Chapter 1: Endless Light
Disclaimer: “My Little Pony” and all subsequent properties belong to Hasbro.
Nightmare Moon raged.
She had been imprisoned within the very moon she had once raised over the skies of Equestria. Her essence had melded with the celestial sphere in such a way that, from its dusty silver surface to its metallic iron core, she could no longer distinguish her own form from it, even as just an idea. Thus did Nightmare Moon gnaw away at the darkness in her heart, reduced to a spirit of malice and hate that could no longer impart its dread desires upon the world around her, an evil that somehow only grew by feasting upon itself, surrounded by the even greater darkness of the black void between worlds.
Below, the world of Equestria spun like a glittering gemstone in a black sea. Celestia had found the power to control that which was once Luna’s command alone, so Nightmare Moon could not even find solace in the knowledge that her demise would deny the ponies her night. Angrily Nightmare Moon tried to lash out at the peaceful planet, yet it was far beyond her reach.
How dare she do this to me?
The thought of Celestia ruling over their kingdom alone burned at Nightmare Moon’s diffuse consciousness. Vengeance became her only goal.
She will pay.
But Celestia had not been the only one who had partaken in the fall of Nightmare Moon. No, those ponies, the ones that Nightmare Moon had once considered her subjects, the ones who had ignored her and feared her, were as much to blame as her sister.
They will all pay.
A great amount of time passed this way. How much exactly Nightmare Moon did not know. Every moment was the same as every other for her; the seconds could have been years, and the years seconds. A drop of time was identical to an ocean. But eventually Nightmare Moon turned away from Equestria, and raised her attention to the stars.
And she realized that she could feel them. The stars blazed brightly in the vast reaches of space. Nightmare Moon was now closer to them than ever before. As she stretched her spirit towards them they responded with a tiny shift in their focus, aware of the dark presence imprisoned among them.
Stars of the heavens, Nightmare Moon pleaded. I beseech thee! Release me from this prison of my sister’s crafting!
There had only been a tiny spark of hope within her that she might receive a response, and for a moment that spark burned into a bright flame as the stars replied. Then the flame writhed and flickered black as she realized what they had said.
We art forbidden by the treaty from interfering in the affairs of Equestria, Princess Luna.
Do not call me by that name! Nightmare Moon screeched. Luna is dead! I am Nightmare Moon, Equestria’s rightful queen!
And why should we help thou, Nightmare Moon?
The Mare in the Moon twisted inwards upon herself. Her mind raced. The stars were forbidden from Equestria and from her, but as a descendant of those who had made the treaty, Nightmare Moon had the power to grant them the right to break the ancient pact... just this once.
But that would not be enough. The stars would do nothing without fair payment. But Nightmare Moon had nothing to offer them... nothing to offer, except-
I will deliver Equestria to thee, she declared. It shall be thine to rule for a thousand years, in a state of eternal night.
Thou wouldst do such a thing, the stars hissed, knowing the way in which we would rule?
I care nothing for their fate. They are the ones who imprisoned me here, and they deserve all that thee wouldst bring upon them.
A long silence followed, in which Nightmare Moon feared that she had lost her only hope of escape. But finally the stars responded, and this time their glow was eager.
Very well. If we release you now, Equestria shall belong to us for a thousand years.
Nightmare Moon began to accept their offer, but a thought crept into her mind. No, it would not do to give all of Equestria to the stars. She needed something to belong to her for the millennium of night, something she could satisfy her thirst for revenge on.
Thou shalt not touch my sister, she declared. All else of Equestria shall be thine to command, but Celestia is to be mine.
There was a deepening anger within the stars. What point is there in ruling Equestria if we cannot have its queen?
To impose thy order upon it. Thou needs not Celestia to do such a thing.
There was a cold glare from the heavenly orbs. Then thy release shall wait. A thousand years thou shalt dwell within thy prison, in exchange for a thousand years of Equestria’s fate.
Very well, Nightmare Moon declared. In a thousand years I shalt be delivered back to Equestria, and it shall be thine for a thousand years, save for Princess Celestia.
One thousand and one years later...
Princess Luna gazed up into the night sky... and shivered.
It was cold on the topmost balcony of Canterlot Tower, but Luna did not mind. This was nothing compared to the freezing void of space that she had endured for a thousand years. No, the source of her shivering was fear.
The stars were angry. On this night, the first anniversary of the defeat of Nightmare Moon at the hands of six extraordinary young ponies, the sky burned with their displeasure.
Princess Celestia’s motherly voice drifted from the door. “It looks wonderful, Luna.” Slowly she walked over to Luna’s side and gazed up into the night. “I’ve never seen the stars this beautiful before.”
Beautiful, Luna repeated in her mind. Celestia thought they were beautiful. If only she knew.
Which she very soon would. In all of Equestria only Princess Luna, with her unique affinity for the night, could sense it, but the stars were preparing something. Exactly what, she did not know. But it could not be good.
Suddenly, the heavens blazed gold, a sight that only the two alicorns could see. A sky usually filled with only a splattering of stars now burned with countless billions. We are coming.
Celestia raised her head in shock as Luna lowered hers in shame. It was a few moments before Celestia could gather herself and address the infinite expanse. “Stars of creation,” she asked, voice filled with confusion and worry, “what is the meaning of this?”
Your sister’s betrayal incites us to anger. We have waited a year for her to succeed in her end of our bargain. We will wait no longer.
“Betrayal?” Celestia turned towards Luna, who was staring at the ground. “Luna,” she asked gently, “what are they talking about?”
Luna clenched her jaw and breathed deeply. She tried to look up and meet her sister’s eyes, but she could only gaze down to Celestia’s golden shoes. “A thousand years ago,” she began, voice trembling, “I promised to deliver Equestria to them in exchange for releasing me from the moon.”
Celestia could only stare at her beloved sibling. Stung by the gaze of the elder, Luna’s head dropped even lower. After a long pause, Celestia finally spoke. “Luna... you did what?” Her gaze darted all across the form of the midnight blue alicorn. “How could you? What were you thinking?”
Luna turned her head to the side and shut her eyes, unable to withstand the accusations. Realizing the dark memories she had just conjured up for her sister, Celestia turned her gaze as well in guilt. But this was no time for a tender moment. She once again raised her head to the stars. “Please,” she pleaded, “my sister was not in her right mind when she made that promise! Nightmare Moon was not a ruler of Equestria; her agreements are not ours!”
Do you take us for fools, Princess Celestia? There was never such thing as Nightmare Moon. There was only ever Princess Luna, no matter what name she calls herself. The words of an alicorn are eternally binding, regardless of how irresponsible. The price of Princess Luna’s actions must be paid. Equestria belongs to us.
Ever so slowly, Celestia let her gaze fall from the sky towards the ground. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. So your wills are set...
And what of you, Princess Celestia? Will you deny us what is ours?
Celestia brooded over her next words. Whatever was about to come out of her mouth would seal Equestria’s fate forever. She had to make sure that her decision would be the right one.
Several seconds passed. There was never any question, she reflected with a sad smile. “Yes,” Celestia declared to the heavens, her voice resounding with calm determination. “All ponies deserve to decide their own fate.”
And so you have chosen yours. There was a pause. It is settled. We will not show mercy. The time our arrival is at hand. Equestria shall fall.
The lights faded, the blazing brilliance giving way to the usual midnight purple-blue of the nighttime sky. Celestia stared at her hooves.
“Sister, I-” Luna began.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Celestia whispered. Her eyes brimmed with anguish.
“I did not- I knew not that they would do this!” Luna cried, her voice cracking. Celestia turned around and started walking back into the tower. “Celestia? Please-”
“There will be a time for apologies later, Luna,” Celestia interrupted firmly. “What’s done is done. Let’s not dwell on the past.”
She couldn’t bear to look at her little sister right now. This was worse—far worse—than anything Luna had ever done, as herself or as Nightmare Moon. Celestia couldn’t forgive her right now, not at this moment. In time, yes. She just needed a little time. But as a shooting star graced the night sky behind her, she realized that they were out of it.
“Blacknote!” she called as she jumped from the top of the circular staircase and glided down to the main floor of the castle.
A dark blue unicorn with a quill cutie mark scrambled to attention. “Yes, your highness?”
“Summon the Captains of the Pegasus Guard for an emergency mission declaration.”
Blacknote tilted his head in confusion. “All of them, your majesty?” Celestia nodded resolutely. “But, the Summer Sun Celebration-”
“I am cancelling the Celebration,” Celestia declared. “Equestria is in crisis.”
“Crisis?” A tone of dread crept into Blacknote’s voice. “Wh- what’s happening?”
“We are about to be invaded,” Celestia explained, her patience starting to wane despite her best efforts.
Blacknote’s dread turned to panic. “Invaded?” he cried. “By who?”
Celestia shook her head, mane falling in on itself from the motion. “You don’t want to know. Now go!”
“Uh-” Blacknote did an about-face and galloped out of the room. “Yes, your highness!”
As Luna finished descending the stairs, Celestia turned to look out a window. “Luna,” the elder sister addressed without turning her gaze, “I need you to evacuate the city. Take as many ponies as you can and get as far away from here as possible. Take the Diamond Dog tunnels. Use the gems in the treasury to barter safe passage.” There was a slight pause. “Head towards Mongiru Barro in the Sumareian Desert. I will meet you there.” She regarded the night sky as a streak of light slashed across it. Then another, and another. “Leave in fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen minutes?” Luna gasped. “Sister! We cannot possibly evacuate the entire city in fifteen minutes!”
“I know. But any longer and we risk our escape.”
“We can fight, Celestia!” Luna’s eyes were watering. “The two of us, together; we can at least defend Canterlot long enough for everypony to flee!”
Celestia closed her eyes and bowed her head. “They know the two of us are in Canterlot. It is here that their attack shall fall the hardest. If we have not left by the time they arrive they will have surrounded us and cut off any hope of escape.” Her voice started to tremble. “We cannot defend Canterlot forever. If we die, then a-any hope for Equestria is lost.” She clenched her teeth as her voice broke completely. “Th- the lives of a s-single city are- are not w-worth t-the l-l-lives of t-two alicorns.” These last words rose in pitch, verging on a squeal. A tear dripped down the alicorn’s face.
Luna took a step back, eyes wide and mouth open. “Celestia, how can you-”
“GO!” Celestia screamed, not turning from the window. “Every second we waste here more ponies are going to die!”
Luna bit her lip and shook her head. The tears were streaming down her face, but Celestia was right. They had no time. There was a soft flutter of magic and Luna vanished into thin air, her body turning to shadow before disappearing through the fabric of space-time.
Once Luna had teleported away, Celestia let out a soft sob. It was the most she could manage before Blacknote returned with the Captains. The military ponies instinctively stood at attention in an impeccable straight line. Using magic to dab away the tears in her eyes, she put on a strong, determined face before turning around to face them.
“You called, your majesty?” the Captains asked in perfect chorus, their gazes not yielding an inch from imaginary lines that ran straight out from the center of their faces.
“Assemble your troops,” Celestia ordered, gazing at each of the golden-armored white stallions in turn. “Fly to all the major cities and tell them to evacuate everypony immediately.”
“Where shall we tell them to go, your majesty?”
“Anywhere. Everywhere. Scatter to the four corners of Equestria as long as they get out of the cities and towns. Don’t gather in large groups, stay out of the open and keep moving. Take only what they need with them and leave everything else behind. Equestria is about to be attacked. Do not, I repeat, do not attempt to engage the enemy if you encounter them.”
“Your majesty, may I ask who is attacking us?”
“Stars, Gold Wing,” Celestia addressed the furthest pony from the left. “We are being attacked by stars.”
It was a testimony to the training of these ponies that not a single face so much as twitched at her answer. Celestia glanced back out the window. The intermittent meteors had turned into a steady rain. So it begins...
Sounds of wonder echoed from the ponies gathered for the Summer Sun Celebration as they admired the raining lights overhead. This year’s location was in an open field a few miles outside of Ponyville. It wasn’t normal for the Summer Sun Celebration to be held in the same town two years in a row, but Princess Celestia had felt that this little village deserved the honor for having defeated not one, but two mighty threats to Equestria in the same year.
Out of all the ponies watching the celestial display, Twilight Sparkle was the only one with the slightest hint of puzzlement. Big meteor showers were supposed to be regular, predictable events, occurring as Equestria’s yearly orbit intersected with clouds of dust and rocks on its journey through the heavens. Twilight was certain that if there had been a meteor shower predicted for the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration, she would have remembered it and brought her telescope.
The hint of puzzlement, however, was only that. Twilight was not so obsessed with understanding the unknown that she could not simply lay back and enjoy the show. As the stars whizzed by overhead and her friends gazed wondrously upon the magnificent display, she tucked the thought into the back of her head and decided to appreciate the spectacle for the beauty that it was alongside the rest of them.
Minutes passed, and the falling lights showed no signs of letting up; indeed, they seemed to be getting stronger. It took a burst of green flame from Spike’s mouth to bring Twilight’s attention back down to Equestria.
“A letter from the princess?” Twilight inquired as Spike unfurled the paper scroll. “What does it say?”
Spike inspected the scroll. As he did so his expression went from open curiosity, to bafflement, to surprise. “Uhh...” His eyes moved up to meet Twilight’s as he turned the scroll around and lifted it up for her to read.
The scroll contained a single word. Run.
Before Twilight could ask what that meant, a burst of light overhead drew her attention. As Twilight looked up she realized that the shooting stars were shifting in direction and, moreover, getting strangely bigger. In fact, there was one shooting star that seemed to be coming... right at them!
The brilliant ball of light passed overhead and streaked towards Ponyville. It was growing in intensity, yet impossibly, slowing down. The dazzling sphere finally settled to a stop, hovering over the center of the town. It grew brighter for a little while, then peaked and started to dim.
As the star darkened, from within the light emerged a great shadow. It was... big. As big as Ponyville itself. Twilight couldn’t make out much detail, but the thing appeared to be a disk... no, there were rectangular arms... or were they spirals?
As the light continued to fade and the shape became clearer, Twilight felt her jaw drop open. Her ears flattened against her skull and her pupils shrank into little dots. Her knees felt weak, ready to collapse.
It was huge. It was a gargantuan monstrosity like nothing she had ever seen, shaped vaguely like a glowing, orange-yellow, six-armed starfish constructed of mathematical fractals arranged in impossible geometric perfection. The surface seemed to crawl with coruscating lights shifting in spiraling planes in ways Twilight’s mind could not comprehend; it did not, in fact, look like the surface of a physical object at all, but like a window into another realm filled with manifested hyper-spatial incandescence. Scintillating fragments of rainbow light were constantly peeling off and flying into the air before vaporizing. And, from the center of the entity, at its hexagonal heart was a circle of pure white glow, the source of the brilliant light that had earlier made it look like a star.
The air began to tremble. A great noise filled the atmosphere. It was like the revving of a colossal engine, so strong that Twilight thought she could feel the sound around her as a physical object. There were other sounds too. The song of birds, their sleep disturbed, taking to the air. The rustling of distant trees as the wind drove their branches. The gasps and murmurs of the other ponies as they stared wordlessly at that incredible sight. All were soon subsumed in the tremendous roar.
From the hexagonal heart of the floating entity, where the white circle glowed softly, three coils of light spiraled down to earth. They centered on the town hall, bathing it in myriad colors pony eyes had never before seen. An ethereal pillar was born in their center, steadily growing in brightness, consuming the building in light.
Was this all a dream? It couldn’t be. Even in her wildest imagination Twilight could never have dreamed up something like this. It was as if she was seeing a portal into another universe, a different reality, filled with an amazing magic entirely beyond her experience and comprehension. It was a beautiful sight.
The noise faded away and, for a moment, everything was silent, as if the thing had sucked the very sound from the sky. At the center of the ghostly column, white lightning surged.
And then there was light.
Chapter 2: Through the Sky
Disclaimer: “My Little Pony” and all subsequent properties belong to Hasbro.
When Twilight Sparkle came to, the first thing she noticed was pain. She felt as though an enormous hoof had kicked her into the air, after which she had landed on the first set of a dozen flights of stairs and had forcibly tumbled head-over-hooves all the way down. Her muscles ached, her joints creaked, her head throbbed. Twice she tried to open her eyes before her eyelids finally uncovered the white orbs beneath.
Ponyville was gone. In its place was an enormous crater, a perfectly circular dish carved into the earth, its surface impossibly glassy and smooth, reflecting a flawless image of the monstrosity hovering above it as stars continued to fall overhead.
The memories came rushing back. The Celebration, the meteor shower, the noise, the light. Twilight Sparkle remembered being blasted off her hooves and thrown into the air while her other senses were overwhelmed by the sheer force of sensation: the tremendous roar and colossal whiteness of devastation emanating from the thing that had descended from the heavens.
The thing was still there, rotating peacefully above where once had been a thriving town, as though blaspheming with its tranquility against the idyllic lifestyle it had just ended, an affront to the very devastation it had wrought.
Slowly Twilight Sparkle struggled to stand. Her mind was unable to comprehend what had just happened, incapable of taking it all in. In an effort to find something that she could understand she turned her gaze and scanned the surrounding field.
She was alone, as far as she could tell. Dust and smoke were still settling, and her vision was blurry so she couldn’t see for sure, but there were no other ponies nearby. The once-pristine field was strewn with boulders and rocks and seemed to be obscured in a dark fog. Twilight couldn’t find the hill that had been prepared for the Summer Sun Celebration; she had no idea where she exactly she was.
Twilight put one hoof in front of the other and slowly stumbled forward. “Spike? Applejack?” she called weakly. “Pinkie Pie? Rarity? Rainbow Da- Applejack!”
A familiar orange blur was lying on the ground through the dust and mist. Energy surged into Twilight’s legs, letting her rush forward to her friend’s side. “Applejack! Applejack!” Yes, it was the orange cowpony, her trademark hat lying upside-down a dozen feet away. Twilight bent down and nudged the mare with her muzzle.
Applejack turned and groaned, and Twilight felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. Applejack’s eyes fluttered open into a narrow squint. “Twi? Is that you?”
“Yes! Oh Applejack, I’m so glad you’re ok!” Twilight answered as she helped her friend up onto her hooves.
Applejack rubbed her forehead with one hoof. “Ugh, mah achin’ head.” The thing from the sky caught her attention and her expression turned from confusion to horror. “Twilight? Wha... what is that thing? What just happened? Wh- where is everypony?”
“I don’t know!” Twilight cried. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know! That thing- you remember, don’t you? It came from the sky, and the noise and the light and- and Ponyville’s gone, Applejack!”
Applejack stared at her friend’s distressed face. “Gone? Whaddya mean it’s-” Her gaze fell upon the mirror-like crater. “Oh Celestia.”
Twilight stared at her hooves. “I... I... we need to look for other ponies,” she said. “We can’t- there’s no way it’s just the two of us.”
Applejack nodded slowly, unable to take her eyes off of what used to be her home. Then Twilight’s words registered, and she asked the unicorn in a panic, “Have ya seen Applebloom? Or Big Macintosh? Granny Smith?”
Twilight shook her head. “No, I haven’t. You’re the only pony I’ve found.” She scanned the surroundings. “Can you see anypony?”
“I-” Applejack turned around and peered through the haze. “Can’t see nothin’ in this,” she muttered, but then spotted her hat and trotted over to pick it up. As she did so a quiet moan made her ears prick up. “Twi! There’s somepony over there!”
The two rushed over to where Applejack had heard the moan and came to a lightly-colored mare with one leg trapped underneath a boulder. “Bon Bon!” Twilight cried. “Are you ok?”
Bon Bon’s face was twisted in pain; all her willpower seemed to be concentrated into not screaming. The answer to Twilight’s question was self-evident. Applejack bucked at the boulder, but the rock merely rolled in place, causing Bon Bon to cry out. Twilight channeled magic into her horn. “Hang in there, Bon Bon!” Magical power gathered around the rock like a sheathe, lifting the rock into the air and tossing it aside.
“Oh mah,” Applejack quietly said, raising a hoof to her mouth upon seeing Bon Bon’s mangled leg. The limb, although somehow having avoided being crushed completely under the rock, was in no condition to be moved at all.
Twilight stared at the mutilated limb, despair creeping in her heart, but then summoned forth a surge of determination to wipe it out. After Rainbow Dash had broken a wing in the pet competition Twilight had took it upon herself to learn healing magic. She had yet to put theory into practice, for there weren’t that many injuries in Ponyville that couldn’t be cured with a simple trip to the nurse’s station. Here was her first chance. She gulped.
Again channeling power into her horn, she reached out with her senses and probed the damaged leg. The bone was severely fractured and partially crushed, the tendons were completely torn, and the muscle had been compressed beyond its ability to spring back to its original shape. As she searched deeper, into the cellular level, she found that bruising was already beginning to take place. More worrying was that many blood vessels had completely collapsed, and if nothing was done soon the tissues on the end of the leg would soon die from lack of oxygen.
So Twilight began weaving the healing spell. It first took the form of a coat of magical energy that enveloped the damaged leg. The energy slowly diffused through the skin, bringing damaged cells back to life and weaving them back together into a healthy covering. As the magic descended further, ethereal strings reached into the depths of the leg, wrapping their way around the broken bones and battered muscles, forming a tapestry-like web that wove together parts separated by injury. Twilight pulled on the master strings of this web, and the entire tapestry compressed, like pulling the two ends of a complicated knot, bringing the damaged tissues together. It was difficult; Twilight had to guide each string to its proper location and stop the tangles that kept trying to form. It was this process that led Bon Bon to scream, her cry resonating freely in the empty air. But the pain was unavoidable. When Twilight was done, the leg, at least superficially, looked normal again. But to fix the deeper damage required a combination of a time and life manipulation magic, a mixture Twilight had never attempted in such a complex form. Taking deep breaths, she fed magic into the cells of Bon Bon’s leg, supercharging them with energy and setting them to the work of healing the damage. By itself this application of magic would have taken far too long to get any results, so Twilight also reached out and touched the strings of time that connected each cell to the vast river of past, present, and future, and drew them towards their destiny.
And then it was done. Twilight panted and sank down on her knees, exhausted. Bon Bon, tears in her eyes, could only gaze upon her newly-healed leg with awe. Then she remembered politeness. “Oh, thank you!” she cried, jumping up onto all four hooves and grasping Twilight’s hoof with her forelegs. “Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!”
Twilight gave a tired smile. “It was nothing, really.” She sucked in air, filling her lungs to the fullest, then got back up onto her hooves.
“No, really, I can’t thank you enough for-” A massive burst of light on the horizon interrupted Bon Bon’s overjoyed gratitude, and for the first time, the thought entered Twilight’s mind that the destruction of Ponyville had not been a singular event.
She turned around and looked back towards Ponyville, but this time her gaze looked beyond the glassy crater, out towards the distant mountains past where the town had used to be. She couldn’t recognize the horizon. And then she realized why. Canterlot wasn’t just gone; the entire mountain range it was built on had been wiped from existence. The purple-blue mountains that had been a permanent backdrop to their daily lives in Ponyville had been obliterated by swarms of the gigantic orange things that had come from the sky.
“Uh, Twilight?” Applejack asked. “That was some mighty fine magic you did there, but I think we need to skedaddle.”
Twilight glanced at Applejack and followed her frightened gaze to the orange thing that had destroyed Ponyville. And she realized why her friend was scared. The thing, which had been peacefully rotating above the center of the crater it had created, was no longer stationary. Ever so slowly it was now moving across the sky, and it was moving straight towards... them!
“Run!” she shouted, and turned around. But where to? What place could possibly be safe from these monsters? As her eyes scanned the distance, she spotted the one place where they might be able to hide. “To the Everfree Forest!” she cried, and broke out at a full gallop.
Another star streaked through the sky, but unlike the others it did not stop to hover in the air. This one, decidedly smaller than the light that had brought the great destroyer, smashed straight into the ground next to the Ponyville crater, sending tremors through the ground and kicking up huge clouds of dust. Twilight cast a furtive glance over her shoulder at the thing and caught a glimpse of a dark shadow rising from within the dust. A circle of light thudded on and rotated towards them, like a dread eye searching for prey.
Twilight could stand no more. She turned her gaze back towards the forest and concentrated all her energy in running. But all that time spent shut in the library had consequences for her body, and for the first time Twilight realized just how nonathletic she actually was as Applejack and Bon Bon raced ahead.
She was but a few seconds away from reaching the forest when another star fell from the sky and crashed into the earth not a dozen feet away from Twilight, blasting her off her hooves. Her world was suddenly filled with dust; she couldn’t see a thing. As she coughed and wheezed, she could hear Applejack’s panicked screams from beyond the trees: “TWILIGHT! TWILIGHT!”
“I’m ok!” Twilight called back, unsure if her voice had reached her friend. Then a great rumbling behind her made her realize that her response may have been premature. She slowly turned her head to see that which had landed beside her, then wished she hadn’t.
The clouds of dust still obscured it, but she could make out a surface that was not a surface; it was like the thing that had destroyed Ponyville, made of incomprehensible geometries that receded into infinity, but blue, and glossy, and it was a single, flowing shape, not blocky and rectangular like the orange destroyer. The silhouette rose into the air, humming menacingly as it did. A white circle of light thudded on, like a roving, lidless eye. The thing rotated through the air, and the eye fell upon her. Twilight Sparkle closed her eyes, awaiting the end.
It never came. The humming grew louder, and then faded away. Twilight opened her eyes and stared as the thing turned around and hovered away towards Ponyville. She had just enough time to think that it hadn’t noticed her when a massive tentacle snuck around her waist and pulled her into the sky.
“TWILIGHT!” Applejack screamed, but she could do nothing. The giant tentacle, as thick as a pony’s body, flung Twilight through the air as though she were but a doll. It was fast, moving almost quicker than the eye could see, nothing but a bluish-black blur as it had whipped through the air to kidnap its helpless target.
Twilight flailed and fought but she could not dislodge the tentacle wrapped around her body an inch. Her world spun, the ground and sky constantly switching places, never staying still for so much as an instant as she was whisked through the air. The contents of her stomach rose in her throat and spewed out into the sky. The tendril was drawing back towards its origin on the underside of the flying monster. But beneath the panicking mare’s exterior was a core of calm intellect, undisturbed by these wild happenings. What do I need to do to get out of this?
The answer, of course, was magic. Twilight closed her eyes. Magic rose into her horn and emerged into the air, but this time it spread downwards, across her own body. She built up power and concentrated it at a single point, the tip of a mighty arrow that she let loose at the fabric of space-time, punching a hole clean through to another place.
The monster’s eye spun around, gazing at its empty tendril. It did not see the tiny flash of purple light at the edge of the forest.
“Twilight!” Applejack called her friend’s name yet again, but this time the name carried a rush of relief. She reared up onto her hind legs and kicked the air. “Nice thinkin’!”
Twilight let out the breath she had been holding. She cast a quick glance behind her. “Thanks, but we need to move,” she said, and rushed into the darkness of the Everfree.
In the depths of the Everfree forest, Fluttershy huddled in a bush with two small fillies. Her wings were slightly charred, her coat was singed and matted, she ached all over and above all else, she was more scared than she had ever been in her life. But as she felt Applebloom and Sweetie Belle shivering against her body, she knew that she had to find her courage.
“Fluttershy... are we going to be ok?” This was at least the twelfth time Sweetie Belle had asked this question.
“We’ll be fine,” Fluttershy murmured softly, her voice lacking the conviction necessary to convince even herself.
Fluttershy had no idea what was going on. The two fillies had woken her up not too far from the Everfree Forest. How she had got there she did not know; she understood even less the gigantic orange thing that had appeared in the sky, or why it had reduced Ponyville into a glassy crater. But when the blue things started falling from the sky, she had taken the fillies into the Everfree Forest. The forest was dangerous, certainly, but it could not possibly be worse than what was out there.
Where had all the other ponies gone? Of all of Fluttershy’s concerns, her missing friends were her greatest. Whatever had happened had separated her from her friends, and that was what scared her the most. With them Fluttershy would have felt safe despite the strange lights and the terrifying monsters, for as long as they were together there was nothing that could beat them. Or so she told herself; deep down inside Fluttershy was no longer certain about anything.
“M- maybe we can f- find Zecora,” Applebloom suggested after a long silence, her voice small and shaky.
Fluttershy blinked. Of course! They were in the Everfree, after all. Maybe Zecora would know what was going on. And even if she didn’t, at the very least having another friendly face around would make her feel much safer. “Alright,” she whispered. Fluttershy looked down at the terrified little fillies and forced a smile onto her face. It didn’t matter how scared she was, or how worried about her friends and her animals she was; comforting these two children had to be her number one priority. “Applebloom, why don’t you lead the way?”
“That’s right,” Fluttershy said soothingly. “You’ve been to Zecora’s hut much more often than I have, haven’t you? You know the way better than Sweetie Belle or I do.”
Slowly, Applebloom stood up. “Al- alright.” She gulped and looked at Sweetie Belle, who nodded her head encouragingly. An expression of determination rose on her face. “Alright!” she declared firmly, and trudged out deeper into the Everfree.
Fluttershy was reminded of the time that the Cutie Mark Crusaders had marched into the Everfree to catch her lost chicken. The forest was exactly the same as it had been back then: dark, scary, teeming with dangerous monsters. But there was still a sense of reassuring familiarity about it against the otherworldly things that had fallen from the sky and so, despite the fact that she knew that they weren’t safe, Fluttershy was beginning to feel a sense of optimism. She didn’t know what the future had in store, but if they could find Zecora, then they might be able to find her friends. And if they could find her friends...
“Careful here,” Applebloom called ahead. “I tripped on this ‘ere ledge and broke a tooth, once.” She adeptly hopped down the ledge in question and looked back. Sweetie Belle followed suit, but Fluttershy was busy gazing at the treetops.
The topmost branches of the trees were broken, creating a distinct semicircular outline in the canopy, as though a giant blade had sheared through it. Something had passed through here, that much was certain. A dark dread was rising in Fluttershy’s chest.
“Fluttershy?” Applebloom asked. “Somethin’ the matter?”
The filly’s voice brought Fluttershy back down to earth. “Um, no, nothing’s wrong,” she replied, and quickly descended the ledge. Applebloom trotted on forwards.
“It should be right past these ‘ere bushes,” Applebloom said, and brushed the foliage aside with a hoof, revealing a scene of devastation.
It looked like a huge storm had just passed through. Tree branches littered the ground in every direction and one tree had completely fallen over. Zecora’s hut was splintered and broken, looking ready to collapse with the slightest tap, and in the roof was a huge, gaping hole that opened up to the stars.
“Zecora?” Applebloom cried. “Zecora!” she rushed towards the hut.
“Applebloom, wait!” Fluttershy called, flying after the yellow filly.
“Zecora! Zecora!” The hut’s door fell down immediately at Applebloom’s touch, and she rushed into the building. The interior looked like a tornado had been spawned in the center; books were strewn haphazardly across the room, containers were smashed and had spilled their contents all over the floor, cauldrons had fallen, flipped, and fractured everywhere. And nowhere was the owner of it all to be found. “Zecora!”
The other two ponies caught up to Applebloom. Fluttershy let out a gasp at the destruction. No, it’s not possible! Seeing the destruction was like a dream, somehow even less real than the already dream-like that had happened that night. As she looked around the devastated room, she half-expected to hear the zebra’s rhyming voice call out from behind a door, asking them what they had done to her home.
“She’s gone!” Applebloom wailed. “They took her! The- they- they-”
“No!” Fluttershy cried. “We don’t- there’s no- Zecora’s too smart for that!” she blurted out. “She must have escaped! No, she was never here in the first place! She’s out there, in the forest, safe and sound, right now!” Fluttershy descended upon Applebloom, scooping her up in her hooves and giving the filly a tight hug.
“Y- ya really think so?” Applebloom asked, her voice a soft squeal, eyes blinking back tears.
“I know so,” Fluttershy comforted, rocking the filly back and forth.
Applebloom gulped. “I- I’m s- sorry, Fluttershy.”
“It’s ok.” Fluttershy put her back down, and glanced over to Sweetie Belle. The unicorn filly looked up at her desperately. Fluttershy flew back over to her and gave her a hug as well.
An explosion boomed in the sky, interrupting the tender moment. As Fluttershy peered up through the hole in Zecora’s roof, she saw a familiar spray of colors across the heavens.
It was a Sonic Rainboom.
“Hang in there, pipsqueak!” Rainbow Dash shouted as she cut through the air. Ahead, Scootaloo’s panicked screams slowly grew closer as Rainbow Dash closed in. As she blasted through a large, dark cloud, she caught of a glimpse of the filly struggling uselessly against the invisible grip of a small disc-shaped orange flier.
She couldn’t quite remember how they had gotten here. Her first memory after having her world consumed by unending white light was waking up on top of a hill, feeling like she had flown face-first into a cliff. Her first thought had been to fly around and try to find her friends, but it wasn’t long before those giant blue things started falling from the sky. Rainbow Dash had taken temporary refuge on a cloud and had seen that the blue things were snatching up ponies on the ground. But the skies weren’t safe either. Swarms of pony-sized, orange flying things had come out of nowhere and were snatching up any ponies that escaped the blue things.
One of those things had taken Scootaloo. Rainbow Dash wasn’t overly fond of the filly; the incessant worshipping was nice and all, but it became annoying after a while. Still, she wasn’t about to let the kid get taken away by some weird flying contraption.
As Rainbow Dash blasted through a large, dark cloud, she caught a glimpse of the disc carrying Scootaloo before it rounded another cloud. The disc was like a baby version of the giant orange things, with a big fat hexagonal disc comprising most of its size, ringed by stubby little arms. Its surface shimmered and glowed in an unearthly manner as it dragged its captive behind it with a magical aura. Rainbow Dash neither knew nor cared about what these things were or where they had come from; her only concern was saving Scootaloo.
Two white beams lanced out from behind Rainbow Dash, who turned her head to glance back at their sources. “Drat!” she said, realizing that two of the orange discs were now chasing her. She dodged and weaved through their attacks, not wanting to find out what would happen if one of those beams struck her. But as she kept an eye on the disc kidnapping Scootaloo below, she realized that the other two discs were driving her away from the orange filly.
“Oh no you don’t,” she muttered under her breath. She needed to lose these two if she wanted to get to Scootaloo. Furiously she beat her wings against the air, initiating a series of twists and turns through the clouds that would have impressed even a Wonderbolt. But the two discs doggedly trailed behind her the entire way, the near misses of their beams illuminating the clouds like flashes of lightning in a storm. “Alright, so I guess it won’t be that easy.” The discs were indeed worthy foes, and it was a struggle to evade their attacks as their aim steadily got better and better and the beams grazed closer and closer. Desperately she searched the ground, looking for something to change up the game.
There! By some miracle of fate or chance Rainbow Dash had ended up flying right over Ghastly Gorge. Feeling a confident smile sneaking onto her face, she drew her wings close to her body and dove into the entrance of the canyon, leaving a rainbow trail through the sky as she streaked through the air.
First up, the windy cave. Rainbow Dash blasted straight through effortlessly using the speed from her dive. The discs were also unperturbed by the cave, but Rainbow Dash hadn’t expected any less of them. Next, the bramble bushes. Deftly she weaved through the thorny branches, occasionally swinging off one with a hoof to smoothly redirect momentum before leaving the thicket entirely. The discs didn’t bother maneuvering at all, opting to simply blast through the bushes with whatever magic they were using as weapons. After that came the eel nests; Dash zig-zagged between the holes in the cliff face with an efficiency that could only be granted by experience, taking care not to set any of the eels off. When it was the discs’ turn they tried to simply charge through, only to be met with giant clamping jaws. “Hah!” Rainbow Dash laughed. Her mirth was short-lived, however; two eel heads suddenly exploded, showering the gorge with burnt flesh. Dash winced. At least now she knew what those beams of theirs would do to her if she wasn’t careful.
She was almost through the canyon, and the gorge had little else to threaten them with. But Rainbow Dash had one last trick up her sleeve. With a mischievous grin, she flew right into the face of the cliff at maximum velocity, all four hooves compressing under the impact like springs as she smashed into it. There was a deep rumbling from above, and Dash saw to her satisfaction that giant rocks were now raining down from the sky.
She blasted back off the face of the cliff, out of the avalanche and into the heavens. The discs, unable to arrest their momentum, flew right into the rock-slide and were crushed underneath the giant boulders. “Oh yeah, who’s awesome?” Rainbow Dash congratulated herself as she streaked up. The disc holding the struggling Scootaloo was hovering high in the sky right above her. Dash grinned, pouring on speed like no other pony could, an unstoppable force that would smash its target to smithereens.
And then a dozen more discs rose from the clouds right into the middle of her path.
“Oh, BUCK!” Dash cursed as she swerved to the right, g-forces making blood rush to her head. As she looked around at her predicament, she suddenly realized why Scootaloo had been so obviously located: it was a trap, and now Rainbow Dash was surrounded.
A disc was streaking at her from the right. A disc was streaking at her from the left. Dash saw both began to glow, readying that telekinetic magic they used to capture pegasi. It was a silly, arrogant thought, but in that instant Rainbow Dash suddenly felt proud—she had proven herself too awesome, too worthy, for the discs to simply kill! More discs came from behind and in front, surrounding her on all sides.
Fortunately, space was three-dimensional. She went up. The discs, unsurprised by such an obvious maneuver, snapped into almost right-angle turns and followed suit. Ok, she thought, streaking through the sky. They probably aren’t going to fall for the gorge trick again, and I can’t shake them off by turning really hard. Dash gritted her teeth. Then let’s see how fast they can go!
She poured on speed, her wings burning through as much energy as she could deliver. The wind rushed at her face, causing her cheeks to flap, and her eyes streamed tears from the intense gusts. As Rainbow Dash flew faster and faster, her hooves seemed to meet a physical barrier, resisting her efforts to increase speed. A white cone of compressed air formed around her. Dash clenched her jaw as hard as she could.
All at once the resistance gave way, and the cone exploded into a circular rainbow, booming across the night sky, illuminating the darkness with an ethereal burst of beauty. Dash laughed, and glanced back at the discs; they had fallen far behind, unable to keep up with this bullet of a mare.
She banked left, making a long loop around without losing any velocity, and streaked towards the disc holding Scootaloo. “C’mere, you!” she shouted. But the disc would not be defeated so easily; adeptly it dodged to the side, letting Rainbow Dash blast past. As she did so Dash felt the disc’s telekinetic pull on her body, shifting her off course slightly as she swung around the thing. It was a strange feeling, like the disc had suddenly turned into the ground and Rainbow Dash had momentarily started falling towards it. But the experience was temporary, and Dash streaked off into the sky, trying to think of a way to hit the annoying thing.
Maybe a mile off, another one of the gigantic orange fliers had arrived, hovering menacingly over a small town. Dash realized that she must have flown pretty far from Ponyville in her efforts to save Scootaloo. But as she watched the gargantuan star-shaped monster charge up its mighty weapon, an idea grew in her mind.
It was a crazy, deranged, utterly insane idea, something that made all of the magnificent tricks she had ever thought of to impress the Wonderbolts look like child’s play. If she had had the chance to tell any of her friends about it beforehand, they’d call her crazier than Pinkie Pie. No other pony in their right mind would have dared to attempt it.
But she was Rainbow Dash, and she didn’t care about any of that.
Dash flared her wings, letting air resistance slow her back down to subsonic speeds before diving down into the town below the orange monster. Behind her, the discs, suddenly realizing their target was now moving at a catchable velocity again, streaked after her. But Rainbow Dash had a pretty good head start, and she weaved through the air over the town, carefully watching the giant glowing eye of the city-destroyer above her as it sent down spiraling rays of light. If she mistimed this by even a second there wouldn’t even be a body to bury.
She only had the now-distant memories of the destruction of Ponyville to work with, but Rainbow Dash had a pretty good memory and an even better internal clock. When she felt the time was right, she turned around and once again poured on speed, rushing straight at the ghostly column of light at the center of the spirals that descended from the orange monster.
The discs stopped at the edge of the town. For several seconds they dawdled there, as though uncertain of what to do about this apparently-suicidal pegasus. Then they retreated back towards the disc carrying Scootaloo, arranging themselves into a spherical formation around it.
Rainbow Dash burned through the air. Light permeated every point of her world. She felt the familiar resistance build up against her body as she flew faster and faster, but this time there was no screaming of the wind in her ears. All was silent, an unearthly force having sucked the sound from the sky, a perfect repeat of what had happened in Ponyville. White lightning surged through the center of the ethereal column.
There was a tremendous roar. Light consumed reality. A wave of heat and radiation burned at Rainbow Dash’s back. A gargantuan shock wave raced out from the epicenter of the explosion, laying waste to anything that withstood the heat and light.
And then there was a second explosion. A circular rainbow burst into existence behind Rainbow Dash. The shock wave it created propagated through the air and met the shock wave of the city-killer. The two crashed into each other, momentarily mingled, then the latter overpowered the other.
But that was exactly what Rainbow Dash wanted. Even though her grasp of physics and magic was rudimentary at best, she knew, somehow, instinctively, that this would work. It was just a matter of timing, speed, and power. The comparatively tiny explosion of her Sonic Rainboom had generated a disturbance within the greater wall of compressed air, creating a soft, diffuse bubble in which it would be possible for a pegasus to survive.
The shock wave grew closer and closer. Rainbow Dash gritted her teeth. Now was the moment of truth. She angled her body and her wings in the way she thought best, and prayed.
The wave smashed into her like a freight train, knocking the wind from her lungs and causing a spray of black dots to appear in her vision. Rainbow Dash felt like she was being crushed underneath a giant hoof, and for a moment, she was sure she was going to die. But the pressure passed, and Dash felt an enormous amount of energy pushing her entire body outwards at an incredible speed. She smiled, and let her wings angle themselves instinctively to catch the tremendous energy, riding a wave more powerful than anything else she had ever before seen.
“YAAAAAAAAHOOOOOOO!” How fast was she going now? Dash had no idea, but her internal speedometer told her it was far, far faster than she had ever flown before; possibly faster than any pony had ever flown before. The air against her body was heating up from the sheer speed of the pegasus. Surfing on a tide of pure destruction, Rainbow Dash felt an exhilaration surpassing anything she had previously experienced. The power of the blast propelled her faster than she could ever have hoped to fly before. This wasn’t just a once-in-a-lifetime event. This wasn’t even a once-in-a-century event. Quite possibly, Rainbow Dash was the first, and would be the last, pony to surf on an explosion, ever.
As the light began to fade from behind her and the shock wave dissipated, Rainbow Dash caught the flying discs in her eye. At first they were floating in the air, unmoving, perhaps too dazzled by the overwhelming light or too astounded by the amazing sight of the surfing pegasus to react. But as Rainbow Dash approached they sprung into action, the escorting discs spreading out into a wide net that would catch their prey. Dash grinned—everything was going according to plan, and though the shock wave was now gone she was still riding on the surge of adrenaline it had brought forth in her—and tipped her wings as to shoot up at the topmost disc. Maybe the thing was surprised at her action; if so, it didn’t show it. The glow of its central eye grew brighter as it prepared to summon as much magical power it possibly could.
Dash blasted through the air above the disc and felt an intense pull towards it. She did not understand the physics of gravity, but if she had she would have recognized the sensation to have been just that, only orders of magnitude more powerful than the planet could ever generate naturally. The incredible force swung her around the disc in a tight arc, the intense G-forces threatening to snap her bones and cause her to black out. But the disc was not strong enough to maintain its hold; Dash blew past it and rocketed straight down.
It was here, in this act, where the true brilliance of Rainbow Dash’s plan lay. She knew that, no matter how fast she flew, she could never hope to strike a target as agile and aware as one of the discs. The only way she could possibly hit it was with surprise. And so she had surprised it. Riding a shock wave that enabled her to reach incredible speeds far too fast for a single disc to arrest her motion, she had used that very attempt to stop her to make an impossibly tight turn that her target could never have hoped to anticipate.
The disc seemed to register the incoming pegasus projectile, and began to swerve to avoid it. But it was far too late. It only took a tiny course correction for Rainbow Dash to smash her hooves into the thing dead-on, sending all three of them—two ponies and one extraterrestrial invader—screaming towards the ground.
Equestria came up to meet Rainbow Dash, and the two met in an embrace that sent a technicolor mushroom cloud rising high into the sky.
Author’s Note: This chapter was already written prior to being submitted to the EQD, so Rainbow Dash’s scene is in no way inspired by the numerous “Rainbow Dash = Will Smith” comments on EQD.
But I guess she is this story’s Will Smith, because that’s just how Rainbow Dash is. There won’t be any “flying into the alien mothership to blow it up” though.[a]
Chapter 3: Heart of the Night
Disclaimer: “My Little Pony” and all subsequent properties belong to Hasbro.
“A Sonic Rainboom, a Sonic Rainboom!” Pinkie Pie gleefully shouted, jumping into the air. “That’s gotta be Rainbow Dash!” She turned around and grabbed Rarity by the shoulders, still hopping up and down. “We gotta follow her!’
Rarity had felt as though a great weight had been lifted off her chest at the sight of the Sonic Rainboom, but her concern still outweighed her joy. She stared into her friend’s eyes.“Pinkie, perhaps you haven’t noticed, but... of the four of us, not one can fly.”
The two mares cast a glance back at a grey pegasus standing off to the side; Derpy, who had been smilingly contentedly up till then, switched to a sad frown at the reminder of her broken wing.
Pinkie Pie broke out into a wide grin. “Oh, silly, of course we can. We just need a big balloon.”
Rarity raised an eyebrow. “And do you have such a balloon with you?”
Pinkie raised a hoof to her chin in thought. “Well, no. But maybe if we used a lot of little balloons...” She turned around, dove into her saddlebags, and started blowing up balloons one by one.
“Pinkie,” Rarity interrupted. “Why in the world did you bring those with you?”
Pinkie Pie finished tying a balloon. “My Pinkie Sense told me.” When Rarity just stared, she continued, “When I woke up this morning I got this itchy feeling on my chest that means ‘I should carry party supplies everywhere I go with me today’.” To emphasize the point, she dove into her bag, took out a cupcake, and downed it in one bite.
Rarity gave an exasperated sigh and turned to a small purple and green dragon. “Spike, any word from the Princess?”
Spike gave a small shrug of the shoulders. “Nope.”
Rarity sighed again. It was a silly question, she knew. There was no way she could have missed the belching of green flames that signaled the arrival of a letter from Princess Celestia. But she was just too desperate for news—any kind of information—that would clue them in to their predicament. “I think we should get moving. Even if we can’t fly we at least know where Rainbow Dash is now.”
“Okie Dokie Lokie!” Pinkie Pie deflated her balloons and packed them back into her saddlebags. Her cheerful expression transformed into one of surprise as her tail started trembling. “Oh, tail’s a twitchin’, tail’s a twitchin’!”
Rarity looked up into the sky. Another star was descending, growing ever-larger in her view as it blazed across the heavens. “Oh dear,” she said, turning around. “RUN!”
Too late. The star smashed into the ground about a hundred feet away, sending massive tremors through the ground. A giant shadow was rising from within the dust clouds, and a white light peered through the gloom.
Pinkie Pie was the only one not paying attention to the thing that had just landed. Intently studying her tail, she firmly declared, “Nope. That wasn’t it.”
“Wasn’t it?” Rarity gasped. “What do you mean that wasn’t-” Pinkie Pie’s meaning suddenly became clear as cracks splintered across the ground. Huge, jagged holes appeared in the dirt as the earth beneath their hooves gave way.
Rainbow Dash stared at Scootaloo. The orange filly was sitting completely still, her eyes giant, wide orbs. Dash waved a hoof in front of the filly’s face. “Hey pipsqueak, you ok?” Scootaloo had been unmoving for so long that Rainbow Dash had started to fear she might have been injured in the fall when-
“That... was... the coolest... thing... I have ever seen!” Scootaloo jumped up into the air, legs trembling with overexcitement as her eyes got even wider than they already were. “That was amazing! No, that was beyond amazing! That was, that was...” Her eyes rapidly darted around as she tried to find a word capable of expressing her emotions. “That was Dashmazing. That was Dashcredible! That was Dashtastic!”
Rainbow Dash chuckled in relief. “Yep, that was pretty cool,” she admitted.
“That was awesome!” Unable to contain her excitement, Scootaloo had started jumping up and down uncontrollably. “Oh my gosh, when you were all ‘BOOM!’ I thought you were gonna die but you didn’t you were all ‘WOOSH’ and they were all ‘NO!’ and- and... that was just THE COOLEST... if the Wonderbolts had seen you would be in for sure!”
Dash’s face suddenly fell at the mention of her heroes. “Yeah. For sure.” She gazed up into the sky, and her thoughts went out to not only the Wonderbolts, but her five best friends as well. I hope they’re alright...
The two were silent for a while before Rainbow Dash remembered the other discs. It wouldn’t be long before they caught up. “C’mon, pipsqueak, we can’t just sit around moping all day.” She stood up and dusted herself off, casting one final glance at the disk she had destroyed. The thing was lying in a crater, broken into pieces under the force of her attack, and these pieces continually sparked. The interior was solid; the disk seemed to made of a single, solid piece of... whatever it was that it was made of.
Dash’s ears perked up at the sound of the familiar voice. That accent... it could only be Applejack! “Hey guys!” she called out, and flew a few feet off the ground to get a better look. “Hey!” There were three ponies at the edge of the Everfree forest: Twilight, Applejack, and one mare Rainbow Dash didn’t know.
Scootaloo jumped up into the air and bounded towards the three ponies. Rainbow Dash followed suit, grinning widely at the filly’s antics. “Oh my gosh, did you guys see what Rainbow Dash just did?” Scootaloo asked after reaching the edge of the Everfree. “She was all ‘WOOSH’ and ‘RAWR’ and there were all these ‘BOOMS’ and... and...” She paused from making exaggerated hoof-motions and broke out in borderline-teary grin. “It was just... so... cool...”
“Umm...” Twilight Sparkle gave a smile that was somewhere between polite and awkward. “Sorry... I don’t think we saw what you’re talking about...” She turned towards Rainbow Dash, who was flying over. “We saw your Sonic Rainboom,” she explained, “and we rushed over here as fast as we could to find you.”
“You mean you didn’t see me totally just show that flying thing who’s boss?” Dash asked, disappointed. “Aw well.” She glanced back at the glowing remains of the destroyed disc.
Twilight followed her gaze. Her eyes widened and her ears perked up at the sight of the bright orange pieces. “You- you beat one of those things?”
Rainbow Dash smirked. “Yep. ‘Course I did!” She put her front hooves up in the air and made punching motions. “Nobody kidnaps my friends and gets away with it!”
A dozen discs punched through the bottom of the clouds and streaked towards them. “Uh oh,” Applejack said. “C’mon girls, let’s move!” The group of now-five ponies darted back into the darkness of the Everfree.
“Weeee! Let’s do that again!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed.
Rarity picked herself off the ground and dusted herself off. “Let’s not,” she replied. She glanced around. “Is everypony alright?” A small chorus of positive responses assured her of the safety of her companions.
“Um, where are we?” Spike asked, looking around.
Rarity studied the dank brown walls of the tunnel they had fallen into and breathed deeply. The scent of the slightly-wet dirt and stale air up conjured up unpleasant memories. “I think these are the tunnels of those Diamond Dogs. You remember those ruffians, don’t you, Spike?”
Spike’s face brightened. “Oh yeah!”
“Oooh, those guys?” Pinkie asked, a suspicious expression on her face. “They better not try anything this time!”
“Umm, Diamond Dogs?” Derpy asked. The way her eyes pointed off in different directions made her look of confusion all the more powerful.
“They’re—” Rarity began, but was interrupted by Pinkie Pie jumping in between her and Derpy.
“Big Meanie-McMeaniepants doggie-woggies!” she cried.
“—large dogs who live underground, are obsessed with gems, and are very uncivilized,” Rarity finished.
“Oh, they’re big pushovers though,” Spike added upon seeing Derpy’s worried expression.
The sound of footsteps and panting echoed down the tunnel. “Oh, speak of the devil,” Rarity exclaimed as two Diamond Dogs emerged from around a corner.
The dogs paused upon seeing the ponies, confused. One began scratching his ears with his hind leg. The other cocked his head in puzzlement and grunted, “Ponies! Why are you so far away from the other ponies?”
“Um, other ponies?” Rarity asked, but was suddenly bewildered by one of the dogs pushing her from behind. “Excuse me!” She shot a glare that made the dog cow apologetically. “I can walk, thank you very much. Now, who are these other ponies you were talking about?”
“From the surface,” the dog replied helpfully, pointing a finger upwards. The two dogs turned and made off back down the tunnel. “Come, ponies!”
The three ponies and dragon exchanged confused glances before hurriedly following. The chase through the tunnels was long and confusing; every time Rarity rounded a corner the dogs would slip around another one. In this way did they follow the two Diamond Dogs, always trailing just barely out of sight until...
“Oh, my,” Rarity exclaimed.
They had entered a gigantic tunnel, far larger than any of the others that they had seen so far. Carousel Boutique could have fit in the middle and there would have still been room to walk around it. But what made Rarity stop wasn’t the size of the tunnel; it was the huge lines of ponies, dressed in posh, expensive suits and dresses and holding themselves with the haughty air of nobility. The sight of so many well-dressed, well-mannered ponies traipsing through a dark, dirty tunnel was a surreal sight.
“Woah, what’s going on here?” Spike asked after hopping off of Derpy’s back.
A throaty, feminine voice sounded to Rarity’s right. “Hmm, I know you.”
Rarity turned towards the source of a voice. It was a familiar-looking pink unicorn: tall, thin, with a striking resemblance to a shorter, wingless, Princess Celestia. “Oh,” Rarity said, slightly confused, then remembered her manners. “Ah yes, I remember you too. You are Fancypants’s wife, yes?”
The pink unicorn gave a wry smile. “Actually, I’m his bodyguard. Though I certainly wouldn’t mind being his wife.” They shook hooves. “The name is Fleur.”
“Rarity,” Rarity introduced herself in turn, then tilted her head in puzzlement. “Excuse me, but you said you were his... bodyguard?” Fleur nodded, smiling. “I’m sorry, but you don’t really...”
“Look like a big, burly stallion dressed in a black suit and sunglasses?” Fleur finished. “Darling, I assure you that Fancypants has more style than that.” She struck a pose. “There’s no reason why protection can’t come with some eye candy, after all.”
Rarity just stared incredulously for the next several seconds, then smiled awkwardly. “I’m sorry. You must get reactions like mine an awful lot,” she said. Fleur chuckled, and Rarity continued. “May I ask what all of you are doing here?”
Fleur gave a quizzical expression. “The same thing you are, of course. We’re escaping.”
“Escaping?” Rarity’s eyes widened in surprise. “You mean... those things... they attacked Canterlot as well?”
“Of course.” Fleur studied Rarity intently before being struck by realization. “Ah yes, I had almost forgotten. You live Ponyville, don’t you? So you wouldn’t have heard the evacuation order.”
Fleur nodded. “Yes. It was in the middle of the night when Princess Luna woke everypony up with a warning that Equestria was about to be attacked. We all ran into these tunnels as fast as we could while she helped to teleport as many ponies as possible.” She glanced around at the gray tunnel walls. “I had no idea there was such an extensive tunnel network right underneath our hooves! Who would have thought it?”
“Princess Luna?” Rarity asked. “Is... is she here?”
“Yes,” Fleur responded, nodding again. “I believe she is at at the front, leading the way.” She pointed a hoof in the direction the Canterlot ponies were all walking in.
“What about Princess Celestia?”
Fleur gave a small shrug. “I don’t know. Princess Luna said she had things to manage. I suppose she’s right, I can only imagine how many things there are for her to do right now.”
The nonchalant manner in which Fleur was discussing the events of the night surprised Rarity, but then the white unicorn remembered that these ponies hadn’t seen what had happened—hadn’t seen the giant orange monsters descend from the skies and obliterate their cities and towns with white light. There was no way they could understand what was happening. Rarity had seen it with her own eyes and she couldn’t understand what was happening.
But if there was one pony in all of Equestria who did... “Thank you very much,” Rarity said to Fleur. “I must go find Princess Luna. Goodbye, and good luck.” She turned around, motioned to her friends, and started off towards the end of the tunnel.
“And to you as well,” Fleur called from behind her.
The shouted name interrupted Luna’s conversation with the Diamond Dog guiding the ponies through the maze of tunnels. Princess Luna turned around and saw a white, purple-maned unicorn trotting towards her. Trailing behind her was a pink earth pony and a gray pegasus with a broken wing. Riding the pegasus was a familiar-looking dragon...
Then it clicked. These were Twilight Sparkle’s friends. The earth pony had been dressed as a chicken during Nightmare Night, which was why Luna hadn’t recognized her at first. She had heard tale of the white unicorn from Princess Celestia, and vaguely remembered her from back when she was Nightmare Moon. The gray pegasus, though was a mystery, not least because her yellow eyes pointed off in different directions, giving her a perpetually dazed look.
“Rarity,” Luna answered. “It is good to see that thou art safe.”
Her greeting made Rarity pause in shock. “Princess! You... you know my name?”
“Of course,” Luna replied, head held high. “Thou art one of the six who helped me when my need was most dire. It would be foalish of me not to have learned your names.” She turned to the others. “And thou of course, are Pinkie Pie and Spike, friends of Twilight Sparkle.” She stopped at the pegasus. “I am afraid I know not of thee-”
She was interrupted by a loud, gravelly, wailing noise from the Diamond Dog. “NO! It’s you!” he moaned, covering his ears with his paws. “The one who makes the awful noises! Why have you returned?”
Rarity stared quizzically at the Diamond Dog. “I’m not here to torture you, you know. As long as you don’t bother me, I shan’t bother you,” she said rather huffily, then turned towards Luna. “Princess, what’s going on? Why are these... things attacking us, and what are they?”
“They are stars,” Luna replied. “Or rather, constructs that the stars use to wage war against our kind. As to why they are attacking us...” She pawed at the ground nervously, glancing at the ground. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, her head shaking almost imperceptibly before looking back at Rarity. “I don’t know.”
Rarity involuntarily sat down on the floor. Spike’s eyes were wide and glassy, and Pinkie Pie had her head tilted in an incredulous expression. “Stars?” Rarity asked. “B-but- I thought- you- stars... stars?”
Luna nodded. “Yes. Stars art not mere lights in the night sky. They art a vast and ancient race of magical beings that dwell in the heavens beyond our world.”
“But why would they attack us?” Spike asked.
Luna sighed, and turned towards the Diamond Dog. “We need to keep moving,” she said, gesturing at the long line of refugee ponies behind them. With the dog leading the way, she started walking forwards.
“Wait, Princess!” Rarity called. “Where are we going? Where is Princess Celestia? What are we going to do?”
“Princess Celestia is... occupied,” Luna answered, her head fixated down the dark tunnel. “I know not of what actions she plans to take, but I know that she shalt not take this invasion lying down. Rest assured, we art doing all that is in our power to ensure the safety of all of our subjects.”
Pinkie Pie studied Luna and Rarity intently. Her mouth twisted in deep thought. An idea seemed to strike her, and she gazed back at the line of ponies following them. “These ponies all look so mopey-wopey,” she said sadly, then brightened as another idea came into her head. “They look like they could use some cheering up!” She started to prance down the tunnel towards the rear of the line, but then remembered her friends. “Spike, Derpy, c’mon!” She motioned for them to join her then continued prancing away.
Luna watched her leave. “To what purpose dost that mare go to?”
“Oh, she’s just being Pinkie Pie,” Spike answered nonchalantly. “Actually, I think I want to see what she’s up to.” And with that, he made off to follow the pink party pony. After glancing around awkwardly for a few seconds, Derpy shrugged and followed suit.
Rarity was a little confused by Pinkie’s actions. Her eyebrows furrowed in thought before she realized that she was now alone with the Princess. No... did she do that on purpose? Or was it just random chance that the strings of fate that constantly pulled Pinkie Pie in random directions chose now to yank her away?
Regardless, this was undoubtedly an opportunity. “Princess,” Rarity said, running up alongside Luna. “Where are we going?”
Luna glanced at the unicorn from the side of her eye. “We art traveling to a place called Mongiru Barro,” she answered. “It is an old hiding spot underneath the desert. Celestia hath told me that she shalt meet us there.”
“M... Mon... Mongee...” Rarity’s mouth struggled to wrap itself around the strange new word that flowed so fluently off Luna’s tongue. Eventually she gave up. “That’s a very unusual name,” she said laughingly, embarrassed.
For the first time since Rarity had seen her, Princess Luna smiled. “It is term in the language of the ancient Sumareians,” she explained. “A very old pony civilization who dwelt in the desert. Translated, it means something like ‘Gate of Oblivion.’”
Rarity’s eyebrows shot up. “Oblivion?” she asked incredulously. “Princess, I mean no offense, but why are we heading towards a place with a name like that?”
Luna chuckled. “It is an ominous name, is it not? Fear not, fair Rarity. It is a safe refuge that has always helped my sister and I in times of need.”
Rarity furrowed her eyebrows and stared at the ground, deep in thought. After several seconds she lifted her head back towards Luna. “What kind of... times of need has it helped you in?”
Luna stopped walking. She stared down the tunnel, her gaze distance, her mouth bent in a frown. When she finally spoke, her speech was slow and measured. “It was back when Discord reigned over Equestria,” she explained. “Celestia and I... had not yet discovered the power to defeat him. And he of course, sought to defeat us. So we wouldst hide, wouldst fight from the shadows, doing whatever we could to hurt him, to stop him... Mongiru Barro was a haven for us, a place whither we could always return to and sleep well...”
As Rarity gazed into Luna’s eyes she saw something that made her shudder: the weight of immeasurable years weighing down on Luna’s memory and conscience. Ordinary ponies knew, of course, that the Princesses were immensely old, with wisdom and experience beyond any other living creature, but never before had Rarity ever stopped to consider what that meant. This was the first hint she had ever seen of just how deep the fathomless depths of an alicorn were. It made her feel small.
Luna noticed the unicorn’s shuddering and quickly averted her gaze. “I am sorry,” she apologized. “Old memories, you understand...”
Rarity gave a polite smile. “Oh no, it’s no problem at all.”
Luna sighed and turned to the guide dog. “Guide, let us stop here and rest for a while. We hath traveled a long way and there is a long way yet to go. Bring forth the hay to all the ponies.”
The Diamond Dog responded with a curt “Ok,” and then blew on a dog whistle he took from his pocket. Within minutes, dozens of Diamond Dogs were emerging from various tunnels that branched off the central one, bringing with them large bales of yellow-brown hay.
Princess Luna settled in on the ground and started chewing thoughtfully from a bale, pulling out bite-sized chunks with magic. Rarity, for her part, was unwilling to dirty herself on the tunnel floor, so opted to eat standing up. When the hay touched her tongue, however, she reflexively gagged and spit it back out. It tasted like it had been let to sit in a damp room for a month, marinated in mud for another, then finally seasoned with a healthy sprinkling of dust. Which, given the source, might be exactly what had happened. Rarity glanced up at the Princess. Ugh... how can she stand to eat this... stuff?
Behind her she could hear the groans and gagging of the Canterlot ponies as they all fervently rejected the Diamond Dogs’ offering. Princess Luna’s chewing grew louder, her eyelids lowered in annoyance. Rarity chuckled awkwardly and forced herself to down another bite of hay. The stuff—Rarity refused to grace it with the name of “food”—practically burnt her throat on the way down.
Luna looked down at the ground, dejected. A long, awkward silence followed. Finally she broke it. “I wonder if my sister hath not been too good of a ruler.”
Rarity tilted her head in confusion. “Pardon me?”
Luna gestured to the posh, well-dressed ponies with a hoof and sighed. “Ponies of this era know not of hardship. My sister hath ruled Equestria with such wisdom and compassion that almost all of the old problems hath all but disappeared.”
Rarity leaned forward, her eyebrows knitted together. “Excuse me for asking, Princess, but isn’t that a good thing?”
Luna stared at the hay sadly. “In better times, yes. But... grief is all the harder to bear if thou hath never felt it before.”
Rarity put on her best sympathetic smile. “It sounds like you’ve been through a lot, Princess.”
“Thou couldst say that.” Luna’s voice was uncharacteristically small.
“Would you like to talk about it?”
Luna looked up from the hay and stared at Rarity. Rarity wasn’t sure why, but the Princess seemed astonished at her question. Rarity felt a small bead of sweat drip down the back of her head. Had it been that strange of a question? Had she overstepped a boundary somewhere between ruler and subject?
Princess Luna looked away, not answering. That settles it, Rarity thought. Rarity might just be a fashionista from Ponyville, but she could tell that her Princess was deeply troubled about something. And the spirit of generosity within her would not let her let anypony, even a Princess, go unhelped if there was anything she could do about it.
“Prin-” she began, then decided that perhaps being a little less formal would be worth the risk, “Darling, I know there’s something bothering you, and I can just tell it’s the kind of thing where talking about it will help you feel much better.” She raised a hoof, hesitated for a moment, then gingerly placed it on top of one of Luna’s hooves. “So please, tell me. I can’t promise I will understand, but... I will do my best to try.”
Luna just stared at her as though she couldn’t believe what Rarity was saying. Every motion of her face—every twitch of the eyebrow, every tiny movement of the lips—sent another wave of nervousness washing down Rarity’s neck. Oh, I am so going to be banished for this.
Finally, Luna spoke. “It is Celestia,” she said, turning her head to gaze at the ground.
Relief and confusion simultaneously washed over Rarity, mixing into a sensation of nausea that was not at all helped by the delectable hay she had just consumed. She forced it back down. “What do you mean?” she asked.
Luna stared off into the distance. She seemed to be chewing her tongue. “We... had an... argument,” she said, choosing each word very carefully. “And my heart is filled with... worry... about what she dost thinks of me.”
“I’m sure she thinks mostly highly of you,” Rarity responded reflexively. Then she paused, and realized that she knew absolutely nothing about the personal lives of the Princesses and had nothing to base what she had said off of. Still, with the way Princess Celestia was, Rarity couldn’t imagine her thinking poorly of her own sister, ever.
“I am not so sure,” Luna said quietly. She closed her eyes and sucked in air. “It is... difficult for me to explain this to thee, but... I do not understand how my sister thinks.”
Rarity pursed her lips. “But... isn’t that normal?” she asked. “After all, nopony can know what another pony is thinking.”
Luna shook her head, her translucent mane twisting in an invisible wind. “No, that is not what I mean.” She stared at her hooves, folded in front of her. “It’s... it’s... I...” She closed her eyes again and thought intently about what she wanted to tell Rarity. How could she say this? No pony had ever approached her in such a manner before, asking about her innermost thoughts, and she had no idea how to respond. It was almost a full minute before Luna opened her eyes again and looked into Rarity’s with a gaze that seemed to pierce into the unicorn’s soul. “Rarity, hast thou ever wondered why my sister banished me to the moon?”
Rarity’s eyes widened at the question. It was a few moments before she could answer. “I, well...” She turned her head and thought about it. “Well, everypony knows that you, well...” She grimaced. “You turned into Nightmare Moon and were about to bring great evil upon Equestria, so Princess Celestia banished you to the moon to stop you.” She gave a small, hopeful look to Princess Luna.
Luna sighed, shaking her head slightly. “That is not what I meant.” Her gazed turned upward towards the ceiling. “Thou art aware, of course, that Celestia used the Elements of Harmony to banish Nightmare Moon.” She looked at Rarity, who nodded in acknowledgement. “The very same Elements of Harmony that thou and thy friends used to purge me of the anger and hatred that made me into Nightmare Moon.” She stared at Rarity, watching the mental gears within the unicorn grind away.
“So...” Rarity began, blinking, “... then the question is... why didn’t Princess Celestia use the Elements to do what we did, instead of banishing you?” She looked up at the alicorn hopefully.
“Indeed, that is correct,” Luna replied, nodding.
Rarity’s eyes darted around, searching through invisible thoughts. “So... why did she banish you instead of... purging you?”
Luna’s gaze turned back down to her hooves. “It is because she couldst not purge me of the dark feelings that had built up inside me, as thou did.” She looked back up at Rarity. “To use the Elements of Harmony properly requires one to be harmonious oneself. And there is no greater harmony than that which is forged by the bonds of friendship. That is why thou and thy friends were able to wield the Elements so easily; because even though thou hadst just met not moments before, a powerful friendship already connected all of thee. Thou possesses the purity of heart and mind required to use the Elements to their full potential.” She breathed deeply. “Celestia... did not.”
She let the revelation sink into the white unicorn. Rarity had completely frozen, her lips silently mouthing the words Luna had just spoken. The idea that there was something she had that Celestia didn’t; that Celestia was somehow, impure was inconceivable. It was unthinkable. It felt like blasphemy for the thought to even enter her mind. There was only one possible response to what Luna had just said, and slowly the word formed on her lips. “Why?”
Luna sighed. “I cannot say for certain. But...” She pawed at the ground with a hoof. “We alicorns are... very long-lived. And... to us... ordinary ponies are like...” Her head tilted from one side to the other in thought, before finally coming upon an appropriate analogy. “Ordinary ponies are like candles to us. Thou art lit, shine brightly for a while, then burn out.” She tossed her head back and forth for a while, uncomfortable with what she was saying. “Celestia and I hath seen this happen innumerable times. And though it brings us great joy to see thy lights burn so happily and brightly, it also brings us great sadness when thee go out.” She sighed. “And... it is perhaps impossible for us to truly connect to the other pony races because of this. The gap is too large.” Luna closed her eyes and breathed deeply before continuing. “For as long as I can remember, Celestia and I hath always been together. Through trials and hardship, through joy and celebration. Because of who we are, we hath only been able to rely on each other through the ages. And that was a bond that I thought wouldst never be broken.”
Rarity leaned forward, unsure of what to say. She wasn’t too happy with the idea of being compared to a candle, but what could she say in a situation like this? Luna’s words, her problems were completely outside of her realm of experience. There was no way she could understand the built-up feelings of thousands of years, no words she could say that carried any sort of meaning enough to put a dent in the size of the Princess’s emotions. “It... sounds like you were very close,” she finally offered, inwardly cursing herself for the lameness of her response.
Luna chuckled. “Yes, I suppose that thou couldst say that.” She sighed. “But... that all changed after I was banished to the moon.” Her gaze grew distant again, and Rarity once more felt the weight of millennia behind those eyes. “It’s not because I hurt her, hurt everypony. She forgives me for that completely. But a thousand years is a long time, even for an alicorn. And in that thousand years Celestia hath hadst to live without me. And because of the kind of pony she is, that means she hath hadst to live alone. These thousand years... these thousand years that I was not there for, by her side, sharing her experiences... they hath separated us.”
Luna turned her head, and Rarity thought she could see a glint of tears in the Princess’s eyes. “When I returned to Canterlot, I was at first engrossed in studies. I hadst a thousand years of Equestrian history to learn. I had to understand all these new contraptions that ponies had invented in my absence. I had to learn about the changes so I would be fit to rule by Celestia’s side. It was much, but I learned it, and slowly Celestia let me back onto the throne. I opened up Night Court again, and it was much busier than that of a thousand years prior. But...” Luna looked at Rarity sadly, her eyes shimmering in the torchlight. “No matter how much effort I put forth, it was never enough. Ponies did not treat me the same way they treated her.” She took a deep breath. “Of course, that is to be expected. They hath not known me all their lives, as they hath Celestia. But that’s not why I felt... outside.”
Luna’s head slowly descended, coming to rest on the nook created by her crossed legs, her starry mane scattering across the ground. “It was because I could no longer understand my own sister. Before, it hadst never took any effort for me to understand what she was thinking. I always knew exactly how she would respond to anything, because I knew exactly the way her mind worked. But that is not longer the truth. Because while I hath been frozen in time these thousand years, Celestia hath moved on, hath continued to grow. I hath missed a thousand years of her life, and I can never get those back. How can I possibly know what she has experienced during those years while I was gone? How can I possibly understand her thoughts when she has a thousand years’ worth more of understanding? She hath become lost from me, forever, because of my own foalishness and stupidity, and there is nothing that she nor I can do anything about it.” There was a small, tiny sound that emerged from Luna’s throat right then, that Rarity could have sworn was crying. “We art together again, but at the same time we art alone, for there is an unbridgeable gap between us that nothing in the world can ever fill. And it is completely my own fault.” Tears streamed down Luna’s midnight-blue face, dripping off the edge of her muzzle and leaving tiny, dark splotches on the ground.
For the first time in living memory, Rarity was speechless. It was beyond simply not knowing what to say; quite literally no words would come to the top of her mind. Shock was not an adequate term to explain what she was feeling. Nor was surprise, or bewilderment, or even astonishment. Perhaps there simply was no word capable of describing what she was feeling at moment; after all, how can one think of a word to describe one’s feelings when one cannot think of any words at all?
So she didn’t respond with words. Reaching out with her hooves, she wrapped them around the Princess’s neck and pulled her into a tight embrace. A moment’s hesitation later, and Luna returned the gesture. The hug sent the waves of emotion both were feeling into a cascade that finally crested like a tidal wave smashing against a cliff face, and the two ponies were sent into sobbing shudders. As Rarity felt Luna letting out the flood of emotions that she had kept behind the dam of her heart for so long, words finally drifted up to the surface of her mind.
“Look, Princess,” she began, head gingerly resting against the side of Luna’s wet face, “I know I’m just a candle. But for however much it’s worth, I want you to know that I will be here for you to the best of my ability. You don’t have to be alone.”
Rarity did not see, but felt Luna’s lips tighten up into a smile. “It is not I whom I am worried about, Rarity,” the Princess said. “It is Celestia.” She pulled back from the hug and dabbed away her tears with magic. “I hath always wanted friends, but I hath never been good at making them. Ponies are scared of me, thou understands. It is only natural; darkness is a frightening thing. But Celestia is the exact opposite. She can become friends with anypony she desires. Ponies adore her, they worship her, they love her. But she does not let them be her friends. She does not let anypony see her true self, the one she keeps locked away in her heart. She can be friends with anypony she wants, but she has never wanted friends.”
As Luna blinked away the last of her tears, the ridiculousness of what she had just done struck her in full force. She withdrew from the hug and stared at Rarity, her eyes wide, her head shaking in joyful incredulity. Who was this pony that could make her, an alicorn that dwarfed her in age and wisdom like an ordinary pony did a mayfly, pour out her heart to this complete stranger that she had only met for the first time just minutes ago? It was absurd; if Luna had been told that this would happen just an hour ago she would have ridiculed the idea, considered it impossible. What was it about this unicorn, this pony, that had coaxed Luna’s emotions from her heart so easily?
For her part, Rarity seemed to be taken aback at the Princess’s gaze, and shied away embarrassedly. Luna blinked slowly in response, and smiled. Her thoughts cast towards a certain purple unicorn. I finally understand now, why thou art so strong, Twilight Sparkle.
It is because thou hast such great friends.
Chapter 4: Heaven’s Fire
Disclaimer: “My Little Pony” and all subsequent properties belong to Hasbro.
Equestria was burning.
It wasn’t just the flames that devoured the grassy fields, the fires that consumed what remained of the towns and cities, and the infernos that ravaged the forests, casting an eerie, orange-red glow on the horizon as the smoke from these conflagrations blotted out the night sky. It was beyond mere, physical destruction; the very animating essence of the world itself was burning. The sky screeched, the ground screamed. Equestria cried out in pain beneath Princess Celestia’s hooves.
She walked through the charred remains of an open field, alone. Her concealment spell wrapped rays of light around her in a protective cocoon, hiding her magical signature and rendering her invisible. The illusion wasn’t perfect—concealment had always been Luna’s speciality—but it was enough to protect her from a passing gaze, and with the stars more occupied in their symphony of destruction than searching for her, it sufficed.
It’s all so pointless, Celestia mused, gazing at the glowing abominations that scarred the sky. The stars were aiming to destroy Equestria’s infrastructure, industry, and population centers in an effort to obliterate the ponies’ ability to wage war in a decisive first strike. But ponies didn’t have any ability to wage war to being with, so all this wanton death and destruction was for nothing. Were the stars ignorant of how pointlessly overkill their attack was, or did they just not care?
Or perhaps there was a point. For as Celestia continued to walk through the raining ashes, despair was grasping at her heart with black tendrils. Had there been any meaning in her proud defiance of the stars? Or was she the one that was responsible for this pointless destruction, by refusing to bow down and accept enslavement?
Of all the emotions that welled up inside her—grief, anger, disgust, fear—the strongest was regret. I’m sorry, Luna. There was simply no excuse for how Celestia had treated her sister, for shouting at her, for refusing to forgive her for her mistakes. Luna must have already felt terrible about the invasion, and Celestia had only heaped more sorrow onto the pile. I’m sorry. This is all my fault. If I had been more observant, wiser, kinder...
Perched on Celestia’s back, the phoenix Philomena cooed sadly, sensing her master’s feelings. Celestia’s memories turned back to that fateful day, a thousand years ago, when Luna was devoured by her dark emotions and transformed into Nightmare Moon. In hindsight, it had been so obvious. Painfully obvious. But Celestia had been so obsessed with herself, with everypony else, that she had ignored her own sister, ignored the signs of the incoming storm. She could have done something. She could have done anything. But she didn’t, and let the events unfold that would lead to this fateful day, the burning of Equestria.
She closed her eyes, unable to continue taking in the surrounding scene, and kept walking. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. This is my fault, Luna. Don’t blame yourself.
She had to raise the sun. Perhaps the stars would grow weaker in its light, just as the sun purged the stars from the sky during the day. Even if it didn’t, it would give her little ponies hope, knowledge that their Princess was still alive, still out there, somewhere, fighting for them. But when Celestia reached out to the sun to lift it from beneath the horizon, she found a powerful force keeping it there. Undoubtedly, this was the work of the stars. But as she had traced this alien force controlling her sun to its source, she had discovered, surprisingly, that it was coming from a point in Equestria. And it was to this point that she now went.
It was at that moment that Celestia discovered closing her eyes had been a mistake, a mistake only just recovered from as she barely missed tripping over a small foal, lying in the dirt. The toddler, a little colt barely a year old, hadn’t noticed her and was curled up in a ball, whimpering in fear. His parents were gone; whether merely hiding and worried about their child, taken by the stars, or worse, Celestia did not know. And it didn’t matter. Stranded out here alone in an open field, it was only a matter of time before the stars came to take him too.
Celestia wanted to save the foal, to scoop him up in her arms and hug him, to whisper that everything would be all right, that he was safe, that she wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him. But she couldn’t. To do so would require lifting her concealment spell, and that would draw down the full wrath of the heavens upon her at a moment when stealth was paramount. She could do nothing except watch the foal cry, as though he were on the opposite side of an unbreakable window, within leg’s reach yet an unbridgeable distance away.
So Celestia did the hardest thing of all. She walked away, putting the foal behind her, forcing it out of her memory. Her conscience screamed at her. You call yourself a Princess? You DARE to claim yourself their ruler? That foal is lying there, crying his eyes out, and you’re just going to walk away? You are a disgrace to your title, a disgrace to the memory of all alicorns, you useless, weak, pathetic coward of a mare!
“Yes, yes, I know, I know,” Celestia whispered back to the imagined insults, tears streaming down her face. But she had to walk away. If she stayed, they would all die. And so, though it tore her heart in two, she left the foal there, to whatever fate the stars would have for him.
The source of the power that was keeping her from raising the sun... it was close now. Just beyond this small hill. As Celestia climbed to the top of the hill, a quiet gasp escaped her lips. Below was Fillydelphia—or rather, where Fillydelphia used to be. There was certainly nothing left anymore. Instead, rising from a great glassy crater in the ground was a completely different city.
It was a city of towering rectangular monoliths, bleeding light off into the atmosphere. But this light was a false light, a dead light, illuminating nothing even as it spread high into the sky. The towers coruscated with the mind-boggling fractals of light that swam beyond the surface, like every construct of the stars. But even the shapes of these towers was incomprehensible. Each tower was composed of four sides and a roof, and each side was a tall, thin rectangular shape of four straight sides set perpendicular to each other, but they weren’t rectangles. They weren’t anything, anything that made sense, at least. It was an absurd notion, but Celestia thought that the towers seemed to be... twisted in straight lines.
The city was crawling with constructs; the orange, six-armed devastators high in the sky, the flying blue harvesters patrolling its perimeter, and stomping, insectile, walking things that crawled across the ground. Celestia turned to Philomena and coaxed the phoenix off her back. “It is here we must part, old friend,” she whispered.
Philomena cocked her head and trilled questioningly.
“It’s too dangerous for you from here on out,” Celestia answered. “This is a road I must walk alone.”
Another questioning trill. Celestia gave a sad smile. “No, I don’t plan on dying here.”
The pheonix twittered again, a rising tone followed by a falling one. Celestia shook her head. “No, I will keep the Elements here with me. I shall deliver them to Twilight myself.”
Philomena hesitated, and gave one, final, questioning chirp.
Celestia looked away, back towards the city. There was a slight pause. “Of course she’s alive,” she finally answered. “Twilight Sparkle... is strong.” Her eyes fell down to her hooves. “Much stronger than this old mare.”
With a final, quivering whistle, Philomena took off into the air and flew into the night sky. Celestia gazed longingly at the phoenix's scarlet plumage as it flew further and further away, until disappearing entirely against the backdrop of the horizon.
It was time.
Celestia spread out her hooves, striking a powerful stance. Her face took on an expression of firm determination. Her wings flared dramatically into the air. Her horn began to glow. A ball of light appeared in the air in front of her, small at first, but growing. Rocking her head back and forth, Celestia coaxed more and more power into the sphere, transforming it into a bluish-white ball of fire, like a miniature sun. The tiny sun grew and grew; it was now the size of Celestia herself, and continued to swell without end. Celestia grit her teeth; the strain of keeping her concealment spell in place while charging so strong a spell was more difficult than creating the fireball itself. Finally she reached her limit and let go of the illusion.
The response was immediate. The stars could hardly fail to notice the artificial sun that had appeared out of nowhere. But by their reactions Celestia could see they had been unprepared. So they can be surprised, after all. She continued to charge her spell. Just a few more seconds... The fireball was now enormous, and could have swallowed up a large house.
Celestia unleashed the sun, launching it towards the alien city, an unstoppable cannonball that would obliterate everything in its path. As it flew away it continued to grow, in both size and brightness until it would have outshone the true sun itself, had it been in the sky. Everything combustible instantly turned to flame, and even the constructs of the stars withdrew from the mighty fire as it barreled towards its target.
Celestia took to the air, trailing behind her ball of flame, concealing her own presence in its massive light. Her despair had been scorched away by the rush of adrenaline, and she now took the fight to the enemy.
It was time to burn these creatures from her world... star by star.
A tremendous roar thundered through the Everfree Forest, sending Fluttershy into another spasm of fear. It was the fifth such roar in the last two minutes, each one louder than the last.
“I- It sounds like a monster,” Sweetie Belle suggested, her voice quivering.
A really big monster, Fluttershy added mentally. A really big, scary, monstrous monster that eats ponies for breakfast...
Yet, like a moth to a flame, she was drawn to it. Why in the world was that? Maybe it was the need to figure out what was happening, to find something, anything but the endless gloom of the Everfree. Or maybe it was just the need to have something to walk towards, to do anything but wander around, aimlessly lost within the forest. Regardless of the reason, Fluttershy and the two fillies found themselves steadily marching in the direction of the roars.
Right then there was another one, filled with what Fluttershy thought was pain and rage, reverberating in the air. But this time it was accompanied by a high-pitched, alien wail and the sound of crashing trees. The wail turned into a siren-like sound, trembling as it pierced through the air, growing louder and louder until-
A gigantic blue thing crashed through the treetrops. The three ponies yelped and ducked into a bush as the thing smashed into the ground, bulldozing through several trees before coming to a stop against a boulder. It was one of the things that had fallen from the sky, but this one had a huge gash in its side that bluish-white light poured out of and pooled onto the ground, almost as though it were bleeding light. The monster’s tentacles thrashed about, slicing through tree trunks and kicking up dust as the eye-like white circle roved madly. Then, slowly, the flailing stopped. A final wail pierced the air, a single note that seemed to waver in the air like a raindrop before disappearing. And the monster was still.
D- dead? Before Fluttershy even had a chance to ask what had killed the thing from the sky, her question was answered. With a tremendous crash! a gargantuan purple bear stomped into view, sporting teeth and claws the size of houses, each step sending small earthquakes vibrating through the ground.
Fluttershy curled up into a ball and felt very small. “An U- U- Urs- Ursa- sa- sa-”
“URSA MAJOR!” Apple Bloom screamed. She started to bolt, but then saw Fluttershy curled up on the ground. “C’mon, Fluttershy! We gotta go!” She grabbed Fluttershy’s tail in her mouth and pulled, but to no avail. “Schweetie Beelle!” she shouted through clenched teeth, “Helrp!”
The combined strength of the two fillies was enough to drag the catatonic pegasus away from the Ursa and into a ditch. The Ursa Major swatted the blue alien thing with a paw, knocking it along the ground. But another, higher-pitched roar drew its attention back in the direction it had came from, and as the ursine juggernaut trampled back to its cave the three ponies caught of glimpse of what had roused its anger.
There were two more of the flying blue monsters from the sky, their tentacles assaulting a smaller, blue bear—an Ursa Minor. As the Ursa Major stomped back to protect its child, the alien monsters diverted their attention to the gargantuan bear. The Ursa Major was over three times their size; a single swipe from its mighty paw sent one of them tumbling through the air and smashing into the side of a mountain. The thing’s companion unleashed a series of white beams from its eye, and the air filled with the scent of burnt flesh as the beams scorched furrows into the Ursa Major’s hide. The Ursa roared, rearing up onto its hind feet before bringing down a massive paw onto the tentacled monster. The blue thing cracked into pieces, like a piece of glass beneath a hammer, sending sparks the size of houses spraying against the Ursa’s paw. The ursine juggernaut roared in pain, drawing back and staring at its mangled paw.
But its foes had been defeated. The Ursa Minor gave a joyful roar and ran to its mother’s side, snuggling up to its gigantic leg. A small smile graced the Ursa Major’s face, and it patted its baby on the head with its good paw.
The tender moment was short-lived. Three more spheres of light fell from the heavens, crashing into the ground around the Ursas. When the dust settled, three gigantic walkers emerged—like great towers of coruscating light and infinitely recursive geometries with insectile legs and flailing tentacles. The Ursa Minor shrieked in fear; its mother roared and tackled the closest walker, toppling it over. Beams of light burnt the mother’s backside, and the fallen walker wrapped its tentacles around the Ursa Major like a parasitic vine sucking the life out of a tree. Another walker ensnared the Ursa Minor and lifted it into the air. The Ursa Major struggled—it kicked and roared and flailed, dragging the fallen walker along the ground as it tried to reach its child, but the third walker joined its fallen brethren in pulling the Ursa Major away, piercing the mother’s body with arrows of light as it did. The Ursa Major roared with anger and desperation that thundered across the heavens as its child screamed in fear and pain, beams of light ravaging its translucent blue flesh. The mother reached its mangled paw to its baby, trying desperately to feel that soft touch one last time, but that paw too was soon enwrapped with tentacles and forced to the ground.
There was a final roar, filled with pain, confusion, anger, and grief that resonated throughout the Everfree, seeming to call out in desperation to the sadness in Fluttershy’s own heart. And then everything was silent again.
Fluttershy grasped Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle and held them in a tight embrace. Her body shuddered as she tried to repress her tears. The two standing walkers slowly stomped towards the north. It was a long time before their tremendous steps faded away.
Rising from the silence was a soft, crackling noise. The air was tinged with the barely-noticeable smell of acrid smoke. Fluttershy squinted, staring through the trees. Was it just her imagination, or was the darkness tinted with a slight, orange-red hue?
Oh no... “Come on girls, let’s go,” she said to the fillies, and got back onto her hooves.
Fluttershy’s ears perked up, and she looked around wildly. That voice! Where had it come from? That voice unmistakably belonged to-
“Twilight? Twilight?!” Fluttershy cried into the darkness.
“Fluttershy!” The voice was coming from the left. A purple unicorn emerged from the trees and ran towards her. “Girls! We found them!” Twilight called behind her.
Suddenly, there was a giant flash of light, and Fluttershy fell over in surprise as hundreds of ponies appeared out of thin air around them, screaming and panicking. She had barely just enough time to register the scene before the ground in front of her exploded.
Luna peered into the din. The tunnel they had been walking through had abruptly shrunk into a much smaller passage, just barely large enough for a pony to walk through comfortably. But the small tunnel had an odd quality to the walls; they were stained with a slight greenish-hue, and had a very different look from those the Diamond Dogs had dug.
“These tunnels go straight to where you want to go, ponies,” their guide rasped. He gestured at the entrance.
Pinkie Pie trotted up, gave one look at the tunnel, and shook her head wildly. “Uh-uh! No way am I going in there!” She folded her front hooves across her chest in a defiant gesture.
“What’s the matter, Pinkie?” Rarity asked.
Pinkie pointed firmly at something to the tunnel’s side. Rarity’s eyes fell upon a previously-unnoticed wooden sign, with a single word scratched crudely on the surface. Worms.
Princess Luna turned to the Diamond Dog and gestured to the sign. “Guide, what dost this mean?”
“It’s a worm sign,” the Diamond Dog replied helpfully.
Luna assumed a deadpan expression. “Yes, I can see that.”
The dog threw his arms up into the air. “So why ask?”
Luna gave an exasperated sigh. “And what kind of worms dost thou speak of?”
“BIG worms.” The Diamond Dog stretched out his arms to either side and pretended to hold something very large.
“Art these worms dangerous?”
The dog nodded his head vigorously. “But!” he quickly added upon seeing Luna’s expression, “if the whiny pony makes the noises they will not come!”
“Excuse me,” Rarity interrupted, “but I am not whiny! How dare you-”
Luna raised a hoof, and Rarity settled for tilting her nose up into the air in an offended expression. “So, thou art saying that the worms art frightened by noises?”
The Diamond Dog cocked his head to one side, as though confused by what Luna was asking. “Eh,” he said noncommittally, tongue hanging out of his mouth, then nodded earnestly. “Nothing can stand the noises that pony makes!” He pointed at Rarity, who narrowed her eyes dangerously.
“I’m not sure if this Diamond Dog knows what he is talking about, Princess,” Rarity suggested.
Luna smiled bemusedly. “Fear not, fair Rarity. I am certain I will be able to handle any worms that cross our path. Let us proceed.” Using magic, she levitated a torch off the wall and carried it aloft into the tunnel. One by one, the other ponies followed—Pinkie Pie only with some convincing on Rarity’s part.
The greenish tunnel soon branched out into a massive network, with passages of various sizes slicing through the ground at every angle. Some tunnels were barely as thick around as a hoof; otherwise you could have built a small city in. The air here was dank and wet and smelled of grease, and the light of Luna’s torch seemed to be oppressed by it.
Soon the main tunnel ended, branching out into six tunnels of various sizes. None seemed to be a simple continuation of the tunnel they had been walking through up until now. Luna inspected each tunnel closely and asked, “Guide, which way do we go now?”
There was no reply. Luna turned her head back—there was no room to turn around in the tiny tunnel. She was met with Rarity’s face, and behind her, Pinkie Pie. Luna’s eyes narrowed into slits. “Wherefore has our guide gone?”
Rarity glanced backwards, eyes wide. “I- he’s gone!” She looked at Pinkie. “Wait... Pinkie, did you see him follow us in?”
Pinkie shook her head. “Nope!”
Luna growled. The Diamond Dog had not betrayed them, that was certain; those simple creatures weren’t capable of such deception. No, she had made a much more fundamental mistake of trust, and had forgotten a simple fact.
Diamond Dogs are stupid.
“Princess,” Rarity asked. “What should we do? Perhaps we should make noises?”
Luna shook her head. “I doubt that Diamond Dog understood what wouldst or wouldst not keep a worm away.” She sighed, and raised her head towards the branching tunnels ahead. “Nevertheless, we have no choice but to proceed. There is-”
A deep rumbling, like a rolling freight train, cut her off. Luna whipped her head back and caught a glimpse of a massive blur blast perpendicularly through the tunnel behind her, right before it disappeared. A huge wind momentarily blew through the tunnel as the blur passed through, snuffing out the light of Luna’s torch.
Rarity’s eyes widened. “What the- Oh my.”
A new tunnel had appeared in the massive blur’s wake, intersecting cleanly through the tunnel they were in. The ponies that had been standing in its path were gone. And on the ground was a trail of smeared blood...
The rumbling came again, from much further back in the line. Distant screams echoed.
Confound it! Luna mentally cursed, and lit up the darkness with light from her horn. She had made a mistake, and now her subjects were paying for it. Luna had led them right into the territory of a dangerous predator and assumed that she could easily handle it without having any idea of what it was. And had they been anywhere but in a tunnel, she would have been right. But there wasn’t enough space to maneuver in here, and Luna couldn’t even see her opponent, much less attack it. Think, Luna, think!
First things first. Protect the ponies. Trace, active. Magical power bled off from her horn and pooled in her eyes. She blinked, and when she opened her eyes again her irises were glowing a brilliant lavender.
There were no longer single, individual ponies behind her. Instead, Luna saw faded, translucent outlines of every pony, set off slightly from the bodies they belonged to. The outlines moved, and where they moved, exactly one second later the pony the outline belonged to would follow. A vision of things one second into the future.
Luna paid no attention to the ponies, and instead focused on the walls of the tunnel. Her eyes darted around, pupils dilated in the dim light, searching desperately for a sign, any sign, of the impending attack.
There! A brutal blur across the inside of the tunnel that had not happened yet. Power surged into Luna’s horn, and she telekinetically shoved the endangered ponies further down the tunnel, pushing them out of the way of the incoming worm. Like before, the blur passed through the tunnel, drawing a great wind behind it, but this time it had hurt nopony.
Luna had successfully defended against one attack. But it wasn’t enough, not by a long shot. Even with precognition she could not keep this up forever, and the worm could still attack to the rear of the line, far beyond her ability to protect her ponies. As her subjects screamed and shouted, Luna gritted her teeth.
Confound it! If I couldst just see it... Had Luna been able to actually mount a counterattack, she could defeat the worm easily! But there wasn’t even enough room in the tunnel to turn around, much less to maneuver and attack the worm. Without space to spread her wings, to fly and teleport or to summon forth lightning that could strike a target, she was helpless. She growled in frustration. If we stay we shall die. No choice then.
She closed her eyes, summoning a tremendous amount of power that enveloped every pony caught in the tunnel, and tore open a hole in space-time...
The expanse of ground between Twilight and Fluttershy exploded as a gigantic brown worm blasted up out of the ground, spraying chunks of dirt tens of meters into the air, reaching into the sky like some kind of hideous tree trunk. The worm’s head twisted around and turned back towards the ground, and the ponies caught a glimpse of its gaping maw, lined with rows upon rows of filthy brown teeth; a pony could have driven a train straight down its throat, such was the immense size of the beast. But that horrible mouth descended onto its prey, bolts of lightning lanced out from the ground and scorched its skin. Twilight’s eyes traced the lightning bolts back to their source.
More bolts of white lighting exploded out from a starry mist that shrouded the air around Luna, striking the worm’s side and searing its flesh. The creature screeched in agony—such resistance by its prey was unknown to it—and hit the ground with a dull thud that sent tremors shaking through the ground. Luna did not relent, continuing to blast the monster with lightning, sending convulsions down its body until it finally retreated back into the earth through the hole it had made.
Luna stared daggers at the worm as it squirmed back below the surface. Once it had disappeared, she turned to the surrounding ponies. “Art thou all alright?” she asked, voice echoing loudly in the otherwise-silent forest.
“P- Princess!” Twilight called, her voice unsteady. This was all just too amazing, too unexpected; her head was spinning, not sure if left was still left and two plus two still made four.
There was a pink blur at the edge of her vision, and suddenly Twilight was suffocating in the death-grasp of a giant bear-hug from a familiar pony. “Pinkie?”
“Yep!” Pinkie answered cheerfully.
Twilight’s gaze ran past the party pony and saw a white unicorn approaching behind her. “Rarity! Spike! You’re alright!”
Whatever reply Rarity and Spike had in mind, however, was drowned out by a sudden, alien wail that deafened Twilight’s ears to all other sounds. The ground shook with heavy footsteps as the giant walker which had fallen to the Ursa Major’s blow resurrected itself, rising back into the air like some sort of eldritch tentacled skyscraper.
Twilight caught a glimpse of Princess Luna, staring in her direction with a deadpan expression. “Oh, what now?” she heard Luna say, before the princess turned around to see the source of the noise.
The last time Luna had fought seriously was over a thousand years ago, during her battle with Celestia for the fate of the world itself. In that battle she had pulled out all the stops, used every trick she knew, summoned forth every ounce of power she possessed. Compared to that, the power she had used against Twilight Sparkle and her friends on that first night of her return from the moon was nothing.
That power was beyond her now. It came from the same place as Nightmare Moon, a dark power fed by hatred and malice. It was a power she swore to avoid at all costs. With it, it would have been easy to destroy the walker. Without it...
Luna found herself fighting seriously again. Flying through the air, always in motion, constantly teleporting between spaces, never in the same place for more than a second, fighting as a true wraith of the night. Surrounded by her starry mist, she blinked in and out of existence all around the alien monstrosity. Lightning bolts struck the walker from every direction as it flailed its tentacles through the air, trying and failing to hit the elusive pest attacking it. Such was the rapidity of her teleportation that there might have been ten, or twenty Lunas attacking at once.
Yet for all the fury behind her assault, the walker was unfazed. Whenever her lightning bolts struck it, the lines of light that coruscated across its surface would flicker and writhe, becoming discolored. Then the discoloration would gradually fade away, leaving it as pristine as ever. The walker, too, could not strike Luna. Her eyes saw its movements before it made them, perfectly perceiving every tentacle whipping through the air, every beam of alien light that lanced out from the walker’s eye. Luna’s body responded automatically, twisting and weaving through where the attacks would be, rather than where they were, as she faded into a dark shadow again and again, only to reappear nearby, into a region devoid of threat.
There was no chance of bringing the walker down with brute force. Celestia could have done it, but Luna was not Celestia. So as she dodged and weaved, poking and prodding her opponent with lightning, she analyzed her enemy, searching for a weakness she could exploit, a way, perhaps, to turn its considerable power against itself.
It cares not for the other ponies, she realized. Its only concern is me. All the walker’s motions, its every flailing tendril, its stomping legs, the white eye that whipped around trying to keep Luna in view, was aimed at her. It could easily have snatched up all the ponies on the ground by now, but it had not even made a single motion towards them. That was both good and bad; good because Luna didn’t have to worry about protecting the other ponies, and bad because it was only a matter of time before the stars sent reinforcements.
The temporal ghost of a beam sliced through the path in front of Luna. At that moment, two futures sprung forth in Luna’s vision; one where she continued on her current path through the air, and one where she teleported away. For half a second, she focused on what would happen if she didn’t dodge, watching the ethereal frame of her own body meet the monster’s attack. She would suffer, she would burn—but she would survive. That put an upper limit on the power of the walker’s attacks. With her remaining half-second, she chose the second option, and teleported above the walker.
The beam was strong, but not too strong. I can do it, Luna thought. It was within her power.
A sinister voice bubbled up from the dark recesses of her heart. ... No, you can’t...
Luna gritted her teeth as she dodged another white beam. Yes, I can!
... Don’t lie to yourself... You can’t beat it alone... You need me... You need my help... Stop denying me... Stop denying yourself...
“Shut up!” Luna snarled. She flared her wings, coming to a dead stop in the air. The walker’s eye swung around and aimed at her. Luna held her hooves out in front of her, at the ready. The glowing of the eye increased in intensity for a second. A deadly white beam lanced out, flying straight for her heart.
Luna twisted her hooves, and at the same time, space twisted in front of her. The air before Luna seemed to slice apart, as though two pieces of glass were sliding away from each other. The beam raced towards Luna, flying straight and true, but the space it was flying through was no longer linear. To an outsider’s eyes, it seemed as though the beam had passed through a prism, bending back in the direction where it had come from.
The walker staggered back, struck by its own attack. A huge wave of discolored, writhing geometries passed across its surface, permeated by tiny, hairline fractures. Its eye flickered and disappeared for a moment; its legs seemed to crumple as it tried to keep its balance. But soon enough the walker recovered—its eye returned, it balanced itself, and the discoloration began to fade.
Luna smirked; the walker had just revealed everything she needed to know. The eye was an illusion, meant to draw attention and distract. The discoloration was damage; the more severe, the more slowly it healed. The second joints of the legs were structural weak points. The legs were built with low stress margins. Weaken the second joints and deliver a blow to the top. One pony at sufficient velocity...
The walker was still disoriented; there wouldn’t be a better chance. Luna poured on speed, circling the walker’s legs, summoning forth dark clouds that swirled around its base, enshrouding its lower half in spinning mist like an inverted tornado. At Luna’s command, lightning erupted from the clouds like a flailing beast, lighting up the interior of the tornado like white fireworks, cascading in massive, violent arcs as they struck the joints of the legs again and again with pinpoint precision. From within the clouds, Luna burst forth and flew vertically up high above the walker. At the apex of her climb she paused for a moment, watching the ensnared monster. Her spell wouldn’t confine it for long; already it was beginning to break free as it flailed about within the tornado. If Luna climbed too high it would be too hard to strike the tip of the monster’s head at the necessary angle . And yet if she didn’t climb high enough, she wouldn’t have enough speed.
So she made her own distance. Luna dove, flapping her wings as hard as she could, gathering as much speed as possible in the space of a single second. When she was but a millisecond from impact, she let her body dissolve into the fabric of space-time once more, teleporting back into the sky above the walker. She dove again, and teleported again, then dove again, and teleported again, and again, and again. Finally, when her teleportation had reached its limit, she let herself slam into the very top of the monster’s head.
There was an alien screech that seemed to literally carve through the air as Luna felt the surface beneath her hooves give way. Her lightning tornado imploded in a final cascade of electricity and light that crashed against the walker’s legs. There was a delicious crunch that snapped through the sky as the vulnerable joints shattered like broken glass. The alien walker crumpled, falling over and smashing into the ground, sending up huge clouds of dust and crushing a good stretch of forest beneath it.
Princess Luna leaped off the walker as it fell, landing in the center of where it had stood just moments before. She gave a heartfelt shout, the joy of victory welling up inside her and bursting out.
And then six more stars fell from heaven.
Hope smashed itself like a ship in a hurricane being dashed against the rocks. Despair clutched at Luna’s heart as six more eldritch shapes of coruscating blue light rose up from within the clouds of dust that had exploded out from where they had landed. Luna’s face fell towards the ground, eyes closed and brimming with tears, teeth clenched in anguish. She would have to break her promise to herself after all. I’m sorry...
Luna reached into the deepest abyss of her heart of hearts, and let the darkness surge forth.
All of a sudden, Princess Celestia felt as though a great weight dragging her down had inexplicably been cut away, like chains binding her to the ground had abruptly broken. Her thoughts instantly turned towards her sister. Luna! What have you done?
But there was no time to dwell on distant troubles. Celestia’s initial attack had been successful; descending like lightning from a cloudless sky, her blitzkrieg had devastated the giant machine the stars had built. The mysterious power that was keeping her from moving the sun was gone. What she had not anticipated was that the stars would freeze the fabric of space-time in the area, making it impossible for her to teleport out as she had planned.
Backed up against the glowing ruins of the eldritch city she had just destroyed, Celestia faced her foe: a gigantic, four-legged walker the size of a mountain, its four legs like huge pistons beating against the ground, arranged around an enormous, circular head with four gargantuan horns arranged on top of it like some sort of demonic crown, with a single cyclopean, white circle of an eye staring at her.[a]
This monolithic walker was the source of the field that was preventing Celestia’s escape.
Just moments ago, Celestia had been at the end of her rope. There were three glowing balls of light that orbited her—miniature suns imbued with their own powers and wills to protect her—that had managed to keep away the swarms of discs and flying tentacled constructs that assaulted her. But Celestia was being worn down, being forced to draw more and more power to keep herself alive against the assault. Now, however, the restraints on her power had been broken. Celestia had been unleashed.
The attack patterns of her enemies shifted, sensing to her sudden change. Celestia cast off her cloak of weariness. Light poured out from every inch of her body, overwhelming her attacking foes with the manifestation of her will incarnate, imposing her own reality on her surroundings; a defense that no simple assault could overcome through blunt force. Deadly arrows blasted towards her, but they vanished harmlessly against the force of Celestia’s inner reality.
The gargantuan, monolithic walker took a slow, lumbering step towards her. Celestia stared down her foe. Dozens of shimmering white coils spiraled out from the monolith’s eye, encasing her in a tunnel of light. Celestia closed her eyes and breathed deeply, readying her front hooves in front of her body.
White lightning surged. Endless light exploded towards her—not mere directed energy, but a manifest concept, forged into a weapon that spoke Death with every wave of its being.
Celestia caught it in her hooves. A gasp escaped her throat as the unexpected ferocity of the blow threatened to overwhelm her. She grit her teeth and struggled against it, calling upon every ounce of magic she had, summoning forth her memories of Luna, of Twilight, of every pony she knew and loved with all the fibers of her being. Those feelings manifested in her hooves as an invincible shield, as strong as Life itself.
The image of the battered foal, crying in the burning field, flickered into Celestia’s mind. She opened her eyes and fixed them on the walker. No. This is our world. It is not yours to take!
Celestia thrust her hooves out against the annihilating wave, her strength overcoming the stars’, life overcoming death. The endless light bounced back towards its wielder and smashed against its body, washing over it with waves of death. The walker staggered back from the force of its own assault turned against it—but eventually the light faded, and the monolith still stood.
“No more!” Celestia cried, rising high into the sky. A stream of light poured out from her horn, pooling in the air above her, crystallizing in the form of an enormous, ornate sword—a blade the size of a mountain, forged from feeling itself. With a flick of her head Celestia sent the sword screaming down towards the walker. The tip of its blade met the monolith’s body, and the monolith’s armor struggled against it. The two concepts battled for dominance, but whereas this construct of the stars was armored in only its arcane and ancient magical structures, Celestia’s blade was made from the strength of life itself.
The walker’s armor tore like tissue paper. The sword impaled it diagonally through. Jets of white fire poured forth from the monolith’s wound, and the great war machine crumpled, its mighty legs giving way beneath its immense weight.
The light coming Celestia began to fade as she descended, finally alighting upon a broken ruin of one of the alien towers she had destroyed. The other constructs were hanging far back, as though afraid of this creature that had struck down their mightiest warrior.
The frozen space-time was melting. As Celestia prepared to teleport away, a deep voice suddenly boomed all around her.
Cease this aimless resistance, Princess Celestia. There should be no quarrel between us.
So you choose now to attempt diplomacy. Celestia snorted. “You burn my cities, you kill my subjects, you attack my world, and yet you have the audacity to tell me that we have no quarrel?”
The glow of the defeated walker’s eye was growing steadily brighter. These are the results of your own actions. Your recalcitrance forced our hand.
“Don’t give me that nonsense,” Celestia snarled. “You are the ones who chose to attack us, knowing full well that we would fight for our freedom!”
What you fight for is a mere illusion. Freedom leads to conflict, conflict leads to chaos, chaos leads to death. Yours is the path to extinction, Princess Celestia. We have seen it before.
Celestia tossed her head and snorted. “And why should I believe anything you have to say?”
We fight for the sake of all life, including your own. To deny us is to deny your own future.
Celestia’s eyes narrowed as she focused on the ever-brighter eye of the fallen walker, as though it were the source of the voice. “What are you talking about?”
Comprehension is beyond you, but this is through not fault of your own. These are the limitations of the baryonic form.
Yet, curiously, it is these limitations that sealed the primordial symmetry. Yours is their legacy. Ours is your destiny.
“W- wh-” Celestia simply stared; head raised, eyes lifted, eyebrows furrowed. The walker’s eye continued to grow brighter.
Your flesh is weak, a mere prison for your power. Relinquish your flesh, and a new universe awaits your call.
At that moment, Celestia finally realized what the increasing glow of the eye signified. Eyes wide, she tried to teleport away.
We demand it.
There was a flash of light as the walker exploded, and Celestia’s world was consumed by white.
Author’s Note: In case you're wondering what "baryonic" means, it refers to the kinds of particles made from quarks; i.e., protons and neutrons, ordinary matter. That’s as much quantum physics as this story will have though, but there will be some cosmology in the future!