• Published 28th Sep 2015
  • 8,046 Views, 1,388 Comments

The Twilight Enigma - iisaw

Twilight sets out to learn more of the ways of the world, and soon decides that the whole planet is disorganized, insanely dangerous, and desperately needs to be fixed. And she's just the mare to do it... with a little help from her friends.

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1 Not According to Plan

The Twilight Enigma

by iisaw

Sequel to The Celestia Code and The Luna Cypher

Chapter One
Not According to Plan

In which Princess Twilight Sparkle laments
that the universe is rarely arranged to her liking.

May 3rd, 1014, Late Morning
In the Temple of Rushwa the Hyena God,
Nagala, Marezambique, Zebrica

"Rarity!" I screamed, staggering with the effort of resisting the temple's magical deathtraps. "There are more armed zebras coming up the stairs! Can you buy us some time?"

Rarity turned from the wall she was hacking at and spared a second for a glance up at where Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash were hauling away at the crowbar wedged under the gigantic emerald set into the huge idol's forehead. She dropped her pickaxe, levitated five slim blades out of the scabbards on her back, stepped over the unconscious bodies of the temple's guards, and peered down at the onrushing foes.

"Those are the Sultan's elite bodyguards, dear. I might have to be less careful than usual."

"Do... uhnn..." I staggered under the assault of a new disintegration beam that spewed from the fanged mouth of the hyena god statue. "Do your... best," I gasped out.

"AHAH!" Rarity cried out, leaping to the head of the stairs. She spun her blades around herself so fast that they hissed through the air. "Who is so eager for death that they dare face the needles of Silver Mask?"

Corny, right? But it worked. Several of the guards balked and one lost his footing, tumbling off the narrow stairs to land with an unpleasant thud in the courtyard below. Their hesitation was partly because of Rarity's unexpected bravado and partly because her nom de guerre had gained a certain notoriety along the coast of the Eastern Sea.

But they were Sultan Zatar's elite guards, after all, and after a moment the remaining ones gathered themselves up and resumed their advance.

Rarity's blades flashed out, cutting the air inches in front of the zebras' noses, clashing against the short, heavy swords they held in their mouths. The guards each used a different parry or bind, no doubt hoping to overwhelm Rarity's ability to wield her multiple blades all at once. Fortunately for us, what Rarity lacked in raw magical power she more than made up for in precise and lightning-fast control.

She held them off until they realized that, for some unknown reason, she wasn't trying to harm them. The guards surged forward with murderous intent.

"Oh, I am so sorry about this," Rarity muttered and whipped the point of one of her blades along the face of the leading guard, just under his left eye.

The zebra hissed in pain and reared up, toppling into one of his fellows, effectively taking them both out of the fight for several precious seconds. That only left five of the guards, one for each of Rarity's blades. With a swooping moulinet, each blade drove at the hearts of the remaining guards. The move was showy and relatively slow; not very effective in a fight with a well-trained opponent. A quick back-step coupled with a block could easily counter that sort of attack.

Unfortunately for the guards, a short leap backwards worked much, much better on a training ground than it did on a narrow, steep staircase. All but one of the leading zebras vanished with a whinny of surprise as gravity betrayed them in time-honored fashion. The zebra that hadn't managed to throw himself off the stairs watched in horror as all five blades arced back to converge on him.

Rarity smiled.

In his haste to retreat, the guard stumbled into the other two who were just recovering themselves, and they all half-fled, half-tumbled down the stairs. Rarity cocked her head to one side, watching them withdraw. "Twilight, dear," she said quietly, "the guards are retreating, but there are more coming through the plaza gate to join them, and they have bows."

I cursed the mages that had been so paranoid about their temple that they had loaded it down with enough magical traps to fry a regiment of thieves. Ordinarily, resisting the death curses while putting up a shield against arrows would have been easy for me. But after nearly a quarter of an hour of battling against a flood of murderous energy, I was nearing complete physical and magical exhaustion. If we didn't catch a break soon, things would get extremely nasty.

"Anytime now, girls," I hissed desperately between my teeth to my friends prying away at the idol.

"Workin' on it, sugarcube," grunted Applejack.

Rarity held her position at the head of the stairs. She was spinning her blades in a valiant attempt to cut down some of the incoming arrows when there was a loud crack and AJ, Pinkie, and Dash tumbled to the floor as the emerald popped out of its socket.

Rainbow leaped up and caught the gem before it could smash against the tiles and Applejack made a dash for the rear wall where Rarity had been working. She spun into a hard double-hoofed buck at the partially demolished wall and the stone blocks exploded outward, clattering onto the roof of the gallery beyond.

"Time to go, y'all!" she shouted.

Everypony backed rapidly through the opening in the wall. I followed last, sweating and unsteady with fatigue. Arrows rained into the temple, bouncing off the walls and floor, but only a few ricocheted through the hole we'd made, and all of those missed us.

I dropped my suppressing spells and the temple room containing the idol turned into an inferno of deadly magic, which temporarily separated us from the guards on the stairs.

"What now, Twilight?" Rarity asked.

The plan was in shambles. I had intended for us to go in near midnight and make the grab quickly and quietly, but a bit of gossip gathering in the town revealed that Sultan Zatar intended to use the forbidden spells locked into the Eye of Rushwa to spread a magical plague across his brother's kingdom in a ceremony at moonrise that evening. We were forced into a hurried improvisation that hadn't gone smoothly at all.

I flung back my head and cast a red burst of light high into the sky. "We hope Fluttershy is watching and can get Nebula here quickly. Rainbow, you take the Eye and head for the rendezvous point at the oasis."

"No way, Twi!" Dash protested. "I'm not leaving you guys behind!"

"We can't let the Sultan get it back! Thousands of innocent ponies will die!"

"So we smash it right now!" Dash lifted the gem over her head.

"NO!" I was surprised I had enough energy left to shout as loudly as I did. "That will release all the dark magic inside at once, and probably kill everypony in this city."

Rainbow Dash, wide-eyed, lowered the emerald very slowly and very carefully. "Whoa, Twi! You coulda said something about that earlier."

"Well, now you know. So go!"

"Nope." Dash shook her head. "Not until there's no other choice. You can fly it out of here if you want."

I shook my head and shrugged my wings under the disguising robe. "I'm too exhausted to glide, let alone fly carrying a gigantic rock. You're the only one who can do it."

"Hey, guys," came a bubbly, completely inappropriately cheerful voice for the circumstances. "What's big and floaty and rhymes with 'friendship?'"

"Airship?" I gasped, turning to see a wonderful sight: Nebula rising over the minarets of the city. Her crew had given up all pretense of being a simple merchant vessel, dropped the fighting nets, and flown no less than three pennants displaying the skull and crossbones. My joy was quickly tempered by the three fast-attack zebra ships coming up quickly behind her.

"Why can't anything go smoothly?" I groaned.

= = =

Author's Note:

Thanks to PresentPerfect, Princess Woona, and statoose for editing and pre-reading!

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