Chapter Thirty-Eight - A New Path
Tuchanka Wastes, Tuchanka, Aralakh System
April 22, 2183 CE
Tomkahs, as it turned out, were not built for use by anyone other than Krogans.
This had quickly become apparent to everypony in the Tomkah the moment that they’d set out from the Urdnot encampment. In the driver's seat, Twilight was on the verge of a panic attack, breathing heavily and trying not to fall completely apart as she desperately tried to keep control of the massive and unwieldy vehicle. Gilda was next to her, in the exact same boat as Twilight.
“Sweet Celestia!” Rarity spoke up from the back of the Tomkah, her hair becoming more and more dishevelled with every jolt and jostle. “What the ever loving fuck are you two doing up there?”
Normally, a Tomkah would be uncomfortable for seven beings, considering the fact that it was really only built for four Krogan, but for seven ponies, it was almost palatial. Despite that, none of the rest of them were having a particularly pleasant time. Further exasperating that was that the krogan had only thrown them the keys to the Tomkah and a set of coordinates to Fluttershy's last known location before plodding off, mumbling something about what a shame it was to lose a perfectly good vehicle to the maws. With no other choice, Twilight had been forced to drive it herself.
With her magic.
Even though she was Celestia's prized student, Twilight had never shown any particular inclination towards driving, flying, or any other type of activity that involved operating a vehicle that weighed more than her entire family combined ten times over.
That wasn’t to say that she wasn't particularly skilled at driving. She certainly enjoyed taking leisurely trips around Canterlot in one of Princess Celestia’s many private skycars, but that wasn’t at all like what she was going through now. If Celestia’s skycars were like a purring kitten, then the Tomkah was like an angry, rampaging manticore. That she was doing it in a vehicle that wasn't at all designed for use by ponies, much less any other being who didn't weigh at least eight-hundred pounds and stand at least seven feet tall just made that worse.
“Language, Rarity.” Applejack rebuked the unicorn. “I thought you were a lady.”
“I might be a lady,” Rarity responded, the repulsion of her current situation dripping from every word, “but even I have my limits.”
“Well keep your limits to yourself.” Applejack mumbled under her breath, though not quietly enough to keep everypony from hearing her.
“I will do whatever I wish, when I wish.” With a harumph, Rarity crossed her forelegs, looking down her nose at Applejack. “You have no control over me.”
Fighting against her ill-fitting seat-belt and swinging her forehooves, Applejack tried to get at Rarity, only to be held back by Big Mac embarrassingly effortlessly with one foreleg.
Seeing as no one else was willing to say anything, Gilda twisted around in her seat and shouted through the open doorway, “All of you shut up. This is tough enough without having to hear you arguing the entire way there.”
Pinkie didn’t seem bothered by the jerking and swaying of the Tomkah, and if she was, she didn’t say anything one way or the other. Maud was just as silent, though for different reasons than her younger sister. She kept a careful eye on everypony.
“Want me to shut the door?” Gilda sat back in her seat, looking over at Twilight, whose teeth were gritted nervously.
Twilight glanced at Gilda “I don't--”
She was interrupted as the Tomkah went roaring over a rather impressive hill, getting more air than such a heavy duty vehicle should ever be able to do. All the ponies and the single griffin were jostled violently around like sardines in a tin can. They had all put on their seatbelts at the start of the journey, but even jury rigging the straps themselves, it was little better than if they had just tied themselves in with twine and happy thoughts.
“Ow.” Twilight muttered dryly, rubbing her head from where she had struck the back of the driver's seat which had long ago been peeled clear of all padding. Thankfully, she had managed to keep her magic ignited and stayed in control of the rather impractical vehicle.
“You have a gift for understatement and verbosity,” Gilda said, rubbing her own bruises from their little jump.
“Verbosity?” Despite the situation, Twilight gave Gilda a wry grin. “Have you been reading a dictionary lately?”
Twilight blinked at that, completely surprised. “Oh…” Twilight supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. Gilda was doing everything in her power to try and reclaim what the Batarians had stolen from her, and that included all the schooling she had missed. It turned out the griffin was an incredibly quick study when she put her mind to it. “Well, it's rubbing off on you.”
“Thanks,” Gilda murmured shyly.
Everypony in the Tomakah fell silent. That had happened more than a few times over the past few hours since they had left the Urdnot camp, and though Twilight knew scientifically why such lulls in conversation occurred, that didn’t make them any less uncomfortable. They still had a ways to go, and many, many hours ahead of them.
“Guess that this is the end of it being so easy,” Gilda said after several minutes, as they passed by the twisted, rusted remains of what once might have been a skyscraper.
“Easy?” Twilight raised an eyebrow at Gilda incredulously. “What do you think has been happening so far?”
Gilda shrugged, thinking. “Everywhere we've gone, the pony we've been looking for has ended up stumbling across our path, and we've gotten in and out with only one major incident.” Gilda gestured meaningfully at the wastes out the window, as if the landscape itself was whispering the future.
Maybe it was.
There were a lot of stories of ghosts on Tuchanka, the remnants of a long dead society. Billions of Krogan had died in the waves upon waves of nuclear devastation that they had unleashed upon themselves. “It's going to be different this time.”
Twilight pondered over that for a moment, before finally asking, “How do you know that?”
“Just a feeling.” Gilda couldn’t explain it any further than that, but her feelings had never led her wrong before.
Twilight didn’t have an answer, but what Gilda had said never left her mind. It rolled around and around and around and she wondered just what might be in store for them.
Tuchanka was definitely not the planet you wanted to be on when things decided to stop being easy.
The wind swept deserts of Tuchanka had reclaimed all that civilization had once taken as its own. There were rumors among the Krogan that those who wandered into the sands could sometimes hear voices, distant and chilling, calling their names, speaking to them of memories of the distant past and visions of realities that had not yet happened.
The deserts they were driving through were the remnants of one of Tuchanka's greatest cities. Only the great stone remnants remain, massive statues of long forgotten Krogan half buried in the dirt, laying wherever they toppled thousands of years ago, forgotten by time.
They'd been driving for hours, and there was absolutely no guarantee that once they reached their destination they'd find any sign of Fluttershy. Who knows how long they'd be gone, or how long it would take. What dangers would they face out in the wastes?
Tuchanka was a rarity among home worlds for Citadel races. Other than the Vorcha, only the Krogan were near the bottom of their planet's food chain. Despite that (and unlike the Vorcha) they had clawed their way to civilization and had matched the more 'respectable' races feats, until they finally nuked themselves back to the Stone Age.
Without the intervention of the Salarian Union uplifting the Krogan centuries beyond where they had been before their nuclear devastation, it was likely they would have only needed a few generations to return to their former glory. The Krogan worked fast, and even with the crippling creation of the genophage, they easily cemented their place in the galaxy as the most fearsome warriors that money could buy.
It was only now, staring out at the vast deserts of Tuchanka that Twilight realized how easy she had had things (she refused to acknowledge what had transpired on Thessia, shoving it as far back in her mind as possible). A planet was a big place, bigger than most ever realized. It was only thanks to technology that someone could shrink the world metaphorically, talking with friends, family, and anyone else across thousands of miles.
In truth, once you were no longer able to communicate, you may as well have been in another solar system. Communication had shrunk the worlds, but it was something Tuchanka had lost. Their satellites were completely wiped out in the first salvos, and the Turians made sure that they never reclaimed their capabilities. A united Krogan race could accomplish things together that no one else could, which mostly amounted to destroying anything they turned their violent urges to.
It took a dedicated effort by both the Turians and the Salarians to ever keep that from happening. The Krogan Rebellions had ended conclusively with the release of the genophage on the entire population of Tuchanka, and ever since then, the orbiting stations kept the planet in check. Very little left the system, and even less came in. Twilight heavily suspected that the Turians in orbit were keeping Tuchanka in a state of needing constant aid as part of an ongoing effort to prevent the Krogan from rising again.
Considering just how difficult life was on Tuchanka, it was anyones guess just how long it would take to find Fluttershy, much less whether they’d be able to find her at all (or more distressingly, whether there'd be anything left to find at all).
Twilight tried not to think about that. She couldn’t think of anything less pleasant than having to spend months on Tuchanka, scouring the surface of the planet to find a single pegasus. She didn’t know if she even had the energy, much less the will, to undertake such a task. Not anymore, not after Thessia.
They drove on and on, the miles disappearing just like the hours did, and the planet kept on spinning. As night grew ever closer, Twilight and Gilda actively began to look for someplace they could hunker down, safe from Tuchanka's more terrifying predators, poring over the outdated maps that the Tomkah had in its data banks. They were only halfway to their destination, and the rumbled warning from the Krogan who had given them the Tomkah rang in their heads. Don't get stuck without shelter when night falls. You really didn’t want out be out in the open during a Tuchanka night. The creatures that stalked during the day were bad enough, but they were nothing to those who came out at night.
“I think I found something,” Gilda said. She had been the one the in charge of searching through the maps, mostly because they both quickly discovered that Twilight absolutely couldn’t multitask, at least not when driving.
“What is it?” Twilight asked, partly thankful that they found somewhere to hide, and also curious about what lost remnants of Krogan history she might get to see with her own two eyes.
“Dunno.” Gilda shrugged with the remains of her wings. “Looks like some sort of ruins. There's nothing else around for a hundred miles. It's going to have to do.”
“Aren’t they all ruins though?” Twilight shot a grin at Gilda before leaning back so the ponies in the rear of the Tomkah could hear her. “We're stopping for the night. We don't know what condition the place will be in when we arrive, but we don't have a choice.
Following Gilda’s directions (they only had to backtrack a few times) they made it to what turned out to a be a pyramid half buried in the ever shifting sands. A monument of metal and stone in its heyday, it was now decaying back into the landscape that raged around it. Twilight gave it perhaps a thousand years before it was nothing more than a few scattered stones buried in the sands. That was if it was allowed to properly decay, and no Krogan ever got into a firefight around it. Those usually involved rather impressive amounts of explosions after all.
No matter it's crumbling state, the pyramid was still an awe inspiring sight. The Krogan built things big, and even buried, the pyramid towered over the Tomkah by nearly one-thousand meters.
Twilight pulled the Tomkah to a stop as close as possible to a cracked and pitted set of stairs leading to a dark hole in the side of the pyramid that was the closest thing to an entrance that she could see. Hitting the release, the hatch on the side slid open, and Twilight and the rest of the ponies vacated the truck and rushed into the temple as quickly as possible, the sun sending the last few minutes of light across the ever darkening landscape.
Coming through the entrance, they made their way as far into the room as they possibly could, away from the dangers lurking outside. Rarity though, paused in the doorway, grimacing and struggling over whether she would rather to face the horrors outside, or the wreckage (and more importantly the dust) of the temple.
“For cryin' out loud, Rarity, get inside!” Applejack shouted at her, noticing that she wasn’t following after her.
It was a worryingly close choice.
With a huff and a disdainful glare at her surroundings, Rarity gingerly entered the temple with the rest of them, standing on the tips of her hooves. With that whole matter resolved, they spread out to explore their new surroundings.
Unlike what the current state of their surroundings would suggest, what remained of the temple was beautifully decorated, or at least it once was. All that remained now was the architecture, which even to the untrained eye screamed the fact that it was built by a master, and the murals and carvings that covered the walls, proof that Krogan once had artists to match any in Citadel space.
Twilight couldn’t help but drop back on her haunches, staring at the interior of the temple in awe. The light was rapidly fading, and the interior of the temple was dwindling. Twitching the frog of her foot, Twilight hit the sensitive series of controls in her boot that activated the lamps on her helmet. None of them were expecting what happened next.
The second the light passed over the ceiling, they were immediately blinded by dancing rays of light shimmering out from the largest gemstone that any of them had ever seen, still hanging from great, filigreed chains even after thousands of years.
“Whoah…” Applejack murmured, astounded.
“Eyup.” Big Mac agreed, eyes wide.
Maud eyed the stone with appreciative eyes, though no hint of greed or possible monetary gain even crossed her mind. She studied it with the appreciation of someone who had a deep understanding of geology and mineralogy.
At that moment, Rarity was certainly grateful she didn't decide to stay in the Tomkah. Unlike Maud, she was definitely wondering what it would take to bring the gemstone with them when they left. Luckily for everypony, there was absolutely no way they could move that thing without a heavy duty crane and a specialized heavy-lifting ship to transport the thing. That wasn't even mentioning the fact that robbing the heritage of one of the most downtrodden races in the entire galaxy was wrong on so, so many levels.
Sweetie Belle would be quick to tell whoever asked (or sometimes just sent strange looks Rarity's way) that her sister sometimes let her avarice get the better of her. The filly had taken it upon herself to smooth any ruffled feathers her older sister caused. It wasn’t something that any young filly should have to do, but the universe wasn’t always fair.
Twilight didn't have any eyes for the gemstone beyond momentary appreciation. As Gilda and Big Mac set up the floodlights and portable heating system from the tomkah, Twilight stared at the massive mural that took up the far wall of the temple entrance. Stylized krogans, wearing bright clothes, lined the ground surrounding what must have been this very pyramid just after it was built. It stood even taller in the mural than it did now, suggesting that more than two thirds of it was buried underground. The krogan were kneeling before it, and the largest Thresher Maw that Twilight had ever seen, towering over even the pyramid.
It belonged in a museum, next to other legendary works, not rotting away in a nuclear wasteland. It was a travesty. It was very likely that it was worth more than the gemstone.
Gilda’s voice broke her from her revery, and she blinked, realizing her eyes were stinging, fading back into reality. She turned back to see Gilda looking at her curiously.
“What?” Twilight blushed.
“You were in your own little Twilight world.” Gilda came over and sat next to her marefriend, looking at the mural, though she didn’t see it with the same appreciative eyes that Twilight did.
“Nah.” Gilda shrugged it off. “It's fine. I just wanted to let you know we've got dinner ready.”
“Already? But we just…” Twilight looked back, and sure enough, the rest of their little group was sitting around the little, but surprisingly effective heater/camping stove, ready to dig into a wonderfully delicious, nutritious meal of... Twilight wasn't sure what it was, but it barely smelled palatable. Her muzzle wrinkled in badly hidden disgust.
“You've been staring at the wall for almost thirty minutes.” Gilda only sounded slightly amused. Very little about Twilight could surprise her anymore. “You okay?”
Twilight checked her omni-tool, and sure enough, thirty minutes had passed. She blinked at how much time had gotten away from her. It only felt like a minute. “Right, yes, of course.”
Twilight trailed behind Gilda to join the rest of them for dinner, but she couldn't get her mind off of the mural, looking back at it even as she sat down next to Rarity. Something about it called to her.
After the meal, which had been eaten in uncomfortable and nervous silence, with many, many glances at the entrance. After they finished eating and stowing away their gear, the ponies tentatively settled in for a long night, setting up a rotating watch to warn the others in case a curious predator stumbled into the entrance of the pyramid. In almost no time at all, Twilight was slipping away into a dreamless slumber.
A soft sound, like the ringing of bells in a soft afternoon breeze, woke Twilight. Even as she took a moment to bring herself to full awareness, she felt strange, full of energy, and lacking the typical tiredness that usually lingered until she had her first cup of coffee. Sitting up, she saw it was still dark outside, and a quick look at her omni-tool confirmed that it was just after Tuchanka's midnight. Pinkie was on watch, and Maud was up with her. They sat next to each other, though neither said a word.
Standing, Twilight stretched, shivering as she popped the kinks out of her back and neck, followed by shaking out her mane.
Before Twilight could move to join Pinkie and Maud, the ringing of bells again drifted past her ears again. The sound seemed to be coming from deeper in the temple, but looking at Pinkie and Maud, they gave no sign that they had heard it. Neither of them so much as turned their attention to her, and for all Twilight knew, they didn't even know she was awake.
The ringing called to Twilight, and before she knew it, she found herself following the ringing through the doorway set in the mural she had admired earlier. Within moments, the warm light of the small camp disappeared, replaced by inky black shadows and true darkness of the inner pyramid.
With her helmet back in the entrance of the temple, Twilight instead lit the way using her magic, casting a dancing purple glow all around her. Though she had no idea where she was going, the sound drew her ever onwards, and she never once faltered or doubted what was happening.
This was supposed to happen. The moment struck a chord in the very fabric of reality and destiny, a harmony of everything falling rightly into place.
The bells tugged at her emotions, and she found herself wandering into a large room, so cavernous that her light didn't even reach the walls opposite to the entrance, much less the ceiling ceiling. She paused when she felt the texture of the floor change, from time worn stone to an almost unnatural smoothness. Looking down, she found the floor to be polished to a shine, and though she was sweating ever so slightly from just how hot Tuchanka was, she didn't so much as marr the surface with her perspiration nor the dust that covered her armor.
The floor was a deep, deep aquamarine, dotted with flecks of gold, and without enough light, there was no way for her to know just how far it stretched out, though she had a feeling it reached out to every wall.
Stepping forward more cautiously than before, not wanting to chip the floor with her armor, the ringing bells silenced themselves, leaving her in a stillness that she could feel all the way to her bones. Only the sound of her breathing broke the peace.
Her light glinted off something that broke the smoothness of the floor, and upon investigation, Twilight found it to be the start of a spectacular statue that flowed up from the floor. The detail was so fine and perfect, that if she didn't know better, she would have sworn it was real.
The statue, six aliens of a species that Twilight didn't recognize, bipedal and regal in segmented, thick armor, stood in a circle with their hands upraised in celebration or defiance, she didn't know which. Around each of their necks, a shining jewel hung from an ornate necklace, each a different color,
With a strain of effort, Twilight pushed her light spell the furthest that she ever had, and though it pushed her to the limits, she managed to illuminate the entire room. The walls were blank, but when she looked up at the ceiling, what she saw made her step back in shock.
Inlayed into the ceiling and eerily familiar in their construction, six planets were arranged in a circle directly above each of the aliens, and in the center... Twilight didn't fully understand what she was seeing. She felt a crushing, inky terror pressing in at her mind when she looked at it. The image was almost hard to wrap her mind around, as if it was representing an entire concept in two-dimensions. Black, it's image gave the impression that it was massive. All angular planes and harsh lines, eight legs stretched out from the bottom, with six green eyes made of what Twilight could only assume were emeralds near the lower third of its 'body.' Deep in the very fiber of her being, Twilight knew that she was looking at one of the most dangerous beings in the galaxy, and it chilled her to her very core.
This was it. This was Twilight's next step, she knew that without a shadow of a doubt. This was another another map, just like the one she found in the castle, and it was the next step in her journey. Six new planets. That had to be where the Elements were. It had to be. She knew that the Elements weren’t the jewels hanging around the necks of the aliens, though she wished it was otherwise. She didn't recognize any of the planets, but that was just a chance for a research project! They weren't any of the core worlds that she knew of.
Stepping forward, Twilight reached out to touch one of the jewels, only for a spark of electricity to jump from it and slam into her horn. She was blown across the room, her eyes going white as she fell into a vision.
Septira sat next to Cana, leaning against her broad shoulder, taking deep, steady breaths. She felt tired. It wasn’t just a physical thing. She was tired to her very core, but she knew she only needed to endure for a little longer. The end was coming, and none of them were long for the universe.
Next to them, Yoske rubbed his fingers over his family crest. He was the last of his entire line alive, and he knew that. How do you even respond to the fact that everyone you've ever known, ever met, ever seen in a passing glance, on vids, or in person, was most likely dead. The Empire had never known death tolls in near totality. They had never lost a war, and they had never even dreamed of a war that could bring them to their knees.
The Prothean Empire was nearing extinction, and there was nothing that could stop their fate.
The only thing they could do was make a final show of resistance. An act of defiance against an unstoppable force might be useless, but the Prothean Empire wouldn't die with a whimper. They would go out, standing tall, the last of the Empire in this small valley on the last planet on the very edges of Prothean space.
What little remained of the Imperial military was camped around them, all efforts to hide left by the wayside. It didn't matter. They knew they were coming, and no amount of camouflage or technology would help. The remaining Protheans numbered in the hundreds, not even enough to form a single legion.
The rest of the galaxy had gone dark, and for what little they knew, they were the last.
They would represent the Empire to the best of their abilities.
As the last member of the highest ranking family of the Empire in their small group, Yoske was by default the last Emperor. His family had been very low in the lines of succession, and when he had been informed by Admirals now dead, he had been shocked to his very core. It was not a weight he had ever wanted or even dreamed of.
The other Artifact Bearers stayed close by. They might not have been talking, but they drew their comfort from one another's presence all the same.
The sound of a blaring horn in the distance signaled the end of the peace. They were coming. It was only a matter of time now. For all their years of running and fighting, it would end here.
It felt... right, sad though they may have all been. They were all ready for it to be over, to pass into the greater realm of forever sleep with their ancestors and friends and family, who surely must be awaiting them.
With a heavy sigh, Yoske pushed himself to his feet, his battered armor somehow still managing to gleam majestically in the violet light of the setting sun. He looked every inch the Emperor he never wished to be. Looking over the rest of the Artifact Bearers, meeting every one of their eyes, he gave a last smile.
“I couldn't have chosen a better group of friends... family. You're my family, and I'm glad you're by my side.” Touching the jewel hanging from his neck, he smiled. “What do you say? One last time? Let us show them why we are to be remembered, why we will be remembered through the ages.”
The rest of the Artifact Bearers stood, gathering around Yoske for one final hug.
When they stepped away from each other, they all had tears in their eyes, whether they that was two or four.
“Let's go.” With nothing else to say, Yoske turned and started his final journey.
Together, the last army of the Protheans marched forward, towards their destiny and inevitability.
It took less than an hour until they could see the towering black forms in the distance, waiting for them, not so much as moving. They could have been statues from an ancient, extinct race, with an eldritch aura that leached out across the entire land. Below them, their thralls stood, practically invisible next to their towering masters.
The Artifact Bearers stood together at the front of their band of soldiers. They were as close to each other as they possibly could be, but they stood unbowed in the face of the terrible might of the machines before them.
The largest of the horrors stood directly opposite them, towering so far above the landscape that it pierced the clouds, casting an ever elongating shadow across the land. Though it held no eyes any of them could see, the small band could feel its gaze upon them, malevolent to the extreme.
The greatest of their enemy. The leader of the fleets from out of dark space.
It was rage manifest, and they could feel its presence even with miles separating them, a weight pushing them down.
Turning away from Apollyon, Yoske looked at the rest of the Artifact Bearers. He smiled grimly when he notices just how desperately Cana and Septira were hanging onto each other. “I love all of you. I’m honored to have spent the best years of my life with you.”
Though they didn't respond, it was clear that they loved him just as much.
“Are you ready?” He asked, and he received unhesitating nods from all of them.
All six of them stepped forward as one, linking hands.
Apollyon blared its horn, taking an earth shaking step towards them. The rest of the machines followed its lead, and began to advance on the last of the Prothean Empire.
The Artifact Bearers closed their eyes, ignoring the looming danger, taking one last moment of peace.
Yoske opened his eyes first, and they were glowing a brilliant white. The rest of the Bearers opened their eyes, glowing just as brilliant as his. As one, they were lifted off the ground by an energy that they couldn't even begin to fathom the origin of, and as one being, they focused their gaze on Apollyon.
They would all perish today, but the leader of the machines would suffer as greatly as their empire had.
With a great extinguishing of breath, all life left the Artifact Bearers as a singularly powerful beam of whatever power the Artifacts drew their energy from leapt forward, striking Apollyon directly in the middle of its great, mechanical body. It was blown over, and as it crashed to the ground among the ruins of a crumbling Prothean city, it let loose a single tortured roar that seemed to echo through all of eternity.
With the falling of the Artifact Bearers, the sun set on the Prothean Empire for the final time.
Maud had stayed awake long past her watch, keeping a careful watch over her sister and the ponies that they had fallen into with. In her work for her father, she was well used to sleeping very, very little, for long periods of time. On a world like Tuchanka, were anything could threaten Pinkie's life, Maud knew she must always be on alert. Whether or not Pinkie liked her was irrelevant to her self chosen task. She loved her little sister, and she’d promised their father.
The rest of the camp was still asleep, though she turned her attention to Big Mac as he started to wake up. She idly recognized just what a specimen of Equestrian masculinity he was, with a broad barrel, and thick, muscular legs. She imagined that he could even move a mountain if he put his mind to it.
Standing, Big Mac noticed her attention. He looked at her, unashamed at her piercing gaze and in fact, staring right back.
Coming to a decision, he walked over and joined her, sitting down next to her.
Neither of them spoke for the longest time, simply enjoying each others company, and the stillness of the night.
“You're up early.” Maud finally said, feeling oddly comfortable in the large stallion’s presence.
“Eyup,” Big Mac drawled in agreement.
They lapsed back into silence. Big Mac stared towards the entrance, looking at what little he could see outside.
“You're a farmer?” Maud asked. It was one of the few professions on Equestria that could build a pony’s muscles like his.
“Eyup,” Big Mac confirmed, turning to look at her appreciatively.
They both stopped their conversation (if it could be indeed called that) when Gilda stirred, waking and stretching like a cat. She smacked her beak, her mouth dry as she blearily looked around the room.
As she tried to wake up, something niggled at the back of her mind. Something was missing. She couldn't put a claw on it, and she puzzled over it for a moment before realizing that it was Twilight. She was nowhere to be seen.
“Typical.” Gilda muttered, letting out a huff of air, not surprised at all that her mare friend had wandered off on her own, but disappointed all the same.
Though she didn’t mean too, she spoke loud enough to rouse the others from their sleep, and the entire camp was awake soon enough.
“Is it time to go?” Applejack drawled, rubbing sleep from her eyes with her hoof.
Applejack pulled her hat down tight on her mane, the most awake out of the group. Being an early riser and a farmer would do that to you.
“No.” Gilda said, disappointed and resigned. “Twilight is missing.”
Each of them more awake as every moment passed, they all looked around, and sure enough, Twilight was nowhere to be seen.
“She wouldn't have gone outside, so that only means she went further in.” Applejack said, puzzling the situation out.
They all looked towards the doorway leading deeper into the temple. None of them were particularly looking forward to heading deeper into the dark and unexplored ruins.
“You can be a real egghead sometimes, Twi,” Gilda muttered to herself, huffing and blowing her feathers out of her eyes.
“Come on, y’all.” Applejack took charge of the group. “The sooner we find Twi, the sooner we can get outta here.”
Bunched together and in various states of nervous, they headed into the temple together.
With a groan and a splitting headache, Twilight began to wake up, stretching out her hooves into the air and grumbling from her position on the floor. It took her a few minutes to get her bearings, and once she did, she pushed herself up, wincing at the crick in her neck.
She turned, looking at the statues after igniting her magic once again and lighting the area. She recognized the jewels around the necks of the aliens (protheans she now realized and now that she looked closer, she realized one of them was an asari). Stepping forward, she reached out to touch one of the gems, only to stop when she heard something behind her.
“Darling!” Rarity shouted out, startling Twilight into tumbling backwards over her hindlegs. “What are you doing just wandering off all on your own? You gave all of us such a fright.”
“Uh…” Gilda was completely unconcerned with Twilight’s little tumble, instead looking at Rarity with a raised eyebrow. She pointed a claw at the unicorn. “What Rarity said.”
“Eyup.” Big Mac agreed, looking at the statues curiously.
“What?” Twilight struggled to figure out what was happening.
Gilda circled Twilight as she got back to her hooves, looking her over for any sign of injury. When she didn't find any, she gave her a quick nuzzle, whispering to her. “You worried me. All of us. I just woke up and you were gone.”
“Sorry.” Twilight blushed, ducking her head.
“What made ya’ wander off anyway?” Applejack asked, stepping further into the room.
“I don’t know…” Twilight glanced back at the statue, and the others followed her gaze, noticing it for the first time. “I heard something, and it... it led me here.”
“You followed a noise?” Seriously. Gilda couldn’t get surprised by Twilight anymore.
“I…” Twilight shrugged, watching as the others wandered past her, taking in every detail of the statue. “Yes.”
“Oh my,” Rarity drawled appreciatively, her eyes on the jewels. “Oh my, these jewels are just exquisite.”
She tried to use her magic to try and pluck one from its mounting, but it solidly refused to budge. With a grunt of frustration, she yanked harder, and after a strained moment, the jewel cracked in two. It was definitely not an element of harmony, but the clanking and whirring that starts suddenly under the floor indicated that it was more than just a jewel.
“Uh, what's that?” Applejack looked far more suspiciously at the floor.
The entire room started to shake as something incredibly heavy rushed down the height of the pyramid and slammed into the ground with enough force to shake them down to their bones.
Everything fell silent.
A moment passed.
“This is why you don’t touch things, Rarity.” Applejack glared at the unicorn, walking forward to give her a talking, but the temple itself started to shake, different than the first time.
Something niggled at the back of Twilight's mind, and she tried to remember something she read once. It hit her just as something massive struck the pyramid from underground, throwing them all to the floor.
“It's a maw hammer!” Twilight shouted. She scrambled up, pulling everyone to their hooves with their magic. “We need to get to the Tomkah! Now! It's gonna bring this whole building down on us.”
They all scrambled for traction and ran for their lives as something started to tear into the pyramid from underground.
Getting out of the pyramid proved much easier than their meandering journey to the map room. They slid about as the stones beneath their feet shifted and churned, and each of them wondered if this was going to be the end, but before they knew it, they were at their camp.
They tumbled out of the temple, leaping into the Tomkah as quickly as possible. Twilight started driving almost before Big Mac clambered fully inside. They would all later think back and realize just how close they had come to death. It's remarkable none of them ended up tripping over each other, because they were in an absolute panic.
Twilight powered up the Tomkah, and slammed down the throttle. With a roar, the Tomkah took off like a shot.
She was just in time too, as the absolute biggest thresher maw in the galaxy erupted from the ground, smashing through the weakened pyramid like it wasn't even there.
“Holy fuck! Drive! DRIVE!” Gilda was in an absolute panic as she watched the rear view monitors.
“What do you think I'm doing?!” Twilight’s voice cracked, but she was too afraid to even notice.
Tomkahs might be built to survive in any environment, but they weren't the most maneuverable vehicle you could drive. It took all of Twilight’s concentration to keep them from spinning out or rolling over as she sped through the twisted and rusted remnants of a forgotten Krogan city, the maw gaining on them by the second.
When an enraged Thresher Maw was on your trail, you quickly learned just what type of person you were beneath the masks you wore.
A quiet, constant part of Twilight’s mind was completely unconcerned with her quick approaching death, instead pondering over what was happening. She had read about Tuchanka as a little filly, and she had been absolutely fascinated by the myths and legends the Krogan had kept alive through a largely oral tradition. One of those legends made her pause.
Kalros, the mother of all Thresher maws. She had thought it was just a myth, but if she was, then what exactly was chasing them.
Twilight was elated that she had found direct proof of Kalros’ existence, but she was disappointed she'd never get to share her discovery with the scientific community.
The jewel Rarity had grabbed must have activated a Maw hammer built into the spine of the pyramid. Considering how big the pyramid was, it must have been built solely to call Kalros.
Wonderful. Rarity’s obsession with fashion was going to get them all killed.
Kalros dove into the ground directly behind the Tomkah, tunneling through rock and stone, moving through the earth with a speed that even the fastest of land vehicles would have difficulty matching. In moments, she had already overtaken the Tomkah, and she chose that moment to erupt back up through the earth.
The Tomkah crashed into Kalros, and Kalros won, sending the vehicle flying end over end, and it smashed into the ground, tumbling over and over again, until coming to a stop by slamming into an outcropping of rocks.
As the Tomkah settled, broken beyond repair, the ponies all groaned, trying to get their bearings.
They didn't have the time to just lay around, stunned. The ground was starting to shake directly beneath them.
Only half aware of what was going on, the training Shining Armor had given her after that night in the castle so long ago asserted itself, and Twilight gathered everyone up with her magic, blasting the front of the ruined Tomkah into complete non-existence. She ran for it.
Her quick action saved all of their lives. Just as they made it out, Kalros erupted from the ground and devoured the entire Tomkah in a single bite, the twisted and weakened metal giving away with only a single groan of protest.
Wisely, Twilight didn't stop running. Kalros was busy with the Tomkah for just a moment, and every second they could use to try and get away was another second they can try and come up with a plan to stay alive.
Kalros cracked the Tomkah into a million pieces with her powerful jaws before turning her attention back to Twilight and her friends, studying them with an ancient intelligence that had never quite reached full sapience.
Kalros raised her body up to an incredible height, towering nearly a thousand feet in the air, rearing up to devour them whole with a single dive back into the earth.
Twilight didn't look back, but she felt a shiver rush coldly down her spine. She knew it was the end, but she didn’t stop running. Instead, she closed her eyes, tried to gallop faster, and thought of home.
The cry shattered the violence, and everything within ear shot fell still, unable to resist the forceful command. Even Twilight froze, so surprised that she actually ended up tripping over her own hooves, sending herself and her friends in a tumbling mess on the ground. From her new vantage point, Twilight saw something that seemed to defy all explanation, which she wouldn’t forget even as time and age ravaged her body.
On a tall outcropping of rocks, Fluttershy stood tall and proud, glaring at Kalros so viciously that Twilight almost expected the mother of all Thresher Maws to implode on itself from the pegasus’ fury.
Almost like a whimpering puppy, Kalros lowered its head down until it was level with Fluttershy. From this distance, Twilight could see that Fluttershy was speaking to Kalros, but she couldn't make out what is being said.
“You going to keep staring and wait for Kalros to stop paying attention and finish you lot off?” The deep, gravelly voice from above surprised all of them. They found a tall Krogan in a rather soft looking outfit of silks and cotton standing over them, looking down at them with what could only be described as exasperated amusement.
“Excuse me?” Rarity drunkenly asked, her head spinning as she tried to focus on three krogan spinning around above her.
Concussions would do that to you.
“You better get moving before Kalros loses interest. Come on. We've got a safe place she can't get to.” The krogan turned and started plodding away, and after a moment of indecision, the ponies leapt to their feet and scrambled after the Krogan. They were bruised and limping, but they were alive.
Beyond that, they'd found Fluttershy.