Dreaming on the Buffalo Plains
Blinding white soon yielded to softer tones of grey before her tired eyes. She felt incredibly stiff, yet she found she could move with more fluidity and agility then she thought possible. Twilight Sparkle rubbed her eyes to be rid of the annoying blur that refused to bend to her will and tell her just what was going on. The last thing she remembered, those cursed dragons dragged her into some sort of glass tube after she failed to respond to pain anymore.
Yet, as much as she wanted to, she could not feel the pain from her injuries... or anything at all, once she put her mind to it. Did they kill her in that machine, or was she simply dreaming between the nightmares again? Every detail felt fuzzy to her, despite how cold and sharp she could remember them being. She stood in the small room, contemplating it before the door opened of its own accord.
"Hey! Get out of there!" called the voice of a pony. The lavender mare jumped at the sight, before automatically obeying after seeing she had somehow ended up in a broom closet. "She's my date!" the stallion chastised before grabbing the mop that had sat beside her. With a huff and an upturn of his snout, he trotted down the hall, whispering things to the broom that one did not repeat in front of other ponies.
"Okay, new theory," Twilight spoke to herself. "I'm either dreaming, dead, or CRAZY."
"Well, we're ALL a little crazy sometimes," a voice giggled behind her. The librarian jumped at the sound of the voice, nearly impaling her horn in the tall ceiling before landing in a heap. It carried a disturbingly familiar tone and mirth: so much so that she almost chastised the pony by the name of her pink friend. However, as she pulled herself off the floor to get a good look, there could be no way that it was Pinkie Pie. "Hi there! My name's... hmm... I can't remember. Ah well!"
She was a pure white Pegasus with a golden mane and equally golden set of eyes. In many ways, it appeared as if her Blueprint disguise and her pink friend had merged! But that was preposterous. "Are you... in some sort of disguise, Pinkie Pie? If you are, I'm rather impressed about how you managed to make wings like that."
"Pinkie? I'm not pink, you silly filly! Wait, Toasty! Come back! Sorry but I gotta go, bye!" With that, she was off, chasing an animated toaster down the long, vaulted hall. Twilight felt her eye twitch and jaw drop at the possibility of a fully sentient inanimate object, but a flush of cold washed through her body after a quick glance at her own hoof. After gathering her composure, the lavender pony started walking down the halls.
The building looked identical to Canterlot, except for the fact that it changed colour every so often (or a mix of them) before an eye or a multi-coloured hoof would suddenly jet out of the wall. In fact, the only thing constant seemed to be Twilight herself, as turning down a bend in the hall, she found everypony walking on the ceiling while carrying buckets of water up-side down... or was it right-side up? Either way, the mare could not seem to bend reality to her wishes, as she had been trying to induce a lucid dream for years and knew all the signs to look for.
"...And I'm leaning more towards crazy, now," she spoke, breaking her inner monologue. "Well, if I m dreaming, then maybe it is trying to tell me something. Right now, I can only think of is 'don't get captured by dragons who want to use you as a power source for an ultimate weapon.' But, somehow I think that might be a bit difficult to get across in a dream."
A sudden chuckle echoed through the hall right before a large trapdoor in the middle of the hall opened under her. She let out a quick cry of surprise before falling through countless visions she identified as her memories, some she could recall, but most looked foreign to her. Although she fell at speed, she could make out a couple of the unfamiliar ones: a crying filly that looked like Trixie, and the princess walking towards her in a dark, cold room made of stone with utter contempt on her face. The coldness in her eyes made her shiver involuntarily.
Twilight landed with a soft thud onto a precisely stacked pile of red velvet pillows. Dazed from the fall, she barely registered the sound of hooves against marble as a pony approached. When she could finally gather her wits, she looked to the source of the hoofsteps with a little trepidation, not quite sure what to expect due to the circumstances. A series of emotions blew over her suddenly when she registered who she was looking at, awe fading to fear before degrading to shame and anger only to settle on frustration in, as Rainbow would put it, ten seconds flat.
It was a tall and regal mare. Her coat was a soft canary yellow. Her mane started off as a bright, sunny yellow before fading into a deep, shimmering black with points of flickering white to represent the stars as it billowed softly in an unseen breeze. Upon her hooves were purple, star-studded shoes that tied in to the tips of her mane, contrasting the the glowing white crown on her head.
"Let me guess," the unicorn spoke dryly to the regal alicorn queen before her. She knew she should have probably paid more respect to her, but things were becoming tedious and annoying, so the venom in her voice seeped through. "You're here to tell me to stop thinking Eos is evil? Well, I'll tell you what I told Luna: I've seen too much to believe she is anything more than a demon. So, if you will kindly send me back to my torture; that would be nice."
"Do NOT think you can anticipate my motives, Twilight Sparkle!" the mare scolded. Twilight recoiled a little at the sudden shout. "I sense a little of my dear Celesta's ARROGANCE in you, I daresay. Once upon a time, she too felt she knew better than I, her own mother. She reaped her reward for doing so," Queen Notia sighed sadly.
"I'm sorry, your highness," the lavender pony replied quickly with a deep bow as she stood, the pillows having suddenly vanished into thin air.
"Please, just call me 'Grandmother,' Twilight. Actually, that is why I am here, not to put too fine of a point on it. You see, I have heard from a very reliable source that you are... hesitant to embrace your royal blood. I do not blame you for doing so, considering Celestia's past sins and your nature. You are a humble mare, yet you often let your humility get in the way of doing what needs to be done. It still does you credit, much as your insightful nature."
"So, um... why ARE you here, your highne- Grandmother?" She could not help but blush by calling a former queen of the country by such an informal title. Queen Notia chuckled at her plight before ascending to the throne, which had become as plush as a cloud and an acidic green in colour.
"That was not so hard, now was it?" Turning around to sit, she looked down upon the lavender mare with that same air of warmth that Celestia would give: as if all was well with the world, no matter how dire the situation. "I am here to tell you something you already know: you just need to be reminded in order to handle the task ahead. You have to have faith in your friends; they love you for who you are. I also know that Celestia loves you too, even more than life itself.
"It hurt her to lie to you for all those years about your nature, there is a lot of love that she holds in her heart, and it is out of that love that she did not want to hurt you. Granted, her initial plan was a little monstrous, but coming from her, it was actually quite benign in comparison. I am sure that you would cause her insurmountable pain and suffering if she EVER thought that you did not return her feelings for you."
"But... I do. I do love her. I just... I don't feel like I've earned the right to be called her daughter. Not after what I did that day," Twilight sighed.
"If you earnestly feel that way," the old alicorn spoke, "Then go out there and mend the wrong done upon you and the nation. By doing so, I assure you that you will earn the right to be called one of our bloodline. Despite the fact that you are a golem, Celestia's blood courses through your veins: never forget that, Twilight." Before the lavender mare could utter another word, the world turned into a white void of warmth.
The Great and Powerful Trixie sighed to herself as the light began to fade from the sky. Pretty soon, they would have to stop and make camp again. A cool breeze swept through the trees as the twilight hour descended upon her and her fellow fugitive friends. For the last couple of days, the ponies (and one baby dragon) journeyed through the outlands, since they had to head west to reach Appleloosa.
Certainly, going to that neck of Equestria was risky for them, since Applejack had a mean streak about as long as the plain she now inhabited. But between the mountains, contested passes and the bounty hunters that watched the tunnel, there was no other recourse. The only other way around the mountains was to go east and down the coast towards the city of Manehatten. Due to the city's size, it had the most dedicated and well-equipped police force in Equestria, so it was out of the question to go there. That left lawless Appleloosa as their only option.
"Spike?" she called back into the caravan, the yoke for it strapped around her midsection. "How's our passenger doing? Is there any change from this morning?"
After a couple of moments of silence, the tired sound of the baby dragon sounded from beyond the wood, muffled by the walls. "Yeah, there is, actually. Her coat is its usual colour, but she's still fast asleep!" he updated. The azure mare heaved a sigh of relief as she continued down the dirt road. Just two days ago, they had rescued her from the spiny clutches of the dragons. Over time, she slowly began to resemble a pony more and a lifeless construct of magic less.
But how did Trixie feel about all the events spiralling out of her control? Out on the road, she had nothing but time to think. Formerly, she used it to wallow in her own self-pity between shows and justify her obnoxious behaviour. She would be the first to admit she could be self-centered and indeed had an ego to match any dragon out there, but when it came to the lavender unicorn, she could not help but want to give her all to her.
But, now she knew that she was actually a golem the whole time; that she was not actually her sister after all! So, why did she do it? Why was she sticking her head out for this nopony when she could easily sell her out to the queen and not have to travel around in fear? It was... strange for The Great and Powerful Trixie, but she could not deny that she had grown to care about her, either from her genuine encounters, or the tales she heard about her over the years. Still, it was quite necessary to make tracks, since the dragons would be furious when they found their power source missing. She had no doubt that they would connect the dots between their disappearances.
Unfortunately, even as she walked down the path, she could not find a suitable place to camp for the night, or even a good place to get off the road from. The shadows of the trees grew longer as the queen began to set the sun and usher in the night. Traveling on a road in the dark was never a smart idea, since there was no telling what roamed the woods or the simple fact that other ponies (or something worse) could also walk into them.
Of course, the worst just had to happen as the light of the sun finally died for the day. A bellowing roar sounded all around them and shook the trees free of fleeing birds. "Horseapples," Trixie breathed before breaking into a gallop. One bad thing about being so boisterous and flamboyant had to be how recognizable she and her caravan were. With the nearest trees several hooves away from the road, the large wagon could easily be spotted from the sky.
The beating of thick, webbed wings filled the air over the sound of the azure mare's panicked hoofsteps. Another roar filled the air, shaking the fleeing mare to her very core. A sea of vivid red scales filled the star-speckled sky directly overhead, a sign that the dragon knew they were there. Sure enough, the flying lizard banked to the left, putting his spines and spiked tail on full display.
Trixie's breathing became shallow and erratic as she pushed her body to the very limit. Her muscles screamed in agony as she pushed herself and pulled the cart with all the speed she could muster. Sweat dripped from her brow and into her eyes, nearly blinding the mare. She knew she could not outrun the faster dragon, but she could see an opening into the woods up ahead that would afford swift escape.
Suddenly, her cart lurched upward, nearly taking her with it. Twisting her head back to look, she saw two sets of massive claws dug into the sides of her caravan. The dragon tried to take off with the entire cart, so she stopped him by magically compressing the air between them for a brutal blast of pressure. He roared in surprise, ripping the top off her caravan to reveal the scared baby dragon and the unicorn passed out on her bed.
Although shaken from the pursuit, the dragon returned with unparalleled fury. However, with the extra weight removed from the cart, the magician picked up speed. The dragon bellowed again impotently as she dragged the cart beyond his grasping talons. Spike cried out and hid himself under the bed at the sight of the fully-grown lizard's angry gaze.
Summoning as much magic as she could, the showmare slowed down to cast a spell just before the break in the trees. The dragon grinned and inhaled deeply as he swiftly gained on the pony and her tacky little cart. He would make them regret stealing their weapon! It would be a shame that they would not be able to torture the blue one for her crime, but not even a dragon could get everything it wanted.
A belch of fire quickly erupted from his jagged maw as he released his breath, the tongues of flame lapping at the wooden carriage the pony pulled. The conscious passenger screamed as the caravan became encased in the torrent of cleansing fire and wove wildly on the dirt road, the showmare too pained to watch where she went. Satisfied, the dragon flew past and arced around when they slammed into a tree. He extended his arm, ready to pluck the golem from the wreckage. Just as his claw made contact with the clay pony, the wooden cart evaporated into thin air.
Trixie held her breath, going as fast as she dared through the woods with the noisy cart. It would not be long until the dragon figured out their deception and she did not want to stick around to see. Unhooking herself from the destroyed (and still smouldering) caravan, she levitated the sleeping pony onto her back before the baby dragon piled what he could onto a small wagon she used to carry larger, magically resistant props.
With a quick gallop, the three ran deeper into the woods: the perfect cover from the areal hunter until they could reach the Appleloosan Plains. The tightness of the trees would also prevent griffons from joining the hunt for the lavender mare as well. Plus, the dragon would not be likely to burn the forest down, since it could take several dragon cities with it. Although her legs screamed at their exertion, she refused to listen, running at full tilt for an hour, until she was sure they were safe.
"I think... this place... will make... a good... camp," she puffed as she slowed to a crawl. Breathing heavily, she plopped onto the ground with as much dignity as she could muster. Trixie ignominiously dumped Twilight beside her, having given up on dignity for her load. "Can you take first watch, Spike? I'm beat."
"Sure, Trixie," the young dragon puffed as he pushed himself up from his laying position. He left to gather some wood for the night's fire. There was still a little bit of light left in the sky, so there was no extreme rush to get things going. Once finished with the task, he grabbed a blanket he salvaged from the cart and placed it over the two sleeping mares before huddling up to the campfire. He smirked when he saw Trixie subconsciously cuddle up to the purple pony: he would make sure she never lived it down.
Gentle chirping passed across her ears and the cool breeze blew around her and tangled up the hairs of her mane and coat. Her nostrils flared a little as the fresh scent of roses and morning dew rode on the gentle wisps of wind. It had to be a trick: her mind probably trying to deal with her situation by not dealing with it. The moment she opened her eyes, she would be back inside that horrible room, attached to that awful machine.
Twilight refused to let herself be disappointed by the world again, even if she was too depressed over her best friend's betrayal to really care about anything anymore. That was why she caved in to those foul demons called dragons: she just did not care anymore. All of her friends saw her as either a tool to be used, or a monster to be destroyed. No pony on the planet honestly cared.
"Well," spoke an arrogant voice from the darkness. "We'd better get moving again. Trixie is honestly surprised that we made it through the night without being attacked!" A couple of sharp bucks on a tree echoed through the lavender pony's ears. "Let's pick her up and get moving. As much as I hate the idea of going near Appleloosa, it will be far safer for us then here."
Although she would regret ending the dream of being asleep in a relaxing field, the purple pony opened her eyes only for them to go wide at the sight before her. Sure, she was not in a field, but it was close enough. The small grove in the middle of the forest served as an adequate shelter from any patrolling griffons or dragons overhead. Soft hoofsteps approached to her left, making her turn her head to see Trixie approaching.
"Oh, good," she spoke to seemingly nopony. "She's awake. Trixie must admit that it is no easy feat to lug you around on her back, even with a featherweight spell, Twilight Sparkle." The azure magician could not help but let a grin spread across her face as she walked, relieved that she regained enough magic to stay conscious. "Not to imply that you are heavy or anything, but as a librarian I doubt you get much physical exercise."
With a little help from the younger mare, the scholar managed to get to her hooves once more causing her legs to shake a little from lack of use. She took a deep breath and sighed, not in any sort of mood to argue with her over anything. Twilight felt lost: like she was stumbling about in a fog of ignorance with nothing to do but scream at the shadows as they crossed her path. She could not even fake a smile when she saw the worry evident in Trixie's eyes.
"I'm not going to ask the obvious question," the blue mare started, "since we both know that you're not okay. Nopony would be after what you just went through: Trixie doesn't even want to pretend to understand how you feel."
The librarian avoided her gaze and nodded her head solemnly. Then she saw the young dragon out of the corner of her eye. Spike kicked at the ground dejectedly, unable to meet her eyes. A surge of emotions rushed through the indignant unicorn: she wanted nothing more than to punish him for his betrayal like he deserved. Yet, she could not bring herself to let loose her righteous fury upon him. It was not worth the trouble.
A couple of minutes later, the group set out. Due to the events of the night previous, Trixie led the way, staying off the roads. Years of traveling had given her a nigh infallible internal compass, so she felt confident that they could reach the plains in a day, or two on the outside. Meanwhile, she remained ignorant of the melodrama taking place behind her.
For the entire morning, Spike kept to the back of the convoy to give Twilight the space she deserved. As much as he dreaded Twilight confronting him, the lack of punishment or even acknowledgement of his existence hurt him even more. Meanwhile, the purple unicorn kept her head low to the ground, her eyes half-lidded in contempt for her surroundings and for the void she felt in the pit of her heart. She knew nopony cared about her now, that they all saw her as the hunk of animated clay that she was. Why did the universe seem to insist upon her continued survival?
At about noon, the troupe stopped at the banks of a river to eat, drink, and rest for a while before they continued with their trek. Twilight sat and rested herself, but she did not eat or bother to drink. She felt constantly weak and weary, most of her magic still gone, but she was recuperating slowly. Trixie and Spike snacked on some of the plants lying about and drank from the stream before joining her to rest.
"Twilight, if you don't eat, you won't recover your magic before we get to Equestria," Trixie spoke in a motherly tone. It surprised the unicorn a little bit to see her acting like that.
"Why do you care?" she croaked from lack of speaking. "Or, wait... let me guess: you want to use me as well and are only acting civil to me to gain your trust? Well, you can forget it, Trixie! Everypony's made it clear to me that they don't give a buck how I feel: just as long as I have my magic. Well, you know WHAT? I DO have feelings, you rotten little... so-and-so! JUST BECAUSE I WAS NEVER BORN DOESN'T MEAN I CAN'T FEEL!"
Trixie leaned back where she sat, a hoof raised in pony instinct, ready to flee from danger in an instant. However, when her tirade ended, the azure mare eased herself and sighed. "Trixie is... I'm sorry, Twilight. I should have figured that mentioning your abilities would be a sore spot for you right now."
"Go stuff yourself!" she rudely replied. "I don't need you OR your charity, or ANYPONY at all! I CAN FIX THIS ON MY OWN! Just leave me ALONE! I just... I just..." Sobs escaped her throat painfully as she began to cry, lowering her head in shame. Sudden warmth came over her as she found herself in the tight embrace of the other unicorn. "Who am I kidding? W-what could I possibly hope to accomplish on m-my own?"
"Shh," Trixie soothed with a pat on her back. "You still have me, Twilight. I was the one who convinced Spike that you were you and not some spy, so we could save you. Plus, you still have Owlowiscious and our mother. We all feel lonely sometimes, but when life gets dark, you just have to think about what you DO have and love them all the more."
The lavender mare continued to sob for another couple of minutes until they dried into naught but sniffles. She gave Trixie a little squeeze and broke off their hug to dry her eyes with her legs. Instantly, she wheeled on Spike, who hung his head in shame as she approached. "I might have broken your arm that day, but you broke my heart, Spike," she spoke softly. "I'm sorry... but I don't think I can ever trust you again. I'll try to forgive you, but... I just can't right now."
"That... That's fair," the baby dragon whispered. His eyes went wide as the lavender mare dragged him in for a quick hug. Tears slipped down his cheeks as he hugged her back, knowing that she still loved him nonetheless.
"Oh PLEASE. Will you two OLD NAGS get a room already!? The Great and Powerful Trixie will not suffer something as girly as these feelings: lest you reap her fury in the form of her awe-inspiring magic coming down upon your head! Especially when you are wasting her time as she tries to save you from the dragon hordes."
Twilight turned around to face her, shocked by her sudden change in mood. "But Trixie, you were being even sappier just a minute ago. How can you go from gentle and loving to callous and obnoxious at the drop of a hat like that!?"
"A mere commoner such as you cannot hope to understand the mystical might that is The Great and Powerful Trixie!" The performer boasted with a flurry of fireworks and trumpet of fanfare. A giggle slipped out of the lavender mare's mouth at how over-the-top her sister could be. "See? It made you smile! If her AWESOME magic can make a sad-sack like you crack a grin, then she is obviously the most talented magician in all of Equestria!"
"Never change, Trixie," Twilight smiled as they gathered everything up to leave.
Just as the sun began to sink below the horizon once more, the group found itself on the precipice of the Appleloosan Plain: a vast expanse of desert terrain stretching for hundreds of miles in all directions. Thankfully, the town of Appleloosa was not more than a two day trot from the border of the nation. However, the group turned around and headed back into the woods.
The vast plains would lend them no cover, and with no guarantee that they were not still being tracked, they decided to spend the night under the cover of the canopy. After Spike created a fire and Trixie made a makeshift tent out of a tarp and blankets on the ground, the four travelers settled down to have dinner. As Owlowiscious went out to hunt, the baby dragon and unicorns stayed behind to gather some berries and leaves in the light of the campfire.
Thankfully for all involved, the librarian's mood had hit a slow but steady upswing from earlier that morning. She still felt upset about her friends and traumatized from her captivity, but she would not let it slow her down when she had a job to do. Sharing her experiences thus far proved to do her a lot of good, since Trixie served as a sympathetic (if grating) ear to chew on as they walked through the day.
Yet, as they ate their meal, a thought crept into her head. Twilight mulled it over for a while, chewing her food methodically before she finally decided she had to explain the situation to Spike and Trixie.
"So... about what I said earlier. You know, right before Spike... betrayed me?" The baby dragon winced visibly at that, the word was so heavy-hoofed, yet there was no other one for it. "Um... perhaps I owe you both an explanation. Just promise me that you won't tell anypony, or it might start a massive panic."
Trixie and Spike shared a slightly apprehensive glance between each other for a couple of moments. Looking back to her, they nodded their heads. "If it's something you feel that you need to get off your back, go right ahead," the blue mare replied.
"Well... you know that rumour about me and the queen?" They both nodded their heads slowly. "It's true."
"WHAT!?" they replied, wild eyed and panicked.
"BUT," she shouted to get their attention before they worked themselves up, "It is also true that I'm not from here. I mean, this timeline, dimension, or alternate reality, or whatever happened. Allow me to tell you the story from the beginning." Taking a deep breath, she recounted the worst day of her life. "On the day of the Ponyville fire, I read a book that contained a passage about golems. Everything about them clicked eerily well with facets of my own personality, even including stress-induced hallucinations.
"Since I was already strung out from days of obsessive research, my insight pushed me over the edge when I pieced together that it was Princess Celestia who created me. I sought out my friends to help calm myself down after I realized what was going on. When I got to AJ's place, I saw her bucking apples, but they looked rotten and worm-riddled. With Fluttershy, it appeared as if her animals turned into demons. When I went to see Rarity, I found she was making black, tattered dresses that she said were intended for weddings. I fled out of fright and ran into Rainbow, who I thought was... touching Scootaloo.
"I attacked Rainbow for her supposed crimes and went to Sugarcube Corner, where I thought Pinkie was going to bake me into cupcakes! I ran away and, well, broke your arm, Spike," Twilight sighed. "The girls caught up to me and dragged me back, where I got angry after thinking they wanted to eat me, so I destroyed the shop. Up until now, this is mostly stuff you could have guessed, but something happened after that to change the course of history.
"I rocketed into the forest and calmed myself down a little bit, but I soon realized I needed to see Celestia. I needed to know why she made me. Somehow, a magical pair of wings appeared on me, so I used them to fly to Canterlot. To make a long story short, she told me that she had made me, at first, to house Princess Luna's soul once Celestia ripped her from Nightmare Moon. I..." Tears welled up in her eyes as the horrible images came back, her voice choking up under the strain.
"I... I was so mad! She made me to die to save her sister! I wasn't in my right mind, so I attacked her. We fought violently, paying no regard to other ponies. I wanted her dead for lying to me for all those years! But she gained the upper-hoof, only to be felled by Luna being too eager to help and making another mistake. I... I stole her divinity and... and turned into Eos. I'm not sure what happened to kill her here, but I remember she banished Celestia to the sun before Luna brought her... us to my senses."
Trixie and Spike hung on her every word, jaws dropping as she recounted the tale. Tears silently spilled out from the lavender pony's eyes as the memories became fresh in her head and the feelings of betrayal and failure echoed in her waking mind.
The lavender mare continued, barely able to speak, "She snapped me out of it... so I brought Celestia back, but... she was nearly dead. Her body was burnt to nearly a crisp and the doctors whisked her away before I could give her power back. I was forced to stay in that tainted, demonic body for four WEEKS until she recovered! I nearly killed the pony that made me... I... I nearly killed my MOTHER!"
Silence (except for the sniffles of the crying mare) permeated the trees of the woods as the azure mare and baby dragon looked to each other. Without warning, they descended upon her and hugged her tightly. "We promise not to tell a soul," Spike spoke as they comforted her. "We'll even Pinkie Pie Swear, if you want us to!"
"Indeed," added Trixie. "The Great and Powerful Trixie sympathises with your experience. She still feels guilty about her master and how she could have done more to stop him. It's all in the past, sister; there is no need to cry. She did forgive you in your world, or whatever, didn't she?" The lavender mare sniffed and nodded her head. "Well, then there's no need to beat yourself over it! Yes, it's okay to feel terrible about your actions, but torturing yourself with guilt doesn't help anypony."
"I... I guess you're right... Wait! Did you... why did you just call me...?"
"You might be a golem made by Celestia, but Trixie's birth mother adopted you. Therefore, you are still Trixie's sibling, no matter how vexing and annoying you can be sometimes." Twilight smiled and squeezed her sister a little; truly grateful to know she had at least one pony in the world that still loved her.
Although a little on the dry side, the plains of Appleloosa were not as dangerous as one would think from the desert climate. Granted, the occasional poisonous scorpion would happen across travelers who walked as opposed to riding the Trans Equestrian Railway. Of course, traveling on the rails would not be possible, considering the lavender mare still had an exorbitant price on her head.
Yet poisonous insects and arachnids were the least of their concerns as they traveled across the flat terrain. Namely, there was no place out there to hide in case any Pegasus bounty hunters, dragons, or griffons came flying along and spotted them. Twilight doubted she could take on a fully-grown dragon, considering her magic was still below par... for her, at least.
Aside from the miles of flat land, the landscape was dotted by small cacti, shrubs, the occasional tumbleweed, and rocks. The land glowed a curious orange hue in the late morning sun, making everything seem brighter and a little hotter then it normally would have been. Beads of sweat ran down the lavender pony's brow as they stopped to rest at around noon. Even a pony as sheltered as Twilight knew it was generally a bad idea to push on during the hottest part of the day.
"So... um... Trixie?" Twilight asked a little apprehensively.
"Yeah?" the azure mare replied, mopping the sweat from her face herself.
"Why exactly did you join the Crusaders? Forgive me for saying so, but... you don't seem like the kind of pony to put her life on the line over something like removing a tyrant from power."
"Trixie DOES take offence to that, Twilight Sparkle," she huffed, genuinely offended. "She joined the Crusaders, at first, because the queen killed the princesses and cancelled the show she was supposed to perform for them! The Great and Powerful Trixie went to the gates only to be told that nopony could enter because Celestia and Luna were nowhere to be found. Of course, later she learned the truth. At any rate, after some time in Ponyville... well, your friends got to Trixie and she saw that she was not the only one suffering."
"Oh, so you did have a selfish motivation to start, but you saw how bad others had it and sympathised with them?" The azure unicorn nodded her head and passed her a bottle of water from inside her bags. With nothing else to do or say, the librarian took a drink before she passed it along to Spike.
Everything suddenly began to shake, as if an earthquake was beginning to rip the land asunder. Twilight knew they were nowhere near a fault line, so that eliminated the possibility that it was a natural disaster. The travelers looked around, panicked by the sudden vibrations. Turning her head to the left, the lavender pony could see a cloud of billowing brown dust forming over the horizon.
Shapes began to crest over the hill, large and powerful as they stampeded down and towards the group. "I think it's the buffalo tribe!" Spike exclaimed in realization as he stepped forward. Indeed, as the cloud approached, the individual silhouettes became clear through the haze. They seemed to spot the group of travelers since they changed course in their charge and slowed down.
"Look! It's Spike!" cried one of the buffalo as they came close, the call making the entire herd come to a crashing stop. Twilight looked around nervously as they were quickly encircled, not quite sure if they were friend or foe. Although they huffed from their stampede, she could see no hints of hostility in their eyes and on their features. Spike walked closer to one of the females of the group.
"Little Strongheart?" he asked, only to smile when she nodded. "It's been so long! How are you!?" He ran forward and gave her a light hug. "Oh, right. You know Trixie, of course, and Twilight, right?"
"Of course I do: it's so nice to see you all again after so long. We heard that you had come back to Equestria, Twilight, but we didn't believe it until now! We've been waiting for you for a long time to reunify the resistance movements so we can finally take down the queen! So... do you have a plan yet? What are we going to do and where are we going to go?" the young buffalo asked out of curiosity.
"No offence," Twilight started, "but why do you want to know? I mean, why do you care about what we're up to?"
"She's had a rough time. Sadly, she learned that her friends regard her as nothing more than a tool," the baby dragon explained to the look of shock on the buffalo's face. He then turned to face Twilight. "They're affiliated with the Apple Clan, but you can trust them, Twilight."
The lavender mare had to resist narrowing her eyes at that statement. The baby dragon knew she was unable to trust anyone, considering the last time she placed any of it into someone. "Sorry, Spike, but I just can't. Not after everything that has happened to me in the past few days. However, I don't mind saying I have no clue what I want to do or where I am going from here. I'm just... trying to get away from creatures who want to use me."
"Well, you're going to have a hard time doing that, Twilight. You might not know it, but a lot of creatures are looking to you to lead the charge against that monstrous witch," the young female buffalo replied. "Several of our best warriors are with the Apple Clan, as is Chief Thunderhooves. Many of them have gladly died in the pursuit of our Celestia-given rights. You can't tell me that you don't have a plan because you don't CARE, right?"
"N-no, of course not. I care a lot about what happens to EVERYBODY, not just ponies. I... just don't know what I'm going to do! Not when I've been thrust so suddenly into this whole mess!"
"If you want to, then I SUPPOSE you can run with us until you think of what you need to do. We won't tell the Apple Clan you are with us, if only because you helped us end our stupid feud with the Appleloosans, and have earned our respect."
"Well, when you put it that way, I guess we can run with you for a little bit..." the lavender mare trailed, looking to her companions. Trixie nodded her head in understanding. Without another word, the herd started off again with Spike riding on the back of a buffalo while the two mares ran alongside. It was hard work to keep up with with the strong, athletic tribe, but as soon as the initial burn in their muscles faded away, it was not all that bad.
For hours, the group proceeded in silence while doing their best not to slow down the buffalo too much. However, by the time the sun began to set, the herd decided to stop for the night to rest. Twilight yawned as she found a soft spot to lie down, the others staying up to have something to eat. The lavender mare, however, was not used to walking for so long and so far. As much as she wanted to eat, she could not guarantee that she could stay awake through supper. Besides, she doubted she could stomach the food they had prepared, since it reminded her disturbingly of the gruel she ate while imprisoned.
She shuffled around on the blanket while trying to get comfortable on the hard ground. Knowing that the nights could get cold; she draped a second over her with her magic and curled into a tight ball to conserve heat. After closing her eyes, the mare listened to the sounds of the chatting buffalo and the ambient sounds of the desert before sleep claimed her.
Twilight stood at the very top of the world, her one eye locked upon the horizon as she used her other to watch the land below, although it was blocked from sight by a sea of grey clouds. Snow fell all around her, played with by the piercing wind, locking them in an aerial dance around the lavender pony. Although she could not feel the bite of the wind upon her skin, ice accumulated in the loose strands in her mane and on her eyebrows.
A sigh passed her lips for an unknown reason: perhaps it was the solitude she felt in her heart, or maybe it was the fact she could feel nothing? Shrugging it off, the lavender mare turned around to face a taller peak directly behind her, poking through the sea of clouds and into the haze. She squinted her eyes to see its peak, able to make out vague shapes atop it: a pony standing in front of some strange building.
Somehow, she craved the attention of the pony on the opposite mountain, as she would crave a bale of hay when suffering from starvation. The unicorn spread her new-found wings and took flight towards the peak. The wind threw her off course, occasionally; however, she kept her eyes glued on the building beyond.
Sudden downdrafts and updrafts caught the novice flier off-guard as she strained to keep aloft. It felt as if nature itself demanded she remain on her mountain top and leave her to forever wonder what lay ahead. However, she was not the kind of pony to refuse her curiosity, for better or for worse. With one last stumble in the air, the unicorn face-planted into the snowy slope before the building.
With a slight groan, she stood up to find the pony she spotted was missing, yet the door to the building sat ajar. Wooden beams coated in peeling red paint flanked a large wooden door. The roof arched gracefully to catch all of the falling snow, but distributed the weight evenly. Although it looked small on the outside, Twilight could only imagine that it was built into the mountain itself. Or not: she had been wrong about such things before.
The lavender mare struggled to push herself up on her hooves, still winded from her hard landing. With a quick shake to dislodge some of the white powder from her coat, she waded through the chest-high snow. Reaching the door, she raised her hoof to knock before entry, only for the strange portal to open of its own accord. Taken aback, the mare crossed the threshold with some trepidation, not sure who awaited her beyond.
If the outer appearance of the building was curious, then the interior was enigmatic to Twilight. A thick, red carpet spread out from the door across the foyer and past the arch ahead, on top of a gleaming marble floor. Curious items, such as a pit of raked sand and paintings with words in a strange language adorned the room, giving the place a warm feeling despite the lack of a fireplace. Of course, she also noted that the building was far bigger then it looked, meaning they had built it into the mountain as she suspected.
"Uh... hello?" she called out into the empty building. "Is there anypony here?" However, nothing responded, which prompted her to journey further into the building. Torches came to life as she passed the arches, leading to a stairway going down into the mountain. She fearlessly followed the torches down the winding spiral steps, watching her hoofing since there was no column in the middle: a sheer drop down an unknown depth.
"Hello?" the lavender mare asked again about halfway down, causing her voice to echo. It came as no surprise to her when nothing replied to her, as they did not before. But I could swear I saw a pony come in here! Self-musings aside, she took a faster route to the bottom of the stairs and floated down them in what felt like no time at all, only to enter another hall. It was ornate, to say the least: reminiscent of the halls of Canterlot, except restructured for the underground building's needs.
Pure marble adorned the floor, walls and ceiling; it was carved with reliefs of all the different kinds of ponies, including common alicorns, rejoicing before two ponies she could tell were divine, yet not Celestia and Luna. Regal pony-high torches made of granite ignited, bathing the hall with a soft glow. A pair of large, red wooden doors stood at the end, etched with designs of sun and moon. They too opened as she drew close, revealing a black void beyond.
Predictably, they slammed shut the instant she entered, throwing the room into blackness. Twilight sighed to herself as she wondered how she could have fallen for such a trick. A large, circular room suddenly appeared before her eyes as magical runes glowed on the walls, bathing everything in a soft, blue glow. A large plinth sat in the centre, glowing with similar runes itself.
Taking a deep breath, the lavender pony walked closer to it, intrigued by the room and its purpose. She cautiously ran a hoof over the top of the small platform, trying in vain to read the ancient magical symbols. A light, airy chuckle filled the room which made her hairs stand on end. "Oh, Twilight," spoke the voice, "you have always been so curious when it comes to the mysteries of magic. Indeed, the Element of Magic could not have found a better host."
The lavender pony gasped and wheeled on the spot, taking a good look at the mare behind her. "Princess Celestia!" she cried out, running to her mentor to give her a tight hug. It was in that moment that her mind pieced together that it was all a dream, but she refused to acknowledge it. She did not want to end the fantasy; to stop feeling the beat of her mother's heart, or her soft breath on her mane as the hug was returned.
"I... I can't believe that the queen... that other Twilight... killed you," the purple pony spoke as she pulled away. "Why did you die here!? What happened? What brought about this horrible world!?"
Celestia shook her head before she smiled at her precious student, her beloved daughter. "That is not important right now. In time, you will understand why Queen Eos did what she did. All I can say is that I had it coming to me for a long time. For most of my reign, I was the very definition of a tyrant, and I can never hope to forgive myself for it. But we are not here to discuss my sins, my little filly."
"Please," the lavender pony pleaded, "don't tell me that I should accept Eos after all she's done too! I just can't! She's EVIL!"
"If that is what you think, then you are evil as well, Twilight. Like it or not, Eos is a part of you: sharing the same beautiful soul and mind. Take a look," the princess of the sun smirked as she summoned a large mirror without a frame. The lavender pony cried out in shock, backing away. Staring at her was that horrible pony, a look of shame and sorrow upon her features as Twilight placed a hoof to that of her other self.
"Alas, I am not here to talk about that, Twilight, for my time in your dreams is coming to an end," she continued before the reflecting glass disappeared. "You want to know where you need to go and what you need to do to defeat the evil queen? Head to the Swayback Mountains, specifically Mount Vicious; there, you will find the monastery we are in right now. There, you will find your answers, Twilight. All I ask, however, is that when you face the queen, tell her that I love her and always will, just like how I will always love you."
She awoke with a start, panting heavily as if she had run a dozen miles in a minute. After taking several moments to calm herself, she noticed something was pressed against her body. Turning her head, she smiled as she saw Trixie had cuddled up to her. For a minute, she considered waking her up to tell her that they now had a destination, but looking up into the sky changed that. The moon hung low over the western horizon, but it was not quite time to get up. Twilight closed her eyes to sleep a little more: she could tell her in the morning.