• Published 29th Aug 2012
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Mines of Dragon Mountain - H3ph3stus



The Doctor and his friends return for another adventure!

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Mines Of Dragon Mountain Chapter 5

Spike groaned and rubbed his head; there was a swelling beneath a padded piece of gauze. He looked around at the room he was in; it was a wide semi-sphere with no windows and a single blue light crystal lodged in the roof. Shakily he got to his feet, still a little groggy from what had happened…what had happened?

“Urrrg…what is this place? Where…hey…I’ve been kidnapped!” Spike said with dawning realization.

There was the sound of shifting stones behind him, causing him to spin around. A door that hadn’t been there before was opening, revealing a pair of figures, one tall and one enormous. Their silhouettes seemed almost like a diamond dog, but the smell wafting from the huge one sunk that theory immediately.

The shorter creature stepped forward, still towering over Spike by almost a meter. “Hello young Spike. It’s so good to see that you’re awake.”

Spike flinched as the creature’s features became visible; it was bizarre looking, compared to its protruding nose and jaw the rest of its face seemed out of proportion, with an otherwise tall forehead appearing short and squashed with two fire-orange eyes peering out from under a thick brow. “W…what are you?”

“I…” it said, crouching down until it was somewhat more to his level. “…am a creature called a Grundel. I know I may appear strange to you, but please understand that we mean you no harm. In fact, you are very important to us.”

Spike cleared his throat, hoping he didn’t sound as scared as he really was. “Okay. Grundels. That’s cool. Why did you have those two kidnap me? Where am I?! What are you going to do with me?!”

The Grundel smiled, Spike could tell it was trying to look friendly but its horrible features were merely twisting in a way that showed teeth. “Do not fret young dragon. No harm will come to you, you have the word of a Grundel.”

Spike nodded, rubbing his chin. “Word of a Grundel, huh? Allow me to retort.”

Spike suddenly wound up and drove a fist into the Grundel’s midsection, rewarding him with a sudden exhalation and a grunt of pain. As the winded creature stooped forwards Spike charged headlong at him, head lowered. The already destabilized creature was bowled over as Spike trod over his stomach chest and face with hard clawed feet.

“C-Crater!” The Grundel wheezed. “Guh-get him!”

Spike skidded to a stop as the huge Grundel rose to his full height, long muscular arms outstretched. Spike feinted to the right and then to the left before making a beeline for in between the creature’s legs, sliding under them. The Grundel grunted and merely reached down with an enormous arm and grabbed his tail, effortlessly pulling him back and hoisting him into the air. The Grundel chuckled thickly as Spike struggled futilely as he hung upside-down, swiping with his claws and spitting the occasional burst of green flame that dissipated before it could touch flesh.

The other Grundel hobbled towards the two, a pained smile on his face. “Brother Gabbro said you were healthy and strong, but I guess I didn’t figure that such a cute little creature could be dangerous! We’ll just have to take precautions in the future. Crater, sleepy time.”

Crater nodded and inhaled, his throat bags inflating, he belched out a particularly thick puff of smoke that enveloped the young dragon’s head. Spike struggled and kicked before falling still, unconscious again.

“Good.” The Grundel said, still rubbing his belly. “Now chain him up, we don’t want him attacking anyone elese.”

Crater walked over to the wall and produced a steel chain from his backpack, fastening one of the shackles to Spike’s right leg.

The Thinker Grundel groaned and rubbed his tender belly. “Great rocks! Imagine if Gabbro had gotten a dragon slightly older? The little monster nearly put a hole in my stomach!”

“Yeah!” said a chipper voice from behind. “Spike’s a lot stronger than you thought, huh?”

They spun around to see a pink pony standing in the hallway, her pink mane an alarming dark clotted-blood red in the blue light of their tunnels. She was smiling her usual smile as she hopped into the room happily.

“How do you keep getting out of your cell?!” The exasperated Thinker Grundel said.

“A good magician never reveals her secrets, Granny!” Pinkie said as she looked down at the unconscious chained dragon. “You know, chaining him up won’t do much good anyway, especially when our friends come down here to get us.”

“Your friends will have to find you first!” ‘Granny’ said as he brought his palm up to his face and sighed. “…And my name is Granodiorite.”

“But that’s so clunky! Why can’t you have a nickname like C’ayt?” Pinkie said gesturing at Crater.

“Thinker Grundels do not abbreviate.” Granodiorite growled. “And you are to stay in this room and get that little beast under control! Brother Gabbro will not be as forgiving of such behavior as I!”

“Such slander, Granny.” Said a voice from behind, the younger Thinker Grundel known as Gabbro stood in the doorway. “Pinkie Pie, do you think you can persuade young Spike to refrain from further outbursts?”

Pinkie paused and looked down at Spike, her brow furrowed. “…I think so. You promise you won’t hurt him?”

“I will personally exile anyone who does.” Gabbro said with a smile. “I would not go to such extremes to acquire him were he not monumentally important.”

Pinkie sighed and ran a hoof over Spike’s forehead. “Oh Spikey…what are you going to do with him? Why do you need him?”

Gabbro chuckled and shook his head. “That’s not your concern, Ms. Pie. I can acquire his cooperation one of two ways, with you or through you. Which do you think will be most beneficial to all parties involved?”

Pinkie cleared her throat and sat down next to Spike. “I’ll help you. But please, just let me talk to him before you start, it’ll make it easier.”

“Oh don’t worry about that.” Gabbro said with a smile, walking towards the door. “I await the reinstatement of my absolute authority, you have an hour before we begin the resurrection.”

“Resurrection of what?” Pinkie said.

“A god.” Gabbro responded.

(Dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da/ /dah-da-da-da etc)


DOCTOR WHOOVES

Episode 2

The Mines of Dragon Mountain: Part 5

Starring:

The Doctor

Twilight Sparkle

Pinkie Pie

Rainbow Dash

Applejack

Fluttershy

Zecora

Rarity

Spike

Featuring:

Zeitgeist Stardust

Litigia Statute

Gabbro

Fire Dazzler

Rarity screamed in alarm and disgust as her glowing sparking horn dragged her through the isolated back alleys of Valley City, knocking over trashcans and spreading their contents all over the alley. Her hooves clicked and clacked against the cobblestones as she attempted to resist her own power as it dragged her through the filthy garbage, coating her dress in pungent liquid.

The Doctor and the rest of her friends galloped after her. “Rarity! You’re doing fine! Just keep steady!”

“Oh shut up!” Rarity shouted angrily. “Why does it feel like this?”

The Doctor cleared his throat nervously. “Err…what does it feel like?”

“Like my brain is trying to come out my nose! What did you do?!” Rarity shouted, crashing through yet another set of trashcans.

The Doctor sped up until he was alongside her. “Rarity! I’m sorry! I was in a bit of a hurry and couldn’t take the time I needed to get it perfect. It is imperative that you, whatever you do, don’t think about cheese!”

Rarity made an exclamation of disbelief. “Why?! What happens if I think about cheese?!”

“Your horn is essentially a natural capacitor for PKE and I’ve just fiddled with its regulating software! Do you really want to know?” The Doctor said frantically.

The group followed the unwilling unicorn as she turned the corner and burst out into the street. Resort ponies and tourists yelped and dove out of the way as the group plowed through the busy street, eventually heading out of town and into the forest encroaching on the city limits.

“Doctor!” Rarity said as she was dragged towards the forest, her dragging hooves now kicking up copious amounts of dust from the dry dirt path that led into the forest. “I thought about cheese!”

“Good!” The Doctor said with a smile.

“Good?!”

“If you’re thinking about cheese then you’re not thinking about what you shouldn’t be thinking about!” The Doctor said jubilantly. “Onwards!”

“You and I are going to have words about this Doctor!” Rarity said through gritted teeth.

“Over tea!” The Doctor responded.

“Doctor!” Twilight said, slightly out of breath and panting as they ran. “I think forgot to tell you, Pinkie’s missing too!”

The Doctor turned his head and nodded. “I know! She went after the kidnappers!”

“How d’you know that?” Applejack said with a raised eyebrow. “Ah don’t see a third pair a’ tracks!”

“He’s right!” Rainbow Dash said as she flew above. “I can see it clearer now on the dirt. There’s a set of four prints every few meters or so!”

“Right you are Ms. Dash!” The Doctor said with a nod. “And who do we know with that distinctive form of locomotion?”

“But why wasn’t she blinded like the rest of us?” Twilight said. “She was right there!”

“Um, yes, but she’s also Pinkie Pie.” Fluttershy said with a small smile. “I just hope she didn’t try to stop those awful stallions, they might hurt her! They had no problems hitting you Twilight!”

Twilight prodded the sore side of her mouth with her tongue. “I noticed…”

“Doctor!” Zecora said as she pulled up next to him. “On his ship we did sense, a shadow of Zeitgeist’s intent. You said that you met him last night, is there or is there not a fight?”

“Oh there’s a fight alright.” The Doctor said lowly. “A war.”

“What’s going on Doctor?” Twilight demanded.

“There’s this subterranean race of creatures call the Grundels and for the past fifteen years they have been attempting to sabotage Zeitgeist’s operation, they have recently turned violent, killing miners and collapsing mines.” The Doctor turned back to them. “Zeitgeist has brought in the big guns and is ready for war, it’s up to us to stop both sides from slaughtering each other.”

“Grundels?” Twilight said thoughtfully.

“You know about them?” The Doctor said with an eyebrow raised. “The Grundel I met kind of said they were forgotten by the surface world. His name was Cheppu, nice guy.”

“What’s ‘kind of said’ supposed tah mean?” Applejack said questioningly.

“We were doing that mind link thing that I do.” The Doctor said quickly. “I saw in his mind that his people are from a time before ponies existed, a dark and terrible time intentionally forgotten. How is it that you know of them Twilight?”

“I don’t, not really.” Twilight said. “Some of the Princesses older tomes and information crystals have small references to a race called the Grundels. It doesn’t say much more than ‘Grundels are good’, but that doesn’t seem so accurate now.”

The Doctor leapt over a felled log and continued running. “The Grundels are a fundamentally good people, I could tell at least that much from Cheppu’s mind. But they’ve been driven mad by desperation; they believe that Zeitgeist’s mine threatens to bring about the end of the world and now they’re planning something! And I bet it has something to do with Spike!”

“What could they want with Spike? How is he going to shut down Zeitgeist’s mines? He’s just a baby!” Rainbow Dash said from above.

“I don’t know…” The Doctor mumbled. “But whatever it is it can’t be good.”

“How do you know it has something to do with Spike?” Fluttershy said her brow creased in worry. “It could just be an inconvenient coincidence.”

“Because…” The Doctor said coolly. “According to Cheppu Grundels only live in one place and that’s here, the Dragon Valley, it has something to do with their god, the Dragon God Calcipher. It’s too much of a coincidence that the only dragon to come here ever is kidnapped at a turning point of the conflict. The Grundels are planning something and Spike’s the key somehow!”

“Could you be any more vague?” Rainbow Dash said impatiently.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “The next time I’m facing incarceration and rooting through the mind of a traumatized troll I’ll be sure to take notes!” He let out an exasperated noise as he sidestepped a rock. “All I have is a gut feeling that the two are connected! There are so many variables, so many facets! It’s like putting together a puzzle in the dark, you can feel that they’re all connected but big gaps put it just out of your reach! And Spike fits into it all somehow!”

“Whoever planned this out is very well organized! They had, what, hours to plan a kidnapping?” Twilight said, a disbelieving tone in her voice.

“I guess Cheppu calls them Thinker Grundels for a reason.” The Doctor said. “Wait…yes that’s it! Th-”

The Doctor crashed into Rarity’s backside as she stopped abruptly in the middle of a clearing. Her horn glowed and sputtered, chiming that its purpose had been fulfilled, before returning to normal.

Rarity sighed in relief. “Oh thank goodness that’s over!”

“Ooooh!” The Doctor said in irritation. “I had it! It was right on the tip of my tongue and I lost it! Also, try to steer better next time Ms. Rarity. I think you hit every trashcan on your way here! Phew!”

Rarity looked down at her once beautiful dress. It was horribly discolored and saturated with the pungent effluvium of a dozen festering garbage bins, the parts that had not been coated in putrid muck and dirt had been torn to shreds by the myriad twigs and branches that had caught the hems as she skidded semi-reined through the underbrush. She looked back up at the Doctor, who was running his asinine little screwdriver over something. She made her way towards him, a low growl growing in her throat. Just as she was ready to pummel the thoughtless alien into a pony-shaped pile of viscera Applejack and Zecora restrained her.

“Whoa nelly!” Applejack said quickly. “Now Rarity, you know how the Professor gets when he’s ontah somethin’!”

“Let me go!” Rarity hissed. “I must avenge my day wear!”

“We cannot allow your rage to sate, for we must get our priorities straight!” Zecora said calmingly. “To allow the two of you to fight, may yet cost young Spike his life!”

Rarity seethed and relented, once again prioritizing her goals with the utmost professionalism, and tore the putrid tatters from her body. “Very well. Until Spike is out of danger and the greater crisis has been averted I will control myself. I will conduct this mission with the utmost grace and poise…and then I will murder him.”

Applejack chuckled nervously and nodded. “Uuh…yeah, that’s the spirit!”

The Doctor raised his head from his studies, a serious look on his face. “Girls…I found Spike…”

Twilight and the other ponies rushed up to him as he revealed a large stone with a small smear of reddish brown on the side. Blood.

“No…” Twilight raised her hoof to her mouth. “Doctor…?”

“It’s Spike’s blood. This is what we’ve been tracking.”

“‘We’?” Rarity said before seeing the blood, gasping in shock. “Oh no! What happened?”

The Doctor looked around at the clearing. “The scuffling in this clearing suggests a fight took place. Spike didn’t go quietly I imagine.”

Rainbow Dash let out a sharp whistle. “Hey! Look at this!”

She pointed to a series of dark red splatter patterns and what appeared to be small white rocks. The Doctor approached them with a small smile on his face. “I’d expect nothing less from a dragon.”

“What are those little white things?” Fluttershy said, lowering her head to examine them.

“Those’re pony teeth!” Applejack said triumphantly, causing Fluttershy to recoil in horror. “Wow! Lookit that, they’re busted up pretty good! Way to go Spike!”

The Doctor began to mime his way through the actions that took place. “So they came in there…Spike got out and tripped one of them…the other caught him but Spike…*pow!*…so he’s down.” He made his way over to a tree; the bark was dented on the side facing the clearing. “The other pony kicked Spike over to here…they stand over him and…oh! Spike clawed up the other pony pretty badly. Really badly in fact! Look at it all!”

Twilight came over and examined the dusty ground, it was speckled with small brown-red splotches, and her mind went instantly to Spike’s claws, teeth, and armored scales. She hadn’t given it much thought until now, but despite his cute appearance and friendly demeanor, Spike was very much a dragon. “I can’t believe he did all this!”

The Doctor nodded grimly. “Unfortunately he still lost. The other pony gave him a pretty good trouncing and dragged him off to…” The Doctor traced the tracks to a somewhat grassy trail leading back into the forest. “…There. C’mon.”

The Doctor made his way through the underbrush, followed closely by his teammates. Twilight trotted up next to him, worry and distress clear in her voice. “Doctor. Do you think Spike is okay?”

He sighed and shrugged. “I don’t know. If the Grundels want him it can’t be good.”

“What are they, really?” Rarity said.

“From what I can piece together from Cheppu’s memories the Grundel’s were created by a powerful being known as Calcipher to act as detectors against an evil corrupting force. I can’t really make sense of most of it, but from Cheppu’s point of view there’s been a change in the Grundels recently, a sort of…degeneration. Cheppu and other Workers are essentially incapable of violence; it is only at the behest of their Thinkers that they can commit such acts. In theory even Thinker Grundels should be incapable of conceiving violent thoughts, but recent generations have proven themselves more than capable while sabotaging Stardust’s mine. It’s causing no small amount of distress amongst the Worker caste.”

Twilight nodded. “Why are they attacking Zeitgeist’s mine? Is it damaging their home or something?”

“No…” The Doctor grimaced and scratched his head. “That’s where things get fuzzy. They refer to the mountain as a prison. Whatever’s inside it scares them so badly that they are hesitant to even think about it, and they fear that Zeitgeist’s mining will free it. They refer to it by many names, but the one that causes them the most fear, the one that’s probably its true name, is The Demon God Tirac.”

Twilight felt a shudder roll down her back, the name seemed familiar somehow, and it brought up feelings of fear and disgust. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

They entered yet another clearing, this one was larger and more overgrown save a single patch of sand in the middle. The Doctor pulled out his sonic screwdriver and activated it, running through the spectrum of frequencies. There was a scream from behind as Fluttershy and Applejack leaped backwards, two mangled corpses rose from the ground, their wide-open eyes filled with sand and dirt. Fluttershy put her hooves to her mouth and retreated to Zecora, who placed a comforting hoof on her back.

Applejack approached the corpses, examining them; they were large strongly built Narragansett ponies with black coats, exactly like the ones described fleeing the stage. One of them was covered in deep scratches while the other was relatively unharmed save a painful looking wound on the right side of his face. Both of their necks were unnaturally elongated and crooked, like some great force had simply squeezed their vertebrae apart. “Land sakes…”

The Doctor sighed. “These are the kidnappers?”

“They fit the description Zecora and I got from the crowd…” Fluttershy said quietly. “Those poor stallions…”

“Yeah…” Rainbow Dash set down next to them, looking into their frozen terrified faces, she sighed and shook her head, clearing the dirt from their eyes with her feathers and closing them. “No pony deserves to die like this, afraid and hurt.”

The Doctor smiled widely and walked up next to her, as he knelt next to the bodies he made eye contact with her. He wasn’t seeing her as ‘Ms. Dash’ anymore, no condescension or patronization, he smiled warmly at her. “Brilliant…”

Rainbow Dash barely suppressed a happy gasp and cleared her throat. “S-so, Doctor. What do you think happened here?”

“Well…” The Doctor said. “Looks like the work of a Grundel, Worker type to be specific.”

“How can you tell?” Applejack said curiously. “Ah don’t see a single track here ‘sides ours!”

“If I may be so bold, The Doctor’s point you have just told.” Zecora said gesturing at the ground.

“Hey yeah…” Twilight said. “There are no marks on the ground except ours!”

“Grundel magic allows them limited control over earth. I suspect they got rid of their tracks as well as these stallion’s tracks when they left…unmarked graves…” The Doctor said with a shake of his head. “Also, the injuries to their necks are consistent with Worker physiology. Note the finger marks.”

Applejack examined the bodies, noticing a series of divots in the flesh of their necks; the marks suggest a paw width of almost twenty centimeters! “Land sakes! Just how big are these critters?”

“Big. Strong too.” The Doctor said sternly. “If things go pear shaped and a Thinker tells his Worker to attack you, run. Don’t try to fight them because they’ll tear you to pieces, they can crush rocks with their bare hands. Just get out of there as fast as you can.”

Applejack regarded the bodies, both of these stallions were a size down from Big Macintosh but were by no means weaklings. They had been killed quickly enough for them to still have a look of sheer terror plastered on their faces. “Ah understand.”

The Doctor nodded and motioned for them to follow him. “Okay. I think I’ve located a Grundel tunnel right below this sand patch. I can sonic it so we can go in, I just want to warn you; this is where things get dangerous. If any of you want to back out-”

Rainbow Dash flitted up to him and clopped him on the head with her hoof, causing the Doctor to wince in pain and exclaim. “Ow! What was that for?”

“Fer bein’ a dope.” Applejack said with a chuckle. “You should know better ‘n’ that by now, we’d never abandon you Professor!”

The Doctor smiled and nodded, looking around to the ponies surrounding him. “Alright then. Grundel City, here we come! Allons-y!”

The screwdriver trilled and the seven ponies sank into the ground. The sand rearranged itself as they did, leaving no trace that they had been there at all. The forest was quiet.

Gabbro made his way to the center stage of the Grundel council room. The verdict had been reached and he would soon proceed with his plan with the sanction of the Elders. He smiled internally; despite his own personal loss the annihilation of the raiding party had been extremely useful towards his ends. With the abject failure of their own strategies well in mind the weak-spirited Elders and council would undoubtedly turn to him for guidance. He would carry out his attack on the diamond dog city with the blessing of the council and Elders, he would be a hero, and his name would live on in Grundel lore. And all it had cost him was…

“Cheppu…” He muttered. It was still a bit of a shock, his fears had been piqued the second Cheppu requested to be part of the raiding party. Being the best at breaking machines he was readily welcomed into the fray, despite Gabbro’s knowledge of the potential danger. He couldn’t demand or even request that Cheppu resign as such an action would only get the other Thinkers postulating, jeopardizing his agenda. He had rationalized it that even in the event of a counterattack gentle Cheppu would likely run or hide, or somehow be out of the way when the killing started. But no, the wretches had brought in their horrible weapons; the Thinker that had been overseeing the mission described them as tubes that shot ‘straight lightning’. Evil creatures, how could the Regal Sisters permit the existence of such beasts? Was it greed? Apathy? No matter, once The Creator is reborn in his new body it would be no problem at all to burn them from the face of the planet. Such creatures would only fall quicker to Tirac’s influence should he be released anyway.

“Brother Gabbro…” Elder Chert began. “The poll is in and the Elders have agreed unanimously.”

“I await your verdict with eagerness, your Honor.” Gabbro said, bowing behind the podium.

“Your tactics will be reinstated…” Elder Feldspar said.

Gabbro restrained a smile and nodded. “Thank you Elder-”

“We are not finished.” Elder Granite interrupted. “As Elder Feldspar said, your tactics are to be reinstated, but they are only to be employed during extenuating circumstances and after heavy consideration by the council. Your contribution to the effort is appreciated, but some of your plans are far too…radical.”

Gabbro barely contained an outraged explosion, his fists clenching furiously beneath the podium and out of sight. “I respect and honor the Elder’s decision. If it is their will and the council’s will, so be it. May I inquire as to why?”

“You have not been informed?” Elder Slate said questioningly. “We sent you a message by courier.”

“Yes *ahem* I was attending to some other matters.” Gabbro said, hands fidgeting nervously beneath the podium.

The normally silent Elder Olivine rose and cleared his ancient throat. “A survivor of the botched raid has returned from the mine.”

“Why were we not notified the second he arrived?” Gabbro demanded.

“We were, mere minutes ago. He was exhausted and weakened by the ordeal, to the point that he had to walk the tunnels to get back to the city, which took all night.” Elder Granite said. “He claims to have been taken prisoner, only to escape by way of a pony known only as The Doctor.”

“What does this have to do with your honorable decisions, Elders?” Gabbro said anxiously.

“The survivor speaks of the Duke’s desire for a diplomatic solution.” Elder Feldspar explained. “We had not…considered diamond dogs capable of such complex ideas. This revelation has proved too valuable to disregard.”

“Why reinstate my authority then?” Gabbro inquired. “If you wish to open a dialogue with those animals anyway!”

“Remember your place, Brother Gabbro.” Elder Olivine grumbled. “We have taken this precaution because we feel that even though the diamond dogs have proved capable of conceiving such abstractions, we still fear that implementation is still beyond them. Your tactics may yet prove to be the viable solution, barring certain…extreme options.”

“Who is this survivor?” Gabbro said, barely keeping a quiver of rage out of his voice.

“Your own beloved Chip…excuse me, ‘Cheppu’.” Elder Slate said with the signs of a suppressed sardonic smile on his face. “This has been a productive day for you, Gabbro. Are you not pleased?”

Gabbro cleared his throat, trying to keep the conflicted emotions he felt out of his voice. “I am most pleased, honored Elder.”

“Good.” Elder Olivine said with finality. “Meeting adjourned. A diplomatic party will be assembled and a courier will be sent to inform the Duke of our willingness to converse. Rejoice! The crisis may yet be avoided!”

A cry of ‘rejoice’ rang through the council room, Grundels smiling and donning relieved expressions, like they had just awoken from a nightmare. Gabbro grumbled and left the room, trying his best to look jubilant, but the moment was sour. He knew he should have felt relief at the prospect of a bloodless solution but another part of him, that part of him, thirsted for his solution. That this turn of events may in some way interfere with his place in history filled him with a terrible and indignant rage. He had put so much time and effort into his schemes, and now it was simply the might of words that would end this conflict? He shook his head. There was no way that this final triumph of righteousness could falter now, the diamond dogs were still a threat just by their proximity to the prison. A multitude of tainted savage souls would no doubt awaken Him…somehow. The specifics weren’t important, what mattered was the risk. His plan would still come to fruition, even if the council or the Elders didn’t know what was good for them!

‘But first…’ He thought to himself. ‘I have a Worker to see…’

Seven ponies passed through the ceiling of tunnel, landing with muted clacks as their hooves hit the stony floor. The ponies squinted and strained their eyes, taking a moment to adjust to the blue-lit corridors.

“Okay…” The Doctor said. “We’re here.”

Applejack stood up and curled her nose. “Tarnation! What in the world is that smell?”

Rarity huffed and turned up her nose. “Let’s see you get pulled through a heap of garbage and come out smelling like roses! It’s not like I had any say in the matter!”

“No…” Twilight said. “It’s not you, it’s this really sharp wet smell, like swamp gas and decomposed meat.”

“That would be the Worker Grundels.” The Doctor said with certainty. “They have a method of communication that involves verbal language, sign language, body language, and chemical perception.”

Fluttershy walked up to The Doctor, excitement clear in her eyes. “Oh how interesting! Advanced pheromone communication is very rare in higher lifeforms, it’s how ants and bees and other social insects communicate. Every pattern of chemical release typically results in an instinctual behavior, it’s very efficient if a little limited.”

The Doctor grinned and nodded, Fluttershy’s natural talent with animals and care taking made her an expert in biology, physiology, and psychology; an invaluable talent in a companion. “Right you are Fluttershy! If I was reading Cheppu correctly, smells relate to moods, emotions, and even simple ideas. This allows Grundels to perceive the state of other Grundels so that they can react to it accordingly. It’s instinctive. This has the side effect of making Workers incapable of dishonesty. This also makes them smell like a dumpster on a warm day when they’re depressed.”

“They’re depressed?” Rainbow Dash said.

“Breath in through your nose.” The Doctor said. “The TARDIS translation circuits should take care of the rest.”

The ponies all took a deep breath, brows creasing not only at the smell, but the influx of objective emotions appearing in their minds.

“Depression…” Rarity said. “…And guilt. Sadness.”

“Oh, those poor creatures!” Fluttershy said quietly. “They’re in such terrible pain, and for the longest time!”

Twilight sighed and put her hoof to her chin. “Doctor…is this because what’s been going on at the mine?”

The Doctor nodded. “Workers are psychologically incapable of premeditated violence, they just can’t bring themselves to intentionally inflict suffering. Their Thinkers, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of conceptualizing violence.”

“Let me guess…” Applejack said with a snort. “They can’t just say ‘nothin’ doin’’ tah these Thinker fellahs, can they?”

The Doctor tapped his hoof against his nose sadly.

Rainbow Dash growled. “Man! That steams me up! These Thinkers think they know better so they send their Workers off to do something that’s not only dangerous but traumatizing as well?! That’s horrible!”

Zecora nodded and stomped her hoof. “It is easier to send others to die and fight, while claiming to know what is right. But behind every cloud there is a sun, they fight to restrain an evil one.”

“Zecora’s right.” Rarity said. “We can’t very well vilify these ‘Thinkers’, as The Doctor said they’re desperate and may not be operating under the moral code that they normally would. Let’s try and keep a even keel on this one!”

The Doctor turned to make his way down the tunnel. “Right then, this way! We’ve got a bit of searching to do if we want to find some answers!”

An enormous hand burst from the wall and grasped The Doctor by the midsection, hoisting him off the ground. The ponies rushed to his aid, only to have other large creatures phase from the walls and floor of the tunnel. The creatures towered over the ponies, their long green arms outstretched. Applejack growled and leapt forwards, kicking the creature holding The Doctor hard in the ribs. The creature grunted and stepped back, still clinging to The Doctor’ midsection. It aimed a clumsy swat at Applejack who deftly sidestepped it, rushing up and driving her right front hoof into the creature’s knee. Once again the large creature seem unfazed by the attack and aimed a highly telegraphed swat at her.

“Tarnation! It’s like hitting a rock wall!” Applejack said as she leapt back from the attack.

Rainbow Dash skimmed mere centimeters above the floor as she hovered around the lumbering beasts, dishing out quick jabs and blows as she did. “Yeah! But they don’t really seem into it, do they?”

The Doctor called from the creature holding him. “These are Worker Grundels, they’re deliberately pulling their punches! But be on your guard, when their Thinker gets here they’ll have no choice but to get serious!”

Rarity telekinetically tripped one and leapt onto his back, the Grundel rose to his feet and began to thrash and shake, reaching back to get at the offending pony. Rarity placed her hooves in the small his back and pushed herself away with all the strength she could muster. The sudden change in weight and the force of the jump caused the Grundel to stumble forwards, crashing into another Grundel who was halfheartedly menacing Fluttershy. Zecora took advantage of the situation and planted both hooves in the stumbling creature’s face, sending it teetering backwards. Rainbow Dash called out to Zecora and the two rushed the Grundel holding The Doctor, Rainbow Dash slammed into the creature’s face while Zecora placed a solid double hoofed kick directly into the Grundel’s stomach. With a yelp of pain choked by a winded exhalation of air the Grundel stumbled backwards, letting go of The Doctor and retreated to its compatriots. The ponies regrouped and stood together, Twilight and Rarity pulling rocks out of the wall as Applejack, Zecora, and Rainbow Dash stood at the ready.

“Oh dear…” said a voice that seemed to be coming from the walls. “I suppose my Workers misinterpreted me when I said ‘intercept’, I did not mean for them to attack you…” another Grundel rose ominously from the ground, the smile on his face as insincere as the contrite tone in his voice. “…However, you have now shown yourselves to be a minor threat. I’m afraid I have to order my Workers to neutralize you.”

The ponies took a defensive posture as the relatively diminutive Grundel raised his hand in a commanding gesture. “Fracture, Slag, incapacitate them would you?”

The two hulking Worker Grundels stepped forward cracking their enormous knuckles, a sound not unlike rocks shattering. Applejack snorted and scratched the ground with her hoof, a defiant smile on her face. “Y’all make it sound like a walk in the orchard!”

Applejack charged forward and leapt into the air, she performed a forward summersault breaking it just as she got close to the Grundel, and planted both hooves square into his chest. Applejack bounced off his heavily muscled body and landed rear-first on the tunnel floor, looking up incredulously at the Grundel’s unimpressed expression. “Uh-oh…”

The Grundel known as Fracture inhaled sharply, large green sacks on either side of his throat inflating as he did. Applejack barely had enough time to rise to her hooves before the Grundel thrust forwards and produced a concentrated stream of thick green gas, blasting it into her shocked face. Before the gas could even partially dissipate Applejack crumpled into a heap on the ground.

“Applejack!” Rainbow Dash cried as she bolted towards her fallen friend. A wide green hand shot out and grabbed the lightning fast pegasus out of the air.

Slag brought himself face to face with the struggling pony, neck bags inflating. “S’eep po’ee.”

He opened his mouth and blasted grey-green smog into her mouth and nostrils and Rainbow Dash struggled for a moment before falling still. Zecora, Rarity, Twilight, Fluttershy, and The Doctor rushed forward to help their fallen friends, only to have powerful hands phase from the walls and floor of the cave to grab their legs. The Grundels pulled their hooves partially into the rock before letting go, phasing the ponies directly into the rock floor, fixing them in place.

“Let me go!” Rarity cried. “You brutes! How dare you-” a Grundel rose his head and shoulders out of the floor and blew knock out gas into Rarity’s surprised face. “Ah! You beast…how…I …uuuhhg…”

The unicorn slumped, still standing with her feet stuck in the floor. The Doctor desperately tried to use his sonic screwdriver on the rock as the Grundels knocked out a cursing and struggling Zecora. “Twilight!”

Twilight turned to the Doctor. “Doctor! Any spell strong enough to overcome their magic could bring the tunnel down on us!”

The Doctor shook his head as the Grundels moved on to him. “Never mind that! You have to get out of here! Teleport!”

“What?!” Twilight said incredulously. “No! I won’t abandon my friends!”

“No time!” The Doctor said as a thick cloud of putrid gas encircled his head; he activated the sonic screwdriver in between his teeth. The tip glowed blue through the cloud followed by the distinctive trilling sound.

“Doctor, what-” Twilight said as he horn began to glow and spark wildly. “No! Doctor, don’t! I wo-”

The Grundels shouted in alarm as a blinding white light consumed the purple unicorn from her head to her hooves. An instant later all that remained of the trapped pony was the heatless sparks of spent magic and a spherical crater where the magic spell had displaced the rock surrounding her hooves.

“What happened?” The Thinker Grundel demanded. “Where is she?!”

‘It would appear, Brother Granodiorite, that the equine has some mastery of spatial manipulation. Clearly this was the work of a wormhole-based method of matter displacement, as evidenced by the semi-spheroid shape in the floor, the rock having been displaced along with the equine it partially encapsulated.’ signed Fracture, a scholarly look on his face. ‘As for your other question, hell if I know.’

Granodiorite looked at Fracture and blinked. “…Okay. Knock out the last pony and then get them all to the dragon’s room, and be quiet about it. It would seem that Brother Gabbro was correct to listen to the ramblings of the pink pony, otherwise they just might have gotten into contact with the Elders.”

‘And that would be bad?’ Slag sighed in confusion. ‘Why?’

Granodiorite smiled nervously. “Let’s just say that this business with the dragon is still on a strictly need-to-know basis. Now, no more questions.”

‘Oh hell.’ Fracture said, slapping his palm against his face. ‘Brother Gabbro didn’t get fully reinstated, did he?’

“What part of ‘no more questions’ didn’t you understand?” Granodiorite growled. “Now, knock out that last pony and get under way!”

‘Brother Granodiorite?’ Slag signed. ‘The yellow pony is already unconscious.’

Granodiorite turned to a fainted Fluttershy and sighed. “Just…just get them out of the ground and to the dragon’s room, okay?”

The plaza was beginning to get back to normal, the police had cordoned off the area around the stage, and ponies were once again frequenting the many establishments on the street side. Two of the four agents dispatched by Litigia remained on the stage, helping local police officers with forensics and data interpretation.

“Whoever did this was quite good…” a medium sized black furred diamond dog called Knochen said, sniffing a spent canister. “These pyrotechnics are homemade, but clearly high quality. It might have passed for a technical error to a pony’s nose.”

His compatriot, a short sandy furred pug-face diamond dog by the name of Kiefer, nodded. “Yeah. Whoever planned this had some high quality last minute connections. There was no way they could have predicted that the dragon coming here ahead of time. This was a rushed plan, corners were cut.”

“Yeah…” Knochen said with a sigh. “…but nothing directly incriminating. Figures that a plan thought up in maybe an hour will probably take months to solve.”

There was a loud hissing crack followed by a bright flash of light and a blast of hot air. The two diamond dogs flinched and recoiled instinctively as the energized air rolled over them.

“-on’t let you…” said the purple unicorn who had materialized in the middle of the stage. “…do this.”

Knochen cleared his throat and approached the unicorn, she was young, barely even an adult, and yet she had just teleported onstage from Creator-knows-where. That, and she had what appeared to be a large concrete circle around her hooves, making her look comically like a figurine. “Hey! Are you okay?”

She snapped her head around to him, her face lighting up as she hopped up and down to face him. “Oh! You’re one of Mr. Stardust’s dogs, right? …and no, no I am not okay. Quick! I need you to-”

Kiefer stepped forward, his confidence bolstered by the apparent weakness he detected in her voice. “Look, I don’t know what weird stuff you ponies are into, but you just teleported into an active crime scene. We’re going to have to ask you to leave.”

“What?” Twilight said incredulously. “No! Listen, I was there when the crime happened, I saw who took the dragon! He was my dragon! Now they have my friends and I need Zeitgeist to help me get them back, please!”

“Please…”Knochen rolled his eyes and scoffed. “Hey, yeah. Weren’t you one of the ponies that the Duke drove in here with?”

Kiefer nodded and pointed. “Yeah! You were with that other unicorn he picked up. Y’know, if I didn’t know any better I’d say that the Duke has taken an interest in…er…‘equestrianism’. I know I’d ride that white one!”

Knochen laughed and slapped his knee. “Yeah! To be honest I thought the yellow pegasus was the better looking of the seven!”

Twilight lowered her head and said in a low voice. “Call one of your ornithopters.”

The two laughing diamond dogs looked over at her, lascivious smiles still plastered on their faces, Knochen snorted and said. “Yeah, we’ll get right onto that. Now, would you kindly teleport away from the crime scene, we have a job to do.”

Twilight looked up at them, here horn glowing and spitting sparks, her eyes become luminescent with purple energy, the high pitched whining of huge amounts of channeled energy cut through the air. The rock around her hooves began to glow white hot and melt, running out across the stage, tongues of flame lapping the liquid as it passed over the wooden planks. The glowing unicorn rose from the puddle of liquid rock, unscathed by the intense heat, and levitated over to the stunned diamond dogs, setting down and walking towards them, leaving scorched hoof prints in the wood.

“I’m terribly sorry…” She said, her voice now booming and reverberating with immense power. “…I must have made that sound like a request. It wasn’t. Call one of your onithopters.”

The two diamond dogs nodded fervently and clambered for their communication crystals, ears flat against their heads and tails wedged between their legs. Knochen bowed, shaking. “Y-y-yes ma’am! I-i-i-is there anything else you require?”

“Other than your silence, nothing!” She said throatily. “Now get out of my sight!!”

The two diamond dogs yelped as she summoned several arcs of electricity as they ran away. Twilight sighed and powered down. ‘There is a certain satisfaction to be had from showboating…must be why Trixie does it all the time.’

A series of claps and cheers drew her attention; in front of the stage was a small group of ponies that had stopped to watch the show. They were smiling and cheering at her ‘performance’. Twilight blushed and bowed.

The Doctor’s eyes fluttered open, there was a horrid chemical taste in his mouth and his head was still pulsating from what was a major headache. “…again? I wonder what kind of creature I’ll wake up as this time…”

“Doctor!” Pinkie Pie said, a huge smile on her face. “Oh Doctor, you’re awake! That’s super-duper fantastic!”

The Doctor blinked slowly, the headache had been just out the door, but had now decided to come back in a stay a while. “Hello Pinkie.”

Applejack rushed over to The Doctor, a relieved smile on her face. “Hey Professor! You were out for a long time, we were starting to get worried!”

“We?” Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes. “Yeah ‘we’ also kept looking for excuses to perform mouth-to-mouth!”

Applejack cursed under her breath and The Doctor rolled onto his hooves. “Right then! There’ll be time for mouth to mouth later-”

“That a promise Professor?” Applejack said wryly.

“…Anyway…I have some questions. One: Where are we? And Two: What’s going on?”

Pinkie giggled. “Oh that? We’re underground in the Grundel City, Section Seven-A-RR5652.”

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Why don’t I just ask you about everything to begin with? …Actually…what’s going on Pinkie?”

Pinkie cleared her throat. “Allow me to exposit…”

Rarity blinked in confusion. “Don’t you mean ‘explain’?”

“I know what I said.” Pinkie said cheerily. “Alright, so here’s the skinny, the Grundels have been fighting the diamond dogs-”

“Oh!” The Doctor exclaimed happily, causing all head to turn to him. “Diamond Dogs! I just got that! Ziggy Stardust is a Diamond Dog! I love this universe!”

“Well he sure as shootin’ ain’t a lap dog, that’s fer sure!” Applejack said with a chuckle.

“Doctor?” said a familiar voice from the shadows. “Is that you?”

The Doctor turned to see a haggard-looking stallion walking out of the darkened part of the room, a look of dawning relief moving across his features. “Fire Dazzler?”

“Hey!” Rarity said, pointing at the stallion. “ Where did you come from?”

“Other room!” Fire Dazzler said, walking towards The Doctor. “I got grabbed by one of those things earlier this morning. He was told to kill me but instead he just knocked me out and brought me here.”

Rarity sighed and shook her head. “Okay, but how did you get in here? If I recall correctly there are no doors connecting these rooms.”

“Yeah, I noticed.” Fire Dazzler said bluntly. “The Grundel who spared me, Slag, came into my cell and told me some other ponies were here and asked if I would like to see them. Naturally I said yes and he pushed me through the wall.”

The Doctor smiled and looked Fire Dazzler squarely in the eye. “Grundels aren’t in the habit of randomly abducting ponies. Would you be a dear and tell us why you’re here?”

Fire Dazzler stepped back, a nervous smile on his face. “O-oh…uh…se, I was just walking around when this great big thing pops out of the ground and-”

“Ah thought you said he was told to kill you, but didn’t.” Applejack said, picking up on The Doctor’s accusatory tone.

Fire Dazzler sighed. “…Yeah. I was working for some…unpleasant people. They sent the Grundel to kill me to tie up a loose end.”

“Fire Dazzler…” The Doctor said lowly. “We’re here because we followed a pair of stallions after they kidnapped our friend Spike. See, they used some very advanced pyrotechnics to create a diversion, some very familiar advanced pyrotechnics…”

The white pony sighed and nodded his head. “Yeah…they’re mine. I helped them.”

“What?!” Rainbow Dash said, streaking towards the now cowering stallion. “We’re all here because of you?!”

Fire Dazzler shrieked and recoiled. “Aah! Please! Don’t hurt me! It’s not my fault!”

Applejack advanced on him, a cold look in her eyes. “Oh yeah? Care tah explain how it ain’t?”

The cowering stallion hung his head and sighed. “They cornered me in an alley and demanded that I mix a distraction for them! You have to understand, my components aren’t cheap, I made the mistake of asking them to get me a few extra chemicals and I wound up five thousand bit in debt. They said they were calling in that debt and if I didn’t do what they wanted they were going to tear my horn off, crack my hooves, and use something they called ‘Mr. Thingy’! I wouldn’t have do it if there was any other way!”

“Enough from you, you spineless worm!” Zecora bellowed. “If you don’t pay for your mistakes you never learn! A kidnapping was planned by those two chumps, you should have said no and taken your lumps!”

“B-b-but-” Fire Dazzler said, gesturing at his horn.

“Horns grow back!” Rarity said sharply, although somewhat unnerved at the prospect of one being forcefully removed.

“A-a-a-and-” he stammered, waving his hooves in front of himself.

“Hooves heal!” Applejack said with a stomp. “Better tah be hurt than a coward!”

“And Mr. Thingy?” Fire Dazzler said miserably.

“Thingies…um…uhh…” Pinkie Pie said, the righteous tone in her voice giving way to good-natured curiosity. “What’s Mr. Thingy?”

Fire Dazzler shrugged. “I don’t know, but whatever it is it sounded pretty horrible! Have you ever seen a pony try to eat his own head?”

“Yes.” All seven ponies said in unison, followed immediately by a collective shudder.

The Doctor snorted as he made his way over to Spike, who still lay unconscious. “Either way, what’s done is done. Fire Dazzler, who were the two ponies who stole Spike?”

“Shock and Thunder.” He said, voice low with disgust. “They’re basically the muscle behind the ‘not-quite-legal’ elements of Valley City.”

“Mobsters.” The Doctor said, prompting a tentative agreement from Fire Dazzler.

“They are a piece of work those two. Twins you see, they’re big, strong, mean, and cunning, all the best qualities for a criminal but with two for the price of one. They probably volunteered for the job!” He said with a flick of his mane. “I hope they get theirs one day.”

“They’re dead.” Rarity said bluntly.

“Wuh-what?” Fire Dazzler blinked in surprise. “Who-what-how…wuh…”

“Worker Grundel.” Applejack said with a sniff. “Probably had a Thinker around tellin’ him what tah do. Nearly squeezed their heads off like tubes of toothpaste. Even with what y’all told me, that’s no way tah go.”

“Somehow I’ll cope.” Fire Dazzler said flatly.

The Doctor leveled a serious look at Fire Dazzler. “What else can you tell us about them? Who hired them? Planned the plan. Cunning and actual intellect are two entirely different things, and those two didn’t sound like the managerial type to me.”

“Yeah, bureaucrats they ain’t…weren’t.” Fire Dazzler sratched his hoof against his chin. “They said their boss was working for some ‘old friend’ who called in a favor. When I showed up at the stage there was a pony there by the name of Stone Carver. He’s the one who told the Grundel to ‘dispose of me’.”

“What else?”

“Beyond what I’ve been told or shown, I don’t know much else about the whole plot. Like, who this ‘friend’ is or what they want with the dragon.”

“More than you think, actually.” said a voice from behind, a tall young Grundel stood in the ‘doorway’, the wall returning to solid rock as he stepped into the room. “In fact, anyone with a basic understanding of Narragansett lore will be able to connect the dots, as it were. My people lived here millennia before any ponies arrived, and when they did it was my people who helped them to survive. The Grundels and the Narragansetts are very good friends, even if few have ever met face-to-face.”

The Doctor turned and locked eyes with the Thinker Grundel, a small chill raced down his back. There was something different about this Grundel, something he couldn’t quite place his hoof on. It was like there was something just ever-so-slightly off about him; be it the unusual lack of warmth in his gaze, the emptiness of his smile, or the…the…flavor of his aura. All pointed to one thing, he could be no other than…

“Gabbro…” The Doctor said. “…I presume?”

The smile on his troll-like face widened, revealing several sharp teeth. “Guilty. You must be The Doctor. Cheppu has told me so much about you! Allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart for saving him from the clutches of the Duke.”

The Doctor smiled in return, hoping his looked at least more genuine than the tooth-bearing expression on the troll’s face. “Naturally I have some questions.”

“Naturally.”

“The first one being: what are you planning?”

“I am planning to obliterate the diamond dog city and resurrect my people’s god.” Gabbro said glibly. “If you should like to know any details on the how and why, don’t be afraid to ask.”

The Doctor blinked in confusion, masterminds were usually a little cagier than this. “What…really?”

“Really.”

“You’re…just going to tell me? No monologue? No gloating? No ‘and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. Bwa-hah-hah’? Just answers?”

The Grundel shrugged. “Just answers. We are allies are we not? At least that’s what Cheppu told me about you.”

“Oooh…” The Doctor said slowly. “Okay, sorry. It’s just that usually when I infiltrate a kidnapper’s base and get captured more often than not there’s some by-the-book adversarial banter involved.”

The Grundel cocked his head in confusion before smiling. “Ah yes, I can see how your arrival and current accommodations would lead you to suspect villainy. But trust me, the side you have allied with is of the utmost righteousness!”

The Doctor nodded turning to the gathered ponies behind him, giving them a knowing wink. “Let me take care of this, all I want you to do is listen.” He turned back to Gabbro. “Alright…ally. What’s the plan for those pesky diamond dogs?”

Gabbro chuckled and nodded. “Indeed. For the years I have been constructing and crafting new and inventive ways to destroy that mine, each having been met with some degree of success, but nothing that could yet be called a solid victory. That is until I follow through with this plan!”

‘Lucky for me even Thinker Grundels are abnormally credulous beings…’ The Doctor nodded, expertly feigning enthusiasm. “Ooh! Tell me!”

The Grundel paused, eyeing The Doctor suspiciously. “Aren’t you going to ask me why I’ve been attacking the mine?”

“The mountain serves as an enormous prison for a single evil entity known a Tirac…” Gabbro barely suppressed a flinch. “…Sorry, forgot about that. Anyway, long story short: mountain is prison for the personification of pure evil and the dogs are breaking down the walls. I’ve been through this before.”

Gabbro nodded. “Very succinct. So, in recent times I’ve postulated that attacking the mine isn’t good enough, we must attack the miners as well. For a while this worked, but it still wasn’t getting the desired results and the dogs weren’t wasting any time. Luckily inspiration struck, as it usually does, while I was walking the tunnels around the mountain. Without the miners, the mineshafts will erode and collapse by them selves. Without miners all the machines we break will stay broken. Without miners, there is no mine! My solution?”

“Get rid of the miners?” The Doctor said.

“Yes!” Gabbro said triumphantly.

“How?” The Doctor pushed. “I was at the mine when your squad attacked. They were slaughtered! How are you going to kill all of the miners in the diamond dog city outside the valley?”

Gabbro sighed and ducked his head. “At first I attempted to have it undermined, but the rock proved too stable to feasibly create a sinkhole. For the longest time the secret tunnels connecting Grundel City and the base of the diamond dog city went unused. That is until late one night my spies reported that a dragon had been sighted in Valley City! One last time inspiration hit me, if I can get the dragon down here, I can destroy the diamond dog city and bring about a new age for my people all in one fell swoop!”

“How?” The Doctor said, eyes wide.

Gabbro opened his mouth to explain before being cut off by a curt buzzing sound. He grunted in annoyance and reached down into his cloak, producing a small crystal ear bud connected to another crystal that hung over the eye. “Brother Gabbro speaking…you have? Good! Everything’s going according to plan!” He turned to The Doctor. “I’m sorry, but this conversation will have to wait.”

“Oh by all means!” The Doctor said before stomping his hoof in frustration once the Grundel had left. “So close!”

The Doctor spun around on his hooves, facing his companions. “Alright! Does anypony have any theories?”

The ponies each began to reassess the information given. There were huge chunks missing and nothing really seemed to add up.

“Wait…” Pinkie Pie said slowly. “Earlier today Gabbro said something about resurrecting their god! I think that’s the big piece here!”

The Doctor nodded, hoof to his chin. “Yes…but how? It has something to do with Spike, probably some kind of arcane ritual. But how is that going to destroy the diamond dog city at the same time?”

“Hey…” Fire Dazzler said, all heads turning to him. “…I think…Doctor! The volcano! Mount Calcipher!”

“The volcano?” The Doctor’s eyes widened as a revelation struck him. “The volcano! A stratovolcano! On a shield! Named Mount Calcipher! No, no, no, no…yes! That is far to big of a coincidence!”

“What’re y’all talkin’ about?” Applejack said.

Fire Dazzler turned to her, an excited look on his face. “Last night…wow it’s only been a few hours since this thing started? Anyway, last night I met The Doctor and told him about the Valley’s features. He then said that a volcano like this one couldn’t happen on a shield, which is a continent-sized slab of solid rock. Now, not many people know this about Mount Calcipher, but it wasn’t always called that. The true name has been largely phased out in favor of the catchier one. It was called Calcipher Del Montressar Del Fasin. Roughly translated, it means…”

“Let me guess…” Rarity said. “It means ‘Calcipher’s Resting Place’?”

Fire Dazzler nodded before The Doctor said. “No…that’s not what it means.”

“It’s not?” Fire Dazzler said curiously.

“No…” The Doctor said quietly. “It means ‘The Resting Place of Calcipher’s Heart’. The heart of a Dragon God lies imbedded deep in the basalt; even dormant it produces enough energy to melt hundreds of millions of cubic meters of rock. And Gabbro wants it.”

“But if it’s in the center of a huge pocket of magma…” Fluttershy said. “…Oh my…the tunnels! The tunnels under the diamond dog city!”

“To get the heart of the dragon slain, a red hot caldera he first must drain!” Zecora said, picking up on Fluttershy’s train of thought. “If into these tunnels it does go, a city destroyed in a single blow!”

“Even if he successfully siphons some of the magma into the tunnels and toward the city, it will still cause an eruption in the valley!” The Doctor said. “Gabbro could very well destroy both cities!”

Gabbro watched the ponies as they plotted and schemed in their cell, the imager crystal in his quarters flickering in the blue-lit room.. They were clever, he gave them that, clever enough to figure out his plan from information given and information apparent. They were dangerous; this revelation regarding the extermination of all pony life in the valley would surely turn them against him, had they been with him to begin with.

‘You think I’m a fool, Doctor?’ Gabbro thought to himself. ‘You think I’m just another stumbling Grundel, trusting and naïve? Such an oversight will cost you dearly Time Lord!’ Gabbro blinked in confusion. ‘Time Lord? What’s a Time Lord? …It’s true though…he’s…familiar…from before…from…from…’ Gabbro suddenly felt a stabbing pain behind his eyes. “Aaah!”

“Hello Gabbro…” The Entity said coldly. “…I must congratulate you. Most creatures do not think to question their own thoughts.”

“What…” Gabbro said. “Who…”

“I think you know.” The Entity said through Gabbro’s mouth. “In fact, you been aware of me for quite some time. Every time you pondered your plans, every time you sent your Workers out to kill, every time there was a small part of you rebelling wholesale against it; the part of you that detested violence, the part of you that would sooner chew off his own tongue than contemplate evil, the…Grundel part of you. The part that we suppressed!” The Entity laughed a cruel laugh from the Grundel’s mouth. “It took me so long to get this far inside your soul. So, so long…a testament to my old friend’s craftsmanship, don’t you think?”

“No…not you…” Gabbro said, horror thick in his voice. “…That’s…that’s impossible!”

“Oh, nearly!” The Entity said, the geniality in its voice belying the sardonic cruelty edging each word. “Over a decade of conscious effort to corrupt a single Grundel to the point of ‘well-intentioned extremism’!”

“No…” He said, lifting his hands up to his ears in a vain attempt to ignore it.

“Yes!” He could feel it smiling with his face. “Even though I got to you when you were but a sprout, it still took me this long to nurture and grow such things as ambition and ego into you! Such things were necessary, you see, to get you to justify your actions to yourself!

“No!” Gabbro squeezed his eyes shut.

“You would ignore the sickening guilt for the high of victory, the recognition from your peers, the adulation! You reveled in it! The knowledge that the Elders envied your prowess, your popularity, your skill; that you had something they could never have! The superiority you felt, the energy within you! It was intoxicating, wasn’t it?”

“NO!!” Gabbro shouted, terror transforming to anger. “I am a Grundel! I am beyond such things!”

It laughed thickly, the smugness in its voice matched on by the contempt. “Beyond? The big lizard designed you without those aspects of your souls in order for you to detect them when my presence affected them! You are deficient! Parts missing! I had to build them from scratch and it wasn’t easy!” The Thing snorted in disgust. “It figures that the old lizard would think of something so novel as broken goods to win a war. If I could feel respect, it would be for him…” It bounced right back to the genial sounding contempt from before. “…What better victory for me than to corrupt his malformed little freaks, hmmm?”

“Beast! Monster!” Gabbro growled. “The diamond dogs will not release you! You have shown yourself too soon! My plan will be carried out and the city will be destroyed! Your hubris will cost you your freedom!”

It chuckled through his mouth. “Young fool…‘your plan’ is nothing of the sort! It was I who formulated it and placed it in your mind! Your arrogance blinded you to the fact that this particular idea had materialized from nowhere! You actually thought that it was of your own conception, that you had become so brilliant that contemplation was no longer necessary!”

Gabbro blinked in confusion. “…But why? Why formulate a plan to kill off the diamond dogs? Were they not destroying your prison?”

“Mortals…” It groaned. “You think in such three-dimensional terms…do you actually believe that I physically inhabit that mountain? That one day those stupid mutts would just break through a wall and I would be standing there, rattling a tin cup on my cell’s bars?”

“I…” Gabbro said, a terrible realization dawning on him. “They…they never could have unleashed you? They could have dug up every gem in that mountain and not have made you manifest?”

“I am the mountain…it holds me entirely, my degenerate consciousness forever bonded to the crystal lattices of its contents.” He could feel the hideous joy of The Entity surge through him, It was enjoying this immensely. “In fact, they were the only true threat to my existence I have ever encountered. Tearing my very being apart and fashioning crude technology from it, their clumsy spell imprinting destroying my patterns in the crystal. Had they continued…” Gabbro felt his ribs tighten as It barely suppressed a mad cackle of sadistic glee; it whispered through his lips. “…I would have ceased to be…”

Gabbro fell to his knees. “But…but…we were left here to prevent you from escaping…how could we have been so wrong?”

“Your people are naturally kind, generous, and loving…the perfect people to preside over my incarceration.” It said with disgust. “The dogs are not blameless, the penetration of the first barrier over fifteen years ago had allowed me to extend my consciousness beyond my prison. At first I tried to corrupt the diamond dogs; they are greedy and driven, perfect for my purposes. However, the mine was far too successful, spirits were much too high. Each miner was paid well, cared for, each one felt valued and content and in my weakened state I was unable to overcome such positive energy.” The low tone of loathing entered Its voice again. “That blasted Duke, his miners idolized him, he was a bright spot in their dark tunnels, gave them hope…disgusting.” Its voice took on the cruel mocking tone again. “So I turned to you.”

“Me?” Gabbro whispered.

“You.” It confirmed. “Even amongst the nicest of peoples there are malcontents. I could see it in you from the beginning, that there was just enough of me within you to corrupt. I seeded your young mind with the beginnings of aggression and ambition. Tirelessly I nurtured them until they ruled your personality, until the driven young Grundel who had enjoyed a meteoric rise in influence was well and truly…mine.”

“Wh-what makes you think I’ll help you?!” Gabbro demanded, fully aware of his eroding willpower. “My purpose in life is your imprisonment! How-”

“Silence.” It demanded calmly, Gabbro obeyed. “You can talk about your purpose in life and your duty as a Grundel until the stars choke to death on their own bodies, but that won’t change the fact that all Gabbro cares about is Gabbro. Regardless of what you told yourself, you joined the missions to sabotage the mines not out of some kind of sense of righteousness, but for the fame, for the hero’s treatment you got from your peers! You knew you were special, and you would do anything to make your Elders acknowledge it! You took command! You killed! You maimed! You wrought such terrible carnage! You strengthened me enough to influence you more! All in the name of Calcipher!”

“I…didn’t…oh no…” Gabbro sobbed. “What have I done?!”

“You have joined the winning team, my friend.” The Entity said, the comforting tone in its voice almost genuine sounding…almost. “Through me, you will gain fame and power beyond your wildest dreams! Command armies as they roll across this pathetic planet, spreading my glory from pole to pole! The whole world will know and fear the name Gabbro! So…are you going to join me, or will I collapse your soul and use your meat to carry out my plan anyway?”

Gabbro nodded and buried his head in his hands. “Why…why must the diamond dog city be destroyed then?”

“Good…” The Entity said. “…Why? Forty eight thousand two hundred and sixty three souls screaming in fear and agony as they are immolated by magma and super-heated gas will give me the misery and terror that I need to reactivate The Source of Darkness!” The Entity said triumphantly before adding. “Also spite.”

“And the pony city?” Gabbro said numbly.

“Icing on the cake…” It said. “Speaking of equines. I want you to escort The Time Lord and his pony friends out of the cell and to a more secure location. Once I am free I shall pay them a visit. The Doctor will watch his precious friends die in agony, the sweet music of their screams shall be the only thing he hears for the rest of eternity!”

“Who is he?” Gabbro said, rising to his feet.

“An old acquaintance…” The Entity said, barely keeping a quiver of rage out of Its voice. “From before…I will enjoy our time together Doctor! Oh yes, I will enjoy it thoroughly! Gabbro! Continue with the plan!”

“Yes…” the Grundel said quietly.

He stopped; his back ramrod stiff and The Entity spoke once more. “Call me by my name.”

“Y-yes…” Gabbro choked out, resisting the urge to vomit. “…Luh-Lord Tirac…”

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