Chapter Thirteen - This is New…
Kithoi Ward, Citadel, Serpent Nebula
April 11, 2183
The Citadel was a wonderful, glorious place. The heart of galactic civilization, it attracted millions of visitors every year. It was a place that fortunes were won, and also lost. It wasn't unheard of for people to lose everything there, left homeless and alone. It had only been a matter of time until the shelters had been built across all of the wards. They were built for those who had no way to leave to find shelter. Sometimes an act of kindness was as simple as offering someone a place to rest their head.
Twilight and Gilda stood outside the Kithoi Ward's shelter, staring up at it incredulously.
"Are you sure this is the right place?" Gilda cocked her head, staring at the welcoming, if slightly run down, building.
Twilight checked her omni-tool, comparing the address to the one that Blueblood had sent them, just to make sure. Just like she had thought, the addresses matched perfectly. Twilight looked at Gilda and nodded. "It's the right place."
"Alright…" Gilda didn't sound at all convinced. From what she had seen of Rarity, she couldn't imagine the prissy mare spending any of her time in such a dirty place as the shelter. She shrugged, unwilling to argue the point and just wanting to get in and out as fast as possible.
Together, they entered the shelter, passing around classless turians, exiled salarians, and krogan who wouldn't stand a fly's chance in hell in a battle.
The shelter was a contradiction in and of itself. It was a place for the unfortunate souls of the galaxy to find refuge, but it was located in the single most prosperous place in the Milky Way. Beings who owned entire star systems frequented themselves on the station, but despite the immense amount of wealth that moved through daily, poverty still existed.
The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. That was simply the way the galaxy seemed to work, no matter which planet you fled to or how many new races you met. Those with power tended to guard it closely.
It was an unfortunate truth.
The inside of the shelter was filled to the brim with aliens, most of them waiting in line for food, cheap plastic trays in their hands. Serving all of them warm bowls of soup was Rarity, careful to make sure that everyone walked away with a smile. She served from two pots, careful to keep the ladles separate for the dextro and levo races. Her mane was tied back in a loose bun, managing to look fabulous even in her apron and hair net.
Glancing at Gilda, Twilight was only met by a shrug. She had never imagined the mare would actually want to spend her time around anyone unfashionable. Together, they walked towards Rarity, just in time to watch Sweetie Belle trot out from the kitchen with a big pot on her back, labeled dextro in several different languages. She switched it out with the empty one that Rarity had just finished with before returning to the kitchen, humming to herself the entire way.
Noticing Twilight and Gilda's approach, Rarity looked over to her supervisor, an Asari Matriarch in much the same garb as her, an apron tied around her clothes.
"T'Reos," Rarity called out, her voice rising above the din of voices. "I'm taking my break."
"Got it, Rarity." T'Reos nodded, waving her away even as she poured a bowl for a twitchy looking Salarian.
Rarity stepped aside and Sweetie Belle practically rushed forward to take her place as she returned from the kitchen, squeakily serving the next turian in line.
Seeing that her sister had everything in hoof, Rarity motioned for Twilight and Gilda to follow her over to a quiet corner near the back of the shelter. She recognized that Twilight was obviously there for her and probably wished for some semblance of privacy.
"What can I help you, Emissary Sparkle?" Rarity asked after they were all seated around a small table. She kept her voice soft and respectful, not wishing to offend Twilight in anyway. After she had left Twilight's ship, she had returned to her hotel room and looked up everything about the unicorn. After nearly two hours of reading over everything publicly available, she knew just how important Twilight and her position to Equestria actually were.
"We need to speak with you, actually." Twilight glanced around at everyone in the shelter, wilting a little before turning back to Rarity. "We need to speak with you somewhere a bit more private. This conversation isn't something that should be spoken of too freely."
Rarity blinked, the only sign of her surprise. "Why do you need me? I am just a fashion designer."
"You are far more important than you could imagine." Twilight smiled. Rarity would never even be able to begin to guess how her very existence had managed to catch the attention of so many important ponies. She was going to have to take a deeper look at the journal as soon as she returned to the ship.
Rarity was silent for several long moments before she nodded, hesitant. "Alright… I am done volunteering in another hour. We could get lunch and you can explain to me why you need to speak to me."
"That sounds good." Twilight glanced at Gilda, who nodded in agreement. "We'll be waiting."
"There's a small diner called The Lighthouse on the Presidium. It should give us the privacy we need." Rarity knew the place quite well. Fancy Pants had recommended it to her before she had left Equestria and it had indeed proved to be a delightful place.
"We'll meet you there, then," Twilight said as she stood from the table.
Rarity trotted away from them, getting back to her work. She watched the retreating forms of Twilight and Gilda as they left the shelter, disappearing beneath of the throng of people.
The Lighthouse, Presidium, Citadel, Serpent Nebula
Twilight and Gilda sat at a large corner table on a patio that overlooked the Presidium lake. They had a completely unobstructed view the entirety of the Presidium in both directions, and almost directly across from them, rising out of the middle of the lake, was the prothean statue of the Mass Relay. It towered over them by a good one-hundred feet, still nowhere close to touching the 'sky' of the Presidium.
They both sat sipping at cups of tea, waiting for Rarity to arrive. They had the patio completely to themselves, the other tables having been cleared away by the wait staff as soon as Twilight had given the manager the look that so many other politicians used. They were to have the utmost privacy, and Twilight was willing to pay for that. Gilda had been more than a little uneasy about that, but Twilight had watched both Celestia and Luna do it plenty of times before. Speaking privately to one of the supposed Element Bearers was more than worth the comparatively paltry sum she was paying the restaurant.
As soon as they had taken a seat at their table, Twilight had set up a small device she had found onboard Solar One. It jammed all nearby recording devices and scrambled their voices from a certain distance away. Nobody was going to be able to listen in on them.
"Gods!" Gilda cursed, her eyes widening as she looked up from reading her omni-tool.
"What?" Twilight looked up from reading her menu, startled by Gilda's sudden exclamation. "What is it?"
"That Spectre that Dash saved was assassinated." Gilda clacked her beak, having been able to piece that much together from her own rather elementary reading abilities.
"Celestia!" Twilight cursed, rocking back in her seat, confused and startled. "Really?"
"Yeah…" Gilda nodded. "I wonder what Dash is feeling like… saving a dude, just for him to die later. That has to suck."
"We should send her a message after this."
Before Twilight could say anything else, her gaze slipped past Gilda to the statue of the Relay behind her. Gilda continued talking, but Twilight didn't hear any of her words, all noise seeming to fall away to silence. Twilight's gaze lingered on the statue, its inner rings seeming to start to spin. A deep thrum rushed and resonated through her body, shaking her all the way to her soul. It almost felt like she was being pulled towards it.
"I must say, you've certainly picked the best spot in the entire restaurant."
Twilight jerked her gaze away from the Relay, surprised at the sudden voice cutting through her trance. Turning, she was just in time to see Rarity and Sweetie Belle approaching their table. Sweetie Belle was looking around at the rest of the empty patio, amazed at the fact that Twilight had paid for the entire thing for their private use.
"Hello, Rarity," Twilight said, managing not to stumble over herself. A shiver passed down her spine and she felt eyes on the back of her head but she didn't turn to look.
"Emissary Sparkle." Rarity greeted. "Gilda."
"Please, call me Twilight." Despite the fact it was indeed her title, Twilight felt no particular need to remind ponies of it every moment.
"If you insist." Rarity sounded uneasy about that for just a moment, but quickly brushed it away. She pulled out a seat with her magic for Sweetie Belle, waiting for the filly to get situated before taking a seat of her own. "You certainly didn't have to clear out the restaurant for us."
"It's pretty cool though!" Sweetie put her forehooves on the table, her voice squeaking. She looked at her sister, almost accusingly. "Why don't you do this, Rarity?"
"Well, it's quite expensive, Sweetie Belle." Rarity blushed.
"I really did have to," Twilight explained, ignoring Rarity's embarrassment. "What we have to talk about is a matter of Equestrian security. Privacy is needed, and cost isn't an issue here."
"I see." Rarity didn't see at all, but she was willing to wait and see what Twilight would say.
"This is part of the reason why we're here?" Looking back to her saddle-bags, Twilight pulled the Journal out and set it down on the table before Rarity.
"A book?" Sweetie Belle cocked her head staring at it, confused.
"A journal, actually." Twilight gently corrected the filly.
"What is so important about that journal that you needed to come to me?" Something big was happening, Rarity could see that. What she couldn't see was how she was in anyway involved.
Twilight didn't answer Rarity verbally. Instead, she flipped the journal open until she found the right page, then held it out for Rarity to read.
Glancing at Twilight for a long moment, Rarity glanced down and started to read.
Twilight and Gilda watched as Rarity's eyes grew wider and wider the further down the page she got. It was a fairly typical reaction they were beginning to understand.
"H-How?" Rarity looked up at them, astounded and more than a little afraid. She had never seen that journal before in her life, but there it was as clear as day, her hoof writing. She could recognize it anywhere.
"We don't know." Twilight shut the journal, placing it on the table. "We found the journal in the Everfree Castle after the Dream."
Both Rarity and Sweetie Belle flinched at the mention of the dream. It had hit both of them hard, and it was only after reconnecting with the outside world after meeting with Blueblood that they realized it was a galaxy wide thing.
"We were searching for a group of six artifacts called the Elements of Harmony, to use them against the coming darkness that the dream prophesied," Twilight explained. She glanced over at Gilda. "The Elements are gone. In their place, we found the journal and a map of the galaxy as it stands today, with six location for us to travel to."
"And the Citadel was the first of these locations." Rarity nodded in understanding, wondering just what situation she had found herself in.
"Yes." Nodding, Twilight leaned forward. "I've already searched the Citadel Archives for any hint of the Elements, but there was nothing there."
Twilight took a deep breath, steadying herself. She gathered her courage to say what she needed to say next. "I'm wondering now if I wasn't sent on my quest to find the Elements, but their Bearers instead. Without even looking, we ran right into you, the Bearer of Generosity."
"I-I see…" Rarity didn't know what to say to that.
"It almost seems like fate."
"Almost…" Rarity blinked, straightening up. Her mind raced, and the next question practically jumped at her. "What is it you want from me?"
"Uh… Well." Twilight hadn't been expecting that. She hadn't fully thought all of her plan through, hoping to be able to just run on luck. "I guess I would hope that you would be willing to come with us. For the good of Equestria and the rest of the galaxy."
"A lady certainly enjoys to learn that she is wanted." Rarity was definitely flattered by that, but she didn't look convinced. She turned her attention to Sweetie Belle, the filly smiling up at her big sister. "It is a big commitment."
"It is." Twilight agreed. "I don't know how long this is going to take, or where we are going to be led by the end of all of it."
"Way to sell yourself there, Twilight," Gilda muttered, rolling her eyes at her marefriend.
"Oh, hush." Twilight waved a hoof at Gilda, ignoring the comment.
Sweetie Belle giggled at the two of them, rocking back in her seat.
"As much as I would like to say yes, I do have other things that I must consider first." Rarity rubbed a hoof down Sweetie Belle's back, smiling at her lovingly. "I am all that she has. We look after each other."
"That's right!" Sweetie Belle chirped, jumping to all four of her hooves on her chair. "Sometimes Rarity forgets to eat if she gets working too hard."
"Sweetie Belle!" Rarity gasped, scandalized.
"What?" Confused, she turned to her big sister. "It's true."
"There are some things that we keep secret. You wouldn't want everypony to know that you still sleep with your blanket, do you?" Turning her muzzle up in triumph, Rarity couldn't help the little grin that came over her.
"Rarity!" Sweetie Belle gasped this time, stomping her hoof.
"See." Ignoring her little sister, Rarity turned back to look at Twilight and Gilda. "That right there is why I can't just drop everything and come with you."
Twilight and Gilda glanced at each other, not sure whether they should laugh or keep silent and be uncomfortable by that exchange."
"I apologize that both of you had to see that," Rarity said, blushing even harder. She straightened her mane, sitting up straight with a sniff as she pretended that hadn't just happened. "You must see though that it would be difficult to travel."
"Is there anyone else that could look after her?" Twilight asked, desperate. She missed Gilda's warning glance. "The future of everything might hinge on this."
As one, Rarity, Sweetie Belle, and Gilda winced.
"Our parents died in the raid on Ponyville," Rarity explained, her voice quiet all of a sudden. "I've been looking after Sweetie Belle ever since."
"I'm sorry." Twilight wilted, shrinking in her seat. "I didn't mean to be insensitive."
"It's alright." Waving Twilight's apology away, Rarity offered her a smile. "You didn't know."
Twilight was quiet for a moment, subdued. It took her another moment past that to gather her courage again to speak.
"I can't help but think that you need to be with us," she explained, trying her hardest to make Rarity understand. "We'll work around anything as long as you come with us."
It was Rarity's turn to be silent, studying Twilight, who anxiously waited for her answer.
"I would have to know that Sweetie Belle would be safe no matter what." Rarity finally said.
"Of course!" Twilight nodded enthusiastically. "We're using one of the best ships that Equestria has ever made. She'll be perfectly safe onboard Solar One."
"I…" Rarity sighed, taking a long look at Sweetie Belle. "Alright."
"Yes!" Twilight bounced in her seat before darting forward to hug Rarity, startling the unicorn. "Thank you! Thank you so much!"
"You are welcome, dear." Rarity awkwardly patted Twilight on the back with one of her hooves. Thankfully, they separated before anything could get too awkward.
Before Twilight could say anything else, a thrum passed through her chest, and she caught sight of the Relay statue from the corner of her eyes.
Turning in her seat, she looked over and stared at the Mass Relay with new eyes. The others at the table all stared at her, wondering what she was doing.
"Twilight." Gilda tried to get through to her.
Twilight didn't answer her.
"Is everything alright?" Gilda tried again, louder this time. "Twilight? Can you hear me?"
Twilight climbed down out of her chair, walking up to the edge of the patio. Jumping up, she put her forelegs up on the railing, staring completely mesmerized at the statue. Gilda followed her, getting up and standing next to her.
"Twilight, what are you doing?" Gilda poked Twilight's shoulder. "We're in the middle of something."
Before Gilda could try anything more drastic, Twilight reared back and jumped! She didn't hear the surprised shouts from Gilda, Rarity, and Sweetie Belle as she plummeted into the chilled waters of the Presidium lake.
She sunk below the surface before she started paddling with all four of her hooves, straight towards the Relay. The thrumming grew more and more intense the closer she got, and it was almost like an incoherent voice was speaking to her in a thousand dead language.
Reaching out, Twilight touched one of her hooves against the cool metal of the Relay. It pulsed, and it was at that moment that Twilight noticed something sticking out from underneath the ring connection. With a hoof, she reached out and touched it.
Septira had known for a long time that this day had been coming. It was inevitable after all. They had been systematically harvesting every planet in the mighty Prothean empire, and now it was Illuvstar's turn. The bunkers had been filled for days, a hope of hiding from the mighty Reapers, but those of enough importance knew the truth.
Nothing stopped them.
Nothing could stop them.
They were the end of everything, their march relentless. What was fifty-thousands years of civilization against that? How could the Empire stand up against the might of horrors beyond all mortal comprehension. How could they fight against the terrible secrets that dark space had harbored for so long.
Bunkers meant nothing to those would could wait in dark space for untold millennia, who could turn loved against each other, mothers against child, who controlled the very stars themselves.
There was no hope against that.
High above Illuvstar, dark storm clouds roiled angrily, great flashes of red flight flaring in the atmosphere. She was the only one around to watch as the burning remnants of the Empire's fleet fell through the clouds, the last line of defense wiped away with absolutely no trouble.
Following behind the debris, they descended from the sky, towering black ships like twisted creatures from the deep sea, radiating malevolence and ancient rage. Even dozens of miles away, watching as they descended upon the city in the worlds last hour of daylight, Septira could feel the force of their presence. They made her skin crawl and she clenched all four of her eyes shut in sadness.
It was over. The dream was over, and nothing would ever be right again.
Reaching up, Septira ran the blue pad of her finger over the shimmering jewel of her necklace. The others needed to know what she had seen. The orbiting ships had surely been destroyed and she was the only one outside to witness it.
Turning on her heel, Septira ran back through the open bunker door behind her. Tears welling in her eyes, sobs struggled out of her mouth as she pushed past soldiers and civilians alike.
"They have found us!" Septira was surprised that she was even able to speak, much less scream the warning. "They have found us!"
At the realization of what she meant danced on those she had passed, both civilian and solider, they either took of running in one of two directions. They either followed her deeper into the bunker, or they ran to the surface, grim as they clutched their beam rifles, ready to face whatever fait awaited them.
Even as the crowds descended into a panicked horde, her only thought was to reach the five most important beings in her entire life. With them, she could face anything. With them, she would gladly go to her death, for that was life without them?
They were family. That was all there was to it.
"They have found us!" Septira called out again.
Septira slammed into the frame of the doorway that led into the first large antechamber of the bunker as her momentum doesn't allow her to make the turn at her speed. Hundreds of Protheans loitered about, clumping together into family groups as they fearfully sensed the change in the air, despite not knowing of the arrival.
Entering the bunker, Septira pushed her way through the crowd, searching the massive room in panic for the five most important people in her life.
"Cana!" Septira called out for her mate. The crowd parted for her, recognizing her as one of the artifact bearers. "Cana!"
Turning, Septira found her wife rushing towards her, her violet eyes shining with equal amounts of relief and worry. They met in the middle of the room, and Septira felt a heavy weight lift off her shoulders in her wife's embrace. Together, the could do anything.
Pulling back but keeping her arms around Cana's shoulders, Septira took a moment to study her face for what might have been the last time.
Cana was a dark violet, her two eyes a shade or two darker than that. They always seemed to glow with an inner beauty that Septira found entrancing. Cana's scalp crest elegantly flowed to the back of her head, coming to the gentle point like the rest of her race. She stood shorter than Septira, but that was normal. There were not many that could match the height of a pure daughter of the Empire.
It had been a miracle that the two had even managed to fall in love together. Septira was as high above the class of Cana's birth as a sun in the sky of a planet. Still, when she had first laid her eyes on Cana, she had known deep in her heart that they were never to be parted. It was destiny.
The Artifacts certainly agreed.
The artifacts were an enigma. They defied every belief that the Empire had held before their discovery, and every attempt by the scientists to explain them had fallen dreadfully short. They had no clue why they had seemed to have lasted eons untold without any sign of wear, surviving through the Great Extinctions themselves without even a mark to show for it.
The six Artifacts had been found before Septira had even been born. Archeologists had found them in the ruins of an ancient temple of the Inusannon, the race who had preceded the Protheans before they had all disappeared fifty-thousand years ago. They had been found sitting on their altar, the room perfectly preserved around them. The rest of the temple had long ago practically crumbled to dust, but the Artifact room was untouched by the ravages of time.
It wasn't until they had tested the age of the Artifacts that the reality of their strange existence was fully understood. They were more than two hundred million years old, ancient by all reckoning, yet they looked like they had just been finished by a master jeweler only minutes ago. Their gold fittings shine brilliantly and ignored all attempts to tarnish them. The jewels at the center of each of the six necklaces were unclassifiable, so rare that none like them had ever been found before, and had yet to be found since.
Despite the fact that the jewels were exactly identical on a molecular level, they were all as different as night and day. Red, Orange, Violet, Pink, Blue, and Magenta. No one had been able to explain where they had come from, only that they had seemed to have been present in the records of every race that had preceded them.
A year after they had met, Septira and Cana had been visiting a museum together. Thousands had flocked to the sight to see the remains of the once powerful Insuannon race. It had just so happened that a clerical error had occurred, otherwise the six Artifacts would never have been on display. They never would have reacted to Septira's and Cana's presence. They never would have broken through the display case that could withstand fire from a dreadnought with no issue.
They never would have realized just what the Artifacts were.
The moment that pink and violet attached to their necks, it had felt like the entire universe had opened up to them. It had felt like everything for once in their lives made perfect, wonderful, beautiful sense. They could see the order of things, the harmony of how each and every part of the cosmos fit together, from the smallest quark to the largest galactic super-clusters.
Of course, the Artifacts could never be so discrete as to give them a reality changing vision without making sure that everyone within a fifty mile radius knew as well. That would have been too subtle.
The Artifacts didn't do subtle, they had since come to learn.
When the vision had faded away and lowered them back to the ground (having decided to be showy and levitate the two women for the whole museum to see), they had been met by the barrels of what must have been one hundred beam rifles and the Emperor's own legion.
It took the scientists and the researchers half a year to figure out what the Artifacts, and all that they had ever fully agreed upon was that they were powerful. Powerful enough to change the very face of reality, with the right encouragement.
Those who wore the Artifacts knew the truth. They represented everything good and pure universe, and as each of the other four Artifacts chose their bearer, the others could feel themselves growing more complete. Going to the museum had been no accident, not on a cosmic scale. It was fate that Septira and Cana would jumpstart the Artifacts, giving the first Rays of hope in a war that was only just beginning to be understood.
Yoske was the next chosen as a bearer. One of the researchers studying the effects of the Artifacts, he had been brought in by the institutes. The moment he had stepped into the room with the Artifacts and Septira and Cana (for it had proven impossible to separate them) the red gem on one of the necklaces lit up and attached itself to his neck before giving him the same vision the other two bearers had experienced.
Suddenly, where the scientists had only two to study, they had three.
The other three were chosen nearly all at once. Yoske proved to be a quiet but humorous man, a member of one of the greater families in the Empire. He had taken more to science than he had to politics and unlike most, had received his families full support in his endeavors. Septira and Cana both were surprised at how easy he slipped into the role of friend, and how fierce he was to ensure that he never spent much time from their side.
Where the Artifacts stood for everything good and pure, the Reapers were their diametric opposites. They were fueled on hatred and rage, on deep and ancient evils with minds that corrupted and destroyed.
As the Artifacts chose their final bearers, the reports started to roll in. Whole systems went dark and Relays disappeared.
"They found us!"
All of a sudden, Twilight found herself back under the lake. She was on the Presidium, that's right. What had just happened?
With her magic, Twilight reached out and pulled the little object free from the statue, just as hands reached through the water and grabbed her by the barrel.
The next thing that Twilight knew, she was lying on the floor of a tiny skiff coughing water out of her lungs, two C-Sec officers standing above her.
"You're not supposed to go into the lake, ma'am," one of the officers, a turian, said.
Twilight shivered, thought it wasn't because of the cold. Ancient terror filled her and she tried her best not to fall apart, hiding the object away from the officers. Whatever she was doing worked, because they didn't notice it in her forehooves.
"I-I'm sorry," she finally managed to say. "I fell in."
"We'll take you back, ma'am," the officer said. "Try not to lean so far over the edge next time."
As they started the diff back towards the hidden dock, Twilight chanced a look at the object in her hooves. She blinked in surprise at what she saw.
In her forehooves lay a perfectly preserved artifact, obviously Prothean in design.