Underground by brambleshadow4
In an Equestria devastated by an apocalyptic war, the few that remain try their best to survive or rebuild--however they can.
That day began like any other day with Princess Celestia raising the sun, and it ended like any other day with Princess Luna raising the moon. The only thing unique about this day was that it was the last day anypony saw Princess Celestia. When Princess Luna looked for her sister to raise the sun once more, she found out that Celestia had gone missing. Leaping into action, Luna immediately contacted Princess Twilight Sparkle to come to Canterlot at once. Luna then went to contact Princess Cadence, only to discover that she and the entire Crystal Empire had disappeared as well.
When Twilight arrived in Canterlot, Luna delivered her the bad news. Between the two of them, it was decided that as Celestia’s former student, it would be Twilight’s task to find Princess Celestia and then Princess Cadence. She took flight immediately, and Luna was left to take over all remaining duties. But before she could even raise the sun to begin the day, a darkness fell upon all of Equestria.
It will never be known the story of how Luna transformed once again into Nightmare Moon to combat the darkness, and upon fighting it for consecutive days, was consumed and destroyed. Nor will it ever be known the story of how Twilight Sparkle spent centuries searching for her old mentor only to find her dead in a land far from Equestria. Nor will it ever be known what truly did happen to Princess Cadence and the Crystal Empire; this is because no pony survived the darkness that descended that day. No pony besides a small hundred leaving Equestria for good.
The darkness had descended from skies, quickly destroying the city of Cloudsdale and many of the Pegasus race. With Canterlot on such a high mountain, many unicorns were quickly destroyed by the darkness as well. It was only from small towns on the borders of Equestria that there were any survivors at all. The few that escaped quickly found each other and migrated towards a new home. About to join them were two unicorns: a young filly and her father.
“Where are we going, Dad, and who are those other ponies?”
“Not now, Ruby Dust,” said her father. “Excuse me, good sirs, but you seem to know where you are all going. Do you happen to know anything about why it is still night and why there is dark magic in the air?”
“Dark magic you say?” somepony responded. “You seem to know more than us. We know very little except that Equestria is uninhabitable and that we must leave. If you seek further information, you’ll have to talk to our leader, Stoneface. He’s the dark gray stallion at the front of the herd.”
“Thank you. I will.”
“So you are the two newcomers? What are your names?” asked Stoneface when the two unicorns had reached him.
“My name is Quartz Dust, and this is my daughter Ruby Dust. And you, you’re not Stoneface the …”
“The brother of Faerieface, apprentice to Princess Twilight Sparkle herself?” Stoneface asked. “As a matter of fact I am. But that is not important. When I sensed the darkness descending upon our rock farm, I gathered up all us earth ponies in my village and we were off. More have joined us, a few unicorns and a handful of pegasi, but our crowd is primarily made up of earth ponies. But what’s your story?” “We were camping in the woods when I detected dark magic. I immediately got Ruby up, and we’ve been fleeing from it ever since.” “Dark magic.” Stoneface frowned. “Oh well. It need not matter what the cause of the darkness be as long as we safely arrive at the Ancient Lands.” “Ancient Lands?” “Do you recall the legend of the Hearth’s Warming? Way back when Equestria was founded, an icy land was fled from. It is to that land that we are heading, and although it may still be covered in ice, at least the snow cannot freeze our hearts in the way that the darkness here will.” “Do you know how far away these lands are?” “I’m afraid I do not.” “Aw!” interjected Ruby. “That means that we could be walking there for forever!” Stoneface laughed, not unkindly. “Yes. But when we arrive there, we will have the opportunity to rebuild the kingdom, and only then will new life be able to take hold.”
“I take it that all the snow and ice means that we’re there?” Ruby asked.
“I guess so,” her father answered.
The ponies around them thought so too. The wind was howling, the snow was coming down in flurries, and it did not help the cold ponies that it was still night. With no princess to raise the sun, it appeared that night would become the new day for them. Still, the herd had migrated together for quite some time, and the ponies needed their rest. But how does one sleep in the midst of a blizzard? Some became disheartened.
“Why did we come so far to find nothing but a land of cold misery?”
“Wouldn’t it have been better to die with others back in Equestria than to die out here alone?”
“Who's bad idea was this anyways?”
Stoneface climbed an icy boulder and spoke to the crowd.
“Many of you have been asking if we have arrived at our final destination, and I would like to settle any doubt. We have indeed arrived. Now I know many of you were not expected to see this place covered in snow …”
“Why is it covered in snow?” asked a bold pegasus. “If the legend of Hearth’s Warming is true, then it must be windigos which are causing this winter. However, if there are no more rifts in between the earth, pegasus, and unicorn races, how is it even possible for them to exist any longer? Or are there feuds that I am currently unaware of?”
A hush went through the crowd at this comment, but Stoneface continued: “As I was saying, many of you were not expected to see this place covered in snow, but according to legend, the windigo winter in Equestria did not disappear instantly either. It took time for the wounds of the past to heal, and in this place there are many such wounds. It will take time for the winter to disappear. In the meantime, I am going to carry out a project, a plan B so to speak. Many of my fellow earth ponies are from rock farms, and we are going to tunnel into the earth to make temporary shelter in which to wait out the storm. If the rest of you help, even if you are a unicorn or a pegasus, the friendship created by working on such a project will help drive the winter away even faster.”
The earth ponies, and indeed some of the unicorns and pegasi, began to dig into the earth. Ruby, as a youngster unable to assist, was stuck on the surface freezing.
“Dad, are you sure I can’t help? I’m freezing out here!”
Her father replied, “Well, let me do something about that dear.” He took out a book that he had carried with him, 101 Spells Every Unicorn Should Know by Twilight Sparkle, and looked through it for a fire spell. A short while later, Quartz Dust had a nice fire going for his daughter.
“Dad! You must teach me how to do magic like that sometime.”
“I will, but first I must help the other ponies dig us some shelter. As a Dust, our family heritage comes not only from other unicorns but from earth ponies as well. I should be able to help plenty with the digging.” And with that, he headed off to join the others.
With the ponies digging for what would have been a night’s time, an elaborate lattice of tunnels began to emerge. The ponies went deeper, and then deeper still. Soon, they hit rock, and the rock farming earth ponies took the lead. As they chiseled away at the stone, the unicorns and pegasi continued to help, either by moving the debris out to the surface or, in Quartz Dust’s case, use magic to help the earth ponies chisel faster. But even though great progress was made, many of the tunnels began to collapse for what appeared to be no reason.
Despite the hope that the winter weather outside would clear, the blizzard blew on as strong as ever. Every pony had to head inside for shelter, and even in the surface tunnels, it was cold. The only option was to dig deeper and to establish a more permanent home underground. Because of geothermal energy, the deeper the ponies went, the warmer the air around them became. In this warmth, there were additional signs of life. Some of the pony-made tunnels opened up into caverns where there were mushrooms growing all about. Many of these the ponies could eat, and many of them glowed, providing the ponies with a source of light other than unicorn magic. With them, the claustrophobic tunnels and caves became more welcoming. Except when the caves spontaneously collapsed in on the ponies.
“Dad! Dad! Help! There’s been another cave-in. Some of the unicorns trying to clear a way back to the surface are trapped and…”
“Say no more, Ruby. Lead me to where they are!” answered Quartz, and the two of them took off to help out their fellow ponies.
Cave-ins like this one were becoming more and more common. It was almost as if the deeper the ponies descended, the more frequent the accidents happened. This one was particularly bad. Usually, the ponies digging the tunnels heard the rocks crack, and they had a brief chance to run out of the way before the roof crumbled down upon them. This time though, the tunnel collapsed without warning, and an earth pony, Crusher, had gotten stuck under the rubble. The unicorns with her tried to levitate the rocks out of the way, but they were too heavy, and if the earth ponies tried to break the rocks free, they risked causing even more of a cave in. No, the only way to free the unfortunate mare would be to magically dissolve the rocks around her into dust, which was Quartz’s specialty.
He arrived at the scene and went to work. With his magic, the rubble was quickly reduced into fine powder, allowing the remaining unicorns to clear the dust away and levitate the mare out of danger. The victory was short lived though. As soon as they finished the spell, another cave-in was triggered. As the tunnel collapsed around them, the small group ran for it, barely escaping in time. The rescue was a success, although it was more due to luck than skill that everypony escaped alive.
“What happened!?” asked Stoneface, who had called all the ponies to meeting upon hearing of the crisis. As Crusher explained the technicalities of the dig; how it must have been due to a slight error of chiseling with too much force in an area where the stone was particularly fractured that Ruby wondered out loud to her father,
“Why is it that these accidents are always happening to us unicorns?”
Quartz replied to her quickly.
“Ruby, the cave-ins have nothing to do with the fact that we’re unicorns. It’s just a series of bad coincidences.”
Stoneface must have overheard the comment because he then said, “No, it’s an interesting pattern that I too have observed. We’ve sent out many digging teams, some with only earth ponies, some with unicorns and pegasi. But only the integrated teams are having problems with cave-ins. All of the earth teams have returned safely, while the integrated teams are running into cave-ins at an alarming rate. Perhaps it is magic that is causing the cave-ins.”
“No, that can’t be it!”
“But that would make sense,” Crusher agreed. “The ceiling caved in immediately after the unicorns finished their spell. And it caved in once more immediately after they used magic to rescue me.”
“It’s not magic though,” replied Quartz. “I’ll prove it to you.” Quartz then began initiating a complex lighting spell. The cave they were in became brightly lit as Quartz has his horn flash many colors of light. “You see, nothing bad has …” Just then the earth rumbled, and sounds of breaking rock echoed throughout the cave. The ceiling held, but it was quite apparent that many other areas had become sealed off. After the initial panic wore off, the ponies investigated the damage. Unfortunately, all the tunnels to the surface had collapsed, and the ponies were trapped underground. Quartz stood there, agape at the ripple effect his spell had somehow caused.
“Let this matter be settled by this ‘experiment,’” Stoneface declared. “As long as we are underground and in these caves, there will be no magic of any kind allowed. Do you agree, Quartz Dust?”
Quartz turned to face Stoneface with a sad look on his face as he muttered, “I do.”
Ruby played by herself in the cave that she and her father had settled in to. Or, she tried to play. Ever since the day magic was forbidden she had been miserable; she had looked forward to her father teaching her magic, and now it looked like that day would never come. Learning magic would have been exciting and new, but now the only thing to do every day would be to wake up in the same dim cave.
With no way to get back to the surface, it had become more important than ever to establish a village of some sort in the caves. This first week, everypony had helped carve out the rock (without magic) making the small network of caves for them to live in. It wasn’t much, being very claustrophobic and dark, but then all the adults were working on making a much larger and glorious living space.
Ruby grabbed her mushroom lamp and left her home cave. She liked exploring, but there simply wasn’t too much to explore. She headed down the passageway into the common cave, which was a town square of sorts and the only brightly lit living space. From here, various passages went to all the other living quarters as well as to the mushroom farm. She wasn’t allowed to visit other ponies’ caves without permission, so she decided to visit her father at the dig site.
She climbed down the makeshift stairs into an enormous void. It was quite impressive that the ponies had carved out such a large space in such little time, but then, what else were they to do? Ruby spotted her father at the floor of the chamber, and she scurried down to meet him. He was busy chiseling away at the stone, helping expand the chamber.
“Hello Ruby, how are you doing today?” He kicked at the ground in what looked like a futile gesture; the ground seemed as immovable as it always had.
“I’m doing fine, though it looks like it isn’t for you. How can you possibly think that it is possible to kick away all this stone without magic?”
“You know very well that magic is forbidden, dear,” answered Quartz. He kicked once more again, this time removing a stone slab from the ground. “And with a strong kick, like the earth ponies have shown me, it is quite possible to mine away the ground.”
“But couldn’t you do a different task like the other unicorns are doing? Something like clearing away the debris or helping with the mushroom farm?”
He answered her, “Clearing the debris? That’s a job more suited for the pegasi who can fly it away quickly, and the mushroom farm already has too many helping out. Plus, I’ve seen Stoneface’s plans for this underground city, and I want to leave my own personal mark in the design.”
“You’re crazy Dad.”
“Maybe I am, maybe I am.”
Ruby decided to head back up to the common cave. The new city was exciting and all, but she was getting in way of the workers, so she left quickly. She climbed back up, and headed down the passageway to her home. On the way there, she noticed a large crack in the wall hiding among the shadows. I haven’t seen this before, she thought. I wonder if it leads anywhere. Holding the mushroom lamp in her mouth, she wiggled through the opening and into the darkness. Sure enough, behind that crack there were some caves to explore.
As she navigated the dark caverns, she began to her another voice coming from up ahead. She followed the sound, plunging deeper and deeper into the labyrinth. She thought she heard another filly shouting, except these were shouts of delight rather than screams for help. Her voice grew louder and louder, until she saw the glow of mushrooms around a bend in front of her. She turned the corner, only to briefly see a view of a large cave lit with many glowing mushrooms before the young pegasus crashed into her.
“Hey, watch it won’t you!” she yelled. Turning away, she looked like she was going to take off once more when she whipped around suddenly on Ruby. “Wait, how did you find me? Who are you? Are you by yourself or with others? Did Stoneface send you?” Ruby, unsure of what was going on, whimpered against the cave wall in fear. “Oh, you’re not one of the adults, are you?” the young pegasus said after a moment of apprehension. “So sorry about that. I was afraid that you were one of them out here to catch me.” She took off, flying around the cave once again.
After a moment of watching her zoom around the cave, Ruby decided to talk to the filly.
“Hey, what’s your name?”
The pegasus stopped flying. “Did I not tell you? I’m Skysweep, the fast and furious! No pegasus can fly faster than me.” She hurled herself with great speed at Ruby who nimbly jumped out the way this time.
“Why do you keep trying to crash into me?” Ruby complained.
“I’m not trying to crash into you, silly. I’m just showing you how fast I really am. Someday, I’m going to do a sonic rainboom!”
“Well, maybe you should fly around somewhere where there’s more room, like the dig site.”
“No!” shouted Skysweep. “I mean, I can’t fly there. Not with all the other ponies working and such.”
“You’re not allowed to fly, are you?” Ruby asked.
“Well, not exactly.” Skysweep explained. “My family was told by Stoneface that we should save our energy and wing power to use for important things like blech! moving stone and dirt. But I don’t want to get my cutie mark as dirt mover! Think about how lame that would be.”
“But that’s not fair! How come you’re allowed to break the rules while I’m forced to be the good little filly and never learn magic! I want to get a cool cutie mark as well.”
“Maybe you should break the rules too!”
“What! I could never do that.”
“Well then it stinks to be you.”
“It stinks more to be you! I’m telling Stoneface about what you’re doing now.” Ruby turned to leave.
“Wait! What’s your name?”
Ruby hesitated, then she turned back to Skysweep. “Ruby,” she answered.
“Well Ruby, I’ve got a better idea.” Skysweep’s eyes sparkled with a hint of mischievousness. “What if we both learned our secret skills together?”
“That’s still breaking the…”
“No one has to know about it. Look, what harm could possibly come from two fillies excitedly learning on their own without bothering anypony?”
“It might not bother anypony but …”
“I hate it when grownups say but,” Skysweep interrupted. “Anyways, it’ll be fine. We might end up helping the grownups too.”
“I confess, I had to steal some of the glowing mushrooms from the farm to light this place up. They caught me, and I’m no longer even allowed to go near the farm. Nonetheless, I initially snuck them out so that I could find larger caves, maybe even one that lead back to the surface. But if you learned magic, you could light up the caves with your horn, and I could fly us around to higher caves, and together we could look for a way back to the surface which would help out everypony. It’s a win-win-win! What do you say?”
Ruby thought about it for a moment, and then she said, “I do really like exploring, and I’ve been dying to learn magic. You’ve got yourself a deal!”
That day, Ruby was much happier. Having made the decision to practice magic, either in secret or with the help of her father, she gleefully was able to pass the time until her father came home. He had hidden his Twilight Sparkle spell book, and she was going to find out where. She didn’t know how she was going to convince him to tell her where it was, but even if he refused, with nothing else to do all day, she could probably look around until she found it.
Quartz returned later than usual. Ruby was playing in their home cave when he walked through the entrance. She turned to greet him, but upon seeing her father, she let out a gasp. Her father looked absolutely terrible! His mane was all messed up, his hooves were cracked and bleeding, and he was so tired that it looked that he might drop from exhaustion at any second.
“Dad! Are you alright?”
He gave her a small smile and said, “I’m fine, but after all these weeks of digging, it looks like the work has finally gotten to me. I’ll be much better tomorrow, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to get some rest right now.”
“But what about your hooves dad? They’re oozing blood!”
“What about them?”
“You need to get them fixed up or at least looked at!”
“I’m afraid that there aren’t any medic ponies nor medical supplies here Ruby. The only way they’re going to get better is if I let them rest. They’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
“No they won’t!”
“Good night Ruby.”
“Wait!” Ruby thought fast. “What if you used magic? Surely there must be a spell in your book that could heal them.”
“Magic is forbidden Ruby. Plus, I’m sure that they will be fine in the morning. Now, I really need to sleep, so if you would be so kind.” Quartz lied down on his mushroom bed, and within seconds, he drifted to sleep. Ruby was by herself once again, and without that spell book, she knew that she could not begin to teach herself magic. Defeated, she laid down on her bed.
“Goodnight dad,” she said sweetly, and she too entered a restful, if not pleasant, sleep.
At what would have been the next morning if day and night were still separate entities, Quartz was ready to head back to work. He got out of bed, but upon taking his first step, he winced in pain.
Pull yourself together, Quartz. You can do this. You’re just as tough as any earth pony, he thought to himself. But taking more steps only brought more pain. Ruby awoke, hearing her father’s grimaces.
“You’re hooves aren’t better, are they?” Ruby asked. Her father didn’t answer, and clenching his teeth, he struggled to take another step. Ruby, not enjoying the sight of her father in such pain, tried once again to persuade him. “Dad, you’re not an earth pony, you’re a unicorn! You can’t possibly work like this, day in, day out. And if you must, you’re going to have to somehow use magic to help you. Where’s the spell book, Dad? Please, let me help you! Let me help you!”
Quartz closed his eyes and thought through his options. Magic is forbidden, he thought, and I wish that it weren’t so. And it’s been banned because it, supposedly, was the cause of multiple cave-ins. Surviving without magic, like the earth ponies, certainly doesn’t cause cave-ins, but we aren’t all earth ponies. I want to help without causing trouble, but magic most certainly would let help even more. Sadly, risking other’s lives simply so I can use my magic is too high of a cost.
But then there’s Ruby. She’s lost so much. Her mother, her homeland, and now her permission to learn magic. I want to show her, more than anything, that even with our loss, it is still possible to make the world a better place. All it takes is a little more hard work. This is why I’m helping with all the digging in the first place; I want to show her that it is possible. But maybe I’m wrong, and the task at hand is too difficult. Maybe I should just not work today and give up, letting myself become useless without magic. No! I can’t do that! I need to be there for Ruby.
“Ruby, head to the common cave. Head down the third passage to the left until you come to a bend. There’s a small crack in the wall on the left where you’ll find my copy of 101 Spells Every Unicorn Should Know. Bring it to me.”
Ruby ran to the book, grabbed it with her mouth, and ran back to her father. He sat down, and picked up the book with his hooves, turning through the pages until he found the correct healing spell, number seventy six. He concentrated, muttering the spell out loud, focusing on his hooves. Ruby watched in eager anticipation as the cracks in her father’s hooves faded into nothingness within seconds.
“Ah, that feels so much better.”
Ruby picked up the book in her mouth, ready to return it to its proper place (so she could return to it later), when her father said, “Keep the book in here, Ruby. It’s important that every unicorn learn the basic spells, and I have decided that I am going to start teaching them to you tonight. Just make not to tell any pony that I’m letting you do this. I’ll see you again when I get back from digging.”
“Oh thank you dad! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Ruby slipped once more though the crack into the hidden caverns. Knowing where she was going this time, she didn’t need the mushroom lamp in her mouth, and was able to carry her father’s spell book instead. Soon, she found herself back in Skysweep’s secret flying arena, where Skysweep was busy practicing her tricks. With so many hours of practicing, she was become quite the adept flyer. Ruby hoped that with the same amount of time practicing magic, she could become just as good at magic.
“Hey Ruby! What’s up? Oh wait, that’s me!” Skysweep burst out laughing at her own joke.
Ruby rolled her eyes at her. “My dad’s now letting me practice magic in secret! He even left me his old spell book. Soon enough, I’m going to be really good. Maybe I’ll even get a magic cutie mark!”
“That’s great Ruby! Just make sure to let me know when you master that illumination spell so we can get out of this small dinky cave; I’m starting to feel cramped in here.”
Skysweep started practicing her old tricks while Ruby picked up the spell book. The first few pages were all about the basics of spell casting: how to mentally focus magical energy, how to correctly use the incantations to select which spell to cast, blah blah blah, all boring stuff. She looked ahead to the beginner’s suggested spell list at the end of the introduction. “Your first spell: See Spell #1” it read. She turned to spell number one and let out a smile. The first spell just so happened to be the illumination spell.
Meanwhile, her father worked as hard as ever chiseling away at the solid stone ground. The whole underground city plans were going very smoothly. Buildings were now being erected out of stone, and Quartz hoped soon that he would get moved to construction rather than chiseling. Sure enough, the earth pony in charge of the project, Mane Frame, soon called him over to discuss the new tasks.
“So, as you know Quartz, we’re beginning to build buildings for the city. Do you happen to be good with typical construction by any chance?” Mane Frame asked.
“I’m afraid not, Frame, but I would be more than happy to learn,” Quartz replied.
“Oh dear,” Mane Frame mutter to herself, yet Quartz overheard her nonetheless.
“Is there a problem Frame?”
“Well, not really. It’s just that because we’re now starting to build up the city, it’s going to take many of our earth pony engineers away from the dig site, yet we still need as many ponies digging as possible. I was hoping that, if you were good at building buildings, I could give you a break from the chiseling and let you work on the construction instead. But if you’re not already good at construction, I can’t let you switch tasks.”
Quartz stopped digging, and looked at Mane Frame with a face of disappointment. “I’m sorry Quartz. Here, I’ll show you my calculations. We need sixty ponies to do construction. Forty of them can be anypony, and the remaining twenty need to know exactly what they’re doing. We also need anypony that can be digging to dig. Since we can easily get forty of the pegasi and unicorns who aren’t digging to help with construction, the only way I can let you switch is if you had experience.
“I really am sorry Quartz. I’ve seen you chisel away at the stone for weeks when no other unicorn or pegasus would. You’re doing your earth pony ancestors proud, you most certainly are. You deserve a break; feel free to take one if you need it. If you are still willing to keep digging though, make sure to head on over to Crusher, your new project leader.”
Quartz thought to himself, just going to have work a little harder, as he headed on over to Crusher’s team.
“There he is, the unicorn with the strength of an earth pony, as well as the pony who personally save my life. Glad to have you on my team,” said Crusher, enthusiastically welcoming Quartz. “Let me know anytime if you need, or want, a rest from digging.”
Quartz pushed back his disappointment; he would much rather prefer to do the building rather than carving out the rest of the chamber. Chiseling was repetitive, tiring, and even painful at times whereas building would have been much better for him. But alas, his hooves were in good shape due to the healing spell, so Quartz continued chipping away at the rock.
It wasn’t after too long though that his hooves began to crack again. He didn’t notice it at first; he was concerned only with helping as much as possible for a single pony. But as the task wore on, slight pain seeped into his hooves, and they started bleeding once more. The healing spell could only do so much, and it was no substitute for healing time and rest. But if I could heal just one more time, Quartz thought, I would get so much more done today and it wouldn’t be quite as painful. Before he knew it, he had already recast the healing spell, and his hooves were once again ready to hit the rocks. After the spell finished, he looked around, expecting a large ruckus of a cave-in caused by magic backlash. He was disappointed though; there were no crashing ceilings or walls. And like he predicted, Quartz was able to accomplish a whole lot more with healed hooves than with bleeding ones.
When the day’s work was done, Quartz healed his hooves one more time, and then he headed back to his home cave where Ruby was waiting apprehensively. She had the spell book out and was ready to start learning.
“Now Ruby, have you really gone an entire day without prying into that book at all, or did you run off with it somewhere and start attempting a few of the spells?” Ruby looked up at her father with big eyes, grinning nervously. Quartz sighed. “That is exactly what you did, didn’t you. I expected as much. Have you managed to cast a single spell?”
Ruby let out a wimpy “no” for an answer.
“All righty then. As you know, magic is different from simply wishing something to happen. It requires focus, as well as knowledge of spells to accomplish specific tasks. The best way to think of magic is as a kind of potential energy. When focused, it is very useful; otherwise it remains simply potential and is unusable. Some spells call for you to transfer this energy into other objects, such as levitation. This is more difficult than to simply release the energy as light, which is why I’m going to teach you basic illumination first.
“Now, close your eyes. In a moment, I want you to imagine this magical energy flowing into your horn. Let it build up, and then let that energy be released as light. Now, try it.”
Ruby took a deep breath and concentrated. She tried to push this “energy” into her horn, and then finally when she could push no longer, she released it. At first, Ruby thought that the spell might be working, but when she opened her eyes, the room was no brighter than it was previously. She sighed, clearly disappointed.
Her father smiled at her. “You wouldn’t believe it, Ruby, but for a moment, right as you released that energy, your horn lit up briefly. That means that your magic is working and ready. I’m going to ask you to try the spell one more time. This time though, I want you to mutter the incantation written in the book, and I want you to release the energy slowly, rather than all at once.”
Ruby did as her father said. After she spoke the words, and started releasing the magic energy, she squealed with delight as her horn did indeed glow. She couldn’t maintain it for more than a few seconds, but still, she had cast her first spell!
“Excellent work Ruby! Over the next day, you can keep on working on that spell. Now, let’s try something more difficult. I’m now going to teach you how to target objects so that you can learn to levitate them …”
The days went by quickly. Ruby would wake up, grab the spell book, and head over to Skysweep’s secret cave. Once there, the two of them would chat and then get to work; Ruby practicing her spells and Skysweep practicing her flying maneuvers. When the day was over, the two of them would head home and Ruby would get her next lesson in magic from her father. Then Ruby would go to sleep, and wake up the next morning to repeat the same fun filled schedule.
Despite all this magic, there were no more cave-ins of any kind. Like Skysweep’s flying, Ruby’s magic did not appear to harm anypony in any way. Still, they had to keep these pursuits a secret for fear of being punished. There was no way of knowing how Stoneface would react to finding out that they had been training in secret, even if no harm had come out of it. Quartz Dust found himself in a similar situation. Working as hard as he was, it became more and more necessary for him to use his magic to heal his hooves. However, this simple use of magic never caused cave-ins or any other problems. He began to wonder whether magic really did cause the cave-ins in the first place.
There was no way to test this hypothesis, except to practice more magic. Quartz started to use magic not only to heal his hooves, but to dissolve the stone around him with his unique spell. Nothing bad happened; the stone more readily dissolved into dust, and Quartz was able to chisel it away in half the time with half the effort. He kept using the spell, and he no longer felt bad about not being as productive as the earth ponies because he was more productive being himself, a unicorn.
“Quartz Dust! What in tarnation are you doing?” Quartz had been using his spell often, and unfortunately this time he had not been aware of Crusher coming around the corner to check on him. He had been caught!
“I can explain, Crusher, I …”
A loud rumbling sound resonated through the cavern. There was no time for explanations of any sort as the rocks started crumbling around them. With Quartz standing there dumbfounded by the collapse, Crusher leaped into action, grabbing his tail to drag him out of the current sector and immediately jumping back in to save the others. Within the minute, what once was a carved out cave became a pile of collapsed rubble.
“What in Celestia’s name were you thinking, Quartz Dust?!” Crusher yelled. “You know magic was forbidden for a reason. Are you trying to get us killed?”
Quartz tried to calm to the enraged pony. “I’ve been using that spell for days, Crusher, and it’s never caused any caves in like that. Whatever it was that caused the cave in, it wasn’t my magic!”
“Likely story. Why don’t you tell that to Stoneface yourself, and see what he thinks.”
“How much damage was caused by the latest cave-in?” Stoneface asked Mane Frame.
“Unfortunately, quite a lot. Sector Alpha-7 collapsed entirely along with parts of Beta-4. Four of the newly built houses were destroyed, and fourteen ponies were injured. Fortunately none were killed.”
“Thank you Mane Frame. Quartz Dust, please step forward.”
Quartz came to the front of the common cave. All the ponies had gathered there to discuss the recent disaster and to hear what Stoneface had to say. It looked like Quartz was going to be blamed for the disaster in front of everypony.
“Is it true that you have used magic against my word knowing that it would endanger our lives?”
Quartz cried out, “Magic isn’t endangering anypony! I’ve been using spells for many days now, and it hasn’t caused any problems. Whatever it is that caused today’s cave-in, it wasn’t my magic.”
Stoneface looked at Quartz, “I would very much like to believe you, but every time magic has been used, it has caused some sort of commotion. Plus, why should we believe when you tell us that magic isn’t the problem when you’ve already lied to us about using it?”
“You must believe me, Stoneface,” Quartz begged. “I’m telling the truth!”
“This also explains how you have been able to dig as much as the other earth ponies. You’ve clearly been using magic this entire time, which means that for the past several weeks, you have been a threat to our society. For this you shall be punished.
“From now until you have cleared away all the rubble from this last cave-in, you will be required to chisel the earth without the use of magic, even if it causes you great pain. Let this be a warning to all you other unicorns out there: This isn’t a normal world we live in anymore. Everypony depends upon every other pony to survive, and although you might with to help with your magic, do not do so, as you risk destroying us all. The next time I find any unicorn practicing magic, a much greater punishment will be ensued.”
Stoneface dismissed the ponies, and everyone returned to their home caves except for Ruby, who ran up to her father still standing at the front.
“Shhh Ruby,” Quartz said to her. “Let’s get back to our home cave where we can talk without … interruption.”
The two of them walked to their cave. Upon arrival, Quartz checked to make sure no pony had followed them or was around to hear what he was about to say.
“Ruby, it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to teach you magic anymore. Nonetheless, I want you to take my spell book with you and hide it where ever you have been practicing these last few days. You may keep practicing on your own, but make sure it’s where no pony can possibly find you.”
“But dad, how do you know that my magic won’t cause a cave in?” Ruby asked.
“Because this whole magically caused cave-in business can’t be true,” Quartz replied. “Magic never caused any structures or buildings back at our village to collapse, and these caves are stronger than those buildings. Plus, Stoneface has always acted strangely around us unicorns. It’s like he fears us or something.”
“But how do you know that, dad?”
Quartz sighed. “I don’t. But do remember the old tale I told you about Princess Cadence’s wedding? Twilight Sparkle, only a unicorn at the time, thought that there was something going on, something hidden behind the scenes. There was only limited evidence, and it had to be interpreted, but she went with what intuition told her, and she was right. Princess Cadence had been replaced by the changeling queen.
“I’m not saying that Stoneface is a changeling, or anything like that. But he keeps contradicting himself. He started his speech this afternoon by saying that every time I perform magic, it has caused disasters. But by the end, he concluded that I had been using magic to help me dig, thus assuming that I had been using magic safely all along. Don’t you see? Both claims can’t be true, but Stoneface goes along with it simply because … well I don’t know. But I’m going to figure out why he is so eager to ban magic.”
“Ruby! Ruby, wake up!”
“Huh?” Ruby muttered to herself as she turned to sleep on her other flank.
“RUBY WAKE UP!”
Ruby opened her eyes to see Skysweep hovering above her head. “Really Skysweep? Sneaking into our private cave when everypony is sleeping. I must say, that is a new low, even for a rude pegasus like you.”
Skysweep grabbed Ruby by her front hooves, and using her strong wings, lifted her of the ground and into the air.
“Whoa! Put me down Skysweep.”
“Then follow me,” she whispered in her ear.
With the two of them on the ground, Skysweep lead Ruby through the lit corridors until they reached their secret side cave. Now in the dark, they both traveled through the familiar darkness towards their truly private cave.
“Wait, shouldn’t we be seeing the glow mushroom’s light by now?” They rounded the final bend, and Ruby used her magic to light up the now dark cave.
“See Ruby,” Skysweep said. “That’s what I wanted to show you.”
Ruby flashed her light around the cave. It was the same cave all right, but the majority of it was now covered in rubble.
“You wanted to show me that the cave collapsed? Thanks, but you could have just told me when I woke up. It’s not uncommon for caves to collapse, and surely you must have heard about the major incident yesterday?”
Skysweep smacked Ruby on the head lightly. “That’s not what I wanted to show you, silly. Somepony took back all our mushrooms which means somepony discovered our cave!”
Ruby’s eyes widened. “You mean, we’ve been discovered!”
“Probably,” Skysweep whispered. “And by the looks of it, this cave was collapsed intentionally, separately from the accident.”
“But what could this mean? Is somepony watching every move we make? Who would even have the time to do that?”
“I don’t know. But if you look up,” Skysweep raised her hoof, “you’ll notice that now there’s been another cavern exposed right above us. But it’s too dark for me to venture in alone …”
“… and it’s too steep for me to climb up without any help, so that means that we’ll have to explore it …”
“Together!” both fillies cried out in exclamation.
Skysweep put herself in a position so that she could hold on to Ruby, while Ruby mustered up the strength to cast a powerful illumination spell. Finally both were ready. Ruby cast her spell, and Skysweep pulled her off the ground and into the air. Up, up, up they went, scaling the large rock face. The path itself was pretty much straight up with only a few jagged rocks blocking the way, but going up there was still pretty difficult. At times, Ruby’s illumination spell went out, leaving both ponies in the dark. At other times, Skysweep’s wings grew tired, and both were afraid that they might fall. But after quite the effort, both ponies made it safely up to the top of the face.
“Is that light up ahead?” asked Skysweep.
Ruby dispelled her light. “Yes, it must be!”
The two fillies galloped towards the light. Soon they emerged into an enormous moonlit cavern decorated with quite the array of stalactites and stalagmites.
“Whoa!” Both ponies looked into each other’s eyes, clearly impressed with their find.
“This cavern is so large, we could build an entirely new city in here twice as large as the one the earth ponies are making!”
“This cavern is so large, I could finally try to nail that sonic rainboom in here!”
“And with the moonlight flooding in from the top! Do you think there might be a way back to the surface after all? We must tell somepony, perhaps Stoneface …”
“No!” Skysweep interjected. “We can’t tell anypony, especially not Stoneface.”
The two of them continued to explore the cave, and together they walked towards the other side.
“Now, I can understand why my dad and us unicorns are frustrated with Stoneface, but why are you pegasi frustrated?” Ruby asked Skysweep.
“Well, us pegasi and them earth ponies aren’t on the best of terms,” Skysweep replied. “You know that now the pegasi are helping to construct buildings in the city?” Ruby nodded her head. “Well, they’re doing their best, lifting rocks into position and such, but the head of the project, Mane Frame I think, has been telling others that the pegasi are all idiots.”
“Yeah. The pegasi were going to do something about it, but it looks like Stoneface has chosen a new target to blame for everything: the unicorns.”
“I don’t if any of this has anything to do with Stoneface though. After all, it was Mane Frame that called the pegasi stupid, and it must have been somepony else who reported the digging incident to him today.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Skysweep replied. “But it’s not just him! It’s Stoneface and his turn-to earth ponies. Stoneface is actually the nicest of the lot, but the rest of them, well, they just seem to hate every pony that’s not an earth pony, and they especially don’t like the unicorns. And no pony wants to mention it to them; have you seen how strong they are?”
“Yeah, they can be quite intimidating”
The two of them had arrived at the edge of a cliff. The rocky slope they were standing on quickly took a plunge into a large ravine below lit by many glowing mushrooms. Upon seeing the ravine, the two fillies let out a gasp.
“It’s beautiful!” Ruby squeaked.
“An underground paradise,” Skysweep agreed.
“It’s a real shame that we’re going to have to keep knowledge of it to ourselves though,” Ruby commented. “We couldn’t possibly explain how we made such a find without mentioning secretly exploring the caves. And that alone would warrant further suspicions about our other activities.”
With the two of them starting to become exhausted, they turned around and headed back across the cave. After a few minutes, they came back to the slope they flew up.
“That cliff is much too steep for any pony to climb up,” Ruby sighed. “You’ll be able to fly up here easily enough, but unless we find another way up, I’m not going to be able to get up here without assistance.”
“Then let us look for a way. There’s this passage off to the side here that we haven’t explored yet.”
The passage was very dark and cramped, and although it was possible to climb down, the many twists and turns made navigation quite difficult. Ruby’s illumination spell would only light up the area till the next turn, and then the two had to stay close together so that neither of them became lost in the darkness. Finally the passageway widened, and the two of them could now decide on which path to take.
“This area is new, but since it’s lower in elevation, there might be a chance that it could connect back to a cave we’ve already been in,” Skysweep stated.
They explored a bit further, but the passage to the right went down into deeper caves, and the left became blocked by many rocks. However, the two discovered that the rocks could be moved, and after clearing out a small hole through the rubble, they had ended up back in their old secret cave.
“Well, now that we’ve found ourselves a new secret cave, we should give it a name so that we don’t the two of them confused” Ruby said.
Skysweep thought for a moment. “How about we call the new cave the pegasus flying zone?”
Ruby rolled her eyes, “You know we both can’t fly right? How about we call it the grand chamber or something generic like that?”
Skysweep shrugged. “Grand chamber’s fine with me.”
The two of them crawled back to the mane caves, and once there Ruby headed back to her home cave to finally get some sleep for the night.
Ruby slept way past the time she normally would have gotten up and probably would have slept even longer if she hadn’t been woken up by the sound of breaking rocks.
“Huh?” Ruby said to herself out loud as she dreamily stood up just in time to get a quick glance of the outside of her cave before the air became infused with dust particles. Ruby screamed as she leapt back into bed, expecting the worst as crashing noises echoed all around her. Thud. Thud. Thud. After a while, the crashing stopped, and Ruby got up once more from bed. She thought that the sounds of the cave-in had just been the works of a terrible nightmare, but with a fine layer of dust covering every surface, she knew that it must have been real.
Frightened, she ran off to the common cave where the other ponies had gathered. All them, including the earth ponies, were huddled, clearly terrified by what had just happened. Stoneface calmly stood in the center, waiting for a report. Soon one of the earth ponies came up to him and whispered something in his ear.
“Quartz Dust! Come with me at once to my personal cave,” he bellowed out loudly.
“I haven’t been doing any magic I swear!” Ruby’s father hollered. “You’ve had Crusher watching me the entire time. This wasn’t my fault at all.” His words fell upon deaf ears, and he was escorted away from the crowd.
Ruby simply wanted to disappear. All the other crowd ponies were shooting her and her father awful looks, and she tried to make herself small, small enough to escape from everypony and fade into the stone. Her wish kind of came true as somepony grabbed her and whisked her away from the crowd. She closed her eyes, hoping that whatever punishment she was about to get wouldn’t be too awful. Harsh words, discipline; just please Celestia let it not be as awful as what was going to happen to her father.
That voice, it sounded like … Ruby opened her eyes to see that it was Skysweep, and not one of the adults, that had pulled her away. She immediately felt a wave relief, and she leaped on her friend, giving her a hug. Skysweep, unprepared for this, awkwardly tried to get out of it.
“Ruby, what happened with your father?” Skysweep inquired.
“I don’t know, actually. I slept through it all,” she replied.
“Well, there’s only one way to find out. Would you happen to know where Stoneface’s cave is?”
“You are seriously considering…” Ruby looked at Skysweep, and then closed her mouth. “His cave is this way.”
The two of them raced down the less frequently used passages, quickly re-navigating to avoid everypony they saw while Skysweep filled in Ruby with the details.
“Sometime near the middle of the day is when the cave in started. The curious thing is though, the cave-in appeared to happen right when the adults started fighting. There’s quite a lot of racial tension going on behind the scenes; my parents even asked me to come help out with the building today, something about displaying unity among all the ponies. So I was there flying about when the ponies below started bickering. I don’t even know what it was about, but shortly afterwards, the cave started rumbling. Most got out, but there’s a rumor that three earth ponies have gone missing.”
Ruby gestured to Skysweep to stop talking. Ruby lead her towards Stoneface’s cave, trotting softly to avoid making any noise at all. Slowly, they began to hear words.
“… Is that true? Are you sure?”
“I wish I knew more, but that’s all my sister told me. It remains essential because of that, and because of the cave-ins, that magic must not be used at all.”
“But I’m not the one using magic. You do believe me.”
“I believe you more than the others. But all of the other unicorns are blaming it on you nonetheless, and many of them want you punished.”
“Oh dear.” Ruby’s father sighed. “So it all does come down to politics. Do you believe that this punishment is the only way to resolve the conflict?”
“I have to believe that it will. I will make sure that it hurts as little as possible, but I still want your consent before …”
“What are you two doing here?”
Skysweep and Ruby had been listening so intently that they hadn’t noticed one of Stoneface’s closest advisors coming down their passageway.
“Don’t you know that it is wrong to eavesdrop on these important meetings? Especially so in a time of crisis? Well, I can hardly say that I am surprised. After all, the greater good has never meant anything to you, Skysweep.”
“I … I,” Skysweep struggled to defend herself.
“Oh, I know all about you and your secret cave Skysweep,” the mare continued. “You’re the one pegasus that’s ‘so good at flying’ that it warrants you doing nothing but frolic all day while others worked. It’s too bad that your little cave has collapsed now, isn’t it.”
Ruby couldn’t stand watching this awful pony yell at her only friend, so she stepped up to the mare.
“Leave Skysweep out of this. This whole eavesdropping thing was my idea anyways.”
The mare turned and looked at her. “Ruby Dust, isn’t it?” She stood there, cold eyes glaring at every inch of Ruby, analyzing her, piercing her soul. Ruby was expecting a stern, ‘you’ve done everything wrong’ speech. Knowing that it would have all been a lie, Ruby could have dealt with that; this icy gaze though was something quite different. After what felt like an eternal stare down, the mare finally released her and said, “Just like your father. How disgusting.”
Ruby broke down in tears as the mare continued by to Stoneface’s cave. Skysweep, realizing that they were still right outside of Stoneface’s cave and still technically eavesdropping, decided that it was best for the two of them to get out there as fast as possible. Once again, she grabbed Ruby and dragged her away to some other part of the caves where the two of them could be alone together in safety.
Ruby continued to weep. Skysweep sat next to her, waiting for her to finish. When it finally occurred to her that she might continue weeping there for quite some time, Skysweep said to her, “Ruby, standing up for me back there; that was the kindest thing anypony has ever done for me.”
Ruby stopped crying for just an instant. “Really?” she asked.
“Yeah, and I’m so sorry that mare lashed out on you. She was one of the few who I was telling you about: one of Stoneface’s advisors that seem to hate everypony. I’ve dealt with them before, and every time it’s always awful, but I’ve managed to get through it somehow. But you, I’m so sorry I dragged you into this.” Ruby started sobbing again.
“But listen, we can’t cry about this now. Sooner or later, Stoneface is going to come out of his cave and address all the ponies about the cave-in, and we need to be there for that. Let me lend you some of my strength, and as soon as this is all over, we can go off somewhere and do whatever. Right now though, we need to get back to the common cave.”
With Skysweep’s help, Ruby managed to get on her feet, wipe her tears away, and together they headed back to the common cave. They returned to find Stoneface addressing everypony about the accident.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to rescue three of our fellow earth ponies during the cave in. Rhythmhoof, Stone Dancer, and Star Song are no longer with us.” A hush went through the crowd. “Their bodies were buried under rubble, so I am afraid we will not be able to say one final goodbye to them. They join all those who have died recently in Equestria, and all those who have died long ago. They are with Applejack and Pinkie Pie in a place far lovelier than this underground cave we now call home.
“As for the cause of this accident, it is quite clear. Magic, once again is to blame. Quartz Dust, please come forward now.”
Ruby watched as her father stepped out from the crowd and walked towards Stoneface. Although the other ponies called him “traitor” and other foul terms, Ruby could feel nothing but pride for her father. There, right in front of her, was a pony who knew exactly who he was, and a pony who was not afraid to show it.
“Many of you have made suggestions on what the punishment should be for using magic. Many of these suggestions are too harsh, or not harsh enough. In this time of trial, there a fine line which we each must trot, and straying too far from that line will result in disaster. After much consideration, I have decided that from this moment on, that the punishment for the use of magic will be horn amputation. Quartz Dust, please place your horn on this rock.”
“No!” Ruby screamed as Stoneface lifted another rock with his hoof. She leaped forward, crashing through the other ponies towards her father, trying to stop the inevitable. She managed to get all the way to the front, standing between Stoneface and her father.
“Ruby, please stand aside,” Stoneface spoke.
“No! You can’t do this,” Ruby begged.
“I’m afraid I must,” Stoneface replied, pushing her aside with his rock. Ruby blocked again, and Stoneface continued to push her aside. She tried to knock the rock from his hoof, but she was just so little, and he was strong. Within minutes, Ruby had exhausted herself, and she collapsed by the side of her father.
“Dad, please don’t let him do this!” she begged.
Quartz turned to her, and with a calm voice, he told her, “Ruby, sometimes in life you get to choose your destiny. Sometimes you don’t.” Stoneface brought his rock down, and a high pitched note rang out as his horn shattered into a million pieces.
Life continued on in the caves but not for Ruby. After many tears, she had finally stopped crying over her father’s fate, but she was still angered by the atrocity. She couldn’t bear to look at her father; he now had a broken stub where his horn should have been, and every time Ruby saw it, it only reminded her of the pain. Her father’s screams still echoed in her mind even days after the event. He had blacked out from all the pain, and when all the other ponies left, it remained for Ruby to slowly drag his body back to their cave.
Somehow, Quartz managed to recover astoundingly quickly. Only two days later, he could be seen back on the dig site, pounding away at the rock once more. With the huge cave in, the entire city project had been set back greatly, yet Quartz Dust was one of the first on the scene to clear the rubble and begin rebuilding. Without magic though, Quartz’s was unable to keep his hooves in top condition, and his productivity began to decline greatly. And although he tried to keep his spirits high, it was obvious to anypony that a sadness lay underneath his attempted smiles.
Ruby would no longer practice magic. She kept the spell book with her, but more so as a token of an age past than as her gateway to learning. Day after day, she would grab some glow mushrooms and head off to the grand chamber to spend time with Skysweep, but even this endeavor slowly lost its joy. The long winding climb up was simply too arduous a task, and without the promise of magic waiting at the top, it proved to be a waste of time. She did nothing for hours but sit and wait for her father to come back, and when he did, he was too tired to do much of anything. The two of them would go to sleep, and the next day would come, bringing no new surprises.
Finally, this cycle of joyless survival broke with yet more tragedy. Ruby never found out what really happened during the next cave-in, although she was told that her father acted heroically, saving many of the other ponies at the cost of his own life. Buried under the rubble of rock, like all the others. When Stoneface gathered all the ponies in the common cave to commemorate his death, Ruby wanted to scream. Here they were, trying to turn him into a hero postmortem when throughout his life they worked him to exhaustion, forbid him from using magic, destroyed his horn, and blamed him for the cave-ins which ultimately took his life. It’s almost like they wanted him dead, she thought. No! Bad Ruby. Don’t let yourself think that. Dad always wanted me to think the best of other ponies. If I want to truly honor him, I’ll remember all the lessons he taught me, and I will live by those lessons.
Even so, Ruby couldn’t stop herself from screaming out in grief as soon as she returned to her home cave. It’s just so unfair and so ironic, Ruby thought. She fell back on her bed, ready to cry some more, but the tears just wouldn’t come. She then realized that ever since her father lost her horn, she had been grieving his death, the death of his spirit. His physical death didn’t really mean as much when comparted to that. Ruby now pictured her father, working at the dig when suddenly the rocks started falling. She felt his exhaustion, his uselessness without magic, his life without purpose. When those rocks fell, she could picture the sudden clarity of her father’s mind. I don’t care for my own life now, he would think, but these other ponies do. It’s the least I can do, as a final service, to save them from this disaster. With that purpose, her father would leap into action, pushing the other ponies out of the way as the ceiling came crashing down. Ruby blinked. It’s exactly how my father would have wanted to die, she thought. Helping others.
She then thought about what she considered to be her father’s last words, the ones he issued right before his horn got destroyed.
“Ruby, sometimes in life you get to choose your destiny. Sometimes you don’t.”
Those words haunted her. Mainly because her father seemed to fit right into a preconceived destiny of sorts. Quartz Dust. Gray coated unicorn with an aptitude for stone mining spells. Everything pointed to him being a unicorn equivalent of a traditional earth pony rock farmer. Was it any coincidence that he ended up chiseling stone away till his last breath? Where was the choice in that? Ruby didn’t want to believe by any chance that her father made the choices leading to his death. She also considered her own identity: Ruby Dust. Pink coated unicorn with no cutie mark and a love for magic. It didn’t seem to point her in any direction at all. Did she still get to choose her destiny, or was it also going to be predetermined? Ruby didn’t know, but there was one thing she did believe: that magic was fundamentally important. Her father lived for his magic and died without it, and she had a burning desire to learn as much of it as she could. So as long as the choice was hers, she would choose to continue her studies.
She grabbed the spell book in her mouth, and ventured once more through the darkness, down the winding passages heading up to the grand chamber. For once, Skysweep wasn’t there, but that didn’t matter. As she illuminated her horn and opened up her spell book, she spoke out loud a vow to herself. “As long as I live, I will always use my magic. I will do this because with magic, I will be able to assist my fellow ponies, and because I know it is what you would have always wanted me to do, dad.”
Ruby was taking a nap in her cave when an earth pony dropped by to give her a message. “Stoneface would like to see you now. I’m here to escort you to his cave.” Ruby got up and followed the stallion through the caves. It had been a long while since she had actually talked to anypony other than Skysweep, and it would not surprise her if Stoneface had noticed. Other than when she was practicing magic up in the grand chamber, she kept out of everypony’s way as well as kept her expression unreadable.
She wondered why Stoneface had summoned her now though. Did he think she finally had recovered from her father’s death and was ready to rejoin society? Was he going to make her help build the city because she wasn’t doing anything else? She hoped not. If she was required to help, she wouldn’t have nearly as much to meet up with Skysweep and practice magic.
They had arrived at Stoneface’s cave. It seemed like an eternity had passed since she and Skysweep had been caught spying outside this cave. In reality, all those terrible events had happened within the last two weeks. She paused right outside the cave before entering. A chill of fear swept through her. Inside would be Stoneface, the leader who had made most of the decisions which affected her life in a negative way. The banning of magic, the amputation of her father’s horn, and the decision to dig this far underground in the first place; all of those were Stoneface’s decisions. Ruby still respected Stoneface as a kind and wise leader, but she still somewhat blamed him for all the personal tragedy in her life.
“Come in Ruby; please have a seat,” Stoneface called to her.
She did as he suggested, coming into the cave and taking a seat by the makeshift table.
For a while, he didn’t speak. After a moment of silence, he finally said, “I am sorry about the loss of your father. How are you taking it?”
“Fine,” Ruby answered.
“Just fine?” Stoneface asked. “Not sad or angry or frustrated or any kind of feeling like that?”
“I see.” Stoneface paused. “I sense that you’d simply like to get this conversation over as fast as possible, so I won’t sustain the topic much longer. However, I just want to let you know that if there is ever something you ever want or need to tell me, all you have to do is come here and I’ll listen. I take all my fellow ponies’ lives and feelings seriously, and I do not want to…” He paused again. “…assume certain things when I know that the truth is just a conversation away. You do understand?”
Ruby said nothing, though Stoneface clearly wanted a response.
“As for why I’ve brought you here, I have a few simple questions. Firstly, do you know what this is?”
Ruby gasped as he lifted the copy of 101 Spells Every Unicorn Should Know onto the table.
“That my spell, I mean, my father’s spell book. How did it get here? Why you take it from my cave without permission? That’s private space you know,” Ruby replied.
“There’s no need to get so accusatory now, Ruby Dust. When I sent my advisors to fetch you, one of them found it and brought it to me. The other woke you. The book, however, leads me to my next question. Have you been reading this book and have you been practicing magic?”
Ruby’s legs shook. She looked at the ground and answered, “No.”
“We both know that’s not true. Explain yourself.”
Ruby didn’t speak.
“Answer me!” Stoneface bellowed.
Ruby became increasingly nervous and scared. He knew, but she didn’t know how much. She feebly asked, “Why is it so wrong for a unicorn to practice magic?”
“Is that a confession, Ruby Dust?”
“No. I’ve never practiced magic.”
“Playing it innocent and telling me lies is only going to make me angrier. A few days ago, one of my advisors spotted that foal Skysweep sneaking off once again through the usual place. She followed her, watching her fly up through an opening in the ceiling, and she climbed up after her in the dark, risking her life, only to discover that at the top there was a light. That light was an illumination spell, coming from your horn, and in its light she saw you reading that very spell book. So answer me, why have you been practicing magic?”
Ruby was terrified now. She knew what Stoneface did to ponies who practiced magic; she knew what happened to her father, and she would not accept that same fate. As quick as a filly, she booked it to the exit of his cave and ran. She had to find Skysweep; she had to let her know that Stoneface knew, and together they could make a plan to escape. But, darn it, she didn’t know where Skysweep was right now, or where she lived for that matter. Ruby only had to hope that she’d be where the two of them always spent their time together.
Through the crack, down the passageways, around the tight turns Ruby ran. Up, up, up she went until she arrived at the grand chamber.
“Skysweep! Skysweep!” she cried, but there was no answer aside from echoes. She lit up her horn to maximum brightness, and searched the area for her. She crossed the cave, all the way over to the edge of the ravine, but she found no signs of her feathered friend. In desperate hope, she glanced all around the ravine, finding nothing.
“It’s funny how you run to the most obvious place for you to run to.” Ruby whipped around to see Stoneface standing ten yards away, trapping her along the edge of the ravine. “You could have ran into a cave I was less familiar with, or you could have ran down to the build site, where I wouldn’t be able to deal with you properly, not with all the other ponies watching. But you chose here, at the edge of a cliff, to make your final stand. Oh well, makes it easier for me.”
Ruby looked at Stoneface and said, “I don’t care about what punishment you’ll force upon me for using magic, but please tell me, why?”
“Why what, Ruby Dust?”
“Why do you not let us use magic? You know that magic isn’t causing cave-ins, so why did you ban it? Why did you let harm come to my father? Why do you terrorize me now?
“Terrorize?” Stoneface asked. “This, my little pony, is justice. You want to know why all this happened? How we ended up underground and endangered by cave-ins? I’ll tell you why: unicorn magic.
“You know my sister, Faerieface, was the prized pupil of Twilight Sparkle herself. What you don’t know is how proud I was of my sister before she even learned magic. She alone was the most talented and celebrated member of my family, and we were proud of how our earth pony line had produced such a prodigy. But soon, Princess Twilight Sparkle found her, and she was taken away from us to study magic.
“I never heard from Faerieface again. When our parents died, I had to run the rock farm by myself, all alone. I grew bitter, upset by how magic had taken away my beloved sister away from me forever. Then one day, while I was turning the rocks, a magic telepathic message of sorts came to me. It was from my sister. She told me that there wasn’t much time, her own magical experiment had gone awry and was wreaking havoc. She told me to find all those that I could and to leave Equestria immediately. I followed her advice. The next day, Equestria was covered in darkness, that ‘dark magic’ your father told me about. I realized then that it was magic that ruined my sister, and magic that destroyed all of Equestria.
“I set off with my fellow Earth ponies to establish a new world elsewhere, but you blasted unicorns and pegasi joined us. I knew that you would be our doom, and so I had to find a way to prevent your magic from destroying our new society. Turns out, living underground solved that problem. I arranged for little ‘accidents’ to happen while we dug. ‘Accidents’ that would provide rational reason for banning magic, and then there would be no problem at all.
“But you, your father, and the other unicorns insisted on using magic, so I had to make matters more extreme. For the love of Equestria, I had to cause bigger, more devastating cave-ins. I had to let a few of my fellow earth ponies die, so that maybe you unicorns would get the message. I had to inflict punishments on your father, and eventually I even had to kill him.”
Ruby gasped. Her father, murdered! The knowledge was just too much for her to bear, and she collapsed sobbing.
“It was a shame too. He seemed like such an earth pony too, but even that was a lie perpetuated by magic. He had to die, but at least I could give him a heroic death. Yours however, will be much more pathetic. Running away and plummeting over the edge of a cliff.”
Ruby gasped of sheer horror, and managed to have the strength to say. “You wouldn’t dare to throw a defenseless filly over a cliff!”
Stoneface laughed. “I don’t have to, my little pony.” He clopped his hoof, and a large boulder landed mere inches away from Ruby’s face. “Goodnight, Ruby Dust.” He raised his hoof once more, but just as he was about to slam it down once more, an explosion echoed from behind Stoneface. He missed the spot he was aiming at, falling over to see Skysweep riding a sonic rainboom overhead. She made it over to where Ruby was standing and scooped her up as the ceiling overhead gave out. Skysweep and Ruby plunged into the ravine, riding the wall down as the rocks raced past. Then they came to a screeching halt in a side cave at the end of the ravine. The rocks continue to tumble by, but the two fillies were safe as the entire cave system collapsed around them. Finally, the collapse came to an end, leaving them in complete silence and complete darkness.
“Ruby! Ruby! Are you okay?” Skysweep panicked.
Ruby groaned. “Next time, can you rescue me without bringing the whole cave crashing down on us?”
Skysweep sighed. “Ugh, maybe next time, I’ll just let the crazy earth pony get you.” The two of them laughed.
“Ruby, do you think you could light up that horn of yours? I can’t see a thing.”
Ruby illuminated her horn and took a look at their situation. “It looks like we’re trapped, but it also looks like we can move some of these rocks out of the way to clear a path. What do you think Skysweep? Skysweep?”
She looked at her friend, who then cried out “Gosh dang it Celestia! How do you do a freaking sonic rainboom and still not get a cutie mark? How is anypony supposed to get one these days?”
Ruby sighed, “I’ll start digging us out.”
Ruby and Skysweep stood in what little remained of the grand chamber. The cave-in had caused that little pip of moonlight Ruby saw earlier to open up, revealing a way to the surface. After the hours of digging and moving rocks, the sight game them the strength to keep going. The two of them finished the journey, climbing up to the surface where a surprise greeted them. The other cave dwelling ponies had also found a way up to the surface. Skysweep looked around, and then flew off suddenly. Ruby followed.
“Dad! Dad!” Skysweep yelled out.
Ruby looked at who Skysweep was referring to, and she immediately felt a shock of surprise. The stallion Skysweep was flying to was no other than Lord Skylancer of Cloudsdale.
He was Skysweep’s father? Why hadn’t she ever told Ruby that?
“Your highness,” Ruby bowed down at the leader’s feet.
“Ruby Dust,” Lord Skylancer said. “Please, there’s no need to bow. Royalty means nothing now.” Ruby stood back up as Skylancer continued. “I’m sure both you are very aware that there was another cave-in. You weren’t with us at the time, and when you didn’t resurface, we thought you had gone missing along with Stoneface. In general, there was a lot of panic, and I mean a lot; even the earth ponies were scared. I tried to calm down everypony; in the end, we put aside our pegasus-unicorn-earth pony feuds, and I somehow became leader in absentia of Stoneface. With us all so scared, we agreed to try to find a route back up to the surface. Ultimately, we made our way to here.
“The real surprise is that the windigo winter has ended. Now that there’s no reason to return underground, we all have decided to stay on the surface. Us pegasi have been able to clear the snow, while the earth ponies and unicorns have gone searching for you two. Now that you’re here though, all that remains is to find Stoneface and to figure out exactly what happened down there.”
“Um, I think we might be able to help with that,” Ruby said.
“We know what happened to Stoneface, and I think that’s also the reason for why the winter’s stopped,” Ruby explained. “You see, Stoneface had this personal problem with magic and unicorns …”
Ruby told Skylancer her story. She told him everything, what happened with magic, what happened to herself and her father, how she met Skysweep, her confrontation with Stoneface.
“And that’s when I saw Ruby being herded towards the edge of the ravine,” Skysweep jumped in. “I needed to help her, so I took flight, flying so fast towards her that I caused a sonic rainboom!”
“…which may or may not have inadvertently caused the entire cave to collapse,” Ruby finished. “So we dug ourselves out, and then we found you and all the other ponies.”
“That explains a lot,” Lord Skylancer commented. “Stoneface’s hatred prevented the winter from thawing, forcing us all to unite under his leadership. Underground, in the domain of the earth pony, he was able to exercise total control, allowing him to be able to rebuild the world as he saw fit, without magic and without unicorns.
“However, blaming one type of pony for all of Equestria’s problems is clearly a fallacy. After all, in your story alone, each type of pony did make a mistake; Faerieface may have caused the end of Equestria, but Stoneface himself made a mistake by believing that life would be better underground. In the end, it was better for no pony; it is much better now that we have put aside our differences and are all working together now.”
“But, sir,” Ruby said, “what mistake did the pegasi make?”
Lord Skylancer laughed. “My daughter here caused an enormous cave-in that almost got everypony killed. Tricks and sonic rainbooms aren’t everything, Skysweep.”
“I know! I’m still angry that I didn’t get an awesome cutie mark like Rainbow Dash’s for that sonic rainboom!”
Ruby sighed. “She’ll never learn, will she?”
“I’m still hoping that your good nature will rub off on her. In the meantime though, I must talk to the other ponies about our food supply problem. As you know, Equestria is trapped in a perpetual state of night, and without the sun, there is no way to grow food on the surface.”
“Hey!” Skysweep interjected. “Ruby has a pretty brilliant illumination spell. Perhaps we could grow food with that.”
“Hmm.” Lord Skylancer considered the possibility. “Perhaps we could.”
Ruby stood on the hillside, looking out at new Ponyville. Many years had passed since the whole ‘living underground’ disaster, but it still affected her to this day. Down in those dark caves, she had learned of many things: magic, death, good, and evil. Like it or not, it was what she primarily remembered from her childhood. She acutely remembered the day her father’s horn was destroyed and the day she found out he died. She remembered her personal vow:
“As long as I live, I will always use my magic. I will do this because with magic, I will be able to assist my fellow ponies, and because I know it is what you would have always wanted me to do, dad.”
The moon was high, as it always was. It illuminated only a small portion of all the land, while the rest was surrounded by darkness. It remained up to her and Skysweep to provide the rest of the land with all the necessary light.
It’s like life, Ruby thought. There’s darkness everywhere in life, and it will find you someday. When it does, it remains up to you to refill the world with light.
“There you are!” Skysweep cried out. “I thought you might have slept in again.”
Ruby laughed. “You very well know that it is I that most frequently wakes you up every morning.”
“Yeah, yeah, go rub it in won’t you,” Skysweep muttered. “You’ll always still be dependent upon me though.”
“As you will always be dependent upon me. There’s no way out of it now.”
“Shall we begin the day?”
Ruby nodded, and her best friend Skysweep picked her up. She had grown quite strong from all these years of flying her across the sky. Today was no exception. High up she flew the two of them, higher and higher until at last it felt like they could go no higher.
“You ready to cast spell number one!”
“I was born ready!”
Illumination spells are ideal for beginners because they does not require targeting any objects or such. All that is required is to build up magical energy from within and release it as light. There’s no limit to how much light can be produced, so theoretically, if a magically adept unicorn were to be flown into the sky by a strong pegasus, it would be possible to cast a spell so luminous that it could be mistaken for sunlight. Ruby loved proving this to be possible every single day. She gathered her strength, built up her focus, and finally released her magical energy to shine over all of Equestria as dazzling ruby light. The ‘sun’ had risen once more.