• Published 1st Dec 2011
  • 23,184 Views, 517 Comments

Doctor Whooves - The Series: Episode Two - Game of Stones - Loyal2Luna



Twilight, Rainbow and Applejack travel 3000 years into the past with their new friend the Doctor, to the ancient city-state of Roan. They meet the famous Leonard DiHoovsie, and find themselves embroiled in a deep mystery with dark implications.

  • ...
16
 517
 23,184

Ch. 7: The Last Gorgon

Chapter 7: The Last Gorgon




Marr's Lair, Denarius Quarry
Outskirts of Roan
26th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 8:29 p.m.

“Hissssssssss...”

The pony-snake monster dove directly down at Twilight as the unicorn’s eyes went wide with fear, and her ears went flat against her head as she let out an unintentional squeak.

In that instant, with something utterly daunting and terrifying coming down at her almost in slow motion, she realized that this must be how Fluttershy felt most of the time. A gasp now stuck in her throat, the young mare could do naught but cringe as her legs refused to move.

But even as she turned her head away, she felt a deeper instinct override the fear, her horn flaring to light as a charge of deep purple magic crackled from its base.

*Vrrrrmmmm-BAMPH*

*FLASH*
*CRASH-THUMP*

*Vrrrmmmm-BAMPH*

With her head spinning and stomach churning, wobbling around on legs that felt like jelly, it took Twilight a few seconds to realize what had just happened. At the last possible moment, she had reached down deep into her magical ability and utilized a unique spell that she had at least somewhat mastered some time ago, teleporting across the room and out of harm’s way completely on instinct. She was now a good twenty feet away from where she stood when Marr Bell dove in on her.

Apparently stunned by the flash of light, or simply having been distracted as the unicorn vanished before her eyes, the creature had not stopped short in its strike, her face slamming right into the floor where Twilight had been just a moment before. The pure kinetic shock from the heavy impact rippled up through her stone body as a visible wave going all the way down to her tail, before the snake-like form flopped limply to the ground.

Panting for breath as she tried to regain her bearings, Twilight scanned over the creature from a distance and took in what details she could before it recovered.

There was little doubt in Twilight’s mind that this was indeed the same beast that had attacked Leonard’s shop the night before: a thick, serpentine body at least thirty feet long that was now twisted, rolling over itself, and moving with an impossible articulation that she might've expected from a piece of string or a roll of taffy, but not from any living creature. The slate grey scales covering the lower body were irregular, rough, ugly knobs, chipped and broken away like the stony outcropping on a cliff-side. And towards the end of its body, visible in the faint phosphorescent light, was what looked like an engraving where the cutie mark on a pony might be: a symbolic heart broken into two pieces with a chisel placed between the break.

As she lifted up from the stone, her green eyes spinning slightly and her hood drawn back down, the creature shook its head violently, and Twilight was now able to make out the creature’s pony-like front again. The very top of the snake body blended seamlessly from stony scales to a grey fur coat right where a normal pony’s midsection would be, her shoulders, front legs, and face easily passable as just another pony even though her mane seemed a bit too coarse and rough.

The purple scholar was so entranced by the impossible creature that it took her a moment to recognize its angered hissing as it turned towards her, its green eyes impossibly large as their slit pupils narrowed to almost nothing.

Now recovered, the creature swept its tail around in a wide arc that Twilight followed, realizing she had not transported herself nearly far enough away to be safe. But in spite of the terrified voice in her head screaming for her to run, her legs simply would not move.

Bracing to be smacked aside, Twilight was shocked when the creature’s tail instead bent around her at high speed, forming a solid barrier that rose up from the ground to form a large, enclosing circle. The rest of the monster’s body followed around to lap over itself into a wall nearly as tall as she was before the pony-snake’s front was again set menacingly in front of her, eyes still narrowed threateningly as her thin pink tongue slipped out of her mouth with a hiss.

Leaning in again for what Twilight was certain was preparation another strike, hoping to keep the unicorn properly corralled this time, the beast’s hood began to open again.

And with her shock fading, Twilight Sparkle finally found her voice while the creature started to lunge forward. “GORGON!”

The movement stopped suddenly even as Twilight cringed. Slowly and cautiously, she then opened her eyes to look up at the pony’s face as it transformed from anger to shock, the entrancing emerald irises of her eyes suddenly growing slimmer as her slitted pupils widened and the flaps of skin that made up her hood lowered back to blend seamlessly into her fur.

Realizing the precariousness of her own situation and too uncertain of her surroundings to risk another attempt at the finicky teleportation spell, Twilight pressed the subject as she tried to get a handle on the situation. “I’m right, aren’t I? Gorgon… Child of the Ssstone.”

“You…” Marr Bell turned a bit, eying the unicorn suspiciously as Twilight heard a scraping of stone on stone. The coils of the gorgon’s body were sliding against one another and tightening to close around the pony. “…know my kind? And you sssspeak in Parsssle?”

She was talking, and Twilight realized, the TARDIS was doing its job translating. This was good. If Twilight could keep her talking, maybe she could convince Marr that she wasn’t a threat. Maybe, just maybe, she could get out of this without becoming just another one of the Lost.

Taking a breath and trying to remain calm, Twilight dredged up everything she could remember about Marr and her species. “Y-yesss, I read about them… wh-when I was little,” Twilight explained, still clearly distressed as the pony-serpent mare scrutinized her. “And Parsssle… The sssnake language. I… underssstand it now.”

“Oh, let me guessss. You learned of gorgons in a book of old, half-forgotten Pony Talesss?” Marr drooped bitterly, her tone less than impressed as the coils tightened further, giving Twilight less and less room to move around as she tried to keep from fidgeting on her hooves.

“Oh, no, no, no… Of courssse not.” Twilight could feel the sweat bead along her forehead and horn as she tried to interpret the half-pony’s intent, smiling weakly.

“You’re lying,” Marr stated blankly, her face turning downwards into a scowl.

Twilight’s heart turned to ice as she strained to remember what she had read all those years ago as a filly. “R-right… You can tell that… because you can feel every vibration on the ssstone… from my hoofssstepsss to m-my heartbeat, right?” Twilight stammered a little as the coils grew even more uncomfortably close. “Okay, okay! Yessss! It was a book of Pony Talesss: The Many Mythsss of Early Equissss.”

The encroaching coils slowed to a stop, giving Twilight barely enough room to stand without brushing those grey scales with her tail or front as the gorgon loomed over her.

“And what did this book sssay?” Marr asked, her tone dangerously clipped, but still curious.

Twilight bit her lip hesitantly as she instantly regretted bringing the subject up.

“Well, little pony?” Marr reared back a bit, her head easily two or three feet higher than Twilight’s and forcing the unicorn to crane her neck to look up at her. “I’m waiting…”

“It sssaid… that gorgons were the firssst craftsssponies. The ssstoneworkers of the world. Your kind created the caves, and mountains, and tunnels of all of Equisss.” Twilight did all she could to focus on the positives, remembering every scrap of information that she had long ago dismissed as a simple myth. “That you had been around before mortal ponies, or wolves, or even the dragonsss...”

“Yesss… true… All true.” Marr nodded, and Twilight was almost certain that she could hear a twinge of pride in her voice. “What elssse?”

“That… the gorgons ssseeded the gem fields and cultivated all of the different jewels of Equisss, from the grandessst fire-rubies to the mossst humble of topazes. That before them, preciousss stones were raw lumpsss of rock, lacking glimmer or shine. All of the beautiful gems that we ponies find today… they’re all part of the gorgons’ legacy.”

Marr nodded again, closing her eyes a bit as if savoring the acknowledgment of these deeds.

Although she certainly wouldn’t say it now, Twilight had always considered the Myth of the Gorgons to be one of many "creation" legends meant to explain the natural processes of the world. That the gem fields that dotted the whole of Equis owed their abundance to the crossing of magical leylines hidden deep within the ground, and that same magical aura would have resulted in phosphorescence in particular tunnels and caverns like this one.

The concept of a combined creature that had the head of a pony and the body of a giant stone snake had always been sheer fantasy to her; to be dismissed and cast aside like stories of ghosts and vampire bats and zombie ponies.

Much to Twilight’s surprise, Marr Bell smiled and hissed happily for a moment, looking down with a more friendly manner. “And what elssse? What elssse?” she asked excitedly, her tone eager.

As Twilight wracked her brain, she found herself far less eager. “Uhhh… Well…” The unicorn rubbed her right leg with her left hoof. “You know, thossse kinds of booksss really shouldn’t be consssidered ‘highly’ accurate…”

Marr’s expression fell flat at Twilight’s hesitance.

In the blink of an eye, she grunted as she felt herself wrapped from the midsection down, solidly held in the rough, stony coil of Marr’s tail. Her body firmly held, the gorgon seized her and brought the purple unicorn up almost snout to snout with an ease that spoke volumes of the sheer strength that lay in that stone body. She wasn’t squeezing or constricting; merely holding Twilight’s weight with a snug, effortless ease. But it was still quite uncomfortable as the young unicorn felt the odd ridges and knots of stone press into her legs, flank, and midsection.

“What… elssse?” Marr demanded, her tone indicating she planned to book no argument.

Twilight looked away suddenly, feeling trapped by more than just the gorgon’s coils. She knew that the entry about gorgons wouldn’t go over well, but upon learning that the incredibly sensitive "tremor-sense" that was attributed to them was a confirmed fact, she knew that trying to cover it up would likely enrage her hair-trigger moods just as quickly.

“Just ssso you know… it was obviousssly quite wrong,” Twilight started, trying to get a look around. Maybe she could use her teleport spell again and run for it, if she could just focus and get a line of sight to the exit. Unlike with Ponyville, she wasn’t familiar enough with this place to simply do a blind jump. There was always the danger of recreating what had happened with the TARDIS and that wall in Burr Glen, except this time it would be her own body ending up trapped in the rock.

What did it sssay!?” Marr jostled her a bit, enough to keep the unicorn from looking away.

Twilight gulped at the dangerous tone from the obviously dangerous creature, but managed to keep her wits about her. If she was certain of anything, she knew that Marr wasn’t going to like what she had to say next.

“It sssaid -- and I don’t agree with thisss in any way -- that gorgons created sssuch beautiful things because they were incredibly… um… ill-favored...?” Twilight squeaked out, trying to avoid using the "obvious" word for the classic gorgon description.

“Ill-favored... being the polite term for ‘ugly,’” Marr hissed, which caused Twilight to cringe even more, and she took the slight squeeze from the gorgon’s tail as a directive to continue.

“And that they c-could… turn p-ponies to ssstone… ssso that they could…”

“Ssso they could…?” Marr’s eyes narrowed, daring Twilight to finish the description.

Trapped and at the end of her rope, Twilight could feel her heart pounding in her chest as fear settled in. “...g-gobble them up… like... rock c-candy.”

Much to Twilight’s surprise, rather than lash out in rage or laugh malevolently as she had expected, the gorgon named Marr Bell deflated with a disappointed huff, shaking her head. “Of courssse.” She shrugged bitterly. “What elssse would a monssster do?”

For a moment, Twilight’s fear abated, allowing her to look straight up to the pony’s face without considering what was attached to the mare’s backside.

She looked… hurt. Pained by the description.

“I… I didn’t mean that…” Twilight stammered slightly in apology. “I mean… you… don’t eat ponies… right?”

“Oh, no. I prefer gems and cryssstals… but I'm sssure you didn’t mean anything by it.” Marr hissed menacingly, the pained expression quickly taking on an angrier shade. “Little pony magician hunting monsssters in the deep, dark cave, trying to be a brave hero. I’m sssure you’re not just sssaying what you can to sssave your own hide.”

“Marr Bell, please…” Twilight implored, using the gorgon’s name for the first time since she had realized her true nature.

This attempt to speak earned her a painful squeeze from the coils as Marr reared back, causing her to wince as panic once again took root while the gorgon loomed over her.

“You came down here expecting a monssster, little pony!” Marr hissed, the folds along the back of her neck opening up. “...Far be it from me to disssappoint you…”

Twilight struggled against the tight stone coil, her legs now kicking frantically as she ignored the biting edges of the rough stone against her body. Looking up fearfully, Twilight took note of the gorgon’s hood opening completely.

“Sssleep tight, Twilight Sssparkle…” Marr’s tone was downright venomous as she bore down, causing Twilight to wince and pull away.

There was no escape this time. Of this, she was certain.

*FLUMPH*

*FLASH*

Darkness enveloped Twilight, and for one terrifying moment, she was convinced that she had joined Rainbow Dash among the "mobility challenged."

Then she felt the weight of something over her head. Something tough and pliable, like a blanket or a sheet that draped down over her horn and shoulders to completely cover what wasn’t grasped by the coils of the gorgon. And as her ears perked up, it was obvious she was not the only one surprised.

“What is thisss!?” Marr’s voice came, the coil around Twilight’s midsection loosening out of sheer bewilderment.

“Ooooohh, so sorry!”

Twilight’s heart jumped at the voice; one she had become all too familiar with over the last few days.

“Well, you did mention pony magicians, so I thought I would try my hoof at it. Seems that I messed up a bit, though… Somehow I thought this would be easier than pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Oh, well, Sigfried always did say I was hopeless when it came to stage magic. Roy had high hopes, but I suppose it can't be helped, eh?”

“Doctor!” Twilight gasped, unsure what was over her head and raising her hooves to try and pull it off.

“Do hold still for a moment, Twilight. I’m trying to remember the rest of the trick,” the Doctor said casually.

Hold still!? She was being held in the air by a gorgon and he wanted her to hold still!? What in Celestia’s name was he up to this time!?

“How can it…?” Marr’s voice came out with surprise as well.

*FLASH*

“WHAT IS THISSS!?”

*FLASH*

Through the dense fabric, Twilight could see a bright, multicolored light, likely blinding from its intensity, but barely permeating the thick material that was sitting over her head. Still, much to her relief, she was moving, and so was the drape, indicating that neither had yet to share the fate of Rainbow or the Lost.

“Oh, how careless of me! I almost forgot the magic words: Accio Twilight!”

There was a moment of pregnant silence, and Twilight could feel the stone coils loosen even further, likely as Marr struggled to make sense of what was going on.

“Hmm, yeah, you know what? I’m not cut out for this. Perhaps I should leave the real magic to the professionals, don't you agree, Twilight?”

Real magic? Twilight thought. Then the bit dropped. Real magic!

Twilight clenched her eyes shut, her horn starting to glow as she focused as hard as she could on the direction of the Doctor’s voice.

*Vrrrmmmm-BAMPH*

Twilight vanished in a burst of purple magic, the gorgon’s coils suddenly grasping thin air as Marr looked around in confusion.

*Vrrrmmmm-BAMPH*

And a split second later, her prey had reappeared closer to the exit in a similar burst of light.

The covering still over her head, Twilight spared a moment of her concentration to praise the feeling of solid stone under her hooves, before reaching up to take the blanket off of her front and looking around wildly to get a grasp of the situation.

“See?” The Doctor grinned, standing right next to her. “Got to let the professionals do their thing.”

Now yet another twenty or thirty feet away from Marr, who remained curled and coiled as she had been holding Twilight, the Doctor stood with an easy confidence in the face of the large creature that had Twilight in her clutches only a moment before. But just as strange, Twilight realized, was the fact that the Doctor was now standing next to her entirely furclad, save for the hoof-band that stayed wrapped around his right foreleg.

“Doctor, ssstop foaling around! We should be running!” Twilight recommended frantically as she watched Marr’s shock turn to anger, her eyes again narrowly slitted.

The Doctor put his right hoof to his chin, tapping it thoughtfully. “Not quite yet. Oh, and you seem to have a bit of an accent slipping through.”

Accent!? Doctor, now is not the time to worry about--”

“HISSSSSSSSSS!” The gorgon began to uncoil herself and prepared to dive forward.

As Twilight took a step back, her reply caught in her throat, the Doctor whipped his hoof out with a flick,

*click*
*Whiiiiirrrrrrrr*

“ANNGGHH!”

Marr fell back, her eyes clenched in pain as her serpentine body spasmed and seemed to lock up, causing her to thrash backwards so violently that she impacted a stalactite on the ceiling before dropping to the ground.

“So sorry about that. Truly, I am. But you seem to be just a tad emotional right at the moment, so how about we all just take some time to relax?”

“Doctor, it’s her. She’s a--”

“A gorgon. Yep, I heard most of it.” The Doctor nodded, stepping down and clicking the sonic screwdriver into its catch.

“Then what took you so long?” the unicorn asked through slightly clenched teeth.

“Timing is everything, Twilight. Besides, do you have any idea how hard it is to throw that accurately without fingers? Very, that’s how hard.”

Marr Bell hissed a bit as she shook the stars from her eyes, looking up towards the two ponies with thinly veiled agitation.

“You!?” Her forked tongue slipped between her lips as she tasted the air, her tone confused. “I know your voice. You are the one from lassst night. The ssstrange one. The pony whossse heart pounds like drums.”

“That’s hearts, plural. And that’s not a very nice way to describe someone: ‘strange.’” The Doctor feigned an insulted expression. “Couldn’t I be the handsome one? Or the talkative one? Or, how about just the well-dressed one?” The chestnut-colored pony smirked and looked down at himself while Twilight caught her breath. “Well, I suppose that doesn’t apply to me right now, in any case. I sure hope Rarity doesn’t hate me for this…” He nodded towards the large cloth on the ground, bringing Twilight’s attention to it for the first time now that things had settled a bit.

It was not a blanket or a tarp as she expected, but a strangely stretched brown material, like a swath of unstitched laundry that had been spread out, stretched, and peeled open to more than triple its size. It took Twilight a moment to realize that it was, in fact, the Doctor’s coat. Formerly, that is, as it was obvious by its state that he was never going to be wearing it again.

“But she was going to… I thought that clothes were affected too,” Twilight stammered, looking herself over and making sure that no part of her fur or flesh had started turning to stone as a delayed reaction.

“Clothes, yes. Clothes and metal and jewelry and all sorts of things, am I right, Marr?” the Doctor hypothesized. “Anything and everything that a pony might have on him or her, from weapons to trinkets to a trained attack-mongoose. That’s all stuff you can handle, isn’t it? Anything that might be a threat.”

The gorgon curled up defensively, watching the two ponies with a mix of curiosity and concern.

“Well, almost everything… with a few tiny exceptions. Like, say for instance, a gold-painted laurel: a still-living bit of wood and leaves set for sake of decoration. Or the walls of a shack that you simply can't get into without breaking something. Or, just for the sake of argument, a fabric made out of Harsh Tree pulp. Thank you, Rarity!”

The Doctor smiled as the gorgon drew back further, now obviously disturbed.

“Living miles and miles from the nearest forest. And now, we know why. Because that little trick of yours might work on ponies and flowers and grasses and all manner of inanimate things. But wood? Nahhh… That’s why you’re all the way out here in the middle of this enormous mineral deposit, isn’t it? Nothing but a light sprinkling of topsoil where the rocks aren’t simply laid bare. Not enough for big ol’ trees. Or, more importantly, the sorts of dangerous things that live in and around those trees, am I right? Because for something as intimidating as you to want to avoid them… No wonder you’re afraid.”

“Hissssssssss...” The gorgon puffed herself up at the perceived insult, but her attempt at posturing was plainly obvious, and now that Twilight had a moment to collect herself, she wasn't nearly as affected by it as before.

“Oh, come, come, now. We both know you’re more intelligent than that, so let’s just settle down…” The Doctor nodded slowly, remaining perfectly calm as he sat back on his haunches. “...and talk like three normal, rational beings, shall we? Go on, Twilight. Sit down.”

Twilight gave the Time Pony a strange look, unsure if he was simply mad or being clever. Or, quite possibly, both. Then she followed his example and sat herself down on the floor, trying to ignore the soreness all along her backside from where Marr had grabbed her before.

“See? This is us, being reasonable,” the Doctor said, smiling disarmingly. “Now, then… How about you tell us what you are doing here?”

The gorgon turned her head to the side, glaring at the brown pony as if he had insulted her. “What am I doing here? What kind of quessstion is that!? I live here! Thisss is my bedchamber!”

“Conveniently located under a working quarry?”

“Of courssse it is! Thisss is my quarry!” Marr hissed indignantly.

“Yeah... Kinda hate to break it to you, but I think the ponies in the city would tend to disagree.” The Doctor’s smile faded a bit. “Is that why you’ve taken to collecting them like trophies?”

“HISSSSS!” Marr slammed her tail down against the stone violently as she surged forward, then ground to a halt as the Doctor raised his hoof in a more threatening manner, again showing the small device cradled in the hoof-band. “I am not collecting them! Thisss is my home! My ssstone!”

“And, what? They’re trespassing?”

“What? No… it’sss not… Thisss is my ssstone! I have been here sssince long before the ponies built their city! Sssince before they even knew thisss land! I hatched and grew here! I know what it’sss like here!” The gorgon coiled up defensively, growing more flustered by the moment as Twilight remained silent, wondering at the implications of Marr's admission.

Something just didn’t add up. Roan was centuries old by the age of Leonard DiHoovsie. To think that Marr Bell had been here all this time...

“If you grew up here, then where is your family?” the Doctor asked, his tone taking on a softer edge than Twilight would have thought the situation called for. Marr recoiled slightly as her slitted eyes narrowed angrily at the Doctor, and his tone moved from inquisitive to gentle. “Marr… are there any other gorgons here?”

“Thisss is my home…” she repeated, becoming all the more withdrawn. “We were here before the ponies… We were here when the griffins came. And after they had gone, I remained!”

“Griffins?” The Doctor tilted his head to the side as he inquired. “What do the griffins have to do with this?”

“WE WERE HERE FIRSSST!” Marr lashed out in anger, a very pony-like snort of breath ending what would have been a hiss. “My colony... We were all that was left. The lassst of usss… Thisss was our quarry. We came here to find peace… The only place left where we could get away from the monsssters. Far from anything that grew from the ground, and far from the ponies' cities. I was jussst a hatchling when the Eagle-Lions came down from the mountains...”

Marr settled backwards, her stone tail instinctively drawing around one of the nearby stalagmites and gripping it tightly. Hers was a sort of speech that Twilight recognized. Words flowing like water from a breaking dam, it was the same sort that she had fallen into the last time she saw the Princess and told her about her newest friend. It was heavy with emotions that were simply too powerful to cover up.

“They feared usss. Hunted usss for sssport. Ssspears and talons and beaksss… And we were the monsssters!? We jussst wanted to be left alone!”

The Doctor’s expression faltered for a moment as Twilight looked between them. She wasn't afraid anymore, as the creature that had attacked and held her before seemed to choke up on her own words. Even now, Marr Bell lowered her head and turned away from the two ponies, her eyes shut tight as she struggled to fight back tears. It was a sobering sight.

Tears… Twilight wondered... Could gorgons cry?

“...Alone…”

The answer was a resounding yes, she would come to find out, as Marr drew her hooves up to cover her face, trying to regain her composure. A painful, stifled sobbing was now the only sound present in the open cave, as shimmering, pearly white tears started running down the edge of her snout.

Twilight was astounded at how the Doctor had so easily managed to get through to her; to break down her armor of pent-up emotions in order to reveal the tenderness lying just beneath that scaly exterior.

The Time Pony stood slowly, taking a few steps towards her. “This isn’t what you want to hear... but I know how you feel,” he said simply.

The gorgon’s eyes shot open; brilliant green irises with a barely visible black slit as the gleaming tears welled up around the rim. In an instant, she shot forward, hissing angrily and causing Twilight to jump back, fearing perhaps that gorgons and crocodiles shared some tactics in common.

Marr came up just short of the Doctor, who stood impassively before her monstrous form as the pony-serpent brought herself almost nose to nose with him, all but snarling in a burst of anger.

“YOU KNOW NOTHING, PONY! NOTHING!” she screamed, her voice grating like chalk on stone. “Your herds run the plains from sssea to sssea, from north to ssssouth! You build your cities and beat back the monsssters with walls and weapons and magic! Your kind can’t even begin to underssstand!”

For a moment, the Doctor silently stood his ground, not even twitching as the gorgon bore down on him.

“I know better than any other creature you will ever meet, Marr Bell,” the stallion said in a low tone. “I know the crushing weight it puts on the heart to be the last of your kind. I know the emptiness that makes you want to lash out at everything that causes you pain, and the sorrow that comes when it is all over.”

The gorgon drew back from his words, but the Hourglass Stallion didn't let up, and he stepped forward to maintain their close distance.

“And I know, all too well, what it means to be alone… Truly and completely alone in all the cosmos,” he continued. “And that is why you have to believe me, Marr. I can help you… but this has got to stop. You can’t take out your anger on innocent ponies.”

“I’m not… That'sss not true...” The gorgon turned away, trying to hide her face behind her coarse mane.

“All those victims in that chamber up front would beg to differ.”

“You don’t underssstand.” The pony-serpent turned toward the stallion, her tone now pleading. “I’m sssaving them.”

Now it was not just Twilight who recoiled in shock and surprise, but the Doctor as well. “Saving them?” The Doctor’s tone took on a layer of curiosity. “Saving them from what?”

“From the griffins!” Marr explained quickly. “The ssstone from my quarry isn’t enough anymore. If they don’t get their trophies, they will come down on the city and take them by force! I know what they are capable of! The ponies wouldn’t ssstand a chance!”

At this news, the Doctor turned to Twilight for clarification, but she just shook her head in disbelief.

“Griffins are very aggressive, and ponies don’t usually get along with them, especially right now. But we're not the type to pay ransoms just to avoid conflict,” Twilight explained quickly to the Time Pony. “Roan's walls aren't for show, Doctor. We don’t enjoy it, but when threatened, ponies will fight back.”

“Marr… who told you all this?” asked the Doctor.

“Another pony… Graphisss... His name is Graphisss,” Marr explained, wiping her eyes as she nodded, hoping that she could make them understand.

“Somehow I knew you were going to say that...” The Doctor shook his head disappointingly before the gorgon continued.

“It is his city, after all. After the griffins attacked the quarry, he found me… and told me about what they were doing.”

“Attacked the quarry? Marr, griffins haven’t ‘attacked’ Roan since it was built.” Twilight shook her head, remembering back to her studies on Pre-Equestrian history. “They gave up this land centuries ago and withdrew to the mountains. Any skirmishes that do occur happen far to the north of here.”

“Don't try to trick me, Twilight Sssparkle. I was here when it happened!” The gorgon set her hooves to her sides indignantly. “They used terrible new weapons that shook the ssstone and earth… I sssaw the injured ponies. If we didn’t give them what they wanted, the griffins would have used their bombs on the city! I couldn’t jussst ssstand by and let it happen again!”

“And Graphis was the one who told you this?” the Doctor asked calmly, putting the pieces together.

“...Yesss...”

“And you believed him!?” Twilight’s eyes were wide with horror, and her exclamation served to cause Marr to draw back slightly.

“Why wouldn’t I?” Marr seemed honestly surprised by the question. “He came up with the plan to sssave your city. Everypony is put into a lottery and picked at random; no favoritesss. When the griffins commission ssstatues, I move into the city and put them to the ssstone sssleep. I then pose them and make them as the griffins want, ssso they will be appeased. Of courssse, the city ponies would never underssstand, ssso we had to keep it a sssecret… But it hasss to be done, for the greater good! Nopony elssse underssstood like he did… That I could help, that I could do sssomething! Ssso I could prove that I wasn’t…”

Marr trailed off, turning her head away with what Twilight assumed to be shame as the scholarly unicorn herself was aghast at what she'd heard. “That's… That’s monstrous…”

Her comment drew a pained hiss from Marr, causing the Doctor to frantically wave a hoof to get get attention.

Twiliiight… Ix-nay on the onster-may…” he said through grit teeth, before returning his attention to the gorgon. “Marr, she doesn’t mean you. You have to understand.”

“I’m not sssurprised…” The gorgon’s tone started to grow agitated again. “I’ve done nothing but try to help, and you ponies ssstill don’t sssee me as anything but a monssster… I don’t like that I have to put them to sssleep, but don’t you underssstand? It’sss the only way to sssave the ressst of them.”

“Marr Bell…” The Doctor stepped forward boldly, speaking steadily as he tried to recapture the pony-serpent’s attention. “There is no imminent attack. The griffins are not threatening Roan… Graphis lied to you.”

The gorgon hissed at the accusation angrily, but the Time Pony continued, regardless.

“The ponies you’ve ‘put to sleep’ are not being sent to the mountains; they're being sold and traded to other pony cities. Graphis is claiming he carves them from the stone himself. He’s taking credit for your work in order to make money.”

“Money?” The gorgon tilted her head innocently. “What is ‘money’?”

Twilight caught the Doctor’s eye as they shared a knowing glance. “Marr… before us, have you ever spoken with anypony other than Graphis?” she asked.

The gorgon turned away, slightly embarrassed. “N-no… Other ponies run or hide if they sssee me... Graphisss is the only one who doesn't.”

“I know it’s hard, Marr…” The Doctor took another step closer to her. “...but you have to know the truth. Graphis is using you for his own benefit. The ponies you put to sleep are not random; they're ponies that fit the description of the commissions Graphis gets, from other ponies who want to buy them as statues.”

“No...” Marr shook her head violently, tears welling up again. “That… That’sss not true… Graphisss wouldn't lie to me. He never lies... I can tell... He...” She trailed off as she raised one leg to wipe the tears from her eyes. “He cares about me…”

The Doctor looked down, hating the fact that he had to be the one to do this. “Marr, you can feel our pulses through the stone, correct? Then you must know that I’m telling you the truth… Now, I’ve met Graphis Denarius, and I can tell you right now that he doesn’t care about anybody but--”

“Anypony.”

“Anypony but himself…” He glared back to Twilight, who shrugged, having corrected him out of sheer habit. “We can go right now, the three of us, to Graphis’ studio… and get the truth directly from him. You can see for yourself what he’s doing, and know that you are absolutely right…”

Twilight paused for a moment in between the Doctor's words. She could have sworn she'd just heard something, but couldn't quite place it as Marr's puzzled expression turned towards the brown-furred pony.

“You are not a monster.”

Twilight’s ears perked up, looking back at the tunnel leading out of the cave as the Doctor held Marr’s attention. Was that… clopping she could hear?

Meanwhile, the gorgon looked down and away, tears rimming her eyes again as she couldn't help but listen.

“Marr Bell, Trust me.” The Time Pony nodded, his tone calm and assuring as he extended his left, non-hoof-banded hoof to the pony-serpent. “I’m the Doctor, and all I want to do is help.”

“Doctor, I think…” Twilight whispered quietly, although the Doctor kept his focus on the gorgon.

Marr stayed back hesitantly, her hooves remaining folded back towards her chest as she closed her eyes, and by all appearances seemed to be concentrating on something. Then, with a breath, they slowly opened back up to reveal round, wide pupils framed by her sparkling emerald irises. Gently, she extended one of her legs in front of her, towards the Doctor's still-outstretched hoof.

Then, the sound of hooves on stone that Twilight had been focusing on grew into a louder echoing that caught both ponies’ and the gorgon’s attention. With a start, Marr looked up and past the Doctor, to the source of the sound just as it came into view.

“Twilight? Doctor?”

It was none other than Leonard, darting into the larger cavern chamber and suddenly grinding to a halt upon catching sight of the scene. “What are-- By Astrolia's Light!” the yellow unicorn stammered, looking up in awe at the pony chimera that sat coiled up in the center of the chamber.

“Leo!?” Twilight got up to her hooves in shock. “What are you doing here!?”

“Looking for you two! What on Equis is that thing!?”

“The Bomb Maker!" Marr pulled back with a frightened hiss.

“The what maker?” Leonard tilted his head in puzzlement.

“No…” The Doctor turned back to Marr, realizing the severity of the situation as the gorgon reared back on her serpentine body. Her expression of cautious hope was gone; replaced by a seething anger, and eyes that were little more than paper-thin slits. “No, no, no!”

“HISSSSSSSSS!”

The Doctor dove to the side just as Marr struck down at him with her tail, the impact leaving a solid dent in the stone as if it were molding clay.

“DOCTOR!” Twilight cried out in horror as she too stumbled back.

“TWILIGHT! TIME TO RUN! GET LEO OUT OF HERE!”

Even as he tried to scramble to his hooves, the quick-moving gorgon was already upon him, the brown stallion turning as he made out the unmistakable silhouette of her unfolded hood.

“Get away from him, beast!” Leonard warned the creature bearing down on his friend, as his horn began to glow a pale yellow.

“HISSSSSSSSS!”

*Vrrrrmmmm*

A bright yellow flash filled the cavern for a moment, dampening the natural illumination and causing the gorgon to pull back suddenly as she shielded her eyes with her forelegs. Taking his chance, the Doctor bolted towards the entryway at full gallop before a new sound brought his attention upward...

*Crack-crackle*

...as a stalactite broke loose from an impact with the magical bolt Leonard had aimed above the pony-serpent.

“MARR! LOOK OUT!” The Doctor called out in warning.

*THOOM*

Too late, it seemed, as the gorgon’s tail was caught under the weight of the thick stone, pinning her to the floor. And to add to the dire urgency of the situation, the cracks that had begun at the edges of the stalactite spread across the ceiling like a spider’s web...

*Crack-crackle-crack*
*CRRRRSSSSSH*

...and began to collapse.

“CAVE-IN!” Twilight shouted, quickly scooping up the Doctor’s torn-open coat, throwing it over her back, and rushing over to push Leonard, who was standing petrified with fear, towards the exit. “Leo! We need to go, now!”

Following in their hurried steps, the Doctor quickly caught up, the trio rushing for the exit as the ceiling came crashing down. Making their escape from the avalanche of stone, a plume of dust and debris jettisoned into the tunnel just as they made it past the threshold to safety. But though they were safe from being utterly crushed by tons of rock, they still continued to run for at least another thirty seconds.

“Astrolia help me…” Leonard panted as the distance between the three of them and the chamber grew. As time passed, the sounds of crunching rocks and the vibrations in the walls and floor devolved to barely more than a low rumble. “I was just trying to slow it down… I didn’t mean to… I didn’t think that it would… Oh, Astrolia, I’m so sorry…”

“It’s alright, Leonard.” The Doctor shook his head impassively, taking little note of the shocked, distressed tone of the artist pony. “No use crying over spilled milk at this point. What’s done is done. Thank you for assisting in getting our hides out of there unstoned.”

Twilight looked to the Doctor in shock. After everything he had said, after all of that, he was okay with this?

“Alright!? Doctor, that was not alright!” Twilight all but shouted as she slowed to a trot. “You were talking about how she was an innocent victim in all of this, and then we just left her behind to be… to be… AGH! What’s wrong with you!?”

“Twilight...”

“I don’t know how things work in your universe, but what just happened here was absolutely unacceptable! The last gorgon, buried under a pile of rubble! And nopony will ever know!? THIS IS NOT ALRIGHT!”

“Twilight, she’ll be fine.”

“If that is how you treat everypony you come across, then you can just forget about us coming along with…” Twilight put on the brakes mid-rant. “...Fine? What do you mean? She was just buried alive!”

“In a cave-in, yes. Twilight, haven’t you been paying attention?” The Doctor quickened his pace again and sighed when Twilight gave him a baffled look. “Marr is absolutely enormous. How do you think she’s managed to get around the city without being noticed? How does she disappear without a trace and then appear between Leonard and a wall? How does she slam herself into solid stone walls back at the Mare’s Rest and in that alleyway without chipping or cracking them, without so much as denting the material? How does she pull herself into the top floor of Graphis’ studio to turn Rainbow to stone and then bring her all the way back here without anyone noticing? How does she keep the wall and floors of her home perfectly smooth in spite of her scales being all rough?”

“Slow down, Doctor. You are giving me a headache,” Leonard asked from under the barrage of questions as he held a hoof to his forehead.

“It's all because stone isn’t a solid to her. That is how she poses the pony statues. She molds them like clay and puts them any-which-way she likes. When she attacked me back there with her tail, the stone didn’t stay rigid and break under her weight; it dipped and turned into a groove. She doesn’t slither around on top of the stone...”

The Doctor and company rounded a corner just then, the TARDIS sitting at the far end of the corridor with the lights from her windows shining like a beacon in the gloom.

“...she swims through it. That's what I missed before, and then realized in the TARDIS. She alters the density of the rock and manipulates it to her liking! And because the entire city is made of stone, she could go anywhere! Into houses and around buildings! Through walls and under the streets with complete impunity!”

“Everywhere… except your workshop, Leo!” Twilight picked up, remembering what the Doctor had said when he first appeared in the gorgon’s chambers. “Wooden walls on all sides. The ceiling, the floor, even the door was made of wood, remember? Miss Keeper said that she was glad what happened didn’t scratch the inn. It broke through the wall facing the inn, but didn’t do anything to the outer wall of the kitchen!”

“So that mean's she's still alive!" The fact that he had not caused such terrible harm on another living creature brought a sensation of relief to come washing over the tan stallion... before it was swept away just as quickly by the terrifying implications. “...Oh, no..."

His revelation was given form mere moments later as they approached the TARDIS, when a grey pony shape burst through the wall in front of them as easily as if she had been diving out of a pond, trailed by a large serpentine body.

“HISSSSSSSSS!”

“MARR! WAIT!” the Doctor tried to reason with her…

*WHUMP*

…to no avail as the gorgon dove right for Leonard. The artist managed to just barely duck under the attack with a burst of speed before the well-articulated pony-serpent turned over on itself.

Seeing few other options, the Doctor reluctantly raised his hoof with a flourish and pointed it at Marr.

*click*
*Whiiiiirrrrrrrr*

“THAT’SSS NOT GOING TO WORK ANYMORE!” the gorgon hissed in an angry shout. It was sheer animosity that allowed her to plow through the sonic screwdriver’s emission and bring her tail up and around with an obvious intent to sweep the three ponies aside in the confined space of the corridor.

“How about this!?” Twilight called out, her horn aglow as an aura surrounded the fabric that she had set down over her back. With a flick of her head, she sent it flying into the air and perfectly onto the gorgon's front.

“WHAT!? HISSSSSSS! GET IT OFF ME!” Marr cried in surprise as Twilight’s horn flared to life again. This time, a thin, smooth line of solidified light manifested out of nowhere around the gorgon, which suddenly seized and wrapped itself around the pony-serpent’s covered midsection before tying into a knot.

“Hurry!” Twilight directed as Marr thrashed from side to side, slamming her flank into the corridor carelessly while she was effectively blinded and restrained. The three of them could make out the outline of her hood as it flared open, stretching the tough Harsh Tree material without tearing it. “That won’t hold her for long!”

“INTO THE TARDIS!” the Doctor ordered, rushing forward as the gorgon brought her tail up an an attempt to fit it underneath the unpetrifyable material in order to pry off the magical tether. Throwing his shoulder into the door, the TARDIS' console room burst into view just as the three ponies heard a loud snap.

Twilight and Leonard managed to scramble inside the time machine right before the Doctor threw the door shut and turned the latch to lock it.

“Okay! That could have gone better!” The Time Pony turned and started inside, leaving the two unicorns panting and out of breath behind him. “Quick thinking, Twilight. You've bought us some time, and now we can…”

The Doctor stopped as he came up alongside the black and white dappled pony that stood on the center platform, eyes wide and straining, staring off into space as if trying to fit the entire room in his field of vision.

“Its… It’s… It’s… It’s…” Oreo stammered under his breath like a broken record.

“Hey, Doctor, what happened ta y'all? Where ya been?” Applejack asked, standing next to Rainbow’s still-petrified form near console. “Ah think yer box broke Oreo. He’s been doin’ that since he walked in.”

“Yeah, that happens sometimes. Don’t worry, I know just the remedy.”

The Doctor shook his head, amused. Then, he raised one hoof and swatted the Phrench pony hard across the rump, causing Oreo to start forward with a yelp. “BIGGERONTHEINSIDE!”

“And now that we’ve got that out of his system…”

“Doctor, what about Marr? We’re still sitting inside her cave!” Twilight pointed out urgently.

“Marr? What in tarnation is a ‘Marr’?” The cowpony stepped forward, very much in the dark as to what was going on.

“We’ll explain shortly, Applejack. And Twilight, need I remind you that that door held up against close to three dozen ponies, battering rams, and, in a pinch, can take the full brunt of a supernova? And the outer shell is wood, which is perfect, considering what we’re up against. So while we're in here, we're perfectly safe.”

*CREEEEAAAAK-CRASH*

The TARDIS churned suddenly as a violent impact sent everypony on their hooves tumbling to one side, along with Rainbow's petrified form...

*THOOM-CRASH*

...before a second impact sent her nearly crashing to the ground onto her opened stone wings. She was only barely caught in time by a yellow aura that Leonard strained to maintain as he kept his grip on the guardrail.

“What's happening!?” Twilight cried out, her hooves slipping on the smooth floors of the TARDIS as the room tilted precariously.

“Okay! New information: One angry gorgon is at least as strong as, oh, four… maybe five Weeping Angels.” The Doctor shuttered a bit at this revelation. “This is quite unexpected.”

*KATHOOM-CRASH*

The TARDIS rocked again from the force of impact as a shower of sparks burst from the vine-like wires below the glass floor, indicating that the blows were having a very negative effect on the time machine. The Doctor fought to pull himself towards the console, using two hooves to push himself up and grasp a pulley in his teeth, which he then pulled down on.

————————

Marr Bell brought her body down hard against the side of the blue box, her sides heaving as she tried with all her might in order to break the blasted thing open and get at the ponies hiding inside.

She had never seen anything this tough before. Hitting it with all of her weight and strength only just barely made it tilt to one side or the other.

*FLASH*

The burst of colored light from her hood washed over the blue structure, and yet it remained unaffected. This only added fuel to the rage that burned through the gorgon at that moment as she brought her coils back to slam into it again in spite of the growing pain up and down her spine.

But before she could bring down the next attack, a loud "thump," followed by a soft, lyrical sound, filled the corridor, causing her to twist around expecting to find some other intruder in her home.

Then she turned back to see the box slowly fading from view right before her eyes.

“NO! GET BACK HERE, YOU!” she cried out in fury as she threw herself forward, attempting to grab onto it, but her sizable form caught only air as the damnable box faded completely from view and the mysterious sound echoed off into silence.

HISSSSSSSSSSS! AAAAAGH!” The gorgon thrashed about, her coiled tail tearing grooves into the corridors as she slammed herself back and forth on the spot where the box had stood. Outrage and adrenaline dulled the pain as she carved a deep scar into the floor of her cavern trying impotently to figure out where the box had gone.

After several minutes of this, Marr pulled herself up and slammed her forehead into the stone wall, the shale giving way under her fury like a down pillow. Frenzied and panting for breath, she let out one final scream of primal rage, and with that scream, released what remained of her boiling aggression.

She felt empty now, so overcome with emotion that the only thing she could do was slump forlornly against the wall, curling up as if to make herself as small as possible.

“It’sss not true... It’sss… not true…” she repeated to herself as she pressed her face to the stone. “Graphisss wouldn’t lie to me… He wouldn’t… I would know… It’s not…”

Marr slid down the edge of the corridor as she started sobbing, and her anger gave way to something far deeper and more painful than her sore bones and scales.

Coiling up in her dark, silent cave, Marr Bell, the last gorgon, buried her head in her hooves, and began to cry.

————————
The TARDIS
-In Transit-
26th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 10:00 p.m.

While Leonard kept Oreo aside, explaining in simple terms the magical device they had found themselves in, Applejack, Twilight, and the Doctor discussed what had happened in the quarry caverns.

“So, what’s the deal with these ‘gorgon’ critters, anyhow? Ah never even heard of ‘em before,” Applejack asked.

“That’s because they're supposed to be fictional,” Twilight explained as the Doctor looked over the TARDIS' control panel with a concerned expression. “Any self-respecting scholar would flat out say that they don’t exist, and never did exist.”

“Well, if there's one thing about traveling in the TARDIS, it's that you get to see just how often that which is taken for granted is completely wrong,” the Doctor weighed in.

“Ah hear that,” Applejack said, nodding. “So, now what? Ah mean, ya think this 'Marr Bell' can change 'em all back?”

“If it’s anything like the cockatrice that turned me to stone last summer, then yes, she should be able to reverse it. But as long as Graphis is whispering all those lies into her ears, she thinks she’s doing Roan a favor by turning these ponies into garden ornaments.”

“And she sure seems to have gotten a great deal of that false information…” The Doctor shook his head, looking to the side. “Leonard, she called you the 'Bomb Maker.' And earlier she was talking about griffins attacking the quarry with what sounds like explosives. Do you have any idea what she was talking about?”

Leo looked up from Oreo, who was nodding slightly, indicating he was alright. “I wouldn’t know about any griffin attacks, but explosions in the quarry? She was probably talking about the Bedrock Blasting Project,” the blonde unicorn explained, reaching up to remove his beret for a moment and wipe it across his face. “I had a hoof in it, yes. I helped formulate the blasting powder that the Foreponies wanted to use to dig into the bedrock. I have regretted it ever since, too… In the first attempt to use it, the ponies that were setting the charges were not informed of how large the blast radius would be. Thankfully, nopony was killed, but there were over two dozen injuries. It was the first and last time that powder was used. As far as I know, the remaining stock has been holed up in the supplies office ever since.”

“Oui,” Oreo chimed in, looking over to the other ponies. He was pale in the face, considering all that he had seen that day, but still able to think and speak with a modicum of clarity. “And ever since then, the workers in the quarry have demanded extra hazard pay, which is why the quarry is doing so poorly lately. They can barely afford to keep ponies coming back, and are producing lower-quality stone all the time because we cannot go any deeper.”

“And you were there when this happened, Leonard?” asked the Doctor.

“I pointed out where to set the charges myself for maximum distribution, and I saw the aftermath, but I wasn’t present for the actual detonation. I would have made sure there were no ponies on the bedrock if I had. But I never in a thousand years would have thought there was something actually living in the quarry. I don’t understand why she’s become so fixated on me.”

“If’n Ah had ta bet, Ah would say Graphis’ prolly been usin' ya as a big ol’ bulls-eye.” Applejack put a hoof to her chin, going over what she suspected. “Somepony ta blame all ‘er troubles on. If she’s got somethin’ ta hiss and complain about, she don’t hafta look too hard at what she’s doin’, herself.”

“That sounds like the voice of experience, Applejack.” The Doctor smirked, drawing an annoyed glance from the cowpony before Leonard took their attention again.

“But why go through all that trouble? Why not just turn me to stone as well?” he asked.

“Because you stand out, Leonard.” The Doctor shook his head. “Those other ponies are rather generic; even their colors are robbed from them so that nopony can recognize them very well once they are turned to stone. For that matter, their cutie marks are often unknown because everyone here dresses up and covers them. But you. Your style, your looks, all of it. Ponies know you. If a statue of you turned up anywhere and you yourself had suddenly gone missing, it wouldn’t take much for a smart pony to put two and two together.”

“So, if she started comin’ after ya… it’s cause she’s mad, not cause Graphis told ‘er too.”

“She was naïve before, but this has been going on for years. So, by now, she must know something is wrong. She’s just in denial,” the Doctor hypothesized. “And she has to prove to herself that what Graphis has been telling her is right.”

“No. It's worse than that, Doctor.” Twilight shook her head, deciding to put forward her own theory. “She’s in love… with the wrong pony.”

“A pony that takes advantage a’ that love with all kinds a' gems and such,” added Applejack.

“And stolen poetry,” the Doctor also offered.

There was silence in the TARDIS for a moment as the gathered ponies reflected on the things that had happened these past two days, until one voice asked the question that was on all of their minds.

“So…” Twilight took a breath. “Now what do we do?”

“Now… you rest,” the Doctor stated simply.

“What?” the purple unicorn asked, taken off-guard.

“Everyone is tired. You and Applejack haven’t slept at all these last couple of days and it’s getting late. The TARDIS is down to twenty percent power, but I’ve got her suspended outside of space so we can’t be found, running on minimal energy. Time is still passing normally, though.”

“But what if--”

“None of you are going to get through this if you’re half asleep when the time comes.” The Doctor pointedly raised a hoof in the direction of the stairwell. “Down that hall and to the left you’ll find the guest bedrooms.”

“But… Doctor, what about you?” she questioned, concerned for his status, as he had experienced everything they had as well.

“I don’t need much sleep. I’ll see what I can come up with in the way of a plan and try to find a way to get Rainbow back the way she was.”

The two unicorns and earth pony looked between one another for a moment while Oreo took the Doctor's advice to heart, sleepily raising himself to his hooves without any further encouragement.

“Well, go ahead. Hi-ho… off to bed.” The Doctor waved a foreleg, bringing his sonic screwdriver out as he looked over Rainbow again, now distracted by the task ahead of him.

Although Twilight didn’t care to admit it, she was indeed quite exhausted by the events of the past few days, and after a few seconds of watching the Doctor work, moved off and towards the stairs.

“Come on, Oreo, he’s right. Let’s get some shuteye.” Applejack shook her head and ruffled her shirt a bit, tugging at the uncomfortable material before nudging the Phrench pony to follow. To be perfectly honest, the Doctor couldn’t help but be reminded of a French version of Rory Williams as the pony walked behind Applejack, just coping and going along.

This left Leonard and the Doctor alone, the sonic screwdriver whirring as the brown stallion ran it over Rainbow’s back, trying to find some chink in the stone shell.

“Doctor, I was wondering…”

“Just to warn you, Leonard, there are a lot of questions I can't answer for you,” the Doctor stated without looking up.

“I… was just… Is there anything at all going on... between you and…”

This was enough to cause the Doctor to look up. Whatever he had been expecting, that clearly wasn’t it. “No, there isn't,” he replied quickly.

“No?” Leonard let go of a breath, looking relieved. “Are you quite sure…? Because--”

“Leonard… Twilight and I are just friends. You don’t need my permission or anything like that, but... a word of advice.” The Doctor’s tone became edged with caution. “If you’re going to seize the moment… you’d best be prepared to let it go when it passes.”

Leonard opened his mouth, whether to defend himself or to deny, he wasn’t sure. But as the Doctor turned away, returning to his observation of Rainbow Dash, the words stuck in the artist pony’s mouth.

“...Goodnight, Doctor.”

“Goodnight…”

Leonard started up the stairs.

“...Maestro.”

Leonard paused at the top, turning for a moment before noting how the brown pony had already delved into his work, mumbling to himself as he moved around Rainbow’s frozen form.

Unsure what else to say, Leonard took a breath and moved down the corridor as he had been directed.

————————
Marr's Lair, Denarius Quarry
Outskirts of Roan
27th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 12:13 a.m.

*crunch-crunch-crunch*

Marr Bell the gorgon reclined against the floor of her work chamber, the wicker basket set to her side overturned and its contents, a small collection of gemstones -- or rather, what was left of them -- spilled out on the floor.

In no mood to mold and unsure what else to do, the pony-serpent plucked another gem, a soft, blue sapphire, from the floor with her tail and flipped it up to her mouth, catching it in midair and crunching on it quietly as she looked over the statue before her.

This one, she remembered, had been an accident, one or two weeks back. A young, light-blue mare that had wandered down an alleyway, perhaps to make a shortcut across the Craftspony quarter of the city, and had caught sight of her as she came up for a breath of air.

The frozen shock was still apparent on her white marble face, the traces of blue fur and turquoise-colored hair replaced with solid white stone color as her mouth gaped open. For some reason, as the pony’s frozen form watched her eat, Marr felt a pang of guilt, which quickly turned to anger as most unpleasant things did.

“What are you looking at!?” Marr hissed lowly, reaching over with one hoof and putting it to the pony’s cheek.

With a trained, minimal effort, the entire upper body of the marble softened until it was almost like flesh, and the pony’s head turned on her neck with a slight creak, pushing her face away to look in another direction, only to harden again the moment Marr pulled her hoof back.

The gorgon looked away and sighed, the anger fading and being replaced by a bitter line of guilt running across her chest. Guilt that she thought she had long since gotten over.

She wasn’t a monster… She was doing this for a good reason. These ponies were saving the rest of the ones up in the city. If only her kind had been so lucky as to have anypony able to make such a noble sacrifice...

Marr’s tail gripped another jewel, this one a fat yellow topaz, and flipped it up to her mouth, catching and biting down on the slightly harder gem with more force than her grinding-stone teeth needed to.

This was ridiculous. What was she going to do, eat through her worries?

Looking down, Marr noticed her furred pony belly bulging slightly, and then looked to see that all but two of the gems had been eaten, when there had easily been enough precious stones set in the basket to feed her for a week. Two, perhaps, if she had stretched it out. Unbidden, she considered what she might look like if she kept this up; a pudgy pony mare attached to her long serpentine body. A strangely amusing thought as she reached her tail towards another gem without looking.

*crinkle*

...What is this?

Marr looked where her tail had grabbed at, noting the sheet of parchment that had fallen from the basket’s lining. Using her tail’s amazing dexterity, she managed to pull the paper up to her hooves and squinted at it in the dim cavern light.

She recognized the seal on the front immediately; the same one her beloved wore on his regal outfit. And while she was hardly well-read, she had been sneaking through Roan long enough to pick up a general ability to understand the marks. Sounding them out with difficulty on her forked tongue, she read aloud.

“My...strow… Den…Den-ar-eye-us… cord-you… cord-you-lee... in-vites… you… Ecks-ee-bit-on… Stew-dee-oh… dee… Et...Eter-nall… Mag-nif-eye-cents-za…”

Marr reeled back slightly. What was this? An invitation? An announcement?

Denarius? Her Graphis?

What was he doing? Invites… Exhibition… What was an exhibition?

If this was an invitation… was it a party? He was throwing a party?

“Co-mee… at… sun-set… Doo… nu-aught… bee… la-tee…”

Marr’s eyes widened in realization. It was a party! Was he throwing it for her? He must have been… and he left a note for her to come!

Marr grinned in elation at the paper before hugging it to her chest with her hooves and giving a happy hiss. The Doctor was wrong… Graphis did care.

He would be able to explain everything. She knew it.

So enraptured was the pony-serpent mare at the discovery and realization, that she failed to notice what the mare statue whose head she'd turned could now see… A faint wisp of dark blue smoke, slipping unnoticed out the exit of the gorgon’s lair.

————————
The TARDIS
-Suspended outside of space-
27th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 1:30 a.m

To say that Leonard DiHoovsie was tired would have been an understatement to be sure… but as he walked the endless halls of the TARDIS, he simply found that he couldn’t just go to sleep. There was still so much to see and do.

Many of the doors had been locked, he had found, but out of those that had not, there was an arboretum filled with plants he didn’t recognize and a room with its own waterfall and a natural setting that had the most delightful daisies to snack on; a delicacy that he had not partaken of for years.

There was so much happening. A whirlwind of activity that made what he had done so far in his life seem almost trite by comparison. And there was one thing that he simply couldn’t get out of his head as he walked back up the corridor again.

“...Leo?”

Something that was suddenly right before him.

“Twilight?” Leonard paused in mid-step as the door to his right opened and the violet unicorn stepped out.

He couldn’t hide a slight blush as he realized she had removed the elegant toga she had been wearing for the last couple of days since he had met her, but had to admit that all the cloth had done was to take away from her appeal.

“Can’t sleep?” the mare asked.

“No… Can you?”

“No.” She shook her head a bit before leaning her cheek against the door-frame. “I’m worried about Rainbow… Worried about Marr… Worried about if we’ll all get home…”

“I’m sure you will. Your Doctor… well, he seems to have things well in hoof.” Leo nodded slightly, unsure of what else to say. “Everything will turn out for the best. I’m sure of that.”

“You know… that reminds me of something a wise pony once said: ‘Persevere, hope, and press on. Everything else will either remain as it is, or follow,’” Twilight quoted sagely as she looked to the blonde pony.

“Oh… That’s… that’s rather good,” Leonard admitted. “I rather like that. Mind if I use it?”

“By all means…” Twilight smiled knowingly.

Leonard deflated a bit as he faced the filly unicorn, shuffling uncertainly on his hooves. “Twilight… I am so sorry about today. If I hadn’t blundered in like that, the gorgon would not have gone into a rage and we wouldn’t have--”

“Leonard…”

The blonde unicorn paused, looking up to find himself snout to snout with the violet mare. At the top of his vision, he could make out her horn, blowing vibrantly with a purple aura that matched her coat.

“The Doctor will fix things, so stop worrying… Now, never ever listen to anypony else that says this… but just this once… stop talking.”

Heart pounding like a drum, Leonard hesitated, scarcely able to imagine the situation he found himself in at this very moment… before leaning his head forward, his horn illuminating in a pale yellow. Before their crests touched, a slight and quiet set of magical sparks fell down between their snouts as Twilight’s horn took on a yellow glow and Leonard’s acquired a pale shade of violet.

Slowly, Twilight stepped back into her room, and, locked as the two were in magic and spirit, Leonard followed, the door shutting behind him.

————————
Studio de Eterna Magnificenza, Royal District
The Pony City-state of Roan
27th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 12:45 p.m.

On the second floor catwalk of the Studio de Eterna Magnificenza, Graphis Denarius watched as a small army of unicorns, pegasi, and draftsponies finished their work with the efficiency of a beehive, running streamers and arranging the artwork in a far grander display than before.

Having decided the artist area was a waste, the tables and workspaces had been moved out and the wall separating them knocked down following the "incident" from the day before, and the entire studio ground floor was now set to receive visitors in far greater numbers than he had originally considered.

Everything was coming together… and as the exhausted-looking Maestro Sculptor stood there, he could not have been more relieved.

“Maestro?”

“What is it!?” Graphis Denarius snapped suddenly, looking over to the pale beige unicorn that had all but snuck up on him.

Castagno jumped slightly at the outburst, but managed to keep his composure. “Preparations are almost set, we just have a few more pieces to arrange that need your--”

“Put them wherever you want.”

“I had just thought that you would want to--”

“I DON’T NEED TO STAND OVER YOUR SHOULDER FOR EVERY LITTLE THING, DO I!?” The slate grey pony’s tone was sharper than any blade as he laid into his associate.

“I… er… No, Maestro… I had simply thought that you would want to--”

“All of the places are arranged?”

“Sí, Maestro.”

“Catering is prepared?”

“Only the finest.”

“Good… Make sure to check all of the invitations for authenticity, inform me the moment the Duke arrives, and have Kickback and his stallions keep a lookout for the fugitives.”

“Maestro, there has been no sign of them since yesterday… DiHoovsie and this ‘Doctor’ are not about to make a scene during an event of this--”

“When else would they? If they want to cause trouble, then this would be the ideal time. DiHoovsie was too spineless on his own to do anything… but Doctor Right and their other accomplices… Astrolia knows what they are capable of.” He snorted angrily at the memory, made to look like a foal in his own studio. “I have worked too hard and waited for too long to have this night ruined.”

“Maestro, perhaps it would behoove you to... get some sleep before the exhibition begins? You look rather…” the Critique started, his concern genuine as he noted the bags under the sculptor’s eyes.

Thank you, Castagno.” Graphis dismissed the unicorn with a wave of his hoof.

“Very well... Happy Birthday, Maestro…” The small unicorn bowed slightly, pulling back a few steps before turning away.

Whether the grey noblepony did not hear him or didn’t respond, the Critique was unsure. But, as bid, he went back to preparations as the Maestro moved up the steps to his office.

————————
Maestro’s Office, Studio de Eterna Magnificenza
The Pony City-state of Roan
27th of Summer, 1491 A.R., 1:01 p.m.

Dozens of papers and leaflets littered the normally clean floors of the office of Graphis Denarius, the grey pony pouring over them as he anxiously paced the floor.

Had he realized just what the crazy inventor had been cooking up in that shack of his, Graphis would have done this years ago, the whispers of the common ponies and the Noble Houses be damned. The work was brilliant. Beyond that, they were original, that much was certain. Half of these designs... Graphis was pained to admit he couldn’t even bring himself to fully understand them.

Thankfully, the half-breed mule was too stupid and shortsighted to realize what he had. It would take time… but he would find a use for them. He knew he would. A use that would turn a profit and bring even greater fame to the Denarius name.

His head pounding and his eyes feeling like lead weights, the Maestro considered for a moment that perhaps Castagno was right… Perhaps he should get a bit of rest before…

"They are just statues," he had told himself.

"Whatever helps you sleep at night…" the lilting tone mocked him.

Graphis’ eyes shot open as he shook his head violently. No! No, he didn’t need to sleep… He just had to get through this… just get through the exhibition… then he could rest.

Looking up, the Maestro noted the glimmer of sunlight had dimmed in the stained glass windows of his office, a cloud perhaps having drifted over the sun and casting a shadow over the city.

This observation was cast aside, however, as a cold chill ran down his spine and a shudder escaped his lips.

“Is… is it you?” He turned slowly in place, looking about.

“Graphis… You didn’t tell me it was your birthday…” a soft, pleasant mare’s voice touched his ears, although he still couldn’t make out the source. “I would have brought you a present.”

“Where are you?” The noblepony cast his eyes around the office, his already strained nerves fraying further as the chill in the air threatened to make him shiver on the spot, in spite of the fact it was the middle of summer.

“Now, now, then.” The disembodied tone chuckled quietly. “Close enough, I assure you... I heard you had a bit of… bother yesterday. Trouble?”

“Trouble? Oh, no… No trouble at all.”

“Good… I would hate to think that perhaps my assistance was wasted on a colt whose ambitions outstripped his abilities.”

“I… assure you, My Lady… everything will go smoothly. The guests have all sent word of their guaranteed attendance.”

“You mean your dear father will be coming? Oh, Graphis… however did you manage that?”

Graphis turned away, shuffling uncomfortably on his hooves. “He… always visits on my birthday.”

“Oh, how very clever of you, then… Well, as you seem to have things well in hoof, I won’t keep you any longer.”

“I will… see you there, my dearest patron?” The Maestro moved forward hopefully. “None… none of this would have been possible without your gifts and instruction. I do so look forward to meeting you... face to face.”

“Oh, Graphis. My darling Graphis…” The voice smiled to him, the chill lifting ever so slightly from his skin as she spoke. “I wouldn’t miss it for all the gold and jewels in the Twelve Cities.”

Graphis huffed proudly, holding his head high.

“There is only one more boon I would ask of you…”

“Of… of course, My Lady… Name it.”

“You met a pony recently, have you not? A stallion… marked with an hourglass?”

Graphis’ blood went cold as his jaw locked up. “Y-yes…”

“When you see him next… give him this.”

Out of nowhere, an envelope appeared in a puff of blue smoke, fluttering down to land on top of the pile of DiHoovsie’s work. Nothing was written upon it, but it bore a wax seal with the mark of an hourglass.

“O-of course, My Lady.”

“Oh, do cheer up, Graphis, my dear…” the voice crooned to him, though he still saw nothing from his mysterious, magical patron. “It’s your birthday, after all. And I promise you this… It will be a night that nopony will ever forget.”

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!