• Published 25th May 2017
  • 8,853 Views, 1,219 Comments

Spectrum - Sledge115



Secrets come to light when a human appears, and the Equestrians learn of a world under siege – by none other than themselves. Caught in a web that binds the great and humble alike, can Lyra find what part she’ll play in the fate of three realms?

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Act I ~ Chapter One ~ The Human

Spectrum

The Team

TheIdiot
“Dear Chairman…”

Jed R
“Don’t ask me, man, I only work here.”

DoctorFluffy
“DOGGO KOTOWARU!”

VoxAdam
Vox Sola Contritione Silvarum

Sledge115
“Heroes never die.”

The Void
A chap powered solely by tea.

RoyalPsycho
He who walks behind the rows.

TB3
The original “I Like Trains” kid.

Kizuna Tallis

ProudToBe

Act One
From Earth To Equestria

Chapter One
The Human

* * * * *

“There are many who are living far below their possibilities because they are constantly handing over their individualities to others. Do you want to be a power in the world? Then be yourself.”
In Tune With the Infinite, by Ralph Waldo Trine

“Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.”
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

~ Ponyville, Equestria ~ First Day of the Month of Rophon, Year 3 of the Era Harmoniae ~

It was a beautiful day in Ponyville, but since moving in from Canterlot, Lyra Heartstrings knew better than to take it for granted. After all, in Ponyville, any normal day could be a prelude to the latest magical mishap, malady or madness to hit what Equestria’s leading insurers had dubbed the nation’s ‘trouble capital’.

Never trust a beautiful day. Word is, things always hit the hardest when it seems nicest.

And yet, wasn’t that the fun of it all? In Ponyville, it seemed anything could happen. So if you were a pony of a curious mind or an adventurous bent, what better place to call your home? And what better thing to do on a fine sunny day, than get out and about, go looking for the next discovery, chase the next adventure, seize that fine day by the ankles and shake it until the spice of life fell in a heap from its saddlebags?

Well, that was a weird mental picture,’ Lyra thought to herself. ‘Strike one for the day.

Still, perhaps that was why, instead of staying back at the town she was lucky to call home, she now trotted along a half-forgotten old path through the Everfree Forest, never minding that, except as a shortcut to the brickyard or the water reservoir – or, more recently, to make a friendly visit to Zecora – most ponies still avoided the forest paths unless they couldn’t help it. It was a golden rule that had been drilled into Lyra ever since she’d agreed to move in with her girlfriend.

Never take the Everfree for granted.

But here she was, a cheery smile coming to her face as she hopped across a small brook. Yes, taking a constitutional into the Forest was somewhat silly, possibly even dangerous, but her curiosity had finally nibbled away enough of her common sense to outweigh caution. It all returned to what Professor Shriek, that dear old thestral who always smelled vaguely of mushrooms, had told her back in Canterlot University:

Love your silly idea.

She’d had some quite unusual teachers in her history. Although it could simply be argued that they all took a leaf from the same book the kooky old Headmaster of Celestia’s School had used. It suited her just fine as a learner and probably explained a lot about her outlook on life. To think, in other words, that even if you knew an idea was silly, didn’t mean there was nothing to be learnt from it. She could ask herself why she’d first conceived the idea, whether it had any potential, and why she truly thought it silly in the first place.

In challenging your preconceptions, you may unearth something entirely unexpected.

In this case, her silly idea had been that there was undiscovered history in the Everfree Forest. It was a premise Lyra had formulated based on the wide variety of local folklore that surrounded the tract of wild woodland, from the curiously well-preserved remains of the Castle of The Two Sisters – which rumour said even Princess Celestia dared not enter – to outlandish stories of a lost village hidden inside the Forest.

Heh, I’m probably not going to find that village on my first expedition,’ Lyra thought lightly. ‘But maybe I can find the source of those stories in the Castle’s library? After all, every legend is anchored to some fragment of truth.

That, right there, was why the Everfree piqued her interest.

Above and beyond the stories, myths and legends, it was simply strange, scientifically speaking. Any unicorn, or indeed, any pony with a pair of dowsing rods could tell at a glance that it was a nucleus of magic. Plot the land of Equestria’s leylines on a map, and you’d see the overgrown Forest was second only to Canterlot in the number of lines that intersected within its confines. Lyra’s own past attempts to measure the Everfree’s energy flux, with tools ranging from a ten-bit thaumic crystal to a Geegee Counter she’d sunk the better part of a month’s earnings into, had all left her with the same result – egg on her face. Quite literally in the case of the crystal, which had transformed into an ostrich egg.

She could feel the magic all around her now as she happily trotted deeper into the brush, wild and primal and alive. And, for all that the Everfree had a bad rep, she felt surprisingly uplifted by that raw vitality.

From above, rays of sunshine gleamed gold upon the verdant leaves and the damp, loamy undergrowth. Her path snaked through small valleys rich with ferns and old growth, watered by clear, fast-running streams, incubated in the muggy warmth of the Summer afternoon. The Forest, whose dense canopy enclosed all life which grew, trod and crawled within its boundaries, felt more than ever like a living entity, a great beast with a moist breath and lifeforce of its own, deep and slow and timeless, and a heart that beat but once each Spring, driving trees and flowers to bloom and colour. Although Celestia’s rays ultimately fed it, the Forest would always be its own domain, an unknown mind, remote and untouched by the ponies who elsewhere governed nature’s cycles, growing the plants and shepherding the clouds.

How strange is it, then,’ Lyra thought, ‘that the two Princesses once elected this location as the seat of their power, their place of rest? Could it be that the Forest hasn’t always been this way, it’s just some old thing which has grown over something even older…

Admittedly, she was spit-balling, which, to be fair, was what ninety percent of research in her field consisted of anyway, so it wasn’t anything new. For every premise that stuck, nine others went straight to Tartarus. But if she sought out the Castle, there was the possibility she’d uncover some forgotten archive detailing, well, something, right?

And heck?’ she mused, looking back at her saddlebags, packed with camera, film, trowels, water, and other essential supplies. ‘Even if I don’t find anything, this’ll still be a lot of fun!

She was going to walk among ancient ruins that had barely known the hoofsteps of ponies for a millennium, she would read through ancient texts of lost lore and law. This could truly be amazing. A part of her began to wonder why more ponies hadn’t already taken a look. Surely Twilight, at the very least, would have been curious to investigate the archaeological significance of the site.

* * * * *

In point of fact, Twilight Sparkle, Ponyville’s resident librarian, did have more than a passing curiosity about said ruins. Ever since her first, momentous night in Ponyville, after discovering the Castle and becoming the Bearer of Magic, she’d dug up anything she could find on the old royal palace, hoping to try and learn more about it, maybe even uncover its secrets. Unfortunately, her ongoing friendship studies, not to mention the surprisingly regular – and increasingly serious – problems that sprung up around town, kept distracting her.

After several months of on-again, off-again research, she had postponed the project and put it at the back of her priorities’ list. As in, the back of the writing parchment she used to list her priorities. Whenever she found the time, however, she would gather her notes and throw herself back into the esoteric subject.

This occasion was a bit of an oddity, as the latest round of upheavals in her life had pushed her back towards research, not away from it. As she pondered the irony, Twilight’s eyes wandered towards the latest addition to her laboratory’s collection of magical relics. A scintillating triangle of enchanted mythril into which had been set a ruby-red diamond, crowned by an ornate crest depicting a winged unicorn mare.

The Alicorn Amulet.

Ancient, unspeakable, and thanks to a certain stage performer, Exhibit A in Ponyville’s fifty-seventh flirtation with disaster since Twilight had taken up residence in the Golden Oaks Library.

“Test N°7,” Twilight dictated aloud, a quill suspended in her aura transcribing as she spoke. “Magical resonance.”

She laid the quill down and took up a pair of tongs. In turn, she used them to pick up a crystal that had been carefully cultivated into a bident and bonded to a pair of vibranium strips. The resulting tool should, when struck against the Amulet, reveal the precise magical frequency of its underlying spell matrix.

Tongue between her lips, Twilight hoofed a pair of safety goggles over her eyes and advanced on the Amulet, which she had secured in a vice.

“Contact.”

Delicately, she tapped the magical tuning fork against the–

* * * * *

Anypony passing by would, at that moment, have seen a flash in the Golden Oaks’ windows, followed by a muffled explosion from below ground.

The Cutie Mark Crusaders were, in fact, just passing by, and would later attest that the entire house-tree had jumped in the air, performed a “totally awesome!” roots-over-branches flip, and landed neatly back in the resulting hole, none the worse for the wear.

The imagination of a child is such a wonderful thing.

* * * * *

Chest hacking from the fumes she’d inhaled, Twilight slammed open the cellar door and crawled into the main living space of her home, pursued by a roiling cloud of smoke. The tongs, smoking remains of the tuning fork still gripped tightly in their tines, were now wrapped around her horn. The Alicorn Amulet itself was impaled in one of the roof’s beams, having achieved sufficient escape velocity to not only break free of the vice, but to punch clear through the floorboards of the room above the lab.

“Results… inconclusive…” Twilight muttered, slumping face-first onto the nearest rug.

She lay there for some time, motionless except for when a unfazed baby dragon briefly left the kitchen to roll her into the recovery position. When she did eventually rise to her hooves, it was with a surprisingly glib look on her face, the look of a scholar, or madmare, faced with the possibility of a Capital-D Discovery.

Wincing, Twilight levitated her new piece of ironmongery headwear clear of her horn and, after a minor struggle, managed to magic the Alicorn Amulet free from its wooden anchorage.

“You’re just full of surprises, aren’t you?” Twilight spoke aloud, summoning another quill and sheet of parchment to take down notes. “Magic artificing on this scale has never been documented except in the case of the Elements of Harmony…”

“And the Crystal Heart,” Spike piped in from the kitchen, where he was currently constructing himself a bowl of ice-cream grand enough to require mountaineering gear for anyone to master.

“Excellent point, Spike!” Twilight nodded, with an approving jab of her quill. Then she frowned. “The Crystal Realm, another mystery sprung into reality, another legend become fact. Like the Elements themselves, and Nightmare Moon– I mean, Princess Luna.”

Contemplative, she turned the Amulet over in her aura, as if expecting a manufacturer’s signature to suddenly reveal itself. The past few years had opened her eyes to new magics, and now she handled an object of a power matched only by artefacts on the level of the Elements.

Oh, and Discord, naturally. But she preferred not to think about him too much. Just because Fluttershy was vouching for him since they’d let him out from his stone prison, she had no real interest in seeking a friendship with the guy.

She briefly wondered if that made her a bad person. After all, he was ‘good’ now, wasn’t he?

“The Alicorn Amulet…” Twilight mused, magically retrieving her notes from the basement. They were somewhat singed, but still legible, and were quickly orbiting her in a cloud of half-formed ideas and hypotheses. “But which alicorn? One of the two Sisters? Or another that has never been documented before?”

“There’s loads of alicorns pictured in your books, Twilight,” Spike offered. He had now set up a small step-ladder, and was using it to delicately place a cherry atop his monument to gluttony. “Like that Princess from the account of the love-poison.”

“Those are just drawings in stories, Spike,” Twilight replied. “Artistic license, used to dress up old mare’s tales.”

“Didn’t ponies use to say that Discord or Nightmare Moon was an old mare’s tale?” Spike replied, as he hunted through the drawers for a suitably magnificent spoon. “Or the Sonic Rainboom?”

As if summoned by his words, a rainbow streak of colour whooshed in through an open window.

The convection thrown up was enough to sweep Twilight’s notes into the newcomer’s slipstream and shred them into so much confetti. Just as unfortunately, it splattered Spike’s carefully constructed snack all over the room.

Bowled over against a bookcase from the sudden shock, their coats and scales covered in a papier-maché mix of parchment and sugar, Twilight and Spike each hauled themselves to a stand, their attention fixed on the mare who’d entered their day in such inimitable style.

Standing in the middle of the common-room was Rainbow Dash, the prismatic pegasus mare looking surprisingly frazzled.

“Twilight,” Dash gasped, seemingly unaware of the mess she had made, “Oh my gosh, Twilight! Twilight, we need your help! I mean I need your help! Lives depend upon it!”

“Whoa, there, Rainbow. What’s the problem?” Twilight replied, the anger she might have felt instantly squashed under a wave of concern for her friend.

“It’s… it’s…” Waving her forehooves around up in the air, Dash all but choked on her own words. “It’s a conspiracy!” she wheezed out at last. “It’s worse than missing out on Sweet Apple Cider Season! You’re the only pony I know who can do anything! Why won’t you just listen to me!”

“I am listening to you,” Twilight told her, raising an eyebrow. Spike, for his part, rolled his eyes.

“No, you’re not!” Dash cried out desperately. “Or else you’d already know what to do!”

Twilight held up a placating forehoof. “Look, slow down, alright,” she said, as calmly as she could. “Not everypony’s as… as quick on the uptake as you.”

Dash took a deep breath. “They don’t want me to have it,” the anxious pegasus stage-whispered to Twilight, shooting a glance at the door. “That must be what this is all about. There must be some big special secret they want to keep from me, it’s the one explanation which makes sense. The truth is out there, Twilight, written down somewhere, and you’re gonna help me uncover it.”

Now this alerted Twilight’s sense of intrigue.

“What truth written down where?” she whispered back. “Who doesn’t want you to have what?”

Daring Do & The Volcano of Destiny, of course!” Dash practically wailed. “Order an ‘advance copy’, they said at A-Mare’s-ON, and it’s a whole day late! And by no fault of Derpy’s, either! Trust them to put precious cargo in the hooves of some guild-drone carrier, at least she knows the ins and outs of this town!”

Twilight did not blink once or twice. She blinked three times.

“And…” she began, recovering. “How can I help you with that problem?”

“How!” Dash echoed, one hoof waving wildly at their soggy surroundings. “You’ve got all... the... books! So you’ve gotta have a copy in here, right?”

“Rainbow,” Twilight said, patiently, or as patiently as possible given that her sanctuary from a world gone mad was now a bombsite, and her fresh coating of paper, cream and additives were rapidly drying towards a consistency best described as itchy. “This is a library, not a bookshop. We don’t get new additions to the catalogue unless we order them in, and since we’re not the National Library of Equestria, we don’t get complimentary copies from the publishers...”

“But… but this is a disaster!” Dash exclaimed, swooping up in the air with a beat of her wings. “It’s money down the drain, and worse, it means I won’t get to read it ahead of everypony else! Here I am, not coming in first, Twilight!”

Spike, who’d managed to scrape off most of his own basting of pureed notes, was walking towards the far side of the room, questing in search of cleaning supplies. “Someday,” he muttered, “she’s gonna have to learn not everything’s a competition.”

Oblivious to Spike’s wisdom, Rainbow Dash flew up to Twilight, getting so right in her face as to be almost touching snout-to-snout.

“Twilight, please,” Dash begged, shaking her friend by the shoulders. “If I don’t pick up that book today, I’m gonna be the laughingstock of the Ponyville Daring Do Fan Club. How could I show my face there again, after making such a big song-and-dance about getting that advance copy?”

Twilight remembered well that song-and-dance. It had involved Dash, whose showmareship and ego were second only to the Great and Powerful Trixie’s, going into a complete musical number, with a series of elaborate airwalks, including one ‘standing’ on her hindlegs.

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Twilight replied, and managed an honest, even affectionate smile. “Given that the Ponyville Daring Do Fan Club currently consists of you and me.”

Dash’s wings missed a beat.

“Oh. Right.” Sheepishly, Dash straightened herself in mid-air to rub the back of her head. “Well, heh, guess I kinda dropped the bombshell there, huh? You must think I’m a real idiot.”

“Look,” Twilight said kindly. “If it means that much to you, I can send a message to my mother.”

“Your Mom?” Dash asked, surprised. “What’s she got to do with this?”

Twilight grabbed a quill, inkwell and parchment as she explained.

“Alright,” she admitted. “The reason why I didn’t tell you this before is, even though we are friends, I didn’t want to be currying favours. You see, my mother is Twilight Velvet, and ever since retiring from Court, she’s been working as an editor for Hoovesbury Publishing, and A.K. Yearling is one of her clients.”

“Oh. My. Gosh,” Dash whispered in awe. “So, you mean that she gets to read books before they’re released?”

Twilight nodded, “That’s the gist of it. Miss Yearling’s manuscripts all pass through her first, on the way towards publication.”

“Why did nopony tell me this job exists?” Dash asked, the excitement beginning to return. “That’s how you make a story so many times more awesome!”

“Rainbow Dash, listen,” Twilight said quickly. She saw where this was going. “I know you might think it sounds great, but I don’t think you’d enjoy the job much. For every good piece of writing, there’s a whole lot of junk to wade through, and you’ve got to through every. Single. One of them. And the writers themselves can be a rather… pushy bunch.”

“Uh, okay?” Dash replied flatly.

“Yeah,” Twilight nodded. “It takes patience, and sometimes the writers refuse to take advice, do their own thing, and burn every bridge in sight. You wouldn’t believe how many times Mother’s told me of how, after countless twists and turns, what ends up making it to publication is something that was re-written from the ground up.”

But this just made Dash look happy again. “Oh, pfft,” she said, blowing a raspberry. “From the ground? I hardly ever touch the ground, Twilight. I’m telling you, I could do this easy.”

“That’s what you think,” Twilight said, scribbling away.

“Say, Twilight?” Dash added, after a lengthy pause. “Why’re you all covered in sugar?”

* * * * *

Being Lyra Heartstrings meant your mind couldn’t sit still for any great length of time.

On her way, she had taken a detour to merrily prance about a field of wild flowers – and out here in the Everfree Forest, the flowers could get very wild, with big pointy teeth and all – then, after this had resulted in a chunk of her tail getting nipped off, she’d changed course again to pop by Zecora’s hut, only to be greeted by a sign in some mystic language which, after careful processing, she’d figured said that the local zebra witch-doctor would be back in five minutes.

Lyra had decided, then and there, that she couldn’t wait five minutes. Though her minty tail might have a tuft missing, though there were other strange encounters to be made in the forest, it was all small potatoes, in her book. The important par, she told herself, patting her camera fondly, was that she still had research to do. Perhaps she could have her little mishap looked at afterwards by Bonbon, though her girlfriend wouldn’t be pleased to hear where she’d gone.

Remember, Lyra, if you stumble upon any oats out here, you’ve got to make it up to Bonbon by bringing ‘em back to her. You owe her, anyway.

And so it was, a little battered, but otherwise unharmed, that Lyra had reached the chasm splitting the Castle of the Two Sisters from the rest of the Forest. There was only one tiny problem; the sole bridge to cross was gone.

She recalled what Twilight had told her of that night her friend, together with the five special mares who’d cottoned on for the ride, had travelled out into the wild to find the Elements of Harmony, and thus free Princess Luna from the curse of Nightmare Moon. Several trials of character had awaited them. Rainbow Dash’s, naturally, had involved flying across this very canyon to fix the rope-bridge.

What a surprise, Dash’s workmanship had proven pretty shoddy. Or not built to last, at any rate.

That’s what comes of only having teeth to grip things,’ Lyra thought, staring down at her forehooves crossly. ‘How am I going to get across? No way am I turning back!

Across the chasm, the moss- and vine-covered ruins awaited, seeming to almost taunt her with how close they were, and yet so far. What was it, she wondered, about wanting things so hard that it felt as if they took on a mind of their own, usually so they could mock you? Or perhaps that was just something the Everfree did. The very clouds in this place moved on their own, for heavens’ sake.

It wasn’t such a wide space separating her from the other side. Stepping towards the edge, which loosened a few pebbles beneath her hooves, Lyra peered critically at the broken remains of the bridge hanging over the cliffside.

All that it’d require was a little focus, and she could magic her way forward. Maybe lift the opposite half of the bridge and join the pieces back together. Or, better yet, why not simply teleport?

Lyra wetted her lips, feeling a bead of sweat on her forehead. ‘Well, no shame in trying.

Taking a cautious step back, she gritted her teeth, willing the spark to form at the tip of her horn. With concentration, a fleck of gold appeared, channelling the magical energy stored within her body from birth as a unicorn. Most unicorns specialised in two or three spells at most, and teleportation was notoriously difficult, but she’d been to Celestia’s School. She could do this.

“C’mon, Lyra,” she muttered, silently cursing herself for cutting class. “You’ll do fine, just think happy thoughts.”

That had been her Headmaster’s advice at the old school. But nice as Equestria was, sometimes she felt that ‘good cheer’ and positivity were treated as a bit too much of an all-purpose solution. She wasn’t sure they were doing much to help at this moment.

They had done only so much for her, after she got released from the Changeling Queen’s control.

Needles pricked her brain as the unwanted memory washed over her, and her spark died. Groaning, Lyra clutched at her forehead, feeling herself teeter on her three hooves, suddenly very conscious of how the sheer drop yawed ahead.

After living for years in a town where assaults from strange beasts were a fact of life, to have experienced such a close brush with doom back at her home city sent fear rippling down her coat. Although, as always, things had ended happily, the Royal Wedding a roaring success, a piece of her heart would ever carry the burden of knowing she’d been placed in thrall to a devil.

Think... happy thoughts…’ Lyra urged herself. ‘Sunshine and rainbows...

Bonbon had been there to comfort her, in the night after, and for many nights beyond…

Such grand music Octavia Melody and Vinyl Scratch had made for the wedding…

The train ride in the company of Twilight and friends back to Ponyville…

… And it had been sort of interesting to meet a new species.

That’s better.

With a raise of her head, Lyra smiled as she felt the spark reignite atop her horn. Confidence flooded her, confidence that nothing would, or could, ever keep her down for long. She was a mare of simple tastes, leading her own small life, content to leave duty to others, but none may call her idle, although they often did. When she wanted something dearly, she’d climb mountains for it. Or cross chasms, as the case may be.

Fueled by such thoughts, the picture of where she wished her magic to lead her coalesced within her mind, and a golden aura enveloped all of her. She closed her eyes at the brightness, feeling her body momentarily grow weightless in the space between spaces.

When she next opened her eyes, Lyra was surprised to be standing at the bottom of the chasm.

* * * * *

It was another kind of challenge for Rainbow Dash to contain her impatience, as well as her glee, while she watched her dear friend Twilight finish writing the letter that, finally, would get her the book she couldn’t wait to put her hooves on, wrap it up and tug it in bed by her side.

“There, that’s done,” Twilight said, rolling up the scroll. “Spike, care to do the honours?”

“Wait,” Dash said, “That thing he does, with the green fire and all, I thought it only sent messages to Princess Celestia?”

“I’m right here, Rainbow Dash,” Spike said, walking up to take the scroll from Twilight. “And, yeah, the spell’s designed so that anything I set on fire, instead of burning, gets sent to Celestia. That is, unless I concentrate really hard on doing it otherwise. If I want, for example, I can get a letter to Twilight’s mom’s living-room, no problem. Done it before.”

Looking almost bored, he blew upon the scroll which, as expected, dissolved without ash, not burnt but sent elsewhere.

“You know, Spike,” Dash said thoughtfully. “You ever try doing to that for a whole book?”

She’d said the wrong thing. Before her eyes, Spike gulped as Twilight visibly tensed up.

“He’s expressly forbidden from it,” Twilight said coldly. “Ever since that time he decided that, rather than have to return a trolley full of books the Princess had lent me, he could just burn them. Luckily Celestia thought it was funny. We had to set aside time for a whole six months, just so we could track down all the missing pages scattered around the Palace.”

”Every time you think you’ve put a book back together…” Spike mumbled abashedly. “Turns out there’s, like, an index missing, or an editor’s note…”

“Ah, well, never mind,” Dash said, desperate to change the subject. “So, uh, Twi’, how is your, um, research coming along?” she asked awkwardly, scanning the room for a suitable diversion. That was how she came to spot the Alicorn Amulet on the desk. “Researching the… Amulet, wasn’t it?”

That did the trick. Instantly, Twilight’s scientific curiosity supplanted her annoyance.

“Oh yes, it’s so exciting!” Twilight said, bouncing, of all things, over to her desk. “Would you believe,” shr expostulated, levitating up the Amulet, “The intricate complexity which composes this thing’s matrix and thus lends it its capacity to amplify power, it’s just… astounding! Like nothing I’ve seen before!”

“Equish, please, Twilight,” Dash sighed, touching down beside her. “What does all that mean?”

Twilight grinned. “It means, if I’m reading this right, that the Alicorn Amulet works on every kind of pony magic, not only unicorns. Why, any pegasi and earthponies who put this on would become… how did you once put it?”

“Uh?” Dash’s mouth hung half-open. “Did I say something? I don’t do egghead stuff, Twilight, you know that.”

“Yes,” Twilight smiled. “But, didn’t you have this scale of percentage measurement for how you estimate, in superlatives, the abstract quality of an emotional high?”

Despite Dash’s previous words, the gears in her head, by now accustomed to Twilight-speak, were busily turning to translate what her friend had just said.

“Oh, right. Twenty percent cooler,” Dash said slowly, still half-agape. “Why does everypony act as if that’s my catchphrase or something? I only used it, like, that one time!”

“Well,” Twilight replied, tapping the Amulet, “Rarity did say she’d make a note of it, so she’d be prepared next time she’d have to make you a dress.” She paused briefly. “Hm, wasn’t that following the occasion when she’d offered us all new dresses for the Grand Galloping Gala, and we nearly ruined her career by micro-managing our commissions ‘til they looked awful?”

“Yeah, don’t remind me,” Dash said grumpily. “Twilight, why’ve you got this habit of telling everypony all the stuff they should already know?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Dash flexed her wings. “Like,” she grunted, holding out a forehoof, “every time we embark on an adventure, or go somewhere new, it’s like you feel worried we’re not gonna remember why we’re there and what we’ll be doing? I mean, maybe that’s just your thing, but it’s kinda weird. Who talks like that?”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Somepony who’s all about keeping things neat and organised? The pony who gets things sorted for her friends when they’re in a sticky situation? Such as a late delivery on a new book?”

“Yeah, good point,” Dash admitted, bashfully rubbing the back of her head. “Guess it must it be second nature to you. Look, Twi’, it’s cool, just so long’s you don’t start telling me how you got that Amulet. I was a part of it, remember?”

“Yeah,” Twilight nodded hesitantly. “To be honest, I’d rather not think about it too much. That… really wasn’t the smiliest of outcomes to an adventure of ours.”

The brows furrowed on Rainbow Dash’s face. Her attempts to divert her friend’s attention had merely succeeded in leading deeper into uncomfortable territory. There was nothing for it, she’d have to own up.

“Hey, Twilight,” Dash said, laying a forehoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Sorry if I’ve been… kind of a pain to be around. Excitement, messes with my brain, ya know? But you don’t have to feel bad ‘bout what happened. Trixie had it coming.”

“That doesn’t mean I feel happy about it,” Twilight said glumly. “She did have a bit of a reason to feel angry at us. It isn’t like luring the Ursa Minor into Ponyville was her idea. And when push came to shove, she did try to fight it off instead of running away.”

“Bleh,” Dash said, pushing her tongue inside her cheek. “Shouldn’t have been boasting in the first place like she was.”

“You enjoy boasting.”

“Except I really am that great!” Dash insisted. “You don’t go around bragging about things you can’t do for real, that’s silly! Don’t talk the talk if you can’t walk the walk. Not that I do much, um… walking. ‘Sides, you’re goin’ about it as if that star-bear ate her up or something. But everypony got more scared than hurt, which’s the important thing, right?”

“It hurt her career,” Twilight said softly. “She told us so herself, made her a laughingstock. Nopony bought her showmare’s act after that embarrassing incident.”

“There you go again–” Dash began, but she cut herself off. “Yeah. Okay, that was rotten luck, worse than she deserved. Still doesn’t justify striding back into town wearing a dark artefact of black magic. How dare she? Honestly, Twilight, I’m surprised at you. You’re the one who Trixie was trying to show up, when all you did was fix her mess, cos’ that’s what you do.”

Spike, who was reading a magazine, coughed from his side of the room.

“If you ask me,” he muttered. “Should’ve shown Trixie what real magic was from the start, not let her hype up all her phony tricks. That’d have got her to hush her loud mouth real quick. That way she wouldn’t be staring now at a whole five years to figure out Hoofdini’s escape act.”

Twilight glared at him, and Dash found herself glaring at him, too.

“What? What’d I say?”

“You know, Spike,” Twilight whispered, “sometimes you don’t know when to hush yourself.”

Dash broke her glare. “Ah, go easy on him, Twilight. He’s just a kid.”

“Well, Rainbow,” Twilight said, glancing her way, “I don’t think it’s funny to crack jokes about a mare facing a five-year prison sentence.”

“You sound an awful lot like Fluttershy,” Dash grunted. “Last I saw of her, she was out in town collecting jam to send Trixie as a comfort package. I swear, all that kindness, it’s gonna land her in a real jam someday.”

“Sometimes I think there’s a lot more to Fluttershy’s meekness than meets the eye,” Twilight commented. “See how she got Discord to play nice… and that was a spirit of disharmony imprisoned for a thousand years.”

Rainbow Dash might have felt inclined to say more, but her own mention of Fluttershy’s care package had got her thinking back to the time she’d been the one to get such a package from her friends, at Wonderbolt Academy. As usual, because their lives were nothing if not filled with unlikely troubles, this simple act of delivery had led into a death-defying stunt of her rescuing the others when they got caught in a tornado, courtesy of her overzealous flight leader.

Still, after getting demoted, Lightning Dust had admitted she was wrong. Proven she had some loyalty to the team in her, not just loyalty to herself. Though left fuming, this had led Dash to forgive her for it all.

She wondered how much there really was to this “forgiveness” business.

… Typical of going to visit Twi’ for anything. It always had to wind up on thinking big thoughts.

* * * * *

“Now how’d I get down here?” Lyra grumbled aloud. “And how do I get out?”

There had to be a mishap in the magic. She’d wanted to transport herself to the other side, not get caught slap-bang between two cliffsides, a rock and a hard place, whichever was which. Vaguely, she supposed it was lucky she hadn’t utterly missed her mark and teleported in mid-air. Without any clouds to catch her, the fall would have been cruel.

Maybe I could create some stairs?’ Lyra thought, looking towards a large, flat brown rock. ‘Just one rock in front of the other, and I’ll be fine. Easy as piling oats.

She took a deep breath, imagined holding the rock, and felt her magic grip it...

The rock shattered to powder underneath her grip.

What!

Lyra had barely touched it with her TK. Barely even felt it in her magic. Either that had been particularly weak sandstone, or something weird was happening.

Her eyes darted the dry canyon bed for another rock, finally settling on something sturdier. Limestone, by the looks of it. A small slab, just to test it. Tongue sticking out, she tried again, feeling her magic wrap around the rock, ready to lift. Except this time, whereas her magic had pulverised the first rock, this time, she could barely hold onto it. It was as if the rock weighed about fifty pounds more than it should.

This doesn’t make any sense. Every teacher said I had above-average precision, whatever that means. So how am I doing this? Something has to be wrong with...

Lyra froze, and let the rock drop to the ground.

The magic.’

Something hadn’t felt right when she’d tried out teleportation. When she’d lifted the first rock, she had gripped too hard without intending to. Now she was unable to lift something that, by all rights, ought to have been a piece of cake. What could have–

Lyra turned, heart caught in her throat.

There was something on the air, a kind of humming which had gotten stronger after her attempt to move the rock. She could almost, not quite hear it, but feel it. It wasn’t a noise. It was more as if someone had tapped a tuning fork to a rock, and Lyra’s horn was vibrating in tune with it.

Magical fluctuation!’ she thought, harried. ‘Oh, this could be bad! This could be very bad! Like, Bonbon getting-garbage-dumped-on-her levels of bad!

Twitching, she looked all around for a way out of the chasm.

Instinct took over. Barely checking to ensure she still had her saddlebags and everything she needed inside, Lyra fled. She galloped as far away as she could from where she’d appeared, winding down what path the chasm had to offer, in desperate hope of finding some way out.

After a few moments, she caught a glimmer of… something, only to find herself near what looked like some kind of natural rock formation, not unlike a staircase.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Lyra breathed out, panting. “Didn’t expect finding a way would be that easy.”

Before she had set hoof on the stairs, however, the glimmer caught her eye again. It was originating from the inside of a cave to her right, a little way from the bottom of the ‘stairs’.

Hesitant, Lyra glanced upwards, to the blue skies. Then, in an instant, succumbing to curiosity, Lyra left her escape route behind, and trotted towards the gleam, into the cave’s mouth.

Some sort of natural crystal formation?

The cave was deep, but it didn’t take her long to find the source of the light. Her eyes widened with wonder as, reaching the centre, they beheld a most extraordinary sight.

It looked, to all intents and purposes, like a giant tree.

But not just any tree. This one, majestic and towering within its lonely cavern, had apparently grown from the living crystal, sprouting five jagged branches which embossed at the ends by diamonds of different colours. Colours that looked oddly familiar to Lyra, though she couldn’t quite place them. At the heart of this tree in which the crystalline formations of the branches met, where a knothole might have been found upon an ordinary tree, was an arrangement not unlike a star.

Just like Twilight’s mark, some part of her thought, unbidden.

Below that, strangest of all, between the roots, were the imprints of the Sun and the Moon.

“Is it… you?” Lyra asked aloud, looking at the tree. “Are you the source of the magical disturbance?”

She felt almost stupid for talking to it, but reassured herself that she’d been taught there were many entities that existed within otherwise static objects.

The tree scintillated, twinkling as if in reply.

“Why?” Lyra asked simply. “Why am I…?”

There was a sudden rumble. Lyra turned around, frowning, before looking back at the tree. Another rumble came, shaking dust off the roof of the cavern, stronger than the last one, and then another.

Is the cave unstable?’ Lyra wondered uneasily, taking a step back.

Suddenly there was a flash of what almost looked like lightning, and Lyra jumped.

“What was that!” she yelled, more out of reflex than anything.

Another flash lashed out, seemingly from nowhere, and then like clockwork, another. Lyra backed away, feeling the urge to run, but something compelled her to stay – whether fear or morbid curiosity, she couldn’t say.

The flashes continued, one after the other, until in a sudden blaze of light there was an ultimate, blindingly white glare that filled the whole cavern. When it receded, a figure was standing in front of the tree, enveloped in a shroud of golden dust, turning the cool, pale light inside the cavern into that of the twilight Sun….

Blinking away tears, Lyra stared at the mysterious apparition, which stared back.

Bipedal. Clothes. Mostly hairless, except–’

“Ly-Lyra?” the figure whispered. “Lyra Heartstrings?”

“Yes…” Lyra whispered in reply, eyes wide with shock.

“This… this must be Heaven… unless...” the figure said, something like a smile gracing its strange features. “You… you did it. Lyra… you actually… actually did it…”

That was all it said, as it lapsed into unconsciousness on the spot, collapsing heavily to the ground in front of the tree. At once, Lyra dashed over.

Human…’ Lyra thought reflexively as she checked the creature was still breathing. ‘It’s a human. Right? Two hands.Her brain had gone into analytical mode. ‘Bipedal structure and opposable-thumb hands…

She noticed something else. The eerie reverberation in the background had dissipated. Which meant she should be able to work her magic again now.

“Hang on in there, pal,” Lyra whispered to the new creature, horn lighting anew, now certain she knew what it was. “I’ll get us some help.”

Her horn flashed, with far less effort this time, and Lyra found she had taken them back to where she had started, in front of the broken bridge. Even in her determination to aid a vulnerable stranger, her power could only carry them so far.

Drawing upon what she’d learnt of how the recovery position applied to two-legged creatures, Lyra rested its head against its forelimbs – its hands, she thought, regretting that she had no time to marvel – wincing at its unconscious groan.

The question crossed her mind as to who she’d get. Out here in the Everfree, Zecora was the obvious choice, yet there was no telling when she might return home. Briefly, Bulk Biceps‘ training spot crossed Lyra’s mind. She dismissed it almost instantly. Agreeable as the the bodybuilder could be, explaining things to him would cost her more time and trouble than he was worth. Besides, Lyra didn’t want to run the risk of that nosey parker Featherweight learning about the creature from his father.

That left her with no option but to make the run all the way back to Ponyville.

Twilight,’ Lyra thought, turning tail and setting off at a hard gallop. ‘She’ll know what to do, she always does.

* * * * *

“And that’s how far I’ve got,” Twilight finished explaining at last. “See how far that is. I’m actually contemplating asking Discord if he can tell me anything about the highly mysterious, highly dangerous magical artefact. The point is, Rainbow,” she said, peering at the Amulet, “I don’t know how I’ll get this thing to unwrap its secrets for me.”

Dash tilted her head. “You sure it’s something we oughtta find out?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Twilight asked, frowning in confusion. “Anything we can learn from this can tell us something about the past, when it was made, and who by!”

“And, maybe, why they wanted to create something that sends ponies power-mad and cuckoo-crazy? I get I’m not the brightest spark ‘round here, but what if it’s… I dunno, ‘things ponies were not meant to know’?”

Twilight snorted. “I don’t believe there are ‘things ponies were not meant to know’.”

“You’ll say that, and then you'll read some ancient book or find some ancient tomb and inadvertently unleash some mystical doodad,” Dash said, raising an eyebrow. “Like in that Daring Do rip-off, what was it… The Mareohs of Neighypt, when they cursed ponies and they turned into horrible monsters that could destroy the world!”

Twilight snorted. “Ancient artefacts don’t tend to cause curses and suchlike. That’s usually confined to the realm of fiction.”

“It drove Trixie crazy, that’s sort of like a curse.”

“Well, okay, that is a good point, but–” Twilight’s train of thought abruptly derailed. “You read a book other than Daring Do?”


Dash shrugged. “Got bored, got desperate, it looked similar… and Minus recommended it to me. Think she might’ve meant it as a prank. Last time I try broadening my horizons.” She smirked. “What do you think I am, stupid?”

“No, it’s not that,” Twilight began, and then she sighed. “Sorry, I’m happy that you did try. Anyway, broadening your horizons can be good.”

“Not to a pegasus, it isn’t,” Dash retorted. “The sky’s just right as it is, don’t need to be no bigger.”

Twilight snorted again. “I’m fairly certain that’s less a pegasus thing, and more a you thing. Plenty of other pegasi seem less averse to trying new things.”

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Look, I like what I like, it works for me. ‘Kay?”

It was Twilight’s turn to shrug. “Whatever you say, Dash. I have a lot to be–”

Before she could finish, the door to the library burst open.

“Twilight!” a familiar voice yelled, and Twilight yelped in surprise at the sight of a very breathless Lyra Heartstrings, who looked as though she’d been galloping at top speed. “You need to… one mo’…”

“Lyra?” Twilight managed. “What… what’s wrong?”

“Injured… creature… new…” Lyra replied haltingly. “Forest… Castle. Down the… chasm. You… need to come. Like, now.”

And without another word, she dashed out the door again, closing it. Twilight glanced at Dash.

“Sounds… weird,” Dash supplied after a moment.

Twilight sighed. “Come on, we need to get the others and follow her. Celestia only knows what this is about.”

She went to the front door and reopened it, only to now find herself nose-to-nose with the familiar, floofy-haired form of Pinkie Pie.

“Hi!” the exuberant baker said with a smile, almost casually.

Twilight blinked as she realised the rest of the Element Bearers – Rarity the seamstress, Applejack the apple farmer and Fluttershy the animal caretaker, the last of whom had her saddlebags slung around her waist – were standing in her doorstep behind Pinkie, looking various kinds of flustered.

“Uh…” Twilight said, “I was… about to come find you.”

“Yup!” Pinkie said cheerfully.

Twilight frowned in confusion. “Then… why are you…”

“Pinkie Sense.”

“... Pinkie Sense.”

“Had a real big doozy, thought you’d probably want the gang together, found them all, came here,” Pinkie clarified, still smiling. “There sure was a great disturbance in this horse!”

Dash glanced at Twilight. “Well, isn’t that ever so convenient.”

“Um, not really,” Fluttershy attempted, tapping her saddlebags. “See, I was out buying jam for Trixie…”

“Pinkie gathered us all in rather short order,” Rarity said, exasperated. “And I’ll have you know I was busy on an important new clothing line and–”

“Shucks, we were all busy,” Applejack put in, “but if it’s a Pinkie Sense, better to get it over with.” She smiled. “So, what’s up, Twi’?”

“Well,” Twilight began. “I was in the middle of trying to study the Alicorn Amulet, then Rainbow Dash came in, wanted my help getting the new Daring Do book, and after that was done, we had quite a chat about all that’s happened lately. I hoped those might be the last of our problems for a long time, but now Lyra’s popped by and she says there’s this new creature.”

“New creature?” Fluttershy asked, less timidly than usual. “Where?”

“Out in the Forest, I’m afraid. At the old Castle, what’s more,” Twilight explained. “That’s all I got. I think she said something about it being… injured.”

“How awful!” Fluttershy gasped. “We can’t just leave it out there on its own!”

“Fluttershy, I’ve no idea what this is, and Lyra, she can be pretty silly–”

“Not so silly as not to know when a critter needs help,” Applejack interrupted firmly. “If she says we’re needed, then needed we are. C’mon, girls, less yappin’, more gallopin’. We hafta get to the Castle, pronto.”

She turned and headed off, most of the others following. Dash’s brow was creasing.

“Y’know, there’s something screwy about all this. Like… I dunno, I have a bad feeling about–”

“Don’t say it,” Twilight said heavily. “Next you'll be telling me you have a ‘Dashie Sense’.”

Dash blinked. “Of course not, Twilight. That’d just be silly.”

Before Twilight could say anything else, Rainbow had turned and dashed off to follow the others. She quietly sighed and shook her head.

“You wait here, Spike. I’m off to see what all the fuss is about this time...”

As the door closed behind Twilight, the echo of her hurrying hoofsteps mixing with her friends’ in resounding further and further away, Spike shared a look with the newest occupant of their little family at Golden Oaks Library.

“Well then, Peewee,” he said, rolling up his magazine, discarding it. “Looks like it’s just you and me now. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. It’s how things work around here.”

The phoenix chick chirped affectionately.

* * * * *

He crawled.

He crawled because walking hurt, and because staying still was as good as dying. He crawled, because he could, and because that was a miracle in itself. He crawled because he was damned if he died in some hole, far from home.

He was damned if he died without doing everything he could. People counted on him. A world depended on him.

He crawled, leaving the chasm behind him, grimacing in pain as he did so.

He crawled and ran a checklist through his mind, to wrench his attention from the pain. What had happened to him? How had he landed here? And where was here?

Had that really been Lyra?

He crawled.

* * * * *

Catching up to Lyra did not yield any answers for Twilight.

Then again, only so much about that mare ever did, it seemed. Strange to think they’d been friends in Canterlot, and yet a lot about Lyra still felt like an enigma to Twilight. Over time, she’d come to suspect this had less to with Lyra than it did with herself, as her understanding of ‘friendship’ had greatly evolved in the days since moving to Ponyville. It remained a bit odd, nonetheless, that the only mare from the old Canterlot crowd to have moved with her should be the one she felt the least on an even keel with.

“Lyra, would you please just tell us what’s up?” Twilight cried exasperatedly.

“There was a creature!” Lyra called back, speaking in a rushed voice. “I don't know where it came from, there was some sort of magic, some kind of…”

“Slow down!” Twilight cried. “What do you mean ‘creature’?”

“I mean, a creature, a being, something I've never seen before!” Lyra called. “Well, not in the flesh anyway, but a–”

“Hold on,” Dash said suddenly, stopping dead in the air. “Everypony hold it!”

At once, everyone stopped along the forest path. Lyra looked back at Dash with annoyance, and Twilight couldn't help but share her confusion.

“What is it?”

“Over there,” Dash said, pointing, her voice low and hushed. “You see it. Right?”

Twilight looked at her, then at the thing she was pointing at, and then back at Dash. She took a breath.

“It’s a tree, Rainbow.”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Well, duh! Of course it’s a tree! But look at it!”

Sighing, Twilight looked back at the tree. It was an especially gnarled specimen of an old oak, sure, but there didn't seem to be anything particularly wrong with it.

“You see it, don't you?” Dash asked. She looked at the others. “Any of you?”

“Huh, I do!” Pinkie Pie put in. The pink party pony had her head tilted at an almost entirely upside-down angle, a look of concentration on her face. “It’s a skull!”

Turning to look at the tree once more, Twilight followed Pinkie’s lead in tilting her head. The other five followed suit. Now that Pinkie had said it, the tree’s arrangement did look like a pony’s skull. Sort of. The gloom under the canopy did not help.

“Yeah,” Lyra said, with a troubled frown. “It kinda does. Huh.”

“Ghastly,” Rarity said, eager and quick to straighten herself. “Only in the Everfree Forest would one ever get such a horrid display.”

Pinkie Pie tapped her chin. “Come to think of it… haven’t we been here before? I swear, that looks familiar.”

“Now that you mention it, darling,” Rarity said. “It does remind me of something. We have been here, right?”

“I think,” Fluttershy added tremulously, “I think I remember something like this tree, from the night we had to follow Nightmare Moon.”

“Here’s hoping that’s what the omen was, then,” Dash said.

“What omen? What do you mean?” Twilight asked, looking at Dash, who wore an expression of utmost concern on her face. She looked at the tree again, scowling at it, then back to Dash, who simply motioned to the tree as if to say ‘well?’

“So… it’s a tree that vaguely resembles a skull,” Twilight said after a moment. “Really… really vaguely.” She sighed. “How is this important?”

“It’s a Death Tree, Twilight!” Dash said, somewhat impatiently.

“A what?”

“Oh, come on!” Dash yelled. “You’re the egghead, you’ve got to have heard of a Death Tree!”

“I really haven’t,” Twilight said. “It must be an obscure myth of some kind…”

To her surprise, there came a small cough from behind her. Twilight turned to see Fluttershy smiling slightly, if worriedly.

”Back in the days before Equestria was unified,” Fluttershy said quietly, “there was a unit of pegasus troopers from the old junta, who marched through a forest. On hoof, because it was storming harder than they’d ever known, or would ever know until the Great Winter, and they hoped the cover might protect them. Look, they didn’t understand yet that it isn’t safe to shelter under trees in a lightning storm. And that’s how they came upon these trees which appeared in the shape of grinning skulls, but even though they took it as a bad sign, their commander pushed them on.”

“And they were never seen again,” Dash finished dramatically. “The trees were an omen! Only one soldier escaped, and he was half out of his mind! No-one ever truly discovered what happened that night.”

“Ever since then,” Fluttershy said, her voice quivering, “Death Trees have been omens of bad luck, death, and s-slaughter. Pegasi don't fly when they see one. We turn away.”

Twilight looked from Fluttershy to Dash with incredulity, Lyra’s urgency quite forgotten in all the commotion. “And you believe that hokum?”

Dash tapped the side of her head. “It’s one of the oldest campfire tales in pegasus history! We grew up with it!”

“It’s only a tree,” Twilight countered. “I mean, yeah, it’s an ugly tree…”

“Twilight, it’s a skull!” Dash said insistently. “We can all see it! Even you!”

“She’s right about that, sugarcube,” Applejack said somberly. “It’s a tree and it looks like a skull. Reckon that fits all the criteria for this ‘death tree’ thingamajig.”

“Exactly!” Dash said. “So it’s a Death Tree, it has to be!”

Twilight sighed. “Really, though? It’s an old tree. It looks a little bit like a skull. That doesn’t mean that some horrible thing is gonna happen–”

“Wh-what in Equestria is that?” shrieked Rarity, clutching Fluttershy.

There was a creature, staring at them from the woods.

“Oh no…” Lyra whispered.

It was tall, maybe six foot. Bipedal, and wearing clothes – grey, black and white camouflage patterns over the trousers and torso, the upper body attire consisting of some sort of light armour, the whole of it dirty, covered in grime and what looked like blood. Parts of the attire were torn, showing bloody gashes and at least one nasty burn. Its eyes were blue, its hair cropped short, down to a blonde and a wispy goatee on its chin.

Notably, there were a few odd markings on its pale skin. They were blue, almost luminescent, like writing in some unknown script.

“Everypony, stay calm,” Lyra said. “This is the creature I mentioned. Celestia knows how it dragged itself all this way…”

“What… the flaming Tartarus… are we looking at?” Rainbow Dash asked, a look of bewilderment on her face.

“Rainbow Dash, watch your language,” Fluttershy admonished reflexively.

The creature, whatever it was, was blinking at them, apparently confused.

“Wh–” it grunted, eyes widening slightly.

“That…” Lyra said, a grin forming on her face. “That’s a…”

“No!” the figure said, its voice masculine. It held up one of its upper arms – was that a claw, or a paw at the end? – in a warding gesture. “No, you won’t!”

This wiped the grin off Lyra’s face. When Twilight stepped forward, the creature took a step further back.

“Uh… we aren’t going to hurt you,” she said.

“You won’t change me!” he hissed with surprising venom for his condition. He stumbled backward, before, in a sudden motion, collapsing to the leaves-strewn path, seemingly from exhaustion.

At once, Lyra rushed forward, Twilight and the others behind her.

“What… what is it?” Rarity asked, frowning in confusion.

“I think…” Lyra said, clearing her throat. “I think it’s a human.”

There was a moment of confused silence before Twilight spoke up, frowning. “A… a human? But… but that’s impossible. Humans, they’re not real. They’re myths.”

“Ponyville seems to have somethin’ of a sizeable population of myths these days,” said Applejack.

“Yeah,” Lyra said, grinning at her, feeling triumphant despite the poor human’s injured state. “They’re supposed to be. But I’ve studied them all my life, and I can tell you, this,” she gestured at the figure, “is definitely one.”

She turned to gaze down at the unconscious human, uncertain how to react, giddy nonetheless.

“You know, I always wondered if they were real. I always believed…” Lyra let out an almost imperceptible squeal of excitement, forehooves dancing in the dirt. “And now, here it is! A human! Human-human-human!”

Twilight was still frowning, apparently unconvinced. “But…” she said slowly, repeating herself. “That’s impossible. They’re not real.”

Rarity shook her head. “I don’t think we’re in a position to judge on this one, Twilight.”

“It’s here,” Lyra said, pointing at the being which lay on the forest path. “It’s real.”

“Yeah,” Dash added with a smirk. “Try broadening your horizons, Twi’.”

Twilight gave her a withering look.

“Impossible or not,” Applejack interjected brusquely, “this fella needs a doctor somethin’ fierce. Look at these injuries... it’s beat up worse’n Braeburn in a bar fight with a buffalo.”

“Applejack’s right,” Fluttershy spoke up. “Something terrible must’ve happened to it.”

“That poor human, then!” Pinkie Pie said. “I hope we can help it out. Maybe a party will do the trick?”

“I’m not sure,” Fluttershy said, cradling her saddlebags. “I have a bad feeling about it.”

“You think so?” Pinkie asked, leaping onto a tree stump. “Everyone loves parties. Besides, I’m sure that when he wakes up he’ll be happy to have cake, and be surrounded by concerned faces.”

“First we need to get him to safety,” said Lyra, unsaddling her own bags. “Flutters, pass me your saddlebags, we can use these as a cushion for its head.”

Lyra pinched her bottom lip, staring over the injuries the human had suffered. Some were clearly lacerations, but more than a few made her think, based in no small part on prior experience, of magic burns.

“I wonder what happened to them…”

* * * * *

Another pair of eyes watched the group as they began trying to move the unconscious human. These eyes studied the mares carefully, lingering on Lyra Heartstrings especially.

I know these mares. They wouldn’t help a human without ponifying. Especially not him. And they wouldn’t be talking to the Apostate… if that really is her, somehow.

And yet here they were.

Curious,the owner of those eyes thought. ‘Is this the past, or some strange alternate reality? Where am I?

All evidence suggested that they were somewhere else.

Wherever this was, the owner of those carefully watching eyes knew their duty. They would follow, they would watch, and they would serve their Mistress’s interests.

* * * * *

And the Tree of Harmony... sighed.

The Tree could sense their presence, these six mares who wore as hallowed talismans the fruit it had once borne, and the alien creature brought from another world. Most of all, strange as this may feel, the Tree sensed their common friend, a curious little green unicorn who had stumbled upon it by happenstance, for happenstance it was. Destiny played little role in these things, less than many believed.

Would the six mares have collected their six talismans without the careful, attentive planning of Princess Celestia?

It was not a pre-ordained path which had led Lyra Heartstrings to find the human here. The human had been sent to this spot, one of a scant few unto which he could be sent, because out of all the vast realms of possibility, this was the reality in which Lyra had, by inadvertence, crossed paths with the Tree of Harmony.

The Tree did not possess the power of speech, not as beings of flesh-and-blood understood it, nor could its words be heard by ordinary ears. But had anyone chanced to visit it at that moment, they would have felt a peculiar sensation, akin to two words coursing through their selves, soft as the rustle of crystalline leaves in the wind.

Forgive Me.

Author's Note:

Spectrum 2.1 - Autumn 2021

VoxAdam: Welcome to Equestria. Or, as it shall come to be known, “Sunny” Equestria. The world of our heroines from the show, namely Twilight and her friends. But also the home of our heroine for this story, Lyra Heartstrings.

Who is the human who appeared in the Everfree Forest and how did he get here? Who is that has followed him?

  • A new plot breadcrumb; the book Rainbow Dash was waiting for to arrive in the mail is Daring Do & The Volcano of Destiny, one of the canonically-given titles to the Daring Do books in the franchise.
  • Furthering the placement of “canon” events in Spectrum, Trixie’s non-canon arrest following the events of ‘Magic Duel’ is confirmed to have occurred a year prior.

Spectrum 2.0 - June 18th 2017

DoctorFluffy: KNOCK KNOCK, HUMPADUMPS! I’m here because I’m ready to have some fun writing for once in a loooong time. And because these people are some of the best friends I’ve ever made. I mean that wholeheartedly.

Jed R: Hello, everyone. I'll make my section brief. If you're reading this, you're about to join us on a reworked journey through this familiar tale. We've all worked hard to make it as good as we can. I can only promise for my part to do my best, and try not to make my contributions too dull for anyone. 

With all best wishes, 
Jed

The Void: Greetings. I am sure I speak for everyone on here when I say I am honoured to work on this story with the fantastic crew we have. New reader, old reader, I hope you all enjoy the story. I thank each and every one of you for your time.

RoyalPsycho: I’m more than happy to help however I can.

VoxAdam: We are Groot.

Sledge115: Standing by at the ready, gentlemen.

TB3: All present and correct, sir.

Kizuna Tallis: I was born ready. I’m Ron fucking Swanson.

TheIdiot: Hello, everyone. I am sure that some of you are confused and some of you are lost on what has happened in the past week or so. The best answer I can give to you all is that, following a sorted series of events, I stand as the leader of Spectrum now. To best move forward, we - as a group of collaborators - have decided to make a reboot of Spectrum.

I do thank Redskin122004 for originally starting this tale and, initially, inspiring us. We owe him that much, and we owe you, the readers, this story.

For those rejoining us, welcome back. But for those joining us the first time welcome, I am TheIdiot and this, this is a story about humanity and Equestrians fighting against xenocide.

Enjoy.

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