The True Nightmare: Epitaph

by Feather Note

First published

Everypony thought life went back to normal. However, everypony has yet to realize that the Nightmare has been revived. Our heroines, The Element Bearers and friends must face this threat again. But are they truly ready to face this threat once more?

Time has always lent a way to give us a moment of peace. This has just been the case for our heroines as they find themselves still recovering a month after their horrifying ordeal. However, they are soon called to defend Equestria again from a nightmare they thought was finally long gone.

Updates are every Saturday (and or Sunday, depending if the chapter has two parts).


This story contains blood and gore along with intense violence. This Content is not suitable for children and may not be for some readers. Discretion for any readers who are not able to handle this type of subject matter is advised.

Proofread by TehSporkBandit, Alicorn Priest
Edited by DiabloGuapo
Coverart by Sakura

Prologue: Reawakening of an Old Evil

View Online

Tree branches slowly swayed in the breeze of the morning wind, leaves descending from their wooden limbs in a flurry of dancing fronds. Shafts of light broke through the thick greenery hanging above the forest floor. Small critters scurried across the ground as the birds filled the empty forest with their rhythmic chirping, bringing an eerie yet peaceful feeling to the lonesome woods. Mornings such as these were what normally filled the desolate woodlands of the unknown.

A snap of twigs brought the bustling foragers to a halt as beady eyes peered at what broke the melodic tweeting of the fauna. Four masked ponies wearing black bodysuits beneath segments of armor slowly made their way through the thicket.

The mare in the lead wore light azure armor that had streaks of light vermillion along the accents of the metal plating, her exposed hooves revealing her light azure coat. She brought a hoof up, signaling for the others to stop behind her. As the other three ponies settled down, she brought a hoof up to her right ear. A pale scarlet aura surrounded her horn as she adjusted her earpiece. A dark gray wire flickered with the charge of her magic, illuminating the cord that wrapped around her horn, leading over to a wire connecting to a small device placed around her ear.

The helmet shone in the morning light. Two small arches facing backwards created small shadows from the mare’s silhouette on the ground. There was no mask, only a light azure visor reflecting light from her eyes. She looked up to the leaf green treetops, murmuring, “Come in, Echo. Do you read me?”

There was a moment of static before another voice crackled through the radio. “Affirmative, Ember-1. What’s your location now? Over.”

“Echo, we are approaching the distress beacon. Still about half a klick out, but we should reach the freighter sometime before the afternoon. Have there been any updates?”

“Negative. No further messages have been received from the radio on-deck, not since last Friday. Since the message we received was garbled by static and screams, we can only assume it was a distress call. It isn’t clear on what has happened. Our analysts are still cleaning up the transmission, but so far they have yet to find a clue on what caused this. Until then, speculation is all we can go on. Over.”

“Copy that. My team and I will continue on towards the ship. Over and out.” With that, she dismissed her horn’s aura and waved at the others behind her to continue moving. Her dark orange eyes gazed at the spear at her side, then looked over her fellow soldiers afterwards before she said, “Okay, ponies. Echo filled me in on more of the intel they collected from the signal, and they still have no idea what happened.”

“So is this still a rescue operation or recovery mission?” One of the masked ponies asked, inspecting his crossbow for any nicks. His light brilliant vermillion and accented cyan-streaked armor gave him a more hefty and tank-like look, but the pale rose color of his coat seemed oddly feminine. His moderate azure eyes darted over the crossbow with careful precision. The helmet he wore had no visor, leaving his face exposed. The bow itself was average size, its moderate yellow-brown metal structure brightening in the light, the light gray steel bolts reflecting the light in different directions.

She brought a hoof to her chin. “As of now, they’re still considering this a rescue mission. ”

Another masked pony spoke up, this one being another mare. “What was in the transmission, anyway?” The armor she wore showed a lithe and sleeker look than the other ponies, and it gleamed a strong aquamarine, light cornflower accents shining in the light. The carapace itself appeared to be very light; less metal surrounded her frame than the others, with wings covering the upper parts of the barrel armor. Instead of a helmet, she wore a face guard over her muzzle with a deep blue visor shading her eyes. Her strong aquamarine fur was more exposed to the sunlight than the others, turning a shade brighter, while her pale raspberry mane was completely visible with no helmet to cover her mane.

“Right now, all Echo has gotten is that there was an emergency broadcast from the ship,” the first masked mare answered. “Their distress beacon is still going off. Nopony has figured out what happened, or what caused the crew to set off the distress beacon.”

“Did anypony come up with any ideas?” the second mare asked once again.

“So far it’s been stated by control that a stowaway probably snuck on board to steal some cargo and started causing problems.” A third masked mare responded this time, adjusting the earpiece to the radio on her right ear. Like the first unicorn, she had the same type of armor; however, the plates were a brilliant tangelo with strong cobalt blue accents. Her mane mirrored the colors of the metal, shifting as her light cyan eyes gazed at the headphone. The same blue color illuminated her horn, as part of the radio-like device was encased in her magic. “Although, it’s also been speculated that it could have been a band of pirates that boarded the Nostromo.”

“Whatever, or whoever, did this is going to seriously reconsider making that choice, if, of course, they’re still on the ship,” the first mare replied. She brought a hoof up to signal silence as the group of ponies resumed their march.

“Why was it that we were sent out here in the first place? And why the Tenochtitlan Basin? It’s way too hot out here,” the third mare asked out loud, looking ahead as she walked next to the earth pony. “I mean, we’re just elite guards tasked to walk around a bunch of hallways.”

“Cause we’re all here to bust somepony’s head in because they tried to steal our supplies. What else is there to talk about, Sparkdust?” The stallion pushed his hoof into a hole under the crossbow, twisting it as a bolt loaded in at the ready.

“That is something I like to hear, Blazing Ash.” Spark held a hoof out, and Blazing gave her a hoof-bump.

“Be a little more quiet, you two,” the pegasus murmured, glancing at the two ponies, walking alongside the lead pony. “We don’t know what’s out here.”

“Lighten up, Taciturn Furtivo,” Sparkdust teased, chuckling a little as she waved her concern off. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“Taciturn is right.” The lead mare turned to look back as she continued forward. “This mission is important. We all need to remain silent. We don’t know what is out here.”

“Whatever you say, Aquafrost.” Sparkdust rolled her eyes. The group continued on towards their search.

Time continued on until the sun had almost reached its peak in the sky. The group continued further into the forest. Aqua gazed across the foliage of the forest floor before bringing her head up, gazing at the blue sky. Something caught her attention. “Hey...” Sparkdust raised a hoof, staring at a faint gray smog swirling up into the air. “See that trail of smoke?”

The others turned to look and saw the same trail. “Yeah, but what’s with the smog?” Blazing Ash inquired, moving a hoof above his eyes to block the sun.

“Don’t know, but let’s hurry up. We need to find out what’s making that smoke.” With a flick of Aqua’s hoof, the ponies quickened their step and moved at a light pace. The foliage around them began to thin, before the faint sound of waves crashing along a beach made itself known. The ponies broke through and stared wide-eyed at what laid on the sandy shores. The freighter ship they were looking for rested upon the coast, its whole body tilted to the left with cargo and wreckage lying on the sand. Small orange flames flicked along with the wind, burning over pieces of the ship.

“Well… it seems we found the ship,” Taciturn murmured as she and the others scanned over the wreckage.

Aqua signaled the others to search the debris, following her fellow teammates at a slow walk. Activating her magic once more, she brought a hoof up to the radio on her ear. “Echo, this is Ember-1. Ship has been located but it looks like a wreck. Exterior has some hull damage and there are a few fires, but we have no idea what happened on the inside. Do we have permission to enter the ship?”

It was a few moments before the radio buzzed to life. “Copy that, Ember-1. We’re assessing the situation you have described to us and are proceeding with a recovery mission. If there are any survivors, make sure they are immediately given medical attention. We need find out what happened.”

“Wilco, Echo. My team and I will go ahead and investigate the interior of the ship. See if there are any surviving ponies onboard.”

“Affirmative, Ember-1. Proceed with extreme caution; we have no idea if whatever or whoever caused the ship to beach is still located inside. You have the ‘go ahead’ to engage any hostile forces. Over and out.”

Nodding to that statement she looked to her right, focusing her magic on the nearby spear swinging by her side. Pulling it from its metal pouch she levitated it to her side. As she made her way to the ship, her team members went to the cargo. Each one began inspecting the valuable merchandise, seeing if anything had made it. Blazing Ash opened the door to one of the shipments and looked inside before reporting. “The cargo in here didn’t make it. All of it has been destroyed.”

Sparkdust walked out from one of the cargo boxes and spoke up as well. “Seems the shipment in here was destroyed, too. I don’t think any of the cargo made it.”

Aquafrost sighed, looking down at the sand beneath her hooves. ‘Cargo destroyed? The advisers are not going to like this.’ She looked back up, quickly trotting over to the side of the ship. She waved the others to follow and looked to the other unicorn. “Okay, Sparkdust. Teleport us to the deck.” She nodded, and in a light cyan flash of light, the five masked ponies disappeared. Reappearing on the deck above, Ash readied the crossbow in his hooves, and the group hurried towards the door that led inside. Lining up next to the door, Aqua waved Ash to the other side. Carefully, he opened the door and saw that there was no light on inside. He gave the ‘all clear’ with a hoof wave, moving in first before the others filed in.

Aquafrost and Sparkdust filled the dark corridor with light from their horns as they proceeded. The inside of the ship creaked while wind quietly whistled through the open door behind them. Water from the sea quietly trickled in like a sea cave at high tides, creating a mess of the halls as the ponies moved through the corridors of the ship. All was quiet as they made their way up to the bridge, seeing no signs of movement. “Geez… it sure is quiet in here.” Blazing Ash murmured, looking across the dark corridors with his crossbow drawn. He moved his muzzle, latching his teeth onto a lever in the inner side of the right muzzle helmet. Lights activated from both sides of his face from holes inside his helm.

They reached another door, opening it silently before filing through. Aquafrost signaled the group to a set of nearby stairs. They quickly ascended the staircase, briskly reaching another door. Aquafrost stopped and waved for the other three ponies to line up by the entryway. Taciturn carefully turned the handle before bashing her way inside, the others rushing in behind her. The bridge was empty, however; sparks of electricity arced between some of the panels as the wind howled through the broken windows. Aqua looked around until a red splotch on the metal floor caught her eye. She moved closer and inspected the stain. “Hey… there’s blood. Means there was a struggle up here.”

“Question is: where are the bodies?” Blazing Ash spoke up, looking at the control panels.

Sparkdust moved to her left and scanned the panels. “Consoles have been fried. Somepony sure screwed with the controls.”

“But what happened? Surely, there’s something more conclusive to go on here?” Taciturn asked, looking out the broken windows.

“There’s still a whole ship to explore.” Turning to face the group, Aqua ordered, “Alright. Sparkdust, you, Blazing Ash, and Taciturn Furtivo search the rest of the ship. See if there’s anything else you three can find. We need to find out what happened, and who or what caused this.” The stallion and two mares nodded and went out the door. Aquafrost activated her magic again to radio Command. “Echo, this is Ember-1. Bridge of the freighter ship, Nostromo, has nopony here. Panels are fried and destroyed. The cargo of the ship has been damaged after a basic look over. We discovered a trace of blood and assume there was a scuffle here. I’ve sent the others to scour the ship and see if there are any survivors. What is the possible course of action now? Over.”

The radio buzzed to life seconds after. “Ember-1, this is Echo. We advise that you and your team continue on with the recovery mission. If anypony is alive, we need them looked after and ready for questioning. A lot of money was lost on this ship. Seeing how the cargo has been destroyed, we’ll send a group of reinforcements on over to assist you.”

“Roger that, Echo. The others and I will find out what--”

A second radio transmission interrupted the call, Sparkdust’s voice coming through, although she sounded different, more concerned. “Hey, Aquafrost. We found something. You really need to come and see this.”

“Roger that, Sparkdust. Standby, Echo. I need to see what my team has found.”

“Affirmative, Ember-1. Standing by.” With that, Aquafrost quickly moved back down the stairs. Activating her magic again and lighting up the tight corridors while moving the spear to her right side again as she kept it at the ready. A flash of blue magic appeared a few meters from where she stood. Trotting on over, she saw Sparkdust with a wide-eyed expression, looking down at the corner of a wall. She walked over to ask what her fellow companion was looking at until a trail of blood leading from the corner caught her eye. Aquafrost slowly moved next to Sparkdust and silently gasped at the body she saw. It was one of the crewmembers, with a bloodied hole between the eyepieces of his mask. Gashes and cuts went along the stallion’s body, and his right foreleg had been ripped out of its socket.

Aquafrost continued to stare, mouth agape as she tried to find the words to speak. Instead, Sparkdust spoke first. “I sent the other two to go on further. When we found this stallion… we knew we needed to contact you immediately.”

Aqua turned to face Spark and said, “We need to find them. Nopony should be alone on this ship. If somepony else did something like this to one of the crew, then we need to stick together.”

“That’s the thing,” the other unicorn replied. “I don’t think it was a pony that did this… and neither do the others. There’s no way a pony could defile a body like this… even a pony who went insane could never do this with their bare hooves. Look at the marks. Those were made by something with claws.”

“What, are you saying that there was something aboard this ship with them?”

“It has to be… there’s no other explanation to how this stallion here died.” Sparkdust shivered, shaking her head at the sight she and Aqua were looking at.

Hoofsteps filled the corridor outside the room, until Blazing Ash poked his head through the doorway. “Aqua, we found more bodies. But… they’re pretty torn apart. Taciturn almost hurled with how many limbless ponies we found. Most of the others have been cut open, or have some gross slash wounds on each pony.” To hear that there were more bodies was awful. She shivered, chilled to the bone as she realized that there may be no survivors. “Taciturn is still continuing the search, so I came back to warn you about it.”

Aquafrost looked down, before activating her magic. “Echo… you still there?”

“Affirmative. You’re coming in a little fuzzy, Ember-1, but we’ll manage with the reception. Have there been any developments on the situation? Over.”

“We… are confirming that there are bodies of the crew members. We’re assuming that nopony made it, as the others have found more deceased crewmembers.”

It was silent, far too long for Aqua’s liking. She waited with dreadful anticipation, sweat running down her muzzle until the the radio crackled to life again. “Reinforcements should be on their way in about three to nine hours. Continue with your search. Just check over the rest of the ship to see if there are any survivors. And secure the perimeter until backup has arrived. Over and out.”

It went quiet as the three masked ponies stood in silence. Nopony made a sound, and nopony moved. The news of the possibility that no crew members survived was disturbing, not to mention the way each one was killed. It was only until after a few minutes of silence that Aquafrost spoke up. “Blazing Ash… go find Taciturn. Sparkdust, we need to move further in and see if anypony survived… if anypony did… and then we need to get out of here and secure what can be salvaged.” The two ponies looked to each other before nodding.

Aqua watched the stallion exit through the doorway. She sighed, shaking her head before she made her way out of the room, Sparkdust following close behind. The feeling of being inside the ship with the revelation of death made this whole experience that much darker. It was nothing she had ever expected, nor was it what anypony in her group anticipated to see. Yet she wondered if whatever had killed these ponies was still in the ship, and if it was, then where was it hiding?

A blue glow down one of the hallways caught her attention. She recalled that there were no blue lights ever installed onto the ships; which was what an engineer told her, one who had helped install the lighting system on the Nostromo. Aqua motioned to Spark to move slowly and quietly before cautiously making their way down towards the source of the light. She raised a hoof up, covering her eyes as the light became more intense the closer she moved towards it. When she rounded the corner, she was stopped in her tracks. A lone figure stood underneath an ice blue shield. Aqua looked back to Spark and raised her hoof, moving up closer to the shield alone. She circled it, but the pony inside didn’t move even an inch. Raising a hoof, she tapped at the bubble, and the pony inside raised its head.

From what she could tell, this pony had a dark green cloak with white markings running over the clothing. ‘She’s not a Neighland-Industries worker. Who the heck is she?’ When the pony looked up at Aqua, she could see the mare’s face from the aura of her horn. Aqua waved but she jumped back as the pony inside screamed, then scurried up to the farthest corner of the shield, desperately trying to get away from her. Aqua stared at the frightened pony, before speaking in a softer tone. “Please… it’s going to be alright. I’m not here to hurt you.”

The mare inside didn’t seem to heed her words, continuing to whimper quietly, turning to face away from the masked pony. The shield around the mare flickered as she watched the unknown pony wobble around. The field dissipated with a last few flickers of light, and the mare tried to run away. She only got so far before tripping over herself. Moving over to the pony, Aqua gently wrapped her forelegs around the mare’s barrel. The pony beneath her struggled, but with barely any energy at all.

“It’s alright. I’ve got you. You’re safe now,” she told the distressed mare, but the cloaked pony still tried to wiggle from Aqua’s grasp. Fearing that the only survivor might harm herself, Aqua activated her magic and cast a spell. The cloaked mare continued to quietly whimper as Aqua held her until she stopped moving a few seconds later. She shook her slightly, but gained no response from her other than the soft murmurs as she drifted asleep. Looking her over, she noticed tears on her cloak with bloodstains decorating the mare’s wounds. She looked back with a barked order, “Spark, go and find the others. I’ll stay here with her.”

Sparkdust nodded before hurrying off. She raised a hoof to her ear before something caught her attention. She looked to where the mare’s shield was and kept raising her muzzle until she caught sight of… something. Her eyes widened at the mysterious structure behind where the mare had stood. There was a figure protruding from the wall with what appeared to be a head with teeth. Its clawed hands and feet lay in a curled position, with a tail wrapping around its body. Parts of the mysterious object’s back were strung up from thick columns, and its skeletal body was covered by what appeared to be black slime. What really frightened her was the fact that this thing had no eyes. With this new and more puzzling, yet startling, find, she activated her magic and began, “Echo… I found a lone mare here. She seems to be the only surviving pony on this ship. Over.”

“That is excellent news, Ember-1. How is she doing?”

“She’s sedated at the moment. But that’s not all… there’s something attached to the wall where I found the mare. Something… I can’t even begin describing it.”

The radio was silent for a while, before the pony through the radio spoke. “What does it look like?”

“An organism of some kind. Big and dark with a lot of claws and teeth. Its body is cocooned to the wall by some sort of resin.”

The pony on the other side of the radio went quiet again, and this time it stayed silent for much longer. She opened her mouth to speak but the pony on the other side suddenly spoke again. “Ember-1, we are sending the reinforcements along with a capture unit towards your location. Expect these forces to arrive by this evening. We need you to secure the perimeter, ASAP. We think you may have found something we thought we lost. Over and out.” With that, the radio went silent, and the mare kept staring at the object on the wall. Whatever it was, she didn’t know why Command was so eager to send reinforcements so quickly, but for now, she had to help this mare recover. The questioning could wait until they got back.

Chapter I: Remembrance ~ Part I

View Online

All was peacefully calm as the winds of fall slowly breezed through the town below. The starry night sky gave way to a beautiful world lit in the pale light of Luna’s moon. The patter of hooves against concrete echoed softly across the streets while lamps offered their artificial light to the few ponies walking through the silent streets of Ponyville.

However, all of it was a guise; the once-peaceful feeling that roamed these streets was filled with an apprehensive and uneasy atmosphere. A door swung open from the Sofas and Quills store with a lavender alicorn walking out.

“Thanks again for the quills, Davenport. I really appreciate it,” Twilight said, waving as she looked back. She turned to face forward, and her smile disappeared just as she was a few feet away from the building. A sigh followed while she slowly made her way home, her satchel shifting gently against the right side of her barrel.

She looked between the buildings, her hooves clacking against the concrete sidewalk as she scanned the alleyways. Frowning slightly, she murmured something under her breath. She had told herself over and over that the Xenomorph was gone and that it was no longer a threat. Still, even with the nightmarish beast gone, the calm and safe feeling of sanctuary that this town had once was gone. Even if the alien had been the only creature responsible for the devastation of lives here in Ponyville, it was gone and she would have had an easier time feeling safe. But a pony tried to have his way with her while she was unconscious, and the process of trusting others again was much more of a challenge than she had fully anticipated.

As she scanned the buildings and alleyways, her eyes rested on Sugarcube Corner. After the horrifying turn of events, Pinkie Pie seemed to have changed so little, or maybe there was no change in her demeanor at all. It was like nothing the Xenomorph had done had affected her joyful and overly energetic nature. Even throughout the subsequent adventures with her friends, her cheerfulness never seemed to diminish. The thought itself was rather heartwarming; a faint smile formed on her lips. Given the circumstances of what could have happened if they had not come to Carrot Cake’s rescue in time, she feared what hidden changes could have affected Pinkie Pie.

Another one of her friends came to mind: the shy pegasus, Fluttershy. She was undoubtedly one of the most terrified of her friends during the events about a month ago. This encounter with a beast beyond their imagination had left the already-frightened pegasi even more reclusive, her trust of unknown creatures had all but completely disappeared.

Yet, it was also surprising to see her grow from such an experience. It was as if the terrible moments had given Fluttershy a strange amount of courage and bravery. This was especially the case when Rarity had asked her if she would join the Pony Tones since they had lost a member, Big Macintosh, to the Xenomorph. She expected Fluttershy to be apprehensive and refuse the offer, and she never anticipated her to end up joining the group. It truly was another sign that the others were somehow finding ways to fight off this lingering depression.

A third pony came to mind: the hotheaded cyan pegasus, Rainbow Dash. It seemed like the dangerous encounter with the alien had shaken her friend’s mind to its core. Rarity had helped her friend hide the scar where the Xenomorph’s spear-like tail had punctured through her stomach with a casual garment, one that she hoped Rainbow Dash would like. Whenever she would greet Rainbow, there the top would be; hiding the scar from that terrible encounter.

There were times where she would always act like herself, tough and unafraid of anything. Yet it seemed to be fake; that bravery faltered at a moment’s notice. And there was this even greater drive in her to overwork herself to the point of exhausting her body to a dangerous level. And it was even worse too, especially since she now had asthma because of the damage that was done to her lungs. On multiple occasions in the last couple of weeks, Fluttershy had found her unconscious. Of course everypony had been worried for her, and Rainbow kept reassuring them she wouldn’t drive herself into the ground. However, it didn’t feel like she was going to stop no matter how many times she said she would.

Even so, she had become increasingly loyal to everypony. Twilight had noticed this during the qualifying events for the Equestrian Games at Rainbow Falls. As they were arriving at the train station, she had inspired both Bulk Biceps and Fluttershy to perform at an astonishing level. When Soarin had sprained his wing during practice, Wonderbolt captains Spitfire and Fleetfoot had tried to convince her to join the winning side. Rainbow Dash had downright refused to do so and Ponyville’s team had finished with one of the best times. Of course, it was a good sign to see that her lazy side was still around, but sadly, it didn’t appear as often as it used to. Rainbow Dash barely got any rest; Twilight knew that if she didn’t tone down on her exercises, the effects could pose a serious threat to her already weakened lungs.

Another example of this new disposition was when she desperately wanted a limited-edition Daring Do book. Yet when she had finally worked her way towards trading it for an Orthros, Rainbow had completely changed tracks when Fluttershy was the final trade item and instead exchanged the Orthros for a bird whistle. It was a nice change in one of her friends, yet worrisome all the same. Twilight hoped that the change wasn’t just a veil for her friend’s depression.

In the distance, she saw a farm standing rigid upon a hill. Twilight’s frown deepened when she thought about her hardworking earth pony friend, Applejack. It seemed like she was one of the hardest hit among her group of friends. She had lost her brother, Big McIntosh, to that horrible nightmare while sustaining an injury on her right shoulder from the Xenomorph as well. When her brother had died, Applejack had become furious to the point where she blindly blamed the insane stallion, Kettlepot, for killing Big McIntosh, although they later found out that the Alien was responsible for his death. Because of these events, she had become more straight-to-the-point and had developed a no-nonsense attitude, tirelessly working on the farm and losing all enjoyment for relaxing activities.

Her little sister, Apple Bloom, hadn’t been spared of this harm either. The little filly had been distraught for a week after their family buried Big McIntosh, and she didn’t seem to come out of her state until some time later. After she had shown signs of recovery, there was something new that resonated from Apple Bloom. She seemed to be more relaxed, calmer and even a bit distant from everypony else at school. Her friends Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were the only two to show mostly on the day of their lessons; they told Twilight that she was too busy working on the farm and felt like she needed to fill the shoes of her older brother.

But she still made time for her friends, Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle, to go Cutie Mark Crusading. It was nice to know that she had still retained at least some of her adolescent innocence after everything that happened. But there were moments, Twilight noticed during Apple Bloom’s alchemy studies, when she would stop smiling. She would slink down, hiding her eyes behind her mane, and fall into this deep depression, like she finally couldn’t hide her sorrows from the world anymore. She just hoped the little filly could break this dejected state, hopefully with the help of her older sister, Applejack.

Granny Smith had grown reclusive, never venturing out from Sweet Apple Acres. But when Twilight was able to visit Applejack, Granny Smith still maintained the same wise and caring composure. The only time she ever saw her come down to Ponyville was if Applejack and Apple Bloom were able to convince her. She had shown little emotion over her grandson’s death, but everypony knew she struggled with concealing her pain, although she never let it be known.

Twilight had heard from Pinkie Pie after her trip with the Apple family that they had gotten into a very heated argument when they went looking for Golden Delicious, trying to see if the pink earth pony was related to their family or not. It had turned out that, on Golden’s genealogy scroll, the name she was looking for was smudged out in the book as well. But Applejack and the others still accepted her as a family member.

Twilight had also heard from Apple Bloom during her time with the filly about a trip delivering pies one day. The little filly fought with her big sister about how overprotective Applejack was. Apparently, it was bad enough that Apple Bloom broke down in tears, which normally only happened when the memories of Big McIntosh disrupted her emotional balance. She was glad to hear that the two sisters were able to work everything out in the end, but Twilight worried over Applejack, wondering if she would isolate herself like Granny Smith had done and become too overprotective of everypony else.

A moment later, a familiar boutique caught her gaze. She sighed as she knew how bad Rarity and Sweetie Belle had it. The beautiful unicorn had been with the monster’s disgusting embryo, and her little sister had almost shared that same fate. Twilight was glad that Rarity had survived the surgery, but since then, she had seemed to grow so distant. She spent countless hours in her boutique working on new fashion designs and rarely came out to talk with them. Even then, whenever Twilight had the chance to speak with her, there always seemed to be this fake expression of her normal demeanor covering Rarity’s face. Twilight could only hope that Rarity would break this habit, but she could not foretell how long that would take.

Like Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle had retained some of her innocence, but she was so much more wary and uneasy of her surroundings afterwards. The path of recovery wasn’t as easy for her. There were times she heard from her daughter, Nyx, that Sweetie would indiscriminately break out into tears at school and mutter that something was going to find her and infect her like her sister. The poor little filly even had to go through counseling to help reassure her that everything was going to be fine. Twilight knew that Sweetie would probably need this counselor to keep her sanity in check. It took the longest of times to comfort Sweetie Belle during her own time in helping her practice her magic, but even then, Twilight didn’t know how long she would be able to retain this temporary state of mind, seeing how psychologically damaged she was.

Both Rarity and Sweetie Belle had their ups and downs, from Rarity almost losing a fashion design competition to having an argument with Sweetie Belle after the younger sister tried to sabotage an order after old wounds from the past were brought up. Of course the two sisters made up, but she was still so afraid for them. Rarity had almost lost it entirely when Spike gave her the enchanted book from the Royal Sister’s castle, but thankfully he was able to snap her out of it. But would Rarity be able to escape this lingering melancholy state, or would she remain a miserable mess for the rest of her life?

As she moved on, her thought of Nyx had brought up another pony a week earlier. Silver Spoon, an earth pony classmate of her daughter, was without a friend after Diamond Tiara had been murdered by Kettlepot. Twilight heard from her daughter about how Silver Spoon would spend her time at school all alone, but she later found out that the Cutie Mark Crusaders had jumped in, befriending her even after she and Diamond had bullied them profusely. Of course they still had their rough moments, including when Silver Spoon accidentally revealed to the other students that she was teaching them one day a week, calling it “Twilight Time.” Twilight gave them one more chance after they showed that they did learn what she was teaching them. A memory she couldn’t help but chuckle at.

She frowned again; those three fillies had been almost inseparable before the Alien had been brought here. Thanks to the massacre it wrought, Sweetie Belle had been asking more about defensive magic. Even Apple Bloom began to pry for information about invisibility potions for “just in case” situations. Scootaloo began to split away from them, focusing on her own projects. Twilight had done her best to keep their friendship together, although even then she had known that only they could be the ones to mend their friendship. There was hope that Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle would recover. She just didn’t know when.

Twilight yelped as a sharp pain struck her muzzle. She rubbed it with a hoof and shook her head, then looked up to see the door to her home. As she stepped forward, the sound of paper crunched quietly underneath her hoof. She returned her gaze to the ground to see the morning newspaper, the one she paid no attention to like all the other newspapers as the weeks passed. Exhaling once more, she picked it up in a raspberry aura and gently placed it in her satchel. She opened the door and closed it before sliding against it onto the floor.

She too, was badly affected. Being the Princess of Friendship, she had a duty to help those in need. But regaining that ability to trust was so difficult. Sometimes she liked to think that she had gotten it the worst, even if she hadn’t been impregnated. When they had first met this creature, it had almost killed her; luckily, she had been saved by the other princesses. She had lost her brother, Shining Armor, after he had taken a group of Royal Guards in an effort to try and kill the Xenomorph. It had failed, for when she found him he already had one of those nightmarish creatures inside him. It was there she had been forced to kill him after her sister-in-law, Princess Cadance, couldn’t go through with it. Not only did she lose a brother, but the stallion Kettlepot had found a way inside her home and had almost had his way with her after he had knocked her out with sleeping magic. It was hard to forgive him, even after his death, when she knew he had been psychologically traumatized by the Xenomorph killing his marefriend, Berryshine.

Her adopted daughter, Nyx, had been captured and had almost shared Rarity’s fate; trying to retain her sanity was challenging enough. Twilight stayed up many nights comforting her daughter whenever she heard her crying in her room. Sometimes she even had Nyx sleep with her, not only helping her daughter, but soothing herself as well when she had nightmares. Nyx eventually recovered from her ordeal, although not fully reassured that she wasn’t in any immediate danger.

And then there was Spike. Her charge that was both like a younger brother and a son to her had changed so much. It felt like he had lost all the innocence he used to have after the creature’s mentally destructive wake. The young drake became so cold, so distant. It was hard to even talk to him or to get a word out of him. He kept repeatedly blaming himself that he wasn’t able to save Nyx from the Xenomorph, even though she was alright in the end. Spike also condemned himself for not being able to save Twilight when Kettlepot had knocked her out and when Rarity had been captured and impregnated. He felt he wouldn’t have saved her in time, even though the fashionista had almost perished.

And because of the disastrous moments of this encounter, he had grown a little taller. Spike had lost all signs of his baby fat over time and anything cute with it. His spines and claws had grown longer. His fangs had even grown an inch or two as well. These physical changes gave him a more predatory and intimidating look, one he shared with his own kind. She just hoped that other ponies wouldn’t become frightened or nervous when being around him.

Picking herself up, she slowly walked up the stairs and headed for her room. She opened the door and heard a faint breathing sound coming from the bed. Twilight stopped with a gasp as her eyes fell onto the lump under her bedsheets, her eyes widening as they glimmered with fear. She cautiously moved over to the side, gently pulling away the bed sheets. She exhaled and relaxed as she saw Nyx's sleeping face come out from under the covers. Realizing there was nothing to be scared of, she silently moved over to a desk next to the window and put her satchel down.

Twilight looked over to a corner of the room, closing her eyes and looking away from the empty bed that belonged to Spike. Her number one assistant had suddenly disappeared one day. Twilight blamed herself; she had started a fight after she had tried to reassure him over and over that she and her friends weren’t hurt. When he went missing, she and her friends went looking for wherever Spike could have gone. Nopony was able to find anything within the first week, but even though some of the citizens of Ponyville gave up, her friends kept looking with her, still trying their hardest to locate the young drake.

She opened her eyes, a glint of light catching her attention. Moving her gaze over to the top right side of the desk, her breath caught in her throat. There sat a picture of Shining Armor and Cadance along with herself next to her brother. Her mother and father both stood on opposite ends with Nyx and Spike in front of the picture. When the funeral began, she had found her mother and father next to Cadance, the three of whom were weeping and crying over the loss of their husband and son. She had told them what she had done, profusely grieving over what she did all the while. She had worried over how her mother and father would have taken the news, and she was surprised that they understood why she had to end his suffering.

When the Equestrian Games took place, there was a long moment of silence and recognition for the deceased Captain of the Royal Guard, with a few ponies including herself breaking down into tears because of the event. Seeing the picture again, she questioned her own motives and contemplated whether her brother actually could have been saved.

Thinking of the Equestrian Games brought a memory of Spike again. The dragon was revered as a hero in the Crystal Empire and had been asked to perform the torch lighting ceremony. During the opening ceremony, stage fright got the better of him, and he’d been unable to even produce a simple flame. Twilight ultimately stepped in and secretly lit the torch herself. When Spike found out that he didn’t somehow miraculously light the torch with his mind, his already-weakened self-esteem took a serious blow. Despite her and her friends’ best efforts, they were unable to reassure him that it was okay. Not even Cadance’s gratitude towards him single-handedly saving dozens of lives from a cloud that was frozen in an ice archery accident managed to raise his spirits.

On the topic of Princess Cadance, her former foalsitter now had to run the Crystal Empire alone, with no support from a husband, all the while being an expectant mother. Of course, Twilight visited her from time to time, and during one of these little get-togethers, Discord decided to crash their bonding time. Despite this, however, she demonstrated surprising patience with the Draconequus. Ultimately, this helped her in receiving her Friendship Key, one that all her friends would later get as well. In the end, when Tirek broke free, he told them that he didn’t hesitate to capture the centaur. Not only did she and the girls discover a new power that put Tirek away, but she had gained a castle as well while still being able to run the Golden Oaks Library now and then.

She opened her eyes, tears slowly trickling down her muzzle. Twilight didn’t make a sound, but she had a hard time controlling her emotions by this point. She and her friends had experienced so much loss, and it was all because of the Xenomorph. It had done so much damage to them and still continued to do so, even with its physical presence gone. She looked down to the newspaper in her satchel, unfurled it, and read its contents. Even if she didn’t truly care much about the current events of the world, she still needed to be updated on a daily basis. Besides, it would help her get her mind off of these more depressing thoughts. When she began with the headlines, the first thing she noticed was talk about a company merger.

‘What’s so important about a company?’ Shrugging to herself, she decided to look it over and see what she would find. As her eyes slowly darted from one side of the page to the other, another part of the paper caught her attention. There was a title in bold letters stating the event.

The Equestrian company known as Neighland Industries has merged with the Neighponese company Yupony, thanks to the efforts of the owner of Neighland Industries. His achievement has brought a new name to the business, calling it “Neighland-Yupony.”

Twilight stopped right after the end of the sentence. Her hooves were shaking slightly on the desk. It sounded so similar to the company that she had learned so much about during the events of the nightmarish creature’s rampage. It was the same company that the vile human scientist, Dr. Makoy Markovich, worked for: “Weyland-Yutani.”

‘Can… can it be? No… no that’s not right. You’re just worrying yourself too much. There’s no similarities to it at all.’ Reassuring herself, she continued on down and saw a quote written down from the journalists, stating what the owner of Neighland Industries said. But what it said stopped her dead in her tracks.

“Here at Neighland-Yupony, we are looking forward to creating new possibilities not only for ponykind, but for the rest of the nations that we call friends. We look forward to helping others out, making this world a better place. Neighland-Yupony… building better countries."

Twilight’s eyes widened and her breathing quickened as she recognized the similarities of the two companies. Both had a similar logo, with it being a yellow ‘N’ instead of a ‘W’ that was overimposed with a gray ‘Y.’ The catchphrase was eerily similar to Weyland-Yutani’s. Her hooves shook even more as the terrible nightmares came back. The aura surrounding the newspaper gave way, falling to the floor with a silent swish as Twilight leaned back into her chair.

‘No… this can’t be possible. It just can’t be...’ That fear began to overwhelm her. Images of Makoy laughing rushed through her thoughts. She blinked, shook her head and frowned. ‘This doesn’t mean that they’re like Weyland-Yutani. Even if their company’s motto is… eerily similar. I shouldn’t rush to conclusions.’ She quietly got off the chair and moved over to her bed, slowly and gently sliding underneath the covers of the bed sheets. Twilight’s breathing slowed down a little as she rationalized the situation. A muffled groan resonated from the filly next to her, and she looked over to her daughter. A smile formed on her muzzle as she wrapped a hoof around her. ‘I’m possibly overreacting… but I’ll keep a close eye on this new company. Just to make sure they don’t do anything rash.’ With that idea set in stone, she closed her eyes and exhaled, letting sleep wash over her.


Up above the mesosphere of the world, there floated the alien ship that had sent one of the hunters down to Equestria. Onboard the vessel stood one of the bipedal creatures staring out to the planet from the bridge. The land below was cloudless, giving the creature full view of the large landscape and oceans surrounding the continent on both sides. Above the dry and rocky landscape located on the planet below was a more lush and green terrain. The hunter, intrigued by this perspective of the land, looked up to the more forested region up north and gazed out across the area below.

It had not received any more messages from its brother since last week and was curious to the fate that had befallen its comrade, although it kept the idea of its brother’s death in the back of its mind. A beep echoed from behind the hunter. It glanced back towards the noise and noticed a red light flashing on the monitor next to the chair. Turning around, the creature made its way over to the light and pressed the button. The globe in the center of the area expanded as the hologram zoomed closer into the planet’s surface.

Smoke slowly floated into the enlarged three-dimensional image. The hunter tilted his head and made a clicking noise, curious to what was causing this. The image moved closer, small pieces of debris laid on the ground. A target appeared on a specific area on the map as the signal became stronger. When the image finally zoomed in to the maximum view, a scanner opened up as a faint pulse weakly echoed out. The hunter clicked again as it looked down at the floor.

The transmission signaled that his brother was dead; killed by self-destruction. Footsteps echoed on the metal flooring behind it before two other hunters moved to the first one’s left and right. It glanced to the other two hunters, muttering something with a growl. The other two clicked in response, and all was silent for a few moments. To honor their brother, the three creatures went silent. They were surprised that these equines were able to defeat their brother in combat. Surely, if they were capable of such a feat, they were more dangerous than the hunters realized.

It was some time until the first predator pressed a few buttons on the panel. The ship around them disappeared from sight, the sun’s rays of light almost completely pouring through its invisible body. It silently flew down to the surface of the planet, bright red and orange flames surrounding the ship’s front area as it descended through the atmosphere. They hoped to find the remains of their brother’s wrist pad and discern any information they could of their brother’s quarry. All of that would be decided if anything of their brother had survived the explosion.

Chapter I: Remembrance ~ Part II

View Online

It was dark, no sounds echoed through this vast expanse of gloomy nothingness. The deathly quiet had been like this for some time, Crystal felt like she was unable to breach the dreadful silence. She could not feel her hooves, or even have the strength to move them. All she could do was sit here and wait. Was she dead? She remembered something horrifying had taken place, yet she didn’t recall exactly what it was. It felt like her whole body was weighted down by some force that kept her pinned to the ground.

“Hello?” A voice echoed in the distance, she strained her ears to discern where the source of the noise was, but couldn’t figure out where it was resonating from. A cold feeling rested against her back, along with freezing air that wrapped around her body as she tried to figure out what that chilly sensation was.The weight she felt began to slowly lift as the cold feeling that covered her body slowly faded, a warmth replacing it. She squirmed against the cold sensation against her back, still trying to discern what it was. She carefully opened her eyes, a blinding light greeted her vision.

It took her a moment until Crystal Rune’s eyes adjusted to the light, widening a little as she tried to raise her head. She gasped silently as she felt a pain jolt through the entirety of her body, breathing in and out as she tried to ignore the stinging sensations. Her eyes quickly adapted to the overwhelming light, opening and closing them until the light fixture became clearer. Raising her head, she scanned the room. There was a glass window to her left, seeing unfamiliar ponies standing in the opposite side of the shaded room.

Turning her gaze to the walls, they gleamed with the artificial light of the room, a metal composing of their structure. Wherever she was, this place did not have a friendly vibe to it. “You’re finally awake.” She looked over to her right, seeing a stallion unicorn seated in a chair next to her. He looked to be relieved, although she could tell there was still some worry in his gaze. “Really thaugh’ you were a goner for sure.”

She could tell he had an Connemaran accent, hearing his words jumble together a little. Looking over the stallion’s body, his build was neither a strong looking stallion or a skinny one. From his dark blue scrubs, she knew he was a nurse or some medical staff member. Seeing the other half of his exposed body, the color of his coat was a moderate cyan, yet his long, messy, golden brown mane kind of threw off that helpful feeling. ‘Is… this pony even certified in his job?’

His brilliant red eyes shimmered as he gazed over her body. He seemed to notice her worried gaze, quickly flicking his attention down to the floor. “Don’ worry. You’re in good hooves now.”

Crystal rubbed her temple, groaning a little as the constant pain throbbed. “Where… am I? And how did I get here?” Her voice, as she noticed, was a little ragged.

“Well, you’re in dah-” He stopped talking for a moment, gulping as he cleared his throat. “You're in the medical ward of this facility. Don’t worry, though, you’re safe now.” The stallion said, turning his focus to the infusion pump at the mare’s right. Moving over to it, he brought his hooves up and began twisting or hitting switches as he continued. “It was surprising to find that you were still alive. We’d thought for sure that you’d never wake up from your coma.”

“I was… in a coma?” It was startling to say the least. What happened to her that made her black out in the first place?

“Yeah. For about a solid week. I don’t know what happened on the ship you were on, but I can imagine it wasn’t any good.”

‘Ship… what ship?’ As Crystal thought about this vessel she was on, something clicked in her mind as the gears began to turn. Her eyes widened. The world began to change, and it only got worse.

She suddenly heard a blaring noise, opening her eyes slowly before they jolted open. Rune quickly shot up, standing on all fours as she looked around. The piercing alarm carried on, a voice over the intercom repeating, “Attention, attention. All personnel must make their way to the nearest chamber. There is an unidentified creature on board the Nostromo. I repeat, unidentified creature is on board the Nostromo. Move to the closest chamber and stay there until the security forces can contain this creature.”

That message continued to go on, as she thought of what it might have been. She heard a pony’s scream, followed by another sound; a loud and high pitched roar that drowned out the shriek of terror coming from the pony. Crystal turned around and looked through a small crevice, the alarm’s red light brightening her pale blue eyes. Two shadows stood in front of the light, her eyes widened as she saw a pony being lifted up in the air by the claws of a towering creature. It was only moments later did the stallion let out one final scream before the tail of this creature came down and sliced him in half, his intestines hung from the two split halves as his organs splattered to the floor, blood trickling over the pile of guts.

Crystal gagged, wide-eyed, covering her mouth with her hooves as the stench of blood and guts overflowed her nose. She just watched a pony get ripped in half like it was nothing. The creature dropped the separated halves of the stallion, moving its eyeless gaze in her direction, a crest-like crown at the end of the creature's head. Rune ducked down, hearing the creature let out a hiss. She flinched as she heard its footsteps echo closer and closer, feeling the metal floor vibrate under her body.

A growl resonated from above, Crystal remaining completely still as it scanned the small area behind the metal crates. It hissed again, pulling away from the crevice and turning around, its footsteps slowly echoing as it walked in a different direction. Rune hesitantly moved back up, watching the creature move towards a door at the center of the cargo bay’s wall before disappearing. She suppressed a horrified gasp as she realized that she and the crewmembers were now stuck on a freighter ship with the nightmare that had terrorized Ponyville. A voice broke through the noise until the daydream around her began to break apart.

She screamed, thrashing about in her hospital bed as her eyes darted around, looking for a vent or door and hoping that the Xenomorph wouldn’t be barging through those entryways. The stallion who attended to her had dropped to the floor, covering his ears in shock of the sudden shriek of panic.

“Ih’s okay!” He yelled, getting up and moving over to the hysterical mare.

Crystal stopped screaming, catching her breath as she gripped her chest with her right hoof. The memories were almost too much for her to even handle. She felt a pressure grip her shoulders, looking to her sides and seeing the stallion stand in front of her.

“Jush calm down, alrigh? Dere’s nothing ta worry abouh anymore. You’re in a safe place on the main facility of Neighland-Yupony. Everything will be-”

A split second after hearing that name, Crystal screamed again before she shot a beam of magic, the orb exploding in a ice blue light as the stallion was sent hurtling towards the wall. She looked down to see the stunned pony, groaning as he rubbed his head. Quickly, she got up and made her way to the door. She felt a force push her back as soon as she opened it, yelping as she hit the wall behind the bed she laid on.

Recovering from the impact, she pushed against the force, seeing a magic aura around her body. Crystal kept fighting the force of the spell, watching shadows approach the door before seeing a pony in a doctor’s outfit approaching her with a syringe. She screamed again, grunting and shrieking as the pony got closer. She heard an exchange with the stallion on the ground, but suddenly felt dizzy as the doctor injected her with the drug. Everything went limp as her wails turned into quiet whimpers. Her eyes felt heavy, and they slowly closed until she felt the forced slumber finally take her, the darkness encompassing her once more.

Chapter II: A Meeting of Apprehension

View Online

The lights of the buildings illuminated the streets of Manehatten. Ponies walked along the sidewalk, the clacking of their hooves echoing along the concrete structures, carriages squeaking as many of the yellow and black coaches were pulled along the cement roads. Among this crowd of equines was a little filly making her way back from a busy day of planning ideas with her friends at the Cutie Marks club. She had a bright gamboge coat with a light red mane that hung at the right side of her muzzle. The usual day at school was boring as ever, but at least she had been able to include a few more members to the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Now that the club had five members, Babs was happy to have more ponies join her and feel better about themselves.

After all, she knew where most were coming from, having previously dealt with the embarrassing harassment of being markless. She chuckled silently at the memories but felt a deep pit form in her stomach as the thought shifted to her cousin, Apple Bloom. It had been a few weeks since she had last heard about her favorite cousin, much less any other news about her sister and grandmother over in Ponyville. It wasn’t like them to shut out everypony else; not being able to hear from her cousin was all so very stressful. Her thoughts were always filled with the usual questions. Was she okay? How were Applejack and Granny Smith? Why hadn’t they talked to anypony else?

The frown deepened as she recalled the tragedy that had struck her cousin’s family. The newspapers had borne a large headline the day after what had happened about her favorite cousin and their side of the family, losing Big McIntosh to some creature that hadn’t been disclosed to the public. All they knew was that something had terrorized the citizens of Ponyville and killed thirty-eight ponies. The day the information was disclosed to the public hadn’t been a very cheerful day for her. Babs Seed constantly fretted over how Apple Bloom was faring since then. If they would only reply to her letters...

A voice echoed above the other sounds of ponies, and she turned to see who it was. There stood two ponies, both with white and red-striped hats and shirts. The two ponies had matching canes, with one pony having a red mustache.

“Come one, come all!” The one without a mustache spoke. “For a very exciting display, isn’t that right, Flam?”

“Why, of course, Flim. It just so happens that these here ponies have the luck of seeing the latest on the market and top-of-the-line items that you and I have that might tickle their fancy,” said Flam, twirling his cane around on one hoof.

She tilted her head, shaking it afterwards. Her cousin had warned her of the Flim Flam Brothers, telling her all about the trouble they had caused because of their selfish scams to bring in bits. Blowing her mane out of her eyes, she moved on until a shadow moved from the corner of her eye. She turned to see a pale blue unicorn carrying a chest with her magic. The mare moved it into a trailer behind her, grunting with effort to get it in.

“Hey… Trixie?” she called out, watching as Trixie turned to face her. “Do you need some help or something?”

Trixie stared for a moment longer, until she smiled. “Ah, it is good to see you, Babs Seed. Trixie is just having some trouble moving her chest up onto her trailer.”

‘Jeez louize. Does she always talk like that?’ “Ya look like you're struggling with that chest there.”

The unicorn flinched before chuckling quietly. “What, this old thing? Obviously you have no idea how much luggage The Great and Powerful Trixie carries around.”

She kept staring with a deadpan expression. “You know, I wonder how long you can go without talking in the third person.” The filly smiled as Trixie frowned at her.

“Oh, hah, hah. Now if you’ll stop teasing Trixie, she shall show you how, inferior, this box is to her.” Trixie struggled with the heavy chest, and it came sliding back, hitting the ground with a loud ‘thump.’

She sighed, shaking her head before walking over to Trixie. “Okay, you obviously need help.” She grabbed one side of the box, before sliding underneath and settling it onto her back. Grunting with effort, she slowly stood, straining under the box’s heavy weight. “Jeez louize… what are you carrying in here, a pack of elephants or something?”

“If you must know, it is Trixie’s own personal items. Since Trixie cannot afford an apartment, Trixie must move wherever she can find a place to stop for some time.”

She slid the chest onto the wooden trailer and wiped some sweat off her brow. “No kidding? I thought after that whole incident with the diamond, you’d be living the big dream. Isn’t that why you came here?”

Trixie stood still, before turning to face the young filly. “Actually… it was to get away for a while. Trixie does certainly love to entertain her audience, but sometimes she can get stressed. After all, Trixie promised another pony she would try her best to change her way of treating others.”

Trixie sounded like she was hurt, yet confused. “So… I hope you find what you're looking for,” she murmured before walking off.

“Wait!” She swiveled her ears as Trixie called out. “Um, Trixie would like to thank you… Babs Seed.”

“Fuggetaboutit. It’s no problem.” She blew her hair out of her muzzle once more before facing forward again. Babs walked to the end of the alley and looked around the corner of a building next to her. She tilted her head as she noticed that the Flim Flam brothers were gone. ‘That’s odd…’ She blinked, noticing that the Flim Flam brothers’ canes and items were left leaning against the front wall of a building she had passed by. ‘If they left, why didn’t they take their stuff?’ A muffled gasp echoed behind her. She spun around to see that Trixie was struggling in the grasp of two masked stallions. She kicked desperately while one of the assailants held her forelegs back and the other pressed a rag to her muzzle. Trixie’s muffled cries became weaker, her legs stopped flailing and her eyes fluttered before she passed out.

‘W-what’s going on?’ She felt a hoof wrap around her with a wet rag placed against her mouth. She cried out, but something was wrapped around her muzzle, the being behind her was stronger than she was. Babs darted her eyes right and left, her eyes widening as she saw nopony walking alongside sidewalk anymore. Feeling her hooves skid across the ground as she was dragged back into the alleyway. Babs felt the world spin around her in a blur, her voice muffled as she quietly whimpered. The buildings faded as the sense of sleep finally gave way to darkness.

Lights reflected from the window, the distance revealed with them being just small orbs. A snore echoed throughout the room, furnished with nice furniture, appliances, giving it a futuristic-like style: and a lovely scenic view to a beach, the ocean roaring in the distance. The bed shifted slightly as the pony under the sheets rolled over onto his side. A sudden alarm resonated from a small device on the side of the wall, right-side from his bed. The pony underneath the covers grumbled and raised his head from under the covers, his grayish brown hair glowed in the soft luminescence from the moon's light piercing the windows.

A greenish gray aura lit up from the old stallion’s horn, a silver plaque lit up with Bishop Neighland’s name glowing in the green light. He moved the covers off of his lower body and stood up on all fours, rubbing both his eyes with his right hoof until he turned to the noisy little device. ‘I’m going to remind myself to dismantle that contraption sooner or later.’ He frowned at the annoying sound and walked over to the intercom. Pressing a circular red button he cleared his throat and asked, “Who is this?”

“I am terribly sorry for such an unscheduled call, Bishop, sir. I apologize for the surprise."

Bishop looked past his windows toward one of the buildings into the distance, focused on the building to the furthest left. “What is it, Dr. Nerve? I don’t mean to sound irritable, but you are calling me in the middle of the night. This better be important.”

“Yes of course. Terribly sorry, Bishop.” The shuffling of papers echoed over on Dr. Nerve’s side, Bishop looking down to the ground as he waited. “Another scientist and I have come up with a very interesting hypothesis as to the reason why the specimen is so uncooperative." Bishop felt the weight of sleep quickly rise off of him at the mention of his new project. “Do you recall in the video we 'ascertained', where the human known as Dr. Makoy Markovich talked about a specific reason as to why the 'Xenomorphs' were so uncontrollable?”

“Of course. What are you getting at here?”

“Well. I am prepared to say that Dr. Makoy Markovich may have been right. What if these creatures do have some kind of telepathic mindset?” Bishop looked outside his window again at the far left building, turning his gaze to the first floor of the tall building, as if he knew something more. “If these creatures have a telepathic way of communicating with one another, which my hypothesis is currently under work to figure out if this “what if” is correct, then we may be able to crack the code to these creatures, and why Specimen Zero is resistant to our teaching methods.”

Bishop’s frown quickly turned around, replaced by a smile as he said. “It sounds like an idea.” He stopped for a moment, calling to mind the ponies they claimed earlier and asked, “speaking of which. When will the birthing process begin?”

“We have a sufficient amount of variables at the moment. However, retrieval team 3-C has yet to return from Equestria. When they get back, Dr. Nenne Seion will get the birth process started.” The communicator shifted slightly on Dr Nerve’s end before he spoke again, “that is all I have to say for now, Bishop. I will contact you as soon as there is an update.”

With that the line went quiet, Bishop turned to the window again and walked towards it. Inches away he smiled at the progress that had been made. Now they were closer to cracking this invisible shell wide open, ready to take the prize inside that would finally allow them to command a being that seemed too resistant to their methods. Sleep was a thing of the past at the moment, for Neighland was too thrilled at this new bit of information. ‘Soon… that Queen shall be mine. And when it's under control, Neighland-Yupony shall have the world’s first bio-weapon to call its own. And then… we can enact that sweet, satisfaction of Beta Phase… the Noble Purge.’

A gentle breeze blew over the Tenochtitlan Basin as the trees slowly waved in the wind, their leaves rustling together to create a tranquil noise. The forest had regained a much lighter feeling since Daring had left, animals freely continuing their normal day-to-day routines. A bird flew in the air, descending rapidly before landing smoothly on a branch. It chirped away, hopping along the limb and scanning the forest floor in search of a midnight snack. As it was trilling away, the wind around it became deathly quiet for a few moments until it picked back up again. It quickly looked up, tilting its head swiftly as it noticed something flying under the clouds. It lost interest before flying to the ground.

The invisible ship above quickly sped through the air in an almost perfect silence as the hunters made their way to the last known location of their brother. Aboard the ship, one of the creatures opened the sliding door to the armory. As it entered, it reached for one of the silver metallic cannons, grabbing it and placing it on its left shoulder. It reached for a neon blue-like liquid container and secured a bladed disc before moving out of the room. It moved down the hall to another door on the left, the metallic door sliding opened as the hunter went through. It grabbed a mask before heading back out. It made its way down the hallway and moved into a dark room.

Once inside, it waited, the room completely quiet as it sat down on a metallic bench. A bright light suddenly pierced the darkness as a wide door slowly opened to the outside world. It stood and walked to the ledge, jumping out into the bright light filling the deck. The intense luminescence dulled as the hunter descended from the ship, the air rushing past. It landed with a loud thud, resting on one knee until looking up to the moonlit forest around it. It stood, rolling its shoulders after the jump before flipping open its wrist-pad, slowly pressing a few buttons until disappearing from sight as a wave of electricity rushed over its body, bright blue lights flashing from the mask’s eyes as a final sign before it was completely invisible.

It silently began its trek on towards the last known location of its fallen brother, jumping from tree branch to tree branch in a quick succession, leaves fluttering off their limbs and onto the ground. The hunter continued on its noiseless journey until the forest began to thin out, jumping onto a tree and crawling out on a branch as it stared out at a vast open expanse. A large crater greeted its view, indicating the bomb that its brother used for self-destruction. The hunter clicked quietly, scanning the surrounding area, looking for any trace of movement or sign that something survived.

As it scanned the vast depression in the ground, its scanners picked up something to the very far right. It looked over the crater, adjusting the range of its visors to have a closer look while switching the surroundings to a dark green scenery. A small green liquid trail was lit up in its visor, the hunter growled with interest before jumping down from the tree and quickly made its way over to the stain.

Walking up to the spot, it brushed a hand over the tainted grass, clicking at the cold feeling. Small diagrams came up on its visors, symbols in its own language indicating the contents to be blood but with a very high acidic level. A line of symbols came up below the image of the blood, growling in satisfaction as it found this to be the blood of the Queen Xenomorph. Looking up to the sky, it offered a silent prayer, glad to know that its prey had survived the blast. Scanning ahead of the smear, the trail seemed to continue onwards into the brush. Sadly, another line of symbols indicated that this liquid wasn’t so recently left here.

Standing up slowly, it followed the traces of blood for a moment before it heard the sound of waves of water crashing. It looked up to see what looked like a dock, however, torn apart by the blast radius of his brother’s wrist pad. Cautiously moving towards what remained of the pier, it stepped as lightly as possible on the unstable levees. The trail of blood disappeared as it neared the end of the wharf, looking out to the ocean of water in front of it.

Growling at the expanse of water, it guessed that the Xenomorph had either moved somewhere else on the beach, or boarded a vessel out to the sea. It shook its head, flipping the wrist pad back open and pressing a single button, watching as a red dot began to slowly flash on its visor. Glancing behind it, its visors didn’t pick up on anything else of value, leaving it to simply click in quiet dissatisfaction. Turning around, the hunter took its own time walking across the pier again before picking up its pace as it felt the gritty sensation of sand underneath its feet again.

It scanned the air for the ship, the red button flashing quickly until it outlined the vessel, seeing it floating above the crater site. It turned its attention to its wrist pad and pressing a couple of buttons until the ramp lowered. Leaping into the air, it landed in the ship, pressing another set of buttons and closing the door behind it. Walking through the sliding door, its other two brothers were waiting patiently for him. He shook his head, muttering a few clicks at the hunter to his right. He watched as his brother roared, slamming his fist into the metal wall. The sound echoed across the ship, his younger brother growling as he clenched a clawed hand into a fist, beating the hand against his chest.

He hissed, pointing to red dot on the map indicating their dead brother. Clenching his hand, he pointed to his own wrist pad while opening the other hand up, growling as he described their lost brother’s fate. Walking past his younger sibling, he heard his other brother growl, shaking his head as he stared at the angry hunter. Turning towards the bridge, he made his way to the holographic console. The hunter pressed a few buttons, watching as the hologram’s radar let out a 'ping', a red wave spreading across the glowing orb as the ship's sensors scanned for any possible traces of the serpent. A ping caught the hunter’s attention as the hologram centered over the location of interest

There, on an island a few kilometers off to the right of the pony homeland was a large compound. The map focused on a ship, and the hunter noticed something odd about it. It watched as ponies went in and out of the ship. Pressing a few of the holographic buttons, the ship’s camera closed in on the ground below their vessel. The third brother switched the lense colors to a green in hopes of detecting any trace of the serpent. As the three viewed the facility below them, they spotted five buildings on the island, all similar in design with a few different added details to each one.

The hunter’s enraged brother murmured a few distasteful words, clicking as it slightly chuckled. The leading alien quickly let out a growl, facing his younger brother as he knew that kind of talk would get him in trouble with their deities. A small beep echoed from the hologram as multiple pale green lights lit up in the building on the left. Seeing these objects light up, it was a sign that these ponies could possibly be holding the serpent they were looking for. With this chance to retrieve the Serpent and maybe even some of its eggs, all three hunters realized that this time would possibly be the last time to salvage the hunt.

Pressing another sequence of buttons on the console, the ship slowly pointed in the direction of the facility where the Queen Xenomorph could be held in. With a low hum, the ship quickly sped northwest, the trio of hunters ready to continue what their brother could not accomplish.

Chapter III: Reclusive Nature ~ Part I

View Online

A cold wind breezed through the Everfree Forest. All was silent in the haunted forest. Not a single creature was in sight, yet the undergrowth had an eerie feeling about it, one that nopony ever could shake off if they ventured too far into its depths. However, a small bipedal being moved through the foliage, brushing branches and leaves aside with its clawed hands.

Lavender and green scales covered it well within the thickets of the forest. Every step it took was cautious, breathing quietly as it moved its head from side to side, checking for danger. Nodding as it saw that the coast was clear, it looked up to the starry sky. The small creature sighed, frowning as he turned his attention towards his back. It was a week ago that he first saw those two small bumps on his back, and the pain they brought was almost unbearable at times. Humming to himself, he tried to ignore the burning sensation at the moment. He still had no idea what these two objects were, but he sure didn’t enjoy having them on his back.

Even if it had been a week since he left Ponyville, he didn’t regret making that choice. He needed to find a way of getting stronger, so he could protect those that were most important to him. He let out a deep sigh, recalling the failure he felt when the Xenomorph attacked, blaming himself for not being able to protect Rarity, his adopted younger sister Nyx, and even his older sister, Twilight, who he felt sometimes was his own mother. ‘If I had been stronger… then everypony would be alright. They wouldn’t be scared of their own shadows and every little noise that they hear.’ He looked down to his right clawed hand, clenching it into a fist.

He sat down on a log and exhaled, running his claws over the bark. Looking down at his hands, a faint smile appeared on his muzzle. His nails had gotten sharper, one of the few outcomes he was happy about. Running his right hand up his back, he gently ran a clawed finger up one of the spines that ran down his back, glad that they too were much longer than before. He didn’t feel so chubby anymore, bringing his gaze to his more slender gut, feeling that he had been able to move around much faster lately. He nodded, smiling at the changes this growing process had brought before letting out a quiet sigh. “I’m… just a failure.” Spike murmured, his frown deepening as his eyes drooped a little.

“What do we have here? Is it a dragon’s sorrowful words that catches my ear?”

He didn’t need to look at the mare to know who was speaking, the frown softening as he responded. “Hey, Zecora. How have you been?”

“All is well, Spike, for all has been quiet. However, you appear to have changed, like somepony on a balanced diet.” The zebra moved closer to the young drake, smiling as she continued, “What is it that upsets you so? Because it seems you have hit a low.”

He closed his eyes, breathing in slowly before glancing in Zecora’s direction. “I’m fine… just taking a stroll through the Everfree Forest.”

The striped mare raised an eyebrow, shaking her head. “What I see before me is a young drake who seems to think he is clever. But I do not agree, for the ponies of Ponyville haven’t seen you in what they deem to be forever.”

Spike huffed a cloud of smoke, looking away. “Well, it’s not like I’ve been far away. I’m just right here in the Everfree. Besides, I’ll be back soon, once I get stronger.”

He glanced back, seeing Zecora tilt her head slightly. “Stronger? What makes you believe that you aren’t any longer?”

“Didn’t you hear about what happened to the others?”

“Why, of course. News from my dear friend, Apple Bloom, was my source.”

“Then you know how hard it’s been since the Xenomorph caused Ponyville problems. Every one of my friends can’t seem to stop shaking in terror because of that monster. Even if Nyx and Twilight are fine, I wasn’t strong enough to protect them. Not from Kettlepot, or even that nightmare. I couldn’t even help Rarity. All I could do was just watch helplessly and hope for the best.” He crossed his arms, snorting steam out of his nostrils. “Well, I’m done with sitting on the sidelines. That’s all I seem to do. I want to protect my friends, and make sure that they’ll be safe.”

He didn’t hear the zebra speak for some time until he turned to face her, seeing a frown on her own muzzle. “True… you have grown. But do you really expect to change your own fate? The past is already sewn, even when you think you have a clear slate.” His frown deepened as he looked away, listening to her as she continued. “You cannot make yourself believe there was something you could have done. Because in the end, you’ll only end up leaving something that is undone.”

His eyes narrowed, frowning as he spoke. “But there must’ve been something that I could’ve done. My friends needed me, and I should’ve been able to help them.”

“There is no need to blame yourself.” He felt the log slightly shift, feeling a hoof on his shoulder. “For you see, Spike, you are trying much too hard and your true greatest enemy is one’s self.” He raised an eyebrow, seeing the zebra chuckle. “You are trying to prove that you can handle a deadly situation, yet you are only bringing yourself negation.”

His frown disappeared, crossing his arms as he kept staring at the ground. “So what, then? What am I doing wrong?”

He felt her hoof slide off his shoulder, turning to look back up to Zecora. “When you believe that it is a burden you must face alone, you will only discover what you have previously known. In your quest to find the strength to protect your kinship, you forget that it is not strength you need but what you already have, friendship.”

Spike’s eyes darted across the ground, before he opened his mouth. He remembered that friendship is what had always gotten them through the tough times, even if the odds seemed stacked against them. He chuckled quietly, before turning to face the zebra. “Thanks, Zecora… but I don’t feel ready to go back to Ponyville yet.”

He saw a small spark in her eye, like she already knew what he was going to say. “Then you are welcomed to my humble abode, if it makes you feel less alone.” He nodded, a faint smile forming on his features. Spike rose to his legs, his eyes widening a little as he realized that he was about the size of Zecora, if only a couple inches below her height. “My, you have grown since we last met, but be assured this will not be pertained to any debt.”

He watched her walk away, following only a few feet behind. ‘I wonder what everypony else will think about me?’ chuckling as he thought of the reactions of his friends when they saw how much he had grown. Spike looked down to the ground, closing his eyes. ‘I just hope they’re not too mad about me leaving them like that.’

Spike grunted as a tree branch hit him in the face. Growling, he broke the limb off the tree and threw it to the side. Catching up to Zecora, it was only a few moments later that the brush began to thin out, seeing Zecora open the door to her hut. With a silent wave, she ushered the drake in. He nodded and moved through the wooden door, hearing it close behind him.

Seeing the zebra move to another part of the hut in the corner of his eye, he gazed at all the decorations inside, bottles filled with various ailments and elixirs. He heard the hoofsteps on the floor before seeing Zecora walk over with a clear jar in her right hoof. Pointing to the chair next to him, he looked to it and sat down.

“You are certainly growing faster than I expected, however, it seems this was a process that you felt was unexpected.” He heard the cap come off the jar, looking down at the floor as he wondered what she would do. Spike flinched, groaning at the feeling of the zebra’s hoof move over the nubs on his back with a weird cream-like texture. “As it would be so that you don’t seem to complain, a dragon should know that he would face a growing pain.”

“What are these things on my back? I’ve never felt them there before.” Spike murmured, looking back to the zebra and flinching again at the pain.

He noticed Zecora tilting her head in the corner of his eye, chuckling a little afterwards. “Have you not figured out what causes you these stings? For these objects you feel, are in fact, your wings.”

His eyes widened before he looked off into the distance. “My… wings?” A giddy smile formed on his muzzle. Whenever he saw Twilight or Rainbow Dash moving through the air, he was always stuck on the ground, thinking that it would be this way forever. That, and when he met Garble and the other dragons after trying to find out if he really was a dragon, he felt kind of jealous of them since he himself was flightless and had no wings, although he wasn’t so envious of them after they made him the butt of their jokes.

“Now, for added measure, I shall add another ointment to ease your pain better.” Zecora said, recapping the jar and shelving it back in its spot. He heard the crack of glass, shielding himself for a moment.

Spike heard something collapse to the floor, quickly looking back up to see Zecora lying on the ground with a small dart protruding from the left side of her barrel. He shuffled in his seat as something shuffled against the outer wall of the hut, catching a glint of light in the corner of his eye. He looked up, seeing shadowed objects speeding towards him. Spike threw up a arm to protect himself, feeling the projectiles bounce off his scaled body. He looked down, flexing his clawed hands before looking back up to where Zecora lay. He gasped as two ponies lifted her onto their backs, their bodies armored and faces masked, except for their eyes.

“Hey! Let her go!” Spike ran towards the pony, but was shoved to the ground before he reached the zebra’s captors. He felt something wet press against his mouth, a weird smell floating into his jaws. He struggled until throwing the assailant off his back.

Growling, he slashed at the pony behind him, hearing the tearing of clothing and flesh. The pony yelped, jumping back with his hoof pressing against the left side of his chest as blood ran down his arm. Spike looked at his claws, his pupils shrinking at the warmth of the scarlet liquid move down his hand, seeing a patch with the letters ‘N-Y’ stitched on it. Seeing the blood, he shook at the sight of it, terrified that he was responsible for the wound. Yet something else clicked inside, licking his lips as felt a hidden fascination at the red liquid. ‘No! I… I’m not supposed to enjoy this. I don’t want to eat ponies.’

He felt a pressure against his back, the air rushing past him before hitting the wall of the hut. Spike shook himself, looking back up to see two ponies with crossbows pointing at him, standing on either side of a larger pony at the front door. He stumbled forward as he tried to get up, his eyes heavy, the ponies blurring in his vision. Again, the wet rag was pressed against his face, forcing him to breath in the fumes.

‘What’s… h-happening to… me...?’ His whole body felt like it was underwater, slowly moving around until he collapsed onto the ground. All senses leaving him as the darkness of the forced sleep took him.

Water dripped onto the floor, echoing in the dark, damp metallic room. Chains lazily swung side to side against the wall and the light from the walls were buzzing as they lit the chamber. It was quiet, until the pained moan of a pony filled the chamber. Zecora slowly opened her eyes, muttering something in her native language as she gradually took in her new surroundings. On the sides of the walls in the room were ponies strung up in chains, all unconscious like she had been. Five of them were earth ponies whom she didn’t recognize. Her eyes widened as she realized the fifth earth pony was just a filly. ‘What lunatics would dare bring harm to such an innocent soul!? When she is only just a little foal!?’

She raised her eyebrows as she saw a Diamond Dog, the canine shackled like the ponies. She tilted her head towards the next one, a buffalo, and a gasp escaped her at the next two prisoners, a griffon and then a minotaur. ‘Why would anypony need to capture such different creatures? What is the purpose for all these species?’

Only then did she see somepony familiar, a slight frown forming on her muzzle as she recognized the showboating unicorn, Trixie, and the swindling Flim Flam brothers. ‘W-what?’ The mystery grew when she noticed three pegasus ponies that resided in Ponyville: Bulk Biceps, Thunderlane and Cloudchaser. However, she didn’t see Spike with her fellow captives. What could all of this mean, and who would capture and imprison any of these poor creatures?

She tried to move, but something pulled at her forelegs. Looking up to her sides, she noticed two chains strung up against the wall, dangling loudly against the metallic surface. Zecora looked down to find two more restraints tied around her legs. Muttering to herself, she pulled against them, grunting before swinging back into the wall, out of breath as she had no such luck in the attempt.

Her ears swiveled as she heard something slide open and looked up to see three ponies standing in the middle of a doorway. She could only see their eyes as the ponies scanned the room, covered in white lab coats as one held a checklist in her right hoof. They moved into the room, two of the ponies rolling in a gurney in with them. They gazed at the restrained ponies before focusing on one in particular. Moving to one of the earth ponies, two of the masked ponies lowered him down from the wall.

Gently moving him onto the gurney, the pony with the checklist lifted it and a pen in an light green-cyanish gray aura as she spoke. “Subject 1, or Ol’ Salt as he is known in the town of Appleloosa. Occupation: unknown, but he is described by the townsfolk as a stallion who has too much salt and has gotten in trouble for a few ‘situations’, as they have said.” The mare wrote on her clipboard as she spoke, the pen scribbling against the paper as she continued. “Subject has no current living family members. A perfect participant for our first trial of the experiment.”

Zecora tilted her head before speaking. “Who are you ponies that have strewn us up against this wall like trophies? Do you have no respect for your fellow ponies?” She watched as the mare that spoke turn to face her, until going back to her scribbling. She frowned and spoke up again. “Why would you bring harm to that young pony,” Nodding to the filly as before proceeding, “when she is only a young filly?”

“She may be a foal but she was a witness. We can’t have any of those, now, can we? Besides, in a large city like Manehattan, little fillies like her go missing all of the time. What’s one more?” The masked mare simply answered, not even looking up to the zebra. With that, the three ponies looked to one another until the mare spoke again. “Bring this stallion to the test chamber. We need to move along with our experiments as we are behind schedule as it is.” The other two nodded and took the gurney with them, exiting through the door.

“Why are you doing this?” Zecora simply asked, furrowing her brow as she glared up at the masked mare.

“It is simply for a project, Miss Zecora.” The mare finally turned to face her as she spoke, zecora recoiling at her own name. “We did our research and carefully chose which ponies and other creatures would be perfect candidates for helping us with our experiment. The ponies we’ve selected will go unnoticed. Manehattan is a large enough city to not notice a few missing ponies. As for Ponyville and Appleloosa… well, who cares about backwater villages like those?”

The mare’s eyes looked down at Zecora as she noticed that there was almost no emotion in her voice. “You were also one of the few chosen, because you, like the griffon and the minotaur, are far from your home. That aside, you mostly spend your time in the Everfree Forest.” She turned away and murmured. “Besides… nopony would be missing you. The residents of that town barely even see you. You all will be helping a much greater cause now, however.” With that, the mare walked out and the door slid shut, a red light flickering on.

Zecora stared at the door until her gaze fell to the floor, shaking as her eyes shrunk to pinpricks. Her uneven breathing echoed the clattering of chains as her eyes closed with a frown. ‘What do they plan for me and these others here? I fear that whatever it is, it is something we should truly fear.’

In an adjacent room, the masked ponies wheeled in the gurney with the brown earth pony stallion from Appleloosa. Ol’ Salt had a white mane that had some of its original tan coloring to it and a cutie mark of a pickaxe. He was known in his town for telling tall tales and having an addiction to salt licks. The more licks he had, the crazier his stories became. He was often thrown out of the Salt Block Saloon for causing trouble and had spent quite a few nights in Sheriff Silverstar’s jail. The sheriff couldn’t understand how anypony could get drunk from salt, but the old prospector managed it on a weekly basis.

Just the other night, he was thrown out into the dusty streets of Appleloosa and was headed back to his cabin, but then found himself waking up in stark white clinical room. He blinked, shielding his eyes from the overhead lights as he tried to look around the sterile room.

“Wha… What’s goin’…” He tried to ask, falling back down onto metallic surface as he looked to his forelegs, blinking at the metallic straps holding him down to the table. He struggled to free himself, but the restraints held fast. Two masked ponies came up beside the table, neither one of them bothered to look at or even address him and went straight to work inclining the table until Ol’ Salt was vertical. “Where am I? Who are yah ponies?”

Again, they ignored him and wheeled the table closer to the wall which had a conveyor belt extending from a sealed chute. When their prisoner was in place at the end of the conveyor belt, the masked ponies retreated from the room. He swiveled his ears as he heard the door behind them lock shut. Just as he began to struggle against the restraints once more, the chute on the wall opened with a hiss and the conveyor belt began moving. Ol’ Salt watched with amazement as something emerged from the dark hole and was brought before him. On the belt was an egg-shaped pod about a meter tall with slime slowly dripping down the fleshy exterior. The putrid brown object came to a stop at the end of the belt and Ol’ Salt was left staring at the foreign object with curiosity.

Unsure what to do or say, Ol’ Salt continued to watch the thing as it sat in front of him. After a few moments, the top opened like a flower blooming, four petals peeling back to reveal a fleshy interior. Ol’ Salt’s curiosity grew, his eyes widening as it quickly turned into panic as he noticed something squirming inside the pod. Eight bone colored digits crawled out of the egg and Ol’ Salt barely had time to scream as a spider-like creature leapt from the egg and latched itself to his face. Cutting off the screams as he struggled in his restraints.

The ponies observing took notes, making sure to keep a close eye on the proceedings. It was moments before they noticed the stallion cease his movements, his chest slowly moving up and down. The other scientists turned to a mare, her eyes eagerly locked onto the sight before her as she murmured. “I want two scientists to go in there and see why our patient has passed out.”

Two ponies to her right nodded and waited for the door to open, quickly moving in as they cautiously approached the stallion. Once a few inches away from the table, they looked at the the creature on the pony’s muzzle, the tail of this small being tightening around the stallion’s neck. “Dr. Nenne Seion,” one of the scientists spoke, turning to face the window looking into the test chamber, “we believe the creature has knocked Mr. Salt unconscious.”

“Interesting… why would it knock its victim out?” Nenne murmured to herself, looking down to the ground for a moment until returning her attention to the chamber. “Anything else?”

“Yes. The Facehugger’s side muscles keep contracting. We believe this may be how these creatures transfer the embryos into their host's body.”

A smile formed on her muzzle as she realized it was true. The video her boss had confiscated from the wreck showing the test trials these “humans” performed had remained spot-on. “Excellent work, you two. Go ahead and exit the chamber. We shall wait for the Facehugger to fully deliver its embryo before returning Mr. Salt to the test chamber.”

As the two ponies exited the room, she looked down at her notes, her grin brightening at the prospect of the potential these creatures had. What a bountiful amount of information she would get from being able to study these lifeforms and even might even figure out how to continue and complete the work that these humans were unable to finish. This was a most exciting opportunity indeed.

Chapter III: Reclusive Nature ~ Part II

View Online

A laugh broke through the echoing voices in the room as ponies in various sets of grayish black armor sat around tables, their chairs rocking as they spoke through mouthfuls of various foods, the clattering of silverware on plates signaling those who were done. Metal trays rattled against a rail as some were standing in line, getting their food and joining the others as stallions and mares alike discussed the activities of their busy day.

Sitting on one of the benches was lonesome Taciturn Furtivo in her light cornflower blue armor. Bringing a hoof to the bangs of her mane, she moved it aside to reveal her strong aquamarine eyes gazing down at the gray metal tray filled with food that was, surprisingly, a slice of lemon meringue pie. Taking her fork, she pulled another piece of the pie into her mouth, a smile forming on her lips as the flavors dancing across her tongue. However, she quickly replaced it with a frown, glancing to her sides to make sure nopony saw her.

Taciturn shuffled her wings, glancing at the others and seeing that most of them were just here for the money and astonishingly good services. It still felt odd that their boss had made a point of treating them all like they were more than just simple guards or workers, and to hear that she didn’t have to talk to anypony else was fine with her.

She glanced to her right, watching a shadow move closer. Sighing, she returned her gaze to the pie on her plate as Sparkdust sat down on the bench next to her. “Hey there, Taci.” Sparkdust greeted, smiling as Taciturn rolled her eyes at the nickname.

“Hello there, Sparkdust. What brings you here?” Taciturn inquired, her eyes meeting Sparkdust’s for a moment until focusing back on the pie slice in front of her.

“What, I can’t talk to my friend? Jeez, you’re always such a downer,” chuckled Spark as she brought a sandwich up to her muzzle in a cyan aura, taking a bite out of the grilled pepper jack cheese and pickled jalapenos.

“Sure your mouth isn’t going to catch on fire?” Taciturn deadpanned with a frown.

“Oh, please. Spicy foods are my thing. The only pony I know who can’t handle them is Aquafrost,” Spark snickered through a mouth full of food.

“What does this discussion have to do with me?” Taciturn turned her gaze to see Aquafrost with Blazing Ash by her side, the two ponies sitting down on the adjacent benches as Aqua smiled, a curious glimmer in her eyes.

“Sparkdust here said that you can’t handle spicy foods,” Taciturn murmured, eating some of the pie slice again as Aqua raised an eyebrow at the other Spark.

“Well… Sparkdust isn’t wrong about that. I never did enjoy those types of food that burned your mouth.” Aquafrost turned her gaze to the salad on the tray below her, lifting a fork with her pale scarlet magic and brought a small portion of the salad to her mouth. It glistened with some vinaigrette liquid, dried cranberries and glazed walnuts adding to the flavor as she took a bite, smiling and closing her eyes as she hummed at the taste. Laughter caught her ear, quickly swallowing the bit of salad before giving the stallion a glare.“What’s so funny, Blazing Ash?”

“You seem like you’re enjoying that piece of leaf there a little too much.” Ash teased, taking a bite out of his hayburger.

“I’ll have you know that the salad I picked is rather quite enjoyable. What’s so wrong with enjoying your favorite food?” Aquafrost frowned at the stallion, her eyes glinting with a little hint of annoyance.

“Nothing. There’s nothing wrong with that kind of thing.” Ash murmured, picking up a cup of tomato juice on his tray, taking a sip of it as he chuckled. Putting the cup down, he continued. “Besides, you’ll need all those veggies to keep that smart brain of yours working.”

“Just because I eat healthy foods doesn’t mean that I am always going to eat vegetables and fruits. Besides, it keeps you fit. That and I may be a scientist here as well as a guard, but that doesn’t mean I always need to eat nutritious foods all the time.”

“You two sound like some couple that’s just been bickering way too much.” Sparkdust goaded the two, laughing as she saw their eyes widen.

“Blazing Ash and I are not stallion and mare friends, if you were wondering. Besides, I’ve never felt that way towards him.” Aquafrost admitted how she felt, moving her gaze away.

“Thanks for the moral support, boss.” Ash murmured as he frowned, turning his own attention to the burger as he took another bite.

“I didn’t mean it like that, Ash. It’s just that I only feel like you’re a good friend.” Aqua reassured, a soft smile replacing the frown on her muzzle.

“I think you should know when to stop talking,” Sparkdust laughed as she watched Aqua throw a glare her way.

Ash met her gaze for a moment, a grin returning to his lips. “Yeah, yeah. I gotcha. Don’t worry, I know what yah mean.”

Taciturn broke the silence, “So has the day been just as normal for everypony here?”

“Pretty much. It got so boring after our assignment a week ago. All I did here was patrol before dinner,” Sparkdust complained, leaning back in her chair as her gaze moved over her friends.

“I’ve just been over at the outdoor shooting range by the Weapons Research facility, practicing with my crossbow since this morning,” Blazing Ash reported, putting his hayburger down on the tray.

“I caught up with my reading. Nothing else much to do unless I’m on patrol.” Taciturn closed her eyes, a faint smile on her muzzle. ‘Who could have guessed that the pony’s own quill could have led to such an important clue?’

“Well, I was over at the Medical facility helping the guards that were injured in the latest experiments over at the Research and Development building.” Aquafrost moved her gaze to the window, a soft smile on her lips as she remembered a mare she reassured would be alright earlier this morning.

“You always spend so much time over there. Why didn’t you become a nurse instead?” Sparkdust mentioned, raising an eyebrow at her commanding officer.

“Spark’s right. Even though we’ve all known yah for a year now, you’re a little too soft to be a guard. Let alone a commanding officer of a group here,” Ash added to the fact, watching Aqua frown as she looked between both the stallion and Sparkdust.

“Hey! Even if I am the commander of this group here, that doesn’t mean I have to look the part.” Aqua insisted, rubbing her chin. “You all know Crimson Sprite, right?” She sighed as she watched her friends nod. “She’s not big and tough, but she has quite a temper. I may not be well toned, and only eighteen years old, but am I threatening or scary? No. I gained respect from you all by giving you respect and even becoming great friends with you all.”

“She’s got a point there.” Taciturn glanced up at Aqua, siding with her leader, getting a smile from the light azure unicorn. “By the way.” Watching her friends turn their attention to her, she continued. “Has anypony here heard anything about our stowaway?”

Gazing at her friends, Taciturn's frown deepened as she watched their smiles disappear. Aqua’s gaze dropped to the table, her mouth hanging open a little as she began, “I only heard that she woke up just recently. But that was until the doctors had to sedate her, saying she completely lost her mind after the nurse inside the room with her mentioned the freighter Nostromo.”

“Wow… She must’ve had a horrible time with whatever that thing stuck to the wall was.” Sparkdust murmured, sitting upright in her chair as she picked up her tray with her magic.

“Yeah… I feel bad for what happened to her. Whatever she went through that made her this upset.” Aqua closed her eyes. Although she barely knew who this mare was, she couldn’t help but shiver at what this mare possibly went through.

“Alright. I’d better get back to my patrol or else Nenne Seion will throw a fit. See you guys later.” Sparkdust waved as she levitated her metal tray to the cleaning area behind the lunch aisle, walking out as she pushed the door open.

“Same here. Got to get back and work on my aim some more. Catch all of you later.” Blazing Ash stood up from his chair, wiping his muzzle with a napkin.

“Hey, Aqua.” Taciturn watched as her leader met her gaze. “Don’t worry about that mare. If she’s at the medical facility, everything will be fine. The doctors will make sure that she gets the treatment she deserves.” The unicorn nodded, a faint smile replacing the frown on her lips. Taciturn stood, nodding a silent farewell before bringing her tray up to the lunch aisle.

Sighing, she walked out the door and moved on down the hallway. Whoever this mare was, she was probably going to be detained for sneaking aboard the ship. But at least she wasn’t dead, and hopefully she would put an end to the mysterious case of the Nostromo. At the same time, however, she didn’t really care or want to know what was responsible for the massacre.

Crystal groaned as she slowly woke, the same soreness running over her body from the impact of being thrown against the wall. She covered her eyes as the light stung her vision, her eyes adjusting to the bright luminescence. However, as she rubbed her eyes and looked around, this room was different from the last one. It was a little more furnished, surprisingly, with a desk at one corner of the room along with a chair. The walls were a bland frog green, a sight she shook her head at.

She closed her eyes, frowning as she remembered what had happened earlier. She was put to sleep by that doctor after that nurse told her about the vessel she was on. The memories filtered back into her mind , breathing slowly as she tried to calm her thoughts, knowing the Xenomorph was gone for the moment. ‘So… this is one of Neighland’s facilities. If that’s the case, then I need to get out of here… somehow. But then… what about that Alien? If it was on the ship… then they must have-’

She heard the creaking of the door, looking up to see the doctor that put her asleep walk through the door with the nurse from before right next to him. She tilted her head, a frown forming on her muzzle as she wondered what these two wanted.

“Good morning, madam.” The doctor levitated the chair at the right side of the room and brought it to the front of the bed before sitting down. The other stallion stood next to him, fidgeting around with what she saw to be a nervous smile. “I do hope you have calmed down since the last time we met.”

‘Who does this stallion think he is?’ She wasn’t expecting the doctor to be nice at all, considering he threw her at the wall after she freaked out. Thankfully, she was more collected this time. When he spoke, however, she remained silent and stared him straight in the eyes.

The doctor chuckled, “That’s good to hear.” He lifted a clipboard with a few papers in a dark blue aura, the pen writing away until he spoke again. “So… how did you get on the freighter, the Nostromo?” Crystal remained quiet, gazing away from the doctor as she lowered her eyes, her frown deepening at the question. She could hear the stallion murmuring to himself, however it sounded more like a frustrated grumble. “I expect somepony like you to cooperate, or else you’ll never get out of here and this will be just a waste of my time.”

Not heeding his words, she kept her stare aimed away from the doctor. As the questions continued, she could hear the frustration build in his voice. She secretly smiled, hearing the doctor seeth as his patience wore thin. Crystal heard the chair shift, glancing to see the doctor get up, cursing under his breath as he walked out, slamming the door as he left.

It was quiet for a time after the doctor left in a fit of rage. The faint smile brightened on her muzzle. Giving him the silent treatment seemed childish and gaining a small victory from his displeasure was petty, but she would take it. She heard the other pony chuckle, glancing up to see the Connermaran stallion give her a nervous smile. “Sorry abouh the doctor putting you ta sleep yesterday. H-he jush wanted ta make sure you didn’h hurh yourself.”

Crystal didn’t respond, moving her gaze back to the floor as she replaced her brief smile with a frown. She heard him chuckle a little softer this time, going silent a moment later. She looked back to him, hearing the chair skid across the floor, the stallion gasping as he stood from his seat, opening the door and closed it behind him. ‘What has him so worked up?’

It was quiet for a little while, Crystal found the peace and quiet to be a little refreshing. Quickly scanning the room, she tried to cast a spell, an ice blue spark shooting from her horn. Grunting, she tried to keep it up but felt the energy in her horn fade away. Rubbing a hoof on her chin, she guessed that they possibly had a magic inhibiting shield around the perimeter. The idea was plausible, and even she would have done it if she was holding a unicorn prisoner.

Looking to the door, she hummed for a moment, shaking her head. The thought of breaking the door down didn’t sound like a good idea either, seeing that the frame was made out of a metal, likely iron or steel.

She sighed, closing her eyes and concentrating on her breathing. The door clicked open, squeaking a little as it was pushed. Crystal opened one eye, watching the Connemaran pony walk through with a smile on his muzzle. “Sorry about the wait there. I was just trying to find somepony that you’d probably like to see.”

‘Somepony I’d like to see? Yeah right...’ Crystal heard another set of hoofsteps, glancing up with both eyes opened to see one of the masked guards. ‘What, am I supposed to be forced into talking?’ The pony brought their right hoof up to the mask, the visor lifting off the pony to reveal a mare, one that she thought looked familiar. Her eyes were closed as she lifted the mask off her muzzle, opening them to reveal a set of dark orange eyes.

Crystal’s eyes widened a little, the mare’s tone was softer than she anticipated. “Hello there. It’s nice to finally meet the mare that survived on the ship, awake, of course, and not losing her mind to hysteria and fear.”

Crystal blinked at the familiarity of the voice. The image of this blurry mare standing over her flashed through her mind. She frowned, glaring at the mare who was responsible for putting her to sleep in the ship and must have taken her out of there and brought her here. But why? She was a pony who worked for Neighland-Yupony, one she couldn’t trust. “Sorry about what the doctor did to you. Heard he threw you against the wall with his magic.” Aqua murmured, leaning back as she chuckled nervously.

She raised an eyebrow, tilting her head at the two while they talked with one another, the stallion sounding more worried then the mare. What were these two planning? Was this some way they were going to get her to talk? It certainly was an interesting choice of strategy, but she wasn’t going to fall for it. “Well… I can understand that you don’t trust us.” Aqua murmured, Crystal fixed her gaze up to the pony in armor. “But, please. We aren’t here to hurt you. We just want to talk with you.”

“Yeah.” The stallion reassured, his gaze softening a little, although she didn’t feel that it was as gentle as the other mare’s. She appeared to be honestly speaking the truth, yet Crystal wasn’t sure. “I mean, we can introduce ourselves. My name’s Patchy McHeart, at your service, madam.” The Connemaran pony greeted, nodding to her.

Crystal felt the bed move. Turning to her right, she saw a hoof rest on her shoulder. She looked up from the hoof to see the mare smiling, her eyes gently gleaming as she murmured. “My name is Aquafrost. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

She averted her gaze, closing her eyes and breathing out through her nose. ‘What’s the plausible idea? Not telling them my name is one option… but these two haven’t given me a reason to distrust them. And this Aquafrost hasn’t thrown me against a wall yet.’ Opening her eyes, she murmured, “My… name is… Crystal Rune.” She knew she couldn’t trust these ponies, knowing that they worked with Bishop Neighland.

“It’s nice to meet you, Crystal Rune.” Aqua nodded, smiling until she continued. “I am terribly sorry, though, for what happened. I do hope you are alright.” She looked to Patchy and he nodded at her, she sighed before continuing, “I would stay here and talk with you, but they’re not giving me much time.” Getting off the bed, Aqua secured her helmet. “It was nice meeting you face to face, Crystal. I was hoping to get to introduce myself to you.” Aqua waved a hoof before walking out of the room with the stallion.

There was something different about this mare. ‘She didn’t ask me questions.’ Not once did she try and ask her anything relating to the ship. Maybe there was a small possibility of trusting this mare, but that has yet to be seen.

Chapter IV: A Haunting Resemblance

View Online

“Ahhh!” Applejack sprang up from underneath her bed sheets and held a hoof to her shoulder as she breathed quickly. Darting her gaze around the room, she scanned her roost for sometime until closing her eyes again, steadying her breath. She could feel the scar left behind after the Xenomorph had struck her with its spear-like tail. Shuddering at the memory, she rubbed her eyes and looked towards the window. The sun’s early morning light gave the room a much brighter feeling; Applejack shielded her eyes as she allowed them adjust to the light.

Remnants of the nightmare lingered through her thoughts. The images replayed in her head of the horrible creature’s eyeless gaze overtop her, the strength of the creature overwhelming her like it had done in so many other times in her restless dreams, and the monster’s second mouth shooting out from the darkness. At other times, she would see her younger sister, Apple Bloom, having her chest explode as one of those little monsters burst their way up. She even would see her deceased brother, Big McIntosh, in the same horrible situation. Like with every other dream, she couldn’t rush to their aid, stuck to the ground while she watched her family members being maliciously torn apart.

Slowly, Applejack rose from her bed, tidying it up before moving over to the mirror. She stared at her own reflection for some time, keeping her gaze focused on the scar on her shoulder, a constant reminder of that horrible time. She shook her head and she stared for a second longer before moving over to her door. Opening it quietly, she peeked out into the hallway. Seeing as it was safe, she walked over to the bathroom door but paused midway down the hall.

Glancing to her right, she saw the closed door of her brother’s room, which she and Apple Bloom always kept clean. She waited for a moment, half expecting the red stallion to exit through the door and bid her a good morning. Applejack sighed and continued to the bathroom.

After closing the door behind her quietly, she looked over to the window inside, not bothering to turn on the artificial lighting and instead allowed the sun to do its work. Moving the shower curtains aside, she turned the water on, letting it warm up before switching it over to the showerhead. Stepping into the tub, she stood still for a few moments, letting the warm water run over her coat, and closed her eyes for the time being.

Images popped in her head, surprisingly none involving the monster for once. It was times like these when she wished that things would remain calm and peaceful. However, she knew that since her brother was gone, the time for relaxing was over. There were too many chores to be done, and trying to finish each one was already stressful enough. While she began to lather herself with soap, her thoughts went to the day’s agenda.

‘Well… I have to tend the stand this mornin’. Apple Bloom should be able to handle things around here on the farm while Ah’m workin’ in Ponyville.’ She was surprised by how much her little sister had matured after the events that had taken place a month ago. While she was glad that she was helping around more on the farm, she also worried about whether she was being careful or not. Of course she knew that Apple Bloom wasn’t a foal anymore, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t be concerned for her wellbeing. ‘Besides… she’s still just a little filly. Her safety is what’s most important ta me.’

As she rinsed her mane out, she remembered another problem involving the eldest family member. She sighed, knowing that Granny Smith was probably downstairs sitting in her chair and staring out the window. Applejack didn’t even know where to start, seeing as how her grandmother barely got off the chair or moved around anymore. ‘If she keeps this up, I don’t know how she’ll even be able ta stand up again.’

Applejack groaned, leaning against the wall and letting the warm water rush over her head. She felt so useless after the Xenomorph had injured her, seeing as how much slower her wounds had made her. ‘If only Ah was faster, then maybe mah brother wouldn’t be buried next to Ma and Pa.’

Deciding she’d spent enough time in the bathroom, she turned the shower off and stepped out, grabbing a towel and drying herself off with it. Thoughts went back to the day Pinkie Pie came to their house, saying that she was related to them due to some genealogy scroll. She chuckled as she remembered the trouble she and the others went through to get to Golden Delicious’ house. Pinkie sure had lifted her spirits up, feeling that she was part of the family even if they never found out whether she was or not.

She put her towel up, grabbing her red bands and braiding her hair as another thought came to mind. An image of Apple Bloom appeared in her mind, tears running down the little filly’s eyes as she remembered how hurt she still felt from the death of her big brother. Applejack had realized she’d gone a bit too far in that conversation, knowing all too well that she had felt different during that trip delivering those apple pies. She had never meant to hurt her sister, but she thought it was necessary to keep her safe, and she had worried over her for the entire outing.

Stepping out of the bathroom, she walked back into her room, retrieving her Stetson from off the desk before heading downstairs. As she walked into the living room, she turned to look towards the corner near the stairs and saw her grandmother sitting in that chair again with her eyes closed. Exhaling, she turned to face the older mare and said. “Granny?”

The older pony snorted, then opened her eyes in a quick flash of movement. “Huh, what? Who’s speakin’ ta me?” She watched her grandmother turn to face her, a smile forming on her muzzle. “Oh, it’s just you, Applejack. How’s yer mornin’ goin’, youngin’?”

“It’s fine and dandy, but how long were you sittin’ in that chair?” Applejack asked, watching her grandmother slowly move her gaze over to the window. She frowned, realizing that the older mare had stayed up again. “Don’t tell me you were sittin’ there all night again…”

“Ohh, it’s not like Ah got hert or anythin’. Besides, Ah just needed to rest mah eyes for a little while,” Granny Smith murmured, watching her turn back to face the younger mare. “So what’s on the agenda today? Workin’ on the farm this mornin’, or hightailin’ it down ta the market?”

“I’m headin’ down ta the market. Thought today would be a nice day ta sell some apples down in Ponyville.” She raised a hoof to her chin before looking to her grandmother. “Maybe you’d like ta join me? Yah know, help me around the stand and all?”

Granny Smith smiled, before letting it disappear and looking back out the window again. “You know how old Ah’m gettin’, Applejack… these legs weren’t quite what they were like when Ah was a young mare myself back in those days.”

“But yah need ta get out some more, Granny Smith. Ah don’t want ta see yah sittin’ there all day long--”

“Ah said no, Applejack.” Granny frowned and closed her eyes. “Besides, when mah time comes, Ah’d like ta spend it here on the farm. Let this place and you two be the last thin’ Ah see.”

Applejack fell back slightly, steadying herself before sighing. “Alright… Ah’ll leave yah to it, then.”

Her ears swiveled over to the stairs as the sound of hoofsteps echoed down to the room. A smile formed on her muzzle as she saw her younger sister stepping down, a half-frown apparent on her lips. Tilting her head, she wondered what the young filly was thinking about. Letting that thought go into the back of her mind, she continued to smile before greeting her sister. “Mornin’ there, Apple Bloom.”

The young filly turned to see her sister, a smile seemingly replacing the frown in an instant. “Hey there, Applejack. Heard yah were goin’ down ta the apple stand?”

“Yep. You sure you’ll be able ta handle all those chores?”

The younger filly replaced the smile with an annoyed frown, flattening her ears and shaking her head before muttering, “Ah’ve already told yah a hundred times, Ah can handle myself.”

Applejack’s eyes widened slightly at the tone, yet she wasn’t surprised by this new attitude. Looking over her younger sister, she realized she had forgone putting her bow on, like she had done earlier the week before. It became apparent to her that her little sister seemed to be detaching herself from her usual attire. “Yah not puttin’ the bow on again?”

“Nah… Ah don’t feel like wearin’ them anymore. Ah’ve already got too much stuff ta do on the farm without havin’ ta hassle around with mah bows now,” Apple Bloom replied. She made her way past her sister and went out the door, closing it behind her.

Applejack looked to the ground, exhaling before a frown replaced her smile. Her sister had seemed to have regained her childish innocence after the first week since the disaster. Now it seemed like she had relapsed, appearing now to barely enjoy any fun at all. As she walked out the door, those thoughts continued to pester her, feeling a resemblance of how she felt towards all these relaxing activities. In truth, she did feel like tranquil pastimes were nothing but a waste of time, seeing as how they didn’t benefit to helping her farm any bit at all. ‘But Apple Bloom doesn’t need ta see it that way. She still has so much to learn and see…’

Something felt very off with this new attitude, like Apple Bloom was maturing much too fast, but she already knew what was responsible for it. “That dang vile creature… that monster is responsible for this whole mess we’re all in now.” Any thoughts she had about the Xenomorph had always turned into anger, no matter who spoke up about it. She felt that the nightmare should all be in the past, yet it seemed to stick with her and the others even as it was gone, invading their dreams and causing them nothing but pain. “Ah don’t get why that thin’ has to always bug us in our dreams… it should stay in the past where it belongs.”

Shaking her head, she dismissed any thought about the creature before continuing on. Making her way down to Ponyville, she walked into the town, looking around at the early morning activity and watching other ponies move around while also doing their daily routines. ‘Today might be a pretty good day fer sellin’ apples after all.’ Seeing as how quite a few ponies were out and about, she hurried on over to the stall, getting it ready before patiently waiting for any customers.

As she watched ponies walk through town, time went by until the sun was almost at its highest point in the sky. It was busier than usual, although that was good news for her. She’d already had about twenty ponies buy apples from her in the past couple of hours, and now she had two or three ponies visiting her every ten minutes to half an hour. ‘Hoowee! If this keeps up, then I’ll have quite the amount of bits fer the Apples here.’

As she looked out into the crowd, she noticed that a few ponies seated on the outside of some stalls were giving her weird looks. Applejack only frowned slightly; she knew why they were staring. ‘Why does everythin’ have ta revolve around that creature now? Can’t ponies just let it go and stop actin’ like we’re some sort of bad luck charm?’ It was annoying how some ponies kept on approaching her, offering their condolences. Even worse was when some wouldn’t even come near her, seeing her as some type of omen of disaster and doom.

She scanned the area in front of her, noticing a couple of flyers on the walls of buildings and street lamps of Thunderlane. Raising an eyebrow, she went to move closer until she caught a blur of movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned and saw Flitter crying into her hooves. ‘What the hay is happenin?’ Noticing another pony shifting next to her, she saw Bon-Bon and Lyra comforting Flitter. Applejack moved closer to pick up the conversation.

“Please, calm down, Flitter,” said Bon-Bon, bringing a hoof to the pegasus’s shoulder before speaking again. “Just catch your breath and start off from the beginning.”

Flitter looked up, wiping her tear-filled eyes before stuttering her words. “I… I was w-waiting for Cloudchaser to show up last n-night. She said s-she was just going out f-for a normal f-flying session at the Wonderbolts Academy and would head over to Whitetail Woods for a practice session afterwards… But after a f-few hours of waiting, she d-didn’t come back. I t-thought she was just g-going for a little longer… but I kept w-waiting for her… un-until it was the middle of the night. I d-didn’t see her in her room when I w-woke up. I f-flew over to Whitetail Woods… but th-there wasn’t any sign of h-her.” Flitter brought her hooves back up to her eyes and sobbed uncontrollably again.

Images shrouded her vision as thoughts of the Xenomorph rose back up again. ‘No… no that’s not right. It’s gone… Twilight and the other princesses killed it...’ She closed her eyes and gripped her head, hearing the screams of the nightmare in her mind. Backing up, she felt something underneath her back legs, tripping over it and falling onto her back. Rubbing the side of her muzzle, she heard hoofsteps and opened her eyes.

“Um… are you okay?” Lyra asked, extending a hoof to her. Applejack accepted the hoof and let Lyra pull her up.

“Thanks, Lyra,” she murmured. She picked her Stetson back and placed it on her head before looking back to the unicorn.

“Are you alright?” the unicorn persisted, tilting her head. “You looked like you had a headache.”

“I’m fine,” Applejack replied, dusting herself off before gazing up at Lyra. “What’s goin’ on with Flitter? She said somethin’ about her sister bein’ gone.”

“Yeah… she say’s Cloudchaser never came back last night or this morning. She’s really upset about it,” the unicorn said, before looking both ways. “But that’s not the only pony who’s disappeared.”

Her eyes widened as she stared, mouth agape as the fear of the monster’s possible return threatening to overwhelm her. “Another…”

“Yeah… Rumble’s older brother, Thunderlane. It was a few days ago since he disappeared... like he just got up and left Ponyville for good.”

Those fliers that she saw only a few moments ago finally made sense. The thought of the Xenomorph came again, as she realized this was how it all started last time. ‘No… yer just imaginin’ things. There’s absolutely no way that monster is back.’ Reassuring herself of this, she focused on the unicorn and asked, “So nopony else has seen any sign of him since a few days ago?” She received a nod, worrying her all the same. “Well… I’ll see what I can do. When’s the last time anypony saw them?”

“Rumble said Thunderlane went to relax by the lake on the afternoon he went missing. And Flitter told us her sister was heading back from the Wonderbolts Academy and stopped by Whitetail Woods.”

Rubbing her chin thoughtfully, Applejack nodded and turned around. “Thanks, Lyra. I’ll be sure to figure out what the hay’s goin’ on around here.”

“Of course… but after what happened last time. Do you think it could’ve been tha--”

“Don’t fret about it, Lyra. There’s no way it can still be alive.” Applejack smiled reassuringly, “just go about yer day and I’m sure everythin’ will be alright.” Walking back to the stand, she wondered what this all could have meant. ‘If in fact the Xenomorph is dead, then why are all these ponies goin’ missin’? It ain’t like them ta just wander off.' Thunderlane and Cloudchaser never really left Ponyville except for some Wonderbolts-related business. But if they were gone, where did they go?

The flapping of wings attracted her attention. She saw a pony’s shadow appear on the wall of the building next to her. Turning to see who it was, she smiled as a familiar pegasus flew up to her with a light azure shoulder strap t-shirt covering her chest. “Hey there, Rainbow Dash.” However, she noticed a frown on her muzzle, tilting her head while asking, “Is there somethin’ wrong?”

“Not much, Applejack. Except, have you seen Bulk Biceps anywhere?” Rainbow asked, raising a hoof up. “I’ve been waiting for him all day to meet me over by Ghastly Gorge. So instead of waiting for the no-show, I went to his house to see if he was busy working out. But when I got there, he wasn’t even inside,” Rainbow Dash explained, looking over by the stalls before gazing back at Applejack. “So have you seen him walking around here?”

Applejack shook her head. “No. In fact, Ah haven’t seen a lick of him at all today.”

Rainbow huffed, crossing her front legs. “Well, that’s just great. He isn’t in Ponyville either. Where is that stallion hiding?”

“That’s the thin’, Rainbow,” she said, turning to face the alleyway behind them. “I just got done talkin’ with Lyra, and she says that Thunderlane and Cloudchaser are missin’...” Rainbow’s expression changed, her eyes lowering as the stoic frown seemed to change into one of fear.

“What… like gone, gone? Or as in just not here?” Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow toward the farm pony.

She shook her head. “They’re gone, like they just suddenly disappeared without anypony else knowin’.” Applejack saw something flash across her friend’s face as if she was scared. She knew exactly what she was thinking about: wondering if the Xenomorph was truly back. Seeing that Rainbow saw her staring at her, she shook her head before regaining her frown. “Yah know what I’m thinkin’ about… right?”

“Yeah…” Rainbow started, looking down at the ground before continuing. “But Twilight and the other princesses wiped it off the face of Equestria. There couldn’t have been any trace left, from what Twilight told us.”

“Ah know. But Ah can’t shake off the feelin’ that the thing responsible for this is that monster.” She glared at the ground before looking up to the cyan mare. “Ah think the others should hear this too.”

Rainbow nodded, turning around as if she already knew where to go. “I’ll get Fluttershy. Then me and her will meet back up over at Twilight’s castle.”

Rainbow sped off towards Fluttershy’s cottage. Moving over to her stand, Applejack closed it before running towards her first destination. Heading into the middle of Ponyville, she spotted Sugarcube Corner and hastily went through the doors. “Pinkie Pie!?” she called out, looking around the main lobby. She walked into the room, scanning for the hyperactive mare.

“Hiyah!” A flash of pink moved in front of her vision, causing Applejack to yelp as she leapt back, falling onto the floor in a daze. Rubbing her head, she slowly opened her eyes and saw a bright and cheerful smiling pink pony standing over her, inches away from her own muzzle. “Oh my gosh! Applejack! What a surprise it is to see you!”

Getting up, Applejack picked up her Stetson and brushed it off yet again, glancing over at Pinkie Pie as she bounced up and down. “Hey there, Pinkie Pie,” she said as she put her Stetson back on her head. “Listen, I need yah ta come along with me. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy will meet us over by Twilight’s castle--”

“Oh! What kind of meeting are we having this time? Because I have this great idea for, guess what, a chocolate fountain!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, waving her forelegs in the air as her bright smile beamed at Applejack.

She leaned back a little, shaking her head before speaking again. “Just follow me, Pinkie.”

“Okey dokey lokey,” Pinkie said, following Applejack out onto the streets as they raced along the sidewalks. Seeing that she had Pinkie Pie, she had to get over to Carousel Boutique, so she increased her speed and took the shortest route to the building.

It didn’t take long until she ran up to the door of the boutique, ringing the doorbell while patiently waiting for the pony inside. A moment later, the door opened with a elegant mare standing in the middle of the doorway. Rarity had a sad frown on her muzzle, but she switched it over to a smile a second after she saw her. “Ah, Applejack. How are you doing?” Rarity asked, reaching for Applejack and hugging her.

She gave the same happy embrace in return before pulling away. “Rarity, glad ta see yah too. But we’ve got a problem on our hooves.”

The unicorn brought a hoof up to her muzzle, before saying, “Oh my. It isn’t something dangerous, I hope?”

“Well…” Applejack began, looking down at the ground, before saying, “Ah’m afraid ta tell yah, but Rainbow and Fluttershy are goin’ ta meet with us at Twilight’s castle. We’ll talk more there.”

Rarity frowned and nodded. “Say no more. Let me just lock the door, and I’ll be along shortly.” Applejack nodded and left the white mare to attend to her house while quickly making her way over to Twilight’s castle. She saw Rainbow hovering by the entrance of the castle with Fluttershy on the ground, the two talking to each other.

Rainbow seemed to have heard their hoofsteps and turned to face the approaching group. “Where’s Rarity?”

“I’m here,” Rarity replied. Rainbow Dash turned to see the unicorn trotting up to the group.

Seeing that everypony was here, Applejack made her way to the castle doors and knocked on the crystal structure. A moment later, the doors opened, and Twilight looked out to the group, smiling brightly. “Hey there, everypony,” said Twilight. However, she frowned as she stared at the group and noticed their concerned expressions. “Is… everything okay?”

Watching the smile disappear, Applejack made her way over to the princess and spoke. “Twilight…” She looked back to the others, nodding to Rainbow Dash. “We need ta talk.”

“Oh… um, sure,” Twilight replied, opening the doors for the other girls to walk in. She led them to the meeting room, and everypony took their respective crystal seats. It was quiet, eerily so, as the group of ponies stared at one another.

Applejack sighed, breaking the silence. “Ah have somethin’ ta say.”

“You mean you're going to come out of the closet and say you're madly in love with Rainbow Dash!? Ohmygosh! I knew it!” Pinkie Pie said, giggling as she spoke.

“W-What, no! That’s ridiculous! I…” a flabbergasted Applejack sputtered, while everypony else’s face flushed with embarrassment.

“Oh, so you’re going out with Rarity, then?” Pinkie Pie asked with a tilt to her head, causing Rarity to turn as red as a tomato.

“Consarnit, Pinkie Pie! Ah’m not into Rainbow Dash or Rarity!” Applejack roared, glaring at the pink pony before continuing. “What Ah was tryin’ ta say was that I just got done talkin’ with Lyra.” She went quiet until she saw that she had everypony’s attention. “Lyra said that there have been some ponies who’ve disappeared.”

Deathly silence wrapped the room in an unearthly stillness. Nopony spoke up as the unsettling news was finally brought to light. Applejack scanned the expressions of each mare; most of them shared the same dreaded thought she was having. “I… take it everypony knows what Ah’m talking--”

“Of course, Applejack!” Rarity yelled. The farmpony flinched as she heard Rarity practically scream at her. “We all know where this conversation is going, and I would like to keep out of it, if nopony here minds.”

“Rarity, Applejack didn’t mean anything about… ‘it’. Do you?” Twilight asked, looking over to the farm mare with a worried frown.

“I… I don’t want to believe it was the creature’s doin’... but Lyra said that Thunderlane went missing, as well as Cloudchaser.”

“They could be with each other,” Rainbow Dash said, looking at everypony else. “I mean, Bulk Biceps is gone too. I went to see if he was home, but I didn’t find him there.”

“So then who would be responsible for their disappearances?” Fluttershy quietly asked, slowly looking to the other mares.

“Maybe they just decided to go somewhere else for a while. I mean, come on, if it really was the Xenomorph, I’m pretty sure we’d all know by now,” Pinkie Pie reasoned, hoping the others would see logic in her explanation.

“Pinkie, darling, I do love you… but please refrain from using the name of that… dreadful ‘creature’,” Rarity said. She shuddered as she rested a hoof on her chest where the scar from her own encounter with the extraterrestrial laid hidden beneath her white fur, a sad frown forming on her muzzle.

Applejack shook her head before speaking up. “Ah’d like ta say that bringin’ up the monster from our past is another problem we all seem ta have. Why can’t we just ferget about that thing and move on with our lives?”

“That’s the problem in itself, Applejack,” Twilight said, turning to gaze over at her. “After the trauma the Xen… ‘creature’ caused, I believed it affected all of us psychologically. Even if it is gone… the effects from what it did stay with anypony that came into contact with it,” Twilight replied, frowning as she looked down.

Applejack looked down, her eyes darting back and forth as she tried to think of something that would help. As she looked up, she could see that everypony was on edge, knowing how badly each one was troubled by possibility of the creature’s sudden return.

A shadow moved in the corner of her eye. She looked up to see Fluttershy fidgeting around. “Um… what if Zecora knows anything about this? After all, she does live in the Everfree Forest. That’s where it hid the first time.”

“I hate ta burst yer bubble there, Fluttershy. But there’s no possible way that she is able ta keep an eye out fer every single thing in the woods,” Applejack noted.

“Wait!” Pinkie Pie spoke up, raising her right hoof into the air while supporting it with her left one to gain everypony’s attention.

Twilight sighed, shaking her head before addressing the hyperactive mare. “Yes, Pinkie Pie?”

“I just realized that Zecora didn’t show up in Ponyville today,” she announced.

“And what’s so important about her not being in Ponyville, Pinkie?” Rainbow crossed her front legs, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, she usually comes over every Wednesday to buy herbal ingredients that she can’t get anywhere else in the Everfree Forest. I know because I see her walk by the windows of Sugarcube Corner. Doesn’t that seem a little fishy to you guys?”

Everypony looked to the ground for a moment, thinking about what Pinkie Pie had said, before casting concerned looks at each other. They all knew that the pink mare was able to memorize the daily schedules of her friends, from the most important to the most unimportant tasks.

“Pinkie Pie does have a valid point,” Rarity admitted, looking over to the others. “Still… I hope that wretched creature isn’t part of this.”

“Well then,” Twilight started, gaining everypony’s attention. “I think we should start there. Come on, everypony,” she said. She stood up from her chair and nodded for the others to follow. Applejack rose up from her seat, seeing the others follow suit.

It wasn’t long until they reached one of the entryways into the Everfree Forest, everypony standing side by side in a straight line. Applejack looked down the row; each pony had a fearful frown on their face. Applejack shared their same expression, breathing in as she calmed the thoughts swirling around the Xenomorph. She believed the others were doing the exact same thing as they remembered the awful times in the spooky forest.

“D-do we really have to go in there?” Fluttershy asked, shaking as she slowly hid behind Rarity.

Rarity looked to the shivering mare behind her, returning her gaze back to the dark and dreary forest. “I don’t like it any more than you, darling, but we have to see if what we believe is true.”

“Well then, what are we waiting for?” Rainbow said; a weak chuckle as she was the first one into the forest. Everypony else looked to one another before quickly following after her.

Echoes of the forest resonated around them as the twisted trees loomed over the group. Applejack frowned as she scanned the foliage of the forest. The images of the Xenomorph came back heavily as she remembered her extreme close encounter with death itself. It wasn’t a memory she enjoyed recalling, seeing as how the Alien had practically ripped her shoulder out of its socket, somehow without taking her entire front right leg in the process.

“Wow… it has been a while… since we’ve all been here, hasn’t it?” Applejack murmured, chuckling nervously as she looked up to the others.

“Yes… it has,” Twilight said, keeping her gaze focused on what was in front of her. Although from what Applejack could tell, she noticed that Twilight seemed to be holding something back. She looked away, thinking it was rather best to not ask her what was on her mind.

A twig cracked underneath her hoof, Applejack turning to the piece of wood below her. She then looked up and saw that the tip of a branch was broken. Although the sight was odd, she just dismissed it. It could have been a gust of wind that broke the branch in the first place.

It was only some time later that they saw Zecora’s hut stowed away in the depths of the forest. However, as the group approached the zebra’s cottage, they noticed something was off: the door was slightly ajar. Twilight cautiously approached the door. The door made a slow creak as it opened. She heard Twilight gasp, backing up and out of the hut before turning to face everypony. “Something’s wrong. You all need to come and see this.”

Rushing up beside her, everypony quickly filed in, only to see the broken windows inside her hut. Applejack scanned the room, but she saw nothing conclusive to explain what happened here. It was only until she heard Rarity gasp did she turn to see what she had found. “What did yah find?”

“There are darts lying on the floor here. But Zecora never had any darts, unless she suddenly decided to buy them for decorations,” Rarity said, picking up one of the projectiles and looking it over.

“That’s funny. I’ve never seen Zecora use these before. Unless she was planning to put somepony to sleep,” Pinkie Pie said, picking up another one before leisurely scanning it over.

“What did you just say?” Rainbow piped up, raising an eyebrow.

“Oh, didn’t you guys see? There’s a label here on the dart that says, ‘Handle with caution. Powerful tranquilizers. Misuse can result in comatose state.’ Huh, what weird darts,” Pinkie said, giggling afterwards.

“Wait, if these are tranquilizer darts, then does that mean that somepony--”

A sudden gasp caught everypony’s attention, and they turned to see Twilight lifting a small object off the ground. Twilight gazed fearfully at them as she looked over the small item. “Girls… I found something.”

Everypony rushed over, crowding around the alicorn as they gazed at the object. What they noticed was that it was just a small piece of fabric with a logo stitched into the item.

“So… what’s so important about this?” Rainbow piped up, raising an eyebrow to Twilight.

“There was an article I read last night about a company that recently merged with a Neighponese company. The pony in charge said something that eerily resembled Weyland-Yutani’s catchphrase. They are even calling themselves Neighland-Yupony,” Twilight stated, keeping her gaze glued on the piece of fabric.

“So what, are you sayin’ that this company is pretty much a pony version of that Dr. Markovich’s company?” Applejack asked, looking over to Twilight.

“Not just that… they could be responsible for all the disappearances.”

The group went silent as they saw the deeper meaning to this piece of evidence. “Woah, woah, woah. If that’s who’s taking everypony, then why are they doing that in the first place?” Rainbow Dash asked, her eyes darting over everypony.

“I have no idea, Rainbow, but I know it can’t be anything good,” Twilight said.

“Girls.” Rarity spoke up. “With all things considered here, I think we need to inform Princess Celestia and Princess Luna about this.”

The girls looked to one another, knowing that whatever was going on here needed to be investigated and fast. “You’re right,” Twilight said, holding the fabric to her side in a raspberry aura. “Come on, girls. We have to get to Canterlot and fast.” The others nodded, quickly exiting Zecora’s hut and hurrying over to Ponyville. It was clear that there was something nefarious going on, and Applejack realized that they would be getting answers, sooner or later.

The strength of the wind slowly picked up, the trees in the courtyard gently swaying with the breeze. The leaves shook on their branches, rattling against one another to create a soothing sound that echoed through the terrace. Leaves broke off, fluttering in the wind as they swirled in the air, falling to the ground in red, yellow and brown piles that covered the grounds. Fall was drawing ever so closely in, evident by the cold air that swept through the castle grounds.

Inside the throne room, Princess Celestia busily wrote away on the large amount of paperwork in her advisor’s bright pink aura, the quill radiating in her own light-gold yellow aura. Although she focused on the documents in front of her, lingering thoughts of the past week had all but made her anxious. It had been a week since her guards had reported back that Daring Do was not home, making her wonder what had happened to the mare she was relying on to be her best hope of catching Dr. Caballeron and apprehending the Xenomorph.

But where was the daring adventurer? Was she okay? Where did she go? Celestia had to find out if the Xenomorph had been recovered immediately, and now her worries grew more and more as time went by. All those thoughts had piled up inside her mind until she herself was almost overwhelmed by paranoia. She knew she had to be strong for her ponies and conceal her fears from worrying the rest of her subjects. Celestia did not desire to let her closest friends, the Element Bearers, to relive such a terrible nightmare. Even her niece, Princess Cadance, did not deserve to go through such a horrifying recollection, as she was already dealing with the Crystal Empire alone, not to mention a baby that was currently on the way.

It may have been worth mentioning that her niece was also struggling with a depressive state. She and her sister, Luna, had gotten a letter from her. And it was a telltale sign of what she was fearful of doing to herself. Could Cadance really go through such an awful decision? Maybe it was best to not let it get to her. After all there were still more pressing matters, but she was thankful all the same that they could come to Cadance's rescue.

‘We must find Daring Do. She’s the only pony I can rely on at this point; if we don’t find her soon, then Dr. Caballeron will take this creature to somepony that may end up using this monster for unspeakable purposes.’ Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the throne room door opening. Glancing up, she saw her sister, Princess Luna, walk through the doors. A cup floated in a dark blue aura at her side. Returning her focus back to the paperwork, she finished the last few lines before nodding to her advisor. The unicorn mare nodded her thanks, and Celestia looked up to the guards.

“You all may end your shift. I want to talk to my sister alone,” she announced. The guards saluted her before filing out through the doors in an orderly manner. She closed her eyes for a brief moment, then opened them again to see her sister sitting down next to the throne, sipping away at her cup of coffee. “Good morning, sister,” she began. “Has there been any word for the whereabouts of Daring Do?”

The younger alicorn looked up to her older sister, a frown forming on her muzzle. “There has been no other reports as of late. The guards cannot find our friend, Miss Do, anywhere. They have looked from Fillydelphia to Manehattan but have come up with nothing,” Princess Luna replied, closing her eyes as she lowered the cup in her aura.

Celestia sighed, letting her eyes fall shut as the feeling of failure set in. Why did Daring Do have to leave at the most inopportune time? Something didn’t feel right about any of this at all. The sound of hoofsteps echoed in front of her, and she opened her eyes to see one of her guards hurriedly making his way towards her. He skidded to a halt, bowing quickly before reporting. “Princess Celestia, a pony wants to speak to you. She says it is the most imperative of news. She seems to have sustained quite a few injuries, but refuses to receive medical attention until she has spoken to you.”

Celestia looked over to her sister, seeing the younger alicorn turn to face her as well before both princesses turned to face the guard again. “Let this mare in. We believe it might be who we were looking for,” Celestia said. She watched the guard bow again before heading off. They waited, watching for the pony that said she desired an audience with them. Hoofsteps silently echoed in from out of the hallway that led to the throne room, both princesses watching as they shared another glance before turning their attention back to the doorway.

A pony slowly walked up to the door and made her way through the large archway. The mare’s steps were unsteady, seeming to almost be tripping over own hooves. Celestia gasped as she saw who it was; it was Daring Do. The mare that both she and her sister had been searching for was heading right towards them at a very slow, snail-like pace on precarious hooves.

Celestia stood up and made her way towards Daring Do, her sister by her side. Daring Do streched out a hoof to reach for them, her eyes fluttering shut as she descended towards the floor. She felt a breeze ruffle her fur and saw her sister catch Daring before she hit the ground. She kneeled next to her sister and felt a horrible pit form in her stomach as she gazed across Daring’s body, seeing nothing but dried and bloody cuts and bruises that ran across her fur.

Moving closer, she murmured to the injured pony, “Daring Do, what happened? Is this because of the Xenomorph?”

The mare below her looked up into her eyes, speaking in a raspy tone. “The creature… it… it-”

“It what? Did it get out? Were you able to capture it?”

“Tia, I do not think Daring is in any stable condition. We need to see to her wounds before asking her--”

“Daring, please tell us what happened,” Celestia interrupted her sister, her tone almost reaching a yell as the fears she had for the past week quickly filled her thoughts.

The adventurer coughed, blinking her eyes slowly before continuing. “Me and a… team of mercenaries. We went to find the creature… and we… and we…” Her eyes fell shut, falling limp in Luna’s hooves.

“No… no. Please, wake up,” she murmured, feeling herself stem on the near verge of tears.

She felt her sister’s hoof rest on her shoulder, before hearing her speak. “Celestia. Daring will be okay. However, her wounds need to be treated to first before we can ask her what happened.” Luna turned her sister’s muzzle to face her own gaze, reassuring her. “Daring Do will not die. She has not been through too many adventures to give up now.”

Celestia darted her gaze to the ground, recovering from the verge of tears and sighed. A frown still kept hold on her muzzle, but she nodded. She noticed a glint of light catch her eye from the unconscious mare’s side, and she looked down to see two sheathed daggers firmly set at her sides. She never heard of this mare having two weapons before. For now, she needed help, and would ask the pegasus questions later. “Bring her to the medical ward of the castle. Keep watch over her while I make sure that everything else is fine.” Her sister nodded, gently placing Daring on her back before quickly trotting through the doorway. Celestia closed her eyes and prayed that if the Xenomorph was still alive, it had not caused harm to anypony else.

“Hey! Let me out, you stupid ponies!”

Zecora blinked her eyes slowly, staring down at the floor. She floated above the ground with her bonds keeping her attached to the wall. She glanced at the chains holding her, frowning as she sluggishly pulled at them. Returning her attention to the ground, she exhaled, then moved her gaze up to the ponies and other beings that were stuck in here like she was, gazing at the griffon who continued to shout.

“Whoever you ponies are, you’re going to regret knocking me out and bringing me here!” she screeched again, chains rattling against the wall as the griffon thrashed about in her shackles.

“Calm down, you overgrown pigeon,” a light pink earth pony mare hissed, frowning as she glared at the griffon. “I believe everypony here would like some peace and quiet after an hour of hearing you scream your lungs out.”

“Why you snooty little-!”

“Both of you, be quiet!” A dark gray stallion switched his gaze from the two, and his wings flared up as he hushed the bickering griffin and pony. “Everypony hasn’t been doing well since we all woke up in this strange place. So how about we take a little breather and calm down?”

“Calm down?” The mare chuckled, shaking her head. “Unless you have some kind of plan Thunderlane, m’kay, that involves all of us getting out of here, then I don’t know how we can remain composed in a situation like this.”

“That’s your problem there, Suri.” The light flickered over a grayish lilac pegasus, her wings resting along the sides of her barrel as she gazed at the fashionista of Manehatten with light rose eyes. “You have to be positive. I’m sure somepony’s bound to find us here soon.”

“Yeah, too bad your own kind’s already found you, Cloudchaser. We’re sure to be saved now,” the griffon remarked as she gave a snide smile.

“Jeez, louse, don’t be such a sour puss, Gilda.” Babs Seed shook her head, returning her attention to the pegasus mare. “Cloudchaser’s right. All we gotta do is just wait for somepony who doesn’t work here to find us.”

“But how? Trixie does not wish to put such a damper on the suggestion, but we have no idea where this place is at.” The truth spoken in the unicorn mare’s words rang true. Zecora found it hard to accept the fact that they all could be in a location out of Equestrian land.

“Do not give up on hope, Trixie. Somepony is sure to find us. Although Iron Will doubts it just a little, there’s no reason to expect the unexpected, right?” The grayish cobalt blue minotaur said. A smile hinted with hope as he gazed at the others.

“We’re all doomed. Just say it already!” The overly toned pegasi with a white color of fur, Bulk Biceps, lowered his head and closed his eyes after hopeless banter.

As Gilda spoke up, Zecora closed her eyes, only wishing what Iron Will said was true. It felt as if it had been days since she was stuck in here, although she knew she was possibly exaggerating. Since the time she had been brought there, Zecora had watched as some of the other prisoners were taken off their chains and were carried off elsewhere. After they were gone for what she thought was two or more hours, the scientists brought them back, putting the captives back up on the wall.

She had no idea why they wanted all of these others there, including herself. What was their goal, and why did they need so many beings chained up? Whatever it was for, it did not feel like they were up to any good.

Zecora looked up as the sliding door opened up, seven scientists walking into the room. It was odd since only three scientists would usually come in. She swiveled her ears as the sound of wheels caught her attention. Behind the group was another gurney with clear canister-like objects mounted onto an apparatus. “Hey!” Gilda yelled as she pulled the chains, grunting as she tried to yank them from their anchor point. “Let me out of here, you stupid ponies! I was happier in Griffonstone than with you idiots!”

The group of masked ponies did not heed her words. Two of the scientists continued to wheel the gurney up to one of the unicorns, the stallion adorned in a white and red striped shirt with a mustache. She tilted her head, watching two of the masked ponies pull the stallion away from the wall and carry him out of the room while the other five stayed behind.

“Hey! Where are you taking my brother!?” Flim yelled, seeing Flam being lifted down onto a gurney and hauling him away from the room. However, the scientists ignored him as the sibling continued to shout at them. The five remaining scientists proceeded to take five of the clear tubes off the cart and position them over the chests of the three adult earth ponies, the diamond dog and the bison. They appeared to be made from glass, seeing as how they were see-through.They had one open end that faced the others’ chests, with the closed end pointed away from them.

“What are you guys doing? Please, let us out of here,” Cloudchaser murmured, the mare’s chains rattling a little.

“Give it a rest, m’kay, Cloudchaser? These ponies did not listen the last two times you tried to plead with them.” Suri glared at the ponies down below, her chains shaking as she pulled at them.

As they clamped the frames of the canisters to their sides, Zecora felt a familiarity with these objects. These were the ones that had previously hauled off Ol’ Salt and come back with him an hour later. He and the following four captives were brought back and chained onto the wall after a few hours had passed. Zecora also noted that all five of them were unconscious when they were brought back.

As she watched, her gaze moved up to Ol’ Salt as he began to shake. Zecora opened her mouth to say something, flinching as she heard the pony scream, his yells of pain echoing in the room. It wasn’t long until the second earth pony also howled, followed by the third. Blood poured out of their mouth, and their chests bulged outwards violently.

“What’s happening to them!?” Babs Seed cried in fright as she watched the five convulse in agony.

“T-Trixie does not know. Close your eyes, Babs Seed, and do not watch this horrid show!” Trixie responded as she too watched on in terror.

Zecora could only stare, mouth agape, as she shivered from the terror that wrapped her in its frightening embrace. Ol’ Salt’s chest burst open, and a small creature screeched as it moved into the tube. Screaming filled the chamber; both dying and living alike experienced a terror they had never witnessed before. Zecora could only keep her gaze locked on the creature that squirmed inside the containment unit, marking the inside with the blood of the stallion as it tried to writhe out of the case.

“What is that thing!?” Iron Will shouted, his eyes bulging as he froze in place, watching the creature thrash about in the container.

Zecora watched in horror, unable to pull her gaze away from the other two earth ponies thrashing in their restraints, their screams of pain reverberating around the room until their chests burst open and two more of the repulsive creatures exited the chests and moved into the blood-filled tubes. A new sound filled the room as she watched the Diamond Dog begin to whine in pain, shortly before it turned into a high-pitched yelp as another one of these parasites exited the body of its host.

“You monsters! Do something, for Celestia’s sake! They’re dying! Why aren’t you helping them?!” Thunderlane yelled as he glared at the scientists, fighting against his chains as he did all he could to escape the restraints.

Tears brimmed at the edge of Zecora’s eyelids. Even though she had no idea who any of these beings were, it still felt painful to watch them die in such a horrid way. In the corner of her eye, she saw more movement. The buffalo began shaking as well, knowing that his painful death would be next. In a short amount of time, the chestburster broke through the being’s sternum, and the fifth nightmarish creature slid out into the tube.

“T-this is so not cool… so not cool!” Bulk Biceps yelled, his overly worked muscles contracting as he fought the chains that held him to the metallic wall.

Zecora turned her gaze to the tubes, watching the hatches to each container close automatically before the remaining five scientists retrieved them and carried the tubes out of the room. They opened the door, moved out of the room, and sealed it shut behind, leaving the remaining prisoners in silence. However, the five who died were left to hang in the awful silence. The screams of the prisoners continued to echo in her mind, the gory scene running on replay as she shivered in her chains. Her mouth hung agape, but no words could truly describe what she saw. Whatever was going on here, she feared that those creatures would be used for some sinister purpose and wondered when it would be her turn to forcibly carry one of these ominous and dangerous parasites within her own chest.

Chapter V: Time of Answers

View Online

All was quiet. Then a slow beating of a heart pierced through the dark veil that surrounded Daring Do. A weak and ragged groan broke the silence around her as she slowly opened her eyes. The light stung her vision, and she rubbed her eyes before letting them fully open. She gradually scanned the room before her, noting the green curtains by the window along with the sterile area surrounding the bed she laid in. Daring tilted her head slightly before closing her eyes and going back to her thoughts.

She didn’t remember much. The last memory she had was walking up to somepony before passing out. Her eyes shot open wide as she realized that it was Princess Celestia. A knocking at the door echoed in the far right corner of the room; she turned and focused on the entrance. Cautiously, she looked to her left. A gleam of light caught her eye, and she saw the daggers she had received from Roughneck sitting on the counter next to her. Moving her hoof over to the right blade, she brought it to her side, hiding it underneath her bed sheets before announcing in a weak voice, “C-come in.”

The door opened in a gentle manner with a familiar face peeking out from the edge of the frame. “Well good morning, Daring Do.” She sighed, thankful that it was Princess Celestia. She loosened the blade in her hoof, sliding it back to the counter and putting it back in its sheath.

“Hello Princess. It’s good to see you,” Daring said, a faint smile covering the frown she’d had before.

“I am glad to see that you’re awake,” Celestia said in her regal voice. She bore a calm yet happy expression as she gazed at Daring.

Daring Do herself was surprised to see the Princess looking so relaxed. She couldn’t understand why, but thought that this was just her way of appearing cool and collected, rather than worrying other ponies. As the Princess of the Sun walked into the room, another pony followed behind her, who Daring recognized as Princess Luna.

“It is good to see that you are conscious once again, Daring Do,” the Princess of the Night said in a quiet and gentle voice, moving to her sister’s side.

She rubbed the back of her head, a frown forming on her lips as the memories of her fallen comrades came rushing back. Her frown quickly disappeared, to be replaced with a smile instead. “Yeah, I had something to deal with. Something that I need to tell you two about.”

Both sisters looked to one another before letting their focus return to her. “When our messengers returned without you, they reported to us that you were nowhere to be found. Where did you go, Daring?” Celestia asked, her tone almost too calm for her liking.

“I was busy with an assignment that I at first thought you gave to me. Although I later learned that it wasn’t you two who had given me my task.”

“And who was this pony that recruited you to their cause when we were in desperate need for you?” Luna asked, raising an eyebrow at the prospect of somepony else calling for her help.

“That… is something I’d like to know. But I can tell you this. I went after the creature that you and my friends had to deal with from some time ago.” Her eyes darted to both of the princesses; who bore shock on their muzzles.

“The Xenomorph… did you bring it back?” Celestia murmured. Her eyes were lowered into slits, and her mood had instantly changed from a calm and serene expression to a hard and fearful glare.

Daring shook her head, catching a glimmer of worry in Celestia’s eyes until she spoke. “No. It was killed in the explosion after we found it being studied by a group of ponies working for a company called ‘Neighland Industries.’” Her eyes closed as Black Arrow, Roughneck and Crystal Rune reappeared in her thoughts. She dismissed the images before asking, “Have you ever heard of them before?”

Both alicorns looked to each other again, with Luna returning her gaze to Daring. “I believe that we have heard talk of this company, but my sister and I know little about them.”

Celestia turned her attention to Daring once more before asking, “Did you find out why they were studying the Xenomorph?”

“No. We weren’t able to gather any information as to why they wanted it. All I can tell is that they wanted this ‘Xenomorph’ creature for nefarious reasons.”

Celestia looked away, her frown deepening as she closed her eyes. She opened them, asking, “Did you ever discover who is leading this company?”

Daring nodded. “His name is Bishop Neighland.”

“And did you ever meet him?” Celestia turned her gaze back on Daring, who looked away.

“Yeah… I met him. He’s not a pony you would want to cross.” A dirty and mucky feeling of mud returned, Bishop’s uncaring gaze met her own while his guards pinned both her and Roughneck to the ground as he told them of how precious this monster was to him. “We didn’t exactly meet in the best of circumstances.”

“And what of the other ponies with you?” Luna spoke this time. Her eyes remained fixed on Daring as she awaited her response.

She felt her heart ache from this question, remembering all too well what happened to her newfound friends. “There were four others...” Daring felt tears begin to form at the edge of her eyes, closing them quickly before any escaped. “None of them made it.”

Celestia got up from her seat and moved over to the window. Her mouth moved like she was muttering something, her eyes portraying somepony that was in pain at the loss of more life. Daring continued. “That wasn’t all I saw.” Celestia looked over her shoulder. Daring waited until she had the sisters’ attention. “There was something else that was responsible for my friends’ death. It wasn’t the Xenomorph, but a hunter that didn’t come from this planet.”

“Another creature?” Luna murmured, her eyes darting between Daring and Celestia.

“Yes… it was more advanced than any other civilization that I have seen. It had energy-like weapons and could turn invisible with this wristwatch-like object on its arm,” Daring said. The two regal alicorns listened with great interest. She knew how crazy she must have sounded, but judging by the shocked expressions of the princesses, she didn’t think they doubted her story.

The two sisters turned to face one another, both sharing a few words until returning their gazes back to Daring. “So this creature… was different from the Xenomorph. And considering that this creature seems to pose just as much as a threat as the Xenomorph, we must know: is it still on the loose?” Celestia asked, her eyes never leaving Daring as she awaited her answer.

“The creature is dead. I personally saw to that.”

Hearing this, both sisters exhaled the breath they both had been holding. Seeing the sheaths on the desk, Luna asked, “And I was curious as to why you have those two daggers next to you. Who do those belong to, if I may ask?”

Her eyes glimmered for a moment, before Daring closed them once more. She opened them, holding back tears for the friends had she lost. “As for these daggers...” She waved to them with a hoof. “They belonged to one of my teammates. His name was Roughneck.”

It was quiet for a small portion of the time, the only sound being the breeze of the wind as it entered through the window. “I am sorry to hear that,” Celestia murmured.

Daring looked up to see that Celestia was struggling to hold her emotions in. It must’ve been hard to care so strongly for all her subjects. When one or more died, it must have felt as though she had lost one of her own foals. However, she managed to take each loss in stride and press onward.

“Sister.” Luna broke the silence, moving her gaze to her older sibling. “I believe the others will need to hear what has transpired.”


“Yes, I understand you do not want to get them involved in this.” The younger alicorn nuzzled her sister gently before continuing. “But we have to take all necessary actions if we are to confront this ‘Bishop Neighland’.”

Celestia looked up before nodding. “Yes. I shall prepare a message for them.” A green flash of light burst in front of the two sisters. Celestia encased it in an golden yellow aura before reading its contents. Her eyes widened with interest before looking up and saying, “It appears that they shall be coming to us. They said they’ll be here on the next train from Ponyville with some.... unsettling news.”

“Unsettling news?” Luna moved her gaze to the scroll, her eyes darting across the message sent by the Element Bearers. “They do not seem to explain what is so troubling.”

“I do not know as well, sister. But from how quickly this message was sent to us, I believe something startling has taken place.” Looking over to Daring, she said, “We shall leave you to recover for a little more time. After they arrive, we shall send somepony to come and get you.”

She nodded and watched the two sisters take their leave, closing the door as they left. Daring looked around the room before sighing. Laying her head down on the pillow, she closed her eyes, images from the journey playing through her mind again. Daring shook them off, letting sleep finally take her.

A single blue light lit buzzed in a dark room with Nenne Seion seated upon a chair. Her left eye was closed as she stared down a microscope, an emotionless expression almost too obvious upon her muzzle. How long she had spent in here was hardly a concern at this point. There was too much to do and little time she could waste. As she stared a pencil floated in her aquamarineish gray aura. The sound of it scribbling was close as she could get to music, figuratively of course, but she enjoyed it all the same.

‘Have to mark down each variable. The adhesion of this experiment must be one-hundred percent perfect. No errors. No mistakes.’ None could be made. Each step had to be as precise as she had planned it. ‘If I want the cells to survive I have to configure the reaction to my specifications and make sure that the bonding process isn’t disturbed.’ She twisted the coarse focus on the arm before she did the same to the fine focus. A sudden burst of light exposed her back and illuminated her cornflower bluish gray mane and tail, the persian bluish gray highlights she had also lit up. She glanced over her shoulder and murmured, “Oh… it’s just you.”

“You sound like you’re annoyed that I’m here, Dr. Nenne.”

She rolled her eyes at the stallion behind her. “What are you here for, 'Dr. Nerve'? I’m busy with a project at the moment.” Nenne turned back to the microscope before she continued, “And why don’t you just use your real name instead? You know I’m not going to tell anypony else.”

Dr. Nerve chuckled as he said, “You know how much effort Bishop Neighland has put into keeping my identity from my group a secret? They can’t know what I’m involved in.”

“Of course not. Otherwise that would ruin the master plan of his so called, ‘The Purge’.” Nenne scoffed and shook her head.

It was quiet for a moment until Dr. Nerve spoke again. “Why do you despise Bishop Neighland so?”

Nenne chuckled and turned around to fully face the stallion standing behind her. “Why? Well if you haven’t noticed already then I’m not that surprised that his loyal puppy dog is so blind.” Her frown deepened when she heard him snicker. She swiveled the chair back to the microscope but resumed, “what will happen when he get’s what he wants? Do you think there’s room for us in his grand scheme? I’ve seen his type before. As soon as they have what they desire everypony else becomes obsolete; mere tools for a madpony to play around with until he finds no more use for his experiments.”

A laugh echoed behind her, Nenne folding her ears as her frown deepened. “You’ve seen his type before? That’s almost too hysterical. What kind of idea makes you believe that he’s really going to do such a thing like that? Surely you must feel some sympathy for a half-breed like hi--”

She stood up and walked straight up until Nenne was mere inches away from Nerve’s muzzle. “Don’t you dare try and compare me to somepony like him! You have no idea what I’ve been through.” Her gray aquamarine eyes were filled with an intensity that could scare a Manticore. “What gives you the right to speak to me like I don’t know anything about being a half-breed. None! Because you weren’t born with parents from different nations. You have no idea what my mother and father had to go through. What I’ve been through!” Her glare met azure blue eyes behind glasses before she turned away from him.

Nenne heard a forced cough before his footsteps echoed at the door. “Well… I am sorry you feel that way.” The door closed shut before she sighed and rubbed her temple.

“What right does he have to try and compare me to Bishop? There is none.” Nenne took a few steps before she sat back down in her chair. She breathed in and held her breath before she exhaled. ‘I know one thing, though. If these experiments… if these specimens escape then I will not be there to share the responsibility if Bishop screws all of this up. The moment he does… I am turning my back and not even taking a glance back at the mess he’ll make.’

Celestia’s sun had risen to its peak in the sky, shining its warm light across the land below. However, there was a faint object floating above an island. Inside the ship, a clawed hand grabbed a mask, bringing it over its face and securing it. The hunter looked to its other brothers, tilting its head as it watched its angrier sibling unsheathe the gauntlet blade, running a hand over the top of it.

He clicked to the hunter, and the younger brother growled and took a step forward. A hand grabbed his shoulder, and he glanced at their other sibling. He unsheathed a sword from his left side and pointed to a being on the handle of his blade’s guard, then clenched his hand into a fist at the consequence of committing an improper act during the hunt.

It was a moment until the younger sibling looked away, nodded slowly and pushed him aside with his shoulder. The wiser brother turned his attention to their leader, shaking his head. The lead hunter kept his gaze on the younger brother for a moment, then looked away and headed to one of the holes leading to a smaller compartment. Sitting down in a chair, he pressed a few buttons and looked over his shoulder to see the hatch above him fold and close the top of this pod.

Returning his gaze to the array of buttons below, he pressed a couple more. The small carrier shook as the engines turned on. Clicking in satisfaction, he pulled a lever back and lurched back as the pod shot out from the ship, two others accompanying the first one and flying down to the island. The hunt now had officially begun.

Chapter VI: Dual Sessions ~ Part I

View Online

A whistle blasted through the air with its loud pitch, the rail wheels spun and resonated with noise as they rotated on the tracks, and a light trail of smoke billowed out from the smokestack as the locomotive made its way toward Canterlot. Celestia’s sun poured its warm rays of light down on the earth below, heating the cold wind of the fall air. Inside the train, ponies sat on the benches of the passenger cars, most of them talking about normal day-to-day occurrences.

Inside one of the cars, six mares sat in a single row, two in each seat, as they conversed with one another. However, the mood that filled the room was less than cheerful. Their earlier discovery plagued their thoughts with what could have had happened to Zecora and where she had disappeared to. The only piece of evidence they had was a badge with the logo of the newly formed industry, “Neighland-Yupony,” sewed onto the fabric. This finding only seemed to raise more questions. While this clue didn’t allude to the creature’s involvement, none of the girls were calm about this situation. They knew all too well what had happened with the one Xenomorph that was alive last time. The signs were all there. Nopony liked the idea repeating the horrifying events from last month.

Twilight Sparkle sat on the window side of her seat, her gaze never moving from the scenery outside. She tried to pay attention to what the others were conversing about, but it was difficult due to all the thoughts she had rushing around her mind. Although everypony was equally worried, a sickening feeling formed in her stomach. What they all had found was too eerie. She couldn’t understand why there was a Neighland-Yupony badge resting on the floor of Zecora’s hut. Or, maybe she could and thought the possible answer was terrifying.

“Oh my goodness.” Rarity’s voice caught her ear, and Twilight turned to face her. Twilight watched as she rummaged through one of the ‘few’ saddlebags she carried with her on her trips, only seeing that she was wearing a scarf around her neck. “Please tell me I did not forget to bring the chapeau to match with my scarf.”

“Oh, listen to yourself,” Rainbow Dash said, shaking her head as she watched Rarity move her ensembles around. “We’re just going to meet with the princesses. It’s not like we’re visiting ponies we haven’t met before.”

Twilight couldn’t help but giggle a little. But instead of focusing on Rarity and Rainbow Dash’s argument, she returned her attention to the plains outside the train cart. The thoughts of the Alien’s return ran rampant through her mind.

A frown replaced her brief smile as she saw her muzzle in the reflection of the window. She brought a hoof to her image, and it changed in a blur of waves into her brother, Shining Armor. Tears brimmed at the edge of her eyes. She could hear the sound of her magic firing towards him in a magenta ball of light, the gasp that had accompanied his final breath. She felt the cold tears that dripped down her eyes and the painful ache in her heart as she watched his eyes close for the last time. Twilight watched him smile, and she smiled in return as a few tears dripped down her muzzle. His image faded until it took on her own reflection again. It shook its head before speaking in a low, subjective tone. “It’s all your fault. He could have been saved if you were faster.”

Twilight brought her hoof back to her side, looking away from the image. Every so often, when she looked into the mirror, there would be this replica of her negative emotions greeting her, talking her down and blaming her for what she couldn’t do. “Th-that’s not true,” she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion. “I did all I could--”

“And you still failed him in the end,” the negative replica of her said, furrowing her brow and lowering her eyes. “If you weren’t so apprehensive about finding the others, maybe you could’ve discovered the whereabouts of your brother more diligently, then you wouldn’t have blood on your hooves, now would you?”

“But I… I--”

“No excuses!” the negative replica exclaimed, interrupting her again. “Listen here, you, there is no right for you to believe that there was--”

“Twilight?” A voice disrupted the replica, and it faded into mist as she felt a hoof on her shoulder. “Is everythin’ alright?” She rubbed her eyes quickly, turning to face Applejack. The expression she saw on Applejack’s muzzle was filled with nothing but concern. “You alright there, sugarcube? You were mumblin’ somethin’ fierce over there.”

She was, however, quick to dismiss her friend. “Yeah, everything is fine, Applejack,” Twilight lied, a fake smile replacing her frown.

Her friend’s eyes darted up to her own, before her mouth opened a little. “Are you… cryin’?”

In her haste, she went to deny her friend. Before she could speak, she felt a tear trickle down her muzzle. She brought a hoof to her cheek and dabbed at it.

“It looks like yah ain’t doin’ so good,” said Applejack. “Come on, you can tell me. I mean, yah can tell everypony else here. We’re all yer friends after all.”

“Sorry…” Twilight murmured, sniffling a little. “It’s something personal that… I have to deal with.”

“I completely understand. But we’re all here fer yah.” Applejack looked to the other four Element Bearers. “Ain’t that right, y’all?”

Their focus shifted from the conversation to her, and their expressions changed as they saw what a mess Twilight looked like. They all nodded, smiling at their friend. “Of course. Twilight, you're the most important and special friend we’ve ever had.” Fluttershy was the first to speak, her quiet tone conveying nothing but the unconditional kindness she gave off.

“Yeah! There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for you, Twilight. I mean, we all care for each other,” Pinkie Pie chipped in, beaming gleefully as she moved in her seat.

She looked up, her frown changing into a sad grin. Of course she was glad to be reassured by her friends, and their words did help put her at ease, but Twilight still felt that she had to deal with this problem on her own and didn’t want to get them involved in it. ‘Besides… it’s my own personal problem. Surely they would understand.’ Yet, when she looked at them, out of all of them only Pinkie Pie seemed to have her real smile showing. Her other friends’ smiles merely seemed forced, like they still wore that fake expression they did when they were hiding something. Twilight knew that they too were battling their own demons.

However, it didn’t feel necessary to bring up the pain. Instead, she continued to smile. She wiped her eyes again before saying, “Thank you… all of you.” Their grins brightened, like they were themselves for once. They went back to their other discussion, Applejack finally joining in and laughing at Rarity’s expense. But Twilight turned back around, looking out the window once more. She did so for the rest of the trip, not looking back except when her friends got loud.

It was a couple moments later when the train came to a slow stop as it arrived at the station, its brakes screeching as it came to a halt. Steam poured out of the engine, and a gray mist engulfed the platform. The girls walked out through their door and raised their heads up to the faraway palace of Canterlot. It had been sometime since they were here; Twilight frowned when she went to talk with the Princesses after Tirek had escaped from Tartarus. Thankfully, Canterlot hadn’t been damaged then, and none of the ponies here had been injured during that stressful time. This city also brought memories of Rarity’s surgery, where the poor mare had needed to be operated on to take the dreaded embryo out of her chest before she could be killed by its birth.

They all looked to one another before making their way up the streets of Canterlot. After a few moments, they made their way up the steps to the castle, where guards patrolled the walkways and bridges of the citadel. The group walked through a door, the sun’s light bathing the hallways with a warm feeling. It was not often that they had such an inviting feeling inside the castle.

After all, this place brought forth horrid memories that took place in the Royal Sisters’ castle when the Xenomorph made its home there. And after the events they had gone through, it was utter chaos.

As they neared the throne room doors, a guard walked past them make a left, turn down some stairs, and disappear around the corner. Although they all wondered where he had gone, they had much more important issues to attend to. Twilight peeked her head around the corner of the throne room door, then walked in with her friends close behind. They all smiled as they saw Princess Celestia and Princess Luna made their way to the group from the lone cathedral at the end of the expansive chamber.

The two princesses stopped and smiled at the group of friends. “Good afternoon, everypony. It is wonderful to see you all again,” Celestia said. She tucked her wings in and nodded to them. Twilight noticed her friends bowing behind her, so memory kicked in and she hurriedly bowed as well. She heard Celestia chuckle a little before she looked up. “Twilight, you do not have to bow to me and my sister. You yourself are a princess.”

She stood up, rubbed the back of her head, and giggled a little, blushing slightly. “Sorry, just a habit I haven’t been able to break yet.”

“It is alright. I am glad that you are all here.” Celestia looked over Twilight and the others, and her smile brightened a little. However, her former teacher’s happy grin faded away into a frown. This was a little unsettling, but then she began speaking again. “My sister, Luna, and I have been waiting to disclose something to you all; information that I previously thought would have been better left unsaid to all of you.”

“Information?” Applejack murmured, tilting her head as the other girls lost their smiles. Twilight could feel it too, a horrible sensation writhing in her gut. There was a deeper yet terrible meaning behind her words.

“If it’s so important, why haven’t you told us about it yet?” Rainbow Dash asked. She crossed her forelegs and raised an eyebrow as she took flight into the air, hovering above the others.

Luna stepped forward, nodding to her sister. “Celestia and I were going to contact you ourselves, but we received your message about these disappearances. Can you tell us first what has been going on in Ponyville?”

Twilight nodded as she stepped forward, speaking for the group. “It was Applejack who brought this situation to our attention. She gathered us at my castle in Ponyville. There, she and Rainbow Dash told us about the three ponies we learned were missing: Cloudchaser, Thunderlane, and Bulk Biceps.”

“So, you haven’t found any trace of them?” Luna asked. Twilight and her friends shook their heads.

“We did go take a gander at whether or not they were preoccupied somewhere else, but our luck wasn’t as good as we would have hoped,” said Rarity.

“After we learned about their disappearance, Pinkie Pie pointed out that Zecora didn’t come into town earlier today. We went to search for her, but she wasn’t back in her hut, nor was she anywhere in the Everfree Forest,” Twilight added, looking down at the ground. During their search of the forest, she had hoped to find Spike as well, but there was no sign of him anywhere. She sighed quietly before looking back up. “After our search, we thought it was best to come and report to you after we discovered a clue in Zecora’s hut.”

“A clue?” Celestia looked to her sister before going on. “So who do you believe it was that took them?”

“We… have a clue as to who it was,” Twilight said before nodding to Pinkie Pie. Her pink friend bounced up to her side before handing her the piece of fabric. She encased it in a magenta aura, moving it before Celestia. The surrounding aura changed into a light golden field as Celestia looked over the badge. “All we know…” Twilight began, letting her former teacher study the item before she looked back up, “ that the ponies responsible for this are known as Neighland-Yupony.”

“Isn’t their name Neighland Industries?” Twilight looked back to see the source of voice that spoke, her eyes widening as she saw Daring Do standing at the doorway.

“Daring Do!?” Rainbow Dash flew right towards her and gave her a hug, Rarity and the others not far behind. Twilight herself finally joined the group in a hug.

After they all separated, Daring smiled before speaking again. “Nice to see you all again.” Her attention then turned to Rarity as a frown replaced her smile. “I’m glad to see that you’re doing alright.”

“I see that your escapade was rather… daunting, Daring Do,” Rarity murmured as she looked over the bandages. She wrapped her hooves around Daring as she gave her own hug to the adventurer.

“Escapade? You mean you saw Daring Do before all these bandages were wrapped around her?” Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow to Rarity as she floated above her friend.

“I saw her conversing with Fancy Pants after I finished my conversation with a few friends from Canterlot’s finest. I met her as I went to say goodbye to him.”

Twilight too noticed how the mare was patched up, a few bandages placed on her muzzle and chest with one larger one covering her right foreleg. “Daring, what happened to you?” Fluttershy spoke up, asking one of the questions everypony else was wondering.

“And what are you doing here? I thought you were still over by the Tenochtitlan Basin?” Rainbow added to their list of questions they had.

Twilight noticed a glimmer in her eyes, like there was some horrible event she had gone through. “I… I was tasked to bring something back to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. Something that she wanted to be destroyed.”

“Beg yer pardon, Daring, but what did the princesses actually want yah ta destroy?” Applejack asked. The others looked to her, but Twilight kept her gaze on the adventurer. She felt off, like she knew exactly what Daring was sent to go after. She looked back to the princesses, only to see that they were looking away, withholding something from the others. She turned to face the girls, only to see that they all had the same worried expression.

“It was I who requested her to go, although I wasn’t able to contact her until she appeared this morning,” said Celestia.Twilight noticed a faint crack in her voice. “I had learned of a terrible revelation after interrogating the doctor that helped your friend, Twilight. And so, I planned to send Daring Do to find and kill the… Xenomorph that was inside Rarity.”

There was dead silence in the throne room. The wind outside was the only noise as the girls stared at the two princesses. Twilight was in complete shock and so were all of her friends. The terrible thoughts and nightmares she’d had of the alien came rushing back to her mind at the horrifying announcement. She heard laughing at her right: Applejack was cracking up. “That’s a good one, Princess. For a minute there, Ah thought you were actually serious.” The farm mare slowly ceased her laughing. Celestia and Luna had nothing but guilty frowns on both muzzles. “Y’all… are serious?”

It was quiet once more until Fluttershy quietly spoke up, hiding behind Rainbow Dash. “Um… i-is it still a-alive?”

“No.” Daring said, walking next to the Princesses. “I couldn’t find it anywhere after the explosion at the compound where I found it.”

Although there were quite a few questions still unanswered, everypony was quiet. Twilight, however, felt uneasy. She looked up to her former teacher and her sister, and then to her friends. She saw angry looks on the faces of Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity and realized how upset by the news they must’ve been.

“Good.” Rarity suddenly spoke up before she took a few steps forward. “Because if I remember correctly, that… ‘creature’ inside of me was supposedly dead after the doctor removed it. And you all led us to believe that the monster was no more.” Her right eye began to twitch slightly, but it stopped as her frown became more apparent. Only now did Twilight realize that Applejack and Rainbow Dash had moved to both sides of Rarity. “But you three...” she said as she looked to Daring Do and then back to Celestia and Luna, “kept this little secret from us? Why? Why!?”

Twilight flinched as she heard Rarity’s voice raise in pitch. She was surprised that her more composed friend would even consider yelling at the princesses. “It was because of that beast that I was impregnated, and my sweet, innocent little sister almost shared the same fate!”

“That thing punched a hole in my chest and almost killed me!” Rainbow Dash cried, glaring at the two Princesses, not even looking at her favorite adventurer.

“That monster almost ripped mah dang shoulder out, and killed mah brother!” Applejack snapped as well, stomping a hoof on the floor.

“We did not feel it was necessary to let you deal with the Xenomorph again. It was better that you were all left in the dark than to go through more terrible nightmares.” Luna stepped forward. Twilight was surprised that both alicorns remained calm and allowed the aggravated mares to shout in their faces.

“Not let us deal with the problem!? I was hoping to give that freak a piece of my mind!” Rainbow lifted herself off the ground with a flap of her wings, putting her hooves on her hips.

Twilight stepped forward, stopping next to Applejack before calmly suggesting, “Maybe it was for the best. She knew how painful it was after all the strain this event put us through.”

“Maybe fer the best!? Yah lost yer brother ta that nightmare, Twilight! Ain’t yah still mad about that!?” Applejack asked.

Twilight flinched at Applejack’s words, faltering for a moment. ‘W-why would she say something like that…?’ The ache she had felt the day of his death returned, and her tears threatened to trickle down to reveal her pain. “Of course,” Twilight said, her gaze still facing the ground. The first words cracked with emotion. “Of course I’m upset about losing my brother.” She turned her gaze up to her former teacher. “Of course I’m hurt that Celestia kept us in the dark.” Celestia winced at these words, but she understood the betrayal her former student must have felt. Twilight faced her friends again and said, “But I would have rathered not to go through such a terrible experience ever again. Last time, I lost a brother. Who else would I lose if we faced it again? Nyx? Spike? Cadance? One of you?”

It went quiet again as Twilight finished. She looked back to see Fluttershy hiding behind Pinkie Pie, who wore a wide-eyed expression. The room felt heavy with unease and uncertainty.

“Yes.” Twilight turned to face Celestia, who looked up at the group before her. “I did keep you all in the dark… but I did so to protect everypony. I didn’t intend for any of you to go through that horrible nightmare another time.” She closed her eyes, breathing a little until she opened them again. “Although I can see that not informing you of the events taking place wasn’t a good idea, I still stand by my decision, as it was to keep everypony here safe. I know it will take you all some time to forgive me, but I was certain of this choice and that it would be in your best interests. All of you.” Celestia turned to Daring Do, murmuring, “You may explain to them where you have been and what you have seen.”

The adventurer nodded before speaking up. “To tell you all the truth, I can’t say that my trip was exactly… ‘lovely'.”

“You… said you were tasked to recapture the Xenomorph?” Twilight asked.

“Yes. My mission was to secure the Alien from Dr. Caballeron. But at the time, I thought I was tasked to protect the little beast, not destroy it like the princesses wanted me to.”

“So who was it that sent you?” Rainbow Dash asked. The other girls looked to her intently.

“I still haven’t figured out who it was yet,” Daring admitted. She shook her head before continuing. “I don’t know much, either, but I’m betting it was somepony close to the princesses.” Twilight saw the shock in Celestia’s eyes that somepony else could have betrayed her. “Like I said, I was tasked to secure the Xenomorph. I was even give a team to do this. While me and the team were doing that, we encountered… something else.”

“S-something… else?” Fluttershy murmured, shaking in her fur as she lowered herself even closer to the ground.

“Yeah… this creature was unlike anything else I had ever seen. It was different from the Xenomorph, but just as deadly. It even carried around equipment more advanced than any other nation out there.”

“More advanced?” Hearing that there was yet another alien species in Equestria was unnerving to say the least, yet Twilight was more concerned about what she meant by advanced. “What did this… alien look like, and what do you mean by ‘more advanced?’”

“This alien was about as tall as a Minotaur, and I’d say about as strong as one as well. And by how advanced… well, it had energy-based weapons, combat weapons that were pretty much like ours except technologically superior to most of the weapons we make, and the ability to turn itself invisible. Like a hunter, it picked us off one by one.”

Hearing that this creature was beyond them both in strength and technology, Twilight’s breath caught in her throat. What if more of them came? What if it was an invasion? With such weapons and abilities, the ponies wouldn’t stand a chance.

“So did you ever come up with a name, besides calling it a hunter?” Pinkie Pie asked, everypony turning to look at her with raised eyebrows. “What?” She shifted back a little, her eyes darting between her friends. “Hunter’s not cool and frightening enough of a name for this thing.”

“Well…” Daring shrugged. “After having fought and killed it, I thought of a name that fit with how it acted and what it did. From the way it continued to stalk me and my group even before we obtained the Alien and from how it seemed to be interested in the Xenomorph as well, along with its killing capabilities, I thought of an alias along the lines of the ‘Predator.’”

It was silent for a moment, until Pinkie Pie spoke up. “Predator… I like it. Sounds so fierce!” She proceeded to growl and act like this “Predator,” the others watching her warily.

“But, wait a minute.” Applejack brought the conversation back to the real situation, ignoring Pinkie Pie’s antics. “I still don’t understand how yah got ta doin’ this task in the first place. Yah said that somepony told yah that the princesses wanted you to retrieve the Alien when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna originally wanted you to kill it. Who told yah in the first place?”

“And you were talking about being with a team. What happened to the others?” Rainbow added.

Daring’s frown deepened even more. Was her secret mission so terrible, Twilight reflected, that it could trouble even a seasoned adventurer such as her?

“Nopony else survived,” Daring simply said, her hat concealing her whole face as she lowered her gaze to the ground. “I can only guess that Dr. Caballeron was one of the unfortunate victims. It took Rugged Muzzle and Ahuizotl’s heads for trophies, it pinned Black Arrow to a wall with a spear, it stabbed Roughneck in the chest, and Crystal Rune died when it blew itself up… along with the Xenomorph.”

“Crystal Rune!” Celestia exclaimed to herself. Everypony else looked at her, surprised by her outburst.

“Sister, is everything alright?” Luna asked.

Celestia looked as though she had seen a ghost, but she shook her head and said, “She… She was my student once, but that was a long time ago.”

‘Another student?’ Twilight thought, astonished that there were so many ponies under her former teacher’s wing.“We’re… sorry, Daring. You all sound like you were pretty close,” she murmured. While she spoke to Daring Do, she couldn’t help but noticed the heartbroken look upon Celestia’s face.

“It’s alright…” Daring whispered, moving her hoof underneath her pith helmet, like she was wiping her eyes when nopony else could see. She looked up before continuing. “As for the pony who contacted me, it was Prince Blueblood.”

“Prince Blueblood? Why on earth would that contemptuous stallion even consider doing a task for somepony else?” Rarity said.

“Wait. My sister and I did not send Blueblood to relay our message to you.” Luna raised an eyebrow to the adventurer. “Celestia and I sent a few Royal Guards, not our nephew.”

“If Prince Blueblood wasn’t told come to get you, Daring Do, then why did he show up?” Rainbow asked, tilting her head to the side curiously.

Twilight watched as Daring replied back but noticed Celestia acting strange. She watched her look to the ground and bite her bottom lip in concentration as she thought. Suddenly, her eyes widened, like she had just realized something important. Without warning, she saw the Princess take off running through the large throne room doors and turn to the left.

“Princess, wait!” Twilight yelled as she was the first to follow after her.

She rounded the corner and caught Celestia running up the stairs above her. Twilight flapped her wings and took off, although a bit messily at first. She continued to flap her wings, the echo of Celestia’s shoes reverberating in the stairwell. When she landed, Celestia rushed past her and stopped next to a door in the middle of the hallway on the left of the staircase. A loud crash rang in the corridor, and Twilight flinched before making her way to the door Celestia had gone through.

As she stopped at the entrance of the door, Twilight saw Celestia hurriedly looking around the room that she believed to have been Blueblood’s. It was certainly a nice room: the windows let quite a bit of light through, and it was well furnished.

“He’s not here.” Celestia panted, her eyes darting up and down the room. “Blueblood’s not here.”

“But why?” The others were finally catching up. Luna spoke next. “Why would Blueblood leave the castle? He has never been out much, except for whenever he went on one of his ‘trips’.”

Daring Do walked into the room, overturning the pillows on his bed. She moved on over to the dresser, pulling out three of the drawers before gazing into the fourth cabinet. Daring reached a hoof into the drawer, pulled out a notebook, and flipped open the cover. The pages rustled and crinkled as Daring scanned through each page. Her gaze darted across the words until her eyes stopped on one spot. “It was him.” Her eyes were wide as she stared at the book. “He was the pony who ordered Crystal Rune to find and obtain the Xenomorph. He was the one who wanted it.”

“What!?” Rainbow Dash flew up to the adventurer as she asked, “But why!?”

“My guess is that he possibly needed something like an Xenomorph for some foul motive. After all, one of those monsters killed about thirty-eight ponies.”

“That stallion’s insane!” The surprise hit Twilight like a train. “There’s nothing that can control the Xenomorph. If he needed it for power, he would have kept it to… to--”

“Right... “ Daring murmured, her gaze turning to Twilight. “He could have been planning a way to get rid of Princess Celestia and Luna.” A shocked silence filled the air around the ponies. “That way…” she continued, “he would ascend to the throne, and everypony would blame the Xenomorph for killing you two, while he would only need to act as if it were a tragedy and claim his “rightful” place as the ruler of Canterlot.”

“I knew that stallion was always a narcissist, but to use that monster for his own disgusting deeds is a line he should have never crossed,” said Rarity.

“But what about Twilight and Princess Cadance?” Rainbow Dash pointed out. “Surely they would take the throne rather than him?”

“That is true,” Celestia said. “But Cadance has the Crystal Empire, and Twilight has Ponyville. He would have been a likely choice to become the regent over Canterlot. Then again, he could have waited until all four of us gathered together. Although the four of us are more than a match for it, he could possibly unleash it while we were asleep. Nopony would have suspected then that it was foul play.”

“Never knew that fella was so cruel and heartless, even though he’s never been the best of ponies.” Applejack stomped her hoof on the ground.

“He’s a Meaner McMeany pants from Meany Town!” Pinkie Pie joined in, only giggling afterwards when she repeated the words again.

“But where did he go? That’s what I’d like to know,” Rainbow asked.

“I do not know,” Celestia said, looking to everypony else. “But when we do find him, I will talk to him and give him one more chance.”

“But Princess, he was possibly going to threaten your life. Why would you--” Rarity started to ask.

“Because,” Celestia interrupted Rarity, looking down to her. “I would rather give him a second chance. If I deem him to be incapable of responding or apologizing for his actions, then I shall cast him away into the dungeons for what he would have and will have done.” Everypony remained silent after what Celestia said, and it was quiet for a moment until she continued on. “Now, let us head to the conference room. We have much to discuss and to find out where this Neighland-Yupony company is. I still presume that, by your evidence, Daring Do, Twilight Sparkle, the stallion known as Bishop Neighland can be reasoned with.” Twilight watched Daring open her mouth, but Celestia interrupted her as well. “If I feel he is holding back more than he lets on, I shall consider a trial. However, I need conclusive information to make all the necessary rulings; otherwise, I will not have any affirmation to go on if we do bring him to trial.”

Twilight was a little taken aback by Celestia’s readiness to talk with this “Bishop Neighland”, but she knew that Celestia understood what she was doing. But even then, Twilight could only fathom the idea of talking with the director of Neighland-Yupony. And if he was holding these ponies hostage, what was the purpose of pony-napping them in the middle of the night? She shivered in dread at the notion of what he could be hiding. The reason for everypony disappearing last time was because of the Xenomorph. If this was the reason for all these pony-nappings, then this was going to be a difficult journey through memory lane.

‘Please… don’t let him be there...’

Chapter VI: Dual Sessions ~ Part II

View Online

“So is that all you have to report, Blazing Ash?” A gruff, older-sounding voice broke the silence in the room. Lights poured down from the ceiling, illuminating the darkened room. Inside this room was a mahogany desk situated at the end with utensils such as pencils, paper trays and a small perch-like object with what appeared to be a pair of headphones resting on top.

“Yes, Bishop Neighland, sir. Aquafrost, the team, and I all followed protocol.” Blazing Ash stood at salute, his eyes focusing on the stallion in front of him.

“That is good to hear. Anything else?”

“No sir.” Ash glanced away for a moment; the darkness of the room was unsettling.“But umm… why did you ask me about this? Couldn’t you’ve asked Aqua?”

The old stallion chuckled, resting his hooves against the desk. “I could have, but you are more reliable to me than she could have ever be.” Leaning back in his chair, he closed his eyes. “You are dismissed.”

Ash nodded, turning around and walking up to the office’s door. He glanced back and smiled, then opened the door and walked through. A guard closed it behind him with a soft ‘clang’.

Bishop smiled and opened his eyes, astonished at how useful this pony was. He turned his gaze to the transceiver in question, humming as he admired its angular structure. He grabbed it with his hoof, secured it atop his head and sighed at the comfortable pressure against his head. He flicked his ears and swiveled them around in wide circles. Four smaller spheres extended out and separated about to his left and right like an advanced speaking device.

His horn glowed a greenish gray as the light traveled through the cord surrounding his horn and illuminated the lights on the headset’s cord as it turned on. “Report in, Dr. Nenne Seion.”

Static echoed in the radio for a moment until a mare’s voice resonated from the white noise. “Greetings, Mr. Neighland. What is it that you require?”

“A full detailed report on our progress. I want the statistics, updates, and anything else you can provide me.”

“Of course. I will be back momentarily.” The white noise returned as Bishop waited for Nenne. It was only moments later that her voice returned. “I have the full detailed report right here. What would you like me to go over first?”

“Give me a precise description on how our… ‘guests’ are doing.”

“Certainly. Our visitors are in good health, and the remaining ones are being well taken care of, consuming plenty of water and food. Although we had to sedate the stallion known as Flim after he watched his brother die from the retrieval process.”

“And how many ‘specimens’ have we retrieved from the process?” Bishop Neighland asked, leaning back in his chair.

“We have now gone through a total of six ponies, each producing a specimen. Five are the same, with the other one being an exception to their forms.”

Bishop chuckled. This was astounding work. His scientists and workers had already come up with six specimens, along with two others on the way. He had not foreseen such a number. “Have the specimens finally cooperated with us yet?”

“Negative. All specimens have still shown great resistance to our methods of teaching and controlling. We have not determined the reason why, but we believe it might be the Queen, although that idea has not been fully theorized. As seen in the recordings we collected from the ship, it appears that these ‘humans’ were trying to figure out why they would not cooperate, either. But Dr. Nerve and I are currently running the idea and are in the testing period. The sooner we figure this out, the sooner we’ll be able to produce these creatures as bioweapons.”

Neighland snorted in frustration. After countless attempts at trying to get the other Xenomorphs to submit to their authority, it appeared that there wasn’t any progress being made. These creatures, magnificent as they were, proved to have very strong wills and certainly fast learners. However, he knew that sooner or later, they would break, leading to control of a weapon unlike anything the world had ever seen. “So long as we are able to bring them under our control, we should be fine.” Speaking of breaking wills, the subject brought another certain creature to his mind. One his stallions had caught during one of their retrieval missions. “What about our ‘special guest?’ Has he finally submitted?”

There was a long pause on the other end before he heard her voice. “The subject of which you speak… is proving to be very difficult.”

“Difficult… how is that?”

“Our trouble with this one is that our tranquilizer darts cannot penetrate his thick hide. Even when we introduce an egg into his chamber, it keeps destroying them before the specimens can even get close. Not too mention that he snaps and bites at anypony who comes into his containment area. And he’s getting bigger.”

He closed his eyes again and shook his head as he placed a hoof to his face in exasperation. From day one, that little pain had proven to be quite a nuisance. No matter what they tried, from electrocuting him to gassing him with sleeping smoke, he would feign being knocked out or asleep, then lunge at the nearest pony that came close. There had been a few injuries, all of them living but suffering from the bites or burns. He knew that sooner or later, like the Xenomorphs, he would break him as well and finally get a facehugger on him.

“And what about the mare found in the wreckage?” he asked.

“She is awake, but is also proving to be quite stubborn. One of our doctors is about ready to send her to the facehuggers. If we don’t retrieve any information, we may have to do that.”

It had been some time since that mare had woken up, a week now. He was quite curious to know what type of information she held, if she would only cooperate. “Before you go, send the fashionista we found in Manehatten, as well as the white pegasi from Ponyville into the chamber. Other than that, that is all for now, Nenne. Thank you for the report.” He heard the connection drop and let out a sigh, glad that the news was at least, in his own sense, exceptional.

Another signal came through the receiver as he heard more white noise over the radio. He fixed the transmission, and the voice of a stallion came through the other side. “Mr. Neighland, sir. We have a visitor.”

‘A visitor?’ He thought back to this schedule and knew that nopony was planned for this afternoon. “Who is this ‘guest of honor?’” Neighland murmured.

“The Prince of Equestria, Blueblood, is here demanding to see you, sir.”

A sigh escaped his lips as Bishop shook his head. What did this prince want that his aunts couldn’t possibly provide him with their seemingly inexhaustible wealth, and how had he found the island? He shook his head again before saying, “Allow the prince to my quarters. I’ll gladly hear what he has to ask from me.”

“Right away, sir.” The white noise shut off once more. Neighland lifted the headset off his temples before placing it neatly back on its perch. He looked over his desk, making sure everything was in order. Although he realized that this was a prince he would be talking to, he wasn’t so concerned about the wellbeing of his office, seeing that it was just Prince Blueblood.

He sat patiently, resting his front hooves on the desk as he sat up straight. The sound of hoofsteps soon echoed from outside his door.

The door opened as one of the guards stationed outside held it as a cloaked stallion made his way through. It was odd, seeing the prince hiding himself underneath a hood. ‘Interesting… why would a prince be embarrassed from being seen sneaking out of his castle?’

Bishop watched him take a seat on the chair across from him, bringing the hood back as his face emerged from the shadows. Blueblood wore a noticeable frown; Bishop could only fathom as to why.

“So, you must be Bishop Neighland, am I correct?” Blueblood asked, raising an eyebrow to the pony.

It felt as if he wasn’t impressed. This only made Neighland chuckle a little before replying back. “Yes. I am Bishop Neighland. Founder and owner of Neighland Industries, now known as Neighland-Yupony.”

A smirk formed on the prince’s muzzle. “Well, I am a little impressed with what you have here. Your company seems to be doing quite well.”

“Of course,” Neighland said, smirking as well. He could see the look in the prince’s eyes, like he knew exactly what this stallion was looking for. “I tend to make sure that my company’s name is unspoiled and that efficiency is a top priority.”

The prince leaned back in his seat, keeping a calm smile on his muzzle. “So… a stallion true to his word, I see?” He inclined forward, resting his forelegs upon the desk in a criss-cross fashion before continuing. “If you really are a stallion who says they stay dedicated to a cause, then I came to the right pony to ask for something.”

“And what is it that you desire, which I can only imagine that Princess Celestia and Princess Luna could provide with their wealth?”

“I have heard that you hold a special item, one that is being prepared as a biological weapon.” The prince smirked, acting like he had amassed something so much more.

‘What… how does he know?’ Bishop blinked. He had to play this off so that he wouldn’t persist. “I am not aware of this... ‘biological weapon’ that you are so keen in-”

“Oh don’t play coy with me, Mr. Neighland,” Blueblood interrupted him, raising his voice at the older stallion. Although Bishop was quite annoyed by this bothersome prince, he had to admire his perseverance of obtaining answers. “I know you have more than one Xenomorph on this island, thanks to my reliable sources.”

“Ah… so you relied on spies to inform you?” He knew hidden informers were working for him; it bothered him to no end. However, he kept a calm demeanor.

“I would say that they work for you, but I have more than a hoofful of them. Besides, they obey me and report information to me that proves quite useful.”

Bishop closed his eyes as he heard the prince give a haughty chuckle, shaking his head before chuckling a little as well. “Well… you are very persistent, I’ll give you that.” He saw no way he would dissuade Blueblood, but he could see another way of getting rid of this little nuisance. “So… how many of them do you want?”

Blueblood’s eyes brightened, and he laughed triumphantly. “I will only require one for my services. After all, my aunts, Princess Cadance and Princess Twilight Sparkle will not see their ‘unfortunate end’ coming during their sleep.”

“You should know that these Xenomorphs have not fully cooperated with us and are still unqualified for any missions we foresee in the future,” Bishop warned him.

“Please…” Blueblood murmured, chuckling at the older stallion’s caution. “I don’t need a Xenomorph that is highly trained… only one that is able to rip apart the four princesses. If one can kill thirty-eight ponies… I believe that one can at least handle four alicorns.”

Bishop chuckled. This pony’s determination was admirable, and his stupidity was remarkable to boot. “Well then, let me bring you to the holding pens. There, you’ll be able to choose which Xenomorph you want for your plan.” He stood up from his chair, moving past his desk and the prince before walking out the door, letting the younger stallion through first.

Walking down a set of stairs, Bishop covered his eyes as the afternoon sun greeted him through the large glass window that illuminated the rotunda surrounded by walkways and offices. He glanced back, grinning as he saw the awe on Prince Blueblood’s muzzle. “We here at Neighland-Yupony have come far and do our very best to keep moving forward. Even the buildings we work in accommodate to all our needs. In light of this, you could say that we spared no expense.”

Making his way to the wall at the left of the stairs, he pushed a button with his magic. The small round object lit up as a room opened up to them. He gazed back to the prince and ushered in with a hoof, murmuring. “Royalty first.”

“You do know how to treat ponies like me. Not like those worthless, good-for-nothing staff at Canterlot Castle.” Prince Blueblood raised his muzzle into the air, harrumphing as he walked to the left corner of the room..

Bishop stood at the right, throwing a glare the prince did not see. ‘Hmph… royalty. All of them are snobs and excuses for a life.’ But he would not let the prince get to him. Quietly breathing in and out, he focused his magic on the button inside the elevator and pushed it. The door beeped, and the room descended. A roaring sound resonated outside the room, getting louder as the elevator moved further below the facility.

The elevator came to a halt, and the door slid open for them. Bishop walked out first and halted as he smiled at the sight before him, swiveling his ears as he heard the prince gasp. “What is that contraption?” Blueblood asked.

He hummed, gazing at the large metallic chamber in front of him. A blue and purple glow emanated from the inside, the light fluctuating from a few small grates. “Beautiful, isn’t?” Bishop pointed to the large generator, the object whirring as lights flowed through the cords. “This is the source of all power that this entire facility runs on: a crystal generator able to keep four buildings and our landing pad powered on.”

“That is… actually quite fascinating. But please, take me to the Xenomorphs, immediately.”

“Of course. This way.” He ushered him along, staring at him as he passed by before murmuring to himself, “Your Majesty…”

Following along, he nodded to one of the guards, who pressed a few buttons and returned the nod. The prince covered his ears as a screeching noise resonated from within the tunnels to their right. Moments later, a metallic car pulled up, another guard saluting to Bishop who nodded back. “Prince Blueblood, this is our ride to the building of our destination.”

“You’ve made a… what is this thing?” Blueblood raised an eyebrow as he pointed to the metallic car.

The metal object in question glowed with a black sheen over its surface. There were white markings that encompassed two letters interconnected by a dash. “This, Prince Blueblood, is the system that helps transport ponies and other items across the different buildings of this facility.” As Bishop walked up to the side of the tram car, the door opened, and he ushered the younger stallion in.

Blueblood stepped in and hesitantly looked around before taking a seat on the left side of the car. Bishop sat across from the prince. “This shall only be a few moments.” He nodded to the guard next to the lever, who set the car into motion. The tram car quickly picked up speed as the air rushed past the two, the prince fixing his mane as the wind blew it out of shape.

Moments passed by until Bishop began to lurch forward, the car slowing down until coming to a full halt. “This is our stop. We are currently underneath the medical facility and inside the lab I’ve had placed down here. If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you to where we hold the Xenomorphs.” Bishop waited for the prince to step out first before following behind, the door closing behind them as they stepped out. The door in front of them slid open, closing behind them as they passed through.

The hallways of the facility were dark and cold, the walls reflecting what little light there was. The metallic structure echoed with the hoofsteps of the two ponies. Prince Blueblood glanced at the walls every few moments. He saw that most who walked through these hallways felt something dark and ominous; he himself had experienced this feeling once or twice. However, it was an emotion he was never keen to show.

After moving through a few more hallways, Bishop turned a corner and saw a few guards posted by the door. He gave a curt nod, and the three ponies nodded back before opening the door. He turned around and stopped Blueblood in his tracks. “Wait right here. I need to prep the watchroom before I can let you go any further, just to make sure that everything is safe for you.”

“I will not stand by and wait for you anymore, Mr. Neighland,” Blueblood declared, frowning as he walked past the older stallion.

This was becoming tedious; the way this prince carried himself was beginning to wear thin. Neighland knew, though, that at least he would get some satisfaction doing what he believed was right. He grinned, following the younger stallion as the guards accompanied the two ponies, taking up the rear. He glanced back to his guards, nodding again before a couple of them went down the left hallway. Turning his gaze back to the prince, he said, “My guard shall escort you to the room. I shall be along with you in a few moments.”

“Mr. Neighland, I shall not be tr--”

“If you want your Xenomorph, Prince Blueblood,” said Bishop, the younger stallion flinching at the impatient tone the company owner spoke in, “then I encourage you to try patience for once.” He turned and walked down the hallway with the other two guards, glancing back to see a clear glare from the prince aimed at him. Bishop was finally glad he could get away from the petulant prince.

He continued down the hallway to another room. It was brighter than most of the hallways and rooms there, with a long lectern expanding down the edge of a glass pane that revealed a darkened room. On the lectern were levers and buttons that stretched across the whole trestle. Bishop looked over each one as he awaited the signal.

“Sir.” The guard on the left next to the door spoke. Bishop turning around to see that his right hoof was on the earpiece settled against the right side of his head. “Everything is in position, sir.”

“Tell him to proceed.” He pressed five buttons, and the door on the far right corner opened as the procedure went to work. Neighland watched as the prince stepped into the room. At the other end, five lights lit up, revealing five creatures securely locked in brace-like structures that held their arms and legs apart with their tails thoroughly held in another clamp. “So…” He leaned forward, speaking into a microphone that echoed in the room. “What do you think?” Bishop asked, seeing the surprise on Blueblood’s face.

“Why… this is quite stunning,” said Blueblood. He walked up to the Xenomorphs with a nervous step, looking over the five specimens from a few feet away. “So these are the creatures that my aunts are so afraid of?”

“Magnificent, aren’t they? These creatures are truly a sight to behold.” Bishop admired these creatures for how they looked and what they could do. The five creatures had elongated heads with eyeless faces. Their chests had an exoskeleton that resembled ribcages, and the segmented tails ended with a wicked blade, the chitin around their body a dark brown. “These are five of our specimens, all the same breed that we have come to label ‘Runners.’ Unlike the specimen that was loose in Ponyville, they’re smaller but we suspect faster, although that does not mean they aren’t still lethal like their larger counterpart.”

“There are more?” the prince asked as he stood before one of the lithe “Runners.” He leaned in and stared face to face with the snarling thing, only to jump back with a yell as a secondary mouth shot out at his face. Bishop laughed as he watched the prince scurry away as the Xenomorph in the middle growled at the pony in front of it.

“Mind your distance, please. Yes… one other is a little different from these five. It looks just like these, but it is taller, eight feet to be exact, as tall as the previous one in Ponyville. And it has something a little… extra.”

“Let’s see that one,” said the prince.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness, but we’ve had to isolate that one until we understand all of its capabilities. If you want, you can come back when it is ready to be presented.”

“Never mind that! I’ll just take one of these,” Blueblood murmured, glaring up to the intercom.

“Very well. Which one do you want?”

Prince Blueblood looked down the row of dark beasts struggling in their restraints. They all looked the same, but his eyes rested on the one in the middle. He smirked and pointed a hoof. “That one.”

“Are you sure?” Neighland asked.

“Yes, yes. Now give it to me!”

“Very well. As you wish.” A grin formed on the stallion’s muzzle as he focused his magic on the center lever, his light green aura encasing it and pulling it down. A yellow warning light flashed inside, lighting up the darkened room. Seeing the alarm flashing, Prince Blueblood looked around nervously and then his ears swiveled forward as he heard a ‘clank’. He stared at the creatures to see that the clamps that were holding back the Xenomorph that had snapped at him had opened, and the Alien hopped down onto the floor before him. The monster raised its long head, the yellow light reflecting off its smooth, chitinous dome, and shrieked at the terrified pony, slimy drool dripping onto the floor. As Blueblood escaped to the door, it closed on him. He banged against it with his hooves, but it had been sealed.

“Let me out!” Blueblood screamed as he tried in vain to open the door. “What are you doing!? Let me out before it gets me!”

“I am terribly sorry, Prince Blueblood.” Bishop watched the Xenomorph slowly close in its target, almost as if it was playing with the young stallion’s mind by not immediately attacking him. “But I am a stallion who does not share his success in weaponry with others so easily. You would have not only abused what these creatures were made to do, but I am not ready to unveil my Xenomorphs to the public when there are ponies that need to be dealt with before my plans can become a reality.” He chuckled before continuing. “This is nothing personal. To be honest, you were never planned to be terminated… yet, but I realized that you could provide me with a demonstration of just how cold and merciless these creatures are. Not only that… but my poor, poor, dear ‘pet’ has grown quite hungry. I am certain that with your sustenance, you’ll provide a very filling feast for my Xenomorph.” He chuckled, watching as the Xenomorph suddenly sprang at the prince with incredible speed. The prince’s wails of terror and pain joined the anharmonic sounds echoing in the room.

Bishop watched as scarlet blood gushed from the mass of limbs and organs the Xenomorph was hunched over, the screams and pleading wails of Blueblood increasing in volume as he was savagely torn apart. Blood splattered up against the door and walls, the guards flinching as the blood even splashed the window. Echoes of the tearing of flesh and ripping of organs resonated throughout the chamber. Blueblood’s front hooves flailed uselessly against the creature as his cries of pain were drowned out by the spine-tingling growls of the Xenomorph.

Neighland simply watched, his unsympathetic gaze staring over the horrid gore as he observed a pony being eaten alive and dying right before his very eyes. He heard one last scream erupt from the pony underneath the nightmarish creature before going silent. All that remained were the sounds of the other Xenomorphs screeching and roaring, flesh being severed from the prince’s deceased body, and bones snapping and splintering as the creature demolished and ate the unmoving stallion.

Bishop turned away, chuckling as he realized that a prince of Equestria was dead. Although Prince Blueblood was an important figure to Equestrian royalty, Bishop assumed he would not be missed by many of the ponies. But this was the start of something new. Too long had the aristocrats ruled over Equestria with an iron hoof. Nobles and royalty like Prince Blueblood had always abused their power over the lower-class ponies. It was time to dispatch the old ways of those who ruled; the days of the political games that Blueblood had played were finally numbered. Now was a time to set up a more democratic government, one where everypony and even everyone was equal under the law. He had seen the work Princess Celestia dedicated to establishing such a government. Now it could come true, once the Xenomorphs were under their command.

He turned to one of the guards, catching a glimpse of fear in his eyes. He too felt a little unnerved by what he had just watched, but that feeling soon lifted away. Neighland closed his eyes before murmuring, “When the Xenomorph is done with its meal, be sure to gas the room so it does not escape.” The guards nodded, and they headed out to his office. This, Neighland felt, was the start of something magnificent. Equestria would soon realize that the power he was holding would be something the nations of the world would pay through the nose to have. All he would need to deal with was convincing Princess Celestia of this new form of governance, and ridding those who felt entitled to call themselves nobles…

All was quiet. The stale air filled the small, stuffy room as the vents provided little comfort for the unicorn resting on the bed that rested against the far right corner of the so-called ‘Suite’ that her captors had been keeping her in. Crystal exhaled slowly. Her time here had been dull, filled with nothing but questions always relating to the freighter, Nostromo.

Her interviewers appeared to focus on what she had done during her time on the ship, constantly asking her how she had found the ship, how she had gotten on board, if she had done anything to or taken anything from the cargo, and most importantly, what she knew about the Xenomorph. As with the previous questions, she had ignored them. These scientists and interrogators were persistent, she had to give them that, but there was nothing for her to say. No matter how many times they had promised her freedom or better accommodations, she could tell that all of these guarantees were nothing but a sham. ‘No matter how many times they ask me, regardless of how nice or demanding they are, they’re not going to get anything out of me.’

That was a promise she would keep, even if they tried to beat it out of her. The door to her room slid open, and a familiar pony walked into the accommodation with a smile on her muzzle. She smiled as well, faintly though. Even though Aquafrost was one of the only two ponies she could talk to, she still wasn’t so sure if she could be trusted.

“Evening there, Crystal Rune,” said Aqua, a metal tray floating by her side in a pale scarlet aura as she walked up to the bed. “I brought you dinner.” Crystal shifted forward, sitting up as the metal plate rested on her lap. It wasn’t much: carrot sticks with a few heads of broccoli on the left side of the tray and some yellow goop on the right.

‘It isn’t from a five star restaurant, but it will do.’ Crystal picked up one of the carrot sticks and took a bite from it. Shadows moved over the tray as two objects rested next to the vegetables. The grains falling from the items suggested they were blueberry muffins.

“Had a friend sneak some of them for you.” Aqua said, her smile brightening a little as she giggled. “I know it’s not much, but hopefully this is better than what your caretakers normally give you.”

Crystal looked up, her smiling becoming more apparent as she gazed at the pony in front of her. “Thanks… it’s nice to know there’s somepony kind enough in this facility to do something for another pony,” she murmured. Maybe these were ponies she could trust, unlike the rest of Neighland’s goons. However, she still had to keep her guard up; this could be a ploy to get her to talk.

“It’s no problem,” Aqua replied. Crystal looked up to see a gentle smile, that same expression she had worn the first time she’d come in here. It was... odd.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but why do you keep smiling at me?” Crystal asked, raising an eyebrow at the seemingly kind mare.

Aquafrost rubbed the back of her head, smiling as she said, “Oh… sorry. I just like to help others when they’re hurt emotionally or physically injured.,” she replied, bringing her hoof down. “So how are you feeling now, after the whole incident on the ship?”

A pain struck her sides as Crystal briefly saw the Xenomorph flash in her mind. She knew all too well of how terrible the experience on the ship had been. It was an unpleasant memory that she wished she had never been in. “I can say that I’m feeling a little better. The time I spent on that ship is possibly the worst I’ve ever had anywhere… but I am glad that I’m no longer trapped with a killer creature on the loose.”

She noticed Aqua flinch in the corner of her eye, gazing to see her ears flat against her head as she turned away for a moment. Facing Crystal again, she said, “That reminds me… what was that creature inside the ship?”

Crystal shivered at the thought of answering that question. “The creature… it is known as an Xenomorph. It is something not from this planet.”

“Not from this planet? So that thing was an alien?” Aqua asked, stepping back a little in shock.

“Yes… and it is a terrifying one at that. And I happened to be stuck on a freighter, all alone with the creature.”

“Oh… I’m sorry.” Aquafrost looked away.

She looked back down to her tray. Thoughts of the Xenomorph ran through her most recent memories; she desired all of it to go away. Yet each time she tried to dismiss the nightmarish creature, it would not yield to any of her attempts to bar it away.

Crystal closed her eyes, sighing quietly as she tried to think. A presence wrapped around her body; she opened her eyes to notice the mare hugging her. “Umm… Aqua? What are you doing?”

She watched the her pull away, her eyes connecting her own before Aqua blushed, quickly stepping back as she rubbed her right foreleg. “Oh… sorry. It’s just a habit I picked up when somepony is down. You looked like you needed one.” Aquafrost chuckled nervously as she continued to slowly back up.

It felt as if there was something more that Aqua wasn’t telling her, but she wasn’t in the mood for prying; she was still trying to comprehend why this mare had hugged her. “Well… gotta go. I’ll make sure to stop by and see you later,” Aqua murmured, waving at Crystal before she exited the room. Crystal continued to stare at the mare, shaking her head before looking away.

She would think about it later. As of now, she just needed to eat and get some much-needed rest. Her goal was to get out of this facility somehow, and she was going to make sure that she didn’t do it on an empty stomach. Carrying on, she went back to eating the food Aquafrost gave her, knowing it would help her in the end by escaping this compound once and for all.

Aqua sighed as she laid her back against the door, feeling her cheeks warm up as she saw the little memory of Crystal’s confused gaze flash in her mind. She closed her eyes, reminiscing on the feeling of her own warm body against her own and--

‘Oh sweet Celestia. Calm down, will you? You only hugged her; it’s not that big of a deal.’ But she sighed, her smile turning into a frown. Aqua knew she could not understand the pain Crystal could have gone through, but it hurt just to contemplate the unfortunate circumstance of being trapped on a ship with such a monstrous creature. Such a horrifying experience... It made Aqua shudder. ‘Besides… she needed a hug. Maybe… something else.’

“What are you doing, Aqua?”

Aqua yelped, falling onto her side as she slid off the door. Shaking a little, she opened one eye and chuckled as she saw Taciturn. “Oh… h-hey, Taciturn,” she murmured, gulping as she gathered herself together. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same thing, Aqua.” Taciturn stared at her with a deadpan expression.

“What? I was only talking to Crystal,” she murmured, walking down the hallway and facing forward.

“It’s not that I don’t doubt you were talking to… wait, you know the prisoner’s name?” She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, yeah. I mean, she told me and Patchy McHeart this morning.”

“And you haven’t told anypony of higher command, yet? That’s information they’re looking for.” Taciturn quickly caught up, walking by her friend’s side.

“...I may have let that slip my mind on accident.”

The pale scarlet aura appeared on her horn, and the two ponies flashed in an instant. A bright light flared in another room, and a mare cried out in surprise as she jumped in her bed. “I didn’t mean to forget about that, though.” Aqua turned to see the mare frowning at her. Smiling at the other unicorn, she said, “Sorry about that, Sparkdust.”

“You have the worst timing for these teleportations. I was busy taking a snooze when you decide to light the whole room up.” The mare shook her head as she complained.

Taciturn blinked at Sparkdust, turning her gaze back to her other friend. “Still, I feel like you’re not telling me something Aquafrost.”

“What’s she not talking about?” Sparkdust asked.

“I found her exiting a room in Medical where they have that mare we found on the Nostromo. Aqua and Patchy McHeart even learned her name. But there’s something she’s not telling me.”

“Look, Taciturn. I only went to talk with her, nothing else.” Aqua smiled, glancing to Sparkdust and then Furtivo.

“Oh… I see what you’re hiding.” Sparkdust grinned, snickering as she watched the other unicorn look to her. “Hey, Taciturn, I think Aqua here has caught a little flu.”

“But I’m not sick. I mean, I don’t know if I am.”

“What are you talking about, Sparkdust? She doesn’t seem to be sick.” Taciturn raised an eyebrow as she stared at Sparkdust.

“Well, it’s not like any normal sickness. But I think Aqua here has developed some feelings for our prisoner here.”

Aqua’s eyes widened before she hissed, “That is not true. I don’t like her in that way.”

“Yeah, then why are you blushing?” Sparkdust laughed as she watched Aqua’s pupils shrink a little. “I believed you when you told us you had no feelings for Blazing Ash, but this mare you talked with seems to have struck some chord, since you’re getting all red.”

“You like the prisoner?” Taciturn’s eyes widened, frowning as she shook her head. “For Goddess’ sakes, Aqua. You barely even know her.”

“I told you I don’t like Crystal.” Aqua glared at Taciturn then Sparkdust. “We were just talking. I don’t even like her.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Sparkdust murmured, her eyes lowering as she smiled. “More like you’ve fallen head over horseshoes for her.” Aqua frowned as she encased a pillow in her magic, throwing it at Sparkdust. She pulled it away and laughed as she gazed at her muzzle. “You know, I-I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pony get that flushed before.”

Aqua sighed, looking away as she frowned. “Okay… so what if I do like her? Will you stop teasing me about it?”

Spark backed off. “Yo… if you were this nervous about the mare, then you could’ve told me to stop.”

“Hey, Aqua?” She turned at Taciturn’s hoof softly gripping her shoulder. “Look, don’t let Sparkdust get to you.” Taciturn glanced to the ground before returning it as a smile replaced the frown. “Maybe you should go see if Crimson Sprite is awake. She’s probably missing her best friend after that incident she went through.”

Aqua turned to face Taciturn and nodded, then exited the room.

Taciturn sighed, looking over her shoulder at Sparkdust. “You know, I think you should take the advice you mentioned last night and know when to stop talking.”

“I… look, I didn’t mean to take it that far, okay?” Sparkdust frowned, lowering her eyes at Taciturn as she glared.

“Well, don’t tell me you're sorry; go tell Aqua before she teleports back to Medical.” Taciturn went over to her bunk, laying down and pulling a book from the pocket attached to the side of her bed.

Sparkdust closed her eyes, sighed and jumped down to the floor from her top bunk. She quickly exited the room and saw Aqua walking down the hall. “Aqua, wait!” She trotted up to her officer, stopping and flinching a little at the sad frown on her muzzle. Rubbing her head again, she exhaled once more. “Look… I’m sorry about teasing you. I didn’t mean to go on for so long.” A faint smile reappeared on Aqua’s muzzle as she listened to Sparkdust speak. “I’m… not good at this apologizing business… but are we cool?”

Aqua slowly nodded. “Yeah… we’re ‘cool,’ as you say.” She reached for Sparkdust and hugged her, but Sparkdust frowned as she looked away.

“Okay, okay enough.” Sparkdust pulled away, fixing her mane and chuckling. “Alright, I’ll see you later.” Making her escape, she quickly cantered back to her room.

Aqua stood there for a moment, glancing to the ground. ‘But… what Sparkdust and Taciturn Furtivo said is true. I… think because of what Crystal Rune went through, she’ll need somepony by her side. I… don’t know if I fit that role entirely, but maybe...’ Turning around, she proceeded to walk forward, her magic activating as she readied a teleportation spell. It was certainly a long shot of an idea, but she could only hope that, through her own actions, maybe she could become something more for Crystal. With that, she disappeared in a flash of pale scarlet light, teleporting to meet one of her best friends.

Chapter VII: Discussion of Company ~ Part I

View Online

“I still cannot believe it.” Princess Celestia sighed, rubbing her temple with her right hoof as she slowly shook her head. When she had called the meeting, the older princess had called on the Wonderbolts to join her, along with her sister and the Element Bearers with Daring Do.

Twilight had kept a constant gaze on her former teacher ever since they had discovered the Prince Blueblood’s journal hidden in his dresser. Although she had seen the princess down before, she couldn’t comprehend the feeling of betrayal that her mentor must have been experiencing. Her own nephew, whom she had taken care of since he was a colt, had turned against her and had possibly planned to use the Xenomorph inside Rarity against Celestia and Luna, not to mention Twilight and even Cadance. “Why was he trying to gain power? We tried to give him a home after his parents disappeared. I could not have imagined such treachery from him.”

“It is not your fault, sister. Nopony could have ever predicted that Blueblood would try to gain power in the first place. We were all blind to his ambitious goal of seizing the throne for himself.” Princess Luna wrapped a hoof around her sibling’s shoulders.

“Still… there may have been something that I could have done to prevent all of this from happening,” Celestia murmured. “Losing his parents at such a young age, I thought I could fill that gap with a loving presence, but he drove himself away from other ponies and shut them, including me, out.”

“Even so, there was nothing you could have done to prevent him from trying to plan a way to dethrone you and your sister,” Rarity said.

Celestia let out another sigh before saying, “You’re right, Rarity.” Her gaze moved from Rarity to Daring Do. “Have you discovered any information on the location of where this Neighland-Yupony facility might be?”

Paper flipping by quietly echoed in the conference room as Daring scanned the pages of the journal, her eyes stopping on a certain area. She looked up to the two princesses and reported, “There’s this section here in his journal where he says that one of his spies is established on an island near the Crystal Empire and Equestrian borders just off the eastern coast.”

“That island is not too far away, although it would still take some time to fly out there.” Luna looked down at the table below them, her eyes scanning across the map of the continents. Twilight took the time to examine the atlas as well, looking to the eastern side of Equestria. Sure enough, there was an island that Blueblood’s journal had described. “The flight from here to there may take up to four hours, three if we are quick about it.”

It went quiet, until Rainbow said, “How have they been hiding all of that for this whole time?” She crossed her forelegs as she floated above Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy.

“It may have been one company that my sister and I saw in some of the papers that established said facilities around Equestria, but we did not think much of it at the time,” Luna admitted.

“But it wasn’t really your fault,” Pinkie Pie said. “Sure, you may have given permission for this facility to run, but that doesn’t mean you were totally aware of every single silly piece of paper.”

The two princesses smiled. Twilight couldn’t help but smile as well, seeing how Pinkie was right.

“I agree with Pinkie Pie,” Fluttershy said. “What you two did was an honest mistake. Nopony here resents you for that. It's not as if you knew of this beforehand. Those ponies were just good at being really, really quiet.”

“Thank you… both of you,” Celestia murmured.

“So why would Blueblood sneak off to a Neighland facility?” Twilight asked. Everypony turned to her. “I mean, what’s so important about this island that he snuck off without telling anypony else?”

“Maybe he figured we’d all eventually find out what he was up to,” Daring explained. She continued, “I mean, he isn’t here in the castle anymore. That much is obvious.”

It was definitely a strange reason to leave the castle, Twilight thought, seeing as how she and the others hadn’t even known he was involved with trying to obtain the Xenomorph in secret until now.

“Is there anythin’ else in that journal there that can explain what the hay is goin’ on over on that island?” Applejack asked.

Daring skimmed the pages, stopping as she held one of the pages up. She looked over the information, then up to the others. “He seems to think that there’s something very important on the island, but I haven’t found what it is yet.”

“Could you possibly guess from what you know of the other Neighland-Yupony facility?” Celestia asked.

Daring brought a hoof up to her chin, rubbing it thoughtfully before saying, “Neighland-Yupony had an arsenal of weaponry that I’ve experienced firsthoof. The guards have automatic crossbows, magic and possibly even some other advanced pieces of technology.” Twilight herself was surprised that this company even had advanced items, even going as far as to make a crossbow fire bolts automatically. “They, of course, had that one… creature… but I was certain it must have died in the explosion.” The adventurer’s eyes widened a little before she spoke again. “Come to think of it… it’s odd that these Neighland ponies are kidnapping other ponies. If they need them, and with what happened last time...” She went dead quiet. “...Oh.”

“Oh no! We’re all doomed!” Pinkie Pie yelled, jumping into the air before slowly floating back down. “What’s with the ‘Oh’? Is something bad about to happen?”

Daring Do flipped through the journal again. “Blueblood mentions here that his spies heard talk about a… ‘bioweapon’. What the heck is that?”

Something clicked in Twilight’s mind as she heard that term again. It felt familiar; she remembered that the word had been said by the deranged scientist, Dr. Makoy Markovich, when he was describing the... “Oh no… you said a bioweapon, correct?” She watched Daring nod and felt a terrible gut-wrenching feeling as she realized what happened the last time ponies began to disappear. “That’s what Markovich called the Xenomorph! Then… that means that Neighland-Yupony may have--”

“Don’t you dare say that it is that creature!” Rarity quickly interrupted, yet Twilight could see that her friend was holding something back.

“How did they get the--”

“Everypony, remain calm!” Celestia spoke in a higher tone, her voice rising above everypony else's as she interrupted Rainbow Dash. “We have no solid evidence that what they have is indeed the Xenomorph.”

“But--” Rainbow tried to interject, but Celestia held up a hoof to silence her.

“Daring Do, are you certain the Xenomorph is dead?” Celestia asked.

She thought for a moment, looking unsurely at the table before her, until she said, “I can’t confirm the kill. I thought for sure that it must have gone up with the rest of the facility, but I didn’t see it die with my own eyes.”

Wearily, Celestia sighed and said, “I know that I have told everypony here that the Xenomorph is most likely dead… but if what Daring Do says is true, then I was wrong. The Xenomorph is alive, and this means more than a matter of national security. The entire world is in danger!”

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go and bash some heads in!” Rainbow Dash shouted, eager to put Neighland-Yupony in its place.

“I’m afraid it isn’t that simple, Rainbow Dash,” Celestia told her.

“My sister is right,” Luna said. “We cannot just go bursting into private facilities and arrest ponies on the spot, especially with such dubious evidence. However, an investigation is in order. That way, we can see what this Bishop Neighland has planned.”

It was quiet for a moment as the group simply sat in silence. Twilight looked to the ponies at her left and right before speaking up. “So, who is going to go on the trip to this Neighland-Yupony facility?” she asked. “I’ll definitely go with anypony else who is willing to go with me.” She knew that if the Xenomorph was alive, then she would need to be there to serve Equestria.

“Yah can definitely count me in, Twilight. If that monster is there, then I’d like to get some closure for mah brother.”

“You can count on me. I’ve always wanted to give that freak another go. It got the better of me before, so I owe it one,” Rainbow Dash joined in, landing next to AJ, tucking her wings in.

“I shall come along as well,” said Rarity, much to Twilight’s surprise. Ever since the possibility of the alien’s return was first mentioned, Rarity had quickly made it known that she didn’t want any part in discussing it. She didn’t even want it mentioned by name. “I won’t stand by and let my friends face all the danger alone. That and I want to make sure that the… ‘creature’ that grew inside of me is truly dead.” Rarity frowned as she placed a hoof on the scar hidden beneath her white fur.

“I’m joining the party as well!” Pinkie Pie cartwheeled over to Twilight and hugged her. “If you all are going, then I’m going!”

“And, although I’m extremely nervous about this, I’ll definitely come along with you all.” Fluttershy moved up next to Rarity with a smile on her muzzle as well.

Twilight smiled, happy to have her friends alongside her for this adventure. She looked over to Daring Do and asked, “What about you? Are you okay for another adventure?” Remembering all the bandages Daring had on, she had to make sure that the adventurer was in a good condition to travel.

“Of course. I’m not going to let you all have fun without me.”

“We’ll come along, too.” A pony spoke up from the other side of the table. Twilight smiled as she saw Spitfire and a few of her Wonderbolt friends by her side.

“Yeah! Spitfire! Soarin! Fleetfoot!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed as her idols stood at the end of the table.

“Cloudchaser, Thunderlane, and Bulk Biceps are a part of the Wonderbolts Reserves, the same as Rainbow Dash. If she goes in, we go in. In the Wonderbolts, we never leave a pony behind.”

“I shall go along as well. I want to be there to make sure that this Bishop Neighland is telling the whole truth,” Celestia said, her gaze focusing on the Element Bearers as they all turned to face her.

“If you are going, sister, then I shall come along as well.” Luna smiled up to her bigger sister.

Celestia looked to her sister and frowned. “I’m afraid not, Luna. I need you to stay here in Canterlot.”

“What?” Luna’s eyes widened as she took a step back. “But why? I want to come along with you to see this facility and help if the situation becomes drastic. You will not deny me that ri-”

“Luna!” Celestia raised her voice, and Luna flinched at the tone she used.

Twilight opened her mouth to say something, but thought better against it. ‘It’s their problem alone. I can’t intrude on their conversation.’

“I understand your concern, sister. But I care for you and don’t want to see you become hurt if worse comes to worst.” Celestia moved closer to her younger sibling. Luna looked away, but Celestia gently lifted Luna’s muzzle up with a hoof and murmured, “I know that you can handle yourself in a situation if events ever became chaotic, but if we were to leave Canterlot and something were to happen to the both of us, there would be nopony to watch over the rest of our subjects. I need you to do that for me while I am gone, so that the public does not become afraid with the absence of their leaders.”

Luna slowly returned her gaze to her sister and nodded, sighing before she said, “Just… do be careful, sister.”

“Of course, Luna. I will make sure not to leave you ruling Equestria alone.” The two sisters hugged afterwards, separating moments after. Twilight smiled, although this little moment would only last for so long. Her friends, along with Daring Do and Princess Celestia, left the conference room with Princess Luna walking by her older sister’s left side. Twilight began to move forward, glancing behind her to take one last look at the sunlit conference room.

‘What if something awful happens to us while we’re at the Neighland-Yupony facility? Will this be the last time I ever see this place?’ She shook her head, moving those negative thoughts to the back of her mind. She felt a pressure in front of her chest and fell onto her flank as the force of whatever she’d run into pushed her back. Shaking her head, she looked up to see who it was only to blush when she realized that she had run into one of the guard members. “Oh… sorry,” she murmured, smiling as she looked away.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” the stallion replied, lending a hoof to her own.

She accepted his help, rubbing the back of her head as she stood up. “Sorry, Flash. I didn’t see you there… again.” Twilight couldn’t help smiling as she gazed at the stallion in front of her, her eyes unmoving from his own cornflower blue pupils. His brilliant orange coat shimmered in the natural sunlight. Twilight glanced away, breathing in before returning her attention to him. “So, how’s Cadance doing?”

He sighed. “She’s… getting better. But I’ve been noticing that she’s still trying to cope with the loss.”

That was exactly what she was worrying about. Her sister-in-law, Princess Cadance, was struggling to get by each day. She was not only dealing with running the Crystal Empire on her own, but she also had a foal nearing its birth expectancy; the doctors told her that it could be sometime this week. Twilight looked up, smiling as she said, “Thank you for telling me this.”

“It’s okay. Besides, I was hoping to find you here,” Flash said. He sifted through the saddlebag on his back.

“And why’s that?” Twilight asked, tilting her head as she waited for the stallion to show her whatever it was he had inside those packs.

A gleam of light blinded her for a moment, and she shielded her eyes, bringing her hoof down when she saw a silver trinket dangling in his mouth. He gave it to her, and she saw the silver emblem engraved with the words, ‘Triumph over the Wicked.’ Twilight covered her mouth with her right hoof as she quickly recalled who this had belonged to before. ‘Shining Armor… he wore this.’

“The Royal Guardsmen appointed me as Captain a week after… well…” The stallion muttered something she couldn’t pick up, his gaze dropping from her own as he looked to the ground. Although she couldn’t hear him, she guessed it was probably relating to her brother.

But why did he have to tell her that? If he had got it only a week after her brother’s death, than did the Guard really care that Shining had died? Did Flash Sentry care for Shining Armor at all? “Oh… that’s, um… great.”

“Yeah. Now I’ve been promoted to Captain of the Guard. So… yeah.” A silence loomed over the two ponies, Twilight looking away as he did the same. “Well… I better get going. I’ll see you later on the trip,” Flash said, walking down the opposite hallway.

Twilight looked up to him, then back down to the ground as she thought of what he had said. He was now the captain of the Royal Guard, and with that title, he had replaced her brother, Shining Armor. A heavy feeling had replaced those potential amorous thoughts, although they were still floating around in the back of her mind. But the ache that had been constant since the day she had watched her brother’s coffin go under returned. She shuddered and let out a tiny whimper as she wondered why he had to take her deceased brother’s position. ‘Couldn’t they have waited a month or more before deciding?’ Though, she supposed, the Royal Guard did need a captain. This trip, she thought, was definitely going to be a long one.

Hoofsteps echoed down the elongated hallway. Princess Luna stared at the end of the corridor with a deepening frown. She closed her eyes, breathing out through her nose to keep her anger from showing as she passed by a couple of guards. Opening her eyes again, she looked to the second-farthest door on the left, made her way to the opening and walked through. A brief gust of wind greeted her as she made her way to the edge of the courtyard and slowly scanned the city of Canterlot below their castle.

It was unfair, Luna thought, her frown growing as she slowly shook her head. “Sister… why must you treat me this way? If anything were to happen to you on that island…” The frustration she tried to hold back grew and grew as she turned towards the city below their palace. Her sister was there with the Element Bearers, and after that, she would go to the island once everypony was ready. A growl emanated from her that turned into a yell that echoed the courtyard. “If you were to die, I would be left alone to rule Canterlot. But I would just feel even more alone than my imprisonment on the moon!” She stomped her right hoof down, cracking the marble beneath her hooves.

No matter how horrible her time on the moon had been, nothing would ever compare to the possible feeling of permanent isolation without her sister. The idea of it forced a couple of tears out of Luna, who slowly lowered herself to the ground, hiding her eyes behind her forelegs. “Why… I want to be there to make sure that nothing hurts you. You are the only family I have left that is tied by blood. Our parents… we both know what happened to them... their too-soon demise.” Luna could only wish for a memory wipe about the fire that had started when they were only just fillies.

She heard hoofsteps behind her. “Your Highness, are you alright?” She glanced back to see a member of the Royal Guard bowing down.

Luna closed her eyes, taking a couple of deep breaths before turning to face the stallion, looking composed as she always was. “Yes, I am fine. Thank you for your concern, but now is not the time.” Walking up to the guard, she said, “I want you to find the First Lieutenant of my Lunar Guard.”

“Yes, Your Highness.” The stallion quickly stood up, ran back into the castle and disappeared in the entryway. Luna watched him go for a moment before returning her attention to the distant forest on the horizon. Even if she was not allowed to go, that did not mean that she couldn’t let a guard keep a watchful gaze over Celestia to make sure she was safe. ‘I do understand that you are powerful, dear sister. But I know that you even have your limits.’ She just hoped that Celestia would appreciate the extra help, just in case she did find herself in trouble.

Another set of hoofsteps echoed behind her, but at a quicker pace than the previous guards. She heard the pony skid to a halt and turned to see a stallion in dark grayish-green armor, a white coat of fur exposed on his back legs. He stood at attention with a hoof in salute. “First Lieutenant of the Lunar Marine Corps, Retrospect, reporting for duty, Your Highness.”

“Good afternoon, Retrospect. It is nice to see my best Lunar Marine before me,” said Luna. She only received a nod. “There is something that I wish for you to do. I want you to take one of the guard positions that are accompanying my sister to an island. Make sure she is safe.”

“Of course. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep Princess Celestia safe, Your Highness.” With a clatter of hooves, the stallion left Luna to her lonesome self. As she looked out to the city, she could already feel her heart ache with the burden of watching over this city alone. ‘Celly… please, do come back safely.’

Crystal tapped her hoof on the desk they had put in her room, resting a hoof against her chin as she continued to stare at the oak surface below her hooves. “Ugh… if their plan is to get me to talk through boredom and isolation, I’d say that it’s beginning to work.” Groaning out loud, she leaned back in the chair and gazed up at the ceiling, blinking as the room reverted back to a still silence.

There was nothing to do. No books to read, no objects to play with. The only source of fun she knew was talking to Aquafrost, and she was somewhere else in the facility, however big it was. All she had other than that was watching the doctors fume over her reluctance to tell them what they needed to find out about their ship, the Nostromo, and if she was on it. She chuckled to herself as she reminisced on her last encounter with one of those stuck-up snobs, smiling at the echo of a hoof hitting the wall.

She swiveled her ears and glanced over her shoulder as the same doctor from before entered the room. “Good afternoon,” he said to her as he walked over to her bed, looking to the hallway out the door and nodding. Crystal stared at him and saw a shadow move underneath the door before the pony came into view.

It was another guard. She raised her eyebrow at the difference of this pony. He was small, strikingly different from those super-brawny ponies that Neighland seemed to love hiring. But she knew it wasn’t good to underestimate a stallion like this. Crystal lowered her eyes to a glare as she stared at the black visor hiding the pony’s eyes, muttering, “And who are you supposed to be? Some kind of security guard? Are you here to fix the clocks?”

“No… aside from your petty remarks.” Crystal leaned back as the stallion took a step forward. “You’re addressing your new interrogator. The pony that is going to get the information out of you, one way or another.” The stallion smiled as he boasted. “You could also understand that I am one of Neighland’s elite ponies. The stallions and mares who guard Bishop himself.”

“That’s quite a pedigree there.” Crystal frowned at the doctor, returning her attention to the guard. “So… you think you can make me tell you what this doctor here has been trying to find out?”

The stallion chuckled, shaking his head and taking another step closer. “What you fail to realize is that I’ve been tasked to get the answers we’re all looking for, and quite frankly, I couldn’t give two pony feathers about how I acquire that information.”

“Now, now, there’s no reason to get too hasty,” the doctor said, rubbing his right foreleg as he shook where he stood. “Please… just give us the information, ma'am, and we can forget this ever happened.”

Crystal stared at the two, blinking once before turning her attention to the desk. The doctor growled as he fumed. “I’ve been as patient as I can! But I cannot wait for you to tell us on your own terms anymore when something important to me is on the line.” He looked to the guard, nodding shakily.

Crystal raised an eyebrow at the doctor, returning her attention to the guard. He cracked his neck and moved closer to where she sat. As she opened her mouth, a pain stung the side of her mouth as the stallion’s hoof met her muzzle. Her forelegs hit the ground first, and she groaned and rubbed the area where the stallion had hit her. Her eyes widened as she grabbed at a pressure surrounding her neck, grasping at the stallion’s hoof as he raised her up into the air. “You had better start talking; otherwise, the consequences will be dire.” He smirked, smiled and laughed. “Sadly, it’s going to be more fun for me in the end.”

The breath left her, and she gasped for air, feeling the cold surface of the wall against her back as the stallion slammed her against the wall. Grunting, she kicked and swung her hooves; the stallion in front of her kept smiling. “L-let go of me, you piece of--”

Crystal yelped as the pain of the stallion’s hoof met her muzzle again. “Please,” said the doctor, his eyes widening at the scene before him. “Please just tell us what we want. I don’t want to make this situation any worse than it needs to be.”

Trying to swing her hoof at the guard, she hissed. “S-screw you!”

The doctor closed his eyes, sighing at the sight. He moved his gaze to the guard and nodded. Crystal swiveled her ears at the sound of metal sliding along metal, glancing down to try and find the source.

She cried out as an extreme pain shot up and down her nerves. Looking down to her side, her breath stopped as she saw a trickle of blood down her side, a glint of light flashing in her eyes. She whimpered at the sight of a sword in her side. “So…” Crystal returned her attention to the stallion, her breathing coming out in erratic gasps. “Maybe you’d like to reconsider that offer? How about you start talking and keep this from getting any worse.”

She glared at the stallion and moved a hoof down to the blade. She screamed again as the sword twisted inside her body. “You know, I can keep at this all day long. Unfortunately for you.” He smirked and twisted the blade once more. “You’ll be out of blood if you don’t answer the questions that this doctor has been searching for.”

The doctor slowly walked up a few feet from the mare, shaking as he said, “Please… just tell me what you know. My family is on the line here…”

Crystal whimpered as she squirmed around, closing her eyes as her breath came out in erratic gasps. She gulped, opened her eyes and let loose a trickle of tears down onto her muzzle. “C-Crystal R-Rune…”


“M-my name,” she said, looking up at the doctor. “I am… o-or was a mercenary. I had o-operations in Canterlot and-”

She screamed again as the blade dug farther inside her body. “I don’t care about your past. What were you doing on the freighter?” the guard asked.

“I boarded the ship… after me and a team broke into t-the facility to de-destroy the Xenomorph… p-please, I d-didn’t take anything, I swear.”

The guard turned his attention to the doctor. “She’s not lying. The whole cargo was destroyed when the ship made impact on the beach. There was nothing left to scavenge.”

He chuckled, returning his focus to the mare. “Alright then... “ He pulled the sword out, letting go of Crystal’s neck. She dropped drop to the floor onto her side, the blood pooling out as he stepped back.

“We… we should bring her to one of the medical rooms. I could fix her up and-”

“Nah. It’s okay, doctor. She’s not useful anymore, so there’s no reason to keep her alive.” The guard grabbed his shoulder and turned him around, pushing him out the door. “If she somehow survives the blood loss, then maybe she might be useful after all.”

The door closed shut. Crystal reached out as she tried to pull herself forward, whimpering and crying quietly as she felt the room blacken slightly. She lifted a hoof up, gasping at the small droplets of blood dripping onto the ever-increasing puddle. “Please… oh, g-goddess… s-some… pony… please…” she whimpered out. There was no hope in the words she spoke, only a reality that would never come true.

Chapter VII: Discussion of Company ~ Part II

View Online

“Thanks for coming over, Aquafrost,” a moderate crimson mare said, a faint smile on her muzzle as she yawned. “I still can’t believe I didn’t see that burst of magic heading my way. Thought for sure my wings would help me avoid it in time.”

“Come on now, Crimson Sprite. Sure, you’re one of the fastest pegasi here at the facility, but even you have your limitations.” Aqua sat down next to the bed her friend lay in. “I mean, that doesn’t make you slow. That spell was just fired at the wrong time and wrong place.” She turned to face Patchy, who stood over by the infusion pump as he kept watch over the device. “Speaking of injuries, how is she looking, Patchy?”

“All vitals haven’t changed, so she’s in good health.” He smiled. “She’s lucky it was only her shoulder the magic beam nicked. Anywhere further below and we might have called for a surgical procedure to fix the wound.”

Aqua sighed, wiping her brow as she chuckled a little. “Well, that’s good to know.”

“So how long do I have to stay in this room? I’d rather be out of this place and back with my team as quick as possible,” Crimson asked.

Patchy looked at her for a moment, rubbing the back of his head. “I’m sorry to say, but you’ll be in here for another few hours or more. Protocol dictates that--”

“Seriously?” The pegasus mare rubbed her head and sighed. “Alright… I’ll stay here as long as it's needed. But if you tell me to wait another couple of hours, nurse, then I’m getting out of here.”

“Duly noted.” Patchy nodded and returned his attention to the pump.

Aquafrost smiled as she turned her gaze to the pegasus. “Well, I need to get going. I promised another friend I’d visit them. Hope you get better, Crimson.”

“Thanks, Aqua. Glad to always spend time with my favorite captain.”

She couldn’t help but giggle as she walked out of the room. Closing her eyes, she activated her magic and disappeared in a flash of pale scarlet light. She reappeared only seconds later next to Crystal Rune’s door. She knocked first and then called through the door, “Hey, Crystal? You in there? It’s me, Aquafrost.”

Hearing no response, she raised an eyebrow and tilted her head. A faint noise caught her attention. “Crystal… is everything okay in there?” Something wasn’t right. She should have responded already. Twisting the knob on the door, she began to slowly open it. “Crystal…”

An odor struck her first; Aqua recoiled at the terrible smell. A red liquid slowly trickled towards her. Her heart beat faster as she looked up, and she screamed at the sight of the unicorn mare. “Crystal!” She stood back, covering her mouth with her hooves at the pool of blood that surrounded her.

She watched as Crystal slowly began opening her eyes, looking up with tear-filled eyes. “A-Aqua… please, h-help me…”

Aqua turned the switch by the door to the right, shutting off the magic inhibitors, and quickly ran into the room. She gagged at the blood beneath her hooves and kneeled at the injured mare’s side. Gently as she could, she wrapped her hooves around Crystal’s side, who yelped at the excruciating sensation that throbbed at her side. “Crystal… where does it--” She gasped at the large gash in her side. ‘What… what happened? What kind of sick pony would do this?’

“Okay… it’s okay,” Aqua murmured as she activated her magic, trying her best to calm Crystal Rune down as she ran a bloody hoof through the unicorn’s mane. She focused the energy on where the wound was to bring a healing spell from the back of her mind. Slowly, the flesh repaired; Crystal flinched and squirmed at the uncomfortable sensation.

It was unreal to think that somepony would attack a patient in the medical wing. What type of pony would do such a thing? She could only ascertain that somepony in this facility was responsible; the only other ponies that could get in here were a doctor and Patchy but those two were never violent. But if the doctor had brought a guard in and sought to “convince” her to talk, then why would the executives and director allow such a thing to happen? She closed her eyes and decided to save the question for later.

But there was something else she needed to ask. “Crystal… who did this to you? What is it that they want so badly?”

Crystal closed her eyes. “I… I told you how I ended up on the ship. They wanted to know what I was doing… if I took anything. I thought they wanted to know… who I was. I swore to them that I stole nothing… I really didn’t.”

“Your past?” It was a question that had escaped her mind last time, one that Crystal brought back up. “I… I know this isn’t the best of times. But… can you tell me what you did before ending up on the freighter, Nostromo?”

The unicorn mare opened her eyes slightly, breathing a ragged gasp of air. “I was a mercenary, in charge of m-my own team. There were three others… I lost all of them on my last mission. It was when I and another mare snuck into one of Neighland’s facility. They all died because of some… c-creature.” She coughed up a storm, blood trickling down the side of her mouth. “And b-before that… I went to… Celestia’s Gifted School for Unicorns.”

“You… studied there? I… I’d say you're lucky.”

“L-lucky? I lost the meaning of f-friendship there, thanks to another pony. I left after graduating and n-never came back.” Crystal coughed again, staring up into Aqua’s eyes. “You’re… the only other pony I t-talked to after realizing how important it was again.”

“That’s… I-I’m glad you remembered how important it is.” Aqua stopped moving her hoof through Crystal’s mane and glanced away.

“W-what about you? How did you come to work at a… place like this?” Aqua looked away, a little surprised by the question.

“I… A stallion--one of my friends, Blazing Ash--came to recruit me. They had heard about how much I knew about the pony body, so I became one of the scientists here at the facility.” She frowned and looked away. “As for how I became so knowledgeable on the anatomy of the pony’s body… I was diagnosed with anemia at eight years old, which led to my heart failing on me. I finally had a donor for my heart transplant, and ever since that day, I began learning more about why my heart quit.”

“So… w-why did you become a guard? You c-certainly don’t look the part.” Crystal groaned after speaking, closing her eyes.

Aqua brought her hoof lower, cupping Crystal’s left cheek as she regained that sad smile. “Blazing Ash helped me… I learned how to use this spear here thanks to him.” She nodded to the weapon located on her right side. “It took me a while but I figured out how to finally wield it.” Looking to the other mare’s barrel, she dispelled her magic after seeing that the wound had finally closed. “There… are you alright?”

Crystal reopened her eyes and smiled. “Th-thank you… Aquafrost. You’ve…saved my life.”

“I… I didn’t want you to die. I was afraid that you were going to.” Aqua rubbed her eyes with a free hoof as she sniffled. “I’m so glad that you didn’t... because I… I-I…”

“Why… is it because I’m your friend?” Crystal tilted her head slightly.

“N-not just that. But… I really care about you. After you shared with me about what you experienced on the ship… and that you lost the meaning of friendship. I thought… that you might need somepony to be there for you… somepony you could talk to.”

“Wait… are you saying that you love me?”

Aqua blushed, hesitantly meeting her gaze as she smiled. It was something that Crystal had never really given much time to ponder about the idea behind that type of relationship. It was another idea that she worried that it would hurt her all over again, like what had occurred with Sunset Shimmer. But there was something else about Aquafrost: she was kind, caring, and gentle but she didn’t appear to be that helpless.

Although the thought of her being with mares had crossed her mind a few times, she had her worries about how it would go. But maybe she could give Aqua a chance and see how this would go. Crystal reached a hoof up, cupping Aqua’s muzzle with a hoof. “Aqua… thank you.”

Aqua shuddered as she felt Crystal wrap her forelegs around her. She returned the favor, tears trickling down her muzzle. “Crystal… I’m so sorry… I wasn’t here for you when they were--”

“You’re here now… I th-thank you for that.” Crystal smiled and closed her eyes.

“Here…” Aqua wrapped her hooves around Crystal, bringing her close and hugging her. “You lost a lot of blood… just let me help you.” Aqua quietly picked up the mare and brought her over to the bed. Pulling away, she murmured, “I’m going to go deal with something. Then I’ll be back to get you out of here, okay?”

Crystal nodded. Aqua encased the blood in a pale scarlet aura and dissolved it into mist, then closed the door. Looking down to her hooves, she furrowed her brow in disgust of the blood.

“Hey Aqua!” She quickly looked to the door, switching the magic inhibitor on before turning to face Sparkdust. “Hey, I was just hoping to catch… you…”

Spark’s eyes widened as she hurried past Aqua. “Hey, hey, what’s going on, Aquafrost? Whose blood is that?”

“Crystal Rune’s. The doctor questioning her brought in a guard to force her to talk. I thought that Mr. Neighland wouldn’t allow such an act to happen.”

“Wait, why would they do that? It’s against protocol to hurt the prisoners in unnecessary or excruciating treatments.” Sparkdust quickly caught up with her friend walking by her side.

“Yeah, well, I’m going to get to the bottom of this. If Neighland ordered this to happen, then I don’t know if I can work here anymore.” Aqua stared straight ahead as she trotted onward.

Spark glanced away. “Hey, I may have signed up for learning how to be a proper guard, but if they’ve done something like this, then you can count me in.”

Aqua nodded. She was going to get answers and see if Bishop had allowed this. If he had, she was going to have a long talk with him.

Chapter VIII: Family Parting

View Online

A light gold flash illuminated the stone bridge as Princess Celestia appeared from within the surge of light. She turned her attention to Applejack, Rarity and Twilight, who stood in front of her, and spoke. “Alright, everypony. Time is of the essence, so please make your visits as quick as possible.”

“Of course, Celestia.” Twilight looked over her shoulder. “I’ll hurry Nyx along and get everything she’ll need.” Looking ahead, she ran off into the town, disappearing behind one of the houses.

“And I shall gather my sister’s belongings. I doubt she’ll give me much trouble, but hopefully we can move along in an orderly fashion.” Rarity took off at a quick trot, leaving Applejack the only mare standing in front of Celestia.

“Now I understand all the secrecy, Princess. But what about the others? Surely they’ll be wonderin’ where their friends and family are?” Applejack tilted her head as she asked the princess.

“You are correct, Applejack. That is why I’ve notified a few messengers to make sure that nopony worries about where Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie are. All they shall receive is that the girls will be on an investigation, nothing more.”

That was at least some good news. Even Applejack knew how important this mission was, and that telling the public that the killing machine from a month ago had returned did not seem like a fine idea. “Ah’ll be quick as a fiddle, Princess Celestia. Just have ta let mah sister and grandmother know I’m goin’ somewhere fer a while.”

Celestia nodded back. “Just be sure to not let them know where you are heading. Who knows what they will try to do if they realize what our investigation is actually looking into.”

With a quick tip of her hat, Applejack ran down the street of Ponyville. She winced as a pain sparked through her right shoulder. She frowned as she spotted a missing line of fur on her coat that was her scar. “That dang creature.” Menial tasks had gotten more difficult after the injury that nightmare had inflicted upon her shoulder with its spear-like tail. Shaking it off, she ignored the annoying throbbing sensation and continued on at a slower running pace.

It was some matter of minutes before Applejack spotted the farm on the horizon. Turning her gaze to the house, she had considered what she should tell her younger sister and grandmother. It was best to make sure that they only knew that she’d be gone for just a little while. Telling them what this investigation was about was going to be trickier. After all, she knew how hard this was going to be. ‘Curse mah bad luck with lyin’.’ Being the Bearer of the Element of Honesty did have some downsides. She would find out how it all played out.

Reaching the door of her house, she grabbed the knob and opened the entrance quickly, closing the door and sighing. Granny Smith was in her chair, a convenient spot for once. “Granny Smith. There’s somethin’ Ah gotta tell you and Apple Bloom.” Scanning the living room and kitchen area, she didn’t see any sign of her sister. “Where’s Apple Bloom?”

“Ah’m right here, Applejack.” Looking up, Applejack saw her little sister leaning on the railing of the staircase. “In case you were wonderin’, I already got all mah chores done.”

“That’s good ta hear, Apple Bloom. But right now Ah need ta let you two know Ah’m gonna be gone fer a bit.”

“Gone?” Granny Smith raised an eyebrow at her granddaughter. “Where you goin’ in such a hurry, Applejack?”

“Yeah. When were you gonna tell us ‘bout this?” Apple Bloom rested her forelegs on the railing, tilting her head as she gave the same questioning stare as Granny Smith.

“Look y’all, I wasn’t even aware of this type of situation until it recently turned up. But Ah shouldn’t be too long. Maybe about a few hours ’r so before Ah get back.”

“Back… from where?”

“Well… I’ve been asked by Celestia ta go on this investigation. Guess there’s another creature that’s popped up over near some island that she needs help gettin’ rid of. Me and mah friends are gonna go look this over. So like Ah said, this shouldn’t take too long.”

“But where did this creature come from? And how did Princess Celestia find out about it?” Granny Smith asked as she slowly rocked back and forth in her rocking chair.

Applejack looked to the ground, licking her lips before speaking slowly. “Well… some ponies have been disappearin’. Ah can’t figure out what’s been draggin them off, but Ah think we ca--”

“Wait. You said ponies were disappearin’? That only happened when--” The young filly’s eyes widened, until they lowered into a glare accompanying a frown on her muzzle. “Applejack… is there somethin’... Ah don’t know... ‘important’ that you’re leavin’ out of the picture here?”

Looking away for a brief moment, Applejack bit her lip as she tried to find an explanation for all this. Returning to meet the glaring gaze, Applejack frowned. “Don’t give me that glare there, missy. Ah was just sayin’ that Princess Celestia needs our help with this creature. It’s nothin’ we can’t handle.”

“This creature sounds awfully similar to that other one the princesses got rid of a month ago. Is that what you’ve been told to take care of?”

Applejack’s frown deepened, but she could no longer feel like she could keep this a secret. “Look… Ah can explain--”

“So it is that monster that pony-napped Sweetie Belle, isn’t it!?” She flinched at the higher volume Apple Bloom’s voice reached as she yelled at her sister.

This was the situation Applejack hoped she could avoid. However, it was unavoidable at this point. Sighing, Applejack looked her sister in the eyes and murmured. “Yes… It may be. Princess Celestia, mah friends, and I are gonna go find this Xenomorph and destroy it if it’s there.”

Apple Bloom growled and glared at her older sister. “When were yah plannin’ on tellin’ me and Granny Smith here!?”

“Princess Celestia asked me not ta let you two know where I was goin’.”

“So yer puttin’ the princess’ orders before lettin’ yer family know what’s goin’ on?” Granny Smith stopped her rocking in her chair, simply staring at her granddaughter.

“Well what else was Ah supposed ta do? She didn’t want ta start panic here in Ponyville after what happened about a month ago. Why else would Ah try and keep this information here secret?”

“But why did yah not want ta tell us?" Apple Bloom quickly walked down the steps and up to her big sister. "I could go with yah and teach that--”

“No!” Applejack yelled, her younger sister’s eyes widening as the elder sibling yelled. She let out a sigh before murmuring in a shaky tone. “Ah’m not losin’ anypony else, Apple Bloom. Losin’ our big brother was enough, and Ah don’t need ta lose my little sister as well.”


“No ‘buts’, Apple Bloom.” Applejack kneeled down to her sister’s level. “Please… I know how much yer hurtin’ as well, and I know yer not such a young filly no more.” Letting out another sigh, her frown lessened. “But Ah couldn’t bare the thought of losin’ another family member.” The sadness deepened, feeling a small ache in her heart. Nothing felt the same after Big MacIntosh died.

“Ah know yer a brave filly. But just bein’ brave ain’t enough. This… the Xenomorph won’t sit around fer yah to attack. It won’t stop until yer… dead.” The cold hard facts needed to be told to this young filly if she were to fully comprehend the situation. “Please, Apple Bloom. Ah’ll be fine. You need ta stay here and watch after yer grandmother. Alright?” Applejack rested a hoof on her sister’s shoulder.

Apple Bloom looked away, shaking under her hoof, before suddenly wrapping her hooves around her older sister. Applejack softened her gaze, lowering her ears as her little sister whimpered into her good shoulder, closing her eyes as she felt tear drops trickle through her fur. “J-just promise me, Applejack. Promise me you’ll return home.”

Applejack pulled away, raising her younger sibling’s chin up with a hoof and staring into her tear filled eyes. A faint smile formed on her muzzle as she used her free hoof to wipe away the tears. “I know promises can be broken… but Ah’m goin’ ta try and keep this one. I’ll come back home. Ah won’t leave you and Granny Smith.” Leaning forward, she gently pecked the filly’s forehead with a kiss and stood up.

She looked to her grandmother and frowned as she continued to rock in her chair. “Ah understand, Applejack.” A small smile beamed on the older pony’s muzzle as she murmured, “Make sure ta give that varmit the regards of the Apple Family.”

Hearing Granny Smith say this, Applejack smiled, tipping her hat before exiting the house. Quickly as she could, she ran back down to Ponyville, pictures of her family and kin rushing around in flashes as she moved along. ‘Ah’ve never been one for sayin’ this… but please… Big MacIntosh… Ma and Pa… Keep watch over me… for Ah don’t have a good feelin’ fer what’s ‘bout to happen tonight.’

“Sweetie Belle!” Rarity called into her boutique as she opened the door, the bells jingling as they announced her presence to the building. It was unusually quiet. Rarity scanned the kitchen and dressing room and she found it to be clean. ‘Hmm. Sweetie Belle should be here, correct? Then where is she?’ There was no place else for Sweetie to go except for their parent’s house near the river.

‘Maybe she is just sleeping? After all, the little filly does easily tire herself out with those drawing and magic sessions now and then.’ It was certainly an explanation alright, but a theory that formed a frown on Rarity’s muzzle. Walking into the room, she closed the door behind her and made her way up the stairs. Returning her thoughts to a memory, she was horrified that her sister had been learning defensive spells, from Twilight herself no less--the best friend who had promised her that she would only be studying levitation spells. ‘I completely understand if the circumstances were necessary… but why does my precious little sister need to learn such violent magic?’

The answer was obvious. But that ‘creature’ was nowhere near Ponyville or at least hopefully so. Either way, the fashionista would rather not have her one and only sister study spells that could harm others. Opening the door to her sister’s room, she smiled as she spotted her resting underneath the covers of her bed. Gently pushing the door further open, she quietly walked up to the side of her sister’s bed, pressing a hoof to Sweetie’s side and softly shaking her. “Sweetie Belle… time to get up, dear.”

Sweetie sighed and scrunched up her muzzle. Rarity pulled her hoof away as she noticed tears dripped down the left side of her muzzle. “Sweetie… please, wake up darling.” Rarity leaned closer, nuzzling her sister’s neck gently as she tried to wake her up.

Sweetie slowly opened her eyes. As she met her gaze, she wrapped her hooves around Rarity’s neck. Rarity had definitely gone through this before. There had been a couple of times when she would try and wake Sweetie up but it took multiple attempts before she would finally wake up.

Rarity returned the favor, gently wrapping her hooves around her younger sister. When she heard the filly quietly cry, she ran a hoof through her mane and tried to calm her down. “It’s okay, Sweetie. Your big sister’s here. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about.”

It was the most she could do to help comfort her sister. Sweetie Belle unfortunately had the terrifying privilege to see what would happen to a pony who was impregnated by a Xenomorph. Even worse, the pony she saw become a host for that disgusting and foul creature was Rarity. It was an event she wished her younger sibling could just forget altogether, and even she desired to be rid of these unholy and grotesque scenes replaying in her mind.

Lifting a hoof up, Rarity gently grabbed her sister’s shoulder and pulled away. “Are you going to be alright, Sweetie Belle?”

Sweetie looked up with her tear-filled eyes, rubbing her nose with a hoof and sniffling. “I… I guess so.” Rarity never hurt so much in her life to hear the pain that emanated from her sister. It had felt like she was finally getting better, but it seemed now that she was going back to how she was before, and quite frankly, it felt like Sweetie was almost right back where she started.

Letting go of her shoulder, Rarity gently lifted Sweetie’s muzzle before asking, “Do you want to talk about the dream you had?” She received a slow and shaky nod. Sighing, she smiled in hopes of keeping her sister calm. “That’s alright. I understand that it… was not a fun dream, was it?”

Sweetie nodded again, turning her attention to the ground as she looked away. This was getting them nowhere fast, Rarity thought; she decided it might be best to get her going. “Well… Sweetie. I’m going to ask you something here, but please do refrain from arguing, okay?”

“W-why? Is something happening?” Sweetie murmured, hesitantly bringing her gaze back up to her sister’s.

“Well… not at the moment, currently. But you see, Princess Celestia has asked me and my friends to go look into something. Seeing as how that this could take all day, possibly, I need you to pack just a few things and head on over to our parent’s house.” This was no surefire plan, but it would help keep Rarity at ease if Sweetie was someplace safe for the time being.

“But… Rarity…” Sweetie flattened her ears, the bed shaking slightly.

“Sweetie Belle, listen. I promise I--”

“But I don’t want you to leave!” Rarity flinched at the tone her younger sister used. “Please, don’t go.” Seeing Sweetie in such a pathetic state was disheartening. She herself didn’t want to leave the poor filly to be alone, but her friends were counting on her to be there. "That dream I had... i-it was about you." Rarity's eyes widened. "I... s-saw what happened to that pony, Kettlepot. And then in m-my dreams... h-he was replaced with y-you..." Rarity felt Sweetie's grip tighten. "I-I don't want that to happen to you..."

“Sweetie… I wish I could stay. But this mission Princess Celestia informed me about requires a mare who’s keen on attention to detail. I understand my friends are good about that in their own ways, but I don’t see them getting very far without my help.” The poor thing. It was no wonder that her dear sister was so frightened of her leaving.

“I don’t want you to go, because Mom and Dad don’t understand what I’ve been through… what we went through…” Sweetie pushed her muzzle into her older sister’s shoulder, Rarity feeling the cold drips of sorrow staining into her fur. “I-I don’t want to lose you… I d-don’t want my big s-sister to d-disappear.”

The sentiment itself was heartwarming. Rarity’s smile brightened a little as a few tears of her own escaped her. “I know, Sweetie. I understand how you feel.” What her little sister said was true. Their parents did not understand what they had gone through, and it did annoy her to great lengths when they tried to compare her situation to something that would have been easier to bear. “But I am afraid that I cannot stay.”

As Sweetie went to protest, Rarity brought a hoof to her lips, silencing her little sister. After her sister stopped trying to speak, she rested her forehead against her sibling’s, closing her eyes as she spoke. “However… I’m not going to go away forever, Sweetie Belle. It will only be a short while until I return, alright?”

Pulling away from her younger sister, she watched Sweetie nod before wrapping her hooves around Rarity’s barrel. She couldn’t help but let out a tiny sigh, turning her attention to the outside world. What she wouldn’t give to just completely forget about that moment in life, that terrifying and excruciating thought of carrying something so foul inside her body. She only had hope that there was no more ‘creatures’ to be found at the facility she and her friends were heading to.

“Nyx!” Twilight shook her head as she heard her voice echo through the castle hallways. The response was only silence. Twilight frowned as she trotted down a hallway. “Nyx! I need to talk to you for a moment. Nyx!?” Still not a peep to be heard from her adopted daughter. ‘Where could she be? Is she asleep?’

Her ears swiveled as she heard a faint noise. Stopping her trot, she focused in on the noise for a few moments to hear nothing but silence. “Mom!” As she heard the yell, she raced to a sprint at the desperation in her daughter’s voice.

“Nyx! What’s going on!?” Twilight yelled back as she ran up to her daughter’s door, threw it open and scanned the room. “Nyx? Where are y… ahhh!” She screamed as she saw the nightmare standing at the end of the room, poised in a lunging position. She quickly hid back around a corner, breathing in erratic motions and bringing a hoof to her chest. If the creature was in there, Nyx was in the most immediate danger. “Don’t worry, Nyx. I’m going to get rid of this freak of nature!”

“Mom, wait!” Twilight heard her daughter call out, but ignored her and fired a beam at where the Xenomorph stood. The ball of light phased through the nightmare and hit the wall behind it, the image turning to static before the picture became clear once more. She blinked before seeing strands of light emanating from the device she had in her possession. She walked over to the device and looked at the creature shown in the holographic image. That same beast was responsible for all this, and could still be alive to cause even more pain. The light faded away as she turned off the device, the image disappearing with it.

She sighed and turned around to see her daughter shaking as she crawled out from under her bed, a frown of her own as she sniffled. ‘Nyx... ‘ Seeing those tears drip down her muzzle was heartwrenching, but she couldn’t understand why her daughter would disobey a rule.

“M-mom… I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to break the rule of watching what was on the device. B-but I was just so curious about it that I… I…” Nyx quickly ran up to her mother, hugging her and quietly sobbing into Twilight’s shoulder.

“Nyx… I’m sorry you had to see all that… I’m so sorry.” However furious Twilight was with Nyx, she couldn’t let that frustration get the better of her. What she had seen was just terrible, even if Nyx shouldn’t have gotten onto the information the device held in the first place. Pulling away, she wiped the tears from her daughter’s muzzle. “...How much of it did you see?”

Nyx sniffled again. “I… I saw everything. Even the stuff before and after the part I saw that month ago... when that horse was killed. I just got so tired of being left in the dark that I… let my curiosity get the better of me.”

Twilight blinked, looking down to the ground. “I wanted to keep you safe… from the information that was held in this device here.” She pointed to the electronic item, hovering it next to her as her frown deepened. “I realize that this holds so many dark secrets… secrets that nopony else should ever have to know.” It was about high time that this was gone, maybe even going far as destroying it to hide any reminders of the past.

‘But… what about April? Should I just forget what happened to her?’ April, as Twilight had come to learn, was one of the more unfortunate victims of this disastrous event. She may have been one of the humans, but she had come from a hard life, and she had gone through more pain than anyone else, from her father dying to her mother becoming an addict of alcohol. There would be no forgetting the female human, especially after finding her body impaled in the spaceship that had brought the Xenomorph to their world.

Returning her attention to her daughter, she leaned into her and kissed her forehead. “I’m glad that you told the truth. So to keep this from ever happening again, I’ll take this to Canterlot and keep it within the archives so nopony else can learn the dark secrets within this device.”

She nodded, wrapping her hooves around Twilight again. “I’m sorry… I just wanted to know. I didn’t realize how bad the video was.”

Twilight shushed her daughter, running a hoof through her mane. “It’s okay. You’re not in trouble for this.” Having seen the video herself, Twilight knew that was punishment enough, especially since Nyx had not relapsed into the former stage that Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were unfortunately experiencing.

Standing up, she pulled away from her daughter. “Now I want you to gather a few things from your room. Princess Celestia is having me and the girls go over to an island to investigate a facility. I don’t want to leave you here alone, so I thought it might be best to bring you over to your grandparents’ house.” Nyx smiled and nodded, going about her room and collecting a few items before standing in front of Twilight with a small one-sided saddlebag. “You ready to go?”

Nyx lost her smile as the frown returned. “The facility you’re going to… does this have anything to do with the creature that was in the video?”

Twilight was rather surprised that she would ask her a question like this, but the frown on her own muzzle didn’t deny the truth. “Y-yes… unfortunately. I can’t go into details, Nyx, but it’s not good.”

Instead of pursuing the thought any further, she wrapped her hooves around her mother again, Twilight closing her eyes and feeling a few tears escape her own lidded eyes. “Please… be careful, Mom. I don’t want to lose you…”

“I… I know, Nyx.” Kneeling down, she pecked her daughter’s cheek with another kiss and smiled. “Don’t worry… I’m coming back.” She only got a nod in reply from her daughter. She stood back up and walked alongside her daughter as they exited the castle. As they walked to the bridge, Twilight looked over her shoulder and took a long stare at her home one last time. Whether this was the last time she saw this place again was unknown. But she promised herself that this wasn’t her end and that she would return to her family and friends.

Turning back to the front, she saw Princess Celestia waiting alongside Rarity, who smiled as they saw the two coming up. “Hello there, Twilight.” As they approached, she giggled as she lowered herself to Nyx’s level. “And it’s good to see my little angel, Nyx.” The filly laughed as she hugged her. Rarity looked up to Twilight as she embraced the little filly. “Did you happen to see where Applejack was, by any chance?”

As Twilight went to answer, she heard hoofsteps behind her. She turned around to see her friend trotting up to them. “Ah’m here. Took a little longer thanks ta mah dang shoulder. Everythin’ go alright with yer family as well?”

Rarity affirmed with a nod. “Sweetie Belle is safe with our parents. She should be fine, I hope.”

“That’s good ta hear.” Applejack returned the nod, looking to see Twilight and Nyx. “And what about you two? Where’s Nyx goin’ ta go with… well, with Spike gone?”

Twilight frowned at the mention of her number one assistant’s name. “I decided it might be best to take Nyx to my parent’s house. She’ll be fine there while we go to the island. Everything alright with the other Apples, Applejack?”

Tipping her hat a little, Applejack frowned. “Yah could say that.”

Seeing Applejack’s frown, Twilight decided it was best to not press further into the matter. “So.” She looked up to Celestia as her former teacher spoke. “Is everypony ready to head back to Canterlot?”

They all nodded. Celestia closed her eyes and her horn lit up in a gold light aura. Twilight turned to see Ponyville, taking in the town’s scenery and look one last time. This town was a place she considered home, far more than she did Canterlot, even though it was her birthplace. There were so many memories, many more good than bad, even if the terrible event caused by the Xenomorph had affected her friends and herself, both mentally and physically. She just hoped that both she and her friends could return after this investigation. In a flash, she disappeared along with the others in a light gold flash, with the last moment for the girls to relish in the thought of their home. They all hoped they would come out of this alive… and not become more broken than before.

Chapter IX: Thoughts For Review ~ Part I

View Online

Shadows moved over the vast sea as the sun reflected off the surface of the blue water, its rays of light warming the tide. The ocean’s waves rippled and drifted along as the strong winds whistled past four carriages that were flying over the neverending tides of aqua. These carriages flew above the sea, the largest one being pulled along by four pegasi in golden armor that gleamed from the light of the sun, the three smaller ones being tugged across the sky by two other pegasi who wore the same uniform, signifying them as members of the Royal Guard.

Their cargo that they hauled over the ocean contained the group that was being flown to an island located some distance off the coast of Equestria which rested on the border between their home and The Crystal Empire. An hour had passed since the beginning of their journey to the Neighland-Yupony facility that sat on this island, which was not located on any Equestrian map Princess Celestia could find except for their up-to-date atlas in the conference room. As the trip went by, Rarity stared out at the vast expanse of water, a hoof resting against her chin, and scanned the sea below her. She sat with her back slouched.

She gulped, licking her lips as she waited to arrive at the destination. Her mouth felt dry, and she swallowed more of her saliva to alleviate the unbearable dryness. It was not the salty air that had absorbed all the fluids inside her mouth, although the taste of sodium did leave a flavor that she disliked. It was rather the thoughts that spun in her mind about the creature that she would never name again that gave her a case of cottonmouth.

Ever since the tragic event that this monster had caused last month, Rarity had done her best to suppress any thoughts about that nightmare. Although she was fairly successful in that attempt, the beast had always managed to find a way back into her subconscious, wreaking havoc in her dreams and causing her nothing but night terrors. When information led to the possible resurrection of this animal, not to mention that it was the parasite that was implanted into her own body, she almost blacked out from the shocking news.

Now she and her friends were on their way to a Neighland-Yupony facility that was allegedly located on an island out in the middle of nowhere. Rarity did not enjoy the thought of coming face to face with this creature at all again. But if it was alive, then she and her friends would see to it that it was killed once and for all.

“What’s taking these ponies so long?” Rarity flicked her ears up, sitting upright as she turned to face Rainbow Dash while the blue pegasus grumbled. She crossed her fore legs and slouching in her seat, her eyes squinting a little as her friend glared out into the endless expanse of water. “I could’ve already be there by the time these guys even showed up, even with this strong headwind.”

“Just hold yer horses there, sugarcube. I’m just as anxious as the next pony ta get ta this island, but Princess Celestia told us that we have ta be patient.” Applejack leaned leaning to the right side of her seat. “This is an investigation we’re conductin’, and we have ta look like a formal inspection group. Otherwise we all might raise suspicion if we all just charge in. That’d be more of a mess than trying to herd cats into a corral.”

“But the sun is almost all ready for Celestia to lower it, and I’m not looking forward to spending the night over there, especially if they have that alien somewhere in their facility.” Rainbow threw her hooves into the air.

“How do we know it’s actually in there? If it is, then that gives us all the more of a reason ta get this varmit. But if there’s not a single trace of the animal, then there’s no need ta go barkin’ up the wrong tree.”

“She has a point, Rainbow Dash,” Spitfire said, sitting across from Rarity. “We have to proceed with caution. Otherwise we’ll be sending the wrong message to these ponies.”

“Applejack and Spitfire are right, Rainbow Dash,” Rarity said. In truth, she hoped there was no trace of that creature she would not name. Yet, if there was such a chance that it was there, then hopefully that would be all the evidence they would need to indict this company. “We simply cannot infringe on this facility’s grounds whenever we want to, even with Princess Celestia being the head of this investigation. This has to be a precise and orderly survey that has to follow certain regulations that any inspection must proceed by.”

Rainbow Dash sighed, rolling her eyes as she shook her head. “Fine, fine. I’ll go along with this ‘inspection’ that we have to follow.”

“Yah goin’ ta be alright there, Rarity?” She opened one eye and looked at her friend, seeing the farmmare’s eyes glimmer for a moment. Was Applejack this worried about her? “Everypony knows how much yah despise that critter. Ever since yah were put into that ‘situation’...” Why did everypony have to constantly bring up her impregnation? It was the worst moment in her life, and Rarity, quite honestly, was sick of being reminded about it. “Yah’ve been growin’ distant and hidin’ away in yer boutique ever since that day happened.”

“What about you, Applejack?” Rarity retorted. She threw her a venomous look. “Everypony else knows that you have convinced yourself that there is no longer any free time for you. I may stay in my boutique all day and work on my projects, but you are no better than I, working on your farm all day when you can arrange a simple ‘get-together’ if you wanted to.”

“Hold on now, you two. There’s no reason to start blaming each--”

“But that’s different. Mah brother was killed by that monster. Ah ain’t got anymore time ta fool around ‘cause we’re short hoofed as it is.”

“Rarity’s got a point there, AJ,” Rainbow Dash added. “You never have time for any of us now. I’ve tried getting you to arrange a day off of Sweet Apple Acres just to hang out, but you always say there’s no time for any nonsense.”

“Look here, ya’ll.” Applejack’s voice rose up as her eyes darted between the two ponies. “Ah’ve been workin’ my flank off till the roosters are crowin’ each sunset thanks ta mah damaged shoulder.” She pointed to her right shoulder, where the Xenomorph had almost completely ripped her right fore leg out. “There’s no time ta fool around because Ah have too much on mah plate ta do as it is.” She moved her gaze to Rainbow. “What about you, RD? Yah never seem ta quit workin’ on yer skills and practically drainin’ the energy out of yah until you can barely even stand up.”

“I almost lost Fluttershy to that freak, Applejack!” Rainbow Dash flared her wings slightly as she glared at the farmmare. “I was too slow and that almost cost us Fluttershy. I promised her that I wouldn’t ever be sluggish again. Even if I push myself to my limits, I know that’s a sign telling me that I’m getting faster.”

“That sign, dear, is you overworking your body. You cannot seriously think any of that is healthy for you. Surely there must be some way that doesn’t involve you injuring yourself in the process of working out.”

“But how else am I going to succeed in getting faster!? You tell me that, Rarity!” Rainbow yelled.

“Enough! All of you!” Spitfire intervened before the argument could take a turn for the worse. “I may have not gone through any of the events that were described in the newspaper, but I can see that there is no need for all of you to bicker at one another.” She looked first at the two ponies to her left, then at Rarity who had turned her eyes away from everypony else. “Right now, we have a job to do, and that is to survey this Neighland-Yupony facility and make sure that this creature isn’t in the wrong hooves. Not only that, but we have to see if they are responsible for all the disappearances. Okay?”

Silence gained its foothold over the four as their argument had finally ceased. Rarity had felt quite a blow to her heart from these accusations; she guessed that the others felt that way as well. She sighed as she moved her gaze to the world outside the carriage. Truthfully, she hoped with all her heart that there was no creature there, and that Blueblood’s journal was filled with lies and didn’t really allude to any evidence that the monster would be alive.

“Woohoo!” Pinkie Pie yelled as she bounced up and down in her seat, a bright smile on her face. Next to her were Soarin’ and Fluttershy. “This trip is going to be so much fun!” She cried again, clapping her hooves together. “Aren’t you both excited? I mean, we get to head somewhere else for a change. Of course it may involve a nasty and scary monster we all thought was dead, but what’s stopping us from having a good time, right!?”

While Pinkie Pie was ecstatic to go someplace else for a change, even if it was an island just off the coast of Equestria, Fluttershy herself had worried through this whole trip. It still felt like the events that took place only a month ago happened just yesterday, and now they were being called to action in order to see whether these Neighland-Yupony officials had this unspeakable creature within their confinements.

“I’m more nervous than anything. What if that thing really is back? I don’t think I could handle going through another tragic event like what happened last month.”

“Aw cheer up, Fluttershy.” Pinkie Pie rested a hoof on Fluttershy. “If it’s anything like that week, then old Pinks will be here to keep your smile bright and help you stay cheerful.”

“Don’t worry over it, Fluttershy. You’re going to be fine.” Soarin waveda hoof and leaned back in his seat. “All of your friends are here, and Princess Celestia, the Royal Guard and the Wonderbolts are sure to be enough if something does get out of hoof.”

“Oh, of course, Soarin. I’m just afraid of what will happen to everypony else. Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Rarity and Twilight were all affected so horribly. I can’t imagine how they would feel, knowing that the alien we all faced is still alive,” Fluttershy said as she faced the stallion, her eyes glimmering with fear as she worried about her friends.

Pinkie flattened her ears as she looked at her troubled friend. After the events of what had happened last month, she had done all she could to keep the spirits alive in her companions. Although it wasn’t an easy task, she was able to maintain that cheerful nature that the others seemed to lose. However, she herself had kept some of that stress away, knowing that it was her duty to make others laugh. “So long as everypony remains together, I don’t think there’s an obstacle that our friendship can’t overcome.” Pinkie’s smile brightened, and Fluttershy nodded with a smile.

“Besides, the problem we should be worrying about is what happened to all those ponies who went missing.” Soarin brought the conversation back to why they were heading to this facility. Pinkie Pie, as well as the others, knew ponies were disappearing; however, the reason for these ponies vanishing into thin air still remained a mystery. “The only evidence we have of the culprit is a badge, but I don’t have to be an expert to know that it isn’t enough evidence to blame these ponies.”

“So… what’s it going to take if they really are guilty of kidnapping?” Fluttershy moved her hooves on her stomach after asking, her focus never moving from the stallion.

Soarin moved a hoof to his chin as he thought, looking up to the ceiling before answering. “It has to be something that is conclusive. Whatever evidence we can gather would ultimately help us in the end.”

Pinkie Pie looked out the carriage. “Well, whatever we’re planning on doing, I hope everypony else’s experience doesn’t hurt us.”

“What do you mean by that, Pinkie Pie?”

“There’s an odd vibe coming from the other carriage: the one that Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Spitfire are sitting in,” Pinkie Pie murmured as she pointed to the coach. “They’re still all upside-down from the incident. I don’t think putting them in the same chariot is such a good idea.”

“Why do you think so? It’s not like they’ve ever been at each other’s throats before,” Fluttershy pointed out.

“I don’t… know. It’s not my Pinkie Sense. I can just feel it I guess..” Pinkie shrugged, looking back out to the other carriage that flew some distance away from their own. Ultimately, she had done her best in trying to keep the spirits of her friends up, giving them reasons to laugh and trying to make sure their fires didn’t burn out from the waves of tragedy crashing down upon them.

A pressure rested on her shoulder. She turned to face Fluttershy. “I think that they’ll all be fine, Pinkie Pie. I don’t believe that they would argue over their pasts.”

“You're right about that, Fluttershy.” Pinkie Pie murmured. ‘I really hope so.’

Pinkie Pie, unfortunately, was half right. While her friends had ceased their bickering in the carriage directly to her right, the first team leading the coaches had flown up in front, a much larger mode of transportation that gleamed brighter in the evening sunlight. Four pegasi pulled the royal car above the sea, the headwinds slowing them down only so much as they kept their gazes forward, unmoving as they continued on towards the island that held the Neighland-Yupony facility.

Inside the much larger coach sat four ponies, separated by a few feet within this sizeable car. The two sections were divided, as the height of the first set of seats was raised up above the second. There, Daring Do sat adjacent from Princess Celestia, who was asking questions on the adventurer’s mission.

“Who were your suppliers for the mission? I can only assume somepony wealthy had to assist your trip to the Tenochtitlan Basin,” Celestia asked. She sat perfectly still in her seat as she gazed at the pegasus, her eyes glimmering with a calmness that continued to unnerve Daring.

“The pony who helped us get there is named Fancy Pants. He arranged an airship for us to take to the basin. There, me and my team went along to find Dr. Caballeron and retrieve the Xenomorph, which only Crystal Rune knew at the time.” Speaking the name of her deceased friend made her heart skip a beat. She glanced to the princess in front of her, seeing her shake only a little. Her eyes flickered for a moment, that sadness even hurting her as well, yet her composed expression didn’t show that pain dwelling inside her.

“Was Fancy Pants aware of this at the time he lent you his help?”

Daring brought a hoof to her chin, thinking for a moment before bringing it back to her side and answering. “Not that I know of. But I don’t believe so because he did ask me what I was being sent after. If he didn’t know it was the Xenomorph, then he was being used like the rest of us.”

“I see…” The elder princess closed her eyes and sighed, then soon became quiet.

Daring shuffled her wings, the awkwardness of this situation seeping in as she waited for the regal pony to speak again. However, Princess Celestia was deep in thought. She was angered and hurt that her own nephew would betray her, at her ends as to why he had to involve so many ponies to gain what he wanted, costing the lives of those who were dragged into this tragic event. She opened her eyes and murmured, “What about your friends? Were they aware of what Dr. Caballeron had?”

“Nopony else except Crystal Rune knew about the Xenomorph. She was the only one aware of its existence at the time.” Daring said, glancing away as she recalled the anger she felt. ‘Yet she turned out better in the end. Why did she have to die like that?’ Daring herself was rather surprised by the way the unicorn had turned out at the end, but it was a change that came too late.

“I hope this question doesn’t bother you, Daring Do.” Daring brought her gaze back to Celestia’s as she spoke. “But what were your friends like?”

Her stomach churned at the thought of recalling her friend’s personalities. When she was rushing back to Canterlot after destroying the facility and the Predator, her friends’ images had never faded away. Knowing that they were dead and to even think about them almost brought her to tears when she was trying to hurry. “Well… there were four ponies in our group,” she began, breathing in and out as she went through by recalling the least painful to the most. “There was an earth pony from Stalliongrad, named Rugged Muzzle. He was the quiet one of the group, never talking and always giving everything and everypony a harsh look.”

“That is to be expected,” Celestia spoke up as she gazed out at the sea. “Ponies from there are always ready to get into a skirmish. There are some who are like us, but I feel that not many of them show their true feelings.”

“Right… he, however, did seem to care for everypony. I just wish he hadn’t died the way he did.” Daring winced at the memory of Crystal and Roughneck arguing after they found Rugged’s headless body left in the Tenochtitlan Basin thanks to the Predator’s spine-chilling obsession with collecting the skulls of its victims. Knowing she had done her best to explain Rugged, she moved onto the next pony. “Then, there was the pegasus from Brumbalia, Black Arrow.”

“I heard you speak his name before… he was a royal guard in Canterlot for quite some time,” Celestia murmured, closing her eyes as her breath faltered at the memory of sending him away.

“Yes… he was a little quiet, but when he did speak, it was usually to get his point across or explain something. He was rather blunt, but he did care for everypony as well.” Daring paused a little, breathing in and out before going on. “The Predator impaled him when Crystal tried to stop the Xenomorph, saving her life by giving his.”

It hurt, knowing that she had discharged Black Arrow. The reason she did was to keep other ponies safe. But to hear his fate, especially saving a former pupil of hers made her regret dismissing him. However, she kept her emotions under control. “I am glad to hear that he put somepony else’s life ahead of his own. It pains me to hear this, but I am grateful he still cared for another pony’s existence.”

An image appeared in Daring Do’s head as she recalled the third pony, seeing the stupid grin of the pony she was closest to. “Then there was another earth pony, Roughneck, who was a very close friend of mine. His life was tragic; he lost his parents to sickness. Two of his older brothers were sent to jail, and the eldest left the family. His little sister was taken away by the Foal Protective Services, and he was left alone in Manehatten.” As Daring spoke, she closed her eyes, shaking her head as she forced the tears to stay inside her eyelids. “He was obnoxious and pretty full of himself. Even if he was a thief, he gave to the poor and wanted to give everypony else’s life a little more light.” She choked a little, her voice catching in her throat before willing herself to go on. “He was killed when the Predator stabbed him. He gave me his daggers that he always carried around, and wanted me to tell his sister that he loved her and missed her so much.”

Daring opened her eyes, shivering as she saw the princess before her rubbing her eyes. Was she really trying this hard to suppress her emotions? “I am sorry for your loss… Daring Do.”

“I… thank you.” Daring nodded, breathing in and out before speaking. “And finally, Crystal Rune, the only unicorn and leader of this group.” She heard a choking cry, focusing back on Celestia. She saw tears leave her eyes, finally seeing this shell of stoicism breaking apart at the mention of a former pupil. “She was definitely the coldest of the group, uncaring and pretty much heartless. But then something changed… she wasn’t the same pony I met before leaving for the mission. She showed me her true personality… caring and kind, intelligent and compassionate. It was like a whole new pony appearing right in front of me.”

“That was how she was before… until Sunset Shimmer said something terrible to her,” Celestia murmured, her voice cracking only slightly as she wiped her eyes again. “I was heartbroken to see her change so dramatically. She reminded me of Twilight, no friends and only looking out to study spells. Sunset changed that around, and the two ponies seemed to have adjusted to the idea of friendship. Yet after Sunset left, Crystal looked so alone and unhappy. I didn’t know what to do, and it was only after graduating did she disappear.” That frown that Daring saw disappeared, being replaced by a sad smile. “I’m glad to hear that she was able to discover the true meaning of friendship… even if it was too late for her to truly understand how these relationships helped one another.”

Daring couldn’t help but wonder if Crystal had managed to survive the Predator’s bomb and if she did find a way out of the crumbling facility. If there was ever a chance that her friend had, she hoped that the mare was safe and sound.

As the adventurer moved her focus to the world outside, Twilight Sparkle looked to the floor beneath her hooves as she had her back to where her friend and former mentor sat. She glanced up as Flash Sentry shifted over to look out at the other carriages. Sitting back here with the stallion was difficult to say the least. She couldn’t figure out why he had taken her brother’s job after his death.

She understood that the Royal Guard were going to appoint a new leader, but why did they have to replace her older sibling so soon? Was all of his effort and work really that meaningless to these ponies? Yet she also couldn’t shake that her brother’s death was still her fault. She and everypony else kept saying that there was no way that they could have gotten him out of there in time and that it was too late for Shining Armor, but a voice kept whispering in her mind that told her actions had caused this. She was the one who had fired the spell to put him out of his misery. She was the one that had killed him, leaving poor Cadance to care for the baby on her own. ‘Is it… because of me?’

“Twilight?” Flash said. “Are you alright?”

She looked up, fumbling her hooves together as she murmured, “Yeah, I’m fine.”

It was quiet, a silence overshadowing the two ponies before Flash spoke up again. “Do you want to talk with me about it?”

“I… I don’t feel like talking.” Twilight curled up, not bothering to face him as she talked.

“Look… is it about me getting promoted to captain of the Royal Guard?” Flash asked as leaned forward in his seat. “Because I’m sorry for what you’re feeling. I know how wonderful and heroic your brother was, but the Guard decided it was time for us to declare another leader, and they chose me because I was best suited for the job.”

‘Best suited?’ “But why did they pick you after it was only a week since Shining Armor’s death? Couldn’t they have waited for a little more before deciding?” She inquired, finally giving her full attention to the stallion.

“I… don’t know why. It’s just that they decided the time for mourning was over.”

‘The time for mourning was over? Who do these ponies think they are!?’ “Time for mourning was over? Was his actions and accomplishments really that meaningless to the Royal Guard? Do these ponies even care about my brother?”

“Yes, yes they do, Twilight,” Flash reassured her, gently cupping Twilight’s right hoof with his left as he continued. “We all cared for Shining Armor. He was one of the greatest captains we could ever have asked for. There’s no mistaking that. I… don’t know why they picked me but they did.” So this was how her brother was rewarded for his acts of valor and bravery, she thought, by being replaced with another pony after the first week of his passing. “I know how much pain you must be feeling… but I’m here to help if I can, okay?”

“Help? You think you can help me??” Twilight spat, all attempts to remain calm flying out the window as she swatted his hoof away. “I lost my brother… He was one of the few ponies I was ever really close to, and you think you know how much it hurts to lose somepony close to you?”

“But Twilight, I--”

“How dare you try and compare yourself to me! You don’t know the pain I’m going through, Flash,” Twilight said. “Since when have you ever lost somepony so close to you?” Acting as if he knew how terrifying the events of Ponyville were... It was sickening.

“Look. I’m trying to be nice and help you here,” Flash fired back. “I want to help by cheering you up. Why are you trying to push me away?”

If only he could understand. If only he knew how far she had gone to hide from this. To escape the reality that she had killed her brother. The ache in her chest had never left since that day. Yet he couldn’t. He had not seen see a family member die right in front of him. He had not watched as ponies died right in front of him. “Why? Because you’re just like the others. You think that this problem is easy and can be fixed, but you. You. Weren’t. There. You can’t understand the situation I was in. You can’t understand how awful it was to kill one of my own!”

“Maybe not, but at least be thankful he didn’t die a more painful death. You ended up doing the job for that creature.”

Twilight brought a hoof to her mouth. ‘He doesn’t care… he really doesn’t...’

Flash seemed he realized what he said too, extending a hoof out as he said. “Twilight… I didn’t mean to--”

She turned away, moving over to the farthest corner away from Flash and facing her back to the stallion. All her suspicions may have not been correct, but it still hurt anyway. She heard the stallion mutter something, but she didn’t pay attention as she shook slightly, tears trickling down her eyes as she silently cried. Twilight didn't foresee that this trip was going to be a long one, but she had never expected something like this to happen. This expedition was to be a tedious and depressing adventure, and she had to be next to Flash for all of it. For now, all she could do was wait. Wait and get off the coach as soon as possible. Hopefully this trip wouldn’t be much longer. Hopefully, she thought.

Chapter IX: Thoughts For Review ~ Part II

View Online

A bump shook Twilight a little. She opened her eyes slowly and she scanned the carriage to see it slightly shifting around. She looked to see Flash awakening as well, his eyes opening as he let out a quiet yawn. As he turned to face her, she looked away and frowned, turning to the ocean outside her window. After what he said, she could barely look at him and see the same gentle and kind stallion from before.

It seemed that this job was more important than anything else. ‘Then again… it probably would have never worked in the first place. I’m a princess now, and he’s just a guard. Our titles are completely different from one another.’ She closed her eyes, breathing in as she couldn’t forget that her brother, Shining Armor, and her sister-in-law, Princess Cadance, were in that same predicament. ‘But… that worked itself out. Flash and me… I don’t think it was ever meant to be.’

Another bump rocked the carriage. Twilight looked out to see the waves far below their royal coach rising and crashing on the ocean of water. She turned in her seat and looked up to where the other passengers were. “Princess Celestia, what’s causing all of this turbulence? Surely we’re too far from the clouds to be experiencing this type of shaking.”

It was silent for a moment before Celestia replied. “Everything is alright, Twilight. The pegasi flying this carriage tell me that we are approaching the island. The wind coming off the landmass is causing our carriages to sway like this.”

‘We’re almost there? How long was I asleep?’ While she didn’t need to know the answer, she was glad that they were finally here. Some of that joyfulness was exaggerated, due only to the fact of what she was hoping they wouldn’t encounter while searching this island’s facility.

Twilight felt a sudden shift in her weight as her body lifted up slightly. She looked back out to the evening-sun-filled sky and spotted rocks jutting up from the ocean, the waves roaring as they crashed against the unmovable mass of earth. A light appeared in the corner of her eye; she turned and gasped at a large platform with blinking lights. The structure’s columns were built into the cliffside of this island, stretching out across the open swirling mass of water down below that continued to crash into the side of the island.

It wasn’t a moment later that she felt the carriage touch down, the coach shifting again as the wheels screeched to a stop beneath her hooves. The landing could have been a little more gentle, she thought, but she was glad that there was something the carriage could come down on instead of somewhere else in the middle of the island. The wind outside the window began to slowly dissipate as the carriage finally came to a halt. “Twilight Sparkle, Flash Sentry?” Twilight looked back up to see Celestia. “Let me and Daring Do get out first. If nothing happens, you two can get out as well.”

The front doors opened, the carriage shifting slightly as the two ponies stepped out. As they did, she felt a hoof touch her right foreleg. “Listen… I want to apologize for earlier,” said Flash. “I didn’t mean to say--”

“Don’t touch me.” Twilight swatted his hoof away. What he had said earlier was just too much. He crossed the line when he said what she had done was ‘good’ thing. How could he know what was a good thing? That was completely out of line.

She heard a hoof knock on her door: it was Daring Do, who nodded at her. Opening her carriage door, she stepped out, and her eyes widened at the building towering over the carriage she was in. “Wow…” She could only say, shivering just a little at the size and sight of it.

The building had to be at least fifteen stories or more, with windows showing where every single room was located. Near the top was a massive room above the others. It had a grayish blue color to it, with lights shining from the building itself. The sheer size and structure of it was something she couldn’t help but be astonished by. “That’s… amazing…”

“Don’t get too excited about it.” Twilight turned to see a frown on Daring Do’s muzzle. “This is Neighland-Yupony. This could all be for show just to keep us distracted from the real goal.” It was obvious at how Daring felt. How Twilight felt? The deepening frown on her muzzle told the same story.

Shadows flew over her; she looked up to see the other three carriages descending onto the landing platforms, all landing with relative ease as well. Looking forward, she quickly caught up with Celestia and walked beside her. Celestia leaned closer and murmured. “Is everything alright? You and Flash were getting a little vocal back there.”

Twilight’s brow furrowed at the mention of his name, and she glanced away. “I’m fine. We just… had a disagreement.” A disagreement wasn’t the correct word to describe the situation, but it would do for now.

Celestia stood straight up again, glancing away with a faint frown. As they continued to head towards the building, Twilight smiled as her friends and everypony else finally joined the group. “Hey, everypony, how are you all doing?”

Applejack glanced her way, a frown on her muzzle. “Could be better.”

“Me and Fluttershy had a blast!” Pinkie Pie cheered as she bounced along, Fluttershy following alongside her friend.

Between the two there, Pinkie and Fluttershy seemed to be doing well. But when she looked to Applejack and the other three, she couldn’t help but see them avoiding each other’s gaze. ‘What happened on the way here?’ Whatever they must’ve said, it was enough to make them refrain from speaking. She could only sigh, hoping that whatever arguments and thoughts they had could be held for the moment so they could get this over and done with.

Looking up, she saw an arched bridge connecting the platform to the island. She glanced over the side and saw a long way down to the ocean. It was quite the drop; she was glad they had stable ground beneath their hooves. She felt a hoof nudge her shoulder, turning to face Daring Do, who pointed to the pillars above them. There, she saw guards stationed above them, watching their every move as they continued to follow the group’s movements. “It seems they’ve been expecting us,” Princess Celestia murmured, keeping her gaze forward.

“That could be a good or bad thing, you know,” Daring whispered as she kept her attention on them. “What if this is all some setup, and they have a trap waiting for us?”

“Would this Bishop Neighland really try something like that? We haven’t even done anything.” Rarity eyed the guards as well, her eyes darting from one side to another.

Rainbow Dash only let out a quiet laugh. “He can try.”

“Enough,” Celestia murmured, glancing back at Rainbow and the others. “We are here to survey. Not to start any confrontations.” She returned her attention to the building ahead. “So long as we approach this like a proper investigation, he won’t suspect a thing.”

It was bad enough that the tension was high, but with her friends beginning to get at each other's throats, Twilight could only imagine how long this charade could last. She heard a gasp, turning to see Rarity’s eyes glimmer. “Do you all see what I see?”

Twilight turned to look at the building ahead, only for her mouth to fall agape as well. With a closer look, this building stood as tall as some of the buildings in Manehattan. Up ahead, she could hear the bustling of ponies as hooves echoed in the courtyard, with other unicorns, earth ponies, and even pegasi in suits. Some even with briefcases as they walked in and out of the building, others going down stone pathways further into the island.

The courtyard itself was filled with trees and benches. What was so odd was this was nothing like the other companies back on the mainland. Here they seemed to care about how this place looked, with ponies in janitor jumpsuits sweeping and cleaning the stone filling this courtyard and the ponies in business suits talking or walking alongside another. The centerpiece, Twilight noticed, was a statue of the pony that she and the others had learned about. “Wow…” Soarin murmured as he stared at the statue. “This stallion sure has an ego if he has a statue of himself sitting in front of their main building.”

“You gotta admit, though,” Spitfire spoke up as she took a step forward. “This guy sure knows how to keep everything in mint condition.”

“It’s really beautiful, what with all the flowers he’s growing around his building.” Fluttershy murmured, smiling as she gazed at the trees and plant life.

Rainbow let out a sigh. “Okay, can we move on already? We came here to do something, remember?”

“Of course.” Celestia glanced back, nodding to everypony. “Let us go, everypony. We shall begin our investigation once we get inside.” The group picked up their pace again. As they walked by, ponies around them quickly bowed to the presence of two princesses; Twilight faintly grinned at the gestures. As they reached the staircase, she saw a light flicker in the corner of her eye; when she turned, she saw a dark yellow aura surrounding a alien-like device on this stallion’s head. He wore a black set of what looked like light armor and a visor over his eyes. But she was certain that his eyes met hers for what felt like the briefest of moments.

Unable to look away from the device, she split off from the group and approached the stallion. “Excuse me, sir, but what is that--”

“Please keep your distance, princess.” The guard ordered.

She took a few steps back, frowning at the way he spoke. “Can you just please tell me what that device on your head is?”

“I am afraid I cannot, princess. Return with your group and have a good day.” Twilight sighed, deciding it might be best to do follow his directions, even if he was being quite rude.

They stepped inside the building, only to be greeted by the echoes of ponies in their offices and others walking to their own destinations. The evening sun shone through an immensely tall glass window at the back of the building. But as she looked up, she was greeted with a statue that seemed to capture the blazing star in the window. “Hey Princess Celestia.” Spitfire shouldered her gently. “I think this guy worships you or something.”

Celestia couldn’t help but let out a giggle. “Well, it is quite a sight to see the sun reflected on the inside of the statue.” But as Twilight moved her gaze to Daring, she was shaking her head and murmuring something to herself.

Taking the chance to scan the area, she found that the area was decorated with fancy and elegant furniture, pictures and other furnishings that surprisingly made her feel at home. It was one surprise after another. This company could make it seem like a second home. Maybe this company wasn’t bad at all? Maybe it didn’t hide the awful creature. ‘But there’s still so much uncertainty. We’ll find out when this investigation is over.’

She returned her attention to the front to see a mare behind a check-in desk, busily writing away with a pen in her light purple aura. She looked up, a bright smile upon her muzzle as she bowed down. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

“Thank you.” Celestia smiled. “Can you please call Bishop Neighland? We would like to speak to him.”

“Why, certainly. I’ll just contact him and request his presence.” She pressed a button that lit up green. “While we wait, is there anything you would like me to tell you about this facility here?”

“Well, there is one question I would like to ask. How long has Neighland-Yupony been running?” Celestia asked, a smile still showing on her features.

“That is certainly a question I can answer.” The mare cleared her throat. “Neighland-Yupony has been in operations for about thirty-one years, but at its earliest stages of infancy, it was only known as ‘Technological Institutions’.”

“Geez, talk about a stallion who does nothing else,” Rainbow murmured to Rarity, Twilight turning back to shush them and stop her from being rude.

“Bishop Neighland started this company at the age of twenty-two, but the company didn’t grow until eleven years later. After which, it became known as ‘Neighland Industries’ for the longest of time. It was only after a meeting with the owner of a Neighponese technology facility known as ‘Yupony Corporation’ that we became ‘Neighland-Yupony Corporation.’”

“She is right, you know.” Everypony turned to see an aged stallion walking down a set of stairs to their right. Twilight’s eyes widened slightly as she saw who it was. The stallion walking down, the one who spoke in a gruff voice, was Bishop Neighland himself. “None of this would have ever been possible if not for the ambitious nature that I strived for, making new advances in technology other companies could only dream of.”

Princess Celestia stepped forward, meeting Neighland face to face. “It is good to see the stallion responsible for creating such a prosperous company.”

He bowed down, chuckling all the while. “And it is an honor to have our most prestigious majesty meet me inside my home facility.” Standing back up, he smiled. “You are truly an inspiration, Princess Celestia. For not only the strides you’ve made in adjusting the laws in the fine country of Equestria, but for also having implemented a form of democracy in our government, one that has not been seen for quite some time.”

“Well, I do try my best. I would like to see my little ponies make their own decisions for once, rather than having to rely so heavily on my own opinions to make the choices that they would so desire.”

Another chuckle resonated from Bishop. “Yes. Well, you should be glad there are those who support your cause for something so momentous as this.” He waved to the building around him, turning to face the massive open space behind him. “Progress can only be made by striving to achieve the greatest results. All of this, and future technology could result from such successes.” Walking in a line, he glanced at the group. “We here at Neighland-Yupony make sure to put our best effort into the decisions we make. Our technology is proof of these feats, and I make sure to keep our productivity and effort put into every device at the maximum.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s good to know your company is doing so well,” Daring Do murmured, walking up to the stallion until she was face to face with him. “How about you drop the act so we can get this over with.”

The stallion did not flinch, but seemed to remain perfectly calm. “I am sorry, but have we met?”

Daring stood mouth agape, growling as she frowned. “You know we’ve met before, you piece of--”

“Daring Do, stop this at once,” Celestia ordered, staring at her with a frown. She looked back, her eyes widening before she murmured something under her breath, returning to the others. “I am sorry, Bishop. We were here to investigate a set of rumors. We’re only here to see if there is something here or not.”

“Oh… I see.” He simply stared, but Twilight almost thought she saw his eyes widen just a little, although dismissing it as her imagination. “Anyway, it is all right. I have dealt with ponies such as that mare.” Another fit of grumbling resonated from Daring; Twilight felt like she was being alienated, if not on purpose. “But I can look past this. How would you all like a tour of my facility?”

It was a surprising gesture, but one that everypony didn’t seem to mind. “Then allow these ponies to give you a tour.” He waved to three friendly-faced ponies behind him. “The princesses can come speak with me, as well as my favorite hero, Daring Do of the popular book series.” He smiled as he turned his attention to the others. “As for you all, you can begin the tour. Each of you will go to the three main buildings on this island, and then I shall meet you back at the medical facility.” With that, he ushered the princesses along. Twilight looked back to her friends.

“Don’t worry, Twilight. We’ll all be fine,” Applejack said, waving her goodbye. “Just go along with the others. This shouldn’t be too long of a tour now.” But something felt wrong, Twilight could feel it circling in her mind. Although she was nervous about something going wrong, she decided to ignore it and continue up the stairs. After all, she thought that this would be the time to finally get to the bottom of things.

The roar of an engine echoed throughout the treeline as a pod landed on a cliff surrounded by trees. The engines died down before a blue wave sparked above the metallic frame; the entire craft disappeared in a wave of light until he completely vanished from sight. With a rapid movement, the top opened as the motion made he slightly visible once again. Dust flew off the ground as one of the Predators jumped out of the pod. He flipped his wrist-pad open and pressed a few buttons to disappear from sight.

In a flash of movement, the hunter jumped into the treeline, leaves shaking and falling onto the ground in his wake. Branches swayed in a violent motion as each noise he made gave away his position for the briefest of moments. The blurry figure landed on a large branch and surveyed the vast open field in front of him: a decent view of the entire complex of buildings. He heard movement to his right and glanced to see the heat fluctuation of the leader, and looked to his left and saw the younger sibling crawl towards the end of its perch.

Turning back to the leader, he saw his brother pull up a three-dimensional model of the complex on his wrist-pad. He heard a quiet beep and flipped open the wrist-pad for the model of the complex to appear on his own device. He figured the same happened with the younger brother. He saw the main building light up, which was marked off in a red ‘x’. He shook his head at an annoyed growl from the younger sibling.

He brought his right hand to another one of the buildings, the farthest one to their right, until the leader crossed it off again. A smaller building was outlined on the hologram, then a series of blue arcs surrounded the building. A symbol appeared over it, which he recognized for electricity. The Predator was guessing that their leader desired to take out their ability to turn on the lights first before they attacked. A smart move; yet all the same, risky, since it was almost in the middle of the complex. Possibly where this complex’s security was most active.

He nodded his head, then turned to the younger brother and watched as he reluctantly nodded. With the decision made, he closed his wrist-pad and jumped towards his leader and followed him, ready to begin their raid to reclaim the hunt that was theirs to begin with.

Chapter X: Tourist Destination ~ Part I

View Online

Twilight slightly raised a hoof up to her friends as they all exited in different groups. Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Applejack were in one group with Spitfire and three royal guards behind them, who were being led by what looked like a Neighland scientist. She looked over to the next group, with Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy walking alongside Soarin with another few guards, along with a scientist as well. But watching her friends walk away, she winced. Was this such a good idea to split up in a place that could be completely hostile? She could never forget that mistake she made during the search through the Everfree Forest. That mistake had cost three Royal Guards and nearly killed Applejack and Rainbow Dash. And she knew this could all be a bad idea.

“If you will all follow me, we can continue our discussion in my office.” Bishop ushered the group up the stairs, his guards following close behind as they moved up to the next level.

Hooves echoed in the stairway as Bishop Neighland walked ahead of the group behind him. Twilight stared at the expansive open area in the middle of the building, mouth agape as she marveled at its structure. “Wow…” It still was a surprise of how massive this building was. Sure, it looked a little smaller from the outside, but on the inside it was open. She looked down from the side of the railing, gulping a little at the sight, and shivered while she kind of thought it'd be if she could see the bottom floor. ‘Then again… would I really want to know how far up I am?’

“Indeed.” Bishop glanced over his shoulder. “Here at Neighland-Yupony, we pride ourselves on making sure everything's running smoothly. But we also take care of our surroundings. As you can imagine.” He gestured with a wave to the building surrounding them. “This building we are standing in took a decade to complete. But the results were remarkable.” He chuckled afterwards. “And do not worry. Although the structure appears weak with an open area as you see before you, support beams have been built at the bottom of of this building and on the sides, able to withstand even the strongest earthquakes.”

Daring snorted next to Twilight, shaking her head. “Yeah, this place isn’t that impressive.” Twilight frowned as she heard what Daring said, ruffling her wings as she felt the tension from Daring go up.

‘Just what happened between you and Bishop?’ Whatever Daring experienced, it must have left a bad impression on her. Which was another thing that Twilight and the others barely knew about. After she had returned from this mission she had been sent on, although they had discovered that it was Prince Blueblood who was behind it all, Daring Do had not fully explained what had happened while she was on her adventure. Could it truly have been that bad like she once thought?

The group came up a darkened hallway ending with a door at the far end. Two pony guards stood at the sides of the door, standing still and staring at the group that was in front of them. Another set of ponies that wore the same armor like the pony that had been standing at the front of the administration building. ‘Huh… are these Bishop Neighland’s normal guards?’ Yet Twilight couldn’t help but negate the thought that they weren’t possibly any normal guards of his. And all the while, she could not help but feel odd about them, like she couldn’t trust them with her life.

The stationed guard on the right opened the door, allowing the group to enter the other room. The door closed behind them; Twilight looked back with a quiet sigh. She returned her gaze to the front to see Bishop Neighland setting himself down in a chair behind a desk, grunting a little until he sat up straight with a smile. “Welcome to my humble abode.” He gestured to the room around them.

It was quite fancy, Twilight had to admit. But it was a little too dark, if she was to be honest. ‘I wonder how he can still be able to see in the light with how long he stays in the dark like this.’

“So…” Princess Celestia finally broke the veil of awkward silence around them. “Would you care to elaborate on why you brought us all here?”

“Indeed, Your Highness.” Bishop nodded and turned around in his chair, his back facing them. “You see, I’ve met with quite a few ponies in my time. From the conversations we had, we always started the meeting with getting the questions out of the way before the real talks began.” He glanced over his shoulder. “So. I thought it would be best to hear what questions you may have. If that is alright with you all?”

Twilight looked to the others. Her eyes met with everypony else. They all nodded in unison and turned their attention to Bishop. “Of course,” Princess Celestia murmured.

“Excellent.” He softly clapped his hooves only once until turning around to face them all again. “Then I shall start with you, Your Majesty.”

Princess Celestia smiled. She took a few steps before standing a couple feet away from the desk. “I have already learned about your history, and when you first started your business ventures. But how were you able to come up with such advanced technology? And where did you get it from?”

Bishop smiled and looked down to the desk. He brought his hoof to the pedestal that held the headphones that Twilight had seen on the other guards. He pulled it back, and a small square on the desk opened up. He pulled it aside and brought out a very thin rectangular object. The device lit up; everypony flinched to see holograms appear. “You see… I may have been far ahead in the advancements of everypony else, but I was still stuck with the same technology that most other companies have.” He swiped his hoof across the holographic device in front of him. Everypony else’s gaze was completely transfixed to the alien-like device.

“So you mean to say that you were not as advanced as you are now?” Princess Celestia asked, her mouth slightly agape at the sight of the device in front of her.

“No, my company wasn’t.” Bishop poked the holographic surface with his hoof. The symbols disappeared and were replaced by a ship, one that Twilight gasped quietly at.

‘It’s the ship from the crash site. But… how did he get to it?’

“But a month ago, we found something extraordinary.” Bishop glanced up at the ponies to see frowns upon their muzzles. “I take it that you have seen this alien vessel?”

“Yes… yes, we have.” Celestia murmured. “Let me just say that it brought some… unwanted loss.”

Twilight turned her gaze away. The memories of what it held began to make her heart ache. ‘That’s where it all began… where the Xenomorph came from.’

“I see…” Bishop stared for a moment longer before setting down the device. “The ship you see before you was the company’s ticket to becoming something greater. It is what led to our surge in technology, and what I hope will push us further into the future.”

“So what do you plan on ‘making’, then?” Daring Do narrowed her eyes as she walked up to Princess Celestia’s side.

Bishop only raised an eyebrow at the momentary approach. “Appliances, furniture, electronic devices, a whole multitude of items that a pony could only dream of having.”

“Yeah. So what else would you plan to build? Like, oh I don’t know, weapons?” Daring leaned forward as she approached the desk, her lowered eyes meeting Bishop’s calm and unblinking pupils.

He chuckled a little, covering his mouth with a hoof as he coughed. “Y-you are mistaken. I have no plan to militarize this technology. In this day and age, we are not prepared for what items of war this technology could bring.”

Daring let out a quiet growl, but Celestia gently pushed her back with her right hoof. “I am sorry, Mr. Neighland. My friend here tends to become overprotective.” Celestia lowered her eyes at her, and Daring grumbled as she took a couple steps back next to Twilight.

“It is alright. I’ve just never seen a pony so dedicated to the protection of her country.” Celestia looked away, and Bishop smirked at Daring.

Daring only gritted her teeth and raised her wings as she glared back at Bishop.

“Now then… is there anything else you would like to ask, Princess Celestia?”

“No. Thank you for your cooperation, Mr. Neighland.” Celestia nodded and backed up to the others. She turned to Daring and whispered. “Please. Remain calm, Daring Do. We must not blow our cover.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You didn’t see what I saw over at the Tenochtitlan Basin. This stallion isn’t to be trusted,” Daring argued.

Celestia let out a sigh, glancing behind her shoulder at Bishop. “As far as I am concerned, we must remain an investigation group. Our true intentions must not be revealed.”

Daring snorted and looked away. A small nod gave way that she understood. Twilight turned from the minor setback and walked up to Bishop’s desk. “Mr. Neighland, I would like to ask you something as well.”

“But of course, Your Highness.” Bishop nodded. “You must be Princess Twilight Sparkle, correct? The most recently crowned princess of Equestria?” She nodded after he spoke her name. “I must admit that you are very beautiful.”

Twilight looked away, blushing a little. “Thanks, but I’m not that great.”

Bishop let out another short chuckle. “It is alright to be modest, Your Highness.” He glanced up, only to see Flash Sentry roll his eyes. It only brought a small chuckle, followed by a tiny bout of coughing before he continued. “So… what is it that you wanted to ask?”

Twilight shook herself out of her stupor and retained her composure. “I was hoping to ask you about this.” She pointed to the device that sat on the pedestal. “What is that? I saw one on a guard before we walked in, and when I asked, he told me nothing.” ‘Besides being rude and so secretive about it…’

“I am glad you asked.” He lifted up the object in question in a greenish-gray aura and placed them upon his head. “This device, something I simply named a ‘headset,’ allows a pony to be able to talk to somepony else from a long distance away. However, it is still in a bit of its prototype stage, and can only be worked by unicorns and alicorns.”

“Really?” Twilight’s eyes widened as she stared at the object. Her gaze did not turn away from the headset, not even to the tiniest noise.

Bishop lifted it off and smiled. “Would you like to see it?”

“Would I!?” Twilight bounced up and down like a foal in a candy store, excited to investigate this new piece of technology.

“Twilight Sparkle?” Twilight flinched at Celestia’s voice, a frown on her muzzle as she was stopped from getting to see this headset. She turned her attention to Neighland. “Are you certain of this?”

“If I may, Princess Celestia,” Bishop murmured. “I have many more headsets than this one. And they all look the same. So I won’t be missing this any time soon.” Twilight’s eyes sparkled, smiling brightly as she levitated it to her front.

She turned it around and upside down, scanning the headset like it was a new book. “This is so incredible. You said this device is turned on by magic, correct?”

“Indeed, Princess Sparkle.” Bishop nodded. “As I have stated, only alicorns and unicorns can activate the headset. We have run tests for a non-magic version of this very headset. However, we simply have not been able to replicate the extraterrestrials’ more advanced version of this device. But, in time, we hope to unlock the secret to making it accessible to everypony.”

Twilight lifted it up to her head, only to raise an eyebrow at the weird structure. “How… do you put it on? I understand it goes on your head, but… I don’t want to risk any damage to it.”

“Here.” The aura changed to Bishop’s as he slowly fit the headset on Twilight’s head. She raised a hoof to her horn; the odd coils wrapping around it was an odd sensation.

“It… feels so… well, weird.” Twilight adjusted the headset, but the coils remained around her horn, shifting only slightly so.

“Do not fret, Princess. It will take some time to adjust to its odd positioning. But that feeling will go away within a few minutes.” Bishop faintly smiled. “As I said, it has only recently come out of its prototype stage. It works well, but we were unable to successfully adjust some frequencies. Another flaw is that this headset’s strength is only so strong. It can certainly work in a forest region, or even underwater. However, the magnetism of our planet’s magnetic field tends to… hinder its ability in elevated places.” It was possibly true. Plus she could imagine that the signal would be bounced around while trying to locate the device.

Twilight looked up and lit the coil up in her magic. The headset turned on with a few quiet beeps. She could hear a little bit of static, but that did not hinder her excitement for this new type of technology. “Wow… it’s so amazing.” She lifted the device off her head and nodded to Bishop. “Thank you, Mr. Neighland.”

“Why of course, Princess Sparkle. It is my honor to let you have such a unique gift.” He sat up straight in his chair and crossed his hooves on the desk. “Any more questions?”

As Twilight backed up to Celestia’s side, her ears swiveled to a voice on her right. “Yes. I have a question about your guards.” Flash Sentry took a few steps forward.

“Ah… the newly appointed Captain of the Guard, Flash Sentry.” Bishop blinked once. “It does pain me to hear about your brother’s unfortunate, not to mention untimely death, Princess.”

Twilight looked away at the mention of Shining. She felt something wrap over her back. Turning her gaze towards the source, she smiled when she met Celestia’s own eyes. She nodded a silent ‘thank you’ to her.

“So what is it that you want to ask about my own guards?” Neighland continued.

“I’ve noticed that you have your own unit of guards stationed here. How did you set up a system like this? And where did you get the pony power to do so?” Flash stood up straight, and his gaze never left Bishop’s.

Bishop only stared back with a faint smile on his muzzle. “Well… to be quite frank, I took what I knew from the Royal Guard system and implemented it for my own purposes,” he began, chuckling a little. “After I began my search for ponies eager to join the Royal Guard, I established a base for my security force in another building on the island here.”

“To join the Royal Guard? What do you mean by that?” Flash raised an eyebrow.

“Ponies who were deemed ineligible to join the Royal Guard came to me for help, so I set up a system that teaches the importance and daily routine of a Royal Guardspony, from earth ponies to pegasi and unicorns. They are all welcomed to join, much like the Royal Guard.” He raised a hoof as Flash was about to speak, silencing him in what he felt was an appropriate interruption. “And in an odd fashion, unlike the Royal Guard, I treat these ponies as how they would want to be treated. But do note that like the training regimen, I have ponies ready to break them in to experience how real training is like in the Royal Guard.”

“B-but… isn’t that against Royal Guard statute?” Flash took a step back at the news. “Surely you possibly can’t use such tac--”

“I assure you, Flash Sentry.” Bishop lowered his eyes. “I have read and reread the Royal Guardspony rules and codes of both combat and law. I do not send them on missions that are strictly for the royal force, nor do I intend to do so. So do not take me for a fool that is only in politics for one’s selfish desires, for I have none and will never resolve to such low degrees of treachery.”

The room went silent after Bishop spoke. Flash backed away slowly. Even Twilight was astonished that Bishop would talk down to a Captain of the Royal Guard. “Do not mistake me, Flash Sentry. I intend to follow the laws of the Royal Guard. However, if Equestria was to go to war, then the ponies I train here will already be suited for any combat purposes, especially ones that require these ponies to defend their home country.” His smile disappeared moments after. “But I will not hesitate to support my own ideas otherwise. You have your opinions… and I have my own.”

How much confidence Neighland had was interesting, Twilight thought. She looked to Daring Do, who had brought a hoof to her mouth. ‘This Bishop Neighland… his way of thinking is so… progressive.’ Surely Bishop had dreams of the future, but how he worded them was disturbing. Grandiose imaginations that seemed to hide meaning for something that Twilight would consider to be almost impossible to pull off. But it sounded like Bishop was intent on seeing his visions to the end.

“Now,” said Neighland. Twilight returned her attention to Bishop. “I want to begin our tour over at the Medical Center. If you will all follow me.” Bishop stood up and walked past the smaller group of ponies. The guard by the door opened it for him, and he walked through with a quick step to his pace.

Twilight watched him leave. She saw a shadow move over her and saw Celestia slowly tailing behind with the three Royal Guards she had following alongside. Flash Sentry walked behind them at a slower walk. She took a step forward until Daring Do walked past her, whispering, “I told you… this stallion’s crazy. We need to do something soon… otherwise you’ll regret not ending his plans here and now.” Her eyes gleamed with that hatred. Twilight took a step back when she felt some of that energy being directed to her as well.

This truly was something else, and Bishop Neighland was a whole different kind of pony. Twilight could only imagine what Bishop ’s true goal was, but whatever it was… she only could feel that it would not end well. For all of them...


“Weeee!” Pinkie Pie’s voice echoed in the tunnel. Pinkie did not truly worry about what was taking place, for she felt that if she began to imagine what this place possibly hid, she thought that it was best not to let those fears overwhelm her. Instead, she would just enjoy this experience in whatever way possible, in hopes that she could at least help the other ponies in her group relax.

And in truth, she saw that it was working. Whenever she would glance to her friends, the three Royal Guards members had faint smiles showing from within their helmets. Soarin was shaking his head, but he grinned all the same at her odd antics. Even Fluttershy was no different; she had on a bright smile and giggled quietly. Seeing that her job was being done, she had to keep their spirits up and hide her worries in the back of her mind. “Come on, everypony. You gotta try raising your hooves up!”

Pinkie turned her attention to the window and moved a hoof up to it. “Ahem!” She quickly brought her gaze to the pony working the tram. His deadpan expression made her rub the back of her head with a faint smile. “Do not stand outside of the tramcar, Miss Pie. You can seriously hurt yourself if you’re not careful.”

“Oops.” Pinkie quickly sat back down with a nervous giggle.

“So…” Soarin turned her gaze to the stallion driving the tram car. “Aren’t these… ‘things’ supposed to be safe? I mean, how many of these cars have you made?”

The stallion just kept his gaze forward. However, he sighed. “It is alright. It’s not exactly confidential.” He said before continuing. “Basically… let’s just say our earlier models caused a few… casualties.”

Silence quickly took over after the driver gave this revelation. “How is that not kept under wraps?” Soarin asked, turning himself around and kneeling against the seat with his right side.

“Mr. Neighland… likes to keep these reminders for us, so we know what will happen the next time we fail.” The stallion did not look back at Soarin when he spoke.

‘But why would this big boss stallion like to keep memories like that for them? Hurtful, unfrosted, and blood caked memories?’ It certainly was a strange action that this, Bishop Neighland, would take against his own workers. Why would he keep on reminding them of their past failures? Was it just for business reasons, or that they should have never made a mistake in the first place?

All in all, Pinkie did not feel like Neighland was telling the whole truth. And she made sure to keep a lookout for any signs if he was holding an Xenomorph here. ‘Rarity certainly won’t like that surprise…’ She lurched forward as the tram came to a halt, its brakes screeching on and off until the tramcar came to a stop. The stallion driving it nodded to the group and opened the doors.

Everypony stepped out and waited for their guide, one who looked like a scientist that walked up in front of the group with a smile. “Good evening, everypony. As you all know, Mr. Neighland has tasked me with guiding you all through a part of our fine facilities.”

“That’s… very kind of you,” Fluttershy murmured with a faint smile. “Where are we now? If that is an alright question?”

The stallion ushered them to the door. “Come with me, and I’ll show you through our Medical Facility.” The group of ponies slowly but surely followed the scientist through the door. They approached two doors near the end of the hallway, and the stallion pressed a button, which lit up with a yellow light, an arrow pointing up within the button’s light. As Pinkie saw this, she thought back to the room that she’d stood in earlier.

It was something the scientist called an elevator, one that she had heard about before, although they were not frequent around Equestria, usually only being in hospitals and larger buildings as such. She swiveled her ears to the stallion when he spoke. “We’ll start with the upper floors, where we have patient care. There we have our rooms for any staff member that has received any injuries during work, mostly guards during practice sessions. And then on the lower floor we have something unique for a hospital setting, which is a set of recreational rooms for our patients during their time here.”

The elevator door opened, and the group of ponies entered into the large room. Its moving door closed when the scientist pressed the eighth floor button. The room shifted, and Pinkie just stared straight ahead while the room moved up. “We also have a lower room we’ll head to later when everypony else is together to show you our lab for experimenting with pharmaceutical drugs, along with animals where we--”

“Y-you experiment with animals?” Fluttershy’s eyes widened before she frowned. “How dare yo--”

“It’s alright, Fluttershy,” Soarin interrupted her. “They probably don’t do anything with the animals, do you?” He raised an eyebrow at the scientist.

The stallion looked between the wonderbolt and the pegasus, her frown deepening. He chuckled and pulled at his collar. “D-don’t worry. We never harm the animals with our experiments. Every animal is well cared for here at this facility.”

Pinkie Pie’s smile began to slowly deteriorate. Something did not feel right, not one bit. She didn’t know why, but she felt that the scientist was lying to them about the animals. It wasn’t that she believed that they did hurt them, but that they had animals here in the first place. All she knew was not much to go on. But that feeling did not go away. ‘Something bad is here… I just hope it’s not cuckoo crazy… that’s the worst kind of crazy.’

The elevator door opened, and the tour guide walked out of the room with the group behind. Everypony except the scientist stopped and stared at the room a few feet away from them. It was a sizeable square glass room, the windows about eight feet tall with what looked like only a few ponies inside. They all wore labcoats, along with plastic masks that covered their muzzles and clear goggles over their eyes. “This here, fillies and gentlecolts, is part of Bishop Neighland’s experiments with pharmaceuticals. In a case where somepony might need something drastic or a pill to ease the pain, he invested in the technology and resources to see this happen.”

“But won’t that put other businesses out of a job? He’ll just own everything else.” Soarin raised an eyebrow at the Neighland stallion.

“Well, he knows that business is sometimes harsh, but the pills won’t be introduced to the public until much later in the future. But unfortunately, some sacrifices will have to be made for the greater good.”

“But nopony likes to sacrifice stuff. Especially if it’s good for the mind and soul of everypony else,” Pinkie Pie argued with a frown, taking a slight step back.

“In any case… We can go down to the animal pens if yo--”

“Animal pens!? You heartless monster!” Fluttershy moved muzzle to muzzle with the stallion, wings flared up. “Why are you containing them? Why are you keeping a bunch of poor defenseless animals!?” When she yelled, it registered above her normal talking voice.

“N-now, n-now hold on a second. We don’t dare touch the animals with any of the harmful test serums. We use the minor and non-lethal liquids and see their effects. They only last a little while before the side effect is gone completely.” He stretched his collar slightly, smiling a wide smile before Fluttershy backed off and rejoined the group. “Now before we can head down to the lower levels, I need to go speak with a few ponies before we can move further into the facility. However, I want you all to head into the waiting room over there, down the hall and on your left.”

With that, Pinkie and the others watched as the stallion left them. Hesitantly, they all turned around and walked down the hall. Pinkie stopped before she entered the room and let out a sigh. ‘I’ve got a bad… very unpasty and dry bread type of feeling here.’ She winced and looked down at her forelegs. ‘My knees are shaky… something bad is really going to happen…’ Whatever it was, she just hoped it would not affect her group, or anypony else in the investigation.


‘This is just stupid.’ Rainbow Dash thought to herself as she walked alongside Applejack. It was only moments since they had gotten off the tramcar, a ride that, although was alright in her view, was annoying when Rarity began fretting about her hair for two straight minutes. ‘I know she doesn’t always go on about her mane as much as she used to, but seriously. It’s sometimes the only thing she ever talks about.’

Rainbow looked to Applejack and then to Rarity; both mare’s gazes barely moved an inch while they kept their attention on the pony ahead of them. She could only roll her eyes, bored and disappointed that there was no fun to be had. Sure she knew this whole investigation was going to be boring from the start, but she at least imagined being able to ruffle somepony up or at least get a chance to knock some heads together. ‘Besides. If these ponies did ponyknap everypony else, why can’t we just arrest them on the spot?’ As she would say, this was basically ‘lamesville’.

But that wasn’t even the worst of it all. Rarity and Applejack had remained quiet throughout the whole beginning of their separation; besides when Rarity was vocal about the dishevelment of her mane. And from the occasional question that Applejack or Spitfire would ask, nopony else spoke up at all. This trip was slowly devolving from an action filled adventure that Rainbow Dash imagined, to what she felt would have been a boring trip to the library. ‘From the amount of history and questions Applejack and Spitfire keep asking, it might as well be a library. A boring, lame, and book-filled snorefest.’

Her frown deepened when she looked back to Applejack and Rarity. Could she really blame them for being quiet? Rainbow Dash herself wasn’t any better than these two. After all, it had been only three hours ago when they were practically at each other's throats. Rainbow slightly shook her head, images from that heated argument still was very clear and visible; with three mares debating which one of them had the worst of last month’s experience. ‘I… why am I so sad all of the sudden? It wasn’t my fault that Rarity was the first pony to start it.’

Yet had she done anything to stop the fight from escalating into a full blown quarrel? The frown fainted a little at the thought of what she had said. She too became fully invested in the three way debate, letting herself become riled up at what could have costed them their friendship. ‘Still… I’m not the only pony to blame.’ But she was the Bearer of the Element of Loyalty: Rainbow closed her eyes for a brief moment, her ego had gotten in the way of her devotion of being a good friend. They were all better than this, and Rainbow felt she should have at least done something to stop the argument.

“So before we begin.” The tour pony turned around, her bright grin a little creepy, Rainbow thought. “I will take any last questions before we enter the elevator.”

Rainbow looked to the others, and they all stared back. Nopony said a word, and they slowly returned their attention to their tour guide. “I think we’re good.” Applejack nodded.

“Splendid. Let me call the elevator and we can get this tour started.” The mare pressed the top round button, the up arrow symbol lit up in a pale yellow light. A silence wrapped over the group of ponies until a quiet beep echoed above them, a bright yellow number decreased before it reached the number zero. The door slid open and the group walked into bland and square room before the door closed them in.

Creaking resonated from outside the elevator room, everypony gazed at the walls of the room as if it would fall down any minute. The same pale yellow number was inside the room, a beep echoed in the room while it went up instead of down. It stopped at three until the room came to a sudden halt, the door slid open and the tour pony walked out. The rest of the group followed suite, Applejack turned back to the room. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used ta a contraption like that.”

“Well, I actually find that it would be quite useful. Especially if your hooves were already carrying multiple items.” Rarity said with a faint smile.

“Eh, I’d still rather fly.” Rainbow Dash deadpanned, looking out the window to her right and surveyed the outside world from this building. The island was pretty cool, although Rainbow wasn’t too impressed. Coupled with the fact that she was on a so called ‘tour’ of an old stallion’s company; being shown around like it was his intention to impress them came off as a bit lame. That and the thought of the freaky alien being here did not help comfort her mind. ‘If it’s here though, I’ll make sure to give it one like it did to me.’ However, the last time she had her first encounter with the Xenomorph, could have been her last if not for the quick exit with her friend’s help.

But then she raised an eyebrow and glanced at her friends. It had been the first time they talked in about three hours together. At least tensions had died down, Rainbow thought, but her frown deepened and she didn’t want to get too optimistic. ‘They’re still probably sore about what happened… heck, I’m surprised my voice hasn’t faded after I yelled at them both.’ And in a way, she was glad that she had calmed down, as well as Applejack and Rarity.

A gasp resonated from her left, Rainbow turned to see Applejack and Rarity gazing through the paned window at their left. “Woah…” Spitfire stopped next to Rainbow Dash. They all stared at a much larger room beneath their hooves as they looked from the glass wall that separated them from the huge chamber six feet below. These ponies wore white and black striped labcoats. Some held clipboards in magic fields, while others were experimenting with different objects: ranging from metals to odd powdery substances of varying colors, and papers with complex design-like blueprints.

“My this is certainly… overwhelming to say the least.” Rarity murmured, her eyes glimmered slightly with a hint of caution.

“They definitely have the pony power to run a huge place like this.” Spitfire added, her eyes gazed from one section of the chamber below to another, eyes tracking the ponies below in a wary fashion.

“Now then everypony.” Rainbow turned her gaze to the mare tour guide, her bright smile continued to shine. It was creepy, for that same smile had not disappeared once during their tour. “The first room we’ll arrive to is our testing room. Now please do be careful. Due to this being our Research and Development compound, we have items; ones I cannot declassify that can be quite dangerous if disturbed. That is why I’ll ask you to stand at a specific distance from the glass windows to help insure your safety.”

The group looked to one another before they returned their attention to the mare in front of them. “We’ll make sure ta follow that advice.” Applejack slowly nodded.

“Excellent.” The Neighland-Yupony mare turned around and walked further down the hall. Rainbow Dash and the others soon followed behind. “While we’re walking, would anypony like to ask some questions?” She glanced behind her right shoulder before she continued. “Just to let you know, I’m only able to give some answers to certain questions, as to not reveal any information about Neighland’s prototype projects. He doesn’t want any information falling into the wrong hooves.”

“Yeah, I got one.” Spitfire spoke up first. “You said this is a research and development facility, right?”

“Yes. Yes I did.”

“And you also said that this place houses some dangerous equipment.” Spitfire tilted her head slightly before she asked, “How did Bishop Neighland get clearance for these projects if they’re a danger to ponies very live’s?”

“A good question, and one that I can certainly answer.” The mare in front of them stopped and turned to face the group. “You see, Neighland is a rather compassionate and very sensible pony. He’s always looked out for our home country Equestria, so in his way of thought, he desired to find a way to help strengthen our borders and our army. So the only way he knew how, was to build and manufacture tools that could help the two main focuses that the company works for.”

“So basically this is a weapons manufacturing company?” Spitfire raised an eyebrow.

“Not completely no. The company also builds every day items: from appliances to cooking ware, even beginning our research into more magic required ideas and advanced items that can run on crystals.”

“Crystal power?” Rarity murmured, looking to Applejack and Rainbow Dash before she continued, “I don’t think I’ve heard much on crystals ever being a power source.”

“I thought the same way when that idea was introduced a few years ago. But Neighland was able to discover that crystals actually have a hidden source of power buried deep within their hard exterior.” The mare reached a hoof into the interior of her lab coat before pulling out a small gem. “You see there were legends long passed down in some forgotten pony history. This lore in our own past was during the great war between our three pony tribes: the unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies. Bishop explained that he delved into whatever old history book he could get his hooves on and discovered this hidden secret within earth pony lore. What he later uncovered was just completely mind blowing.”

“And… what secret does that there little rock have?” Applejack hesitantly asked, her eyes flicked from the gem to the mare in front of her.

“Well, what he discovered was amazing. In part of the early earth pony history, was that they had recorded several losses against the unicorns during the middle period of this war. They were completely up against the wall and had little supplies left to fend off the ever growing threat that the unicorns were slowly becoming.” Applejack and Rarity looked at each other, faint frowns relayed their worries to one another. “But then, one day, an earth pony by the name of Crevice Onyx discovered that these crystals here, now identified as Tourmaline, when presented with enough heat or pressure could create a magic charge that they later began using as a weapon against the unicorns.”

“Wait a minute. How can a rock produce magic? Seems kind of ridiculous if you ask me.” Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow at the mare.

“But it is not so odd as you might think it is. When we researched these rocks and tested them only a couple years ago, we found out that the electromagnetism found in each color variety of tourmaline, has been infused with the magic that unicorns have today. However, what eludes us still is the origin. History can only go back so far before we are forced to stop. So where or when this could have happened is still up for debate.”

“So what happened once the earth pony’s weaponized this tourmaline?” Applejack asked as she reintroduced the earlier topic.

“I’m glad you brought that back up. If you’ll follow me, we’ll continue the conversation as we head to our first destination.” The mare waved them to move forward before she turned around and continued onward. “So after the earth ponies discovered the tourmaline gemstone, they were introduced to a variety of these gems with different elemental effects. Which the gem had different colors: they were able to use red tourmaline that was for fire, blue for water, yellow for electricity, green for air, pink for telepathy and telekinesis, and even black for dark magic.”

“Wait a minute? You’re saying this stone has dark magic capabilities?” Spitfire spoke up, eyes slightly wide.

“Interesting right? The earth ponies began to push the unicorns back with this new weapon, which they implemented into their own hoof held weapons, bows and arrows, and other assortment of tools. But their lore goes further into this war and tells that the pegasi found out about this weapon and began digging for it and using it against both the earth and unicorn ponies. Pretty soon, the unicorns were on the run and had to resort to this gemstone to fight back when they ended up in the same position as the earth ponies.”

The Neighland pony sighed while she walked. “After reading through it and after the war finally ended, the loss of pony’s lives were far more tremendous than any other war in our history. When the three leaders of each tribe met, they banned the use of this tourmaline.”

“So how did y’all find this tourmaline then, if the ponies who used ta be in charge lost the information to these rocks?” Applejack turned her gaze to the outside room, her eyes widened a little at the sight of some of these gemstones. They were perfectly round, almost lined like a diamond with their tiny crevices.

“Another good question. Mr. Neighland actually read through the documents and found their location. Although that has been classified and is not known to us. We… oh wait, here we are.” The neighland pony stopped and pointed to the room below.

Rainbow Dash and the others stopped a couple feet behind the mare and turned to where she pointed, their mouths slightly agape. The room itself was completely silver and clean, yet at the end there were holes and black marks, from an explosion possibly. But it wasn’t the wall they were surprised by, their eyes focused completely on the sole object in the room, held up by a tripod and secured by some kind of brace-like objects. “What the heck is that thing?” Rainbow Dash asked, wings slightly raised up.

“That is one of the weapons we recovered from the crashed alien vessel from a month back. It was one of the few that were still intact. We also found ammo after discovering a dead alien body under rubble from a cave; most likely the one that was described by Princess Twilight Sparkle as a human named ‘Dr. Makoy Markovich’, who had planned to escape but was killed by what she said was the creature.”

“Good riddance.” Rarity whispered, Rainbow raised an eyebrow when she heard what her friend had said. Never before had she heard such words from the fashionista herself, although after what Twilight had shown her and the others, she was not slightly disturbed by Rarity’s hostility.

“When we discovered the weapon, and the items we found known as ‘ammunition’, we realized what a great opportunity it was to test the ‘gun’ as these aliens called it.” The neighland mare nodded to the chamber below. The group watched as two ponies walked up to the gun, one with a clipboard and the other wrapped the gun in a bright blue aura.

Movement caught Rainbow Dash’s eye and she looked up to the end of the room, and she tilted her head at the sight of three mannequin ponies, but with a gel exterior to them. One, however, had armor, a set that looked like the royal guard’s while the other two did not. “I’ve actually witnessed what happens when this gun fires.” Rainbow turned her attention back to the tour guide. “Although it is frightening due to its power, it is nonetheless amazing at the damage it can cause.”

Rainbow Dash opened her mouth to say something, but jumped at a loud sound coming from the chamber below. Turning her attention to the gun, she watched as the unarmored gel pony was ripped apart by the gun’s ammunition, blood from inside the fake pony sprayed across the white walls. After a few seconds of firing, the first target was in complete shambles. The pony was literally cut in half, its right foreleg was missing and its head was cracked open with half of its muzzle gone as well, blood dripped from the gel mannequin. ‘Wh-what just happened…’

The pony on the gun turned it to the armored pony, the loud racket of noise returned as the bright yellow blur of light hit the armor, going right through the golden metal. Holes appeared where the ammunition went through the armor, blood spurting onto the exterior of the armor from inside the gel pony’s body before the gun stopped firing. Again, the gun was turned to the last gel pony and its muzzle pointed at the last unarmored pony. “C-can you please stop this. This is too gra--”

Rarity was interrupted as a new noise, a small ‘pop’ echoed from the lower area of the gun, the gel pony exploded as the new ammunition made contact, blood scattering everywhere. The gel pony was completely gone from its spot, but parts of its gelatinous body were scattered across the room. Rainbow could hear Rarity gag beside her, yet she would not turn to face her friend, for the sight of the two somewhat intact gel pony’s retained her gaze.

“What… and you plan on using something like this?” Spitfire frowned and stood in front of the neighland pony. “Can you imagine the death toll coming from this kind of technology? It’s too dangerous.”

“We never did plan on using this exact model. We had one de-evolved version of this weapon... “ The mare glanced to her left and the group turned to where she looked, only to see a stallion walking past them with his mane and eyebrows singed off. “Unfortunately the technology has proven to be quite sensitive when reduced to its most primitive state. That stallion almost lost his life a couple weeks ago after the test went… well, about as well as you can imagine.”

Rarity let out a quiet exhale, calm and not about to vomit over the floor after the show she and the others witnessed. “And… you said this all came from a ship. Are you talking about the one next to the old Royal Sister’s castle?”

The neighland pony’s eyes brightened. “I’m glad you brought that up, miss.” The mare waved the group to follow before stopping at a couple windows down on the opposite side. Rainbow stopped by the tour guide’s left side and her eyes widened.

“Woah…” It was the first time Rainbow Dash had seen the ship; the ship that carried the freaky alien to their world. It was quite a large vessel, and although she wasn’t so good with math, it had to be at least a hundred feet or close to it. The exterior was still in disarray, although it looked like some of the Neighland ponies had gone to work on fixing parts of it. When she was able to fly, she thought it was best to avoid the castle from where the Xenomorph used to be since she still feared it would somehow come back to life.

“Amazing isn’t it?” The mare spoke with her usual bright smile. “This ship is something else. We found it after searching the surrounding area of the Royal Sisters’ Castle. After we lifted it over to the island, a feat that I still don’t know how Bishop Neighland managed to do, we were able to study it and see if we could repair it in any way possible.”

“In any way possible?” Applejack deapanned, raising an eyebrow at the mare. “That sounds almost impossible.”

“Quite so. But with the time we’ve had, our understanding of this race’s technology has gotten a little better. Although it isn’t by much, we were able to find metals that replicate parts of the exterior design. Unfortunately the inside is another story altogether. Due to it’s more complicated and electronic parts, we are unable to fully rebuild that. But with how far we’ve come along, I think in due time, Mr. Neighland will find the way.”

‘Let’s hope they don’t.’ Rainbow Dash wasn’t sure she would like the idea of flying alien machinery being able to travel in the air again. And she didn’t need to see the object that reminded her of that Xenomorph over and over again; it’d almost feel like the alien would be taunting her somehow. ‘Stupid freak…’

“Anywho.” The mare turned around, her bright smile still unchanged. “Our next visit is to the medical center. So if you’ll all follow me, we should hopefully meet up with the rest of your group.”

Everypony turned to one another, a faint smile on their muzzles. “It would be rather nice to be with everypony else.” Rarity nodded and returned her attention to the Neighland pony.

“Well then, let’s get goin’.” Applejack said her agreement and the group followed their tour guide back down the hall.

Yet Rainbow Dash turned back to the room where the ship was. She shook a little, that fearful feeling welled up in her chest. ‘This doesn’t feel right. Why are we just leaving that thing here with them. Who knows what they’ll do with it if they get it powered back up.’ But Rainbow could not blow her cover. Although, quite frankly, she didn’t think they were being too secretive at all and that these ponies knew what they were up to. Hopefully they could get out of here before it was too late.

Chapter X: Tourist Destination ~ Part II

View Online

A silver light slowly glowed from the sky above; the moon had changed position with the sun in their daily cycle of day and night. A doorway slid open as some of the light seeped into the building’s front entrance. When the door parted, a chorus of buzzing resonated from a line of rectangular metal objects. Gears turned and bits of magic energy flowed over the exterior of the machine from time to time. “Here we are.” A stallion’s voice was audible enough to be heard among the racket of noise within the large building.

“What is all this?” Fleetfoot asked while she followed the Neighland scientist.

“This here, Miss Fleetfoot, is the power room. We here at Neighland-Yupony had a bit of a rough time trying to convert all the energy from the generator at the Admissions building all the way over here. But with time and patience, a value that is well received here at the company, we were able to connect the crystal’s magic and run it throughout the entire facility on the island here.”

“So all the power runs through here, huh? That’s actually kind of cool. Reminds me of Cloudsdale’s way of supplying power to our weather machines,” Fleetfoot spoke to herself. Her eyes never left the array of machines and gadgets. “But wait, how do crystals have magic inside of them? Aren’t they just gemstones?”

“Well you’d be surprised by what we’ve come to know about them. I can certainly show you to the main generator in here if you like. If you’ll follow me, it should only take a couple moments. And then I can answer your question.” The Neighland-Yupony stallion ushered them to follow him, likewise, Fleetfoot nodded to the guards at her left and right. As she followed, she noticed movement in the corner of her eye: a shadow from above. She hastily brought her gaze to the windows, but all she could see was the moon slowly rising up from the corner of the sky.

‘Huh… that was, odd.’ She shrugged and quickly dismissed it as some pegasus pony. And from what she had seen, there were quite a few here on this island. Fleetfoot returned her attention to the large warehouse around them. Ponies walked across catwalks dozens of feet above where they stood on the lower floor, most fully clothed by the looks of it.

“Fun fact, actually.” Fleetfoot brought her attention back at the stallion, who was glancing over his left shoulder. “This building here is close by the Habitation Tower, which is a building we specially designed for all our guards to go when they’re off duty. Which also insures a quick security force over here if we were to be in trouble with some of the electrical wiring around here.”

“Why would you need the security force for something like that? Break-ins?” Fleetfoot asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, of course there are situations like that which call for them. But mostly the reason why is to make sure that nopony comes in while the technicians are busy fixing the source of the problem.”

She raised a hoof, but stopped in her tracks at the sound of somepony above screaming. Fleetfoot glanced upwards, only to flinch with eyes wide at the sight of another stallion landing on the ground right in front of her. The bones in the pony’s body cracked with a frightening intensity. She took a quick step back with her left hoof covering her mouth. “O-oh my goddess…” Blood pooled around the dead pony, and Fleetfoot froze in place. The red liquid slowly flowed from underneath the stallion.

“O-oh, this is not good. This is not good!” She glanced at the tour guide and saw the same panicked expression that she was already showing. “I-I have to report this.” He looked up and quickly ordered, “Stay right there. I’m heading for the emergency phone. Just stay here and don’t move.”

While the tour guide quickly ran off into the mess of machines, Fleetfoot returned her attention to the dead pony right in front of her. She gasped when she saw two large wounds, which appeared like the stallion was thrusted through twice by a blade. ‘Y-yet both pierce wounds are the same… wh-what could’ve done this?’

She spun in the direction of the noise of other ponies running across the metal catwalk above, only to cover her head with her hooves at the sound of the glass windows above breaking. “Quickly, we must take cover,” one of the guards behind her said. Fleetfoot turned to follow the two guards as they led her to a small corner between two machines, which were more quiet than most of the other noise in there.

An explosion rang out. As Fleetfoot lowered herself to the ground, she caught a glimpse of a light blue flash that disappeared immediately after. She could hear screams of ponies in pain and panicked orders from some of the workers above. She looked over to the left and saw one pony standing on the crosswalk with a silver-like metal crossbow. For a moment, she looked like she was quickly searching. Then, she pointed it at something and began firing the weapon. Multiple shots rang out from the weapon, but then she exploded in a mess of blue light, blood scattering everywhere around where the mare once stood.

“W-what in Celestia’s name is ha--” Fleetfoot’s eyes widened at the sensation of a hoof over her mouth, but quickly breathed in and out as one of the guards shushed her. But the panicked feeling she had did not go away at the sound of more crossbows being fired, followed by the screams of other ponies, and she could only guess that more workers were losing their lives to this unknown force.

‘What are they fighting? I can’t see them!’ It was such an awful thing, to know that whatever was killing these ponies knew how to stay hidden from sight. And whatever it was, she was not ready to meet it face to face. She turned to the other guards and whispered, “We need to get out of here. Move it!” The two Royal Guards nodded; Fleetfoot led them quietly yet quickly out from their hiding place and back to the path back to the door.

She could still hear ponies dying behind her, but she would not look back at the horrible sight that could be awaiting her. ‘J-just be calm. Don’t let the noises freak you out.’ The building shook under her hooves; she fell to the ground with a yelp as an explosion roared behind her. Fleetfoot looked back and saw sparks fly upwards with a billowing cloud of smoke rising from one of the machines.

But that wasn’t her concern at the moment. She turned back to the path back to the door and followed it. She suddenly felt the world spin around her and crashed against one of the metal walls. Sliding back down, she brought a hoof to her stomach and squirmed at the stinging sensation. She swiveled her focus back to the guards, eyes wide at the sight of one of them on the ground. But it wasn’t the stallion she was looking at, but the near-visible creature standing above him.

The guard below it screamed in pain for a few seconds before going quiet as the creature pulled something out dripping with the guard’s blood from his back. Fleetfoot could only sit still at the sight she witnessed. She heard a yell to its right and watched another guard charge it with his spear by his side, but the creature simply turned and, from the looks of it, kicked the Royal Guard across the room.

She tried to get up but felt something push her down. She reached for her neck as the air left her lungs, grabbing at whatever it was holding her and felt a hand. The ground left her hooves and she kicked the air with her lower legs while she grunted and struggled against the creature holding her up. Fleetfoot turned her attention to the clear being in front of her, and her eyes widened as a blue surge of electricity revealed the hunter before her.

The being she saw was the one that Daring Do had mentioned before they left for this island. She tried to kick at the Predator, only to realize how far away she was from its chest. Fleetfoot yelped as an intense pain shot through her stomach, frozen in place at the awful sensation running through her body. The whole world began to darken around her. She heard this Predator utter a few clicks. She quietly let out one small whimper before the whole world finally went dark and eternal sleep greeted her.

Crystal groaned as she laid in her bed, rubbing her head with her right hoof before she opened her eyes. Time seemed to be a foreign concept to Crystal Rune; she had no idea how many times she had passed out during her imprisonment. If she could forget most of her waking hours spent with that monster, the Xenomorph, she would be the happiest mare alive. Unfortunately, that likely would never be the case.

She looked to the right side of her barrel and with a shaky sigh ran her right hoof over the dark green fur, thankful that Aquafrost had been able to heal her wound. In that moment, she felt all too close to death. What was even more of a shock was how far these ponies were willing to go to get information out of her. She knew they had the information now, which frightened her; now she could only guess what they might have planned for her.

‘That information was the only thing keeping me safe even if I already was in a precarious situation.’ And now with that info in their hooves, it was only a matter of time before something even worse happened than having a sword driven into her flesh. Slowly she got up from her bed and stretched out, yawning for a brief moment before turning to the door. She knew Aqua had left, but there was something important she had to check. ‘If she did leave it unlocked, then now would be the perfect chance for my escape.’

With a few steps towards the door, she raised her right hoof up to the handle and gently pulled down on it. A smile formed on her lips at the sound of a click in the door, and with a quiet pull, she opened the door before stretching her head out, peeking down the left and right hallway before she quickly made her exit. “Thank you, Aquafrost,” Crystal whispered to herself as she took off in a quick yet quiet trot.

She stopped at another intersection of the hallway and looked down the multiple corridors. 'Okay, before I go scurrying off , I have to check one thing.’ Crystal closed her eyes and felt magic surround her horn. A small smile graced her lips. ‘Oh, it feels good to be able to cast my magic again. Now, on to the important matter at hoof; where is the exit?’ It was the number one priority at the moment; Crystal wasn’t going to waste any time doing any unnecessary investigations.

She took a left and scanned over the entire hallway around her. She quickly hugged the side of the wall at the sound of two ponies’ hoofsteps, then sighed as they walked in the opposite direction. She quickly went down the way they came from. ‘If I can find out where they came from, it might help me find the exit. It will take a lot of time and patience before I get out of this accursed place, but I need to be cautious.’

Crystal stopped at the disturbing sound she heard. She looked up and saw a window just a foot above her. Cautiously she stood up on her hind legs and rested her forelegs underneath the window’s panel. She scanned the room, first noticing how dark it was, and then squinted her eyes. There was a figure standing in the room, and it looked big; too big to be a pony. She looked along the outline of this strange creature and saw a long tail and elongated cranium. ‘N-no… it can’t be.’

One of the lights flickered on, and she gasped and fell onto her back, crawling on her elbows to get back as far as possible from the window. Her chest rose up and down as she panted. The creature she had seen brought many unwanted memories back once more. ‘X-Xen-Xeno-Xenomorph… I knew they might have it, but that didn’t look like the one I was trapped with. Wh-what did they do with the other one?’

Going over the details she had gathered, it appeared to be about the same size as the one on the Nostromo, but unlike that one, this one had a dark olive coloring to its chitinous body. She had no clue as to what that meant, but Crystal was not planning on sticking around any longer. ‘That thing… it will get out sooner or later. I’m not sticking around when that happ--’ She yelped at a sudden force that pushed her down the hall, the world spinning around her as she rolled over and over across the floor.

She let out a weakened cry as all the air was knocked from her chest. She thudded against the hallway’s metallic walls, landing on her stomach. Stunned, she tried to raise onto one hoof but fell to the floor again. Hoofsteps neared where she laid until she felt hooves grab at her forelegs. She felt herself being forcefully brought back up on all fours. Crystal stared at the two guards, their crossbows pointed at her until she flared her horn up in an icy blue aura.

“You really want to try that, prisoner? There’s two of us, and if you knock one of us down, we’ll kill you with one bolt to the head.” Crystal growled at the two, but she knew they were right. If she tried to fight her way out of this, and at the distance they were from her with those crossbows, a simple pull from one of their triggers would quickly leave her a dead pin cushion. She could try to pull the crossbows away, but she did not know how fast their reactions would be, or even how close they were to pulling the triggers.

‘I could even teleport… but how far would I make it before one of them hit its mark? That, and I can’t teleport back to Equestria. I could be in the middle of nowhere. I can’t take the chance…’

“Well, what’s it going to be? Are you going to listen and obey our orders, prisoner, or do we have to end your life here and now?” The second stallion brought the crossbow up to her muzzle. Crystal growled again and looked away. The aura around her horn dissipated. “Good. Now if you’ll follow us, we’ll bring you back to your cell.”

She watched the first guard take the lead and felt the cold sensation of something metallic against the back of her neck. She glanced over her left shoulder before she was forced to move forward. Crystal sighed to herself and frowned. ‘Well… that went about as well as expected.’ Unfortunately, she could only imagine that it would be that much harder to escape the next time. Crystal turned her gaze forward and could only do what she was ordered, following the stallion as he led her onwards.

Even with being guided back, she glanced around the hallways and noticed labs with multiple ponies at work on liquid and powdery substances the likes of which she’d never seen before. ‘What kind of mad scientist’s dream project are they working on in there?’ A new plan begin to swirl in her mind about her next escape attempt. She had been too hasty in trying to find the exit, which was the reason why she had been caught. The next time she would try this, she would slow down and gather all the information she could. ‘If I can leak this information out to the public, who knows what would happen to these guys.’

She swiveled her ears forward at the sound of a door sliding open and turned her gaze back to the front, only to frown when she saw that same doctor from before. “Well… this is a first for you, isn’t it?”

“Oh, ha, ha. Laugh it up while you’re safe, doc. Because the next time I find you alo--” She yelped at a painful sensation in the back of her head, glancing back to the two guards and glaring at them as they pointed their crossbows at her in response.

“Yes… quite a brutish response for you. Something new instead of the silent treatment.” He brushed his left shoulder off with a hoof before returning his gaze to her. “I’m actually quite glad they brought you here and…” He leaned to the right and stared at the side of her barrel, in response to which she raised an eyebrow at the stallion. “You do not have the wound from earlier. Who healed you?”

“Does it matter who healed me? What if I fixed it myself after escaping? Did you ever think of that in your scenarios?” Crystal sneered, frowning with lowered eyes at the doctor.

“Hmm… I suppose. But it also makes me wonder how you escaped. The door was locked the last time we were there. And you somehow managed to get out after such a wound… unfortunately, that scenario has been written off, Miss Rune. You would not have the strength to make such an effort after the wound you received. In fact, I might add that you had somepony help you.” He raised a hoof to his chin and continued, “Yes… help from the inside. Somepony in our facility has broken a rule about helping the prisoners. We shall find whoever this pony is.” He returned his gaze to Crystal. “Meanwhile… I’m afraid we must dispose of you. And what better way than the one I have plan--”

Crystal lunged and punched him with her right hoof, but felt her forelegs get pulled back. She felt a strong blow to her stomach, flinching with a groan of pain. She struggled against the two guards, but looked at the sound of coughing from the doctor in front of her. She watched him rub the area where she had hit him before gesturing towards the two guards. She felt herself being dragged across the floor into another room.

She tried to fight them both, but she couldn’t get a strong enough grip on the floor with her hooves to resist. The ground suddenly left her lower hooves, and she frowned at the sight of a light blue aura surrounding her body. Crystal grunted and struggled to try and break free. She felt the cold metallic surface of a table beneath her and looked to both sides as restraints clasped over her fore and back legs. “If I weren’t as kind as you describe--” Crystal turned to the doctor and glared at him “--then I would simply let the guards have their way with you. But even I could not stomach the thought of allowing them to simply rape you. No, for your punishment, we’ll let something else have that honor.”

When she heard that one word, she pulled against the metal restraints but felt them hardly give way to her attempts. With an angry cry, she fell flat against the table and breathed in and out. “You may leave me.” She looked back to the doctor and watched as he dismissed the two guards, who nodded and walked out of the room. “Don’t worry though,” he said again. “Your sacrifice will help us build the army we’re striving for.”

‘Sacrifice? What the heck is he going on about?’ But the sound of it did not resonate so well with her. She continued to push against the restraints, but again, there was no luck to be had. She stopped at the sound of a conveyor belt and raised her head, glancing over her stomach and chest at the sight of a few black flaps slowly lifting upwards. She tilted her head at the sight of this odd object in front of her. Slime drizzled down its fleshy exterior, and recognized it as the same substance produced by the Xenomorph.

Eyes wide, she tried to fight even harder against the metal braces holding her down, crying out loudly in fear at what this egg would do. She heard something squirm inside the egg and stopped as multiple legs slowly revealed themselves to her. She cried louder than before, yet even with all her might, she could not break the restraints. ‘This can’t be how I die! This just can’t be!’ The light above her flickered quickly before it completely died out. Crystal stopped struggling for a moment and felt the braces pull away.

She looked up and screamed as the spider-like creature jumped out from the egg. Quickly she encased it in her magic aura and cried out at the sight of its slimy ovipositor trying to stretch its way towards her mouth. She threw it to the side and, as fast as she could, got up from the table and ran past the doctor, pushing past him as he tried to stop her. Crystal glanced back and watched in horror as the spider-like organism latched onto the doctor’s face, who struggled to pull it off.

Tearing her gaze away from the awful sight, she ran. Seeing that the lights were off, a horrible thought popped into her head, and she ran even faster. ‘No… no, no, no! That creature! The Xenomorph is going to get out!’ She kept going and tried to find anyplace to hide from this monster. Words began to repeat over and over in her head, words that she had heard back on the ship when she had been trapped all alone with the one Xenomorph. Words that were the only thing that repeated in her attempts to evade the creature. ‘Hide, survive. Hide, survive. Hide, survive. Hide! Survive! HIDE! SURVIVE!’ Louder and louder until it drowned out every other thought she had. ‘Need to survive! Need to HIDE!’

It was dark Inside the room with no lights. But the room was far from empty. Slow and heavy breathing came from a creature within. She stared at the ground, unable to move her arms, legs, and tail bound in metallic restraints. The Xenomorph looked up to the room before her, prey to the same old scenery she had witnessed before, and with her body trapped in a large circular machine-like bond, she couldn’t even wander the room.

As she looked back to the ground, she let out a quiet growl, lips parted to show a snarl of metallic teeth. Her eyeless gaze then turned to the only source of light in the entire room. There she looked at the pony, but the stallion seemed to pay her no attention. She shifted her weight around; once she had tried to escape, but these bonds had always held her back from her attempts to flee.

She quickly turned to the light as the bulbs began to flash on and off. The stallion inside looked up at the source and turned his gaze towards her, frowning. Moments later, the light finally shut off only to be replaced by a red light. The stallion in the room got up from his chair and began to press a few buttons on the panel inside the room. The Xenomorph turned to the braces around her arms and hissed, pulling with all her might. She screeched in frustration as the entire metal containment unit shook under her movements. She roared as she pulled her right arm free, the brace snapping loose from the pressure.

The Xenomorph brought her right clawed hand to the left brace and broke the other metal restraint, then began to kick with all her might to snap the leg braces as well. When she heard the pony’s voice, she quickly turned around and reached for the tail brace, roaring as she broke that one. The stallion’s voice repeated. “Alert! Alert! Specimen Six has broken free from its containment unit! I repeat! Specimen Six has broken free from its containment unit and is free within its room. Somepony send in backup immediately!”

With her tail free, Specimen Six turned to the closed door in front of her and roared, then slammed into the metallic entrance. The door slightly budged but didn’t break loose, so the Xenomorph brought her hands to the gap and roared again as she forced the door to part open. She stood up on her back legs and walked out of the room, hissing as she looked down both red-illuminated hallways before sprinting down the left one. As Specimen Six reached another corridor, she ducked down at the sound of a ‘thwip’. Hearing metal meet metal, she turned to her left, hissing as she saw a few guards far down in the hallway.

Specimen Six screeched at the ponies and lowered herself onto all fours as she ran at the three guards. She jumped to the right wall and kept jumping from wall to wall to avoid the metal crossbow bolts being fired her way. Once she closed in on them, Six leaped onto one of the ponies, knocking the mare back before swinging her tail and hitting another guard, sending the stallion back into one of the walls. She turned to the last guard and jumped out of the way as the mare fired another couple of bolts. The Xenomorph landed on the left wall of the corridor and turned to the mare. She twirled her tail over her head and struck the mare through the chest. Her screams were cut short before Specimen Six slammed her into the wall. Her head cracked with an audible crunch.

The Xenomorph threw the mare violently to the side and jumped from the wall to on top of the stallion, forcing him back to the ground before she clamped his head with her clawed hands, opening her mouth open and screeching as a second mouth shot out from inside. Gore spattered against the walls before she dropped the stallion to the ground. Specimen Six glanced over her shoulder and hissed as she watched the other mare try to make a break for it. Quickly, she stood up on her back legs and ran after the mare, catching up with her and forcing her to the ground.

She growled before biting down on the mare’s neck, shaking her head violently back and forth and tearing the flesh off in one violent shake of her head. Blood sprayed onto her eyeless head as the pony’s blood mixed in with the slime dripping from her mouth. She growled at the taste of warm and fresh flesh, gulping the chunk she took down her throat until she quickly took off again. Specimen Six ran down another set of hallways, then stopped and sat in a dark corner, watching ponies run by her hiding spot. There were too many to take on alone. She had to set her sisters free.

With a silent hiss, she waited for the ponies to run past before quickly making her escape down the right corridor. She came upon a door to her left and watched it open. Specimen Six slowly crawled into the room and could hear roaring behind a window. Standing up, she saw her siblings struggling against their restraints. Walking over to the panel, she slammed her tail down upon the array of buttons, breaking the metal with one blow. She looked up and saw her five siblings break free from their restraints before they sprinted towards the door and rammed it down with their combined strength. Specimen Six could hear the panicked screams of more equines as her sisters crashed into the hallway outside.

Quickly she ran out of the control room and past the corridor where her siblings tore into the group of ponies, the cries of the equines intermingling with her sisters’ snarls in a horrible cacophony. But she would not join in with her kin, for she had to find the matriarch. Six could feel the presence of her Queen close by, and as she moved towards the presence, she felt another one of her kin near their queen. She screeched in pain as she felt a bolt pierce her left side. She tripped over herself and rolled across the metallic floor. She hastily stood up and roared at the few ponies approaching her from the left hallway.

Standing up, Specimen Six ducked under a bolt that the first pony shot. She hissed as another shot was fired and dodged the second shot before descending into the shadows. She stopped for a brief moment and bit down on the metallic bolt, yanking it out before continuing forward. She approached a door to her right and busted it down. As she ran into the room, she spotted one equine standing at the control panel. She landed on top of him, then grabbed his head and bit through the back of the equine’s head with her second mouth.

She stood up and spotted the matriarch inside a much larger room struggling against her restraints. Specimen Six looked down at the panel and lowered her muzzle to one of the buttons, biting down with her second mouth and destroying the button itself. The Queen freed herself from the braces and landed on the ground below her. The building shook from her weight. The Queen’s tail slammed into another cell, yanking her tail free from the door as another Xenomorph jumped out and onto two ponies, smashing them into bloody bits under its crushing weight. It was bigger than herself, nearly the size of the Queen, and it let out a spine-chilling screech as it raised its crested cranium up into the air. As Specimen Six watched on, she saw her Queen grab for any of the equines within her reach.

She grabbed one and ripped the pony apart with terrifying ease. The Queen reached for another and bit his head off, resulting in the stallion’s blood spurting across her muzzle. She swiped the rest aside with her tail. Specimen Six screeched and bashed against the window separating her from the Queen, taking another run and jumping through as glass shattered around her frame. Landing next to the Queen, she roared at the ponies running away from her Queen and the Praetorian. As she joined the Queen, Specimen Six roared and ran after the ponies, ready to eliminate all threats that presented themselves to her Queen.

Chapter XI: Daring Escape

View Online

Daring Do held a hoof over her pith helmet as the tram car sped through the lightly-lit tunnel. During all the time she had spent near Bishop Neighland, she never lowered her guard. She knew he was a killer. She had witnessed him order the execution of ponies and had almost been one of them herself. She turned her gaze to Princess Celestia. She could see her mouthing words towards Bishop Neighland, but there was no voice. Daring couldn’t listen to the conversation between those two anymore. To her, Bishop was evil.

His act he put on for them all wasn’t convincing her anytime soon. She looked over to Princess Twilight and Flash Sentry. Twilight had been given a pair of those weird ‘headphone’ devices. Possibly a way for Neighland to convince Twilight of his good deeds. Flash Sentry had been silenced by Bishop after the two had argued about the need for guards here on the island, one that Flash seemed to oppose. But the two seemed to be ignoring each other like they weren’t even aware the other one was there.

‘What is going on’, Daring thought. This was supposed to be a unified group. This was a mission that should have been their first priority, and yet it felt more like a family road trip. All it needed to be complete now was somepony taking pictures. ‘Way to stick to the plan, everypony. It’s not like Bishop is watching our every move.’

She lurched forward. The tram’s brakes screeched while sparks lit up the sides of the car. Accompanied by this was a small gasp she heard from Twilight, whose attention was focused on the light show outside of the tram. The high-pitched noise finally ceased, and the car came to a halt. “Mr. Neighland,” Princess Celestia said. “Is there any reason why this ‘car’ has suddenly stopped?”

Red lights flickered on above them, pushing the darkness away. “Do not worry. There was a test planned earlier today to see if our backup generators would work. Seems like it’s running smoothly at the moment.”

‘Oh really? I bet you had this all planned out.’ Maybe he was telling the truth, but Daring Do couldn’t take any chances. Not after her first encounter with this stallion.

“So what do we do? Just sit here and wait?” Twilight asked as she glanced over at Bishop.

“That’d be best for the moment.”

“Excuse me, sir.” Daring and the others turned to the pony in charge of driving the car. “Maybe we could go check just in case it isn’t a false alarm?”

“Of course.” Bishop nodded and opened the door, and the pony on the controls jumping down to his right side. “I won’t be long, everypony. Just sit tight, and I’ll be back momentarily.” After that speech, Bishop and his guard trotted into down the way their car had come.

There was something about the way Bishop had spoke. Daring knew she couldn’t trust him, and that distrust of the stallion had kept growing ever since she had arrived on this island. But why would he just leave them? If this really was just a test, then he would have known that it’d be better for them to just stay together, right? Or was there something about this that only he was aware of? She couldn’t take the chance. “Okay,” Daring Do began, “I know he told us to stay put. But there’s something he’s not telling us.”

Everypony was quiet. It seemed like they were processing what Daring Do said. “This time I must agree with Daring,” Celestia said. “There was a moment when he looked up to the ceiling--an expression I thought might’ve been worry.”

“But what’s there for Bishop to worry about?” Twilight Sparkle asked, switching her gaze from Daring to Celestia.

“Who knows.” Daring shrugged before she moved over to the seat adjacent from Celestia. She opened the door Bishop had moments ago and said, “But I’m not sticking around to find out.” After she stepped out of the tram, she glanced over her shoulder and asked, “Are you guys coming?”

Celestia turned to the others. “Somepony will have to stay here. Just in case Bishop does return.” She looked to her Royal Guards, one of whom one raised his hoof up. “Okay then. The rest of us shall move on ahead.” She opened the door to her right, stepping out while Twilight, Flash and the other two Royal Guards followed. Celestia nodded to the remaining guard before she turned to Daring and used the same gesture.

Daring nodded back and quickly turned around, leading everypony onward into the red-lit tunnel. Each step the group took echoed around them, hooves clicking against metal rails. Although there was some light, the red hue that filled her eyes made her blink constantly. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the dim color, yet she kept onward. If they were to get out of the tunnel, they would need to pick up the pace.

Turning back to the others she said. “We should probably pick it up a little. The more time we waste, the more likely Bishop might find out where we’ve gone.”

“Well it isn’t all that hard to figure out,” Twilight said. “There’s only two paths. The obvious choice is the way towards their medical building.”

“Of course, but Daring Do has a point,” Celestia added. “It might be best to move along a little quicker.”

Daring Do slowed down at a quiet noise farther down the tunnel. She twirled her ears forward, tips pointing upwards to the source. It was like a waterfall, the roaring getting closer with each second. Then came a voice. One pony’s panicked cries turned into two and then more and more. Shadows spread across the walls until the herd of ponies became visible. Daring stood her ground and braced herself as ponies rushed past her.

She grunted as each pony pushed against her, shoulder meeting her own and the sides of her barrel. Each contact was spiked with a small sting, her old wounds flaring up from the pressure hitting her over and over. Once the shoving stopped, Daring looked at the back of this panicked herd to see the numbers dwindling. Then one last pony came running their way. She watched him go by, only to be stopped by Princess Celestia.

When she stepped in front of him, he stopped and cowered beneath her. “Y-your Highness. Pl-please forgive us.”

“Forgive you?” Celestia asked, glancing at the others before she returned her attention to the stallion. “For what?”

“They wouldn’t stop. All those tests. The ponies we used. All of it has led up to creatures I’ve never seen. Creatures so terrifying that they paralyze you just by looking at them.” Daring approached from his right side, and could see his sides expanding and contracting quickly. Yet it seemed too quick. “I-I don’t know what Neighland was thinking. We did all we could, but there’s no way… nothing can kill those things. And now they’ve escaped!” His eyes widened before he stood up. “I need to get out of here!”

Before they could stop him, he pushed past Celestia and hightailed it towards the way they came from. Daring looked to the princess, who returned the gaze. “It seems Mr. Neighland was hiding something.”

“Obviously.” Daring frowned. “I knew that stallion could never be trusted.”

“And what that stallion said.” Daring turned to Twilight. She was low to the ground, her eyes wide while she glanced between her and Celestia. “Those creatures he mentioned. He meant the Xenomorph. Yet it sounded like there’s more than one. M-more than one...” With how low Twilight was to the ground, it almost looked like she was ready to curl up into the fetal position.

It was obvious why, Daring thought. Celestia moved next to Twilight and brought a hoof under her chin. When Twilight looked up to her former mentor, Celestia spoke in a soft tone. “Everything will be alright.”

“Alright? Alright!?” Twilight nearly screamed. “One was bad enough! One was able to kill thirty-eight ponies! But what about two?! What about three or even five Xenomorphs!?”

“Then we’ll handle it.” Flash Sentry nodded.

“Handle it!? You have no idea what these aliens are capable of, Flash!” Twilight turned and yelled at him. “The Royal Guard could barely handle just one of these creatures the last time! What makes you think anything has changed!? Nothing! Not at al--”

“Twilight Sparkle.” Daring watched as Twilight stopped her raving. Quietly whimpering, she turned to Celestia. Her former mentor took a step closer to Twilight and wrapped her right wing around the younger princess. “Please. Just calm down. If we must face these creatures again, then so be it. There is reason to be wary, yes. But you must keep a calm mind and not panic.” Celestia returned the wing to her side and continued, “Yet I can’t see much success unless we find the others.” She turned to Daring and said. “Our new plan is to regroup with everypony else. If we’re to truly find a solution to this situation, then we must find the others.”

Daring nodded and watched as Flash gave the same gesture as well. However, Twilight glanced at everypony around her before she hesitantly nodded as well. In agreement, the group trotted forward into the darkness. This new course of action was something Daring liked, a smile visible on her lips. Maybe while she was searching with the others, it wouldn’t be technically bad if she accidentally broke something.

Grass stems flattened against the ground, yet there seemed to be no physical presence. But within the light there seemed to be an outline, a silhouette of some kind of being. The invisible hunter scanned the area around him, glancing at the building of power that he and his brothers had destroyed. Out of the hunting party, he was the one most angered by the death of their brother. They thought that these equines must have been capable of presenting a challenge if they could kill one of their own. Perhaps his brothers were wrong.

The death of his brother was mere luck, and he would avenge his fallen comrade. Somehow and in someway he would. To prove this theory, he would find more ponies to kill. Taking a few more steps forward, metal clinked underneath his foot, and the young Predator looked down to see a maintenance hole. He kneeled down and picked it up with some effort before chucking it aside.

He switched the vision, adjusting the level of the infrared as he looked down into the darkness. There was a floor from what he could tell. If that was the case, then there surely would be more ponies to find. He jumped into the hole and landed on the metal platform below, a small bit of disturbed dust the only signs that the young Predator was there. The Hunter looked down both ways before turning to his right.

Quietly, he carefully positioned his footing. A small mistake, and there’d be a noise that would attract the attention of every pony on guard in his vicinity. The audio meter suddenly spiked in his mask. Distant screams echoed down the scarcely-lit tunnel. One pony came into view, then a herd followed behind in a quick fashion. Most had white coats, which the young Hunter guessed must be scientists. Only a few seemed to be guards, but they too seemed to be running with them.

He could feel their fear. They were running from something. But what it was, the Predator did not know. He hugged the wall, letting them all pass by. As soon as the herd of ponies had finally ran past him, he began his quiet trek again once more. Yet more voices could be heard, this time not ones of panic. He slowly rounded the corner and saw a group of ponies standing next to what looked like some kind of vehicle. It tuned the mask to match their frequency and language until it finally heard the words in clarity. “Our new plan is to regroup with everypony else. If we’re to truly find a solution to this situation, then we must find the others.”

The larger pony, the one almost about his size looked important. Not just from the fact of her stature, but that she was wearing what appeared to be like a set of royal attire. More so was the fact that she had her own set of wings and one horn; she must be their leader. He clicked his mandibles together in excitement. If this was the one who led, then her skull would give him and his kin honor for generations to come. But there were too many to fight at once.

He took a couple steps back and reached for a small round object on his belt. He placed it against the wall, sliding his fingers off of it until a red light appeared. He set his vision to a different sequence until he could see the object in question begin to mark the tunnel. A building soon came into view, one that wasn’t too far away. If they were heading there, then it was the best place to ambush them. He grabbed the small object and turned around, heading for the hole he came through. This hunt was becoming more interesting than previously thought. He and his brothers would gain more honor than they had ever imagined with this new addition. Yet these ponies still had to pay. He and his comrades had lost a brother. These ponies had to lose their leader. It was only right that they would pay a price for what he and his brothers had lost.

The lights buzzed continuously as they had since they arrived. How many days had it been, Zecora thought. She and a few other ponies were stuck down here, prisoners of these strange ponies for horrible experiments. Whatever they were breeding in this facility must be the same type of monster that attacked Ponyville; what she had seen had been an awful testament to that fact. Already five of those creatures have spawned from other ponies, and even a diamond dog and a buffalo.

The way they were born was a gruesome sight to witness, killing their hosts upon exiting their chests. It was a fate that Zecora did not wish upon anypony else. Unfortunately, two more ponies had come back from their testing: the pegasus stallion, Bulk Biceps, and the earth pony mare, Suri Polomare. It was only a matter of time before they shared the same fate as Flim’s now late brother, Flam. Cloudchaser had been gone for two hours, another pony that would soon give birth to these disgusting creatures. And it seemed to be inevitable that she and the others would soon follow suit as well.

Everything went dark for a brief moment, Zecora looking up at the lights. They flickered on and off. She could hear Babs Seed and Trixie whispering to one another. “Are the lights about to go out?” Babs asked Thunderlane, her gaze focused on the lights above them all.

“Great. All we need is to be trapped here in the dark,” Flim whined, a frown apparent on his muzzle.

When the lights went out as Thunderlane had predicted, Babs Seed cried when the room became dark. “It’s okay, Babs. Trixie assures you that everything’s going to be okay.”

‘If only that were true. Except our fate is soon to ensue.’ Zecora closed her eyes and sighed. A faint red hue of light hit her eyelids, causing her to open them and see the room now illuminated by red emergency lights.

“This is new,” Thunderlane said out loud. “Wait. Trixie, try using magic.”

“Why? Trixie’s magic hasn’t worked since she’s been put in this stinking hole. Why do you think it would work now?”

“Just try it. We won’t know unless you do it,” Thunderlane pleaded.

Trixie stared at him for a moment longer before she finally gave in. She looked up to her horn and went to call on it. A pale magenta aura surrounded her horn, causing Trixie to squeal in joy. “Yes! Trixie’s magic comes back to her!” She looked to the chains holding her forelegs, the locks opening with a flash of magic on both sides before she fell to the floor. She looked to Babs and let her down, the filly landing on Trixie’s back. She turned to Zecora and helped her down as well.

Zecora landed on the floor. She looked to Thunderlane and Flim, both whom fell to the floor quickly after her. “Hey, what about me?” Gilda complained. Her chains quickly separated from her wrists, and she flapped her wings until she softly landed on the ground. “Now how about we get the heck out of this stupid joint?”

“But we don’t know what’s going on outside,” Thunderlane warned them. “What if they have guards patrolling this area? We could all get caught and chained to the walls again if we’re not careful.”

“Why don’t we just take a chance? It’s not like it’d hurt to try,” Flim said, a frown on his muzzle.

Zecora opened her mouth to speak, but a faint scream in the distance cut her off. “W-what was that?” Babs Seed whispered, cowering behind Trixie.

Zecora then noticed Thunderlane inching closer to the door. She raised a hoof and said, “Wait a moment, Thunderlane. We do not know what is in their domain.” He turned back around and nodded, but he kept inching closer. When he opened the door, the screaming became clearer. But it sounded like many other ponies yelling out in pain.

The whole group flinched when another set of screaming took place. Yet these sounds were much louder, something that even Zecora didn’t recognize. “Does anypony else hear that?” Thunderlane whispered loudly. When he turned around, his eyes were wide.

A grunt echoed behind them. Zecora saw that Bulk Biceps was fidgeting in place. His chains rattled together slightly until he let out a yell. His chest bulged outward, blood spurting out from the opening wound. “This is too much! Too much!” Flim ran past her and out the door.

“Flim, wait!” Thunderlane called out, but he turned around when he heard the crunch of bones. Bulk’s chest ripped open, and with it came a small creature protruding from the red flesh. It squealed, making its presence known, then slithered out of Bulk’s open wound. It crawled past the group of ponies, both Trixie and Babs screaming in terror at the sight of the larval Xenomorph. But Zecora thought she saw something on the Xenomorph's back. But with it covered in so much blood it was hard to distinguish what it could be. Trixie pulled the filly away from the awful creature, holding her protectively.

The blood trail it left disappeared behind the door. Zecora looked back to Bulk and saw his body motionless. She turned to Suri Polomare and saw that she was still asleep. ‘But like this poor soul, she too has to pay this creature’s toll.’ It was an awful thought that this mare would be sharing Bulk’s fate sooner or later. She then looked to the chains that once held Cloudchaser. They had only recently taken the mare from Ponyville away. She could still be alive, but they couldn’t leave this place. How could they? What if there were more of those things out roaming the building? They wouldn’t stand a chance.

“We have to find help somehow,” Thunderlane said, gaining the attention of the remaining ponies and griffon. “I could go look for somepony else.”

“But you don’t have magic to defend yourself,” Trixie pointed out. Even if her magic was mostly for show, she had the best chance out of anypony there. She shook a little, taking a small breath of air before she continued, “I-if anypony should go, i-it should be me.”

“Trixie… are you really sure about this?” Thunderlane asked.

She looked to him and shook her head. “A-absolutely not. But… I have to try.”

“But you can’t go alone!” Babs Seed pleaded. “I could go with ya! We cou--”

“You? Survive out there?” Gilda laughed. “Are you serious, kid? You won’t last ten seconds out there. Even with this ‘great’ and ‘powerful’ unicorn.” She scoffed, shaking her head.

Trixie glared at the griffon. “Do you have any other plans than the one Trixie has?” Gilda didn’t answer, returning the glare. “Trixie will make sure she finds help.” She then turned to Babs Seed and lowered her tone. “Don’t worry, Babs. Trixie shall find help. She may understand that you want to help, but it’s too dangerous for a filly. She has to do this alone.” Trixie gulped before turning to the door. “Trixie just hopes she can.” Without turning back, she trotted to the doors that slid open as she walked past them. They closed again, the mare disappearing behind the metal wall.

Zecora sighed and walked back to where her chains hung limply. She kept her gaze on the metal restraints, reflecting how they were used to keep her prisoner in the accursed facility. There was only so much hope that Trixie would find help, and yet the idea of them losing her to these alien creatures was all too real. ‘Let us hope she does not perish in a place that only holds the nightmarish.’

Chapter XII: Frightening Resurgence

View Online

Uneasy was the perfect word for the situation, Applejack thought as she walked through the red-illuminated tram tunnels with her friends. A few moments ago, their car had come to a sudden halt. Of course, something just had to go wrong. But there was something Applejack had noticed during their trek through these eerie tunnels. This place had had an odd feeling from the beginning. Although the obvious was that it wasn’t good, there was a tone of terror here. She shook slightly but couldn’t let this place get to her.

She didn’t know what was happening, but judging from the way her skin crawled, it couldn’t be good. ‘Something ain’t right. I can’t tell what’s causin’ it, but it sure ain’t good.’

“Ugh. This red light is absolutely horrid. It’s starting to strain my eyes,” Rarity complained, a hoof raised above her eyes.

“You know, I think I’m gonna agree with Rarity on this one,” Rainbow Dash said, flying above the fashionista. “This stupid light’s screwing with my eyes. I can hardly see what’s at the end of this tunnel.” She squinted, but from the frown on her lips, it seemed that the action didn’t help.

Applejack sighed and turned to Spitfire. “So what’s our plan? ‘Cause wandering around the tunnels ain’t gonna get us nowhere.”

“Well… seeing as how we don’t know which tunnel leads where, I think we’re forced to make an exception this time.” Spitfire shook her head. “I wished there were a map in that tram car. Heck, you’d think they’d leave one up here in the tunnels in case any of their workers got lost. Just seems like a bad idea.”

“Yeah. Well, the sooner we get out of these tunnels, the better. Although this place isn’t that creepy.” Applejack thought she caught a lie in the way she spoke, a tone that was rare in Rainbow Dash’s case. “I’d prefer if we got some fresh air here soon.”

Applejack opened her mouth to speak but noticed Rarity’s ears facing the red-lit tunnel in front of them. “Girls.” She spoke up and glanced over her shoulder. “I think somepony is coming.”

She followed suit and heard the distinct clip-clop sounds. “And whoever it is, they sound like they’re in a hurry.” Spitfire quickly scanned the area around them and pointed at a small crevice. She followed Spitfire’s example and saw another one on the opposite end. “Okay, Rainbow, you’re with me. Rarity, Applejack, you go to the other one. When this pony comes by, I’ll catch them by surprise and force them to tell us the way out of here.”

Applejack nodded and quickly trotted to the crevice. She went in first and watched Rarity back up into it. Although it wasn’t the most comfortable of circumstances, what with Applejack forced into a corner, she had to go along with it. Returning her attention to the hoofsteps, their echo got louder and closer. As the pony’s shadow blurred past them, Spitfire quickly took off from her hiding place.

Applejack pushed Rarity out from the crevice, getting an annoyed grunt from her. But Applejack ignored it and watched as Spitfire pinned the pony to the ground. Rushing to the Wonderbolt’s side, she looked down to the pony Spitfire caught, only to gasp in surprise. “Trixie?”

Staring down at the showpony, what once was a gaze of fear turned into joy as she pushed Spitfire aside and hugged Applejack. “Oh, sweet Celestia! I found somepony I know!”

“Trixie!?” Applejack turned to Rainbow Dash and Rarity, until Rainbow spoke again, “What the hay are you doing here?”

Trixie’s smile quickly disappeared. “Trixie was dragged here along with some other ponies. We’ve been stuck down here for days and treated with su--”

“Okay, slow down there, Trixie.” Applejack watched as Trixie shook uncontrollably. Her frantic breaths slowly halted, but the shaking was still there. “Now, you said there are other ponies here, right?” Trixie nodded. “Okay, so where are they?”

“Trixie… I promised them that I’d bring you to them.” For the first while in Applejack’s life, she was surprised that Trixie wasn’t speaking in the third person as much as she usually did. But then again, with the trauma she must’ve went through, anypony would’ve stopped doing something they normally would. Trixie quickly rushed past her and stopped before waving to the group. “Quickly. They’re this way!”

Applejack watched as the others hesitated. But Spitfire was the first one to follow Trixie. Rainbow Dash quickly followed suit before Applejack and Rarity took off after them. The group slowly formed together as they followed Trixie. As to where, they could only guess. “Hey, Trixie?” Spitfire asked. “How long were you and these other ponies down here for?”

“I… I don’t know. About a couple days or so? Maybe more… we lost track of time after being stuck down here.” Trixie’s gaze weakened as she closed her eyes halfway. “We… there’s not many left.”

“What do you mean?” Spitfire raised an eyebrow as the group continued forward.

“We’re… we’re being exper--” Trixie stopped, the others halting with her. She looked around a corner and turned to the group. “There’s a couple guards to the right here. They won’t be a problem since we’re still going straight ahead.”

“So long as they’re quiet, we won’t have to do anything about them,” Spitfire added. Trixie nodded and quietly moved forward. Spitfire and Rainbow silently flew past the opening. Applejack kept watch over the two, waiting as Rarity gently tiptoed over to the others.

Yet the more she watched these guards, the more she got the impression that they were searching for something. ‘What are they lookin’ for? Trixie?’ It was plausible. But she wasn’t sure of the idea. ‘Why do they keep starin’ up at the vents?’

“Applejack!” She turned to the quiet whisper of her name and saw Spitfire ushering her over. Slowly, Applejack moved over to the other side and sighed as she made it past the opening. The others quickly moved ahead and as she followed, Applejack heard one of the ponies behind her gasp, yet the noise was cut off in an instant. She stopped. Applejack turned around and slowly approached the opening down a different direction.

Whatever was going on, she couldn’t help but feel like she had to take a look. ‘Just one peek. And then I’ll head back with the others.’ Applejack gently leaned her head past the corner of the large tunnel. The guards were gone, their crossbows on the metal floor. Yet something dripped on the ground where they once stood. She slowly followed the source of this dripping, her eyes widening at what she saw. There was one of the guards, eyes wide behind the mask. Something had pierced the pony’s chest. When she saw the spear tip of a blade, black as night, Applejack covered her mouth before she screamed, quickly retreating her head back to the corner.

With frantic breaths, the vision of that Xenomorph over top of her became more vivid than ever. Her heart beating faster and faster, she felt lightheaded. “Applejack.” She jumped and screamed into her hooves again. The others flinched as well, eyes wide at her reaction. Rarity stood in front of the others. “Applejack what’s wrong?”

Visibly shaking, Applejack pointed a hoof around the corner. The others leaned their heads out into the open. “Where are the guards?” Spitfire asked.

Applejack moved behind the others and looked up to the vent. The guard she saw earlier was still there, but the spear tip wasn’t. “Th-th-they’re up there…”

As she said that, she heard Rarity let out a quiet shriek. And from the looks of it, she was trying to contain her terror. “W-what in the… what did that?” Spitfire took a step back.

“T-that’s… what we’re up against,” Rainbow quietly murmured, shaking as she answered the Wonderbolt. “It’s that… freak.”

“A Xenomorph can do that?” Applejack couldn’t blame Spitfire’s disbelief. After all, when they first encountered such a creature, they were all surprised by what it could do. “How the heck did it get two guards up to that vent? That’s at least fifteen feet from the ground.”

“Wait a minute. Has anypony else seen our two Royal Guards?” Applejack turned to Rainbow Dash. When she glanced over her shoulder, the two were nowhere to be found.

“Could've they gotten lost?” Rarity asked.

“They shouldn’t be gone. They were with us the whole time.” Spitfire took a couple steps down where everypony was looking. “How could they have disappeared on us? Do you think it was that creature… the Xenomorph; is it responsible for our guards as well?”

“I…” Applejack turned to Trixie, watching as she rubbed her right foreleg. “There’s something I was going to tell you when we got back. But I guess it seems now is a better time.” Trixie gulped, shivering until she continued, “There are only a few remaining ponies left. The rest of the other captured ponies are dead.”

“Wait, what do you mean?” Rarity asked, eyes slightly closed as it looked like she was preparing herself.

“That… thing, whatever it is, there’s more of them. If Trixie… if I remember… eight others died. That means there are eight creatures.”

It was silent. Applejack’s mouth was slightly agape. “Yah mean to tell us… there’s eight of them…”

“What?” Rainbow backed up to the wall, frantically looking in all directions. “There’s eight of these things running around this place?”

A whimper sounded off at Applejack’s right side, which she turned to see Rarity struggling to hold it in. She quietly made her way towards the fashionista and reached a hoof out to her. “Rarity… you doin’ okay there?”

Rarity turned to her and froze, shaking. She took a quick breath in and nodded. “I’ll… I’ll be fine.”

Applejack heard a hoof stomping the ground, turning to Spitfire. “I know that we’re all scared. Heck, I don’t know what to do if we encounter this creature. But we have to stick together.” Everypony hesitantly nodded. She turned to Trixie and asked, “How much farther till we reach this chamber?”

“It shouldn’t be too long now. I… I think we’re at the halfway point.”

Spitfire nodded and turned to the others. “Let’s keep going.” Without a word, the group quickly took off again, silently trotting as they made their way through the tunnels. Yet as they passed another opening, a screamed disturbed their quiet trek. “Hold up.”

“Where do you think it came from?” Rainbow Dash asked, the entire group looking down the four different tunnels.

The pony screamed again, and Spitfire turned to the west tunnel. “This way.” Applejack followed behind Rainbow Dash as they rushed towards the screams. Although she had a possible idea to what was causing this stallion’s cries, she just wished it wouldn’t be the case. They came to an opening, and Applejack’s eyes widened at the sight in front of her. There was a Neighland scientist, screaming as a creature towered above him, jaw over his neck as it violently shook him.

There was a sudden snap, bones crunching as the scientist’s cries quickly vanished. Applejack quickly recognized the Xenomorph over top of his body, the unicorn’s neck hanging loosely. It was a bit smaller than the one she had seen in Ponyville, but not by much. She flinched as it tore into the stallion’s flesh. She turned to Spitfire, who silently pointed to the direction they came. The group quietly backed away.

Rarity quietly whimpered, prompting Applejack to move a hoof over her mouth. But Applejack looked over to the Xenomorph and saw that it had stopped. It turned around towards them and let out a loud hiss. “Run!” Spitfire yelled. Which everypony turned around and ran back the way they came. However, as Applejack ran, the others were gaining more ground, which separated her from them.

She looked behind her and watched as the Xenomorph jumped onto the hallway’s wall she was in. It kept jumping from one side to the other, closing in on her. A throbbing sensation hit her right shoulder hard, causing her to wince in pain. ‘Mah dang shoulder!’ She glanced back at a screech and saw that it had leaped and was about to land right on top of her.

In a blur, it was thrown back down the hallway and into the wall. Applejack looked up and saw Rainbow Dash flying above. “Come on! Move faster!”

“I can’t go any faster!” Applejack yelled back. She looked back again and saw that the Xenomorph got back up. It screeched at the two and quickly took off after them. Applejack felt her hooves leave the ground. She looked up at Rainbow who flew as fast as she could while carrying Applejack. When she glanced back at it, the Xenomorph was slowly gaining on them. “Ah know now’s not a good time, Rainbow, but is there any way you can fly faster!?”

“I’m trying!” Rainbow yelled as she glanced back at the alien behind them.

Applejack looked down and saw the others below them. But when she looked up, there was a chamber right in front of them. “Rainbow, look out!” She felt the wind rush past her as she stopped inside the large chamber.

“Oh no, there’s no way out!” Spitfire yelled from below. Rainbow flew Applejack down as they turned around. The heavy sounds of footsteps behind them were getting louder and louder.

“What do we do now?!” Rarity screamed, hyperventilating as she backed up to the wall.

Applejack scanned the chamber, but didn’t see any other exit. “I guess there’s only one option left.” She turned to Spitfire, who turned towards the only entrance. “Trixie, get behind us!”

Once Trixie did, the Xenomorph landed directly at the entrance. It screamed at the ponies that were a distance away from it. “A-are we really going to f-fight that thing?” Rarity stammered as she stood next to Applejack.

“I don’t like it either. But if we want to survive, we need to get rid of this thing before it kills all of us!” Spitfire quickly glanced back to the others, returning her gaze to the dark brown Xenomorph. She flared her wings, as did Rainbow Dash.

The alien jumped high into the air, but Applejack quickly ran below it. She kicked as hard as she could, the Xenomorph flying back into the tunnel. She heard a loud crash and scuttled back to the group. They heard it roar in frustration before watching it jump back into the chamber. Its exterior ribcage was cracked, but it only seemed to shrug the injury off. “What? It’s still up!?” Spitfire turned to Applejack. “I need you to try that again! You’re stronger than that!”

As Applejack went to talk, the Xenomorph jumped again. The group split up this time, Spitfire with Rainbow and Rarity moving aside with Applejack. “I won’t get another chance. It’ll be ready for it.”

“What!?” Spitfire’s eyes widened as she and Rainbow flew out of the way, Rainbow picking up Trixie and dropping her off by the others. Rainbow quickly sped towards it and slammed it into the ground. She made a hasty retreat as its tail came around for a swipe, a few strands of her tail hair cut off as she withdrew. The Xenomorph screeched and jumped up to the ceiling. The roof cracked as it landed, Rainbow Dash yelping as she hastily dodged each attack.

She screamed as its tail scored a gash across the left side of her barrel. Spitfire kicked the Xenomorph off the ceiling, the Alien hitting the adjacent wall hard as it slid down to the floor. It hissed in annoyance and turned towards Rarity and Applejack. It quickly got up and sprinted towards them. Applejack turned to see light blue flashes of light coming from Rarity’s horn as she tried to hit the Xenomorph. It easily maneuvered around each bolt, roaring at its attacker.

“Rarity! I know you’re not strong with fightin’ magic, but yah need to hit that thang!”

“I’m trying, Applejack!” Rarity screamed, eyes wide as each bolt missed. When it jumped at them, she shrieked and shot at it again, this time making contact against the Alien. It pierced through the broken ribcage, and the Xenomorph screeched in pain as the force of it sent it skidding back, but only a few feet. The two mares quickly stepped back, but Applejack flinched when she heard Rarity scream. She looked down, eyes wide as she gasped.

The Xenomorph’s acid blood had splattered around them, sizzling against the concrete and steel. But Rarity’s hoof… drops of the corrosive blood had been sprayed on it. There was no way they could’ve avoided this. Rarity didn’t have the magic capability to cast the appropriate anti-acid spell on them but did her best to remove as much of it as she could before it could eat the flesh around her hoof away. Applejack turned to the Xenomorph, its lips parted back as it showed its metal-like teeth. The ground cracked in front of it as Spitfire landed. She darted right towards it, kicking it hard and sending it back. It screeched and slammed its tail against her. She let out an audible yelp, sent straight towards the wall.

Spitfire hit the wall hard, eyes fluttering before she fell to the ground. “Spitfire!” Rainbow Dash cried out. She glared at the alien, watching it roar at the others.

“Rainbow Dash! Get Spitfire over here!”

Rainbow nodded to Applejack, swiftly picking up the downed Wonderbolt in one swoop. She landed next to her and Rarity. Rainbow quickly pressed a hoof against Spitfire’s neck and looked up. “Okay… she still has a pulse.” It was good to know that Spitfire was still alive. The only bad part was she was knocked unconscious.

“Well this is bad,” Applejack murmured, watching as the Xenomorph cautiously approached them. From the looks of it, one would suspect it was scared. Yet she knew all too well what it was doing. It was sizing them all up, using that big brain it had.

“Any more ideas… girls…” Trixie shuddered as her pupils shrank.

Applejack raised a hoof to her head, breaths coming quickly. Nothing came to mind. She looked to Rainbow Dash, but she seemed at a loss for words. She turned to the Xenomorph, its tail flicking around, the spear at the end of its tail glinting in the light. It felt like the end was upon them. They’d all die to this terrifying creature. She turned to Rarity, the mare whimpered as the acid burn continued to sting at her hoof. “Rarity.” The mare in question opened one eye. “Do you have any ideas?”

Rarity turned towards the monster. There was a flicker in her eye. Something caught her attention before she turned to Applejack. “Y-you see that large crack up on the ceiling, l-left side to the entrance?” She followed her directions and spotted some large mass of concrete and steel.

She turned to Rarity. “Yah mean that unstable lookin’ piece of metal?” Rarity nodded. The Xenomorph jumped at them. Rarity shot at it again, but it ducked under the bolt like it was nothing. Applejack, however, quickly got underneath it and kicked away at it again. The Xenomorph roared as it was knocked back to the tunnel. Applejack backed up and turned to Rarity. “So what do we do?”

“I… I know I’m not as strong in magic as Twilight… b-but if you could get it underneath that specific area, I c-could possibly force it on top of the Xenomorph.”

Applejack looked back to the specific spot on the ceiling. ‘I… really hope that Rarity’s right.’ She turned to Rainbow Dash and said, “Okay. Before that thing gets back up, we need to get it underneath there.” She pointed a hoof towards the ceiling. “Yah see all those cracks?” Rainbow Dash nodded. “Rarity’s gonna blow it up with her magic. We need ta get that alien under it.”

Rainbow Dash gulped and shakily nodded. “Okay…” She quickly breathed in and frowned, nodding again with more fervor. The Xenomorph jumped back into the chamber. Rainbow Dash flew up and kicked as hard as she could. It skidded on the ground, growling as it thrust its tail. Rainbow yelped and ducked under the strike.

Applejack charged and kicked it with both back legs again while it was distracted. The creature screeched in annoyance as it skidded closer to the unstable ceiling. It growled and looked from one pony to the other. Rainbow was the first one to charge again. It hissed and struck again with its tail, but as Rainbow dodged it, the tail curled and wrapped tightly around her frame. “Rainbow!” Applejack screamed and charged the Xenomorph. However, it dodged her kick. She felt its clawed hand grab one of her legs.

Her world turned around. The air was knocked from her chest as her back hit the floor hard. It slammed its right hand against her neck, Applejack desperately trying to lift it off. It growled and opened its mouth, slime dripping down her muzzle. The weight suddenly lifted off. Two beams of light, one light blue and one pale magenta, hit it at once. Rainbow Dash yelped as she was tossed aside. Applejack glanced back and saw both Trixie and Rarity firing off at the creature. Applejack got up and turned to the Xenomorph, seeing her chance.

Quickly as she could, she sprinted at the alien and jumped. She turned around so her right back leg was pointed straight at the creature. Time seemed to slow down. The beams of magic stopped firing. The creature looked up, but screeched as Applejack’s leg made contact. “This one’s for mah brother!” she yelled as the Xenomorph was knocked straight into the wall. The force shook the ceiling above it.

But it didn’t collapse. She looked back and watched as Trixie and Rarity shot at the ceiling. The ground shook as small bits of debris crumbled around the Xenomorph as it screeched in alarm. Applejack turned around and ran away but screamed as a piercing pain struck her left leg. The roaring of the Xenomorph died down as the ceiling came down in one loud boom. Dust blew over her. Applejack let out another cry at the pain in her leg.

She looked down, eyes widened at the sight of its spear-like tail punctured through her left leg’s gaskin. The pain shot up and down her nerves. She closed her eyes and groaned. Applejack felt a hoof over her and saw Rainbow Dash. “Thank goddess you’re okay!” Her friend wrapped her hooves around her. She saw Trixie helping Rarity over Rainbow’s shoulder.

“Is it… dead?” Trixie quietly murmured.

Rarity looked up to the pile of debris. Applejack shakily did the same. From the tail that poked out underneath the rubble, steam poured out from the crevices of the pile. Applejack heard her friends sigh in relief. They all managed to kill one Xenomorph, and yet that was only one down. If it was that difficult to kill one without the help of Twilight or Celestia, then they were all in big trouble.

“Applejack… are you going to be okay?” Applejack looked down to her leg. She returned her attention to Rarity.

“Does it look like Ah’m havin’ a fun time?” She saw her reaction before Applejack winced at the throbbing pain. “Sorry… I’m just in a lot of pain right now.”

“Come on, let’s help get it out of her.” Applejack froze at the solution.

“Okay. I said it hurts, but I don’t know if I wan--”

“You want this spear in your leg?” Applejack looked up to Rainbow Dash. She shakily shook her head. “Okay. Just let us do this alright? I know it’s going to hurt a lot, but you’ve gotta trust me on this one.”

Applejack sat upright, but each movement felt like she had a hoof over an open firepit. She watched as Rainbow Dash grabbed the tail. Applejack yelped at the pain that came next. She forced her mouth shut, but the pained screams came anyway. With one sickening squelch, the object was gone. But blood poured profusely from the wound. She closed her eyes and kept on breathing. Her leg felt cold, and slowly the same feeling coursed over her body.

The voices of her friends were muffled, and her vision blurred. Applejack felt the world pass her by. Then a burning sensation brought her out of the sub-conscious state; she screamed at the pain centered in her wound. She looked down and saw Trixie standing over her wound. “I’m sorry! It was the only way to stop you from bleeding.”

Then came the ripping of cloth. She looked over to see Rainbow Dash ripping Spitfire’s Wonderbolt’s uniform. “Well… we gotta bind Rarity’s wound with something. Same going for me.” She wrapped part of around her waist, covering the bleeding wound on her side.

Rainbow passed it over to Rarity. She lifted it in her light blue aura and wrapped it around her acid-eaten hoof. The hoof was melted down to a nub, ruining Rarity’s perfect hooficure, and there were burns on the surrounding fur and flesh. The hoof would grow back, but the tender flesh would need to be covered until then. She flinched, but she continued to wrap it gently as she could. “T-too bad I’m ruining a nice outfit…”

Applejack stood up. She tried to put pressure on her leg, but the stinging sensation said otherwise. She kept it from the ground and shuffled along on three legs. “Is… e-everypony ready to move onward?”

“I’ve gotta get Spitfire. Me and Trixie can carry her. You and Rarity can help support each other.” Applejack nodded at the idea. She lowered herself underneath Rarity’s bad hoof. Rarity only groaned a little, but it seemed to work. They watched as Rainbow Dash and Trixie lifted Spitfire on their backs and quickly trotted to their side.

“We’re only a short distance from the chamber me and the other ponies were put into.” Trixie said. “Are you two able to keep moving?”

Applejack nodded. “Don’t yah worry. We’ll be fine.” With that, Rainbow and Trixie took the lead. They moved slowly as Applejack limped alongside Rarity.

“Applejack…” She turned to Rarity. “Do… d-do you think we’re going to make it?”

She looked down as they walked through the red illuminated tunnels. Their chances at the moment didn’t look good, yet there was some sliver of hope there. They just had to keep moving. “I… I know things look rough now. We’re injured and not in good shape. But… we’ll get through this. We just need ta stick together.” It was the honest reply. Sure, it didn’t sound good, but Applejack had to keep their morale up.

Rarity slowly nodded. “And have hope… right?”

Applejack returned the gesture. She smiled and said, “Don’t worry. We’ll get through this.” They just had to. Applejack closed her eyes for a brief moment. ‘We’ll get through this… somehow.’

The scream of a stallion was cut short as a dark olive tail burst through his masked muzzle. Specimen Six hissed and pulled her tail away in a quick swipe, cutting off the left side of the stallion’s head. She turned to her sister, Specimen Eight, who slammed two ponies into the ground, her claw-hands crushing the two into bloody pulps. She lifted her crested head and roared into the tunnel, a spine-chilling sound which sent some of the ponies running. Six screeched and took off after one. She jumped over top of the pony, but she stopped and slid in front of it as her Queen’s tail pierced the pony’s stomach.

Six watched as her Queen lifted the pony up. The mare screamed, but her Queen only growled as she pulled the mare apart with a terrifying ease, separating the mare into two halves before tossing her aside. Six turned to the others running. She ran and pulled back one pony, who screamed as the Xenomorph pinned him down. Six held him down and immediately bit into his head with her second mouth, the stallion shuddering for only a moment until she dropped the corpse. She took a step forward before she growled, a faint tremor of discomfort rippling in her head before silencing.

She was able glance over to her sibling and her Queen, seeing that the two shared the same feeling. The Queen turned to her and hissed before she turned to the ponies and roared. Although none of the ponies would ever have understood Six’s communication, what she heard from her mother rang loud and clear. Six turned to the way they came, which she saw Eight do the same. Even her Queen had told her Praetorian to leave her, although her Queen was sure that she could deal with these ponies. It was clear though. That feeling she had. It was the sensation of death. One of her siblings must’ve been killed. She could see her Queen’s thoughts clearly. Three of these equines were responsible for the death of one of her sisters. She roared into the hallway, as did Eight before they took off, sent by the Queen to assist the rest of their siblings in killing off the ponies.

Lights flickered in Bishop’s room. His gaze never wavered from the desk. Everything was going wrong. He flicked his tail once and grunted. ‘They’re all out, even the Queen.’ He didn’t have to calculate the amount of damage this would cost. Millions of bits were being wasted. But that wasn’t the problem; he had enough money to rebuild this place three times over.

The problem was the loss of life. How many ponies were dying at this moment? From his regular Neighland-Yupony guards, to his scientists, and even more. He had watched ponies die during the construction of the entire facility. He had watched ponies burn alive during the configuration of his gem-powered generator. Most recently, he saw ponies die at the claws of these Xenomorphs, including Prince Blueblood. So many ponies dead. Though their lives meant little to Neighland, he still needed his employees to contain the situation.

And now there were possibly hundreds more dying. Neighland ran the numbers in his head. ‘Over three-hundred-fifty workers. There are nine Xenomorphs. The total amount of casualties are going to spark up to a possible one-hundred-fifty-two death rate. And that’s just the minimum amount.’ His muzzle contorted with so many emotions. He frowned; frustration was the biggest one. The containment procedures were simple. Why were his guards taking so long?

Bishop turned to the new pair of headsets resting upon his desk. He lifted it in a greenish-gray aura over his head, getting it in a comfortable position as the headset lit up in the color of his aura. Static invaded his ears for a brief moment before a voice came from them. “Hello, Bishop Neighland.”

“Greetings, Captain. How is the capture of our nine specimens coming along?” It was quiet, the silence lasting for more than a few seconds. What was taking him so long to respond? “Captain? Is everything alright?”

“...No.” Bishop sat there for a few seconds, waiting for the captain to continue. “We’ve lost almost half of our guard force. The last report I got was… um… about fifty guards killed in action. Fifteen are missing and assumed dead.” His breathing shuddered for a moment. “W-we’ve also gotten a report that about half of our scientists and other workers have gone missing as well.”

“And… that is important to me?” In truth, Bishop wasn’t exactly right there, but there were more pressing concerns. “What about the Xenomorphs? Have you captured any of them?

“The c-containment efforts are… um, not going as planned. None of the Xenomorphs have been captured.” Bishop didn’t even flinch at the news. His frown never grew or receded. “My forces at the front have come back. There’s only so many of us left. The ones who made it back said that the Queen is still coming this way. But Specimen Six and Eight went the other way.”

This behavior was certainly new. Why did they leave their Queen? “Then it should be easier for you to contain her. Do everything in your power to capture Specimen Zero.”

“W-we’ll try. But, but I’m not sure we can. She’s so strong… she’s killed so many without breaking a sweat. We--” The roar of the Queen echoed in the static. The captain’s breathing increased before he said, “We’ll try…” The Queen let out another roar before the connection cut off. Bishop sat there as the roars of the Queen echoed in through his thoughts. He set down the headset gently and stared at it for a moment longer. Then he turned to a pencil at his right, picking it up with his magic. The pencil shuddered after a couple moments, then it simply broke in half. He tossed it into a trashcan at the left side of his desk. ‘Useless ponies should just be thrown away.’

He sighed and rubbed his temple with his right hoof. “Mr. Neighland?” Bishop looked up to the guard standing at the right side of his door. “Are you alright?”

Bishop gave a slight nod and he turned his chair around. Facing the windows, he stared out at the other three buildings. Everything was falling apart at the seams. All his plans laid to waste within one day. Yet even with all of these obstacles, Bishop smiled. “Yes, I am alright.” Bishop turned around and brought his attention to his two guards. “In fact, I have an idea. If the normal guards can’t handle this, then you, my personal guards shall assist me in capturing these Xenomorphs.”

The guards simply stared at him before nodding. “Of course.”

“But first, we must go acquire some weapons from the Research building.”

“And what if we run into any other ponies? What about the princesses?”

The princesses. He hadn’t forgotten about Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight Sparkle. If they had and were surviving this mess then they would already know about the Xenomorphs. If that was the case, then there was only one option. “If we come across them, you are free to kill the princesses as well as their associates.” He paused for a moment before adding, “but there is one request.” He glanced over his shoulder. “Leave Princess Twilight Sparkle alone. There is a chance, however small, that I can convince Twilight to join me. She just needs a little more convincing.”

The guards only nodded. “We’ll spread the word among our ranks.” Bishop returned his gaze to the windows. He stood up and walked around his desk. The guards opened the door for him. Bishop planned to salvage all of this, and nopony, not even the princesses, was going to stop him from correcting the mistakes that were made this day. If they really desired to put all of this at an end, then they’d have to kill him first.

Chapter XIII: Chance Meeting

View Online

There was the saying that there was nothing to fear within the darkness, that it was your mind playing tricks on you; it could make you see things that weren’t actually there. Pinkie Pie was an advent believer of this. She knew that laughter was the best medicine for being scared. However, this time things were different. The air had lost its tense feeling. Instead, as Pinkie shakily scanned the now-darkened room while hidden underneath a chair, she knew that something was amiss.

She moved her gaze to Fluttershy, who trembled underneath the table she shared with Soarin. Poor Fluttershy, Pinkie thought. Her friend had been whimpering for the past ten minutes. Pinkie knew it was not because of the lights going out. Of course that had surprised her group. The reason why they were hiding was because Pinkie had flinched when a sharp pinch in her knees had caught her attention. She let out a quiet gasp and turned to Fluttershy. “Fluttershy!” She had whispered as loud as she could. “My knees are pinchy!” Following her lead, they took cover behind whatever they could and waited for whatever it was that was coming.

The source of this fear was coming closer, yet her Pinkie Sense did not need to warn her. Pinkie only had to take a quick glance at the blood staining the walls adjacent to the hallway outside this room. The screams of the mare behind the receptionist desk intermingling with the roaring of that horrible creature gave her the heads-up. It wasn’t the first time Pinkie had seen a pony die right in front of her. She was already witness to the devastation that a Xenomorph could cause. But this? Watching it while it was “live” was the worst thing she had ever gone through.

Heavy footsteps echoed closer and closer. Pinkie stopped shaking and watched Fluttershy and Soarin do the same. She held her breath. A growl came first before the Xenomorph’s head came into sight, blocking the bloodstains from her view. It turned into the room and slowly took a couple steps. The fact that it was taking its sweet time entering the room only made this worse. Pinkie didn’t have to be an animal expert to know that it was looking for something. And by that “something”, she meant them.

It growled again and slowly scanned the room, making its way past the chairs she was under. The impact from its feet hitting the ground shook Pinkie a little. She shrunk even lower as its left foot landed only inches away from where she was. Pinkie rushed her right hoof over her mouth. If she knew anything about this creature, it was that its hearing was spot-on. If any of them made one peep, it would find out where it had come from.

And this was the closest Pinkie had ever come to seeing one. Unlike the first one at the Sisters’ Royal Castle, this Xenomorph was literally inches away. It waited, observing its surroundings before it hissed. It turned towards the table where Soarin and Fluttershy were hiding. If it found them, she’d have a front row seat to the alien’s horror show. It took one last step. However, it growled and grabbed at its head. Was it injured? Pinkie didn’t see anything that resembled some kind of wound. It stopped and quickly ran back the way it came.

Once it was out the door, Pinkie Pie came out from underneath the chair. She stood there for a second before turning her gaze towards the others. “Okay… that was too close,” Soarin whispered. “I say we move before it comes back.”

“A-a-are you sure?” Fluttershy shook, voice trembling. “Maybe we could j-just st-stay here. There’s no r-reason why it’d come back h-here right?”

“We don’t know that,” Soarin said. He didn’t move his attention from the entryway the Xenomorph had come through. “If it does come back, we won’t get a chance to run. It’s best to move now before it decides to show its ugly mug again.”

As Fluttershy whimpered, Pinkie wrapped a hoof around her shoulders. “Don’t worry, Fluttershy. Although this party is looking down, you can’t let it get to you.” But the assurance fell on deaf ears as Fluttershy’s frown remained. “Aww… Fluttershy…” This was something Pinkie hadn’t come across too often. Fluttershy had a right to be scared. Same as Soarin, the guards, as well as herself. But she couldn’t make her smile. Then again… did the situation really call for laughter? ‘...This party sucks…’

“I-it’s okay, Pinkie. I… understand that you’re trying,” Fluttershy murmured, but she spoke away from Pinkie, not giving her a single glance. Pinkie’s ears flattened. Nothing seemed to be going right at all. Soarin pointed to the opposite entryway and waved the others to follow. Pinkie and Fluttershy went first as the Royal Guards followed behind.

The group quietly shuffled along. The silence in the air was unbearable. Pinkie flinched when she heard the scream of a pony in the far distance, accompanied by the roar of the Xenomorph. Her pacing increased, as did the others. She shook as her knees pinched her again. “Guys!” She whispered loudly. “My knees are pinchy again!”

“I-I-Is it another one of those m-m-monsters?” Fluttershy’s voice shook. She trembled as she walked alongside her pink friend. Pinkie nodded. “O-oh… g-g-great…”

“It’s all going to be okay, guys.” Soarin’s stern gaze didn’t waver. “Sure, we have a bunch of these monsters around us, but we can’t let that get to our heads. As long as we keep moving, we should be fine.” Pinkie was glad for the reassurance. Or at least she should’ve been.

Pinkie’s recollection of the original nightmare wasn’t a fond one. That last Xenomorph had killed so many of her friends. If these ones got out, how many of her friends would make it? That was an answer that she wasn’t looking forward to. The pinch in her knees came back. The vents above them creaked. Soarin waved for them to stop moving. Pinkie already figured out what was hiding up there. It still baffled her that they could fit into these vents. How they could was beyond her.

The movement stopped right over Soarin. They kept still as possible. The creature shuffled inside the vent again before moving past the group and further onward. Soarin turned to Pinkie and said, “You sure it was that one? It wasn’t that bad.”

Pinkie shook her head. “No, it wasn’t that one.” She flinched as the pain from this pinching increased. A loud boom of metal echoed far behind them. The floor vibrated as something landed far from their position. Pinkie saw the tip of the tail and quickly turned to Soarin. “It’s right there.”

Soarin nodded and got the group moving quickly. They rounded a corner and hid as the Xenomorph turned towards the hall they were in moments ago. It growled and walked closer. Pinkie hugged the wall as tightly as she could. If it came this way, they’d all be found out. ‘Well… at least we're safe for the moment.’ She then turned to the floor and glared. ‘Seriously. What's this thing's problem!? You'd think this creature would be gone since that lady got rid of it the first time!’

The Xenomorph hissed as the tip of its muzzle came past the corner. The group kept sliding back, hugging the wall like it would keep them out of sight. It took another step forward and stopped. The Xenomorph turned the opposite direction, which prompted the group to quietly move as hastily as they could. When they reached the next corner, Pinkie loosened up a little. She heard Fluttershy sigh. That relaxed sound quickly turned into a gasp.

When she glanced that way, the guards with them pointed their spears. At the end of the tip was another group. One of the stallions had a crossbow pointed at them and another that was oddly hiding behind a pegasus mare with an odd sword that was split in half. It coursed with electricity, and Pinkie thought that it would definitely give ponies a bad hair day. The other two mares held weapons of their own. One had a funny glow to it and looked like it was see-through, floating next to the darker-blue-colored mare.

The other mare was at the front with her own spear floating in a pale scarlet aura. But Pinkie only had to take a quick scan to see blood covering parts of her body . She froze. Was that her blood? “Who the heck are you?” Soarin asked.

“I could ask the same,” Aquafrost replied. “What’s a member of the Wonderbolts doing here?” She turned her gaze toward the others. “Why did you bring civilians here? Are you out of your mind?”

“I’m already aware of the situation at hoof.” Soarin’s frown grew. “But the better question is, whose bright idea was it to keep creatures like the one responsible for the death of thirty-eight ponies about a month ago?”

Aquafrost stared at them for a moment longer before she looked away. “We didn’t know…”

“...Y-y-you didn’t know?” Fluttershy quietly asked.

“Apparently so,” Sparkdust said. The cyan aura surrounding her horn disappeared as well as her sword. “Aquafrost, our group’s leader here, got us together after she heard what happened to one of our prisoners. Guessing she wanted to speak with Bishop about a couple personal questions. But as soon as we got up on our way, the lights went out. Pretty soon, we’re running around blind as bats with those freaks running around as well.”

“Why should we believe you?” Soarin continued. “You’re working with the madpony behind all this.”

Aqua turned to the others. Pinkie couldn’t hear what they were saying. But she smiled all the same. She hopped over next to Soarin and murmured, “Y’know, I don’t think they’re all that bad.”

Soarin raised an eyebrow. “They were ready to fight us. What are you talking about?”

“Come on. If they really wanted to hurt us, they would’ve done it by now.” Pinkie’s smile only grew brighter.

Soarin stood there staring back at her. He sighed. “Well… okay, fine. But I hope you're right about this.”

“Of course I’m right, silly. I can tell when ponies are good.”

He stared for a moment longer before moving his gaze to the other group. “So… where are you guys heading?”

Aquafrost glanced over her shoulder before she turned around. “We’re trying to find somepony. Last time we saw her, she was running from something. Yet there wasn’t anything behind her. I think she’s just scared. She needs our help.” The concern Pinkie could hear was real.

“I know it’s important, but we have to get out of here.”

“But she could be hurt. The last time she was alone with this thing, it was for a week. Who knows how much stress she’s going through?” A week alone with the Xenomorph? Pinkie didn’t have to be an expert to tell how stressful that could’ve been. “Even if this company didn’t stand for the right reasons, there’s one thing I do believe in. We follow the Royal Guard and Wonderbolts creed of never leaving a fellow pony behind.”

Soarin turned his gaze to the ground for a few moments. He sighed and shook his head. “This will probably get us killed, but it’s the right thing to do. Alright, we’ll help you find this mare.” Aquafrost’s mood, even in this dark situation, lit up. Pinkie was grateful to see somepony smiling. “So, the pony we’re looking for. What does she look like.”

“She’s a unicorn with dark green fur. Eyes are a icy blue.”

“What’s her name?” Soarin asked.

“Crystal Rune,” Aquafrost said. There was something about that name that sounded familiar, Pinkie thought.

Pinkie slid next to Fluttershy and whispered, “Hey, isn’t that the same mare that Daring Do and Princess Celestia was talking about?”

Fluttershy’s eyes widened. “Y-yeah. Then… that’s good, right?”

“Of course it’s good. It’s fantastic!” she whispered loudly. “Daring Do has her best friend back, and Celestia will be super happy to see her!”

“Alright, we should get moving again before something finds us.” Soarin turned to the new group. “You guys know this place better than we do. Where should we go?”

Blazing Ash took a step forward. “There’s a hallway behind us that will lead to a stairwell. When we go down the couple of flights, we take the first door and down towards the tram tunnels. That’d be our best bet to avoid those monsters around us.”

“You're certain of that?” Soarin raised an eyebrow. “Because there was an Xenomorph tailing us a couple minutes ago, and one that was inside a vent too.”

“The tram tunnel we’ll take won’t have any vents. If they approach us, it’ll have to be out in the open.”

Soarin stared at him for a brief moment. “Alright then. We’ll follow you guys.”

Aquafrost nodded before taking lead of the group. As they began their trek, Pinkie looked at all the new ponies she could meet. Certainly this shouldn’t have been the time for her to make more friends, but she had to at least keep everypony’s spirits high. But at the moment she couldn’t do much. The pinch in her knees returned. Pinkie stopped and flexed her legs. “G-guys… my knees are pinching again.”

“Your knees are what now?” Sparkdust turned around and tilted her head, but her gaze quickly changed to what was behind them, her eyes widening as her horn lit up in a cyan aura. The others in front of her did the same, to which Fluttershy gasped in fright.

Pinkie turned around and trembled in fear. Now in front of the Royal Guards, whose spears were drawn, on all fours, were four Xenomorphs. One was crawling on the ceiling, two slowly approaching on the floor, hissing as they showed their teeth, and the last one was on the right wall, tail pointed towards the the group of ponies. Pinkie had heard how difficult it was to put down a Queen. Pinkie had even seen how difficult it was to kill the first Xenomorph they came across. But four?

‘Seriously… why can’t this be about something fun? Why does that… creepy alien thing have to always frighten everypony?’ It was a question whose answer she already knew. From what Twilight had told them, Weyland-Yutani had theorized that these creatures were bioengineered to take over planets, killing off all life so that the beings that created them could use the planet as their own. Even though it was just a theory, Pinkie wasn’t going to doubt the idea about them being used to kill.

“Why aren’t they attacking?” Soarin whispered, the group slowly backing up.

“I… t-t-think they’re… siz-sizing us up,” Fluttershy answered, tears trickling down her muzzle.

“S-she could be right… they’re animals after all.” Pinkie knew that Aquafrost was right, but even then she didn’t consider these things as animals. To her, these were monsters, like the ones that were told to fillies and colts at bedtime so that they’d be good. They were the darkness taken form in these malicious and merciless creatures.

“Everypony…” one of the Royal Guards said. “We’re going to hold them off as long as we can.”

“B-but you can’t win against them,” Pinkie argued. “They--”

“We know… but our sacrifice won’t be in vain. We know you’ll make it. Now… go!” The Xenomorphs jumped as he yelled. They rammed into a shield that the three conjured up. They screeched in frustration and surprisingly pushed the guards back. Aquafrost’s group quickly took off, as did Soarin and Fluttershy. Pinkie quickly followed behind but glanced over her shoulder.

The shield broke. One guard went down with an Xenomorph tearing into him. The other two blasted two Xenomorphs back as the other one jumped onto the second guard. She couldn’t handle it. The screams of the dying were too much. She turned her gaze back to the group in front of her as they ran as fast as they could. They made a left down the next hall before turning to their right. Pinkie stopped and caught her breath.

Fluttershy was whimpering quietly, wiping her eyes with her hoof. “Th-that w-was awful… it w-w-was just like when Echo got killed.”

“Those things… they’ve been tearing through the N-Y guards here like they were nothing,” Sparkdust said, breath heavy with anxiety. “I… I thought the Royal Guard would stand more of a chance.”

“No… unfortunately. I don’t know if us Wonderbolts are capable of taking them on alone,” Soarin admitted. “We lost thirty-eight ponies to just one of those creatures. With four of these creatures… I don’t like the chances we have.”

“Those chances will improve if we keep moving forward and keep quiet,” Taciturn said. “Sure, those monsters have acute hearing and a sense of smell. But as long as we keep ourselves well hidden, we should stand more of a chance.”

“Buh did yah see all thah? Dhis is crazy!” Patchy whispered loudly. “I don’h know abouh you all, but dhose dhings ripped dhem all da shreds!”

“Pipe down, will you?” Taciturn shushed the terrified nurse. “If you’re really that freaked out by those things, then here.” She reached a hoof to her right barrel and pulled out a knife. “I know this won’t do much, but if there’s a need for it, use it to defend yourself.”

“I uh… okay…” Patchy shook as he held it, eyes glued to the tip of the short blade.

“I-I-I d-don’t want to be th-the bearer of b-bad news… bu-but those th-things have a s-strong acid for blood.” The stares that greeted Fluttershy’s revelation were that of fear. “Any type of m-metal can b-be melted by it… including any-anything else… e-even our own skin and… bodies…”

“...Oh dhad’s jush greah!” Patchy exclaimed.

“Will you just give it a rest already?” Sparkdust scolded Patchy. “We’re already in a lot of trouble. If you just stay behind us, you’ll be absolutely fine.”

“Wait, hold on.” Blazing shushed the entire group. “Do you hear that?” Pinkie didn’t hear it at first, but the creaking of metal quickly grabbed her attention. She looked up at the vents. She already knew what was possibly up there. She glanced over at Aqua, who mouthed a phrase. She already figured that being quiet was the right idea, all too wary of how fast the Xenomorphs could react to the tiniest sound. The echo of its feet stopped as soon as it came.

It was quiet. An eerie silence. How long did they have to stay like this? What if another Xenomorph surprised them while they sat there? These creatures, after all, were very cunning. Pinkie flinched at the sound of metal breaking. She swerved her gaze to the source but shock gripped her, eyes wide at what she saw. Taciturn stood there. She forced gasps of pain out of her mouth, her voice distorted by the point of the blade through her neck. And just as she stood there, the tail violently pulled her into the vent, and she disappeared into the darkness.

The footsteps scurried away. It was obvious already that Taciturn was far from saving now. But for Pinkie, it still hurt to see ponies die right in front of her eyes. “Taciturn…” Pinkie turned to Aquafrost, the mare on her back, eyes wide at the horrible sight. “N-no… no, no, no, no…” She didn’t yell, but tears trickled down and marked the poor mare’s face. Pinkie had a feeling that Aquafrost cared about her friends, and that feeling now was assured by this.

“No… way…” Sparkdust had tears too, but also bore a frown. “That monster… that freak’s going to pay for what it did!”

“Are you crazy? Do you want to get yourself killed like Taciturn? That thing surprised her. It’ll ambush you too if you let it,” Blazing Ash said. “Don’t be stupid.”

“Buh… Taciturn…” Patchy murmured quietly. He looked at the dagger in his hooves and clutched it tightly to himself. The emotion that Soarin, Fluttershy, and Pinkie saw was real. Maybe they had gone too far in assuming that all ponies working under Neighland-Yupony were bad.

Soarin walked up to Aquafrost and murmured, “C’mon. I know how hard this must be… but we have to go. If we stay, we’re likely to be next.”

Aqua looked up. She wiped the tears away, but they still came. She nodded and stood up. Soarin took the lead this time as the others followed suit. But as Pinkie followed behind, there was one pony that didn’t seem to show as much emotion. Maybe it was just Blazing Ash’s way of containing his feelings? He probably didn’t like showing them in front of others. Her body shook a bit. ‘But… that means there’s going to be a doozy. Is it because of him?’ Whatever this signal her Pinkie Sense was giving her, she had to be cautious of how she interpreted it. She hoped it’d be something good. Everypony could use some happiness right about now.


With a jump, Specimen Six leaped up towards the ceiling. Down below her was her much bigger sister, Specimen Eight. With a command from their Queen, they were sent back to deal with the threat that presented itself to them. Of course this threat was more ponies, but these ones were different. They had the capability to kill one of their own. Whatever threat presented itself to their future hive and Queen would have to be dealt with.

She continued her quick pace on the ceiling. There was no feeling of exhaustion. Specimen Six was bred for a purpose: to hunt and kill. All that mattered was the future of the hive. The Xenomorph slowed her pace as she swiveled her eyeless gaze. There was an echo of hooves. She stood still and hissed to her sister below her. They stopped and waited for the noise to return.

Specimen Six quickly pinpointed the noise and turned in its direction. She hastily crawled toward the sound. She spotted movement and turned towards the source. It was a pony, but not one from the blurry image she had received. It may have not been one of the ponies who killed her sister, but it was still a threat to the hive. The Xenomorph slowed her movements, not even making the tiniest sound as her clawed hands and feet nicked the metal.

But she wasn’t going to attack him just yet. Specimen Six let out a hiss, the stallion jumping at the noise. Flim looked everywhere for the source but couldn’t see it. Six glanced down the hall to see Eight letting out a growl as she approached the pony. He screamed and ran the opposite way. Six landed in front of Eight and turned towards the stallion. An acid-green light appeared from inside her elongated cranium, revealing the hidden skull from beneath her cranial dome. The glow illuminated the multiple pits that ran down either side of the skull and the vaguely equine skull in the front, complete with vacant eye sockets. When she moved her gaze towards Flim, the nonexistent eyes found their mark.

Though he tried to scurry away from it, a misty aura the same acidic green as the monster’s glowing skull engulfed the stallion. Flim cried out in fear as he felt himself get dragged backwards by the unknown force towards the nightmarish entity. It was a familiar magic to what the unicorns had. Specimen Six’s gaze never strayed from the stallion that she reeled in closer to her. When he was only a couple feet from her, she held his gaze with her own. His eyes were wide with fright, her empty eye sockets emotionless.

She didn’t move when Eight approached her. She growled along with her sister. Flim’s breathing increased at the sight of the much larger Xenomorph towering over Six. He waited with awful anticipation of what the larger creature would do. However, it snarled at him briefly before turning away, leaving him to the devices of her smaller sister.

As Six kept the stallion in her magic grip, she grabbed the sides of his head and pulled him closer. Bearing her teeth, she opened her maw, slime dripping from her mouth and onto Flim’s face. It dawned on Flim that this was thing born from his brother’s chest. His last thought was to realize that he was looking into his dead brother’s empty eye sockets before the Xenomorph’s second mouth shot out of its gape jaws and pierced his skull.

Flim’s body hung limply in Six’s grip, and then she tossed him aside. It may have not been one of the ponies she and Eight were looking for, but one less pony was good for them. She picked her pace back up and moved further into the tunnel. They were on a mission to find more ponies. And the more she and Eight found, the safer her Queen’s future nest would be.


Breathing. It was all that Crystal Rune could hear. Her own breaths came in quick and unsteady rhythms, eyes wide with fear. She swiveled her gaze from wall to wall. The red illumination was everywhere. Even with the red lights on, these tunnels were so dark. But that was the least of her concerns. She could hear screaming just north of her position. Then again, she could still hear the screams of others all around her.

They kept coming, the terrified shrieks of dying ponies, letting the last echo of their voices be heard. When one would end, another would replace it every four to five minutes. And then there was the awful screeching of those terrifying monsters. There was more than one of these things running around. She had thought it was just that dark olive one that they had bred in addition to the other one she had seen. It seemed like that theory had been proven wrong.

She kept moving. She hadn’t stopped since escaping from that doctor; there was no point in stopping. She had to find someplace safe, a place that was secure and where the Xenomorphs couldn’t get to her. Although the idea was sound in her mind, she still was unsure that there was such a place. She didn’t and could never escape that reality. What she had seen on the ship was proof enough. The Xenomorph that had hunted her down showed her what it was capable of.

Smashing through metal doors and killing a group of ponies right in front of it, she was astounded that she could keep the magic barrier up herself against such a creature. It had clawed, bit, and rammed into the circle she had enclosed herself within. That previous encounter was enough to let her know that this being was nothing to laugh at. It would do everything in its power to kill anything that dared to threaten its own existence.

Crystal stopped, ears forward. Hearing hoofsteps, she scanned her surroundings and hid in a small crevice to her left. She could hear the hoofsteps getting closer. Crystal wasn’t ready to get caught by some random Neighland-Yupony patrol. If she did, they would take her back to her cell, or worse, kill her on the spot. ‘H-have to s-survive… m-must stay out of sight.’ A part of her was lost in survival mode, but it was something that she wasn’t aware of. She was lost to the fear that had overwhelmed her own psyche.

She tensed up at the sight of five ponies. Yet something was wrong. One pony seemed like she was unconscious, being lifted along by two mares, one with a rainbow mane and the other with a purple cape. The other two were limping behind them, the two mares walking along with just three hooves on the ground. To Crystal, they did not even come close to looking like ponies working for Neighland-Yupony. But still, she couldn’t trust them.

When the group moved farther into the tunnel, she came out of her hiding hole. Crystal stood there for a few moments before turning around and took a couple of steps. Crystal glanced at her right and saw somepony standing there. “So… why are you in such a hurry, Sestrenka?”

That voice. The name hastily came to mind. “R-Rugged?” The large stallion stepped out from the shadows. “B-but… you’re dead. You can’t b-be real.”

“Of course I’m dead. But tell me. Why is a mare such as yourself so scared? I thought you were stronger than that.”

“R-Rugged… you don’t understand. I’m trying to get away from those monsters… the Xenomorphs. Everypony else in here is screwed. I have to get out.”

“Yeah. Left your friend like yah did us.” Crystal turned around and saw another one of her old teammates take form. Black Arrow raised an eyebrow and tipped his hat. “Good to see yah again. Too bad my favorite sheila’s losing her marbles.” Crystal stared at her best friend. Tears trickled down her muzzle. “C’mon now. Don’t you go and get teary-eyed on us all of the sudden. I thought you were a brumby? Not some soft-skinned filly.”

“B-but… you. You’re all…”

“Supposed to be dead?” A third voice had Crystal swivel her gaze to the left wall. Next to Arrow formed the final pony. “I mean, I know I like to make an entrance and all, but you don’t see us busting down walls.” Roughneck chuckled.

“R-Roughneck…” Her old team was there, at least the memories she had of them anyway. “Wh-why now… why did you all come here now?”

“Isn’t it obvious, mate? Yer losing yer mind, Crystal. And I thought Roughneck was crazy. You ain’t looking so good.” Arrow laughed when Roughneck elbowed him.

“So funny, Arrow.” Roughneck shook his head before he turned his gaze to Crystal. “But he does have a point. You’re in a pretty bad place at the moment. I mean, you just up and left your new friend, too. And I thought Daring Do was right about you.”

“B-but…” Crystal took a couple breaths in. “But you don’t understand. Ponies are dying. I couldn’t find her. She’s somewhere else in this facility for all I know.”

“And you think it is good idea to just run on your own?” Rugged tilted his head. “You put yourself in more danger than you know. Trying to stay alive is important, yes. But without somepony backing you, you are as good as dead.”

“I’d save it if I were you, Rugged.” Roughneck shrugged. “She did leave us all when we died. Maybe her new friend is dead. That’s why she’s running.”

“N-no… I’d never leave her… I’d never leave Aqua,” Crystal argued. “I’d never leave her to die. I didn’t leave Daring Do to die, and I won’t for Aquafrost.”

“Don’t be so harsh, buddy. There’s a lot going on,” Black Arrow pointed out. “Yet Roughneck is still right about you. You left Aquafrost. Daring Do probably came back for you when you got trapped in part of that compound’s debris. Why you didn’t is obvious. But I thought you were past running?”

Crystal Rune kneeled onto the metal floor. She held her head with her forelegs and shook her head. “N-no… n-no, I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t leave her… I wouldn’t leave her…”

“Then where’s Aqua? She’s certainly not behind you. Honestly, I think you’re about as bad as me at this poi--”

“Shut up!” Crystal yelled with her eyes closed. She opened them and Roughneck and Arrow were gone. Crystal turned around and like the other two, Rugged Muzzle was gone. The tears came back again, and she burst into a quiet sob. Seeing all her past teammates from before was too much. They had all died such horrible deaths. She had blamed herself for treating them all so poorly. She felt that if she could have one do-over, that she’d treat the members of her original team with a greater courtesy and have a friendlier approach with them.

Crystal looked back down the way she came. Aquafrost could still be back there. She could be in danger. Aqua had come for her in her most dire need. Crystal could’ve died without her. The thoughts of surviving came back. Crystal felt the world closing around her again. She froze in place, unable to move. She took a couple steps forward, unconsciously moving to the way she had come from. Every step echoed in her mind, replaying over and over. She knew how much Aqua meant to her. She’d been saved by her, and now Crystal had to return the favor. She just hoped she was there for her in time.

Chapter XIV: A Painful Reminder

View Online

Twilight levitated the headphones in front of her and slowly twirled it around. She scanned over each item as she had done so minutes earlier. “Why do you keep looking at that thing?” Daring Do asked. “It hasn’t worked since Bishop turned it on.”

“Well… there’s always a possibility that I can get it working here. If I tinker around with it, I could theoretically find a way to get it powered on again,” Twilight said while keeping her attention on the headset. She had tried turning it on earlier again, but there was only static. The white noise had grown annoying after she had listened to it for about ten minutes. So Twilight turned it off in hopes that it’d work if she tried it later.


“There’s always a chance I might accidentally break it.” Twilight chuckled a little. “Really, I’m just working on this thing because it’s distracting me from what’s going on around us…” The smile disappeared as quickly as it came. Ever since they had entered the tunnels, the memories of her encounter with first Xenomorph came back. The thought of coming across one again was constantly gnawing at her from the back of her mind.

She levitated it back onto her head. Twilight felt a little discomfort at the sensation of it rubbing against her horn. It wasn’t totally uncomfortable. It just felt odd. “But if she’s able to get it working again, there’s a chance that we could figure out what’s going on.” Twilight turned towards her former teacher with a smile.

“Well, when you put it like that, I can see what type of advantage we could have.” Daring moved up next to Twilight and continued, “Go ahead. Keep messing around with it. Maybe you’ll accidentally fix it.”

Twilight nodded. She focused on the headset as her magic filled the cord around her horn with life. The static noise came back; Twilight frowned at this annoying sound. “Nothing but static. I don’t know how to fix it or shut it off.”

“Have you tried messing with any of these buttons here?” Daring pointed to the array of little knobs on the right side of the headset.

She had looked it over quite a few times and had noticed them before. Twilight didn’t necessarily want to mess with it, afraid that they weren’t meant to be moved or touched at all. “Well, I guess I can try.” With her magic she focused on one of the knobs she could visualize. Rotating them around, the static noise slowly quieted down. Her ears straightened up when a voice came through. “The c-containment efforts are… um, not going as planned. None of the Xenomorphs have been captured.”

Twilight froze. “Oh my gosh. Guys, I got something!”

“What? Is that thing finally working?” Daring Do moved closer.

Twilight nodded but held a hoof up. “My forces at the front have come back. There’s only so many of us left. The ones who made it back said that the Queen is still coming this way. But Specimen Six and Eight went the other way.” Unfortunately for Twilight, she got confirmation that there were Xenomorphs here. Not just one, though, but three of them. Maybe even more from the sound of it. But that was just part of the bad news; ponies were dying, lots of them, because of these monsters. Even worse, there was a Queen here as well.

“Then it should be easier for you to contain her. Do everything in your power to capture Specimen Zero.” Twilight recognized that voice. It was Bishop Neighland. She frowned at the tone of his voice. It sounded like he didn’t even care how many ponies died. That they would recapture the Xenomorphs at any cost.

“Twilight… is everything alright?” Celestia asked as she too moved closer to her former student.

“W-we’ll try. But, but I’m not sure we can. She’s so strong… she’s killed so many without breaking a sweat. We--” The group flinched at the noise coming from the headphones. They all turned their gaze further down the tunnel. The roar echoed past them, causing Twilight’s fur to stand on end, memories of the Queen she and the other princesses had killed coming back in full force. Now there was another one, alive and heading straight towards their position.

“Hey uh…” Daring Do sat there before she continued, “that was pretty close... “

“Twilight…” She turned off the headset and stood there with wide eyes. “...we should find someplace to hide.” Twilight looked up to Celestia and hesitantly nodded. She hastily scurried alongside Celestia as they hid in one of the crevices. Flash and one of the guards hid on the opposite side. Daring Do and the other guard opened their wings and flew up to the ceiling, hiding themselves in the arches.

Twilight breathed in and out as quietly as she could. Her chest expanded and contracted quickly as she felt the footsteps of the Queen rumble underneath her. The screams of ponies in the distance soon followed after, along with the booms of magic being fired, bodies hitting the walls, and crossbows being fired. She could only wait beside Celestia as the two sat still. A unicorn appeared in front of them, shooting magic beams at some hidden figure.

Soon he was followed by a panicked line of ponies, each one firing at the creature chasing them. Twilight held her breath as the floor trembled beneath her, getting worse by the second. A body flew past the crevice. The next line of ponies was running for their lives and then the other. Twilight nearly screamed when she saw a tail burst through a pegasi mare’s back.

The mare was lifted up in the air, her scream cut short as her head was ripped off by a clawed hand. Finally, the Queen Xenomorph stood in front of them. Twilight froze at the sight of this horrifying beast. Its chitinous color was different, unlike the familiar similar midnight black that she had seen before. This Xenomorph took on a light gray appearance. That’s what made it so odd. She stared at it for only a moment longer until her eyes widened. ‘That color… that reminds me of Rarity’s fur. Is this… her… “daughter”?’ It was a morbid way to classify it. But the doctor, Makoy Markovich, said it was Weyland-Yutani's way of classifying where these abhorrent monsters came from.

The Queen Xenomorph roared again and took after the retreating Neighland-Yupony guards. The floor kept shaking. The screams of ponies dying still continued. A cacophony of death and destruction. When the floor stopped shaking underneath her, Celestia stepped out from the crevice. Twilight followed moments after. “You too must know whom that Xenomorph belongs to, Twilight.” It was a truth that Twilight was afraid of coming true, but her former teacher was right.

“That was odd… I thought Xenomorphs weren’t so light-colored. Or that big to be honest,” Daring Do pointed out. “Is there something wrong with that one?”

“No… that was the Xenomorph that came from Rarity.” Daring sat in stunned silence. Twilight didn’t blame her.

“That was the thing that came out of Rarity? You mean they can get that big?” Daring’s eyes were wide with disbelief.

“W-what you saw was the Queen…” Twilight shivered. “It’s supposed to be the biggest of the Xenomorphs. The normal ones aren’t that big, but they’re still quite larger than we are. About twice our height.”

“Wow…” Flash murmured, shaking where he stood as he scanned the few dead ponies around them. “It laid waste to those guards like they were nothing.”

“That is the horror of these vile creatures.” Celestia shook her head before she turned to the others. “We must leave as quickly as we can. The more distance we can put between us and the Queen, the better.”

“But… what about the other ponies?” Celestia flinched when Flash brought back the dying ponies to everypony’s mind. "They're still your subjects. You should be saving them."

Celestia glanced over her shoulders with a frown. “I know that they’re still my little ponies, but… unfortunately, I cannot help them. They are dealing with a creature that even I cannot handle on my own.” Twilight wasn’t so sure about what she had said, but even Celestia had her limits against a creature built to kill any type of sentient and non-sentient creature.

The group picked up their pace again and continued onward. However, the stench of death was all around them. Twilight gagged, but not at the smell. The sight before her--bodies torn apart, blood sprayed on the walls and floor, the innards and intestines of ponies--was too much. She didn’t blame these ponies for trying to contain the Queen Xenomorph. What was wrong was the fact that they had kept this thing alive for however long.

Through the red-lit tunnels, Twilight could still hardly see. The colored light not only made it hard for her eyes, but it didn’t light up much of the surroundings anyway. If any of the other Xenomorphs were to surprise them, then they wouldn’t be able to see them coming. It was just another reminder of how precarious their situation was. “Twilight?”

She turned to Flash Sentry and frowned. “What?”

“I… I’m sorry about what happened earlier. I was out of line.” Flash’s frown softened, eyes fully focused on her own. It was hard to meet his gaze directly. “I’m not asking for any forgiveness. And I… I should have been more sensitive about how you were feeling.” Twilight stared. She held her frown. “I… well… you didn’t deserve what happened.”

Twilight looked away. She drew in an unsteady breath. Should she forgive what he said? Part of her felt as if she didn’t, that she felt better being mad at him. Yet how long would such a petty feeling like this last? Maybe she felt that because of what had happened, because of the losses she held deeply, that she had a right to feel this way, a right to hold this selfish feeling of hurt. Wouldn’t it be better to forgive? Of course that was the right step. Yet could she now? The moment didn’t feel right. It was too early to make a decision. Twilight returned her attention to Flash. “T-thanks…” It was better to say something at least, instead of nothing at all. The reaction? A smile, thankful in appearance.

When she returned her gaze to the front of the group, she closed her eyes halfway. The words of that captain’s conversation she had overheard came back to light. The piles of Neighland-Yupony guards were growing in size. “This is… crazy…” Daring Do scanned the mess around her. “H-how is one creature responsible for all of this? That seems impossible…”

“What you’re seeing, Daring Do, is the horrifying capability of the Xenomorph,” Celestia answered. Twilight too understood the horror that this being brought. All of this was a sight she had hoped to never see again. “This is what could be if these creatures make it to Equestria. The amount of those who’d be killed by these Xenomorphs would be unfathomable.” What wasn't mentioned was the fact that these things could potentially take on all the other civilizations on Equus. None of them would be able to stand a chance against the terrifying power of the Xenomorph.

Twilight stopped when she heard a noise behind them. She glanced over her shoulder and tilted her head, but there was nothing there. She carefully examined the tunnel behind her. Nothing on the walls. Nothing on the ceiling. Maybe she was imagining it? “Is everything alright?” Twilight turned to the voice and met Flash’s gaze.

She shook her head. “I… thought I heard something.”

Flash nodded. “Well, let’s just stick together. It’s better if we all stay in one group.” He quickly caught back up with the others, walking next to one of their two guards. Twilight followed behind by a couple hoofsteps. She flattened her ears when the noise came back.

Twilight took another glance over her shoulders and still saw nothing. ‘Where’s that noise coming from?’ She slowly returned her attention back to the group, straightening her ears again. Twilight caught up and was walking next to Daring Do. The sound of metal breaking caught her attention, but she felt herself leave the ground and hit the wall adjacent to the group. The world blurred out for a brief moment, Twilight groaning as she rubbed her head.

She lay there looking at the group but couldn’t make out what it was standing over one of the pony guards. When she heard the familiar growl, the image cleared and she saw one of the other Xenomorphs, a Praetorian. She hyperventilated as it moved its eyeless gaze right towards her. It hissed loudly before jumping into the broken hole it came from, dragging one of the guards with it. Even with it gone, her horn lit up with a magenta aura.

Slowly, Twilight stood up and inched closer and closer. Celestia, Daring Do, and the last guard rose up. When Twilight took another step, she gasped, eyes wide. There lay Flash, eyes wide with his throat severely bit into. He didn’t flinch, his eyes faded out. “O-oh m-my go-goddess…”

She didn’t react when Celestia moved next to her. “Such a shame.” Celestia stared at the body, a small frown when she turned to Twilight. “I understand that you and him were close...” Twilight nodded. She would admit that she had such feelings for him, yet after coming back home from her second trip to that other world, one where her friends were humans, she had seen the pony version of Flash less and less. There wasn’t enough time to set up a trip with him.

For all the feelings she had for the human Flash, she knew that was impossible. And the same going for the Flash in her world. That falling out had done a number on her, not to mention what Kettlepot had done to her only a month ago, she didn’t idealize him anymore. “S-still… he was only the Captain of the Guard for such a short time. B-barely a month in and he’s already…” The reality was quickly set into stone. “...Dead…”

Death had already made itself aware to Twilight. She was literally surrounded by both the stench and sight of dead ponies. Even still, she felt like she had to force the words out.

“Okay… so is anypony going to tell me what the heck that Xenomorph was? I know it’s not that Queen we saw earlier, but why was it still so big?” Daring Do shouted.

“That was a Praetorian,” Celestia spoke up. “They are similar in role as to the Royal Guard. They’ll protect their Queen with their life.” Speaking of the guard, she moved her gaze to the last one and watched as he slowly stood up. “Are you okay?” The guard simply nodded. He turned to the dead captain and stood in silence, giving him his respects.

“W-what now? We’ve probably lost our first guard since he stayed behind, now a second one has been killed, and Flash Sentry, the Captain of the Royal Guard is dead.” Twilight shivered. “We don’t even know if that Xenomorph will come back.”

“Then we’ll hurry and be on our way,” Celestia affirmed. She took one step but returned her gaze to Twilight, eyes wide. “W-what is that?!”

Twilight tilted her head and looked down at her hooves. A strange luminescence like a mist had begun to swirl around her limbs until it had encased her body. She went to try to shake it off but felt her hooves leave the ground. She screamed as this invisible force began pulling her away from the group. Twilight tried to grip the floor but her front and back legs were firmly pressed against the sides of her body. She heard the hoofsteps of the group trying to keep up with her, yet she couldn’t even move her head to see how close they were.

Eyes facing forward to the long tunnel in front of her, Twilight saw a light in the distance, an acid-yellow light. Her body hit parts of the rail, each one adding to the pain that these new bruises were accumulating. She screamed when she saw what that source was. First to greet her were the two holes hiding behind the creature’s chitinous head. It was smaller than the one they had encountered earlier, about the same size as the one from a month ago. The Xenomorph was pulling her closer and closer with the use of magic. She couldn’t fathom how one could have that ability, yet it certainly brought a new terror upon her.

It screeched, lunging for her. A gold light lit the surrounding area as a beam of magic struck the Xenomorph, bright enough for her to see the dark olive color chitin of the Xenomorph. It hissed and ran away, another beam missed as it zipped past its head. Twilight’s chest expanded with erratic breaths. The moment was all too close to what happened to her during her first encounter with the Xenomorph. “Twilight!” She shakily turned towards her former teacher and felt herself give way. Twilight felt tears trickle down her eyes. She whimpered, but they slowly came. Celestia wrapped her hooves around her former student, into which Twilight’s tears only multiplied. "It's going to be okay." She did her best to comfort Twilight, wrapping her wings around her as gently as she could.

“It… i-i-it used magic…” Twilight breathed out in an unsteady fashion. "I-it u-used magic..."

“What?” Twilight opened her eyes and met Daring Do’s gaze. “How can that be possible? I thought only unicorns and alicorns could use magic!”

“I-I don’t know…” It was all that Celestia could say. Twilight agreed. How did this creature obtain magic? As basic as its formation was, the Xenomorph only ever took the simple genetic code from its host. Was magic such a basic gene that it could manipulate? All Twilight could do was speculate. At the moment, she was ready to call it quits. Unfortunately, she didn’t have such a luxury. Twilight felt the wings tighten around her for a moment until she felt a hoof grab her right one. When she met Celestia's gaze, she knew it was time to go.

She knew there was a job she had to finish. If it meant that she had to sacrifice herself, although she’d still like it if she lived through this experience, then so be it. Celestia helped her up. She stayed still for a few moments before shakily nodding. Without a word the group continued forward, eyes scanning the tunnel in front of them. It was better to be aware now more than ever. With every dark corner, a beast could be lying in wait. And every second wasted, time ran down until they’d finally find out how excruciating the pain of death felt.

Hoofsteps echoed around the group of ponies, bouncing quietly from wall to wall. To Rainbow Dash? It was a nice break after their near-death experience with the Xenomorph. She should’ve felt happy that they didn’t require help from Twilight or Celestia. However, it was only so difficult to admit that it was a fight that could’ve cost them their lives. So then what did this say about Rainbow?

‘I’m no coward. I got payback for what that freak did to me.’ So she should’ve been happy, ecstatic even. She had defeated one of those monsters. Yet why did that fear remain? Why hadn’t the fight helped regain her confidence? She shook her head. ‘No… that’s not right. I showed that thing I’m stronger than it.’ Another lie as that stoic smile quickly receded. She turned her gaze to the wound she had bound with Spitfire’s Wonderbolt outfit.

“Rainbow?” The mare in question turned to Trixie. When she saw the frown, Rainbow did the same. “You alright?”

“What do you think?” Rainbow murmured. She flinched at the tone in her voice. “Sorry…”

“It’s okay,” Trixie reassured her. “The situation we’re in isn’t exactly pleasant.”

“I… I thought things had changed,” Rainbow began. Her frown deepened, and her tail flicked back and forth.

“Is it really that much of a surprise?” She swiveled her gaze to Applejack’s, who slowly limped behind her and Trixie.

“W-well, yeah. I thought that if I trained hard enough, I’d be flying circles around that freak.”

“S-so…” Rarity groaned before she continued, “you understand the point we were trying to make earlier?”

“That point about me hurting myself?” This truth only hurt more. “How was I supposed to realize that nothing changed? All that training… for nothing.”

“There’s no need ta get yerself all frazzled, Rainbow,” Applejack spoke up as she limped beside Rarity. “So what if you were wrong? Me and Rares here…” She gasped when she put pressure on her bad leg, bringing it off the ground. “...didn’t exactly fare any better. You got lucky and only got nicked.”

“Nicked? That freak still hit me. How’s that supposed to make me feel better?” When she stopped, Spitfire fell off, but she caught her before she hit the ground. Resting her gently against the tracks, she turned to Applejack. “I trained so hard. I tried. And all of that was wasted today.”

“Rainbow, darling. You mustn’t let it get to you.” Rarity flinched when her bad hoof bumped against Applejack. “Y-you tried. You certainly have gotten faster. It’s just… you have to remember that this… beast, is far from normal. You shouldn’t get mad at yourself. You helped get rid of it in the end. Aren’t you proud of that?”

“...Yeah. But I don’t feel victorious.” Rainbow’s frown softened. She sighed and shook her head. “I guess I was just too optimistic about being able to fight that… thing.” She should have said that she was happy to still be alive. Yet what was all that extensive training worth? Just so she could go get herself injured again? “I… let my own pride get in the way of things…”

“But you learned, right?” Rainbow returned her gaze to Rarity. “That’s all that’s worth it in the end.”

“Now if only these ponies had any common sense,” Applejack muttered, eyes glaring at the metal rails. “Ah just don’t get why these ponies were so darn stupid. Didn’t any of them think back ta what happened a month ago?” She shook her head and groaned a little.

Rainbow tilted her head and moved her gaze to the leg Applejack kept from the ground, and then to Rarity. “Applejack’s right there. These ponies certainly screwed up this time around.”

“It’s completely irresponsible,” Applejack nearly yelled. “Bishop’s foresight is about as bad as a blind dog. But even a blind dog can find an bone now and then.” She slammed her right hoof against the tunnel wall, leaving a small crack in the concrete.

Rainbow flinched at the sound. She too understood the anger that was directed at Neighland-Yupony, and she couldn’t deny that Applejack was furious about this. When they had first discussed the topic of the Xenomorph’s return, Applejack had spoken the loudest about her dislike of that monster. “Well… at least you got payback for your brother, right?” Rainbow faintly smiled.

Applejack didn’t look up. She continued to stare down at the floor. “Applejack, d-darling, are you going to be okay?”

“What was the point of getting revenge when Ah got wounded again?” Applejack whispered. “Now Ah’m goin’ ta hold my family back even more.”

“Applejack, why would you say such things?” Rarity tilted her head with a weak frown. “You out of all ponies know how hard it is to keep up with that farm of yours. You didn’t let that monster break your spirit back then. You shouldn’t let it now.”

“But… my left leg. It got my--”

“Forget about the injury,” Rainbow Dash said. “Ever since your brother passed, you’ve always filled your time with working on the farm. I know you don’t like us talking about it, but why can’t you just hang out with us? It’s like what we argued about in the carriage. Why was work so important and not friends?”

Applejack glanced Rainbow’s way and shook a little. “Ah… Ah always thought that… Ah… Ah was just afraid of letting go of mah brother.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “It’s been the only thang that’s managed to keep those thoughts away from me. Ah let my pain take control and keep me from enjoying the little things because Ah felt responsible. If Ah wasn’t fast enough to save him, then…”

“Darling.” Rarity gently shook Applejack, whose gaze met hers. “You must understand that we want to help. Twilight is somepony who knows what you’re going through. She lost her own brother, remember? She certainly isn’t over it as I have seen, but that can change. So can your view of your own self.” She brought her bad hoof away, limping as she held her right hoof off the ground before sitting against the wall close to Applejack.

“I… can understand that this isn’t an easy thing to forget or let go… but… maybe it’s time you tried.” Rarity rested a hoof against Applejack’s. “I’m not saying that you should let go of the memories you had, but… let them be that light which keeps you safe.”

Applejack looked down at the floor again before she slowly nodded. “Ah… Ah’m not sure, but Ah’ll try…”

For once, Rainbow was finally able to smile. Even though this nightmare world never seemed to end, she was certain that they’d get out of it somehow. Rainbow picked Spitfire back up, Trixie helping her as Applejack gently brought Rarity’s hoof over her shoulders again. They moved onward, keeping as quiet as possible. Yet there was a new sense of determination. They would get out of this. Rainbow had to have faith. That was all that could get them out in the end.

Chapter XV: Reunification ~ Part I

View Online

Rarity winced as her right hoof pulsed with pain. She turned to it and saw part of Spitfire’s Wonderbolt uniform covering the damage. The pain of that brute’s acidic blood eating away at her hoof and the thought of almost losing it was terrifying. She shivered from the ghastly sight. The day’d had enough problems as it was, yet those nuances felt foalish now compared to the trouble she and her friends were currently in.

Shuffling alongside Applejack on three legs, Rarity was consumed by worrisome questions. Why did they deserve this? Why had this company brought these frightening monsters back? Wasn’t it enough that they had lost so many ponies to this already? How many were dying now? Their trip to the chamber that might hold other hostages had taken some time already. There were no windows to the outside world. Whatever time it was now, she figured it must’ve been past evening.

Nightfall was a scary time a month ago when that first one had come to their town. If memory served them right, these creatures were more active during these hours. “How much farther?” Rainbow Dash asked.

“It shouldn’t be much longer now,” Trixie answered before continuing, “I just hope they’re all still there.”

“How safe is that chamber you were in anyway?” Applejack asked.

“Well, it’s safe at the moment. But there’s only one way in. If one of those things found them, then… the--”

“Hey.” Rainbow Dash brought a hoof to her shoulder. “Don’t worry. You weren’t gone for that long. I’m sure they’ll be fine.” Rarity thought she heard some odd tone in Rainbow’s voice. She could empathize with why Rainbow tried to be optimistic. These creatures were relentless in their pursuit of killing other ponies. If one had found its way in, then it was possible that none of them made it out alive. She couldn’t let that blind her, though. The other hostages could be alive.

They had to see for sure. Trixie stopped as did Rainbow. Trixie swiveled her gaze down a doorway to their far left. “This way.” She picked up her pace, just slow enough that Applejack and Rarity could still keep up. The group turned down another left. As they passed through the corridor, Trixie made a right until they all could see a door at the end of the hallway. “There it is.” Trixie and Rainbow moved a little faster, while Rarity and Applejack lagged behind by a bit. The two reached the door, and Rainbow lifted Spitfire’s unconscious body to the floor. As she gently laid her down, Trixie knocked on the door.

It opened to a circular room. Trixie eye’s widened, not out of fear but for joy. When Rarity could see over Trixie, her frown reversed to a faint smile. She could see Rainbow’s frown when she saw her former friend, Gilda, who also averted her attention to the ground below her taloned hands. But for Rarity, the sight of a familiar zebra, Zecora, brought forth a happy feeling.

“It is good to see you all. For our day has had many a fall.” Zecora nodded, but that smile disappeared. Rarity looked past Zecora and gasped at the array of lifeless bodies hanging on the wall, from a couple ponies, a diamond dog, a buffalo that she didn’t know to Bulk Biceps and Flam, all with gaping chest wounds. It was the same with the familiar minotaur, Iron Will.

Her eyes centered then on Suri Polomare. ‘S-she’s here too…’ No matter what anypony had done to her, even if Suri Polomare had stolen her clothing ideas that week during the fashion contest in Manehatten, Rarity would never wish such a terrible fate on her. But there was something she didn’t know. Was Suri infected like she had once been?

“Bulk…” Rainbow murmured, a frown on her muzzle. “I can’t believe it. He didn’t deserve this.” She scanned the rest of the familiar ponies. “None of them deserved this.”

“Zecora, where’s Thunderlane and Babs Seed?”

“Babs Seed is here too? Why in Equestria would these ponies kidnap a filly!?” Applejack stomped a hoof on the ground. “Have they no shame!?”

Zecora let Applejack say her peace before she began. “Thunderlane worried for Cloudchaser’s fate. But Babs Seed desired not to wait.” She pointed towards the door the group came in. “After their banter came to an end, they left to go save our mutual friend.”

“Why did he let her go with him? Those two could be hurt fer all we know.” Applejack’s frown deepened.

“I told him the same thing before they left.” Gilda blew some of her feathery bangs from her beak. “They’re probably dead by now.”

“You’re not being helpful, Gilda,” Rainbow Dash said, a tone of frustration. “Why’d they drag you here anyway?”

Gilda chuckled. “I’ve been asking the same question since I got put into here. You ponies are so random sometimes.”

“Let us all be at peace.” Zecora spoke up. “If we separate ourselves, the danger for us shall increase.” She took a step forward, the frown on her muzzle deepened. “There is much we have seen today. We must not let these events lead us astray.” Rarity had to agree with Zecora’s point. This situation they were all in was unfavorable to all parties. Even if Gilda had not been that great of a griffon in the past, they had to work together.

“Well…” Rainbow began. “I guess we're in this together. For now.” Gilda only nodded before looking away from the others.

Rarity’s ears perked up at the sound of a groan. She swiveled her gaze towards Rainbow Dash and saw Spitfire rubbing her head as she sat against the wall. “Ow. My aching head.” She slowly opened her eyes and raised an eyebrow when she saw everypony staring at her. “Where are we?” Her eyes widened before she quickly stood up. “Where’s that Xenomorph!?”

“We took care of it,” Applejack assured her. She winced before turning to her wounded leg. “But we didn’t get ta leave unscathed.”

Spitfire looked from Applejack and Rainbow Dash to Rarity. She saw the patches of her uniform covering both Rainbow and Rarity’s injuries. She looked down at her uniform and sighed. “Well, this thing’s not that great for protection. It’s more for show if anything else.” She unzipped it and threw it to the side. She flexed her wings and nodded. “Other than this migraine, I feel fine.”

“Spitfire?” Rainbow grabbed her attention before pointing to Bulk Biceps. Spitfire’s ears lowered. She flapped her wings and took off from the ground. Floating next to him, she lowered her eyes halfway. She brought a hoof over each open eye, closing them as she whispered something. Spitfire descended to the ground and folded her wings again.

“Thunderlane is still alive.” Spitfire seemed to perk up at the stallion’s name. “He said he’ll be back. I think he and Babs Seed went to go find Cloudchaser.”

Spitfire, even through what she had seen, still was able to crack a smile. “Glad to hear that. It’ll be nice to see him again.” She then walked to the center of the room before speaking up. “Okay. Since Thunderlane is not here, I’d say we wait for him and this Babs Seed. Anypony else agree?”

Trixie was the first to nod. “I know I’m anxious to go, but… Babs Seed is only a filly.” Spitfire’s eyes widened at the revelation. Rarity felt the same way towards this truth. “We should wait for them.”

“I’m with yah there, Trixie.” Applejack spoke up next. “Ah’m not leaving my cousin behind.”

“Yeah! We gotta stick together on this one.” Rainbow flapped her wings as she ascended above Applejack. Spitfire then moved her attention to Rarity, who nodded in agreement.

Spitfire turned her gaze to Gilda and asked, “What about you, griffon? You with us?”

Gilda rolled her eyes, leaning against the wall as she crossed her forelegs. “Fine. But as soon as this is over, I’m heading back to Griffonstone.”

“Fair enough.” Sptifire nodded and scanned over the group in front of her. “It’s settled then. Let’s wait for Babs Seed and Thunderlane. Once we regroup we shou--”

A scream pierced through Rarity, jumping in place as she turned to the source. It was Suri Polomare. Her chest bulged outwards, blood trickling through her pink fur as it flowed down her body. What Rarity was watching was too much. Tears trickled down her eyes profusely. She screamed as Suri let out one last terrified cry, replaced quickly by the high pitched squeal of Suri’s “daughter” as it broke through the mare’s sternum. The scene that played out in front of Rarity only brought forth those horrid memories from before.

It slithered out of Suri’s chest and crawled across the floor as fast as it could. “Quick! Kill it before it gets away!” Spitfire yelled as she quickly flew towards it. It dodged Spitfire as she tried to grab it, causing her to crash into Gilda. It squealed as it was shot at by Trixie until Rainbow Dash quickly caught it in her hooves. She threw it against the wall, and Trixie fired another shot, watching as it blew up right in front of them.

The room was quiet, nopony saying a word. Rarity had not taken her eyes away from Suri’s now-dead body. That horrible feeling in her chest came back. She winced a little, breaths coming in erratic gasps. What she had seen was what would’ve happened to her if her friends had not come to her rescue in time. It was a reality that was too much to accept. Her vision blurred. She felt the world spin before she fell to the floor. She quietly whimpered as the darkness crept around her. She felt somepony shake her.

Rarity turned to who it was. She met Spitfire’s gaze. “Hey. Are you going to be okay?”

She shook her head. “Applejack and Rainbow were right.” She sniffled. “I… I-I hid myself from the world because of what happened. I was too afraid to face my fear. I-It took over my perception. I was afraid that ponies would see me as some unfortunate mare who nearly died to a parasite.”

“Rarity… we all hide our scars.” Rainbow rested a hoof against her chest. “You know how I felt after that fight with that freak. I didn’t want to feel weak. I still was. But you guys helped me see now that training isn’t everything. Hurting your own body doesn’t help you at all.”

“Yah gotta understand that we’ve all tried ta keep our pain ta ourselves.” Applejack took her hat off and pressed it against her chest. “Yah already know how isolated Ah made myself. Ah thought that if Ah didn’t work hard, then Ah couldn’t keep the memories of mah brother.” She shook slightly but stood firm.

Rarity moved her attention to the floor and shivered. “I know… I was afraid for myself. And I was afraid for my little sister, too. Seeing what happened to Suri, it was if I was watching Sweetie Belle go through that awful experience. We were both captured, but I was the one who was… violated. What if it was her? I just wanted to forget that any of it happened. I just wanted to pretend that I didn’t nearly become some beast’s breeding stock.” She already knew the term for what had happened but never did she dare acknowledge it. It was a term that was ghastly in its definition. It was something that she had gone through. It was something that she knew Twilight had gone through as well.

Maybe it was time to let that pain go. However, it felt like a goal that was too far out of reach. “Rarity.” She returned her gaze to Applejack. “Don’t feel like yer alone. We’re here for yah when yah need us.” Rarity slowly nodded as a faint grin formed. It was an expression that Rarity felt like she nearly forgotten: how to smile. Applejack extended a hoof towards Rarity. She reached out with her uninjured hoof and stood up with her friend’s help.

The door behind them opened. The group quickly turned around but sighed when they saw Thunderlane. “Woah. What are you guys doing here?”

“Thunderlane!” Spitfire quickly trotted up to him and gave the stallion a salute. “It’s good to see that you’re in one piece.” Rarity saw something move behind Thunderlane as the little filly, Babs Seed, leaned out in the open.

“Babs!” When Babs Seed saw Applejack, she quickly ran past Thunderlane and Spitfire. Applejack flinched when Babs hugged her and started crying. “There, there. Yer cousin’s here.” She ran a hoof through her little cousin’s mane, holding her tightly.

“What happened to you guys?” Thunderlane asked. When he entered the chamber, Rarity’s eyes widened at the mare on his back: Cloudchaser. She was unconscious, but that wasn’t what scared her. It was the pulsing facehugger, delivering its disgusting child into her.

“We had a fight with one of those creatures. But that’s not important. Is Cloudchaser going to be okay?” Spitfire’s gaze moved from Thunderlane to the unconscious mare on his back.

“She won’t be for long if that thing stays on her muzzle,” Rainbow Dash said. “You saw what happened to Suri. That’s going to happen to her if we don’t get rid of it.”

“But yah can’t just pry it off.” Applejack spoke up as she continued running a hoof through Babs Seed’s mane. “We tried doing that before with Rarity.” The mare in question flinched at the mention of her name and that horrible moment. “It can’t be pulled off. If we tried, it’d tear Cloudchaser’s face off.”

Rarity breathed, regaining her composure before she spoke. “H-how long has she been gone?”

“Only half an hour,” Thunderlane answered.

“Then there’s still a chance she can be saved. We just have to get back to Canterlot.” Rainbow’s frown softened. There was still that chance that Cloudchaser couldn’t be saved. Rarity had seen Suri die. Iron Will and Flam were also dead. Even back in Ponyville, Derpy was left widowed and a single parent when Doctor Whooves died. The likelihood of Cloudchaser sharing that same fate was all too real.

“So what are we waiting for, then? Everypony is here, right?” When the question came up, everypony besides Spitfire nodded. “Good. If we’re to save everypony here as well as Cloudchaser, then we should hurry before more of those monsters find us.” Spitfire turned to Thunderlane. “Did you and Babs Seed come across any more of them?”

“We only ran into one, ma’am. Me and Babs Seed snuck around it to get to Cloudchaser.” Rarity had to admit that she was impressed. These two managed to sneak by an Xenomorph. That was a feat that not many ponies could pull off against a creature like this.

“If there’s one of them, there could be more. It’s not a great idea, but it seems like these creatures are only hiding underground at the moment.” She brought her attention back to Thunderlane. “What’s the building that we’re in right now?”

“I caught a couple signs saying that it was Medical, ma’am.”

“Okay. We’ll head there and see if we can’t find a map. That’ll help us figure out where the heck we are.” Spitfire waved to the group to follow her. Rarity moved next to Applejack, and they took the same position again with her wrapping her bad hoof across Applejack’s shoulders, supporting each other again they followed the group. The door opened for them.

“What about the bodies?” Thunderlane asked, the frown on his muzzle deepened. “Are we really going to leave them here?”

“There’s nothing we can do for them. If we try and carry them, then it’ll only slow us down. And a few of us have already been injured.” Spitfire looked back at Rarity and Applejack. “Speaking of which. How are you guys doing?”

“Mah leg still hurts. Other than that I’m fine.” Applejack nodded.

“I should be fine as well.” Rarity gave the same gesture. When Spitfire returned her attention to the front, Rarity sighed. “I just hope my hoof grows back after all of this is done.”

“If we do make it out of here,” Gilda grumbled, eyes half lidded.

“Don’t be such a sourpuss, Gilda.” Rainbow glanced over at the griffon. “We’ll make it out of this trash heap if we stick together.”

“We ain’t out of the woods just yet. So don’t get your hopes up,” Spitfire began. “Once we get to the surface, things should be a little smoother for us.” That was the idea, at least. It was odd that these Xenomorphs had not gone for the surface world just yet. They had no clue as to why, but it was a positive assurance at least.

With each step, Rarity felt more hopeful. But Spitfire was correct. Until they could see the light of the moon, they were still in great danger. One of those ghastly beasts could surprise them at any moment, and the group was already weak. Rarity didn’t like knowing that she and Applejack were responsible for their situation. Hope was all that they had left to go on.

Spitfire raised a hoof in the air. “Hold up.” She quietly moved to the wall on their right and peeked past the corner to the corridor. “Somepony is coming this way.” She glanced over her shoulder. “You guys stay back. I’ll take a quick peek.” Spitfire disappeared once she went around the corner. It was quiet for that brief moment. No worrying sound. No surprise screaming. Then came a sudden gasp. Not of fear but of exhilaration.

The clacking of quick hoofsteps came closer until they saw Spitfire appear from the edge of the corner. “I think we’re going to be okay, guys. I found some friends... and some new ponies.” Those last words came with an uneasy tone, but the group were glad to hear of some friendly company.

But Rarity saw three ponies who were a sight for sore eyes. “Yay! We finally found you guys! I just knew that itchy back feeling was predicting something lucky!” Pinkie giggled after she appeared from the corner. She bounced to the group as Rarity, Rainbow, and Applejack formed a group hug. The group shuffled when Fluttershy joined in as well, sniffling and whimpering.

“I-I-I’m s-so happy we f-found you guys.” Fluttershy’s eyes widened when she scanned the wounds that Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow had. “D-did one of those m-monsters do that to you girls?”

“Unfortunately.” Rarity was the first to speak.

“But we did kick its butt.” Rainbow Dash chuckled. “Sure it wasn’t easy, but we did it. We got rid of one of them.”

“Woah!” Pinkie’s eyes bulged out a little.

“That sounds pretty cool,” Soarin pointed out as he moved next to Spitfire. “I can’t believe you got one.” He looked the girls over before sighing. “But I’m guessing that’s only a one-time thing.”

“It certainly takes a lot ta take one of those Xenomorphs down. We barely made it out alive.” Applejack turned her attention to the ground with the last word. Rarity had to agree. There was no way they could take another one down in their condition.

“But you got rid of one.” Spitfire’s group brought their attention to the new voice. There stood Aquafrost and the others. Aquafrost took a step forward, a frown on her muzzle. “That’s something at least.”

“Uh… who are you?” Rainbow Dash asked, but stood rigid when she saw the emblem on their uniforms. “You guys work for that crazy stallion?”

“You might want to check that again.” Sparkdust frowned at Rainbow’s comment. “We don’t work for that psychopath anymore. He hasn’t tried to save any of our hides when these freaks busted out. He didn’t even tell us about those monsters. We’ve been left to fend for ourselves.”

Rarity looked Aquafrost over before she shivered at the amount of blood on her chestplate. “I-is that your blood?”

Aqua glanced down and shook her head until she raised her head again. “No. It was another mare’s. I helped heal her, but she ran off when those creatures escaped.” There was something more to the way Aqua spoke. Her tone. It felt like she was harboring a certain amount of interest for this mare. That amount, Rarity thought, was more than just friends.

“We were heading this way since it was the safest route.” Blazing Ash took his turn to speak. “Those ugly things won’t be able to follow us through the tunnels. There’s no vents the way we were heading.”

“I hate to burst your bubble, but there are vents in that direction.” Spitfire stepped into the conversation. “We passed by two N-Y guards. They both got dragged into a vent. That way is a no-go.”

“But they shouldn’t be able to follow us down that path.” Blazing raised an eyebrow when Spitfire shook her head. “Okay. Where do you think we should go then?”

“After seeing what we have from being down here as long, they’ve only seem to be interested in traveling underground. If we go to the surface, we should have an easier time avoiding any type of danger.” She did have a point, Rarity thought.

“If I can add to Spitfire’s idea. The last time we dealt with these beasts was a month ago. The one that we had, even though it had found a way out of the magic field, stayed under the Royal Sisters’ Castle. If that behavior still holds up, they shouldn’t go up to the surface too often.” Rarity saw the interested gazes from the new group of ponies.

“So whah your saying is dhah we have a better chance of living if we go above ground?” Patchy murmured as he peeked over Sparkdust’s right shoulder.

“Spitfire and Rarity have a point, Blazing Ash.” Aquafrost glanced over her shoulder. “Maybe it’d be best if we followed them for now?”

Ash held his leader’s gaze for a moment before sighing. “Alright. Let’s follow them.”

“What about everypony else? Are we all in agreement?” Spitfire scanned the now much larger group of ponies, and Gilda. Nopony spoke up, but the consensus seemed to be in the affirmative. Rarity certainly was glad Ash didn’t argue any further. They had to get out of this place as fast as possible in order to not only save themselves but Cloudchaser as well. Yet she had to admit that even with those ghastly monsters running around, it gave her a sense of safety to be surrounded by others. More so than when it was just her, Applejack, Rainbow, and Spitfire. “Okay. If everypony is in agreement. Let’s get going.”

The hall echoed with the hoofsteps of the now-fifteen ponies. Rarity returned her attention to Cloudchaser, their sixteenth and yet unconscious mare. She only knew that if they didn’t save her in time, her life would end in a most painful way. They entered through another hall. What was first noticeable was the fact that they had glass rooms. Oddly enough, it looked like a bunch of science labs. The only unfortunate thing was that this red light continued to light up the whole place. “What is all of this?” Spitfire broke the silence with her question.

“These are the medicinal labs.” Spitfire swiveled her attention to Aqua. “I’ve worked half the time I’ve spent here as a guard. We’ve been trying to come up with pharmaceuticals as to help better the lives of ponies with sickness or other horrible afflictions.”

“What would a company like this want with medicine?” Rainbow took a turn with her question.

“Easy; to make a profit.” Blazing Ash smiled. “But the ponies here have taken the time and care to make sure these products are safe for consumers. We aren’t throwing them medicine that could poison them.”

It really was an odd sight to behold. She had seen the odd weaponized magic items they held over at the Research and Development building. To see how many avenues this company was exploring astounded her. It was only a shame that these ponies tried to bring back those ghastly animals. “Hold up.” Soaring raised a hoof. When the echoing of the group’s hooves stopped, another set of them came to life. “You guys hear that?”

They quickly receded away. They saw a flash of movement and a glint of yellow light. The pony in front of them stopped. Rarity’s smile grew a little more as she saw Daring Do standing in front of them. It unnerved her, however, when she saw the two daggers she had at the ready. Her eyes wide, Daring put her weapons away and chuckled. “Well, well, well. I was wondering when we would find each other.”

Behind her, the group let out a gasp. There stood Princess Celestia and Princess Twilight. It was a silent reunion, but Twilight quickly ran to her friends, the mares joining in their fully complete group hug. Rarity could hear her friend crying. She couldn’t stem the tears either. When they separated, she raised a hoof to her muzzle. “Rarity… Applejack… Rainbow Dash? You’re hurt…”

The attention that was brought back to her hoof did not help Rarity. It only verified the pain that she felt every now and then. Rainbow Dash said, “We had a run-in with one of those freaks. But we managed to get rid of it.” She smirked, boasting about their success. “Yeah, I’d say we’re pretty cool.”

“You managed to kill one by yourselves?” Princess Celestia took a step forward, standing next to Twilight.

“Yes. It was a difficult time… but, we survived, at least.” Rarity toned down the bragging. “We barely made it out alive. Rainbow got nicked by its tail. Applejack suffered after we killed it when it made a last ditch effort to bring one of us down with it. And I…” Rarity lifted her bad hoof “...unfortunately did not move out of the way in time after it bled its acidic blood.”

Celestia’s gaze did not move from Rarity’s hoof. “Everypony.” She scanned the now larger group of ponies and said. “Please gather around me for a brief moment.” Rarity noticed the uneasy stares that some of the ponies gave her, but they moved closer to her. She did the same, limping with her bad hoof off the ground. Celestia closed her eyes and her horn lit up in a light gold aura. A similar aura surrounded Rarity, and she looked to see the same happening with the others, including Celestia herself.

It was tingly, not unpleasant. Yet she did feel a little cold. The aura disappeared moments later. “There.” Celestia opened her eyes and added, “I have surrounded everypony’s equipment and bodies in an anti-acid spell. Unfortunately I am unaware of how much protection you all will have, but it should suffice in keeping the Xenomorph’s acid blood from doing any damage.”

‘Now if only that spell had been put on me earlier.’ Rarity frowned when she looked at her injured hoof. She sighed and shook her head.

“So everything’s protected, huh?” Spitfire asked as she glanced over her wings. “Nice. Too bad we don’t have any armor spells with us. I’m pretty sure those things could pierce one with ease anyway.”

“There are some stronger spells like that,” Twilight said before continuing, “However, calculating the strength of an Xenomorph while adding its velocity and impact, an even stronger armor spell could potentially only last two to three hits. Given that they’re quick in attacking as well, the spell would last only a few seconds before it’d break.”

“So we’re pretty much screwed either way, huh?” Sparkdust shook her head, chuckling. “That’s great. I bet yah that the stronger spells can’t be cast easily either.”

“That’s not the worst of it, either.” Twilight shuddered before she continued, “We came across three other Xenomorphs. One was in its second stage, a Praetorian.”

“Are you serious?” Rainbow Dash’s mouth dropped. “We’ve already got seven of these things running around, and one of them’s gotten bigger?”

“What’s a Praetorian?” Rarity noticed some of her friend’s gazes meeting Aqua’s until Twilight cleared her throat.

“The Praetorian is the Xenomorph’s second stage of evolution. It becomes larger, and is able to endure a fight for a longer period of time.” Twilight closed her eyes halfway. “There’s still more to it. Another one dragged me a distance away from my group. The worst part of it was… it was using a telekinetic magic.”

Nopony spoke. Rarity couldn’t imagine these beasts with such a ability. “Oh come on…” Patchy spoke as he shivered behind Sparkdust. “One of dhese dhings has… magic?”

“I’m afraid so.” Celestia took her turn to speak. “It pulled Twilight away from us in a matter of moments. It seems to have inherited the capacity magic from its host. It’s the same size as the one from Ponyville. But… unfortunately… that’s not the worst of it.” She closed her eyes and murmured, “They have a Queen.” Rarity sat there, mouth agape.

Part of her felt like she knew already what was coming next. “Rarity.” Twilight hesitantly met her gaze. “We… believe it’s the one that came from you.”

“O-oh…” She had no idea what to say. At one point she would never have given it a thought, that the disgusting creature inside of her was alive. She had always found it comforting to believe that it was dead. But with it alive and roaming the island she was on, she feared that she’d come across it again sooner or later. Rarity shook a little, eyes watering. She felt Twilight wrap her hooves around her; it only sent Rarity into tears.

“So what’s the game plan now?” Daring Do asked. “There’s a Queen here. I don’t have to know a lot about the Xenomorph to know that’s bad. We have to get rid of her and all of her gross ‘foals’.”

“We should be getting out of here,” Blazing Ash argued as he walked past Aqua. “Let Bishop deal with this problem. If he gets killed, then that’s better for us, right? At least it’ll be one less problem to deal with.”

“You know, I have to agree with Ash there.” Sparkdust spoke up moments after. “Let Bishop get killed. We can come back and deal with this monster later, right?”

“I wish it were that simple.” Twilight shook her head, letting Rarity go and moving her attention to them. “If we left these things to thrive on the island, they could potentially build a colony. The more there are of this creature, the more likely we won’t be able to get rid of them all, even with the Royal Guard. And if they get off of this island, they’ll invade and infest every nation in the world. Everyone everywhere will die.”

Celestia nodded at the info Twilight brought up. “And even an alicorn such as myself doesn’t have the power to stand up to an army of Xenomorphs. Even just one Queen is a difficult task for me.”

Nopony spoke afterwards, but from the concentrated looks Rarity saw, everypony was putting forth the effort to come up with some idea. She swerved her attention to Celestia, who took a breath in. “It would be better if we found a more secure space to think about this problem. Let us continue forward before one of these Xenomorphs surprise us.” With that, she nodded to the remaining Royal Guard, who saluted back to her.

Patchy McHeart chuckled a little, but the frown didn’t go away. “I dhink she’s goh a good idea.”

“Well, we are ‘technically’ running away from the problem. It’s not that bad if we think about it.” Ash nodded. When Aquafrost took moved forward, her group followed behind.

Rarity took a step forward, but Twilight quickly walked in front of her. “Wait.” She waved for Applejack to move next to Rarity. Applejack waved Rainbow Dash over, who swiftly flew over and landed on the other side of Rarity. “How long ago did you three get injured?”

“It’s only been about a half hour.” Applejack was the first to respond.

Rainbow raised an eyebrow. “What’s so important about knowing that, anyway?”

Twilight didn’t respond, but instead closed her eyes. Her horn came to life with a magenta aura. The wounds were slowly encased by the light, and Rarity flinched when she felt a tingling sensation around her hoof. It was uncomfortable as some of that pain came back. As quickly as the aura came, it went away in a fast spark. The pain wasn’t as bad as before, Rarity noticed. She took off the makeshift wrap and saw that part of her hoof had been healed. However, the flesh was still exposed. When she swerved her gaze to Applejack, her left gaskin’s wound had decreased in size.

Applejack tested it out and didn’t limp as much as before. “Was that healin’ magic?”

Twilight nodded, a couple beads of sweat dripped down. “Unfortunately, I only learned the basic healing spell from Cadance. Healing magic is really hard, even for alicorns. I could only mend what the magic could.” Rainbow Dash checked her side and only found a small scar.

“It’s fine, darling. You’ve helped us at least.” Rarity tried to relieve the pressure, but the hoof still stung. She wrapped it up again and sighed. As she went to lift her bad hoof over Applejack, the four girls jumped at a metallic crashing noise behind them. They quickly swiveled around to see what it was, only to see something move to the other side of the hall.

“Hold on.” Daring Do moved up next to Rarity and whispered, “Let’s just act like we’re going to follow the group.”

The girls nodded and turned around, Rarity lifting her bad hoof over Applejack once more. They quickly joined up with the others; however, the pony behind them kept quietly shuffling back and forth. Daring slowly slipped around a corner, hiding behind it with one dagger in her mouth. It was only a second later that they heard her pounce on the pony. The girls turned around and watched as Daring struggled to pin the pony down.

In a swift movement, she finally immobilized the pony. But Daring’s eyes widened at whom she finally saw. “C-Crystal…?” The mare beneath her stopped struggling, a similar expression akin to Daring’s. “Y-you’re alive…” Daring helped Crystal up before she finally gave her a hug.

“I thought you were gone, too…” Crystal’s voice shook-- not with sorrow, but with joy. “I saw the explosion from one of Neighland-Yupony’s ships. I didn’t know if you made it.”

As the two continued, Twilight glanced at her friends. It was an unspoken command, nodding as she quickly trotted towards the others. Rarity held a smile for once, glad to see that there was another pony here to help them. It only strengthened the chance of their survival. There was an echo of hooves behind them. Rarity noticed Aqua had quickly separated from the others, running towards Crystal. When Crystal saw her, her smile brightened as they quickly embraced one another. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” Aquafrost quietly cried, tightening her grip around Crystal.

Aquafrost held her for a moment longer before she hesitantly let go. “I’m happy you’re okay, too.” Crystal returned the gesture. It didn’t take long for Rarity to notice how close the two were. Her smile brightened. This whole day was finally taking a turn for the better.

“Crystal Rune?” Rarity glanced over at the voice, seeing Princess Celestia take a step forward from the group.

Rarity brought her attention to Crystal, who turned towards the voice. When she saw Celestia, her eyes watered up. She took a step forward, followed by another before she practically leapt into Celestia’s forelegs. The crying that came from Crystal was a stinging sensation to Rarity’s ears. It was sad to see such pain coming from the pony who used to be one of Celestia’s pupils. Celestia didn’t seem to cry, but she looked near the brink of it. “I-it’s good to see that you’re alive and that you’ve finally gained some friends…”

“Hey…” Sparkdust quietly murmured. “I don’t want to be a buzzkill or anything, but… shouldn’t we be a little more quiet?”

Celestia glanced towards Sparkdust. Nodding slightly, she returned her attention to Crystal before her horn lit up in a light gold aura. As it encased Crystal, her crying slowed, becoming a soft whimpering. “Don’t worry, Crystal,” Celestia whispered, wrapping a wing around Crystal’s frame. “I will be here when you wake up. It’s time that you got some rest…” After Celestia spoke, Crystal finally quit crying, placed into a deep sleep. Celestia glanced over to Blazing Ash. “Is there a place in this building where we can rest for a moment? It’d only be for five or ten minutes.”

He hummed for a moment. “There’s a large lounge room just a few more flights up. It’s close to the exit. No vents. Should be a perfect place to sit down for a moment.”

She nodded before speaking to the others. “We’ll take a small rest. Cloudchaser is still our top priority, but we cannot help her if we do not rest.” She turned to Crystal, encasing her body again in magic and lifted her up with one wing onto her back before slowly getting up on all fours. “Let us take our leave.”

Rarity turned with Applejack and followed the group. Things really were looking up. Their numbers had risen significantly, and there were more ponies that could help fight and defend each other. Maybe their luck was turning for the better now, and that they didn’t need to worry as they had earlier. But they still had to be wary. It’d only take one mistake, one surprise from a Xenomorph and everything could be ruined.

Chapter XV: Reunification ~ Part II

View Online

The red light of the tunnels had not dimmed. The bulbs quietly buzzed. There was nopony around. The echoes of pained screams resonated from far away. It only fit with the mood. A dark and never ending system of tunnels. A perfect setting. It helped for a hunter such as the Predator. He quietly moved across the tram rails, looking across the walls. Down the new tunnels it passed by. He had heard the constant cacophony of screams in the far distance, already aware that more ponies were dying, but not by his brothers’ hands.

These creatures were already laying waste to the ponies. They had all foreseen this outcome. But there was no reason to disrupt it. Better to let ignorant creatures learn the hard way instead of coming to the rescue like some type of stereotypical hero. In their culture, heroes were not defined by kind acts. Anyone could be kind and still not receive a great welcome. But respect came from how many kills you had. How many trophies you could take during the hunt. That was how you gained honor.

These ponies had none to be found. Like those blind humans, they too were careless. The humans had taken these creatures in like some kind of worship-starved beings. Humans were too busy in their pursuit of knowledge. These creatures were only useful to prove one’s honor. If anyone could kill one of these legendary serpents, then honor would be theirs. For their kin. For their clan. It would be theirs even in the afterlife.

He stopped and glanced over his shoulder. He could hear something, but with the tunnels around him, the source was unclear in origin. He clicked his mandibles, slowly scanning every crevice. Not one corner could go unchecked. He had heard the stories of his ancestors, how nearly invisible this being was in the darkness. He would make sure that not one of these serpents snuck up on him. The Predator switched his normal infrared sight to a more green textured view.

The new view he had was another invention from its ancestors. If this serpent showed itself, the acid inside its own body would give it away. The hunter knew too that it could see him as well. Even with his cloaking device on, this creature could sense where he was at. But the situation did not depend on who got the first surprise. It would be who could outmatch the other. Even with all the armor he had over his body, it would not help much in the long run.

There was a quick scratch of metal. He jumped from his spot. There was a loud crash where he had once stood, and as he turned around, he could see the Xenomorph. His eyes widened behind the metallic mask at the sight of such a large serpent. It roared at him, a noise that ran through the Predator’s body. But he wasn’t nervous. He growled, excited at the prospect of doing battle with a serpent such as this.

The cloak around the Predator disappeared before he roared back at the Praetorian. The Xenomorph reciprocated with a louder tone. A blue light exploded out from the cannons on the Predator’s shoulders. The larger Xenomorph jumped out of the way and ran down another tunnel. The Predator jumped to the spot it was at and continued to fire. The light lit up the tunnel as the Praetorian jumped up to the ceiling. It roared and leapt towards the Predator.

He quickly took a step back, unsheathing his gauntlet. With a quick thrust, the Xenomorph roared in agony, the twin blades striking its chest. It threw him back with a swipe of its left claw. The hunter landed on his back, rolling backwards and standing upright again. He roared in surprise as it thrust its tail at him. The Predator caught the tail and pulled, slamming the larger Xenomorph against the tunnel wall.

It growled in annoyance before yanking the Predator forward. The Predator roared, a stinging sensation coursing through as it drove its right claw through the metal plating and into the left side of his stomach. Wind passed by as he was thrown down to the ground. The pain quickly subsided, which he directed towards the Xenomorph. It jumped back and hissed. He hastily stood up and aimed the pulse cannons again. The serpent glanced between the two objects and ran right at the Predator.

When the cannons flashed it ducked underneath the bright light blue orbs of energy. It reached for the cannons and smashed them in its clawed hands. The Predator growled in annoyance and kicked the Xenomorph back. It slid back a distance. He leaped forward with his gauntlet pointed straight at the serpent. Both it and the hunter roared in agony as they struck each other.

He slowly turned to see his gauntlet lodged deep inside the serpent’s lower neck area. But he wasn’t lucky either, with the Xenomorph’s tail coming out his back. He turned to the serpent, who roared and brought its tail upwards. Darkness quickly replaced the hunter’s sight as his body was sliced from his chest straight through his head. The Praetorian stepped back as the blade came out of its collar bone. Its breathing echoed around the tunnels, heavy and labored. The wound seemed responsible for this new noise.

It could feel a pain in its breathing, but it would not let that stop it. It picked up its stride and took off. One injury to its body would not stop it from serving its Queen. It wouldn’t stop. None of this would.

There were so many worries. An innumerable amount to keep track of, Celestia thought. After her trip through the underground of this facility, she could truly see what this madpony, Bishop Neighland, was behind. Yet he had involved all these other ponies into the fray, a choice that was now costing the lives of ponies. She could not estimate the possible death toll. It would not be as bad as the wars of old, but each life lost would still weigh heavy on her psyche.

However, she should’ve felt accustomed with the reality of their situation. It was just beyond the norms she was used to. She blinked once. There was no sting from a colored light. The moon was out in full. Its gentle luminescence did wonders to her sight, no longer irritating like the red lights in the tunnels below her hooves. She saw a door to the outside world a small distance from her cracked open slightly, Blazing Ash holding it open as Sparkdust took a peek every now and then.

She gazed at the room she rested in, the entryway without a door to hide her. It was the only one that was considerably safe in the larger lobby room. “Princess?” Celestia smiled when her gaze met Aqua’s. “How’s Crystal Rune doing?”

It was hard to hide her beaming expression. “She’s still asleep.” Celestia slowly rested her eyes on Crystal’s body, hiding behind her wings as she laid against her chest. She pulled her wings away for a moment, relaxing them back at her side. Celestia quietly giggled when she saw the relief on Aqua’s muzzle. It seems Crystal had chosen a very good friend, for Aqua had repeatedly come back to check up on the unconscious mare; a count that had now gone up to five visits. “Don’t worry, Aquafrost. She’ll be fine.”

Aqua only nodded. She was gently pushed to the side as Daring Do came to a stop next to her. “How much longer until the spell is done?”

“It’s only going to stay for a few minutes. The spell is nearly done.” Although Crystal would have been asleep for fifteen minutes, she had laced the spell with one that would give Crystal all her energy, as though she had been sleeping for more than eight hours. She couldn’t hold back the smile. “It’s nice to see that she truly has made friends.” Daring Do went to fixing her pith helmet, a smirk on her muzzle while Aqua blushed a little. Celestia returned to Daring and asked, “Has Twilight heard anything else from her device?”

Daring quickly brought her hoof back down and said, “She’s only gotten a couple snippets. They seem to be gathering over at the Research & Development building. And from what Spitfire told us, it’s filled with all of their weapons.” Celestia had been told by Bishop that they were not making any type of weapons with the human’s technology. She had not believed him at first; her intuition had led her to the truth.

“I can only assume that he’s going to use them on the Xenomorphs. But then again, I am worried that he might decide to turn them on us.” Celestia closed her eyes. She had seen what the humans’ “weapon” could do. Twilight had explained to her that it was called a “pulse rifle”. The damage it caused to ponies, from the two guards that were killed by the man Dr. Markovich, showed her how devastating a weapon like that was.

“There’s probably more than that,” Daring added. “I don’t know much about that ‘rifle’ thing that Twilight mentioned after the transmission, but looking at Blazing’s inventory, they’ve got more than their fair share of long-range combat weapons.” She turned to Aqua, and then to the spear at her right side. “Not to mention close-range weapons.”

Celestia looked at the spear that Daring mentioned. “Aqua.” When the mare’s gaze met her own, she continued, “what other weapons does Bishop Neighland have?”

Aqua’s smile faded. “Everything that Neighland-Yupony makes is similar to all our normal modern-day weapons. However, he’s added the tourmaline gem to them, which gives them an elemental ability, and he’s made them more functional than they previously were. He’s got a whole arsenal of weapons far more advanced than what the Equestrian Army has.”

It was what Celestia was afraid of. This stallion had already lied to her. But these weapons he was creating were not meant for this world yet. “Thank you for the information, Aquafrost.” Celestia nodded. Her ears perked up when she heard a quiet moan below her. She smiled when she saw Crystal finally waking up.

Crystal stood up and saw Aqua and Daring Do first. The two hugged her, a sight that only brightened Celestia’s grin. “It’s good to see you finally standing up,” Daring Do teased, getting a playful hoof to the shoulder.

“How do you feel?” Aqua’s smile softened, an expression that Celestia quietly chuckled at. Her former student seemed to have made some great friends.

Crystal turned around and her gaze rested on Celestia’s. “Could you two please leave me to speak with Celestia?” The smile Celestia had didn’t budge, but she could sense the change in mood. The bright expressions that Aqua and Daring had disappeared. They looked between their friend and the princess before slowly yet hesitantly backing away. There was no frown from what Celestia could tell. Although she could not assume that it would stay like that forever.

Crystal looked away for a moment. She took a step forward before finally sitting down. When she returned her attention, there on Crystal’s muzzle sat a faint frown. “Why?” Celestia honestly thought it’d be in her best interest to respond right away. She could see where this was going but decided to let Crystal speak again. “What was so special about me that you had me replace Sunset?”

Celestia sighed. “You must understand that my choices were ones that I understood would have consequences. Nothing I decided was ever going to be easy.”

“But what was the whole point of it? Why didn’t you just let me know what you were really looking for? After what happened between me and Sunset, I really thought you’d help me understand why Sunset was so… self-absorbed.” Crystal rested her right hoof against her left foreleg. “I couldn’t even figure out why you decided to replace me with her…”

“Crystal. I knew that the decision would hurt you. But there were so many future worries to face. I knew that, even as strong as I am, I could not face them alone.” Celestia sat upright, towering over Crystal, but her stature remained still and calm. “Twilight Sparkle had a magic strong enough to wield the Elements. It’s why she was the final choice.”

“But you made it feel like I was part of some assembly line.” The frown on Crystal’s muzzle deepened. “The choice for you to replace me with Sunset led me to suppose that this was what she felt like. That you made her feel less important than the goal at hoof. I felt that way when you quickly replaced me with her. Was I really that expendable? Just so you could find somepony to not only wield the Elements, but turn into a princess at the end of it all?”

Celestia’s blank gaze did not last forever. She sighed. “It was only the Elements I wished somepony to wield after I lost the ability to do so. Twilight turned into a princess only after I discussed it with my sister. Twilight Sparkle had shown all the necessary traits. It was just a matter of time until we felt it was right to follow up on that action.” Looking down upon Crystal, a small ache came to her heart. To see her in such a crestfallen state hurt.

“Crystal.” Celestia spoke again. Crystal looked up. “You must understand that my actions were not easy to make. A princess is not the only pony to go through such choices. There will be a time when everypony has to make a decision, one that they believe fits best with their future.” A moment was all it took for the frown to change, a smile swiftly forming. “You too have gone through such a stage. Daring Do has told me of the team you used to lead.” Crystal flinched at the mention of her now-deceased friends.

“She told me about the transformation you went through. That you understood and even survived the guilt you went through.” Celestia extended a wing towards Crystal and pulled her close. “I may have failed you as a teacher… but hearing that you accomplished so much helps me see that I did do something right, even if it that positive is still surrounded by many negatives.” Celestia closed her eyes when she felt Crystal wrap her forelegs around her barrel. The embrace brought back little memories, ones of the former teacher-and-student relationship. Her smile brightened.

“Princess?” Celestia looked up and saw Twilight standing in the doorway, a curious expression on her muzzle.

She pulled her wing away and rested it back in its place, Crystal letting go and glancing over her shoulder. Celestia looked down at Crystal and murmured, “Go and talk to her.”

Crystal stood up and turned to Twilight. “Twilight?”

“Uhh… yeah?” Twilight tilted her head a little.

“You… good job. You’re lucky.” Crystal met Twilight’s eyes and continued, “I’m sorry for what happened. What happened to your brother.” Twilight tensed up, looking away from Crystal. “I… I understand how much pain you must be in. I wish I could say more but… just hang in there, okay?”

Crystal walked around Twilight and left the room. Celestia sat there before clearing her throat. “Twilight? What is it that you wish to talk about?”

“Oh. I was going to tell you that everypony is ready to head out,” Twilight said.

There was something she could see in Twilight’s expression. An uncertainty. “Twilight?” The mare looked up at her gaze. “Is everything alright?”

Twilight blinked once before nodding quickly. “Y-yeah. Everything’s fine. No need to worry. I’ll just go see how the group’s doing.” Before Celestia could get a word in edgewise, Twilight left. There was something her former student was hiding. She thought through the possible reasons and could only see one thing that stood out.

“So she still holds herself at fault for what happened. About what happened to him…” Celestia knew all too well how much it hurt to keep a pain like that inside. She only had to look back at what happened when Luna turned to Nightmare Moon. That was enough to feel the ache that was in her heart. “She must forgive herself for what she did. It’ll only hurt the longer she holds it inside.” But the moment was too soon. She would speak with her later. Celestia stood up and walked out of the room. Their trek would begin again; whatever they would face, they would need to do so as a group. The day was not over yet. It wouldn’t be over until the source of this problem was finished. They had to find him. They had to find Bishop. But most importantly, they had to get rid of the Queen.

Chapter XVI: Movements in Shadow

View Online

Princess Celestia stepped through the open entrance, nodding her thanks to Blazing Ash. The wind greeted her, brushing past her fur as she exhaled slowly. She looked up at the moon and smiled as its light shone down on her and the others. Celestia felt a nudge on her right foreleg, bringing her gaze to meet Aqua’s. “Everypony is ready, Your Highness.”

When she bowed, Celestia chuckled. “There’s no need for such a kind gesture.” Aqua stood up with a faint smile. “There’s much that needs to be done. We must not focus on the pleasantries at the moment.” Celestia took a step forward. She stopped and tilted her head when she noticed Daring Do, ears strained forward while she was pulling out one of her daggers. “Daring Do?” Celestia called to the mare.

Daring Do took a step back. Her gaze never left the forest in front of the group. “There’s something in there. I’m getting a bad sense of deja vu here.”

Celestia had never seen her so frightened before. When Daring saw the Xenomorphs, she was frightened, but never like this. “What do you think it is?”

Daring went to answer but paused, ears flicking forward again. She returned to the forest, only to look up. She yelped and jumped back, dust flying up from where she once stood. Celestia strained her eyes to get a better focus on what it was. She could see the outline of the invisible object but couldn’t put a hoof on what it was. The object in question flickered with a electric aura surrounding its structure. When the item was finally visible, she didn’t need a moment to recognize what it was. “A spear?”

She yelped as a sudden pressure pushed her back, hitting the wall as the air was knocked out of her. That sudden force quickly sent a pain through her entire body. Holding back a cry, she turned towards the source of the pain centered around her left shoulder. The object was invisible at first before it too manifested in the form of a bladed disc.

“Princess, look out!” She heard Daring Do’s warning and threw a shield around herself at the sight of a light blue orb of energy. The light gold barrier lit up when the orb exploded upon impact. The force was enough to make Celestia flinch.

“Princess Celestia, no!” Twilight yelled. She made it only a few inches but was pulled back by Rainbow and Thunderlane before an orb nearly hit her, exploding against the wall of the Medical Building.

“What is going on in your head!? You were a step away from being dead,” Zecora scolded her. She helped Rainbow and Thunderlane pull Twilight back into cover.

Celestia did her best to ignore the stinging sensation that coursed through her right shoulder. Her eyes widened when the unknown presence attacking them laughed, the noise echoing all around them. “Where the heck is it!?” Aqua yelled, scanning the treetops.

“I-i-it’s one of them…” Daring Do muttered, shaking a little. “It’s one of those Predators.” Daring yelped and jumped back again when a blue orb came crashing towards her from within the tree line. She skidded back as the force sent her farther back. “Everypony, don’t go into those woods. It’s exactly where it wants us to go.”

“Then how’re you guys supposed to fight that thing?” Gilda hid behind a tree perched far from the treeline.

“I don’t know. It’ll have to come out sooner or later,” Daring said as she jumped back again as another blue orb was shot towards her. She was sent sliding back all the way to Aqua’s side. “We better take cover!”

“What about the princess!?” Babs Seed cried, pointing to Celestia.

Celestia’s vision blurred for a brief moment. She turned to the disc in her shoulder. Her horn glowed in a light gold aura, the same with the bladed circle. She let out a gasp as she pulled it out, the blood freely draining down the side of her chest and right foreleg.

“Twilight, get back here!” Rarity called out.

“Princess!” Twilight ran up to her shield, mouth agape. “I’ll help you.” As she came closer, lights flared towards the treeline. Branches snapped and a trail of smoke fluttered upwards as Aqua and Sparkdust fired into the trees. Blazing Ash pointed his crossbow and fired indiscriminately. All three of them were taking cover behind a cluster of rocks. Everypony else found something to hide behind.

She nodded but caught a glimpse of light. Celestia saw the incoming orb and yelled, “Twilight, get down!” Twilight looked up; just as the shield began to form, the orb impacted, Twilight crying out as she was sent hurtling into the wall next to Celestia. “Twilight!” Celestia yelled, eyes wide with fear.

She was hurt. There was a black mark across her shoulder. There were small cuts that bled slowly. Twilight blinked her eyes a couple times before murmuring, “I-I’m o-okay…” Celestia expanded the shield, forming it around Twilight.

Twilight stood up slowly before returning her attention towards Celestia. Her magic formed around her horn, as well as the wound on Celestia’s shoulder. Celestia flinched at the uncomfortable sensation. The stinging tingled for a moment later until it disappeared. She looked down at the wound and was happy it was reduced to only a small gash. The blood on her fur, however, was not washed away.

An eerie laugh echoed from the forest. It felt like it was surrounding them, the one presence somehow multiplying. “Where is that creature? How can we fight something when we can’t see it?” Celestia murmured to herself. Her horn lit up once more. Celestia pursued the first thought that came to mind. ‘If it will not reveal itself, maybe I can find it using a detection spell.' She closed her eyes and saw a wave of energy flowed towards the treeline. Nopony else would be able to see it except for her.

There was nothing in the tree line. ‘B-but… where is it?’ Her horn pulsed. She turned her attention to the sky and saw the outline of the creature as it was heading right towards her. One blue orb after another came from the creature’s plasma cannon in a short, slow burst. Each impact, Celestia flinched at the tiny pain coming from her horn. The Predator stuck the landing on top of her shield. She flared her horn; the shield flashed briefly as it launched the intruder back. “Everypony! It’s in front of the shield!” Celestia warned the others.

Aqua, Sparkdust, Crystal Rune and Blazing were the first to fire in Celestia’s direction. The Predator growled as an arrow struck its arm. Its cloaking device turned off, giving them all a good look at this Predator. Daring Do noticed it was slightly different than the one she had faced before. Its mottled skin had a red color to it as opposed to yellow, and its armor was black instead of silver. Tiny horns adorned the edges of its mask.

The Predator pulled the arrow out and swerved towards the ponies, firing its cannon at them; the three ponies dispersed while continuing their barrage of magic and arrows.

The Predator jumped from spot to spot, avoiding the ponies’ volley with a scary ease. Sparkdust was the first to charge forward, an ethereal sword at her side. She jumped up into the air and swung downwards. The Predator swiftly blocked it with its right gauntlet, grabbing her with its open hand and lifting her into the air. With a quick strike, it slashed its gauntlet across her stomach, the mare screaming in pain before it chucked her into the medical building. Glass shattered as her body hit a window, disappearing into the darkness. Aquafrost cried out and increased her rate of fire.

The hunter jumped up and shot its cannon again, knocking Aqua, Crystal and Blazing into the trees. When it landed back on the ground, it swiftly turned its attention back to Celestia. It laughed again and unsheathed the gauntlet on its left arm.

“Hey!” It glanced over its shoulder at Daring, who had both daggers out. “Remember me? I’m the one who took down one of your pals.” It stared at her for a moment before it roared and jumped high into the air.

She slid to the side as it landed and struck it with the dagger in her right hoof, piercing its shoulder as it growled in pain. Daring jumped in the air as it tried to kick her and slashed at it with the dagger in her mouth across its chest. Its blood glowed brightly as it stained the ground and Daring’s daggers. It grabbed her with its right arm, but she pierced it with her right hoof’s dagger, causing it to drop her as she flew back. “Anytime anypony else wants to jump in, that’d be really appreciated!”

It growled in annoyance as Spitfire and Soarin kicked it, the Predator skidding across the ground while still standing. When Spitfire flew at it again, the Predator caught her left leg and slammed her into the ground. It raised its right gauntlet, and as it went to strike her, Soarin kicked it again. Spitfire screamed as the gauntlet pierced the left side of her barrel. Soarin went to kick the Predator again, but it caught him as well, slamming its metal mask into Soarin’s face. As it stood up and went to kill Soarin, the Predator was again kicked across the ground, dust flying up as its feet were dragged across the grass.

“Leave them alone you monster!” Thunderlane yelled as he charged the Predator.

“Wait! Don’t do that, you idiot!” Daring yelled and charged the Predator. It swiftly turned on her first and punched her out of the air, sending her across the ground and impacting a tree hard. She gasped loudly, the air knocked out of her.

It growled in satisfaction before turning to the incoming pony, standing its ground as Thunderlane charged. As the kick landed, the Predator was forced back, but it grabbed Thunderlane by the neck. In one move, it rammed its right gauntlet straight into Thunderlane’s neck. Celestia was already horrified by the display she saw, but she was now watching a second pony die. It growled and ripped Thunderlane’s head off with ease, taking the first trophy from this group. “N-no w-way…” Trixie murmured, eyes wide at what just happened.

“No!” Celestia let her shield down and fired a wide beam at the Predator. It roared as it was finally knocked to the ground.

She quickly flew right towards it and raised her hooves into the air. As she hit the ground, it rolled out of the way. “How dare you harm these ponies! They don’t deserve to lose their lives. None of them!” Celestia fired another beam of magic. The Predator quickly dodged and shot a blue orb of its own. Celestia hastily flapped her wings and shot up into the air before speeding straight towards the Predator. It stood its ground, Celestia flying straight into it. It growled as it was pushed back towards the trees.

Celestia gasped as it stopped her charge. The world blurred out as it punched her in the muzzle, choking as another connected into her chest. Everything spun when it kicked her, sending her straight into the outer wall of the Medical building. It roared, beating a fist against its chest, and leapt straight towards her.

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight yelled as she charged the Predator. It turned its cannon on her and let out another round, blasting Twilight back towards Rarity and Applejack.

“Twilight, are you alright!?” Trixie yelled, helping the others pull her back to cover.

As Celestia tried to catch her breath, she looked towards the others, seeing their eyes wide with fear. She understood why they didn’t move. This Predator had shown that it was capable of killing anypony within a few moves. And even with all the punishment that was given, it still shrugged off its wounds and bruises. It raised a gauntlet into the air and growled at her. Celestia thoughts ran at a fast pace. She had to find some way to defeat it. When one idea came up, she knew she’d have take a huge risk.

When she saw the gauntlet get closer, she caught it in her magic. But as she tried to resist, the gauntlet came closer and closer. Celestia screamed in pain as the blades pierced the right side of her chest. A sudden thwip echoed out, blood spurting out from the Predator’s right shoulder. She thought it was Blazing Ash, only to be surprised to see the Royal Guard pointing a crossbow at the Predator. But as the Predator tried to raise its gauntlet again, she grabbed it in her aura once more. Even with the agony that her body was facing, she stood up and refused to let it pull its gauntlet out. An ethereal object appeared by her side before she jabbed it at the Predator, the hunter roaring as Celestia thrust the halberd into it.

Celestia lifted it up and, in a quick fashion, pulled the halberd out and sliced the hunter three times in a blinding speed. It stood there for a moment before two fatal cuts sprayed its bioluminescent blood from its chest. It didn’t seem to notice these wounds. The reason why made itself known as its head slid off its shoulders and tumbled to the ground. As the decapitated creature fell, Celestia cried when the gauntlets came out of her, stumbling back to the outer wall of the medical building. “Princess!” Celestia slowly looked up and saw Aqua running towards her. Crystal and Blazing Ash quickly followed behind as they exited the brush. They walked around the Predator’s body and stopped a few feet away from her.

Aquafrost moved closer, horn glowing in a pale scarlet light. “You’re going to be okay…” Celestia flinched again as her wounds were mended, the pain much worse this time. When the sensation went away, she glanced down at her new wound. It was not fully closed; blood continued to trickle out. “I-I’m sorry… I can’t heal it any further.”

“It is alright, Aqua.” Celestia stood up, shakily at first. Her legs buckled but she caught herself, grunting as she struggled to stand upright. She felt somepony support her right side, turning to see Twilight with a frantic frown. “Don’t worry, Twilight… I’ll make it through this.”

“What about Sparkdust?! We need to go see if she’s okay!” Aqua took a step towards the open door of the Medical building but was stopped by Blazing. “What are you doing?”

“We don’t know if she survived that. You saw what happened to her.”

“I’m not going to accept that!” Aquafrost yelled. “I lost Taciturn. I don’t want to lose Spark, too!” Tears slowly trickled down her muzzle. She took a step forward but stopped in her tracks at the noise that echoed from within the building. It was like some high-pitched screech, sending shivers through everypony.

“Unfortunately… I must agree with Blazing Ash.” Celestia saw Twilight’s shoulder wound, the cuts on it continued to bleed, if at a slower pace. Spitfire too was hurt during the fight, a stab wound going through the left side of her barrel. Soarin and Rainbow Dash helped her up. “We’re too injured to fight a Xenomorph. We must take our leave immediately.”

“Sparkdust…” Patchy murmured, looking down at the dagger Taciturn gave her. Celestia understood their pain. They had just lost another friend from the sound of it. But they had to go on.

“Come, everypony. We must go.” Celestia moved forward, helped by Twilight as she limped onward. The others followed suit, Aqua hesitantly at first until Crystal guided her forward. This battle had cost them two more ponies. Two more lives that Celestia couldn’t save. She was ashamed of herself. Ashamed that she wasn’t able to protect them. But there were still more lives being lost. At this rate, the island would be nearly deserted by the time they found Bishop. He was going to answer for his actions. These creatures should not have come back. And she would make sure that he would be punished.

A sudden beeping echoed inside the Predator’s face mask. It followed the trail the marker made, going onto the surface where it had previously been. He had already been following another lead as to the whereabouts of his captain, but he knew in what condition he would be. These alarms only sounded when a fellow hunter had died, a thought that brought sorrow to his heart. Yet he would not dare show any emotion. This was to be expected on the hunt.

These hunts were always laced with danger. It wasn’t uncommon to lose at least one or two hunters on a trip. Some weren’t ready for the challenges these hunts faced, or were boastful and let their pride in their skills blind them. However, even experienced hunters were sometimes killed. It did not matter whether any other hunter had experience or were just beginning a new hunt, they always had to be on the alert and aware of their surroundings.

Silently, he trekked through the tramway. Each step he took was as quiet as could be. He figured that the serpents had killed both of his brothers. Or maybe one of them was unfortunate enough to be killed by one of these equines. He could not doubt those ponies. One had already shown that they were enough to take down his brother. But he could not assume. He had to see to his captain first. He strode onward further and further into the red-lit world of this underground tramway. He took one last step before he stopped.

There was an eerie sound; he thought of bones and flesh. When he took a couple more steps, he could see two serpents feasting on a body. The light green glow on their muzzles gave away who it was. He aimed his cannon at one of the Xenomorphs and fired off a round. When it made contact, the Xenomorph blew up into a spray of acid and chunks of chitin and organs. The second serpent quickly turned towards the Predator and roared, leaping onto the left wall.

He let out a growl of excitement. The Predator reached for a sheath on his left side, pulling out a refined and sharp blade. When the serpent leapt, he jumped back. But the Xenomorph was already on him, jumping on top of him and knocking him to the ground. With a quick kick, he knocked the serpent off of him. It screeched as it was sent backwards. He stood up and hastily ran towards it, watching it roll off its back and onto its feet. It growled and struck with its tail. The Predator moved to his left, dodging the quick strikes of the serpent. When it thrust its tail again, he caught it and with one fast swipe cut off the tip of its tail.

The Xenomorph screeched and took a couple steps backward. But it went from shaking in pain to hissing at him in an instant. It jumped at him again, but as it was almost on top of him, he grabbed at its neck and held it in the air. It tried to claw and bite him, but all it was hitting was air. With one quick upward thrust, the sword stuck out the top of the Xenomorph’s head, going through its mouth. There was no more screeching.

The Predator growled in satisfaction. It had not only surprised one serpent but was able to kill the other in one-on-one combat. He kneeled down to the one he had just killed and pulled one of his mask’s restraints off. He did the same for the next one and pulled it away from his face. His mandibles clicked together in pride. The hunter reached down and grabbed one of the serpent’s fingers. He ripped it off with a quick tug before bringing it close to his left cheek. He growled as he marked himself with its blood, the acid stinging until he pulled it away after making his last mark.

He stood up with his mask under his arm, turning towards the next serpent. Like before, he reached for one of its fingers and pulled it off. He barely flinched when he pressed the acid blood to his right cheek this time. With the same mark on both sides, other Predators would now know that he had killed two serpents. A great honor would be placed upon his kin this day. He glanced up and saw his dead captain. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, praying for a safe journey to the afterlife.

The Predator stood up and put his mask back on. It hissed as the mask turned back on. He turned towards his dead brother and reached for his wrist pad. No sentient creature would obtain his captain’s technology. They weren’t ready for the responsibility just yet. He flipped his brother’s wrist pad open and pressed a sequence of buttons. It flashed alive with red symbols in each square. He turned around and quickly took his leave, running in the opposite direction towards the next marker.

He had found his first deceased brother. All that was left was the other one. He would discover what had happened to him. But he could only assume that his brother was unlucky like their captain. A luck that he hoped would not affect him as well.

With each step she took, the pain in her chest and shoulder worsened. Celestia breathed in and out, but each gasp of air was labored. “You’re going to be okay.” She glanced down at Twilight, a deep frown on her muzzle. She shouldn’t have worried her so. Their predicament couldn’t have been avoided. That fight with the Predator had done a number on her. She was surprised how lethal that creature truly was. “We’ll find something in this next building. I know we will.”

“It’s okay, Twilight. I won’t succumb to these wounds.” If Twilight and Aquafrost hadn’t studied any type of healing spells, she may have not counted herself so lucky.

“I wish we could’ve taken Thunderlane’s body with us,” Spitfire murmured, walking a little unsteadily. Aqua had done her best to heal Spitfire’s wound. Thankfully, it had shrunk in size, but it still continued to bleed at a slow pace.

“I don’t think we could’ve. Like you said earlier, it’d only slow us down,” Trixie said as walked next to Zecora, helping her hold Cloudchaser’s limp body. However, as morbid that truth was, it was a truth that they couldn’t ignore. They’d only be slowed down by having to carry another pony’s body. Not to mention, as of now, most of the group was injured. It’d be much more difficult to deal with all these threats on the island. They had to find another building.

“Hey, I think I see something up ahead,” Daring Do called out. Celestia looked up to where Daring was pointing. There, just a small distance away, was another tall building. Glass adorned the whole exterior of the tall building. It was wide too, much larger in appearance than the Medical Building was. “There’s a place we could rest for a while.”

“It’s the Habitation Building,” Aqua spoke up, glancing between Daring and Celestia. “It’s where most of the guards on the island stay. With this alert going on, there shouldn’t be anypony inside the building.”

“I can imagine why they’d call it that. But why is it so big?” Rainbow Dash asked.

Aqua glanced over her shoulder. “Because it’s like a home away from home. You have baths and showers, a huge cafeteria where they serve almost all types of food you can think of, and even a practice range out behind the building for crossbow users like Blazing Ash here.”

“Not to mention that, as Aqua mentioned, this is where most of the guards stay,” Blazing Ash added. “The barracks set up here have at least four to five beds in one room. They’re also pretty spacious, so nopony is stepping on each other’s hooves.”

They certainly made it sound like they were treated like noble ponies. The Royal Guard was not as fancy as this place, but they made a point to treat each other well. Speaking of that group, she took a brief glance at the one next to her. He kept his gaze forward, but with the time she had, she took a better look at the stallion. Celestia firstly noticed that he wasn’t as well-built as most of the Royal Guard. He was skinnier, lankier compared to the usual guard. That’s what was so unusual. His armor even looked different. Shape-wise, it didn’t appear as bulky as the normal wear of the Royal Guard. It was fairly reminiscent of another type of guard armor. “Excuse me?”

The guard met her gaze with his own. “Yes, Your Highness?”

“How did you meet the requirements for the Royal Guard?”

“I’m a lot heavier than I look.” The lie was hard to notice at first, but Celestia could tell that he wasn’t being truthful.

She took a moment to consider all the possibilities and thought of one pony in particular. “Really? So why didn’t you join the Lunar Guard?” Celestia caught the hesitation in his eyes. She found the crack in his resolve.

“...I thought the hours would be better in the Royal Guard.” His act certainly did not waver, but Celestia had found him out.

“Well, that’s too bad. My sister wouldn’t enjoy hearing somepony so close to her saying that.” He fully met her gaze as Celestia spoke. The guard sighed.

Before he could speak, Daring’s voice caught her attention. “We’re here. Crystal, you, Aqua, and I will go check things out. Blazing, I want you and everypony else to follow us inside, but don’t come upstairs. We’ll have to do a thorough search just to make sure that we’re not stumbling into any unwanted company.”

As Twilight helped Celestia along, she returned her attention to the guard. “What were you going to say?” The guard didn’t speak at first, but his horn lit up in a deep blue aura. His armor flashed for a moment. When the light died down, Celestia finally caught on. “So, you are a part of my sister’s Lunar Guard.”

The guard nodded. He waved to his dark green armor. “I’m her guard’s lieutenant. Name’s Retrospect Saxon. At your service, Your Highness.”

Celestia couldn’t help the smirk on her expression. She knew the answer to her question, but she was still going to ask anyway. “So why did she have you infiltrate the Royal Guard’s ranks?”

“I was ordered to protect you at all times, Your Highness. Special request from your sister, Princess Luna.” He bowed after he spoke.

She was quiet at first. Celestia giggled once before it turned into a few chuckles. Celestia did not care if it hurt. “What’s so funny, Princess?” Twilight asked, glancing between Retrospect and Celestia.

Celestia took a breath after her small laughing fit. “I knew the answer I would receive. However, it was still good to hear. I knew Luna was going to try something.” The small smile on her muzzle didn’t budge. It was a breath of fresh air instead of all this violence and bloodshed.

“If we are to move to that solution, we must catch up with our friends,” Retrospect suggested, standing up and moving to Celestia’s left side.

He helped Twilight guide her along, but as they looked forward, Blazing Ash pointed at them. “Hey, look out! There’s an Xenomorph behind you!”

The three quickly turned themselves around to face the creature. When they did, Celestia’s eyes widened. It was the same size as the Xenomorph with magic, yet its chitinous skin was light gray in color. ‘Just like the Queen…’ It roared and jumped towards them. Celestia’s horn sprung to life as a light gold shield appeared in front of them. The Xenomorph landed on top of it, jumping back and hissing in annoyance. It paced back and forth as Celestia, Twilight, and Retrospect slowly backed up.

As they did, Celestia thought she could see something shuffling along the Xenomorph’s back. There were two objects flattened against its sides, yet she couldn’t figure out what they could be. The shield flashed as the Xenomorph struck with its spear-tipped tail. The impact left a small pain in her horn. The pain only intensified as it lashed out again with its tail. Celestia quietly gasped as her horn’s aura flickered. She had already taken a lot of damage in her previous fight, and it was finally affecting her magic’s strength.

A shadow passed over them as they entered the door. The Xenomorph roared and jumped one last time. As it did, Celestia let her shield down and closed the door with blinding speed. The door bulged towards them, the Xenomorph growling in frustration. “Hurry, we must get up the stairs!” Celestia ordered. She had Twilight and Retro back up and let everypony else move up the stairway. When Patchy McHeart was the last to ascend upwards, Celestia made her slow journey up the first flight.

Blazing led their group upwards. “Princess!” He leaned over the stair railing and said, “You must hurry. I don’t know how long that door will hold!”

She nodded. The others quickly picked up the pace, but she had a different idea in mind. “Twilight. Retrospect. I’m going to teleport us to the top. But I’ll need both of you to help me.” She did not like admitting that she would need help to teleport herself up a few flights of stairs, but it was necessary in this case. They nodded before their horns came to life, closing their eyes before Celestia did the same. They disappeared in a white light, reappearing on the top floor as Blazing Ash reached the last step.

“What are you guys doing up here?” Daring Do pushed a door to their left open. “We haven’t given the all-clear signal yet!”

“Too late. We got a Xenomorph trying to bust down the door downstairs,” Blazing Ash quickly informed her. “Everypony is up here, by the way.” There was a loud crash of metal downstairs. Celestia peeked over the railing and saw it standing on top of the broken door. It roared as its gaze met her own, jumping from railing to railing towards them.

“Everypony, through the door now!” Celestia yelled out the order. The group filed through, with Applejack and Rarity being the last ones through. Celestia, Twilight, and Retro backed up to the door. The Xenomorph hopped onto the spot they were previously at. When it lunged for them, Celestia closed the door on it as she had done minutes ago. Another roar of frustration came. They flinched when its spear tail burst through the metal. Quickly as they could, they backed up with the rest of the group.

“What’re we gonna do now?” Applejack asked, shaking a little, Rarity doing the same.

Her thoughts were flickering by at a pace she could barely keep up with. Celestia shook her head. ‘The best thing to do now is survey our area as quickly as possible.’ When she glanced around, her eyes widened. As before, she saw the walls were glass windows. But then the thought of the Xenomorph breaking one of them down with ease came to mind. “This place isn’t safe. We can’t stay here for long. We have t--”

“I can’t take it anymore!” Gilda yelled, backing away from the group. “I’m getting outta of this joint!”

“Gilda, wait!” Rainbow Dash called out to her, but the griffon flew up to the floor above them. A door opened and slammed soon after. Celestia looked back at the door the Xenomorph was at and tensed up, ready for it to come barreling through. But nothing came, only silence.

She tilted her head. “Okay… why hasn’t it busted the door down yet?” Spitfire raised an eyebrow.

Daring Do took a step forward, slowly nearing the door. “Daring,” Crystal quietly called out. “Don’t be stupid!”

When she looked into the hole the Xenomorph had created, she scanned the opening for a moment. “It’s not here.” There was a frantic tone to her voice. “It’s gone.” She pushed the door open and peeked over the railing. “It’s not inside the stairwell either.”

“Then where’d ih g--” Glass broke and interrupted Patchy, followed by the screams of pain as Gilda was pulled back out. The Xenomorph stood above her, dragging her across the glass and out of sight as it went up to the roof. A trail of blood trickled down the window. Everypony stood there in fright, but Rainbow Dash was the first to move, flapping her wings up to the final floor.

“Rainbow Dash, wait for us!” Soarin called out, quickly following after. Daring Do was the next to follow.

Celestia looked down to Twilight. “You must go and help them.”

“But what about you? I can’t lea--”

“You must!” Celestia ordered. “I can’t bear the thought of losing more ponies.” She pushed Twilight away with a wing. Her former student’s expression was nothing but fear. However, she finally nodded and unfurled her wings, following the others outside. But Celestia closed her eyes. “Everypony else, stay down here.”

“But you're in bad condition, Princess,” Aquafrost pointed out. “You should stay down here with us and rest.”

Celestia shook her head. “Even in my weakened state, I have to know how they’re doing.” Her voice was ragged with exhaustion. “Retrospect… h-help me up there.” The guard hesitantly nodded, his horn flaring to life. When Celestia’s aura came, they teleported up to the top floor.

Babs Seed whimpered as she and everypony else stayed downstairs. The filly hid behind Trixie and Zecora for protection. Zecora looked down at the filly behind her, but then saw something scurrying out from behind upturned furniture and across the floor. It was one of those pale, eight-legged creatures, and it was headed straight for the unaware filly! She saw it coil its tail in preparation to launch itself at her.

Babs Seed gave a startled cry as Zecora abruptly shoved her, causing her to fall to the ground. Before Babs could ask her why she pushed her, Zecora shouted, “Babs Seed, beware! There’s-”

Her words were cut off when the creature landed onto her face with an audible slap. Zecora shook her head as she tried to pry it off with her hooves. Immediately, the facehugger wrapped its tail around Zecora’s neck and squeezed. The sudden lack of air caused her to gasp involuntarily, allowing for the facehugger’s slim ovipositor to slide in her mouth and down her throat. She gagged at the awful taste and tried to scream, but all that came out was a muffled yell. The creature began to produce a sedative, and combined with the lack of air, Zecora’s eyes rolled back as she slumped to the floor. With its target subdued, the facehugger began to pulsate, breathing for the zebra while impregnating her.

At the top of the stairs, Celestia reappeared with a flash. With Retrospect’s help, they moved towards the door. Soarin came flying past the door, yelping as he landed on his back. When she could see out the doorway, there stood the Xenomorph.

However, those things on its back she had saw earlier had unfurled. Eyes wide with surprise and horror, Twilight staggered back. ‘I-it has wings?’ It flapped them at Twilight, Daring, and Rainbow Dash. But they only flinched, not backing down, their own wings unfurled. Yet she could see something struggling underneath it. It was Gilda, blood slowly pooling from underneath her body. She let out a scream which was swiftly silenced as the Xenomorph’s tail pierced through her chest.

“Gilda!” Rainbow Dash cried. She took off, flapping her wings in a swift manner. The Xenomorph swung its wings downward and flew straight into the air. It quickly charged towards Rainbow Dash. The speed Celestia saw from this creature was phenomenally frightening.

‘It’s flying at nearly the same speed as Rainbow Dash.’ This creature was only recently born, and here it was, already faster than most pegasi. Rainbow swerved downward as it nearly hit her. She flew back up to the roof and skidded to a halt. Twilight fired bolt after bolt at the flying monster. It dodged each bolt with ease before it turned towards its attacker. Twilight jumped as soon as it was nearing her, the Xenomorph almost hitting her as well. ‘This creature’s agility is just too fast for other ponies. They have to kill it here and now.’

Twilight returned her fire at the Xenomorph. One of her beams hit it in its side. It screeched in annoyance but didn’t go back to attack her. It circled once before flying to the ocean. The direction it was going, however, only frightened Celestia. “Absolutely not!” Twilight yelled, flapping her wings as hard as she could. It seemed that Twilight had the same realization as she did.

Celestia didn’t take her eyes away from Twilight as she ascended higher and higher into the air. Twilight’s horn came to life, the light grew greater in intensity as the seconds passed. When she pointed it towards the fleeing Xenomorph, a much wider beam of energy came out. The Xenomorph disappeared within the magenta light. The remnants of its body fell down towards the ocean and vanished within the giant pool of water.

Twilight slowly flapped her wings as she returned back to the ground. She breathed in and out, a couple beads of sweat trickling down her forehead. “Not… a single one of these monsters is returning to Equestrian soil. Not one!”

With a sigh, Celestia closed her eyes. ‘We’re lucky to have her here. Her strength is necessary for what will soon come.’ She opened her eyes and said, “Come back in, everypony. It’s safer inside the building for now.”

As Celestia turned around, Crystal was running up the stairway towards them. “Princess! Zecora she’s… she’s been… she has one of those things on her face!”

Eyes wide with fear, she nodded to Retrospect. He helped her down the stairs as fast as she could go while Twilight and the others flew down to the next floor. When Celestia reached the final step, she could see Zecora on the floor. Once she saw what Crystal Rune had said was true, Celestia quietly gasped. To see another one of her subjects in such a precarious situation only added to that pain.

Watching the facehugger implanting its terrible embryo into her hurt to even look at. “What’re we gonna do?” Applejack asked.

“Yes. How are we supposed to keep Cloudchaser and Zecora from dying? We can’t go back to Medical. I can’t operate any of the doctor’s tech; it’s too complicated for me. And they didn’t train Patchy with any of that knowledge either. And even if we could use any of the tech there, all of the doctors ran away with the other ponies. Most of them could be hiding in the safety chambers,” Aquafrost added.

Celestia stood quiet. She closed her eyes again and thought of a solution. They couldn’t remove the facehuggers; that much was obvious. If Aqua and Patchy couldn’t work any of the devices over in the Medical building, then that option was out of the question as well. ‘Not to mention that there could be more of the Xenomorphs roaming that area as well.’ She would not risk anypony else’s life. There were too many lives being lost already.

Then a thought came to her. The idea itself held a lot of risk. Not for the ponies saving them, but for Cloudchaser and Zecora; their lives would be held with a high uncertainty. But it was the only option Celestia could see working. “Spitfire.”

Spitfire turned towards Celestia. “Yes, Your Highness?”

“I have a proposal. However, there is a high risk.” Everypony stood there, staring at her with a hint of alarm. “The idea is if you and Soarin leave right now, you could get Cloudchaser and Zecora back to Equestria and have the parasites removed before they emerge.”

“B-but how could they pull that off?” Blazing Ash took a step forward. “Sure, they’re Wonderbolts, but we’re talking about a three- to four-hour flight. That might be too long. Cloudchaser and Zecora could be dead by then.”

“True.” Soarin glanced over at Ash. “But we won’t know unless we try. I understand it’s a risky idea, but if it means that we can bring them back to Equestria and save their lives, I say we give it a shot.”

“So why don’t you guys just cast some stasis spell on them?” Rarity looked between Twilight and Celestia. “That would work, right?”

Celestia looked to Twilight with an unsure look. Twilight looked back at her and shook her head. “Unfortunately, neither Twilight nor I have the strength at the moment. I’ve used up much of my energy to fight that Predator, and these wounds have sapped me of the rest. And Twilight herself just used about half of her magic to kill that Xenomorph with wings.”

Spitfire glanced at Soarin. “This really is an ‘on-the-clock’ mission.” She shook her head. “However, I believe we can pull it off.” She unsheathed her wings and flapped them, flying over Cloudchaser while Soarin did the same for Zecora. They picked them up and held them within their forelegs.

“Fluttershy.” The mare in question turned to Celestia. “I wish for you and Babs Seed to leave with them.”

“A-a-are you really sure about that?” Fluttershy stammered, rubbing her left foreleg.

“Yes.” Celestia’s muzzle gave way to a faint smile. “I understand your hesitance, but Babs Seed can no longer remain here. If she were to stay, she’d most likely get hurt. That is why you shall follow Soarin and Spitfire as fast as you can back to Equestria. When you return to Canterlot, you must find my sister. Tell her of what has taken place here. She’ll send help.”

Fluttershy hesitantly nodded. “Of course. I-I’m just scared for my friends. Wh-what if any of them is injured or wh--”

Applejack wrapped a hoof around her shoulders. “Don’t worry about it, sugarcube. We’ll be fine.”

Fluttershy stood still for a moment before nodding. “O-okay.” She beckoned Babs Seed over.

Applejack limped alongside Babs Seed. “Now ya’ll take care, alright?” She turned her attention to Babs. “And don’t you worry none. Just let Fluttershy carry you home. We’ll take care of things over here.” Babs Seed nodded, but hugged Applejack one last time. Fluttershy lifted up into the air with her wings and grabbed Babs Seed. She was a little unsteady at first until she could hold Babs up.

As Fluttershy took off with her cousin, Applejack turned to Rainbow Dash. Once she saw her friend holding the dead griffon, her heart sank. Though their history with Gilda wasn’t the best, she was still Rainbow Dash’s oldest friend.

“Gilda…” Rainbow Dash whispered, quietly sobbing by herself. Applejack limped to her friend and place a hoof on her shoulder. Rainbow Dash looked up to her, tears in her dark rose eyes. Normally, Rainbow Dash would try to hide her pain with bravado, but now she could only cry uncontrollably.

Applejack knelt down beside the pegasus and wrapped her forelegs around her. “You have to let her go.”

“...No.” Rainbow Dash said between hiccuping whimpers.

“Come on, sugarcube. Come on.” Applejack shushed her and gently pried Rainbow Dash away from Gilda’s unmoving form. Rainbow Dash offered no resistance, but continued to cry as she was led away.

Fluttershy stayed still for a moment, nearly crying, but she tried to stay strong. When Soarin and Spitfire flew up to the top floor, Fluttershy soon followed after. It was quiet as Celestia surveyed who was left. “The rest of us have one task. We’re going to find Bishop and stop him before anything else happens.”

“I think we have the strength. But we should take a moment’s rest.” Aquafrost glanced around the room. “If we stay here, I could fix everypony’s wounds. Patchy?” He turned towards her. “Do you think you could help as well?” It was only a moment before he nodded.

“Then we shall take the time to rest. We shall regain our strength and then finish what we have started here.” When Celestia finished speaking, everypony dispersed. She glanced towards Twilight’s way and saw her retreating without anypony else nearby. When Celestia thought back earlier to their first rest, she noticed that Twilight was acting strange. Maybe now she could look further into what was going on with her. She nodded to Retrospect and asked, “Help me follow her. But let us stay back a little.” He nodded without a word. She would get to the bottom of what Twilight was concerned about. She had to help her former student, and she wasn’t going to let Twilight run away from her problem anymore.

Chapter XVII: Hopeful Words

View Online

Rarity stared at the ceiling above. Counting the paneling was hardly what one would call entertainment, but it came close to being the only activity that she was able to enjoy. It gave her time to ponder the upcoming trek over to the next building, as well as what was necessary to get this horrible game of hide and seek over with. It also helped settle her nerves. The amount of excitement from today was more than she could handle.

Shifting her back, she sunk a little further into the couch. Glancing to her left, she stared at the remainder of her group. Twilight and Celestia had gone someplace else, the same as those Neighland-Yupony guards. Her gaze rested on Applejack and Rainbow Dash. This evening had put them all through a lot. Rarity raised her right hoof in front of her muzzle, the piece of cloth soaked through with her dry blood. She could only expect that this wound would stick with her throughout the rest of her life. Pinkie sat upside-down on a chair in the far left corner close to Applejack, and Trixie sat in the middle of the room.

“That stallion’s dead…” Rarity glanced over at Rainbow Dash, the mare’s back towards her. “He’s dead.”

“Quite frankly, Ah feel like Ah could agree with yah there.” Applejack murmured, leaning against the wall. “This stallion’s been causin’ nothin’ but grief ta everypony here.”

Rarity closed her eyes a little. “Even though I’d never use that term you girls use; ‘death’ for it is too ghastly. However, I have to concur.” They were all upset. They all had a right to be angry. “But would you really put yourself through that situation? I certainly would not like to see Bishop Neighland ever again, but to literally resort to violence? I don’t think I could go through with such a vicious deed.”

Applejack eyed Rarity for a moment before sighing herself. “Ya’ll know I’d like to. But even Ah couldn’t handle the thought of killing another pony.” But when the two glanced at Rainbow Dash, she didn’t even speak. “Rainbow?”

“Why are you two so scared of that?” She swiveled around to face them. “Yeah, okay, I haven’t done that before either. And to be honest, I don’t know if I could ever. But this pony was responsible for killing Gilda--even if it was the Xenomorph that actually did it.” Her frown deepened. “He should be put down for all I care.”

“But that wouldn’t be right.” They turned towards Trixie, who took a step towards their group. “Rainbow… it just isn’t the right decision. Sure, he killed Gilda… but what about the others? The other hundred ponies that could be dying at this moment? Maybe even more.”

“Yeah.” Pinkie chirped up. “That’s no fun. Bishop may be a party pooper, but he doesn’t need to die, right?”

“Then what should we do? Let him live after all of this?”

“If it were Princess Celestia’s wishes, then heck, I’d guess we’d hafta follow her decision.” Applejack pointed out. “But we can’t just decide who gets ta live and who doesn’t. That there wouldn’t be right.”

“I think Applejack has a point there, darling.” Rarity rested her bad hoof on the couch. “It’s best we don’t muddy our hooves with that stallion’s blood. Otherwise we’d be no better than Neighland.” Rainbow Dash seemed to heed their words, but moments later she simply turned her back on them. Rarity understood the pain she was going through. Losing an old friend such as Gilda must’ve been an awful feeling.

Her ears swiveled towards the sound of hoofsteps. Aqua and Daring stepped down one last step before they scanned the room. “How’s everypony doing?” Daring asked.

“We’re fine,” Applejack said, taking a quick glance at everypony.

Daring nodded, and Aquafrost trotted over to Applejack first. “I think I can heal your wound just a little more. I don’t know how much of it will recover, though.” Her horn lit up in a scarlet aura, encasing Applejack’s leg wound. She flinched a little at the odd sensation, but it seemed to only last for a moment. When Aquafrost’s aura disappeared, the large wound on Applejack’s had receded further. It may have not healed completely, but it had decreased in size.

“Hoowee.” Applejack smiled. “Well ain’t that the bee’s knees. It doesn’t hurt as much before.”

“That’s good then. Just make sure that you don’t overdo it. You could end up opening the wound again,” Aquafrost warned her. She then moved over to Rainbow Dash. “Could I have a look at your wound, please?” Rainbow nodded and moved so Aqua faced her. She took a quick look before nodding. “It looks good, Rainbow. Just listen to the same advice and you should be fine.” Then Aqua finally came over to Rarity. She unwrapped the bandage and was again met with the sight of only the flesh remaining on the hoof.

Rarity flinched when Aqua’s hoof touched the exposed flesh. “Sorry,” Aqua quickly said. She reached for the hoof again as she rested her right hoof underneath Rarity’s. She looked it over, a faint frown on her muzzle. “I don’t know if I can heal it any further… but I’ll try.” When Rarity felt the magic encase her hoof, she didn’t notice anything at first. She yelped when the magic intensified, trying to pull her hoof away from the invisible source. “Sorry!” Aqua quickly undid the spell, taking a step back from Rarity.

“Why’d that have to hurt?” Rarity complained, gently wrapping her hoof in the cloth again.

“Healing magic is… very specific on what it can do,” Aquafrost began. “Depending on the level the spell is, a basic healing spell can only heal so much. What I’m using is the more advanced spell, which can heal the wound more efficiently. However, even it has its limits. And… if the wound has healed as far as it can with magic, the body will feel pain if a healing spell tries to repair the damage any further. So it’ll hurt more instead of helping the patient.”

Her explanation at least helped Rarity understand why her hoof suddenly throbbed with intense pain. She rested it against her chest as gently as she could. “Thank you for trying anyway, Aqua.” Aqua quickly backed away, but Daring stopped her in her tracks.

“Don’t worry, Aqua. You tried. That’s all that matters.” Daring turned towards Rarity. “Speaking of… I was hoping to talk to you as soon as I could.”

“About what?” Rarity tilted her head.

“About my adventure from a week ago.” There was something odd about the way Daring was looking. She was avoiding eye contact for some odd reason. “I… feel like none of this would’ve happened if I had done something a while back. Something that would’ve stopped this all taking place.” Daring sighed before her eyes met Rarity’s. “I had your… embryo in my grasp at one point.” Rarity stood rigid at what Daring had said.

“After I got back to Canterlot, and when Celestia and Luna had me rest, I couldn’t help but wonder why I didn’t just squash that Xenomorph there and then. If I had, then nopony here would have to go through what we’re all dealing with right now. I just… felt it would’ve been better if I had brought it to Celestia and Luna.”

Rarity sat there. Still. Unmoving. But even as a couple tears trickled down, she slowly shook her head. “I-it’s not your fault…” Even now, she felt that Daring should’ve taken the blame. If she could have gotten rid of that disgusting monster, then this whole situation would’ve never happened. But there was no point in doing so. She was not going to hide behind that veil any longer. “I… am upset. I really am. But… I can’t blame anypony else for my problems.” Daring wasn’t as tense as before, a faint smile on her muzzle. “And although it was Blueblood who gave you your assignment, I can’t blame you for wanting to do the right thing by bringing it to the Princesses.”

That was all Rarity could say. Daring slowly nodded. “Thank you…” Daring turned around and walked away, gesturing to Aquafrost to leave with her. Rarity let out a sigh and wiped her eyes with her good hoof. She felt a little woozy, having used all of her reserve to not lash out at Daring. She didn’t have the right to, or if she did, she could not bring herself to say what she had to say. Either way, maybe it was for the best. Maybe all the crazy and terrifying events happening to them was for the best. If only she could see it that way. Rarity rested her head against the left arm of the couch. She closed her eyes and breathed in. Rest would do her good. Whatever was going to happen here soon, she would have to regain most of her strength for the challenges ahead. Maybe even find some peace in the quiet darkness of sleep.

Crystal yawned as she rested on a chair. Facing towards the wall of windows, she slowly scanned each glass frame. There had been no movement these past few minutes. It was a nice reprieve from all the action: peace and quiet instead of blood-curdling screams and the screeching of those horrible monsters. What a relief it was. She glanced to her right and watched Aquafrost and Daring pass underneath an arch.

“How are they doing?” Crystal asked.

Aquafrost stopped and moved her attention to Crystal. “They’re doing fine.” A faint frown on her muzzle. “Applejack shouldn’t be limping as much as before. Rainbow Dash is doing fine, but I couldn’t heal Rarity’s wound any further.”

“Figures,” Crystal murmured. “Her wound did look pretty serious. I don’t have to be a doctor to tell that she’ll be limping for a while.” It could’ve been the rest of her life, but Crystal would not jump to conclusions.

“Anywho.” Daring took her turn to speak, sitting down in a chair adjacent to Crystal. “We also did a perimeter check of the building. No activity as far as we’ve noticed. But Aqua and I did discover a building not too far from here.” Daring removed her pith helmet and brushed off a bit of dust. “She wanted to do a quick check of it, but I said it was too risky.”

“But there could’ve been more ponies that might have needed our help,” Aquafrost argued. “I can’t just let anypony else on this island die. There’ve been too many deaths already.”

Crystal glanced at Daring for a few moments before looking back at Aqua. “Well, so long as you two didn’t find anything else, I think we’re fine.” When she saw that Aqua’s frown deepened, she gestured to her to move next to her. Aqua hesitantly nodded before trotting over to the chair next to Crystal. When Aquafrost sat down, Crystal asked, “What’s wrong?”

Aquafrost didn’t speak for a moment until she relented. “I… just wish that we could help everypony else. I can’t even imagine how many ponies are losing their lives. We have to do something about it.”

She rested her head against the chair’s top rail. “You know… I understand that you want to help these other ponies. But some of them are in a position where it’s impossible for us to help them.”

“But I can’t just accept that.” Aquafrost broke Crystal’s gaze and glanced to her side. “Some of these ponies that are dying are other friends that I’ve made. For all I know, most of them could be dead by now.” Tears threatened to trickle down her muzzle, but she blinked quickly and shook her head. “Why is it that they have to suffer? They don’t deserve any of this… we weren’t the ones who helped Bishop create these monsters…”

“You aren’t wrong there, Aqua.” Daring spoke up, resting her pith helmet on her lap. “I’ve always thought that most ponies working under Bishop were bad. You guys have certainly proven me wrong. But even if they aren’t responsible for this mess, I don’t think that Bishop really cared about them in the first place.” Daring snorted and put her helmet back on. “If he really did, he wouldn’t have let those Xenomorphs break free.”

A thought came back to Crystal; an all too dreadful moment. “Aqua…” Aqua turned to face Crystal. “You remember when you found me on the floor, right? After that guard had… cut me open?” She did not see the surprised gaze on Daring Do. “Well… after you left and when I was able to recover, I ended up getting caught by that same doctor, the one who was responsible for interrogating me. He… had me taken to a chamber. He was going to use one of those… facehuggers... to impregnate me.”

Aquafrost’s eyes widened. Crystal took her eyes off Aqua’s for a moment. She breathed in before returning her attention to Aquafrost. “What Daring Do said was somewhat correct.” She reached a hoof forward and rested it over top Aqua’s right hoof. “I understand how desperate you are to save the other ponies. But right now… it’s more important that we stop Bishop Neighland. When we get him, we’ll be able to help everypony else.”

It was silent for a moment before Blazing Ash finally broke the silence. “Welp, I’m sold. I think it’ll be a nice change of pace if we get rid of Bishop.”

Aquafrost did not break her silence. Crystal tilted her head. “Aqua?” She felt something brush the top of her hoof and saw that Aqua had placed her left hoof over Crystal’s own.

“If we do somehow get Bishop… how are we going to deal with those things?”

That was a good question, yet a particularly hard one to answer. Crystal pulled her gaze away for a moment. How would they deal with the rest of those bloodthirsty beasts? She could not come up with a solution; not on her own. When she felt Aqua’s grip loosen, she gently cupped Aqua’s right hoof. “I don’t know, but… we’ll find a way to get through this mess… somehow.” She only got a faint nod from Aqua.

The two separated, Crystal leaning against the chair. She heard a snicker and looked for the source. When she saw Daring Do with a faint grin, Crystal rolled her eyes. “Oh, go stuff your face with your pith helmet.” Daring only persisted, breaking out into a chuckle. She heard another small fit of giggles, glancing at Aqua, who held a faint yet bright blush on her muzzle. Crystal’s cheeks flushed with her own darker blush, shaking her head until she finally laughed as well.

A moment like this was such a rarity, especially when there were still pony lives being lost. Maybe it wasn’t the best mood to be in a time like this. However, Crystal felt that it would help them all in the long run. They couldn’t forget how to laugh or smile. When all this was done with, they could chuckle or grin as much as they’d like… as long as fate did not have anything hidden in store for them.

There was no need for any rash actions. Twilight knew that better than anypony else. At a couple points, she had felt the need to abandon all caution and just let things fall where they may. A spell that had convinced nearly everypony in Ponyville to chase after her childhood doll, Smarty Pants. The time where she thought they could’ve rebuild Ponyville in a period of ten minutes after a swarm of parasprites nearly demolished the town. Of course, that last one hadn’t been her fault.

However, she could not come up with any spell to fix the mess she was in. No, it was not because of some spell that had backfired. Nor did it involve any of her friends. Twilight had not stopped walking for a good while. All the thoughts that swirled through her head were tangled. That, to her, was the least of her problems. Ever since she had seen Rarity’s Xenomorph, that same message came to mind. She had been repeating it quietly, but when she murmured again, it came into clarity. “I-it’s all y-your f-f-fault…”

Twilight immediately stopped in her tracks. Breath labored, she slowly shook her head. “It’s all your fault… it’s a-all…” She heard hoofsteps and looked up, only to see herself. Had that hatred and doubt she held; did it finally take a physical form?

“It is all your fault. You could’ve saved him. Instead, you tried to play the hero and help everypony else. They weren’t important. Shining Armor was important.” The other Twilight sneered, taking another step. “No wonder Cadance never openly blamed you. She thinks you’ve disappointed her as well. You let her husband die, the love of her life! She’s a widow, and she’s pregnant! Her child is going to grow up never knowing their father, because of you!”

“N-no… I c-couldn’t have… Shining Armor… I couldn’t save him,” Twilight shakily whispered.

“Stop saying you couldn’t!” Twilight flinched when her other self yelled at her. “You could have easily saved him if you weren’t slowing down to save those other ponies. You should’ve let them die. You should’ve found him and left those ruins. You could have put him into stasis instead of killing him like you did!” With a small yet frightening grin, she continued, “You’re out of excuses… just admit it already… the truth will prove what you couldn’t do…”

Twilight closed her eyes as tears slowly trickled down her muzzle. “I… I--”

“Twilight?” She stood rigid, eyes wide. She took a quick glance over her shoulder. When she saw Princess Celestia being helped by her guard, she immediately looked away. Quickly she rubbed her eyes and took a moment to breathe before fully turning herself around.

“Hey, Princess Celestia.” Twilight’s smile faltered. “Wh-what are you doing down here?”

Celestia stopped walking and glanced down at Retrospect. He nodded and let go of her, Twilight shakily standing up on her bad shoulder. Twilight winced at the sight but was still impressed by Celestia’s determination to stay upright. “Twilight.” Twilight’s pupils shrunk after she heard her former teacher’s tone, quiet yet firm. “Why are you talking to yourself? Why do you keep tearing yourself down?”

The tears that Twilight tried to hold back before came out in full force. Every excuse she thought up was not going to convince Celestia. ‘Don’t you dare rat me out!’ That voice came back, its tone filled with nothing but anger. ‘If you tell her what’s been going on, then I will make sure you never see the light of day ever again!’

“I… I-I-I…”

“Twilight… you’re worrying me. What’s going on?” Celestia took a step towards her.

As she moved forward, Twilight moved backwards. “I… I can’t… I-I--”

'I know what you’re thinking.’ That horrible voice came back again. ‘Don’t you dare speak a word to her!’

“You can’t what? You can’t tell me what’s going on?” Celestia’s faint frown only softened. “Please… I want you to tell me what’s going on. You aren’t well. You need to speak to me.”

“But I… I…” Twilight’s breaths quickened in pace. She visibly shook, lowering her gaze to the floor. “I… I…”

'No! You will not tell her about me! You are going to stay silent or else!’

“Twilight. Tell me what’s going on right no--”

“Shut up!!!” Twilight screamed out those words when she heard that violent voice interrupt Celestia. She whimpered after she said those words. Slowly, she fell to the floor as those quiet sniffles turned into a weak weeping. Celestia stood still for a moment, eyes wide with surprise. She took a couple steps forward, yet Twilight did not move from her spot at all.

“Twilight…” She glanced up to her former teacher, the image of Celestia blurry from the tears. “Please… tell me what is going on.”

There was no longer that voice in her head. Twilight could feel it slinking away, so she took her chance. “I… I-I’m s-so sorry…” She leaned into Celestia’s chest, her painful cries escalating in volume. Her body trembled more and more as her former teacher wrapped her wings around her. She couldn’t speak, so she listened as Celestia shushed her. When she felt a hoof run through her mane, the tears only multiplied with each second.

“There, there…” Celestia murmured. “Tell me, Twilight… please. Tell me what you’re so upset about.”

Twilight took a couple breaths, but it still didn’t help. So when she heard the desperation in Celestia’s tone, she spoke to the best of her ability. “I… I’ve been s-struggling to accept what I-I did…” With each moment she spoke, she became a little more quiet. “I c-couldn’t accept what I did to him… to Shining Armor. I f-felt so guilty for e-ending his life, even t-though he wanted me to.” It only worsened when her parents had acknowledged it as a last request. Even though they shared her pain, it hurt when they too had said that there was little she could’ve done.

Celestia remained silent for a moment until she said, “We all must make decisions. Some will be for the best, and yet some will have terrible consequences. Or we can do a selfish act and believe that it really was the right choice.” She brought her right hoof up top Twilight’s chin and lifted her gaze upward. “What you did was unavoidable. It was a decision that was difficult to make… yet you did what you thought was right. If it truly was what Shining wanted, then you must understand why he wanted it to happen.”

The answer was already obvious to Twilight. He was already infected with one of those disgusting embryos, and it was already coming out. “B-but I… I feel like I could have saved him. T-that he would still be alive if I had tried s-something…”

“Even if you wanted to save him, I doubt that there would’ve been a way. It would have been too late to put a stasis spell on him. And there was no possible way you were getting him to Canterlot in time,” Celestia pointed out. “But you must learn to accept what has happened. It is hard to know that somepony sacrificed themselves when you thought you could have saved their life. I know full well how difficult that reality is.”

“B-because of what happened to Luna?”

Celestia nodded. “But not just her. There are times when I lose a pony every day in Equestria. I feel as if there could’ve been some way to save him or her. But the truth is that many ponies will die… however, you must understand that there is a point where you can no longer grieve. Yet do not dismiss them from your memories. Remember all the good times that you had with Shining Armor. You’ll find that it is easier to accept his loss if you think back to happy memories you had with your older brother.”

Twilight blinked once. She sniffled and wiped her eyes. Everything Celestia had said did ring true. But all of that pain was so hard to overcome. Twilight knew though that she had to give it a try. So she closed her eyes, images both painful and happy coming to her. To see him alive again in her mind was somewhat calming. Her crying nearly ceased, yet tiny beads of water continued to trickle down her muzzle. Twilight opened her eyes when she felt a hoof grab her own.

She looked up, a faint smile on her muzzle. Twilight let Celestia help her up. She was a little shaky at first until she stabilized her footing. With one last wipe of her eyes, she met Celestia’s gaze. “Thank you… for helping me.” But she would not know how much she could forgive of herself just yet. This, however, at least was a start.

Celestia only nodded. “Now I believe it is high time we regrouped with the others. We should move along before any unwanted guests catch us when we’re not looking.” Retrospect helped Celestia move down the hall, Twilight slowly following a couple feet behind. Although there was still much to forgive herself for, now was not the time. They still had a mission to do. Twilight had to make sure that Bishop Neighland answered for his actions. Maybe then this nightmare would end and peace would finally resume across Equestria once more.

Chapter XVIII: A Long Flight Home

View Online

With another step, the Predator neared the area where his younger brother rested. He had found his dead leader and honored him. He was already aware that his younger brother was also dead; the pain had only grown more. The hunter had lost all of his team members now, a truth that hurt him so. But he would not dare show any emotion. It was not the time to mourn the loss of his two brothers. His captain had died with honor; he hoped the same for his younger brother.

He jumped from branch to branch, tree to tree in the moonlit night. The wind howled around him, trees rustling from this gusty breeze. He landed on a branch. The sensor of his young brother’s wrist-pad now echoed loudly within his helmet. He switched off the alarm and jumped off the tree, landing onto the ground with a soft thud. Standing up, he took a couple steps until he stood over what was left of his brother. His head was gone, cleanly cut off. His body had been cut into three pieces as well. But this kill was different.

An Xenomorph’s spear-tipped tail would have been ragged. These wounds were too precise, too clean. This was the work of a blade, and the only other beings here on the island were the equines. If this was so, then his fears were confirmed.

He knelt down next to his brother and clicked his mandibles together in a slow rhythm. It was sad to see that even after he had told him not to, his younger brother did not listen. Then again, he had seen how ferocious he was when they stormed the electrical compound, killing ponies without mercy. He had even killed more ponies than himself and the leader. He had let revenge misguide him, and now he had paid the price for it. The hunter would not cry, but he could avenge him.

Their gods, he hoped, would have mercy on his brother’s soul in the afterlife. But he could still honor him at least. He sat still, making not a sound. The wind picked up slightly, as if joining him in his silent prayer. The Predator reached for his brother’s wrist-pad and clicked the sequence for self-destruction. He stood up and quickly jumped up to the treeline behind his brother’s body. He waited for a moment until it let out a loud bang, a flash of blue light signaling its destruction.

His leader had a larger explosive detonation. He could only guess that the area where his body was left had been turned into one giant pile of rubble. He’d only set it off when the time was right. He stayed motionless as a loud roar came from inside the building close by. The hunter tilted his head. This was a curious noise. He had not heard any other roar like it before. Jumping over his brother’s exploded remnants, he slowly tiptoed to the outer wall. He peeked inside the room and saw a trail of blood. He took a step forward and crouched, wiping his hand across the red stain. It had slightly dried up but still seemed fresh. But that wasn’t what he was interested in. This sound he had heard had to be investigated.

Not knowing what it was, he was prepared for combat. He grabbed a small round disc and placed it against the wall. It flashed red for a brief moment until the whole building was slowly mapped out in his visor. He transferred it over to his wrist-pad, flipping it open and pressing a short sequence of buttons until the building was displayed in a three-dimensional figure from his wrist-pad. When a bar on his visor had filled up, he took off the orb and placed it back on his belt. With that done, he returned his attention to the building’s model.

He scanned through each room the scanning device had mapped out. But there was no activity at all. Not even a sign of life. When the next room came to view, he clicked his mandibles together, filled with awe yet unease. There in the much larger room was a very big creature. But it did not take the form of the Serpent Queen; it was something else, something entirely new to his eyes. It stood there in real time, shaking its head. It lifted what looked like a clawed hand and smashed it against the wall. The building shook slightly, the hunter scanning the room around it. Cracks were forming on the walls and ceiling, dust trickling down as a sign of warning. It wouldn't be long before it escaped its restraints.

The Predator took his leave, exiting the room and backing out into the open world. Whatever that being was, he was not prepared to fight something like it. He even compared it to the Queen’s size. The Queen, as his race’s culture had learned, grew in size each month. It could have only had been a week since it was fully grown. The last he had heard, the Queen was probably seventeen feet in height. But this being, if he had to guess, was maybe around three or four feet taller. A most impressive size indeed.

There was no way he was prepared to fight such a being by himself, not without knowing what it was or what it could do. But that was the least of his worries. With his other brother now dead, he was the only one left of this mission. Any thought of saving this hunt was far from achievable now. Not only that, but he could not go back to his home. It would only bring dishonor to his kin’s name. So there was only one option left.

He opened his wrist-pad and pushed another array of buttons. He looked up into the sky and watched as his ship became visible in the night sky. He knew he couldn’t go home. He had to either avenge his comrades or die in combat. He did not know which equines had killed his kin, so he would not have much success there. So he closed his eyes for a moment and prepared for the other idea. He would die as a warrior was expected to. But these ponies would not have their technology. So he manually punched in a few codes. The ship silently turned towards his left and slowly descended towards the coast.

The hunter watched as it flew towards the distance until he heard a loud crash of waves. The island slightly shook at the force. It slowly sank as seconds passed. Linked to his wrist-pad, it would self destruct once he died, keeping the ship and his races’ technology away from these equines. The Predator closed his wrist-pad and growled. He unsheathed the blades on his left gauntlet and pulled out his sword and held it in his right hand. Tonight he was going to die. But die as he would, he was going to show his ancestors and gods what it meant to die like a warrior.

Everything had turned out just as she thought. These creatures that Bishop Neighland had “bred” had finally escaped his grasp. Nenne Seion had foreseen a few outcomes, and this scenario was the most likely one. After studying the Xenomorphs for as long as she had, it was no surprise that they’d end up breaking out of their cells sooner or later. Unfortunately, she did not know what caused the power outage; a factor that had not been anticipated in the scenario.

However, her point still held strong. Nenne was right about how Bishop would have failed to handle the situation. Many ponies had died, and she already understood what he would have done: absolutely nothing. But with every possible outcome, she had thought of an escape plan. Most of the ponies would have rushed through the tram tunnel. They’d assume that the Xenomorphs were looking for a way to travel upstairs and into the open like most normal animals.

But these monsters weren’t normal animals. They hardly required sunlight. They would stay underground. It would never switch from night or day down there. Without power, it would have either been complete darkness or filled with the awful red emergency lighting. ‘I cannot understand why many of my colleagues would take their chances underground. Only a fool would do such a thing.’ And a fool she was not. A slight jingle of glass brought her attention to the saddlebag at her right, hovering in a gray-aquamarine aura. ‘I don’t care what happens to this place. We can rebuild it. And even a few more times if anything else happens. But what is inside here cannot be so easily replaced.’

In her spare time she had learned something more about these creatures’ genetics. Not only that, but there had been a breakthrough in her research. What was held safely in here would show what she had accomplished, a feat that no other pony would be able to claim. She glanced back at the Admissions building behind her. There was a loud crash of glass followed by a loud roar. She didn’t hurry or change her pace. ‘So what if the Queen is here. She’s already busy laying waste to those idiots down there.’ And just like that, she heard the many screams of ponies, many with fear or even the unsettling cries of those who were dying. ‘Let them pay for their idiocy. If they were dumb enough to think those chambers were safe, then that means less idiotic ponies in this world.’

Nenne should have felt sad, but she hardly knew any of them. And if they were stupid enough to corner themselves, why not bother wrapping themselves up in a bow? They were birthday presents ready to be unwrapped by a foal, if that bow were their organs being pulled out by merciless monsters. She shook her head and made it to the bridge separating the island from the landing platform. Nenne had looked back once but couldn’t help but take another glance. When she did, she noticed movement in the night sky above and saw an unknown object hovering in the sky. A massive and mysterious thing was all as she could describe it.

‘What on Equus is that thing?’ It hovered for a moment until it suddenly took a right turn towards the island’s right side. She felt the ground shake slightly as it crashed into the ocean. She watched it sink lower and lower until it came to a stop, a small third of it still above the water. Nenne Seion did not know what it was, but it seemed like no accident to her. It appeared that whatever was driving it was intentionally trying to submerge this odd craft. ‘Whatever it is, I’ll make sure to take a look when I return.’

The wind brushed past her mane, bringing the sounds of death with it. The sound of hoofsteps on the metal platform in front of her came to a stop as she saw two Neighland-Yupony guards. “Dr. Seion, what’s happening over there?” the first stallion guard on the right asked.

She glanced back and said, “It’s just as I predicted. That idiot couldn’t contain those Xenomorphs. And now those things are killing what’s left of the guards and staff members, if I’m assuming correctly.”

“We should try to save as many them as we can than. It’s only right if we do the--”

“You two aren’t going anywhere.” Nenne quickly spun around to face the pair. “There are no other pegasi left besides you two. I need you both to take me back to Equestria.”

“W-what? But we can’t leave. Can’t you hear what’s going on back there?” The second stallion guard on the left spoke this time. “And what about Mr. Neighland? There’s no way he’d forgive us if we jus--”

“And I don’t think he’s going to care.” Nenne’s frown deepened. “That old stallion is on a suicide mission with his so-called ‘elite guards’. He won’t leave this place until he either recaptures all the specimens or dies trying. Either way, I’m not staying here and waiting to die like them.”


“Don’t you two want to live?” Nenne interrupted the second guard. They looked at each other for a moment and nodded. “Then I suggest that you follow my advice. If you two bring me back to Canterlot, then I promise that you two will live. Isn’t that reward enough?” The two pegasi guards glanced at each other again until they hesitantly nodded again. “Good. Now let’s leave this place before one of those creatures comes along.”

Nenne trotted behind the two stallions until they made it to one of the carriages, opening the door and shutting it behind her before sitting down. The braces on the pegasi clamped shut, and the wheels underneath finally began turning. With a sigh, Nenne looked out the window as the carriage moved past the Admissions building, and with a sudden shift of weight, finally into the air. Nenne had survived this night and would remain alive. She had to if she desired to see her goals fulfilled. Her light was not to be snuffed out just yet. It was only a matter of time before she knew that Bishop would finally get his due.

Chapter XIX: Truths Revealed

View Online

Twilight blinked her eyes once, staring up to the moon. It had almost reached its zenith. She did not know how long she had sat there, but it certainly was a relief for the time being. Silence had shown before how much of a friend it was to her, namely when it came to studying for tests and quizzes during her time under Celestia's wing. Even when reading a book, it was nice to have some peace and quiet. However, this time around she felt it was more of a necessary benefit for her mind.

The comfort of silence soothed her. She closed her eyes and felt the tension throughout her body. Extending a hoof out, she followed Cadance’s breathing technique; all that stress slowly melted away. Still, there was some strain. Celestia’s earlier confrontation with her mental instability had done a number on her. She was tired. Everypony was tired. They had been chased from the admissions building all the way to the medical building. Now they were in the habitation building. One last building, and they would have done a huge circle.

She sighed and opened her eyes. Hearing a quiet grunt behind her, she glanced over her shoulder. Aquafrost had backed off slightly from Celestia, who was now adorned with a couple wraps covering her wounds. Twilight was one of the few ponies not injured in the group. Unfortunately, that misfortune went to three of her friends: Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash. In time they would heal, but right now they were in pain, which made Twilight shiver.

With a glance to her left, she saw one side of the headset she had carried with her. Picking it up in her magenta aura, she rested it on top of her head and activated the device: nothing but static. She sighed and turned the headset off. It was a disappointing reality to Twilight that there were no other signals she could pick up. If only she could hear something else. ‘Maybe we’d figure out what Bishop is up to.’ That stallion was going to pay for bringing these monsters back to life.

They should have been left alone, but this stallion seemed hellbent on achieving something of a grander scale. She thought back to Prince Blueblood’s diary, and the word “bio-weapon” came back to mind. Turning a creature like this into a bio-weapon would have led to disasters beyond her imagination. She shook her head. ‘We’ll make sure nothing like that happens.’ It was not going to come to fruition. They were all going to make sure of that.

“Attention, everypony. Gather around, and I shall discuss with you all what the plan is.” Celestia raised her voice as she spoke. Twilight glanced around as everypony stood up. She followed suit and squeezed Rarity and Applejack, standing in between the two. “As you all know, we’re in the habitation building at the moment. After hearing about the other buildings, I’ve decided that we should head towards the research and development building.” Celestia stopped, scanning the crowd of faces before she continued. “Aquafrost.” The mare stood up when her name was called. “You said that the research and development building has weapons that Bishop Neighland has manufactured, correct?”

“Yes. That’s how Blazing Ash and I have the weapons you see here.” Aqua pointed to the spear at her right side. “There’s all sorts of weapons. Swords, spears, crossbows, you name it.”

“Good, then we can equip ourselves there. The more weapons we can acquire, the better chance we have to survive through this mess,” Celestia said.

“But what about Bishop Neighland?” Pinkie Pie raised a hoof. “What if we meet that party pooper in the building?”

“If we do find Bishop Neighland in there… I’m afraid that we’ll have no other choice but to take his life if he doesn’t surrender.” Twilight’s eyes widened at this. She glanced around and saw a couple others with the same expression. Yet there were some, like Blazing Ash, who seemed to smile at this idea. “I understand that this is not my usual means of dealing with villains, but if he is not willing to listen to reason, then he is never going to understand.” She closed her eyes and shook her head. “Is everypony in agreement?”

Everypony stared for a moment. Then one nodded, and then another. Twilight nodded as well. Celestia gave a faint smile. “Then let us make our way towards the next building.” She gestured for everypony to stand up and follow her, Twilight just behind Celestia as they made their way down the staircase.

“So what’s the chance of Bishop being inside that building?” Daring Do asked as she moved up beside Aquafrost.

“Well, half of the facility must be in total chaos.” Aqua began. “Medical is completely vacant of any ponies as far as we’ve seen. Same for the habitation building. The only place they could go that would be safe would be the admissions building.”

“What’s so safe about that place?” Rainbow Dash tilted her head. “That building is completely open. There’s one huge hole in the middle of it, and I’m pretty sure that the last time we saw it, there were hardly any hiding spots.”

Aquafrost shook her head. “There’s a few large sections that have been cut out in a half circle that faces the tunnels. They’re pretty well hidden. But I don’t know how long they could remain with these monsters--” When the group exited the stairwell, Aqua looked up to the sky, eyes wide. “Oh no.”

“What?” Crystal was the first to ask. Aqua brought a hoof to Crystal’s left cheek and turned her head in the direction she was looking. The rest did the same. Twilight first heard the cry of somepony in pain far in the distance. When she finally saw it, her eyes widened.

“Is that…”

“Yes,” Aqua answered for Trixie. “It’s coming from the admissions building.” Stars twinkled in the night sky. However, the smoke was blocking some from their sight. The top of the building still somewhat visible behind the ever-growing plume of smoke.

This foreboding sight held everypony’s attention. None dared to move their gaze lest they missed something else. “How many more ponies are dying…” Celestia murmured. Twilight was the first to break away from the hypnotic sight, turning to Celestia. “How many more must suffer at the claws of these monsters…”

Daring Do shook her head and said, “Alright, we should probably get moving. The less time we spend out here, the safer we’ll be. Who knows how many of the Xenomorphs have made it to the surface?” Although these creatures would possibly remain underground during the day, they would eventually come out of their hiding place now with the moon overhead. What they had just seen only seemed to prove that they were finally coming up from underneath their hooves.

Twilight hoped that would not happen this night. The group finally ripped their attention away from the rising column of smoke. But the distant screams continued on and on. It was hard to ignore. Twilight folded her ears back, and the noise faded. Yet, it was still there. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash silently speaking with one another.

A faint smile came across her muzzle. It raised her spirit a little to see that her friends had gotten over their scars. She too had the chance to see that she was doing more harm to herself by holding on to what she had done instead of looking for the good in the memories that she had of Shining. With a sigh, she returned her attention to the front of the group and saw Retrospect still helping a weary Celestia to walk.

Could they handle Bishop in their current state? Twilight hummed as she calculated the chances. ‘There’s a sixty percent chance that he’s even still there. Combine that with a seventy percent chance the Xenomorphs are there as well.’ Of course the odds were stacked against them. Most of the group was injured, and the only ponies who were still somewhat fit to fight were herself, Pinkie, Retrospect, Trixie, Aqua, Blazing, and Daring. Patchy was a stallion who she thought would have a harder time with this adjustment than the rest of them.

Twilight shook her head. ‘Calculations aside, I have full faith that we’ll make it through this.’ The doubt that had shaken her before had subsided. She would not let that fear take over ever again.

“Is that it?” Celestia asked, glancing over her shoulder at Blazing.

He nodded. “Yep. That’s the research and development building.” Twilight looked up, mouth slightly agape. What sat in front of her was quite massive. Maybe not tall as the admission or habitation building, but certainly much wider than the others. The thought that this was much closer to the habitation building was a bit of a relief. They slowly but surely made it to the building.

Blazing Ash was the first to open the door, quietly as he pulled his crossbow off his back. He scanned the entryway before waving everypony forward. They filed through the door, scanning the room they were in. It was a rather large building from the looks of it, stretching on for hundreds of meters. “Wow… this place is huge even on the inside.” Rainbow Dash murmured.

“That’s right.” Blazing Ash said. “It has to be since there are so many weapons here.”

“How many are we talkin’ ‘bout?” Applejack asked again.

“Like… a lot, basically.” Ash nodded, closing the door behind them quietly. When he walked past Pinkie, she shivered erratically.

Twilight noticed this and moved next to Pinkie. “Hey, is everything okay?”

“No. My Pinkie Sense keeps going off on Blazing Ash. It keeps telling me that he’ll be involved in a huge doozy, but it’s still not being clear.” Pinkie stopped shaking. She frowned, growling a little. “It’s so frustrating.”

Twilight took a moment to scan over Blazing Ash. After all the time he had spent with them, she couldn’t understand why Pinkie’s sense was telling her that he’d be part of a doozy. ‘Maybe it’s something positive? It has to be.’ Positive or not, they’d worry about in the future. The group trotted forward as slowly as they could, Blazing Ash and Aquafrost in the lead.

“We’re heading to the closest armory to our position,” Aquafrost murmured to the group behind her. “It’s filled with enough weapons to arm everypony here. But be quiet. We don’t know if any of those things are in here. Or other hostile ponies, for that matter.”

With a unified nod, they ceased any conversations previously being held. There was a faint bang of metal, the group freezing at the sound. “It’s all the way on the other side of the building,” Blazing Ash said. “We should be okay for now.” They continued walking until passing through a doorway. The room was dark due to the shortage of power. Twilight lit her horn up with her magenta aura. Celestia did the same with her horn, a light gold aura in turn coming to life.

The group passed through another door and down a corridor to their right until they came up to a half-closed door. “Give me a sec,” Blazing Ash murmured. He walked up to the door and pressed both hooves against the door. It slowly budged until he pushed them into their slots with a creak . “There. A little bit of noise, but it should scare off some other ponies at least.” Twilight had never felt comfortable with fighting other ponies. Hurting others to live, especially if they were your own kind, was a bridge that she’d hope to never cross.

The group walked into the room and were presented with a large square chamber. When Twilight and Celestia expanded their lights’ reach, the whole group marveled at the sight they beheld. Row upon row of hooks jutted out from the wall towards them. While some hooks weren’t holding anything, a few still had some variant of weapon dangling from the curved points.

“This room certainly looked as if it used to hold a plethora of weapons,” Celestia murmured. She glanced around the group and said, “Go and pick which weapon you wish to use. I understand that most of you are unfamiliar with weaponry, but I assure you that if we are to stay alive, then we need to be armed.” Her horn’s light intensified as a halberd formed from nothing. “I already have mine.”

The group spread out, Blazing Ash, Patchy, Daring Do, Crystal, and Aquafrost, along with Celestia stood in the middle, as did Retrospect. Twilight scanned the weapons that remained. While there were a few missing, it was still quite the collection. “I’ll take this.” She glanced over to Rainbow, who held a curved sword in her right hoof. Rainbow looked it over and asked, “What’s this button do?” There should have been some warning that Twilight obviously would have said, but before she could react, Rainbow pressed whatever button she was talking about. The sword lit up with an electric aura around it. “Oh yeah.” She swung it with a few test swings. “Me likey.”

“How about this?” Applejack picked up a small axe. She tilted her head and did the same as Rainbow. A black aura quickly formed around it, Applejack’s eyes going wide. “What in the hay is this…?”

“That weapon right there uses the black tourmaline stone,” Blazing pointed out. “So if you smack something with it while it's active, the gem will send a shockwave that knocks your opponent back a distance.” Applejack nodded and turned it off.

“Looky what I found.” Pinkie Pie bounced up and down as she and Rarity walked back to the group. Hanging from Pinkie’s mouth was some odd scythe and sword mix. Twilight did not know how she could explain that one. The weapon burst with a green hue. “What’s that color for?”

“That one uses the green tourmaline,” Aquafrost answered this time. “It helps propel you forward and to strike at a speed much faster than your opponent.”

“Cool. Now all I need is a cape, a battle skirt, turn this thing into some odd shooting weapon thing, and then I can be a hunter of evil monsters.” Whatever Pinkie was saying fell on ears that did not know if they were deaf or not.

“Anywho,” Rarity interjected. “I know this choice isn’t exactly great for close quarters, but... I'd say it feels more appropriate in this situation.” In her aura was raised up a curved bow. “But I couldn’t find any arrows. Which is odd because these things usually carry arrows, correct?” She slowly scanned it over and did the same as the others. A slight cracking of ice sounded as ice formed next to the bowstring. “Oh my. It makes its own arrows?”

“Yes, that there is the blue tourmaline gem. Uses both water and ice magic to make ice arrows,” Blazing Ash spoke.

“That’s quite cool,” Trixie said as she walked up to the group. In her pale magenta aura was what appeared to be a staff of some kind, metallic in appearance. Trixie, like the others, pressed a small button and the top of the staff emitted a pink aura.

“And that is the pink tourmaline,” Aquafrost said this time. “You’ll be able to throw objects around with your own magic, which is then amplified by the tourmaline’s magic, increasing your normal magic strength by a good twenty percent.” Trixie’s eyes widened at the revelation.

As Twilight saw that she was the last one left, she continued to look around. Yet nothing seemed to peak her interest. However, when she spotted a weapon at the left side of the chamber, she walked up to it. It appeared to be like any normal scythe. She lifted it up with her magic and swung it in her magic grip. ‘This feels right.’ Even though she had never wielded a weapon in her life, something still felt right about this. She pressed the button, and a black and pink aura surrounded the scythe’s blade. “Woah…”

“It looks like an experimental weapon,” Blazing Ash pointed out. “Made from the combination of pink and black tourmaline.”

She raised it up a little before she glanced back at its hook. There sat a harness for her to put it away in, which she promptly lifted the harness onto her back, minding her wings all the while. Carefully, she put the scythe into its odd sheath but it sat well, not creating any discomfort whatsoever. “Alright, I think I’m ready to go.” Yet as she turned away, a small round object on the wall caught her eye. Glancing back she noticed it again and took a step forward. ‘A button?’

Curiosity took over. She pressed it and saw a door hastily open up. She stood rigid for a moment. “Twilight, what are you doing?” Celestia asked.

“Oh umm…” Twilight glanced back to the group that stood together in the middle of the chamber. “Just checking out whatever this room leads to.”

“Wait. Maybe you shoul--” Blazing Ash’s words fell on deaf ears as Twilight entered this new secret room. The light from her horn filled the dark room. It was like the room was being blessed with light, as if this was the first time that any luminescence had touched these walls. While the room still appeared to be very new, she couldn’t help but notice that it appeared different from the walls of the chamber her friends were in.

When she turned her gaze to the center of the room, her eyes widened. “W-what?” A vivid image came back to her: Makoy first as he held up a weapon, pointing it at her, Cadance, Nyx, and Spike. “How did they… rebuild it? Or were there more of them in the crashed human ship?”

There that weapon sat, pointed at her as if it was going to be fired off any second. She walked towards it and saw a satchel to its right, inside of which were three rectangular objects that Makoy had called “magazines”, all with a glowing number indicating that there were ninety-nine rounds in each. Beside them were five bulbs, the same rounds that had exploded upon impact against the surface of any object it came across.

“Twilight? Is everything okay?” She heard Celestia again, her former teacher’s voice bringing her out of her daze.

“Y-yeah,” Twilight replied. Lifting the satchel filled with all the ammunition and explosive rounds it could carry, she wrapped it around her body. Then she lifted the “gun” towards her. Hearing the roar of the Queen in her thoughts, she levitated one of the magazines into the gun. With a sharp click, she pulled back the lever. Twilight lifted the sling around her neck and turned back around to the door she came through.

She breathed in and walked to the door. Stepping out into the light Celestia produced, the group’s eyes widened in surprise. “Hey, that’s the weapon we saw earlier today.” Rainbow Dash said.

“You found it in there?” Applejack’s eyes never left the weapon that could cause so much damage.

Twilight simply nodded. “I know how dangerous this weapon is… but we need it now more than ever.” A frown was present on her muzzle.

She looked up to Celestia, who gave the same gesture. “Whatever we can use, it’ll insure that we shall survive longer.” Without another word, the group silently trekked out of the door Blazing Ash had opened. Once they exited the room, Ash led them straight forward down the corridor.

“With any luck, we’ll have caught Bishop by surprise, or he’s not here. The latter’s a bit disappointing, but I guess it’s alright,” Blazing Ash said.

“Violence shouldn’t be the first path to take.” Celestia glanced down at Ash. “However, violence is necessary when you are defending yourself, and it should never be taken to a point where you have to take somepony’s life unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Blazing stared at her for a moment until he looked away. “Yeah, I guess. Still, I can’t wait to get my hooves on that pony.”

“You may not have to wait for much longer.” Everypony froze as they stopped walking, hearing Bishop’s voice echo from the darkness. Lights flickered on from their right and their left. Unicorns with different aura colors filled up the large space with their light. The guards that appeared were all wearing black, as well as hiding their eyes behind black visors. When it was bright enough, Twilight was the first to gasp at the sight in front of her: the ship that had carried the first Xenomorph to their world. A final light appeared above it behind a glass walkway. Bishop stared down at the group with no smile or frown. “Good evening, everypony. Nice to see that you are all still alive.”

“Yeah, no thanks to you!” Aquafrost yelled, pulling her spear from her sheath. “You have a lot to answer for.”

“Bishop Neighland.” Celestia spoke up. Her frown deepened as she spoke in a louder tone. “There is much I have seen today. Much that has certainly helped me make up my mind on a decision I have come to accept.” Raising her halberd, she pointed it towards the stallion. “You have two options. Come with us peacefully, and I promise that you shall not be harmed. However, you must pay for the crimes you have committed today.”

“Crimes? What have I done that has warranted such a penalty?”

“Duh!” Rainbow Dash sneered. “You brought those freaks back to life!”

“Not to mention that you put all of us in danger, especially the lives of Princess Celestia and my friend Twilight here.” Rarity glared up at the old stallion. “Threatening the lives of two princesses is enough to be charged with the highest of treason.”

“That’s not the worst of your crimes.” Celestia spoke up once more. “You have let countless ponies die this day. Possibly hundreds. That amount is hard for my soul to bear.” There was noticeable strain in her voice as she spoke. “Why a pony would sit back while ponies lose their lives is something that I cannot comprehend. It is something that brings great pain to me. Something that you will answer for.”

“And if I don’t come back with you?” Bishop simply tilted his head.

Celestia’s gaze hardened. “Then I shall have no other choice. If you will not come with us quietly, you will pay the ultimate price: your life.”

Since the first time Twilight had seen the stallion, his expression had never once shown any happiness or anger. But now there was a hint of fear in his eyes as Celestia spoke. Yet that uncertainty only seemed to last but a second. “This is unfortunate. And here I hoped that we would amend this situation peacefully.”

“Peacefully!?” Daring Do shouted. “You want to tell us that you’d like to end this peacefully? Oh yeah, I’d definitely believe yah, if you hadn’t already tried to not only have your guards throw me off a cliff, but also beat me and my deceased friend to a pulp!” Daring Do shook as she continued, “Y-you wanna know what the best part about it is? You told your guards that they could do whatever they wanted with me and Roughneck. That ‘whatever’ part, nearly had me gangraped by five other stallions!”

Twilight’s eyes widened, as did everypony else in the group. Now it made sense why Daring Do never went into detail about her venture after the embryonic Xenomorph. “And that’s not even the worst of it.” Aquafrost took her turn to speak. “You tried to kill Crystal Rune here by forcing information out of her. The worst part was that after having one of your ‘elite’ guards stab her in the side, you left her to bleed out and die! What kind of pony would allow such a thing to happen!?”

“So not only have you committed such heinous acts.” Celestia began, “but this all began before we even arrived. Have you no emotions? Remorse for your actions? Do you not care what happens to your fellow pony?”

“Emotions?” Bishop raised an eyebrow. “Emotions get in the way of the true goal in life. They hinder your success. Cause you to doubt yourself. Only logic can see you through.” He chuckled. “If you want get ahead in life, sometimes it is better to have no friends at all. Yet you all act as if friendship is the magic key that solves everything.” He shook his head. “What happened a month ago proves I’m right. You didn’t use some ‘all powerful’ and downright ludicrous ‘magic of friendship’ to defeat the Queen Xenomorph. You used raw power. You used violence--a method that you so self-righteously condemn.” He pulled out a pair of glasses and looked them over. “So how can you still say that friendship truly is a magic that solves all problems? This time around, it hasn’t done anything for you.”

“You’re wrong.” Twilight Sparkle spoke up. “Friendship is essential. It’s saved Equestria four times already. If it weren’t for friendship, then nopony would be able thrive in Equestria. Everypony would be miserable without it.”

“More baseless excuses for a failing principle.” He glanced down at Twilight, who threw him a glare. “And here I thought that the most logical princess of them all would see from my perspective. Unfortunately, Princess Twilight Sparkle, you are as blind as Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.” This stallion was insane, Twilight thought, quietly growling through closed teeth.

“I would have asked if you would like to join me. That you would abandon this idea of friendship and rule Equestria together. Not as the cliched husband and wife, but as business partners who only want what is the best for Equestria.” He sighed and looked down at everypony else. “No, I think any chance for peaceful negotiations have been thrown out the window.” He nodded to five guards who raised their crossbows, the group of ponies pulling out their weapons as well.

“I hope you take a liking to that weapon.” Twilight looked down at the “gun” she had, the one that Bishop pointed out. “Thanks to your actions, it made it possible to find out that you were inside the building.” He chuckled again as Twilight’s mouth sat agape. “As for how? Well… not all of my sensors require electricity. Sometimes they need a bit of magic to get them going.” He looked at the glasses again and teleported them outside the glass walkway. “By the way, Dr. Nerve. I think you dropped these.”

The glasses spun in a rapid circle as Bishop sent it flying towards Blazing Ash. He caught them with his right hoof. He took a moment to look them over. Pinkie Pie suddenly began shaking again. “I’m feeling t-that d-d-doozy again.”

“Ash… why did he call you Dr. Nerve?” Aquafrost asked, her voice shaking slightly.

He only smiled before putting them on. “Unfortunately, I believe this is where we part ways.”

“W-what?” Aquafrost took a step back. “Y-you mean to say that you’ve been with Neighland this whole time?”

“Of course. What you’ve seen was just a ruse. Nopony else knew about this besides Bishop.” Ash chuckled, taking a couple steps backwards.

“B-buh why?” Patchy stammered, shaking a little. “You were our friend… h-how could you?”

“Please. Friendship is a flawed ideal. You all are defending a concept that is no longer benefiting anypony else.” Ash shook his head. “What will truly benefit ponykind are these Xenomorphs. They could become a defense force the likes of which nobody in this world has ever seen. That is what makes these beings so great. They can do something for us that nothing else could.”

Aquafrost teared up, looking away. “I… t-trusted you… Taciturn trusted you.” She finally met his gaze. “Sparkdust trusted you!”

“Well then… they should have not put their faith so blindly into somepony that didn’t care about them in the first place.” Ash smiled and took another step back.

“Why you treacherous--!” Daring Do yelled as she flew towards him. He disappeared in a flash of light before reappearing next to Bishop Neighland.

“Now that this is over, I bid you all farewell.” He nodded to the five guards from before, who fired off their magic and crossbow bolts. A light gold shield deflected the oncoming attack, Celestia holding the barrier as they backed away in a hurry. But as they did, Bishop and Ash walked away with the rest of the guards, leaving five others that continued their onslaught of magic and metal.

“We can’t let them get away!” Crystal yelled. “If that stallion does, it’ll be another wild goose chase like before.”

“Then we have to get past these guards first.” Celestia glanced at the five guards meters away from the shield. “I shall lower my shield and create a blinding flash to distract the guards. Retrospect, you take the one farthest to the left. Daring, second farthest to the left.” The two nodded. “Twilight, you’ll handle the farthest one to the right. I’ll take on the two in the middle.”

Twilight looked at the pony Celestia had targeted for her. She didn’t know how to approach this, but she would do what she could. Twilight hesitantly nodded. In a flash, the shield glowed brightly before exploding in a shining ball of light. She could hear the guards yelp in a surprise, crossbows dropping to the floor in front of them.

Retrospect rolled through the light first, followed by Daring, then Twilight and Celestia. Retrospect pointed his crossbow at his target and let a bolt loose. A sudden ‘thwack’ echoed around the room, the guard falling down to the ground as the bolt poked out from his helmet. As soon as the first guard hit the floor, Daring was already on top of the other, thrusting her right dagger into the pony’s chest. Twirling above him, she picked him up and tossed him onto the ground headfirst. He lay motionless as soon as his body stopped sliding across the ground.

Twilight turned towards the pony she was targeting, powering up a beam of magic. But this still didn’t feel right. She saw movement out of the corner of her eye as Celestia swept the butt end of her halberd into the first guard, cracking the visor as the guard went down. The other one seemed to have recovered and pointed a crossbow at the princess. But she dodged the first bolt, swiping her halberd upwards. The mare cried out as her hooves suddenly fell to the ground, blood spurting out of the nubs that were left. Her cries stopped when Celestia twirled her halberd and struck three more times in a blinding speed. Blood poured from the new wounds as the mare’s head tumbled off.

Frightened by this display of power, she returned her attention to her target. The pony shook his head, grunting a little before he turned his attention to her. “What are you waiting for!?” Celestia cried out.

When he reached for his weapon, Twilight closed her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. She fired the powered-up beam, and the stallion let out a quick cry, staggering as a gaping hole was left where his chest was. Immediately he fell to the floor. Twilight took a step back, staggering in her stance. ‘I…’ She closed her eyes and shook her head. ‘I-it was me or him… right?’

“Twilight?” She glanced at her left and saw Celestia walking up to her. “Don’t ever hesitate like that. You nearly let him kill you…” But her frown did not deepen, instead it softened. “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t easy for you. Especially what happened with your brother.” Twilight looked down at the ground at the mentioning of Shining Armor, but felt Celestia’s wingtip lift her chin up. “It truly hurts, I know it does. But we must move on. We must take our leave now and stop Bishop before he escapes.” She looked back at the rest of the group, all stunned at the display they saw. “Let us make haste. The sooner we find Bishop, the quicker this shall all end.”

Celestia took the lead, running at a full sprint. It surprised Twilight to see her former teacher filled with so much energy. Maybe she had found the will to use what she had left to stop Bishop. Retrospect quickly followed after his princess, Daring not too far behind. Trixie and Rainbow Dash rushed past her, followed by Crystal and Aquafrost with Patchy trailing the two. But Twilight stayed behind, waiting for Applejack and Rarity.

“Don’t wait for us, darling. We’ll be fine,” Rarity assured her, the two hobbling together as fast they could.

Twilight sighed. “It’s fine. I’ll help you two.” Her aura surrounded her horn, lifting the two up in her magic. They yelped in surprise at first but calmed down when they saw Twilight’s aura around them. She quickly took off, hoping to catch up with everypony else. The chase was on. They were going to catch back up to Bishop, and then they would end this once and for all.

Chapter XX: Perpetual Timing

View Online

Fluttershy was usually good at being calm, but if ever the situation ever turned stressful, it was hard to remain relaxed. She had experienced this exact scenario many times before. However, the problem was not directly related to her. With each breath, she inhaled deeply, but she shakily exhaled as she stared at Cloudchaser. Thanks to the moonlit night, she could still see the mare. Fluttershy had hoped not to experience the kind of panic she was feeling; she had watched the facehugger detach from Cloudchaser’s muzzle about fifteen minutes ago. It was a race against time to get her to a hospital before another Xenomorph was born.

“She’s going to be okay, right?” Fluttershy froze at Bab’s question. The situation itself was bad. There was still some hope that Cloudchaser could be saved. But the fact of the matter was that Fluttershy had seen what happened to those who didn’t make it.

‘Kettlepot’s death… t-that was s-so terrifying.’ The scene of the larval Xenomorph bursting from his chest had constantly replayed over and over in her head, a fate that Cloudchaser could soon be sharing. Fluttershy hesitantly glanced over her shoulder. But with a faint smile, she said, “D-don’t worry, Babs. I-I’m sure that Spitfire and Soarin will make it.” Even though she could see Cloudchaser, Spitfire and Soarin were still quite a distance ahead of her. She could only thank the pegasi’s natural ability to see a long distance away.

“Y-you really certain?” Babs leaned to the left a little. “W-what about e-everypony else back on the i-island? Are t-they gonna be okay?”

That thought pestered Fluttershy to no end. “P-Princess Celestia is with them. They should be fine.” The state that she had seen the Princess in, however, said otherwise. That fear for her friends had grown over the course of this near half-hour. Would they be alright? Could they last on that island filled with those scary monsters? Oh, how Fluttershy feared that one of her friends could be severely injured, or worse, even killed by one of those terrifying beasts. But she had to assure to Babs and herself that they’d be fine. ‘Th-they’ll be okay. I-I have to have faith in my friends.’

“They’ll be fine. I know they will make through this.” Fluttershy glanced over her shoulder behind Babs and into the distance. Lights glowed brightly from the city they had flown around only ten minutes ago. Canterlot was of course still some time away, but the city, known as Baltimare, they had passed by earlier in the day. And of course now it had come full circle. It could’ve been some unearthly miracle that the wind that had made their trip shorter, somehow cutting their time by a wide margin. With how close they were to Canterlot, there was some chance that Cloudchaser and Zecora would make it.

This, however, was the least of Fluttershy’s concerns. Princess Luna had to be somewhere in Canterlot Castle. The deductions would not have been so hard to figure, yet every second wasted meant less chance of her friends’ survival. ‘I have to hurry. I-I have to fly faster.’ She knew that she was never a good flyer. She had never been during flight camp as a young filly. Her friends were counting on her. But even still, she knew there was another problem.

Fluttershy winced at the pain in her wings, stretching all the way to her chest. Of course she was active. Of course she had always flown for periods of time. But this was the longest she had ever flown; the continued fast pace she had put herself through within this last half hour was finally catching up to her. Every breath she took burned. Every flap of her wings only brought more pain. Fluttershy had to find a way to fly faster and yet relieve some of the stress she was in.

She looked up to the few clouds above. While Spitfire and Soarin were already quite fast flyers, they had not taken their unconscious cargo higher up. They could freeze at the higher altitude. It wasn’t until a moment later, ears raised up, that she noticed the silence. The weight of Babs Seed was still there. Would she risk Babs’ safety, Applejack’s cousin, in order to fly as fast as Spitfire and Soarin?

Each second they were pulling away faster and faster. It wouldn’t be long before they all arrived at Canterlot, but every second counted. Fluttershy glanced at them for a brief moment before gazing up at the almost clear night sky and then back to Babs. The decision only put more strain on her. ‘What do I do? What can I do?’ Biting her lip, she shuddered. “Babs?”

“Yeah, Fluttershy?”

“I… have an idea. If I’m to arrive at the same time with Soarin and Spitfire… I need to move higher into the sky. It’ll help my pace and… maybe the wind will push me to the point where I can fly as fast as them. But… I’d be risking you to the colder air the higher we go.” It was already proving to be a cold night, but it would be freezing if Fluttershy went any higher. “Do you think you could handle being cold for a while?”

Babs was quiet. Fluttershy could at least understand her hesitance. Earth ponies weren’t used to the cold air above the clouds like Pegasi were. “It ain’t too cold for me. I live in Manehatten. I can take it.” Fluttershy had grown thicker skin over the course of her time with her friends, but she envied the courage in Bab’s voice.

“Okay.” Fluttershy simply said before she slowly ascended higher and higher. It wasn’t just the cold that Fluttershy was worried about. She figured that Babs might have been a little more adjusted to the cold then some ponies down south. But how long could Babs go until the limited oxygen got to her? She dared not to conceptualize what would happen if Babs were to pass out from the lack of breathable air.

When Fluttershy stopped ascending, she flew only a few feet from a cloud below her. The strength of the wind had grown with the higher elevation. She could feel it passing through her wings, the sensation of the cold air disturbing each feather. Fluttershy felt that the temperature had dropped, the cold becoming more bitter as each second passed. Even worse was the new pain that came from breathing, the cold air stinging her lungs. Looking down to the ground, now much farther below her, she scanned for Spitfire and Soarin.

Within moments, she finally spotted the two flying side by side. With each flap of her wings, Fluttershy slowly moved closer and closer to the two. Being far above them, she knew that she’d be over top of them soon. The wind behind her howled and brushed past her, each gust worsening that cold feeling resting against her fur. She shivered, but another shaking sensation caught her attention. Glancing behind her shoulder, she could see Babs shaking more then usual. With each breath she took, a puff of visible vapor came from her mouth.

Eyes slightly closed, she turned towards Fluttershy. The filly’s teeth chattered as she spoke. “F-F-Fluttershy? H-h-how much l-l-longer?”

“J-just hold on, Babs. I know it’s c-cold. But just hang in there.” How long could Babs keep this up? How long before she got frostbite? Those disturbing thoughts floated through her mind. What if she got hypothermia? Bab’s predicament would leave her open to a more dangerous consequence then what Fluttershy would get. ‘Just hang in there, Babs. Just hang in there.’

Each second that passed turned into a minute, and each minute felt like an hour. Fluttershy breathed in and out, her wings feeling heavier as each minute passed. She did not know how long she could keep this up. This was one of the longest times she had ever flown consistently. She shook again. The cold was finally getting to her. ‘G-gotta… s-stay strong. For m-my friends.’ Could they make it? Was Cloudchaser going to survive? These thoughts pestered her like a bee buzzing through a field of flowers. Each moment a thought would come and go until it was replaced by another.

Teeth chattering, she shakily looked over her shoulder. Babs was laying flat on her stomach. Each puff of air she breathed was slow. Eyes closed, she began shaking less and less. “B-Babs?” Fluttershy’s eyes widened as the danger Babs was in became more visible. “B-Babs. Don’t close your eyes. Y-you need to s-stay awake.” When she brought her attention back to the distant sky in front of her, she could see lights. But more importantly, she could see a familiar castle. “C-Canterlot.”

Glancing back to Babs, she rotated a little bit to reach for Babs with her hooves. Fluttershy held her against her chest, shivering again as the chilly sensation only continued to worsen. “I n-need to g-get to C-C-Canterlot now.” Fluttershy slowed the flapping of her wings until she pressed them against her side. Before she knew it, she was descending towards the far distant ground. The wind picked up around her, the only noise she could hear besides the beating of her own heart.

The world spun around her. She quickly righted herself with her back to the sky and stomach to the ground that was now coming closer and closer. She zipped right past Spitfire and Soarin, hearing them call her name as she rushed past. Fluttershy opened her wings and felt the tremendous force of the wind against them. She passed by the trees, now just blurs of dark green. Rising up into the air again, she flew a good distance from the walls below her. Finally, they had made it to Canterlot.

Hastily, she scanned for a landing spot and quickly found one. As she descended, she quickly found herself coming in too fast. She couldn’t stop herself with Babs held in her forelegs. ‘J-just… h-hold on!’ Her wings finally gave out on her. She folded them onto her sides and braced for the incoming impact of the platform beneath her. It was sudden as she felt the world spin once more. The pain only worsened each time she bounced up into the air. Fluttershy let out quick gasps as she hit the ground each time.

Finally, she came to a skidding stop. Whimpering quietly, she opened her eyes. The pain was everywhere. She could feel bruises pulse on her wings and all over her body. Something trickled down the right side of her muzzle, causing her heartbeat to increase. ‘B-b-b-blood? M-m-m-my blood…’ She tried to move her right foreleg but yelped as an intense ache shot through her nerves. ‘I-I can’t m-move my leg… I can’t move my foreleg!’

She could hear the hoofsteps of guards running towards her, distracting her from her injuries. “Ma’am! Are you okay!?” One of them yelled as she saw two running towards her.

“Fluttershy!?” She glanced back to her front and saw Soarin and Spitfire descending in a hurry. Spitfire ran up to her and yelled, “What the heck were you thinking!? You could’ve killed yourself with that kind of landing!” She brought her attention to the two guards and said, “I need you two to bring these two to medical. They’ve got parasites inside them that need removing, or else they’ll die.” She quickly ran up to the guard and lifted Cloudchaser onto the first guard. “Have the doctors put her into stasis so they can remove the parasite before it hatches.”

Soarin went up to the second guard and lifted Zecora onto the guard’s back as well. “And have them wait for this… thing to come off her muzzle before they work on getting rid of the parasite. You won’t need to put her into stasis.” Spitfire watched the guards nod at her command before quickly hurrying back into the palace. She turned to Fluttershy and quickly trotted to her friend. “Where are you hurt?”

“D-don’t w-worry about me.” Fluttershy said. As she finished speaking she coughed a couple times. But the pain her chest grew more and more until she coughed more frequently. Looking down to Babs she shook her. “B-Babs… Babs. Wake up, Babs.” But when she didn’t respond, the panic finally set in. “Babs! Wake up!” She turned to Spitfire. “You need to get her treated. I flew higher up to try and catch you guys, but I-I--”

“Slow down. What are you tal--”

“I tried ascending higher to get a better wind gust to catch up with you two,” Fluttershy began. “B-but it was so cold up there. S-so cold…” She grabbed Spitfire with her left hoof. “You have to get her to the palace's medical facility. You need to save her!”

“But what about you?”

“Forget about me!” Fluttershy yelled. She flinched after she screamed at Spitfire. The tears finally came. However, she shakily stood up and lifted Babs toward Spitfire. “S-save her… I need to find Princess Luna.”

“But you’re hardly in any condition to walk.” Soarin’s frown deepend. “You gotta come with us. You need medical attention as well.”

“Just go,” Fluttershy said. She had to find Luna. She had to save her friends. She had to do something. But as Soarin reached for her, she swatted his hoof away. “Just go! I’ll find Luna… I-I’ll…” She coughed again, but more violently this time. Fluttershy fell onto her side, yelping again as she landed on her bad leg. The world around her darkened as her coughing intensified. She could hear Spitfire and Soarin yelling her name. They looked back to see somepony nearing them. Fluttershy could still see clearly enough to tell that it was Princess Luna. But as soon as the she got close, Fluttershy blacked out.

This darkness that she was now trapped in only worried Fluttershy even more. Was she dead? Had she hit the ground too hard? She couldn’t feel anything anymore. Although it was wise not rush to the idea that she was dead, it still set her into a feeling of panic. How much time was passing her by? She could be out for hours and not know how long it would be until she woke up again. This was all too much. Too much for her to handle.

Then a voice broke through. She could not fully distinguish it, but there was a sense of familiarity to it as the voice rose in volume. “Fluttershy?” There was a flash of light as she opened her eyes. However, the light’s luminescence slowly dimmed until she could make out a panel of light above her. Fluttershy groaned and sat upright. When she sat up, she saw the owner of said voice. “Thank goodness that you are awake.” Princess Luna stood there, sighing as she loosened her shoulders.

“P-Princess Luna?” Fluttershy could not contain the joy she felt, a bright smile on her muzzle until it disappeared as quickly as it came. Tears streamed down Fluttershy’s face. “Oh, thank goddess!” She hiccupped and continued to cry. She did notice the cast around her right foreleg and felt a bandage shifting against the top of her forehead, but that did not matter now. “Princess Celestia... my friends... they’re in danger!” Then Babs came to mind. “W-what about Babs Seed? Is she going to be okay?”

Luna’s eyes widened. “Spitfire and Soarin tried to tell me about something earlier. But when I saw that you had passed out, I hurried you to the palace’s medical section. And do not worry about Babs Seed. She is getting medical attention as we speak.” She moved closer and asked, “But what has become of your friends? What has happened to my sister?” The fear that came off Luna was intense enough for Fluttershy to feel it, shivering at the desperation in her voice.

“Princess… a lot of ponies are d-dying right now.” She sniffled. “We lost Thunderlane. Flash Sentry, too. The rest of our group is s-still alive. B-but a lot of them are injured. Some of my friends. P-Princess Celestia, too. She’s been hurt as well.” The panic that set in Luna’s eyes was one that Fluttershy had seen before. ‘Spike… my friends… they shared that same expression.’

“Celestia is h-hurt… Celestia… is h-hurt.” There was a loud crack of marble as Luna slammed her hoof into the floor. “I knew I should have come along! I care about what happens to Equestria, but I care about my sister more!” Her breaths came out uneven. “I cannot sit here and do nothing anymore! I must gather my guard. As soon as they are ready, we are leaving at once!”

As Luna turned towards the door, it opened as she approached. Fluttershy could not see the surprised expression upon Luna’s muzzle as Princess Cadance stood at the door. “There you are,” Cadance said. “I was looking everywhere for you.” She hugged her aunt before glancing past her. She gasped when she saw the condition she Fluttershy was in . “Fluttershy!” She rushed past Luna, but as she approached, Fluttershy could see Cadance’s swollen stomach. That one quick glance told her how close Cadance really was to giving birth.

“Fluttershy, what happened to you?” Cadance stood next to her within a few seconds. “D-did… somepony do this to you?”

Fluttershy shook her head. “N-no. I-I uh…” She noticed Luna signaling to her, the princess shaking her head. “I w-was coming to s-see how Luna was doing. But I came in too fast and hurt myself.”

Of course Cadance seemed to react appropriately until she took a second glance. “But… that sounds more like something Rainbow Dash would do. You’re usually more careful than she is.” She took a step back and looked down at the floor to see cracked marble. She turned back to Luna and asked, “Aunt Luna… where is Aunt Celestia, by the way? I know she’s probably in bed by now, but I was hoping to have a quick chat with her.”

“She is resting right now.” Fluttershy still did not know why she was lying to Cadance. Hadn’t they told her about what they were doing? “I can go wake her now, if you like.”

“Luna?” Fluttershy spoke, grabbing the attention of the two princesses. “I thought Cadance knew.”

“Knew about what?” Cadance tilted her head. She returned her attention to Luna and asked, “What are two talking about? Is there something that I should know?” When Luna sighed and looked down at the ground, Cadance took a step closer. “Well? What are you hiding from me?” The irritation is Cadance’s tone said it all.

“We… did not tell you of a plan that my sister is currently partaking in. She, along with Twilight Sparkle and her friends, have gone to an island far off of Baltimare’s coast.” Luna took a breath in and looked Cadance in the eye, that hesitation no longer visible. “They’re dealing with a menace right now. That menace… from what looks to be confirmed by Fluttershy, is that a madpony has brought another Xenomorph to life, maybe even more.”

Cadance didn’t even flinch. She stood there, staring at Luna. “S-so… when were you going to tell me about this?”

“It did not concern yo--”

“It didn’t concern me!?” Cadance yelled, taking another step towards Luna. “You tell me that this whole thing doesn’t concern me, but my sister-in-law is out there, possibly fighting for her life right now, and this doesn’t concern me!?” Cadance shook where she stood, now only inches away from Luna. “Have you forgotten what those creatures did to me? What they took away from me and Twilight? They took my husband away! I can’t ever see him again because of them! He’s gone and I’ll never get him back!”

“It was for your own good.” Luna raised her voice and held her ground. “You are carrying a foal. Why would we involve you when you are almost ready to give birth?”

“Maybe I could have helped out with the planning! Maybe I could have done something! I’m not going to sit by and worry whether Twilight is dead or not! You and Celestia may be my aunts, but she is literally the only thing I have left that is considered family by blood! She shouldn’t have gone! She shouldn’t hav--” Cadance gasped and took a couple steps back. Fluttershy could hear water trickling onto the floor. She looked for the source of the continuous dripping sound and saw it coming from Cadance. It was then that Cadance cried out, clenching up as she fell to the floor.

“Cadance… is it...” Cadance quickly nodded at Luna’s question, her uneven breathing filled the room. Luna helped her up and said, “I know that you are upset at me and Celestia, but that can wait for later. Right now, you have more pressing matters.”

“B-but wh--”

“We both know you cannot hold this foal in, Cadance, but do not worry about Celestia and Twilight. As soon as I get you to a room, I shall make my way to them with all of guards I can muster. They shall be safe. I swear it.”

As Luna led Cadance out, Fluttershy could still hear the pained moans of Cadance. This day had been almost too much, and now Cadance’s baby was on the way. This day had not slowed down one bit. But that was the least of Fluttershy’s concerns. She could only hope that Luna would be able to help rescue her friends in time. “Please… whoever is listening… please let them be safe.” All she could do was pray and hope that there was some unknown force listening to her words of concern.

Chapter XXI: Rarity's Daughter

View Online

So much has been left unsaid. So much mystery as to what the future would hold. But this concern was to be left unnoticed. Twilight Sparkle’s thoughts flew a thousand miles an hour. Racing through the research building, they were trailing behind Bishop and his band of guards. Nopony had spotted them yet, but it seemed that Celestia at least had some idea what direction they were going. Wherever he was going, Twilight had assured herself that they’d stop him before he got away.

Once they did capture him, would Celestia keep her promise? Would she actually take Neighland’s life? She heard the scream of the guard she had killed reverberate through her thoughts. It had been her or him in that situation. But that did not mean that Twilight enjoyed taking that guard’s life. From the very start of this mission, everything had been so grim.

And as serious as this was getting, the danger was now setting in. She feared for her friends’ lives. If any of them got so much as a scratch, then there’d be nopony that would save the pony who hurt them from her fury. A loud crash of metal echoed in front of her, and she watched Celestia charge through the doors and into the moonlit night. She quickly scanned the treeline in front of her. Seeing glints of armor in the bushes, she yelled, “Neighland!”

When she finally passed through the door, Twilight saw what her teacher had seen. She could see faint outlines of ponies making their way through the brush. Celestia followed but took the cleared pathway, everypony else quickly following behind her. This full moon night felt like it signified something more, Twilight thought. Night was always the end of the day. The moon was always the last object to light the world. It only brought to the forefront that they or Neighland would fall this night. And hopefully it was Celestia’s group that would see this night through.

“Where is this stallion going!? He’s got nowhere else to hide!” Rainbow Dash yelled as she flew above Daring .

“Remember the landing platform?” Daring glanced up at Rainbow. “There’s still other carriages and possibly other pegasi guards. If he gets there, then he could take off and escape again.” Her frown only deepened. “We can’t allow that to happen!”

There was an echo of magic being fired; Pinkie Pie yelped and ducked as it flew right over her. It was only a second before Neighland’s group of guards were firing on them as they ran. Twilight threw up a barrier, stopping the barrage of magic, but felt her shield straining with each hit. When the onslaught of magic and metal stopped, she lowered the shield, watching Neighland’s guards quickly making their escape. “Hurry everypony! We must not let them get away!” Celestia ordered.

The treeline thinned out as they continued to run until their hooves echoed against marble. The group had finally made it back to the admissions building, but their attention did not waver from Bishop’s group. He was now visible in the middle of his group of guards, heading right towards the bridge. “Stop him! He must not get awa--”

A screech cut her off as an Xenomorph launched itself from inside the admissions building and onto one of the guards. He screamed in pain as it tore into him, blood spurting out and staining its dark brown chitinous skin. The guards backed up, some pointing at it with crossbows. “No! Don’t shoot it!” Bishop ordered; his guards stood still but did not lower their weapons.

One of the guards was violently pulled from the group, screaming as she was dragged into the building by a dark olive-yellow haze. Twilight’s eyes widened at the sight. She knew all too well which Xenomorph it was. Eyes on the building, they saw how damaged it was. There were small fires here and there, and most of the glass windows were broken. The screams of the mare were quickly snuffed out. Moments later, her Xenomorph killer came out and roared at Bishop’s group. Behind it shadowed a much taller Xenomorph. “Seriously!?” Rainbow Dash said as she floated above Daring, mouth agape as she flapped her wings. “I know we knew that thing was here, but seriously. Come on!”

When the Praetorian roared, Twilight flattened her ears, feeling a chill run up her spine. When it lowered its gaze at Bishop’s group, it charged them with terrifying speed. A shield formed around their group, auras illuminating from many of the guard’s horns. The Praetorian crashed into it, sending a large ripple through the shield itself. The smaller Xenomorph without magic jumped on top of the shield and then the Xenomorph with magic struck the shield with its tail.

It was an all-out assault on the shield protecting Neighland and his guards, one that Celestia and the others would not go anywhere near. “Whah do we do?” Patchy asked, hiding behind Aquafrost.

“Taking three Xenomorphs on at once is suicide.” Celestia glanced back to the group, ushering them ahead of her. “We have to keep out of sight for now.” If Bishop Neighland would relent and kill one or even two of them, if his guards could manage it at all, it would make this day so much easier. Twilight, however, didn’t have so much faith in him to follow such an idea.

If he had stopped his guards from firing, then there was no way he’d hurt the Xenomorphs. She would only guess that it’d come to bite him in the rear. The group hugged the rock wall behind them, moving as slowly as they could without bringing attention to themselves. They froze when a much louder roar echoed from within the admissions building. The ground shook under their hooves. Twilight didn’t need but a second to figure out what… or who it was.

A black claw-hand wrapped its bony fingers around a column until a eyeless head peeked behind the column to its right. It hissed as it gazed over at Bishop’s shield. It exploded in a flash of light, the three Xenomorphs jumping on guards unlucky enough to be in their path. The whole group of guards scattered, but one guard was wrapped around in a dark blue haze and immediately lifted off the ground. He cried out in fear as he was pulled right towards the Queen. Twilight looked up and saw that the Queen’s crest glowed brightly, her hidden skull now lit up by a light blue light; a sick parody of Rarity’s own magic.

There was a sickening squelch as the stallion was forcefully speared through on the Queen’s tail. Rarity cried as she witnessed the monster that was born from her killing another pony. It growled as it turned its attention towards the noise, its eyeless gaze piercing through each pony, like it could see into their very souls. But as it scanned over each pony, its gaze stopped directly on Rarity. She whimpered as each second passed--those seconds with the Queen staring at the pony who birthed her. Rarity was certain that it knew who she was. The Queen hissed at them and flung the dead stallion from its tail.

Rarity’s Daughter took a step forward and then another. “Don’t run. It’ll pick us off one by one,” Princess Celestia ordered, glancing over at the rest of the ponies behind her. “Just back up as quickly as you can.” As the group did as she instructed, the Queen hissed again, and swung her spear-tipped tail upright, pointed at them. It seemed that the Queen too was pondering her next action against such a large group of ponies.

The Queen growled. Moments later did, its aura reignited again. The whole group was covered with its dark aura as she pushed them all backwards, separating them all by a few feet. “It’s so not cool that this freak gets to use magic!” Rainbow Dash yelled, flat on her back and trying to get up.

Before they knew it, the Queen was charging them. With each step, the ground shook. It roared in unbridled fury, then with incredible aim, thrusted its tail straight towards Celestia. A bright light flashed as Celestia blocked it with her halberd. Dust picked up and the ground was upturned as she skidded backwards, the tail pushing against the halberd’s blade.

“Princess!” Twilight called out. With a quick flap, she flew into the air. She unsheathed the scythe and kept flying towards her target. Of course, she did not know how to hold this weapon, but even with this inexperience, she did not waver from her goal. A screech echoed as Twilight swung the scythe, the Xenomorph’s acidic blood laced onto the blade after slashing its left arm. The Queen quickly turned on Twilight. She yelped as it tried to claw her out of the air. As she tried to ascend to the sky, a force pulled her back down, and she screamed on the way to the ground.

Upon impact, her eyes widened, breath all but lost to the air above her. A shadow moved over top of her, the ground shaking but Twilight felt the wind pass her by as Rainbow skidded across the ground, clutching onto Twilight. “You okay!?” Twilight hesitantly nodded but held focus on the terrifying giant in front of them.

It roared and took a step forward, pivoting on its heel and sweeping its tail across the ground. Daring and Crystal jumped back in time, but Applejack and Rarity went flying across the open field. “No!” Twilight cried and quickly stood up. She ran towards them but stopped as the ground shook again. But the Queen had stopped moving and seemed to notice this as well.

The Queen turned her head and hissed in the direction it was coming from. Twilight flattened her ears at the sound of a new roar. Yet, it somehow seemed familiar. Trees crashed and cracked as this thing ran towards them. When the line of trees were knocked down, a new and larger beast stood before them. It roared at the Queen and charged her, Twilight yelping as she hastily ran out of the way. The Queen screeched as this new beast rammed into her, sending her crashing into the admissions building.

Her screeches of pain were drowned out by metal being crushed and falling onto the ground. Dust flew up into the air, hiding the building from their view. Twilight could still see everypony else, but also heard the cries of terror as the other Xenomorphs were killing one guard after another. “Quickly, everypony. Gather back together befo--” Her voice was drowned out by the new creature as it turned its glowing green eyes towards them.

Twilight lit her horn up, the light reaching this new, much larger beast. Her eyes widened when she recognized it as a dragon. But the color pattern, its lavender and pale green scales, brought tears to her eyes. “S-Spike…?”

“W-wait a minute. That’s Spike!?” Rarity took a step back as her pupils shrunk.

The dragon in question turned his gaze toward her, growling as he opened his mouth. “Spike! It’s me, Twilight!” But she yelped as he lunged for her, roaring after her as she quickly ran from him. “Spike! Snap out of it!” He only growled in response before rushing her again. She quickly dodged his bite but hastily unfurled her wings and flapped them upwards and onto his head. “Please! Don’t you remember us?” The tears only trickled down at a faster rate. “Don’t you remember me?” Her horn brightened until she rested it against Spike’s head.

His eyes widened. As he stood still, Twilight could see the flash of all her memories flowing through, each as vivid as the last one. “P-please… I know you’re in there somewhere. You have to remember…” She did not know what Bishop had put him through here, or why, but it brought a rage that she had not felt in a very long time--the same one that she had felt after Shining Armor had died.

She could not let that get in the way now. Twilight had to get Spike back. After a couple moments, he only seemed to stand still, Twilight standing upright and into his eyes. “Spike…?”

His much larger pupils met hers until he blinked. “T-Twilight?” The much deeper voice was unmistakably Spike’s, but it sounded so grown up! Twilight’s smile grew all the same.

“I’m so happy that you’re all right!” Twilight hugged his snout. She thought that she’d never let go, that she’d somehow feel safe. A screech interrupted that hope as the Queen burst through the pile of rubble. She shook herself and turned towards Spike, roaring loudly at this new and much larger challenger. He hesitated for a moment but roared right back as he took one step forward, shaking the ground around the ponies.

However, this fighting was going to get them nowhere fast. This Queen did not seem fazed by Spike at all; a frightening fact indeed. She looked at the admissions building. She knew it went down even farther underground since that was where…

“The generators!” She glanced down at Celestia and the others. “Hey! If we can overload the generators, there’s a possibility that the Queen won’t survive the explosion!”

“That’s dangerous, though!” Aquafrost called back. “The whole facility will blow up! We could end up killing ourselves as well!”

“That’s a risk we should be willing to take!” Celestia said, glancing between the others and Twilight. “I have faith that Twilight’s plan will work!”

Twilight nodded and said, “Okay! Rarity, Patchy, Pinkie! I need you down there by the generator. If I remember the details, it's a valve system. You just need to turn some valves far enough to the point where the pressure will build up inside the generator and cause it to explode. The rest of us will keep you protected!” The group nodded in unison and quickly made their way towards the admission building.

The Queen roared at them but stood her ground as Spike took another step forward. “Do you think you can hold her off?” Twilight asked Spike.

He only smiled. “I’m bigger than her. This should be a cinch!”

“Don’t you dare get cocky!” Twilight warned Spike, knowing all too well how dangerous one single Queen was. “Just be careful!” Twilight flapped her wings and lifted off his muzzle, Spike roaring as he charged the Queen and crashed into her. The ground shook as the two tried to out-muscle one another. As the Queen thrust her tail forward, the spear-tipped tail bounced off his scales. She tried scratching with her claws but met the same resistance.

The Queen screeched as Spike bit around her neck, not penetrating the chitinous armor, and tossed her towards the treeline. She skidded across the ground but got back up quickly and charged Spike again. As Twilight watched, she shook with worry. She had to have faith that Spike would survive this fight. This battle had only begun. By the end, they’d all find out whether they could stop the Xenomorphs and Bishop or fail and be killed trying to protect Equestria.


Crystal had never thought she’d ever get involved in a scenario like this. Fighting alongside one princess was a dream that most ponies could only ever imagine, but with two princesses? One famous for her magic and the other famous for her one-thousand-year rule? It was hard not to be excited by this whole prospect. She glanced to her left and saw Princess Celestia nearby, running with long strides as Retrospect kept up with her.

To her right, she saw Aquafrost and Daring Do, and everypony else was behind her. She felt the ground rumble and watched as Spike tossed the Queen aside again, the Xenomorph roaring in fury. She already knew that these creatures had highly acidic blood. Spike could not actually harm the Queen without risking injury as well. It was the least he could do to keep the Queen distracted for them.

They passed through the broken glass walls, quickly entering the building with all haste. “Here’s the idea.” She glanced over at Celestia. “Twilight. You and Rainbow Dash keep survey of what’s going on between Bishop’s guards and the Xenomorphs.” The two nodded and unfurled their wings, quickly ascending up into the large exposed interior circle. “Applejack, I want you right here. You’ll be the last line of defense if anything gets past us.”

“Can do, princess.” Applejack gripped her axe and held it out.

“Daring Do, Aquafrost, Crystal. I want you three to be the first line of defense. I’ll stay in the middle in case you require assistance.” The three nodded before Daring and Aqua ran up to the front. Crystal took a step but felt her former teacher’s hoof rest upon her shoulder. “Please… do take care, Crystal.”

Crystal glanced back with a small smile. “Of course, Princess.” Crystal quickly ran forward. When she caught up with Daring and Aqua, she looked back to see Celestia lowering Rarity, Pinkie, and Patchy down to the generator. That wasn’t important at the moment. She could worry about them later. Another couple of steps and the three hid behind the right side of the entrance. “Alright, where are the guards?”

“There they are.” Daring pointed towards the large group of guards hiding behind the rock formation.

“Wow,” Aqua murmured. “There’s at least… forty of them. Bishop’s really packing a lot of power there.”

“It’s a wonder why he doesn’t have any earth ponies. It’s just a bunch of pegasi and unicorns,” Daring noted. “That’ll play into our favor, at least. He doesn’t have any muscle. Just speed and magic.”

“Right, but even without physical strength, we shouldn’t get too overzealous. Magic and speed are just as dangerous. But as long as they don’t notice us, we should be fine.” Aqua turned to the other two.

A screech echoed in front of them as the smaller Xenomorph jumped onto a fleeing guard. The guard’s scream was short-lived as his head separated from his body, the Xenomorph’s tail slicing violently downwards. The stallion’s head rolled away, and then the Xenomorph looked in the three mares’ direction. It hissed as it crouched down in preparation to pounce.

Crystal and Aqua’s horns lit up as they charged their magic. When it jumped, there was a flash of blue behind it before the Xenomorph blew up into chunks. The girls quickly backed up as its body parts skidded towards their direction. They knew they had an anti-acid field on, but without any sort of tests on its effectiveness, they didn’t know how well it would protect them.

“N-no way.” Daring stared ahead. “It’s another one of those Predators! How many of them are there?” All three of them could not see where this Predator was, but they knew it was somewhere close by. Some distance in front of them came a blue flash of light. “Get out of the way!” All three of them ducked as it sped past them, exploding behind them in a flash of blue. They glanced back to see that Princess Celestia and Retrospect were okay, a light gold shield protecting her from the blast.

“Is everything okay up there?” Celestia called to them.

“We’re fine,” Crystal responded, getting up slowly before helping her friends up.

“Hey!” They looked up to see Rainbow Dash floating next to Celestia. “You three got some guards heading your way. I think they’ve found us out.”

“Got it. We’ll make sure to stop them,” Daring said. Rainbow Dash flew back up after the acknowledgment.

“And girls?” Crystal, Daring, and Aqua turned back to Celestia again. “This time, it is unnecessary to stun or incapacitate them. I want you three to… to use lethal force.”

The words that Celestia uttered sent a chill down Crystal’s spine. Never before did she ever think she would hear such a command from her former teacher. They hesitantly nodded before quickly turning towards the entrance. “Hey, Daring,” Aqua asked.


“I want you to go up a floor above us. If any guards get past us, then you’ll have the element of surprise.” Daring Do nodded and hastily flew up to the next floor. “You ready, Crystal?”

Crystal glanced at Aqua, the two holding each other's gaze. Both knew what they were about to do. As a former mercenary, Crystal was used to taking a life. But Aquafrost was not. “I-it has to be done, right?” As Crystal finished speaking, a bolt passed by her head, the two ducking as a pegasus guard floated six meters away, unloading a barrage of bolts towards them. Aqua and Crystal took cover behind adjacent walls across from each other.

Before long, magic echoed out as it hit the walls they took cover behind. ‘Great. We got crossbows and magic being fired at us.’ It only brought horrible memories from her earlier experience in such a firefight. ‘This time, nopony is dying on my watch.’ She peeked from her corner and saw half of Neighland’s forces meters away from them, taking cover behind anything they could and firing at them.

When one broke cover, she fired at the pony. They tripped up, the magic barely missing them as they made it to the other side. She quickly took cover, the vibrations of magic hitting her location only increasing. “I’m going for a different location!” Aquafrost nodded before returning fire. The mare flinched when one of her bolts hit its mark, a stallion crying out in pain. Crystal took her chance and moved around a corner and to another broken window.

When she peeked out, they were exposed to her sight. “Perfect. A flanking position.” She charged a beam of energy up before peeking out again and firing it at the lone flying pegasus. A hole exploded through the guard’s chest before they fell down to the ground. But her position was compromised as soon as one of them spotted her. She could hear orders from their side until a barrage of bolts and magic hit her position.

Quickly she changed positions, heading back towards where Aquafrost was. She saw her firing a beam of magic towards the guards and quickly hiding behind cover. “There’s just too many of them!” There was a rumble underneath their hooves; she was all too aware of the dragon, the one that Twilight had called Spike, as he was fighting the Xenomorph Queen.

Such a dangerous task. Yet their predicament wasn’t any better. A stallion’s cry echoed to their right; she watched as the Predator was now visible, ripping the pony they heard in half with its left gauntlet blade. It was followed by a screech as the Xenomorph with magic pounced towards it, only to be knocked away with a swift kick by the Predator. They heard the crash and bending of metal but held their focus on the large group of guards in front of them.

A sudden explosion knocked the two back, and they skidded across the marble floor. When they looked up, five pegasi guards flew right towards them. Both rolled away from each other as metal bolts met marble floor, clinking off the ground. Crystal looked up and saw them pass by quickly. “Daring Do!” Crystal called out.

As she did, Daring Do appeared over top of one guards. The stallion yelped as she drove both daggers into his back, crashing on top of him onto the floor. Three were left as they charged right towards Celestia and Retro. But this tactic was just so sudden. Were they throwing their lives away for some meaningless charge?

A sudden gush of blood erupted from the far-left guard’s head. The far-right guard spun as Celestia swiped at her with the halberd. A shield materialized in front of Celestia as the guard retaliated, only for a quick yelp as the halberd appeared above and straight into the mare, knocking her to the ground as well.

The last one was flying right towards Applejack, and it quickly came to Crystal as to why. “They’ve figured out what we’re doing.” She turned to Aqua and Daring. She then shouted towards Celestia. “Princess! They’re trying to stop the others from overloading the generator!”

Celestia’s eyes widened as she watched the guard slowed their pace. “Applejack! You have to keep him from stopping our progress!” Applejack nodded, holding the axe with her left foreleg. But the guard, as they slowed down, increased their speed suddenly. Applejack was fired at with a barrage of bolts, to which she awkwardly lifted the weapon up and slammed it down onto the ground. A black wave of energy pushed the bolts back and threw the guard backwards.

There was a sickening cry as he was launched straight towards Celestia’s halberd, halfway stuck onto the weapon’s shaft. The display of violence was nothing short of gruesome; yet more disturbing was the fact that Celestia was participating and purposely striking with the intent to kill. Crystal shook, fazed by her mentor’s willingness to use violence. “Look out!” Crystal looked back as Daring Do called to her, but the world spun, a stinging sensation across her muzzle. Bouncing on the ground, she yelped all the while until she landed on her stomach.

When she stopped skidding, she looked up to see Aquafrost pinned against the wall, a hoof to her throat. “You just couldn’t leave Bishop alone, could you?” Crystal’s frown deepened as she saw Ash, pinning the mare he called captain by her neck. “You and the rest of your friends; none of you are leaving this place alive.”

Crystal charged a beam and let it loose. Ash grunted as he was knocked back, and Aqua fell back to the ground, coughing as the air came rushing back. Ash quickly got back out and held out a spear in his right hoof. “So be it then. If I have to exterminate my own kind to get out of this hellhole, then so shall it be done!”

Aqua hastily stood up. Her spear launched from her sheath, and she pulled it back to her side. He thrusted his forward, Aqua deflecting it before swinging it from her right side. He blocked and followed up with another overhead swing. To Crystal, it appeared they were even, both keeping on their hooves, neither one even getting a scratch. She glanced over her shoulder to Daring. “We need to help Aqua. If she gets hurt, Ash will take advantage of it!” Daring nodded and quickly unfurled her wings, flying towards Aqua with Crystal by her side.

With a quick thrust, Aqua yelped as Ash’s spear nicked the right side of her muzzle. She jumped back, soon replaced by Daring, surrounded by a ice blue aura, Crystal tossing her forward with an added boost in speed. Ash skidded back again, Daring somersaulting in the air before kicking off with another extra boost in speed. She ducked underneath his spear thrust, stabbing him with her left dagger. But he retaliated with an unnatural reaction time, cutting the right side of Daring’s barrel and kicking her to the ground a few meters to his right.

He glanced down at the dagger in his right shoulder and reached it with his left hoof. Ash grabbed it and pulled it out without uttering or groaning in pain. Blood poured out but he didn’t seem to notice and tossed it to the side. Instead he cracked his neck and smiled. “Thought a mosquito bit me.”

“Mosquito!?” Daring yelled, glaring at Ash as she shakily stood up.

“Guess so. Not that I could feel the dagger sinking in anyway.” Ash sneered as he glanced between Daring and Crystal, who stood by Aqua. All three held expressions of surprise. “What? Does it surprise you all that I cannot feel pain?”

It was such a shock. He could not feel pain. It only added to the difficulty of this fight. Crystal turned to Aqua. “If we all attack together, it should keep him on the defensive. And the fact that he can’t feel pain should help us. He’ll only be able to take so much before his body gives up on him.” Aqua nodded before the two quickly ran towards Ash. Daring flew into the air again with a flap of her wings and straight towards the stallion.

Ash ducked as Daring flew past him. He turned towards Crystal and Aquafrost. As Aqua blocked his strike, Crystal let a magic bolt loose, going through the stallion’s left shoulder. But he tripped up Aqua with his spear and slammed it down on top of Crystal. Crystal felt the world spin again until her body slammed into the wall. She watched as Daring came in for another flyby; she scored a mark across his chest, flying under his strike and skidding across the ground. She lifted off again but was slammed into the ground by Ash’s spear.

Daring screamed as he thrusted the spear into her gut, throwing her down the hall towards Celestia. “Daring!” Crystal cried out and shot at him again. Ash flinched as another bolt passed through him, a bloody hole in his right shoulder now. He turned towards Crystal and shook his head. It did not help either that, as this fight was going on, the guards had stopped firing and were chanting Ash’s name.

“I have to commend the effort you’ve put into fighting me, but I think you’re spent. I have enough stamina to keep fighting you three forever.” Ash smirked as he slowly made his way towards Crystal. “You three mares, however, can only last so long.” The butt of another spear smacked him across his muzzle as Aqua came back, hitting him again and forcing him a step back.

“Don’t you dare hurt Crystal!” Aqua yelled and thrust her spear forward. He knocked the attack aside and threw Aqua to the ground with his hooves.

“Just you wait your turn. You’ll get your due here soon enough.” Ash knocked Aqua to the side and returned his attention towards Crystal. “Now… where were we? Ah yes…” He stood a foot away and continued, “this is the part where I believe you die.”

Crystal gasped as the spear was driven straight into her chest. The world darkened around her, but she held on. As he tried to pull the spear away, her horn brightened and in a sudden puff of mist formed an ice shield, stopping the spear from coming out. “What? Let go of it, you stupid mare. You’re only delaying the inevitable.”

“N-no… just the opposite of that.” Crystal smiled as she saw Aquafrost stand up, the spear pointed towards Ash. When Aqua threw it with her magic, Crystal chuckled. “It’s not my time that’s ending; It’s yours!” Ash stood still as Aqua’s spear hit home, pointing straight through his neck. He gasped for air, grabbing the spear with his left hoof. “It’s you who’s delayed the inevitable.” And with that last word, she shot a magic wave straight through Ash’s neck. He stood still until Aqua’s spear fell to the ground. The next thing that came was his head, his body falling to the ground, blood pouring from his decapitated head.

Crystal sat there as the sounds of battle still went on nearby. The ground shook as both the Queen and Spike battled it out. She could not see it, and did not know who was winning, but did believe that the dragon would beat the Queen. She unfroze Ash’s spear and watched as it tumbled out of her chest. “Crystal!” She heard two voices at the same time, watching as Aqua ran towards her. A stinging sensation wrapped around her chest, watching as Aqua healed her. “You’re not dying. I saved you last time. I can save you again,” Aqua whimpered.

The pain slowly subsided as Crystal looked down. Blood stained her dark-green fur, but the wound caused by the spear had shrunk. She closed her eyes, slowly breathing in and out. “T-thank you…” Crystal murmured, helped up by Aqua. They turned to their left and saw that a light gold barrier had been put up at the front door. They looked over at Celestia to see her standing over Daring, whom stood up as the light gold aura around her disappeared.

“Di-did we get him?” Daring asked.

Crystal nodded. “He won’t be bugging us anymore.” Crystal turned to Aqua as she felt her own body shake, watching as tears came down her muzzle. Crystal could only hug Aqua, knowing that, even if Ash had lied to them all, Aqua had worked with him for a while. It seemed like she had lost an old friend. There was still so much more to do, and only more death would come if they couldn’t get this conflict over and done with soon.


There was so much that had been going on. Twilight, however, kept glancing back at Spike, watching as he tussled with the Queen Xenomorph. Each second, she prayed that Spike would not get hurt. Each moment that passed was another an instant where she could only hope that the Queen would not find some way to hurt Spike. It was a struggle to stay where she was. If she could, she’d fly right to his side and help him fight that monster with him. Even if he was now a literal adult dragon, he was still her little brother--perhaps even her son.

He was family, and she wasn’t going to let him get hurt. “Hey, Twilight!” She turned to see Rainbow Dash waving her over. “You should come and see this!”

Twilight quickly ran over to Rainbow’s left side and peered over the edge. Her eyes widened when she saw another Predator standing in the middle of the courtyard, adjacent to it only a few feet away was the Praetorian. From the glowing blood stains running down the Predator’s legs, it was obvious that this thing was injured. But the Praetorian appeared in no better shape, considering the cuts running across its chest and shoulders.

The Praetorian growled and thrusted its tail; the Predator quick-stepped to the side. He jumped out of the way again and grabbed its tail before throwing the Praetorian towards the group of guards. They scattered, but three imploded into a bloody mist, causing Twilight to gag and look away from the sight. Even with all the violence she had seen, it was still hard to digest any of the sights she had witnessed.

“Twilight!” Recovering for the moment, she moved over to the hole and looked down towards Celestia. “We need assistance. I can’t hold my shield for any longer.”

“It’s the door facing towards the south!” Daring Do added. Twilight nodded, swerved towards the edge, and crouched behind the wall. She glanced over the wall and saw the group of guards taking cover among the various low walls.

She glanced over to Rainbow, who joined her, crouching to her right. “Rainbow. I’m going to charge up a spell that should knock them to the ground. It’ll incapacitate them long enough for you and Daring to knock them out.” Rainbow grinned when Twilight finished, possibly at the thought of fighting alongside her idol.

With the plan agreed, Twilight’s horn glowed brightly. A ball formed at the tip of her horn, which grew just a little bit as more and more energy was condensed into the magic spell. With one last pulse, she stood up and pointed the magenta ball towards the center of the guards; with a loud blast, it shot towards the ground in a blur of light. The group of guards yelled in surprise as they were all knocked to the ground.

In a blur of rainbow, Dash quickly passed over Twilight and towards the guards. She flew down one line and knocked each guard out with the hilt of her sword. It wasn’t long before Daring flew from the building, slower, but still showing the same determination as she followed Rainbow’s lead. It looked like the plan was working. Everything was going their way for a change.

The building shook, Twilight swerving towards the source. She quickly ran up to the building’s edge and saw that the Queen had been knocked to the ground again by Spike. She roared at him, quickly standing up and hissing at him. He only snorted smoke before opening his mouth. A river of green flames spewed from his mouth. The Queen was engulfed in a matter of moments.

Yet as it passed, the Queen moved right towards where the other Neighland guards were. Twilight could hear screaming; the smell of burning flesh. The stench of the dying was overwhelming. It was too much. “Spike…” Twilight had known he had the power to breathe fire, but his adult form was much stronger.

The trickling of his fiery breath had ceased, but the Queen still stood. There was a barrier in front of her, a blue haze that quickly disappeared. “N-no way…” An explosion rang to her left as the Predator jumped on top of one of the rocks, firing a blue energy pulse at the pursuing Praetorian. But that scuffle only distracted her for so long before she returned her attention to the conflict that Spike was involved in.

The Queen roared and took a step forward. But she did not charge like last time. She moved her eyeless gaze from side to side, examining Spike a little too much for Twilight’s liking. It soon became apparent that this Queen was sizing him up, like she was forming some type of strategy--a way to defeat Spike and move onward. Her tail raised upward, but a screech echoed from the Queen as she punctured herself with her own spear-tipped tail.

Twilight took a step back, shivering at this display of self-destruction. Her pupils shrunk when the Queen dug her claws into her chest; her bright green acidic blood spread across both claws and trickled down her tail. ‘What… what is this Xenomorph doing?’ The Queen raised her head up to Spike. She took a step forward, followed by another one. With one last step she charged forward, running right towards the dragon.

Spike stood a few feet above her. Twilight knew he had a chance at winning. A dragon’s power was legendary for a reason. He roared at the Queen and took a step forward. Twilight’s eyes widened as the Queen came to a sudden stop, swerving on her feet as she flicked her tail at Spike, the acidic blood spraying across his chest and shoulders. He retreated back, but smoke began rising from the areas the acid hit. She folded her ears back as she heard Spike roar in pain.

The Queen roared in triumph and thrusted her tail forward. The tail, after so many times being deflected by Spike’s stone-hard scales, pierced him, blood spraying from his chest as the tail hit its mark. When her clawed hands broke through his scales covering his shoulders, the same horrific red liquid covered his chest; a morbid painting of death. “Spike!!!” Twilight cried out as tears trickled down her muzzle.

She lifted off with a flap of her wings. She had to help him. Twilight could not lose another family member. Images of Shining replaced Spike as that same cold sweat returned; the last breath he gave echoing over and over. “Spike, no!!” But the wind pushed back as she came crashing through the window, screaming as she skidded across the floor.

Twilight quickly lifted herself up but was met with the Xenomorph that had surprised her before. Its dome glowed with its pale olive color. “Nooo!!” Twilight ran right towards the Xenomorph with her scythe unsheathed in her magenta aura, yet her hooves stopped in place as she was shoved back, losing her breath as her back hit the wall. The scythe dropped from her magic grasp. The Xenomorph ran on all fours right towards her.

Twilight screamed as its tail pierced right through her stomach, crying in agony at the awful sting. But as it tried to hit her again, her horn grew brightly before a beam of light sent the Xenomorph flying back. She fell down, gasping as the pain worsened. Yet Spike’s loud scream of pain resonated in her ears. The deep voice she heard was soon replaced by the voice she had known forever. The baby dragon she had raised was crying out to her, in need of help that was not going to come.

“Noo! Spike!!” She got up and ignored the overwhelming pain in her stomach. She had to save Spike. Twilight was not going to let him share the same fate as Shining Armor. The ground shook. Looking at the horrific scene, she watched as the Queen picked Spike up and tossed him onto the ground. Her tail and claws flew in a flurry, opening new wounds across his chest and even into his stomach, Spike fighting to push her back to no avail.

Yet the horrific sight was blocked by that same Xenomorph. It screeched and jumped right towards her. She screamed as the aura’s light from her horn intensified. With one wide beam, the Xenomorph’s chest had a huge hole in it. It let out a cracked screech before hitting the floor and slipping over the edge and out of sight. Twilight unfurled her wings and took off as quickly as she could.

With her magic, she lifted up the remaining weapon, the gun that Bishop Neighland had taken from one of those dead human soldiers. Pointing the gun at the Queen she yelled, “Get away from him, you freak!” She pulled the trigger, feeling it kick against her magic. The Queen roared as the bullets penetrated through her armor, acidic blood bursting from the wounds. But she turned around and screeched at Twilight. With her attention away from Spike, Twilight had to lead her away. She fired another burst of rounds at the Queen.

Yet a dark haze caught the bullets and tossed them to the side. Twilight ducked as the Queen thrusted her tail. Yelping, she flew up as the Queen swung her tail this time. Twilight quickly backed off and fired again. The Xenomorph roared as the bullets hit her chest, but still to no avail. Twilight glanced over at Spike and saw him shakily stand up. He shook as he stood, blood dripping from his wounds. The damage, obviously, was very critical and needed help.

Twilight screamed when she felt the wind push her back, a dark blue haze surrounding her body. The Queen charged forward. Twilight quickly shot the gun off, and the Queen stumbled back as some of the bullets hit her crest and growled in annoyance. She took a step forward, but a bright light hit her side, pushing her back a distance. The haze lifting off her body, Twilight quickly turned to see Princess Celestia standing a few meters from the admissions building. At her side was Retrospect, gazing at the Queen Xenomorph. “Twilight.” She held Celestia’s gaze. “Rarity has informed me that they’re almost done with turning all the valves. Go help them finish. I’ll stay here with Retro to keep the Queen busy.”

“But Princess… what abou--”

“Spike will be helped as soon as we can aid him. You need help yourself.” Celestia looked away from Twilight and at the Queen. “Now go.” The Queen roared and charged Celestia, only to be pushed back by a wide ray of light. Twilight did not know the limits of Celestia’s strength. But with all the damage she had taken, it was wise if she hurried to help her friends.

With that said, she quickly took off and landed at the front door. “Wait!” She glanced back and saw Bishop popping out from the rocks. “Let us think this through. There’s no need for rash acti--” Twilight fired a beam at the older stallion, knocking him back into the rock as he cried out. The impact zone glowed but did not penetrate his body.

‘He’ll get what’s coming to him.’ But she couldn’t focus on that now. She took a step forward but flinched as a fiery pain pierced through her stomach. Twilight struggled with each step as she moved down the hall. As she moved further down the hall she heard a gasp from Aquafrost, who hastily rushed towards Twilight.

Twilight felt a hoof wrap around her shoulder as Aqua helped her along. “Where are you hurt?”

“My… stomach…” Twilight breathed both words out. A dark orange aura formed around her body, Twilight squirming as the pain on her stomach grew, yet it slowly subsided as the aura disappeared. “Thank you.” She nodded her thanks to Aqua. “Celestia told me to come and help Rarity and the others. You, Rainbow Dash, and Daring. Keep watch up here.” The three nodded before Twilight flew down the open middle of the admissions building.

It wasn’t long before she landed on the metal ground. “Rarity!” When Twilight called her friend’s name, Rarity glanced behind her.

“Oh, thank the heavens you’re okay. Is everypony else safe?”

Twilight shook her head. “Celestia’s holding off the Queen. Spike’s been hurt as well.” Rarity brought a hoof to her mouth at the mention of Spike being injured. “Are there any valves left?”

“Just a couple more and it should be set,” Rarity said.

Twilight looked up and watched as Pinkie and Patchy were turning a couple valves. Her magenta aura surrounded the valves until they began turning. As she did so, she could hear a moaning behind them, looking back to see a bloodied mare lying on the ground not too far from their position.

“Sparkdust!?” They heard Patchy’s voice, and before they knew it, he was running towards his friend. He helped her up and wrapped his forelegs around her. “Oh! I really though thah you were a gonna!”

“C-careful…” Sparkdust weakly murmured. The happy moment was interrupted as the generator emitted a loud beeping noise. The ground shook beneath their hooves. It was now a matter of time before this building blew up.

“We need to get out of here now!” Twilight formed an aura around everypony until they disappeared in a flash of light and reappeared up on the main floor. When Aquafrost saw Sparkdust, she cried.

“Sparkdust! You’re alive!” She hugged the injured mare, backing up as her eyes widened. “Oh no. I’ve used up all my magic. I can’t heal her!”

“Don’t worry!” Daring Do said. “Let’s get out of here first. We’ll get help for Sparkdust once we reach Equestrian soil!” It wasn’t long before the group quickly took off, running down the hall as debris fell down around them. Once outside the building, they ran the opposite direction, hoping to avoid the Predator and Praetorian. They heard a cry of pain and saw Celestia as she was knocked out of the air and crashed down before them.

“Celestia!” Twilight called out as she rushed to her mentor, looking up to see that Spike had remained where he was moments ago.

“The generator…?” Celestia opened her eyes and looked up to Twilight.

“It’s about to go off. We need to get out of here!” Celestia nodded before returning her attention towards the Queen. Her horn’s light gold aura intensified until a beam hit the Queen. She stopped in her tracks as she went to strike Retrospect.

“There. I put a slow spell on her. But it won’t last long. We’ll need to hurry right now!” Celestia unfurled her wings and floated into the sky, picking up Crystal Rune before taking off. Rainbow Dash lifted off next, carrying Applejack in her hooves. Daring Do flew up with Pinkie hanging from her hooves. Twilight then took off behind them as Rarity, with Aqua and her friends, running towards Spike.

Retrospect soon joined up by Celestia’s side. They glanced back to watch as Rarity and the others climbed aboard Spike’s back. He spread his wings and, with one mighty flap, lifted up into the air. With a bit of difficulty, he caught up with the others. As they flew over the research and development building, they could hear the roar of the Queen for a brief second.

The Predator watched as they fled. He returned his attention to the Praetorian climbing over the rock wall behind him. There wasn’t much time left, from the looks of it. If they were leaving, then something was about to happen. He looked down at his wrist-pad and flipped it open. Pressing a sequence of buttons, a high-pitched noise echoed over and over.

The Predator gazed up at the sky as the Praetorian fell right towards him. He unsheathed his gauntlet and jumped back. The ground shook slightly, but he leaped forward and shoved the gauntlet into the Praetorian’s neck. It roared in pain until he pulled it to the right, creating a large gash across its neck. The Xenomorph struggled as it fell to the ground, screeching as its acidic blood poured from the horrific wound. The Predator roared, swiftly cut off as the admissions building blew up in a orange plume of flames.

As the noise filled the air, a bright flash of blue light went off. The detonation grew in size until it lit up the night sky as though it were midday. The lightshow did not last long until darkness returned once more. Once the brightness passed, it finally hit Twilight; they had escaped the island. She and her friends were alive, and as an added plus, Spike was found and with them as they headed back to Equestria.

But his wounds were severe. They had to get to Equestria soon. They had to. Spike was in danger. Twilight was not ready to lose another family member. She couldn’t lose Spike. He had to survive this night. They just had to make it back to Equestria, and back to Canterlot in time to save him and Sparkdust. It would be a miracle if time would allow such a happy ending. If only they could make it.

Chapter XXII: A New Life

View Online

The wind was the only consistent noise surrounding their group. Twilight had kept time for how long their group had been flying. Nearly half an hour had passed since they left that island--the blood-soaked island of the dead. While she had not been carrying anypony, the exhaustion from flying for so long had finally set in. They had been awake since early morning yesterday, arriving at the island during the afternoon hours and fighting constantly as soon as the Xenomorphs had broken from their supposedly “locked” rooms.

But that wasn’t even the tipping point. There had been so many ponies that had died today, mostly the innocent. She had seen what was left in the wake of the devastation that nine Xenomorphs could bring. Nine Xenomorphs had killed hundreds of ponies. Who knows how many more were now dead? She glanced over at Aquafrost and then Sparkdust.

The mare they had thought dead had, in fact, survived. After their tussle with the first Predator they had encountered, they had thought it had killed her. Now with an open stomach wound, they had to fly as fast as they could across the Celestial Sea. However, Sparkdust was only a minor concern to Twilight. She had not taken her eyes off the now large version of Spike.

‘He’s going to make it. I know he will. Dragons have a greater endurance than ponies.’ Since Spike now considerably larger than anypony else, he’d have a little more blood to spare than the rest of them. While this was true, one possible factor kept circulating around Twilight’s mind: how much blood had he lost to the Queen during his fight? The cries Spike had made when the Queen Xenomorph had ravaged through his scales were all too clear. The Queen had fought with the same strength and ferocity as the first one she and the other princesses had battled, and Spike had been the recipient of that brutality.

Another horrifying matter had been clear: Spike’s wounds were great. She could see the blood dripping from and staining the scales of his stomach, his chest and shoulders. His breaths were short, shallow and raspy--he was quickly losing strength. It was clear now that they had to keep hurrying. It was only a miracle that the winds had taken a westerly direction, boosting them to a faster rate of flight.

Hopefully, this increase was enough to shorten the gap between the island and Equestria. Twilight scanned the rest of the group and, at that moment, noticed that everypony else was showing signs of exhaustion: slow wing flaps, heavy panting, and labored breaths. It was a miracle at all that none of them had keeled over during this flight.

Lady Luck had finally granted a wish that Twilight sought as she saw something in the distance. There was a light far to their right. Not only that, but she could see the dark yellow of sand marking the long width of beaches covering the shoreline. “Everypony!” Celestia announced loudly as she held Crystal Rune in her forelegs. “We’re almost there. We mustn't stop now. Not yet.”

“I don’t know how much longer we can keep going!” Daring Do spoke in between short breaths. “We-we’re all pr-pretty tired right now.”

“Maybe… we could head towards Baltimare?” Rainbow Dash glanced around at everypony. “Don’t they have a… have a hospital there?”

“Yes, but it would not be able to attend to Sparkdust’s wounds. Not even Spike’s, for that matter,” Celestia said, turning her attention to Spike.

Twilight had not taken her eyes off of him. She monitored his every move, every breath. Twilight would not rest until she knew he was fine. He breathed in deeply but let out a loud coughing fit. As he did, Spike slowly began to descend. “Spike… Spike!” Twilight cried out. “You have to keep flying straight. Don’t dive downwards!” But as he continued to fall down, his wings stopped flapping up and down. “Spike!!”

He was heading straight towards the beach. But with his speed, he passed straight over the the sandy shore; a loud crash echoed from the ground. Dirt was upturned and grass uprooted. Rarity, Aquafrost, Patchy, and Sparkdust were thrown off, screaming in panic as they rolled across the grassland. Spike’s body kept turning up dirt until he finally slowed to a sickly halt. “Spike!!!” Twilight’s wings flapped harder, adrenaline kicking in once more.

She quickly landed on the ground with great haste, if not sloppily. While Celestia and the others went to check on everypony thrown off Spike's back, she picked up her hooves and sprinted around his body. Twilight skidded to a halt when she reached his snout. “Spike!!?” Twilight breathed heavily. His eyes slowly met her own before he coughed up blood. “No… no, no, no, no!” She wrapped her hooves around his muzzle, trying in vain to pull him forward. She fell backward, and the world rolled with her.

Landing on her stomach, she quickly got up and returned to Spike. Twilight’s horn brightened as her aura wrapped around his right arm. “Come on! You can’t stop now! Get up, Spike!” Tears flowed freely from her eyes in rivulets. “Spike! Please… please, just get up. You have to move… you have to make it to Canterlot…” Every sign was indicating that Spike wasn’t going to make it.

Blood stained the grass surrounding him. His breathing began to decline, slowing in pace as his eyes began to pale. “No… you can’t die…” Twilight then thought of one last plan. Her magenta aura wrapped around his body; her horn brightened as she tried to heal him. The wounds slowly closed, but only by inches. Beads of sweat accompanied her tears, the spell taking its toll on her. She gasped and breathed in quickly. Despite her efforts, it was not enough. She had simply used too much magic.

The wounds were still great. Even those inches only healed so much. “Twilight… I’m sorry, but… Spike… it appears that he won’t--”

“Noo!!” She turned on Celestia and glared at her former teacher. “He can’t die!! I won’t let him!! I can’t lose him… I c-can’t lose another family member…”

“T-T-Twilight…” Twilight froze at Spike’s voice. She did not hear the deepness that he had gained from his growth. To her own ears, it was the same one that greeted her every morning. Slowly did she turn around until her eyes met his. “D-d-don’t… w-w-worry…” Twilight hiccuped. She tried all her might to hold back, but the dam broke with ease as she cried out loudly. The pain and weakness in his voice only confirmed what Celestia had tried to tell her.

“Is… i-is…” It was too much. She barely could meet Spike’s eyes. It was such a simple action. Just turning her head towards his would have been nothing but a menial task, yet trying felt like it was impossible. But Twilight, in this moment of weakness, gathered what she could of her courage and met his gaze with her own. When their eyes met, Spike began once more. “Is it… o-over, Twilight?”

Twilight’s tears only multiplied, yet she couldn’t help but smile at Spike’s voice, that familiar child’s tone. The voice that she had known forever. The dragon that she had hatched and would now, in this moment and forever more consider as a son. Twilight brought a hoof to the side of his muzzle and held it there, and in reply, she simply told him, “Y-yes, Spike. I-it’s over… i-it’s over…” Even with the difficulty it was in holding her smile, she held on. “W-we’re t-together n-now… we’re together, Spike.”

That smile faltered when the dragon smiled as well. A faint and delicate smile. At any moment, Twilight thought it would break. It only shattered more of Twilight’s already broken heart. His moderate lime green eyes continued to pale until they completely clouded over, the light leaving them. He took one last breath, one that seem to last forever, until Spike’s head lowered to the ground, chin down to the grass below his body. As his breath ceased and his eyes closed for the last time, Twilight screamed out into the starlit sky in anguish.

She fell onto his muzzle, resting her forelegs against his snout as she cried. When she closed her eyes, she could see every memory she had of him. So many moments had come to pass. When he accompanied her during the Crystal Empire. When he helped her solve the mystery of Star Swirl’s spell. When he was there during her first time managing the Sun Summer Festival. She let out another loud cry when the last memory she saw was him after he had hatched. She, as a filly, holding the cooing dragon hatchling in her hooves for the first time.

Such a small dragon he had been, but also the kindest Twilight would ever have known. And now he was gone. Another family member’s life had been extinguished, taken away like Shining Armor’s. The wounds he had received from the Xenomorph Queen had been too great to recover from. Twilight did not cease in her crying. This was too much to take in all at once.

Twilight opened her eyes and lifted her gaze to her friends. Pinkie’s mane and tail had deflated, her color graying as she had seen before. “Sp-Spike… th-th-there’s no way…”

“M-my Spi-Spi-Spikey Wi-Wikey…” Rarity’s voice cracked as she covered her eyes with her good foreleg.

Applejack and Rainbow Dash too cried at the sight. But Rainbow Dash slammed her right hoof into the grass. “That s-stupid freak! It’s all that Xenomorph’s fault!”

“Ah can’t believe it… Spike’s gone…” Applejack murmured, hiccuping a little.

“A sad death this day.” Celestia had closed her eyes, a couple of tears come out from underneath her eyelids. “I had hoped that… Spike would survive. It seems that… he died saving everypony.” The others, Daring Do, Aquafrost and her friends only teared up a little. But they did not know Spike like the rest. Retrospect did not seemed fazed, but he still held a grim expression.

This couldn’t have been happening, Twilight thought. None of this was real. Maybe she was asleep at home in Ponyville and just had not woken up from this nightmare. At any moment, she would wake up and find Spike inside the castle like always, reading one of his Power Pony comics or waking up to the smell of his delicious breakfasts in the morning. Maybe even spending time with her and Nyx. However, this new reality quickly set in. She would not be getting Spike back. He was dead. He was gone, and there was no reviving him. The victory that she had taken from the island now soured in her mouth. Wasted was this day, no longer redeemable.

She heard a gasp from her former mentor but did not turn around. She couldn’t. She was not going to dare take her attention away from her dead son. “Celestia!” The voice Twilight heard did not need but an instant for her to recognize. She finally risked a peek, glancing behind her shoulder. Her eyes widened at the sight of Princess Luna standing on top of a hill meters away from them. Behind her was one row of lunar guards.

As Luna hastily ran forward more and more lines of lunar guards reveal themselves. It was amazing to see this many lunar guards with her. Thoughts of Fluttershy came to mind, and it brought a faint smile. Her shy friend had made it after all. Luna ran up to Celestia, and the two sisters moved into a deep embrace. It was a rare scene to see Luna break into tears. She could see those tiny beads of relief falling from her cheeks. “I am so glad that you are all alive,” Luna murmured, resting her head against her elder sister’s right shoulder. “It pains me to see that you have been hurt.”

“Don’t worry, Luna.” Celestia nuzzled her little sister’s left cheek. “There were many deaths today upon that island. Too many to count… and we have lost a few as well, but we have finally stopped the threat once and for all.”

Celestia pulled away. Which Luna spoke again. “We must hurry to Canterlot. Princess Cadance is there in the palace’s medical wing right now. She is giving birth.” Celestia’s eyes widened at this new bit of information.

“When did she get there?”

“About an hour ago.” Luna nodded. “I can teleport us there with your help, but I would also need Twilight’s help as well.” When Twilight heard her name, she only tightened her grip around Spike.

“Twilight?” When she heard Celestia call her name, she closed her eyes and held onto Spike. “Please… we have to go.”

“I know Cadance is having a baby, but I’m not leaving Spike! I won’t leave him alone!” Tears continually ran down her muzzle, a never ending tide of pain.

“I’m sorry, but…” Twilight felt something pull at her. It only prompted her to cry out. She was not going to leave him. She couldn’t. The light gold aura let go, fading as Twilight sobbed quietly to herself. She didn’t feel any resistance, no force trying to pull her back, but she felt a hoof rest against her shoulder. “Please…” Twilight looked up to Celestia, only to see a similar pain as well. “He’s gone… there’s nothing we can do for him now.” Twilight tore her gaze from Celestia’s. She felt her grip loosen. When Celestia pulled her away, she latched onto her former teacher, crying into Celestia’s right shoulder.

“It hurts… I know it hurts,” Celestia murmured, running a hoof through Twilight’s mane. She helped guide Twilight forward, Luna assisting her up the hill. When the group moved up the hill, she felt the comfort of her friends as they wrapped their hooves around her in one big group hug. It was a presence she thought she couldn’t let go of. Yet even with this, she still felt that emptiness only widen.

Celestia’s horn lit up, brightening the area around them. Luna did the same. As Twilight was about to join them, she gazed at Spike one last time. A green fiery glow surrounded his body before his body burst into flames in a sudden spark of green light. Twilight shook at the sight of it. It was almost adding insult to injury; not only had he died, but there would be nothing left of him. She tried to run to his burning body but found she could not, paralyzed by her own grief. “No… S-Spike…” She couldn’t force herself to scream anymore. This pain had taken too much from her. Her heart only sunk deeper and deeper.

After a few moments of watching the green fire consuming him, she saw his body slowly turn to ash, floating away into air. First gone was his head, and then his body. When his tail finally disappeared, Twilight’s cries grew in volume again. The dragon she had raised was now gone for good. Nothing was left except for the burnt patch that his burning body had left behind.

Twilight crumbled to the ground, falling onto her legs, crying at what she had witnessed. This day has gone on for too long. She was waiting for it to be over finally. “Twilight…” She looked back at Celestia and the others again. “We must go. Cadance is waiting for us.” She had not forgotten about Cadance. She could never forget her sister-in-law. But this day had been marred, and nothing of her emotions was left to salvage. Her horn lit up in a magenta aura, using what little magical strength she had left. With one flash of light, they disappeared.

The light only lasted for a moment before all was dark again. Yet above the burnt grass stood an ethereal figure. His moderate pistachio green eyes gazed at where Twilight used to be. The spirit took the form of a small dragon, the same size as a young Spike. His movements were sluggish and sad. However, another ethereal figure appeared and stood by his side. He looked up to the pony and smiled at the familiar presence of Shining Armor. He hugged Shining Armor, spectral tears streaming down his face. They had to have faith that Twilight would make it. The stallion rested his hoof on Spike’s left shoulder, gently guiding the dragon to follow him. As Spike walked beside Shining Armor, the wind picked up, and they disappeared with it, dissipating into sparkling lights as they left this world for the next.


Lights buzzed above Twilight as she sat in the hospital room. This situation was nothing but deja vu. Here she was, sitting in the hospital, waiting for the news of Cadance’s situation. She had gone into labor just over an hour ago. Twilight had been left here in the waiting room. It was completely empty; maybe that was for the best. She winced as the pain in her stomach acted up again. Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash were inside rooms of their own, getting their wounds mended.

‘I can wait. I know I can…’ Her stomach was wrapped with a white cloth slowly staining red. It hurt, but she could wait. She had also heard that Fluttershy had hurt herself. She had no way of landing at the speed that Spitfire and Soarin had told them. Applejack was shocked at what Fluttershy tried to do with her cousin. Now Babs Seed had a mild level of hypothermia; thankfully nothing worse. The doctors said that she would become feverish, but all in all, she’d survive the trauma she had gone through. Twilight could only hope that Applejack would forgive Fluttershy for what she had done, risking her cousin’s life like Fluttershy had.

Pinkie Pie herself was with Fluttershy at the moment. Twilight glanced around the empty room, glad that Pinkie wasn’t there. ‘I’m glad she let me have my space.’ Twilight still felt completely exhausted, physically wounded, and mentally broken once more. She thought she had gotten over Shining Armor’s death, but now she had one more death swirling over her head. Spike’s most recent passing had done a number on her psyche.

She thought she could save him, that there was some way she could reverse the damage that the Xenomorph Queen had caused to Spike. ‘Maybe if I had stayed with him, he’d still be alive. He wouldn’t be dead. The Queen would not have hurt him if I was there to help him.’ Yet Celestia had required her assistance to get the generator to overload. Now the Queen was hopefully incinerated along with that Predator, as well as Bishop Neighland. ‘Good riddance. He deserved such a death.’

A tear trickled down the right side of her muzzle. She blamed Bishop for twisting their morality. He had forced them to kill other ponies. He had them go through another nightmare. His last moments were a justified and appropriate end for him. ‘How can I think of these thoughts and act as if they’re an ordinary part of me? None of this is okay.’ It wasn’t just her own existentialism that was in jeopardy. Everypony had been changed, all in numerous ways that Twilight dared not to imagine.

And now she was right back to where she was, another crisis that she had to go through. She gritted her teeth together and slammed her right hoof into her chair’s right arm. Hiding her muzzle, more tears came down. ‘Why… why did this all have to happen again?’ The words of Bishop were nothing but poison. He had no respect for anypony but himself. She could not see the good that could have come from his actions. How could there have been any good? The Xenomorphs were far from a positive in anypony’s view.

So why did she feel that part of him was right? The Xenomorphs could never be controlled. Was that a good thing? It shouldn’t have been. Yet why was she questioning her own views? Perhaps it was the scientific breakthroughs Bishop and Neighland-Yupony had made. Maybe under different circumstances, the company could have truly benefited ponykind. The advancement in technology, communications, medicine; all of it went to waste at the hooves of a lunatic. ‘C-curse that stallion. For all of his views. For his whole existence.’

Maybe it was his own view juxtaposing with her own. There were some things she could agree to, yet his perspective was so destructive. She shook her head and sighed. Her ears raised at the sound of a door opening. She looked up, freezing up when she saw her parents. “Mom!” When she heard Nyx call to her, she stood up. Nyx ran towards her, Twilight walking as fast as she could to meet her.

Twilight threw her forelegs open and embraced her daughter tightly. Tears streamed down both their muzzles. “I’m so glad to see you,” Twilight murmured, running a hoof through Nyx’s mane when she heard the filly erupt into tears.

“Mom! I’m so happy that you’re okay.” Nyx nuzzled the left side of her mother’s muzzle.

“Twilight.” She looked up as her mother and father trotted towards her. They too joined in the embrace, Twilight Velvet shedding her own tears while Night Light happily sighed. “What happened to you?” Velvet asked as she pulled away. “Princess Celestia told us that Cadance was having her baby. We know you went somewhere dangerous as well, but…”

“What happened?” Night Light simply asked.

Twilight folded her ears and sighed. “We… had to get rid of the same monster that terrorized Ponyville from a month ago.” Velvet and Night Light's’ eyes widened; they too remembered the personal pain the Xenomorph had caused them. “There were more this time, thanks to some madpony who bred more for purposes that would have been self-destructive.” At least that is what she assumed.

“Well… at least you’ve returned home.” Night Light nodded.

“We heard Spike went missing as well. Did you ever find him?” Twilight flinched when she heard her mother ask that particular question.

With a shaky sigh, Twilight spoke. “W-we did find him…”

“Where is he then?” Nyx glanced around. “Is he hurt? Can I go see him?” It hurt so much to hear her daughter say those words. Twilight visibly shook for a moment, breath unsteady as she closed her eyes. Her parents’ ears folded, as did Nyx’s. “M-mom? I-is Spike okay?”

Twilight finally shook her head. When she spoke, the fragility of her voice finally showed. “H-he’s n-not okay. Spike he’s… Spike’s n-not… with us anymore.” When she opened her eyes, her heart felt like it was being pierced by a dagger. To see such pain on her daughter’s muzzle was too much to bear. Nyx whimpered at first until her crying got louder. Twilight wrapped her hooves around her daughter and hiccuped herself.

She could hear the same anguish in her mother’s voice. Looking up, she saw her leaning against her father, whom Night Light let a couple tears trickle down. Spike was as loved as Twilight was; both Twilight Velvet and Night Light considered him a son. And now he was gone, another light snuffed out by the shadows.

Nyx’s crying was unsteady. Twilight could only hold her tightly. She could not bring him back. That was only a dream that would never become a reality. “Excuse me.” Twilight let out a tiny hiccup. She rubbed her eyes with her right hoof and looked up. A doctor stood at the doorway, glancing between his clipboard and the group. “Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

Twilight felt her mother and father separate from her, Velvet bringing Nyx into an embrace. “Y-yes. Is this about Cadance?”

The doctor nodded. “Cadance’s baby has just been born. We’ve already checked the foal’s vitals as well as the mother’s. Both are in excellent health.” It was good news. Some kind of light brought back into her life. “Cadance has called you back.” He glanced back at her parents and daughter. “Are they with you?”

Twilight glanced back, returning her attention to the doctor, and nodded. “Yes, they’re family.”

“Right this way then.” He waved them over before walking through the doorway. Twilight quickly trotted forward, her parents not too far behind. Nyx trotted up beside Twilight, whom rested a hoof around Nyx’s shoulders. The doctor turned to his right and up a stairwell, Twilight and the others following him up two flights before he exited into the next hallway. There they continued to follow him until he stopped by a door at the end of the hall. “I’ll leave you all to be with her.”

Twilight nodded her thanks and entered the room. She saw Celestia and Luna standing side by side to the right of Cadance’s hospital bed, and laying there was Cadance herself. While she didn’t look tired in any way, Twilight could at least tell she was exhausted from the slow rising and falling of her chest beneath her bed’s covers. When she saw Twilight, her eyes brightened for a moment, but then a tear fell down. She must have looked a mess. “Are y-you going to be okay, Twilight? I heard about Spike.”

Twilight shuddered at the name. It filled her with so much pain, yet she forced a smile and shakily nodded. “Y-yeah… I-I’ll be okay.” The look Twilight received did not show any reassurance, but Cadance nodded. The foal cooed in Cadance’s forelegs. Twilight could only see the blanket held around the filly, but smiled when Cadance brought a gentle hoof to her baby’s muzzle.

“How’s the baby?” Velvet asked, a small smile on her muzzle.

Cadance turned her attention to Twilight’s mother. “She’s going to be okay.”

“It’s a girl…?” Nyx seemed to brighten up at the news, but Twilight knew that it was going to be a while before she could even get over Spike’s death. The same could have been said about herself.

“She’s an alicorn as well,” Celestia added. Twilight, Nyx, and her parents gasped at the news. “This is a surprise for even Luna and I. It’s been so long since one has been born naturally.”

“Yes, this fascinating news bodes well. It will be good to have another alicorn in this world.” Luna smiled after she spoke.

Twilight had heard the legends that alicorns were at first much like her--Unicorns, Earth Ponies, and Pegasi who had gained the title and transformed into what she and the other princesses were. The only exception was one from a long time ago: the past ruler of the Crystal Empire known as Princess Amore. But to hear from Celestia and Luna that they could be born was a surprise indeed.

“Twilight?” She turned to Cadance, who waved her closer. Twilight did so and stood next to Cadance’s bed. It was then that Cadance extended her forelegs, prompting for Twilight to hold the foal. Twilight smiled and gently picked the foal up in her forelegs. When she finally got a look at the baby filly, a few tears trickled down her muzzle.

From the way she looked, she definitely took after Cadance: Her bright lavender eyes, her pale cerise fur, even the blue-violet-and-lavender-colored mane. But the sapphire blue in her hair had a very uncanny resemblance to her late brother, Shining Armor. While her mane was a little thinner and much more refined, the similarity was unmistakable. “She looks beautiful…” Twilight glanced up at Cadance and saw a couple tears trickle down her sister-in-law’s muzzle as well. “What’s her name?”

“I… tried to come up with something that I knew would honor his memory. So… I thought that her name could be Gleaming Heart.” Twilight’s smile seemed to finally return after so much tragedy. Glancing down at her niece once more, she watched as the foal cooed again, smiling when she saw Twilight.

“It’s perfect…” She heard hoofsteps behind her and saw her mother. She gently passed the baby to her. Velvet smiled as well, tears coming down her muzzle.

“It’s an excellent name, Cadance,” Velvet murmured. The baby giggled at the sight of another pony. It had been so long yet felt so good to feel happy again. Twilight thought that they would lose such a privilege to show that expression. Cadance’s baby, however, seemed to bring back some of that happiness. Twilight took a step back but gasped as the pain in her stomach fired up again.

“Twilight.” She hesitantly glanced up at Cadance. “A-are you okay?” Twilight glanced away for a moment before shaking her head.

“I… was hurt. My stomach’s healed a little, but--”

“Then please, go get help.” Cadance urged her sister-in-law. “I don’t like seeing you hurting so much.”

“Yes, Twilight.” Celestia nodded. “Please let the doctor tend to your wounds.” Twilight looked up and went to speak, but Celestia held a hoof up. “Do not worry. We’ll still be here.” Twilight relented and finally nodded. She walked past her parents and daughter, exiting the door and running into the doctor from before.

“Is everything alright?” the doctor asked.

“Everything’s fine.” Twilight nodded but winced at the pain. He seemed to notice, to which Twilight added. “Are… there any doctors that could help tend to my stomach wound?”

The doctor nodded. “Right this way, Princess.” She nodded her thanks and followed. As she did, that somber mood returned. This day, even as it ended on a happy note, still was overshadowed by the gloom of death. There was only so much that could be healed. Twilight’s physical wounds could be fixed, yet the mental damage she had suffered would only stick with her. Shining’s death would still be hard to get over. But Spike’s untimely demise seemed as though it would stick with her for as long as she walked the face of Equus.

Chapter XXIII: All That Was Lost

View Online

Twilight held her gaze to the floor, barely moving an inch. The light of the new morning gave way to another day that brought grim work. An unwelcoming cold wind flew past the carriage’s window, but not once did she shiver. Eyes blank and hollow, her thoughts came and went in a swift disorganized mess. She gave no attention to them, for none of them could be validated.

“Twilight?” She forced her gaze upward to meet Celestia’s. “I know that you wished to accompany my sister and me, but yesterday was not kind to any of us. You did not have to come along.”

“I-it’s okay.” Her voice barely reached above a whisper, but she continued. “I don’t mind. Besides, with all due respect, I could ask the same.”

“Of course.” Celestia’s calm mask did not show much, except for the small tender smile that cracked through. “The wounds I received last night need to be tended to, but the matters of yesterday’s events have not concluded.”

“And indeed, they shall be concluded.” Luna took her turn to speak, sitting adjacent from Twilight. “Not only do I see my sister’s safety as paramount, but yours as well. You had the chance to remain in Canterlot yet decided to come.” It was not wrong, Twilight thought. But Twilight did not feel the need to be scrutinized because of her wound.

She could only sigh. “I know… but I want to be here.” That impulse for her journey here was not just aligned to her royal duties. If she were to be honest, she had gone along with Princesses Celestia and Luna so that she could learn the truth concerning whether Bishop and the Xenomorph Queen had survived. While she had estimated that the probabilities for their survival were not high, there was always room for error. Twilight’s brow furrowed slightly. “I have to know if they survived or not. I just have to…”

Closing her eyes, she breathed inward and exhaled. Resting her hooves against her stomach, taking great care to be gentle against her wound, she felt the carriage around her decrease in size. So much had been lost, and so many lives had been taken, some that should not have left. Twilight shuddered as a tear trickled down her muzzle. She opened her eyes at the soft touch of plume, tracing the wing tip over to Celestia. The small smile that her former mentor held now shone with a new yet soft bright concern. “Don’t worry. His death… will not be in vain.”

Twilight nodded, only to shudder again. She wiped the tear away and glanced outside the window. The island came back into view once more. Her muzzle scrunched up, shaking her head. “What’s that smell?”

“The smell of that which burns.” Luna’s cryptic words did not reveal much, but as the carriage circled around to land, she saw what Luna had meant. There past the bridge connected to the runway was what had survived of the admissions building. So little remained standing, flames dotting the few metal beams that stood, as if in defiance of its own destruction.

It was only a moment after seeing a third of the building still existing that the carriage came down with a soft landing. Celestia and Luna were the first to exit, then Twilight followed after. Stepping out from the vehicle, she scanned the runway itself, which hardly appeared affected by the devastation. With a silent signal, the three princesses moved together. Celestia glanced over her shoulder at the four guards that had pulled their carriage. “Stay here and keep watch. We’ll be fine.” They nodded in salute and did as their princess asked.

With that out of the way, they continued onward to the bridge. The observations Twilight had made earlier seemed sufficient. The runway was the farthest building away from the explosion. But the bridge, as they came upon it, had been torn apart. Celestia took a step forward, and then another soft step. While the bridge did appear that it could hold them, Celestia unfolded her wings. Luna and Twilight followed her example, ascending into the air with a few quick beats of their wings.

It was only a few seconds before they landed on the other side. Nopony spoke a word to each other. It was a silence that Twilight could not get used to--an eerie quiet with the gentle roars of flames scattered across what was left of the grounds surrounding the admissions building. Twilight was the first to take a few steps, which led her further away from the others. Yet taking a quick second to look back, they were still within sight of her.

With that reassurance, she slowly circled the building, only seeing a third of said perimeter. The orange glow of the flames did keep her somewhat warm, a welcomed sensation after feeling the cold winds of fall chill her body. After making another small bit of progress scanning the rubble, littered with ash and metal fragments, she saw another much larger cloud of smoke farther away. “Princess?” Twilight called to Celestia, who trotted close by with her sister as they completed the last bit of their circle.

Twilight pointed towards the source of her concern, to which Celestia and Lunas’ gazes followed. They did not show shock, but Luna unfurled her wings. “I will go see where the smoke originates from. You two stay here and keep looking. We may not find any survivors, but we cannot lose hope yet.” With those last words, she left, dust flying up as she quickly ascended into the air and towards the dark billowy column.

They watched Luna for a few moments before Celestia murmured, “Come, Twilight. Let’s continue our search.” Twilight gave a curt nod and followed close by her former teacher. Returning her gaze to the desolate ruins around her, slowly going over foot by foot of rubble, an odd sense of emotion, or lack thereof. It was a glum thought, that she barely seemed scared by all of this destruction. It was an uneasy feeling, that her reaction was not of her normal response. ‘Bishop… curse you.’

The two stopped next to the large wall of rocks, the same ones that had covered them from the Xenomorph’s sight and that Bishop’s guards tried to hide behind when they were targeted by said creatures. A tumble of rubble attracted Twilight’s attention. She cast a purple spotlight to search on top of the dusty ground below. A pony’s body lay outlined underneath the rubble, next to one of the rocks. “Princess!”

Celestia looked towards the light and paced towards the pony’s location. A gold light from her horn hit the ground, dust and debris flying upwards as the magic beam dug deeper and deeper next to the pony. As the hole Celestia was making went deeper, some of the debris slid off the pony. They both heard a gruff set of coughs, and when the dust cleared, Twilight’s eyes widened in surprise.

That reaction only lasted a minute before a fierce glare replaced her previous surprised look. “Bishop…”

The stallion only coughed in reply, the debris sliding off his upper frame, but remaining over the top of his lower half. He opened his eyes and stared at Twilight and Celestia, only to give a pained chuckle. “W-what a surprise… it seems I was saved after all.”

“You survived the blast, surprisingly.” Celestia’s face remained calm, yet her eyes told a different tale, glowering at the half-buried stallion.

“You sound so s-shocked.” Bishop chuckled again until he erupted into a coughing fit. A closer look, as Twilight scanned over his dust-covered body, revealed dark blood stains marked down his muzzle, parts of his clothing shredded here and there. “And here I thought… t-that you, out of all ponies, would show more concern.”

Celestia’s frown only deepened. “I only show concern for ponies that haven’t tried to kill me and to those who haven’t traded ponies’ lives for their own gain.”

Bishop didn’t smile or frown. He only looked up to the sky. “F-forgive me… if I sound like I’m in disbelief. Never did I imagine that the most benevolent of princesses would have such a dark side.” The words he spoke were like thorns, which seemed to irritate Celestia even more.

“But why?” Twilight shared the same scowl on Celestia’s muzzle. “Why would you sacrifice your own kind for creatures that kill anything that isn’t their own?”

“The profit was one thing… but to prove a point. A point that these creatures were breakable.” The emotions he gave were all but mobile, until he seemed to settle for one that gave off a sardonic feeling. “Those ‘humans’ in the videos… they couldn’t succeed. They weren’t anywhere close to coming to such an accomplishment. I believed that I could have… if given the time.”

“You have failed. It seems that you have fallen just as short as they did,” Twilight hissed, and thought that this comparison would put him in his place.

Yet he smiled all the same. “Progress is all about trial and error. With their advancement in technology, they should have been able to… ‘persuade’ these creatures. But they didn’t. So what right do you have to compare me to those that have failed?”

Celestia took a step forward, her eyes burning with an unbridled animosity. “So then… what were the ponies that died creating more of those monsters? Were they simply errors in your trials?”

Bishop met Celestia’s gaze without flinching. “Now that I have lost all of my Xenomorphs, I guess you could say that.”

“You’re a monster, Bishop Neighland,” Twilight growled as she too took a step forward. “How dare you act as if those ponies’ lives did not matter? To treat them as objects? You’re nothing but a fiend.”

Bishop only chuckled. “A monster does not think and cannot feel emotion. This was all done because I had a will. And my will… my wish was to defend Equestria.” He closed his eyes and murmured, “So don’t label me as the same as that human, Dr. Markovich. I’m a pony much like you and Celestia. And so long as I have my will, I am just like you. And you are just like me.” His eyes lowered as he let a serene smile form on his muzzle.

Twilight did not know how to respond. His words were nothing but poison to her ears. She stomped into the ash below her hoof. They heard the flapping of wings and looked back to see Luna flying their way. When she landed, she rested them back at her sides and opened her mouth to speak, but stopped when she saw Bishop lying on the ground in front of them. “Ah… so this foul one has miraculously survived the destruction of his property?”

“So then… Twilight, Celestia?” Bishop spoke again, but the smile left his muzzle. “You call me a monster. Yet you two seem to forget the one who tried to kill you in the past.” What he said did not make sense at first, but then Twilight turned towards Luna. It soon became clear whom he was speaking of. “A mare who let her own jealousy take control of her, which turned her into a monster that nearly killed you two. Look no further than the sister you align yourself with, Cele--”

“Don’t you dare talk about my sister that way!!” Celestia yelled, her horn coming to life once more. “How dare you?! How dare you call her a monster?!” Luna, however, stood still. Twilight couldn’t read her, watching as emotion after emotion passed through her eyes.

Bishop only seemed to shake his head. It was there and then that Celestia’s horn brightened. “Do you remember the promise that I had made before? When you decided to run after I gave you a way out? It’s time I kept that promise.” It happened so fast. Bishop glowed for one second, before he began coughing up blood. A singed circular hole went through the center of his chest, the stallion taking a few breaths until he stopped moving, his chest lowering one last time.

Twilight could not move. The light gold aura disappeared from Celestia’s horn. Shakily Twilight turned towards her former teacher. She had thought she would never see something like that so suddenly. “Y-you… killed him…” She had seen death already, but this was something new. Something that she thought was foreign for Celestia.

“I had given him my word. And so I thought it was best to keep my promise.” She spoke without a tinge of regret. When she looked towards Luna, there was a familiar expression that she shared with Twilight.

“Celestia, I…” Luna’s surprise slowly lessened until she sighed. “Thank you… for silencing this cur.” What was going on? Twilight did not expect this. She almost thought that Luna would have killed him just for what he said, and yet the alarmed shock that Luna had gone through disappeared only moments after. This continuous cycle of death was slowly becoming something of a norm, a norm that only filled Twilight with more and more apprehensive thoughts.

Yet there was only one form of positive news from this. The stallion now responsible for the horrors here at his facility was gone. There would be no return to these horrific events. It was a blessing, no matter how morbid that reality was. As Twilight took a step back, the ground rumbled beneath her hooves. It went away as soon as it came, but the ground shook when she took another step. There was a loud crash behind them, and they all quickly turned around.

When Twilight heard a familiar roar, her pupils shrunk. “No way… it’s still alive!?” She watched as a black clawed hand rose from the ground, gripping the sides of the hole until the Queen Xenomorph’s eyeless gaze rested on them. Her crest held glowing scratches of acidic blood, and as the Queen slowly crawled out from the hole, they saw that her body was covered with scratches.

The Queen’s smaller right arm was held by her side, like she was injured. She took a step forward and limped on her left leg. But that did not stop the Queen from charging at the three, roaring with hatred. “Luna, Twilight! We must put it to sleep, and quickly!” Why Celestia said such a thing baffled her, but Twilight followed the princess’ wishes, horn alight as a magenta aura mixed in with the dark blue and light gold aura of Luna and Celestia’s magic. With a darker aura around the Queen, her step slowed, but she still came towards them.

Unfurling her wings, Twilight took off with Luna and Celestia. The Queen rammed into the array of rocks, screeching at them as the three took off into the sky. After only a second, the Queen’s movements appeared sluggish, but her chitinous head glowed with a light blue aura. Luna suddenly stopped in mid-flight and was slowly pulled downwards, yelping in surprise. “Luna!” Celestia cried. Another thread of light gold surrounded Luna as Celestia pulled in a tug of war with the Queen, while using the sleep spell.

The light blue light inside the Queen’s chitinous skull flickered on and off, until she let out a weakened cry and fell onto her left side with a loud thud. The aura around Luna disappeared, afterwards Celestia retracted the gold aura. Cautiously, the three princesses slowly floated down to the ground. Twilight’s horn activated again and surrounded part of the Queen’s hand. She prodded it quickly and backed away, but got no response. The sound of it slowly breathing signified as well that it had been put to sleep. “So… we should get rid of it, right?

“Of course.” A bright dark blue aura illuminated the shape of a sword, which formed from mere nothingness. She walked up to the Queen’s eyeless gaze and pointed the sword downward. “This nightmare will end one way or another.”

Twilight took a quick glance towards Celestia. The stare she showed was uncaringly, frighteningly merciless. She had just killed Bishop Neighland, another pony, one line that she herself dared not to cross. With a simple nod, Celestia murmured, “Yes. End this monster’s nightmarish existence.

With one swift movement, the sword entered through the Queen’s head. No cry. No last uttering sound. There was a silence afterwards, the acid pooling out underneath the sword. Luna swiftly brought it up until the sword disappeared in a flash of dark blue.

“So… it’s over now? It really is over?” Twilight murmured, her eyes not leaving the Xenomorph’s motionless body.

“Yes…” Celestia slowly blinked. “Let us return home. We shall mourn those we’ve lost.” Celestia and Luna walked past Twilight, who stared for a moment longer before following behind.

‘Shining… Spike… you can be at rest now. We’ve done it… it’s over… i-it’s really over…’


“Luna?” Twilight glanced up at Celestia as the three of them walked towards the palace doors. Another few hours had passed since their departure back to the island and then returning home once more. Having just left their carriage, Twilight felt exhausted despite that the day was only reaching the beginning of the afternoon. “I have to ask: after you left to investigate the other smoke column, what did you find before you returned?”

Luna looked up to the ceiling, taking a moment before returning her gaze to Celestia. “When I came upon the mysterious column of smoke, all I managed to discover was that whatever the smoke originated from was a large explosion. Part of the island this smoke billowed from had a chunk of it missing; unfortunately, I am unaware as to what could have caused such destruction.”

While it was a shame to not know what had happened, Twilight felt it was better to not know what had caused it.

As they reached the palace doors, the guard on the left approached them. “Greetings, Your Highnesses.” He gave a low bow before continuing. “Somepony has requested your presence in the medical section of the palace. In the lab rooms below the waiting room. Number was… zero, zero, three.”

“Did this pony tell you why they wished to see me?”

“Unfortunately… she said that she would only speak to you, as well as Princess Luna and Princess Twilight, Your Highness.”

Twilight could not discern who would require their presence. Hopefully, everything might be going back to normal, at least what passed for normalcy nowadays. “Thank you for the message.” The guard nodded before walking off to the side and returning to his position.

Celestia’s light gold aura surrounded the doors before opening them up. Twilight followed the two inside and stayed quiet, this thoughtful silence giving her a moment to form an idea as to who was waiting for them. Yet nopony came to mind. Her parents were likely coming in again today to check on Cadance. The rest of her friends were still recovering from their wounds, while Pinkie Pie was doing her best to cheer them up as well.

“Who do you suppose is waiting for us, Celestia?” Luna asked, a slight glance towards her elder sister.

Celestia shook her head. “It could be a delegate for all we know. While it does feel unexpected, I can’t surmise why none of the castle staff would’ve let this go by without my attention.”

Something the guard had said gave them a hint. “The guard did say that this pony was a mare,” Twilight began. “Since we haven’t received word of an appointment, maybe it’s somepony we know?”

With a glance, Celestia gave a small smile. “You could be right. Maybe we’re overthinking this.”

And there was so much that had to be done. Some of it was planning an event, one Twilight dared not to go into detail just yet. ‘Not yet… I’m not ready to think about Spike’s funeral.’ It had to be done, but she could not look forward to it. She blinked, the light coming through the windows above. Twilight glanced upward, seeing the sun shining down on them. Turning her gaze away, she stared down the hall and noticed that they had come upon the medical section of the palace.

But Celestia and Luna veered towards the stairwell just before the doors to the waiting room. Following the two down the steps, they descended to the next floor. The first thing Twilight noticed though was that the lighting wasn’t as bright down here. She shivered a little, a cold air passing through the hall they stood in. “Why is it so dark down here?”

Celestia seemed to chuckle at this question. “The scientists argued that a certain amount of light might cause harm to some of their experiments. So I played along and decided to install a softer lighting system. It does save us a good percentage of money for the palace’s lighting bills.”

The two sisters glanced down to the right and walked a couple of meters, Twilight following close behind, until they came upon a door with the same room number the guard described. Celestia opened the door and entered first, with Luna and Twilight following behind. The only light that they could see was a blue-colored hue from a wall lined with X-rays of certain parts of a pony’s body.

But beneath that blue light, a pony appeared sitting in a chair with her back turned to the three. “I was wondering when I’d finally get to meet the prestigious princesses of Equestria.” There was a slight hint of an accent, Twilight thought. Pairing it to other voices, the only one she could recognize was a Neighponese, but with a clear pronunciation of the Equestrian language.

“And who might we be speaking to?” Celestia asked.

“A mare who wishes to speak and be heard in return.” A voice unfamiliar to them all. The chair turned around, and while the mare herself was unknown to them, Nenne Seion did not seem to show a single emotion.

“What is it that you wish to say?” Luna followed up with Celestia’s earlier question.

“There is a truce that I request from you three. You see, I am… or was until yesterday, a member of the company known as Neighland-Yupony.” When she said that name, the three princesses stiffened, gazes hardening at the mysterious mare. “My name is Dr. Nenne Seion. What I wish is for a pardon from Bishop Neighland’s actions, for I believe you would hold me accountable for his actions.”

Celestia was the first to relax, her calm demeanor unchanged. “Firstly, I must ask: you say you were a former member until yesterday’s events. If you do work for Neighland-Yupony, why were you not there?”

“A simple answer--I was well aware of the chance that those Xenomorphs would have broken free from their bonds. I did not foresee how and when, but I was prepared nonetheless and escaped.”

“So you left all your coworkers to die?” Twilight’s wings flared upwards, a hostile frown upon her muzzle.

“Truth be told, I could not and cannot be held for their actions. If they thought the underground tunnels were the safest place, then that is their fault.” Nenne shrugged. “They did not study the Xenomorph for the entirety of its first month of imprisonment. Speaking of the first one…” A small smile graciously replaced her indifferent demeanor. “How is the Queen doing?”

Celestia quickly answered. “She’s dead. We made sure of that. Now we know for certain that this nightmare is over.”

“Really? Especially with the condition you’re all in, I’m surprised you pulled it off.” Nenne said, shrugging to herself. “Then again, I cannot truly deny that fact. You are, after all, powerful princesses”.

“Is there a reason why you asked for us?” Luna asked, getting the question out of the way.

Nenne hummed for a moment until she sighed. “I was hoping that you would have kept the Queen alive. Unfortunate. But at least I won’t have to worry about that.”

Nenne stared at the ground for a brief moment before clapping her hooves together. “I have a proposal for you all then.” A briefcase lifted up in her gray-aqua aura. “Before you ask what is in the briefcase, they are strands of DNA from the Xenomorphs. I shall ask you three later if I can take blood, for after having been close to these creatures, we do not know if they have any unknown diseases. I am willing to find cures if that is the case. It’s better to be safe than sorry. And while I work on said cures, I’d like to be pardoned of all actions of my involvement with Bishop Neighland and his company.”

“Are you serious?” Twilight tilted her head, a look of confusion across her muzzle. “We don’t even know if she can keep that promise. She’s from Neighland-Yupony. How can we trust her?”

“You may have some truth there, Princess Twilight.” Nenne’s smile disappeared and was replaced with a faint frown. “While I was a part of your dragon’s… containment authority over at Neighland-Yupony, I had no part in his capture. He was treated horribly. I cannot deny that. But I… was the only one who felt pity for him.”

“If you really did… then you’d let him go.” Twilight’s tone harshened, glowering at the mare. “Why… what was the purpose of keeping him there? He was only a young drake. A child is dead now because of your actions!”

Nenne sighed but persisted. “Did you know that it was Bishop who was responsible for his capture? If not, then when you’ll hear this, it may change the perspective of the situation. The reason for his capture? Bishop wanted to know what an Xenomorph would look like… if it came from a dragon.” Twilight flinched upon hearing this information. “If I must add… I didn’t much care for Bishop. He was willing to go to lengths that I myself thought were… too much. Speaking of whom, I assume he is in prison now, correct?”

“No. He’s dead. I saw to that personally,” Celestia murmured, an eerie calmness to her.

“Really?” Nenne’s eyes widened. “I… am surprised. I didn’t believe that any of you would dare take such an action.”

“It’s… a good thing, too.” Twilight’s voice shook. “He deserved it… he doesn’t deserve to be alive.” Hearing that Bishop was planning to use Spike as a host was beyond horrifying. It was sick. Those foreign thoughts she had tried to keep at bay were welcome this time.

Celestia brought her attention back to Seion. “If you are telling the truth, do you believe these Xenomorphs could transmit some type of disease?”

Nenne looked up to the ceiling for a brief moment until her gaze met Celestia’s. “While that fact is not known, there is a possibility that it could be true. If you are willing to pardon me, I can study the biology of the Xenomorphs with the current vials I have, as well as create cures if there is ever such an occasion. Just to be safe.”

It was silent for a moment before Celestia relented. “Alright. You have our word. If you’ll come with us, we’ll bring you to a room here in the medical section.” With that last order, Nenne walked up to Celestia, before the four mares exited the room. The door shut. But the pain from these experiences, as Twilight followed behind, was far from over.


The aching pain in Twilight’s stomach did not go away. There she stood beneath the cloudy, misty sky, a perfect way to sum up the mood that encompassed the event about to take place. Gazing to her right, she saw Rarity and Applejack alongside Princess Luna. To her left stood Pinkie, Fluttershy, Rainbow and Princess Cadance. “Thank you all for coming today.” Celestia stood next to her, standing tall by her right side.

Glancing down at the top of the right side of the platform were her parents and daughter, their tears noticeable, Nyx crying quietly to herself. Twilight shared the same set of emotions. Tears formed into rivulets down her muzzle, and she occasionally let out a soft hiccup. The world grew even darker behind the black veil she wore. To her front beyond the platform, Twilight saw what looked like the entirety of the Crystal Empire, and then some. “We come today to commemorate and honor a life that is precious to us,” Celestia continued.

“The life we have most recently lost was one that should not have been taken away. Spike the dragon, an honorable young drake who gave his life to protect those he loved and cared for.” It was too easy to hear some ponies cry or moan in the great gathering of ponies beyond. The Crystal Ponies all had a right to grieve. They had lost the heroic figure that they all practically worshipped. “Thanks to his actions… he has saved the lives of two princesses, Princess Twilight and myself included, as well as the lives of the mares, Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and others.”

Twilight would only require a quick glance to see that her friends were now sharing their sorrow as well, Rarity being the first one to break down uncontrollably. Twilight wasn’t too far behind before she began crying once more. It was hard enough to just be here. To know that she was “celebrating” the life of another one of her family members. But to experience such pain again was grueling; she had wished it would not come upon her for another time. Shining Armor was enough. Now she was forced to go through yet another grieving process.

And a large undertaking this one was going to be. “Spike was a kind soul. He showed great compassion and care for those he loved. And with these wonderful traits… he used them to save the ponies that needed him. In return for his service, the threat that ravaged the island is now gone for good.” What a lie that was, Twilight thought. Although the Queen was truly dead now, the fact that it had survived the explosion upset her. His death, while still holding meaning, had lost the validity that she had once thought it had. Or maybe there never was to begin with, for Spike would never desire such gratuitous praise even from her.

“But there is still one thing we cannot forget. For there were other lives that day.” Celestia bowed her head, closing her eyes. “Upon that night two days ago, many lives were lost. And with Spike the dragon’s death, it must be known that they too have a right to be membered as well.” While Twilight had known of Flash’s death, it was a surprise to learn about Fleetfoot’s death; when the Wonderbolt had not shown up with Soarin and Spitfire, the thought had come to mind once or twice. “To commemorate their lives, a marble memorial shall be built in Canterlot with all of their names engraved into the rock, to give memory and to ease the pain of the families who all are grieving this day.”

Although Celestia would not say it, Twilight and the others were able to find a number. Three hundred plus lives had been lost this day, and in total, only a small percentage added. Yet this amount of death had not been common in Equestria’s most recent of memories. What had taken place was yet another fact of the new aliens that had found their way onto their home world.

A fact that had frightened them all. A fact that would not go away. “As for Spike… a new statue will be built here in the Crystal Empire. His name shall be remembered for the ages… not forgotten.” Twilight dreaded the fact that soon there would be nothing left to say. “I thank you all for coming today. To those who have lost loved ones… remember them for what they have done, the good that they brought into this world. When you remember the light that they shined upon this world, it will truly keep them in your memory.” With one final nod, the ceremony was over. A casket behind Celestia was picked up in an array of blue auras by Crystal Guards.

As they moved, Twilight slowly followed behind them. But no sooner did she move than two ponies wrapped their hooves around her. She reciprocated the gesture, hugging her parents back. When her daughter joined, it only made it worse. It was only a moment later did her friends join in. United together in one last hug, nothing else was to be said. Upon this day, a dark scar had been placed. Upon this day… a light had been snuffed out and its epitaph written. For what it was worth, Twilight thought, she still felt the presence of those two who were beloved to her.

‘Shining… Spike… I-I’m so sorry… I tried… I r-really did… I-I really did…’

Epilogue: Fate's Written Epitaph ~ Part I

View Online

With a great heavy breath, Applejack lifted up a bag and made her way from the right side of the barn wall, sunlight entering through the open glassless windows. The rustic smell of familiar settings was a relief. With a steady step, she made her way forward, passing through the barn’s open entrance.

Each step she took, however, was slow. A quick glance from her injured right shoulder and her left leg only brought memories. One week had passed since the “adventure” she’d had with her friends at Neighland-Yupony. The events were still fresh in her mind. ‘First it was mah shoulder. Now my leg.’ Two wounds that only prompted the return of bad experiences.

Injuries that she had received from the Xenomorphs. The thought brought a displeased frown, Applejack facing the ground while she walked. “It’s so hard ta just ferget about it.” And how could it not be? Both events were traumatizing, happening only a month apart. It was a timeframe that was too short; a period hardly allowing any of them to destress and recover from either experience.

Pinkie Pie had been the only one who hadn't received an injury. Lucky her. Fluttershy had hurt herself pretty bad. And still, while Applejack had forgiven her about the stunt she pulled with Babs, it was an action that scared her to pieces. Rarity's hoof had slightly mended, however, she'd probably be walking with some support for the rest of her life. And Rainbow Dash, much like Pinkie had barely gotten a scrape, although the cut on the right side of her barrel said otherwise. Twilight herself was only just getting better after an Xenomorph thrusted its tail into her stomach. Only the least to say about what happened to Daring, Crystal, Aqua, Patchy, and Spark.

If only they were that lucky. Applejack closed in on a fenceline and dropped the bag to her side. Picking it up with her left foreleg, she raised it upward and over the fence, pellets clinking along the metal interior of the tray. There was a racket of grunts until a group of pigs came trotting along on their stubby legs. Their easily recognizable oinking replaced the frown she had with a faint grin.

She pulled the bag back in front of the fence line. As the pigs greedily fed upon their meal, Applejack looked back at the bag. A faint ache in her shoulder and back left leg said otherwise. She growled to herself. “Stupid Xenomorphs…” After being injured as she was, now twice, she thought she wouldn’t have been useful to her family. At times there were tasks she could no longer normally do. Even a simple task now required more effort than when she wasn’t injured.

If only her chores weren’t as difficult. With a sigh, she reached for the bag. She went to lift it up with her right hoof but felt the weight decrease. Glancing to her side, a faint smile formed. She watched as Apple Bloom lifted part of the bag on top of her back. “Thanks, Apple Bloom.”

Her little sister only nodded. “Ah got all mah chores done. Thought Ah’d go ahead and help yah.” Applejack could only smile.

Applejack couldn’t ask for a better sibling. Once she let her pride get in the way, not accepting help from others, even her own family. And after she had seen through her own chagrin, accepting help from others felt more and more like second nature. “Thanks, squirt.” She couldn’t help the chuckle that came out, as Apple Bloom shook her head at the nickname.

They lifted up the bag of pig feed, making their way back to the barn at a pace much faster than before. Putting it down Applejack wiped a hoof across her brow. “How’d yer chores go?”

Apple Bloom shrugged. “Not too hard. They’re gettin’ easier with each day.” A good thing to hear. At this rate, Apple Bloom would be able to do almost everything. Yet an unfortunate reality for Applejack presented itself. With these injuries slowing her down, it was almost too difficult to perform even the simplest of chores, and impossible to complete a third of the most important tasks.

But Applejack knew better. These problems would not get to her. “She’s had some pretty good teachers, if Ah do say so mahself.” The sisters turned towards the entrance, watching as Granny Smith slowly walked into the barn.

If there was another thing that Applejack was glad to see was that Granny Smith finally got out of the house every now and then. “If Apple Bloom keeps this up, she may outdo you sooner or later.” Granny Smith cackled a little.

Applejack playfully rolled her eyes. “Do you think our brother would’ve said the same thing?” Apple Bloom’s question was sudden, eyes wide, catching Applejack off guard.

She glanced down at Apple Bloom, resting her left hoof on Apple Bloom’s shoulder. “Big McIntosh would be proud of you, Apple Bloom. You know that.” The frown on Apple Bloom’s muzzle said otherwise. “He’s… gone. But Ah know he’d appreciate you fer doin’ all you could to improve yerself.” The reassurance appeared to have some affect, Apple Bloom’s frown disappearing.

But the thought did bother Applejack. She glanced towards a distant hill, the place that they had laid him to rest alongside their parents. So much had happened, and so much was lost. But Applejack figured that they couldn’t let this overshadow their lives. She stood up and rested a hoof over Apple Bloom’s head. With a giggle, she ruffled her mane. “Come on now, let’s get back to it.”

With a nod, Apple Bloom followed Applejack and Granny Smith out of the barn. To lose family was an awful experience, but Applejack knew that they’d find a way to recover. Time healed all wounds, right? Then they’d have to wait but still keep Big McIntosh in their hearts.


A bump shook Crystal’s seat. She glanced at the opposite end of the room. The world passed her by in a blur of green and blue. Beams of light broke through the cloudy sky, entering into the cabin Crystal sat in. She sighed to herself, glancing down at her back legs. The week that had come and gone was, for a better word, a little too slow. Not fast enough to rid her of the nightmares that plagued not only herself, but everypony she knew, too.

‘That reminder will always be there. Even with these Xenomorphs gone. They’re still scaring us… even killing us in our dreams.’ Crystal could not understand how this could be. Maybe these monsters, horrifying as they were, left an impression even after death. So while the living would have seen the last of them, their dreams would be invaded by the vile nightmares. All hope of being safe, while true, is gone when the creatures could come into their dreams whenever they desired.

It was an unfortunate circumstance, but those dreams would go away eventually. However, Crystal had something else taking up her conscious. An objective, if she were to put it in that type of light. She had met with Celestia earlier in the week. Crystal had not understood what the reason was until the princess let her know that a former friend was still alive. She pushed her hooves into the seat, the uncomfortable memory of their last talk. ‘Celestia believes that I can mend what happened with Sunset… maybe that’s true. But how well will that talk even go?’

It was one of the many problems that plagued her mind. She still had to find a house in Canterlot, one that she and Aquafrost would share--that was a more positive thought that swam through the negative. Yet there was only so much that Crystal could hold on to. With her venture ahead, while a short one, Crystal had thought of where she was going. There was only one entrance, and that was in Ponyville.

‘It’s only been a week, too. Wonder how Twilight’s holding up.’ It was funny, Crystal thought. Here she was venturing towards Ponyville, a small town that held the one pony that she once had a great aversion towards. Now she sought help from said pony to have the chance of even seeing Sunset Shimmer again. Although she had helped Twilight during those terrifying hours at Neighland-Yupony, there were still some feelings she held that, if she were to be honest, weren’t exactly surrounded with daisies and sunshine.

It wasn’t difficult to see that Twilight wasn’t responsible for replacing her. Her involvement in that process was but a minor role. It was Celestia who had replaced Crystal Rune. However, even so, as the saying went, wounds weren’t exactly easy to close. Crystal glanced at the floor in front of her. ‘That’ll take time. That’s a given.’ It was just a matter of spending time with the mare she thought had wronged her for so long, the one that she thought had gotten it right, whereas Sunset and even she herself had failed.

Maybe it was easier than she was making it out to be. Her ears straightened, the train brakes screeching outside the window. She lurched for a brief moment before the train came to a stop. A shadow came over the window, glancing back to see steam shooting up from the train’s engine. When a couple of the ponies on board got up from their seats, so did she, following a short line out through the designated door.

Once she exited the train, Crystal scanned the train station. It was quiet, with not too many ponies boarding or leaving the train--an odd scene, as she was used to Canterlot’s busy train station. Making her way down the short few steps off the platform, she walked onto the middle of one of the few roads in Ponyville. “Celestia told me that her castle is on the outskirts of Ponyville. If that’s the case...” Crystal surveyed the tops of the buildings around her until she saw one standing above the others.

But the gleam off its exterior as the sun’s light bounced off its crystalline structure blinded her for a brief moment. Crystal blinked a couple times before staring at the castle. While she could only see the top half of it, she could only marvel at its magnificent splendor. With the building in sight, she picked up her pace to a slow trot.

As she studied the town around her, she couldn’t help but feel a sense of comfort, a welcoming feeling unlike that of Canterlot. Even the ponies, as she glanced around, gave kind smiles to her, a few even waving to her to which she waved back. ‘Wow. This place friendlier than I expected.’ She trotted past a couple more buildings until she came into a bigger clearing, a dirt road leading up to the castle.

Walking up to it, she soon felt smaller and smaller. It certainly seemed as big when she first saw it, but as she approached it, she discovered in actuality that it was bigger than she thought. Crystal found herself at the door only after a few seconds. With a slow breath, she reached a hoof forward and knocked on the large door in front of her. She stood there for a couple seconds. No response. Crystal Rune tilted her head and knocked on the entrance again.

Another few seconds went by. She waited and waited. A minute went by until the door lit up in her ice blue aura. The door opened with ease, Crystal walking in without a pony in sight. “Hello?” Crystal called out, her voice echoing through the large hallways. She gazed down both halls and took the left one. Her gaze swept across the walls of the hall, the light of the sun piercing through the row of windows. “Is anypony there?” Crystal hoped for a response this time.

“Who’s there?” It wasn’t Twilight’s voice, but sounded much younger. Crystal turned to her left and saw a small filly staring back at her.

“Who are…?” Crystal went to ask but then recognized the filly. “You’re Nyx, correct? The filly Twilight adopted. The same one who nearly put all of Equestria under eternal darkness.”

Nyx flinched at the last few words but seemed to shake it off. “Yeah… the same one.” Crystal knew what she had said was detrimental. To a filly no less, it only made it worse. But Nyx only gave a faint smile. “So what do you want?”

“I’m looking for Twilight. Where is she?”

The filly exhaled. “My mom’s in her room. Here, I’ll take you to her.” Nyx waved Crystal to follow, which she did. The filly guided her down the hall and took a left. They then ascended up a staircase to the right, Crystal observing each part of the castle with an intrigued smile. “What are you wanting to talk to her about?” Nyx said before following up with a couple more words. “If I may ask.”

Crystal returned her attention to the filly. “I was hoping that she’d activate the mirror she has here. As for why… Princess Celestia said my friend is on the other side of this ‘portal’.” Whatever world Celestia had mentioned was left with vague descriptions.

“Oh, you mean that mirror. Yeah, my mother went through it a couple times. She said it was a very odd world.” Nyx’s mood seemed to brighten, but it was gone as soon as it came, replaced by a frown. “Spike went with her too… both times. Those two really were inseparable.” It was an odd choice of words that Nyx used, but Crystal thought it was best to stay out of that family situation.

Once they made it up the stairs, Nyx pointed to a door down the middle of the next hall. “There’s my mother’s room.” Crystal took a step forward before Nyx spoke again. “She might be asleep or… well, crying. So please don’t mention… him.” Nyx’s voice shook for a moment. Crystal couldn’t blame her. Both Twilight and Nyx were going through a tough time. Maybe what Nyx mentioned earlier alluded to more. But Crystal made the choice to stay out of it. It wasn’t what she came here for.

“Thank you, Nyx.” The filly only blinked before descending down the stairs quickly. Crystal sighed and made her way down the lonely hallway. Upon arriving at the door, she knocked a couple of times to only to receive silence as an answer. “Hello? Twilight, it’s me, Crystal Rune.”

There was a shifting of what she thought to be a bed followed by a couple of slow hoofsteps towards the door. The knob clicked, and the door opened up quietly. But Twilight wasn’t standing at the entrance. The first observation that Crystal made was that the room was dark. With only one curtain open to let any type of light inside, at least what little the window could, she saw Twilight sitting there looking out at the expanse beyond Ponyville.

Crystal took a couple steps forward. “Twilight, I was hoping to ask you about something.” No response. Crystal stood still for a moment. Only one question that came to mind: How long? How long had Twilight been like this? It was already obvious: probably since Spike’s funeral. Crystal had no plan to work on, no easy way to approach Twilight. “Umm… I was hoping to see a friend of mine. She lives in some kind of mirror.”

Twilight’s ears perked up, the first reaction Crystal finally received. “The mirror…?” When Twilight spoke, her voice was noticeably weak. “Who’s your friend?”

Crystal breathed in before she continued. “You’ve probably met her by now, from what Celestia told me. Her name is Sunset Shimmer.” Twilight glanced back, a gleam of interest in her eyes.

“You’re friends with Sunset Shimmer?”

“Well… I was.” Crystal rubbed the back of her head with her right hoof. “You see… before you, as this information is possibly old news to you by you now, Sunset was Celestia’s former student. I was in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns as well, but much younger than Sunset. She was probably like the pony you met before. Arrogant, self-centered… a real pain in the rear.” The emotions of the past came back, Crystal frowning at said memories.

Looking back up to Twilight, Crystal left the thought behind. “Anyway… I was hoping that you could let me through the mirror. I want to try and make amends for the mistake that she and I made back then… and see if we can become friends again.”

Twilight only stared back, blinking every now and then. Crystal pretended to be ignorant of the fact that this whole conversation was surrounded in an aura of awkwardness. “So.” Crystal hoped to break the ice. “Could you let me through the mirror please?”

Twilight continued her uncomfortable silence before she spoke. “You said you were there during the time Sunset Shimmer was Princess Celestia’s student. What happened between you to end your friendship?”

It was the one question Crystal hoped that Twilight wouldn’t have asked. Crystal bit her lip for a brief moment but thought it was better to be truthful. “You see… Sunset Shimmer and I weren’t well acquainted with one another at first. Like I said before, she was… well, her normal arrogant self. Celestia introduced her to me because, as Sunset described it, her teacher was hoping to get her to make friends. But we did end up bonding, becoming the best of friends.

“But… she didn’t fare well. I don’t know what happened to her, but she… lashed out at me because of something she did. It was because of this that I lashed back because I didn’t know what else to do. I tried reasoning with her, but she wasn’t having any of it.” The frown Crystal had worn earlier came back. “I… was glad she left. But I also felt like she had clenched my heart and squeezed it until nothing was left. The worst part of it was… that Celestia then picked me to be her new student.”

Even if she was ecstatic about such a chance at first, it only brought memories of her former friend. And felt like Celestia had just been replacing Sunset with another unicorn. “So… you want to fix the relationship that you and Sunset broke?” Crystal simply nodded. Twilight finally gave a smile, but Crystal knew how much of a mirage this change was. “Sure. I’d be glad to activate the mirror for you. And… maybe it’d be nice to come with you as well. A nice change of pace might get me going again.”

Crystal could only hope that this was what Twilight was looking for to help her back onto her hooves. Yet it would only help her so much. “Sure.” Crystal murmured. Twilight quickly took the lead, Crystal following her out of the room.

They descended down the stairs in a rapid fashion. As they reached the bottom floor, Twilight said, “The mirror is down the hall to your left, take the third door on your right and you’ll be in the library.”

“Okay, but where are you going?”

“Oh, I’m going to let Nyx know where we’re going. I’ll be back in a moment.” Twilight trotted off in a rush, Crystal raising an eyebrow at her hurried motions.

She couldn’t judge Twilight. The pain of loss would subside, Crystal knew that well. It would dull, but it would still be there. She had already lost three others. Crystal could only hope that Twilight would make it through this pain as well. Taking Twilight’s advice, she went down the hall and stopped at the third door. She opened the door and was met with a rather large library. “Wow… she certainly is a bookworm.”

Crystal felt like she could relate this type of habit to Twilight, but she herself wasn’t much of a reader, at least not to the extent of information that Twilight appeared to have. Crystal considered herself smart and intelligent, but did not dare pursue knowledge to such an insane level. Scanning the room, it did not take too long before she spotted said mirror. Attached to it was this odd machine, Crystal looking it over as she moved closer to the mirror.

She heard hoofsteps behind her and glanced over her shoulder, watching Twilight enter through the open doorway. “You like it? I made it so I could use the same type of magic that is used to open it when the moon in its right position. But that would take about three years for it to actually happen, so I used a calibration spell to quicken the opening process. Now the portal in the mirror opens whenever I turn the device on.” With that description of the magical process over, said machine lit up in Twilight’s magenta aura. It came to life with a couple of clicks until a purple portal opened in front of the mirror.

Although the explanation itself was easy to comprehend, Crystal was still surprised at how much effort Twilight put into the machine herself. “Wow… that’s really something,” Crystal said. Turning to Twilight, she saw the Princess of Friendship trying to regain her smile. Even if the smile itself was fake, Crystal had to commend Twilight for trying. “You sure you don’t want to stay here?”

Twilight glanced at the floor for a quick moment before nodding her head. “I’ll be fine. I appreciate the offer to go back into this world again.” Crystal nodded. With that said and done, she gestured for Twilight to go first. It was only a moment before Twilight walked up to the mirror, disappearing into it. Crystal stood there and shook for a moment. With a steel resolve in her gaze, she took a step forward and entered the mirror, disappearing into it and from Equestria itself.


For a moment, Crystal felt her whole body spinning out of shape. Odd sensations; parts of her body felt like they were shifting and moving. There was color for a brief moment until everything went dark once more. Still as stone, she tried to move her foreleg, but it felt as if a pile of stones was over top of it. Crystal felt a wave of panic sweep over her.

‘It’s okay. Maybe it’s only a few moments until I wake up in this other world.’ And at that moment, the heaviness upon her lifted.

“Crystal?” She heard Twilight’s voice. Opening her eyes, the first thing she saw was some oddly-shaped face, round and with a pale mulberry color. “Oh, good. Now… don’t freak out or anything.” Seeing that the voice belonged to Twilight, it was still odd to see this new creature in front of her.

“Twilight?” Crystal oddly gawked at this… whatever it was. “What in Celestia’s name happened to your body?”

“Well… it’s how this world works,” Twilight said. She clasped together what should have been her hooves in front of her chest and chuckled nervously. “Now… don’t freak out, but…”

“But what? I feel fine. Everything’s in pla--” Crystal glanced down at what should’ve been her forelegs, only to find the same thin arms that Twilight had. “What in… what is this?” Her tone rose in pitch as Crystal began to panic. “What are these… digits? Did I turn into a Minotaur?” Seeing the hands, her assumption was somewhat correct.

“Actually… you’re not a Minotaur.” When Twilight said those words, Crystal glanced down at her legs, only to find that there wasn’t even a trace of fur.

“Why are my legs so… so… naked?” Returning her attention to her arms she noticed the same lack of fur, her skin a pale green color. Tracing up her arm, she noticed part of a dark green sleeve covering her elbow. But her newly acquired hands gained her attention once more. “Wh-what am I again?”

“You’re a human.” Twilight shrugged sheepishly.

Crystal felt her fear disappear slowly, replaced by a newfound curiosity. Glancing down at her legs she noticed a skirt that went down to her knees. She lowered her right hand onto the cloth and then the exposed skin. The sensation was very odd, a little ticklish. “Is this what smooth skin feels like? It’s so… odd. And why are these hands so sensitive to everything?”

She traced her hands up the skirt and above her hips. “I mean… it’s weird.”

“Yeah…” Twilight nodded. “Being a human is really… unique.” Finding words to describe such a change was difficult. Even Twilight, as wordy as she was, could barely explain her first time becoming a human.

“Wait.” Tracing her hands upward, did she notice two small and odd round things on her chest. “Are these my… how in Celestia’s name did they get all the way up here? And why are they so… big?” She couldn’t see them, covered by a light dark green jacket with white markings wrapping around the clothing, same for her skirt. “Does this mean that I’m…”

“No, no, no.” Twilight quickly shook her head, chuckling a little. “I kind of thought the same thing. But no. You’re not pregnant.” Crystal brought her fingers together, bending her index finger up and down. She fell back onto her rear and glanced down at the bottom of her legs. There were no hooves either, just a pair of weird flat appendages. “Those are called feet.” Crystal flexed them as Twilight spoke, feeling tiny little digits on the ends. While she had known them as horseshoes, these odd shoes felt light yet were odd themselves. A pair of high heels with the heel only having a small stilt on it.

“Is there any use for these things? I feel like I can hardly control them.” Crystal tilted her head, examining the small heeled shoes that she wore.

“Yeah… they’re about as useful as our hooves. But they can feel the ground as well,” Twilight added.

Crystal’s gaze didn’t move from her body, barely noticing Twilight reaching forward with her right hand. “Crystal?” She glanced up and saw the gesture. She reached with her left hand and felt Twilight pull her upwards. Standing on two legs was definitely another oddity.

“I… feel so tall.” This gained a chuckle from Twilight, a noise that Crystal rather appreciated then seeing the princess so gloomy. Crystal took a step forward and felt her newly acquired legs wobble. As she did, a soft bit of cloth rubbed against the back of her legs. Taking another glance at her skirt did she notice that the back portion was a little longer than the front. “This new body’s clothing makes me feel like I’m supposed to be some fancy mare.”

Another giggle from Twilight. “You definitely have that Canterlot flair.” Crystal took another unsteady step, feeling like she was doing some balancing act for a performance. “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.”

That was a big “if,” Crystal thought. Would she ever need to come back here? Probably not. Unless she and Sunset were able to work things out.

“Here.” She felt Twilight’s hand grasp her right, and with this extra support, she felt herself stand up a little more upright.

Taking a look at Twilight, she saw a more relaxed and even happy princess. Crystal thought it was a nice change of pace to see Twilight with a more cheery attitude. “Thanks, Twilight.” She led Crystal towards a building adjacent to the mirror’s entrance. “What is this place?”

“It’s just a high school,” Twilight answered.

“Really? Huh… that’s interesting.” Crystal took a couple more steps until Twilight helped her down onto the top of the staircase, Crystal gladly taking the moment to sit.

“Hold on. Let me go ahead and let Sunset know that we’re here.” Twilight held something in her right hand, an item that Crystal hadn’t noticed before. It was some oddly-shaped rectangular device with smooth edges.

“What the heck is that?”

Twilight looked up and pointed with a finger. “This thing? It’s called a phone. These humans use it as a communication device.”

“Huh… how advanced are they compared to us?”

Twilight glanced up at the school behind her. “Well, they’re pretty advanced compared to us.” Twilight’s smile declined a little as Crystal slowly thought why.

‘Right… that ship Neighland-Yupony acquired was human-made. Not by these humans, apparently.’ And with said thought, it probably brought memories of Spike once more. The phone that Twilight held gave off some quiet typing noise, but without there being some kind of typewriter, she couldn’t understand why it was making that clicking noise. A light also came from the top of the screen. How it worked, Crystal could only assume some sort of magic.

With the topic of magic, she raised a hand to her muzzle, or lack thereof. She then looked back at Twilight and put two and two together. “So, I don’t have my magic, right?”

Twilight spoke but didn’t glance up from her phone. “Yeah. We don’t have our horns, so magic is not easy to use here in this world.”

It was quite a worrying thought, but Crystal knew that they’d only be here for a short amount of time. “Okay.” The light resonating from Twilight’s phone disappeared. “Sunset said she’ll meet us over at Sugarcube Corner.”

“So where’s that?” Crystal asked, unsteadily rising to her feet.

“It’s not too far from the school. A little bit of a walking distance.” Twilight turned to Crystal. “Besides, it might help you learn how to walk.”

Crystal took her time going down the few steps from the high school behind her. She grumbled a little under her breath. Walking in this human body made her feel like she was a foal learning how to walk for the first time. She then turned to take a closer glance at the world around her. Surrounded in the afternoon light, the few trees that she saw were a mix of red, orange, and yellow. ‘Even the seasons seem to affect this world as well.’

Moving her gaze elsewhere, she stared at Twilight ahead of her, walking in that alien body like it was no problem. Lucky her, Crystal thought, grumbling at the awkward posture she imagined herself in. Taking another glance at Twilight, an idea came to mind. Resting her newly-found arms to her sides, she found that they slightly swayed even without her moving them. Then came the legwork.

Copying the movement of Twilight’s legs, she quickly found that Twilight was getting closer. Only was it then that did her hair slightly get in front of her eyes. Brushing it out of the way, she still had not seen what she actually looked like. Maybe there was a mirror somewhere she could look into and see her reflection. “Hey, is there a mirror somewhere I can use?”

“Oh.” Twilight turned back to Crystal and with a quick glance around, gripped her hand before pulling her close to one of the buildings. “Here.” She pointed to the glass window next to their left.

Crystal slowly stood in front of it, eyes widening at the sight before her. Her hair had seemingly grown longer, resting against the top of her back. However, it only seemed to be growing from her head. Yet this body was kind of thin, not like mare bodies were really that wide in her world. When she saw her muzzle, or this new face, she rested a hand on her left cheek. “This is so weird.” Crystal chuckled, twirling her new body this way and that. “I’m guessing your first experience in a new body was odd as well?”

“Well… you’re certainly handling it better than I did.” Twilight chuckled, crossing her arms as she watched Crystal act like a little filly. “You should see the pictures of human babies. I still think they’re kind of weird. But when they’re little fillies and colts… err, boys and girls, human children are kind of cute.”

“You don’t say?” Crystal murmured, was still enthralled by her appearance. “I think I could kind of get used to this. If it wasn’t for the odd way these humans walk. Not to mention that fur isn’t covering our bodies. How do these things stay warm during winter?”

“They rely on clothing,” Twilight pointed out. “That is why you’re wearing clothes. Same with me and everyone else in this world.”

“Huh…” Crystal then glanced back at Twilight. She couldn’t contain a small chuckle. “Sorry, I got carried away, didn’t I?”

“A little bit.” Twilight slightly nodded. The two couldn’t help but giggle a little. “Sugarcube Corner isn’t much further. In fact.” They turned around and Crystal saw the building that Twilight pointed to.

“That building reminds me of that fairytale with the creepy old mare.” Crystal said, getting another laugh from Twilight.

“Don’t worry. If anything, the Sugarcube Corner has great treats.” Twilight guided Crystal across the street. Before they entered, Twilight stood in front of Crystal and said, “Now before you go in. You might want to refrain from saying words like filly, colt, everypony… they'd think you were weird. I'll also mention that other people here from the school might recognize me after I... well, saved it a couple of times.”

Crystal raised an eyebrow. “You saved humans? Without the use of magic?”

“Right? It’s so weird not having the use of magic. But I guess me visiting also… maybe transferred some Equestrian magic into this world.” Twilight gave an innocent gesture.

“You brought Equestrian magic into this world?”

“Yes, but it’s only activated with my friends. Other than that, trying to use magic is practically impossible.” Twilight clasped her hands together. “Now, let’s head on inside and wait for Sunset.”

Crystal felt a pit form in her stomach. What was she going to say to Sunset after such a long time apart? Did Sunset even remember her, or would she recognize her right away? She took a deep breath and followed Twilight inside. The light of the outside world pierced through the windows, and the somewhat loud noise of other humans having conversations didn’t help Crystal all that much. “How busy is this place?”

“It’s usually a little busy. But these other people will be too busy to take notice,” Twilight assured her, pulling Crystal along once more.

But even with Twilight’s reassurance, Crystal felt the stares of the other humans in here, watching them turn their attention to the two new girls entering the shop. While Crystal was used to being stared at, she wasn’t particularly fond of it. Her previous life of being an “archaeologist” didn’t exactly pan well for her, what with the whole threat of other potential rivals potentially within mere feet of her.

The two sat down at a table on the far left of the building, close to the middle of the room. Crystal wrapped her arms together, feeling a little surrounded by all the noise. “You going to be okay?”

She turned to Twilight and sighed. “Maybe… it’s just been so long since I’ve seen her. I don’t know how I’ll react.” Crystal then stared at the table below her. “What if I’m negative? Our last talk didn’t exactly end on a happy note. What if she does the same thing? There’s so many possibilities that I’m unsure if we can really reconnect.”

“Well… if it’s any consolation, Sunset has certainly changed,” Twilight said. “The first time she tried to steal my Element of Harmony, it turned her into a super crazy she-demon.” Crystal’s eyes widened at what Twilight said, who giggled shyly. “But she changed after my few months of being away. She really did turn over a new leaf and helped save this world from three nasty sirens from Equestria.”

“Wow… this world certainly sounds like it’s had some trouble.” But what brightened Crystal’s mood was hearing that Sunset had gotten better. Maybe there was hope yet.

But that hope, Crystal thought, would be tested soon. She heard the door open. Turning to the new human, she took but only a second to recognize the red and orange hair of her former friend. Sunset Shimmer scanned the shop in a quick survey until she waved at Twilight.

Twilight stood up and walked towards Sunset. The two hugged one another, exchanging a couple words before Twilight guided her toward the table. “Sorry to contact you after coming into your world. I thought it would’ve been a nice surprise.”

“That’s okay. It’s nice to see you again.” Sunset’s gaze then turned to Crystal’s, who shied away from the girl’s eyes. “Who's this? Did you meet somebody else in this world before calling me?”

“Actually… she came from my world,” Twilight answered, twirling a finger around a few strands of her hair.

“Really?” Sunset’s eyes widened in surprise. She glanced around and leaned closer. “So…” It was than that she made an odd face, observing Crystal’s features before speaking. “You seem… so familiar. Do I know you?”

Crystal sighed and turned to face Sunset. A frown formed on Crystal’s lips, but her eyes didn’t share the same hurt. “It’s me… remember? Crystal Rune?”

The shock on Sunset’s face took only but a second to appear, but the gaze Crystal got was one more of surprise and fear. “O-oh… I um… I… s-so hey!” Sunset’s voice raised, but she lowered it moments later. “H-how are you?”

The masked panic across Sunset’s face was too obvious. Crystal’s frown only grew fainter. “Hey…” It was quiet between the two. Both barely made eye contact with one another. Twilight could only nervously glance from one to the other. “How’ve you been since…”

“I-I’ve been doing okay. Yeah… it’s been… really interesting here in this human world,” Sunset murmured, still holding the facade that withheld her anxiety.

How to break the ice, Crystal thought. How could one perform such a task after what had happened between her and Sunset? Glancing back up to Sunset, she could see that the composure her friend held was slowly breaking apart, the fake smile cracking under the pressure. Crystal met Sunset’s gaze. “Listen… I--”

“I’m sorry.” It was abrupt, but Sunset’s demeanor quickly broke down, hand in front of her eyes for a brief moment until she rested it on her other hand. But to see the sadness in Sunset’s eyes, the long burdened of regret, Crystal could feel the same creeping emotion. “I know… I know how bad I was back then…” Tears slowly dripped down Sunset’s cheeks. “I know I can’t fully apologize for what happened.” A sniffle came, Sunset giving a quiet hiccup. “I… I was such a jerk to you.”

“Saying sorry isn’t going to make me forget what happened.” Crystal shook, struggling to retain that long repressed anger. “What you said to me back then… blaming me for all the problems you were dealing with. Ripping my heart out…” Crystal closed her eyes. “Do you know what I was left with? I could no longer retain any type of friendship because I felt that it would only lead to more pain. That other friends didn’t actually care about you. Only that they feel like you get in the way of their own goals.”

Sunset was doing her best to hold back her cries. Twilight herself had never seen Sunset break down like this, not since she and her friends in this world had used the Elements of Harmony to purge her of corruption. “And that pain only worsened when Celestia made me her student. It sucked, you know? Feeling the burden of being the princess's protege. It felt like I was replacing somepony that hurt me… that made me feel like I was nothing.”

“I don’t know what else to say… I… can’t take back what I said.” Crystal slowly let her guard down. With that, the emotions did come. She felt her own tears trickle down the face of this alien body. “I don’t blame you if you want to say something… anything to me. After what I did… I know I deserve it…”

Those words finally pierced through Crystal’s anger. And the tone that Sunset had now, the sorrow she felt coming from her, it was that sincere figure; the memory of Sunset that finally took form. “You know… I want to say all these things but I can hardly bring myself to,” Crystal murmured, feeling that same pain well up in her chest again. “Because seeing you as you are now. The same friend I had before… I can’t bring myself to hurt that same pony I knew so all those years in Celestia’s Gifted School for Unicorns.”

It was quiet besides the racket around them. It hardly seemed like anybody else took notice of this scene, as if these girls were somehow invisible to them. Crystal opened her eyes and said, “While it’s still… hard to forget what you said. I see that you’ve changed.” These words did bring a faint smile to Twilight, whom stood on the sidelines, hoping that these two would make it up with one another.

“T-thank you… Crystal Rune,” Sunset shakily said. She wiped her eyes with a hand before standing up. She circled the table and sat next to the girl she once called friend in Equestria. Both, hesitantly but surely, wrapped their arms around each other.

Twilight’s smile brightened. She glanced around but quickly lost that smile. When Crystal and Sunset broke apart from their hug, Sunset’s fragile smile changed to a concerned frown. “Twilight? Are you alright?”

Crystal followed Sunset’s gaze and saw the slight distress that Twilight was in. “Twilight? You going to be okay?”

“I-it’s just that… I remembered now that he’s not here…” Twilight wrapped her arms around her waist.

“Wait. Who’s not her--” Crystal quickly shook her head at Sunset’s question.

“It’s okay… it’s o-okay…” Twilight slowly stood up. “Please e-excuse me for a moment.” Without another word, Twilight quickly went for the entrance and exited through the open doorway.

Crystal had hoped that he wouldn’t be brought back into the equation. But it seemed that Twilight had only brought the thought upon herself. “Twilight… we’ve gone through a lot recently. And… she lost Spike…”

Sunset’s frown only deepened at the news. “Oh… I-I’m sorry… how did it happen?”

“It’s… a long story,” Crystal murmured. She glanced back at the door and said, “Let me go check up on her.”

Crystal stood up from the seat and walked up towards the door. Opening it up, she went through the entrance and glanced down the right sidewalk. Twilight sat below the window, eyes buried into her arms. “Twilight…?”

“I-I’m sorry… I didn’t mean for thi--”

“It’s okay… really. You don’t have to say sorry about this.” Crystal moved closer but didn’t yet touch her. “You saying sorry about… that is not a problem. Losing somepony’s tough… I lost three friends in the span of two days,” Crystal murmured. “All killed by one of those Predators.”

Twilight lifted her face up, only to greet Crystal with a wave of tears trickling down her face. “I just… it’s s-so hard… it’s s-so h-hard…” Crystal sighed and watched as Twilight quietly broke down. To see the princess in such a sorrowful state, knowing that the drake she lost was like a son to her, was far beyond what Crystal could help with.

She glanced down to the ground. “Do you… want to go back inside? Or… maybe we could go somewhere else.” Twilight didn’t seem to respond, her face buried in her arms once more. Crystal looked into the window and waved Sunset outside. It was but a second until Sunset stepped outside.

“How is she doi--” Sunset saw quickly the state Twilight was in and didn’t say another word. Turning to Crystal, she said, “I have an apartment not too far from the school here. We could bring her there until she gets better.”

“Sure…” Crystal slowly nodded, walking up to Twilight and helping the princess up. Sunset came over and wrapped one of Twilight’s shoulders around the back of her neck. Twilight didn’t seem to protest, but could Crystal really blame her? They took a couple steps forward until moving down the sidewalk at such a slow pace.

Maybe the hope that Crystal had for Twilight wasn’t as great as before. To add Spike’s death on top of her brother, Shining Armor, what thoughts must’ve been swirling through Twilight’s mind? She had to have faith that Twilight would be strong. She was a princess after all. But maybe even princesses gave up at certain points. It was a thought that terrified Crystal. What would happen if Twilight gave up? A topic she dared not dwell upon further out of fear that it would come true; an alarming situation that could become reality. ‘Twilight… how bad you must be hurting. Please don’t give up… not on yourself.’

Epilogue: Fate's Written Epitaph ~ Part II

View Online

A loud whistle pierced the air, rousing Princess Cadance from looking up at the crystal wall in front of her. She only sighed and glanced back down at the little foal in her hooves, watching the little one giggle and gaze across the ceiling with curious eyes. Cadance herself let out a quiet laugh, bringing a hoof towards her week-and-a-half-old filly. The smile on Cadance’s muzzle softened as her little foal, Gleaming Heart, grabbed Cadance’s hoof with two tiny hooves of her own.

“You’re so cute, Gleaming,” Cadance murmured, feeling the little alicorn in her forelegs fidget in her grasp, cooing with joy. Her heart melted at such an adorable sight. Yet this filly brought back memories of her of her late husband, having some color patterns of Shining. Those last moments she had shared with him soured all of her treasured memories of her beloved. Those few months of marital bliss and her belief that “true love” would last forever: fairy tales. What a lie she fell for.

Another whistle from the train signified that Ponyville was only a short few moments away. It had been a week since her last visit with Twilight. Their last get-together was at Spike’s funeral, a sad and depressing day to watch the drake that had helped save the Crystal Empire be interned into the ground. Or at least that was what the public thought. In all actuality, there was nothing left of Spike, or that was what Princess Celestia had told her. His body had burned to ashes, consumed by his own internal fire, and then blown away in the wind. Gone forever.

Cadance stood up as she felt the train come to a stop, walking up to the door without being pushed by the force of the train stopping its momentum. It opened up for her, and she walked through the entrance and stepped out onto Ponyville’s train station. She surveyed the station, hardly seeing a soul in sight. The light in the sky was at its weakest, the Sun nearing the edge of its horizon.

With a quick turn to her left, she followed the small stairway down to the dirt ground, the clacking of her golden horseshoes against the wooden floor ceasing. Wrapped in a blanket and resting in a baby carrier wrapped onto her chest was Gleaming, cooing as her little baby eyes glanced across the buildings within her sight. The path to Twilight’s castle was a simple trip, Cadance thought, and would take but a minute.

Picking up her hooves, she continued forward. But she took her time, each step taken at a leisurely stride. Cadance had to give herself time. What would she say to Twilight? How much distress was her sister-in-law in? The question itself was repetitive and unnecessary after it came to mind. She had seen the state Twilight was in during Spike’s funeral. That memory was the spoken thought to her answer.

‘She’s filled with so much hurt. It’s all a painful reminder…’ She could recall that stage of grief she had faced over her husband’s death. But for Twilight, it was a pain even beyond what Cadance had experienced. Not only had she lost a brother, but now a drake that, at the funeral as she had said herself, was like a son to her.

Even still, Cadance would not let this go. She had received a message only a couple of days after the first week of Gleaming Heart’s birth. It was from the mare that Celestia had taken under her tutelage once more, Crystal Rune. While Cadance did not know this Crystal Rune all that well, reading what she had written put her past the stage of worry. If Twilight was as bad as Crystal had noted, then it was of dire importance to do what she could to help her.

After all, the only link she had with Twilight and her family was through Gleaming Heart, her daughter being the only pony she was related to by blood. And as she walked past the streets, she noticed the lack of ponies, and those who did appear bowed as she walked past. While the gesture did bring a small smile, that emotion wasn’t present within her. As she walked past the left side of a building, she came across the dirt road leading to Twilight’s castle.

The crystal exterior gleamed in the sunlight. A beautiful sight that brought images of the Crystal Empire’s tower with such a familiar gleam. She increased her pace to a slow trot, being mindful of the baby hanging in her carrier. When she came to the door after a few steps, she knocked on the crystal door. There was no response. She waited for a few seconds and pushed against it. The door opened with ease, squeaking loudly as she pushed it open. “Twilight?” Cadance called out but only heard her echo come back to her.

The door closed with her light cornflower blue aura. “Hello? Twilight?” Cadance called again and received no response as before. She frowned; Twilight had to be here. Cadance glanced at the right hall and took to that direction. A moment passed. She walked by the the library and peeked inside to see that Twilight wasn’t even in her favorite part of the building. ‘It’s so unlike her.’ How much had Twilight changed? It was a scary thought indeed.

The last place she had to check was upstairs. Glancing to her right, she noticed a flight of stairs. She quickly ascended upwards to the third floor. As she passed a door on her right, she saw that it was open. Inside, Nyx was sound asleep in her bed. Cadance smiled, then took a step back and closed the door with a gentle click.

She then brought her attention to the center door. Inhaling, she walked towards the door and opened it. She found Twilight in the same state, sitting in a chair with her muzzle face down and resting the right side of her face on a desk, eyes closed, and gently breathing. Cadance let out a tiny giggle and looked to the bed. She unraveled the cloth carrier from her chest and brought her foal near her muzzle, who, with a loving nuzzle, giggled and yawned.

Unwrapping the foal from her blanket, Cadance grasped her gently in her magic aura. She smiled as the filly’s eyes slowly closed. Although it wasn’t a motherly approach by putting her baby to sleep with magic, her foal would have to be in a deep slumber so she could talk to Twilight. She laid the foal onto Twilight’s bed, and the aura disappeared as Cadance turned towards Twilight.

With a few steps, she stood beside the sleeping mare. With a gentle prodding of her hoof, she pushed into Twilight’s side and got a short, grumbling response. Cadance leaned closer and nudged Twilight’s muzzle with her own. “Twilight?” Cadance whispered. Twilight’s eyes finally opened.

Twilight yawned, stretching her forelegs into the air. “Cadance?” Twilight groggily whispered. “W-what are you doing here?”

“I came because Crystal Rune told me what’s going on.” Cadance glanced down at the desk Twilight slept on and noticed a picture. It was the one they had taken with her whole family. Twilight’s parents, Shining Armor, Nyx, Spike: they were all there. Seeing Shining Armor again nearly brought Cadance to tears. But she breathed in and exhaled. "I was told that you weren’t doing well.”

“Everypony’s been concerned about me…” Twilight murmured, looking away from Cadance. “Why can’t everypony just leave me alone to deal with this by myself?”

“Because we’re concerned for you,” Cadance said. She noticed a chair next to Twilight and brought it close to Twilight’s. Sitting down, she wrapped her hooves around Twilight’s shoulders before continuing. “Listen… you know you can tell me what’s wrong… we both lost somepony important.”

Twilight didn’t move, but a moment later she began to shake. Cadance’s ears flicked as she heard whimpering from her sister-in-law until Twilight began to quietly sob. “I-it’s j-just so h-h-hard…” Twilight unsteadily began, her tone cracking with pain, a sorrow that seemed to come with an age to it. “Y-you and I l-lost Shining… and t-then I l-l-lost Spike.”

“Right… both times were awful.”

“But… h-have you f-felt like you could’ve d-done something? That… m-maybe there was a c-chance that… you could have s-saved him…?”

Cadance had struggled with that very question since the first day without Shining. Was there some decision that would have altered Shining’s fate? What if she had just tried to assure Celestia that maybe Shining was right? What if she had thought of going with him so she could make sure he wouldn’t die? “Twilight… I know I have, but… in the end, there’s nothing you could have done.”

“A-are you sure? B-but maybe we could have saved Shining i-if we just forgot about the others. O-or maybe I could have kept trying t-to heal Spike.” The fragility in Twilight’s voice was disheartening. “There can’t be no options. Wh-what if they could have been saved? Wh-what if the--”

“Twilight.” Cadance spoke with a soft tone. “You know as well as I do that there was no chance… Unfortunately… in the end there was no way I could have changed Shining’s mind. He was going to go through with his plan even if I had intervened. And even if I had helped, we would have put ourselves and my unborn baby in jeopardy.” Cadance tightened her grip as Twilight’s crying worsened. “Spike… you would’ve hurt yourself as well if you tried to keep healing him. You… might have even done something worse if you kept that healing spell running.”

“B-but I’m the Element of Magic!” Twilight cried, the dam she held finally giving way. “I should have found a way to save him! I-I can’t let myself believe that I couldn’t!” Cadance felt the hurt increase, the pain in her heart only growing. “If I can’t believe that there was a way, then how can I help anypony else if I couldn’t save my own family? It’s my fault for pushing Shining Armor away when he hurt you! It’s my fault for not trying hard enough to save Spike!”

“It’s not your fault and you know it.” Cadance turned Twilight’s muzzle toward hers, their gazes meeting one another's. “You can’t let yourself fall into this despair, blaming yourself that you couldn’t save Shining or Spike. Twilight, you did all you could.” Twilight sniffled, and Cadance wiped away a few tears on Twilight’s muzzle. “I know you’re hurting badly. I know you’re struggling to accept this fact. I did too… please don’t fall this low. You don’t know how bad it gets when you’ve reached the lowest you can be.” Cadance knew all too well what thoughts spun in her mind, the hostility to her own bodily form.

“I want you to see that you did everything you could. It will take a long time to get over this, but… you have to remember that Spike and Shining wouldn’t want you to live with this regret. Don’t let it consume you.” Cadance pulled Twilight closer, gently embracing her, believing now that the title sister-in-law would not fit anymore. If she were to relabel it, sisters seemed to be a more appropriate term now.

With that in mind, she looked towards her foal and lifted the filly into the air and over towards the two. “There are still other things that you have to live for.” Cadance rested the sleeping foal in her forelegs before raising her baby towards Twilight, gesturing for her to take hold. Twilight continued to whimper but reached for Gleaming Heart. Resting against her forelegs, the sorrow that Twilight held was still there, but cracks began to show as her frown turned into a fragile smile.

“You have to remember that… even though Shining and Spike are gone… you still have your parents, Nyx, Celestia and Luna, your friends, me and Gleaming Heart.” Cadance giggled a little. “I know for certain that after all this… I believe I’d consider you not as a sister-in-law… but as a real one.” This approach finally appeared to be lifting the negativity.

While Cadance was happy that she was helping Twilight, she still knew they’d be dealing with this newfound loneliness for a very long time. But she couldn’t let that get in the way now. Cadance returned her gaze to Twilight and murmured, “You were there for me when we lost Shining. We were there for each other when we wanted company only a couple weeks after his death. I’m here for you now so I can repay the kindness you gave to me. I won’t let my sister be alone in the darkness.” With that Cadance hugged her again, the two staying like this for a while.

When they let go, Twilight brought Cadance’s filly back to her. “Th-thank you, Cadance…” Twilight hiccuped, sniffling a little.

“Of course…” Cadance nodded. She glanced at the sun outside the window to see that the evening was nearing its end and night would soon follow.

“Cadance…” She returned her attention to Twilight as her sister spoke. “Would… it be alright if you stayed here… for the night?”

Cadance chuckled and nodded in agreement. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere tonight.” Maybe there was hope for them just yet. Maybe… the darkness would not have any of them, and they could find the joy of light once more. Peace returned and they would enjoy every single moment of it. Now as sisters, that bond would only grow, and that darkness would be banished forever. A future Cadance could only look forward to.


All’s well that ended well, right? A disaster had now been fixed. As for Nenne, however, she stared out the window from the medical facility, watching as parts of the Admission building were put back together. This was, more or less, a start to something beyond her. Beyond the nation of Equestria. “They were all right about Bishop Neighland. He was nothing but a psychotic stallion. Even if he was against a monarchical society, his own attitude befitted a plutocracy.”

Although, he did desire a government run by others alongside the princesses. Calling Neighland a plutocrat might have been an exaggeration of his governmental ideal, but weaponizing the Xenomorphs was undoubtedly another mistake. Princess Twilight Sparkle was correct--these creatures, as intelligent as they were, possessed a hostility far beyond any controlling factor. Maybe there was a chance that her research could have successfully tamed one of those creatures. However, she was glad she had kept her distance. ‘Being safe was a better option. Less chance for any accidents or injuries on my own part.’

She turned from the window and towards an array of medical items--pulse monitors, an x-ray screen, and to her left, the same case she had carried with her upon escaping the island in the first place. “Bishop couldn’t take his wealth with him. After some… choice words… from the only two remaining security workers, the board placed me as the new owner of the company.” Seion was never one to hold anything over others like Bishop.

Such a role, she felt, was reserved for the princesses themselves. She moved over to the case and opened it. Among the light-colored acidic blood of the Xenomorphs, four new slots had been added. 'Blood from the four princesses.'

What wonders awaited her, Nenne could only imagine. Creating new beings. Maybe even finding the key to immortality that only alicorns seemed to possess. But that would come in time. That technology was not ready for them yet. But it was close, thanks to the human’s ship. Their odd sleeping chambers held another factor to them. They seemed to function as an artificial stasis pod, but if Nenne combined the stasis technology with her own formulated artificial growth liquid, she could create something new.

Though that liquid was still in its prototype stage, she had seen positive results. The test bacteria she had used were growing at an exponential rate. Even before those Xenomorphs had broken free, an earlier test with her liquid had produced a small rabbit. If she could grow rodents, maybe ponies weren’t too far away. What then could stop her from creating a being that could even rival the princesses?

The only obstacle Nenne had was time. And she was a patient soul. She could wait.