"How do I get myself into these messes?"
The mare asked herself this for the umpteenth time as she slunk along the wall. Her grey coat was lost amidst the grey-white rocks, but her dyed pink and lavender mane stood out like a spotlight. What seemed to be worse was the sheer lack of any deep shadows, as if the entire network of caves and hallways glowed with a silvery light. This lead Flourish to wonder, perhaps for the first time, if the moon was just a weaker sun. Were conditions different, would this have been the sun?
The idea of burning to a crisp caused the mare to shiver slightly before shaking her head. She had to force herself to focus, and such random thoughts weren't helping her in the least. Not that the Destroyer Imp sitting placidly in the large dome-shaped room beyond was helping either. She could see little way around it, as it had settled itself in the dead center of the room, content to just sit there. Additionally, she could occasionally see an Imp moving into her line of sight from the left hand side of the room.
The chamber seemed to be somewhat important to her, but she wasn't sure how yet, only that it warranted at least three guards. So for now, she continued to watch, tucked into a small corner of the hallway where she hoped she had just enough shadow to avoid notice. Fortunately, no Imps seemed inclined to patrol the passages, satisfied their lunar warrens were safe from any intrusion, and the only ponies to dare intrude had already been captured. However, that didn't mean she was passive, instead listening to the chatter from the Imps in hopes of determining how many there were.
Flourish had never really bothered to listen to Imps before, but found it mildly interesting. They spoke with strange, almost guttural, sounds interspersed with words from the pony language. Occasionally she could catch phrases of words, but they seemed strung together in nonsensical ways. It was like listening to a foreign language re-order words and force them to mean what they thought they meant. Still, "Luna galloping in socks" wasn't getting her any closer to helping her friends.
She was about to pull back and try another passage when the Destroyer Imp's head came up, its eyes slitting as it slowly looked about the room. Flourish pressed herself tighter against the wall and held her breath, hoping that by staying completely still the monstrosity would overlook her. For a moment, it seemed to look right at her, baleful glowing eyes staring as if it could see exactly where she was, then looked onwards. It's booming, rumbling voice reverberated through the hallway she was in.
The Imp's guttural voices seemed to answer and affirm the question.
It gave a slow, thoughtful nod, and turned away. With a powerful yawn it let its head dip to its chest. Flourish frowned, wondering if perhaps she had been spotted, but the Destroyer only began to snore. Flourish let out the breath she'd been holding, and then slowly, carefully, stalked forward along the edge of the wall.
She reached the corner and dared to risk sticking her head around the corner. Her eyes quickly drank in the room. Across from her, the passage continued, but to her left a small passage led to a partly hidden chamber. There was a sort of table made of rock sitting just before the entry to this side room, where a pair of Imps sat playing a game that involved different colored stones. Their focus wasn't entirely on the game, seeming more like an excuse for them to chat amiably amongst themselves.
Amusingly, Flourish began to see personalities for the two "guards". The one on the right, slightly taller and skinnier then its partner, seemed the more excitable of the pair. It gestured wildly as it spoke, dominating the conversation as it chattered on and on between moves of the game. The other seemed slightly less vocal, its voice just a touch deeper, and more prone to use pony words it seemed. This one seemed to listen mostly, tending to be more focused on the game (which she suspected it was winning). While she was watching, this shorter Imp made a motion and sound to its partner, who got up and did a patrol around the room. Flourish pressed herself more tightly into place, but the roving guard seemed so unaware that it blithely strolled past her, and all but leapt back onto the rocky stool it had been using. Flourish found herself wondering if they made everything out of the rocks about them.
Flourish continued watching for long, tense minutes, until another of those rounds. The timing seemed random to her, based completely on the whims of the shorter Imp. Still, when the Imp was up and moving, she got a clear look into the room they were obviously protecting. Given that the Destroyer referenced the Keys Silently Flourish hoped it wasn't some random pony word it learned, and teleported herself into the room the Imps were guarding.
She regained her bearings and dove to the side of the doorway, wanting to be well out of sight when the guard made his way around again. Unfortunately, the pink smoke of her teleport dissipated more slowly than she was happy with in the windless atmosphere of these moon warrens. She could only hope the roving guard would prove as unaware as he had been previously, but she didn't want to count on his partner remaining so should the smoke drift too far. She waited breathlessly as she saw the smoke dissipate completely, but when no alarm was raised, Flourish allowed herself to relax.
She turned to look over the room and frowned; yet another dome shaped room in a series of dome shaped rooms. However, this room struck her as a sort of guard outpost. There were a handful of "useful" things, most of which required the sort of claw-hands the Imps possessed, and that only Filigree could mimic, amongst some blunt sort of clubs and weapons. Upon the wall she spotted a heavy looking ring of keys. Flourish smiled at them they were hung from a hook mounted on the wall so that even the longest of the keys hung at least a foot over her head
It would be child's play to teleport up to the keys, and teleport away to her friends with the keys in tow. Her only concern was weight, and she doubted they would be so heavy that she couldn't lift them for a few minutes. She was just considering this when she heard the clicking of clawed feet behind her.
Flourish whirled about, and found herself nearly face to face with the shorter of the two Imps. She hadn't been as unobserved as she thought!! Flourish wondered if they had some sort of magic sensor or crystal or something that she had missed, but all questions were erased when the Imp roared at her.
The mare did a quick teleport away from the Imp, and the keys she realized sourly. The Imp's attempt to claw through her left it rending only a puffy pink smoke. Unfortunately the Imp's partner came tearing around the corner, and beyond she could see the Destroyer Imp stirring itself from its sleep.
"Sorry boys, I was just leaving," Flourish called to them, and dashed for the keys.
As she expected, the Imps quickly realized her goal and took wing to dive for the keys themselves. Flourish smiled, and teleported herself over the lead imp, dropping her hooves onto its back. She stomped downward on the back of its head, driving it into the rocky floor, and launched herself at the keys.
On a whim she turned in mid-air and blew a kiss to the imp, spinning around in time to catch the keys in her mouth and plant all four hooves on the wall for support.
The Imp HAD her, and it shrieked in triumph, but the mare suddenly vanished again in wisps of pink smoke! For a moment it was confused, trying to sort out exactly how it could have missed ?
Then it slammed head-first into the wall.
"There has to be one!"
"I'm looking, but I'm almost out of keys," Filigree grumbled at Clockwork, checking each key with the manacles securing Tome. The gryphon had been the first freed by Flourish, since the keys were easiest to manipulate with her claws. Since then, Filigree easily found the keys that would open for each cage and free the remaining three ponies. Galaxi was the happiest about being out, and the moment her flank exited the cage her psychic powers returned in force which she happily used to send the 5 cages flying into the far walls of the room, embedding them in the stone walls.
"They're coming," Flourish noted from her chosen station, standing guard by one of the two main entrances.
"Clear here," Spectrum answered, watching the other entrance as the remaining fillies worked to free the chained Alicorn.
"Just leave me," Trixie said softly.
"No," Clockwork answered firmly.
"Leave me!" Trixie cried, tears welling in her eyes, "Only Nightmare carries these keys I was hoping but Just let me die. The least I can do is sacrifice my life to make sure the rest of you escape."
"I hate to say it " Filigree noted, tossing the ring of keys onto the throne.
"Then don't!" Clockwork answered angrily, stomping a hoof "I will NOT leave Tome behind! Not after all of this!"
"I don't think we have a choice," Filigree answered, "We can't fight the entirety of the Imp forces ourselves."
"I won't leave her here," Clockwork hissed, her eyes starting to mist up, "I won't leave her here to be tortured anymore!"
"I've got an idea," Galaxi said.
"We don't have a choice. The Imps will force our claws hooves," the gryphon noted.
"Um, girls?" Galaxi tried again.
"Then you go!" Clockwork shouted, "I'll stay here. At least she won't die alone."
"Um hello?!?" Galaxi asked with a frown.
"You know I can't let you do that," Filigree frowned.
"Are you planning to STOP me?" Clockwork growled.
"WAIT!!!" Galaxi cried out.
"Huh?" came the collective response from Filigree and Clockwork.
"I have an idea," Galaxi said with a smile, and motioned to the throne, "Filigree, use your wings to cut free the secure point for the leash. The metal we can't cut, you tried that already, but you can cut the rock."
"What about the leg shackles?" the gryphon asked.
"We only need to break one ring."
"The one in the middle, connecting all four legs " Clockwork's eyes lit up, "Galaxi, you're a genius!"
"Best get on it mares!" Flourish called, and Spectrum moved to support her as the first Imps crashed into them. The pink horn-rapier slashed through the shrieking imps even as Spectrum forced them back physically.
The Gryphon wasted no time scooting around to the back of the odd throne to find where the ring was planted. It was connected into the rock of the dais with several heavy pitons which Filigree quickly was able to cut away the support for and yank out the mounting bracket for the "leash".
Clockwork backed off, feeling rather useless without her armour, as Galaxi set to work. At Galaxi's direction, Trixie spread her legs to pull the center ring of the hobbles tight, and the blind mare formed a small telekinetic tube inside the circle of the ring. She expanded it to touch the sides of the ring from the inside and then braced it on the floor with a wider portion above to prevent the ring from slipping off her construct. The rest was an invisible battle of growing force behind the mental construct versus the strength of the alien metal.
For several tense moments, it appeared as if nothing was happening. Instead, the only action was Filigree tossing the "leash" over Trixie's back and taking wing to help her teammates secure the doorway. The ring started to creak finally, and sweat began to bead on Galaxi's brow. With a sudden SNAP, the ring flew apart in multiple pieces, narrowly missing the ponies on the dais. Galaxi collapsed, only to be caught and supported by Clockwork.
"She's free! Let's bolt!!" Clockwork cried as Galaxi steadied herself.
Flourish motioned, "Other door!!" and the trio by the entrance began to run, the teleporting mare slashing a final imp before teleporting away. Trixie, pushed by Galaxi and Clockwork, started a stumbling run for the doorway as well. Were it not for her longer legs, she wouldn't have been able to keep up, but Clockwork kept pushing from behind, not letting the alicorn mare to slow.
Screams chased them down the hallway, and Imps began to swarm after them, reminding Clockwork as nothing more than a swarm of ants or bees. The Imps clawed their way along all sides of the rounded passages, flyers launching and diving along the open hallways. Occasionally the baleful light of one Imp's eyes would flare, trying to shoot at the retreating ponies, only to have its aim spoiled by the horde of its compatriots.
"I really wish I had my armour about now!" Clockwork shouted, skidding around a corner just ahead of an attempt to claw at her flank. She lowered her head and butted Trixie's backside again, pushing her faster. She had to mentally squash a worry that flared through her, as she suddenly wondered why there was air to breathe in these passages. It's not like the imps need air, so what would happen if they started draining the air out of the catacombs to trap them
"I'll slow them down!" Galaxi shouted, and turned to create a forcefield stretching over the entire hallway. The Imps slammed into the wall, piling up and smothering each other in their eagerness to get at the mares.
"Don't stop running," Filigree called, "They can get around another way."
Galaxi turned and began to run again, the field dropping and landing a number of imps on their own even as the rest pushed over them, heedless of their own.
"Does anypony know where we're going?" Trixie managed to ask between pants for breath, "Not that I don't appreciate the rescue but "
"We're almost there!" Flourish shouted, and teleported forward.
"Oh hay," Spectrum whispered as she rounded the corner. Trixie's eyes went wide when she noticed it. Clockwork let out a yelp when she saw it, and Galaxi gasped.
Framing the hallway before them, a Destroyer Imp stood, waiting for them. Its claws were outstretched, standing before the room where the glowing portal rested behind it. Its beak curled into a cruel smile, even as the group could hear the shrieks and cries approaching behind them.
"Keep going!!" Filigree cried, and dove forward, between its legs. Spurred by the motion, Spectrum charged herself, weaving to avoid the claws of the massive Imp. Flourish started teleporting at high speed, slashing her horn from place to place, drawing ichor from the Imp as she cut into its flesh. Clockwork got behind Tome and PUSHED, running fast and hard for the open path between the monstrosity's legs, with Galaxi creating a shield over them as they ran.
Filigree turned sharply and splayed her metal wings. She arched one out, catching the Imp at the back of one ankle, then dived across and cut with her other wing. Spectrum dashed around the Imp and hit it as hard as she could in the back, sending it tumbling forward and onto the swarm of Imps coming from behind.
"Through the portal!" Spectrum ordered, and motioned Steelwing, Flourish, and Galaxi through first.
A scream drew Spectrum's attention, and her eyes laid upon a handful of Imps who had managed to avoid the falling Destroyer and got a hold of Trixie, specifically of the Elements still impaled on her horn. Clockwork had her teeth on Trixie's tail, and was pulling with all her might. Unfortunately they were losing ground, and more Imps were coming.
"We need to move!" Spectrum called, and dashed forward, crashing a hoof into an approaching Imp.
"You want it that badly?!?" Trixie cried hysterically at the imps, and she brought her forehooves up before her face, "You can HAVE it!!"
Trixie brought her hooves down on her horn. A sickening "crack" filled the room, followed by a pained cry from the alicorn, her eyes filled with stinging tears. Then she did it again and a third time. With a sudden yank, the horn came free from its owner, and Trixie flew from their grasp. Her form shone with brilliant white light as the power of the Elements left her. The de-horned unicorn landed in a barely conscious heap right before the portal, now reverted back to her original form.
The elements, suddenly freed of their anchor, flew from the Imp's hands. With Trixie's horn still impaled within them, the Elements struck the far wall with a muted crunch. The gems shattered as they fell into a multi-colored pile of useless crystal along the wall of the domed room.
Clockwork yelped, bowled over from the sudden release. She rolled with the motion and quickly scrambled over to Trixie, standing protectively over her as the Imps dove at them. She gritted her teeth and prepared to buck at the closest Imp, but Spectrum intercepted it, and sent it flying into a nearby wall.
"Get her through the portal!" Spectrum cried, and whirled about to defend the retreating mares.
Flourish and Filigree made it to the other side of the portal, and unfortunately the scene that met their eyes was no less horrific. The Throne room of the Sister Princesses looked like a warzone. The domed ceiling had been breached in multiple places, and the late day sun shone through with an eerie red light. Luna lay unmoving on the dais by the upturned thrones, breathing but unconscious, near the heavily injured and prone form of Pyre. Celestia was facing off against the Nightmare herself, the latter laughing off the former's efforts; the Goddess of the Sun continually rebuffed by the cold fury of the Nightmare.
Somewhere in the middle of these two scenes, Galaxi realized they had a new problem. Without Trixie to power the Elements, the portal was collapsing!! Her powers reached out and gripped at it, struggling to grasp the edges and force it open again. The strain was incredible, far beyond what she had ever done before...
"I. Will. NOT. Fail. My. Friends." the mare growled through clenched teeth, her eyes glowing brightly as the star on her forehead flashed. Her eyes began to water, her head pounded, but her telekinesis finally found the edges and wrenched the portal open again.
The flash was answered by the shattered Elements of Harmony.