• Published 16th Apr 2014
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Besides the Will of Evil - Jetfire2012


A shadow from the deep past returns to threaten Equestria, along with all the world. Can Twilight Sparkle and her friends be a light in the dark?

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Chapter 43

Author's Note:

The days churned onward, fitfully. The ponies of Equestria tried best they could to drill and train; they could not in four days make up a lifetime's worth of combat learning, but they tried, they tried. Shining Armor thought he could see glimmers of faint progress when he went on his inspections. Even if there had not been improvement, at least the drilling made the ponies feel that they were doing something. Anything was better than the quiet, creeping wait for their obliteration.

On the fifth day, the scouts reported that the dark army of Reiziger was merely hours away, and would likely be upon the city just a few hours past sunset. Celestia nodded, then turned toward her sister. “Luna?”

“Yes,” she nodded, and her horn began to pulse a gentle silver. All across the Crystal Empire, ponies and deerfolk were suddenly engulfed in tiredness. They broke off of their training, of their working, of their living and all streamed back toward their homes and tenements. The deer and ponies shambled to their beds and laid down in them, whence they quickly fell into a slumber. No dreams came; this was a deep sleep, a restful and restoring sleep, a sleep that would rejuvenate them all.

Celestia came out upon a balcony to look down at the city. If she perked her ears up she could almost hear it breathing, in and out, relaxing even as the fear and tension were still palpable in all directions of the empire's territory. Celestia reached out with her divine spirit and touched the souls of all her subjects, trying to revivify and comfort them as best she could.

A flicker came unto her through the Dreaming. She felt a power, and she turned toward it, toward the west, where the sun even now was descending slowly but inexorably down to the horizon. It was not sunset yet, but that would come in a few hours. However, when she looked up with her eyes, which saw in ways that normal eyes could not, she seemed to see sunset- and also sunrise. It was like the afternoon's strong sun gave way, ever so briefly, to a haze of setting colors, a deep and gentle dusk, a “Twilight.”

So Celestia knew she was coming before she came into view. However, into view she soon came, first as a speck, then as a flittered shape, and finally as a full pony, an alicorn so beautiful and graceful, flying down out of the sky. She made no circles and she gave no flourish. She flew straight downward toward the balcony, as though she'd known from the beginning that Celestia would be there. With a graceful clopping on the crystal, Twilight Sparkle landed at the balcony's beginning. Folding up her wings, she saw Celestia and bowed her head, ears drooping. Totally submissive, she came trotting to her erstwhile teacher, and she whispered, just beginning, “Princess Celestia...”

“Princess Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia in turn.

“I...” Twilight tried looking up at her, but Celestia was stoic and was stern. She could not meet her gaze. “I...” She took deep breaths and tried to still her tendency to panic. “I...” at last, at last, she gazed up into the great princess' pink eyes. “I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry.”

“I know.”

“I was wrong. I was wrong! Lord Fëanor was wrong, and I was, too. We weren't able to stop Reiziger. All we did was lose our own forces! Even Lord Fëanor...” Celestia's eyebrow arched, “Lord Fëanor is dead. Reiziger killed him.”

Celestia's head bowed; she sighed. “I suspected as much.”

“And now, he's coming. He's coming! Reiziger is coming here with a massive army!”

“I know. We have known for several days now, and we have been preparing.”

“I don't think anything can stop him, except for the Elements of Harmony. I wish- I... I've learned...”

“Hmm, Twilight Sparkle, what have you learned?”

“Huh?”

Celestia now smiled, very gently. “Do you remember your friendship reports?”

“I... yes. How could I forget them?”

“Well, then, I wonder if you'd humor me, for old times' sake. Everything you have been through, with the Deer Elders, against Reiziger... what has it taught you about friendship?”

“I...” Twilight turned away. She started pacing back and forth before Celestia. “I...” she bobbed her head from side to side. “I... I wonder. Fëanor thought... he thought that only great power could defeat Reiziger. He thought that only strong magic could beat him. And he told me that magic is will. He told me that magic is the imposition of a pony's will upon the creation. But in the end, when he came to Reiziger with magic and power, Reiziger just grew even more powerful, and Reiziger used his own ways against him.”

“Go on.”

“And... maybe... maybe...” Twilight's eyes grew wide. “Maybe... maybe magic isn't just about forcing your will on reality. Maybe it isn't even really that. Maybe Fëanor and the elk had it all wrong.” She rubbed her chin. “That would combine with what Gil-Galad was saying...”

“So, then, Twilight Sparkle: what is magic?”

“Magic is... magic...” she stood up straight as understanding blazed upon her like a brilliant glow. “Magic is a relationship.” She pranced excitedly in place. “Magic is a relationship! It's not about dominating, it's about connecting! Magic isn't how we exert our will on reality, it's how we and reality unite! It's what makes all of creation a single whole, it's what binds together things that at first glance have nothing to do with each other! I can levitate things, transform things, teleport things, not because I'm exerting my will but because I'm entering into a relationship with them, even if just for a moment! I connect with them, they connect with me, and we work together!”

Celestia nodded, and then she takes a step, taking Twilight Sparkle with her. Twilight looks around in wonder and in awe. She has never been here before, but she knows the place immediately. She has read in her books that this place, out of time and out of space and yet connected ever and eternally with both, would feel the way she feels now.

The Dreaming?, she asks.

Yes, Celestia says. Look here, Twilight Sparkle. Behold the truth of what you spoke.

Twilight seems to stand upon a precipice infinity. And yet she is at the bottom of the deepest of ravines. She is up and down, side to side, stretched in all directions and still focused firm in place.

Use your magic, if you can.

Twilight pulses with her horn- and sees the colors and the raining Lightning of the Dreaming swift react. Blues turn into reds, oranges become a vibrant purple, yellows glimmer into greens. Lightning- the true Lightning, the Spark of Life, that which the lightning seen within the waking world is but a shadow of- lances and erupts off of her horn. The Dreaming shifts and moves. Twilight feels it, and she feels herself move also. She swings her head, the Dreaming drifts and shifts in place. She glances out beyond the Dreaming, down into the waking world, out into the waking world, up into the waking world, and sees the way the Lightning and the Colors of the Dreaming bleed between things. The green of trees becomes the sky's green. The brown within the earth becomes the dull red of the molten rock. The golden brilliance of the sun becomes the silver glimmer of the moon. There is no defining separation, no point where one color straight-out becomes another. All is as a flow, a bleeding in from one to next, a rainbow without ceasing.

The connection... she whispers. It's real- it's real! Everything is united, and that unity is magic!

Celestia is smiling broadly.

And it's most of all connected in the way total strangers can meet, and grow together, and turn themselves into friends! It doesn't make sense- there's nothing logical about it- but it's a union between two ponies that transforms both of them, and allows both of them in turn to transform the world around them! She gasps. Friendship... oh my gosh, friendship! Friendship really is magic! It's the most powerful magic of all!

There is a gentle burst of rainbow-

The mythicorn and the thestral stuttered in their endless motion.

Applejack paused in her progression on the golden grass.

“Did you feel that?” asked Fluttershy.

“Yeppers! Come on!” cried Pinkie Pie.

Celestia smiled brightly as the waking world resurfaced. There was soft light; the smell of clean water was lovely on the air. The transformation was not very dramatic. Twilight was still the same size that she'd been, roughly the same size as Princess Cadence. She had not grown any larger. However, she had still changed. There was a certain changing of the light upon her. Her lavender coat seemed at once both light and dark, as though she stood in sunrise and sunset. Her mane and tail had changed from mere dark purple to the deep, rich purple of the dusk, and the pink streak through them became the especial rosy color of the rising sun. Even more, Twilight felt the change herself. It felt as though a burning iron bar had been stuck in her heart, and now it was removed, leaving her chest clean and clear.

“Well done, Twilight Sparkle,” said Celestia. “You have learned well. You always do.”

“Oh, thank you, Princess Celestia!” cried Twilight, surging to her. Celestia caught her and wrapped her in a hug, and they shared the most tender touch that could be possible between a student and a teacher.

“I'm so, so proud of you, Twilight.”

“Twilight!”

Twilight!” No sooner did Twilight pull out of Celestia's embrace than Pinkie surged upon her. With long, lean limbs and graceful body she consumed Twilight in the most beautiful and heartfelt of all hugs. “Ohmigosh Twilight I was so worried and I saw all the light and felt all the magic and I was afraid you were gone forever but you're not and now you're here-” she took a deep breath, “and I'm so so happy!”

“I'm happy to see you too, Pinkie!” Twilight snuggled up to her, delighting in her touch. “I'm so sorry I abandoned you,” she glanced past Pinkie and saw Fluttershy, “both of you.”

Fluttershy drew close and snuggled up to Twilight. “You were doing what you thought was right. I can't blame you for any of that.”

“In the end, though, it wasn't right- it was wrong. I was wrong.” Twilight drew them both much closer to herself. “But now I'm back, and I'm here to set things right!”

Celestia smiled. “Unfortunately, you three, there is at least a little more fighting to do. We must defend the Crystal Empire.”

“Right,” said Fluttershy as the three friends broke their embrace.

“You can count on us, Princess!” said Pinkie, snapping a salute.

“I'll do whatever I can,” said Twilight. She stood up straighter. “Reiziger won't succeed! We won't let him!”


All the sleeping folk awoke at sunset. The sky was flaming orange and streaked with lovely rosy pink. On the western range the sun, descending slowly but unceasingly, was bloody red. Its crimson rays alighted on the crystal buildings of the Crystal Empire and set them sparkling, gleaming, glinting ruddy light through every alleyway and avenue. It was as though the city were devoured by a blood haze. As the sun began to touch on the horizon, Shining Armor stood once more upon the balcony. “Attention, all deer and ponies,” he said, voice projected through the city, “Reiziger's army is only two hours away. All those unfit for combat- all the young, all the old, all the sick, all the disabled- proceed immediately to the crystal catacombs! All the rest, all who have been given assignments, report to your stations!”

The city started churning up with motion and activity. Ponies in their tenements and houses buckled on the armor they'd received- those who had received it, anyway. A great stream of ponies, dotted here and there with deer, started moving through the streets and avenues. The majority went heading for the huge, shallow slopes that led below the earth, that led into the massive, surging catacombs. The old crystal ponies had built most of the empire out of the crystal dug out of these caves, and so there now was space enough to house all those who did not have the strength or will to fight.

“All right, just settle in here,” said Mr. Cake, smoothing out the blanket. He was in a cozy corner of the catacombs, where other ponies out of Ponyville had gathered and set up a kind of base.

“Yay!” said Pound Cake, bouncing on the blanket.

“Time for sleep?” asked Pumpkin Cake.

“Yes,” said Mr. Cake, “yes, Pumpkin, please try and go to sleep.” He looked his wife in the eyes. She tried her best to keep from crying. “Well, Cuppy, I'd better go.” He jostled back and forth, the armor rattling a bit upon his narrow frame. “Fortunately, I'm up in one of the defense towers. The protection should be g-”

Why?” wailed Mrs. Cake. She lunged at him and drew him up against her softened body. “Why, why, Carrot? Why do you have to fight? You're older! They said the older ponies wouldn't have to fight!”

“There's plenty of ponies even older than I am,” said Mr. Cake. “Somepony does have to be out there. And...” his eyes wavered, “I... I want to be out there. I want to protect you, Cuppy, you and the kids.”

“You're so brave,” sniffed Mrs. Cake, tears rolling down her face.

“Aww, shucks, I'm not brave.” He sighed. “To tell the truth, I'm scared stiff. I want to run away, honestly.” He chuckled. “But where is there to go? This is it. This is the last bit of Equestria left. There's no place left to escape to... so we've all got to stand.”

“That sounds pretty brave to me!”

Pinkie!” cried the Cakes. They turned and found her standing right behind them, smiling broadly.

“Oh, dear, oh, honey!” cried Mrs. Cake, wrapping Pinkie in a tight embrace.

“Don't you worry your frosty little head, Mrs. Cake!” said Pinkie. “I'll take extra-special care of Mr. Cake! I'll have my Pinkie Eyes looking for him all the time!” And I'll keep track of his thinking, too!

“Whoa,” said Mr. Cake, shaking his head at the telepathy. “That's going to take some getting used to.”

“Oh, deary,” said Mrs. Cake, looking over Pinkie. “You've gotten so big!”

“Pinkie!” cried Pumpkin.

Big Pinkie!” cried Pound.

“That's right!” Pinkie brightly said. “Your Auntie Pinkie is all grown up.” She made a strange face. “All grown up... no more kidding around.”

“What's wrong?” asked Mr. Cake.

“Just... remembering what used to be.” For a moment, Pinkie seemed a little sad. Only for a moment, though- then she smiled just as broadly. “But as my Granny Pie used to say, if we were meant to go backward, we'd have our heads on our behinds! Gotta keep moving forward, no matter what!”

“Well, Cuppy, we'd better get going,” said Mr. Cake.

“Oh, be safe! You look over your shoulder at all times, you hear me?” cried Mrs. Cake, tears streaming down her face as she rushed Mr. Cake and Pinkie, wrapping both in a tight hug. “And you be safe too, Pinkie! If anything happens to either of you, I'll... I won't be able to stand it!”

“We'll be super safe, Mrs. Cake! We've got the Elements of Harmony on our side!”

Wiping her eyes, Mrs. Cake smiled gently. “Oh, Pinkie... I wish I had your faith.” She gently rubbed Pinkie's cheek. “I love you, you know that, right? I know you've got your parents, but I love you as much as if you were mine.”

“O-Oh, yes, yeah!” said Mr. Cake. He wrapped a leg round Pinkie. “I love you too, Pinkie. We both love you.”

Tears running down her face, Pinkie wrapped them both in an embrace. “Oh, you guys are the best employers-slash-landlords a pony could ask for! I love you both so, so much!” She nodded. “And I'll protect you, I'll protect all of you, as much as I can!”

“Pinkie...” cooed Pound.

“I love you little guys too!” said Pinkie, crawling down to them and nuzzling them both. “You'll be safe. Trust your Auntie Pinkie! She'll make things right, she and all her friends!” She pulsed her thoughts through them, sending them amazing feelings of contentment and of joy. They smiled and laughed as she drew back. She watched them bounce and bob, so happy, so at ease. She sighed. “Okay, Mr. Cake,” she said at last, “let's go.”


The gentle bristles of the brush reached through Fluttershy's fur and brushed her tender skin. “Ai!” she cried. “Sa lalappas!

Á tara en,” said Javier, controlling the motions of the brush with his magic. “Har teleië nanyë.” At last, the brush swept curving down, then ended in a looping, graceful point. It pulled away, and Javier looked over what he'd marked. <Well, Quildemal, what do you think?>

Fluttershy turned round to face the mirror. Then she turned herself, to and fro and back and forth to best behold the mule deer's handiwork. He had laid dull green lines all over her. They wove and swept and swirled like vines or branches, artfully encompassing her whole physical form. They swirled around her legs, they curved about her neck, they even branched around her eyes. She smiled, then she turned and smiled at him. <It's wonderful! Thank you!>

<Now just let me turn it on-> his antlers pulsed, and all the swirling drawings upon Fluttershy flashed green. For a moment, they swelled off her body, forming a green layer glowing a few inches off her fur. Then they sucked back down into the paint, and Fluttershy felt swaddled, wrapped up somehow, though she still moved freely and did not feel pressure on her skin. <There. Your ether barding is set.>

She nodded, then she sighed. <I just wish there was some way to put it on all the poor ponies who don't have armor.>

<Remember, Quildemal, ether barding does not function unless the wearer has strong enough magical abilities. I wouldn't even be able to put it on you if it weren't for your Element of Harmony. It does not work on earth ponies or pegasi, and most unicorns are->

<Aren't strong enough to make it work either, I know.> She bowed her head. <I hope they'll be all right. I don't want anypony to die tonight... even though I know some will.>

<We are at war, Fluttershy. Death is a part of war.>

<I know, I know... and at least, with me wearing this, I've freed up a physical set of armor for some other pony to take.> Her eyes grew wide. <I wish I could protect the whole Crystal Empire. I wish I could cast my Gift of Kindness over everypony and everydeer, protecting them from hurts forever!>

<And some day you may be powerful enough to do that. Falalauria has hinted thus. You are not now, however. For now, you must do what you can, and not expect anything more of yourself.>

She smiled, and she nodded. <Oh, Javier, thank you, thank you for always believing in me.>

<My belief has been earned, Quildemal.> He smiled. <Do you remember when you were new among us? You were so weak you could barely stand. Your gait was rickety and shifting. You did not talk, not even in Equestrian. We had to make you eat, you were so frightened and so low. Now... look at you. You have grown so tall, and so beautiful, and so brave. You do not even fear for yourself- all your worry is for others.>

<You all taught me to be generous and kind.>

<But you did not have to listen. The teacher's lessons are useless without a willing student- and a skillful one. All you have done is a credit to yourself.>

Fluttershy drew close. <Javier, I know... I know you told me to remember that I was a pony, not a deer. You always said that I would have to return to ponydom one day, and that however much we cared for each other, I wasn't your kind, and you weren't mine.> Her eyes wavered. <But... I'll always be yours.>

<Quildemal...>

<My parents never came to look for me, you know. I barely remember them. I don't think... I don't think they wanted me, really. You did, though, and I'll never forget it.> She licked him on his left cheek, then on his right. <I love you, Papa.>

Javier drew in and nuzzled her. <I love you too, Quildemal.> He licked her on each cheek in turn. Then he drew away, and his dark eyes flashed fierce. <Now, come! We have an empire to protect.>

Fluttershy's own turquoise eyes lit up with daring. <We can't fail, we won't fail, so let's not fail.> Javier drew back, allowing her to take the lead out of the crystal room.


Twilight walked around her brother, sweeping violet eyes over his powerfully built form. “Your armor's a little tight,” she said.

“Heh,” said Shining Armor. “Too many bench presses and leg curls.”

“And maybe a little too much of Cadence's cooking?”

“What? No! Candy and I always watch what we eat.”

“I'm just kidding, Shiny,” she said with a smile. “You look great. Very regal.”

“That's high praise coming from an alicorn princess,” said Shining Armor. He glanced over her form, all covered up in darkened, dusky swirls. “Nice ether barding, by the way.”

“Lady Falalauria did it herself. I told her I didn't need it, but she insisted.” Twilight sighed and slumped against a nearby wall. “This waiting is too much.”

“A lot of war is waiting. You wait, and wait, and wait- and suddenly everything is happening at once.”

“I'm just... this is all making me so nervous. I'm even more nervous than I was when Fëanor and I were facing Reiziger in the field!”

“That was an attack. You were on the offensive, you were moving. This is a defense, Twily. It's always harder to be on defense.”

“Don't suppose you've got any stories from the field to cheer me up?”

“I've got a few...” he rubbed his chin. “Not sure how relevant they are. I can't say I've ever had to face anything like this.” He swung his eyes back toward his sister. “Twily, did you get to see mom and dad?”

“Yes!” she said. “I made sure I went to them and let them know how I was doing. I told them everything that had happened to me. They said they were sorry. They said they forgave me.” She clapped a hoof against her cheek. “Everypony forgives me! It's driving me nuts!”

“You were doing what you thought was right. It's not like you turned evil, you just switched from one part of the good side to another one with different ideas.”

“After everything I saw of him, I'm not sure Fëanor was very good at all, in the end.”

“I think you're being unfair to him. Everything I've seen and heard about him makes me think that he really wasn't evil. He was just... zealous. He wanted to destroy evil more than he wanted to do good.”

“Destroy...” murmured Twilight. Her eyes went wide. “I did so much damage... I caused so much destruction, I wreaked so much havoc on Equestria... and in the end it was all for nothing!”

Shining Armor turned back toward the mirror. With a flicker of his horn he tightened up his helmet strap. “Well,” he said over his shoulder, “I guess that's a lesson for you, Miss Bearer of Magic. You're incredibly powerful now, too powerful for anypony to stop. I'm not even sure if Celestia could stop you if you really went all-out, not if everything I've read about the Element of Magic is true.” He turned to face her fully. “You've gotten to the point that nopony can stop you but yourself, Twily. That's a heavy burden. It's going to require a lot of wisdom.”

“I know, I know,” she fluttered her wide wings. “Ha! After all my reading, all my learning, all my notes and charts, I've still wound up with more power than sense!”

“You've got an awful lot of sense, though,” said Shining Armor. “You're on the right track, I guess- though don't take my word for it. I'm not Princess Celestia. But if she trusts you, I do too.” He smiled. “Heck, even if she didn't trust you, I would.”

Twilight came to him and wrapped him in a hug. “Big Brother Best Friend Forever!”

“Little Sister Best Friend Forever- no doubt.” They squeezed together.

As Twilight pulled apart, she sighed. “Part of me wishes Spike was here. I really, really want to see him again. But... another part of me is glad he's not here. At least outside of Equestria, he's safe.” She gave her brother a firm glare. “Let's make sure there's an Equestria waiting for him when he comes back.”

“You got it,” said Shining Armor, heading for the door.


An hour after sunset, all were ready. The unicorns and pegasi and earth ponies were spread throughout the city, formed into tight regiments that manned all towers and were settled behind barricades in all the streets. Here and there were scattered deer battalions, their green and silver armor gleaming in the starlight like the echoes of a distant, lovely star. Every space that could hold soldiers now possessed them, warriors in tens of thousands, most lacking experience but none lacking enthusiasm, none lacking the urge to fight for all they knew and loved.

The castle, too, was manned, balconies and battlements chock full of soldier types. Many of the crystal ponies, in their special crystal armor, had been stationed here. Overhead, the air was sizzling, pulsing with faint light: the Crystal Heart, the beating center of the Empire's defense, had raised its barrier, a blue dome that surrounded the entire Crystal Empire. The ponies underneath it now looked toward the south. The horizon was lit up a terrifying, crimson red. Even now, they heard the gentle thudding of the armies of the dark lord as they drew so close to their intended destination.

“This is it, you know,” said one crystal pony. “This is the last stand of ponies.”

“I wouldn't say that,” said another one, beside him. “Sure, it would be great to win here-”

“We have to win here. If we don't, where will we go? This is the last part of Equestria still unconquered. If we fail here, there's no place left.”

The other made a face. “Well, I mean... we could always fall back to Yakyakistan, or-”

“Or nothing. This is it. This is the last night of ponydom. I don't see how we can survive- and if we don't survive, all our kind dies out.”

Soft music rose upon the breeze. The two looked up in time to see a lovely, dawn-hued shape go swooping overhead. It was Cadence- she was flying round the castle, round the city, sweeping low with pink-and-purple wings, and through the air her song traveled across the towers and streets:

Spare me some love at the end of the world,

Though the nightmares have risen anew.

If you stick out your chest and then hope for the best

There's no darkness that we can't get through.

Spare me some love at the end of the world,

Though the shadows may writhe and may rage.

If you take up my hoof and have courage to boot

We will yet have our time on the stage.

Spare me some love at the end of the world,

Though the fire burns hot and burns fast.

If you keep up the faith, though the hour grows late

I believe we'll see sunshine at last...

“You see?” said the first crystal pony. “Even the princess knows the world is ending.”

“Hush, you,” said the other. “Have a little faith.”

There was no more talking from then on, for everypony watched with growing horror as the writhing, wriggling, boiling blackness poured over the last, most shallow hill on the horizon. The blackened army was enormous, sprawling across miles of white snowy plains. It looked like a hellish night sky, for many of the monsters- changelings, kobolds, goblins- carried torches, and of course here and there, like bursting stars, there were the huge red fires of the balrogs. The army came, and came, and came, seeming endless, and advancing without stopping or disrupting toward the city. As it came close to the walls it started spreading. It began to wrap around the city; one could hear the pfft sounds as the monsters bounced against the barrier spell.

Then there came the screams. Ponies all throughout the city started cowering and rearing back as screeches filled their ears and struck them to their very souls with terror and with dread. The fell beasts swooped as low as they could manage in their shrieking, massive talons raking up against the barrier and causing brief, glowing scratches on the upper reaches of the dome. The commanders, the lieutenants, and the captains shouted and cajoled their forces to maintain their previous composure.

The army now was thick around the city. “Well,” said Twilight, “here we go.” She was standing on the highest balcony with Pinkie, Fluttershy, Shining Armor, Cadence, Celestia, Luna, and Falalauria.

“Oh my gosh,” breathed Pinkie.

“Should I go ahead and go to the Healing Houses?” asked Fluttershy.

“Not just yet,” said Celestia. “We may need you more out here than in there, at first.”

“Ohmigosh, are those balrogs?”

“Yes, Pinkie,” said Twilight. “Trixie told us about them, remember?”

“I just hope all her information on their weaknesses was accurate,” said Shining Armor.

The stars were swirling, briefly, in Falalauria's eyes. When they settled, she said, “Tia, can we survive until sunrise?”

“I can make it sunrise any time I wish.”

“I mean the real sunrise, the proper sunrise eight hours from now.”

“I should hope so,” said Luna. “It will be a close thing, however.”

Celestia's eyebrow arched. “What have you Seen, Lala?”

“Something good,” said Falalauria. “I think if we can last the night, things will turn out for the best.”

Celestia looked closely at her friend. Falalauria smiled gently at her. Celestia's own lips curled up, and she nodded. “Let's last the night, then.”

“Don't worry,” said Cadence. “The Crystal Heart will buy us a lot of time. It's going to be a while before anypony can get through the barrier.” To her surprise, Celestia, Luna, and Falalauria started to fidget. Luna and Celestia particularly made uncomfortable faces. “What? What's wrong?”

“Oh, Cadence,” said Luna, “thou hast never faced a high deer before, hast thou?”

“W-Well, no...”

“Princess Cadence,” Falalauria said, “I am not sure how long your barrier can endure against a high deer from the old civilization, such as Reiziger. There is a weakness to spells cast by-”

Crystal?

The voice boomed into every creature's mind. In the catacombs below the city, the millions gathered shrieked and shrank from fear.

You think to stop me with a spell cast by crystal? Oh, you poor, poor fools.

The army right before the barrier pulled back, allowing one great blackened spot to stand alone. Crimson fire burned about him; the night itself seemed to grow darker in his midst.

My dear, sweet Princess Cadence... don't you know better than to cast spells with crystal against an old deer? That was one of the first defenses to crack during the War. There came a long, high, unending screech as Reiziger dragged his antler tines against the barrier. He was moving slowly, deliberately. Here is a lesson in practical magic: spells cast by crystal take on the structural properties of the crystals that cast them. This can make them exceptionally powerful! Crystal is sturdy and well-defined. However, in taking on the strengths of crystal, the spells take on the weaknesses of crystal, as well.

“Ah, dear,” muttered Celestia.

All crystals are meetings of angles and facets- and all crystals have a point, one special, focused point- on which their entire structure hinges. It is called a 'shatterpoint.' If this point is struck with sufficient force, all crystals- even the strongest, even the sturdiest, even those that can survive the fury of the center of the Earth- will crack apart. He stopped walking at a certain point along the barrier. And so it is for all the spells those crystals cast. They can be powerful enough to withstand the mightiest of attacks, but all you have to do is hit them in the right spot- he slammed his burning antlers up against the barrier, blasting it with an immense amount of crimson power.

The Crystal Heart cracked. With a sound like breaking glass the glowing, bluish barrier shattered apart. The ponies and the deer within the city watched in horror as the huge blue pieces of the energy enclosure hovered for a moment in the sky, then blinked out of existence.

The snow began to fall. The fires burned red hot. And Reiziger cried out unto his multitudes: Kill them all!