• Published 10th Jul 2011
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Antipodes - PK



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

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Antipodes- Chapter 26

Antipodes

Chapter 26

by PK

Tiptoe awoke with a start. Something had stuck her- hard- in the back. She attempted to roll over, but was hit again, this time just below her ribcage. With a flap of her wings, she propelled herself out of the bed and spun to look at what was hitting her.

Unsurprisingly, it was Jigsaw. He was tossing and turning violently in his sleep. The sheets lay in a heap at the foot of the bed, presumably kicked off. Tiptoe didn't know how she hadn't been woken up before, Jigsaw was trashing so violently. She approached the bed to try and wake him when she noticed something odd: even though the lights of the city had only just begun to glow, the interior of the room was bathed with a golden light. She glanced around to the braziers mounted on the walls and saw that they were cold. The light seemed to be emanating from Jigsaw himself.

Tiptoe froze, suddenly unsure if waking Jigsaw was the best choice of action. However, after a moment of consideration, she began to inch closer and closer to him.

"Jigsaw?" she whispered. "Jigsaw, are you okay?"

Jigsaw didn't respond. He was still thrashing about, threatening to tumble out of bed.

"Jigsaw?" she called a little louder, unease creeping into her voice. This time, however, Jigsaw seemed to respond. The thrashing became less violent, and the tension seemed to leave his muscles. Tiptoe let out a sigh.

Her relief was short-lived. A moment later, Jigsaw began to twitch and writhe uncontrollably. Tiptoe's eyes widened with fright.

"Incendia!" she shouted, her voice cracking, "Incendia, get in here, I think Jigsaw's having some kind of a seizure!"

She heard a muffled clatter and a sizzling sound, but at that moment, the light atop the massive radio tower burst to life, signaling the start of morning. Jigsaw stopped twitching, going truly limp this time. The golden light slowly receded until the room was illuminated only by the light filtering in through the window.

Tiptoe approached Jigsaw slowly once more, and tentatively nuzzled him. "Jigsaw? Are you alright?"

Jigsaw's eye's flung open, and his horn began to glow with a blue light. This was unlike the light that normally shone from his horn, however. It was a significantly darker shade of blue. Tiptoe tried to step back, but was horrified to find that Jigsaw's magic was holding her in place. Jigsaw's eyes began to glow, shining with a deep blue light in much the same way that Incendia's eyes glowed when she ignited.

"Jigsaw, what are you doing?" Tiptoe pleaded. "Let me down!"

Jigsaw turned to look at her, his eyes unfocused and glossy, iridescent in the light from the window and shining from within.

When he opened his mouth, the voice that issued out bore little resemblance to his own. It was deeper, more forceful, and dreadfully raspy. It said, each word booming through the bedroom, "You have not yet seen the shape of things to come."

It was then that Incendia burst into the room, a frying pan containing three sizzling eggs floating in an orange haze just behind her. Her mouth fell agape with horror at the scene in the bedroom that was playing out before her— Tiptoe struggling in mid air, suspended in a tight band of light projecting from Jigsaw's horn. She dropped the eggs and focused her energies towards the spot in between Jigsaw and Tiptoe.

With a sound like a firecracker, they flew apart. Tiptoe caught herself in mid-air with a flap of her wings, but Jigsaw flew out of bed and smacked into the far wall. The glow instantly disappeared from both his eyes and his horn and, a moment later, he got shakily to his feet.

"What... oh goddesses, my head... What just happened?" he asked. Tiptoe galloped up to him and flung herself over his shoulders. The sudden shock nearly threw Jigsaw back onto the floor, but he stumbled and managed to maintain his footing.

"I'm so glad you're okay!" Tiptoe cried, pulling away from him. "I thought something awful was happening to you!"

"I feel like I just had a statue dropped on me," he said, with a shaky smile at Incendia, who was still eyeing him suspiciously. "I'm okay now."

"You weren't okay when I came in," she observed, making her way closer to the spot on the bed where Jigsaw had just been and examining it, as if she expected to find some kind of residue.

"What happened?" she asked, turning to Tiptoe.

"Jigsaw kicked me awake," Tiptoe said, "and it looked like he was having some kind of seizure. He was also... well, he seemed to be glowing. Then, right when morning started, he picked me up and he said 'you have not yet seen the shape of things to come,' then... well, you came in and did the rest."

"I'm so sorry, Tiptoe," Jigsaw said. "I didn't do those things. I don't know what came over me."

"Well, at any rate, I couldn't sleep well last night," Incendia said, "so I got up early and made breakfast. We might as well eat. Big day ahead of us."

They all made their way into the main room. As they exited, Jigsaw shot a dark look out the window at the radio tower and muttered, "I may have some idea of what came over me."

In short order, Incendia had them all settled down at the table. Luckily, she had been able to salvage the eggs that had dropped on the floor of the bedroom. After breakfast, they all felt a little calmer and more levelheaded, and some semblance of normalcy had returned.

"Where did you learn to cook so well, Incendia?" Jigsaw asked.

"It wasn't always a life of excitement, Stalliongrad," Incendia said. "I had time to experiment with my powers here and there, and being a natural stove means I was often the one that had to cook. Eventually, I started just doing it to relax."

Jigsaw nodded, then let out a deep sigh. "We should probably talk about what happened this morning."

He felt the mood in the room change instantly. Whatever calm mood had pervaded before was gone. Undeterred, he pressed on. "I don't know, but I think it was a warning. Something is going to happen today, and I don’t think we have a lot of time to act."

"How can you possibly know that, Jigsaw?" Incendia asked.

"Because whatever it was, it was inside me. I can't really explain it. I just… I really think this place is in danger."

"Well, what's our plan of action?" Tiptoe said, with a sharp look at Incendia, who was still eyeing Jigsaw suspiciously.

"We need to sneak into the church and get a closer look at the airship," Jigsaw said, though he didn't sound entirely sure of himself.

"What about the fragment?" Incendia asked. "Shouldn't we collect that while we're at it?"

Jigsaw sighed again, got to his feet, and began pacing around the table. "I've been thinking about that, and I just don't know. The fragment is the only thing keeping this place safe. Who knows what would happen to it if it was taken away?"

"But we can't just sit here and do nothing," Incendia countered. "After what happened this morning, do you really think that you'll be able to just walk away?"

"Probably not," Jigsaw conceded, "but let's just get going. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Jigsaw threw on his saddlebags and they left their cozy home and began to retrace the winding route Jigsaw had taken the previous day. The streets were sparser and and more bare than they had ever seen before. Here and there, ponies were erecting shops or watering flowers, but they seemed lethargic and listless. In fact, the only ponies who seemed to not be diminished were the pegasi. Their forms were still clearly visible, silhouetted against the gray of the sky.

Eventually, they came to a section of street that had a small wooden barrier erected in it, which stated simply "Closed for repairs." They took a detour around a large grassy field and ended up walking on a colorfully tiled path that was within touching distance of the magical cloud barrier.

"Have you noticed that every day there seem to be fewer and fewer ponies about on the streets?" Incendia asked. "It's bizarre. I wonder what's going-"

Her words were cut off but a sudden blast of sound and hot air. The concussive wave broke over them, blowing clouds at them like a heavy fog and obscuring their vision. Before any of them could react beyond a gasp, however, the clouds suddenly rushed back into the cloud wall as if pulled by a powerful vacuum. As if pulled away, Jigsaw began to make out shapes on the path that had not been there before. Several ponies were lying splayed on the path ahead of them, as if they had been suddenly deposited there. They were all dressed in the dark blue capes of the temple guards, though most looked as though they had been torn to shreds. Several of the ponies had bright scarlet burns on their coats, and one was lying in a pool of rapidly increasing blood.

"By the goddesses, what was that?" Incendia said. "My ears are still ringing. It sounded like something exploded!"

Jigsaw opened his mouth to reply, but closed it suddenly when he noticed that one of the ponies- the one lying in a pool of blood- had a quill and inkwell as a cutie mark. Tiptoe and Jigsaw spoke at the same time, having evidently noticed the same thing.

"Is… is that Quill Dipper?"

They rushed over to the unicorn and tried to get a closer look at his face. Jigsaw's stomach clenched. It was Quill Dipper, and the blood was coming from a gash on the side of his face, running from his right ear, across his eye, and through to the tip of his nose. Blood gushed out in pulses.

"Is he breathing?" Tiptoe asked in hushed tones. Jigsaw leaned down and put his face near Quill Dipper's.

"Yes, but it's very shallow. I'm going to do what I can."

Jigsaw's horn ignited, and he waved the tip over the cut. The wound glowed for a moment, and the blood lessened from a torrent to a trickle.

"That's all I can do, I'm afraid," Jigsaw said. "I still haven't recovered fully from last time."

One of the ponies who wasn't bleeding began to stir, groaning and grunting with pain. Jigsaw and Incendia rushed over to help him up.

"Are you injured?" Jigsaw asked, eyeing the large burn on the earth pony's flank.

"Nothing I can't deal with," the pony replied.

"Then, do you mind if we ask a few questions?" Jigsaw said, his tone shifting from one of care to cold determination.

"You're refugees, right?" the injured pony asked. "We're… not supposed to tell refugees about it, it's…" he trailed off upon seeing the look in Jigsaw's eyes.

"That pony on the ground over there is a friend, and I think we deserve to not be kept in the dark. You can either tell us, or we're going to find out for ourselves."

The earth pony looked for a moment as if he was going to resist, but his resolve faded. "Follow me," he said, taking a few shaky steps towards the cloud barrier.

"Wait!" Tiptoe called, "What about Quill Dipper and the others?"

The earth pony blinked, as if surprised to find that there were other ponies there, then slowly backed into the barrier. Without warning, it surged forward, engulfing them once more. When it contracted, the other ponies were gone. Even the blood had vanished. The tile looked as though it had been scoured clean.

"Where did they go?" Tiptoe inquired.

"Somewhere safe," replied the earth pony.

Soon, Jigsaw, Tiptoe, and Incendia were making their way through the layer of cloud. It felt strangely different than when they had entered Totemhoof- the fog seemed like steam in a sauna, hot almost to the point of being uncomfortable. It seemed to try to buffet them, too, pulling them to one side or pushing them the other. As they walked, Jigsaw had to fight the urge to veer off to the left or right and continue following the burned pony. After several minutes, however, they emerged from the cloud barrier.

What they saw was something far worse than any of them ever anticipated. They were standing at the foot of the huge hill that surrounded the valley that contained Totemhoof, and before them stretched out a battlefield. The sound was nearly deafening. Explosions could be seen off in the distance every few seconds, rocking ground with each blast. Pegasi swooped back and forth through the air, piling cloud on to the cloud barrier. Jigsaw couldn't help but notice they were all dressed in the blue robes of the temple guards. The ground directly in front of them was filled with tents and camps. Earth ponies and unicorns rushed around, moving equipment or soldiers.

"What's going on?" asked Incendia, her eyes wide. "What is this place?"

"We're fighting a war. Let's get into a tent, then I can explain everything to you. We're not safe out here."

A moment later, the four of them were huddled inside a pure white tent which had been erected directly in front of the cloud barrier. The earth pony stumbled over to a wooden cabinet in the corner of the tent, opened the doors with his teeth, and grabbed a tube of salve, which he squeezed onto the burn on his flank.

"We've been fighting a war. That's why so many houses are deserted and why we've been so willing to take in refugees," he said. He spoke quickly, pausing only to take breath, as though he'd been waiting a long time to say these words. "It all started just a few days ago. We've always been prepared, of course, just in case somepony tried to invade, but they came so suddenly. Followers of Tantalus, you know."

"What?" Jigsaw spluttered. The earth pony ignored him and continued.

"They just came and came and came and didn't stop. At first we just let the cloud barrier do its thing, but after a while it started to get thinner and thinner. We realized that they were degrading it somehow! So we launched a counterattack, but they're crazy. They're not even ponies, some of them! I didn't even know griffons were still around until they started attacking. But they just keep throwing themselves at us! I don't know how they do it, but they never seem to get smaller in number, even though they're dying by the hundreds. Well, it worked, I suppose, because they managed to diminish our numbers so much that we were worried about sustaining our population. Almost all the pegasi have been assigned to keeping the cloud barrier functional, and the rest of us are out fighting on the front lines. After we figured out the refugees didn't like Tantalus any more than we do, we decided to let them in, but Moonbow himself stepped in at the last minute and barred anyone from telling them about the war until they were ready. It makes sense when you think about it, I suppose. They came from a city that was destroyed into one that was about to be if we didn't win. How's that for unlucky?"

The trio simply sat for several moments, not sure how to react to the information so unceremoniously dumped into their laps. It was Incendia who spoke first.

"You lied to them?" she demanded, advancing towards the earth pony, who suddenly looked as though he regretted telling her that bit of news. "You lied to my people? Made them think they had finally found a safe home?"

"Incendia…" Tiptoe said softly. "It wasn't his fault."

Incendia wasn't listening. The earth pony was now at the edge of the tent, unable to back up farther, and Incendia was still advancing.

"Do you have any idea what we've been through? What most of our lives were in Stalliongrad?" As she spoke, her horn began to glow, and flames began to form on her coat. She was within inches of the earth pony, who now looked abjectly horrified. Tiptoe lunged forward as if to make a motion to stop her, but Incendia merely stamped her hoof and turned away from the earth pony. The flames on her coat slowly ebbed and died.

"I'm sorry about that," Tiptoe said to the earth pony, who was still eyeing Incendia wearily.

"I understand," he said. "But please remember, I'm just a hoof soldier. I didn't choose to do this, and I haven't been able to talk about it with anyone since."

"I'll wait near the mouth of the tent," Incendia said. "I need some air."

She tromped off looking disgruntled. "I'm sorry about that," Jigsaw said apologetically as the earth pony stepped away from the canvas wall of the tent, still looking unnerved. "I'd like to ask you a few questions."

"Like what?" the soldier replied.

"Like what exactly does the cloud barrier do?"

"It keeps the city safe. Anything that enters the clouds that isn't a resident of Totemhoof or possessing the permission of a citizen to enter won't be able to. They'll just get turned around and come out the other side of the valley, or right back out where they entered. Sometimes they even come out at the top of the clouds. We don't know how it was made, but it's the only thing that's kept us safe from marauders since the founding of the city. Radio tower is kinda like that too, same principle," The earth pony stammered.

"What about what you did with the cloud and Quill Dipper?"

"That's another thing citizens can do, if we need to. It's a defense mechanism— we can use the clouds to transport injured ponies to a healer. Anypony can do it, if they can get in the clouds."

"What did you mean by followers of Tantalus? Who are they?"

"You never heard of them back in Stalliongrad?"

"Uh, no," Jigsaw said quickly. "They didn't freely release information about that back there."

"Ah, okay. Well, they're nasty characters. You should consider yourself lucky for having not heard about them. We don't know much about them, other than they follow Tantalus. They don't seem to have any kind of organization and they don't stop coming, ever. They just throw themselves at us. Never dispose of their dead. Near as we can tell, they don’t even treat their wounded. They just let them rot where they fall. And the unicorns use some of the worst magic I've ever seen. Huge fireballs, ponies turned inside out, the works. They don't look quite right either. Like the walking dead, they are. Not dead, though. Die as easy as anything else. More like they just went crazy and don't care about anything anymore."

"How did you end up getting blasted through the cloud layer?" Jigsaw asked.

"Some kind of explosive they lobbed at us. We were standing near the clouds at the time and the blast knocked us through them."

"I need to see the battle for myself," Jigsaw said.

"Don't know why'd you want to see that," the earth pony replied, "but okay, there's some binoculars in the cabinet."

Jigsaw levitated the binoculars out of the cabinet and all three of them left the tent. Incendia was standing just outside, staring out at the distant battlefield. Jigsaw listed the binoculars and looked out at the spot where Incendia appeared to be looking.

The battle was too hectic and fast paced for him to make out much of anything, but he saw a few strange dark shapes— griffons, perhaps— darting to and fro in the air, and strange green fires that charred the earth beneath. A mass of blue, presumably the temple guards, stood facing away from Totemhoof, forming a defensive wall which was hurling what looked like spears at the disorganized mass behind it.

Jigsaw passed the binoculars to Incendia and Tiptoe in turn, each surveying the battle playing out so far away. When they had looked their fill, Incendia turned to the earth pony.

"How long did you say this battle has been going on for?”

“This is the fourth day of fighting, I think,” the earth pony replied plaintively. “It’s hard to tell when you don’t have the lights of the city to tell the days apart.”

“You set all this up in four days?” Incendia said incredulously.

“Like I said, we’re always prepared for invasions. They just... usually aren’t of this magnitude. We’ve never lost so many before.”

“What do we do now?” Tiptoe whispered to Jigsaw.

“The plan isn’t changed. We still need to get to the fragment. There’s nothing we can do about this.”

“But Jigsaw,” Tiptoe whispered back insistently, “if we take the fragment, then the clouds will probably dissipate! We can’t risk that knowing what we do now!”

“We’ll discuss it when we get there. Either way, we still need to get down there to check out the airship. It looked like we might be able to get it working again or at the very least get some useful things to scavenge,” Jigsaw spoke, his words sounding hollow and monotonous.

“Are you okay?” Tiptoe said, her throat constricting slightly with worry.

Jigsaw blinked. “Yeah, I’m okay. It’s just... that’s a lot to take in at once. My mind is reeling.”

“I understand what you mean,” Incendia said, joining the whispered conversation. “This is exactly what I was hoping wouldn’t happen.”

“Should we get going?” Tiptoe asked the group. “I don’t see much point in sticking around.”

“Agreed,” Jigsaw and Incendia said in unison.

“Uh, excuse me,” Jigsaw called to the earth pony soldier, who was so intent on watching the far-off battle that he had apparently not noticed they had stopped. “Can we get back through the cloud layer since we’re not technically citizens?”

“Hm?” the earth pony mumbled, still intent on watching the battle. Then, he seemed to process that somepony had spoken to him. “Oh, yes, you should be fine. Giving you a house was implicit permission, I should think.”

“Could you give us permission, just in case?” Jigsaw asked. “I don’t want to stumble out above the clouds. Only one of us has wings.”

“Yeah, sure. I, Spring Seed, give you permission to enter and leave Totemhoof as you see fit,” he said, though he still hadn’t taken his eyes off the battlefield.

“Well, we should be good to go, then,” Jigsaw said, turning back towards the group.

“Goodbye,” said the earth pony dreamily, “and good luck, whatever it is you’re trying to do.”

“I think he got a blow to the head in the blast,” Jigsaw hissed to Tiptoe, who had to repress a snort of laughter.

They made their way through the cloud layer, once again fighting the compulsion to drift one way or the other, before finally emerging back onto the tiled pathway.

~~~

Jigsaw, Tiptoe, and Incendia stood before the mighty facade of the church. Jigsaw felt that the huge stone building seemed significantly more imposing now that he was faced with the prospect of sneaking inside.

“Remind me again why we can’t just walk in?” Tiptoe said nervously, her eyes wide and neck craned upwards to take in as much of the building as possible.

“Because I don’t think I have free reign to just walk in there any time I feel like,” Jigsaw said, “much less with two other ponies in tow. Plus, even if they don’t mind that, I highly doubt we’ll be left alone long enough to get inside the door at the back. Apparently, regular citizens aren’t even allowed in most of the time. So we’re gonna need you to work your magic, Tiptoe.”

She gulped and nodded. “You two are going to have to do exactly as I do, though. I can’t guarantee we’ll all be safe.”

“Hey, look at me,” Jigsaw said gently. Tiptoe tore her eyes away from the church and focusing on Jigsaw. Before she realized what he had in mind, he leaned forward, and their lips met. Incendia glanced towards the ground, suddenly flushed.

They broke apart. “You’ll be fine, Tiptoe,” Jigsaw said. “I believe in you.”

Looking bolstered, if a bit flustered, Tiptoe nodded and began to make her way up the steps. After a brief struggle with the heavy door, all three of them managed to slip inside the ancient, weathered stone building.

The hallway was rather chillier than outside had been. In place of torches, those strange crystals jutted out of the walls at seemingly random intervals. The intermittent lighting was a blessing for Tiptoe, however. She slunk alongside the walls like a cat, holding herself lower to the ground than normal. Her bones suddenly seemed to stop factoring in to her movements. It was as if her whole body had gone fluid, flowing along the wall and around corners as if she were made of water.

Incendia could hardly believe what she was seeing. Tiptoe seemed to have undergone a complete transformation. While she and Jigsaw had to struggle to keep their hooves from clopping loudly against the stone of the tunnel, but Tiptoe seemed to be able to turn off sound around her. For Incendia, it added a whole other layer of attraction to Tiptoe. Several times, ponies emerged from branching passageways, talking quickly in hushed tones. Tiptoe whipped back against the wall, Incendia and Jigsaw following her lead, pressing themselves tightly into the crevices and imperfections in the rock wall and hoping they didn’t look directly at them. They also had to pause occasionally for Jigsaw to try and remember which branching passageway would lead them to the correct chamber. Finally, however, after what seemed like hours of tension, they approached the small, roughly cut stone door.

Jigsaw shimmied open the door, and the trio slipped inside. The giant crystal sculpture glimmered from the recessed pit in the center of the cavern, but the rest of the cave was utterly unremarkable.

“I think we can stop sneaking now,” Tiptoe said, straightening up. “What is that?” she asked, tilting her head in the direction of the statue, which was pulsing rapidly.

“It’s not important,” Jigsaw said. “What’s important is what’s over there.”

They made their way through the room, the rapidly pulsing light from the statue creating a nearly blinding strobe effect, making their motions look oddly robotic and unnatural.

They approached the door at the far side of the cave, and Jigsaw inserted his horn. The pulsing light from the statue suddenly ceased, becoming placid and calm. Incendia’s hair bristled as she felt a sudden wave of heat emanate from the door, then, with another loud snap and a flash of light, the door swung open.

Jigsaw took charge, leading them down the labyrinthine and decrepit network of stairs and corridors.

“We always seem to come back to this, don’t we?” Jigsaw said, glancing over his shoulder at Tiptoe. “The two of us, walking through narrow, underground passageways, in the dark.”

“And there’s usually mortal peril involved,” Tiptoe added, giggling.

“Hey! I’m here too!” Incendia chided.

“Well, Incendia, welcome to the club,” Jigsaw said, laughing.

They turned a corner and their mirth died instantly.

“This is the door,” Jigsaw said. “The airship is in here.”

“And the fragment?” Incendia asked. “What are we going to do about that?”

Jigsaw didn’t answer. Instead, he opened up the door with a push of his head, bathing the dark hallway in brilliant light.

The airship sat there, looking exactly as it had when Jigsaw has been there previously. In the carved out section of the room, the fragment floated serenely, looking as though it was suspended in a brightly glowing thunder-egg.

“It’s beautiful,” Tiptoe said, staring at the airship. “Has it really been here for all this time?”

“Well, obviously, somepony came in here at some point to deposit the fragment.” Jigsaw replied evenly.

“But it hasn’t flown in all that time?” Tiptoe said, her voice low.

“I doubt it.”

“Why is the ceiling black?” Incendia asked, staring up.

“That’s a very good question,” Jigsaw said. “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

“It kinda looks like the sky on the night side of Stalliongrad, when clouds would block out the moon and the stars,” Incendia said absently.

“Fitting,” said Jigsaw. “But now I think we’re going to have to decide what to do with the fragment.”

“We can’t take it,” Incendia said without delay. “My people are surviving here. If we take that fragment, it might make the clouds dissipate. We can’t afford to take it.”

“I don’t know,” Tiptoe said hesitantly. Both Jigsaw and Incendia looked at her in surprise. She gulped. “Well, we don’t really know what made those clouds, do we? We don’t have any proof it’s the fragment. For all we know, it’s just been sitting here. Plus, what do you think the consequences of not taking it would be? Maybe it would protect the city in the short term, but can we really afford to just sit around and let Tantalus run rampant? He’s not going to stop looking for us just because we stopped fighting.”

“What are you saying?” Incendia said waspishly. “Are you saying we should just finish the job you two started back in Stalliongrad? And what do you think those cables are for if the crystal is just sitting here?”

Tiptoe’s eyes grew wide. She looked hurt. “Incendia,” Jigsaw said, stepping forward into Incendia’s field of vision, “you know we didn’t mean what happened in Stalliongrad. We didn’t want it to happen.”

“But you want it to finish!” Incendia shouted, her horn sparking to life in spite of herself. “You’re willing to risk the destruction of my people— for what?”

“To stop the destruction of everything else!” Tiptoe shouted back. She was getting angry, too.

“Now, you two,” Jigsaw said. “Let’s calm down and discuss this like adult—”

BOOM!

The room suddenly jerked and shook, as though an earthquake had struck. The three of them stumbled, and hundreds of years of dust trickled down from the ceiling.

"What was that?" Incendia shouted.

"The room is collapsing!" Jigsaw cried. "Things must have taken a turn for the worse in the battle up above.”

“What do we do?” asked Tiptoe, her eyes darting around the room frantically.

“We can’t go back!” Jigsaw shouted. “Those tunnels will have already collapsed! Quick, into the airship!”

Incendia and Tiptoe rushed to the base of the airship, and Tiptoe took off, flying up ten feet and snatching the door handle in her teeth. It swung down, a staircase unfolding out of it. The staircase seemed to be made of brilliantly cut crystal.

“Jigsaw! Get in here!” Tiptoe called, gesturing towards the airship door.

“Hold on! I have an idea!”

He turned around to the fragment, which was still floating serenely amid the numerous glowing crystals. The room gave another great rumble, nearly throwing Jigsaw off balance, but before long he came to it.

“I hope you’re happy,” he whispered under his breath. “I hope you know what you’re doing. Because from here I’m not seeing too much difference between you and him.”

He leaned down low and touched the tip of his horn to the silvery orb.

Instantly, light and sound exploded around him. He was surrounded by a whirlwind of silver mist, swirling around him faster and faster. His horn burned, his head felt as though it was about to burst, and then-

It was over. He stumbled for a moment, then blinked. He knew what he had to do.

~~~

Tiptoe rushed inside the airship, joining Incendia in the dark interior. The space they were in had clearly once been grand. It was tall enough for Tiptoe to do a loop-de-loop, and the walls still contained stripes of dark blue paint.

BOOM!

Another tremor, stronger than the first, shook the airship. Tiptoe was thrown face first onto the cold, metal tiles of the floor. This time, the room did not settle. It kept shaking, throwing them to and fro. Bits of railing crumbled down from a walkway above, slamming into the ground like giant bullets.

Incendia and Tiptoe crowded together under a rotting wooden desk in a weak attempt to protect themselves from the heavy debris slamming down around them.

“What do we do?” Tiptoe asked again. “Jigsaw had collected the fragment, and then...”

Some ancient piece of heavy machinery smashed down mere feet from their hiding spot, prompted both of the trapped ponies to scream with shock.

Incendia made a snap decision. There was no way they could get out of here, they must have been thousands of feet underground. If she was going to die in this pit, she had to say something first.

“Tiptoe, there’s something I need you to know,” Incendia shouted over the sound of metal slamming into metal.

“What?” replied Tiptoe.

“I love you!”

Suddenly, it was as all the sound had been sucked out of the room. Tiptoe started at Incendia, wide-eyed in shock. She opened her mouth to respond, when Jigsaw’s voice interrupted her.

“Where are you two? I think I know how to get out of here!”

Tiptoe and Incendia bounced up from under the desk to see Jigsaw standing there, a shining crystal floating in mid air to his left and the disassembled bits of Incendia’s shoulder teleporter to his right.

“We need to get to the engine rooms! This way! We don’t have any time to waste!”

He took off running down a hallway to the left, the other two hot on his hooves. Before too long, they came to a room that was full of all sorts of strange-looking metallic objects. Tubes and pipes were everywhere, and three tanks of softly glowing liquid lined the walls to their left

Jigsaw didn’t have any time to look around, however. Time was of the essence.

With reckless force, he tore a large, dark black crystal out of a small chamber in a huge machine in the center of the room and stuck the brightly glowing crystal in its place. Then, he turned on the spot and galloped out, yelling at the others to follow.

They turned a corner and came to the narrow coil of a spiral staircase, which they climbed as quick as they could. The top of it was the underside of a trapdoor, which Jigsaw threw open with wild abandon. The room beyond was lined with screens on three of the four walls; some were larger than a pony, yet others seemed so small that they looked as though they could never have shown anything useful. Jigsaw shot around the room, tearing our bundles of cable— with his teeth, no less— and hastily splicing in bits and pieces from the teleporter.

“That’s all I can do,” Jigsaw said, rushing up to the back of the room, where a large, padded chair stood facing the fourth wall, which wasn’t so much a wall as a lack thereof. Where it should have been, there was simply a large, open space, through which they could see out onto the room.

“We’re at the top of the ship?” Tiptoe said with confusion. “How did we get up here so fast?”

Jigsaw wasn’t listening. He settled himself into the chair and his horn began to glow. A small dashboard rose out of the ground at his hooves, complete with yet another screen and a bright red lever.

“They really built this for show, didn’t they?” Jigsaw said, more to himself than anyone else. He threw the lever down.

The noise was deafening. A huge, high pitched hiss sounded, a deep rumbling, louder than any coming from the room outside began deep in the bowels of the ship, and extremely high screeching sounds emanated from all around them.

Then, all sound died, save for a small hum. A bright light glimmered around the fourth wall for a moment, and an instant later the catwalk collapsed. One of the thick metal supports came swinging down directly towards the hole in the wall. Tiptoe and Incendia flinched instinctively, but when the column slammed into the hole, there was a flash of light and a sizzle, and the support ceased to exist.

“What was that?” Tiptoe asked, her eyes wide.

“I have no idea,” Jigsaw responded, “but we have to get out of here. Hold on tight!”

Tiptoe and Incendia both bit on the nearby railing as the airship gave an almighty jerk and, to their utter shock, they began to rise up. Jigsaw’s horn was glowing a brilliant blue, and the screens around the room were coming to life one by one, displaying hundreds of lines of old world text. The pure-black ceiling had begun to flicker, glowing a brilliant white. As they rose, they seemed to pass right through it, the view of the crumbling underground chamber slowly wiping away to alabaster.

Then they were out, floating out of the clouds, a few hundred yards away from the radio tower.

Jigsaw started out at the tower in disbelief, then all three of them let out a hesitant laugh that quickly grew hysterical with relief.

When they glanced out of the wall again, the laughter stopped abruptly.

The clouds were pulling away from the city, swirling away as though repelled by a magnet. From their vantage point in the skies, they could clearly see the legions of Tantalus’ worshippers pouring up and over the hills protecting the city.

The trio stared down at the city, watching the orange flicker of fires begin to spring up.

“No,” Jigsaw said quietly. “No.”

“What are you-” Tiptoe began, but Jigsaw’s horn had begun to glow brilliantly again.

“We’re in the most powerful battleship from before the fall. I intend to use it. Press any and everything at that panel,” Jigsaw said, pointing to a number of screens displaying red, rapidly flashing old world text. “I’ve set it to only target Tantalus’ supports.”

“You can do that?” Incendia asked.

“I don’t know how it works, but they show up green on the targeting system,” he answered. “Citizens show up blue. Press it.”

Incendia pressed the largest button she could find, and the room shook yet again. The high-pitched screeching sound began yet again, and Incendia stared up at the display. It was flashing scarlet, and text was flying by so quickly she could barely even tell letters apart. The screeching was deafening and then...

A blue wave emanated from the bottom of the ship, speeding almost lazily towards the town, rippling and shimmering as it went. It washed over the town with what seemed, from their vantage point so far above, to be extreme sluggishness, but cover the town it did.

“Press it again!” Jigsaw shouted, his expression intensely focused on the scene playing out below them.

Incendia jammed the button again, and the airship gave another mighty shake. The alarms got even louder, and from far off, several small explosions could be heard. but down below, the blue light grew and grew, until it reached such an intensity that it was nearly blinding, then faded away.

Down below, the mob of the invading army began doing something astonishing. “What’s going on?” Tiptoe asked as she peered over the side of the ship. The mass of green and red that was Tantalus’ forces seemed to have frozen in place, surrounded by a soft, blue glow, as though that strange wave had suddenly replaced all the ponies with ice sculptures.

Jigsaw got up from the command chair and walked over to the console Incendia was operating, which was still spitting text faster than he could read.

“What was that?” Incendia asked quietly. “What did I do?”

“I used to read all about these as a colt,” Jigsaw said, staring at the console. “They were supposed to be the grandest vessels of their time, as well as the most powerful. It was said just one could win a war.”

“Is it supposed to be making all these noises?” Incendia inquired, turning to look at the screens.

“No,” Jigsaw said, pressing a button just below the one Incendia had pushed.

Instantly, Jigsaw felt as though he was half as heavy as he should have been. They had begun to descend, and quickly. The alarms reached a fever pitch, nearly deafening them with their insistent whines. A bright white beam shot from the bottom of the ship, just visible out of the fourth wall, and slammed directly into the ground, moving perpendicular to the ship, which was floating lazily towards Totemhoof.

Jigsaw galloped back up to the command chair and tried desperately to get the ship to rise, but nothing seemed to be responding. The controls were very simple- the magical engines made up for any intricacies of motion that could not be controlled by a joystick, but no matter how hard he pulled, the ship didn’t rise.

The light from below passed over the now dark radio tower. The light seemed to get siphoned inside, flowing down the heavy cables and into the earth. All over the streetlights began to ignite, growing brighter until...

Another blast rang out from below, the sound of thousands of streetlamps exploding, a dismal cacophony that caused the white light to spill out and rush through the streets as though the streetlights had become spigots. Wherever white light met the blue glow that still surrounded the frozen forces of Tantalus, there was a small flash, and they seemed to vanished.

The ship moved away from the radio tower, and the white light died.

The white light stopped flowing from the lampposts instantly, but the damage had been done. Over three quarters of the invading force had been hit by the light, and the quarter that was left was shrugging off the paralyzing blue wave and retreating.

The damage to the city wasn’t negligible, however. The explosions of the streetlights appeared to pockmarked the surface of the city with craters, and the invading army had started several fires that were raging out of control.

Jigsaw yanked on the joystick, and, mercifully, it responded. The entire airship jerked to one side, careening over the hills that surrounded Totemhoof, and then...

The screens died, and the ship began to plunge out of the sky.

~~~

Jigsaw’s eyes fluttered open. For an instant, he thought he was back in the caves, waking up in his office after falling asleep at the desk. Then he remembered. The ship, the strange weapons, the crash...

“Tiptoe!” he yelled, making a motion to jump out of bed, but a searing pain in his side stopped him. He looked down to see a white bandage wrapped around his midsection, a streak of scarlet seeping through.

He was in a hospital!

“Jigsaw?” Came a reply from somewhere out of sight.

Lights flipped on, and Tiptoe and Incendia came running from the left.

“Your’e okay!” Tiptoe said, tears in her eyes.

“What happened?” Jigsaw asked, standing up very gingerly. “How long have I been out?”

“About six hours,” Incendia said. “You got the worst of it when we hit the ground. You had a pretty bad cut on your stomach, but the doctors say you should be okay if you take it easily for a few days.

“We’re in Totemhoof?” Jigsaw asked.

Incendia and Tiptoe shared a knowing look.

“You were incredible back there,” Tiptoe said. “I don’t know how you knew what to do, but you saved the city.”

“I just drew off of what I’d read,” Jigsaw said. Then, with a smile, he added, “I’m good at figuring out how things work.”

“Well, after the crash, the residents of Totemhoof came rushing out to see what was happening,” Incendia began. “Neither of us were injured very badly, and the airship didn’t seem to even have been scratched. We followed the route back down through the engine rooms and met the Totemhoof residents outside. We explained to them what had happened, and they took us in for medical care.”

“What about the clouds? Isn’t the city exposed now?”

“Apparently,” Tiptoe said with a smile, “they had some old prophecy that warned them of this. Moonbow thought it was you from the moment he met you. He says they mourn the loss of the essence of Luna, but that the city should no longer be a target to Tantalus now that nothing of value to him remains there. And, because we decimated the forces so completely, they should be able to fight off and straggles that might come.”

“So... we did it?” Jigsaw asked tentatively.

“Yeah,” Tiptoe replied, “we did it.”

“The question is,” Incendia said seriously, “What do we do now? The engine room looked shot. It was pouring smoke and fluids were leaking everywhere.”

“We pushed it too far,” Jigsaw said. “It was in no condition to be doing what it did, and my repairs were very haphazard. I think we have to try to at least get it flying, though.”

“Why?” Incendia asked. “I mean, I know you wanted a vehicle, but do you really trust that thing?”

“No,” Jigsaw said, “but we need a vehicle. The next fragment is west- very far west. Far enough that we won’t make it if we don’t have some kind of protection. We at least have to try salvaging from it.”

He let out a yawn and paused.

“I know I’ve been out for six hours, but I feel like I could sleep for another six. We’ll go at it tomorrow.”

Tiptoe nodded. “We haven’t slept since the crash. We were too busy worrying about you and having to talk to Totemhoof officials. Sleep sounds good. We have temporary rooms in other hospital wing.”

“Sleep well,” Incendia said, exiting the room at a trot.

“Goodnight,” Tiptoe said, leaning in close to Jigsaw. “You were amazing out there. I love you.”

She planted a quick kiss on his lips, then left the room as well.

Jigsaw fell asleep more quickly and feeling more satisfied than he had in a long time.

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