• Published 18th Aug 2016
  • 1,531 Views, 32 Comments

Pony la Pony: Shattered Lives - Flash Notion



Fusion Fic with Kill la Kill. Replaces EQG 1 chronologically. When Twilight chases a thief through Starswirl's mirror, she finds herself in a world without friendship, with new rules of magic. Will she succeed in recovering her Element of Harmony?

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Episode 1: Old Enemies, New Friends

“After the defeat of King Sombra one thousand years ago, a schism formed between Princesses Luna and Celestia. They each sought different methods to help the ponies of Equestria; in the end, the Princesses entered into a battle which neither would survive...”

The majority of the class snored with their heads on their hooves. Of the few who were awake, two were eyeing the door; one was playing with a set of action figures; one was building a miniature model of the school itself. Atop a mountain of chewing gum, paper walls surrounded an elegant building somewhere between a castle and a battleship. It was a good likeness.

And one student was only paying attention to their teacher's shapely, black-furred posterior. She cut a rather striking figure against the chalkboard, what with the long, limp, and skunk-striped mane covering half her face, perfectly accented by a dark green dress. More than a few colts spent their evenings thinking about Miss Swahli.

Unaware of the wanderlust in the room, she continued on with her lesson. “After the Princesses' memorials, the ruling of Equestria fell to various noble groups. It seemed as though ancient tribal divisions-”

CLANG!

Miss Swahli paused as the classroom's metal door buckled inward, a hoof-shaped imprint showing through the other side. The wheel-handle began to turn, slowly, bent out of shape. The screech of metal on metal woke the students, who stared dumbly.

Finally, the pony on the other side seemed to give up on the handle and all pretenses of politeness. With a crash, the wheel popped free of its screw hole. Then the door slammed inward, flying completely off its hinges; it smashed the windows on the other side of the room out of their frames, then ricocheted into the very center of the class and sent desks and ponies flying! Miss Swahli twisted her lithe frame to avoid getting caught by flying shards and splinters.

“Pardon!” she exclaimed, “But we're in the middle of a lesson!”

In the shadow of the doorway, the pony whickered angrily. A trio of lights scintillated on his chest. Quite suddenly, he pushed himself through the door, which seemed far too small for him to have ever fit through. “I'm on official business,” he declared in a scarily calm voice. Rows of armored underlings lined up behind him.

Miss Swahli seemed to pale. She knelt, deferring to his authority.

The stallion raised his chin, then turned towards the class, still picking itself from the shambles of the room. Eyes like ice chips narrowed. The silver armor that covered his snow-white fur gleamed; three crystals across the front matched the deep blue of his mane perfectly. With military precision, he planted himself before the students. “For those of you unaware, I am Head of the Disciplinary Committee Shining Armor.” This seemed to have the desired effect, as most of the foals eyes widened. “Recently, a mage armor came up missing from our inventory. This is a serious matter. We've narrowed the suspects to one of you here in Class K.” When the fillies and colts started muttering apprehensively, he held up a hoof. “If the pony responsible gives themselves up, we will be lenient. We're far more interested in why, than who.”

As Shining spoke, a pair of unicorn colts drifted closer together in the back of the room. The taller of the two had saffron fur and a turquoise mane. He slid a note to his tubbier friend, who had slate blue fur with an orange mane.

Go now, the second colt read. Use the back door. Give up nothing if caught. Snails.

He nodded ever so slightly to his friend, then slid the note back. Snails placed one hoof on it, then gradually lowered himself to the floor. Once out of sight, he- with much difficulty- lit his horn.

“This is the final war-” Shining was cut off as a noxious opaque gas filled the room with the force of a bomb. The disgusting fumes ripped the back door from its hinges and scorched the eyelashes from most everypony in the room. One small shape cut through the fog and odor, running as fast as his stumpy legs would allow.

Snips skittered around a corner and jumped down the stairs three at a time. A super-loud whinny echoed behind him, and he fought back panic. Shining Armor would not be held long. The colt hit the bottom floor and almost slid into the wall. He righted himself and ran down the short hall. Snips ripped open the double doors at the end-

And found himself muzzle to muzzle with Shining Armor! He smelled of sulfur, and looked extraordinarily pissed off. A girlish scream tore from Snips' throat as Shining lifted him in one massive hoof. “Did you think you'd escape me with a fart spell!” he roared in indignation. Grunting, he turned and hurled Snips across the front courtyard.

Snips screamed again as he tumbled and bounced over the rocky ground, finally landing halfway across the yard. Shining Armor leaped forward and stood between him and the walls; his fellow Disciplinary Committee members lined up on either side. Desperately, Snips reached into his saddlebags and pulled out the stolen armor.

Shining blinked. “Wait- all this for a one-stone armor? Seriously?” He chuckled. “It's almost not worth the trouble! Well, no,” he amended, “It's worth it. But seriously?” Shining waved a hoof. “You could've at least bothered to take a two-stone. Tell you what- put it on. I'll let you see for yourself just what you've stolen.”

Snips hesitated, then fit the bronze chest piece over his torso. The metal unfolded to cover the rest of his body; gauntlets, sabatons, faulds, a helmet. Power surged through the armor, filling Snips with a strength he'd never known before. “W-wow!” he exclaimed. “This is... wow!”

Shining grunted. He seemed almost disappointed. “Enjoy it while you can.” He unleashed a beam of energy from his horn then, a lance of light moving faster than the eye could track. It hit Snips' new armor and fractured against it.

“I- I'm alive!” the foal squealed in surprise.

Shining rolled his eyes. “Of course. The uniform is almost impervious to damage. You'll be stronger, faster-” Cutting himself off, he launched another, larger beam attack.

Snips batted it aside with his hoof and charged. “Then die!” he screamed, blasting everything he had from his horn. The light sprayed outward , a column of power that warped the ground into magma! It hit Shining's armor-

And did nothing. The light didn't even scorch its silver surface. Snips himself collided with the larger pony, who didn't even stumble. He rubbed his horn, feeling dizzy and hurt. “Too bad,” Shining said. He actually sounded sincere. “But your armor is only a one-stone. Mine's a three.” Snips began to back up, one hoofstep at a time. Too late.

Shining's horn blazed, covering him in a dome of lavender power. Tendrils of light exploded outward- two, six, twenty. They snapped forward and grabbed hold of Snips, lifted him into the air, and smashed him into the dirt! The whips lashed into Snips until he was lying in the bottom of a six foot crater.

Snarling now, Shining used one of the tendrils to pick Snips up and hurl him into a wall. “Resisting arrest!” he exploded, “Assaulting a member of the Disciplinary Committee-” Snips was dragged all the way across the courtyard to slam against the other wall. “Theft of school property!” And back again. “Disrupting class-” And again. “Running from your crimes-” And again! “And treason!” Shining finally threw Snips into the wall just above the exit; his bruised and bloodied body impacted so hard he was embedded in his own silhouette. “You don't deserve the power that armor gives you.”

A figure watched the punishment from high above. Her lilac eyes were even colder than Shining Armor's. At her side was strapped a scabbard of crystal.

Shining stepped closer to the wall. “I'll give you one last chance. Tell me who you're working for!” Snips merely whimpered in pain. “Have it your way then.” Shining's magic latched onto the stolen armor and pulled, yanking it away from the foal's body, while a second tendril slammed him deeper into the hard stone. The whimpering stopped.

As Shining brought the armor back down into his hoof, it folded itself into a neat metal rectangle. Shining passed it off to his one-stone attendants. Then he turned back towards the school. At every window, teachers and students had gathered to watch.

“Listen up!” he projected his voice. “Students of Canterlot High, Mi Amore Cadenza, your Princess, created the laws of this school for a reason. I intend to enforce those laws as long as I am-”

He was cut off by a brilliant radiance, blazing from the school's tallest tower. Shielding his eyes with one hoof, he stared into the center of the light. There stood the one pony he respected above all others. With horn and wings high, her shades of pink mane flowing in the breeze; she was the statue of a goddess brought to life. Those lilac eyes narrowed.

Every pony watching turned their faces upward. They basked in the light, and Shining deferred to its bringer. “Princess,” he breathed. Then to his underlings: “Atten-hut! Show respect to the greatest of us all!” The one-stones lined the courtyard, saluting.

The subtlest hint of a smirk tweaked Cadenza's muzzle. She tapped her rear hoof against the roof, a call for rapt silence. “Fear is freedom; subjugation is liberation! And contradiction is truth!” Three ponies trotted to stand behind the Princess. Though little more than shadows amid her light, they stood with conviction and strength. Cadenza unsheathed her sword and pointed it to the sky. “This creed shall be the foundation of a new era. Live by it and prosper; or, stand against and descend to squalor as the animals you are!”


The city of Canterlot spilled down the mountain slopes under the school. The ivory towers and golden domes formed a crown; it sat upon a head of silver ingot roofs and iron frames, with limestone and quartz walls. Farther still, the body of the metropolis housed ponies in oak and thatch, shadowed by energy plants harnessing swarms of Twittermites. This giant was built, like so many, on feet of clay. The most destitute of ponies sought shelter in hovels of garbage. They crawled through their own wretchedness trying just to survive.

Like the spokes of a wheel, train tracks and tram lines led from the top to the bottom. All eventually connected back to the main road, spiraling down the mountain and into the countryside.

One pony stood between Canterlot and the rest of the world. She paused in her long journey, muscles taut under wind-blown fur. Beneath her cloak, her wings fluttered. The breeze loosened her scarf, and her hood fell back over her saddlebags. Her mane flashed pink highlights. Her eyes, dark pools of wine, took in every detail of the landscape. Her mouth set into a determined scowl.

“Canterlot,” she whispered. “What have they done to you?”


Pony la Pony
Chapter 1: Old Enemies, New Friends


The mare fought to keep her lip from curling. The city was horrid; it stank, and it was crowded, and no pony was smiling. One vendor was selling flowers. Most of them looked wilted and ugly, but Twilight picked out one of the best. She tossed him a Bit for the daisy and moved on. He didn't seem to care for her business either way.

Moving quickly to get out of the slums, she sniffed the flower, hoping to smell something good for a change. But its perfume seemed to have worn out. Sighing, she bit the head from the stem and chewed. At least it tasted good. She was grateful for that.

She was also grateful that the other ponies left her alone. Her youthful looks were offset by the way she carried herself. Honest citizens got out of her way. Thugs glanced her over and decided it wasn't worth the trouble.

She'd just about reached the edge of poverty when a violet-gray unicorn filly dashed out of an alley, almost running her into the ground. “Whoops!” the foal laughed, prancing a circle around her, “Sorry!” In the blink of an eye, she ducked into the next alley, out of sight of the older mare.

There, the filly waited for a moment until she was certain she was safe. Breathing a sigh of relief, she reached into her saddlebag. “That was- hey!” She gaped at the small brown paper bag she'd pulled out. “I thought I grabbed her coin pouch!”

“No,” came a voice from the shadows, “That's my lunch.” A purple-furred hoof reached out and took it from the stunned filly. “Though if your hungry and ask nicely, I suppose I'd be willing to share.”

“Share?” The filly looked so nonplussed that Twilight had a hard time not laughing. “N- no! I don't need your filthy scraps. I've never gone hungry a day in my life!”

Twilight let her eyes wander over the filly's lanky frame. “Somehow I doubt that,” she murmured sadly.

“Ha!” the filly snorted. “This alley is my turf. Its a dead end for losers, whorses, thugs, and scumbags; I can take care of myself. Unless you want to find out first-hoof what Fast-Flash Dinky can do, I suggest you drop your Bits and trot!”

“Dinky, huh.” Twilight looked her over again, but nothing in her estimates had changed. “The street-punk act doesn't suit you.”

“Act? The hay do mean act?

“Well, for starters, if this alley is your- um... turf-” she used air quotes- “Then you can't have much competition. It's got to be the cleanest one I've seen since I got into Canterlot!”

“Shows what you know!” The filly crouched down. “I'd like to hear you talk cute like that after I kick your plot!” Dinky leaped forward.

The next moment, she was sitting on the ground with a bruised cheek, and the mare was putting her saddlebags back onto her flanks. “Anything else? I'm late as-is.”

Dinky slowly put her hoof to her cheek. She sighed. “Okay, I give. You win. Happy?”

“Not really.” Twilight looked up at the school, looming over them. “I'm not sure I even know what that means anymore.”

Dinky suddenly felt the urge to give her a hug, which she squashed because hugging a stranger instead of mugging them was something she'd never live down. But she did reach out towards the mare. “Are you alri-”

THUD!

For the second time in under a minute, Dinky found herself sitting on the ground with a new bruise and no idea how it got there. This time, though, there was a weight holding her down. A large, feathery weight. “What do you think you're doing?” the pegasus cried. “I thought I told you to go to school! Quit shaking ponies down and get your flank up there!”

“Um-” Twilight couldn't help staring. It had to be one of the strangest sights she'd come across in a while- a pegasus mare her own age, with a pattern of bubbles across her flank, wrestling a unicorn filly to the dirt. She looked closer and saw that the pegasus' eyes pointed in different directions. She had a lazy eye.

“Do you have a death wish or somethin'?” the pegasus yelled.

“Ow, ow!” Dinky yelled back. “Get off me, sis, I'm going! I'm going!”

The pegasus dutifully let up. In an instant, Dinky slithered from her grip and ran off. “I'm never going back there! That place is crazy!”

“We're all crazy!” The pegasus yelled after her. “Wait...” She shook her head. “Oh, now I'm klutzing words too. Hrmph.” She picked up the bag she'd hit Dinky with and slung it on her back. She smoothed the creases of her school uniform before finally turning and acknowledging the other mare. That eye was fascinating. It was always about fifteen degrees off-focus. “Sorry about that. Did my sister-”

She was cut off by the loudest alarm Twilight had ever heard. A trillion nails falling through a metal chute into her ear, echoing through the city. The pegasus jumped ten feet into the air without even using her wings. “Oh no!” she wailed. “I'm going to be late!”

“Why don't you just fly straight to the school?”

The pegasus gave her a pitying look. It was even cuter with her mismatched eyes. “You must be new. They put a net up so the pegasi don't have an unfair advantage getting to school.”

“Really?” Twilight peered skyward. After a moment, she spotted a slight shine above the roofs. The netting appeared to be super-fine; it was likely coated with some sort of cutting layer that gave it reflective properties, which was why she could see it. “That seems cruel.”

“Sure does, doesn't it?” The pegasus smiled humorlessly. “I'll see you soon!” She took off, flying low, zipping between buildings. In seconds she was out of sight.

“Huh.” Twilight turned her gaze from the net to the school. Above the mountain, grim clouds began to gather. “Interesting...”


As Twilight trotted the rest of the distance to Canterlot High, she reflected on the path that had led her there. The figurative one, not the literal one beneath her hooves.

One month ago- to the day, in fact- She and her friends had arrived in the Crystal Empire. Welcomed by her teacher, brother, and sister-in-law, they were all ready for a relaxing weekend. They'd retired to bed early so they could get a jump on the fun the next day.

That night, the unthinkable had happened. The culprit behind the incident vanished into a magic mirror- a portal to another dimension. Twilight knew she'd have to follow, but she thought she'd at least have the help of her friends. Instead, her teacher insisted they remain behind to defend Equestria. And so Twilight found herself alone in this world.

She quickly found that casting spells and flying was much harder for her. Like wearing one of Rarity's special magic-nullifiers (Why did she have those, anyway? And why would she store them with a box of leather- oh. Twilight fervently wished she could erase that thought.) with weights strapped to her hooves.

Still, one month of searching had taught Twilight a few things. Mostly about how terrible this world was- how ponies seemed to have lost their ability to use magic. She could still do some spells, with enough effort. But she also heard rumors. About a school, atop the mountain, where a select few were taught about the ancient powers.

Twilight had crossed this Equestria from North to South, East to West. Every place she went, all the signs pointed her to one place. And so she had come here. To Canterlot High.

She looked up at the school now from a very different perspective. As big as it seemed from the plains or the road... It was far larger when standing in its soaring gate, the walls stretching into the distance on either side, the towers clawing towards the roiling sky above. All the gold and ivory couldn't change how it felt to be there. Twilight searched for the right word to describe it.

Ah yes.

She was terrified.


The teacher wrote her name on the chalkboard, dutifully ignoring the class. Most of the students were still covered in bruises from when the room last exploded. "We have a new student in class K today," she said once she put the chalk down. "So please welcome Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight had carefully folded her cloak so that it better resembled actual clothing; there were certain attributes she wished to keep hidden. She did her best to look small, awkward, and uninteresting. All the while, Twilight made her estimate of the class.

She spotted a familiar set of eyes at the same time their owner spotted her. “Twilight? Hey! Sit over here, will ya?” The pegasus jabbed her hoof at the empty seat next to her.

“Hmmm.”

The teacher noticed her hesitation. “Problem, Miss Sparkle?”

“Has she always been... you know?” Miss Swahli clearly didn't know, so Twilight did her best to discreetly point at her eye.

“Oh, yes. As long as I've known her.”

“Which is how long?”

“What's today?” The teacher smiled at Twilight's confusion. “A joke. Please, take your seat. I doubt she'll bite.”

Twilight obediently slid into place behind the desk; she laid out her books and quills as if she were back in magic kindergarten. Some habits never died.

“Hey,” the pegasus nudged her. “It's nice that we're in the same class, right?” When Twilight didn't respond, she continued: “My name's Ditzy-Do Whooves. But everypony calls me Derpy.”

“I can't imagine why.”

The sarcasm rolled right past her. “Well, I'm kind of a klutz. This one time, I was supposed to put away the math textbooks. I tried to put them all away- at the same time. There's probably still some dents in the walls from...”

Twilight tuned out her voice for a moment. The students of this classroom seemed perfectly ordinary. Certainly not the powerful wizards and such that supposedly inhabited the school. “Hey, Derpy...”

“Yes Twilight?”

She struggled for a moment to think how to phrase her question. Finally, she gave up. “How dangerous is this place?” she asked bluntly.

Derpy blinked, then looked around furtively. “Very.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Yesterday, the Disciplinary Committee caught a student trying to steal something. I checked up on him this morning- he's in a full body cast even after a night of magical healing.”

“Does- does that sort of thing happen often?”

“Often enough.” Derpy must've seen the fear in her eyes, because she smiled reassuringly. “Don't worry Twilight, just follow the rules and you'll be fine. Okay?”

Twilight nodded, then tried to focus on the lesson. Unfortunately, she had no plans to follow the rules. In fact, she planned on pretty much breaking them all.


The class was fairly interesting. The differences between the history of this Equestria and her own held Twilight rapt. Though, several times Derpy had tried engaging her in conversation; Twilight had told her to wait until after class. After the third or fourth time, she seemed to get it.

“It's after class!” Derpy said cheerfully when the bell rang. “Ready to talk now?”

“Sure.”

And so they made their way through the halls together. Derpy asked question after question about Twilight's life. Some of them incredibly personal. Mostly, Twilight tried to avoid giving straight answers. If everything went well, she'd be leaving soon anyways. There'd be no point in making friends here.

Finally, as they entered the school's inner courtyard, Twilight felt it was time to ask questions of her own. She looked up past statue in the central green, to the towers arching overhead. Beyond, the darkening clouds finally cut off the last of the blue sky. “I got the sense, talking to Miss Harshwhinny in administration, that the teachers aren't actually in charge here.”

“No, not really.” Derpy was incredibly nonchalant about it. “Some try to keep things more orderly. But most, like Miss Swahli, they just ignore everything. They're not in charge, so they don't care about us. Hey,” she said suddenly, “What's in your second bag?”

“What?” The question came out of nowhere to Twilight.

“Your second saddlebag.” Derpy pointed to it. “Most of us only have the one, for our school books. But you have two. Do you... mmm, do you play an instrument?”

“Er- no. But I really like reading,” Twilight confessed. A truth, but not the truth. “So if the teachers aren't in charge- who is?”

Derpy opened her mouth to answer. But then her lopsided gaze slid past Twilight, to the door across the courtyard, and she promptly stiffened. “They are.”

“Huh?” Twilight started to turn, but Derpy grabbed hold of her and forced her down, until her muzzle was almost touching the ground.

“Bow!” the pegasus hissed, “Bow! Rule number one: show respect to the Student Council!”

Out the corner of her eye, Twilight observed the other students willingly bowing. Since most were facing the doors, Twilight wiggled around so that looking would be easier. But she kept her head down. In no small part because Derpy had a death-grip on her neck.

Four ponies slowly walked down the steps. A halo of light obscured them for the most part; all but the enormous stallion in front. She recognized him just fine, though the metal suit he wore covered him from neck to hooves. “BBBFF?” she whispered, eyes wide.

“Hmm?” Derpy glanced sideways, then up. “Oh. That's Shining Armor. You don't want to mess with him- he's the one who put that colt in the hospital.”

“What!” Twilight yelped, earning her more than a few angry glares. She clapped her hooves over her muzzle, then whispered to Derpy: “So he's the one in charge of the school?” That would complicate things. Twilight didn't know if she had it in her to confront her brother- or at least a pony who looked like him.

“Not really- he's just a three-stone.” Twilight didn't know what that meant, and she was sure her expression said that. Derpy explained, “That outfit he's wearing? It's called a mage armor, and they go from one-stone up to three. A lot of us don't get one; we're no-stones. But for the ponies who have them- well, they make a pony way stronger. The Student Council Princess chooses who gets mage armor based on our performance in school!”

Twilight discreetly rubbed her forehead with one hoof. “So, what you're saying is, this Student Council Princess is the pony in charge.”

“Oh, uh... yes.” Derpy blushed. “I probably should've just said that.”

“Yes, you should have.”

The light coming through the door suddenly brightened; a tint of red crept over them. “Speak of the devil,” Derpy muttered.

Twilight shielded her eyes and looked into the center of the light. It was hard to see. She was reminded of a time when she was a filly and, against her teacher's warnings, looked directly at the sun with her telescope. She'd wanted to see sunspots. She'd ended up at the optometrist's instead.

This time, Twilight did not sear her eyes out. But she felt the same pain in her head, once she clearly saw the Princess. “Cadence,” she whimpered. “Oh, no...” Confronting her brother would've been hard enough- but at least they'd fought as siblings. The Princess of Love, her former foal-sitter, on the other hoof. They had never fought.

Well, there was the wedding, Twilight reminded herself. She swallowed. Yes. The wedding. But that hadn't actually been Cadence. On some level, she felt she knew that all along, which was why she had been able to confront Chrysalis. She isn't Cadence, Twilight decided. She can't be Cadence.

Steeling her nerves- and suppressing the urge to sing while wiggling her butt in the air- Twilight broke her first rule. She hopped out of line, directly in front of the princess. No going back now. This was no accident, could never be passed off as one. All of the others, Derpy included, gasped.

“Pardon,” Twilight said as politely as she could, “But there are some questions I'd like to ask you.”

The princess raised her chin and glared down her muzzle at Twilight. From the crowd, somepony shouted, “How dare you! Get her!” About half a dozen one-stones jumped at Twilight. She sighed and gripped the strap of her saddlebags in her teeth. With a twist of her neck, she smacked them all aside.

The bag clasp undid itself in the swing. On instinct, Twilight reached out with one hoof; cold metal slipped into her grasp, even as the bags slung themselves onto her back. The ponies gasped again as Twilight raised her hoof, and pointed her sword up the stairs at the princess.

She understood their surprise and awe. The blade was a shaft of gold almost as long as her body, honed sharp enough to carve rocks. But it wasn't solid; instead, it was an intricate lattice, filigree of the most beautiful design, stretching down to the hilt. The grip itself wrapped around her hoof so that it held onto her as much as she did it. Set into the hilt was a jeweled design: four radiating points of amethyst crystal.

“Oh, wow, Twilight!” Derpy exclaimed. “That's a big sword.”

“Why yes,” Twilight said, deadpan as possible. “It is, thank you for noticing.”

“How'd you even fit that into your bags?”

“They're enchanted!” Twilight snapped. She fought the urge to break her face with her hoof. “This sword is one half of an even more powerful weapon; somepony stole the other half from me, and I've been searching for it ever since.” Twilight blinked- for a moment, she thought she saw something in the princess' eyes. Something like... recognition. “So, what do you know about that, princess?”

“What makes you think I know anything about your sword?”

Twilight shuddered at that voice. It was so familiar, but so much colder than she remembered. “Just that everypony I've talked to says this school is where all the strongest ponies are. And it was a strong pony who stole my weapon.”

“Is that all? You come into my school, disrespect me, threaten me- accuse me of being a thief- and all you have are unsubstantiated rumors?”

“That's not all I have,” Twilight admitted. “There's also what I saw in your eyes. When I pulled out this sword- it's like you've seen it before.” As much as she tried to hide it, the princess' eyes widened. Only an alicorn could have seen it. “You have seen it, haven't you?” Twilight tensed, then jumped forward. “Give me back my Element!”

The princess' eyes widened for everypony to see this time- the attack was unexpected and foolish. Twilight charged forward with no plan, no idea what she was going to do next. She figured her friends would be quite proud of that.

Of course she regretted it.

YEAH!” The bellow shook the ground, even as a forty-pound barbell embedded itself in Twilight's flank. The weight hurled her to the side into a group of one-stones, who went flying rather impressively. A large white pegasus dropped from the sky, landing between Twilight and the princess; the barbell snapped back into his tiny hoof on a chain. He wasn't quite as large as Shining Armor, but his muscles bulged with veins. They seemed to be restrained beneath a tangle of leather straps and chains, which had two gemstones embedded on the chest, and a painted cutie mark on the haunch. The outfit reminded Twilight of one of the ones she'd seen in Rarity's closet, which she now realized were for- Erase! Twilight thought fervently. Strangely though, the pegasus' wings were tiny. They looked hardly big enough to lift a foal.

“Are you all right Princess Cadenza?” he asked, his voice rather gravelly.

“Thank you, Bulk Biceps,” she acknowledged. Before she could say more, however, Twilight threw off all of the ponies who had landed on her; she got to her hooves still holding the sword.

“Should've seen that one coming,” she muttered. “Pinkie sense would come in really handy about now-” She looked up at the ponies on the steps. “But you're still going to tell me what you know!”

“As president of the Body-Building Club, I request permission to shut her up!” Bulk growled. He flexed the muscles he was named for.

Cadenza managed to raise her chin higher without snapping her neck. Twilight was impressed. “Permission is granted.”

“I don't have time for this!” Twilight rolled her eyes. She galloped forward on three legs, intent on charging through Bulk if necessary. To her surprise, the tip of her sword hit his chains and skittered sideways. The ponies bounced apart with the ringing of metal on metal. “What the- ohmigosh, what's that made of?”

“It's my mage armor, stupid!” Bulk pointed to the jewels on his pectorals. “A two-stone armor, which means its totally personalized. All these chains and weights, I'm working out twenty five-eight! Yeah!”

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.” Twilight fought to steady her breathing and slow down. It didn't seem to be working. “But how'd it block my sword? This thing can cut through anything!”

“Not a mage armor! Its magic; you wouldn't understand.”

“Oh, I understand.” Twilight's excitement grew. “It's exactly why I'm here. And if you're so sure of yourself, I don't suppose I need to hold back.”

Bulk looked outraged at the very idea. “Let's see what you got!” he roared. He actually seemed about to beat his chest. Instead, he dropped a pair of forty-pound weights on chains, one on either side, and began to swing his forelegs. The barbells scraped against the dirt on every swing, creating a distinct rhythm. Twilight found herself entranced by the semi-musical sound, and didn't notice the obvious tells.

Bulk lashed out with one leg, the chain growing across the yard, and the weight slammed her into the ground. “YEAH!” He whipped the other chain into the dirt, sending her flying into the air. Twilight instinctively wanted to spread her wings, but she did hold back; she didn't want them to see who she was just yet. Instead, she raised her sword to try and block the next strike.

But Bulk was smarter than he looked. He used a chain to grab her out of the air, then twisted and pulled her to the ground. Twilight hit like a meteor. Just as she was getting up, she heard Bulk yell: “This one's got your name written all over it!” Twilight twisted in time to see a barbell swing up and slam her face. Blood flew from her muzzle and teeth rattled loose, even as she flipped over and crashed head first into the dirt. A slight moan escaped her.

“Huh,” Bulk said, and he seemed genuinely puzzled, “I thought she'd be tougher.”

Twilight fought against the darkness in the corners of her eyes. Already, one of them felt swollen. Something in her barrel scraped when she shuddered. She likely had some broken ribs.

The princess frowned at her challenger. “I, too, hoped she'd prove more entertaining,” Cadenza shook her head in disgust. “But clearly, she has no idea what she's doing.” She turned away towards the school. “A mere foal.” The sky above opened with a crack of thunder.

As the first drops fell, Twilight stubbornly forced herself up. “You... know... something!” she ground out. “I need to know.” Twilight swung her blade forward. “I could make you tell me.”

Bulk Biceps seemed to have hit a tipping point. “Shut your muzzle!” he snapped. Balancing on his over-large forelegs, the pegasus kicked his hind hooves forward into her jaw. One of her loose teeth shot into the rain. Twilight swayed for a moment, then collapsed. Her cloak soaked itself in the puddles. “No pony speaks to our princess like that.”

A slight smirk crossed Cadenza's lips as she started to walk back into the building. “Confiscate her blade,” she called over her shoulder, almost as an afterthought.

“Yes Ma'am!” Bulk affirmed. He moved to take it.

But Twilight drew on reserves of energy she hadn't realized she possessed. She propped herself into a technically upright position with her sword. “It's not yours to take! Not yours-” Lightning flickered, and Twilight swung the blade tiredly.

Bulk laughed as he dodged backwards. “YEAH! I saw that one coming; can't fool- WHOA!” Bulk's hind legs slipped out from under him. Without a foreleg to balance him out, he fell onto his back in the mud.

“Oh thank goddess,” Twilight muttered. With Bulk and the others distracted, she turned and poured all her energy into running. With her injuries it was more like fast limping; but she made it to the exit anyway. Just beyond the wall, she crashed against a delivery-pony. The accordion on his mustard colored flank jiggled, even as he fought to control the tower of packages.

“Hey there! I'm looking for a Hughbert Jass. Is there a Hugh Jass inside?”

Twilight shoved him out of her way. “You were pranked, Polka-brain.”

She heard him cry out as she trotted away: “Cheese and crackers, not again!”

Further back still, Derpy wailed for her new friend. “Twi-i-i-i-light! You can't go home yet, the school day isn't over!”

Bulk Biceps, cringing, pulled himself out of the mud. He sensed a lot of eyes on him, and none of them were happy. “I, uh- I messed that one up,” he grimaced.


One pair of eyes were not focused on the pegasus. In fact, their owner could not have cared less about him. She instead watched Twilight disappear into the throngs of the city. Most ponies wouldn't know where she was going. Most ponies wouldn't consider going after her.

She was not one of them.


“You-” SMACK! “Idiot!” CRASH!

The guards of the north tower- the tallest of Canterlot High, Princess Cadenza's personal platform- were nervous. They were never allowed inside the Student Council chambers. Few outside the princess and her lieutenants were. Tonight, one extra had been admitted.

If the sounds were any indication, they had nothing to be jealous about.

Inside the chamber, Bulk Biceps flinched as the chair finally broke against his armor. It barely stung, but he was still in agony from his failures. Which Shining Armor had no problem reminding him of.

“You let her mock Princess Cadenza!” he snarled. “You let her escape, and you failed to confiscate her blade as ordered!” The head of the Disciplinary Committee turned to glower at a different pony at last. “A mistake made by a member of a club you run is your mistake, Rainbow Dash.”

The technicolor mare flopped down on the sofa, tossing the last chair leg at Biceps. “Yeah, I know. You think I've been punishing him cause it's fun? Cause it so isn't.” She thought for a moment. “Oh, and by the way- the Disciplinary Committee should've stepped in when she insulted the princess. That was your mistake, Sir Perfect.”

A pair of robins swooped in through an open window. They circled the room; actual furniture took up most of the space, but on one side was a large pile of rocks. A dais in the back held the throne, which Shining Armor stood in front of. Behind the platform was a door to inner chambers.

The robins landed next to a butter-furred pegasus, who was already surrounded by more than a dozen other birds and small animals. The larger of the two tweeted into her ear, and she nodded. She waved the animals away, and they scattered. “Those last two were from the Vanhoover Academy- she was there, too. None of the schools reported anything because she never got violent. I guess something triggered her here.” The pegasus shrank into her seat once she finished talking, her lilac mane falling over one eye.

Cadenza sipped from a tea cup her servant dragon had brought her. “Unbelievable,” she rolled her eyes. “Inform the other schools to keep watch for her.”

“Oh, yes, your highness.”

“Ha!” A pink earth pony popped out of the rock pile. Her mane, only marginally darker than her fur, hung limp. “I don't know who screwed up more- I'm just glad I didn't.” She looked around the room, and suddenly her mane poofed out into bright curls. “Uh, shouldn't there be a part where we send our guest out?”

Rainbow snapped her head towards the front door. “You're dismissed, Bulk Biceps.”

“Thank you!” he cried in relief, then scurried out.

“Nice job, Dashie. And you, too, Mister Author.” The pink pony's mane flattened out again. She thought for a moment. “So what about her blade had you all worried, Mimi? It's just a fancy sword.”

The princess stiffened. Slowly, she placed her teacup back on its saucer. “It would seem... That is, just perhaps-”

“Just spit it out!” Rainbow complained, then thought better of it and clamped her hooves over her mouth. “Uh, sorry, princess.”

“It is fine, Rainbow Dash.” Cadenza paused, and took a deep breath. “That sword... it could, potentially... be a weapon which could conceivably... combat a mage armor.”

All four of her lieutenants stared for a moment, uncertain they'd heard her correctly. Then Rainbow burst out laughing. “I- I'm s-s-sorry!” She clutched at her stomach. “But a w-weapon that can- that can beat a mage armor?” Rainbow doubled over once more. “I'll b-believe it... w-when I see it!”

“While I find her response quite immature,” Shining Armor stated, “I agree with Commander Dash's sentiment. Even if such a weapon existed- how could this new student have gotten hold of it?”

Cadenza resumed sipping her tea, if only to calm her nerves. “What was her name again?” she asked between sips.

“Twilight Sparkle,” the yellow pegasus informed them promptly.

Cadenza stopped with the cup just in front of her parted lips. “Twilight, you say?” Something akin to a smile grew across her muzzle. “How extraordinary...”


The rain continued. Twilight shuddered under her sopping wet cloak, but did not fear illness. Among the many shelves of books that her teacher had given her upon reaching her new station in life, one had recounted the changes in biology. She no longer had to fear any disease known to ponydom.

Of course, being an alicorn did not preclude one from being beaten to death. Twilight's ribs were definitely cracked, possibly broken. Her jaw and eye were both swollen. Much of her body was bruised. She had underestimated the strength of the magical armor. Bulk Biceps in her world would not have been so much as an annoyance. Here, he was a genuine threat.

Not much she could do about it now. Twilight stumbled the last few steps into the castle, then collapsed on the ruined floor. It was wet inside, too; the shattered roof did little to keep the rain out. She came back here because it was quiet and isolated. The perfect place to rest and heal. And to think.

“I'm sorry, Princess,” Twilight muttered. It wasn't often that she failed her teacher so miserably. Anguish began to build up.

She had failed to capture the intruder in the Crystal Empire. She had failed to protect her property. And now, after a month of searching, she had failed to even hold her own in battle against one of Canterlot High's students. What's the point? Twilight wondered dully. I never even saw the pony's face...

She didn't know how long she lay there like that. Long enough for the rain to begin to ease off. Twilight forced herself to her hooves one at a time; her right side was still hurting, she used her sword to prop herself upright. “Ouch,” she hissed. Then, throwing caution to the wind, she let loose with an unearthly howl: “WHAT MORE CAN I GIVE!”

The wind failed to answer.

Twilight snorted. Her cloak was still soaked, and the cold was beginning to set in. “Guess I better get to somewhere more sheltered. Who knows? Maybe I'll just drop in and find somepony who can help me fight Cadence!” Pain made her sarcastic. Twilight took one step forward- “Waaaah!”

The floor dropped away, and Twilight fell into a black chasm that seemed to have no end. The trapdoor hinged shut above her, and she could have sworn she heard a familiar, musical voice. “Twilight Sparkle; we may yet win this war. You should be more careful what you wish for!”

And then all light and sound were cut off as the door slammed closed.


Twilight knew she had little time. In spite of its seeming depth, the hole could not go on forever. Even the stairs of King Sombra's castle eventually ended. When the end came here, it would be sudden and very fatal if she did nothing.

Twilight twisted, trying to keep her injured side facing up. Unfortunately, the first impact she felt rendered that moot as her body slammed against a wooden beam. Time had reduced it to a dry, crumbling mess, but it was still solid enough to hurt before it shattered. It was a miracle Twilight's spine didn't snap too. Instinctively, she tried to hold on to the wood. But she was already falling again.

Her flailing hooves caused her sword to jam into one wall. Twilight felt the blade dig in, but its own sharpness worked against it; the edge carved a groove through the rock but did little to slow her down. Twilight hit another chunk of wood, a platform this time; her head slammed against it, and sparks of magic jarred from her horn. They fell with her like a shower of stars.

In her daze, Twilight's instincts called on her biology. Her wings flared outward, the cloak falling away. She gained a momentary lift, turning the fall into a sideways tumble; Twilight crashed headlong into a pile of what felt like solid rock. It was still a softer landing than she'd been expecting.

“Note to self,” she murmured. “Buy helmet.”

Twilight staggered upright, feeling as though she'd been stomped on by a Yakyakistan dancing troupe. The magical sparks she'd let loose in the tunnel were still drifting slowly towards the ground. But they provided almost no light.

With a theatrical sigh, Twilight concentrated hard. Magic built up on her horn, slowly, until she had forced a glowing orb to pop loose. It did not hover or float or do much helpful. But it was there and it was light. Twilight pushed her sword into her saddlebag and picked up the orb.

By its light, she could make out various shades of gray that outlined a room. A very large room. “I suppose the sisters needed some place to hide form the world.” Twilight could see that the space was mostly filled with piles of- not rock, like she'd originally assumed. It was all metal. Ingots, nuggets, ores; gold and silver and far stranger alloys like Orichalcum and Black Iron. Mountains of the stuff, heaped on the floor and discarded long ago.

“Why would they leave this here?” Twilight wondered. She shuffled closer to the nearest wall, not noticing the sparks falling behind her. Not noticing as the pile they settled on began to move.

Twilight squeezed between two anvils and found herself staring at a decorated wall. It was covered in writing, most of it in an ancient version of the Equestrian language. With time, Twilight could have translated the whole thing. What she could make out was ominous and strange. References to an all-consuming shadow and dark magic. Not the sort of thing one would expect to find in a princess' basement. Of course, she had a full laboratory beneath her home. Who was she to judge?

Twilight was drawn to one section in particular. It showed a diagram of cutie marks and equations. From the looks of things, it was a method to transfer somepony's magic to an external source. Though, based on what Twilight could see of it, the process would never work. Anyone who used it was likely to end up dead.

“Enough of that,” she muttered. Twilight turned away from the wall and wound her way back towards the shaft in the ceiling. “How am I going to get out of here?”

Wait.

Twilight jerked when she heard the voice. It was familiar- but at the same time, she wasn't sure she'd actually heard it. Twilight thrust her orb out as if that would somehow make the speaker appear. “Who's there?” Slowly, she turned in a circle.

“Aah!” she screamed again, dropping the orb. It rolled forward and stopped about a foot away. Twilight gasped for air, studying the figure in the light. When it didn't move, she waved one hoof in front of it. Nothing. “It's just a statue!” she breathed a sigh of relief.

A really weird statue at that. It reminded her of something from one of those mangles or whatever that her brother had showed her. A chi- chipper? No- a chibi. Yeah, it looked like a chibi pony. All head and mane and four little legs beneath it. Twilight trotted up to the oddity and studied it. She didn't recall seeing it when she had first landed. But then, she couldn't be a hundred percent sure this was the same spot she came down in.

Twilight noticed that, unlike everything else down here, the statue was crafted from gemstones. Mostly diamonds, but some lesser gems too. It actually bore a startling resemblance to someone Twilight knew quite well. “Celestia?” Twilight frowned. “Why would somepony make a chibi statue of Celestia? Better question- why would she keep it?” The statue only had one eye, the other was covered by Celestia's usual flowing mane. As Twilight moved closer, the eye seemed to track her. It was decidedly creepy.

“I wish Spike were here to take notes,” she wished for the hundredth time since coming through the portal. Twilight hesitantly brought up one hoof, and tapped the statue on its nose. She jumped back, wings out, more than a little nervous. Thankfully, she didn't appear to have activated any death traps. Twilight giggled. “Stranger and stranger.” She walked back over and touched one hoof to the cool mineral.

Only it wasn't cool. Twilight frowned. Perhaps she'd activated a trap after all- one that needed time build energy. She tried to pull her hoof away, but found that her leg was stuck to the crystal. “Hey!” she shouted. Twilight struggled to free herself, in the process getting her other hoof stuck as well. She looked up and saw, impossibly, the amethyst eye staring back. The statue seemed to loom above her.

MORE.

Twilight heard the voice, louder this time. It seemed to penetrate her skull. And it was coming from the statue.

The gems grew warmer, and Twilight's hooves sank into them. “No!” she cried out, pulling harder, so hard it felt like her shoulders would break. She tried to summon her magic, but only received a splitting headache for the trouble. Liquid crystal flowed up her forelegs unabated. “No!”

STOP STRUGGLING!

Twilight froze momentarily as the voice flowed through her. Not because of any power it held; simply because there was emotion behind the words that staggered her. After a second, she went back to yanking on her own legs. But it was too late; the crystal was now starting to cover her torso. To her horror, Twilight noticed that the statue was coming apart. Faster and faster, it flowed forwards over her, until there was nothing holding her up.

Twilight fell onto her side and immediately started to thrash her whole body. It was easy at first, but grew progressively harder until it was like she was fighting, well, a rock. Soon, the substance of the statue covered her from horn to tail. She couldn't move. She couldn't breathe.

There, Twilight heard inside her head. Much better.

Quite suddenly, a white hot surge jolted Twilight. Her fur felt like it was being melted from her skin. She tried to scream- and was startled when, after a moment, her jaws opened wide. Sucking air, Twilight screamed her agony, even as she fought her way to her hooves. She got the sense that, were she not an alicorn, her flesh would have boiled away by now. She would have been consumed by the freakish device now covering her body.

Instead, Twilight stumbled across the floor, shrieking in pain from her searing dermis, and from the pressure now building in her head. At last, she could stand it no longer. Twilight's eyes flashed white; her back arched, and in one final scream, a bolt of pure power ripped from her horn, bathing the chamber in violet stars...


The sun grew closer to the horizon, bathing Canterlot High in orange light. Not enough to truly be called sunset, but getting there. Usually the students would have gone home by now, but a special assembly in the courtyard was keeping them all late. Disciplinary Committee members guarded the exit. Bulk Biceps and Rainbow Dash stood side by side on a makeshift stage. Behind them, Derpy was tied upside down to a workout bench.

Nervously, Bulk trotted up to a megaphone the AV club had installed. “Uh, testing?” he said into the near end. His voice echoed out across the city, so he continued. “YEAH! Twilight Sparkle- we got your friend up here. In one hour, we're gonna purge her for your crimes. 'Course, if you show up we won't have to. So quit hiding, and get you plot up here, so we can finish this, YEAH!” Bulk backed away from the device, breathing heavily. He wasn't used to talking so much.

Rainbow frowned at him. “I dunno,” she muttered. “Using a hostage seems kind of lame. It's sooo overdone.”

Bulk flinched. “Derpy's the only pony we know of who talked to Sparkle. We've got no other leads. If I want to keep my armor, I have to take care of her. What would you do?”

“I dunno! Something- not... lame,” Rainbow finished lamely. She shook her head. “Whatever. Good luck with this plan; you're going to need it.” With that, Rainbow flew up to the council tower, where Cadenza and the others waited.

Miss Swahli stood with several other teachers and staff, watching the barbaric event unfold. In a bored tone, the black-furred mare asked, “Is there nothing we can do?”

Miss Harshwhinny lowered her head. “Nothing. Cadenza's mother owns the school, the grounds, the clothes on our backs. For that, the princess rules us all.”

As the hour mark grew closer, the students began to fidget and complain. They wanted to go home. It seemed obvious the new filly wasn't going to show up. Even Derpy had gotten weary enough that she was taking a nap.

“Wake up!” Bulk slammed a hoof into the bench, jolting her out of it.

Derpy yawned. “'Ooh! I think my wings are getting cramped.”

The larger pegasus rolled his eyes. “Right. Let's get this over with. Bring out the vat!”

The school doors slammed open, and the lunch-mares pushed out an enormous vat of boiling liquid. The students quickly stepped back. Bulk waited until the vat was right next to the stage, then held up a metal basket full of hay fries. Slowly, he lowered it into the vat. Instantly, the liquid went from clear to yellow and sizzled louder. The students murmured apprehensively as Bulk lifted the basket out of the vat, showing them the perfectly fried hay.

“He's going to fry her!” one pony shouted, and the cry was taken up by the rest of the audience. Soon, every pony there knew what was about to happen. Even Derpy.

“Get back everypony!” she shouted. “That oil will splash everywhere when they drop me in. You'll all be burned!” That didn't seem to deter them; the ponies shoved closer, trying to get a better look.

Rainbow nudged Shining Armor. “That filly is either really brave or really, really dumb.” He nodded in agreement.

One pony in the crowd was more eager to get to the front than most, though for far different reasons. Dinky squeezed herself between a pair of cheering earth ponies. “Move it, you mud brains!” she hissed. “Hang on Derpy, I'm coming for-”

A hoof was suddenly blocking Dinky's path, very much on purpose. She was about to give a mouthful to the pony holding her back when she realized: the leg the hoof was attached to was covered in diamond. Beneath the layer of jewels was soft purple fur. Dinky looked up, and Twilight shook her head firmly.

And then Twilight leaped over the audience with enough force for the back draft to knock them over; she ran across their heads so swiftly that most never realized she'd touched them. Cloak billowing behind her, she charged the stage, sword in hoof. Twilight surged forward and landed on Derpy's bench. Her sword shattered the restraints instantly, and Twilight plucked up her new friend. “Thank you, Twilight!” the pegasus gasped.

“Hold on,” Twilight warned. She jumped backwards as a group of one-stones tried to tackle them. The pair flipped to safety, but their attackers tumbled sideways into the frying oil. Their armor seemed to prevent it from seriously injuring them, but they all screamed in pain and ran off. Twilight didn't care. She landed center stage, Derpy riding on her back. Twilight set her down.

“I'm glad you came back!” Bulk Biceps grinned. He dropped his weights to the wooden floor, the chains rattling.

Twilight snorted. “I wasn't planning on hurting you. But you used my friend against me. That's not something I can forgive.” Her admonishment didn't seem to faze him, so she continued: “If you want to fight, well, okay. I'll fight you; but it's just me. No pony else should get hurt!”

“Fine by me,” Bulk shrugged. “I'll try to make it quick.”

A hush fell over the crowd as the two opponents faced off. “You can do it, Twilight!” Derpy called.

Bulk bellowed, and charged forward on all fours. The weights dragged, tearing two furrows into the wood. At the last second, the charge turned into a jump-and-spin move, and the chains whipped forwards. Twilight jumped between them without missing a beat. “Stay still!” Bulk complained. He drew the chains back and caught the weights in his hooves. Wielding them like boxing gloves, he dropped down and hit Twilight in the chest- over, and over, and over again. The blows sent Twilight skidding backwards, but she never made a sound. “YEAH! You like that?” Bulk pronked away from her and tossed a weight right at Twilight's face. Reacting quicker than should have been possible, she ducked- and the metal tore her cloak away.

The students gasped when the fabric was gone. Twilight grimaced at their reaction. This really hadn't been her choice.

She was covered in gemstones from head to hoof, a sort of armor that shimmered transparently. Diamond made up the majority of the outfit; emeralds, sapphires, and rose quartz flowed down her back and wings, which they could all see clearly for the first time. A large amethyst shone brightly on the left side of her chest, and corundum was laced through her greaves and helm.

“What are- You're an alicorn?” Bulk stammered.

“Not important!”

“Of course it is! Your not just some rebel student; you're a traitor to the whole country!”

“What?”

“The punishment for treason is death anyways,” Bulk mused to himself. “So I have to do it. It's my civic duty!”

“What are you muttering about?”

“Yeah,” Bulk decided, recovering now. “Yeah, I'm going to end you!”

Twilight was hopelessly confused at this point. “Are you even speaking standard Equestrian now?”

Bulk Biceps flexed his whole body, and the chains that covered him snapped like twine. “BEHOLD!” he roared. His muscled swelled with veins. “THE TRUE POWER OF MY TWO-STONE, BODY-BUILDING SPEC MAGE ARMOR! YEAH!” Studded leather straps just barely holding themselves together over top of muscle, Bulk was quite literally pulsing with power. The shredded chains coiled around his forelegs and hooves, fusing with the metal that was already there. In a flash of light, he was holding barbells that must have weighed over a hundred pounds, connected to him by chains that could have anchored a battleship. “I HAVE TO HOLD MYSELF BACK WHEN I COMPETE; OTHERWISE, OTHER PONIES JUST FEEL INADEQUATE! I AM THE PERFECTION OF STALLIONHOOD, YEAH!

Twilight scratched at her head with one hoof. Maybe she was unusual for a mare, but the throbbing veins and all that weren't getting her excited in that way. “You um- wow. I mean, impressive!”

“I KNOW!” Bulk's voice rumbled through the floorboards. He stepped forward, and the stage cracked a little beneath him. “NOW GET READY TO DIE!”

“I should probably be terrified, but I'm already over that,” Twilight muttered. “Let's do this!”

Bulk strained his body as hard as possible, and hurled the anvil of a weight towards Twilight, with the force of a rocket going into space! She didn't bother dodging it; not out of some nihilistic surrender though. Twilight looked Bulk Biceps directly in the eye as his weapon smashed against her chest.

Everypony cried out in empathetic pain, but Twilight stayed silent. Her hooves dug into the wood as the force of impact pushed her backwards. The weight sparked against her armor, but Twilight was completely unscathed. Murmurs began to spread as she slowed down. She ground to a halt just as her rear hooves felt the first bit of empty air between them. The barbell clattered to the floor.

“What the hay?”

Twilight couldn't help smirking. “Simple physics; I already know a little of what my armor can do. Based on Equestrian muscle density, your size, and the magical aura surrounding you, I knew you couldn't hit me hard enough to even leave a scratch! But maybe you want to try again?”

Bulk's eye twitched. “N-no, it... it can't be possible!” He jumped forwards until he was right in front of her, a mountain of flesh. He picked up a weight in each hoof and began hitting her again; but his blows just glanced off her armor. It looked ridiculous, especially since he was more than twice her size!

“Sorry about this,” Twilight shrugged. “But you're just an obstacle.”

The council members all gaped downward. The pink one was spasming almost out of control. “So not only is she an alicorn, she's got a mage armor too?”

Her companion, the yellow pegasus, closed her eyes and concentrated. “I don't think its a mage armor; at least, it doesn't feel like one...”

Cadenza herself said nothing. Her expression was impossible to read- one corner of her mouth twitched upwards, like she wanted to smile, but her eyes were steely.

“I knew you could do it Twilight!” Derpy clapped her hooves together excitedly. “You rock that crazy outfit!”

Dinky wormed her way closer just in time to hear her sister. “Enough with the puns!” she groaned.

Bulk Biceps didn't give up. He kept pounding on Twilight until he was panting with exhaustion, and sagging towards the ground. At that point, the alicorn put out one hoof and shove him backwards. The giant topped onto his haunches. “Done yet?”

“Never!” he growled.

“Oh, good. I'd hate to think I dragged this all the way here for nothing.” Twilight gripped her sword tighter, and concentrated. Light flowed from her horn down over her armor, until the entire crystal suit shown. Energized, Twilight jumped forward, dodging a tired swing from Bulk. “One hundred pounds!” she called out, putting that much force behind her hoof as she slammed the sword's hilt into Bulk's skull. Thick as it was, the blow rattled him so hard his eyes spun. “Two hundred pounds!” She turned the blade over and slammed it, dull side first, into his gut. The tip shredded the straps across his trunk. “And five hundred pounds!” Twilight slammed the hilt into the underside of Bulk's chin with both hooves. The force was so great that he flipped into the air; the tiny wings protruding from his back did little to slow him down. Bulk hit the stage with a spray of blood and teeth.

Twilight checked to make certain that she hadn't accidentally underestimated anything, then lit her horn again. A sheath of magic formed over her blade, and then soaked into it. The edge appeared sharper than ever. “To finish,” Twilight smiled brilliantly, “A one-thousand pound piercing blow!” She dove forward as Bulk struggled, sluggishly, to right his body. Twilight's augmented wings hurled her through the air, and her sword parted metal and leather like tissue in rain. The mage armor exploded into fragments of alloy and crystal.

Kesshi Soshitsu! Twilight heard in her ear, but there was no pony nearby.

High above, the commanders struggled to pick their jaws off the ground. “Impossible!” Shining Armor's eyes bulged from his head.

“Howza wowza, you were right!” the pink one shrieked.

The yellow pegasus frowned. “Her blade really is powerful.”

Cadenza slowly shook her head. The others didn't see it, but she could. From the remnants of Bulk Biceps' armor, a small wisp, like breath on a cold winter's day, drifted towards Twilight's armor. It was sucked inside, and the crystals glowed brighter. Her eyes widened with recognition. “No- it isn't her blade.”

Twilight was not done yet. She wedged her sword under Bulk, then hauled upwards with all her strength. Blood boiling, she took careful aim. “Time to... finish you... off!” she shouted, and launched the unconscious mound of flesh into the air.

Straight at Princess Cadenza.

A wall of one-stones immediately leaped upwards to protect the princess. Bulk's body slammed into them, and blood sprayed from his mangled jaw. In a flurry of movement, Cadenza's lieutenants shoved themselves in front of her, blocking the foul liquid with their own bodies. But it wasn't enough.

A single streak of red shot past Canterlot's elite and splattered on Cadenza's cheek. Everypony halted. Shining Armor let out a gasp.

Slowly, Cadenza reached up and wiped away the offending fluid.

“How dare you!” Rainbow burst out. She shot into a dive towards the stage.

“STAND DOWN!”

Rainbow looked up at the princess in shock. “B-but-”

“New filly,” Cadenza glared past her as if she hadn't spoken. “How did that armor find its way into your hooves?”

Twilight had been doubled over, recovering from the fight. But she forced herself upright. Spotting the megaphone out the corner of her eye, she bucked it with one hind leg, and caught it in her magic as it flipped forward. “It was left for me, by my old teacher,” she said quietly.

Cadenza raised and eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“Yep.” Twilight kept the megaphone levitating, and raised her sword in her hoof. She kept raising it, until it pointed directly at the princess. “The same one who gave me these wings and this weapon! Now, I want to know who has the other half. And you're going to tell me-” The two mares locked eyes, identical shades of lavender. “Mi Amore Cadenza!” Twilight snarled.