The whistle on the Friendship Express blew as the train approached the station in Canterlot, the train slowing down as it pulled into the station. The steam-powered locomotive’s speed slowed to a crawl as the passenger cars lined up alongside the platform; once all of the passenger cars were up alongside the platform, the train came to a complete stop, letting out a hiss as the front engine released steam from underneath it.
Pinkie bounced through the door into the third car from the front, still wearing her pilot’s hat and neckerchief as she cheered, “We’re here~!”
The group looked up at her, everybody sitting in the same seats as when they left the station in Ponyville. “Uh, we kind of noticed, but thanks for the heads-up, Pinkie,” Spike said.
Sonic stood up and shrugged, “Well, at least we finally got here, right?”
Tails came in behind Pinkie and said, “Yeah. Between all the portals on the way here and those time distortions that stopped the train for a while, it’s amazing that it still looks the same as when we left.”
Rainbow grinned, “Well, I’m not complaining! Lightning Dust may have stopped the train and caused all that trouble, but it was worth it to get a chance to race with Spitfire and Soarin! And we totally put her and those Babylon Rogues in their place too!"
Applejack sighed, “Well, Ah’ll tell y’all what Ah didn’t enjoy: that Eggman Nega feller that tried ta attack us. That guy was creepy.”
Fluttershy shivered, “And so mean too…”
Twilight looked at Rarity, Shining Armor, and Cadance and said, “Those storybook worlds sure were interesting, weren’t they?”
Shining nodded, “Yeah. That first one sure had a lot of places to go. And the desert kind of made me think of what I’ve heard about Saddle Arabia.”
Rarity smiled, “And the second one… Ooh, it was wonderful! It was so nice of them to treat us like royalty because we’re Sonic’s friends!” The white unicorn gave a polite titter while the blue hedgehog rolled his eyes, not exactly entertaining the thought of going back to Camelot again anytime soon.
Cadance looked at Tails and said, “It’s a shame you had to stay behind, Tails. You would’ve liked those worlds.”
Tails rubbed the back of his head as he replied, “Yeah, well… someone needed to stay behind to get the train fixed. I’m sorry I missed it, but don’t worry; I’m not mad. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see them for myself someday.”
Shining Armor stood up and said, “I’m sure you will.” He then faced everyone and spoke, “Anyway, enough reminiscing for now. We’ve finally arrived in Canterlot and, considering all we had to go through on our way here, the Royal Guard should have swept the city up and down completely by now.”
Sonic looked at him and asked, “So I’m guessing our first stop is going to be the castle?”
Shining nodded, “Right. Princess Celestia and Princess Luna are no doubt waiting for us there. We need to let them know we’ve arrived and find out what our next move is going to be.”
Sonic replied, “Well, let’s get going, then! They’ve probably been waiting long enough; we don’t want to keep them waiting much longer, right?” Everybody nodded in agreement and, after Pinkie whisked her outfit away, they all got off the train, stepping out onto the platform.
Tails looked towards Canterlot as he walked down the platform’s stairs with the others. “Wow, it sure seems quiet here,” he commented softly.
“Maybe the princesses and the Royal Guard are having everypony stay inside for now, like the Mayor was doing back in Ponyville?” Twilight suggested as Spike climbed on her back.
Fluttershy squeaked as she glanced around nervously, “I sure hope so…”
Sonic turned to Shining Armor and asked, “Hey, aside from flying, what’s the fastest way to the castle, Shining?”
Shining Armor replied, “I’ll lead the way. It won’t take us too long to get there.” He then turned around and galloped away from the train station, everybody running after him and heading into the city.
As they ran through Canterlot towards the castle, everyone saw that, as they suspected, the streets were devoid of any life whatsoever. Still, they could occasionally feel eyes looking at them, presumably from the stores, restaurants, and homes along the street. Considering the attitude of Canterlot’s nobility, with the exception of Fancypants and maybe a few others, most of them were probably looking at some of them with disdain.
Still, as Shining had said, it didn’t take them long to reach the castle, all of them running up the path leading to the castle. They all had to come to a stop before they could reach it, however, as there was one complication standing in their way.
“Why is the drawbridge up?! We need to get in there!” Rainbow exclaimed.
“The guards must have drawn it up when they saw the sky. They were probably worried about something attacking,” Shining guessed.
“What are we gonna do now?” Pinkie asked.
“Well, Tails and I could just fly over the wall and let them know we’re here,” Rainbow suggested.
Sonic looked at her, “I’ve got a better idea.” He walked up to the edge of the moat and looked up at the castle walls. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he called, “HEY! KNOCK, KNOCK!”
It only took a few seconds after that for the white, armor-clad guard ponies to appear over the edge of the wall, all of them brandishing spears and pointing them down at Sonic. “Who goes there?!” one of them shouted.
Sonic called back, “Your captain and his wife, that’s who!”
Realizing he was being called out, Shining came up alongside Sonic and ordered, “Stand down! He’s on our side!”
The guard ponies’ eyes widened at the sight of the unicorn stallion, all of them trying to stand their spears straight up quickly, one of them saying, “Captain- Prince Armor, Sir! Forgive us, Sir!”
Shining responded, “At ease! We need to talk to Princess Celestia and Princess Luna! Can anypony tell us where they are?”
The first guard pony spoke up, “Sir! They’re at the tower where the Elements of Harmony are kept! We’ll get the bridge lowered for you right away!” As the guards dispersed, the others walked over to Shining and Sonic, standing with them. A minute later, the drawbridge started to lower, opening completely within a few seconds.
As they walked across the bridge, Twilight looked at Sonic and said, “That was pretty effective.”
Sonic grinned back at her, “Yeah, it’s great when it works.”
Applejack smiled at them and said, “C’mon, y’all, let’s get ta that tower.” Once again, Shining was on point as they moved through the castle and its grounds. As they approached the tower, the girls were reminded of their desperate run to retrieve the Elements of Harmony during the Changeling Invasion.
Soon enough, they were approaching the entrance to the tower, to the hall where the Elements of Harmony were normally stored. And just like the guard pony had said, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna were waiting for them, standing in front of a pair of large, mostly red doors that each had carvings etched into them and two holes near where the doors joined, neither one looking like the regular doors for the tower.
As they approached, Celestia spoke, “There you all are. It certainly took you all a while to get here. Is everypony okay?”
Twilight answered, “We’re fine, Princess Celestia. We just encountered some… complications with time and space on the train ride here.”
Shining nodded, “Yeah. Let’s just leave it at that for now. What can we do to help, ma’am?”
Tails asked, “Is there something inside that tower?”
Luna answered, “We are not sure yet. The Royal Guards came across its unusual doors during their… sweep of the castle. Since they would not open normally, we decided to wait for all of you to arrive before we tried any other methods of opening them.”
Sonic asked, “Wouldn’t open normally?”
Celestia explained, “It is as though they are locked from the inside; they will not budge no matter how much force we apply to them. However, look here…” She and Luna stepped aside, the Solar Princess gesturing at the holes in the door. “These holes appear to be wide enough for our horns to fit into, much like the lock on the door for the Elements of Harmony. If Luna and I focus our magic and insert our horns, we think they will open the same way.”
Pinkie bounced up and down excitedly, “Well, do it, then! Do it, do it, do it!” The princesses nodded and turned towards the doors, Celestia on the left and Luna on the right. They both lowered their heads, channeling their magic into their horns as they inserted them into the doors. They held their position for a few seconds before a light blue glow began to emanate from the holes, causing them to remove their horns and step back. As everyone watched, the glow began to spread across the door, everybody squinting as the glow began to shine brighter…
And just like that, it vanished, the doors in the same position as before. Everybody stared at them in confusion for a moment before Cadance asked, “What happened, aunties?”
While still looking at the door, Celestia replied, “I’m not sure, Cadance. We transferred our magic, the doors lit up in response… they should have opened for us.”
Rainbow groaned, “Oh, man…! How are we supposed to get in there?”
Spike suggested, “Maybe there’s something else we need to do before they’ll open?”
Sonic held a hand to his chin, “Probably, Spike, but what?”
Twilight muttered, “I hope it doesn’t have anything to do with the crystal caves below Canterlot…”
Everybody began to suggest ideas for what they had to do for about a minute. They all then turned to Tails as he asked, “Hey, did anybody feel that?” Everyone looked at him, wondering what he was talking about, but then the ground began to shake. Not heavily, but enough for them to notice. As they all looked around, they heard a kind of grinding sound coming from behind them and they turned to look.
Rising up out of the castle’s stone, just behind the group and right in the middle of the walkway they were on, was a rectangle-shaped object. It almost looked like an altar of some kind. A few more seconds passed before the rumbling stopped, the object now fully unearthed. They waited a couple of seconds, wanting to make sure nothing was going to happen; when nothing did, they all gathered around it, including Celestia and Luna. Looking down at the top of it, they saw what appeared to be a full color map spread out across it.
“What the hay is this thing?” Applejack asked.
Twilight cocked her head to the side while Spike looked at it from her back. “It looks like a map of Canterlot,” she said finally.
“It certainly does, darling. But what was it doing buried here?” Rarity asked. Twilight looked up at her, not quite sure herself.
A moment later, Tails spoke, “I think I’ve got it. It must’ve been hidden because it can help us open those doors.”
Applejack looked up at him, “What makes ya say that, Sugarcube?”
Tails replied, “Well, I’m not entirely sure, but look here.” He pointed to several spots on the map, each one showing a different shape surrounded by a circle that was filled in with a different color. A lightning bolt surrounded and filled in with cyan, a balloon with blue coloring, a diamond with white in and around it… “These look like the same shapes that are on each of your Elements of Harmony. My guess is they, and maybe the Chaos Emeralds, are somehow connected to the doors keeping us out of the tower,” he explained.
Rainbow asked, “So we gotta go to each of these spots and use our Elements of Harmony at each one to get those doors open?”
Tails looked up at her, “That’s my guess.”
Celestia nodded, “Very well. It is clear what we must do then.” She looked at Twilight, “Twilight, if I may see your saddlebags for a moment?” Spike slid off her back onto the ground and ran around to Tails’ side while the lavender unicorn lifted her saddlebags up with her magic. She then levitated them over to Celestia, who took them with her magic.
The Sun Princess then opened the right saddlebag and levitated out the Elements of Harmony, clipping the necklaces around Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Fluttershy’s necks and placing the Element of Magic tiara atop Twilight’s head, the princess setting the unicorn’s saddlebags down near the tower doors for the time being. “You all must go to these locations and use the Elements of Harmony at each one of them,” Celestia said.
Spike hopped up next to Tails on top of the block and asked, “Can I stay here with you guys? Maybe I can help you read the map or something.”
Tails replied, “Sure, Spike. I’m sure I’m going to need some help determining where exactly these spots are.”
Sonic spoke, “Guess I’ll go with the girls, then, since I’ve got a radio and four of the Chaos Emeralds.”
Tails looked up at him and nodded, “Yep.” He brought his left tail around in front of him and reached into it with both hands. He pulled them both out a second later, the green and purple Chaos Emeralds in his right hand and the yellow Chaos Emerald in his left hand. “Here, take the rest of them with you too. You may need them, and they should all be accustomed to each other by now,” he said.
Sonic nodded, “Okay.” He reached over and took the three Chaos Emeralds with his hands, tucking them into his quills for later.
Before anything else could be done, Luna asked, “How will we inform each other that the doors have been opened, if that is indeed what the Elements of Harmony will do at those locations?” She gestured to the map as she explained, “They are spread out so far; it would not be easy to inform everypony at once.”
Rainbow shrugged, “Maybe Sonic and I could round everypony up and we meet you all back up here?”
Twilight suggested, “Or maybe Shining or I could send out a signal with our magic once we know for sure?”
Sonic looked at her, “I like that idea. Just one thing, though: you both do the signal if the doors open, only one of you does it if things don’t go like we expect them to. Should be a faster way of informing everyone of what’s going on.”
Shining nodded, “Sounds like a plan.”
Applejack asked, “Whoa, what about the rest o’ us, Sugar-hog? Not all o’ us can use that kinda magic, ya know.”
Sonic replied, “Yeah, but if something goes wrong on anybody’s end once we’re done running around, the doors probably won’t open, so then something will have gone wrong. And even if they do open, it won’t take long to find out if anything happened to someone when we regroup. Either way, it’s sure to be faster than running around to check in on everyone.”
Applejack conceded, “True.”
Twilight looked at Tails and asked, “So where should we go first, Tails?”
The fox looked down at the map for a few seconds, determining the best place to start. He soon pointed at the yellow circle with a butterfly inside while saying, “This looks like a good place to start. It looks like it’s in a park.”
Spike looked at it as well and, a moment later, said, “I think that’s the park where Twilight used to go to read or study sometimes.”
Sonic smiled, “Oh, cool! Guess we know where to go first, then!”
Rainbow said, “Lead the way, Twi!” The lavender unicorn nodded; she then turned around and ran back down the walkway, her friends and Sonic following her.
Once they were back on the ground, it didn’t take them long to reach the park. As they walked along the stone path leading through it, Fluttershy spoke up, “Um, what are we looking for exactly?”
Sonic said, “Probably anything that looks out of place or suspicious.”
Not long afterwards, Pinkie started bouncing and pointing with a hoof, “Ooh, lookie over there! It looks like a water fountain!” Everybody stopped and looked where she was pointing. The object did kind of look like a public drinking fountain, but strangely enough, it was positioned directly under a large tree near a small hill rather off the beaten path rather than in the middle of it or along the side.
“That looks both suspicious and out of place to me,” Twilight commented.
Sonic shrugged, “Well, let’s take a closer look.” They hurried over to the tree and crowded around the object. Upon closer inspection, it looked more like the pedestals that were part of the Gaia Temple altars that Chip had summoned and Sonic placed the drained Chaos Emeralds in when they were repairing the world. There was a slot where a Chaos Emerald would probably fit, as well as an indentation that was shaped like a butterfly.
“What do ya think, Sonic?” Applejack asked after a moment.
“I’m guessing we can fit both a Chaos Emerald and an Element of Harmony in this thing,” the blue hedgehog replied.
“I think the circle was yellow. That must mean the yellow Chaos Emerald is supposed to go here,” Twilight said. Sonic nodded and reached back into his quills, pulling out the yellow Chaos Emerald with his right hand.
He then looked up at Fluttershy and asked, “Ready, Fluttershy?”
The shy pegasus replied, “Oh, y-yes.” She walked up to the pedestal on the side with the butterfly indentation, standing between it and the tree while Sonic stood across from her on the other side. She raised her hooves and took her necklace off, adjusting her hooves to hold it properly when she brought her forelegs down. She then placed it in the indentation at the same time that Sonic placed the yellow Chaos Emerald in the slot.
For a moment, nothing happened. Then a yellow pillar of light shot up around the pedestal, causing everyone to take a step back. It receded a moment later, but now the sides of the pedestal were glowing with a yellow light.
“Did it work?” Rainbow asked.
“Let’s find out,” Sonic replied as he reached for his radio. Bringing it out, he held it up to his face and clicked it on, “Tails, we just placed the Element of Kindness and the yellow Chaos Emerald in a pedestal in the park. Anything on your end?” He then let go of the button.
Tails replied a moment later, “Everything’s still okay up here, Sonic, but one of the carvings on the doors lit up. It looks the same as the mark on the map. I see now that the carvings on the door match the marks on the map. Since the butterfly one lit up, that must mean you’re doing it right. We get the rest of them to light up and we should be able to get inside the tower.”
Sonic pressed the button and asked, “Okay, so what now?”
Tails responded, “Leave the Chaos Emerald and the Element of Kindness where they are for now. We’ll retrieve them later in case they need to remain attached to get the door open. The next one’s a cyan lightning bolt. It’s at some kind of seating area near the cliffs.”
Spike spoke up, “I think Rarity mentioned that’s the place where the Wonderbolts Derby is held.”
Rarity’s eyes sparkled, “Ooh, I remember going there during my visit! I know where it is!”
Sonic clicked the radio back on and said, “Thanks, guys. We’ll head over there now; I’ll call you back once we’re done.” He then slid the radio back into his quills.
“Ah don’t know if we should leave these here alone. Somepony or somethin’ might try ta take ‘em,” Applejack commented.
“I think you have a point there, Applejack,” Twilight said. She looked at Fluttershy and asked, “Fluttershy, would you mind staying here with your Element and the Chaos Emerald while we go to the other locations?”
Fluttershy gasped, “You mean… you want me to stay here… by myself?”
While looking up, Sonic said, “I wouldn’t say that.” He pointed up and everypony followed his finger and his gaze up towards the tree. They saw that some birds had flown in and were now standing atop some of its branches.
Fluttershy smiled, “Ooh, birds!” She whistled a tune to them and they all fluttered down, landing on her back, her raised foreleg, and her mane.
“Feel better now?” Sonic asked.
Fluttershy nodded as she began to listen to the birds, “Yes, I think so.” She then looked at Sonic and said, “But if you can, please don’t take too long. I, um…” She trailed off as she looked down towards the ground.
“We get it, Fluttershy. We’ll try to move as fast as we can,” Twilight reassured her. She then looked at Rarity and asked, “Rarity?”
The white unicorn replied, “I will not fail Fluttershy, my friends, or anypony else! Follow me!” Fluttershy watched as they all followed Rarity as she led the way through the park.
It didn’t take them long to reach the seating area of the racecourse and find the pedestal in the box seat on top. Rainbow Dash was left to keep an eye on her necklace and the cyan Chaos Emerald as the group moved onto the remaining locations. Applejack, her necklace, and the red Chaos Emerald stayed in the middle of the stadium where the Equestria Rodeo was held, the group got into the Star Swirl the Bearded Wing with a guard pony’s help and left Pinkie Pie with her Element and the blue Chaos Emerald near the large hourglass with a view of the front entrance so she could see outside, and Rarity was left in charge of the white Chaos Emerald and her own necklace in the castle garden. All that was left was Twilight with her crown and Sonic with two Chaos Emeralds.
As the two of them hurried towards the hedge maze, they passed through the castle’s statue garden. As they ran past one statue, Sonic did a double-take and planted his feet against the ground, sliding to a stop. Twilight noticed and looked back at him as she came to a stop as well. She turned around to face him and asked, “What’s wrong, Sonic?”
While looking back at the statue they just passed, the blue hedgehog responded, “That statue… Is that him?” Twilight looked up at the statue and saw a tall, familiar mismatched creature entombed in white stone, his face frozen in a look of fear. She remembered Celestia telling her that, following his brief reign over Equestria, Discord had been returned to his place in the castle garden. When Twilight expressed her worries about putting him back, her teacher reassured her and explained to her why there was no chance the draconequus would break out again for a long time to come.
Shaking her head to get some memories out, Twilight answered, “Yes. That’s Discord, Sonic.”
The hedgehog stared up at the statue for a moment before saying, “Doesn’t look much different in stone than he does on the stained glass, does he?”
Twilight replied, “I guess not. Come on, we’re almost at the entrance to the hedge maze.” Sonic looked at her and nodded, both of them turning and running down the dirt path in front of them again.
A few seconds later, they came to a stop on the grass circle that was directly in front of the entrance to the hedge maze. While they looked up at it, Sonic asked, “Shoot for the center?”
Twilight nodded, “I think so. We didn’t even make it to the center last time, thanks to Discord messing with us while we were playing his ‘game’.”
Sonic, while looking at her and holding his left thumb up, said, “Well, he’s not here this time, and you’ve got me now! We can either cut across the top or you can find out how fast I can solve a maze!”
Twilight thought for a moment before replying, “I’d like to see how long it’ll take you to find the center. This is a big hedge maze, so I don’t expect you to do it in, like, ten seconds flat, but…”
Sonic grinned at her, “Is that a challenge?”
Twilight replied, “What? No! I’m just saying! And this is purely a… a scientific interest! We still have to save both of our worlds, so we have to be quick! If you take too long getting through the maze, I’m going to suggest that you go over the hedges so we don’t keep everypony waiting!”
Sonic just grinned, “Still sounds like a challenge to me.” Before Twilight could argue with him, he scooped her up in his arms and held her bridal style. He then got into a running stance as he added, “And I love a good challenge!” He then dashed into the maze, quickly making his first three turns in seconds as he ran past the hedges.
As the hedgehog ran through the hedge maze, Twilight decided to drop her arguments and just watch the scenery pass by. She actually found herself relaxing a bit in Sonic’s arms. The first time she had experienced his speed for real instead of just watching it had been a shocking experience for her, and it had her on edge the whole time. Now, though, it wasn’t so bad; kind of comfortable, actually.
All too soon, it came to an end when Sonic came to a stop. “We’re here!” he announced. Twilight looked around; the area they had stopped in sure looked open enough to be the center of the hedge maze, the only entrance was the one they had come through, and there was a pedestal in the middle.
“Well… that was fast,” she said, not really sure what else to say.
“Of course!” Sonic replied as he looked at her. He then set her down and asked, “So how did I do?”
Twilight responded, “Huh? Oh, sorry, I wasn’t keeping track of your time. I kind of forgot to start counting when we entered the maze.” She blushed in embarrassment at her silliness as she looked away. “But you obviously got through the maze fast. Made it through with Sonic speed,” she quickly clarified.
Sonic looked at her for a moment before shrugging, “Ah, well… Maybe we’ll try it again some other time, huh?”
Twilight looked back at him and nodded, “Right, of course. For now, let’s just do what we came here to do.” Sonic nodded and they walked over to the pedestal, standing at its sides. Twilight lifted her crown off with her magic while Sonic reached into his quills and retrieved the purple Chaos Emerald. They then placed both the crown and the Chaos Emerald in their respective spots across from each other. A moment later, a purple pillar of light shot out from under the pedestal for a moment before it disappeared, leaving the sides of the pedestal glowing purple.
Twilight looked up at Sonic, “That should do it, right?”
Sonic nodded and pulled out his radio. Holding it up to his face, he turned it on and said, “Tails, we just placed the purple Chaos Emerald and the crown thingy here in the hedge maze center.”
The fox responded, “Copy that. The star on the door just lit up. Now we’ll…” Before he could finish, he was suddenly cut off by rumbling in the background.
Sonic and Twilight stared at the radio for a second before Sonic pressed the button on the side and asked, “Tails, are you there? What happened?”
Tails answered back a few seconds later, “We’re fine, Sonic. But a pedestal just rose up out of the ground behind the map. You still have one Chaos Emerald, right?” Sonic answered that he did, so Tails said, “Then come back up here. Once the last Chaos Emerald is in place, we should be able to open the doors.”
Sonic replied, “Roger that, buddy. I’m on my way.” He then released the button and looked over at Twilight. He glanced down at the radio for a moment before looking back up at her and holding it out to her. “Here, hang onto this. Tails or I will let you know if this opens the doors so you can send out the signal.”
Twilight took the device with her magic and sat on her haunches, setting it down in her hooves. “You got it,” she replied. She watched Sonic walk over to the lone entrance, but was confused when he stopped short and started looking around. “Uh, what are you doing?” she asked.
Sonic spotted a long stick and grabbed it. Holding it so it pointed towards the ground, he looked back at the unicorn and said, “In case you want to save your magic for whatever’s on the other side of those doors, I’m gonna mark you a path to the entrance. It’s your choice if you want to use it, though. See you soon!” He then shot off into the maze, dragging the stick through the dirt behind him to trace a path as he ran. As soon as he exited the maze, he dropped the stick along the side of the dirt path as he ran back to the castle.
After a little under a minute, he saw Tails, Spike, Shining Armor, Princess Cadance, Celestia, and Luna come into view in front of him. He also saw the pedestal that Tails was talking about, right up against the block the map was on, as well as the six carvings on the doors, three on the left door and three on the right door. Coming to a stop in front of the pedestal, where the Chaos Emerald slot was, he asked, “So this is it, huh?”
Shining nodded, “Yeah. But take a look at it.” He gestured to something on his side of the block and Sonic moved around to the pedestal’s side to get a better look. He saw there was another indentation in the pedestal in addition to the Chaos Emerald slot. “You see that? We don’t know what it is, and all the Elements of Harmony are in place,” Shining said.
Cadance added, “It doesn’t even look like a necklace or a crown. It looks more like a ring… and a big ring at that.” Sonic nodded in thought. Cadance was right; the indentation did look like a ring, though it had a spot that stuck out at one point, keeping the ring from having a perfect hoop shape. What could it be?
After a moment, Sonic snapped his fingers, “I’ve got it!” He reached into his quills with both of his hands, Tails, Spike, Shining, and the princesses watching him. He soon pulled them back out, the green Chaos Emerald in his right hand and the necklace Chip had left him in his left hand.
He stepped up to the side of the pedestal and placed both on it, Chip’s necklace fitting into the indentation perfectly before he stepped back. A green pillar of light soon shot up from underneath the pedestal for a moment before disappearing, the sides of the pedestal now glowing green. Looking back at the doors, everyone saw that the last carving, a ring right in the middle where the two doors met and surrounded by the other six carvings, had lit up green.
“That ought to do it, right?” Sonic asked after a moment.
The others looked back at him, Spike saying, “Yeah, probably. Unless you have anything else that could be a key or whatever.” Sonic shook his head, so Spike said, “Then I’d say we’re good.”
Tails nodded, “Yeah, me too.” He looked over at Celestia and Luna, the two sisters standing in front of the doors, and said, “Go ahead, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, try it now.” They both nodded and faced the doors, once again channeling their magic into their horns as they lowered their heads and inserted their horns into the slots in the door.
They both removed their horns and stepped back a few seconds later, the holes once again glowing light blue that began to spread across the doors. This time, however, the glow spread across the carvings on the doors, a light blue line coming from each hole and moving over to the closest carvings (the balloon on the left and the apple on the right). After they touched the carvings, the lines moved from the top of the carvings to the ones above them (the diamond and the star) and then to the carvings on top (the butterfly and the lightning bolt), a line going from the top of those two carvings and connecting in the middle, forming an arch before a line from each carving shot towards the ring carving in the middle. The ring carving and the doors began to glow brightly, forcing everyone to squint or shield their eyes.
As they waited for the glow to vanish like it did before, they began to hear and feel a light rumbling. They then heard a thudding sound as the doors separated from each other, opening inward as the glow began to die down. When the glow was completely gone, they could see that the doors had opened all the way, revealing the tower’s interior to them.
They all stared for a moment. Sonic then looked at Shining and said, “Hey Shining, your magic!” The stallion looked over at him for a moment before he remembered, nodding and then facing forward, focusing his magic into his horn and charging it up. Sonic then turned to Tails, saying, “Hey Tails, you’d better tell Twilight to do the same.”
The fox nodded, “Right!” He brought out his radio and pressed the button; he then asked, “Twilight, can you hear me?”
The unicorn responded back a moment later, “Yes, I hear you, Tails!”
Tails spoke, “It worked, Twilight! The doors are open! Shining’s getting his magic ready to send out the signal; you do the same so that the others know we’re regrouping!”
In the hedge maze
Twilight pressed her hoof to the side of the radio and said, “I’m on it! Should I fire when I’m ready?”
Tails responded, “Yeah, go ahead! And don’t forget to bring your crown and the Chaos Emerald back with you!”
Twilight answered, “Okay!” She then set the radio on top of the pedestal and began to channel her magic into her horn, gathering it around the tip. After about a minute, she had gathered enough magic and fired a shot straight up into the air. As she watched it go up, she heard an explosion that sounded like fireworks going off and guessed that Shining’s signal had been sent. After a few moments, hers went off as well, exploding in the shape of her cutie mark.
“That should do it,” Twilight nodded. She turned back to the pedestal, picking her crown up with her hooves and placing it on her head while using her magic to remove the purple Chaos Emerald and tuck it under her mane. Picking up the radio with her magic, she looked over towards the entrance back into the hedge maze and the path Sonic had traced for her. Deciding not to push her magic any more than she needed to, she ran back into the maze while putting the radio in her mane as well, following the path back to the entrance.
At the stadium
Applejack was looking up at where the sky was supposed to be, keeping an eye out for any kind of sign. As she was about to lower her head to check on her necklace and the red Chaos Emerald, she heard what sounded like fireworks exploding and looked back up. She could see a purple shield emblazoned with a six-pointed pink star with three small light blue stars above it floating in the sky near the castle; not far from it, she could see a pinkish-purple star with six points appear that was surrounded by five smaller white stars.
The orange earth pony grinned, “That’s the sign! They got that door open!” Looking back down at the pedestal, she grabbed her necklace with her hooves and lifted it up, clipping it around her neck. She then grabbed the red Chaos Emerald and tucked it in her ponytail to store it until she could return it. She then galloped out of the stadium, heading back towards the castle.
At each location, the other Element Bearers heard and/or saw the signal in the sky and did the same, putting their necklaces back on and putting the Chaos Emerald that was left with them in their manes before heading for the castle. Rarity, being the closest one, waited for everypony at the base of the stairs leading up near the tower. Soon enough, everypony arrived and they all headed up together, all running to the tower.
Soon, the entrance to the tower came into view, and they could see Sonic, Spike, Tails, Shining, Cadance, Celestia, and Luna standing around the doors, seemingly looking at something. Weaving around the last pedestal and the block that the map was on, they all came to a stop at the foot of the steps in front, Twilight saying, “We came as fast as we could! …What’s going on?”
Sonic, Shining, Tails, Spike, and Cadance turned to look at them, each one wearing concerned expressions. As they turned, the ponies also saw that Sonic was wearing Chip’s necklace on his left wrist. “Everything’s fine, I think. But check this out,” Sonic said as he and the others moved off to the sides. Celestia and Luna then turned to the Element Bearers, both of them keeping the ponies from seeing inside the tower, Celestia levitating something forward.
The six ponies gasped; it was the box that held the Elements of Harmony! But it didn’t look to be in the best shape. It had crack lines running through it, there were a few holes in it, the hinges on the back were bent out of shape… everything that could be done to a box without outright destroying or breaking it to pieces had been done to it.
“Who would do such a thing?! I had a very high opinion about that box!” Rarity exclaimed.
Tails rubbed the back of his head nervously, “It looks like you’re not the only one who has an opinion about it, Rarity.”
Sonic looked down at the beaten case as Celestia set it down on the ground. “Guess you’re going to need something else to keep those in, huh?” he shrugged.
Celestia replied, “It won’t be an issue, Sonic. I’m more concerned with how that creature got past the spell I put on the tower to keep magic users like Discord from stealing the Elements of Harmony again.”
Applejack asked, “Ya mean that monster got into the tower somehow, Princess?” The Solar Princess nodded in confirmation.
Tails spoke, “Well, that’s the theory Twilight and I were going with as a possible explanation for why the Elements of Harmony were scattered.” He then turned towards the tower and pointed inside, “But that kind of confirms it.” Everybody else peered inside again while the six ponies walked up the steps and looked for themselves.
The inside of the tower was even darker than the strange hallways had been, if that was even possible. They couldn’t even see the stained glass windows along the sides, and there didn’t appear to be any light getting inside, not even through the open doors. At the other end, they could see that the door that kept the Elements of Harmony safely locked up in the tower was open. Inside, all they could see was something red, an occasional lightning bolt running across it.
“What is that?” Rainbow asked.
“It appears to be another portal, but it’s unlike any we’ve seen before,” Shining answered.
Tails, while looking down at his radar, said, “Based on these readings, I’d say this is it. We’ve reached the center of the disturbance. That must be where the monster we’ve been chasing all this time is.”
Fluttershy whimpered, “W-We’re not going in there… a-are we?”
Rainbow said, “Of course we are, Fluttershy! We’ve got all the Elements of Harmony and all the Chaos Emeralds; it’s time to take that thing down!”
Twilight spoke, “Oh! That reminds me!” She used her magic to retrieve the radio and floated it over to Sonic, saying, “You can have this back, Sonic, and the Chaos Emeralds too.” That made everypony remember the gems they had tucked away in their manes, and they all reached up to pull them out.
Sonic, however, took the radio from Twilight’s magic grip and said, “I’ll hang onto this, but you girls can hang onto the Chaos Emeralds.” He then looked back at the inside of the tower, “Just wait out here a second, everybody. I’m going to make sure there are no ugly surprises waiting for us in there that we can’t see.” Before anyone could stop him, he dashed inside and started running around every corner of the room, searching for any trap triggers.
After a couple of seconds, he came to a stop near the portal and spoke into the radio, “It’s safe. Come on, let’s do this!” Everyone heard him and, after Spike climbed up on Twilight’s back, they all hurried inside towards the portal, Sonic leaping inside once they were closer and everyone following him through.
Fluttershy squeaked as soon as she saw what was on the other side of the portal, trying to keep her wings from locking up on her now. Directly in front of the group was the monster they had been chasing, but its appearance had changed slightly. Most of the black smoke that had been covering it had vanished, allowing the group to see that it had four arms, two sets of wings, what appeared to be a pink core in its center, and a lot of gears holding it together. It was floating in the air in front of the platform the group was on, which looked like a rusty tan gear due to its circular shape and gaps in the floor nearby. The space behind the creature was nothing but wavy dark purple and magenta, similar gears, though they lacked the rusty look of the gear the group was standing on, floating in the air behind it and turning as they floated in space. Sonic came to a stop near the middle of the gear segment a short distance from the monster, Tails, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity stopping along his left side and Rainbow Dash, Twilight and Spike, Pinkie Pie, Shining, and Cadance coming to a stop at his right. Celestia and Luna stood behind them all, all of them looking up at the monster as it flashed its claws menacingly at them.
“Okay, whatever you are. If you want to avoid an embarrassing beat down, you better give up now!” Sonic called. Celestia glanced down at him, the hedgehog saying what she had been just about to say. Well, not in those exact words, of course, but it seemed Sonic was willing to be fair with this unknown entity like she was.
The creature, however, said nothing, and a second later, a black covering above its head slid back, revealing a hidden compartment housing an Eggmobile and a familiar mustached figure who spoke, “You’re not in a position to demand anything, you nasty little pincushion!”
Tails, Spike, and the ponies all stared in shock as they realized it was Dr. Eggman while Sonic just facepalmed and shook his head while shrugging. Why didn’t this surprise him? “Eggman! But, how?” Tails wondered aloud.
Another covering slid back, revealing another Eggmobile underneath Eggman’s. It appeared to be empty, but two robot lackeys soon hopped up, hovering over the controls as they opened up. The red one on the right, from where the group was standing, spoke, “Well, you see, Tails, the boss had a little help with that.”
Before anyone could ask, Eggman called down, “Yes, but certainly not from you two! You two are almost as much trouble as Sonic himself!”
The blue hedgehog asked, “Then what are your two robot flunkies doing up there with you, Eggman?”
The red one, Orbot, looked down at him and said, “We’re just here to watch over things while HE’s out. He’s been disappearing a lot lately; I don’t suppose he’ll be returning any time soon.”
The yellow robot on the left, Cubot, reached down with his right hand and grabbed a trumpet, bringing it up before saying to Orbot in a French/fancy accent, “Au contraire, mon capitán! He’s back!” He then held up the trumpet in front of him and somehow blew into it.
“‘He’? Who’s he?” Tails wondered.
A dark voice spoke, “Ever the curious one, aren’t you? Of course you’d want to know.” Everyone looked down and saw, emerging from a blackish-blue sphere in front of the creature, a black hedgehog that looked a lot like Shadow! But he did not look exactly like the black and red hedgehog. His whole body was a pale black compared to Shadow, his eyes being a pale green and the spots on his quills and the undersides of his shoes being a pale blue. Everybody either winced or looked baffled and a little grossed out when he spoke, for he had no mouth yet the area of his face where he should have one moved, “Perhaps I can show you my records…”
Twilight started to sweat a little bit as she looked at him. “It’s him! He’s the one Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles saw in the ruined future, the one who killed Sonic! But… how did he get here? Is he even supposed to exist?” she thought to herself.
Before anyone could say anything, three new forms ran out of the still-open sphere behind the hedgehog, two of them coming to a stop at his sides while the third flew up, hovering over the hedgehog’s head. Sonic, Tails, Spike, and the ponies instantly recognized the uniforms they were wearing: it was the Shadowbolts that attacked them before!
The leader looked down at the hedgehog and said, “Save the history lesson for later, Mephiles. We have some unfinished business to attend to.” She then looked up at Rainbow and spoke, “I really shouldn’t, but I’m willing to let the bad times between us go, Rainbow Dash. You’ve got a lot of talent; to have to put you down just because you were stubborn in the past would be a waste of such talent. So I’m giving you one last chance. Join us now and all will be forgiven.”
The cyan mare responded, “You just don’t know when to quit, do you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: thank you for the offer, but I’ll never abandon my friends!”
The Shadowbolt leader shook her head, “Still so stubborn… what a pity.” She then shrugged, “Very well, then, if that is what you wish. It’s time for all this to come to a head, anyway.” She then flew up to about the level of the monster’s core, flapping her wings to hover there.
The sphere behind Mephiles rippled and, a second later, something else stepped out of it before it closed up. Both Luna and Celestia’s eyes widened at the sight of a black pegasus unicorn clad in armor. Nightmare Moon! “They were right… She really has returned!” Luna thought to herself.
The dark mare smiled, “Luna. How nice to see you again. Looks like you’ve grown a bit since the last time I saw you.”
Celestia held her left wing up in front of her little sister protectively, saying, “Don’t you dare talk to my sister that way, Nightmare Moon! You’ve done enough to us in the past! Wherever you were hiding, you should have stayed there! Now you and this human will answer for what you’ve done!”
Nightmare Moon just smirked, “Oh, spare me, Celestia. You really think it’ll be that easy? That everything you can see is just the way it is?”
The Solar Princess raised an eyebrow, “What?”
Nightmare Moon asked, “Can you feel it, coming in the air tonight? I’ve been waiting for this moment- Gah!” She was suddenly cut off with a seemingly pain-filled exclamation. While she and Celestia had been talking, Mephiles had melted down into a purplish-black puddle and slid underneath the black mare. The puddle had spread out under her completely and now, instead of her sinking down into it, it was rising up towards her, seemingly joining with her.
“What in the name of…?” Luna stuttered in shock and worry. As they watched, the two male Shadowbolts suddenly spread their wings and flew up, hovering backwards to Nightmare Moon’s sides while their leader turned around to look at the dark mare. Without warning, all three suddenly rushed her, the two males hitting her at the base of her wings while the leader struck her in the face, all of them vanishing upon hitting her and causing her to let out a scream of agony. She kept screaming for a few seconds before her eyes rolled back in her head, her eyes closing as she fell onto her stomach with her legs outstretched. She wasn’t moving.
Everyone in the group stared at her in absolute confusion. “What the heck just happened? Did her Shadowbolts and that Mephiles guy just commit a mutiny out of nowhere?” Sonic wondered. He was about to take a step forward and take a closer look when a low growl reached his ears, and it was coming from Nightmare Moon. The dark mare’s eyes suddenly opened wide a second later, both of them now glowing bright yellow as she began to raise her head. Eggman smiled widely down at her, eager to see what his new ally was about to do.
As Nightmare Moon attempted to push herself up with her hooves, a loud cracking sound was heard. Applejack cringed when she heard it; it was the sound of bones cracking, but even on Granny Smith’s not-so-good days, she’d never heard a crack like that before. Looking towards her flank, everyone saw that her hind legs were the source of the crack; they were now bending inwards towards each other! As the black mare seemed to adjust to her new hind legs, her horn, still bent at the end, suddenly retreated back into her skull, seemingly reducing her to a pegasus.
She began to climb to her hooves, everyone watching her with a mixture of different looks, ranging anywhere from fear to confusion. As she stood up, she swung her left foreleg out to the side, the hoof at the end flying off like a broken cast, a long, thin four-fingered hand now extending from it while, simultaneously, a pair of horns, neither one looking like a unicorn’s horn, sprouted from the top of her head, sending her helmet flying. Balancing herself on her hind legs, she slammed her now-bulging right hoof on the metallic ground, the hoof seemingly exploding into pieces and revealing a muscular, furry hand underneath it.
Rearing up on her hind legs, Nightmare Moon held her arms out at her sides and held her head up, breaking into mad laughter. But as her body continued its restructuring, her shrill, high-pitched laugh began to change to a deeper, more dominant laugh. Her wispy tail burst into a longer, more reptilian tail with something at the end of it, her right hind leg sprouted claws at the end, her spine began to pop and crack as it bent and extended, making her taller as her wings were blown off of her back and quickly replaced with new wings (though her right wing looked vastly different from her left wing), and her flowing hair began to flatten against the back of her neck.
Her transformation nearing its completion, her muzzle changed shape somewhat, her ears flattening against her skull and getting longer as her neck got slightly longer… and she was STILL laughing. Her mane joined with her neck, losing its ethereal appearance as it took on a more mohawk-like appearance like a zebra. Her chest plate falling from her neck, she stood at her new full height, her body still shrouded in black and her eyes glowing yellow like beacons in the night. She looked nothing like a pony anymore, and yet she looked familiar…
As her black coat began to fade away and reveal what was underneath it, Nightmare Moon’s laugh changed from dominating to a deep laugh of amusement as her eyes closed. Underneath the black coat, her dragon-like tail was red with white fluff at the end, she had a light brown goat leg and a green lizard leg for hind legs, her coat was mostly a brown color… Eggman grinned widely as the ponies’ eyes, save for Shining Armor and Cadance’s, widened as more details were revealed, their mouths hanging open. It couldn’t be… could it?