• Published 30th Jan 2019
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Knowledge is Power - hydra30

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27 Explanation and exploration

Everyone awed at the sight that they beheld when Twilight opened the door to their temporary home. Unlike the rest of Apocrypha this place was more like Canterlot castle, except for the color coding, which did match Apocrypha. Though Twilight was sure it was not this big before, she suspect Hermaeus Mora had something to do with that.

Actually, make that a certainty, because now there were seven bedrooms, were before there had been but one.

"I must say," said Rarity as they all traversed the extensive halls. "Hermaeus Mora, despite his despicable behavior, really knows how to treat his guests."

"So Twilight," said Applejack as they all settled in what looked to be a sitting room, each taking a couch or a chair. "These 'Ideal Masters' are kinda like con artists like Flim and Flam, but instead of cheating you out of your money, they cheat you out of your soul?"

"Yes, that is a good way to describe them," said Twilight, impressed by how much easier Applejack made her explanation.

"How utterly barbaric," said Rarity, shaking slightly. "What kind of horrible monster would do something like that?"

"That's actually a pretty good question, Rarity," said Twilight, everyone looking at her. "From what I have learned of them, they are basically enigma personified."

"Huh, big words hurt," said Rainbow Dash, leaning back in her chair.

"What I mean," restarted Twilight, slightly annoyed. "There is basically no information on the Ideal Masters other than that they want souls. Their motivation, nature, even their physical appearance are a complete mystery."

"But what type of creature are they? " Asked Fluttershy, slightly unnerved to learn that something exists that could steal souls. "Their not...one of Hermaeus Mora's kind, are they?"

"A Daedric Prince?" Asked Twilight, Fluttershy nodding to her. "No, that much I do know."

"Oh, what a relief," said Pinkie watching them all upside down as she lay on her back in her chair. "I would hate for Hermmy to be associated with such horrible creatures."

Twilight internally gulped. She did not want to imagine what would happen if her friends ever found out what Hermaeus Mora was really capable of. She really did not want to imagine what would happen if they ever learned about the other Daedric Princes.

"So what are these crazy soul stealers, Twilight?" Asked Pinkie, snapping Twilight back to them.

"Much about them is vague at best," said Twilight, trying to word her explanation right, "But I do know that they were once flesh and blood, like us, but began practicing magic so powerful that they shed their mortal coil and became beings of pure spiritual energy, and have remained that way till this very day. In fact, Ideal Masters is the title that those who follow them gave them. If they have a true name, they have not shared it with anyone."

"Spiritual energy?" Inquired Applejack.

"They exist without form," explained Twilight, "And when they do manifest, they take the form of large purple crystals that suck the life out of anyone who gets close."

"Why would anyone follow something so revolting?" Asked Rarity, slightly trembling.

"The Ideal Masters are cunning," explained Twilight, "They have been doing what they have done for a long time, millenniums even. You could say soul collecting is their special talent."

"I am liking this less and less," said Rainbow Dash, an angry look in her eyes. "Is there any chance these soul bullies could find Equestria?"

"I don't think so, Rainbow Dash," said Twilight with a comforting smile.

" How do you know?" Snapped Rainbow, " Hermaeus found us."

" Yes, and that is exactly why I think they won't find Equestria," said Twilight.

Everyone gave her a concerned look.

" The Ideal Masters are completely apathetic to the Daedric Prince's," explained Twilight, "From what I have learned, the two don't get along at all, so even if the Ideal Masters somehow found out about Equestria, the fact that a Daedric Prince found it first would revolt them. They would prefer to stay doing their own thing, rather than meddle with something a Daedric Prince has taken an interest in."

"Are you sure about that Twi?" Asked Applejack, slightly worried. "These Ideal Masters sound something awful."

"I am dead sure, AJ," said Twilight reassuringly. "plus, even if they did try anything, I don't think Hermaeus Mora would ever tolerate it."

"And speaking of which, are you ever going to tell us what task of his you need to do?" said Spike, resting his head on a claw over his arm rest. "I'm guessing it has something to do with these...Ideal Masters."

In all the explanation, they had actually forgot about that.

"Oh, yes, sorry," said Twilight, grimacing at the reminder.

"Just out with it already," said Rainbow impatiently.

Twilight took a deep breath, "Recently, the Ideal Masters sorta...ticked Hermaeus Mora off, you could say...and in retaliation, he wants me to take something from them for him."

They all gasped in shock at that.

"He wants you to meddle with those...brutes?" Asked Rarity, her eye twitching.

"Bad idea, Twi," said Applejack, everyone agreeing.

"It's not what I would consider a good idea either, but I have no choice," said Twilight, submission in her voice. "Besides, I must do it for my own purposes too."

"Purposes?" Inquired Fluttershy nervously. "Twilight, what does Hermaeus Mora even want you to steal."

"A soul," answered Twilight before she could hide the truth. "He wants me to steal the Ideal Masters most prized soul, the crown jewel of their wretched collection."

Twilight's friends could only stare at her in stunned silence.

"And whose soul is that?" Asked Rainbow, being the more tough of them, was able to recover from the shock first.

Taking a deep breath, Twilight sat up and ignited her horn. They all watched as a transparent image appeared between them all, an image of the dragon they had seen earlier. It revolved before them, letting them take in how different he looked compared with Equestrian dragons.

"Durnehviir?" Asked Pinkie, looking at Twilight worriedly. "It's his soul you have to retrieve?"

"How did you know his name?" Asked Twilight, great shock in her voice.

"We arrived here right as you were casting that spell on him, Twi," said Applejack, "We heard you call him Durnehviir."

"We also saw you get hit by your own magic," said Pinkie worriedly. “Please, don't ever scare us like that again."

"You saw that, huh?" Said Twilight sheepishly, slightly blushing. "Not one of my brighter moments, I'll admit."

"Oh, never mind that, darling," said Rarity, "So the scene we arrived on...was that you attempting to fulfill your duty to Hermaeus Mora?"

"Yes," said Twilight, looking at all of them. "Durnehviir is enslaved to the Ideal Masters, and Hermaeus Mora wants me to free him from their influence and into his service."

'Your attempts to liberate me are commendable, Grah-Zeymahzin, But I fear that I am doomed to wander the Soul Cairn for all eternity.'

Fluttershy recalled what she had heard Durnehviir say before he faded away, and despite her fear of dragons, she couldn't help but sense the despair in his voice.

"Twilight," she said timidly, knowing she was going to regret asking this. "What exactly is the Soul Cairn?"

Twilight's mouth hung open, despair in her eyes.

"What is it Twi?" Asked Applejack, looking worried. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

She might as well have. The last three weeks, Twilight had studied the Ideal Masters, and the place they called home. If Apocrypha scared her, she did not want to imagine what the Soul Cairn would do to her if she had ever been there. And that was the only she had not done regarding the Ideal Masters so far, not that anything could make her go to that place.

"Are you sure you wanna know?" Asked Twilight nervously. "You may regret it."

"Hey, I remember that now too," said Pinkie, recalling the dragon's words. "The dragon said he was doomed to wander the Soul Cairn for all eternity, so that must be where the Ideal Masters live."

"Yes, Pinkie is right," said Twilight, figuring she might as well tell them. "The Soul Cairn is the Ideal Masters realm, just like Apocrypha is Hermaeus Mora's, and it is where they keep the souls they have collected."

"And, what is this place like?" Asked Fluttershy.

Twilight knew things were going to go on for a while at this rate but it was necessary, and plus, her friends had a right to know. She light up her horn, and the image of Durnehviir vanished. In its place appeared an apparition of a nightmare that almost made Rainbow wet herself.

The miniature landscape was a horrifying sight to behold, a stormy purple sky with a huge black void at the crest. A barren landscape marked with fissures that extruded eerie light. Giant ruined structures scattered, floating purple crystals above them.

Twilight let the image fade, her friends gasping as the petrified state they were in broke.

"How utterly terrifying," whimpered Fluttershy, her shoulders shaking slightly.

"That's the Soul Cairn?" Asked Rainbow, even she was slightly disturbed by what she had seen.

Twilight only nodded.

Spike scratched his head, still looking at the spot where Twilight had cast the image. Pieces were falling into place in his mind, Hermaeus Mora was right, though he may not be anywhere near as intellectual as her, spending his life with Twilight had given him a sharper wit them most kids his age would have. And he could see a pattern here.

"Hermaeus Mora told us back in Canterlot that the words you used to combat Chrysalis came from dragons, though not the dragons of Equestria, right?" said Spike, looking to Twilight for confirmation.

Twilight gave Spike a proud smile, "Correct, Spike. The Thu'um originally came from the dragons that were from Hermaeus Mora's world, Nirn."

"And I am guessing that Durnehviir is one of those dragons?" Asked Spike, Twilight nodding again.

"That's why he looks so different from the other dragons we've seen," said Rarity, tapping her chin.

"And not just that, did you all hear his voice before. It was deep, and all cunning sounding," said Rainbow, even her being able to feel the wisdom within the dragon's voice. "Those dragons we faced when we followed Spike on the Dragon Migration didn't have even a little bit of brains among the whole lot of them."

"And that is a major difference between Equestria dragons, and the dragons of Nirn," explained Twilight, "whereas Equestria's dragons are dull witted and greedy, the dragons of Nirn are cunning and intellectual."

"If they are so smart how was Durnehviir hoodwinked by the Ideal Masters?" Asked Applejack, having dealt with cons before so was a little skeptical about those who would fall for their charades.

"That is a bit complicated, girls," explained Twilight, "and it might take awhile for me to explain."

"Go ahead, Twilight," said Pinkie, wagging her ears. "We are all ears."

Taking a deep breath, Twilight ignited her horn, a 3D image of a globe appeared.

" For you to fully understand what lead to Durnehviir being incarcerated in the Soul Cairn, I must first help you understand what kind of world Nirn is," said Twilight, pointing to her image. "As Equis is our planet, Nirn is the planet were the dragons who use the Thu'um come from."

" It looks so similar to our planet," said Fluttershy, looking at Nirns oceans and land masses.

" You are not wrong, Fluttershy," said Twilight, giving her friend a kind smile. "Nirn has several traits in common with Equis. There's water there, plants, animals, even people, each with different cultures and cities."

Below the image, a bipedal silhouette appeared. It had an upright poster with legs that ended in feet, arms on the torso that end in digits, kind of like Spike, and a slightly small head atop the shoulders. Everyone looked at it with interest.

"This is the basic structure of most of the people who live on Nirn," explained Twilight, "While there are some differences between species, like ponies and griffins differ from each other, they basically look like this."

"They kind of remind me of a minotaur," said Rarity.

"But back to the subject at hoof," continued Twilight, a smaller image of a dragon appearing over the other demonstration. "Is the role the dragons played on Nirn. For you see, as I have said before, they were not like the dragons we know, the primary differences being not only intelligence, but also," Rippling patterns flowed from the dragon images mouth. "The Thu'um.

"And just as what you saw me do in Canterlot, these dragons possessed the same ability," said Twilight, pondering for a second. "Well actually, if what I have learned of them is true, my abilities are mediocre compared to that of a full seasoned dragon."

"You're joking," said Pinkie, somehow turning her head around in a ninety degree angle so she could look at Twilight right way up. "After all you pulled off fighting Chrysalis."

"There is basically no limit on what the Thu'um can do, Pinkie, and from what I know, even Discord would be hard pressed against someone who has mastered the Thu'um," Twilight adjusted the bipedal image to were it bowed before the dragon. "And it was for that reason that the people of Nirn worshipped the Dragons."

"WORSHIPPED!?" Gasped all of Twilight's friends with slack jawed expressions.

"You all need to remember, they were different then the dragons we know," repeated Twilight, "as they were intellectual beyond comprehension, and could literally do anything with but a word. If a dragon felt it should rain, all it would need to do was tell the sky to do so."

"Wow," said Rainbow, her expression wide eyed as she struggled to comprehend that fact. "That's unbelievable."

"But it makes sense," said Spike, everypony shifting their attention to looking at him. "Twilight did that exact same thing just before Hermaeus Mora appeared."

They all agreed on that, though slightly shaken by the memory of the storm striking down multiple Changelings in but a few seconds. It was not something any of them remembered fondly. But Twilight decided to continue.

"Anyway, as one would expect, the dragons excepted the people's worship, and after a time a mighty organization rose up," they all watched as the single bipedal silhouette became many, all wearing a fancy rode."It was called the Dragon Cult, and for many years they ruled with peace and harmony. But then all of that changed."

"What happened, Twi?” Asked Applejack eagerly, curious despite herself.

"Another difference between these dragons and ours was that they were immortal," explained Twilight, her friends gasping in shock."Though as mighty as our dragons can be, they still follow the mortal rules, they can die of old age. Such was not so for the Nirn Dragons. Several of them were countless years old, and never withered or had a decrease in strength as they aged. If I were to ask you girls what you think would happen if a timeless all powerful dragon spent several years being doted on by countless underlings who gladly devoted their whole life to it, what would you think would happen?"

The group pondered on it for a second.

"They would lose sight of them as people," said Rarity, having seen how rich stuck up types usually acted when they had lived all their lives with servants. "They would see them as unimportant beings that only exists to serve them."

"You hit the nail on the head, Rarity, as that is exactly what happened," said Twilight, all the others gasping in horror. "The exact cause is unknown, but at some point, the dragons and their most devoted followers changed, ruling the populace with an iron hoof and treating them as slaves."

Multiple chained figures appeared beneath the robed figures and the dragon.

"And with each year, the Dragon Cult's cruelty only grew, until the hate and unrest they spread among the population grew so fierce, it overshadowed their reverence of their dragon masters and they rose up in rebellion," they all gasped as the images beneath the globe became a depiction of two armies facing each other, one with the bipedal images wielding swords, bows, and other such weapons, the other side consisting of dragons and the people wearing robes. "This was the start of the Dragon war."

"I don't think I like where this is going," said Fluttershy, trembling as flames enclosed on the two armies.

"Do you want me to stop, Fluttershy? As," said Twilight, looking to her friend in worry. "It only gets worse."

Fluttershy was about to say yes, but then saw Twilight again. This had to do with what Hermaeus Mora wanted from her, and she, and through extension them, couldn't go home till its completion. So with all her willpower, Fluttershy shook her head.

"We need to know what Hermaeus Mora wants," said Fluttershy in a determined tone. "If this will help us understand, so be it."

"Alright," said Twilight, continuing reluctantly. "From what I have read, the beginning of the Dragon war was pretty much one sided, multiple people losing their lives in battle every single day, with the dragons losing no ground."

"Oh how unfair," said Pinkie Pie, crossing her hooves with a small pout. “They finally get the courage to fight against the meanie dragons who always abused them, and it was not even a fair fight."

"The dragons had the Thu'um, Pinkie," explained Twilight, "and as you all saw in Canterlot, it is formidable in battle, and the people of Nirn had no defense against it, at least at first," she continued.

Everyone gave her an expecting look, seeing a plot twist coming.

"When all hope seemed lost, and victory for the the dragons seemed an almost certainty," a few of the dragons in the image moved from the side of the dragons and over to the opposing side, "a hoof full of dragons turned on their brethren and joined those who were trying to break free of their rule."

They all gasped again.

"But why?" Asked Applejack, slightly surprised by this turn.

"I know the dragons are pretty much the villains in this, but why would they do that when they were so close to winning?" Asked Spike, looking at his Nirn counterparts who had switched sides.

"Ya, kind of a stupid move," said Rainbow.

"I'm sorry, but I don't know," said Twilight, looking at her friends apologetically. "A lot of the history of the Dragon war was actually destroyed during it, it is unknown why a select few chose to rebel."

They all looked at each other, slightly disappointed.

"But it was anything but a stupid move, Rainbow, as what those dragons did literally turned the tide," they all watched as the side opposing the dragons began to shout things from their mouths, the side of the dragons steadily decreasing in numbers. "Those dragons taught the people the ways of the Thu'um, and with it they could fight fire with fire."

"Awesome," said Rainbow, grinning as she watched the dragons numbers continued the dwindle.

"Yes, in their pride and arrogance the dragons were ill equipped to adapt when they lost their key advantage, and finally lost the winning edge they had," Twilight said, adjusting the image to where one dragon was apart from the rest. "And when it became clear that defeat was more than likely, Durnehviir had an idea."

"He was part of this travesty?" Asked Rarity, exasperated.

"All dragons took part in the Dragon war, but it was Durnehviir who came up with a different way of fighting off the enemy," explained Twilight, her friends looking quite shocked,"Were as all the other dragons choose to use fire, wind, ice, or lightning, Durnehviir set his sights on a different kind of magic."

They waited for her to continue, but she seemed reluctant.

"Well, what was it Twi?" Asked Applejack, slightly worried.

Twilight took a deep breath, she knew that this would raise questions, "Conjuration."

All her friends looked at her.

"Isn't that the magic those foals at Celestia's School can do now?" Inquired Rarity.

"Yes," Twilight forced out, dreading what she would need to tell them.

"So he decided to conjure an army of those weird armored creature's?" Asked Pinkie.

"Girls," said Twilight, her voice instilling a little worry in them, "I need to tell you something, and no matter what happens, promise me you won't tell anypony."

"What is it, Twilight?" Asked Rainbow, slightly worried.

"Girls," started Twilight, concentrating on getting the word out, "Conjuration is a magic practiced by the Ideal Masters."

Their was a pause as none of the others knew what to say.

"Summoning weapons and creature's are not the only uses of Conjuration," Twilight continued before her cowardness forced the words back in. "You can also use it to steal souls...and raise the dead."

"Twilight...you," started Rarity, on the verge of fainting. "You have to be kidding."

Twilight only shook her head.

"Sweet Celestia," moaned Rainbow Dash, slightly pale. "Raise the dead?"

"That's...," started Fluttershy, tears streaming her face. "That's horrible!"

"Zombies?" Asked Pinkie, trembling as she trembled so much her mane squeaked. "It makes zombies?"

"Applerot," whispered Applejack, shaking like a leaf herself.

"Hey wait," said Spike, looking worried. "Conjuration is the new magic that those kids can use, so that must mean..."

"Yes, Spike," confirmed Twilight, not wanting to hide anything. "If they wanted, they could resurrect the dead."

All of them looked panicked at hearing that. The very thought of what they had learned was enough to send them all into a panic. What if those children did learn how to raise the dead, what would happen if...?

'KAAN DREM OV'

The shout echoed through the living quarters, all present feeling a comforting sensation settle in their souls. Taking deep breaths, each of Twilight's friends looked to her, seeing her wearing a reassuring smile. Slowly, their racing hearts slowed to a normal pace.

"Better?" She asked in concern.

They all nodded, but even with the fear gone the concern still remained.

"Twilight, why didn't you tell the Princess about this?" Asked Rarity, all the others nodding in agreement.

"If I did, what would happen to those children?" Answered Twilight, looking at all of them. "She already has concerns about Hermaeus Mora, what would she do if she found out that such a formidable magic was in the hooves of four young spell casters?"

"But Twilight..." started Rainbow, giving her friend a worried look. "What if something happens... what if those kids suddenly start reanimating dead things by accident."

"They won't," said Twilight calmly.

"How do you even know that, Twilight?" Asked Applejack.

"I admit, the formidable spell that reanimates dead things to do the casters will is common in Nirn..." Explained Twilight, her friends shocked to learn this as well. "But that would not have been the case if not for the Ideal Masters."

"You mentioned that Conjuration was their magic," said Fluttershy, her face dryer now thanks to Twilight's assistance. "Do they have something to do with this horrible spell that can bring back the dead?"

"Something to do with it?" Twilight said, looking to all of them with a look that was equal parts fascinated, and terrified. "Girls... the Ideal Masters invented it."

Another round of gasps filled the room.

"And that is how they have kept luring people to them for so long," explained Twilight, "As morbid as it sounds, there are magic users on Nirn that practice this, but the only way to truly master it is to contact the Ideal Masters."

"How does that prevent those kids from practicing it?" Asked Applejack frantically.

"Because the only way for them to even start is for the Ideal Masters to teach them this spell," explained Twilight, flashing them a knowing smile. "And they have absolutely no influence in Equestria."

"But Twilight, thode kids can already summon those strange creatures," countered Rarity.

"Summoning is a branch of conjuration that has nothing to do with the Ideal Masters," explained Twilight, "Trust me girls, they only have influence in the type of magic that reanimates, and steals souls."

If one listened they would swear they heard gears turning inside the heads of Twilight's friends.

"So... there is no possible way for them to learn it?" Asked Spike.

Twilight nodded to all of them.

"Are you sure, Twilight?" Inquired Fluttershy.

"Rest assured, girls, without the Ideal Masters to get them started on it, they will never even be aware of it," said Twilight.

A few minutes passed, but in the end, they decided to believe her. Twilight knew magic, so if she said that thing's were okay, it was true. So eventually they went back to the subject of Durnehviir.

"Sooo..." Started Rainbow, "I'm guessing Durnehviir wanted to learn how to raise the dead, which is why he sought out the Ideal Masters."

"Correct, Rainbow," confirmed Twilight, giving Rainbow a proud smile, which in turn, gave Rainbow a proud grin. "No dragon had ever learned such magic before, and it was his belief that if he could accomplish it, he could turn the war back in the dragons favor, rising fallen warriors from both sides to do his bidding."

"Did it work?" Asked Pinkie, leaning forward in her chair as far as she could.

Twilight just shook her head, slight pity in her face.

"Did something happen?" Asked Rarity, still somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that a part of her wanted to know how things ended.

"You could say everything happened and nothing happened at the same time," said Twilight, her voice somewhere between sad and sympathy. "Durnehviir successfully contacted the Ideal Masters, and they agreed to assist him. But they demanded something in return."

"From the experience we had with Flim and Flam, I am guessing it was a trap," said Applejack.

"Yes," said Twilight, "The Ideal Masters brought Durnehviir into the Soul Cairn and tasked him with retrieving a certain soul for them, whom was hiding in the Soul Cairn, but had not been claimed by them, in exchange for their power. But they didn't tell him the consequences."

"Consequences?" They all inquired.

Twilight tapped the Element of magic with a hoof.

"Like Apocrypha has an effect on those who enter it, so to does the Soul Cairn," explained Twilight, all of them giving her a concerned look. "The effects being, if a living being enters the Soul Cairn and stays too long, they will be bound to it for all eternity."

Again, they gasped.

"I think you can guess what happened," said Twilight simply.

"While he was trying to retrieve that persons soul, he remained too long and became trapped," said Rarity, almost in tears.

"But why would they do that?" Asked Applejack, "I know they are pretty much supernatural cons, but don't they usually give you what you ask for first?"

"The Ideal Masters are unpredictable, AJ. Sometimes they keep their word, sometimes not," Twilight looked out a nearby window to Apocrypha outside. "And when Durnehviir approached them, he gave them an opportunity to claim something they never could before."

"What?" Asked Pinkie, inexplicably eating popcorn.

"The soul of a dragon," said Twilight, "That was a temptation they could not pass up, and as a result Durnehviir became the crown Jewel of their collection, and has remained so to this very day."

"But what happened with the war?" Asked Rainbow excitedly. "If Durnehviir wound up hoodwinked by the Ideal Masters, it stands to reason he never aided them with this resurrection plan he had."

"Correct, Rainbow," said Twilight, looking sad. "And I think because of that, the dragons eventually lost the war, defeated by the lowly mortals they once looked down on."

"Aw ya," said Rainbow, lifting off the ground and punching the air. "Big bad dragons thought they were so cool, but we're driven off by those they once thought beneath them."

"Not driven off, Rainbow...," said Twilight, her ears lowering, drawing worry from her friends. "...Wiped out."

Rainbow landed back in her seat, the others sharing her open mouth shock.

"Wiped out?" Asked Fluttershy quietly.

"That is another thing that is different about our world's dragon's," said Twilight, closing her eyes. "They are still around, were as the dragons of Nirn are pretty much extinct."

Tear's budded in Fluttershy's eyes as she covered her mouth. Despite all the terrible things she had learned about these dragons, she would never wish full blown extinction on anything. And it would seem the others thought the same thing.

"Why in Equestria would they wipe out all of them?" Asked Pinkie, the thought of an entire species being lost caused her mane to deflate.

"The dragons would not relent," explained Twilight, "They were prideful and foreboding right down to the last, so the people had no choice but to slay all of them. They wouldn't let go of their pride...and in the end...it destroyed them."

Twilight actually broke down into tears at this point. Her friends moved in for a group hug, also shedding a few tear's themselves. A villainous as these dragon's sounded, the thought of an entire species being wiped from existence in a war was a thought that they did not know how to comprehend.

No one noticed Twilight's magic diagram disappear.

"Why would the Ideal Masters let that happen?" Asked Applejack as they all returned to their seats.

"Even a war on such a scale like that is unimportant to them, AJ," Answered Twilight, "It mattered not what would happen if they kept Durnehviir for themselves, as long as they could claim a dragon’s soul."

Thankfully, this is where the conversation about the Dragon war ended, Twilight seeing no reason to continue.

"So, Durnehviir is trapped in the Soul Cairn, Hermaeus Mora wants you to free him," summed up Applejack as she tapped her chin. "That about right?"

"Correct, Applejack," confirmed Twilight.

"Not to be a wet blanket, but why?" Asked Rarity, "It sounds to me like he got when he deserves, going to those ruffians, despite their dangerous reputation."

"It's not about whether he deserves it or not," said Twilight, "This is what Hermaeus Mora wants from me, and I already agreed to it. And besides, I kinda owe this to Durnehviir."

"What do mean?" Asked Fluttershy as the others gave Twilight an expecting look.

"Durnehviir helped me me learn the Thu'um," stated Twilight simply.

"HUH?" said all of them.

"I thought Hermmy tutored you in that bizarro magical voice?" Inquired Pinkie, slightly confused.

"Hermaeus Mora taught me the words of power, but even a Daedric Prince cannot teach the Thu'um better than those who originally instigated it," explained Twilight.

"But how?" Asked Rarity, "He is trapped within the Soul Cairn."

Smiling, Twilight stood up at walked out of the room, the others followed when she motioned for them to come. Where she lead them put the Starswirl the Bearded wing in Canterlot to shame. Long circular walls stretching around the spacious room, piled with books that sat on ornate shelves.

"It has something to do with how I plan to free him," said Twilight as she lead them inside.

In the center sat a small research area, four tables littered with papers that had diagrams and formulas written all over their surface. Then Twilight lead them to a chalkboard that sat slightly to the right of the research area, sketches of the dragon Durnehviir etched in multiple positions covering it's surface, accompanied by multiple glyphs that they all recognized as magic runes. Below all of it, Durnehviir's name was broken down into three sections, but written far larger than the runes.

' DUR NEH VIIR '

"I already know how I can free him," said Twilight, extending her hoof over the board. "The data involved is probably more than you can understand...uh, no offense."

"Don't sweat it Twilight," replied Rainbow, the others giving her a nod that said they weren't offended. "You are the egghead, after all."

"Uh, thanks," said Twilight, not know if she should be offended at that. "but anyway, to put it simply, I plan to use Durnehviir's name to release him from the Soul Cairn, and have partially been able to do so already."

The rest gave a confused look.

"Uh, darling...I think you might have lost us," said Rarity, scratching her head.

"Ya Twi," said Applejack, sharing all their confused looks. “How is this feller's name gonna get him out of that awful place."

"Because to the dragons of Nirn, names are everything," explained Twilight, all of them sitting down, waiting for another lesson. "You see, their names are more to them than our names ever could be to us."

"Hey, I am very attached to my name," said Pinkie, looking slightly annoyed.

"What I meant is that unlike us, dragons have what could best be described as an intimate relationship with their names," said Twilight, hopefully this would help them understand.

But when they still looked confused, Twilight put a hoof to her chin in contemplation. There had to be a way to get them to understand. Then she smiled as she thought of something.

"Do you all remember when I made that storm appear?" She asked.

They all jumped slightly at the memory, but nodded, though it was with disturbed frowns.

"Well the same thing applies to my theory," said Twilight, conjuring images of letters with her magic that said 'STRUN BAH QO'. "It all has to do with the Thu'um, which is..."

"Ya ya, we know," said Rainbow Dash impatiently. "It's the all powerful language the dragons used to spread misery."

"Well," said Twilight, slight irritated at being interrupted. "As with any language, it can be translated. The Thu'um, or shout as they are more commonly called, that I used to bring that storm translates into 'storm' 'wrath' 'lightning' ."

"On my," said Fluttershy, covering her mouth in shock.

"That's kinda morbid," said Rainbow.

"It's the same for the names of the dragons," continued Twilight, picking up a classroom pointer from nearby and pointing to Durnehviir's name, "Each of these is actually a word, they say Curse, Never, Dying."

"Oh, how utterly revolting," said Rarity in a shrill voice.

"Ya, what kinda name is that?" Said Rainbow Dash.

Everyone seemed to take awhile to get over how they felt after hearing Durnehviir's name.

"I still don't understand, Twilight," said Fluttershy softly. "What does this have to do with freeing Durnehviir, or how he could teach you while trapped in the Soul Cairn?"

"To a dragon, a name is more than just a name," continued Twilight, now that they have calmed down, "It is a summons; if someone were to learn a dragon's name and call it out, that dragon has no choice but to heed that call."

"Wait, wait, wait," said Pinkie, shaking her head in a fast motion. "Let me see if I understand, your saying that I was one of these other-wordly dragons, and some random pony shouted 'PINKIE PIE' I would have no choice but to go that pony, even if it means I have to leave a cake in the oven."

"That...is actually a good way to put it," said Twilight, impressed.

"Well I'll be," said Applejack, rolling what she had learned around in her mind, trying to imagine what that would be like.

"For a name to have that kind of power," said Fluttershy in an awed voice. "It's unimaginable."

"You have no idea, girls," said Twilight, "It is so powerful even the bindings of the Soul Cairn cannot override it."

"So if you say his name, he'll be set free?" Asked Rarity tilting her head and arching an eye.

"Basically," said Twilight, looking up at her formula. "Saying his name, as of now, only frees him from the Soul Cairn temporarily. The Soul Cairn cannot stop him from heeding the call, but it can drag him back after awhile."

"Hey, don't you guys remember?" Started Fluttershy, all present looking to her. "Durnehviir was what we heard Twilight call from that towers roof when we arrived."

They all gave confirmation at that.

"That was how I have been summoning him so he could teach me the Thu'um," added Twilight, "And as of now, it's how I intend to free him permanently. Basically I just have to summon him, then free him from the Soul Cairn's dark embrace."

"Hey, I just thought of something," said Rainbow, tapping her chin, "As fantastic as all this sounds, if Hermaeus Mora is so powerful, why doesn't he do it himself."

" As he told you before, Rainbow, there are some things that even a Daedric Prince cannot do," answered Twilight, looking at all of them with a knowing look. " Nothing, and I mean literally nothing on Nirn can break a soul free from the Soul Cairn. But I am not from Nirn, and that is what Hermaeus Mora has been counting on, since he met me in the cave beneath Canterlot."

" After Chrysalis imprisoned you? " Asked Fluttershy.

"No," said Twilight, shaking her head her expression becoming sad, " unfortunately, it was before that."

They all let out a synced gasp once more.

"You mean when he first met you? When you accidentally teleported into the cave as a filly?" Asked Applejack in total shock, Twilight confirming with a nod.

" That...that's repulsive," said Rarity, wrinkling her nose. "You where only a child."

" What kind of monster sets out a horrific plot for a filly a few moments after meeting her?" Asked Rainbow Dash, her eye livid.

" And to think, he only saved Equestria from Chrysalis just so he could go all googly eyes over our books, but now we also find out he only helped Twilight get stronger just so he could lord it over her head and use her to accomplish a task he couldn't do. I mean, it's not like the fact that Twilight isn't from Nirn will guarantee she can actually successfully freeing poor Durnehviir from....."

Pinkie was silenced when Twilight sealed her mouth with magic.

" I know girls, its appalling," said Twilight, looking to all her friends with a worried look. " But thats one of the reasons why us, why all of Equestria should be cautious. Hermaeus Mora is more than capable of doing terrible things to get what he desires."

Thankfully, Twilight was able to talk her friends down after awhile. She had to remind them just what Hermaeus Mora was capable of, as well as the fact that he did save them, no doubt about it. So it was with relief that they returned to the subject of Durnehviir, which Applejack still had something to say about.

"I still don't understand why you would free him willingly, Twilight," she said with slight anger. "He may have helped you learn this dragon speak or whatever, but he did horrible things, like all the other dragons of that other world."

"The Dragon war ended long ago, AJ," said Twilight, placing a hoof on her apple farming friends shoulder. "For the people who live on Nirn, it has pretty much faded into myth, the dragons and the Dragon cult long being dismissed as mere legend."

"But Twilight, he is still one of them," said Rarity, "What if he tries to rebuild the Dragon cult, and worse, what if he brings it to Equestria? "

"There is no pride left in him, girls, " explained Twilight, giving her friend a look that begged them to try to understand. "Countless years in a barren landscape like the Soul Cairn can do that to a person. Plus, I am not really releasing him, I am just moving him into a new cage."

"What do you mean?" Asked Pinkie, the curl in her poofy mane forming a question mark symbol.

"Hermaeus Mora wants me to remove Durnehviir from the Ideal Masters control and into his," explained Twilight, "If I succeed, Durnehviir will be trapped here in Apocrypha, just as he was in the Soul Cairn."

"And he agreed to this?" asked Applejack, "Why would he trade one imprisonment for another?"

"For the books," answered Twilight, the others sharing a confused look. "As I have said, they were different. They were just as much scholars as they were fighters."

"I still don't like this," said Fluttershy, shivering as she hugged herself with her tail.

"Girls, I know this all this sounds bad, but you're forgetting one thing," said Twilight, bitter regret on her face. "This is what Hermaeus Mora demands of me in return for what he has done for me, for all of us. And until it is complete, I can't return to Equestria, and through extension, neither can any of you."

Twilight's friends all looked at each other for a moment, looking like they were having a private conversation.

"So be it," said Applejack with resignation.

"I still don't like it, but you raise a good point," said Rarity, "until you free that wretched dragon, we are stuck here."

"And sure this place looks kinda entertaining at first, but I think I would rather return to Sugarcube Corner at some time," said Pinkie excitedly. "Plus, I don't think I could stand only celebrating seven birthdays a year for long...hey, does Hermmy have a birthday?"

"Yeah, if this is the only road home, bring it," said Rainbow Dash standing up, the others doing the same.

"We will get through it together," said Fluttershy, an uncharacteristic determined look in her eyes.

"What can we do to help, Twilight?" Asked Spike, eyeing the board behind Twilight.

Tears of gratitude fell from Twilight's eyes as overwhelming joy found it way into her heart. It was still so new to her to have them back in her life after so long. They had even put aside their lives just to keep her company here in Apocrypha while she finished her task.

But unfortunately, it looked like company was all they could do for her now.

"It's so wonderful to have you all here," said Twilight as she looked up at the board behind her. "But I fear the fundamentals of this situation are beyond your comprehension, and will rest solely on my hunches."

"Awww," said all of them.

"Then what are we supposed to do then?" Asked Rainbow.

" Well?" Said Twilight, looking up at the glass dome ceiling the room had and to the expanse of Apocrypha. "Why don't you explore Apocrypha?"

They all gave her a look that asked if she was serious.

"Uh, darling," said Rarity, shaking slightly. "No offense, to you or Hermaeus Mora, heaven forbid, but this place is positively dreadful."

"Yeah," said Rainbow, fluttering up to the dome and looking out to Apocrypha, the many towers of books dotting the horizon. "And besides, not everypony enjoys books as much as you do, Twilight."

The rest nodded in agreement.

And too their annoyance, Twilight started giggling.

"Girls," said Twilight after she calmed down. "Apocrypha is a realm of knowledge, and there's more to knowledge than books. In fact each of your passions and hobbies fall under a certain type of knowledge."

"Oh really," said Rainbow Dash as she fluttered back down, "Can anything here keep up with my awesomeness?"

"Why don't we find out?" Said Twilight, closing her eyes to concentrate, and before their eyes, four Black Books on stands appeared in the room in a splash of black liquid.

" Wow," said Pinkie, sniffing one of the books like a dog would.

" What in tarnation, Twilight what did you do?" Asked Applejack worriedly.

"I just asked Apocrypha to provide you with something that could entertain all of you," said Twilight, "These books will send each of you to place in Apocrypha that will interest you."

"Asked Apocrypha?" Inquired Rarity.

"Nothing is impossible here, Rarity, " answered Twilight, giving her friend a kind wink.

"But there are only four," said Fluttershy, looking at Twilight with a confused expression.

"Well, I figured you would like to stay with me, Fluttershy, " said Twilight, looking at her butter colored friend with a look of gratitude. "Apocrypha must be more terrible for you than most."

Fluttershy looked up at the weaving tendrils in the sky above the dome ceiling and trembled, "You're right, thanks Twilight."

"Not a problem," said Twilight, looking at Spike "And I figured you would like to accompany Rarity."

Spike gave her a horrified look.

"You know, because wherever Rarity goes, she is bound to need help," continued Twilight, giving him a wink.

"Oh? Oh yeah, good idea Twilight," said Spike, looking at Rarity and getting little heart shaped bubbles in his vision. "Really good idea."

After some more coaxing, Twilight managed to convince her friends to try the Black Books, telling them that to return, all they need to do is read the books again. Alone, but with company now, Twilight picked up the chalk up in her magic and began to work on the diagram. The sooner she finished this the better.

But then the soft clearing of a throat drew her attention.

"Uh, Twilight?" Inquired Fluttershy nervously, scraping the floor with a hoof shyly. "What should I do?"

Twilight grinned and pulled a book off the shelf near her.

"Here, Fluttershy," said Twilight, giving her friend the book, who then gave her a questioning look. "This book has information about the animals that live on Nirn."

"They have animals there?" Said Fluttershy excitedly, opening the book to the first page. "A scrib? Oh look at that, ain't it adorable?"

Twilight smiled as Fluttershy dove muzzle first into the book, turning around to resume that would lead them home upon completion.
---
Far of in a mostly empty part of Apocrypha a tower of oxidized copper jutted out of the sea of ink. It had no features, except the roofed structure that housed a circular entrance door at its head, making it look like a giant degraded thermometer that sat in the edding liquid. It was quite a sight to see.

And that was what Rainbow Dash thought when she appeared on the platform before the door in a splash of black liquid.

"Wow," she gasped when she saw her surroundings, placing her Black Book beyond her withers(where ponies can store things for some reason) then flying up to examine the Tower from a distance.

"Huh, kinda looks like a cross between a boiler and a lighthouse," she commented, landing back before the door and noticing the rusted handle installed on the wall to her left. "Well...? Twilight has never steered me wrong before."

With slight caution, she pulled the lever.

The door opened with a creepy grating sound.

Inside the floor dropped down in a ramp-like fashion, a vertical crevice splitting it down the middle. It looked as if nopony had set foot in here for centuries, the metal walls were rusted, dust and cobwebs were everywhere. Rainbow knew Rarity would be absolutely miserable here.

"Hey, this is kind like the ruins in the Daring Do books," said Rainbow as she descended down the ramp, admiring how formidable this place looked. "Except it's all made out of metal instead of..."

She was cut off when she suddenly felt the tile she stepped on sink down, and like she had been saying, she knew Daring Do books, so she could guess what it meant. She saw a pipe shaped object jerk out at the end of the ramp from the end of the split down the middle, two rectangular objects attached, and then it spread open, the rectangles horizontal. It began spinning rapidly, giving it the appearance of a propeller.

And after the second in which all this happen, the spinning blade lunged up the ramp, following the path of the split.

"Aaahhh," said Rainbow in startled surprise, taking to the air just in time to dodge the blades, but felt the tips of her tail hairs get sliced off as they passed.

But she did not have time to dwell on it, for the weird propeller contraption changed its direction when it reached the top of the ramp and headed straight for her again. Letting out another surprised gasp, Rainbow made for the bottom of the ramp, turning to the left and down a hallway. She suddenly found herself heading for a large pipe stretched across the ceiling, landing on the floor to avoid it and skidding to a stop on her hooves.

Which sank into the ground as the tile she stopped on descended beneath her.

A rushing sound filled the air, and Rainbow turned to see a wall of flames coming right at her, holes in the floor spewing molten death. No time for taking off, Rainbow scampered on her hooves, fleeing to an ornate bronze door at the end of the hall. She could feel flames licking at her tail.

She threw the door open as she reached it, diving in and slamming it shut, propping her back against it as she panted in exertion.

Adrenaline pumped through her body as she ran over the last few seconds in her mind. That propeller had almost sliced her in half. She was almost slammed into a huge pipe, then almost roasted alive by multiple flames spewing from the floor.

"That...was," mumbled Rainbow, closing her eyes. "AWESOME."

Rainbow took to the air and punched around with her forehooves. The excitement, the danger, the near brushes with certain doom...Rainbow had never felt so alive in all her life.

"Now this is what I'm talking about," said Rainbow Dash excitedly. "A dangerous old building filled with booby traps. Gotta hand it to ya egghead, you were right."

She turned to the open room she was now in, eager for more, then gasped in awe. There before her was a large misshapen mechanical device covered in moving gears stretched up what would easily several stories, for the room was gigantic. Racks of random metal parts were scattered throughout the room, none even remotely familiar to Rainbow.

"Who built this place?" Awed Rainbow as she proceeded passed the large machine, coming to a hallway that stretched out to another room, three large disk shaped plates surrounded by gear teeth lined each wall.

" Cool," said Rainbow as she proceeded.

Suddenly the disks on the walls opened, huge metallic spheres rolling out onto the floor and blocking Rainbows path. And before her eyes they split open, revealing bipedal metal bodies that rolled on the two halves of the sphere like wheels. Rainbow Dash watch as each produced a blade arcing with electricity from one of their arms, a crossbow from the other.

Most ponies would panic, but Rainbow only got excited.

"YOU'RE KIDDING ME, ROBOTS?!" Exclaimed Rainbow, punching her hooves together as the mechanical warriors advanced on her, watching her with the gleaming copper eyes on their elongated heads. "This just gets better and better, give me your best you overgrown soda cans!"

---

"Who could it be?" Asked Spike as he and Rarity examined the statue of a mare they had found upon using the Black Book.

"No clue Spike,"answered Rarity as she took in the statues face, which wore a look of shock for some reason. "There isn't a name."

"Hey, what is this?" Said Spike as he waddled up to the side of the statue and touched the flank.

"Now Spike," scolded Rarity as she walked up to him. "Statue or not, that is an inappropriate place to touch..."

She stopped when she saw the pink mark Spike was examining on the statues flank, a black equal sign in the middle.

"Oh, fillies these days," said Rarity in disapproval. "This poor mare probably accomplished many great deeds in her life to be remembered through this statue. So disrespectful for them to just smear graffiti all over it."

"Why an equal sign?" Asked Spike.

"No idea," answered Rarity, looking to the marked statue with disapproval. "But let's move on, Spikey Wikey. I am eager to see what Apocrypha can offer an elite fashion designer like myself."

So the duo moved on, never noticing the thin, thread-like tendril drilling into the statues skull.

"Oh, how horrid," complained Rarity as she and Spike ascended a staircase made of books. "While I do enjoy a good mystery or romance novel here and there, books don't make for good decor. I seriously doubt anything here would be even the slightest bit interesting..."

Both Spike and Rarity gasped at the room the stairs lead to. It was a circular room with a grated ceiling, exposing the room to Apocrypha. It was lined with multiple shelves, the contents making Rarity's eyes sparkle and causing Spike to drool at the mouth like a dog for a treat.

Gems, gems all around.

There were the rare but known, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds, but also stones neither recognized. Some were pure white and glistened in the light, others were dark, and gleamed like polished metal. Some of the larger ones had a blue like color over their brilliant gleaming white, multiple points grew up from the base.

But the unique amongst the shelves glowed with brilliant light that came from within. Cone shaped stones gave of a brilliant light blue glow that shone through the copper housing at their base. Brilliant white light originated from crystals that were pointed at both ends, brilliant gold fitting trailing from one end of the crystal to the next.

And then there were the round black stones surrounded by an ominous but beautiful red glow.

"Ugh...da..buh...di..di...," Rarity looked like she might have a stroke, but a semblance of comprehension appeared in her eyes and she pulled her mane with a broad grin. "THERE ARE NO WORDS."

She ran up to the nearest shelf and plucked up one of the glowing white stones in her magic and admired the gold wiring that decorated it.

"I have never seen anything like it!" Said Rarity, looking into the beautiful glowing depths of the crystal. "ITS FLAWLESS...COMPLETELY FLAWLESS!" She shouted as she ran her prestigious eyes over the gems surface.

"And they look delicious," said Spike as he picked up one of the multi-pointed crystals and took a bite.

He stilled as he swallowed. A taste more delicious than any other jewel danced on his tongue. Without another word he picked up another one and shoved the whole thing in his mouth, chewing with bliss.

"So...so delicious," moaned Spike as he picked up an oval shaped black stone and drooled as it danced around in his eyes.
"What are you beautiful things?"

"Spike, get over here," called Rarity before Spike could eat the black stone, shoving it in his pocket as he sought out the summons of his crush.

How does he have pockets on his bare scales?

He found her in an elongated room conjoined to the one with all the jewels, this one filled with rolls of fabric and gleaming pieces of gold armor.

"This fabric is just lovely," said Rarity as she nuzzled a light blue fabric roll with her cheek. "So soft, feel it Spike."

Before he could protest, he found a length of fabric placed over his head. He suppressed a grumble, he may have a crush on her, but he could still get annoyed at her antics. Who likes having a sheet thrown over one's head, especially without their consent?

Then Spike realized he did.

The fabric was so soft if it wasn't obscuring his vision he would not have known it was there at all. Yet it kept him warm, it did not hinder his breathing, he felt like it could be part of him. He hoped his favorite blanket back home did not get jealous.

"Amazing," sighed Spike as he cupped the fabric to his cheek.

"Oh I know," said Rarity, rolling up the fabric, much to Spikes disappointment. "I've had so much inspiration in the past few seconds alone, I should have brought my equipment along..."

A slight thud echoed through the room with the gems, the two turning to look. They both gasped as they saw some of Hermaeus Mora's tendrils settings up a sewing machine, as well as a vanity filled with sewing supplies. Below her shock Rarity hoped these actually weren't her things.

"Ugh," said Rarity, staring flabbergasted at the retracting tendrils. "Thank you?"
---

" Hmm?" Said Pinkie Pie as she examined the prongy flower in front of her.

It was the only thing she found in this small dark room she found herself in.

"Twilght said the book would take me somewhere interesting," said Pinkie as she began prodding the flower with a hoof. "I thought I liked a lot of things, but deep down am I only interested in studying ugly flowers?"

Suddenly the flowers protruding limb sunk within the pedals, which then closed, and Pinkie watched as the far wall 'did something'. Then she realized the wall was backing away from her, exposing a long hall that was only growing longer. It was similar to the optical illusions of a fun house, and boy did Pinkie like fun.

"Ooooooooo," moaned Pinkie as she followed the new path, her eyes wide with wonder.

Then something landed on her head.

"Huh?" Said Pinkie rubbing her forehead and glancing down at the simple scroll that had landed on her.

She picked it up in one of her mane curls and rolled it open.

"Put on a flowing garment," she read on the first line. "Okie dokie," she said, pulling the dress she wore at the Grand Galloping Gala from her mane and jumping into it. Then she brought her attention back to the scroll.

"Hullabaloo, and howdy doo! Musty prawns, and Timbuktu!" On Pinkie read, her eyebrow raising with each line. "Yeltsy-by, and hibbety-hoo! Kick 'em in the dishpan! Hoo hoo hoo!

" Kick' em in the dishpan hoo hoo hoo?" Inquired Pinkie, looking up with a confused expression.

"I love it, it sounds so silly," she said, dropping the scroll and bounced out of her dress, continuing to bounce down the hall.

"Kick em in the dishpan hoo hoo hoo, kick em in the dishpan hoo hoo hoo," Pinkie sang to herself, leaving her discarded dress behind.
---
On a nearby table, a gleaming black stone suddenly shattered, a transparent bipedal image with reptilian quality emerging.

"I am free," the argonian said in a wispy male voice. "At last I am free."

Then it disappeared.
---
" I wonder where this will take me?" Pinkie asked herself as she road a floating platform that was approaching a nearby building's roof.

Pinkie jumped to the ground when her ride stopped, looking around with wonder. The roof had multiple shelves around, and were stocked with multiple ingredients for cooking. In the center sat a large spit with a cauldron hanging over an open fire.

"I would have preferred an oven, but I have always wanted to try baking the rustic way," said Pinkie as she stared at the cauldron. "I bet this is how my fore-pie's made cake."

She noticed a book on a nearby counter and studied it.

" Uncommon Taste, by the Gourmet," read Pinkie, opening the book and reading a random recipe "Let's see what we got. Oh the Potage le Magnifique sound magnificent."

---

" I don't know what a simple country gal like me could hope to find here," said Applejack as she climbed to the top of a tower on an outside staircase. "If there is anything I feel more than useless at, it would be..."

Applejack found herself entering a room at the top of the tower, the contents surprising her. Bottles, bottles used to carry drinks like cider, or heaven forbid, stronger drinks, lined the shelves in the room, coming in all shapes and sizes. Since she was just a simple farmer, Applejack was very familiar with this.

Be she was personally familiar with what rested in the center of the room.

" The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000?" She inquired, turning around and looking to the nearest portal of tentacles in the sky. "NICE ONE HERMAEUS MORA, YEE HAW."

Laughing as she walked past the machine that was the the bane of her family, Applejack approached the nearest shelf and examined the closest bottle. It was a bland brown color Applejack was sure Rarity would never tolerate, but she was drawn to it. It was like she somehow had a connection to it.

"Sujamma," she read from the label, picking up the bottle.

Popping off the lid, AJ took a sip.

"Oh wow," said Applejack, smacking her lips.

It was obviously an alcoholic beverage, and most ponies would have been overwhelmed by this brew. But Apples made all kinds of apple products, including the fun kind. And over time, Applejack had grown accustomed to the dropping effects of certain drinks.

"Not bad, not bad at all, but it needs something," said Applejack, looking to the Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000, fresh ciber in its round glass chambers and a clean spigot on the side.

---

'Oh, Silt Striders sound so interesting,' thought Fluttershy as she examined the sketches of a large flea shaped animal, 'if I am reading the dimensions right, they are most as big as an Ursa minor, but docile and gentle. Becoming emotionally attached to the person who raised it.'

"Hmm?"

Fluttershy looked up from the book at Twilight's hum of concentration. Her purple friend was hard at work at the research station, multiple papers and quills floating around, dancing on multiple papers simultaneously. Then she stopped and focused on one paper, tapping her chin with a quill.

Smiling, Fluttershy watched Twilight work for a while.

'I have never noticed, but Twilight is kinda cute when she is working on something,' thought Fluttershy, admiring how her friends eyes shone as she studied her notes. 'Maybe it's because I actually have never seen her studying before.'

Thinking on this made Fluttershy think about when Chrysalis had her in her evil magic. She had never been so scared in all her timid life then she was at that moment, and it wasn't just Chrysalis. Her friends had been helplessly restrained around her, unable to help her or get themselves to safety.

But then, out of nowhere, Twilight managed to get free and retaliate against the monster who held her, her burned features restoring like a Phoenix. And with her new powers, called a storm to do battle for them like a mighty champion. Even though the incident was less than benign, it still lead to their salvation.

Then there was the image of Twilight facing Hermaeus Mora on their behalf.

'She is also a very beautiful mare,' thought Fluttershy, admiring the sheen of sweat Twilight had worked up over her coat, not to mention Fluttershy loved the color purple. It was her favorite color.

These thoughts brought forth the memory of holding her in her hooves once they finally tracked her down, and she dropped from exhaustion. She had seen Twilight fight so viciously in Canterlot, but when she was resting in Fluttershy's hooves she looked so frail, so vulnerable. And in that moment Fluttershy had felt more guilty about how she treated her at the wedding then ever.

'Wait, what am I doing?' thought Fluttershy, placing her hoof over heart, which was beating like it never had before.

"Gah, flawed!" Moaned Twilight, crumpling up her notes and turning to the board, unaware she had just indirectly pointed her flank in Fluttershy's direction.

Ponies hardly wore clothing, so seeing their hindquarters was nothing new, but for some reason this time was different for Fluttershy. She could not stop staring at how round it looked, the altered Cutie Mark somehow adding to the allure. Her flowing tail looking most inviting.

Shaking her head, Fluttershy returned to her book, her face the color of a grapefruit.

---

'Huh, this is impossible,' thought Twilight, looking over her diagram. "I have to face it, it's not possible to increase the power of my liberation spell, its as powerful as I can make it."

Her aggravation was only increasing. She had devised this spell to shatter any binding magic it came into contact with, and according to Durnehviir, it was working. He claims he could feel the Soul Cairn's hold slipping as he was exposed her spells effects.

But the problem was that the longer Durnehviir was out of the Soul Cairn, the stronger the pull back became.

'Maybe the problem is not my spell," thought Twilight as she focused on the dissected name on the board. 'If I could somehow keep the pull of the Soul Cairn at bay, allowing Durnehviir to be exposed to my magic longer, that may work. But I would have to use the Thu'um and my magic at the same time.'

Twilight tapped her head. She was able to use some spells in tangent with the Thu'um, but her liberation spell was far to powerful and advanced.

'The easiest solution would be for another pony trained in the Thu'um to say Durnehviir's name while I cast the spell,'thought Twilight, 'But I am the only...,'

Twilight's train of thought derailed as she looked over at Fluttershy nearby.

Her friends were here with her, they bore Hermaeus Mora's image on their flanks like her.

'No...I couldn't....

Twilight's vision started swimming, and her mind went blank. She could not remember the last time she rested, having spent every waking moment trying to complete her task so she could go home. It would seem her efforts were finally starting to exceed her limit, and now she could no longer ignore her body's demands for rest.

She did not feel the hooves grab her in a warm embrace before she could fall to the ground.
---
" Oh Twilight," said Fluttershy, looking at her friend in worry. "When was the last time you slept?"

Gently, Fluttershy carried Twilight to the bedrooms, laying her in the bed that had photo of all of them on the nightstand.

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