• 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 44

Author's Note:

I think this is probably the longest chapter in the story. Hope it's worth all the words it uses.

With a horrible roar the dark army surged forward. The balrogs shouldered aside all the others in their flaming passage, but the changelings reached the wall first and quickly flew up beyond it, buzzing fast into the city. The fell beasts swooped down with talons bared and mouths open to shriek their fear-inducing cries. Above them all rose Reiziger, and he became the other thing- the Thing he'd been that day in Cloudsdale all those months ago.

Falalauria went vaulting off the balcony into the night. Celestia and Luna pumped their wings. “We shall keep Reiziger in check!” Celestia said, huge wings erupting in the flurry of white feathers. “Shining Armor, Cadence, Twilight Sparkle, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, I leave the defense of the Empire to you!” She dove off of the balcony, spreading wide her wings and flying off.

“Hold the city!” Luna shouted as she flung herself over the edge. “Hold the city, at all costs!”

The fell beasts had already crashed against the upper towers, scattering the ponies. “Twily, pick them off!” cried Shining Armor, whose own horn flashed then blazed with thunderous eruptions. He blew apart two of the monsters; Twilight got three more. Then he turned back to the city and cast out his voice projection spell. “You heard the princesses! We hold the city, no matter what! Pegasi, twister formations, sigma formations! Earth ponies, hold ranks and stand firm! Unicorns and deer, light 'em up!” At the cry the sky erupted with a rainbow burst of color as the thousands of mule deer and white-tail deer and unicorns let loose their battle magic. Some were weaker, some were stronger, all blazed out and cut apart a wave of changelings surging straight for them.

The shrieking of the fell beasts filled the hearts of every deer and pony with black terror. They squirmed and screamed, writhing where they stood. “Cadence!” cried Twilight. “The counter-noise spell! The one Trixie taught us!”

“Right!” cried Cadence. She pulsed pink magic from her horn. There came another noise upon the air for just a moment- then the wailing of the fell beasts dropped away. Cadence was projecting a noise perfectly in counter-melody to all their shrieking. The soldiers ceased their panic, minds returning to them as the awful noise was stilled. Once more they sprung to their defenses; once more the city teemed with battle. Down in the city pegasi were spinning up tornadoes that came down upon the kobolds and the goblins, sucking them all up and smashing them against the houses and the towers made of crystal.

The changelings, with their wings, could easily o'ercome the outer wall. The kobolds, shambling gray things that walked upon their front legs and lashed out with their back legs, could but climb it, where unicorns and earth ponies and deer were set to meet them. Even so, many of them hurtled up the stony surfaces- there were so, so many, too many for the defenders to truly stop. Over and upon them came the goblins, so thin, so black, they looked like gangly spiders, though their glowing green eyes illumined their massive hands and feet. They rather looked like ponies if they had great fingers and great toes stuck to their hooves. They shambled up the kobolds, up the wall, and joining with the changelings hurried for the towers. From these came massive blasts of magic that rained down upon the city and into the air, striking and destroying darkened creatures. Thus the black horde tried its best to topple these great towers, though many broke away, and there was heavy fighting in all streets and avenues.


Bon Bon ducked and wove about the nightmares shucking in around her. “This is ridiculous!” she shouted. She barely dodged a kobold flying at her. She kept her pike tucked firmly underneath her leg, but barely gave a thought to using it; all she thought of was not dying, of seeing Lyra yet again. “You've gotta be kidding me!” she shouted. Beside her, an ungoliant came skittering into the fray, taller than a house and wielding its tremendous stinger. “Oh, this is ridiculous!” she exclaimed, and at last some of the drilling of the past four days came into her. She swung her pike out and actually managed to behead a goblin. “Ah! Ah, haha!” she laughed, completely scared out of her mind.

“Behind you!” somepony exclaimed, and Bon Bon dodged off as a wyvern swooped low, blasting blue fire into their midst.

“Lyra! Lyra!” she cried, ducking underneath a kobold's blade. “Lyra, I'll get to you! I'll survive!” she swung her pike and blasted back a number of the darkened horde. Finding courage, she advanced and then stood still, standing firm with gray eyes as the forces of the enemy struck her and cracked their weapons on her stony body. Then she hurried, scampering away as the ungoliant went smashing through the crystal houses, taking out the structures in its path.

“Hold up, there!” came a well-known voice.

“Doctor!” cried Bon Bon. “How are you?”

“Oh, rather well, all things considered,” he said. He expertly turned round and wove about a goblin, then swung out his hoof-axe and parted its head from shoulders. “You would be astounded at how much math there is to martial combat! Why, it's all angles and velocities, really.”

“Great,” rumbled Bon Bon. “Can we- eek!” she shrieked as a kobold came hurtling at her, blank face and large ears erupting through her sight. She wildly swung her pike at it, causing it to dance away, but then it came again so she boiled down in great ferocity and swung again, it dodged, this time Bon Bon was mad so she discarded her great pike and lunged at it and swung her bare hard hooves into its face and battered it, she knocked it down and then she started stomping, clomping, grinding up its face and body with her hard, hard hooves-

“Bon Bon, my dear!”

“Gah!” she shrieked, swirling round. She'd more than crushed the kobold. “What? What?”

The Doctor shook his head. “In another life, you could have been a warlord on the steppes.”

“Whatever! I just don't want to die!”

“Fair enough!” he shouted. “Come on, then, let's move together!”

There came suddenly the twisting wrath of winds, and also an immense deep purple fire. The walls were raked with these twin forces, ponies and deer scattered from the wrath as two black shapes went swirling, snaking through the air.

“Rainbow Dash...” cooed Fluttershy.

“And Rarity!” cried Twilight. “I'll handle them!” She vaulted from the balcony and pumped her wings to soar across the Empire. She flew and flashed, and she drew upon the Gift of Magic. She glimmered with the Dawn and Dusk. Her cutie marks were shining bright, and great power was with her. The thestral swung about to face her as she flew. It cracked its wings and loosed a hail of rain that laced all up and down with lightning. Twilight flicked her wings and threw off waves of light. The mythicorn came up behind her but she drove it back in fury and in wrath. “Stop this!” she shouted. “Stop this, Rarity, Dash! I don't want to hurt you!”

The mythicorn erupted in a blaze of violet, streaked about with fire and with wrath. It flung its fire at her just as from above the thestral rippled down a hail of wind and rain. Twilight swung about and caught the spell and weather on her wings, magic flowed upon her, she breathed out and their blows were gone. The mythicorn teleported right beside her and abruptly tried to gore her with its horn. As it was, it nearly got her, but her ether barding glowed off of her body and repelled the blow. Then she flung a blast of battle magic that lanced out-

It flashed beyond the thestral and went streaking down into the city, blasting apart several blocks. “No!” cried Twilight. “I have to be more careful.” She wove about the howling fury of the thestral and saw all the fire and the violet Death itself that thundered from the mythicorn and so about her there arose a great and mighty strength. Her cutie marks were set ablaze. She gave a glance upon the blasted fire down below and it was put out. In great might she advanced upon the thestral, and she was at once a terrible thing. The thestral in its blackness and its wild wind rose up before her, bent a terrible enormity of weather and of violence upon her.

Twilight rose above it and beyond it. Her eyes were gleaming, but this time they lacked the wrath and arrogance of that great battle with the deerfolk. For all power and her fury, there was gentleness within that gaze. So when the mythicorn came at her yet again in blackness, she met it with lovely purple light that at the edges whispered glints of rainbow. Her magic echoed out in gentle waves that took in all the hate and shadow of both darkened ponies and transmogrified it into brightest light, a light that rose like second dawn and swelled in radiance that could not be described with proper excellence. It was true light, great light, the lovely Dawn and Dusk, and from it both the thestral and the mythicorn drew back as though they had been burned. Twilight turned the Light upon them harder now, driving at them, shoving them far up into the sky.

The mythicorn went teleporting back down to the city. In a sweep of black that brought with it a cold and bitter wind, the thestral swooped down, bringing thunderstorms and twisters in its wake. Twilight, bathed in gentle light, sighed deeply. “I'll save you, Rarity, Dash, I'll save you,” she said. “I'll even save you from yourselves.” She fluttered down to yet again hold back their hate.

Lovely dawn and dusk from Twilight mingled with the mythicorn's dark violet fire and the thestral's flashing lightning to illuminate the sky high overhead. All everywhere became a haze of color and of sound, glimpses of a power that went gleaming off into the spires of infinity. Mr. Cake, whose tower was the closest to the battle of the mighty beings, whispered, “Beautiful.” Then he turned off toward the blackened night beyond the raging battle in the Crystal Empire, out to where the true light show was raging. The huge and flaring crimson fire flashed and blasted up the air and earth and water, vaporizing whole huge fields of snow, ripping up the atmosphere and leaving rancid ozone in its wake. Against this came the flashing golden brilliance of the sun, the soft and gentle silver of the moon, and a white magic power clean and bright as ice. These three came up against the crimson, and they bathed it in their brightness and their might, but still the crimson burned so darkly, mocking them in all their so-called power. “You know,” said Mr. Cake to his companion, “It's actually pretty-”

A spear went flying at him and he quickly dodged. His companion was not so lucky, falling dead beside him. “Earth pony!” snapped his commander. “You've got a pike, don't you? Use it!”

“Right, right!” cried Mr. Cake, taking up his weapon as a dozen changelings buzzed down just as seven goblins finished their long climb up the high tower. “Agh! Agh, g-goblins!” he cried.

“Flash spells!” cried the commander. The two unicorns and one deer united their magic in a bursting blaze of light. The goblins howled and staggered, and Mr. Cake at last uncovered his old courage. He thought of Cup and Pound and Pumpkin, he snorted from his nostrils, and he swung his pike, knocking one goblin off of the tower down and down to darkened streets below. The pegasus beside him slashed a sword and cut two goblins down, then whipped his wings and blasted wind that blew all of the changelings back. The deer's antlers sparkled and suddenly half of the changelings blew apart. The unicorns aimed battle magic at the goblins, blasting them to pieces.

Within a few minutes the fighting finished, and the position was clear again. “That unicorn, Trixie, was right! The goblins do hate light!” one pegasus exclaimed.

“Looks like we're not the only ponies to know it,” said the commander, glancing over the side. Here and there amid the fighting in the towers and upon the streets there came bright flashes. “Now come on! Nock arrows, ready spears, battle magic light up! Let's blast these black monsters back into Tartarus!”

Mr. Cake took up a spear. He thought, again, of Cup, of Pumpkin, and of Pound. He tracked a flying wyvern through the air and flung.

The battles through the streets were hard and fierce. The ponies and the deer came cycling in combat charges that were blurs of swords and spears and axes and strong magic. They were as mixed as they could be, owing to the lessened numbers of the deer. In one street, against a huge ungoliant and buzzing changelings everywhere, a party of mixed deer- mule deer and white-tails- clashed and charged, ether barding glowing as it lanced off blows, battle magic flying to annihilate all in their path.

<Behind you!> cried a mule deer to Inez, who artfully turned round and dodged a changeling swipe.

Her battle magic fired and slashed it from existence. <Thank you, brother,> she said.

<It has been long since I engaged in any sort of combat,> the mule deer said, his Laewtil accented not in the same way as Inez's own, but still perfectly legible. <I fear I've grown rather rusty.>

<You seem in good shape to me!> said Inez. She swirled her curving blade and danced amid the roaring horde of changelings, slicing and destroying all about her, battle magic flashing as she moved. With sparking shouts the deerfolk followed in her wake, firing their magic, slashing with their swords, cutting down the changelings that buzzed down upon them and massed them at every side. In the midst of all was the ungoliant, catching deer within its webs and jerking them into its waiting jaws. The mule deer Inez had been talking to reared back, gathered up his strength, set his antlers sparking and cried out:

Aparuivë!

With a howling scream the giant spider was engulfed in blue-green flame. The bright light and the awful heat scattered all the changelings, and with their concentration now unleashed the deer blasted their fire spells upon the burning hulk. With a final, gurgling grunt the great ungoliant gave up a shudder, and it toppled in a crash.

<Well played,> said Inez, coming up to him.

<I needed just a few moments of calm to gather my energies for that spell,> said the mule deer. <Thank you for providing it with your heroics.>

<There is no need to thank.> Inez's eyes grew narrow. <You know he hates us most of all.>

<Who?>

<The Herd Lord. He especially despised our two species, the common deer. His attempt to oppress us is what started the war in the first place.>

<Ah, yes, I remember, from history lessons,> said the mule deer. His blue eyes flashed. <Let us defeat him, once and for all! For our ancestors!>

<And for our future,> said Inez. <Come, deerfolk! The night is not over yet!> Hurtling forward with great speed and lovely grace, the mule deer and the white-tail deer advanced to their next battle.

So the war raged, and the hours of the night passed fitful on. Down in the catacombs, the ponies who were not equipped to battle trembled in their fear. Pound and Pumpkin now were crying; they had awoken recently, and bellowed for their father. Mrs. Cake gently made faces at them. “Oh, oh honeys, calm down. Daddy's going to be back soon, I promise.”

“Daddy!” cried Pound.

“Want Daddy!” cried Pumpkin. The two exchanged a glance and burst once more into huge tears.

“I...” Mrs. Cake's stomach began to sink. “Just...”

“Fillies and gentlecolts!”

Mrs. Cake, and every other pony, turned toward the center of the catacombs. To their surprise, it lit up golden with magical gleaming orbs. These illuminated a large stage, complete with curtains and a backdrop. Trixie stood upon it, smiling broadly as the ponies round her drew in close.

“That's right! Come one, come all, to behold the amazing feats of prestidigitation of the Great and Powerful Trixie! There's no show in Equestria that will dazzle you like mine!” She drew a fair crowd. They locked their eyes on her and tried hard to ignore the sounds of battle from high overhead. “Yes, that's right, folks, I'm here to wow and dazzle you, so make me the center of attention!” She reached back into her cape, and with a flourish of her hooves produced a flight of doves. The crowd oooed and ahhed at the display. Trixie, knowing that she had them, grinned. “So how's everypony doing tonight? I just flew in from Yakyakistan, and wow, my hooves are tired!” A chuckle rose through the crowd. “I'm pretty hungry, too. Too bad all I've got is this banana...”

She raised the banana in question, high enough that the crowd would be able to see it. Then she peeled it carefully and started chowing down, quickly devouring the sweet and tasty fruit.

“Wow, that was good. I wish I had more...” she frowned dramatically- then she made a happy face. “Oh, wait!” She tossed the banana over her shoulder. Then she spun around three times. Upon the last revolution she posed dramatically, her horn flashed light purple, and she cried, “Shazam!”

There was a burst of light, a puff of smoke, and to the wonder of the crowd, there now grew a whole banana tree upon the stage, bristling with ripe and yellow fruit. The crowd stomped its hooves and cried aloud in wonder. Trixie's horn glowed and the bananas flew off of the tree, out into the audience that quickly started eating them to test if they were real. Indeed, the fruit was genuine, and soon many small ponies snacked upon the tasty magic.

Trixie smiled, thrilled at how they loved her, thrilled too that they, for a moment, had forgotten the great battle raging overhead. Now if only she could stop thinking about it. “All right, all right, settle down, my good ponies!” She pulled out a glass filled with red juice. “Whew, that banana made me thirsty.” She quickly chugged the drink. Then she put on an exaggerated stagger. “Whoa... whoa... that was spicier than I thought.” She wiped her brow and fidgeted. “Seriously, folks, that drink was hot! I feel like- I might just-” she reared back, then lunged forward and breathed fire up into the air, flashing brilliant ruddy light throughout the crystal caves.

The crowd was cheering, whooping, laughing. In particular she saw two baby ponies- whom she thought she recognized- giggling with delight close to the stage. A bigger, fatter pony- their mother, she assumed- was snuggling them close. She smiled at Trixie knowingly, and Trixie breathed out in a great sigh of relief. It was working.

“Great! So glad you're having a good time! Now, for my next trick I'm going to need a volunteer from the audience...”


Spearmint dove and flew as a great wyvern tracked behind him, blue fire ablaze within its mouth and on its back. It belched its flames at him but he was far too quick, wheeling round he dodged the fire. “Oy!” he shouted, waving at some nearby pegasi. “Twister!” They heard and understood. They flew at him, he flew at them, and when they all met they began to spin, whipping up a funnel cloud that soon was aimed straight at the wyvern. The howling winds annihilated the most-unsuspecting beast, breaking both its wings and sending it careening towards the ground.

“Commander!” cried another pegasi. “Where are you headed?”

“The northwest tower is in danger of toppling! If we lose that position we're down one-fifth of our battle magic wielders! I'm going to reinforce them!”

“We're with you!” said another of the pegasi. They flew upon him and they flew beside him as he shot over the city. They reached the tower in short order. It was indeed in sorry state: it was listing badly to the side as ungoliants were pulling at it with their webs, while changelings surged around it and balrogs below were knocking powerfully at its firm foundations. The ponies at the top were firing their magic and their arrows best they could, but could not, for all their efforts, shake the horde that surrounded them.

“Tornado! Again!” cried Spearmint. “Oy, ponies and deer! We're spinning a twister up!” he shouted at the tower. “Hold tight!” He dove next to the already-appearing funnel cloud, one of dozens that now swirled and spun throughout the skies around the empire. They were lit up, their silver-gray clouds flashing purple from the magic Twilight still was firing at the thestral and the mythicorn, and tinted vaguely by the crimson, white, gold, and silver flashing far off on the distant dark horizon. This twister, this time, went swirling towards the tower as the earth ponies and unicorns tried to hold on amid the fighting for their very lives. The pegasi within the tower flew to join the twister, though many of them were snatched up or burned by fell beasts or wyverns respectively. Swirling, streaking round the tower went the twister, catching up and hurling out the giant spiders and the balrogs. The changelings too were scattered by the tornado, swirling, roaring, frothing as it scattered the dark creatures.

“Fire!” came the cry from in the tower, and the air lit up and tingled, ozone-scented, from the blasts of battle magic raining downward from the crystal balconies. They blasted at the changelings and the kobolds and the goblins, blowing them apart and blowing them away. The twister and the magic, and a few stray spears and arrows, the tower finally was cleared of all that might have smashed it down.

“Thanks for the assist, commander!” said a red pegasus with white mane and tail.

“No problem!” said Spearmint.

“Look!” cried one of the other pegasi, pointing to the south. They turned. Crimson fire burned beneath the southwestern defensive tower. “Balrogs!”

“Gotta go,” said Spearmint. “Keep up the fight!” He shot off, streaking o'er the city in a bright light greenish blur-

Thunk!

He was blasted from the air and fell, toppling to the streets below. His leg popped as it broke; he howled in pain and writhed, then recognized the source of that pain coming from his side: an arrow stuck out from his flank. He tore it out, splashing blood over the cobbled streets. “No,” he snarled, “no, no, not now...”

Buzzing, awful wings came overhead. Changelings fell upon him. He swung his sword and cut one's head off, skewered another, sliced off wings and boxed its head in with his hooves. Over and again he fought, a whirling storm of death. However, he could not endure. Blood was pouring from his side, and his broken leg left him unable to maneuver as deftly as he would have liked. Sweat and blood were sticking to his skin and fur.

Heat rose on the air. Red light blossomed behind him. He turned, and gaped, for a balrog loomed before him, brandishing its glowing fiery whip. He was, for a moment, frightened. Only for a moment, though. He puffed his chest out, and he twirled his blade. “I regret I have but one life to give for my country!” he cried out, and then he shouted: “Equestriaaaaa!” and charged the monster, going to his doom.

Shadow was immense out in the dark beyond the city. It rose like surging tides, a hurricane of blackness neverending. Within the shadow, at its molten core there was the Fire, seated on the head of Reiziger like an infernal diadem. A crown of antlers and of flame marked him as royalty, a cloak and train of shadow made him regal. He was the last of all the deerfolk royalty- he, the Lord of All the Herds! With Fëanor's defeat he was the final link to those great noble lines which once had stood astride the planet in their glory and their beauty. And yet how much those ancient families despised him! How much did he, the Shadow and the Fire, spit into the faces of the deerfolk to whose legacy he was an heir! Even his own caribou had hated them, not the least because he'd driven them into extinction. He was the last of them, and he was not really one of them- he was a mockery, a corpse infected with a ghost that danced and shambled. He grinned now, and his smile was as vast and awful as the endless dark. You are tiring, I see!

In this dark there was the Sun, the Light, the golden loveliness. She too wore a crown, for she too was royalty. However, she was of no bloodline, she had no fathers and no mothers she could look back to with pride. She was the Daughter of the Light and the Stars, of the Glory and the Beauty, of Radiance itself- for she, Celestia, was godly, and gods are not birthed like mortal things. Her eyes were like the golden dawn. The beating of her wings was the hot solar wind. Her magic was the flash of Light itself. She was the Sun; the Sun was her. And when she spoke the warmth and heat of that celestial orb poured forth. I have much strength to go, Lord of Darkness. You have not quailed me yet!

It is only a matter of time! He came at her, the Shadow swirled to her and dimmed the brightness. Behold, your city, your final stronghold! Even as we speak, my forces overrun it, and now I shall overrun you, as well!

The Shadow fell upon the Sun. Sister!, came a cry, and Light fell from the other way. It was a Softness, not a brilliance, a Splendor, not a fury, a light that did not pierce so much as crept. It came upon the Shadow and opposed it from the side, wheeling round in Silver and in Focus. The Moon itself was bright then, and the world rose, the very universe began to warp and flex, for Luna was the Moon, and the Moon controlled the tides, even those tides that did not come out of the sea. The tide of all reality came rushing upon Reiziger, bathing him in silver and confronting him all of a sudden with both Sun and Moon together.

Off!, he exclaimed, and with a flash of dark, forsaken might the Shadow battered back the Moon. It turned upon the Sun, and once more the bright golden glow began to fade before the endless black. Do you even know why you exist? Do you know why you exist now, and did not before? Do you know why you must control the sun?

The Shadow swelled and grew, and from the darkness came the Fire, hellish red. It burned and blazed upon Celestia, drawing her back toward the ground, darkening her brilliance.

It is because the sun you control is the second sun! And your sister controls the second moon! They are a new moon, and a new sun! The Shadow blasted down on her, the Fire raged, the Sun was driven hard into the earth, the black and red came down upon her, hate and fury rising in crescendos of hot wrath. The Sun flashed painfully with every blow. Do you know why they're new? Do you know?

The Sun- Celestia- was pounded hard into the very stone that undergirt the Earth.

It's because I destroyed the first ones! I killed the Sun and slew the Moon! A smile made of razor teeth stretched out from one end of the universe to the other. The Sun quailed back. I have cast the whole Earth into darkness before, and now I shall do it again! The Shadow fell, the Fire blazed-

Ah!

A burst of sunlight flashed, but it was weak and strange and wrong. The Sun dimmed, flinched away. The Shadow lunged again-

No!

A White power came swelling up and blocked the Shadow's path. The world turned black and white, stark contrasts battling, The White immediately faltered but the Silver- the soft Moon's resplendent blaze- came up to bolster it. The Sun was flashing, flickering, and then in a great burst it disappeared.

“Twily!” cried Shining Armor, blasting up to blow apart a fell beast. “Twily!”

“I'm busy!” shouted Twilight, soaring overhead. The thestral flew behind her with its batlike wings, tossing lightning bolts that struck the air too close to Twilight for her liking.

“Well stop being busy! I need you!” He danced in pretty spirals round the goblins that advanced upon him, looping swirling purple blasts of magic that wove out like spider webs and dealt oblivion and death.

“Oh, fine!” she bellowed. She twisted round to face the thestral and the Gift of Magic once more flared within her heart. Her cutie marks glowed white, the Dawn and Dusk came surging from her, and a magic that lit up the sky for miles everywhere erupted. The thestral was blasted away. The smell of ozone lingered for a moment. Twilight tried to see where the dark beast had fled to- if it had even survived. “Dash...” she whispered.

“Twily!”

“I'm coming!” she barked. She pared her wings and swung about, soaring down into the courtyard just before the castle. Her eyes went wide. “Oh,” she said.

Shining Armor single-hoofedly was holding off a veritable army. His shield spell kept the blackened hordes at bay, while he loosed bone-rattling blasts of magic at the enemy that tried so hard to breach the purple dome. A balrog pounded on it with its flaming fists; with each blow Shining Armor winced and buckled just a little more.

“Don't touch him!” Twilight roared, dropping hard onto the balrog. She struck it with her hooves, making it roar out and swing toward her. It flashed its whip but she dropped down onto the ground and she stood firm, shattering the flaming flail. Then she used her telekinesis to fling her own, still-stood-firm body at the monster. She flung herself as hard as she could manage, and the strong attack was devastating: she took the balrog's head clean off. Its fire blazed white hot for half an instant, then went out, and it collapsed, a smoking corpse.

“Nice!” cried Shining Armor as his sister came beside him.

“Well, it's like Trixie said! They're especially weak against physical attacks!” Twilight glanced half-hearted o'er her shoulder- then she glanced again, and gaped. “Wait a minute! Behind us is-”

“One of the entrances to the catacombs, yeah!” said Shining Armor. “We've gotta clear this space. We've got to keep the civilians safe!”

Twilight fired battle magic, blowing back several opponents. “I could always just flare my magic, but- oh! I know!” She turned to Shining Armor. “It's time to use that!”

Shining Armor paused and arched an eyebrow. “That?”

“You know, that spell.”

His eyes bulged. “That? That spell?”

“Yes!”

“But... but you said we were never actually going to use it ever! You said we were just going to learn it to prove we could do it!”

“Well, it's an emergency!” The balrog's fire and shadow cracked Shining Armor's shield. “Now or never!”

“Okay!” he nodded. “I'm ready when you are.”

“I'm ready!” said Twilight. She and Shining Armor stood together.

“Blood by blood!” cried Shining Armor.

“Hoof by hoof!” cried Twilight Sparkle.

“We're together!”

“That's the truth!”

“We started strong!”

“And we're strong still!”

“Sibling!”

“Cannon!”

Fire at will!” Their horns were glowing blinding white. As they spoke the final line they leaned in and touched their horns together. With a blasting blaze a white helix of pure energy erupted from their joined horns. It swelled outward, widening as it traveled, surging for the dark army and blotting out all sights in bright brilliance.

For a moment, neither of them could see anything. Then at last the brightness cleared. They gaped. The blackened hordes were totally destroyed, reduced to ash. Shining Armor raised his eyebrows. “Huh. I guess that's why that spell was officially restricted.”

“Too bad we've got to build up more sibling love to use it again,” said Twilight. “Not that that's going to be hard...”

A black blur and Twilight had to shove Shining Armor aside. They whirled around to see the mythicorn wheeling about, purple fire burning in its eyes and on its horn. “All right!” cried Twilight. “Back to work for me! Keep up the fight!” She flew right at the mythicorn and sent it hurtling out of the courtyard, out into the districts of the city where the fighting, always fighting raged and frothed, reddish fires burning in these middle-morning hours.

“Ugh,” grunted Shining Armor. Late afternoon nap or no, he was feeling the lateness- or rather, the earliness- of the hour.

“Hnnggh...”

“Oh!” cried Shining Armor. He galloped to the noise. A unicorn was groaning, and bleeding from a large wound in her side. “What's your name, soldier?” he said.

“A... Amethyst Star...” her purple eyes were wavering. “Am... am I going to die?”

“I... I don't think so,” he muttered. “You're losing a lot of blood, but I think I got to you in time. I'm going to teleport you to the Healing Houses. Hold still.” His horn flashed and he touched her with his hoof. She vanished in a burst of sparks.

Amethyst Star popped onto a bed within the soft, white-lit space of the Healing Houses. “Ack!” cried Nurse Redheart. “Another one! And this one's suffered major blood loss!”

“I'm coming, I'm coming,” said Dr. Geode, hurrying away from an earth pony with a severed hoof. “Oh, okay, just wrap this one up...”

“Doctor, help!”

“Doctor, here's another one!”

“Doctor!”'

“Oh, for Celestia's sake!” cried Geode. He whirled about. “Fluttershy! Can't you... I don't know, can't you heal more powerfully?”

“I'm trying...” said Fluttershy, sitting in the middle of the Healing Houses, which were not just this room but half a dozen rooms around a tinkling silver fountain. Fluttershy had been positioned on a cushion in the fountain, in the middle of these rooms. She was sweating as pink waves of power emanated from her body. They were so bright they could be clearly seen throughout the Healing Houses as they pulsed through walls and traveled over thousands of filled beds. Her stomach growled. Her head hurt. She groaned and snuggled deeper in the cushion.

“Well, try harder! I... I can't-”

“Oh, stop it!” snapped Redheart. “She's doing all she can! There are too many ponies in here! And look, she is working!” A white hoof pointed at the pony in the bed before her. It was a pegasus, her wing shattered and stripped. Even as Geode was watching, the bones slowly, but surely set themselves. It was not quick, nor was it dramatic, but it was there.

“I...” Geode slumped, “I know. I'm sorry. It's just...”

“I know,” said Redheart. “We-” There was a blinding flash of golden light. As Redheart blinked her eyes clear she exclaimed: “Princess!”

“Ugh,” grunted Celestia, staggering about. Her eyes were out of focus. Her gait was out of joint. With a gasp, Geode saw why: her horn was cracked. A crack ran down its length, and from it lanced out bursting arcs of golden power. Geode jumped as one of them snapped out and blasted mortar off the wall.

“Your highness!” cried Geode, coming close, but not too close. “Your highness, calm down, we'll... we'll...” he dragged his front hooves down his head. How on Earth was he going to heal an alicorn?

“Princess Celestia?” Celestia turned. Fluttershy was standing in the doorway, pinkish waves of power radiating from her body. “Oh, dear,” she cooed. Her great wings fluttered as she trotted to Celestia. “Please, try and hold still. I'll do what I can.” She glanced at Geode. “I'm sorry, doctor, I'm going to have to focus all my energy on Princess Celestia for a minute.”

“O-Oh! No, that's fine! Go ahead!”

Fluttershy breathed gently out, the pink waves dying down. Instead the pink power was glowing, shining on her hooves. She reached up and she pressed them both into Celestia's horn. The pink waves traveled up and down Celestia, washing over her, filling her with energy like she had never felt before. The doctors and the nurses, and even all the injured soldiers, held their breaths. Suddenly there was a flash of golden light-

“Ah!” cried Celestia. She pulled away. Smiles filled the room: her horn was fixed. “Thank you, Fluttershy,” she said, and kissed her on the cheek. “Now I have to get back out into the fight. Keep battling! Don't stop, all of you!” With a golden flash she vanished.

“You heard the princess!” said Fluttershy. “Everypony who feels well enough, get back out into the fight! Those who don't, just sit tight!” She breathed out, and yet again the pink waves billowed out from her into the air. She sighed and slumped from tiredness. “This is a lot of work,” she muttered to herself.

“Perhaps you'd like some help?”

Gasps filled the room. A shadow loomed above her. In terror, Fluttershy swung round- but then she smiled hugely. “Nordeshang!”

The massive moose stood over her. “Mae govannen, Fluttershy. Allow me to assist you.” His antlers shimmered and pink waves, just like Fluttershy's, began to emanate from him.

“Oh, it's wonderful to see you, Nordeshang!”

“It is good to see you, as well. I should tell you, also, that I am not the only one here.”

Down in the city, Primrose fired off a spell that set a goblin's head on fire. “I'm getting better at this!” she said triumphantly.

“Fantastic!” cried Stirrup, swinging his axe and chopping a kobold in two. “I'm so pleased that your marksmanship has risen as a result of killing so many of these blasted things.”

“I actually think I've killed the most,” said Kindling, twirling his spear and then stabbing it up to impale a changeling.

“Oh, no way,” said Primrose. She hopped back on her hooves, took a deep breath, and then blew even as her horn lit up. A wave of icy wind went flying from her mouth, harshly freezing every creature in her path. “My magic is just more efficient. You dirt ponies have to use weapons, for Luna's sake.”

“Well, we- hold on a second,” said Stirrup. “Where's everypony else?” He swung his axe and chopped a changeling from the sky, then looked around again. They were surrounded by black foes. Most of their squad was deep engaged in battle leagues behind them. “Oops,” said Stirrup.

“You left the entire rest of the battalion behind?” cried Primrose. “Aren't you supposed to be in charge?”

“I'm still getting used to command, all right?” snapped Stirrup.

“Um, ponies, ponies, I hate to get-” Kindling dodged a blast of fire from a balrog. “Look!” He pointed. They were surrounded. The changelings buzzed right for them, and the goblins skittered straight at their position.

“Orders, sir?” asked Primrose, the three of them backing up as the dark forces converged.

“I...” he turned. “Primrose?”

“Yes? Yeah, what is- mmph!” Primrose cried out as Stirrup kissed her on the lips. “What was that?”

“Something I've always wanted to do.” Stirrup twirled his axe. “All right. Equestria to the death.”

Primrose's face flinched in fear, but she nodded. “To the death.” Her horn glinted.

“I knew we were going to die,” moaned Kindling. He held his breath, leveling his spear at the charging hordes-

There was a blazing wave of turquoise light, and terrible swift sound. The three ponies closed their eyes, welcoming oblivion. However, the distant din of battle could still be heard, so they opened their eyes. To their shock, the ground was scorched, and all the changelings, kobolds, goblins, and ungoliants were gone, leaving only smoke. “Huh?”

“Are you all right?”

They turned about- and gaped. An elk bull stood above them, antlers shimmering with magic. Stirrup stammered, “We... you...”

“We're fine,” said Primrose. “Thanks for the save, your... um, your deer-ness.”

“Who are you?” asked Kindling.

“I am Glorfindel, son of Turgon and Findis, student of Fëanor,” he made a face, “and last of the elk.” His grimace soon passed, however. “And I am with you, for we are allies! I am with you to the end, my brothers in the light!”

“Hey!” cried Primrose.

“Brothers and sisters, of course,” said Glorfindel. He wheeled about, turning to the forces of darkness again. “Now come! Come forth, ponyfolk! Come forth, and fear no darkness!” He charged into the hordes of Reiziger, turquoise power flashing like a star, wiping out huge swaths of evil forces.

“Orders, Stirrup?” Kindling asked.

“Um, duh! We follow the elk. Come on!”

Meanwhile, out amid the Shadow in the icy wastes there came a sudden light- two lights, one Green and one Blue. What is this?, growled Reiziger, Fire and Darkness upon him.

Can it be?, asked Falalauria.

Two lights, two red deer, two sisters came unto the thrashing of the mighty powers. Are you in need of assistance, dear Falalauria?, asked Decima, who was the Present.

We shall help in what way we can!, cried Morta, who was the Future.

Fool deer! You should have fled to the ends of the Earth! Then perhaps you could have lived a few years longer!

We shall never again flee from you, abomination!

Indeed, we shall do what we should have done from the start, and defend the ponies!

Reiziger engulfed them all in Shadow, but the blue and green light joined the radiant Sun, the waxing Moon, the white brilliance of Time.

For a while, the presence of the Deer Elders provoked a courage in the ponies and the common deer. Glorfindel alone made a great difference in the charging forces, blasting them back as they surged toward the castle three times in two hours. Decima and Morta provided clear support just as Falalauria had started tiring, and with their help Celestia and Luna kept Reiziger at bay. Nordeshang added his healing touch to Fluttershy's, allowing many of the wounded to be fully healed and sent back to the battle.

However, the hordes of darkness kept on coming. When one was killed, it seemed a dozen more would step into its place. In addition to the deer and ponies killed, the strain placed on the city's physical defenses was severe. One by one the towers toppled, robbing the defenders of the firepower raining down on the attackers from above. The pegasi were forced lower and lower by the swarming, swirling mass of changelings, wyverns, and fell beasts, who, though Cadence's continued spell blanked out their screeching, still did awful damage with their talons and their teeth. The ponies and the deer were slowly pushed back as the night wore on. Suddenly, in the midst of the eternal, neverending battle, there came a CRASH-

“The wall!” cried a pegasus, who could see better from his height. He spoke the truth: a huge section of the Crystal Empire's outer wall had simply given way. The black forces poured into the city; the goblins and kobolds could simply charge, where before they had climbed, and the changelings burst through in a single mass. The sheer numbers proved too much for the front line of defense; many deer and ponies were obliterated in the charge.

“Fall back!” cried Shining Armor. “Fall back to the castle!”

“You heard him!” Stirrup shouted. “Fall back!”

The ponies and the deer swiftly retreated. Deer and unicorns used teleporting spells to put themselves and those around them underneath the castle's shadow swifter, while pegasi whipped weather up to cover their retreat. Glorfindel and Javier and Shining Armor blasted mighty magic at the hordes- but there were, again, so many. Too many to defeat.

“Get around the castle!” cried Nordeshang, who had suddenly appeared. The last stragglers went scurrying beneath and round the castle's outer reaches. Nordeshang's antlers shimmered blue, and a great barrier appeared. The blackened hordes went surging round and up against the barrier, beating up against it as they had against the crystal barrier those many hours ago.

Elen sila lumenn' omentielvo, tauraquen,” said Javier to Glorfindel.

Suilannad, O enwa arata!” said Glorfindel in turn.

<It has been a rather rough night, master elk.>

<I have seen worse nights than this, master mule deer.>

<Let us hope we shall see many more nights to come,> rumbled Nordeshang behind them.

“Twily? Where's Twily? Where's Twilight Sparkle?” cried Shining Armor, dashing to and fro.

“She is out there, I think,” said Glorfindel, nodding out beyond the bluish barrier. They glanced into the blackness, into the shadow that was overwhelming everything, punctured here and there by hellish crimson fire. There amid the shadow also were the swells of golden sunlight, silver moonlight, white and green and blue light- and now, amid them, violet light, the swelling of the Dawn and Dusk.

“Twily...” whispered Shining Armor.

“She's safer than we are at the moment, sir,” said Stirrup, coming up beside him. “At least she can get away.”

“You can fire magic through the barrier!” said Nordeshang. “Keep firing! Keep fighting! Do not give up yet!”

“You heard the moose!” cried Shining Armor. “Keep firing! Every deer and unicorn, keep firing! We defend the city to the end!” The air lit up with light in every color as the mule deer and the white-tails and the unicorns resumed their spellwork. Glorfindel and Javier united in more powerful blasts. Hundreds, thousands of changelings and kobolds, fell beasts and wyverns, goblins and ungoliants and even a few balrogs were cut down. But more kept coming. A gentle rumble started rising, but few noticed it.

Pinkie Pie, the only creature still atop the massive balcony, was fidgeting, sweat now pouring down her face. She had not fought, for like Fluttershy her talents had been used in ways that superceded combat. For hours now, hours upon hours, Pinkie had projected all the happy thoughts and optimism she possessed into the fighting deer and ponies. She had tried to cheer them up when they felt down, tried to make them smile when they were weeping, tried to make them feel that everything would be all right. She had had some success; morale, though now in tatters, had largely held up, and ponies were still fighting with ferocity and eagerness. But she possessed the Gift of Laughter, not the Gift of Loyalty; though she could improve a creature's mood, she could not fire their hearts with courage, she could not stir them to a desperate stand, she could not rally them when things were blackest- as they were now.

However, that did not stop her from trying. Keep going! Keep fighting! You can do it! Don't give up, keep at it! You can't let those big meanies win! She was breathing heavily from all the strain upon her mind; her cutie marks were glowing blinding white. She tried hard to ignore the pounding in her head, the rumble that now shook the crystal castle. She kept focusing, kept fighting. “I... I can't give up! I won't give up!” I won't, I won't, I won't! The glimmer in her cutie marks, unseen by her, grew brighter, more insistent. I won't give up because when things are gloomy and sad is when ponies need to laugh more than ever! It's when things are black- when you can't see the Sun- that you have to make your own light! Her cutie marks were flickering and flashing, pulsing, and the space around them started warping. So even if nopony is laughing and everypony is crying, I'm still going to laugh, and help everypony else laugh, too! Because somepony needs to make sure everypony remembers that Laughter, in the end, even laughs at death! There was a rainbow.

Nordeshang grimaced. “They are very strong...” he rumbled, buckling in his stance. “I am not sure how much longer I can hold out.”

“Just... just hold out!” said Shining Armor, rearing back and firing a blast that cut down hundreds and yet hundreds more emerged to take their place. “Just keep going... you can do it!”

“Look!” cried Bon Bon. “Look, the horizon!” Everydeer and everypony looked, and saw what she had seen: the growing, lightening gray in the far distance. “And what's that?” asked Bon Bon, for now the rumble was so great it shook her bones.

In the Shadow and the Fire, Celestia drew in a breath. She knew. She knew- how could she not? “Luna!” she cried out. “Luna, it's time!”

“Go!” shouted Luna. “Go, we shall hold him!”

Celestia pumped hard her wings and burst out of the shadow, rising higher, higher up into the cloudy northern sky. Her horn, her entire body gleamed a brilliant gold, a bright and beautiful eruption of tremendous power in the darkness. The gray grew brighter, lighter, sturdier and stronger. Ripples of a rosy pink came flooding through the air. The sky was suddenly a cheerful pink and gold, Celestia rose higher, higher, higher as eruptions of transcendent orange came engulfing all the black and gloom. She rose higher still-

With a roaring gleam of scarlet red the sun rose blinding bright over the east horizon. The dark creatures shrieked and flailed in the light that bathed them, cowering them, making them, just for a moment, halt in their attack. They then tried to resume-

But could not, for they were in that moment startled by an onslaught from behind. The rumble shook the air and earth as forces without number raced out of the rising sun and rammed into the blackened hordes with power and with might.

First came the ponies of Gildedale, the Dale Guard, by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, leather-armored, wielding awful weapons, riding hard and fast. They crashed into the back end of the black horde and they quickly churned it to a bloody pulp. They rode and rode down all within their path, ruthless, vicious, even cruel. The dark forces were terrified by their assault. The changelings were especially horrified, for they knew something of ponies but had not before met ponies such as these. There was no hesitation, not even that split-second found in nearly all the Royal Guard. The Dale Guard slaughtered without pausing, annihilating all foes in their path. As they slew, they sang, thousands of voices rising in chorus:

We are the Sons of the Golden Fields,

The Daughters of Sunsets so red.

Now we have come with our spears and our shields

And our axes to fill you with dread.

All will fall! For the Dale Guard's law

Is to leave none alive for the tale.

So woe to you- oh, woe to you!-

Who made a foe of Gildedale.

At the front, at the head of the charge, came Hammer Hoof, son of Storm Chaser. His crimson coat seemed blood red in the rising sun; his mane and tail and beard looked like spun gold. All who met him died. None could withstand him; none could hope to try. Even a balrog, rising up in shadow and in flame, advanced on him, but he did not withdraw. His ivory hoof whipped out, the sunlight caught and it shone bright like a comet as it struck the beast- and broke its jaw. The balrog tried to stagger back but Hammer Hoof caught up its curling horn and dragged it to the ground, where he stomped its skull in til its flame went out. He roared, and leapt off of the corpse, and charged again, all his legions following behind him.

No sooner had the armies of Reiziger turned to meet this new attack than they were ambushed by a death from up above. With a terrifying screech, griffins by the tens of thousands dove out of the sky, led by Philip, Duke of Pahlavi, Scion of Atusa- if not in fact, than in spirit for sure. They dove upon the terrified and utterly unsettled hordes with wicked curving swords, with razor spears, with claws and talons filed to an ugly sharpness. Those in the air were most affected: the griffins fell upon the wyverns and they cut them rapidly to ribbons, slicing off their wings and causing them to fall in terror down into the darkened crowds below. The fell beasts too were fought; their shrieks were useless, for griffins have great courage and can well resist an urge for fear.

Philip bellowed out the war scream of the griffins as he fell upon the hordes. He slashed, he thrust, he parried with his sword. Changeling after changeling fell before him. He even faced a fell beast single-pawed; it swung about in massive wings and tried to rake him with its talons, but he charged it and he cut its throat. Still alive, it tried to crush him, but he next rolled to its wing and slashed the skin webbing to tatters, then for good measure drove his sword into the fell beast's back. It howled again, a final, dying shriek, then fell into the crowd of changelings and kobalds far down below.

As if this were not bad enough, then came the lightning. Hair and feathers stood on end as lightning bolts the size of world snakes shattered from the sky into Reiziger's armies, vaporizing tens of thousands in a single brilliant blast. Lightning also streaked along the earth amid the blackened hordes as pronghorns by the dozens rode the bolts into their midst. Pulses, shockwaves, rivulets of lightning coursed and crackled through the dark creatures, annihilating all they touched and all they came too close beside. Clive Croeuxus, with his fellow Jovai, directed the attack, calling down the lightning over, over, over again, wiping out nearly a third of Reiziger's dark army on their own, reminding all those present why the pronghorns never went to war.

The most spectacular assault was saved for last: the air began to tremble from the beating of enormous wings. With roars that shook the earth and sky, four massive dragons swooped down from the heavens. They swung about over the blackened hordes and belched torrents of fire, annihilating thousands in a single pass. One of them, seeking to do yet more damage, landed in their midst and started lashing out, killing hundreds with the sweep of its great tail, the swiping of its massive claws, the snapping of its awesome jaws. The dragons wheeled about and always, always kept on coming, adding to the fury and the chaos of the allies of Equestria as they made good on all their pledges of assistance.

Reiziger, sweeping his gaze across the Crystal Empire, was genuinely startled to see more than two-thirds of his force had been annihilated, and the rest now in quite dire straits. So you have called for reinforcements? Fine! I shall annihilate you all MYSELF! He started swelling, rising up, blotting out the sun. Antlers sprouted, ugly, at odd angles. Eyes in hundreds gleamed a hellish red. Mouths appeared with far too many teeth. The thing, the living Shadow, that which could not properly be named- save calling it the name it gave itself- loomed now a gateway to the wrongness of the universe, sucking up all light and brilliance. You have detained me here long enough! I am the Lord of All the Herds! I am Death itself! I shall wipe you all out, and there will be nothing-

Hiya!

Celestia, Luna, Twilight Sparkle, Falalauria, Decima, and Morta swung about, bounding from the shadow out into the light of day. They looked up where they'd felt the voice press in their minds. Twilight gasped. She came over the clouds tinged in dawn's light, her coat gleaming the same soft, rosy pink as dawn itself. She seemed a creature of the dawn, borne aloft by the soft winds of morning. She wheeled up, and swung into a hover.

“P... Pinkie?” stammered Twilight.

Surprise!, thought Pinkie Pie. She pumped her wings and streaked upon them, bringing all her glory and her joy.

No!

Oh YEAH! And then she THOUGHT-

The sheer force of the blast of brightness, joy, rejoicing, pinkness that erupted staggered every creature in the Crystal Empire. All of a sudden every living thing felt happy, in a way that shook them to their core. The blackened forces felt yet worse, the good armies felt even better. Reiziger was undermined by the sheer power coming out of Pinkie. He tried to tell himself that he was still far stronger- and he was- but he felt terrified by all her love and light. He tried to steady- tried hard to regroup- but he still quailed, and he lost focus-

Now!” cried Celestia, mane and tail resplendent in the dawn. She, Luna, Falalauria, Decima, Morta, and Twilight fired all the power they possessed at Reiziger. One of the dragons even wheeled about and blasted out a torrent of red fire. The raw force of the magical attacks sent Reiziger erupting from the air and sky. He was rocketed away, soaring off across the sky, flying, flying back until he disappeared over the south horizon. He had not been destroyed- he had not been reduced in might- but he had been unsteadied, and he had been driven far away.

Without their master the dark forces fell into despair. Nordeshang brought down his barrier, and with shouts of great joy and awful wrath the ponies of Equestria, the white-tails of the Shimmerwood, and the mule deer of the Everfree Forest charged from out the crystal castle's shadow. They rammed into the back position of the enemy, and with two armies pressing at them now the darkened forces utterly collapsed. The balrogs disappeared in bursts of fire. All the rest were cut down and destroyed. There was not a single changeling, kobold, goblin, fell beast, wyvern, or ungoliant alive when all the fighting had completed.

And Reiziger, however much he might have wished to, could claim no victory that day.