• Published 11th Nov 2021
  • 2,228 Views, 78 Comments

A New Generation - Hakuno

Sunny and friends united the three pony races. Now they have to go on another adventure to restore Equestria's former glory.

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Chapter III - Expanding World

Chapter 3: Expanding World

The Heart of the Brave covered the horizon with thick foliage of vibrant green trees. The transition from desert to oasis felt like going from one house to another. Even the air was humid instead of dry, which was good, because Zipp and Pipp had finished all their water, and Izzy had needed Sunny to lend her one of her two canteens left.

Two guards stood at either side of the large cobblestone path that started at a very off-looking sign that read ‘Welcome to The Heart of the Brave’. Sunny had honestly not expected to see a sign in the middle of the desert or a path that reminded her of Syrup Avenue back in Maretime Bay.

The guards bowed to their princesses, but otherwise didn’t move or say anything as the group entered the oasis. Sunny felt her hooves lightening with every step across the greenery. It was off.. Her hooves were still sore and her legs still definitely ached, but it was as though some… core was filling, replenishing to keep her upright through all of it. Izzy, on the other hoof, looked about to pass out.

“Do you need help, Izzy?” Sunny asked.

“I’m ok,” Izzy replied with a raspy voice. “Just… tired.”

Pipp gave Izzy a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, Izzy. The crowning site isn’t much farther. Just fifteen more minutes.”

Izzy groaned pitifully, her head hanging low, her ears dropped.

Sunny looked towards the path, then back at Izzy, and took a deep breath. She placed herself in front of Izzy and stopped. Izzy, head drooping straight down, softly collided with her, then lifted her head to see what she had hit. Her eyes were barely open.

“Hop on in,” Sunny said, nodding to her back. “I’ll carry you the rest of the way.”

Izzy’s eyes opened wide. “Oh, I’m ok! You don’t have to—”

But Sunny interrupted by quickly walking to Izzy’s side, ducking below the mare and hefting her on her back. Izzy let out the cutest surprised… something Sunny had ever heard. More of an ‘eyoop’ than anything with a real name. Uniquely, perfectly Izzy. “Take a nap, get some rest.” And with that, she resumed her walking among her friends, all casting her variously intrigued looks.

Hitch gave her the smuggiest of grins. “Smooth.”

“Shut up,” she whispered to him. Izzy finally let herself relax, and Sunny blushed at how comfortable the larger mare’s weight felt on her. And how the air became suddenly… minty in her mouth. Hitch’s smile only grew, and she decided to ignore him.

Even with the comfortable touch of grasses under her hooves, Sunny couldn’t shake a sense of… difference about the place. The foliage wasn’t nearly as thick as a forest like Bridlewood, maybe because of the strange collection of plants Zipp had called ‘cacti’ that lined the path, almost decorative in their straightness, while more familiar trees like palms and fruit trees extended beyond. The sun still hit hard, but the trees provided a fresher shadow than the parasol.

Very soon, on the horizon, Sunny could see a rather small mountain—more a hill, if with steep sides—that rose above the trees. It looked like it was made of sharp rocks, with small brown plants and the occasional patch of grass covering it. It somehow looked strange against the rest of the oasis, even if it was Sunny’s first time in one.

After a while, just like Pipp had said, they arrived at a wide clearing of pristine green grass where a large block of rock stood at the center like an atrium. Beautiful flowers in hues Sunny had never seen before grew in neat circles around it. All of it was surrounded by a narrow river that seemed to run underground from and around the base of the hill, which rose right behind the atrium, casting a large shadow that chilled the air.

“Well, we’re here,” Zipp announced as she crossed the tiny bridge between the clearing and the rest of the oasis. “What do you say we take a break?”

They all nodded, and Sunny carefully helped Izzy to the ground, where the mare stretched her four legs towards the air and grunted. Sunny heard pops coming from her limbs, wondering how she could sound both burdened and yet lighter than air on her ears. Pipp sat by the atrium-like rock and took a photo of herself with the hill behind her, although from this close, it looked more like a steep rock wall. Hitch, on his part, inspected one of the bright pink flowers near the river.

“Are you feeling better, Izzy?” Sunny asked as Izzy rolled this way and the other, limbs flopping over herself, smiling.

“Hmm yeah,” Izzy replied with a sigh, mane whisking out of her eyes. “Thanks for the ride. It was just what I needed.”

“No problem.”

Zipp walked up next to Sunny, smirking. “With how much you bounce everywhere, one would’ve thought you’d have more stamina than this, Izzy.”

Izzy kept smiling as she rolled over onto her stomach, legs stretched as far as she could. “This grass feels nice,” she chirped, smoothing it down a hoof and humming sweetly.

“So, what do we do now?” Pipp said as she placed her phone under her wing. “Do you want to eat first before taking out the crystals?”

Sunny nodded, feeling a low rumbling in her stomach. “We don’t know what will happen, so I vote for having lunch now.”

With a unanimous vote, they began setting up. Zipp and Pipp flew to the trees to gather fruit, while Hitch and Sunny laid down the blanket Hitch had been carrying. Izzy, breathing ever so slightly more easily, rolled onto her stomach and lit up her horn, helping the pegasi grab some fruit and levitate it towards the blanket.

They ate in relative silence. While Zipp and Pipp were used to the trek, the other three of the group were left exhausted and famished. Izzy, especially, had not moved from her spot on the grass and simply let her magic bring the juicy treats to her mouth to ever louder hums. Sunny delicately chewed her lip, wishing she too could simply lie down and let magic do things for her.

As they finished, Sunny felt a shift of sorts in the expressions of her friends. Tighter. More glances to their surroundings. There was an air of expectation and nervousness. She couldn’t blame them—her own heart had been thundering the whole day, beyond her efforts. With a silent agreement from everypony, Sunny placed her saddle on the blanket and gently took out the Unity Crystals, as they had begun to call them. Ever since Fluttershy and that Discord creature had appeared a few days ago, Sunny had found herself being more and more delicate with them. After all, they had mentioned Twilight Sparkle herself had created them. Her hero and role model had given her life to give ponykind a last chance. They were desperately important!

Sunny carefully placed them down on the blanket, assembling them in their unified form. The group watched them for a few seconds. Nothing happened.

“Maybe we should stop expecting them to magically activate just by putting them together,” Hitch said.

“Oh! Try giving a speech!” Izzy suggested with a raised hoof, smile at full beam. “That seemed to work last time!”

Zipp chuckled. “I don’t think they need speeches,” she said, gently tapping her hoof to her chin.

“Last time it worked after Sunny convinced the three races to work together,” Pipp said. “Maybe we should try replicating that?”

“But we’re already working together,” Sunny replied with a frown, hoof tapping on the ground. “We all want magic to return completely.” She glared at the inert crystals. Fluttershy had said they’d know what to do, but Sunny didn’t need to look at her friends to know that nopony had any ideas. She idly placed a hoof on the Earth Pony crystal, wishing she had more to go than cryptic clues.

“So why aren’t they working now?” Hitch asked.

Sunny shook her head. “I don’t know… But we didn’t even need to put them together last time, just… work together as ponies…” Sunny hummed, raising a hoof to her chin. “What if they just wanted us to be friends for longer?”

A dim glow passed through the three crystals in a circular wave from her hoof. Izzy gasped, having seen what had happened.

“What does that mean?” Zipp asked. “Do they really want us to just bond here? Right now?”

Pipp tapped an end of the Pegasus crystal. Nothing happened. “I don’t think that’s it. Friendship can’t be forced.” Sunny blinked and Pipp rounded on her so quickly it may have been audible. “What? I may not have been into all these old legends, but I know ponies, Sunny!” She grinned, and Sunny countered with a softer, more sheepish one of her own. “Besides,” Pipp continued, “it’s pretty obvious just how counterproductive it’d be to make anyone bond, let alone us.” At that, another glow flowed from her hoof to the rest of the crystals. She gasped.

“We’re on to something,” Hitch announded, lowering his head to inspect the Earth Pony crystal. “They do want us to do something or… Or to understand something.” He carefully placed his hoof next to Sunny’s, touching the Earth Pony crystal. “But it does have to do with our friendship.”

Zipp was next in touching the other end of the Pegasus crystal. “They glowed when Sunny mentioned the amount of time we’ve been friends, and again when Pipp said we shouldn’t force things.”

Hitch nodded. “Maybe they want us to think about the future? Just because we get along doesn’t mean we’ll be friends forever?” A third glow shot in a circular fashion from his hoof, and he grinned. Sunny… tried to. She did, but she couldn’t stop the sudden weight in her chest at just how easily that had come to him.

Hitch was a practical pony. That was all, she could remind herself.

“Maybe,” Izzy said with a smile, tapping the Unicorn crystal. “Maybe it has to do less with questioning our friendship, and more with searching for ways to improve it.” She looked at a wave of sparkling glow shooting from her hoof, igniting a peal of giggles from the unicorn.

Sunny felt herself stand taller as her cheeks bunched. That was far more like it!

“Yeah…” Zipp said, eyes scanning the ground. “Just…” Her lips tweaked. “Just because Pipp and I are sisters, it doesn’t mean we’re friends.” She looked at her sister, and got in return a wide, confused stare. “We don’t always get along, and we both say things to each other that we regret. But we’ve managed to overcome many hardships!" With a deep sigh, she shuffled closer to Pipp until they were nearly touching, hoof determinedly resting on the crystal. “You were right,” she squeaked, gently extending a wing to wrap it wholly around her sister’s barrel. “I didn’t apologize properly for abandoning you in the spotlight two weeks ago. But that ends now, and I’m truly, truly sorry. I love you, Pipp.” Blinking rapidly, she flicked her eyes away from her sister’s. “I don’t think I say that enough.”

Pipp was the only one to ignore the glow that shot from Zipp’s hoof. She looked away in the other direction, eyes hidden behind her mane. “I’m sorry for being so angry at you. I just… I felt so betrayed when I saw you leaving with strangers instead of helping me…” She pushed herself against Zipp, who tightened her wing around her fiercely but gently. “I mean, I even get why you did it, you didn’t really have any other way and you were right, but…” She pressed her lips together for a moment. “I don’t think I can forgive you just yet, but…” She turned to look at Zipp and smiled. “Thank you.”

Hitch shook his head and closed his eyes. “I… I also have something to say.” He looked at Sunny, and she felt a chill run down her spine. No… Hitch had always been there for her! “I wasn’t the best friend to you, Sunny. All those years trying to convince ponies that unity was the way… Not only did I never quite believe you, but I didn’t exactly stop anyone else from going against you.” He sighed, eyes very deliberately pulling away from Sunny. “All those times Sprout disrupted playtime…” His shoulders rose again with another firm jet of air. “And it’s not like I was on-board when we were recovering the crystals. Even though I had heard everything you ever said about them, I still spent half the trip sniping at you.” Slowly, he glanced at the rest of the group in turn, lingering a heartbeat longer on Zipp. “All of you … I’m sorry.”

Sunny mouthed silently for a moment. She hadn’t even thought about it. Had Hitch been hiding that this whole time? She let her eyes fall closed, lips pursing. Even if he hadn’t fully believed her… he never stopped her. And he had never let her down. Not once. Besides… she had thought he was wrong, too. “I… It’s ok, Hitch. I don’t blame you.”

He smiled, and she smiled with him. She then looked at Izzy, only to find her looking down. Izzy was still smiling, but… something cold lay deep in those shimmering eyes. “What’s wrong, Izzy?”

Izzy looked up at her with wide eyes, as though she hadn’t just looked like a lost puppy. She then noticed everypony looking at her, and she sighed. “It’s just… I mean… I never had friends, growing up back in Bridlewood…” she paused, voice wobbly and eyes shimmering. “I don’t know how to deepen bonds, or even make them in the first place!” She sniffled and Sunny felt something shatter. “I feel like I’m not going to be of much use…”

Sunny felt a knot in her throat, and she leaned over, forcing herself not to scowl. “Don’t say that, Izzy!” She pressed her free hoof against Izzy’s, heart soaring at the jump in the unicorn’s brows. “You’re our friend! We’re all learning new things here!” She nodded firmly. “You’ll learn from us just as much as we’ll learn from you.”

As the others nodded and gave Izzy words of encouragement, Sunny repressed the urge to pounce at her unicorn friend and hug her. Izzy was a happy mare, and seeing her down was… well it just felt wrong. Yes, she was her own mare with her own troubles and worries and strife, but was it so wrong to want to shield her from all that? Or at least be there for her through it?. To want to scoop her aside and snuggle her and tell her how wonderful she was and— Not the time, she chastised herself.

Her internal musings were interrupted by the glow of the crystals, which seemed to have become continuous after Zipp had apologized to Pipp. Sunny had initially thought it had just been more waves, or maybe the reflection of the sun, but it now was too strong to ignore. And her friends seemed to think so too, as they all stopped talking and narrowed their eyes to just keep looking at the crystals.

They glowed, and as seconds passed, the light they emitted shone brighter and more colorful, so much that Sunny had to close her eyes. She almost retrieved her hoof to cover them as her eyes ached from the sheet intensity of the glare, but she refused to stop touching the crystals. Instead, she turned her face away, hoping her friends would do the same.

A huge tremor shook the earth beneath their hooves, forcing Sunny to the ground and away from the crystals. Yelps and cries filled her ears as everypony fell. The ground vibrated below and yet somehow below itself, and Sunny heard a sound that was only vaguely real, but she couldn’t bring herself to imagine what might cause it as the world itself shook.

Sunny felt her whole body tingle, much in the same way it had felt when Discord had made his presence known at the Pony Congress. She briefly wondered what it meant, but then the light subsided, and she dared open her eyes. Her first instinct was to look for the crystals… Only to see that they had disappeared.

“What happened?!” She cried, feeling her heart skip a beat and her stomach heat up. No... What would this mean for magic?

A loud rumbling sound reverberated around her, and it reminded her of the sound her father’s lighthouse had made when Sprout’s contraption had demolished it. Like a ram smashing through stone.

“What was that?” Pipp asked, phone back in her hoof and pointing around.

Zipp had made the sensible idea of taking flight, her wings fluttering her hooves a few inches from the ground. Hitch, for his part, had helped Izzy to her hooves, and was now looking around. Sunny walked up to Izzy.

“I-Is this what was supposed to happen?” Izzy asked, her voice trembling with nervous laughter.

“Watch out!” Zipp yelled, and Sunny turned her head in time to see a small rockslide falling from almost the closest end of the hill to them. Pipp took flight and helped Zipp drag the non-fliers away from the debris. The falling rocks didn’t do much more than raise some dust, but they still needed to be careful.

When the air finally cleared, Pipp returned to the ground settling next to Sunny with lips pursed and eyes rounder than wheels. “Well, that was terrifying,” she breathed out. She had her phone close to her chest, but didn’t seem to be doing anything with it.

Izzy stepped forward and pointed a hoof upwards. “Hey, isn’t that a gemstone?”

Sunny followed the hoof’s direction. There, where the rockslide had started, was a large emerald in the shape of a half circle. It was hard to tell from the distance, but it looked to be as big as the average Earth Pony mare.

“Well, at least something did happen,” Hitch muttered.

“Alright, so we got a crystal,” Zipp said, still hovering over the ground. “Now what?”

Before anypony could think to reply, a hiss of steam gouted from a section of the wall, shooting into the air like an array of horizontal geysers, as if fit to announce royalty itself. Sunny stepped back but the steam, despite bursting out at great speed, quickly raised to the air and dispersed without any further drama. All it managed was to make the environment a lot warmer.

Sunny looked up at the crystal again, and saw a dark spot in its center. A dark spot that centered on her. A dark spot that seemed to follow her eye-line. She felt her stomach fall and her blood freeze as she realized that it was no crystal. “Guys…” She spluttered. She stepped back again on jittery hooves.

“Sunny?” Izzy said, turning to look at her, meeting her hoof. “What’s wrong?”

As everypony looked at her, she simply pointed a hoof at the emerald orb. “That’s not a gemstone.”

Zipp frowned and looked at it. “What do you…” She went silent for a second, brows rocketing skyward. “Hoofness…”

“Is that…” Pipp breathed, dropping her phone and stepping back. “Is that an eye?”

The sound of hooves alerted them to the four guards that arrived galloping from the main path. “Your Highnesses, are you alright?” said one of them.

Another wave of steam shot out from the wall. Sunny stepped closer to Izzy and pressed their shoulders together. She told herself she wanted to reassure Izzy, but she needed the comfort herself. She felt Izzy press against her barrel, a tremor passing through the larger mare.

Then another sound. This time, Sunny thought it was like a hundred ponies galloping on cobblestones. It took her more than she’d be willing to admit to realize that among the thundering noise there were actual words.

“Little… ponies…” The… hill said.

“This can’t be happening…” Pipp squeaked. The guards positioned themselves next to her and Zipp, raising their spears towards the hill.

Another wave of steam. “What… year… is… it…”

Sunny looked at Hitch, who looked back with the same bewildered expression she knew she was sporting herself, jaws both flapping gormlessly. “Uhm… 2246,” she said.

“What?” Zipp asked. “Wasn’t Maretime Bay founded barely 300 years ago? Why does your calendar have more years than ours?”

“We… We still use the Celestial Calendar…” Sunny replied. “It’s one of the reasons my dad started his research on ancient Equestria…”

Izzy piped in with a smile but an uncharacteristically shaky voice. “It’s 567 in Unicorn years.”

The rumbling voice interrupted whatever Zipp was going to say next. “I… see…”

Sunny gulped, but it did nothing to moisten her throat. She took a deep breath and a step forward. “Uhm… Mister Hill? We… We were sent here by Fluttershy. She said we needed to bring the Unity Crystals here to help return Equestria’s glory.”

The very large eye closed for a few seconds, deep lines forming where it had once been, then opened up again with the sound of rock scraping itself, and the pupil focused on her. “The… Unity Crystals?” Another rumbling sound, as though the earth itself might split apart. “They… woke me up…” the voice seemed… harsher, more guttural even at its depth-plumbing pitch, “these crystals?”

Sunny nodded, the quivers dampening in her hooves. This… hill knew about the Crystals! “Y-Yes. We brought them here. Then they shone brightly and disappeared. That’s when you, uhm… woke up.”

Another wave of steam, this time larger and slower, as if it was being dragged out. Sunny could feel the air getting warmer by the second. It was uncomfortable, but not to the point of being painful. “I… Understand…” The hill said, and Sunny thought it sounded… gloomy?

“So…” Izzy leaned in, cheek pressing against Sunny’s. “In ancient Equestria, hills could talk?” she asked in a low voice, probably intended for only Sunny to hear.

The hill, however, heard that. And it rumbled deeply. “I am not… a hill…” Another wave of steam shot from the wall. “I am… a dragon…”

Sunny felt the hairs on her nape and back stand up. “Sorry, what?”

The four guards, doing their best to hide their wobbly knees, stepped in front of each princess. Zipp ignored them as she frowned at the eye. “A dragon? Really? Even if we believed that, how do you explain being here, not eating nor drinking water for, what? A thousand years?”

“Magical… hibernation…” grunted the hill… or dragon. “In order to… protect the Heart… Twilight cast this… spell on me…”

“Twilight Sparkle?” Hitch asked with a raised eyebrow. “Why would she put you to sleep like this?”

More steam came from the wall. It suddenly hit Sunny that this was actually the creature’s breath. Maybe… it truly was a dragon. “I asked her to…”

“What?” Zipp blurted, eyes and wings wide. “Why?”

The hill-slash-dragon took several seconds to reply, the ground rumbling in the near silence. “If only the Heart survived… no creature would know what to do with it… I had to be present… to guide you…”

“Guide us where?” Sunny asked. “How does this help recover Equestria’s magic?”

Another tremor, this time stronger than before. Sunny almost fell as the ground shook beneath her hooves. Where the atrium stood broke, rifts tearing the ground all the way to the circular river, where the water roiled with so much force it was foaming.

The four guards carried Izzy and Sunny to the air, while Zipp and Pipp took Hitch with them, their hooves barely clearing the atrium as it fell apart in a cloud of dust. Moments later, a huge rock broke through the hardened soil, rising like a tent above the clearing. Two more rocks, both of which followed the first one towards the dragon, burst from the ground, lifting the earth and raining dirt and pebbles below.

Only then did Sunny realize the rocks were actually claws. Her jaw nearly hit the churned ground from there. The dragon had caused a whole earthquake by simply lifting three of them. When the dust settled, the dragon’s eye moved to look at the flying ponies.

“You…” Zipp wheezed, blinking rapidly but her eyes never leaving the spot beneath them. “You destroyed the crowning site…”

“Zipp,” Pipp croaked.

But Zipp interrupted her, finally levelling her thunderous gaze on the lone eye. “Do you have any idea how much this place means to us pegasi?!” She yelled. Sunny felt a chill from every strained flap of her wings. “We exist today because of this oasis, and you just…” Her throat caught for a moment, chin trembling before she bared her teeth once more. “How dare you?!”

“Zipp?” Hitch called her, daring to brush a hoof against her barrel. “I understand you’re mad, but maybe take me down before you fight the ancient dragon?”

The dragon breathed out, shooting another wave of steam. “I can only apologize… I did not think I would cause this… commotion… But the Heart needed to be safe… so I buried it… You built upon it…”

Zipp stared at the dragon’s eye for a few seconds, chest heaving, then at his raised claws. With narrowed eyes, she helped Pipp flutter Hitch back to earth, and the guards followed suit, gently lowering Sunny and Izzy.

“Queen Mistralia had the atrium built in this clearing,” Pipp began softly, eyes roving across the destruction, “because it was the prettiest part of the oasis. The perfectly circular river, the beautiful flowers, the emerald grass… It’s…” She glanced at her sister, who could only stare at the ground, propped up by stiff shoulders. “It was very different from the rest of the oasis, there had to be something special about this place.”

The dragon grunted, and it sounded like a landslide. “That something is the Crystal Heart… Even a thousand years later, it still works… drawing the surrounding love and channeling that energy to protect its surroundings… This one place was never burdened by the weather…”

“And you destroyed it…” Zipp muttered, eyes boring into an ornate fragment.

“Crystal!” Izzy exclaimed, beaming. Sunny looked at her, then at the direction Izzy was looking.

There, between the three huge rock-like claws, something shone despite its coating of dirt. A heart-shaped crystal glimmered under the endless sun, yet it’s blue light somehow felt soft and soothing to her eyes. Upon seeing it, Sunny started feeling a tingling wash across her body, calming her, relaxing her. But, in spite of everything, the strangest thing was that the crystal was floating upright, unperturbed of where it was and what was happening, seeming to gleam brighter with every second. As though it were somehow unblemishing itself.

The dragon spread two of his claws, then lowered them carefully, only creating a small cloud of dust. The crystal seemed to rise of its own accord, free to view.

“Alright, so,” Hitch said, walking up to the crystal. “We got a replacement for the Unity Crystals.”

A loud, pained rumbling reverberated throughout the oasis, and Sunny turned to the dragon’s eye, which was completely open, its pupil a thin slit, staring at Hitch. “There is no replacement for Twilight!” The dragon yelled, his voice an explosion in her ears. Sunny started hearing a high pitched bleep, her eyes screwing shut, feeling her stomach lurch through a wave of actual vertigo.

“O-Of course not!” Hitch said, sitting on his haunches and dropping his ears. “I’m talking about the crystals, not about a pony!”

“Twilight is the crystals!” The dragon replied, dirt and pebbles falling from the sides of the hill. Only then did Sunny realize it was underlain by the dragon’s body. The entire, colossal hill. She shuddered.

“T-that can’t be right,” Pipp said, eyes down as she carefully stepped between sharp rocks. “Fluttershine—”

“Fluttershy!” Sunny corrected.

Pipp’s cheek twitched. “She said Twilight created the crystals. She can’t—”

“Can’t be the crystals?” The dragon finished the sentence with a loud hissing sound that resembled a sneer. “You really have been living a magic-free existence for a thousand years, haven’t you?”

“Whatever happened to them, anyway?” Izzy said with a crooked smile. “One moment they were shining and the other, poof!”

The dragon looked at Izzy, and its pupil became a circle as steam came out again, only softer this time. “Twilight’s crystals… They were made to house one of the most powerful spells ever crafted… which would reverse the unwanted effects of magic itself… The only thing they required was true friendship, a show of true unity…”

“So… that ‘unwanted effect’ was that magic was disappearing?” Sunny asked, tapping a hoof. That surely had to be it?

“It is much more complex than that…” The dragon replied. “I’m not familiar enough with the details to explain better, and Twilight herself could barely grasp them… In any case, you used them to reverse the flow of magic, bringing it back to the world. Then you used them again to reverse my hibernation spell…” His eye closed. “Unfortunately, it seems that this second action used up the last of their power. And they’ve become magical energy and dispersed in the air…”

Silence smothered the group as everypony considered the dragon’s words. Sunny felt her eyes sear, her mind chasing after itself to flash that familiar star at her, in all those places and ways its legacy had been carried despite all that had been lost. All that one brilliant pony—bright as the sun—had left for them…

After what might have been hours, Zipp spoke first. “So… If Twilight became the crystals, and the crystals are now gone…”

The dragon did not reply.

“I’m sorry,” Zipp said, daring to glance at the buried eye.

“Her last words to me… it’s like she’s still here…” The dragon said. “She said, ‘Don’t worry, Spike, everything’s going to be fine’...”

Sunny looked at Zipp, who had shrivelled behind her hooves, completely losing her will to argue about the destruction of the clearing. She glanced up at the bright green eye and she saw. She saw the realization of loss, the grief, the emptiness. Things she had felt, things she knew too well. Despite the strange shape of that eye, its size and its color and the sense of age it projected… There was a familiarity she related to, a sense of universality to that look. His silence spoke more than his words.

He was feeling it, that haunting pain, that void in his soul, that she had almost forgotten. That she had cried herself to sleep to, for too many nights to count.

She moved without thinking, doing what her heart said was the right thing. She walked up to the dragon, Spike, her eyes burning, until she was close enough to put a hoof on him. “You loved her, didn’t you?”

Spike opened his eye and looked down at Sunny, and she could feel the heavy emotions he was feeling. She understood. “She was my sister… almost like a mother… if that could ever make sense, between us…”

“I lost my dad, years ago,” Sunny whispered, feeling her throat close at the last memory of her father. “His last…” She hiccuped, barely able to open her eyes. She felt Hitch against her side, bracing her. “His last words were, ‘Don’t cry, Sunnybun, I won’t leave you alone’...” She pressed her head against the rock, hoping that Spike would feel… something, through it all. And she thought she could feel him in return. “There isn’t a day where I don’t miss him, but… I know he didn’t leave me alone. I feel him in the things he taught me, in the way he raised me… I’m sure you feel the same with Twilight.”

“Yes... “ Spike said. “Thank you, little pony.”

“Sunny,” she said with a small smile. “My name is Sunny Starscout.”

Pipp stepped closer and placed a hoof on Sunny’s right shoulder. Izzy came next to her left. Hitch and Zipp stood behind her, but she could feel their support nonetheless.

“So,” Zipp said, clearing her throat. “What is our mission, Spike the dragon?”

The rocks shifted, raining yet more dust on the ponies, and a massive crack curved upwards. With some imagination, Sunny thought she could see a smile.

“You must take the Crystal Heart to the Crystal Empire,” Spike said. “The Crystal Ponies will need it, now that magic is returning.”

“Crystal Ponies?” Hitch asked. “You mean there’s a fourth pony race?”

Sunny turned to look at the Crystal Heart. “Now that I think about it, there are drawings about it and some other kind of pony in my dad’s notebook, but he never figured out what they meant. They just looked… kind of like all of us.”

“Why do these Crystal Ponies need it?” Pipp asked, cocking her head.

“It protects their city state,” Spike replied. “It draws their love and creates a barrier around the Empire, shielding it from the merciless snowstorms of the Frozen North.”

Zipp gasped. “But… if it’s so important, what’s it doing here?”

Spike breathed out, shooting hot steam right above the ponies’ heads. “It was… a complicated plan Princess Flurry Heart devised. With magic disappearing and races… dying off, I took it to each kingdom to use a special spell she cast on the Crystal Heart to put a few hundreds of each into magical hibernation…” He trailed off and closed his eye, audibly screwing it firmly. “My last stop was Hippogriffia, but… I felt myself grow weaker by the second… I came to this oasis to rest and recover my energy… Except I only felt worse…”

Izzy nodded solemnly, her mouth pinched. “You felt your magic going poof.” Sunny looked at her with wide eyes.

“Yes…” Spike said slowly. “I had to make a choice. Force myself to Hippogriffia and risk dying in the attempt, losing the Heart and this opportunity to talk to you, or activate Twilight’s hibernation spell on myself.”

“So…” Zipp whispered. “Those ponies… never got a chance to…” Her voice faded under a hoof squeezing into her muzzle, eyes wet.

Spike sighed, and a huge amount of steam rose from the wall. “I’m not proud of it,” he murmured after a moment. “I’m sure Twilight would be disappointed, mad even… But I couldn’t risk it… By taking the Heart to the Frozen North, back to its intended place, you will have many creatures return to Equestria… If the Heart was lost, destroyed, or even heavily damaged, they’d never be able to come back…”

Sunny felt a knot in her throat. Making decisions within her group of friends was hard enough as it was, but having the lives of an entire race of ponies… She couldn’t even begin to comprehend what Spike had been forced to do. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, levelled her eyes at his own. “Maybe they survived,” she said finally, and felt Spike’s massive eye suddenly lock on her. She stared at it defiantly. “I don’t know what kind of ponies they are, but I’m sure they would find a way to survive. From what Discord, Fluttershy, and now you have said, I assume magic can do pretty much anything.” She chanced a hint of a smile. “So if magic was still around, even two weeks ago, then it stands to reason that they are still around, just like us.”

Spike stared at her for what felt like an eternity, years of guilt washing coolly over her, then closed his eye. “I… I can only hope…”

After a while, Hitch broke the silence. “So, we take the Crystal Heart to…” He blanched, glancing to the eye. “You said the Frozen North, right?”

“Yes,” Spike said. “On your way there, however, do step by Ponyville, and to Twilight’s castle. If you do, you should be able to activate the map. I don’t know how things have changed in these thousand-or-so years, but the map will be able to give you a route.”

Pipp raised a hoof, teeth flashing in an awkward smile. “All of this is good and all, but… I was wondering if you could come with us? I mean, dragons can fly, right?” she chirped, cheeks dimpling in a more winning grin. “We could skip weeks, possibly months of walking…”

Spike looked at her, his pupil… trembling. “I… I would, if I could…”

Izzy lofted a foreleg, beaming brightly. “You can’t because you’re a hill?”

“... Yes,” Spike said slowly. “I didn’t expect to be covered so extensively… I will need a few months to recover enough strength to fully move myself from this place, and a few more to be able to fly again.”

Sunny looked at her friends, and each looked back at her in turn, as if feeling her eyes on them. And they nodded back at her, ranging from Zipp’s determined, mane-jolting flick to Hitch’s quirky-lipped bob. They had their quest given and directions set. She turned to look at Spike’s eye. “Ponyville, then. How do we get there?”

Spike took a moment to reply under another rumbling sigh, time enough for Pipp to flick out her phone and point it to the dragon. “North-East from here, you will move out of the desert and into a large mountain range that stretches all the way East. Follow the slope downhill to a river wide as twenty ponies and deep as five. Don’t cross it. Instead, follow it North to meet a gorge. Carefully traverse its edge until you reach a dense forest. Do not go in. Go northward around the forest and you’ll eventually reach Ponyville… If it’s still there…” The eye flickered for a moment. “At least Twilight’s Castle should’ve survived. You won’t be able to miss it.”

“How far is it, exactly?” Zipp asked, her eyes still low. “And… are there any cities on the way there?”

“I can’t know for sure,” Spike replied. “I’m used to flying, and back then, train tracks connected most of Equestria in relatively straight lines… As for cities, I remember a small farm by the mountain range, but after a thousand years…”

Izzy raised a hoof, voice straining and mane aquiver. “Oh! Oh! Could be a massive metropolis!”

Spike looked at her in silence for a moment, venting once more. “Yes, it could be.”

“Well,” Sunny said, stepping back so that her friends could turn to look at her. Closing her eyes for a moment, she took a steadying breath. “I think it’s time for a vote.” Opening her eyes, she glanced between the other four. “Do we go right now, or do we return to Zephyr Heights first to talk to Queen Haven?”

“What do you say, Sunny?” Hitch asked.

Sunny looked down at her hooves for a moment. “I think…” She ran her tongue across her lip. “We should go now. The sooner we start, the sooner we’ll help Equestria.”

Hitch nodded, barely considering hiding his smirk. “Thought you’d say that. But I vote for going now, too.”

“Me too,” Zipp said with a smile, considerably warmer. “We have more than enough supplies here in The Heart of the Brave to last months. We can take a cart.” She stood taller, beam brightening beyond the desert sun. “We could even trade if we meet other ponies.”

Pipp chuckled, slowly, prompting her sister to round on her. “Of course you’d want to start the adventure right away.” Zipp frowned, her wings rising, but Pipp only shrugged, her smile never wavering. “I’m with you, this time, though.” Her expression softened and her cheeks dimpled. “We’ve already come this far, so there’s no point in going back to Zephyr Heights.”

“Yay! Adventure!” Izzy exclaimed, bumping her flank against Sunny, who could barely hold back a gasp. Because it was a surprise! And Izzy was a tall pony, so there was a lot of mare to bump against her, but not in a heavy—

“Wing Commander Azure Eve,” Zipp called, nodding, which prompted one of the guards to step towards her as she turned to face them. Sunny gasped on her own, this time, having completely forgotten about the guards.

“Your Highness,” said the guard. She was a rather short mare of soft, yellow fur, yet her stare radiated power. Her mane and torso were covered with the same billowing fabrics that they all wore while in the desert. Sunny couldn’t help but notice the bulge over her chestplate. Was her fluff that big?

“Go back to Zephyr Heights and inform Queen Haven of what happened here. And of where we’re headed,” Zipp said with strangely characteristic seriousness, and an authoritatively strident tone Sunny had barely heard from her friend. “By no means must she send guards after us. If we do find other pony cities, we don’t want to have an overt military presence and accidentally start a war over a misunderstanding.”

Pipp’s wings fluttered, her lips matching as she smiled. “Oh, but do send a carrier with my special batteries.” Zipp turned to look at her with a raised brow. The shorter mare raised her own eyebrow as a response. “We need to document our journey, Zipp. We’re making history here.” She didn’t wait for her sister to reply and stepped closer to Azure Eve. “My supplementary phone batteries. Send Swift Feather if possible.”

“Uh… Yes, Your Highness,” Azure replied, then looked at Zipp. “Anything else?”

Zipp hummed, lips puckering. “Yes,” she said, then turned to the other three guards. They squared up as soon as Zipp laid eyes upon them. “Help us load a cart with enough water and food for a week.” She then turned to Izzy for a moment. The unicorn waved giddily, eyes sparkly as ever, as though her sparkle hadn’t come close to fading what felt—to Sunny—like moments ago. “Maybe two more days worth of water.”

“Don’t you think,” Hitch began. “Maybe... bringing money would be a good idea?” he finished, raising a hoof. “You know, in case we meet other ponies.”

“Hm, I don’t know,” Zipp replied, placing a hoof to her chin. “Business is already difficult enough between Zephyr Heights, Bridlewood, and Maretime Bay as it is… But…” Zipp paused, hoof tapping for a moment. “Yeah, I think you’re right, Sheriff.” She smirked. “Its face value might not be worth anything, but it’s almost certain the gold and silver our coins are minted in would be worth something.” She turned to the three guards, shoulder squaring as her voice re-hardened. “Five thousand clouds should be enough.”

The guards saluted and hurried off to complete their task. Pipp stepped up to Hitch and bumped him playfully with her flank. “Well played, Hitch. Way to earn points with our future Queen.” She winked, and Hitch only blushed. Sunny had to turn away so that he wouldn’t see her own smirk.

“Alright,” Sunny said as soon as she could be sure her voice wouldn’t crack, calling her friends’ attention. “As soon as we’re ready, we’ll be off to Ponyville.” She took another breath, willing herself to stand taller. “Then we’ll return the Crystal Heart to the Crystal Empire in the Frozen North. We’ll restore Equestria…” An idea occurred to her, and her smile broadened as she looked up at Spike’s eye, a certain… fizzy energy filling her right to the base of her hooves. She was sure she could see the same in his eye. “We’ll make Twilight proud.”

Author's Note:

I really didn't think I'd be writing so much per chapter. Next chapter, which is already written and only needs to start editing process, is also 6k or so words long. I am trying to make worldbuilding correctly, so I don't want to just gloss over things, especially the differences between ancient and modern Equestria.

What are your thoughts on this?