• Published 23rd Jun 2017
  • 1,414 Views, 39 Comments

The Ones Who Returned From Stone - Skijarama

Equestria has fallen. The Crystal Empire is all that remains of organized pony society, and the survivors want their home back.

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Chapter 11 - The Last City

Like a beacon of light and hope, casting a gentle blue glow across the otherwise crimson landscape, the Crystal Empire sprawled across the empty, dark fields of snow with a powerful dome of magical energy shielding it from any and all that would do it harm. Compared to when she had seen it last, Twilight noted dozens of changes. New buildings, fortifications, a new, physical crystal wall, presumably for use if the barrier fell, among other things. The dome made it hard to see what was going on inside the city, but the could see the tall, central tower of the crystal castle just fine. From it’s tip, a bright light shone for miles in a faint mimicry of the sun.

“Hey, you going to keep gawking or get a move on?” Drifter called from a ways ahead, having noticed Twilight’s lack of motion once the empire came into view.

“Oh, s-sorry!” Twilight quickly apologized, cantering up to the rest of the group. “It’s just so different…”

“Like everything,” Luna pointed out bitterly. “But we can take in the sights when we are safely inside the shield.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Palmwood said eagerly while picking up the pace. “The sooner we get inside, the sooner I can get some decent sleep.”

Drifter shot him a look. “We were just at Lumberjack’s Inn less than twenty four hours ago. Are you dissing his beds?” she questioned with a frown.

“No, of course not!” Palm defended with his hooves raised. “I’m just saying that a bed you’re not familiar with is always harder to sleep on.”

Drifter rolled her eyes at that, an amused smile forming on her muzzle. “You haven’t used your room in the Empire for three years now, Palmwood. I don’t think it counts anymore.”

“Hush, you!”

As the two bickered back and forth, Twilight continued eyeing the city and, more specifically, the small archway set into the wall that she presumed would be their entry point. A few guards were stationed right outside, muttering to each other. They had already caught sight of the group, by the looks of it.

“Okay, let’s try and focus, okay?” Drifter suddenly cut Palmwood’s next remark off before stepping towards the guards. Two of them came forward, both stallions, and gave salutes.

“Lady Drifter! We received word of your return not long ago.”

“At ease, boys. I take it Flurry Heart and the Elements are waiting in the castle?” Drifter said casually, to which the second guard nodded dutifully.

“Yes, Drifter. They’ve been rather eager, from what I’ve heard.”

“I should hope so. Alright, let us in.” Drifter ordered simply, stepping towards the archway, the rest of the group in tow.

“Yes, ma’am!” One of the guards saluted again before turning to bow towards Twilight and Luna. “And, uh, your majesties? It is an honor to have you back.”

Twilight winced slightly and bit her lip, before nodding simply. Luna was the one to speak, however. “Thank you, soldier… I just hope our return is enough.”

“It is,” Drifter said firmly, glancing over her shoulder at Luna and meeting her gaze intensly. “It has to be.”

Luna hesitated, then nodded silently before the group resumed their course. The barrier didn’t impede any of them as they went through, warping around them with a gentle magical hum. Once they passed this threshold, the cold from outside immediately gave way to a heavenly warmth. Twilight felt her body relax immediately upon stepping inside the borders of the city. For a second, she just savored the feeling, letting her body free itself of so much tension and stress. The whole group had the same idea, all of them standing idle for several seconds.

Drifter was the first to speak. “Luna, I’d appreciate it if you and I went to see Flurry first. Twilight,” she turned around to face said lavender alicorn. “It would be best if you wait for a bit to meet with Flurry Heart. You should actually meet with your friends, first. Shining Armor will probably be with them.”

“Okay, but, why should I wait to see Flurry?” Twilight asked curiously while falling into stride next to Drifter and Luna as they made their way for the castle.

Drifter’s ears fell and she looked anywhere that wasn’t Twilight. “Twilight, I’m sure they’ve forgiven you for sending them back, but… you and Flurry don’t have an unsettled matter to deal with. It would be best to make sure you and your friends are on good terms before you meet with Flurry. Besides, Flurry is, ah…”

“Excitable?” Wonder suggested, earning a grateful nod from Drifter.

“Yes, precisely. Very excitable. I think you should see your friends first, then talk to Flurry so that the day ends on a high note,” Drifter continued while returning her gaze to Twilight.

“Go along, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said reassuringly. “We’ll meet you later.”

Twilight nodded slowly before looking over at Palm and Wonder. “And, uh… what about you two?”

“I’m going with Drifter,” Wonder said simply with a shrug. “I kinda like Flurry.”

“You do that. I’m going to the bar.” Palmwood said with an eager tone and cantering away.

“Don’t get a hangover, now!” Drifter called after him.

“No promises!”

Twilight smiled softly at their banter before looking back to Blackberry. “And… you?”

He tipped his head at Twilight in a small bow. “Me? Well, Princess, my job is done, now. I’m going to go find my family.” he looked towards Drifter with a question, one which she predicted.

“There’s an old hospital down that road there where new arrivals and Refugees are housed until better housing can be arranged. I’d start there,” she said simply before nodding to Blackberry. “Thank you very much, Blackberry. Go on and see your family. You’ve earned it.”

Blackberry grinned, bowed, and then broke into a gallop down the street Drifter had motioned to. Twilight smiled warmly on seeing how happy he was to hear that, then closed her eyes and lost that smile to an uneasy frown. She opened her eyes and looked towards the castle.

Her friends were waiting for her…

The five mares, one stallion and purple dragon sat anxiously in a large room with a circular crystal table in it’s center, many of them resting in chairs while waiting for the Princess to arrive. None said a word, and all of them wore different expressions of their faces. A clock was ticking away on the wall, each ‘tick’ and ‘tock’ feeling like an eternity to everypony present. Of course, they had all already waited twenty years for this day.

What would another few minutes matter?

Finally, there was a gentle knock on the large double doors on the other end of the room. Everypony looked towards it immediately before it swung open. A crystal guard stood there, looking a little nervous. “P-Princess Twilight is here…” he said before stepping aside to let the alicorn in question into the room. Twilight strode in slowly, eyes turned down to look at the floor. She heard a couple of soft gasps from the ponies she knew were before her, but couldn’t find it in herself to look up.

“Well, Ah’ll be… Yer so young, Twi…” came the voice of Applejack, emotion unreadable, though there was no questioning the fact that she sounded older. Twilight lifted her eyes towards the farmer, and gasped in shock when she saw everypony in the room. Applejack, much like Lumerjack, was standing with her hind legs supported by wheels on metal legs. There was a noticeable mark on her lower back where the skin hadn’t healed quite right.

“I… Applejack… girls…” Twilight could barely form words, looking to each of her friends one by one. Rarity’s eyes were hidden behind a pitch black blindfold and her horn was broken. Rainbow Dash had no wings, only snipped stubs that sat uselessly on her sides. Fluttershy had a large chunk of the fur on her chest missing, specifically over her heart. Pinkie Pie didn’t seem to have any obvious ailments, but the moment her jaw fell open in shock, Twilight instantly saw the lack of a tongue in Pinkie’s mouth. Shining Armor, who stood on the other side of the table, was missing one of his front legs, yet he stood just fine. Spike, for his part, was about the size of a full grown pony.

All of them wore looks of disbelief, shock, awe… they were all so old… Wrinkles tarnished their skin, showing through their coats and gray streaks ran through their manes and their fur. Twilight couldn’t find any words, just looking on at her friends and brother in horror.

“I… I’m so sorry…” she breathed out, tears coming to her eyes. She looked away and screwed her eyes shut. “I… I shouldn’t have sent you b-back… If… If I had just… you’d all be-” She stuttered out through her tears before an impact in her chest sent her falling back onto the floor, crying out in alarm. She didn’t open her eyes, expecting a beating.

Instead, she felt somepony hugging her tightly and crying silently into her chest. After a second, she opened her eyes and looked down to see Pinkie Pie holding onto her like a lifeline, shaking her head even as she buried it into Twilight’s chest fur.

“Pinkie Pie has the right of it, dear,” Rarity began while rising from her seat. She reached out of her mouth and found a long wooden rod by her chair, which she took and used to navigate her way to Twilight. The rest of the mares in the room followed suit, all coming forward to stand before Twilight, looking down at her with smiles. Rarity set her stick down before sitting next to Twilight and Pinkie. “...We’ve all missed you terribly. Don’t make our reunion an apology for something we’ve all forgiven you for.”

Twilight looked between them all, wide eyed before sitting up. Pinkie still clung to her, unwilling to let go. “But… But I-”

“Saved our lives, Twi,” Rainbow cut in, a hoof pressing itself to Twilight’s lips and silencing her. “...Yeah, it hurt when you sent us away… but we heard how that battle turned out and very few of us were fighters. You saved us, Twilight…” she then smiled.

“Twilight…” Applejack began softly before wiping a hoof across her eyes and smiling. “...it’s good to see you.”

Pinkie shifted slightly and, hesitantly, unwrapped one of her forelegs from around Twilight’s barrel, gesturing for the others to get in on the group hug. There wasn’t even a word of complaint. All of them came forward and fell into the embrace, wrapping Twilight, and each other, in their hooves. Spike removed himself from his corner and joined them, sighing in relief.

“Don’t you ever go away like that again, you hear me?” he whispered to Twilight.

“I won’t…” Twilight whispered back, all her doubts and fears immediately washing away from the embrace.

Fluttershy said nothing and merely hummed, content.

From where he stood at the other end of the table, Shining Armor just smiled before making his way towards them. He didn’t say anything. He simply opted to work his way into the embrace, glad to feel his little sister’s presence once again.

Eventually, the pony pile untangled, everypony standing back up, but hesitant to move away from each other. Shining Armor, at last, spoke.

“Welcome back, Twily.”

Twilight turned to Shining Armor, her eyes locking onto his missing foreleg.

“Don’t worry about this old stub, sis. I got used to it years ago…” Shining said before she could comment before sitting down on his haunches. “Makes one on one hugs a bit harder, though.” he reached out his foreleg and smiled softly.

Twilight nodded before letting her big brother pull her into another, more personal embrace. For a long time, the two remained silent.

“I missed you… we all did.” Shining Armor finally whispered into Twilight’s ear. Twilight said nothing, instead opting to just tighten her grip on her big brother.

For the first time since she woke up from the stone, she felt… genuinely happy. She was with her friends again, at last, and they had forgiven her.

In the back of her mind, she found herself suppoing she should have never doubted them to begin with. After all… they were her best friends for a reason.