For Whom the Belle Tolls
[Warning: This chapter contains mild depictions of torture. Reader discretion is advised!]
'Doooong, doooong, doooong, doooong, doooong,' tolled the bell of the clock tower in Canterlot as it signalled the hour. Since time immemorial, the tower had measured the march of time's hooves. Every clock in every land around the world hoped in vain to keep pace with it, yet it endured the centuries and millennia in stride. Like time itself, it stood indifferent to the plights of others, existing only to keep track.
Queen Eos sat in her office, almost finished tackling the pile of paperwork that sat before her. Somehow, she always got a cheesy thrill out of completing her paperwork as close to the deadline as possible. Even from beyond the other side of the mountain, the clock tower's toll rang clear through the old castle. She groaned in frustration, with dinner being another hour off, she could not start any of her other favourite pastimes lest she become berated by her nanny of an advisor.
"If I knew ruling this country had so much repetitive paperwork, I would have let at least ONE of those idiot alicorns live, if only to shove it all on their plate and save the fun ones for myself!" the queen cried in frustration. Over the past week, the rebellions had grown some stones and sharply increased their activity tenfold. If their stupid little song was anything to go by, the lavender doppelganger's return signaled the end of her reign. "By the stars, I need a vacation! How DID Celestia do all this plop by herself for a thousand years!?"
She slammed her head into the desk as the stress began to overwhelm her. It was a good thing she was immortal, because otherwise she feared all the stress would have cut down her lifespan by a quarter of what it should have been. A knock on her door elicited a groan from the goddess of the sun and moon: more bad news obviously. "Enter at your own risk!" she warned, not in the mood for any visitors.
A sheepish-looking earth pony entered the office with Stardance filing in right behind her: definitely bad news. It took all of her willpower to stop herself from setting the both of them on fire in retribution. The earth pony spy walked forward, prostrating before the monarch in fear and respect. "A thousand pardons for interrupting your important work, your highness," she apologized. The mare had a pink coat and periwinkle mane, perfectly normal and beyond the sight of the creatures she spied on.
"Arise, Vivid Grain," the queen spoke. "What news do you bring from Draconia?"
"Earlier today..." she trailed, "Master Spike, the advisor on Pony Affairs... laid out a trap for a pony to fall into. They took the bait and are now in dragon custody, your highness. The... the dragons have captured Twilight Sparkle. As well, he said she confirmed... the... the unmentionable rumour..." She winced, and rightly so as a stony look swept over the purple alicorn. On the inside, she was screaming, wanting nothing more than to spray the spy's blood upon the carpet. However, her annoying conscience overrode her desire.
"You are lucky that I make it a point not to shoot the messenger, Vivid Grain," she spoke calmly. "You are dismissed, before I change my mind. Stardance? Tell the royal winery to send up as many bottles of the cheapest wine they possess to my chambers. Also, organize a strike team to extract that stupid unicorn if none of the rebels do so in the next week." The spy bowed deeply and exited the room as swiftly as she dared, the unicorn advisor becoming concerned.
"Of... of course, my queen," he bowed before vanishing in a flash of light.
Shoving her paperwork aside, the queen herself vanished from the office in a flash of bright magic. She was in no mood to suffer a walk through the castle to her intended destination. It was a large, expansive room created for the sole purpose of practicing powerful magic. The walls were as white as the rest of the castle, carved in thousands of runes to cement the spells that made it function. Eos screamed in anger and frustration as her horn glowed in lavender energy.
"STARS-DAMNED BUCKING DRAGONS!" she screeched. "Damn you to the Sorrel Hells, Spike, you villainous traitor!" An illusion of the baby dragon appeared before her, created by the room in response to her desire. She picked the illusion up and shook it roughly with her magic before she tore the limbs off of his body. Simulated blood flew everywhere as she scattered the limbs and severed head to the winds. "How could you do such a thing!? Didn't you LOVE us!?"
Hot tears seared the queen's cheeks as her mane and tail simmered in indignation, three fully-grown dragons emerged to replace the felled juvenile. She darted forward, impaling the nearest one with her horn before she ripped out his intestines and strangled the second one with them. Her eyes burned in pure magic as the tears refused to abate; the third suddenly exploded and rained blood all over the room, staining her lavender coat crimson.
Eos let out an infuriated scream as the other two dragons succumbed. "Why, Spike!? WHY!!! I was going to forgive you and let you LIVE after the war, but NOW? I'm going to execute you MYSELF, you TRAITOR!!!" The alicorn fell to her legs, the illusions washing away as she broke down and sobbed.
Why did she care? He did not betray HER; he betrayed the OTHER her running about. Yet, the thought that he would so easily condemn the pony that raised him stung. He had broken her heart... what little of it that was not shattered to pieces already. The tyrannical Queen of Equestria curled up upon the floor like a foal, wanting nothing more than to end it all: to be rid of all the pain and suffering.
Composing herself after several minutes, the mare flashed her horn again and appeared within her chambers. Twelve cases of cheap wine awaited her arrival. After casting a soundproofing spell upon her chambers, she pried open the first case and downed the first bottle in one magnificent gulp. Throwing it into the empty fireplace, the bottle shattered and speckled the carpet in glass. She continued the process with the first two cases before levitating the remaining ten.
Stumbling into her bathroom, the queen started running the water. "Ninety-nine bottles of wine on da wall, ninety-nine bottles of wine. You take one down and drink it dry," she muttered in a slur, drowning another bottle in a single gulp before casting it haphazardly into the tub. "Ninety-eight bottles of wine on da wall..."
A couple of minutes later, the water stopped running. The alicorn flopped drunkenly into her bath, crushing five bottles with her side. Even as her blood stained the water red, she did not care, for the dozens of bottles she drowned had numbed the pain from the shards of green glass. She righted herself and emerged from the water, sobbing gently in spite of herself.
Bottle after bottle became consumed by the greedy mare's lips, yet her vision did not even blur, even after consuming enough drink to kill half the royal guard. The new wound to her heart had opened up older ones, bringing back that day where she forsook her teacher and her friends out of foalish anger and pain. As much as she regretted thinking about it, she could have used the former monarch's wisdom and comfort, even if she had lied so horribly to her.
"Why did you do it!?" she cried out in anger, before smashing her newest bottle against the door. "Why did you have to sell her out like that, you cold-hearted lizard! Didn't I raise you better then that? Didn't you love me? If you don't love me, then... what point is there in trying anymore!?" she slammed her hoof on a standing bottle, frowning as some wine spilled onto the elegant marble floors, glass embedded into her hoof.
Eos turned herself around and started bashing her head against the lip of the tub, remembering the faces and the words of the friends she killed. "Although you may speak in naught but lies, I see Twilight Sparkle in your eyes!" the phantom voice of Zecora rhymed.
"I deserve thish," the queen croaked as she slumped into the red waters, her forehead bleeding into her eyes. "I'm a monster and this is the hell I get for my crimesh." In fits of depression, she could not help but let the reflection of the purple mare shine through the cracks. It was just as the zebra said: Twilight Sparkle was still alive inside of her.
"I did wha I had ta do... it was either going to be her or me! Damn you for lying ta me, Celescha! If you had been OPEN, then maybe thish whole messh would have never HAPPEN! Why did ya hafta lie to me? I... I loved you like a mother, but I was jus yer TOOL! I h-hate you sho much..." Letting out a heavy sigh, the queen's muzzle dropped below the surface of the water.
Eos spent the rest of the night (after drunkenly raising the moon) like that, soaking in a tub that slowly became saturated with her own blood. Even after drinking all of the wine, she remained alive and alert. Everything would be better in the morning, but for then, she just wanted to wallow in her own self-loathing and pity.
"Thank you very much, Commander," Dinky spoke before her horn terminated the communication spell. The orb in the centre of the table went out, casting the room into darkness before the hanging lantern sprung to life. "What do we do about this, Crusaders? Do we mount a rescue, or let events play out? It's obvious that they'll try to put Operation Jormungand into motion now that they have The Key."
"Don't look at me! This is YOUR fault, Dinky," Scootaloo pointed an accusing hoof. "You should have just waited out the night and brought her back to base. Then we would still have her! My contacts in the Bounty Hunter's Guild told me that FLUTTERSHY, of all ponies, captured her too. You basically let our trump card go! You're a big feather brain, just like your mother wa--" The orange Pegasus' eyes went wide as her voice seized, her throat sparkling with magic.
"We needed ta show her that she can trust us," Applebloom calmly replied. "O' course, there's the possibility that Fluttershy told her OUR plans ta shake that trust, but we didn' tie her up an' gag her with stupid ol' tree sap! Now, is this somethin' we let Sweetie Belle in on, or is it part of Operation Blackout?"
"She'll find out eventually, whether from us, or that snake of a sister of hers. Tell her so that she doesn't become suspicious. She might be a spacey moron, but she can be pretty sharp when she pays attention." With a flick of her horn, the silencing spell on Scootaloo dropped. "Third warning, Scoots. Next time, I take your voice PERMANENTLY." The orange Pegasus raised a hoof up to her throat, glaring daggers at the unicorn.
Skilled with communication magic, Dinky was the one who perfected the Conference Spell with the use of the focusing stones. As well, she created the telepathic communication spell, which had helped countless times on stealth missions. Furthermore, she could grant or deny creatures their voice and could even translate old texts, making her invaluable in finding the Divinity Drain spell that they would need to kill the queen.
"Captain Snails?" the orange mare croaked as she opened the door. "Please find General Sweetie Belle and tell her that Twilight Sparkle has been captured by the dragons. There is no news yet on any extraction plans." The dull unicorn saluted before trotting down the stone passage, prompting a sigh from the Pegasus as she slammed the door. "Even her ponies are stupid," she remarked before seating herself at the table.
"Maybe, but she's useful, fer the moment," the former farmer stretched, placing her hat on her head again. "Sorry, girls, but ah gotta use the mare's room." With that, the earth pony left her two friends alone in the room together. Sensing the meeting had officially ended, the blond unicorn pushed herself away from the table as well before the orange stunt flier followed suit.
Meanwhile, the white unicorn known as Sweetie Belle sat in her office. Like most other rooms in the Crusader's main base, decorations were considered a luxury. A simple desk with a conference orb sat near the far wall, pictures of landscapes and newspaper clippings of her sister's designs filled out the small space. Papers lined her desk as reports from different bases filtered in. As the head for Administration Services, she had to keep all the commanders in line, and it was a really hard task.
A sigh passed her lips when a familiar knock sounded on the door to her office. "Come in, Captain," she chirped before the mustard unicorn stallion made himself known. "What's up, Snails?"
"Um... General Scootaloo told me to tell you... that..." he trailed, trying to remember the message. Sure, he was not the most intelligent pony ever, but at least he was honest. "Oh! That Twilight was captured by dragons and that there are no ideas on how to rescue her." With a pleased nod of his head, he happily trotted out of the room, the door shut behind him automatically.
The white mare sighed as she realized she was once more not included in a meeting between her frie--- former friends. Ever since Rarity left to become the queen's Royal Dressmaker, the rest of the group kept her at a leg's length. They must have thought she was really stupid if they thought she did not catch on, but she maintained the appearance of staying in the dark, if only to stay with them. She would miss them too much, despite how easy it was to see her as a spy.
With this new information under her belt, the singer got up from behind her desk with a steely look of determination upon her face. Just because she was pretending to be a fool did not mean that she could not stand up for herself. At the very least, she would march up to the others and demand to be told when the next meeting would be. Of course, after the thirtieth time, she had her doubts that they would listen to her.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, the mare stormed down the halls of the base, ignoring anypony who saluted or greeted her out of the sheer anger she felt. Descending upon the mess hall, she stormed to the back to find Dinky, Scootaloo and Applebloom happily eating their lunches, none of them paying her any attention. "Ahem!" she spoke, as if clearing her throat. Yet, they continued to ignore her.
"This is the thirtieth time!" she nearly shouted. "Twenty-nine times before, I asked you to TELL ME when we had an impromptu meeting, yet for the twenty-ninth time, you three have IGNORED me! I might be forgetful at times, but I am not an idiot! I think you're hiding something from me and I am going to find out what it is! Unless, of course, you'd like to tell me NOW and save me all of that trouble."
"Can you please pass the hot sauce, Scoots?" Dinky asked politely.
"Sure, here you go," the orange mare chirped as she slapped the bottle into the unicorn's hooves. Sweetie looked between the three of them: all quite blatantly ignoring her. A tinge of red developed in her face, a shade that would have made Rarity proud. The alabaster mare gave a short cry of frustration before turning her back on the three ponies to work off her aggression on something else. "You think she's beginning to suspect?" Scootaloo asked as soon as she was out of earshot.
The other two mares looked between each other for a brief second in contemplation before they all chimed, "Nah."
A massive set of double doors stood before him, carved of gray and white stone to impress upon visitors whose domain they were about to tread. Draconic designs of gaping maws and carved bones of lesser creatures blanketed the slate canvas, hoping to strike fear into the hearts of the servants and other lesser beings. For beyond the portals sat the domain of the oldest and most powerful dragon in the entire world.
King Bluefire of Draconia, Keeper of the Eternal Flame, waited patiently beyond the doors for news. Spike gulped audibly as a pair of dragon guards opened the impossibly heavy carved stones with but a casual gesture. Entering the throne room always put him on edge, as it was nowhere near as bright and inviting as Canterlot. Taking a deep breath, the advisor stepped forward to brave the face of the king.
Although the castle had charms on it to reduce a dragon's size to near pony height (if only to save on building and maintenance costs) the throne room could still hold a fully-grown dragon at full height. Therefore, the room could not afford windows without having to add columns, which would obstruct the full sight of the ancient and regal dragon, which simply would not do!
A throne of pure steel sat under the towering gold dragon, buffed to an impossible shine that reflected every beam of light. A large red circle of intricate design served as the cue point for royal guests to stop, as it served as a trap door and was within convenient biting or burning distance from the aging king. Spike bravely walked into the heart of it and bent down on one knee before bowing his head in great respect.
"Arise, advisor Spike," the gruff voice of the monarch called out. The baby dragon did as the elder commanded, rising in as slow and deliberate a manner as possible to not startle a member of the royal guard. "You are just in time for Lord Backfeather's report on your catch. Please, stand off to the side for when he arrives."
"Of course, your majesty," Spike replied carefully. He walked off the symbol and over to the side, making sure to never let even a hint of his back turn to face the king. Bluefire was known for having a short temper and an easily threatened sense of pride. Taking his cue from the king, he stopped walking and turned to face him fully once more as they awaited the griffon emissary.
He shuffled silently on his clawed feet, always getting a little nervous around the imposing dragon. He never felt that way around Princess Celestia and she was arguably more powerful than him. Yet, she always carried the same warmth with her as the sun itself and genuinely cared for all creatures in her kingdom. Bluefire, meanwhile, only cared for the dragons, since ponies were less to him than the gems he ate for breakfast.
At first, he was thrilled with the opportunities and title granted to him, since he always imagined what it might have been like to live with his own kind, rather than being raised by a stupid pony. Spike quietly ushered the thought out of his mind, hating the fact that the dogma was slowly getting to him. Dragons proved to be extremely selfish jerks, now that he thought on it, but it was too late to turn back.
Lord Backfeather entered the throne room in much the same manner as the baby dragon did just a couple of minutes previous. He was a tall and proud (if aging) griffon with feathers of charcoal gray and white in his plumage. He prostrated himself before the king before speaking. "Our examination of the capture is complete, oh exalted one," he proclaimed.
"Excellent," spoke the dragon king. "What are your findings?"
"We bring tidings of mixed benefit and drawback, my lord. You see, after a thorough vivisection, we determined that the mare sent to us by Master Spike is NOT Queen Eos in disguise. Her body has no hints of such transformational or illusory magic upon her. However, we have determined that her magical abilities easily MATCH that of the late Princess Celestia. In addition, we can confirm that she is an advanced golem, so she is very durable and can produce a lot of magic in a short span of time. As such, she will be perfectly capable of aiding Project Jormungand as planned, my lord."
"Good," growled the dragon. "Break her using whatever methods you deem fit, Blackfeather. I want Jormungand operational in one week."
"It shall be done, my lord," he replied before retreating from the dragon king.
"You are dismissed, Spike." The baby dragon quickly followed the griffon lord's lead, bowing out of the room before wiping the sweat from his brow once the doors closed. Once free of the oppressing atmosphere, he let out a quiet sigh and started his way back up to his room. A strange feeling crept over him at the news that they would be breaking the golem spy into submission. He did not care, of course, since it was just a tool the queen had sent to mess with his head.
Eos had given it her memories, so of course it thought it was really Twilight Sparkle. He had to admit, it could even copy her mannerisms and writing perfectly. Not to mention that it had a disturbingly vivid range of emotions that it could produce to fit the situation. Still, it was all a trick just to weasel information out of him. The queen must have been really desperate to try such a sneaky tactic.
Opening the door to his room, the baby dragon groaned in frustration as Owlowiscious turned on his perch so that his back faced him. "Oh, don't tell me you actually bought that!" he exclaimed as he slammed the door. "That's not Twilight: it was just some stupid golem the queen sent to mess with us!" However, all that met his ears was an angry and irritated hoot from the owl. "Fine, be that way, you featherbrain!"
With another slam of the door, the baby dragon left his room, heading to the one place in the castle that would calm him down: the royal library. Granted, it was not as large as the one in Canterlot, and it mostly contained books written in Drakish, but he had been learning, and the quiet air helped him relax. "I guess Twilight rubbed off on me more than I thought," he chuckled to himself as he started browsing. Then again, when one was raised by a bookworm, one tended to become a bookworm themselves.
Everything was dark and cold to her as she lay on something solid, yet soft at the same time. For a couple of minutes, she almost thought she was back in the Pool of Midnight, having the life squeezed out of her. A shiver ran over her body as she inhaled, a deep, musky scent irritating her nose into sneezing. Twilight opened her eyes only to be greeted by a dark blur as a wave of pain washed over her.
For some reason, she could not remember how she came to be in such a sorry place, or why she felt sore all down her belly. The unicorn groaned as everything came into focus: the dark stone walls sharpening as black, metal bars appeared in front of them. She laid on a red-stained bundle of hay on top of stone matching the walls. A foul-smelling hole in the floor sat near her head. Her only source of illumination was a torch in front of the barred wall, the other three being pure stone.
Everything slowly started coming back to the pony the longer she remained conscious, although she wished that it had not. They... a bunch of small dragons and a griffon entered her cell some time ago and chained her to the wall. They carried knives and other strange metal tools with wicked grins upon their faces. She tried to fight back, but her magic was cut off by seven Mythril rings upon her horn and limbs. She cried out in pain as she remembered them cutting into her body, ignoring her agonized screams as they surveyed and played with her organs.
The lavender mare slowly climbed off the bed of hay and moved as far away as her chained legs would let her, putting as much distance between herself and her dried blood as possible. She whimpered and cried as she remembered passing out, only for them to place smelling salts under her muzzle to wake her up and continue the sadistic exploration. Although her golem nature kept her alive, she did not want to face a world where her beloved Spike (and everypony else) hated and feared her.
Try as she might, she could not get the images of the dragons out of her mind. They were fully grown, but they stood about as high as the princess. Either they were small by nature, or some magic on the building was at work. There were three of them, she remembered, a purple one with large wings, a green serpentine one and a blue dragon that looked like his scales were made of metal. Another shiver ran down her spine as she imagined their claws bloodied with her viscera and the toothy smiles on their maws.
Bracelets of Mythril around her legs cut down the circulation to her hooves, each attached to a short chain of steel mounted to the far wall. Taking a guess, she had about enough room to walk halfway across the cell, which she approximated to be three pony-lengths wide and seven deep. A narrow door in the bars proved the only entrance into the room, aside from a ventilation hole smaller than a hoof in diameter. There was probably only one exit from the dungeons, followed by a gauntlet of of halls and guards. Even she could not hope to escape, not with those dastardly bracelets on her legs and horn.
Twilight shook as a pang of hunger ripped across her tired and pained body, only then noticing a bowl filled with the most disgusting and foul substance she had ever smelled (besides the hole behind her). However, she slowly moved forward, her chains ringing painfully in her ears as she walked. The gruel was as gray as the surrounding stone and bubbled occasionally like Froggy Bottom Swamp. Taking a deep breath, she plunged her muzzle into the bowl.
To say the food tasted disgusting was to say being eviscerated felt unpleasant. The librarian nearly gagged the moment her tongue touched the foul substance, but sheer hunger and force of will pushed her on to eat. After managing to keep the horrible 'food' down, she dunked her face into a waiting bowl of water to cleanse her pallet.
Another shiver ran down her spine as the mare realized she could see her breath down in the depth of the dungeon. With no other recourse, she returned to the bloodied hay and buried herself under it to both keep warm and to hide in vain in case a guard or torturer came back. She curled up into a tight ball under the blanket of hay, her mind quickly wandering to how she had come to be in such a horrible situation.
Oh, Spike, she thought as soft sobs echoed all around her. How could you... how could you DO such a horrible thing? Don't you love me anymore? Even if I really was that awful mule, how could you so easily condemn me to such a fate? I gave you everything... I loved you like a little brother... I raised you, and this is how you repay me? I guess I can't be surprised... considering Fluttershy, Pinkie and the girls. At least Trixie hasn't changed.
A loud clang down the hall beyond prompted the mare to quiet herself as the sound of claws upon stone met her ears. She prayed silently that it was just a guard coming to check up on the other prisoners... if there were any others. Another shiver crept across her spine, the hay doing nothing to ease the oppressing cold she felt all over her body. The mare welded her eyes shut, too tense to even look.
Thankfully, the sound of the claws moved past her cell door, down to the other end of the hall and back before the door shut with a thud. Twilight poked her head out of the pile of hay, genuinely thankful she had somewhere to hide. She had never been in jail before... unless she could count being confined to her room for twelve days for breaking an antique vase as serving a sentence.
"Why me?" she moaned to herself as her voice echoed through the chambers. "Why is it always me?" However, no pony, or creature spoke, causing her to worry that she was alone in the dungeons. Sure, being around others did not change her position, but at least she would not be lonely for long stretches of time. "Hello? Anyone there?" she called out, hoping that something would answer as opposed to her delusional chatter. She sighed as she realized how alone she really felt.
A short while later, the door at the end of the hall burst open, startling the lavender pony into hiding in her hay bed once more. A series of clicks sounded down the hall, causing her to quiver and whimper in fear at the memories form the nightmare before. All too soon, the clicks stopped... right outside her cell. "Well, well, well," chuckled a voice she immediately recognized as the griffon's. "It looks like somepony's awake. Good. Bring her out here: we're going to have some fun!"
Four armoured dragons entered the chamber: she could see them through the hay as they passed one-by-one through the barred door. They quickly surrounded her so-called sanctuary, snickering through their razor-sharp teeth. A claw dug into the grain fortress, making the mare yelp in surprise as they pulled her roughly out and back into the deeper cold. "Let me go!" she cried out in vain as she struggled against their iron grip.
The five creatures present laughed at her struggles as they used their magic to pull the chains off her bracelets without damaging them. From there, they used special hooks on each bracelet to link them together to keep her squirming to a minimum. Twilight tried to call out for help as tears streamed down her eyes, quickly becoming tired of being utterly helpless.
One of the dragons lifted her over their shoulder, the armour combined with her own weight putting tremendous pressure on her spine. However, she would not go down without a fight. She grunted and struggled, trying to use her horn as a weapon since she was robbed of her magic. Yet, the plates were too thick to pierce or even scratch, beyond a slight scrape.
The griffon following at the end of the group smiled and chuckled at her plight. "Aw, the little pony thinks she can actually escape? How cute," he grinned. Although she could only see behind the group (and upside-down to boot) she could tell they were heading for a door down the opposite end of the hall from the exit. Tears welled up in her eyes despite herself as she realized they were taking her into a torture chamber.
Her struggles renewed themselves ten-fold as she was taken into the room. Dried blood coated the floor and some of the walls that she could see. Iron maidens, metal sawhorses, waterboarding benches, beds of nails, the typical rack and even a Brazen Bull of all things lay within the chamber, just to name a few. The griffon smiled as he saw her survey their line of devices. "Oh, don't you worry. You're lucky enough that you'll be able to try out ALL of our little toys. First, however, we've got something special," he smirked.
Twilight was thrown roughly onto a flat, hard table before being rolled over to lie on her back. After separating the bracelets, they held her down and secured her front legs to light blue clamps on the table. The mare cried out as they dislocated her hind legs to put them in the binds, probably seeing her as some sort of toy since they knew she could not die of normal means. She cried from the pain as they tightened the braces, digging into her flesh with their sharp edges.
The griffon walked forward, pulling off an amulet he wore around his neck. "Now, as a unicorn, I'm sure you're familiar with Runite," he grinned at the look of horror that dawned upon her face. "Good, then I don't need to explain why this happens!" He took the amulet and pinned it to her chest, causing the purple pony to cry out in a bloodcurdling scream.
It felt like her body was on fire as corposant scoured her very soul. Twilight screamed and bucked in vain against the stiff clamps, tears streamed down her eyes as she strained her vocal cords. Although he only kept the magic amulet against her coat for a couple of seconds, it felt like an eternity to the mare. When he finally released her from the pain, she slumped against her binds, panting as if she had done the Running of the Leaves ten times over.
"That looked like it hurt," the griffon chuckled. "I've never seen a pony react so strongly to it. You must have a lot of magic built up inside of you. That's good. We could do this non-stop and have you broken in only a couple of hours... but where's the fun in that?" He looked to a corner of the room, ignoring her pained sobs and nodded in gesture for an item. In the meantime, he placed the amulet on her again, casting the mare into a world of pain and agony once more.
As soon as the insidious beast lifted the amulet from her body, she relaxed again by reflex. However, without so much as a moment to breath, a large weight crashed into her chest which made her cry out in pain as blood spewed from her mouth. One of the dragon guards carried a large, wooden mallet, holding it for her to see as she coughed up blood, a wicked smile on his face. Before she could even make note of her broken rib, the griffon placed the amulet on her once more.
Between applications of the amulet, they would do something else to make her feel the most pain possible with the least damage so she would not pass out. Sometimes, they would hit her various other body parts with the mallet, other times they would chop off just a little bit of her hoof or her ear, Worst yet, they would make her drink a foul concoction she swore consisted of hydrochloric acid. The cycle continued for hours, until they tired of her screaming. She was growing to welcome the idea of death.
Trixie sighed in a mixture of anger, frustration and weariness as she climbed up the steep road to the top of Wyvernis Castle. Security checkpoints had stripped her of her caravan and most of her aids despite her protests that they were merely props for her show. Needless to say, the guards refused to listen to reason and took them away. In fact, all she had left was her hat, cape, doll and the magic in her horn as they would give her caravan back after a more through inspection.
Obviously, some creative ponies had tried to kill the dragon king before. The only reason they even let her pass without the proper identification cards was because Spike had forwarded a description of her appearance and some questions to test her with. When it came to questioning, dragons almost literally took it to the third degree. Pun aside, she hoped it would be a one-time show.
The blue unicorn nearly collapsed the very instant she arrived at the castle gates, having to pause for several minutes to catch her breath and for another security check. Not even Canterlot had security that tight for something so casual, not that she had any personal experience, of course. Once they finished frisking her for any concealed weapons (one of them getting a little fresh with her hindquarters) they waved her through the gate.
Standing on the other side was the purple and green juvenile dragon, a genuine smile on his face as he walked up to her and gave the azure mare a brief hug. He stood taller then she remembered; as tall as her from hoof to the top of her horn. "Hey there, Trixie," he greeted. "How have you been? How was the trip up? I hope the guards didn't go too rough on you."
Turning to face the front doors, the mare and his guest went into the castle, talking as they walked up to his room. "Performances have been going well. Then again, I am The Great and Powerful Trixie. The guards coming up, however, are insufferable. It's like someone jammed iron rods so far up their rear ends that they have become their spines. One of them even had the AUDACITY to cop a feel of Trixie's glorious flank!"
"Sorry to hear about the guards, but they pretty much have to be that way after a couple of disgruntled worker ponies came to assassinate the king under the pretence of being performers. They were hung from the gallows the next day," he spoke dispassionately. It took the pair only a couple of minutes to reach his room, to find Owlowiscious asleep on his perch with his head nestled inside his wing.
"So, where's Twilight?" Trixie asked quite bluntly. "Let me guess: she's in the library to take advantage of the rare opportunity to read about draconic magic?" She giggled at her own joke, the sight actually very easy to imagine, considering the mare. If there was one thing that surprised her about Twilight, it was the fact that she did not need glasses with all the reading she heard she did.
"Sorry, Trixie but..." Spike trailed, trying to find the words to gently tell her she had been deceived. "Twilight's not here. Not the real one, at least. The one who visited you was all part of an elaborate ruse by the queen, the REAL Twilight, to spy on us dragons."
"I know I was joking, Spike, but that's just not funny," the magician huffed.
"Look at this face," the young dragon replied. Indeed, his face was deadpan and devoid of any emotion at all. It startled the blue pony; that much was for sure. "I am not joking."
"I call horseapples on this! Vinyl would not be hunting a false bounty, Spike! Besides, there is no WAY that Twilight Sparkle could be Queen Eos."
"She practically confirmed it. I have over two dozen eye-witnesses to support my claim. Queen Eos made a golem of Twilight, stuffed her memories into her and then sent her off to fool everypony and spy on us all!"
Silence hung in the air for many minutes, the tension so thick that the sleeping owl had woken up to figure out the source of it. Trixie surveyed the baby dragon from spines to tail, boring holes into him once their eyes met. "What. Did you. Do with her?" she asked, speaking very deliberately through clenched teeth.
"The GOLEM is being... coaxed into cooperating with us on a matter that is of no importance to you, pony."
"Pony? PONY!? How DARE you, Spike! I thought we were friends, you scaled little cretin! Then again, I shouldn't be surprised, since you're TORTURING the very pony that raised you from a hatchling! Let me tell YOU something, you over-grown lizard! If she's a golem spy sent by the queen, then how come she knows things about me that I have never told any living soul about!? And don't you dare say she used a mind-reading spell because unicorns can feel when one is being used on them, and I didn't feel it!
"She's from another world, another timeline or...or somewhere odd like that! There is no way the Twilight Sparkle I sent over to you, the one you have been torturing in the dungeons, is Queen Eos!"
"Oh yeah?" Spike asked, his tone becoming defensive and childish. "Just prove it!"
"Gladly!" she nearly shouted. "The Great and Powerful Trixie is the heir to nopony other then The Great Hairy Hoofdini. She has told nopony this because... well, she feels ashamed that for the longest time she humiliated ponies rather than having them love her magic! That librarian knew it, even how I FEEL about it! Did you know that HE gave Trixie this hat and cape? Twilight did, and I never told anypony about that either! She didn't hear my beloved Bella's NAME yet she still told me it off the top of her head! She IS Twilight Sparkle!"
"Y-you're kidding, right? Please, tell me you're joking!" The young dragon cried out as realization began to hit like a ton of stone.
"Look into my eyes, Spike," she added sternly. "The Great and Powerful Trixie is NOT joking."
Spike stumbled back and collapsed on his bed, his jaw open in a mixture of shock and disgust, mostly towards himself. "Oh, my gods! W-what have I DONE!?"
Overall, it had been about five days since the capture and examination of Twilight Sparkle, just the day after Trixie arrived to do her show. Although the baby dragon was not privileged to know her status, he overheard two dragons working on Operation Jormungand. Through their coded speech, he came to the conclusion that they were ready to go: waiting only on the king's approval to test fire the weapon.
Wisps of smoke and flashes of magic filled the throne room earlier that day as the showmare put on her best for the dragon king. Much to her chagrin, he was amused by the performance, but nowhere near impressed by the illusionary prowess of the unicorn. Trixie had even adjusted her stories to be more in-tune with dragon culture by placing the dragons on a higher pedestal then the ponies.
"... stupid, arrogant and all around ill-mannered!" the magician ranted in her friends' room. "He didn't even clap derogatively! What a cranky old, over-grown lizard!" Spike, meanwhile, just sat on the edge of her bed, letting the azure pony go, since he felt much the same way. For a long time, the king had hinted that he only kept him around because he was useful. Yet, if Jormungand was complete, he would not need him anymore... and when he did not need someone anymore, they usually wound up dead.
"Trixie?" he asked through her rant. "Are you about ready to go? I mean, if we want to do it, we'd better do it now, before it's too late." The blue pony stopped, looking out the window into the inky blackness of the night sky, only interrupted by the hundreds of stars on its canvas. Owlowiscious had flown on ahead to her caravan so they would not have to contend with unnecessary questions.
"Yes, The Great and Powerful Trixie is ready to go," she responded before her horn started glowing. Her body bubbled and twisted as she took the shape of a high-ranking dragon: one who had unlimited access to Jormungand, but whose presence at that time of night would not rouse immediate suspicion. She towered over Spike, bearing orange scales, large wings and a bad attitude. "How's this?" the dragon impostor growled.
"Perfect!" Spike chirped. "You look JUST like old Sabretooth! I just hope it's enough."
"We just need to get in for two minutes, little one. It will not be of consequence for long."
A chuckle overcame the baby dragon, despite the apparently old and imposing dragon in front of him. "You even have his mannerisms down! How did you DO that?"
"Years of experience, Spike," she growled. "Trixie has a gift for reading ponies just by their appearance. It works most of the time, but for ponies like Twilight... Let's just say I never expected her to wield so much power." Without another word, the disguised unicorn and the baby dragon walked down the halls of the castle. The pony could not help but smirk as the draconian and pony servants alike bowed to her like royalty.
However, a nagging thought in the back of her mind made her silently panic at the possibility that the REAL Sabretooth might make himself known, or that the guards would know where he really was. Still, it was far too late to turn back now, especially when some horrible, unknown fate awaited her sister. Sister: the word was so foreign to her, yet she could not deny that it felt... right.
She calmly followed Spike down into the basement, doing her best to maintain the illusion that she was leading him instead. A couple of the guards quirked their eyes at the pair, but mostly towards the baby dragon than the impostor. It was only then that Trixie remembered that most dragons could detect lies, causing her to gulp silently as they approached the guarded door at the end of a long hallway.
"Lord Sabretooth," the guard nodded. "What is the little one doing with you at such a late hour? Should he not be asleep on his little PONY bed? Or are you down here to beat some sense into him?" The guard and his partner chuckled at Spike's expense, the baby dragon not amused in the slightest.
"No nothing like that," the impostor chuckled. "I simply wanted to show the pony-lover what has become of his very first catch." She made a toothy smirk, eliciting some more chuckles from the guards. If only she could get a break, she would be a star on Broadway. "Now, if you will excuse us, we will only be a couple of moments, just long enough to let it sink in."
"Of course, sir," the second guard chortled. With a casual flick of their wrists, the door opened to reveal a second set immediately behind them. Once the door shut, she looked to the baby dragon. "Double lock system? Who knew?" After speaking, the second set of doors opened to reveal the room beyond. Both the baby dragon and the imposter's jaws dropped at the sight that met their eyes.
A massive dragon head hung from the ceiling, the gaping and toothy maw grinning at them. For a brief second, they both thought it was real and fully-grown before the lights kicked on. Its eyes were dark, vacant sockets as the head glistened and shimmered in the light of the magical torches. Elaborate designs were etched into the bronze plating, every scale crafted in pain-staking detail. The mouth of the beast held runes and devices the unicorn could never hope to understand.
Shaking themselves from the awe, the duo carefully checked the room to find that no creature else remained inside. Since their work was complete, the dragons working on the weapon did not need to stick around after the lab closed down for the day. Once convinced that they were alone, Trixie dropped her illusion as maintaining the spell was beginning to tax her. The hunt for Twilight commenced.
Immediately behind the face of the dragon was a mass of strange looking machinery all centered around a glass tube. Trixie's heart jumped in her chest as she raced up the metal catwalks with Spike in tow, their hooves and claws clanging loudly on the corrugated metal. They ground to a halt at the top, looking inside the tube: what they saw made them gasp and take a step back in shock.
Inside the tube was the shape of a pony unicorn, although it was hard to see how it could have ever been the lavender mare. Every inch of her body was a dull brown, almost like hardened clay, including her orderly mane and tail. She lay on the floor dejectedly, her eyes half lidded and absent their normal amethyst hues, darker lines of clay under her eyes which showed where tears still flowed from the empty pools.
Attached to her body were large suction devices, with black tubes connecting them to the rest of the machine. Despite the arcana-obscuring glass, Trixie could sense they were sucking out all of her magic, leaving the golem just barely alive so that she could produce more, obviously the machine's literal source of power. "This is... This is barbaric! We have to do something, Trixie!" Spike cried out, tears streaming down his cheeks.
With a charge of her horn, a tiny purple unicorn doll floated out from under her levitated magician's hat. Since her beloved Bella looked so much like her anyway, it did not take a lot for her to shift the doll's appearance into a vivid doppelganger of Twilight Sparkle. After the illusion was complete, the lavender doll shimmered and glowed as a portion of the azure mare's magic was poured into it. "There," Trixie panted. "That should buy us some time, since I'd bet my left hoof an alarm will sound if it doesn't get any magic. We'll have to move quickly."
Nodding his head, the dragon used all the strength he possessed to lift the thick and heavy glass wall between them. Trixie manipulated the magically-charged doll into roughly the same position as the (now brown) unicorn. With a flick of her horn, she quickly manipulated all of the suckers off of her body and onto the fake Twilight. Yet, her horn did not die down as she quickly cast an invisibility spell and a featherweight spell before lifting her onto her back.
"I should have just enough magic to spare to put that illusion back up for a minute or so. Let's move!" Without another sound, the mare and dragon rushed to the door with the golem on the other pony's back. Just before passing through the double set of doors, the azure mare activated her disguise, laughing as the door opened. "Soon we'll win out over the ponies, just you see, Spike!" the impostor slapped him roughly on the back as the young dragon began to chuckle uneasily.
Sure enough, the spell lasted just long enough for them to round the bend and emerge from the basement, Twilight still invisible on her back. Thanking their lucky stars, the two saboteurs fled the castle as quickly as they dared without drawing attention to themselves. The dragons at the checkpoints paid no mind to either of them, as they were more concerned with keeping ponies out, rather than not allowing them to leave.
Hooking herself up into her caravan, the azure mare pulled away from the castle in a light canter, sweat running down her brow from the magical and physical effort she just put herself through. Meanwhile, Spike attended to the still invisible Twilight Sparkle, both of them hiding under the stage in a crawlspace the showmare designed to house her lights and to safely launch fireworks.
No further checkpoints could detect the trapdoor in the stage, as with every checkpoint she had to cross before. Trixie smirked as they left the town and castle behind, although she had to admit that a small part of her regretted leaving her oldest and dearest foalhood toy behind. Yet, life would not be what it was unless it required a few sacrifices.