Iron Author

Login Create Account Read All Entries

The Beginning Of

by NovelleTale

Palomino Desert
Two Weeks Prior

Everything was beige.

Endless desert stretched from horizon to horizon: ahead, cracked earth spread like a dusty quilt until it met the bleached blue of the sky, and behind, the train station (ostensibly) lurked… somewhere. With the heat haze blurring the view, Sunburst couldn’t really make out its silhouette any more.
He raised his hoof to shield his eyes from the sun’s unforgiving glare and squinted.

Aha! About a hundred meters dead ahead, a large outcropping of rock jutted out from the ground, with a slightly-more-brown-than-beige tent nestled beneath it. Sunburst hastened his steps.

The camp was small, just the sturdy tent with a sooty firepit next to a low, flat rock. It made sense, he supposed, given that there was only one occupant. One other occupant. He lit his horn and lifted the tent flap.

“Hello?” he called, squinting again, this time into the comparative darkness inside the tent. A flap to his left lifted.

“Hello,” a measured, even voice answered. A sedate grey mare stepped into the main area. Between her steel blue linen tunic and her no-nonsense manecut, Sunburst could tell she was very much used to being out in the field. He was suddenly thankful that the Princess had convinced him to leave his usual cape at home in favor of a more breathable caftan.

“Doctor Pie?” he asked, offering his hoof.

“Maud is fine,” she answered, pressing her own hoof to his in a perfunctory shake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Archmage,” Maud continued, not sounding particularly pleased at all.

“Likewise,” Sunburst answered. “And Sunburst is fine for me.” He glanced around the tent. A vast array of rock samples, stacked in wooden crates, littered the corners. A large, rickety table sat to their right, with more stones holding down the corners of what appeared to be a map of the desert.
“Ah.” Maud’s ear flicked. “Brace yourself.”

“Hm?” Sunburst asked, but the ground was already shaking. “Oh my–” He looked at Maud, eyes wide, and mirrored her squatted down posture.
“The earthquakes have steadily increased in frequency over the last week that I have been dispatched to this location,” Maud continued conversationally as the ground roiled beneath their hooves. “Upon arrival, there was one quake approximately once every seven-point-five hours. They now arrive approximately once every three-point-five hours.”

“A loss of four hours in seven days?!” Sunburst exclaimed. The rolling ground gradually abated over the next few moments into gentle rumbles, and then disturbing stillness, as if the quake had never been.

“Yes,” Maud answered, straightening from her crouch and turning back to the pinned open tent flap from which she had come. “This way, please.”

Sunburst hastened to follow her.

The temperature shift was vast and immediate as he stepped into the cool darkness. A cave, he realized—or a cavern, really, given the vast scale—glancing around the dimness lit by a network of glowing crystals.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle debriefed you?” Maud asked, sparing a glance back to ensure her partner was following her as she traipsed down the dusty path.

“Yes,” Sunburst said, unwinding the linen wrapped around his face. “The earthquakes that have been shaking Equestria are the result of… some variety of tectonic activity.”

“Vexing volcanism,” Maud answered with a single nod.

“Yes,” Sunburst agreed, stepping on a loose stone. “The Princess informed me that the problem was a bit more complex than mere volcanoes, but she didn’t specify what, exactly, the uh, earthquakes are being caused by.”

“We know as much about the planet’s tectonic makeup as we do about our ocean’s depths.” Maud glanced back again, blinking languidly. “Which is to say, very little.”


“My research focuses on learning more about that makeup,” she continued, turning forward once more. “Have you ever seen a ley line?”

“A ley line?” Sunburst asked. “No, I can’t say I have. The proofs say they must exist, and the Tree of Harmony drew power from it to become Twilight’s—the Princess’s—castle in Ponyville. But they’re all too deep underground to be observed physically.”

“True,” Maud conceded. “For the most part. Watch your step.” The winding dirt path had come to an abrupt end with a small three foot drop down off it’s edge

“Oh, thank you.” Sunburst stepped gingerly forward, hopping carefully over the tiny cliff. “For the most part?” He asked, straightening. They were on a new path now, this one far less maintained, and newer, he realized, spiraling around a large pit.

“Yes.” Maud did not elaborate further as she marched steadily around the winding walkway. Sunburst hastened to follow her, taking care to not trip on the jutting rocks and debris. Thankfully, it was oddly brighter down here, with faintly glowing crystals peeking out from the walls to light the path, no lanterns required.

They walked in silence for a time, descending into the pit. Instead of becoming darker, as Sunburst had expected, it grew lighter still, the dimness lightening first to a predawn glow, dawn, and then sunrise.

Maud drew to an abrupt halt. Sunburst stumbled into her before he could catch himself, but her stance was as solid as the stone beneath their hooves.

Not so unshakeable and sturdy these days, I suppose, he mused, taking a step back.


“We are about to enter the main chamber,” she offered quietly, almost reverently. “I recommend that you do not use any magic while inside.” She turned and stared into his eyes levelly.

Sunburst swallowed, hard. “Of course.”

“Excellent.” She turned to a large boulder—one that Sunburst had taken to be just another feature of the cave—pressed her head against it, and pushed. It rolled away effortlessly, revealing a bright, perfectly round cave entrance. Sunburst’s jaw went slack.

“Come,” Maud intoned, and Sunburst hastened to follow her inside. The walls were smooth and round, as if they had been made by some sort of massive drill. He paused to press his hoof against one of the walls, marveling at its silty texture.

“Maud?” he asked quietly. “What is this place?”

Maud did not answer, stepping forward another ten paces and then stopping, peering forward into the blue-white light. Sunburst followed, tentative, a thrill of foreboding gripping his gut as he drew up even with her.

“Welcome,” she said, gesturing forward and down. To Ley Line 72.”

Sunburst leaned gingerly forward, opened his mouth, and said nothing.

In the center of the pit, a great, pulsing vein thrummed beneath them, like a massive, branching tree root. Sunburst didn’t need the tingle in his horn to know that it was mana, pure and untapped and alive.

“This particular ley line has always been close to the surface,” Maud explained quietly. “But lately, it has been… more active.” She decided. “Closer to the surface.”

“It moves?” Sunburst asked incredulously.

“It has, yes,” Maud confirmed, lowering her hoof to stand even with the cavern’s edge. “And it continues to do so.”

“The earthquakes…” Sunburst realized.

“Indeed.” Maud fell quite for a time as they stood, shoulder to shoulder, staring down at the cool white glow. “I believe…” She trailed off, sounding unsure for the first time since Sunburst’s arrival. “I believe it is emerging.”

“Emerging? But—it’s a ley line, not a creature,” Sunburst sputtered, incredulous. “How could it move through the ground?”

“Rivers and glaciers can shape stone,” Maud offered. “Is it so strange that a river of thaumaturgic energy could not do the same?”

“But why would it move?” Sunburst continued, still utterly vexed. “Mana flows, but it doesn’t melt, and it’s not an organism.”

The ghost of a smile quirked Maud’s lips.

“Tell me, Sunburst. What do you know about dragons?”


Ponyville - Sweet Apple Acres
One Week Prior

“That’s another batch wasted,” Applejack commented sourly as she slammed the basket down.

“Another?” Big Mac asked, incredulous, but sure enough, the apples—which should be round and red and delicious—were glowing a noxious green.

“This is ridiculous!” AJ exclaimed, turning and bucking the nearest tree. A shower of more glowing green apples rained down, thudding uselessly to the ground. “We can’t sell these.”

Big Mac shook his head in agreement.

“I’ve already sent Twi three letters, but all she said is that the ‘investigation is currently ongoing’,” she snorted. “I get that she’s the ruler of Equestria and all these days, but can’t they spare a single thought for the working ponies who’re tryin’ to make a living here?”

Big Mac opened his mouth to reply, but Apple Bloom came galloping up the hill before he could. She skidded to a stop between them, panting.

“AJ! I just checked with the Carrots and Grandpa’s pears. It’s all the same,” she exclaimed, out of breath. “The crops are big, bigger than they’ve been in three seasons, but they’re all glowin’ just like ours. Should we check with the Cabbages and Grapes?”

“No.” AJ shook her head and sighed, flopping onto the grass. “Don’t bother. I’m sure it’s the same.” She craned her neck around to peer into the distance, past the north field and up at Canterlot Castle, so grand on its mountainside.

“Where’s Rainbow?” she asked, standing abruptly.

“She’s at the School of Friendship, somethin’ about an emergency—”

“This is an emergency,” AJ huffed, already trotting briskly down the hillside. “I’m roundin’ up the girls and then we’re going to Canterlot to talk to Twilight face-to-face.” She gazed around her orchard, the trees that were once vibrant already turning the sickly ashen shade of dust. “Ponies can’t live like this,” she muttered.

And it was true. Ponyville had its stores, but those were meant for winter, and it wasn’t even the middle of the harvest season yet. At this rate, the town would run out before fall’s end, and everypony could forget about the cider season this year. And that said nothing of the farms, already running on a shoestring budget most years, and now at a deficit for the last month.

AJ drew to a stop at the base of the hill and crouched down just in time for the earthquake. She sighed as she waited for it to pass, watching her trees sway with dull eyes. The tremors came every three-quarters of an hour or so these days, most of ‘em small and gentle, but every once in a while a big one would spike up. AJ wasn’t a fool, she knew they must be related to the rotten, magic-addled crops—but Twilight had been tight-lipped on the cause for the last month.

She sighed, watching as more of her rotten fruit thudded to the ground around her, but she paid it no mind as she waited for the quake to pass.

It was all dead anyway.


Canterlot Castle - Infirmary
Present Day

“How are they?” Twilight asked solemnly.

“Not good,” the doctor answered grimly. Pristine white beds filled the chamber, each one occupied by a dragon, most of them locked in feverish, fretful sleep. “Dragons can withstand far higher heat than ponies, but these fevers… they’re too high,” the doctor said, shaking her head. “And we can’t bring them down, not even with the ice crystals Princess Cadence shipped in from the Empire.”

Twilight drew to a stop at the end of the aisle, at the largest bed. Spike, usually so vibrant and full of life, laid sprawled out before her, pale and twitching in twisted sheets, his brow knotted in pain. She closed eyes and lowered her head, pressing her horn against his scales. She forced herself to not flinch back from the incredible heat radiating off him.

She could bear it.

If Twilight could fail her country, she could at least do this much for her oldest friend.

“They… have all developed a new additional symptom,” the doctor murmured quietly. She lit her horn and drew Spike’s sheet back.

Twilight drew herself back up to her full height and looked—and then gasped.

“They’re shrinking,” the doctor said. “It’s like watching evolution on a vastly faster scale. And they’ve started to glow,” she continued.

But Twilight didn’t need the explanation. Spike had always been so proud of his wings, and they had grown with him to support his stature over the years. She reached out a tender hoof and touched one gently. It was hot to the touch, even hotter than the rest of his body, glowing a noxious green, and almost the same size as they had been when Spike had first sprouted them, but malformed and dysfunctional, like lumps of melted wax.

“Vestigial,” Twilight muttered. The doctor nodded.

“It’s almost like they’re being absorbed back into their bodies,” she agreed. “But that’s the thing: the magic from that process should be going into them. But as near as our readers can tell it’s not.” She glanced up at the web of floating crystals overhead, one over each bed like a web of magenta stars.

“Where is it going?”

The doctor bit her lip.

“It seems… into the ground.”

Twilight’s eyes widened.


The crystal embedded into her breastplate chimed.

“Excuse me, Doctor.” Twilight lit her horn and teleported into the corridor, already pressing her hoof against her communication crystal. A hologram of Sunburst crackled to life in the air before her.

“Sunburst, what do you have to repor—”

“It’s a dragon,” he burst out. “The ley line, Ley Line 72, it’s a dragon.”

Silence fell.

“What?” Twilight asked delicately.

“There’s no way it’s anything else. The line–Twilight, it’s the same shape as a dragon’s aorta.”

Another beat of silence.

“How big?” she whispered.

It was Sunburst’s turn to fall silent.

“Big,” he finally answered, the anxiety leaching out of his voice in favor of deadened calm.

“How big,” Twilight gritted out.

“Equestria, at least. Maybe bigger.” He pursed his lips. “And it seems to be drawing in more magic, from… somewhere. Everywhere. But that’s why the earthquakes have been getting so much more frequent. It’s…”

“Waking up,” Maud intoned, stepping into view. Her gaze, always so even and unflappable, minutely widened.

“And what will happen when it wakes up?” Twilight asked stonily.

Maud looked at Sunburst. Sunburst looked at maud.

“It will emerge,” Maud finally answered.

“How much time do we have?”

Maud’s frown deepened. “Not enough.”

“We’ll begin the evacuations immediately. Nationwide. We’ll call on the griffons, the yaks—” Twilight drew in a sharp breath as Sunburst and Maud stared solemnly back at her, forerunners of their respective fields.

Their gazes were dead.

“It’s too big,” Twilight realized. “It’s too late.”

And as if to underline her words, the ground began to rumble.