• Published 10th Jul 2011
  • 17,154 Views, 991 Comments

Antipodes - PK

An epic post-apocolyptic adventure fic surrounding Celestia and Luna's dissapearence.

  • ...

Antipodes- Chapter 19


Chapter 19


Incendia put out the tiny flare after they had warmed up as much as they could and they began to climb the winding staircase once more. The increasingly bitter cold coupled with the dim light and physical exertion felt like a heavy weight pressing down on them, making them sluggish and irritable. The staircase itself must have been marvelous when it was new- it wound along the mountainside, occasionally winding inside passageways of what were clearly once exquisitely carved friezes, but had long since been worn away to near illegibility. At one point, the path led them through an enormous rocky overhang that cast them all into pitch black darkness.

After about an hour of grueling climbing, they climbed over the crest of a small ridge to find that they had reached the castle at last. The building was even more majestic up close- it was in nearly pristine condition. The cold, however, was more biting than ever. The three ponies stared up at it in awe. Incendia was the first to speak.

“An actual old-world ruin,” she said, her eyes wide. “ I never thought I would actually get to see one.”

This caused Jigsaw to tear his eyes away from the castle to look quizzically at Incendia. “You basically lived in an old world city! What do you mean, ‘never thought you’d get to see one’?”

Incendia turned to stare at Jigsaw, then a small smile crossed her face. Jigsaw was relieved to see it. This little bit of lightheartedness was such a refreshing change from the dour and silent walk up the mountainside. Suddenly, the cold didn’t seem as bitter.

“Jigsaw, there wasn’t an original building in that whole city, save maybe the tower. You probably know more about the old world than I do!”

Jigsaw chuckled at this. “I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired. I think we should camp here tonight and go in when we’re well rested.”

“Oh, I thought you’d never say so,” Tiptoe said, falling to the ground in a theatrical faint.

They all laughed. Reaching the top of the mountain, seeing the castle spread out above them, seemed to drain their stress away. They were still hungry and exhausted, but the general mood was jovial.
With a spark and a wave of heat and light, Incendia conjured the familiar sphere of warmth. Jigsaw noted idly that it bore a resemblance to the fragment of Celestia he had collected. He felt a strange tingling in his forehead.

“Why don’t you tell me about your home?” Incendia asked. “If we’re going to be traveling together, we might as well get to know each other better.”

Jigsaw and Tiptoe began to tell Incendia about their lives before the adventure. Incendia was an excellent audience. She listened intently when they described the caves and how they had come to be populated, she gasped when they discussed the creature that had attacked them in the water control sphere, and the whole group became paralyzed with laughter when Jigsaw shared the story of the time he had opened the wrong valve and flooded the Tribunal chamber.

“I was on lavatory duty for a month!” Jigsaw choked, his eyes streaming with laughter.

“Oh, by the goddesses!” Tiptoe said, breathing heavily. “I remember when that happened! It was weeks before the water pressure got back to normal! I didn’t know that was you!”

“If there’s one thing that taught me, it was to always make sure the valve I’m opening isn’t-”

“-isn’t the alpha valve?” Tiptoe completed. They burst out into fresh bouts of uncontrollable hilarity. Incendia looked back and forth bemusedly between them for a moment before she understood. It wasn’t the joke that was making them laugh. It was the relief. She’d been there herself, at times, after particularly narrow escapes from Rubidium’s security forces or magical protection. It was the only way to release the tension. She smiled, but she also felt an acute pang of loneliness. She couldn’t join in on the laughter.

Jigsaw caught Incendia’s eye, and slowly, his laughter stopped. He was looking at her with a measure of concern.

“Incendia? Are you feeling alright?”

She blinked and refocused on Jigsaw. “Yeah, sorry.”

“How are your injuries?” asked Tiptoe.

“Actually, I feel okay, all things considered,” Incendia responded. “I think it looks worse than it actually is. My head is what’s really hurting.”

Tiptoe glanced at the enormous dried gash on Incendia’s flank. “You’re a tougher pony than me,” she said.

Incendia giggled in response. “Trust me. Getting injured is nothing new to me.”

Jigsaw raised an eyebrow but didn’t retort. Instead he said, “That was a nasty concussion. Do you want me to try to do something for the pain?”

Incendia shook her head. “No, it’s alright, really. I don’t like ponies fussing over me. I never have.”

“Then would you mind if I took a look at the device on your shoulder?”

Incendia’s eyebrows raised in a look of surprise, then she said, “Okay, but it’s broken. I don’t know how much you could hope to learn from it.”

“I was up almost the whole night we spent in your bunker reading through your databases. I want to see if I can repair it.”

Incendia shrugged. “Be my guest.” The device on her shoulder glowed orange in tandem with her horn. There was a metallic clank noise, then a deep, low note sounded. Jigsaw was reminded unpleasantly of the sound of Attenuation.

Then, with an unceremonious squelching pop, the metallic disk fell out of Incendia’s shoulder, leaving a hole about an inch deep.

Jigsaw magicked it over to himself and began examining it. Tiptoe, however, was staring at the circular hole in Incendia’s shoulder.

“Does it hurt?” she asked, rather timidly.

“No, not at all!” Incendia said. “I’ve had it for so long that having it not be there feels a lot stranger.”

Conversation was light after that. Jigsaw was too involved in slowly disassembling the device to talk much. Incendia was too tired from her injuries and the hike to engage in much conversation, and fell asleep quickly as a result. The flare seemed to gravitate towards her in her sleep, stopping when it was almost directly above her. Tiptoe wondered idly how she could resist the heat before she, too, drifted comfortably off to sleep. Jigsaw followed not long afterwards, curled on the ground, the partially disassembled mechanism in between himself and Tiptoe.


Far away, in his mountain lair, Tantalus paced. Things had not gone according to his plan, not at all. All the two ponies were supposed to do was break the protection around Stalliongrad- he had no idea they could actually escape with a fragment of Celestia! He glanced over at the cracked, worn sapphire resting on its pedestal and felt a stabbing pain in his head. The anger seemed to ebb. Maybe it was for the best? Maybe he should let them be brought together...?

“No,” he thought. “I’ve worked too hard for too long to let it come to this.”

He straightened up and turned away from the pedestal. He had work to do.

He walked over to the mouth of the cave and spread his wings to their fullest extent. At their widest, his wings were almost sixty feet across. All along the edge, green flames erupted into life, casting a strange, flicking light on the cave walls.

Then, something distracted him. A wailing alarm from somewhere deep in the cave caught his attention. He stormed back into the depths, breaking his own protective enchantments as he went, resetting them behind him with hastily blown bursts of fire, which formed into wriggling symbols of angry red flame before they spun apart, forming a shimmering barrier in the air.

He reached the spot he was looking for. The blue gem on its stand of honor. Rarity’s last gift to him.

A whining, hissing, and buzzing was coming from the stone. Golden light shone out of the spiderweb cracks in the surface. Tantalus recoiled in shock and anger.

He had enchanted the stone long ago, of course- he knew what it meant. He inflated with anger. How dare they attempt to take what was rightfully his? Those ponies- those disgusting creatures that crawled unbidden on the surface of the world, his world!

The fury began welling up inside him once more, but he was too focused to let it take over. Instead, he channeled it. With one mighty breath, he blew out a whirling torrent of green flames. They spun like a tornado, whirling around him until in an instant, he shot off out of the mouth of the cave, little more than a pillar of green fire.


When Jigsaw and Tiptoe woke the next day, Incendia was already awake. Her normally coal-black body was engulfed in bright orange and red flames, and a thin line of fire extended from where her horn normally was. She was waving it over her head, bringing it down with a sharp crack on to the ground before her, leaving deep gouges and smoldering embers. She was magnificent to behold. She appeared to radiate not only heat, but also a focused intensity, a feeling of strength and power that the other ponies felt they could draw upon.

Incendia caught sight of them as she twirled on the spot, and the flames began to recede. Soon, her coal-black coat returned, though her mane made it look as if she was still burning. With a slight tinge of unease, Tiptoe noted the last place where the flames receded was her eyes. The black pupils took a long time to reemerge from the swirling orange, yellow, and red surface her eyes became when she was on fire.

“You’re up!” she said excitedly. “Finally! I’ve been up for hours already, practicing.”

She glanced up at the massive door at the foot of the castle. “Are we going in?”

Jigsaw looked to Incendia, then to Tiptoe, then up at the castle. He let out a sigh and said, “I suppose so, but don’t treat this lightly. Who knows what we’ll find in there.”

Incendia’s smile weakened, but she didn’t drop it. “I know, I’m not. I’m just itching for some action!”

Tiptoe raised an eyebrow incredulously. “It’s been three days since your home city was destroyed by a dragon and you’re injured. You’re itching for action?”

Incendia winked at Tiptoe and said, “What can I say? I’ve always been a...” She paused and snickered. “... fiery one.”

Tiptoe groaned loudly at this. “I swear by the goddesses themselves, if you start making fire puns, I will smother you in your sleep.”

Jigsaw, however, was staring disapprovingly between the two. Incendia ignored him and, turning on the spot with an exaggerated flick of her tail, began walking towards the door.

Jigsaw started forward, yelling over his shoulder at Tiptoe as he galloped, “I think I should go ahead! We don’t want her accidentally tripping any protective enchantments!”

Tiptoe rolled her eyes and took off, moving quickly to catch up with the two ponies approaching the door.

It was massive. Like most things of the old world, it must once have been beautiful. Ancient, faded carvings covered the surface, and it was at least twice the size it needed to be to be functional. Over the doorway, in intricately carved Old Language script, were words that Jigsaw immediately understood.

“Canterlot Castle!” He said with a start. “This is Canterlot!”

Tiptoe whipped her head around to Jigsaw and let out a disbelieving “What?!”, but Incendia simply stared at him quizzically.

“I’ve never heard of that,” she said slowly. “Should I have?”

Now it was Jigsaw and Tiptoe’s turn to look puzzled. “Well, yes! Canterlot was the seat of power in the old world. It was where the goddesses reigned,” Jigsaw said. Then, with a furtive glance up at the spires, he added, “It was also also where they were said to have met their ends.”

They all turned their gaze back up at the door. It was much too large for them to move on their own.

“Do you want to try magic?” Incendia said, studying the small seam that ran down the center of the door.

“I suppose,” Jigsaw answered. “Tiptoe, if you could push too, that probably wouldn’t hurt.”

Tiptoe nodded and stepped up to the door, extending her wings wide, and braced herself against it. Incendia and Jigsaw’s horns both began to glow, and the door was surrounded by a strange mottled green-and-orange outline. They each took a step forward, straining against the resistance of the door.

“Push!” Incendia grunted through gritted teeth. Beads of sweat were beginning to form on her coat.

Tiptoe flapped her wings down once. It kicked up an enormous spray of dirt and rocks, but the door lurched open a fraction of an inch.

“Again!” said Incendia. Tiptoe flapped down again, and again, and again, the door moving a little bit more every time, until finally the door had opened wide enough for them to squeeze through.

Jigsaw and Incendia put out their horns and panted. Tiptoe turned to face them and said, “That wasn’t so bad!”

“We were doing most of the work!” Jigsaw said, though not unkindly.

“You were fantastic, Tiptoe,” Incendia said, smiling, though she was still breathing hard.

With a private smile, Tiptoe stepped aside to allow Jigsaw and Incendia to enter before her.

She had the hardest time squeezing into the small space in the door. Her wings were pressed so hard into her flank that they left an imprint, but she managed to make it through. What she saw didn’t surprise her in the slightest.

The inside of the castle was pitch black. The only light was coming from the small crack of the door and Incendia and Jigsaw’s horns. The one thing that did surprise her, however, was the temperature. The inside of the castle was warm. It felt perfectly comfortable, and she was immensely grateful after the cold she had been forced to endure for the last several days.

“Is there anything we can do about the darkness?” said Incendia, her horn beginning to brighten.

In response, Jigsaw closed his eyes and pointed his horn downwards. At first, Tiptoe couldn’t understand what he was doing, but as she watched, he began moving his horn along the ground, over to the wall on the left, and up until it was about level with his head. Then a single brick slid smoothly out of the wall and clattered to the floor beneath them. A small tangle of wires and other wiring Tiptoe didn’t recognize. Then, without warning, a brilliant bright blue flash issued from Jigsaw’s horn, temporarily blinding the two other ponies.

When Tiptoe had blinked away the bright spots on her retinas, what she saw made her breath catch. A startlingly bright, twinkling aqua-blue light was shining out of Jigsaw’s horn. It was pulsating gently, but rapidly, and with each pulsation, the blue light snaked through the wire and out into the walls, growing brighter in intensity every pulsation. Tiptoe glanced over to Incendia and was amused to see that she was staring at Jigsaw with her jaw slack. Then, with another blinding flash of light and the sound like an a dozen pots and pans falling to the ground, the lights that lined the room kicked into life.

Jigsaw took a stumbling step backwards, steadied himself, and took a deep breath in and out. He smiled when he saw the looks on Tiptoe’s and Incendia’s faces. “That felt good.”

“How in Equestria did you do that?” Incendia said, staring from the tangle of wires to Jigsaw to the lights and back again. “That was some of the most- I don’t- not even Gizmo could have done-” She sat down on her haunches, staring at Jigsaw in disbelief. Jigsaw shrunk away, obviously embarrassed.

“Years of practice,” he said sheepishly. “Really, I’m not that good. It’s just my special talent. The spell was pretty easy when you know what you have to do. All I had to do was give the system a little jolt, all the wiring and stuff was still there.”

Incendia didn’t look convinced, however; she got up and began trotting down the corridor without another word. Jigsaw and Tiptoe followed close behind.

The hallway came to an abrupt end at what appeared to have once been part of a much larger chamber. The walls sloped around them sharply, forming a dome about twenty feet tall that appeared to have been made quickly and carelessly out of concrete. A single, bare old-world bulb hung above them by a black wire which went straight up into the concrete.

Directly ahead, at the opposite side of the dome, there were three openings in the concrete, each leading- as far as they could tell- into darkness.

“What do we do?” asked Tiptoe.

“I think we should split up,” said Incendia.

Tiptoe giggled nervously and said, “That’s not how we do things around here. Right, Jigsaw?”

Jigsaw didn’t respond, however. He was staring down one of the tunnels.

“...No, no, Tiptoe, I think she’s right,” he said finally. “Don’t ask me how I know, but I think we’re each supposed to go down one of these. Alone. It’s the only way we can progress.”

Tiptoe held her mouth open, aghast, then shook her head violently. “No! We can’t split up! How can I protect myself? I don’t have your magic!”

Jigsaw tried and failed to contain his smile. Tiptoe’s fear quickly turned to anger.

“What’s so funny? Is it pick on the pegasus day again?” She said, her eyes beginning to water. “Because I got enough of that at school!”

Jigsaw was taken aback by her reaction. He cantered over to her and spoke softly.

“No, no, that’s not why we’re smiling. We’re smiling at the fact that you think you’re helpless.”

“What do you mean?” Tiptoe said with a small sniff.

“I mean that you managed to escape from a sea serpent while carrying me unconscious on your back without breathing. And that you managed to carry me out of that subway station when you had never flown more that a few dozen feet before. And that you managed to sneak me out of Rubidium’s compound. You’re not defenseless, Tiptoe. You’re probably the most capable pony here.”

“Tiptoe, you are a badass. Trust me, I have experience with these things. Don’t ever let anypony tell you otherwise.” Incendia added with a wink.

Tiptoe looked back and forth between the two unicorns then stared down the dark tunnel. “Alright,” she said, “I’ll go. But how am I going to see?”

In response, Incendia’s horn flashed orange and a tiny ball of light appeared and floated over to hover just above Tiptoe’s head.

“That’s one of the first spells I learned how to do. It will follow you around and light your way.”

Tiptoe smiled. “Thanks, Incendia.”

Incendia nodded. Jigsaw moved back to the middle tunnel, with Tiptoe on his left and Incendia on his right. He stared down his tunnel for a moment more, then looked to his left and caught Tiptoe’s eyes. As sure as he was that this was the right thing to do, he was still nervous. He thought Tiptoe could sense it. He tried to put a lot of unsaid emotions into that gaze. Then he glanced to his right, at Incendia. She looked tall, proud, and powerful- but the look in her eyes was unmistakable. She didn’t want to split up either. He gathered all his courage and gave her a steady nod, then he began to make his way into the tunnel.


Tiptoe, trailed closely by the small ball of light, made her way into the tunnel once Jigsaw and Incendia had vanished out of sight. The walls were craggy and looked to be made out of the same hastily poured concrete as the dome. Tiptoe wondered what reason anypony could have had to build this. The tunnels seemed to slope upwards at a gentle angle, and also gently curved to the left. She figured she must be walking in enormous loops, going slowly but steadily upwards. To what, she didn’t know.

She took the time to reflect back on the day so far. Incendia seemed much more lighthearted than she would have guessed. She wondered if it was a coping mechanism. Either way, she seemed to be a welcome addition to the team. She also had to admit it was nice having another girl on the team.

These thoughts gave her pause. When had she started thinking of them as a team? Life had changed so much so quickly. “And not all for the worst,” she thought. Her thoughts turned to the night she and Jigsaw had spent in the forest and she smiled.

Eventually, she came upon a square doorway carved into the rock. When she cantered through it, she was surprised to find that she had entered an entirely new space. It was at least two stories tall and had wide glass windows on the far side that overlooked the frozen landscape beneath. What she was more concerned with was how she had entered the room.

The doorway she had come through- which she would have sworn was a concrete square- looked like an ordinary door from this side. She pulled it open only to find that there was nothing but a solid concrete wall behind it.

She felt the fear well up in her again. She looked frantically around the room and found what she was looking for- another door, red-and-gold trimmed. She galloped over to it and pulled it open. She was incredibly relieved to see another room behind it. She galloped in, slamming the door behind her with her mouth.

She breathed a sigh of relief and began to take in her new surroundings. Then the horror hit again.

It was the same room.

She wheeled around. The door she had just come out of was the one she had originally entered the room with. She pulled it open again to find herself faced with the same wall of concrete that had blocked her way before.

She began to hyperventilate. This had to be some kind of magical thing. Jigsaw would know what to do.


The voice had come from somewhere behind her. She spun once again and saw a sight that nearly made her cry with delight. Standing there, looking just as frightened as she was, was Jigsaw.

She galloped over to him and threw her hooves around him. She began to cry. “Oh, Jigsaw, I’m so glad you’re here! The room wouldn’t let me go, and I was afraid I would be stuck in here forever, and I wouldn’t ever see you again, and-”

“Get off of me, you filthy pegasus.”

Tiptoe froze. She couldn’t believe what she had just heard. She immediately let go of Jigsaw and stepped back, tears still streaming down her face, though for entirely different reasons.

“Jigsaw, how could you sa-” she began, but she stopped when she saw his eyes. They weren’t Jigsaw’s deep, watery blue eyes. No, these were featureless silver discs.

“You’re not Jigsaw!” she gasped.

“And what makes you so sure?” said the thing that was in Jigsaw’s form. It grinned, but this did nothing to help its appearance. Its mouth went far too wide, and each tooth was filed to a point. Tiptoe also noticed, with a cold shiver, that it didn’t move its mouth when it spoke.

“I’m what he’s too afraid to say,” sneered the voice. “That’s what this place does. It lays bare one’s heart.”

The thing began to walk in circles around the petrified pony. Tiptoe was too afraid to move. With every passing second, the thing was appearing less and less like a pony- its hooves growing longer, mouth wider, eyes larger.

“What’s the matter?” asked the thing. “Afraid of the truth?”

“You’re not telling the truth,” Tiptoe squeaked.

The thing stopped pacing. “And what would you know of the truth? You, barely out of school, never at the top of your class! I hated that you were assigned to me. I couldn’t stomach the idea of working with a pegasus.” It nearly spat the last word. Though it looked like a warped and stretched Jigsaw, its voice was a perfect imitation.

“What good could you have been to me? I didn’t need and assistant. I didn’t want one! All you ever could do was get in my way. And just look at the consequences!”

The thing made an expansive gesture with his hooves. “You’ve led us here. And my, my, what a trail of destruction you’ve left in your wake!”

The thing cantered closer to Tiptoe, eyeing her intently.

“It was your fault, you know. The creature that attacked us could sense your fear. It knew you were weaker. I knew it would happen. You killed them, pegasus. You killed everyone back home. They could never repair the water system with their star unicorn taken from them.”

Tiptoe was shaking with suppressed sobs now. The creature continued.

“Not to mention Stalliongrad. Thousands died, pegasus. Perhaps millions. The last city in all of Equestria, wiped out because of your foolishness.”

Tiptoe couldn’t stand any more. “You’re lying!” She shrieked, tears running hot and wet down her face. “The real Jigsaw loves me! He knows none of those things are my fault!”

The thing cackled at this. “Love? What does a mere foal like you know about love?! All you ever were to me was a replacement for Antimony. A last resort when I thought I couldn’t have any other, more desirable mates. But now...”

The thing cantered up to Tiptoe and put its horrible mouth right next to her ear. When it spoke, it was in a raspy whisper.

“Now I’ve found another unicorn. A pony who can actually take care of herself. Somepony who won’t hold me back. Why would I ever want you? A useless pegasus, who’s only contribution to the group so far has been to ruin even our best laid plans?”

Somewhere deep in Tiptoe’s mind, a small part of herself that had not been consumed with despair spoke up.

“I can’t just lie back and take this. Whatever this thing is, it isn’t Jigsaw, regardless of how much it knows. Fight back! It’s what they would want!”

“Stop calling me ‘pegasus’,” she said quietly.

The thing’s smile dropped off its face. It quickly moved away from her and stared at her for several seconds.

“What did you say?” it said after several seconds of tense silence.

“I said, stop calling me ‘pegasus’!” Tiptoe said, her resolve strengthened by the creature’s reaction.

“Then give me a reason not to!” hissed the creature. “Prove your worth! Prove that you can be anything other than a useless burden to ou-”

Its last words were lost in the clatter of hooves against stone. Tiptoe was charging towards it, and the creatures was too stunned to move out of the way.

As she approached it, she threw her hooves up in the air- and with an impact that made Tiptoe’s sides ache, she embraced the creature.

“No! No, get off me! What are you-” it spluttered, twisting back and forth in an attempt to break her grip.

It was no use. Tiptoe hung on as tightly as she could, her eyes screwed shut. After about 15 seconds, the creature stopped abruptly.

It spoke once more, but this time, its voice was soft, almost feminine. “You pass, Tiptoe.”

Then, with a rush of wind, the thing Tiptoe was holding was gone. She flopped face-first onto the ground in front of her, and she didn’t get up right away. She rolled onto her side and began to cry, harder, deeper, and more desperately than she ever had in her life. She remained like that until the door at the other side of the room was blasted off its hinges.


Incendia, guided by the light of her horn, made her way into the rightmost cave entrance. She trotted quickly and confidently through the winding cement passageway, stopping only to examine some small cracks in the concrete, through which a dull, silvery light was shining.

Eventually, she had made her way up to a large, ornately carved wooden door. The surface was covered in carvings of ponies in all sorts of activities. Incendia stared interestedly at the Old Language letters that were carved all around the door, though it was completely incomprehensible to her. She hadn’t seen many authentic examples before.

When she had seen her fill, she magicked the door open and stepped inside.

Incendia blinked. The room was pitch black. After a moment, when her eyes had not adjusted, she increased the intensity of her horn. This didn’t help anything. Incendia was puzzled until she looked down. It wasn’t that she still couldn’t see: the floor of the room was a smooth, featureless black surface.

She squinted through the dark for something to see, but as far as she could tell, the room was just featureless. Disappointed, she turned to make her way back through the door and smacked the side of her head against a strange object.

She stumbled back and waited for the fresh pain in her head to subside. Finally, when she could open her eyes, she looked up at what she had hit.

She screamed. It wasn’t the door. Standing before her was a very small hut constructed shoddily out of old, rotting wood and paper.

She turned and galloped as fast as she could in the opposite direction. The hut was familiar to her. It was her childhood home.

She glanced over her shoulder in terror and screamed again. Though she was galloping at full-tilt, she wasn’t getting any farther from the hut. She could hear the sounds coming from inside, now. The shouts of anger and fear. She tried to ignore it, but it was impossible. She stopped attempting to gallop away and flung herself to the ground, clamping her hooves over her ears to try and block it out.

It didn’t work. The sound seemed to just grow louder and more horrible. With a cold shock, Incendia recognized the voice of her mother.

“No! You can’t have her! You can’t, I won’t let you!”

“You’ve had your fun,” said another voice, which Incendia instantly recognized as Rubidium’s. “You’ve managed to evade me for an impressively long time, but your time has come. Hand over the girl and I will leave peacefully.”

“Never!” her mother cried.

“I’ll fight you!” came a deeper, male voice that Incendia recognized as her father’s.

She heard Rubidium give a horrible chuckle. “Two unicorns? What ever will I do?”

A horrible flash of red light burned its way into Incendia’s eyes, even through her closed eyelids. She heard a strangled scream. Though she couldn’t see it, the image of her father, gouting blood from a gash across his face, came unbidden into her mind.

Then, she heard her own voice, though it was higher, shriller. “Mom! Dad! No!”

She knew what was coming next, and despite every cell in her body screaming not to, screaming to run away and never look back, she lifted her head and turned to look at the small hut.

“My, my, just who I was looking for!” came Rubidium’s voice, dripping with sarcastic joy.

A white flash of light came from inside the hut, and for just a moment, Incendia could see her own silhouette.

She heard a grunt of pain come from Rubidium. “You’ve made a grave mistake!” he roared.

She saw a bolt of red light streak across the doorway, and her own face, alive with terror, was thrown into sharp relief.

With that sight, the memories she had tried so hard to repress came flooding back, their clarity and accuracy confirmed by the events playing out before her eyes. She remembered her mother aging, wrinkles appearing on her skin, until she was nothing more than a dessicated corpse. She remembered Rubidium’s cold chuckle, how his wounds had closed as new ones opened on her mother.

And she remembered when she had reached her breaking point.

Rubidium turned his eyes on her, and she lost control. Her horn exploded with orange light, and the small candle on the table in the corner flared into an enormous fireball. Rubidium’s look of smug success changed to one of shock. He opened his mouth and said something Incendia never heard, then turned to run out of the hut. She remembered her younger self’s short-lived feeling of success. She had won. He was gone.

Then, with a horrible realization, she remembered her father.

She looked to her left to see a dark shape, lying on the floor next to the table, twitching, completely engulfed in flames. She recoiled in horror. Her horn was still glowing, still feeding the fire, and only now did she realize she didn’t know how to control it. She mustered up all her courage and determination and focused on turning the flames down.

The older Incendia lowered her head again and grasped it with her hooves as the hut exploded.

When the debris had stopped falling, she turned her head back towards the ruin of the hut. Lying in the middle of the flaming wreckage was a small, black filly, her horn weakly flickering orange. With a happy musical tinkle and flash of white light that was most unfitting for the circumstances, a stylistic rendition of a flame appeared on her flank.

The adult Incendia was breathing hard, as though she had just run a marathon. Her mind had gone blank. She had been trying for years to forget this- and then, in one fell swoop, the entire even had come flooding back in agonizing detail. Then, she saw something that brought her out of her stupor.

The filly version of herself stood up and looked directly at her. Incendia blinked twice. She didn’t remember this. The pony standing in the center of the burning debris began walking towards her. With each step she took, the filly Incendia appeared to age. She grew taller, sleeker, and stronger, until she was roughly the same age as the real Incendia. This version of Incendia, however, was at once more beautiful and more horrible than the real Incendia. Her mane, instead of the coppery orange-red hair of the real Incendia, was nothing more than a layer of red flames burning on her neck.

“Wh-what are you?” Incendia stammered.

“What am I? Oh, I think you ask the wrong questions,” said the Incendia-thing, with a smile that lacked an ounce of kindness. “I believe the better question is, ‘who are you?’”

Incendia couldn’t find any words. She opened and closed her mouth silently.

The Incendia-thing chuckled a cold, mirthless chuckle. “At a loss for words? That’s a rarity. I know you, Incendia. I am you.”

“What’s going on?” Incendia managed to say. “Why are you showing me these things?”

“Because that’s what this place does,” it said. “It shows you the truth you don’t want to see.”

Incendia just whimpered, still cowering on the ground. The Incendia-thing frowned at this. It stalked closer to Incendia and roughly jabbed a hoof in her side, causing her to grunt in pain and roll onto her back. She was now looking directly into the thing’s eyes, which she now realized were a blank, silvery-white.

“Look at you!” it shouted, so loudly that Incendia’s ears rang. “Look at the so-called ‘Terror of Stalliongrad’, the ‘Voice of the Ponies’! Look what she has been reduced to. Crying and huddling on the ground like an animal. I’m disgusted. I expected better.”

These words stirred something in Incendia. Something of her rebellious spirit still remained, and, with the greatest effort it had ever cost her, the orange/red flames sprung to life, covering her from head to hoof.

The Incendia-thing retracted a hoof, and quickly widened the gap between them.

“That’s more like it,” it hissed.

Incendia let out a crazed shriek and lashed out a tongue of flame at the thing. It hit dead-on, slicing across its face. Its head jerked sharply to the left, and a deep gash was clearly visible on its face, oozing out a thick, silvery substance that faded into nothingness before it could hit the ground.

“Oh, Incendia,” cooed the thing, “violence won’t get you anywhere.”

“Let me go,” growled the real Incendia. She was already putting herself back together, preparing to fight her way out.

“Not until you’ve seen the truth. We’ve already seen your past. Why don’t we take a look at your present and future?”

Its eyes began to glow, and images shimmered into being between them. Incendia dimmed her flames unconsciously.

Floating in the space between them was an image of their camp the night before. Incendia was sitting on one side of the floating orb of light, her legs curled up beneath her, while Tiptoe and Jigsaw sat on the other side, nearly falling over each other in laughter. As they watched, the background faded away, until soon the only images left were Jigsaw and Tiptoe’s laughing faces.

“You’ll never be happy like they are,” the thing hissed. “You lost that when you allowed Stalliongrad to be destroyed.”

“I didn’t allow it to be destroyed,” Incendia said. “That was Tantalus and Rubidium.”

“Either way,” sneered the thing, “my point still stands.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Incendia shot back. “You can’t see the future.”

“No, but I can see the truth,” it said smugly. “What exactly are you hoping will happen? That you’ll stumble across some other town? That you’ll find a mare willing to throw her life away to join you on this suicide mission?”

Incendia winced.

“Or are you, perhaps, hoping for some dissent within the group? For Tiptoe to coming running and declare her love for you?” The thing let out a derisive laugh.

“Of course not,” Incendia said, though she sounded shaken. “I barely know her.”

“Indeed,” said the Incendia thing, somewhat cryptically. “You see, I am right. Can you stand it? Will you be able to sit back and watch their love bloom while you wither on the vine?”

“I’m not doing this for myself!” Incendia shouted. Something had snapped inside her. She didn’t know what she was saying now. It wasn’t coming from her mind. She was speaking directly from her emotions. Dimly, she registered the thing that was imitating her had raised a foreleg as if to step backwards.

“I’m doing this because I have nothing left! I made a mistake! I was careless, and Stalliongrad was destroyed because of me! I didn’t know how important those two ponies were. I let down everypony I had ever known! Everypony I had ever loved!”

For just a moment, the thing’s eyes flicked orange, and an image of a beautiful chocolate brown earth pony replaced Jigsaw and Tiptoe’s. Her bright yellow eyes seemed to cut through the gloom. In a blink of an eye, it disappeared. Incendia didn’t even have time to register it.

“I escaped Stalliongrad, but I shouldn’t have!” She was getting hysterical now, shouting at the top of her lungs. “I didn’t know why at first, but I do now! I need to help them! They showed me kindness, healed me! I know I haven’t known them for very long, but this feels right! More right than anything I’ve ever done! I’ve done so much wrong by so many ponies, but now I have the opportunity to do something good, my own happiness be damned! And you...”

She ignited again, though this time, the flames licking up around her body were bright blue.

“You will not stop me!” She took a defiant step forward with each word, breaking through the illusion of Tiptoe and Jigsaw’s smiling faces on the last one.

“Understand?” Incendia said. She noticed, dimly, that the thing imitating her was now the one cowering. She didn’t look beautiful anymore. It looked weak and feeble, almost insubstantial, illuminated by Incendia’s blue flames. It still spoke, though it was almost without any emotion whatsoever.

“Would you die for them?”

“Of course I would,” Incendia snarled. “I wasn’t sure until right now, but now I am. I learned everything I needed to know at that campfire. These are good ponies. They have loved ones, hopes, dreams, and ambitions! And despite everything they’ve been through, they’re still fighting the good fight, and they don’t even know why! But I do. Love.”

With that final word, she finished, waiting for a response. Instead, the thing simply stood up. It suddenly no longer looked menacing. It was staring at Incendia with what she could only describe as the proud look a parent might give to a child. All traces of malice were gone.

“Don’t be so quick to give up on your own happiness,” it said. “And...” It paused, eyes darting back and forth between Incendia’s own, as if trying to make up its mind. Then, it continued: “Your father’s final thoughts were... that he was happy his daughter had the strength to stand up for what was right.”

With that, a sound like rushing wind filled Incendia’s ears, and the thing vanished. Suddenly, bright moonlight flooded into the room, replacing the black, featureless walls with color and texture. Incendia didn’t notice, however. The thing’s final words rang in her ears. She was overwhelmed, tears sizzling against her still-hot coat, a strange mixture of joy and sadness filling her heart.

Her sobbing continued uninterrupted until the fountain crashed through the ceiling.


Jigsaw entered the dark passageway at a trot, and was delighted at what he found. A small crack in the wall, just large enough to squeeze through, led to what he assumed must once have been a guard outpost. Swords and shields lined the wall, but Jigsaw only had eyes for one item. A set of saddlebags sat, dusty and unused, in one corner of the room, and Jigsaw immediately picked it up and flipped it onto his back. Then, as though the act of lifting the bag had jogged his memory, he remembered he had left the parts for the teleporter back at their campsite. Hoping against hope they weren’t out of range, Jigsaw lit his horn. Several minutes later, he let out a sigh of relief as the parts came flying in through the crack, landing snugly in his bag. He squeezed his way back through the crack, a difficult task now that he was wearing saddlebags, and continued up the dark passageway. It was grueling work, though not as strenuous as the climb up the mountain had been. The tunnel constantly switched back on itself, with a series of platforms that Jigsaw was forced to climb up. It was almost as though it was a staircase built for giants, but that wouldn’t explain the low ceiling.

Still, he climbed, and finally, the last ledge led to a beautiful room- something like an indoor garden, though all the plants had long since withered away. An ornate gem-encrusted silver fountain was in the center of the room, surrounded by comfortable-looking padded benches. Jigsaw gladly lay down upon one of them and began examining the fountain. It was covered in a thick layer of dust, making it clear that it hadn’t been used in a very long time. On a whim, Jigsaw focused his attention on the fountain, and attempted to see if he could get the water flowing again. The fountain glowed faintly with blue light, and sure enough, Jigsaw could sense a a collapsed section of pipe a few feet under the statue. He smiled. It had been quite a while since he had repaired a pipe system.

He closed his eyes and the glowing around his horn intensified. He could feel the pipe swelling, repairing itself as ordered by his magic. Finally, when he was done, he opened his eyes, expecting to see a cascade of water flowing from the fountain.

Instead, the ground rumbled and lurched, nearly throwing him off the bench, and a feeble trickle of water spurted from the mouth of one of the silver ponies before it stopped. From somewhere in the distance, Jigsaw heard a shriek.

“Who’s there?” he shouted, jumping down from the bench.

“Jigsaw? Is that you?” came a voice Jigsaw recognized instantly.

It was Antimony’s.

From behind the fountain came a silvery-gray unicorn, her cutie mark of a beaker stark in the light from Jigsaw’s horn.

Jigsaw stared for several seconds, jaw slack. Then he spoke in a disbelieving monotone. “I must be dreaming. I fell asleep on this bench and now I’m dreaming. It’s the only logical explanation.”

“Jigsaw, it’s not a dream!” chuckled Antimony. “I’m standing right he-”

She never got to finish her sentence. From the darkness behind her, a gigantic shape began to emerge. Jigsaw recognized it immediately.

“Look out!” he cried.

Antimony whirled around just in time to see an enormous snake-like creature slide out of the darkness. It was at least eight times the size of Jigsaw, and its body was covered in sores, which appeared to be oozing a silvery substance.

“Oh, Goddesses, Jigsaw, help me!” shrieked Antimony. Jigsaw couldn’t move. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He had relived this moment over and over again in his dreams and while awake, thinking what he could have done differently, but now that it was happening again, he was too afraid to act.

“I don’t understand!” he called, tears beginning to stream down his face. “Why is this happening? What-”

His words were cut off by the roar of the snake creature, which struck its rotten head down onto the silvery gray pony, sinking it’s horrible yellow-and-black fangs deep into her side. Antimony let out a cry of pain and terror.

Jigsaw let out a strangled scream as the creature whipped its head from side to side, tearing a bloody chunk out of Antimony. The horrible fangs slid out of her side with a sickening squelch. The force of the snake’s violent undulations tossed Antimony’s lifeless body to the floor, and she skidded to a halt at his feet. The snake began to eat the chunk of Antimony it had torn out with horrible crunches and slurps.

Jigsaw stared down at her, gasping for breath, not understanding what had just happened. The snake creature stared at him with piercing green eyes for just a moment before it faded away.

Jigsaw lowered his head to Antimony’s and began to sob into the safe fur of her mane.. Then, with an odd, jerking twitch, Antimony’s body moved.

Jigsaw backed away quickly. Something was wrong.

Antimony stood up, leaning slightly to her left, opposite where the chunk of flesh had been torn out. When she opened her eyes, Jigsaw was shocked to discover they were featureless, silver discs.

“The first of many,” it said, in an alarmingly casual tone.

“Y-you’re not Antimony!” Jigsaw said, taking another step back.

“Of course not,” it hissed. “I am the truth.”

“What do you mean?” Jigsaw said. Tears were still streaming down his face.

“I am what you’re too afraid to face,” said the thing. “I am representative of all those who have died for you.”

Jigsaw didn’t respond. He felt as though his throat had swollen shut.

“What’s the matter?” the thing said mockingly. Without warning, it was directly in front of him, shouting into his face. “Afraid to act?!”

It took a step back and began to pace back and forth in a horrible parody of Antimony’s gait.

“Poor, little Jigsaw. So detached, so intellectual. Always top of your class! Poor, pitiful Jigsaw, who suffered a loss so early in life. One wonders if you feel anything at all.”

“Of course I do,” Jigsaw said, exerting a massive effort to keep his voice from cracking. He attempted to blink away his tears with no success.

“And yet you stood there and watched her die, again!” it retorted. “Tiptoe wonders sometimes, you know. She wonders if you really do love her. If you even can love anymore. And who could blame her? Not I, certainly.”

“What do you want?” Jigsaw asked, emotion creeping back into his voice, causing it to quaver. He couldn’t keep up the facade any longer.

The thing appeared to stop for a moment, as if to think of how to respond. Then it said, “To illuminate that which is too often left in the dark.” With that, the thing’s form abruptly changed to that of Tiptoe’s.

“Stalliongrad died to save you,” it said in a perfect imitation of Tiptoe’s voice, though without any trace of her signature kindness. “You let an entire city perish rather than simply sacrifice yourself. You were too afraid to act!”

It began stalking steadily closer as it spoke. “Your quest is futile, you know. What exactly is it you hope to achieve? To reassemble the broken goddesses? They are a relic of an age long since forgotten. It’s only a matter of time until I end up like her.”

With that, the thing’s neck jerked sharply to the side, and with a sickening crunching sound, it collapsed to the ground, legs and wings splayed at impossible angles.

“All that you will accomplish is to kill the world that much faster.”

“You’re wrong!” Jigsaw shouted, his voice sounding hoarse and unfamiliar to him.

“You’ve been saying that I sit back and let others die for me, then you tell me I should give up? That doesn’t make any sense!” As he spoke, his crying intensified, though he had no idea why.

The thing stood up and stared at Jigsaw, as if inviting him to continue.

“You don’t know the truth. You only know how to tell convincing lies. I’m doing this right now so nopony ever has to die for me again!”

His sadness and confusion were beginning to turn into anger. His horn began glowing so brilliantly blue that he felt as though he could almost see through the Tiptoe-thing, which bore a look of terror on its face.

“And don’t you ever tell me I don’t love Tiptoe. I’m done with taking things lying down. Never again am I going to sit back wile things like you terrorize what I love!” Jigsaw finished the sentence shouting, the cords in his neck taut with anger.

The thing sighed, almost as if it had been waiting a very long time for this, then stared at Jigsaw intently.

“It will do,” said the thing, with a finality that did not invite a response from Jigsaw.

It began to walk backwards, away from Jigsaw, and he heard the sound of rushing wind begin. Then, suddenly, the wind died down, and Jigsaw recognized the expression on the thing’s face: despair.

It stood, staring at him for a long time before it finally spoke.

“Antimony wants you to be happy.” it said, so softly Jigsaw almost didn’t catch it. The expression on it’s face showed the same despair, though it seemed now to be tinged with a touch of regret.

Then, with that, the rushing wind picked up again, and the thing was gone.

Jigsaw collapsed onto the bench, fresh tremors of fright and sadness shooting through his body.

When he finally dried his eyes, he had made a decision his mind. He would find Incendia and Tiptoe. They had been apart far too long.

He didn’t have the chance to get up, however, because at that moment, the fountain erupted.


Without warning, water began gushing through the fountain at such high speeds it sprayed the walls and floors. Jigsaw was so taken aback that he was washed off his bench by a jet of water from an ornate golden pegasus. Spluttering, he ignited his horn and ran to the base of the fountain, touching his horn to it. He understood what was about to happen only moments before it did.

The floor around the fountain cracked, and with one final jet of water, the fountain crashed down, pulling Jigsaw with it. He jumped into the fountain, acting purely on instinct, which proved life-saving when they collided with the floor below with a sound like a small explosion. The water softened the impact enough that Jigsaw avoided collision with the hard, metal walls of the fountain.

He climbed out of the basin, gasping for air, and was surprised to see a very shocked Incendia gawking at him.

“What just happened?” she asked, her eyes wide.

“Never mind the fountain,” Jigsaw said, his voice hard with determination. “We have to find Tiptoe.”

The authority in his voice kicked Incendia into action.

“Right,” she said. “Any ideas of where to look?”

Jigsaw glanced around the room. “Where did you come in?”

Incendia gestured to the door directly behind her with her horn.

“Then we should probably check that door,” Jigsaw said, gesturing to a door in the back-left corner of the room, opposite where Incendia had come out.

They cantered over to it without another word. Jigsaw’s horn began to glow, but the door wouldn’t budge.

“It’s locked,” he said, peering at the keyhole. “I think I can figure it out, just give me a few minutes...”

“Oh, just let me do it,” Incendia said, sounding somewhat exasperated, as she stepped between Jigsaw and the door. Her horn cast its familiar orange light, and the door blew apart in a flash of fire.

They heard a scream come from the other side, and Jigsaw rushed inside.

“Tiptoe! Tiptoe, is that you?” Jigsaw shouted in alarm. His head whipped back and forth frantically until he saw her, standing up about twenty feet away.

He took off towards her at a gallop at the same time as she did. They met in the middle, throwing hooves around each other, sharing a passionate kiss.

“I’m so sorry!” Jigsaw exlcaimed as they broke apart. “I should never have said that we should split up. I’ll never leave you alone again!”

Once more, tears were flowing, but these were tears of joy; tears of relief.

“I don’t ever want to be apart from you again! There was this creature, and it said the most horrible things, and-”

“I know.” Jigsaw said, soothingly. “I know.”

“I love you, Jigsaw!” Tiptoe said. The note of pleading in her voice was unmistakable.

“I love you too, Tiptoe,” Jigsaw said resolutely, staring steadily into Tiptoe eyes. “Don’t ever doubt that.”

And with that, they kissed again.

Incendia turned away when she saw this, feeling flustered. This wasn’t a moment meant for her. Another pang of loneliness shot through her.

At least until a pair of hooves closed around her neck, taking her completely by surprise. She looked up to find that Tiptoe had rushed over and embraced her.

It was too much for Incendia to take. She began to cry again, for the life that she had lost, for long-lost loves, for the future, and for the overwhelming feeling of affection she felt for the creamy yellow pegasus. She didn’t think she could ever express how much this simple hug meant to her.

After several moments of hesitation, Jigsaw also placed a hoof around Incendia’s neck.

They stood together like that for longer than any of them knew. They weren’t concerned with the passage of time just then.

When they broke apart, Jigsaw was not entirely shocked to see a silvery-white orb, just like a miniature moon, floating in the center of the room.

It had been the most emotionally trying experience of their lives, but they had found what they were looking for.