxygen to propel her away.
<<Behold! Behold, my children! Rapture! Rapture is here!>>
Twilight and Rainbow ignored the mad zebra rushing to his followers, the two dashing off into the forest.
“Twilight! The failsafe spell!” Aurora’s voice rang in owner’s mind.
The Grand Mage stomped her hooves down, leaving grooves in the dirt as she skidded to a halt. She raised her horn to the sky, a brilliant purple glow surrounded her. A second later, the spell fired, shooting into the center of the circles.
The response never came.
Instead, a line of white-hot energy shot into the ground, splitting the fabric of reality open like the top of a plastic bag. A brilliant, swirling vortex lashed out at everything around it, dragging everything inside.
Twilight’s vision rocked to the side as Rainbow picked her up, pulling her away from the strands of magic grasping at anything that got too close to the expanding vortex.
Once again, the world became a blur as Rainbow sped up, rocketing back over the water and towards the ship.
“What happened? Why didn’t the spell work?”
Twilight shook her head. “I don’t know! But if we don’t stop it, and now, were all done for!”
Another boom roared behind them as Rainbow broke the sound barrier, passing clean over into the water.
“Twilight! The spell can work!” Aurora yelled.
“It can? How?!” Twilight yelled down in her chest.
“Who are you talking to?” Rainbow yelled back.
“Not now, Dash! How can the spell work?!”
“What are you asking me for?” Rainbow screamed.
“We just need a penetration formula to lead into it! Raw telekinesis won’t be enough unless we can puncture the outside circle!”
“Will that be enough?”
“Yes, if we give enough power! Like, a whole lot of power!”
“Twilight, what are you—”
“Nevermind, Dash!” Twilight’s eyes scanned the horizon, finding what she needed. “Set me down on that cloud over there!”
“What!? Set you down!?”
“Yes! Trust me!”
Twilight could feel Rainbow struggle and grind her teeth as she rushed to the cloud, screeching to a halt just in time for Twilight teleport herself onto it. Behind them, she could see the void grow. Slowly, it was sweeping over the land, consuming everything in its path.
“Dash…” The Grand Mage turned her head so one of her eyes could see her friend. “Dash, fly. Get out of here.”
“What!? No way! I can’t just leave–”
“Rainbow!” Twilight her horn, pushing as much magic as she could into it at once. The brilliance of the light completely enveloped her horn, making it all but invisible from the light. “Rainbow, when I fire this spell, it’s going to make the portal explode. If you aren’t out of here by then, you’ll never survive.”
“Me, what about you!? I’m the captain of your guard! I’m supposed to protect you!”
Twilight turned back towards the portal, pushing out a magic circle around her. “Then you need to leave. I won’t be able to focus and cast the spell, knowing that you’ll die too.”
Rainbow zoomed around her to look her in the eyes. “No! No way, I can’t—”
“Captain Rainbow Dash!” she barked, staring her right in the eyes. “That is an order!”
The Pegasus winced and wilted like she been hit, a desperate look in her eyes. “Twilight, I–”
Twilight put a hoof on Rainbow’s shoulder. “Dash… My friend… It’s been an honor.” She gave her a small smile. “Now go, and tell Celestia what happened.”
Even if Twilight had never seen sadness before, she would have recognized it right there, in her friend’s face, as she nodded and took off.
Twilight turned her attention back to the spell, weaving it and inscribing the symbols into her circles.
“We aren’t going to make it, are we?” Aurora asked, this time sounding like she was sitting right beside her.
“No, we aren’t.” Twilight closed her eyes, visions of cities and duchies floating through her mind. Manehattan. The Bittish Isles. Marelaysia. Roan. Prance. The Hinterlands. Even Shanghay… Some of them she’d been to, some of them she hadn’t, but all of them could be washed away from the coming tsunami if she didn’t act.
She leaned down, pointing her horn at the voice, and pulled on her wellspring even more. Pain and lightning ripped through her forehead, threatening to buckle her knees.
“You’re overdrawing! If you keep this up, your horn will—”
“Not like it matters now. The smaller that portal is, the smaller the explosion, and the fewer ponies die, so I’m not holding back.”
Another jolt of pain seared through her head along with a cracking sound. Her gaze snapped to her side, finding one of the rings of her circles cracking under the strain.
“We’re losing it! Seal the leak or we’ll die before we can—”
“I know! I know!” Twilight halted her spell mid-cast and shot energy into the ring to stabilize it, only for four more cracks to appear elsewhere.
“If you’ve got any bright ideas, Aurora, now’s the time!” Twilight yelled out, only barely able to keep the ring from breaking apart and detonating then and there.
“Let the energy out into a new spell! Just like Mipaka is doing with the gems!”
Twilight’s mind rushed, symbols and formulae sparking in her mind like a fireworks show. “On it!” She reared up on her hind legs, a bright, white light taking over her whole body just for an instant. When it was gone, a new circle had formed, and she was shunting the old ring’s power into the new.
“We can’t just replace it! It’s too small! If we—”
“Way ahead of you!” Twilight shook her hips in a tiny dance and thrust out her forelegs to her sides, opening up a new, three-dimensional magic circle: a magic sphere. “Here we go!” Power flowed from one state to another as the newest circles expanded and multiplied, storing and spinning the energies in time with Twilight’s thoughts despite the pain rocketing through her head and horn.
Rainbow. Spike. AJ. Fluttershy. Rarity. Pinkie. I’m going to miss you guys… More pain tore at her horn as she finished the spell itself, yet continued to pour on more power to back it up, more than she had ever used before. Her initial surge from her entrance exam was a trickle compared to this. Although this time there aren’t any ponies to turn into potted plants… Heh. A small smile escaped her lips as the image of her parents ran through her mind.
“Spell complete, ready to fire any time… Hey, Twilight?”
Twilight could feel Aurora’s presence, this time next to her instead of in her mind. She even felt the poke of a small, purple hoof. “Yes, Aurora?”
“If we’re not going to make it, I’m glad we could become friends. I think I even thought of a name for our new spell…”
Twilight nodded. “So did I. Not that we need to do it, but… Want to say it together?”
“Yeah. I’d like that.” Aurora jumped at her, merging into Twilight’s form as the armor deployed around her. “Ready?”
“Ready!” Twilight tilted back her head and adjusted the angle of the circle as she drew in a deep breath, watching as the portal creeped towards the volcano, then slammed her forehooves into the cloud as the spell finally fired.
“Una Salus Victis!”
Both of their voices cried out to the universe itself, though they were nothing compared to what came next. Magenta light, as bright as a sun, burst forth in a jagged ray, zig-zagging through the air and turning the sky, clouds, and even the ocean a purple hue. As the leading edge impacted, thunder rumbled the seas and cracked the land. The magic circles above the portal slowed as the beam approached, grinding to a halt as it passed not into the vortex, but into the spell of the portal itself.
The circles cracked like glass.
“Yes!” Twilight yelled out and danced, the spirit of Aurora dancing with her. The jubilation halted but a second later, and Twilight smiled and braced for the inevitable, not even bothering to wipe the blood spilling from her cracked horn.
Sorry I couldn’t make it to the summits, Tia. She closed her eyes, seeing all of her friends in front of her as more and more gathered in her mind. Mom. Dad. Princess Celestia. Luna. Aurora. Cadence… Heh, sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake…
Brother… Shining… She could practically feel his hoof noogie her like he always did, messing up her mane but always giving her a hug afterwards. I’m sorry…
“Twily…” her vision talked back to her in her mind. “Twily, it’s okay…
“…You aren't finished yet.”
Everything faded away, then she snapped her eyes open wide.
“Shining!” Twilight lit her horn again, this time falling to the cloud in pain as more blood spilled onto her face.
“What are you doing!?”
“We aren’t dead yet! There’s a small chance…” She strained against the cloud, pushing herself back up and clenching her eyes shut to keep the blood out of them. She summoned yet more magic as her horn cracked again, unable to take the strain.
“Don’t!” Aurora pleaded, flailing her forelegs about in Twilight’s mind. “You’ll overextend your wellspring!”
Better that than…
The circles over the vortex crumbled like broken glass, falling to the ground for but a second before the portal overwhelmed it with light brighter than the sun itself.
Twilight finished the spell and pushed it out in front of her, forming a sphere around her body as heat from the blast passed right through it. The smell of smoking and burning hair and skin filled her nose as she turned her face away and fell to the cloud, writhing around it.
Time became an illusion. She didn’t know how long she lay there in agony, but it didn’t stop until something hit her. Something massive. Something so much larger and faster than anything she’d experienced before. It wasn’t until she knew she had been falling for a long time that she’d realized…
… she’d been screaming the entire time.
How long was impossible to say. She didn’t even know when she’d stopped falling.
“Shiny? No… Rainbow?”
She cracked open her eyes.
Before her, an unknown multitude of kilometers away, was a mushroom cloud growing into the mesosphere, looming so large it looked like it could swallow a sunset whole. Red, yellow, and gray dominated the sky as the base of the cloud was on fire.
“Twilight! Hang on!”
Small dots appeared on the horizon, expanding until she saw they had wings. Large ones. Then, they all scattered, yellow-colored bolts flying through the air with multi-hued lightning.
The image blurred, shook, and twisted as a rumble came from behind her.
“Don’t worry, Dash.” Twilight smiled, the taste of charred skin and blood on her lips as her heartbeat weakened. “We did it… we saved Equestria… one last time…”
She let her breath go, and the darkness came.