Upheaval: Breaking Point
Chapter 1: Misplaced Objects
"Come along, Spike! I'm sensing more gems over there!"
For the baby dragon who had been spending all afternoon digging holes and dragging a cartload of gems through the woods, that melodious voice was both a drink of water and a quick break rolled into one. "I'm coming, Rarity!" Spike answered. He stretched his shoulders, and pulled the cart onward. The clinking of gems bouncing, as the wheels rolled over the uneven ground, sounded tempting. His mouth watered at the mere thought of the fine meal just behind him, but he didn't dare touch a single bauble. Rarity was making a dress for another bigwig pony who wanted to look like dragon bait, and he had the honor of contributing a few hours of mostly unpaid, backbreaking labor towards that goal. He approached the clearing where Rarity was waiting for him.
"Right here, Spike," Rarity said. "It's a large cluster this time."
"One large cluster of gems coming right up!" Spike replied. He tore through the soft ground with practiced ease. One shallow hole later, a cache of finely cut gems sparkled in the sunlight.
"Excellent!" Rarity said. "This should be more than enough. Thank you again for helping me."
"No problem, Rarity," Spike answered. He was beaming as he loaded the gems unto the cart. 'Mostly unpaid,' he had thought earlier, but the appreciation of the most beautiful pony in Equestria and a gem from the pile were more than enough payment for all his hard work. "May I add that it is always my pleasure to be able to…Rarity?"
Spike looked up at her. Her horn was glowing, a sign that she had detected another cluster of gems nearby. Instead of running off to where the gems were, she just stood there with a puzzled look on her face. "Rarity, are you alright?" he asked her. When she didn't reply, he reached up and tapped her with a claw. Startled, she gasped and then looked at him. "What's wrong? Is it another cluster of gems?"
Rarity looked around, dazed. After a moment of silence, she replied. "Yes and…no. I'm sensing something but…I don't know. I've never picked up anything like this with my magic. These aren't just some gems."
Not sure of what he should make of her comments, Spike shrugged. "Well, it must be a really special bunch of gems! We should get them. They'd taste real goo- I mean they might really look good on a dress!"
"You're right," Rarity answered. "This could be the dress to put my star at the center of the fashion world!" She galloped deeper into the woods. "Hurry, Spike! This way!" she called out.
"Hey! Wait!" Spike called after her. "This cart is heavy, you know!"
They were deep into the woods by the time Spike had caught up with Rarity. When he did, he found her staring at a small cave entrance by an outcropping of rock. Her horn was still glowing as she looked forlornly at the hole. "Ugh, I hate caves!" she said. "And this one looks like a tight fit. I'll be covered in dirt if I crawl through that!"
"Never fear, Spike is here!" Spike announced. Here was yet another chance for him to show off. The entrance should be just the right size for him.
"Oh, would you, Spike? The gems are just inside that cave. If you could go in and get them, I'd be so grateful!"
With a nod, Spike hurried inside, lest his swelling ego got him stuck halfway through the opening. To his relief, the cave was actually much bigger past the entrance. He realized that the entrance had been partially blocked by a pile of rocks, likely from a cave-in. He looked around. The gems should be nearby. He sincerely hoped that they didn't happen to be part of another dragon's pile. He wasn't going to touch another one of those ever.
"Spike?" Rarity called from outside. "Did you find them yet?"
Spike looked around some more. The cave was nothing more than a single chamber with a ceiling just high enough to fit a pony, and with enough space to fit four without squeezing. The uneven stone floor felt damp under his feet. The only light source in the cave came from the entrance, making it difficult to get a good look at anything. The cluster of gems should just be around…
"There!" In the corner of the cave was a single, dimly glowing, turquoise sphere that was the size of a large apple. From a distance, it looked perfectly smooth and facet-less. He hurried over to get it. That beauty would surely get him a lot of points with Rarity. Maybe even a kiss!
His foot caught against something, sending him falling face first to the floor. He stood up, rubbed his aching nose, and looked at what had tripped him up. It appeared to be a white piece of wood, perhaps a tree root or something. He looked at the thing closer and then screamed.
"Spike?" Rarity called from the entrance. "Are you alright in there?"
Spike edged away from what had tripped him. It wasn't a tree root at all. It was a bone. The foreleg of a pony skeleton splayed across the cave's floor. The bones were clean and dry. They must have been there for ages. The skeleton was still wearing the ragged remains of what clothing it had in life. What had happened here? Was this a tomb? Spike shook his head. The skeleton didn't look like it was placed neatly here. From the way it was positioned, it looked like some poor pony crawled into this cave a long time ago and then died.
A chill crawled up Spike's spine as he continued to stare at the pony's remains. For a moment, he was frozen in place, unsure of what to do.
"Spike?" Rarity called out again.
Spike forced himself to look away from the skeleton. He went over to the gem and grabbed it. At once, he shuddered at the feel of the stone in his claw. It was perfectly smooth, as he had expected. It was also warm to touch, and made his scales tingly. Regardless, he left the cave with the gem in his claws, and presented it to Rarity.
"Oh my!" Rarity gasped. "That looks absolutely gorgeous! It's going to be the crowning jewel on my masterpiece! Wait, imagine it on a tiara! Or on a scepter!" She reached out to touch the sphere. Upon touching it, however, her excitement changed to puzzled wonder. "It's warm," she remarked.
"Weird, huh?" Spike asked.
"Not just warm. It's magical. Can you feel it? It's positively humming! What was in that cave, Spike?"
"Well, there was a skeleton and-!"
"A skeleton! Why didn't you tell me? This thing could be cursed!"
"Not with the curses again!" Spike groaned. "I thought you'd like it!"
"And I do." Rarity answered. "But…I know! Why don't you have Twilight have examine it first? She might know what it is. If it's safe, you can bring it to me."
"Well, that's true," Spike said. "Twilight would have an idea what this is."
The sphere continued to glow a soft turquoise as the two made their way back.
"Spike, I have no idea what this is."
Twilight Sparkle held the sphere up with her telekinesis, staring at it with fascination as it caught the light in her house. The gem was definitely magical. It hummed softly the moment she picked it up with magic. Having it near her made her feel tingly all over, especially around her horn. She set it down on a table, and then levitated several books from their shelves. "Look up 'Magical Artifacts'," she said. "Maybe we can find a reference."
Spike was already flipping through the pages of the book. He seldom felt a lot of enthusiasm for any of Twilight's research endeavors, but the sooner he could confirm that the sphere was flashy but harmless, the sooner he could give it to Rarity. He took note of where the gift wrapping was stored in the house. He was probably going to need some soon. To his disappointment, nothing in the book even remotely resembled the gem. "See anything?" he asked.
"No," Twilight answered in a disappointed tone. She set down "Arcane Gems", and picked up another book. "What else did you see in that cave?"
"Nothing else. Just the skeleton and that thing."
"No clothes or other items?"
"Just some rags from whatever it was wearing. It looked like it's been there for a long, long time."
"What did the rags look like?"
"I mean the color or patterns. Something that might clue us in on who or what that pony was."
"Um…" Spike scratched his head. "I don't remember," he said. "Now that you mentioned it, I did leave that cave pretty quickly. I might have missed some stuff."
"Well it's settled , we're going to that cave, and giving it a thorough search. We should also give that poor pony a proper burial."
"I don't know, Twilight. Maybe we should leave it alone. There's something really scary about that place. While I was in there, I felt like…like…"
"Like you shouldn't be there?" Twilight suggested.
"No! Like it shouldn't be there! It was like I was just minding my own business here at home, and then some stranger just walked in without saying anything."
Twilight's brows furrowed. "That's weird," she thought out loud, "but also more reason to check it out. If we don't find anything, I think we should visit Canterlot to use the library there. It might even be necessary to ask Princess Celestia about this thing."
"If you say so, Twilight," Spike said with a yawn. "I'm going to bed. Dragging that cart around is hard work!"
"Good night, Spike," Twilight said. She set another book aside and looked around sleepily. She gave the sphere on her desk one last look, and then headed to her bed.
The next day, Spike found himself wandering the woods once more. He wasn't looking for gems this time, and it wasn't Rarity he was walking with. Both facts contributed to the reason why there wasn't a lot of spring in his step, despite not having to drag a load of gems behind him. He wasn't exactly thrilled to see the skeleton again either.
"Are you sure that it's this way, Spike?" Twilight asked from behind him. She was carrying a bag holding a few books that she felt might help and the strange gem.
"Yes, I'm sure!" Spike snapped. It was the third time that Twilight had asked him that question and it had grated on him the first time.
"It's just that we've been walking for a long time now, and I think we just went in a circle," Twilight said gently.
"It's around here somewhere!" Spike said. "I remember going this way! There's that stand of trees, and those bushes, and-!" His eyes narrowed. The landmarks were all there. The cave should be nearby. He looked around more carefully until his eyes finally landed on a particularly rocky spot. "There it is!" he exclaimed.
The two of them hurried over to the spot. "I don't see any cave, Spike." Twilight said.
"It should be around here!" Spike said in frustration. "A hole doesn't just get up and walk away…here it is! No wonder it was so hard to find, it's gotten smaller!"
"Smaller?" Twilight asked. "How?"
"Looks like some of the rocks fell over, and blocked even more of it. It's going to be a tight squeeze, even for me," Spike said.
"Don't worry about it. You said that the cave is big enough inside, right?"
"Yeah. You should fit in easily."
"Alright. I'll just teleport in while you squeeze through."
Twilight's eyes narrowed in concentration, her horn glowing as it gathered magical energy. Spike was about to squeeze into the hole, when an unfamiliar buzz made him pause. That wasn't a sound he normally associated with Twilight's teleportations. He looked behind him, and saw the crackling aura of blue-white magical energy surrounding her. "Twilight, what are you doing?" he asked in alarm.
"I don't know!" Twilight cried out. "I just cast a teleportation spell!"
"The gem!" Spike yelled. "It's the gem! Get rid of it!"
Sure enough, the aura was emanating from Twilight's bag. Before she could reach for it, another surge of magical energy exploded from her. The force hurled Spike against the outcropping of rock, as it enveloped her as quickly as it had emerged. There was a loud hum, and a flash of light. After that, everything fell silent.
And Twilight Sparkle had disappeared.
"Twilight?" Spike asked as he looked around. He scrambled into the cave, in case she had indeed teleported there. The cave's silence greeted him coldly in response. He looked around even more, climbing up the outcropping to get a better view. He didn't see anypony. "Twilight?" he called out. There was no response from anywhere. "Twilight!" he shouted. Still no response. Alone, he fell on his tail, covered his face, and started to sob.
The moment the flash of light dazzled her vision, Twilight Sparkle found herself falling, as if she had been standing on a rug that somepony pulled from beneath her, except she kept on falling instead of hitting the floor. She recognized the feeling as that of a teleportation spell; a badly-miscast, out-of-control teleportation spell. She remembered her first teleportation, a disastrous attempt that ended with far too many rose thorns being pulled out of very hard to reach places. Her vision was still painfully dazzled when she hit the ground. Or at least she hit something. The ground was a little softer than she remembered, and it quickly shifted from beneath her, as if it were trying to shake her loose.
"Terrato's blood-smeared hooves, get this thing off me!" somepony yelled. A feminine voice by the tone. When Twilight focused, she realized that somepony was yelling from beneath her. As her vision cleared, she did her best to scramble away. Before she could do so, the thing beneath her heaved violently, hurling her to the very hard, very cold ground.
"It's a pony!" somepony else shouted. This one came from above her. "Those crazy wolven are chucking ponies around now!"
"The wolven didn't chuck this one anywhere, Scarlet, I saw her materialize right above Pyre Valor," a third voice spoke.
Twilight's vision finally cleared. She got to her hooves unsteadily, and looked around. She found herself flanked by two ponies. To her right was an earth pony; a big, brown stallion with a cropped, corn-yellow mane. He wore some gray-plated barding around his chest, neck, and flanks like the royal guards did. He appraised her coldly with heavy-lidded, light blue eyes.
An angry white unicorn stood to Twilight's left. Her wild, black mess of a mane covered her head and shoulders, spilling across a thickly padded coat that protected most of her neck and torso.
Twilight heard the flapping of wings above her and guessed that there was a pegasus hovering there. She didn't look up however, the sight of the unicorn was too menacing to turn her attention away. She backed away slightly, unsure of whether to talk or run.
After a moment of silence, the stallion spoke again. "Pyre, look at her flank," he said.
The pegasus above them laughed. "Well you're quick to look at that direction, Blademane! Didn't take you for a flank-stallion!"
"Quiet!" the unicorn snapped. She looked at Twilight carefully, her eyebrows furrowing deeper when her brown eyes focused on Twilight's cutie mark. Her nostrils flared as she recognized it. "Chosen!" she snarled. "Blademane!"
"Wait! Wha-!" Twilight cried out. Before she could move, the brown stallion charged, knocking her over. She struck the ground side-first. Before she could recover, he pinned her in place with his heavy, metal-shod front hooves. "If I see that horn glow, you'll be pulling pieces of it from where the sun doesn't shine, chosen," he said, his baritone voice menacing.
"What is going on?" Twilight groaned weakly. The stallion's weight on her shoulders was crushingly heavy. "Who are you ponies?"
The unicorn walked over, and slammed a hoof against Twilight's face. The vision in her left eye went black for a few seconds, followed by a searing pain that quickly turned into a swelling numbness. Tears sprang from her eyes and she tasted something metallic. "You'll speak when spoken to, chosen," the unicorn hissed, "and we'll be the ones to ask the questions!"
"Can I skin her flank before we kill her?" the pegasus asked. "That star symbol thing would look fetching on my barding!"
"Nopony is skinning anypony," said a fourth voice from behind Twilight. On reflex, she tried to look, but she was still pinned to the ground. "Let her up, Blademane."
Twilight felt the crushing pressure ease. She tried to get up, but only managed to struggle to knees. Blademane walked over to stand with the irate unicorn. On instinct, she turned her gaze towards the newcomer. Against the unicorn's enraged hostility, the earth pony's cold brutality, and pegasus's casual threats, the newcomer seemed to offer some refuge. To her surprise, she found herself looking at a walking, pony-shaped mass of black metal. She had seen barding before, on Princess Celestia's Royal Guard, but even those stern, golden-barded ponies were skimpily clothed compared to this pony. Only the eyes, nostrils, and mouth served as signs that there was something alive under all that metal. Even his legs were hidden by a cloth covering, a caparison, she recalled from a book somewhere. She guessed that he was a gray earth pony. From his tail, she could tell that he also had curly, black hair. He was a little smaller than the brown stallion who had been pinning her, but his presence made him tower over all of them.
The unicorn stepped forward, her face a warring mixture of protest and resignation. "Captain, she's a chosen! Look at her flank!"
The heavily-armored pony answered in a deep, growling tone. He sounded more like a wolf than a pony to Twilight. "I can see the big, elaborate star on her flank, vice-captain. The last time I checked, the wolven haven't gouged my eyes out."
"The captain's a flank-stallion too!" the pegasus above them crowed. "Oh day of revelations!"
Her protest ignored, the unicorn focused her angry stare above them instead.
The black-armored pony turned his attention on Twilight, who quivered a little under the intense stare. "You've broken some of your Princess Celestia's very important laws to go where you shouldn't be, chosen," he said softly. "I hope, for your sake, that you can bear the consequences."