• Published 7th Jan 2013
  • 3,002 Views, 144 Comments

Lodestone - PK



An ancient wound in a healing world is re-opened. A strange artifact emerges, with a strange power- Spectrum cannot die. Can he uncover his true purpose before his time runs out? Sequel to Antipodes.

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Journal 1

1

I think I'm just about at the end now.

Whoever finds this, Goddesses, if anypony finds this, I just want you to know that I tried to stop it. I don't know quite how wide the effect is now. It's spread out beyond what I can see.

I really hope somepony finds this.

I can hear them outside. Hundreds of them, spilling over each other and pounding their hooves into the dirt and Luna knows what else. I think it's going to be finished soon.
Those poor bastards. I hope I can help them.

I'm writing this in a cave near where I planted the Lodestone. After I realized it was too late for me to stop it, I decided this would be a better use of my time. I gotta get this all down on paper so I don't just lose my mind.

Ugh, okay, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

~~~

My name is Spectrum. Unicorn. Brownish red coat, dark blue mane, cutie mark in the shape of a prism splitting light, blah blah blah. I enjoy long walks on the beach and the warm
comforts of a crackling fire.

Anyway.

I worked at the crystal mines. Ever since I was a foal, I've always been good at putting enchantments into spell-fixing crystals— naturally occurring crystals with an affinity for magic. They're used in pretty much everything— small ones for storing information, power, keeping food cold... pretty much anything magical that needs to stick around awhile, it's got some kind of crystal in it. And if it was made in the last three years, odds are I had a hoof in it. It was a pretty solid job. It was a pretty horrendously boring job, too.

Every day, about a billion different crystals came down the assembly line, and I had to put the appropriate spell in each one. Most of them were simple: enchantments to give off light when a pony was nearby, or enchantments to store names and dates. If I say I had to enchant a city’s worth of crystals, I wouldn’t be exaggerating. See, back before I was born, the Princesses were gone, so the sun and moon didn't move. That basically meant that only a tiny part of the planet was the right temperature for ponies. Anyways, these three ponies named Jigsaw, Tiptoe, and Incendia saved the world or whatever, and now the Princesses are pushing for us to go out and uncover old ruins and found new cities. It basically means there's never a shortage of stuff that needs enchantment. It's important enough work, I guess... but I hated every minute of it. Today was special, though. It was my birthday.

The bell rang, signaling the end of the shift and I joined the stream of unicorns out past the punch card station and out into the lobby. Thankfully, my friends were already waiting for me.

Standing near the exit were my friends Flicker and Green Thumb. I don't think anypony ever figured out what "thumb" meant, but your name's your name, right?

"Hey, Spectrum!" Flicker called.

Flicker was a pegasus mare, dark blue, almost black, and a pale grey mane. Her cutie mark was lightning bolt. Green Thumb was a stallion and— shocker!— dark green, with a cutie mark in the shape of a sprout.

"Hey, guys!" I called back, making my way through the stream of ponies to the other side of the room. "You ready for tonight?"

"Absolutely!" Green Thumb exclaimed. "I've been looking forward to this all day!"

"Not as much as I have," I replied. "Let's get out of here!"

The three of us set off out the door and into the streets of Totemhoof.

Totemhoof was the capital of Equestria, since old Canterlot was demolished on Jigsaw's escapades. It was the largest populated city in Equestria— thousands of ponies called it home. Tall, sleek spires built by the engineers from Stalliongrad rose from the valley Totemhoof was established in, all the way up to the perpetual cloud ceiling that the pegasi maintained as special housing for the weather workers. Apparently, generations ago, the pegasi that lived here figured out a special way of working the clouds that made them cascade down around the valley, preventing anything from getting in that wasn't supposed to— or anything not authorized from getting out. I suppose it was beautiful.

To me, the city felt like a prison. I'd never been outside the valley— they said it wasn't safe. The only ponies that did get to leave were ponies on official government business or the special caravans to and from the colonies. Of course, I'd tried to get out on my own. It was practically a rite of passage. I never got anywhere, though— the clouds had a way of twisting you around and spitting you right back out where you came in.

The tavern was a small, curved stone building like they used to have before the attack. Loud music blared within. The three of us settled in at the bar and Flicker ordered us three dandelion milkshakes. This was my version of a birthday party— getting shitfaced.

"Here's to another year of being stuck around here and doing nothing," I said, downing the glass.

"Aw, c'mon," Green Thumb said, eyeing his dandelion juice with some suspicion. "You didn't hate it here when you graduated."

"Yeah, because I had an audience," I muttered under my breath. I took another swig of dandelion juice.

I cleared my throat and spoke louder. "Don't you guys want to see what's out there?"

"I'm a pegasus, sweetheart," Flicker said with more than a hint of sarcasm, "I've been up above the clouds. Only things out there are raiders and desolation. We've been over this."

"Yeah, maybe just outside Totemhoof, but there's a whole world out there! Parts of it are only just now becoming accessible to pony kind again. Don't you wish you could be part of an excavation team?"

"Just give it up, Spectrum," Green Thumb said. "Those guys are hoof-picked by the Princesses themselves. Now, shut up, and enjoy your birthday present."

Flicker reached down under her bar stool and pulled out a small, green package and slid it down the bar towards me. "Happy birthday, Spectrum."

I levitated the package towards me and tore off the paper. The box was small; not much larger than my hoof. Inside was a single shard of blue crystal, fixed within a golden ring attached to a small chain.

"Flicker, it's… it's beautiful, but I'm not much for jewelry," I said, somewhat bemusedly.

"This isn't just regular jewelry," Flicker said. Her voice had dropped to a soft, almost reverent tone that cut through the dandelion buzz like a knife.

"This is a fragment of Tantalus' phylactery," Flicker finished.

My jaw fell open. "Tant— I don't... How in Equestria did you get this?"

Flicker smiled. "A lady must have her secrets."

I reverently lifted the necklace and placed it around my neck.

"I thought that, since we can't give you an adventure, we'd give you the next best thing."

I couldn't believe what was hanging around my neck. Tantalus— the big bad that had caused all that trouble with the princesses I mentioned— had stored the spirit of the body he was inhabiting in this crystal, rendering him unkillable. It had been shattered in the final battle that lead to his defeat. The shards had been recovered years after the fact, but almost all of them had been taken into government hooves for display. In fact, only two fragments had been given to private ownership— one to Tiptoe, and one to Incendia.

Now, I know a thing or two about crystals, and let me tell you, this one was exquisite. It was very thin and narrow, but it had a beautiful deep blue coloration, and the crystalline structure was flawless (except around the breaks).

"Thank you, Flicker," I said. "This is… priceless."

"Hey, I chipped in too," Green Thumb said.

I smiled. "Thank you. Both of you. This means a lot to me."

"Yeah, yeah," Green Thumb said, finally starting to drink his dandelion juice. "Let's not get all mushy. Let's get wasted!"

"Yeah!" I shouted. "Three more down here!"

The rest of the night passed in a blur of talking, laughing, and dancing to the band playing in the corner, which sounded progressively better and better the more I drank.

Eventually, though, the party had to come to an end. Flicker and Green Thumb paid the tab and unsteadily made their way out of the bar.

I drained my glass and began to make my way towards the door when a dark red earth pony who had been sitting at a table got up and blocked my way.

"What do you want?" I asked, trying hard to not slur my words. This guy looked like he might want trouble.

I guess I wasn't doing such a good job of looking tough as I thought, because the first thing the stallion said was, "Relax. I'm not going to start anything. In fact, I wanted to talk to you about an opportunity. I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. You want to see the world, don't you?"

I narrowed my eyes. "Yeah, maybe. What's it to you?"

The stallion's smile diminished ever so slightly. "Didn't I tell you I don't mean any trouble? Look, I'm a recruiter for the Princesses. There's an expedition to the polar hemisphere and we need laborers. Unicorns are in short supply for a mission like this. You'll be paid well at the conclusion of the expedition. One month. Meals provided. What do you say?"

I blinked and tried to focus. "You're… you're inviting me on an expedition?"

"Sure am, champ," he said. "A lot of kids frustrated with city life come here. I try to recruit 'em. Here."

He pulled a small scroll out of his saddlebag and handed it to me.

"Read this when you sober up. I'll be back here tomorrow night. If you want to go, sign it and bring it to me."

I unfurled the scroll and looked at it. The print was small and seemed to swim across the page, but I saw the multicolor, raised seal of the princesses at the bottom, and that told me all I needed to know.

"Forget tomorrow. I'm signing this right now."

"You sure, kid?" The earth pony said. "This thing is binding. Once you sign it, you're on."

I smiled. "Give me a pen."

He pulled a pen out of his saddlebag, and I slowly and carefully inscribed my name onto the parchment.

It flashed blue once and the seal's colors faded.

"Well, now that you've signed up, we don’t have to wait anymore. Can you leave in the morning?"

"I could leave right now," I said with a smile.

"Sure you could," the earth pony said, snatching the parchment out of mid air and stashing it back in his saddlebag. "Get some sleep. If you have any warm clothes, pack those. Don't know how well you tolerate the cold. It's warm enough, during the day, but it gets below freezing at night. Report to the passage at noon."

"I'll see you there," I said.

I left the bar that night absolutely elated. One chance encounter and suddenly all my dreams had come true! I was going on an expedition to real ruins, the kind ponies hadn't seen for thousands and thousands of years!

Before I knew it, I had reached the base of the apartment complex where I lived. It was a slick, towering, building, with the distinct pointed top and curving arcs unique to Stalliongrad architecture. I should know. My mom was an architect.

I made my way into the lobby and typed the code into the little keypad near the elevator. With a hum, the doors slid open, and I stepped into the car.

The elevator gave a shiver and began to move up. After a few seconds and a few popped ears, I stepped out into the hallway and, from there, into my apartment. It was small, just barely large enough to fit a bedroom, a kitchen, and a table. Crystal enchanting doesn’t pay super well.

I debated taking off the pendant, but decided against it. Somehow, I felt like I should keep it on. I'd pack in the morning.

The morning came a lot sooner than I'd like. When I awoke, my head pounded and my throat felt like sandpaper. I stumbled over to the sink and stuck my mouth directly under the faucet. Yeah… not exactly attractive, I know, but if I'm not honest here I might as well not be writing this. Anyways, once I had drank my fill, I glanced at the clock. It was 11:30 in the morning.

For some reason, that struck me as important. I thought for a moment. Did I have work that day…? Nah, it was saturday; I didn't work saturdays.

Suddenly, it hit me. The earth pony in the bar. The contract.

Oh, Celestia, I had forgotten to set my alarm! The expedition!

I levitated my saddlebag over from the corner of the room and stuffed a coat into it. I didn't really have time to pack anything else.

I slung the bags over my shoulder and galloped out the door and towards the elevator when I suddenly froze— I couldn't leave like this. I had to let my friends know where I was going.

I ran back into my room and grabbed a small, round metal disk with a lens in the center and set it in the center of the room. I tapped on the lens to start recording.

"Hey, guys," I said quickly. "You're not gonna believe this, but I ran into an expedition recruiter last night and I signed up. Yeah, yeah; I know; it was hasty, but… dammit, you guys know how much I wanted it. I'm gonna be gone a month, but when I get back, I'm taking you all out. Not to the bar, but to somewhere nice, okay? Thanks for the birthday. Try checking at the expedition office and see if you can't send me some letters— I don't think I'll have access to a computer out there. Bye!"

I galloped back out the door and put the recorder sticking halfway out my mail slot. I figured Flicker at least would think to check my apartment when I didn't show up for a while. With that done, I did one final mental inventory, and finding everything in order, I began my descent.

It was pretty much impossible to miss the caravan. It was pretty much impossible to miss any caravan. A string of trucks and busses lined the street leading to the passage out of the city, all hovering a few inches off the ground. From the looks of things, I wasn't too late.

I galloped down to one of the busses and got in at the end of the line, behind a yellow, burly unicorn wearing small, square glasses.

"You're here awfully late," he said. His voice was unusually deep and somewhat intimidating.

"I know; I forgot to set my alarm. I'm not too late, am I?" I replied.

"Nah, you're fine. This your first expedition?"

"Yeah, it is."

"I can always tell the newcomers. You a scientist or what?"

"Nah, no scientist. I'm just going there to lift stuff, I guess."

"Nothin' wrong with that," he said. "Never enough unicorns on the workforce. A lot more delicate than the earth ponies— uh, not that they aren't important, too," he added hastily.

He approached the bus, and a dour-looking pegasus glared at him. "Name."

He gave his name— Tau— and the pegasus checked the list before her, which I guessed must have been a list of contracted workers.

"Get on board," she said lazily.

The unicorn clambered into the bus and I stepped forward. "Name?" the pegasus droned.

"Spectrum," I said. She checked the list.

"Get on," she said, and I eagerly jumped on board the bus.

The bus was one of those big ones that they use to travel long distances— the ones with the built in toilets? Yeah. You pretty much only saw them on the caravans traveling between colonies.

Do I even need to tell you how excited I was?

I sat down next to the burly unicorn I had met earlier.

"Did they tell you what's going on?" he asked.

I shuffled my hooves uncomfortably. "I... uh… didn't read the contract."

He looked at me and smiled. "Got you at the bar, did they?"

"I… um…"

"Yep. Listen, buddy, I'm a scientist. Been going on these expeditions a long time. They get a lot of kids from the bars when they're not thinkin' right. I'll help you out here: they found somethin' frozen in the ice up there; somethin' that doesn't look like the usual stuff. We're goin' to check it out."

"What did they find?" I asked.

The unicorn glanced around, as though making sure nopony was listened, and said, "Some kinda vault, like at a bank, right? Only this thing is locked magically. And the magic is old. We're talkin'… this was old before the fall."

Before I could reply, the bus rose up off the ground and began to move forward.

"Off we go," Tau said.

I watched eagerly as the caravan glided forward, sliding into the cloud wall one by one, until finally we approached the barrier. We slowed down slightly as we entered, and bus began to quiver slightly, as though it was being buffeted by a high wind.

The view outside the windows fogged over, and my hair stood on end. It was as if my whole body had fallen asleep— pins and needles prickled me all over.

Then, simple as that, we emerged on the other side.

I stared greedily out the window, taking in every aspect of the world outside the city. Behind us, the cloud wall cascaded down, billowing out and spreading along the ground like a fog. Beyond that, fields of rolling green grass stretched out as far as the eye could see, dotted with bright red berries on deep green shrubs. It was beautiful.

"First time you've been outside the city?" Tau asked.

"Yeah," I said, only half paying attention.

"They pretty much all react like this. Trust me, kid; you ain't seen nothin' yet. There's really not much out past the city, and we’ve got quite the ride ahead of us. If I were you, I'd get some sleep. They're gonna expect you to get out and be ready to go when we get there."

For a while, I just stared out the window, watching the hills go by, but after a while I took Tau’s advice and closed my eyes.

I awoke with a jerk. The sky outside the bus had gone dark.

"How long was I out?" I asked Tau.

"No idea," he replied. "I only just woke up too. I think we're there, though."

"What, already?" I said, surprised.

"Yeah, we're only about nine hours away from the timber line."

The dour pegasus who had let us on the bus stood up at the front of the bus.

"Alright, ponies, we're here. Laborers: when you get out, go to the nearest truck and get your equipment. Set it up according to your supervisor. Do not— I repeat, do not— interfere with the scientists. Do not touch anything you aren't supposed to. Don't look inside any tents that are zipped closed. And do not approach the vault. I ain't gonna sugarcoat this for you fillies— you approach the vault without permission, we will use force. Understand? As much as is necessary. Scientists— you have your orders."

I exited the bus with the rest of the ponies and took in my surroundings. A thick coat of snow covered the ground, chilling my hooves. The land was almost completely flat as far as I could see— save a forest and the hint of a mountain in the distance. The only things that broke up the monotony were the tents and the massive pit to the east.

It was by far the most striking feature of the landscape. It looked almost like some kind of quarry carved into the ice with an icy slope winding around the rim and angling down out of sight.

I trotted up to the nearest supply truck. An earth pony was standing at the back, unloading supplies.

"What do you need me to do?" I asked eagerly.

The earth pony glanced at me, then down at the clipboard held in his mouth, then up at me again.

"Is yer nmme Sptrim?" he inquired, his voice muffled.

"Uh, I'm sorry?" I said.

He spat out the clipboard. Ew. "Is your name Spectrum?"

"Yeah?" I said.

"Special assignment for you. Get over to truck 17, the one with the yellow stripe."

I glanced down the line of trucks and found the one with the yellow stripe.

After a few minutes, I arrived at the yellow truck. An older, shockingly pink unicorn stood at the base of the truck. “Spectum?” he asked, his breath forming an icy mist as the question left his mouth.

I nodded.

"Special assignment for you. Thank Celestia you signed up when you did; we were in a terrible state without replacements."

… Huh? Replacements? I had no idea what he meant, but before I could ask, his horn flared to life, and the back of the truck flickered and vanished, revealing a cargo hold filled with piles of crystals.

"Something up here just eats through the enchantments on these crystals. It's gonna be fantastic having somepony up here to replace the ones that burn out. A lot of delicate scientific instruments up here."

I couldn't believe it. I could feel my dreams of adventure die as I looked over the pile of crystals. It felt bad. Really, really bad.

The unicorn gave me a small, floating cart, and loaded it with crystals of various shapes and sizes, then pointed me towards a tent with a tall, pointed roof.

I pushed the cart over the snow and ice, still in disbelief.

When I pushed the cart through the folds of the tent, I got one small comfort. A small, round device in the center of the room was giving off waves of heat.

While it was nice to be able to feel my hooves again, that was just about the only nice thing in here. It was a very small tent, barren but for the far side of the room, where a small table was set up. I pushed the cart up to the desk and sat down.

Moments later, the unicorn from the truck came through the door, scroll clasped in his mouth. He trotted over to me and dropped the scroll on the desk.

"Alright, my name's Axon. All you have to do is follow the instructions on this sheet, and you can go back to the big tent near the rim of the excavation site. That's the mess hall. The barracks are attached to the back. Any questions?"

"Am I going to do this every day?" I said, my voice strained.

"Most likely," Axon replied. "We are in constant need of new crystals. You noticed I didn't levitate the scroll in here? Try lifting it."

I shrugged and ignited my horn, unfurling the scroll before me.

"Feel that?" he said.

"Uh, no, not really," I said. "Feels pretty normal to me."

Axon frowned. "Probably haven't gotten the chill in you. Something up here— my money's on the cold— makes it really tiring to do any magic. It also makes the enchantments on the crystals last way shorter than normal. I don't envy your job, I'll tell you that much."

"I'll keep it in mind," I said. "Anything else I should know?"

"Not really," he said, smiling. "Welcome to our little arctic home. The caravan heads back in thirty days."

With that, Axon left, and I stared at the pile of crystals with disbelief. I think that was the moment it really sunk in that this was actually happening. My once in a lifetime adventure opportunity wasn't that at all. I had just traded my boring day job in Totemhoof for a boring day job hundreds of miles away from all my friends in the freezing cold.

I pulled the first crystal from the pile and placed it on the table. The chart said they needed 14 crystals enchanted to radiate heat. I set to work fixing the enchantment into the crystal.

Now, as much as I hated the job, credit where it's due— I was good at it. A lot of unicorns had really limited ranges of spells they could weave into the crystals, but not me. My special talent was putting spells into these crystals, and I was damn good at it. There wasn't an enchantment yet I haven't been able to work with enough practice.

Good thing, too, because after the heat and a handful of light spells, they got weird. Spells that make the crystal fluoresce in the presence of blood, for instance. I figured they must be for the aforementioned "delicate scientific equipment". It was a grueling day.

Finally, I placed the final enchantment— for a crystal that regulated the power flow through a system— and headed out from my work tent towards the mess hall. I didn't even bother eating. I had no appetite. I was too tired and upset. I headed back into the barracks and found the cot with my name on it and fell asleep.

That was my routine for the next two weeks. I woke up in the morning, ate my breakfast, went into my tent, worked until it was done, ate dinner (or didn’t), and went to bed. I didn't talk to anypony, and nopony tried to talk to me. I was miserable. Completely, utterly, soul-crushingly miserable.

Until the day they opened the vault.

One day, when working on a particularly sensitive and tricky enchantment, a voice crackled over some unseen speaker: “Everypony, please report to the mess hall for a very special announcement.”

When I got there, a giant screen had descended over the far wall, displaying an image from the center of the excavation site.

This was the first time I'd seen it close up. It didn't look that impressive. It was a featureless white cube, barely larger than my work tent. A group of ponies, wrapped tightly in warm coats, stood in front of it.

As we watched, an elderly unicorn with a cutie mark in the shape of a lock and key stepped forward. His horn began to glow, and four strange symbols shimmered into being around him.

The unicorn looked extremely stressed, as though this spell was causing him great pain. His teeth were gritted and I thought I could see tears beginning to form in his eyes. After a moment, however, the symbols flew forward and collided with the featureless white box.

It flared to life, the featureless white surface suddenly covered in glowing symbols that I had never seen before.

Then, with an earth-shaking boom, the white cube fractured, revealing a dull, metallic cube underneath. Next to me a scientist muttered, "There goes the bone…"

Boom! The metallic layer disappeared in another flash of light, revealing a much brighter metal.

"There goes the lead…"

This process repeated five more times, with layers made of silver, gold, and even wood. Finally, when it was all over, only one thing remained.

A small, black spike was hovering an inch off the ground where the vault had been. It reminded me somewhat of the crystal fragment hanging around my neck. It was broad at the top, but narrowed to a sharp, jagged point at the bottom.

Then, just like that, the screen turned black and retracted to the ceiling.

"Alright, everyone," came a female voice from the front of the room, "Vault's open. Vacation's over. There’s still work to be done."

I blinked, coming out of the reverie I had slipped into while something actually interesting was happening.

I couldn't go back to that tent for another two weeks. I made a decision then: I was going to have an adventure whether adventure wanted me or not.

I worked through the rest of the day— placing enchantment after enchantment as quickly as I could, until finally I had met the quota for that day.

By the time I was done, the sun had set, and the puddles of water that formed under the sun had begun to freeze over once more.

I trotted over to the edge of the pit. Deep down, at the base, I could see the strange artifact, floating silently above the ground, illuminated by a single floodlight. I was going down there.

For all their blustering about not going near the excavation site, they really had very little protection. Two ponies stood guard at the entrance to the site, but that was about it. There was pretty much nothing stopping me from making my way around the rim quietly and just slipping down the sloped wall till I got to the winding ramp which lead down to the artifact.

I crawled along the rim, out of sight, the cold, wet snow sapping all the heat out of me. Finally, I reached the opposite side of the rim. The sloping path was about forty feet below me. I placed my forehooves on the slanted walls of the rim and began to slide down, gaining speed over the slick ice.

I hit the sloped pathway… and didn't stop.

Yeah, I know, looking back now, it was an incredibly dumb idea. Slide down the side of the pit? How did I plan on stopping on the ice, exactly? Look, I wasn't concerned with that at that moment. I was concerned about having an adventure, and…

I careened off the side of the slope and out into the air. Involuntarily, I let out a shriek and saw, for a split second, the guards start to turn around before I started to fall back to earth.

I hit the slanted pit wall hard. Something in my chest cracked, and I tumbled head over hooves down into the pit.

I don't remember much of my quick and violent descent. I felt my head crack into the ice. I remember tasting metal, and I remember feeling my limbs bend in ways they were never intended to— then not feeling them at all.

And perhaps, most clearly of all, I remember seeing the strange, obsidian spire in front of me, symbols beginning to glow and then flowing across its surface as my vision went black.

The next thing I remember was feeling my heart lurch in my chest, pounding against my ribcage as though it was attempting to escape. I remember gasping for breath, taking in a deep, refreshing gulp of air. I remember the blinding white light above me.

I also remember the scream. I instinctively rolled over to get on my hooves, only to find nothing but air. I was lying on some sort of table. When I finally stood up and got my bearings, I understood what the fuss was.

I was in another tent, one that I recognized immediately. A pony wearing a doctor's mask cowered behind the silver table I had just rolled off.

I had just woken up in the morgue. From the look on the doctor’s face, and that scream, I had just woken up from the dead.

At this point, I think it's fair to say that adventure had finally found me at last.

End of Journal 1