Days after Shining Armor left to join his troops in the field, Cadence finally found the time to get away from the worried bureaucrats and court officials she’d been forced to work with at Celestia’s request to go and do something she actually wanted to do: provide aid at one of the charity stables for the ever-increasing numbers of lost and frightened ponies fleeing to the imagined safety of Canterlot.
“Don’t forget the good news,” she explained to the Guards her husband had ordered to watch over her, as she tries to convince them to let her be, “Celestia is returning from Stalliongrad. Besides, I’m an alicorn, and my husband and I defeated Chrysalis. Those undead ponies can’t be everywhere at once.”
She sighed and ruffled her wings at the sounds of arguing between bureaucrats and soldiers coming from the next chamber, “And it’ll do me good to be out of here for a while.”
The Guards agreed, and politely ignored the cloaked pink alicorn as she silently left through a servants’ entrance a few moments later.
She made her way to the nearest shelter and was soon helping to keep an eye on over a dozen colts and fillies who’d come in. Some of them were waiting for their parents to find them.
Some of them would have to wait forever.
And so Cadence happened to be on the spot when the Black Lanterns arrived at the shelter in force.
Cadence cried out as the rotting horrors blasted their way through the wall. “No! Everypony, run!”
Terrified ponies fled screaming, or tried to. Lances and hurled javelins and conjured blades tore through them, mares and stallions, colts and fillies and foals. Cadence forced down the whinnying terror that clawed at her self-control as she set a barrier spell up between the foals with her and the Black Lanterns.
“Princess Cadence?” Cadence glanced at one little filly, a green-coated and orange maned youngster of a blank flank. Screams and unearthly howls came from outside the magical shield as she said, “Are they gonna get us with everypony else?”
“No, darling, I --,” And Cadence choked to see one particular stallion outside her barrier stumbling towards her in his catatonic haze. She remembered what the shelter staff told her, about how he’d been so badly terrorized and depressed by what he’d seen done to his family that now he seemed to feel nothing. She put magic into her voice and almost roared at him, “I said RUN!”
He merely glanced at her blankly and gave her an empty smile. Past him, around him, shrieking ponies either fled, or tried to fight, snorting and neighing in wrath, or shielded their spouses and foals, and they all died.
Cadence watched closer, still concentrating on her spell. One Black Lantern, a griffin with its face a horror of decaying flesh and a shattered yet still effective beak, walked up to him and snarled into his face. He smiled blankly at it and walked past and… the Black Lantern walked right by him like he didn’t even exist. To Cadence’s disbelief he walked outside, slowly and calmly, and not one single Black Lantern so much as touched him.
Wait, remember what Shining Armor said Twilight told him, she thought. These ‘Black Lanterns’ center in on emotions. That stallion’s been so badly hurt that he doesn’t feel anything anymore, so… They don’t see him?
And does that mean that someone giving off a strong enough emotion will act like a lure for them?
Cadence dropped her barrier, flew up into the center of the room, and BLASTED out with her love-spell more powerfully than ever before in her life.
“HEY YOU MONSTERS! HEY!” She shouted in her Royal Canterlot Voice, “YOU WANT LOVE? HERE’S ENOUGH TO CHOKE ON! COME AND GET ME!”
And in that moment, every single Black Lantern in the building felt its ring calling to it to ignore the sparks of yellow fear and green willpower and red rage all around.
[ = Overwhelming emotional presence detected. = ]
[ = Change priority target. Change priority target. =]
[ = Consume love. = ]
Howling and neighing and screeching, the Black Lanterns ignored everything else as they flew out of the hall and away from Canterlot’s crowded citizens after the brilliantly shining purple star that flared its promise of a feast like no other before them.
And elsewhere still…
( = Warning to all Star Sapphires. Love endangered. = )
“Oh! Oh, my!” The purple-suited yellow pegasus stopped with a gasp as she felt the force of the warning from her ring. She’d been showing some of her new recruits basic flying skills. By the looks on their faces, they felt it as well.
“Oh dear, Fluttershy, what is it?” SS Cheerilee inquired
“Medicine worker, what does this mean?” SS Little Strongheart asked SS Fluttershy in turn.
“Cheerilee, Little Strong Heart,” Fluttershy said to the purple earth pony and young buffalo maiden in a tone that brooked no refusal for all its gentleness, “Princess Cadence is in danger! We have to go and help her. Right now!”
Three bursts of brilliant violet light flared over Whitetail Woods. And they were gone.
Cadence flew faster than she could ever remember away from Canterlot and the panicked ponies behind her. She didn’t dare to glance back, but she didn’t need to. She could hear the hungry, almost lustful cries from the Black Lanterns as they flew after her in hot pursuit. She imagined that they must have looked like the Wild Hunt of old legend, the angry and vengeful dead chasing the living to their destruction.
Okay, this is far enough. The alicorn prayed, I hope.
Storm clouds hung above her and the countryside below looked empty. She thought of Shining Armor and Twilight, and shivered at the knowledge that she’d never see either of them again.
Shiny, Twili, I’m so sorry. I love you both.
But I have to do this.
Cadence stopped and turned to face her pursuers. They began to fan out, obviously expecting her to try and use her magic to stop them again. The stench and horror of them choked her, but she ignored it. She was young, but she was still an alicorn, gifted with the powers of all three pony tribes to an extent a normal pony rarely achieved. The speed and flight of a pegasus. The magic of a unicorn.
And the strength and endurance of an earth pony.
Cadence formed her barrier spell around herself, lowered her head to set her horn, and charged at full speed.
The Black Lanterns shrieked as Cadence rammed right through where they were the thickest. The broken-beaked griffin splattered into black ooze against her barrier with a shocked squawk. The others were sent hurtling away. Some of them in pieces.
Cadence flew past them, stopping and turning to look. The Black Lanterns were more of a formless mass now than an organized flock. They buzzed about in confusion. She charged in again. The Black Lanterns scattered to avoid another such rush.
As they did, Cadence called on her Pegasus nature and unicorn magic. She tickled the stormclouds above and unleashed lightning directly into them. The bolt forked. Another pair of Black Lanterns went tumbling towards the ground below in smoking ruin.
One Lantern, still mostly recognizable as having once been a Spellguard unicorn like her husband, flew close and hissed.
“PiTY yOu dIDn’T fIGHt sO wELl whEN cHRySALis anD hER mONsTeRS aTtACked CAntERlOt, litTlE pRIncESs. Or DIdn’T wE mATtEr tHAt muCH wHeN wE WEre alIVe?”
“Chrysalis and her Changelings are as alive as you were,” Cadence retorted, her wings beating at the air. She felt the breath rushing in and out of her lungs. The way she’d been throwing her magic around, the speed of her flight, and the fight were all taking a heavy toll on her. She wouldn’t be able to keep this up much longer and wondered sickly what it would feel like when they dipped their skeletal muzzles down to rip out her heart.
She said, “I love all life. I won’t kill something that can even remotely be saved.” She snorted, “That doesn’t apply to you.”
“nO, yOU’rE tOo bUsY pLAyIng WITh thAt uNIcoRn lover OF yoUrS to wAStE tiMe CARING aBoUt tHE rESt of YOur litTLE ponies. Or sHOUlD thAt Be cEleStIA’s ponIEs? AFteR aLL, YoU’rE noTHinG bUt HEr foAlsITter, wAShiNG sOmE bRat’s bACkSIde wHIle sHE and lUna DiVIde a rEaLM bETwEen thEM.”
“Celestia and Luna can have the throne and all the troubles that go with it. I know what I am, and I’m content.” Then, a realization came to her “Wait, why are you being so talkative –“
And the reformed griffin dived into her back in a crash it would have never done while alive. Cadence’s back held, but her wings didn’t. She felt the air rushing past her and gritted her teeth as she slammed into the earth below. Bones cracked at the impact.
“PoOR lITtlE pRiNcESs,” the Black Lantern griffin laughed into her face. “Did yA fALl dOwN?”
“Could be worse,” Cadence tried to rise and hissed at the feeling of broken bones grinding together under her skin.
The rest of the Black Lanterns gathered around her and she knew her fight was over. There was a strange purple flash high above. She smiled benevolently at the griffin. “I could have your moldy wings.”
“Oh, YOu wILl, VeRy sOOn nOW.” It raised a claw over her chest. “Now hATe me. feAR mE.” It giggled, a sound like broken plates rubbing together. “FEEl cOMpaSsiON fOr me, litTLe LOve gODdeSS. And reMeMBer, the fIRst THing wE do afTEr THis wHEn yOu JOin the fLOCk, is to gO AFTer your dEAr ShiNIng arMORr. caN yOu imAGine the lOOK on HIs fAcE WhEn He sEEs yOu WiTH a BLACK LANtErn rINg?”
“She won’t have to.”
The undead griffin squawked as purple crystal appeared around it sealing it up like an insect in amber. The other Black Lanterns looked skywards in shock as that oddly familiar soft voice spoke again.
“Because she will see her loved ones again. Love prevails.”
Before the undead monsters could flee, more of those purple crystals came down among them. They were trapped like the griffin, sliced into ribbons by what looked like ancient Buffalo war axes sent spinning through them, trapped within crystalline boxes with the words TIME OUT written on them.
In moments it was over, though Cadence could see that the trapped Black Lanterns were still somehow reforming.
“Princess Cadence! Oh, dear!” A yellow Pegasus, a jewel-like tiara on her head and dressed in a rather fetching if odd outfit like some sort of purple swimsuit, dropped down beside her. Wait, was that Fluttershy? One of Twilight’s friends from her wedding? Cadence shook her head as she worked healing magic, feeling her bones knit back together.
“Oh, please, Princess Cadence, let me help!”
Cadence lay still as Fluttershy shone that violet light down over her. She gasped as her bones and flesh restored themselves.
In moments she rose, spreading her wings. Cadence looked and saw two more dressed like Fluttershy. One was a purple Earth pony mare who bowed formally to her, and the other was a young Buffalo cow who gave her a bold and measuring look. She must have liked what she saw. She nodded and smiled at Cadence.
“We have to escape,” the alicorn mumbled, still feeling groggy. “Those creatures will escape, and…”
“No, no, it’s all fine,” Fluttershy said. “I sent a message to whichever other Lantern-ponies were nearby. They’ll be here soon and help us stop them once and for all. But oh, I didn’t mean to sound like I’m ordering you, we can fly away if that’s alright with you…”
“Umm, no,” Cadence said. “That’ll be alright.” In the distance she could already see yellow and green and crimson balls of light coming closer. “Thanks for saving me, Fluttershy. I really was in some trouble there. But I’d better get going.”
“Actually, umm,” Fluttershy shyly scraped at the ground with one forehoof, “you’re kind of the reason we’re here, I think.”
As Cadence look at her in confusion, Fluttershy hurried on with it, “My, the corps I belong to, we protect and spread love through the world. Like you do. It’s just that we use these rings and tiaras we have rather than alicorn magic. Not that I’m criticizing your magic! It’s really very powerful…”
“Fluttershy, please get to the point.” Cadence shook her head. “Sorry, but I am kind of tired right now.”
“What she meant is that we want you to join the Star Sapphires,” SS Little Strongheart rushed the words out for SS Fluttershy.
“Wha-at?” Cadence squawked.
SS Fluttershy held one of those purple crystal rings out to Cadence. "Umm, Cadence, maybe you could join my Corps and help to protect love and peace in Equestria? I mean, if you wouldn't mind?" Fluttershy blushed. She didn’t really want to force Cadence. She wanted Cadence to COME to them, WILLINGLY. But with Canterlot at risk, time was running short for pleasantries.
Cadence flew closer to Fluttershy. The Pegasus eeped and drew back slightly as the alicorn said, eyes firm “I can’t do that, and I won’t. I heard what happened to Rainbow Dash and the ponies with her. Shining Armor told me about Twilight,” her voice shook, “And what her ring’s been doing to her. Equestria doesn’t need another super-powered lunatic on the loose!”
“I understand how you feel about them, Princess,” SS Cheerilee said, “But look at us. Do we act like lunatics? Are we trying to force everyone to love each other? No, we defend and protect. And,” she hovered closer, almost pleading, “We agree about Rainbow Dash and Twilight. What’s happening to them does scare me, almost as much as what the Black Lanterns are doing to everypony in Equestria and beyond. Just ask Little Strong Heart.” She pointed to the buffalo, “She said that her tribe was running and fighting for days before Fluttershy and the Star Sapphires showed up along with some of the other Corps’ members and helped them.”
“The teacher speaks truly,” Little Strong Heart said when Cadence looked at her. “Many of the Buffalo tribes have been destroyed by their own fallen, as have the settlers of Appleloosa. Braeburn aided us and he barely survived.” She took a deep breath.
Cadence felt her pain and began to fly forward, but when Little Strong Heart opened her eyes, she smiled. “Fluttershy gave me the power to save his life, to save the lives of all the buffalo and the settlers. They are in a safe place for now, but if these hungry dead are not stopped?” She wheeled and flung a spear formed from violet energy into the griffin, which had almost worked its way free of its crystal prison. Ignoring its angry squawk, she calmly said, “If they are not stopped, they will devour everything.”
“Please, Cadence!” SS Fluttershy ducked her face behind her mane as the alicorn turned back to her, but she said, “We need somepony like you to help us, you know more about love and magic than any of us, and, and I’d like somepony to help me protect my friends from our enemies and themselves, if need be. And I think that’s you.”
She held the ring out towards Cadence again. “Please? For our friends’ sakes? For Shining Armor’s sake?”
I was ready to sacrifice my life for Twilight and Shining and everypony else a few moments ago, Cadence thought as she reached out for the ring. How can I turn back now?
“What do I do?” she asked, making her decision.
“All you have to do for now is to take the ring.” SS Fluttershy explained.
Princess Cadence did, and gasped as a warmly loving voice from the ring echoed in her mind.
( = Mi Amore Cadenza of Equestria, = )
( = There is great love in your heart. = )
( = Welcome to the Star Sapphires. = )
Princess Cadence gasped as she felt energy from the ring flowing over her, healing what was left of her injuries and clothing her in amethyst garb like that worn by Fluttershy and the others. It held tight to her coat, with thigh-length ‘boots’ on her hind legs and a one-piece outfit like a swimsuit covering her from her crotch to her withers and down to her forehooves. She found a tiara on her head with a space in the middle for her horn, and slits on the back of it for her wings. The ring itself formed around her right forehoof.
More, Cadence felt words entering her mind, and she spoke them aloud together with her new Corps:
“For hearts long lost and full of fright,
For those alone in blackest night,
Accept our ring and join our fight,
Love Conquers All – with violet light!”
“Oh, how touching.”
Cadence gasped and flew back as something like a fireball came down behind her. She spun in midair to see a blood-soaked Rainbow Dash hovering there in crimson and black. A small orange Pegasus filly hovered beside her and – was that a windigo? The filly looked at the purple earth pony mare and flinched before she looked away, angry. The mare just shook her head sadly. Dash looked from Cadence to Fluttershy and sneered.
“So, Fluttershy, you recruited Little Princess Hearts-and-Hooves?” Burning blood hissed from her jaws as she snickered. “What, Celestia told you no so you decided to settle for second?”
“I didn’t settle for anything, Rainbow Dash,” SS Fluttershy sounded regretful but not afraid. Past Rainbow Dash, Cadence saw a big red-coated earth pony stallion arrayed in green fly in.
“Princess Cadence joined us, and she’ll make a perfect member of the Star Sapphires. She’d practically already defeated these Black Lanterns even before we showed up!”
RL Dash just sniffed at those words. SS Cadence thought she caught a sudden light flicker in her eyes. Then she turned to the Black Lanterns.
“Speakin’ a which…” With no more warning than that, RL Dash and the filly and the windigo sent a whirlwind of burning blood into the massed captured undead.
SS Cadence joined SS Fluttershy and her fellows as they sent their own attacks down on them, and so did the stallion. The undead gave one squawk and then just dissolved in midair, their rings gone. The big stallion nodded as he turned to the princess.
“Ya need ta use the powers from more’n one o’ these here rings ta beat ‘em,” The green-costumed red stallion said to Cadence. “Don’t never take ‘em on, else, or they’ll just keep on comin’ back together and fighting ya.”
And with those words, the Green Lantern flew off. SS Fluttershy and her two fellows began to leave, and then stopped and looked at SS Cadence.
“Coming!” SS Cadence flew up beside Fluttershy and they left, leaving only the Red Lanterns behind. She and the others have to get back to the shelters and check on the ponies she had lured the Black Lanterns away from.
RL Rainbow Dash looked after the other Lanterns and snorted her disgust. Scootaloo flew up beside her.
“Kind of a shame we don’t have an alicorn Red Lantern, huh?” The filly said, “She’d be almost as awesome a Red Lantern as you, Dash.”
Dash just looked from her to Canterlot and then up into the sky where the full moon hung, framed in smoke from a fire somewhere, looking lonely and almost sullen. She looked at Canterlot, now ablaze in battle, and she smiled.
“Forget her,” RL Rainbow Dash said, “There’re still plenty of others we can recruit.”