Prologue: Siege's End
“Hope, you saved me,” Sombra said as Radiant Hope threw her forelegs around his neck and buried her face in his chest.
“I had a lot of help,” she replied as he returned the hug.
Tears flowed freely. After a long time, far too long, they were finally together. And they were free. Free of what they were supposed to be, free of destiny, free of the future. They were free to be together.
Nearby, the four princesses watched the scene.
“What do you think we should do?” Twilight asked.
“They did save the Crystal Empire,” Cadance said.
Luna grimaced. “Yes, but only after they nearly destroyed it.”
“You always did see the glass as half-empty,” Celestia said. “That hasn’t changed in over a thousand years.”
“I was just pointing out a fact,” Luna replied. “But I know what you’re thinking, sister. You’re thinking we should pardon them.”
“They’ve been through a lot,” Celestia said. “Fate has given them a very rough time. A small bit of mercy might do wonders.”
“I agree,” Twilight said as Cadance nodded. “Forgiveness is just what they need.”
“Very well,” Luna said, rolling her eyes. “I too shall agree to it. I am always outvoted.”
From somewhere around them came a whisper. “Fools….” it seemed to say.
The four looked all about, but nopony was there.
“That’s strange,” Twilight said. “I was certain I heard a voice.”
“So did I,” Cadance said. “Auntie Celestia, Auntie Luna, did you two hear anything?”
“Just because we’ve lived for over a millennium doesn’t mean our hearing has gone, dear,” Celestia said, with a nod from Luna. Then, she grew serious. “But I definitely heard something. It was so low that I couldn’t make it out.”
“It might just have been the wind,” Luna said.
“The Crystal Empire does get drafty around this time of year,” Cadance said. “There are times I have to put on a parka just to do my royal inspections.”
“Hmm-mmm. Excuse us, princesses.”
The four princesses turned. Hope and Sombra where standing there.
“Sombra has something to say,” Hope said.
“I don’t know how to make up for what I did,” Sombra began. He did not get to finish.
There was a gust of wind. Or, at least, it felt like a gust of wind. But gusts of wind are rarely accompanied by yellow streaks. Nor do they pick up ponies and carry them across the Crystal Dias. But that is what happened, as Radiant Hope was whisked away into the air.
“What happened?” Twilight barely had a chance to say before they, and everypony, saw what happened.
There was Radiant Hope. She had been thrown into one of the four legs of the Crystal Palace. The impact had been quite hard, as the crystal behind her was cracking. Hope herself had nearly been knocked unconscious. Her eyes, half-closed, rolled around in a daze.
And everypony saw that a yellow pegasus was holding her, his forelegs at her throat. The pegasus’ eyes looked into Hope’s. They burned with hatred, an effect amplified by the fact that they were naturally a deep red, as was the pegasus’ scruffy mane and tail. The pegasus’ wings spread out behind him and slowly began to flap. The flapping grew quicker and quicker. And, as it did, the wings began to approach Hope.
“Did you know that the wings of a pegasus, when moving fast enough, actually work like a blade?” he asked Hope, who was still too out of it to pay much attention.
The wings approached Hope’s heart. They never made it. Before the pegasus knew what hit him, he was soaring through the air. But not alone. There was a blue streak above him, holding him with her forelegs. A rainbow trail was spreading out in their wake.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Rainbow Dash said. “The battle’s over! Hope and Sombra aren’t our enemies anymore!”
“The battle’s not over,” the pegasus responded. “Not for me.”
“Well, it is now, buddy,” Dash responded, “’cause I’m not letting you get away.”
“I don’t have time for this, mother,” the pegasus responded.
Rainbow’s eyes grew wide. She looked down at the pegasus and was struck, for the first time, by the fact that his eyes were nearly the same color as hers. His mane and tail were the same style as hers. All together, were his color-scheme not so different, he would have looked exactly like her.
But, he couldn’t be her son. She didn’t even have a coltfriend!
She began to speak. “What do you mean? I’m not your mom!”
The pegasus did not respond. The point was, perhaps, rendered moot by the mountain into which the two pegasi crashed immediately afterward.
Rainbow Dash frantically dug herself out of a large pile of snow. It was impossible to tell how far down she was. At the speed she was going, she could have gone straight through the snow and hit the rock underneath. She could have broken through that rock, for all she knew. She could be deep inside the mountain itself by now.
But she could not let herself think about that. However deep she was, she had to get out before that other pegasus did.
Using her strength, Dash managed to swiftly push herself upward. As it turned out, she was fortunate. She had only ended up in the snow. She had not even reached the rock. It was not long before she saw the light of the sun above her again.
The other pegasus had already gotten himself free and was just spreading his wings, ready to take off back in the direction of the Crystal Empire.
For the first time, Rainbow Dash got a look at his cutie mark. It was a blue, red, and yellow lightning bolt striking out from a cloud. Just like hers, with the exception that the colors were in the reverse order and the cloud was black.
He looked back sadly at Dash as she worked herself loose. “I’m sorry that I have to do this, mother. But if you’d seen what I have, you would understand. You will understand, someday.”
And then he took flight. Dash lost no time in following. She followed him back toward the Crystal Empire. She was amazed, though, that the pegasus was always just a little ahead of her. Dash sped up, but so did he. She swerved, but so did he. She zigzagged, but so did he. He seemed to know her every move before she even had a chance to deploy it.
Thinking quickly, Dash put in an extra burst of speed as she executed a wide arc and cut him off. It had happened near instantly. No pegasus could possibly have avoided Dash after that. No pegasus had the speed or the reflexes to make a sharp enough turn to avoid it. Well, none except Rainbow Dash herself.
And, apparently, the yellow pegasus, who ducked under her with just enough distance that her hooves only narrowly missed him as he sped past. Dash followed again, but she had lost time and momentum. He was getting away.
But she was Rainbow Dash and had never been outraced. She doubled-down and began moving at a much higher speed. She nearly caught up to the pegasus in no time. He looked back at her, his expression growing more and more nervous as she came closer and closer. They both knew it; there was no way he was escaping now.
And then, Rainbow Dash could not believe her eyes. There was a blinding flash of light. A boom. It was a sonic rainboom – except without the rainbow part. Instead, there was a giant blast of red, almost like fire. Inside of it, the pegasus zoomed toward the Crystal Palace.
On the Crystal Dais, Sombra held Hope close to him.
“I’m okay,” she said. “I’m more winded than anything.”
“When I get my hooves on that pegasus, he’ll pay for hurting you.” Sombra said.
“Oh, Sombra, don’t talk like that,” Hope responded. “You’ve just been saved. Don’t ruin it.”
“I won’t, Hope,” Sombra responded. “I’m never going to let anything separate me from you again.”
“Who was that, anyway?” Cadance asked Twilight Sparkle. “One of your friends’ friends?”
“I’ve never seen him before,” Twilight responded. “And I don’t think any of my friends would be friends with a pony like that. We don’t really associate with ponies that are capable of sneak attacks and attempted murder.”
Looking at Hope and Sombra, she smiled bashfully. “Er… no offense….”
“You’ve never seen him before, Cadance?” Celestia asked.
“So he can’t be a citizen of the Crystal Empire.”
“I have never encountered him either during any of my dreamwalks, sister,” Luna added.
“Strange,” Celestia said. “If none of us know him, then–”
There was a boom in the sky, followed by a second one. Everypony looked to see red and rainbow-colored blasts bursting through the air.
“Everypony out of the way!” Twilight called. “They’re coming back!”
And they were coming back. The yellow pegasus was speeding right for Hope and Sombra’s position. Rainbow Dash followed close behind.
Sombra shoved Radiant Hope toward Princess Celestia. “Protect her,” he said.
“What are you doing, Sombra?” Hope asked.
“It’s my turn to save you,” Sombra replied. His horn began to glow green. Just as the yellow pegasus was about to reach the dais, a green barrier leapt up, blocking his path. He was just a split-second too late to get past it.
Which was for the best, since then he had no time to avoid colliding with it. Neither did Rainbow Dash, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.
As the two pegasi slowly recovered from slamming hard into the magical shield, Sombra made his move. He leapt atop the yellow pegasus and slammed a hoof down on each of the pegasus’ wings.
“Why did you try to hurt Hope?” Sombra screamed. “Why?”
The pegasus just looked up at him. “I’m sorry….” he said.
“You will be sorry,” Sombra replied.
“Not for that,” the pegasus answered. “For this….”
“Sombra, look out!” Hope called.
Sombra looked down. He saw that the pegasus was wearing an band around his right wrist. It was made of metal and had several buttons on it. The pegasus’ hoof was reaching for a large red one. Sombra was not fast enough to stop him.
“Sombra!” Hope screamed. She tried to reach him, but Princess Celestia grabbed her and pulled her back.
In an instant, Sombra and the pegasus both disappeared.
“Sombra!” Hope screamed again, tears pouring from her eyes. She collapsed onto the ground, sobbing into her hooves.
Rainbow Dash came limping forward.
“What happened?” Twilight said. “I thought you were going to stop him!”
“Hey, don’t yell at me,” Rainbow responded. “I tried. But he was fast. As fast as… me….”
Twilight was shocked by the admission. But she had to believe it. It was evident that Rainbow Dash’s pride was hurting just as badly as the rest of her.
“Who was he?” Twilight asked quietly.
“I don’t know. He called me ‘mother,’” Rainbow responded.
“That’s preposterous!” Twilight said. “You don’t have a child! By the looks of it, you and that pegasus were the same age!”
“You don’t think I know that, Twilight?” Rainbow Dash snapped.
“Okay, both of you calm down,” Applejack said, coming over. “I reckon that it’s not the most important thing right now, anyway. There’s something more important that you’re both overlooking.”
Applejack pointed a hoof over at Radiant Hope, huddled on the floor, still sobbing into her hooves.
Cadance was trying to comfort her. Placing a hoof on Hope’s shoulder, she said, “Hope….”
“I lost him,” Hope said. “I lost him again.”
“I know it’s hard,” Cadance said. “I know I can’t say anything that will make you feel better.”
“After everything I did to save him, I saved him,” Hope mumbled. “But I still lost him. I thought we could make a new destiny together…. Maybe there really is such a thing as fate. Maybe we were never going to be….”
“It’ll be okay, Hope,” Twilight said softly as she and Rainbow Dash came over. “As soon as we figure out who that pegasus was, we’ll get Sombra back.”
Hope finally lifted up her head. Her eyes locked with Twilight’s. Twilight took a step back. In Hope’s eyes, beyond her tears, there was rage.
“Get him back? Get him back?” Hope snapped. “We had him back! And then we lost him! What makes you think we’re ever going to get another chance?”
“Hope, calm down,” Twilight said.
Hope rose swiftly and began to approach Twilight. “Calm down? You’re telling me to calm down? That pegasus, whoever he was, was probably one of your rebels! If you and your friends hadn’t staged that rebellion, he never would have come here!”
Rainbow Dash jumped in-between Hope and Twilight. “Oh, yeah?” she said. “If you hadn’t seized the Crystal Empire from Cadance and Shining Armor, we wouldn’t have had to rebel! How do we know he wasn’t one of the goons you hired, huh? This could be all your fault!”
“Rainbow, please,” Twilight said.
“No,” Rainbow Dash said. “Somepony needs to call it like it is.”
Hope sneered. Subtly, her horn began to glow.
“I know you’re upset about what he said to you, Rainbow,” Twilight said, “but he was probably just trying to get into your head. He wants something like this to happen.”
“This has nothing to do with what he said to me,” Dash responded, keeping her eyes squarely on Hope. “This has to do with the fact that, any way you look at it, there wouldn’t be a homicidal yellow pegasus flying around if she hadn’t caused this mess in the first place! I get that you want to forgive her, Twilight. That is sort of your thing and all. But it’s all her fault and we’re stuck cleaning up for her. Face it, everypony. It is all Hope’s fault!”
“Um, Rainbow, I think you might want to dial it back….” Twilight said.
The anxiety in Twilight’s voice was enough to break Rainbow Dash out of her rage. She now noticed that Hope’s horn had lit up and was taking the shape of a flame. Dash slowly backed away.
“Hope, what are you doing?” Princess Celestia asked, alarmed.
Hope’s eyes were closed, but tears still streamed rapidly from them. “All my fault….” she muttered. “All my fault…. It is all my fault. I lost Sombra again. And it is all my fault….”
Hope’s eyes burst open. “Sombra, I couldn’t save you!” she cried. And then, the flame shot upward. It made contact with the Crystal Palace and in a matter of seconds had spread to engulf the whole structure. The palace pulsated.
The princesses, Rainbow Dash, and all the other ponies backed away from Hope as quickly as they could.
“Shining!” Cadance called out. “He must still be inside the palace!”
She sped toward the nearest staircase. Meanwhile, Twilight rushed for the Crystal Heart, pulling it from its pedestal, thinking she could somehow use it to counter Hope’s magic.
But it was too late. The explosion began at the high spire that crowned the palace and worked its way down. There was just enough time for everypony to escape from the dais before the palace's arches came down around it and cut off any path of escape.
Hope’s horn stopped glowing. She shook her head. “What just happened?”
Looking upward, Hope gasped. “What… what did I just do?”
That was the last anypony saw of her before the whole palace came crashing down.
Somewhere, deep in the arctic wastes, there was nothing but snow. No structures, no signs of life, no mountains or hills even. Just snow. That is, until a yellow pegasus suddenly appeared in the middle of the snow.
He trudged forward, but only made it a few steps before collapsing. Slowly, he reached for his metal wristband and pushed a green button. A small black circle appeared before him. It was a portal.
“Did you complete your mission?” a voice said from the portal. It was hardened by years, but it would still be recognizable to anypony as Rainbow Dash.
“Mother, I need you to get a unicorn to use the spell,” the pegasus responded.
“Call me ma’am when you are on duty,” responded the voice. “And answer the question. Is Radiant Hope dead?”
“Sombra is gone,” said the pegasus. “He attacked me and I was forced to use the temporal engine in the band. We ended up outside of time. I had to use the last of the temporal energy to escape. That’s why I need a pony to use the spell. I can’t get home without it.”
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Hope lives, I think,” the pegasus said. “But, like I said, I dealt with Sombra.”
“I see." There was a pause. "His disappearance from the timeline at such an early point may indeed have the effect we had hoped eliminating Hope would.”
The pegasus smiled. Maybe mother was finally proud of him.
“Or, it could simply have set things in motion sooner,” responded the voice, sharply.
“No, mother – I mean, ma’am – I’m certain that we’ve fixed things. I can come home now. Just get a unicorn to do the spell.... Wait, what are you doing?”
The portal, already small, was beginning to contract.
“We don’t know how things will change,” the voice said. “You must stay until we are certain that Equestria is saved. If it is not, you will have to finish the job.”
"No! You can't leave me here!"
“Do not worry. We will send along some of our newest… recruits… to aid you in completing your task.”
“But I’m hurt! I can barely stand! Sombra might have broken my wings! I can’t even fly!”
“Walk it off,” the voice said.
“No, please!” the pegasus pleaded. “Please! You can’t leave me like this, mother!”
“You were always such a disappointment to me, Roaring Storm,” said the voice as the portal closed completely.
Roaring Storm fell into the snow. His cries rung through the silence of the arctic wastes.
“Cadance, Shining Armor, did you find any trace of them?” Twilight Sparkle frantically asked a crystal unicorn that was supervising the effort to dig through what had once been the Crystal Palace.
“We’re right here, Twily,” came Shining’s voice.
As he and Cadance approached her, Twilight threw her forelegs around his neck.
“I was able to find Shining and fly us both out of there just in time,” Cadance said. “But what happened to the Crystal Heart?”
“I saved it,” Twilight said. “Princess Celestia and Luna are looking after it.”
“And, where there any casualties?” Hope asked.
“I don’t think so,” Twilight responded. “At least not from the collapse of the palace. I've only now been able to get reports of casualties from across the city. It seems both the changeling attack and the umbrum's rampage have taken a lot of lives. I've sent out ponies to confirm as many as they can. And to help, if there's any help they can offer. Which, for most of the casualties, is none, if the reports are right.”
“Oh, dear,” Cadance said. “There are going to be some difficult days ahead for me, I see. Was there any sign of Radiant Hope?”
“They’re still looking for her,” Twilight responded. “But the last we saw, it looked like the palace collapsed on top of her. Nopony could have survived that.”
The three stood in silence for a moment, silence for all the dead. Cadance was the first to speak.
“Maybe it’s for the best if she perished,” she said.
To Shining and Twilight’s shocked looks, Cadance responded, “She lost Sombra again. And she blew up the Crystal Palace. Probably inadvertently, but still. Add to that all the ponies that died, and, well….”
Twilight was stunned. “You can’t be seriously suggesting–”
“Twilight, as the Princess of Love, I know quite a bit about ponies' hearts. And a heart like Hope’s would probably break from all that. It would be a continual, living death.”
Twilight nodded. She still did not like the idea, but she had to admit that there was a certain logic to it.
“What will you do now?” she said.
Cadance looked to the pile of debris that had once been her home and the glory of the Crystal Empire. “Rebuild. Continue. It won’t be easy, but the Crystal Empire will find a way to move on.”
High above them, on one of the hills that overlooked the city, stood a lavender pony in a cloak. Radiant Hope had just managed to teleport herself out of the Palace a split-second before it came tumbling down. Now, she could only stare in horror and disbelief at the destruction she had caused.
There was, of course, the fact that the city’s skyline was suddenly much reduced. But there was also the sound of sirens, sirens from ambulances. Many ambulances. Probably every ambulance in the Crystal Empire, with all of their sirens shaking the sky in a cacophonic chorus.
Hope knew that, whatever appearances might be, they weren’t going to collect the wounded.
Tears once more filled her eyes. “What have I done?"
Hope looked up to the swiftly-darkening sky, as though she expected an answer. It gave none.
"What am I supposed to do now?”
What would Radiant Hope do now?