• Published 7th Aug 2020
  • 856 Views, 63 Comments

Scarlet: Broken Pedestal - Skijarama

Princess Twilight Sparkle has returned to a world that has gone without her for over four hundred years. With the aid of Scarlet Frost, she and her friends set out into the world, heedless of the changes, good and bad, their return has put in motion.

  • ...


Four hundred years ago, tucked far away to the north of Equestria, sheltered on all sides by a perpetual blizzard that sucked the warmth and life away from all it touched, the Crystal Empire stood as one of the few remaining bastions of pony kind. A great dome of magical energy had been erected over the ancient city-state, the color of its surface shifting between a deep purple and vibrant cyan.

Under that arcane dome, a population of thousands dwelled, huddled fearfully in their homes, while yet thousands more lined the streets—refugees who had been displaced by the devastation that had befallen their once-proud land. Those that walked the shimmering crystalline roads turned their eyes southward without thinking of it, their heart withering in their chests at the thought of what was surely coming for them.

Their only solace was the towering spire of sky-blue crystal that rose from the heart of the city, emanating with the magic of friendship and love. A light of hope that hinted at the possibility of a dawn where, once the dust settled, the ponies would emerge victoriously.

On one of the many balconies that emerged from the spire’s walls, looking down on the city with a distant, faraway look in her eyes, stood the Princess of Friendship, Twilight Sparkle. Her eyes traced the intricate, snowflake-themed streets of the great northern empire, her heart heavy with dread and anxiety as a thousand and one thoughts raced through her mind like the winds of an almighty hurricane.

She wasn’t sure how long she had been standing out here, watching the city below. It had felt like hours to her; hours of looking, watching, waiting, fearing, doubting, and regretting. Her eyes fell on one of the many groups of refugees working their way through the streets. Their movement hinted that they were searching for something. Food stalls, maybe, or perhaps shelter. Maybe they were looking for loved ones they had lost in the initial chaos of their sudden and frantic relocation.

Twilight sighed. If that was the case, then a new, cynical corner of her mind doubted that they would find them. She had tried her best to save as many as she could, but even with the help of her friends and the other princesses, it had amounted to so, so few. These refugees were all she had left. They were all that remained of her subjects. Or, at the very least, they were the last of the ones she had any chance of defending.

The rest? Lost. Either left behind in the retreat or torn apart by a swarm of ravenous, feral, brainwashed changelings. She shuddered, her wings ruffling at her sides as an uncomfortable chill filled her veins. She screwed her eyes shut, but she was unable to force out the images of the cities being rent into ruins: Manehattan, Baltimare, Fillydelphia, Canterlot. Any of them. All of them.

...When had it all gone wrong? When had the magic she had devoted her life to spreading become so painfully inferior?


Twilight startled as a gruff, two-toned voice spoke to her from behind. She spun around to find Pharynx looking back at her. He was taller than her by several inches and, unlike the swarm that loomed to the south, his chitin was not littered with holes, nor was it colored a threatening shade of black. He was a dark shade of bluish-green, with orange antlers rising from his head in place of a typical horn. He was one of those lucky few changelings who had avoided the curse; one of only a thousand, if Twilight was remembering correctly, and now all of them were under her care, hidden among the refugees down below.

Quickly collecting herself, she cleared her throat and held her head high. “Yes? What is it?” she asked, trying and failing to mask the quiver in her voice.

Pharynx jerked his head back toward the door. “Starlight wants to talk to you. And everyone else. She says it’s urgent, and everypony’s already gathered in the throne room.”

Twilight blinked. “O-oh. Uh, what about?” she asked, walking after Pharynx is he stepped back inside.

The tall drone shrugged his shoulders. “She didn’t tell me, only asking that someone get you quickly. I volunteered.”

Twilight’s ears drooped, looking away. “Right…”

Pharynx snorted but did not say anything else. His gaze was locked fiercely forward, his lips formed into a perpetual, ugly frown. In the short time Twilight had known him, she didn’t think she had ever once seen him smile.

“It’s not like I can blame him,” she thought despondent, barely stifling a sigh. “He’s lost everything… his home, his people… his brother…”

The two didn’t speak another word. Every so often, a squad of heavily-armed guards walked by on patrol, giving the duo respectful nods of their heads as they passed. Soon they came to the throne room, with Pharynx throwing open the towering doors with his emerald green magic.

Twilight blinked in surprise. When Pharynx had said everypony was gathered here, he meant it. Princesses Celestia and Luna stood off to the right, tired and disheveled, but no less determined. To the left, she could see her friends Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Spike, and even Ocellus, yet another changeling lucky enough to evade the spread of the curse.

On the raised platform where the crystal throne resided, Princess Cadance and her husband Shining Armor stood on either side of their young daughter, Flurry Heart. Twilight’s heart warmed a small amount at seeing her niece there. The filly had grown considerably since all of this madness had started; five years old and going strong.

Then, finally, standing at the base of the throne, was Starlight Glimmer. The lilac unicorn turned to face Twilight as she stepped into the room, an odd look on her face.

“Here she is,” Pharynx said bluntly, gesturing back at Twilight before joining Ocellus off to the side.

“Thank you, Pharynx,” Celestia said with a short nod.

Twilight nodded to him as well before looking to everypony before her. “S-so…” she began, stammering at the start before finally subduing that damned tremor. “What’s going on? Did something happen? Is everypony okay?”

“For the moment, yes,” Starlight said with a slow nod, her ears folding back. “But… well, none of us knows if that’s going to last. And… that’s why I called all of you here.”

Twilight winced. Something about the way Starlight had said that did not resonate well with her. “Wha… what do you mean?” she asked hesitantly.

Starlight took a long deep breath, her gaze drifting lazily from one set of eyes to the next as she collected her thoughts. After a moment, she began to speak. “Look… I don’t want to be ‘that mare,’ but we’ve all seen how this war has been going for us so far. At every turn, Chrysalis has been three steps ahead of us. We’ve lost almost every battle against her swarm, and without the Elements, without Discord, I don’t see a way for us to turn it around. Not without a miracle.”

She turned to Cadance and Shining, both of whom had placed their hooves on Flurry’s back to comfort the now-fearful filly. “...I know that’s not what any of us wants to hear. Believe me, I know. But we can’t keep praying that we’ll magically find a solution this time. It just… doesn’t seem like it’s going to work that way.”

She turned back to Twilight, her ears drooping. “We all know Chrysalis’ goal. She wants to destroy everything. Whatever happened to her when she was out there, alone in the wilderness, it broke her. She doesn’t care about survival anymore, or about feeding or protecting her subjects. All she wants is for all of us to die, and we all know she is more than capable of pulling it off. Even if we have the power here to take her down, she won’t make it easy, and we know she won’t go down without taking seven specific ponies with her…”

“Ugh, can we skip the preamble and get to the point?!” Rainbow suddenly blurted out, stamping a hoof against the floor. “We get it! The situation sucks! Stop rubbing it in and tell us why you pulled us all away from what we’re supposed to be doing!”

“I agree,” Celestia added simply. “We are all aware of the situation, miss Starlight Glimmer, and the recital is not helping the morale of the young ones present…”

Starlight grimaced, her eyes flicking between Ocellus and Flurry, both of whom were visibly upset by her little speech so far. She took a deep breath. “I… I’m sorry, but I just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page. So that you’d all know why I’m coming to you all with this idea…”

Her horn lit up, and from her saddlebags, two curious objects emerged. One was a lamp, not unlike what one might expect from Somnambulan legends of wish-granting genies, crafted from softly glowing blue crystals. A collection of arcane runes had been painstakingly etched into the base, confirming it to have some manner of potent enchantment. It was accompanied by a collection of three scrolls.

“This,” she said, holding up the lamp for all to see. “Was crafted from the roots of the Tree of Harmony, with its granted consent. I have Ocellus to thank for securing that.”

Twilight blinked, taking a few, tentative steps forward to get a better look at the lamp. A faint whisper of a memory tickled the back of her mind, of Starlight and Ocellus embarking on an expedition into the Everfree when things were really beginning to get bad. She had come back with slabs of the tree’s roots and had since tinkered with all of them. “...Weren’t you using those pieces of the tree to try and find the Elements?”

Starlight sighed and shook her head. “I was, but I never had any luck. Wherever Chrysalis hid them, I never got a chance to pinpoint their exact location. They’re somewhere south, but beyond that…?”

“Even if we had a precise location,” Luna noted carefully. “It would require moving past Chrysalis’ swarm, an all but impossible task. With her connection to the drones, it would take but one to spot us for the entire mission to grind to a total halt.”

Starlight nodded along. “Right. The Elements are beyond our reach now…” she said softly before lifting her gaze to Twilight’s friends off to the side. “But… their bearers aren’t.”

“What are ya gettin’ at?” Applejack asked inquisitively.

Starlight stepped forward, bringing the lamp back down so they could all inspect it closer. “As I said, Chrysalis may be after ponykind as a whole, but there are seven ponies she wants to kill above everypony else… The ponies who wield the Elements… and I,” she explained slowly and tentatively. “...And I don’t think we have the power to stop her.”

“So what are you suggesting, darling?” Rarity asked incredulously. “That we turn tail and flee? We’ve already done that! We’re as fled as we can be!”

“Yeah, there isn’t much else to the north,” Pinkie lamented softly. “Just more snow… I mean, maybe the Yaks, but I don’t wanna run to them if it means bringing Chrysalis down on them. They’re too nice for that. I don’t wanna get our friends hurt.”

“Exactly,” Starlight confirmed, backing up. “Either Chrysalis is stopped here, or her reign of terror will never end. But I don’t think we can do it without losing at least some of us… Which is where this comes in.”

“The lamp?” Shining asked with an eyebrow going up. “What about it?”

Starlight hesitated for a moment, taking in another deep breath. “...If one of the wielders of the Elements dies, the rest of them become useless until the Tree picks new wielders, which could be centuries from now for all we know. We can’t afford to let that happen. Maybe we can stop Chrysalis here, end her control of the swarm, stop the curse. But… if we lose even one of Twilight’s friends or, heavens forbid, Twilight herself, it will have been for almost nothing.”

She turned back to Twilight and moved the lamp up to her, along with one of the scrolls. Twilight took both in her magic, examining the lamp and then unrolling the scroll. Her eyes widened as she saw the diagrams and writings of perhaps the most elaborate sealing spell she had ever seen written on the parchment. “This… it’s a spell of sealing.”

Starlight nodded. “It is…”

“So, what, are we sealing Chrysalis in a magic lamp or something?” Rainbow asked with a grin. “Cause that sounds like fun!”

Starlight shook her head. “No, we’re not. She’s amassed too much power by now. She’d be able to resist any attempt without much effort…” she said regretfully before looking up to Twilight.

Twilight swallowed heavily. A pit of dread was forming in her stomach. “I… then, who is being sealed? Or what?”

Starlight stepped forward, placing a hoof on Twilight’s chest. “...When the dust clears, we are going to need you and your friends to put the world back together, Twilight. And so… to make sure you’re there, alive and well… I think it might be for the best if we sealed you and your friends inside.”

Twilight’s heart felt as if it had just stopped in her chest. Her eyes went wide as saucers, her pupils shrank to pinpricks, and her nostrils flared alongside a sharp, sudden inhale. Her mind went back to her subjects: the ponies she was sworn to defend that were waiting for her right outside.

“WHAT?!” Applejack demanded, throwing her hat down. “Y’all can’t be serious! THAT is yer plan?!”

Starlight went on, undeterred. “The lamp is basically indestructible, and the spell is loaded with enough fail-safes and intricacies that, even if Chrysalis found it, I doubt she’d be patient enough to figure out how to open it. Assuming the worst comes to pass, and… and she wins, she would probably just discard it as a pointless bauble and be on her way. You would all be safe and alive, preserved within.”

“But you’re asking us to HIDE!” Rainbow snapped, darting over and shoving her face into Starlight’s. “Well, you can take that stupid plan and shove it right up your magic ass! I’m not leaving these ponies hanging!”

Starlight tried to nudge Rainbow back, but the pegasus held firm. “I’m asking you to live! If you die here, you’ll be leaving them hanging until the end of time itself! You’ll die, and then so will they!”

“I’m not running!” Rainbow snapped, shoving Starlight back. “Ever! I’m done running away!”

“Look, just think for a minute, okay?!” Starlight pleaded, shrinking back. “I… I know that I’m asking a lot of you. Trust me, this isn’t an idea I feel all that comfortable with either. But what other choice do we really have?! If we can’t preserve some of us, then even if we win here, there is a high chance that the survivors won’t be able to put anything back together! They need leaders! They need heroes they can depend on to guide them through the recovery process! If too many of us die here, they won’t have that!”

“But if we tuck our tails and hide in that lamp, everypony left behind won’t have us here to help!” Applejack barked.

Starlight sighed, screwing her eyes shut. “I understand that Applejack, but you have to understand… most of us aren’t fighters!”

A heavy silence fell over the room at that. She lowered her hoof and pointed to each pony in turn. “You’ve all been through a lot. Saved Equestria many times. Yes, I know, everypony knows. But… you never had to fight or kill to do it. The times you did fight, you lost. Pinkie’s a baker, Fluttershy’s a veterinarian, Ocellus is a student in school, and Flurry’s just a scared child!”

Rarity frowned. “Starlight!”

“I’m sorry, Rarity, but it needs to be said!” Starlight shot back. “You aren’t warriors. Hay, I’m not a warrior! I know combat spells, sure, but I never once had any real training in how to fight! Neither has Twilight or Applejack, for that matter. We can defend ourselves, maybe, but we are way out of our league here. And so if we all go charging in there when the final battle starts, what can we realistically hope to accomplish?”

Silence. Those she was addressing opened their mouths to offer some sort of rebuttal, but none came. Starlight sighed and turned to Twilight. “Look… I know, okay? This is a desperate idea and the number of things that could go wrong… it’s a tremendous risk. But if it pays off, the reward at the end is the survival of you and your friends… and I know, firsthoof, just how important all of you are to the future of Equestria. You showed me that, Twilight… so if anypony should be given the guarantee of survival… it’s you.”

Twilight stared at Starlight for several moments, her expression blank. “I… I can’t,” she choked out, her ears folding back. “Those ponies out there… I can’t… I can’t leave them… I promised to protect them. It’s my duty as a princess!”

“I know,” Starlight offered gently. “But if you die, you won’t be able to protect them anyway… at least this way we know there’d be a guaranteed chance of recovery. You and your friends can work miracles, Twilight… but only if you’re alive.”

Twilight mouthed like a fish for several long seconds, her heart racing alongside her mind. There had to be some other way. She could join the fight, go up against Chrysalis with everypony else, stop the swarm! Maybe she’d get lucky, find an opening, and… and…

“...Who am I kidding?” that cynical part of her thought in defeat. “She’s had us outclassed from the moment this war began. And it’s not like I’ve been of any use to anypony since it all started… how many have died because I couldn’t protect them? How many lost their homes and their loved ones because I was too weak to lead them?”

She looked past Starlight to stare at everypony else. Judging by their expressions, most of them were in the same boat, sharing that same train of thought: trying and failing to find some counter to Starlight’s plan, some idea where they would be sure to win without having to remove themselves from the battle in the first place.

“How would they be let out?” Shining Armor suddenly asked.

Cadance blinked, turning to her husband with a gaping mouth. “Shiny! You can’t be-”

“I’m trying to be realistic, Cadance,” Shining shut her down gently. “Starlight has a point… as much as I hate to admit it. And if there’s a chance we can save my sister’s life and make sure she lives, then… I want to at least hear her out.”

Starlight turned to the throne with a small nod. She gestured to the scrolls in Twilight’s magic. “Those scrolls contain the spell to seal them inside, and detail the counterspell needed to release them. I only made three copies so that Chrysalis would have a hard time finding out about what we did.”

She turned and gestured to several ponies in the room. “Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Flurry, and myself. We would all know how to undo the seal and let them out. Anypony else is either too weak with magic, or the spell isn’t compatible with them.”

Pharynx snorted. “Tch. Of course, it isn't.”

“I’m sorry, Pharynx. Changeling magic’s difficult to work with. I tried to find a way, I did, but…”

Silence fell over the room again. Spike stepped forward, tapping his claws together over his heart. “So… what happens if we do this? What do we do with the lamp?”

Starlight turned to him. “We put it somewhere safe, somewhere where Chrysalis won’t find it if she wins, and we go from there.”

“And where would that be?” Pharynx asked doubtfully. “That harlot has been sickeningly thorough so far. Where could we hide it where she wouldn’t look once she realizes that her targets aren’t here?”

Starlight turned to answer him next, but the words did not have a chance to be spoken. A terrible tremor suddenly rocked through the castle, along with the distant rumble of an explosion. Cadance and Shining both gasped, their horns flickering with magic.

“What has happened?!” Luna demaanded, her wings flaring out.

“Something’s attacking the barrier!” Cadance gasped, forcing herself to her hooves. “A lot of them!”

Pharynx scowled, even as Ocellus whimpered and cowered behind him. “...It’s Chrysalis,” he spat, his wings buzzing on his back. “She’s here.”

“Already?!” Spike asked in terror. “But… but! I thought we had a few days!”

“Clearly we were wrong!” Pharynx shot back, turning to the nearest window. All eyes followed his, and sure enough, just through the multi-colored barrier, they could all see a swarm of tiny black dots amassing at the edge of the barrier, peppering it with spellfire. A sickening buzz began to fill the air as more and more arrived, each one adding their wings to the chorus.

Twilight ran to the window, her heart plummeting with terror. Her eyes darted down to the streets, and she could see the ponies below scrambling to the safety of the castle while the soldiers rushed to get into position to combat the advancing swarm.

“Oh, no… oh no no no!” she exclaimed, starting to walk frantically in place as panic consumed her. “What do we do?! What do we do?! We don’t have our defenses set up, yet! We’re sitting ducks! How did she get here so fast?!”

“Who cares?!” Shining demanded, rising from the throne and stepping forward. “She’s here now! We have to keep her at bay as long as we can!”

“Oh my goodness, oh my goodness,” Fluttershy whimpered, cowering into Rarity’s comforting embrace as another tremor rocked the spire.

Pharynx snarled before turning and kneeling down to face Ocellus. “Stay here,” he ordered her firmly. “Do what they tell you, and for the love of the Hive, live. Thorax gave his sanity and free will up for you, and I won’t have you squandering that sacrifice, do you understand?!”

Ocellus gave a weak, timid nod. “I… y-yes, I understand. But what about you?”

Pharynx stood and turned for the door, his lips peeling back into an ugly snarl. “...This monster… this demon has taken everything from me. It’s well past time she gave something back, and I mean to take it!”

“Pharynx!” Shining called after the changeling as he went galloping for the door. When Pharynx looked back, Shining gave him a solemn nod. “Thorax was my friend. I’ll join you soon. Let’s give em hell.”

Pharynx got a sickeningly eager smirk on his face. “Oh, I plan to!” he declared before charging through the doors.

“What are we supposed to do?!” Pinkie asked, her mane deflating.

Starlight bit her lip before turning to speak to the room at large. “We’re out of time! If we’re using the lamp, we need to do it now!” she called out.

Twilight turned to Starlight, the color draining from her face. “N-no! There has to be some other way! I… I can’t…”

Starlight marched up to her, her eyes burning with the ferocity of her gaze. “If you have a better plan, then now is the time!”

Twilight racked her brain desperately for any alternatives, but nothing came. She looked desperately to her friends, to the princesses, to her brother, for any advice. Alas, none of them had any better plans either, if the torn looks on their faces were any indication.

Finally, Twilight turned to Starlight. They locked gazes for several seconds. Another explosion went off somewhere in the distance, and the castle rocked. Starlight placed her hoof over Twilight’s heart and stared imploringly into her eyes. “I won’t do this if you don’t agree to it,” she said in a whisper. “But you saved my life… and you showed me how much Equestria needs you… So please, Twilight… let me save you, this time.”

Twilight swallowed heavily. “I… I…” she stammered, looking past Starlight to her friends for a moment. “...What about you?”

Starlight smiled. “...I’ll give my all to the fight. I may be powerful, but I know Equestria can survive without me… and so can you.”


Before the discussion could go any further, another larger explosion went off against the barrier, and a small portion of it shattered inwards. Cadance and Shining both grunted, but they were quick to pour more power into their spell and repair the damage. Only a few of the countless black dots managed to slip in before it closed.

Twilight swallowed heavily, then, at long last, gave a stiff, hesitant nod. “Okay… okay, fine. Just… make sure we come out soon, okay?”

“Twilight!” Rainbow protested, but hers was the only voice of dissent.

Starlight nodded, relief flooding her eyes. “I will…”

Twilight took another breath and made her way over to Celestia and Luna. They looked down at her with unreadable looks, though the affection in their eyes was unmistakable.

“Worry not, princess Twilight,” Luna said softly once she was close enough. “We will ensure there is yet an Equestria for you to return to.”

“I… I know… I just…” Twilight hesitated, her eyes affixing to Celestia. Barely stifling a sob, she threw herself against the taller alicorn in a hug, burying her face in her chest fur. “Please survive… all of you.”

“We will do our best,” Celestia assured her with an affectionate nuzzle. “I promise.”

Twilight withdrew from the embrace and turned to face her brother and sister-in-law. Flurry was still between them, clutching tightly to her mother’s side with wide, terrified eyes. Twilight approached them next, her ears drooping. “Flurry… Shiny… Cadance.”

“Auntie Twilight,” Flurry whimpered, sniffling. “What’s going on? Why is everypony so sad? Is the bad lady attacking?”

Twilight nodded, her heart twisting with guilt at seeing the small child so distraught. “She is… I’m going to be away for a little while to stop her. You stay safe and listen to your mommy and daddy, okay?”

Flurry nodded, accepting a soft nuzzle from Twilight with a quivering hum.

“Are you sure about this?” Cadance asked softly as Twilight pulled back. “This plan, it’s…”

“I don’t like it either,” Twilight aknowledged with a frown. “But… Starlight’s right. What other option do we have?”

“No good ones,” Shining lamented, shaking his head. He gave her a comforting smile, reaching out to ruffle her mane. “But we’ll manage. Just you wait. When we pull you out of that lamp, we’ll be primed and ready to put Equestria back together again.”

Twilight managed to get a tiny ghost of a smile from the presence of her brother’s hoof. She brushed it away after a moment and looked into each of their eyes for a moment. “...Take care of each other. And her,” she added, gesturing down to Flurry.

“We will. She’s our daughter,” Shining assured her. “I’d tear the world apart myself if it meant keeping her safe and happy.”

“That’s not funny,” Twilight said.

“No. It’s true.”

They were quiet for a few seconds. Twilight pushed forward and gave her big brother a hug. She could feel Cadance joining her from the side, enveloping both of them in her wings. “I love you, BBBFF,” Twilight choked out.

“We love you, too, Twily,” Shining whispered back, giving her a squeeze.

Twilight pulled away a moment later, barely holding back tears. She then turned to Spike and her friends, who had all clustered together near the base of the stairs. She stepped down toward them.

Rainbow landed in front of her, eyes wide and pleading. “Twilight, no, we can’t do this!” she stated emphatically. “We CAN’T! We gotta stay and fight! We can’t just run like this!”

Twilight looked away, her ears folding back. “I don’t want to run, Dash. But… we’re in a corner here…”

“I just… I don’t… GUH!” Rainbow slammed a hoof into the floor to go with her shout of frustration. “This all blows!”

“To put it mildly,” Applejack added regretfully.

Twilight sighed, her eyes falling to Spike. She then looked past him to Starlight. “What about Spike? What’s gonna happen to him?”

Starlight sighed. “I’m sorry, but the spell won’t work if we include him. I did my best, but the lamp just doesn’t have the capacity for more than six ponies. Even one dragon added to the mix would be too much. If I had time, maybe I could increase the capacity, but...”

“We’re out of time,” Twilight echoed Starlight’s earlier words with a sigh. “Right…”

“Twilight…” Spike whispered as she knelt down in front of him.

“We’ll be okay, Spike,” she told him softly, trying her best to believe her own hollow assurances. “Everything is going to be okay.”

Spike took a deep breath, then jumped forward, wrapping his arms around her neck in a tight hug. “You come back soon, you hear me?!”

“We will,” Twilight promised, patting him on the back. “I know we will.”

Another explosion echoed in the distance, drawing a grimace out of Cadance. “They’re giving it everything they have out there… we won’t be able to withstand this battering for long. A couple of hours at most.”

“That gives me time to do the spell and make sure everypony can undo it,” Starlight noted quickly.

Shining winced as another explosion filled the air. He then looked down at Flurry, who was whimpering quietly into Cadance’s fur. His expression hardened, and he looked down at Spike. “Spike, when the barrier goes down, I want you to take Flurry, Ocellus, and the lamp, and take them as far away from here as you can.”

“Shining?” Cadance asked.

“The city isn’t going to be safe. The moment that barrier drops, it’s going to be hell in here, and I can’t protect my daughter and the city at the same time,” he said simply. “If my attention is divided, I won’t be of any use to anypony.”

Spike looked past Twilight to stare, wide-eyed at Shining. “What?! Me?! Are you sure?!”

Shining nodded. “I am. One last hurrah for Spike, the Brave, and Glorious, huh?”

Spike swallowed the lump in his throat before giving a stiff nod. “I… I’ll do my best.”

A few seconds of quiet fell over the room. Twilight took the chance to hug Spike closer t her chest, savoring the contact. “...Take care, Spike.”

“I will…”

Starlight cleared her throat after a minute, drawing Twilight’s attention. “We need to get started,” she said firmly.

Twilight gulped. Every instinct in her body was screaming at her to hold onto Spike and never let go, but she knew well enough that there was no stopping the train that had just been set in motion. All she could do was hold on and hope it didn’t crash before it reached its final stop. So, with a sigh, she relinquished her hold on Spike and stood up.

“Okay… I… are we ready, girls?” she asked quietly.

“As ready as Ah can be,” Applejack grunted, replacing her hat on her head. “Though Ah don’t like it one bit…”

“None of us do, Applejack,” Rarity pointed out. “But… yes, I suppose I am.”

Rainbow growled, scuffing a hoof across the floor. “Guh! Fine, whatever. Just leave a few bugs for me when we get out! I ain’t done with em, yet.”

“We’ll be back soon, right?” Pinkie asked in a timid whisper.

“I hope so,” Fluttershy added in an equally quiet voice.

Starlight nodded at that before taking a few steps back and spreading her stance. “Okay… everypony relax,” she commanded before lighting her horn.

Twilight took a deep breath. The light grew brighter and brighter, and she soon turned away from it to look at everypony else. Celestia, Luna, Cadance, Shining, Flurry… all of these ponies who meant so much to her. Some small part of her screamed out to go and hug them again, but she stayed in place. All she did was offer them a smile. “We’ll be back soon…”

She turned back to Starlight and closed her eyes, awaiting the spell to take hold. She could feel the energies starting to trail along her body as if to measure her shape and form. She felt a warmth begin to seep into her, soothing her stress, fear, and dread into something more manageable. A few moments later, she opened her eyes.

Starlight was staring directly back at her, smiling. “We’ll see you on the other side.”

Twilight returned the smile. “Yeah. Good luck, Starlight,” she said to her student, her eyes glistening over with tears. “I’m proud of you.”

Her eyes then wandered down to Starlight’s side. Spike was there, and next to him, Ocellus. Twilight’s gaze lingered on both of them for several seconds.

The light became blinding. All sensation faded away.

And then she knew no more.

Twilight gave off a long, tired groan as she returned to the waking world. A feeling of sleepiness the likes of which she had never felt before had settled into every part of her body. She tried to think about what had just transpired, but her mind and body were too relaxed to rightly care. She was warm, content, and comfortably resting on what felt like the softest, most welcoming pillows she had ever felt.

Several moments passed before her faculties really began to come together. As they did, her heart beat faster as dread and concern filled her heart. Had it worked? Was it over? Were they inside the lamp now, or had they been asleep for their entire time within? Were her friends and family fighting right now, or had they already claimed victory against Chrysalis, and were now setting her free to put the world right?

Or, even worse, had they lost? Had Chrysalis won? Were they now being released, not to save the world, but to avenge it? Or was that tragedy still to come?

With a grimace, Twilight opened her eyes. She was afraid to know the answers to her questions, but she didn’t have a choice. Everypony was counting on her.

She blinked several times as the darkened chamber she found herself in began to come into focus. The fog over her thoughts was still thick, making it difficult to make heads or tails of her surroundings. There was a subtle blue glow against the far wall and some vaguely familiar shapes in the center of what she recognized as a cavernous chamber. Beyond that, though, the scene was wholly unfamiliar to her.

With another groan, she pushed herself up to her haunches, and the scene became sharp and clear. She was with her friends, who were all starting to come to their senses as well. They were resting atop a mound of soft, colorful pillows that had been arranged in the back of the room in a sort of pyramid shape, saving them from sleeping on the cold stone floor.

The chamber was large, its walls made of dark stone that looked to have once been melted down into lava before being sculpted manually while they were still soft. The long marks left in the walls and roof suggested that the claws of a massive dragon—an adult, most likely—were responsible. In the center of the room was a round table made of carefully-carved obsidian, surrounded on all sides of by seven painfully familiar thrones made of the same material.

This was a recreation of the map room from her castle in Ponyville, painstakingly recreated down to the smallest details.

Twilight looked around for any sign of the others, alicorns or otherwise, but, to her dismay, she found nopony. It was just her and her friends. Not even Starlight was present. There didn’t appear to be any way in or out of the room, either. No doors or tunnels to slip out through.

Her eyes were drawn away from the walls when she caught sight of a bunch of bright colors that clashed intensely with the rest of the chamber. There was a large stone bowl filled to its bursting point with fresh fruits and vegetables resting by the side of the mound of pillows, implying that somepony had left it here for them not long ago.

Letting out a final groan, Twilight stretched her stiff wings, then opened her mouth to speak. “Ugh… everypony okay?”

An assorted collection of groans and grumbles, not unlike her own, answered her call as the others stirred, slowly pulling themselves up.

“Whoo, nelly. Ah feel like Ah just got done tryin’ to out-drink RD at Cider Fest…” Applejack moaned. “Minus the headache…”

“Tell me about it,” Rainbow murmured as she lifted her head. “Guh… how long were we out? And where are we?”

“I’m not sure,” Twilight said, rising to her hooves and stepping down from the mound of pillows.

“Do you think it worked?” Pinkie asked after a second. “And everyone else kicked queen McMeanie Pants' butt?”

“Uncouth as it may be to say it, Sweet Celestia I hope so,” Rarity added drowsily.

Fluttershy whimpered quietly, clutching to Rainbow Dash for protection. The blue pegasus helped her up and draped a wing protectively over her back, her eyes darting around the chamber for any sign of danger.

“This place… it looks like the old throne room in yer castle, Twi,” Applejack pointed out after a moment of looking around.

“I noticed,” Twilight acknowledged with a slow nod. “But... we aren’t in my castle. The chairs and map weren’t made of obsidian, and the ceiling wasn't shaped like this one. This isn’t a natural cave, and it’s not made of crystal… Somepony made this to look like the throne room...”

She turned to Pinkie. “I know this was always more Maud’s thing, but Pinkie, do you know enough about rocks to have any idea where we are right now? Something about the geology maybe?”

Pinkie looked around for several seconds, inspecting everything with a critical eye. “Well, I can’t be entirely sure, but judging by what I am seeing here, I would have to say that we… are underground.”

A silence fell over the room, and Twilight was confident a cricket chirp sound would not go unappreciated after that. She wasn't sure what she had been expecting really, but it didn't come as much of a surprise. Just a disappointment. She cleared her throat and sighed. “Right. Of course. Underground…” she mumbled before returning her attention to the room. Her eyes found the source of the blue light from before, and she recognized it as a series of magic runes etched into one of the walls.

Curious, she approached and gave the sigil a closer look. The way the symbols were arranged gave off the impression of a detection spell of some kind, or perhaps a link? Somepony would connect themselves to it in order to make something happen. But what?

Curious, Twilight reached her hoof out to the wall.

Rarity must have spotted what she was doing and called out anxiously. “Twilight, are you sure you should be touching that-”

Just before Twilight’s hoof could reach the wall, the runes suddenly flared, and a circular hole sprang into existence, swelling rapidly outwards to stand over twenty feet tall. Twilight leaped back with a startled yelp, her horn lighting up with magic and her wings flaring out.

“What the?! Twilight! You’re... Y-you're awake!” A deep, rumbling voice exclaimed in shock, causing Twilight to falter. Her eyes widened as she took in the figure that resided on the other side of the newly formed exit.

It was a dragon, towering in size. No doubt the very one that had carved out the walls of this chamber. But there was something familiar about him…

Her heart sank as it clicked with her. She recognized those emerald green eyes, those purple scales, and those spines running along his back. She'd know them anywhere. She had grown up with them. Raised the one they belonged to as her baby brother.

Spike stood before her, a towering adult of a dragon, easily thirty feet long from the tip of his muzzle to the tip of his tail. His body had contorted into a serpentine shape over time, making him appear far more lithe and muscular then she remembered him being. He stared back at her, his eyes wide with shock.

A long, heavy silence blanketed the entire chamber. Twilight's eyes never once left those of Spike as she tried in vain to figure out what she was looking at. How could Spike be so large?! It didn't make any sense! He was small, smaller than her! Even when he had grown wings he was small enough to comfortably ride everywhere on her back! But when compared to the creature in front of her, she was tiny. Insignificant. Her and all of her friends could easily be perched on this dragon's back with room to spare.

She gulped heavily, her wings lowering and the light on her horn winking out. “What…? Spike…?” she choked out in disbelief.

"What?!" Rainbow asked from deeper in the chamber, her voice raised with shock. "Spike?! You're kidding! Nuh-uh, no way!"

Spike did not seem to respond to Rainbow's exclamation. His eyes remained glued to Twilight, a storm of emotion not unlike her own raging within. He tenderly reached out one his collosol claws, extending a single digit to Twilight as if to ensure she was real. She held perfectly still, holding her breath as he drew near.

The very tip of his claw brushed against her chest fur. Gentle, careful. IT was as if he was afraid she might crumble into dust at the slightest disturbance. But she didn't. She was there, she was real, and so was he. Spike's eyes lit up with a new wave of emotions, and for a moment, Twilight could have sworn they were shimmering with fresh tears. "Twilight..."

Spike blinked up at him, her ears folding back. She lifted a hoof up to rest atop his claw, a reflexive motion she put no thought into. "...Spike?"

Suddenly, without warning, the towering dragon reached down and ensnared Twilight in both his massive claws. She gasped in alarm as he lifted her up, and for a moment she thought she might have to start fighting against his grip. But then, to her confusion, she was simply pressed up against his chest, where she could feel his heart beating through his thick, armored scales.

“Twilight… you’re awake,” he whispered in a deep rumble. “You’re finally awake…”

“Spikey wikey?!” Rarity shrieked, galloping up to gawk at the new arrival. “Oh, PLEASE tell me you didn’t get greedy again! I don’t have any rubies to pacify you with this time!”

Spike blinked at her as if he did not understand. Then he laughed quietly under his breath, his voice deep from both size and age. “Ha… I had forgotten about that,” he admitted before releasing Twilight. She drifted back down to the floor, feeling light-headed, as Spike stepped into the room on all fours. “No, Rarity… I… I didn’t get greedy again. I learned my lesson the first time,” he told her.

“Wowee, Spike! You’re, uh… Bigger than I remember!” Pinkie chirped, trying and failing to sound cheerful.

“Spike? What… what happened to you?!” Twilight asked, her mind overwhelmed with a flood of questions. She spread her wings and leaped up, flying to be at his eye level. “Why are you so big?! What did we miss?! Are you okay? What about Celestia and Luna?! Cadance, Shining Armor?! Flurry?! Ocellus?! Did we win!? Is Chrysalis dead?!”

Spike flinched back from the onslaught of questions, his spines drooping. He glanced back over his shoulder for a moment. “It’s… it’s a long story…” he said quietly.

Twilight swallowed heavily. Dread had an icy grip of her heart and refused to let go. “...How long?” she asked softly. “How long were we gone?”

“I…” Spike hesitated, his now enormous claws tapping anxiously over his chest. He worked his jaw up and down as if fishing for words, but nothing came. He looked down at the ground, unable to meet Twilight's gaze.

A new voice answered for him, however, accompanied by somepony else trotting into the room. “Too long.”

Twilight looked down at the new arrival. The color drained from her face as a worryingly familiar alicorn walked into view, taller than her by several inches and staring back with a tear-filled smile.

Twilight dropped back to the ground, her jaw agape. There was no way. This was impossible. “What…? How… how can this…?” she stammered, her mind growing heavy with the implications.

“No, way. Is that…?” Rainbow asked under her breath.

“Oh my goodness,” Fluttershy whispered.

The alicorn stepped forward until she was right in front of Twilight. Then, with no warning and a barely stifled sob, she pulled the smaller alicorn into a crushing hug. Twilight squirmed for a moment until she heard the other mare whisper to her.

“Aunt Twilight… I’ve missed you so much…”

Twilight’s heart almost stopped in her chest. A horrible feeling of coldness spread throughout her body as if ice had been injected into her very soul. She withdrew from the hug and stared into the eyes of her niece, now all grown up, with horror and confusion.

“Flurry Heart? Is... that you?”

Flurry nodded. She sniffled and brushed some of her curly mane out of her eyes. “It is…” she whispered in a barely-audible squeak of a voice.

A heavy silence fell over the room. Spike sighed and looked back to the hole in the wall, which slowly sealed itself shut behind him. He turned back to face the others, all of them staring back at him in confusion.

Twilight looked up to him. “Spike, what happened?”

Spike took a long, deep breath, then let it out in a heavy sigh. He gestured at the mound of pillows. “You might want to get comfortable, everypony. This might take a while…”