• Published 15th Jan 2014
  • 3,608 Views, 235 Comments

Shadows of the Crystal Empire - AdrianVesper



Twilight Sparkle travels to Canterlot seeking justice. When one of her friends is taken captive, Twilight sets out with spell and sword to save her. (Sequel to The Sword Coast, inspired by the Baldur’s Gate series)

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Cage

Cage

Hundreds of reflections of the fiery maned unicorn stared down at Twilight from the crystalline walls of the cavern. She stood in the center with Pinkie, both of her swords ready, invisible and protected by Stoneskin. “Who’s hiding?!” Twilight shouted. “Whatever you want, this isn’t the way to get it!”

Pinkie flicked her muzzle to the right. “That one’s real,” she whispered.

Twilight followed the gesture, and spotted the unicorn sitting on the stone floor of the cavern, facing away from them with her horn glowing. Twilight considered targeting the unicorn with a spell, but anything she cast would break her invisibility.

The unicorn turned her head to the side. “Actually, I’m doing exactly what I need to to get what I want,” the cold, echoing voice said. Twilight saw the unicorn’s mouth move.

“You sneak up on her. I’ll see if I can get around to the other side,” Twilight said quietly. “We should take her alive if we can. She might know the way out of here.”

Pinkie nodded and darted away. She danced away through the patterns of shadow and cold blue light on the floor. Twilight followed, the sound of her hooves on the stone muffled by her spell. She kept her floating swords low to the ground as she cautiously approached the unicorn. The light reflecting on the cavern clearly illuminated the unicorn’s orange coat.

A few paces away from her target, Twilight stopped. This is too easy, she thought. She opened her mouth to call out to Pinkie.

Before a single word escaped Twilight’s lips, the unicorn turned to face her, fixing her precisely with her gaze. “Don’t worry,” the unicorn said, her horn flaring brighter as it surged with magic. “That’s close enough.”

Blue light illuminated hidden runes on the floor around Twilight. She lunged forward, trying to get clear. Lines of white magical energy lanced up from the runes in front of her and arced over her. Before she could stop, she collided with them. The magic passed through her Stoneskin. Pain shot through her body like lightning. Her legs crumpled numbly beneath her. Her swords fell from her grasp. Force Cage, clever... she thought dimly. Unless she could get rid of them, the arcane bars of the spell would keep her trapped.

As Solstice and Celestial Fury clattered onto the stone beside Twilight, Pinkie jumped from the shadows and brought her hoof down on the back of the orange unicorn’s skull. Her foreleg cleaved through the unicorn’s head, leaving swirling dust in its wake. The rest of the unicorn’s body followed, dissolving away into a glimmering white cloud.

“What?” Pinkie said, staring at the dust. “I didn’t hit her that hard.” She looked down through the white lines of magic between them. “Twilight?”

“Simulacrum,” Twilight groaned, gathering her hooves beneath her. She glanced down at her limbs, relieved that they were still invisible. Not that it seemed to help, she thought.

“Simulacrum?” Pinkie asked.

“It’s an illusionary copy of the caster made from ice and diamond dust,” Twilight said. She looked up. The unicorn’s reflections still stared coldly down at her. “The real one is still out there.”

“You’re in my realm, Sparkle,” the orange mare shouted. “You can’t win!”

“Find her, and be careful,” Twilight whispered. “I’ve got to dispel this cage.”

Pinkie turned, scanning the cavern. “Cage?” She crouched, her tail twitching.

Twilight sighed and picked up her swords. “She caught me in a Force—” Before Twilight could finish, a red spark zipped across her field of view. “Fireball!” she cried as the spark contacted the ceiling above Pinkie’s head.

Pinkie dove to the side, tucking in her limbs to roll. Fire erupted on the roof of the cavern with a thunderous roar. Twilight closed her eyes tight against the reflected light flaring in all directions and raised a foreleg to cover her face against the wave of heat. Shards of crystal reigned down from above, shattering layers of her Stoneskin.

When Twilight dropped her foreleg and opened her eyes, the dust of shattered crystals greeted her. She could barely see beyond the cage. Pinkie was lost in the cloud. She blinked away the particles clinging to the air and tugged her cloak over her mouth and nose with her magic. A chunk of crystal twice her size rested next to the cage. Fragments small enough to pass through the arcane bars littered the floor around her hooves. Her stoneskin was still active; there was at least one layer left, though she had no idea how many times she’d been hit.

“Pinkie?” she said, peering through the dust. Her horn granted no light while she was invisible. All she had to see by was the scattered blue light from the orange unicorn’s horn.

A whimper sounded in the dark. “I can’t move, Twilight,” Pinkie said. “I’m pinned.”

“Hold on!” Twilight said. “I’m coming!” She focused on the bars of the cage around her. Her invisibility fell away as she cast Dispel Magic. A wave of white light pulsed out around her, indiscriminately tearing away both her Stoneskin and the Force Cage.

As soon as the bars of energy dissolved, Twilight rushed forward toward where she’d heard Pinkie’s voice. She flared her horn bright, but all it let her see was a few more hoofspans into the sparkling dust. She spotted a line of blood trickling down a crevice in the floor.

“Pinkie!” Twilight cried. She followed the trail. A pink hoof protruded from beneath a pony-sized chunk of crystal. Blood pooled on the floor beneath the fallen fragment. Twilight took another step. Pinkie lay on her back with one of her hind legs crushed and pinned. Rubble engulfed one of her forelegs. The unicorn stood behind Pinkie, floating a small silver dagger at her throat.

Pinkie coughed. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I lost.”

The orange mare grinned. “I’d put down your swords, unless you want to see who can cut whose throat first.”

Twilight looked down at Pinkie and slowly lowered her swords.

“I guess we're not taking her alive,” Pinkie said. She gave Twilight a tiny, almost imperceptible nod and twitched her free foreleg.

Twilight hesitated for a moment, hovering Celestial Fury and Solstice just above the ground.

“Drop them!” the unicorn shouted, pressing the dagger into Pinkie’s neck. Twilight thrust Celestial Fury at Pinkie’s captor. In the same instant, Pinkie raised her foreleg and flicked the dagger away with her hoof.

Twilight buried her sword in the orange unicorn’s chest. The mare peered down at the hole in her body and laughed. Instead of blood, swirls of white dust spilled from the point of impact. “Impressive,” the unicorn said before she dissolved into a sparkling cloud.

“Two?” Twilight gasped. I should have cast Truesight, she thought. Forming two functioning simuracula should have been beyond any caster.

“I guess you’d rather do this the hard way!” the unicorn shouted. The floor of the cavern trembled beneath Twilight’s hooves. A deep rumble filled the air.

“Twilight, run!” Pinkie shouted. “It’s gonna fall!”

Twilight ignored the tremors. With the strength of her levitation, she lifted the chunk of crystal off of Pinkie’s leg and shoved the pile of rubble pinning her other limb aside. The cavern shuddered violently.

“No time!” Pinkie cried.

A tremendous crack ripped through the ceiling. Twilight looked up. A massive fragment of rock plummeted toward her through the dust. She had no time to escape.

She closed her eyes.


Darkness surrounded Twilight Sparkle. A hoof on her shoulder guided her forward. She stumbled when the floor abruptly rose.

“Can’t I take it off?” she said, gripping at the blindfold covering her eyes with her magic. “I know it’s my birthday, Pinkie.”

“No, silly,” Pinkie Pie said, her sharp voice in Twilight’s ear. “It’s a surprise!”

The hoof guided her another three steps. Her nose bumped the edge of a table. A faint heat warmed her fur.

“Now you can take it off,” Pinkie said.

Twilight pulled off the blindfold. At eye level, candles burned on a cake covered in white icing. “Happy Birthday Twilight Sparkle!” a chorus of voices shouted.

Grinning, Twilight climbed into a chair next to the cake. A cushion on it propped her above the candles. She looked around, recognizing the Cake’s Tavern in Candlekeep instantly. Streamers of dyed paper adorned the rafters. Mr. Cake stood with his arm around Mrs. Cake’s shoulders next to the counter. Her father, Star Swirl, sat across from her, levitating a knife.

“Make a wish!” Pinkie said as she climbed into the chair next to Twilight.

Twilight sucked in a breath to blow out her candles. She hesitated, glancing at the table next to hers. Applejack, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity smiled at her. All of her friends were here. She smiled back at them.

“Come on Twilight, blow them out!” Pinkie cried.

I wish I knew what my Mark meant, Twilight thought as she blew on the candles. She managed to get nearly all of them. It got harder every year. With a quick puff, she finished off the last two.

Star Swirl whisked the smoking candles away with his levitation. “There we go.” He sliced a thick piece out of the cake and transferred it onto a plate. “And the first piece for my little wizard,” he said, passing Twilight the plate. “I’m so proud of you.”

Twilight picked a fork up from the table and prodded at her peice of cake. “You shouldn’t be,” she said.

The corner of Star Swirl’s mouth twitched as he raised an eyebrow. “Why shouldn’t I be?”

Twilight pulled close to Pinkie Pie, covered in blood. The corpses of six diamond dogs surrounded her. She’d cut their throats with Solstice after forcing them into a magical sleep. She’d lost control.

Twilight looked evenly into Star Swirl’s eyes across the table, as tall as he was. “You’re dead. I could have stopped him. I knew every spell in Candlekeep’s library, and I didn’t use them because I didn’t have the confidence, because I was scared. I didn’t save you. In the end, I didn’t even make him pay for what he did.”

“Aren’t you going to eat your cake?” Pinkie asked.

Twilight smiled and slid a bite of cake into her mouth. The spongy morsel melted on her tongue. “Mmm!” She glanced up at Star Swirl. “So, are you going to tell me what my Mark really means?”

Star Swirl blinked at her while he cut another piece of cake. “What do you mean?”

“It’s been two months since I got it,” Twilight said. “Aren’t you going to tell me?”

“I thought I already had. It means you’re good at magic,” Star Swirl said, serving the next piece to Pinkie Pie.

Twilight shook her head. “No. If it meant I was good at magic, it would be a wand, or a constellation, or a star...” She gestured at Star Swirl’s flank. “Swirl... thing.” She took another bite of cake. “Or even a book,” she said with her mouth full. “None of the Archmages in the records have a Mark like mine. I checked.”

Star Swirl chuckled. “If you say so.” He cut a narrow slice and transferred it to a plate. “Marks are more than just a special talent. They represent a concept, something core to who you are.” He pulled the plate close. “For example, ponies who appreciate history but look to the future often get a constellation as a Mark. A Mark doesn’t tell you what you are, it reflects you.”

Twilight shrugged. “What about Bell? She has a bell for a mark, and her main job is ringing the bell to mark time. Is she a bell? For that matter, how did her parents know to name her Bell?”

Star Swirl slowly chewed a bite of cake. He swallowed before saying, “There are forces at work beneath the surface of the world. As wizards, we study these forces. Just because we don’t have the answers—”

“—Doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I know,” Twilight said. “I just wish I knew what my Mark meant.”

Star Swirl smiled. “Maybe you’ll find out someday.” His smile shifted to a smirk. “Now, what I do know is whether or not you’re getting a present.”

“Of course I am,” Twilight said. “It’s my birthday. You always get me a present.”

Star Swirl shrugged. “I don’t know, I can be pretty forgetful.”

Pinkie nodded. “He can.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “You didn’t forget!”

“Humm, no, I think I did,” Star Swirl said. He patted at his cloak. “Maybe it’s here somewhere.”

“So you did get me a present!” Twilight cried, rising out of her seat. She pointed at a rectangular shape beneath Star Swirl’s cloak. “It’s there!”

“What?” Star Swirl said. He stood up and craned his head to look at his pocket. “Oh, this?”

Twilight raced around the table. “Give it!”

Star Swirl spinned, keeping the pocket just out of Twilight’s reach. She giggled and chased it, running tight circles around Star Swirl’s legs. “Hold on, I’m not sure this is for you,” Star Swirl said, chuckling.

The tavern door slammed open. Shadows spilled in from beyond the threshold. The Specter strode inside. Its red eyes fixed on Twilight from their twin seats in its bleached white skull. Its black feathered wings touched the ceiling, dissolving where they brushed the wood. “So this is where you’re hiding,” it said, the cold voice driving shivers down her spine.

Twilight cowered behind Star Swirl.

The Specter glanced at the table her friends were sitting around. “So you brought them too... interesting.” It focused on Twilight, looking through Star Swirl as if he wasn’t there. “Come on, hiding doesn’t become you.”

“I will not allow you to harm Twilight Sparkle,” Star Swirl said.

A black laugh spilled from the Specter’s skull. “Those were his last words, weren’t they? I think you’re forgetting something.”

In front of Twilight’s eyes, the Black Knight stepped out of the shadows and swung his obsidian shield. Star Swirl’s head split from his shoulders and rolled in the dust. Twilight tried to scream, but no sound escaped her lips. The Black Knight casually scraped his shield clean in the dirt.

The specter pointed a black wing at Shining Armor. “I suppose it’s not surprising that he yielded in the face of your superiority. I was hoping we’d get to kill him.”

Twilight pulled the black thorn from Shining Armor’s chest. Shadows surged into her. She breathed deep.

“Drops in the bucket, compared to your power,” the spectre said. “You could have crushed him like an insect, if you’d chosen right. Even without bringing your full strength to bear, you prevailed. All he had to do was let go, and it was all yours. We swallowed him whole.”

Twilight blinked at the spectre. “What am I?” she said. She lifted her hoof, staring at it.

“Do you even realize what she’s doing to us? You had such potential, and she is tearing you apart,” the spectre said.

Twilight looked at the spectre, the world around her snapping into focus. Around her, reflections of a fiery-maned unicorn stared down at her with icy blue eyes, laughing. “Who?” she asked.

The spectre spread its wings, gesturing at the walls. “Her!”

A blade plunged into Twilight’s back. It erupted from her belly. She lay on the floor of the cavern in a mess of sticky warm blood – her blood. She screamed. This time, it was loud.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you,” the spectre said, drowning out even her screams. “But you can’t hide here forever. We have to wake up.”

Twilight coughed. A thick, irony liquid shot out of her throat and dribbled off her lips. With each contraction of her muscles, a wave of pain rolled through her, stemming from a point in her core. She opened her eyes. Bright blue light lanced into her pupils, and she turned away with a groan.

She blinked. Dark blood pooled on the rough stone where she lay on her back. At the edge, evenly spaced lines of crackling arcane energy rose from the floor. “Pinkie...” Twilight murmured. “Where are you?” She tried to climb to her feet, but when she leaned to roll onto her side, a sharp stab of agony stopped her.

“I’d be more worried about myself, if I were you,” a cold voice said. “Moving around is only going to make you bleed faster.”

Twilight slowly turned toward the sound. A blurry orange face crowned with a glowing horn filled her vision, separated from her by the arcane bars. She squinted. “Who’re you?”

The unicorn snorted. “You’ve forgotten my name again already? Maybe you’re not as strong as I thought you were. I am Sunset Shimmer.”

“I’m bleeding?”

“Look down,” Sunset Shimmer said.

Twilight looked. A jagged spike of crystal rose out of her belly. Blood oozing around it matted her fur. Before her eyes, a blue aura laced around the spike and twisted it.

Twilight screamed. Her body burned as the rough edges tore at her flesh. Fresh blood surged out of the wound. Blinking back tears, she looked up at the unicorn on the far side of the bars.

“Why?”

“Because,” Sunset Shimmer said, “I am unlocking the potential you have squandered, Sparkle.”

“Where’s Pinkie?” Twilight said through gritted teeth. “What did you do with her?!”

The corners of Sunset Shimmer’s mouth twitched. “The same thing I’m doing to you.” She smirked. “Unfortunately, the experiments I’ve been able to perform with her are not as robust as the ones I’ve been able to do with you. Though she is surprisingly resilient, she’s not as strong as you are.”

Twilight spat out the blood in her mouth. “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

Sunset Shimmer tilted her head. “I don’t? Your Shadowspawn nature is buried, and I am bringing it to the surface.” The spreading pool of blood touched one of her forehooves. She lifted it off the floor and peered at it. “Now, you’re losing blood fast. You’ve been unconscious for some time, and I’m eager to get started again.” With a flick of magic, she twisted the spike again.

Twilight’s lungs seized. Her stomach wrenched with agony. When her breath finally escaped, it came out in a whimper.

“Save yourself, Sparkle!” Sunset Shimmer shouted. “Divinity, or a corpse! Choose!”

Twilight felt cold. She stared up at where the arching bars of the Force Cage containing her met at a single point above her, an ethereal birdcage. Blackness edged in on her vision. Not like this, Twilight thought. Not slowly in a pool of my own blood. Not when Pinkie needs me. She closed her eyes and found the well of power in her mind. She submerged herself in the shadows.

Strength surged into her, like it had when she needed it before. It had been there when she was alone in the caves. It had been there when the Sand Ravager’s venom consumed her mind. She opened her eyes. Pushing against the ground, she slowly rose off the spike. The dark miasma of her levitation wrapped around Sunset Shimmer’s neck. “I will kill you,” Twilight said as she slowly squeezed tighter around Sunset Shimmer’s neck.

“Good...” Sunset Shimmer gasped. Her eyes flashed with red light. Her horn flared, and a knife drove into Twilight’s mind. We’re almost finished, Sunset Shimmer whispered in Twilight’s skull.

Twilight fell back onto the stone. When she hit, her world went dark.


“Twilight, you gotta wake up.”

With a gasp, Twilight opened her eyes. A pink blur hovered beyond the white bars of the Force Cage. “Pinkie?” Twilight murmured.

“It’s me,” Pinkie said. “Come on. We have to get out of here.”

Twilight blinked, and Pinkie Pie resolved into focus, sitting right next to her, illuminated by the white light bleeding off of the Force Cage. Only the bars separated them. Twilight’s cloak of protection rested on the stone beside Pinkie in a bundle. The hilts of her swords peeked out from under it. Twilight stared at the floor; something was missing.

“Where’s the blood?” Twilight said. She touched her belly with a forehoof and breathed a sigh of relief when she found it whole. Her eyes widened. She jumped to her feet and stared into the darkness beyond her cage. “Where is she?!”

“She left, but I don’t know when she’ll be back. We have to go.” Pinkie said. Her hoof inched forward across the stone, nearly touching one of the cage bars. “Can you make some light? It’s so dark.”

Twilight nodded and illuminated her horn. The light flared of the crystal formations on the walls, bathing the cavern in a lavender glow. “Not so bright!” Pinkie whispered urgently. “She’ll see!”

Quickly, Twilight dimmed her horn, barely lighting more than the bars of the cage around her did. She searched her mind; all of the spells she prepared before leaving Ponyville were gone. She hadn’t been able to hold onto them. She turned and focused on Pinkie. “You have to go before she gets back! I don’t think I can manage a spell strong enough to get rid of this cage right now.”

“What cage?” Pinkie said, reaching out toward Twilight.

Twilight opened her mouth to warn Pinkie, but before a syllable crossed her lips, Pinkie’s hoof passed through one of the bars, unaffected. She grabbed Twilight by the shoulder, saying, “I’m going to get you out of here!”

Twilight blinked. The Force Cage was gone. Only the dim light of her horn illuminated the space around her. She stumbled, letting Pinkie pull her along.

Pinkie gestured at her cloak. “I found your things. Stumbled over them, really.”

Twilight glanced back over her shoulder. An Illusion? she wondered. No time to worry about it now. “Thanks,” she said, turning to the bundle.

She picked up her cloak. Her watch, her crescent moon necklace and her hip pouch tumbled out alongside her swords. After clasping her cloak around her neck, she strapped her swords on with practiced ease, Solstice at her side, and Celestial Fury across her back. She donned her necklace, then picked up the watch. She peered at it, remembering the warmth it gave off when she teleported.

Could Sunset Shimmer have used this to intercept the teleport? she wondered. Is she working with Chrysalis? She frowned. Cadance had it checked. She stowed it in the pouch. I’ll check it later, she decided, strapping the pouch to her hip. “How did you find me?” Twilight said as she turned back to Pinkie.

“I remembered where I heard screams coming from,” Pinkie said. “It sounded like you had it worse than me.”

Twilight grimaced. “She was in my head, Pinkie, like a knife... cutting.” She swallowed. “We need to find your things and get out of here.” She took a step forward. Her legs trembled. She closed her eyes briefly as her head swam.

When Twilight opened her eyes, her shoulder throbbed and she was on the floor. Her horn had gone out. She focused a dim glow on the tip of her horn and looked around.

Pinkie lifted one of her forelegs and looped it over her shoulders, lifting her off the ground. “They’re just things. All we should worry about is escaping.”

“What happened?” Twilight asked as Pinkie stepped forward. She stumbled alongside, half walking, half carried.

“You fainted for a couple seconds.” Pinkie said. She dragged Twilight toward a narrow opening in the cavern wall. “There has to be a way out of here somewhere.”


Twilight leaned on Pinkie as they made their way down a narrow passage. They stepped between the wooden ties linking a pair of rusted iron rails. The light from Twilight’s horn flickered on crystals embedded in the stone walls. Icy cold water trickled past their hooves.

Twilight slipped on the wet rocks. Before she could fall far, Pinkie caught her and set her down gently against the wall beside a narrow crevice in the rock. “I’m sorry,” Twilight said, panting.

“It’s okay,” Pinkie said, patting her shoulder. She leaned against the wall, but stayed standing. “We’ll take a break.”

Twilight cupped some of the water trickling along the floor in her hooves and raised it to her lips. She sucked down the cold liquid. “I should be stronger,” Twilight said. “She’s so much stronger than I am.” She leaned her head back against the side of the tunnel. “It’s unthinkable... Two simuracula.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Pinkie said.

“Simulacrum is an eighth level spell, Pinkie,” Twilight said. “It’s beyond what I can do.”

Pinkie blinked. “Eighth level?”

Twilight sighed. “Levels are categories wizards use to define spells. The higher the level, the more powerful the spell, and the harder it is to cast.”

“You can cast it though, right? You knew what it was,” Pinkie said.

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t even know any eighth level spells. I only knew about Simulacrum because other books mentioned the spell, though they never described how to cast it. There weren’t any spells above sixth level in Candlekeep’s library. The few seventh level spells I know Star Swirl taught me himself.” She frowned. “Not that I ever actually cast them until I stopped being afraid.”

“Seven doesn’t sound too different from eight,” Pinkie said. “What about the copy of yourself you used against the dragon?”

“It’s not a linear scale,” Twilight said. “The power and complexity of eighth level spells are an order of magnitude higher. Simulacra can operate independently with the same goals and abilities of the caster. It’s more than just an illusion.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Pinkie repeated. “With all of us, we could take her down.”

“Maybe,” Twilight murmured. She looked up and gathered her hooves beneath her. “I’m ready. We need to find the others, wherever they are.” She climbed to her feet. “I’m completely drained right now. If she catches us—”

Pinkie shoved a hoof to Twilight’s lips, her ears twitching to face down the tunnel. Twilight turned to look. Crystals at a fork in the tunnel ahead reflected fiery orange light, and hoofsteps echoed in the silence. Pinkie shoved her into the crevice in the wall. Immediately, Twilight shut off her horn, plunging them into darkness.

As the hoofsteps drew closer, Twilight saw two figures wearing black hooded cloaks reflected in the crystal. One carried a blazing torch. “Hold on, I think I heard something,” one of them said.

They stopped moving. Twilight held her breath, nestled beside Pinkie in the crevice. Her pulse thundered in her ears.

A droplet of burning oil fell from the reflected torch and hissed when it hit the damp floor. “I don’t hear anything,” the other said. “Last time it was our reflection that scared you.”

“I didn’t know there would be so many crystals!” the first one. “Why’re we risking our lives down here anyway?”

“The boss said we needed to sweep the mines and find them,” the second replied. “What scares you more, the Grey Fox, or some stupid caves?”

“The right answer is caves,” a third voice said. A chill ran down Twilight’s spine; the voice belonged to Sunset Shimmer.

The two figures whirled, silhouetted in the crystal by a red flash. The torch went out. A terrified scream rang down the tunnel.

An icy blue glow replaced the light of the torch. Reflected in the crystal, Sunset Shimmer stood over two unmoving ponies. “Or more precisely, what’s in the caves.” She nudged one of the bodies with a hoof. The head turned and the black hood fell away. Blood leaked from around the pony’s lifeless eyes. “Pathetic,” Sunset Shimmer said. She slowly stepped forward, her horn flaring brighter. “Now what did you invaders hear? Two little rats, perhaps...”

“Sorry Twilight,” Pinkie whispered. Pinkie’s hoof struck Twilight in the chest. Twilight gasped, air forced from her lungs by the blow. A tingling wave passed through her body. She slumped forward, feeling herself go limp. Pinkie stepped back pushed her into the crevice, leaving her propped up inside. “You’re more important than I am.”

What did she do to me? Twilight thought, fighting to stay conscious as a blanket fell over her mind. Pinkie’s strike had brought her body to a chugging halt. Squirming weakly, she managed to raise her head enough to peer down the tunnel.

Pinkie ran past the crystals at the fork. “There you are!” Sunset Shimmer shouted. She galloped after Pinkie, her reflection growing larger until she passed the crystal. Blinking drowsily, Twilight watched as Sunset Shimmer turned down the other passage, following Pinkie.

Twilight’s heart pulsed in her ears, each beat slower than the last. As the blue glow from Sunset Shimmer’s horn receded, she noticed a faint shaft of light above her. She closed her eyes, unable to keep them open any longer.


Twilight started awake. Cold rocks constricted her in the darkness. Directly above, a shaft of light pierced the shadows. She lit her horn and revealed the small crevice she was tucked into. The fissure split the wall of the tunnel, climbing into the rock above. At the top of the crack, a jagged gap opened into another empty space. A rotten smell wafted down from above.

She gasped, remembering where she was, and struggled free from the crevice. She spilled out into the tunnel. Her hoof struck one of the rusty rails with a metallic clang. Wincing, she cradled her injured hoof close. Pinkie, she thought.

Before her eyes, a gout of green flame formed in the tunnel beside her. Spike materialized. He clutched an emerald the size of his fist. “Twilight!” he cried. “Finally!”

Twilight held a hoof to her lips and hissed. “Shhh!” Warily, she looked both ways down the tunnel, finding it dark and silent. “Finally what?” she whispered.

“I was able to return to you from the Celestial Plane,” Spike said in a hushed tone. “Something was blocking me.”

“How long?”

“Three days,” Spike said. “It all went dark after you teleported.”

“Three days,” Twilight murmured. “I hardly remember any of it.” She grabbed Spike by the shoulder. “Where are the others?! I have to find them!”

Spike gently pushed her hoof back down. “They’re looking for you. I told Celestia what happened, and she figured out that when I lost touch, you were somewhere under Canterlot. She got word to your friends.” He raised the emerald in his claw and peered at it. “They’re close,” he said. “I hope this works.”

Before Twilight could stop him, Spike threw the emerald at the wall. It smashed against the cave wall. Rather than cracking like she expected, it collapsed into a cloud of dust and flowed up the fissure in the wall. In its wake, it left a glimmering trail.

“What was that?” Twilight asked.

“I think it’s called a tracking stone.” Spike said. “It’ll find Rarity and lead her here.” He slowly turned, looking around the tunnel. “Where’s Pinkie?”

“She’s...” Twilight swallowed. “She led her away.”

“Her?”

“The one who intercepted the teleport,” Twilight said. “Somehow, she knew we were coming.” She shuddered and looked at the ground. “I couldn’t stop her.”

Spike wrapped his arms around her neck. “It’ll be okay, Twilight.” He squeezed her gently. “The others will be here soon.”

Twilight nuzzled Spike and rested her chin on his head. “I’m not letting it happen again,” she said, staring at her haggard reflection in one of the crystals in the wall.

“You’re not letting what happen?” Spike said.

Twilight gazed into her own hard eyes. “I’m not going to let someone die for me.”


Twilight sat beside Spike against the wall of the tunnel in complete darkness, waiting. She’d let her horn die a few minutes ago. Normally, producing light was effortless, but as the minutes passed, it became exhausting. She didn’t have enough energy to keep battling back the shadows. She rubbed her eyes, trying to guess how long it had been since Spike had found her.

Five minutes, maybe, she thought. Too long. Sunset Shimmer had probably caught Pinkie by now, one way or another. Is she still alive? Twilight wondered. Is Sunset Shimmer torturing her to find me? She shivered. Is Sunset Shimmer going to come back here?

She pulled her legs closer and leaned against Spike. The dragonling was warm, and the cave floor was like ice against her damp fur. “They’re coming, right?” Twilight whispered, as quietly as she could.

Spike stirred. “They’re coming.”

There’s nothing to do but sit tight, Twilight told herself. A faint clip-clop reached her ears. She froze, listening. The sound grew louder, until it became the beat of multiple trotting hooves.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” a voice she recognized as Rainbow Dash’s said, “Aren’t we supposed to be searching the mines?”

“Honestly, Rainbow, would I be trotting through sewers if I wasn’t sure?” Rarity said. “It’s disgusting!”

“They’re here!” Spike said.

“Twilight and Pinkie are missing, and that’s what you’re worried about!” Rainbow shouted. “What’s wrong with you!”

“Where are they?” Spike asked, his claws scraping on the stone as he moved around in the darkness.

Twilight looked up. Rainbow’s shout came from above. Soft blue light shafted down through the jagged opening at the top of the fissure, slowly growing brighter.

“Rainbow, lay off. We’re all doin’ our best,” Applejack said. “I know we’re all on edge, but taking it out on each other ain’t gonna do anypony any good. We’ll find them.”

Twilight swallowed, wetting her throat. “I’m down here!” she called out. Her voice echoed back at her.

“Twilight?” Fluttershy said.

“That’s what you said yesterday. Anything could be happening to them, and picky-hooves here is worried about sewage!” Rainbow said. “You know what’s in the gutters beside the streets in Ponyville, don’t you?”

Did they hear me? Twilight wondered. “Down here!” she called, this time a little louder.

“Do you hear that?” Fluttershy said.

Rarity’s sigh was audible. “Of course I do. I was trying to lighten—”

“Shut up!” Applejack said.

Rarity gasped. “Don’t snap at me, I’m—mmpph!

“Shush,” Applejack hissed.

“We’re down here!” Spike called.

“There should be a crack in the floor!” Twilight added.

“Twilight!” Rainbow shouted. Air rushed past the opening above Twilight. Hooves touched down in the space above. A pebble fell down the fissure, clattering against the walls. A shadow blocked the light. “Are you okay?!”

Twilight lit her horn, providing them some light to see her by. “Relatively.”

Another pony joined Rainbow at the opening. “Thank goodness!” Rarity said.

“Stand clear down there. We’re coming through,” Applejack said.

Twilight blinked. The opening was far too small for a pony. “There’s no way you’ll fit!” When a rippling sound of stone against stone filled her ears, Twilight took a step back.

“Angel, dig,” Fluttershy said.

A massive rabbit’s paw made from rock shoved its way into the fissure. It ripped a chunk of stone free, shattering a crystal into fragments in the process. A second paw followed and widened the opening further. Angel shoved his head and shoulders into the opening and pawed at the rock. Dust spilled out into the mining tunnel.

Twilight took another step back, closing her eyes against the onslaught of tiny fragments. She sneezed. She opened her eyes and blinked back the dust. Angel stepped out into the tunnel beside her and Spike. Angel licked one of his front paws with a rocky tongue. Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Fluttershy looked down at her from the top of the passage Angel had opened up in the fissure.

Fluttershy’s eyes glowed briefly, and Angel shrank back down into a fluffy white rabbit. Rainbow jumped down, flaring her wings as she dropped. She landed with a spray of small rocks, nearly crashing into Twilight before she came to a stop in the tunnel. “Twilight,” she cried. She wrapped Twilight in a hug, folding her warm wings around them both.

Applejack slid down the sloping rubble with ease. When she reached the bottom, she looked both ways down the passage. “Where’s Pinkie?” she asked.

Twilight buried her face in Rainbow’s fur. “I don’t know,” she murmured. She heard another pony climbing down the rubble, slower and more cautiously than Applejack and Rainbow Dash.

“We were hoping you’d be with her,” Rarity said. “We found her things in a cavern about half an hour ago.”

Twilight swallowed, feeling a tightness in her chest. “She was.” Her eyes burned. “I lost her.” She lifted her head and rested her chin on Rainbow’s shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” Spike said. “I didn’t find them both.”

Rarity jumped the last couple of hoofspans and landed in the tunnel. “You did a great job, Spike. You found Twilight, and you led us to her. That’s all anypony could have expected.”

“Right,” Spike said, staring at the floor.

Fluttershy followed after Rarity. She flapped at the still air as she climbed down the slant of rubble left by Angel in the hole through the fissure. “Pinkie’s okay, right?”

“I don’t know,” Twilight said. “She led her away.”

“Who?” Rarity asked.

Twilight pulled out of Rainbow’s embrace. “It doesn’t matter.” She took a deep breath. “What matters is finding Pinkie.” She stepped unsteadily forward.

“You don’t look so good, Twilight,” Applejack said. “We can get you somewhere safe, then look for her.”

Twilight shook her head. “No.” She clenched her jaw, steadying herself, and walked forward, taking the path Pinkie took. She didn’t look at the bodies down the other tunnel as she passed the fork. “I’m not leaving her with that monster for a second longer than I have to.”

Fluttershy gasped as she trotted after Twilight.

“Oh no...” Rarity said.

“Hold up, Twilight. We’ve got a couple of bodies,” Applejack said, placing a hoof on the small of her back. “What got ’em? Basilisk?” she said to the others.

Twilight sighed and turned around. “No.”

“They’re not petrified,” Rarity said from a few paces down the other passage, delicately pushing back one of the hoods with a dagger. “Just bleeding around the eyes.” She sadly shook her head. “If I knew they’d die down here, I wouldn’t have asked for help.”

“Death spell,” Twilight said. “I saw it, just before Pinkie led Sunset Shimmer away.” She glanced at the bodies. “They’re Thieves Guild, right?”

Rarity nodded.

“Death spell? Sunset Shimmer?” Rainbow asked, peering at her. “What exactly are we up against here?”

Twilight looked down, avoiding the eyes of her friends. “A powerful spellcaster, probably a wizard. She’s better than Star Swirl ever was.” She swallowed. “She had every move planned. Catching Pinkie and me wasn’t even hard for her.”

“What happened to you, Twilight?” Spike said from the middle of the group.

“I...” Twilight shivered. “I’ll tell you later. Go back to the Celestial Plane. If you can talk to Celestia, tell her I’m okay, and ask her if she knows anything about my...” She hesitated. The next word felt strange on her tongue. “‘Potential.’”

“What are you talking about, Twilight?” Spike asked, looking up at her. “I’m your familiar. You can tell me what happened.”

“There isn’t time,” Twilight snapped. “Just do it.”

“Fine,” Spike muttered. He vanished in a flash of green fire.

Applejack raised a brow. “Potential?”

Twilight bit her lip. “Come on,” she said, turning to continue down the tunnel. “Looking at bodies isn’t going to help Pinkie.”


In a chamber at a nexus of rusted railways, Twilight stopped. She looked down each of the three empty tunnels in front of her. “Argh!” She brought her hoof down on an old wooden tie. A satisfying crack rang out. “This place is a warren!” she shouted. Smooth crystals reflected the light of her horn, mocking her with her own frustrated glare.

“Now you know how we felt,” Rainbow said from the tunnel behind her.

Rarity stepped up beside her, casting blue light down the tunnels with her own horn. She touched her shoulder with a hoof. “We’ll find her, Twilight.”

A clatter echoed in the chamber. Twilight’s ears perked. “What was that?” she asked.

“Shh, lights out,” Applejack said.

Twilight nodded and put out her horn. A second later, when Rarity’s light faded as well, darkness surrounded them. Stone rippled against stone, like a torrent of pebbles falling down a slope. Something was moving in the tunnel. Twilight blinked when two glowing red points appeared in the dark. A moment later, many pairs joined the first. Reflections, she realized. Twilight peered down the left tunnel. Light glimmered faintly in the distance. A way out? she wondered.

Rarity’s horn glowed with a warm but dim aura. “Tunnel furthest to the right, round the bend,” she whispered.

Twilight squinted. Rarity’s magic had drowned out the glimmer. She looked down the right tunnel. In one of the crystals, she saw a long shape dragging itself along the ground. The creature’s wide-set, glowing red eyes framed its angular head.

“Got ’im,” Applejack replied. The metallic links of her chain clinked. She whirled, her hooves clopping, and bucked the chain with her hind legs.

With a crack, Truthseeker lashed out, it’s twin spikes flaring to life and leaving a streak across Twilight’s vision. It flew around the bend and impacted with a crunch. In the crystal, Twilight saw the tip of the chain strike and flip the creature out of view.

“All clear,” Applejack said. “Whew. That one was pretty close.”

Twilight lit her horn. “Was that a basilisk?”

Rarity nodded. “The old crystal mines have a bit of an infestation. Down here, with all the reflections, it’s hard to tell where they’re coming from. Light makes them agitated.”

Applejack tugged on her chain with her tail. “Yup. And if they look you in the eye, you get to find out what being a rock feels like. We’ve had to clear out a few.”

“It’s a defense mechanism,” Fluttershy murmured. “They only eat gems.”

“Sorry, them or us,” Rainbow said.

Applejack grabbed one of the chain’s links in her mouth and pulled again. “Stuck,” she muttered. She trotted down the right tunnel.

Twilight followed after Applejack and rounded the bend. Truthseeker pinned a six-hoofspan long lizard-like creature to the wall. Segmented layers of grey rocky armor ran down its body. Its four pairs of stumpy legs hung limply from its body. Applejack pressed her hoof against the basilisk’s body and pulled Truthseeker free.

“I saw something down the left tunnel when it was dark. I think it might have been a light from outside,” Twilight said. “If Pinkie saw it, that might have been the way she went.”

Applejack coiled Truthseeker around her tail. “Lead on, Twilight,” she said with a nod.

Twilight twisted back around in the narrow tunnel. “Right,” she said, stepping back into the chamber. She took the left path and put out her horn. A single point of light gleamed in the distance. Did she make it out? Twilight wondered. She re-lit her horn and trotted steadily forward.

The tunnel sloped gradually downward. The reassuring beat of her friends’ hooves accompanied her. As she progressed, the mining shaft grew wider. Multiple sets of rails from side passages converged and ran parallel down the tunnel. The density and size of the crystal formations gradually diminished. As they closed on the light at the end of the tunnel, it drowned out her horn. Soon, she was squinting to keep it at bay.

“So, where did you end up after the teleport?” Twilight asked.

“The ground floor of a Grey Wizard tower,” Rainbow said. “Didn’t you know where we were going?”

Twilight shook her head. “Not specifically. I knew we were going to Canterlot, but not exactly where. If I’d been here before, I might have been able to tell.” She sighed. “I didn’t think it would matter, so long as we were together. Did they give you any trouble?”

“Don’t worry,” Rarity said. “All it took was a little bribe and the only wizard there ignored us.”

Twilight noticed a single pink hair caught on a protruding railway spike and stopped abruptly. Rainbow grunted as she collided with Twilight’s tail. “Hey!”

Twilight pointed at the hair. “Look! She came this way.” She sucked in a breath as she looked closer. A droplet of blood stained the gravel near the rail. She reached out and touched the blood with her hoof. It was still wet.

With sudden fury, a rumble swept down the passage, shaking the ground beneath Twilight’s hooves. The roar of an explosion thundered past. Loose fragments rained down from the ceiling, nearly masking the scream that followed the blast.

“Pinkie?!” Twilight cried. She launched herself into a sprint. Her legs protested the sudden strain and her heart thundered in her chest, but she kept moving forward. The walls of the tunnel sped past. Panicked yells filled her ears.

Twilight galloped out of the mine shaft and into the burning light of day. Blinded, she slid to a stop in loose rubble. She blinked back the brightness, keeping her eyes open as long as she could manage. In the flashes of vision, she caught glimpses of her surroundings. A barrier shimmered in the air in front of her. A scrap of grey cloth fluttered in the wind. Grey spires and arches rose toward the sky.

Her eyes adjusted, and a smouldering crater resolved around her. Scattered corpses of unicorns clad in grey robes littered the ground beneath a dome-shaped magical barrier covering the center of the crater. More grey-robed unicorns stepped over their fallen. In the epicenter of the crater, Sunset Shimmer held her head high. Pinkie Pie lay motionless in the rubble beside the her. Blood stained her coat.

Twilight’s heart jumped into her throat. Her group rushed out of the tunnel behind her. Applejack slid past her on the rubble, nearly crashing into the dome-shaped barrier. Twilight drew her swords with cold purpose.

Sunset Shimmer turned her head and looked at Twilight. Even across the distance separating them, Twilight saw the corners of her mouth rise into a smirk. Two grey-robed unicorns moved in, flanking Sunset Shimmer. She ignored them, even when one of them fixed a suppressor around her horn.

“You’ll rot in Spellhold for what you’ve done,” one of the unicorns said.

With a roar, Twilight swung her swords at the barrier. Where they struck, the barrier pulsed, but stayed firm. She drew the blades back, readying another swing.

Applejack wrapped a hoof around her neck. “Twilight, stop,” she said.

A grey-robed unicorn walked directly up to the barrier, blocking Twilight’s view of Sunset Shimmer. “Clear off, citizens,” he said. “This area is quarantined.”

“One of them is my friend!” Twilight shouted. “Let us through!”

The unicorn chuckled. “I’m afraid that’s not possible. Your friend has been involved in an unauthorized use of magical energy.” He turned away sharply, adding. “If you attempt to breach the shield again, you will be violently stopped.”

“She’s an earth pony!” Twilight shouted. “How can she be involved?!”

The unicorn ignored her as he trotted away.

“What the hell?” Rainbow said, flaring her wings. “We need to help Pinkie!”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement.

“We will,” Rarity said. “The Grey Wizards clear off as soon as the spellcaster has been dealt with. When they’re gone, we’ll be able to help.”

Six grey-robed unicorns gathered near Sunset Shimmer. They stood at the points of a hexagon and lit their horns. A seventh stepped up and closed his eyes, forming a spell on his horn. A shimmering white portal ripped open in the center of the formation.

Twilight’s eyes widened. Books mentioned the possibility of horns being used instead of gems to form a gateway, but she’d never seen it done. The two unicorns flanking Sunset Shimmer linked their forelegs with hers and dragged her roughly toward the portal.

Sunset Shimmer turned her head, looking back at Twilight. “See you soon, Sparkle,” she said.

“Grab the earth pony,” the wizard who cast the Teleport spell said.

“What?” one of the others said.

“She displayed anti-magic characteristics when fighting the spellcaster. Bring her with us,” the wizard said.

“No!” Twilight cried.

Two grey-robed unicorns rushed to comply. Pinkie groaned as they lifted her to her feet. They pulled her toward the portal. “You can’t do this!” Twilight shouted.

She focused a spell. I have to try, she thought. She had no prepared magic, but she attempted to form Dispel Magic from scratch. Her head swam. Before she had the first pieces in place, the spell collapsed, fizzling pathetically on her horn.

Just before the two unicorns holding her stepped through the portal, Pinkie turned her head. Blood dripped from a gash above her eye. “It’s all a lie,” she said. She disappeared into the shimmering gateway as the wizards pulled her through.

Twilight fell back onto her haunches. “Pinkie...” Her swords fell from her levitation. She watched helplessly as the wizards filtered through the portal one by one, carrying the bodies of their fallen. When all the others were gone, The six ponies providing the points of the array began to step through. In a few seconds, the portal would shut.

Truthseeker slammed into the barrier beside her. Cracks spread from the point of impact. Rainbow Dash launched into the air and delivered an arcing slash along the surface of the dome, but Twilight knew it was already over. When the last of the ponies stepped through, the portal collapsed. The barrier vanished into thin air. Only rubble remained.

Not again.

Author's Note:

Editors:
Nightmare Prose
Amacita