[Please read the Author's Notes in the description before reading!]
Loyalty and Generosity.
"Greetings, mine children," spoke a voice from the darkness. "Allow me the chance to show thee a time before; naught but four years in the past from the day Twilight Sparkle returned to Equestria. It was a time of darkness and confusion, more so than the present hour, for the battle lines had yet to be drawn and ponies were choosing where they stood. Our heroine had been absent from the world for six years when the events thou shalt see came to be.
"I know that it is disruptive to break from the moment, but in mine judgement, I think thou will appreciate seeing things happen in real-time, to better understand the plight. No, I am not the author of THIS story, nor will I play any major role. I stand as naught but a literary device, for the moment. I am Rachana, the creator of Earth and Moon, beloved wife to Genesis. I am the first storyteller, older then the stars. Allow me to weave the tale."
'Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock,' clicked the simple white clock on the wall. The ebony hands neared quarter to three in the afternoon: what should have been the height of the day. However, the room remained eerily quiet as the time keeper counted second by second into an increasingly bleak and unsure future. Jewels encrusted into the customized clock sparkled as the afternoon rays of the sun impacted their highly polished faces, coating the room in a rainbow of colours.
Carousel Boutique sat in the dark confines of its own body, yet the sign on the door indicated the building was open for the business day. Dresses and suits fit for nobility still lined the massive curved windows to display the talent of the tailor, yet no ponies entered the shop. It was almost as if the building repulsed the citizens of the town.
Yet, there was a very good reason why the shop sat in darkness, despite being open for the public. It had been six years to the day since the fire: six years since the owner of the store lost something very valuable to her. Rarity sat by the window overlooking the Everfree Forest in foolish hope that on that day, of all days, she would return and all would be right in the world once more.
Without the librarian, the town had become an awful dull and depressing place. It was as if a perpetual cloud loomed overhead and sucked the happiness and energy from the citizens, despite the sunny skies. The alabaster unicorn sighed, knowing her annual vigil did nopony any good. However, looking out the window and remembering the times, good and bad, was just about all she could do those days.
Nine months previous, the dragons and griffins unified and declared war upon the nation of Equestria, making it the first armed conflict in some twelve-hundred years or so. Many young mares and stallions were conscripted and sent off to defend the land: a nation most would rather see with a different ruler at the helm. If only Princess Celestia were still around, this whole mess would never have happened, Rarity mused to herself with another sigh.
Unfortunately, with so many ponies going off to war and with the Queen's abolishment of the nobility, demand for high-end dresses like hers plummeted into non-existence. Ponies could not afford such luxuries when food and rent (among other things) became heavily taxed for the defence of the nation. So, her boutique sat on the fringes of Ponyville, like a cyst on the healthy village.
A shudder came over the unicorn at the mere thought of her financial situation. She had two mouths to feed, yet with the rising cost of living and a lack of customers, the white unicorn had quickly began to plunge into debt. In fact, she was so deep in the financial hole at that moment she could no longer afford candles or oil to light the lanterns in her shop. If it was a choice between light and food, then there was no contest (even if the lack of light skewed her attempts to keep up appearances.)
It was in times like this, in the midst of feeling sorry for herself, she began to wonder if the rumours she heard about her unicorn friend were true. If they were, it would explain a lot but it would also leave her and her four other friends completely heartbroken. How could anypony think something so ridiculous about a mare as kind, gentle and loving as Twilight Sparkle?
A knock came upon the shop's door, snapping the fashionista out of her daydreams. She walked slowly to the door, ignoring the increasingly heavy beat of hooves upon it. How dense could that pony be? Could they not see the big 'open' sign in the window? Still, a potential customer was a potential customer, no matter how stupid, dirty or impatient they were.
"Hello, and welcome to Carousel Boutique. How may I help you?" she asked the stallion beyond the threshold. He wore a dark, double breasted-suit and carried a briefcase in his mouth. The earth pony stallion walked inside in front of the mare, an air of seriousness upon his face as he dropped the case onto an empty table in the middle of the room He sported a light blue mane and a yellow coat, his eyes hidden behind a pair of rectangular glasses.
"My name is Agent Bright Trottington of the Royal Equestrian Revenue and Tax Services," he spoke in a business-stallion demeanour. "You are Miss Rarity, the proprietor of this establishment, correct?"
The white unicorn sighed and nodded her head, dreading the day a member of the R-E-R-T-S would darken her doorstep. She refused to hide from the tax stallion, even if it meant losing everything she possessed. She still had her dignity, after all. "I am very sorry to say that you are at least three months behind on your rent, and you did not file your income tax forum last month. Might I ask why you did not file them?" he went on to ask.
"One can hardly file one's income tax when one does not make any income, Mr Trottington," she replied solemnly.
"Then I suppose collecting the missing two-thousand one-hundred and fifty-five bits is out of the question?" he asked, frowning as the mare slowly nodded her head. "Then I am afraid you are left with only two choices. Please, sit down, ma'am." Using her magic, the ruined tailor brought over two chairs to the table for them to sit comfortably. Even if she did not like the financial blood-sucker, she would at least be polite and lady-like.
"Now," Bright spoke as he pulled some papers out of his briefcase, "According to the Register's Office, your special talent is finding gems, correct?" Again, the white unicorn nodded her head. "Well, for ponies in your position, the Queen, in her infinite generosity, has created a system where deadbeat ponies can wipe out their debts by going into government service until they've paid it off. Now, since you are talented at finding gems..." he trailed as he shuffled papers, handing an information sheet to her, "you can go to work for the Mining Consortium."
Rarity looked at the government-styled brochure and winced visibly. "Are you joking?" she asked in a wild tone, "I mean, do you honestly expect me to go work in a dusty, DIRTY old mine to find gems just to pay back my debt? Are you out of your MIND? I'd ruin the pedicure on my hooves with all of that... DIRT and MUCK everywhere! I simply refuse!"
"Well, there is always a choice, Miss Rarity," the stallion calmly replied to her outburst. "You can either go work for the Mining Consortium, or you can go into military service. I don't expect they need any tailors or gem finders, so I expect you would be put on the front lines." Her jaw dropped, almost hitting the table. Before her were two options: each much more dirty and repulsive then the last. The stallion pushed forward a second information sheet, but she ignored it.
"And if I refuse BOTH?" she asked.
"Then you will be PRESSED into military service, where the penalty for desertion is death by firing squad. Surely, you don't want to be executed over such a small amount of money, do you, Miss Rarity?" he spoke plainly.
The unicorn's head swam, presented with a difficult choice: become a dirty, smelly mining pony, or become a dirty, smelly soldier who could be killed at any moment? Neither option was looking good for her, which opened up a third in her mind: she could always flee the country and be on the run for the rest of her life. At the very least, she would not have to worry as much about the dirt.
"However," added the stallion, "her majesty has given me permission to extend to you a rare offer, Miss Rarity."
"Oh?" the unicorn asked, feigning interest. Perhaps, if she could get close to the Queen, she could feed vital information to The Crusaders and help bring the titanic mule down once and for all!
"As a renowned fashion designer, her majesty has asked that, should you refuse the previous offers, that I give you a third choice. If you would prefer, she would like you to join her in Canterlot and pay off your debt as the Royal Dressmaker. You will answer only to the Queen, and service her needs and the needs of any pony she asks you to. This potentially includes the Prime Minister and members of Parliament."
Rarity bit her lip. As a dressmaker, she would not be able to seize any vital information. Still, the other two choices frightened her, like when a mare walked down the street wearing a GREEN dress when their palette CLEARLY called for cyan. She needed to do what she felt was best: not only for herself, but for her sister as well. "What of my little sister? I'm... all the family she has."
"If you take the third option, then there is more than enough room in the castle to accommodate her. Otherwise, unless she can find another place to stay, I'm afraid she will have to be put in an orphanage. Sweetie Bell is her name, correct?" he asked, flipping through papers. The white unicorn confirmed it softly for him. He pulled out a third set of papers, those ones detailing the work of the Royal Dressmaker.
"How long do I have to make a decision?" she asked as the stallion put some other papers he dredged up away.
"One week. Oh, and I must warn you: if you plan to flee, you face a minimum of twenty years in the dungeons of Canterlot for tax evasion. As well, your sister will be forced to pay off the debt in your stead. If you take her with you, then she will face a minimum of five years in jail for aiding a felon. Furthermore, Carousel Boutique would be owned by the township of Ponyville and Governor Ironhead. The fate of this property would be placed in his hooves."
Rarity struggled to think her way out of this mess, but she knew nopony could help her. Applejack had it hard enough on the farm, Pinkie could not spare a single bit, Fluttershy only made income from odd pet-care jobs and Rainbow... well, being a weathermare never paid well anyway. "I am sorry," the stallion apologized as he opened the door. "It's never easy to to see a pony's livelihood destroyed over something like money. I wish you only the best, Miss Rarity." With that, he was gone.
One week down the river of time, the alabaster mare stood inside of her shop, her remaining earthly possessions stacked on a cart just outside the building. A quick glance around gave an air of finality: all of her ponyquins gone, dust-drawn silhouettes of paintings, the corkboard slabs where she pinned up dress designs and desks outlined on the wall where grime (although she had no idea WHERE it came from) accumulated. A sigh passed her lips as she realized it would be the last time she stood inside her beloved boutique.
Everything was calm and quiet, almost disturbingly so as she made one last sweep of the building, just in case she missed anything important. Tears rolled down her cheeks, threatening to turn her azure eyes puffy and red as memories of better times washed across her mind. Wandering upstairs, she checked in the drawers of her vanity to find a large red bow tie studded in jewels. Her frown deepened as she remembered who she made it for. "Oh Spike," she spoke aloud to the empty walls. "Where have you gone?"
Quietly placing the memento into her saddle bags, the white mare continued to search for anything else she might have missed on her first pass. Every picture, every item she found stirred so many memories, yet she only had a little bit of room left. So, she had to make another hard choice: choosing to keep the pictures of her and her sister over the large, glossy photo of her and her friends modeling their gala dresses.
Below her, through the depths of the abandoned shop, the door opened with the jingle of a bell. She could tell just who decided to break up her moment: it was time to face the music. Rarity descended the steps, down to the lower floor when the voices started to drift across her ear. They were in the midst of a heated discussion, no doubt over what she had chosen to do.
Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Trixie and her own sister all stood at the bottom of the stairs, the small unicorn crying into the orange farmer's side. The five adults narrowed their eyes at her, silently demanding answers from the tailor. "Is it true?" Applejack accused. "Please, tell us ya didn't decide to go work for the Queen, Sugarcube!"
"I'm sorry, but... I have to do this," the alabaster mare sniffed. "I don't WANT to work for that horrible mare, but I have no other choice! It's either work for her, or dig for gems... or fight in the war. I simply can't do either of those."
"Rarity!" cried Rainbow. "You always have a choice! You could run away, go underground! As a general of the Crusaders, we can easily keep you hidden from the government!" Her look soured as the white unicorn made a face of disgust at the very idea. "It's a figure of speech! Sheesh!"
"Rarity, you can't leave!" cried Pinkie. "Twilight is counting on us staying together for when she gets back! She'll probably be sad and lonely, so we have to stay here together to make sure we can cheer her up! I mean, she probably feels really, really bad about the fire but she'll get over it one day and come home, so we need to be ready to support and lift her spirits! I'm already planning the party!"
"I don't..." the unicorn trailed. How could she tell them her suspicions? How could she let them down by speaking her mind? She took a deep breath and decided to damn the consequences. "I don't think Twilight is ever coming back. It's been six years. If she hasn't gotten over what she did by now, then she is... she is either dead... or THAT rumour must be true."
Silence (except from the occasional sob of Sweetie Belle) filled the room, giving rise to new emotions as the deepest, darkest thought of the tailor was laid bare before her friends. Each looked stunned, too aghast to speak and urge the unicorn that her suspicions were wrong. "If Twilight Sparkle is dead," replied Trixie after a couple of moments, "then Trixie will eat her hat: with ketchup and hot sauce too! That irritating mare does not strike Trixie as the kind to be killed easily. If she were gone, we would know it."
"The selfish horse has a point," the farmer added snidely. The blue unicorn looked a little offended, but she bit her tongue, if only because she did not feel like arguing at that point. "We can't give up hope, Rarity. The day we believe she ain't coming home is the day the Queen wins! Ah refuse to ever let that horse win, an' by creators, I ain't goin' down without a fight! We need ta stick together. We can hide ya if we must, if only so we can be around for when Twi gets home, so we can end her reign once an' for all!"
"Rarity?" Fluttershy quietly added. "Um... I know it doesn't sound like much, but... um... if you leave, then I'll be sad. The girls are right: if you leave us now, you're also abandoning Twilight when she comes home. Please, don't go out that door. Don't leave us when we need you the most. We're the Elements of Harmony, remember?"
"You're wrong, Fluttershy. We AREN'T the elements, we just... we just represent them. Have you seen your jewels around lately? I haven't and I put mine in a safe place only I know about! If the elements are gone, then that can only mean that... that Twilight is gone. She's either dead or, Great Plains forbid, no longer our friend anymore."
The other mares looked at each other, scuffing their hooves against the ground sheepishly. Rarity knew she struck at a couple of bared nerves by saying that, but she just could not keep her doubt contained any longer. It was killing her inside, but she had to do it, for the sake of her little sister and for the business she had taken from the hooves of her parents, which she built into one of the most respected dress shops in Equestria.
"Please, Rarity!" Rainbow cried, walking over to her, rare tears welling up in her rosy eyes. "Don't do this! I don't think... I don't think I could handle it! I represent loyalty, remember? If you do this, the others won't be able to trust you anymore! No matter what I do, I'd be disloyal to at least ONE of my friends. Please, don't make me choose, Rarity! Don't... don't make me choose."
Seeing the athletic and tomcoltish Pegasus on the verge of tears startled the alabaster unicorn to no end. Only once before did she see the chromatic pony outside of her usual boastful self, but that had been more nerves and fear of failure than seeing her friends break up. Even then, she had NEVER seen her cry before: not even when she had the worst of injuries or when the unicorn consoled her about losing Gilda as a friend.
Rarity bit her lower lip in trepidation. She really did not want to hurt her friends, but there could be no recourse for her. The alabaster mare could not handle the idea of digging through mud, killing innocent creatures, or having to remain hidden her whole life like a filthy criminal. "I'm sorry, Rainbow," she apologized, fresh tears welling up in her azure eyes. "I'm so sorry, but... but this is the only option I have. I don't WANT to do this, but I have no other choice! If I hear anything of value, I'll be sure to tell you all. Pinkie Pie Swear!"
"Ah'm sorry, Sugarcube," the farmer lowered her head. "But... but you can't be in the Crusaders no more. Not... not if yer gonna live in Canterlot. We just... we just can't have the risk of the Queen findin' out what we're up to. Ah motion a vote for dis...dism... for havin' her leave. All in... all in favour?"
"Aye," whispered Fluttershy, her head as low to the ground as it could get without touching it.
"Aye," nodded Trixie with her head turned away, unable to look at the scene anymore.
"Aye," Pinkie Pie sighed, on the verge of tears as well.
"Aye," Rainbow croaked, wiping the water that built up around her eyes away.
Applejack nudged the filly sobbing into her side gently, trying to coax her out of her sorrow. "Sweetie Belle? Ah know this is hard, but you need to vote. We'll accept any decision ya make, so don't you feel like you need ta side with anypony you don't want to, okay?"
The white filly sobbed into her friend's coat for a little while longer; trying to decide what was for the best. Not only the best for their fledgling rebellion group, but as a whole for the nation and the future. Forcing back her sniffles, she raised her muzzle above the fur coat so she could be heard. "Aye," she whispered, only to start sobbing heavily once more.
"Ah'm sorry, Sugarcube," she spoke honestly to Rarity. "But... with Twilight not around... that's majority." The white unicorn sat there stunned, not only at her friends being so ready to dump her, but the fact that her little sister agreed! She would kick herself for it later, but at that moment her feelings were too fresh to be left unstated, causing the white unicorn to go on a tirade.
"...how could I even THINK to call you my friends!?" she cried. With her rant finished she stood by the door, shaking form all the negative emotion inside her.
"Rarity, Please!" Applejack cried. "We've been through too much ta let it end like this! Just because you're not a Crusader no more don't mean we can't still be friends!"
"I didn't end our friendship, Applejack. YOU DID!" Without another word, she stormed out of the building, just in time to meet with the Pegasus guards who would escort her to Canterlot. That was the last time they would see her. They sat there for many minutes, each wanting to tear themselves away and chase after her, but they were rooted to the spot by their own self-pity and loathing for what they just did.
A few minutes after the unicorn stormed out, a pair of blue-vested guards entered the building and ushered them outside. By the time they were all herded to the door, the alabaster unicorn was gone, cart and all replaced by something else. Raspy breathing came from the shape in front of them, yet no air hit their faces as it laboured for breath. It was in the shape of a pony, but the hardened clay and smart suit gave away the golem's identity in an instant.
"By order of the Queen of Equestria, I, Lord Ironhead, Governor of the Township of Ponyville, do hereby declare this structure condemned. Any who enter shall be swiftly and harshly punished." With that, the nopony turned, trotting down the street with a clunk as each of his clay hooves impacted the cobblestones. The assembled mares went about their separate ways, each one expressing their sorrow in a different way. Each of them had lost another dear and valuable friend.
"Yet as the hooves of time move once more, the tale is found only halfway done," Rachana spoke into the darkness. "For, although Generosity had left their midst, even if those bonds had been stretched, they had yet to rip in twain. As much as the other elements tried to be rid of it, they could not deny the fellowship they felt. Sorrowfully, one element did not see the ghosts of the relationships she once held dear. She could not see that, beyond the circumstances, they would forevermore be friends.
"With Magic missing and her relationship with Generosity seemingly ripped asunder, Loyalty felt alone in her plight. Move the hoof of time forward but one year, almost three years before the day we left to start this tale, and you will see the events that shattered the Elements of Harmony beyond all repair."
Cloudsdale: the mystical floating capital of all Pegasus ponies in the land of Equestria. For at least two millennia, it floated lazily over the ground as a safe haven from most of the beasts of the world. The pristine walls and white clouds gave off an air of cleanliness and purity: as if nothing dark or foreboding could happen. It was easy to misjudge that floating city.
Rainbow Dash lay upon one of the many clouds surrounding the Pegasus sanctuary and looked over the edge at the ground far below her. As one of the three Pegasus generals of the Crusaders, the chromatic flier had the responsibility to keep an eye on the city and try to pick out new recruits who were weary of the contempt the Queen had for the ancient settlement.
Still, the Pegasus found her mind wandered away from her job quite easily nowadays, since she kept dwelling on that day almost a year previous. Ever since Rarity had left to join the Queen in Canterlot, she felt as if she were the rope in a tug-of-war. One side wanted her to find her unicorn friend and make amends, while the other told her she had to do her duty to her other friends for the good of the nation. She felt like she was coming apart at the seams, and began to contemplate jumping off the cloud, wings bound, to end her misery.
A thump beside her on the cloud barely registered in her mind as a second Pegasus joined her. Out of the corner of her eyes, she could tell instantly who the new occupant was. She had a striking mane of red and orange with a yellow coat and amber eyes. Spitfire laid down beside Rainbow, discreetly mulling something over as well, judging from the look on her face.
"Hey, Rainbow," she chirped in curiosity. "Is there something on your mind?"
"Same thing as yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that, and the day before THAT," she replied with melancholy. The two fliers sat upon the cloud for some time, the silence growing between them as they each pondered. The flaming mare wanted to lend a hoof, but she had no clue where to do so without appearing nosey.
"I'm sure once this is all over," she started, "they will be all too happy to welcome her back into the group. I mean, this war can't last forever, right? Plus, we're the good ponies, so we're sure to win out over the armies! All we need to do for now is be patient and wait for your friend to come home. Everything will be made right when she does. I'm sure of it."
Rainbow did not answer. She knew all of what her friend said was true, but she could not help a nagging feeling in the back of her mind: something that told her Twilight was never coming back. She sighed as she realized the captain of the Wonderbolts probably had something more pressing to talk about than filly feelings. "What did you need, Spitfire?" she asked.
"Oh! Right," the stunt flier replied. "Well, from my connections, I've heard that the Queen herself is coming to Cloudsdale to watch the Best Young Flier Competition the day after tomorrow. However, she's arriving later today for a royal tour of the city. You know, meet the ponies and throw off assassination attempts. That sort of thing."
"So?" Rainbow asked, honestly not in the mood to try and plan another covert operation against her.
"Well, for one, she doesn't make a lot of public appearances anymore. Secondly, we don't really know what she looks like because of that. Can't really assassinate a target unless you know what to look for, right?"
"Who cares? Just look for the great big alicorn with a crown on her head and a chip on her shoulder."
"I was thinking..." Spitfire trailed, unsure if she should bring up the touchy subject. "You know... we should see if that rumour is really true. To see if she really looks like... you know."
Rainbow pushed herself up into a sitting position with a sigh. She had to admit that she was curious, and it might just be the only time she could get a look for herself before they would face her on the field of battle, once Twilight returned, of course. She flexed her wings as a silent signal to the captain that she was getting ready for takeoff. "You pick out a good spot. I don't really care," she answered in monotone.
The amber Pegasus took to the sky before her, soaring like a majestic eagle, which was standard considering she belonged to the most exclusive fraternity of fliers in the nation. The rainbow pony could not help but smirk as she filed in right behind her, remembering her dreams of flying with her as a foal. Granted, she was still not a Wonderbolt: not yet, anyway.
Going over the majestic city, she could not help but feel a measure of pride swell in her chest, since she had not been to her home since she entered the Best Young Flier Competition herself those many years ago. The stadium where the event took place was just as pristine and immaculate as she remembered. In fact, the entire city seemed to be frozen in time, like a portrait where the ponies inside could move and live their lives against the eternal background.
Eventually, the two athletes found a spot along the marked route not crowded with ponies (curious, murderous in intent, ignorant or otherwise) clamouring to see the Queen. However, they had about an hour to kill before she would show her wicked face to the masses. Perched on a balcony overlooking the proceedings, the two ponies sat patiently for a rare glimpse of the spiteful monarch.
As the time neared, everything seemed to slow down for the speed demon Pegasus, which annoyed her more then she could ever say in pleasant company. Yet, for the sake of appearances, she kept a stoic look on her face, the only hint to her impatience being the rhythmic tapping of a hoof against the railing. Spitfire, meanwhile, gazed into the distance, as she would sometimes do while the two waited for something to happen.
After a few more minutes of incessant tapping, trumpets began to blare as Pegasus guards in gilded armour filed down the streets, blowing into their brass instruments. Ponies around the corner could be seen bowing, telling the pair of rebels that the Queen approached their position. "Remember, Rainbow," her friend whispered, "we're just watching, not dashing into battle."
Somehow, Spitfire could see her muscles tense as the very thought of charging in passed in front of her waking mind. She nodded to show her that she understood the warning. Still, it required all her willpower to remain glued to the spot as a golden chariot, pulled by four Pegasus guards rounded the corner. That's supposed to be CELESTIA'S chariot, the Pegasus thought in anger.
Rainbow's stoic facade would be put to the ultimate test as the rest of the carriage turned down the street up ahead, bringing the Queen into full view. Her eyes widened a bit in shock: now she could see how all the rumours made sense! Sitting upon the golden chariot was a large alicorn, her coat a shade of lavender that shimmered in the light of the sun. Her mane wafted in the solar breeze, much like Celestia's, except instead of a rainbow of soft green, pink, purple and blue, her mane went from the blackest of night at the roots, dotted with stars and faded through the colours of the twilight hour, ending with a soft sky blue at the tips.
Most striking of all, however, were the eyes the alicorn possessed. As she moved closer towards their balcony, Rainbow could see they were a deep, cold and unyielding purple, scanning the crowd with undisguised boredom despite the smile and slight wave of a hoof to the ponies. The Pegasus felt a shiver run down her spine and through her wings: now fully able to see how Derpy could make those connections.
The final nail in the coffin, however, came from where the Queen passed in front of the balcony, leaving her flank in full view. It took all of the willpower and discipline the Pegasus possessed to stop from crying out in pain. Her mark was an elaborate design of the sun, with a waning crescent moon closer to her rump. Around the sun, there were five small stars dotted around in almost EXACTLY the same positions.
All things considered, everything turned out well in Spitfire's opinion as the Queen passed their balcony. She did not seem to recognize them, so there was some good in that. Rainbow had her eyes trained on her from the moment she appeared around the corner, to the instant she disappeared around another bend. Obviously, she was serious about trying to see if the rumours about the Queen were true.
"So, what did you think, Rainbow?" she called to her friend once the festivities passed. "Rainbow?" Looking to her side, the Pegasus was gone, flying away from the scene. "Guess she was busy after all."
Flying through the sky the very next day, Spitfire read the quickly scrawled note with some trepidation as she and as many other Wonderbolts as she could find swooped across the skies to meet their appointment. She looked at the small note once more, hoping it was a trick: that Rainbow would not do something so rash. However, she confessed herself curious as to what her friend and long-time fan had planned.
Spitfire, the note read.
Gather as many Wonderbolts who are sympathetic to our goals as you can. We're going to need every one we can get. Today is the day we capture the Queen, or die trying! I have a plan, and I hope to the creators that it works. Be at the Rainbow Room of the Weather Factory by 1400 hours. Stars save the Queen; her end is nigh, the Crusaders Forever!
General Rainbow Dash
Behind the flaming stunt flier flew a well-sized squad of eleven members of the Wonderbolts and their reserves, all of whom wanted nothing better than to see an end to the terrible reign of the Queen. Granted, most of them were a little scared now that they were finally going to be doing something about it, rather than loafing around and complaining. Yet, the hatred they had for the monarch knew no bounds.
Spitfire turned the corner around the central spire of the factory, avoiding the dark thunderclouds being formed by the workers as they flew down to the Rainbow Room. The stunt flier laughed inwardly at the coincidence this posed, given that the only Pegasus with a rainbow mane would be waiting for them. At least, she hoped so, since there was still the distinct possibility that it was a trap.
However, all of those nagging worries vanished the instant the dozen professional fliers touched down, right behind the Pegasus in question. Spitfire walked up to her, placing a hoof on her shoulder. "So, what's the plan, Dash?" she asked, looking at the door the rainbow mare bored holes into.
"Just wait and see," she replied with an air of finality in her voice. Spitfire stood beside her, eyes trained on the door leading in, ignoring the worker ponies that stared at the sudden celebrity appearance. "Get those workers out of here though. This might get messy." Without another word, some members of the Wonderbolts acted on her orders, calmly ushering the neutral ponies out of the room.
Once they returned to formation, the door opened, a tour Pegasus and a dozen guards filing into the room, right in front of the Queen. The neutral Pegasus seemed taken aback by the sudden appearance of the entire aerobatic squadron. "Uh..." he trailed, trying to salvage the situation, "Might I present the Wonderbolts, your Highness... apparently?"
Both sides stood still, waiting for the other to make the first move. Surprisingly, the Queen herself acted first, stepping forward, causing her guards to stand aside in a slight panic. The flight squad shivered under her cold, murderous gaze, yet Rainbow starred back, meeting those purple pools. "I daresay," the Queen intoned, "there isn't enough room for a flying demonstration in here."
Rainbow tensed up at the voice, Spitfire noticed, as if a pony had put a clamp to her heart and twisted it cruelly. "Somehow," the Queen continued, "I do not think you have assembled here for a simple greeting, as regal as I may be. Well, GENERAL Rainbow Dash?" She chuckled as the Pegasus lost her composure, mouth opening wide. "Oh yes, I know ALL about your stupid little Crusaders. How foalish: to think you could ever hope to topple ME."
"How did you know!?" she gritted her teeth, trying not to let her anger overwhelm her.
"My Royal Dressmaker, of course," she smiled. "It's amazing what some ponies will say with a little whisky in them and a bit of magic to loosen them up, don't you think?" A wave of cold swept over everypony present, even her own royal guard as her chuckles echoed through the towering, empty room. "Now, did you come to surrender, or mount some sort of pitiful assault upon my crown? Well? Answer me, Ms. Dash."
"No, this isn't an attack, or surrender," she replied causing the Wonderbolts to gasp in surprise. "Not yet, anyway. I just want to talk. Please, you don't have to do this! Any of this! Yes, you made some mistakes: all ponies do. Just please come back. I know who you are..."
A frown spread across the queen's muzzle, but it was only for a brief instant as her eyes narrowed at the Pegasus, as if examining her under a magnifying glass. Content with the results of her search, she addressed her guard, "Destroy these traitors!" The white Pegasus ponies saluted, drawing hidden spears from the depths of their armour, pointing them at the Wonderbolts and the unarmed Pegasus.
"You don't NEED to do this! There's still hope. We're not mad about what happened in Ponyville. Really. We just... we really miss you. Please, come back to us, Twilight!"
"Who are you talking to? Surely, it cannot be me," the queen replied in a deadpan tone.
"I'm talking to you, Twi, you big idiot! Stop pretending you're this big, bad alicorn and come back to us! Yes, you made a mistake, but I forgive you! After all, you were out of your mind that day, weren't you?"
"You're raving mad, Ms. Dash," the queen calmly replied. "I've never known any sort of Twilight, except for one little pest, and I am not about to start knowing any more. Now shut up and DIE, you TRAITOR!" With a flash of her horn, a beam of light rocketed forth, slamming into the solidified cloud where the rainbow Pegasus stood. Using her natural agility, she tore herself away from the spot, tears streaming in her eyes as she shot off to the top of the Rainbow Waterfall.
"Please! Don't make me have to do this!" she begged, hovering over the fountain of rainbows. Another blast shot out of the alicorn's horn, nearly hitting the Pegasus, causing chunks of enchanted stone to fall on her head.
"The pony known as Twilight Sparkle is DEAD. I murdered her with my own hooves. She came to me later on the night I took power and tried to stop me," the queen smirked. "The screams were quite pleasant, actually. It's a shame I didn't keep her alive to torture her as a pastime. Maybe I'll do that with YOU instead, Rainbow Dash."
"NOW!" she ordered before plunging her head into the rainbow juice. All the Sorrel Hells broke loose as the dozen Wonderbolts sprang into action, quickly advancing on the dozen heavier and slower guards. The tour guide, smartly, decided to run away. Dash's head stayed under the rainbows for a few seconds before she pulled out, many colors burned into her face. "I guess I'm going to have to BEAT some sense into you, Twilight!"
"The name is EOS, you little cretin," the alicorn scolded. "Just what do you hope to achieve? An early funeral? Well, I will be happy to oblige!" Another blast rocketed from her horn, not caring if it hit guard or Wonderbolt as it squealed out to strike. However, the rainbow Pegasus began to glow and swiftly avoided the concussive blast. "What the---?" The queen was cut short, however, when something heavy impacted her side, sending her flying into the wall.
Next thing she knew, she lay against the wall, the irritating Pegasus standing where she herself once stood, aglow in a polychromatic aurora. She had no idea just what was going on, but she refused to be bested by a commoner! Her horn glowed once more as sharp tendrils of solid cloud shot up from the floor, hoping to impale the traitor. She moved too fast, shooting up and into the ceiling in the blink of an eye. Somehow, the rainbow juice had given her incredible speed and power.
Meanwhile, Pegasi buzzed around, paying no mind to the exchange between the goddess and subject. The Wonderbolts had underestimated the speed of the guards, for once they shed their armour, they were suddenly as fast as they were. I guess wearing that armour builds up strength after all, Spitfire mused as she tried to shake a rather persistent one off her tail.
Rainbow mustered all the speed she could, going as fast as light itself with the rush she experienced from the rainbow elixir. In no time at all, she was upon the queen, bucking her right in the face before blindsiding her with powerful swipes of her hooves. The ruler tried to fight back, but she was so slow that it was like she was standing still. The Pegasus circled around and rammed her in the ribcage, ploughing the monarch into another wall,
Royal blood spilled onto the walls as the force of impact jettisoned some out of her lungs. The queen struggled for breath as she picked herself off the floor, trying to ignore the pain in her sides, both her wings broken. It was then she realized that being immortal did not mean she could feel no pain. "Well, have you had enough, Twilight?" the Pegasus asked with a pleading look on her glowing face.
Her gaze was met with pure hatred, somehow paining her more than a thousand stabs straight to her heart. All around, Pegasus ponies, both Wonderbolt and guard, began to succumb to their injuries, blood staining the once alabaster floor of the room. "My name..." panted the alicorn as she stood, "is EOS!" She stood and charged, horn sparking with magic. Rainbow moved to avoid the alicorn, only to be swatted into the ground.
The queen was anticipating her tactics and teleported to where she knew the Pegasus would go. Only then did she smack her when she was unaware and smash her into the pavement. "I have bested BOTH Celestia and Luna. Do you think you stand a chance?" she gloated as she landed gracefully on her hooves. A stray Wonderbolt flew into her line of vision, causing her to electrocute him with her magic. He plopped to the ground with a thud, his uniform sizzling into his skin.
Spitfire watched with horror while keeping an eye on the guard she was being chased by. She needed to break away from the joker soon, so she could help double-team the murderous monarch. Any help to kill Queen Eos would be accepted by any sane pony.
"I've got to try!" Rainbow cried, charging forward with all the speed she could muster. Her muscles were beginning to scream in agony and her stomach turned over: the rainbow juice began to take full effect. Sure, it could give a pony a great burst of speed and power, but that was before it would turn to poison and kill the drinker (but only in large quantities, like what she had drank). But if it would knock sense back into her friend, then she would be glad to die.
Ponies dropped like flies all around them, either fleeing after they became too tired to carry on, or struck dead. Eventually, it all boiled down to four ponies: the Queen, Rainbow Dash, the guard chasing Spitfire and the flaming Pegasus herself. The orange stunt flier wanted to cry, but the tears would obscure her vision... but at least she would be with her felled wingmates again. No! Don't think like that, Spitfire, she chastised herself. Not when there is still a sliver of hope left in the world!
Seeing the other two warring mares gave her an idea. Soaring between the two combatants was very dangerous and risky, but her tail would also run the same risk. At every turn, she strove to dive between the Pegasus and alicorn, putting herself in the line of fire. Come on, come on! she thought as she dove once more. An eruption of electricity arced from the alicorn's horn, but she was too fast for it, making it hit the guard instead.
"Stupid pests!" the queen panted, sporting dozens of bleeding wounds and struggling to keep her breath. As bad as the ruler looked, it was nothing next to how Rainbow felt. They had been battling for what felt like hours. Looking around, the general knew it was just between her and the queen.
"Spitfire!" she called out to her friend.
"Yes, ma'am!" the orange mare cried as she landed beside her, in a ready stance to charge.
"Tell them... tell them we did our best. Tell them," she looked to her friend, rosy eyes watering with tears, "tell them that I'm sorry, but I just had to do this. I just had to try. Get out of here: you can't do any more good."
"But you've got her on the ropes, Dash!" she called out. "We can end this right now. We can..." spying the look upon her face, the flaming mare realized. "You drank the rainbow juice... didn't you!?" Her smile faded as her friend nodded solemnly. "No. I can't leave you!"
"Do it. Do it now! That's an order, Captain!" she cried as she pushed her out of the way of a spell. The rainbow Pegasus dashed over to a control console and slammed her hooves into it, causing the panel to short out as the amber one reluctantly fled the facility, her tears streaming into the wind. Alarm bells rang out all over the city, stirring the flying ponies from school and their jobs as a synthetic voice rang out.
"All reactor safeguards are now non-functional. The weather factory will self-destruct in three minutes. Please evacuate. This is not a drill. Repeat: All reactor safeguards are now non-functional. The weather factory will self-destruct in three minutes. Please evacuate. This is not a drill"
"What do you hope to accomplish?" Eos asked coldy. "We can always rebuild this facility, you foal!"
"Maybe so," grunted the stunt flier. "But it will take you YEARS, and you won't be able to threaten anypony with droughts or hurricanes anymore! Please, Twilight. It's not too late. Please, come back to us... c-come back to ME!"
"Shut up and die," the queen replied, charging up her horn. However, she was swiftly met by a barrage of attacks, doing her part to injure the Pegasus in turn, but not quite matching up to her speed and ferocity, even with a few good blows from her magic. Eos flew into a pillar, rainbow juice spilling on her as the vat collapsed, causing her to scream in pain as the hot substance stung at her open wounds.
She stood up, panting, eyes wild in pain and anger. No pony had even come close to hurting her as much as the Pegasus did. The alicorn stood upon shaking hooves, the waves of pain cresting over her, as if her blood were on fire. However, she could no longer hold herself, collapsing onto the floor in pain. Rainbow began to pant and cough up the substance, the colour beginning to drain from her as the poison took effect. She didn't have long, and she knew it.
"Danger. Core meltdown imminent. This facility will self-destruct in thirty seconds."
"Twilight, please!" she pleaded, the tears flowing freely from her eyes, splashing onto the stained floor. "You can still turn back! Don't leave us like this. I... I don't think I could live with myself if I didn't at least TRY to help you out of this... of this prison you built!" She dragged herself slowly over to her pained friend. The alicorn growled at her, in too much pain to move, never mind cast any magic. "Please," she pleaded once more as she stroked her wafting mane.
"Ten...Nine... Eight... Seven... Six... Five...Four..."
"I love you, Twilight," she croaked before pressing her lips to the queen's, savouring the last sensation she would ever know.
The world erupted into bright light. Spitfire, despite being more than ten miles from the blast, had to shield her eyes in order to keep from being blinded. In an instant, Cloudsdale was obliterated, wiped from the face of the world with the force of a million Sonic Rainbooms. A mushroom cloud of all colours of the rainbow rose miles into the sky, the blast shaking the ground as far away as Trottingham. Rainbow Dash was dead.
"... And so Rainbow, having failed to capture the queen, killed herself in an effort to take her with her. They say, to this day, the Queen still bears scars from the encounter," Sweetie finished the short version of the story, trying to hold back her own tears as she recounted her friend's final moments.
Twilight felt sick, as if she could lose the contents of her stomach at a second's notice. She quivered and shook in her seat. Rarity had betrayed them... Rainbow was dead... what ELSE could have gone wrong!? One part of her wanted to know, but the other just wanted to break down and cry for her friend.
"I have to admit," Dinky spoke, "that Rainbow Dash never did ANYTHING halfway." Looking at the unicorn, she could see her distress. "Let's leave her for a while before we tell her what the others are up to, okay?" The other three mares nodded silently, and filed out of the room, to leave the purple unicorn to grieve in solitude.