• Published 16th Jun 2021
  • 923 Views, 41 Comments

The End of an Era (Series Finale Rewritten) - StacheHand



Twilight Sparkle is about to be crowned ruler of Equestria, but on this day of all days, the peace is disturbed by the ultimate threat: Emperor Grogar and the Horses of the Apocalypse.

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Part 3 - Chapter 2 (10): Darkest Hour, Minute and Second

The ponies in the frostbitten Equestria, the captured residents of the other corners of the world, the Students' group, Twilight's friends, all of them were barely holding everything together in this time of immeasurable crisis. If any of them succumbed to their new dark masters, or the horrors of the storm, most sane creatures wouldn't blame them.

Back at the swampy forest in which they all gathered, Luna and Twilight's friends approached a small glade, where the young princess had her alone time. All of them were unnerved by how she spent it. All over the surrounding dirt, wilted tree trunks and rocks were scribblings of stars, stick figures seemingly meant to be ponies, bells, and unidentifiable monsters. Over on the left, she sat ominously quiet, facing away from everyone.

"Not good." Luna solemnly attested. But still, the rest walked over, ready for more talking.

"What do you want?" Twilight coldly asked, noticing their presence, but refusing to shift.

"We want to get out of here and find a way to fix this mess." Spike answered, taking none of his sister's stony tone.

"Yeah, we've spent too long escaping! I wanna go home, and take it back!" Pinkie proclaimed.

"That would be a mistake." Twilight said, all gravelly. "We've already lost, and you know it. All of you."

"Don't be silly, Twilight." Spike rebuked.

"You know us better than that, darling." Rarity chimed in. "As long as we walk, we are not admitting defeat. Here, we'll help you think of something."

"After all, we can't save Equestria without you." Spike added.

"Save it? We can't. I can't. Never could, never was." Twilight scoffed.

"Listen, we know things look bad, but we've been in tough spots before, and we always toughed them out." Rainbow stated.

"Did any of them involve worldwide poisoning, a blizzard eating our home alive, an invincible warlock leading a monstrous invasion, or me losing my horn and wings forever, and soon the rest of myself?!" Twilight asked rhetorically, her rough pitch now rising ever so slightly, her head finally turning, and a scowl from her one-eyed face entering everyone's line of sight.

"Well, n-no..." Rainbow stammered.

"I understand, you're not in good health, so you're not thinking clearly." said Applejack.

"Are you kidding? I've never thought more clearly in my life." Twilight replied with a sarcastic laugh.

"If only there was a book or scroll you could look through. That always got your-" Fluttershy thought out loud in longing.

"Look around! Didn't you notice?" Twilight angrily interrupted the kind pegasus, stretching her hooves out. She had her attention on all of the ponies, and the small dragon. "Let me spell it out: nothing we've ever done has mattered!" After that, she decided to walk around, wincing more from the painful steps.

"Say what?!" Rainbow gasped.

"Okay, I know that's the Malice talking!" Applejack remarked.

"Ugh, you don't get it!" Twilight growled. "It was one thing when we couldn't stop Grogar and his forces from destroying Canterlot! It was another thing when we tried to get the clans to stop fighting, and all they wanted to do was fight, whine and make Celestia, Luna and I play favourites! It was yet another thing when we were cornered on Mount Everhoof before we could get some sleep! But then... well, you heard that demon!"

"You mean what he said about, uh, knowing us?" Rainbow guessed. She, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity and Fluttershy remembered Grogar's words pretty well, as if they heard it yesterday. None of the opposition they faced in the wilderness could jumble their memories on such a revelation.

"He's been setting up trials for us the whole time, even though he was supposed to be cut off from the surface!" Twilight explained. "All of our successes were manufactured! Nothing we did was really amounting to anything, just leading us into a trap!" Finished, she planted her head into a scribble-covered rock in defeat, and hard enough to feel a spike of pain that made her squeal like a pig.

"Twilight, that's enough crazy talk!" Rarity yelled. "Just because an old savage might have planned out almost everything we've been through to destroy us, that doesn't mean our victories were fake! And I know fake!"

"Also, we're all here, free, together, looking out for one another." Pinkie noted. "Doesn't that matter?"

"I think our friendship has done enough. If what it's "accomplished" is any indication, it can only make things even worse." Twilight disdainfully commented, burying her face in her hooves, shedding more tears from her single, undamaged and uncovered eye. Pinkie looked on, offended by the choice of words.

"So what's the alternative? Sit around, mope and wait for the end like a quitter?" Rainbow scathingly inquired. "We have to do something!"

"Knock yourself out!" Twilight snarled. "This fiasco is more than we ever should've been forced to suffer!" She gritted her teeth and grumbled "Friendship is magic? What a lie." Applejack heard her spoken complaint and grunted with annoyance, stomping reflexively before taking steps closer.

"You want the truth, Twilight?" the farm pony began. "Bad things happen! No matter what you do, there's never going to be a time where everything's perfect! But that don't mean you quit trying!" Twilight lifted up slightly. On her obscured face, she made a sideways glare at Applejack, gnashing her teeth in frustration. As much as the Malice poison stung, another feeling willed her into ignoring it. She felt her intelligence was insulted.

"What do you think i've been learning?!" Twilight snapped in a sharp turn, which made the farmer jump back in fright. The way she glowered at her looked particularly hateful. "By the way, didn't you mention that if things were a little different, none of this horror show would've happened? None of this had to happen! I would've had the happiest day of my life otherwise! That's the truth!"

"So, if it could've been easily prevented, and the coronation was going fine before this all started, then our achievements were real." Spike argued.

"They sure didn't seem important to... him." Twilight growled at the thought of that mischeivous and destructively secretive draconequus.

"Well, this wasn't his fault... entirely." Fluttershy pointed out in defense.

"Excuses, excuses." Twilight muttered, having grown more than weary of Fluttershy's bottomless optimism over Discord, seeing the pegasus as a hopeless wishful thinker. "Give them a rest, will you?" She added, at which her kind friend frowned and groaned indignantly.

Luna, standing in the shadows of the trees, was finding it hard to watch someone like Twilight Sparkle, the champion of all that was friendly and magical, speaking to her closest companions like they were never actually people she held dear, either as friends or an extended family, but as if they were a bunch of idiots kids she babysat for the better part of her life and all treated their nanny like trash.

"But you know what? The more i've thought about it, the more I realize he wasn't the only one I can blame." said Twilight in a spell of clarity. "Luna?"

"Yes, Twilight?" Luna answered, walking into view.

"Yeah, don't think I didn't notice you. Come here." Twilight urged the night princess darkly.

"If there's anything you need, i'll provide it the best I can." said Luna.

"Just one thing. You and Celestia. You both knew the story, correct?" Twilight asked. "What Gusty the Great achieved, what Grogar's reign was like, what happened at the end, and what Malice Magic was capable of?"

"Yes, but why do you ask?" Luna queried, confused.

"Because. You kept that from us." Twilight replied, shaking with anger. "That would've been nice to talk about earlier. Maybe even to write down and send to me in a scroll. Just saying, something that important is worth touching upon, preferably centuries ahead."

"We couldn't do that, Twilight." Luna stressed. "It was a vow passed on through generations. None of us knew he would break free, so why would we ever need to bring it up?"

"Oh, I don't know, perhaps so we could make preparations?" Twilight suggested in a snarl. "Study Malice Magic to develop a cure? Learn how to tame all the monsters? Find some way to banish that bell from existence for good? Something?"

"Absolutely not! It's too dangerous!" Luna affirmed, losing some of her patience.

"And you were too cowardly to take the risk despite that!" Twilight bellowed. "You know what you and so many before us have done for the past millenia? You let fear control your actions and decisions! You looked out for yourselves before everypony else, and for no reason! Guess that's one unified collective! What a history lesson!" Then, like lightning, her hooves smacked against her bandaged forehead.

Luna stood as still as a statue in stunned silence.

"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" Pinkie complained, coming between the two princesses. "The mood's sour enough, nopony wants more of this negativity!"

"Well, too bad. We'd all be better off if more creatures just paid attention to details." Twilight hissed.

"Pardon me, but about "fear controlling actions and decision", what do you call this then?" Applejack mentioned at the implications of hypocrisy the younger alicorn was giving off.

"Being realistic." Twilight robotically responded. "It's been seven days, and we don't know where we are, other than really, really far away from where we started, running for our lives. I'm one eye short, and yet only I clearly see the problem here?"

"I'm sorry, Twilight." Luna, now out of her silent stupor, murmured. "I see your point, and I understand if you think my sister and I have failed you miserably in our duties."

"I know you did. Ever since I first discovered the value of friendship, I had grown and changed the world, one baby step at a time." Twilight described her long life's journey. "I was just gaining confidence that I would lead Equestria into a better future when I took over. Then I find out that it was all a series of twisted games. The kicker? It proved that the concept I represent, what destiny chose for me, is an enormous struggle for little reward, because it's so stinking fragile. What kind of princess does that make me?" She sobbed uncontrollably when she was done.

"Huh. Not my idea of going out." Rainbow snarked.

"You said it." Spike agreed.

"As it stands, the position of royalty is completely worthless." Twilight assessed. "One thing's for certain, and it's that i'm lost... i'm tired... i'm hurting to no end... i'm terrified out of my mind... everything is broken, and we have no advantage, no matter how you slice it." The demoralization in her voice couldn't be more palpable, and after hearing it for this length of time, her friends almost didn't recognize her as Twilight any longer. Choking up, face scrunched and glowing red from the sorrow, she put a question forth: "What am I supposed to do?"

Applejack and the other ponies stared at Twilight like they had seen a most shockingly horrifying ghost. None of them had seen her destroyed before, not just physically, but mentally. Their group's leader always managed to rebound from the brink of utter failure. Each time, she'd get back up when she was knocked down, knowing how much Equestria depended on the success of her plans and their teamwork. It seemed like a day such as this, where she threw in the towel and wrote off friendship as a farce, would never come. Who knew basic faith in love and trust would be wishful thinking?

Spike, however, was more familiar with this defeatist attitude. The image of his sister planted on a rock, nothing left on her mind to set things right, reminded him all too well of the Storm King's invasion, and the wasted trek they made to Mount Aris just to find any hope of turning the tide in their favour. The anger she felt when her friends called her out on trying to steal the Hippogriffs' Pearl of Transformation while they were distracting Queen Novo, and then the shame when she alienated her friends and realized that she made a terrible mistake that doomed their world to an eternity of servitude and ruin, topped by her kidnapping at the hooves of the then-wicked Commander Tempest, an event that crippled the little dragon with the fear that he had lost a member of his family forever, and the proceeding argument would be the last talk Twilight ever had with her loved ones.

But that ordeal was like stubbing a toe in comparison to the nightmare in which he and the others lived at this very moment. Heck, putting the late Storm King next to Grogar was like matching up an angry baby bunny with a rabid dog.

Amidst the quiet contemplation, Fluttershy stepped towards Twilight, uncertain if she could alleviate the emotional damage, fearful of how the young princess would react, but at least sure that she needed to say something. Just give what she was about to do one try. Slowly, she lifted her hoof onto her royal friend's slumped shoulder.

"I've known for the longest time how hard it is to find hope in the darkness." said Fluttershy warmly. "But thanks to all of you, i've learned that it's always a lot easier when i'm with my friends."

"I know, Fluttershy." Twilight dryly responded, sounding rather dismissive.

"If we're facing impossible odds, we're facing them to-" Rainbow added.

"Together, I know. Togetherness is great, woohoo..." Twilight finished for the pegasus, adding a tinge of sarcasm.

"It's what we always-" said Rarity.

"BUT. We're all alone, and up a creek." Twilight interrupted, sounding more and more irritated.

"That's true pretty much every time something terrible-" Pinkie affirmed with a smooth slide underneath the alicorn.

"Oh no, i'm just Twilighting again, aren't I?" Twilight venomously sang in pretend self-deprecation. "You're thinking it: "Twilight, stop freaking out!", and "Oh Twilight, let me roll my eyes and smack my muzzle at how you're blowing this out of proportion!", and all that junk!" Her cherry on top of that word sundae was a gagging sound. "Seriously, how aren't any of you Twilighting?"

"Because even if you don't think you can do this, we do." Spike answered, wrapping his arm around his big sister comfortably. "We-"

"You believe in me and yourselves, cool, tell me something I don't know." Twilight grumbled in increasing vexation.

"The truth is, all our lives wouldn't be the same if we hadn't met." Applejack continued the string of assurance patiently.

"I know I know I know." Twilight growled.

"We're better off because of our friendship-"

"With me, yes." Twilight finished for Applejack, and then argued.

"So when you say you haven't made a difference-"

"Not relevant." Twilight hissed.

"You've made-"

"I don't want to hear anymore!" Twilight barked.

"Look, Twi, we're just-" Rainbow, infuriated, tried to explain.

"Trying to make me feel better, I. KNOW!" Twilight lashed out. "Do you think i'm stupid?!" Everyone, even Luna, apprehensively stepped back.

"Well, sorry for helping." Fluttershy bitterly uttered.

"I haven't forgotten what i've done, okay? It was a lot. The ponies and creatures i've helped to make happy, including you, how beneficial it's been to the world, the bonds that have gotten stronger, and the powerful team we've made. I realize I have a positive track record, hence me being chosen to rule Equestria." Twilight announced in a sharp glare. "But what good is it to remember the things i've done then?"

"EVERY BIT OF GOOD!" Spike and the other ponies exclaimed.

"You can pepper your pep talks with my laundry list of goodwill, best plans and happiest moments all you want, that was the past." Twilight criticized. "It's not going to help us now. You want to find a way, and take a shot at stopping those jerks, think in the moment! I can't believe I have to tell you that, but somepony has to knock you out of this juvenile nostalgia!"

Nobody present could believe it for even an instant. To hear their longtime friend call their well-intentioned speeches and reminders "juvenile nostalgia" and brush it all off like they were patronizing her, it didn't feel fair to them at all. In fact, she started to sound like the Horses of the Apocalypse; like a villain in the making. By this point, they had run out of things to say to her. They spoke from the bottoms of their hearts, and Twilight didn't appreciate it.

"You're no fun." Pinkie whispered, slowly moving her head back and forth.

"Perhaps this is a case where friendship is indeed fragile." said Applejack to the rest of her allies.

"So. Rude." Rarity emphasized spitefully.

"Who is this sad pony?" Rainbow questioned to herself.

"Alright, if you don't want to figure out anything to save the day, fine, because the seven of us know how to take initiative anyway." said Spike authoritively. "The team needs a leader, and a leader needs a team who will press on to the very end."

Twilight stared at her dragon brother through reddened, glaring eyes. She had no visible faith in his commanding assertion. But without a hint of figurative malice, she simply asked him "Then tell me. What can do we right now?"

"We don't know." Spike answered honestly and immediately. He got a scoff from his equine sister for that, but ignored it. "We'll never find out if we stop, so buck up and have faith in the light among the darkness, for as long as your body allows. We refuse to be deterred, and if we fail while giving it our all, then at least we'll fall in a blaze of glory."

"You said it." Rainbow complimented.

"What pluck." Twilight moaned. "How do you take charge when I can't?"

"Hey, that's just what siblings are for." Spike asserted, lightly pounding his chest. "Furthermore, that's what royal advisors are for." Those two words describing his title, on him which the Princess of Friendship bestowed last week before doomsday went down, got a bit of a chuckle out of Twilight. She didn't feel better, but at least found humor in this all-too-familiar "noble dragon" behaviour.

"I don't mean to break up the moment, but we've been camping here long enough." Luna opined. To make sure Twilight wouldn't be left behind, or think of staying, she telekinetically lifted the poor crippled alicorn onto her back to give her a ride. "The monsters and zombies have been on our trail for all these miles, I doubt they'll stop for anything." Applejack, Pinkie, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow and Spike nodded in agreement, like soldiers working as a singular mind.

Everyone looked on to see a tall mass of stone through the trees. Before them stood a mountainous area overlooking the forest, and stretching out across the swamplands like a fence.


When the light of the phoenixes faded out, so did the phoenixes themselves. Sunburst, Starlight and the CMC couldn't figure out what just happened, but some noises, clearly coming from the mouths of creatures, were heard before they could get far in questioning the whole thing.

Inside their cocoon prisons, Star Swirl and the earth pony Discord woke up.

"Huh? Oh, heavens." Star Swirl moaned, sounding like he got out of bed from a normal night's rest.

"What is this place?" Discord asked. "I... am I awake?"

"Who's that up there?" Sunburst inquired up to the ceiling.

"It's Star Swirl!" Starlight hollered down. "I think the phoenixes woke him up, and somepony else."

"Star Swirl?" Rockhoof gasped from his own cocoon. "Thank Celestia!"

Somnambula, Mistmane, Mage Meadowbrook and Flash Magnus vocally expressed relief and happiness that their leader, their old friend, had miraculously opened his eyes and spoken again.

"But how?" Stygian chimed in out of confusion of this occurrence. "Grogar took your core."

"Took his what?" Scootaloo quavered.

"I think it's the core magic of the phoenix species." Star Swirl deduced.

"Oh, of course. Phoenixes are viewed as symbols of life and revival." Sunburst followed along, having an epiphany.

"And tales, as depicted in Equestrian manuscripts, have spoken of them possessing healing powers." Star Swirl continued.

"What's more, though they are few in number, they gather in the event the sun is lost and the cores of living beings, the vital cells that animate us all, vanish, so they are guided by their sorrow to whomever is devoid of light." Sunburst mused.

"With that, they deliver a new chance for one to rise by sacrificing their cycle." Star Swirl finished.

"This is a lot to take in." Sweetie Belle opined.

"Knowing that, it's awfully convenient they came down here when they did." said Apple Bloom.

"Quite a bit more than I deserve." Discord groaned. "I caused enough damage already."

"Hey, is that you, Discord?" Starlight called in recognition of the dismantled one's voice.

"You mean he's up there, too?" Apple Bloom questioned. "So this is where he's been."

"Yeah, right here." Discord pointed out, expecting someone to follow his voice. "But forget about me."

"We can't let that Grogar varmint keep you here!" Apple Bloom protested. "I can't believe your even in this jam!"

"It's not my first time." Discord confirmed. "Even though that firebird woke me up, I still have no magic, and if I had been a better friend, I wouldn't have had to lose it."

"What are you talking about?" Sunburst queried.

"Long story; I don't want to talk about it." Discord sighed.

"Cadance." Shining Armor spoke up from above. "Cadance, she's in that crystal. On the wall."

"Shining Armor?!" Sunburst cried, surprised but given a warmer feeling from more familiarity of the voices he was hearing.

"Hey, Sunburst." Shining Armor welcomed warmly. "Glad you're here. Our old crystaller."

"But if you're here, then what happened to the..?" Sunburst worriedly wondered.

"The Crystal Heart was taken. The Empire is gone. And Flurry Heart..." Shining Armor explained. Saying his daughter's name threatened to break everything in him. His greatest fears silenced him, nearly paralyzed him, but contrary to the overflowing emotion, he didn't think for even an instant that the villainous alicorn he fought left his child to the worst possible fate.

Sunburst and the CMC overheard a quiet sob that he couldn't hold back for long. They had enough of an idea of how much he was hurting to feel the deepest sympathy for him.

"You said something about Cadance, though?" Sunburst finally mentioned.

"Right, you see that crystal on the wall?" Shining Armor addressed, calming down. "That wizard came down here, sucked her dry and encaged her in it."

Sunburst and the CMC looked around for any such crystal. Sunburst emitted a magical light to tell one piece of the wall from another more easily. Even then, nothing seemed like an unnatural part of the geography. Except for one spot. They noticed a clear silhouette of a pony with wings, and it wasn't a cave painting, but a sign that someone was on the other side.

"That looks out of place." Sunburst determined. His head turned. "Sweetie Belle?" the unicorn crusader nodded in agreement. Together, the horns ignited for a joint telekinetic grab of the crystal wall. They heaved.

Seconds later, their pull caused the crystal in the wall to fly apart, it's pieces soaring up to the ceiling like a storm of blades. Many of them managed to hit the cocoons, going fast enough to cut them. However, they only managed to raze the one holding Discord. Sunburst and Sweetie Belle were knocked off balance, Cadance dropped down from the wall, and Discord dropped down from his prison. That left Scootaloo and Apple Bloom, the former tending to the Crystal Princess, while Apple Bloom ran to break the dismembered draconequus' fall. All the same, it left them both sore. Around them, the crystal prison shards evaporated.

"Ooh, aah." Discord whined. "I miss snap-travel and self-levitation already."

"I can't believe she's like this." Scootaloo lamented over Cadance's limp body. "No horn."

Sunburst got up to see the Crystal Princess in her miserable state, and was taken aback by the fact that she had been reverted to a pegasus, and not even by forceful removal of her horn, but just erasing it from existence. It was two shocking sights in one.

"What the hay?" Apple Bloom gasped, wincing from the preceding impact.

"Hi girls, and Mr. Vice Headstallion." Discord nervously greeted.

"Are you really him?" Apple Bloom asked, feeling like her eyes were playing tricks on her. The feeling was shared with everyone who now got a good look.

"Sorry you had to see me like this." Discord wept. "This is how I used to be, before I became the almighty Lord of Chaos..." He wanted, just the tiniest bit, to glorify himself as he normally would, but the facts of his circumstances overpowered that urge. So instead, he remorsefully added "Who ruins lives."

"How did you end up like this? Did Grogar actually beat you?" Sweetie Belle pressed curiously.

"Well, you freed me, so I guess you deserve to know all the details." Discord conceded in resignment. "Just a warning: you're going to hate it." He cleared his throat, and took a breath to begin.


"How many times do we have to go through this, Gallus?!" Grampa Gruff shouted in angered exhaustion. "It's not my problem, and I want nothing to do with it!"

"Please, I beg you!" Gallus pleaded. "They're already done with the rest of the world, so we're next!"

"Tough tailfeathers! Stop complaining and leave it alone!" Grampa Gruff suggested.

"You mean give up?!" Gallus incredulously yelled.

"Maybe!" Grampa Gruff squawked back.

"Only a heartless coward would do that!" Gallus retorted. "My friends and I promised the Tree of Harmony we would unite the tribes, and-"

"Then why do you need me?!" Grampa Gruff queried furiously.

"Because we need both young and old representatives of each tribe to form a worldwide alliance!" Gallus clarified.

"Get another griffon!" Grampa Gruff ordered.

"But it has to be you!" Gallus argued. "As my guardian, as the one who came to the School of Friendship to bring a student from Griffonstone, this is your responsibility!"

"Argh, I am so sick-" Grampa Gruff growled, wheezing in the middle. "...of having this conversation, and it hurts me to keep listening to your incessant pleading! All you're doing is wasting my time, burning me out, accomplishing nothing-" He coughed harder from all the loud criticizing he was doing. "I thought you respected your elders more than that! What does your School matter to me anyhow?! That annoying, squeaky-voiced pony in the hat said i'm not even welcome around there anymore!"

By this point, in the radius of the old griffon's bellowing, Gallus was beginning to fall back into that feeble position, just taking it all in, not speaking up against his words anymore. It seemed like everything was going in a circle, and this time, his friends were nearby, watching his defeat. That was, until at the end of the tirade, when Grampa Gruff alluded to the unicorn he wound up in a screaming match with. A nerve inside the little blue griffon child hardened, demonstrated by him standing up tall and glaring in defiance.

"That "annoying" and "squeaky-voiced" pony's name is Trixie, and she was more of a guardian to me in that one conference than you ever were my whole lifetime." Gallus seethed in a low voice.

"Excuse you, sonny?!" Grampa Gruff snapped.

"Oh yeah, I said it." Gallus boasted, still eerily calm. "We had barely met, and she actually cared about what I was doing, and everything I had to offer. You didn't want to be there."

"I care about what you're doing!" Grampa Gruff cried defensively.

"Really? Well, thank you for the common decency." Gallus sarcastically replied.

"I ask that Gabby girl all the time for updates!" Grampa Gruff stressed.

"But that's all you ever do." Gallus stated. "You just want to know, but never come over to see."

"I don't need to see!" Grampa Gruff argued. "What's the point?"

"That is not a question." said Gallus.

"I took you in, gave you shelter and let you go to that School!" Grampa Gruff noted. "I'd say i've done enough!"

"That's only the bare minimum." Gallus pointed out. "I should've gotten more a long time ago, and our kind, considerate counselor gave it to me first, because you just wanted to get rid of me."

"Wha- get rid of- Ooooh!" Grampa Gruff stammered. "Is that what you think?! Because I don't fly over?! For what reason do I even need to?!"

"You shouldn't need a reason!" Gallus snapped, staggering the old griffon.

"What?" Grampa Gruff flatly said. "No reason? As in none at all? You're not making sense, boy!"

"Tsk. You wouldn't understand." Gallus muttered, rubbing his claw against his forehead. "If you care for somecreature, you don't need to be told why, or even be told at all you should approach them to say how proud you are, or to help them in their time of need."

"Isn't that a reason?" Grampa Gruff wondered, scratching his head.

"It's just what friends or guardians do for the ones close to them." Gallus specified. "Counselor Trixie didn't need some justification to stick up for me, and I don't need to explain why I need to help my friends. They need us, and so do our teachers. That's that."

"So, if i'm that terrible as your guardian, what would you do if I was in terrible danger?" Grampa Gruff asked.

"You already know the answer." said Gallus. "You are in danger, unless you come with us." As if to roll out a rug, he gestured towards the other students and their respective adult clan representatives. Nervously, they waved at the surly old griffon.

"Gallus, I think you missed the one detail. I don't get along with the likes of them." Grampa Gruff annoyedly reminded the young blue one.

"Well, their unity in general may be imperfect, but whether you like it or not, we're going to gather around and come to a compromise." Gallus asserted. "We don't have to be friends, just together, if this plan is to work."

"You wanna take the chance? You could hurt yourself, bad, and if that happens... I'm responsible." Grampa Gruff mentioned.

Gallus looked at him like his interest had been piqued. "Why have I never heard that before?"

"Because..." Grampa Gruff began to explain, but quickly found himself drawing a blank. His eyes got so wide from this moment of realization, they could pop out. "Look, kiddo, we don't really talk a lot."

"That's an understatement." Gallus quipped.

"Okay, we never talk." Grampa Gruff admitted. "But you can't say i've never watched over you like a hawk. You know what i've been asking of our bubbly mail carrier this whole time? To let me know that you're getting better everyday, growing into a strong, proud griffon, and that everycreature you surround yourself with, be it them over there, or the ponies, is treating you right, and giving you everything I never could here in Griffonstone." Uncharacteristic of him, his speech pattern became very sorrowful. His body language betrayed a sense of remorse.

"So, you're saying the reason you brought me to the School of Friendship in the first place is because you feel you're inadequate to raise me?" Gallus surmised.

"Yes. The bare minimum is all i've ever known how to do it." Grampa Gruff conceded. "I'm a historian, not a grandpa."

"Word of advice: follow your heart instead of letting fear tell you what to do." Gallus suggested.

Grampa Gruff paused to take a deep breath. The whole conversation, as he noticed by this point, had gotten most unusual. The situation had seen a total reversal. He was the vulnerable one this time, and Gallus the one casting a shadow and doing the deconstructing. He took several seconds to mull it all over before speaking again.

"I suppose I know what this has proven." he said. "You've changed, Gallus. I heard of many promising developments from the letters, but seeing it all before my eagle eye, I can say right here, to your face, I am... thoroughly impressed."

Gallus didn't know how to take the choice of the word "impressed", but he didn't vocally respond either.

"Your friends have been a good influence." Grampa Gruff complimented. "I should've been paying closer attention to your endeavors from the beginning, so I could've learned sooner what a great griffon you've become." He took a shorter pause before he followed up with "My boy... I hate to admit it, but I was a fool."

"Does this mean what I think it means?" Gallus asked hopefully.

"It does. My boy, I'm... i'm... sss... sss... sssorry." Grampa Gruff struggled to let out, mentally noting how surreal his apologetic tone was, like it was a sign of the Apocalypse around everyone ramping up from 11 to 12. A loud cough broke the awkward silence.

"Easy." Gallus cautioned.

"So be it. I'm old, and i've got nothing left to lose, except my family." Grampa Gruff stated. "As crazy as this whole "worldwide alliance" thing sounds, I cannot let you out of my sight. It's only the responsible thing, if I recall?"

Something was triggered by the griffon's acceptance. The barren ground around Gallus, his fellow students and the adults of the other clans glowed with the radiance of the Tree of Harmony. Rings of sparkles wrapped around them, accompanied by colourful glows coating the young creatures. They surged with this primordial energy, much in the same way as they did when they were almost transported to an unknown alternate dimension. It flashed, and then it stopped.

"W-what was that?" Grampa Gruff wondered.

"Guys, what just happened?" Gallus inquired his friends in perplexion.

"Tree spoke!" Yona hollered over. "Gallus and old griffon are one, like us yaks!"

"It recongized you and Grampa Gruff's bond!" Smolder explained more clearly. "Same thing happened with me and Ember!"

"Me and Pharynx, too!" Ocellus exclaimed.

"Same here!" said Silverstream.

"It can still sense our presence?!" Gallus gasped. "Whoa!"

"I really don't know what this Tree is." said Grampa Gruff, scratching his head. "But what are we doing loitering here? We've got something important to do, dagnabbit! This place ain't getting better by itself!"

Gallus looked at his guardian in the good eye, and gave him a sincere smile, and a truthful show of love he hadn't before. "Thank you, Grampa Gruff." He thought of giving him a hug, but decided against it, knowing his usual response to the most sentimental of gestures.

All around the ruins of Griffonstone, the other griffons were looking at Gallus before flying off, beaming with pride, exceptional warmth in their hearts.


Meanwhile, back at Tambelon, the streets and gardens, still as monster-infested and zombie-filled as ever, were lined up with marketplaces stocked with colourful food that looked and smelled delicious. No sign of any price tags, either. It was all there for the taking. It sure kept the living creatures energetic, though they would, of course, get into fights over scraps.

Inside the castle's council room, Grogar finished checking on Havoc's search for Luna and Twilight's group in the wilderness, using both Arimaspi's Eye and his telepathic communciation. There was nothing to report. That's when he switched the eye's view to a wintery area. In that area were earth ponies on the move. Then he changed to a view of pegasi. Then to unicorns.

He made an expectant "Hmm..." sound before, at last, he altered the image to display an overhead view of Tambelon, and symbols representing all three ponies clans slowly moving towards it.

"Excellent." Grogar expressed. "They're converging on my city. My supply of edibles draw them in like moths to a flame." After that last syllable, he thought When they have a moon's worth of sustenance, the seed-. Before he finished, the long-distance communication flames from Chrysalis, Tirek, Cozy and Eclipse reappeared.

"Boss, my Midnight Chariot is about to take off, and I finished the leader of Stratadon-!" Tirek announced. His flame changed it's image to to view a dragon-like creature with four legs, wings with claws on them, a tail extended with a bending stream of flame, and elephant tusks.

"Behold, my latest addition to the brood! This is T-! " Chrysalis interrupted. Her flame shifted to the view of another changeling. This one was not how the others looked back in the day. It was a hulking creature with an insanely wide, jagged muzzle.

"I think I have the most interesting creation; meet the B-." Eclipse interjected. Her flame changed it's image to reveal a demon shaped like a bear, boasting an intimidatingly unnatural build and an alien-like mouth.

"I made six, count them: six lovely little Umbrums, excited to-" Cozy impatiently spoke as she picked up her picture frame as if it were a camera, manually rotating it towards the other side of the room she sat in. Into view came six small ponies, four fillies and two colts, that looked to be made up of corporeal, slime-like shadows and black flames, but still had the eyes of natural equines.

The faces of the other Horses of the Apocalypse reappeared.

"I wasn't finished." Tirek growled in annoyance.

"Quiet!" Chrysalis bellowed at the same time.

"Wait your turn!" Eclipse scolded over the rest.

"Hey hey, let me go first!" Cozy yelled, her face returning to view.

"I go first! I have seniority!" Chrysalis hissed.

"As the strongest, next to our emperor, I should go first!" Eclipse argued.

"But I have so many to show!" Cozy argued back.

"I'm sorry, who was the first to speak up? Me!" Tirek chided.

Their bickering devolved as any round of the verbal equivalent to slap fighting would, a rapid exchange of incomprehensible words that may as well be gibberish. Grogar only looked on plainly, desensitized to the sight of pointless quarreling, and confidently tapped his bell, causing it to ring loudly. Everyone held their tongues and gave him their full attention.

"Show me your work." the ram sorcerer instructed. All four of the villains proceeded to show their monsters again without an argument.

"Forgive me, emperor." Eclipse apologized. "My Berserker may seem savage, but he's a refined, all-purpose bodyguard. That's the result of his inborn magical knowledge and infinitely flexible anatomy."

"Oh Eclipse, honey, Transformer can change individual parts of his body to become whatever amalgam of creatures he wants." Chrysalis dismissively boasted. "Also, he inherited my acidic attack." At her taunting, Eclipse scoffed.

"Long! Live! Queen! Chrysalis!" Transformer slowly chanted.

"With Stratadon's heat, he'll guide the chariot through even the Windigo fog. He's unbreakable, like me." Tirek explained.

"By the way, that's what you've been doing as king? Building a chariot?" Chrysalis questioned mockingly.

"It's an ancestral tradition. Don't walk on thin ice." Tirek threatened.

"My turn! Say hello to..." Cozy began. She pointed at her Umbrums from left to right, introducing them as "...Groggy, Chryssie, T, Rora, Windy, and last but not least, Cozy Glow the Second, or C.G.S. for short!" Chrysalis, Tirek and Eclipse groaned from her grating tone.

"Hello Emperor Grogar!" the six Umbrums addressed the ram in unison, and so innocently.

"Creative names." Chrysalis sarcastically remarked.

"Now I have substitute teachers, and extra hall monitors!" Cozy cheered, not acknowledging that Chrysalis said anything.

"A pleasure to meet you all, new children." Grogar warmly said. The Berserker, Transformer and Stratadon roared for the glory of their kings and queens. "Horses, take care of them as you did in designing them."

"Oh, my lord." said Eclipse. "This call, it's not just about Berserker. I have a question I think we should know the answer to."

"Fire away." Grogar permitted.

"What exactly is the Phantom Zone?" Eclipse queried.

"Oh yeah, that thing." Cozy recalled. "Whatever it is, it's still part of the plan, right?"

"Why did you even bring it up in the first place?" Chrysalis chimed in.

"What does it do?" Tirek asked.

'Very well then." Grogar replied. "I didn't give the details before since I knew you were anxious to get out there. Now that you have the time, class in back in session." He tapped his bell again, and out of both it and his collar, strings of Malice Magic rose up into the air to form a vision of the past. A piece of his memories played out as his lecture commenced.

"Millenia back, when I reigned over Equestria, and did a one-dimensional job of it, urgh, I completed my eternal contract with the Malice Magic I grew by banishing every last hint of light from my heart, leaving only the darkness. Knowing it couldn't just vanish into space, I warped it until I ripped open the fabric of reality and created a pocket dimension. As the original key, only my Bewitching Bell can open it. A realm of absolute nothingness that has served to hold magic i've taken and tainted over many moons, sentencing them to be mixed up and impossible to reclaim one at a time. But most importantly, the owners, if they could still function, lose their ability to remember it, and after the magic's been in there for 8 days, everycreature except myself who knows will forget it ever existed. Complete mass memory wipe, forever - and they will never realize it. Hence it's name - the Phantom Zone."

"That is devious, and I love it." Eclipse complimented.

"So that's what makes Twilight's ragtag bunch so important to extract cores from." Cozy figured.

"A valuable weapon, but I suppose even that couldn't consume the Tree of Harmony." Tirek guessed. Grogar just regretfully nodded to him. Next, the centaur asked "What if a whole living being was trapped in there?"

"Then recollection of them would fade as well." Grogar answered, nothing more complicated than that.

"8 days, and he seems so proud of that. How many pegs do I have to knock him down?" Chrysalis whispered to herself.

"That will be all for now." Grogar declared. "The pony tribes are on their way to Tambelon, seeking the food i've stockpiled outside. I'm ready to come out of hiding; the future of this empire rests on me making a good impression with my subjects."

"Buh-bye!" Chrysalis sang before unceremoniously hanging up.

"My Present Run has been delayed long enough." Tirek voiced in concern. "See you later, boss." Then he hung up.

"Best of luck. Not that you'll need it, but you deserve the support anyway." Eclipse remarked. "Berserker, come." With that, she hung up as well.

"Okay, Umbrums! Time is knowledge, and knowledge is power! Chop chop!" Cozy commanded, turning away.

"Yes Super Executive Mistress Headmare Cozy Glow!" the six Umbrums cutely responded together.

Cozy gave the ram sorcerer a wink before tapping her picture frame and hanging up.


Back in the earth pony bunker, Princess Celestia, in her weakened, devolved state, was reawakening.

"Uh... uh..." she moaned, slowly lifting her heavy eyelids and taking a little breath.

"Oh my stars!" Rusty Bucket, still watching over her, exclaimed.

"Oh!" Celestia yipped, quickly opening her eyes in surprise.

"Ma'am, you're awake!" Rusty Bucket cried out. "I knew I didn't drag you out of that blizzard for nothing!"

"What?" Celestia uttered quietly in confusion. "I'm... not... but how? Where... am I? Who... are you?"

"Ah, where are my manners?" Rusty Bucket sheepishly took note of. "Rusty Bucket, guardian of Mount Everhoof, at your service."

Celestia, cracking a smile, assured him "You.. have my... thanks."

"I was hiding from all these crazy creatures that were fighting Princess Twilight, Princess Luna and their friends, when I saw you laying in the snow." Rusty elaborated. "After they all left, I picked you up, but my humble abode was destroyed, so I looked for shelter to save you from the Windigo storm until I found some other earth ponies, and followed them to this place."

"Twilight? What... happened... to her?" Celestia asked worriedly.

"I don't know, it was hard to follow." Rusty replied. "But she and the other nice visitors were out of there before the nasty ones were."

Celestia quietly took in the rest of the information, before she murmured "I was afraid of this. That was no ordinary blizzard; the legends were true all along." Suddenly, she had regainined her speaking strength. She rose from her resting spot. "The Windigos appearing means that the ponies are completely divided, and their icy magic will devour Equestria."

"Hate to break it to you, but they already have for the past week." Rusty declared solemnly.

"Oh Luna, my dear sister. Be safe, and take care of our friends." Celestia prayed.

"Don't know what became of her. She just up and-" said Rusty, only to stop at what was implied before him. "Wait a minute. Luna, your sister?" He gasped, and exclaimed "You're Princess Celestia!?" At this surprise, he felt as if he made a mistake. His means to correct it was to bow and plant his face in the bunker floor, a classic I am not worthy gesture.

"Hey, corner pony, what did you say?" a stallion inquired a small distance away.

"It sounded like he said "Celestia" over there." Cheerilee thought out loud.

"Earth ponies, i'm glad you've been holding up well." Celestia sighed in relief. The rest of the ponies looking at her changed from interested to perplexed.

"You're Celestia?" the cynical mare from before said in disbelief.

"Why are you a unicorn?" Mrs. Cake asked.

"A unicorn?" Celestia questioned. She looked at the sides of her body on instinct, then it all made sense. "So, i've been reverted to my past self by Grogar's spell."

"There is no Grogar!" the cynical mare abruptly cried.

"But I have no core. What rejuvenated me? Is this... an illusion?" Celestia puzzled.

"See, until now, you were out the whole time." Rusty clarified. "Just minutes ago, this phoenix broke in and flew onto you, as if you attracted it. It laid down, looking pretty sad, radiated this blinding light, cried this haunting song, and next thing you know - it's gone. If I had to guess, you've made good friends with a phoenix or two, and it brought you back to consciousness?"

Hearing this explanation, and knowing the cause of her revival, brought a name out of Celestia's lips she hadn't said in ages. "Philomena..."

"I heard from one of those unicorns that you gave yourself up!" Mrs. Cake brought up. The depowered Sun Princess paid attention.

"Did you really abandon everypony?" Mr. Cake asked.

"What?" Celestia gasped.

"Where were you when we had to escape from this terrible snowstorm?" Cheerilee queried.

"I bet she didn't want to bear the weight of ruling us anymore, so she left us to do all the painful work." the cynical mare opined.

"It's not like that!" Celestia retorted.

"You had the choice to protect us from this disaster, and from them, and you chose yourself!" the stallion from earlier accused.

"I was helping Twilight and her friends!" Celestia shouted.

"Then why did you run along home to Canterlot, and put on a fireworks show?" Mayor Mare wondered.

"What was so important about your date with this "Grogar" we've heard about?" Mrs. Cake grilled.

"I only tried to protect my friends from my own worst self, and light up a sign of hope." Celestia explained.

"Ha! Ain't that just typical of you, Princess." Granny Smith laughed derisively. "Sitting idly by and only doing what makes you feel like you're helping."

"Oh yeah, that's actually true. She's never been as helpful as we thought." the farmer stallion.

"Come to think of it, we've faced so many great crises, and she never lifted a hoof to take care of them." Mayor Mare commented. "It's always another's job."

"You and Princess Luna were supposed to run this country, but you never understood the struggle of the common pony!" Cheerilee scolded.

"She's a fraud, and her sister too!" Mr. Cake exclaimed.

"You're as bad as all the other horned mares and stallions!” Mrs. Cake seethed.

“ENOUGH!” Rusty yawped. Nobody objected to him, they just backed off and grew silent.

“Listen, I have faced Grogar, and what he did to me, he’s doing to all that you love.” Celestia detailed. “Whatever you do, you cannot go near him. We need Twilight and the-”

“Argh! Fine, say he does exist: he didn’t make you run away from your responsibilities, did he?” that same mare of highly cynical, skeptical nature mused.

“And we’re done waiting for Princess Twilight to resolve this.” Mayor Mare chimed back in. “It’s us against those with wings, the horned ones, and the Windigos. None of this is friendship versus dark powers anymore. This... is war.”

“You darn tootin’ it is.” Granny Smith agreed.

Celestia’s face contorted with anger and disappointment in the earth ponies. She immediately buried it in her hooves as if to hide a dangerous fire it was lighting up. Rusty consoled her, feeling similar disappointment, seeing as he wasn’t too familiar with having so many to interact with. If it’s this bad with the pegasi and unicorns as well, the soul is truly gone, she thought grimly.


Twilight’s party traveled up a mountainside road, leaving the swampy forest behind. Where they were going was impossible to say. None had gone this way before, to the knowledge of anyone present. The air only helped to make it feel like the pathway that time forgot.

“My bird’s-eye view says we’re safe from monster and zombie attacks for the moment.” Rainbow confirmed.

“Frankly, i’d love a chance to talk with those guys.” Fluttershy admitted. “The beautiful creatures, I mean. Discord was a part of their family. They couldn’t be okay with their father doing what he did to him, could they?”

“Good question.” said Rainbow.

“Did you see where this path leads up there?” Spike asked in a reminding fashion.

“Oh, right. I saw a statue, right next to a cliff.” Rainbow reported.

“Well that doesn’t excite me much.” said Applejack.

“I’m just glad to be out of those muddy woods.” Rarity stated.

“I know, days and days in the same area, scenery unchanging, same smell hour after hour can drive a mare loopy!” Pinkie complained, her grievances obviously differing from the fashionista’s.

“How awful.” Twilight sarcastically muttered, slumped on Luna’s back.

They reached their destination, and found that Rainbow was accurate. There was a cliff, devoid of any features besides an old stone statue to the left. The view they got up there showed them what looked like the treetops of the forest, and vegetation growing over something that... looked out of place. A gigantic, dilapidated wall.

“Darn! A dead end.” Spike grumbled.

“How peculiar. There’s a sign of architecture in this area.” Luna pointed out. “Judging by that structure, clearly somecreature has been here.”

“What, that thing?” Rainbow guessed, getting a better look at the distant wall. “I didn’t notice it on my first look.”

“Looks like it was designed to either keep something in, or keep something out.” Luna surmised.

As they talked, the statue’s eyes shifted to the right, and seconds later, it began to shift it’s legs. It was slowly moving, almost soundlessly, right towards them.

"Best-case scenario is that there's a nice town with a motel and a place to do my hair." Rarity wished.

"Doubt it. That there wall looks like it hasn't been tended to in... who knows how many moons." Applejack opined.

"Darling, i'm trying to cope here." Rarity said mildly annoyed.

"This is no time to speculate." Spike admonished the two mares.

"Yeah, nopony cares about your hair care." Twilight scathingly criticized, deadpan as can be. Rarity's reflexively stuck her tongue at her.

"Rainbow, Fluttershy, Luna, I need you to carry us down." Spike advised. "We'll continue along the forest path."

"Uh, Spike? Girls? Princess?" Fluttershy meekly called, noticing something. The statue being had closed in on the group, towering over them in the shade of the mountain. It seemed poised to strike. The corners of their eyes saw it.

"Monster!" Spike shrieked.

Rarity and Luna jumped in the being's direction, igniting their horns to cast defensive spells at any moment, should it make a move.

"Please wondrous one, we should talk!" Fluttershy desperately pleaded.

Rainbow, true to herself, was primed to make the first move. Like lightning, she dived down and aimed to deliver a swift, flyby punch. Nothing could stop her Wonderbolts-worthy attack. Or at least nobody she knew back home couldn't. The being lifted a hand and halted her momentum. It kept her stuck in one position for a few seconds, taking it's time before pushing her back and lowering her to the ground with what was clearly telekinetic magic.

"That's the Rainbow we know." Twilight mocked. The loyal pegasus turned around to scowl and huff at her.

"You will come no closer, fiend!" Luna emphatically warned.

"Princess Luna?" the being finally spoke, sounding pleasantly surprised, and elderly. "By Star Swirl's beard, is that really you?" it asked, before finally coming out of the shade to reveal it's full form. It looked a bit monstrous, but nothing like anything the young ponies and dragon had seen before. Before them all stood an aged, male, winged, bipedal creature covered in brown hair, a grey beard, tattered clothes obviously from a bygone era, wrapped around a golden belt, and topping it off, a draconic head adorned with a golden crown. His tail was long with a tuft on the end, and his hands and feet were ape-like.

Luna's guard dropped and her eyes widened, her senses prickling with an overwhelming sense of familiarity. The feeling of astonishment was mutual. Images of the living statue in his physical prime flashed in her mind, and out of the blue, her pitch raised to the royal voice in exhilaration when she addressed him by name.

"SCORPAN?"

Spike and the others gasped together at the saying of that name. Even Twilight Sparkle lifted herself off Luna's back and stared up at the ancient gargoyle in disbelief.

"I've heard of you. You're Tirek's brother." the Friendship Princess presumed correctly.

"Luna, you've grown up so much." Scorpan remarked, his mind flashing back to the Night Princess at a much younger age, when he first met her in Equestria. That's when he looked at everyone surrounding her. "Earth ponies, pegasi, a unicorn... it's been so long since I had seen the ponies of Equestria. Oh, a dragon, too. A pleasure to meet you all."

"Uh, mighty pleasure to meet you, Mr. Scorpan." Applejack said respectfully.

"And I see the lavender one knows my brother." Scorpan pointed out.

"That's Twilight Sparkle." Spike clarified. "My name's Spike. These are Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash."

"We all know Tirek. Super mean guy, hates our guts, threatened us and all of Equestria on more than one occasion, directly or otherwise." Pinkie chattered. "Also not a fan of cake, hats, costume parties or ventriloquism, but I digress."

"Shut up, Pinkie." Twilight grouched.

"I said I digress!" Pinkie snapped.

"More than one occasion?" Scorpan repeated, bewildered by the concept.

"Yes." said Luna. "He broke out, and though we succeeded in sealing him back in Tartarus, Tirek returned anyway, and he roams free as we speak."

"Oh dear." Scorpan could only murmur. At that moment, his mind fell on how Twilight looked. Upon closer inspection, he saw how her appearance stuck out like a sore thumb. "Ms. Twilight, you're an alicorn too, but... well, I don't mean to be insensitive, but how did your horn and wings end up like this? Was this Tirek's doing?"

Twilight's only choice of word in her reply was "Worse." This piqued the old gargoyle's interest.

"I suppose we owe you an explanation as to why we're out here, old friend." Luna acknowledged. "It's a long story, but judging by our situation, this is a safe time to tell it."

Luna proceeded to give Scorpan all the details about what she had been up to in the millennia since they last saw each other, and what Twilight's circle of friends had been through in the years they had been together. The evil they defeated, the lives they saved, the magic they represent, and other events they took part in that led up to this moment. But most tragically of all, the decline in harmony that recently took place not only by Tirek's machinations, but those of other villains, especially the mythical Monster Father, Grogar: the most powerful, most cunning, most terrifying and most dangerous enemy they had ever faced. It was all frighteningly enlightening for Scorpan, but for the rest, it was physically painful to recount.

Author's Note:

Great googly moogly, I apologize for keeping you waiting so long for this chapter, everyone. I guess I needed a pony break after consuming so much content again through my rewatches of the show's episodes, but I hope i've been able to make the tiring wait worth your while. At least stepping away for months made it fun to get back into the game.

At long last, we come to a point in the story I honestly wanted to like in the original episode(s), but instead found so dang frustrating. When Twilight decides that everything is hopeless and her life achievements didn't matter in the end (until she's quickly cheered back up). The first thing is how it's framed. After everything Twilight had done, and the important growth she's done in preparation for ruling Equestria, this moment just looks like all of that went in a big fat circle. She's freaking out and feeling defeated because of course, behaviour so typical it became a funny little verb, and the last straw that justifies her defeatist attitude is not finding any last minute spell to defeat the villains, even when she's rejoined with her friends, when they have the POWER OF THE ELEMENTS OF HARMONY within them as Discord said back in the Season 9 premiere, ready to be triggered again, despite the gaslighting that horrible "we don't have the Elements of Harmony anymore" line feebly attempted. It's like that script was outdated by the time the season aired.

So, what I tried to do here was demonstrate that after everything that happened, all the damage they failed to repair, and the battle they lost, Twilight has now gotten the entire picture of how dire the situation has become, enough to really be sold on the idea that all is lost and beyond repair. With the immeasurable pain she's in here, both physically and mentally, and the fact she can't use her magic anymore, I felt that gave her a more solid excuse to feel hopeless. I know it's easy to feel everything's doom and gloom when you're upset and frazzled, but Twilight in the original still looked stupid for not considering a single alternative. I mean, come on, she requested her brother and sister-in-law to be Equestria's last line of defense, and not only had they not fallen yet, they were RIGHT THERE! It didn't make sense for her to sulk and back out like a coward instead of placing faith in, and fighting alongside, her literal family. As for protecting Flurry Heart (who wasn't absorbed into the planet in the original version, just to remind everyone), they could've just put her in a safe room with doubled security (i'd assume Equestrian castles have safe rooms).

Since I mentioned gaslighting a couple paragraphs back, this is the cherry on top of my changes to Twilight's whole tangent about how everything she and her friends did wasn't making a true difference. The thing about the original scene was that this ultimate demoralization was about everything the Mane 6 did and accomplished over the course of this one season. In this, she has been informed that this new threat she's had the misfortune to face has gone all the way back to the beginning of her adventures, and nobody knew it, so that in turn has gaslit her into thinking they've had meaningless accomplishments across all the seasons. Of course, her pain has accentuated this feeling. One part of her new, cold nature that honestly felt good to me was when she responded to Applejack's "harsh truth" speech. It felt like something Twilight didn't need to be told, especially the "there's never a time where everything's perfect!" part, since Twilight had already made peace with the impossibility of perfection, as seen at the end of The Point of No Return, and in The Summer Sun Setback, both episodes from the same season as the finale this rewrite is based on. I maintained that line just so I could allow Twilight to give it the response she deserved to give it.

Now, another thing I was hoping to accomplish with Twilight's rants in this part of the chapter was to make her bitter to the point of taking shots at her friends and brushing off every attempt they made to help her, but without making her obnoxiously petty, and thus totally unlikeable. Believe me, my early conceptualizations of what she would say here were much worse, making her seem like she was already well on her way to ending this friendship and becoming a villain (which would save her from Malice's poison, but that's besides the point).

Next: the big one. The group's pep talk to Twilight. I know this is a beloved scene in the O.E. (that's Original Episode abbreviated, which i'll use from here on out). I know it's widely thought as one of the most important sequences in the show's history (to my recollection). This has warmed hearts all across the MLP fandom. This, pretty much unanimously, has been seen as the culmination of the years of close friendship these characters, personally, have enjoyed. So, i'm sorry if you were offended that I made Twilight brush it off. I wanted to further cement the stakes by showing that though their words were from the bottom of their hearts, this pep talk alone wasn't going to fix a mood that has gone this sour, and in the grand scheme of things, reminding their friend of how important she's been, how unwavering their belief in her and themselves is, and how their current predicament is not unlike their past adventures is, in essence, a series of platitudes. Lastly, I thought it'd be a nice touch to have Spike more explicitly assert his recently appointed position as Twilight's royal advisor.

Hoo boy! That one part had a lot to explain about it. Time to move on to something else. Well, now you know what those phoenixes have been doing. Yeah, I understand it's a huge plot convenience, but at the same time, a necessary evil to bring a bit of balance to good's chance against the power of the Big Bad. The phoenixes having the power to revive ponies who had their cores sucked out of them was, at least, inspired by something. A few things, as a matter of fact. First, these mythical birds are viewed as symbols of concepts such as life, resurrection, healing and immortality across Greek mythology. Second, I took inspiration from the Phoenix Down health item from the Final Fantasy franchise. Moreso that than any Harry Potter parallels that i'm sure a few of you have drawn already. A small thing to note: in early planning, I debated with myself whether to have Star Swirl or Cadance woken up by phoenix magic. Ultimately, I chose Star Swirl for reasons that you'll learn later.

Grampa Gruff's part was interesting to write. Besides it serving as a perfect spot to display Gallus's growth by having the kid stick up for himself, after being reminded of how Trixie stuck up for him back in A Horse Shoe-In, it made for a moment where Grampa Gruff could be fleshed better even more than he had ever been before. We all remember the aforementioned episode where he displayed complete apathy to Gallus's studies in the School of Friendship, justifying himself by saying he didn't need to come all the way from home to tell Gallus, in person, that he cared or was proud of him. However, Dragon Dropped... dropped the implication that he obsessively demanded updates on Gallus, meaning that he might've had more interest in what he was up to than he let on. The show left the true answers to everything up in the air, but I honestly like to believe that as dismissive of Gallus as he appeared to be, giving him a roof to live under aside, his continued belief in the pride that Griffonstone used to have (as seen in his debut episode, The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone) extended to wanting this young one to grow into the proud type of Griffon he (hopelessly) envisions. I felt this went hand-in-hand with him having insecurities in the guardian occupation, since he was established as a storyteller, nothing more, nothing less, when we first met him. Maybe i'm giving this old eagle-lion too much credit, I don't know. Just my interpretation.

Another explanation that has finally arrived: the Phantom Zone's functionality. I have considered what other effect this magical weapon would do besides taking corrupted magic and blending it together to be inseparable from one another. My mind landed on an effect that is like the Memory Stone, an artifact shown in the Forgotten Friendship Equestria Girls special, but not quite the same. While the Memory Stone could instantly erase memories, eventually forever, but would release them upon it's destruction, the Phantom Zone locks it memories of magical power tightly, and after the time limit is up, that power will become as real as a cute bedtime fable figure as far as anyone will continue to know or care. Forced amnesia, erasure of any hope of relearning, spanning the entire population. Appropriate since I described it as a product of Grogar forcefully expelling light (chances of true goodness, redemption and friendship) from his heart and doing all in his power to send it to oblivion. The 8 day counter? Well, 8's a lovely, even number, and it's relevant to that little hint I threw into Grogar's lecture.

To end off these notes from me, ladies and gentlemen, Scorpan, the gargoyle brother of Tirek is in the house! I was always disappointed that he never made a physical appearance in the show, and that disappointment is only exacerbated by the fact that they had plans to feature him in the 2017 theatrical film at some point (as seen in the official artbook), but changed their minds before finalizing it. For this rewrite, now that his evil brother has had his own rise to power in the midst of this apocalyptic crisis, I deemed it the right time to reveal him. The way I described how he looks is taken directly from the movie's concept art of Scorpan, with a few tweaks to fully define him as a long-lived creature. You may think he came into the story a little late, but I have some ideas as to how he can serve a purpose. As extra food for thought: if this were animated, acted out and canonically part of Season 9, I imagine that since Scorpan would only appear for a few episodes, he'd have a special guest voicing him. Maybe since Grogar's the main antagonist, that character's G1 incarnation's voice actor, Michael Bell, could provide the gargoyle's voice to call back to the 80s cartoons and draw a full circle between them and Friendship is Magic.

Comments ( 5 )

My reaction after reading this chapter:

Back at the swampy forest in which they all gathered, Luna and Twilight's friends approached a small glade, where the young princess had her alone time. All of them were unnerved by how she spent it. All over the surrounding dirt, wilted tree trunks and rocks were scribblings of stars, stick figures seemingly meant to be ponies, bells, and unidentifiable monsters. Over on the left, she sat ominously quiet, facing away from everyone.

"Not good." Luna solemnly attested. But still, the rest walked over, ready for more talking.

"What do you want?" Twilight coldly asked, noticing their presence, but refusing to shift.

"We want to get out of here and find a way to fix this mess." Spike answered, taking none of his sister's stony tone.

"Yeah, we've spent too long escaping! I wanna go home, and take it back!" Pinkie proclaimed.

"That would be a mistake." Twilight said, all gravelly. "We've already lost, and you know it. All of you."

"Don't be silly, Twilight." Spike rebuked.

"You know us better than that, darling." Rarity chimed in. "As long as we walk, we are not admitting defeat. Here, we'll help you think of something."

"After all, we can't save Equestria without you." Spike added.

"Save it? We can't. I can't. Never could, never was." Twilight scoffed.

"Listen, we know things look bad, but we've been in tough spots before, and we always toughed them out." Rainbow stated.

"Did any of them involve worldwide poisoning, a blizzard eating our home alive, an invincible warlock leading a monstrous invasion, or me losing my horn and wings forever, and soon the rest of myself?!" Twilight asked rhetorically, her rough pitch now rising ever so slightly, her head finally turning, and a scowl from her one-eyed face entering everyone's line of sight.

"Well, n-no..." Rainbow stammered.

"I understand, you're not in good health, so you're not thinking clearly." said Applejack.

"Are you kidding? I've never thought more clearly in my life." Twilight replied with a sarcastic laugh.

"If only there was a book or scroll you could look through. That always got your-" Fluttershy thought out loud in longing.

"Look around! Didn't you notice?" Twilight angrily interrupted the kind pegasus, stretching her hooves out. She had her attention on all of the ponies, and the small dragon. "Let me spell it out: nothing we've ever done has mattered!" After that, she decided to walk around, wincing more from the painful steps.

"Say what?!" Rainbow gasped.

"Okay, I know that's the Malice talking!" Applejack remarked.

"Ugh, you don't get it!" Twilight growled. "It was one thing when we couldn't stop Grogar and his forces from destroying Canterlot! It was another thing when we tried to get the clans to stop fighting, and all they wanted to do was fight, whine and make Celestia, Luna and I play favourites! It was yet another thing when we were cornered on Mount Everhoof before we could get some sleep! But then... well, you heard that demon!"

"You mean what he said about, uh, knowing us?" Rainbow guessed. She, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity and Fluttershy remembered Grogar's words pretty well, as if they heard it yesterday. None of the opposition they faced in the wilderness could jumble their memories on such a revelation.

"He's been setting up trials for us the whole time, even though he was supposed to be cut off from the surface!" Twilight explained. "All of our successes were manufactured! Nothing we did was really amounting to anything, just leading us into a trap!" Finished, she planted her head into a scribble-covered rock in defeat, and hard enough to feel a spike of pain that made her squeal like a pig.

"Twilight, that's enough crazy talk!" Rarity yelled. "Just because an old savage might have planned out almost everything we've been through to destroy us, that doesn't mean our victories were fake! And I know fake!"

"Also, we're all here, free, together, looking out for one another." Pinkie noted. "Doesn't that matter?"

"I think our friendship has done enough. If what it's "accomplished" is any indication, it can only make things even worse." Twilight disdainfully commented, burying her face in her hooves, shedding more tears from her single, undamaged and uncovered eye. Pinkie looked on, offended by the choice of words.

"So what's the alternative? Sit around, mope and wait for the end like a quitter?" Rainbow scathingly inquired. "We have to do something!"

"Knock yourself out!" Twilight snarled. "This fiasco is more than we ever should've been forced to suffer!" She gritted her teeth and grumbled "Friendship is magic? What a lie." Applejack heard her spoken complaint and grunted with annoyance, stomping reflexively before taking steps closer.

"You want the truth, Twilight?" the farm pony began. "Bad things happen! No matter what you do, there's never going to be a time where everything's perfect! But that don't mean you quit trying!" Twilight lifted up slightly. On her obscured face, she made a sideways glare at Applejack, gnashing her teeth in frustration. As much as the Malice poison stung, another feeling willed her into ignoring it. She felt her intelligence was insulted.

"What do you think i've been learning?!" Twilight snapped in a sharp turn, which made the farmer jump back in fright. The way she glowered at her looked particularly hateful. "By the way, didn't you mention that if things were a little different, none of this horror show would've happened? None of this had to happen! I would've had the happiest day of my life otherwise! That's the truth!"

"So, if it could've been easily prevented, and the coronation was going fine before this all started, then our achievements were real." Spike argued.

"They sure didn't seem important to... him." Twilight growled at the thought of that mischeivous and destructively secretive draconequus.

"Well, this wasn't his fault... entirely." Fluttershy pointed out in defense.

"Excuses, excuses." Twilight muttered, having grown more than weary of Fluttershy's bottomless optimism over Discord, seeing the pegasus as a hopeless wishful thinker. "Give them a rest, will you?" She added, at which her kind friend frowned and groaned indignantly.

Luna, standing in the shadows of the trees, was finding it hard to watch someone like Twilight Sparkle, the champion of all that was friendly and magical, speaking to her closest companions like they were never actually people she held dear, either as friends or an extended family, but as if they were a bunch of idiots kids she babysat for the better part of her life and all treated their nanny like trash.

"But you know what? The more i've thought about it, the more I realize he wasn't the only one I can blame." said Twilight in a spell of clarity. "Luna?"

"Yes, Twilight?" Luna answered, walking into view.

"Yeah, don't think I didn't notice you. Come here." Twilight urged the night princess darkly.

"If there's anything you need, i'll provide it the best I can." said Luna.

"Just one thing. You and Celestia. You both knew the story, correct?" Twilight asked. "What Gusty the Great achieved, what Grogar's reign was like, what happened at the end, and what Malice Magic was capable of?"

"Yes, but why do you ask?" Luna queried, confused.

"Because. You kept that from us." Twilight replied, shaking with anger. "That would've been nice to talk about earlier. Maybe even to write down and send to me in a scroll. Just saying, something that important is worth touching upon, preferably centuries ahead."

"We couldn't do that, Twilight." Luna stressed. "It was a vow passed on through generations. None of us knew he would break free, so why would we ever need to bring it up?"

"Oh, I don't know, perhaps so we could make preparations?" Twilight suggested in a snarl. "Study Malice Magic to develop a cure? Learn how to tame all the monsters? Find some way to banish that bell from existence for good? Something?"

"Absolutely not! It's too dangerous!" Luna affirmed, losing some of her patience.

"And you were too cowardly to take the risk despite that!" Twilight bellowed. "You know what you and so many before us have done for the past millenia? You let fear control your actions and decisions! You looked out for yourselves before everypony else, and for no reason! Guess that's one unified collective! What a history lesson!" Then, like lightning, her hooves smacked against her bandaged forehead.

Luna stood as still as a statue in stunned silence.

"Stop it, stop it, stop it!" Pinkie complained, coming between the two princesses. "The mood's sour enough, nopony wants more of this negativity!"

"Well, too bad. We'd all be better off if more creatures just paid attention to details." Twilight hissed.

"Pardon me, but about "fear controlling actions and decision", what do you call this then?" Applejack mentioned at the implications of hypocrisy the younger alicorn was giving off.

"Being realistic." Twilight robotically responded. "It's been seven days, and we don't know where we are, other than really, really far away from where we started, running for our lives. I'm one eye short, and yet only I clearly see the problem here?"

"I'm sorry, Twilight." Luna, now out of her silent stupor, murmured. "I see your point, and I understand if you think my sister and I have failed you miserably in our duties."

"I know you did. Ever since I first discovered the value of friendship, I had grown and changed the world, one baby step at a time." Twilight described her long life's journey. "I was just gaining confidence that I would lead Equestria into a better future when I took over. Then I find out that it was all a series of twisted games. The kicker? It proved that the concept I represent, what destiny chose for me, is an enormous struggle for little reward, because it's so stinking fragile. What kind of princess does that make me?" She sobbed uncontrollably when she was done.

"Huh. Not my idea of going out." Rainbow snarked.

"You said it." Spike agreed.

"As it stands, the position of royalty is completely worthless." Twilight assessed. "One thing's for certain, and it's that i'm lost... i'm tired... i'm hurting to no end... i'm terrified out of my mind... everything is broken, and we have no advantage, no matter how you slice it." The demoralization in her voice couldn't be more palpable, and after hearing it for this length of time, her friends almost didn't recognize her as Twilight any longer. Choking up, face scrunched and glowing red from the sorrow, she put a question forth: "What am I supposed to do?"

Applejack and the other ponies stared at Twilight like they had seen a most shockingly horrifying ghost. None of them had seen her destroyed before, not just physically, but mentally. Their group's leader always managed to rebound from the brink of utter failure. Each time, she'd get back up when she was knocked down, knowing how much Equestria depended on the success of her plans and their teamwork. It seemed like a day such as this, where she threw in the towel and wrote off friendship as a farce, would never come. Who knew basic faith in love and trust would be wishful thinking?

Spike, however, was more familiar with this defeatist attitude. The image of his sister planted on a rock, nothing left on her mind to set things right, reminded him all too well of the Storm King's invasion, and the wasted trek they made to Mount Aris just to find any hope of turning the tide in their favour. The anger she felt when her friends called her out on trying to steal the Hippogriffs' Pearl of Transformation while they were distracting Queen Novo, and then the shame when she alienated her friends and realized that she made a terrible mistake that doomed their world to an eternity of servitude and ruin, topped by her kidnapping at the hooves of the then-wicked Commander Tempest, an event that crippled the little dragon with the fear that he had lost a member of his family forever, and the proceeding argument would be the last talk Twilight ever had with her loved ones.

But that ordeal was like stubbing a toe in comparison to the nightmare in which he and the others lived at this very moment. Heck, putting the late Storm King next to Grogar was like matching up an angry baby bunny with a rabid dog.

Amidst the quiet contemplation, Fluttershy stepped towards Twilight, uncertain if she could alleviate the emotional damage, fearful of how the young princess would react, but at least sure that she needed to say something. Just give what she was about to do one try. Slowly, she lifted her hoof onto her royal friend's slumped shoulder.

"I've known for the longest time how hard it is to find hope in the darkness." said Fluttershy warmly. "But thanks to all of you, i've learned that it's always a lot easier when i'm with my friends."

"I know, Fluttershy." Twilight dryly responded, sounding rather dismissive.

"If we're facing impossible odds, we're facing them to-" Rainbow added.

"Together, I know. Togetherness is great, woohoo..." Twilight finished for the pegasus, adding a tinge of sarcasm.

"It's what we always-" said Rarity.

"BUT. We're all alone, and up a creek." Twilight interrupted, sounding more and more irritated.

"That's true pretty much every time something terrible-" Pinkie affirmed with a smooth slide underneath the alicorn.

"Oh no, i'm just Twilighting again, aren't I?" Twilight venomously sang in pretend self-deprecation. "You're thinking it: "Twilight, stop freaking out!", and "Oh Twilight, let me roll my eyes and smack my muzzle at how you're blowing this out of proportion!", and all that junk!" Her cherry on top of that word sundae was a gagging sound. "Seriously, how aren't any of you Twilighting?"

"Because even if you don't think you can do this, we do." Spike answered, wrapping his arm around his big sister comfortably. "We-"

"You believe in me and yourselves, cool, tell me something I don't know." Twilight grumbled in increasing vexation.

"The truth is, all our lives wouldn't be the same if we hadn't met." Applejack continued the string of assurance patiently.

"I know I know I know." Twilight growled.

"We're better off because of our friendship-"

"With me, yes." Twilight finished for Applejack, and then argued.

"So when you say you haven't made a difference-"

"No relevance." Twilight hissed in questioning.

"You've made-"

"I don't want to hear anymore!" Twilight barked.

"Look, Twi, we're just-" Rainbow, infuriated, tried to explain.

"Trying to make me feel better, I. KNOW!" Twilight lashed out. "Do you think i'm stupid?!" Everyone, even Luna, apprehensively stepped back.

"Well, sorry for helping." Fluttershy bitterly uttered.

"I haven't forgotten what i've done, okay? It was a lot. The ponies and creatures i've helped to make happy, including you, how beneficial it's been to the world, the bonds that have gotten stronger, and the powerful team we've made. I realize I have a positive track record, hence me being chosen to rule Equestria." Twilight announced in a sharp glare. "But what good is it to remember the things i've done then?"

"EVERY BIT OF GOOD!" Spike and the other ponies exclaimed.

"You can pepper your pep talks wih my laundry list of goodwill, best plans and happiest moments all you want, that was the past." Twilight criticized. "It's not going to help us now. You want to find a way, and take a shot at stopping those jerks, think in the moment! I can't believe I have to tell you that, but somepony has to knock you out of this juvenile nostalgia!"

Nobody present could believe it for even an instant. To hear their longtime friend call their well-intentioned speeches and reminders "juvenile nostalgia" and brush it all off like they were patronizing her, it didn't feel fair to them at all. In fact, she started to sound like the Horses of the Apocalypse; like a villain in the making. By this point, they had run out of things to say to her. They spoke from the bottoms of their hearts, and Twilight didn't appreciate it.

"You're no fun." Pinkie whispered, slowly moving her head back and forth.

"Perhaps this is a case where friendship is indeed fragile." said Applejack to the rest of her allies.

"So. Rude." Rarity emphasized spitefully.

"Who is this sad pony?" Rainbow questioned to herself.

"Alright, if you don't want to figure out anything to save the day, fine, because the seven of us know how to take initiative anyway." said Spike authoritively. "The team needs to a leader, and a leader needs a team who will press on to the very end."

Twilight stared at her dragon brother through reddened, glaring eyes. She had no visible faith in his commanding assertion. But without a hint of figurative malice, she simply asked him "Then tell me. What can do we right now?"

"We don't know." Spike answered honestly and immediately. He got a scoff from his equine sister for that, but ignored it. "We'll never find out if we stop, so buck up and have faith in the light among the darkness, for as long as your body allows. We refuse to be deterred, and if we fail while giving it our all, then at least we'll fall in a blaze of glory."

"You said it." Rainbow complimented.

"What pluck." Twilight moaned. "How do you take charge when I can't?"

"Hey, that's just what siblings are for." Spike asserted, lightly pounding his chest. "Furthermore, that's what royal advisors are for." Those two words describing his title, on him which the Princess of Friendship bestowed last week before doomsday went down, got a bit of a chuckle out of Twilight. She didn't feel better, but at least found humor in this all-too-familiar "noble dragon" behaviour.

"I don't mean to break up the moment, but we've been camping here long enough." Luna opined. To make sure Twilight wouldn't be left behind, or think of staying, she telekinetically lifted the poor crippled alicorn onto her back to give her a ride. "The monsters and zombies have been on our trail for all these miles, I doubt they'll stop for anything." Applejack, Pinkie, Rarity, Fluttershy, Rainbow and Spike nodded in agreement, like soldiers working as a singular mind.

Which works better? This:

Or this:

11371820
Oh yes they did. Needless to say, the road to recovery won't be short.

Back in the earth pony bunker, Princess Celestia, in her weakened, devolved state, was reawakening.

"Uh... uh..." she moaned, slowly lifting her heavy eyelids and taking a little breath.

"Oh my stars!" Rusty Bucket, still watching over her, exclaimed.

"Oh!" Celestia yipped, quickly opening her eyes in surprise.

"Ma'am, you're awake!" Rusty Bucket cried out. "I knew I didn't drag you out of that blizzard for nothing!"

"What?" Celestia uttered quietly in confusion. "I'm... not... but how? Where... am I? Who... are you?"

"Ah, where are my manners?" Rusty Bucket sheepishly took note of. "Rusty Bucket, guardian of Mount Everhoof, at your service."

Celestia, cracking a smile, assured him "You.. have my... thanks."

"I was hiding from all these crazy creatures that were fighting Princess Twilight, Princess Luna and their friends, when I saw you laying in the snow." Rusty elaborated. "After they all left, I picked you up, but my humble abode was destroyed, so I looked for shelter to save you from the Windigo storm until I found some other earth ponies, and followed them to this place."

"Twilight? What... happened... to her?" Celestia asked worriedly.

"I don't know, it was hard to follow." Rusty replied. "But she and the other nice visitors were out of there before the nasty ones were."

Celestia quietly took in the rest of the information, before she murmured "I was afraid of this. That was no ordinary blizzard; the legends were true all along." Suddenly, she had regainined her speaking strength. She rose from her resting spot. "The Windigos appearing means that the ponies are completely divided, and their icy magic will devour Equestria."

"Hate to break it to you, but they already have for the past week." Rusty declared solemnly.

"Oh Luna, my dear sister. Be safe, and take care of our friends." Celestia prayed.

"Don't know what became of her. She just up and-" said Rusty, only to stop at what was implied before him. "Wait a minute. Luna, your sister?" He gasped, and exclaimed "You're Princess Celestia!?" At this surprise, he felt as if he made a mistake. His means to correct it was to bow and plant his face in the bunker floor, a classic I am not worthy gesture.

"Hey, corner pony, what did you say?" a stallion inquired a small distance away.

"It sounded like he said "Celestia" over there." Cheerilee thought out loud.

"Earth ponies, i'm glad you've been holding up well." Celestia sighed in relief. The rest of the ponies looking at her changed from interested to perplexed.

"You're Celestia?" the cynical mare from before said in disbelief.

"Why are you a unicorn?" Mrs. Cake asked.

"A unicorn?" Celestia questioned. She looked at the sides of her body on instinct, then it all made sense. "So, i've been reverted to my past self by Grogar's spell."

"There is no Grogar!" the cynical mare abruptly cried.

"But I have no core. What rejuvenated me? Is this... an illusion?" Celestia puzzled.

"See, until now, you were out the whole time." Rusty clarified. "Just minutes ago, this phoenix broke in and flew onto you, as if you attracted it. It laid down, looking pretty sad, radiated this blinding light, cried this haunting song, and next thing you know - it's gone. If I had to guess, you've made good friends with a phoenix or two, and it brought you back to consciousness?"

Hearing this explanation, and knowing the cause of her revival, brought a name out of Celestia's lips she hadn't said in ages. "Philomena..."

"I heard from one of those unicorns that you gave yourself up!" Mrs. Cake brought up. The depowered Sun Princess paid attention.

"Did you really abandon everypony?" Mr. Cake asked.

"What?" Celestia gasped.

"Where were you when we had to escape from this terrible snowstorm?" Cheerilee queried.

"I bet she didn't want to bear the weight of ruling us anymore, so she left us to do all the painful work." the cynical mare opined.

"It's not like that!" Celestia retorted.

"You had the choice to protect us from this disaster, and from them, and you chose yourself!" the stallion from earlier accused.

"I was helping Twilight and her friends!" Celestia shouted.

"Then why did you run along home to Canterlot, and put on a fireworks show?" Mayor Mare wondered.

"What was so important about your date with this "Grogar" we've heard about?" Mrs. Cake grilled.

"I only tried to protect my friends from my own worst self, and light up a sign of hope." Celestia explained.

"Ha! Ain't that just typical of you, Princess." Granny Smith laughed derisively. "Sitting idly by and only doing what makes you feel like you're helping."

"Oh yeah, that's actually true. She's never been as helpful as we thought." the farmer stallion.

"Come to think of it, we've faced so many great crises, and she never lifted a hoof to take care of them." Mayor Mare commented. "It's always another's job."

"You and Princess Luna were supposed to run this country, but you never understood the struggle of the common pony!" Cheerilee scolded.

"She's a fraud, and her sister too!" Mr. Cake exclaimed.

"You're as bad as all the other horned mares and stallions!” Mrs. Cake seethed.

“ENOUGH!” Rusty yawped. Nobody objected to him, they just backed off and grew silent.

“Listen, I have faced Grogar, and what he did to me, he’s doing to all that you love.” Celestia detailed. “Whatever you do, you cannot go near him. We need Twilight and the-”

“Argh! Fine, say he does exist: he didn’t make you run away from your responsibilities, did he?” that same mare of highly cynical, skeptical nature mused.

“And we’re done waiting for Princess Twilight to resolve this.” Mayor Mare chimed back in. “It’s us against those with wings, the horned ones, and the Windigos. None of this is friendship versus dark powers anymore. This... is war.”

“You darn tootin’ it is.” Granny Smith agreed.

Celestia’s face contorted with anger and disappointment in the earth ponies. She immediately buried it in her hooves as if to hide a dangerous fire it was lighting up. Rusty consoled her, feeling similar disappointment, seeing as he wasn’t too familiar with having so many to interact with. If it’s this bad with the pegasi and unicorns as well, the soul is truly gone, she thought grimly.

At this moment, I'm glad that Rusty Bucket is one of the few ponies who still believes and has hope. But having the other Earth ponies outright blame Celestia and Luna for not doing a better job at ruling Equestria while refusing to acknowledge how quick they themselves were to give in to paranoia? I wouldn't be surprised if Grogar outright told his associates and/or his enemies that the brain of a pony was comparatively the size of a stress ball.

This is my opinion, but I picture either Patrick Stewart or Jay Baruchel voicing Scorpan if he made an appearance in FiM.

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