• Published 3rd May 2012
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The Powers of Harmony - CyborgSamurai



The Mane Six develop the powers of the Elements of Harmony and must use them to stop a new villain.

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Chapter 15: Change of Plans

Chapter 15:

Change of Plans

The Next Evening-

The full moon hung high in the sky as a teal stallion clad in the grey armor of the Equestrian Military galloped through the ravaged streets of Canterlot. His breastplate clanked loudly against his sides until he finally tightened the straps and donned his unadorned helmet, which felt strangely light. Realizing he‘d forgotten his hornblade, he cursed and briefly considered going back for it, but he was interrupted by the sound of rushing air. He looked up just in time to see a violet ray fly in from the southeast and strike a nearby building.

The stallion’s teeth shook in his skull as the building exploded in a fiery burst. He staggered back from the force, and shattered stones, splintered wood, and assorted debris careened across the cobblestones just ahead of him. The ringing in his ears subsided, and he forgot all hesitance and dashed forward. He jumped over a barrel that rolled out from the gutted remains, and forced himself to avert his gaze as he hastened to obey the desperate summons that had gone out just moments before.

“Libra!”

A thin red unicorn dashed out of an alleyway. He wearing the same kind of armor as Libra, but it was splattered with a deep viscous fluid that matched his coat.

“Princess Luna has gone mad,” the newcomer’s eyes were wild as he ran alongside Libra. “She fights with Celestia above Zenith Square!”

“Art thou injured, Scorpio?!” Libra eyed the sanguine stains on Scorpio’s armor.

“Nay!” Scorpio replied. “I was helping to evacuate the wounded when I received the summons! We must hurry!”

Chaos reigned in the streets as civilians fled their homes. The two stallions were jostled by a sea of panicked ponies that fought to get to shelters, or escape the city to the forest beyond. The deadly violet rays continued to sizzle across the sky, and filled the air with deafening explosions and agonized screams.

Libra and Scorpio arrived in Zenith Square to behold a schism of light and dark. Soldiers that were once sworn comrades now fought each other both on the ground and in the air. Half of them were enveloped in a foul, shadowy mist that clung to their bodies like a shroud, and their eyes were filled with manic bloodlust. They fought with savage ferocity against the other soldiers, who were rapidly losing both ground and numbers. In the center of the plaza were ten stallions in shining golden armor, fighting desperately against ten corrupted counterparts in reflective ebon plate.

There was a sound from on high like the tinging and clanging of steel on steel, but it moved with the speed of a hummingbird's wings. Libra looked, and saw a pair of blue and white blurs flying around the square at a speed beyond mortal ken. The violet rays were emanating from one of the blurs, and were being shot out in random directions to hit the city below.

Libra’s jaw dropped as he beheld the battle. “By the Sun an—“

“Look out!”

Scorpio roughly shoved Libra to the side as a sword blade appeared in between them. Libra turned, and saw three shadowy soldiers advancing towards them, pushing them in towards the square.

One of the soldiers charged Scorpio, while the second went for Libra. The third hung back and laughed, taking his time to decide who to pick off.

The soldier’s voice was grim and vindictive as he decided on Libra. “Thou wilt embrace Eternal Ni—”

A long, thin knife embedded itself into his neck from behind. He gurgled and fell to the ground, and a lanky indigo stallion dressed in civilian clothes stepped out from the shadows. He calmly eyed Libra with a curious expression.

“Dost thou require my assistance?”

“Aquarius!” Libra had formed a sword of ice to fend off his attacker. “Flee! Thou hath no obligation to fight!”

Aquarius threw another knife and caught Libra’s attacker in the chest.

“Here’s as good a place to die as any,” Aquarius drawled. “Our crazed monarchs have collapsed the city gates. The hawks now circle above while we rats scurry frantically about.”

Aquarius pounced on Scorpio’s attacker. He tilted his head back, exposed his throat, and Scorpio slashed once with his hornblade. The soldier fell twitching to the ground in a pool of his own blood.

Scorpio took a step back as a familiar metallic scent filled his nostrils. “I-I…”

“Save thy remorse.” Aquarius gave Scorpio’s shoulder a casual pat, as if he’d done nothing more gruesome than step on a cockroach. “Thou would have received none had the tables been turned.”

Scorpio shook his head. “I am not meant to take lives! This is—“

A raw, unholy shriek rent the air. Pegasi, unicorns, and earth ponies alike fell to the ground as the entire Equestrian Military shielded their ears from the aural onslaught. The noise was so loud that Libra feared that his eardrums might explode from the pain.

The screaming died out. Everypony looked up, and saw that the two blurs had ceased as well, and were now recognizable as the two Princesses. Celestia wielded a longsword comprised of brightest steel and bathed in searing flames. Luna brandished a pair of thin curved shortswords, made of translucent crystal and coated in shadow. The two of them glared at each other as they hovered in midair, their impasse almost ceasing time itself.

Celestia lowered her chin and spoke in a quiet, controlled tone that contradicted her expression of fury.

“Art thou done?”

Luna responded with a violet ray. Celestia deflected it with her sword, but didn’t have time to aim because Luna charged her again. The two of them turned back into blurs, their strikes, parries and ripostes moving faster than the eye could see.

“Thou art destroying all we worked so hard to build!” Celestia yelled. “Our city! Our subjects!”

Luna’s eyes flashed as she responded in a cold, hateful voice. “Thou hast used me in thy games, slandered my name with horrid lies, and then had the gall to pretend nothing is wrong when thou seest they ignore me and sleep through my night. No, sister, this is not my city, nor are these my subjects!”

Luna parried Celestia's strike with one of her blades, then used the other to strike her flank. The enchanted metal sliced through her wards and dug deep into her flesh. Celestia cried out, and Luna took the opportunity and caught her in her magic. She pinned her sister’s wings to her sides and held her helpless in the air.

A subtle coiling darkness formed around Luna’s body as she moved closer to Celestia. She kicked the longsword away, and it fell to the ground below. Luna then placed her free blade to Celestia’s throat, leaving the second one embedded in her side. She leaned forward to speak in her sister's ear.

“They are thine. And now, one way or another, I will take them from thee.”

“Luna…” Celestia whimpered as the blade cut deeper into her side. “Please…”

“Thou hadst thy chance, as did they,” Luna replied in a heartless whisper. The darkness around her thickened, and her pupils morphed into reptilian slits. “Thou wantest them to fear me? Very well... I WILL GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO FEAR!”

Luna flew above Celesta and bucked her in the back. She went hurtling to the ground below and landed in Zenith Square with the force of a small bomb, sending the golden-armored soldiers flying in a hail of metal and stone.

Luna’s voice became amplified as she let loose another mad, primal scream. She raised her forehooves in victory, and looked down at the crater in which her wounded sister lay. The darkness around her became absolute as it wrapped around her like a fell cocoon.

“I AM A PRINCESS OF EQUESTRIA!” she bellowed. “I WILL HAVE THE POWER AND RESPECT I DESERVE!”

Luna raised her head to the sky as the darkness enveloped her completely.

“EVEN IF I MUST TAKE IT BY FORCE!”

The corona of the full moon shone a cruel, icy blue. The entire city experienced a drop in temperature, and the stars above shifted from warm twinkling beacons to sharp, menacing punctures of glistening light. Luna’s cocoon flared, and a wave of foul dark magic emanated from it that sunk down to the city in a polluted haze. Jagged shafts of starlight then pierced Luna’s cocoon, and it exploded with a sound like shattering glass. The fragments dissipated to the wind, and the nascent creature inside was revealed.

Princess Luna was gone. In her place there was a terrifying abomination. The feathers on her wings had molted, revealing the tough, leathery flesh beneath. She’d grown in size, and now rivaled, perhaps even surpassed Celestia. Her coat was like the void, and her ethereal mane of stars now snapped through the air like a serrated whip.

Nightmare Moon narrowed her eyes as she beheld the pitiful city below. Her horn glowed purest black, and the corona of her namesake doubled in size. She flew higher into the sky, and spoke in a chilling, bitter voice that pierced the ears of the city’s inhabitants.

“Never again wilt thou seest thy precious sun. Now begins the Era of Eternal Night! But first…”

Nightmare Moon’s lips curved upward in a mad, malevolent smile.

“You will all SUFFER for thy crimes!”

The corona of the moon exploded in a chillingly beautiful display of power. Countless lances of pure starlight orbited the moon once, then spiraled down towards the planet in a rain of heavenly destruction.

Nightmare Moon cackled as the lances sped past her and down towards Canterlot.

“THE NIGHT... WILL LAST... FOREVER!”

“ENOUGH!”

Celestia arose out of the crater, a literal beacon of light in a sea of darkness. Her horn blazed with brilliance, and the air above Canterlot thickened into a shining, mirror-like barrier. The moonlances struck the shield and exploded with tons of force, but the city was shielded from the descending assault.

Nightmare Moon screamed. She fired another salvo, then another and another, using more and more spears each time. They sped down and struck the shield again and again with cataclysmic might, but still, none broke through.

Celestia gritted her teeth, and her eyes faded to purest gold. The air around her sizzled, and the stone below her turned cherry red. She shimmered with heat, sank up to her knees in molten stone, and spat out a single sentence through the extreme strain.

“Monster… give… me back… my sister!”

Nightmare Moon elongated her mane to colossal proportions, each of the stars within shining with a cruel edge. She swung her head once in an arc, and the serrated enchantments struck Celestia’s barrier. It melted away at her touch, slicing through the magic like a hot knife through butter.

Celestia let loose a scream of her own as the barrier faded away.

“GIVE! HER! BACK!”

Celestia fired a titanic scorching ray. The ground cracked and heaved from the force, and dozens of soldiers in the plaza were sent flying through the air. Celestia became buried waist deep in the melted rock, and her ray rocketed towards Nightmare Moon like a geyser of burning light.

Nightmare Moon saw the massive attack and easily dodged out of the way, laughing at the impressive, yet obvious attack.

“Thou wilt have to do better than that!” she taunted in her grim, cold voice.

However, what Nightmare Moon didn’t realize was that she was not Celestia’s true target.

The fiery beam continued to travel through the sky…

…out of the atmosphere…

…into space…

...where it soundlessly struck the moon.

The heavenly body shuddered from the impact and was pushed out of its zenith. It sunk lower and lower in the sky before finally coming to a stop near the horizon.

Nightmare Moon staggered from the disruption in the cosmic balance. She tried to regain herself, but didn’t have time, for when she turned around...

...she found herself face to face with a very, very angry Celestia.

The two of them locked eyes for the briefest of moments, then re-materialized their blades and engaged once again with renewed ferocity.

A few moments earlier, Libra, Scorpio and Aquarius watched in horror as Luna became enveloped in darkness. A pulse of vile magic surged out from the cocoon, then descended upon the entire city. Libra’s skin prickled as it settled on him, but he otherwise felt no ill effects.

Libra turned to his comrades. “What was—“

His question was drowned out by a cacophony of agonizing screams. Luna’s metamorphosis was intensifying the corrupting magic that possessed the shadowy soldiers, and they were now convulsing on the ground. Their bodies reformed into new, grotesque shapes, and a series of tearing, snapping sounds accompanied their shrieks.

A few seconds later, the plaza was filled with monsters. The soldiers’ changes were varied, ranging from scaled and slimy skin to prehensile tails with stingers or bony clubs, bat-like wings, elongated limbs, fang-filled maws, reptilian eyes, jagged hooves, and sharp, wicked horns. Some had grown in size, others had limbs that were partially fused together. Only one thing did they all have in common: they reeked with the foul taint of Nightmare Moon’s magic.

The nascent aberrations threw back their heads and bellowed to their mistress, who still flew in the air high above. There was a whooshing sound, and Libra looked up to see the wrath of the heavens descending upon them. He and the others fell prone, the voice of the insane monarch echoing in their ears.

“ENOUGH!”

Libra had prepared for excruciating pain of being skewered, burned or frozen by Nightmare Moon’s magic, but Celestia’s shout caused him to look up. He watched the barrier form around the city and shield them from the assault.

However, his attention was then diverted, for a squat-limbed, spine covered pony lashed out at him with a clawed hoof.. Libra jumped back and tried to use his ice sword to fend off the creature, but it dodged to the right…

…and collapsed under its own weight as a pair of swords encased in a green aura sliced the backs of all four of its legs.

Libra turned to see a green unicorn gallop past them. He was wearing light armor of foreign make that covered him from nose to tail, along with a metal skullcap, a neck guard, and a griffin talon necklace. He drew a second pair of longswords from the quartet of sheaths at his sides, then charged into the battle without hesitation. Two of the blades circled around him in a deadly ring while wielding the other two, leaving a path of fallen, but still-living enemies in his wake.

The soldier looked back once to yell at the trio.

“Are you mice?! Fight for Her Majesty!”

Libra was mometarily speechless, for he realized he’d just beheld one the most legendary swordsponies in all of the Equestrian Military. When his voice returned to him, he said one word in an awed voice.

“Tendoncutter...”

“Worship thy heroes later! There are villains to slay!” Aquarius retrieved his knives, finished off the fallen creature Tendoncutter had left behind, then ran into the battle himself.

Libra gulped as he beheld the battle. The monsters were relentless, savage, and were ripping soldiers to shreds while losing little ground themselves. The Solar Guard was nowhere to be seen. They'd been in the center of the square when Celestia had fallen...

Celestia was busy shielding the city. There was no backup. Libra suddenly realized they were on their own, and there was little he could do to fight against such creatures. He was but a lowly, recently-initiated Battlemage, nothing more than fodder. He was going to die here, slowly and painfully, and everything he knew and loved was going to be destroyed by these monsters.

Unless…

Libra turned to Scorpio, who was still looking at the fallen corrupted soldier with a far-off stare.

“Scorpio,” Libra began, “The Lifeforce spell, I could—”

“NO!” Scorpio returned to the world with panicked fervor. “Thou knowest the dangers of forbidden magic!”

Libra ducked as an eyeless soldier with three uneven legs swung a clawed hoof at him. ““Look around thee! We are beset by devils! What choice do I have?!”

“They’re our comrades!” Scorpio yelled. A crimson aura formed around the fell creature, trapping it inside. It gnashed with wicked teeth as it threw itself against the magical wall. “They might still be saved!”

“At what cost?!” Libra demanded. He turned to face a new foe: A hulking pegasus with bat-like wings and dripping fangs. Libra leveled his sword at the creature, fragmented it into deadly thorns, then fired them right as the pegasus charged. “Canterlot shall be razed at this rate! Or canst thou not feel the flames?!”

“Thou wilt lose thyself and damn us all! There must be another way!” An uncorrupted soldier fell out of the carnage before them. Scorpio rushed to him, but the light had already left the soldier's eyes.

“There isn't,” Libra said grimly. He stared at the fresh corpse for only a second, then took several steps back from the battle and lowered his horn. “The only way to fight monsters—“

Libra closed his eyes and reached out to touch the air with his mind. He could feel the infinitesimal water droplets around him, swirling and fleeing the all-consuming flames that licked the buildings around the square. He ignored them and stretched his consciousness farther out, feeling the tainted magic that surged through the corrupted soldiers. He chose the three that were closest to him, focused inside their bodies, and felt the warm, deep crimson fluid that ran through their networks of arteries and veins. His focus drifted upward to their brains, and he singled out a few key arteries that throbbed with life.

“—is to become a monster thyself.”

Libra cast the spell. The corrupted soldiers jerked their heads back, and a fine vapor escaped their lips as their blood froze. Their mouths contorted into odd shapes as two of their legs gave way, and they fell to the ground in a heap. Their bodies jolted and convulsed on the ground for a few moments, and then went deathly still.

Scorpio’s stared at Libra in horror. “Thou actually did it…”

Libra had felt an odd, manic thrill as he’d touched the soldier’s lifeforce and then felt it flee their bodies. Being connected to them was like being overcome with euphoria, and cutting them off filled him with a massive shot of adrenaline. A strange smile filled with yearning crept up on his face, and the temperature dropped around him.

“I’m not done yet.”

Libra stretched out again, felt another three soldiers, and cast the spell again. They reacted much in the same way as the first—they seized up momentarily, fell to the ground in a seizure, then did nothing more. He marveled at how easy it was! He was feeling the life coursing through another being, taking a hold of it with ease, and then snuffing it out with the simplest bit of magic! The realization alone that life and death were measured by such a small, easily interrupted thing was electrifying, and he wanted more. He did it five more times with sets of three soldiers… and each time felt better and better.

“Libra…”

Libra felt cold and empty. Three soldiers at a time wasn’t enough anymore. He wanted—no, needed more. He spread himself out farther and began to select more and more soldiers with each spell. First six soldiers. Then a dozen. Then thirty. Fifty. The corrupted soldiers dropped like flies before Libra, with each of their exhalations accompanied by a fine, cool mist. Libra felt more and more alive with every cast, felt the lifeforce more strongly, like a siren song that called out to him in an undeniable voice. The sensation was tantalizing. Exhilarating. Intoxicating.

Addicting.

“Libra!”

Another spell, and seventy-five soldiers expired. Libra was freezing cold now, but he couldn’t stop. The call of the lifeforce was undeniable, and he didn’t want to resist, anyways. In fact, why was he bothering with such small numbers? He wasn't even in Magical Fatigue, and the spell took next to no effort at all. With this kind of power at his command, he could save all of Canterlot. He’d be hailed as a hero. There was no stopping him, for what form of defense could be mounted against this spell? Nothing would stand in his way, not even the fallen Princess herself! In fact, he could end this battle right now!

Libra shivered in anticipation as he expanded his consciousness out as far as he could, targeted everything that had a pulse, and—“

“LIBRA! STOP!”

Libra gasped as he realized what he’d almost done. He abandoned the magic, his stomach rolled, and he turned and vomited with a mighty heave. He retched several times before finally regaining control of his facilities, taking air into his lungs with quick, ragged breaths.

“Rise, Libra. Rise and face thine unforgiveable sin.”

Libra took a great shuddering gasp. He didn't want to open his eyes. He knew what he’d see. It’d be a sight he’d never forget. It’d burn into his memory, and chase him for the rest of his days and haunting his nightmares.

Yet still, he obeyed.

Stretched before Libra was a carpet of bodies. One hundred and ninety-four malformed soldiers lay lifeless on the cold, hard cobblestone, their blank, featureless eyes staring out into the endless depths of eternity. A fresh wave of nausea hit Libra, but he’d already emptied his stomach, and couldn’t manage anything other than a gag. The uncorrupted soldiers stared at the carnage he’d wrought, their expressions varying between wonder, horror, and fear. Libra noticed a disturbance in the air around him, and now saw that the ground and air around him were etched with fine tendrils of frost that were attached to his body. It was as if he’d sucked away all the heat from all around him, but if that was true, then why did he still feel—

A brutal wave of cold struck Libra like he’d been hurled into the vacuum of space. He screamed, clutched his head in agony, and quickly cast a fire spell to warm himself. It was no use, though, and he knew it. The affliction was in his mind, and no amount of flame or physical heat could give him what his body now thought it so desperately craved.

Libra looked up at the remaining soldiers. Their lifeforce called out to him. He could see it now, pulsing inside their bodies. He had to take it. He was going to die if he didn’t. It was the only thing that could take away the cold.

Libra’s frozen tendrils reached out to the remaining soldiers.

“I-I c-can’t—”

Libra’s hooves became stuck to the ground. He looked down in surprise, and now saw that he was standing in the center of a hastily-drawn rectangular array with a triangle in the center. The lines of the array flared red, and Libra was caught in a pillar of white light. He tried to move, but his legs wouldn’t obey him. He tried to reach out with his magic, but his mind was now muddled.

“Thou knewest the peril.”

Libra felt a stinging pain on his cheek. He jerked over to see Scorpio, his horn glowing red and his entire body tensed. He raised his hoof to strike again, but with great effort, he took a step back and lowered his eyes with a derisive snort.

“There be not a word in our tongue to describe thine idiocy. Thy mother warned thee of the addiction that cometh from controlling another's lifeforce, but thou didst not listen. Now, thy horn shall be severed, thou wilt be banished from our lands, and thou wilt be damned to hearing and feeling its accursed call for the rest of thy life. Congratulations, Libra, thou art truly a mon—”

The corrupted soldiers twitched. Scorpio whirled around, and the two of them watched as the dark magic wrapped around the fallen bodies, reanimated them, and raised them onto their hooves.

The twisted soldiers let loose renewed cries of bloodlust and advanced towards them.

“How...” Libra murmured.

“Luna's magic.” Scorpio gulped. “It must sustain them somehow.”

There was a ripping sound from above. Nightmare Moon cut through the barrier, and before anyone else could react, Celestia gave her fiery rebuttal. The world turned to chaos as the ground upended, and everypony in the square was sent flying by the shock, Libra and Scorpio included.

Libra shut his eyes and waited for the end.

Except... the end never came. Libra had expected to fall careening to the ground, smash his head against the side of a building, then get pelted by a rather large chunk of rock that would break the skin, and his vision would be tinged with red for the rest of the battle. He expected that the sounds of screaming and explosions would continue, followed by the insane ramblings of Nightmare Moon as she threw venomous insults at Celestia during the course of their duel. He also expected to wrestle with his newfound addiction, and fight to only use it on Nightmare Moon’s soldiers.

None of that happened.

In fact, nothing happened at all. Libra opened his eyes, and found that he was hanging in midair. The force of the blast had only carried him half of the distance he remembered, and everything around him was stuck in a state of perpetual stasis.

Libra was just beginning to wonder how he was going to get down from his current suspension, but as soon as he did, he fell to the ground with a crash. He got up, rubbed his eyes, and took in the eerie scene.

Time had stopped. Soldiers hung in midair with frozen expressions of terror on their faces. The minions of Nightmare Moon skulked about, stuck in their desires of yearning as they hung inches away from their victims. Celestia and her massive display of power stood stock still, her ray in mid-fire as she directed its course to reorient the moon.

The world was a painting—unmoving, untouched, unblemished. Nothing moved at all, not even the smallest modicum. Libra walked around for a moment, completely at a loss, when suddenly, he spotted a flicker of movement in the center of the eerie scene. He looked, and there he saw an even more bizarre sight than the stillness of time.

A unicorn colt. A transparent unicorn colt. He had a straight, colorless mane and tail that blew in an invisible wind, and his cutie mark was a ‘U’ with a squiggle through the middle. He stared directly at Libra with vivid, iridescent eyes that swirled with all the colors of the rainbow.

Libra blinked. “Horizon?”

The colt said nothing. He stood beside Celestia, who was still half-sunk in melted stone. Her expression of anguish and boiling rage was a direct contradiction to his cold, impassive gaze, and he poked curiously at one of the unpopped molten bubbles with a hoof.

The realization hit Blair. He took off his helmet and steadied his breathing. “This is a dream.”

Correct.

Blair jerked. The colt’s lips had moved in sync with a foreign, voiceless thought that had inserted itself in Blair’s mind. He laughed incredulously as he made the connection.

“Wow, you’re talking... sort of. Communicating’s a better word, but still!”

The colt’s lopsided smirk was oddly familiar. He glanced at Blair, and traced his mouth with a hoof. Words aren't My native tongue.

Blair shuddered. The disjoined thoughts floated in and out of his comprehension, and while It wasn’t an unpleasant experience, it was rather... jarring.

“How'd you figure this out?” Blair asked.

The colt teleported to hover a few feet away to Blair’s left. Practice.

Blair stiffened, but did nothing more. The colt continued to stare at him with his chaotic eyes. “I see learning to talk hasn't changed your demeanor,” Blair said. “I thought it took a lot out of you to appear like this.”

The colt did lazy somersaults in the air as he spoke. Before, Id tried to communicate by bringing You into His mind, which is hard to do because theres so little of Him left. Ive since discovered that the strain is considerably less if I enter Yours, instead. Even still, though, I will need to rest after this.

Blair’s eyes lingered on Scorpio’s airborne form as he looked around the frozen scene. “Then let’s not waste time. What do you want, Horizon?”

The colt’s translucent outline flickered. That is not My name.

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Blair turned back to him. “You’re a part of him, after all.”

Part of Him, yes The colt slowly circled around Blair, rising into the air as if he were climbing a set of stairs. A piece of a puzzle, an incomplete fragment

He looked down at Blair, his face impassive.

a bodiless Echo.

Blair rolled his eyes. “Fine. What do I call you, then?”

I dislike names. The colt examined one of his hooves. Call Me what you will.

Blair was silent for a moment. “How about… Ophiuchus?”

The colt snorted, but gave no actual objection to the name. Instead he walked away, motioning for Blair to follow.

Ophiuchus walked in a straight line through the plaza, phasing through ponies, monsters, and debris alike with no resistance. Blair lagged behind due to having to weave his way through the dreamscape.

“I thought I made it clear I don’t like it when you show me Libra’s memories like this.” Blair lightly ground his teeth as he met each frozen, terrified face.

Ophiuchus’ gaze wandered across the square. You did, but its the appropriate setting for what I've come to tell You.

They arrived back at the center of the square where Celestia still stood. “Which is?”

Ophiuchus turned to Blair and raised his chin. That Youre a fool.

Blair raised an eyebrow. “You came out of the dark to insult me?”

Youre letting Your fear stop You from seeing the truth. Ophiuchus’ thought-voice became ‘louder,’ more defined, and jabbed at Blair’s psyche like a poker. Instead You hide, and avoid doing what You know to be necessary. Not only is this a very foolish thing

Ophiuchus slid a hoof across his throat. it's suicidal.

Blair’s ears flattened. He looked down at his infant accuser and straightened to his full height. “What makes you think I’m afraid of anything?”

Ophiuchus frowned. I dont think, I know.

“You know, huh?” Blair sneered. “How exactly, do you know?”

Ophiuchus’ colorful eyes swirled faster. I. See. ALL.

His tiny horn glowed with a prismatic light... and then the world shifted.

Blair flew thousands of feet in the air next to a yellow pegasus mare with giant angelic wings. She looked back at him and smiled, and he returned the gesture. However, he shuddered and closed his eyes the moment she turned away.

If it was anyone other than her, I’d weep for the world. To have the power to instantly know someone’s deepest, darkest fears with but a glance… is there a more dangerous weapon? I’m better off not knowing if there is. Thank Celestia she’s such a kind, innocent, pure, caring, gentle soul, but that’s part of the problem, too, because it makes her too trusting of others. I need to protect her. I need to keep her safe. If the wrong pony finds out about her Fearsense, they could—ugh, the aura…

Blair stood in the basement of a house. In one corner was a table filled with arcane maps, instruments, and a broken platinum necklace. He covered his face with a grey hoof to hide the tears falling down his face, but did nothing to hold back his shaky sobs.

Why does she have to be so much like Crysti? Same perseverance, same selfless spirit, even the same freaking manestyle! Ugh, this is a problem... she’s gonna demand to go to Tartarus if she finds out about Horizon, regardless of whether she’s recovered or not. I don’t know if her Foresight power is the reason why she isn’t sleeping, but she's going to be in a lot of trouble when her Creation and Soul Tether powers show up with her font the way it is. Screw it, I’m not taking the risk. I’ll make her some Font Gems. I wonder if this town has any diamonds? Probably not. I could get some from Canterlot, but I can’t travel there while I’m guarding her, and I don’t know of a pony in this age that knows how to spot Tridastral impurities. Looks like I’ll have to settle for sapphires...

Blair walked beside a heavy cart filled to the brim with rosy apples. Norric looked over to him and complained about something, His heart leapt into his throat, and he shot Norric a venomous glare.

You IDIOT! You think complaining about having to keep your answers vague IN FRONT OF HER is a good idea?! Oh, you’re sorry?! Sorry doesn’t cut it, MORON, you just blew our—wooooooow, you’re lucky. Okay, that’s the last straw. You almost got killed by the Rust Beetles, upset Applejack over her parents when you KNOW her powers are triggered by powerful emotion, and now you do THIS?! Nuh-uh. I was gonna see if I could use you to help safely manifest Applejack's Strength and Rejection of Fate powers, but if you’re gonna be this BUMBLING, I'm taking you out of the picture along with Mac.

Blair was in a living room made of clouds. He adjusted a light blue feather, and stared at his reflection in a framed poster of the Wonderbolts. He let his eyes unfocus, and stared at the mutinous light-red pegasus behind him.

I know you can feel it, Esra. The flicker in her eyes, the passion in her voice... they’re taking on a burning intensity. It’s pushing us harder, driving us even faster than before. I’ve never felt more alive than these past few weeks. We have to show her our talents before she makes us any stronger, or she’ll think that everything we can do is a result of her powers. And you know you won’t be able to spar with her when her Undying Loyalty power awakens. She’ll kill you before she realizes what happened if she manifests it on accident… unless you think you can take a hit from her when her physical abilities are increased fivefold.

Blair was standing guard outside of a small thatched hut deep in a forest. He stared off into the foliage, and tried to hide the huge smile on his face from his partner.

I can’t believe how hilarious this is! Her Luck power is guiding her through the forest! Poor Vigil, he must think Pinkie is completely insane. I’ll admit I had doubts, too, but if she can already do this much and her Healing power is just beginning to manifest, it won’t be long before she can use her Song of Nirvana. I wonder what it feels like? Blair was really vague about it... something about ‘transcending the bodily limitations of pain and suffering?’ Typical Blair, always gotta use the big words. Whatever, I just hope she can sing.

“STOP!”

Blair clutched his head from the sheer amount of informational overload back in Old Canterlot. He’d experienced all five scenes simultaneously, and his mind had been stretched out between five sets of senses, bodies, and thoughts.

That wasnt even half.

Ophiuchus’ thought-voice forced Blair to focus on it rather than the splitting pain. It was like a soothing balm, and he quickly regained lucidity. He got to his hooves, and as he did, he saw that Ophiuchus was no longer a colt. He’d grown into a young teenager, still transparent, and was calmly looking up at him as he sat on his haunches.

Its taken much time, Ophiuchus said. First I had to learn how to... learn. I then found I could immerse myself in all of Your memories, as well as those of Your predecessors, and so I started playing them one at a time. Then I played them faster, and faster, and faster still. Then, I watched them together, adding more and more perspectives, and expanding My awareness each time. Finally, when I could watch all twelve of You at once, I plugged myself into all of Your senses, and joined with Your bodies so that I might witness the world in real time.

Ophiuchus’ eyes danced about like a hypnotic kaleidoscope, and he leaned forward until their faces were only inches apart.

I know because I am You. I know because I am Them. I know because I am Him. All Your thoughts, Your memories, Your dreams they are Mine to do with as I will.

Blair did nothing but blink as he evenly met Ophiuchus' piercing stare for a time. Finally, he snickered and adjusted his mane.

“So you’re telling me you’ve broadened your horizons, eh? Clever, very clever. I’m happy for you. Really, I am. It sounds like you've found your special talent, and while this probably doesn’t make up for not having a body of your own, it’s certainly better than nothing. I don’t have a problem with you watching me and the others like a spectator, but while that’s all well and good...”

Blair crossed his hooves. “That still doesn’t explain why you say I’m afraid.”

Ophiuchus phased into the ground, but his voice still flitted through Blair’s mind. Your special talent is seeing hidden meanings within messages, and You still didnt see? Perhaps I should play the memories again.

“NO!” Blair said in a voice that barely wasn’t a scream. He twitched nervously as he looked around for Ophiuchus. “Sweet Celestia, never do that again. Just tell me.”

And here I thought showing was better than telling. Ophiuchus stepped out of a soldier hanging in midair. The Others have varying feelings about Their fragments, but They all have one thing in commonThey wish to guide and help them. However, They cannot because They are under the orders You gave Them. Orders that You misunderstood because You fear the magical one.

Blair scoffed. “What’re you talking about? I’m not afraid of Twilight.”

Ophiuchus swiveled his body to now stand upside-down in midair. Perhaps I should clarify. You fear what she could become.

A cold pit formed in Blair’s stomach as Celestia’s words, specifically her detailed explanation of Twilight’s third power, echoed in his mind. He closed his eyes, hung his head, and spoke in a soft, faint voice.

“Do you blame me?”

I merely remind you that Our minds are linked. Ophiuchus looked ‘down’ at Blair from his gravity-defying position. You cant hide anything from Me, nor should You try.

“Fine,” Blair said with a stamp of his hoof, “but you’re still wrong. I’m not afraid of her, I’m downright terrified, and you would be too if you had any sense! I thought you said you’ve seen all of mine and Libra’s memories!”

I have. Ophiuchus gestured to the battle around them. Which is how I know that the actions of Your predecessor on this fateful night eat and tear away at Your resolve. You fear that the magical one will lose herself in her newfound powers, just as He almost did.

“You’ve seen how close I—he came!” Blair growled. “Libra would’ve killed everyone in the entire city If Scorpio hadn’t been there! He might’ve even then gone and searched for other towns! The magic is like the most exhilarating high you can imagine, more addictive than any drug. You can’t stop once you start because all you want is to feel more and more of it with each use, and—“

you fear the magical ones third power may have similar side effects, Ophiuchus finished. He rotated right-side up and lay down in the air. And if it does, You dont think she will be able to control herself.

Blair nodded. “Her Absorption power allows her to instantly learn and cast any spell she comes into contact with. Combine that with an insatiable desire to learn and an inexhaustible font? There’s no limit to what she could do! She won’t be able to resist accumulating as many spells as she can, and if she goes rogue…”

Nopony will be able to stop her, Ophiuchus said knowingly. Or so You fear, at least. However, if there was somepony there to help hersomepony who knew the hazards and hubris of having such great and terrible powersomepony who wrestled with the seductive call of forbidden magic on a daily basis, and then devoted Themselves to its unwavering control

Ophiuchus wrinkled his brow. the possibility of her failure would be much less, dont You think?

Blair cocked his head. “What’re you saying? You think I’m supposed to help Twilight learn to use her powers?”

Of course You are. Ophiuchus yawned. Why else were You specifically assigned to her detail?

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Blair went up to the frozen image of Celestia. “Why’d her Majesty tell me not to interfere with their lives If that’s what she wanted?”

She told you not to interfere with their daily activities. Ophiuchus landed on one of Celestia splayed wings and sat on it like it was a chair. She didnt put any taboo on any information You give. If they choose to learn how to use their powers on their own after You tell them, thats their decision.

Blair shook his head. “That’s way too complicated. Why wouldn’t Celestia just tell them herself if she wanted them to know? She wouldn’t go through all this trouble and secrecy and send us instead to—”

didnt You hear? Ophiuchus rested his elbows on his knees. The white one has reasons. Shes counting on all of You to guide the fragments in her stead so that she may continue to hide.

Blair looked up at him. “Hide from what?”

I don't know, Ophiuchus admitted. My knowledge is merely the sum of all of You. Perhaps something will happen if shes the one to tell the fragments what theyve become? Maybe she feels she wont be able to hold back information should they confront her directly? Or perhaps she truly is just playing a game, like the shelled one has surmised. I know not.

“No,” Blair said. “This can’t be right. She also said that they’d get hurt if they used their powers before they were recovered.”

Doesnt that sound familiar? Ophiuchus shrunk and reverted back to a wide-eyed colt. Its the same half-truth unicorn parents tell their children about using magic before their fonts are developed.

The implication hit Blair like a buck to the face. “Why would she—“

shes immortal, Ophiuchus said plainly. Were ]all children to her. She assumed that Youd be able to see through her words, and understand what she truly meant.

Blair put a hoof to his face. “There’s no proof of this. We’d—“

There is. Ophiuchus phased through Celestia’s wing and landed on the ground. Yesterday, the indigo one told the laughing one of her gifts, and she used them without consequence.

“What?!”

Theres more, Ophiuchus continued. Shes also been practicing with them for all of today. Not only has she attained greater mastery, shes also gained strength. It appears that theyll only hurt themselves if they push past their limits, or try to use a power theyve not yet developed.

Blair stared at Ophiuchus. “That’s it? Really?”

Ophiuchus swished his tail. This shouldnt have come as a surprise. You've known the white one to do things like this in the past.

Blair threw up his forehooves. “I don’t know what to expect anymore! Celestia knows what’s at stake if the barrier collapses, yet still she holds back and keeps the Bearers in the dark! This whole thing has felt off from the beginning! What could be more important than the Gate of Tartarus opening, and Nightmare Moon’s forces getting loose?!”

Ophiuchus materialized next to Blair and leaned a hoof on his shoulder. Curious, isnt it?

Blair noted that he felt no contact from Ophiuchus’ touch. “How do you know all of this?”

You do as well. Ophiuchus jabbed his hoof through Blair’s shoulder, causing it to phase through to the other side. Your fear just wont let You acknowledge it. A pointless fear, I might add, one Youre helping to create Yourself. The magical one and the other fragments will be well-versed in their powers if theyre coached.

“No amount of coaching will prepare them for Tartarus,” Blair muttered. “Take Twilight, for example. Do you realize what’ll happen if she gets exposed to the Corruption magic?”

Ophiuchus said nothing. He got a thoughtful look on his face, and after a moment, he disappeared.

Blair felt an emptiness in his mind as he looked around the broken plaza. “Hori—Ophiuchus?”

No reply. Blair felt an odd chill as he stood unstuck in time. He got to his hooves and wandered away from the center. He searched for some kind of movement, but found nothing.

“Where’d you go?” Blair called.

Silence. Blair went back over to where the memory had stopped, hoping that it would somehow make it resume, but no such luck. He sighed, and he realized he might be in for a long wait.

The evil ones magic is nowhere near the Gate.

Blair turned to his left to see Ophiuchus standing a few feet away. He was now a ghostly, full-grown stallion, an inch taller than Blair and of normal build.

I never see it unless one of the leaders comes up to inspect the barrier, and even then it dissipates quickly after they leave. Ophiuchus rubbed his horn. I suspect it only now lingers in the lowermost levels.

Blair swallowed hard as he stared at Ophiuchus, who didn’t return his gaze.

“You can see beyond the barrier?” Blair whispered.

Ophiuchus looked up, his prismatic eyes wide and bright. Not just see.

A bloodcurdling noise suddenly filled Blair’s ears. A throng of voices, vicious, depraved and forlorn echoed around him. Numerous as a legion, their twisted chorus scraped up and down the scale like jagged steel nails on a chalkboard.

Blair instantly jammed his hooves in his ears, but the noise still persisted. He let out a scream of his own, fell into a fetal position and gnashed his teeth.

“Make it stop! By the Sun and Moon, MAKE IT STOP!”

The noise ceased. Blair shivered and scrunched himself tighter into a ball, trying to forget the voices that still haunted his nightmares. He thought he’d heard the last of them, but a small part of him had always known better. The darkness from a millennium past was still very, very real, and the only thing that kept it at bay was the pony standing before him.

They never stop screaming. Ophiuchus slowly approached Blair. Their twisted symphony has filled My ears since the cracks formed, and My only escape is to immerse Myself in all of Your senses. Were it not for My incomplete state, I wouldve lost my sanity long ago.

Blair didn’t move or reply, but Ophiuchus knew that his method of communication would force Blair to hear what he had to say.

Youre a fool. Ophiuchus harmlessly kicked at Blair’s pathetic form. You cant stop the magical one from recovering, and all Your hesitation is doing is drag Us closer to the Void. Ive willingly stayed imprisoned all this time listening to the shrieks of the damned because of the white ones promise that Ill be reunited with Him when Hes restored, but if Youd be so selfish as to take away the last hope I have left

The memory shuddered, and all color bled away. The two of them now stood in a monochrome world, and the only glimmer that remained was within Ophiuchus’ eyes.

then I see no reason to wait.

Blair stiffened. With great effort, he uncurled himself and looked up at Ophiuchus.

“You wouldn't r—huh?”

Blair realized he was staring at a pair of backhooves. Ophiuchus bucked him before he could react, and while his hooves passed straight through his body, a teal outline of him was sent flying backwards through the air.

There was a sensation like being pulled out of a body of water, and the world faded to absolute darkness.

Blair flew out of the multi-colored silhouette of a pony and stopped with a jerk in the interior of an opaque, cracked, multi-surfaced sphere. He looked down, and saw that his body was comprised of pure teal energy, and he was connected to the silhouette by a taut, golden tether. He tried to cast magic, but found he didn’t have a magical font. He tried to breathe, and realized with a start that he didn’t have lungs. He tried to move, but found he could only flail helplessly in the open space.

“What did you do?!” Blair said in a shrill yell. He gasped as he realized he couldn’t hear himself talk.

I can do many things, Echo.

Ophiuchus materialized a few feet away from him. His horn glowed with a prismatic light.

“What did you do to my hearing?!”

Ive denied you the use of it for the moment, Ophiuchus said in his thought-voice. I cant have You losing Your mind.

“Put me back!” Blair wiggled and squirmed.

Not yet, Ophiuchus said calmly. You see, I think I need to enlighten You.

“Enlighten me of what?!”

True fear, Ophuichus hissed. You know nothing of it, for Youve never seen the other side of the Gate.

The bottom of the opaque sphere turned transparent. Ophiuchus tilted Blair forward and forced him to look down.

Behold: Tartarus.

Blair realized that the sphere was placed in a hole at the top of an immense, nine-layered circular pit made of deathly pale metal and blood red stone. The center was nothing but a foul, black abyss that stretched down for thousands of feet like a gaping maw. Spiked walkways zigzagged across the hole, some of them untouched, some partially broken, others completely shattered. Along the sides were prison cells ripped open with broken rusted bars. Hundreds of foul, bestial ravenous monsters were everywhere, ripping and tearing at each other, all with the same look of malevolence in their eyes. A dim pallor hung about the place as fires blazed, blood splattered, limbs were hacked off, and creatures mercilessly tortured and slew each other with reckless abandon.

Blair’s body was paralyzed, but his mind was fully functional as he was made to see the prison.

“W-When did they break free?” he stammered.

I dont know, Ophiuchus said.Its been this way since Ive been here.

“Why do they—“

Slaughter each other? Ophiuchus curled his lip. Because they have no choice. You know better than most that they cannot resist the bloodlust. And since the evil ones magic always revives them, its a never-ending cycle. To be honest, I think they enjoy it on some level.

The sphere turned opaque again, sparing Blair from the grisly sight. He tried to do something, anything to get himself away from Ophiuchus and pull himself back into Horizon, but he was as helpless as a newborn babe.

“What do you want?” Blair finally said.

"You know what I want, Ophiuchus said. Im tired of being a patch job for this Gate. I want to be free as soon as possible, and to do that, I need the Power. I dont care if You keep the fragments from going to the white one or not, and I could care even less about her reasons for hiding. She can simply deny them if she truly wishes to continue to do so, but regardless, you will tell the fragments what theyve become, and then you will pushno, force them, to grow.

Blair tried to relax, to get a level head, to do anything to try and put up some kind of logical argument, but all his mind was filled with was the knowledge that he hung above Hell itself.

“Her Majesty—“

is your Master. Im your Host. Ophiuchus wavered once, and his eyes began to lose their brilliance. He gritted his teeth and leaned forward. Youll do what I say above all else.

Blair noticed the urgency in Ophiuchus’ voice, as well as the flickering of his outline. He felt a faint tugging on his tether, and felt himself being pulled closer to Horizon. He looked back at Ophiuchus.

“And if I refuse?”

Ophiuchus narrowed his eyes. Ill shatter this barrier, send Us all hurtling into the Abyss, and let the minions of this foul prison break into Your precious world. That decision has been, and always will be Mine.

“Oh?” Blair nodded towards Horizon’s silhouette, which continued to pull him forward like a magnet. “I think you’re bluffing! You may be able to watch all twelve of us and see out of the barrier, but you’re still shattered and weak. I’ll bet you can barely even keep me out here like this! Besides, You’re Horizon’s subconscious: all you care about is his survival! You'd nev—“

Blair’s voice was cut off as Ophiuchus grabbed him by the throat. He didn’t need to breathe, but the pressure still prevented him from talking.

The Host must be a willing vessel, Ophiuchus said with a dark smile. You speak truly, Echo. Shattered I am, Weak I may be, but never forget this: Im still a part of Him.

Ophiuchus raised his hoof in front of Blair. It elongated and sharpened, morphing into a long, wicked blade. He lowered it to Blair’s tether.

Which means I can do this.

Blair screamed again as Ophiuchus cut halfway through the golden rope. White hot agony lanced through him, and he was washed away by waves of pure pain. He whole body shuddered, lost cohesion, and began to fade.

The pain vanished, and the world righted itself. Blair gasped and looked down. His tether was restored and unharmed.

Look at me.

Blair felt completely drained, but raised his head and obeyed. Ophiuchus’ body was almost gone, save for his eyes and the hoof that was in the shape of a blade.

I havent forgotten what all of You did. Ophiuchus’ thought-voice was faint and strained. Im grateful to all of You for saving Us on that fateful night twenty years ago.

“You... have a funny way… of showing it.” Blair managed.

My gratitude only extends so far. Ophiuchus looked at his transfigured hoof, then at the barrier surrounding them. The white ones done all she can. The Others would too if They knew They could do more, but They listen to You because Youre the leader. Im more now than what I once was, Echo, but Youre right: I still care about survival above all else. So if You dont obey Me

Ophiuchus raised his bladed hoof high with a casual flick and hung it above Blair’s tether like a guillotine.

I'll sever You.

Blair tried to think of some way out, some means of escape. There had to be something he could do to avoid this. However, a part of him did agree with Ophiuchus. Who cared what the Princess wanted? This was a matter of survival! Whatever she was hiding couldn’t be worse than the foul beasts below getting free! But at the same time, how could he know her wishes? Emotions wrestled inside him, trying to influence his decision. Fear of oblivion, failure, and letting loose a horror upon the world. Loyalty to the Princess, his duty, and all that he stood for and believed in. And finally, obligation to the thing that was before him, and the price it demanded for their mutual continued existence.

Blair realized there was only one choice.

“All right. I’ll tell them.”

Ophiuchus nodded and lowered his blade. As I said, I dont care if You still wish to keep them from the white one, but dont let that hinder You from making them grow as fast as possible. The laughing one already knows, and has decided to do nothing but practice so that she may surprise the others. Let the Others tell Their fragments, theyve gained their trust, and know how to best approach them.

“That doesn’t help me with Twilight,” Blair said. “She needs to be carefully guided or she could become as—heck, worse than Nightmare Moon. I’ll need time to come up with a plan.”

No, you dont.

Blair looked up. The blade had now faded away, and so had Ophiuchus’ entire body. All that was left of him was his eyes, which bored holes into Blair as they floated back into Horizon’s silhouette and melded into the swirling colors.

The red one has planned since the beginning.

Blair suddenly became aware of an enormous tension that’d been building in his tether. It released with a snap, and Blair was yanked forward towards Horizon with the speed of a bullet. He vanished with a ripple.

“Blair! Wake up!”

Blair’s eyes snapped open as he awoke inside Twilight’s pantry. He tried to sit up, but his muscles screamed in protest. Biting back a yell, he elected to lay prone instead and gasped for air while he stared up at the ceiling.

“You were thrashing around in your sleep.”

Blair turned his head and saw the silhouette of a mare standing at the entrance of the open pantry door. A cool breeze kissed his face from the open kitchen window beyond. The clouds shifted, the pale light shone in, and Nightmare Moon’s cruel visage flashed before his eyes.

This time Blair did yell. He ignored the pain as he recoiled and flattened himself against the wall.

“Blair!” Twilight said quickly. “It’s me!”

Blair’s eyes adjusted, and the shadows melted away. Lavender coat, not black. Her mane isn’t capable of cutting anything in half. Normal eyes, not predatory ones. Get a grip.

He relaxed, but couldn’t stop himself from whimpering as the pain resurged.

“I-I’m sorry,” Blair said in a high, fevered pitch.

Twilight’s horn gave off enough light to fill the room. “You were having a nightmare.” She eyed him with concern as she walked in and straightened his blankets.

Blair’s second attempt at sitting up was successful. “You could say that.” He gingerly put his hooves to his face.

“What was it about?”

Blair shivered and wiped the sweat away from his brow as he thought how best to reply. The clammy blankets offered no warmth to him, and he was absolutely freezing.

Would she even believe—no, she’d just think I’m delirious right now. She wouldn’t be far off, either. Ugh, I can’t think straight...

Blair stared the sheets of his bed. “I try to run away, but it never stops chasing me. I try to ignore it, but I can’t resist its call. Finally, it corners me, and as it creeps forward... I realize I don’t want to run anymore. I want to feel it again and immerse myself in its embrace. I open my arms and close my eyes, and just as it’s about to swallow me… I wake up.”

Twilight was sitting on Blair’s bed as she listened to his rambling recount. “What is it?”

Blair felt like he’d been plunged into the northern sea. He needed something warm, something to take away the horrid, creeping chill. It was going to consume him unless he appeased it somehow. He unconsciously reached out, and realized there was a source of warmth very close to him.

“Blair?”

He knew this feeling. It was familiar. It pulsed with life. It called to him like an old friend, and while he yearned to heed its call, it flowed just out of reach. He needed to feel it again, to take it and make his. All he had to do was reach inside and—

Blair slapped himself. Hard.

Twilight jerked and backed away. “Blair! What’re you doing?!”

Blair moaned and clutched his head. Twilight now noticed that the temperature had dropped in the little room. She took a few steps back, but the chill followed after her… almost as if it were chasing her.

“DAMN IT, HORIZON!” Blair screamed. ”YOUR LITTLE STUNT BROKE THE SEAL!”

He vanished in a teal flash before Twilight could say anything.

Piro awoke to the loud banging of his bedroom door opening. He sat bolt upright in his bed, and a tiny red ball the size of a marble formed on the tip of his horn. He readied it at the shadowy figure that staggered in.

“Scor—Piro!”

Piro’s eyes widened. He adjusted his spell, and shot the marble out to the center of the ceiling. It shone like a miniature sun, and banished all the room’s shadows to reveal the newcomer.

Blair knelt on the floor, panting for breath as he twitched his head from side to side. His horn was encased in ice, and he looked up at Piro with a hungry look in his eyes.

Blair quickly turned away and spat out three words through clenched teeth.

“The seal broke.”

To his credit, Piro reacted immediately. He jumped out of bed, ran over to his closet, and got out his suitcase. He dug down to the bottom, where he found a thickly folded piece of parchment. He grabbed it in his magic and pulled it out.

Blair was already banishing all the warmth from the room as Piro carefully unfolded the massive piece of paper and placed it in the center. Drawn upon it was a square array covered with violet interlocking lines, and in its center was an ebony triangle with a single magical Symbol etched in silver ink. The Symbol was an omega symbol with a line underneath it.

“What would you do without me?” Piro mused. “Ha! There I go again, asking rhetorical questions. Think you’d break Libra’s record? What was it again? Half a mile or so?”

Blair slammed a hoof on the ground. “HURRY!” His breath was coming out in a mist, and the tendrils of frost were starting to creep out from his body.

Piro’s commentary didn’t slow him down as he smoothed out the paper. “You know I can’t fully seal it away like Celestia. It’ll be tolerable, but you’ll still feel its call. That, and you'll give off the same faint chill Libra did. Doubt anypony in this era will know what it means, though.”

“I'LL MANAGE!” Blair barked. “JUST DO IT!”

“You’re the boss.” Piro lifted Blair up in his magic and set him in the center of the array. His horn flared up like a hot poker, and he touched it to the paper.

Blair felt his hooves stick in place as he became encased in a triangular pillar of light. The lines of the array burned red, then teal, and finally, violet. The room was filled with its glow, and Piro chanted an incantation softly under his breath. The interlocking lines of the array lifted up and swirled around Blair. One line fastened around his head like a circlet, four others wrapped around his legs, and the rest went around his torso. They all pulsed once, Blair’s eyes shone with bright light, and he went rigid as the magic partially sealed away his ability to sense the lifeforce of other living creatures.

The light dimmed, and Piro stepped away. Blair managed to stay standing as he was released from the pillar. The lines faded into Blair's coat and the array gave off a faint smoke. Blair took a deep breath, then opened his eyes and looked at Piro. He looked normal to him, but there was something now about him that wasn't there before. If he squinted hard enough, he could make out something in the center of his chest.

Something that was warm, and sang to him in the voice of angels.

Piro raised an eyebrow as he judged Blair's reaction. “Better?”

Blair shook his head clear. “Yeah.”

“How’d it break?” Piro asked.

“Never mind that.” Blair stepped out of the array. “What’s your plan?”

Piro blinked. “What?”

Blair chipped the ice off his horn. Your plan for how you plan on training Twilight how to use her Absorption power. Tell me what it is.”

Blair might’ve reveled in Piro's dumbfounded expression had the circumstances were different, but at the moment, he merely found it annoying.

“How’d you—“ Piro whispered.

“Horizon told me.”

“Horizon?!” Piro stared at Blair for a time before chuckling and putting a hoof to his face. “Wow, the Lifesealing Ritual must've taken a lot out of you. Ace told you, didn’t he?”

Blair tapped the side of his head. ““Horizon’s subconscious is self-aware. I’ve told you about him before.”

“You also said he was trying to communicate with you using emotions.” Piro magically folded up the paper and put it back in his suitcase. “How could he possibly—“

“Look,” Blair snapped. “I’ve every intention of explaining this to you, but now’s not the time. Right now I need to know what you have in mind, because I’m going to help you.”

“You—” Piro stopped and turned back to him. “Huh?”

“I’m. Going. To. Help. You.” Blair pointed his hoof at Piro with each word. “Start talking.”

Piro chewed on his lip for a moment, his gaze flicking back and forth. After a moment he sighed and sat on his bed. “Fine. I'm convincing her to leave Ponyville.”

He... what? How woul—don't care right now. Blair nodded. “How?”

“She’s been debating on it since she found the Symbol of Loyalty on Tuesday,” Piro said with a yawn. “You probably haven't heard because you've been too busy with your crosswords of yours. How're those going, by the way?”

What the heck else am I supposed to do in a library?! Spike's a good kid, but he’s not exactly the greatest conversationalist. Blair didn't rise to barb. “Keep going.”

Piro tossed his pillow between his hooves. ““She's knows she's running out of places to look for the Symbols, and she doesn't wanna wait any longer on her correspondences. I've been subtly encouraging her to do it, and she's only just getting over her apprehension of leaving her friends behind.”

“Where were you gonna take her?”

“On a wild goose chase,” Piro replied. “I wasn't planning on training her, per se, more like putting her in positions where she'd be exposed to ambient magic, or...”

Blair watched as Piro looked away and played with the edge of his blanket.

“Or?”

Piro set down the pillow and looked up at Blair. “Or setting her up in a situation where she'd have to defend herself.”

Blair tensed. “You were gonna go behind my back and intentionally put her in harm's way?!”

Piro covered the side of his face. “You don't understand. Twilight thinks that other ponies, especially her friends, will look at her like a freak if they find out about her magic. She'll hide behind a bold-faced lie before she admits the truth, let alone perform any kind of demonstration. For Celestia's sake, Blair, I had to give her a Cornuoscopy to find out about her font! That alone should tell you how she feels about this!”

Blair sucked on his teeth. “I didn't think she was that self-conscious about it.”

“Look, I know none of us are really looking to develop a relationship here, but it wouldn't kill you to pay more attention to her!” Piro hopped off his bed and paced in the center of the room. “Having her tucked safely away in the library is great and all, but if we want her to dance, we either have to either light a fire beneath her hooves, or threaten somepony she cares about. Do you like taking hostages, Blair? Because I sure don’t! I don’t want to involve any more ponies than we have to in this, so that narrows it down rather succinctly, don't you think?!”

“She's gonna freeze up.” Blair watched Piro moved back and forth, trying to ignore that his lifeforce was leaving behind a faint afterimage. “She's never been exposed to real battle. We can't just throw her into the ocean and expect her to swim.”

Piro stopped and looked at Blair with a deadpan expression. “She won’t be alone. Ace would be there to back her up, and considering Cancer held his ground by himself in almost every single battle, I think Mr. Tendoncutter is qualified.”

Blair couldn't help but chuckle. “You know he hates that name.”

“It's better than the other one. 'Mercyblade?' Come on.” Piro stuck out his tongue. “Look, there's no reason to be worried. Twilight will be fine once she gets the jitters out, and I can fix her up if she gets hurt.”

Point there. But then... Blair lowered his chin. “What were you gonna do about me?”

Piro rolled his eyes. “You're not exactly a slouch, either, Lieutenant Living Weapon. I figured the two of you can have a nice heart-to-heart about how much it sucks to be addicted to magic when Twilight manifests her Absorption power. Maybe you can tell her how much of a bummer it'd be if she went crazy and tried to kill everyone she knows and loves. You know, kind of like you almost did.”

“That was Libra,” Blair snapped. “Not me.”

Piro narrowed his eyes. “Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.”

Never gonna get over it, are you? Whatever, stopped caring a long time ago. Blair put on a stoic mask. “You said she's decided to do this herself?”

Piro nodded. “She's going to use the party as the time to say goodbye to her friends.”

“And you’re sure she’s going to do this?”

“Of course,” Piro said with a note of condescension. “She wants to get her thesis spell done more than anything else, and she doesn't see any other way to find the Symbols. Obviously, we could just tell her what they are since they used to be on the Gate, but that'd lead to a lot of awkward questions, and nopony wants that.”

No kidding. It's bad enough we have to do this much, and it's not gonna be easy to keep her from going to Celestia. If only there was some way we... could...

Blair's voice became rushed. “Okay, here's what we're gonna do: After the party, we leave with Ace and Twilight, tell her about her powers, train her, make sure she’s recovered, bring her back here, get the other Bearers, let Celestia know, get the necklaces, go to Tartarus, use the Elements, and then whatever happens... happens. Sound good?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Piro put up a hoof to slow him down. “You're gonna tell her? I thought you said—”

“Change of plans,” Blair said. “She needs to know. The sooner the better.”

“What about Celestia?” Piro asked. “You said our orders were to keep this a secret for as long as possible. Aren't you worried Twilght's gonna run to her and demand an explanation?”

Blair smirked. “Not if we dangle a carrot over her nose.”

Piro furrowed his eyebrows. “What carrot?”

“You said it yourself,” Blair said. “We know what the Symbols for the Elements are. We can use that as leverage to keep her where we want her.”

“Yeah...” Piro said slowly, “but how're we gonna prove it to her?”

Blair rubbed his horn. “You know a Truesight spell will reveal us for what we are. I think if we tell her our little story, she'll be willing to listen.”

Piro whistled. “That's risky.”

Blair shrugged. “She's gonna have to hear it sooner or later. Did you think she'd just march up to Tartarus and not have any questions on how Horizon got stuck in the barrier, or how we got bonded to him? How about that little thing about what we are, and how we came to be in the first place?”

“Okay, okay, you think we should tell her, fine.” Piro looked out the window to gauge the time. The moon had slid back beneath the clouds, and only a few stars shone in between the cracks in the sky. “What’s all the rush about? This isn’t like you.”

Blair suppressed a shudder. ““I’m not the one calling the shots anymore. The bottom line is that we have to take matters into our own hooves.”

Piro laughed. “I don’t care who you are, or what you’ve done with Blair. I like you.”

A small smile crept up on Blair’s lips, but as he closed his eyes, he felt the faint call of life around him, along with a faint chill that plagued his body. He wasn't happy that Celestia's seal had been broken, but these symptoms were things that Libra had dealt with throughout the entire course of the War. It was a close call, but at least no harm had come of it.

Thanks to Piro.

Blair cleared his throat. “Pirosco.”

Piro turned at the use of his full name.

Blair bowed low before his old friend. “I'm in thy debt once again.”

Piro caught the archaic adjective, and his eyes softened as he switched over to the older form of speaking.

“Bitterness never fades, but wrath smolders. Thou art as much a fool as thy predecessor, but it is a very special fool that commits the same grievous sin countless times and still finds forgiveness. Consider thyself lucky, as thou art the instigator of this fine mess.”

Blair straightened and walked out the door. “Again, that was Libra, not me.”

Piro released his Light spell and went back to bed. “And still, my reply remains the same.”