• Published 8th May 2016
  • 3,322 Views, 127 Comments

Substitute - RQK

Everything has a price. The smallest of actions, both good and bad, can place many into the grave. The roots run deep, after all, in any and all Equestrias.

  • ...

8 - Existential I

Zecora blew a pile of dust off her hoof, coating Basalt in a green, glittery substance. He blinked several times to get it out of his eyes.

The dust settled onto his coat as well as into several deep cracks in his midsection, some deep enough that they almost ran through to the other side. The back of his tail was gone, and his muzzle slowly crumbled like the rest of his body.

Sunburst trotted up, levitating forth a plate with a fully loaded albeit slightly burned hayburger. “Here, eat this,” he said, offering it.

Basalt wheezed in response and took the plate in his mouth. He slunk back toward a mattress on which another unpony, with deeper cracks than himself, slept soundlessly. He sat down and quietly ate. His worn expression remained unchanged the whole time.

Sunburst knelt down and picked up a small, rock-like piece from where Basalt had just been standing. It was the same color as Basalt’s coat and even had some hints of its consistency. Sunburst regarded it with a troubled frown before he levitated it over to Zecora for her to see. She solemnly shook her head.

Zecora and Sunburst intently watched Basalt for a few moments before exiting the room. Zecora’s living room sported the usual wooden masks and vials and jars and even a cauldron containing some unstew, but now mountains of books also lay scattered about the room. Thick tomes and dissertations took up an entire wall. Sunburst picked up an open book and continued from the page he had left off on.

Zecora sighed and picked a random book off the pile. She spent several minutes flipping from page to page, line by line. Her jaw occasionally twitched when she ran into unfamiliar concepts, and the further along she went, the more often it happened. Eventually, the pages ran out, and she set that book on top of a neat and orderly stack before moving onto the next book. While she had learned a few things, she wouldn’t claim to understand unicorn magic.

Sunburst eventually finished his own book and levitated over a couple of ingredients from a nearby shelf. The right mixture of these two would make something useful, that much he knew. He wouldn’t say that he completely understood a shaman’s work, but he had learned some things. There were some other herbs that he could mix in, but they had since run out of those.

“Maybe I designed the spell matrix wrong…” he wondered aloud.

Zecora glanced up from her reading and swallowed. “We have yet to see any effect. At least, as far as I can detect. But I very much doubt that it is you. After all, we made this out of unstew.”

Sunburst sighed. “She did say that unstew wasn’t completely adequate.”

“They grow worse by the moment. Before long, they will both be spent!”

The two sat in silence for a few long moments, pondering their options.

“I’m trying to think of what else there is,” he said.

“Perhaps that remote quality is behind this,” she replied.

“Do you think that’s what’s in play here?”

“You know as well that’s not so clear.”

Sunburst hummed and briefly returned to his book. He skipped a few pages, took a glimpse at the end, briefly dove into the middle of another book, and then sighed. “Because I’m thinking that if we have to interface with that part that we can’t reach, then we’re just wasting our time.”

Zecora groaned, slapping her face with her hoof. “Hii ni mwendawazimu!” she cried.

They heard an airy pop outside, and a few moments later, the front door opened. Discord ducked through the opening, his features drawn and furrowed in a furtive frown.

Sunburst frowned. “Discord.”

“Sunburst,” Discord said, “Zecora. Do you have any news for me? Because I have news for you.”

“I am glad that you have asked for a report,” Zecora answered. “But I’m afraid that we have nothing of the sort.”

Sunburst shook his head. “We’ve tried everything we could think of. We’re even cross-referencing each other. But every bit of magic we try keeps flopping around like they’ve collided with a magic spell.”

“Twilight described that in much the same way, but other than that, we’ve no more to say.”

Discord shut the door behind him and peered into the adjacent room, running his eyes over both unponies inside. With a short hum, he turned back to them. “That is a shame.”

“It might be that remote component that you discovered,” Sunburst said.

“Ah, but you see, I have been trying to look further into that. I’ve actually been rather curious about that fact ever since I discovered it,” Discord said. “I normally wouldn’t try to make sense of it, but it is fascinating. Anywho, I didn’t look at all of the unponies that came through from those other dimensions, so I looked through the remaining ones that Sunset Shimmer didn’t take with her. I didn’t find anything.”

Zecora nodded. “It is as we have been told. That is something we’ve yet to unfold.”

Discord crossed his arms. “Well, you see, that’s why I’m here. I then took a look at the unponies from our dimension, and I found something. Consistently, I might add.”

“…Oh? So?” Zecora asked, climbing to her hooves.

Discord swished his jaw in thought. “Yes. But honestly, I’m even more confused than I was before. This is a really extraordinary position to be in.”

Sunburst stood up.

Discord swallowed. “When I looked through the unponies of our dimension… and I tried to resolve whatever part of them is apparently located so remotely… I found Twilight Sparkle on the other end.”

Pinkamena Diane Pie parried another blow. Her foe, a crystal pony clad in heavy armor, stumbled back. Seeing the opening, Pinkamema lunged, delivering a rapid series of punches that would have pulverized a large boulder. The armor crumbled to dust, leaving the crystal mare underneath to collapse unconscious.

She snorted and glanced around the rest of the battlefield. Spells flew this way and that while pegasi dive-bombed from overhead. And yet the crystal ponies continued unabated, trading blows with whatever forces they could run into and dodging volleys from those they couldn’t.

And their blitz was gaining steam.

She glanced back at Canterlot, which sat atop its mountain not too far away. Then to Princess Celestia, now fitted with some heavy armor of her own, taking on several crystal pony soldiers nearby with more approaching.

Pinkamena looked forward, catching a glimpse of King Sombra. His dark visage alone was usually enough to cast a shadow over them, but now Sombra wielded what looked like a scythe. He swung it toward one group of Equestrian infantry, throwing them off balance. He launched a spell at another group, propelling them across the battlefield.

She’d been on the battlefield several times before, but she had yet to see him actually playing offense. It was like he wanted to battle to end. In fact, the whole battle had happened several weeks earlier than anypony was prepared for.

It was like Sombra wanted to end the war. Pinkamena narrowed her gaze, studying him as closely as she could, given her great distance.

King Sombra looked… spooked.

Had somepony finally managed to take the Crystal Heart?

Her entire body convulsed, knocking her off her hooves. Shudders upon shudders overtook her, shaking her from the tip of her nose to the tip of her tail.

Maud Pie, her sister, rushed over while knocking a charging crystal pony away. Even covered in dirt, she remained as stoic as ever. “Are you okay?” she asked with a straight tone, helping Pinkamena to her hooves.

“A doozy, Maud! I’m sensing a doozy!” Pinkamena cried.

The two scoured the battlefield for anything that might look like a potential doozy. The battle was still young, Celestia was still dealing with some enemy soldiers, and Sombra was still dealing with allied soldiers.

“I sure hope the doozy isn’t Sombra killing Princess Celestia too and then ending the war,” Maud said.

Pinkamena swallowed. “Please, oh please, let it be something el—”

A loud roar erupted from overhead—and from behind them. She, Maud, and it seemed the rest of the battlefield stopped and turned to see a multicolored ring appear out of thin air, containing an image of some large, crystalline city. The ring expanded until it was easily the size of Canterlot Castle itself.

Several allies made pointed exclamations and others simply gasped. The enemies stood silently, watching it unfold. Even Princess Celestia herself looked with her jaw dropped.

“The Crystal Empire!” somepony exclaimed, sending another wave of gasps around.

The streets of the Crystal Empire through the portal glowed a hot blue hue, making out the pattern of a snowflake. In the very center, the gleaming crystalline castle stretched above the city, its tip pointed straight toward the aperture. From Pinkamena’s angle on the ground, it looked like the Crystal Empire was pointing right at them.

Her body shuddered again. The doozy!

No! No!” King Sombra’s guttural voice boomed over the landscape. “Impossible!”

A smaller portal opened up right beside the monolithic one. Pinkamena had just enough time to make out a small group of ponies coming through before the world lit up.

The Crystal Empire crackled and rumbled and the tip lit up before a bright, rainbow-like laser shot out of it, shooting straight into Sombra. He cried out as the charge exploded, shattering him into a million pieces. The shockwave blew several chunks of earth this way and that, and the very ground shook under the force.

From that came tendrils of every hue. Waves of energy washed over the battlefield, bathing everypony. The crystal ponies lost the ever-present green glow in their eyes and teetered to the ground. What they gained, however, was a certain sparkle to them. Neigh, everypony, ally and foe alike, sparkled like crystal. Several ponies jumped in awe, taking themselves in.

A few of the crystal ponies rose up and removed their helmets. They squinted and blinked, glancing around as if trying to make sense of where they were. Some approached their non-crystal counterparts, cautiously trying to determine if they were real or just another nightmare.

“Oh… Look, Maud!” Pinkamena gasped, glancing at her own crystal-like self, a definite contrast to her dirtied and dull uniform.

Maud nodded and glanced toward the portals. “What happened?”

The six ponies that Pinkamena had registered coming through the portal swooped over the battlefield at that moment. Rather, it was six ponies and a crystal ball.

“Sombra is down!” the crystal ball said. “I hope Radiant Hope is paying attention!”

The six of them, with gorgeous rainbow-like patterns on every inch of their bodies and symbols all over their legs, also glittered a brilliant crystal. They glowed with power. Pinkamena could feel it bristling against her coat. She even recognized some of those ponies. There was a purple one, Applejack, Rarity, and Fluttershy, at least. How Rainbow Dash had gotten up there and undergone whatever had given her such a long mane and her other wing back, she didn’t know.

“Sombra got wrecked!” the last one exclaimed.

Pinkamena jumped. It was her! The last one was her!

And Pinkie Pie, as she flew by, turned, her expression a study in shock. “Hey, look! There’s alternate universe me!” Pinkie Pie waved. “Hi, alternate universe me!”

Pinkamena slowly raised a hoof and vacantly waved back.

Finally, the six paused in the air above them, glancing around at the battlefield. Applejack chuckled. “Sorry it took us so long to get here, folks. Ah reckon… that there’s the end of the war.”

There was a pause. And then the allied forces shared relieved smiles and exhausted laughs. There were no boisterous cheers, but the occasional “Hooray” sprung up here and there.

Pinkamena’s mane filled up with air, attaining some sort of poofy shape. And she, for the first time since the war began, smiled.

* * *

Princess Luna stared through the hole in the ground, past a pink barrier that stretched across the aperture, and into a large chamber below. Several guards wove through the sleeping unponies with magical filters around their muzzles, now positioning fresh batches of unstew.

A black alicorn trotted up behind the guard ponies, observing their placement. When Adamantine seemed content with their placement, she took to the air and flew upward through the barrier and touched down behind Luna.

Luna turned. “Is it to your liking?”

Adamantine smiled. “It is, so very much. You have my thanks.”

“They are still decaying.”

“…They are. But with the supplies you have furnished us with, you have bought more time.”

Luna grinned. “I’m so glad to hear that.”

Adamantine giggled and then straightened up. “Well then, Princess Luna. Are you sure that you are prepared?”

Luna cracked her neck. “For an opportunity to cut loose for a while? Surely, I would be. And I know you will appreciate it.”

Adamantine considered her foe. “And you are sure that we will be left to it?”

“They did insist on having at least some eyes on us, just in case. But we should be fine.”

Adamantine cocked her head as her smile grew. And then she flapped her wings, backing away from Luna. “Well, if you so insist on testing my abilities…” she said, lighting her horn, “then come at me!”

Luna shot a beam of energy out of her horn, aimed directly at Adamantine. Adamantine disappeared in a flash of light and Luna’s shot hit air. Luna took to the sky herself, whirling about every direction.

Adamantine reappeared nearby and shot a beam of her own. Luna raised a barrier to meet it and, although it cracked, it managed to repel the shot. Adamantine teleported to a spot nearly behind Luna and shot another, and Luna’s barrier blocked it before shattering altogether. Adamantine teleported again before firing a third shot which Luna flew out of the way of.

After dodging a fourth shot, Luna let off a volley of her own. Adamantine teleported out of the way, only for Luna’s shots to follow. Adamantine instead flew in circles, with Luna’s shots trailing behind. Adamantine teleported away once they came close enough.

Luna focused some energy and created an electrified bubble around herself. With a roar, she blew it outward and the bubble expanded. Adamantine blinked out just as it reached her, only to reappear right in front of Luna. Adamantine flipped over, channeling some energy into her hindhooves.

Luna had just enough time to throw up a shield around herself before Adamantine bucked, sending Luna toward the ground. Her shield formed a crater as she hit.

“You almost had me there,” Adamantine called. “Usually, my opponents cannot even keep up with it!”

“I’ve studied Coltelli,” Luna replied. “He made that offense famous about five centuries ago!”

Adamantine chuckled. “Ah, so it has a name?”

Clenching her teeth, Luna focused on moving the earth beneath her. A pillar of rock rose up, and Luna rose with it until she was nearly Adamantine’s altitude. A few rocky chunks broke off the top which Luna hurled at her opponent. Adamantine dodged most, but she caught some with her magic and shot them back. Of those, Luna caught some of them and shot those back. With each back and forth, the number of volleyed rocks dwindled until, finally, Luna zapped the last one into dust.

Adamantine lit her horn and the earth just underneath Luna swallowed her hooves. Luna fidgeted about, trying to get loose, but threw up a barrier instead as Adamantine shot a beam. When that bounced off, Adamantine instead shot a slew of wind blades at the rock pillar, slicing it to pieces.

Luna fell with the late top of the pillar, but when Adamantine shot another bolt toward her, she flipped over. Adamantine’s attack hit the underside of the rock, breaking it into pieces and consequently setting Luna free. Luna flapped her wings and shot back up, coming level again.

“That was a very nice move,” Adamantine said. “Your technique is quite impeccable!”

“Thank you!” Luna replied. “I am quite impressed with what you’ve shown me so far! I should like to see more of it!”

Adamantine bowed. A moment later, she charged at Luna with her horn alight. Luna responded by pulling bits of earth up and quickly molding it into a long shape. She then created a sword out of energy and reinforced it with the long, earthly shape. She readied it for a swing.

As Adamantine disappeared in a flash of light, Luna whirled around, swinging her weapon in a broad arc. Adamantine reappeared at what had once been behind Luna, only to narrowly dodge Luna’s swing. She flipped backward and away.

Luna smirked before diving after Adamantine, forcing her to dodge a few more swings. Adamantine teleported away again, forcing Luna to search the entire area. She found Adamantine on the ground below, forging a sword of her own, but did not dive to meet her.

Adamantine shot into the air, shooting several energy bolts in Luna’s direction. Luna deflected each of them with her sword just in time for Adamantine to reach her. Their blades clanged together to sparkly fanfare. Their swords met several more times in lightning-like succession, but neither went for any decisive lunges or swings. An experienced swordspony would have called it silly.

Luna’s horn flared and a gust of wind sucked Adamantine away. Adamantine tumbled as it carried her higher into the sky. Luna gave chase, closing in for another series, but Adamantine found her bearings in just enough time to parry. Luna’s strikes were relentless and wild, pushing her foe back little by little.

Adamantine backed away just long enough to raise her blade for a counterattack. There, their blades locked again, their muzzles close enough that they could feel each other’s breath.

“Truly, you are wonderful!” Adamantine said. “This is educational, Luna.”

A few exchanges of their blades later, they locked again.

“Indeed, Adamantine!” Luna replied. “And you’ve already given me several ideas as well!”

Adamantine teleported away, reappeared on the ground far below. “I am sure that having such a wealth of magical knowledge available is certainly helpful!” Adamantine called back. She then wrapped her magic around a large chunk of ground and hurled it at Luna, most of which broke apart in the air.

Luna shot a bolt at one bit that was coming right at her, turning it into dust. “I agree! ’Tis a shame we rarely get to make use of it. I should much like to show you it later.”

Adamantine teleported from the ground to the air far above Luna. And then Luna noticed that she was unarmed. She flipped over just in time to meet Adamantine’s blade as it shot up from the ground. The blade swung, again and again, moving into different positions each time. Luna nearly had trouble keeping up with it.

Adamantine floated above, controlling her blade from a distance. “Perhaps after all of this is over!” she called.

Luna smirked and started swinging hard. Adamantine’s blade cracked, an effect punctuated by startled gasps from Adamantine herself. Once Luna hit it far enough away, she spun around and launched her own sword upward. When Adamantine dove to avoid it, Luna flipped over again and wrapped her magic around Adamantine’s sword, wresting it from its remote controller. She flipped it with her magic and then glanced up toward Adamantine who looked down in shock.

Luna shot an energy bolt upward, and Adamantine dove out of the way of that. A second and third followed.

The fourth was well off target, and both knew as soon as it left Luna’s horn. Adamantine focused on it and lit her horn. Adamantine’s red glow encircled Luna’s cobalt bolt and then, as it passed a ways to Adamantine’s left, the bolt turned in the air, forming a decent arc before it sped away some ways to the right.

Both combatants floated there in silence for a few moments, watching the bolt trail away and eventually fizzle out. Finally, Luna said, “…Did you just curve that?”

Adamantine glanced behind her, her eyes wide. “Well… I suppose I did. I just pulled on it, I suppose. I wanted to return it, but it wasn’t nearly enough…”

Luna shook her head. “Oh, you have so much potential. I would sooner leave a stained glass window uncleaned than let your talents go to waste!”

She flipped what had once been Adamantine’s sword about and then flung it upward.

Adamantine flew around it, flying in circles as Luna shot a few more bolts in her direction. Some of those bolts curved as they passed by, but not to the same degree.

Eventually, Luna reached Adamantine’s altitude and shot a continuous beam. Adamantine, in turn, whirled about and shot a beam of her own.

The two beams connected, meeting at a white-hot nexus. The center howled as sparks plumed out of it. It was Luna’s cobalt versus Adamantine’s red. Luna could feel her magic intertwining with Adamantine’s as their energies struggled for dominance. She grit her teeth together, much like her foe.

The beams wavered but remained connected. Luna felt sweat forming on her brow and fought the urge to wipe at it. Her body tingled as she tried to balance keeping airborne and redirecting her energies into the blast. With each second that they remained locked, the nexus grew bigger and brighter, accumulating more energy than it could expend.

And then the nexus moved. Luna glanced up. She wasn’t doing anything different. No, Adamantine was losing it. The nexus moved and moved and Luna studied Adamantine’s expression. First, Adamantine narrowed her eyes in focus and managed to slow the nexus down. It temporarily held but eventually inched its way toward her again.

Adamantine’s expression went wide and then the nexus blew up in her face. Luna blinked as the spell ruptured, and she pushed through the disorientation enough to discern a smoke trail from where the nexus had been.

And a pair of white dots rushing to catch the smoke trail. Luna surged forward, saying a few choice words under her breath. As she neared them, her vision cleared back up, allowing her to see that her guards, who had been watching the fight, had caught Adamantine.

“Set her down!” she boomed. The guards nodded, carrying Adamantine’s unconscious body toward the ground. There, they cradled her, trying to shake her awake.

Adamantine regained consciousness with a start, looking at the two pegasi guards that had caught her. She winced, reaching up to feel at her horn. “What happened?” she slurred.

Luna landed in front of her. “You fought very well, Adamantine. But it would seem I managed to best you there.”

After a moment’s silence, Adamantine shook her head and chuckled. “It would seem so. I’m afraid that I lack the raw power that you do…”

“Worry not, you were the finest opponent I’ve had the pleasure to duel in a long time.” She leaned forward to check. “Are you alright?”

Adamantine lit her horn and levitated herself to her hooves. After nodding to the guards, she smiled at Luna. “…I think I will be okay.”

* * *

Adamantine trotted through the castle gardens, occasionally stopping to admire the statues. She took a left, and then a right, and then tried to remember where to go next. The gardens were vast, but she had a specific spot in mind.

She walked through an opening in the hedges to find a large, open area. Flowerbeds lined each side of the cobblestone path. The path itself led up to a structure that was flanked by small fountains that trickled with running water.

She found Twilight Sparkle sitting in front of the object. Adamantine trotted up, curious to see for herself.

The object itself was a few times her size. What caught her attention was a statue in Twilight’s likeness that served as its upper half. Her likeness was reared in a courageous pose, pointing toward the sky with a bold, mouth-wide-open smile.

The lower half, the base, was more simple and cubic in design. The design of an open book spanned the entire front face, with the words Twilight and Sparkle heading each page. Adamantine then looked further down and noted some descriptive text. And then she found dates.

One deathdate and, oddly enough, two birthdates.

“This is my grave,” Twilight explained. “But, of course, I was never actually buried here.”

“So I gathered,” Adamantine replied. “I suppose it is now a bit wrong in concept.”

“It was right at one point,” Twilight said. “It’s not as right anymore, but it’s not completely wrong either.”

“Of course not.”

The two stood in silence, briefly tuning in to a small gust of wind.

“I hear that things have improved while we were away,” Twilight said. “Is that right?”

“They have secured enough ingredients for several day’s worth of unstew and are working on finding more.” Adamantine paused. “Ever since you’ve given me supplies, I’ve had a drop in the number of passings per day. Three days is not a pattern, but I have hope.”

Twilight brightened up. “That’s great! Then we’ve managed to buy some time, at least.”

“That you have. Meanwhile, I trust that you’ve completed whatever it was that you intended to do in those alternate timelines?”

Twilight nodded. “Yes, we have. At least, for now. We’ve managed to bring a lot of ponies on board to help. I know that the alternate timeline princesses are looking for solutions even now.”

“But you haven’t found anything definitive yet.”

Twilight swallowed. “…No. We haven’t.”

“Your future self told me that much,” Adamantine said. “I suppose I’ll just have to keep working for a while longer.”

Twilight shook her head. “You’ve been at this long enough. Even in Ponyville, you were working to the bone.”

“And while this train of events has given me some respite, I must press on. I cannot truly rest until my unponies are saved.”

Twilight sighed. “I… guess. I don’t know. You’ve moved mountains for them. And I’m just… wishing I could do more.”

“I assure you, Twilight, you are helping, and I appreciate that. You should know that.”

“But I haven’t done enough for your people.”

“You need not concern yourself with that. You have already done several great things in the past few days alone.”

“And your unponies are still suffering. I wish I could do more.” Twilight glanced upward, looking up at her statue and contemplating its smile. “I have a responsibility, here. This is all my fault.”

Adamantine frowned.

“I just… I had no idea. I was just trying to map out those caves under Canterlot. There was a time when I was stuck down there, and Cadance and I made it out by a miracle. But there had been other ponies in there since who have not been so lucky. I wanted to map it out so that wouldn’t happen to anypony ever again.

“I didn’t think I’d find the Nameless down there. I could have taken my own life without destroying it. But I chose to do both.” Twilight hung her head. “I didn’t know it would lead to this.”

Adamantine’s frown grew deeper as she sat down.

Twilight sniffed. “I… Adamantine, I just… I wanted to say…”

“It’s okay.”

Twilight blinked and looked up in questioning.

Adamantine nodded. “Really.”

“I don’t know how you can say that. Your people are suffering because of me.”

“Yes, Twilight, you have put my people in quite a pickle. But…” Adamantine sighed, “the thing is… the Nameless was a considerable threat. Not just to you, or Canterlot, or Equestria, but the entire world. That whoever had to deal with that thing way back when managed to seal it away is a miracle enough—it’s still something I wonder about to this day. But that’s lost to time—either way, you managed to destroy it, Twilight Sparkle.”

Adamantine leaned in close. “To say that you have done a great service is an understatement. Yes, it has put my people in a pickle, but you must remember that my unponies and I serve our prime directive. All you did was bring it to its conclusion, and that is a monumentally important service. You are not our enemy, Twilight; you weren’t then and you aren’t now. So I cannot be angry at you.”

Adamantine groaned, a knot forming in her throat. “And really, I am not so surprised that it has led to this current situation.” She sighed. “It is no accident that they depend on the Nameless’ energy. The truth is… it was by design.”

Twilight paused. Her eyebrow went up and she cocked her head in questioning. “By… design?”

Adamantine nodded. “Whoever sealed it away had to place many safeguards in order to prevent it from inflicting any damage to Equestria. That crystal ball by itself was a safeguard. An early warning system, if you will. I know there was an additional safeguard tied to it but that never went off. There are… were a network of rocks across the globe that supplemented the seal, which you probably know was never perfect. They were… vents for the seal. Perpetually tethered to the Nameless, they would soak up and purify just enough of its energy to keep it in check without soaking up enough to give it something to grab onto and escape.” She chuckled. “I would suppose you are at least familiar with that mechanic.”

Twilight shivered, holding herself tight. “Don’t remind me.”

“My unponies are just like that. There’d always be a stone or two overventing somewhere in the world, and so we existed as a catch for that energy which escaped.” She leaned in close, her expression a sad stern. “Now that the Nameless is gone, our reason for existence is up.”

“It’s not fair. All these lengths, just for the Nameless.” Twilight threw her hooves into the air. “And we had no idea. Our world depended on your people, Adamantine, but… we have nothing to show for it.”

Adamantine shook her head. “You are living and thriving.”

“At your expense.”

A bird touched down on the statue’s outstretched hoof. It held a worm in its mouth, and it glanced around the courtyard for a moment.

Adamantine watched as it flew off with the worm, and then she chuckled. “Everything is at the expense of something else. That’s something that you learn when you live like we do, out where things are wild.”

Twilight averted her eyes.

“Tell me, have you ever seen a predator chase its prey?” Adamantine asked.

Twilight shook her head. “That sort of thing isn’t anything we really see in Equestria.”

“Usually the point is that the predator is able to catch, kill, and then consume its prey. In doing that, the predator gets to live a little longer.”

Twilight narrowed her eyes. “And that’s barbaric. Those poor creatures don’t deserve to be killed.”

Adamantine chuckled. “Ah, yes. But as it is, some of the time as well, the prey is able to escape and live another day. But in doing that, the predator starves.” A glint flashed in her eye. “Sometimes, that’s how predators die.”

“That’s just as horrible. And not fair,” Twilight spat, stamping her hoof.

“It is not. You are so very lucky that you do not encounter that situation here. It is not always so… kind in those remote places in the world; in those remote places where we have lived.”

“...I guess you have some experience with that, huh?”

“That I do. It is not so safe out there. I have many tools at my disposal, so I can fare well by myself. But there have been many times where my unponies have been in danger. There would be times where it would boil down to them or us.”

Twilight tilted her head out of curiosity. “And what did you do?”

“I fought back, of course. I have… bested my share of would-be attackers. Sometimes… to violent results.”

Twilight shuddered. “And you’re okay with that?”

Adamantine smiled. “Of course I am. I love my unponies. And for them… I would do anything.”