Disclaimer: I own neither My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic, nor BattleTech (which makes a minor appearance) This was written without any profit in mind, and solely for my own enjoyment. I hope my readers like reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The Dread Chitin

Prologue

Audio Recording 478893-512

Transcript

Property of the Imperial Arcane University, Arcane Archaeological Engineering division

Unauthorized access prohibited

*log begins*

(Voice 1, identified as Ctersius Albech, Division Head, Archaeological Engineering): *approaching* …And we'll need to move the second series up a day or two. Ah, here we are, now let's see what all this is about, eh? *pause* Door's sealed? Fedris, what is this? Analysis wasn't supposed to start in here for three…

(Voice 2, identified as Duran Thirk, Junior Project Leader): *interrupts* Yes, sir. I sent you that memo, sir. I hoped to demonstrate the efficacy of the new techniques I'd worked out.

(Albech): Thirk? The hell are you playing at? *pause* Thirk, why are you alone in there? Where's the rest of your team?

(Thirk): They're not here, sir. If you'll be so kind, sir, would you mind examining my procedure design? It's noted on the computer in the observation room.

(Albech): (unintelligible aside, presumably to someone else in the room) Very well, Thirk, I'll take a look. While I'm looking, why don't you tell me what you've done so far?

(Thirk): Of course, sir. I've finished the first three stages of artifact analysis, you'll see my findings on the secondary monitor there, and I'm just about to start final stage analysis. I'm pleased you arrived when you did, sir.

(Albech): How long have you been working on this?

(Thirk): About eight hours now, sir.

(Albech): Eight hours? How in the Fire… *pause* Thirk, are you mad? You're not using any of the proper safety protocols! You're going to… to… you, quick, get that door open. Now!

(voice 3(unidentified)): Yes, sir.

(Thirk): There's no need for that, sir. As you can see, I've got everything under…

(Albech): No you don't, you fool. You've been unbelievably lucky thus far, but the final stage is the most dangerous! Stop at once!

(Thirk): Sir, I'm trying to demonstrate that the safety protocols are utterly excessive. There are thousands of artifacts from the Arcane Wars awaiting analysis, and nearly every one that's been successfully studied has yielded major, vital advancements in arcanotechnological applications. It's criminal that we're withholding these things from the Imperium as a whole, sir, and I mean to ferret them out!

(mumbling can be heard in the background as Thirk speaks)

(Albech): *pause* Thirk, I've just been told what happened to your sister. There's no need…

(Thirk): *interrupts* This has nothing to do with Lys, sir.

(Albech): *quietly* Thirk, listen to me. I know it's hard, but there's no reason to get yourself killed.

(Thirk): That's not what I'm doing, sir. I know this won't bring her back, nothing will, but if her expedition had had a better lightning field, or a levingun that didn't jam, or if they'd been able to bring an armored vehicle or two, she might still be here. *voice cracks, continues after a pause* There's no guarantee that this specific artifact could lead to those, but one of the ones in storage might. The Imperium, all of its worlds, especially the survey expeditions, need those secrets, sir, and without the unnecessary precautions procedure insists upon, we can get those secrets, and then maybe someone else can avoid losing his big sister.

(Albech): *quietly, but speaking quickly* Thirk… Duran. Listen to me. Many of these artifacts are highly unstable, or have anti-tampering mechanisms. There's a reason for the safety precautions; every one represents a researcher or team we've lost. If you continue, you're going to be another one, son.

(Thirk): I've been very thorough, sir. This artifact is stable, and it lacks antitamper defenses, I'm quite certain. Now, if you'd like to observe, I'm starting the final procedure.

(Albech): No! NO! You two, GET THAT DOOR OPEN! NOW! Before…

*Albech's voice is drowned out by an alarm klaxon*

*recording unintelligible for several seconds, drowned out by roaring and banging sounds and alarms*

*brief silence as recording clears*

(Albech): Dammit. DAMMIT! Why the HELL wasn't his clearance suspended? Researchers who have received traumatic news are supposed to be sent in for psychological evaluation IMMEDIATELY! Emotional unbalance can be DEADLY in this line of work! You! Get down to the Rift department NOW! Have them send at least one theorist and an engineer, tell them to charge my department budget.

*running footsteps*

(Voice 4, identified as Albech's aide Fedris Thoryn) *quietly* Sir, that was a Wild Rift. The chances that we could track it and retrieve him are…

(Albech) *interrupting* …One in a million, at the very best. I know, Fedris, but we have to at least try. *quietly* We owe the poor bastard that, even though he's probably already dead. He had such potential. Such a waste. Such a damned waste. *louder* Oh, Fire and furies, I need to contact his family…

*log ends*

The Review Committee finds that the fault in this incident lies solely with Junior Leader Thirk. As he was also the sole victim, no disciplinary procedures are needed or recommended at this time.


Chapter 1

Twilight Sparkle was nearly giddy with excitement and enthusiasm. She'd discovered an ancient, incomplete magical treatise weeks ago, magically preserved and tucked away in a dusty corner of her library home's basement. It had taken her days to translate the archaic language into modern Equestrian, longer than similar projects had taken in the past.

She blamed the heavy amount of technical jargon.

The treatise had evidently been part of a project from more than a thousand years ago, trying to work out a new form of teleportation magic. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out; the volume had contained a number of hypotheses, all well-rooted in the magic of the day, as well as summaries of a series of fascinating experiments, but the unnamed author had never managed to get the spells to work quite properly. The author had concluded, with some evident frustration, that her predictions were impossible to properly test with the resources available to her.

Twilight, on the other hoof, was working with the benefits of more than a millennium of advancement in sorcerous theory. It had taken forever, but she thought she'd finally worked out the problems. She'd had to rework the original author's original equations, incorporating the theories of several more recent authors, including Moon Sky, an obscure theoretical magician who'd published his works a century and a half ago, as well as a series of postulates worked out by Dream Dancer, a modern arcane mathematician. Twilight was particularly pleased to have made use of the latter; she'd actually studied under Dream Dancer in Canterlot University, and had been deeply impressed by the old mare.

And today would be the day she tested it out. She'd been over the equations time and again, and was certain it would work. That was why she'd invited all her friends to see her amazing demonstration!

"Uh, Twilight? I know you already told us what you were gonna be doin', but, uh, would you mind remindin' me?" Applejack asked hesitantly.

"Sure! You know how I can teleport, and sometimes take somepony along with me?"

"Yeah."

"Well, this is going to be sort of like that." Twilight explained. "It's called a 'portal' spell. Instead of instantaneously moving me and maybe someone else, what it does is create a direct connection between two separate points in space, allowing several ponies to travel back and forth at will, at least as long as the spell lasts!" She grinned proudly.

"Uh, Okay." Applejack still had a slightly baffled look on her face. "And what's this thingamajig for?" She pointed a hoof at the large, circular structure occupying a significant part of Twilight's lab. It was studded with various gemstone resonators, as well as magically-conductive circuitry.

"Oh, that's the portal's matrix." Twilight explained proudly. The matrix units had been almost entirely her own design; the versions in the original series of experiments had been far more spartan, due in part to the more primitive state of magical conductor research a millennium ago. "The portal spell needs at least one to function properly. It anchors and amplifies the energies involved…" Twilight noticed Applejack's eyes glazing over as she tried to conceal her incomprehension, and decided to cut her explanation short, "and it involves a whole bunch of advanced theoretical sorcery that you're probably not interested in." Twilight smiled brightly as Applejack tried not to show how relieved she was not to hear a detailed explanation. "In a nutshell, the spell needs at least one of these to work. I've got two set up, one here and one at the edge of the forest, so I won't need quite as much energy to cast it."

"Why are you doing that, darling?" Rarity asked. "A regular teleport spell doesn't need any anchor points, does it?"

"Well, no," Twilight admitted, "but as I said, the portal will permit two-way travel, it isn't distance-limited, and I think there may be a way to make it permanent! Though, even if I can design a permanent version, I'm almost certain it'll need a matrix on each end. Imagine, though, being able to step from one side of Equestria to the other, without having to cross the intervening distance!"

"Hmpf." Rainbow Dash was distinctly unimpressed. "Takes all the fun out of it, if you ask me."

"Don't worry, Rainbow. Even if I manage to make a permanent version, it won't be easy, or cheap, to make these. I'd have to completely redesign the anchor point for one…"

"Yeah, yeah." Dash interrupted. "C'mon, Twilight, I kind of want to see what this looks like! I don't think I've ever seen you do a spell you designed yourself before!"

The sentiment was echoed by everypony in the room, including Fluttershy, though the yellow pegasus's affirmation was hard to actually hear.

"Okay, then!" Twilight's eagerness warred with a strong tingle of apprehension as she began mentally going through the steps of the spell in preparation. "I'm going to be connecting this portal with the one I built over close to Fluttershy's house, where Spike's waiting, and shut it down once we're all across. If I've still got the energy, I'll reconnect us, so we can just step over and then step back. But first!" she gestured to a series of heavy metal plates, each with a narrow window at about eye level, set up around the perimeter of the room, "I'd like everypony to get behind one of these shields, just in case. You can watch through the viewport, but I'd feel a lot better if you were each behind one. I'd never forgive myself if something went wrong and one of you got hurt!"

"How likely is that to happen, darling?" Rarity eyed Twilight with concern. As the only other unicorn in the room, she was uniquely aware of just how much energy Twilight was going to be dealing with, and she'd seen a couple of very nasty mishaps back in her school days when a unicorn lost control of a spell. And those spells had involved far less energy than what she suspected Twilight would be dealing with today.

"Oh, not very. I've worked this spell out precisely, and I really don't think there'll be any problems. But, better safe than sorry!" Rarity wasn't entirely convinced by her friend's breezy assurances, but Twilight Sparkle was one of the most capable spellcasters she'd ever even heard of, and she trusted the academic's word.

Twilight's friends obediently took station behind the barriers, as the lavender-coated unicorn finished her mental preparations. Taking a deep breath, she focused her mind, and began drawing upon the magic within herself. Her horn began to glow, softly at first, then with increasing intensity as she channeled more and more power through the lattice-like structure of the forming spell. Keeping a tight mental grasp on the necessary equations, forms, and components, she felt a thrill of excitement as the spell took form.

The others gasped behind the blast shields as the space inside the portal matrix began to distort, and the room filled with the sharp tang of ozone. At first, it resembled a mirage, the view of the back of the room wavering and swimming in an odd, twisting pattern. Then, the twist became tighter and more intense, and the light drew away from the center of the disc, the image bending as though seen through a lens, the view of the room compressing as it fled to the rim of the disc. What stood now in the center of the portal focus was a disc of darkness that almost tingled to look at, that seemed filled with colors that the eye somehow refused to see in favor of a black so intense it hurt, surrounded by an infinitesimally thin band of brilliant shimmering incandescence.

That was when things went wrong.

Twilight realized it first, before any of her friends had any inkling. As she held the spell in her mind, guiding the energy forming before her, she had a felt a sudden jolt, like she'd tried to climb a stair step that wasn't there. Something was missing. The spell suddenly began to twist and distort, tearing itself away from her control, forming itself into something not quite what she had intended. Horror lanced through her as a warped version of the portal spell she'd constructed crystallized with shocking rapidity. Soundless lightning shot through the previously pristine blackness of the disc and she saw strange, nebulous clouds boil into existence, instead of showing the edge of the Everfree Forest that should be occupying that space now. Worse, in the space of an eyeblink, the spell had turned on her. Twilight was now fighting against her own portal as it sank greedy claws into her, draining her energy voraciously.

"Something's wrong…" began Rarity, before Twilight cut her off sharply.

"Everypony out! Now!" Even as she spoke the words, the portal had begun draining other energy out of the room. The temperature was dropping, and a slight breeze had started blowing toward the roiling, lightning-shot gateway. "Get out of this room as fast as you can!"

Her warning spoken, Twilight was forced to trust her friends and turn her full attention to fighting the portal spell. At first, she tried clearing her mind, which should have caused the spell to dissipate. Any normal spell would have. It had no effect whatsoever on this one, however. Neither did the dispels she tried, frantically composing and hurling bolts of disruptive power into the cold, pitiless face of the raging spell. She used every dispelling technique she'd ever learned, but the portal swallowed the dispelling energy as effortlessly as the magic it had already drained from her. The light breeze had swiftly intensified to a gale, tearing pages out of stray books and driving small loose objects into the maw of the disc.

Then Twilight herself slid a few inches.

At the feel of her hooves sliding across the floor, an edge of panic began to creep into Twilight's thoughts. The wind was nowhere near strong enough to be doing that, it had to be some effect of the spell itself. The spell that was still somehow anchored to her, and continuing to drain her reserves of magic, despite her ongoing attempts to stop it. She dug her hooves in, and glanced back towards the door, hoping that her friends had at least made it out.

Rarity stood just outside the door to Twilight's lab, heedless of the mess the increasing gale was making of her elegant mane and tail, barring a concerned and abnormally serious-looking Pinkie Pie from re-entering. Her horn glowed as she, too, attempted to disrupt the out-of-control portal spell. Applejack, her hat blown away in the wind, had Fluttershy's tail clamped in her teeth as she dragged the yellow pegasus toward the door and relative safety. Fluttershy herself was trying to move, to say something, but the kindhearted mare was near-paralyzed with terror, trembling so violently it looked as though she was suffering a seizure.

Rainbow Dash stood about halfway between Twilight and the door, looking back over her shoulder and shouting something Twilight couldn't hear at Pinkie Pie. The rainbow-maned pegasus glanced back at Twilight, meeting her friend's eyes just as the unicorn slid forward another few inches, in spite of her braced hooves.

Dash's eyes widened for an instant, and then narrowed. Twilight could see the racer's determination crystallize. No! Twilight tried to yell, but between increasingly desperate attempts to disrupt the spell, holding on to her dwindling magic reserves, and trying to keep from sliding closer to the portal, she had no concentration left to spare on making her voice work.

"A.J.!" Dash bellowed at the farmpony, loud enough for Twilight to hear even over the ever-increasing wind, "Get Fluttershy out and go for help! It's pulling Twilight in!" Tucking her wings close to her body, Rainbow Dash bolted toward Twilight. As her friend approached, Twilight felt the pull increase to beyond what her hooves could resist, and she started sliding helplessly toward the nightmare her spell had become. Putting on an extra burst of speed, Rainbow Dash shot past Twilight, cutting in front of her and planting her hooves on the floor just in time to absorb the impact as her friend slid into her.

The two were barely a bodylength from the surface of the portal. They were stable for the moment, but Twilight could feel the spell's pull on her body increasing; even with Dash's shoulder braced against her chest, she knew they wouldn't be able to hold for long. She had seconds, at best, to convince her friend to let her go, or they'd both be pulled in.

She stopped flinging dispels at the gateway. They weren't working anyway, and she needed to be able to talk.

"Rainbow Dash!" Twilight could see her breath fogging before it was yanked away by the howling gale. This close to the portal, it was robbing the heat from the inrushing air, the same way it continued to greedily devour the unicorn's dwindling reserves. "Let me go and get out! I can't stop it!"

"Not. Gonna. Happen." Rainbow growled out between gritted teeth. Twilight could feel that the pegasus was straining, trying to keep them both from the portal's maw; Dash was prodigiously strong, especially for a pegasus, but she wasn't very heavy. And in this situation, weight mattered.

"Rainbow!" Twilight pleaded, desperately, but she didn't have time to finish. The spell's pull finally overwhelmed the slight extra weight Dash had lent and yanked Twilight toward itself, shoving the pegasus out of the way. Rather than abandon her friend, Dash wrapped her forelegs around Twilight's neck, her wings beating futilely against the wind as she tried to arrest the unicorn's momentum.

The roaring wind swallowed their screams as they disappeared into the unknown.