The Cutie Mark Crusaders Versus the Elder Gods

by Kavonde

Chapter 1: Planar Binding 101

"Whadd'ya suppose it is?"

Three fillies crouched in the bushes near Fluttershy's cottage. The moon was waxing above them, glittering softly off the stream that wound through the wooded clearing, and highlighting the amorphous, lumpy blob of gooey flesh and tentacles that expanded and contracted ever so slightly in the cool night air. Every now and then, the moonlight would catch one of its countless eyes, just for a moment, as they bobbed to the surface of the horrific mass and submerged once again. It twitched in irregular spasms.

"Think it's related to Discord?" Scootaloo whispered, brushing an annoying branch away from her mane.

Sweetie Belle shrugged. "It could be," she said. "It looks weird enough."

"Discord never looked that weird," Apple Bloom noted dryly.

"Well, if it was dangerous, Rarity and Twilight Sparkle--"

"And Rainbow Dash," interjected Scootaloo.

"And Applejack," added Apple Bloom.

"Okay, right, they would have been all 'pzoom!' 'Blam!' 'Pow!' Right?"

The other girls looked at each other and nodded.

"So should we go say hi?" Scootaloo asked.

Sweetie Belle paused. "Um, I didn't mean that... "

"No, we should!" Apple Bloom decided. "After all, Discord turned out okay in the end, right? Remember that time he tried helpin' us get our Cutie Marks?"

"... And almost destroyed Ponyville... " Scootaloo muttered.

"Or that time he took us an' Fluttershy back into the past to study animals?"

"... And almost got us eaten by a giant eagle... "

"I think it was called a 'roc,' " Sweetie Belle noted.

"What? Why would anypony call a bird a rock?"

"No, see, a roc is... "

Apple Bloom cleared her throat. "What Ah'm tryin' to say is, maybe this thing ain't all that bad. An' maybe... maybe... "

Scootaloo's eyes widened. "It can help us get our Cutie Marks!"

Sweetie Belle made a face. "In what? Having a thousand eyeballs?"

"That'd make a pretty sweet Cutie Mark," Scootaloo said thoughtfully.

"Ew," said Apple Bloom, sticking her tongue out. "No, but Ah bet it knows all sorts'a weird stuff! C'mon, it won't hurt to ask it."

Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo gave each other an uncertain look, but shrugged, and followed Apple Bloom out of the shrubbery as the earth pony crept silently forward. They crossed the dozen or so yards separating them from the strange creature, shooting furtive looks at both Fluttershy's cottage and at the chicken coop in the yard. Finally, they reached their hideous, misshapen goal, and the creature was even more unsettling and obscene close up. Slime dripped from it in a constant, gelatinous stream, puddling on the ground around it before, apparently of its own accord, slithering back into its host mass. Scootaloo poked at one of the retreating pools, then retracted her hoof quickly when the substance began to congeal around it.

"I don't think this is such a good idea anymore," Sweetie Belle murmured.

"I think it's looking at me," Scootaloo said with quiet panic. "Its eyes are open. Like, all of them."

Apple Bloom rolled her eyes in a grand show of false bravado. "C'mon, lotsa creatures sleep with their eyes open. Don't mean it's awake."

"I dunno, Bloom... "

The earth pony huffed, turned back to the creature, and spoke in a voice that quavered only slightly. "Hey, uh, s'cuse me, sorry to bother ya. My name's Apple Bloom, an' these are my friends Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle."

Dozens of eyes stared back at her, unblinking, save for the ones that slowly sank back into the creature's body.

Bloom fidgeted uncomfortably. "Ah... uh... Ah was wonderin' if we could ask ya a couple questions?"

A tentacle twitched involuntarily, splattering the earth pony's forelegs with slime that immediately began slurping back to its host.

"I don't think it wants to talk to us," Sweetie Belle said quietly, taking a half step backwards.

"C'mon, it ain't like we're askin' that big of a favor," Apple Bloom complained, ignoring her friend's lack of fortitude. "Jus' a question or two, that's all."

The creature stared at her for a moment longer, and then, with great deliberation, slowly closed each and every one of its eyes.

"Is it ignorin' me?" Apple Bloom asked.

Scootaloo gave her foreleg a tug. "C'mon, Bloom. It probably just wants to sleep. Maybe we can come back tomorrow... "

The earth pony looked ready to argue, tensing her shoulders and curling her lip, but after another moment's consideration, she relented. "Fine," she conceded. She turned back to the creature. "Sorry t'disturb ya. Have a good night."

She started to walk away. The creature twitched. Slime splattered over the back of Apple Bloom's head, staining her pink bow and plastering her mane to her neck. Both Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo recoiled, revulsion on their faces.

"Oh, you did not," Bloom growled. She spun again, jabbing a hoof into the ichorous mass. It compressed and folded around her leg. Apple Bloom's anger turned to sudden surprise as she tried, and failed, to pull away. "Hey!"

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were there in a heartbeat, pulling at her to no avail. After a few seconds, Scootaloo turned to the creature and struck with a kick of her own, to no better result. Sweetie Belle desperately began trying to focus her mind, recalling her magic lessons with Twilight Sparkle, reaching deep for the strength to pull her friends free. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo began to shout and thrash wildly.

The creature's eyes opened again, and if they could have been said to have an expression, it might have been surprise. And then one of Scootaloo's hooves struck one of them squarely.

The trapped fillies came free with a wet "pop" and a glow of green energy, sending both them and the surprised Sweetie Belle tumbling backwards. At the same time, the creature raised its tentacles high, and perhaps a hundred mouths--of all shapes, of all sizes, some with teeth, some with fangs--opened all about its body and let out a cacaphonic scream. The girls matched it with their own screams, turned, and sprinted away as fast as they could.

The skies returned to normal. The mountains stopped dissolving into waves of stone-colored liquid and resolidified into their usual shapes. The wind, gradually, died down. Six ponies stood on a rise overlooking Ponyville, some of them in tears, staring up at the rapidly disappearing rift torn into the very fabric of reality.

"That was weird," Scootaloo noted.

Like most of Ponyville's residents, the three fillies were gathered just outside of town, staring in uncomprehending shock at the spectacle that had just played out before them. That hideous creature that had so terrified them--Clip, as Twilight Sparkle had named him--had been carried away on some sort of chariot made of... well, nopony really had a word for it. And there was another thing. And it had sounded really annoyed.

"Eeyup," a large, red stallion agreed from just behind the trio. Big Macintosh loomed, as he usually did, over the town's smaller residents, a towering bedrock of solidity. If not for his too-wide eyes and dilated pupils, he might have looked as placid as he always did.

"What just happened?" a mare asked, tan-coated and pink-maned. She looked nervously around. "Should we panic?"

"Nope," Macintosh replied.

"Oh. Okay."

The mayor--a tan-coated mare with, as the three fillies had once learned, a dyed white mane--pushed through the crowd and cleared her throat to make an announcement. "Attention, residents of Ponyville!" she declared. "The crisis has passed. Please return to your homes while I consult with Princess Twilight. Cleanup volunteers, please assemble at City Hall at noon, as usual."

With some muttering, the crowd began to disperse. Mayor Mare watched them for a minute, then turned and started up the hill. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle, who had moved slightly to the side to avoid notice, glanced around furtively before following her.

Near the top of the rise, they took cover behind a large rock as the mayor approached the six ponies atop the hill. She stopped several paces away, giving a diffident bow of her head as she waited for the Princess of Friendship to recognize her.

"Oh!" Twilight said after a moment. "I'm sorry, Mayor Mare, I didn't realize you were here already."

"Of course, Your Majesty," the mayor said, dipping into a four-legged curtsey.

"Y-you don't really have to... " Twilight coughed uncomfortably.

"Besides, a deep bow of the head is more appropriate for addressing royalty in an informal situation," Rarity noted.

Twilight shot her friend an annoyed look. "So, um, Mayor Mare, I'm guessing you'd like to know what just happened?"

The mayor bobbed her head. "Yes, Your Majesty, if you wouldn't mind."

The princess looked about to correct her again, but shook her head with a little sigh. "Well, Clip went back home. And I guess we won't see him again. I mean, you won't. Maybe I won't, either. At least not for a long time. Though I'm not really sure how long, because we don't have really precise information on paleopony history, so I think I'm going to need to use Star Swirl's time travel spell to go back and get some better measurements, because I'd really like to know when exactly our forty million rotations are up, because I'd like to have everypony, or possibly everycyborg or every-ascended-intelligence prepared for when he comes back... "

Applejack put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "What she means is, mayor, is we're all good here. Nothin' to worry about. In the short term."

"That's... really not very reassuring."

"It really ain't."

"If we could leave behind some kind of time capsule," Twilight said, not noticing that the conversation had ended, "maybe the next cycle could get a jump of several thousand years on technology and philosophy. Why, by this point, there could be ponies on planets all across the galaxy! But wait, Clip said he was going to have to consume all of reality, which sort of implies that whoever's in charge will be starting over from scratch... "

Twilight's eye began to twitch sporadically as she sorted through the countless possibilities and calculations. Rarity and Rainbow Dash put their forelegs over her shoulders and began to guide her down the hill. Applejack gave the mayor and halfhearted grin, tilted her hat, and followed the rest of her friends. Pinkie Pie came last, bouncing and smiling, apparently unconcerned with everything that had just happened. The mayor stared after them, her expression slack with incomprehension, then shook her head and left as well.

"Did you get any of that?" Scootaloo whispered to her friends as the adults retreated from earshot.

"AJ said there ain't nothin' to worry 'bout," Apple Bloom said. "Ah figured that was the important bit."

Sweetie Belle chewed her lip. "I dunno, Twilight seemed really shaken up. I think something really bad is going on."

The other girls made thoughtful sounds. Bloom spoke first. "Maybe we should go talk to her?"

Scootaloo raised an eyebrow. "She's not gonna tell us anything. We're just kids."

"Maybe somepony else could tell us something?" Sweetie Belle suggested. "Maybe Miss Cheerilee knows?"

"Miss Cheerilee is awesome, an' if we had a question 'bout pre-Equestrian' history she'd be the first pony Ah'd ask," Apple Bloom said with dry humor, "but Ah think weird tentacle monsters from other dimenions might be a little outta her area of expertise."

Scootaloo frowned. "Well, who else in Ponyville would know about bizarre monsters and other worlds and stuff... ?"

As if he'd been waiting for his cue, there was a flash of light in front of the trio, and then a lanky, misshappen creature appeared before them. His forelegs were mismatched, one a lion's paw and the other an eagle's talons. His hind legs had come from a dragon and a goat. His body was long, sinewy, and covered in brown fur. A deer's antler sprouted from one side of his head, an an antelope's from the other. He was wearing a tacky, bright blue shirt covered with orange and purple flowers, carrying a suitcase marked with shipping labels from places that didn't exist in Equestria, and bore a pair of thick, black sunglasses that covered most of his yellow eyes.

The creature yawned, stretched his back until it popped in every vertebrae, rolled his shoulders, and grinned brightly at the girls. "Well, if it isn't my favorite group of Crusaders! The other ones are pretty boring, in my experience. All 'stop spooking our horses and drawing smiley faces on our shields.' "

"Discord?" Apple Bloom asked.

"My nose was itching," the draconequus confirmed, giving his snout a scratch. "It's entirely possible that I just inhaled some curry powder. Still, I thought I'd check back in. I take it the outsider is gone?"

Sweetie Belle looked confused. "Outsider?"

"Yes, you know: slimy, covered with tentacles and eyeballs, wants to destroy everything. All rather gauche."

"You mean Clip?" Scootaloo asked. "Yeah, he just left."

"Excellent!" Discord's outfit disappeared, replaced by an ill-fitting suit of armor and a rusty longsword. "Otherwise, I'd have to deal with the knave myself!" He thrust his blade at the air a few times in punctuation. "So, how did Twilight beat him?"

Apple Bloom hesitated. "Ah... don't think she did."

Discord froze, and his new equipment vanished as his expression turned panicked. "Oh, dear! Are she and her friends alright? Where's the outsider? Who's going to feed Fluttershy's ducks?!"

"No, no," Sweetie Belle said with a placating wave of her hoof. "They're fine! It's just... Clip sort of left. And Twilight seemed really shaken up about it."

The draconequus frowned. "Odd. I've never heard of an outsider just leaving before."

"You keep sayin' that," Apple Bloom noted. "'Outsider.' What's an 'outsider?' "

Discord considered them warily, stroking his goatee. "I've probably said too much already."

"Come on!" all three girls pleaded at once.

"Well... "

Three sets of eyes widened. Three sets of lips pursed and trembled softly.

Discord raised a talon as if in objection, but the force of the Cutie Mark Crusaders' combined adorableness was too much for him. He sighed and snapped a finger, and a chalkboard appeared. An animated piece of chalk began scribbling on it as the draconequus spoke.

"So, here's Equestria," he said, as a circle appeared in the center of the board. "Well, I mean, here's the planet Equestria's on. Everypony seems to have their own name for it. I just think of it as 'Earth,' but that really weirds some people out."

Another, larger circle enveloped the first. "Here's the rest of the universe." He paused, frowning, considering the board. "Not quite to scale."

He snapped his finger, and suddenly, he and the Crusaders were floating in an absolutely mind-bogglingly huge space. All they could see was the tiny chalk circle that represented their home, and an endless, eternal expanse of green slate. After giving them a few seconds to goggle at this, Discord snapped his fingers again, returning the trio of dazed ponies to their previous surroundings.

The draconequus grabbed the chalk himself and drew a third circle around both of the others. "This one's more like a donut," he noted. "It surrounds the universe like... ooh," he grinned, pleased at his own cleverness, and produced an apple split halfway down the middle. "Like the meat of the apple surrounding the core. Except not really. It's also between the seeds. And... " He paused. "It's so difficult explaining this sort of thing to three-dimensional beings."

The girls stared at him, confused and still a little terrified and disoriented from their side trip. Discord frowned disapprovingly at them and chucked the apple over his shoulder, where it transformed into a bird and flew away. "Anyway, the point I'm making is, this third circle? It's the outside. Outside of everything. I'm actually a big fan of the place, but only for visits. Even I'm not crazy enough to live there. The things that do live there, though, are a special kind of nasty."

Sweetie Belle raised her hoof hesitantly, and Discord nodded at her with a smile. "So," she proposed, "that's where Clip's from?"

"Five points to... " He paused, considering the unicorn filly seriously. "I'm going to say Gryffindor, maybe Ravenclaw. I suppose we'll see how you turn out. Where did I put that hat... ?"

Apple Bloom raised her own hoof. "Uh, so... what does that mean?"

Discord shook his head, snapped from his reverie. "Oh! It means he's a horrible threat to every living thing in Equestria, and the rest of the universe, really. So I need to speak to Twilight Sparkle and her friends so we can summon this 'Clip' fellow, bind him under a mountain or something--I'd suggest Tartarus, but honestly, the security there is a joke--and thus save everypony from being consumed in a horrible whirlwind of madness and absolute destruction. Simple!"

"Oh." Bloom looked at her friends, who fidgeted uncomfortably. "That's... "

"Really bad," Scootaloo finished.

"Really, really bad," Sweetie Belle added.

"Yep!" Discord said cheerfully. "Of course, if we mess up the binding spell, we'll all be trapped in the outside realm forever, at the mercy of creatures so depraved and evil that ponies don't have words that come anywhere near close to encompassing them." He paused. "But I'm sure that won't happen."

The girls looked at eachother nervously.

"So, if you'll excuse me... " Discord swept down in a grandiose bow. As he rose, he vanished from sight, disappearing from his hooves up, giving the girls a wink just before his eyes were gone.

There was a long, awkward silence. A faint breeze stirred the girls' manes. Somewhere, a falcon cried out a challenge.

"Wanna go get some ice cream?" Apple Bloom asked.

"Sure," her friends agreed.

The spell failed.

The spell failed spectacularly. Just after sunset, the lights within Twilight's castle began to glow a vivid shade of violet, pulsing more and more intensely and rapidly with every minute that passed. The earth began to rumble. Clouds began to form in the sky above the castle, spiraling together much as they had that morning, when Clip departed. Reality began to bend in disorienting, nauseatingly subtle ways. Ponies began to gather outside the castle, watching the show with mouths agape.

Finally, a rainbow of energy arced out the tallest tower and into the sky, and when it descended back to the ground, there was a flash of light... and the castle was gone.

The screaming started soon after. Then the panicked galloping. Ponies ran every direction, rearing and kicking when something blocked their path, too terrified to rely on anything but their most basic animal instincts. Even Big Macintosh, always so rock solid, was staring at the vanished castle with his mouth agape, oblivious to the chaos around him.

Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo, the only ponies in Ponyville who knew what must have happened, dodged and squirmed and occasionally shoved their way through the press. They passed Sugar Cube Corner, where Mr. and Mrs. Cake, along with their infant children, stared in shellshocked horror at the proceedings. The mare, noticing the girls passing by, waved a hoof to get their attention. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Nothin' good," Apple Bloom assured her. "We're goin' to check it out!"

"Be careful!"

The crowd had largely broken up into clusters of scared, chattering ponies by the time the Crusaders reached the site of the castle. The ground was as clear as if nothing had ever stood there; the castle had held a basement, but even that seemed to have been vaporized, and it had been replaced with an expanse of smooth, gray stone. Purple-tinted smoke rose from the ground, thin and wispy, disappearing just a few feet into the air. It created a low-lying mist that the three fillies disappeared into.

"W-why are we going in?" asked Scootaloo, glancing around nervously, trying to see through the smoke.

"Because we know what happened," Sweetie Belle said, tense with worry. "At least, kind of."

"Yeah, but... what are we gonna do to help?"

Apple Bloom came to a stop and held up a hoof. She gestured to something on the ground, and her friends gathered closer to see what she'd found.

A large book lay on the ground, opened about halfway, a scrap of scarlet silk marking its page. Words were written on one of the pages in a bizarre, spidery script; on the other page was a disturbingly accurate drawing of the creature called Clip, surrounded by arcane runes.

"That must be the spell," Sweetie Belle observed.

The sound of a hoof striking stone carried through the mist. Something jingled dully. The Crusaders spun to face it, pulling together into a tight cluster around the spell book. "Who's there?!" Scootaloo demanded.

A unicorn emerged from the smoke. He was elderly, with a gray hide and a long, tangled white beard. He wore a violet cape across his back and peered at the girls through bushy eyebrows beneath a broad-rimmed purple hat hung with golden bells.

"Too late," the old unicorn muttered softly. "I was too late... "

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Other Titles in this Series:

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