My Nuclear Dawn
My Little Pony set to the tune of an impending nuclear apocalypse.
Another day in Ponyville, cuddled up with a book. Outside filled with dull grey and trickling rain from another stormcloud that blew over from Everfree Forest, probably laughing at everypony to itself for coming here after all that searing hot weather just days ago: if it wasn't freezing, it'd be a welcome change. It's something pegasi would do under Celestia's command all year round, Rainbow Dash alone would clear it all up in ten - well - maybe a few more seconds?.. No, first off Dash wouldn't abandon her duty like everypony else has.
"Like everypony else has..." muttered Twilight Sparkle staring at a fleet of pegasi crossing the storm without as much as lifting a hoof at it, heading for Canterlot.
Old library creaked in the lazy wind, branches audibly snapping off like icicles from freezing cold. Too distracting to read about wars of thousand years ago in all the dull racket. If only Twilight could concentrate, maybe there's a clue somewhere among all these volumes: what exactly happened between Luna and Celestia back then? Could it help now? Is it even relevant? If only she could concentrate...
"TWILIGHT!" a purple dragon burst into the library, running in circles around one of the tables as if chasing a ghost. "FIVE! TOMORROW'S FIVE!"
Twilight planted her snout in the book in frustration, then jumped down from her reading spot and stopped the panicking dragon with her hoof.
"Spike, what are you on about?.."
"Celestia declared five!"
"Five... Five what?"
"It's day five tomorrow!"
"That doesn't even... How can tomorrow be day five?"
"It's a count-down!"
The pony stared silently at her messenger with a frustrated look for a second before protesting again.
"Countdown to wh..."
Spike was still breathing heavily, but Twilight could now see it wasn't from running through that freezing weather: the little dragon was terrified. Unfinished question hung in the air, now useless.
"I saw her, the princess said we were attacked," breathed Spike. "She said we do something tomorrow, and it all starts, and they're not listening to you, and everyone else will do the same, and we can't... Something... So I'm here! You can fix this, right?" dragon stared pleadingly at the unicorn in between his efforts not to collapse in an embarrassing manner, but she just blankly stared into the distance.
A few moments passed to sound of windy racket and the baby dragon trying to regain his breath.
"Celestia said she wouldn't listen?.." finally shrugged Twilight, Spike immediately shaking his head in response.
A few more moments passed as Spike was ineffectively trying to sit down on the floor to regain his breath, when the unicorn banged her front hooves on the floorboards.
"This won't do! I know I'm her student, but this is IT! I was sent here to learn about friendship, and now here we are crossing it all out in the... Well this is the final straw! I'll go find my friends, and we'll figure it out on our own! Like we always figure things out! If Celestia won't listen to me... Well, I guess, technically, that means I won't listen to her then!"
"Come on, Spike," Twilight magically picked up the flustered dragon.
"But... Mwhhmummt!" unicorn unceremoniously tucked in the baby dragon in between five bedsheets and turned off all lights in the wailing library.
"Tomorrow we go find everypony else. Sleep well."
Twilight sharply turned away before summoning a dozen books from the shelves to study them back and forth in faint glow of her horn. Celestia didn't know what she was doing, and neither did anypony else - clearly they were under some sort of spell. She should never have let her friends go in the first place, they'd figure it out like two plus two together...
The tiny storm droned over empty village all night, as if upset that there was no one there to entertain but one faint silhouette of some lousy bookworm, as if it didn't want to be there either.
Next day seemed much more promising in the faint sunrise, dry and only a bit warm, reminiscent of the old weather that pegasi used to maintain. Ponyville's streets, however, stood unimpressed, emptily waving its signs and open doors at the pleasant breeze. Old library seemed to be the only thing to notice, lighting up its windows one by one.
"Wake up, Spike!" Twilight poked the snoring baby dragon with her horn to an unintelligible response.
The unicorn just woke up, finding herself snuggled up to the only copy of "Kingdoms and Republics: A Detailed History", there was no time to waste. She bit the bedsheets and in one brief motion snatched them from the sleeping dragon sending him, now fully awake and completely disoriented, flying through air and onto her back.
"I'm awake, I'm awake! What? Where? When? Are we going?"
"We have to find everypony else, Spike. I thought about it, we'll start with Rainbow Dash," Twilight magically picked up a few light saddlebags and placed them on Spike's either side.
The little dragon rubbed his eyes from sleep, but still tightly gripped unicorn's back as she headed for the door.
"Look, there's a note!"
Right in front of the door lay a decorated slip of paper. Twilight picked it up, cleared her throat, and read out loud:
As one of the most powerful magicians in Equestria, you have been selected to uphold the duty to your kingdom and your people by participating in conjuring of spells of great power in: Canterlot. This is a new page in history of Magic, and your kingdom is most proud to-" Twilight tore up the note mid-sentence, a deep frown on her face.
The pieces of paper still hung in the air as she swung the door open with her hoof to a dimly-lit image of empty Ponyville. The unicorn sighed lightly before taking to empty streets, turning her head at deserted stores and houses at her sides. She remembered what she read in "Egghead's Guide to Running" and paced herself lightly before working up any speed. Besides, it'd give Spike some time to wake up properly, it was really no good kind of stress for the baby dragon.
"Do you think we'll find them?"
"Of course we'll find them, Spike!"
"And what if, what if, if it starts? It starts today!"
"That doesn't concern us. We just have to keep to ourselves and gather everyone to figure this all out before..." Twilight swallowed a nervous gasp. "...Before day one."
With that unicorn picked up the pace and left Ponyville to slowly fade into the distance behind her.
It was only a few minutes before she stopped in her tracks and briefly turned in direction of Canterlot, sound of loud horns echoing through the air. The little pony could see faint silhouettes of pegasi launching away from it in all different directions and quickly spiralling down to the ground.
"Construction", Twilight thought to herself as she and Spike stared into the distance.
The unicorn quickly turned away and galloped with her most well-calculated pace towards the vague strip of grey on the horizon.
It didn't feel like long before they reached outer walls of Celestia's kingdom - although according to Celestia everything behind the wall was her kingdom as well - but sun was now steadily hanging up in the sky, sunrays playing with glistening wet walls towering way over Twilight's head.
"So how are we going to?.."
"Non sibi, sed patriae!"
Spike turned to say "Bless you" to the unicorn, but was cut short by bricks of the wall moving themselves out of the way, noisily forming an arch just big enough for the unicorn and her companion to slip through. Twilight nervously stuck her head into the opening, testing if the old magical backdoor really worked on these new walls.
The bricks didn't seem interested in swallowing her head whole at the moment, so she briskly jumped through it and then some further more. The bricks closed back up behind her like an old creaky door, leaving no sign that they ever moved out of the way.
"That was SO COOL!" announced Spike to the nervously shivering unicorn, making her jump a little.
They were now in Luna's territory, and as much as Twilight didn't care for Nightmare Moon, she was sure Luna wouldn't hurt them even if they showed up unannounced. Rainbow Dash wouldn't pick her side if she was like that either.
"Would She?" Twilight thought to herself. "Dash would never let her friends hanging, so that includes not teaming up with anything that could hurt them, right?.."
Twilight's thoughts were cut short by a colourful streak sweeping her off her hooves before she could take even a few steps into Luna's territory.
A brightly-coloured pegasus pinned her to the ground.
"Oh I missed you so much! Why did you go? Oh, wait, I mean, why did I go? Are you okay? Are you hurt? Did Celestia hurt you?"
"Are you alright? Did you run away? Are you hurt?" rainbow pegasus grabbed the purple unicorn by the shoulders and shook her like a faulty apple vending machine.
"Nmhm... H-h-hi... Rem-rum-ran-bow! Pluh-plea-aaaach!" Twilight ran out of breath as Rainbow Dash squeezed her like a wet towel, complete with seemingly soaking her mane.
Spike picked himself up from the ground and scratched his head over the two unicorns, Twilight looking like her eyes were about to pop in her friend's embrace and Rainbow Dash squinting like she was up against the wind. Wait, was Dash actually crying?.. Spike rubbed his eyes to find the pegasus hastily shaking her mane and glaring at Twilight with a wide smile.
"Hi!" announced Rainbow Dash. "Welcome to Luna's New Rule - name is a work in progress - a refuge to everypony tired of or wronged by Celestia's rule. We're glad to welcome... Something... And very glad to- Ah, whatever! Hi, Twilight! Did Celestia throw you out?"
Dash grinned at the unicorn with a wide-open stare.
"Hi, Rainbow," Twilight spoke slowly, recovering from the shock and what seemed like a few broken ribs. "No, Celestia didn't throw me out. I left. I left because..." Twilight jumped at the realisation. "Celestia said it wad day five. She said we were attacked and-"
"FIVE?" interrupted Rainbow Dash. "You too? Then it really is everyone! But Luna didn't attack anyone, okay? She promised! Let's go tell Celestia!"
Twilight shook her head, blankly studying the dirt at her hooves. How could she explain it to Rainbow Dash? They probably weren't attacked at all, and even if they were, it didn't matter anymore. Celestia declared war, and with her everyone else now had no choice...
"We probably weren't attacked at all, and even if we were, it doesn't matter: Celestia declared war, and with that everyone else has no choice now," surrendered Twilight. "But that's not it: they're all under some sort of spell! We need to find Pinkie, and Applejack, and you, and everypony else... No, wait, we already found you... We need to stop this at once! We can't allow... War." Twilight heard that last word hang in the air for a few seconds.
A few moments more passed in silence.
"What are you saying? They're all under some sort of spell?" Rainbow Dash lay down on the ground to process the information.
"I think so. I haven't figured out which."
"So... Celestia... Luna too?"
"I think it's everyone."
"ALRIGHT!" colourful pegasus gleefully jumped into the air. "Let's get the gang, right? We have to rescue princess Luna! Hi, Spike!"
Before Twilight could protest she grabbed them both and lifted them in the air, headed in direction of the nearest cloud formation.
With Dash's speed it was only a few terror-filled seconds before they were all the way up at the top, free from the pegasus' grasp and falling towards the puffy white cotton ball in the sky; Twilight expected to go right through the cloud when they arrived, but instead she landed noisily onto something a lot resembling wood. Was it wood? Wait, were these earth ponies building something here?
"You know we can't accept Celestia's right hand as a refugee, Rainbow Dash," sighed a large pony with black cover across his back. "I told you we needed you right here."
"We're not staying!" announced Rainbow Dash, proudly leaning forward. "We're both leaving for the republics to find a cure for Luna's curse! We'll need to borrow a chariot or something from you, please."
Large pony stared incredulously at the pegasus for a moment before replying in monotone surprise, "Curse?.. You're leav- WHAT?"
The pony turned away and walked a few brisk paces in a tight circle before stopping and audibly sighing to himself.
"Fine. You know I hate to lose my best flier, but if you can find any way to stop this... This... Get to orange-blue chariot, tell them Brown Mane ordered you, not a word about anything else. Understood?" the large pony sighed nervously again before finally letting out under his breath, "Go."
"Rainbow? What is-" started Twilight as they walked away only to be loudly shushed by her companion, "Keep a low profile!"
Twilight lowered her head a little and silently followed Rainbow Dash. She turned her head around to see there were, indeed, all kinds of ponies up with them on the cloud, putting together with their hooves and sheer magic big strips of flat wood and rather incredulously-looking buildings. Some wall-eyed pony was reading something off a big scroll before stuffing it in her saddle-bag, only to walk away and be replaced by another doing the same thing. It couldn't be... THESE spells, could it?..
"Hey! Brown Mane ordered us! To the Old Republic! Giddy up!"
The three friends climbed into a spacious chariot and took off before Twilight could exchange courtesies with colts pulling it.
The nervous unicorn lay still as they flew over miniature landscape below, unsure if she could speak.
"SO!" Gasped Rainbow Dash, almost making both of her companions fall off the chariot. "Do you... Do you think they'll help us? Will they want to see us again?" asked pegasus in a much softer tone.
Twilight opened her mouth to answer only to close it again. Would they? She remembered that Applejack and Rarity made a very big deal of it when they left, and she could just tell Fluttershy was heartbroken by it all.
"I'm sure they will, Rainbow. We're their friends!"
"Yes, friends!" chimed in Spike, gleefully. "You're friends, right? Still? Hey, maybe it's all part of that curse!"
Twilight scratched her ear in consideration.
"It could be. I don't think they'd just go up and leave me there like that if it wasn't for magic. Right, Rainbow?"
"Sure!" barked Rainbow Dash with pride. "It must be a spell. I told you we should have come together, too! Luna is actually very nice when you get to know her, oh, she probably wised up when we kicked her flank when she was Nightmare Moon. That was SOOOO cool!" the pegasus punched the air in front of her a few times. "But, yeah, she's cool now. Like one time I saw her when going to sleep, she cleared up ALL of the sky for us all by herself! Almost as fast as me, can you believe it? You should totally come see her when this is all over!"
Twilight bit her lip at the monologue: not quite the response she was hoping for. Spike was staring at her quizzically now.
"Alright then... We're going to the Old Pony Republic? That's where Rarity went, right? We can get there before... Sundown?"
The chariot made its way across the sky much lower than usual, below any clouds on the nigh-clear sky - "To stay out of sight," explained Rainbow Dash - all the way away from Luna's plains and towards a great stretch of woods and greenish-brown rock just outside another big wall stretching all the way to the other end of horizon.
It seemed as if the chariot just floated in place for a long, long while, with the world moving around it.
It was well past sundown when they landed outside the walls of Old Republic, having spent all the way there chatting behind colts' backs about the fates of their friends, how they'd get them together again, and reassuring each other they'd still be glad to see them. Twilight made sure the winged silhouettes of their companions were well out of sight before drawing her breath in a stare contest with the huge wall towering before them.
"Non sibi, sed patriae!"
Night obscured everything on ground in Old Pony Republic, Luna's moon nowhere to be seen, the ground still hot to the touch in spite of cold air right above it, making few shadows moving through the woods snarl in between tripping over their own legs.
"I have a great idea!" suddenly declared the two-headed shadow over the night's silence. "Why don't we FLY there? You know, with your WINGS?"
Rainbow Dash shook her head, snapping off a loose branch with her tangled mane.
"No! It's day four now, the lookout must be in full strength. You want to get caught?"
"Are you kidding? I can't even see my own CLAWS right now," loudly bleated Spike, spitting out some small shrub caught in his teeth.
Twilight stared at her pegasus companion accusingly from underneath the invisible dragon. If there's a lookout, it only means they should move even faster under cover of the night. Wait, she never remembered night being that dark...
"Where's Luna?" asked Twilight, staring up into the sky. "Did she forget about the moon?"
Rainbow Dash looked indignant.
"NO! Of course not! It's just... It's..." she raised her head to the sky. "Um..."
There wasn't just no moon in the sky, it seemed there were considerably fewer stars. The night didn't even feel like night without them.
Twilight only just now realised she hasn't slept for two days, her drowsiness completely drowned out by all the excitement of the day. Well, she'd catch a nap when they get to Rarity's, she probably has one of those puffy comfy beds she always liked, too.
"Sorry for your gold-plated book on... Something. I sort of threw it into the river."
"You... Wait, what," Twilight shook her mane to the tune of more broken branches. "You threw away my copy of "Rules of Camping?"
"It was an accident! Besides, it was kind of broken anyway. It's cool, right? I mean," Rainbow paused to draw her breath. "I'm sorry."
"Did you throw away any more of my stuff then? Why are you telling me this?"
Twilight paused in relative silence as they made their way towards a faint light in the distance of the woods, gears in her head grinding in a faint realisation.
"That's okay, I forgive you. We'll get to Rarity soon, it'll be okay, don't worry. I promise I'll scold you for everything else you destroyed then, too."
Rainbow Dash smiled proudly to herself at that, invisible to her friends.
"I, uh... I might have chewed on that book too," announced Spike. "A bit. It was an accident!"
Twilight chuckled half-scoldingly at the dragon. Everyone had it for her book collection. What did it ever do to them?
It wasn't long after that when they finally got to source of the faint light, actually a sprawling village exquisitely decorated with all sorts of flowers, ribbons, stripes and gems, as if on a parade.
The trio stared in awe at the picture before them, feeling very unwelcome in their horribly unkempt hides.
"Yes," droned Twilight. "I'm sure Rarity is right here. In fact, something tells me she's in this building with that giant diamond over it."
Rainbow's eyes were sparkling with glee, looking at the giant crystal reflecting all shades of every colour from streetlights, and she already dazedly nodded and floated towards it when Spike grabbed her by the neck.
"NO! We can't show up like this! What will Rarity think?"
Indeed, there were loose branches and who-knows-what stuck to them everywhere, the delicate unicorn would probably faint just at the sight.
"No time!" declared Twilight, strutting towards the even darker end of the street. "Just keep out of sight and make sure no one sees you. Move quickly."
As on signal of that whispered proclamation, the rainbow pegasus immediately dashed forward, slamming through diamond-building's doors with a huge racket, disappearing into a thick cloud of dust and ruined furniture.
When the dust settled, stunned Twilight could see she was pinning some poor pony to the floor.
Rainbow Dash flew off the floor, pushed away by white unicorn beneath her.
"My goodness! What have you done with..." Rarity slowly glared at her surroundings, the torn dresses, the ruined drawers and dirty floorboards, stopping her eyes on pegasus in front of her. "...With your hair! This is simply dreadful!"
With that the white unicorn swooned over, but was caught by Spike who somehow materialised just behind her.
Twilight guiltily stepped into the scene and drew her breath to apologize when Rarity jumped up and gasped loudly.
"Oh Twilight Sparkle, you're here too! Look at what she did to her mane! And YOUR mane! And my mane? Did she ruin my mane!?" white pony spun in circle for a moment trying to catch glimpse of herself. "Well, nevermind! It's good that you're here. I knew you would agree eventually, and I'm glad you did too, Rainbow. I am simply delighted to see you!"
Rainbow Dash, observing the scene upside-down from floorboards, drew air to say something, but quickly found herself in the air, then on the other end of the room, and then underwater.
"No, no, no, this simply will not do," white unicorn tapped her hooves together in frustration, looking down on the trio confusedly soaking in water of a big bathhouse, magically lifting and throwing away all kinds of smoking potions and menacing soaps. She finally settled on one glowing-pink solution and sprinkled it all over the coughing intruders. "There, soak well and proper. I have delicate matters to attend to, and you mustn't ruin my concentration. I will be with you in a minute."
With that the white unicorn gently strolled away, closing doors to the bathhouse behind her.
"My dresses!" shrieked faint voice a second later.
A few motionless moments passed in bubbling silence before trio could exchange looks with each other. Twilight slowly sank a little further down, visibly trying to put pieces of her sanity back together.
"I told you she'd be glad to see us!" declared Rainbow Dash before diving down and then noisily shaking her mane all over the motionless unicorn and protesting dragon. "Alright, the champion of Sonic Rainboom is back in business!" with that the pegasus landed on a nearby carpet and already headed for the doors. "Twilight! Spike! Come on! We need to rescue princess Luna! And everyone else, I guess, right?"
Twilight instantly sprung up at the realisation of what they actually came here for, hastily floating Spike over to her back after dunking him in bubbling water a few more times.
"Yes, we must tell Rarity what happened. Let's ask if she knows anypony who can help us here," Twilight paused for a second, tapping a hoof on her chin. "And YOU should apologize for all the destruction you've caused," the pony sighed. "As usual."
Rarity was where they first crashed into her, reassuring a few colts clad in armor. She waved over to her friends, glowing brighter than the small fire on one of her most delicate dresses in the corner.
"Oh Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Spike of course, I am soooo pleased to see you all! Come, we will discuss everything, everything over a cup of hot tea!" Rarity gestured over to some broken wood and shattered plates.
"It's great to see you too. Actually, we're here for-" started Twilight, but Dash suddenly flew right in front of her and started gesturing wildly.
"It's a curse! They're all been cursed and now everyone's doing something! We need to get Applejack and Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy! Celestia and Luna have already declared day five, no, day four, and we must stop them! Also I'm very sorry for breaking all your stuff. Sorry. Can we crash here for a bit?"
"What Rainbow Dash is trying to say," glared Twilight. "Is that leaders of all six factions are under a spell, that Celestia declared war two days ago, and we need to find everypony else to figure out the spell before it all starts and, yes, we could use a night's rest. Do you have a... Bed?.." Twilight grasped her head in her hooves for a moment. "I mean, do you know anyone around who can help? Maybe the leader of Old Republic will listen to us?"
The white unicorn finally regained her composure, blinking a few times to herself.
"Why, yes, I believe you, Twilight. I will check with our minister immediately."
Rarity spun around and trotted away only to spin back and walk up to where she were, ruffling her mane before pulling out an elaborate golden symbol and attaching it to her chest, glowing before her friends with a wide grin.
"Ask what you wish."
The next day was hot and humid enough to make everypony in town think they were living in a mirage; just as in all other regions, all of pegasi and everypony else were called to prepare for the worst, filling sparkling and shimmering town and everything before it with indistinguishable streaking figures and loud textured noises. A white unicorn in the middle of exquisitely decorated town square was handing over some important piece of paper to a pale-cyan pony in an elaborate wizard hat before gently strutting over to a small group of ponies, almost all wearing pink armbands over their armor.
"Wait, was that-" started Twilight Sparkle, but the white unicorn unceremoniously interrupted her.
"No, no, I could never leave my friends - well, I mean, other than that one time - so it's settled, we're going, and no objections! We will go find that foolhardy Applejack and tell her she's under a spell and it'll be alright. It's not her fault, really," Rarity bent her head down apologetically before suddenly throwing it up with a glare of steely determination, drilling a hole in armored ponies before her with that look alone. "Unit six! As you should have been informed, you will accompany your minister and her subjects to the east borders of Working Pony Effort instead of being assigned to Free Pony Republic borders as previously planned. No special conditions and no breaking of formation. Now, post-haste!"
As with crack of a whip, Rarity's terrified subjects hastily spun and galloped in given direction, pegasi with large chariots behind them taking yet more terrified ponies to the sky.
"So!" cheered white unicorn, hopping onto back of a large moving catapult next to her friends. "Tell, tell, how do we plan to save the world today?"
Twilight bit her lip, deliberating to herself. A good night's sleep washed away all fuzziness of previous days, and the danger was now as clear to her as when she first saw Spike burst into her library, flushed with fear. She didn't know what to do.
"Well... First, we get the Elements of Harmony all back together, that ought to count for something. Maybe we can figure out this spell together. Right?.." Twilight's speech faded into a pleading whisper.
"YEAH!" Rainbow Dash burst from behind the two unicorns, triumphantly throwing a hoof in the air. "We find whoever did it, and we kick whatever it is way out of here!"
White unicorn glared disapprovingly at the display behind her, as if there wasn't enough racket and enough danger already.
"Now, Rainbow Dash, we don't want to be too rash," she paused for a second. "Oh my, that rhymed. Did you know "dash" rhymes with "rash", darling?"
Rainbow's cheeks slowly turned a bright shade of red and she disappeared between the drapes and shrubs covering their mode of transportation. Maybe Rarity could come up with a better motivational speech in all that gloom and doom, let her try.
Soon enough the hot air was completely unbearable. Twilight and Spike lay on their back in the windiest part of wooden armament while it rolled along rocky landscape to a faint glow of single unicorn at the steering ropes, both wishing just one of the pegasi would do something about the weather.
"Can't do that, have to keep a low profile," Twilight channeled the thoughts of everypony around her.
She saw a few pegasi take off from the chariot above them, flying off in direction they were moving in - her heart lifted in false hope only to realise it was just another lookout party. A few more minutes of this and she'd start hallucinating about something weird, like that glowing orb traveling across the sky towards them and then disappearing into dust from brushing one of the chariots. "Wait, what?"
Twilight rubbed her eyes to see something round fall towards her and onto the scarce grass beneath them with a loud thump. The ball suddenly sprung up, shaking its mane and shouting at the top of its lungs: "ATTACK!" The unicorn sighed in relief that she wasn't going crazy, but four-legged blur continued to protest like she wasn't there: "We've been spotted!"
Twilight froze in fear: the glowing apparitions were now filling the sky from all directions.
"Mon Dieu!" shrieked a trembling bush right next to her ear. "This can't be, I've picked the safest path possible! They shouldn't ever be here!"
The unicorns watched a rainbow streak take to the sky, narrowly zig-zagging between glowing orbs for a few long moments before spiralling down to the ground and punching the wind out of them.
"Plan B!" declared Rainbow Dash, grabbing Twilight by the tail and throwing her away from the scattering armored ponies.
Dazzled unicorn only just found the strength to move before getting pinned to the ground yet again by somepony landing on top of her only to instantly jump up and angrily shout at something in the distance: "Rainbow Dash, what are you doing! You'll ruin everything!"
It took a few moments for flustered Rainbow Dash to appear from behind the noisy pile of dust, disarray and flashing lights, her hide sprinkled with twigs and charcoal spots. The blue pegasus drew in air with a gargantuan effort: "RRRRUUUUNNN!!!"
The two unicorns turned against their will and sped towards thin slip of trees nearby.
"No, Rainbow! I can't abandon my subjects in the time of need!" breathed Rarity, running full-speed away from their convoy. "We can't descend to Celestia's conduct, not even in the time of-" the white unicorn tripped into a shedding bush at the beginning of the tree line.
Twilight was already there, spitting dusty leaves out of her mouth before pausing abruptly, one of the leaves still stuck to her tongue: she could see ponies accompanying them were approached from all sides by two convoys just like it, ponies in air and on ground continually lighting up before sending glowing orbs she first saw in her daze towards each other.
Air and sky were lit up like sun with bright flashes, and in front of the lightshow unicorn could clearly see a swarm speed towards catapult she rested on and devour it whole, and then another and another like it.
"Parasprites", figured Twilight under her breath, her gaze fixed on the chariots falling from the sky and all kinds of ponies scattering away from the flashing disarray.
"No, no need to worry about me, I'm okay, no need to ask!" called a grumpy muffled voice. "Aw, jeez!" Spike peered out of one of Twilight's saddlebags, staring into the distance.
"Rainbow Dash, how could you!" the booming proclamation made Spike tumble over. "We can't abandon our line of duty!" Rarity angrily glared at the flushed pegasus.
Rainbow Dash lay on the dirt with a look of horrid indignation.
"Oh, yeah? Well... No need to thank me! You can thank me for saving your hide LATER. You're welcome."
"She's right, Rarity," announced Twilight with her old self-assured spark. "We couldn't have stayed there. We need to keep moving. Thank you, Rainbow."
Rarity looked like Twilight just ripped one of her favourite dresses right in front of her.
"Why are you taking HER side? I'M the mayor! I mean, minister!"
Twilight only lightly shook her head in disapproval when Rainbow Dash bolted towards the white unicorn, staring down her snout from a few hairs away, shouting as if she were high up in the air, "Look, missy! I don't know what fancy-pansy deal you're trying to push here, but: I. Don't. Leave. My. Friends. Behind!"
Rainbow Dash's stare burned through Rarity's delicate hairdo at point-blank range.
"Look," Twilight gestured towards parasprites soaring over the crumbled remains of their convoy before Rarity's mane could catch fire. "It is of grave importance... We really couldn't have... The gravity of the matter... Aw, sheesh!" Twilight threw her hooves in the air in surrender before gloomily heading deeper into the sparse growth.
"Let's just go."
Spike stood undecidedly for a moment before ceremoniously throwing his hands up in the air and following the unicorn with his snout up to the sky.
The four crossed waned woods without a word at first, but it didn't take long for Rarity and Rainbow Dash to start bickering again, both exchanging apologies almost instantly after. Twilight sighed in relief over the muffled excuses behind her, only a moment before they reached a large plateau with an all-too-familiar stretching wall in sight.
"Alright," Rarity's eyes lit up as they made their way up to the towering structure. "I've seen this, we will need to assemble a small tower from planks of wood we find in the forest. Rainbow Dash can fly over the wall, so she'll need to anchor the ropes with her teeth. I shall direct construction from below!"
"Non sibi, sed patriae!"
"Or, or..." the unicorn stared perplexed at the moving bricks in front of her. - "...Or we could wait for it to move out of the way," white pony tilted her head to the side. "Of course."
Rainbow Dash giggled and pushed her in through the opening without hesitation, joining Twilight on the other side.
"Cool! So do we go get Applejack now? Lead the way!"
Twilight rocked her chest and proudly threw a hoof forward before changing to a blank stare and putting it down again.
"I... Uh, don't know where Applejack went?"
Intruders paused in silence, freezing in place like statues for a few moments.
"I knew you'd be the end of me," echoed Spike, hanging his head in disappointment. "Come to think of it, we only found Rarity by chance, and Rainbow Dash found US! Ooops, sorry!" Spike poked the blue pegasus in the nose with his gesture.
Dash rubbed her snout with a look of frustration.
"So what exactly do we do now!? Oh wait, right."
The blue pegasus vanished, leaving her friends to exchange looks with each other before landing in a cloud of dust all over them.
"Okay! There's a town twenty-something wingflaps away, I say we go there and ask. And do something apple-like: it's a theme here, like in Sweet Apple Acres."
The pegasus took back to the air, flying towards puffed-up trees in the green distance.
Travelers soon approached the apple orchard, everything around them blooming with red fruit: on trees, on scarce buildings, on signs and fences.
Rarity shyly smirked to herself, "Well, this is a familiar picture. I'm willing to bet Applejack is right here! Excuse me, good sir, have you seen somepony named Applejack?" Rarity tapped a lone pony picking apples next to her on the shoulder.
"Yeah, sure, never heard of her in all my years."
Rarity's smile slowly crept off her face and her ears fell in disappointment, much to stranger's dismay.
"Yeah, yeah, no, don't be like that. Y'all go scamper to the lead engineer, right, he oughta know everypony in Pony Effort. Yes, he should. It's thatta way, surely, not too far away," the working pony sighed as he saw Rarity's snout shoot back up, the unicorn thanking him in her most elegant and long-winded manner.
The group made their way through the apple orchard just as they entered, but they almost instantly regretted leaving scarce shade for the searing sun.
Rainbow Dash blamed Equestria itself for toying with them when she saw that Rarity's charms pointed them in direction of a vast dune. At least Spike was small - and shameless - enough to climb back into one of Twilight's saddlebags, while three ponies had to make do with seemingly swimming through hot air.
For the second time today Twilight Sparkle was starting to doubt her sanity when she saw a big grey blob materialise right before them, but the further down the path she went, the more her worries sprung over to her companions: they all saw a hulking grey structure slowly materialise from beneath the waving air.
"Would somebody pinch m- OW!" Twilight didn't even turn her head to Rainbow Dash.
Mystical towering structure at her hooves shot into the sky with dozens of spikes, walls and towers.
"It's... It's some kind of castle. We couldn't even see it. I've probably gone crazy," the purple unicorn confirmed her fears.
"No, no, you're not crazy, dear," noted Rarity with fear in her eyes. "I happen to have personally overseen construction of many castles like it just days ago. I know what it's here for."
As on command, one of castle's high towers lit up and sent a glowing ball they've seen before flying through the sky, and then another and another like it, lighting up a big part of shimmering clouds with all colours of the rainbow.
Without a word, ponies turned away and walked back in the direction of their travel, slowly picking up pace before descending into a full-on gallop.
"What? Huh? Did I miss anything? Why are we running?" called out one of Twilight's saddlebags.
Celestia's sun was still high up in the sky when they made their way to their destination at newfound pace, everypony soaking wet in their own sweat, their angry stares making Spike wish he vanished on the spot as he climbed out of Twilight's saddlebag completely unscathed. Purple unicorn meaningfully tied a loop on her weaved carriage.
"Oh... Kay... Now we just need to find the lead engineer somehow," heavily breathed Rainbow Dash, staring at a sign reading "Lead Engineer". "Oh."
Twilight already let herself into the repurposed house, only making a few steps before collapsing on the floor. Somepony's voice called her out from behind a counter above, but the floorboards were too cool to leave, so she just asked from where she were with a smile on her face, "We, uh, we would like to see the lead engineer?"
"Just a cotton-picking second, missy," called out the voice behind the counter. "Now, what it tarnation y'all doing here when I told all workers to- RAINBOW DASH!? RARITY!?" Applejack almost jumped out of her hide at the sight of her guests. Twilight weakly raised her hoof from down below. "Oh, hi Twilight. TWILIGHT!?"
Applejack jumped over the counter towards Rainbow Dash spreading her hooves for an embrace, but the earth pony just landed a few steps away and stared angrily at her.
"What in the hay y'all doin here? Don't ya know we're at WAR? Are you spies!?" Applejack drilled a hole with her eye in the blue pegasus.
Rarity backed away with a look of deep indignation.
"Why I'd never! What kind of way is that to welcome your friends, Applejack?"
Applejack appeared next to Rarity in an instance, staring her down like they all thought only Fluttershy could.
"And what are YOU doing here, of all things! Wasn't it enough for y'all to take the eastern apple gardens, did you come here to gloat to mah face about it? Or did y'all come here to laugh at somepony do honest work after all that fancy-shmancy pampering?"
Rarity rapidly blinked in shock.
"No, no, I assure you I didn't take anything! Why I'd never!.."
The house suddenly lit up with a bright purple flash. Twilight was standing up in the middle of the scene, a look of deep frustration on her face. Did Applejack even care about saving Equestria at all?
"I bet AJ is just grumpy because APPARENTLY taking stuff without asking is a crime now," declared Rainbow Dash, nonchalantly leaning on a nearby wall.
"LISTEN!" let out Twilight Sparkle, her horn glowing with imminent danger. "Celestia declared five three days ago and its all going to end bad because I know it will end bad and you need to stop fighting so we can get back together and be friends again!"
The purple unicorn collapsed on the floor with that last breath, panting in day's silence for a few moments before picking herself up and continuing in a proud tone, "This is no time for fighting, Applejack. Rarity, Rainbow, and me, and Spike traveled all this way up here to get you so we can get Elements of Harmony back together before day one, because, because..." Twilight paused, drawing her breath in a nervous gasp. "...Because Celestia - and from what I think I saw with Rainbow Dash, Luna - have mastered Arcane Magic."
The ponies before her stood in silence.
"A whacha-cane magic now?" asked Applejack.
"Arcane Magic. These are spells of enormous, legendary power: just one chant can destroy old Ponyville twice over, poof! What's worse, I am sure it's not just Luna and princess Celestia that know how to use it... Rarity, what did you say that castle we saw was for?" Twilight turned her head to the white unicorn, but Applejack interjected before she could open her mouth.
"Y'all right, Twilight. This here land always had hard-working magicians, they do that magic-shmagic like piece of apple pie. These ol' castles you saw are, would you believe it, they're all new! They're what we, I, been working so hard on, to protect ourselves, an to fight back."
Applejack dug the floorboards with her hoof to the tune of deafening silence.
"What y'all said, naw I'm pretty sure princess here has something just like it, and ah wouldn't put it behind that other public to have those too, now then. Gosh darn it."
An eternity of exchanged looks passed in silence before being broken by Spike's terrified shriek.
The baby dragon pleadingly tucked at the unicorn's mane.
"Ow. So that's why we came to you, Applejack. We have to stop this somehow. But first, do you know... Mayor... Or king?.. Or something of this... Something?"
Applejack shook her mane.
"Naw, naw, no fancy kings or queens here. This here outfit is just honest-working ponies, we only concern ahselves with each other. Although... Ah could prolly explain whatever you want to anypony else mahself, not like it's not for everypony all round. You know, ah directed sawing and nailing half of this whole place together. Pretty sweet, huh?"
Twilight sighed with a nervous relief.
"Well then... You could start by, what was it, making allies? With Rarity's republic? You know Rarity is their mayor..."
"Minister", interjected the white unicorn.
"...Whatever. And you two should really make up anyway."
Applejack and Rarity exchanged looks before coming to a silent agreement.
"No argument there, sugarcube, not like anyfilly has a choice with all the what that hay... And, ah, nice to see you y'all, fellas," added Applejack in a softer tone.
"Then it's settled!" smiled Twilight as if she stumbled upon a particularly long-winded book. "It'll do, but we still need to get Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy for our grand quest."
"Ah pretty sure I remember Pinkie bouncing herself over to that Free Republic place when we all... Y'know... So she must be there, aye?" Applejack made circles in the air with her hoof. "Let's go get'er!"
"Depart at once!" declared Rarity.
"Let's go find Pinkie Pie!" boomed Rainbow Dash.
"Yeah, let's go find me!" cheered Pinkie Pie.
Everypony froze in silence over the pink pony right in their midst.
"Alright, let's go!" Pinkie Pie swept her hoof through the air and headed for the door.
"Pinkie Pie!" Rainbow Dash was the first to recover from shock. "Wait, did you rescue yourself!? That's cheating!"
Pinkie Pie just giggled at her.
"Of course not, silly filly! I was just paying a teensy-insy super-cool visit to Applejack! I baked her a biiiiiiig cake but I ate it are you happy Applejack, are you, are you, oh I missed everypony soooo much! Are you having a party here? Hi, Spike!"
Pinkie Pie picked up Spike and brushed the dragon with her snout.
"Oh, and that fly pony whachamajig is full of meany-mean meanies, no one knows how to behave themselves at a party, they wouldn't even let me invite my bestest-bestest friends! Pffft!"
"As much as I like it when problems resolve themselves," thoughtfully pronounced Rarity. "I have to assume this means Pinkie Pie didn't elect herself some sort of party queen of Free Republic, or whatever it is they have over there. Still, better a bird in the bush than two stones in the river. Or, um..."
"Haaaay wait a minute," glared Applejack. "Did you think this through, Rarity? How does this work again? Do we haystack everypony between two lands like that, or do y'all think to just leave it and wait till they split like an old bucket again? Cause I can't blame 'em!"
Pinkie Pie tilted her head a little, "You can't?"
"Uh... Hello?" interjected Twilight in her teacher's voice. "Can't you two just work together!? When did helping each other become such a big issue?" Twilight lowered her head, grasping it in her hooves in frustration. "Did everypony just forget what being friends is like? First you all go, leaving me all alone in Ponyville, and now you're arguing about some lands somewhere!?"
"Oh, oh!" Pinkie Pie tapped her hooves together in excitement. "I know this, I remember! It was a moral in one of those silly filly fairy tales my pappy always read me!"
Rainbow Dash lifted her eyebrow at the revelation.
"You remember what now?"
The light around Pinkie Pie suddenly went dim as she lifted her mane to a cheerful musical beat materialising from out of nowhere, all her friends silently gaping at her from behind a veil of darkness, the pink pony now illuminated only by a single round spot:
If some decide that others stall their cart,
Decide they can do better, just what they do?
What do they do?
They break apart.
They stand against each other,
They bash their heads until they're blue,
Yet when they need to work or bother,
They find they're now apart anew.
No, they're not free when they're against each other,
They can't decide,
They squabble yet turn blind eye to others,
What's there to pride?
They think apart they're more,
Though in a mess,
They draw a prideful score,
But they're now less.
All life is helter skelter,
All ponies always cheer their hide,
But all need straw and shelter,
No matter what they pride.
Can't they see,
It's like a mirror,
That they can't hide.
Can't you see,
That you're like me,
Under your hide?
Pinkie Pie triumphantly slid across the floor with her hooves up in the air, freezing for a few moments before jumping back up to all four legs to meet the gaping stare of her friends.
"Or at least that's how I remember it."
The new morning was almost pleasantly cool despite already brightly-shining sun, sunrays illuminating wooden planks of all houses and makeshift constructions in Pony Effort like glowing gems. A purple-maned unicorn stood triumphantly on small catwalk stage, elegantly searching her mane for a golden symbol she'd lay down on the ground before her to shine with bright golden light, freeing glowing apparitions of many ponies from not-too-far-away land of Old Pony Republic.
White unicorn gently cleared her throat.
"I, Rarity," the unicorn ceremoniously turned her head towards the earth pony next to her.
"And we, ponies of Working Effort," Applejack nonchalantly waved at her friend.
"In light of said circumstances, and in the name of every pony in the great Equestria, therefore declare peace and union between the lands of Old Pony Republic and Working Pony Effort for all time to come!"
The crowd of ponies before them, both real and of faint light, cheered in unison, abandoning looks of terrified confusion they wore minutes ago. Somepony in the crowd next to Twilight loudly sighed in relief as roar of everypony dissipated into mumbling conversations.
Purple unicorn smiled behind a nervous searching look as her friends jumped off the stage and approached her, Applejack leaning on her flank with a wide grin.
"Phew! Wasn't that sumthin', sugarcube? So what now?" the cheering pony slowly headed in some direction, taking lead of the group.
"Well," sighed Twilight. "Fluttershy was the last to go. I didn't even know, she just left a note over at the door to her house. It said she headed for a "Friendship Alliance", which is, y'know, just what to say after you've left all your friends." ponies exchanged guilty looks as Twilight lowered her head. "She's the final element of harmony and, I hope, she's our clue to figuring out the spell."
"Spell?" quizzically lifted her brow Applejack, approaching familiar-looking chariots.
Twilight just stared at her with a sad expression.
"Well, haven't you wondered why you all left?"
"Uh... Because y'all have no respect for the working pony?" frowned Applejack.
"Because Celestia is a big meanie?" wondered Rainbow Dash.
"Because no pony got what they deserved?" Rarity turned her hoof to the sky.
"Because, um, huh? Hey wait, I didn't leave! You're my bestest-bestest friends!" jumped Pinkie Pie.
Twilight violently shook her mane.
"No, no! I mean, see? It's a spell!" the unicorn stared at her friends like they've gone crazy. "Come on, this never happened in a thousand years! You're all my very best friends, and yet you'd just pack up and leave over?.. And now Equestria is up in all these republics and alliances, and we're just a day away from all-out WAR! There's clearly some powerful dark magic at work here! We need to go get Fluttershy, and we'll figure it out, like we always figured everything out since I found you!"
Twilight breathed heavily for one long second before getting pinned to the ground by a glowing pink blob.
"Awwww! I shouldn't never-ever-ever left! I'd come back like THAT, I promise-promise!" Pinkie soaked disoriented unicorn beneath her with two rivers of tears.
"Twilight's right, something isn't right here," stated Rainbow Dash in an unnaturally serious tone. "I mean... That? And then this? And then? And whuh?"
Twilight felt a huge burden lift from her shoulders even while Pinkie was squeezing the breath out of her, but Rarity and Applejack still looked unapologetically at each other.
"Um, to Friendship Alliance?.." asked a colt in charge of the chariot observing the scene the whole time, breaking the silence.
Applejack silently yet went up to the chariots to explain something about some fancy logistics to their carriers. Twilight caught Spike's nervous look as she finally recovered from Pinkie's embrace.
"I'd never leave you, Twilight."
Purple pony just smiled and lowered her back for Spike to hop on.
There were no more conversations up in the air towards their destination, everypony just staring at landscape beneath them, now covered with odd structures, glowing objects and scurrying ponies every step of the way.
Cool air became a freezing draft not long before Rainbow Dash spotted a stretching strip of solid grey in the distance, but Twilight couldn't hear her announce it: she stared, as in once eerie heat wave, at a pack of glowing spheres approaching them from out of nowhere.
She saw Rainbow Dash take off with Applejack in hold before her chariot shook violently.
"We've been spotted! Hold onto something!" shouted one of the colts in front of her before taking a nosedive and speeding towards the ground to land into tall grass with barely one wheel intact.
The glowing orbs no longer seemed to be after them, aimlessly circling the sky where they once were.
Twilight glared at a turned-over chariot now next to her, hazily starting to recognize Pinkie Pie and Rarity stretched beneath it before her view filled with Applejack's snout.
"Are you a'right, sugarcube?"
Twilight pointlessly waved her hooves a bit, staring at Rainbow Dash pulling indignant Rarity from underneath her somehow unscathed mode of transportation.
Twilight heard her stomach rumble with profanities. She quickly stepped off the flattened dragon.
"Gosh darn it to dry hay!" shook his mane one of the armored colts to the sound of creaking harness. - "That's it, we're outta here! If there's a lookout nearby, we're done like cherry pie at Big Mac's birthday party!"
Twilight's chariot took off without her, the riders of any other nowhere to be seen.
Pinkie Pie jumped over her crash site with an ever-oblivious expression.
"Did somepony mention party?!.. Oh..."
"Looks like we're on our own from here," announced defeated Applejack before pleadingly turning to Twilight.
The purple unicorn looked over her beaten party in dismay before straightening with a look of steel determination.
"Listen up! We can still make it, no one's giving up!"
Rainbow Dash lit up with red.
"Who's giving up!?"
Twilight didn't reply and instead searched the horizon before suddenly bolting away - she saw Rarity gasp at her ruffled mane, and she wanted to face her even less than Rainbow's pride right now. Celestia's sun was in the middle of the sky, and they were running out of time as it is. What if they didn't make it? What if it was all for naught? What if-
The purple unicorn didn't make it far before she was swept off her hooves by a colourful streak and into another patch of grass. A puff of lingering smoke now hung where she were moments ago.
"Have you gone all oatmeal!?" Rainbow Dash angrily shushed her in a sweeping deja vu, gesturing towards the rest of adventurers from underneath the grass. "Don't you remember what I told you about lookouts?"
The unicorn lay quizzically on her back as a wave swept through the grassy fields, picking her up and washing her in direction of nearby patch of trees.
The ponies collapsed all as one under the freezing canopy, Rarity now bumbling indiscernible nonsense about manes and perfume to herself.
Spike shook himself off of dirt and straw before freezing with a shivering glare, darting towards the obliviously smiling Pinkie Pie to hide in her puffy mane, his teeth chattering a speedy tune. Applejack glued herself to Rainbow Dash, but the blue pegasus bolted away and into a moss patch, a mischievous grin on her face.
The colourful pony quickly crept through forest floor, halting to make weird gestures in the air with one hoof.
"Psst! Come on!"
Other ponies were left with nothing to do but shake themselves off and follow the headstrong pegasus deeper into the dim woods.
"Ssshhh!" angrily hissed Rainbow Dash at her party's loudly chattering teeth. "We need to be at least 5% stealthier."
Rarity rolled her eyes in silent comment but proceeded, at her hide's peril, as low to the ground as she could without getting her beautiful mane dirty.
It took stranded ponies many long, terror-filled, freezing, dark and dank minutes to creep, whine and jump their way towards the hulking grey monstrosity Twilight had seen too much of already.
Purple unicorn didn't wait for Applejack or Pinkie to announce their brilliant plans to climb over it, she just quickly muttered the spell under her breath only to be blinded by a violent flash of light: the wall magically moved itself out of the way, revealing brightest, most colourful sunset they've never seen in Ponyville over an unreal, completely green landscape stretching far beyond the farthest horizon.
The ponies stood in their mud-splattered, beaten and ruffled hides with their mouths open all as one.
"Eight out of ten," declared Spike with his claws behind his back.
Twilight was the first to shyly make first step into painting before them, leading the group through dimming stretch of short grass until they all clearly saw a single faint light in the distance.
"Must be a town there somewhere," figured Applejack, but as they approached, the light only split in four between the window frames: before them was a single cottage with somepony with impenetrable steely look on their face at its front door, diligently observing a summit of small furry creatures. The pony strolled back and forth, perfectly and grimly pronouncing a speech no one could hear the words to.
"Fl- Fluttershy?.." just about whispered Applejack, dropping her ears.
The furry council scurried in all directions, and yellow pegasus before them committedly scanned the landscape, completely oblivious to everypony, before throwing forward one of her front legs in shock and skipping gleefully towards her friends.
"Twilight! Rainbow! It's so good to see!- Oh, um," yellow Pegasus sat down on the ground half-way, cheeks flushed with red, continuing under her breath. "Hi. Did you come to visit me?"
"Sure we did!" cheered Pinkie Pie.
Fluttershy smiled at her from behind her mane.
"That's nice. Come in, it's getting dark, you really shouldn't be out in all that freezing wind, you'll catch cold... I mean, if you want to talk outside, that's fine too," the yellow pegasus headed back to her house, holding the door open as her friends entered one by one, lightly smiling to herself. "Ah, just like old times - it's so good you're all back together again, I didn't even, even... I mean, here I just, it's been..." Fluttershy turned away her gaze. "...Nice."
Twilight stopped examining her cosy surroundings to nervously draw her breath and bluntly add, "Except that the world ends tomorrow."
Everypony froze in silence.
Fluttershy backed into the wall in sheer terror, but soon calmly lowered her eyes.
"I know. Something bad is going to happen."
"No it won't!" Rainbow Dash almost made Fluttershy and Twilight both jump out of their hides. "We're going to stop it! Right, Twilight? You gathered us all to figure out the spell that's causing all this... Whatever it is, remember?"
Fluttershy looked heartbroken over the revelation, hiding further down underneath her mane.
"So you didn't... You didn't come to see me?"
Everypony froze in awkward silence. Rainbow Dash dug the floorboards with determination to disappear from view entirely.
"No, no, dear, it's not like that," Rarity broke the silence in a trembling voice. "It's just that, that, you see..." white unicorn meaningfully prodded Twilight as she spoke.
The purple pony stopped carefully examining the dull ceiling to finally respond in oblivious tone, "Well... I thought, I mean I couldn't figure out what's going on all by myself, so I thought, you know, maybe we could figure out the spell that's caused all this together. All of us. That's Rarity, and Rainbow, and AJ, and Pinkie, and you, Fluttershy."
Twilight's speech didn't seem to have much effect on the yellow pegasus: she stared blankly at her hooves with what could be assumed were eyes from behind her mane.
Twilight bit her lip with guilt. Indeed, would it hurt to just visit even once?..
"I... I don't think this is all just a coincidence. This never happened before, I read all about it, all republics and all that... And then at the same time everypony just leaving Ponyville... It can't be a coincidence. There's got to be some dark magic involved, and... And..."
Twilight's speech faded into incoherence as she found herself staring at painting on the wall now right in front of her nose. She saw a few back in Canterlot, but this one wasn't just a pretty landscape or an accurate portrait, but what seemed like thousands of ponies and all kinds of creatures alike staring down at the opposing side from behind barriers of light and darkness, each striking their own role, pose and expression filled with more detail than anything she'd seen back in reality.
Twilight felt a warm tingle run down her spine, she'd never felt anything like it.
Ponies behind her stopped exchanging quizzical looks with each other and have now moved behind her to find out what caused her to stop her speech altogether, all staring at the picture with a stunned glare.
Rarity alone could turn her gaze away for a few seconds to notice that Fluttershy was now completely flushed with red, glancing at the group with wary in her eyes.
"This is gorgeous! Is it... Is it yours, darling?" the white unicorn carefully tried to put two and two together.
Yellow pegasus whispered something in her most defensive tone, "...It's just something from back in Ponyville, it's nothing..." she suddenly perked up and looked away, pronouncing a little louder. "What about that spell, Twilight?"
Twilight painfully tore herself away from the painting, slowly trying to recollect her mental trainwreck.
"Well... I thought we could figure out the spell together. And now we're all here."
The pony paused, confounded by her own conclusion.
"So... Let's figure it out? I have some books on magic right here."
She bit the flap on her saddlebag, pulling out an unkempt copy of "Arcane Magicks: Thousand Years of Peace" with her teeth.
"What did I miss?" chewed Spike from behind a freshly-picked apple, only just walking in through the door. "AHA! I knew you couldn't resist an old book either! Can you leave me a few pages too?"
Fluttershy's residence soon filled with rustling pages and indiscernible mumbling as each pony frowned in front of an impressive book collection purple unicorn rescued from her old library.
Blind night outside the window gave no indication of passing hours, but by time Twilight found Rainbow Dash snoring with her snout down into an upside-down old tome she was already starting to realise they wouldn't accomplish today what she hadn't accomplished in months.
Purple pony was the only one to lie wide awake after her exhausted companions collapsed into makeshift piles of hay. She just stared at the ceiling, a tiny shadow - brightest thing in the whole house - nervously dancing over it, reflecting her every fear and worry of the past few months. Was that really it?..
The warm sunlight sweeping over pleasant cold of new morning woke up Twilight before any other pony. She rubbed her eyes and dazedly stumbled outside to find the same idyllic picture they all saw the previous day, enjoying it for a moment before dropping her ears in a slow, increasingly unsettling realisation: today was day one.
Twilight's sight nervously darted across the sky, looking for familiar colourful glow somewhere among the thin clouds, but the sky was completely monotone from one horizon to another. Instead, she felt something furry brush her leg: a couple of ferrets snuck past her and into the cottage, producing a mixture of annoyed groans and terrified gasps within. Rarity ran past her with a terrified shriek, hay sticking out of her somehow still well-combed mane.
Fluttershy called for her from within her shelter, but as the purple unicorn turned to head back in to check out the racket the yellow pegasus already floated right above her, everypony else pouring outside in utter confusion.
"Twilight! The ferrets just told me! There's a powerful wizard here in alliance, and he's been working to figure out some spell that caused all this, just like you have!"
Twilight just blinked to herself from under the yellow pegasus, Fluttershy's words sluggishly arranging themselves into a coherent speech in her head.
"How does that..."
Twilight's heart suddenly lifted in hope; without a word, she dashed back inside.
Other ponies exchanged blank glances with each other, now even more confused than before.
Applejack peered back inside the cottage to find Twilight hastily sweeping the confounding literature she's been trying to wrestle the previous night back into her saddlebags.
Purple unicorn darted past her and back outside, carrying still sleeping dragon by the tail with her teeth.
Twilight spat out the obliviously snoring dragon on glistening grass in front of Fluttershy before loudly demanding, "Can you show the way?"
Fluttershy sleepily blinked to herself.
"Um... I can ask the ferrets. Are you going somewhere?" Twilight's angry glare in response rendered her awake in an instant. "We're all going!"
Rainbow Dash stared at her like she's gone insane, in between large yawns.
"IT'S ALREADY TOO LATE!" shouted Twilight at the top of her lungs, making Spike jump up with an indiscernible grunt.
Eyes of ponies around her slowly got wider and wider as they painfully remembered story of their life before this point, standing outside a lone cottage on an endless grassy meadow.
Applejack was the first to come to.
She darted up to the ferrets, pinning tiny furballs to the ground.
"Come on now! Show the way to the wizard guy!"
Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash made a daring raid through the house as other ponies prepared to leave, trying to salvage any bit of food they could find before taking to the road, making Rainbow Dash choke on her cupcake as she galloped after Twilight before taking to the sky.
Peaceful meadow disappeared into a green blur as travelers ran through the cold morning, chasing a pair of terrified creatures only barely visible through the grass, spraying everypony with sparkling morning dew.
The endless stretch of grass gave no indication of how close they'd ever be to their target, or what it even was.
"Luh... Luh-ook!" heavily breathed Rarity, stumbling for a moment to point to something on the horizon.
A small patch of bright-green forest in the distance gave way to what looked like a huge castle, its walls and towers shooting high up in the sky, but as travelers painstakingly made their way closer, it turned out to be a huge sprawling city, the towering walls no higher than a fence to its myriads of extravagant buildings and towers.
Twilight tripped over her own hooves trying to catch glimpse of the tallest tower as they crossed the city gate, making everypony collapse into one big dusty pile to surprise of dozen bystanders.
As dust slowly settled, heavily panting travelers found themselves at the entrance of a busy city, a few carefree ponies nearby shyly offering help. The city was booming with life, unlike any other they've ever been to before, residents seemingly oblivious to the impending war, smells of fresh paint and bakery swirling in the air.
The ponies picked themselves up from the ground as Twilight asked one helpful pegasus in what could only barely qualify as language for whereabouts of a powerful wizard. The helpful pony rubbed her chin before pointing over yonder to one of the big over-designed stone buildings, a golden depiction of magic wand crossed with glass vial rising above it proving her point.
The bystanders seemed to have lost interest in earlier scene by then, so everypony just quietly headed, at snail pace, towards their destination.
"Suh... Whuh, what do you think it'll be?" Rainbow Dash tried to start a conversation, nursing her left wing as Pinkie Pie cheerfully skipped next to her.
"I hope our Mr. Wizard can conjure some cupcakes! I'm starving! Ooooh, magical cupcakes, it'll be deeee-lish!"
Everypony turned their head to oblivious party animal in their midst. Twilight muttered something that could be presumed to be an angry speech in response as they arrived in the shade of structure before them.
Purple unicorn cleared her throat and knocked on the door. There was no response, instead it just slowly creaked open.
Twilight paused for a second before letting herself in, rest of the ponies following in her lead: the magical laboratory was bathed in gold, lit up with various concoctions and magical instruments, odd machines chittering a busy tune. Clearly someone around was busy with all that noise.
"Hello? Mister wizard? Or miss?.." Twilight unsurely asked the odd machines in the spacious interior.
One of them seemed to notice, blowing off a steady pile of purple smoke before noisily creaking and going silent. Rainbow Dash prodded it with her hoof.
"I think it's broken. Don't you hate that?"
"Hay mister magician! Show yourself!" yelled Applejack, but none gave in to her demands. "Gosh darn it, this ain't no time for fun and games!"
Rainbow Dash flew over to Twilight and helped herself to some books from her saddlebags, triumphantly waving them in the air.
"We brought you some very cool books! You like books?"
The busy machines didn't seem to fall for her bait either.
"Maybe he went out for a walk?" speculated Pinkie Pie. "I like just going for a walk sometimes. Especially after a tasty meal, or before a tasty meal, or just tasty meal, don't you love it? Although I don't usually just leave my clothes on the floor when I go for desert," pink pony picked up a star-spangled mantle up from the floor. "Although that's probably because I don't wear clothes. Do I?"
Beneath the mantle lay four golden bracelets and a pointy wizard's hat decorated by a couple of transparent goggles, blankly staring up at the wooden table with another set of confusing bubbling glass tubes and metallic implements with a simple note in front of them: "Blue moondew when heated red, mix with silv"
"What's a silv?" quizzed Applejack, turning to Twilight.
The unicorn didn't answer, instead picking up one of the bracelets from the floor - despite the cold outside, it was still warm.
"Silver," Twilight's heart fell in dawning realisation. "I don't think our wizard's here."
"So what, did he just disappear?" sarcastically asked Rainbow Dash.
The group paused in silence, glancing over the abandoned building. Rainbow's smug look turned to lost one.
Twilight silently headed outside with her head down to the ground.
The town was still obliviously lit with rising sun, busy ponyfolk going here or there. Her sight once again darted across the sky searching for anything out of the ordinary, but it was as serene and dull as it was in the morning. Twilight felt somepony gently poking her side.
"Come on, sugarcube. Not all hope is lost. Us and Rarity's place are still together, remember? And ah sure that other whachacallit won't try anything funny with all that," Applejack smiled at the unicorn with her wide-open motherly grin. "I say let's head to Fluttershy's and figure out if we can convince them Pony Friends to sign some fancy documents too."
Twilight could summon only something very remotely resembling a terrified smile in response to her speech, but Applejack was right: they could still make it if they could just get all factions under one peace treaty.
The group made their way through busy streets in utter defeat, but the fresh air and town's peacefully creaking doors and signs lifted their spirits a little. The day had only just started to fade in from underneath brightly-lit morning, and the idyllic landscape was as beautiful as they've first seen it.
Ponies slowly made their way outside the town's walls, air filled with pleasant smell of fresh grass and morning dew, pleasant wind and occasional chirp from nearby green forest being their only companions.
A long while passed in no hurry as everypony slowly shrug off their worries, Pinkie Pie already humming a cheery tune to herself. Twilight even paused for a second to sniff a beautiful flower hiding along their path.
The grass at unicorn's hooves suddenly glowed with unnatural colour.
She stumbled, puzzled, looking up at the sky to see it lit up like a giant kaleidoscope, waves of colour flowing across the clouds, making way for a slowly-moving spot of violent light rising from over the other horizon: a small sun was arcing its way across the sky, lighting up sky and the ground in its wake like fireworks.
The giant orb seemed to hang in the air for a moment before making a tiny motion towards them, accelerating more and more with each second.
Ponies now stared all as one as the giant star ripped its way through the clouds, grass beneath them glowing brighter than could be beared to look at.
The orb escaped its cover of clouds with one giant rainbow pulse, falling from the sky in agonizingly slow arc towards the city they've just left behind, hanging by thread of only a few moments above the brightly lit-up buildings within its walls.
Twilight felt herself instinctively grasp somepony nearest to her, turning away from sight of the town. She felt someone's sharp claw stick to her side and someone's puffy mane brush against her face: the travelers clung to each other in a terrified semi-circle, their eyes firmly closed and their backs to lightshow behind them.
A violent flash of white lit up their faint silhouettes as it swallowed the town whole, blinding all beyond the furthest horizon to rock and trees thrown high up in the air until all there was just an endless stretch of uniform light with no ground, no sky, and no horizon anymore anywhere in sight.