Chapter Twenty Two - The Elements - Mona
It had been a terribly long journey, and we had undershot several times, but it was time. We had arrived.
Despite literally everypony’s near-constant whining, which I’d almost caved into on more than one occasion, I was finally satisfied that we wouldn’t set off any magical traps if we brought the Nebulous up next to Mona, or as I’d taken to calling it privately, Saddle Comet. I didn’t know if Mona was actually the chunk of Equus which belonged where Ponyville’s Saddle Lake was, but it was about the right size. And I didn’t know any other lakes by name.
Anyway, Twinkleshine and I brought the Nebulous in at a snail’s pace compared to how quickly we’d been approaching before and eventually slowed the ship’s velocity to zero relative to the comet. The gravitational forces were practically nonexistent, so we let the Nebulous come within a couple dozen meters, just far enough away to get a good view of the surface.
We’d noticed before when we were still far off, but up close, it was obvious that passing by the sun had done a lot of damage. The very top level of the comet had managed to retain enough water to have a slight frost, but underneath that, the rock had obviously melted. The core – where the elements likely were – was probably unchanged by the heat, but even if the entire comet had vaporized, I suspected the elements would’ve emerged unharmed out the other end. Magical artifacts, especially the powerful ones, had a tendency to be hard to destroy.
“Now? Pleeeeease?” Twinkleshine begged.
“Argh! Just wait a little longer! You’re all driving me crazy!” I had noticed that some of my mane was out of place, and that was a bad sign. If they kept pushing, I was tempted to let myself burst into flames and start raining fire down upon them. “I’m casting the spells, so everypony just back off.”
“Yes!” Twinkleshine chorused with Dash, high-hoofing each other.
“How much longer?” Cherry Berry asked, apparently not understanding what ‘back off’ meant.
I managed to see another strand of my mane pop up in the reflection off my ship’s nice, polished, undemanding floor.
“Are you all foals?” I shouted.
Spike and Berry Pinch linked arm and leg, together replying, “We are!”
“Argh!” I teleported myself into my flaring chamber and quickly put up a teleport ward. I doubted that Chrysalis would be cruel enough to actually teleport everypony in after me, but for my sanity’s sake, it was better to be safe than sorry.
I finished casting the spells that would let us walk on the comet in peace: a gravity spell which was directed toward the center of the comet at some maximum range, a personal bubble of air for everypony, a ventriloquism spell between everypony, some air conditioning to make sure they didn’t overheat, and a similar protection to make sure the comet didn’t freeze their hooves. Same old, same old. Dash had flown – for certain definitions of flying – through space often enough that I had that all down pat.
Of course, I didn’t know if there were any wards in place inside the comet, so I had to jump through a few hoops for the gravity spells. I couldn’t just fix a point in space relative to the comet with magic; that might be able to be detected. Instead, I fixed the reference point to the Nebulous and made the direction of the acceleration vector a function of distance to the comet.
Upon reflection, it wasn’t surprising how much of a pain it was to rob an alicorn safely. We were parked next to a comet many, many AU from Equus, after all.
I took a few extra minutes to relax and calm down. I’d sat through far too much foalish pestering to trust myself not to blow up at everypony if I went back right away. I also teleported a little bit of the extremely small supply of chocolate we had from the kitchen. I didn’t really feel guilty about it, either; I totally deserved a treat at this point, and if everything went well, we’d be heading home soon. Besides, the cocoa trees were about to bear fruit again, anyway, if Pinkie Pie’s report were to be trusted.
Alright. I gave myself a quick slap on the face and took one last deep breath. With a teleport, I threw myself back to the rabble.
Before anypony could start up, I said, “Okay, we’re ready to go. Two things to mention before we do.”
I preemptively silenced the usual suspects with magic as they all started to protest at once.
“First, if you can fly, don’t fly too far from the comet, or you’ll lose your artificial gravity. Because of how I put the spell together, you’ll notice it pulling you in a strange direction before you get too far away. If you ignore this warning anyway” – I glanced at Dash – “you still shouldn’t go too far away. I doubt you’ll get lost, but I don’t want to spend an hour searching space for you in a desperate attempt to save your life before your air supply runs out.”
Dash rolled her eyes, but the other three fliers in our group were taking me seriously, even Chrysalis. I ruffled my own wings briefly before continuing.
“Second, everything we know about comets is technically theoretical. Although Twinkleshine and I have come up with no reasons you will need to be careful – beyond self-injury on hard slash sharp rock – if you find a cave or something, don’t fling yourself headlong into it. I’d hate to find you dead in a pool of magma or underneath a cave-in, however unlikely that is. If you find anything interesting that you want to explore, be sure to take Chrysalis or myself with you. Understood?”
I got mostly nods, a couple uh-huhs, and one eye roll.
First teleporting in front of Dash, I said, “Dash, I’m not joking here. I really don’t want to find you as a corpse, so don’t be reckless.”
Dash and I engaged in a staring contest, and I won, as usual.
After I released my hold on Dash’s ability to speak, she said, “Fine, Twi. I’ll be careful.”
Dash’s death would be doubly problematic, beyond the simple fact that she would have died at the very end of the journey under my care. Fluttershy would be inconsolable, too, even if I hadn’t married the two of them a year ago. Still, I wouldn’t be so worried about environmental hazards if Mona were a natural comet. Even if I didn’t find any spells as I dug toward the elements, Celestia could have set physical traps that were cold and heat resistant.
I wouldn’t just tell Dash that, though; there was a time and a place to tell everypony exactly who we were working for and why, and that wasn’t five minutes before an archaeological expedition with no preparation.
To be honest, I was less worried about traps than I probably should be. It wasn’t just that I was eager to get my magic on the elements. I just couldn’t see myself bothering if I had been in Celestia’s position, especially considering the time period – and the technological level – she had launched this comet in.
“I need to go fetch a few items from storage, but I’ll be joining all of you shortly.” I teleported everypony except myself and Spike outside the Nebulous to the surface of the comet. “Spike, be careful out there, and stick with Berry Pinch, okay?”
“Can’t I come with you?” Spike asked.
“I would like to say yes. In fact, I probably could, but I’m just going to be digging very slowly. It’s going to be boring and tedious, and it’s going to require all of my attention to make sure I don’t accidentally hurt myself or others. I don’t want to risk your safety.”
Spike sighed. “Alright, but we can do something later, right?”
“Maybe…” I said, biting my lip. “If everything goes well, I might be very busy for quite some time, but I promise we can spend a lot of time together after this is all over. I can relax my focus on my studies especially. Okay?”
“Okay,” Spike agreed, but it didn’t stop his face from drooping.
Hugging Spike, I said, “Try to have fun for me.” I then teleported him down to the surface and separately teleported myself to storage.
Right, now where did those spare compasses end up? I should have a set of six small ones stored in…one of these crates. Urgh… Okay, there were only a hundred crates or so, and half of them were half empty. Most of the magical equipment, like Twinkleshine’s film projector, should have been removed from them. I just had to look for enchantments to find the compasses.
A quick scan revealed magic…pretty much in every crate. Sigh. I really should have done this ahead of time.
Aha! Finally! I stuffed the contents of crate 47-B – I will never let Twinkleshine help pack ever again – back into it minus the six small, spare compasses for the elements. All of them were pointing toward the comet in vaguely the same direction.
I teleported back up to the bridge to check the two sets of compasses against each other, just to make sure the small set wasn’t defective. Magic matched up properly, and although that was plenty enough to say they were all working, I double checked the other elements as well, partially to sextuple-check them, but also to keep me moving slowly. I had weeks upon weeks to dig up the elements if I for some reason needed it; there was no need to rush.
Satisfied that everything was working perfectly, I gently set all of the compasses but Magic’s on the ground. There was no need to bring more than one with at a time and risk breaking more than one, and what better element to retrieve first was there?
I teleported outside the Nebulous and then to several other locations around the comet, making note of the direction the compass pointed each time. As I had suspected, the elements – or the Element of Magic, at least – were somewhere near the center of the comet.
It wasn’t strictly necessary, but I set up a few dummy spells around a circumference of the comet. Having them as reference points would help me dig straight, although I probably didn’t need them to dig straight down. I would say it was foolish to dig straight down, but the comet had no real gravity of its own to speak of, so there was little difference in which direction I dug. As far as it was concerned, every direction was down.
I teleported to an arbitrary location on the surface, nearly ready to start.
One more deep breath. In and out. There was no need to rush. I needed to keep my emotions in check.
Right. I dusted off my memories of the earth shaping spell and gave an experimental nudge to the ground below me. It yielded under the effects of my spell as I had suspected it would. It was nice to have things start off on the right hoof.
Canceling my gravity spell – there was no sense floating myself down the hole against the force of my own magic – I finally began digging. The plan was no different from the old one I’d used so many years ago to reach the Tree of Harmony: I’d dig a short ways and check for magic.
Oddly enough, the Elements of Harmony didn’t have the overwhelming magical aura that I’d expected of them. In fact, I couldn’t even feel them, which made me suspicious that I wasn’t going to be able to find any magical traps, that Celestia had managed to hide them incredibly well. But at the same time, the tracking spell wasn’t fooled, so there could be something else at work here.
Still, I could only do my best and work as carefully and slowly as possible. Well, not as slowly as possible, I did have a lot of extra time, but I would go mad if I spent two seasons or so digging one- to two-hundred meters. I merely went slow enough that I shouldn’t miss anything that it was possible for me to detect.
Dig, dig, dig. It was every bit as boring and tedious as I’d expected, and doubly so, even. Knowing the elements waited for me at the end of my task just made me want to go faster and faster, but I had to tell myself over and over to go slower. This was practically self-imposed torture.
My stomach growled at some point. A quick scry to the Nebulous’s kitchens and a teleport fixed that. Apples weren’t exactly the most filling, but they were good enough.
I checked on the rest of the crew every once in a while as well. While I had no reason to expect the spells on them to fail, and while I knew Chrysalis could deal with any emergencies, I had an obligation to make sure they were safe.
I saw more than half the group sitting on a picnic blanket once, so Chrysalis must have been ferrying supplies and providing bathroom breaks like I’d asked.
I was thinking about taking a break myself when it finally happened: the compass for Magic moved, and drastically. I’d just moved the element! It was somewhere in the section of stone I’d just moved out of the way!
My tunnel wasn’t very wide or tall, but I recklessly launched myself forward, kicking off the walls. With my magic, I brought myself to a halt the moment my compass pointed straight into a wall. I rotated myself so that my hooves pointed toward Magic.
Finding something that wasn’t stone inside of stone was simple. The easy trick was to shape all of the earth Magic could possible be in into cubes smaller than Magic should be. If the elements turned out to be tiny, I could always refine my search with even smaller cubes.
I lit my horn. My breath caught in my throat. This was it.
This was it!
As the stone beneath me formed into cubes, two large, gray spheres refused to change shape, and I immediately plucked them out of the pile with my magic. Magic’s compass reacted to the first sphere I’d picked up.
I couldn’t help frowning. The elements were supposed to be brightly colored gems. The spheres must’ve been protective shells of some kind. Perhaps they were why I couldn’t sense the elements.
My frown only deepened. If I broke the shells, it was entirely possible that would send a warning signal to Celestia. I’d have to be very careful about how I went about extracting the elements. I needed to send a letter to Luna, too. She should have some advice for me; whatever protections Celestia had placed on the elements were likely a thousand years old, so they shouldn’t have any magical secrets Luna couldn’t know about.
I noticed that on one sphere – the one that wasn’t Magic – there was a generic crystal shape engraved deeply into it. Magic itself had a similar engraving, but it wasn’t a generic crystal shape; it was a six-pointed star.
My hoof slowly reached out and traced the outline of the engraving before I even realized what I was doing.
I shook my head and filed the fact away to be processed later, even as I dredged up old memories of the exact same symbol being on the Tree of Harmony. Six-pointed stars had symbolized magic even before Discord; Star Swirl himself was said to have worn a hat and cape with six-pointed stars all over it.
It was far too easy to fall into the trap of putting the consequences before the causes when you discovered them in reverse order. This shell had a six-pointed star on it because Celestia saw that the Tree of Harmony had one on it, and the Tree of Harmony had one on it because whoever created it saw that six-pointed stars were ‘magical’, which was the exact same reason I had such stars for my cutie mark.
And then a very important thought finally occurred to me: I might want to test if I really hadn’t set off any alarms so far. We’d set it up in advance for Pupa to be in Canterlot Castle today for a reason, after all. Luna and my parents were on standby with a changeling I’d never met for letter exchanges as well.
I located Chrysalis with a scrying spell within a couple minutes and projected my voice to her.
“Chrysalis, I just picked up one, probably two of the elements. Can you ask Pupa if Celestia has disappeared?” As a second thought, I added, “Or Cadance.”
After a few seconds’ pause, Chrysalis replied, “She reports no significant changes, but it is entirely possible she has been tricked somehow or was geased without myself or my hive noticing. La – Amethyst Star says she can still see Cadance in her office from outside the castle, but again, it is entirely possible that she has been tricked and so on.”
I nodded – to myself, since Chrysalis wasn’t nearby – and said, “Thanks. I’m going to move these two elements off the comet in approximately twenty seconds, so keep those two on standby. Actually, belay that. I’m going to find the other four elements first” – or at least one more; three should be enough for me to ascend – “in case that sets off an alarm.”
I picked up Chrysalis snickering on the other end. “Can do, Captain Sparkle.”
Oh, stars. I’d just used nautical slang, hadn’t I? Even at this moment, I found time to facehoof. It was entirely Twinkleshine’s fault that I’d just used that word.
Sighing, I brought up another scrying spell to locate the Nebulous’s bridge, an easy enough task. I exchanged the compass for Magic with the one for Honesty.
I left Magic and the second element where I’d found them. There was little enough reason to believe that removing the elements to the bridge of Nebulous would be problematic, but there was no reason to risk it immediately. And besides, unless I needed a lot of time and effort to open the shells – which I would want to do in a comfortable environment to maximize efficiency – I didn’t actually have to move the elements to the Nebulous.
In the exact same manner that I had found Magic, I repeated the process of triangulating Honesty. Unsurprisingly, the data I obtained suggested Honesty was also near the middle of the comet. Working from the tunnel I’d already dug out, it only took me a few minutes to find it, and I reported my success to Chrysalis immediately after this time.
Still with no response from Celestia or Cadance, I repeated the process for the three remaining elements. As it happened, the element that I had found next to Magic was Loyalty. Quite ironic, really.
Once I’d found all the elements, I widened the tunnel at the very end and shaped a crude stone chair. I then summoned one of the several pillows from my room back on the Nebulous that I’d made from my own feathers. There really was nothing quite like a pillow made from your own plumage.
“Chrysalis,” I said, reestablishing contact yet again. “I need you to send a letter to Luna. It’s probably going to be a lot of back and forth letters, actually.”
“Very well. You may begin dictating.”
I tried, I really did, but the dam broke. “Luna, I’ve done it! I have the Elements of Harmony in my hooves! But there’s still one problem left. There are these strange stone-like shells surrounding the elements with a single crystal engraving on each. I haven’t been able to feel the kind of raw magical power from them that a set of artifacts as strong as the elements should have. The shell itself doesn’t even appear to be magical, either, but I haven’t risked poking it with spells too deeply yet in case it’s a trap. Any information you have would be helpful, because I want to crack these things open right now.”
That letter didn’t have the fine details, but for an initial report, it was good enough. If Luna needed more information, I could send that to her later.
I told Chrysalis to go ahead and send what I had, and then I waited. And waited. And waited. Talking to Luna through letters was the worst thing ever. There was so much overhead, and the delays were ridiculous.
Finally, after what must have been days inside my little hole in the ground, Chrysalis spoke up again. “Are you ready? This is a long response.”
“Twilight,” Chrysalis began after the tiniest delay, “I don’t take the time to say this often enough, but I am unbelievably proud of you. I” – Chrysalis paused for a moment – “always knew you could reach the elements, but it’s another thing entirely to hear that you have them in front of you.”
Oh my. I – I just – oh my.
“Before I say anything else, I want to make sure you still have a copy of the ritual hidden away; you might need it at a moment’s notice. I shall assume you do unless told otherwise.”
I silently nodded to myself. The ‘ascension kick start ritual’ had been safely stored inside Twinkleshine’s bed’s mattress ever since Luna had felt her connection to my dreams weakening, but I knew it by heart at this point. I would have put it in my own bed, but I switched over to clouds the moment Chamomile had joined the crew. Dash liked hard cloud beds and couldn’t make anything else, and Fluttershy…just didn’t like clouds, but Chamomile could make a great bed.
“Now then, I have had centuries to brood over the Elements of Harmony and what little I know about them. I can only think of three plausible reasons for the state you have encountered them in. As you briefly touched on, it is possible the elements are encased by a protective shell to ensure nothing untoward happens to them during their residence in Mona with some unknown magic placed upon them. However, knowing the elements, I rather doubt it.”
That didn’t sound good…
“Next, it is possible you are too far from the Tree of Harmony, leaving the elements in some manner of dormant state. Again, I rather doubt this as well, but it bears mentioning. If this is the case, you have but two options: abandon the elements and flee, or attempt to return to Equus yourself at great risk. I…I would rather see you run, if so.”
My brain glitched for a moment. The thought of coming all the way out here for nothing was almost too horrible to contemplate, nevermind whatever fate Luna would be abandoning herself to for my sake.
“But now I come to what I suspect is the truth of the matter. It is very likely that the elements are…broken, you might say.”
Broken? But if they were already broken…
“However, this is unlikely to be a new development. I would be willing to bet Equestria that the elements have been this way for a thousand years.”
Wait, but Celestia wanted Trixie to–
“Trixie – and Sunset Shimmer before her – is being raised to bear the Element of Magic, so–”
“So there must be a way to reactivate them!” I said at the exact same time as Chrysalis.
“If you have any ideas,” Chrysalis continued, “do feel free to try them first, but I believe I know how to reawaken the elements. However, I must ask your postal ser – is she serious?”
I chuckled at Chrysalis’s expense, but didn’t say anything.
“Argh. Whatever. She says I have to agree in advance to have a geas placed upon me, to have my memory of the plan erased, and to have my hive not reveal it to me before she’ll say anything.”
Hmm? That was unusual. There wasn’t very much sensitive information that I knew about which I could see being a problem if Chrysalis found out. She already knew pretty much everything relevant.
Sighing, Chrysalis continued, “I suppose I haven’t come all this way for nothing.”
“You’re agreeing?” I asked, eyes wide. Even if Chrysalis had warmed up to me over the years, she was even more paranoid protective of her memory and volition than I was.
“Yes, I already sent out the good news,” Chrysalis said dryly. “I believe I’ve already figured out her plan, and I can understand why it would be important that I know nothing and cannot be allowed to rededuce the plan.”
I had no idea what Luna’s plan was. Maybe I could figure it out if I thought about it for awhile, but was it really obvious enough to be able to figure it out from scratch in mere seconds?
“Indeed,” Chrysalis said in that smug tone of hers which I’d long since come to recognize as her ‘you’re an idiot’ voice. “Try thinking about the problem in reverse.”
Reverse? Um… So the problem was the elements were inert, Luna had some plan to awaken the elements, and the plan involved information Chrysalis wasn’t allowed to – no, information Chrysalis couldn’t know, if her words were to be trusted, for the plan to work. So the reverse of that was…if Chrysalis knew about the plan, the elements wouldn’t awaken?
That seemed wrong. Awakening the elements shouldn’t be dependent on changelings specifically in any way. Perhaps then it was necessary that Chrysalis not know, but not sufficient?
And like that, it was obvious.
“Chrysalis, I think I figured it out. Well, probably. It makes sense with what I know about the elements, at least.”
“Well, you’ll have to check your answer against Princess Luna’s. I already have her response ready.”