Quantum Gallop

Five of the youth of House Path are abruptly whisked away by the enigmatic Doctor Whooves, and they find themselves in a Ponyville that they can scarcely recognize. A tyrant queen rules Equestria, alliances were never forged with Griffonia and the Changeling Hives, and three of the group had never been born! Someone has changed history, and it's up to them to figure out when, how, and who did it, or Equestria will suffer, and the rest of the world along with it.
This is the direct sequel to "The Growing Years" and "A Different Perspective", and I advise reading those stories first.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/328566/quantum-gallop

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31. Chapter 20 - The Last Time War

While the obvious ease with which Future Destined had sent them all hurtling back to the past had surprised them, no one was unprepared for their arrival. Spared the effort of controlling the time travel, the younger Destined had a shield spell ready to throw up, and an impenetrable bubble surrounded them while everyone readied themselves for a fight.

Lucida checked out the team members. Citrine’s work with Shining Armor had really paid off. The crystal pony was now fully armored in a thick crystalline sheath, and even her ironwood bat was reinforced with some wicked spikes of yellow crystal. She kept close beside Pif who had reverted to her natural form in order to take advantage of her full changeling capabilities. A changeling queen was a formidable opponent, but she also took the precaution of wearing body armor.

In fact, everyone had suitable armor and weapons provided by their hosts in the future. While they had arrived there with few belongings due to the circumstances of travelling to that time, Wisebeak and Future Destined had ensured that they would go back fully prepared, albeit with contemporary equipment and not anything anachronistic.

Watchful had assumed a hybrid form that gave her vicious natural weapons, and she immediately partnered with Glenn. The young griffon did not like fighting, but their hosts in the future had been able to supply him with the materials to make his favored defenses, especially the paralyzing darts. Watchful ensured that he would be protected while he took out the enemy.

Unsurprisingly, Silk had partnered with Destined. The bat-pony had proven that while he wasn’t a warrior, his clever hooves were quite adept at unarmed combat. While this was trivial in comparison to the alicorn’s abilities, at least Destined did not have to spend every moment worrying about his lover’s well-being.

That just left Forest Breeze. As the youngest and least experienced member, his fighting ability was minuscule, and by rights he should not have been on the battlefield. However, his talent more than made up for it. It was Lucida’s task to ensure that Forest got every opportunity to make use of it while she fought with all the weapons at her disposal, both natural and otherwise.

Lucida had only taken moments to assess the team’s readiness. She spent more time surveying the battlefield. They had been informed that they were going to be sent to the scene of the primary battle in Zebrica, and the walled city that was in the background certainly fitted that description. The actual fighting was taking place on the grasslands that stretched for miles in every direction, broken only by a river that the city was apparently built around. It was hard to see more because of the sheer number of combatants that filled both the earth and the sky. Innumerable zebra warriors and black changeling soldier drones were clashing with ponies and griffons in a horrible bloodbath. It was enough to make any of them sick to the stomach, but Lucida could not afford to let that happen.

“Forest! Get on my back like we practiced!” she commanded.

Forest scrambled on and settled securely between her wings, hooking his hooves around a harness that had been placed there for just that purpose.

“Des – drop the shield!”

The alicorn dropped the force field and the fighting pressed in on them. Lucida took to the skies in order to survey the battle. Changelings immediately swooped in on her, but Forest’s horn flared and illusions surrounded the enemies, making some drones look like attacking pegasi. They viciously turned on each other, leaving very little for Lucida to worry about.

On the ground, anyone who tried to take on the Citrine/Pif combination quickly regretted it. The crystal pony waded into the fray with screams of delight, especially when she could get a changeling in her sights. However, she fought with a lot more discipline than when they had first met the crystal pony. While she still had her brawler style, she fought smarter, and she listened to Pif whenever a disguised drone tried to sneak past her defenses. Lucida was counting on the duo to forge a path to their goal. The team’s purpose was not to partake in the general mêlée, but to take the fight to the primary enemy – Nightmare Chrysalis!

Lucida’s eagle-eyed sight couldn’t find their foe, but she spotted what had to be the Equestrian base, and she let out a screech that alerted her companions. “THAT WAY!” she yelled, pointing with a talon.

The team forged in that direction, primarily concerning themselves with defense but occasionally helping an ally along the way. There were just too many to help them all, so they focused on making their way to the Equestrian rear lines. The defenders opened at the last moment to allow them to pass, and abruptly the fighting ceased as the line closed again behind them. Lucida hastened to the command tent, but the guards initially prevented the hippogriff from entering.

Destined stepped up and flared his wings. “Do you know who I am?” he demanded.

“Y-yes, Prince Destined Path,” one guard nervously replied.

“Let me and my sister in,” Destined commanded.

The guard gulped and looked at the other who held up a magical icon. “Not changelings,” he simply said. They stepped aside and let the two in while the rest of the team waited outside.

Inside the tent, Celestia was standing at a situation table with her generals, as well one from the Griffonian army. She looked up in surprise at the arrival of the two. “Prince Destined and Lady Lucida – may I ask how and why you are here?” she asked formally.

Lucida replied, “How is a very long story, but why is pretty obvious. We’re here to take out Nightmare Chrysalis. We have reason to believe that it is the destiny of my team to achieve that.”

“I see. That will be no easy task. We have the main forces besieging her stronghold, but making very little progress.”

“How did you discover that this is the Nightmare’s stronghold? All intelligence up until now has been unable to pinpoint her location.”

“General Breezon kidnapped Princess Flurry Heart and took her here. Shining Armor, Twilight Sparkle, and Long Path led a rescue team to retrieve her, and incidentally uncovered that fact.”

“That’s… amazingly convenient,” Lucida said with a frown. “Up until now, Nightmare Chrysalis has done everything to obscure her location, but she suddenly makes a very conspicuous attack on House Path with the ostensible goal of rescuing Breezon. As valuable as the general was to Chrysalis, that was not tactically sound, nor was kidnapping Flurry Heart and taking her to this location. The Nightmare would surely know that we would track her down here. Why suddenly draw attention to herself this way?”

“I would say because she was ready to take us on, and indeed the army that she has amassed seems up to the task,” Celestia replied. “My generals and I have been unable to penetrate her forces so far. What is strange is that she has always met our attacks with just enough force to balance us out. On the occasions that I have taken to the battlefield, Chrysalis has met and countered me. With the power of the Nightmare behind her, she is too strong for me to overcome. I do not know where she is getting the power from – there’s certainly very little love energy to harvest here.”

“Princess, it’s important to recognize that you are not dealing with Chrysalis any more than you were dealing with Luna when she was Nightmare Moon. The Nightmare is fully in control now, and it’s the Nightmare’s motivations that we must deal with. Those are destruction and death, plenty of which is happening right now. This battle is empowering her! She’s using Chrysalis’ ability to consume emotional energy, but feeding on the negative rather than the positive. She’s getting stronger every moment that this combat continues!”

Celestia’s face lit up with comprehension. “It all makes sense now. We have been led around like fools!”

Lucida nodded. “The Nightmare manipulated Chrysalis from the start. It had no interest in Chrysalis’ desires other than being a means of controlling her. Chrysalis’ failures only pushed her further and further under the Nightmare’s influence. The final History change that we had to fix was really only of benefit to the Nightmare. If we had not been able to fix that, Nightmare Moon would have won, and Equus would be a dead world. The pockets of life that we found would eventually run out of mana to power the magic spells that sustained them, and only the Nightmare and the other Aspects like Discord would have been left.”

Celestia looked very grave. “That implies that the Nightmare is attempting to do the same again. She is powering herself up with a huge influx of negative energy. We need to find out what she intends to do with it.”

Destined spoke up for the first time. “Auntie, what is the one thing that the Nightmare has had access to that it hasn’t had before?”

Celestia was not slow to catch on. “Time travel.”

Destined nodded. “I think it’s reasonable to assume that it has something to do with her ultimate plans.”

“And it takes massive amounts of power to travel through time. The further you go along the timeline, the more it takes, if I recall your reports correctly.”

“You do. But what would require this much energy? Answer – a gigantic time leap.”

Lucida asked the obvious question. “What event would be that far back?”

Celestia’s eyes widened in horror. “No! She seeks to prevent the creation of this world!”

Lucida nodded. “The ultimate expression of Destruction and Death. We have to stop her at all costs. Which leads me to ask why more of our heavy hitters aren’t here? Where are Mama Twilight, Mama Luna, Shining Armor, and so forth?”

Celestia’s expression grew grim. “At first we insisted that Luna stay at Canterlot because of her advanced pregnancy, but now we can’t afford to let her or any of the others leave their positions of power. The attack on House Path was just the start of a greater campaign against us. Guerrilla changeling forces have attacked Canterlot, Ponyville, and the Crystal Kingdom as well. Free Agent has mobilized the sleeping Blue Changeling forces loyal to him, but the new breed of Chrysalis’ soldiers are both smarter and stronger. Shining Armor and Cadance are tied up in defense of the Crystal Kingdom, Luna and the Royal Guard are defending the citizens of Canterlot, while Twilight Sparkle and Free Agent are defending Ponyville and the Chrome Hive. If it wasn’t for the troops that Queen Carpacia and King Glimfeather have sent, we would be severely undermanned. The Nightmare learned well Chrysalis’ tactics of intensively breeding soldiers.”

Celestia’s chief General spoke up. “Nightmare Chrysalis’ tactics are obviously meant to balance out our forces to cause the greatest amount of death and destruction on both sides. It has been quite evident that she does not care about the welfare of the zebras that mindlessly follow her, and of course the drones would literally do anything that their Queen says without hesitation. You came here claiming that you were the ones destined to stop her, so the question is – how do you intend to upset that balance and defeat Nightmare Chrysalis?”

Lucida replied, “Would you believe through the power of friendship?”

The General scowled. “This is no place to play games…”

He was interrupted by Celestia who held up her hoof to silence him. “I see what you plan to do, but are you sure that it can be done?”

“Were you certain when you sent Mama Twilight to Ponyville to make some friends?”

“Point taken, Lucida. However, you have first got to get to Nightmare Chrysalis, and for that we need to make a plan of attack that will draw her out into a position of vulnerability. That won’t be easy.”

“We never expected it to be.”

“Fortunately we have reinforcements due to arrive very soon. Your parents are bringing more Griffonian troops with them in the Skyshark.”

Lucida recalled what they had learned in the future about how the griffons had been vital in the defeat of the Nightmare and were so proud of that achievement that they had forever afterwards been Equestria’s allies. It seemed that moment was soon to pass. “That sounds extremely promising, Princess. I’ll explain more when time is on our side. Is Queen Carpacia here?”

“She is, but is currently conferring with her own Princess-Generals. She lost another one today.”

“Too many people are losing family today,” Lucida replied grimly. “We need to bring this battle to a close sooner rather than later.”

“You will have the full support of whatever troops you need to achieve your goal, Lucida,” Celestia assured her.

“But, Princess!” the General started to protest.

“No, General Steelshod, I have spoken. Your priority is now the safety of Lucida’s team. I believe that they are the key to our very survival.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” Steelshod reluctantly complied.

“Lucida, prepare to engage immediately upon the arrival of the Skyshark. We cannot spare the troops for one moment more than necessary.”

“We’ll be ready, Princess.”

“Very good. Dismissed.”

Lucida and Destined turned and exited the tent. The first thing that the hippogriff did was approach Watchful.

“Do you know where Queen Carpacia is, Watchful?”

“Sure! Her Majesty is about a hundred meters that way,” Watchful replied as she pointed in the appropriate direction.

“Right, follow me, everyone.” Lucida headed off towards Carpacia. “Celestia had some good news. The Skyshark will soon be here with Dad and Mom.”

“What about Mama Twilight and Papa Free?” Pif asked.

“They’re defending Ponyville and the hive. The bad news is that all the other alicorns are tied up fighting incursions in their own domains. We’re going to need the support of the regular troops to fight our way to Nightmare Chrysalis.”

“Why don’t we just teleport there instead?” Silk asked. “I’m sure Destined would be up to doing that.”

“Anti-teleportation spells are a standard battlefield defense,” Destined replied. “That said, I would be able to get past them anyway by myself. I can’t take on the Nightmare alone though.”

“The hard way it is then,” Silk said with disappointment.

The team found a group of changeling princesses with Carpacia in the center. Unlike Celestia’s generals, Carpacia’s daughters conferred and coordinated attacks through the hive-link, and most of them had their eyes closed as they concentrated on whatever they were responsible for. Carpacia noticed the approach of the team though, and she stepped out from among the other changelings.

“Greetings, Prince Destined, Lady Lucida, Princess Epiphany, and your honored friends. I cannot say that I am surprised to see you here.”

Lucida respectfully bowed, and then said, “Your Majesty, we are going to make a push towards the city in order to confront Nightmare Chrysalis. I request a squad of your best soldiers to help us.”

“You ask a lot under these circumstances,” Carpacia replied sternly. Then she smiled and continued, “However, there is one among you to whom we still owe a great debt. Graxx – attend Lady Citrine!”

One of the attendant drones came over to join them. He bowed to them, but he was especially respectful to the crystal pony. “I am yours to command, Lady Citrine.”

Carpacia continued. “I owe Citrine for returning my daughter. Graxx will repay that debt for me. Graxx – put your squad under the command of Lady Lucida and Lady Citrine.”

“Yes, Your Majesty.”

“Thank you, Carpacia. I’m just awaiting the arrival of the Skyshark and reinforcements from Griffonia before we make our move.”

“They can’t come too soon,” Carpacia replied grimly. “Our forces are being forced back steadily. We are in danger of losing this war.” She closed her eyes and concentrated for a moment before opening them again. “Captain Kerbarok says that they are within a quarter hour of arriving here. Be prepared to make your move soon after.”

“Handy having a Red Changeling captaining the Skyshark,” Destined murmured.

Carpacia caught what Destined said, and she smiled. “He has fulfilled that role admirably. You have no idea how many of my officers wanted similar positions on the Skyshark’s sister ships. Unfortunately for them, Equestrian and Griffonian officers won those posts, although some serve in lesser positions. Nevertheless, this terrible war has done marvels for uniting our disparate species against a common foe.”

Waiting for the Skyshark proved to be nerve-wracking. There was little that the team could do besides watching the battle. So many times they saw their allies cut down, never to rise again. Lucida was the most steadfast among them. ‘This is what it means to be the future Head of House Path,’ she told herself. ‘As warrior-scholars, our place is to be the final line of defense. I cannot falter now.

The magnificent airship finally pulled into sight. It immediately attracted the attention of the airborne enemy, but a powerful shield maintained by war mages protected it from conventional attacks. The launch platform on top of the vehicle opened, and griffon warriors poured out. Lucida tried to count their numbers, but soon gave up.

“They must have been packed in like sardines,” Pif said.

“We’re going to need them all,” Lucida replied. “I can already see enemy aerial reinforcement heading our way.”

Lucida noticed that one of the griffons was headed their way, and she quickly recognized who it was. Soon, General Warfist alighted next to her and removed his helmet.

“Captain Kerbarok informed me that you and the time-team were here, Milady,” Warfist said. “What are your goals?”

“General, it is critical that we break through the enemy lines and reach Nightmare Chrysalis. We need your complete cooperation to achieve this. I have already cleared it with Princess Celestia.”

Warfist nodded curtly. “Understood. I will deploy the troops to action this.” He put his helmet back on and used his comm to issue orders.

Graxx began to coordinate his troops on the ground. Within a short time, a safe corridor was forced open. “Go now!” Graxx commanded.

Lucida surged forward, leading the team back to the battlefield. The Equestrian defensive line parted to allow them through, and then closed back up again. Skirmishes began around them virtually immediately as the enemy threw more troops at them. The Red Changeling and griffon warriors inflicted massive damage on them, but still some got through. The team handled them well enough though, each in their special way. In order not to confuse their allies, Forest Breeze chose a different tactic. He used his illusions to make them appear to be slightly to one side of where they actually were, and as the enemy went past where they really were, the team members attacked with impunity. Between the griffons, Red Changelings, and the team themselves, they were leaving behind a line of dead or dying zebras and Black Changelings. The attacks never eased up though.

“Is it my imagination, but are we getting hit by more enemy the further we go?” Silk asked between dispatching a zebra and a changeling. His voice was getting a little hoarse from the number of sonic blasts that he had used in his defense.”

“I noticed that too,” Watchful replied.

“The Nightmare knows we’re a threat,” Lucida said. “It doesn’t want us anywhere near the city.”

It was a bitter truth that the closer that they got to the city walls, the more foes they faced, and the slower their progress became. Losses among the team’s defenders were starting to rise also, but they continued to fight undaunted. For the first time since the battle began, the Equestrian forces reached the final line of defense of the Nightmare’s forces – the city wall and the warriors defending it. Here it seemed that they were stalemated, but Destined had been conserving his power for this moment. He yelled an order at Graxx and Warfist, and their defenders suddenly forced a gap open in front of him. Naturally the enemy started pouring through that gap, but the alicorn was already charging up his horn. Destined released a massive concussive blast aimed at the wall, knocking down all of the enemy soldiers in the way, and striking the wall which exploded. Masonry and timber flew inwards, leaving a huge gap in the defenses of the city. The time team surged forward, as did their accompanying protectors.

Celestia and Carpacia had been closely monitoring their progress, and troops from their forces were directed to take advantage of the opening. Ponies, red changelings, and griffons poured through the gap in the city’s barrier. Both physical and magical defenses were broken there, and war mages teleported in to join them. The enemy had another surprise for them all though. Entire legions were waiting for them!

“Where the buck did Nightmare Chrysalis get all these warriors?!” Pif yelled in frustration.

“While the Nightmare was stalling for time, it must have been pulling in warriors from all over the continent,” Lucida replied.

“Horesefeathers! Brace yourselves!”

A wall of zebra warriors slammed into them. Despite the reinforcements, the team struggled to survive, let alone make progress. Black changelings seemed to ooze out of every nook and cranny, and they had their sights set on the team. Pif surged forward with Citrine by her side, taking point in their fight. They were the two strongest fighters after Destined who was still recovering from his massive effort, and they took it upon themselves to clear a path for the rest. The plan seemed to be working until a large gap was forced through their defenders, and a surge of warriors slammed into the pair. Despite her power and her best fighting skills, Pif was overwhelmed, and she screamed in agony as their weapons found their marks.

The scream seemed to galvanize Citrine, and she hurled herself into the fray with near insane levels of rage. Zebras and changelings were batted away from Pif’s form where she had collapsed to the ground. Her compatriots hastened to form a protective shield around their stricken teammate.

Pif was in bad condition. Her carapace was cracked and bleeding in several places, and her wings had been ripped off. Her breath came in shuddering gasps which were getting weaker. Citrine dropped her bat and embraced the changeling, crying and screaming, “Don’t die! Don’t die!” The crystal pony poured her love into her mate, and slowly the changeling’s breathing eased and her wounds started to close up.

Lucida recognized the same healing power that Chrysalis had displayed in the Crystal Kingdom when she’d had plenty of love energy available to heal herself almost instantly. To see one crystal pony generate enough love for Pif to start to recover was frankly amazing. Her sister was not out of danger yet though. “Des – can you teleport Pif back to the field hospital and then get straight back to us?”

“I can now that the magic shield has been penetrated,” he assured her.

“Do it!”

Lucida pulled Citrine back from Pif, and Destined put his leg around his sister and teleported her away, returning only moments later.

Citrine seethed for a long moment before she picked up her bat. Her crystallomancy flared, and the bat grew razor-sharp knives of crystal, and her armoring thickened. She threw back her head and screamed, “Show your face, Nightmare! Stop hiding behind your minions and fight me like a mare!

Wicked laughter filled the area – chilling, malevolent, and self-confident. “As you wish, foolish child.

Nightmare Chrysalis materialized above their heads, and for the first time they saw the final form of the fusion of the Nightmare and Changeling Queen. While still recognizable as Chrysalis, she had grown considerably in stature, and horrible in visage. Her mouth open in laughter was filled with row upon row of dagger-like teeth, her mane was an eldritch horror, and her carapace as black as ink.

 

 

Citrine was undaunted. “Come down here, whorse! Come down and let me beat your brains in!

The Nightmare’s laughter died, and she sneered. “Foolish creature – you only feed my power, but I shall oblige you.”

The Nightmare dived and blasted Citrine with her horn, but the crystal pony deflected it with her weapon. The follow-through came close to striking the Nightmare, but only took a bit of her mane. Time and time again, they engaged with neither making a conclusive blow.

Meanwhile the enemy forces had rallied around their leader, and the rest of the team had to start fighting for their lives. Lucida tried to warn the crystal pony – “She’s just toying with you, Citrine! Fall back! Fall back!”

Citrine was oblivious to Lucida or anyone else for that matter. At last she saw an opening and lunged in. The blade of her weapon plunged deep into the Nightmare’s torso before finally stopping when it reached her hooves where they were gripping the shaft. “Got you, bitch!” she yelled in triumph. Her grin fell though as the Nightmare started to laugh. Distracted by her enemy’s obvious contempt for what she had done, Citrine did not notice a tar-like substance seep from the wound and flow over her hooves until it was too late. It hardened and her hooves were locked in place as the Nightmare lowered her head until she was nose to nose with Citrine. The foul stench of death and decay wafted from the creature’s mouth as she laughed before she finally spoke once more.

“Idiot! I am the Avatar of Death – I can’t be killed. You can die though, but I think I’ll teach you a little lesson instead.” The Nightmare’s horn pulsed with power, and Citrine’s weapon shattered. And so did the limbs of the pony who was holding it.

Citrine screamed in agony as she fell away from the Nightmare, the stumps of her forelegs all that were left. She collapsed onto the ground, gasping from the pain, but she struggled to bring it under control. In her ultimate form, Citrine’s crystallomancy had converted her body to living crystal, and the shattered legs did not bleed. Pain was the main consequence, but the crystal pony had never let that keep her down. She snarled, “I’ll find a way to destroy you, even if death isn’t an option.”

The Nightmare’s sense of humor had run out by then. “You cease to amuse me, fool. Let your death feed me then.” She lit up her horn once more, but before she could deal the death blow, an enormous burst of power hit her flank and hurled her aside.

Citrine blinked as a familiar blue form appeared next to her.

“Are you okay, Citrine?”

“I’ll live, Blue. What kept you?”

“Sorry, but I’m here now. Pardon me, but I have a Nightmare to fight.”

Citrine stared as Blue dashed off at high speed to confront the Nightmare who was already recovering from the blow. Blue’s transformation was complete, and he was as much a dragon as he was a pony, but brimming with magic potential. It seemed that he had become a legendary kirin!

The demon creature’s eyes widened in recognition as she saw the transformed pony. “So, Creation, your minion has found me. Too bad that you’re too late.”

“The balance must be restored, Nightmare. You will not be permitted to win.”

The Nightmare laughed. “I have already won. The battles continue unabated, and I grow stronger by the moment. You cannot stop me any more than that pony could kill me.”

“I am not destined to stop you. My purpose is to enable others to do that.”

“You don’t have the power to do even that!” the Nightmare declared, and fired a bolt at Blue.

Blue Streak dodged with ease and raced to one side in a blink of an eye. He opened his mouth, and it disgorged a blast of elemental energy – the Fires of Creation! The Nightmare was struck once more, but again she recovered quickly. This time she was wary of Blue Streak’s speed and power, and the two circled each other in a constant effort to overcome their foe.

 

 

Meanwhile the rest of the team and the forces protecting them were suddenly relieved by another new addition to the combat. Black Changelings rained out of the sky, burned to a crisp by the flames of an irate dragon.

Lucida had been so preoccupied with defending herself and her teammates that she had not even noticed the gigantic dragon approach. “Cinder? What are you doing here in this time?” she yelled up to the dragon when she had a chance.

“My younger self is stuck back in the Dragonlands still, and I could not let my mate fight alone,” she replied cheerfully as she swatted aside several zebras in one blow.

The dragoness was making a huge difference. Her hide was impenetrable to conventional weapons and changeling horn blasts alike, and her talons ripped apart the enemy. Nothing dared fly near her unless they wanted to be cooked by her flame breath. She was an inexorable force, and the team finally got a respite.

Silk was nursing a lacerated wing, but was otherwise intact. Panting from his efforts, he managed to ask, “Shouldn’t Cinder be helping Blue take on the Nightmare?”

Lucida shook her head. “You heard both Blue and the Nightmare. Cinder can’t kill her any more than Citrine could. Blue can only reach a stalemate with her as they are each other’s counterparts. His purpose is to keep the Nightmare under control, while Cinder’s is to keep our enemies away while we bring on the one means of defeating her.”

“And what’s that?”

“The same thing that defeated Nightmare Moon.”

“You mean… Harmony? But the Avatars of Harmony aren’t here!”

“Yes, they are.”

“Where?!”

“I’m talking to one.”

Silk was stunned for a moment before saying, “What?”

Lucida gestured for the rest of the team to gather around her. “The key to defeating Nightmare Chrysalis is to bring her into Harmony. Chrysalis can be cleansed of the Nightmare, and Equus saved. Mama Twilight and her friends did this with the aid of artifacts from the Tree of Harmony, but later it was shown that they did not need them, just so long as they were true to their Aspects.”

“But we still don’t have any of them here!” Destined objected.

Lucida nodded. “I know, but later, during the Battle of the Crystal Kingdom, Mama Twilight proved that Harmony was not restricted to the original Element Bearers when she got Sunset Shimmer to substitute for her. I’m telling you now that I believe that our team carries all those Aspects. Silk – you’re always helping others with your time and skills; you are the Aspect of Generosity.” She turned to Watchful. “As a Red Changeling, loyalty is a given, but you have been particularly loyal to the team and its goals.” She looked to Glenn. “You are a gentle soul in a terrible situation, yet you never fail to show your goodness. Even when fighting our enemies, you try to incapacitate rather than kill. You are definitely the Aspect of Kindness.” Forest was next. “The truth cannot be hidden from you, and your experiences have made you soul of honesty. That is your Aspect.” She looked at Destined. “Need I point out which one of us is the Aspect of Magic?” Lucida faltered then. “Laughter… I would have said Citrine was that Aspect. She’s the life of the party, the boost to our morale, and always ready to entertain us when we need it most. But she’s been maimed and I…”

“Hold it right there, pony-bird!” came Citrine’s voice.

They looked around to see Citrine struggle upright, ignoring the pain and pushing with the stumps of her shattered forelegs.

“You don’t think for a moment that you’ve got what it takes to replace me, do you?” she asked with a fierce grin.

Lucida could not help but smile at the mare’s determination. “Our Avatar of Laughter!”

“Great. So how do we do this?” Citrine asked.

“It’s friendship that binds us. We’ve been comrades in arms and companions between troubles. Friendship is the greatest magic in Equestria… no, in all of Equus. You six just need to open your hearts to that magic and release it. As always, Destined is the guiding force.”

The alicorn stallion glanced in the direction of the combatants. Blue and the Nightmare were still blasting away at each other and moving around at a prodigious rate. “How in Tartarus am I supposed to hit that moving target? Blue is having a hard enough time!”

“You’re the Alicorn of Time – use that ability!” Lucida said with some exasperation.

Just then, some of the enemy managed to break through the defensive cordon, and they had to concern themselves with dealing with them before regathering.

“We’re going to need to be undisturbed for a moment or two,” Silk said. “Unlike Princess Twilight and her friends, we don’t have artifacts of power to give us a head-start. Interruptions like that can’t be allowed to happen.”

“I’ll help Cinder, but the rest is up to you six. Be prepared to act at the next opportunity.”

Blue’s fight with the Nightmare continued to be stalemated. For the best part of half an hour they fought without either getting the upper hoof. He would occasionally score a hit, only to have her immediately recover, while the reverse was also true. However, unlike the Nightmare, he was not getting a constant feed of new energy from the battle nearby, and he eventually made a mistake as he tired. The Nightmare’s blast sent him hurtling a great distance before crashing through a wall and some furniture before skidding to a dazed halt. He shook his head, trying to clear it, but it only made him dizzier. He struggled to his hooves despite the vertigo, and started to walk back, only to stop before a device that elicited a gasp of recognition from him.

“Oh, Creation – we’ve got a problem.”

Back with the team, Lucida had seen Blue get blasted into the castle and the Nightmare turn her sights on them.

“It’s now or never, guys!” she said urgently.

The six linked arms and closed their eyes, concentrating on the feelings that they had for one another. Lucida could sense a palpable force growing, but was it too late? The Nightmare lunged at them – only to be checked by a dragoness. Cinder did her best to stop the Nightmare, but despite her size and power, she had little success. She was hurled away like a rag doll, and the Nightmare advanced again… only to stop and gasp, “NO! Not again!”

The six friends were rising into the air, drifting into formation about Destined. At the throats of five of them, a glow grew, and Destined’s horn glowed in response, then something coalesced on his head as his mane began waving in an ethereal breeze, shimmering in the colors of his future self.

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