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Written By I AM THE OTTER

Guiding Light:

PROLOGUE -

Out of Sight, out of Mind

* * *

I opened my eyes.

What is your first thought after waking up from a good night’s sleep? Is it a recollection of the dream that you just awakened yourself from? Is it something that you call to mind from just before you fell asleep?

When I woke up, my mind was blank. I laid there, my staring eyes boring into the ceiling, ever so slowly blinking. My chest fell and rose steadily, bringing new life into my musty lungs.

For at least a few minutes, I lay in that bed, without a single thought crossing my mind. Eventually, my brain decided to ask itself questions instead.

Where am I?

Do I have any food, or bits, for that matter?

Where are my friends and family?

After I could not answer any of its questions, my mind finally asked one that snapped me to reality.

What is my name?

I started to sweat, putting all my mental capacity into trying to answer that last question, but sheer dread won over my concentration, and it suddenly dawned on me.

Try as I might, I wouldn’t remember it.

* * *

My first instinct was panic. I didn’t know where I was or who I was - this feeling was probably beyond your comprehension; it was frightening. I was lucky I had common knowledge still stored somewhere inside me. I wasn’t brain-dead.

Instinct told me to leave my home and find help, so I followed its orders and opened the door.

After being inside for who-knows-how-long, I had to squint to stop the invading daylight from blinding me. When my pupils adjusted, my vision was met with an astounding sight.

I was living in a small house, smack in the middle of a row of houses along a grass road, surrounded by buildings and other homes, entrancingly decorated with every hue imaginable. Some were big; others, tiny. Each house was unique in their design, and not a single brick or plank was the same as on another house. It was as if a rainbow had upchucked all over the town. That may actually sound kind of disgusting, but it was quite beautiful, really - the town, I mean.

It was midday, the sun high in the sky, its warm rays beating down on my face, bringing slight relief to my apprehensive state.

More distracting than the buildings was the large number of other pony folk milling about, buying and selling in a nearby outdoor market. Others strolled into shops, and left with assortments of baked goods, tools, books, and about anything else you could imagine, filling their saddlebags. Some ponies just stopped, greeted others with cheerful demeanor, and chatted casually. Pegasus ponies flew across the sky, leaving streaks of color in their wake, and unicorns trotted along the streets amongst the earth ponies, as well.

I shut the door. I was frightened. The sight of so many other ponies brought a new set of questions to my mind.

Do I live here?

Am I an outsider - a guest in this town?

Will I attract attention if I go out?

I still had no answers. I needed help if I was to be rid of my apprehension.

Opening the door again, and gazing at the colorful ponies outside, I still wondered if there was any detail that would make me different from anypony else. I found a mirror in one of the house’s washrooms, and looked at myself:

Light blue irises, dark blue mane, sea-green coat. I was just as colorful as any of the ponies beyond my front door.

I noticed that I even had a horn. Trying to call magic to my horn was natural, and it glowed, but my efforts were cut short when I could not recall a single spell. I gave up with my magic, saving it for when I knew everything again.

My eyes drifted to my flank, and I caught sight of my Cutie Mark: a pickaxe, striking a stone. Was I a miner? The urban town I was in did not look like it had, let alone needed, a mine shaft. That posed as a potential answer to one of my questions; I might be a guest in this town, instead of a resident. Anxiety stuck again - would outsiders be regarded, as, well, outsiders, that did not fit in with the general population?

I dismissed these notions; I had been stalling for too long. It was time to act. Besides, if I was just a guest in this town, how long would I be staying, and how many bits would I owe somepony, if I hadn’t payed them already?

Opening the door a second time, now all the way, I stepped out onto the street and shut the door behind me. Thankfully, I brought no stares from anypony, save the odd glance from a passerby when a new pony appears in their field of vision.

That’s when the reality of the situation clciked in my brain. I had no idea of the layout of the town whatsoever, and my instinct told me to ask for directions to... wherever the hay I was going. A medical center, I decided.

My instinct hadn’t failed me yet, so, trotting up to the nearest pony - a ruby red young mare with a yellow-orange mane.

“Um, excuse me, but does there happen to be a medical center anywhere nearby?”

The mare turned to me and gave me an inquisitive look, but the annoyance was benign - she still bore a slight smile. I mentally sighed in relief.

“Yes, the medical office is just around the corner,” she replied. “Are you a guest in Ponyville?”

Ponyville. Another question answered.

My brain clicked again. What should I say? I decided that the simple truth would be enough. Lying about my mental state would probably just make things more complicated for me.

“Well, you see,” I started, “I- I don’t actually know. I just woke up with a severe case of amnesia. I can’t remember anything - I have no memories, at all, of my life.”

The mare’s questioning expression turned to one of concern and pity.

“Oh Celestia, that must be terrible! I can’t imagine what it must be like. You can’t even remember your name?”

“No, I can’t.”

“Stars above, that’s quite tragic... Anyway, if you follow this road down that way,” she pointed with her hoof, “...You’ll come across Mane Street. If you take a left, the hospital will be at the end of the street - it’s the tall building with the red cross.”

“Thank you, I appreciate your help,” I sighed, glad I could fit in with the ponies of Ponyville.

“No problem at all, I’m glad I could be of help. Would you like me to walk down to the office with you?”

“No, thank you, but I appreciate the gesture.”

“Thank you, glad to be of some help. Good luck!”

I nodded and turned in the direction the mare had pointed, and continued on my way.

* * *

I had discovered another fact about myself: I hated waiting.

Following the mare’s directions to the medical office had been simple enough. I strode in, at least managing to look calm and composed. I hid away my nervousness under a blank expression.

I strolled up to a bored-looking mare behind the reception desk. I had to cough once to get her attention, and she looked up with slight annoyance. I detailed my mental state, the mare still maintaining her uninterested demeanor, but she wrote what information I had given her down on a sheet of paper and scheduled an appointment. Then, she asked me my name. I gave her the appropriate response. That’s when she started to get serious.

“Have a seat, Nurse Redheart will see you in a moment,” The bored tone was gone completely. She motioned to a row of chairs in the waiting area.

So there I was, waiting impatiently for twenty minutes, before one of the nurses emerged from around the corner and called out to me.

“Sir,” she said, motioning towards me, “I’ll see you now.”

I got up, glad to finally be where I needed to be. I stepped into a room with various medical instruments, a couple of chairs, and an examination table pushed up against a wall. Acting through my gut once again, I immediately sat down in one of the chairs while Nurse Redheart went over my information again before she looked up at me.

“So,” she said casually, “You seem to have a severe case of retrograde amnesia. You have no memory whatsoever of you entire life or your identity, correct?”

I nodded.

“But,” she continued, “you still retain your procedural memory - you can still speak without fault, and your motor skills are unaffected.”

It wasn’t a question. I nodded anyway. “What would cause me to lose my memory like this?”

“Traumatic events, involving physical injury, or it can be caused to a lesser extent through stress. Now, please sit on the examination table, I’m just going to give you a simple examination.”

I did as instructed. She pored over my abdomen and legs, but concentrated on my head, which she Hmpf-ed at audibly. When she was done, she wrote everything down and spoke again, her voice containing slight annoyance.

“Telling from your Cutie Mark, you seem to be a miner, but Ponyville does not have a mine shaft. My guess is that you’re from Appleoosa, and suffered a head injury in their mine shaft, then came to Ponyville, where the amnesia, caused by the injury, took effect overnight.

“The problem is, you don’t have an Apploosan accent, nor do you bear any signs of major injury.”

There was a pause for a few seconds. I had nothing to say as I chewed the information over myself.

“Is there any way you can help jog my memory?” I asked.

“No, I’m afraid there’s no medicinal treatment for amnesia - not in Ponyville, at least.”

Redheart zoned out a bit, as if in thought.

“However,” she continued, “You can try to look around the house where you woke up for anything that could jog your memory. I could be mistaken, but I have little doubt that your memory won’t return to you if you try to search for your past life.”

“Alright, I’ll try that,” I said.

“I’m sorry I can’t do anymore. Good luck in your efforts,” Redheart said.

I thanked her, and walked out the door, trying to make sense of what I would do next.

* * *

Returning to the house in the late afternoon, I almost expected some angry pony to be waiting there, wondering why I hadn’t paid my rent. This notion was short-lived, however. I reminded myself that I needed to calm down and stop jumping to conclusions.

Before I could search for any sort of documentation, my stomach started growling, and I walked into the kitchen, my anxiety rising again even after I tried to shut it up. I desperately prayed that I had some food in the fridge, fearing all the vendors and shops would be closed.

Thankfully, the fridge was partially stocked.  I ate a few apples, and then began my search.

I rummaged around in every cabinet, drawer and on every shelf I could find, but all I uncovered was dust and a bag of a few bits in one of the cupboards. Moving my way towards the back of my house, I found the most obvious place to look; a dark wood desk, bearing ink and quills, alongside a stack of parchment. Going through each drawer in the desk, I opened the second one, and I found what I was looking for. My heartrate went up and sweat started to bead on my brow.

I carefully removed the portfolio containing a mess of loose papers out of the drawer.

I sat down in the chair by the desk and opened the folder, poring over the contents of each page. More facts starting popping into my head.

I own this house.

I have been a resident of Ponyville for six years.

My parents live in Manehattan.

The bits I found belong to me.

I am currently unemployed.

And that’s when my eyes drew over the next document.

A clear, unsmiling image of my face, sea-green coat and blue mane, stared back at me. Next to the picture was my age, height, weight, place of residence, and a single other crucial piece of information that shut down all systems in my brain for a solid minute.

My name was clearly printed, black text against a bone-white background.

My name. My name was....

My name was...

* * *

My second time waking up, I was not so fortunate.

The cracking of thunder made me bolt upright in the chair I had dozed off in last night. It was still dark. However, my internal clock told me it was morning. Looking out the window behind me revealed grey, cloudy skies, with veins of lightning crashing through every few seconds.

The previous day, I woke up without a thought to my mind. Yet today, I couldn't shut the damn thing off.

My name. My name is...

I looked at the document I was still holding in my hoof. It took a second to register.

My name is Steel Tempest.

Crack. More lightning.

I rolled my eyes. Tempest - how appropriate.

I stood up from the chair and rubbed my temple with a hoof. Now, I knew my name, and I knew where I was, and I knew pretty much everything I wanted to know. What was my next move? I sat back down, stumped. I had no idea. Back to square one.

I decided to mentally make a list of sorts of all the things I could do on a normal day. Eat breakfast, wash up... Then what? I didn’t have a job, nor did I think I could entertain myself in my home, yet going out and socializing just didn’t seem right at the moment, let alone possible, due to the inclement weather.

I rummaged through the documents again. My parents lived in Manehattan. Going to see them was obviously my next task, now that I thought about it. Glancing over to the sack of bits on the desk, I picked it up and peeked at the contents. It wouldn’t get me a train ticket. Sighing, I put the bits back on the desk. Yet again, I went through the papers.

A bank notice said that I had withdrawn the same amount of bits in the sack earlier this week.

The bank it is, then, I decided. There was bound to be a load of bits in my account.

But, like the medical office, I had no idea where the Ponyville bank might be. There was no option of getting directions from the passerby - nopony wandered the streets outside.

Ponyville was no tourist attraction, but every town had maps somewhere. My best bet for getting my hooves on one was the town hall. It was easy to see from anywhere in Ponyville; the tall, elegant design towered over every building in the town.

All I had to do was gallop to the town hall, get a map, then come back. After that, I could pin down the bank, gallop there, and return home a lot richer.

I tidied up my legal documents and stowed them away in a drawer, save my bank information. I slipped the sheets of paper into my saddlebags before putting them on.

Opening the front door of my house, another crack of thunder sounded close-by and I flinched, nearly slamming the door. I couldn’t just stop now. I wouldn’t let a storm slow me down. With that said, I stepped outside, shut the door, and galloped as fast as I could in the direction of the town hall.

The town was deserted - nopony lingered on the streets, and pegasi were absent from between the clouds. The lack of signs of life, coupled with the chilling downpour and the deafening thunder was frightening. To anypony looking out their window as I passed, I must have been regarded as insane.

I crossed the distance of the main plaza, and bounded up under the cover of the town hall. Shaking myself off a little, I entered to find a unicorn sitting behind a desk, wearing a befudled expression.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m in need of a map of Ponyville. Do you have any that you could loan me for a while?”

“Yes,” she said, a bit curious. “We have some slightly dated maps of the town. What do you need them for? You’re not going to go dig up all of Ponyville, looking for some sort of long-lost treasure, are you?”

“Oh no, nothing like that. I’ve just been suffering from long-term memory loss, and I’m just having some trouble finding my way around, is all.”

She gave me the same discerning look both the ruby mare and the medical office receptionist had given me. To be honest, I wasn’t too fond of the benevolence. I just wanted to be ‘normal.’

“Oh, okay then,” she said. “In that case, would a map of Equestria suit your needs as well?”

I hadn’t considered it, and I didn’t think it was needed, but in the end, it was better to have something when you didn’t need it than to not have it when you did.

“Sure, sounds fine. Is there a cost?”

“No, they’re free for anypony to take out, as long as you return them in as good condition as I’m giving to you now.”

Fair enough. The unicorn turned around into a back room, came back a few seconds later, and levitated two maps in my direction.

The next thing I need to get is a spellbook, I thought. I felt helpless without being able to use magic.

Thanking the pony, I stored the maps in my saddlebags and trotted back to my house through the thunderstorm.

* * *

It had never felt better to be in the warm coziness of my home, as opposed to the pelting rain. I shook myself off, deciding that a shower could wait until after I had visited the bank. I pulled the Ponyville map out of a saddlebag, unfurled it, and scanned over the streets, shops and other constructions.

Not a minute later I had located the bank. It was close enough; just throught the market and around the corner. Leaving the map, and making sure I had my account information, I opened the door to the windy, freezing storm and set off again.

Through the market, right into this street... Aha. There it is.

The low, stone-crafted structure was encircled with pillars, and looked fairly royal to be in such a modest town as Ponyville. I entered, to find an older, grey pony sitting behind a tall stone desk. He looked up from his newspaper - the Equestria Daily, I noticed.

The old stallion stifled a small chuckle. “Didn’t think I’d get any business today. You should’ve come yesterday and saved yourself the hypothermia!”

I just rolled my eyes. “It’s a little more complicated than that.” I pulled out my portfolio. “Can you tell me how much is in this account?”

The earth pony took the sheets and gave them a once-over. “H’will do.” He said through the folder in his mouth. He turned around, walking into the safe room. After a minute or so I heard a vault being opened, and then abruptly closed again. The grey pony returned and gave me the folder back, pulling out a book from behind the desk.

“I’m sorry,” He said, flipping through pages. “There aren’t any bits in that account.”

Now I was perplexed. “Well, when was my last transaction?”

“That’s what I’m looking for.” He tapped the book. “This account was created five months ago. No bits ever entered or left this account. And there aren’t any other accounts with this name.” The stallion had answered all my questions before I could ask them. I was stumped.

“Okay, thanks anyway.” I picked up the folder and put it back into my bag. I turned around toward the doors.

“Good day, Mr. Tempest! Keep warm, and make sure to stay out of that tempest!”

Rolling my eyes, I still managed to chuckle a little. I went back home, took a shower and lit the fireplace. I had to organize my thoughts.

I know my name, I own this house, I have no money, I have no job, and any relatives live far enough away to be out of contact for a while. I am running low on food as well.

Crack. The lightning startled me again. Today was not the best day to work things out.


Laying back on the sofa in the living room, I slowly drifted into sleep, as my mind continuously swirled with thoughts. One, however, was much more imposing than the rest.

What do I do next?


Guiding Light:

CHAPTER I -

Two Steps Forward

* * *

My conscious mind was a mess. Thank the stars I hadn’t tried to do this last night - I would have nearly yanked out my mane in frustration. Actually, I was close to doing it now; I can’t imagine what kind of havoc I could have set upon my home if I hadn’t slept first.

Organizing your thoughts is a pain, especially in my condition. Not knowing anything about myself had proved to be more frightening, but at least it didn’t strain my mind when I didn’t have to make sense of things that just did not add up.

Eventually, I calmed myself down over a breakfast of apples - the only thing I’d eaten for three days - and brought out my folder of documents once again. Were they forged? The bank manager would probably have noticed, so that question was of no use to me. The information on the documents just wouldn’t fit with what I had discovered.

Even after I had answered all the questions my mind had longed to answer, it just formulated newer, impossible-to-answer questions which I decided to ignore for the time being. Trying to answer those questions was like striking my cranium with a hammer. I rubbed my temple, a headache starting to form.

I tried to separate the facts into two different categories.

First category - I am a six-year resident of Ponyville. I have no money, therefore I cannot buy any food, which I don’t have much of, either. I don’t know what I do in terms of work. I have parents living in Manehattan. And, apart from my amnesia, I am healthy.

Second category, the stuff that doesn’t make sense - My bank documents say that I withdrew a small amount of bits from an account that did not have any activity whatsoever, registered only five months ago, as opposed to my six-year residency. My Cutie Mark doesn’t add up with my name, and the special talent it indicates has no place in Ponyville.

The last bit of information I had acquired fell into neither category - The cause of my amnesia could not be determined. Well, at least medically, anyway.

That’s when my brain automatically started coming up with ideas and possible solutions.

Maybe not medically, but possibly magically, I thought, tapping my horn.

I remembered that I wanted to find a spellbook somewhere, so I could regain some magical ability. What kind of unicorn doesn’t know how to use magic? That would probably bring questions to other ponies, in time.

Another plan: If I could work up enough bits to purchase a train ticket to Manehattan, I could find my parents and they could help me recover my lost memory. That was my best chance at remembering everything.

So I deduced that I needed two things. First priority - Find a job, so I can earn bits for food and a ticket. Second - Find a spellbook.

Even though it was my first priority, finding a job that would suit my needs would take time, and I’d need to actually be able to use my magic first. So, I guess finding that spellbook should have been considered my real first priority.

I had a full day ahead of me, and I intended to use it. I unfurled my map of the town, and quickly located where I could find exactly what I needed - the local library.

I tidied up my portfolio and tucked both it and the sack of bits into my saddlebags, and I was set. I opened the door, and stepped out, inhaling the fresh, early morning, post-rain air. The calming smell of ozone still lingered.

As I passed the market, ponies were already milling about, some setting up their vending carts, while others purchased their daily goods.

I was starting to get to know the layout of the town better each passing day; I had no idea if it was my memory being jogged, or simply memorization of my map. I hoped it was the former.

Truth is, I was scared. Not only because I had to completely start anew, but because nothing I had done so far had brought back a single memory. I shook my head. I’ll remember, I just need to give it time.

But that small consolation couldn’t stop the un-answer-ables from invading my thoughts. I concentrated on those mysterious, confusing facts, unable to shake them. I shook my head once again, dismissing them. They would make sense eventually. I just need to give it time.

Casually strolling through the market, I passed the bank. Something clicked that I hadn’t noticed the day before - The bank manager had addressed me by name! Why hadn’t I thought of that while I was there? Why didn’t it register? Was it so casual, that I had regained some of my memory, and when somepony recognized me, I didn’t concentrate on my name?

Immediately, I took a detour, stepping up my pace as I approached the bank.

The stallion from yesterday was there, and he was talking to a colt at the front of a line. I took a place in the line, and after a few minutes, I was face-to-face with the old stallion once again.

“Hello, sir! I hope you didn’t catch a cold, yesterday.”

I shook my head. “No. I just wanted to ask you a question. Yesterday, you addressed me by my name. Do you know me - or, do I know you?”

His expression scrunched to that of a slightly befuddled one, but I gulped as I realized it was not one of one friend not recognizing another.

“No, sir. Yesterday was the only time I’ve ever seen you. I just read your name off your identification.”

I blinked slowly, as my excitement died down and allowed anxiety to fill its place.

“Alright, thanks anyway.” I winced; I had said the same thing yesterday. The bank had no information for me. It was useless to my search. I turned to leave.

“Good day, sir!” The bank manager chimed.

Once outside, I kicked at the dirt. I should’ve known. Stupid. I had to be more vigilant if I were to continue. Now that I had no memory, I had to absorb and analyze every single detail.

Across the street, I noticed a large tree, in the middle of a row of houses. In front of it stood a small sign, with a picture of an open book on it. The library.

Walking up to the door, I couldn’t help but think that it was such a strange thing to be a library. It was a tree. I had no words for it.

Even the door was awkward. It didn’t look like one that belonged to a public place. I tried the handle. It was locked. Strange. Were they not open yet? I knocked.

Only but a few moments later, a light purple unicorn with a streaked navy-blue mane opened the door.

“Hello,” She greeted cheerfully, “Can I help you?”

I arched an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, I thought this was a library. Do I have the right building?”

“Oh, yes. This is a library. Sorry for the confusion. It’s also my home. Please, come in.”

I stepped inside, glancing around. Bookshelves lined the circular walls. Hundreds of volumes were in this place.

“Um, I’m looking for a spellbook or two, so I can practice some magic.”

“We have plenty of those,” The unicorn said, shutting the door. “What kind of spellbook are you interested in?”

What kind?

“Like, beginner, advanced, strange spells, wizardry, the list goes on.”

“Can I take a look at beginner and advanced?”

“Sure,” she said, levitating a couple of books off of a nearby shelf “What do you need them for?”

I sighed. “Long version or short?”

She raised an eyebrow slightly. “Long.”

I sighed again. Over the next few minutes, I carefully explained every excruciating detail of what had occurred in the past two-and-a-half days. I concluded with my need for the books.

“That’s quite... complicated...” She stated, still trying to grasp everything.

“Yes. Is there a cost for the books?”

“Each book costs three bits a week.”

“And I can’t just read them here?”

“Afraid not.”

I only had 8 bits. Spending 6 bits on two books wouldn’t leave me enough left over to buy lunch.

“I guess I’ll just take the beginner book.” I took three bits out of my bag.

And then that’s when another idea took shape. I might be able to accomplish both tasks I had set right now. It was awfully dusty in the room.

“Um, pardon me for asking, but, are you in need of assistance? You know, in tidying this place up a bit? Sweeping floors?”

She frowned a bit. “I’m sorry, I already have an assistant, and he works for free.”

My brain told me to keep pushing. “Couldn’t you make an exception? Just for a little while, so I can get myself back on my feet?”

“You can’t work anywhere else?”

“I don’t think any other job would have free access to a plethora of books that could potentially jog my memory.”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, alright. I’m just worried about what Spike will say-”

“Say about what?” A voice called from behind me. I turned to see a baby dragon eyeing me from a flight of stairs.

“Um, eheh... Spike, this is...” She trailed off. “What did you say your name was again?” She whispered.

“Steel Tempest.”

“Twilight Sparkle.” She raised he voice again. “Spike, this is Steel Tempest. He’s going to be my assistant for awhile.”

By this time, Spike had come down the stairs and was standing right next to us. I wasn’t prepared for his next shout of rage.

“WHAT?! Twilight, you said you’d never-”

Twilight leaned over and whispered in Spike’s ear for a while, and, once again, an eyebrow was raised at the telling of my story.

When Twilight was finished, Spike looked at least consoled for now.

“Alright, Mr. Tempest. I guess you’re fine for now. Just don’t try any funny business. I’m Twilight’s Number One Assistant, got that?”

I nodded. “I have no intention of replacing you, Mr. Spike. I’m just broke and don’t know any magic.”

Spike smiled a little bit. “Mister Spike... I like the sound of that. I’m beginning to like you better, Mister Tempest. All I need now is a moustache!” He leaned over and elbowed Twilight, who just smiled and rolled her eyes. Spike went into the kitchen.

“So, I can get started right now?” I asked.

“Well, first,” Twilight started, “I’m going to make a list of all the chores I need done.”

After she had prepared the list, showed me around the library, and taught me how to organize the books, I set to work dusting, sweeping, and cataloguing.

Twilight spent most of the day studying, and that led me to wonder why and how she could spend nearly an entire day doing so. Spike went outside, making the most of his new-found spare time.

An hour after my working day had ended, I dedicated some time to read over the beginner’s spellbook, learning spells like levitation and such. After my ‘study hour,’ I was able to close the book, using magic, with little difficulty.

It was just on the verge of evening, and I picked up my saddlebags, making sure I still had my portfolio and sack of bits.

Just before I left, there was just one more thing I needed to ask.

“Um, Twilight, do you mind if you paid me a day-to-day salary, instead of a weekly one? I don’t have any food and only eight bits.”

“Sure,” she said, closing her book.

Walking up behind a desk, she opened a similar burlap sack full of bits and gave a few to me.

“Thanks, Twilight. I really appreciate everything you’ve done to help me.” I pushed three of the bits back to her and levitated the beginner’s spellbook over to me.

“No problem, Steel.” Twilight pulled out a catalogue book, wrote down the title of the spellbook, and had me sign my name. I levitated the book into my saddlebags.

“You’ve been learning fast. I couldn’t even turn a single page on a book when I first studied magic,” Twilight said with a chuckle.

“Re-learning,” I corrected. “See you tomorrow. Same time as today?”

“Okay. See you, Steel, it was nice meeting you!”

“You too, Miss Sparkle!” Thanking her once again, I turned and left.

The sun was lower in the sky, and the chill of evening wind was starting to set in. The air was still fresh, and the ground had dried. I could feel the warmth of the setting sun on my face. Ponies were returning to their homes after a long day. Ponyville was a wonderful town. It was no place for misdeeds or crime. I had been here three days and I never wanted to leave.

I started back to my house. There were only a few ponies left in the streets. However, they still lingered in the marketplace, actively bartering with the vendors.

The market never sleeps, I figured. I could only imagine ponies sleeping out with their carts at midnight.

Nearing my house, my stomach started to grumble. I hadn’t eaten anything today, save two of my last three apples this morning. With all my new wages, I decided to eat something that wasn’t a fruit. Just down and across the street from my house was what looked like a giant gingerbread house, decorated with all sorts of over-sized candy.

‘Sugarcube Corner,’ the sign read. Sounds enticing.

I entered the sweet shop and took a deep breath. It even smelled of gingerbread. I wondered if-

“Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie! Welcome to Sugarcube-”

The sudden appearance of the pink pony that somehow popped up from behind the counter took me by surprise. What shocked and confused me further was when her eyes went as wide as saucers, she jumped three feet in the air, and gasped in more air than I thought was possible. Then, she took off like a bullet into the back of the store. A resounding crash was heard not a second later.

An older mare walked out of the kitchen the pink pony had rocketed into.

“Sorry about that. What can I get’cha?”

Still baffled, I looked down at the assortment of candy and baked goods before me. Just the sight and the scent of the delicious food made my mouth water.

A perfect-looking blueberry muffin caught my eye, nearly making me drool all over the floor. I asked the mare the cost.

“That’ll be four bits, please,” she said. The entrancing smell of the delicacies behind the counter didn’t even faze her in the slightest.

I fumbled around with my saddlebags using my magic, before getting frustrated and doing it the earth pony way. I pushed the bits across the counter a little too quickly, and took the muffin likewise.

“Thank you, ma’am.” I stuttered. I resisted the temptation to shove the entire muffin in my mouth all at once. I had to wait until I was on the street, at least. Somepony had probably given in at some point and done what I might have if I didn’t have self-control.

“No, thank you. Come again!”

“I’m sure I will!” I definitely would. How could I not come back to this place? This was the food of the gods! And it was cheap, too!

Exiting the shop and forgetting all my troubles and my confusion, I happily chomped down on the muffin on my way back to my house. It was bliss, and I savoured every bite. I had never tasted better food.

Pleased with my ‘dinner,’ I entered my house, set my folder on the back desk, and lit the candle on it. Today, I had accomplished nearly everything I had set myself to do.

Taking the candle with me, I entered my bedroom and laid down on the bed, clearing my mind of anything else that didn’t pertain to recovering my memory. I set the candle down on the night table - I liked to sleep with it still burning.

I found that this would be a regular practice; allowing myself some time every night or morning to recap my day, and to plan my next moves.

All the confusion and my strange information still lingered deep within my mind. Another thing was still bothering me; Nopony knew me. Surely, somepony might have recognized me on the streets? My anxiety was rising again. I pushed these thoughts from my mind, and focused on everything that was good and that made sense.

I had all the bits to just barely sustain me from day to day, and I had a job where I could access any kind of literature, be it folklore or modern science. I even learned some basic magic. I also learned that Sugarcube Corner was probably Heaven’s Kitchen. I was on the road to recovery. Soon, I’d be able to see my relatives, and I’d be back to my past self.

That led me to wonder who my past self was. I was probably a completely different pony. Was I mean, or cruel? Was I generous and caring? Did I have friends?

Friends. Did I have one? I thought about that.

Twilight Sparkle was my friend. My first friend.

No matter what kind of pony I was before, I still wasn’t the same person. It was as if I was staring anew -  the old Steel Tempest had dropped off the world and I had come to take his place.

I had made a friend. Amidst all of my troubles, all my confusion, all my worry and my mysterious case, I had found a friend in somepony. I could trust them with whatever I found out. I could go far with a friend, farther than I could ever have gone by myself.

I was content.

____________________________

For any questions or direct comments, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected] 

I’m also looking for pre-readers, so send an e-mail my way if you’d like to do so.


Guiding Light:

CHAPTER II -

Misery Loves Company

* * *

I couldn’t think of a single moment in those past few days where I’d felt truly happy.

I’d felt gratitude and welcome from Twilight, but the weight of my troubles had brought my spirits down. All that changed when I decided to just not worry about anything. I stopped desperately trying to search for scraps of information or to wonder to no end who I was before three nights ago. I had simply accepted everything that had happened, and that was that.

Not to say that I had quit with my attempts and put out my inquisitiveness like a candle; heavens no. I still wanted to find out what had happened to me, and know everything I once knew. I also wanted to rid myself of the perplexing and misleading tidbits of information that sent mixed signals every which way across my mind.

All that could wait until later, however. The only things I concentrated on were the here and now - I did not want to judge myself or feel anxious any longer. I knew I fit in, and I was happy with that.

That morning, I decided to wake up earlier than normal for some groceries. I had slept soundly the past night, and I felt the need to stock my fridge for later.

I grabbed my bits and tried to make my unkempt mane as presentable as possible before stepping out. Routine was setting in and abolishing the confusion.

As always, the vendors were out earlier than anypony else would wake. A handful of other ponies had the same idea as myself, and a couple of them left with enough food to last them a week.

With the amount of bits I had, it was enough for only one or two days worth of food, maybe three, if I rationed properly.

Good thing about vendors was that most were cheap. I bought myself a bag of carrots, some potatoes, apples, and a couple of muffins, and still had quite a few bits left over.

After I had brought the groceries back to my house, stored the food in the pantry, and ate the muffins for breakfast (Which were not on the level of those from Sugarcube Corner at all). I grabbed my beginner spellbook, read a few pages, practicing levitation and other sorts of telekinesis. I stowed it and my bits in my saddlebags, and set off for the library.

More ponies were on the streets now; the sun rising over the hills, and drowsy fillies and colts awoke from their comfortable slumbers to go to school. Life was good. The beckoning calls of confusion were shut up.

That is, until, a bale of hay, wearing a jacket, a baseball cap, and a pair of Groucho Mare’s glasses trundled up next to me.

“Hey, stranger!” It talked. My head started to pound.

“Um... Hello?”

“Welcome! You new to these parts?” It was clearly another pony inside the bale.

“Well, no, but... it’s a long story, sort of. Um, yes, I guess?”

“Well, every new pony in town gets a greeting from Mister Hay! What’s your name?”

I resisted the urge to ask just what the hay (No pun intended) was going on.

“Steel Tempest,” I managed to say, not hiding my dumbfounded-ness.

“Well, welcome to Ponyville, Steel Tempest! NowexcusemeIhavetogopreparesobye!”

The bale darted off.

I just stood there, agape, for a solid ten seconds.

After I closed my jaw to avoid stares, I decided that I just couldn’t fathom some things, and that I should’ve made no attempt to.

Arriving at the library on the dot, Twilight and I greeted each other warmly, and the day progressed much like it did yesterday: sweeping, dusting, and cleaning up Twilight’s mess of books, strewn all over the place.

Then, near noon, there was a knock at the door.

Continuing with my work, Twilight answered it. To my surprise, it was the pink pony I had seen at Sugarcube Corner the day before.

“Hi, Twilight!” The pink pony quipped.

“Hey, Pinkie,”

“There’s a party tonight at this address,” She handed Twilight a card of some sort. “I’m throwing a party for a new pony in-”

And then she took notice of me. Like before, she gasped, but she didn’t take off like a balloon venting air, this time. Instead, he smiled sheepishly and waved a hoof in my direction. I waved back.

The pink pony now spoke to Twilight in hushed tones that I couldn’t hear. Twilight sounded like she was suppressing a giggle.

The two said their good-byes and Twilight shut the door. I didn’t bother to ask. Like I told myself before, It’s better not to know, sometimes.

At that point, my stomach growled, begging me for food. I told Twilight that I was going to get some lunch, and went back to the marketplace.

It was a beautiful day, not like the last, skies clear and warm sun gazing upon the town and setting a pleasant temperature. The air was fresh and clean. The ambience was euphoric.

Suddenly, I bumped into a small, unicorn filly, nearly knocking her over.

“Sorry,” I said, putting on the cheesiest smile I could muster. “I should have been paying more attention.”

“It’s okay, I do that all the time,” She replied cheerfully.

She turned her head as her friends called out to her.

“C’mon, Sweetie Belle! At this rate we’ll never get our Everfree Explorers Cutie Marks,” said an orange pegasus filly, about the same age. A yellow earth pony with a red mane was also nearby.

“Sheesh, I’m coming,” The unicorn filly said, and took off in the direction of her friends.

Everfree? I thought. Do they mean the Everfree Forest? Isn’t it dangerous in there?

I’d seen the Everfree marked on my maps of the town, inscribed with blatant warnings to ‘keep out.’ Were these fillies heading into trouble?

I dismissed the notion. I had forgot everything I knew. The fillies probably knew more about the Everfree than I did. Besides, the maps were dated.

Continuing to the market, I purchased a sandwich from a vendor, and ate on my way back to the library. I was getting the hang of my magic now. I had even dipped into the advanced spellbook when I got bored of the beginner's book.

After my return to the library, the day went by similarly to the last - finishing my work, and studying for an hour.

However, mid-paragraph in the advanced spellbook, Twilight approached me with my daily salary.

“I have to go somewhere, and I won’t be back before you leave for the day. Here are your bits for today.” She slid the bits over to me and produced a key. “I also need you to lock up for me when you leave in half-an-hour. Put the key under the mat, okay?”

“Sure.”

“Alright, thanks, Steel. Bye!”

“Bye.”

She shut the door. Now, I had the library all to myself. With the resulting silence, I got through more of the advanced spellbook than I thought I could read in thirty minutes.

Alas, the end of the day came, I packed my things, and left the library. I locked the library door, and slid the key under the front door mat, just as I’d been instructed.

Walking briskly through the marketplace once again, I noticed that the traffic of ponies among the vendors and their carts was significantly less than it was yesterday, at this time of day. In fact, nopony was on the streets at all. Where were they?

These thoughts quickly vanished as I strode up to my street. I smiled. This was what I’d been waiting for for most of the day. I approached the front door to Sugarcube Corner and twisted the handle.

But it wouldn’t budge. It was locked. I huffed, confused and distrodden. I had really hoped for another muffin.

Shrugging, I slowly shuffled down the empty street to my musty old home. I really needed to clean it up. There was dust everywhere.

Climbing up the porch steps, I opened the door. I was not prepared for what was next to come.

“SURPRISE!”

My house was absolutely filled to capacity with strangers. Streamers floated around in the air and party favors littered the floor. Confetti was everywhere. A banner that read, ‘Welcome to Ponyville, Steel Tempest!’ hung from the ceiling. What the hay was going on?!

I stood there, without words. How should I react? What should I do? Who were all these ponies? Why was I being welcomed to a town I had lived in for six years?

And then, at least a single part of my day started to make sense, as a certain pink pony popped in front of me from nowhere in particular.

“Surprise! Hi, I'm Pinkie Pie and I threw this party just for you,” she happily quipped.

“Um, that’s great, but I-” was all I could manage before the hyper pony cut me off.

Remember when I first saw you? I was all, ‘Hi, I’m Pinkie Pie!’ Then I went-”

She gasped like she had when I had seen her in Sugarcube Corner and at the Library.

I couldn’t manage a word before she hit me with a whole damned speech.

“See, I never saw you before, and if I never saw you before that means you're new, 'cause I know everypony, and I mean everypony in Ponyville, and if you're new, then it means you haven't met anypony yet, and if you haven't met anypony yet, you must not have any friends, and if you don't have any friends then you must be lonely, so I just threw a great big ginormous super-duper spectacular welcome party and invited everypony in Ponyville! And now you have lots and lots of friends!”

Oh, great. A welcome party. Because I’d just moved into town a few days ago. Thanks, Pinkie Pie, for giving me yet another thing to tear my mane out over.

“Um, thanks... I guess.”

“No problemo! I just hope you have a super-duper awesome time!” And with that, she bounced off into the crowd.

I sighed, trying to make my way through the crowd myself. For a welcome party, the other ponies just seemed to ignore me; like I was just another pony amongst the ones who’d been invited. I guess that’s kind of what I was - I would be after that night, anyway.

Sampling the confectioneries and the punch - both of which were absolutely delicious and mouth-watering - I eventually found Twilight with some of her friends near the back of my home, around my desk. I didn’t take anypony here to be the thieving type, but prior to greeting my friend, I checked the drawers for my portfolio - which was still there, thankfully - as I put my saddlebags away.

“Hey, Twilight,” I piped up.

She turned. “Oh, hi, Steel. Enjoying your party?”

“Yeah, I guess so. I mean - I really appreciate the gesture, and the welcoming, but that’s just the thing; Pinkie Pie said she hadn’t seen me before, yet I’m supposed to be a six-year resident. All this confusion just bothers me.”

“Don’t worry about it for now,” she giggled. “Trust me, it’s better that you enjoy yourself now - I wasn’t so lucky at my welcome party.”

I didn’t press. “Okay, I’ll try my best,” I said, the sarcasm nearly tangible.

I was about to turn and walk away to ‘enjoy myself’ when suddenly, a white-coated, purple-maned unicorn burst forth from the crowd and confronted Twilight with worry etched upon her face.

“Twilight! Have you seen Sweetie Belle? I can’t find her anywhere,” she said, her voice regal, but nervous.

An orange earth pony, wearing a stetson, whom Twilight had been speaking with before my greeting, butted in before she could reply.

“An’ ah haven’t seen Apple Bloom ever since the two of them an’ Scootaloo left their treehouse,” she drawled in a thick accent.

A lightbulb went off as some memory click-ed in my mind. Sweetie Belle. I’ve heard that name before...

“I don’t know where they are,” Twilight replied to the both of them. “I hope they haven’t gone into the Everfree Forest...”

“They wouldn’t be so foolish to do that again,” The white mare suggested.

It was Stetson Pony’s  turn. “They’re prob’ly wanderin’ ‘round the town somewhere.”

It wasn’t a click this time, so much as a thud. The realization hit me, and it hit me hard. 

Sweetie Belle was that young filly I bumped into this afternoon. She was with two others - most likely her friends just mentioned right now - and they had in fact gone into the Everfree!

“Twilight-” I started to say. But, I didn’t finish. The three mares were gone - vanished into thin air.

They had no idea of the fillies’ real intentions and whereabouts. Even if they did eventually figure it out, who knows what kind of danger the three young friends were in already?

That left me with one option. Twilight had gone off looking for the fillies in the wrong place. I was the only pony here who knew where they were. So, out of the guttural instinct that had done me well so far, my mind was set on just one thing I could do at that moment.

Silently cursing myself, I grabbed the candle off my desk, which was still lit, and pushed my way through the crowd of guests, not bothering with the simplest ‘excuse me.’

I was, so to speak, ditching my own party.

I exited my modest house, leaving the heat of the party and the blasting techno-polka music behind. The night was chilling, and the slight breeze made me shiver. I had to concentrate with my magic harder than I normally would to keep my candle from going out.

The town was dead. Nopony lingered this late at night - not that anypony would actually be on the streets anyway, they were all in my house. I looked up towards the cloudless sky, as the full moon shone down upon the cheerful, yet silent town below it.

Exhaling heavily, I galloped as fast as I could toward the forest, going faster than what I was normally capable of, thanks to the adrenalin coursing throughout my system. The candle did not go out, not even so much as flicker.

I passed rows upon rows of houses for what seemed like an eternity before coming to the forest’s edge. It was ominous - the rolling grassland of Ponyville stopped suddenly, not even bothering to slowly transition to the tree-laden area. The line of trees just started where the grass stopped, and continued on for miles.

To be honest, I really did not want to go into the forest. But, I felt like I owed it to myself to do the right thing for once and save those fillies.

The first thing I did was enchant the candle so I could find it wherever I had placed it. Reading up on those spellbooks had just found their purpose. With the candle enchanted, I dripped some of it’s still-enchanted wax onto the ground just outside the forest. I don’t know how I knew to do that, but I pinned it to being a quick thinker, something I hadn’t yet defined myself as being.

With a marker set, I swallowed, and took my first steps into the Everfree Forest.

The shadows seemed to consume all bravado. I instantly wanted to turn around. My will was stronger than that, though, and I pushed my shaky knees onward, deeper within the forest.

I heard twigs snapping and strange, non-pony growls that made my hair stand on end and by brow start to bead with perspiration. Apart from my own hoofsteps and the threatening sounds of whatever monsters lurked within this hellish place, everything was utterly silent. This wasn’t a quiet-library silent, however; this was a mentally degrading and dementing silent. My ears rang from nothing in particular, and as my pace sped up, my mind droned out all senses, even my frantic breathing and the feeling in my hooves. All I could hear was the constant ringing of mental warnings to turn around, lest I collapse. My vision was a blurry haze, and I was barely able to make out the outlines of trees before I crashed headfirst into them. My entire body was numb.

I was galloping like a maniac. I had lost control over myself. Fear had conquered courageousness, and everything around me spun, like I was in the middle of a whirlwind. And, without warning, my head hit the dirt-covered ground, sending a sharp smack of pain reverberating through my skull. I kept my eyes shut, not willing to give into the sheer terror of what I would see coming to feast upon my defeated body.

I could feel the warmth of the candle nearby, still lit, on my sweaty face, but everything around me felt miles away. I had given up. I couldn’t continue. I had doomed myself.

Then, the  ringing in my ears stopped like a gramophone needle picked up off the record. Through the deafening silence, I heard something that made me open my eyes.

The soft whimpering of a few young fillies.

No, I told myself. I am not defeated. I got to my feet, my knees still shaking. I’ve done it - I’ve found them. I’ve saved their lives.

I picked up the candle, deep orange flame not even wavering, and held it in front of me.

I walked forward, my strength returning as my confidence rebuilt itself and chased fear from my mind.

I called out to the fillies, trying my best to remember their names.

“Sweetie Belle?”

I approached the source of the whimpering, and I found three young fillies, a unicorn, an earth pony, and a pegasus, silently bawling, huddled against each other, between a bush and the trunk of a tree.

I had found them.

Setting the candle down next to the trio and moving in to console them, I did my best to be calm and caring.

“Shh,” I comforted them, wiping the tears from their red-rimmed eyes. “There’s nothing to be worried about. I’m here - I’ll protect you. I’ll bring you back to Ponyville, safe and sound. Your families are so worried. Don’t you worry now, I’m here for you. Shh...”

It took a few minutes to get them to stop whimpering so they could form words. The yellow earth-filly spoke in a similar accent to the orange stetson-bearing mare at the party.

“Wh-w-who a-are y-you...?” She stuttered.

“I’m Steel Tempest, a friend of Twilight Sparkle’s,” I reassured the weeping filly. “Come on, you three can hop on my back. We need to get out of this forest before your older counterparts get any more nervous than they already are.”

With that, I kneeled down, and let the three teary-eyed fillies climb onto my back; I was sure they were in no condition to just walk back on their own.

Heading out of the forest took longer than essentially bolting in, but galloping out would mean sending three traumatized fillies flying off my back and into the cold mud, in the middle of an evil-possessed forest.

It was nearly midnight now, and I could barely see. The candle was my guiding light. It hadn’t gone out before and it wouldn’t now. I’m sure it was the reason no Hydra or Ursa Major had attacked me. The candle was my weapon, and I was a warrior, conquering all evil that lay withing this forest.

Still, the three compromised little ponies on my back whimpered and teared up with every growl or alien sound that emanated from somewhere nearby. I kept my own head held high, and banished the thoughts of attack from my conscious mind. My strength - my bravado - had returned, and it was surely not going to leave me now, not at my moment of triumph.

Following the direction of where the enchanted wax had been left, I could soon see the lights of Ponyville, and I could feel the relief of the fillies as we exited the forest.

I had no idea where Twilight or her friends might be, so I brought the fillies - who were still on my back, albeit no longer whimpering, to the town square, and waited. I got fed up after ten minutes, and decided to go wait in the Library instead. I turned to leave the square, but before I could take even a single step, one of the fillies gasped and pointed a hoof to the sky.

“Look, it’s Rainbow Dash,” She cried, awfully cheerful.

A rainbow-maned pegasus zoomed down from above and stopped right in front of me, blocking my path.

“Where’d you find those fillies?” She snapped.

Most likely one of Twilight’s friends, I deduced.

“They were in the Everfree Forest. Where’s Twilight?”

“I’ll go get her now,” Said the pegasus, and took off in a blink. It wasn’t long before Twilight, the white unicorn, the Stetson Pony, and a red-orange pegasus galloped up to us at full throttle.

“Rarity!” Called out Sweetie Belle, jumping off my back. The other two followed suit, each galloping to their respectful companion, as the three mares comforted them.

“Apple Bloom, what did ah tell ya about goin’ into the forest?” The Stetson Pony sighed.

“We w-were trying to get our e-Everfree Explorers Cutie Marks...” Stammered the pegasus filly, as the red-orange mare stroked her mane, cuddling her.

“Sweetie Belle, you had me so worried!” The white unicorn said, anxiety still present in her voice. “We thought you learned the last time to stay out of that dreadful place!”

“We were chased by a manticore!” Sweetie Belle explained. “We hid from it, and we were too scared to move...”

Twilight turned to me. “Thank you so much, Steel. How did you know they were in the forest?”

“I bumped into Sweetie Belle when I was taking my lunch break. They were heading into the Everfree. I really didn’t think much of it - I should have warned somepony.”

“Nonsense, sugarcube,” said the Stetson Pony, looking up from Apple Bloom. “Twilight’s told us all about you. Ya didn’t know that the forest was dangerous.”

That was half-true. I didn’t want to have to do any more explaining today - especially not after my exhausting feat of heroism. I let them believe what they wanted to. I simply nodded.

“I can’t thank you enough,” the white unicorn piped up. “I don’t believe we’ve met - I’m Rarity.”

“Ah’m Applejack,” drawled the Stetson pony.

“Autumn Wind,” said the red-orange pegasus. “And you are...?”

“Autumn, this is Steel Tempest,” introduced Twilight.

“Thank you so much, Steel Tempest,” Autumn wind continued. “Our little sisters get into trouble all the time.”

“No problem, really,” I said. I had no intention of ever going into that forest ever again, so I was basically a one-time hero.

“Oh, but we owe you more than just our gratitude,” Implied Rarity. “These three fillies could have gotten themselves killed if you hadn’t saved them.” She took out a pouch. “This is for you. I can’t thank you enough.”

The pouch was full of bits - way more than enough for a train ticket, maybe even two.

“Thank you, Rarity, but I can’t accept this. I was just doing the right thing.”

“I insist. I won’t take no for an answer.”

“Alright, thank you, Rarity. Remind me to pay you back, one day.” To refuse her gift would have just been rude.

“You’re a stubborn one, Steel Tempest.” She smiled. “Don’t worry about it. I know you’re short on bits. Saving my little sister is more of a gift than anything I can give you.”

“Thank you, Rarity, I appreciate it,” I bowed my head.

“You have mah gratitude,” said Applejack.

“And mine, as well,” Autumn Wind added. “It was nice meeting you, Steel Tempest.”

“Likewise, Autumn, Applejack, Rarity. See you later.” I bid them farewell as they departed.

The rainbow-maned pegasus playfully punched me in the shoulder. “Nice work, hero. Maybe I oughta give you some lessons sometime.” She smiled and took off.

I rolled my eyes and Twilight giggled.

“Rainbow Dash will always be Rainbow Dash,” she said. “Come on, your party’s probably already over. So much for ‘enjoying it’.”

It was my turn to laugh.

* * *

My house had never looked messier.

Confetti and streamers coated the ground, food and drink was spilled everywhere, and party favours covered every surface.

All of the other ponies had gone, so I was in no rush to tidy up the place. I stumbled my way to the living room, on the verge of passing out. I collapsed onto the sofa, the candle I was still holding clattering onto a nearby table. Twilight followed, frowning a bit at the state of the solemn house.

Pinkie Pie peeked her head into the room.

“Oh, hey, Steel! Hi Twilight!”

“Hey, Pinkie Pie,” Twilight said, matching her usual tone.

“Hello, Pinkie,” I groaned.

The energetic pony bounced up next to the sofa.

“I can see you’re super tired from all the partying! But don’t worry! Pinkie Pie always cleans up her messes, no matter what! I promise - Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”

I only grumbled in response.

And with that, Pinkie Pie set off, sweeping, dusting and cleaning up the house at impossible speeds. I was too tired to care that the laws of physics were being broken.

It was when she was taking down the ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ banner that I remembered what I needed to clue her in to.

“Um, Pinkie Pie? You do know that I’ve been a resident of Ponyville for six years, right? I appreciate it, but I don’t really think I needed a welcome party...”

She laughed. “Don’t be silly, Steel. I know everypony in Ponyville, and I’ve never seen you before.”

I glanced over, and took note that Twilight had fallen asleep on the opposite couch.

“Don’t you think you might’ve missed just one pony?” I tried.

“If you’ve been here for six years, then what were those two ponies that brought you here on the carriage doing?”

I froze. Every single thought on my mind vanished, and were replaced by a thirst for knowledge.

“Pinkie Pie, I want you to tell me everything you know about those ponies. Right now.

____________________________

Special thanks to my first pre-reader, Macmon33!

For any questions or direct comments, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]

I’m also looking for pre-readers, so send an e-mail my way if you’d like to do so.


Guiding Light:

CHAPTER VI -

It Followed Me Home

* * *

The dark, lazy grip of sleep slowly left me, replaced by hunger, thirst, fatigue and pain.

I tried to open my eyes, but all I could see was the dark blackness of the cave. With my eyes of no use, I lowered my eyelids as I tried to flex my legs.

The response was sluggish and painful. My muscles were seized an knotted, and I was sure I had twisted my hoof. Despite my body’s discouragement, I drowsily pushed myself up from off the cold stone I had slept on. It was a great mistake - blood quickly left my head and upper torso, and pooled in my hooves. The resulting nausea and dizziness threw me against the cave wall, and I nearly blacked out again.

Taking a moment to breathe, I was now fully aware of the great pain that erupted inside my skull. The terrible headache was the final clue that I had pushed myself too far over my limits the previous night. I didn’t even want to imagine what I would have been feeling like just then if I had been galloping in the harsh, hot day rather than the cool night.

Too impatient to wait for my eyes to adjust to the dark and too fatigued to use my magic, I carefully ran my hooves along the ground until I found my saddlebags. Removing the only item stored within, I set the candle on the ground and removed the cap. To no surprise, the flame was still lit. The light was sufficient in lighting up the cave, but also wrought havoc on my eyes and head. After rubbing my temples with my eyes half open for a few minute, I looked over to the other prone form in the room - Agile Bolt.

She lay still, relaxed on her side, with her chest slowly rising and falling, without a sound. my eyes travelled along her legs, down to the injured hoof. The bandage I had tied around the gash had turned a deep rusty-red, soaked with dried blood throughout. It was obvious that I needed to change the gauze.

Picking up and unsheathing Bolt’s dagger, I carefully cut the blood-soaked bandage, tossing it aside. I examined Bolt’s hoof; the bleeding had stopped, but the gash was still quite deep and infection was a probable possibility. I put the dagger back in its sheath and propped the injured hoof up on a rock. Forgetting that I had left the roll of gauze on the cave floor, I grabbed the pegasus’ satchel and started rummaging around in it. Not finding what I was looking for, I was about to set the satchel back down, but my hoof touched something strange, something familiar. 

Removing the foreign object, I could see in the dim orange glow of the candle that it was some sort of small stone chunk, bearing strange markings on one side.

The runes were intriguing. Of course, I couldn’t read them, but there was just some sort of familiarity about them. It was beyond familiarity... I couldn’t look away from them, I sat there, with a small stone in my hooves, unable to break eye contact. My mind started to go numb. My thinking process nearly slowed to a halt, and my eyes were looking straight through the stone. I started to shiver, as if the temperature in the cave was freezing. The nerves in my mind were coming out of their numbness, to roar up and send ripples of intense pain through my head. The shaking intensified, and my hooves lost their grip, and the stone clattered to the floor.

The shaking immediately stopped, and the pain ceased. I backed away from the stone, laying on the floor, and rubbed my temples again. I looked up and saw Bolt staring at me like I had gone mad.

"That's no ordinary stone," she said, shifting herself so that she could pick up the shard.

"Oh, you don't say?" I sarcastically retorted, still rubbing my temples, until I realized that my head was fine and devoid of any pain. I lowered my hooves.

Bolt looked at me quizzically. "What's wrong?" she asked, genuinely perplexed.

"What's wrong?! That thing nearly sizzled my brain! What the hell is it, and why are you carrying it?"

Now Bolt looked even more confused than she did before. "It... caused you pain? What were you doing to it?"

I scoffed. "Oh, for the love of... I was just looking at it!"

Bolt arched an eyebrow. She turned over the shard so that the runed were facing up, and proceeded to stare at it just as I had done. She sat there staring at it for one minute, not shaking, not crying out, nothing. Eventually, she looked up, the confused look still plastered to her face.

"I don't get it," she said.

I sighed. "Never mind. What is it exactly?"

"It's a shard of the walls of the Chamber of Perception. Those glyphs are the same glyphs Lore has been trying to decipher for years."

I thought for a moment. Elusive had told me about some chamber with strange glyphs in it. That must've been the Chamber of Perception.

"A pony back at the camp was talking about that Chamber. What exactly is it?"

"Apparently Lore and his two companions found it when they first travelled here. Lore somehow gained some sort of knowledge from the chamber and craved more. He started to bring ponies into the chamber - apparently if they 'stole' knowledge from the chamber then it would steal some back. Then something went wrong, and the chamber lashed out at Lore, cursing him. However, Lore used that curse to his advantage, and created the Barrier.

"His friend, Candlelight had told him that there were 'markers' of some kind, hidden somewhere in the area. After Candlelight turned on Lore, Lore became convinced that those markers were in some sort of cave complex below the desert, hence the mining camps.

"Candlelight went on to lead the rebellion - he told us all about Lore and what was really happening. I wasn't sure what to make of him. I thought he was crazy. He was so convinced about the Markers... I think they were all a lie, fabricated to throw off Lore. I couldn't believe it when he went to go confront Lore... When the others returned without him, they said that he'd been killed. I didn't believe that either - that is, until Lore announced it the next day."

She fell silent for a few minutes. I snapped her out of it.

"So... Where do I fit in in all of this? What makes me special?"

Bolt's expression shifted to one of annoyance. "I've already told you - I don't know. When we get to the Hollow, then you can talk to Rook. He'll fill you in."

She looked at the Shard again. "I was actually supposed to give this to you after I had handed you over to those rebels we were supposed to meet." She extended the stone chunk towards me. "Here, take it."

I threw up my hooves. "Nuh-uh. I'm not falling for that again. Keep it."

Bolt frowned, frustrated. "I have strict orders saying you are to keep the stone. You're going to have to take it at one point or another. Besides, it's just a stone. Don't be a foal."

I bit my lip and eyed the Shard. "Fine," I said, picking it up off the floor. "Now watch. Just snap me out of it when I start shaking."

I swallowed, and stared at the glyphs. Not blinking, I held the stone the same way I had before, and made sure I was attempting to read the runes. After about a minute, I tore my gaze away, and turned the Shard over in my hooves.

“I don’t get it either...” I said.

“You see? Completely harmless. It was probably just stress.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I stowed the stone in my saddlebag.

“Would you mind?” Bolt piped in, pointing to her injured hoof.

“Oh, right,” I said, picking up the pegasus’ satchel and digging around for the gauze.

Bolt sighed and cleared her throat. I looked up. She was pointing her hoof at the ground nearby, the roll of gauze laying there, collecting dust.

I knocked myself in the head and retrieved the gauze. Shaking off the dirt and dust, I stretched out an adequate length and levitated Bolt’s dagger over to cut the section.

I lifted Bolt’s hoof and inspected the deep gash. It was reddened and raw - not infected yet, but would be soon without proper care.

I removed the bottle of disinfectant as well as the two rags I had used the last time I had tied her bandage. Giving her the appropriate rag to bite down on, I applied more of the disinfectant to the other and gently cleaned the wound once again. Bolt was able to choke down the pain better this time. Barely a whimper escaped through the cloth. She wiped away unshed tears as I tied the fresh bandage in place.

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Midnight Spectre approached the Northern Gate. The guards stationed there parted, unlatched the heavy metal locks, and swung the doors open.

Spectre checked his gear - dagger, three canteens, one week worth of nutrition, first aid kit. It was all he needed to track down Agile Bolt, kill her, and return home.

His father was a double crosser and a liar. Again, he had promised time after time to reveal his greatest secret to his son - the answer to a question that had haunted Spectre for most of his life.

He had made clear that this was the absolute last time he would do anything for his father. If Lore did not reveal what Spectre wished to know, he was prepared to take it by force this time.

Passing the guards without so much as an acknowledging glance, Spectre walked out beyond the gates and stood on the rocky ground of the Badlands desert. It was early morning - the sky was a dark grey, and the air was fresh, but dry. Spectre inhaled deeply, as if searching for the scent of his prey.

Agile Bolt’s run-in with the guards had occurred inside a mesa to the north-west. That’s where he would start. From there, he could gain enough information to find out where they had come from and where they were going.

He was alone now, silently treading into the dark desert, with only his thoughts as company. His mind swirled with ideas of vengeance and justice.

My father will reveal it to me, he thought. And I shall do everything in my power to make sure of that.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Stretching herself out, Bolt got up onto her hooves. She had some trouble putting pressure on her injured leg, but was able to manage. We gathered our supplies and slung our packs. Moving out of the cave, we only exited to be blinded by the intensity of the sun.

Bolt took the opportunity to look at her map and determine a direction to the Hollow. Once our eyes had adjusted, Bolt took the lead and limped her way down the mountain. I followed after her. The harsh, bright sun was hell on the eyes, not to mention the temperatures it caused. The Badlands desert was dangerous to traverse both at night and in the day.

After walking for a while, I couldn’t help but hear Bolt’s soft grunts and whimpers of pain when she put pressure on her injured hoof. I thought I should’ve pointed out the obvious.

“Hey Bolt? Those wings you have. You should use them, y’know? You don’t have to walk.”

Her gaze lowered slightly and her tone changed.

“I wish I could,” she said, “but I’ll never be able to use them to fly again. When I was first brought to the camps, my wings were fitted into the restraining bracer improperly. Dislocated my wings. When I was freed, I was tended to and my wings were fitted back into their sockets, at the expense that they were no more use than a pair of movable twigs.”

My own voice lowered to a near whisper.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know.”

“It’s alright. They’re not completely useless. They’re still pretty strong, and can thwack somepony quite hard. Good for kicking up dust, too.”

I grunted. She had put them to good use in our escape from the camp.

“So, where are we now?”

“We’re a bit east of Mason’s Mesa. We’re heading back around it and south to the Hollow. We should be there in about an hour,” said Bolt.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

They were here, Spectre realized, nosing his way around the cave.

There were faint hoofprints leading up the mountain, coming all the way from the mesa where Bolt had encountered the guards.

Inside the cave was all the evidence he needed. There was a bloody bandage lying on the ground, and small droplets of dried blood staining some of the ground. Rocks had been overturned and moved around, and the dirt in the cave had been disturbed.

Needing no other proof, Spectre exited the cave. It was late morning now, the sun was higher in the sky. The journey to the mesa had taken him a few hours.

The most intriguing factor in his whole pursuit of Agile Bolt was the pony she had broken out of a labour camp - evident from the second set of tracks. Who was this pony? Why had she taken him along with her, but left the others to fend for themselves?

He snuffed out his questions before they took root. This other pony was of no concern to him. he was to track down Bolt and possibly eliminate her.

Spectre followed the tracks leading back down the mountain and back towards the mesa. From there, they turned south and Spectre recognized that they were heading in the direction of the not-so-secret rebel stronghold.

If that’s where they’re heading, then I’ll have to be more careful to not be recognized.

Spectre looked down at the tracks, making sure that they were actually heading in the direction of the Hollow. Satisfied, he picked up his pace and moved ever closer to the mountain that housed the resistance - a resistance that could easily be crushed.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

The rest of the journey went on much of the same way, with Bolt telling the history of Blackhoof and answering my occasional question. Bolt had a single canteen of water, and we shared it sparingly.

However, Bolt fell silent after a while, and slowed down considerably. I looked back, and saw her knees wobble whenever she took a step. The injury was getting to her. She was clammy and pale.

“Hold up, Bolt. Stop and rest for a while. You’re gonna be sick.”

“No!” Bolt exclaimed, her voice strained. “No stopping! We’re... almost th-there...”

I sighed, and held the mare’s shoulders so she couldn’t move. With a considerable amount of strength and magic from my horn, I managed to hoist Bolt up and drape her across my back.

“Oh, for cel-Celestia’s sake!” she said, “I’m fine! Let me d-down!”

“Bolt, relax. There’s no point in hurting yourself further. Look, we’re almost there - I can see the cleft in the mountain.”

She let out a frustrated grumble and finally submitted. She collapsed across my back and slumped there like some huge saddlebag.

Skirting around the base of the mountain that housed the Hollow, I came upon the side that had a sort of canyon running down the middle. Proceeding through the canyon, all fell silent as the harsh winds howled overhead.

I approached a seemingly dead end, and was about to call out when I heard the humming of magic, accompanied by a deep, firm voice.

“Halt! Who goes there?”

I looked up and to the right, to glimpse at a dark yellow unicorn, wearing some sort of fabric armor, perched atop the high canyon wall and pointing a drawn bow at me.

“Steel Tempest and Agile Bolt,” I replied.

“I know of Agile Bolt, but never of yourself. Who are you?”

“My name is Steel Tempest - I think. Bolt was sent to break me out of one of the labour camps and escort me to a contact.”

“And where is the contact?”

“Dead. Ambushed by Blackhoof Guards.”

The rebel paused. “How can I be sure you’re one of us?”

Bolt, still on my back, sputtered and coughed. “He’s our Guest,” she rasped.

The rebel seemed stunned. “That Guest... huh... Wait - Bolt! What happened to you?’

“Gah! Just get us inside!” she hissed.

The rebel nodded and gave a short, sharp whistle. I looked back at what was a dead end, now revealed to be a secret passage, as stones turned aside and opened to a corridor, stretching deep into the mountain. Bolt slipped off my back, and we walked inside, the stones turning back to conceal the Hollow again.

It was dark in the hallway, and I lit up my horn. Standing some distance away was a dull orange earth pony with a dusty-orange mane, approaching us with a candle held between his teeth.

Bolt half-smiled and darted up to the earth pony, nearly collapsing on him. He spared a single glance my way before turning back to Bolt.

“We’d better get you some first-aid,” he said. Two other rebels who were behind the earth pony took Bolt and escorted her further down the hallway. The earth pony and I were left standing, facing each other in the hallway.

He held out his hoof for shaking. I took it.

“Name’s Rook,” he said. “You two have been through a lot.”

I scoffed. If this was the pony that most likely knew who I was, then I wanted to get straight to business. “So apparently you know who I really am?”

He gave me quizzical look - I didn’t like that. “Steel Tempest, right? I sent Bolt to go fetch you.”

I was a bit angry at that point. “A week ago I woke up with amnesia. I didn’t know who I was or where I lived and I still don’t know. All the signs I’ve followed have pointed to Blackhoof, which was obviously the right direction. Now Bolt tells me that you need to speak to me specifically, out of the hundreds of slaves that are trapped here. I can’t help but wonder why. So, tell me, do you know who I am, or not?”

Rook mulled that over for a few seconds, before gesturing at the dark hallway. “Come. Walk with me,” he said. I followed, steaming inside. He turned, and I clearly saw the image of an ornate chess piece on his flank.

“I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t know who you are or what’s happened to you. However, the reason that I don’t know is the reason Bolt doesn’t know. Bolt was ordered to bring you here. But I was ordered to send Bolt to bring you here, by our pony on the inside, Solace. If anybody knows you, he should.”

That statement sparked a small memory, of a certain pony at the Blackhoof train station.

“What does ‘Solace’ look like?”

Rook raised an eyebrow. “He’s an older unicorn. Orange coat, grey mane. Funny glasses.”

“I’ll be damned...”

“What do you mean?”

“I saw him in the train station some days ago. He spoke to me, told me to ‘listen to the voice of knowledge.’”

Rook tutted. “There’s our connection.”

“What connection?”

“Solace also gave me the Shard that Bolt gave you. He instructed me to have it make it’s way to you, as well as free you from your oppression. ‘Voice of Knowledge’ is obviously some sort of reference to the Chamber of Perception, where the shard was from. Because Solace recognized you, you obviously have some sort of connection to it that will help our cause. Now it’s just a matter of getting Solace here undetected to meet with you.”

I turned over this new information in my head. It had to have been connected to the amnesia as well, no doubt about it. “I see. When will I meet with Solace?”

“We’ll get him here as soon as we can. Solace is Iniquitous Lore’s Master Engineer, so he can’t just abandon his duties at any time. The trust Lore puts into him makes him a great ally, though. He’s our informant.”

“Where do I go now?”

“I’ll take you around the Hollow. Get a meal in you, patch up whatever injuries or cure whatever ailments you have, get you a bunk, the works. We even have an armory and a library, if you’re interested in anything.”

I was interested. I’d check out both later on. A proper meal was the only thing on my mind right then and there. That, and a shower.

“But, before any of that, I’m just going to bring you to the briefing room. Our leader, Hazy Sunrise, wants to see you.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Calling magic to his horn, Spectre surveyed his surroundings.

He was at the entrance to the crevice, and he could feel, through his life detection spell, the two hidden rebel guards on the cliffs. Easy enough.

He prepared a spell - he was sure he’d need it.

Spectre walked down through the canyon, and sure enough, one of the guards revealed himself, while the other silently watched.

“Halt! Identify yourself!” said the guards, holding up a bow with an arrow pulled back.

“Sterling Valor,” Spectre said, using one of his aliases, “Reporting in from reconnaissance.”

“Valor? Never heard of that-”

Spectre fired off two spells, one hitting each guard.

“...Uh, ahem... er... ne- never heard of... um. Just, uh, just- just go on... inside...” blustered the rebel. The doors swung open. His confusion spell had worked perfectly.

He was in, and he kept to the shadows.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

We passed through tunnel after tunnel. The Hollow felt endless. The darkness soon vanished, as candles appeared on the walls, and other ponies roamed the halls. We passed the kitchen, wafting delicious smells into my nostrils and seducing me with thoughts of royal food. We passed the steaming showers and the quiet, peaceful library, eventually ending up in the barracks. At the very end of the hallway was a single stone door, opened, but flanked by two rebel guards. Passing through the threshold and passing the unblinking guards, we entered a small room with several ponies seated around a polished stone table. A yellow pegasus mare looked up from her conversations and gave me a once-over, unsmiling.

She turned to Rook. “Have you checked his belongings?”

“Not yet. He’s our guest, so I-”

“You know our rules, Rook. Check them.”

As Rook wordlessly nodded and started to remove my saddlebags, I looked over the other ponies in the room. They were an assortment of unicorns, earth ponies, and pegasi, all looking well-groomed and very clean. They lacked the fabric armor that many of the other rebels in the Hollow wore. These ponies, I assumed, were the leaders. Cocking my head slightly, I noticed the yellow pegasus’ cutie mark was that of the sun rising over a hill. I assumed this was Hazy Sunrise, the commander of the resistance. I met her gaze. Her eyes stabbed right into me, her expression cold, emotionless. This was a pony who had seen everything and saw the world she knew as a disgrace.

Rook, after finally removing my saddlebags, undid the clasps and dumped the contents of my bags on the stone table.

Some of the ponies narrowed their eyes and others took in deep breaths as my candle and the Shard clattered against the granite. I looked up. Sunrise was wide-eyed. She reached across the table to pick up one of the items. I was about to open my mouth to warn her about the potential danger of the Shard, but to my surprise, she grabbed the candle instead.

Slowly bringing the candle back toward her, she carefully turned it in her hooves, examining it from every angle. Finally, she looked under the disc of the holder, drew in a sharp gasp, and whispered something I could just barely hear.

Murder and Obliteration are the Opposite of Salvation...”

Sunrise blinked a few times before shaking her head and setting the candle down. She looked up at me, her expression twisted into one or confusion and wonder.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“My name, as far as I know, is Steel Tempest. I woke up in Ponyville about a week ago. I had amnesia - I didn’t know who I was, where I was, or what I was supposed to do. Through some investigation, I came here, as any other information I gathered was contradicting and misleading. I was approached by a strange, unfamiliar pony - who I now know is named ‘Solace’ - before being brought to a labour camp. Solace told Rook to send Agile Bolt to find me and bring me here to meet with Solace. That’s what I intend to do. I want answers.”

“So do I,” Sunrise said. “Tell me, do you know who Candlelight is?”

“Was he not your past leader?”

“That he was. He died a few years back. Now, pray tell, why do you have his candle?

Frankly, I was shocked. How could I have been connected? Could I have actually been- No, that’s absurd. He’s dead.

“I-I didn’t know it was his. I just found it in the house I woke up in...”

The other ponies collaborated in hushed whispers before being silenced by Sunrise.

“Rook, please bring Tempest back to his bunk and make sure he is fed. We will wait until Solace arrives.”

Rook nodded and I slung my saddlebags on my back.

“Take the Shard,” Sunrise said, motioning towards the small rock. “It’s yours. Solace will need it to reveal to you whatever revelations he holds. The candle, however, stays here.”

I nodded. “I understand.”

“And Rook?” Sunrise piped up.

“Yes?”

“Make sure we are not disturbed. The Council is now in session.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rook said, before escorting me out the door we had come through, the guards pushing the heavy slabs closed.

We travelled the length of the barracks in silence. Rook showed me to the showers and waited patiently outside as I washed away the filth and sweat of four days’ enduring challenges. Satisfied that I was as clean as possible, I towelled myself off, picked up my belongings and was back at Rook’s side.

I was then brought to the infirmary, where I was pored over and checked in every single spot on my body. After applying a couple small bandages for some minor injuries, the nurses tightly wrapped a fabric cast around my twisted hoof and sternly advised me not to work it too much. The nurses left to tend to other ponies, and Rook led me elsewhere through the Hollow.

As we walked back towards the cafeteria, my mouth started to water. I hadn’t had a proper meal in days. The aromas of various fruits, vegetables and baked goods filled my nostrils and invited me openly.

Rook stopped me before the door.

“I think you can manage on your own from now on? You know your way back to your bunk? Good. If you have any questions, just ask Bolt - she’s inside. Just sit down and they’ll serve you. I’ll see you later, when Solace arrives.”

“See you later,” I said. Rook turned and went back towards the armory.

I passed through the wood doors into a brightly lit room, ringed by stone tables and chairs, with plenty of armor-clad rebels happily chomping down on food and laughing and conversing with others. I spotted Bolt at a table nearby. She looked up and waved me over. I sat down next to her and she put down her sandwich.

“Hey there. You’re looking a lot better now.” She playfully punched me in the shoulder.
“You just need to get some food in you. I can hear your stomach growling.”

I scoffed. “You don’t look so bad yourself. How’s the hoof?”

She lifted her injured hoof up for me to see, a clean bandage wrapped properly around it.

“The nurses stitched it up pretty well. It wasn’t infected at all. Thanks for that.”

Hey, no problem. You would’ve done it yourself anyway.”

One of the server ponies placed a bowl of soup in front of me, along with a sizable piece of bread.

“Thanks,” I said. She nodded and walked away.

“Pfft, doesn’t matter,” Bolt said. “You just did it for me, and that counts in my book. I owe you one. Now, eat up. You look like you haven't had a meal in days," she said, poking me in the ribs.

I really hadn’t eaten in days - eaten real food, at least.

Letting the soup cool, I picked up the bread and had devoured it in seconds. Some of the rebels gave annoyed or displeased glances in my direction as I hogged it down. Finishing the loaf, I levitated my spoon and took a sip of the soup.

It was a warm and hearty broth of potatoes, carrots and diced tomatoes. I felt like I never tasted better food - other than the muffin from Sugarcube Corner. My mouth watered even more than it already was at that particular memory. I quickly snapped back to reality, and pushed the thought aside, so that I could finish the soup.

Bolt and I had downed our meals quickly, leaving not a scrap of food in either of our plates. We put the paper dishes in the trash bin and I brought the bowl back up to the sink.

Bolt tugged at my shoulder, leading me out of the cafeteria. We quickly made our way down to the armory.

The armory was a large room, containing mock-up ponies, holding dulled swords, and targets for the bow-carrying rebels. At the far end was a room containing bows, arrows, swords, daggers, and other weapons. A crate held an assortment of armor, mostly the fabric armor that many of the rebels wore. Every set of armor was painted dark grey with a red stripe, and all of the bladed weapons had strange notches and crenellations on them.

I pointed to one such sword. “Why are they notched like this?” I asked Bolt. She looked over.

“It’s meant to snap other blades in half,” she said, lifting the sword out if’s wall-mount. “We normally avoid killing the soldiers. They’re just brainwashed, and many of our scientists say it’s reversible. When this is all over, we should be able to turn them back, but for now, we have to make do with blade-snappers and magical spells.”

She grabbed a thin strip of metal, and we walked back over to the mannequins. She placed the strip of metal in the ‘hoof’ of the mannequin, making it look like it was wielding a sword.

“Watch - this is the material Lore makes his soldiers’ swords from. It’s lightweight and strong, but it’s brittle and can snap when the wrong kind of pressure is applied.”

After swinging her sword and parrying the nonmoving ‘sword’ a few times, she swung herself around, catching the middle of the strip of metal in the notch of her own sword, and twisted her hooves as she continued moving to put immense pressure on the blade. In one smooth motion, Bolt finished her 180-degree turn, and the metal snapped, clattering uselessly to the stone floor.

“Bows are a different story. Our arrows are enchanted so that they can phase through other ponies without causing harm. However, we tip our arrows with a toxin that causes temporary paralysis.”

“I see,” I said. I walked back to the weapons locker, rummaging through the crate of armor, trying to find a set that I might like. I pulled out a dark breastplate of a dark grey metal. It had a faded and chipped red stripe painted on it. I slipped it on, and it fit snugly.

Bolt looked me over, smiling a bit. “Suits you,” she said. “You can take that back to your bunk, if you like. Same goes with any weapon here.”

I took off the armor and looked around. I didn’t really like the bladed weapons - they felt awkward in my hooves - even Bolt’s dagger - and holding them with magic was hard to get used to.

“Thanks, but I’ll skip the swords. Too strange a thing for me to learn.”

“Aha, I see. Most unicorns are spellcasters, anyway. They specialize in combat magic. Earth ponies mostly use swords, and pegasi are archers. You interested in learning some combat spells? Never know when our next battle might be.”

Learning new spells was a satisfying use of my time. I hadn’t learned any combat magic, so it was an opportunity I wouldn’t have passed up. I nodded, and Bolt steered me along to the library. She immediately whipped out several tomes from off the shelves.

I scanned over the contents of each, reading over the spells that I took interested in. From that single session, I had learned spells like paralysis, shock, and even how to cast blinding flares and how to teleport. There was one spell that I wouldn’t have expected to be in a combat magic spellbook - telekinesis.

Unicorns used telekinesis all the time - it was nearly an essential part of their everyday lives for picking up objects instead of using their hooves.

However, the book described telekinesis with a completely different use; pushing ponies away, flinging them short distances, pinning them to surfaces, and even stopping projectiles. Sadly, the book lacked the detail to show how such spells could be properly performed - once a unicorn learns a spell in a certain way, it’s difficult for them to re-learn it in a completely different way.

Closing all the books I had opened, I replaced them where Bolt had taken them from, and decided it was time for some rest. I was exhausted, full of good food, and a good night’s sleep was all I needed to bring me to a healthy state the next day.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Staying in the dark, shadowy alcoves of the lesser tunnels of the Hollow, and keeping his head low and Cutie Mark concealed when other ponies passed, Midnight Spectre remained unrecognized. That is - until he bumped into somepony he actually knew.

Trying to pass who he thought was just another rebel, Spectre was surprised when the pony turned and called out to him.

“So, Spectre, how long have you been here, huh? Not very long to not recognize an old pal.”

Spectre thought her recognized that voice. It was only when he turned and took a good look at the dark brown pegasus pony’s grizzly face did he discover who it actually was.

Daring Venture, his normal reddish coat dyed dark brown and his burgundy mane dyed a sand-yellow, stood opposite Spectre, wearing his usual self-satisfied grin.

“You’re undercover?” Spectre asked, keeping his voice low.

“Yeah, I got back from that external mission, and Lore put me here after I had come back. Damn good cover too, this dye’s hard to get off. Anyway, told me to spy on them and return when something major happened. And I think that’s happening right now. A rebel has arrived with another that may have some connection to the Chamber.”

Spectre knew exactly who he was talking about. “You’re going to report to him? Now?”

“No, no, in two years when this all blows over. Of course I’m going now. Some pretty important stuff, wouldn’t you say?”

“Yeah...” mumbled Spectre. He was a mess. If Venture knew more about Bolt and her accomplice more than he did, and reported it first, Lore might recall him and keep the information he owed to himself again. Spectre wasn’t going to let that happen.

“What’s wrong, Spec? Something the matter?”

“Yeah... yeah. Here, come take a look at this,” Spectre said, darting into a dead end.

Venture ran after him, pushing ahead, further into the cave that led nowhere.

“What is it? I don’t see anything.”

Spectre took two of his canteens and half of his food and tossed them to Venture.

“Hold those for a second,” he said.

“What? I don’t get-”

Spectre unleashed a torrent of destructive spells upon the roof of the cave, bringing down chunks of stone between himself and Venture.

When there was no cry of help or shouts of anger, Spectre cast a quick life detection spell to confirm that Venture was just unconscious, but alive. Satisfied, Spectre was about to leave when two rebels came running.

“What happened here?” one of them panickedly asked.

“Cave collapsed,” Spectre said, pointing his hoof at the rubble.

The other pony rushed over to try to pry apart the rubble. The first pony chimed up.

“Nevermind it, there’s nothing back there anyway.”

The second pony nodded, turned to Spectre and said, “Alright, just be careful.” Spectre nodded as they left.

Now that Venture was out of the picture, it was time to report his findings of Bolt’s accomplice’s connection to the Chamber to his father.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Bolt had returned to her bunk, and I had done likewise. I dropped off my saddlebags and breastplate, but pressed my ear up against the stone wall next to my bed. My bunk was right next to the briefing room. I heard most of what they were saying, most likely talking about me.

“He’s... engineer, or even... Lore had him removed from the equation because...  and... coincidence.. way back...”

“Highly improbable... medical, look at how he... bandage... lacks qualities... engineer...same coincidence of his finding his way back, but...”

“...Cutie mark, labour... slaving away...”

“What are you saying? He couldn’t have possibly... cutie mark at that old an age... unlikely... foal, the town isn’t even that old, the... don’t match...

“An incarnation... -light! Could he... ghost...”

“Or even better, Candlelight himself?”

“No... possible.”

“Why? He could... have been...”

“I saw... die.”

“You were trauma... concussed...”

“No! I saw him killed! He...” - I recognized that voice as Hazy Sunrise’s.

“Take it easy.. just suggesting... not have... killed...”

“I SAW HIM DIE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! STABBED THROUGH BY LORE!”

All had fallen silent. I heard hurried hoofsteps in the hallway outside. Somepony burst through the briefing room doors. I pressed my ear back against the wall.

“...were told not to interrupt!”

“Forgive... but Lore... enacted... quarantine on Blackhoof. All residents... monitored...”

Had I heard that right? Lore had enacted a quarantine on Blackhoof, and all residents were monitored?

I nearly beat my hoof against the wall. That meant Solace wouldn’t be able to meet at the Hollow, for who knew how long. It was just setback after setback.

I lay down in my bed, which was far more comfortable than the ones in the labour camp, and tried to calm my mind. I still didn’t have my candle back, so I wasn’t easily comforted. I tossed, falling into a fit of unrest, before succumbing to the night, and passing out once again.

____________________________

Thanks to my pre-readers, Macmon33 and Beige Monkfish.

For any questions or direct comments, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]

If you’re interested in becoming a pre-reader, send an e-mail my way.


More artwork by Pachiru! Find more about her below!

Guiding Light:

CHAPTER VII -

Rough Days Ahead

* * *

His breath was short; he felt like he was suffocating. Probably was - he’d been stuck in that cave for... how long? Perhaps a few months? No matter. It had been a long time.

Occasionally, they threw a meagre loaf of bread and a small bottle of water down the steps. There was no way for him to escape - he had become unable sometime after he was put here. He grew too weak and too famished to move quickly enough, and the brilliant light that poured down into the cave blinded him every time they opened the door.

When he got his meal, he would drag himself across the cold, smooth stone of the cave floor over to where his bread and water lay. He had to shoo away the rodents and insects that tried to get at the food, before quickly consuming the loaf. Every time he tried to ration his water, his temptation gave in, and his dry, itchy throat was cooled by the contents of the water bottle. However, the relief didn’t last long. He’d be thirsty in the next few hours. Regardless, he tossed the empty plastic container in a pile with the others.

Propping himself up against the cave wall, he felt his hooves along the ground for a while, until he found the worn wooden handle of his pickaxe. He lifted it off the ground and set it on his chest. Running his hoof over the handle, he could feel the rough outlines of the words he had carved into it with a small pebble, long ago.

He tried to remember what he had written, but failed. It had eluded him for a couple weeks. He didn’t write or think in that language any more. He’d adopted a new one, from the letters that surrounded him in this damp, dark, cold prison.

Even though his hooves were sore and his muscles were weak, he decided what he needed to do. The loaf of bread had been a little bigger this... week? He didn’t know. It was just a little bigger this time, and that gave him a little extra energy.

He turned himself around, and faced the wall, almost flat on his stomach against the ground. He tried to pull himself up the wall, but decided to save the strength he had left in order to accomplish his task. No, he wasn’t going to escape - that was pointless.

He was going to dig.

With all of his remaining endurance, he lifted the pickaxe as high as he could, closed his eyes, and swung it into the wall.

Everything turned white, and he screamed.

* * *

I woke in a cold sweat, breathing heavily. It had been my first nightmare since... Well, ever, as far as I could remember (which I couldn’t). I calmed myself and wiped the perspiration off my forehead.

Before I could contemplate my frightful dream, I noticed something peculiar. I listened closely. Outside my door, there were muffled shouts and I could hear spells being cast. I found such odd activity strange, and I looked at the clock mounted on the wall. It was only three o’clock in the morning - why was everypony making such a ruckus?

It was only then, when I heard the distinctive clang and snap of the rebel swords disarming Blackhoof guards’ swords, did I realize what exactly was going on, and started to panic. My mind raced. What should I do? Do I go out and fight? Do I stay here?

Hide.

I jumped, looking around for the pony who had just told me to hide. The room was small - there wasn’t any place to conceal any sized pony that I could see.

Hide.

It was definitely a voice, alright, but there was something... different.

Hide!

I realized that is was inside my head.

It wasn’t my own mind’s voice, that was for sure, but it was soothing and commanding and wise. I was doubtful of it, though; there was no place to hide in this tiny cubicle. The only way I could disguise myself was by using-

Invisibility.

But I don’t know how to turn invisible, I ‘replied’ back.

I could feel some sort of presence within me stir, as if it had acknowledged what I thought.

After a moment or two, I was struck by the strangest sense of deja vu, and felt a bit... Odd.

For some reason, I had a sudden moment of realization, and I DID in fact know an invisibility spell... Or did I? I hadn't known just a few seconds ago...

Nevertheless, I tested the spell, and I turned completely invisible, much to my satisfaction. Even though I knew I hadn't learned the spell, I couldn't help but feel stupid for not remembering, for some reason.

As I heard the shouts and clopping of hooves of the retreating rebels outside the door, I tucked into a corner of the room, and activated the spell, listening to the chaos.

Guards shouting orders... Hooves marching up the corridor... doors opening. They were checking the rooms, one by one. Getting closer. Kicking over furniture. In only a few seconds, they were at my door.

I held my breath.

The cold, metal door smoothly slid upward, and a dark, black-armored figure, decorated by razor-sharp spikes, peered into the tiny room, gripping his sword between his teeth.

Beads of invisible sweat poured off my forehead, down into my eyes. Did he know I was here?

After the longest few seconds of my life, the guard retracted his head, and slammed the door shut, rejoining his fellow soldiers and continuing into the briefing room and beyond.

I waited, holding up my invisibility spell, until all was silent. There was not a single hint of movement in the corridor beyond. Not a single cough, not a shuffling of armor or hooves, no ringing of magic. Taking faith in my own judgement, I opened the door to the hallway, and poked my head out cautiously.

I looked in either direction. What I saw utterly shocked and angered me.

Among the debris, stones, dirt and dust covering the ground were other, more obscene elements - fallen swords, bits of armor, arrows, snapped blades, pools of blood... and corpses... lots of corpses... most of which were fallen rebels.

Much like I had experienced when I was in the cave in Mason’s Mesa, viewing Blackhoof Guards standing by their slaughter, I was angry. Beyond angry, even. How could such vile things be allowed to happen in Equestria? And unknown to the rest of ponykind, even?

Checking each of the bodies for signs of life, and finding none, voices in the complex of corridors beyond the briefing room alerted me to the presence of nearby Blackhoof Guards. I quickly picked up the least blood-stained rebel sword I could find, and pressed my ear against the door to the briefing room. The voices were getting closer. Guards were patrolling. I ducked back into my room, and closed the door, activating my invisibility spell for good measure.

Soon, the Guards passed, and silence filled the air again. It was time to move, time to act. I gathered up my saddlebags and my few belongings. I fastened the armor I had taken to my breast. And, of course. I picked up the shard, placing it in my bag.

Once again exiting my tiny booth of a room, I checked the corridor, and headed out. The rebels had retreated down through the briefing room, so I’d follow the battle. Perhaps I could be of some use and take on the Blackhoof Guards from behind?

I pushed open the briefing room doors, to find the chairs knocked over, and the stone table cracked. But it was neither of these that really caught my eye.

Sitting right in the middle of the stone table was the candle.

I wasn’t about to let it leave my side for a second time, so I telekinetically picked it up. Curious about the candle, now that Hazy Sunrise had made it clear whose it was, I checked the underside for the inscription that I had missed.

True to her word, under the lip of the holder were small words printed in the bronze metal:

Murder and Obliteration are the Opposite of Salvation.

Tell me about it.

Oh well, I thought. Time to go reclaim the Hollow. Into battle, I go.

Find Agile Bolt.

I jumped. The voice honestly scared me. And I still didn’t know what it was, nor why it was in my head.

Why do I need to find her? I questioned.

Because I told you to.

And why in the name of Celestia should I listen to you?

Because I am the voice of knowledge.

The voice of... Solace... told me to... at the train station...

I had no idea what this ‘Voice of Knowledge’ was or how it was communicating with me, but, seeing as it was connected to Solace, who was seemingly connected to my rescue from the labour camp, and therefore connected to my amnesia, I knew at once that I had to do whatever this voice told me.

So, I went off to find Bolt.

* * *

Shouts of pain and clangs of metal on metal filled the air. The smell of blood and smoke lingered in my nostrils, and magic whizzed by from all directions.

This was the apex of the battle, where the rebels, backed against a wall with a jammed exit door, faced off against the superior forces of Iniquitous Lore’s Soldiers.

As much as I wanted to attack the soldiers from behind, I knew I had to find Bolt first. Thankfully, the Voice of Knowledge helped me navigate the labyrinthine tunnels of the Hollow, taking me past the final stand of the rebels, and down another corridor, away from the battle. Of course, I was invisible the whole time - better safe than sorry.

Heading back in a U-Turn down through another tunnel, I saw two guards standing post by a doorway into what I assumed was a common room. Trotting up to the duo, the Spirit quickly notified me this was where I needed to go.

After a moment or two another two soldiers opened the door leading into the room, and I had to quickly skirt around the guards and slide into the room before the door closed.

Upon entering, I could clearly see why there were guards in and out of this room.

It was filled with bound rebel ponies, being watched by three guards. Each pony was wearing either hoof-locks, unicorn rings or pegasi bracers. They were at the mercy of their black-armored jailers.

Scanning over the captured rebels quickly, I found a few faces I recognized - including Rook - but no sign of Bolt. I thought for a while about the Spirit’s decision to guide me here, when it evidently wanted me to find Bolt. It should have been clearer - it wanted me to free the rebels.

But how?

I felt my invisible flank for the rebel sword that hung there. I didn’t want to use it, nor did I feel comfortable using it nor did I actually know how to use it in the first place.

What did that leave? Setting the captured rebels free to charge the guards? Too risky.

Magic, perhaps?

Well, I DID know a temporary paralysis spell, but I really couldn’t take out three guards at once, not to mention the guards just outside the door...

It hit me.

Trotting up to the nearest unicorn, I tried to whisper as softly as I could:

“Whatever you do, don’t panic. Don’t show emotion. Don’t do anything. I’m invisible right now, and I’m here to get you out. I’m going to unlock your horn ring. Do you know a paralysis spell?”

The unicorn mare, doing exactly as I said, albeit, glancing towards my invisible figure, gave the slightest of nods.

“Good,” I said. “I’m going to deactivate your ring, but I need you to keep it on. I need to make sure that you can still use magic even while still wearing it. I don’t need the guards noticing you without your ring.”

I was about to levitate the Key - the one that Bolt had given me from when she broke me out of the labour camp - out of my saddlebags with my telekinesis, but I thought better of it - the moment an object stopped touching my body, it became visible. Instead, I grabbed it with my mouth, and unlocked the mare’s ring.

Stowing the Key again, I asked the mare to test her magic ever so slightly. Giving me a nod, I told her to wait for me to make a distraction so that all five guards were visible, and then fire her paralysis spell at one of them.

Repeating this same speech to every unicorn in the room, I was prepared to make my distraction after about five minutes.

Deeply breathing in and out, I prepared myself for this, hoping that everything would work as I had planned.

Avoiding contact with the guards, I knocked three times on the metal door, taking a flanking position beside it as one of the guards went to open it, thinking that one of the other guards on the opposite side of the door had knocked.

However, the door opened before he even got to it, as the guards in the corridor opened the door first. I moved swiftly out through the opening between the guards, back out into the corridor, behind the guards.

“Yes?” both of the guards, inside and out, who had gone to open the door, asked simultaneously. They were both confused.

“Did you knock?” the one on the inside asked.

“No, we thought you did,” the other replied.

Now.

“NOW!”

As soon as the word escaped my mouth, I discarded my invisibility spell and cast a glowing green bolt of magical paralysis energy at the second guard in the hall.

Inside the room, unicorns were doing the same, The three guards fell like dominoes, as the first guard in the corridor turned to face me, drawing his sword.

He dropped it before he could take another step, as another green spell hit him in the back.

As I walked back into the room, the rebels were already stripping the gear off the paralysed soldiers, and they poured out into the corridor, heading back, further into the Hollow, towards the armory.

I spotted Rook and stopped him before he could go any further.

“Rook, where’s Bolt?” I inquired.

“By Celestia, Steel, that was you?” He seemed a bit shocked at my feat. Hell, I was a bit shocked about how well it worked myself.

“Yes, I know, ‘thank you’ and all, but really, I need to find Bolt. Where is she.?”

Rook frowned. Not good. “They’ve taken her deeper into the Hollow for interrogation.”

Not good.

“They’ve been looking for her for a long time...” he added.

Not good.

“Do you know where exactly they’ve taken her? Can you lead the way?”

“Yeah, I know. It’s not anywhere near the armory, though. Complete opposite direction. I’ll be going in unarmed, unprotected.”

I looked over his shoulder at the paralysed guard.

“Take his chestplate,” I offered.

Rook glanced at the guard, considered for a moment, then shrugged. It was a start. He started unfastening the Blackhoof armor.

And now for a suitable weapon. Earth ponies generally carried swords...

...Like the one I had no use for, hanging from my flank.

Perfect.

When Rook had fastened the armor to his torso, I levitated my sword toward him.

“Now you’re armed. Let’s not waste any more time. Lead the way.”

* * *

She’s in there.

It was the Spirit that made me aware that the dark room of the rebel prison was where Bolt was being held.

But that fact was painfully reinforced by Bolt’s cries of pain as she was tortured.

Rook’s face was twisted up in a snarl. We looked into the open room.

There were three soldiers surrounding a metal chair that Bolt was restrained to - One guard behind the chair, and one on either side. The soldiers were shouting questions, and mercilessly beating Bolt with metal batons every time she failed to answer.

Rook turned to me. “I can take the one in the back out by surprise. There’s a back passage into that room. I need you to make a distraction, though. Can’t handle three soldiers at once. And you’re pretty ingenious with distractions.”

Well, if you say so.

“Not a problem. Just wait in the shadows, and I’ll distract them when I’m ready. I’ll give you thirty seconds to get ready. Go.”

Rook nodded, then took off back down the hall, into another door.

I counted to twenty, then entered the room, turning invisible.

“...last chance to answer,” the interrogator addressed Bolt. “Why did you take a single pony out of the labour camp?”

My disembodied voice echoed throughout the dark room. “Because the rebellion needed somepony good at distractions.”

Bam. Distraction.

Rook and I moved as one. As I uncloaked myself, appearing in between the two guards on either side of Bolt, Rook’s hind legs shot out of the shadow, bucking the lights out of the rear soldier, who crumpled onto the dusty ground. At the same time, I let off a paralysis spell at the soldier to my left, while bucking the one on the right in the face. While my buck wasn’t nearly as powerful as Rook’s, it bought me just a little more time to unleash another two paralysis spells.

We had done it. I used my Key to unlock Bolt’s restraints and her bracer. However, as soon as she did, she slumped over and almost fell onto the ground had I not caught her with my telekinesis.

Turning her over, I could see all the bruises that the soldiers had given her. At that point, I feared for her life. I quickly checked her pulse and listened to her muzzle for breathing.

Thankfully, she was still alive. Beaten unconscious, but alive.

“We’ll need to get out of here as soon as possible,” Rook stated. I agreed. Bolt could recover with time... hopefully. We really didn’t have any medical supplies. We’d need to catch up with the rebels and make our escape from the Hollow. Surely, more Blackhoof troops would arrive sooner or later.

Slinging Bolt over my back, as I had done the previous day, Rook and I made our way back towards the raging battle. As I activated my invisibility spell, I paused to observe.

Most of the Blackhoof guards were on the ground, paralysed, with the remaining few caught fighting two fronts; the massive rebel force they had been fighting before, plus the roomful of rebels I had released on their opposite side.

Ducking back out of sight, I deactivated my invisibility spell. I motioned to Rook that we needed to help Bolt somehow.

Rook nodded, then trotted around the corner, back to the battle. I heard his voice a few seconds later.

MEDIC!

As I turned Bolt onto her back, I quickly assessed the amount of damage she had taken. I felt her ribs and her legs, checking for broken bones. I couldn’t feel any. That didn’t mean that some weren’t fractured, however. She also had numerous cuts and bruises all over her breast and legs. She might have a concussion, as well.

Rook returned with a purple and blue unicorn, bearing white and red medical saddlebags. At once, the field medic used his magic to check Bolt’s condition more effectively. He then opened his medical kits, rolled out some gauze, and applied it to her cuts. When he finished, he turned back to Rook and I to lay it on us.

“No broken or fractured bones, thankfully. No concussion, either. She wasn’t hit in the head. Worst she suffered were some deep gashes. She’ll be sore for a couple days, but other than that, she’s fine. I’d recommend that she rest for at least twenty-four hours.”

WIth that, the medic turned and left, off to tend to other ponies.

I looked up at Rook. “Now what?” I asked.

“Now,” he said, “We wait for the battle to simmer down. After that, Hazy Sunrise - assuming she survived - will have orders for us. Until then, we wait.”

And so we did.

* * *

It was about 45 minutes later that the sounds of magic being cast and the clanging of swords finally stopped. Rook got up, and walked back towards the battle. Slinging Bolt over my shoulders, I did the same. The rebels were already moving the paralysed Blackhoof soldiers into rows, while stripping them of their arms and armor. At the foot of the crowd of exhausted rebels stood Hazy Sunrise, already barking orders.

“...all of you to comb back through the Hollow and prepare for evacuation. Move the guards, take as much gear as we can carry, gather up the dead. We will make a funeral pyre by the front gate. After that, we move. And stay out of the back tunnels. One of them collapsed yesterday. Get to it, soldiers!”

With that, every rebel quickly snapped off a “Yes, ma’am!” and got to work. They moved as one, the sound of their hooves like thunder. We might as well help out. I was technically a rebel soldier now.

“Let’s go. We need to gear up,” I said.

“True,” agreed Rook. “But you’re not going to really do any body-moving with Bolt on your back. I’ll help my brethren in that department, you get us some gear. Food, water, medical supplies, tools, the works.”

I nodded. We took to separate paths. First stop was the sick bay. It was just down from the prison. As I passed the open prison hallway, rebels were already removing the still-paralysed Blackhoof soldiers’ gear, and lining their unmoving figures into the corridor. At the sick bay, I found a few other ponies already scrounging what was left. Heading deeper into the stockrooms, I snatched up two pairs of medical bags with my telekinesis, making sure they were complete. Satisfied with the amount of medical supplies, I left the sick bay.

After that, I headed down to the kitchens, stopping in a storeroom along the way to pick up a few saddlebags. Upon arriving at the kitchens, I quickly started filling three of the saddlebags with vegetables, nutrient bars, and bottles of water; enough for a couple of days.

Last stop was the armory. I would have to pass back through the bottleneck of the briefing room and the barracks to get to it. Plus, there was a janitor’s closet along the way. It was bound to have some tools.

Walking through the corridor, in the direction of the barracks, I noticed that the influence of the the Voice of Knowledge had been dormant for some time. I tried talking to it mentally, but got no response. I’d have to study that shard later.

Passing through the wrecked briefing room, I dreaded what was on the other side of the door, in the barracks. Peeking past the bulkhead, a dozen rebels were moving both paralysed Blackhoof soldiers... and dead rebels, Dark, rusty red blood stained the rocky ground. I shuddered, trying not to look.

It made me angry at Iniquitous Lore. How could he have done this? He wasn’t innocent like the soldiers he had brainwashed. This was all his doing. I hoped I would meet him one day, just so I could personally buck him in the face.

Calming down and pushing feelings of anger aside, I found the janitor’s closet I was looking for. Pushing the door open, I spotted a toolbox. Bingo. There was only one pair of saddlebags left. I filled one of the bags with all the tools inside the toolbox, including an extra Key. The other bag, I left empty. If we found something of interest or of use on our journey, we could stow it there.

Further down the corridor, I headed into the armory. Dozens of rebels were already picking the place clean. I hope they left some gear behind. What did we need, anyway? Rook had the sword I had given him, all I needed was my magic... I guess all we needed was a spare dagger for Bolt, and perhaps a bow and some arrows. Oh, and maybe some fabric armor for Bolt.

I quickly made for the chest of armor in the storage room. Pushing past a couple ponies who were also perusing the chest, I quickly picked out a thick, protective tunic. Turning to the weapon racks, I spotted a bow and levitated it towards me, along with a full set of arrows in a quiver. I couldn’t find a dagger, though. I was about to walk out and find Rook when I spotted a pony pushing a wheelbarrow full of weapons. I trotted over to him, and asked if I could look for a dagger in the pile. He politely agreed, and I found a dagger similar to the one Bolt had been using just the day before. Bob’s your uncle. All set.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Daring Venture was damn angry. 

Curse that son of Lore’s, he thought.

Trapped deep within the back tunnels of the Hollow, he had tried for hours, calling for help. Nobody heard him, nobody came. The word had spread that one of the tunnels had collapsed and they were unsafe.

There would be reinforcements, Venture knew. Whether or not the Rebels won the battle he knew was raging above, more troops would arrive. They’d comb down here, and then they’d find him.

Until then, all he had to do was fume at Midnight Spectre’s actions. That thickheaded, angsty teenager had threatened his life for what, his father’s affection? Other motives?

He only wondered why he was so concerned with the information that Venture had anyway... about that pony. The one he had delivered to Ponyville, not a week or two ago. And now he was back. He didn’t know how. He didn’t know why. He knew one thing.

He had to inform Lore.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

About an hour later, I was standing next to Rook, both of us surrounded by a sea of Rebels. Bolt had come to, and she was standing shakily next to me, after dismissing my attempts to have her rest. She felt is was her duty to stand at attention for the ceremony.

We were in the cleft of rock that led up to the disguised entrance to the rebel fortress. A funeral pyre was burning there, as all of us saluted. Hazy Sunrise had given a speech. Tears had been shed by some, and quiet solemnity followed. After a few minutes, and the fire started burning out, we all turned, following Hazy Sunrise out into the barren wastes of the Badlands. Where we were heading, I did not know.

It was at that moment the Voice decided to offer its suggestions once again.

Stay together with Rook and Agile Bolt. Follow the rebels wherever they go.

I looked to Rook and Bolt. It was time to leave.

____________________________

Thanks to my pre-readers, Macmon33 and Beige Monkfish.

For any questions or direct comments, feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]

If you’re interested in becoming a pre-reader, send an e-mail my way.

And now about Pachiru!

Pachiru is a commissioned artist. She specializes in chibi drawings and you can find here here:

http://pachipie.deviantart.com


Guiding Light:

CHAPTER VIII -

Fear of the Wicked

Now was not the time.

Midnight Spectre, wielding a rebel sword, and strapped with rebel armor, trotted alongside the so-called “freedom fighters,” these insurrectionists, these pests. 

The attack on the Hollow had not been a success for Lore’s troops, but that was dismissable, considering the rebels’ next move.

He had been eavesdropping on Hazy Sunrise’s conversations. They thought that while the soldiers of Blackhoof were concerned with travelling to the Hollow and attacking the rebellion’s remains, they would bare right into the city and attack the Shadowcrown itself.

But this was one of Midnight Spectre’s duties as an assassin and an informant.

He had contacted his father. The rebels would be walking into a trap. Walking back out, they would be limping severely, or worse.

But the end of the rebellion was not what motivated, nor was it his assignment.

Bolt would die soon enough. The moment she was alone, he would strike, and his father would have to pony up the information that he had been keeping from his son ever since he was a small colt.

Spectre relished in the thought. Thoughts of knowledge, thoughts of vengeance. Oh, how he had been dreaming of the day when he would enact his revenge.

He would be finally unbound from his father, leaving Blackhoof solely in his father’s hooves, eradicating the rest of this puny legion of imbeciles. But that would come later.

Now was not the time.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Thoroughly inspecting the new dagger I had acquired for her, Bolt effortlessly balanced the hilt on her nose, before slipping it into it’s holster.

“Thanks, Steel,” she said, giving me a faint smile. “I guess we’re even now.”

I blinked. “Even? So getting your exhausted, dehydrated rump to the Hollow, followed by saving you from probable execution just goes unnoticed now?”

She giggled. Rook, standing to my left, snorted and rolled his eyes. “If it wasn’t for her...” he mumbled.

“I guess they do. And so do breaking your rump out of a labour camp, and teaching you some life-saving spells, as well.”

Now it was my turn to snort and roll my eyes. Wrong as usual. Add that to my list~ …

We, the resistance, were a pack, a herd now. We moved as one, claimed our territory, set up camp for the night. Hazy had been telling her senior officers - Rook included, whom I had just discovered was a captain - of their plan to attack Blackhoof while a legion of troops, no longer guarding the gleaming city, set off to find the Hollow.

We moved by day, camped by night. There we no periods of rest, except to pass out food and water, during the daytime. Everything was one continuous motion. We functioned like a well-oiled machine. During the night, tents were quickly pitched and our soldiers quickly took their shifts, guarding their fellow pony brethren while they slept.

From dawn to dusk, Bolt had taken me under her wing (figuratively) teaching me about combat, and the art of hoof-to-hoof fighting. I learned how to properly use a sword, even though I was adamant that I could never be completely comfortable with it. A peculiar thing for a pegasus, Bolt taught me all about magical combat, teaching me how to mix and match spells, how to cast two at once, the works.

Every day of training ended with a punch to the shoulder, which I quickly learned how to effectively block. One punch quickly turned into two. Two punches were mingled with a kick. At the end of each training session, I could add martial arts to my skill set. She told me I learned at an alarming pace.

I did my fair share of hard labour as well. When sundown arrived, I helped Rook pitch the tent, construct makeshift tables, and pass out the food and water. Rook was responsible for keeping watch during the nighttime, and I usually lent him my enchanted candle. Sometimes I slept, others, not. During the times I couldn’t, Rook and I sat down at a makeshift table in front of Bolt’s tent. Mind games ensued.

Rook sharpened my mental skills by subjecting me to challenges that I might or might not figure out, given enough patience. For three nights, this went on. We were there for hours, until I figured out each trick.

Rook gave a chortle of laughter and patted me on the back. “You’re a model member of the rebels; brave, sharp, and willing to do whatever it takes to help the cause.”

“Thanks, Rook.”

“Don’t mention it. Now, go get some sleep. You’re gonna need it in the morning.”

“Will do.”

With that, I retreated into the tent I had pitched for Bolt, and laid down on the second, unoccupied sleep mat. I quickly dozed off, thinking of how Rook would try to test me next...

* * *

He could feel it inside him - feel the poison coursing in his blood, feel the stiffness of each joint as he slowly regained consciousness.

He was moving. An impossible thing. He couldn’t move. That wasn’t right. It was only when he regained his hearing that he could faintly hear the clopping of hooves.

They were not his hooves. He could not move his hooves. There were the hooves of somepony else who was carrying him.

Carrying him where? He opened his eyes. They might of well have stayed closed. All he saw was black.

Black.

This place was was Black. Black in nature, Black in reality. Black in general.

He stopped moving. He never started.

He could feel it sliding against his fur, ruffling up his hair. It was a bag, pulled over his head, and now pulled off...

White.

White was all he saw. This wasn’t comforting white. Nor was it angelic white. It was painful white.

He felt hooves on him, turning him over. Pushing, prodding him.

He was flying. He was weightless.

Everything was black again.

He flew no more, slamming into the solid stone ground after the pony carrying him had thrown him. He saw stars. Stars in his eyes. As his vision cleared, he saw more stars. Twinkling figures. Twinkling runes, all around him, on the walls.

The pony that had pushed him threw things at him. The first thing hit him in the face. it was soft, warm. Bread.

The next plodded to the ground next to him. He felt the object’s smooth plastic case. Water.

The last object fell to the ground with a deafening clang. The pony left the room, shutting a large door on his way out.

He pulled himself over to where the mysterious object had landed. He felt it - felt the weathered steel forming a point, and the smooth wooden handle. Pickaxe.

As he moved his hoof along the handle, he felt something amiss. Strange indentations. As he held the handle up to his recovering eyes. He could almost make out the markings.

They were words.

What did they mean? What did they say?

Words... familiar words...

* * *

I awoke with a start. Another strange dream. Was is just a dream? It felt more real that any old dream. It almost felt like-

“Steel! Wake up! We’re leaving!”

I recognized Bolt’s voice at once. I immediately got to my hooves and started rolling up the sleep mats, packing them away inside their slipcovers. I started disassembling the tent from the inside, removing the metal beams that held up the fabric, before moving the actual tent material itself. I coiled up all the rope we had used, and packed everything back into the crate that the tent belonged to.

I turned around. Bolt and Rook were checking our gear, making sure everything was packed properly and that we hadn’t left anything behind.

Once we had loaded our supplies onto our unit’s caravan, I plodded over to Rook and Bolt as the rebel force started moving.

“What’s the big rush? Where are we going?” I asked.

“The Shadowcrown,” replied Bolt, frustration in her voice. “Commander Sunrise feels that we need to attack the capital as soon as possible, while their guard is down.”

“A solid plan, and logical decision...” added Rook. “...if it wasn’t a suicide mission.”

I honestly didn’t understand the nature of this decision. True, we’d catch the town’s soldiers by surprise, but Blackhoof was a half-days’ journey away! It’d be sunset by the time we got there, and if we planned to attack at night, then we’d all be exhausted. Rook was right. It was suicide.

“But, doesn’t Sunrise know just how tired everypony will-” I started to comment.

“Yes, she knows,” Bolt cut me off. “She’s insistent that we attack now. The reinforcements for the attack force used against the Hollow are returning to the city at an alarming pace. They might get there before we do if we don’t hustle.”

“The best we can do is prepare ourselves now and make sure we’re ready for the worst,” said Rook.

And that was that. We had less than nine hours until we arrived, and those hours had to be well spent.

The day continued like normal... except that it was really anything but. There were constant murmurs, and the volume of the rebel forces’ mutterings was much lower, but far more saturated than the previous days. All anypony did was sharpen their swords, flex their magical muscles, and shoot targets with arrows.

I adorned my breastplate and sparred with Bolt, even using some of the spells she had taught me. As we got closer to Blackhoof, she started to insist that I take a sword with me, even though I repeatedly claimed that I wouldn’t use it. Eventually, I relented, and sheathed a short, straight-edge sword at my hip.

I looked at my companions. Bolt was stretching her wings, wearing sharpened blades across her them, clad in a fabric vest. She had her dagger on her hip.

To my surprise, she had smeared war paint across her purple face. She actually looked scary now, with a red stripe starting at her right temple and stretching diagonally across her muzzle and chin.

On the other hand, Rook looked scary naturally. Rook was simply... big, bulky, muscular. He was the kind of pony you didn’t want to cross. Add several scars on his sides that I hadn’t noticed before, and you had one monster of a pony. To top it off, Rook had that certain fire in his eyes, the one that wasn’t technically scary, but changed his appearance altogether. The valour adorned in his gaze spoke volumes about his experience as a soldier. It changed him from ‘monster-pony’ to ‘noble veteran.’

Oh, and let’s not forget his armor. Rook was covered in metal plates, each painted red in colour, with chain mail connecting each plate. He had two swords, each holstered at his hips.

It was at that point when I started wondering why the Voice of Knowledge hadn’t said anything to me in the few days we had been in the desert. It sure had a tendency to-

Just disappear?

No kidding. What’s the matter? Why are you so quiet?

Because I am not needed.

Well, perhaps I need some guidance, huh? Advice for the battle, or something.

You have nothing to worry about. The rebel attack will not succeed, however.

Why not?

It’s obvious. You mentioned it yourself, plus, there is one other factor...

Which is...?

None of your concern. Just be careful.

Mhm, I’ll be sure. Say, want me to pick up some eggs or milk while I’m in town?

Actually, yes. I want you to find Lucid Scripture.

Wait, what? Who’s he? Or she?

He’s a master of language. He’s a translator.

A translator for what?

Me.

You mean... the Shard?

Of course.

So... what do we do after we... lose the battle?

Just listen to my Voice. Oh, and be sure to look at 33rd Street, house number 201. Scripture will be hiding in his cellar.

And what about Solace?

On the other side of the city. Try to find him, and you’ll be killed.

That’s reassuring. Anything else?

No. Just stay with Rook and Agile Bolt.

Will do.

“Hey, Steel, you alright?” Bolt prodded me. It just occurred that I’d been staring into space.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, just... thinking about the battle.”

“You nervous?”

“Well, not necessarily. I know we’re gonna lose.”

“Don’t talk like that. I know we don’t have much of a chance, but if you’re gonna put yourself down before the battle even starts, then you’re just looking to panic when it all kicks off.”

I sighed. “Alright.”

Bolt and I looked up as there was a series of shouts down the crowd of rebels, until the message got within our earshot.

Blackhoof in sight!

Straining my eyes in the dying light, I could faintly make out the northern walls of Blackhoof, almost a kilometer away.

The crowd stopped moving. Murmurs ensued. We were camping here until we would attack.

This was it. Food and water was passed around in measured qualities, so much as to satiate everypony’s hunger while not over-filling them. I took my share, sat down and stared at the warm, orange sky as the sun set. I stared into space and meditated, just as Rook had taught me to. Reaching a state of confidence I felt was adequate for the size of the battle soon to occurr, I called upon the Voice.

Have you ever seen battle?

Sadly, yes.

Sadly? What happened?

Let’s just say I wasn’t always like this.

You mean you were a regular pony before you became a spirit?

Well... not exactly a ‘regular pony’...

What, then?

I really do not think I am at liberty to say.

At liberty? Who’s stopping you?

I am. The prophecy does not deem it so.

What exactly is this prophecy of yours?

So many questions... I really should say no more. Good luck, even though there is no such thing.

No such thing as luck?

Fate, my little pony. When there is fate, luck or circumstance do not exist. Everything is predetermined.

By whom?

You really do ask too many questions. Enough. Agile Bolt is calling to you.

“Steel! We’re ready for our attack! Get up, we’re moving!”

Shaking myself back to a state of alertness, I took a deep breath and turned around.

As I trotted back up to the waiting Bolt and Rook, my winged companion pulled me aside while Rook went ahead with the group.

Bolt looked into my eyes and smiled.

“Thanks for everything.”

Before I could respond, she gave me a small kiss on the cheek.

Noticing my being a bit flustered, she smiled once again and said, “Just in case.”

Turning back to the group, Bolt rejoined the attack force.

Doing the same, I scratched at the back of my blue mane.

Talk about boosting morale.

I leaned closer to Bolt and whispered, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, I promise you. Neither of us will be dying today.”

Bolt only smirked and rolled her eyes. “Yeah, if we’re lucky.”

I sighed. “...No such thing...” I muttered, just out of earshot.

Rook trotted up to me.

“Easy there, lover-colt. Confidence is good, but be wary of cockiness.”

Lover-colt. Pssh.

We were nearly at the north gate now. The sun had set, and the group quickly came to a halt.

I looked up. Gleaming black walls loomed dozens of feet into the air, adorned with glowing rows of lanterns hanging off the outer face and mounted on poles along the top. Turrets were set at intervals along the walls, and each had at least one archer perched on top.

The area we needed to penetrate was the North Gate; a set of sturdy, bolted metal doors rising well above a pony’s head, meant to be opened and closed by two bulky guards.

As we took up positions behind rocks and blended in with our surroundings in the darkening landscape, our own pegasi archers took up their positions and simultaneously let loose a volley of dozens of enchanted arrows that disabled all of the immediate guards surrounding the gate, even the guards in the turrets.

After the walls were confirmed clear, two earth ponies moved up with a single, scrawny unicorn. They reached the gate, and the unicorn got to work, disengaging each of the tron doors’ internal locks one by one in a matter of seconds.

Next, part of the primary assault division moved up and took flanking positions on either side of the gate. The two earth ponies were given the go-ahead signal and pulled the heavy metal doors outwards with two giant rings attached to the gate.

As soon as there was an opening big enough between the giant doors, the primary assault ponies flooded in, one by one, with each division following suit.

Our unit, commanded by Captain Rook, was last. Specifically, I was the last one in. However, many soldiers were commanded to stay behind to cover our backs and keep the doors open for retreat.

Passing through those iron doors yielded something far different from the harsh Badlands desert. Weathered cobblestone roads cut through a swath of buildings of all shape and size, each adorning the same lanterns that were affixed to the town’s walls. Each house was numbered and had lush greenery surrounding it. Gazing further down the road, I could see our destination, a shining castle of black: The Shadowcrown.

I was finally inside the city, walking the streets, the same streets that nopony who immigrated here would ever walk, forced to a life of labour and torture for a madpony’s desires for power.

However, I wasn’t here to walk the streets as a member of esteemed Blackhoof society.

I was here to burn it to the ground.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fools, that’s what they were.

Fools.

Midnight Spectre, assassin, and son of the dark King Iniquitous Lore, knew just how foolish the rebels were.

Had they not questioned the ease of simply entering the city? Had they not wondered why there weren’t many guards around the gate?

And most of all, had they no idea why the streets were empty?

Spectre, dressed as one of those he found inferior, knew the situation quite well. The rebels were walking right into his father’s trap.

Of course, he’d remained with the unit of rebel soldiers on the other side of the wall, watching the main attack force’s back.

Spectre was going to change that.

The unit had about twenty ponies in all, not counting the unarmed earth ponies operating the doors.

Stealthily slinking behind a rock, Spectre cast a spell, aiming it’s effects a few dozen feet away.

Help... me...” rasped a disembodied colt’s voice exactly where he had cast his spell.

It took a few cries of the voice to get a few of the unit’s ponies rushing to help.

That left about fifteen of the rebels unoccupied.

He knew he could cast up to five spells at once, so he prepared his confusion spell, and unleashed his arcane magic.

Ten left.

He shrugged, and unsheathed his sword.

Magic is only half the fun, he thought.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

They were a swarm.

Blackhoof guards, clad in their spiky, midnight-coloured armor rushed from the streets into a single mass of dark, hate-filled death moving towards the advancing rebel force at an alarming pace.

The shape of their carapaces reminded me of insects. As I said, they were a swarm.

Bolt and Rook drew their respective blades while I prepared my paralysis spell. Ahead of us, the leading rebels and Blackhoof guards clashed, the clanging of swords dominating the air, mingled with shouts of pain and suffering. The silent air, only interrupted by the thunderous roar of marching hooves, gave way to the shouts of war.

Before I knew it, the two separate groups were completely intermixed. My only warning was the surprise of one guard that had somehow made his way through the stampede of limbs and blades, and ended up sparring with Rook.

I quickly turned and saw another guard barrelling toward me, and my reaction was barely calculated. Magic flew from my horn by sheer reaction, and the paralysed soldier crumpled to the ground.

Realizing the seriousness of how the tables had turned, I was caught by surprise yet again when I felt a presence charging towards me from behind. Like the last, I just reacted, bucking the guard in the face as hard as I could and sending him sprawling. It wasn’t until I turned that I realised he was one of our own.

I shouted an apology to the now-dazed rebel soldier, and turned back to my comrades to find that they had moved closer to the city centre by fifty meters.

I quickly remembered the Voice’s instructions. 33rd Street, house number 201. With my goal in mind, I galloped back to go find my companions.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

That bastard bucked me in the face, thought Spectre, incredulous, as he pushed himself up off the ground.

He’d killed the remaining rebels outside the gates and shut the doors himself, and had been trying to rejoin the rebels when one of the imbeciles in the rear decided to buck at an unknown target.

He’d been so close to Agile Bolt as well. She was in the rear of the group, perfect for a stealthy kill. And that ignoramus had set him a hundred meters behind the group, stars in front of his eyes.

Whoever he is, thought Spectre, has got to have nerves of steel.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Steel!” shouted Bolt, “We have to stay with the rebels! Have you gone mad?!”

“Listen, Bolt, I can’t really explain right now, and I’ll gladly do so when we’re not on a battlefield!”

“We’re almost to the Shadowcrown, we can do this, we can kill-”

“Iniquitous Lore!”

We looked to the front of the rebel formation, to see who had shouted the name. What we saw was much worse, The midnight blue, glowing unicorn stallion stood regally atop the highest turret on his gleaming black castle.

Immediately, almost all of the rebel archers and unicorns fired their spells and arrows at the evil figure of oppression.

Dozens of motes of magical light and sparkling enchanted arrows flew in perfect accuracy towards Iniquitous Lore and...

They stopped. The magic fizzled out of existence and the arrows dropped like stones.

It was at this point when I noticed everything had gone silent. Every single rebel had their weapon raised, but not a sound, not a single scuffle, was heard.

All that I heard was squeaking...

What was squeaking? It sounded like something was rolling from within one of the lower walls of the Shadowcrown.. until we saw it.

It was a strange, wheeled platform, with some sort of hollow, cylindrical, metal drum resting sideways on the platform.

Cautiously, some of the rebels backed up, including myself.

I looked up to Iniquitous Lore, who I found, to my surprise, staring right back at me, hate in his eyes.

He muttered a single word.

“Fire.”

Thunder roared. At least, I think it was thunder. I couldn’t tell; my head was resting against the cobblestones of the road. Which was funny, because I remembered being upright.

I could see all the rebels around me, tramping, and running away. That was strange too, why were we running away? We had almost taken the Shadowcrown.

Rook appeared in my vision. He was saying something; his mouth was moving, but there was no sound...

...No sound at all...

I shakily pushed myself upright, wobbling and looking up at the strange metal drum, which had smoke pouring out of it now. I looked down to where it was pointed. A large chunk of the ground was missing, also smoking. Surrounding the crater were the mangled bodies of a couple dozen rebels.

Then, I made the connection.

We ran. Ran for our lives, almost tripping over the couple-hundred still-paralysed Blackhoof guards. I had never been so scared in all my life. I had been that close to death. I could hear my teeth chattering...

… I could hear them.

“Rook! Bolt!”

My two friends, who were at my side the entire time, looked at me like I had lost my brain.

“33rd street, house 201! We need to go there, now!”

“We can’t, Steel,” Bolt insisted. “The retreat has been sounded, we’re getting out-”

Bolt stopped dead in her tracks. I followed her gaze.

The gate was closed, and hundreds more Blackhoof guards were flowing in from the streets adjacent.

We were trapped.

While Bolt was still frozen, I quickly scanned the streets of Blackhoof until I found the one I was looking for; 33rd Street.

“Rook, we need to go. Just trust me. I’ll explain afterwards.”

“There won’t be an afterwards, Tempest!” We need to retreat!”

I locked my gaze with his.

“Rook, we’re not leaving until we get to that house. Nothing will happen to us. We’ll be alright. Now, you can leave me to die here, or you can come with me and we’ll all survive.”

Rook chewed it over for a bit, before looking to Bolt, who was chattering and pacing along the streets, panicking.

“Bolt! Snap out of it! You know the drill, soldier. You will not panic in a situation like this. It’s panic that kills you, not the other factors.”

With that, Bolt closed her eyes, breathed a few times, and then pushed herself up, her knees wobbling, but devoid of panic.

“A-alright, I’m ready. I-I hope you know what you-you’re doing, Steel.”

I nodded my reassurance, and quickly galloped off in the direction of 33rd street, Bolt and Rook on my tail.

We got to 33rd street, which was empty and silent. In the distance, we could hear the cries of ponies as the rebels tried to get the gates open while the remaining Blackhoof guards moved in to finish them off.

We carefully trotted down the street, keeping our attention directed both down the road and at the house numbers.

197... 199... 201!

“Got it! In there!”

Rook and Bolt swiveled, Rook reading the name on the mailbox.

“Scripture? As in Lucid Scripture? The translator?”

“Yes, precisely,” I replied, motioning Rook to break down the door.

Bolt chimed in. “Wait, a translator? This is about the Shard, isn’t it?”

The wooden door snapped in two and Rook barrelled his way through the mess he had just made. We followed him inside.

“Yes, it’s about the Shard. Now, let’s leave explanations for later.”

I quickly located the staircase to the basement, which we found to be dark and empty. I pulled out my candle, which, as I had assumed, was still burning.

I motioned for Bolt and Rook to be silent, and we listened carefully. We could just barely make out the stressed, fearful whispers and heavy breathing of a hiding pony.

The Voice had mentioned a cellar. There was no obvious room in the basement that could be a cellar. From that, I assumed it was hidden in the floor.

A large portion of the room was covered by a rug. I wondered...

Pulling the rug away revealed a trapdoor. I tried at the handle. It was locked.

The whimpering increased in volume.

“Let me,” said Bolt, pushing past me. She dug out a Key from her satchel and jammed it into the lock.

“No!” came a cry from within.

Bolt opened the trapdoor.

Inside was a tall, slender, cream-coloured unicorn, his bright blue eyes wide with fear. An image of a scroll adorned his flank. He was curled up and shaking with fear.

D-don’t kill m-m-me! Please! I’ve do-don-done nothing wro-o-o-ong!” He pleaded for his life, scared beyond anything I’d ever seen.

“We’re not here to kill you,” I reassured him. “We’re here to get you out.”

“W-w-why would y-you do that?”

I pulled the Shard out of my saddlebag.

“I was hoping you could help me with this.”

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Iniquitous Lore was seething with rage.

How had he come back? How had ‘Steel Tempest’ come back?! It wasn’t possible. Solace had made sure his memories were wiped clean.

And that presence with him... It was familiar, it felt like...

...The Chamber.

Lore knew just how big of a mistake Solace had made. Solace did as well.

“Guards!”

Two guards showed up at his door not a half second later.

“Yes, your majesty?” They both chimed in unison.

“Have Solace arrested for treason and put in the dungeon.”

“Very good, your majesty.” They disappeared.

Solace had been holding back something. The true nature of the Chamber of Perception. Solace knew where the Markers were.

Lore intended to beat it out of him.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

____________________________

Thanks to my pre-readers, Macmon33 and Beige Monkfish.

For any questions or direct comments, feel free to e-mail me at iamtheotter[email protected]mail.com

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