• Published 12th Aug 2013
  • 13,697 Views, 217 Comments

Warring Dusk - AlphatheGriffin17



A happy day soon descends into a war between two peoples. Canterlot is under siege, the princesses are captured and Dusk must take up arms or watch his home fall.

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Fear, Anger, Hate, Suffering

They were almost upon them. Like a dark cloud, they were descending upon Canterlot once more, casting their shadows over every building. Even from here, Dusk could hear the collective buzzing of their wings like a swarm of angry hornets. Only he would go so far as to say these were far worse than any hornets.

But through all of the darkness the return of the changelings brought, Dusk could still see the light of their hope, their ultimate defence glowing brightly below and only growing brighter with every passing second.

It had started as a few flickering sparks from Shining's horn, but then Cadence had begun to add her strength to his. She embraced him, their horns connecting at the tips. From there, a swirling vortex of twinkling, violet energy whirled around their bodies. The longer they stayed connected, the more this vortex intensified, the magical energy gathering at a faster rate and the glow becoming brighter, surrounding their hooves with a small ring.

The changelings didn't seem to think anything of it, continuing to advance and beginning to burn green with their magic in preparation to charge.

It was getting close now, it had to be. He had to squint to keep watching, but he could see them actually begin to levitate off the ground from the sheer quantity of magic that was growing between them and continued to grow ever stronger, their manes billowing from the intensity of it. The guards around them had to back away and even a few changelings seemed to notice that something was wrong. They paused in mid-air, hesitating and even looking a little fearful.

But it was too late for them to escape it. Dusk could see them now, their bodies near consumed by the pure white light, the energy compressing back towards them. A second later, it burst out actually in the shape of a heart. Even their bodies had joined together to form the shape of one as their combined spell was cast.

The effect was immediate and spectacular. It passed right through the ponies standing beside them, but the instant the closest changeling touched it, he was pushed backwards by the magical wall that suddenly hit him, along with the rest of his compatriots. Dusk shut his eyes to shield them from the brightness, but he could glimpse the army scattering in all directions for miles, propelled far away from Canterlot.

It was actually rather hard to believe it when he opened his eyes. It was all over. They were all gone. Not a single changeling was left in the skies. The magical shield surrounded Canterlot once more, stronger than it ever had been. Cadence and Shining lowered gently to the ground, the energy gradually fading away while they gazed lovingly into each other's eyes. Ponies and diamond dogs were already beginning to poke out to see what had happened.

Only after the first cheer sounded, after everypony and everydog in Canterlot chorused along with it with hoof-stomping and howls did he finally let it sink in. Only after he'd turned to Twilight, caught her as she embraced and kissed him when they were both swept up in the moment did he actually begin to believe it.

They'd done it. They had won.

He was about to join in with the cheering, throw his hat up into the air like he'd seen in films, perhaps do some kind of celebratory display with his colours just to make it complete. He was ready to do all of this and more.

Until he noticed that pressure he felt before had grown stronger. He felt as if something were steadily pressing down all around him, but he couldn't say what from.

"You feel it too?" His reaction hadn't escaped Twilight. "I've been wondering what it is."

"Is it some kind of effect from the spell?"

"It doesn't seem likely. Apart from the obvious, we shouldn't be feeling any effects from the shield. Perhaps it might be more intense due to Cadence's..." She trailed off when her eyes turned elsewhere and focused. "What in the wide world of Equestria is that?"

Dusk followed her gaze and soon saw what she meant. In the vicinity of the Everfree Forest, a massive orb had appeared, floating eerily above the trees and, by the look of it, growing larger. Only unlike with the spell that had just been cast, he didn't feel any sort of good feelings about it. He didn't know what it was but...

They weren't the only ones to notice. A few others had stopped in their celebrating to look at it too. Most were puzzled by its appearance. Some looked scared, thinking this might be another changeling trick. Others were definitely suspicious of it and even a little curious by the sound of it. Some of the dogs were actually growling at it, their fangs bared in snarls.

However, all of these paled in comparison to Princess Celestia.

"No... no, no, no..." Her pupils were narrowed, her eyes wide with fear, her whole body tensed like a cornered animal. "Please no... this can't be..."

"Princess, what is it?" Twilight asked urgently. "What's wrong? What is that thing?"

"It just not possible," she murmured, apparently not having heard her student. "It just isn't possible... it can't, it can't..."

"Princess, please," Dusk prompted gently. "If you know what it is, tell us. We have to know."

"No, no..." She shook her head. "You don't know... you couldn't possibly..."

"Dusk, what is this?" Twilight was beginning to sound frightened. "What does she think it is?"

"I don't know," he answered, feeling a growing fear himself. He'd never seen her act like this. "Princess, listen to me. Please, answer us. What is that orb?"

Again, she didn't answer, too focused on whatever it was. Somehow, suddenly, her eyes narrowed even more.

Dusk noted that the pressure was growing thicker when he looked back at the orb. It appeared to be getting smaller now, shrinking rapidly in size. As it shrank, the air around them only seemed to grow heavier, pressing down on them all. He didn't know what it was, but he quickly glanced at Twilight. At almost the same time, they prepared their magic. Whatever was happening, they needed to be ready for it.

Until it vanished. Just like that, it was gone. At the same time, the air returned to normal. Like nothing had happened.

"Curious," Dusk remarked, ending his spell. "Very curious."

"I concur," replied Twilight. "Whatever it was, I don't think it was a natural phenomenon. It looked like magic but... not like any magic I've ever seen."

"Magical study still eludes us in some areas," he said. "I suppose we could look into it when we have the time, but right now-"

"It's not over." Celestia had snapped out of her trance and had crossed over to them, shielding them protectively with her wings. "Brace yourselves!"

Dusk was about to ask what she meant when he looked back out at it. Where the orb had been, there was a bright red glow that took its place. A second later, a bright burst of light that made him screw his eyes shut and look away. This was followed by-

BOOM!

Even with the barrier around Canterlot protecting them from the shockwave of the explosion, he could still feel tremors in the ground beneath him. The whole palace seemed to shake, as did every building nearby. Cries of shock and panic could be heard above it, ponies and dogs dashing about and diving for cover.

But as he retreated closer against the princess, reaching around for Twilight's hoof, it stopped. The explosion had ended. In Canterlot at least, apart from some shaken ponies, there didn't appear to be any damage. The barrier had done its work. Off in the distance though...

Dusk's eyes were transfixed on the immense pillar of black smoke that towered into the air where the explosion had occurred.

"Oh my gosh..." Twilight's expression could be seen as quite an understatement. "What in the name of... what was... what even...?!"

"I know," he murmured, gazing out at it. "I've never seen or heard of anything like that. That was... that was..."

"Powerful," she finally said. "I have no idea what caused that, how it happened or what it did but... it was very, very powerful."

"But what could do that?" he dared to ask. "What could even... do something like that?"

"I honestly don't know," she admitted. "Nothing should be able to generate that kind of power, nothing. That wasn't just magic that... that was something else. Something I wouldn't even want to try. It was... it was..."

"Wrong." The word just tumbled out of his mouth.

However, she nodded slowly. "Yes. Wrong." They stared at it for a few more seconds, though it felt like an eternity, before looking back at the Sun Princess. "You know what it was, don't you princess?"

But again, she didn't respond. She didn't move or speak. She didn't even seem to be breathing. She just stood there, staring off at the pillar of smoke. While shock and horror dominated her features, her eyes seemed to flash with any number of emotions Dusk couldn't even begin to decipher. She was both trying to accept and deny what she had seen.

She barely even looked around when her sister thundered onto the balcony with them.

"Tia, Dusk, Twilight, my friends!" Some relief broke out. "You are unharmed then. That is some comfort."

"And you too, Luna," he returned. "I take it you saw what happened?"

"I would not be surprised if any land for a thousand miles did not see or feel in some way what has just happened." She looked hurriedly at her sister. "Tia, what is going on? What manner of devilry have we just witnessed here?"

Still, she said nothing.

"Princess, please," begged Twilight. "We need to know what caused that explosion, but you have to tell us."

"You cannot simply retreat into yourself like this, Tia!" said Luna sternly. "I too, am shaken in more than one sense by that display, but we need your aid if we are to uncover its purpose."

"You're scared, princess, we understand that," pressed Dusk. "Just help us to understand why."

"Ugh, this isn't going to work," Luna said impatiently. "More drastic measures are called for, it seems."

Twilight looked confused. "What do you mean? What drastic measures?"

Luna's only answer was to draw a great deal of breath into her chest. Dusk knew what was coming and quickly shoved his hooves in his ears.

"CELESTIA!" she suddenly boomed. "YOUR SISTER DEMANDS THAT YOU RESPOND TO US, THIS INSTANT!"

Dusk removed his hooves from his ears and shook them to get rid of the ringing in them. At last, that seemed to provoke a reaction. She managed to tear her gaze away and look at her younger sister. Despite this, her focus didn't appear to be entirely on her.

"Yes, my sister?" Even her voice sounded rather distant.

"At last! Are you well, Tia?" she asked. "Very rarely have I ever seen you in such a state and even then, I am hard pressed to recall such a time."

"I'm... I'm fine," she replied distantly. "Just a little... shocked, I suppose."

"Yes, that was fairly evident," she noted. "But still, we must return our attention to the matter at hoof and a great one at that, it seems."

"Do you know what caused that explosion, princess?" repeated Twilight. "Should we be worried? Is there anything we can do?"

"I... I can't be sure yet, Twilight." She took a few moments to collect herself. "Firstly, I would suggest we begin an investigation into that... well, you saw. We need to determine exactly what caused it and quickly."

"An apt suggestion indeed, my sister. I concur," said Luna without hesitation. "How should we proceed?"

"By venturing to the location of where it transpired, with extreme caution." She hesitated a moment before adding, "I will be going with as well."

Now it was their turn to fall silent, shocked by this announcement. Was this situation so serious that Celestia herself was willing to get involved? What exactly were they dealing with here?

"Sister, are you sure that's all together wise?" asked Luna.

"I am completely certain it is, Luna," she replied.

"But what about Chrysalis?" put in Dusk. "Her army might be gone, but we have no idea where she is. We have to-"

"Don't tell me what I must and mustn't do, Dusk," she snapped sternly. "You're just going to have to trust me."

Dusk snapped his mouth shut and nodded silently, stepping back. He looked over at Twilight, who appeared just as bewildered as he was, along with Luna. The princess had never snapped like that at any of them before. Then again, none of what she had been doing so far had correlated with her normal behaviour.

While he and Twilight backed down, Luna was anything but perturbed.

"Tia, I expect that there's a good reason for why you chose to address my friend and student in such a manner," she said dangerously.

"At the moment, Luna, I can't really abide by niceties," she responded. "I've spent too much time here as it is. I must leave at once."

"But why?" she pressed. "For what reason must you have such urgency?"

She shook her head again. "I can't say right now. You're just going to have to trust me, Luna."

She wasn't convinced. "Celestia, an act of magic, the likes of which I have never seen, has just rocked the very foundations of our city and has sent you into a state of reclusiveness that even Starswirl himself would be hard-pressed to match. I'm afraid I'm going to need more to go on than that."

"I'm sorry, but that's all you're going to get." She spread her wings, crossing to the balcony's edge. "I will explain once I return, but for now it would be best if you don't know."

"I beg to differ!" Luna matched her movements. "If you won't tell me, I shall just have to find out for myself by going with you."

Celestia was taken aback. "Sister, are you sure that's all together wise?"

"Correct me if I am wrong, dear sister, but I believe it was you who suggested that we should conduct an investigation," she countered. "To that end, I insist upon going with you."

"Luna, I really don't-"

"Now, you'd better not be saying what I think you're about to say, dear auntie." Cadence, Shining and the rest of their friends were all standing at the balcony entrance. "Because I was about to come along too and I would have been really disappointed if I couldn't have."

She stared at them. "How long have you all been standing there?"

"Long enough to hear all of that," replied Shining. "Sorry, princess, but if my wife-to-be is going, I'm going to have to insist that I am too. As Captain of the Royal Guard, I can't let you go unescorted into possibly dangerous territory."

"Don't think yer leavin' us out either," put in Applejack. "That thing went off a lil' too close ta home and ah wanna have a word with whatever it was that done it."

"Indeed," chimed in Rarity. "If there are no other guards other than our dashing captain here, then the Elements of Harmony will make an excellent substitute."

"Count me in three!" said Pinkie brightly. "I'd never miss out on a party, especially one like this!"

"Exactly." Twilight stepped forward. "This is one lesson I don't intend to miss out on."

"The same goes for me," chorused Dusk. "Especially if both of our teachers are involved."

"If they're going, so am I!" declared Spike. "You know, in an assistant sense. I'll just hang back and make a few notes for you or something."

Luna looked smugly at her elder. "I believe they have presented their cases well, Tia. You are always the one telling me how powerful the magic of friendship is. I think this proves the point very well, don't you?"

"All of you, please!" Her fear returned. "I don't think you realise quite how dangerous this is."

"Well, how dangerous is it?" asked Dusk.

"I... I... I can't tell you. I'm sorry, I just can't."

"Then, with all due respect, princess, how are we meant to know just how dangerous it is if you aren't willing to tell us?" asked Shining.

"Captain, this really isn't-"

"'Sides, I dunno if you missed what just happened, but it's not like we ain't done anythin' dangerous before," argued Applejack. "Whatever it is, we can handle it."

"You need us, Princess Celestia," insisted Twilight. "I learned a long time ago that you can't try and solve your problems by yourself. I thought you would have too."

Celestia opened her mouth as if to argue, then closed it again. She looked around at them all, their determined expressions unchanging. She looked back out at the pillar of smoke for a long while. She shut her eyes, shook her head and let out a long sigh.

"I can see there's no dissuading you." She opened them and looked back up. "Fine. Accompany me, if you wish, but we need to get there as fast as we can. Stand close to me."

They all did as she commanded. No sooner had they gathered around, her horn began to glow, encompassing them in a strong magical aura. Dusk took a moment to note how warm it was within the aura before his stomach lurched from an all too familiar sensation.

He felt again the experience of being everywhere and nowhere until his body was rapidly reassembled. He noted feeling a little disorientated, but he was otherwise fine. The balcony of Canterlot had been replaced by a lush, rich forest, though he could see the city off in the distance. It looked like he really was getting used to teleportation spells.

Some of the others, however, clearly weren't.

"Okay, it's official..." Applejack pressed her hooves to her mouth and swallowed, looking disgusted. "Ah definitely prefer walkin' ta teleportin'."

"I did say we needed to get here quickly," reminded Celestia. "Take a moment to gather yourselves, but we must be ready to move as soon as possible."

"But we're here now, Celestia, we only need to walk for a bit to get there. How bad could it really be?" asked Cadence.

Celestia didn't answer her niece. She only gazed up at the towering pillar of smoke and said nothing.

Dusk found himself looking up at it too. Back in Canterlot, he knew it was big, but it was only now he was almost standing in front of it that could see how tall it truly was. And they were about to confront whatever caused it. Perhaps the princess was right to insist that they stayed behind. The idea of actually finding what had created such destruction...

He put those thoughts aside. They had all volunteered to come along because it was the right thing to do. It wasn't as if they had a chance of being outmatched. All three of the royal princesses, the captain of the guard, almost all of his friends who wielded the most powerful magic in Equestria and his ever loving marefriend. Whatever it was that was here, they would be ready for it.

He only grew more confident in those feelings when two more welcome faces joined their company, swooping down from the sky above.

"Rainbow Dash! Fluttershy!" The two Pegasi were knocked to the ground by Pinkie's diving hug. "You're both okay! I'm so happy, I could just hug you! Oh wait, I already am!"

"Yeah, so my cracked ribs are telling me." Rainbow rubbed her mane affectionately. "It's great to see you too, Pinkie. All of you."

"And you too." Dusk gave a hug to Fluttershy and a hoof-bump to Rainbow. "I knew you two would make it out safely."

"Of course we would, we're awesome," grinned Rainbow. "Well, I'm higher on the scale, but Fluttershy here still ranks pretty decently."

"Thanks..." The animal carer blushed and smiled. "I'm happy you're safe, big brother and that you rescued Twilight. It is Twilight, isn't it?"

"Don't worry, it's the real me, Fluttershy," she assured. "Are you sure it's the real you too?"

"I hope so," she giggled. "Sorry, I just thought it would be good to check."

"I suppose you're here for the same reason we are," said Rarity.

"You mean that explosion? You guys heard it too?"

"Heard it, saw it, felt it, darn near knocked over by it," said Applejack.

"I know, right? And I thought my sonic rainboom packed a punch, but that thing was on a whole other level!"

"We've already fended off the changelings in Cloudsdale, so we both volunteered to go and investigate it," added Fluttershy. "I was hoping that you all were doing the same thing. Good to see I was right."

"Although, checking it out from the sky, even I gotta say I'm not too sure about going out there," she confessed.

Applejack laughed. "Come on, Rainbow. Figured it'd take more'n a big ol' cloud-a smoke ta scare you off."

The daredevil didn't laugh. "Believe me, it's a hay of a lot more than just the smoke."

"It really is. It's really..." Fluttershy trailed off when she noticed something. "Wait a minute, where's Ray? Isn't he with you?"

"We um..." Rarity took a moment to pick her words. "We're not exactly sure where he is, darling. B-but don't worry, I'm sure we'll find him."

"Why? What happened to him?" She suddenly gasped. "Oh no! He isn't... I mean, is he...?"

Dusk quickly caught her meaning. "No, no! Nothing like that. He went to challenge Queen Chrysalis and... he ended up fighting her alone."

Rainbow laughed. "And I thought I was crazy."

"You're not crazy, Dashie. Ponies say I'm a little crazy, but I don't see it." Pinkie patted her party cannon at this, resulting in a burst of confetti and a flag shooting from the barrel with the legend 'boom' written on it.

Nopony chose to comment on this.

"That does sound like him..." A small smile tugged at her lips before it vanished. "But what's happened to them? Did he manage to beat her?"

"Don't worry, Fluttershy," comforted Twilight. "I'm sure Ray is fine. Once we're done here, we'll find out what happened to him and the queen."

"And on that note," Celestia said, "I think it's time we see for ourselves. Stay close to me, my little ponies. Do exactly as I tell you to. If I tell you to run, you run. If I tell you to hide, you hide. If I tell you to go and leave me to save yourselves if need be, you do it. Am I clear?"

"But princess-"

"Am I clear, Twilight?"

She gulped. "Y-yes, princess."

She nodded in satisfaction and led them on. Nopony spoke at all. The tension in the air was as thick as the air pressure that had been pressing down on them before and it only grew with every step they took. Even the Forest was silent, without a single sound from any of the creatures that dwelled within it.

Even with the combined light of the present unicorns and alicorns lighting the way, the trees still enshrouded them in darkness, almost like it was trying to hide what they had come searching for from them. When they eventually came to a break in them, stepping back out into an area where the sun's rays glared down upon them, Dusk could see why.

They had reached the area where the smoke originated, with it snaking up higher than any of the tallest spires in Canterlot. It emerged from a crater of barren land that felt strangely warm to the touch and only grew hotter when they tried to step where the smoke rose from. Not that anypony tried to go near the centre anyway.

It wasn't just the crater though. From one point, Dusk could see a long scar through the thickets of trees that stretched on for quite a distance. The branches and even trunks of trees looked bent and broken. Like something had just crashed through here and struck the small crater here. Rather like a meteor or ship in some sci-fi novels he'd read, only there didn't appear to be much here other than smoke.

But even the trees that had been knocked aside looked better than some of the other plant life. Somehow, most of it looked… well, dead. The ground felt harder than usual, plants in the area had all but completely withered away and even the trees had lost their lush leaves, leaving only bare and lifeless husks like in winter. Only it they didn't look they'd be re-growing them again. It couldn't have been from the explosion, the crater didn't have a large enough radius to encompass it.

It was like something had just… drained the life out of everything here. He wasn't the only one who'd noticed.

"Oh no… oh, all of these poor plants and trees." Fluttershy hung her head. "I hope all of the animals got out okay."

Applejack stomped on the ground. "Shoot, sand in the desert felt more fertile'n this. Ah can tell ya this land ain't gonna be growin' anythin' anytime soon."

Pinkie suddenly stuck her head in the dirt. "Yep, nothing much down here. Not even little wormies."

"What in the world could have done this?" murmured Rarity.

"Would you believe me if I said this is just the start of it?" asked Rainbow. "This is where the smoke is coming from, but Fluttershy and I spied something else too and it's right at the other end of there."

She pointed at the long scar through the trees.

"Then whatever caused this must be at the end of there," reasoned Shining. "Let's go and find it then. Proceed with caution."

"A moment, captain." Luna's horn was glowing and her face was set in a frown. "I am trying to determine something."

"What is it, Luna?" asked Dusk.

"It is curious, my student," she remarked. "I am sensing residual magical traces in the air here. Mostly it is from whatever caused this, yet I also feel traces that only changeling magic might leave behind."

"Chrysalis?" he asked. "You mean she's here somewhere?"

"So it seems, yet I can only find traces of her," she reported. "The Queen herself is noticeably scarce."

"Interesting…" Twilight stepped forward. "Could she be hiding somewhere nearby?"

"If she is, we will find her," Celestia said, her horn glowing along with Cadence's. "Spread out, but don't go too far. She can't be far off."

"I hope she is here somewhere." Cadence growled a little. "There's a few things I'd like to discuss with her, monarch to monarch."

The minutes dragged by while the three alicorns scoured the surrounding area. The rest of them stood ready, in case the changeling suddenly burst out at them. Dusk was of much the same mind as Cadence. Chrysalis had a lot to answer for and now, it seemed like she was about to.

Yet he couldn't shake off a different thought that occurred to him. Was Chrysalis really hiding here somewhere… or had something else happened to her? For some reason, his eyes were continually drawn to the pillar whenever this thought surfaced.

They relaxed a little when the princesses returned, two of them notably confused.

"There's no sign of her anywhere," said Cadence. "The magical traces all lead back to here."

"Yet she is nowhere to be seen here," said Luna. "How can this be possible?"

"She is here." Celestia's voice was like the ringing of a mourning bell. "I just don't think there's much left of her…"

A shocked silence fell in the wake of her words and what they meant. Dusk stared at the smoke, the small crater it came from. Even though she had been an enemy and a tormentor, the thought that this was all that was left of Queen Chrysalis… it shook him greatly.

Luna was the one who broke the silence. "The question still stands then… what exactly caused this?"

Again, Celestia said nothing. She only stared down the scar that had been created. When she began to move along it, it was at a slow, mechanical pace, like her mind wasn't in complete control of her body. The rest of them followed, albeit more reluctantly than before. He couldn't really make out what was at the end of the dirt path, but there were other signs they were drawing closer to the source.

When they'd started off, the Forest had been normal in its own sense. But the closer they got to the end of the scar, the more signs there were that something was very wrong. No sounds of animals of any kind echoed through the undergrowth, if there was any. Like at the sight of the smoke, the lifeless, dead plant life was increasing the closer they got. A whole vibrant, magical ecosystem reduced to such a state…

Dusk both pitied the Forest and dreaded encountering what caused it. He made sure Twilight was by his side and tried to take some comfort in the fact that she was here. They had faced many more threats before. If there was one here, they'd face it and defeat it, like they always had.

But those thoughts weren't exactly comforting when they stepped out of the trees at the end. They were all but drowned out by the new sight his eyes beheld.

A crater, large enough and deep enough to place the whole of Ponyville into, sat like the gaping maw of a beast before them. Dust hung thick in the air within it, completely enshrouding everything that might be down there. Not that they were focused on what lay within. All eyes were fixed on either the crater or the expanse of desolation that surrounded it.

"Holey moley, that's a big holey!" Pinkie's mouth dropped to the floor.

"Land's sake…" remarked Applejack. "Not that the land here's much good now anyways…"

"Wow… from the sky, it didn't look this bad." Rainbow dashed back up, hovered for a moment and flew back down. "Nope, it actually looks worse from there."

Cadence lifted her hoof. A plant she'd stepped on had reduced to dust. "Just like where the smoke is… only much worse."

"It's all dead…" Fluttershy's voice was a whisper. "Everything here… gone."

"Take heart now, Fluttershy. I'm sure the Forest can recover from this and return to its usual dreadful state in no time," comforted Rarity, though she didn't sound so convicted either. "Right?"

Luna nodded slowly. "The magic of the Everfree Forest runs deep. It will heal, but it will be a long time before it does."

"I never knew anything could even hurt the Forest like this," said Dusk.

"Neither did I," agreed Twilight. "This whole environment is full of naturally occurring magic that's both abundant and untamed. It would take something really big to damage it like this."

"Well, we felt it all the way in Canterlot and Cloudsdale," reminded Shining. "Whatever did this, I don't think size is much of an issue for it."

Again, Celestia was silent. The sun princess looked over the scene, first at the crater, then back at the pillar of smoke where they'd come from. It was like she was searching for something. Their collective question hung heavily in the air until she finally answered. When she did, it was a low tone, filled with dread.

"There's only one thing that could have done this…"

They waited in silence for her to continue, but she didn't. Once more, they were about to ask what she meant until a gust of wind blew by. It cleared some of the dust that lingered at the bottom of the crater.

The low growl that accompanied it seemed to shake the earth itself. All those present immediately tensed. The wind died down and Dusk could see a dark red glow vaguely through the last clouds of dust.

"It is as I feared." In a louder voice, Celestia ordered. "Go. All of you, leave at once and quickly."

Dusk was just as bewildered by this order as everypony present. Then he saw her face and the pure terror set within it.

Even so, it was met with resistance. "But princess, we can't just leave you!"

"Yes you can, Twilight. You gave me your word-"

"But now we must break it," insisted Luna. "Whatever this is, we refuse to leave you to face it-"

"I am not arguing with you!" she cried frantically. "I have told you once, I shan't do so again: leave NOW!"

Before any of them could fully register her uncharacteristic behaviour, they noticed the glow in the crater stirring somewhat. Another growl came with it. Like whatever was down there had finally noticed they were here.

Celestia seemed to realise this. She was actually beginning to sweat now.

The whole group watched. The glow became a shadow within the thinning cloud of dust. Dusk could have sworn that, against the dark glow of the shadow, he could see two points of white light on it. Almost like eyes. Looking directly at them.

Paralyzed into shocked stillness, they waited for something to happen. Silence, as tense as a bowstring, followed for an unknown amount of time. It didn't last forever though. Somepony-he couldn't tell who-shifted a bit and caused a small pebble to roll down into the crater.

That disturbance was all that was needed.

Suddenly, the shadow rose, glowing even brighter, its shape becoming more discernable. Celestia spun around and tried to shout something, but her voice was drowned out by a powerful roar that filled the air. Dusk slammed his hooves into his ears to drown out the sound, as did everypony present, even the princesses.

But it was still loud. Loud enough that he could recognise it. It was the same one he'd heard with Twilight, when they'd taken out the changeling. Only now it was much closer and much louder. So loud it shook his bones and the earth beneath his hooves.

The power of the roar caused the wind to once again whip around them, forcing some of the group to close their eyes, and quickly clearing away what dust remained clouding the air within the crater. Once the roar died down, those present slowly opened their eyes and uncovered their ears.

That's when they saw it, down at the bottom of the crater. Looking right up at them. A burning crimson form in the shape of a wolf, four tails whipping around aggressively behind it, pure white eyes boring right into them.

"Oh my…" Cadence stared openly. "Just when you think you've seen it all…"

"Everypony, get back, get away from it," Shining warned, pushing his betrothed back. "Somepony mind telling me what we're looking at here?"

"That's… one big, angry doggy," gasped Pinkie.

"I would like all of those present to know that I mean it when I say that, of all the worst things we could have seen… this the WORST! POSSIBLE! THING!" Rarity exclaimed.

"An' how," agreed Applejack.

"Eh, that thing doesn't look so tough," Rainbow said in an attempt at bravado.

Fluttershy only shivered in silent terror.

"Dusk," whispered Twilight, "I don't suppose you have any ideas?"

"None. You?"

"Nothing," she admitted. "It… it looks like it's made up of pure energy of some kind. It looks like magic but… nothing I've ever seen."

"Me neither…"

Surprisingly, Luna had no comment to make. Perhaps this was because she was more focused on the state of her sister. Seeing this… thing seemed to finally set something off inside her. She had frozen once more. Her legs were trembling, her lips quivering and her eyes wide open, the pupils shaking in a way Dusk didn't even knew they could.

She knew what was going on, what that thing was. And she was terrified. Princess Celestia, Embodiment of the Sun and Ruler of Equestria… terrified by whatever that thing down there was. That alone was enough to instil more fear in Dusk than just seeing this aberration could have caused alone.

"You know, don't you?" Dusk asked her. "Is this what killed Chrysalis?"

"Tia, you cannot keep this from us anymore. Tell us, what are we facing here?" She didn't respond to their questions. She didn't even seem to hear them.

"Princess, don't do this to us," begged Twilight. "Please just tell us what it is. We have to know!"

"Oh my goodness!" Fluttershy suddenly snapped out of her fear. "Ray was out here with Chrysalis, with this… this monster! But where is he?"

"You're right! I haven't seen him!" Rainbow started to look around. "We gotta find him, make sure he's okay! Plus, he's really gotta see this!"

Dusk had an idea. "Luna, perhaps you could try and trace his magic, like with Chrysalis."

"I will try, my student, but if he did come here with the queen, then I cannot help but wonder…" She didn't need to finish the sentence. She looked back at the smoke.

"You don't have to worry about him." Even Celestia's voice was trembling. "He… hasn't ended up like Chrysalis."

"How do you know that?" Fluttershy asked frantically.

She spoke very slowly and deliberately. "Because, my little ponies, the creature you see before you… is Ray."

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