A victory on the edge of Equestria ends in heartbreak.
Twilight Sparkle ran through the stone hallways under the Marjave Citadel. Levitating in front of her, in her magical grip, was a large obsidian stone in the shape of a cylinder. It was jet black and almost featureless, save for the gold accents at either end, each featuring a single amethyst gemstone set within.
The unicorn emerged in a small room, dominated by a spiral staircase spinning upward. She quickly ran up the stairs. At her rapid pace, she arrived at the top in no time at all, and leaped through the broken frame of the formerly hidden doorway.
The shining blue hallways glowed as Twilight galloped through. She passed paintings, doors and delicate vases, and she knew the hordes had not gotten this far. They still had time.
Reaching a pair of double doors at the end of a hallway, she burst through, arriving in the main atrium.
Sitting at the centre of the room, seven stone pedestals were arranged in a circular formation. Three of the pedestals were topped with stones identical to Twilight’s, with the only difference being the different coloured gemstones set within.
“Twilight!” screamed Sweetie Belle.
Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Applejack joined the young unicorn. They all ran toward her and grabbed her in a tight group hug.
“We were so worried!” Rarity declared. “I cannot believe you went off alone!”
“It’s al-AH!” Twilight screamed.
As they broke the hug, Applejack noticed a long red swipe across Twilight’s midsection.
“Twilight!” she said. “Are you alright!?”
“It’s just a scratch,” she explained. “Don’t worry about it.”
Shining Armor was about to leave the side of a shivering Rainbow Dash, who had her head buried under her hooves. “Twilie,” he said.
Twilight snapped, “I said, ‘Don’t worry about it!!!'”
The unicorn trotted forward and placed her stone on the pedestal. It stood out from the rest by the purple border that ran around the top. As the stone touched down, it glowed briefly, and a bright spark of purple energy left it, rolling down the pedestal, and across the floor, settling in the centre of the circle. She looked around the ring. “Looks like you’ve been busy.”
“YEP!” Pinkie declared, running over to the ruby-accented stone. “It was so hard to get, but we did it! Right Rarity!? We’re such a good team!”
“Yes, quite.” Rarity turned to Twilight, and whispered, “Don’t leave me alone with her ever again.”
Sweetie Belle ran over to the diamond-accented stone. “And Applejack helped me find this one! It was so much fun!”
“If by fun you mean dangerous, I agree!” the farmer declared.
It was at this moment, Twilight noticed the sword strapped to her friend’s back. “Where’d you get that?” she asked.
“Oh, we found it in the caves,” Applejack explained.
The unicorn magically pulled the sword out of its sheath, and noticed the red stains that covered it. “Applejack!”
“I’m not happy about it, but we didn’t have many other options!”
Twilight gave the sword back to the earth pony, deciding to focus on something else, anything else. She looked at the one remaining stone, an emerald adorning the top. “What about Rainbow Dash?” she asked.
Shining Armor explained, “She’s been like this since we found it. I don’t know what’s wrong.”
Twilight trotted up to her friend. “Rainbow Dash,” she said, in the most soothing voice she could muster. “Are you okay, do you need anything?”
She could see the mare shaking her head.
“Can you get up?”
Rainbow nodded, and slowly but surely got to her hooves. Still a little shaky, she trotted toward the green stone and waited, her gaze drifting.
“Okay,” Twilight said, in her most authoritative voice. “Each of us were drawn to one of these stones… why?”
“Maybe because we were closest,” Sweetie Belle proposed.
Rarity rebutted, “Spike, Cadance and Scootaloo were led… out there. I doubt it’s that simple Sweetie Belle.”
Just then, a loud crash sounded outside the Citadel walls.
“Rainbow,” Twilight said.
The pegasus pony nodded and slowly drifted upward to one of the balconies that encompassed the atrium walls. As she looked out the window, she screamed. “They got through one of the barricades.”
“We’re running out of time,” Twilight declared, as Rainbow floated back down.
Pinkie rushed to the unicorn’s side, “Who said there were no zombie-ponies!?”
“Not now Pinkie! We have to find a way to stop them.”
“I wish there was more magic in this place!” Shining said. “I could buy us more time!”
“Well, you can’t, and we have to work with what we got, which are the stones, that’s it,” Twilight responded, slightly snarkily.
“-IF YOU LISTENED TO ME FROM THE BEGINNING, NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE HAPPENED!” she screamed. “I told you something terrible would happen if you opened that box, but you didn’t listen, you didn’t trust me, and now we could be looking at the end of Equestria.”
“I… I’m sorry.”
Twilight ignored her brother, and turned back to the stones. “Now… why us?”
“Maybe they’re like the Elements!” Pinkie suggested.
“You might be on to something there Pinks,” Applejack responded.
“What?” Twilight asked.
Just then, one of the upper windows broke in a shattering of glass. Twilight reacted quickly, throwing up a weak force field that stopped the glass from hitting the ponies below.
Fluttershy zoomed across the atrium to grab a plank of wood, and zoomed back to the window, quickly nailing it in place just as two pegasus ponies impacted the plank and tried to reach through the gaps between, their teeth bloody and gnashing. The yellow pegasus returned to the ground.
“They can fly now!?” Rarity declared in shock.
“We think they were the only two,” Scootaloo said as she clung tightly to Fluttershy’s back with one hoof, an obsidian stone in the other. The elder pegasus flew back up the atrium, after Scootaloo jumped off and placed her stone on the pedestal. A bright spark of yellow energy ran across to the centre of the circle. “Is it supposed to do that!?”
“I hope so,” Sweetie Belle replied.
“Okay, so… why us?” Twilight asked… again.
Pinkie’s gaze was trained on the yellow stone.
“What?” Scootaloo asked.
“Why us!? Why were we drawn to these things!?”
“Maybe it’s genetic!” the young pegasus suggested.
“Then Rarity would have gotten a stone,” Twilight said, looking at Sweetie Belle.
“Why does it matter anyway?” Applejack asked.
“I don’t know, it’s just-.”
Screams suddenly came from above the group. Their gazes turned up and they witnessed Fluttershy’s wooden barricade start to shake.
“Somepony’s trying to get through,” Rarity exclaimed.
“NOT ON MY WATCH!” the battle-hardened pegasus declared, ready to take down anypony who broke the barricade.
The wood splintered as the figure broke through. Fluttershy attacked, taking a tumble with the creature. But it was interrupted when she was suddenly encased in a blue glow, and her opponent stabilized herself.
“You should learn patience Fluttershy,” the princess explained.
“Cadance!” Shining Armor shouted.
“I’m so sorry princess,” the pegasus said, cowering in her magical grip.
“Do you have the stone!?” Twilight asked.
Cadance pulled out a single obsidian stone, once again, identical to the others, but adorned with an orange gemstone. She quickly placed the stone in the pedestal and an orange spark ran across the floor, as Pinkie watched.
“We’re trying to figure out why we were drawn to them,” Twilight explained, as the princess released Fluttershy, and Shining Armor ran to his wife. “I don’t know why, but it’s been bugging me ever since the visions began.”
Pinkie trotted toward the orange stone, and wiped away some dust that covered the pedestal.
“I don’t know if there was a reason Twilight. Perhaps those visions were just-”
Suddenly, Pinkie released an astonished gasp! “OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!!!” she screamed.
“What is it Pinkie?” Twilight asked.
“Writing!” she said, pointing to some odd glyphs at the top of the pedestal. “I noticed them glow when you put the stone down.”
Twilight blew on the lettering, shooing more dust away. “This is ancient dragon script.”
“Don’t tell me…” Applejack interjected.
“I think these stones were created by the dragons.”
“Twilight!” Fluttershy screamed from above, a tremor in her voice. “Something’s coming this way!” She was staring out one of the upper windows.
“What is it!?” Rarity screamed.
“I… I don’t know… I… I think it’s a train!”
“There are no train tracks out here,” Applejack whispered to her friends.
As every pony shared glances, they merely waited. A loud crash sounded.
“It broke through the last barricade!” the pegasus shouted.
A sudden impact shook the building.
“What in the hay!?” Applejack shouted.
“That door!” Shining Armor screamed, pointing to one of the double doors across the room.
Twilight swung the doors open, and everypony saw the end of the hall, a large machine sitting where there was once a wall.
Two small figures climbed from it, and started running toward the atrium.
“RUN!” Applejack screamed.
It wasn’t long before Apple Bloom and Spike shot through the door frame, and Twilight closed the doors behind them, nailing a plank of wood overtop.
As everypony was sealed in, Apple Bloom hugged her sister, and Spike placed the final stone, with a blue sapphire, on the final pedestal. A blue spark ran from the stone.
“Nothing’s happening!” Spike exclaimed.
“Of course it wouldn’t be that simple!” Twilight declared. She trotted to the circle, and blew away some dust on the orange stone’s pedestal. “Spike, can you read this?”
He focused on the text before him. “It’s ancient dragon.”
“So, what does it say?”
Cadance looked up.
“They’ve already started coming through the barricades,” Fluttershy said, as she came down to ground level.
A loud clatter could be heard, closer than they wanted.
He ran to the pedestal to the left, blew off the dust, and read, “Curiosity!”
Sweetie Belle stood next to her stone. “YAY!” she screamed.
As Spike was about to move to the next pedestal, he could hear Twilight’s scream behind him. A wedge-shape on the ground suddenly glowed a bright purple, and Twilight was standing in it.
The glow went away, almost as suddenly as it came. Spike ran over, and dusted off the purple stone’s pedestal. “Tenacity,” he read.
Twilight looked at the pink earth pony. “Looks like you were right Pinkie.”
Spike ran toward the green stone across the circle. “Bravery,” he said.
Rainbow looked up, still standing behind her stone.
Moving to the left, he read the yellow stone, “Integrity.”
Scootaloo ran to the stone.
To the left, the red stone said, “Confidence.”
Pinkie smiled. “I’m so confident!” She jumped in the circle and the floor glowed red.
Finally, Spike landed in front of his own stone, adorned with a sapphire. He blew the dust away, and read aloud, “Duty.”
Just then, the floor below him glowed a bright blue.
“Everypony get in the circle!” Twilight declared.
Cadance, Sweetie Belle, Rainbow Dash, and Scootaloo all joined the others.
As the purple glow returned beneath Twilight, an orange glow appeared beneath Cadance. But Sweetie Belle, Rainbow Dash, and Scootaloo were all dormant.
“How do we do this!?” Scootaloo asked.
Loud banging sounds rang out.
“That’s the door we came through!” Apple Bloom explained. “The train!”
The door started to visibly buckle.
“What did you do!?” Applejack asked.
“We got the train to work off the rails.”
The door buckled again.
“Hurry!” the young pony exclaimed.
“We don’t even know what this thing’s gonna do!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed.
“It’s our only chance!” Twilight exclaimed. “Now, think about a time you were curious Sweetie Belle! Concentrate!”
The floor beneath the three ponies began to glow. Slowly, all seven began to rise, their eyes started to glow, and a pulse of energy came from each of them, into the stones.
The door broke down, and a horde of bloodied and feral ponies fell into the room.
“Get closer!” Twilight screamed.
The five remaining ponies got as close to the circle as they could, and a bright white force field contained them.
The horde clawed at the field, but were unable to penetrate it.
“AHHH!” Apple Bloom screamed.
“You know what this thing does now!?” Applejack yelled.
“I… I think so!” Twilight screamed.
“Can you fix this!?” Shining hollered.
“Yes!” Cadance declared. “I think we can!”
The force field glowed brighter and brighter, getting more opaque in turn.
From within the field, the seven stones had energy building and building. The energy shot upward, arching over the six ponies and one dragon, meeting in the centre of the circle and shooting upward as a single column into the atrium above.
The energy beam shot up, through the top of the Citadel, and sat still. The energy built, slowly, more and more, until it released. Outward, a pulse of energy spread across the land, the infected ponies were knocked back, away from the Citadel and each and every single one started glowing with a bright white light. Squirming and writhing, they collectively screamed in agony.
The force field faded, and everypony witnessed the transformation. Slowly, the creatures’ wounds healed, their thrashing calmed, and their eyes, once clouded over, a milky white, regained their colour and shine.
The light faded. All the ponies that were angry and feral, were now calmly stirring, as if they had just woken from a terrible dream.
“Ugh… what happened?” one asked as he got to his hooves.
“Nothing to worry about,” Applejack explained, as she helped him stand. “Everythin’s fine.”
As Twilight took in the scene, she was tackled from behind by an enthusiastic pegasus.
“Woohoo!” Rainbow screamed. “We did it!”
“Rainbow!” Twilight exclaimed. “You’re alright!”
“Yep!” she smiled wide. “Rainbow Dash is back!”
Twilight’s bag sat by one of the pedestals, loaded down with all seven stones. The atrium had been vacated and Twilight’s friends were out, helping their former attackers cope with what many of them had done.
The young unicorn was held responsible for examining the rest of the atrium. Hoping some clue would be found that would explain the stones, and what they were created for. But there was nothing.
In the entire structure, the only writing appeared to be on the pedestals themselves. But who created them? The average dragon was much too tall to fit within the Citadel, so that would have made little sense, and almost all the stones called out to ponies, not dragons.
The aspects listed might have explained why they were chosen, but to Twilight, she still could not explain why it was them specifically, and not any other pony who could have easily expressed those traits.
Could the Citadel have had something to do with it? The same force that protected them from the transformation, could it have also made them more receptive to the calling?
None of this made sense. Neither Rarity nor Shining Armor had enough magic within to cast even the most basic levitation spell. Twilight’s magic was almost out as well, and Cadance was even worse off than she was.
Normally, that wouldn’t have been a concern, but out here, in the Marjave Desert, magic was almost nonexistent. So where did all that power come from? And why would anypony devote so much to such a single solitary purpose?
“AHH!” the unicorn screamed, as she fell to the floor.
Looking up, the smiling face of one Rainbow Dash filled Twilight’s view.
“Oh, hi Rainbow.” She got to her hooves. “I thought you were-”
“Helping the zombies get back to normal?”
“They’re not zombies Rainbow,” Twilight explained.
“Well, they were… and they kinda freak me out. I don’t like being near them.”
She stared blankly at the pegasus in front of her. “I… see.”
“Twilight?” said a white unicorn, stepping through the splintered double doors.
She turned away.
“Twilight, we should talk-”
“Talk about what Shining Armor!?” she yelled, spinning back around. “That you didn’t trust me!? That you never trust me!? You’re my brother, you should’ve supported me! But you didn’t!”
“Twilight, I really am sorry!”
“Of course you are! You nearly ended the world!”
“Well, Twilight, you have to admit, it sounded a bit crazy! Strange visions, a cursed box, how was I supposed to know it was real!?”
Twilight stared at her brother for several seconds before she trotted towards her saddlebag, and quickly slipped it on. “You know what Shining Armor,” she said. “You’re an ass.”
She trotted out of the room, leaving the stunned stallion behind.