A flash of white light appeared in a black wasteland. As the light faded, seven figures stared around at their surroundings, confused. Lotus Blossom was the first to speak. "This doesn't look like our home," she said, glaring about angrily.
Gem took a closer look at the nearby structure...then blanched. "I think it is, actually..." He backed up slowly.
Looking up, Stardust blanched. "That's...that's Canterlot Castle. But...but how?"
It was Canterlot Castle...or had been at one time. The once pure white marble towers had been replaced by black crystal spires, the windows filled with pulsating red crystals, as though crimson eyes watched their every action. Canterlot Castle had once looked like a winged guardian, watching over the land protectivly like a guardian angel. Now it more closely resembled a bird of prey, mantled over the corpse of its kill. The land around was black with death, and Canterlot town was in ruins, the whole city surrounded by a wide black crevice, crossed by black rope bridges. The sky was shrouded in shadows, the only thing visible was the sun, in an eternal solar eclipse.
Twistie shivered. "This place feels...dead. It's dead and dying..."
Aurora hunched in on herself, her wings mantling. "I feel sick..." she muttered under her breath.
Snap looked out at the desicated world calmly, staying strong for the others. "Maria, I hesitate to ask this of you, but...can you cast that scrying spell again to figure out what happened?"
Maria shuddered, nodding. "I'm trying...but there isn't that much magic here to work with. ...got it." Her horn glowed, and a white mist appeared before her eyes as images scrolled across her irises. Within moments, she began to turn green. "Sweet merciful makers," she whispered in horror. "Grant me eyes that can unsee..."
"Sis?" Stardust asked in concern.
"This was once Equestria as it was known from our history, the stories our parents told us. Things diverted shortly after the wedding of Princess Cadence to Uncle Shining." Maria gulped, wetting her throat before continuing. "Twilight Sparkle became concerned about the matter of Chrysalis, as she had nearly conquered Equestria, but had only been banished, not imprisoned or destroyed. A constant worry nagged at her thoughts that she might return one day, and they had no true defense. After the defeat of King Sombre at the Crystal Kingdom, Twilight became aware of the darker magics, and investigated the records of such in the Canterlot and Crystal Kingdom archives. She...she found what she was looking for, and prepared."
Silence passed as Maria cleared her throat of gorge. Snap offered her a canteen of water. She put the first few mouthfuls to clearing her mouth and throat, then drank some down. She continued.
"Eventually, her suspicions were proven true. Chrysalis attacked Ponyville with an army of changelings at her back. There was no way to get news to Canterlot or retrieve the Elements in time, so Twilight used the spell she had prepared. ...driving her horn into Chrysalis' heart, she absorbed her magic and life force, destroying her utterly."
The others gasped at this, but Maria continued.
"Twilight wasn't prepared for what happened from this. First, destroying Chrysalis caused the entire Changeling race to vanish, as though they had never been. Second...draining the magic into her own had caused an unexpected reaction within her. ...it had felt really, really good. Absorbing the magic of another had been a pleasurable sensation unlike anything she had ever known. Afterwards, the realization of what had happened to the Changelings weighed on her...but she moved past it, although for some weeks her friends were nervous around her.
"Then Discord returned. He was determined to play a new game with everyone, with different rules. Once again, there seemed no time to retrieve the elements. Steeling herself, Twilight did the only thing she could think of when Discord sought to cause harm to two infants under Pinkie Pie's care. She used the same spell she used on Chrysalis on Discord." Maria shuddered. "Discord did not die, but the drain of his magic caused him to be returned to stone for a time...and the second absorption of magic felt even better to Twilight then the first. Celestia confirmed that Discord still lived, but had been imprisoned the same way he had when bound by the Elements. She cautioned Twilight about the danger of using dark magics, and it seemed Twilight listened...except Sombre took that moment to attack Canterlot castle at sunset, when Celestia and Luna's powers were at their weakest.
"Twilight was the only one there, as she had been summoned to discuss her magic situation with Celestia in private. Celestia attempted to fight Sombre, but he had changed. The Crystal Heart's light had bound him to a physical body, but his shadow powers were still intact. While the fight was going on, Twilight summoned her friends, but when it looked as though Sombre would strike Celestia down...she drained him as well.
"The flood of dark magic she absorbed only amplified the dark pleasure the spell gave her, and the result was almost overpowering for her...and then the corruptive influence of the dark spells and the mix of chaos and harmony energies within her filled her with an unholy hunger. The pleasure of draining another of their magic and life...she wanted more. So when the others arrived to find out what was going on...she plunged her horn into Rarity's chest and drained her."
A ripple of shock and fear spread through the listeners as Maria continued her tale. "The others were shocked that she would do this, but Celestia knew what had happened. Twilight had lost herself to the dark magics, and her favorite student was no more. This was the start of the rise of Nightmare Sparkle.
"Celestia immediately attempted to engage Twilight in battle, but it was already night, and her powers were weak. Despite all her efforts, Celestia had also miscalculated. When Rarity had been slain by one of her own friends - another Harmony bearer - the power of Harmony had been broken. Even as Luna rushed into the throne room as everyone else fled, Nightmare Sparkle plunged her horn into Celestia's chest...and the sun princess was no more.
"In her rage, pain, and sorrow, Luna gave herself to the darkness inside her...and Nightmare Moon waged war against Nightmare Sparkle. As the two Nightmares become flesh did battle in the skies over Equestria - Moon on her own wings of night, Sparkle on a cloud of magic - it seemed that the full power of night made Moon to strong...but then Sparkle tapped the power she had absorbed from Discord, and turned Night into Day. As Nightmare Moon reeled in shock...the sky opened up and a brand of sunfire struck her down."
Twistie shuddered. "Nightmare Sparkle must have opened a hole in the ozone layer, and Nightmare Moon was cooked by the solar radiation."
Maria nodded, then continued. "She stopped before Nightmare Moon was dead...so that she could, all unhindered, absorb the magic - light and dark - of the fallen Moon Princess. In that moment, black bat wings spread from her back, and the ascension of the dark queen was complete. Tapping the powers of sun and moon, she locked all of Equestria in an eternal eclipse, and almost all plant and animal life slowly began to die.
"The ponies of Equestria - Earth, pegasi, and unicorn - of course staged a revolt, spearheaded by Pinkie Pie, Applejack and Fluttershy. Rainbow Dash had gone after Nightmare Sparkle herself before the eclipse was even in place...but none had seen her since. It was assumed she had been slain...but the truth was far worse. When the Wonderbolts attempted to assault the altered Cnaterlot Castle...the Enforcer was turned loose on them.
"Nightmare Sparkle had bound Rainbow Dash in a dark magic harness which suppressed her will and amplified her physical abilities, turning her into a merciless, tireless killing machine. She tore the Wonderbolts apart. The Enforcer was then sent to where the pegasi were massing...and she slaughtered many, going so far as to target Scootaloo - who tried to reason with her, without success. When Scootaloo would not fight back...on Nightmare Sparkle's orders, one of her wings was torn from her body, and the wound cursed so it would never heal. She was then taken back to serve at Nightmare Castle. This broke the spirit of the pegasi, and most withdrew from the rebellion.
"Nightmare Sparkle dealt with the Earth Ponies herself. After slaughtering several of them, she came across their leaders, the Apple family. She dealt with them quite directly. She beheaded Applejack in battle...and then gouged out Apple Bloom's eyes, before taking her back to Nightmare Castle to serve like Scootaloo. When Big Mac went mad from grief and charged her...she set a fire in his chest cavity that consumed him utterly. The Apple Family's spirit was broken, and with it most of the Earth Ponies capitualted in fear.
"The unicorns were all that was left...and Nightmare Sparkle unleashed her horrors on them. She had taken the magic of the Changeling race and recreated it to serve her. They went out with orders to capture every unicorn in Equestria - colt and filly, stallion and mare, from newborn to aged - and bring them to Nightmare Castle...where Nightmare Sparkle consumed them to feed her hunger for magic.
"At long last, only two of the original Harmony bearers remained, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy. As Pinkie Pie sought an answer in old legends, Fluttershy raised one last rebellion by uniting the dragons, the griffons, the manticores, the chimeras, the cockatrices, and all the animal life that remained for one last battle for their land. ...they never stood a chance, as Nightmare Sparkle had become nearly all powerful, and tore their vanguard apart before doing the same to Fluttershy." Maria shuddered, shaking as she tried not to vomit. The others were all shaken violently at the horrid fate described for their mothers in this world...and the world itself.
At last, Twistie asked, "What about Pinkie Pie? What...what did Mom do?"
Maria swallowed hard and managed to continue. "Pinkie Pie had allied herself with Discord, who had rebelled several times against Nightmare Sparkle, but had been drained each time. Discord told Pinkie Pie of one old legend that was true fact, something he feared the use of, but was the only answer. A weapon of unimaginable power, which had the potential to unmake the very world. It was called...Faust's Tear.
"The legend went that, in the days of creation, the Prime Maker discovered something in the fabric of existence that filled her with dread and sorrow, and for a moment caused her to regret her creation, regret making this world of magic. No one knows what it was, but it was only for a moment. However, in that moment, she shed a single tear. Legend claims that all her feelings of regret and despair were infused into the tear, and it crystalized, becoming the gemstone known as Faust's tear.
"Dischord didn't know how much of the legend was true, but he knew Faust's tear existed. It was a stone of anti-magic, that gave off a light that caused magic to fail in its surroundings. If its light shone unchecked for too long, all magic in its vicinity would fail. So he sealed it in a staff, with a shroud of of metal he dubbed discordium, unbreakable so long as chaos and discord existed anywhere in existance. He enchanted the staff so that the crystal could only be unsealed if the one using it betrayed everything they stood for in the act of using it. He felt this meant that it could never be used this way...but Pinkie Pie found it. She would make use of it...to take the life of one of her best friends.
"Discord made one last attempt to attack Nightmare Sparkle, as a distraction. He knew it was the end of his magic, and he would be unable to raise himself again...but it was the only chance to get Pinkie into Nightmare Castle undetected. At first, it seemed as though the plan would work, and Pinkie would use Faust's Tear to break Nightmare Sparkle's power and take her life...but she wasn't alone in the throne room.
"Metal Sonic was there." As everyone gasped in shock, Maria continued. "He sought alliance with Nightmare Sparkle, and was mid negotiations. As he did not run on magic, Faust's Tear did not effect him. Seizing the staff from Pinkie, he knocked her aside...and shattered the crystal. Nightmare Sparkle then obliterated her, and solidified her alliance with Metal Sonic. Early last week, they made their move against our home dimension, seeking to destroy Metal Sonic's enemies...our parents."
As everyone stared in shock, frozen in fear and despair, Snap gained control of himself. "Stardust, get us out of here. We have to get home before Nightmare Sparkle eats our folks!"
Stardust focused his magic...and opened his eyes in shock. "I...I can't. There's only death magic in this world, and I can't use it. And...Harmony doesn't work here."
They all stared at each other...then Snap saw someone who could help. He knew her scnet well. Running forward, he called out to her. "Apple Bloom! Hey, Apple Bloom!"
The mare flinched at the name and turned towards them. Snap and the others flinched at the gaping wounds of her eyes. "Don't use that name!" she said insistently. "If the Dark Queen heard you, she'd kill you, and I'd be whipped. Please, call me Blind, for both our sakes."
Snap shuddered. "Okay...Blind." He nearly chocked on the moniker. "We need help. We need to find magic to get us home. Do you know anything we can use?"
Blind nodded sadly. "Follow me." She led them into Nightmare Castle and down towards the Basement level. Within, what they saw made Cherry Blossom feint and Lotus nearly vomit...and the others weren't much better.
Inside large green pods not unlike what Chrysalis had bound Celestia in during her attempted takeover of Canterlot, unicorns of various ages floated, suspended in clear fluid. "Are...are these the unicorns captured from Equestria that Nightmare Sparkle fed on?"
"No," a broken voice said from within the chamber. A familiar face revealed herself, tear wracked and broken voiced. "With all the Unicorns gone...Nightmare Sparkle used her magic to grow new ones. They're trapped in a magic that suspends their minds in a virtual realm while their bodies grow. THis way, their magic grows along with their bodies. When they reach the peak of their magic - or if any show signs of breaking free - they are dumped from the pods. While they're still struggling to use bodies atrophied from non-use...the Dark Queen consumes their magic and life."
"Scoo..." Aurora began, then stopped. "I suppose there's a moniker we're supposed to call you?"
She nodded. "I'm Gimp. But..." Her eyes widened. "Rainbow Dash? But...but you're dead. I saw your broken body. I dragged it to the death fire. How are you..." She staggered forward, disbelieving.
Aurora ran forward to support her. "Easy. I'm not Rainbow Dash. ...I'm her daugher, sort of. We're all from another dimension, and we're trying to get home. ...we know Discord can't reanimate himself, but can you take us to him? Maybe we can draw power from him to get home."
Gimp nodded immediately. "If I can help you get home, I'll do whatever I can. It'll be worth whatever the dark queen would do to me to punish me, knowing I helped Rainbow Dash somehow." Seeming to draw strength from Aurora's presence, GImp moved towards the gardens. "Come on, Blind." Her voice was stronger as well. ...she had rediscovered hope.
As they followed the two out to the gardens, they saw all that was left was some statuary. The centerpiece was Discord's stone prison...but even from here Stardust could tell there would be no power drawn from him. His magic was all but gone, not even enough to power a Chaos Control to the entrance of the castle, let alone across worlds. A hole in his chest remained from where he had been repeatedly drained of his chaos powers.
Sitting in front of the statue was an Earth Pony with a pink coat and strangely tinted purple and white mane, and wearing a yellow and white propeller beanie. Her head was down, and she was obviously crying. Gimp approached her. "Screwball..." she whispered. Suddenly, the pony began to sing.
"So there you are my Dad, a statue oh so cold so dead You tore their world apart, and ev'rypony lost their head Now I must carry on making Choas for you instead 'Cause you are my Daddy Discord and I am a piece of you."
As her voice fell, she whispered, "I miss you daddy..."
Suddenly, Maria was seized by an overpowering compulsion. Her seperation from her parents for so long weighed on her heart and - being a Daddy's Little Girl herself - she felt she had to do something to ease Screwball's pain. Charging forward, ignoring the shocked calls of her brother and the others, she leapt and plunged her horn into the hole in Discord's chest. Magic surged out of her, sending her staggering. Light shone from the hole...and all unnoticed, from her flank.
Discord's chest sealed itself up, and a laugh filled the air as a sense of power focused on the clearing. The laugh caused Screwball to perk up, as a pink light pulsed in Discord's chest, and his voice sang out.
"Please do not cry my dear your daddy is still very here And when I do bust out we can respread the random fear Our joy will be their pain as their world drowns in chocolate rain 'Cause I am your Daddy Dischord and you are a piece of me!"
Screwball seemed joyful, but also a bit disbelieving. She began to sing again.
"Remember that one time you took me to that baseball game?
I got my Cutie Mark..."
As she showed the mark on ehr flank - a screw with a baseball - Discord's voice responded.
"...and things were never quite the same."
They sang together.
"My wild pitches flew driving the ponies all insane 'Cause you are my Daddy Dischord, and I am a piece of you!"
Voices sang out from the statues surrounding them.
"Take me out to your mind game!
If Chaos loses it's a real shame!
Screwball giggled maniacally, and Discord began to sing again.
"Oh simple spawn of mine wihtout you I would be so lost You have stuck by my side..."
Screwball gestured sadly to what was left of Equestria as she sang.
"...no matter what the tragic cost."
Discord and his daughter sang together.
"Your crazed imagined thoughts have given me a newfound strength 'Cause you are my Daughter Screwball and I am breaking out of here!"
As this last line was sung, cracks spread over the statue, covering Discord's entire body. Finally, the stone shattered explosively as Discord broke free with a loud roar.
"It's alive! ALIVE!"
Stardust and the others gave Twistie a look.
Twistie smiled sheepishly. "I always wanted to say that."
Not having noticed the exchange, Discord scooped up his daughter.
"I'm free, free once again! May Equestria return to its natural chaotic state! Come my little abomination, we have work to do!"
As he held Screwball close, she sighed happily. "I missed you, Daddy."
After a time, Discord turned to the world. "I...I don't understand. Chaos should have taken hold. Why didn't it? ...why is Nightmare's death spells still in effect?"
Stardust stepped forward. "Metal Sonic did not run on magic. Before Pinkie could slay Nightmare Sparkle, he shattered Faust's Tear."
Discord went as pale as if he were stone again. Pulling out strange instruments, he began rapid calculations and observations.
Meanwhile, Maria turned towards Gimp and Blind. The compulsion that had driven her to heal Discord was still with her, and the power that had flooded out of her filled her. Staring, she focused on that feeling. Her horn glowed...and three beams of pure white light lanced forth, one to Gimp's wing wound, and one into each of Blind's eyes.
As the light faded, Apple Bloom blinked at Scootaloo. "Scoot..." she whispered. "Your wing's back."
Scootaloo flapped her regrown wing experimentally, then stared at Apple Bloom. "AB! Your eyes!"
After a time of shock, they began to frolic together in joy...but an absence in their dance soon weighed them down. The missing pieces of their bodies had been restored...but nothing could restore the missing pieces of their hearts from those they'd lost...like Sweetie Belle, who Nightmare Sparkle had consumed.
Discord had turned to stare in shock. "That...that shouldn't be possible. Healing magic can't overcome the death magic that was in the wounds..." He paused as the light faded from Maria's flank. Her cutie mark was visible, a caduceus balancing a set of scales, with a feather on one side and a skull on the other. "The scales of life," Discord whispered in shock. "A talent for life and death magic in balance...in a unicorn?" He stared at the group. "WHo ARE you ponies?"
Gem had learned how to cast the scrying spell, so he reversed it to give Discord the answers he wanted. When his eyes cleared, he shook his head. "I can't begin to imagine the significance of all this just now...but you are right. Getting to your world must be our first priority...for all of us. This world will not survive much longer. Nearly all the Keythreads have been cut."
"Keythreads?" Stardust asked in confusion.
"Individuals that anchor a unique world, allowing it to exist independent of others. If all Keythreads are cut, the world ceases to exist." He shook his head and gathered his power. "Come, Stardust Mail. Cast your spell and power it! I shall guide you home!"
Stardust Mail nodded. "Chaos...CONTROL!"
White light flared around them all, and they vanished.
Nightmare Sparkle lounged on Celestia's throne, the magic of her prisoners slowly draining into her. She smiled as she rode the waves of pleasure. The only thing that would make this more perfect is if Metal Sonic were there as well...but he felt he had to squash any attempts at rebellion through the countryside, and there was the promise to Rarigan about gems. She wasn't sure which pleasure she enjoyed more, draining the life of another...or uniting with Metal. She wondered how it would feel to do both at once.
A white flare appeared in the throne room at the center of the magic circle, shattering it. Nightmare Sparkle shot to her feet in a rage. "WHO DARES!?" she demanded. WHen the light faded, she was shocked to see her two servants from Nightmare Castle there...free of the death magic she had cursed them with. Eight children accompanied them. She smirked. "So...fallen heroes and children face me? How quaint. What makes you think you stand a chance, when Discord couldn't even defeat me?"
Smirking, Snap pumped his shotgun. "His mistake was to fight you alone. We won't make that mistake."
Twistie giggled. "Ready to fall, Night-Walker Mare Spackle?"
In a rage at the insult, Nightmare Sparkle lunged, and battle was joined.
Although Nightmare Sparkle had a major power advantage, the seven friends had learned how to fight together while they'd passed through Raccoon City, and they surrounded her quickly. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom made use of what they had regained, Scootaloo guarding the air with Gem and Lotus. Aurora did quick hit and run attacks, while Twistie, Snap, and Apple Bloom lay down covering fire. Stardust protected everyone from attack with his sheilds, and Maria used her magic to keep everyone energized. Screwball was nowhere in sight.
Nightmare Sparkle reared in fury, neighing loudly. "This is not the end!" She called forth her hordes. The Changelings were no longer at all endearing in appearance. The holes in their limbs had vanished, and they now resembled a cross between a pony and a komodo dragon, complete with venomous bite. They rose out of the shadows at the call of their queen. "KILL!" she commanded, and they lunged to obey.
Suddenly, Screwball popped up out of nowhere, throwing something to six of the seven children, creating a surge of chaos that left the Shadewings cut off from their queen, lost and disoriented. As Nightmare Sparkle shouted orders at them, a rainbow colored light pulsed, and she turned in shock.
Screwball had retrieved the Elements of Harmony, and the six jeweled artifacts were now worn by their new bearers, the gems changing in some cases to reflect their new bearers. In gem's case, it took on the form of a heart, as red as a fire fuby. In each of the others, it reflected their cutie marks if they had them, or their mother's if they did not. The rainbow light was the power of Harmony unleashed. It slammed into Nightmare Sparkle after tearing through the Shadewings, destroying them. Nightmare Sparkle screamed in pain as the rainbow light tore through her.
When the light faded and the children slumped to their knees, Maria approached Nightmare Sparkle's body, checking to see what had happened.
"Please..." Nightmare Sparkle gasped out. "Mercy..."
Maria's heart was filled with pain and compassion as she stared at Nightmare Sparkle. Despite everything, all she saw was the bruised, broken, bleeding body of her mother. Her horn glowed softly, and Nightmare Sparkle's body repaired itself somewhat to the point she could move.
Nightmare Sparkle stared up at Maria in shock. "You...healed me. You sweet, compassionate, adorable..." Her eyes flashed red. "...little FOAL!" SHe lunged, her horn aimed right for Maria's heart.
As Twilight Sparkle, Stardust Mail, and Shadow screamed in fear, a gunshot rang out, and Nightmare Sparkle flew across the room, a massive, bleeding hole in her side, one wing torn completely off. To the side, as the trapped adults were freed, Snap pumped his shotgun once more. "Never show mercy to an enemy, Maria," he whispered. "It'll get you killed."
As parents hugged their children and stared in shock at the newcomers, Nightmare Sprkle groaned on the ground and everyone took defensive positions.
"This...this is not the end." Nightmare Sparkle stared at them all. "My magic remains strong. Harmony tore my body apart...but it could not harm my magic!"
"Quite right," a metallic voice said as Metal Sonic appeared behind her.
She looked up at him, smiling. "Metal Sonic! Help me destroy your enemies!"
Metal Sonic stared at her for a time. ...then a horn shaped spike extended from his wrist and he plunged it into her heart.
As everyone gasped in shock, Nightmare Sparkle stared at Metal Sonic. "But...why? I thought we were allies?"
Metal Sonic smirked cruelly. "I needed your magic, Nightmare Sparkle. At first, that meant I needed you, too...but you made the mistake of letting me analyze your most important spell. Now, while I still need your magic...I don't need you anymore. Goodbye, Nightmare Sparkle." As he drained her magic and life force, he smirked. "You were fun while you lasted."
Nightmare Sparkle stared at him in shock as first her wings vanished from her body, then the red coloration from her mane, coat, and cutie mark. When the red faded from her eyes, she whimpered. "My friends," she whispered, her voice once more that of her old self. "What have I done? I'm so sorry..." The light left her eyes, and her body dissolved into dust.
As Metal Sonic retracted the spike, he turned to the others, grinning as the magic flowed through his body and his foes flinched away from him. Finally, all his plans were coming to fruition, and this time...nothing would stop him.