Prologue: The Battle Of Equestria
Canterlot Castle, War Room.
Eleven years after Rupert.
Most of Queen Celestia's inner council was there in the War Room, and were sitting around the large planning table after their recent defeat. Princess Luna was beside her sister as always, and they were joined by the golem mares of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Spike and the Elements of Harmony—save Fluttershy—had just arrived.
"I can't believe the Elements barely even slowed him down!" Rainbow Dash said, plopping down in a chair, drained. "He was laughingwhen he left, like it was nothing more than a joke."
"Agreed," Princess Luna said. "This is most worrisome. Magic across the world seems to be getting weaker ever since that accursed red star came into the sky."
"Tell me about it. I had to do a running take off just to get airborne. I haven't had to do that since before my first day at flight camp!"
"When the Elements didn't work on 'im," Applejack said. "I thought we were done for. Why do ya reckon he let us go?"
"He's a big meanie pants," Pinkie Pie said. "They always like to gloat."
The ponies in the room all nodded. It seemed a common enough weakness among the villains they'd fought over the years.
"Twilight, dear," Rarity said. "Did you ever manage to reach Cadance or your brother?"
"I got through on the dragonstone briefly before things weakened again. They're trapped in the Crystal Empire by a blizzard. Seems it even took out the rail line. Shining and Cadance are doing all they can to hold the capital against it."
"A blizzard that strong, right as we're attacked?" Spike said. "I doubt that's a coincidence."
Luna spoke up. "Agreed. It seems our opposition has been busy."
There was a loud pop, as Discord and Fluttershy arrived with a snap of the draconequus's talons.
"Thank you for coming," Queen Celestia said to Discord. "Fluttershy said you may have information on this new foe?"
"New?" Discord said. "My dear Queen, I assure you, he is anything but new."
"Surely he must be. I think I would have heard of such a being before, linked as I am to my own star."
"Oh Celly, surely you didn't think you were the first to have control of a sun?"
The Queen looked at Discord uncertainly.
"Oh, how adorable," the Lord of Chaos said, rubbing his mismatched claws together. "You actually did! But I assure you, you are not the first, and with my help, hopefully not the last either."
"Now is not the time for frivolity, Discord!" Luna said. "You seem to know this creature. Tell us plainly."
"Oh, very well," Discord said, sighing. "His name is Nemesis, and he's the Avatar of Destruction. Every ten thousand years he returns to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world, bringing death, disorder, and... le sigh... even chaos upon its inhabitants. Blah, blah, blah."
"How exactly do you know this?" Princess Twilight Sparkle asked.
"Well, if you must know..."
"And I think we must," said Luna.
"Well... he may-or-may-not-have-created-me-and-given-me-my-powers."
Discord looked around, seeing the dumbstruck faces. "What?" he said. "You didn't think that Celestia had created me or something, did you?"
Celestia didn't know whether to feel disgusted at the insinuation or bemused at how sheepish half of the Element bearers looked.
"Oh Dizzy," Fluttershy said, nuzzling the Lord of Chaos in sympathy. "All these years, and you never told me some, big, mean, evil, evil creature made you. No wonder it took you so long to learn to be nice."
"So I have daddy issues!" Discord said, stomping away from the pegasus. "So what? It's not like you ponies don't all have some serious psychological problems of your own!"
Fluttershy let out a sharp gasp, and Discord froze in place before turning to look at her. Realizing what he'd just said, he quickly tried to apologize. "I'm sorry, Flutters. You know I didn't mean it like that."
He moved to hug the yellow pegasus, but she gave him the cold shoulder. "We'll talk about this later," she said under her breath.
"So this 'Nemesis'," Luna said, trying to get the conversation back on track. "What else can you tell us about him?"
"Well, if you believe his version," Discord said, his voice flaring into the theatric as he continued. "Nemesis was the original force in the universe. In the primordial, destruction and chaos ruled the heavens. Order and life got a foothold anyway though, and the world was born. The powers on both sides fought for millenia, yada, yada, yada." The draconequus gave up on the narrator voice and continued. "Anyway, he was bound into that red star that bears his name, a lot like Moon-Butt here was bound to the moon itself. His banishment was a lot longer than a thousand years though, and I think he's rather ticked off about it. Also, before he was defeated, he put a bunch of failsafes in place to continue in his stead, as well as prepare for his return."
"What sort of failsafes?" Twilight asked.
"Well, besides yours truly, I think it was mostly the standard bad guy shtick. Cursed artifacts left behind, sources of power buried in ancient ruins, dark cults with curiously specific calendars, that sort of thing. Clichéd, but you have to remember, this guy was the original bad guy. He wrote the book on this stuff, and pretty much all the really evil things you've seen in the world can be traced back to his influences."
"Sounds like Sombra on overdrive," Scootaloo said.
"Interesting thought," Discord said. "I wouldn't be surprised at all if King Sombra had run across one of those cursed relics. After all, nothing really says 'Nemesis' like a monomaniac with glowing red eyes!"
"You believe Sombra fell victim to a trap or curse Nemesis left behind?" Luna asked.
"It sounds like his kind of thing," Discord said. "He's big on the monomania. I did chaos, Sombra did crystals, and—"
"And," Luna finished the thought for him. "Nightmare Moon did darkness."
The room was silent for a moment, then Applejack spoke up. "Pardon me for speakin' outta turn here, but didn't ya tell us that was yer own doin'?"
"While I freely admit it was my own jealousy and bitterness that allowed it to take hold within me, The Nightmare itself was not my creation. It had to have come from somewhere."
"Well then," Spike said, pounding a fist into his palm. "Just one more thing this guy deserves to pay for!"
"Do you know of any other things he may have left behind?" Twilight asked Discord.
"Way back then," Discord said. "I wasn't really in on that 'bigger picture' stuff, and we didn't exactly have planning meetings either. I mostly just went around blowing things up and cackling like good ol' Dad wanted. The few obvious relics I remember seeing are long gone. Unless somepony is hiding a three hundred foot high obsidian obelisk around here that I don't know about."
'Wait," Dash said. "You mean like in Captain Venture and The Towers of Anubis?"
"You do remember that those books are fictional, right?" Spike said.
"Duh!" Dash said, rolling her eyes. "But Twilight's always telling me how a lot of stories and legends have some bit of truth to them, right? I mean, Nightmare Moon was 'just' a story too."
"She's right," Twilight said. "At least, it's definitely worth looking into if we get the time."
"I hate to spoil the excitement," Discord said. "But I doubt Nemesis is going to wait around for you to go on an archeology dig in Saddle Arabia. Even if he did, and even if you could find one of the relics he left behind, there's no guarantee it would help defeat him. Even I have no idea what most of them were for or how they worked."
"So what can we do?" Scootaloo asked. "How do we attack him? What's his weakness?"
"Weakness?" Discord gave a false chuckle. "I don't think he has one. His name isn't an accident. His power and purpose are, quite literally and directly, opposed to pretty much everything you ponies hold dear, and he's had eons to refine his defenses. Tell me if I'm wrong, but I'll bet Celestia's strongest spell didn't even dent a single scale on his hide, did it?"
The ponies remained silent, as what Discord said was sadly accurate.
"I thought so," he said.
"What about your magic?" Rarity said. "Surely you plan to join us in this fight?"
Discord gave a warm smile to Fluttershy, and turned back toward Rarity. "My dear," he said, his posh accent enhanced by the sudden appearance of a monocle and black tie. "I wouldn't dream of missing it!"
"Yeah, that's all well and good sugarcube," Applejack said. "But do ya think yer magic can stop him?"
The monocole and tie disappeared. "Sadly, no. While I think I may be able to help counter some of his spells—mi magia es su magia and all that—I know when I'm outclassed, and there isn't a larger class than 'Nemesis' when it comes to raw power. Honestly, if it wasn't for the pouty faces you'd all make at me, I would've run for the hills a long time ago."
"So you are, or aren't, going to help us?" Applejack said.
"Was it the monocle? Nopony ever takes you seriously when you're wearing a monocle."
"Dizzy, please," Fluttershy said. "Be serious."
"I am serious!" Discord said. "I think we're all going to die of course, but I'll be happy to run defense for whatever you ponies can cook up as a plan." Seeing that there were still a few unconvinced expressions in the room, he continued. "Ugh, fine. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye."
"Thank you, Discord," Luna said, relaxing.
"The monocle is a joke, but that silly rhyme is a sacred vow? Honestly, I sometimes think you ponies are even crazier than I am. And never mind the fact that you're all itching to go attack an invincible evil force!"
Fluttershy spoke up. "But you said somepony trapped him in that star before though, so he can't be invincible, right?"
"Something did, but I doubt it was a pony. By the time Nemesis disappeared last time, the only equines left alive were cowering in caves and trying to figure out how to rub the sticks together to make fire."
"So no idea how he was defeated?" Celestia asked. "Or how we should attack him this time?"
Discord shook his head.
"I still think the Elements have to be our best chance." Twilight said. "They did at least slow him."
"Perhaps," Discord said. "But obviously they need a bigger kick."
"Just spitballin' here," Applejack said. "But is there any way to put some o' Discord's magic into the Elements?"
"That'd be impossible," Twilight said. "His power is the complete opposite of Harmony."
Discord reached out toward Twilight's crown, and was zapped by a small spark of energy that left a tiny wisp of smoke rising from the tip of his claw. "Ow! She's right. I don't think your jewelry likes me very much."
"What about us?" Apple Bloom said, gesturing to herself and the other two Crusaders, "Can we somehow integrate our powers with the Elements?"
"I don't think so," Sweetie Belle said. "Twilight and I looked into that a few years ago. The Elements of Harmony are bound to the six bearers exclusively. But..."
"But what?" Apple Bloom asked.
Sweetie shared a look with Twilight, who nodded reluctantly after a moment of thought.
"I had an idea last year," Sweetie continued, "when I was working with Zecora to try to heal the world tree back in her homeland. I came across an old chest..."
"Yeah, and?" Spike said.
"Well, do you remember years ago, when that unicorn, Trixie, came to town to duel Twilight?" The ponies nodded. "And how she had that Alicorn Amulet that greatly increased her power?"
The meeting was interrupted as an out-of-breath pegasus in Solar Guard uniform rushed into the room.
"I'm sorry, your Majesty, but there's a new report just in from Fillydelphia."
"Speak freely, sergeant," Celestia said. "The ears in this room are all trusted."
"Yes, Ma'am. It's bad. The foe we saw earlier has apparently taken control of the weather and is battering the coastline with a hurricane as we speak. We're trying to evacuate the city, but... well, as I said, it's bad."
"Thank you," Celestia said. "Return if you learn more." The guard saluted and rushed back to his duties.
"Well?" Dash said. "What're we waiting for. We need to go help Fillydelphia!"
"Patience, Dash," Twilight said. "We need a plan of attack first."
"So, about that Amulet," Spike said, turning to Sweetie. "Didn't it corrupt anypony that wore it?"
"Yes," Twilight said. "Which is why I told Sweetie her idea was too dangerous to try. Of course, that was before we were facing an ancient evil from before the dawn of the world."
"Tell me," Discord said. "This corruption, it didn't by any chance come complete with a menacing red aura and/or some form of monomania, did it?"
"Yes, it did actually," Sweetie said. "Which is why I'm not suggesting anypony should actually try wearing the amulet..."
"You had my curiosity," Discord said, grinning. "But now you have my attention!"
An empty field outside of Canterlot.
Three hours later.
"So we're actually doing this?" Rainbow Dash said.
"I fear we have no better option, darling," Rarity said.
"How umm, dangerous, did you say it was?" Fluttershy asked.
"Just the right amount of dangerous," Discord said. "If that curse is one of Nemesis's, then there's no telling what it might do. On the other hoof, we know exactly what he'll do if you don't stop him."
Twilight sighed. "I won't sugar coat it. He's right. You all remember how much it corrupted Trixie. I honestly don't know if using it this way is going to filter that out properly or not."
"I think it will," Sweetie said, removing the amulet from the box and holding it in her mechanical paw. "I believe the spell of corruption is bound to the act of fastening it around a pony's neck. We're not doing that. We're sending power through it from a distance instead, using it to fuse our three magics on the way to the targeted pony. It should be safe from the corruption spell."
"But you're not sure?" said Fluttershy.
Sweetie looked at the pegasus. Fluttershy had been the pony who taught her the self confidence which, even now, allowed her to suggest such an outlandish course of action. She felt bad for asking her to take such a crazy risk, and couldn't lie to her. "No, I'm not. That's why Twilight and I agreed to drop the idea last year. It was too risky."
"It's okay, I'll go first," Rainbow Dash said, volunteering. "If it doesn't work, you won't have to risk it."
"Yeah," Scootaloo said. "And that's why we've got Discord and the Queen here too. If something goes wrong, and somepony turns evil, hopefully their magic is enough to contain the problem out here, away from the city."
"Okay, enough talk," Dash said. "Let's do this. We need to stop this jerk as soon as possible!"
"Are you ready, Sweetie?" Twilight asked.
"Just about," Sweetie said, hanging the amulet atop a tripod she'd just finished setting up. "Okay, ready here."
Dash moved to the far side of the amulet, about five feet behind it. Sweetie Belle backed away a dozen paces, sighting through the amulet at Dash, as Scootaloo and Apple Bloom moved to either side of her.
"You ready, girls?" Sweetie asked, turning to her fellow Crusaders in turn.
"Ready as I reckon I'll ever be," Apple Bloom said.
"I"m ready if Dash is," Scootaloo said.
"Hit me!" Dash said, nodding across at the assembled Crusaders.
The three golems each closed their eyes and concentrated, drawing deep on their innate elemental magics.
Apple Bloom relaxed her body, letting her senses probe into the ground and life around her. She sensed the magic inherent in every root, blade of grass, worm, bird, and insect. Reaching deeper, she felt at the potential for life that was in the basic moisture, minerals, and every tiny molecule of soil. Going deeper still, she also drew upon the life that had been, the decomposing compost from generations of plants long dead, and the raw elements left behind in bones from creatures long forgotten. Weaving these together, she sent it all surging toward the amulet.
Scootaloo reached out with her own pegasus magic. The wind and weather came to her like a second skin, swirling and surrounding her. Great power came from lightning and thunder far off in the sky, but closer too were wind and clouds. These could be just as powerful. Rain could destroy a village, or save a farm. Wind could tear apart even the strongest of shelters, but could also bring relief from summer heat. Combined, the two could turn mountains into sand, and carve canyons out of the earth itself. She collected all the energy she could, and blasted it through to the target.
Sweetie Belle had no doubt that her force with unicorn magic was nearly unparalleled. In the dozen years since she'd discovered her true nature, only a few ponies—all on this very field with her—had ever rivaled her for raw power. In that time, she'd had near-daily practice and study with her abilities, and they'd become finely honed to pinpoint precision. She had no doubt in her ability to pour untold amounts of highly focused magic through the amulet and into Rainbow Dash, and some of her knowledge to go with it as well. As such, her focus was instead on defeating the curse component in the amulet.
Even though the evil part of the spell seemed to trigger on fastening the necklace, there was always some danger that the malevolent magic could become mixed in with the rest. To that end, she was doing her best to pour all the love, friendship, and kindness she could into the amulet along with the magic. Twilight had convinced her that her cutie mark really was in the magic of friendship, and she had to hope that the good intentions of her and the rest of the assembled ponies would be enough to keep the evil spell at bay while the rest of the elemental magics fused in the amulet and transfered to Dash.
Rainbow Dash stared at the three younger ponies as they opened their now-glowing eyes. Three beams of energy—red, white, and blue—shot into the amulet, one from the chest of each crusader. The amulet began to glow and vibrate, making an audible hum which quickly rose in pitch as the light moved through the spectrum from a soft yellow to an actinic white. Dash gulped, determined to stay in place, despite all her senses telling her to put as much distance as possible between herself and the amulet. Then there was a blinding flash lancing toward her, and Dash closed her eyes.
The rest of the ponies and beings watched as a bright column of spiraling energy leapt from the amulet and struck Dash directly in her chest. As it did so, the magic flared brightly, causing them all to turn away from the sheer intensity of it.
Opening her eyes, Rainbow Dash cautiously took a breath. Nothing hurt, so that was good. Looking ahead, she saw the three Crusaders swaying a bit from the effort, their eyes returning to normal. She took a few cautious steps towards the group.
Sweetie Belle opened her own eyes as the fugue state subsided. She grinned as she saw Rainbow Dash walking toward her, and was about to say something, when Scootaloo beat her to the punch as usual.
"Oh my gosh!" Scootaloo said, pointing at Dash. "Look!"
Dash reached up to her forehead where Scootaloo was pointing, and found there was, in fact, a horn there. "It worked?" she said, still not quite believing what her senses were telling her.
She was an alicorn.
"It worked!" Sweetie said, trotting in place with excitement. "It actually worked!"
"Slow down, Sweetie," Twilight said, stepping toward Dash. "Let's make sure she's okay first."
"I'm fine," Dash said. "Just... surprised is all."
"You don't feel a sudden and irresistible urge to take over the world?" Discord said.
"Or that wheels are untrustworthy?" Pinkie Pie added.
"I'm serious," Twilight said. "We need to make sure she's not corrupted by the amulet."
"I'm fine, Twilight. Really," Dash said.
"Just let me check, okay?"
"I'll be quick," Twilight said, and began scanning the new alicorn for any sign of malevolent curses or other side effects.
As Twilight scanned, she felt something tap her on the back. Turning though, nothing was there, and she went back to her investigation. Then she felt another tap. Still seeing nothing, she looked back at Dash, and saw that her friend was smirking. At eye contact, Dash burst out laughing. "I'm sorry, Twi," she said as she brought the stick she'd been levitating behind Twilight into view. "But this is just so awesome!"
"I don't know 'bout ya'll," Applejack said, smiling. "But that sure sounds like the Rainbow Dash I know."
"So am I evil or not?" Dash said, looking at Twilight.
"Nope, seems fine to me," Twilight said.
"Awesome! Now, how do I shoot magic with this thing?" Dash said, tapping her new horn. "I'm gonna blast Nemesis back to the stone age!"
"Patience, my little pony," Celestia said. "In all honesty, I'm actually amazed you were able to perform even basic levitation so quickly."
"Seems easy enough, just like learning to fly," Dash said, earning her an eye-roll from Scootaloo.
"I was actually hoping that might happen," Sweetie Belle said. "I was trying to put some of my own knowledge into the spell as well as the raw magic."
"Good thinking, Sweetie," Twilight said, then looked at Apple Bloom and Scootaloo. "Can you girls try to do the same for the others? It'd really help if they don't have to learn everything from scratch."
"We'll certainly try," Apple Bloom said.
"Yeah," Scootaloo agreed. "So who's next?"
"Oooh, me! Me!" cried Pinkie Pie, bouncing into position behind the amulet. "Do me next!"
Dash laughed. "You are gonna love this, Pinkie!"
Over the next hour, the process was repeated for Pinkie, Rarity, and Applejack. The breaks between each casting got longer as the Crusaders wore themselves out. After Applejack, they'd rested nearly half an hour before feeling ready for the final alicorn transformation.
Fluttershy nervously walked into the target zone. "Umm, are you sure you've had enough rest already?" she said.
"I figure I'm ready for one last shot," Apple Bloom said. "You girls doin' good?"
"Yep," Scootaloo said.
"I'm ready," Sweetie Belle said, rolling her head and stretching her neck. "Let's finish this."
"Well, umm, you can rest a bit more if you want," Fluttershy said, stepping back away from the target area.
"Fluttershy," Applejack said. "Ya gotta quit stallin'. It'll be fine, sugarcube."
Discord went to the side of the yellow pegasus. "And I'll be right here. I promise I won't let anything happen to you."
Fluttershy looked up into the eyes of her best friend and companion for the past dozen years. The draconequus was still rarely serious, but it touched her heart to see how quickly he would drop the jokes when something was important to her. She took a deep breath, and steeled her courage.
"Thanks, Dizzy," she said, then stepped back into place. "I'm ready."
Discord backed away, and the Crusaders charged their last spell of the evening. As the humming amulet got louder and louder, it was matched, an octave higher in pitch, by the "eeeeek" from Fluttershy. She held her ground and didn't move an inch, though she was still emitting a shrill squeal long after the final afterglow had faded.
Mid-air, Somewhere Southwest of FIllydelphia.
Four hours later.
"Whew, I never figured flyin' would be such hard work," Applejack said, steadily pumping her new wings as the group flew on toward Fillydelphia.
"It's gotten a lot harder since that red star showed up," Dash said. "It's like the control I have on the air is just way weaker now."
"I've noticed my unicorn magic is weaker as well," Twilight said to Dash, before pulling alongside Applejack. "I'm still amazed you're already flying, and Dash was already doing basic levitation. I wish I'd been that lucky when I got my own wings."
"Whee!" Pinkie shouted, as she did a barrel roll through the group, carrying Spike beneath her. "This is almost better than cake!"
"Urp," Spike held his claws over his mouth, a green tinge showing on his face. "Come on, Pinkie, please stop doing that!"
"Then again," Twilight said, huffing with the effort of keeping even just herself aloft for the long flight. "Maybe part of it just comes naturally to some ponies."
Scootaloo flew up beside AJ as well, lugging Apple Bloom beneath her. "At least you're not having to carry somepony."
"Hey!" Apple Bloom said, looking up from where she was being carried. "It's yer own dang fault! You're the one that broke mah plane, remember?"
"I believe we are nearing our destination," Luna shouted out from her position at the front of the loose formation where she was likewise carrying Sweetie Belle. "I can see the shoreline, and Fillydelphia is just to the north from here."
Discord unfolded himself into existence beside Celestia as she brought up the rear. He was wearing swim goggles and a bathing cap, and doing the backstroke. Celestia saw this, and gave him a stern look. With a flash, the swim gear disappeared, and he righted himself to fly head first beside her. "Sorry," he said. "Old habits and all that."
"Did you find anything in Fillydelphia?" the Queen asked.
"Lots of destruction. Downtown is completely flooded, a lot of buildings are damaged, and most of the harbor is completely gone. I asked around, and it seems Nemesis disappeared about an hour after the brunt of it hit shore."
"Any idea where he might have gone?"
"Probably got bored with the hurricane and is setting up some new disaster."
"Uhh, guys," Rainbow Dash shouted. "Is there supposed to be a volcano near here?"
The ponies all turned to look where Dash was pointing. "Ah yes, right on cue," Discord said, staring at the rapidly growing cinder cone to the northwest of the city.
Luna, on point, turned the group and headed for the volcano. As they neared it, the ponies could see Nemesis, his form now that of a giant, black, six-winged alicorn, standing several stories tall astride the break in the caldera where the lava was pouring down toward the city.
"Nemesis!" Celestia shouted in the Royal Canterlot Voice, as she flew toward him. "Cease this at once!"
Nemesis swiveled his massive head, bringing to bear a jagged, impossibly sharp horn. Beneath the horn, he grinned, revealing razor-like fangs. "So you've learned my name," he bellowed. "That should make it easier for you to beg!"
With that, Nemesis fired a bolt of magic at the Queen. Celestia rolled just in time, getting only a few singed feathers in the process, before firing back with a blast of her own.
Nemesis curled one set of wings, blocking the magical attack with nothing but massive feathers. He sighed. "And here I thought you were starting to learn. Or did you forget how that didn't work last time?"
Behind him, Luna and Twilight had circled, both of them sending their own magic bolts, which hit directly on his spine.
"Seriously?" Nemesis said, turning to look behind him. "Do you feeble-minded ponies not understand that your magic can't hurt me?"
"That doesn't mean we're gonna stop trying!" Dash shouted, diving at him from the side, and firing her own, somewhat weaker magic blasts.
"I tire of this long range nonsense," Nemesis said. "Let's make it more personal."
The massive black equine began to stride down the mountain, shrinking as he did so. Once he reached the size of Celestia he launched into the air and glided to a nearby field. Landing, he came to a stop and sat down.
Luna and the others weren't sure what to make of his actions. Circling, a few fired a couple more blasts at him, which he shrugged off without comment. Seeing that nothing was making progress, the group set down in the field and surrounded Nemesis, cautiously approaching from all sides.
"Ah, much better," Nemesis said, standing as Luna and Celestia came into range. "I find it's more interesting to watch you mortals suffer up close."
"Why do you attack us?" Celestia asked.
"I am Nemesis. My very existence is to oppose yours."
"Surely we can come to some sort of peace?" Luna said.
"Yes, once all life on this world has ceased, it should be very peaceful indeed," Nemesis said, grinning.
Behind him, the Elements of Harmony were lining up with Twilight in the center, preparing to attack.
"But to what end?" Celestia said, trying to keep his attention as she saw Twilight's eyes start to glow. "Why must you destroy everything?"
"You may as well ask why water must be wet, or the wind so light and free." Nemesis paused for a second. "Speaking of light..." he said, turning to face the Elements. "Not going to let that happen again. It actually kind of stung last time."
At a wave of his hoof, Twilight was instantly frozen inside a large, translucent red crystal, just before the Elements could fully activate.
"Fiend!" Luna cried, charging him.
"Nope. Annnd nope!" Nemesis said, turning to point in turn at Luna and then Celestia, freezing them as well. "Anypony else?"
"Let them go!' Rainbow Dash said, charging her horn.
"Yeah!" screamed all three of the Crusaders in unison, preparing their own attacks.
"Hmm," Nemesis said, freezing all four with another casual wave. "I don't remember the blue one having a horn before. Oh I see, you thought becoming alicorns would be enough to stop me?"
"We will stop you!" Applejack said, lowering her head and horn to attack physically, as Pinkie did the same beside her.
"I thought you were supposed to be the one representing honesty," Nemesis said. "But here you are spouting such ridiculous lies." He waved his hoof and the two were surrounded in crystal.
"Enough, you brute," Rarity said, seeing Applejack and Pinkie become entrapped as well. "We will not stop un—" The crystal left her frozen in mid-sentence.
"Let her go!" Spike screamed, charging and swinging his sword.
"Oh, you brought a dragon?" Nemesis said. "And a young, uncorrupted one at that! How quaint."
Spike's sword struck true against Nemesis's rear wings, but didn't even dislodge a single feather.
"Boring," Nemesis said, capturing the teenage dragon in a crystal with another flick of his hoof.
"So who does that leave?" Nemesis said, turning with a predatory grin to stare at Fluttershy. "Ah yes, the coward."
"You forgot one," Discord said, popping into existence behind Fluttershy.
"Ah, Discord! I've been looking for you. Seems you've let these ponies get out of control in my absence."
"Actually," Discord said. "I thought my job was to help things get out of control."
"Wait, surely you're not taking their side in this?"
Discord surveyed the crystals binding his friends, then grinned as he snapped his fingers.
He snapped again. And again. But nothing continued to happen and a panicked look began to cross his usually nonchalant face.
"What's wrong?" Fluttershy asked the draconequus.
"It's not working," Discord said, more serious than Fluttershy had ever seen him. "I'm trying to remove the crystals, but my magic isn't working."
Nemesis began to laugh. "You fool! I gave you your power—more power than any of these sad ponies could even dream of—and you think I didn't put in a safeguard? Ha! You're not the first who's tried to betray me. Just ask the windigos! Oh wait, you can't."
Discord frowned. "What did you do?"
"I stripped them of their bodies and left their souls to roam in endless, unspeaking agony until the end of time!"
"I meant," Discord said, "to me."
"Oh that. Quite simple really. Deep in the core of your being, there's just a tiny little rule which says you can never, ever use your powers against me."
"I see." Discord hung his head. "Then I guess it's over. You win."
"Of course I win!" Nemesis said. "There was never any doubt of that. I just wanted a bit of fun along the way."
"I can't believe I used to be like you."
"You still can be. Join me, and—"
"And together we can rule the galaxy as father and son? No thanks, 'pops.'"
"Very well," Nemesis raised his hoof, preparing to finish the battle. "Should I rend your soul from your flesh like the windigos? Or maybe we can think of something a little more personal. Hmm... Yes. I believe you rather enjoyed being trapped in a statue for a few years. Maybe you'd enjoy that for a few million?"
"Wait!" Discord said, holding up a paw. "Let me say goodbye first?"
"Prolong your suffering an extra minute? I guess I can do that."
Discord knelt down in front of Fluttershy, putting his mismatched forepaws on her shoulders.
"Fluttershy," he said. "I should've said this a long, long time ago."
Fluttershy looked at him, sniffling with tears starting to form in her eyes. "What is it, Dizzy?"
"I love you," Discord said, "and I would do anything for you." He then wrapped the yellow pony in a hug, and kissed her deeply.
Fluttershy's eyes went wide, both at the statement, and at the sudden sensation of the draconequus's mouth against hers. Over the years since his reformation, she'd grown quite close to Discord, and he had become her best friend and more in many ways. Occasionally, thoughts had crossed her mind that they might be more, that she might have romantic feelings for the chaotic draconequus, but there just never seemed to be the right time to explore the idea. Above all, she didn't want to risk losing her friendship, and in her darker thoughts, feared a relationship gone wrong might make him turn malevolent again. But now, at the potential end of the world, here he was, kissing her. In his kiss, she felt the warmth and depth of the compassion that few others would ever suspect in the former villain. As the kiss lingered though, she felt something else as well.
There was a surge of power, of magic. She could feel it flowing into her though the kiss, the wild, chaotic energy filling every molecule of her being. It was unlike any of the three pony magics she already possessed, seeming in many ways to be almost antithetical to them. Yet underneath it all, she could sense the love that came with the unexpected gift, a love which somehow tamed and controlled the maelstrom into a focused energy unlike she'd ever imagined. As the transfer subsided, Discord pulled away from the kiss and put his mouth beside her ear as part of another hug.
"What did you—" she started to say.
"Shhh," Discord whispered. "It was a gift, to show you I meant what I said. I love you, Fluttershy." Then, through gritted teeth he added, "Now go kick his ass!"
"Okay, enough," Nemesis said. "Time to finish this. I've decided to let you both watch a bit longer before I turn you to stone. Now, which one your friends should I kill first?"
"Don't," Fluttershy said.
"And what are you going to do about it, hmm?" Nemesis stepped toward Fluttershy, and used a magic field to shove Discord out of the way behind him. "Just because you've grown a horn, you think you can stop me? You think your new alicorn form is going to work better for you than it did for your friends?"
Fluttershy let out only a small "Eep" in response. Then, behind Nemesis, Discord started laughing.
"What's so funny?" Nemesis said, turning and advancing on his former minion, who was now rolling on the ground in mirth.
As Nemesis leaned over and stared directly down into his face, Discord stopped laughing and said, with the most self-satisfied grin he could muster, "You fool! This isn't even her final form!"
"What are you talking about?"
Behind him, unnoticed now, Fluttershy was transforming. Her body was lengthening, becoming more supple. Her tail was filling out, becoming dragon-like and sinuous, though tufted with fur at the tip. A pair of matching antlers grew on the top of her head, to either side of her unicorn horn, and her forehooves were turning into lion paws. Reaching out with one paw, she snapped, and eleven crystals shattered, freeing their occupants.
Hearing the sounds from the shattering crystals, Nemesis looked up, and saw that his captives were now free. "What did you do!" he yelled at Discord.
"Simple, daddy-o," Discord said as he stood up. "I cheated!"
"No!" Nemesis threw a bolt of energy directly at Discord. Fluttershy saw it, and it disappeared in a blue-rimmed hole that suddenly appeared in mid air. The bolt reappeared from an orange-rimmed hole that was directly behind Nemesis, and hit him in the tail, causing him to yelp in pain.
"No, you can't do this!" Nemesis screamed in rage, still convinced that Discord was to blame. "I made sure of it!"
"You're right. I can't," Discord said, grinning in absolute joy. "But she can!"
Nemesis whirled about, and found Fluttershy grinning at him as well, her smile revealing a pair of short fangs in her newly lengthened muzzle. "Get him, girls!"
To their credit, the three Crusaders were only stunned for a moment by Fluttershy's new appearance after they were released from the crystals, and they quickly moved to attack.
Apple Bloom stomped a forehoof firmly into the ground, and the earth beneath Nemesis erupted in vines and brambles, which tangled themselves around his hooves. He tore them loose fairly quickly, but it was just enough delay that Sweetie Belle was able to form a force field binding his wings.
Turning his head to cancel the magic around his wings, Nemesis was blindsided by a physical tackle from Celestia, knocking him to the ground. Angrier than ever, he blasted her off with an expanding pulse of magic, then stood to deliver a killing blow. He found his magic was interrupted as a dragon-wielded sword slammed into his muzzle. Before he could turn to attack Spike though, Luna body-checked him herself, and managed to get out of range before he could retaliate.
Standing to his hooves, panting in rage, Nemesis shouted, "Enough!"
"Yes," Twilight said, her eyes glowing white as she and the other Elements floated in mid-air, connected by strands of harmonic energy. "It is."
A spiraling column of light leapt from Twilight's crown, trapping Nemesis in a prismatic tornado as the energies swirled around him. Six elements joined forces, bound together by friendship, but supercharged now as well by all three types of pony magic pouring from each of the alicorn bearers. Even that may not have been enough however, were it not for the impossible addition of a final ingredient.
Chaos—discord itself—was now integrated into the Elements of Harmony through Fluttershy. It should have been impossible. The primordial magic, taken from Nemesis himself, was the thaumaturgical opposite of everything the Elements of Harmony represented. Yet there it was within Fluttershy, bound together with her own kindness and harmony by the love Discord had wrapped it in.
The combined energies pierced through Nemesis's outer shields with little effort. Defenses honed over eons to block pony and other magics suddenly became useless, unable to distinguish the attacking foreign magics, shrouded as they were in familiar chaos. They shot straight to the heart of his power, chaos seeking through the myriad channels and prying them open for the powers of harmony behind it. With the paths clear, the Elements went to work.
"Nooo!" Nemesis screamed, struggling physically to get free from the rainbow that held his hooves and was gradually working its way up his body. "This isn't possible!'
The Crusaders were the first to start cheering. "Yee haw!" Apple Bloom yelled. "Gotcha!"
"You traitor!" Nemesis screamed at Discord, spittle flying from his lips with rage. "You will pay for this! You'll all pay!"
"Interesting," Discord said, standing beside Fluttershy as the multi-colored energies continued to flow from her and the other Elements. "So this is what it looks like from the other end of that rainbow."
As the magic began to close around his neck, Nemesis screamed one last time. "If I can't have this world, then neither will you!"
The Elemental energy worked its way up to his head, and finally covered his horn as well. When it did, a column of light lanced out to the red star, binding Nemesis once again to his stellar prison, and leaving only a charred and slightly smoking patch of grass where he'd been standing.
"We did it!" Sweetie Belle said, turning and hugging her friends. "I can't believe it's over."
"Whoo hoo!" Scootaloo exclaimed, leaping into the air to raise a forehoof in victory. Her magic didn't let her catch her weight in the air as she expected though, and she stumbled at the abrupt landing.
"Does anypony else feel that?" she said.
"Feel what?" Rainbow Dash said, the first of the Elements to recover after the banishment was complete.
"I think I do," Sweetie said. "It's like something cold inside of me."
"Yeah," Apple Bloom said. "I feel it too. It feels kinda like... well, like when somethin' is dyin'."
Twilight was the next to recover. While she had been preparing to use the Elements, she had seen Celestia take the brunt of Nemesis's magic pulse. She quickly scanned about and, seeing the Queen lying a short distance off, attempted to teleport to her side. When she couldn't cast the spell, she ran there instead. The rest of the assembled group followed her as soon as they saw where she was headed.
"Are you okay, Celestia?" Twilight yelled as she approached. The Queen started to stand as she arrived.
"I believe so, Twilight, but I fear Nemesis may have struck the last blow."
"I felt him try to cast something right at the end there, but I thought we blocked it."
"I'm afraid not," Celestia said. "At least not entirely."
"What do you mean?" Pinkie Pie said, her eyes going wide in concern. "What'd that meanie do?"
Celestia pointed at the red star in the sky. It was significantly larger than any of the ponies remembered, and looked to be visibly growing even as they watched.
"That can't be good," Dash said. "What's it doing?"
"I believe Nemesis placed the star on a collision course with Equestria," Celestia said.
"Can you stop it?" Twilight asked.
"No, I still seem to have no control at all over the red star."
"Nor I," Luna said. "Though my power has always been lesser than Tia's."
"So what's gonna happen?" Applejack asked. "I mean, ya said it was just a small dwarf star, right?"
Luna answered. "Small for a star, yes, but it would still be enough to destroy every living thing across the entire world."
"So hit it with the Elements!" Scootaloo said.
Twilight closed her eyes, focusing. "No good," she said after a moment. "I can't sense it strongly enough to even try to target it."
"What about you, Discord?" Scootaloo said.
"I'm afraid I no longer posses any magic," Discord said. "But perhaps you might ask Fluttershy to give it a go."
Fluttershy looked up, still getting used to her new body, the extra weight of antlers on her head, and her horn as well. Said horn glowed as she tried to reach the star with any form of magic, but when that failed, she snapped her claws as well, just to be sure.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I can sense it in some weird way—I think that may be through Dizzy's power—but I can't do anything to it. It's like my magic just dies out as it approaches the star."
"I think that may be exactly what happens," Luna said. "Powers around the world started weakening when the star first came into the sky. I believe it may be directly absorbing or nullifying magic."
"If it's coming toward us," Rarity asked. "How long do we have?"
Luna and Twilight looked at the star, then at each other.
"Hours maybe?" Twilight said.
"How the hay do we stop a star—without magic—in just a couple hours?" Applejack said.
Celestia took a deep breath and let it out quickly. "With another star."
The Queen of the Sun closed her eyes and stared into the heavens. The sun had been on the verge of setting above the plains to the far west. Now it began moving back into the sky and northward, accelerating on an intercept course with the red dwarf.
The ponies watched as Celestia began to sweat, then shake and tremble with the effort, but she kept at it. The sun continued on its intercept, as the red star grew ever larger in apparent size. The progress was slow to pony senses still excited from battle, but the sun was crossing in minutes what would normally take most of the day.
As the sun came close to the intruding star, Celestia collapsed to her knees with a gasp. Luna rushed to her side, but was waved off. "I must finish this, Luna." The Queen remained on her knees, but raised her head again, and the sun resumed its course.
Finally, the event began. No pony could look directly at it for more than a fractional second, and any spells they tried to enhance sight just fizzled. Twilight quickly constructed a few pinhole viewers from some nearby leaves however, and they used those to observe more directly.
At first, it looked as though the sun was simply absorbing the smaller star wholesale. The limb of the sun seemed to be erasing the red orb completely, covering nearly two thirds of it before the true scale of things became apparent. The stars weren't colliding edge on as the ponies viewed it. Rather, Celestia was placing her sun between the planet and a massive projectile aimed directly at it. The stars hadn't even collided yet, the sun was simply in front.
When all but a remaining sliver of red had been occluded, things changed. At first, nopony even realized what they were seeing. The scale of the event was so massive that it was occurring in relatively slow motion. Little rays of light began to sprout from the sun near where it intersected the red disc. Over the course of several minutes, the "rays" grew to become huge plumes of stellar matter, literally splashing out from the far side of the sun as the stars collided.
Everypony watched, slack jawed, unspeaking, as the scale of the devastation took hold in their minds. Twilight did some rough calculations, and explained that the smaller plumes they were seeing were likely larger than the entire planet. Thankfully, Celestia seemed to have gotten the sun in place just in time, with the impact occurring just behind the limb of the sun as seen from the planet, meaning the ejected material wouldn't be headed toward them, but was directed into space instead.
As the glowing ejecta faded and the red star disappeared entirely, the ponies sat with bated breath. Nopony wanted to celebrate prematurely again. A minute passed, with no visible changes, then two.
Luna looked to her sister, who was still concentrating, her eyes closed as she knelt. "Tia?" she asked. "What's happening?"
Through gritted teeth, Celestia could only reply, "Fighting... still."
"I feel my magic returning," Twilight said, tentatively reaching out along the lines of power Celestia was sending upward. "Maybe we can help her with the sun now?"
"No!" Celestia shouted. "Don't touch it!"
Startled, Twilight instantly dropped the magic she'd been probing with.
"What's wrong, sister?" Luna asked, but got only a head shake in return.
"Look!" Scootaloo said, holding one of the pinholed leaves and pointing at the image it cast on the ground. "Something's happening!"
The other ponies looked, and saw that a dark spot had appeared in the middle of the sun's disc. It was growing.
Twilight, feeling her magic was again strong enough for a proper field, cast one above the group, tinting it dark, like smoked glass. With the light dimmed, the ponies could now look directly at the event. What they saw was something none of them would ever forget.
There was a hole in the sun.
It started small, easily confused with a large sunspot, but quickly grew and gained definition. It was like looking into an impossibly deep well, if the well were lined with stars. The center was pure blackness, but surrounding that was a warped and distorted field of stars, all tinged darker and darker shades of red as they got closer to the apparent edge of the anomaly.
"Is that what normally happens when stars collide?" Applejack asked.
"Certainly not in my experience," Luna said.
"Do you think it's an illusion?" Twilight said. "It can't possibly be going all the way though the sun to the stars behind. Can it?"
"One moment," Luna said, closing her eyes to focus for a moment. "It appears almost identically when seen from the moon. The stars within the rim appear from to have shifted, but the hole itself is perfectly centered in the disc of the sun, despite the fact that the view is nearly forty degrees off angle from here."
"That's impossible!" Twilight said, before thinking better of it. "Or at least it should be."
"Hey," Sweetie Belle said, looking up. "I think it stopped growing."
"I think you're right." Twilight said. "That's good at—"
"Ahhh!" Celestia screamed, the sound full of pain as she fell onto her side. Luna was next to her instantly.
"Tia, what's wrong?" she said, cradling her sister's head with her own magic.
Celestia's eyes flickered rapidly beneath the closed lids, but she didn't respond. While that was worrisome to the other ponies, it was was still less of a shock than how she now appeared. Gone were the ethereal mane and tail, as well as the eternal beauty that was the envy of mares around the world. Before them now lay an aged, wrinkled mare, her mane and tail nothing but dull, frazzled, and unkempt gray hair. Across her muzzle and face were the lines, wrinkles, and balding patches of fur that one would expect from a wizened grandmother near the end of her days, not the immortal Queen of the Sun. Ribs showed beneath the skin of her barrel, and one could trace the details of every bone and sinew through the emaciated flesh of her limbs.
"Oh sister," Luna said, wrapping her forelegs around Celestia, and beginning to cry. "What did you do? What did you do!"
There was no reply.
So yes, my brain insisted on calling this a "prologue." I told it, "You keep using that word, but I do not think it means what you think it means." It insisted though, saying this was only a warm up for the real story, and somehow managed to outvote me on it.
I have a lot of things planned for this one, with several pages of notes to work from already, plus a lot more just in my head. Unlike the last story though, this one has not been written in advance. As such, I'm not going to give a fixed publication schedule. I love writing this though, and assure you that I hate long delays as much as any other reader. All I can do is ask for your trust, and promise that I'll do my best to update often.
Anyway, if you like the story so far (and the one before it.) Don't forget to click those like/fave/comment buttons. Authors live and breathe on feedback. More importantly, tell your friends about it so they can come along for the ride! Sharing is caring, after all.